Chapter 9 : Chapter 9: Dark Sky Days
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In the months that followed the holidays, Hermione Granger could often be found toying with the ring adorning her right hand ring finger. She’d not bothered trying to ask Malfoy any further questions about the ring or the promise it signified. Initially she had been relieved simply to know that he had indeed been the one to give it to her and then over the fact that he’d moved it from her wedding finger to her other hand. At least now she could wear it without being given the third degree by her friends over wearing an engagement ring.
Of course, they’d still been suspicious over the ring she wore, but Hermione had taken Malfoy’s advice and lied, saying she’d been given it by a relative. After that they hadn’t bothered her with any further questions and Hermione was grateful. She often found herself thinking back on New Year’s Eve and the holiday season with some melancholy, though she couldn’t entirely explain why.
She wouldn’t say she fancied Draco Malfoy. Most days she barely even tolerated him. In the aftermath of the holidays, things between the Slytherins and Gryffindors had returned to their usual animosity. Malfoy often picked fights with Harry and Ron, just as had always happened and Harry was more convinced than ever that Malfoy was a Death Eater. Hermione hadn’t bothered trying to change his mind, though she hadn’t confirmed it either. She supposed that if her loyalty was entirely directed towards Harry and the Light that she ought to mention that Malfoy was indeed a marked Death Eater, but she didn’t.
It would be far too complicated to try and explain to her friends how it was that she’d discovered the truth. She hadn’t breathed a word of the evening she’d spent in his company on New Year’s Eve. She hadn’t spoken of the hours they had spent in pleasant silence, or of the strangely saddening conversation they’d shared. She’d not told a single soul of the way he’d snogged her so passionately, or of the way he’d asked that little question about whether or not she thought the two of them could ever work as a couple.
She’d not spoken of it, but Hermione couldn’t deny she’d been thinking about it. Often of late when she was supposed to be focusing on her studies and on keeping Harry out of trouble, Hermione thought of that night. She wondered privately if Malfoy thought of it too. He gave no indication of doing so. She never caught him looking at her in class, though he’d worn the scarf she’d given him all throughout the winter until it grew too warm to continue doing so.
She’d also noticed he had a habit of playing with the metal puzzles she’d given him as part of her Secret Santa gift. She’d caught him many times in classes and in the Great Hall toying with them, carrying them around in his pockets and playing with them. She suspected he’d completed each one a few times, but he continued puzzling over them nonetheless. Just last week shed come across him in class when she’d slipped in late. He was sitting towards the back, as he so often did, and he wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever to the lecture Professor Sinistra had been giving.
He’d simply been sitting there fiddling with the puzzle, trying to undo the metal links until they would all come apart. He did so almost distractedly, not really focusing on the task, and yet entirely distracted by it. She’d watched him for several minutes from a few desks over as he did so. Every time she thought about him she caught herself toying with the ring on her finger, turning it around and around her knuckle, fiddling with the stones and admiring the piece of jewellery.
She didn’t fancy him, but Hermione would be lying if she were to say she wasn’t mildly intrigued by him. The holidays had changed her. There could be no doubt about it. She’d spent time with the enemy and she’d found he wasn’t all bad. Since then, of course, there had been some incidents where she doubted he could ever be anything but a villain, but Hermione maintained that he wasn’t evil.
“Are you paying attention, Hermione?” Ron asked her, nudging her in Transfiguration and drawing her thoughts away from Draco Malfoy.
“I beg your pardon?” she asked, blinking, before interlocking her fingers together when she realised she’d been fiddling with her promise ring again.
“You’re not even listening, are you?” Ron asked and Hermione caught the entirely smug expression on his face at that idea.
Hermione stared at him.
“No, Ron, I wasn’t paying attention. What did you need?” she asked patiently rather than allowing him to rile her up. He’d been enjoying doing so of late, Hermione knew. He’d broken up with Lavender some time ago and though neither of them had shown any hint of fancying the other, Hermione suspected he might be enjoying the idea of her being distracted. She wondered if he did fancy her. She wondered if Malfoy did. Surely he must – a little – to have asked if she thought they’d be able to make it work as a couple.
What other reason could he have for asking? She wondered often about the promise he’d made when he’d given her the ring adorning her finger, but she’d never asked him. She’d not even spoken to him since New Year’s Eve and he had been similarly silent when it came to her. He picked fights with her friends, but he never spoke to her or teased her.
“I just thought you might be interested in writing down today’s homework assignment,” Ronald grinned at her, enjoying her distraction and Hermione squeezed her eyes closed, trying to focus on the blackboard where Professor McGonagall had recorded their required homework for the week. She sighed as she took up her quill and noted it all down in her homework planner.
“Are you coming to lunch?” Harry asked her when the lesson ended and Hermione found herself loitering at her desk.
“You two go on,” Hermione told them, “I need to go to the library.”
“Are you alright Hermione?” Harry asked her, his brow furrowing in concern. Hermione knew he’d been worried about her recently. If she was honest, Hermione suspected she was a little confused and a little saddened about the war and the state of things.
She knew it was because of Malfoy. She couldn’t say she fancied him or wanted to be with him, but it irked her more than it ought to know that were she to have fancied him, she couldn’t have acted upon it. All because of one sociopath’s yearning for world domination and immortality.
“I’m fine, Harry,” Hermione smiled at him tightly, “I just don’t feel very well today.”
“Do you need to go to the Hospital Wing?” he asked, frowning deeper and looking concerned. He took her hand inside his and gave it a little squeeze of comfort and Hermione smiled at him. He might be a snappy sod sometimes when his moods went haywire, but Hermione loved Harry like the brother she’d never had. It made her feel mildly better to know he was concerned for her and worried about her wellbeing.
“I’m alright,” she shook her head, “I just haven’t been sleeping well lately. I’ll be down for lunch in a little while, I promise. There’s something I need to research in the library rather pressingly.”
Harry nodded his head before releasing her and Hermione watched him and Ron turn towards the stairs to go to the Great Hall. She didn’t really need to go to the library for anything, though she supposed it would make sense to gather what she needed for the Transfiguration essay she had to write. In all honesty, Hermione wouldn’t mind going and having a lie down. She had a free period after lunch, so she could get away with it. She didn’t have to be back at classes until two for Arithmancy.
Sighing to herself, Hermione made her way towards the library quickly, finding the books she thought would be useful for the essay before she climbed to stairs towards Gryffindor Tower. She wasn’t very hungry, if she was being honest. She might just drop off the books from her morning’s classes and return to the Great Hall.
Hermione was almost there, just reaching the top of the stairs on the seventh floor, when she felt someone grab her from behind. A hand covered her mouth to muffle the sounds of her surprise and outrage; another came around her torso, pressing her back against a decidedly male chest before she was lifted right off her feet.
“Stop struggling, would you?” a voice murmured into her ear as she was bodily carried across the corridor and behind a statue of Ulma the Unhinged. Hermione froze, hating herself a little for recognising that voice but doing so nonetheless. He put her down carefully when they were out of sight, keeping his hands wrapped around her lest she scream and alert people that he had just accosted her.
“What are you doing Malfoy?” Hermione demanded, clawing his hand away from her face so she could speak. She noted idly the way it slipped down to collar her throat.
Not in a threatening way, but in a way that made her think he liked the feel of the warm soft skin there. His fingers trailed lightly over the flesh. His other arm stayed curled tight around her middle, pressing her back against his chest.
“What does it look like I’m doing?” he asked with a snort.
“Assaulting me?” Hermione suggested scathingly, somehow feeling irked by his smug voice though she’d not spoken a word to him in months.
“It’s not assault if you like it, Granger,” he pointed out, his breath caressing the shell of her ear.
“Is there a reason you’ve dragged me behind a statue in a deserted corridor Draco Malfoy?” she hissed, stomping on his foot for his insinuation and his ignorance.
“There is actually. If you’d shut it, I’d get to the point,” he retorted.
Hermione bit her tongue on the reply she wanted to spit at him.
“I need you stay out of the corridors tonight,” he murmured softly and Hermione shivered in his hold when his lips brushed against her ear.
“Why?” she asked, hating herself for the way her voice went husky at the caress.
“Just do it, witch,” he snapped, “Promise me you’ll stay out of the corridors. I don’t care what you hear. I don’t care what happens. You stay out of the corridors. You got that?”
“I don’t take orders from you, Malfoy,” Hermione replied evenly, “And without explanation for such a ludicrous request, I shan’t be complying.”
“Damn it, why do you have to be so bloody stubborn?” he growled in her ear and Hermione shivered in his hold again.
“Why do you have to make vague and unexplained suggestions?” she retorted, meaning more than just what he’d just asked her to do.
“It’s in my nature,” he replied smoothly.
“Likewise,” Hermione told him, “Are you going to let go of me, or do you take pleasure in cuddling muggleborns behind statues?”
“You think you’re going to rile me into releasing you so you can interrogate me?” he asked, and Hermione could practically hear him rolling his eyes.
“Get off me, would you?” she complained, “You’re creeping me out.”
“Good,” he whispered, his fingers still stroking up and down the side of her neck. Hermione reached up, digging her nails into the back of his hand where his arm bracketed her middle like a steel band, causing him to twitch and eventually release her.
“Now what is this about?” Hermione asked, spinning in his grip before he could pin her to him again. She hated the whisper of a thrill that crept through her as his fingers tangled into the hair at the nape of her neck. She suddenly found herself well within his personal space, merely an inch or two separating their faces as she tilted her head back to peer into his stormy grey eyes.
“I need you out of the corridors tonight. You and Potty and Weaselbee.”
“Meaning you’re planning something illegal and you don’t want us to interfere and foil your plans,” Hermione summarised, glaring at him.
“Meaning my plans won’t be foiled and I don’t want you and the dopey duo getting killed in the crossfire. Bad things will be happening at Hogwarts tonight Granger. Bad things that none of you has a chance of stopping. Your interference would only make it that much more a victory for the Death Eaters. Is that what you want? Do you want to see Weasley killed by a stray curse? Do you want Potter captured and dragged before the Dark Lord?”
“You’ve found a way to get Death Eaters into the school,” Hermione breathed, her eyes going wide as she stared into his face. He might’ve become a master of masking his emotions, but Hermione had spent a good deal of time contemplating his face in recent months. She read the confirmation glowing in his eyes and in the tightness around his mouth.
“Don’t even think about saying it Granger,” he warned, “Nothing can stop it. I can’t warn Dumbledore. I can’t tell him. I can’t stop them. I can only facilitate their actions and pray they don’t notice my reluctance.”
“Then I’ll tell Dumbledore,” Hermione shrugged, “Tell me how they’re getting in. I’ll make sure he has the Order on standby to capture them all.”
“And you’ll only succeed at getting me and a bunch of the Order killed in the process,” Malfoy replied coldly, “Use that bloody brain inside your bushy head Granger. The only one who knows that I’ve found a way to get them in is me. The only way the Order could be anticipating their arrival is if I failed.”
“Snape’s a Death Eater too. It’s his job to feed information to the Order to keep them thinking he’s loyal,” Hermione pointed out.
“Snape doesn’t know what I’ve done.”
“He knows you’re trying to kill Dumbledore,” Hermione retorted, watching Malfoy pale considerably, “Harry overheard him insisting that he be allowed to assist you.”
“And you just assume I’m trying to murder the Headmaster? Me?” he asked carefully.
“I’m not an idiot, Malfoy,” Hermione rolled her eyes, “There’ve been two failed attempts on conveying instruments of death Dumbledore this year, and you’re the only other Death Eater in the school, since we both know Snape would just point his wand and use the killing curse. I’ve known what you’ve been trying to do for a while. I expect Dumbledore does too, he just doesn’t want to see you murdered should he out your secrets. If he expelled you for what you’ve done, you’d be killed for failing at your task.”
Malfoy looked like she’d hit him upside the head with something solid.
“Stop talking,” he commanded suddenly, narrowing his eyes on her, “I’m only here to warn you to stay the hell out of the halls tonight. You’re needed alive if Potter’s going to have even a hint of a chance at winning this bloody war.”
“You expect me to just hide in my bed while Death Eaters swarm the school?”
Hermione asked, wondering if he’d finally cracked under the pressure of completing his task without failing again and without getting his family murdered.
“I expect you to realise when to fight and when to hide, yes,” he retorted, his voice like ice, “Your battle is still coming, Granger. You can’t stop a few Death Eaters breaking in here and if you try, you’ll get me killed. Is that what you want? Do you want my blood on your hands?”
“If they hurt anyone else, the blood of those hurt will be on my hands,” Hermione argued with him, “If anyone gets hurt because you let them in and I didn’t stop it, that blood is on my hands as much as it is on yours.”
“Granger,” he warned.
“Don’t you dare take that tone with me Malfoy!” Hermione snapped, “I kept it to myself that I knew you had joined the ranks of the Death Eaters because I knew that if I told Harry, he’d go to Dumbledore – who would then have to explain how expelling you would be sentencing you to death. And Harry would have a fit over the idea of Dumbledore allowing dangerous criminals to remain under his protection, undoubtedly outing you to the entire school to drive you from this place.”
“More proof that the git needs you to win the war,” Malfoy muttered.
“Maybe so, but I can’t do nothing. If you wanted me out of the corridors so as not to interfere you should never have told me about what’s going to happen tonight. I’d have gone to the Common Room and studied most of the evening before going to bed. Now, I’ll be in the halls with the rest of the Order ready to apprehend whatever scum you help into this school.”
“No you won’t,” he growled, his eyes flashing dangerously at her now.
“Yes I will,” Hermione snarled right back at him, trying to jerk out of his hold and finding both his fists suddenly knotted in her hair tight enough to sting.
“You’re not fucking listening, Granger,” he snarled, jerking her face even closer instead until they were nose to nose, his grey eyes boring into hers furiously; desperately,“This is it.”
“It?” Hermione raised her eyebrows, feeling a little tendrils of fear begin to wrap itself around her heart.
“It,” he confirmed, “This is the last deep breath before the plunge. This minute, right here. Tonight it’s all over. There won’t be any more bothering with bloody charms class or fretting over whether or not Weasley’s got a thing for you. There won’t be any more concerning ourselves with homework. Don’t you get that?”
“What are you saying Draco?” Hermione whispered, her eyes widening at his intensity.
“Tonight Albus Dumbledore dies,” he replied, his voice ringing with cold fury, “Tonight I become a murderer and take my place among the ranks of the Death Eaters or I die at Dumbledore’s hand. Tonight the world as we know it is finished. And you won’t be in the fucking hallways getting yourself wounded or bloody killed in some valiant attempt at bravery, do you fucking hear me?”
The tendrils of fear began to multiply in her stomach, spreading through her limbs with a terrible cold that made her shiver and tremble.
“Tonight’s the plunge, Granger. This is it. No more hiding behind castle walls and pretending we’re not at war. No more studying to make sure we pass useless exams. Tonight a horde of Death Eaters will enter the sanctity of Hogwarts and they will cut down any in their path. You can’t stop it. I can’t stop it. All we can do is try to survive. And you’re going to do that by staying the fuck out of the corridors and as far away from psychotic bastards like Fenrir Greyback and Aunt Bellatrix as possible. Do you hear me?” he gave her a little shake for emphasis, his voice so cold that it made her body feel like ice.
“I have to fight,” Hermione argued with him, “I have no more choice than you do. I might not be bound by fear, as you are, but I am just as bound to fight against Darkness as you are to fight for it.”
“Then you condemn us both to death,” he hissed and Hermione hated the way that made a sob catch in her throat.
“Why are you telling me this?” Hermione asked, feeling like she was beginning to crack and crumple.
“Because I need you to survive the bloody night! I need you to go with Potter and do whatever you have to do to defeat the Dark Lord. I need you alive, so you can make sure that hot-tempered wanker doesn’t get himself killed before he can end the fucking war,” Malfoy whispered and for just a moment, the slightest hint of his desperation leaked through into his cold voice.
Hermione felt a tear trickle down her cheek, unbidden as she realised the hopelessness of the situation they were in.
“Please just go to you common room and stay there tonight Granger,” he whispered, laying his forehead against hers for a moment. Hermione felt more than heard the way he took a shuddering breath in.
Before she could respond, he leaned into her and kissed her. She hadn’t kissed him in months. Not since New Year’s Eve. She had thought then that his kiss had seemed like a goodbye. Like a farewell to the strange notion of the two of them maybe finding a way to care for each other. Now, she knew better. This kiss was what it really felt like to kiss someone for the last time. He poured every emotion she could think of into it. Rage. Fear. Anger. Happiness. Hate. Lust. Maybe even love. All of it washed over her as he snogged her so powerfully, stealing her breath and absconding with her sense. I felt so final. Like the severing of whatever strange threads had snared them together.
His tongue tangled with hers, stroking, caressing, massaging. Hermione felt her toes curl in her shoes even as her hands clutched at his hips, holding him as desperately as he held her. She let herself be completely swept away by the feel of his mouth on hers. For several long, blissful minutes all he’d been telling her; all they’d been arguing about; all of it fell away. In that kiss was all the promise of the things they could never have and weren’t supposed to want. Good and Evil. Light and Dark. Right and Wrong. All of those things meant nothing when his lips were on hers, his hands tangled into her messy hair.
And then the moment ended and he pulled back from her, both of them breathing hard.
“I can’t do nothing,” Hermione whispered desperately, everything coming back to her in a rush as she recalled that he’d been asking her - warning her - to steer clear of the corridors. To sit idly by while havoc and chaos reigned. To do nothing while others were hurt and possibly killed. She couldn’t do that. Not for Draco Malfoy. Not for anyone.
“I knew you’d say that,” Malfoy whispered in response, “I won’t see you again, Granger. This is it.”
Hermione knew it was true. That this was goodbye. She felt a pang of regret and loss inside her chest to know that this was the last time she would ever think of him as anything but a Death Eater. That this was the final moment before he would either become a murderer or would be murdered.
He didn’t bid her goodbye with words. Didn’t say all the things that hung between then, unspoken. He didn’t do anything but look into her eyes for one last long minute, holding her gaze as the world crashed around them. He withdrew his hands slowly from her hair until he was no longer touching her, simply peering into her eyes.
“Forgive me?” he whispered, his eyes wide and pleading.
It was as she was opening her mouth to respond – though she had no clue of what she’d meant to say – that she felt it. His wand pressed gently to her temple before she could even think to defend herself and she watched, more than heard, his mouth form the incantation for the spell.
“Imperio,” he murmured. And everything went blank.
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