“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”
- Anna Freud
“It isn’t safe,” Hermione pointed out for the thousandth time. “If your father sees you he will surely not hesitate to kill you.”
“Hermione, it’s my mother’s funeral. I can’t simply ignore it…” Draco replied, becoming tired of repeating himself.
This argument had been going on for a few days, teetering back and forth between each of their opinions. It seemed that neither was ever truly in the lead, as each small disagreement ended peacefully in a compromise, only to ignite again in the next hour. Of course Hermione knew Draco wanted – needed – to pay his tributes to the sole member of his family who drove him away from evil, but she couldn’t let him go. She feared he would never return if she did.
“Then let me go with you,” she suggested, as she turned in front of him.
He stopped walking, his feet standing on the day’s old snow. Her breath was pouring from her red lips as white mist, escaping thick and then disappearing into the freezing air. Her gloved hands were wrapped delicately around his forearms, pleading, the itchy fabric hardly a comfort.
“If your goal is to avoid having me murdered, Granger,” he replied emotionlessly, “then bringing you along is certainly not the most brilliant idea.”
“But at least then we could be together…”
His eyes wandered away from her, sliding somewhere distant, as her pupils lingered expectantly on his ashen face. She was being completely ridiculous. What was their being together if the only recognition they would receive was death? As with the other days and the other arguments that had passed since his mother’s murder, this one seemed to have no end, only strong and dying waves, and he exhaled deeply, opaque fog gathering in his eyes.
“And we would die together, too…” he said finally, silver eyes penetrating her.
When she only gazed at him, he shook from her tiny hands and began walking once more, crackling over the ice. Her head turned swiftly to follow him and her legs fell in step afterwards, walking briskly to catch up. She looked up at his face, where she could see his father hiding somewhere inside. She could see the coldness creeping over him, the torture seeping into his irises, and she had to look away. This was not Draco Malfoy.
“But it is an improvement from dying alone,” she stated, eyes upturned to the sky.
The sun was begging to peek through the clouds overhead, to brighten the world, but the billowy monsters would not let him see. For every time one roared past him, another followed, smothering him from view. Hermione, frustrated, forced her gaze elsewhere. She felt Draco inhale beside her.
“You can’t improve death, Granger,” he pointed out. “You can only choose to feel it or be indifferent. With you by my side, neither of those options would be possible.”
“Fine, I won’t go if it makes the situation worse,” she replied, “but you can’t go on your own either.”
Draco made a face, “And who do you propose should accompany me, Hermione? No one in their right mind would flank me to my mother’s funeral, especially if it was to preserve my life. Most everyone in this school wants me dead.”
“Except you…” Hermione said thoughtfully, gazing up at a tower that looked vaguely familiar. “Come with me.”
She clutched his wrist, pulling him behind her as she came up to the tower, and suddenly, he recalled when he had seen it – the day when he and Hermione had skipped class together. They had snuck inside and found all varieties of potions and concoctions on the hundreds of shelves.
Hermione stuck her wand to the lock as she had the previous time and whispered alohomora. The door clicked open, and Hermione gently pushed it forward, listening to it groan in protest. The room was exactly as they had left it – the blackboard in the corner, the cluttered desks, and then the narrow spiral staircase to their left. Draco followed – willingly now – as Hermione dropped his arm and climbed up the steps. When Draco had set foot onto the next floor, he found that Hermione was already rummaging through the bottles on the shelves. She shoved flasks aside, pulling certain ones out periodically to read the label, and then she would move on to another section. This process repeated itself as Draco observed her search, afraid to interrupt.
“It has to be in here somewhere. He has to have some…” she was muttering to herself.
Draco edged nearer, “What are you looking for?”
“Shush!” she hushed him. “Why couldn’t that stupid snake be organized?”
“He probably didn’t think anyone would be snooping about in his storage…” Draco suggested cynically.
Hermione ignored him, as she rushed up the next flight of stairs. Draco did not fall behind her but instead observed her from below. It only took her a few moments when she gingerly plucked a bottle from the shelf. She glanced at the label and grinned.
“I have your solution,” she called down to Draco. “Catch.”
She flung the beaker over the wooden railing, and Draco caught it, the glass tapping his skin. It was full of a thick, black liquid, and he turned it around, the syrup barely moving. He read the faded label, and he laughed.
“Oh no, Granger,” he shook his head. “There is no way.”
She appeared at the base of the stairs beside him, “How else are you going to get in unnoticed?”
“Polyjuice potion is hardly legal and has a hour time limit,” Draco said, handing her the bottle. “What if it begins to run out before the services are over?”
Hermione laughed, “Oh please, Draco. When did you begin to do things legally? Drink portions of it at a time. It doesn’t take much to work… Quit acting like a two year old or I’m liable to transform you into one.”
He sighed, “Theoretically speaking, if I do happen to take your advice, who will I be impersonating? There aren’t many people here at Hogwarts that my father cares about, and of those that he does, most of them will be going.”
“We will just have to convince someone otherwise…” she said.
The room was dark, desolate, emptier than it had ever been. Even the stars hanging past the curtains seemed less bright, and the moon was pale and lifeless. Somewhere in the lonely house, a chiming clock echoed, deep and haunting. It sang for midnight, cried for dawn, but something in the mansion would not let the morning come, as if the sight of the rising sun might shine ghosts onto the walls and shadows onto the dead floorboards. For eight days gloomy fog surrounded the house that was once a home, that once upon a week ago held a family. But now only one member remained, and despite his thankfulness to be breathing, he found it unfair that he, the one who had ripped the life from his own blood, should be the one doing so. But perhaps that in itself was punishment enough, being alone, starved and cold. He never imagined himself in this state, guilty and regretful, knowing it was his fault. Lucius Malfoy had not been convicted before, had not felt this painful remorse, and now as he did, he wished he could take it all back.
As he sat at her desk, he remembered everything he had done to hurt her. At the moment, it had all seemed so right, but he had been blind. He no longer recalled why he had begun to follow Voldemort, only saw the shattered remains the foolish decision had left behind. He could not even remember the last time he had told his own son that he loved him, the last time he had put his arm over his only child’s shoulder. He only recollected the memory of holding him in his arms before any evil and promising to love him until the day he died. Sometime since then, that promise had turned into a lie.
On the fifteenth, he had been called out by the Dark Lord – something about a debt that was long overdue, only a simple murder. He didn’t even remember their name; he didn’t remember much of that night except for her hand dangling over the edge of the sofa, wine glass shattered on the ground beneath it. The thud of his heartbeat in his ears, trying to make up for the absence of hers, and then her frosted eyes, the blindness of them, a ribbon of lethal green light still visible somewhere within them. He hadn’t wanted to believe it, his brain rejecting the idea, his body numb. Naturally he desired to blame someone other than himself, to condemn Draco, Voldemort, even Narcissa, but no one’s actions were more mistaken than his own. He had caused this with his idiotic beliefs and careless decisions, and he had not even realized it until it was far too late.
Now because of himself, he lay in sleepless agony each night, his hands caressing the bed where her breathing body used to rest. His eyes played tricks on him as he stared into her pillow, her bright blue irises flashing for a moment only to evaporate the next. Sometimes, late at night when, like tonight, he could not sleep, he could feel her airy hand on his shoulder, squeezing gently, just like she would always do when he was bothered. Perhaps she really was still there in a way, lingering, waiting. Maybe she wished to see Draco before she left completely or maybe she would never leave at all. Or maybe he was just going mad.
Draco stood unaccompanied on the walkway that hung over the entrance of Hogwarts, arms dangling over the rickety wooden railing. The sun had finally decided to brighten the Grounds, but it did nothing for the temperature. This disappointed him for more than the sun, more than Hermione, more than himself, he felt the cold. It prickled against his skin, reminded him that although he may be numb to all else, he was not to its painful sting. And this was the one and only thing he wished he could not feel. With his mother, the cold had also stolen his heart, leaving him hollow and unsure, and no matter how hard he tried, he could not love the same as before. It was so difficult now to speak to Hermione without bringing to mind the battles their foolish love had resulted in, everything both of them had lost… Sometimes he wondered how much more each of them was willing to give.
A sound issued from nearby, pulling him lazily from his thoughts. He looked up to find Severus Snape moving liquidly towards him. His ebony eyes were focused dead ahead, unaware of Draco, as his robes chased behind him. Then, just as he was about to pass, he looked up flicking his greasy black hair from his face. Curiously, he stopped, feet gradually coming to a standstill as his dark pupils studied Draco, who stared back, emotionless.
“Malfoy…” Snape drawled thoughtfully.
Draco was silent, uncertain by Snape’s tone whether he was greeting him of him he was only recalling the name. It had been a long time after all since they had conversed or even seen one another.
“You’ve been rather…. scarce as of late…” Snape continued after a long, awkward pause. “You did not take Potions this year, I assume?”
Draco shook his head, “No, sir.”
“Mmm… A shame,” Snape hummed as his pupils slithered farther down the hall. “I’m pleasantly surprised to find you alone. You and Granger have seemed nearly inseparable since November.”
“Yes, well, we do enjoy our solitude from time to time…” Draco replied, slightly peeved at the surfacing of the topic.
Snape coughed softly, “I imagine you have been in contact with you father recently?”
Unsettled, Draco sighed and blinked quickly, “Yes.”
“And in that case, I suppose you will be leaving for London soon?”
Snape’s head snapped in Draco’s direction, “On?”
“On if you will grant me a small favor,” Draco replied, witnessing the annoyance in Snape’s eyes.
“A favor?” he repeated, a bit incredulous. “What makes you think I will do a favor for you after you have so carelessly disgraced your father’s name?”
“You needn’t accept, Professor,” Draco explained. “I only need to ask.”
“What, might I inquire, do you have need of?” Snape wondered, considering.
Draco hesitated, “Only a lock of your hair, sir.”
Snape’s eyes widened, comprehension shooting across his face. He took one step closer to Draco as his eyes narrowed, “A polyjuice potion? You plan to attend the funeral services disguised as someone else? Are you that terrified of your father?”
“Considering the past three months I believe I have good reason to be,” Draco argued.
Snape’s features were hard, “And are you aware, Mister Malfoy, that polyjuice potions are quite illegal?”
“And also rather rare… Where ever did you come across one?” Snape wondered, coming closer with each word that escaped his thin lips.
Draco, uncertain of what to say, responded, “Hermione.”
Snape backed away slightly then, “Ah, yes. Granger has always had a knack for discovering things she shouldn’t.”
It was quiet for a moment as Snape’s shady eyes studied Draco carefully, thinking. Of course, it was a rather ingenious plan for him to disguise as someone else to the funeral. Granger had never been dull, Snape had to admit, and perhaps the boy did have cause to be afraid, as Snape recalled Lucius’s detestable expression at the last Death Eater meeting. Then slowly, hesitantly, as if still trying to persuade himself otherwise, he lifted a hand to his head and plucked an oily black hair from it. He barely winced as he did so and handed the strand to Draco.
“Use it wisely,” he warned. “And don’t humiliate me.”
Draco nodded a thank you as he brushed by Snape, holding the hair before his eyes and wondering why Snape had surrendered. Malfoy was once his favorite student – though he had imagined that this was no longer in effect – but perhaps there was more to Severus Snape than meets the eye.
A fire crackled beneath the mantle, warming the already cozy room, and the snow had stopped falling outside the Burrow. Still, Ron Weasley could not seem to melt the ice that had capped over his chest. He wondered if he should tell his parents about Hermione, but then, what would they do? Ron was aware just how much his father hated Lucius Malfoy, but what of his son? So with these questions unanswered he had worryingly kept to himself… Molly, of course had noticed his quietness, asking every so often what was troubling him, but he only shook his head solemnly.
And even though today was Christmas Eve and everyone in the Weasley house was merry, Ron remained unhappy. His oldest brother Bill and his wife Fleur had come home from Tinworth for the holidays, and his other brother Charlie had somehow found a way to visit from Romania. All the Weasleys were present, besides Percy, that is, but no one ever expected him to attend any family gatherings as they had not heard from him since he had graduated from Hogwarts. Ron had never been very fond of him anyway…
“Bonjour, Ronald,” came a voice behind him.
Ron, startled for he had been deep in thought, spun around quickly, only to find Fleur standing in front of him. She was wearing a pink jacket and a scarf hung loosely around her neck, tickling his legs. Her blue eyes were dancing, just like always, and her blonde hair hung just below her shoulder blades.
“Oh, I’m so sorry for scaring you! Bill wanted me to tell you zat he is wanting to talk wiz you outdoors,” she said in her thick French accent.
Ron replied by rising to his feet, Fleur watching him expectantly as he stepped outside. She waited at the door for a moment before turning back inside, probably going to help Molly prepare lunch. Ron lingered at the threshold for as long as possible. It wasn’t uncommon for Bill to want to speak with him, as he often asked to, but perhaps recent events had convinced Ron that talking one-on-one was always an omen of a bad conversation.
Mustering up the mental strength, he turned around the corner of the house, where he saw Bill standing alone in the large backyard, hands on his hips, facing the thick forest that extended over the horizon. His long hair was, as always, pulled back in a short ponytail that was cut just below his neck, and he was wearing a thick leather jacket and boots. Nothing looked out of place as Ron tromped through the tall grass, putting him slightly at ease. He said nothing as he stepped in beside his brother, staring out over the millions of frosted trees just beyond.
Then suddenly Bill began to chuckle, and Ron looked up at him in surprise.
“Do you remember when Fred and George got lost in those woods?” he laughed.
Ron joined the mirth, recalling that particular day so long ago, “They claimed to have gotten lost, but really they were hiding from mum.”
“Right,” Bill nodded. “Because they had broken the window in their room with a Flaming Frisbee. And then Percy ratted on them, that humorless bloke. Mum was irate…”
They laughed again, and Ron felt comfortable now, much more relaxed.
“So what has been on your mind, little brother?” Bill said abruptly, letting Ron’s heart sink again.
He should have guessed.
“Nothing,” he mumbled.
Bill was silent for a few seconds, “Do you honestly expect me to believe that? Greyback didn’t tear out my eyes, you know.”
Ron’s heart skipped a beat as he remembered the night – was it only a year ago? – that Dumbledore had died, when the werewolf Fenrir Greyback had bitten Bill. In truth, Bill was fortunate to be alive, escaping only with permanent scars on his face. Ron looked up at them now, deep and red, running over his left eye and down to his jaw, and he knew they would always look that way.
“Is it a girl?” Bill asked with a mischievous smirk.
Ron blushed, “In a way…”
“Is it a girl called Hermione Granger?”
Ron only nodded, his face downcast.
“Ron,” Bill breathed, “women are vicious creatures… They thrive on compliments and kisses, and they never expect to offer any in return. But you see, no matter what, men have to understand that the lady always comes before himself. A man is content when his family is content. Believe me, I learned this quickly.” His eyes wandered to the windows of the Burrow, where Fleur and Molly were visible, smiling and cooking in the kitchen. “Hermione never seemed liable to hurt you, but all women have that greedy gene in them somewhere, that gene that breaks young men’s hearts. So what happened?’
Ron took a deep breath, heart in his stomach, “She’s with someone else.”
“Ah…” came Bill’s simple response. “Someone you aren’t fond of… or someone that you are?”
“Aren’t,” Ron spat, thinking of Malfoy’s hideous mug.
“I see, but is she happy?”
Ron sighed, realizing where this was going, “Seems to be.”
Bill nodded, “And this bothers you because you feel like she prefers him over you.”
“Exactly,” Ron looked up, slightly shocked at Bill’s competence in women.
It was quiet for a moment, both brothers thinking hard about the predicament. Then Bill continued reciting wisdom, “Do I know the boy she is with?”
Ron winced as the name rolled off his tongue, “Draco Malfoy.”
Bill tensed beside him, “A Malfoy? Of the Blacks? That lot is trouble. Death Eaters most of them… This changes things…” He paused in thought. “Does she act differently?”
“Not really,” Ron shrugged. “Just likes to be around him all the time. Hardly speaks to Ginny and I anymore. Although that could be partially my doing.”
“What do you mean?”
“She keeps attempting to pull us together, Malfoy and I, and I keep ruining it,” Ron inhaled. “I didn’t even put in an effort to be kind to him before the break. I wish I had.”
“Does he try to be kind to you?” Bill wondered.
“Until I make a complete idiot out of myself…” Ron admitted. “Then he just gets pissed off.”
“For Hermione,” Bill added.
“What?” Ron asked, confused.
“He gets angry for Hermione,” Bill clarified. “It looks to me, little brother, like you need to sort through your priorities. See, he stood up for Hermione before himself. That’s the difference between this Malfoy bloke and you. Mind you, I’m not saying to interfere with their relationship as that would be extremely cruel, but you need to let go of your resentment and accept her as a friend. Remember her happiness is more important than yours, and if she is pleased with him – as much as I know you don’t want to be – you have to be happy for her.”
Ron did not say anything as he stared at his hands, thinking that perhaps Bill was right. He had been rather selfish, trying to keep Hermione to himself. He should have known someone else would be glad to have her, even if he didn’t imagine it to be Malfoy.
“So let’s go inside and see if we can’t help mum and Fleur, eh?” Bill said, clapping Ron on the back.
Ron winced at the strength of his brother’s massive hand as he nodded and followed him back into the house. Ginny had come downstairs during Ron’s time outside. She was sitting quietly on the heavily-patched sofa, talking with their father about something very serious. Her eyes were wide and vulnerable as Arthur gestured animatedly with his hands.
“… taken right off the train apparently. No one saw her get off, and she didn’t arrive at home that night,” he was saying.
“Who’s that?” Ron asked, concerned.
“Luna,” Ginny said, her eyes watering.
Arthur patted Ginny on the back soothingly then turned to Ron and Bill, “She was kidnapped by Death Eaters on the journey home for the holidays. Don’t know why… Probably something to do with her father denouncing You-Know-Who.”
Ron furrowed his brows, “Is something being done?”
Arthur sighed, “There isn’t much we can do. She is safe from harm, at least for the time being, as we are fairly sure she is only being used as a cruel bribe for her father, Xenophilius. Until he refuses to comply with their requirements, she is perfectly secure. We are trying to make contact with Xenophilius to ask him to prolong the decision as long a possible in order to give us time to rescue Luna… but so far we haven’t been able to reach him by magical means.”
“Do we know where this Luna is being held?” Bill asked, suddenly intrigued.
“Most likely at the Malfoy Manor,” Arthur responded. “But we have no way of getting in and out of there unnoticed. It’s extremely dangerous, usually housing several Death Eater at once, and sometimes You-Know-Who himself I have heard.”
The room was quiet, as Bill looked subtly at Ron, remembering the conversation they had had outside. Ron saw his brief gaze and knew exactly what he was thinking. If they could get in contact with Hermione, Draco could easily – though perhaps covertly – release Luna from his home. Although, if they did choose to do this, the letter would have to be sent by Ron or Bill, as no one else, besides Ginny, knew of Hermione and Draco’s relationship.
And without even excusing himself, Ron dashed up the old, narrow staircase, and ducked into his room. Then, pulling parchment and a quill from his trunk, he flattened the paper onto his desk, dipped the quill into an ink pot, and began to scribble a note to Hermione, praying she would bother to read it.
She knew it was Christmas, even though she was somewhere wet and dark, voices echoing above her head and footsteps rumbling the ceiling. This is all she had heard for the past few days she had been locked in this tiny room, besides the whimpering of the old, wrinkly man that sat in the corner opposite her. His matted silver hair and dark grey eyes looked vaguely familiar to her, though when she introduced herself he only replied with a half-mad grumble, putting a shaking hand in the air and pointing towards the trapdoor in the ceiling. Luna had tried multiple times to reach it, but the ladder was stored on the outside, leaving them with no means of climbing out After several attempts to get the old man to speak, Luna gave up, deducing that he was probably going insane. Judging by his sickly state, he had been contained here for quite some time. Despite his lack of response, however, Luna continued to talk about herself, thinking that perhaps he would rather listen, and most of the time, he acknowledged her when she spoke. From time to time he even smiled weakly.
Despite being locked in a cellar, Luna believed she was being treated rather well; she received hot meals – probably leftovers – from the tall, blonde man and her bed at least had a pillow and a thin blanket. The old man, however was not respected as she was, and more often than not, she would be willing to share her food with him, something which he seemed to thoroughly enjoy. He also muttered a garbled thank you occasionally, which made Luna feel quite philanthropic.
She imagined that her father was probably wondering where she had gone to, as she did not even arrive at home when he had expected her to. He had probably posted her picture in The Quibbler, maybe the photo from her last Christmas portrait, and had a large search team looking for her. Still, she was not worried. The people that had taken her off the Hogwarts Express had not harmed her – save for a small bruise on her shoulder where they had shoved a sack over her head – and if they wished to harm her, she doubted they would have waited so long to do so.
Suddenly the trapdoor opened overhead, bright light pouring in from the tiny rectangular hole. Luna squinted her eyes, shocked by the sudden change in atmosphere. She could hazily make out a figure squatted over the opening, sunlight surrounding them.
“Merry Christmas, jailbirds!” she heard the man call in his deep, husky voice.
His muscular arm extended into the room, holding something thin and writhing. He dropped it carelessly into the cellar, and it only took Luna half a second before she realized with a jolt what it was. There were two of them – long, angry black snakes – pushing themselves over the dirt, unblinking eyes locked on Luna’s bare ankle. She squirmed, reaching for her wand, before she recalled that they had confiscated it upon her arrival at this place. The serpents slithered ever closer, inches away now, their spines tense. One of them suddenly rose onto its stomach and Luna squealed, closing her eyes tight. She waited for the pain to come, but it did not. Curious she pried her eyes open, looking at the old man who whispered something under his breath, his voice weak. Then she glanced down where the other snake was curling itself over her feet, but just as it caught the scent of her body, it disintegrated, burned by the wizened man’s incantation.
Breathlessly, Luna turned to him, “Thank you.”
It seemed she had judged these people far too soon…
He hadn’t been anticipating a gift from his father and so was not disappointed when one did not arrive. Hermione had bestowed him with a long kiss, feeling dreadful for neglecting to purchase something for him on their visit to Hogsmeade, but he couldn’t have been happier with her improvisation. She only received one gift, courtesy of her parents – a set of black, silk pajamas and a new book, which she had already begun to read. He could see her now, sitting cross-legged on her bed, bent over the thick manuscript, and he smiled to himself at her satisfaction. Looking at her, he forgot completely where he would be early the next morning – on a train to the lonely house once called a home.
As the light faded outside his window, turning ugly black, he cursed his foolish emotions and yet still somehow held them close. He wished so badly to turn them away but wished nothing more than to harbor them forever. He wondered when all of this doubt had birthed inside of him, when everything became suddenly unclear and artificial. Only a week ago, he had been madly in love, and now that emotion was diminished to merely a close friendship. He prayed it was only temporary, only brief, for he did not want to stop loving her completely. And as he drifted into slumber, he reminisced on her angel face and thought he would never let her go.
He woke up crying. His face was soaked with dry and fresh tears, sticky and damp. He didn’t remember what he had been dreaming of, only that it had been terrible, and his heart burned inside of him with dread at the imaginary monster that had come as a dream. As if he needed to be reminded of the date. Today was the day he had been looking towards with dismay, the day he and Hermione had been planning for since the previous week, and even though he had had all this time to prepare himself, it seemed he was still not ready to confirm reality.
Professor McGonagall had offered to walk with him to the edge of the Grounds, where he could then Apparate to the Malfoy Manor, as it was not possible to do so on the Hogwarts campus. He had thought about objecting, not particularly wanting the professor to see him with the polyjuice potion, but after analyzing the situation, there was honestly no other option. So he had consented, and she had instructed him to meet her at the front gates at a quarter past ten.
After he had gotten dressed and made himself slightly presentable – although it honestly didn’t matter since he wouldn’t be going as himself anyway – he ventured downstairs, flask of polyjuice potion hidden deep in the pocket of his robes. It had warmed up slightly from the day before, nothing blocking the sunlight today, and this was a relief as Draco exited the front doors. Far ahead, he could see Professor McGonagall already waiting on him, even though it was only five after. Her burgundy cloak was flapping in the subtle breeze behind her, as her chin was raised, eyes staring at the peaceful blue sky. She turned around as she heard him approach.
“Ah, Mister Malfoy,” she said softly, flashing him a sympathetic grin. “I take it that you are ready then?”
He nodded, afraid to speak, as a hard lump sat carefully in his throat, threatening to bubble over into tears. So he remained silent as he and McGonagall began their brief trek outside the grounds. The walk only took about fifteen minutes at McGonagall’s brisk pace, but then again, the boundary was not that distant from the gate. When McGonagall stopped, she gazed at him, and not having spoken to one another the entire journey, she said only one thing with her eyes solemn and burning with sincerity.
“You are a brave soul, Malfoy. A very fearless young man. The strength to face this sort of unjust pain is something I could not even begin to envision, and somehow, you have always carried on. Peace be with you today. I will be waiting for you when you return.”
And as he Disapparated from Hogwarts, he heard McGonagall call after him, “And please try not be late!”
Then his body was compressed – or so it felt like – rushing through space at an almost noxious speed. He thought only of his destination and keeping his grip fastened on the flask in his pocket, and within seconds, he was standing on the perimeter of the Malfoy estate. Draco noticed immediately that the lights were off in the house, but then again, he was rather early for the service, the time only being twenty-five after ten. He supposed he had better drink the potion before he stepped nearer to the house, and reluctantly, he pulled the container out of his robes, holding up in the sun, light glinting off the glass. It did not brighten the color within which, upon tossing Snape’s hair into it, had turned an unappetizing, metallic grey color.
Quickly, before he had second thoughts he uncapped the thick liquid, smoke rising from the flask, and he only held the vial to his lips for a brief uncertain moment before he tilted his head carelessly back and poured only a fraction of the potion down his unwilling throat. It was bittersweet as it rolled down through his chest, burning, and then it hit his stomach and began to spread. He could suddenly feel it coursing through his entire body, through his very core, and it stung. He could feel his hair growing darker, longer, more oily as it hung over his now black eyes, and his jaw became more square and his nose enlarged and curved as the transformation completed. Hermione had made it a point to inform him several times that his voice would not change until after the half hour, meaning he must feign Snape’s slow drawl, and that the potion would wear off after an hour. For this reason he had to use it sparingly.
He walked up to the house, opening the door quietly, fearing by the empty windows that it would be quiet. It was louder than expected, though just a soft garble that was hardly worth calling conversation. Draco looked around, the place feeling so familiar, yet blaringly different, more somber, than he had ever experienced it. The chandelier was dimmed, almost to the point of darkness, and dust clung to the windows – something he had never noticed before. But then missing someone makes you open your eyes to a lot of things you had always overlooked.
The majority of the crowd seemed to be in the living room, the unintelligible voices escaping from there and echoing over the foyer and beyond. This is where Draco took himself, holding his head up rather confidently, as Snape had always done, and his presence did not go unnoticed as he stepped into the room.
“Severus…” he heard his alias’s name.
He looked up to find that it was his father, Lucius, speaking, and although he normally guessed it by the tone of his voice, it seemed that this fact did not hold true now. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the expensive pair of ebony and jade robes that were so familiar to Draco, he probably wouldn’t have recognized his own father at all. His eyes were black holes, seeing and taking everything in but unaware of such, and underneath them, indigo patches were printed. His hair, which was normally so kempt, was no longer so, strands sticking out in random directions, and even his body looked weaker as opposed to the man Draco remembered from July. It frightened him considerably, but he attempted to regain his composure, remembering cautiously to stay in character.
“And why not the front door?” Lucius asked, glancing skeptically in vicinity from which Draco came.
Then Draco realized his mistake. Of course Snape would come in the front door, but this error was easily covered up.
“Ah, that,” Draco grumbled in a nearly perfect replica of Severus’s monotone. “I Apparated, you see. You can end up bloody anywhere using that impractical piece of magic.”
Lucius forced a weak smile, “This is true, Severus. I’m delighted you could attend.”
He stuck out his hand for Draco to shake, which he did with great potency.
“And how are you, Lucius?” Draco asked, curious for his own purposes. “Frankly you look dreadful.”
Lucius suddenly morphed into a stone, cold man, “Alas, Severus, looks are not always deceiving. It has been with great difficulty that this day approached, as it was painful enough to –“ He paused, not desiring to utter the words. “And now it is being relived. Do not consider me a fool for asking Severus, but is Draco fairing well?”
The question took Draco by surprise, unaware that he even crossed his father’s mind anymore. It took him a few second to compile his response.
“Sadly, I find him to be quite detached, even from Granger, which is extremely rare. But as a whole, he seems to be dealing with it in a rational manner.”
Lucius only nodded, eyes sinking into the wall ahead of them, “You would know, Severus. Do they truly appear to be in love?”
Draco sighed, struggling to retain his authenticity, “I have seen merely glimpses, Lucius, but from those small observations, I would have to wage a yes. They seem very important to one another,” he paused then added, “as much as a despise to admit it.”
Lucius only nodded, eyes void of emotion, though perhaps if Draco had bothered to look deeper, he might have glimpsed a twinge of regret. He wondered if perhaps Narcissa’s passing had opening his eyes also for Draco could not deny it had opened his. Draco took this moment to look around the room more closely, and as his head swiveled to his left, he was surprised he hadn’t seen it before. It sat on a pedestal, black marble, a pattern embroidered in gold on the edges, the lid open and leaning against the wall – a casket. White and red flowers were settled over the front of the table, cascading to the floor in a rather gloomy fashion. Recognizing what it was, he quickly turned away, his eyes closed. He was even more grief-stricken when someone called for the services to begin. Two men – ironically Death Eaters – came to move the coffin from its place, and feeling ill to his stomach, Draco wearily followed the bunch of people outside.
As they came closer, Draco saw the hole in the ground, the place where she would be buried, and it seemed unimaginable still that she was gone. It was almost as if he was expecting her to come somewhere inside of him, to fill the vacant place in his heart she had left behind, but somewhere within himself he also knew he was wrong. Maybe the worst part was imagining otherwise.
People slowly rolled from the house in slow motion, their expressions frozen sculptures of sorrow and perhaps slight indifference, their robes moving languidly behind them, their hands clasped in front them, heads bowed, eyes closed. A silent prayer, a sigh, a sob, a tear sliding down Lucius’s hardened face. Draco watched it fall as someone read a memorial, watched the drip of saline fall to the dirt. He could almost hear its muffled splatter hit the ground, as it sank into the thirsty earth. He could see it cry for more, but Lucius refused to give his tears away, holding them behind his lids with careful and forceful balance. The speaker’s voice dragged, long and pronounced, as if wishing Draco further torture. And as if on cue, the back of his hands began to tingle, signaling the wearing off of the polyjuice potion.
Startled, he pushed through the crowd, attempting to remain unnoticed as he snuck back inside the house, finishing off the last off the liquid. He briefly looking in the mirror to confirm that the concoction had worked, and then, feeling more at ease, he came back to the service, where the man had ceased talking. Now muscular men were heaving the casket into the hole – six feet deep. The box sank, invisible now behind the wall of dirt, and it rested there until they pushed the soil back into place, leaving behind only a grassless rectangle. No one moved when this was done, as the reality of it hit them all at one. Many of the Death Eater’s wives began to weep, their husbands pulling them close, other making a face. Lucius and Draco only stared in reflection at the tiny plot of land, thinking about how much they had taken for granted, how much she had meant to them. Draco did his best to hold back tears, to stay in his disguise, but he found it rather difficult, allowing a pair of tears to roll from his eyes.
Many people, after the burial, transformed the event into a social gathering, something which Lucius didn’t mind. All of the women came to hold his hands sympathetically and dab their eyes with tissues, while the men merely nodded their empathy. Thankfully, no one approached Draco during the entire affair, and for this, he was quite pleased as he began to return to Hogwarts. But as he did this, he heard someone running behind him, calling the name of his false identity.
“Severus!” Lucius hollered, looking rather curious. “I need to speak with you about my son!”
But Draco could feel his body shrinking, changing back to the form his father surely did not want to see, and in a panic, he flew into the house, frantically trying to devise a plan. He didn’t have time to Apparate, as Lucius was just behind him, and as he heard his father’s hand on the doorknob, he did the only thing he could think of: flung himself into the cellar.
He heard a gasp from somewhere beside him, “Draco Malfoy!”
He spun around, heart racing as he spotted in the dim light, Luna Lovegood.
“Shut up, would you?” he whispered fiercely. “He doesn’t know I’m here.”
Above them, footsteps thudded loudly, and as they became loudest, they stopped. Draco could sense them standing directly over his head, and as he looked up, he realized that he had left the trapdoor slightly ajar in his flurried attempt to hide. Cursing himself he turned to Luna.
“We have to leave…” he said. “Grab my arm.”
Luna hesitated saying, “We can’t leave Mister Ollivander…”
Draco’s head shot to the corner where Luna was pointing with a frail, shaking finger. He hadn’t even noticed the ancient wandmaker sitting the corner, looking quiet ghastly. And he sighed internally as he saw Lucius bend over the crack, blocking the sliver of light that had been peeking through. Quickly, he and Luna rushed to Ollivander’s side, and Draco clutched his bony wrist as Lucius tore open the trapdoor. Immediately, Draco froze, eyes meeting his father’s for a long moment, each pair not knowing quite what to expect from the other. The last thing Draco heard before returning to school was his name being called. It was not angry yet not pleased, surprised yet expectant, and this he had not been anticipating…
White smoke erupted around them as they stumbled from space onto the exact place where he had met McGonagall before. She was not there yet, as he was a few minutes earlier than he had planned, and breathless, he faced Luna and the wandmaker.
“What were you two doing in my basement?” he asked, he laughed coldly.
Luna was the first to speak of course, “I was kidnapped by men in silver masks, Death Eaters I assume. Then I was in that musty old place.”
Ollivander opened his mouth, nearly silent words escaping, “Took me they did from my own shop. Had only a few seconds to realize the danger before they scooped me up, destroyed by brilliant collection of wands, and dragging me by my limbs to that cellar. I’ve been in there for months now. Your father and several others used to come down periodically to ask me questions about Harry Potter…”
“Harry Potter?” Draco narrowed his eyes. “What about him?”
“Mostly things about his wand…” Ollivander replied, not sure if he should trust this Malfoy boy or not.
“Hm,” Draco nodded, aloof.
He looked into the distance to find McGonagall’s silhouette floating ghost-like towards them, feet moving rather quickly over the wet grass. Her eyes widened as she saw who was by Draco’s side, and her pace quickened automatically. She rushed up to them with arms in the air.
“Oh my!” she cried. “It’s seems you are a bit of a hero today, Mister Malfoy. However did this occur?”
Draco shrugged, “Coincidence.”
“Well, yes,” McGonagall chuckled. “And a very miraculous one at that! If all of you could follow me…”
They walked back to the castle, Ollivander leaning weakly in between Draco and Luna’s shoulders. It had been so long since he had stood on his own that he found himself rather incapable of doing so. McGonagall was a shepherded behind them, making sure the legendary wandmaker did not lose his grip and instructing them on where to go. When they had reached the fourth floor – the floor which held the hospital wing – McGonagall stopped and spun around to Draco.
Her eyes were twinkling behind her glasses, “I believe Hermione deserves your company, Mister Malfoy… We will continue from here to the hospital wing. If you wouldn’t mind, could you alert Madame Pomfrey that her services are needed there?”
Draco nodded as he continued up various staircases, the way to his room memorized. He spoke the password to the large doors and then entered, going directly to Madame Pomfrey’s door and knocking on it. After a moments, she answered, her expression inquisitive, and Draco told her of the patients awaiting her care downstairs. Upon hearing this news, she thanked him for informing her and scuttled quickly from the corridor, muttering worriedly to herself.
After watching the door slam heavily at her heels, Draco turned to Hermione’s door and knocked, feeling as if he hadn’t seen her in ages, and to his elation, her light steps could be heard on the other side. The door opened slowly, almost reluctantly, and Draco became abruptly nervous. Silver eyes concerned, he stared at her, and as she looked up, her face was drenched in tears and her eyes red and puffy. The sight of it shocked him for only half a second.
“Hermione…” he said, the words escaping as a troubled sigh. “Are you crying?”
She wiped her face with the back of her forearm and curled a piece of hair behind her ear, “Well… I… I suppose I am.”
Draco paused and then back away from her door so she could come out into the hallway, “Come here.”
She did not object and came miserably into his arms, where she usually felt comforted, and thinking this terrifying thought, she burst into hysterics. Draco remained motionless, hand running up and down her arm, over her back, into her hair, as her tears saturated his robes, and although he was confused, he was also perfectly silent. It was a few minutes of bawling before he interrupted her.
“What’s on you mind, Granger?” he said, still holding her comfortably.
She pulled away from him, unsure of what to tell him, and shaking her head, she walked to the stained glass window at the end of the hall and sat down on the ledge beneath it. He followed closely, not wanting to leave her now, and he sat down beside her, his hand snapping onto the top of hers. She glanced down at it, so warm and inviting, but yet… She couldn’t believe she was thinking this now. Tears were still pouring from her eyes, but she was no longer gasping for air or wailing; only softly releasing the rain she had bottled inside of her.
“Please?” he prodded.
She sighed, trying not cry again. When she spoke her voice was thick and nasally, “You’ll be angry.”
“No,” Draco urged her, grabbing her other hand and holding it too. “No I won’t. I promise.”
“You don’t even know what it is,” Hermione shook her head. “How can you promise?”
Draco smirked, as a lock of hair fell into her eyes. He pushed it back saying, “Alright then. You tell me what is bothering you, and then I’ll let you know if I can promise to retain my vicious temper…”
Hermione didn’t laugh, but instead sighed as she replied unwillingly, “Well while you were away last night… and… and this morning…” she took a deep breath “it gave me time to think, which isn’t good sometimes. And then I started feeling guilty again… for… for… your mother and…” Tears began to flow freely again, running into her mouth as she spoke. “And I feel awfully terrible about everything that I’ve caused, and I’m sorry…”
“Granger, none of this is your fault,” he sighed, looking into the wall behind her, thinking. “It’s my fault and my father’s fault, and that is all. Don’t call this your mistake.”
She shook her head defiantly, “No, Draco. If I hadn’t been foolish enough to fall for you, this wouldn’t have happened. Don’t misunderstand me, Malfoy. I truly, honestly love you. It’s just…”
Then he realized what she was getting at, what all along he should have known was a handicap, “You miss him.”
Her eyes wandered to his, innocent, pleading, and also quite pitiful, “Yes I do, but not just that, Draco. I miss Ginny, Neville, Harry, the warm welcome of the Gryffindor common room, the freeness to be myself around other people. Heck, I even miss Colin Creevey, the obnoxious git! And look at you! In a lot worse shape than I am, and I’m the one complaining. It’s so humiliating and stupid… We don’t deserve this. I know we don’t.”
He inhaled, the tone of her voice starting to make him comprehend, “No… we don’t, and it isn’t fair. Never was…” He paused for a long time, watching her hand turn his palm over and lightly trace the folds in it with her fingers. “Hermione… if you want to wait for this, it’s alright. I’ve been feeling the way you do, too, about things.”
“So you know what I mean…” Hermione stated, her eyes wandering his handsome face.
He nodded, “I know exactly.”
“And you aren’t upset with me?”
“Not in the least.”
She breathed, “But I don’t want to hurt you…”
He smiled weakly, “Hermione. As long as I know that you still care about me, you could never hurt me. I want you to be happy, and if right now you aren’t because of things battling against us, I understand completely. It is rather frustrating, I’ll admit…” he kissed her forehead. “One day, when the Dark Lord is defeated and the world is rid of evil, then we can be together once again. Perhaps now is not the time or the place, but nothing can or ever will separate my heart from yours. Do you understand?”
She nodded and then flung her arms around him, exploding into tears once more, and he sat with her for a long time, watching the sunlight filter through the window above them, the colors somehow sullen beside their exasperated image. He had felt this coming, had known it would happen, and now that it had come, it was bittersweet. It was hard to let her go, but he clung to the fact that it was only temporary, only until Voldemort had fallen, until the terror that forced them apart finally faded into the veil. And now, holding her here in his arms for a fleeting last time, he had only to wait until that day would come…