Even through the many walls of wood and stone that separated the Room of Requirement from the outside world, Draco could hear the rolling of thunder and the distant crack of lightning. If he listened carefully, he fancied he could hear the faint pattering of the rain against the rooftop, though this, he decided, was probably his imagination.
He shifted slightly. The bed sheets felt soft against his bare skin, providing a false sense of comfort and security. Midnight had come and gone, meaning the dark was slowly fading and the dreadful onset of dawn was making its approach. However, Draco was oddly at peace. Rolling carefully onto his side, so as not to disturb her, he gazed down at the sleeping face of the girl close by.
Her skin was pale in the half-light; her bare shoulders uncovered by the sheets; and her lips were slightly parted. Her hair was spread chaotically across the pillows, the brown strands curling their way across the white cotton. Draco, his mind quiet and untroubled, found himself reflecting dimly on the issues which had seemed so important to him at the beginning of the year; blood purity, and fear. Once, earlier in the year, he had worried about her status as a muggle-born; his father, he’d thought, would not have approved of their relationship. Now, he found he didn’t care much for this fact; if his father did not approve, then his father was a fool.
As for his fear, a great deal had changed there also. Nowadays, it came and went like a transient breeze, sometimes present but often absent. And when he was near her, it seemed to leave, as if banished by her words and smile. He could never have imagined, at the beginning of the year, he found himself thinking, that so simple a thing could undermine such a powerful force. What’s more, he could never have imagined that it would be she; the muggle-born witch that he had once despised, friend of the loathed Harry Potter; who would become the key to lifting the curse of fear that he had borne for as long as he could remember.
Stretching out a hand lazily, he traced the outline of her jaw with his knuckle, and she sighed gently in her sleep. He smiled to himself, though a jolt of worry passed through him at the thought of her fragility. Although he knew that she was strong; that, in fact, she was probably better able to protect herself than him; he found that he was still worried. All life was fragile, especially before the Dark Lord. Calmly, he resolved himself once more to protecting her throughout the dark days to come. The dull sound of thunder reverberated around the room, and she stirred, her eyes opening slowly; seeing him watching, she smiled with an uncommon shyness, drawing the bed sheets up self-consciously. Draco smiled in response and then glanced up towards the ceiling, which rumbled forebodingly.
“It’s getting worse. The storm, I mean.” he said quietly, “You can hear it more easily now.”
The girl next to him nodded, her brown hair black in the darkness. She was biting her lower lip nervously and playing with the fabric of the bed sheet, seemingly struggling with herself. After a few moments had passed, she looked into his eyes.
“I-” she hesitated. “I’m quite… scared.”
“So am I.” he replied honestly, allowing his head to sink back onto the pillow. “You shouldn’t worry, though… I’ll protect you.”
She shot him a look. “I’m not worried about myself!
I’m worried about this- this crazy
plan and the fact that Lord Voldemort
probably wants to kill you!”
Draco smirked, shifting closer. Gently, he touched her neck, then ran his finger down across the delicate skin of her shoulder. Her eyes blinked dully shut, eventually reopening with what seemed to be much more difficulty. He could feel her arm trembling beneath his touch, and he found himself grinning at the thought that he could elicit such a reaction from her. Shifting even closer, he hooked an arm around her slender waist, hearing a sharp intake of breath. Lowering his lips to her bare skin, he ruthlessly teased her, enjoying the fact that he could hear her struggling to retain her composure. Every kiss was met with a reaction; sometimes a stifled gasp, sometimes a shiver, and sometimes a low moan; and he very much enjoyed having such an effect. A surge of desire passed through him, and he pressed his lips to hers, simultaneously dragging her closer with the intent to possess.
She was quite lost by now, utterly captured by his roaming hands and toying mouth. Knotting a hand in her hair, he drew back slightly; not enough to distance himself from her, but enough to break the contact between their lips. The sudden cessation brought a look of confusion to her face, followed by a flash of understanding as she realised what game he was playing. Kissing her vulnerable neck lazily, Draco waited, occasionally bringing his lips agonisingly close to her own, aware that he was evoking a sweet torment in her head. Gradually, her eyes filled with desperation, and it built slowly, until finally she wasn’t able to tolerate it.
“Pig!” she cried aloud, her voice full of frustrated longing.
Grinning, Draco crashed his lips back down upon hers, feeling her back arch with the contact, several sets of fingernails digging into his back. Hungrily, he gripped her wrists and pressed them up above her head, his head thundering like the storm outside as desire roared through him. Without a further thought, he took her, his thoughts awhirl in his mind and the bed sheets clinging to his body. Her skin felt like silk against his own as she lay against him, her head nuzzled into his neck and her body fiercely alive. Soft cries now readily left her mouth, her efforts to suppress them all but abandoned. His hands still binding her own above her head, Draco grinned again, thinking of the amount of time still remaining in the night.
“It’s a good thing you’re more than just a brain, Granger,” he whispered lowly, into her ear, “or I’d never have the upper hand…”
And though he knew that she’d heard him, he made sure that she didn’t provide a response in words.
The next day, they walked into the Great Hall together for breakfast. The enchanted ceiling above was awash with clouds, a false rain descending blanket-like from their midst; the storm had not yet abated. Despite the impending chaos, the house elves had done their duty, providing pale students with a hearty and overwhelming meal. Barely anyone seemed to be eating, however; even at the teachers’ table, there was hardly a plate in sight. Professor McGonagall’s eyes were glazed over as she stared into the distance, and Slughorn was fidgeting with a goblet, muttering under his breath nervously. As Draco was about to make his way towards the Slytherin table, a hand closed around his wrist and he was pulled firmly in the direction of the Gryffindors. Resigning himself to spending the last moments of his life with people he detested, Draco allowed himself to be led away.
As they approached the table, several students looked up, many eyes fixated dubiously on the link between his and Granger’s arms. Potter and Weasley, sitting together as usual, also glanced up as they approached, the latter’s face looking distinctly displeased. Settling himself gingerly onto a seat at the Gryffindor table, Draco eyed them with some trepidation; undoubtedly, there would now be some questions. Hearing Granger sit down next to him, Draco snuck her a sideways look, seeing that she was slightly pale; apparently, she wasn’t looking forward to this particular meeting either.
“So,” began Weasley, after an extended period of awkward silence, his hand gripping a goblet so hard that the bones in his hand seemed to be protruding through the skin, “where were you last night, Hermione? You didn’t come back to the Common Room.”
Granger carefully laid down the knife and fork that she’d recently picked up. Her cheeks were tinged pink, but her eyes were full of worry.
“I- I was in the Room of Requirement…”
“I see.” said Weasley, nodding somehow too emphatically. Potter looked worried. “Alone?”
It was evident that this was not a question that Granger wanted to answer in the presence of the entire Gryffindor house. Redness was flooding her face, and she had lowered her eyes to the desk as if desperately trying to avoid the question. Draco opened his mouth, about to object on her behalf, but she cut across him.
“N-no,” she said firmly; she seemed determined to get the words out. “I was with M-Malfoy.”
The statement was met with dead silence; several people had ceased their own conversations in order to listen in, somehow enthralled despite the fact that the school was going to be destroyed in several hours and they surely had better things to do. Glaring at as many people as possible in as short a time as possible, Draco managed to interest several people in the unappetising food. Returning his attention to Weasley, he found himself staring into a cloud of barely suppressed fury; there was so much rage in the Gryffindor’s glare that Draco found it difficult to tell which part of Weasley was more aflame – the hair or the eyes. Realising that this was not the time to say anything, Draco stayed silent, leaning warily back in his chair. A loud cracking sound made him jolt with surprise; the goblet in Weasley’s hand had snapped clean in two.
“I see.” Weasley said, nodding slowly, “I see.”
And then his hand flew to the pocket of his robes, and his wand was half-drawn before Potter dragged him into a bear-hug, struggling to restrain him. Granger half-rose, but then halted, distracted by something. One of the teachers had stood; Professor McGonagall; and she looked ready to address the school. With Potter still struggling to keep Weasley under control, Granger sat hurriedly back down, but her eyes remained on her furious friend.
“Please…” she whispered imploringly; a hush was slowly falling across the hall. “please, Ron. I- I’m sorry, but I- I really care about him and-” she glanced at Draco, and blushed lightly, “and he really cares about me too…”
care about you!” Weasley hissed, “That maggot couldn’t-”
“Trust me!” Granger’s response seemed to catch Weasley off-guard, because his eyes widened. Her own had filled with tears. “Please, Ron… if you want me to be happy, this- this is what I need. I need you to trust me. He’s changed. I- I haven’t been this happy before.”
Weasley’s look of stunned disbelief did little for Draco’s sense of self-worth. The Gryffindor’s eyes slid disbelievingly in his direction, then back to Granger, whose look of desperate imploration sent a protective shock through Draco’s chest; however, he knew that this was one battle with which he wouldn’t be able to help her. Weasley was breathing heavily, but looked a little less hostile than before; he had stopped struggling, and, presently, Potter cautiously released him. A flicker of confusion passed across Weasley’s face, followed by suspicion; eventually, he turned away.
“We can talk about it later.” he muttered, ignoring Draco and staring resolutely towards Professor McGonagall.
The relief on Granger’s face was evident, but she also looked daunted by the thought of continuing the conversation later. Presumably, Weasley wanted to conclude it in the room where they were going to conduct the fiendfyre operation. Feeling slightly aggrieved that he was probably going to die whilst hexed, Draco also turned to face the head teacher.
Professor McGonagall looked weary; her eyes were shadowed behind her thick glasses, and her hair was bedraggled. Despite the enchanted storm-clouds gathering above her, however, and her ragged appearance, she still managed to stand with pride, the vast, throne-like seat behind her rising up past her shoulders, framing her impressively. For a moment, she simply stood and observed the four house tables, her face as dispassionate as always and her mood indiscernible.
“As you will no doubt be aware,” she began, finally, in a high voice, “the armies of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are gathered outside the walls of this castle.”
The proclamation was greeted with murmurs and shifting; everyone was afraid. Glancing towards Granger, Draco twitched the corner of his mouth upward reassuringly, and received a shaky smile in response.
“They come here,” continued Professor McGonagall, “to murder and torture; to destroy the one place that still resists the tyrannical rule of their master.” she paused, breathing in deeply. “I will tell you now that we will do everything we can to ensure that they do not succeed. Every defence that Hogwarts can muster has been called, and every teacher here will lay down their lives for any one of you.”
She paused again, pushing her glasses delicately up her nose and sniffing in a dignified manner.
“I would recommend that you spend the rest of today with those that you love, and that you cherish them in the hours to come. Professor Flitwick-” she nodded in the direction of the half-goblin teacher. “informs me that his barriers will last for another seven hours, at least. In the hours that follow the falling of the barriers, I ask only that you continue to cherish those that you care about.”
The head teacher looked away.
“You are dismissed. Classes, of course, are cancelled.”
Following the final statement, she sat down heavily on the head teacher’s chair. Looking around the room, Draco saw that everyone looked nauseous; he even caught Blaise pushing away a plate of toast and getting to his feet. His hand sought out Granger’s under the table, and he squeezed it gently, trying to instil some small measure of comfort. Turning towards her, he saw that she was looking at him seriously; he knew why.
“I’m going to the classroom.” she whispered; both Weasley and Potter heard her speak. “Harry, R-Ron…?”
Her eyes flickered with nervousness, but Weasley had already inclined his head grudgingly. McGonagall’s speech seemed to have had an effect on him, because he seemed a little less furious.
“Malfoy,” Granger continued, sounding relieved even as her voice took on a customary authoritativeness, “you should talk to Blaise. He’s just left, probably to go to the Slytherin Common Room. I’ll meet you at the classroom in an hour; that should give me time to ward it.”
Nodding his understanding, Draco rose, intending to hurry after Blaise, but a hand caught his arm abruptly. A flurry of emotions passed across Granger’s face; too many to interpret. She seemed to be struggling to settle on the correct words to express herself.
“Be careful.” she whispered finally. Draco smiled.
“Don’t worry about me. I'll See you in an hour.”
She bit her lower lip with worry, but nodded briskly.
“Don’t be late!”
A/N: Well, that was... interesting to write! Hope you all liked this chapter, and that you stick around for part three! :)