Chapter 24 : Safe...?
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It was dark and cold. If Draco didn’t know better, he’d have thought he and Hermione were still on the coast of the Bering Sea. The scraping sound of paper blowing along cement was loud in his ears, and somewhere a car horn honked. He peered left and right with Hermione cradled in his arms, keeping an eye out for anyone nearby. The gash Agilolf had rent across his shoulder gave a sullen throb, but he ignored it. Hermione was still unconscious.
“Stay with me, love,” he whispered, kissing her softly on the forehead. Her skin was cool against his lips, too cool. He needed to get her inside as soon as possible.
As Draco stood in the dark alleyway, he glanced at the tall buildings that surrounded him. Never thought I’d see this place again, he mused, his eyes glued to the hulking shape cut against the sky that was the Femme publishing headquarters. They stood on the far side of the building near the receiving dock. Draco hoped that no one would pay any attention to them, regardless how suspicious they most definitely looked. This seemed like it wouldn’t be a problem, though, because the sidewalks were practically empty and few cars drove by. Draco’s brow furrowed as he wondered at the barren state of the city.
Exhaling slowly, he wiped the curiosity from his mind and went to the large receiving doors. Nothing about Chicago is my lookout, he thought, pulling out his wand and unlocking the heavy doors as inconspicuously as he could. He inched them open just far enough to sneak inside, taking care not to get blood on anything as closed them fast behind him without making a sound. In the dense darkness he made his way to the office he knew was all the way to the left.
Pointing his wand into the room first, Draco disabled the security camera in the corner above the manager’s desk before setting a foot through the doorway. We don’t need a repeat of what happened last time, he smirked. When he heard it fizz and short out, Draco slipped into the office and closed the door behind him. He gently placed Hermione in the large desk chair before he went to the computer to turn it on. As the screen flickered into action, Draco saw the clock in the bottom corner of it and almost laughed out loud. It’s after four AM! He realized. No wonder the city’s dead! Merlin, how long will it take me to get over this apparition-lag? Going from continent to continent is hugely frowned upon; it’s a wonder I haven’t been splinched by now.
While Draco searched through the computer for the information he was after, his mind continued to wander. Well, a person’s only supposed to chance apparating across such a distance if they’re tenaciously certain of where they’re going… Of course, the time before last can’t really count as apparition… his heart jumped at the memory. He glanced at Hermione’s slumbering form in the chair and sighed. Yes, he knew, nothing can keep me from you, Mi… you saw to that.
He felt flooded with memories just by being in the office again, where he’d unexpectedly met with her on that fateful day months before. I’d almost skipped work that afternoon, Draco remembered, his eyes scanning the screen in front of him. I’d already seen her… a few times, even. It’d only been at a distance… I told myself she was someone else, I wanted her to be someone else- anyone else. I didn’t want to have to see her again… He chuckled at how differently things had panned out. I don’t know if I’d call fate “cruel,” he mused, but she’s definitely got a wicked sense of humor.
Draco was just beginning to really get frustrated with the muggle contraption in front of him, when he finally landed on what he’d been looking for: the employee records. It’s about time! He thought. Damn muggle technology… He read down the list, praying that she hadn’t been out of the company long enough for her file to be erased. No one keeps track of these things like they should, he told himself. Strictly speaking, she should be erased by now, since it’s been several months… but hey, that would mean a muggle manager is keeping track of something, and that’s just not likely.
Draco continued to optimistically reaffirm his thoughts and to force the pain of his wounds to the back of his mind. He stared fiercely at the screen, mentally commanding it to reveal her information. If her facts weren’t there, he’d have to break into a much more dangerous location: the Ministry of Magic. Draco was not looking forward to attempting such a thing. To his great relief, hers happened to be the next name his eyes landed on. There you are, he hitched his cheek up in a smile. Hermione Granger…
He pulled up her file and quickly scanned the information there. Impressive references, he thought with a snicker. Of course; as if you’d have anything less. When he got to the part about her paycheck he paused; there was the bit he was looking for… her address. No bloody way, Draco thought, baffled by what he read.
When he’d gotten a job at Femme, Draco’d had to put down a legitimate address for where he lived. He couldn’t very well make something up, and he certainly didn’t intend to give them his real address overseas. So, being the renegade-in-hiding that he was, he chose the first apartment complex he saw on the street and merely wrote down the address to one of it’s units. He didn’t even bother checking to see if anyone else actually lived there. He had his paycheck sent to a post office box and never bothered with anything else beyond that. Hermione, amazingly, lived in that apartment complex.
“Of all the places you could be,” Draco murmured as he went to pick her up from the chair, “Merlin… the more I think about our lives, the more I feel like we were never in control of anything. Meeting at school was just the beginning. Greyback’s influence over me, the Ministry sending you to Femme instead of any other magazine in the U.S., Chicago being the city out of every other city in the world that I chose to disappear in,” he shook his head in disbelief. “Now, this, even. We were virtually neighbors by pure coincidence alone.”
Draco gazed into her peaceful face and had a small revelation, “you’ve made me realize that nothing in the world is accomplished by pure coincidence,” he spoke, changing the opinion he’d stated before. “There’s a reason for everything in this world, and for me, Hermione… it’s you.” Spinning on his heel, Draco silently disapparated to the apartment building down the street; the only place where they’d be safe, if only temporarily.
He apparated right to the front step of the building and cracked the front door open. Waving his wand discreetly before he entered the foyer, Draco magically shot a notepad across the doorman’s counter. The tired young man frowned and went to pick it up, and Draco snuck in with his “cargo” unnoticed. He headed for the elevators and punched the button for the twelfth floor; Hermione lived at the top of the building. That’s the only way to go, Draco smirked. No idiots above you, stomping around and being obnoxious.
Once the elevator halted and opened it’s doors, Draco stepped forward and gasped, gritting his teeth as his shoulder gave a fiercer throb than before. He pushed it out of his mind. I can deal with it later, he told himself, we’re almost there. He followed the hallway to the left, coming to a stop at apartment 12 C. He pulled out his wand, and with a quick Alohomora, he was inside.
Oh, how the place felt like her. Draco locked the door behind him and flicked on the lights, his heart jerking as he felt her presence surround him in every way. Everything was orderly and comfortable, excepting the coffee table which was littered with parchment, books and an array of quills. The living room, kitchen, and dining area were all one giant room with a cathedral ceiling, yet another perk of living on the top floor. Draco smiled to think of Hermione relaxing (or, fervently doing research, as was more her style) in such an artsy, loft-like space. To his right was a door that he realized went to a coat closet; the door he was searching for was on the opposite side of the living room.
Stepping quietly into Hermione’s bedroom, Draco made his way to her bed and lay her gently upon it. It was a beautiful old sleigh-bed, it’s frame made of dark cherry wood and it’s bedding purely white. Such a princess you are, he thought with a smile. He pulled the crisp, feather down comforter up over her body and tucked it lightly around her shoulders before taking a seat beside her. He smoothed a curl away from her forehead, knowing that no one would find them there and feeling himself actually begin to relax. His shoulder chose just that moment to remind him that, although Hermione was finally safe, he wasn’t yet out the woods.
Rolling his eyes and groaning at the huge annoyance of his injury, Draco stood. A buzz of light-headedness hit him and he swayed, suddenly overcome with dizziness. He tried to focus his now blurry eyesight on his wound, and was dismayed to see his entire arm covered in sticky, half-dried blood. When did that get so bad? He wondered. I better not have gotten blood on her white bedspread… Draco tried to turn and check, but he couldn’t see around the black spots that were growing in his vision. He reached for his wand, knowing he should’ve healed himself ages ago. Mi’s here… she’s here- she’s with me, now… Why couldn’t he lift his wand? Draco squinted his eyes at the lovely girl on the bed and swayed on his feet. She’s here, his mind had turned into a one track record. She’s with me. You’re with me, Mi- you’re… safe… you’re… sa-
Draco lost consciousness before he even hit the floor.
Hermione sat with her back somewhat slouched as she furiously took notes. Her quill nearly set her parchment on fire as she wrote ingredient after ingredient for the potion Professor Snape would be quizzing them on the next week. It was long and complicated, as usual, and she was determined to stay focused this time. He’s not going to throw me off my game this time, no sir, she thought fiercely. That ferret-face had better stop antagonizing me during class, so help me, Merlin. If he makes me miss a single question on that quiz-
“Silent for once… Ms. Granger?” the rumbling drawl of Snape was suddenly in her ears and she felt her skin flush in embarrassment. Did he actually just call on me? She wondered frantically. Did he even ask a question? Oh, Merlin! Malfoy had done it again. Just the thought of his annoying presence made her start to lose her cool.
“I’m… sorry, Professor…?” Hermione stammered in frustration.
“Yeees, I see that,” he sneered, “five points from Gryffindor.” Turning on his heel, he strode back up to the front of the classroom, where he continued his lecture on the merits of runespoor eggs and how they increased mental ability, perhaps even assisting those poor fools who had difficulty paying attention.
Erghh! Hermione nearly snapped the quill she held, she clenched her fist so hard. She couldn’t believe it; he’d caused her to not only humiliate herself, but also to lose house points! Just look at him! She thought furiously. He’s so smug! It’s as if he knows that he’s responsible for my brain malfunctioning! He would feel that way… he takes pride in and credit for anything nasty!
While she was still fuming, Professor Snape dismissed the class with a wave of his hand and an irritated, long-suffering expression. Hermione slammed her book shut and stormed past her fellow students and out of the room, her hair flying behind her in a vicious mass of waves. Oooh! She pursed her lips in an angry scowl. That git! How dare he? She’d thoroughly worked herself into a fit by the time she’d made it to the great hall and lunch. Throwing her book bag onto the bench, she sat down in a huff and vigorously spooned a heap of thick chicken and dumplings onto her plate.
As she jammed a decidedly unladylike forkful into her mouth, Hermione brooded. Malfoy had always caused her undue grief, but lately something had changed. Is he trying new tactics of annoyance? She wondered. For the past month, he had completely left her alone; he hadn’t said a word to her, even when she’d slipped on the grass near the quidditch pitch and had nearly fallen right on her bum. It’s not like him at all to miss opportunities to make me feel ridiculous; he generally goes out of his way just to make some up! Hermione took a sip of her pumpkin juice and ran a hand through her frazzled locks. He’s got to be up to something…
Draco Malfoy hadn’t been teasing her. He hadn’t sneered at, made fun of, or insulted her for an entire month. What she’d noticed him doing instead was much more unsettling: he watched her. Hermione knew it. She knew it with every bone in her body. She’d even met his gaze a few times, but he always instantly averted his eyes. The times when she didn’t catch him in the act, she could still feel him watching her. It put her on more of an edge than anything else he’d ever done. It’d even caused her to rank third on Snape’s previous test! Two other people had scored above her!
What I need to find out, is: why is he doing this? Hermione chewed her food methodically as she ruminated, deaf to the sounds of everyone else at her table. What on earth would give him a reason to stare at me? Is he targeting me for something? Is he trying to catch me in some routine so that he can approach me when no one else is around? This thought actually made her feel somewhat worried, until she assured herself that she was a faster draw on her wand than nearly anyone else in the school, and was more than capable of protecting herself. She refused to let mere theories frighten her. I’m being ridiculous! She scolded herself.
A bit of an odd feeling abruptly swept through her, and she stilled in her seat. Hmm? She wondered, thinking she may’ve heard something. For the first time during her meal Hermione tuned into the conversations around her. Harry and Ron were talking about quidditch, of course, she thought. Ginny was listening to Fred and George go on about a new puking pastille they’d invented that made a person’s vomit rainbow colored. Revolting, Hermione shuddered. Parvati and Lavender talked of boys and other random dribble, while Seamus and Dean reviewed, to her expectation, quidditch. None of the conversations contained reference to what she’d thought she’d heard: her own name.
Brilliant, she thought, now I’m hearing things. Hermione blew a strand of hair out of her face and sighed, wondering how she was going to free her brain from it’s irritating torment.
The brunette snapped her head up abruptly. There’s no doubt in my mind that I just heard that! She knew. “Did you say something, Ginny?” she asked almost hopefully, looking at her friend.
Ginny raised her eyebrows and shook her head. “Nope, not much to talk about today,” she shrugged. Hermione frowned and looked over at Harry and Ron, who were gazing at her curiously.
“Something up, ‘Mione?” Ron asked.
“Hm? Oh… no, I just-” she faded away as she glanced analytically around the room, leaving her friends perplexed. Her eyes roamed the great hall almost involuntarily; she felt like she was looking for something, she just didn’t know what. She found her vision trained to the back of someone’s head, someone at the Slytherin table. She couldn’t tell who they were, only that it was a boy with short brown hair. Nevertheless, Hermione couldn’t stop studying him.
The mystery person began to stand up, and Hermione narrowed her eyes in interest, eager to find out who the boy was and why her attention was stuck on him. He extricated himself from his seat on the bench and turned, revealing his identity to be that of some fourth year Hermione had never officially met. As he left his place, however, he revealed something much more unbelievable. Sitting across the table from the mystery lad, now in Hermione’s direct line of sight, was none other than Draco Malfoy.
And he was looking at her.
He had one elbow on the tabletop and he rested his chin in his hand. Languidly he blinked, but for the first time, he didn’t avert his gaze. He watched her as though he’d been doing so even when the Slytherin boy had been between them; as though he’d been staring right through the guy. Chills ran down Hermione’s spine as Malfoy tilted his head, continuing to scrutinize her with his pale, mysterious eyes.
Hermione jumped up from her seat, unable to stand any more of Malfoy’s bizarreness. “I need to hurry to get to Ancient Runes,” she declared suddenly, inhaling one last mouthful of chicken before she moved away from the table. Harry lifted an eyebrow quizzically at her, but she was too focused to notice and he knew her too well to bother questioning her aloud. He shook his head good-humoredly as she barged up the stairs and out of the great hall.
He got up at the same time I did, Hermione thought, her senses on high alert. She’d seen him do so from the corner of her vision. Lunch was nearly over, so many other students had begun to leave the great hall. All the same, however, she was having a hard time not being overly aware of him among them all. She was starting to feel irrational. It didn’t matter how many other students surrounded her or how many footsteps she heard, she could only concentrate on his overpowering presence. Erghh! She scowled. What in Merlin’s name is wrong with me?
In a moment of weakness, she walked through the next door she came to, not even caring if it made her late for Ancient Runes; she just needed to get out of that hallway. That prat’s going to be the end of me if I don’t pull it together! She knew, wanting to yank out her hair in anger. Pausing to take a deep breath, Hermione looked around and saw that she’d entered some sort of storage room. Shelves lined the walls and took up much of the floor space, appearing to hold old trophies and such. She exhaled slowly, knowing that she couldn’t hide in the room forever. She didn’t even want to. She wanted to find out what Malfoy’s problem was and deal with it so that she could get on with her life. And my grades! She thought obstinately.
She continued to breathe deeply for a few more moments, ensuring that her heart rate had returned to normal, even if her thoughts hadn’t. The way he was looking at me, Hermione’s mind raced, his eyes… what was he thinking? I’ve never seen that expression on his face before… She tried to scrub the image from her memory, but it was no use. She knew she’d never forget what had just happened in the great hall. Hermione forced herself to come to terms with that fact as she gripped the door handle in her palm and gave it a turn. Lifting her chin high, she walked through the door.
An unorthodox brightness hit her eyes and they immediately began to water. She squinted them shut and brought a hand up to her face, trying to shield it from the brilliant light. Her hair moved against her neck and a soft, gentle smell teased her nose. What is this? Hermione wondered confusedly. She eased her eyes open slowly and gasped at what she saw. She wasn’t in the hallway, as she should by all logic have been; she was somehow outside, in a sweeping field that was edged on all sides by tall trees. Grasses and wildflowers swayed at her ankles in the light breeze, the unbelievably blue sky cradled a sun that beamed with all it’s might, and as her eyes adjusted to it’s radiance, Hermione realized that she wasn’t alone.
“It…it’s you!” she stammered accusatorily.
“Well, yes,” Draco Malfoy replied. “You were expecting someone else?”
Hermione’s heart jerked as she looked at him, surprising her greatly. He stood just a few feet from her, his hands in his pockets, his mouth curved up in a smirk. One of his eyebrows lifted almost challengingly, and her heart convulsed once again. That’s quite enough of that! She told her vital organ irritably.
“What’s going on here, Malfoy?” Hermione crossed her arms over her chest. His smirk widened into a full blown smile, causing her heart to stop completely for a moment before it remembered it’s purpose and chugged back into action.
“You haven’t called me that in a while,” he laughed. “It’s my turn now, Mi,” he continued simply as he began to walk toward her.
“Your turn? What in Merlin’s name are you talking about? Wait, did you just call me ‘Mi’?” Her chin dropped as shock after shock fell upon her.
He now stood directly in front of her, effectively shading her eyes from the sun that hung in the sky behind him. It’s splendor lit all around him, turning his pale hair to spun stardust and making him look for all the world like he’d been cut from the tapestry of the heavens. Hermione couldn’t understand why she was so shell-shocked by him, just as she couldn’t understand why her tongue seemed to have suddenly glued itself to the roof of her mouth. How…? Who… wait, what? Random interrogatives flitted through her mind as she tried to grab some hold on reality. She felt like she was losing her mind.
“Yes, it’s my turn,” he repeated as he gazed at her serenely. “It’s my turn to call you; just like it’s now your turn to save me. I need you to save me, Mi.”
Her breath stopped in her throat at his serious tone. “S-save you? No, I don’t know what you’re talking about- I have to go to Ancient Runes-”
“No, you don’t, Mi,” he said quietly, “we’re not at Hogwart’s anymore-”
“I can see that; we’re in a field!”
“No, we’re in a dream.”
She felt her whole body still at his words, even as her spirit sang with the truth of them.
“We’re in a dream, Hermione,” Draco murmured, “and I need you to wake up.” As she stared at him wonderingly, pinpricks of red appeared on his left shoulder, harshly noticeable on the crisp white of his shirt.
“How can this be a dream?” she asked. “I remember it happening… getting third on Snape’s quiz, your eyes following me everywhere I went, the boy between us at lunch, the… the chicken, even! I remember it…” Hermione’s words rushed out in a babble as her eyes stared unblinkingly at the growing stain of crimson on his shirt. “What’s happening?” she whispered.
“You’re really out of it, aren’t you?” he asked, seemingly to himself. His expression became pained, because of his shoulder or her, she couldn’t tell. “You remember those things because they happened,” he continued, glancing at his shoulder with obvious annoyance.
“They did… yes, they did,” she reaffirmed herself.
“But they happened several years ago,” Draco added quietly. He took another step toward her, standing so close that they nearly touched. As she looked up into his smoky grey eyes, her breathing hitched nervously and she gulped. He brought his right hand to her jaw, cupping her cheek in his palm and gently caressing his thumb across her soft skin. Hermione’s eyelids fluttered; she’d never experienced anything so tender.
“If you remember those things, Hermione,” Draco began, his eyes containing an emotion that stirred something deep inside her, “do you remember this?” He tilted his head down and brought his lips to hers. Although the kiss was as gentle as the brush of a butterfly’s wings, Hermione felt like she’d been struck by lightening. An incredible electricity zapped through her, pulling forth from her soul the stirring she hadn’t previously been able to name: love. She loved him. Fragments of memories tried to splice themselves together in her mind as they stood kissing in the glorious place of her dream, the place Draco had created to come to her. He’d come to call her back to him and to their real lives that they shared together. He needed her, and she needed him… she needed-
“I need to save you,” Hermione whispered against his lips.
He touched his forehead to hers and closed his eyes. “Yes,” he sighed.
She opened her eyes to look at him and was thunderstruck to see his entire arm dripping red. Blood, she thought, her pulse quickening in fear. He’s bleeding so much…
“You’d better wake up fast, love,” he breathed, smirking at her through the pain. “After all we’ve been through, I refuse to let this be the thing to separate us.”
“How?” Hermione asked frantically. “What do I do? How do I wake myself up?”
“You’ll find a way,” he murmured. “You’re my soul mate for a reason, Hermione.”
“Soul mate”, the word thrummed through her like the most beautiful musical chord known to man. Before her eyes, Draco’s vision grew dim and he collapsed to his knees.
“Draco! Draco?” she fell to the ground beside him and looked desperately into his face. His eyelids flickered closed and he slumped forward, right into her arms. The stillness of his body scared her more than anything she could remember experiencing, and she shuddered. She brought a hand up to the back of his head and smoothed her palm over his hair.
“Draco?” Hermione asked again, her voice shaking. “Wake up, Draco.” Almost irrationally, she gave him a bit of a shake. “Wake up,” she said again, “Wake up! Draco! Wake up!! Wa-”
“-ke up!!” Hermione’s voice shrieked out around her and she sat bolt upright. Her head throbbed sickly and she swayed where she sat, squeezing her eyes shut against the pain. “Uhh…” she moaned. She felt like she’d been hit by ten bludgers at once. The dream was fresh in her memory, as though she’d truly just been standing in a field with him, and she felt her heart squeeze in apprehension. Something’s really wrong… Hermione knew.
She looked around and felt like she should recognize her surroundings, but she didn’t; she had no idea where she was, or why. She didn’t know how she’d gotten there, what had happened, and worst of all, she had no idea where Draco was. She gazed around and winced as a sharp pain in her neck flared up with her movement. Rubbing gingerly at the tender spot she called out, “Draco?” Hermione strained her ears for any sound of his presence, but heard nothing.
That’s it, she grit her teeth in determination. I don’t care where I am or what’s going on; I’m going to find him. Ripping a big comforter from her lap, Hermione kicked her legs over the side of a bed she’d been lying on for who knew how long. Just when she’d been about to leap to the floor, a scream tore from her throat as she found Draco laying there, right beside the bed.
He was covered in blood… and he wasn’t moving.
A/N: Hello! I just wanted to clear something up. Some of you may be wondering why, earlier in this chapter, Draco didn't simply disillusion Hermione while out in public, like he did before. Well, it would actually be more weird for him to be seen walking around with his arms out and empty, as though he were holding something... ahem, invisible... than it would be for him to just be carrying a girl. Even when said girl is unconcious. This was my thinking, anyway. With Agilolf out of the way, the story is taking quite a turn, no? Thank you so much, my lovely readers!!
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