Chapter 17 : Conscience
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January, Hogwarts, Scotland. 1998 A.D.
Looking down into the basin, Neville hesitated.
He had half a mind to dive in and follow her out of panic, while the other half of his mind wanted him to run and find Ginny immediately, even though the girls’ friendship had been on the rocks for the past few months. But he remembered what Hermione had told him – “Stay here.”
And thus, Neville remained rooted to the spot.
However, for more reasons than one.
The first reason was obvious. He was shocked by what had just happened. Was Hermione completely mad? How had she known how to do that? Where had she gone? The questions poured into his mind rapidly, as though a flood gate had just been opened inside of his head. His mind was reeling. None of this made any sense to him. The second reason? Hermione wanted him to keep watch, just in case the Headmistress showed up before she got back.
If she ever came back…
Rocking back and forth on his heels, Neville ran his hands through his already messy hair, shaking with uncertainty and fear. He shook his head, his eyes never leaving the shimmering surface of the liquid in the basin. “Oh, Hermione,” he said, running his hands over his face, “what have you done?”
The weightless feeling was back, but it did not last long.
This time, it felt like she was flying; as though she were being carried along by some invisible current, down, down, down toward the darkness below. But it wasn’t the same darkness that she had become so familiar with (and fearful of) in the past. She did not get the feeling that there was a chasm just below her, just waiting for the moment when it could swallow her whole.
This time, she could see the details swirling into place as she grew closer to her final destination, but not all of her fear had gone away. She had no idea where she was going.
That was enough to evoke fear in anybody.
At the very last second, just before she made contact with the large, circular platform protruding from the darkness below, Hermione’s eyes clamped shut. She anxiously awaited the crushing blow that she knew would come from hitting the ground as hard as before, but none came. Instead, when she opened her eyes again, she found that she was standing.
Feet firmly planted on the ground.
Hermione might’ve smiled. In fact, she could have. But suddenly she heard a door slam behind her, just as the wind kicked up and hit her hard in the back as she spun round, quickly drawing her wand.
An ancient looking piece of stargazing equipment creaked in the wind, and a few leaves rustled as they tumbled across the floor, but as far as Hermione could tell, no one was there, but as she took a more deliberate look around, she found that she recognized the place.
It was the Astronomy Tower.
A shiver ran down her spine as she shut her eyes and took a deep, shaky breath. Behind her eyelids, she saw that familiar flash of green, and the light fading from piercing blue eyes as they fell away into the darkness below.
In that moment, her heart broke all over again.
Even though she hadn’t been there on that fateful night, she could still feel it happening around her as if she had been there herself, just by standing there on that tower where Dumbledore had met his demise. Tears stung at her eyes, and she took another breath. As she went to wipe her eyes, there was a loud thud to her left, and a few seconds later, a globe rolled past her feet.
Suddenly very much alert, Hermione’s eyes flickered round, looking for the person who had caused the noise, even though she knew, vaguely, that she couldn’t be harmed herself.
But the feeling didn’t last.
“Hello?” called a voice from behind her, making her freeze on the spot. “Who’s there? Show yourself!”
Slowly, very slowly, Hermione turned round, toward the voice laden with a barely convincing tone of malice. Just hearing it set every never inside of her afire all over again; it was a feeling she had long since forgotten, believed to be gone forever, along with the source of it. And yet, there he was.
There he was, Draco Malfoy standing before her like he’d never left at all.
But this was different. She had to remind herself of that, as she settled back into reality, and her eyes took in the figure standing before her. This was not the Draco Malfoy she thought she had known so well in the past few months. No, this was the old Draco – the real one, the one who had called her a Mudblood and an insufferable know-it-all; the one with which she had shared a mutual, undying hate for.
This was so different.
And so was he.
He took a step forward, landing himself in the path of the shimmering pale light radiating off the moon high above. Instead of being the exact same boy she had known for nearly seven years of her life, he merely resembled the broken figure of one. His face was screwed up in a deep scowl, but his stormy grey eyes held no anger. His eyes were restless as they searched the darkness through a squint, and his shaky hand clutched his slender wand tightly.
Mostly, he seemed afraid of… something.
It took Hermione a long moment to form a theory in her mind, but by the time she had the word at the tip of her tongue, just ready to emerge, she found Draco standing in front of her. Right in front of her. Every muscle in her body went stock still; even her lungs; and especially her heart.
Even though she knew that they were two separate entities, in two separate worlds, she convinced herself that she could feel him. Hermione closed her eyes; she could almost imagine the warmth of his body heat on her skin, and she swore that when he ran a hand through his platinum blonde hair and exhaled deeply, she could feel his breath on her cheeks.
But when she opened her eyes, his eyes met hers for one last, brief second, before he went back to the edge of the tower. In that final second, she couldn’t find a single trace of recognition in his eyes.
Her heart sank lower with each slowly passing moment.
Why was she doing this to herself? Why was her heart so fixated on Draco, the one boy she’d thought that she had wanted nothing to do with months before? It didn’t make any sense to her, but she could not deny what she felt.
The heart wants what the heart wants.
Even if what the heart wants does not want her as well.
For a moment, she wished that she could go back to the surface. She wanted this whole ordeal to be over, but she knew that she had entered this memory for a reason. Hermione couldn’t leave without knowing the truth that she had been seeking. She was too close to just give up (because of Draco, no less,) now.
Slowly, Hermione approached where Draco was standing, his elbows resting on the wall at the edge of the tower. As she grew nearer, she saw that he was shaking violently now, his hands gripping at his hair so tightly she feared he might actually pull it out.
“No,” he was saying, “no, please… please! Don’t – WAIT!” He shouted the last word, his eyes popped open and his chest heaved as if he had just run a marathon. Draco shuddered, beads of sweat rolling down his pale neck and bleeding into the wrinkled collar of his white button down. He ran his hands over his tired face, shaking his head. “I’m so, so sorry…” he murmured, gazing across the darkened grounds below. “I didn’t want any of this to happen, but it’s all my fault. It’s all my fault…”
His voice was muffled as he covered up his face again.
Hermione looked out across the dark grounds then, swallowing hard. So, it appeared that he did have a conscience after all. But witnessing the proof of that fact was too difficult a task for her. It almost felt like she was spying on one of his most private moments; it felt wrong, even after everything that he had put her through in the past six or seven years.
I wouldn’t want anyone to see me like that, either, she thought solemnly as her eyes fell on a white shape that gleamed in the night at the far edge of the Black Lake.
As she was saying a silent prayer for Albus Dumbledore, the slightest of creaks resounded in her ears.
She looked round first, as it seemed Draco had not heard a thing but, with the billow of a dark cloak that seemed to dance in and out of shadow, whoever had been lurking behind them had disappeared suddenly. But not for long.
“The guilty conscience is not a healthy one.”
Draco perked up quickly, looking round to find a strange figure hovering a few feet away in the nearby shadows. He reached for his pocket – for his wand, but it was not there. Through the shadows, he saw the figure – a man, it seemed – wagging his finger at him with one hand and holding up the wand in the other as he clucked his tongue. Draco took a step backward, nearly running into Hermione.
“Who the hell are you?” Draco demanded, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.
“Who I am is not relevant at this point. All that matters is that I know you, Draco, and I know you very well.”
“So you’ve come to kill me, then?” concluded Draco, his voice quivering slightly as he continued to put as much space between the strange man and himself as possible. “He’s sent you to kill me for my disobedience – my horrid failure, hasn’t he?”
“That’s not why I’m here,” said the strange man calmly.
“Then why are you here, if not to end me? I deserve it,”
“Do you?” He could hear the raising of the man’s eyebrow in his voice. Draco swallowed audibly and Hermione’s eyes fell on his profile. It appeared to her as though he didn’t believe his words, either.
But he didn’t dare let on.
“If- if you haven’t come to kill me, how do you know who I am?” Draco pressed, his brows furrowing a little. “Why not just show your face?”
“There is a time, and a place for that,” said the man, “but it is not now.”
Draco exhaled deeply, shutting his eyes as he rubbed at his temples in irritation. This stranger was running circles around his questions, and it was making him more and more angry as time passed. He was itching for the feel of his wand again; anger flared up within him as he remembered that this man had somehow – with no right – taken it out from right under his nose.
But how could he have done that?
“Look, I don’t have the patience for your stupid games,” Draco ground out, opening his eyes again, but when he did, he found that there was now a cloud of black smoke lingering in front of him – but the shadowy figure was now gone.
His eyes darting round, Draco took a step forward, squinting as he did a one-eighty as he walked, but there was no sign of the man. Or his wand. He grinded his teeth together. “Like I said,” he continued reluctantly, “I’m running out of patience here.” His voice ricocheted across the dark tower. “Now why are you here?”
There was a sudden chuckling.
It came from nowhere and everywhere at once.
“I told you that already,” replied the man. “All that matters is that I know you. Everything about you.”
Draco snorted in disbelief. “Well pardon me if I don’t believe you.” He grimaced, shaking his head as he continued to look for the source of this voice – a voice that seemed vaguely familiar to Hermione.
No one who knew who he was would want to know him.
Not after what he had done.
And even though he was very sure that he had never met this man before – despite the fact that he still had not been able to get a very good look at his face – he had a feeling that this man knew a lot more than he let on. Draco stopped a few feet away from where he had been initially, by Hermione, and clenched his jaw impatiently.
“Now tell me the real reason you came here tonight or –”
“Or you’ll what?” laughed the man. A cloud of black smoke choked Draco’s ankles suddenly, but it did not distract him for long. He abruptly straightened up as the man shoved the wand into his back. “I’ve got your wand.”
Draco tried to turn his head to look at the man, but he grabbed his hair and forcibly held his head in place. Even from such a distance, Hermione could hear Draco’s nervous gulp, and see the corners of the man’s lips turn up in satisfaction. It made her stomach churn; she wanted nothing more than to help him at that moment, as she gazed into Draco’s eyes, full of helplessness and a genuine fear that she had never seen in (or thought capable of) him before.
“If you’re going to kill me just do it quick,” grunted Draco as he struggled against the man’s tight grip.
Again, the man laughed a quiet, malicious laugh. Every nerve in Hermione’s small body was alert with dread. “I told you, I’m not going to kill you,” Yet, she thought mournfully, her mouth dry as the man slowly tilted his head upward and letting the moonlight touch his face. “But I do have other plans for you, Draco Malfoy,” he said with a grin. “Other plans indeed.”
By that point, his face had been completely revealed to her. Hermione’s mouth fell open instantly as his eyes bore into her soul so fiercely, so tauntingly that she was sure that he could see her standing there, watching the scene unfold. But before she could process it all, or even see what came next, the scene began to dissolve. Her eyes remained fixed on the evil grin of that strange man who had been haunting Draco, even as she faintly heard a voice franticly calling out for her.
Seconds later, Hermione found herself on the floor of the Headmistress’ office, feeling slightly dizzy as Neville almost immediately yanked her up to her feet again. “Neville, what are y–?” she tried to ask as he pulled her quickly across the room.
“Lunch is almost over,” he explained quickly. “We have to get out of here now.”
Hermione nodded fervently in understanding, allowing him to tug her along for a few minutes, down the stairs and down the corridor as fast as possible. They turned a few corners and climbed a flight of stairs before she finally pulled her hand free of his and stopped walking. Neville stopped as well once he was sure that they were in the clear.
His record was spotless, and he’d like it if it remained that way.
“Thank Merlin you came out of that – that thing when you did,” huffed Neville between breaths as he sat down on a bench under a window. The sun was high in the sky, its dazzling sunlight blinding. “If you hadn’t, I would have just had to leave you, because I didn’t know what to –”
“Wait,” said Hermione. “So… you weren’t the one who pulled me out?”
Neville’s brows furrrowed as he shook his head. “Well, no.” He admitted. “I guess you came out when the… er… memory – was it? – ended.”
“How long was I gone?” She inquired.
“Thirty, forty minutes, maybe,” replied Neville.
Hermione’s brows rose as she ran a hand through her dark brown hair. It was still pin straight, but it did not bother her anymore. By this point, she had grown used to it as opposed to her natural curls.
It had felt like hours.
“Yeah,” Neville confirmed, “but it didn’t seem that long.” He eyed her up and down for a long minute as his heart rate settled back to its normal rate. “What did you see down there?”
Hermione thought back to the memory for a moment. She remembered everything vividly, as though she had really been there, rather than watching it through a memory. She could see the cloud of black smoke swirling round the floor as it dissipated into the night air; she could hear the evil laugh echoing in her ears still; and she could see those eyes – those dull, stormy grey eyes filled with fear boring into her skull.
Slowly, her eyes returned to focus on Neville’s expectant face lingering before her, his thick eyebrows furrowed with slight concern. Hermione figured that the pain she was feeling showed all over her face.
After taking a moment to return fully to the present, she took a deep breath, lowering her eyes to the floor. “I saw… Draco,” she replied quietly as she raised her eyes at a deliberate pace to meet Neville’s hazel ones, “and I think… I think I finally know where to find him.”
And who took him.
Author's Note I'm back with another update! Hurray! I never thought I'd make it, but I found the time and managed to get writing again. I hope it's decent. Or more than decent. We're in the home stretch everyone! I can hardly believe the story's almost over, but this story will be (hopefully) at least twenty chapters. I've already got the sequel brewing in my mind ... :)
But back to this chapter!
I want to know what you thought of it and what you liked! Everything? Nothing? Whatever it is, I want to know. Sorry about the lack of Ginny in this chapter (she'll be back in the next chapter!); I tried making up for it with Neville, because he was making himself scarce to the story. Anyway, reviews are always welcome and appreciated! Thank you so, so, so much for reading!
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