Labored breathing echoed in the chill of the still morning air as Draco gazed intently at Hermione’s bone-white face, ready to run forward to catch her should she collapse onto the floor in shock. He watched silently as trembles overtook her thin frame, her slender arm reaching out to grab the sofa in support. She quickly realized what she has just touched – the place she had last seen her former lover and best friend, the crime scene
– and withdrew herself in shock, gazing at her fingers as if they were disgusting, as if they had been weapons in whatever terrible event had just occurred. Draco pushed himself forward and caught her in his arms before her shaking body hit the ground, his timing precise. He suddenly noticed how much smaller she felt in his arms as compared to the last time he had held her. Only yesterday.
“I…It’s…No, no…No!” A strangled agony wailed out of Hermione’s throat as she shook in his arms, her whole body ahold with the anguish that would befit a woman who had just lost her only child. In a way, Draco could see why she would feel that way. Weasley had been her first and only love, and something had just happened to him. Something very, very bad, and she had no idea what.
He held her tightly in his arms, rubbing her back with his hand, trying to hold himself up as his one companion in a very long time collapsed into a debris that only he could keep together. “Shhh, Hermione, shhh.” He soothed, rubbing her back rhythmically. He shut his eyes tightly, willing himself not to fall to pieces when the one person who had kept him together and sane in the past month was doing just that. He needed to be there for her. A dark and saddening thought ripped through his soul just then: just like she needed to be there for Weasley, the boy she still obviously loved. His hands nearly tightened into fists, but he controlled himself and kept them flat and rhythmic on Hermione’s shaking back. “Shh, Hermione, shh. Weasley, he – he needs you. Hold yourself together. He needs you to be strong right now.”
Hermione suddenly broke away, her eyes swollen and wet with hot, grief-filled tears. “Me! I am the one who made him that way, Draco! If I hadn’t broken him so badly, he wouldn’t be like that, Draco!” Her eyes grew abruptly into a tormented and manic stare. Draco felt his blood cool a degree, his heart skipping a pulse. “I good as well killed Ronald Weasley!”
Sensing how deranged with grief Hermione was becoming, Draco stepped toward her and took her face in his palm, bringing her gaze to meet his. “Listen to me, Hermione. Stop being irrational. Weasley needs you right now. You need to calm down and work to help him! Feeling bad won’t get you anywhere! If you want to save him, you need to work with me!”
The escalating decibel in Draco’s tone caused Hermione to alleviate her sobs, reducing it to a teary hiccup. “Sa-save him? But Draco, you said there’s been Dark magic here. You didn’t see hi-him, but I did! And he looked s-so terrible!” She hiccupped loudly again, pressing her hands against her white face. “The dark circles under h-his eyes, the nightmares I was having, I should ha –.”
Draco interrupted her sharply. “Nightmares? You had nightmares when he was here?”
Hermione nodded, looking a little fearful at the sudden sharp edge to his tone. “Yeah, b-before he came, I’d kept feeling like daggers were barraging my mind, and it became w-worse after he came, and I should’ve kn-known, it had to be something Dark that caused it and…”
Draco’s mind was racing as Hermione’s words trailed off into silence, her hiccups being the only sound penetrating the air. The Dark nightmares. The dark circles. And now, looking down at the obvious clue he had found on the floor, this other major piece of evidence. He had found the missing piece of the puzzle.
“Hermione,” he said quietly.
She took no notice of his whisper, rambling incoherently on about Ron and Dark clues and looking more and more hysterical with each passing second. “Hermione,” he repeated again.
“…And he looked like he hadn’t even t-taken care of himself for weeks, and he was afraid of being l-left in t-the dark, and -.”
She fell silent at the sudden upshot of his voice, its noise piercing the lonely and clear morning air. “I’ve figured it out.”
Nodding weakly, Hermione opened her lips to spew out more nearly incoherent ramblings. “I know you’ve figured it out, Draco, I have, too, but Ronald has always b-been such a good guy, and how can he have ever turned into a Dark wizard, and it being all my faul -.”
Draco knew that she wouldn’t understand. She was too busy taking the blame for herself, as always, too busy the caring and loyal friend she always was. A sudden drop of warmth sank into Draco’s stomach, but it disappeared as quickly as it’d arrived as he felt his immune system starting to deteriorate again from all of the stress, the sadness, and the Darkness in his world. He took a deep breath and forced his foot forward, careful to avoid the piece of evidence on the ground, and took Hermione by the shoulders again. “Hermione, listen to me, please, damn it! Listen to me. It’s not Weasley.”
Her lips danced in confusion. “It’s n-not? What do you mean, Draco, you said there’d been D-Dark magic here!”
He took a deep breath before speaking his next words, knowing that she would surely crumble at what the ensuing moments would bring. “It wasn’t Weasley doing the Dark magic.” He paused, carefully watching her should she break down completely. “It was Cavalian.”
A gasp escaped Hermione’s lips as her knees buckled. “Cavalian? No! That can’t be, no, Ron couldn’t have been possessed, no!” The familiar trembles that overtook Hermione’s slender frame whenever she panicked were beginning to manifest themselves on her again. “Please, no, Draco, please tell me this is all a nightmare, that this isn’t real! Please, Draco, please…”
Why did she torment him like this? Draco knew that it was in no way whatsoever Hermione’s fault that this was happening right now, that she hadn’t made him start to have feelings for her when she was in love with somebody else, that she cried over the loss of her lover just to subject him to agony. Deflecting an indifferent mask onto his face, he cast his thoughts aside. This was no time to feel sorry for himself. Though he had never liked him much at Hogwarts, Weasley’s life was in danger. And his one and only friend at the moment was going to fall apart if she lost him. He wound his arm around her waist at that moment, for he knew that Hermione would finally break down and fall when he showed her the evidence that had cinched the mystery of Ron’s disappearance for him. Keeping his voice gentle, he pointed at the dark stain on the carpet of Hermione’s floor. “Hermione, it was Cavalian. That’s his signature. That’s Ron’s blood.”
“Save me, Hermione, save me! I need you! I neeeeed you.”
The black torrent of waves that began wrapping around Ron’s wilted body blinded Hermione from keeping sight on him, blocked her view of him gasping on the floor, choking on his own words as she reached out for him, her hand falling short no matter how much she pushed herself forward. “Ron!” She screamed in desperation, her throat hurting from all of the pain that had ascended from her heart and lungs. “Ron, no! I’m trying, Ron, I’m trying!”
The black fog suddenly became solid, completely enveloping Ron in its grip, asphyxiating him as his hands struggled to pull off the hold at his throat. His eyes bulged pleadingly at Hermione, who pushed herself even more to run towards him, her heart feeling like it was about to explode from a lack of air pushing through her lungs. She watched helplessly as the white backdrop glazed past her with every footstep she forced, watched as Ron’s grip slackened around the black rope around his neck, his face draining of any color, his whitening lips falling open a little. The black torrent swallowed him.
“No!” Hermione kept running forward toward him. She couldn’t let them take him away! No! They couldn’t! He was her best friend, she had to save him! Breaking into the barrier that had kept her from reaching Ron, she skidded into the black mist, blinking her eyes harshly to try to adjust to the black mass surrounding her. She couldn’t see anything. It was dark, and the waves felt ice cold to her skin, filling her throat with a bitter, cold moisture. She tried to run from it, only to find it chasing her, wrapping around her, thickening around her as her scream was silenced by the tangible black blanket draped around her body.
A loud gasp exited from Hermione’s lips as she awoke, a sheen of sweat coating her frightened face. She looked around herself, realizing that she was laying in her bed, and sat up to rest her head on her knees, trying to stabilize the terrified drumbeat in her chest. That had been the most vivid nightmare she’d had in the past two days, she recalled, tilting her face to the window on her right. The orange sun glared at her, taunting her with its sunshine when she knew that death was just a matter of mercy or boredom for Ronald if they didn’t find him soon. Him and Cavalian. She balled her clammy hands into fists, willing herself not to cry as she thought of the impending doom that her best friend might face should Cavalian get bored and decide to stop playing his game. And what could Hermione do about it? What could she do, when she had absolutely no idea how to stop Cavalian, how to save her best friend? Frustration, fear, anxiety, exhaustion, anger
ran through Hermione’s veins as she thought of the depleted and deprecated soul that Cavalian must house if he was choosing to hurt somebody she loved like this. But she wouldn’t let him. She didn’t know how she would stop him, but she would. She and Draco would find a way.
She pushed her legs out from under the covers and swung them over her bed, only to stumble back in paranoia and surprise when the door of her bedroom pushed open and revealed a tall, blonde man. She had forgotten that somebody must have brought her up to her room after the revelation about Ron and Cavalian.
“Draco,” she greeted quietly, adjusting her seat on the edge of her bed.
He nodded at her, quietly walking through the threshold of her room holding a sheaf of paper in his hands. He glanced around her small bedroom for a place to sit, seeing no chairs of any sort. Hermione patted the spot next to her, chasing away the thought that no man had touched her bed since Ron had left it.
She turned to him, her anxieties suddenly spewing out of her tired lips. “What are we going to do? How long have I been out? I must have wasted so much time, maybe something’s happened to Ronald. What’s going to happen, Draco, we can save him right? I have absolutely no clue what to do, I’ve never felt so helpless before, what do I…”
Her dancing lips fell silent as Draco slowly swept his gaze over her, his pale gray eyes quiet and ruminative. He suddenly squeezed his eyes shut, scared of her reaction once he divulged what he had found out to her. “Hermione, there’s a chance that we can defeat Cavalian and bring Weasley out of this alive, but…what if we’re too late?”
“No, Draco, don’t say that! Please, don’t say that! How long have I been out?” Hermione’s eyes frantically swept over to where her alarm clock stood, blinking and dutiful. 7:47 P.M. She’d been out for the whole day.
A sickening feeling of shame and dread trickled through Hermione’s body. She had been selfishly sleeping while Ron was going through who-knows-what torture. How could she have done this to him?
“Draco, we’ve got to get to work! Before it’s too late! I’ve wasted too much time, you should have woken me!”
Hermione started to rise from the bed, but a strong hand gently gripped her fledging arm, halting her in her tracks. Draco pulled Hermione back down to the edge of the bed. “Wait, Granger. I stationed an Auror here while you were out and I went and found some more information on Bennett. We need to -.”
“Wait,” Hermione interrupted, “You stationed an Auror here? At my flat? Why?”
Draco turned his eyes flatly on her. “You might be in danger, Granger. Precautions need to be taken. Bennett took Weasley here first. He knows that you are Weasley’s weakness. He might come back here and he might – he might do something.” Draco had been about to say “hurt you,” but knew that Granger would freak out if he did. He ran his eyes over her pale, still face, watching her for any signs of reaction, his own face a blank mask. While he had been compiling any information he could find about the whereabouts of Weasley and Bennett, he had decided that enough was enough. He couldn’t let his feelings become an impediment to the case he was working on. He was one of the best Aurors in the country, and he couldn’t slip up because of a growing attraction and friendship with a girl he was working with. Especially a girl who was in love with somebody else. Draco had sworn to himself that he would be strictly professional with Granger from now on, and make it his sole goal to capture Cavalian with a greater determination than ever, especially with Weasley’s life precariously on the stakes. And then suddenly, he noticed a sole tear hanging off of the bottom ridge of one of Granger’s eyelashes, and he felt a slight misstep in his heartbeat, his resolution faltering. But no, he couldn’t. He had to save Weasley. He couldn’t waste any time on unrequited attractions, especially at a dire time like this.
He forced himself to face the wall opposite him, making his voice hard. “Granger, it is imperative that we -.”
“It’s my fault,” she whispered. Draco struggled to suppress his urge to grab Granger’s hand and hold it, telling her that it would be okay, that his pessimistic doubts wouldn’t be realized and they would find Weasley alive. Every moment he spent fighting himself was a moment spent wasted on not finding Cavalian and Weasley. He had to choose: either fight against himself every step of the way and impede the case with his own self-struggle, or unburden himself the fight against his feelings for Granger and just work through the case uninhibited, whatever the result would be in the end. He had to choose: allow Weasley to be in danger for even a second longer because of his own selfish fear of getting hurt, or taking the likely fall he’d encounter if he just went through the case and let whatever feelings he had come out. Reluctantly, Draco easily knew the answer to that. It was not even a choice.
Breathy sobs had overtaken Hermione while Draco had mentally fought with himself and came to his decision. Ignoring the cautious conscience waving its hand in the back of his head, he gently grabbed Hermione’s hand and held it in his, causing her to stifle her sobs and eventually look at him. “Look, Granger. I need you to be strong. What we have to talk about next is gonna hurt you, and I’m sorry. But it’s necessary for me to know the bits and pieces to figure out this case. You have to be strong to save him, okay?”
Hermione turned and looked at him, her face adorned with two similar trails of drying tear tracks, eyes full of despair and guilt. “Anything,” she whispered.
“Bennett has possessed Weasley, of that I’m sure, and he’s twisting everything Weasley is seeing into an extreme perspective, into Bennett’s favorite game: revenge. Bennett by now will have accessed every single sad memory Weasley has ever had, but since the latest and most major installment to that category is your split, that’s what Bennett is focusing on, I’m sure of it. He’s using your split with Weasley because, you know why?”
Hermione shook her head.
“Because he finds joy in Weasley’s miserable memory, and he’s gonna use Weasley to have fun in revenge, the evil git.
Most of Bennett’s games were played out from a few days to a couple weeks. His victims don’t become physically weaker during his possession, but their soul is divided. Bennett has this Dark magic that causes amnesia to a person’s soul, where the longer he possesses them, the more of their identity that they lose. The prat must think he’s being witty in his irony, gaining others’ personas while making them lose theirs’.” Draco ended with his tone in disgust, his eyes angry and brooding at the beige wall in front of him.
A grave silence hung in the air for a minute before Hermione gingerly turned her face to look at Draco, causing him to shift his attention back to her. “So…are you saying that the longer that Bennett is possessing Ronald…the more of himself he is losing? Like a Dementor’s Kiss, except more gradually? So even if we save Ron…” Her voice wavered on the edge, slightly breaking as she gulped down a batch of tears, “…some of his soul and identity will be...g-gone?”
At the inquiry, Draco gave a slight shrug of uncertainty. “I’m not sure, Granger. There’s never been any cases where there’ve been survivors, because the Aurors who would try to chase him would always get there too late. But this is different,” he countered, hurrying forward before Hermione’s volatile tears would burst out in misery, “because we’re trying to capture Bennett while he’s in the process of his sick little game. We still have a chance of catching Bennett and destroying him before he’s…finished with Weasley. Bennett won’t know what’s coming to him because he doesn’t know who the hell he’s dealing with.” Draco tried to smile encouragingly at Hermione, though he was sure that his sad attempt was futile and looked more like a grimace. She nodded appreciatively all the same, though the nod was slight, as if her head felt too heavy with sadness to lift up properly.
Her left hand still gently clasped in Draco’s reassuring right one, she used her right to push her posture straighter up against the bed. “I’ll answer whatever you need me to, Draco. I’ll be strong. I can’t lose Ron.” Draco could hear the Gryffindor bravery she was trying to muster into her voice, and he squeezed her hand. What would come next would be hard on her.
“I need you to tell me about your split with Weasley. It’s obviously the thing that is making him vulnerable right now, and Bennett is taking advantage of that.” Fight though he tried, Draco felt a flush of embarrassment permeate his pale skin. Professional though he tried to be, it was still hard for him to ask such questions.
“I didn’t want to,” Hermione mumbled softly, withdrawing her small hand from Draco’s grasp and entwining it with her other, looking down at them. Draco turned his head to look at her, noticing the descent of silent tears on her face. “I loved
Ronald. I never meant for it to be this way.”
He waited for her to go on, resisting the urge to wipe the tears falling down her face.
“We were engaged. After the war, we had all tried to get back to normal, lead normal lives. He and I had found that the feelings we had for each other were real, and we were happy. He loved me, and I loved him too, Draco, I swear I did! But…I had a secret.”
Draco watched as Hermione’s face contorted into one of misery and guilt. He reached out and awkwardly patted her back, confusion sparking within him. Granger, with a secret?
He couldn’t see her as one with a spot for infidelity, or lies, or anything of that sort. His curiosity was piqued.
“I knew that I couldn’t give Ron what he wanted, what I wanted for myself as well. When he proposed, I took it with a taste of bittersweetness. You don’t know how desperately I wanted that marriage for us, but I knew that I could never give it to him. He had proposed last winter, but every day we spent together after had mocked me with an evil voice, ‘Why do you keep leading him on, you can never give him what he wants.’” Hermione suddenly laughed bitterly, a teardrop falling into her mouth. She tasted it, lips tilting downwards at its bittersweet taste.
“I…I don’t understand, Granger, what happened? Did…did you have another lover, or something?” Draco hesitantly asked, weary of her shouting him down at his inquiry.
Slowly turning her gaze onto him, Hermione narrowed her eyes, her tone low. “I would never
cheat on anybody.
I’m sorry you think of me that way.”
Draco sighed, suddenly feeling tired. He turned his head around to look outside of Granger’s dark window for a moment, watching a distant light cross the sky with ease. When emotions were involved, things never flowed that easily. “I wasn’t, Granger.” He turned back to her, moving his gaze up to meet hers. “I just want to get to the bottom of this case so we can save Weasley and everything can be over.” And so he could be alone, away from falling for her when she didn’t even have her heart in her possession to give to him. Draco sighed again. “Go on.”
A fluid motion passing under his vision made Draco for a split second believe that Hermione was mad at him and was lashing out in retribution, but upon blinking, he saw that she was only folding the sleeve up on her left arm. He watched, perplexed, as she pushed the sleeve farther up on her arm, confused at her intentions.
“Granger, what are you do -.”
Then Draco saw it. And his past was blasted back to him.
Mudblood. Malfoy Manor, his own home. Bellatrix, his own aunt.
Hermione watched as Draco’s gaze traced over the pink scar etched into her arm, manifesting to the outer world her ill-perceived blood status, the reason why she never wore short sleeves anymore. The reason why every shirt, every jacket, every dress she wore was always one fashioned with at least ¾ length sleeves. She wasn’t ashamed of who she was, but ashamed of the weakness she had shown under Bellatrix’s dagger tracing her arm, the Unforgivable curse Bellatrix had left slithering on her tongue as she cursed Hermione repeatedly with the Cruciatus Curse. Lifting her lashes up to meet Draco’s pondering gaze, she saw remorse and torment reflected in his eyes. She knew he felt sorry. But that didn’t change what that night had done to her.
“Granger…I’m sorry what she did to you.”
Hermione shook her head, pursing her lips. She didn’t want Draco feeling sorry for her.
“What’s done is done. I can’t change it. Believe me, I tried.”
“But Granger…I don’t understand still. The scar? Changing it? What does that have anything to do with your split with Weasley? He saved you in the end, didn’t he?”
A distraught shaking had suddenly overcome Hermione as the memory coursed back into her mind, her head drooping over her shoulders, tears falling freely and heavily onto her palms. She made no show to try to wipe away the tears, her shoulders only shuddering as sobs overtook her. Defying his orders to himself to stop, that he had to just let her run her course of grief while he remained professional, Draco draped his arms around Hermione, pulling her head under his neck and letting her cry into him. It had been a dark time for her.
He remembered it well. He had been there. He had watched.
And he had done nothing.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into Hermione’s mousy hair, though he knew she couldn’t hear him over her loud sobs. “I’m sorry.”
Minutes passed as Hermione’s cries gradually diminished into heavy breaths as she tried to level her chest and breathing. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, her head still tucked in the crook of Draco’s neck. She closed her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
After a moment Hermione extracted herself from Draco’s comfort and turned to face him, her fingers absentmindedly tracing tenderly over the letters inscribed onto her skin. Draco noticed and pulled her hand away, enwrapping it in one of his own again. “I didn’t mean trying to change the scar, though believe me, I tried. I meant the curse that the awful wench had given me with it.”
Draco’s mind drew a blank. “I don’t remember a curse…”
Hermione shook her head. “It’s because you didn’t hear it. While she was leaning over me and…and writing what she thought was my rightful title, she said horrid things to me. Just horrid. She said I was a filthy little Mudblood who deserved to have nobody ever love me. And then…and then she heard Ronald screaming for me from down in the dungeons, and then this twisted smile came onto her face.” Hermione paused, her lips trembling so much that it seemed they were shivering from cold. “She looked me in the eyes then, and whispered to me, ‘Blood-traitor fancies you, eh? I’ll right see and put an end to that.’ And she ran her wand over my bloody wound and cursed me. Right after, she’d looked at me with her manic and deranged eyes, and she said, ‘I’m protecting the world from filth like yours, you dirty little Mudblood. Now thanks to my help, you will be stopped from ever marrying that traitor, ever populating the world with your two’s contaminated blood.’ She’d laughed then, before leaning in close to my ear and saying, ‘It’s for the greater good.’”
Draco didn’t think he could have ever felt worse from guilt that in that moment. He had thought seeing Granger cry in his arms had been the worst feeling he’d felt in years, worse than when Anaya had left him, and there he was proven wrong. Granger’s life had been ruined right before his eyes. And what had he done? Nothing.
Draco had known how wrong it was detaining Potter and his friends like that, though he’d been ignorantly spoiled and self-centered enough to not care about any other random prisoners the Death Eaters had brought. He’d started to realize that the life he’d been accepted into was a bad life, a life lived in fear and anger. But he’d been a coward. Too scared of punishment to stand up to the Death Eaters. Too scared of losing his parents’ lives if he were to dissent against the Dark wizards, too scared of losing their lives when all they’d ever done was try to protect him, when their lives weren’t even his to lose. And because of his cowardice, two lives – and many more – were punished forever. Granger had never deserved that. Neither had Weasley.
“I’m sorry…” He repeated, ashamed and looking down at his feet. He was surprised when Hermione gently squeezed his hand.
“It’s not your fault. I’m not heartless. I know Voldemort would have murdered you the second he found out if you tried to help, or even if you had shown any resistance. And I remember, you did help, in a way. You pretended that you didn’t know us.”
“Much good that did,” Draco said, a feeling of disgust starting to weave around himself, a feeling of self-hatred. “Look at what bloody happened to you.”
The heavy feeling of deep self-loathing trickled away as Hermione shocked him again by once more squeezing his hand, pushing in a little of her warmth into his fingers. He felt it spread through his body. “Don’t hate yourself, Draco. We all have our own tragedies. And it seems silly to even refer to them as such when they aren’t something that usually kill us…” Her voice broke as she seemed to think of something dark. “No…no, it won’t kill him…But don’t hate yourself. I have my own downfalls, as I know you have yours, too.”
Draco scoffed darkly. “Nothing I’ve ever been through has made me have to give up the person I love because a curse somebody else put on me.”
Hermione eyed him wearily, sadly, her words coming out in a soft inquiry: “What about Anaya?”
He had known that the conversation would lead to this. Taking a deep breath, he pushed back all of the dark memories threatening to ambush him into a compound of misery. “That…that was different. She left me willingly.” He turned away, unconsciously pulling his hand away from Hermione, oblivious to the mask of hurt that wrapped around her face at his reaction.
Silence embraced the air for a few moments as Draco struggled against the current of dark and hurtful memories trying to overcome him. He remained facing away from Hermione as his breath caught in his throat; this was not the time to show her his vulnerability. He tried to never let anybody witness that weakness.
“Draco?” A timid voice behind him broke the air, and suddenly all of the air he had been withholding from the room broke out of his chest in a loud, choking, whooshing sound. He coughed, his own saliva trying to choke him, in loud, violent bursts, as if he were sick. Sudden arms wrapped around his shoulder, not in an act of romance, but in an act of comfort. Draco knew he would regret it later for letting his guard down, but he let her comfort him, he let himself be comforted. Hiding himself from a cruel world of loneliness exhausted him, and burrowing his body into her petite arms was the only thing his broken soul let him do at the moment, lest it break down completely.
“She cheated on me,” he found his lips moving without his permission, but he was too tired to stop them. Hermione was the only one who he had ever felt safe telling about Anaya, the only one who he could show through his exhaustion the way she had crushed him under the heel of her expensive, black boots, how she had extinguished his one-time hope that love could actually be real. “I wanted to give her the world, Granger. You don’t understand how badly I wanted it to work. I loved her, I adored her, I wanted to live a life away from the evil side of Darkness. I tried so hard to be good. And while I allowed myself to be vulnerable, allowed myself to be at her calling, all the while she was off with different lovers while I was away and busy at work trying to make my own money to support what I had wanted to be our family. And then I found out. And then she left me.
She’d told me that she’d only married me for the money and status, but that it hadn’t even been enough to keep her entertained. She said I wasn’t even worth it. She didn’t content herself with just crushing my ego – she went all the way through and crushed my hope that maybe the world wasn’t such a bad place, that there maybe was the possibility of happiness in this forsaken place.” Draco’s voice suddenly fell flat. “I tried damn hard, Granger. You just have to understand that.”
“I’m sorry, Draco…”
Draco lifted himself out of her embrace and brushed his thumb against her arm. “Don’t be, Granger. Like you said, we all have our own tragedies.”
Hermione nodded, turning her head in Draco’s direction as her lips started to turn up into a small smile.
And that’s when she noticed it.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a black mass hurtling through the bruised night, blocking out all of the stars and their protective light. She screamed as the mass whirled straight towards her window, unrelenting in its speed, when with a sudden bang it threw itself against the glass. Draco had pulled her against himself and away from the bed and window, his wand outstretched and ready to perform any counter-jinx needed, but the window did not crack.
Their heavy breaths filled the air in harmony as they waited and watched as the swirling black mass tangibly bumped and pushed at her window. And suddenly, with a fluid flutter of black waves, it vanished.
Hermione stood shaking against Draco’s body, too shocked to even pull out her wand to protect herself. “W-what was that?”
Draco turned to look at her with widened, alert eyes before glancing back towards the seemingly innocent and nonchalant window. “I have an idea, but…” He then noticed her uncontrollable shaking. “What’s wrong, Granger?”
“I had just had that nightmare…The black waves, they’d been coming at me, trying to trap me…”
Eyes widening even greater than before, Draco fully turned himself to face Hermione. “You had a dream about black waves attacking you?”
Hermione nodded timidly.
“Then that confirms my idea. That was Cavalian. He’s messing with your mind, and if what his past evidences have shown…then there should be a clue waiting outside your window.”
“A clue? So Ronald’s still alive?” The hopefulness in Hermione’s voice stung Draco a little, but he knew what he had let himself into. He was strong. He’d take the consequences.
Nodding, he left her standing behind in safety and briskly walked towards her bed, climbing over it and approaching the window. Sure enough, there was a small piece of parchment lying on its sill, perched so precariously on its edge that it could’ve flown off should the wind decide it wanted to take it. Muttering a tricky incantation under his breath, Draco made the parchment disappear from its place on the sill and reappear in his hands. The side facing him was blank. He turned it over, walking towards Hermione before he let his eyes stray across its scribbled words. He noticed two different sets of handwriting.
I’m alive. But I don’t know for how much longer.
In synchrony, Hermione and Draco’s gaze fell down to the piece bequeathed by the second writer.
Forever weak, never strong,
Comeuppance will pay you back before long.
Broke his spine, a boy love lacked
Taste this sweetness, revenge will get you back.
Hermione’s heartbeat was stuck in her throat. What did this mean? She could recognize Ronald’s scribble from anywhere, but the other message, the one obviously from Bennett, left her heart trying to desert her ribcage. ‘Broke his back, a boy love lacked/Taste this sweetness, revenge will get you back’? What was that supposed to mean?
She turned her eyes to meet Draco’s face, fully surprised and a bit unnerved to find a grim but determined upwards tilt of his lips on his face. She didn’t know whether to feel shocked or infuriated or to not think at all.
“Granger. Get ready to play.” Draco’s words were ones sweltering with the taste of bitter determination and a thirst for revenge.
“Play?” Hermione didn’t understand. She didn’t understand at all.
Draco nodded solemnly. “Weasley is alive. Bennett knows that we’re on to him. He won’t kill Weasley. I know it may seem blasé the way it seems I’m playing with Weasley’s life right now, but I’m not really doing that. We’re playing because that is what Bennett does. He plays games. But the only thing is, this time he’s not going to win.”
Ron was alive. Ron was alive.
Hermione suddenly felt like crying. She walked back to her bed, leaning against it, biting on her nail. Ron was alive. She let out a bated breath that she hadn’t even known she’d been holding. Ron was alive. But… “What’s next?” She suddenly asked Draco, breaking him out of his trance. He’d been thinking of a strategy to beat Bennett at his own game, so immersed in his plans that it took Hermione another attempt at getting his attention to wake him up from his reverie.
“Draco, what’s next?”
He finally turned to her. He knew that she wouldn’t like his answer, but it was what had to be done. Though he wouldn’t let him have the upper hand, he had to make Bennett believe he was playing by his rules. “We wait.”
Hermione gasped, as Draco had expected her to. “We wait! But Ron can be killed at any moment! How can we just wait!”
Draco shook his head. “You don’t understand, Granger. We’re playing a game now. Bennett thinks he can win, of course, but he hasn’t ever met any resistance so early in his chase such as this. He will keep playing with us, and as long as he does, he won’t kill Weasley.”
“But…but how will we save Ronald?”
“We beat Bennett at his own game when he least expects it.”
By the glint washing over Draco’s eyes, Hermione knew that he had a plan that could possibly work, but she couldn’t understand at all. That was why she hadn’t become an Auror, the only reason she had not wanted the job, because she couldn’t treat peoples’ lives like a chess game, where you had to sometimes give and risk some in order to win the best for everyone. She couldn’t just play with Ron’s life like this, though she knew that it wasn’t really so much a game, but a battle to outwit the enemy.
Hermione turned to look at him.
“It’s getting late.”
She nodded mechanically, not knowing how to respond.
“So, I need to go.”
A frown creased her face, her heart spontaneously starting to beat faster. “You’re leaving me?””
“You’ll be fine, Granger. I’ll have an Auror placed outside of your house.”
Biting her lip, Hermione looked down. “Okay, I guess.”
She watched as footsteps walked nearer to her, looking up when they were right in front of her own feet. Draco’s flat gray eyes gave her a soft gaze, as if they were caressing away all of her fears. “What’s wrong, Granger?”
She shook her head. “Nothing.”
“Don’t lie to me, Granger. This is not the time or place for lying, you know that. Do you want an extra Auror to wait with the other?”
“Sure, I guess.”
This time Draco reached out and lifted Hermione’s chin up with the cup of his hand, his voice coming out softer than he had expected. “Tell me what’s wrong.”
“I…I just don’t want to be alone. I’m scared.” Hermione frowned at her confession. No matter how dire or dangerous the situation, she was who she was: she hated feeling weak.
Draco searched her eyes as if looking for a sign that she needed him, that she wanted for him to be there to protect her. He thought he saw a glimpse of that sign, if only a needle in the haystack of her deep wall of insecurities, fear, and even now, pride. The heavy feeling of exhaustion laden his body and he too wished for some comfort in this stressful time. If he didn’t ask it for his own gain for his feelings for her, he’d ask it for his own sanity and loneliness. It had been a long time since he had fallen asleep knowing somebody was near him, somebody that provided him a little care and comfort. He searched her eyes again, this time finding that glimpse more prominent than before. “Granger…Do you want me to stay here tonight?”
Hermione couldn’t even let her pride get in the way. She was scared, and though she knew that he didn’t want to be there for her in the way that she wanted him to – in the way of actually caring for her, maybe even liking
her – she would take it. She would deal with the consequences later. “Yes,” she whispered.
Draco nodded. “Where would you like me to stay? The sofa…?” He realized his mistake the moment the word escaped his lips.
“No!” Hermione shot out, causing Draco to flinch. “I mean…” She sighed. “Sorry. It’s just…you know.”
He nodded. “I know. I apologize, Granger.”
Silence hung in the air for a moment.
Locking eyes with the tired Hermione, the tired Draco spoke again, his voice soft. “Where would you like me to sleep, Granger?” His gaze flickered to the bed behind her when he was sure that she was looking down, but he quickly retrieved his wandering eyes. No. He was letting his feelings get way out of control.
“I…I feel kind of bad asking you for this…but…” Hermione molded her lips into a frustrated grimace before meekly looking back up at Draco’s face. “But…and I don’t want you to think I’m some sick person or anything, but I was wondering if you’d feel too uncomfortable in my bed? Because I keep having these nightmares and I get so scared and I feel safe when you’re around.” Her gaze had drooped from Draco’s face in embarrassment as she had continued on in her words, but she cautioned a look again at his face. “But, I mean, I understand if you don’t want to. I can just make up a bed for you on the ground here, or you can have my bed and I’ll kip on the ground.”
Though he kept his face blank, a raging battle was consuming Draco’s mind. Oh how glorious that sounded to finally be so close to someone, to have someone comforting him even if they thought that he was the one comforting them. And contrary to fact, he wasn’t one to just sleep with anybody just to feel close to somebody, because he knew what would happen in the morning. They would just leave him, just like Anaya did. But what should he do? By now Draco couldn’t deny that the feelings he bottled up for Hermione weren’t those that were just for a colleague, but he couldn’t show it. He’d already recognized the two reasons why. She didn’t want him, she loved Weasley, he would just get broken again if he allowed himself to fall for her. And he was just her colleague. It was supposed to be professional.
Again his lips spoke without his conscious granting it permission. “I don’t mind, Granger. I understand that you’re scared.”
And then he turned away, not wanting to give his face away.
He waited as Granger changed into her night clothes in the bathroom, leaning against the edge of her bed as he did so. He knew what he was doing was risky business. Not only were they in danger of a random assault from Bennett, but he was allowing himself to get close to her knowing that when they were all said and done with the case, he would have to leave her, and she him. But Draco was tired of the dark solitude his life had become. If he had to throw away all of his caution and defy everything he had worked against in protecting his vulnerability in the past year, he knew that it would hurt the least with Granger. Because with her, when they would have to leave each other and he would leave with his soul tainted again, he knew that she wouldn’t be leaving him out of malice. In fact, she wouldn’t really be leaving him at all, because they would never have been as one in the first place. But he would take it. Sadness had been his home for too long.
A slight shuffle behind him alerted him to her walking into the room, wearing a conventional set of pale-green pajamas. She kept her face low as she approached him, and when she looked up, he saw that her face was slightly flushed. He couldn’t help but let a smirk escape his lips. “What’s got you in a knot, Granger?”
“I…I just wanted to know which side you wanted to sleep on, so you know…I can make you the least uncomfortable.” Her words shivered with embarrassed shyness as she spoke, and try as he did to fight it, Draco couldn’t help but find it endearing.
“I’ll sleep by the window. Just in case something happens, I can -.” Draco had been about to say ‘protect you,’ but it would have made him sound…Too close to her. “take care of whatever if something happens.” He’d cast protective enchantments around her flat while she had been changing in the bathroom, but they couldn’t be too safe. Especially not with Cavalian as the enemy.
Hermione nodded, walking around him to climb into bed and under the covers. Draco waited until she was done before quietly turning around, allowing himself one glance at her watching him with her hesitant eyes before walking over to the foot of the bed. He had decided that he’d climb up from that way, instead of climbing over her legs. Once up, he edged himself against the wall, the farthest away from her as he could. It would allow her an adequate amount of feeling protected while it would him an enough amount of feeling close. Enough that he’d feel close, but not too close. The bed rustled slightly as Hermione turned around to face him, her body under the covers while he lay atop them on the other side of the bed. In the dim light of the night, a timid smile of appreciation crossed her face, though Draco saw etched also on her face a constant worry and fear. Draco couldn’t imagine how it would feel to have somebody he loved held hostage like that by Bennett, but then again, Draco didn’t allow himself to love anybody, so how could he?
“Draco.” Hermione’s voice was more like a breath into the silent air. He looked at her, his head propped up by his elbow on a pillow. “Thanks.” Her timid smile showed again.
He attempted a smile in return, though he knew that it didn’t manifest the same nervousness that hers did. If he managed a smile, it was a smile of sadness. Draco just hoped that it was too dark for her to notice. “Goodnight, Granger.”
Her voice tinged with fatigue and a threatening yawn, Hermione answered back with a small smile, her eyes already starting to fall. “Goodnight, Draco.” The predicted yawn came, and within moments Hermione was asleep, feeling safe in Draco’s presence.
With her light breathing filling the shallow air, Draco stayed awake for a long time, his elbow aching after a while of watching her sleep. He put his elbow down, resting his head upon the pillow instead, and stayed awake for a while after that. He tried to keep his mind blank, or at least on strategies to win against Bennett and save Weasley, but was unsuccessful. All he could see in his mind was the image of Hermione sleeping peacefully before him in the faint light of the outside moon.
All things Harry Potter as seen in the HP books/movies belong to JKR.
Omg, that was such a long chapter! It took me a little while to write it, I got stuck for a bit trying to figure out how to write out what I'd planned in my outline, and in the end, the words just kind of spewed out of control! So sorry if it's too long, but I hope you all enjoyed it nonetheless. Thank you all so much for all of the reviews and favorites. And please, review and let me know what you think of this chapter!