Her lips looked soft and pink, a rhythmic breath escaping from them with each alternating second. Draco smirked at the brown ringlets that had morphed into its familiar bushiness during her sleep, a tendril deviantly escaping its pack and falling over one of her closed eyes. Subconsciously he edged closer to her sleeping figure, brushing the lock of hair back to its rightful home. For another moment he gazed at her peacefully sleeping form, her body turned in his direction and huddled up in a half-fetal position, her arm outstretched and still grasping Draco’s hand.
Draco had forgotten about that. His gaze ran down her arm until it met the sight of their intertwined grasp again, his long fingers overlapping her gentle ones.
He smiled. It had been a nice night. He hadn’t had any nightmares until almost the end, when he’d woken up with a start, tiny droplets of sweat forming on his collarbone. He’d been about to get off the familiar bed and head to the bathroom to wash his face when he’d noticed another presence in the room. He’d turned on his side to notice Hermione. He’d smiled.
Now, Draco bit his lip to try to hide the smile that had involuntarily plastered itself onto his lips, his eyes retracing every soft angle of Hermione’s face.
She was beautiful.
Draco momentarily paused and wondered if Hermione found him attractive, but quickly cast away the thought. Even if she did, she loved somebody else; even if she were over Weasley, how could she like him? He was only just damaged goods, a broken soul who craved a happiness that he didn’t deserve to have.
Wistfully, Draco sighed. He had fallen hard for Granger and he knew that the consequences would hurt. His happiness had always had a price. Always.
He’d been gazing at Hermione’s sleeping face since he’d awoken a quarter of an hour ago, but again he turned his gaze back to her serene visage. Behind her lids he imagined the soft brown eyes that lit up with fire whenever he made her laugh. He smiled. He always loved it when he made her laugh. His eyes moved down to her nose, the cheeks surrounding it that always flushed like ripening cherries whenever she was embarrassed. His gaze found her soft pink lips again and once more he inwardly grinned, the memory of their kiss last night flourishing in his mind. Her lips had been soft and had molded perfectly to fit his own and it had taken everything in Draco’s power to pull away from her after only a few moments.
He hadn’t wanted to let go. She had just been so warm, so comforting.
Draco blinked as another memory swam back into his consciousness, of what those soft pink lips had whispered to him before they gave him permission to embrace what he could never truly have. He had been so caught up in the moment of being so close to her that he hadn’t fully comprehended her words until now. It doesn’t have to mean anything, she’d told him. The words echoed in his mind mockingly as Draco abruptly released his grip on her hand and pulled his hand back to himself, both pairs turning into fists. A sudden attack of anger raced through his veins at that moment, fury clamping his teeth together. It didn’t have to mean anything. He wasn’t angry at her, but angry at himself. He’d let his guard down for a woman who had warned him by her actions that her heart was with somebody else; he’d become vulnerable enough to let his guard down around her just because he couldn’t discipline himself enough to not enjoy her company so much; he’d set himself up for another era of heartache. Draco suddenly bit his lip so hard that it hurt. It didn’t have to mean anything. Just like he’d never meant anything, to anyone. Closing his eyes against the temptation of gazing again at Hermione’s comforting, sleeping form, he quickly rolled off his side of the bed, his feet landing silently on the rugs beneath him, carrying him away towards the door that would lead him to a life where he wouldn’t let his guard down just to be crushed; a life that was one of solitude, the only home that he’d ever belonged to.
Just before crossing the threshold and disappearing from the room, Draco’s feet halted involuntarily, stopping so suddenly that he almost fell over. He stood statuesque for a moment, confused as to why he’d stopped. The soft morning silence drifting through the air wandered over to him, stopping over him, covering him with a quiet so profound that all he could hear was his own heart beating. And then he knew why he’d stopped. His breath caught in his throat as he listened to the air brushing past his ear, and he pressed his palm against his own beating heart. It raced fleetingly, quick bursts of anxious rhythms, as if scared. And Draco suddenly realized why it was scared. He was afraid to let go. He didn’t want to leave her.
Pushing aside his own good judgment, Draco threw one more look at Hermione’s sleeping body, tracing tenderly the soft lines of her face, his eyes sighing heavily at how her chest rose slightly with every breath she offered to the world. It hurt him to see such beauty that the world only mocked him with. Blinking her image away, he turned and crossed the threshold. From there his footsteps walked, silent and invisible to sound as he disappeared into the dim hallways, each step he took encasing him in even greater darkness.
Taunting nightmares had forced Hermione Granger’s eyes to open to the day in surrender. The air around her felt cold on her burning hot skin, heavy on the gravity pressing against her chest. She stared at the ceiling for a moment, inhaling deeply to catch her breath in her lungs. The nightmare had been so sudden that she’d been caught off guard, so vulnerable that the black waves had struck her mercilessly before she had even a chance to run away or defend herself. She hated that she’d been so weak as to fall so quickly to Cavalian’s nightmares, but she knew that she wouldn’t have traded the peaceful slumber she’d exhibited all the way up until that moment for anything, except of course the safe return of Ronald. A faint tingle in her left hand suddenly drew her attention to where it sat alone and strange on the unfamiliar black, satin sheets, and she was vaguely reminded of a soft touch that had clutched it last night as she had just been drifting off into a comfortable sleep. Her eyes had forced themselves closed against her will, but her senses had recognized the touch: Draco had held her hand in sleep last night, after he had kissed her… Hermione’s lips rose up in a smile at the memory, the way he had pressed his quiet, humble lips to hers so tenderly, the cold toughness of his demeanor dissipating immediately as their lips conformed together. He had made her feel wanted.
Abruptly, Hermione shook her head and sat up straight in bed, trying to ward off her happy thoughts before the repercussions that she knew would follow had a chance to overtake her. She turned her head and looked around for Draco, consciously realizing for the first time that he wasn’t anywhere in the grand room. A chill teased her skin, her heart pausing coldly in her chest. Quickly swinging her feet over the side of the bed, she hurried off to look in the closet adjacent to the room; pull open the emerald-handled armoire opposite the foot of the bed; peruse every corner of the room.
He wasn’t there.
The cold air suddenly seemed to penetrate through her skin into her bones. Hermione tried to not let herself panic, but the familiar feeling of the walls growing farther and farther apart and her becoming smaller and more insignificant suddenly barraged her, annihilating any bravery and security she thought she had possessed last night when she had had Draco. She turned to the left and looked out of the open door she had tried to avoid when scavenging about for Draco in the room. It stared menacingly back out at her, mocking her with the dimly-lit corridors waiting just behind it, the ever-present candles lining the dark walls ignited in their eerie way of making one feel scared out of their wits. She hadn’t wanted to go near the door if she could avoid it. She knew she was being silly, that it was just a door, that it was just a hallway, that she was a capable witch that could deal with anything that tried to barricade her way. And though she tried to manifest her Gryffindor valor as much as possible when Draco was around, Hermione was scared. Scared for Ronald, scared of Bennett, scared of being alone and attacked, scared of dying in solitude. Paired with her past experience at Malfoy Manor, Hermione knew that it was only reasonable for her to be afraid. But she hated it. She hated being scared. She wanted to be strong. She wanted to be independent. She wanted to be able to fend for herself. And as much as she didn’t want to admit it to herself, she wanted to not want or need Draco. Because she knew, she knew definitely, that he would not want her back.
Hermione looked up at the doorway again, the vacant space between the door frames seeming to taunt her, slandering her with insults of her weakness, of her being afraid.
She clenched her teeth. No. She wouldn’t have that. She was Hermione Granger, and as much as she wanted Draco to be there to protect her right now, she had to fight against her own demons of fear first.
Forcing her feet forward, Hermione gingerly walked across the rugs and towards the door, standing within the threshold at her finish. She glanced to the left and right of where she stood, her right hand clenched tightly on her wand at the ready, her heartbeat playing a persistent buzzing noise like a hummingbird. She watched as the corridor walls and floor jumped with shadows from the unsettling flickering of the candles, the pathways becoming an indistinct darkness after just a few meters down them. Hermione shivered, having absolutely no clue which way to go to find Draco, which way to go to find anywhere. Biting her lip, she squinted her eyes to try to peer though the darkness and hopefully find something that could point her in any which helpful direction, but she found no such thing. Maybe he just wants me to stay in the bedroom and wait, she thought. But how could she wait? Hermione knew that Bennett could be just hours away from finding a way to break into the Manor, minutes maybe. She was just about to take refuge back in the slightly more comforting room to try to think of a more substantial plan when she caught a light object floating distantly through the darkness on her right side. Her feet stayed rooted to the spot, her heart in her mouth and her wand poised to jinx as the object floated slowly down the hallway towards her. The wait seemed excruciatingly long and Hermione felt herself starting to lose her nerve. As the bated seconds passed, her gaze focused on the object and she realized that it was a note. A note. Hermione subconsciously stepped backward. How had Bennett managed to send them a note within the Manor? Did that mean that he was inside of it already, hiding, ready to strike out when they – or she, she realized with a jolt of terror – least expected it? And yet, Hermione Granger couldn’t move, her feet behaving as if it were a masochist reprimanding her for everything she had ever ruined in her life.
Again her feet forced her to wait and she waited until the parchment was floating directly in front of her. She reached out, afraid to see the two sets of scrawls once again that could possibly confirm to her the worst – that her best friend was gone – but too afraid to not find out what had happened. Opening the parchment, she almost cried from relief. Neither of the two handwritings was seen, manifested instead on the parchment the expensive calligraphy of Draco Malfoy’s script:
Working on case. Didn’t want to wake you. Meet with you soon to discuss new ideas. Don’t worry, Manor is safe.
P.S. – Lumos claritum.
And that was the end of it. Hermione perplexedly turned the small piece of parchment over and found a blank side facing her expectantly, as if even it thought that she should know what to do. And what did lumos claritum mean? Was it a defensive spell to keep Bennett away? But no, it couldn’t…Lumos was the base charm to illumination, so that couldn’t be it. Then why was it so important but so not at all important that Draco hadn’t even bothered to elaborate on it? The whole message had been curt and distant, confusing her. She had thought that last night’s kiss, their intertwined hands, had been a mutual moment of comfort for them both, even if to her, it had meant so much more.
Frustrated, she flicked her wand at the dark gloom clouding the corridors and thought lumos claritum in her mind. Instantly the flames adorning the tip of each candle lining the walls grew greater and brighter, illuminating the whole corridor in a soft bath of warm light. Hermione felt a brush of heat wrap around her and understood why Draco had told her the spell: so that she could be strong, and not vulnerable.
Turning over the parchment again as if some instruction had suddenly appeared on either side of it in her eyes’ absence, Hermione frowned. So what was she supposed to do now? Wait for him? She wanted to help, too. She lifted her eyes from his short script again and looked down the hallway to her right, where the letter had traveled from. The pathway no longer looked menacing or ridden with hidden creatures – in fact, the winding hallway seemed to tease her competitively, as if knowing that Hermione hated staying in the room while Draco did all of the research himself, that she was also scared to wander the Malfoy Manor’s maze alone, but daring her to walk its halls anyway, walk them and find Draco and refuse to let him do all of the research.
Hermione peered down the hallway again, trying to see if she could decipher its end. She couldn’t. She started to wonder where she should start when a door three rooms down suddenly creaked open of its own accord, a light igniting within it once the door had fully opened. Glancing around her one last time and making sure that she was still holding her wand in her hand, Hermione cautiously walked over to the open door, peering behind it for any danger before setting foot into the room.
It was a bathroom, complete with a package of toiletries floating before her above the washbasin. Hermione smiled to herself, slightly impressed at the amenities the enchanted house magically offered to her. She had never thought of it as an actual house, but just as the Manor where the Malfoy family lived, where Voldemort and the Death Eaters had convened and been hosted. She’d always thought of it as the Malfoy Manor, not the Malfoy house. She’d forgotten that at the end of the day, the Malfoys had only been a family, just like any other, and this had been their house before Voldemort had returned.
Her eyes traveled to the ivory toilet and washtub affixed to the wall, both intricately lined with gold, the whole room complimented by Malfoy-incrested furnishings. As she stepped lightly into the room, Hermione vaguely wondered how many washrooms the Malfoy Manor boasted, her eyes passing over all of the gold-accents littering the room’s infrastructure. Probably so many that they didn’t use all of them. Dipping her hands into the basin and splashing cold water onto her face, a burst of revitalization surged through Hermione. The room had been smart in advising Hermione to enter its area of cleansing before she’d ventured off to find Draco and more artillery in the fight against Bennett. She needed to have her wits about her, and washing away all of her insecurities with the room’s nice cold water was just what she’d needed to do.
Each corridor seemed to host different characteristics and personalities to them, Hermione realized as her feet carried her curious form without direction, soon forgetting about her quest to find Draco and aid him in researching against Bennett. The Manor was just so vast and winding, dozens of different hallways branching off from each other with rare dead-ends. Some of the hallways were blessed with plentiful lighting, several portraits of ancestral Malfoy’s or Black’s, their room temperature warm; others were only half-lit, their candles flickering menacingly and dancing as if in intimidation. Those hallways were cold, dust lining the few portraits of sneering subjects, jeering at passersby as if to point out that they weren’t good enough to be there.
Hermione found herself wandering down one particular hallway like such, her curiosity guiding her into the mystique of the dimly-lit corridor. Her fear of Bennett appearing out of nowhere was lost as her gaze swept upon the old portraits lining the walls, the dancing candlelight casting shadows on their accusatory faces, splaying wicked contortions on those visages with their jutted lips and bared teeth. Hermione was suddenly struck with just how far back the Malfoy-Black lineage stretched by the many portraits she had seen so far, each one staring at her condescendingly as if knowing of her impure blood status.
Walking deeper down the corridor, she noticed the slight decrease in temperature as her footsteps advanced, their steps becoming louder on the dark stone below them, her eyes struggling more to see in front of her as the room’s visibility took a sharp decline. There were no candles lit here at all. Hermione frowned. A chilling feeling raised the hair on her arms as she abruptly stopped, as if where she was was a place where bad things had happened. She gripped her wand more tightly before pointing it to one of the candles.
The candle ignited for a split second before falling asleep again. Hermione tried the spell again. It didn’t work. She stood flabbergasted. She rarely ever encountered a time when one of her spells didn’t work properly.
A frown pulled Hermione’s lips down again as she folded her arms across her stomach, frustrated and slowly regaining the fear she had dwindled behind many corridors ago. Moving her arm, she felt a slight rustling of paper in her pocket and suddenly remembered the note that Draco had sent, remembered the spell.
Squinting her eyes through the darkness at the candle again, she pointed her wand directly at it. “Lumos claritum!”
Light splashed across her face as the candle before her ignited, the lone candle behind her mirroring its act. Hermione smiled, satisfied with her wand-work. She turned to walk forward again in her exploration of the Malfoy Manor when her feet stopped short before she’d even fully turned around, not finding any more distance to cross over. Her eyes finally settled in the same direction her feet pointed at, finding a dark, wooden door with a golden plaque with the Malfoy insignia on it, different from all of the other plain doors she’d passed thus far. Hermione stepped closer to it, pressing her palm against the cold wood of the door. It creaked open slowly with a loud ache wailing from its hinges. Again Hermione frowned, finding this odd. This was Malfoy Manor…Doors weren’t supposed to creak. Everything was supposed to be pristine and well-taken care of. The pungent smell of dust and rust suddenly crept into her nostrils as she gingerly stepped through the threshold of the room, her wand thrust out before her, ready for any precarious attacks. She coughed and took a step further into the dark room, shivering as she felt the room temperature drop, the light and warmth of the two candles behind her creeping away.
For a reason unbeknownst to her, Hermione suddenly had a feeling that she wasn’t supposed to be there, that this was a room where bad things had happened, bad things that had ended in tragedy.
She cast her gaze around the dark room with what little light was provided from behind her, not being able to see anything except looming lumps and ominous shapes against the wall but feeling frightened of casting the illumination charm, as if something horrific would be revealed if she did.
A sudden loud noise echoed down the hall from a distant room, startling her. She cast the illumination charm hurriedly, fear rapidly running through her veins and to her heart. Maybe wandering off alone in the great Malfoy Manor hadn’t been the best idea. Especially with Bennett so near.
And it was with a loud gasp that spewed from her lips that her eyes surveyed the room around her.
It had been built with the intention to be a beautiful room of grandeur and royalty, Hermione could recognize that easily. A majestic cherrywood four-poster bed graced the very center of the large bedroom, dressed with sheets of deep velvet blood-red and an assortment of full pillows covered in emerald green silk. Beside it on either side sat matching identical nightstands, each with a rose posing lazily in a clear crystal vase. Hermione’s eyes silently traveled to see a grand piano sitting thoughtfully near the far window with still blood-red curtains, its bench slightly turned as if the person who’d used it last had just left recently and hadn’t bothered to tuck it in. Many photographs in bronze-gold frames lined the walls, still more sitting on the armoire seated by the walk-in closet placed directly opposite the bed. It had been built with the intention to be beautiful, grand, and royal, Hermione could tell, but that hadn’t been the reason why the horrified gasp had escaped her lips.
A cherrywood rocking chair lay broken on the carpet at the foot of the bed, its limbs sprawled in separated pieces.
Deep, frantic rips punctured the bedcovers in every which direction, the pure-white cotton within the covers peeking through the ripped lines.
As Hermione stepped closer to the wooden nightstand nearest her, her feet carrying her in a mechanical-like shock, she saw that what she’d initially seen as a flower posing in its vase was instead only a shrunken rose leaning pitifully against the support of the glass, its petals black in death, leaves reaching out for help but left shriveled. Hermione dared not reach out and touch the flower as she would have done with her own garden at home, for she knew that at the slightest touch the wizened flower could tremble and scatter in ashes. Suddenly, she averted her gaze. The sight made her strangely saddened.
The grand piano was stained with a dark purple liquid, broken glass scattered at its wooden feet. As Hermione moved closer to it, what had seemed to be a haphazardly pushed in bench was realized instead to have a broken leg, the whole bench appearing skewed on account of its leaning on its broken limb. As Hermione moved her gaze up, the same purple liquid splattered across the rich blood-red curtains, curving in a rainbow shape until it ended at a corner of the room. Hermione saw a broken wine bottle laying in the same corner.
Surveying the ravaged room from where she stood by the grand piano, another chill bit down on her skin. I’m not supposed to be in here. Something bad happened here. Something very, very… Her thoughts trailed off as a sudden realization struck her, the damage surrounding her becoming very real and tangible in an abrupt stroke of consciousness.
What if he’d somehow gotten here into this room in his brainwashed quest to find her? What if he’d started coming to his senses, like he’d seemed to do at her flat that night, only to battle again Cavalian? Hermione saw again the broken damage strewn about the room and shivered uncontrollably at the thought of how much pain must have come with that wreckage.
She had to find Draco and tell him. Now.
A new surge of fear and determination ran through Hermione’s legs as she made to run out of the room and somehow, someway, contact Draco and tell him about Cavalian and Ronald being in here, fighting in here, something bad happening in here...
She had to run, quick. Ronald’s life was on the line.
And suddenly, Hermione’s feet kicked up in the air as she slipped on a broken piece of paraphernalia on the ground. A loud thump reverberated in the still air as she landed hard on her back, her wand slipping through her fingers and falling a foot away. She got up quickly, fearfully, suddenly paranoid of Bennett appearing out of nowhere, and reached out to grab her wand. She had just grasped it and was about to run frantically away again when the culprit of her fall suddenly caught her eye. It was another photograph, bronze-framed and small, its image colorful and vibrant. She recognized the two inhabitants of the photo immediately, their open mouths of silent laughter eerily creepy in the silent room. Hermione gingerly reached out her hand and picked it up, running her thumb over the crack that she had just noticed running down the photograph, splitting the happy couple apart in an asymmetrical divorce.
It was a photograph of Draco and Anaya, back on their wedding day just a couple of years ago. Though Hermione had feelings for Draco now, a pang of sadness bloomed in her heart at the picture. Draco had seemed so happy and uninhibited then, not the bitter, broken man he was today. She looked again at the laughing bride, her eyes critically running over the brunette’s pretty face, seeing the forced lines on her visage that meant that the laughter had been voluntarily. She put the photograph back down on the floor, suddenly feeling disgusted.
Gripping her wand tightly in her right hand, she swiftly got up and turned to walk briskly towards the door, determination racing through her veins again to find Draco and tell him what had happened. She kept her eyes on the walls as she walked towards the door, noticing more clearly now how more photographs of Draco and Anaya littered the walls, some of them swinging lamely off their hinges, others dusted over. Knowing she was close to the door now, she turned her head to walk out of it with her guard up and defenses high.
It was then she noticed the imposing figure blockading the door, halting her from passage.
Hermione screamed before recognition traveled up to the sensors in her brain, before she stopped and saw who her visitor was, before she noted the plumage of blond hair atop the man’s head and a grim facial expression basking on his face.
“You ought to calm down, Granger. Nobody’s dying here.” Draco’s Malfoy’s tone was flatter than ever as he stepped quietly into the room, making sure to not look anywhere around it except at where Hermione stood shakily just feet before him, her hand pressed against her heart, trying to rid herself of the sudden shock that had just overtaken her.
Hermione’s voice was shivering as she struggled to regain her composure enough to reply to Draco’s unexpected appearance. His face was closed, his fists clenched at his sides. Suddenly, Hermione felt scared. “D-Draco, how did you find me? I was going to find you, but I got d-distracted by the c-corridors and I…I ended up h-here…”
“I heard you fall. But here? Here, on accident, Granger?” A strange, bitter laugh escaped Draco’s throat then, a low guttural sound. A sound almost savage. “Here, in the place I swore I’d never enter again? Where that old lovely wife of mine had professed to me her unfaithful, lying deeds? Where I tried to destroy everything that reminded me of her until I lost my strength, huh, Granger?” Draco’s voice broke suddenly as he looked at the ground. Hermione stood shocked, bewildered at what was happening. So it had been Draco who had destroyed this grand room? Hermione felt distantly in her soul a trickle of relief that this room hadn’t been Ronald’s demise, but it was overpowered by her instinct to hold Draco’s hand as he often did to her, to tell him that it was okay, that it was in the past, that he just had to forget his past and things would be okay. But how could she? He was staring at the floor with such hate reflected in his pupils, his arms shaking in emotion and anger. Hermione didn’t know what to do.
Draco looked up suddenly, blazing hurt drawing heavy lines on his face, his voice so low Hermione could barely hear it. “Here, Granger? Is this some kind of bloody joke? Are you trying to hurt me, too?”
No words could form in Hermione Granger’s mind, the only image in her mind’s eye the face of hurt, the face of pain, the face of agony and anger of Draco Malfoy. “I didn’t know, Draco, I didn’t know…Draco, I’m sorry!” Hermione stepped forward towards Draco as he turned to walk away, a glimpse of clenched teeth and unconcealed pain on his face catching her vision before he had stepped out of the room and into the dimly-lit corridor.
Hermione stood stock-still, as if petrified as she’d been in her second year at Hogwarts, extremely startled at the turn of events. What had she just gotten herself into? Her feet stood rooted to the spot, the familiar feeling of shock dissipating throughout her form. She had just ruined something - she had just lost her only friend at the moment. How could she have been so stupid? She and Draco had shared something special – to her – last night, and she had ruined it all with her stupid curiosity.
She would stop this. She wouldn’t let it end this way. Draco was a good person and she wouldn’t end their friendship on her mistake.
She tore her feet from the ground and jogged towards where Draco was at at the intersection of the hallway, about to turn into its adjacent lane.
“Draco, stop, please!” She cried. “Stop and listen to me.”
He kept walking, as if his ears had become immune to her words, immune to the hurt.
“Draco, stop, please!” She repeated. “I hadn’t meant to hurt you!”
At that, Draco stopped, his ears ringing with Hermione’s last words. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. She hadn’t meant to hurt him. She wasn’t like her, like Anaya. Slowly he turned to see a weary Hermione Granger jog up to where he stood, her eyes apologetic and sincere and clear and lacking in any malice or revenge or evil in them.
He waited for her to speak, feeling his own face expressionless and blank.
She stood small before him, lips trembling in remorse, her eyes besieging him for forgiveness. It was hard for Draco to look at her, to see how terrible he had made her feel. She hadn’t known. And there she was behaving like she had just committed a crime. What kind of a person was he? And yet he couldn’t bring himself to hold her and comfort her and tell her that he was sorry. The pain at being in that bedroom for the first time in a year hurt too much. He felt his stomach clench in anguish. Bad things had happened in that room, bad words had left her lips, bad memories had been laid sewn up within those walls. His gaze finally refocused on Hermione’s sniffling face, her hands wringing themselves before her, hesitant and small. She looked at him silently, her eyes perusing his face, his body language, watchful, careful, as if watching to see if he would lash out in anger, lash out in pain.
She looked afraid.
Afraid of him.
It made him feel bad. “Granger.” He found his voice choked, low, as if infiltrated with phlegm. He continued after clearing his throat gruffly. “Sorry, Granger. I didn’t mean…I didn’t mean to lash out at you like that.”
She stayed silent, still standing feet away, the fearful yet somehow caring expression masking her face.
“It’s just that that room…that room has bad memories…bad memories for me.” Draco found his voice wavering precariously in the still, silent air as he continued speaking. He was afraid that it would break and he wouldn’t have anywhere to hide his vulnerability from her. He couldn’t let her see him breaking. He wasn’t weak. He couldn’t let himself be weak.
Yet still Hermione still stood silent. Draco noticed a miniscule flood of tears pooling at the corners of her eyes as she stood motionless, watching him. She didn’t laugh at his weakness, she didn’t smile. She had never belittled him. The moment of silence stretched thinly in the air as they stood quiet, their gazes upon each other. All she had ever done was be there for him, even though he’d never deserved it. Even though he’d ruined her life by not stopping Bellatrix. Even though he’d always been a bully. She’d always been there for him. “It’s just that…that’s…that’s where she told me that…that her love had been a lie.”
It had been the first time he’d admitted that to anybody. He hadn’t ever even told his father, instead telling him that it ‘had just not worked out.’ His throat felt tight at that moment as he tried to remember to breathe, that that was in the past and she would never hurt him again. He clenched his eyes tightly shut to ward off the memories, the pain. And suddenly, a feeling of warmth spread around his chest, holding his shaking form still and upright. Draco opened his eyes to find a mane of soft, brown curls tucked under his chin, Hermione Granger’s slender arms wrapped around him. His mind tasted a sweet slate of peace for a moment as he let her hold him, let her comfort him. It felt nice.
“I’m sorry, Draco. I hadn’t known. I hadn’t meant to make you remember that. I’d never have stepped in there if I had known what it was and what it would have done to you.” Her words were muffled in his chest, trying to cipher off the pain beating down on it. He held his arms around her tighter. She felt nice.
“…and you should forget about her. She never deserved you in the first place.” Tighter he held onto her thin form, pressing her more deeply against his chest, against the repeated punches on his heart until finally her pressure against it dulled it into just a quiet ache. “…and you shouldn’t let her bring you down like this, Draco, you should -.”
Abruptly he pulled himself out of her embrace, holding her out half a foot away from him. She looked confused at his sudden movement. He watched as her soft, brown eyes blinked and looked up at his own eyes. Her lashes shined with wetness. Draco softly brushed under them, clearing her vision from the film of tears. Again she blinked wordlessly at him.
He stared at her for a still moment before her pink lips twitched open and let out a question: “Draco, what’s wrong?”
Hermione’s heart let out an audible beat as Draco brought his face closer to hers, stopping mere inches away. His breath felt cool on her warm skin and she inhaled involuntarily the sweet scent. She felt his thumb brush her cheek as her eyes closed at his comforting touch.
Suddenly his low voice broke the air, his gray eyes still stationed on her face. “Granger.”
Her eyes flashed open slowly, the momentary hold she had had on a peaceful state of mind reluctantly being put on the back burner. “Yes, Draco?” Hermione felt her cheeks flush at how high-pitched her voice had exited her lips at. She softly cleared her throat, slightly embarrassed.
Draco was silent for a moment, deliberating if he should follow on his caprice or not. What if he really did get hurt? Another year of misery would be at his door yet again. But yet, what if it didn’t? What if taking chances led to good things? His palm gently brushed Hermione’s cheek as he internally grabbed at his slipping resolution. She had been the only person who had treated him well in a long time. He would take a chance on her. But he needed to know just one thing. “Granger.” He repeated again. “Do you…”
“Do I what?” Her breath was warm on his lips. Clean. Internally he smiled. He recognized the scent of the toothpaste from the one he’d set out for her in the bathroom. Her eyes flashed quizzically at him, curious, interested. Anticipating.
“Do you think I’m a bad person?”
Draco waited with bated breath as Hermione stared at him confusedly, her eyebrows knitted together. This was it. This was the moment he was going to tell her how he really felt. This was him, taking a chance, a chance for happiness.
An exaggerated anxiety beat in Draco’s chest as he waited for her response. Finally her lips moved.
“No, Draco.” He watched as Hermione moved her lips up in a tentative smile. “Why would I? I think you are a very good person. You’re nice…” Her eyes bore into his, trying to search for the root of his questioning. Draco blinked panickedly. No, he wasn’t ready for this. He couldn’t let her see. “Why?”
“I…I…I’m really glad we’re friends.”
A groan resonated within Draco’s mind as he inwardly flinched at his answer. He’d chickened out. He, Draco Malfoy, one of the most celebrated Aurors in the area, couldn’t take chances. But no, he wouldn’t let that happen. He’d take that chance. He’d take it.
Hermione’s lips fluttered open again in confusion. “Oh? Well, er, that’s nice, Draco, I’m glad we’re friends, t-.”
And suddenly Hermione was met with Draco Malfoy’s determined face just inches from her own. Her eyes widened at the intensity glowing behind his gray irises, the familiar cool breath gently exhaling onto her lips. She tried to keep her focus from not scattering as a moment passed them, their bodies tense and close. Draco suddenly moved even closer to her, resting his palm on the side of her face.
He was going to kiss her. Draco Malfoy was going to kiss her. Hermione froze as Draco’s lips swept most of the distance between them to halt just an inch from her own, teasing her heartbeat to break out of her ribcage and out of her chest. Why was he coming so close to her? He was going to kiss her. But why? Did he feel sorry that he’d shouted at her?
His breath caught on her lips as his own let out a question, his voice low and hoarse. “Granger. Can I kiss you?”
Hermione nodded, a blush rapidly climbing over her cheeks. Yes. He was feeling sorry for her. But she’d take it. She’d take it, even though she knew that it wasn’t real. “It doesn’t have to mean anything,” she whispered quickly.
And suddenly both of Draco Malfoy’s palms were holding onto her face desperately as his lips came half an inch closer. His gray eyes probed her own eyes, frantically searching, frantically lonely. “Please, Granger.” He was practically speaking against her lips now, tickling them with the soft movement and touch of his lips. “Please, let it mean something. Give me some other purpose in life besides just catching Dark wizards to protect everybody else.” His voice was speaking fast; Hermione could feel his heartbeat beating rapidly just inches away from her chest. “I know I can’t ask for it…” Hermione’s heart shook as she heard his voice break and her desire to hold him to her strangled her will more than ever. “But please, please, Granger…Please protect me from my darkness…”
Hermione slowly moved half an inch closer to Draco, as if in a trance, a dream, and once more their lips met in synchrony. She closed her eyes in contentment as she kissed Draco’s desperation, his refusal of loneliness and solitude and battle against happiness. Hermione felt as if she was in a fairy tale as Draco gripped his arms around her, frantically trying to be as close to her as he could. A fairy tale. Hermione almost didn’t believe it. It was almost too good to be true, that Draco could feel for her what she felt for him and that –
And just like that, the fairytale quickly turned into a nightmare.
An agonizingly vivid vision of darkness penetrating her mind suddenly overtook Hermione and she squirmed out of Draco’s grasp just before the double doors down the corridor burst apart in a voluptuous explosion. Hermione screamed and backed into Draco’s chest as she stepped backwards from the smoke and debris suddenly swimming in the air, the fumes hiding the perpetrator who had broken entry into the Manor.
But Hermione knew who it was. They had both known he would come.
Draco whipped out his wand and swiped at the air in front of him, trying to dissipate the fog and uncover the intruder. Hermione whipped out her wand as well but in her panic lost her grip on it; subsequently it flew half the distance between them and the fog. Draco grabbed her arm protectively to warn her against retrieving it.
Hermione suddenly felt very vulnerable without it as she gazed at the unfurling figure appearing out of the thinning smoke, the bright red hair atop the face with the dark red eyes. His face was riddled with scratches and an expression of menacing fury as he stepped towards them, his familiar flannel shirt torn at the shoulder and left elbow.
Terror flowed swiftly through Hermione’s veins as she watched the bloody mouth of her beloved best friend open and reveal a daunting voice of undiluted anger.
“Get the hell away from her. She is mine.”
Ron’s eyes looked manic as he stepped towards them again, his arms shaking and dancing in convulsion as he moved closer. A heavy grimace besmirched his face as his gaze zeroed in on the close proximity between Draco and Hermione. The grimace grew more ugly as he opened his mouth, his loud breathing filling the silent air before he let out his angry words. “What the hell are you doing with Malfoy, Hermione? Why are you here in his house? We’re engaged, you’re supposed to be at home planning our wedding right now!” His eyes rolled back in his head a little as he let out a loud, empty cough, but he continued on after it as if nothing had just happened. “What the hell, Hermione, what the hell!”
Hermione’s voice was trembling badly as she forced her lips open to respond. She had to try to get Ronald to calm down so that she and Draco could reason with him to let go of the demon within him. “Ronald, please…We’re not engaged anymore. That was the past. You need to let go, please.”
Ron’s head and body flailed left and right in exaggerated refusal as he shouted at them. “No, no, no! No, no, no!”
“Please Ron, just forget the past! It’s killing you! You need to forget!”
The red slits that Ron’s eyes had become gazed unfocusedly on Hermione’s pallid face, then switched to Draco’s. He pulled his wand out. “You were supposed to be mine, Hermione. You belong to me.”
The first curse was cast so suddenly that Draco threw himself in front of Hermione and pushed her behind him against the wall before she knew what was happening. She watched in horror as he flung his wrist and blocked Ron’s shouted curses, casting his own with every alternating swipe of his wand.
Hermione had never felt so helpless in her life as she did then, watching her best friend and the man she had feelings for battle against each other.
Ron looked like he was battling to kill, his red eyes flashing in rage as he flung his wand without caution, bursting lights with a multitude of different colors expelling from it.
Her eyes swung back to the man standing in front of her, trying to protect her while trying to kill. But no, he wasn’t trying to kill Ronald. He was trying to kill Bennett, who was inside of Ronald. But what if he killed Ronald in his attempt? There had to be another way. She couldn’t let her best friend die.
“Stop!” She screamed. “Stop!”
The battling didn’t stop, the spells shooting more dangerously than ever as each man continued to block and curse. Ron’s lips, however, curved up into a demented smile and he let out a delirious laugh as his spells kept flying at Draco, unrelenting.
“I won’t stop until you’re mine again, Hermione. Never! Never, ever, ever!” Another cackle left his lips.
“Ronald, stop, please! We can’t, Ronald, I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” She repeated as he started flailing his body around again, sending the curses flying dangerously in every direction. Draco moved his wand even faster in reciprocation.
“No, no, no!” He repeated manically.
Hermione felt hot tears lace the outer corners of her lashes as she looked at the man she had once used to be so in love with. As she searched his angry visage for the friendly face she was so used to, she felt the tears swim down her cheeks, falling onto the ground. Why was this happening? Nobody deserved this tragedy.
“Stop, Ron, please!” Her voice broke. “I hate seeing you like this, you’re hurting me!”
And all at once the curses stopped flying from Ron’s wand as he let it go lax, lowering his hand. Hermione grabbed Draco’s arm to make him stop, but he had already done so before she had touched him.
“I’m…hurting you?” An expression of confusion passed his face and Hermione felt her heart pump faster as she recognized a hint of the man she used to know fighting to show on his face.
Draco turned to look at Hermione as she stepped forward until she was standing beside him, her eyes on Ron’s face, her lips dancing as a sob threatened to overtake her. “Yes, Ronald, you are! I just want you to stop thinking about me the way you do and for you to be happy because I love you, Ronald, I do, but not in the way that you want me to, but I do!” She stared at him earnestly, as if wishing more than anything that he would believe her.
An expression of confusion dawned on Ron’s face as he stared at Hermione. “…You love me, Hermione? Even after…?” His mouth bloomed open as he processed this in his mind, the shaking of his body starting to stop.
And when the convulsing of his body stopped so suddenly a split second after, Hermione knew that something was wrong.
A silent scream escaped her lips to the suddenly still air as Ron’s still body abruptly moved, his mouth starting to gag, his eyes rolling deeply to the back of his head. His shoulders started to jerk again as his mouth opened wide in a scream mirroring her own, a dark shadow arising from the back of his body.
Hermione watched as if in slow motion Draco Malfoy ran forward to try to catch Ron before he fell to the ground; she watched as Draco Malfoy was too late.
Before both of their eyes, Ronald Weasley gave one final jerk, then crumpled to the ground.
All things Harry Potter as seen in the HP books/movies belong to JKR.
Ahh, super lengthy chapter! Sorry!
There's only one more chapter to go, what's going to happen?
Thanks to everybody who has read, reviewed, and favorited so far and I'd like to give a huge thanks to a story called "Lady Malfoy" - it was one of the first stories I'd ever read on this site and it greatly inspired me with its ideas and awesomeness to write this fic. You may even see some of the author/story's ideas influencing some things in my own story if you've read it and can compare.
Thanks to everybody again, hope you all stay and catch the last chapter!