Draco and Hermione had been in the Headmistress’ study for over an hour. Even though Draco intended to skip over much of the drama and hardship he’d suffered while he’d been on the run and not to reveal his relationship with Severus Snape, he told Hermione most of the rest.
As he sat, nearly motionless, in Minerva’s stiff brocade office chair, Draco gazed out of the large diamond paned window out onto the expanse of rolling lawn. He could almost see himself running. Running for his life, running from his life. Snape was close on his heels, until Potter had chased them down, and Snape had stunned him. When he spoke, it was as if the room fell away and he was back there again. Running.
“It was so dark, but I was afraid to light my wand. It seems foolish now, but at the time, I was waiting for death to strike me down at any second. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d failed in my task to kill Albus Dumbledore. Snape had had to finish the job for me and I was sure I’d just signed the death warrants for my family and myself. I kept thinking of Mother. I kept thinking about how much she had wanted my father to stop consorting with the Dark Lord, and how she wanted us to meet with Albus. She said that it didn’t matter who Albus was; he was fair and he’d be forgiving. She’d wanted out badly. She told my father that to follow death would only end in death and she was right. I think my father knew this as well, but he was too proud, too blinded by arrogance to listen to her.”
Hermione sat motionless as well, and she watched Draco’s slim hands grip the arms of the chair until his knuckles turned white. She wanted to go to him, comfort him, but she knew she shouldn’t. He was somewhere else right now; somewhere he hadn’t dared to go in a very long time. She needed to let him do this on his own terms.
“I was weak. According to my father, weakness is my biggest flaw. My mother told me that I wasn’t weak. She told me I had a conscience, something my father didn’t possess. Of course, back then, in 6th year, I just wanted to please my father. I tried too hard to make him accept me—to make him proud of me.” Draco spat the words like poison. Hermione trembled at the intensity of his loathing tone.
“That never happened. I failed him when it really mattered. He’d probably kill me himself if he had the chance.”
Hermione wrapped her arms round herself. She felt the coldness Draco spoke of, so knowingly, and she could feel the forlorn desperation he’d must of felt all that time.
“I never saw my mother again,” he whispered. “I don’t know if she knew what happened to me. I hope that she knew I didn’t murder anyone. It’s probable that before Father killed her, he taunted her with my failure.” Draco shifted slightly in his seat, and it took all of Hermione’s control not to spring up and throw her arms around him.
“At least I can take comfort that if he did do that… at least maybe then she died knowing that I’m not a killer.”
Hermione stayed still, even as tears spilled over her lids and left wet trails down her cheek, and the side of her nose.
“In any case, that horrid night at Hogwarts, after the attack, Snape and I departed from Bella and the others. As soon as we’d cleared the Hogwarts gates Snape dissaperated us away to this remote ramshackle cottage by the sea. I knew at once that we were at the sea because of the fresh, clear smell of saltwater and sound of the crashing surf against the breakers. It was still so dark—and cold, so cold. I guess we entered the house… I don’t remember much of what happened after that. I think I slept for two days. When I finally woke, it was to painfully bright sunlight. Snape was there and he gave me broth. It must’ve had a tonic or an elixir in it, because I felt much better, much stronger after a couple of portions.”
Draco fell silent for a few moments, as if he were struggling with some recollection. “I think I must’ve been in denial because after I’d eaten, I asked him if he’d take me home.”
Draco barked out a laugh then, which made Hermione jump.
“Snape simply said, ‘Draco, you can never go home.’ I think I wished I was dead then. I kept seeing my mother. I fell apart. I cried. I cried like a baby. That night, while Snape slept, I left the cottage. I stole away across the moor and to the forest. For months, I hid in caves and foraged for scraps of food. I ate berries and even bugs. I was nearly dead when they found me.”
“Who found you?” Hermione asked, and then she clamped her mouth shut. Draco had snapped his head toward her, his gaze colliding with hers.
“The Third Order, of course.”
Weary as he was, Draco continued the story, explaining how the Third Order had contacted him and subsequently struck up a deal.
He related that at this point, he’d felt there was nothing for him to lose. They had wanted him to go undercover for an elite group of the Order of the Phoenix wizards called the Inner League. The Inner League agents informed him about an extremely powerful relic, believed—through reliable sources—to be lost somewhere within Hogwarts Castle. This relic was sought not only by the Third Order, but also by Lucius Malfoy, Draco’s father. The elder Malfoy had sinister designs on the object in question, and if by chance or by force, it fell into his hands, it was believed that a Dark Wizard Revival would occur.
Draco also confessed what happened the night Pansy showed up at his room. It had been, and still was, Draco’s understanding that she worked with Lucius. Hermione remained silent while Draco explained that he had had to convince Pansy that he was really trying to help Lucius, and Hermione was just part of that plan.
Hermione winced slightly at this, and Draco studied her. He knew that recalling that horrible night still hurt her. He rose from his chair and kneeled before hers.
Looking up into her strained face, he took her hands in his, and let out a great sigh. “Be sure of this,” he spoke solemnly, “I never meant to hurt you that night—the night Pansy interrupted us. I wanted to tell you everything then, but I just couldn’t.”
“Draco, you don’t have to apologize again—“
“Yes, Hermione, I do. I want to, because I know now how fragile you were then.”
Hermione bit her bottom lip, tossed her head back, and looked up at the ceiling. “But I doubted you,” her voice trembled. “The night of the Ball, I said terrible things… I called you a killer.”
Draco grinned wryly. “Do you know how many times I’ve doubted myself? I don’t blame you for that. In fact, I’m amazed that you gave me a chance at all, let alone numerous chances.”
She looked at him; looked hard at him and then looked away.
His stare never wavered.
“Look, I know how much pain Weasley caused you, and how vulnerable you must have been feeling at that time. We were just getting to really know one another and then Pansy barged in on us. When I saw the hurt in your eyes… it tore my heart out.” He brushed his thumbs over the tops of her hands tenderly, still gazing at her.
After a moment, she looked back at him and a diminutive smile touched the corner of her mouth. “Thank you for that. You didn’t have to go there again, but thank you. And I know how much you care for me, Draco.” Her fingers tightened around his.
“Care for you?” He grinned again. “Hermione, I’m in love with you.”
Draco took her face in his hands as he said this, held her gaze while he pulled her face down so her lips could meet his. Their breath mingled shortly before their souls joined and hearts touched in a deep, slow kiss.
“I love you, too,” she breathed against his mouth.
“Shhh,” he whispered, kissing her again.
“Mmm.” She indulged in the kiss for a moment. “Wait.” She drew away.
“What?” Draco asked, lightly. Hermione was pleased to see that he was more than a bit swept away by their kiss.
“You heard Minerva—no tomfoolery, no monkey business!” She did a perfect imitation of McGonagall herself and this had Draco laughing.
He shook his head, stood, and returned to his seat. “The most bizarre thing is that this task of mine, this relic, I’ve been searching for the whole school year, is a bloody Advanced Potions book! Oh, I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not just any potions book. This one belonged to the ‘Half-Blood Prince.’”
Draco rubbed his eyes with both palms. Had he seen Hermione’s face, he’d have been startled. She sat motionless, as if petrified by a reflected Basilisk glance.
He went on, “Utterly ridiculous, yeah? And, for the life of me, I cannot find the bleeding thing! It’s supposed to be here, in this castle, somewhere.” Draco plucked at the fraying brocade cloth of his armrest. “Well? What do you make of all this then? The Order business and all?”
At last, Hermione stood and walked back and forth a few times before turning back to stared at Draco with her mouth agape. “Unbelievable. I’m truly speechless.”
She rolled her eyes, turning away but he caught her hand, and pulled her into his lap. “What are you thinking? I’ve seen that look before and you know something, don’t you? Do you know of this book? Not just any Advanced Potions book, but the one belonging to this Half-Blood Prat?”
“Half -Blood Prince,” she corrected,” and yes, I absolutely know about it. Harry inadvertently came upon it in our sixth year…”
Draco cocked his head, brows knit in disbelief. “You’ve got to be joking? Potter? I’m dying to know how.”
“Professor Slugghorn let Harry borrow an old book from the storeroom, the very book you seek!”
“That ruddy bastard!” spat Draco.
Hermione scowled. “Who do you mean? Harry or Slugghorn?”
“Harry, of course. What luck that bloke has had. It’s incredible…and it makes sense. That’s how he knew the powerful Dark Magic hex he used on me in the boys’ lavatory in sixth year. Bastard!”
“Hurmp! I told Harry that book was no good! Oh, but just so you’re clear, Harry had no idea what that spell would do when he hexed you.”
Draco snorted. “Ignorant prat. He could have killed me.”
“You’re fine now,” Hermione mocked, dismissing his whining. “Let me guess, the Prince’s book is full of Dark Magic and Lucius wants to get his hands on it to train up an army of Dark Wizards?”
“I reckon. And it’s not just dark spells in that book. There are potions and incantations beyond the wildest imagination, if one knows how to unlock them. Remember how the Dark Lord came back to life with that nasty bit of potion brewed in the Riddle House’s graveyard? Yes, well that’s a party wassail compared to some of the recipes in this sodding book.”
The gears were already turning in Hermione’s head. “Let’s just go to Harry, explain your mission, and get the book. Merlin, how simple! I wish you had told me ages ago. We could have been done with all this business.” She went to him and ran her hands up his chest to his shoulders.
“And he still has the book? All this time he’s had it?” Draco seemed skeptical.
“No, but I know where it is—”
“Brilliant!” He kissed the top of her head. “Where?” Draco’s eyes sparked, his heart larruped his ribcage, and his breath quickened.
“We have to go to Harry. He hid the book and only he knows exactly where to find it.”
Draco drew a long petulant breath. “Potter. I swear— he’s been the bloody bane of my existence.”
Hermione ignored his childish remark. “Harry will be returning quite late this evening from the Ministry. We can go to him first thing in the morning and have him take us directly to the book. Once you’ve done this, you’ll finally be free. You won’t feel beholden to anyone any longer.” She held him tightly, willing him to feel what she’d just described; hoping with all her might the restless furry of his past would be behind him.
He wrapped his arms round her, crushing her against him, burying his nose in her curls. “I hope you’re right. Com’on, let’s get out of here and back to your suite where we can partake in tomfoolery and monkey business.”
Hermione giggled and together they rose from the chair, and left the study hand in hand.
Within Minerva’s study, two large eyes peered out from a portrait. The eyes’ owner heard every word and nearly squealed with glee. His master would be elated. Moxie knew just what to do. The wrinkled, little house-elf quickly and silently disapparated to the decrepit mansion by the sea.
The clock tower at Hogwarts Castle struck midnight. The last toll knelled out across the rolling campus, over the valley and the river, through the Scottish hillside. Within the stone walls, on second floor, an odd mist was gathering. It churned and swirled, finally finding its way through the keyhole into the Professor of The Dark Arts’ quarters.
The raven-haired hero was sleeping fitfully in his private room. Ginny was doing a twenty-four hour shift at St. Mungo’s. He never slept well without her next to him.
His lips twitched. He tossed.
In his mind, Harry heard his name. Stirring slightly, he pushed it away. The voice. It wasn’t there.
‘Harry Potter. Where did you hide that which he seeks?’
Dreaming. Always, he had endured vivid dreams.
‘That which he seeks…’
The voice was more persistent now, urging him to think, to recall something. What did it want? The Advanced Potions book from sixth year floated into Harry’s mind as a response to the mist.
He saw himself walking to the seventh floor corridor, walking three times past the empty spot on the wall. As the entrance appeared, he felt an overwhelming desire to find the book again. The Room of Requirement. The room of hidden things. The toppling heaps of discarded and forgotten relics. The wardrobe, the bust, and the Half-Blood Prince’s book.
Harry gasped and woke with a start. He sat up in his bed, feeling groggy and confounded. With his palms, he rubbed his eye sockets and swiped the messy fringe off his sweat-slicked brow. He’d been dreaming again, but couldn’t remember what he dreamt. The memory of it was elusive, and the more he tried to recollect the thoughts, the more they slipped away.
Sighing, he lay back down and finally sleep came again, crawling over him like a serpent, coiling heavily on his chest. He slept deeply for the rest of the night.
At an unholy hour the next morning, three figures walked toward the Room of Requirement.
Harry, Hermione, and Draco trudged through the hallways on Saturday morning before most of the sleepy-headed students completed their dreams of Hogsmeade.
Having not slept well for most of the previous night, Harry was in a foul mood. He was in rare form as he spouted off every few moments complaints. “I can’t believe the Order put the likes of you undercover to search for the Prince’s soddy potion book! What’s next, will they be having you protect the Sorcerer’s Stone? Oh, too late—I already took care of that.”
“Harry…” Hermione warned.
“Will they ask you, personally, Malfoy, to guard the Chamber of Secret’s? To kill that huge, fucking monster lurking down there? No, I guess I pretty much wrapped that one up too.”
“Fuck off, Potter.”
Harry was on a roll, now. “How about they ask you to risk life and limb to kill Voldemort? No, I already took care of that, too!”
Draco sneered and shot him a contemptuous glare.
“Harry, enough!” shouted Hermione. “Merlin, you can really be a wanker sometimes.” She gave him a stern look.
Draco snickered at Harry sardonically.
“And you…” Hermione turned to Draco.
“What? He’s the one who stared it.” Draco all but pouted in response.
“Both of you, please just grow up,” Hermione sighed, witheringly.
“Okay, this is it, let’s go.” Harry walked back and forth three times in front of blank wall making a door appear, while thinking of the junk filled room.
They entered and Draco gave a low whistle. “What the hell? Look at all this rubbish! How’d you find this place?”
“Yeah,” agreed Harry, “When Snape had me cornered after I accidentally ripped you open in sixth year—“
“Accidentally was it? You filleted me like a Mackerel!”
“Boys?” Hermione huffed. “Can we get on with it?” She was stepping gingerly round something that looked a lot like dead, decaying Devil’s Snare.
“Ah ha!” cried Harry hastening down a row of nearly collapsing castoffs. He stopped in front of an old wardrobe. There, atop the ancient piece of furniture was the bust. He knew the book would be inside.
Except it wasn’t.
Draco and Hermione came running to Harry’s side as he stared at the empty shelves.
“Where is it?” Draco asked, his eyes wild, his nostrils flaring.
“It’s gone.” Harry stated that truth, but his tone was disbelieving.
“Gone? What do you mean gone?” Draco’s hopeful, almost elated expression had fallen in an instant. Hermione place a hand on his shoulder. He was quivering.
“I mean,” emphasized Harry, “that the book isn’t where I put it. It’s not here any longer; it’s vanished.”
Draco made an odd sound in his throat. A sound of laughter being stifled. His chin fell onto his chest and he dragged both hands through his hair, fisting the strands and yanking as he cried out in a great wail.
His long moaning howl, echoed through the vast chamber. Hermione and Harry stood by helpless and silent.
Later on in Hogsmeade, Draco met with Snape at the Hogshead. It was Draco’s unfortunate task to explain the latest development. He surmised that somehow, someone got to the book before he and Potter did. It must’ve been only moments before.
Draco could read Severus’ mind. In fact, Legitimacy was one of Draco’s greatest strengths. Severus feared that Lucius must have his book. The former Potion’s Master was incensed, nearly rabid at this notion, and Draco itched to be away from him.
“Now, what do we do?” Draco asked.
“Nothing,” Severus droned, menacingly. “You will do nothing. You will wait until I contact you with further instruction. Since the book is no longer at Hogwarts your part in this mission is over.”
“What? That’s it?” Draco was truly astonished. “But what about the potion? The antidote to the Draft of Living Death?”
“Silence!” Snape hissed, eyes darting warily. “Do not speak of it. Ever. Unless I ask you for the potion outright, never breath a word of it. Do you understand me, boy?”
Draco nodded. He couldn’t help but think these Order members where scarier and more formidable than any Death Eater ever was.
Before long, Draco was back at the castle, in Harry’s quarters, Hermione tucked snuggly next to him on the sofa. Harry was pacing and it annoyed Draco. “That bloke has more nervous energy than a lemming,” he whispered against Hermione’s ear.
“Shush. You’re impossible.” Hermione squeezed his thigh.
“Why,” asked Harry, addressing no one in particular, “would the Order want Snape’s old potion book? It’s not as if those spells were that deadly. Come on.”
Hermione’s eyes snapped to Harry. “I told you Harry, you should have destroyed that awful book!” she scolded.
“I hate to tell you Potter, but that book wasn’t Snape’s. At least not at first. The original owner was Tom Riddle.”
Harry froze. “Wait— that can’t be.”
“Yeah, it can. It’s the truth.”
“But Lupin told me…hold on. I initially thought maybe the book belonged to my dad, but Remus said it couldn’t have been from my father’s time at Hogwarts. But that was when Snape was in school, as well.”
“Right-o, old boy, now your thinking,” Draco scoffed. He stood and strode to Harry who was refilling his fire whiskey tumbler. “Listen Potter, the magic spells and concoctions that are scrawled in that book are very dark, very dangerous…very volatile. You and I know this well, eh?”
The nod to sectumsempra was not lost on Harry.
Draco went on, “In the hands of an accomplished and skilled, dark wizard, those spells, potions, and incantations could be devastating.” Draco poured himself a drink of Ogden’s as he spoke.
“Well,” questioned Harry, “what’s to be done now?”
Draco took a generous swallow of the burning amber liquid. “Apparently, nothing as far as I’m concerned. I just wait for further instruction.” He took another swig and then refilled his glass.
Harry scowled, his gaze drifting lazily to the glowing embers in his hearth. “How did they get to it? I’m the only one who knew where it was hidden.”
Draco shrugged, shaking his head. “Got me. But, in any case…” he paused to gulp the whiskey. “Potter…regardless of the futility…thanks. Even if we were too late to retrieve that sodding book.”
Harry nodded, not sure, if he had really heard Draco Malfoy thank him. Then Harry added, jovially, “I’d do anything for Hermione, Malfoy. I’d even help you.”
As the sun set on the horizon of the sea by the dilapidated Manor, the fiery orb took with it the last shreds of light. Just before they where gone, they’d glinted off a yellow gem, a Canary diamond encrusted in the top of walking stick.
Long, pale-white fingers curled round the top, and a raspy voice spoke to the empty gathering darkness. “Soon. Soon. When I’ve all four of them, I can take up where you left off my Master.”
A/N: Just a reminder. This was written as NON-DH compliant. I began this fic before the book came out, so from the end of The Half-Blood Prince on is AU. Thanks heathdiva for the awesone betaing!!!