Chapter 27 : Another Chapter
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Granger’s eyes were closed, her brown hair splayed messily across the bed sheets. Her face was pale, and her lips slightly cracked, as if she had neglected to drink and sleep recently. She’d been sitting next to his bed, but looked to have collapsed with fatigue. For a long interval, he gazed down at her, emotion building in his chest until he was practically shaking. He was alive, and so was she. Somehow, they had managed to survive. Tentatively, he curled a single strand of her hazelnut hair around a finger, drawing in a shuddering breath.
“I’ve never seen anyone move so fast.”
The voice drew his attention abruptly. Turning his head to face the source, he saw that Blaise was observing him over the top of a book, sitting in the same position as the last time Draco had been in the hospital wing. There was a look of quiet calm on his face, as if a huge weight had recently been lifted from his shoulders. For a few seconds, they stared at one another. Swallowing, Draco leant back into his pillows, attempting to blink away the relief that threatened to overwhelm him.
“How-” he began, but his voice was hoarse so he tried again, “how am I alive?”
It took a while for Blaise to respond; so long, in fact, that Draco lifted himself back up onto his elbows to stare towards him. Blaise had leant back in his seat, and was staring upward towards the ceiling, a thoughtful expression on his face. After a while, he sighed, and shook his head.
“I’m not sure.” he said eventually, in a quiet voice. He glanced at Granger. “She controlled the fiendfyre, somehow. I’ve never seen anyone do magic like that. She said it was the potion, but I looked it up; it lasts from ten to thirty seconds. I suppose she could have got lucky, but…” he shook his head wryly. “I expect we’ll never know whether it was her or the Infusion. Maybe she’s even more powerful than she thinks.”
Draco looked down at the sleeping girl on his chest. “I see.” he said quietly. And then a thought struck him. “What about the Dark Lord? My parents?”
“Your parents are safe. They’re recovering from some basic curses at the moment.” replied Blaise, and a rush of relief passed through Draco, “As for the Dark Lord…” he frowned. “it’s strange. It should have been the end when he broke free, but he just… seemed to stop, as if he’d suddenly forgotten why he was there. And then Potter disarmed him, and it was all over. He’s gone, hopefully for good this time. The battle was hard-won, but once the Death Eaters realised he was dead most of them disapparated.”
It was a strange feeling. Draco leant back into the pillow, and breathed a long, quiet breath. In a way, being a Death Eater had become part of who he was, and he wasn’t quite sure how to react to the news that the Dark Lord would no longer be calling for his presence or torturing him for his lack of progress. Tentatively, he rolled up his sleeve, pushing some of the bed sheets aside, to find his skin entirely unmarred: the Dark Mark had disappeared entirely, leaving behind no trace of its ever having existed, gone the way of its creator. Letting his sleeve drop, Draco blinked, listening to the quiet. For a while, he felt very apprehensive; a lot of possibilities had opened up, and he was feeling a little overwhelmed.
Something stirred on his chest, so he lowered his gaze. Granger sighed in her sleep, shifting her head slightly, her contented breathing revealing the depth of her exhaustion. Smiling to himself, he curled another strand of hair around his finger, and watched in amusement as she continued to sleep, blissfully unaware of his recent awakening. Gradually, the urge to wake her up built in his chest, testing his resistance. He hesitated first, however, glancing towards Blaise, who got the point, rising to his feet.
“I should go… I have to warn you though, Potter and his friend mentioned wanting to talk to you. If I see them, I’ll have to tell them you’re awake.”
Draco shrugged. “Alright.”
Blaise began to walk towards the door, but before he pulled it open he hesitated, returning his attention to Draco. A smile of wry amusement had perked the corners of his lips, as if he’d just remembered something funny.
“I forgot to mention… your parents saw what she did. I’ve never seen your father look so… lost. Your mother’s definitely on her side now, though.” he grinned suggestively. “I doubt you’ll have as much trouble bringing her back to the Manor as you might have had at the beginning of the year.”
And with that, he turned and left, leaving Draco stunned and bewildered in his bed. Granger shifted once again, and his restraint abruptly vanished; he poked her in the shoulder, gently, and she mumbled incoherently into his bed sheets. Slightly harder, he poked her again, and this time her eyes opened, slowly and wearily. She stared at him for a few seconds, not comprehending, and then suddenly shot upright, letting out a small cry of shock that made him jump slightly. Her expression went from astonishment, through relief, to elation, and then, just as Draco felt a smirk creep onto his own face, to an emotion he hadn’t been expecting; fury.
“You- you’re awake!” she cried loudly, her hands clenching at her sides as she leapt to her feet suddenly. Draco stared at her, alarmed. “You- you…!”
“What?” Draco said blankly. She looked ready to explode.
“‘What?’” she repeated, incredulously, fire in her eyes. “How- how could you even think about- about doing that?! Do you have any idea how lucky you are? Fiendfyre is-”
“You’re forgetting one thing, Granger.” Draco interrupted loudly, and she paused mid-diatribe. She still looked to be simmering with rage, however. He smirked, and leant back into his pillows. “I lost the bet earlier this year. If I hadn’t done everything I could to protect you from the Dark Lord, I’d have died.”
For a second she looked bewildered, and then she stomped her foot angrily, her hair bouncing and her robes jumping. “That doesn’t make sense! You- you’d have died anyway if- if I hadn’t…” her eyes filled with angry tears. “Do you have any idea what that would have done to me?”
And then she threw her arms around him, sobbing into his neck. With a mixture of relief and guilt, he drew her into an embrace, relishing the fact that he was still alive to do so. He could feel her shaking as she cried, and before long his shoulder was sodden. Evil to the core, he took the opportunity to kiss her several times on her exposed neck. She shuddered; only partly, he suspected, as a result of the relief that he’d survived; and he took the opportunity to press his mouth against hers, which parted helplessly before him. He slinked a hand into her robes, circling her waist, but before he could take advantage of the situation any further she dragged herself away from him, an amusing mixture of outrage and desire on her face. He grinned.
“I can taste your tears, Granger. Who knew it was so easy to make you cry? I should have switched tactics earlier…”
“You-” she spluttered, beside herself with rage, “this isn’t funny, Malfoy! You could have died!”
The glare with which she fixed him had so much emotion behind it that his grin slowly faded. He sensed that she’d suffered lately. Guilt nagged at him once more, so he looked away.
“You weren’t in control of the Dark Lord. I did what I had to do to protect you.” he sighed resignedly. “I’m… sorry. I just… I couldn’t think of anything else.”
When he returned his attention to her, he saw that she was crying silently, tears trailing down her faintly flushed cheeks. Whether it was a delayed reaction to him waking up, he wasn’t sure, but she seemed to have suddenly developed a look of immense relief. Tentatively, she took a step towards him, then half-sat on his bed, a slightly cracked smile quivering onto her face.
“I-” she mumbled, “I know you were only trying to- to do what was necessary… it’s just… when I saw you cast the fiendfyre, I…” she swallowed, then looked down, frustratedly wiping away some more tears. “Ugh, honestly, you’re- you’re still alive and I’m crying my eyes out…”
“Tears of a Gryffindor girl.” Draco said, with a light smirk, “Highly prized in Slytherin.”
Granger gave him a reproachful look. “I don’t doubt that. You’ve definitely made your quota this year.”
“I’ve made my what?”
“It’s- oh, never mind.”
For a while they sat in silence, she drying her eyes and he just listening to distant thuds and bangs; there was, no doubt, a lot to fix in the castle, and it sounded like some people had taken the initiative. Absent-mindedly, he touched the place where the chain of the Horcrux had passed into his skin, finding nothing but himself. Whoever had healed him had been very thorough indeed. Either that or he’d been asleep for a long time. The thought sparked a question in his mind.
“How long has it been?” he asked quietly. Granger didn’t have to ask what he meant.
“Just a couple of days.” she replied with a sigh, “I am very glad that you’ve woken up by the way… I- I was just shocked earlier, and I’m exhausted… I haven’t really slept.”
As if to demonstrate the point, she stifled a yawn, blinking long and heavily. She almost looked to be swaying dizzily where she was sitting. Gently, he put a hand on her shoulder, pulling her down until she was lying next to him. He barely had to use any energy at all; she practically toppled over; and when her head hit the pillow her eyes were already closed. Toying with her hair amusedly, listening to the soft sighing sound of her breathing, he refocused on the distant sound of repairs. With the Dark Lord gone for good, the world was going to be a very different place.
“Younidot…” Granger mumbled after several minutes had passed, one eye opening slowly to glare balefully in his direction.
“What’s that?” he raised his eyebrows. “I’m an idiot?”
She sighed aloud, then sat up briskly. “Yes! I just remembered something!” she cried. “I can’t believe you didn’t read the present I gave you! It’s wasn’t that large a book!”
“You mean the history book?” he frowned, a little surprised by the question. “I don’t know… there never seemed to be the time. Why? I guess I always seemed to be doing other things... besides, how do you know I haven’t read it?”
“How do I know?” her eyes went wide. “I know because I’ve read some of now! They brought your personal belongings here, so I thought I’d… skim through the appendices while I waited for you to wake up!”
He gave her a look. “You are quite strange, you know?”
She rolled her eyes. “The point is that- actually, I think the book is around here somewhere. You can read it for yourself…”
She proceeded to stand up and rummage through various nearby cabinets and cupboards, peering under beds and tables and around curtains until, finally, she recovered the book with the red leather and gold lettering; Hogwarts, a History: seventh edition, with additional notes and appendices. Flicking through the pages, counting them off under her breath, she eventually located the one she was looking for. Wandering back to his bed, she sat down and thrust the book in his face.
“See?” she said, in an accusatory voice.
A picture of a large jewel-studded goblet, wrought in gold and bearing the image of a badger, loomed out at him from the page. Aside it, a note read:
Hufflepuff’s Cup is an elusive object, primarily as a result of its ability to appear exactly as the viewer expects it to appear. Helga Hufflepuff felt that this was the ‘fairest’ form for such an object to take, however, this choice backfired somewhat. Soon after enchanting the Cup, Hufflepuff lost it, and it has remained unrecovered for generations. Recent biographies of Hufflepuff herself suggest that, if the Cup still exists, it lies in Hogwarts.
With an element of nervousness, he returned his attention to Granger, choosing his words carefully.
“Well,” he began slowly, “at least you found it in the end. I take it that was what the Dark Lord had in his pocket?”
“Luckily!” she exclaimed immediately, her eyes wide, “Only after I looked through your friend Nott’s head!”
“Exactly.” Draco said with a smirk, waving a hand lazily, “No harm done.” He frowned slightly. “What happened to him anyway?”
Granger’s brow furrowed slightly at his change of topic, but she seemed to resign herself to withholding any further complaints because she shut the book slowly, putting it down on the floor next to the bed. When she straightened up, she looked both worried and guilty.
“Well… he’s alive. He’s in St. Mungo’s. Whatever curse Voldemort used, it’s not one that they’ve seen before. They say it might be months before he recovers, if- if ever.”
“I see.” Draco said quietly. “Well, at least he won’t be a problem for the Aurors.”
“That’s true, I suppose.” she replied, equally quietly. She had a distant look in her eyes. “I can’t help thinking that- that I’m to blame for his… condition.”
“He’d have killed you, if he could.” Draco said sharply. “Don’t feel bad for him.”
Granger nodded, but the guilty look persisted for some time afterwards. When a knock came at the door, she started, then leant towards him, kissing him gently on the cheek.
“I’d better go. Now that you’re awake, I can start to help with the clean-up. Professor Flitwick mentioned wanting to strengthen the warding charms around the castle, just in case it ever has to defend itself again!” she beamed at him. “Get some rest. Perhaps you could finally read that book?”
“Perhaps.” he hedged, deliberately, and she smiled again before pulling open the dark wooden door and passing into the corridor beyond.
As she left, someone else walked in, looking distinctly uneasy; Weasley. Draco eyed him questioningly, then straightened up in his bed in a pretence of fear.
“I have a wand somewhere, Weasley. Don’t think I’m defenceless in this bed.”
“Shut up.” Weasley growled; his face was reddening, as if he was struggling with himself. “Just… listen, for once.”
Draco stared; he sensed that something important was about to happn. “Alright. What?”
Weasley hesitated, averting his eyes. “Look, I… saw what you did. You thought you were the last Horcrux so you tried to destroy yourself.” he breathed in deeply. “More importantly, though… you weren’t being selfish. I don’t know if Hermione has changed something about you, but you weren’t the same prat I remember... at least, not on that night.”
“Right.” Draco said slowly, not comprehending.
“I suppose… what I’m trying to say…” Weasley’s face had gone very red now. “is that I’ll believe her for now. I’ll believe her when she says you’ve changed. But…” his face darkened. “if you hurt her in any way at all, I’ll fill you so full of hexes that you’ll be pulling bats out of your ears.”
Dumbfounded, Draco nodded, feeling slightly light-headed. That Weasley would give him a chance to prove himself was something that he hadn’t even considered possible. For a couple of seconds, he couldn’t speak, but eventually he managed to string some words together.
Weasley glared at him, unconvinced. “I mean it, Malfoy. I’m watching you.”
And before Draco could reply, Weasley had turned and left, leaving him alone in the hospital wing. When the quiet echoes of the shutting door had faded away completely, a disarming silence rose up. Feeling discomforted, Draco shifted slightly, trying to relax into the sheets. Beneath his hands he could feel the soft cotton of the bed sheet, and the air was still against his skin, but he could almost taste the change on the tip of his tongue, and it was making him restless. Breathing in a breath of anticipation, he shook his head wryly. As much as he’d hated being a Death Eater, it had been a source of order in his life. Without it, he was just another wizard in a world of wizards.
A thought occurred to him, and he smiled, closing his eyes. Perhaps he was thinking about it the wrong way. Perhaps he should be thinking less about what he no longer was, and more about what he could be in the future. An image of a brown-haired witch drifted up out of the recesses of his mind, and he smiled again. Whatever he was going to be, he wanted her at his side when he became it. And with that single desire expressed, he opened his eyes slowly and prepared to slide out of bed. The whole world was changing, and there was a lot of work to be done.
A/N: Well, thus concludes the final chapter. Stick around for the epilogue though - there's still one potion remaining, remember? :) As always, thanks for reading and reviewing!
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