It wasn’t the kind of fog you would find in a funhouse. It was the thick kind of fog, the kind that made you feel as if you were choking with every breath you took.
A cloaked and hooded figure waited at the end, holding a wand that glowed red. Hermione walked slowly but purposefully, almost as if she was trying to prevent her feet from walking but they went on without her anyway.
She reached the figure and its hood suddenly dropped to its shoulders. Hermione gasped in surprise as she locked eyes with Draco Malfoy. His face was covered with sweat and crusted, bloody wounds, and grimy tears were running down his face.
He mouthed the word help, but no sounds came out. He grabbed onto her arms and seemed to be screaming at her, but she couldn’t hear a word.
Suddenly, his face turned black and it started to melt away, seeming to have turned into tar. He reached out a hand to Hermione and she tried to grab a hold of him, but soon his entire body had melted away and he was nothing more than black tar in her hands. She fell to the ground, holding her hands in front of her in horror.
Seeing something beside her move, she tore her gaze away from her black hands to find the tar on the floor slowly dissolving away into nothing.
And beneath the tar, bathed in an ethereal light, lay a perfect, red heart... still beating.
* * * *
Hermione bolted up out of bed, sucking in a huge gulp of air. Panting, she looked frantically around the dimly-lit dormitory, trying to ascertain where she was and what the hell had just happened to her. Once her breathing returned to normal, her abnormally-intelligent thought process recovered and began whirring.
Merlin... That dream was awful. He just... melted away. And he was calling for help, but I couldn’t hear him. Does that mean that he’s asking me for help, and I’m ignoring him? Or does it mean that he’s incapable of calling for help, although he’s trying? And his heart... His heart was still beating. What the hell does all of this mean?
Suddenly wide awake, Hermione climbed out of bed and ran to her trunk, pulling on clothes. She didn’t know where she was going, but she felt like something was pulling her somewhere. She ran hurriedly down the stairs, allowing whatever it was that needed her somewhere specific to guide her.
Looking out the picture windows on the wall of the Common Room, she realized that it was nearly dusk. It was a perfect time to roam the castle; if a teacher questioned her, she would explain that she had awoken early to study in the library.
Feeling confident in her excuse, Hermione slipped out of the portrait hole and into the dim hallway. The torches were half-lit, flickering faintly on the stone walls of the castle. Her footsteps echoed eerily as she walked through the dimness, trying to figure out where her internal compass was pointing.
It wasn’t long before she had reached the bottom of the staircase that led up to the Astronomy Tower. It had always been one of her favorite places to spend time, just staring out at the beautiful grounds and smelling the freshness of the air. Deciding that she wouldn’t mind some cool air to clear her head, Hermione began the ascent up the stairs.
Ready to welcome the soft light of dusk, she opened the door... and stopped short.
A figure was poised on the tower balcony, arms outstretched, ready to jump.
Hermione’s breath caught in her throat. She was paralyzed. If she said something, or even made a noise, what if they jumped? But if she didn’t say anything, they would jump anyway!
As she stood stock-still in uncertainty, tiny rays of orange light began filtering into the tower, illuminating the figure. Hermione’s eyes widened as she caught sight of a familiar blonde head.
“D-Draco!” she yelled, running to him. He flinched and nearly fell off the edge, but was somehow able to steady himself by grabbing onto one of the pillars.
“Merlin, Granger, what the hell do you think you’re doing?” he hissed, turning around to glare at her.
“I could ask you the same thing! Draco, don’t do this! I know it seems like the easiest way, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll die right away. And think of your mother, and your father...”
“Oh please, Granger, save it. I’m not going to fling myself off the Astronomy Tower,” he scoffed, hopping down onto the stone ground.
“Draco, you were standing on a wall with your arms outstretched above a 200-foot drop! What else could you have possibly been doing?” Hermione asked in frustration, pulling him roughly away from the wall as if afraid he would execute a reckless move the moment she looked away.
“It’s none of your business what I was doing, Granger,” he retorted, looking away from her at the misty sky.
“That day in the bathroom, you asked me why I didn’t just let you die. You wanted to die, didn’t you? And now you were taking matters into your own hands. I’m not a fool, Draco.”
“Of course you’re not a fool!” he shouted, whipping around to face her. “You’re little Hermione Granger, brilliant at everything you do. You can do no wrong. Everyone worships you.” He strolled up to her, his lip curling in disgust as he continued, “You have a perfect life. You don’t get assignments to kill people every day. You don’t live in constant fear of Lord Voldemort changing his mind about your usefulness and suddenly cursing you or even killing you.”
“HOW DARE YOU BELITTE MY PROBLEMS SO YOU CAN WALLOW IN YOUR OWN SELF-PITY!” Hermione shrieked, pushing him roughly in the chest. She had had enough. “I certainly live in fear every day. I live in fear that Harry, Ron, or any of my other friends will die. I live in fear every day that I’ll die in a duel with a Death Eater, and I’ll never see my parents again. I live in fear every day that Harry won’t be able to stop him and he’ll take over our world. I understand a lot about fear, Draco. Arguably more so than you. So don’t go around pretending that you have it the worst. You don’t.”
Draco was silent, surprised at her sudden outburst. He didn’t think her capable of such rage. She continued to glare at him, resisting the urge to punch the shock right off his face. “Think what you wish, Granger,” he finally replied curtly, turning to walk out the door, “I would give anything to be you.” His last comment was soft, so soft that Hermione barely even heard it. She was about to reply to this strange confession until he added, “Minus the filthy blood, of course.”
Hermione’s mouth twisted in anger as he slipped through the door. She wanted to scream at him until her voice went hoarse. This was the second time she had saved his life! And instead of thanking her like any decent human being would, what does he do? He opens that filthy mouth of his and insults her blood, over and over again until she felt as if she might explode from all of the rage building inside of her.
She hated him. She hated him with every fiber of her being, with every drop of blood in her veins.
But even though she hated him, and never wanted to think about him ever again... That stupid dream wouldn’t leave her mind.
When she thought of Draco Malfoy’s heart, she thought of a black, shriveled-up organ that didn’t understand empathy, sympathy, gratitude, or forgiveness. But her dream had showed her a red heart beating inside of his chest... A real heart. A human heart. A heart that could be broken, just like everyone else’s.
And she had watched as he had died. She had watched as he melted away, leaving behind only his heart.
She didn’t want this. She wanted things to be simple and clear-cut like they used to be when it came to Draco Malfoy. Hermione wanted to be able to hate him and condemn him as an inhumane monster without wondering about his heart’s capacity for good.
But, unfortunately for her, those days were very much over.
* * * *
That night, Hermione had another dream. Except this time... It was worse.
She was standing in a graveyard that seemed to stretch for miles. The thick, choking fog was back... but something was different this time.
As she walked, she noticed with a sinking feeling that her feet were sticking to the ground a little bit more each time she took a step. She looked down to see why, but the fog was too thick to even see the ground. She slipped out her wand from her robes pocket and whispered a spell. The fog dissipated at her command, revealing the grass beneath her feet.
The grass wasn’t green. It was red. There was blood everywhere. She looked around in horror to see that every single headstone was covered in blood. Covered.
Before she could even think, she heard a piercing scream come from the sky. She looked up and saw a black shape suspended above the graveyard. It was Draco, floating in midair, his arms outstretched. Blood poured from gashes all over his body, and Hermione watched in utter horror as the gashes became deeper and deeper, the screams getting louder and louder with each second...
She was running before she even knew what she was doing. She had to get to him before...
Too late. His body dropped to the stone below with a sickening thud. There he lay, broken and bloody on the ground, completely still. Hermione knew before she reached him that he was dead.
The scene started growing black on the edges, but not before Hermione looked back up at the sky and saw it.
A familiar red heart suspended in the air... still beating.
* * * *
A/N Author's Note: For previous readers, I completely revised the main scene for this chapter - I think it makes more sense this way. New readers, pease tell me your thoughts!