Harry was seated beside the window as the train for Hogwarts chugged its way through the winter wonderland scenery. They were around four hours away from school and Harry had been more or less quiet as Ron sat across him in a foul mood.
“Want some, mate?” Harry asked Ron, offering a piece of pumpkin pocket pie.
Ron shook his head disdainfully and looked to the right, to where the door was. Luna came in, wearing a ridiculously large version of her radish earrings.
“Ah, Ron,” she said in her usual dreamy voice. “I had a funny dream about you.”
Ron sat up straighter and looked at Luna. “What?” he asked suddenly interested.
“It was funny, really. You and Lavender Brown were walking into Hogwarts, not speaking with each other. And Harry pulled you away when Lavender tried to hex you with a Stinging Hex.”
Harry snorted and Ron raised his hands up into the air in defeat.
“What the bloody hell is going on with the world, huh?” Ron bellowed angrily. “I break up with Hermione, and Lavender, thinking she’d be forever stuck with me, turns out to be as fickle minded as a-“”
“Oh, you’re no longer together?” Luna said dreamily, sitting beside Harry.”Oh it happens, Ron. Manticores and Fire Crabs shouldn’t breed, lest they want a Blast-Ended Skrewt.”
Harry hid his smile with a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavored Beans. He saw Ron’s eyes grow livid. But Harry couldn’t help but grin to Luna’s allusion. Ron saw Harry’s smile and chucked a rolled up piece of paper at him.
“Hey!” Harry said.” What the hell-“
“That’s for being an arse in my moment of emotional pain!”
“I’d hate to say, ‘I told you so’,” Harry reasoned as Luna’s head tilted to the right. “I do know this isn’t a laughing matter. Hermione’s been hurt, fooled. It won’t be easy to gain her forgiveness again, let alone her friendship, least of all her love.”
“Oh shut it,” Ron said foully.
Harry then shrugged, almost annoyed at Ron. They had a pretty good Christmas, until a letter from Lavender arrived the following day through owl on the 26th. It was a pretty lengthy letter and Ron had shut himself up the whole afternoon in his room at the topmost of The Burrow. Harry tried to reason with him, but Ginny, sensing Ron’s broken heart, had distracted Harry into a friendly game of snowy backyard Quidditch with Fred, George, Bill and Charlie who were home for the holidays. Fleur and Mrs. Weasley were busy in the kitchen, as Fleur was enthusiastically showing her future mother-in-law her favorite French desserts.
While on a break from their enjoyably altered Quidditch game (due to the lack of players), Harry and Ginny sat beside each other as her older brothers pestered Molly and Fleur about in the kitchen, playfully stealing newly baked custard pies.
“Listen,” Ginny began as she put a hand over Harry’s hand. “It’s best we leave Ron alone for now. He’s confused and hurt.”
“He did that to himself,” Harry sighed, helpless.
“It’s a good lesson, an experience he won’t likely forget.”
“Experience…what men label their mistakes,” Harry said wryly.
Ginny playfully kissed his cheek. “Yes, so you don’t have to have that experience, alright? I’m with you all the way, unless I find a better version of you,” she joked.
Harry chuckled, knowing he could never find anyone else as perfect as the redhead sitting beside him.
Luna took out a page of The Quibbler, the magazine her father published and owned. “See here?” she pointed to a horoscope section, indicating Ron’s sign. “Your horoscope for the new year says that ‘you will experience the bitter tang of love and foul creatures’.”
Harry laughed outright and Ron shot him a reproaching look.
“Listen, Luna, I’ve been already experiencing the taste of bitterness since last semester-“
Luna’s eyes glittered as if she were daydreaming. She waved one hand in the air. “Oh. But you do realize this is for this year? It’ll be a fresh batch.”
Harry laughed again. “Sorry, mate. Luna says the funniest things.”
“Oh, but I meant every word,” she said seriously.
Ron rolled his eyes and muttered words that they both could not hear. Daylight was fading fast. Luna excused herself to go back to her cabin, asking Harry if he wanted to read The Quibbler. Harry declined politely, Ron didn’t bother saying goodbye. After a few minutes of silence, Harry felt lulled to sleep by the constant chugging of the train…
“It’s inside...” someone’s rattling breath said. The hand was withered, like it had been submerged for days in some peat bog. It pointed to something Harry could not see. Wind was playing in his hair as he stood, witnessing the scene. It was nightmarish but fragile at the same time.
“It’s been well planned, master!” a female voice said in excitement.
“You said you planned it well,” his voice sounded threatening but quiet.
“Of course. You expected no less of us, of me.”
“I gave them a chance, one more. No more if they fail.”
“I’ll kill them myself if it fails again!” she screeched.
He nodded, his eyes like slits narrowing further. The snake coiled around his feet, it was shedding skin, it grew bigger now, and it was more than fifteen feet in length. The green viper cocked its head towards Harry’s direction and the man’s eyes shot towards him.
Harry reeled back in shock. He was looking at himself misshapen, appearing like Lord Voldemort! The Lord Voldemort that had Harry’s scar stood up and brandished his wand, cackling with glee.
“So we meet again, Harry Potter. But our meeting shall be short.”
There was a rush of light, a bright green light and Harry shouted…
Someone was shaking him awake and he opened his eyes, Ron hovered over him with concerned eyes. He had slid halfway to the floor, his scar hurting painfully, like needles, a thousand of them, had pricked through his head.
“You alright mate?” Ron asked. “Your shouting woke me up; I thought we were being attacked by Dementors again or something.”
Harry took a breath and nodded, sitting up, still feeling weak and nauseous. His hands shook and he felt clammy, despite it being very cold. It was dark outside this time, rendering Harry’s feeling of vulnerability even more.
“You dreamt of him again, didn’t you?”
Harry gulped and nodded again, straightening his glasses and placing a palm over his forehead, in some pitiful effort to ease himself.
“What did you see?”
Shakily, Harry told him what had happened, unaware that the nightmare would be set in tangible motion soon.
Two hours before the Hogwarts Express’ arrival at Hogsmeade, Hermione and Draco met for the last time in what would be a long time inside the underground cave. They had walked together for cavern, careful not to look to suspicious after they individually left the halls of Hogwarts Castle.
“So…” Draco began.”I guess we won’t be seeing each other that often anymore.”
“I’ll still see you in class, in the hallways, in the Great Hall.”
Draco grinned.”I meant intimate-wise.”
Hermione smiled. “Oh. That kind.”
Draco held her hand and breathed in the cold air, it stung his nostrils but still, he felt alive, he had warmth holding his hand back. They were lying side by side on the thick moss, listening to the sound of something trickling inside the cave.
“I should fix that…” Draco mused, sitting up, trying to figure out where it was coming from. He frowned, annoyed by the constant dripping. Then he lay down again. “I’ll fix it next year.”
Hermione smile and moved closer to him. She fell asleep in a few minutes as Draco stroked her hair. He looked at her, marveling at how things could have changed so hastily, so immensely. He drew himself closer to her and she breathed calmly in her sleep. His eyes shifted for the ceiling. This was their hiding place, how long it would last- he had no idea. But he wanted it to last, until Hermione had tired of him. He hoped she wouldn’t tire of him. He wondered how long this charade would last, how long until they would be discovered. He wanted to shout to the world that he had fallen for someone so wonderful, but at the same time, he didn’t. He had his reservations. This was the thinnest line he had treaded, coupled with the incessant demands on fulfilling the ‘family legacy’.
He fell asleep and dreamed.
He gasped, whirled around, hearing the voice so familiar it tore his heart before he saw her in person. To be betrayed by the only he loved… how cruel could his fate be? She was eyeing him, like a woman eyes something she finds easy to play with, a mordant smile played on her lips, her eyes gleamed with his ache.
“You know, “ she began, her icy voice echoing in his ears. “I almost did love you. Almost. But I guess the fairytale ends here…” and she kissed some man before her, some man she had loved better than she had loved him. She was passionate towards the man and passionate in hurting Draco.
The scene suddenly transformed. She was kissing him now, kissing him like she had kissed the man in the scene before. He felt cold, all of a sudden. A rush of water roared in his ears. He whirled around to see walls caving in, trapping them between the strength of water and the boulders.
He gasped, embracing her, protecting her from the pain, the bite of the freezing water, but she disappeared from his grasp. Instead he found her, floating away from him, like a ghost in the water, her hair dancing all around in a macabre display of her body pretending to be alive. He tried to reach for her, but the water forced air out of his lungs, he watched her fade away into the sinister waters…
His eyes flung open and he gasped. Hermione awoke with a start.
Draco stared at Hermione and exhaled deeply, unable to believe he had a nightmare, unable to believe he had such a nightmare…
He shook his head. “Bad dream.”
“I-“ he stopped and shook his head. “It was pretty graphic.”
Hermione sat up.”Would you like to tell me?”
Draco shook his head twice as he sat up, his heart was still pounding and his palms were damp. He looked at her. “Hermione I want you to promise me that you will never come here alone.”
Hermione looked at him quizzically. “Sure…” she said, uncertain of the reason why. “But what does that have to do with your dream?”
“I- just a…precaution. Look, we’d better get back,” he said standing up and offering his hand out to her. Hermione took it and Draco easily pulled her up. She nodded and pulled him back with her to the moss carpet, giggling.
“Hermione!” he laughed.
“I think we still have time,” she naughtily joked in his ear.
Draco laughed again, kissing her. It was the pastime he knew so well, but she gave an entirely new significance to it. He didn’t resist her teasing at all.
Harry waved at Hermione as they walked into the Great Hall. Hermione waved back and ran for Harry, embracing him tightly. Ginny walked up and she hugged Ginny too and Ginny exclaimed she had grown more mature looking.
“What does that mean?” Hermione laughed.
“You’re looking good, looking better, that’s what!” Ginny said.
Harry nodded, just as Ron came in the Hall. He stood still, unable to move now that Hermione was a few inches away from him. He looked at her; she had ‘blossomed’, no matter how feminine the expression sounded. She looked at him for a millisecond, unresponsive, and then turned to Ginny to continue their chitchat. Ginny led Hermione a few seats down, away from Harry and Ron. And Harry saw Ginny wink, signaling that they would be sitting apart for tonight. Harry nodded and sat down, the splendid food appearing before them.
Ron huffed and sat beside Harry.”What the bloody hell…” he muttered as he grabbed piece of chicken with his fork.
“What?” Harry said, wanting to enjoy the food without side comments.
Neville came up to the table, and sat across Harry and Ron, Dean was sitting beside him. The foul mood Ron had was exchanged for friendly talk, as Neville and Dean discussed new hexes that they had learned. Neville showed the gang his swollen left ear; a hex conjured by his cousin as a prank.
“If the swelling doesn’t go down, I think I may have to go to Madam Pomfrey,” he said good-naturedly.
“Does it hurt?” Ron asked.
Neville shook his head. “It just bothers me, you know. I can’t lie sideways to sleep.”
They laughed out loud and continued to eat. Draco walked past them, followed immediately by Crabbe, Goyle, Pansy and Blaise.
“Oy!” Ron whispered to Harry.”He’s here.”
Harry turned sideways to see Draco sit on a bench, surrounded by other Slytherin mates. He noted Draco’s pallor and the lack of sleep evident in his eyes. He was quiet, surrounded by talkative Slytherin cohorts, lending a sense of surreal air to the Slytherin bad boy. Harry turned to face Ron again and shrugged, wondering if his nightmare had any true significance to Draco’s life. He saw the faces clearly, saw the woman he had long hated for killing his godfather and saw how she swore to kill ‘them’ if things didn’t go as planned. Harry had surmised she was talking about Draco and his father, as he had recalled Draco’s failed task in sixth year. He also remembered casting a spell on Draco, a spell that almost killed him. He had not known Snape’s invented curse could inflict such damage. Full of hatred, Harry had naturally considered killing Draco, but had since reconsidered, remembering Draco’s eyes filled with panic, trembling at the fact that his mother’s and father’s lives were at stake and not just his own.
Still, he didn’t like Draco, but felt a sense of empathy for him. The dream he had on the train was changing things for his stance on Draco, rather suddenly. But he forced himself to think again. There were two sides to every story, and he wanted to listen to his own, what he saw the night Dumbledore died and Draco’s plot to make Hogwarts fall into the hands of the Death Eaters- that was what he wanted to believe in. It gave him a greater reason to hate the majority of the Slytherin lot and end things once and for all with Lord Voldemort.
Draco’s eyes shifted to Harry’s, his silvery eyes boring into Harry’s bright green ones. He saw something there he had not seen before, an understanding of sorts. What the bloody hell was going on? Breaking off his gaze, he tried to concentrate on what Blaise was talking about. But he couldn’t. His eyes then searched for Hermione’s face in the sea of newly arrived students. He saw her with the youngest Weasley, talking seriously and away from Ron. He looked at Ron’s face and saw it filled with frustration and hurt. He felt a sense of satisfaction, knowing that Ron was probably regretting breaking up with Hermione over that clingy Lavender Brown. Gossip had been circulating that Ron and Lavender had broken up over Christmas break, just hours after the train ride back to Hogwarts began. It reached his ears only a few minutes ago, courtesy of Pansy.
Draco stood up and excused himself after a quick dinner, saying he was tired. Hermione saw Draco exit the hall and wondered where he was going.
Draco was unconsciously playing with the pendant Hermione gave him as it hung around his neck. He was standing on one of the many ledges that surrounded the third floor, exposed to the biting cold. He rather welcomed it, wondering how long he could last in such a cold war. He smiled grimly, reminding himself that he was a son first and Hermione’s significant other, second.
He made sure no one followed him and he quickly walked away, passing by the door of the Room of Requirement which was visible to his eyes. He walked past it; the door reminded him of his previous failures, and he had worked so hard for it…he shook his head and walked for the highest turret on the eighth floor. There were four doors leading to different rooms in the tower. He bent down and studied each door. Then he saw a door with tiny strange rune carvings on the bottom of it, a door highly unnoticeable to anyone who passed by. It was a simple enough looking door, students avoided it on the pretext that it was just another abandoned room filled with discarded furniture, as were the other rooms on that turret.
He read the text, knowing it wasn’t the Ancient Runes he had learned about, but something far older, and he was hoping to translate them correctly. He was murmuring and mustering all the knowledge he had learned about runes and he could feel the pressure mounting.
whitest of grain;
it is whirled from the vault of heaven
and is tossed about by gusts of wind
and then it melts into water
He stopped and wondered if it was a riddle or if he should say it aloud. He said the text aloud first, waving his wand. Nothing happened. Holding onto the door, he muttered a charm to open locked doors. Still nothing happened. He sat down on a ledge, staring at the door as the wind and snow blew mercilessly outside the stained glass window. He conjured a flame and brooded what to do next. Minutes ticked by, and then it became a full hour of being unable to figure out anything.
He kept repeating the text in his head. Then he stood up, hit by the awful simplicity of it. Of course it was a riddle! He had to give the answer, he knew it. He had read it once, that same instance where he found the script containing the password to the entrance of his cavern. He paced back and forth, repeating the words over and over again. Then he stopped, realizing the answer to the riddle. Standing in the middle of the door, with his wand out, he wrote out a single rune character on the surface of the door in answer to the riddle.
The door creaked at its hinges and he saw it crack open slowly. A blast of air blew in his face, something of dust and something of dark and old magic. He closed his eyes, waiting for the dust to abate. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes again and saw the room; it was circular in size, larger than what he expected. There were no windows as he scanned the room with his wand glowing brightly. It was pretty full, broken furniture and discarded bits and pieces from the older Hogwarts generations littered about. He stood still, shutting the door behind him, wondering what to do next.
Did the Dark Lord plans this year ahead of time? Did he create the room with full knowledge on the power of runes that were fabled to be the one of the favorite past times of Salazar Slytherin himself? He felt the task too mundane and tiresome to look for some object that was probably hidden under a ton of debris. Sighing, he flicked his wand for the objects to move, placing them neatly on top of each other if he could.
He was the cleaning man tonight, he mused sourly. He wondered if this was to punish him and his family for failing the Dark Lord during the previous year. Wait...this was to punish him, he knew it deep down. If things didn’t go well, he would have greater reason to kill them off. After an hour of lifting things with the use of his wand, Draco slumped down on the floor, unable to believe he had found nothing that he had envisioned through his aunt Bellatrix’s Occulumency.
He would come back tomorrow, he mused, armed with rest and a full stomach. Draco stood up, opened the door and walked out, sealing it with the rune he had written on the surface of the door.
Tucked away between deep debris, something nearly invisible rattled, sensing a Slytherin presence near it.
A/N: Thank you once more for reading and for your gracious reviews! till next!