Pansy felt cold as she stared at the body in front of her. When Ron was with her, cradling her shivering body in his arms, she felt safer but now that he had gone outside to check if the coast was clear, Pansy felt a shiver. Even dead, Hector had a sick look in his eyes and after looking at them for a few seconds, she reached over and closed them with her fingers. She didn’t understand how she felt right now; she was angry and sad and scared and relieved and nervous and confused.
She pulled the robes Ron had put over her bare back and wrapped them tighter around herself and wished there was some word or some feeling to describe everything that was going through her. Defining it would make it more real and maybe help her accept that she had killed the man who had haunted her dreams for the last years.
The sound of the door opening distracted her for a moment and she turned to see Ron come in. “I heard someone calling for Hector down the hall,” he muttered. “I think it was Carter but he’s heading down the West Wing so he won’t be coming here. We should probably stay here for a few more minutes just in case.”
He stepped into the room and sat down beside Pansy. “Did you close his eyes?” he asked.
She nodded. “I had to stop myself from looking at them.”
“Are you alright?” he asked in a low voice. Pansy could tell that Ron had never really been one to voluntarily deal with emotions or feelings and so his voice was always low and cautious, to make sure he wasn’t treading on unchartered territory.
“Yeah, yes...” she replied quietly. She waited a little bit and felt that she should say what was on her mind. “Thank you for...you know, helping me.”
“Well I didn’t really do anything,” he said.
Ron nodded and Pansy smiled again, this time internally, as she saw how uncomfortable this made him. She tried to think of the last man she knew who didn’t think about sex all the time, the last man who felt uncomfortable when he sat next to an exposed woman. She pulled the robes over her shoulder to cover up the bare skin. “Are you feeling better?” she asked and when Ron looked at her with a confused expression, she continued. “The cruciatus curses, I mean, are you still in pain?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “Moving hurts a little but I’ll survive. Can I ask you something? If you don’t mind, I mean.”
Pansy nodded. “Has...did he ever do this to you before tonight?” he asked.
“Yeah,” she replied. “Once before but that time, he was successful.”
“You’re so strong!” Ron said, this time his voice wasn’t low. “Why would you let him do that to you?”
“I wasn’t brought up surrounded by siblings and cookies and broomsticks like you were,” she muttered and felt the sadness overwhelm her. “Ron, I grew up learning that the only thing I am is a good body. I got everything I ever wanted by using it and well, after a while it became who I was.”
“Why didn’t Draco ever-?”
“He never knew,” Pansy muttered. “No one ever knew about the rape and to be honest, I preferred it that way. Who would ever sympathize with a slut?”
Ron nodded very slightly and there was a disturbed expression on his face. Pansy turned away and continued to look at the body in front of her. “You were right though,” she said. “He’s nothing more than a vile man. I don’t know how or why I ever let him control me. He’s the reason I left the death eaters and he’s the reason I stayed with Draco to help him fight.”
“You’ve beaten him,” Ron said and he turned his gaze to the body. “You can wake up from the nightmare.”
“Yeah, I can.”
A cold wind blew in through the open windows and Pansy shivered, cowering under the robes. Ron looked at her for a second and then drew his gaze away and stood up. “I don’t think Hermione left any clothes in here,” he said, checking the drawers. “No, she didn’t. There are only towels in here. Here, you can just wear my shirt.”
“No, it’s ok,” Pansy insisted. “I’m sure there’s another pair of clothes somewhere in this room.”
Ron searched through the cabinets and through the closet where he found a dark green t-shirt and men’s jeans. “Wow, I can’t believe they’re still here,” he muttered as he pulled them out.
“What? Whose are those?”
“They’re Draco’s,” Ron said and almost formed a half smile. “When I first came to the Manor, I didn’t have any clothes so Hermione offered me some of his but I just wouldn’t wear them.”
“I’ll just take the shirt,” Pansy said. Underneath her ripped robes, she had been wearing a purple t-shirt and black pants and while the shirt had now been ripped through, the pants were still in wearable condition.
As she reached for the shirt, Ron awkwardly looked around. “I’ll just turn around,” he muttered and turned to face the adjacent wall opposite Pansy.
Pansy removed Ron’s robes and then her own ripped ones, holding up whatever was left of the purple shirt to cover her exposed front. She looked into the mirror across the bed and turned around, allowing her bare back to reflect at her. She looked at the scars for the first time in a long while and swallowed slowly. When they had just been formed, they were red and bloody and had stayed raw for many days after. A few weeks after the incident, the X had become a darker red, healing and yet surrounded by many bruises. Now, years later, it was a pale colour that was lighter than her skin tone and under the moonlight, almost glowed.
No one, other than Hector and Lestrange, had seen these scars. Ron had merely glimpsed them a few days ago but he had been unconscious when Hector had mentioned the scars and now that he was awake, Pansy knew that he hadn’t made the connection. She had held on to her secret about Hector for too long and maybe she was holding on to these scars for too long.
“Do you remember when you saw me in the shower a few days ago?” Pansy said. She was very quiet as she spoke and looked at the back of Ron’s head, still holding up the purple shirt to her front.
“Um yeah,” Ron replied slowly.
“Turn around Ron,” she said, feeling confident and surer of this than she had of anything else in her life.
“What?” he asked.
Ron turned to face Pansy and seeing her standing in front of him with very little purple fabric covering her front, he immediately dropped his gaze. Pansy turned around and exposed her back to him, taking a deep breath as she did so. “This is what you saw,” she said.
Ron looked up and inhaled sharply as the two large lines dominated his vision. “Did Hector-”
“Him and Lestrange,” Pansy explained with her back still to him. She felt exposed but she also felt like a load was being lifted off her mind and body. “They each did one.”
Ron felt the blood rush out of his head and he felt nervous staring at Pansy. The scar on her back was white and glowing in the moonlight. He could feel himself being drawn to her and his feet began to move. He made sure to make his steps loud so that Pansy could hear them and know that he was coming. In case he had horribly misunderstood, she would at least be able to stop him before he got to her.
But she never said a word.
Ron took his last step and breached the distance between him and Pansy and placed his finger on the X. He ran it down the line, tracing the shape as his other hand cradled Pansy’s bare shoulder. His face drew in closer to Pansy’s neck and he took a deep breath, inhaling her coconut scent.
She shivered under his touch and he suddenly withdrew his hand. “I’m sorry,” he muttered.
“Don’t be,” Pansy said softly and she turned around. “Your touch, it’s different from Hector’s. His hands were ice cold and yours are warm and soft.”
“Then why’d you shiver?” he asked.
Pansy matched his gaze with her dark eyes and looked away. “I don’t know,” she mused. She turned around again and exposed the scar to Ron. “Finish tracing it. Whenever I think of my scar, I imagine Hector’s coarse, cold hands tracing it. I don’t want to remember that.”
Ron didn’t need to be told twice and he placed his fingers back on her healed flesh and began tracing the X with his bare fingers. He felt the bumpy skin under his fingers and he felt his own breath slow down. His face was beside Pansy’s and though he was considerably taller than her, he could still feel her soft skin against his. Pansy’s eyes were closed as she felt the gentle touch of Ron’s hands against her back and the softness of his skin against her own. The feeling was unlike anything she had ever imagined and the shivers continued to run down her spine and she felt calmed by them.
Ron lowered his heads and pressed his lips to Pansy’s ear. “You’re more than just a body,” he whispered.
Pansy felt overwhelmed by the emotions flooding through her and she raised one of her hands, the other still holding on to the purple, and placed it against Ron’s face. Ron drew his lips away from her ear and kissed her hand very gently. His lips then moved, very slowly, to her cheek and he kissed her again, lingering a little bit after to take in her infectious scent. His lips moved to the bottom of her jaw and he kissed her again. This time, Pansy turned around to face him and placed her hand on his cheek, stroking his hair. She turned her head a little and let Ron move in closer, his lips getting closer to hers.
Pansy inhaled very sharply and drew back as Ron grabbed Hector’s wand off the bed. He turned towards the door and took a few steps forward. In the meantime, Pansy grabbed Draco’s green shirt, discarding the purple fabric to the side of the bed, on top of Hector’s body.
“Hector, if you can hear me, get your ass out here!” Carter’ footsteps echoed throughout the hallway in front of them as he called out Hector’s name. “Lestrange’s got the mudblood and Malfoy. Let’s go!”
Ron turned to face Pansy and then did a quick one-eighty as he realized that she was in the process of changing shirts. “How do you feel about playing bait?” he asked.
He heard Pansy shut one of the open drawers and then clear her throat. “I’m done,” she said. “Yeah, I know what to do.”
Ron receded into the shadows behind the door and waited as Pansy stepped over Hector and stood three feet from the door. He looked to her and then nodded.
“Help!” she cried. “Get off me you creep! Help! Hector, stay away from me!”
She paused for a second as the footsteps neared the door and then screamed one last time. “Help!”
“Hector?” Carter called from the door.
The door knob turned left and then right and then Carter swung it open, entering the room. He had a twisted smile on his face but his dark eyes fell on the limp body lying against the bed. “What the-?”
Before he finished his thought, Ron grabbed him from behind the door and swung his fist towards his stomach. Carter fell to the floor as Pansy grabbed Hector’s wand and pointed it at him. She whispered a binding spell and watched as the yellow light swerved around Carter’ limbs and bound them with each other, causing him to lose his balance and fall to the floor.
She handed Ron the death eater’s wand and held up Hector’s as a warning. “Where is Lestrange keeping them?” Ron asked, his wand dangerously close to Carter’ face.
“Go to hell,” Carter said and spat on the floor. “Like I’d ever tell you.”
“So you’re loyal to your friends, are you?” Ron asked. “Let me tell you something: if you don’t tell me where Lestrange is keeping Draco and Hermione, I’ll put a silencing spell on you and leave you here. If you’re lucky, you’ll die quickly like Hector but I’d imagine that you’d just sit here for days... weeks even. You’d be starving and you’d be repulsed by the smell of his rotting body but no one would be able to hear your silent cries for help.”
“He makes a hard bargain, Carter,” Pansy pondered. “But I think you should take the deal. You tell us where Lestrange is and we’ll make sure you live.”
The rabid persistence in the death eater’s eyes had faded considerably and he took only fifteen seconds of thinking before giving his answer. “In the dungeons,” he muttered. “By the South Tower, I think. You’ll make sure they find me, right?”
Ron nodded and rolled his eyes. “Some loyal death eater you are.”
He and Pansy had each acquired a wand which gave them reasonable confidence that they’d be able to conquer whoever it was in the dungeons. With one last look at Hector and Carter, they both left.
Draco felt the waves hitting his face. At first, he managed to take sharp breaths as he pulled away from the water but in a matter of seconds, the water became fiercer. The waves were now making a deep thrashing sound as they engulfed his body and he struggled to stay up. As he opened his mouth to take in air, he felt the cold liquid swim down his throat and fill his lungs.
The temperature was now freezing, as though knives were pulling through his cheeks. They were digging deep into his skin, twisting and gnawing. He opened his mouth to scream but only more water poured in.
He was drowning again.
He had to breathe in order to survive but he couldn’t seem to find any air. All around him, there was a sea of blue thrashing against his body and swallowing him alive. But he had to try and survive. He had seen Hermione for a brief second and she could be in danger. He had to survive to help her.
He had to tell her that he never wanted her to leave him again.
He wanted to tell her everything.
“Herm-” The last bit of sound was muffled by a wave that washed over his head. It was over, he was going to drown to death. “Hermion...”
Suddenly the water around him disappeared into the darkness. He felt his congested chest like a heavy weight on his body but he could breathe. He could open his mouth and take in air, and as he did so, he could feel a gurgling sound escape his lips.
“Draco, I’m here, I’m here,” Hermione’s voice came. “Get away from him you idiot.”
“Granger, if you don’t shut your mouth-” Draco recognized this second voice as that of Mathias. “Hey, Malfoy, it’s time to get up sweetheart.”
“He’s awake, stop with the ice water!” Hermione grunted.
“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” Mathias said. “It’ll give you a chance to say your goodbyes.”
This whole conversation took place as Draco recovered from a state of blurred dizziness. The world around him was spinning, appearing as a cataclysmic void of colours and shapes. He groaned as the darkness began to recede and what used to be spinning shapes came into focus slowly.
“Are you alright?” Hermione asked and her face began to come into clear view. “Can you hear me, Draco?”
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “Yes.”
Hermione helped him into a sitting position and placed her gentle hands against his warm forehead. “You’re getting warm. When was your last dose of antidote?”
“I don’t know,” he muttered. “I don’t know what time it is. I don’t even know how you got to me. The last thing I remember was running to the library and Cass- where’s Cassius? What happened to him?”
“I don’t know,” Hermione answered truthfully. She kept her hand on Draco’s and looked into his grey eyes. “He’s a lot more involved in all of this than we realized.”
Draco paused for a few seconds and took a deep breath, wondering whether or not to bring it up. A little bit of internal debate later, he decided to go for it. “It’s about Natalie, isn’t it?”
Hermione bit her lower lip and nodded solemnly. “It is.”
Draco felt the burden on his shoulders get heavier. “I don’t... I just don’t understand. Does he blame me for what happened to her?”
“It’s not that simple-”
Hermione suddenly stopped speaking as loud footsteps began to fill the silence, approaching the two of them in their cell. Lestrange smiled as his face caught the light. “My dear nephew, I’m so glad you’re finally awake. I was getting a little antsy.”
“I’m going to kill you tonight, you son of a bitch,” Draco promised, his voice very confident. “You ruined everything I ever had.”
“Sacrifices must be made on the count of progress and success, my boy,” Lestrange defended. He swung his wand and the cell door opened, allowing him to enter. He pointed his wand at Hermione and turned to Draco. “For instance, what I’m about to do now is going to hopefully show you the price of betraying the death eaters.” He turned to Hermione. “Crucio!”
The horrifying sound that left Hermione’s lips was preceded by a cry from Draco who jumped at Lestrange. He was, however, still too weak and Lestrange pushed him off miraculously easily. He held the wand in position for only three seconds and then pointed it away from the cringing brunette. Hermione fell to the floor, her breath was heavy but she was still completely conscious.
“What in hell do you want?!” Draco yelled, still in extreme pain from his own wounds.
“Not a damn thing,” Lestrange cooed, and his smile grew. “Once you die, your money and your mansion... it’ll be useless. There won’t be a single Malfoy left in this world and the spell on this manor will break. The Ministry will seize it and I’ll have one of my friends at Gringotts seize your vaults and pretty soon, I’ll have someone buy your house with your own money.”
“My mother is still alive,” Draco challenged. He thought of the letter he had given Harry before coming here and it gave him comfort. As long as his mother was still alive and Harry followed his instructions, he’d be able to transfer ownership of the Manor from Narcissa to Eli. That way, the ministry would have no grounds to seize it. “Neither you nor your little leeches will be able to reach her in Azkaban.”
The smile on Lestrange’s face flickered for a second and Draco felt calm. However, instead of shrinking, the smile grew to enormous proportions. Lestrange’s sickly yellow teeth were encased between his lips and he even managed to let a laugh escape. “This will be a lot easier than I had originally imagined.”
“What?” Draco asked. His eyes widened as Lestrange remained silent, still baring his stupid smile. “What did you do to my mother, you bastard?!”
He felt his body resist any movement as the pain from his wounds resurfaced but Draco couldn’t care his less. He lunged at Lestrange and caught him by surprise. Lestrange fell to the floor and Draco punched him as hard as he could. The impact was forceful and under his white knuckles, Draco felt a bone crack. Lestrange writhed in pain as Hermione managed to pull herself up. She tried to reach for Lestrange’s wand but his reflexes were faster and he whipped it at her, cutting her cheek and yelling, as loud as he could, “Avada Kevadra!”
The green light managed to slip between Draco and Hermione but Lestrange’s second spell was not as misaimed. It was a body binding curse that sent Draco flying into the back wall. Hermione’s force wasn’t enough to keep Lestrange down and he grabbed her by her hair and tossed her to the side, issuing another body binding curse that paralyzed her limbs.
“I’ll show you both,” Lestrange muttered and aimed his wand at Hermione. “Ava-”
Lestrange’s wand flew out of his hand and he swiftly turned to see his attacker. Behind him, on the other side of the cell gate, Cassius stood with a very calm expression on his face.
“I’d like a word with Draco, father,” Cassius said calmly, taking a few steps towards the cell. He swung his own wand and the door opened, allowing him to step in. “If that’s not a problem, I’d rather him be alive than dead at the moment.”
Lestrange didn’t seem fazed by this intrusion but his beady eyes seemed hyper vigilant and Hermione swore she saw his lip twitch in fear. “I wasn’t aware you were still at Manor, Cassius.”
“There are quite a few things you’re not aware of,” Cassius said, dismissing the comment. “I’d like to speak to Draco alone.”
“Well if it’s what you want,” Lestrange said, forcing a very uncomfortable smile. “I do, however, fail to see the need for such a dramatic entrance.”
“Disarming you was based on necessity rather than theatrics,” Cassius replied as Lestrange reached for his own wand and stood up. “I’ll only be a minute, so if you’ll excuse us.”
“What about the mudblood?”
“She’ll stay here.”
Lestrange looked like he desperately wanted to argue but he averted his gaze and nodded once, leaving the cell. He gave one last glance to Draco and Hermione before departing. His footsteps echoed in the dungeons for a few seconds but once they began to fade, Cassius drew out his own wand and produced a white light that surrounded the three of them.
“This should make sure he doesn’t listen in,” Cassius commented. He looked at Hermione who was nursing her broken elbow and then shifted his gaze to Draco, who had blood congealing at the back of his head. Draco, too, was watching him intently with his grey eyes unrelenting.
“What’s 1213?” Cassius asked. Draco, expecting something completely different, was caught off guard. He turned to Hermione who had a knowing expression on her face. He turned back to Cassius.
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“It was written in Natalie’s suicide note,” Hermione chimed in. She observed the inevitable look of disbelief on Draco’s face. “We th- I think whoever it was that killed her made her write it and she was trying to tell you who it was.”
“What letter?” Draco asked. He looked at Cassius. “There was no suicide note found after her death.”
“It was sent to me,” Cassius said. He sounded reluctant to divulge more information than he needed to but given Draco’s stubbornness, he knew he wouldn’t get any answers otherwise. “But Hermione seems to think that it was meant for you and it appears as though she was right. You know what 1213 means don’t you, Draco? I saw it in your face for a split second after I mentioned it.”
“Then it’s a good thing you can’t get into my head,” Draco snapped. He glared at Cassius and then turned to Hermione with a very confused expression. Hermione noticed that as he did so, his body trembled and she knew that his adrenaline rush was wearing off. “I don’t know what Cassius has been filling into your head but Natalie committed suicide.”
“She didn’t Draco,” Hermione said. “I saw the room, I saw the letter an-”
“Cassius can’t accept that she chose death over him and he’s been living with this stupid conspiracy theory for a very lo-”
“That’s enough!” Cassius challenged. He held up his wand to Draco’s neck. “I have a wand and I am more than willing to end this right now.”
“She wasn’t murdered!” Draco yelled.
Hermione felt a sinking feeling in her stomach as she saw the disbelief on Draco’s face give way to a bitter reality. Natalie’s murder brought with a whole new slew of emotions that Draco had to deal with. Hermione knew he would blame himself for her death, for leaving her unprotected in the Manor. He had left, just like with Adria, and allowed the evils of the world to enter his house and consume his life. Natalie’s suicide was a complex, tangled story and there were things Draco could blame himself for and could blame Cassius for and could blame Natalie for. But with her murder, all he needed to have done was stay with her and she would be safe and alive today.
“I know you know it’s true, Draco,” Hermione said slowly. She put her hand on his neck and felt his quickening pulse. “It’s okay.”
“No,” Draco shook his head. “She... she was angry at me and she was confused and upset. She wrote me a letter the day before her death and it was a goodbye letter.”
“I was there when she wrote that,” Cassius said, his anger also giving way to sadness. “She was planning to leave that day, with me.”
“You should have protected her then!” Draco yelled. “If you were with her all the time then why didn’t you save her from this? It was probably the genetic instincts you inherited from your insane mother and father. Is that it? Your parents didn’t save a single soul in their lives so why should you?”
Cassius barely blinked as he whipped out his wand. “Felicio!”
A jet of orange light shot out of Cassius’ wand and hit Draco’s chest, sending him flying back and leaving a pool of blood in his wake. Hermione screamed and ran forward but Cassius held his wand up to her. “I’ve been generous so far, Hermione. Don’t test me.”
Hermione remained where she was and Cassius took a few steps forward and lifted Draco off the floor. He glanced at his bloody chest and then drew his gaze up to Draco’s grey eyes. “I loved her more than you could imagine. I gave up everything for her and I will not let your irrational anger and insignificant relationship with her prevent me from finding what really happened to her. You can remain in denial for as long as you please but I’m not going to wait any longer for my answer. What is 1213?”
Draco was, however, barely conscious and he became more pale. Cassius jerked him a few times but apart from briefly opening his eyes, he remained unresponsive.
“Draco? Draco!” Hermione cried. As Cassius held him up, she placed her hands on his face and felt the heat radiating. “I can barely feel a pulse.”
“Is he going to die?” Cassius asked.
“You bastard!” Hermione yelled and placed her hand on her forehead. She could feel the sweat beading on her skin and looked at Draco again; he had lost almost all the colour in his face. “Draco? Draco, please don’t die. Draco, listen to me. Can you hear me?”
“He can’t die,” Cassius said, his own voice shaky. He grabbed Draco’s shirt and shook him a few times. “He won’t die without giving me my answers!”
“Natalie’s dead,” Hermione cried. She grabbed Cassius’ wand from his hand and shot a cooling spell at Draco, trying to decrease his temperature. “You are living for and fighting for a ghost! And because of you, Lucius died, Adria died and now Draco will die! She’s not coming back, Cassius!”
Cassius felt his whole world collapsing around him. Everything he had lived for since Natalie’s death had been her revenge. He had wanted to avenger her death and make Draco pay for what his family had done. He had to put her soul to peace. He saw his only goal, however, dying right in front of him as he stared at the motionless blonde man. He felt his sanity slipping through his fingers and he couldn’t control himself. He had come so close and he was going to lose it all.
In that instant, his fingers grazed his pocket and he felt something heavy. At first he dismissed it but a few seconds later, he pulled it out and stared at it. It was something Hermione had given him a while ago but it was of no more use than it was today.
“Here,” Cassius said. He handed the small bottle to Hermione and she looked at him with confusion. “It’s the Fiendfyre antidote... give it to him, it has to help.”
Hermione’s eyes widened at the last glimmer of hope. The Fiendfyre antidote was by no means a cure but it bought them more time. She grabbed the bottle and tossed the lid aside, pouring it all into Draco’s mouth. The congealed dark liquid moved sluggishly down Draco’s throat and Hermione kept her hand on his forehead, feeling his body temperature decreasing.
“Is it working?” Cassius asked. Hermione didn’t respond to him though; her dark eyes were focused on the paling Malfoy in front of her and every bit of energy in her was directed at him.
Cassius’ answer came a minute later when Draco’s body awoke from its comatose state and his finger began to twitch. His eyes remained closed but Cassius’ saw his body move up and down from the slow breaths he was beginning to take.
Draco wandered down the empty hallway, letting the sweet smell of daisies and the rustling of paper guide him. A few seconds later, he stood outside one of the study rooms on the third floor and peered in, smiling at the young blonde seated at the study desk.
“We’ve only been married for a week, you know,” she muttered with a childish pout on her face. She smiled at him as he sat down beside her.
“Is that so?” Draco asked.
“It is and I don’t like it when you come back so late from work.”
“Ah I see,” Draco replied, furrowing his brows and pretending to be very serious. He reached over to her hand and pressed it against his lips. “I’m sorry.”
He stood up and kissed her cheek, inhaling her floral scent. “I’m sorry.”
His lips moved down her jaw and kissed hers, allowing every tense muscle in his body to relax. He smiled as he drew away from her. “I’m sorry.”
“I suppose I should forgive you,” Natalie muttered and shifted over so that she sat on Draco’s lap as he scanned through the things she was working on at the desk.
“Are these the wedding photos?” he asked, picking up a few and reminiscing of the cold winter day. Natalie reached over his arm and held a few up herself, smiling. “We are such a good looking couple.”
“That can’t be denied,” Natalie agreed and then laughed. “I’ve been trying to sort through these for the last few hours but I think your parents went a little overboard. We have at least twelve hundred pictures. I only have room for ten in the photo album I’m making.”
“I don’t like this one,” Draco noted as he picked up a picture and held it up to show her. “I look as pale as a vampire. This one here is nice.”
Natalie peered over and looked at the photo that Draco was describing. It was a wedding photo of her as she swung her arms around Draco’s neck and kissed him. She smiled at the picture and took it from Draco’s hand. “Well if it has the Draco Malfoy seal of approval, it goes into the photo album.”
She reached for a quill at the corner of the desk and turned the photo over, scribbling something on the back. She got off Draco’s lap and he took a look at what she had written.
Draco and Natalie
“1213?” Draco asked. “What on earth is 1213?”
Natalie raised her eyebrow. “It’s our wedding date. My gosh, it’s only been a week and you’ve already forgotten. December 13th? Remember?”
“I know what the wedding date was,” Draco replied and then looked at the back of the photo again. “Who writes their dates like that? It should be written as 13/12 or even 12/13. There’s no space.”
“Yes there is!” Natalie countered.
“I don’t think so,” Draco argued, smiling as Natalie peered over his shoulder. “It looks like you just wrote one thousand two hundred and thirteen. Doesn’t mean a thing.”
“You’re awful,” Natalie laughed as Draco teased her. “What am I supposed to do with the photo now? The ink is not erasable.”
“It’s just a picture,” Draco took the photo from her hand and put it down on the table in front of him. “Now, if we can stop worrying about this photograph, there’s something I’d like to do.”
He pressed his lips to Natalie’s cheekbone and kissed it. “That’s right,” Natalie said, a broad smile on her face. “You still have to apologize for working so late.”
Draco kissed his wife of one week and as he did so, felt a surge of happiness. Given everything that had happened in his life, he felt like, for the first time, he could live normally in peace and bliss. As his lips grazed her soft skin, his grey eyes scanned the photo in front of him.
It was their first photograph kissing as man and wife.
This was the beginning of his new life.
The beginning of his happily ever after.
“Are you sure he’ll live?” Cassius asked Hermione as he stood over Draco’s animated body. They had been watching him for a good ten minutes during which, twitches of his lip, a slight fidget in his fingers and the smallest movement in his legs brought a wave of relief over Hermione.
“Yes,” Hermione answered tersely. “I don’t know if he’ll be able to give you your answer though.”
“How long will he be... functional for?”
Hermione curled her upper lip in irritation. It was hard enough seeing Draco slip in and out of consciousness but she didn’t need Cassius constantly reminding her that his recovery was only temporary. “A few more hours, if we’re lucky,” she replied. ‘By then if he’ll die if we don’t...”
“Kill me?” Cassius asked, casually.
“Yes,” Hermione answered angrily.
“But he doesn’t know that yet, does he? You didn’t tell him that I was the one who killed Adria.”
“I will,” Hermione warned. “And I will make sure-”
“W...” Draco’s voice grumbled. It sounded as though someone had pressed a cloth against his face to muffle his voice but when he tried to speak again, it was a lot clearer. “Wha...”
“Draco,” Hermione said quietly, wiping the sweat off his forehead. “Draco, it’s alright.”
Before Draco had said much more, he heard a sharp sound cut through the air and felt Cassius’ wand pressed against his chest. “1213, Draco,” Cassius said calmly. “And I won’t ask again so nicely.”
“Num...” Draco struggled, winced and tried to speak again. “Prison number.”
“What?” Hermione asked, followed by a painful thrust of Cassius’ wand further into his chest.
“It’s a prison number,” he repeated. “It was Hector’s. In Azkaban. He did it. He killed Natalie.”
The words had barely escaped Draco’s lips when Cassius withdrew the wooden stick and without a second look at either of them, made his way towards the door. “You have about twelve minutes before Lestrange comes back.”
As he left, the cell door swung back and forth, creaking irritably as if trying to remind the last person who left to lock it. But by the time Hermione got up and looked down the dungeon corridor, Cassius had disappeared. She turned back to Draco as he managed to sit up with slightly less pain which meant that the antidote was in full effect now.
“We need to go to my bedroom,” he muttered, amongst a heavy breath.
“No, no, Draco, we need to get you help at the hos-” Hermione began but Draco pressed his fingers to her bruised lip.
“We need to go to my bedroom,” he repeated, as though making up a new phrase would be too painful. “There’s a photograph...”
The only good thing about the increased number of mind numbing relapses was that it gave Draco a very sharp sense of his own time. He could feel the antidote swimming through his veins, mixing with his blood and attempting desperately to keep his heart beating. He could feel its effectiveness wither with each passing second and most importantly, he could feel his body succumbing to the pain. This made him very knowledgeable of the time he had left.
And in this case, it was about two hours.
Draco wondered where the antidote itself had come from, knowing that he had emptied his own bottle but as he and Hermione navigated the second floor hallways, he realized it didn’t really matter. The antidote had ceased to be a way of restoring Draco’s health and was now just a way to keep him moving. And that’s what he had to do: he had to keep moving. He had only a couple of hours within which to resolve many of the dilemmas that surrounded his life.
They arrived at the bedroom that Draco had lived with Natalie in and without hesitating, he and Hermione shoved it open. Hermione had no idea what was happening but as Draco dove towards the cupboard and pulled out a family photo album, she remembered not only being in this very room but also looking at the very same pictures Draco was looking at right now.
Draco flipped through the pages as quickly as he could until he reached the photograph he was looking for. It was exactly as he had seen in his dream with Natalie in her wedding dress swinging her arms around Draco’s neck. His arms were at her waist and he was kissing her, his wife.
Draco pulled it out of its plastic casing and flipped it over, feeling his stomach lurch as he saw the numbers ‘1213’ inscribed on the back in Natalie’s cursive writing. There was nothing else on the blank surface except the remnants and echoes of that day when he had teased her and kissed her and felt nothing less than pure abandon. He hadn’t felt that way in a long time. But then the lack of any further clue gave him a slight bit of relief. Maybe there was no clue. Maybe Natalie hadn’t been murdered.
But that moment of peace was just as short-lived as the others. His gaze lingered on the photograph for only a few seconds longer and it fell to the clear casing in which it had been placed. His grey eyes observed with some penitence, a fine silver strand pressed against the page.
“What is that?” Hermione asked, coming up from behind.
Draco felt something get caught in his chest and he looked up, the sadness in his eyes as evocative as they had ever been. “A memory,” he said in a barely audible voice. “1213 was the day we got married. December 13.”
Hermione took a deep breath and observed the thin strand that Natalie had left. She was waiting for Draco to proceed with the next course of action.
“There’s a Pensieve in the cabinet behind you,” he said, ushering to a large cherry wood structure. Hermione didn’t hesitate doing as she’d been told and pulled out the large stone basin, placing it in front of him.
“Go ahead,” he muttered, avoiding her gaze as he handed her the fine memory, perhaps the last one his wife had ever experienced. He waited as Hermione stared at it in confusion. “Take it –see it.”
“Draco, she left the memory for you and may-”
“I never got over her suicide,” Draco said in a low voice. His grey eyes were fixed on the picture in front of him. “It’s been two years and I’ve finally started to let it all go. I can’t watch her last minutes alive. Will you please just do it?”
Hermione bit her lip and shook her head slowly. “I’ve... I’m not a part of this story, Draco. It’s you and it’s Cassius and I don’t know if Natalie would have wanted anyone else to see this memory.”
“Listen to me,” Draco said, standing up slowly. He placed his hands on Hermione’s arms and met her dark gaze with his grey eyes. “You’re a part of my story. Please do this.”
Hermione waited a few seconds before nodding silently. She placed the fine memory into the basin and disappeared into it, leaving Draco alone in the room. As he watched the last of her dissipate, Draco felt a weakness overcome his body – one that had nothing to do with his physical injuries. He felt like a coward, being unable to face Natalie’s death, Natalie’s murder.
It had taken him the better part of two years to finally forgive himself for the mistake their marriage was, for becoming an obstacle in her life. He had waited for her to show him some form of love or reciprocation of his love but that had never come. He never doubted that Natalie cared for him but you don’t marry someone you care for... you marry someone you love. And that’s what Draco had wanted and perhaps he had found it finally.
And yet he was waiting. He was waiting for some sort of confirmation from Hermione, a sign that told him she wasn’t repulsed by his horrifyingly complicated past. Was that why he hadn’t told her anything yet? Or maybe he was waiting for her to make the first step?
“Drop the wand, Draco,” a deep voice cooed from behind him. Draco didn’t need to hear it twice to recognize the gnarly voice of his uncle. “Come on, Draco,” Lestrange insisted. “Put the wand down and turn around with your hands up.”
He felt the blood from his head seep down the back of his neck, into his shirt. However, he slowly released the wooden stick from his fingers and turned around with his hands above his head. His grey eyes met Lestrange’s dark ones and he looked into them for a few seconds. He deciphered the insanity and lunacy in the old man’s face, completely unaware that – as Hermione was finding out this very second – Natalie had looked into those same dark eyes right before a bright green flash had filled the room and taken her away from this world.
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