Chapter 8 : Life Less Frightening
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The sky was oddly clear as Hermione looked out from the library. She hadn't seen Draco for almost a week since they were in the courtyard that evening. She counted the stars she could see from her angle. Harry was doing something with Dumbledore tonight, trying to find that Horcrux and Draco was no-where to be found. She pulled the Marauders Map and scanned it quickly again, concluding for the ump-teenth time that Draco was in the Room. She had promised him to remain in the common room, not to leave until the sun broke over the horizon the next morning, but she had a sickening feeling in her gut. Something wasn't right. Something bad was about to happen. Ron and Lavender were glued together, as always, and Ginny was fixing her make-up for no apparent reason, so who could she confess these feelings to?
Hermione breathed in heavily, the scent of mothballs and forgotten books lingering in her nose. That smell usually calmed her, brought her back down to her roots, but it was about as effective as an umbrella in a tornado. She eyed the room around her. It was their room, even though they hadn't been there in months, happily choosing to steal hidden kisses in empty corridors, classrooms, anywhere possible and Ron had finally stopped badgering her about their arrangement, accepting the fact, grudgingly, that Hermione and Draco were serious about each other.
Harry's scream penetrated the night and Hermione jerked awake. Someone was looking through their stuff, sniggering at their effects and sneering. Hermione silently grabbed her wand off the bedside table, and waved it towards the Death Eater, muttering petrificus totalus under her breath. The figure froze and fell to the floor with a heavy thump . She climbed out of bed, her feet numb on the cold stone. Amycus Carrow was leering up at her, hatred and disgust evident in the hideous eyes bulging out of his crumpled face. Hermione stared with shock at Amycus, before her mind sprang into action. She had to get him out of there before he unfroze and attacked her. She stepped lightly around him and went down the stairs to Ginny's dorm. She shook the slumbering redhead awake, and her soft brown eyes stared up at Hermione in confusion.
"Hermione? What's going on?" She asked, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"Amycus Carrow is in my dorm! Come on, you have to help me get him out of there!" Hermione pleaded and the confident redhead climbed out of bed and rushed after Hermione to her dorm. Amycus was still in the same spot as before, but a few of the girls were beginning to stir, they had to act fast. Hermione grabbed the man's broad shoulders and Ginny grabbed his feet before they began to carry him down the stairs and out of the common room. They could feel the loathing and disgust roll off him in waves, the hatred wrapping around them in a toxic blanket, suffocating them. They hurried out of the common room, and left him in a locked broom cupboard. Both girls knew a wooden door wouldn't really stop Amycus, but it was their best chance at getting a head start. The school was dark, the paintings hushed as their scared eyes followed the two girls sprinting towards the courtyard outside the Astronomy Tower. A figure lay there, twisted and broken while a fire blazed in the distance, near Hagrids hut. Hermione took in the silvery robes and the long white hair before letting out a choked gasp. It couldn't be. The adrenaline from seeing Amycus in her dorm must be altering her sight. But as Ginny slowly moved closer, she swallowed hard. Dumbledore, the greatest wizard of all time was gone, never to return and stand beside them, never to see the end of the War. Snuffed out like a a brilliant candle in a hailstorm. A crystal tear rolled down her cheek. Draco had been right, this changed everything. A crowd began to form around the three of them, but Hermione slowly disappeared back into the crowd, silently crying when Harry returned, Hagrid in tow. Ginny slipped her hand into his as McGonagall lit the tip of her wand. The people in the crowd slowly followed suit, and the twisted mark in the sky slowly dispersed into the clouds. That night changed the lives of everyone. Hermione couldn't help but think about Draco and how he had been pushed into this role, with his father in prison and his constant worry about his mother's welfare. Hermione grew agitated at that point, both with the unfairness of Draco's situation and that she was fretting more about Draco than she was about Harry. It had been Harry's scream of anguish that awoke her, not Draco's.
Draco looked up to Gryffindor Tower as he fled with the others, noting grimly that all the lights were on and the Dark Mark had disappeared from the sky. Sadness clawed like a beast in his throat, but he kept running until they had reached the border. He even felt disgusted at his aunt as she set that oaf's hut on fire. They could have just left without making such a show. Dumbledore was dead; he hadn't done what they had demanded all year round, but the job was over. He felt the weight lift momentarily from his shoulders, until it was replaced by the dear of the choice Hermione, Ron and Harry would choose. Harry would demand Voldemort's head and maybe even Draco's head for the death of Dumbledore. The brief understanding they had maintained all year would be vanquished, and Draco was suddenly saddened by that. The battle in the bathroom had chipped away at what they had, but this had smothered what little fire remained. Draco remembered how Harry's emerald eyes were instantly guilty as he saw what that spell had done to Draco, scared he had gone too far and that Draco was soon to die. Harry didn't want that, hadn't meant for it to happen. Draco saw that much before Severus burst in, threatening Harry and then scolding Draco once Harry left. Draco hadn't meant for that girl to get hurt, the necklace was for Dumbledore, but it wasn't wrapped as well as he thought. That or the girl had rough fingers.
"Come on Draco!" Bellatrix hissed in his ear, and he followed them in disapparating to his parents mansion. They strolled in through the gate and up the long drive to the front door. His mother opened the door, looking gaunt and drawn. Since Lucious had been sent to Azkaban, Voldemort and the other Death Eaters had been residing in their mansion, treating Narcissa like a dog. But she smiled as warmly as she possibly could and moved aside to let them in.
"So, did you kill him?" She asked in a soft voice, her sad eyes searching Draco for any afflictions.
"Severus did. Draco faltered, but it was done" Bella cackled and red sparks flew out of the tip of her wand. Narcissa smile tightly, and Draco left the posse as Amycus walked in behind him, fuming.
Hermione was packing her clothes neatly and by hand when an owl fluttered in through the window. She was still wearing her clothes from the funeral and had long, black mascara tracks down her face. The owl was dark brown, almost black and it looked at her with beady judgemental eyes. She knew whose owl this was. She took the letter from the owl and it flew out the window quickly.
Dearest Hermione, I just had to make sure you were okay. I can understand if you hate everything about me now, believe me, I've hated everything about myself for the past year. I'll be returning to Hogwarts next year, but I strongly advise that you don't. Snape will be taking over, the Carrow twins will be teaching and there will be Death Eaters all over the place. It won't be safe for anyone but Slytherin's. I don't want you to regret what we did, I definitely don't. I miss you constantly, always. - Draco
Fresh tears tracked down her face. She had guessed everything he had said, she wasn't going to return to Hogwarts anyway. Harry and Ron needed her elsewhere. The Horcrux had been a fake. Someone else had it. R.A.B, whoever that was. Harry felt guilty, like it was his fault that the Horcrux was a fake and so it was his fault that Dumbledore died. Hermione tried to tell him otherwise, but Harry was as stubborn as he was determined. She flicked the locks on her suitcase, wiped her face clean, put Crookshanks in his carry basket and left the girl's dormitory, remorse flowing through her.
Harry and Ron were already ready, and they stood beside each other, grim looks on their faces. Lavender was in the lavatory, crying her eyes out and Ginny was down by the lake with her friends, the two girls suffering the same news, coping through it in different ways. They all looked at each other, before heading towards McGonagall's office. She was sitting in the classroom, sniffing and dabbing her eyes with a plain handkerchief. She looked up, and saw what was coming.
"So you three really are leaving. I suspected as much." She said and she stood up stiffly.
"Its the best we can do for the school, and its what Dumbledore would have wanted." Harry said pain evident in his voice. Hermione could see the anguish he was feeling. Everyone he loved was dying and he couldn't stop it. Hermione gripped his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze, and he squeezed back.
"Well, alright. I understand. Be safe Potter, you too Weasley and Grainger." She said and she gave each of them a stern, but oddly warm stare. They left the room and quickly headed towards Hogsmead.
The summer passed in a daze. Hermione heard nothing from Draco, not a whisper or anything. It was drawing to a close, she had to charm her parents or it'd be too late.
Draco watched with absolute loathing and disgust as Bellatrix tortured Hermione; burning her, cutting her, hurting her. Hermione kept screaming, big thick tears rolling down her face. Draco wanted to stop it, but how? If he tried to intervene, Bellatrix would kill him as surely as she was going to kill Hermione. He turned his head away, which caught the attention of Bella.
"What's wrong, Draco? Don't have a taste for torture, or do you like this filthy Mudblood?" She snickered, her voice harsh and throaty. When Draco kept his head turned, lips pursed, he heard her breathe in sharply. "You do, don't you?" She hissed her voice dangerous. "Well, how would you like it if you saw what her blood looked like?" She cackled and began to carve into Hermione's forearm. M-U-D... Draco looked away as a fresh scream burst from Hermione's lips. She cried out with each letter and each dig as Bellatrix made sure it was deep enough to surround Hermione in thick torrents of blood, but not so far as to drain her within moments. Bella wanted to play with Hermione for a lot longer. She had just finished carving in the last D when Ron burst into the room, brandishing his wand, Harry hot on his heels. In the confusion, Draco was about to stun his aunt when Harry cursed the wand out of his hand. Bellatrix's lay on the floor, near Ron who was cradling Hermione in his arms. Draco grew incredibly jealous. How dare Ron hold Hermione like that? Her skin had grown deathly white against the dark crimson of her blood and Draco felt sick and angry that he wouldn't be able to heal her. Bellatrix had regained her wand when the chandelier crashed to the floor. Looking up, everyone was stunned to see Dobby standing there, a smug smile on his face.
A year passed. Everything was over. But nothing was fixed. Hermione hadn't returned to him like she'd promised. She was living in a small flat above Flourish and Blotts, having become manager of the small shop. She lived there by herself, that dreadful car meowing every time Draco waited on her doorstep. They had gone on a few dates since the War ended, but nothing followed on after that. It was as if Hermione was scared to be around Draco now. He would never do anything to hurt her, why couldn't she see that? With a determined set to his lips, he apparated to the Leaky Cauldron, and prepared to confront Hermione about her abrupt cold shoulder attitude towards him. He entered Flourish and Blotts, Hermione was in front of the counter, looking at some new books that had come in.
"Draco, what are you doing here? I'm busy" Hermione said as she looked at him briefly, Crookshanks winding around her ankles, glaring up at Draco.
"Look, Hermione, I don't know what happened to us but you broke a promise and I came to find out why. I will follow you everywhere and bug you until you answer me. Or you can just tell me now. What happened?" Draco said, his teeth clenched, his fists balled as he stood there, defensively. Hermione smiled softly, sadness tinting her eyes.
"Draco, you didn't show me you were interested. I was afraid of showing you that I wanted to return and to have you just shut me out." She leant against the counter, her hip resting lightly against it. Draco stared at her, his mouth gaping. She had been worried that he would shut her out after everything they had done together and promising for her to come back?
"I don't believe that's why you stayed away. You were staying away for another reason and I get the funny feeling that it has something to do with my family. They've changed since the war, no longer bothered by blood status and you proved to them that regardless of your lineage you can either be a fantastic witch or a downright poor witch, blood doesn't affect that." Hermione moved away, her eyes shifting around her. She strode quickly down a tight aisle and Draco followed her, determined to find out the reason. "What is it Hermione? Why won't you look at me?"
"How can I compete with the girl wearing your mother's engagement ring?" Hermione asked, tears in her eyes. Draco stopped dead, shocked.
*Everything recognizable belongs to J.K. Rowling; lyrics to Life Less Frightening belong to Rise Against
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