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The God of the Lost

Story: The God of the Lost


Storylink: http://www.fanfiction.net/s/1352741/1/
Category: Harry Potter
Author: Gravidy
Last updated: 01/13/2006
Content: Chapter 1 to 19 of 19 chapters
Source: FanFiction.net
Summary: DM/HG Lost, alone and wandless, Draco and Hermione rely on each other to survive, while back at Hogwarts a war is brewing between Slytherin
and Gryffindor

*Chapter 1*: The Straight and Narrow


Disclaimer: It belongs to J.K. Rowling. I don't own nothing at all. Don't want it neither. Wouldn't know where to put it.
Summary: Lost, alone and wandless, Hermione and Draco rely on each other to survive. While back at Hogwarts a war is brewing between Slytherin and
Gryffindor. This story was started pre-Ootp. Ootp elements have been added (or not) as seen fit.

Chapter 1: The Straight and Narrow


To Draco Malfoy, the inside of Borgin and Burkes was about as interesting as last years racing broom. The seventeen year old sighed and leaned impatiently
against the moldy counter while his father stood stoic and unmoved, ignoring his son's restlessness.
Draco had been in this stupid shop more times then he could count and, except for the odd piece here and there, the displays never changed. The display was
just that, a display, meant only to appease nosy Ministry inspectors and not really for retail. No one came to Borgin and Burkes to buy the floor items, as Draco
well knew, they came for the good stuff, the stuff not on display, the stuff in the back rooms. Draco itched to see the back rooms, had heard tales of the
marvelous and wicked magical relics Borgin and Burkes kept there, but no one else was allowed in and it was said to be guarded almost as heavily as
Gringotts.
So he was stuck pacing the small, unkempt shop and today was no different then any other of Draco's visits. He'd given the place a once-over and found that
not a single damn thing had changed since he'd been there last. It seemed not a single thing in Diagon alley had changed since he'd been there last. It was
absolutely boring. After seven years, pre-Hogwarts shopping had become a major chore.
And Malfoys simply did not do chores.
He really would rather have stayed at home or gone out with friends and sent a couple House-Elves to get his Hogwarts supplies but his father needed to pick
up a few things from Knockturn alley and his mother wanted to get out of the mansion for the afternoon and while he didn't believe there was anything in Diagon
alley that he wanted at the moment, shopping with his parents meant at least one present, and he had to make sure they got the right thing, so in the end he'd
decided to go. And so far it had been a total bust.
His only consolation was that they were very nearly done with their wasted afternoon. Most of his school supplies, including six new books and a set of the finest
robes galleons could buy, sat on the counter wrapped in a neat little package charmed to carry it all. His mother was out buying the last thing on his list, his
ingredients for Advanced Potions, and if Mr. Borgin ever got around to bringing them Lucius' order, they were going to go look at a pair of dragon-hide boots
he'd taken a fancy to when they first arrived. But it seemed Mr. Borgin was taking his sweet time.
Draco glanced over his shoulder at the third member of their party.
Rodolphus Lestrange was standing before a shelf display filled with dolls. Some fabric, some plastic, some hand-sown, a few made of glass, and all of them
cursed or possessed or filled with dark magic. Draco turned fully around to frown at the man. Lestrange stood, stock still, staring at the dolls. He had his head
cocked slightly to the side, as if listening.
Draco had never met anyone who was crazy before, but he felt, with a distinct certainty, that Rodolphus Lestrange was a complete and total psychopath. And
he wasn't far off the mark.
Lestrange and his wife Bellatrix had been staying with the Malfoy's since Voldemort had busted them out of Azkaban a year ago. It was a secret, of course and
Rodolphus was in disguise. He was currently going by the name Philippe and his wife by Margaret. Both of them liked to change their aliases periodically.
Draco felt this was odd and certainly not very smart since they'd been known to introduce themselves by different names to people they'd met before, but hell,
what did he know?
Life at the Malfoy mansion hadn't altered much with the two additions to the household but Draco still felt it was rather creepy to get out of bed in the middle of
the night and find Rodolphus Lestrange wandering the halls silent as a ghost, or standing in the front entryway staring out the window as if expecting someone.
Even more disturbing were the talks Rodolphus had with Draco. The man seemed fond of him and liked to talk to him about becoming a Death Eater and his
duties towards Lord Voldemort. This was nothing Draco hadn't heard before but Rodolphus liked to pepper these talks with comments about how much Draco
reminded him of Voldemort and how if Draco really wanted to seize his destiny he should destroy everything that was holding him back. Draco got the feeling
Rodolphus was trying to hint at something but he could never fathom what.
Bellatrix was a tad less insane. But only a tad. The woman spent her time talking quietly to herself and mixing potions Draco had never heard of. Other than that
she was cold and snappish and Draco stayed out of her way.
Draco wasn't certain why Rodolphus had insisted on accompanying them on their shopping trip. He certainly hadn't bought anything and his presence caused a
stir. He was using Polyjuice potion but for some reason he had refused to leave the house that morning without a mask, as if he were afraid someone would
see through the potion. Lucius hadn't been able to talk him out of it. So now he was following them around like a specter, white theater mask covering his face,
short blond hair matted and awry and amber eyes gleaming wide and staring from out of the eyeholes. He had yet to say a word since they left the house.
Draco stared hard at Lestrange but the man didn't twitch a muscle. Finally he gave up and turned back to the counter. Mr. Borgin still hadn't returned.
He rolled his eyes, muttering under his breath about incompetent sales clerks and rotten service. His father shot him an irritated look and he subsided stiffly. He
supposed his father was still angry with him for not making Head Boy. He'd been read a long and humiliating lecture when his father found out about that. In an
attempt to defend himself, he'd pointed out that Lucius hadn't been Head Boy either. He winced at the memory. That hadn't gone over well.
Honestly, he didn't see what the big deal was anyway. He couldn't care less about being Head Boy. The whole thing was a scam; just an excuse for the
Professors to give you more work while telling you it was an honor you should thank them for. He would have needed a lot more incentive then a dingy little tin
badge to actually motivate him to try for the position.
Draco tossed Lucius a scowl when the man's head was turned. His father could glower and throw tantrums all he wanted, it wouldn't change anything, and it
certainly wouldn't make Draco care.
The only thing that did bother him about it was that he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt who the Heads were going to be: Potter and Granger. In the bag.
Hands down. Fuck them anyway. He really hoped it ate up Potter's Quidditch practice time and Granger's study time. Wouldn't that be a lark. Maybe he'd come
out on top of all this after all.
The door at the very end of the dark hall squealed open on rusted hinges and Mr. Borgin appeared, holding a flat, black rectangular box far out in front of him as
if afraid of it touching his body.
" Here it is, here it is!" the greasy little man panted, stumping down the hall, "My apologies for the wait."
Draco peered over his father's shoulder with renewed curiosity as Mr. Borgin set the box on the counter with utmost care. It was made of some sort of dull,
black metal and, even from where Draco stood, it seemed to buzz unpleasantly.
" Here it is," Borgin said again, in a hushed voice, "Straight from the manufacturer, done just as you specified and not once touched by human hands."

Lucius reached forward and carefully lifted the lid off. Inside were two objects atop a bed of thick black velvet. One was a large, black leather sheath. The other
was a shiny, silver dagger. The dagger itself was bright and new and wholly unremarkable. It was plain and unadorned. The handle was smooth and bare of
jewels or eye-pleasing designs, the blade was straight and simple. Its only redeeming quality was that it looked, and was, very very sharp.
Draco was disappointed.
" It looks like a kitchen knife." He muttered.
Lucius snarled and opened his mouth but Mr. Borgin beat him to it.
" No, no, my dear boy." The shopkeeper chided, wagging a finger at Draco, " This is a very special dagger, very rare and very hard to make. Right now it is
called a Base because it is pure and empty of all outside influences and magical properties. Once the blade is put to use it begins soaking up the energy
around it. If used in Dark magic, it begins to soak up the dark energy, becoming a well of power. The more energy it consumes, the more powerful the blade
becomes. In time, if treated correctly, it may become very powerful indeed, then it is called a Subtle Knife."
" Oh!" Draco said in surprise, properly humbled, "I've read about these then. But the one I read about was used against Dark Wizards. It was called Expletus
Flamma, the Perfect Flame."
A low, mournful moan came from behind them and the three men spared Lestrange an odd glance but Rodolphus didn't move or speak again. He continued
staring at the dolls. Borgins continued after a moment.
" Yes, yes, the Flame was one of the most powerful Subtle Knives ever to exist." he looked impressed, " Unfortunately it went missing a little over a thousand
years ago. I didn't know old Professor Binns taught about it."
Draco smirked, " He doesn't. It was in a book I came across."
Borgins gave Draco a knowing look, "Been snooping about the Restricted Section, have you my boy?"
" Of course not!" Lucius cut in sharply, "Draco was never one for bending the rules." But he threw his son an indulgent glance, apparently pleased that his son
was doing just that.
" Certainly not." Borgins agreed quickly, "Now, to activate the knife, all you must do is grasp the handle and it will begin absorbing energy. Be careful with the
blade edge, until the dagger knows you it is just as dangerous to you as anyone else. This sheath is specially designed just for this blade, it will always hold it
and never allow the blade to cut through. I must warn you that even with excellent treatment the Base has a very high failure rate"
" I know how the damn thing works." Lucius snapped impatiently, cutting him off, "Hurry up."
" Yes sir, my apologies."
Borgins picked up the sheath and positioned it against the tip of the blade. Then, slowly and carefully, he slid his hand under the velvet and beneath the dagger
so that his skin would not touch the knife. Nudging and prodding, he was able to slide the blade into the sheath. He let out his breath when the blade finally
slipped in and he snapped the top shut.
" There, all yours." And he put the lid back on the box with a satisfied bang.
Lucius picked up the leather sheath and examined it with a frown.
" Can I carry it?" Draco asked.
His father looked at him shrewdly but then nodded curtly and handed the sheath to him.
" Keep it under your robes and for Merlin's sake don't touch the knife or you'll be sorry."
" Right." Draco muttered, and strapped the thing to his belt while his father paid for the item. He liked the way the blade looked hanging from his waist and
wandered over to a mirror to get a better view. He smirked at his reflection, wishing he didn't have to hide the thing under his robes.
" We're finished here." Lucius snapped over his shoulder, "Stop admiring yourself like a blasted woman and lets go. Come Philippe."
Draco shot his father another venomous glance and stalked after him, Lestrange floating along behind them.
" Good day, gentlemen!" Borgin called after them, " Pleasure doing business. Do say hello to Mrs. Malfoy for me."
Lucius didn't acknowledge the man but Draco looked back just as he was stepping out the door. Borgin started and gave Draco a watery smile but Draco had
already seen the hate-filled glare he had been sending their way. Draco grinned wickedly, pleased that he had once again caught the two-faced old bastard in
the act and sauntered away, making a mental note to find a way to use Borgin's duplicity to his own benefit.
Knockturn alley was fairly empty but Diagon alley was thronging. Draco gritted his teeth. He hated crowds, the push and the pull and the stifling heat of the late
summer sun on black robes, like a wool blanket over the whole town. He was okay for a few minutes but then he wanted to start shoving people out of his way.
They meandered along like cows, with no consideration for people who were actually trying to get somewhere.
And it's unusually warm out, he thought in annoyance, scowling at the sky and wiping sweat from his forehead.
He followed his father's retreating back and kept a look out for people he knew. He saw several Ravenclaws his age, a group of Hufflepuff third year girls whom
he scowled threateningly at, chuckling inwardly when they shrank back in fear, and he caught a glimpse of two sixth year Slytherins and merely nodded at them
as they weren't worth talking to.
Narcissa was waiting for them outside Bowley's Best, chatting with two women who looked as wealthy and overdressed as she did. She spotted them and
spared Draco a tiny smile, her perfect alabaster mask softening just a bit.
" Oh there he is!" one of the women cried, "Draco, my dear, its been ages."
Mrs. Pucey, Draco recalled her name with a shudder and consciously straightened his shoulders like a man walking into the lion's den.
No, no, must keep Gryffindors out of this. He chided himself wryly.
"What a handsome young man he is, Narcissa." The other woman, Mrs. Bulstrode cooed, "Just like his father." She added as Lucius took her bejeweled hand
and kissed it.
" Ladies." He said suavely.
" Now, now, You mustn't flirt Taniya." Mrs. Pucey admonished as Lucius kissed her hand as well.

Draco and Narcissa shared a dry look.


" It was lovely seeing you," Narcissa spoke up, "But I'm afraid Lucius and I have some business to be about."
" Oh, of course, dear." Mrs. Pucey said, "Far be it for me to keep you from important errands! I shall expect you over for tea sometime this week." And she
kissed the air above Narcissa's cheeks.
" I'm having a garden party next week." Mrs. Bulstrode said, "I'll be sending you an invitation."
" I look forward to it." Narcissa replied diplomatically.
" Good day, Lucius."
The man nodded.
" Ta." The women called and disappeared into the crowd.
Narcissa let out her breath when they were out of sight, " Like twin tornados those bloody chits." She snapped, but quietly.
Draco grinned. He loved his mother's cold intelligence and disdain for others. He imagined she'd been quite the stuck-up bitch in her Hogwarts years.
"Mr. Borgins says 'hallo'." He told her because he knew it would piss his father off.
Narcissa gave a barely audible sniff while his father stiffened in disapproval.
" Come along then." His mother took his arm to lead him inside, "Lets go see those boots you simply must have."
" Do not coddle the boy." Lucius said sharply and Narcissa's face tightened but she let his arm slide from hers and did not look back.
Draco gritted his teeth.
The purchase didn't take long, though Draco was still smarting under his father's rude commentary. Lucius hadn't needed anything from the shop, so he'd
entertained himself by belittling his wife and son. Narcissa had found herself a neat pair of designer dress shoes and Draco was quite pleased with the
Dragon-hide boots he found and wore them out of the store.
Apparently word had spread that the Malfoy's were in Bowley's Best because the Notts were waiting for them just outside the shop. Theodore Nott was Lucius'
best friend and Yasmin and Narcissa got along famously. The four people greeted each other enthusiastically and Draco knew that this was going to end with
lunch and drinks in the Leaky Cauldron. That would have been all fine and well, except he didn't see Theodore jr. anywhere.
" Excuse me, Mrs. Nott." He broke in politely, "Is Ted about?"
" Oh, I'm sorry dear. Teddy purchased his things last week. He's out with his cousins this afternoon."
Damn.
Not only was his afternoon here not finished as he supposed, but he was going to spend the next hour or so listening to boring conversation, while being stared
at by Rodolphus and having to be utterly perfect and polite if he didn't want his father to lay into him when they got home.
As he had suspected, Yasmin almost immediately suggested they all eat together at the Leaky Cauldron and Draco, who followed after them, had just resigned
himself to his fate when something caught his eye.
He blinked in surprise and then a slow, cruel smile curved his lips.
There, in front of the entrance to Knockturn alley, was Mudblood Granger. He'd recognize that frizzy hair and huge backpack anywhere. She was peering down
the alleyway inquisitively, shifting on her feet as if feeling guilty about her curiosity. Draco looked around for Potter and Weasley but the girl seemed to be alone.
He just had to say hello.
"Father."
" What is it?" Lucius asked, stopping to frown at the boy. Lestrange halted as well, gold eyes turning to Draco.
" Father, may I go say hallo to a friend from school." And he grinned wickedly as he looked over towards Hermione.
Lucius saw the girl and went still. Then he smirked, "I suppose."
" Excellent." Draco started towards her only to have his father's large hand catch him around the collar.
" Do nothing rash, boy. There are too many witnesses around."
" I'm not going to Avada her in the middle of a bloody crowd!" Draco spat.
" Just so we understand each other." He let go of Draco who huffed and straightened his collar.
"Play nice."
" Morsmordre." hissed Lestrange as Draco passed him.
The boy sauntered merrily over to stand behind the oblivious girl. He glanced around quickly and then shoved with both hands, sending her flying into the
alleyway with a startled cry.
Watching, Lucius grinned and Lestrange let out another low moan.
fin
AN: This story is based very loosely on Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The subtle knife is in reference to Philip Pullman's His Dark
Materials triology.

*Chapter 2*: Wasting My Hate On You


Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all that junk belong to J.K. Rowling. Or so I'm told. It could all be a vicious rumor. Has anyone ever seen this Rowling lady? Maybe
she doesn't exist! I'm scared

Warnings: Violence and bad, perverted language


Chapter 2: Wasting My Hate On You
" Number 15: mandatory Sex Magic course for all seventh years." Ron Weasley said loudly as he scribbled his suggestion onto the parchment.
The group of Hogwarts students sitting around the table fell over laughing.
They had already been in high spirits before Lavender Brown caught the giggles but then everyone else caught them too and now everything seemed funnier
because of it.
" That's a great one!" Seamus Finnigan seemed to be the most excited by that particular suggestion, "Promise me you'll really send this list to Dumbledore!"
" Honestly, Ron!" Hermione cried from her seat in Harry's lap, "Is that all you think about?" she reached over and snatched the parchment and the redhead cried
out in protest.
" Number 16," Hermione said seriously, and nibbled on the quill for a moment.
Everyone went silent, waiting for the punchline.
"Change Slytherins official colors to pink and periwinkle."
The group roared.
" Cancanyou see it?" Dean choked out between gales of laughter, "Crabbeand Goylein pink and periwinkle?"
Harry, Ron, Hermione, Lavender, Parvati, Padma, Dean, Seamus, Ginny and Neville were all seated around a large table in the dining area of Wicked Wyrm's,
a popular hangout for young wizards in Diagon alley. It was mid afternoon and the group had stumbled in out of the heat for lunch, dumping their cargo of books
and cauldrons and supplies on the floor. They were now pigging out on ice cream, sweets and Fizzy drinks.
The group had been teasing Harry and Hermione all morning about being Head Boy and Girl and Dean had jokingly come up with the suggestion that since
they were the Heads, they should be coming up with ways to improve the school. Hermione had immediately whipped out a piece of parchment and now the
group was taking turns writing down their suggestions and laughing uproariously.
Currently Harry was sitting at the head of the table with Hermione in his lap, Ron sat next to them and Ginny sat on Harry's other side, her feet stretched out and
settled in Neville's lap. Padma sat next to Ron and Seamus sat next to her. Parvati sat in Seamus' lap, giggling, a sucker in her mouth. Dean sat between
Seamus and Neville. Lavender was sitting on the table, eating Dean's sundae and periodically spooning a bit into the boy's mouth.
They were oblivious to the envious stares of the rest of the young witches and wizards in the building who were all listening intently. All of them would have eaten
their own wands to be part of the popular group of Hogwarts teens. Some of Ginny's sixth year friends sat at a nearby table watching, green with jealousy, as
their redheaded friend leaned her head against famous Harry Potter's shoulder and then gave a giggling shriek as sweet, puppy-dog-eyed heartthrob Neville
Longbottom tickled the tops of her sandled feet.
" I've got one, I've got one!" Dean reached for the parchment and Hermione relinquished it, "Number 17: Make Snape teach Ron's Sex Magic course."
A cheer went up from the table, Hermione laughing so hard she choked and Harry whacked her on the back a few times.
" Is that what it's going to be called?" Padma laughed, "'Ron's Sex Magic course'?"
"Let's hope not." Harry grimaced, " Or I won't go."
" Does Snape even know what sex is?" Ron asked.
" I think his hand does." Seamus drawled, wiggling his eyebrows and making a crude gesture.
" EWWWWWW!" every girl at the table cried.
" Well there you go!" Ron sighed melodramatically, "I'd have to teach the class. It is my responsibility to pass on my great wisdom."
Padma rolled her eyes, "Ron, you couldn't teach Sex Magic even if the school slut was whispering all the answers in your earno offense Lavender."
It took Lavender a moment to get the joke and then she shrieked and had to be restrained by Dean.
" I wonder what the final exam in that class would be like." Parvati giggled, licking her lollipop suggestively.
" Ooo, gimme a little of that!" Seamus purred and Parvati giggled again, holding the candy over her shoulder so he could take a wet, slurping lick.
" You two are disgusting!" Neville covered Ginny's eyes.
" Cover her ears too!" Ron ordered, suddenly remembering that his baby sister was there.
Hermione reached over and cupped her hands over Ginny's ears. Ginny squealed and swatted their hands away.
" Its too late!" she shouted dramatically, "I'm corrupted!"
" Oh no." Harry moaned to Hermione, "How are we going to explain this to Mrs. Weasley? One afternoon out with me and Ron's teaching Sex Magic and
Ginny's mind has been warped!"
" Stop whining Harry. Face your certain doom like a man." Dean snapped with mock severity.
" My turn!" Neville stole the parchment from Dean, "Number 18," he looked around at the group slyly," I think we should have a mascot."
He held up a hand when Parvati opened her mouth.
" I know we all have House mascots but we should have a school mascot to promote school pride and I think our school mascot should be.the ferret."
That brought down the house.

Harry laughed until he cried.


" That's it!" Hermione gasped, wiping tears on the sleeve of her Hogwarts robe,"I'm making badges! I'm making badges to SUPPORT THE FERRET AS
SCHOOL MASCOT!"
That set everyone off again.
Hermione was having the best summer of her life.
It had started with her parents going to some dental convention in the states. They were going to be gone for a month and Hermione had convinced them to let
her invite Harry, Ron and Ginny over to stay so she wouldn't be alone. It had taken a bit of work to get them to agree but her parents were crazy about Harry so
eventually they'd given in.
Hermione had immediately written to her friends and they'd all replied in the affirmative. Harry's letter had been an almost desperate cry of 'Get me outta here!'.
Apparently Dudley was driving him mad.
Harry's disgusting cousin had gotten himself a girlfriend just as piggish and repulsive as himself and had been taunting Harry endlessly about not having a
girlfriend.
In retaliation, Ginny and Hermione had gone to pick Harry up in Hermione's car. The girls showed up at the Dursleys in muggle clothes, Hermione in a little red
dress and Ginny in a spunky emerald green outfit, and Harry had walked away from the gaping Dursleys with an arm around each girl while they cooed over
him. The look on Dudley's fat face had Harry grinning like the Cheshire cat. They doubted he would ever tease Harry about not having a girlfriend again.
Harry and Hermione had spent the first part of the summer showing their wizard friends around Muggle London. It was a blast. And once they'd worn
themselves out partying the Muggle way, they'd all gone back to the Burrow for some R&R.
It had been the best!
Impromptu Quidditch games, staying up late talking and telling stories while sipping on hot chocolate, whole days spent on wild adventures with the twins, lazy
afternoons sunning and swimming in the lake. Ron had even taken them to some hangouts for young Wizards: game rooms where Harry and Hermione learned
the wizard equivalent of videogames, clubs, and concerts.
There were nights when Hermione felt a pang when she thought of school starting, which was scandalous, and she was instantly shocked with herself.
As the summer drew to a close, the four of them had invited all their friends to join them in their pre-Hogwarts shopping. The entire group had arrived in Diagon
alley together early that morning when it was still cool out and very few people walked the streets. It had taken all morning for them to buy all their supplies from
each store but it had been extremely fun.
When the laughter died down at last, Neville patted Ginny's feet before pushing them off his lap and standing up.
" I've gotta get going." He said regretfully, "I promised my Uncle I'd babysit and I'm already going to be late."
Dean hooted, "You're going to babysit?" he asked, "Merlin help that child!"
Everyone laughed as Neville made a rude gesture at the other boy.
" What's everyone else doing?" Hermione asked.
" Me, Padma and Parvati are going to Beryl's Beauty shop." Lavender said, "We have to restock. Are you two going to come with us?" she asked Ginny and
Hermione.
" I think I'm going to stick with these two numbskulls." Hermione said dryly, gesturing to Ron and Harry who were fighting over a bag of Bertie Bott's Every
Flavor Beans, "They might go into a Quidditch shop and never come out."
Ginny also declined," Thanks but I see some of my friends over there. I'm going to go say hi."
" Suit yourself." Parvati shrugged.
" HeyHEY! Stop that!" Hermione grabbed the bag of Beans from the growling boys, "Behave!" she snapped," Now what's going on with you four?"
" Quidditch shop!" Seamus said instantly and Dean and Ron nodded.
" We plan to get lost in there." Harry told her glibly.
She groaned.
The group split up, hugging and calling goodbyes, Ron roaring after Ginny and her giggling friends that she'd better be at their meeting place at five and
Seamus and Parvati kissing each other goodbye passionately and with an indecent amount of tongue action until a passing Ravenclaw shouted for them to get
a room.
Diagon alley was now packed and sweltering. Ron carried Hermione piggyback through the streets after Seamus joked that they were going to lose her in the
crowd.
The redhead complained loudly about her weight.
" Its just my books!" she denied, blushing red.
" No, the books just make it worse." Ron wheezed, stumbling melodramatically, his face twisted in exaggerated exertion.
She shrieked and whacked him over the head a couple times until he straightened up, laughing and begged her to stop.
Hermione's head shot up as she saw a new store.
" Ooo! Ooo!" she squealed, "There's a new bookshop!"
" Urg! Stop fidgeting!" Ron yelped, nearly tumbling over as she practically jumped up and down on his back.
" Can we stop at the new bookshop?"
" We'll stop there after we're finished in the Quidditch shop." Harry promised.
Hermione groaned, "That could take ages. You stupid boys and your wooden sticks! You know why you're so enamored with them and who has the best one,

don't you? Its all a subconscious representation of your"


" HERMIONE!" Dean cut her off laughing, "Sweet little Hermione, I know you just did not go there."
She stuck her tongue out at him, arms around Ron's neck, "Its true."
" What? What was she going to say?" Ron asked.
That just made Dean laugh harder and Harry blush.
" I think she was going to make some sort of derogatory remark about our shoe sizes." Seamus said airily.
" Our shoe sizes?" Ron asked, confused.
" Never mind, Ron." Hermione sighed, patting him on the head, not seeing the wicked glint in his eye that said he knew exactly what she had been talking
about.
It was fun to watch the boys in the Quidditch shop. They were almost giddy, running around and practically swooning over the new gear and the latest
magazines with biographies of the best players and detailed descriptions of how to do complex moves. But the shop itself held absolutely no interest to
Hermione.
She had tried to take a real interest in Quidditch once. She even had a favorite team now though it was based more on the player's looks then their skill, but she
just couldn't drudge up enough interest to keep track of who was in the lead this year and who was the best player and what were the latest moves. Everything
she knew she got secondhand from the boys or from Ginny who actually had managed to become a bit of an enthusiast.
After a good fifteen minutes, she'd had enough, and sought Harry out. She found him and Seamus in the back of the store dueling with Beater's clubs.
Hermione had to chuckle as she watched the two try to whack each other.
" Well, Seamus' head is about the size of a bludger." She drawled, "Good thing the twins aren't here. Trained Beaters wouldn't be able to resist."
The two boys broke apart to face her.
" Why hello, Hermione." Seamus said smoothly, and held out his hand to show her the Beater's club," Like my club? Its long and thick and hard."
Harry whacked the pervert over the head, "Don't talk to her like that!"
" OW! Son of a bitch!"
Hermione rolled her eyes.
" What's up, 'Mione?" Harry asked, with a last snarl at Seamus.
" I'm bored. I'm going to head over to that new bookstore. You guys can meet me there when you're done."
" Are you sure?" his eyebrows furrowed.
" Yeah, take your time."
" Okay." He dodged a swing from Seamus.
Hermione waved and headed for the door, hoping that neither one of them would get their skull cracked open, or worse yet, break the clubs over their hard
heads and have to pay for them.
" I know you weren't leaving without telling me goodbye!" Ron bellowed from somewhere amidst the maze of isles.
Giggling, Hermione ran back through the isles to find him and kissed his cheek before heading out of the store.
There was one week left before school started. Hermione was excited but also determined to make the most of this last week before her last year at Hogwarts.
Her last year!
She hated thinking about it, it made her all teary-eyed and nostalgic. She knew Harry felt the same way she did. He felt lost without Hogwarts. Ron, on the other
hand, just wanted to get the hell out of there. She'd already caught him whispering 'no more Snape' under his breath every once in awhile, but then, truthfully,
she'd caught herself saying it too.
She frowned.
She tried to respect the man, she really didhe was just such an evilwell, it wasn't mentionable what he was.
As the crowd around her thinned, Hermione slowed and came to a dead stop in front of the entrance to Knockturn alley. She glanced around guiltily, and
sucked her teeth thoughtfully.
Hermione was, of course, insatiable curiosity personified. She'd always wanted to know what was down Knockturn alley. She'd never indulged this curiosity
though because good girls did not go down Knockturn alley, or so she'd been told. She would always stride by with her nose in the air instead, not even daring
to look down there. But she was seventeen now, no longer a little girl, and she'd seen plenty of her Slytherin classmates down there.
She was almost certain there was nothing stopping her from taking a stroll down there and seeing for herself just what was so forbidden about the dank, moldy
alley. She was practically an adult, she could handle it. And it would be exciting to explore the alley on her own and then come out and tell Ron and Harry all
about it. They'd scold her but they'd be impressed too. They'd probably even want to take a trip down there and explore with her.
She had just decided to do it when something slammed into her from behind and she flew forward with a scream. She landed painfully hard on her hands and
knees, gravel digging sharply into her skin and she knew she was bleeding.
" Watch where you're going!" an angry and all too familiar voice shouted.
Hermione went still.
She couldn't believe it. Of all the people to run into her it had to be
" Malfoy!" she howled, staggering to her feet, and whirling to face him, noting the blood smearing her knees and the palms of her hands, "You jerk!"
The beautiful silvery blond boy's face was dark with anger but cleared in surprise and melted into a cold and vicious grin when he realized who she was.

" Well well, if it isn't Mudblood Granger!" his face darkened once again, "Why don't you watch where you're going you stupid bitch."
" You ran into me, moron! Not the other way around!" she shouted, hands balling into fists.
He gave her a superior smirk, crossing his arms, "It doesn't matter. I'm the pureblood. YOU are supposed to stay out of MY way, filth."
" Not bloody likely! I move for no one."
" Really?"
His eyes narrowed at the challenge.
In a burst of movement, like a striking snake, he lunged forward. With a yelp of surprise she backpedaled, stumbling away from him and further down the alley.
He stopped suddenly and laughed.
"You did just fine right then."
She halted, face flaming with humiliation, and gritted her teeth," You're pathetic Malfoy, picking on girls! If Harry and Ron were here you'd be running like the
coward you are."
He seemed to ignore her words, the tension draining from his body and he plopped his shoulder casually against the brick wall of the alley, regarding her
almost kindly.
"So what's Potter's little whore doing down Knockturn alley all by herself?"
With a start, she realized he'd herded her further down the alley then she liked. She could no longer see the entrance to Diagon alley. She felt a chill but rallied
her courage and snarled at him.
" Oh I know!" he continued, gesturing towards a pile of trash and wooden crates, "You're going to take some of these boxes and build Weasley a house so he
doesn't have to live in a paper bag anymore. How kind of you." He picked up a scrap of wood, "Or maybe your beaver genes are kicking in and you're feeling a
bit peckish." He snapped his teeth at her and laughed, tossing the piece of wood at her.
She stepped out of the way so the wood sailed harmlessly past her, her face flushing even more as his words hit their mark.
There was nothing wrong with her teeth anymore, there hadn't been for years, but he was STILL making beaver jokes. For some reason that made it worse.
Like she couldn't escape her gawky childhood, like some part of her would always be that self-conscious little girl.
Vicious prat! How dare he!
" You're one to talk, ferret!" she sneered at him, " I notice daddy's not here to hold your hand. And you're just jealous about Harry. Everyone knows you're a
sodding nancy-boy who likes it up the rear. I hate to break it to you but Harry doesn't swing that way." She gave a cold little chuckle of her own, "And even if he
did, he wouldn't go near you, Hogwarts' own STD factory."
His eyebrows shot up and his face flushed a bit but otherwise he didn't react, his expression remained bland. It made her nervous. She didn't like his calm
reactions to her insults. The Malfoy she knew was extremely volatile. He should have been screaming and beating his chest by now.
" You'd think someone in your position would have better manners." He said softly, glacial eyes glittering, " After all, bad things happen to little Mudblood girls
down Knockturn alley." And he swept his robes away from his hip.
Hermione's heart leapt in her throat when she saw what was hanging from his belt. The sheath was black and she could just barely make out the glittering
handle of what was obviously a very large knife.
Real fear was suddenly pounding adrenalin in her veins and her eyes flew to his.
He was bluffing, he had to be.
He looked back at her with a small, cruel smile twisting his lips, his eyes lazy and cold and just a little hungry as he drank in her fear.
Did she honestly have any real idea what Draco Malfoy was capable of?
The answer came to her immediately. Yes, she did.
He was a coward. A whining, pathetic, spoiled, mean, little brat. He didn't have the balls to draw that knife on her.
She gathered her wits, letting her face harden, and gave him a derisive laugh, her smile widening when she saw his childish glee fade to surprise.
" Oh please! Am I supposed to be scared?" she spat, "You are just so many shades of loser, I can't even begin to describe it. Is this some kind of pathetic cry
for help? Running after me like this? Trying desperately to get me to pay attention to you because your mommy won't? I can't believe she hasn't committed
suicide yet. I know I would if you were my kid. Either that or she's locked herself in with the liquor cabinet to get away from you and your dad. Of course hard
liquor is how she got into this mess in the first place."
Rage began to seep through the confusion on his face, "Don't you dare talk about my mother, you filthy muggle bitch."
Hermione's eyes narrowed and she smirked.
Hit a sore spot did I? Ahh, Dracky loves his mommy.
" What about your mother? Besides the fact that she's obviously a brainless trophy wife? Or that she looks more like your father than you do? You do know
they're brother and sister don't you? Back home we call that inbreeding."
His face had twisted into an ugly snarl and his hands were clenching but she was on a roll and brazenly she continued.
" Or just plain white trash."
" I'm gonna kill you!" Malfoy screamed, hand flying for the knife.
Uh oh!
She scrambled for her wand.
His wand was out before she'd even gotten hers clear of her belt and she realized in shock that he'd drawn it while she was insulting him. She hadn't noticed.
He'd been distracting her by keeping his other hand near the knife, which he apparently had no intentions of unsheathing. At least not yet.

" Accio wand!" he yelled and her wand was ripped from her hand.
She cried out and then gaped at him, hands empty.
" Malfoy give that back!"
" Mudbloods shouldn't be allowed to have wands." He said viciously, snarling, showing her perfect, even white teeth.
With a flourish, he brought her wand out in front of him with both hands, paused for just a moment
No, he wouldn't!
and snapped it in two.
" Malfoy!"
She couldn't believe he actually did it.
" When I'm done with you bitch, you're going to wish you'd die." He hissed and stalked towards her.
Hermione panicked. He looked mad enough to do her serious damage. And without her wand, she couldn't stop him.
She lunged, throwing herself at him in something half terror, half rage.
Startled, Malfoy could only yell as she barreled into him. She meant only to shove him to the side to give herself room to run, but her momentum carried her into
him and they both fell backwards into a pile of boxes and crates. His wand and the pieces of her wand went spinning out of his hand as he scrabbled to brace
himself and the upset pile came crashing down on top of them with a horrendous sound.
Then everything was still.
A minute later Mr. Borgin came limping out of his shop to investigate the noise but, besides the overturned boxes, the alleyway was empty.
fin

A/N: The title of this chapter was inspired by Metallica's song from the Load CD. I love Metallica.

*Chapter 3*: The Opposite of Teamwork


Disclaimer: Silly rabbit!
Warnings: Bad language mostly, all from Draco of course.
Last Time:
She lunged, throwing herself at him in something half terror, half rage.
Startled, Malfoy could only yell as she barreled into him. She meant only to shove him to the side to give herself room to run, but her momentum carried
her into him and they both fell backwards into a pile of boxes and crates. His wand and the pieces of her wand went spinning out of his hand as he
scrabbled to brace himself and the upset pile came crashing down on top of them with a horrendous sound.
Then everything was still.
A minute later Mr. Borgin came limping out of his shop to investigate the noise but, besides the overturned boxes, the alleyway was empty.
Chapter 3: The Opposite of Teamwork
Something intangible seized him around the middle, a tingling irresistible pressure, and Draco yelled.
The world spun and twisted and then exploded past him in a rush of air, a blur of sound and color and roaring wind. He was only vaguely aware of the girl caught
up in the storm with him. His shock receded somewhat as his brain finally processed the familiar sensations that held him captive and he braced himself a split
second before everything slammed to a halt.
The force of their sudden stop was accompanied by the smashing of wooden crates all around them and the tooth-jarring jolt of Granger's forehead cracking
against his own as she was thrown forward. Light exploded behind his eyes, starbursts, and he laid still for a stunned moment until his senses returned.
The air was warm, but not as warm as it should have been. The wind blew light and sweet. Birds were chirping and the gurgling of water sounded from very
close by. There was cold, moist earth underneath him and splintered wood digging into his back. Granger was kneeling over him.
" Wha.what?" Granger's voice, high and choked with shock.
Draco bared his teeth and shoved as hard as he could, throwing her off of him.
She yelped, as she was hurled to the side and tumbled into the shallows of a stream. She gave another startled cry and scrambled out of the water, one side of
her robes soaked. He sat up, eyes narrowed, breathing hard with fury.
She'd tricked him! The frizz-headed freak had tricked him!
" What did you do?" he hissed, almost spitting in his rage.
" Wha..?" she stared back at him with clear, guileless eyes from where she knelt in the dirt, shrugging off her backpack.
Draco surged to his feet, eyes darting around, body tight and coiled as if he expected an attack. But nothing moved around them except for a few blue jays and
a lone squirrel.
The sun speckled the leaf-blown ground with dappled light. A small stream cut through the clearing and beyond thattrees. Trees as far as the eye could see.
Diagon alley was gone. Knockturn alley was nowhere to be seen.
" We're in the woods." Granger said breathlessly.
Way to state the obvious you bloody cow!
In something like a very controlled panic, he patted himself over quickly, and then scanned the ground, looking for his wand.
It wasn't there. It wasn't anywhere.
He turned on her, face pale and livid, " What did you do?" he shouted.
Her eyes narrowed, "What do you mean what did I do?" she snapped, getting to her feet rigidly and brushing off her skirt and robes, "I haven't done anything!"
" Oh, don't you dare play dumb with me, you bitch!" he stormed over to her and she stiffened but held her ground, looking up at him with her jaw set and
challenge in her dark eyes.
He knew this was her fault. She'd done something to bring him here. She must have.
His mind was reeling with paranoia. Or not paranoia, he liked to think of it as self-preservation. It wasn't paranoia if they really were out to get you.
What was Granger planning?
Had he been set up? Was she supposed to take him here and then leave him? Or was this like the time in sixth year when she'd pranced off alone, making
sure he followed, only to lead him right into Potter and Weasley, a very dark hallway and one of the worst beatings of his life? Were Potter and Weasley here,
waiting to spring an attack? Waiting somewhere out there in this nice secluded forest where no one would find his broken body.
He grabbed her by the upper arms, fingers digging into her skin, "You did something to bring us here!" he shouted.
She jerked away from him, her face flushed with anger, and slapped him hard across the face. The shock of it shut him up, made him blink in surprise.
" Don't you dare touch me," She hissed furiously, " You think I did something? You're the one with the wand!" she yelled at him, " You broke mine remember?
Don't blame your utter stupidity on me, you prissy little retard!"
He snarled. She thought it had been a spell? So the little bitch didn't know what a Portkey was, huh?
" You ignorant muggle!" he spat, "A wand didn't bring us here. A Portkey did!"
Her eyes widened, "A portkey! But You dope! I don't have a portkey!"
He stared at her.

She didn't have a portkey?


Quickly, he played through the last few minutes in his head. He had thought she'd rushed him with the portkey in her hand, but now that he thought of it, she'd
shoved him with both open palms. Then they'd fallen into the cratesand everything had come crashing down on their heads.
Had there been a portkey in that pile of trash? Had he fallen on top of it? Had it fallen down on them when the pile crashed?
It wasn't impossible that some moron had forgotten their portkey or thrown it away without taking the enchantment off. He'd read about instances of it happening
before. But if that were the case then it was a problem easily solved.
His eyes flicked to Granger.
Her eyes were distant with thought but she looked at him then, "You're sure it was a portkey?"
He said nothing, only held perfectly still, not wanting to give away his intentions.
" Andyou don't have onedo you? So that means it must have been in the cratesHEY!"
He'd lunged past her, diving into the pile of wood, sifting through it quickly, touching everything within reaching distance as fast as he could. She must have
realized in that instant what he was doing because she darted over and shoved him.
" Don't you dare!" she screamed.
But he ignored her, eyes scanning the clearing quickly.
There was a portkey somewhere around here. Neither one of them knew what it looked like. But whoever found it was going home.
And she could be damn sure that if he found it first, he wouldn't be coming back for her. Once he was home he'd personally dump the portkey in the deepest,
darkest hole he could find.
What followed was a mad rush. Both of them tearing through the remains of the crates and digging their fingers through the dirt, touching everything they could.
But neither of them found anything.
" Ooh!" Granger moaned, in despair, "It could be anything! A rock, a stick, aa bead!"
Suddenly she stiffened, "Oh no.."
He looked up at her and saw her staring at the stream.
Oh shit.
He'd pushed Granger into the water. If the portkey had been on her, it could have gone into the water as well.
They both scrambled into the stream, splashing, soaking their shoes and the hems of their robes, trying to remember the exact place she had fallen in. The
water burbled on, cheerfully indifferent to the pair's growing anxiety. The stream was only about ten feet across and probably four feet at its deepest, but the flow
was swift and it was impossible to see the bottom clearly where the shallows splattered over rocks. They dug through the water, overturning rocks and running
their hands along the bottom.
Nothing.
In total frustration and with a mounting feeling of certain doom, Draco reared up, " You bushy-headed, Gryffindor skank! This is all your fault! If you hadn't pushed
me"
" How can this be my fault!" Granger interrupted him, practically screaming, "You followed me! You bothered me! You made me feel like I had to defend myself!
This wouldn't have happened if you weren't such a a prick!" she flushed slightly as if embarrassed at using such a dirty word.
Pathetic. Not even fifteen minutes and he was already corrupting her.
The thought was vaguely titillating but he was in no mood to enjoy it.
" You needed to defend yourself so you figured the best way to do it was to get us both lost in the middle of fucking nowhere?" he screamed, "Brilliant! I can see
why they made you Head Girl! Hogwarts will be charred ruins by the end of the year!"
" Don't you dare threaten Hogwarts!" she shrieked.
" I wasn't threatening Hogwarts!"
" That's not what it sounded like to me!"
" I don't care what it sounded like to you! The fact remains that because of you and your little tantrum, we're both screwed!"
" I had no idea this was going to happen!" she shouted back at him, "And if things had worked out, it would have been YOU stuck here and not both of us!"
He went utterly still, face going pale, "You did plan it.You fucking whore, you planned this!"
" N..NO!" she stuttered, " I just meant I tried to push you down. I didn't mean to fall on top of you!"
" YOU JUST SAID"
" I SAID IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!" she shrieked, "I had no idea there was a Portkey there. And WHY are we talking like this is my fault! You came after me! You
pushed me into the alley! How do I know you didn't set this up?"
" Oh yeah!" he snapped sarcastically, "This is my dream, stuck in the forest with a hideously ugly and obnoxiously loud Mudblood chit! I've been planning for
years to get you alone and have you annoy the fucking hell out of me."
There was a sudden frightened, speculative look on her face and he rolled his eyes in sheer disgust and frustration.
" THAT WAS SARCASM!" he screamed at her, "If I had a plan to get rid of you, I'd make damn sure it worked!"
" You're really really sick, you know that? I hate you!"
" I hate you more!"

" When we get back home, I'm going to take so many points from Slytherin, they won't be in the running for House Cup for the next thirty years!"
" You think I give a shit about that!"
" I dunno, I still remember the look on your face at the end of first year. I thought you were gonna cry! I had my camera ready and everything." She sneered.
" You fucking Gryffindors stole the cup that year! It was ours!"
" So you do care!" she mocked.
" Bloody bitch!" he screamed, and sloshed out of the water to flop down on the ground and sulk.
Thirty minutes later they both sat silently on the damp, sandy shore, staring at the rushing water.
" Aare we stuck here?" Granger seemed to be in shock now that the anger had worn off.
He ignored her, staring bitterly straight ahead.
His father was probably going crazy about now. Probably cursing and seething and wondering where his no good child had wandered off to.
He was going to get the hell beat out of him when he got back. He'd screwed up again. Like always.
" What happened to your wand?" Granger asked.
" Gone." He snapped.
And you'd better be glad because if I had it right now, I'd be using it on you.
He lost himself for a moment in that pleasant fantasy.
" We're lost in the woods and we don't have wands" the girl said faintly, seemingly to herself.
Draco shivered, suddenly feeling his wet clothes acutely.
It was getting colderand darker. Night comes early to the forest.
He had to think of something. He was a little more anxious, a little more scared then he liked to admit. He wasn't exactly an avid camper. He considered himself
way too civilized. And ever since his little adventure in the Forbidden Forest with Potter his first year, he hadn't exactly been a nature lover.
Sure he'd gone hunting a couple of times with Ryan Nott and his friends, but they'd had every luxury with them. Plus they'd been fairly close to civilization and
Ryan's father had been there. Not exactly roughing it. He had no idea what forest they were in now, or even what region of the world, though he was damn sure it
wasn't London. There could be monsters here ten times as dangerous as the freaky shit in the Forbidden Forest.
Not a pleasant thought. But then that was a worst-case scenario, wasn't it.
Maybe he was just thinking the wrong way.
There was always the chance that things weren't as bad as they seemed. Maybe they weren't that far from civilization. After all, what idiot would have a portkey
to the middle of nowhere? Or where there were really dangerous monsters?
He stood up and began prowling the clearing.
The area did seem pretty neat. Clear of rocks and big sticks, as if someone had been there not too long ago. It was an ideal spot for camping.
He felt a rush of excitement when he found a small circle of rocks surrounding a pit of black ashes about halfway through the clearing.
Campfire remains!
So someone had been here and had built a fire, maybe even stayed the night.
Well, then there had to be other campers! And where there were campers, there were lodges, and little tourist towns with food and bathrooms!
He wasn't sure which direction to go, but if he sort of circled this area, he was certain he'd figure it out.
Because it was useless to stay here. Sitting around on his ass wouldn't accomplish anything.
Without so much as a backwards glance, and with a little more spring in his step, Draco started off into the trees.
" Whwhere are you going?" Granger called after him in surprise, scrambling to her feet.
" Away from you. Nothing stinks like wet Mudblood." He snapped, not looking back. Not caring whether or not she followed.
Scratch that. He hoped she didn't follow.
" But.. but you'll get lost!"
He said nothing.
" Malfoy! Its going to get dark soon! I think we changed time zones. You shouldn't go exploring!"
" I'm going to find people. There's gotta be a town around here."
" What? We're in the middle of nowhere!" her voice rose in incredulity.
" You don't know that."
" Soyou're leaving!" there was the tiniest note of panic in her voice.
" That's right."
" But everyone will be coming to find us soon!"
Is that what she thought? Poor deluded thing.

Draco grinned wickedly and turned around to see her pretty face strained and anxious, "And just how will they find us?" he asked sweetly.
" There are plenty of spells! A Location charm" she broke off, remembering that the spell only targeted a person's wand and that theirs were back in Diagon
alley, "Um, there's"
" Finder's spell." He said helpfully, "But that requires blood and hair," he frowned, "which, in all honesty, my parents might actually have, as disturbing as the
thought is. But I doubt your folks have a bottle of your blood sitting around in their mud hut, or whatever primitive dwellings muggles live in. They could also try a
Seeking charm but then those don't work in magic forests and, if you haven't noticed, this is a magic forest. So you see, I have no choice but to go looking for
civilization which I'm pretty sure is right around the corner. Goodbye Mudblood."
She took a couple steps after him, " There's got to be another way! We don't know that many spells, after all. They'll find us!"
" Keep dreaming, Mudblood."
" I'm serious! The Ministry oror Dumbledore! They'll think of a way to find us."
Dumbledore. Every Muggle-born's wet dream. Their savior. Yeah right. Her precious hero couldn't help her now.
" No one's going to come for us."
" You can't be serious about this! You're just going to walk off alone into the woods? Because I'm certainly not coming with you!" her voice turned petulant at the
end.
" Oh that's too bad."
She blinked in surprise, " Youyou'd really just leave me here?"
" You bet."
" You're crazy!"
He could hear the beginnings of desperation in her voice and smiled, savoring it. She was terrified of being left alone here but she wasn't willing to follow, not
that he'd let her.
He continued on his way, ignoring her.
" Malfoy, you complete idiot! You're going to get hurt!" she yelled it more like a curse than a warning.
" I can take care of myself."
She dashed to the edge of the clearing, not daring to go any further.
" Hey! Don't be stupid! We should wait here! When you're lost you're supposed to stay put!" her voice wavered between fury and fear.
" Goodbye bitch! Maybe we'll get lucky and something will eat you!" he shouted back cheerfully, chuckling to himself as he sauntered away, leaving the clearing
behind.
" MALFOY!"
His grin widened.
He hoped she was scared, he hoped she was crying.
Stupid worthless female. Stupid mudblood. Sit there and rot.
Hermione hugged herself, watching her last link to human civilization disappear through the trees in a cloud of poofy arrogance.
She was caught somewhere in a cycle of fury and terror. Part of her was screaming 'Good riddance to bad rubbish!' as she watched him walk away and
wondering idly how long before he got mauled or eaten by the local wildlife. Another part of her was screaming that she was now officially alone in the middle of
the forest without her wand, without any sort of protection, and that she was going to starve to death or freeze to death or get eaten by wild animals. And she
was furious with herself for wishing that Draco Malfoy would return.
But the boy had disappeared.
She let out her breath and turned in a slow circle.
The woods were quiet, serene. Birds were singing, blossoms were floating in the air and a little brown rabbit hopped out of its hole under a knotted cluster of
tree roots to get a drink from the stream.
In a different situation she would have been quite enchanted.
What was she supposed to do now?
" Think Hermione." She muttered to herself.
Logic and her upbringing declared it was wisest simply to stay put. She put little stock in the nonsense Malfoy had spouted. Someone would come! She was
sure of it.
Surely the person who lost their portkey would report it. Then with Malfoy and her missing someone would put two and two together. It was quite simple. All she
needed to do was wait.
But until help came she needed to take care of herself.
She had read a few books about wilderness survival but not many. In reality she'd thought that studying that sort of thing was pointless after she'd gotten her
wand. Not extremely farsighted of her and arrogant of her too if she wanted to be brutally honest.
She quelled her rising panic with deep, even breaths. There had to be something around here to help her.
" This is just another puzzle." She said calmly, "Okay, first things first. Malfoy said this is a magic forest. How would he even know?"
That last sentence sounded bitchy even to her, but she hoped he was right. It was true that there were far fewer dangers in a natural forest, but there were also
far fewer resources. A magical forest would be fraught with magical plants and animals that she might be able to utilize.

She began exploring the clearing, making note of the campfire remains as she circled the area, her sharp eyes taking in every detail. She circled twice before
she finally stopped, hands on her hips with a satisfied smile.
" A ring of Golden Elder trees."
It was true. The clearing had apparently been very specifically chosen. Elder was extremely protective against magical forces and a ring of Elder around the
campsite would keep most magical creatures out.
Hermione instantly felt much better. She was not as exposed as she had thought she was. Aragog himself could come scuttling by and he would not be able to
get to her. She was incredibly pleased with herself for listening to her instincts and not leaving the clearing with Malfoy.
It proved that this was a magical forest. But she did not think, not for a moment, that Malfoy had known enough to recognize the circle of trees and their
significance. He was far too dense.
So how had he known?
She took another look around the clearing. It took her several minutes to see what Malfoy had apparently seen. A small sound gave it away, a little hiccuping
'chirrup' sound. Looking up, she frowned and after several minutes of holding still she saw them. And then she laughed.
" Rooala!" she squealed in delight, seeing the miniature koala-like tree-bears climbing around on the Golden Elders.
Her squeal sent them scuttling up their trees in alarm.
They were tiny, about a handspan tall, with black fur and bright yellow tufts and they fed exclusively on Elder leaves. She'd never seen them in real life. They
were much too harmless for Hagrid to ever take an interest in. But they were absolutely adorable.
And they were also said to be good luck.
Hermione grinned, "Magic forest, ring of protection. Check. Next, gathering supplies."
The only reason Hermione ventured out of the ring of Elders was because it was still daylight out, but even then she moved slow and had to gather her courage
to take that first step. It was silly but she was half afraid something would pounce her the instant she left the protective circle.
She circled her campsite, taking stock of all the plants and listing off what their uses were. She was utterly delighted to find a whole bed of Sphagnum moss
nearby.
Sphagnum was a water purifier. While Hermione had been incredibly grateful for the stream, she'd been a little uncertain about drinking from it. Still, dirty water
was better than no water. But now that she had Sphagnum she had nothing to worry about. She gathered several handfuls and rushed it back to her campsite,
leaving it near her backpack.
Even more fortuitous was an entire rock wall of firestone at the base of a small slope on the North side of her camp. Several large chunks already lay on the
ground and the wall itself had large gouges where she could see someone had dug out chunks to use for building fires. She actually shrieked with joy when she
found it.
This clearing was apparently chosen for more than just the protective Elder trees. It was an absolutely perfect campsite. Completely self-sufficient. Perfect for
someone who wanted to get away from civilization. Hermione dumped several chunks of firestone next to her Sphagnum moss and turned to go back and
gather firewood when a sudden thought halted her in her tracks.
This campsite was well stocked with natural resources. Someone who knew how to survive in the forest could do so easily and do it well. Even the weather was
favorable. From the warmth of the day she could tell that the nights were going to be cold but not freezing. If this was such a perfect campsite, with all the natural
resources a woodsman needed, did that mean Malfoy was wrong about any people being nearby? Was the person who owned the portkey an expert
woodsman who didn't need any modern conveniences?
And what of Malfoy?
She wondered at the confidence that allowed him to go stomping off into the woods alone without any sort of supplies or protection. What was he going to do
when it was too dark to see? What was he going to do about food, water, and wild animals? Had he even thought of those things? Maybe he was an
experienced woodsman and she just didn't know about it. Or maybe he was just that stupid.
Hermione shook her head and went back to gathering wood. It didn't matter. Someone would be along soon to collect them.
She gathered a lot of wood, not wanting to have to go out and find more in the middle of the night. With the essentials taken care of, she felt incredibly relieved.
Humming she began gathering other things that might be useful to her. She even found a few things to eat, some edible roots that were nice and crunchy and a
good two handfuls of juicy Toddy berries. She was almost happy by the time the sun sank behind the trees and she returned to her campsite to build a roaring
fire.
Then, as the air cooled, the crickets began to sing and the night animals began to prowl. A few times she saw glowing eyes at the edge of the circle of trees,
staring in at her. But whatever animals lurked just outside her circle of light, none could venture in. It was a little frightening, but Hermione, with an air of
nonchalance and determination, simply pulled her textbooks from her backpack and began to do homework by firelight, while awaiting her inevitable rescue.
fin

NEXT TIME: Check back in at Diagon alley. Is everyone still sitting around waiting for Hermione? What's Harry going to do when he finds out Draco and
Hermione have vanished? What's Lucius going to do? Looks like the Ministry is going to have to prevent a fistfight on top of searching for the two missing
teens.

*Chapter 4*: Kill the Messenger


Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter but I do own a really nifty Scully action figure with bonus unidentified corpse and body bag. I am so lucky. I also own any
characters you don't recognize.

Last Time:
She was almost happy by the time the sun sank behind the trees and she returned to her campsite to build a roaring fire.
Then, as the air cooled, the crickets began to sing and the night animals began to prowl. A few times she saw glowing eyes at the edge of the circle of trees,
staring in at her. But whatever animals lurked just outside her circle of light, none could venture in. It was a little frightening, but Hermione, with an air of
nonchalance and determination, simply pulled her textbooks from her backpack and began to do homework by firelight, while awaiting her inevitable rescue.
Chapter 4: Kill the Messenger
The door to Beryl's Beauty shop slammed open and three teenage girls ran screaming into the streets, disrupting the crowd and causing several people to
crash into each other and others to leap out of the way and stare in surprise.
Lavender was too busy wailing and shrieking to notice that the minute she stepped into the sun, the snakes in her hair turned back into purple silk ribbons.
Padma didn't notice that the course black fur sprouting in thick patches on her chest and throat turned back into blue glitter sparkles and Parvati was too
hysterical to realize that the fur scarf she'd been admiring had stopped squeaking and trying to attack her. In fact, having not been paid for, the scarf had
disappeared from around her neck and reappeared back on its shelf in the store.
Inside the shop, three teenage Slytherin girls stood frozen in shocked silence until the leader put her hands on her hips and turned to her friends with a
disdainful sniff.
" That was rude." Pansy Parkinson said as if greatly offended, "They didn't even say goodbye!"
Pansy was a tiny pixie of a girl with a short, sleek cap of honey-blond hair that hung to her chin and narrow, denim-blue eyes that were usually as hard as
granite.
" You know those Gryffindors." Millicent Bulstrode dismissed in a lazy drawl, "There was probably a kitten up a tree somewhere. They had to go save it."
Millicent was tall. The top of Pansy's head barely reached her shoulder. She was heavy-set, thick around the middle and solidly built. If she were any shorter,
she would have been as round as a bludger, but her height kept her from bulging much in any direction. Her hair was a shoulder length wave of the darkest
brown, and her eyes were a startlingly light brown.
" Gryffindors are so noble." Pansy whimpered, wiping a mock tear from her eye.
Blaise Zabini giggled helplessly, " Padma's a Ravenclaw. Give credit where credit is due!"
Blaise was taller than Pansy but not as tall as Millicent. She was curvy and soft where Pansy was slim and lithe. Her skin had a golden burnish to it that could
have been natural or could have been from tanning. Her eyes were large, expressive and liquid black and her waist-length hair was black as raven wing.
Pansy turned sharply, hands still on her hips, to face the counter and the shop's mistress, who lounged gracefully behind it.
" That was extremely entertaining, Beryl."
The gypsy woman gave an elegant shrug, causing the beads and charms on her necklace to make a soft tinkling sound. She was a gorgeous woman with ruby
lips, dark bedroom eyes and mounds of curly dark hair.
"No one says such things about Slytherin while I'm around." She purred in a husky contralto.
" You'd think those Gryffindor chits would warn each other about insulting Slytherin while in Beryl's shop." Millicent rolled her eyes.
" Its not just Gryffindor." Blaise said again, "Beryl blasted a couple Hufflepuffs when I was in here last week."
" Its like I said, they're all against us." Millicent muttered.
" Well, I don't know about you, but Beryl's fight for truth, justice and the Slytherin way is a tradition I'm going to miss." Pansy said stoically.
" What's stopping us from coming back next year and watching it happen all over again?" Millicent asked.
" Milly, your logic is impeccable. I commend you."
" Oi! What did I miss?"
The girls looked over in amusement to the skinny young boy swaggering towards them. His close-cropped dark curls were covered by a flowery, yellow and
purple bandanna and his hazel eyes were hidden by an outrageous pair of pink sunglasses, several necklaces hung around his neck and a pair of blue sparkle
earrings were clipped to his ears. He gave them all a blinding smile.
Beryl laughed softly.
" Oh, for the love of all that's holy! Sky, you moron!" Millicent snapped in disgust, marching over to peel the ridiculous accessories off her younger brother.
" Let's get out of here." The boy demanded with a frown, while meekly allowing his sister to rip the bejeweled necklaces away, "This is all girl stuff."
Pansy laughed, " It's all girl stuff so you decided to try it on?"
" No I didn't! It attacked me." He tugged at the bandanna and shot Beryl an annoyed look.
The gypsy smirked.
" Sure it did, Button." Pansy sighed, shaking her head.
The nickname came from the phrase 'cute as a button'. The little guy was so adorable that Pansy could just die. It wasn't just the bright, innocent eyes or the
slightly crooked grin either, it was the sunny personality and sweet, simple mannerisms. It was hard to believe he was Slytherin. Even Professor Snape seemed
to think the boy was hopeless but Pansy disagreed. All the qualities were there, they were just hard to spot.
Sky turned his frown on Pansy as Millicent yanked off the sunglasses, "I'm fourteen now. You shouldn't call me that anymore. Everyone will laugh."

Pansy rolled her eyes, " No one will dare. You know hanging out with me makes you ten times as popular as any of the other fourth years. And you know Draco
would beat the shit out of anyone he thought was bothering you."
This only made the boy's frown darken to a full blown scowl," I can take care of myself! I don't need you or Draco to protect me!"
" You most certainly do, you ungrateful brat!" Pansy yelled, temper flaring, " Anyone else would kill for what we've done for you! Do you know that last year every
single third-year got a midnight dunking in the lake just after Halloween? All the third-years except for you that is! And that's just one thing Draco and I have
done for you! You've had sixth-year privileges since your very first year!"
" I know, I know Pansy! I just don't want to have a silly nickname." He whined.
Millicent finished peeling the fashion accessories off the boy and cuffed him on the back of the head, "Next time you decide to dress in drag, you make damn
sure you match, you little fashion nightmare."
Sky blinked big pretty eyes at her, " I love you, Milly."
Against her will, Millicent's cold hard visage melted into a small, warm smile.
It worked every time.
" Don't you dare try softening me up, brat." But the harsh words were ruined by her smile.
Sky's face immediately brightened with pleasure, proud that he'd made his sister smile, "Lets go! I'm hungry!"
Beryl chuckled again, "Boys his age, they are always eating, no?"
" More like gorging." Pansy drawled, "I'm changing his name to 'Bottomless Pit'."
" Does that mean we're going to eat now?" Sky asked eagerly, practically hopping up and down.
" I don't know. Blaise? Millicent?"
" I'm finished." Blaise said, setting a fancy purse back down on its display, "And food sounds good about now."
Millicent nodded, " We've got our supplies, we've terrorized some Gryffindors, I think we're done. Its getting late."
" Fine then."
The group paid for their items and headed into Diagon alley. They pushed through the crowds roughly, ignoring the yelps and angry glares they received, while
arguing loudly and violently over where to eat and periodically throwing in rude comments about what other people were wearing. Per usual, the argument was
Millicent and Pansy versus Blaise and Sky. And, as usual, Millicent and Pansy won but Pansy suggested an inventive compromise because she couldn't stand
to see Sky pout.
With full bellies and full knapsacks the group called it a night and decided to head back to Blaise's for a sleepover. They were nearly to the Floo Station when
Blaise tugged Pansy's robes.
" Malfoy senior dead ahead and he's looking at us." She whispered.
Pansy sneered and Millicent immediately donned her patented 'stone face'.
Malfoy was standing, tall and regal, out in front of the Leaky Cauldron and he was indeed watching them.
" Miss Parkinson!" the blond man called, "Miss Parkinson!"
" Oh mi gosh, he called me 'Miss Parkinson'." Pansy hissed out of the corner of her mouth, "He wants something. You three stay quiet."
Pansy screwed her face up into a cold snarl and gestured for the others to follow her. She sauntered over to where Malfoy Sr. was waiting and struck an
insolent pose with a mocking smile. Millicent stood next to her, her face blank and her eyes empty, not a person but a mindless crony. Blaise hid behind them
and Lucius ignored her. Sky smiled at Lucius the same as he smiled at everyone but he might as well have been invisible.
" Lucy." Pansy greeted snidely, "Wonderful to see you. How is Narcissa?"
Lucius' lip curled angrily and Pansy could have sworn his fingers twitched towards his wand but he checked himself. In Pansy's opinion, Lucius and Draco were
a lot alike, Lucius simply had more self-control.
"I must say I'm disappointed, Miss Parkinson." Lucius purred sweetly, " I thought time spent with more distinguished families," his eyes flicked to Millicent, "
would smooth out your rough edges and might even cause you to develop into a proper young lady. Apparently I was wrong. But then, you know what they say:
You can take the peasant out of the lower class but you can't take the lower class out of the peasant."
Ah yes, the Malfoy tongue. Its many extraordinary talents included shredding dignity and cutting through solid steel.
Pansy quickly fought the flush that wanted to rise to her cheeks and sneered at him instead, refusing to give him any kind of embarrassed reaction.
" It isn't wise of you to antagonize your elders." The man continued with the barest hint of threat to his voice, "And it is especially unwise for you to antagonize
me."
Pansy gave a light little laugh and tossed her hair, "You're such a kidder, Lucy sweetheart. You know if you do anything to me, it will make my parents angry and
you know if you make my parents angry it will make your boss angry. We're your boss' favorite people right now." And she gave him a charming smile.
Lucius looked as if he'd swallowed something foul, but, knowing himself outmaneuvered, quickly changed the subject, " As much as I'd love to exchange
pleasantries with you, darling child, I'm afraid I called you over here to discuss other matters."
" Such as?"
" Where is my son?" He said it coldly, almost accusatory.
Pansy felt her jaw drop in surprise and answered with complete honesty before she could stop herself, "I haven't seen the Unholy One since Hogwarts let out for
the summer. What's the problem?"
There had to be a problem and it was a big one. Lucius wouldn't have ever bothered speaking to her, let alone asking after Draco, if there weren't a problem.
Lucius looked even more annoyed at her descriptive epithet for Draco, but continued, " The boy was supposed to meet me here over two hours ago. I have

repeatedly cast a Calling Charm but he has yet to reply."


The Calling Charm caused an item belonging to the spell-receiver, usually their wand, to light up or make a specific sound to let them know they were being
called. The charm was mostly used by parents to call for their children.
"I sent Narcissa home to see if he'd already returned to the mansion but she has just sent word that he's not there."
Flustered, Pansy realized that she should have been angry with Lucius, she should have been furious. After everything he had done, she should have been
spitting mad that he was talking to her like this. He'd caught her off guard, was all. She needed to collect her wits.
She crossed her arms over her chest and bought a couple of moments with a delicate snort and a roll of her eyes," Why is this a problem? Draco's a big boy.
He knows his way home."
Lucius hesitated, regarding her carefully before continuing, " I left Draco in Knockturn alley withquestionable company."
Pansy went still, her mind flashing back to the end of fourth year and finding Draco unconscious and covered with hex-marks on the train ride home and then
back to the year before and the bruises and blood on Draco's face after the Wonder Duo had gotten done with him. Those hadn't been the only times of course,
just the worst.
" Tell me you did not leave him alone with Scarface!" she hissed, lowering her voice.
Harry Potter. Hogwarts' golden boy. He wasn't anything special as far as magic ability was concerned, but he had powerful friends and the ability to worm his
way out of trouble and that made him dangerous. Reputation, association and cunning were things that, as Slytherins, they understood the power of.
Lucius shook his head, "Not Potter. The Mudblood girl. She was alone."
Pansy felt her eyes widen, "Granger? That may be even worse."
Lucius looked surprised, "How?"
Pansy laughed coldly, "That's exactly what happened last year. Malfoy men don't learn, do they?"
He gave a strained chuckle, " I suppose not. I'd be very grateful if you would be a dear and go to Knockturn alley and collect him."
" Ah, the gratitude of a Malfoy. I suppose this means I'll get to live another day."
Sky hastily turned a snicker into a cough.
Lucius scowled at them and Pansy quickly took a step back.
" We'll just go check Knockturn alley. We'll be back shortly," she looked at the others and jerked her chin over her shoulder to indicate they should follow.
They were silent as they walked away.
" That was just weird." Blaise said finally, with a glance over her shoulder to make sure Lucius was out of sight.
" Why are we doing this?" Millicent asked in a bored tone.
" Because something is definitely going on." Pansy said grimly, "Lucius is worried."
" But if he's worried, why doesn't he go look for Draco himself?" Blaise asked.
Pansy snorted, "That's just it, Lucius doesn't worry about Draco. Lucius worries about Lucius."
" But you think something's wrong with Draco." Sky stated.
" I don't know." Pansy muttered, refusing to meet his eyes.
" The question is why do you care?" Millicent snapped.
Pansy and Millicent glared at each other. If there was one thing the two of them never agreed on, it was the subject of Draco.
There was nothing unusual down Knockturn alley. The group walked the length of it twice, passing several other witches and wizards going about their
business.
" This is a waste of time." Millicent complained mutinously, leaning against the wall.
" There's nothing here." Sky agreed.
" I thought for sure we'd find Draco lying half-dead on the ground." Blaise said in what sounded like genuine disappointment.
The others turned withering glares on her. She smiled.
Pansy snorted, "Cast a Location Charm, Blaise."
" Why?" Millicent snarled, "He's not here. Let's go."
" We're not leaving till we find him." Pansy growled so dangerously that Millicent looked away.
" Right!" Blaise chirped and pulled out her wand, "Expiscor Draco!"
She was instantly whipped around, wand facing back down the alley, "Oh." She said, voice breathless with surprise, "The spell says he's in Knockturn alley. But
we've been all over, he's not there!"
Pansy bit her lip thoughtfully and began wandering slowly down the alleyway. The others hesitated then followed.
" Do you think he's in a shop?" Sky asked.
" No, you idiot. Blaise says he's in the alley." Millicent told him, "If he were in a shop, she would have been able to name it."
Sky shrugged.
" Blaise," Pansy said after a moment, "Cast a Calling Charm, everyone else look for a flash of light or listen for a bell sort of sound."

Blaise raised her wand, " Arcesso Draco!"


Everyone went still, eyes darting about the alley, but none of them saw or heard anything.
" Let's walk down the alley. Everyone keep looking."
They hadn't gotten too far when Blaise stiffened with a squeak.
" I hear something!" she said excitedly.
" I hear it too!" Sky walked in a circle around them, listening intently.
There was a faint hum filtering through the air.
Pansy stilled, trying to pinpoint the sound, and Millicent walked ahead of them.
" It's further down here." Millicent motioned them over.
Sky shut his eyes to hear better and walked slowly towards her.
To their left the brick wall of the building came to a corner and moved inwards, making a niche that widened the alley. A stack of splintered boxes and rubbish
had been haphazardly mashed into the space there and the boy came to a stop in front of it. Pansy and the others came up behind him.
Sky squatted down, "Its coming from here, under this crap." And he started tearing at the boxes, throwing them out of the way.
" That's weird." Blaise said as she knelt down beside him to help.
Millicent shot Pansy a confused look and saw that the other girl's face was pale with worry.
Blaise and Sky made short work of the pile and then Blaise was standing up with a humming wand in her hand. The noise quieted the moment she touched it,
the spell subsiding.
" Here it is!"
Pansy snatched the wand from her and looked it over, "This is definitely Draco's wand. Why?" she trailed off and looked up at Millicent, " He wouldn't just
leave it lying around! Why the hell is his wand in a pile of garbage? Where is he?"
" Calm down." Millicent held up a placating hand, " Maybe Granger got it from him and hid it. It's just a prank. Let's"
" But where is he?" the blond girl interrupted furiously.
" Maybe he's out looking for his wand!" Millicent shouted angrily, "Just shut up, okay!"
" Hey look." Blaise straightened up from the trash, and held out her hand, "There's another wand here. It's broken."
" Let me see." Sky took the piece from her and examined it while she began sifting halfheartedly through the garbage again to look for the other half. Not finding
anything, she brushed her hands off on her robes and stood up.
" Another wand? But whose?" Pansy asked.
Millicent shrugged, "It could just be an old wand someone threw out."
" Maybe its Granger's." Sky said.
" This isn't making sense." Millicent snapped, "Okay, we know they were both down here. We're almost certain they had some kind of showdown. But who
won? And why would the winner leave their wand here?"
" And where is the loser?" Blaise asked.
" Granger won." Pansy gasped in realization, "Draco wouldn't have left his wand here if he won but Granger had no reason to take her wand back because it
was broken."
" How could Granger win with a broken wand?" Millicent rolled her eyes.
Pansy laughed bitterly, "The same way she won last year."
Millicent raised her eyebrows, "Okay, so then what? Where's Draco?"
" They probably dumped him somewhere."
" Dumped him somewhere?" Millicent cried incredulously, " But Pansy"
Pansy ignored her, turning to the boy, " Sky, I want you to run as fast as you can and get Lucius. Tell him what we've found."
Sky nodded eagerly.
He had only taken two steps towards Diagon alley when the broken wand in his hand gave a piercing whistle and began blowing red sparks out of both ends.
Blaise screamed and Sky yelped dropping the wand in surprise and then catching it again before it fell too far.
" Whoa!"
" What the...?"
Pounding feet sounded behind them and the group whirled around.
Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Ginny Weasley and a man Pansy recognized as Arthur Weasley came bounding into view, their faces concerned. They halted in
surprise when they spotted the Slytherins and their expressions turned grim.
There was a frozen moment when no one moved and the wand in Sky's hand continued its whistling scream and then Ron Weasley took a step forward. He and
Potter whipped their wands out and pointed them at the group, their faces twisted with hatred. Pansy and Millicent went for their wands a moment too late and
now didn't dare draw them.

" Boys, wait!" Arthur put an arm out to stop Potter and his son.
" That's Hermione's wand." Ron said in outrage, "Where's Hermione, Parkinson?"
" Are you sure that's Hermione's wand?" Arthur Weasley asked, eyes turning to the Slytherins, "Finite Incantum!"
The wand stopped shrieking.
" Arcesso Hermione."
The wand blazed up again.
Sky opened his mouth, shut it. The three Gryffindors and the Ministry worker turned dark, accusing faces on them.
" Finite Incantum.." Arthur said again, softlyand drew his own wand to point it at the Slytherins.
" They must have done something to her. They broke her wand." Ginny said.
" We didn't break it!" Sky yelped.
Ron took another step forward, "Where. Is. Hermione."
Millicent took a step forward her face threatening but Pansy shook her head as the boys in front of them gripped their wands tighter.
" We don't know where your little Mudblood girlfriend is." Pansy sneered.
What the hell was going on? Granger was missing too? That didn't make any sense. Pansy was certain Potter and Weasley had something to do with Draco's
disappearance. Granger had to be with them, didn't she? But if she wasn't
Pansy wondered suddenly if Draco and Granger had blasted each other to smithereens and that was why no one could find them.
" Then what are you doing with her wand?" Harry Potter asked quietly, green eyes dangerous.
" We found it."
" Where?" Arthur Weasley asked, his voice calm but decidedly cold.
" It was buried under this trash pile here." Sky said.
" Sky!" Pansy hissed, " Shut up! Let me talk."
" Buried in the trash?" Ginny asked, her disbelief evident as she folded her arms across her chest, "And you four just decided to start digging through the
garbage and found it?"
" We were looking for" Sky started but Pansy interrupted him quickly.
" You should know all about dumpster-diving, Weasley." she taunted, "It's how your mum keeps you fed."
The faces of all three Weasley's reddened and Potter's eyes narrowed in fury.
" Answer the question." Ginny said coldly, with as much dignity as she could muster, "Why did you go digging through the trash?"
" And why are your wands out if you aren't hexing people?" Potter growled.
Leave it to Potter to ask a damning question.
" Our wands aren't out." Pansy replied firmly.
" That girl has her wand out." Ron Weasley yelled, "Don't sit there and tell us we aren't seeing what we're seeing."
" Oh?" Blaise looked startled, she glanced at Draco's wand in her hand," This isn't mine." She pulled out another wand, "This one is mine." And she tucked her
own wand away again.
" Then whose wand is that?" Ginny sneered, "Another Gryffindor you jumped?"
" What are you talking about?" Pansy yelled, outraged, "We haven't jumped anyone."
" Hermione Granger has been missing for several hours" Arthur Weasley started but Ron interrupted.
" And now we know why!" he shouted, "You jumped her and broke her wand. NOW WHERE IS SHE?"
" Ron, calm down." Arthur Weasley snapped, then turned back to the Slytherins, "If you can't tell us where Hermione is, I'm going to have to ask you four to
submit to a Ministry interrogation."
Millicent turned to Pansy in alarm.
This was getting worse by the second.
What would the Ministry make of this? Mudblood Granger was missing and they were standing in Knockturn alley with her broken wand that they had 'allegedly'
found after digging through a pile of trash. Millicent had several illegal items in her bag and Pansy herself had something she shouldn't that didn't actually
belong to her, but that wouldn't matter to the Ministry. Blaise had Draco Malfoy's wand in her hand. Oh and Draco Malfoy had just gone missing as well. Now
that looked innocent didn't it? The Ministry workers wouldn't think Draco was running from something would they? Or maybe they'd think Pansy and her friends
had blasted Draco and Hermione. Either way, Hermione Granger's disappearance was going to be blamed on a Slytherin.
Millicent went stiff suddenly, eyes going wide, "We've been set up." She said quietly, a small ironic smile curving her thin lips, "I'm just not sure by whom."
Pansy gaped at her, "What in the world are you talking about?" she hissed.
" Granger and Draco are missing. So unless they ran off together," she rolled her eyes, to show what she thought of that theory," one of them is responsible for
the disappearance of the other. Potter and the Weasleys are going to want Draco and the four of us to look guilty. Lucius is going to want Granger to look guilty
and maybe us too. Ten galleons says Lucius knew exactly what we'd find down here."
" I don't understand." Blaise's voice trembled.

" You're not making any sense!" Pansy hissed at Millicent.


" Hey!" Ron Weasley shouted.
He and Potter took another threatening step forward, brandishing their wands, obviously itching to cast some curses.
"Are you going to tell us where she is or are we going to call the Ministry?"
Pansy took a step back, eyes narrowing, "We need to get back to Lucius." She hissed.
" We're making a break for it?" Sky whispered with a dark grin, "Cool."
" We stun them and run. Got it? Blaise? Blaise!"
The black-haired girl was staring at Mr. Weasley, at Potter and Ron Weasley whose wands were trained on Pansy and Millicent. Staring at themor something
behind them.
" Expelliarmus!" Blaise hissed suddenly, pointing Draco's wand.
" Blaise NO!" Pansy gasped.
The blast struck the ground at Mr. Weasley's feet. leapt back, raising his wand and in half an instant Ron Weasley, Ginny and Harry Potter were hurling a volley
of spells at Blaise.
Blaise dodged the spells, ducking into the garbage filled niche, and started shrieking at the top of her lungs, " HELP! SOMEONE HELP! WE'RE BEING
ATTACKED!"
Pansy and the others leapt for cover and Blaise kept screaming.
" HELP! THEY'RE GOING TO KILL ME!" she shrieked in what sounded like utter panic and terror.
Sky laughed outrageously and joined in, "HELP! SOMEONE HELP! STOP IT! STOP IT! PLEASE DON'T HURT US!"
Arthur Weasley must have caught the thread of what they were doing because he was shouting at the Gryffindors to stop the spells.
" Impedimenta!" the spell, cast by someone with a deep voice, came out of nowhere.
Arthur Weasley shouted as the spell struck his son from behind, flinging him forward. Potter and the others whipped around in shock, raising their wands.
"Impedimenta!"
The spell struck Mr. Weasley, bowling him off his feet.
Coming towards them from the front of the alleyway, wands raised, were Lucius Malfoy and four high-ranking Ministry officials.
" What in the world is going on here?" one of them Ministry workers shouted, sounding horrified.
Blaise burst from her hiding place, sobbing hysterically. She ran past the stunned Gryffindors and threw herself into the arms of one of the Ministry workers.
Pansy had to raise an appreciative eyebrow at Lucius when she realized the man was Blaise's cousin, Jinn Wylie.
" Theythey.attacked us! It was awful!" she sobbed into the man's robes, "They were going to kill us!"
" Blaise!" the man hugged her tightly, "I doubt they were going to kill you." He said gently, "Everything's going to be okay."
" II was so scared!" she peeked out from his robes and gave the stunned Ron Weasley a wicked grin. The boy snarled viciously.
" Will someone explain what's going on here?" a large, balding Ministry worker demanded.
" What are you doing here, Lucius?" Arthur Weasley glared at the blond man, getting painfully to his feet as he recovered from the spell.
" I am looking for my son." Lucius said coldly, "He failed to meet me at the appointed time and I sent his friends," He gestured to the girls and Sky, " to collect
him. When they did not return either, I called some friends of my own to help me discover what had become of them. Apparently they did not return because
they were being viciously attacked by you, your children and Harry Potter." Lucius sneered at the dark-haired boy who was clenching his fists in hatred, "I can
only assume you are responsible for my son's disappearance as well. What are you and your brood doing down Knockturn alley to begin with? Did you lure my
son here? Is that why he was down here despite my specific instructions to remain away from this dreadful place?"
Arthur sputtered in outrage, "Don't give me that, Lucius! I know for a fact you come down here at least once a week!"
" Let's hear what the children have to say, shall we?" Lucius cut him off, "Miss Parkinson?"
Pansy stepped out from the niche, fat, prize-winning tears rolling steadily down her cheeks," You haven't found Draco?" she asked with a delicate waver in her
voice, "I'm so worried about him!"
" Come off it!" Ginny shouted, "She's faking it!"
Lucius sent a cold indignant look at the other girl then gave Pansy what would have passed for a kind smile on anyone else," Everything will be okay, dear child.
Just tell us what happened."
" Well.." she sniffled, " We were looking for Draco, like you said. A Location Charm said Draco was in Knockturn alley. We..we were scared to come down
here butit was a little exciting." She blushed and looked down at her feet as if ashamed.
" Its okay, Miss Parkinson. We all understand the lure the forbidden has on the youth." A young Ministry worker with long brown hair and a scar over his left eye,
said kindly.
" We walked up and down the alley but we couldn't find Draco even though the Location Charm said he was here. So we used a Calling Charm. We heard
Draco's wand humming. It was under this pile of trash here. We were trying to figure out why Draco's wand was here when they," she pointed a trembling finger
towards Arthur Weasley and the Gryffindors, "Came up and started yelling at us and trying to hex us. I don't know why."
The Ministry workers turned furious gazes on Mr. Weasley.
" That's not what happened!" Ginny cried.

" This is ridiculous, Lucius." Arthur's face was brilliant red.


" They tried to hex us first!" Ron shouted.
" They don't even have their wands out." Lucius snapped accusingly, "But the lot of you do. And we know what we saw."
" Yes, these children were hiding while you threw curses at them." The balding Ministry worker accused.
" Look!" Harry shouted angrily, "Check her wand!" he pointed at Blaise, "She cast a disarming spell at Mr. Weasley! They tried to hex us first!"
Jinn looked down, "Blaise?" he asked.
Blaise wiped her eyes, "Its not my wand, its Draco's, and I didn't try to hex them." She said softly.
" Hmph." A black-haired Ministry worker took the wand from her gently, " Prior incantum."
" See!" Harry snarled when the wand proved it had indeed cast that particular spell last.
" But there's no proof that Blaise cast it." Lucius said coolly, "In fact, I see this as evidence that you witnessed the last spell my son cast. A spell he cast in a
desperate attempt to fight off the four of you."
" Are you implying that we attacked your son?" Mr. Weasley asked in disbelief.
" You're crazy!" Ginny shrieked.
" You attacked my son the same as you attacked these children." Lucius bellowed at them, "Where is he? I know you've done something to him!"
" We haven't even seen Malfoy today!" Harry shouted back, " We were out looking for Hermione!"
" Hermione!" Ginny gasped, "Oh my gosh, that's it!" she turned to the Ministry workers, "Don't we get a say? Don't you want to hear why we're down here? I
think Draco Malfoy attacked Hermione Granger! I think he attacked her and ran off and that's why he's missing! That's why his wand is here and whole and
Hermione's is broken!"
" Don't bother, Ginny." Arthur spat, "Lets get some more Ministry officials down here. Some officials who aren't in Malfoy's pocket."
" I don't know." The black-haired official snarled, " I rather think we have enough evidence to arrest the lot of you right now. You can tell your story from
Azkaban."
Harry Potter's eyes narrowed, " You should be very careful deciding what you're going to do." he said softly, " You do know I'm followed everywhere I go, don't
you? That means someone has already been sent to get Dumbledore."
There was instant silence.
Arthur Weasley grinned at the look on Lucius' face, " Dumbledore has a lot more pull with the Ministry these days." he practically purred at the Ministry officials,
" You four might be seriously endangering your jobs messing with Harry like this."
The four exchanged glances.
" I think everyone should just remain calm until we get the some more Officials out here." Mr. Weasley said airily, "And the Aurors of course too. They'll
straighten everything out, I'm sure." His grin widened, "I think Moody will be happy to see you, Lucius."
The Ministry workers muttered darkly but dropped their eyes and lowered their wands. It looked like no one was going to be doing anything until the rest of the
Ministry arrived.
Pansy clapped her hands together, "Great, wonderful," she sneered, "Can the four of us leave now?"
The Gryffindors glared at her.
" I'm afraid not." Mr. Weasley said coldly, "I told you, you are going to have to submit to an interrogation."
Pansy glared furiously at him and then tossed her hair, making a disgusted sound.
" Whatever." she snapped, "That's perfectly fine since we don't know anything. Way to waste everyone's time, Wealsey."
She stalked brazenly past the Gryffindors, knocking into Potter hard enough to make him stumble and giving him a nasty smile, daring him to retaliate. She
went to stand next to Blaise and the Ministry workers. Millicent and Sky followed.
" This looks so familiar, doesn't it." Millicent whispered to her friends, irony heavy in her voice, "Who do you think the Ministry is going to believe? I'm telling you
right now, we are in so much trouble."
" I'm just glad Lucius decided to help us out." Blaise muttered.
" He put us here in the first place." Millicent snarled, "He's using us. And if he doesn't pull this off, we're all going down with him."
fin

NEXT TIME: Dumbledore, the Ministry, Narcissa, Pansy and Harry. Everyone comes to their own conclusion about what has happened to Draco and
Hermione. And what will happen to our poor Slytherins caught in the middle?

*Chapter 5*: Kill the Messenger Part 2


Disclaimer: Scurvy the Flying House-Elf belongs to me. But nothing else does. Deal with it, damn you.
Last Time:
She stalked brazenly past the Gryffindors, knocking into Potter hard enough to make him stumble and giving him a nasty smile, daring him to retaliate.
She went to stand next to Blaise and the Ministry workers. Millicent and Sky followed.
" This looks so familiar, doesn't it." Millicent whispered to her friends, irony heavy in her voice, "Who do you think the Ministry is going to believe? I'm
telling you right now, we are in so much trouble."
" I'm just glad Lucius decided to help us out." Blaise muttered.
" He put us here in the first place." Millicent snarled, "He's using us. And if he doesn't pull this off, we're all going down with him."
Chapter 5: Kill the Messenger Part 2
Diagon alley was dark and quiet.
The air was still warm, the afternoon heat having baked deep into the cobblestone streets, all of the shops were closed, with the exception of the Leaky
Cauldron, which was always open, and moonlight daubed the rooftops with silver highlights. Stragglers swept quietly along as they made their way home,
maybe hesitating, but only for a moment, to gawk at the huddle of official-looking wizards that stood murmuring gravely to each other at the entrance to
Knockturn alley. On the whole, the atmosphere was calm and relaxing.
Harry Potter was about to go screaming mad.
He stalked back and forth, radiating tension, barely leashed violence. His eyes flicked from the group of Ministry Officials that included Moody, Mr. Weasley
and Lucius, to the four Slytherin students sitting across the street from them and then to the moon, watching its slow progress across the sky. Watching their
time slowly tick away.
Ginny and Ron were standing with their backs against the wall behind him, Ginny hugging herself and glaring murderously around as if Hermione's abductor
was lurking about somewhere and Ron slumped over in defeat, having used up all his energy hours ago screaming at various people. One of the more daring
Ministry workers had actually cast a Silencing Charm on him at one point and nearly got tackled. Ginny had removed the spell instantly but Mr. Weasley had
warned them that if Ron didn't shut up, he'd replace it and make damn sure they couldn't take it off.
A few hours ago the place had been a madhouse. Ministry officials had blocked Knockturn alley off before they started their investigation, much to the chagrin
of business owners, and that had attracted a crowd.
Smelling a story, the Daily Prophet had blasted in like a tornado, snapping a billion pictures and questioning anyone who would stop to talk to them, which
never happened to be anyone official. There was no telling what kind of insane story they would print the next day. No one really knew what was going on.
He didn't even know what was going on.
He hated this.
He hated that no one was doing anything. They shouldn't be standing around talking! They should be out looking for Hermione. Hell, they should have found her
by now. The longer they waited, the worse their chances of finding her became.
He couldn't understand why they were taking so long and why they were making him wait while they did. It wasn't like he, Ron and Ginny were doing anything
productive. Why not let them go search?
He would have left a long time ago to search for her, with or without permission, but Moody had apparently predicted he would. The first thing Moody did when
he arrived on the scene was take Harry's wand and growl a warning to stay put. It had taken Harry a few minutes to realize why Moody had taken his wand and
then he was outraged. Every once in awhile Moody's magic eye rolled towards him, making sure he was still there.
He wanted to punch the bastard.
It was bitter irony that he got along better with the Barty-Crouch-Moody-Imposter who wanted to kill him than he did with the real Moody who wanted to keep him
alive.
Stupid fucking Ministry!
The least they could have done was include Harry, Ginny and Ron in their little discussion. Instead the three of them were kicked to the curb. It pissed him off.
They were legally of age and Harry had probably been through more dangerous situations then any of the men there, barring Moody of course. Hell, he'd faced
Voldemort on so many occasions it was ridiculous. But that apparently didn't account for anything with men who considered themselves more able than him
because they'd been pushing papers for the last ten years and had successfully made it through their mid-life crises.
His eyes flicked again to the Slytherins.
Three of them looked bored out of their deranged little minds but Pansy Parkinson was staring at him. She was watching him fiercely, with a gleeful little smile
curving her lips. As he watched, she looked up with exaggerated attention to the moon, then over to the ministry, then to her three Slytherin companions and
then sneered at him, laughing.
He looked back at her emptily, wondering idly at the deep, gut-tearing hatred that rolled through him like searing lava in the back of his skull. He didn't hate her
because she was making fun of him, or because she'd been a vicious, annoying bitch for the past seven years, he didn't even hate her because she was Draco
Malfoy's girlfriend. He hated her because she was sitting there happily obnoxious and completely carefree while his best friend was probably being murdered
somewhere and he was helpless to stop it.
He hated people like her, people who found humor in the pain of others, people who would sit silently, grinning their heads off while someone else was being
hurt.
She probably knew exactly what was happening to Hermione.
His fingers itched to take her by the throat and shake the information from her. He and Ron had actually discussed doing just that earlier, but they'd been
headed off again. Jinn Wylie was standing sternly over the Slytherins, protecting his dear cousin from the wrath of Harry Potter. Well, they might think they were
safe but he could wait. Harry would not forget their part in this. If anything happened to Hermione, he'd kill them.
He hadn't wanted to believe that anything was wrong when he and Ron couldn't find Hermione at the bookstore she'd been so excited about. She was
Hermione, after all. Hermione Granger didn't get into trouble. It was against the laws of nature. He figured she'd gone to another bookstore or found a good

book and holed herself up somewhere where she could read it comfortably. She'd probably simply forgotten the time. They'd waited around over an hour but
Hermione never came. Ron finally questioned the clerk at the counter, a man who knew all three of them, and was told that Hermione had never even been in
the store at all.
And that sent alarm bells ringing through both of them.
Ron was instantly panicked and started demanding they find her immediately, but Harry still tried to rationalize Hermione's absence. Maybe she'd been
sidetracked by some friends, or maybe she'd been there but just hadn't said hello to the clerk. This was Hermione they were talking about, geez! How many
ways was there to say it?
Ron wanted to call his father in but Harry calmed him down and suggested they just look for her. So they started searching the bookstores, asking after
Hermione, and Ron became more and more agitated. They'd quickly run out of bookstores and started searching other places Hermione might be. They ran
into Ginny in a clothing store and told her what was going on. Ginny had absolutely freaked, much to Harry's surprise and confusion, and that had thrown Ron
into an even worse panic.
The three of them had searched Diagon alley from top to bottom before Ginny remembered the Location charm. Ron performed the spell. His wand whipped
him around and his face had gone chalk-white as he got his answer.
" Knockturn alley." He'd choked out, " No way!"
Harry felt his stomach clench in shock and disbelief. There was no way Hermione was down there of her own volition. Something was terribly terribly wrong.
He and Ron didn't stop to think. They just turned and ran as fast as they could.
" NOO!" Ginny screamed after them, "Wait! It could be a trap!"
They hadn't listened to her; they couldn't even hear her through the rush of pounding adrenaline screaming through them. The boys had darted into the alley
without hesitation, yelling for Hermione. But the alley was empty. They were still searching twenty minutes later when Ginny came to find them. She'd gone to the
Floo Station and called for their dad. She screamed at them for being reckless and forced them to go back to the Floo Station with her to meet Mr. Weasley.
Harry had been in something like a numb haze. All he could think was that he never should have left Hermione alone.
When the three of them and Mr. Weasley had returned to Knockturn alley and found the Slytherins holding Hermione's broken wand, Harry had been frightened.
But when Lucius had arrived and he found out Draco was involved, it seemed like his worst nightmares were coming true. If the Malfoys were involved then
Hermione
Hermione, please be alive.
" Harry."
Harry looked over to see Ron straightening. Harry followed his friend's gaze to the Ministry workers. The group was breaking up. Mr. Weasley was coming
towards them, his face pale and haggard and angry.
" Well!" Harry demanded as Ginny and Ron came to stand beside him.
Mr. Weasley's lips thinned into a tight line, " The official verdict is that the two are missing. Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger have vanished."
" Uh, we know that!" Ron snapped, " Don't tell me they haven't gotten past that part yet. What are they going to do about it?"
Mr. Weasley ran a hand through his hair, " They'll make a statement to the press tomorrow, spread the word, start a full scale search"
" But what are they going to do now?" Harry demanded, cutting him off.
Arthur's face crumpled in defeat, " They're going to go home and go to bed."
" What do you mean their going home!" Harry shouted, "They haven't found out what happened to Hermione yet!"
" Harry." Arthur Weasley said gently, "There's nothing else anyone can do tonight."
" There's plenty they can do tonight! They can arrest Lucius. Or give him Veritaserum. Give Parkinson and her little friends Veritaserum! Have them spill their
guts. They're right there!"
" It doesn't work like that. You can't just go around giving people Veritaserum. There are laws and believe me when I say Lucius knows his rights. And in all
honesty, Harry, there's no real evidence that Lucius or those kids have done anything wrong."
" Nono evidence?" Ron gasped, outraged, "And what about Hermione? Are they saying there's no evidence that she's missing?"
Mr. Weasley closed his eyes, "Some of them are saying this could be a runaway case."
" WHAT?" Ron roared.
" Oh that makes perfect sense!" Ginny shouted, throwing her arms up, " What in the hell does she have to runaway from?"
" They aren't going to do anything?" Harry's mind just couldn't grasp it.
Mr. Weasley rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands, " If they arrested Lucius because Hermione was missing, they'd have to arrest us too for assault on
the Slytherin kids." He gave a bitter laugh, "In fact, there's more evidence against us then there is against Lucius."
" That's ridiculous!"
" Are you saying we're under suspicion?" Ginny gaped.
" Probably. We're accusing Lucius. He's accusing us. It's his word against ours. There are no witnesses, no evidence. We might have had some evidence
against Draco had we been able to check the last spell on his wand. But that Blaise girl erased his last spell when she threw that Disarming spell at me. It was
brilliantly done."
" No" Ron shook his head, "No, no, no!" he lurched around and kicked one of the wooden crates into the wall, "DAMN IT!"
" But we don't have time to waste! We have to find her now!" Harry shouted.
" We can't lose her. We can't" Ginny swallowed back tears of fury and frustration.

Mr. Weasley sighed heavily, "I'm sorry, but its time to head home."
" NO!" Harry and Ron shouted together.
" There's nothing more we can do tonight. We need to get home and get some sleep."
" Get some sleep?" Harry shouted, "While Hermione's out there alone and terrible things could be happening to her? Just leave her out there?"
Ron threw his head back and started laughing hysterically, "If Hermione were here." He laughed, "She'd tell us exactly what to do, exactly where to look."
" Draco Malfoy did something to her." Ginny snarled, "I say we get some friends and pay a visit to the Malfoy mansion."
Harry whirled on her, eyes narrowing, "I agree."
" The mansion has already been searched." Mr. Weasley broke in quickly, "So has the Burrow."
" Oh I bet mom loved that." Ron muttered.
" We need to go home. Tomorrow we'll start" he trailed off, head snapping up as someone approached them.
" So they searched yourburrow?" Lucius Malfoy's lip curled, "Not much work overturning a rock, not enough room to hide my son there either."
" What have you done with Hermione?" Ginny hissed.
" The Mudblood?" Lucius smiled, "I can't say I'm sure what happened to her. But then that's what makes this whole situation so exciting, the not knowing." He
lowered his voice, "Maybe my son killed her in one shotor maybe he let her linger."
Harry's breath hitched as something inside him shattered.
He lunged, blinded by rage, blinded by sudden acid tears, "You twisted son of a bitch!"
Mr. Weasley grabbed his arm but Harry lurched out of his grasp when Arthur tried to intercept the charging Ron and Ginny as well.
Lucius' whipped his wand out but Harry grabbed the blond man's wrist with one hand and slammed him against the alley wall with the other. Instantly, several
people were hauling Harry away from the man and Harry was struggling madly, trying to keep a grip on Lucius' throat.
" You bastard!" Harry screamed, " I'll kill you for this! I'll kill you!"
" Glad the Daily Prophet's not around to hear that, you idiot!" wheezed Moody somewhere behind him.
Harry growled and surged forward.
There was scuffling as the men tried to keep a hold of Harry then suddenly two hands were placed gently on his shoulder.
" Harry, I must ask you to remain calm."
" Dumbledore" Harry was surprised enough that the fight drained from him and he felt himself go limp, breathing hard. When had Dumbledore arrived?
" Violence on your part against Lucius will not help our case against him. I know this is hard on you but I need you to go home for the night and get some rest."
" But Dumbledore, I can't! I can't leave her! She's Hermione She's my family, she's Even" his breath shuddered, and his voice cracked on his next
words, "Even if she's gone, I can't leave her lying out there somewhere."
" Harry," Dumbledore said softly, leaning down to speak close to Harry's ear, " Hermione is not dead."
Harry stiffened." Hermioneis okay? She's alive? Do you know where she is?"
" Shhh. Shhh, Harry. Unfortunately, I do not know where she is." Dumbledore whispered slowly, "But I know she is alive. I always know when it comes to my
students."
" The Ministry isn't helping. They're not even taking it seriously!"
" But I am." He squeezed Harry's shoulders comfortingly, "Go home and rest Harry. You must trust me and you must remember that Miss Granger is an
extraordinary young woman. She is self-reliant, independent and stronger than any of us give her credit for. It is only a matter of time before we find her. I
promise."
Pansy smoothed her robes with determined resolve, took a deep breath and knocked on the expansive door to the luxurious Malfoy Mansion.
After finally getting away from the disaster in Diagon alley, She and Millicent had spent the night at Blaise's. The girls had talked late into the night and slept well
into early afternoon.
They found the Daily Prophet and a stack of letters waiting for them when they awoke. The story had made front page: Hogwarts Students Missing!
Under the headline were two photographs. One was a large family portrait of Draco, Lucius and Narcissa in expensive dress robes. The photo family looked
distressed by the title of the article but the portrait Draco seemed to be enjoying the attention anyway. He gave the girls a cocky smile that oozed charm.
Millicent snorted. Photo Draco stuck out his tongue.
The other was a photo, obviously taken at Hogwarts, of Hermione Granger wearing school robes, one arm around Harry Potter and her other arm around
someone, most certainly Weasley, who had been hacked out of the photo by the newspaper editors. The photo Granger and Potter were glaring at the Malfoy
family and trying to squeeze as far away from them as possible. Weasley's chopped arm was waving frantically and trying to keep a hold of Granger.
Disappointingly, the whole article was actually pretty vague, saying only that two Hogwarts students had disappeared from Diagon alley within hours of each
other and that anyone with information should contact the Ministry. Granger was listed as Hogwarts' Head Girl, top student and Harry Potter's long time
girlfriend. Draco was listed as a bright, cheerful Slytherin prefect and the son of the esteemed Lucius Malfoy. The article pretty much painted the two as angels,
it didn't mention that Draco and Granger were long time rivals who hated each other and would kill each other if given the opportunity.
The possibility that they were kidnapped was mentioned but to everyone's shock there was no actual finger pointing. The article then went on to describe in
great detail how devastated Harry Potter was at this latest blow to his already shattered life.
All three girls were furious that the Golden Boy was getting publicity out of Draco's disappearance.
The pile of letters had been from various Slytherins, all wanting to know what the hell was going on. Pansy wasn't too surprised when she found among the pile

a letter from Lucius addressed to her. The note was short and to the point saying only that he had information about Draco and that she was to meet him that
afternoon for tea.
The idea did not appeal to her. She didn't like Lucius, didn't trust him. And while she didn't actually believe he was any danger to her (he really didn't have any
reason to be), she certainly didn't want to chance it. But in the end, her desire for information about Draco won out. She didn't tell Blaise or Millicent where she
was going, Millicent would tell her not to go and Blaise would insist on accompanying her, but she did owl a note to Sky telling him what was going on.
Button would keep it quiet.
Now she could only wonder what Lucius had found out. If Draco had been found he would have said soor would he? Had Draco contacted him?
The huge, oak door swung open without so much as a creak and a scraggly House-Elf bowed, eyes downcast and led her into the house. Pansy had only been
in the mansion a few times. It was massive and extravagant, immaculate. Privately, she thought it was sort of silly to have such a big house for just three people.
Pansy's shoes clapped loudly on the hard floor, echoing. The House-Elf led her through a long conference room into a small private study. The room was cheery
in a detached, deliberate sort of way and large enough not to make her feel closed in. She noticed a teapot and two cups filled with tea sitting on the desk.
Lucius stood behind the desk, looking through some papers. He looked up when they approached.
The House-Elf bowed and squeaked, " Miss Parkinson, Master." Before beating a hasty retreat.
Lucius set the papers down and straightened to his full, and impressive, height, eyeing her with arrogant distaste.
Pansy, usually outspoken, felt the words stick in the back of her throat.
Okay, so she practically ran Slytherin House single-handedly and there wasn't a pack of first-years, a prefect or a professor anywhere who could outmaneuver
her and technically she had the biggest band of badasses in Hogwarts at her beck and callbut private meetings with the Dark Lord's second? This was biggirl time. And she was suddenly wondering if she wasn't in over her head.
The door slammed shut behind her.
" How good of you to come, Miss Parkinson. Have a seat." Lucius ordered.
Uncomfortable, and getting angry because of it, Pansy sat down in the chair in front of her, still at a loss for words.
Lucius sat down in his chair and set one of the cups of tea in front of her.
" Have something to drink." He said curtly.
Pansy looked down at the tea then back up at him with her eyebrows raised.
You've got to be kidding me.
" I'm not thirsty, thank you anyway." She said with exaggerated politeness.
Lucius smiled, sweetly patronizing, " I'm not trying to hide what I'm doing, you little bitch. We both know what's in that cup. I just thought it would be nice of me to
give you something to mask the taste instead of making you drink the foul stuff straight." His voice was low and vicious, "You will drink it, or I will make you drink
it."
Pansy went rigid, "You do anything to me and"
and that sounded whiny even to her.
Lucius pulled his wand from his robes slowly, with liquid grace and trained it on her, "You're making this much harder than it has to be. This is about Draco, not
you. Drink it now."
Pansy gritted her teeth, natural stubbornness battling with very real fear.
" If I have to use the Imperious curse to make you drink it, precious one, I will most definitely make you regret it." He said softly and raised his wand.
Pansy snatched the cup and took a big gulp. Just drinking the damn Veritaserum was a much more attractive option then being placed under the Imperious by
Lucius.
Lucius smiled, lowering his wand, "There now. That was easy."
Pansy snarled at him, slamming the cup down, " I hate you."
The blond man let out a bark of a laugh, " Now, now, darling child, I am not so bad."
He stood and strolled to a nearby shelf, gathering some papers off of it, and flopped them down in front of her, "You've read the Prophet this morning?"
" Yeah."
" Not exactly helpful, is it?"
" Never is."
" Say 'yes', darling child, and 'it never is'. Complete your sentences. Someone might think you were common-bred gutter trash." He grinned viciously at his own
joke.
" What the hell do you want!" Pansy shouted, " I came here for news on Draco. Not so you could insult me."
Lucius looked down at her for a long moment, "Do you know where my son is?"
Pansy's jaw dropped. She was stunned for nearly a minute.
" Youhonestlydid not bring me here to ask me thatdid you? You can't possibly think I kidnapped Draco."
Lucius chuckled, "Don't be simple. It's just that I wouldn't put it past my son to come up with his own grand scheme and not tell me about it."
Pansy shook her head in disbelief, " You give Draco too much credit." She told him bitterly, "He doesn't think anything but what you tell him to think."
" Answer the question."

" NO! I do not know where Draco is! Nor am I privy to any sort of plan or scheme."
" Good." Lucius turned away from her, and there was another moment of silence, " I've been to speak to My Lord. I thought perhaps he gave Draco an
assignment and did not see fit to inform me. ButMy Lord was incredibly angry to hear that Draco was gone. He hasbig plans for Draco, you see. My son is
important to him."
" Soyou actually suspected meand the Dark Lord?" Pansy asked slowly, confused, "I thought you thought the Gryffindors did it."
" They did and I do. But I had to be sure. Suspect everyone, my dear. I would have been a fool not to think Draco might arrange his own disappearance."
" You know what happened? You're sure the Gryffindors did it?" she leaned forward eagerly.
Instead of answering Lucius turned around to give her a searching look, "Where do your loyalties lie, my dear? What about your parents? Who do they follow?"
Pansy balked. This was exactly what she'd been afraid of. This was dangerous ground, deadly ground. Because the truth, either way, was binding, damning.
She clenched her fists.
She could hate Lucius all she wanted but there was no help for it. She had to answer and she would just have to live with the consequences of the truth and be
damn grateful it wasn't worse, " My parents think you and the Dark Lord are the greatest thing since Quidditch. MeII don't know."
" Are you loyal to Dumbledore?"
" The Slytherin hater? Are you nuts? Of course not."
" Then who? Who do you follow?"
The truth? The honest truth?
She closed her eyes in defeat and let the words fall from her lips. " I follow Draco."
Lucius' expression didn't change. He pondered this for a moment and then nodded, "Do you love my son?"
Pansy's face flamed. Bastard! How dare he ask that! But her answer was already being wrenched from her. There was no hesitation.
" Yes!"
Lucius regarded her as if she were a very interesting insect and Pansy knew he was going to use that bit of information to it's fullest.
" Fine." He said at last, and sat back in his chair, "Then to the point, I will be using you as a contact inside Hogwarts. Our Master is concerned that Dumbledore
and Potter might attack the children of his other supporters. It is imperative that these children be protected and that the Gryffindors be watched closely."
" Wait! Wait just a minute! You never told me how you know that Potter is behind this! And you're talking like this is long term. We're going to find Draco soon,
aren't we?"
Lucius' face tightened, "I fear to know what has become of my son. I know that Dumbledore is behind this. If Potter is not involved, he soon will be. Last night, I
overheard Dumbledore telling Potter that the Mudblood was safe. The old man knows exactly what is going on. But I do not know what he wants, if he will frame
my son or simply kill him."
" And you don't think we'll find Draco in time"
" It may take time. I have all available resources searching for him but in case we don't find him within the next few days, I want resources set up within
Hogwarts. My sources say that even without Draco, you will control Slytherin this year. I need you to do what you can to protect the students and gather
information. If Draco is not found then the boys will probably choose a new leader, even if he's temporary. I know the boys usually choose their own leader but I
also know that none of them will stand against you if you overturn their decision. I will be sending you a list of acceptable boys, and I expect you to choose from
one among them."
" Alright. I'll agree to thison one condition." She pushed her tea cup towards Lucius, challenge gleaming in her eyes," Its my turn. Drink up."
Lucius seemed momentarily shocked by her audacity but he was ultimately impressed. This was Slytherin politics at its best. It was part of the game that
Slytherins loved to play: the grandstanding, double talk and manipulation.
Lucius smirked coldly and raised the cup. He was taking a chance, but then there was always a risk involved in Slytherin politics and the bigger the risk and the
more elaborate the dance, the better the player. And Lucius was a master. If she were honest with herself, she'd admit, Veritaserum or no, he was still in control
of the situation and he proved it with his next words.
" I don't think I need to remind you to be very careful what you ask. The wrong questions will havedevastating consequences."
And he took a drink.
" Do you know where Draco is?" Pansy asked after he swallowed.
" No." Lucius answered, still smirking.
" Do you know what happened to Draco?"
" No."
" Do you know where Granger is or what happened to her, who took her or why her wand is broken?"
" No. Very good, you're choosing your words wisely."
Pansy's eyes narrowed, "Did you know we'd find Draco's wand and Granger's broken wand abandoned in the alley?"
Lucius sneered, "Yes."
" Did you know the Gryffindors would find us and blame us?"
" No."
Pansy blinked, surprised by that, "Fine." She nodded, not being able to think of anymore questions she wanted to ask, "I'll work with you to find Draco. I'll start
sending out letters and have a couple meetings before school starts. Don't worry," she said when Lucius opened his mouth, "I won't say anything in the letters to
indicate what we're doing."

" Then we have an understanding. Very good. Perhaps you are not as dull and useless as I believed." He sneered.
" Does Draco know you've been taking stuff from his private potions cabinet?" Pansy retaliated sharply.
" No." the Veritaserum forced the surprised Lucius to answer and then he seethed, angry at having been caught off guard.
Pansy smirked.
The blond man growled. "You've wasted enough of my time. Come, I'll see you out."
Pansy bounced to her feet, all too ready to get the hell out of there. The door opened for her automatically and Lucius followed her out.
Narcissa Malfoy stood up from her seat on the sofa against the wall, her expression strained and angry. Pansy stopped in surprise as the woman hurried over
to her and took her hands.
" Are you okay, Pansy?" she asked anxiously, casting an angry glance at Lucius who looked away and sidestepped them.
" I'm fine, Mrs. Malfoy, thank you." Pansy said in surprise.
" Are you sure? I practically had to strangle the House-Elf to find out what Lucius was up to and"
" This is not the time or the place for your woman's prattle." Lucius cut Narcissa off sharply.
Pansy and Narcissa glanced at him to see him almost to the door, glaring coldly at them. A dark-haired woman Pansy didn't recognize, but whom she assumed
was one of the Malfoy's houseguests that Draco had told her about, stood half in the doorway, eyeing them speculatively.
To everyone's shock Narcissa did not gracefully fall silent.
" Its bad enough our son is missing," Narcissa barked back, " I don't like that you're involving other children."
" Narcissa!" Lucius looked stunned.
But the blond woman exploded, apparently having suffered too much in silence the past twelve hours, " You never answered my question about your Dark Lord
either!" she shouted, " Is he or is he not behind this? Damn you, Lucius, you will answer me! Are you gathering more children? Is Pansy to disappear next!" she
shrieked.
" Mrs. Malfoy." Pansy whispered. She had no special love for Narcissa. They weren't friends or anything. But Pansy couldn't help being afraid for her now.
" Shut up, Narcissa!" Lucius hissed.
The woman in the doorway was grinning excitedly and weaving back and forth.
" NO!" Narcissa roared, "I have let you raise Draco as you see fit! I have said nothing and asked nothing about your coming and going at all hours and doing
thatthat creature's bidding!"
" You go to far!" Lucius stormed towards her but she darted around the side of the conference table.
" But I would be a fool to not know what goes on!" she continued, " And this! This is brilliant! Our son, a pure blood Adonis, is viciously attacked and killed by a
Mudblood on Dumbledore's orders! What better way to get the pure blood families who haven't chosen sides to follow the Dark Lord? I can hear it now 'follow
the Dark Lord to save your children!'. You and I both know that Dumbledore would never kill a child! But that monster you serve," her face twisted in disgust, "
that thingthat"
Lucius lunged around the table and backhanded her with incredible force, sending her crashing to the floor and effectively cutting off her tirade.
Pansy's hands flew to her mouth. The woman in the doorway squeaked and ducked her head.
" You.." Lucius stood over Narcissa, trembling in rage, "Bitch" he hissed, breathing deep to get control of himself, "You stupid bitch. You will shut your fucking
mouth or I will shut it for you. This is your last warning."
The blond man whirled and stormed away. Pansy's eyes trailed him out of the room and then she darted around the table to the woman on the floor.
Narcissa was sitting up weakly, face dazed. She daubed lightly at her mouth and came away with blood.
" Narcissa! Narcissa!" Pansy whispered urgently, "Are you okay?"
The woman who had been in the doorway was suddenly kneeling beside them.
" Narcissa! You poor woman!" the stranger cooed, putting an arm around Narcissa to support her," Such a man to hit his own wife!"
" She's right!" Pansy snarled, "You don't need to put up with that."
" Come, let me heal that awful wound." The stranger-woman drew her wand.
Narcissa blinked at the two of them as if just realizing they were there and then smiled tremulously and shook her head gently, " Oh no, Pansy dear, Margaret,
I'm afraid Lucius was in the right and I will keep the injury to remind myself."
Pansy's jaw dropped, "Say what?" she squeaked.
" I was quite hysterical. I never should have spoken like that about our Master. It was terrible of me." She touched her swelling mouth again, "It's just that a
mother's instincts go wild when her child is missing."
The stranger woman looked unconvinced, "I wouldn't know." She said lowering her wand slowly.
Narcissa smiled at her, "Well, my worry for Draco has made me half crazy. I would never insult our Master normally. I am such a wretch. Lucius was right to take
me to task. I shall have to apologize to him tonight." She patted Pansy's hands, "Do not be angry, you will understand when you are finally initiated."
" Oh!" the stranger-woman's eyes snapped to Pansy excitedly, "Will she be joining us?"
" Of course. Now Margaret, would you be kind and help me to my room? Pansy, dear, can you find your own way out?"
Pansy rose to her feet slowly," Yes, thank youII'm sorry."
" Hush, child. It was nice seeing you again."

Pansy hesitated and then gave a sort of half wave and left the women. She found her way back to the front door and was surprised to see Lucius brooding in
the shadows near the main staircase. She stared at him for a moment and then let herself out, but paused halfway out the door.
" You'd better hope that mark on her face fades before they find Draco." she warned him coldly, "Your son will kill you if he sees it."
She heard his answer just before the door clicked shut behind her.
" I know."
fin

Next Time: Its back to the forest to check up on our little Junior Cub-Scouts. How are Draco and Hermione coping? Is Draco even still alive? Has Hermione
finished the entire year's worth of homework yet?

*Chapter 6*: Just A Little Smile


Disclaimer: If I owned Harry Potter your children would need serious psychiatric help about now.
Last Time:
Pansy rose to her feet slowly," Yes, thank youII'm sorry."
" Hush, child. It was nice seeing you again."
Pansy hesitated and then gave a sort of half wave and left the women. She found her way back to the front door and was surprised to see Lucius brooding in
the shadows near the main staircase. She stared at him for a moment and then let herself out, but paused halfway out the door.
" You'd better hope that mark on her face fades before they find Draco." she warned him coldly, "Your son will kill you if he sees it."
She heard his answer just before the door clicked shut behind her.
" I know."
Chapter 6: Just A Little Smile
Most large predators are nocturnal.
Who had told him that?
It didn't matter. He was pretty sure they were right. Sure enough that he dared not sleep after the sun sank behind the trees. Sure enough that he kept on the
move after dusk and made damn sure he couldn't be cornered. Sure enough that he was almost painfully relieved when the pitch black, star-washed sky began
to lighten to milky blue.
It was dawn once more.
The pale-haired boy hiked himself over a huge fallen tree probably five feet in diameter and slid down the other side, scratching his palms on the rough bark.
He was filthy, sore and sweat-soaked and he moved with a jerky sort of tension. His eyes never stopped moving, sweeping his surroundings constantly as the
forest around him turned pale and misty in the predawn light.
He recognized where he was now and some tightness in his stomach loosened. The familiarity was comforting. He jogged up a ridge, and came to an abrupt
slope. Setting his feet, he slid easily down the muddy embankment and landed lightly in the small gully below. The ground here was pebbled and sandy and a
creek trickled through, carving a path in the earth.
He dropped his bag to the sandy ground, along with a pile of sticks and forest roughage, a pitifully small chunk of firestone and a freshly dead forest rabbit.
Casting one more searching look around his little resting spot, he flopped gracelessly to the ground with an exhausted groan.
It was safe to stop now, even though the sun wouldn't top the mountain for another hour or so. All the really big, nasty things were heading off to bed. Or most of
them anyway, there was no accounting for the schedule some of those big bastards kept.
Sleep seemed like an incredibly good idea at the moment. He was beyond exhausted and he'd found the perfect place to take a well-deserved nap just over
the gully wall. But it wasn't to be. Not if he wanted to get to his destination before dark. He wasn't exactly certain how much further he had to go, but he had a
good rough estimate. He could probably make it before noon, before the sun reached its pinnacle in the sky.
Why weren't humans nocturnal? Weren't they supposed to be the ultimate predators? It was stupid, and at the moment he wanted to take it as a personal insult.
If you weren't predator than you were prey.
Draco Malfoy was nobody's prey.
The boy arranged his sticks into a teepee-like pile, with the littlest sticks on the inside as kindling. This was another thing he'd had to learn. He'd had to cast
through his memories of camping with Ryan and the others to remember exactly what he'd been told about building a fire. He hadn't really been listening at the
time.
Yeah, fire, sticks, ventilation, kindling, whatever, I'll just use my wand, thank you
His first attempt at building a fire had been abysmal and he'd wasted his only piece of firestone only to get a pile of smoldering leaves that quickly cooled to
useless ash. He'd gotten better though.
It was frustrating to remember bits and pieces of useful information, or information that would be useful if he could just remember the rest of it. He'd spent most
of the time since he left the clearing cussing himself for not paying more attention in Herbology or, damn it hurt to admit it, Care of Magical Creatures. That
dumbass Hagrid's knowledge of really dangerous animals was exactly the kind of thing Draco would kill for at the moment.
The boy finished carefully arranging his sticks, knowing he only had enough firestone for one try, and was enormously pleased with himself when he managed
to get a small, steady blaze going. He wrapped his arms around his knees and stared blearily into hypnotic flames.
Three days.
It had been three days since he left the clearing. Three days since he'd gotten to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. Three days since he'd eaten
anything but sour crabapples, the only fruit he could recognize in this stupid place. He had a crabapple tree in his backyard and the hard little fruits were perfect
micro-missiles for throwing at people, windows and animals. He'd seen a few other trees and bushes with tempting-looking fruit but he wasn't anywhere near
dumb enough to eat from a plant that he didn't recognize. In a magic forest, that was worse than suicide. Poisoning would be the least of his worries.
He'd been traveling nonstop since he left the clearing. Searching for some sign of civilization. It hadn't been easy. There had been few things to eat and only a
few places to get water. He'd had to be constantly on the alert for anything suspicious and it was made worse since he didn't know exactly what he was looking
for. He didn't know the dangers to be able to recognize them when he saw them. It made traveling in one direction hard. He'd skirted everything that he didn't
like: a patch of large bushes with waxy red leaves, a clearing with funny gray dirt, a whole section of forest with trees that had long vines hanging down, swaying
in the wind.
At first, he'd planned to travel a day in each direction to see what he could find. But yesterday he'd gone East and found the mountain summit. He'd gone up as
far as he could go, until he could survey the land in all directions. And what he'd seen hadn't been comforting.
They really were in the middle of fucking nowhere.
He could see no indications of human civilization. No roads, no cities, no tents or hikers. Nothing. It had really pissed him off. He'd stayed up there for hours,
squinting, thinking maybe there were things he couldn't see or was overlooking. Was that movement over that way? Was that a flash of light? Sunlight off of

metal?
Nothing.
Son of a bitch.
So that was it. There was no point in searching anymore. Plan A wasn't working. It was time for Plan B.
He didn't like Plan B. Plan B sucked ass. But there was no help for it. And he was so tiredso incredibly tired that he didn't even have the energy to be mad
about it. He gave into it with a sort of dull resignation.
There were no people nearby, no one was coming to rescue him. That meant it was up to him to get his own self out. That meant trekking through the forest for
who knows how long.
But hell, he wasn't stupid, he knew the score. He was surviving, but just barely. It was killing him. He was so hungry, hungrier than he'd ever been in his life, and
so tired that he knew that sooner or later he was just going to drop. Besides thathe didn't even know which way to go.
He'd be a fool to simply pick a direction and start walking. That could end up with him walking further into the wilderness or walking straight into a canyon and
having to double back. He doubted his luck was going to hold out long enough for him to make mistakes like that.
If he wanted to survive he needed all the resources he could get.
meaning, he needed Granger.
The silly girl probably had the survival skills of a retarded lemming but if there was a way to find out which direction to go, she probably knew it.
The more he thought about it, the better the plan sounded.
She'd tell him which way to go. Maybe she'd even know where to find stuff to eat! And she was the perfect chew-toy for any monsters that decided to head his
way. He could escape while Grangerer, 'distracted' them.
The thought made him chuckle.
So he left the summit and had been heading back to the clearing ever since. He was almost there now and hoping that Granger had managed to keep herself
out of trouble while he was away. He wasn't really that worried. He was perfectly aware that she hadn't been eaten or rescuedwell, as of the day before
anyway.
He'd headed North that first night, using the stars as his guide (thank you Astronomy class) then doubled back and headed South. So he'd passed the clearing
in the early afternoon of the second day and had stopped by to see if she was still around. He'd seen her doing homework of all things.
The silly bint!
Did she think they had a test on Friday or something? He'd been hard-pressed not to jump out and scare her or something just because he was a bastard, just
because he wanted to punish her for being calm and composed, (pissed off, screaming, crying Granger was an exciting Granger) but he didn't want her to
know he was around just yet.
If she'd been fine the day before, he was fairly certain she'd still be there today.
So he had a plan. That made him feel better. If there was a plan then things were under control.
There was just one more thing
Draco looked down at the dead rabbit and stroked its soft fur idly.
Meat. The only thing he could readily identify. He'd been desperate enough this morning to kill the rabbit, but if he wanted the meat, he'd have to skin and clean
the rabbit and to do that.
He looked down at the knife sheath at his waist. He hadn't dared touch the dagger. It hung at his waist, probably the most useful thing he had in his current
situation, and he didn't have the balls to defy his father.
Lucius would kill him. He'd spent thousands of galleons and waited nearly two years for this knife. He'd been really excited about finally obtaining it too. Most
people couldn't tell when Lucius was excited, but Draco knew him well enough to realize his father was practically quivering with anticipation. If Draco ruined the
daggerhe couldn't imagine what his father would do to him. But if he didn't get something to eat, he was a dead man anyway. Which would be worse: starving
to death or whatever cruel torture his father would devise?
The boy gulped and made up his mind.
Eat now, die later.
For a moment he still hesitated. In a way, drawing the dagger was admitting that this little problem didn't have an easy solution. It was admitting that he might be
out in the woods for more than a day or two more. It was acknowledging that this really was a kill-or-be-killed situation.
He glared at the knife in frustration.
His fingers skimmed across the leather for a moment, daring himself. He flicked the latch on the sheath and lifted the leather cover away. The plain handle
looked innocuous, innocentor as innocent as a knife could look.
What had Borgins called it? A Base? What kinds of things did a Base do? Would it even work like a regular knife?
He closed his eyes and took the plunge, grabbing the handle quickly before he lost his nerve and yanking the blade out into the cool morning air. He flinched in
that first instant, holding the plain silver knife up in front of his face.
Nothing happened.
He opened his eyes to stare at it in confusion. He wasn't sure what he had expected. A flash of light? Or tingling through his arm maybe? But the dagger felt
ordinaryin his hand.
The boy frowned, instantly and irrationally annoyed.
" Hmph."
Maybe Borgins had ripped them off. High failure rate indeed!

Being male and now possessing a very sharp knife, Draco proceeded to start hacking up everything within arm's reach, gratifying his natural urge for
destruction and amusing himself to no end. When he'd satisfied himself that he did indeed have a pointy knife with which to cut things into little pieces, he
turned his attention to the rabbit and, after a few moments of contemplation, trying to figure out the best angle of attack, carefully began to skin it.
As he worked, he silently thanked Ryan's father for the lessons, though, at the time, those lessons had made him rather ill. That the great Draco Malfoy lowered
himself to be thankful for anything was a testament of just how hungry he was. His hands were shaking and his mouth was watering at the prospect of real food.
Gutting was the worst part. It was downright nasty, and by the time he was finished his hands were cold and wet with blood and bits of entrails. He remembered
that he had to be careful not to pierce the stomach or the intestines.
The rabbit's glassy eyes stared at him and he looked away, swallowing hard, before taking a deep breath and getting back to work. He circled the neck and
legs with the knife and slit down to the main cut on the stomach, then peeled the skin off. The rabbit fur was pretty cool. He wished he could do something with
the pelt, but he didn't know enough to be able to tan the hide, and walking around with a bloody skin wasn't a pleasant thought. He almost decided to bury the
entrails and the pelt but then he figured if he just left them there the other animals would take care of it.
He spit the rabbit on a stick he'd found and then shoved the end of the stick into the sand to keep it upright so he could stop for a moment and wash his bloody,
tacky hands in the creek. He washed the knife off too, rinsing the soiled handle and running his fingers over the blade, mindful of the sharp edge. The creek
water was intensely cold, numbing his hands. That was the only reason he noticed the warmth of the blade. He stilled, holding his hands under the water.
The dagger was warm. Even under the icy rush of water, it was warm.
Draco pulled the knife from the stream to stare at it. He turned it slowly around in his hands, watching beads of water skim down the glittering blade like tears. If
the knife was doing anything magical, he couldn't tell just by looking at it. It looked perfectly normal.
" Stupid thing." He muttered, in what should have been a snarl.
It was only then that he realized he was grinning. He was grinning at the knife, a wickedly pleased baring of teeth. He was grinning a grin that wasn't his own.
" SHIT!" he threw the knife away from him, falling back hard on his butt and breathing hard.
What the hell?
He'd been grinning like a maniac and he hadn't even realized he was doing it.
The knife lay innocently against the dirt. Draco growled and watched it suspiciously.
When nothing further happened, he worked up his courage and darted forward to snatch it up and stuff it in his sheath. He touched his face afterwards to make
sure he wasn't grinning again. But no, his skin was clammy and his mouth was pulled down in a scowl.
That had been decidedly creepy.
What in the world had happened? Why would the knife make him smile? He'd have to be careful with it from now on. If it could make him smile, could it make
him do other things?
He shook his head, too tried to give it much thought and pulled the end of the spit from the ground before flopping down next to the fire to roast his bunny.
An hour later he was sprawled on his back, staring dreamily up at the sky. His stomach felt so much better. Not quite full, mind you, but a whole lot better
nonetheless. He'd never tasted anything so good as that unevenly cooked and gamy rabbit. It was a lot freaking better than sour crabapples.
A creeping sunbeam slid over his face and he scrunched his nose, cracking an eye to glare at the sky. The sun had topped the mountains, it was time to go.
From here it was easy to get to the clearing. All he had to do was follow the stream. That wasn't to say it was a straight run. The creek twisted and turned and
there were places he had to climb over or under fallen trees and places he had to go up if he wanted to avoid sloshing straight through the water. Getting wet
was not something he wanted to do at the moment. Traveling in wet clothes tended to get uncomfortable, his underwear always started to chafe.
He was achingly close to his destination when he jogged around a bend in the gully wall and jerked to a halt, choking back a squeak of surprise. He froze, face
to face with a strange animal.
It was the size of a sheep, with a long shaggy coat of purple fur, two tiny bat wings on its shoulders, long legs that looked too skinny to hold it up, cloven hooves,
and a long head with a narrow muzzle. Draco didn't dare breathe. He had no idea what the hell it was.
Long, floppy ears flipped up and shiny black marble eyes stared at him. He stared back.
Wait! Didn't someone tell him that you're not supposed to look wild animals in the eye?
He dropped his gaze, wondering if the thing would follow him if he made a break for it.
" Bleeeeaaaaaa!" the thing whined, displaying an impossibly long pointy tongue and waggling it in the air before turning and prancing away.
Draco followed it with his eyes to see the thing bounce further down the gully to where a whole herd of the sheep-things stood around blocking his path like
cows on a road. He watched the creatures, still afraid to move, and saw that some were drinking from the stream while others were using their hooves to peel
bark off of trees and nibble at it.
He could go around them, he supposed, but the gully walls here were sheer. If he wanted to go around the herd, he'd have to double back.
He glared at the beasts impatiently.
Well, the things weren't meat-eaters and they didn't seem that dangerous. Draco walked cautiously towards the herd, ready to bolt any second, but the stupidlooking things didn't pay him any attention. He got close to one and froze. It continued nibbling, ears flipping around to keep the flies off. It didn't seem to care
that he was nearby. He walked past it and it didn't even look up.
Growing bolder, Draco began to wade through the herd and the sheep-things ignored him or stepped out of his way. He reached out and touched one as he
passed and it shook his hand off irritably, fluttering its wings, but otherwise didn't look up.
Heh. Stupid things.
He wondered suddenly, deviously, if they were good to eat. The idea was tempting but he quickly dismissed it. It wasn't a good idea to eat strange magic
animals anymore than it was to eat strange magic plants. You could end up eating a transformed person or something. He'd read a case a year ago about an
animagus, a pig, who'd gotten himself served up as bacon. Nasty.
He'd just gotten to the edge of the herd when a smallish sheep-thing bumped into him and stepped on his foot. He swore and shoved it.

" Get off!" he yelled.


The creature stumbled back, ears erect.
" BLLLEEEEEEAAAAAA!" it squealed.
Every single beast snapped its head up and suddenly the entire herd was looking at Draco.
Oh crap
" BLLLEEEEEAAAAAAA!" the little one squealed again, waggling its tongue at Draco and flapping its wings.
As one the herd charged.
" HOLY SHIT!"
Draco bolted.
The gully thundered with the sound of pounding hooves chasing him. They were fast, he wasn't going to be able to outrun them. He lurched over a fallen tree,
busting his shin hard enough that he yelled. He limped for about three paces and then forced himself into a dead run again. Behind him, he heard the sound of
the tree snapping, being shredded under the razor-sharp hooves of the animals.
He wouldn't survive if they caught him.
Desperately he flung himself at the gully wall, seeing a place where it wasn't as steep as before and tried to scramble up. He nearly slipped twice, crumbling dirt
falling into his eyes and coating his robes, but managed to find handholds and clambered to the top and over the ridge. Amazing what you can do when fueled
by sheer panic. Panting, he turned around to look down.
The herd stopped at the wall. They milled around uncertainly, staring up at him.
" Eat that you sons of bitches!" he yelled breathlessly.
" BLLLEEEEEEAAAAAAA!"
The beast closest to the edge reared up and braced its front legs on the walland started flapping its wings.
No way
It dug its hooves into the soft dirt and flapped harder. Draco's jaw dropped as the sheep-thing began to climb up the side of the gully, using its wings to help
support it. The others followed suit.
He scrambled back away from the ledge as the first beast topped the ridge.
Draco ran.
" BLLLLEEEEAAAA!" he heard the cry behind him and knew they were coming.
He was in trouble. The damn things could fly and he couldn't outrun them. What the hell was he supposed to do?
He glanced back and saw that most of the herd had topped the ridge. The others were pounding after him.
Then it came to him.
Granger!
Wasn't this exactly the kind of situation he'd decided he wanted her around for? If he could just get to the clearing and run past her or something maybe the
sheep-bastards would attack her and forget about him.
Draco, you're a genius
He forced himself to run faster, putting everything he had into it. He burst through the brush into familiar territory and grinned wickedly.
" GRANGER!" he bellowed, "GRAAAANGER!"
" GRAAAANGER!"
Hermione looked up from her books with a frown.
Perfect, now I'm hallucinating.
But it was a sarcastic thought, half arrogance and half grim pleasure.
I knew he'd be back.
She hadn't of course. She'd half figured he was dead by now.
The last couple of days had been awful. She'd been lonely and frightened and torn with indecision.
Why hadn't anyone come? Surely she should have been rescued by now? Or had Malfoy been right? No, that wasn't possible!
She'd barely slept that first night, uncomfortable on hard, rocky soil. She was exhausted when the sun rose. And when she saw that Malfoy hadn't returned
during the night as she half expected him to, she'd been in a panic.
He probably hadn't survived to see the morning, the fool. But what if he wasn't dead? What if he was hurt or something? Shouldn't she go look for him?
Impossible! She had no idea where to look.
She stood in the silent, empty clearing and didn't want to be alone. She desperately didn't want to be alone.
Finally she had no choice but to shove Malfoy to the back of her mind, to shove everything to the back of her mind. She couldn't think about it or she'd go crazy.
'Keep busy' was her new mantra. She'd been okay for a while after that. She'd spent her time exploring and gathering anything and everything that might be
useful. She'd made lists of the uses of everything she found and circled the ones that might be helpful. Most of her time was actually spent scrounging for food
and telling herself cheerfully that when Ron and Harry came they'd be able to have a picnic or something before they left for home. And when there was nothing

else to do, she sat down and did homework.


There were N.E. this year after all. She needed to be prepared.
She kept waiting. Ron and Harry would arrive any moment. But they never did.
When the sun rose for the third time and she woke to the stillness of the forest, she had a complete and total breakdown. She finally confronted the full
seriousness of her situation. and sobbed into her arms, wishing violently that she were home in bed, or safe in Ginny's room at the Burrow. But tears weren't
productive and it wasn't her nature to sit around and do nothing. She pulled herself together with stern determination and began making formal "escape" plans.
She was going to tackle this forest and it wouldn't know what hit it!
Now, hearing Malfoy's voice, even his voice cracking with panic, was like a warm wind of hope.
Hermione dropped her books and climbed to her feet, sparing a thoughtful glance at the pile of supplies that she had organized neatly next to the smoldering
campfire. Malfoy sounded like he was in trouble and she didn't want him tearing through here if he was. She scowled, hands on her hips.
" GRAAANGER!"
Alright, alright!
She trotted into the woods, running through several possible plans of action depending on what exactly he'd gotten himself into.
" I'M RIGHT HERE!" she shouted, " OVER BY THE CLEARING!"
There were several moments of stillness and then he came tearing into view like the proverbial bat out of hell, a sea of purple rising up behind him like some
kind of woolly flood.
A herd of Shutoeis?
She could only blink at him in astonishment.
" RUN YOU CRAZY BITCH!" Malfoy screamed at her.
That broke her paralysis and she whirled.
" Follow me!" she yelled and darted off into the woods.
This was an easy one, she knew exactly how to take care of angry Shutoeis.
Malfoy was a fast runner. He caught up with her easily, breath coming in short even pants, his eyes wild and his face strained. He stayed level with her though it
was clear that he could easily outdistance her if he decided to.
Note to self: never challenge Malfoy to a race.
" Over this way!"
She veered past the clearing and over to the right where there was a huge fallen log next to a large tree.
" Up there!" she pointed as they approached, " Climb up on the log and get in that tree."
" What? But they can fly!"
" Just trust me!"
She saw the look he gave her, the wild look of complete shock laced heavily with suspicion, and thought grimly that it was always hard for someone who
couldn't be trusted to trust someone else. He hesitated, a jerky half twist as if he thought about simply ignoring her and bolting off the other direction, but then he
lunged towards the fallen log and scrambled up. He ran across the top and fairly leapt into the tree.
Hermione was impressed.
He's like a monkey!
Hermione slowed down and stopped at the base of tree, leaning over to put her hands on her knees and catch her breath.
" Just stay up there!" she panted, and walked over to the fallen log to lean against it.
Malfoy stared at her, fidgeting from his perch on the high tree branch, obviously waiting for her to do something to escape the rampaging herd pounding
towards her.
" What are you doing?" he shouted down finally.
" BLLLEEEEAAAAA!"
The Shutoei's arrived bleating and bucking and stomping angrily. The beasts crowded around the tree, looking up at Malfoy and waggling their tongues as they
screamed up at him. They completely ignored Hermione.
" What now!" Malfoy roared, "I'm trapped!"
" BLLLLEEEEEAAAAA!" the Shutoei's responded.
Hermione crossed her arms, "Just calm down. If you just sit down and be quiet the Shutoeis will eventually just forget you're there."
" WHAT?"
" BLLLLEEEAAAA!" they reared up and stabbed at the tree with their hooves, flapping their wings as they tried vainly to climb the too-steep tree.
" Sit down, Malfoy! And shut up! Don't move, don't talk and they'll forget you're there!"
" How come they're not attacking you!"
Was it her imagination or did he sound disappointed?

She shook her head at him," Don't talk. I'll tell you when it's safe to come down."
Malfoy opened his mouth, struggled with himself and then sagged on his branch with a huff. Hermione wondered idly if he really could keep his mouth shut long
enough for the Shutoeis to forget him. It wouldn't take that long, ten minutes at most. But hey, Malfoy didn't know that.
A small feline smile curved her lips and she turned away so he wouldn't see it. She'd felt a wash of surprised happiness when she'd heard his voice, an almost
painful relief that she wasn't alone anymore. But now she was getting mad. He never should have left in the first place! And for the pure vindictive pleasure of it,
she decided to see how long she could keep him up that tree.
The Shutoeis near the edge of the herd were already beginning to forget. They hadn't really known what was going on in the first place, they'd simply followed
the herd. Some of them wandered over to scratch and nibble at the local plant-life, a few others came over to investigate Hermione.
" Why hello there!" she said in a sweet, baby voice, and the Shutoei's wiggled their ears in happiness as she reached out to pet them and scratch behind their
bulging eyes and under their chins.
" Bllea." They nickered at her, one of them nibbling her robes.
" You are so sweet! Yes you are!"
She glanced out of the corner of her eye to see Malfoy glaring at her in righteous fury, chest heaving. He was actually trembling with the effort to stay silent. He
looked about ready to explode. She could tell he was dying to dish out some snarkiness, but he didn't dare.
" Traitor." He mouthed hatefully.
Hermione grinned, " Did that bad Malfoy bother you?" she cooed to the Shutoeis, "He's so mean! What a jerk!"
She distinctly heard Malfoy growl.
" I don't blame you for wanting to stomp on his head. He's got that stupid hair, like he's wearing a shiny helmet and"
" YOU'RE THE ONE WITH THE FREAKY HAIR!"
" BLLLEEEEAAAA!"
The herd converged on the tree again. Hermione threw up her arms in disgust.
" Malfoy!" She shouted in what she hoped was a fair imitation of anger, " Shut up! Now we have to start all over!"
His face was flushed red and he looked ready to murder her. Hermione grinned hugely but then felt guilty for provoking him and stopped making rude
comments about him to the Shutoeis. The Shutoeis were soon wandering around again, not really in a hurry to be anywhere else. The ever-studious Hermione
quickly forgot about Malfoy, who continued to glare at her with utter loathing, as she started to investigate the Shutoeis. They were fascinating creatures.
For two hours she examined individual Shutoeis, observed their behavior and tried to determine if they had any kind of herd structure. It was with a start that she
remembered that she had Draco Malfoy up a tree. She couldn't believe the obnoxious blond had managed to stay quiet for this long.
Glancing up she saw him still sitting on his tree branch. He was leaning his forehead against the tree tiredly, his eyes hazy and faraway, and his expression
wassoft. He seemed about ready to fall asleep any second.
Now that she really looked at him, she could see that he looked like he'd been stuffed in a blender set on 'pulverize'. His normally shiny, slick hair was loose and
wispy and hung about his face, long enough to brush his cheekbones. His hands were dirty and scratched, bleeding in places. His face was paler than normal,
scratched and streaked with dirt. His robes were dusty and his shoes were caked with mud.
She stared at him, understanding that seeing Malfoy without his patented hateful sneer was a rare opportunity. He lookedyoungvulnerable. Something
inside her stirred in pity. She was suddenly sorry that she'd made him sit up there this whole time. He was probably hungry and thirsty and tired. It was really
mean of her to do that to him.
She stood up, " Malfoy." It came out much gentler than she meant it to, "Malfoy."
He jerked upright and snarled at her, spitting like a cat.
" You can come down now."
He glared at her hatefully, before he sidled off the branch and climbed slowly down, his eyes following the Shutoeis who ignored him. He lowered himself onto
the fallen log and then jumped down to land right in front of her. So close that she actually 'eeped' and stepped back.
He glowered, looming over her, all softness and vulnerability gone. Maybe it had never been there at all.
" How much longer than necessary did you keep me in that tree?" his accused coldly.
She couldn't keep the guilty surprise off her face and knew he saw it. His lip curled in an angry snarl.
Busted.
" I saved you from becoming Shutoei food, didn't I." She snapped back defensively, turning her back on him and quickly changing the subject, "I take it you
didn't find anything out there?"
He said nothing, but she could feel his eyes on her.
"No, you didn't." she answered for him, " You wouldn't have come back if you did."
" You got that right."
She tossed him a smirk, "Actually I think you would have." She said matter-of-factly.
He returned her smirk with one of his own, "You think so?"
" Oh yeah. The two of us disappear and then you come back alone." She smiled prettily, "They'd have you in Azkaban so fast your head would spin."
She saw the disconcerted look on his face and knew the idea hadn't crossed his mind. Surprisingly, he didn't pop out a snappy comeback, he simply turned
and walked away. She frowned, taking one step after him.
" Where are you going?" she asked angrily, " Ditching me again?"

" I have to take a piss you nosy bitch!"


She put a hand over her mouth, smothering her giggles. She couldn't help it.
"Oh you think that's funny? Lets stick you up a tree for a couple hours and see how funny it becomes." He lunged at her and she darted away with a squeal,
"That's what I thought." He snarled and stalked away, leaving her alone again.
Bemused, she wondered if she should wait for him to come back or if she should just head back to the clearing. Part of her didn't want to lose sight of him, as if
he would vanish if she didn't keep an eye on him. Logic won in the end, reminding her that he'd found his way back to the clearing before, he could do it again. It
wasn't like they were very far away.
She stomped back to her haven.
He hadn't even thanked her! She'd saved his scrawny butt and he acted like it was somehow her fault in the first place. What was he going to do now? Would
he just leave again now that she'd helped him? If not, what did it mean? Was there no way out of here?
She was sitting by her campfire remains when he came striding back into the circle of trees, his gaze haughty, contemptuous as he scanned the clearing.
Looking for what, she wasn't sure.
" How" he hesitated, then met her curious gaze and just as quickly looked away, "Are there no monsters around here or something?"
Oh.
Ha! I knew he didn't know about the trees.
" This place is protected." She told him, pointing, "These treesthe circle, they protect this clearing."
He nodded, a haunted look in his eyes.
" You should probably get some sleep." She said slowly, disturbed by what she saw in his face.
His eyes snapped to her, suddenly blazing," Don't tell me what to do, Mudblood!"
She growled at him, "It was only a suggestion. I've been sleeping right there." She pointed to a spot across from where she sat.
After a night of lumpy discomfort, she'd dug up a small spot of earth, sifted out as many of the rocks as possible, filled the hole back up with the soft crumbled
dirt and sand, then packed it with as many leaves as she could. It wasn't perfect but it was a lot better than what she'd started with.
"You can use it if you want."
He just gave her a dirty look and muttered something she couldn't quite catch, though she did hear the words 'Mudblood', 'germs' and 'amputate'.
Jerk.
" What did you do to the Shutoeis?"
" What do you mean?" Grudgingly, he examined her makeshift bed.
" What did you do to make them mad?"
" I didn't do anything."
She blinked, "You must have done something. Shutoeis don't just attack people. They have to be provoked."
" Well apparently they don't. I was just walking by and they charged."
" That's not possible." She scoffed in disbelief, " Maybe it was an accident or maybe it wasn't really a threat and they just perceived it that way, but you did
something!"
" I didn't. I told you, they just attacked."
" Malfoy, you really expect me to believe that?"
" I don't care what you believe, that's what happened." He wasn't even really paying attention anymore, he stretched out in her dugout and tried to get
comfortable.
Hermione opened her mouth, shut it. He was so matter-of-fact about it. She supposed maybe it was possible. If something happened and Malfoy just happened
to be the only one around for the Shutoeis to blame, they might attack him. But it hardly made sense, especially considering her knowledge of Malfoy. How
many times had he pulled some nasty prank in full view of everyone only to vehemently protest his innocence with guileless eyes a moment later?
She knew this, but being who she was, she wanted to believe him. It was her nature to take people at their word.
Malfoy seemed to have forgotten her. He curled up in her little dugout and passed out almost instantly. She watched him sleep, watched the hard planes of his
face soften and his scowl fade away. He must have been utterly exhausted.
How had he managed to survive for three days and three nights alone?
It struck her as odd that such a spoiled, nasty little brat would have the determination to spend three days hunting for what he wanted. She had figured that he
would be the one to sit on his butt and whine until someone saved him or dragged him out by his ears. Maybe he'd just gotten lost and that was why he was
gone for so long.
A light wind stirred the white-blond hair against his cheek.
She pulled her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on them, and for a long time she just watched him.
fin

Next Time: Hermione has to deal with a fully awake, fully energized Draco and she may wish she'd let the Shutoeis have him. Is Draco right about Hermione?
Will she know which way to go to get home?

*Chapter 7*: Paradigm Glitch


Disclaimer:
Shang Tsung "Liu Kang! I can see into your soul You. Will. Die."
Liu Kang "You can see into my soul, sorcerer, but you don't own it! Just as Gravidy doesn't own Harry Potter or even a decent pair of sneakers!"

Last Time:
How had he managed to survive for three days and three nights alone?
It struck her as odd that such a spoiled, nasty little brat would have the determination to spend three days hunting for what he wanted. She had figured that
he would be the one to sit on his butt and whine until someone saved him or dragged him out by his ears. Maybe he'd just gotten lost and that was why he
was gone for so long.
A light wind stirred the white-blond hair against his cheek.
She pulled her knees up to her chest, resting her chin on them, and for a long time she just watched him.
Chapter 7: Paradigm Glitch
Unless you're a heavy sleeper, or wearing earplugs, it's impossible to sleep past dawn in the forest. Sound carries well in the mountains and the many varieties
of obnoxious forest fowl want to make darn sure you know it. Light sleepers in general are pretty much doomed because these aren't pretty songbirds that
welcome the dawn with a gentle trilling tune, but large, croaking crows, screaming, pounding woodpeckers and screeching blue jays. And those are just the
non-magic kind.
In a magic forest this problem is severely amplified. Certain varieties of magic bird seem to have a penchant for waking slumbering humans and no amount of
earplugs, bespelled or otherwise, will stop the sound. Imagine a sort of non-lethal mandrake cry just horrible enough to make you wish it were lethal. On the
other hand, in a certain light, such wakeup calls can be seen as a blessingbecause squirrels, chipmunks, gibbertots, bakimies and other small rodent-type
mammals are quick to discover such things as a store of gathered roots, berries and fruits.
Hermione screeched and lunged at her already pitiful pile of edibles, sending tiny animals scurrying in all directions and others flying off or disappearing in a
puff of smoke.
The sun had yet to rise above the mountains but already every annoying, noise-making creature in the woods was awake and hard at work.
The exhausted girl knelt over the pile panting, and groaned as she assessed the extent of the damage: chewed fruit, scattered berries, dirty paw prints.
Somewhere above her, the nasty little bird who woke her chuckled as if enjoying her predicament. Hermione tossed a furious scowl up into the treetops, then
sighed, her anger leaking away. She scooted into a more comfortable position to sort through the pile and toss out the ruined bits.
It wasn't really the animals' fault. Technically this was their food. Food they should be eating to get ready for winter. She was the intruder, a big, nasty greedy
intruder eating up all their food.
Hermione sighed again unhappily.
Cute little forest animals or no, she wasn't about to starve herself for them.
She'd been dealing with this problem as best she could since the moment she discovered it was a problem, but there seemed to be no real solution. She'd
thought the food pile's proximity to her and the fire would keep the little critters away but they'd grown bolder over the last few days. She tried covering the food
with her robe but the chipmunks weren't averse to wiggling under it to get at the pile. There were magic means of warding off the little creatures, but she had yet
to find any around. Maybe tonight she'd wrap the food in her robe and hang it from a tree. But what would she use for rope?
Hermione moaned and rubbed her face, scrubbing sand from her eyes.
It was really hard to think when she felt like this. Her brain was all achy and throbby from lack of sleep.
She hadn't been comfortable on the cold, hard ground and then something was always waking her. And she never got to sleep in because of the birds.
She ached. Her body was stiff and chilled and she felt greasy and disgusting. The feel of her own filthy, bedraggled hair on her neck was enough to gross her
out.
Scowling, she glanced over at her blond companion and found him sprawled on his back in utter abandon in her dugout, his arms thrown wide and his mouth
hanging open. He was the picture of contentment, as if he didn't have a care in the world. Unduly irritated, she hoped nastily that he'd swallowed a few insects
during the night.
After collapsing the day before, the boy had slept straight through the rest of the afternoon. He'd started awake more than a few times only to dart a few tense
glances around the clearing, mutter something and collapse back into oblivion. When the sky started to darken, Hermione realized she wouldn't be getting her
dugout back and quickly dug herself a new one. This one wasn't nearly as good as her first since she worked in the half-light of dusk and the pale orange of
firelight, but it would have to do.
So really, it was his fault she was so achy and irritable.
Hermione restocked the fire then huddled up near it to warm herself. She sat cross-legged and held her hands out to the fire, basking in the heat.
Her eyes flicked to her food.
She was hungry. Her stomach felt pinched and twisted and she knew her blood-sugar level was probably low enough to contribute to her already foul mood. But
it didn't seem right to start eating before Malfoy was awake to eat his share. It seemed like cheating somehow. If he was this exhausted, she couldn't imagine
how hungry he must be.
Well, if she couldn't eat then she wanted to go clean up in the stream.
Hermione chewed her lip.
But what if the animals came back to get the food? It wasn't a good idea to leave the pile alone. And what if Malfoy woke up and panicked because she wasn't
there?
No, that was stupid. Malfoy was the one to spend three days alone out there already. He probably wouldn't even notice she was gone. She wasn't thinking
straight.

Her brain hurt.


She scrubbed her face with her hands again.
Fine, she'd wait for Malfoy to wake before she did anything. They'd eat, clean up and then discuss how the heck they were going to get out of here. She'd
decided last night that it would probably be a good idea for him to tell her about everything he'd seen out in the forest. Maybe there were some clues or
something in his observations that she could work with. Maybe Malfoy even had a few useful items on him.
That knife of his would sure be useful.
If the two of them pooled their knowledge and resources they would be a lot better off. With him here, she could finally relax a little. Now there were two people
to look for food and watch out for danger and help out with gathering plants and restocking the fire. Malfoy was obviously a very resourceful guy, together they'd
have this stupid forest licked.
The thought cheered her a little.
The sun was shining through the canopy and smattering the ground with golden splotches when Malfoy finally stirred. Unlike the day before when he'd started
awake as if afraid of what he'd find looming over him, this time he woke with all the leisure of a drugged sloth. His eyelids sagged heavily as they opened and
he stared dreamily up at the sky for a few minutes before he slowly turned his head to the side to gaze at her placidly with glazed, groggy eyes.
" Fuck." He slurred sleepily, "It wasn't a dream."
Hermione gaped at him.
He stretched like a cat, yawning hugely before he stumbled unsteadily, almost drunkenly, to his feet and brushed off the worst of the leaves and dirt from his
robe. Without another word he turned and walked lazily away from her and off into the woods.
Startled, she opened her mouth to ask him where he was going but he cut her off.
" Malfoy"
" Shut up!" he snapped, not even looking back, "Cor, don't need to tell you where I'm going every second of the day. Stupid Mudblood thinks she's my keeper or
something..." His voice trailed off as he disappeared into the trees.
Insulted and embarrassed, Hermione couldn't do anything but seethe uselessly.
Didn't he ever take a break?
But then this was Malfoy. This was probably as pleasant as he got.
She wanted to think up something cutting to say to him when he returned, but that would start a fight and she did not have the energy for a drop-down drag-out
brawl with Malfoy this early in the morning. She'd put it on her to-do list.
Pick your battles, Hermione. He's probably not even awake enough yet to realize what he's saying.
Yeah right.
It was over twenty minutes later when he came swaggering back into camp looking considerably more awake. His hair was damp and slicked back, though it
would never stay that way, and his face was wet and clean, telling her that he'd doubled back at some point and washed up in the stream. He ran a newly
cleaned hand through his hair and made a show of looking disdainfully around the clearing before his condescending gaze settled on her and he cocked an
eyebrow.
Hermione found herself wondering resignedly if she was going to have to suffer this kind of grand entrance every time he came back to the clearing.
Malfoy loved being the center of attention, even if his audience was a lone Muggle-born.
" Do you have anything to eat?" his tone said clearly that he didn't think she did, but his eyes flicked furtively to her pile of supplies and then back to her.
She recognized the crafty look in them. It was the same look he'd given her just before he'd lunged toward the pile of crates and tried to find the Portkey so he
could abandon her in the woods. The look was as clear as his tone. He was just as willing to push her out of the way and take what he wanted now as he had
been then.
Suddenly she realized just what an idiot she had been. She should have eaten before he woke up.
" Yes." She told him flatly, "There's food right here. There's a little bit of fruit, some berries, roots. Stuff like that."
To emphasize her point, and to make darn sure she got some breakfast too, she scooted over to the pile and took two pear-shaped fruits and a handful of
berries. Her suspicious sidelong glance had him narrowing his eyes and striding over to the pile. He dropped down across from her, swiped up as much as he
could, which happened to be nearly everything, and went to sit on the other side of the fire and hunch protectively over his spoils.
He didn't thank her, not that she was expecting him to at this point.
" You sure all this stuff is edible?" he asked, eyeing an ugly root.
" It would serve you right if it wasn't." she grumbled, eating quickly lest he decide he wanted what she had too.
The boy made a face and proceeded to ignore her in favor of the food.
He was just as hungry as she had imagined he would be. He didn't even complain about some of the fruit being bruised, others being hard and the berries
beginning to mush. He simply started tearing into his breakfast with relish, sucking the last bit of juice from the fruit cores, crunching the roots and tearing as
much of the pulp as he could from the pitsand then tossing them to the side.
" No! Don't leave that lying there!" Hermione yelped, " It'll attract ants and birds and things. Keep the junk in a pile and take it outside the circle when you're
done!"
He cast her a withering glance and tossed another pit to the side, "Do I look like a garbage man to you? If you're so worried about it, you clean it up."
Hermione bristled.
That's right! The little jerk has probably never had to clean up his own mess in his life.
" Slob." She spat, " There aren't any House-Elves here to clean up after you! So if you don't want to wallow in your own filth, you're going to have to pick up after

yourself. "
" No House-Elves." He agreed airily, popping another cherry into his mouth, "But there's a perfectly capable Mudblood right there." He gestured grandly to her,
" Its about the same thing when you get down to it. You even look like a House-Elf, what with those bulging eyes and leathery skinbig ears too."
She stiffened a little more with every word, "Why you rotten little pureblood maggot!" she hissed in outrage.
Malfoy threw his head back and laughed, "Don't blame me, you walked right into that one."
Miserably, she realized he was right.
She started to make a spiteful comment about what else the House-Elves could do for him but then quickly changed tactics. He was apparently in a cheerful, if
relentlessly obnoxious, mood. If she antagonized him he'd just get mad, but maybe she could get him to talk about something else.
Would he answer her if she asked him a question outright? Better not chance it.
" I can't believe you made it this long without someone taking care of you! What in the world did you do in the woods without your precious House-Elves,
Malfoy?" she challenged.
His lip curled up in a haughty sneer, " I can take care of myself. Its not so bad out there."
" It must not be if you came back alive." She replied blithely.
His eyes narrowed, " You couldn't have made it."
Okay, this wasn't working. He wasn't answering her, he was just trying to cut her back. Fine. She'd try asking him.
" What's out there? What kinds of things did you see?"
He gave a long-suffering sigh, as if she were an annoying younger sibling badgering him with stupid questions but then began to tell her in dramatic
exaggeration about his trip. Hermione was delighted when he went into detail and silently cheered the Malfoy trait of loving to hear themselves speak.
" Nothing?" she asked when he was done.
" Absolutely nothing." He finished glumly, "Just trees and more trees and dirt and more dirt."
He seemed to lose interest in the topic suddenly and gestured to her pile of supplies, probably hoping there was more food in there somewhere.
" What's all that stuff?"
" Oh, I've been gathering bits of all the magical plants I've been able recognize. Most of them are things we've used in Potions or studied in Herbology. Others
are things I've read about. I'm hoping they'll be useful somehow. I've made lists of possible spells or potions or poultices they can be used in. This one is laurel."
She pointed, "I've got a pile of tansy and some yarrow over here. This is sphagnum, you put it under your tongue before you drink spring water, it strains out the
impurities, then you spit it out. That way you don't get sick"
She paused for a moment at his startled expression. He'd been opening his mouth, to say something mean judging by his expression, but when she'd said that
last part he froze. She realized with a kind of patient exasperation that he'd probably been drinking the water straight.
Well, she thought dryly, he's still alive. I guess the water is safe.
Taking advantage of his panicked silence, she continued her lecture, " This is vervain and this is hazel wood." She picked up a forked stick, "You use hazel to
divine water."
Malfoy pounced, " Why would you need to divine water? There's water right there."
Hermione opened her mouth, shut it and then settled for glaring at him. He knew why, he just wanted to rub it in.
He grinned when she didn't speak, "So, you've finally accepted that no one is coming for us. The great all-knowing Granger was wrong about something and
she knows it. What would the professors say!" he mocked, "Well, good. I'm glad you've finally figured it out. I was certain I was going to have to drag you from
this clearing."
She sniffed scornfully, "What's that? An invitation?"
" Yep. You are cordially invited to get me the fuck out of here. You should be grateful that I've decided that you're useful, otherwise I would have just left you."
A slow burning anger was starting in the pit of her stomach, rising to heat her cheeks, "Let me guess." she said sweetly, gritting her teeth, "You want me around
so I can find food for you, clean up after you and save your butt whenever you get into trouble."
" That's about the size of it. But first you need to figure out which way we're going."
Hermione flew to her feet, hissing, "You worthless little leech. If I go anywhere, it will most certainly NOT be with you!" She didn't care if it was ridiculous, at that
moment she would have willing marched blindly into the wilderness alone rather than take him along.
Malfoy's face flickered with annoyance but then he chuckled, "Like you can stop me. When you leave, I'll just follow. Besides, you said it yourself, the two of us
disappeared together and if just one of us comes back the Ministry's going to pose a lot of uncomfortable questions."
Fuming, she struggled with her temper, wanting to haul back and punch him.
He was right, of course. She was leaving anyway and she couldn't very well stop him if he decided to follow. He had already proved that he could survive without
her if he really wanted to. Could she survive without him?
But then, it wasn't like she could really expect help from him. He was using her, like some sort of albino parasite, with all the indifference of a tapeworm for its
host.
No, that wasn't right.
He wasn't indifferent to her. Heck, he was probably actively plotting against her right this moment. She glanced at him and found him smirking with cold
satisfaction. All he needed was a cat and a leather armchair and it would be just like one of those old movies.
She had wanted to believe that the two of them would work together to get out of the forest, that they could put their differences aside until they were safe. But
now she wasn't so sure that was at all what Malfoy wanted.

" You're right, I can't stop you." She spat, the truth bitter in her mouth, "But if you're coming with me, you'd better pull your own weight. Now, do you have anything
useful on you at all?"
" Useful?" he asked languidly, flopping down on his side beside the fire, propping his chin on his hand, for all the world like a big cat.
" All I have is my backpack, my spell books, a few quills, a notebook and a few other completely useless things."
Malfoy gave a half shrug, " No, I don't have anything useful."
" What about that knife? That's definitely useful."
His eyes darkened and he sat up, hand jumping protectively to his waist, "No way! This is my father's knife. It's a wizard's knife and not meant for the hands of
filthy Muggles. If you so much as breathe on it, I'll beat the shit out of you."
Hermione's eyes widened and she took a step back automatically, feeling a small stir of alarm at the menace in his voice. But then she caught herself and put
her hands on her hips, "If you're going to be a baby about it, fine. You'll just have to do all the chopping."
" I mean it. You touch it and I'll make you wish you hadn't."
" Drop it, Malfoy. No one cares. Do you have anything else?"
" Not a thing." His face was bland.
Hermione let out a disappointed breath, "Shoot. Then I don't know what else to do. Without our wands we're limited in our options. I've been thinking about it
since we got here and our best bet was a fairly easy potion that can be used to find objects. If we gave it a manmade object to find, it could be used to lead us
to people. But I don't have anything to brew the potion in."
" You can do that?"
" I've got everything I need. The potion was created to be simple. I was thinking we could make it find books or quills or something."
" Couldn't you make it find people?"
" No. If you smeared it on a person all it would ever do is find that person. Never anyone else."
" Hmm. You know I think"
Malfoy reached into his robe and pulled out a small, flat, black satin pouch. He opened it carefully, reached in, nearly his whole arm disappearing inside, felt
around a bit
and pulled out a small cauldron.
Hermione's jaw dropped. Malfoy tossed the cauldron onto the ground at her feet, where it fell with a clank and rolled on its side.
" Could you use that?"
Hermione sputtered," Youyou saidyou said you didn't have anything useful!"
" I forgot I had this." He said easily with a small innocent smile, "Its so small that I forgot that I had it in my pockets from yesterday. I remembered it when you
mentioned potions."
Hermione stared at him suspiciously for a moment but then brushed off the suspicion in favor of excitement.
" Do you have anything else in that pouch?" she asked eagerly.
He reached in and felt around, "Not much, another set of robes, nothing useful."
" Darn. But I guess we should be grateful you had this." She gave a happy little bounce, suddenly energized, "This is great. I can brew that potion and we'll be
set!"
She got to work immediately, feeling like herself for the first time since she arrived. Malfoy hovered over her, strangely silent. Once in awhile she asked him to
hand her something and, surprisingly, he did so without a fight. When the brewing got underway, he got bored and wandered off.
She didn't ask where he was going.
The concoction took three hours total to complete, and then she had a slimy brown gunk that smelled like old cabbage. All she had to do was smear some on
the object she wanted the spell to find, say a few words and then let the gunk boil away. When the last of it vaporized, she would find a small compass-like
object at the bottom of the cauldron, made from the cauldron's own metal. From then on, the compass would point them towards the closest target, the closest
quill or the closest book or whatever she decided to use. She was fairly certain she was going to use books.
She was about to call Malfoy over when she was suddenly struck by a disquieting thought.
Malfoy had come back for one reason, and that was because he didn't know which way to go. Once the compass was made, he wouldn't really need her
anymore. What if he took the compass and the cauldron and deserted her? He wouldn't do that would he?
Uneasy, Hermione grabbed something else from her pile and sprinkled it in the gunk, then she leaned over, spit in the cauldron and whispered her name. It was
a trick she'd learned from Moody, and it was probably the smartest thing she'd done all day.
" Hey Malfoy, its ready!"
The albino leech came prancing over to examine her potion. " Yum, home cookin'."
" Ew, shut up. I'm going to smear some on this book." She held up one of her books, "The potion will then point us towards the nearest book."
" Will it find the closest book or the closest spell book?" Malfoy asked dubiously.
Hermione turned her head to stare at him in utter shock and amazement and blurted out," Dear Merlin, you just had an intelligent thought. Are you okay? Do you
need to lie down?"
To her further amazement, he didn't get angry, he just raised his eyebrows, " Potions is my best subject, Grimy Granger. Don't get smart with me or I'll toss you
in the creek."

She didn't know what to say to that, especially since she believed the creek part, so she just ignored it and got to work. The potion soaked quickly into the book
and after she'd said the words the potion in the cauldron began evaporating very quickly.
" Don't inhale the fumes." She leaned away from the cauldron.
" Fuck you, I can do what I want."
She blinked at him, startled, and then realized he was probably joking. Probably.
As the last of the potion vanished, Hermione gave a squeak and reached into the cauldron to pull out a small, round and incredibly hot little device. Yelping, she
tossed it back and forth between her hands and blew on it until it cooled enough for her to handle it. The little piece was smaller than her palm. It looked like a
compass, except there were no symbols for the four main directions on it.
" Where did it come from?" Malfoy asked in surprise.
" It was made from the cauldron metal."
" Shiiiiit! It probably weakened my cauldron. You owe me a new one!"
" Well you owe me a new wand so let's call it even."
He opened his mouth to get the last word but she shushed him loudly.
She lifted her arm and turned slowly in a circle, eyes locked on the compass. The madly spinning dial in the middle suddenly went still and jerked around until it
was pointing somewhere towards the South-East.
" It works." She whispered, "It works, it works, it works!" she practically shrieked the last part, jumping up and down and spinning in a circle in excitement.
" Gimme that! Let me see!"
" Hey!"
She stumbled, nearly thrown to ground as Malfoy ripped the compass from her hand. He stared at it for a long time and then frowned.
" It just keeps spinning!" he snarled at last, whirling on her, "Its not pointing any direction."
Hermione smiled, a small self-satisfied smile, " I spelled it to work only for me." She said sweetly.
Mafoy's jaw dropped.
" Why you little" he started, and then he surprised her again by bursting into laughter.
It was Hermione's turn to be stunned. What the heck was he laughing about?
" Maybe there's hope for you, after all." He chuckled finally, still shaking his head, and he tossed the compass back to her.
She was learning. The Mudblood was finally catching on and he found it delightful.
It was a cruel way to teach, a Slytherin way to teach, but he liked giving her the lessons.
Since he arrived back in the clearing, she'd been acting like they were old friends, like they were here to cling together like first-year girls and help each other
out or some shit like that.
It was disturbing.
She was being nice, nicer than she'd ever been to him, and he wouldn't have been so annoyed if he thought she was only trying to get on his good side. But he
knew better. She was trying to take care of him in the annoying way that Gryffindors often took care of each other. She'd apparently thought they were going to
be best buddies.
Well here was her wake up call.
The real world didn't work like that.
Friends were friends. Enemies were enemies. And sometimes the former was more dangerous than the latter. She would be a lot safer if they remained
enemies, but she didn't understand that, couldn't understand that. There was no suspicion, no darkness in her way of thinking.
She was just a tool to get to where he was going and if she were smart, she'd see him in the same light.
He'd seen the first hint of understanding in her eyes over breakfast. She'd realized in that moment that, given the opportunity, he'd take every last crumb of her
hard-won food just because he could. She'd taken some for herself before he got there, but not nearly as much as she should have.
If she wanted her share, she needed to take it.
She was too soft. That was his trump card. He knew for a fact that no matter how badly he treated her or what he took from her, she'd keep helping him and do
her best to keep him out of trouble.
It was a Gryffindor trait. A really sad one.
That wasn't to say that Slytherins didn't help each other out. In fact, now more than ever Slytherins stuck together, but ambition knew no allies and those who
wanted to be on top learned fast how to rely only on themselves, use everyone around them to their best advantage, and trust no one else.
He didn't even trust Pansy or his mother, though he loved them both more than anything else. His mother, as far as he was concerned, was on his father's side.
And Pansythey'd played too many political games when they were younger to ever trust each other again. They had forgiven each other, but never forgotten.
Slytherin kids learned to take care of themselves first. Then they learned to form alliances but to always watch their allies carefully and to know when it was best
for them to go behind an ally's back to secure an even better deal.
It was business, that was all.
And the forest, nature itself, was business at its best.
He didn't like that he was now somewhat dependant on Granger, though no more than before he supposed, but he could appreciate that she had taken steps to
ensure her usefulness. Besides, even if he didn't have an exact location, he now knew the general direction they were going to go.

South-East.
" Hey, Malfoy!"
Granger's voice broke him from his thoughts.
" What now? Aren't you ready to leave yet?" he growled.
She gave him a look that somehow managed to convey the fact that she thought he was stupid but that she was willing to be patient anyway. He was beginning
to hate that look.
" I need to bring some of this stuff along. There's not much room in my backpack, so could we put it in your pouch?"
Uhno.
He turned to her with a perfectly serious expression on his face, "This bag doesn't work like that. It can only carry a certain number of items."
She frowned in surprise, and he could almost see the lists of spell and enchantments scanning behind her eyes, "I've never heard of one like that. That spell
should be pretty basic and allow enough room for anything you want to put in there."
He shook his head, "Too much physical mass inside it and the spell will just collapse."
Her eyes narrowed, "That's not even possible!" she said, the first hint of suspicion coloring her voice.
He didn't even blink, " Well that's how this one works. So you're going to have to carry your own stuff."
" But I can't carry it all. This is stuff that we need! I can't leave it behind!"
" You're just going to have to pick and choose."
Granger was always good for a laugh. She was so gullible
" I'm telling you Malfoy, it doesn't work like that. Just let me try it." She pleaded.
" No way, you'll ruin it."
" Malfoy, trust me, I know about this stuff."
" No, I'm not going to let you break it."
" I won't break it!" her voice rose in exasperation, " It won't break, it can't break. It" she trailed off as something in his face gave him away.
Damn, what had she seen?
Her face darkened, "You're lying." She sounded shocked and then she yelled, " You've been lying to me since you got back! You lied about the Shutoei's, you
lied about not having anything useful, and now you're lying about the bag."
He couldn't help it, he grinned.
Granger exploded, " I can't believe this! I can not believe this! I thought you had some brains, Malfoy! We're in a life-or-death situation and you're playing stupid
mind games! Grow up! Are you trying to get us killed? Because if you don't help me out here, that's what's going to happen!"
" Now that's going a little far." Draco chided mildly, " I doubt we'll actually die because I lied to you."
" So now that you've had your fun, can we put this stuff in your bag." She gritted out, chest heaving with fury.
" No. I don't think so." His voice turned cold, no longer joking around," Its luggage, and Malfoy's don't carry luggage."
Her jaw dropped, "You've got to be kidding." She protested, " You wouldn't even feel it in that bag!"
" You have plenty of room for that crap in your backpack. Just leave your school books behind."
" Leave my books!"
He savored the horrified expression on her face. Oh, this was rich.
" I know it will be hard for you Granger, but I assure you that it is possible to survive without school books."
" Why..why are you doing this? What is the matter with you?"
He opened his mouth but she cut him off.
" Don't! I don't want to hear it. I know exactly what's wrong with you! But guess what? I don't care! I don't care that your daddy loves Voldemort more than he
loves you. I don't care that your girlfriend only wants you for your money. I don't care that you'll never be as wonderful, well liked or as good looking as Harry
Potter. I don't care that your precious House-Elf is the only sexual partner you've had for the last four years. You're pathetic. I hate you. And I don't care. I've had
enough! It doesn't have anything to do with me. You've made your point, I'll never count on you for anything ever again."
He had gone rigid during her speech, shocked. A few barbs in that string of nonsense had actually hit too close to home. He couldn't believe she had the gall to
speak to him like that.
Now he was pissed.
He grabbed her arm when she started to turn away, " Listen you little bitch"
She knocked his hand away," I'm sick of listening to you!"
" Too bad!" he spun her around and grabbed her by the collar, wrenching her forward. She started to struggle in surprise but he shook her and she went still,
eyes wide.
" Malfoy"
"You seem to think you have some sort of control over this situation." He cut her off, voice deceptively soft, " You act like we're equals or something. Well guess

what, we're not. Those two fuckers you hang out with at school might let you lead them around by the balls but we're far far away from Hogwarts, kiddo."
He shook her again and she gasped and grabbed his wrists, lower lip trembling, "You're alone. You're weak and helpless and no one is here to protect you.
Except possibly me, and that's a very distant possibility since I would love to see you suffer and I'll probably be the one to make you suffer. You're going to do
as I say and you're going to be damn grateful that I even allow you in my presence or I'm going to beat the shit out of you. Do you understand? If you ever talk
back to me again I'll tear you apart."
She was actually speechless. He liked that. Her face had gone white and her eyes were wide. He could see the realization. She was finally realizing that she
was alone with him and he could do just about anything to her and there was no one around to stop him. There was real fear in her eyes. He savored it, drank it
in. Maybe the little bitch would be a little humbler now.
He shoved her, sending her crashing to the ground hard enough that she smacked her head.
" Get up." He barked.
She sat up quickly, rubbing the back of her head. He could see her struggling between fear and outrage.
Her eyes went hard and her chin jutted forward stubbornly, outrage was winning, " You"
That pissed him off again. She should be blubbering by now, cowering away from him and begging him not to hurt her. Granger broke off in a yelp as he
grabbed her and hauled her to her feet, his fingers digging into her arms hard enough to bruise.
" Dump your books and pack your stuff. NOW!" He ordered and gave her a little push.
For several heartbeats she just stood there with an unreadable expression on her face, but then, apparently seeing no other alternative, she strode grudgingly,
bitterly to her backpack and dumped the contents onto the ground. The sight of her treasured books lying forlornly in the dirt like somebody's dead puppy made
her eyes softened and she gazed at them regretfully.
Savagely satisfied, Draco stalked up behind her, "Do we need to give them a proper burial? Have a moment of silence maybe? We can leave a tombstone if
you want?"
" AGH!" she swung around and clobbered him twice across the face with her backpack.
The heavy material smacked him in the head and had him yowling and scrambling back, more surprised then hurt.
Granger snarled at him, backpack held in attack position and he was so dumbfounded he couldn't even retaliate. When he didn't move she dropped the
backpack and put a hand on her hip.
" If you have to beat up a girl to prove what a big strong man you are, then you're even more pathetic then I thought." Her voice was mocking and cold and not
the least bit afraid," I'm going to go wash up, Malfoy. When I get back we'll pack up and leave. Go pull the wings off a fly or something."
She tossed her hair, the bint actually tossed her hair at him, and stomped away off into the woods.
Well how the fuck do you like that!
He realized his mouth was hanging open and quickly snapped it shut. His face flushed warm with embarrassment.
That bitch. That fucking bitch! He couldn't let her get away with that.
Without stopping to think, he darted off into the woods after her.
He'd had several days of practice when it came to moving quietly through the woods. Moving silently was impossible it seemed, but quiet he could do. He kept
far to the right of where he guessed her path to be, he doubted she'd stray far from the creek, so that he wouldn't come through the brush and walk right into her.
He found her in a small, sandy cove about five minutes walk from camp. The ground rose sharply on both sides, and the inlet was almost completely
surrounded, it probably made her feel safe. The water was deep and fast there as well, nice, clean and fresh.
Draco stayed on the high ground, crept around the curve of the inlet to the highest spot and ducked down. He could see the whole cove from his vantage point
and he had plenty of cover.
Granger was leaning heavily against the dirt wall, her face buried against her arm and her shoulders shaking. For a moment he thought she was crying and he
practically burst with unholy glee, but then she raised her head and he could see her face was pale and strained but dry.
Okay, so not crying but she was shaking and definitely frightened out of her wits.
That was nearly as good as tears. He could feel a measure of triumph in that. He could gloat. It was nice to know that her little outburst back at the clearing had
been nothing but grandstanding and that on the inside she'd been about to pee her pants in terror.
She pushed away from the wall and slid her robe off.
With a start, he remembered that she'd come there to wash. Was she going to get naked? His first reaction was utter and complete fascinated revulsion. A
Mudblood bathing. Nasty, this was going to be a train wreck! Then he realized what a ridiculous thought that was. She'd look just like everyone else, wouldn't
she? Not like she'd have tentacles or something under there, right?
With a quiet snort, he realized his subconscious probably half believed she did.
Brainwashing.
He could easily believe that Muggles and Mudbloods were inferior insects compared to wizards, but really, the Death Eaters like to exaggerate too much.
When he was five, before he'd ever seen a Muggle, he'd believed everything he was told and had honestly thought Muggles were short, fat, pasty-skinned
cousins to the troll that wandered around like brainless lumps and ate their own babies. That last was something Goyle's father liked to say.
Well, here was a golden opportunity.
He could stick around and find out exactly what was under a Mudblood's robes. It was a scientific study for the good of wizard-kindand it would be great
revenge. Granger would be so humiliated when she discovered he was watching. He could tell her how disgusting she was and maybe then she'd finally cry.
And once they got back to school, he'd tell all the Slytherin guys about the warts on her ass or something. He'd even recreate pictures with the Mind-Image
spell.
He congratulated himself on his wicked plot and settled back to watch.
Granger was completely oblivious to his presence. She folded her robe neatly and laid it on a relatively dry log and then she started unbuttoning her white

blouse.
Quite suddenly it was hard to swallow, his mouth had gone bone dry. He leaned forward. She really was gonna take it off!
She slid the white shirt off her shoulders and all his thoughts vanished, scattered like dry forest leaves in the wind. Gone. His brain was empty of everything
except a rushing white noise and all his senses seemed heightened, sharpened.
Granger's shoulders were tan from the summer sun, her belly was flat and soft, her bra was lacy whiteand she was peeling off her skirt.
Draco's stomach seemed to drop as his eyes followed the skirt over her round little bottom and down her long, shapely legs. Her panties were a shimmering
dark blue mixed with an equally dark green and seemed to be shaped funny. French cut was the word, though he didn't know that. He'd never seen panties
quite like that.
And she was reaching for her bra, holy fuck, she was reaching for the clasp.
It was hard to breathe.
The scrap of white fabric came away and his eyes locked on her breasts hungrily. Perfect, plump mounds, full and soft with rosy tips. Probably the most
gorgeous breasts he'd seen outside a porno magazine. What would they feel like? His imagination immediately kicked in, drowning him in images, textures,
what it would be like to cup her in his hands and run his thumbrun his thumb over
She was peeling her panties down.
He focused on taking deep even breaths as her little bottom swayed naked in front of him. His fingers bit into his thighs, his teeth bit into his lip and he actually
whimpered as she half turned to drop her panties on the log with her other clothes and he could see her. The apex of her thighs, the center of her.
Perfectly naked before him. Perfectly naked. Perfect. Gorgeous. Desirable.
He watched her step into the water, watched her squeak and shiver at the cold, watched until her breasts disappeared under the cool mountain flow and then
he flopped hard on his back, scrunching his eyes shut, breathing hard through his teeth, his hand passing once, dangerously, over the painful, hardness in his
pants. He wanted to press his hand there, rub, stroke, relieve the pressure that had built to a steady ache. He wanted to just shut his eyes and replay those last
moments in his mind over and over again. He wanted to sit up and watch her scrub herself clean, rub her hands over her belly and breasts absently as she
washed.
But he knew better. He knew better and he was a FUCKING IDIOT!
What the hell was wrong with him!
Mudblood! Say it with me now: Mudblood! She was a Mudblood, not even really human and he was getting hard over her! The point had been to embarrass
and humiliate her, not to get off on watching! It was like getting hard over a farm animal. How sick could you get! A sudden ugly feeling rolled through his belly,
like he was going to be ill.

She looked pretty human to me. Cackled a nasty little voice in the back of his head. Nice and pretty and soft and female and completely free of tentacles,
slime or warts on her ass.
She had looked female. Completely, utterly female.
But that didn't matter! Maybe they were similar on the outside but she was still a Mudblood on the inside!
Calm down, Draco, just calm down.
But he couldn't. He was shocked, confused and suddenly quite furious at her more than with himself. A lifetime of bigotry and prejudice that had been blind and
deaf to the girl's brilliance and talent had just been blindsided instead by sheer femininity. He hadn't expected his body to react to her. He'd expected it to know
the difference between a disgusting Mudblood and a real girl. And that was the problem. Granger was suddenly no longer an 'it'. She was a she, female. And
that just wasn't right. It couldn't be.
Behind the brain and the huge black robes, Granger was a lovely young girl and that knowledge, subconscious though it still was, shook the pillars of his entire
existence. And when the pillars people stand on are shaken, they tend to lash out, to save themselves at all costs.
Draco got quickly, silently to his feet. He caught one glimpse of Granger, dripping and gleaming with spring water, and fled.
He spit and cursed all the way back to the clearing, raging. He quickly realized that working himself up wasn't going to help. It just made him want to do
something drastic, like shove a tree branch through his ears and scrub his brain off, or rip his eyes out and wash them clean. He paced around the clearing and
tried to flip the situation, tried to find something to gloat about in the fact that he'd seen what Potter and Weasley, and probably a fair number of the other Gryff
boys too, only got to see in their imaginations while they were in bed wanking each other off.
He tried to imagine Granger's horror and humiliation when he told her he'd been watching her bathe. He tried to imagine the Slytherin boys laughing their fool
heads off while he told them about it, with a few extra details added in of course. But his brain kept going back to pictures of Granger soft and curvy and naked
for his eyes alone, while another part kept whispering 'Mudblood' viciously over and over.
A twig snapped and he started, jerking around, eyes wild.
Granger froze at his startled movement. Her hair was dripping wet and her robe was open a little so he could see her white shirt sticking to her still-damp skin in
a few places. But that didn't matter because he could still see her, golden and gleaming, right behind his eyes. Her face was damp, clean and pale. Surprise
faded from her eyes and haughtiness took its place.
His fists clenched.
He stalked over to her, practically shaking as he tried to keep himself under control. He didn't know what he was going to do when he got to her, he wasn't even
thinking about it. Granger started to sneer at him but whatever she saw in his face caused her words to die on her lips and now she stiffened, uncertainty and a
trace of fear crossing her pretty features. She held still, absolutely still.
Did he look as crazy as he felt right now?
Or could she sense it, sense it like animals sense earthquakes and storms, like tingles of electricity along her nerve endings, primitive warnings in the back of
her mind whispering 'Danger'.
He stopped in front of her.
If she had spoken, he didn't know what he would have done. Instead, she stood quivering like a mouse before a snake and he gloried bitterly and viciously in
that power.

His eyes narrowed and he raised a handand ran the pad of his thumb over her cheek slowly, softly, leaving a dark streak of dirt in stark contrast to her fair
skin.
" Filthy"
He ran his index finger over her brow leaving another mark.
" Dirty"
He ran two fingers down her other cheek, making twin stripes.
" Mudblood..."
He admired his handwork for a moment, before turning and walking away, going off into the woods to cool off. Maybe even to wank off. Anything to clear his
head.
Granger stayed standing like a statue where she was. She didn't say a word.
She didn't dare.
fin

Next Time: Butteflies and Illusions

*Chapter 8*: The Eyes of the Beholder


Disclaimer: I have an uncle who legally changed his name to Fred Flintstone. I am dead serious. Luckily, he's only an uncle by marriage.
Last Time:
His eyes narrowed and he raised a handand ran the pad of his thumb over her cheek slowly, softly, leaving a dark streak of dirt in stark contrast to her fair
skin.
" Filthy"
He ran his index finger over her brow leaving another mark.
" Dirty"
He ran two fingers down her other cheek, making twin stripes.
" Mudblood..."
He admired his handwork for a moment, before turning and walking away, going off into the woods to cool off. Maybe even to wank off. Anything to clear his
head.
Granger stayed standing like a statue where she was. She didn't say a word.
She didn't dare.
Chapter 8: The Eyes of the Beholder
Hermione's fingers brushed over her cheek and came away with dirt.
Her hand trembled.
She wasn't exactly sure what had just happened, but she knew that something had changed and not for the better. Malfoy was already bad news. He'd
abandoned her, used her, lied to her, bullied and attacked her, this whole situation was his fault to begin with and now she had a terrible feeling that the
honeymoon was over. Something had changed just a moment ago and she'd been more afraid of him than she had ever been in her life.
She'd been frightened, really frightened, of Draco Malfoy. He'd stood there with blazing eyes and violence in every taut line of his body and she'd been frozen.
Completely stunned by the change in him, struck dumb by the idea that he was someone to be feared. It wasn't even so much what he had done as the feeling
that something else had nearly happened. Some disaster just barely averted. And she didn't want to know what that disaster was.
Funny, she'd never really thought of Malfoy as dangerous before, not really. Oh, she'd been scared he might beat her up or something, and she'd definitely been
afraid that he might hurt her with that knife when he'd shown it to her back in Diagon alley but she'd never once thought 'Oh my gosh, Malfoy's going to kill me'.
She'd never once thought he'd do anything that she couldn't walk away from once it was over.
She walked slowly to the stream, fingers still touching her cheek as if the secret to the boy's behavior could be divined from the marks he'd put there. Kneeling
in the moist sand, she leaned over to wash her face. Her back was stiff, tense, and she realized that she was listening intently in case Malfoy decided to sneak
up on her from behind.
Merlin! Was she really that shaken up?
She stared blankly down at the rushing ice water, taking slow even breaths, trying to calm herself and get a clear perspective on the situation.
Her trip to the stream before had been nothing so much as a graceful retreat from a bad situation that promised only to escalate. She did not want to be around
after Malfoy got over the shock of her smacking him upside the head with her backpack. She'd hoped she'd given him enough time to cool down while she
washed and had expected to come back to find him sullen and angry, not pacing like a caged animal. Had he really spent the entire time she was gone
seething?
Okay, so maybe she shouldn't have bashed him in the face with her backpack but it wasn't like he didn't deserve it. Realistically, she had expected some sort of
retaliation, what she hadn't expected was to be dealing with a spoiled brat throwing a temper tantrum one second and then find herself staring into the eyes of a
psychopath the next.
He'd scared her. Really scared her.
A year ago, the idea that Malfoy was dangerous would have seemed ludicrous. Not even Dumbledore himself could have convinced her he was anything more
than a shameless bully. It wasn't like he'd do any real harm. He was just a kid. They were both just kids
Except they weren't anymore. They hadn't been for awhile.
She didn't think about it often, arrogant in her assurance of her own invulnerability, but Malfoy had done some pretty awful stuff in the past couple of years. He'd
kicked Dorgan Roxit off his broomstick fifty feet above the quidditch pitch during a game and nearly got the boy killed. He broke Nikko Duarte's arm and
pushed Tabby Sieck down a flight of stairs. She'd lost count of the number of people he beat up. He even beat up people from his own House. He'd put an
Exploding Turtle Egg in Ron's bag that, luckily, exploded out on the grass during Care of Magical Creatures. It could have seriously injured Ron or burned the
boys' room to the ground if it exploded indoors. He'd tried to Crucio Harry twice that she knew of and the boys had told her several times to be careful, that
Malfoy had tried to lure or follow her and Ginny off to secluded areas.
She hadn't taken them seriously. Malfoy wouldn't touch her so long as she had her Prefect's badge. Malfoy wouldn't touch her because Dumbledore took extra
special care of his Golden Three. Malfoy wouldn't touch her because she was the smartest student at Hogwarts and knew more spells than he ever would.
Malfoy wouldn't touch her because Harry and Ron were always there to protect her.
They weren't here now.
Hermione wiped the dirt away, rinsing her hands in the water, watching the mud swirl and disappear.
Was she overreacting? She could almost convince herself that she was, except if she replayed the scene over in her mind she knew with a terrible certainty that
she wasn't.
Had she been kidding herself this whole time? Was Malfoy one of the monsters that she'd convinced herself didn't, couldn't, exist within Hogwarts?
Dumbledore wouldn't allow Death Eaters in Hogwarts, would he? It was absurd.
But latelylately, she was beginning to question many things she believed, including the idea that Dumbledore could not be fooled. Maybe it was time to

question exactly what she knew about Malfoy. Or not question so much as face the facts.
He'd been raised in nothing so much as the wizard version of the mafia. His whole family was made up of Death Eaters. He was going to be one himself, if he
wasn't one already.
The idea startled her. She'd never really considered Was he already a Death Eater? If the nasty things he did at school were just his public face, who knew
what kinds of horrible things he had participated in while wearing a white mask and a black robe?
She let out her breath and shook her head, hugging herself as she stood and turned away from the water. Her eyes sought out her books automatically and an
anger that was fast becoming all too familiar formed a knot in her chest. Anger was good. If she was angry than she didn't have to be scared.
She found that she was very angry.
Slowly building her rage into wildfire in her heart, she plopped down among her pile of supplies and began sorting through them.
All she wanted to do was get back home, but Malfoy was making it as hard as he possibly could. He had the same goal as she did, didn't he? So why was he
pressing the issue? Why couldn't all of this rivalry crap take a backseat?
Dangerous or not, if he thought she was going to allow him to bully her into doing whatever he said, he had another thing coming, the freaking egomaniac. She
couldn't do it. She refused to even pretend to obey him, not even for the sake of peace. But if she didn't do as he told her, it might mean getting beat up.
Hermione ashamedly admitted to herself that she was a coward when it came to physical pain. She wasn't athletic, she wasn't a fighter, not physically anyway,
and she had no idea what she would do if Malfoy decided to give her an actual poundingexcept promise him retribution at the hands of Harry and Ron.
Hermione frowned, pausing to brush a damp lock of hair out of her eyes.
Perhaps that was the key to all of this. He wouldn't listen to reason, but bargaining with him might work. In the mean time she needed as many aces up her
sleeve as she could get.
She tucked the last bit of vervain into her overstuffed backpack and tugged the zipper shut. Using a bit of string she roped her hazel branch to the side and then
she was done. She shouldered her bag, testing the weight. It was heavy. Hiking with it on her back was going to suck. She spared one last disgusted glance for
the things she had chosen to leave behind, her books among them and decided then and there that she'd never forgive Malfoy for it. She really hated him.
Speaking of the slime bucket, where was he anyway? They'd wasted too much time as it was. She didn't care if he wasn't finished with his stupid tantrum, she
was ready to go!
" MALFOY!" she shouted, her voice echoing through the trees, "MALFOY, I WANT TO GO HOME!" she paused, hearing nothing but the wind in the trees and
tried again, "GET BACK HERE OR I'M LEAVING WITHOUT YOU!"
She wasn't going to stand for any more of this running off to mope crap. School was going to start in just four days and, if nothing else, she wanted to make
darn sure they were back before then. If they hustled, she was certain they could make it.
A good ten minutes passed with no sign of Malfoy. She tried shouting again, knowing he was going to fight her every step of the way. It took another ten
minutes of shouting herself hoarse before it dawned on her what game Malfoy was playing.
With a sigh, she readjusted her backpack, the straps were already digging into her shoulders, and tested her hypothesis. She checked the needle on her
compass and marched out of the clearing. She was perhaps twenty feet away from the ring of trees when there was a rustling sound and Malfoy landed in front
of her seemingly from out of nowhere. She'd been expecting it but the suddenness of his appearance still made her yelp and reel back a few paces.
Malfoy glared at her in shock and outrage, "You were really going to leave without me!"
She fought the urge to roll her eyes.
No you moron, you were just outsmarted. But she didn't say that. She decided to give him something to think about instead.
" I told you this morning that I wasn't going to take you with me." She told him coldly, "If you're coming, then keep up."
She flounced past him with false confidence and was completely unprepared for suddenly being airborne and slamming face first into the ground with Malfoy on
top of her. He twisted her arm up behind her back with one hand and used the other to shove her face into the dirt.
" MALFOY, LET ME GO!" she shrieked, voice thick with panic, shocked by the sudden assault.
He twisted her arm tighter and she cried out in pain, kicking futilely. He was so much stronger than her! He was holding her down with very little effort at all.
" Listen. Shut up and listen very carefully." Malfoy said, deadly calm, "This is your last warning. Fuck up again and I will smash your face in. Don't you EVER," he
punctuated the word by grinding her face in the dirt, " try to ditch me again. In fact, don't ever leave unless I say its okay. Okay?"
" Get off me!" she tried to sound strong but there was a whine of pain in the back of her throat.
Malfoy wrenched her arm until she screamed.
" Okay?" he asked again.
" Okay!" she shouted finally.
" Good."
The pressure was suddenly gone and Hermione jerked upright, spitting dirt and crying helplessly. She hated herself for the tears and tried to wipe them away
but more kept coming. Malfoy watched her from several feet away, looking coolly satisfied.
" I'll get you back for this!" she shouted at him, breath hitching on her tears.
Malfoy smirked, " Somehow I doubt it."
" Harry and Ron are going to kill you when we get back."
Malfoy's smirk curled into an evil smile, " You won't tell them anything that happens out here."
She was so surprised that she stopped glaring at him, " What?"
" Believe me, you won't tell them a thing. Now get up, and wipe the dirt off your face. Its disgusting."

Furiously, Hermione wiped her face on her sleeve, hiccupping softly. Malfoy leaned against a tree and waited with an air of nonchalance while she tried to ball
all her hatred and loathing into a glare that by all rights should have melted his face off. She rose unsteadily to her feet, the front of her robes covered in dirt and
leaves. He smiled at her blandly.
She wouldn't let him get away with this. He was going to be very sorry for what he'd done. He might be gloating now but the second he needed her help, he was
going to regret attacking her.
Malfoy made a sweeping motion with his hand, "After you."
What choice did she have?
She hesitated a second more then strode past him, head held high, trying not to flinch when he fell into step behind her.
The walk home was finally underway.
Despite her heavy bag and the general roughness of the terrain, Hermione might actually have enjoyed the walk if she wasn't in such an awful mood and if her
arm didn't ache from Malfoy's rough treatment. Part of her was excited to finally be starting the hike home. The forest was beautiful and she couldn't wait to see
all the unusual plants and animals that lived and grew in the forest. She couldn't wait to get home, back to Hogwarts and tell Harry and Ron all about it.
But even if she hadn't been so angry, Malfoy wasn't about to let her enjoy herself. He was doing his part to irritate by walking about five feet behind her, directly
behind her, at all times. Stalking her. She couldn't see him and he was being absolutely silent, but she could feel him staring at the back of her head and it was
making her extremely jumpy and nervous. She wanted to yell at him to knock it off, but a reaction was what he wanted, so she ignored him instead.
Despite Malfoy's efforts, the exertion of the trip eventually took her mind off him. She was too busy, physically and mentally, to pay any attention to him at all.
And, feeling her attention wavering, Malfoy grew bored and took to periodically darting off into the woods only to reappear ahead of her minutes, sometimes
half an hour, later. That annoyed her too. He could easily go frolicking off somewhere and fall off a cliff and she'd never know. But she wasn't about to bring it up.
Let him do what he wanted. She might be better off if he did get himself killed.
She took small detours from her path whenever she found water or edible plant life and wished mightily that she had a container to keep water in. Dehydration
was fast becoming her worst fear and she was adamant about stopping at every stream to drink and cool off.
Food wasn't hard to come by in this part of the forest, luckily and neither of them suffered hunger pains, though she was already getting pretty sick of fruits and
roots. Even luckier was stumbling into an entire grove of fruit trees at one point during the afternoon. She stuffed as much fruit into her bag as she could, and
ate until her face and hands were sticky with juice. Malfoy managed to reappear in time to gather some fruit of his own. That he had appeared so promptly
made her wonder if he wasn't actually wandering as much as she thought he was. Maybe he actually had the brains to keep her in sight while he explored.
She was still furious with him but he seemed almost back to normal. She could only assume his indulgence in physical violence had appeased him, had sated
his desire to torment herat least for the moment. Despite an intense desire of her own to see him suffer, she felt honor bound to tell him what kind of fruit they
were eating and how to recognize it if he saw it again. Who knew, maybe the deviant would prove useful in gathering food. Even if he didn't bring any back to
her, at least she wouldn't have to feed him anymore. The blond boy glanced at her once or twice while she was talking and she thought he might actually be half
listening but he wandered off before she'd finished so she couldn't really be sure.
As the day progressed, the excitement of the trip wore off, her mind wandered and the walk became boring. There was only so much to think about and she
didn't particularly want to dwell on how mad she was at Malfoy or what would happen if they didn't make it back to Hogwarts in time or how bad her legs were
hurting. There wasn't much to look at either. No matter how beautiful the forest was, it eventually became monotonous.
She hadn't seen any interesting animals and she was disappointed. The only animals she had seen were birds and squirrels. Not being an avid camper, she'd
had this view of the forest as absolutely teaming with animals all the time. There had to be thousands of different species of animals living there, she knew, so
where were they? Realistically, it was probably extremely lucky that she didn't see anything out of the ordinary. She wouldn't have been nearly so excited about
seeing wild animals if she happened to bump into a catoblepas or a cockatrice or even a regular old run-of-the-mill mountain lion.
She did see a few strange looking plants though. She saw some Silver Bells, a type of vine with gorgeous platinum leaves and flowers whose pollen looked like
silver sparkles on the wind. The blossoms were supposed to indicate that fairies were nearby. She also saw a Corpse weed, an equally gorgeous black bloom
on a long stalk with huge, wicked sharp thorns. The thorns were supposed to shoot out and kill passing creatures and then a new plant would grow out from the
victim's body.
Hermione shouted out a warning to Malfoy when she saw it, hoping he was close enough to hear, and gave the plant a very wide berth. Maybe a very cold part
of her deep down thought it would serve the boy right if she didn't warn him about it. But a mental image of Malfoy impaled through the chest, lying dead in the
grass with glazed eyes and a beautiful plant blooming out of his ribcage was horrifying enough to push aside her pride and anger.
By mid afternoon, her face was damp with sweat and she couldn't seem to catch her breath. She took off her robe and stuffed it haphazardly into her already full
backpack. Sweat was dripping down her back and she was certain she smelled, which really rankled her feminine pride.
She stopped for another break, the third in the past hour. It seemed her breaks were getting more and more frequent the later in the day it became. She sat on
a fallen tree and pulled a mushy fruit from her backpack to nibble on. Malfoy came stalking back from his latest frolic a few minutes later, looking considerably
pissed off. She paused when she saw his hand clamped to the back of his neck and blood smearing his collar.
" What happened to you?" she asked with healthy heaping of annoyance and absolutely no concern.
Malfoy, of course, ignored her tone and took the opportunity to indulge in a much needed session of griping and complaining," Fucking bugs. I've been fighting
the damn mosquitoes all day and then I run into this giant-ass butterfly and I'm like 'ah how pretty' and then the fucker takes a huge bite out of me. A butterfly bit
me. Stupid forest. I hate this place!"
Hermione had to bit her lip to keep from grinning.
Oh man, Dracky got attacked by the big bad butterfly. Just wait till Harry and Ron hear about this.
She gave him sympathetic eyes, and hoped it didn't look too fake, " Let me see."
He backed away, eyeing her warily, as if she'd just asked for his soul, " No way, Mudblood, keep your slimy hands to yourself."
She didn't have to fake exasperation," I have to see it! What if its infected? Or poisoned?"
There was no such thing as a poisonous breed of bloodsucking butterfly but she'd bet just about anything that Malfoy didn't know that.
The snarl on his face faded into surprise and the hand on the back of his neck fell away, "Fine," he agreed grudgingly, " but don't touch it or you might infect it
with your nasty Mudblood germs."
You should talk nicer to the doctor, Mr. Malfoy. No lollipop for you.
She nodded and walked around behind him. He was stiff as a board, tension zinging through his shoulders and she wondered mildly if he thought she was

going to attack him or something.


The bite, more like puncture, made by the butterfly's proboscis was just above his collar. It was clean and superficial. She hadn't really expected anything bad
from a butterfly, even a giant mountain bloodsucking variety.
It was time for a little payback. Just part payment though. A taster.
She rose on tiptoe and deliberately gave the wound a rough poke, " What color was the butterfly?"
" Hey!" he swatted at her.
" Hold still! I have to do this." Her voice brooked no argument and he subsideduntil she dug her fingernail into the puncture.
" SHIT!" he yelped, jerking away, eyes wild.
She stared at him, feigning sympathy, " I barely touched you. It must be really tender. Turn back around, I'll be more careful."
Slowly he complied, eyeing her suspiciously.
" Now what color was it?"
" It was black, red and green." His voice was just slightly strained.
She covered her grin with one hand, cleared her throat and said solemnly.
" Hmm, those colors are never good. Bright colors usually serve as a warning to predators. They indicate poison." She changed tactics and brushed her fingers
lightly across the nape of his neck, smirking as he tensed further, "There's some swelling here, the wound is red, starting to discolor. There's a lot of fluid
discharge. There was definitely some sort of reaction. Are you allergic to anything?" She lightly drew a little pattern on the back of his neck.
" N..no.." he swallowed hard, voice distracted.
" No?" she brushed her fingers along his skin, blowing lightly on the back of his neck to watch him jerk, goosebumps breaking out over his skin, "Malfoy" she
broke off, her voice very serious, "Malfoy Draco" she took him by the shoulders and turned him around. He was surprised enough that he let her do it.
She looked him in the eye and said seriously, " Draco this is very bad. There is indication of poisoning and I have no idea how to even begin looking for an
antidote."
All the color drained from his face. It took a moment for him to find his voice.
" Sowhat..? What does that mean?"
" There are two species of Giant Mountain bloodsuckers with the colors you described. One is incredibly toxic. The other isn't. Depending on which type bit you
there could be nothing more serious than redness and swellingor the bite could be lethal." She paused, gave his shoulders a squeeze and said, very gently,
"Dracoif you diecan I have your autographed Chudley Cannons poster?"
" What!"
" I can give it to Ron for Christmas." She said brightly, " And what should I put on your tombstone? 'Here lies Draco Malfoy, tongued to death by a butterfly,
nature's most vicious killer'." She couldn't keep a straight face any longer and cracked up, doubling over with laughter at the expression on his face.
For a moment the boy looked shell shocked and then his face twisted in rage as he apparently got the joke and he shoved her as hard as he could. Hermione
reeled back and slammed against a tree, barely catching herself before she fell. Later she would have a nasty bruise but at the moment she was laughing so
hard she didn't care. Malfoy was wavering somewhere between rage and embarrassment, glacial eyes flashing and his face beet red.
" You bitch, you" he seemed unable to complete a sentence.
It made her laugh harder.
" Told you I'd get you back!" she taunted, "Oh, you should have seen your face! Oh mi gosh! Priceless! Death by butterfly!" and she dissolved into laughter
again.
" You won't be laughing in a minute!" Malfoy snarled and took one step towards her, fists clenched.
Hermione danced away laughing, " I don't think so. You lay one finger on me and you don't get any bug repellent. You'll be eaten alive before we ever get home.
I'll stop burning the Noitch chips in our campfire at night and just wear the repellent myself and you'll wake up with a face bumpier than this mountain side."
Noitch was a natural repellent and it just so happened to be a weed that was extremely easy to find. It could be applied directly to the skin or burned in a
campfire. Hermione had been doing both for days.
Malfoy went still. He growled at her as he considered her threat. The bugs must really have been bothering him if the repellent meant that much to him.
" You know, come to think of it, I don't understand why you haven't had a problem with the bugs before. I expected you to be whining about them a lot sooner."
She giggled, " I figured I'd withhold the repellent until it was worth my while to offer it to you but I just couldn't help myself."
Malfoy's growl faded into a strange expression and she saw him appraising her as if she'd just done a very interesting trick, " What if I just act nice until I get the
repellent and then I kick the shit out of you?" he asked. And it was funny because it sounded like he was really asking, like he was presenting it as an option
instead of just threatening her.
She smiled nastily, "Then you get a special surprise in your food when you least expect it. I've seen some plants out here that would really make you sorry. And I
picked a few of them. You said earlier that we're not equal and you're right, I know things that you don't and that gives me an edge. If you kick me around, I'll
make you pay."
Malfoy's expression turned wary, guarded, as he considered the full implications of her challenge and she found herself caving in a bit despite herself.
" Look," she began, a little nicer, " I doubt we're going to be in this forest for more than a couple of days. We can spend it being completely suspicious of each
other and unable to trust a single thing the other says or we can work together and no one gets hurt."
He laughed at her, "Are you proposing a truce?"
" Yes I am." She crossed her arms.
Malfoy smiled, honey sweet, and then yelled, " You can forget it. I don't make truces with Mudbloods. In fact, I think you've just declared war."

" WHAT!"
Malfoy grinned wolfishly, " That's right. You really shouldn't have messed with me, kiddo. I was going to go easy on you, but if you want it rough, I'll give it to you
rough. You're going to be begging for mercy before I'm through with you."
" What do you mean war? Malfoy this is ridiculous!" she sputtered, suddenly feeling like she was sinking very fast into murky water and trying to claw her way
out even though she could tell from the look in his eyes that there was no escape.
" You declared war. You leave me no choice but to defend myself." He said with satisfaction.
" But it is your choice!" she yelled in exasperation, " I don't understand, Malfoy. By acting like this, you're making things harder on yourself too. Why can't you just
let it go? I'm willing to work with you, but you're not even going to try. Its just for a few days, Malfoy, and no one is going to see! What is so important that you
can't think of putting it aside even for your own safety?"
She saw something cross his face, some thought or emotion that she couldn't read. He knew the answer to that question. He didn't even have to think about it.
But she doubted he was about to share.
" It has nothing to do with you." He said finally, cryptically, "I'm just protecting myself."
What the heck did that mean?
" What are you talking about, it has everything to do with me."
His silvery gaze gave her nothing.
Hermione sighed, patience worn thin, "Look, how about this. You be nice to me, don't beat me up or push me around, or give me bruises or steal my food
andwait, just wait!" she said quickly before he could start yelling at her, "And I'll give you something in return. We'll have a bargain."
His interest was obviously peaked, but caution came first," What will you give me?" he asked slowly.
" UmI haven't thought that far ahead." She spread her hands lamely.
Malfoy smiled slyly, "Alright, you swear to me under wizards oath that you'll do me a favor, anything I want upon request, and I will treat you like a bloody queen."
Hermione gave him a dry look, "I'm. Not. That. Bloody. Stupid. Anything you want upon request? Give me a freaking break. We'd get back to Hogwarts and
you'd tell me to push Harry off the astronomy tower or something."
Malfoy cocked his head, "That was actually my second thought."
" What was your first?"
He shook his head and smirked, "You don't want to know."
She stared at him, at the dreamy, faraway look in his eyes and knew he wasn't kidding. She didn't, she definitely did not want to know what went on in his
twisted little brain.
" You're right."
" Fine. Then unless you can think of something I want, oh and I want two favors now, one to get me to consider peace talks, and another upon agreement, we're
officially at war and just so you know, you're going down. See ya later, Muddy." He trotted off into the woods, ignoring her protests.
" Malfoy! Will you just wait a second! You can't just"
He turned back suddenly, "Oh, and while you're trying to think of nice things to give me, you might also want to think about what exactly you're going to do about
the Wyvern that's hanging around here. Since I'm your enemy now, I'm not exactly going to help you if you run into it."
He laughed at her horrified expression.
" A wyvern?"
Wyverns were serpentine cousins to the dragon. They were much smaller then dragons, had only two legs along with a pair of wings and didn't breathe fire.
They did have vicious tempers though and the ability to hunt in packs.
Had he really seen one? No, he was just trying to scare her.
" You're making that up! You're making it up just like you made up everything else. There are no wyverns around here, the environment's all wrong."
" Whatever you say, kiddo." He called back, as he walked backwards into the trees, " But hey, maybe if you apologize really nicely for being a disgusting
Mudblood, and ask my forgiveness, I'll consider not letting it eat you."
Yeah right, what could he do against a wyvern?
She was getting mad now, " You can just consider shutting up then because I don't believe you!" she yelled.
She was convinced he was lying but at the same time disturbed by the smug, half excited look on his face. She knew that look. It was the look he got whenever
something bad was about to happen to someone he didn't like.
But a wyvern? No way. She didn't want to believe him, the thought was scary. That was a big-time, highly aggressive predator. There would be no way at all to
defend against one should she happen upon it, especially without her wand.
The boy's laughter faded into the woods.
Stupid Malfoy. What exactly was he trying to accomplish? He hadn't even asked for the bug repellent. Did he think he needed to take it from her? Was he going
to jump her later on to get it?
The thought was extremely uncomfortable.
That idiot! That hard-headed, arrogant rat.
She seethed furiously, wanting to drag him back and beat him over the head with a tree branch. Maybe club him unconscious and drag him the rest of the way
home.

Her shoulders slumped dejectedly.


She'd made it worse. She'd gone and made it ten times worse. He'd just been picking on her before, but now he was all excited because they were 'at war'.
This was just great. And she thought she'd been nervous before!
The only thing she could think of that might remedy the situation now was to get back to Hogwarts as fast as humanly possible.
Anger, and a heaping helping of paranoia, gave her energy and she resumed her hike. She thought of several clever and nasty things to say to Malfoy as she
stomped along and she was just waiting for the little jerk to show up and say something mean so she could lay into him, but Malfoy wasn't complying. Upon his
eventual return, he remained silent, following along easily, serenely, behind her. When he didn't say anything, and in fact he seemed to be ignoring her now, she
got even angrier and wished he would leave again.
How was it that he knew precisely how to act at any given time to annoy her the most? She was suddenly so sick of him she could just scream. She couldn't
wait to get back home. She began planning exactly what she'd say to Harry and Ron to get optimum bone-breaking rage from them. Another part of her wanted
to just fold and let Malfoy have his way in order to avoid the fighting. But really, it wasn't like he'd treat her nice if she just gave in to everything he said. If
anything, he'd probably treat her worse.
After another hour and a half she'd forgotten about Malfoy and his incredible inanity in favor of her burning muscles. Her legs felt like jelly and her back was one
giant ache. There were probably several more hours of daylight left but at this point, she didn't care. She'd had it. The minute she found water, they were
stopping for the night. It was actually a bit discouraging. If she were in better shape, she might have made it further.
Of course, she thought irritably, if she didn't have a giant backpack weighing her down she might have made it even further than that.
She shot a furious glance at Malfoy who had returned about ten minutes ago from his latest frolic and instantly quelled under a darkly malicious sneer that was
more a fierce baring of teeth then anything else.
Dang him! Why did the jerk have to be so big and scary?
Ignoring him haughtily, she untied her hazel stick from her bag, intent on finding water. The nearest stream just so happened to be in the direction they needed
to walk in anyway. A good half mile later, Hermione stumbled on a fair sized stream and all but flung herself into it. She drank deeply, gulping the icy water and
giving herself a violent brain-freeze. When her lips were blue and the front of her shirt was soaked, she plopped down to sit near the bank, her eyes flicking to
her reluctant companion.
Malfoy was being curiously still and silent. He hadn't moved since they reached the spring. He was just standing there, looking big and mean and pissed off.
What was his problem? He had to be as thirsty as she was.
He was watching her with a savage expression on his face.
" We're stopping here for the night." She told him firmly, and braced herself for a fight.
The boy gave her an ugly glare, his face cold and harsh, but otherwise didn't react.
She stared at him uneasily, something prickling the back of her neck," Malfoy?"
No response. None. It wasn't even like he was ignoring her, it was like
Hermione pulled herself up, groaning because her muscles felt like spaghetti and approached him cautiously. The boy didn't move, didn't speak. She searched
his eyes.
There was nothing there, no one home.
Startled, she squealed and lashed out. Her hand struck air, vanishing through his chest and the image of Malfoy remained undisturbed. She stumbled back a
few paces, staring in horror at the Malfoy-image. For a minute she was hopelessly confused and then her brain kicked in and she realized that she was, literally,
seeing things. It was her eyes that were affected. There was nothing in front of her, absolutely nothing, it was her eyes that were creating the image, her eyes
that were enchanted.
Hermione plunged back into the stream and dunked her whole face under the water, rubbing her eyes and scrubbing her face. She sat back up in the water,
gasping and shivering and glanced around. The Malfoy image was gone.
Where was the real Malfoy? What was going on? Was this some sort of joke Malfoy was playing on her? But there was no way he could have enchanted her.
" External visual enchantment." She muttered, teeth chattering, " It had to be airborne because nothing else touched my eyes. Possibly from pollen, spores or
some sort of animal dander. What for? Nature cares only for food and reproduction. Possibly a lure? But I wasn't being led anywhere, I Malfoy Malfoy was
following me and now he's gone. Merlin, I get it!" she stumbled, sloshing from the stream, sopping wet and screamed as loud as she could, "MAALFOY!
MALFOY! IT'S A TRICK! MALFOY, I'M OVER HERE! MALFOY!"
Draco was in a pretty good mood.
He'd been in a good mood ever since he'd trounced the Mudblood that morning. The little bint had shrieked like a baby, it had been hilarious. He hadn't really
been that angry with her, he'd just wanted to hurt her, show her he was serious about fucking her up if she got out of line. And it had worked. He'd felt much
better after knocking her down a peg or two. Everything in his neat little world view that had been scattered like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle thrown by an angry
child had been put firmly back in place by putting her firmly in her place. Down in the mud.
Really he'd gone easy on her. He hadn't fucked her up yet even though she was really asking for it. The only reason he hadn't was because it would slow them
down if he bloodied her up too bad.
Oh, it had been fantastic to finally see her cry, to see her humbled. She thought she was so great, so perfect, when all she was was a filthy aberration of nature
that would never be good enough to lick the dirt off his shoes. She shouldn't have a Head Girl badge, she should have a collar and a leash.
Stupid whore. Pathetic, sniveling little cunt.
Okay, so maybe he wasn't in that great a mood.
He was still pissed about the whole butterfly incident. Shit, that had been embarrassing. She'd made him look like a complete idiot and then laughed at him.
That bite had hurt like a mother fucker and he'd just stood there while she jabbed his bleeding wound a couple of times and then looked innocently startled
when he yelped in pain. He was definitely going to have to return the favor.
His brain tried to bring up the memory of her lightly caressing the back of his neck, her breath brushing his skin and he flushed, slamming the memory away as
hard as he could, determined not to think about it ever again.
He rubbed the back of his neck, kicking a tree branch out of his way and scowling at Granger's back.

He could tie her up and leave her out for the bugs. See how she liked it. The only thing stopping him was that he didn't have any rope.
Too bad. Though he supposed he could always just break one of her legs.
The thought caused a twisted grin to curl his lips.
It wasn't necessary as of yet. He'd won their latest round in the end. The butterfly was now flitting about in hell and Granger was sweating over his declaration of
war, probably wondering what exactly he was going to do to her.
It was kind of fun watching Granger struggle to play the game and fail miserably. That she was trying to play at all was kind of interesting. She wasn't doing very
good but she was doing better than he thought she would. She'd managed to surprise him more than once today. He couldn't believe that she'd actually meant
to ditch him this morning or that it had crossed her mind to hold the bug repellent ransom and the revelation that she'd been planning all afternoon to spike his
food was just alarming enough to be exciting. He wasn't at all sure she'd actually do it, it seemed completely at odds with prim, proper, holier-than-thou, Head
Girl Granger but he was going to have to watch her a bit more carefully from now on anyway.
How the hell did she know about his Chudley Cannons poster?
He wondered what she would do now?
Would she go all out with this war business? Or would she scramble to find some way to placate him?
It didn't matter what she did. In the end, it was all just one great big mind fuck. All he cared about was relieving his own boredom. She just happened to be his
best source of entertainment. He was sick of the fucking forest, sick of the trees, the bugs, the endless walking, of having nothing to eat. The only pleasure he'd
gotten in days was in taking out his misery on her.
He wondered if she believed him about the wyvern.
She had probably convinced herself that it was a lie. He hoped she had, because that would make it really incredibly funny when she found out he'd been telling
the truth.
He had seen one, a big armored lizard with red scales, yellow eyes and wicked batwings. Talking about it, he'd acted much cooler then he actually felt. He
definitely did not want to run into that thing again. It had scared the shit out of him and he'd seen it from a distance. He apparently didn't know the half of it
because just the mention of it had Granger shaking like a leaf.
In any case, he hoped that was the last wyvern he would see. Ever.
Draco stretched his arms above his head, arching his back with a yawn. He was sick of walking. He was about ready for a rest and was sort of surprised that
Granger hadn't dropped yet. She was just kind of plodding along, slow and steady like, and it was getting on his nerves.
The trees were growing sparse around them and the ground was becoming sandy. Granger was taking them into some kind of gully. He frowned and turned a
circle while he walked. This was weird. The ground was grainy, freshly turned soil, dirt walls were rising on either side of them.
Were they even going in the right direction?
Dumb bitch. Probably hadn't looked at her compass since they left the clearing.
" Hey fluffy, where the hell are we going?"
Granger glanced back at him blankly and pointed forward as if to say 'this way, duh'.
Dumb ugly skank.
The ground began to slope downwards slightly as the walls rose. The sandy earth sunk beneath his feet. Granger walked forward without care but Draco
stopped short, some warning feeling of discomfort stirring in his belly. There was a sheer wall about two hundred feet directly in front of him. So the damn gully
was a dead end. What the hell were they walking down here for?
Granger stopped and looked back at him impatiently.
" Where are we going?" he demanded.
She said nothing.
Something bothered him about the way she was standing. Unease coiled deep inside him.
"This better not be one of your stupid tricks."
Granger pointed forward again.
" SAY SOMETHING!" he shouted at her.
She gazed at him passively, staring right through him.
This had to be some little scheme she cooked up. Well, she was about to get her ass kicked for screwing with him.
He took two threatening steps forward and jerked to a halt as the ground beneath him trembled.
What the fucking hell
" Granger" He stared at her and realized suddenly, the hair erecting on the back of his neck, that though she was standing in the soft earth, she had left no
footprints in the soil.
And in the distance someone was shouting.
Draco jerked around, listening intently. Another person! He couldn't believe it.
For a moment he thought he'd lost the sound, but it came again, very faintly.
" Maaaalfoy"
Another person who knew his name? No that sounded like Granger.
Very slowly he turned to face the girl standing at the heart of the gully. She was watching him, not paying any attention at all to the shouting. She beckoned him

forward.
He concentrated on what the far away voice was saying.
" Malfoy! It's a trick! Malfoy! That's not me! Get away from her! Wherever she's taking you, don't go!"
That was definitely Granger and he'd been right. This was a trap.
The ground trembled again. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead. Get away, huh? All fine and well except he was afraid to move. The gully was a dead end,
there was nothing in front of him except the Granger doppelganger. But he knew, with a cold certainty, that there was something else here, something he
couldn't see. There had to be. Why else lead him here?
Very slowly, he reached down and touched the hilt of his knife.
It warmed under his fingers, quicker and hotter than before. The warmth against his hand didn't startle him like before, now it was comforting. It was heat,
energy. Isn't that what Borgin had said? That it would absorb the energy around it? He could only assume that since he wore the knife and used it, that it was his
energy making the blade hot, it was his, ready to use and full of possibilities.
His fingers wrapped around the hilt firmly and he drew the blade from the sheath. The warmth spread up his arm and instantly the scene before him changed.
The Granger doppelganger disappeared, vanished like a mirage and he saw what made the ground shake.
HolyShit
Fifty feet in front of him in the sunken ground was a huge hole, a burrow, and something enormous was waiting just inside. It could have been a giant spider, but
it wasn't. Maybe it was just part spider. Four humongous, sickly thin spider legs poked out of the den, two on each side of the entrance. The things head looked
something like a huge skinned cat's head, red and taut with muscle, but that didn't being to describe it. It had three large multi-faceted eyes that he was certain
were fixed on him. Its jaw hung slack, each of its fangs were probably as long as his arm, drooling strands leaking out dripping and burning on the ground and
some sort of yellow smoke billowed out with each breath.
It was the ugliest sonovabitch he'd ever see.
He was a dead man.
He didn't know what the fuck that thing was, but he was betting it would have him before he could make it out of the gully.
He began to back away slowly, eyes locked on the monster. The thing tensed, he saw it go still and ready, jaws closing, like a cat about to pounce. He was
scared shitless but he suddenly felt a wicked smile curve his mouth and he knew it wasn't his own. His eyes flicked to the knife in his hand for just a split
second, and the monster exploded out of its den.
Draco screamed, scuttling backwards as fast as he could, not daring to turn his back. Two of the spider legs came at him with barbed tips, apparently to
impale him. One leg missed him, the other came right at him. He swung the knife as hard as he could, and, amazingly, the blade sliced cleanly through the leg
when it should have, by all rights, bounced off the scaly armor.
Two more legs came at him and Draco careened backwards and slammed into the wall, a sudden wave of dizziness and nausea overtaking him. He hit the dirt
on his butt, clenching the dagger in both hands, heart pounding in his throat, unable to get enough breath. He was a sitting duck. The creature lunged for him,
scrabbling it legs, tearing up the ground in front of him but it never came any closer. He just sat there in a dazed stupor, frozen in shock.
The monster screamed in fury and then suddenly went still. His eyes were huge as they locked on the beast. It was half out of its den, supported, as far as he
could tell, by its spider legs. It held its wounded leg, dripping some vile black fluid, off the ground, as if not exactly sure what to do with it. If the wound hurt it at
all, Draco couldn't tell. The glittering eyes were locked on him but the monster held perfectly still.
Why wasn't he dead? Why hadn't it killed him?
Then he realized it couldn't. It was unable to leave its den fully. From about the middle of its back down it was either too big to come out or attached to its den
somehow. It couldn't actively hunt. It wouldn't have used a lure if it could. Its prey needed to be within lunging distance of its burrow.
The boy gulped hard, his head throbbing. The monster's nearest leg was about ten feet away and that was stretched all the way out. He was out of striking
distance.
Very carefully, he tried to stand, only to flop back down again. His whole body felt weak, boneless, like a ragdoll. This was embarrassing! Why the fuck was he
suddenly so weak? Was he in shock? No way, he wasn't that much of a pussy. Maybe that monster let off poison or something and he'd breathed it in.
He tried to stand again and the world spun.
I will not throw up. I will not throw up.
He collapsed back down and the monster tensed again, head bobbing slightly and Draco could see that it was just dying to lunge, just wishing it could move a
little further out. He was still entirely too close to it for his peace of mind. He began to scoot clumsily backwards on the ground, still facing the creature. He could
almost see the disappointment on its face as its dinner dragged himself away.
He managed, just barely, to drag himself far enough away from the monster's burrow that the creature gave up and sank back inside its den. Draco didn't
sheath his knife till he was certain the thing wasn't coming back out and then he had to kind of peel his fingers off the grip. He'd been clutching it so tight his
knuckles were white. He sat, hunched over and panting, for nearly fifteen minutes until the strange weakness began to fade and he felt a little bit of strength
return to his limbs.
When his head had stopped throbbing, he forced himself to get moving. Granger was still screaming her fool head off somewhere in the background but he
couldn't pinpoint the direction.
" GRANGER!" he bellowed, "WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU, BITCH?"
Silence.
Then an excited, "MALFOY! I'M OVER HERE!"
Oh, that helped.
" GO SOUTH UNTIL YOU REACH THE STREAM!"
" WHICH STREAM?" He shouted just to be difficult.
She didn't dignify that with an answer.

Weary to his bones, Draco plodded towards the stream, completely devoid of his usually limitless, hyperactive energy, though he did seem to be getting
stronger the further away he got from the monster's den. When he finally staggered out of the brush towards the sound of a trickling creek, one look at the cool
clear water had him flopping down on his belly to drink, completely disregarding Granger's lecture on sphagnum moss. He didn't care if he got sick, he needed
water. He hadn't realized until that moment how parched his throat was. He drank until his stomach hurt and splashed his face, rinsing away dirt and sweat.
He slopped his wet hair back, water dripping down his face.
" GRANGER! I'M AT THE STREAM!"
She answered immediately, her voice sounding a lot closer.
" YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO TELL WHICH DIRECTION I'M IN NOW!"
Draco spun towards the sound of her voice. She was to the west of him.
" JUST FOLLOW THE CREEK!"
He hiked upstream, following the twisting ribbon of water until he caught sight of black robes and bushy hair and a pale anxious face. A strange feeling washed
through him, and it took him a moment to realize, to his amazement and utter embarrassment, that he was relieved to see her, that there was a measure of
safety in her presence and he was grateful to have it back. Granger's eyes swept over him brusquely, checking him for injuries but she didn't approach him.
When he seemed to be all in one piece, her expression turned fierce.
" Hurry up and get over here!" she snapped, "I've got to close the circle."
What? Ah, forget it. At this point, he didn't give a shit.
He trudged past her and saw her sprinkle what looked like leaves and bark over the area he'd just passed through.
" There." She said with satisfaction, brushing her hands off on her robes.
Draco found a place to sit and sank down before his knees could give way, " Do you have any idea how crazy that looked?"
She whirled, ready to lay into him and froze, her eyes going wide. Draco felt a jolt go through him when she faced him fully, his jaw going slack in shock.
Several things struck Draco at once. One being that the girl in front of him was incredibly lovely and two being that she did not look a thing like the
doppelganger he'd followed to the monster's nest.
And that didn't make any sense at all.
It had been Granger he followed. He'd looked the mirage in the face and seen Granger. But here was the real Granger and there was absolutely no comparison
between the two. The mirage had been dull and homely, bordering on ugly. This girl, looking wild and wind-kissed, was beautiful, even with the film of sweat and
smudge of dirt on her nose.
Granger seemed just as stunned as he felt. They stared at each other in mutual fascination for a moment before they both simultaneously turned away.
Granger's cheeks were pink.
" What happened to you anyway?" her voice was slightly strained.
" No, first tell me what you were doing." It came out defensively, almost harshly.
" Oh, Iwhen we left the clearing we left behind our protection. I was thinking I could make sort of an amateur circle of protection using the essence of other
protective trees and anchoring the circle to one or more living protective trees. I used"
Draco waved his hand, cutting her off," Get to the point."
Granger risked a quick irritated glance at him, then sighed, " Monsters bad. Ash tree good. Circle protect. Yay!"
Draco snickered, eyes shut as he leaned his head back against the tree behind him, "Got it."
" Now what happened?"
" How did you know something was wrong?" again he evaded her question.
Granger made an impatient noise. She found a place to sit across from him, still refusing to look at him and grabbed her backpack, hauling it into her lap to fish
through it, " Well, I didn't at first. I was just walking and you were following me and then I got to the stream and you were just standing there and I realized it
wasn't you."
" How did you realize it wasn't me?" he cracked an eye open to glare at her suspiciously.
" I fell on my face and you didn't laugh." Her tone was dry.
" Definitely not me." He smirked.
" Exactly. I realized it was some sort of visual enchantment and washed my face in the water. Then the image was gone. I figured if a mirage-Malfoy was
following me then you were following a mirage-me. I was right?"
Draco nodded, " Yeah, youor itor whatever led me to this hole in the ground with a giant-ass monster inside. A real big, ugly mother fucker."
" What did it look like?"
" It had spider legs and like a cat head but no fur, more like spikes and scales. It had three eyes, big ones, like fly eyes, and it tried to stab me with its legs. It
couldn't come all the way out of its den, though, or it would have killed me."
Granger was silent for a moment, " Did it breathe yellow smoke?"
Draco felt his lip curl, suspicion gnawing in his belly, "Yes."
" It was an antlion. I've never seen one of course but I've read about them and"
" You know an awful lot for someone who wasn't there." He growled, accusingly.
Something was wrong with this picture. There was no way she could have just figured everything out by guessing.

" Huh?"
" You just sort of guessed that I was being led somewhere. Guessed that it was a visual enchantment. Why would something that caused people to be led
somewhere enchant you so you were being followed?"
" Malfoy"
" Fuck." He was on his feet, anger coursing through him in black waves, "You set me up, didn't you."
" I what?" her voice turned sharp.
" You've thought about nothing all day except getting revenge on me. This was one of your stupid payback schemes, wasn't it?"
Granger was on her feet and yelling, " Malfoy, will you listen to yourself! You're crazy! When did I have time to go out and find an antlion? How would I manage to
get it to enchant you and not me?"
" You could have found it when I was gone for three days!"
She started to yell and stopped, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, she tried again," Malfoy," she began slowly, as if he were very stupid, " If I wanted
to kill you, I'd poison you. It would be much simpler then finding some giant monster to eat you and risk it eating me too. And for the record, I have no intentions
of killing you. I figure you'll suffer more if you live."
Touch. Every second in her presence was suffering. Okay, so maybe he was overreacting a bit but still, she knew too much for his peace of mind.
" This is exactly what I was talking about." The girl closed her eyes tiredly, rubbing the bridge of her nose, " We're going to spend the next couple of days
completely paranoid and completely suspicious of each other and jumping out of our skins because"
" Don't say it Granger," he growled, "We're not having a truce."
" Fine." She flung up her hands up in disgust, "But don't jump on me every time a pinecone falls and scream that I tried to kill you."
She picked up her backpack and walked back towards the stream where she'd set up camp. A small fire was burning, filling the air with sweet scented smoke.
Draco followed her.
" By the way," she began, her back to him, "it might be a good idea from now on for you to stick close by, instead of running off all the time. Just until we find a
place to camp anyway. That way, if you disappear I'll have a general idea of where to search."
" Fuck that, I can take care of myself."
She turned towards him, honey-brown eyes narrow and stalked over to him, "Oh yeah? Well I wish that were true, because from over here it seems like you're
turning out to be much more trouble then you're worth." She poked him in the belly and he jerked back, gasping in astonishment, "So cut the Captain Adventure
routine and stop trying to get yourself killed."
His hand flew to his stomach, a startled scowl on his face, completely taken aback by what he knew to be, coming from her, an incredibly bold move. She gave
him a cheeky smile and walked away.
" Bitch." He muttered, just to be saying something.
She was really pretty. As pretty as, if not prettier, than Pansy. Though Pansy was attractive in a sharp, high fashion way, all hard angles and bright colors, glitz
and glamour. The girl in front of him had a softer beauty, made of smokey eyes, candlelight and velvet.
This was really creeping him out. Was this another trick? If Granger really looked like this, how come he'd never noticed before?
He asked, before he could stop himself, because he had to know, he blurted, " Did the mirage-me look weird, like it wasn't really me?"
Granger's eyes flicked to his than quickly away. He saw her pause, go still in a way that he knew meant she was thinking her answer over very carefully.
" I thought it was you." She said finally, " I thought it looked exactly like you. But now that you're here, I realize it didn't look like you at all."
He opened his mouth, shut it, " How can that even be possible? How could you see something that doesn't look at all like me and think it looks exactly like me?"
Granger was silent a long time, " I thinkwell, it was a visual enchantment. Our brains created the mirages that we saw. I think I think what we saw was not
the visual reality, it was just based on visual reality. Like, what I saw was my brain's perception of you, not the real you, but how I perceive you subconsciously in
my mind." She turned and looked him in the eye, "To put it bluntly, our hatred for one another skews our brain's perception of each other."
He sat down next to the fire, digesting her words, " What was different about the mirage-me?" he asked finally.
Granger seemed to debate whether or not to answer him, then shrugged, " You were bigger, meaner and uglier than you really are."
" Oh." His lips twisted in a sneer, " Well, I saw a troll then and I see a troll now."
She sighed, " That's nice, Malfoy. Here." She reached into her bag, pulled out a fruit and tossed it to him, "This'll shut you up."
He was too hungry to refuse the food.
She continued watching him with the same look on her face that she'd had the entire time she'd studied the Shutoeis. A kind of cool, quizzical, scientific gaze.
She tapped her lips once and straightened.
" This is actually really interesting. I would love to study how our views of the world change our perception of reality. Like the way you were raised, with
Voldemort practically shoved down your throat since you were a baby..."
He choked on his fruit, swallowing quickly.
" Shut the fuck up. You don't know anything about me."
She made the mistake of trying to placate him by explaining herself further," I'm just saying that with everything they've been drilling into your head"
He cut her off again, yelling, " Don't you dare act like I'm some kind of poor, brainwashed sap! I have a mind of my own. I believe what I believe because I
figured out for myself that it was true not because my father, or anyone else, told me what to believe and I decided to blindly follow them."
She squirmed uncomfortably, her voice hesitant, " I'm not talking about on a conscious level. I'm talking about stuff they told you when you were very small, in
conversations you can't even remember. The way they are, I think its amazing that you even see a human being when you look at me."

" MUGGLES AREN'T HUMAN." He shouted and she jerked backwards with a start.
He glared at her in utter loathing, giving her all his disgust and hatred and frustration. She stared back at him, her face oddly neutral.
" So I'm not human." She said slowly, evenly.
" Muggles aren't human." He repeated, biting the words off.
For just a split second, so fast he nearly missed it, she looked like she was about to cry, but just like that it was gone and she gave him a long appraising look,
the scientist look.
" So I was right the first time." She murmured and turned her back on him, walking away.
Draco was on his feet in an instant, enraged without really knowing why," But I notice you didn't disagree with me about the Muggles." He shouted after her, "
So, what, you agree with me? Aren't you going to defend yourself? Tell me how deluded I am? Aren't you going to strike a self-righteous pose and tell me that
your blood is as red as my own? Or maybe that we're all brothers on the inside? C'mon Muddy, this is pathetic even for you."
But she wouldn't answer and she didn't speak to him again that night.
fin

Next Time: Bad dreams, blood and deep discussion

*Chapter 9*: Two Eyes from the East


Disclaimer: Stiiimpy, cliiimb insiiiide. FUN AWAITS YOU, if you cliiiimb insiiiiiiiiiide.. (Jerry the BellyButton Elf)
Last Time:
" MUGGLES AREN'T HUMAN." He shouted and she jerked backwards with a start.
He glared at her in utter loathing, giving her all his disgust and hatred and frustration. She stared back at him, her face oddly neutral.
" So I'm not human." She said slowly, evenly.
" Muggles aren't human." He repeated, biting the words off.
For just a split second, so fast he nearly missed it, she looked like she was about to cry, but just like that it was gone and she gave him a long appraising
look, the scientist look.
" So I was right the first time." She murmured and turned her back on him, walking away.
Draco was on his feet in an instant, enraged without really knowing why," But I notice you didn't disagree with me about the Muggles." He shouted after her, "
So, what, you agree with me? Aren't you going to defend yourself? Tell me how deluded I am? Aren't you going to strike a self-righteous pose and tell me
that your blood is as red as my own? Or maybe that we're all brothers on the inside? C'mon Muddy, this is pathetic even for you."
But she wouldn't answer and she didn't speak to him again that night.
Chapter 9: Two Eyes from the East
We're off to the witch
We may never never never come home
But the magic that we'll feel
Is worth a lifetime
Two eyes from the east
It's the angel or the beast
And the answer lies between
The good and bad
We search for the truth
We could die upon the tooth
But the thrill of just the chase
Is worth the pain
We'll know for the first time
If we're evil or divine
We're the last in line
We're the last in line
excerpts from Dio's "Last in Line"
oooo
He dreamed.
Maybe it was the full moon in the sky, or maybe he slept under the bows of an ancient sickle elm, maybe it was the hour in which he slept, or the influence of
some beast or specter that happened by. It could have been so many things. He dreamed so many things.
He wouldn't remember any of it when he woke.

He relived the entire day. But not as himself. He watched instead. He watched from the greedy eyes of an alien mind, as the two children tramped through
the forest like Hansel and Gretel.
He was back at Hogwarts, seated at his desk in a classroom full of Slytherins. Snape stood at the front. The scene was curiously frozen, like he was seeing a
moment captured in time. Paradoxically, he could sense the movement and hear the sounds of shuffling papers around him.
" How many kinds of curses are there?" Snape asked, his voice echoing oddly in the empty stillness.
" Hexes?" asked someone.
Draco rose dreamily and walked towards the door, footsteps echoing on the stone floor. Granger wasn't in the classroom.
Where was she?

He followed the two children, spending time with both of them, getting to know them, still unable to reach them but eager to watch in any case. He watched
Granger hike along by herself. He saw Draco alone among the trees.
Snape stood before a roaring hearth with an old photograph in his hands, "My graduating class. He tore us apart..."
Sky looked up at Draco, sobbing brokenly, " I want my dad."
Rodolphus Lestrange stood beside Granger in the dark forest, "Here, I'll help you."
He touched the compass and the needle spun wildly. Granger's eyes remained fixed on the needle as she glided in a slow-motion walk into the darkness where
the wild things danced and howled, her robes billowing around her, her hair blowing about her face in some unnatural wind. The unicorns screamed, flailed
wildly and died, falling to the ground in bloody heaps.
Harry Potter turned around, his expression livid with hate, "Stay away from her."
His own voice, rich with laughter, " I don't think she wants me to."
He was walking through the halls of Hogwarts. Where was Granger?

Snape's voice again, "It has happened before. People vanish and no one ever discovers what became of them"
He turned towards the sound of the voice only to see a boy he didn't know standing in the corridor.
A boy with empty black holes where his eyes should be.
" Where are we going?" he asked Granger as the castle drifted away from them, drifted further away the further they walked.
She looked up at him, face solemn," The only way back is forward."

He watched Draco pounce the young girl and twist her arm and he laughed in soundless amusement.
He stood before a silver gilt mirror, staring at the boy behind the glass. His reflection screamed at him in silent fury and slammed his fists into the mirror until it
shattered. The pieces of glass exploded outward then slowed until they twisted and turned in the air and he could count every glittering, jagged piece. They cut
him to ribbons.
In the sunlit forest, two boys about his own age beckoned to Granger. They urged her on, herded her forward. She ran with them and one of them took her arm
to lead her on.
" Come see the God. He's our God. He'll be your God too." They chanted.
The dial of the compass spun wildly and the creature that was Draco watching Draco and Granger laughed and Draco shoved Granger into the alley and
darkness fell but the moon would never rise again and the two boys rotted like carrion under the sun and somewhere far away in that darkness Granger wept
softly. But she wasn't the only one.
Silence. Darkness.
" They've crossed over." Dumbledore whispered.
" AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!"
Draco jerked upright, screaming, as gallons of icy, blood-chilling water drenched his head, like someone had just dunked him under a waterfall.
" Rise and shine, sleeping beauty." A girl's voice drawled.
He knew that voice.
" FUUUUUUUUUUCK! Granger I'm gonna kill you!" he screamed hoarsely, shivering violently as he wiped water from his eyes, spat it from his mouth and tried
to drain what felt like gallons that had gone up his nose, "What the fuck is your problem, you psycho!"
He opened his eyes to find her standing over him, her expression stony, his cauldron tucked under her arm.
" You stupid cunt!" he spat.
Her eyebrows went up, she lifted the cauldron and he barely had time to lurch out of the way with a startled yelp as she let it drop right where his head had been.
It hit the ground with a heavy 'thunk'.
" Get up!" she barked, "Eat something and lets go. We should have left hours ago. I've been sitting here waiting for you to get your lazy butt up since dawn. I
want to go home right now and if you're not ready in five minutes, so help me, I'm leaving without you!"
" Damn, Muddy, what the hell crawled up your ass and died?" he yelled back, wavering somewhere between towering rage and utter amazement.
" Four minutes, thirty seconds, you snotty little dickwad."
His jaw dropped, completely thrown by her aggressive and agitated behavior, " Shit, Granger, what the fuck is wrong with you? You gotta be on the rag or
something."
Her shoulders stiffened just the tiniest bit.
Draco's eyes bulged, " That's it, isn't it. I'm right."
A second later he'd collapsed on the ground howling with laughter until he was clutching his stomach as tears streamed down his face.
" Shut up! Shut up you idiot!" her voice was shrill with anger.
Draco peeked at her and saw her face was beet red. That set him off again.
She gave a wordless cry of frustration and he scrambled to his feet to avoid being smashed over the head with his own cauldron.
" Okay! Okay!" he giggled, holding a placating hand out in front of him and making a very conscious effort to calm himself, "Okay, I'll stop." He choked and bit
his lip to keep in the snorts of laughter that wanted to break out, "I'll eat and we'll get going. Just calm down, Hormone-y."
She shrieked and chased him into the woods.
He didn't return for a good forty-five minutes. He could easily have stretched it out to an hour and a half but the sun was fairly high in the sky. Granger hadn't
been kidding when she said he'd slept in late.
Considering her mood, he expected her to scream at him for wasting time when he finally returned to their campsite, clean and damp and shivering from his
morning preening, but she sat staring down at her feet and didn't even look up at him, seemingly lost in her own dark thoughts.
" Hey! Hey! Do we have any food?"
She pointed wordlessly to her bag where she'd left some food sitting out on her folded robe. He flopped down to eat, glancing at her furtively every once in
awhile. He still couldn't believe she'd had the balls to wake him up by trying to drown him. He didn't care how bad she was PMSing, that had been damn near
suicidal on her part. He wasn't exactly a friendly person in the morning.
" What was up with that shit you pulled this morning, kiddo?" He asked, tone holding a hint of warning, "You act like you want me to kick your ass."
She raised her eyes slowly to give him a long, cold stare, "We're at war, remember. I'm not going to sit around and wait for you to attack. I figured I might as well
take the first shot."
Stunned, he gave a short surprised laugh, "Didn't know you had it in you."

Well, well, Granger wanted to lock horns with him. This was interesting. He grinned at her.
She gave him a very odd look just as he bit into a thick, waxy leaf-like thing. The juices hit his tongue and he wretched, spitting and cursing and scrambling over
to the stream to wash his mouth out.
" Don't eat that, it's the bug repellent." Granger said coolly from behind him.
" You nasty little mud-sucking freak" he coughed in amazement, "What the fuck has gotten into you?"
" Would you have stopped me from eating it?" she asked airily.
Hell no
" Yes!" he said adamantly as if it was obvious and he was outraged that she would think otherwise.
" Is this lying about everything deal a Slytherin thing, a Malfoy thing or just a you thing?" Her tone was flat and calm with something cold and biting just beneath
the surface.
He turned to face her and she returned his look witheringly, her eyes hard and focused and predatory in a way that hadn't ever been before. This sudden
behavioral about-face was unexpected and he considered her with an edge of caution. They both knew that she'd be better off if she just took what he dished
out and didn't retaliate. Instead she was courting his wrath, big time.
It wasn't like her, or at least what he knew of her. He could count on one hand the number of times she'd retaliated against him back at Hogwarts. She always
maintained that she wouldn't 'sink to his level' or some shit like that. She'd always insisted, no matter what he said or did, that her and her friends should just
ignore him.
This wasn't PMS. She was pissed, really pissed, about something. Most likely about what he'd said last night.
Well fuck it, if she couldn't handle the truth that was her problem.
He answered seriously," Its something I do just for you." And that was the truth. Really, there were a lot of things he did just for her. Granger was special. He'd
go to greater lengths to terrorize her than anyone else he kneweven Potter.
The thought made him grin.
The hardness in her eyes wavered with unease at his, very likely disturbing, expression and she retreated, snagging her backpack and trotting off into the
woods without another word.
That was more like it. She might play tough, but the act wouldn't last long.
" Shit." He muttered, jumping up to grab his cauldron and stumbling slightly before jogging after her.
That first entire day of hiking passed nearly without incident. The difficulty of the terrain had increased slightly and they were both too preoccupied to worry
about private skirmishes. The trek hadn't been too arduous as of yet, but neither of them knew that. They had little to compare the terrain to except the flat town
roads they walked along back home. They weren't nearly as grateful for the easy going as they should have been. Draco wasn't grateful at all.
No, pretty damn miserable was more like it.
Half the day was spent going uphill until his calves were screaming in pain and his lower back ached. He hadn't been sore when he woke up that morning,
which had been a nice change since he'd been sore and stiff every morning before then, but he was betting he was going to be sore again tomorrow.
They had to detour at one point when their path got too steep and they were faced with finding a way around a sheer cliff that went straight up in front and
straight down on the other side. That had chaffed. They wasted over an hour looking for the best route down and around, having to double back several times
when they met dead-ends or drop-offs.
They went through areas of underbrush so thick that Draco had to take the lead and hack them a way through with his dagger. Afterwards he 'd walked around
with the dagger unsheathed, just running his fingers over the hilt and up and down the blade until he finally realized what he was doing and that Granger was
staring at him and he quickly stuffed the knife away.
Several times during their trip Granger suddenly, for seemingly no reason at all, made them both duck behind a tree or scuttle into some underbrush and hold
still. They never actually saw anything and Draco almost decided she was doing it just to jerk him around but the fear on her face was real enough to keep him
quiet.
As the day progressed, the land around them seemed to get drier, hotter and rockier. The density of trees thinned out and the foliage under their feet crackled
and kicked up dust instead of squishing damply. It wasn't even noon when the heat forced them to take off their robes, stuff them away and roll up their sleeves.
The air was thick with heat and alive with humming insects and the sap from the bug repellent they wore heated with their skin and the smell gave them both
headaches.
After awhile Draco regretted wearing the bug repellent at all. A few bug bites was a small price to pay compared to the overwhelming stench of the hot
repellent.
No matter how bad he felt though, he could always take comfort in the fact that Granger was even worse off than him. She seemed to have a harder time in
general. He wasn't surprised. Strenuous physical activity wasn't exactly her strong point. Her idea of exercise was carrying her books from class to class.
Yesterday had been her first real day of hiking, she had probably been sore this morning and it was going to be worse tomorrow. Still, she kept going without
so much as a peep of complaint and some part of him very deep down that he would never acknowledge could almost respect that.
Almost, but not quite.
She was giving him the silent treatment.
" Once this is over I'm personally going to come back here and torch this place. A nice big Fuck You to mother nature. Then I'm going to cut down all the trees in
my yard, build a bonfire, strip down, smear myself with war-paint, hunt down all my neighbor's House-Elves and pets, roast the carcasses and give 'em to
hungry muggles. Aw, I'm such a nice guy."
The frizz-haired girl striding along in front of him didn't so much as twitch. Granger hadn't responded to a thing he said since they left the campsite, speaking
only when her internal encyclopedia chimed in.
Draco scowled at the back of her bedraggled, yet still fluffy, head.
Her shoulders were rigid, her chin up, eyes staring fixedly forward. All she needed was a shirt with the words 'I'm ignoring you, Draco Malfoy' across the back.
The bitch of it was that she wasn't trying to keep the peace, which he would have found kind of funny. Oh no. All her good-natured patience and long-suffering

helpfulness had vanished long before the sun rose. This was deliberate provocation on her part. In keeping with the mood she'd set this morning, she was
asking for a fight.
He stalked along quietly behind her, keeping out of her peripheral vision, just staring at the back of her head until she grew so nervous that she darted ahead.
He enjoyed her discomfort but it pissed him off that she wasn't talking to him. He had decided she was right about him sticking around with her while they hiked.
He had agreed to put up with her presence for the entire day and he expected some sort of compensation for his suffering, like when he decided to say
something, she should say something back, when he decided to call her names, she should cry and yell at him. That was the way of things. But she wasn't
cooperating.
Draco Malfoy was a social creature by nature. He enjoyed the company of, and interaction with, other human beings. To a certain extent he even craved it. It
was extremely unfortunate for him that the only sentient being around that might actually listen to and comprehend what he was saying was Granger. And talking
to her was like talking to a brick walla brick wall whose main contribution to a conversation was occasionally spouting passages from textbooks.
" So, Granger, how many people do you think are glad you're gone? Want me to list them?" he cleared his throat and began in his lecturing voice, " First of all, I
think Potty and Weasel will be happy you're gone. Now they can both come out of the closet and express their eternal love for each other in a disgusting
physical fashionGAH!"
A brick wall that also periodically threw rocks at him.
" If that thing had hit me, you'd be in so much trouble right now!"
She continued on, nose in the air haughtily, leaving him standing there in mid-threat.
At least he'd gotten some sort of reaction from her this time. Honestly, if she didn't want to play these games with him, she shouldn't start them.
He kept up a steady complaining monologue throughout the day centered around everything that bothered him: her, the forest, her friends, her parents, her hair,
how angry his father was going to be, her hair, how she owed him for this, how she should be grateful he graced her with his presence, her hair, the general
state of the wizard economy and how mudbloods and muggles were responsible for last year's decline in living standards etc. etc.
She suffered it all in silence though he was almost certain a couple times that she was on the verge of snapping and attacking him. That was his current goal:
Make Granger snap.
She didn't snap, apparently she retained a bit of fortitude that hadn't as of yet been drained away by hunger or exhaustion so the brawl that was on the verge of
happening all day, never happened and the only real incident was the frog.
The talking frog.
It sounded funny, like a charms experiment gone bad. Like the time someone (someone whose name started with D and ended with Raco) made that pathetic
oaf Longbottom's toad swallow a packet of Screaming Mimi's. The toad had screamed insults at everyone that it saw for weeks, the highlight being when it told
McGonagall to 'shave the beard you old scag'. It had been a riot.
This wasn't like that. This hadn't been funny at all.
Granger had called him over, grudgingly breaking her silence at last in early afternoon when she found running water. They always stopped to drink when they
found water and if they didn't find water by late afternoon, they went looking for it. The stream was slightly to the east of them and ran its course at the bottom of
a sloping hill. The edges were thick with tulle and cattails.
Draco had been digging sphagnum moss out of Granger's pack when the girl spoke.
" Heysomething smells kind of funny." She leaned over the stream, nose crinkling," I think it might be the water" she sounded mystified.
He dropped her bag and wandered over to investigate. The smell had been light at first, a sort of dank, bitter decay smell.
" It smells like old pond, like stagnant water, but this water's moving, it should be fresh."
" Maybe it comes from an old pond." Draco shrugged. It was an unspoken agreement forged sometime when he hadn't been paying attention that anything at
all even slightly out of the ordinary was immediate cause for regrouping.
" Yeah" she seemed uneasy, "Maybe we should keep moving."
He opened his mouth to protest when something broke the surface of the water at the edge of the stream with a slurping gurgle and filthy, rotting, black liquid
spewed up along with something large and slimy that thrashed against the oily mud of the shore, making a terrible squealing sound. The smell increased ten
fold.
Granger screamed and stumbled back, staring in horror. Draco found himself unable to move.
The squealing thing flopped onto the muddy bank and began wiping itself with rubbery front legs. The frog was big, its body about the length of his palm, but it
was bony, ridges along its back and ribs nearly bursting through taught slimy flesh. The frog turned huge yellow eyes on Draco, eyes that wept some viscous
yellow fluid. It looked right at him.
He couldn't breath. He felt sick.
He'd been wrong, it wasn't a frog. There was no way in hell that thing was a frog. Some part of him knew it. Some part, deep down, knew in a way that wasn't
logic and couldn't be explained that this thing wasn't a frog, had never been a frog and wasn't even distantly related to a frog, magic or otherwise.
The hair on the back of his neck was standing on end.
The frog's squealing mouth opened wider, " Re'loiuth Eedai Mevnox. Re'loiuth Eedai Mevnox."
Its voice was a croaking burble but the words were clear and precise and burned through his mind like poison.
" Itits talking." Granger whimpered, she sounded close to tears.
There was something in its words. Something terrible in its words.
" What's it saying?" he choked out.
" I don't know! I don't want to know!" her voice rose in horror, "Malfoy, get away from it! Lets get out of here!"
Draco was still frozen, staring down at it as the thing convulsed with unnaturally fast jerks, almost like he was seeing life on fast forward.

"Re'loiuth Eedai Mevnox." Then it started squalling again, long wailing squeals.
" RUN!" Granger screamed and whatever held him captive broke.
He jerked back in panic and confusion, every instinct screaming for him to flee. He half turned in Granger's direction but then whirled back in sudden hot rage
and slammed his foot down on the monster. Monster. It was a monster.
It burst with a horrible crunch that he felt all the way to the top of his spine, squirting and spraying red, yellow and green slime on his boots and onto the hem of
his robes. The smell was nearly overwhelming, making him yell and cover his mouth, his eyes watered and his vision spun.
Hands were grabbing him, Granger was wrenching him back and the two of them were running like hell, not daring to look back.
They found another stream further down and Draco spent a time trying to get the guts off his boot without actually touching the horrible stuff. The thing's blood
had burned through the hem of his pants and left red welts on his legs. It took them both a bit to recover from the encounter. He thought Granger cried silently for
a bit but he wasn't sure. He didn't say anything about it. Neither one of them brought it up again.
Later the whole thing would seem stupid, incredibly stupid and only half real. But all he had to do was picture those weeping, puss-filled eyes, remember that
smell or that screaming squeal and he felt cold all over, icy fingers clenching around his heart.
He knew he was going to have nightmares about that frog.
The encounter seemed to put an end to the day's rivalry and they went on in brooding silence.
In late afternoon, before the sun set they found a place to camp. It had been a bad day for finding food and what small tidbits Granger had managed to garner
from the land were hot and bruised. They ate them anyway and were still hungry afterwards. The girl cast a circle about them as she had the night before and he
suffered through a lecture on how it worked. She set up a campfire and boiled water in his cauldron for washing. The steaming water was much more effective
for washing than icy river water.
A little later as the evening cooled, Draco left without explanation to go hunting. He managed to catch two rabbits and cooked and ate them both with relish. He
returned to camp with a full belly as the sun was setting and found Granger crashed out next to the fire, already asleep.
The next day was pretty much a repeat of the last, so much so that Draco wondered if he wasn't reliving the same fucking day all over again in stereo, only
worse. Hotter, drier, sweatier, and even less food. He felt worse too. Sore, as he had predicted, hungry, and exhausted.
By the third day, the trees thinned out till they came to the edge of a dry, rocky, golden grassland that spread out to the east as far as they could see. There was
a fair patch straight ahead of them but only for a quarter of a mile or so and then the forest thickened again dramatically.
Draco glanced back to see the Mudblood picking her way through some rocks a ways back, her knees skinned and raw.
" Hurry your slow ass up, Granger, you're falling behind!"
" Malfoy, lets stop for a minute."
" We just stopped a little while ago."
" Well, lets stop again."
" We're never going to get anywhere if you keep this up."
His words were strong but he was already trudging all too willingly back towards the tree line and collapsing to the ground in the shade of a large tree, relief
flooding through his aching feet. Granger found a log and sat down, hauling her backpack off and setting it down between her legs to fish through it.
That's right. She had that huge thing on her back.
He couldn't help but smirk, congratulating himself on the lasting torment he'd inflicted.
" I'm thirsty, get out that water-stick thing." Draco commanded imperiously with a wave of his hand, leaning back against his tree.
Granger rolled her eyes, "Its hazel. I've only told you about a hundred times."
" I don't give a rat's ass what it is. Just find us some damn water, you damn Muggle. I'm so fucking thirsty I could.." he paused and sat up, narrow eyes turning on
her.
" What?" she shifted uncomfortably under his intense gaze.
" Just thinking that if I get too thirsty I could always cut your throat and drink your blood."
" Stop it, Malfoy!" she yowled and jerked to her feet, storming away.
Draco snickered. Cor, she was too easy.
She returned from her foraging rather quickly, her expression grim.
" Where's my water, Fuzzball?"
She ignored the name-calling, " We've got a problem."
Her eyes flicked down to his hands almost absently and Draco followed her gaze down and realized with a start that he was holding his dagger. He didn't even
remember pulling it out. With a prickle of unease he wondered how long he'd been playing with it.
He started to sheath it and hesitated. He wanted to hold it.
Shit.
He tucked it quickly away, disturbed.
Granger's eyes followed his movements.
" Stop that! I told you, you can't use it." he snarled at her, getting to his feet and stumbling slightly in a wave of vertigo.
She gave him a blank look, "Whatever, Malfoy."
" Shut up. What's the problem?"

To his surprise, she didn't lead him back into the trees, she turned to their original path and pointed out across the stretch of grassland straight ahead of them
to the trees on the other side.
" See those trees?"
" Yeah, so?"
" We're going to have to go around them."
" What?" his jaw dropped, as his eyes followed the line of trees to the horizon in the east, " Why the fuck would we want to do that?"
" This would go a lot faster if you would just trust me."
He gave her a long level stare.
" Fine," she sighed, " over here." and she marched back the way she came.
Several minutes walk to the west, further into the trees the forest quite suddenly became dark and thick around them. A thick line of trees rose up in front of
them like a living wall. Granger stopped well away from them and Draco saw that the trees had long tangled vines hanging down that swayed lazily in a
nonexistent wind.
" I saw trees like these before." he frowned.
" You went around them." She made it a statement.
" Yeah."
Granger nodded, still looking at the vine trees, "That was intelligent of you. These are Tangle Trees. If you had walked in there those vines would have wrapped
around your arms and legs and ripped you apart. If we went closer, we could probably see bones at the base of the trunks. These are the same trees out there
past the grassland. We have to go around them."
Draco swallowed, remembering how he'd almost gone through the Tangle Trees when he first saw them.
" Why rip people apart?"
" Not just people, animals too. They're flesh eaters. Flesh-eating trees. They're said to grow in places where cursed items are buried. The deaths fuel the curse,
make it stronger. I read about it in an advanced Herbology book."
Draco gave her a withering look, " I don't understand why you were so pissed that I made you leave your textbooks behind. You have the damn things
memorizedHEY!"
A rock flew past his head. This one had actually been aimed at him instead of just thrown in his general direction like the others. He'd apparently hit a sore spot.
" Why you little bitch." He grinned darkly," Just for that you're going to take a closer look at your precious trees, Granger."
Her eyes went huge as she caught his meaning, "You wouldn't."
" You shouldn't be throwing rocks."
He took one step towards her and she hurled another rock at him and bolted, apparently not willing to call his bluff. He flung himself out of the way of her
projectile and took off after her. He was surprised she could run like this after hiking all morning but she didn't get far, he was too fast.
He snagged her from behind, lifting her off her feet and she screamed.
Torture and entertainment, it certainly livened things up. He didn't remember that just a few days earlier he would have been disgusted by the mere thought of
touching a Mudblood. It never occurred to him, before or after, that part of him wanted to touch her. Just to see what she'd feel like.
" Malfoy what are you doing?" she squealed in alarm as he locked his arms around her, trapping her arms against her sides and began dragging her towards
the forest.
" You have to prove that they really do eat meat." He laughed evilly.
She was instantly thrashing in his grip, her voice high with panic, "Let me go right now! Get your disgusting hands off me!"
Her back was pressed to his chest and her hair was blocking most of his field of vision and tickling his face. Puffing slightly at the effort of holding her in place,
he grinned wickedly, enjoying her terror and her high, piercing shrieked demands to be let go and the light scent of her hair and skin.
She jabbed her elbow into his side painfully and he grunted and tried to pin her arms but she was squirming too badly for him to get a good hold. She shrieked,
kicking her feet and trying to punch him.
" They're just trees, Granger, right?"
" Lemmegolemmegolemmegolemmego!"
" Okay, I'll let you go. I'll just toss you in there. I don't want to get too close after all."
They were nearly to the edge of the vine forest and Draco could see the swaying vines twitching, the ones near the edge lifting, already starting to reach for
them.
Shit, he didn't want to get too much closer.
" Look at them move." He purred.
Granger wailed and suddenly stopped trying to hit him and grabbed onto him instead, twisting to bury her face against his neck.
" If I go down, I'm taking you with me!" she cried, muffled against him.
He froze in surprise, feeling her hot breath panting against his throat, feeling her fingers clenching at his robes.
Suddenly the game wasn't fun anymore.
" Get off me." He yelled and shoved her away as if burned, letting her slam into the ground with a pained cry.

He retreated on the double, leaving her to sit there staring at the trees and breathing hard. He half expected her to throw another rock at him and he sort of
wanted her to, it would give him an excuse to punch her. Damn her. Damn filthy muggle.
He was back at the resting spot, leaning against a tree, seething, when Granger showed up. Angry and embarrassed, he refused to look at her. He couldn't
wait to get back home where he didn't have to look at Granger's ugly face ever again.
Granger eyed him for several long moments then made an exasperated sound and headed back towards the grassland without a word, snagging her
backpack as she went. When he didn't immediately follow, she turned neutral eyes on him.
" Lets go. We don't have time to sit around. We can still make it home in time for school."
She was offering to forget what had just happened. She wouldn't bring it up if he didn't. That was fine with him.
" There's no way we're going to make it in time. We've got a long way to go, Mudblood." He squinted as they stepped out from the canopy into the bright
grassland.
" We've been walking for days, we have to be close to something."
" Use that oversized cranium of yours! No one would live near those fucking killer trees. I think we're still out in the middle of nowhere. Probably further out in the
middle of nowhere then before. Are you sure that compass works?"
" Shut up, Malfoy. You're just trying to start a fight again."
" If that compass doesn't work, I'm going to kick your ass."
" You keep saying that."
In a burst of rage, he shoved her, sending her flying face-first into the dirt. Sneering, he sauntered past her as she pushed up on her hands, spitting dirt. He
should have been ready for retaliation and wasn't. A rock cracked into his shoulder blade with a jolt of white agony.
" FUCK!" he screamed, grabbing at his back and whirling around, "You fucking" she was staring up into the sky, her face white as a sheet.
" MALFOY LOOK OUT!" she was stumbling back, diving for the trees.
A shadow fell over him and a sudden wind whipped his hair. His head snapped up to see the biggest fucking bird he had ever seen in his life. It looked like a
crow only a thousand times bigger and it was bearing down on them like an owl that had spotted a couple of field mice. For half a second he was frozen and
then he was moving without thinking. The dagger was suddenly in his hand, burning against his fingers, and he slashed upwards with everything he had.
And the dagger responded.
He felt the magic leave it, leave him. More, he saw the blade flash with wild light. He wasn't sure the blade ever touched the bird, in fact he was fairly certain the
steel didn't get anywhere near the monster, but the power did and the bird screamed as its belly opened and blood splashed down on him in a hot, frothy wash.
The bird screeched and its wings pounded the air as it tried to escape. One of the wings hit him and sent him flying. Then the bird was airborne, retreating. The
whole attack had lasted less than ten seconds.
Draco stared up into the sky in shock and watched until the bird was a tiny dot in the sky. He couldn't move his body. He felt weak. So weak. The world was
fading away, growing gray and fuzzy and distant.
" Malfoy! Malfoy!"
A sharp stinging pain in his cheek told him Granger had just slapped the hell out of him. He rolled his head to the side to find her kneeling beside him. She
slapped him again. He doubted that second slap was entirely necessary but he was in little condition to do anything about it.
" You stupid, idiotic jerk. You dumb blond. You're so lucky, do you hear me? You're.."
" What the hell was that thing?" he croaked.
" A roc."
" That wasn't no rock, girly-girl, that was a fucking big-ass birdy."
" R. O. C." she spelled, "They're called rocs. Get up. We have to get back under the trees before it comes back."
He tried to move and couldn't. " Can't get up." Everything was spinning.
She hauled him up and he leaned on her shakily until he realized what he was doing and then he tried to push her away but ended up nearly falling which only
resulted in her holding him closer, almost flush up against her body. Mmm.
They made their way back and collapsed back into the shade and sat in silence for a long time, letting their frantic hearts slow, letting the world slowly come
back into focus.
" You didn't tell me your knife was magic."
He shrugged, and then frowned at the inquisitive stare she was giving the bloody blade. Protectively, he tucked the knife to his side, hiding it from view. He
didn't want to sheath it until it was clean.
" This is going to be harder than I thought." Granger mused, seemingly forgetting the knife once it was out of sight, " There's no cover in the grassland, no place
to hide from big predators. No trees to anchor a circle of protection. We can't stay the night out there."
" I think we can make it to the other side before dark." He was feeling better now, a bit stronger.
" Are you up for it?"
" Hell yeah. I want to wash up and get something to drink."
She gave him an odd look.
" What?"
" Is it hydrating?"

" Huh?"
She touched her face pointedly. He brought his hands to his face and came away with blood.
" Ew. Try it."
He made like he was going to stick his bloody finger in his mouth.
" EEEAGH!" she squealed, scrambling away from him and covering her eyes, "That's disgusting!"
" Mmm, tasty. Want some?"
" You're sick!"
They did make it to the other side of the grasslands before dark and without being attacked by any more giant birds. The grove of trees they took cover under
wasn't so much an outcropping of the forest as an oasis. A wide, wild river cut through the earth and the otherwise dry hills were covered with birch, willow and
oak.
Granger yipped in delight when they reached the river and jumped right in, entirely clothed, while stuffing sphagnum in her mouth. Draco followed suit, wanting
to wash the stains and rank smell of blood and sweat from his clothes. The water was freezing. It shocked him to the core but he welcomed it and gulped it
down greedily, laughing his head off when Granger surfaced a few meters away coughing and sputtering, apparently having almost swallowed her sphagnum.
His laughter cut off in a choke when he got a good look at her, her hair plastered around her face in dark waves streaming with river water, her soaked white
shirt clinging to her body. He could see right through it. She caught him looking at her and grinned innocently before diving back into the water.
Shit. If she were anyone else, he'd say she was doing it on purpose.
He turned his attention forcefully to washing his knife and glared at the dagger. It was warm in his hand again. Hotter than before. Or maybe the water was just
colder. He washed it off and felt rather pleased as he thought of the bird. The blade had saved his life again, he supposed it had earned the right to do
whatever the hell it wanted. Within reason.
He wanted to tuck it away soon. He didn't like the way Granger had developed a habit of staring at it like a cat watching a string dangling tantalizingly in front of
her face. He frowned. What was up with that? He'd thought at first she was scared of it or, more accurately, of him but she wasn't. More likely it was the scientist
in her or maybe she just wanted it because he wouldn't let her touch it.
Or maybe she was just easily distracted by shiny objects.
Cor, sometimes that girl acted like a freaking maniac.
Draco pulled himself from the water, shivering and found a place to sit in the sun to dry off. Granger soon got tired of playing and found a place across from him
to sit. He tried to keep his appreciative glances furtive, but she was making it hard to keep from downright staring by leaning back on her hands and tilting her
head towards the sky.
" Do we have anything to eat?" He realized he was starving, absolutely shaking with hunger.
" Hmm?" she raised her head, squinting at him, " I dunno."
She fished through her bag and came up with a pitiful amount of food: one fruit and a meager handful of wilting berries. She smiled at him weakly and tossed
him the fruit, the bigger share. She always did that, handed him the bigger portion without thought or hesitation.
Cor, he could hate her for that.
" I'm beginning to wonder if we really are in danger of starving to death." She said quietly.
" Could there be anything to eat around here?" he asked, taking a bite of the fruit, relishing the sweet juice that burst in his mouth.
" I doubt it, but I'm going to look anyway."
Granger's foraging provided less than a handful of food and he waited until she set up camp and was settled in for the evening before skulking off on his own to
go hunting. He managed to catch a single scrawny rabbit but he was still so hungry afterwards that he actually lowered himself to hunting squirrels.
She was right, food was becoming a big problem, if only because nothing good to eat grew in the grasslands. This could be extremely bad for them if the
grasslands happened to extend for another two days walk. If they were very lucky they'd be back in the heart of the forest by tomorrow evening and be able to
find some serious grub.
The sun was down when he returned to camp. The sound of Granger's voice froze him at the edge of the circle of flickering orange light cast by the fire. The girl
was over on the other of the campsite cooing over two unicorns that had wandered down towards the river to drink. She was kneeling on the ground, trying to
coax them into letting her pet them and the two silvery creatures were eyeing her with wary interest and pawing the ground nervously.
Draco rolled his eyes and stayed back in the shadows. He doubted the beasties would let him anywhere near them. He honestly could not understand why girls
went so crazy over them. Even Millicent got all starry-eyed and mushy when it came to unicorns.
The bigger unicorn stretched out its neck, ears perked forward and Granger's fingers brushed its muzzle.
Softer than velvet or goose down, Draco thought, struck by a vivid sense memory.
The girl's fingers had barely touched that silk fur when the unicorn recoiled violently. The two beasts reared back and dashed away into the trees. The girl rose
slowly, looking enormously disappointed and strangely wistful as she stared after the creatures.
Oh this was too much.
A slow, cruel smile curved Draco's lips.
" So" he began conversationally and Granger jerked around with a gasp, "Someone lost her ability to touch a unicorn." He sing-songed. " I wouldn't have
believed it if he hadn't seen it. We're not as innocent as people think, are we Miss Granger?" he clicked his tongue at her and winked.
She bristled, "Grow up, you walking abscess."
He leaned against a tree with a Cheshire grin, eyeing her speculatively, "Sowho was it?"
" What?"

" Who was it who took yourability to touch a unicorn? Who got in your pants, Granger? Who got to stick his"
" Don't you dare finish that sentence you sick, perverted little" she hissed.
" Oh come on, Granger, we're all friends here." He chuckled at her disgusted expression, "You can tell me. I promise I'll keep it secret."
He wasn't sure what he was feeling. A bit of excitement at the general idea of Granger having sex, of her naked and slippery and moaning. A bit of jealousy that
someone besides himself had seen her naked, it was supposed to be his little joke, his secret. And quite a bit of that anger, that new kind that didn't have a
name. The kind only she could coax from him.
" You're disgusting"
" Or maybe you didn't let him get all the way." Draco ignored her, looking thoughtful, "You actually did touch the unicorn but only for a second. So maybe he only
got his hands on you. Maybe you got cornered in some hallway by one of your little Gryffindor boys, maybe someone who didn't want Potter and Weasley to
know what he was up to? Did he put his hands up your blouse? Feel you up a bit? Or maybe he got under that skirt, slipped his fingers in your panties" he
smiled sweetly, "Do you know what a clitoris is, Granger?"
She'd been staring at him in horrified fascination but the crude question shocked her from her stupor. She seemed to swell with rage, a thousand vile curses
rose up, poised on her lipsand then very suddenly she went still. Something, some strange epiphany flashed behind her eyes and her face shifted to neutral
by slow degrees. She stared at him hard for a minute more and then shook her head, sighing outward heavily, the anger and tension draining from her body.
His wicked smile faded in surprise and disappointment.
" You don't understand anything." She said flatly and her anger seemed to have completely vanished, "You're a sick little monkey who wants attention and you
do not understand what you just saw."
Feeling the situation slipping from his grasp he tried to salvage the conversation, " So you're saying, what, that you are a virgin?" he mocked.
She smiled tightly, "I'm not saying anything. If I say I'm a virgin, then you laugh and tell me how I'm so ugly that nobody will ever want me. If I say, yes, I've had sex,
then you laugh and tell me I'm a slut and probably have some disease or better yet, " she snorted, "That I only get good grades because I sleep with the
teachers."
He was speechless. She was taking all of the fun out of what had promised to be an extremely entertaining conversation. She'd cut him off at the pass, seeing
right to the heart of where he was going and getting there before him. Damn it! She was winning and they both knew it.
" Then explain it." he snapped, " What was it I just saw, if it wasn't your loss of innocence?"
For a moment she looked wistful again, " It was loss of innocence, just not the totally clichd way you're thinking. There are a thousand ways to lose a piece of
your innocence, Malfoy."
He sneered at her, "That's cryptic bullshit."
" No, its reality." She bit back, " None of us are as innocent as we were a year ago, two years ago and it has nothing at all to do with sex. I've almost completely
lost my ability to touch a unicorn, but it wasn't through any fault of my own."
His eyes narrowed as he sifted through her words and swiftly changed his plan of attack, " So you are saying you're a virgin." He began lightly and strolled
casually over to face her. She eyed him warily but stood her ground, " I suppose that's good. I can give you some advice."
" I don't want any advice from"
" Shh. You want this advice, trust me." He sucked his teeth thoughtfully as he regarded her, " I'd say you're one of those girls who is waiting for true love and
marriagebut you're not. I know what you're waiting for. Weasley right? Or Potter? Waiting for one of them to notice you?"
He knew for a fact that Granger was pining after Potter. It was so obvious as to be vomit inducing. Most people assumed she was already dating him, the two
boys kept her close and Potter practically kept her on a leash. But the Golden Trio was still as platonic as it had always been, if only because the two boys
didn't dare risk their friendship by making a play for her.
" Well, here's my advice: don't waste yourself on them. They're deviants, the both of them. Weasley is clumsy, rough and does not know what the clitoris is"
" MALFOY!" she yelled in outrage and started to shove him but he caught her arms and calmly pushed her away, at the same time taking a serene step
backwards so as to be out of striking distance.
"Just listen, I'm dead serious about this. I've talked to about ten girls he's fucked and not only is he about as gentle as a troll but he can't seem to make any of
them enjoy it." He watched her expression carefully and grinned inwardly with wild glee when shock flashed across her features. He knew which part had gotten
her, ten girls he'd said. That's right, kiddo, ten's a big number huh.
" He goes like a slobbering minatour in heat for about two minutes then its all over and he falls asleep. So don't go to him for your first time, you'll just get
mangled. Don't get me wrong though, Potter's even worse."
Her eyes narrowed and she made a disgusted, disbelieving sound but she continued to listen.
He's your weakness, isn't he? You used to be so sure of him. He was your knight in shining armor. He could do no wrong. But now he runs hot and cold and you
don't know what to think.
" Potter's just a damn selfish-fuck." He continued, " He knows what he's doing but he doesn't care if the girl gets off as long as he does. He acts all sweet, gets
them in bed, has himself a little bit of fun and then drop kicks them out the door. He doesn't care who they are or what they look like. He even fucked a good half
dozen Slytherin girls before I found out and told him to stay the fuck away. And it's the same story with all of them. I don't know how many girls I've talked to who
were crying over Potter and how he never spoke to them again after he fucked them. I mean, I'm no gentleman but I serve my ladies, he just makes them into
whores."
Several emotions flowed through those big pretty eyes, disbelief, doubt, an ashen sort of realization. She didn't believe what he said about Potter and Weasley
being rough or unkind, not yet anyway, but there was plausibility in the idea that they might have very active sex lives that she didn't know about. Granger knew
they dated lots of girls, but in her blissfully ignorant female naivet, it had never crossed her mind that her boys were fucking them or, even worse, that they were
fucking them and not telling her about it. And she was seeing that now. The scientist in her, the skeptic, the realist, embraced the idea.
" Harry and Ron aren't like that." She snapped.
" No? They're male, they're human and they're very popular. The girls flock to them, don't they? Why should they resist? Don't you ever wonder where they go off
to with those girls? There aren't many places to go on 'dates' unless it's a Hogsmead weekend. But there are plenty of places you can go for a quick shag and
not get caught." His voice was low and reasonable and just a little wicked," And what about you? If your boys are so sweet and considerate how come they
drop you, their dearest little best friend, like a bad habit every time there's a nice piece of ass around? When those girls are around suddenly they don't have

time for you, most of the time they ditch you all together. I've seen them do it. When other girls are around, you don't even exist. "
Hurt. Hurt filled her eyes. She looked stricken. He'd hit the nail on the head with that one. Oh boy.
Jealous are we, Granger, jealous of all those girls? There are lots of them, aren't there. Lots of girls admiring your boys. And they've been fucking them, oh yes,
every single one of them.
She was trembling now, "Its not like that. I don't care what you say, Harry and Ron wouldn't treat people like that." She was denying his accusations of
maltreatment but not of their supposed promiscuity or that they ignored her for other girls.
" What do you know? They've never had you in the sack." He said casually, " They won't either. They're very careful with you. Potter especially. If he fucked you
and dropped you, you'd never do his homework ever again."
" Shut up." She choked, the color coming back to her cheeks in a crimson flush.
He feigned surprise at her tone and then let his face soften in pity, " Look, I didn't mean to upset you."
She was backing away from him now, "Just shut up right now, Malfoy."
" Hey, I'm only trying to help. Its better that you know the truth. You helped me out with the antlion so I should help you out with this. Forget about Potter. He's
rotten. He'll just fuck you and dump you. He's waiting to do it. He acts all sweet, gives you the puppy dog eyes every time you're angry at him for ditching you.
But if he really cared about you as much as he says he does, why doesn't he ditch the other girls and go out with you? Face it, he's got you hooked, pining after
him, little lovesick schoolgirl. Its pathetic and you know it. Its so pathetic you can't even acknowledge it. You disgust yourself."
" Its not like that." Her breath hitched, "You're just trying to twist things around."
The fake sympathy vanished and his lip curled in a dark, nefarious little smile. He gave a small shrug, "You don't have to believe me, Granger. Believe the girls.
Believe Cho and Briskin and Haley and Viradori and Micha and Shayn, Kimmy, Sandra and Shikea..."
" That's they" Her breath shuddered out.
Draco closed the distance between them, eyes narrow and whispered, " Potter hugged you and called you his only girl, right? And then Iona walked by. She's
taller than you, got that long silky black hair, not frizzy or dull brown like yours." His fingers brushed over her hair, over her cheek, " She's got those big blue eyes
and those massive tits. He didn't even glance back, did he? He was gone for two hours. Came back smelling like perfumelike sex and perfume."
Granger's eye went wide, she stared at him in shock.
I know what you're thinking, little girl. How does he know?
Her lips trembled like she was going to speak but in the end she didn't say another word, she just about-faced and tottered away like a little lamb, her shoulders
shaking.
Merlin, sometimes she was so cute.
" The best things, kiddo, the very best, "he called after her as she fled, " are the ones I don't have to make up."
He sighed happily into the growing darkness.
So much for unicorns.
oooo
Hermione huddled on the ground, far from the warmth of the fire, trying to stifle her gulping sobs into her sleeves. It was dark and quiet, the only sounds the
crackling of the fire and the occasional rustle of some animal or flying rodent. She wasn't sure how long she'd lain there crying.
She was being ridiculous. Malfoy was lying again, that was all. It was what he did. He was a master at it, lying, exaggerating, twisting words around, bending the
truth, seeking out weak points with the lightest touch, like a blind man reading brail and then stabbing his fangs through and pumping the wound full of noxious
poison. She knew better. She really knew better. She was so stupid for listening to him.
How dare she believe, even for a second any part of the lies he spewed!
She wiped her eyes and sighed. She was just tired, was all. That's why she'd freaked out. Normally she would have bashed him in the face and called him a
stupid wanker for talking about the boys like that. It was the combination of fatigue and hunger and all the tension and fights and the shock of his words, the
shock of him zeroing in with diamond precision on something she hadn't told anyone, that had just sort of pushed her over the edge.
He was so sick. It was unnerving how he'd managed to pick up on those little insecurities, pick at them like loose threads and pull them till he unraveled her.
How had he known that she was sometimes (all the time) jealous of the attention Ron and Harry gave other girls? How had he known that once in awhile (every
single time) she felt lonely when they both had dates, felt like they'd gone off and left her even though they'd be back in a couple hours to laugh and hug her and
make her feel treasured.
How had he known how awful she'd felt when Harry walked off with Iona?
How could he! How could he say something so sweet to her, tell her she was his girl, and then leave her like that!)

got that long silky black hair


She sobbed.
She didn't believe what Malfoy had said. She didn't believe that the boys were mean. But, damn him, he'd managed to put the idea there, the wiggling little
doubt.

Hadn't she seen Jemma Miles crying over Harry, crying like her heart was broken, even though they'd only seen each other once or twice? What could he
have done to make her feel like that?
Stop it Hermione!

They hardly ever date the same girl for more than a few weeks at a time and that's their idea of a long relationship. Usually it's just a few days...
STOP IT!
Draco Malfoy was going to drive her crazy. She was going to be raving mad, a certified loony ready to go bouncing into the crazy house by the time they got
home.

The last couple of days had been horrible enough without the ferret hopping along behind her like her very own pale demented shadow. She'd never been this
tired or hungry in her life. They walked every day till her body felt like a limp noodle. They went to sleep every night on the cold earth with growling bellies and,
tonight, with their faces singing with sunburn.
One upside was that they seemed to be sleeping better at night, if only because they were so tired that they were asleep before their heads hit the ground.
They had been lucky with the wild animals for the last couple of days too, had seen only a few. The Roc had scared her to death. When she first saw the huge
shadow winging towards them over the golden field and looked up to see that massive black silhouette against the sun, she'd thought for sure it was a dragon
or Malfoy's wyvern.
She sniffed. Malfoy's wyvern that didn't exist.
She'd seen a wolf the other night too, while Malfoy was off on one of his mad tweaker missions, a giant white wolf loping off into the trees. Her breath had
hitched in her throat, her heart suddenly thundering double-time, but the animal hadn't even glanced at her or her campfire. By far the worst thing they'd seen
was that possessed frog. She wasn't even sure why it had been so horrible, she just knew that it made her feel awful, like she was seeing something that had
crawled half dead from a nightmare. But if that was the worst thing they saw, then she supposed she should be grateful.
School was going to start the day after tomorrow. She wanted to believe they were going to make it in time. But there seemed to be no end in sight. Was it
even a matter of when they were going to make it back? Would they make it back at all? Sometimes she felt like her and Malfoy were on another world, a big
empty world that they'd forever circle in their attempt to find their way home.
Maybe she'd died and gone to hell. She snorted.
Traveling with the ferret was an experience in itself. She had thought maybe if she got to know him a little better he wouldn't be so bad. But she couldn't stand
him even when he wasn't snapping at her heels like some kind of vicious animal and trying his hardest to hurt or humiliate her. He was obnoxious and loud even
on his best behavior. He talked constantly. He complained about everything nonstop. He was tired, his feet hurt, this was her fault, it was hot, or he'd launch off
onto some tangent that had little to do with anything but always seemed to come around to the point that stupid muggles were responsible for all the ills in the
wizard world.
Or even worse, he'd start bragging about his family and she'd have to listen to him explain his background, pedigree, family creed, how his family had helped
shape society blah blah blah She now knew more about the Malfoy bloodline then she'd ever wanted to know. She needed earplugs. Desperately.
The really funny part was that sometimes he wasn't doing it to deliberately provoke her. Sometimes he'd be talking and he'd forget who he was talking to.
She could see it, the visible relaxing of his tense body, the softening of his face, sometimes the barest hint of a real smile. And he'd just talk on glibly and easily
as if he were talking to Crabbe or Goyle or another Slytherin. He was a fast talker, a bragger and an exaggerator, sometimes he was funny and, when he was
really relaxed, there was an underlying sort of inadvertent friendliness, something akin to charisma. She noticed it because it was different from the way he
usually spoke, or maybe it was just different from the way he usually to spoke to her when he came at her, Ron and Harry in full seek-and-destroy mode.
He'd go on talking to her in that easy manner, then later, sometimes hours later, he would suddenly remember who he was talking to and the results were
explosive. He'd puff up like an angry cat, stiffening defensively, sometimes in almost a panic, and start spitting out any nasty thing that came to mind to remind
them both that they were enemies.
Like this afternoon, she could have sworn his attempt to 'feed her to the trees' had been half playful. Like when Ron grabbed her in the astronomy towers and
threatened to throw her out the window. And she'd reacted just as if he were Ron, kicking and shrieking but not at all worried that he would actually do it. He'd
been completely bluffing from the beginning and they both knew it. But then he'd realized what he was doing, that he had a Mudblood practically wrapped up in
his arms, and he'd reacted like he'd stuck his finger in a light socket. He'd gotten angry and violent. It was like he was punishing her or being extra mean to
make up for his accidental slip into humanity.
Humanity. Geez, she could have punched his lights out for that remark. He'd meant it too. He'd meant every poisonous word and that had just torn her up. That
just because she wasn't pureblood, she wasn't human. How could anyone think that? Rotten. He was so rotten.
It had taken everything she had not to start screaming at him and trying to defend herself. But she knew better by now. He'd been waiting for it, intent on
dragging her into another fight. He was angry and he wanted to fight. It wasn't even on his agenda to listen to her rebuttal, no matter what he'd screamed after
her as she walked away. It would have been a waste of breath to try and reason with him, to give him any real facts or try to change his mind. His mind was set,
his ears would not hear. There was no reason to even open her mouth. It would be like trying to hold an intelligent debate with a brick wall.
Walking away had been the best option, even though it had taken all her willpower to do so and left her awake half the night just seething over his remark,
thinking of a thousand things she wanted to say, wanting to hurt him as much as those words had hurt her. Then she'd woken up the next morning and found that
her monthlies had started and that had just been the icing on the cake. She'd wanted to throw her head back and scream. It had still been early, predawn, and
she scrambled to find something, anything at all, to fix the situation. Because she did not, under any circumstances, want to explain to Malfoy that they couldn't
leave yet because she was on her period.
She'd gotten lucky. So very very lucky. She actually wept when she found her solution (Sangiri seeds to halt the flow and absorbent Medicarp moss) and Malfoy
slept through the entire ordeal. In fact, he slept hours later than she did. So she had hours to sit by the fire and contemplate him even after she'd gone out on a
brief forage for food.
It was really strange how you could see someone almost every day for seven years and not 'see' them. She'd been absolutely stunned after the whole antlionmirage-Malfoy ordeal. How could she have ever thought that faded decoy looked a thing like him? She was stunned that she, who prided herself on having a
realistic, down-to-earth view of things, could have a perception of the world that was so skewed. Malfoy was supposed to be the one with the warped mind,
Death Eater spawn that he was, not her!
Perversely, she'd been mad at Malfoy for tainting her perception of the world. She was furious that now there were times she couldn't even look at him without
blushing. She was mad at him for a whole lot of things come to think of it. The events of the last week, every nasty thing he'd said and done, kept circling about
in her head, festering and bubbling until her eyes settled on the empty cauldron next to the fire and she made a very rash decision.
Oh yeah. Scream baby, scream.
And after that moment of waterlogged triumph
I am so dead. He's gonna murder me.
He hadn't. He'd pulled one of his Malfoy mood-swings and ended up laughing at her instead, divining everything she didn't want him to know in one fell swoop.
She sighed tiredly.
In all honesty, he hadn't been too awful the last couple of days. Of course they'd both been too busy to pay much attention to each other. They'd fought, he'd
pushed her around, she'd thrown rocks at him, once hard enough to send him tearing into the woods to avoid being hit. Throwing rocks at him had happened on
something of a whim, when she'd been so frustrated that it was either throw something at him or go screaming mad and claw her own eyes out, but ultimately it

seemed to have been a wise choice. Malfoy now took greater care about choosing whether or not he wanted to get physically violent now that she might
choose to break his skull open in retaliation.
Today hadn't been their worst fighting. It was just that he'd scored a direct hit this time. He'd gone straight for her heart and cut deep.
Don't think about it anymore. Forget him. Forget Malfoy.
She rolled onto her back to stare up at the stars, losing herself in the deep blue washed with diamonds. She had a vague idea that she should be able to tell
where they were by what constellations she could see, but even she wasn't that good.
What was everyone at home doing?
Her parents were probably out of their minds with worry. They knew all about Voldemort and the war. They'd been informed after the Craighton mall massacre
two years ago. They were probably terrified that she was dead.
Unbidden, faded memories of Karina rose up in her mind and she bit her lip, her heart squeezing painfully and the stinging tears welling up again.
Harry and Ron and everyone probably assumed she'd been kidnapped, what with Malfoy missing too. She wondered vaguely what Lucius thought. Did he think
she had kidnapped his son? The thought made her give a little sobbing giggle. Maybe she'd tell everyone back home that she had kidnapped him. It was her
fault they hit the portkey after all.
What about Dumbledore? Did he know what had happened? Why hadn't he found her yet? The man wasn't omniscient but he was the next best thing. He had to
have some way of tracking his students. How else did he find her in the first place, back when she was just a little muggle girl who could grab scorching hot
cookies right off the oven pan and not get burnt and sometimes make the old music box that grandma had given her work when everyone else said it was
broken...
Harry, what are you doing tonight Harry?
She went to sleep with the sound of the old music box chiming in her ears.
She woke to full sun, her body stiff and cold and her tongue feeling like a shag carpet in her mouth. Her right arm had fallen asleep underneath her. She grunted
and flopped onto her side to let it come awake with pinpricking tingles, rubbing to increase the circulation. She sat up and then her stomach twisted painfully
and she jerked forward onto her knees and nearly threw up, a wave of spots fuzzing her vision. The moment passed and she was left sweating and shaking and
breathing hard.
Please, please, please don't let me be getting sick. She chanted desperately in her mind, although she didn't think that was the problem.
The problem was that she hadn't had any real food in days. What did she have to eat yesterday? A handful of berries and half a palm-full of nuts? Actually a
quarter of a palm-full because she'd given half to Malfoy.
Her face was hot and painful with sunburn and her mouth was parched and desert dry. Limbs stiff and joints cracking, she crawled on hands and knees to the
edge of the river and drank deeply. A shuffling sound behind her caused her to turn in time to see Malfoy pushing up on his arms only to klutz over on himself,
landing on his side and swearing softly. She would have laughed if she didn't feel like crying.
He'd been complete uncoordinated lately. Physical stress was apparently messing with his ferret equilibrium.
The boy didn't look at her, didn't speak to her, just dragged himself over to the leaf-littered river shore. They washed up in the icy water, drinking as much as
they could to fill their empty bellies and dull the stabbing hunger pains. There was nothing for breakfast and he didn't ask. It took only a moment to pack her stuff
up and stomp out the fire and then they headed out without saying a word, their pace slow and hobbling.
After only ten minutes, Hermione was panting and sweating. Her head felt all light and hazy and her stomach was a twisted knot of bitterness. The world began
to tilt and dip five minutes later and a numb tingling sensation began buzzing through her entire body only to coalesce in front of her eyes, like snow on an empty
television channel.
She realized quite calmly that she was on the verge of passing out and that passing out was most definitely not an option. Getting sick or passing out was the
worst possible thing she could do. If Malfoy thought she couldn't keep up anymore, he'd leave her.
He'd told her so himself.
He'd just keep going. He'd said he knew which direction to head now. He didn't need her compass. If she became too much trouble, he'd ditch her. It wasn't a
claim she had the courage to test him on either. She didn't want to find out whether or not he was bluffing because she was pretty certain he wasn't.
Breathing hard through her nose, she concentrated on trying to clear the bubbly carbonated feeling from her head, gritting her teeth and digging her fingernails
into her hand when it felt like she was about to go numb and float away.
Malfoy was a blurry shape in front of her. She focused on him as hard as she could but then the bubbles rushed up, straight from her toes.
Oh no. Oh no.
And when they got to her head in an effervescent rush everything melted away.
When she opened her eyes again she was on her back on the ground and Malfoy was kneeling over her, shaking her. Her backpack lay to the side. She mustn't
have been out long, a minute at most.
" What the fuck is wrong with you?" the boy asked when she focused on him, his expression wavering somewhere between consternation and annoyance.
" I dunno." She croaked, "Everything just went blurry"
He rose to his feet as she pushed herself into a sitting position. Even that seemed to be an exertion and sweat dripped down her forehead.
" I feel really sick." she whispered.
" Yeah, well, I don't feel so hot myself." Malfoy said without sympathy, "Get up."
Slowly, she got to her feet and even that was hard. She was shaky and her stomach turned with nausea. Malfoy gave her a once over, deemed her fit and
walked away. She tried to follow him. She managed to get five paces before her knees buckled again and she crumpled to the ground sniffling with helpless
tears.
" Ah, shit, Granger." Malfoy sounded disgusted. He stomped back to her to stand over her impotently, "Are you sick? Do you have a fever?"
" I don't think so. I feel a little hot because of the sunburn. But its mostly dizziness and queasiness like I'm going to throw up. I don't know what I'm going to throw
up since I haven't really eaten in three days." She began to sob quietly.

" Shit. Fucking shit." He went on stringing curses together, completely at a loss.
" Malfoy" she stared down at her knees, "I don't think I'm going to be able to go any further today."
" You stupid, useless bitch." He turned his back on her without another word and stormed away.
Hermione bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut, tears leaking down her cheeks. She did not want to watch him walk away, did not want to see her last link to
human civilization callously disappear over the next hill and leave her to sit there until either her strength returned enough for her to find shelter or something
came along and finished her off.
Damn him. Damn him for doing this to her.
And damn her. A lot of good all those spells and facts did her now. She thought bitterly. When it really counted, she just wasn't strong enough or smart enough
or anything enough...
An arm wrapped around her shoulders and she yelped in surprise as she was hauled unkindly to her feet. There was a moment where she leaned unsteadily
against him, wondering what the heck was going on, before she was roughly wrenched off her feet and into Draco Malfoy's arms.
" Fucking, stupid bitch. Ugly Gryffindor mother fucking" the muttered curses kept coming, long lists of increasingly vulgar expletives that, at the moment, she
was too stunned to take personally.
She rested her head on his shoulder and stared at her knees, not daring to look at him, or question this turn of events, not daring to even wonder what he was
doing. Because he couldn't possibly be helping her. She kept quiet, afraid to do anything but meekly hold onto him.
It took her a few minutes to realize he was taking her back to the oasis.
" You're fucking heavy." He panted, "You could stand to lose a few pounds for someone whining about being hungry."
He continued cursing and berating her, coming up with shocking and impressive word combinations, some of which she numbly made a mental note to
remember, all the way back to the river campsite. She peeked up at him once from under her hair and saw him staring determinedly forward, his face set and
hard. Back under the shade of the trees, he unceremoniously dropped her next to the remains of their fire and she landed with a bruising jolt.
" Stay." He snapped, pointing a finger warningly as if she were a dog, and disappeared into the brush.
She stared after him, shell-shocked.
Just what in the world was going on?
She knew better than to ask. For once, analyzing the situation didn't seem like a good idea. She lay down instead, pressing her cheek to the cool earth
gratefully, waiting for the dizzy sickness to pass. She'd experienced something like this before. A few summers ago she'd gone with some friends on a very
long bike ride on a very hot day on a very empty stomach. Her head had gone hot and fizzy and her stomach had warbled. She hadn't fainted, but she'd been
forced to get off her bike and sit down rather abruptly. This was a lot like that.
She dozed lightly, drifting in and out of real thoughts and restless half-formed dreams. She had no real way of knowing how long she lay there but she thought
her strength returned fairly quickly, telling her that her body's reaction had been more of a warning then a serious lapse. Not that it wasn't serious. She just
wasn't down for the count yet. When she finally sat up, she was still tired but able to move without nausea. The oasis was quiet, Malfoy was still out somewhere
doing who knows what.
Was it possible he was out looking for food? Ridiculous! He didn't know what to look for. If that were the case, she should probably go help him.
She reached with one hand for her backpack and turned quickly when she realized it wasn't there. Had Malfoy left it out there in the grasslands? She wouldn't
be surprised.
That idiot.
With a groan and a sigh, she got to her feet, pleased when no spots rushed her vision. She'd taken two steps towards the trees when an angry voice made her
jump.
" I told you to stay put!" Malfoy barked.
" Sorry," she mumbled," I was feeling a little better. I thought I'd look for food."
" Yeah and then you'd do one of your stupid fainting bouts out there and I'd have to go find you." He stomped into their campsite, glowering.
Okay, so he had a point.
" Here." He tossed something at her feet and it landed in a brown-furred boneless flop.
Hermione squealed, jerking back in horror. The dead rabbit stared up at her with glazed eyes, its mouth open in a frozen scream, square yellow-brown teeth
jutting outward obscenely.
" Oh mi gosh, Malfoy! What did you do!" she screamed, staring down at the poor thing, completely appalled.
Malfoy sneered at her, apparently pleased with her reaction.
" You killed a little rabbit? Why? How could you?" she was shaking with anger, " Did you do it for fun? Does this sort of thing get you off? What is wrong with
you?"
Malfoy burst into laughter at her indignation. He clutched his side and laughed until he almost cried.
She couldn't believe him, she glared at him, her face flushed.
" Oh, Merlin! Poor Mr. bunny!" Malfoy gasped out between laughs, "You're insane Granger, really."
" And you're really sick." She hissed, "Perverted, nasty freak"
He sobered, face darkening, " I think we've already discussed which one of us is the freak."
" We haven't discussed anything yet, but I look forward to the conversation. There is something wrong with you, isn't there. You make darn sure everyone knows
who the freaks are so they won't look too closely at you"

He went still, some emotion, something odd and guarded, flashing across his face, but then he snarled, "Ungrateful bitch. See if I ever bring you food again."
Food?
It hit her quite suddenly and then she felt incredibly stupid. The rabbit. The rabbit was food. Of course the rabbit was food! What in the world was she thinking?
It had just sort of surprised her brain. She'd never actually looked at a living creature, or a dead one in this instance and identified it in her mind as food.
Something seemed fundamentally wrong with the concept but here it was. And then Malfoy had surprised her by tossing the poor little corpse at her feet and
well
She glanced queasily down at the bunny, still a little horrified, " Food. You brought me food?"
Draco Malfoy had brought her food. The idea sank in and she looked up at him in awe.
His eyes narrowed and he took a step back, " Oh no! Don't you dare look at me like that! I did not do this out of the kindness of my heart! I'm helping you
because if I don't keep you around then I might end up walking into another antlion's nest or something like that. I don't care how sick you are or how bad you
feel, in fact I find your pain incredibly funny. So don't you for one second get gooey-eyed on me you psychotic troll."
A bit of cold reality reinstated itself with his words and she nodded slowly but was still a little amazed at him despite herself, " Thanks Malfoy I mean, thanks
anyway. I'mI'm sorry I yelled at you." She choked on the words. The apology was warranted, she supposed, but it still took a lot of willpower to force the words
out, " Um, I have no ideahow to prepare it." she gestured lamely to the dead thing at her feet.
He growled and rolled his eyes, "I'll set this one up to cook for you and then go out again. This isn't going to feed us both."
She stoked a fire as he sat down and unsheathed his knife, taking hold of the rabbit with practiced ease. She closed her eyes and looked away, a tiny sound
escaping her lips as the blade bit into flesh.
" Hey!" Malfoy snapped, "You're going to watch this and learn how to do it. I had to suffer through you bitching to me about circles and protective plants and all
that crap, so you have to watch this."
That was fair, she guessed. She cracked her eyes open to see the boy scowling at her. He grinned evilly when she met his eyes and proceeded to explain the
process gleefully as he sliced and diced and then tore the skin off andoh Merlinshe was going to barf.
" Look, Granger, it's the heart. Yummy!"
She moaned low in her throat, covering her eyes to escape seeing the tiny red organ in Malfoy's bloody hand. He laughed at her, delighted. She shrieked in
horror when he hacked off the rabbit's head and threw it at her, her face several shades paler than normal.
Food or not, he was a maniac to be able to chop that poor thing to pieces like that.
He set the animal on a spit and stuck the end of the spit into the dirt at an angle so the rabbit hung over the fire.
" Whenuh, how can you tell when its done?" she asked, shakily.
Malfoy gave her a blank look and shrugged, " Just make sure it doesn't catch fire. It doesn't taste good charred."
She slapped a hand to her forehead at this perfectly Draco cooking advice, as the boy went to toss the bloody waste into the underbrush and wash his hands in
the stream.
" Go ahead and eat all of it. I'll get us some more." Malfoy said finally and left without another word.
Food, food, food, food, dead bunny, oh Merlin, fooood. And not just food, MEAT! She hadn't had meat in a week.
She was left staring at the roasting meat, watching it like the pot that never boils. She groaned, the smell of cooking meat was intoxicating, had her stomach
jumping and gurgling in anticipation, but the preparation of the carcass was still vivid in her mind, threatening to make her ill.
That jerk, he did this on purpose.
Several things turned through her mind as she turned the spit over the fire. The most obvious being that, from the confident way Malfoy had dismembered and
disemboweled the unfortunate forest creature, this was something he did quite often. Which meant
Which meant that that despicable, nasty, vile inbreed had been eating meat this entire time AND taking half of her collected food on top of that! She realized in
outrage. What a sleaze!
He'd been hunting from the beginning. That's where he went when he snuck off every night! That's why he was always taking firestone from her backpack! And
that's why he never ever complained about being hungry. He might ask for food but he never actually said he was hungry. He had been trying, maybe even
subconsciously, not to alert her to what he was doing.
That rotten, evil git! To be getting extra food and eating it all himself and not bringing her a scrap! She remembered that it had occurred to her before that he
might be finding food and eating it himself, she hadn't thought it would bother her. It wouldn't have bothered her had he not insisted on eating half of what she
collected as well. But that he had the nerve to take half of her food and then not share what he had found just blew her mind!
Oooh, she wanted to tear into him. Here she'd been dying of hunger and he'd been having barbecue every night!
Speaking of which
Nothing so nasty had ever tasted so good as that poor murdered creature. At first the meat was so hot she burnt her fingers and her tongue when she tore
strips of meat off and stuffed them in her mouth without thought, but she didn't care. Her stomach screamed in welcome. She had to put the meat back over the
fire once or twice when certain areas looked suspiciously pink but on the whole the animal was cooked much better than Draco's first try. She didn't know that
though.
The boy returned as she was finishing up and licking her fingers eagerly.
" I got lucky." He grunted and two more rabbits hit the ground near the fire, " But the rest of them know I'm out here now. It'll be harder to catch anymore."
She pulled her finger from her lips with a wet smack, "Just how in the world are you catching them anyway? Its not like you have a gunor a wand." She added
at his blank look, " All you have is that knife. Do you know how to set traps or something? I think catching one is pretty amazing, let alone three."
He looked away, " I used to go hunting a lot with Ryan Nott and some friends."
" So you do know nature stuff and you've been keeping it a secret this whole time!" she accused.

He shrugged, " I know how to hunt, that's about it. We didn't go prancing around the woods gathering flowers."
" Oh and I do?" she snapped.
He gave her a withering look, "If you have the strength to bitch at me, then you must be feeling better. I'll put one more rabbit on to cook, you can have the whole
thing. But I want to save the last one for now."
He was gone a lot longer this time and when he finally returned it was with four squirrels and
" OH MI GOSH! GET THAT AWAY FROM ME!"
" People eat these, don't they?" he questioned uncertainly, holding up the headless snake.
" Y,yes, I've heard of people eating rattlesnakes. But Malfoy, squirrels? That's just gross."
" We'll eat lizards and grasshoppers if we have to." He said adamantly and looked vaguely pleased with the idea, "Are you still hungry?"
" NoI think I just lost my appetite."
" We don't have time for girly-shit, Granger. Are you hungry?"
" No. I'm full."
" Fine. Get out of the way. I'm starved."
She moved away from the fire though it wasn't really necessary, "Where's my backpack?"
" Uh, oh yeah, its in my bag." He flopped down next to the fire and fished out his bag, tugging her backpack out from the thin sack.
Hermione took it from him, " Are we going to leave after you eat?"
Now that her stomach was happy, she was full of energy, feeling much better and rearing to go.
" No, we're staying here for the rest of the day."
Her jaw dropped, "But school starts tomorrow! We can't waste a whole day just sitting here!"
" Granger, you could barely stand up this morning and I was almost about to fall over myself. We need to rest today."
" No way, Malfoy! No way am I just going to sit here! We have to get back!"
" Sit down! The only thing we need to do is stay alive, so shut the hell up. We wouldn't make it back in time anyway even if we started right now so relax and
we'll start again early tomorrow morning."
" NO! We leave now!" she put steel into her voice, telling him she wouldn't balk on this issue.
Malfoy gestured towards the grasslands," Go ahead. You're free to go. Nothings keeping you here."
She stood there uncertainly for a minute or two, knowing full well that she wouldn't leave without him and also that there was no way to budge him if he didn't
want to go.
Finally she made a ragged sound of frustration, " You just don't understand! I'm Head Girl"
" You'll be easy enough to replace. " Malfoy interrupted dryly, calmly skinning his rabbit.
" And what about the NEWTS? We have NEWTS this year and I for one want to be prepared!"
" For someone supposedly so smart, you are oppressively stupid. You were ready for NEWTS two years ago and you damn well know it. As for me, I could give
a shit about the NEWTS."
" Youdon't want to do well?" the idea was appalling.
" I don't need to do well. My dad can buy me into any job I want." He snorted, " Hell, I don't even have to work if I don't want to. Its not like I'm ever going to need
the money. The only reason Malfoys do work at all is so we can set an example for society and be able to help out in the Ministry."
She peered at him through her lashes," You mean so you can bribe and threaten the Ministry."
Malfoy smirked, " Just so."
" What happened to Slytherin ambition? I thought you had plans?"
" I do have plans. I'm just not going to kill myself to accomplish them if I don't have to. Its Hufflepuffs who get off on hard work. Slytherins know a good deal when
they see one."
Hermione sank down on the ground, cross-legged, frowning, "What are you going to do after Hogwarts?"
Malfoy snorted, " Move out for one. My mum doesn't want me to cuz Malfoy's are supposed to live at the Malfoy mansion or some stupid shit like that. Tradition
blah blah blah. But I can't wait to get my own place."
Hermione smirked, "You'll have to get yourself a House-Elf, otherwise you'll drown in your own filth. You're a slob."
Malfoy grinned, " Heh. I can always hire a Muggle House-keeper. What say you, Granger? Need a job?"
" SHUT UP!" but she giggled, " I don't want any job that involves folding your moldy underwear."
He laughed," You should be so lucky" he started but then he suddenly froze, his grin vanished and his face went cold and dark in an instant, " Fuck you,
Muddy! You'll be lucky to be alive, let alone a servant, after we take over." And he turned his back on her.
Hermione's smile faded, her heart sinking.
He'd done it again. For just a second they were almost having a civil conversation, their very first one, and then he'd caught himself and reverted.
He must have been very tired to let himself fall into conversation with her without realizing it. Or maybe he was just getting used to having her around and his

guard was dropping.


She studied his brooding face and knew he was going to make her pay for this big time.
He'd carried her in his arms, brought her food and talked with her. Later today or maybe tomorrow, there was going to be hell to pay. She would suffer dearly for
each moment he hadn't been his usual bad Slytherin self.
The boy sat in front of the fire, intent on his work. The rabbit carcass was now roasting and he was working on the squirrels (Yuk!). He had withdrawn completely
back into himself. His face was neutral, his mouth set in a cold, disdainful line but his eyes darted about like a hunted thing.
In a flash of insight, she wondered how closely he was watched back home. He was the perfection of all things Slytherin, he was their King, the center of
attention at all times. A slip up like the one just now could have cost him his crown back home. What would everyone say if they knew he'd been talking and
joking with a Mudblood?
Back at Hogwarts he was never alone, and even now, here, in the middle of nowhere, he couldn't relax. Because someone somewhere somehow might see
him being "nice" to a Mudblood and tell his father. He wasn't betraying them. No, she understood. He was doing what he had to do, helping her to help himself.
But someone else, and it was the Slytherin thing to do, could easily take his actions and twist them until he looked the traitor.
That would destroy him completely, his reputation, his power
What was it like to have his every word, every movement, recorded and analyzed by a hundred pairs of eyes? To have everyone else watching him for cues on
how to behave? To have his detractors just waiting for him to slip up? To have his father, the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself breathing down his neck?
It was not that he was being forced to be something he wasn't. She didn't believe that for an instant. No, he was Slytherin and pureblood all the way down to his
black little soul. He hated her, if not for being a Muggle then for being Harry Potter's friend. It was just that he was constantly putting on a show, playing the part
of the ultimate Slytherin. Back home it was probably something he enjoyed immensely. He loved the attention, the shock, the notoriety.
But out here, he couldn't find respite from the role. This whole situation had to be screwing with his head. He was tired but he couldn't relax, couldn't act like he
normally would when he was tucked up snug in the Slytherin common room surrounded by kith and kin. No, tonight he was bunked with the enemy so he had to
keep his guard up, no matter how tired he was, no matter how much he just wanted to lay the role aside and rest.
She tucked her knees up to her chin and closed her eyes. She was tired too.
fin

Next time: It's the first day of school at Hogwarts. Sides are taken, lines are drawn and Pansy has a plan
A/N: The wyvern is your average run-of-the-mill European mythological beast. Most Square Soft beasties in Final Fantasy games and such are usually
mythological based (ie Bahamut, Odin etc. etc.). My first exposure to wyvern was from a video game though. It was from Dragon Warrior III. Antlion is a shout
out to Final Fantasy (although there is an actual bug called an antlion and surprise it eats ants). This incarnation of it though, is all mine.

*Chapter 10*: Call to Battle


Disclaimer: LOBSTER STICKS TO MAGNET!
Last Time:
What was it like to have his every word, every movement, recorded and analyzed by a hundred pairs of eyes? To have everyone else watching him for cues
on how to behave? To have his detractors just waiting for him to slip up? To have his father, the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself breathing down his
neck?
It was not that he was being forced to be something he wasn't. She didn't believe that for an instant. No, he was Slytherin and pureblood all the way down to
his black little soul. He hated her, if not for being a Muggle then for being Harry Potter's friend. It was just that he was constantly putting on a show, playing
the part of the ultimate Slytherin. Back home it was probably something he enjoyed immensely. He loved the attention, the shock, the notoriety.
But out here, he couldn't find respite from the role. This whole situation had to be screwing with his head. He was tired but he couldn't relax, couldn't act like
he normally would when he was tucked up snug in the Slytherin common room surrounded by kith and kin. No, tonight he was bunked with the enemy so he
had to keep his guard up, no matter how tired he was, no matter how much he just wanted to lay the role aside and rest.
She tucked her knees up to her chin and closed her eyes. She was tired too.
Chapter 10: Call to Battle
We are scanning the scene
in the city tonight
We are looking for you
to start up a fight
There is an evil feeling
in our brains
But it is nothing new
you know it drives us insane
Metallica Seek and Destroy
oooo
Harry dreamed of Hermione. It wasn't the first time, not anywhere near the first time. But this wasn't one of the warm, slippery, flesh-colored dreams that made
him stutter a bit around her the next morning nor was it one of the dark, blood-stained nightmares filled with the sour musk of reptiles that had haunted him since
Cedric's death and tripled in intensity since Sirius'. This was.different.
It was fuzzy and dim at first, there was nothing but a speck of orangish-yellow light dimly glowing off somewhere in the distance of an infinite eternity of inky
blackness. He walked closer to the light, though he was certain there was nothing beneath his feet, nothing but more empty darkness. Negative space. The
absence of all. Except that one flare of lightand the distant chirping croak of frogs, as if there was a pond somewhere nearby.
That one spot of light became clearer until he could see it for what it was. A campfire. A small campfire, weak and straining, flickering with all its tiny might to
fend off the overwhelming darkness. Hermione knelt beside the fire, gazing into the flames. Her face was calm and serene and she was wearing some sort of
strange concoction of skins and furs, one of her hands played absently with a necklace made of bones and animal fangs around her neck. She looked like a
tribal maiden.
" Hermione..?" his voice was distant and echoing as if from far away and he knew his mouth hadn't move.
She turned chocolate-colored eyes up to him soberly, sadly, and didn't seem surprised at all to see him there anymore than he was surprised to see her.
" Its behind you Harry."
The words turned his blood to ice, as realization and a feeling of pure terror burst over his skin in tingling waves.
He whipped around but it was too late. There was a flash of glacial eyes, pale pale hair and a curling snarl and the other boy bore him to the ground, a wickedlooking dagger in hand raised for the kill. Harry grabbed the hand clutching the weapon and tried to stop it from descending, choking as Malfoy's other hand
closed around his neck.
"Re'loiuth Eedai Mevnox." Hissed Malfoy, madness in his eyes.
Sickened chills raised the hair on his arms, causing his stomach to clench, and his strength to give out. With a triumphant cry, Malfoy slammed the blade home.
Harry jerked upright in bed, biting his tongue on a scream, sweat pouring down his face and soaking his chest. He was tangled up in the many patchwork quilts
that covered his bed in the Burrow
Only this wasn't the Burrow.
For a horribly disoriented moment he had no idea where he was. Then he remembered. The Weasleys had been uprooted to a temporary safe house after
Hermione's disappearance and he'd stayed with them, refusing to return to the Dursley's for the last week. Ron lay on the bed across the room, snoring
obliviously. The place was sweltering, someone had probably left the heating charm on.
Harry sucked in deep calming breaths, slumping back against his plump feather-down pillow, running a hand over his sweaty forehead, over his scar.
A nightmare? Just a nightmare?
He never could tell anymore, he didn't trust his own instincts. There had been a clarity to the images that only existed within his true dreamsbut all his true
dreams were connected to Voldemort and there had been no sense of his enemy anywhere in this dream.
His true dreams were also scenes from reality, like the ones where he'd seen the inside of the Ministry building. They were real places and real events. This
dream had been a study in surrealism. He highly doubted Hermione was actually sitting in an empty black void beside a floating campfire while dressed in
animal skins.
It was just a regular old nightmare. Just some crazy acid-trip his brain had thrown together. Hermione had to be somewhere after all. No one seemed able to
find her, to tell him where she might be, but she couldn't have vanished from the face of the Earth. So maybe she was floating in the twilight zone wearing bone
jewelry with only a psychotic, knife-wielding Draco Malfoy for company

Stop it!

He cringed, horrified by the thought, his breath shuddering painfully from his chest.
Hermione was out there somewhere, all alone with the Malfoys, with Draco Malfoy and Lucius Malfoy and all their buddies.
Draco
What had the boy said in his dream? Re.

No! Don't think those words.


He shuddered again, feeling ill. His mind shying away from the horror he'd felt at that moment.
He crawled, rumpled and sleepy, from the bed with a grunt, his mouth sticky and foul tasting, and limped to the window. The drapes were thick and heavy
enough to block out all light even in the afternoon. Harry lifted one side and saw that the sky was just beginning to turn pale at the edges. It was incredibly early if
Mr. Wealsey wasn't in there already to chase them out of bed.
They'd be boarding the train today. Without Hermione.
His world was falling apart.
Voldemort didn't need to kill him to destroy him now. All Voldemort needed to do was take Ron, take him like he'd taken Hermione and Sirius and Cedric and
his parents, take the very last thing in the world that Harry cared about andand that would be it. He'd be broken, snapped, mad, and that was worse than
dead.
Because maybe if he were dead, the pain would stop.
His little life that he'd built for himself had been so fragile. Ron and Hermione were the first people in his entire life that he could remember ever caring about
him in any way. Hermione was the first to ever offer him physical gestures of affection, a hug, a kiss. Things so simple and everyday for most people, but
something he'd never experienced or even wanted until she came along.
That first year at Hogwarts he'd been more comfortable with people hating him than with people being nice. Until Ron and Hermione changed him.
Merlin, he loved them both so much.
He'd been shocked that first day when Ronald Weasley wanted to be his friend. Didn't this red-headed kid know what he was? Couldn't he tell just by looking
that Harry Potter was a freak, a worthless waste of skin, something to hate, to spit on and grind under foot. Isn't that what the Dursleys had taught him every day
of his existence? It didn't matter. He'd been certain this kid would soon realize his mistake and not want to be friends anymore.
Quite the opposite. Instead he'd found himself with an adopted family of good-natured red-heads who fussed over him as if he were their own.
Harry felt his fists clench in his hands until his knuckles were white.
He wouldn't let it happen. He wouldn't let them be hurt because of him. He couldn't go back to that cold, destitute childhood after tasting their warmth, their love,
after discovering (and it had taken him years to realize it) that there was nothing wrong with him.
Hermione was gone. They had taken her, but he'd get her back and make damn sure they didn't live long enough to take Ron. Anything else was unthinkable.
Harry dressed and slipped down the hallway, unable to even fathom getting back to sleep. The house was completely dark except for the dim orange light
coming from the downstairs living room. It reminded him eerily of his dream.
A fire crackled cheerily in the living room fireplace. Ginny Weasley was curled up in a large armchair nearby, still dressed in her pajamas, a blanket over her
legs, her tangled mane falling haphazardly over her shoulders.
" Morning Gin." He whispered.
" Morning Harry. Couldn't sleep?"
" No."
" I can never sleep the night before school." She admitted in a hushed voice, " I always dream that I miss the train."
" Yeah. I've had that one before."
" But not tonight?"
" No, not tonight."
She didn't press. He sat down in the chair across from her, eyes drawn to the darting flames. They sat that way in companionable silence, and Harry simply
soaked in the peace of the moment.
" Mom is crying again." Ginny told him, breaking the stillness.
Harry sighed very softly, feeling helpless.
He had been there when Mr. Weasley explained what had happened to Hermione. Molly had listened soberly and then nodded curtly, her mouth in a thin tight
line. At the time, Harry had felt a burst of rage towards this woman who was almost a mother to him and her calm, almost aloof, reaction to the news,
remembering that she did not care for Hermione nearly as much as she cared for him. Only later, in the quiet of the night, did he hear her sobbing, wailing, as
Arthur tried uselessly to comfort her.
She had said nothing, not a word, but Harry remembered the photo album Moody had showed him, and all the photos of Molly and Arthur's friends.
And he knew she believed Hermione was dead.
" She doesn't want us to go back to Hogwarts." Harry said inanely, they both knew this.
They had been trying these last few days, to prepare for school as normally as possible only to discover that Mrs. Weasley had started insisting they not return
to Hogwarts at all this year. She'd fought Arthur to the wall against them returning, saying they should be home-schooled instead.
Harry had been horrified by the idea. Hogwarts was home, even more than the Borrow was. Nothing was going to stop him from going back. Not even Molly
Weasley. They could forbid him all they wanted, he was seventeen and technically an adult, legally they couldn't stop him. He was going to Hogwarts one way or
another and that was final.

Luckily, the Order backed Arthur, and Molly had given in. Harry hoped she had given up on the idea. He didn't want anybody changing their minds at the last
moment.
" Do you really think Hogwarts is safe?"
The question caught him off guard.
Safe? His immediate inclination was to say 'yes', Hogwarts was safe. Safe as safe could be.
That was a lie. After everything that had happened to him and his friends at Hogwarts, it would be a bold-faced lie to say nothing could harm them there. The
truth was that nowhere was safe. Hogwarts was simply safer than anywhere else.
He had waited too long to answer and Ginny simply nodded her understanding. At her quiet acceptance, Harry felt a pang in his chest.
There had been owls the morning after Hermione's disappearance. Flocks of them, droves of them.
There were sympathies and condolences. There were frightened friends wanting to know what had happened and how they could help. There were Slytherins
and purebloods sending Howlers and jinxes to Harry for his 'abduction' of Draco. There were crazies claiming that they'd seen Hermione in Bangkok or Brazil.
Others bragging that they had been the one to take her and that they meant to take Harry next.
And there had been terrible terrible threats against the Weasleys. Threats against the family, against Ron, against Ginny.
The Order screened all of the owls coming through but that first day there hadn't been enough of them around and they'd missed several owls. One of the owls
carried a letter directly to Ginny.
She had come running, crying in pain, to Fred and George. George was the one who caught her up in his arms, while Fred demanded to know what was wrong,
bellowing in a voice that had brought Mr. Weasley, Ron and Harry running.
Ginny's hands had been severely burned by a curse in the letter. Mr. Weasley and George carted the hysterical girl off and Fred, Harry and Ron were left with
the letter. A simple plain parchment with the words 'I'M GOING TO KILL YOU, WHORE' scrawled across the center.
Harry didn't understand how anyone could blame Ginny for Malfoy's disappearance. She was an innocent bystander. Yet that letter had only been the first of
many. Fortunately it was the only one to actually reach Ginny.
" I feel like I should apologize." Harry murmured.
Ginny's eyes sought his curiously.
" If it wasn't for me, you're family" he trailed off, shaking his head, "Its my fault, you know. Your dad getting hassled at work. Percy still not coming home. You
and Ron If it wasn't for me, you wouldn't be in danger."
" Harry, you're being a jackass." Ginny cut him off sharply, "Not one of those things are your fault. Us Weasleys make our own trouble. We like trouble. Its in our
blood. Just look at Fred and George. For heaven sakes look at Charlie, he plays with dragons!" She smiled grimly at him, " Besides, if it weren't for you Harry,
then Ron wouldn't have a best friend and he probably never would have made Prefect. If it weren't for you, Fred and George wouldn't have one of the most
successful shops in Hogsmead. And if it weren't for youI wouldn't have had anyone to rescue me from Tom Riddle and the Chamber of Secrets. He brought
me into this, Harry, him and Malfoy, not you. Between me and Riddle, its personal."
She glared at him, cool and imperious even with her hair in disarray and wearing bunny pajamas with lace at the collar. Harry felt a grin tugging helplessly at his
lips at this glimpse of the wild woman Ginny Weasley was growing up to be. She was a firecracker, that was for sure.
As suddenly as it came the grin faded in a wave of overwhelming weariness.
" I don't want to lose anyone else, Gin." He murmured, pressing the crown of his head into the soft cushion as he stared at the ceiling. The confession was
completely unlike him.
" Oh Harry" Ginny's face softened and she started to reach one hand out to him but the twins chose that moment to come pounding downstairs. She sat back,
retracting her hand, " We're here for you, Harry."
By the time Mr. Weasley finally rolled a groggy, irritable Ron out of bed, Ginny was dressed and the morning post had come. There were two letters for Harry
but they were quickly snatched away, much to his frustration, by an Order member who happened by.
Harry knew he should appreciate that they were screening for information and keeping threats and jinxes away but in the mean time he was trying to send and
receive private messages with friends and classmates and this constant snatching of his letters was making it impossible. He definitely did not want the likes of
Moody reading his messages. Especially since Moody might be periodically patrolling the school as he had the year before.
It was a mess anyway with remembering who knew what and who he'd last written to. Harry had owled most everyone to tell them to stop writing him, that he'd
talk to them all once they reached Hogwarts. But he'd apparently missed a few. He already felt bad since the only information the other Gryffindors now had to
go by was the newspaper which was rapidly turning into the circus what with all the false reports and tips.
Breakfast was quick and subdued, no one felt much like eating or talking. The twins ate sullenly, George practically hovering over Ginny as he had all week,
despite her snarled, sometimes shrieked, protests that she could take care of herself.
Usually the twins would already be off to work at this time of day but they had stuck around especially to see the others off.
Their reaction to Hermione's disappearance had at least been gratifying. The two went ballistic. Harry was certain they had started plotting revenge almost
instantly, but Lucius struck first. The elder Malfoy had insisted the twins be implicated as suspects in his son's disappearance. The Wheezes was searched and
Lucius had tried to get the shop shut down 'until such time as Draco is returned'. Arthur had fought like mad to keep the little shop open and had thus far
succeeded, but the sheer amount of paperwork alone was keeping the twins too busy to retaliate.
Mrs. Wealsey had cooked an enormous breakfast and she watched them all with a strained pale smile, her eyes red-rimmed but there was otherwise no sign
of her early morning tears. She had kept up a cheery front all week but it seemed to be taking its toll. She sipped at her tea and wrote another letter to the
Grangers. She had dutifully written to them once, sometimes twice, a day since their daughter vanished.
Hermione's parents hadn't been informed of her disappearance until a full day after the incident. The Ministry apparently had never sent anyone to tell them. It
was not a 'priority' they said. They considered the disappearance a Wizard matter and hadn't thought it necessary or wise to share information about an
ongoing investigation with a pair of Muggles. Arthur had been absolutely horrified by this lack of common human courtesy.
The Granger's had been fighting bureaucratic red tape ever since, fighting for every scarp of information they could get. Molly and Harry tried to stay in contact
with them. The Grangers had even been down to the safe-house for a night to speak with Arthur.
They were nice people, but even Harry felt a bit like they were outsiders. He couldn't shake the feeling that they didn't quite understand how dire the situation

was. Or maybe that wasn't fair. Maybe they did but they refused to acknowledge it. He knew they had lost a niece in the Craighton mall massacre. He knew they
understood that Voldemort would kill them as soon as look at them. But what parent gives their child up for dead? They would always have hope, even if
Hermione was never found.
The ride to the train station was more like a parade. Harry was accustomed to having escorts but this years entourage, made up of ministry and Order alike,
seemed absolutely ridiculous. He endured it stiffly, ignoring the stares they received. Molly kissed them as they stood on the platform, hugging them like she
was never going to see them again, tears in her eyes as she waved goodbye.
Fred immediately threw himself at them in over-exaggerated mimicry, making a show of hugging the three of them weepily, getting an angry squall from Ginny,
an unnatural cold silence from Ron and an embarrassed mutter from Harry before Fred hastily shoved a small bag into Harry's hand and winked as he pulled
away. Harry quickly stuffed the bag in his robes.
If Fred had to sneak it to him, he was fairly certain it was ammunition of some sort. He gave the twins a faint grin of thanks. Fred and George could always be
counted on.
" I'm so glad that's over with!" Ginny groaned as they boarded the train at last, voicing Harry's sentiments exactly, " I thought mother was going to snap and start
shrieking about home school again."
" I won't be comfortable until we're actually in our common room." Harry muttered, thinking that Mrs. Weasley still had several hours to snap.
" Here here." Ginny agreed.
Ron still said nothing. Harry was getting worried. The red-headed boy had been coping well the last couple of days. He'd been as fierce as ever in making
plans during war meetings with Harry and the twins. But this morning he'd been cold and silent as stone.
Its because she wouldn't miss school. Harry thought, nothing would keep Hermione Granger away from her first day of school but she's not here.
" Harry! Ron!"
Lavender and Parvati came jogging into the car. The two girls had probably seen them from a window as they boarded. Lavender gave them each a quick
unexpected hug, pulling away before they could react. Parvati's face was red and her breath was coming in little hitches like she was struggling not to cry.
" What's going on, Harry?" Lavender asked, " I tried to owl you but Mina kept coming back with my letters unopened. Peoplepeople are sayingreally
terrible things."
" People are saying that Hermione is dead." Parvati whimpered.
The words wrenched Ron off autopilot. He came violently to life.
He went berserk," SHUT UP!"
The girls recoiled in owl-eyed shock.
"YOU'D LIKE THAT WOULDN'T YOU? YOU NEVER LIKED HER! EITHER OF YOU!"
" RON!" Ginny grabbed his arm, shaking him, " STOP IT!"
The boy glared at the two stunned girls, his face twisted and his chest heaving before he subsided, turning away from them.
" Hermione's not dead." Harry said adamantly.
He hadn't spoken to Dumbledore in days. But Dumbledore would have told himif something happened. Right?
" Where is everyone? We need to talk."
" There's not going to be enough room on the train, Harry." Ginny said gently, " Not for all the Gryffindors and you and Ron have to go to your meeting."
" Oh for Merlin's sake, just tell us!" Lavender cried out angrily, "Is it true? Was she kidnapped?"
Harry nodded slowly. He'd forgotten that some of them really had no clue as to what was going on.
" Draco Malfoy kidnapped her." Ginny confirmed.
Parvati's hand flew to her mouth. Lavender's mouth twisted and she gave a quick nod, her eyes sparking with anger, surprising Harry. But all she said was, "
Come on, everyone's in front."
The entire train was unusually quiet, people speaking in whispers and darting between cars while wary-eyed security guards stalked up and down the aisles.
Strangely, or maybe not so strangely, the Houses had segregated themselves off as some sort of automatic defense mechanism. The Gryffindors had gathered
together in the front cars. The Slytherins had gathered towards the back and were ignoring everyone else. The Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws seemed to want
nothing to do with this new inter-House disaster and huddled together nervously in their respective groups, completely withdrawing from the other two Houses.
" Is it really this bad?" Ginny asked, blinking as two Ravenclaws darted past her with averted eyes, " Is it because a Gryffindor and a Slytherin are missing or is
it because of who they are, because its Hermione and Malfoy?"
Ron and Harry dropped Ginny off with the other Gryffindors after making Lavender and the others promise to watch over her, much to Ginny's annoyance. They
were about to leave when Colin Creevey struggled through the crowd of bodies to stop them.
" Harry! Harry!" the excitable boy came dashing over and Harry wanted to bash his own head into the wall when he saw the Prefects badge on the boy's shirt.
Of course. He'd forgotten that Hermione was getting a replacement because of her promotion to Head Girl. And who better to fill the position then his own
personal stalker.
" This is the best they could do to replace Hermione?" Ron hissed in outrage, " What's he going to do if someone's breaking rules? Take a picture?"
" Hello Colin." Harry murmured miserably.
" Harry, how are you holding up, Harry? I'm so sorry about Hermione! I"
" Colin!" He interrupted quickly, feeling the beginnings of a headache, " Lets not talk about it here. We'll talk about it when we get to Hogwarts."
" Right, right. Are we going to our prefects meeting now? I mean, not just prefects cuz you're going to be there too and you're Head Boy. Congratulations on that
by the way"

Harry and Ron walked away without waiting for him to finish, tuning out the chatter as the shorter boy followed them through the train like an eager puppy.
The Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw prefects were already waiting when they arrived. Harry recognized the Hufflepuffs: Iona Wattiker, a seventh year, and Bastian
Brahms, a sixth year. Iona bit her lip nervously and gave Harry a small nod but Bastian merely looked at him. Harry paused, taken aback by such a cold
reception from two people he considered friends.
The two Ravenclaw girls stared at him with eerily similar green eyes.
" Hi," Harry stuck out his hand, " I don't know you two. I'm Harry, I'm the Head Boy. These are the Gryffindor prefects, Ron and Colin."
" Hi." Ron muttered gruffly while Colin gave a more enthusiastic greeting.
" I'm Darryl and this is my sister Farris." The older of the girls said, releasing Harry's hand to shake Ron's, "She's fifth year, I'm seventh."
" Nice to meet you." Harry sat down at the head of the table with Ron to his right, suddenly feeling self-conscious.
The Head Girl seat was glaringly empty, as were the two Slytherin prefect seats.
" Does anyone know who thewho is going to sit in for Hermione?"
Iona and Bastian exchanged a look but said nothing.
" We don't know." Darryl admitted.
Ron shifted restlessly, " Shouldn't we just get started. Forget them, they can catch up. Not like we need them anyway."
" What did I tell you, they're already trying to get rid of us," A familiar voice drawled and Harry went stiff as the door swung open.
Pansy Parkinson gave him a blinding smile from where she stood, poised like a model in the doorway with a hand on her hip, batting her eyelashes at him.
Behind her stood Millicent and a boy Harry didn't recognize.
There were three of them, Harry thought numbly, that meant
" No" he breathed.
Pansy's smile broadened, " Oh yes." She sauntered in, " Its so nice to see you, Potter. How was your summer? Not good, huh? I hear your girlfriend ran off with
a Slytherin."
Harry and Ron were on their feet.
Ron was grinning, snarling, " You're stupider than I thought to show your face where Harry and I can get a hold of you."
" I'd like to see you try!"
" Everyone calm down!" Iona said sharply, jerking up and between the two groups, " We can't fight. We're the"
Millicent stepped forward and shoved the Hufflepuff back into her seat with a startled 'oof'. Iona sputtered in outrage, glaring impotently at her attacker.
" You'll speak when spoken to, Hufflepuff." Pansy snapped, sparing the girl a derisive glance.
" Don't touch her!" Harry was shouting at Millicent at the same time Ron was yelling, " Who do you think you are, Parkinson?"
" Moi?" She pointed to something on the front of her robe, " I'm Head Girl."
Everyone went still. Colin gasped loudly. The Ravenclaws only watched with silent interest. Harry's mouth dried up as he stared at the shiny, new badge pinned
delicately to his enemy's breast, her smile sweet and satisfied.
" Dumbledore's gone out of his gourd!" Ron breathed finally, "Itsits an insult to Hermione!"
" Maybe she's faking it. Do you think she's faking it, Harry?" Colin asked.
Harry still couldn't move. Horror and betrayal were battling for dominance in his head and the little blond girl in front of him was staring almost dreamily into his
eyes, greedily drinking in his reaction.
" I was a little surprised myself." she said conversationally, "But it makes sense if you think about it."
What could Dumbledore be thinking? Whywhy would he make Draco Malfoy's girlfriend Head Girl? Why was he granting her more power and authority? Why
couldn't it have been anyone, anyone else!
" If there's one good thing about this whole mess its that Little Miss Bad-Hair-Day isn't here to nerd everything up. I guess the Gryffindors won't be running the
school this year after all, will they Potter. Only one thing could make this any better.." She stepped close to him, smiling that mean little smile, and whispered, for
his ears alone, "us arranging a little accident for you and getting a Slytherin elected to Head Boy."
Harry wasn't sure where it came from but his lips twisted up into a nasty smile of his own and he had the satisfaction of seeing Pansy's eyes widen minutely
before he made a grab for her throat.
Ron was suddenly grabbing him, struggling with him. Holding him back, he realized in outrage. He turned to slam his best friend into the wall and then he saw
the man in the doorway.
" What is going on here?" demanded the short, stocky intruder.
Harry went still, but the man was glaring at Pansy, " I told you three to wait. That I'd accompany you to the meeting." He nearly shouted, his fat face red and
sweaty, his breath puffing, " I'm not going to chase you all over this accursed train."
Pansy glowered, looking sulky and petulant.
" Go sit down, all of you!" his beady eyes swept over the rest of them and they hastened to obey.
Harry held his ground, ire already up from Pansy's provocation, " Excuse me, but you are?"
The man had thick little teeth that were too pale to be yellow but too close to ivory to be white and Harry couldn't tell if he was snarling or smiling, " Train security,
I've been ordered to oversee this meeting. Just in case it turns into a brawl."

His eyes glittered with amusement and Harry realized the man had seen his attempted assault on Pansy after all.
" So much for the entertainment portion of the trip." Darryl drawled softly and received a death glare from both Pansy and Iona. Colin laughed, high and nervous.
" Sit down, boy, and get this over with, I have other things to do." The man spat but not without a measure of kindness.
" Right." Harry muttered moved towards his seat only to momentarily freeze when his eyes met the frosty, winter skies of Pansy's suddenly viperous baby blues.
He slipped past her delicately, trying not to touch her or her chair as if she were deadly contagious and sidled into his seat. She hissed something at him, or
maybe just hissed, but he ignored her, clearing his throat.
" I suppose introductions are in order." He started.
They went around introducing themselves and he learned that the young Slytherin boy with the soft curtain of dark blond hair with hinted rose and cherry
highlights was Icarus Cinder, a fifth year. Harry knew the boy's older brother Idane Cinder, a sixth year with designs on Draco's position as the Slytherin King.
Idane often left Harry and his clique alone merely to spite Draco, and the Head Boy now wondered if the younger Cinder brother would prove useful as well.
The meeting continued with the feel of a vacuum, a highly pressurized calm, everything said with a razors edge of control, because the tension was so thick it
was like a wire strung taut across the room and winding tighter every second. Harry found himself rushing through the announcements as if he had to finish
before that wire snapped.
Everything remained calm until they began discussing matters they were supposed to decide as a group such as the dates for the Hogsmead weekends, patrol
times and area divisions, and extra duty assignments. Many of these things he had already discussed at length with Hermione and they had set a tentative
schedule that Harry would have had the group approve or improve upon.
Pansy rose to the occasion. She found a problem with every single date he had set, every single solution he proposed and every single assignment he had
allocated.
He knew from the get-go that she was baiting him, that there was nothing at all wrong with his schedules, he tried compromising anyway, but nothing he said
would shut her up.
" What's wrong with this date?" he snarled, slamming the paper down, so frustrated he could just strangle her, " You've had a problem with every other date,
what's wrong with this one."
She looked him dead in the eye, " I'll be doing my hair that day."
" Damn it, Parkinson, STOP WASTING OUR TIME!" Ron roared.
" Yes, we should have been done by now." Bastian snapped.
" Hey, its my job to make sure the student body gets what it deserves." The Slytherin Queen yelled back, "And that us Slytherins are represented."
" And the rest of us shouldn't be represented?" Iona cried indignantly.
Pansy gave her a dry look, "You're a Hufflepuff, that's like being a cow. We don't represent cows, we eat them."
Iona looked scandalized.
" That's it." Harry stood up, " We're going with the original plans me and Hermione set. All of them. If the Hufflepuffs or Ravenclaws have something to say about
it, we'll compromise. You three can just deal with it. This meeting is adjourned."
" Finally!" Bastian whooped.
" That wasn't very smart, Potter." Parkinson growled, her cheeks crimson, " I'll be sure everyone in Slytherin hears about this."
" Good." Harry spat and stormed away.
The strangeness of the whole day had only increased by the time they reached the castle, dampening any enjoyment Harry might have felt at being back where
he belonged. The students filed into the Great Hall with all the cheer of inmates setting in for lockdown, the only noise their shuffling feet and scattered
mummers. To Harry's embarrassment, he found himself walking at the head of the Gryffindors. They had automatically gathered behind him as if he were a
general leading them to war.
The first years, when they arrived, looked positively terrified. They cluttered together loosely in scattered clumps. Privy to the commotion but not yet sorted, they
didn't seem to know what to do with themselves. They couldn't exactly divide themselves into Houses when they had no idea where their own lot would fall.
The Sorting Hat sang, a note of ragged desperation in its voice. The song followed the same lines as always and Harry found himself ignoring most of it, too
busy staring at the Slytherin table where Pansy was holding a mini conference with Crabbe and Goyle. At the end of the song came another mournful warning,
the same warning that had come every year now since fifth year.
Unite? Harry thought bitterly, Slytherin and Gryffindor friends? Not likely. The sad truth was probably that Gryffindor believed they were friends until Slytherin
stabbed him in the back.
Pansy caught his eye and winked.
McGonagall stepped forward, parchment in hand, pointedly ignoring the awkward silence that had followed the Hat's song, and called for her first victim.
The first child, Phillip Morek, a pudgy boy with freckles across his nose moved mechanically to the hot seat like a doomed man, looking as if he were about to
vomit.
There was that awful moment of infinite possibilities and then
" Hufflepuff!" the Hat cried and little Phillip practically melted in relief amidst a smatter of cautious applause.
Some of the children seemed, aside from general anxiety, not to care where the Hat put them and Harry figured these were the kids from Muggle homes. Many
of the other children acted as if the matter were life and death.
The commotion came when Samuel Gage became a Gryffindor. The boy's eyes flew wide in horror and there was an infuriated cry from someone in Slytherin.
The boy freaked, " Its wrong! Its wrong! Let me try again!" he grabbed futilely for the hat as McGonagall plucked it from his head, " Let me try again!"
" I'm sorry, dear," McGonagall said, looking at a loss and tried to explain to the boy that there were no second chances and firmly began to lead him to the
Gryffindor table.

" Let him try again!" someone yelled.


Samuel looked terrified as McGonagall set him down with the other first years. His eyes swept the table and when they met Harry's the boy cowered like a
whipped puppy.
Harry realized angrily that he was once again going to be perceived as some monster to be feared. This was ridiculous. First they thought he was attacking
muggle-borns and then they thought he was insane and now he was a kidnapper and attacker of Slytherins. From one extreme to the next it seemed.
Fine. Whatever.
Harry only closed his eyes when Amber Brown became a Slytherin and the girl burst into hysterical tears.
" Harry, do something!" Lavender whimpered.
Harry looked at her in astonishment. What did she expect him to do? Whip out his badge and demand a recount?
Dumbledore rose as the Sorting ended, Amber's soft sobbing still audible in the silent Hall. The old man looked tired, his skin almost a ghastly gray, but his
eyes were sharp as they swept over the students and his aura was as strong and peaceful as ever.
" Most of you are already aware that two very important members of your class are not here today. It has been over a week since Hermione Granger and Draco
Malfoy vanished. I know that many of you cared for them dearly and that the pain of not knowing what has become of your friends has made you suspicious and
angry towards some of your other classmates. I urge you now, all of you, not to place undue blame for this unfortunate incident on your classmates. No one
knows the truth of this matter yet. No one yet knows who or what is the cause of our friend's disappearance. It would be a great tragedy to place blame and guilt
and even hatred upon those who may very well be blameless. All of us here hope for a happy ending. May Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger be safe, wherever they
are." And he raised his cup.
Every cup in the Hall raised in answer.
Harry sped through dinner, not tasting a morsel of his delicious meal, wanting to get to Gryffindor House as fast as possible. He left the table after making sure
Colin would lead the first years up.
As Head Boy he now had his own quarters as sort of a mark of his responsibility towards all the Houses instead of just his own. Many people aspired to this,
their own room after sharing for six years, but Harry wasn't one of them. He figured he'd arrange his things there but he'd sleep in the Gryffindor boys dorm as
always. He doubted anyone would actually come check to see if he was sleeping in the Head Boy quarters.
In less than half an hour the entire Gryffindor House was settled in the Common room and Harry and Ron were explaining everything that had happened. They
were still discussing the matter when McGonagall entered some time after nine o' clock and tried to chase them all to bed. Ten minutes later they were back
downstairs and arguing over ways to find Hermione and wondering if the Slytherins planned on kidnapping anyone else.
It was nearly midnight when there was a knock at the portrait.
" I can't see who they are." Said the Fat Lady, uneasily, " They're all wearing robes."
Wands came out like pistols in an old west saloon.
Dean answered, opening the portrait a small crack, wand aimed. After a few whispers, he swung the portrait all the way open and a procession of hooded
figures slipped inside. The first figure pulled her hood off as Dean shut the portrait.
" Luna!" Harry exclaimed in genuine pleasure.
The girl hugged him, " We need to talk, Harry." She whispered, "Get rid of the anyone who might blab about this."
" Right." He thought for a moment, " First years through third years should head off to bed now. Anyone else who wants to can stay."
There were grumbles and whines from the younger students as Colin and Ron filed them off to bed and then, as an afterthought, placed locking charms on the
doors and spelled them against listening charms.
The hoods came off and Harry was astonished.
There were nine of them. Iona, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Ernie Macmillan and Susan Bones from Hufflepuff. Terry Boot, Lisa Turpin and Luna from Ravenclaw.
And, shockingly, two boys Harry knew were in Slytherin.
" What are they doing here?" Parvati asked angrily, pointing to the Slytherins.
" They're my friends." Iona challenged," You trust me, right Harry?"
Harry nodded slowly.
" Then listen to what we have to say. Everyone is talking about Hermione and Draco's disappearance. The Gryffindors are saying Draco kidnapped
Hermione"
" He did!" Harry interrupted furiously, " We were there!"
" Just listen! The Slytherins are saying you and Hermione kidnapped Draco, and you can bet anyone who wasn't there that day believes them. Everyone else is
trying to figure out who to believe. People are choosing sides and those that aren't are afraid to choose because they think the consequences will spill over into
their House."
" Why are you here, Iona?"
" We're sort or representatives of those who believe you and support Gryffindor. We're the ones everyone sort of expects to be on your side, so its okay that
we're here. Except for these two, of course," she acknowledged the Slytherins, " Harry if Pansy finds out they were here, you don't want to know what she'll have
done to them."
" I understand." Harry said guardedly, and his eyes swept over the others, a silent warning to keep this secret,"She won't hear it, I'll make sure."
The taller of the Slytherin boys had light brown skin and snapping black eyes. His hair was a mass of floppy black curls shaved in a Mohawk. He had an earring
in one ear, "I don't think you realize just how serious Pansy is about making you into public enemy number one. I just think you should hear what went on tonight.
My name's Ignacio."
Harry shook his hand, " I've seen you around."

" Well then you know I'm no friend of Malfoy's."


The shorter boy introduced himself as Roldan. He was skinny with a buzzed haircut and thick glasses, "I've been to all the meetings tonight." He told Harry.
" All what meetings?"
It seemed a similar meeting to the one Harry held had happened in every House. On a normal year the other Houses would have held meetings anyway.
Hufflepuffs would have welcomed their first years by playing games to learn each others names, Ravenclaws would have shown off their IQs and awards to
show their newest what their House had to offer and their champion would then vow to top Hermione Granger's scores, the Slytherins would have met under
their King to lay down the law, but there would have been no such meeting in Gryffindor.
Gryffindors were a lot more casual about their first years. If you were a Gryffindor then you were where you belonged, no need for introductions or showing off,
just come on in and make yourself at home. What else was there to say?
" The main consensus in Ravenclaw, " Roldan reported, " is to keep out of the fight in case they get dragged into it. There were a handful of Ravenclaws at the
Slytherin meeting. You don't have much support from Ravenclaw, Potter."
Harry nodded slowly. The Ravenclaws had always been more aloof towards Gryffindor then the friendly Hufflepuffs.
Ignacio snorted, " You'll be pleased to know that the head of Ravenclaw has officially cancelled all competitions to beat Hermione's scores for the year. Out of
respect, of course."
" Not that any one of them could even get close." Ron snapped.
"There were only two Hufflepuffs at the meeting. The Hufflepuffs are going crazy. Most want to choose sides. Loyalty and all that, you know. The divide is in your
favor. Most of them support Gryffindor. As for the Slytherins, well, just listen."
oooo
Pansy stalked through the hollowed halls of Hogwarts with half her House at her back. She had waited until Potter and his cronies were out the door and then
called anyone who wished to follow her. She was surprised but gratified when her Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw friends publicly supported her by leaving their
tables to follow.
Black robes swooshed out from a side corridor and Pansy bit back a little peep of surprise as Snape appeared in front of them like the angel of death, lips
curved down in his customary scowl.
She knew by now not to take it personally.
" Professor?"
" Miss Parkinson." He turned so that he was striding along beside her, and said quietly, " I don't think I need to remind you to keep your House reined in. I do not
need a Slytherin revolt on my hands that will get me fired and the rest of you expelled."
" I've already had this conversation with Lucius, Professor."
Snape visibly flinched, " Don't mention that name where others may hear." He warned in a low growl.
Pansy studied him with interest, "Are you afraid of him, Professor?"
Snape's scowl deepened, " I'm cautious of anyone who doesn't have a bleeding conscience." He muttered, and Pansy was tickled to have heard her stiff
Professor use the word 'bleeding'.
With that, Snape swept away.
Pansy always wished there was a balcony in the common room so that she could 'address the masses from on high' like a queen instead of standing on the
little stone step next to the fire place, a full foot shorter than anyone but the youngest.
The Slytherins slipped into their favorite spots or into new spots they inherited from their elders. Pansy stood in front of the flames, the warmest place in the
dungeon and the place where the sofas and armchairs were, the place of privilege. Beside her were Blaise and Millicent. Crabbe, Goyle and Sky sat nearby as
well.
This was familiar and normal for her. She and Draco had taken over Slytherin towards the middle of fifth year. It was nearly unprecedented for fifth years to be
able to dominate and subdue both the sixth and seventh years. But the seventh years had been few in number that year and the sixth years had no real leaders.
The younger years had grown restless under poor ruling and Draco, seeing his chance, began offering them protection from the sixth and seventh years in
exchange for their support. Thirty sixth and seventh years could do nothing against nearly one hundred and twenty younger classmates.
" Alright people, listen up." Pansy faced her subjects, hawk-eyed, " Everything is not all right. Everything is not normal or pleasant or well. I'm telling you right
now that it is as bad as you think and they are out to get you. But I refuse, I refuse to give them any satisfaction by starting this year off any different from any
other year. In that vein, I start this meeting by welcoming our first years. Bring them up here."
There was some general shuffling and eleven kids were pushed up near the fireplace where everyone could see them.
Pansy marched to stand in front of them, eyeing them appraisingly, " Slytherin is not the easiest House to live in. Normally the first lesson a Slytherin learns is
how to take care of himself. Normally I would assign the second years to show you the ropes and then set you loose to see what you make of yourselves.
Normally you would fight your own battles and gain status through them. This year is going to be a bit different." She faced the room.
" Last week, Draco Malfoy was kidnapped by Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore. We don't even know if he's still alive. Dumbledore hates Slytherins and
Potter is out to get us. No one is going to help us. So this year, we help ourselves. These are our first years, and it is your job, all of you, to protect them. This
year you protect anyone younger than you. This is the first of several new emergency rules. Rule number 2: This year all Power plays and grudges with your
fellow Slytherins are null and void. Rule number 3: First through third years are hereby ordered to never go anywhere on Hogwarts grounds alone. Go in groups.
I'm not going to forbid fourth year and up to never go anywhere alone but I strongly suggest you always let someone know where you are. If someone goes
missing don't wait to see if they come back, raise the alarm. Rule number 4: fifth and sixth year are now drafted. You work for me. I'll have special instructions,
operations and assignments for you."
" What if we don't want to be drafted." Someone drawled from the crowd and all eyes turned to a knot of Slytherins towards the back.
Pansy didn't have to look to know who it was, Idane Cinder. She closed her eyes and prayed for patience, "Dane, do you understand what's going on?" she
asked sweetly, not turning to look at the sixth year.
" You're giving out all these rules, Parkinson, but you can't hold Slytherin without Draco. You can forbid us from taking over all you want but that won't stop us
from actually doing it."

Pansy turned slowly and froze the boy with a murderous glare. He had slipped forward as he talked, his cronies behind him. The other Slytherins watched
silently, they would stay neutral until someone fell and then they would be on them like rabid dogs.
Idane was not handsome. He did have nice hair, that wave of golden brown with strawberry highlights, just like his younger brother. His face, though, was
entirely too square and his nose too strong. But what he lacked in looks he made up for in sheer driven personality.
Pansy noted this absently while taking in the fact that he had at least two new recruits in his little band. Time to nip this in the bud.
" I can't hold Slytherin?" she gave him a long, slow smile, her million-dollar smile, as Millicent, Blaise, Crabbe, Goyle and Sky came to stand beside her, " Its
true Draco isn't here, for now, but his enforcers still follow me and everyone who follows them follows me and everyone who follows my enforcers follows me. I
don't think you want to take us all on, Dane."
Idane's face remained neutral but Pansy could see the shadow of surprise and a little disappointment in his eyes. He had not expected Crabbe and Goyle to
back her up, she realized. He had believed Draco's followers would abandon her now that their King was gone. If it had been just her, Blaise and Millicent, he
might have tried to take her down.
" Got it?" she asked coolly, " I'll overlook this little incident just once because I have plans for you and yours. We need you right now because Harry Potter has
told everyone in school that Draco kidnapped that muggle-born freak Granger. The whole school is going to turn against us in defense of the Golden Boy. Do
you understand? Everyone hates us. People we don't even know are gunning for us now. It doesn't overly concern me because I know I can take care of myself,
but our first and second years are just cannon fodder. I don't want to have to worry about them. I want to be able to focus completely on finding Draco."
" You're going to find Draco? When the Ministry can't? How?" Idane wanted to know.
" That's not for you to worry about." She snapped, " I'm not going to talk about my plans here where everyone can hear them. That's another thing. If I find out
anyone is discussing Slytherin matters with anyone outside Slytherin there will be hell to pay. I want this place locked down tight, nothing goes beyond our walls.
And that goes triply for our password, anyone who leaks our password will wish he had never been born. I'll see to it." She glared around at them for emphasis.
"Now, first years, I think you should know which people you can trust. Snape is probably the best. Don't ever be afraid to tell Snape anything, no matter what
you've done or how badly he screams at you, because he'll always help you out. Steer clear of McGonagall, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Lupin and if you see Mad-Eye
Moody, run for it. All Gryffindors are off limits. I don't care how nice Harry Potter seems to be or how pretty Lavender Brown is, keep the hell away from them."
She looked around at them, " Are there any questions?" the first years stared at her like baby birds watching a snake, " No? Then there's one more order of
business. We need someone to stand in for Draco. I want all the boys to get together and choose someone. I reserve the right to overturn your decision but I
really doubt I'll have to. You have until sundown tomorrow
" We don't need to." Idane cut in impatiently.
" Now what?" Pansy snarled, practically stamping her foot.
" We don't need to vote. I'm standing in for Draco."
She stared at him, wondering when this had happened and why the hell she hadn't known about it. He stared right back, jaw set mulishly.
" Does anyone want to challenge Idane?" she asked, carefully, scanning the crowd.
Stillness, silence.
" Who's behind me?" Idane called, loudly.
Hands went up around the room. Pansy counted at least three-fourths of the boys. Idane sneered at her.
" Who would support me should I choose to overturn this decision." Pansy countered.
Ninety-percent of the entire room raised their hands. Idane's snarky grin faded.
" I won't overturn this decision." Pansy said lowly, "But you remember the outcome of this vote the next time you get cocky."
Idane said nothing, his face was red with embarrassment.
She deeply disliked this turn of events though she'd known from the beginning that it was a possibility. She dismissed him, turning away.
" Alright then, first year through fourth year are dismissed fifth through seventh and everyone I've previously spoken to are to come up to the seventh year dorm."
The younger ones filed off to bed and Pansy and the others trooped up the stairs to the seventh year girls dorm. When they had settled Pansy stood before
them again.
" Now this is the really important part. We don't know why Dumbledore took Draco, but it may have been because of what his father is. You all know what his
father is, right?"
There were nods.
" So anyone who happens to have a father well associated with Lucius is now also in danger. And not just them but anyone whom Dumbledore thinks is
associated with them. I am now officially ordering anyone whose father is associated with Lucius, and I won't say all of your names, you know who you are, to
never go anywhere alone. You are to check in with me every night before you go to bed, without fail. Fifth years, I want you working on a way to keep anyone not
in Slytherin out of our House. I want you regularly checking to make sure there is no one in here who shouldn't be and I want reports on your progress. Sixth
year, I want someone on Potter at all times. I want to know every single move he makes. I don't care how you do it, just make it happen."
" And what will you be doing?" a sixth year asked.
" The seventh years will be focusing on finding Draco. Which reminds me, none of you will be starting fights with Potter. I don't want him to think anything is out
of the ordinary. When I go after him, I want him completely off guard. If all goes well, we'll have all the information we need by the end of the week."
oooo
" And then she sent us out." Roldan finished.
There was stunned silence.
" She's got the younger ones scared out of their minds and the older ones ready to go to war." Ignacio added, " You can believe that if any Slytherin catches any
Gryffindor alone there's going to be a fight. If I were you, I'd try to figure out some way to protect the younger ones."

" I do not understand this." Harry breathed, " Why is she doing this? What's the point? What does she want?"
" What have they always wanted." Ginny murmured rhetorically, " They want you, Harry. You heard, she's going to be watching your every move. If they get you
alone"
" It'll be a one way trip to You-Know-Who" Seamus gulped.
" Shit." Harry hissed.
" We're behind you, Harry." Luna said and Ginny and Iona echoed her, " Just tell us what to do."
Harry's eyes cut to the two Slytherin boys as he considered, " I really appreciate this. I don't know how I can repay you two. But ifif you ask something of me, I'll
try."
" No worries." Roldan waved the offer away.
" Just protection if Pansy finds out." Ignacio said.
Harry nodded, " If something happens, come to me. This is going to sound harsh but I won't allow you to stay in Gryffindor House. I can't be absolutely certain
that Pansy didn't send you here tonight. If something happens and you need refuge, I'll put you in my Head Boy quarters."
Ignacio looked vaguely pleased, "Don't worry, Potter, we're not offended."
" Then you won't be offended if I ask you to leave before we start planning."
Ignacio smirked.
" Will they be able to get back without someone realizing where they went?" Ginny asked, " I mean if Pansy already has someone watching our House"
" Don't worry about us, love." Roldan said, " We'll manage."
" As long as you're sure." Harry said slowly, " Thanks."
He shook hands with the two boys again and watched as they slipped out past the portrait and into the halls.
Harry looked at the rest of them and made a decision, " Everyone else should go to bed too. Seventh years and Ginny and Luna meet in our dorm."
Iona stepped towards him, " Harry, what about me?" she looked hurt, " I can help you!"
Harry had to fight to keep from groaning. Iona had a habit of taking things like this way too personally. How could he make her understand that this wasn't some
weird rejection thing? Or hell, maybe it was.
He'd never been good with dealing with girls and their need to make everything more complicated then it was.
" You said it yourself. Some of us are already on the hit list. You're not on it yet and I want to keep you off of it for as long as possible."
" Well, that's sweetI guess." She sounded like she was trying to make herself believe it. Or make him think she was trying to make herself believe it.
He did not need this right now. " Thanks Iona, I owe you."
" Your welcome Harry. Good night."
" The rest of you too. Hermione would be happy. She doesn't realize how many friends she has."
They said their goodnights and then their visitors slipped away, the younger years going off to bed.
Up in the boy's dorm there was a long silence as everyone absorbed what they had heard.
" So what are our priorities?" Harry asked.
" To keep them away from you." Ron said immediately.
" To keep our House safe." Ginny said, " I think we should take a page from Pansy's book on that matter."
" I hadn't planned for anything like this." Harry cursed, " I didn't think Pansy had control of the entire Slytherin House. I thought maybe she and her friends would
harass us a bit. I didn't think she'd turn her entire House against us and drag all the other Gryffindors into our fight."
More silence.
" Okay," Harry said finally, " First we wait. I want to focus on keeping our House safe while we see if everything Roldan and Ignacio told us is true. Its too bad
about Idane Cinder. I'd hoped I could get him to cause some trouble."
" I think we should go on the offensive." Seamus said, " If they attack us we need to be ready to hit them right back."
" I want to know how they plan to spy on us." Dean said, " Harry's our leader, if they know everything he does then they'll know everything that's going on in our
House."
" Then we need to know who all the sixth years are." Harry suggested, " Ginny and Luna can work that angle, right?"
" We're on it." Ginny saluted him.
" Dean, Seamus and Neville, I want the three of you to go around to the other dorms tonight and warn everyone. I need you to organize some sort of protection
for the younger ones."
" This is stupid!"
Harry's mouth snapped shut and every person in the room turned in dazed shock to see Neville Longbottom glaring at Harry. Harry stared at him feeling as if
reality had just stepped out the side door. He was quite certain he had never seen Neville Longbottom angry before.
" Neville?"
" This is bullshit, Harry!"

Harry opened his mouth then shut it, gaping, gold fish style.
" I understand that we gotta fight You-Know-Who and the Death Eaters. I know we have to fight Lucius Malfoy and even Crabbe and Goyle's dads and that's
bad enough. I mean, what if it was your dad? How would you feel? We're going to take their dads from them eventually and maybe they're moms too. I've
accepted thatbut, but you're talking about fighting themyou're talking about fighting kids thatkids thatthey're us, they're" he shook his head in
frustration, " I'm not real good with words, Harry. But I know this is wrong. I'm not going to fight other kids in Hogwarts. Merlin, didn't you listen to Dumbledore?
Do you think he was just talking to the Slytherins? Or that he was talking to everyone but us? Didn't you listen to the Sorting Hat? If we fight Slytherin, we're
fighting Hogwarts!"
" Neville," Harry said gently, " We may not have a choice."
The boy shook his head, gritting his teeth in frustration as he struggled with the words," What are you going to do, Harry?" he spat finally, " Beat them up? Kill
them?"
" NO! We haven't even talked about fighting yet. We're going to focus on keeping our House safe."
" But you're planning on it. You're angry about Hermione. Merlin, Harry, I am too. I'm so afraid for her. But you hate them. You hate all of them just for being
Slytherins."
" I don't hate them" Harry stammered, genuinely surprised.
" YOU DO! Even the ones who were here tonight. You look at them and there's this, this disgust in your eyes. Like they really are snakes or something."
" Don't be an idiot!" Patience was quickly turning to righteous anger, " Just because I'm trying to keep them from killing us all doesn't mean I'm some kind of
hate-monger! What would you rather do? Oh, I know, lets just hand over all the Muggle-borns, that will make everyone happy. And while we're at it, I'll just put a
bow around my neck and present myself to Voldemort. Just do me a favor and bury me next to Hermione."
Neville sputtered, his normal self momentarily peeking through the mask of anger, " I didn'tthat's not" but then he was on his feet, " Forget it, Harry, you're
not even listening. I'm not going to help you do this! I'm out!"
Harry was there to meet him, " You traitor! You're just going to abandon us? You're going to let them get away with whatever they've done to Hermione?"
" You don't even know who took her! You don't know anything for sure! And you're going to take it out on the entire Slytherin House anyway!" Neville shouted
back.
" They're Death Eaters, Neville!" Rational thought deserted him and every horrible thing he'd felt since Hermione disappeared just came pouring out of his
mouth, "You're running away, you pathetic coward! You never did have the balls to stand up for yourself. I know what your problem is. You think that if you just
leave them alone, they'll spare your life when the time comes. But that's bullshit. If you ignore this, if you turn your back on us and play Slytherin sympathizer, then
you're going to end up drooling in an asylum just like your parents!" the second the hateful words were spat from his mouth, he wished with all his might that he
could take them back.
There were gasps around the room. Neville went dead white. His mouth twisted as he fought tears.
" Neville" Harry stammered, " I"
" Fuck you, Harry." The words were hoarse with emotion. He whirled and stormed out, kicking Dean's backpack out of the way as he went and sending books
skidding across the floor.
" Hey man!" Dean cried.
Harry sank down on one of the beds, " Shit, Neville, I'm sorry" he said to the closed door as he ran a tired hand over his eyes.
" Harry" Ginny began slowly.
" I didn't mean it, Gin. I didn't mean it, I'm sorry."
" We know you didn't mean it." Luna murmured.
" I don't hate them just for being Slytherins. I don't" he let his breath out resignedly.
At least I don't think I do.
He gathered the pieces of his composure up with a deep breath, " We're all tired. I think we should go to bed. Just one last thing, Parvati, Lavender, I want you
two gathering as much information from other Houses as you can. Any rumors, anything anyone's seen, I want to hear about it."
Lavender gave him a watery smile, " Why Harry, are you telling us to snoop?"
" Just do what you do best, Brown." He told her wryly.
oooo
By Monday morning, Hogwarts was officially a war zone.
It started small at first. Little skirmishes in the back halls, hit-and-run fights among the younger students that were over before any Professor came wandering
through. By the evening meal, five kids from Gryffindor and three from Slytherin had been to Madam Pomfrey with bloody noses, split lips and black eyes.
After Cassidy Ven's little brother came to him blubbering through a bloody nose, the Gryffindor fifth years voluntarily began patrolling the halls to break up any
fights involving younger Gryffindors.
For Harry, classes with the Slytherins became worse every day.
In potions it began with black, murderous silence all around. Snape ignored it, curtly going over a few review sheets, outlining the instructions and then turning
them loose with an impatient wave of his hand.
Every single Gryffindor potion was ruined by the end of class.
When Dean's potion went belly up after Harry, Ron, and Seamus' did, Harry was surprised for all of a second, because Dean at least usually managed to make
a decent potion, before he looked up to see Blaise Zambini dance (literally) around Lavender and Parvati's table, while the two were over getting equipment for
the next step, and then pirouette away. Lavender's potion immediately began to belch black smoke.
Pansy and Millicent caught Harry's furious glare and burst into laughter.

At the beginning of their second potion's class Goyle slammed Seamus into the floor, brutally fell on top of him and then announced that it had been a clumsy
accident and 'helped' his fellow classmate up off the floor. Seamus had to go to Pomfrey, he'd suffered bruised ribs.
Not ten minutes later, Parvati burst into hysterical tears when Snape announced a pop quiz over review material from the year before. Snape had been
disgusted.
" If you're going to fail, Miss Patil, at least do so quietly so that the rest of the class can concentrate." He snarled.
" Itits not that!" Parvati sobbed, " HermioneHermione would never miss a quiz" and she dissolved into noisy tears again and was taken to Pomfrey by
Lavender.
That day every single potion in the class failed. Snape bawled them out and gave them all detention.
Care of Magical Creatures was similarly a battleground. Twice that week the class' creatures accidentally escaped from their cages. Many of the Slytherins lost
their creatures due to Gryffindors accidentally tripping them or stealing their creatures when they weren't looking. Goyle was caught with several animals in his
backpack, much to his own surprise, and given detention for attempting to 'steal' them.
Despite the animosity, the seventh years from both Houses managed to keep clear of each other until Thursday afternoon.
" Okay, I got it, I got it." Seamus said, looking down at the assignment for their next potions class as he and Dean headed back towards Gryffindor House.
It was the first time in seven years that they had ever actually read the assignment before going to class. They were determined to find a way to brew their
potions without ever leaving any of the ingredients or their cauldrons alone for the Slytherins to spoil.
" You stir our cauldrons while I boil the Zippy juice and then..."
"It takes two people to make Zippy juice." Dean interrupted.
" Okay, we'll make the Zippy juice first and keep it at our table."
" Won't work. It has to be fresh. The half-life is something like five seconds."
" Okay, I'll just get a tranquilizer gun from my Aunt Rita in Colorado and take out all the Slytherins before they get to class."
Dean turned his head slowly to stare at Seamus.
" Erit's a Muggle thing."
Seamus' was spared suffering Dean's scathing reply by a shriek of pain from down one of the side halls.
" Shit, not again." Seamus groaned.
" Come on, its down here."
The two hurried through a long dark passage, past several empty classrooms and a gate to the old gardens in the courtyard.
At the base of a small flight of stairs they found two fifth year Slytherins beating on a screaming fourth year Gryffindor Dean recognized as a kid named Max.
" Hey you two!"
" Get away from him!"
The two Slytherins yelped and scrambled back seeing the two large seventh years approaching.
" Come on, come on!" one of them cried and the two bolted the other direction.
" Lets get the little bastards!" Seamus demanded, eager to give chase, but Dean was kneeling by the boy.
" Kid you okay?"
The kid whimpered something as Dean checked the extent of his injuries.
" Hey you!" yelled one of the fifth years tauntingly from down the hall, they had stopped running once they'd reached a safe distance.
" You better run, kid, cuz we're..." Seamus started to holler back but then trailed off with a growl.
The two Slytherins were coming back, practically skipping, with Crabbe and Goyle behind them. The two seventh year Slytherins had apparently just blundered
onto the scene.
" These guys bothering you, Brett?" Crabbe asked.
" Yeah!" the one called Brett sneered at Seamus.
Dean stood up as the four Slytherins approached.
" Look at that!" Seamus said drolly, "It's some kinda miracle. Little bastards suddenly grew backbones. A minute ago they were about to wet their pants."
" I'd shut my mouth if I were you." One of the fifth years warned.
" Get out of here." Dean told the blubbering Max grimly, " Run for it."
" That's right kid, listen to the nigger." Crowed the other fifth year.
Dean looked at the Slytherin in mild confusion but Seamus roared.
The boy shrieked as Seamus hit him in a flying tackle and started wailing on him. The other fifth year tried to jump on Seamus' back but Dean was there to
throw him off. Crabbe and Goyle lumbered in and Max ran down the hall screaming for help.
The next five minutes were all muddled in Dean's head. He was fairly certain he'd gotten his brains scrambled by one of Goyle's meaty fists. But he never
stopped swinging and as far as he was concerned, they did pretty well for being outnumbered. Hell, they were practically winning.
Professor Vector and Lupin were the first to arrive, shouting and hauling Crabbe off of Seamus. One of the fifth years was unconscious, having smacked his
head on the stone stairs when he was shoved away, the other was huddled in a corner weeping and trying to protect his bruised face, Dean's nose was broken,

blood was pouring from Seamus' mouth, he'd lost a tooth and had a gash in his face, both Crabbe's eyes were black, he'd broken a finger and Goyle was
sitting on the floor in a daze, recovering from being cold-cocked by Dean.
It was a doozy of a brawl. Privately, Dean thought it was one of the best he'd ever been in.
All of them were hauled to Pomfrey. Parents were called, howlers were sent, all of them received three months of detention and lost all Hogsmead privileges for
the entire year and everyone agreed that it was a miracle that no one was expelled.
" What did that word mean?" Dean asked as he and Seamus lay in the infirmary, "What did that kid call me?"
Seamus flushed, "Don't worry about it." he muttered through still-puffy lips, " Just a really nasty muggle word."
That was how Harry found them, laid up in the infirmary looking like they'd been steam-rolled.
" This is all kid stuff, background noise." Ignacio told Harry cryptically that night, " Don't worry about Crabbe and Goyle. Don't even worry about Millicent. If I were
you, I'd keep an eye on Pansy and Blaise. If anyone comes after you, it'll be them."
Harry wished he had paid closer attention to Ignacio's warning, because the next day the Slytherins got serious.
Early Friday evening found Blaise Zambini ambling through the halls of Hogwarts with just a little hitch of clumsiness in her step.
She was still getting used to her new body.
Parvati Patil was skinnier than her, almost stick-like as far as Blaise was concerned, and the rhythm of her normal walk was lost. She couldn't sashay like she
usually did. That was okay though, Parvati didn't sashay, she pattered along like a duckling.
Blaise had squealed in delight when Pansy pulled a bottle of Polyjuice potion from "Lucius' box of tricks" and told her she'd get to use it. While Blaise was not a
great leader like Pansy, or a great fighter like Millicent, she was an all too eager daredevil. This kind of mission was right up her alley.
All of the Gryffindor seventh years had abandoned their posts. Weasley, Potter and that little bitch Ginny were all down at the Quidditch Pitch. Thomas and
Finnigan were serving detention, Longbottom was moping around in the library and Lavender and Parvati had gone to hang out with some Hufflepuff girls
against Potter's commands to stay in for the night.
The absence of the Seventh years had been instantly reported to Pansy as it opened a plethora of possibilities for a waiting Slytherin.
Blaise smiled in what she knew was a dead-on impression of Parvati's witless grin as she approached the Fat Lady, " Mitsubishi!" she intoned.
It was one of Potter's Muggle words. She wasn't sure what it meant, only that it sounded Eastern.
" Good evening, dear." The Fat Lady yawned, swinging open.
She had taken two steps inside when a hard-faced fifth year girl jumped off the couch to stand in front of her, hands on hips.
" What's your personal password?" she demanded.
Yeowch. Good little watchdog.
" Mathew Stanton is a babe." She replied obediently.
Although it should be 'Parvati Patil is a slut'.
A second password unique to each person was a very clever idea on the part of the Gryffindors. Pansy had taken quite a risk to get it. They had decided that
Parvati was the weakest of the Gryffindor seventh years and the easiest target. It had only taken a few minutes in a dark hall being threatened with
disembowelment to make the girl talk.
When they'd gotten what they needed a crony of Idane's named Rodney performed Obliviate (Blaise shuddered) and all had been forgotten by Parvati Patil.
The watchdog's face broke into a dreamy grin, "Isn't he?" she sighed.
Parvati smiled inanely back and walked away, heading up the stairs to the boy's dorms. Either the watchdog didn't notice, or supposed Parvati had business
up there.
She was walking past the sixth year dorms when the door sprung open almost as if the occupant had been waiting for the sound of ascending footsteps.
" Parvati!" a skinny, eager-looking boy yelped in surprise, "Hey, what are you doing up here?"
Blaise recognized this boy vaguely.
Collis? Colen? Callen? Who cares, go away annoying little boy.
She probably should have told him it was none of his business but he was a Prefect so she simpered, "Seamus asked me to bring him something from his
room."
" Oh, would you like me to help you find it?" asked the Prefect oh so helpfully.
" No, I can get it. Don't you have somewhere to be?"
The slight bite in her tone didn't faze the kid a bit, " Yeah, I'm helping Sarah in the Common Room. See ya later."
" Bye." She waved the tips of her fingers after him and when he was out of sight she rolled her eyes and slipped into the seventh year dorm.
Their lovely sixth year spies had reported that Potter still slept in the Gryffindor dorms, which was very smart of him. It made him harder to catch alone.
Both Potter's Head Boy quarters and the Gryffindor dorms had seemed impossible to infiltrate at first. Only Potter himself knew the password to his quarters so
they'd have to catch him before they could get the code that would allow them to catch him. And that was assuming they could make Potter tell them anything
when they caught him. Honestly, she thought it would take more persuasion than she was willing to dish out to get him to tell them anything.
When she relayed this fear to Pansy the girl merely shrugged and told her to let her handle Potter.
Blaise checked her timer (minutes tick tock ticking by) and got to work. There were five beds. She had no idea which one was Potter's, she was hoping there
would be some sort of clues around to help her.
The place was very neat, which was a huge downside, anything she moved and didn't put back just as it should be might be detected. She suspected the room

was so neat only because of the House Elves. Weasley and Finnigan did not strike her as the fastidious types.
A whistling shriek pierced the air suddenly and she squealed, leaping about a foot in the air. She spun around, heart thudding in her chest, to locate the noise.
A sneak-o-scope. Damn it!
" Silencio!" she hissed and the noise cut off though the thing continued to flash and spin.
The first bed was Longbottom's. The Rememberall lying forgotten under the bed was the big tip off. She went to the next bed and found some photos in the
dresser: Dean's bed. The third bed was Weasley's which meant the one next to it
YES! There on the dresser was an extra pair of glasses.
She tried them on.
The world was strange and wobbly in Potter-vision.
Blaise plunked down on the floor beside the bed and began first to explore underneath it, pulling out any boxes or papers she could find. Then she looked
through backpack that was lying haphazardly to the side, and the chest near the foot of the bed. Finally she began sifting through the drawers.
She wasn't really looking for something specific, just anything that could provide them with information: letters to Dumbledore, letters from Hermione, notes,
photos, maps, envelopes marked 'do not open: secret plans inside', anything.
The sound of the door opening caused every hair on her body to stand on end.
She shoved the drawer shut and lurched onto the bed. As swiftly as she could, she hunched over and began to sob into her hands.
" Parvati?" Ron Weasley's surprised, slightly irritated voice, " Parvati what are you doing in here?"
She blubbered something incoherent into her hands.
" Umerdo you want me to go get Seamus?" faced with a female in tears, he was instantly stumbling over himself in nervous anxiety.
" He's in detention." She whimpered, wiping her eyes on her sleeves.
The neat little alibi that came next was compliments of Parvati's hysterics in the middle of Potions.
" Iits just I miss Hermione so much." She wailed the last part and began to sob into her arms again.
" Yeaherwe all doum"
" Come sit by me."
" Wha?" his eyes darted about as if he were contemplating escape.
" Come sit by me, Ron, just for a minute."
" Um, okay." He crept over to the bed and sat down on the same side as her but as far as he could possibly get without giving into the urge to plaster himself to
the far wall.
She looked up at him with Parvati's teary eyes, " Youyou can't tell me anything about Hermione can you?"
Weasley sighed, " I wish I had something to tell you."
" Isis she still alive?" she asked in a tiny voice.
" Yes!" he all but barked, " Dumbledore assured us that she's alive." He hesitated then apologized gruffly, " I'm sorry about yelling at you before, on the train. I
kind of snapped."
Blaise let her breath out in a relieved sigh, " I was so afraid, you know, because Hermione wouldn't miss school. Not for anything."
Weasley looked down at his knees, " I know what you mean." He muttered and he sounded sincere.
" What about Dra Malfoy? Do you know anything about him?"
Weasley looked at her sharply, " What about him?"
" I don't know." She scooted closer to him and was amused when he tensed like string pulled taut, " Its just that Dumbledore tells you and Harry so much and the
rest of us are left to just kind of wonder."
The boy ran a hand through his hair, " We haven't even spoken to him all week. I think Harry did for a few minutes the other day. Just long enough to say that
Hermione's okay."
" Is Malfoy okay?"
Weasley blinked, " You know, I don't know. I didn't ask. I hope not." He stared into a middle distance, a cruel snarl curling his mouth, " I hope Hermione's got him
tied to a wall and is performing the Cruciatus every ten seconds. That's my plan anyway, if I get my hands on him."
Eek!
" There's nothing else you can tell me?" she asked carefully, and laid her head against his shoulder, " You have no idea whenHermione will be back?"
The physical contact seemed to scramble his brain, " Look, maybe I should go get Seamus. He might be done with detention by now." The red-head babbled,
starting to pull away.
He was about to bolt.
Damn, this was such a great opportunity but Weasley wasn't going to go for it. He was obviously uncomfortable around Parvati, didn't trust her and wouldn't tell
her anything. Honestly, she didn't blame him. Anyone with any intelligence could see that Parvati couldn't keep a secret if someone sewed her mouth shut.
Ruefully, she wondered if she could morally justify showing him Parvati's breasts in order to get him to stay. She discarded the idea. Parvati didn't have much to
show.
Instead she did the next best thing. She slid her knee up on the bed, turning towards him and pressed her mouth to his.

Weasley was instantly doing his best impression of a statue.


She didn't force it. She simply kissed him slowly, taking a moment to learn the taste of him simply because she was curious, and then sat back down.
" Thank you." She said gently.
He stuttered something, cheeks flushed, " Um..uh.."
" Thanks for staying to talk to me and making me feel better."
" Yeah, greatII should go I should" his eyes were fixed on her mouth and she realized he wasn't going anywhere.
Hiding a grin, Blaise tilted her face up and this time Weasley met her halfway. He sort of fell into her, as if he had to make it seem like an accident. His mouth
was warm and surprisingly soft. She'd expected him to crush her mouth, to kiss her hard. He was just so big and mean-tempered that she'd expected him to be
rough, bruising, maybe even without meaning to be. But right now he seemed content to follow her lead, returning her small, sweet kisses with ones of his own
and leaving them both breathless.
Blaise felt a curl of sweetness in her chest that went all the way down to her toes and sent alarm bells clanging in her head in hellish cacophony. This was Ron
Weasley, Harry Potter's trained monkey. She was supposed to be getting him to talk to her. She wasn't supposed to be enjoying a make-out session with him
while sitting on Harry Potter's bed wearing another girl's body.
That was just kinky.
She jerked back, a hand going unconsciously to her lips.
Weasley's eyes were dark and dazed, his lips swollen. His glassy gaze quickly snapped clear as reality reasserted itself and horrified guilt filled his face.
" Shit.." he stood up quickly, backing away from her, " Sorry, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that, I... Seamus is my friend. I don't know how serious you guys are
but I'm not going to intrude in his territory."
She jumped to her feet, " Ron, its okay. I should apologize. I justwanted to say thank you."
" Yeah, I know. Its my fault. I I gotta get Harry's bag. I'll see you later."
Her heart stopped as he took a step around the bed towards the incriminating mess she'd left of Harry's drawer.
She panicked.
" Weasley wait!" she cried out before she could stop herself.
He froze.
Oh Merlin.
His eyes remained locked downward on Harry's drawer as he took in the mess of papers scattered on the floor and caught halfway in and out of the drawer.
Maybe she could have explained that away. Maybe she could have professed innocence.
But she'd called him Weasley.
Stupid mistake! Stupid idiot. It was his fault! He'd messed with her head!
Very slowly she took two steps backwards toward the door.
" Harry's drawer is a mess." Weasley's voice halted her. It was calm and even and not at all threatening, the violence was a deep undertone, it wasn't something
she could hear, it was something she could feel,"You weren't sitting on Seamus' bed. You were sitting on Harry's." he said conversationally. Brown eyes turned
to her, deceptively mild, " You kept asking about Malfoyand you called me Weasley."
She had absolutely no idea what to say to that. That was okay since she seemed to have lost her voice anyway.
" Where's Lavender?" he asked pleasantly.
" Huh?" Oh, brilliant rebuff Zambini.
" Where's Lavender? How come she's not with you? Lavender is always with you. And she'd definitely be here if you were crying." His voice took on a hard
edge at the end, a growling timber working it way out of his throat.
She took another step back, then another.
Something caught his eye and she remembered the sneak-o-scope she'd left flashing and whirring on what must have been Seamus' dresser. His eyes slid
back to her with dark certainty and hard accusation.
" You're not Parvati. Who are you?" He took a step towards her and she took another back, " You're using Polyjuice potion." He observed and confusion spread
over his features, " But that takes a month to brew. How did you make it already?"
It was her turn to be shocked, " How?"
" Oh, I know all about Polyjuice potion. Harry and I have used it exactly the same way you're using it now." He grinned coldly at her look of disbelief, " Sure, ask
Malfoy about it. If you two get a chance to talk before we kill him, that is."
There it was, the confession! They did have Draco!
Blaise bolted.
"Locomotor mortis."
She screamed as the jet of sparks barely missed her, the heat of the spell fluffing her hair with static electricity. Weasley cursed loudly.
" Stupefy!"
She darted through the door just ahead of the spell. It hit the back, slamming the door closed and shoving her into the hallway wall. Dizzily she spun and dashed
for the stairs.

The door was thrown open and Weasley was right behind her, " Stupefy!"
The sparks whizzed past her ear.
A group of fourth year boys meandered up the stairs and froze when they saw Ron Weasley chasing Parvati Patil through the boy's dorm hallway.
" Stop her! Stop her!" shouted Ron.
The boys only stared at him, rendered stupid in their confusion.
Blaise slammed them out of the way and careened down the stairs.
" You idiots, stop her!"
" What's going on? Why're you chasing Parvati?" she heard one of the boys ask.
Blaise stopped running a good distance down the stairs. She pulled her wand and waited. Weasley lurched onto the stairwell and then realized his mistake.
Standing on the narrow stairs with nowhere to go but up or down, he was the perfect target.
"Petrificus Totalus." She shouted and hit him dead on.
She could hear him screaming and cursing as she pounded the rest of the way down the stairs. It wouldn't last long, that is if the fourth years knew 'finite
incantatum' which every fourth year with an ounce of self-preservation did.
Weasley was still screaming for someone to stop her but the sounds were muffled by the time she reached the Common Room. The watchdog and the Prefect
boy looked at her in surprise but did nothing to stop her as she bolted through the room and out through the painting.
She didn't stop running until she reached a Slytherin safe-haven on the other side of the castle and nearly got herself jumped by Icarus Cinder and two of his
friends.
" Its me you idiot!" she shouted and bopped him on the head.
She was there for an hour before Icarus came back and reported that Pansy was in Snape's office and that Millicent, Crabbe, Goyle, and a handful of others
were in the infirmary.
At the same time that Blaise was drinking her Polyjuice potion, Pansy Parkinson was crouched under the bleachers of the Quidditch Pitch waiting for the
Gryffindors to finish practice.
" We'll hit them on two fronts at the same time." She told Blaise earlier that morning, " We have to make this count because once they're on guard it will be a lot
harder to hit them a second time."
She watched them fly, absently noting strengths and weakness and filing them away for later consideration. As evening fell the team came back to earth and
meandered to the Gryffindor equipment and locker rooms. Pansy followed them, keeping a careful distance.
Natalie McDonald and Ginny Weasley were the first to finish up and leave, scampering off after calling goodbyes into the boy's locker room while the boys
screamed back at them to keep out. Bryce Heathcliff left next, followed closely by Ron Weasley.
" Okay. I'll meet you there, Harry. I'll go grab our stuff." The red-head called before jogging away.
Pansy restrained herself from rubbing her hands together in wicked glee. That left only the Wonder Boy and Drew Mello. Careless of them. They really should
have left Potter with a better bodyguard.
Pansy signaled her comrades and drew her wand.
This was too easy.
She slipped into the equipment room followed by Crabbe, Goyle, Millicent, Rodney, Idane and Sky.
Her first thought had been to take Potter in his Head Boy quarters but he was never there and there was also the little matter of his password which he only ever
used after performing an anti-listening charm.
No, this was so much better. A small enclosure away from the school with only Potter, that boy and seven Slytherins and no one to hear them no matter how
much noise they made. Perfect.
The main door opened into the equipment room. The locker rooms were off to each side. Girls to the left, boys to the right. Through the locker room door was a
tile corridor. The left side longer than the right which cut off abruptly and opened into the showers. The longer left side ended near the far wall and on the other
side were the lockers.
Drew Mello was stepping out of the shower when they came upon him, a towel around his skinny waist. Pansy knew him as the new Gryffindor chaser. A third
year, small and fast with a good throwing arm. Rumor was he was being trained to replace Potter.
The kid's jaw fell open, eyes huge as he stared at the seven Slytherins closing in on him.
" Harry!" the boy shouted.
" Silencio." Pansy hissed.
" Obdormio." Idane whispered.
Drew made a choking sound as his voice was stolen away by Pansy's spell and then his eyes rolled up as Idane's spell caught him and he crumpled bonelessly
to the floor, fast asleep.
" Drew?" Harry called from the back lockers.
" Harry!" Sky called back, grinning when everyone hissed at him to shut up.
There was a shuffling sound, the metal clang of a locker and then the Golden Boy himself walked around the corner fully dressed, hair still damp. He saw them
and, later Pansy would have to grudgingly admit that she had seriously underestimated him, he didn't freeze, he didn't hesitate, his eyes met Pansy's, his brain
registered what he was seeing and he threw himself backwards, behind the tile wall.
" Get him!" Pansy yelled.

Crabbe and Goyle charged after him.


Around a blind corner, Pansy realized a second too late.
" No wait!" she yelped but it was already done.
" Accio wands!" came Potter's voice and then on the heels of that, "Consisto."
Just like that, Crabbe and Goyle were wandless and frozen in place.
" Finite Incantatum." Idane countered, jerking around the corner, freeing the two even while using them as human shields.
They could hear Potter's running footsteps.
" He's going around. You guys go straight ahead. We'll go this way, through the lockers." Idane snarled.
Pansy fought a brief wave of irritation at having the sixth year suddenly take over. But the orders were sound so she said nothing as he, Crabbe and Goyle ran
down the aisle of lockers.
Pansy and the others ran ahead and Potter burst out in front of them. He saw them and tried to lurch back the other direction, to use the lockers as protection
from incoming spells, but Idane and the others came around the corner at his back. He was boxed in.
Pansy grinned evilly.
Potter's head whipped back and forth as he tried to watch them all. There was a snarl on his face but he seemed otherwise calm. Pansy was becoming more
impressed with each passing moment.
" Drop the wands, Potter," she purred, "If you surrender now we won't have to hurt you."
Potter's eyes narrowed, "Valde Nitor."
Light flashed, light so brilliant that they all screamed. Pansy slapped her hands over her tearing eyes, pain searing behind her eyelids. She could hear the
others yelling and stumbling.
Something hit her with enough force to send her slamming into the floor, nearly knocking the breath from her lungs and she realized Potter had just bulldozed
her.
" GET HIM, GET HIM, GET HIM!" she shrieked.
She could hear stomping and scrambling. Opening her eyes she tried to see through the spots that were now overflowing her field of vision.
" Rodney's going after him," She heard Sky say, " He didn't get the full force of the blast."
" Stupefy!" Rodney yelled, " Stupefy!"
But he might as well have been as blind as the rest of them for all he could aim. Pansy scrambled up, groping for the dark, bleary lump that was Sky and hauling
him up as well.
" He's coming back this way!" Crabbe shouted.
Pansy determinedly rubbed at her eyes, blinking away most of the spots, and took off after her allies. Crabbe headed Potter off before he could reach the main
exit. The Boy-Who-Lived changed directions and went running for the back door down the hallway past the showers.
Potter hit the door at a dead run and then let out a scream of pain and rage as the door refused to give. They heard him cursing as he tried to open it. The door
refused to open even when Potter used three different unlocking charms on it.
He turned to face them, panting.
He'd trapped himself, the moron. If he had stayed in the open he might have had a chance to reach the main door, now he had no chance at all. They filled the
hallway, growling.
" Come on, Potter, I just want to have a little talk." Pansy drew a liquid-filled vile from her robes, and dangled it tauntingly before him, " I've got something for
you."
He slammed his shoulder into the door again.
" Nowhere to run now. And you won't catch us off guard again."
Potter grinned and slowly stepped away from the door, " Then give me your best shot, Parkinson." He mocked, "The only spells you know are the ones Malfoy
taught you for the bedroom."
Bastard!
" Crucio!" she screamed and the others let fly their own curses.
" REVERTO!" Potter bellowed.
Every spell they cast came flying back at them, and in the narrow hallway there was no way to avoid them. The force of it blasted them all out of the hallway with
horrific power.
They flew through the air, all of them, and smashed into the cold tile, actually cracking it with the strength of their landing. Pansy was lucky, she landed on the
large, fleshy mass of Crabbe and rolled off of him with nothing more serious than scrambled brains and a whip lash.
She lay on the floor, utterly dazed. Her head felt funny, all floaty and spinney and light, and .
Something grabbed her roughly by the collar and hauled her up.
She gulped as she found herself face to face with an incredibly pissed off Harry Potter.
Two of them.
He reached into her robes and patted around until he found the vile. He pulled it out and examined it.

" What's this, Parkinson? You said it was for me?" he hissed, " Well, I guess its for you now."
He brought the vile to his mouth and tugged the cork out with his teeth, spitting it across the room.
" Open up." The vile was shoved against her dry lips.
"Impedimenta." A voice croaked.
The spell grazed Potter's foot and he yelped. Pansy shoved away from him and grabbed onto the wall to keep from falling.
" Run, Pansy!" Sky cried weakly.
Her mind clumsily tried to work through the repercussions of abandoning her allies but she quickly realized that Sky was right. Potter had kicked their collective
Slytherin asses, her wand was gone, and if she didn't get out of there, she was going to be drinking Veritaserum. He wouldn't use it on the others, somehow
she was sure, that liquid was all for her.
Pansy staggered upright, scrabbling to hold onto her center of balance, and bolted for the door. Potter shouted something after her.
" Stupefy!" she heard her loyal Button yell hoarsely.
Pansy tore out of the locker room and back towards school grounds. At first she thought Sky might have successfully stopped Potter from following but then she
heard the heavy pounding thud of his footsteps and redoubled her speed, breath wheezing in her throat.
She had actually reached the school building when Potter caught her. She shrieked as he grabbed her, whirling her around and slamming her into the wall. She
lashed out at him and clawed his face. He recoiled, yelling in pain and grabbed her hand, twisting it, forcing it down.
" What the hell is going on here? Potter, release Miss Parkinson at once!" Snape was running towards them, robes flying.
Potter's hand stopped twisting her wrist just short of agonizing pain.
Relief flooded Pansy so sharp and painful that she thought she might faint.
Potter held her against the wall, not easing his grip in the slightest and she saw him contemplate fighting Snape. There were rumors that he'd done it before.
Something about third year, Sirius Black and Dementors.
It was on her lips to shout a warning to her Professor when the boy released her, very slowly.
Pansy shoved him away and ran over to Professor Snape, ducking behind him, fighting the urge to throw her arms around him.
" Professor, Professor" she gasped, " I'm so happy to see you."
Snape didn't look at her, he seemed to be locked in a staring contest with Potter.
" Well Mr. Potter, it seems I have finally caught you in the act. Attacking girls now are we?"
Potter said nothing, only continued to glare at Snape in utter loathing, a look which Snape returned with equal fervor.
" Miss Parkinson," Snape began with deadly softness, "Was Mr. Potter trying toforce his person on you?"
" Yes." Pansy let out a sob.
" I see. Potter I think you should accompany me to the Head Master's office. Miss Parkinson, do you need to see Madam Pomfrey?"
Pansy considered. While having 'evidence' of Potter's 'sexual harassment' documented might be extremely entertaining and provide various opportunities for
the future, she really needed to clear her allies out of the Gryffindor locker room before Dumbledore heard Potter's story and sent someone to check it out.
And he would. Pansy had no doubt that she would be paying a visit to the Head Master's office herself before this was over. She cursed Rodney for getting his
stupid self knocked out. If he were here she'd have had him Oblivate Potter and Snape.
She wondered briefly if the Memory Charm would actually work on Snape.
Somehow she doubted it.
" No, I think I'll just go back to my room and lay down."
Snape nodded, " Come Potter. Miss Parkinson, I hope you feel better. And don't worry, I'll see that this depraved half-blood doesn't bother you again."
" Thank you, Professor."
You're definitely going to be getting a gift from me this Christmas.
Potter followed Snape without a word. He glanced back once, his eyes promising deadly retribution, and touched his side.
Her eyes widened.
The vile. He still had the vile.
oooo
It took an hour.
One hour and it was all over school. The Great Harry Potter had single handedly defeated seven Slytherins.
They had needed medical attention. All of them except Sky. There had been no way for Pansy to haul their bodies out of the locker room. She'd been forced to
call for help. Once in the infirmary, Drew Mello was revived and began telling everyone he was attacked by twenty Slytherins and six Death Eaters.
He had been unconscious for the rest, of course, but that didn't stop him from adding several more outlandish details.
" The Slytherins and Death Eaters cast spell after spell, even Unforgivables, but Harry just knocked them away with his bare hands. It was amazing!"
Snape was furious with her, fit to tear her apart with his own hands.
" I don't care what you do to Potter." He had shouted, " But you got caught and your Housemates were injured and the Head Master is probably going to expel

you all!" he had taken a deep breath and then hissed lowly, "And if you are expelled then you will have failed not only me and your House, but your other duty as
well."
Her duty.
He was talking about Lucius and Voldemort. She'd promised to protect the kids.
She shivered.
Voldemort did not tolerate failure. Would he come after her if she were expelled?
Word had also gotten around about Blaise's little adventure, luckily no one knew it had been Blaise and the facts were so mixed up anyway that no one could
prove that anything had happened at all.
The Gryffindors were practically rabid with fury. Ten Slytherins were attacked before an emergency assembly was called and they were bustled into the Great
Hall half an hour before dinner.
" This has gone far enough!" Dumbledore's voice boomed out from the Head table, colder and harder than anyone of them had ever heard it. It silenced them
as effectively as if they'd just has their lips jinxed off.
" This kind of horrid behavior does not befit Hogwarts students and will not be tolerated. For the next week, all extracurricular activities are hereby canceled.
There will be no Quidditch practices, no clubs, no study sessions outside those in your Common Rooms. You will attend your classes and return to your
Houses. If this behavior continues then the time limit will be extended and even more drastic measures will be taken. I am deeply ashamed of all of you." The
old man sighed heavily before continuing a touch softer.
"You are put into Houses in order to surround you with those who share your strengths and will help you develop them. To surround you with those who share
your weaknesses and will help you strengthen them. You are not put into Houses because you share nothing in common with those from other Houses. You are
not put into Houses to learn to segregate and separate people into types.
" You have all been punishing an entire House for something you believe is the work of one or two people. I have told you before and I will tell you one last time:
no one knows the truth behind Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger's disappearance. It is ridiculous and futile for you, either of you, Slytherin or Gryffindor, to continue
this war. It will only bring hatred and pain and serve to stretch the bonds of this school to the breaking point. The next fight, the very next, will end in expulsion for
the parties responsible." He let that sink in for a moment, " That is all. You may eat your dinners and then head back to your Common Rooms."
The head of the Slytherin table was practically deserted as Pansy dished up her plate. Blaise sat beside her, curiously subdued, probably brooding over her
own failure. Had she cared to look, Pansy would have seen Blaise's gaze flicking to the Gryffindor table and Ron Weasley.
The rest of the seats were empty around them. None of the younger ones dared sit in the spot of Pansy's court, even when the usual occupants weren't around
to complain about it.
She had just finished and started to rise, telling Blaise that she would meet her back at the Common Room, when Snape touched her shoulder.
" The Head Master wishes to see you." His voice was biting.
Pansy gulped, " Do me a favor and make sure everyone gets back to the Common Room, please. Everyone I trust to do it is in the infirmary."
Snape inclined his head, " They are my students, Miss Parkinson, you need not remind me of my duty when you have so baldly deserted yours."
She cringed, suddenly feeling near tears.
" I don't see you doing anything to help Draco." She spat and fled before he could say anything more crushing.
The walk to the Head Master's office felt like a walk to the gallows. Merlin, she wished Draco was here. He'd be making wisecracks and sauntering down the
hall with his head held high as if he were going to be the one expelling someone and not the one going to be expelled. Because if he were here with her, he'd
definitely be getting expelled too. He'd see to it. He'd make the whole school pay for expelling her, he'd be a one-man riot in protest of her expulsion.
" Don't worry about it, Pan, my dad will get us into Durmstrang. Its gonna be sherry and giggles from now on, just you wait." He'd say and wriggle his eyebrows
at her.
The thought brought a smile to her face.
Let him be okay. Please let him be okay.
Dumbledore was waiting for her, standing behind his desk. He said nothing when she entered, but motioned to the cushioned armchair before him.
She sat down, keeping her gaze stony and expressionless, channeling Millicent as it were.
Dumbledore seemed to try to read past it, his own expression questing and thoughtful.
" Miss Parkinson." He said finally, his voice startling as it broke the stillness, " Would you please tell me in your own words what happened today?"
She said nothing.
It was her only defense. Honestly she had not thought to think up a story to explain why she'd been in the locker room. It wouldn't have worked anyway, not with
six Slytherins in the Gryffindor locker room, all the other Gryffindors with alibis and the Golden Boy's golden word against her.
When the others woke up, she knew they would give this same response to all questions. Silence.
" Miss Parkinson" he began when it was clear she would not speak, " Do you know why I made you Head Girl?"
She was a bit startled by the question, that was the only reason she answered.
" Of course I do," she spat, " You wished to curry my favor but also to separate me from my House by giving me my own quarters. You knew I couldn't control
Slytherin as well if I didn't actually stay with them."
The old man looked genuinely startled, then he sat back and pondered her words.
" No" he said at last, " I don't believe that was my original intention but it sounds mighty crafty. I wish I had thought of it."
She goggled at him.
" I made you Head Girl, Miss Parkinson, because you take your responsibility towards your House very seriously. You want to protect them, you want to help

them become strong and cunning adults. I believe it is your direct influence that caused Mr. Malfoy to take his responsibility as head of Slytherin more seriously
instead of just using that power for personal gain. As Head Girl, I had hoped you would show that same level of care and responsibility towards the rest of the
school. That is the job of the Head Girl." He paused to let that soak in.
Pansy felt taken off guard but then she frowned and decided that it all meant the same thing in the end.
" What you did today," his voice became grave, " Was not simply a fight or a childish confrontation. You participated in a group assault in which Unforgiveables
were cast."
Pansy went rigid, fingers clenching the arms of the chair.
How did he know? Could he prove it? She had been sure to erase her last spell. But what if he had some other means?
He wasn't just talking about expulsion, he was talking about Azkaban!
" Normally, I would say that this is grounds for immediate expulsion." He paused, " But I don't think these are normal times and I do not believe that you are a
normal girl. We are going to need you, Miss Parkinson, and all your gifts to protect this school and, soon, to protect wizard society. You hold a great deal of
influence and power, you are very determined and courageous girl, I would not waste that for anything."
Her head was whirling. What was he saying? So she wasn't to be expelled? But he was talking as if he thought they were on the same side.
That doesn't matter! Let him think we're all friends here!
" But I cannot allow things to continue as they have been this past week. Rein in your House, Miss Parkinson. Stop the petty violence and focus on learning your
lessons. Harry does not have what you seek."
You would say that, you old fake! You can pretend to be my friend all you want, I know the truth.
She nodded, showing nothing of what she felt.
" You may go."
She was halfway to the door when she stopped, " I will not stop searching for Draco." She threatened over her shoulder.
" None of us will." The old man replied.
Slytherin House was gathered together in the Common Room when she entered. Blaise stood at the front with Idane and a bruised Millicent.
All eyes turned to her as one, questioning.
She couldn't help but smirk, " I have received a reprieve."
A roar of triumph went up.
She waved the response away, " Don't be so happy. Today was a miserable failure." She stalked up to the front.
Idane moved grudgingly aside for her and she thought again that she was going to have to keep an eye on him.
" Don't look so disappointed," she whispered to him, eyes dark with challenge, " It would have been your ass out the door with mine."
" I know that." He snapped.
" Good." She turned back to her House, "I'd like to note for the record that I never declared open season on Gryffindors. I don't know what got into the lot of you
that you thought you could just go in and start eating them up, especially when some of us have younger siblings in Gryffindor."
There were scattered cries of agreement.
"Alright! We Slytherins are flexible. Its time for some subtlety. So, new rules. No fighting. I don't care if you get jumped by six Gryffindors, you won't fight back. If
the only people getting hurt are Slytherins, if Pomfrey has records of it, then we can bring in the Ministry and get old Dumblefuck fired. The only exception is if
Potter himself or one of his cronies is after you. If that happens, run, don't get caught, get the hell out of there. If he catches you, fight like mad. All of you have
information, no matter how insignificant it may seem, and Potter now has a vial of Veritaserum. If Potter has his way, someone in this House will be drinking that
vile. DO NOT GET CAUGHT!"
" But Pansy!" someone yelled, " Does this mean we've given up on getting Draco back?"
" Are you nuts?" Pansy screamed back, "This is a very minor set back. We're going to play it cool for awhile. I didn't say 'follow all school rules and be sweet
little angels'. I said don't fight. I don't care what else you guys do. Do it. Just don't get caught. Now, fifth through seventh years, up to my room, we need some
new strategy."
oooo
Neville Longbottom pressed his back to the wall, his stomach a big unhappy well of hopeless resignation.
Not only was he out after curfew but four sixth year Slytherins and two fifth years had happened upon him and were now closing in on him, snickering and calling
names.
He didn't know who they were but that had never mattered before. He sometimes felt he had the word 'victim' scrawled across his forehead in ink that only
bullies could read. So you didn't have to know Neville Longbottom to want to beat him up, you just had to be able to read the ink.
He wasn't going to fight back.
He'd learned long ago that unless you actually stand a chance of hurting at least one of them, which might make it all worth it, it was best just to take the beating.
Because if you fought back they only hit you harder and pounded on you longer.
And if he didn't fight back, they might not resort to using spells.
He'd rather they broke every bone in his body then they use spells to torment and humiliate him. There was some measure of dignity in a fistfight, even in losing
one. Chicks dig black eyes. But there was no dignity at all in being found chained naked to the wall, covered in boils, with an ass growing out of your forehead.
What made him angry, made something in his brain scream that this was completely unfair, was that he had thought he'd grown out of this.
He was seventeen. He hadn't really been picked on in two years now. This was the sort of crap that happened to a thirteen year old, not someone who had

mostly outgrown his clumsiness, not someone who was practically an adult.
Every single one of these kids was younger than him. That was embarrassing.
The growling pack moved in for the kill.
" Hey," a low but authoritative voice cut in with all the warmth of a whip crack, "What are you guys doing?"
Millicent Bulstrode frowned as she walked into view. There was a large bruise on the left side of her forehead.
" We're just having some fun." One of the boys said defensively, sounding like a kid whose mommy caught him with his hand in the cookie jar.
Millicent sighed, her usually passive face touched with just a hint of annoyance, " You heard what Pansy said tonight. She'll be pissed if I let you do this."
" But Millicent"
" Get out of here now or I'll make this a double homicide."
The boys scrambled.
Neville stayed against the wall, not moving. Millicent's eyes flicked to him, disgusted, scornful.
" You're pathetic, Longbottom, get out of here." She started back down the hall, following the boys.
Neville wet his lips and stuttered, " Thanks Milly."
Millicent went rigid.
Neville flinched.
For a long moment she was perfectly still and then she turned back to him, murder in her eyes.
" Thanks?" she hissed, stalking towards him, " Milly?"
" III used to call you Milly." He tried to explain, cringing.
" I'm not trying to help you, Longbottom. I'm following orders." She interrupted coldly, her voice still deceptively soft. She was right in front of him now and some
part of his brain noted that they were exactly the same height.
" I just meant"
Her fist in his stomach cut him off. It was like being kicked by a horse. Well, he'd never actually been kicked by a horse but he thought this might be what it felt
like. The air wooshed from his body and his eyes nearly crossed. He gasped for air like a dying fish and would have fallen but Millicent didn't move. She merely
watched him, her gaze empty and expressionless while he half leaned against her shoulder, resting his weight against her while clutching his stomach in agony
and gulping air.
" I'm not your friend." She said after a long moment, her voice very close to his ear," Go back to your House, Gryffindor, go play with your kitty cat friends and
stay out of our way because next time no one will stop them."
She stepped away from him, withdrawing her support, letting him sink to the floor and regarded him coolly before turning on her heel and walking away.
" Its okay, you know." He said hoarsely, some part of him cursing him for getting her attention again, "Its okay if you want to hit me."
" Longbottom" she started, warningly.
" Neville. You always called me Neville"
" I'm losing my patience."
" I said its okay. I'd rather you hit me then those guys. I knowI know you'll stop before you hurt me too badly. Those guys" he shook his head, " Those guys
would kill me on accident. Herd mentality and all that."
Silence. He concentrated on his breathing, letting his heart slow.
" I heard what you did." He said.
" What did I do?" she asked sarcastically.
" You and those others attacked Harry."
" Is that what we did?" Dark amusement laced her voice.
" You're going to get yourself expelled or killed or something. Everything's getting out of hand. The whole school's going crazy."
" Well gee, if you guys hadn't kidnapped Draco, this wouldn't be happening. Too late to whine about it now."
" Do you really believe that?" he looked up at her in real surprise but she was still facing the hallway, " Do you really believe that I or Ron Weasley or even Harry
kidnapped Draco? Because I'm telling you right now that Harry is convinced, absolutely convinced, that you and Pansy and Draco kidnapped Hermione."
" We never even saw the girl!" she yelled at him, turning to face him with rage burning in her eyes.
" And I wonder if Harry ever saw Draco that day."
Confusion and a little uncertainty crossed Millicent's face.
" I told him no." Neville sighed.
" What?"
" Harry, I told him I wouldn't help him wage war on Slytherin. Its all wrong. Slytherin wants to hurt Gryffindor and Gryffindor wants to hurt Slytherin and we're
tearing Hogwarts apart from the inside. I know you listened to the Sorting Hat's song, Milly, I know you heard."
She hesitated a moment, "Potter's a damn Slytherin hater."

" Now you're changing the subject."


" Its true."
Neville nodded, " Yeah. Sometimes I hate them too. And then I realize it isn't the Slytherins I hate. It's You-Know-Who. Harry's just confused. He's never met any
nice Slytherins."
" There's no such thing." Millicent snorted.
" What about Sky?" he smiled at Millicent's startled expression, " Sky's one of the best things to happen to Slytherin in years and you can't tell me otherwise."
" Yeah." she agreed softly, "He is."
"There are people who care about you and Sky in Gryffindor. That's all you need to know."
Millicent stared at him, at a loss for words. She started to say something once before quickly changing her mind. She settled for a disgusted noise instead and
stomped away just slow enough to prove to him that she wasn't running. This time he didn't stop her.
oooo
" What now, Harry?" Ginny asked.
" We protect our House, then we hit them back."
oooo
" What has happened?" Snape rushed forward to support Dumbledore as the man sank, almost collapsed, into his armchair.
" I almost had them. I almost"
" Malfoy and Granger?"
" They are being shielded from me by two powerful forces. One is malignant. The otherthe newer one, more neutral, but no less deadly. Still, I almost had
themalmostbut then"
"What? Then what?"
" They crossed over"
fin

Next Time: Draco and Hermione become Power kiddingActually that would be kind of cool.
A/N: The Frogs are mine, actually came from a nightmare I had as a little kid. The Roc is a gigantic mythological bird from Arabia. It is also frequently a Final
Fantasy beastie.

*Chapter 11*: The Only Difference


Disclaimer: I'm not even sure why I write this up here anymore. I haven't had a real disclaimer since chp7 and even that was debatable.
Last time:
" What now, Harry?" Ginny asked.
" We protect our House, then we hit them back."
oooo
" What has happened?" Snape rushed forward to support Dumbledore as the man sank, almost collapsed, into his armchair.
" I almost had them. I almost"
" Malfoy and Granger?"
" They are being shielded from me by two powerful forces. One is malignant. The otherthe newer one, more neutral, but no less deadly. Still, I almost had
themalmostbut then"
"What? Then what?"
" They crossed over"
Chapter 11: The Only Difference
I don't understand why you don't like me.
Why don't ya like me?
Am I so different from you?
excerpts from Fear by Disturbed
oooo
" Run faster, Granger. You have to go faster."
" I can't!"
The horizon was beginning to bruise, to bleed red and purple like a violent stain and cast shadows in the long golden grass that brushed their thighs as they
ran.
The pale-haired boy with the jagged, blood crusted gash slanting down his cheek, another over his lips, and several more under the slashed robes that covered
his chest, cast a hunted look over his shoulder. " If you don't go faster then you're going to die." He ground out callously.
Hermione shut her eyes, her breath screaming in her throat, and tried to run faster. Sweat ran in rivulets down her back, down her forehead, stinging her eyes.
Her legs were burning, her lungs were burning, her feet felt like two swollen, bruised lumps at the end of her legs but she couldn't stop, not for an instant.
The sun was almost down.
Ahead of them the forest rose like a stronghold, a sanctuary, the trees like an army of sentinels ready to defend them.
" Havta get therejust gottalittle further." Malfoy gasped.
Something in her foot popped, like a grape bursting, and agony roared up her leg. She shrieked, stumbling, limping.
" WHAT? WHAT?" Malfoy's eyes were huge with panic as he whipped his head back and forth, eyes scanning the grass.
" Nothing!" she sobbed and forced herself to keep running.
" Come on! Come on! Ah, shit, Granger!" he'd apparently noticed her limping, " I can't carry you this time you stupid bitch! RUN!"
The first stars began to appear in the blue dome of the sky, the moon rising, plump and full, over the horizon.
Hermione's leg hurt ten times worse now. She ran at an awkward limp, pain zinging up her leg with every step.
Somewhere off to her left the grass rustled.
The wind, let it be the wind!
But she knew it wasn't.
Malfoy looked back, face white, and she knew he'd heard it. He spared her one last glance and she saw him make his decision.
" Forget this!" He snarled and then he was sprinting, full speed, for the forest, leaving her in his dust.
The despair of the hunted animal rose up, clenching her throat and some part of her just wanted to stop running and get it over with, because she wasn't going
to make it anyway. What was the point?
Something tiny and silver swooped over the grass in a random looping pattern as the last tiny sliver of sun began to disappear over the mountains.
Another patch of grass crackled and swayed and this time Hermione heard a trilling chirp as she passed. It was an adorable sound, one that would make any
girl giggle and coo and stop to investigate. If she hadn't seen for herself what the thing making that sound could do, she probably would have done just that.
Instead she found, to her enormous surprise, that she could run faster.
Malfoy had reached the trees, he disappeared inside and she wondered again if this was the last she would see of him.
More grass patches were rustling. More sweet sounding squeaks rising up from the shadows of the tall grass in questioning peeps.

Is someone there? Is someone here with us tonight? Does someone want to play?

Panic and another burst of adrenalin made her forget the pain in her leg completely.
Dozens more zinging silver fireflies, bloated and glowing, swooped in to dance in pattern-less ballets over the grass. The moonlight hit them and they began
sparking and humming, making a startling and beautiful light show. A joyful and melodic funeral party.
Hermione sobbed, tears joining the sweat on her cheeks.
One of the sweet little questioning peeps suddenly rose to a triumphant shriek and something, something warm and heavy but still hidden in the tall grass, shot
past her feet. She screamed and stumbled, her eyes darting over to follow the zigzag line of billowing grass as it sped awaythen turned and came rocketing
back towards her.
The other chitters rose to ominous trills, crooning as they picked up the scent of prey.
She was twenty feet from the trees.
Two more things blasted past her, one in front, one behind. She cried out but kept running.
I'll make it! I'll make it!
The first one was back, it smashed into her, twining right between her legs like Crookshanks sometimes did when he was saying hello, and she pitched
forward, shrieking, as teeth and claws sank into her leg. She rolled over, kicking and screaming as the black blurr began to savage her. She could hear the
others rushing in for the kill.
Light spilled over her and she saw the thing in full for the first time. It might have been a rabbit, some horrible mockery of a rabbit, except it was huge, the size of
a cocker spaniel at least. Its pink eyes were giant and swollen, like grapefruits, beneath long erect ears. It had the same square jutting front teeth as a rabbit
and a host of fangs to go along with them. Its fur was golden but patchy, dark veiny skin showing through. Its claws were monsterous and its tail wasn't the
powder puff of a bunny but the long pink stubble-skinned tail of a rat.
She had never even heard of anything like this before. For one wild moment she entertained the notion that the rabbits she had cooked and eaten were back
for revenge.
Then she realized where the light was coming from.
It hadn't even registered in her brain until this moment. All of her being was focused on this creature and the fact that it was going to kill her and then she heard
someone screaming besides herself.
" I'M GONNA KILL YOU MOTHER FUCKERS!"
Draco was back, a burning torch in his hand. Flames were sprouting up in the field. He was setting the grass on fire.
The monsters snarled and rose up on their haunches, baring their teeth at this threat. Some of them lunged forward to attack him.
" Malfoy what are you doing?" she screamed.
He swung the torch and the rabbit-things scattered in confused alarm. It was obvious that these creatures were used to being the top of the food chain. They
didn't know what to do when their food fought back.
Hermione scrambled backwards ungracefully, pulling herself across the grass towards the forest while the creatures were distracted.
Malfoy didn't even look at her, he swung the torch again and there were squeals of agony. Hermione saw one of the rabbit-things bounding away with fur afire,
kicking and twisting in the air with each bounce.
" Malfoy stop!" Hermione shrieked, teeth chattering as shock began to set in, " The whole field will catch fire!"
" Exactly! I'm gonna burn this shit-hole to the ground! I'm gonna roast all these fuzzy bastards to death!" he had a manic glint in his eyes, he meant it.
" But the forest will catch too! It'll burn with us inside it!"
He wasn't listening, " You like that, you little bastard?" he screamed as one of the more persistent monsters snarled and hissed at him.
The flames were all over, speeding through the grass, eager, greedy, throwing orange light around them and shadows in the trees.
" Malfoy, I'm bleeding badly." It came out a moan.
Strangely enough, that seemed to get through. She saw him hesitate.
" Do you honestly think I give a fuck, Granger?"
But he retreated back into the trees, keeping his weapon out in front of him. The rabbit-monsters watched from further out, now still and nearly invisible in the
grass except for their giant glowing eyes.
Hermione coughed as she inhaled the smoke from the burning grass.
" The fire!"
" Its too late now." He snarled.
The dry field was perfect for the flames, the sparks Malfoy set were now full-fledged grass fires. The entire meadow was lighting up, well on its way to becoming
an inferno.
" We have to get out of here." She covered her mouth, coughing.
She braced herself against a tree and pulled herself to her feet just as Malfoy passed. He grabbed her roughly with his free hand, looping his arm around her
waist and wrenching her against him. She grabbed onto him with a gasp, hooking an arm around his neck as he hauled her further into the trees.
" Wait! Wait!"
" What?" he snarled, breath panting.
" Get out the hazel. We have a better chance, if we find water."

He didn't question her, just jerked to a halt, nearly throwing her away from him and ripped out his small silk bag. She leaned against a tree, breath shuddering,
trying to ignore the blood pouring down her leg, while he groped around to pull out her backpack. The hazel branch hung tied to the side as always. He fumbled
with the knot, his fingers shaky, before ripping the branch off in violent frustration and throwing it at her.
She barely caught it, juggling it before clutching it to her breast.
He stuffed her bag back into the pouch and grabbed her wrist, roughly looping her arm over his neck again and ignoring her cry of pain while he did so.
" This way." She told him.
They stumbled along through the pitch-black forest as best they could. Hermione murmuring directions occasionally.
It took her some time to realize that the smell of smoke had faded to nonexistent. The air had cooled considerably and the insects around them continued to
chirp and buzz and the animals continued to go about their business when by all rights they should have been panicking and fleeing from the approaching fire.
" Malfoy"
" What now?" he snapped.
" I thinkI think its okay. We can slow down."
He shook his head but stopped wrenching on her so hard, " You've never traveled at night. We gotta keep moving for now."
She wondered, with a chill, what exactly he knew, or had seen, that made him so grimly determined to press on. Their uneventful nights spent inside their
protective circles had dulled her fear of the dark. She had begun to believe that the forest at night wasn't so different at all from the forest during the day.
Perhaps she'd been wrong.
They eventually did find water. It seemed to be a river, though to her it seemed too quiet. She couldn't tell just how big it was, their torch didn't shed enough light
to be able to see the other side.
Hermione was sniffing the air, searching for some telltale sign of taint without even realizing it, as she pulled away from Malfoy and started towards the
shallows, her mouth so parched it hurt. Malfoy grabbed her wrist and wrenched her back, causing her to yelp sharply in pain.
" Shut up!" his hand tightened in warning.
" What are you doing?" she gasped in surprise, wrenching her hand from his grasp and cradling it to her chest.
" You don't just go wandering into water when you can't see what's in it!" His gaze darted up and down the visible shoreline, his body tense with caution.
He was completely right of course. If she weren't so exhausted she would have thought of it herself. She found herself arguing anyway.
" Its just a stream."
" Yeah and that back there was just an empty field." He turned and shoved her down harshly, sending her crashing onto her butt on the rocky ground and making
her jam her finger against a rock in the process.
She made another sound of gasping pain, gripping her hand, " YouyouWill you STOP pushing me around!"
He snorted, " Hold this." He shoved the torch into her hands.
He chose a long, leafy branch from the ground and lifted it experimentally to feel the weight. Cautiously moving to the edge of the water, he lifted the branch and
slapped it down in the river, making a loud splash. They both went still, listening, but they heard nothing but the soft sound of deep, rushing water. He lifted the
branch and did it again. He splashed around in the water for a good five minutes, and when nothing attacked, he was satisfied.
He turned and tossed the soaking branch at her, making her squeak and dodge, and lurched towards the black, earthy shore, practically falling into the water as
he knelt to drink.
" What about sphagnum?" she asked weakly, but he wasn't listening, too busy scooping great handfuls of water to his mouth.
She quickly got tired of waiting for her turn and half stumbled, half crawled, mindful of her injuries, over to kneel on the shore. Malfoy snarled at her but said
nothing as she held the torch with one hand and scooped water to her mouth with the other. They drank until the chill of water had seeped through their entire
blood stream, until they literally could drink no more.
Malfoy sat up, shivering, water streaming down his face, " Should we cross the river? We might freeze to death, but I'd choose freezing over burning." His tone
was so casual that she shuddered.
Things were bad indeed if they weren't talking about staying alive, but rather choosing the best way to die.
She shook her head, sitting up and wiping her mouth," I honestly don't think the forest will catch."
" But you said" he started, voice heavy with accusation.
" I was hardly thinking straight," she interrupted him angrily, casting him a spiteful look over her shoulder, " I'd just been attacked and I had blood pouring down
my leg and the whole field was on fire and if we were in a regular forest we'd be toast by now." She rubbed a hand over he face, "But I think we'll be okay. I can't
recall ever hearing about a magic forest succumbing to a wild fire. I don't think its possible for a fire to destroy a magic forest. The trees themselves wouldn't
allow it."
" But you're not sure?" he pointed out.
" No, I'm not sure." She sighed, " I mean, fire is a type of forest maintenance so you'd think there would have to be forest fires even in a magical forest butI've
never heard of one."
" Not that you're a nature enthusiast." He replied snidely.
" No, you're right." She conceded tiredly, scooting away from the water to sit with her back against a large cold rock, "Maybe we should cross."
Instead of answering, he grabbed the torch from her and stabbed it into the sandy ground before kneeling down to examine her injuries. She stiffened, watching
him tensely, knowing if she tried to get away he'd knock her to the ground.
It was hard to see anything in the dim light and with so much muck and blood obscuring her wounds. A part of her was darkly satisfied that she'd gone so long
ignoring her injuries even though her leg was now covered in dried blood, dirt and sand. A week ago she probably would have completely freaked out seeing
so much blood and knowing it came from her own body. Heck, she hadn't even cried in pain. Fear yes, but not pain.

Malfoy ripped a long strip from the already ragged hem of his robe, dipped it into the icy river water and began to mop up the blood on her leg.
Seeing the frayed material, Hermione realized that he'd used his own robes to make the torch. He'd wrapped a stick with cloth and set it alight with some of the
firestone he was forever pilfering from her bag.
You'd think our robes would be spelled against fire! She thought indignantly, but supposed she should be grateful they weren't.
" The scratches aren't that bad." Malfoy diagnosed clinically as if he knew anything at all about such things, his touch on her leg was gentle.
This was his new game.
He'd had to come to grips with helping her despite the fact that it went totally against everything he believed. He had no other choice, so he resigned himself to
aiding her, but there was nothing nice about it.
Since carrying her to the clearing, he'd jumped at every opportunity to help her and been as cheerfully vicious as he could while doing it, the whole point being
to hurt her as much as he possibly could while he helped her.
He had gathered firewood for her and then shoved her hand down on one of the rocks that lined their fire pit, searing her skin. Another time, she had slipped on
a rock in the thigh-deep shallows of the oasis river. He'd caught her, steadying her, and just as she turned to thank him, he'd grabbed her and plunged her down
under the water, holding her there until she thought he really meant to drown her. When he finally let go, she'd popped to the surface sputtering and gasping and
terrified and he'd picked her up like a child and carried her out of the water.
Since then he'd been roughly attentive, mockingly tender, and completely sadistic. He scared the hell out of her.
The scientist in her held a horrified fascination for this twist in his behavior and she was at a complete loss as to how to react to it. She'd tried ignoring him,
yelling at him, throwing rocks at him, none of it discouraged him. Any reaction spurred him on and no reaction seemed to make him even more determined.
" I think they were just trying to trip you. Maybe they like to eat their prey alive." He looked like he was enjoying the horrified look on her face, " These two are
deep though." He touched the short punctures on either side of her leg lightly, then harder, his fingers digging purposefully into her skin, gouging," Maybe those
things are rabid. Have you thought about that?"
She held her breath, refusing to whimper. They locked eyes in a silent battle of wills. Defiance would cause him to hurt her more but at least she kept some
dignity. His steady gray eyes gauged her reactions until his fingernail sliced through the open wound, through the raw meat of her leg, and a small, pained
sound burst from between her clenched teeth.
He released his grip, satisfied.
" Shut up, Malfoy." She gritted, humiliated, pressing a hand to the throbbing wound.
" Don't worry, if you start foaming at the mouth I'll make sure to put you out of your misery. I'll even do it painlessly." Before she could react, he reached forward
and cupped her face in his hands, his grip unbreakable,"See, I just twist your neck like this"
" STOP IT!" she lashed out at his face, willing to scratch his eyes out if she had to.
He laughed, releasing her quickly as he dodged and scrambled to his feet. She glared at him.
" Let me see your knife." She demanded.
Malfoy recoiled, all humor flown, " I told you no!"
" Oh for heavens sake! I need bandages."
He considered.
" Fine, but we use your robes." She yelped as he swooped down on her, ripping her robes off of her, practically mugging her, and ignored her reproachful glare
as he drew his knife and gleefully began to cut the material to pieces. He'd probably reduce the entire thing to shreds just to spite her.
Her eyes lingered on the glinting silver knife. It was bright tonight. In fact, if her eyes weren't playing tricks on her, it had been growing brighter every day.
She wondered again what kind of magic properties it held. Malfoy wouldn't talk to her about it. There was something beautiful about the blade, even though the
design was plain. She wanted desperately to hold it. The thought of stealing it while Malfoy slept had crossed her mind one night. Maybe if she held it just once
and showed him that nothing would happen, he'd let her use it. She really wanted to touch it, just for a minute.
She blinked, filing her plots away for later consideration when she realized the knife had stopped cutting. She looked up to find Malfoy glaring at her accusingly.
" Don't do that." He bit off each word in a low thunderous growl.
" Sorry." She mumbled and looked away. But she was glad she'd stared because he finished up faster, leaving about half her robe in tact, and threw the strips
at her. She gathered them up, " I need my backpack."
He growled in annoyance but fished it from his bag then threw it at her so hard that she squealed in pain when the base, laden with firestone, barked against
her wounded shin. She slapped a hand over her mouth as her companion whipped back around to face her, 'concerned'.
" Are you okay?" he asked. He even sounded like he meant it, which caused a hysterical laugh to bubble at the back of her throat.
She choked it back and nodded quickly, "I'm fine."
He eyed her as if he didn't believe her and she held her breath until he turned away, apparently deciding she'd been punished enough for the night. Or at least
for the time being.
Malfoy began building a fire while she sorted through her bag, looking for any kind of plants that would cleanse or detoxify. She didn't have much and made due
with squishing Baintictio berry juice into the wounds and wrapping them up tight with some packing leaves for pressure to stop the blood flow.
What if those rabbit-things did have a poisonous bite? She shuddered. They'd certainly looked riddled with disease.
She knew their claws weren't poisonous. Malfoy hadn't suffered any ill effects from his scratches.
She sneaked a peak at him, her eyes trailing over the jagged marks on his face.
Why only on his face and chest? Why weren't there any marks on his legs? It just seemed weird.
She was glad now, so glad, that he'd suggested a rest day. They'd be dead now otherwise.

They'd spent the day yesterday napping and eating and exploring and staying away from each other as much as possible because Malfoy had started picking
fights every time she approached him.
One of them occurred when Malfoy, after cooking the rest of his bizarre assortment of animals, had informed her that snake tasted like chicken and threatened
to use force to make her try a bite. Luckily, a couple of stone projectiles aimed at his head was enough to cause him lose interest in expanding her culinary
horizon.
She'd gone foraging instead, spending a few hours digging for roots and such, a lazy, time consuming but rewarding activity. She still had several large bulbs in
her bag.
Malfoy decided to try and catch fish by netting them in his robe and spent hours splashing through the river in his attempts. After watching him for awhile, she
had fashioned herself a fishing rod with a stick, a loose string from her robe, and an old paperclip found at the bottom of her backpack baited with grubs she
found while digging roots.
Neither of them caught anything, which was probably for the best considering neither of them knew how to prepare fish.
Then, as night fell, Malfoy skulked off as he always did. And came careening back to their campsite twenty minutes later with blood smeared over his face like
a gory Halloween mask.
He'd screamed for her to renew the Circle. That frightened her. Blood was streaming down his face and chest but he was more worried about the Circle then
his wounds. Her brain had stuttered to a halt at the sight of him and she mentally slapped herself and quickly complied.
Even then, when the circle flared up around them, he didn't spare his wounds a thought. He'd stood there with his knife out, panting and terrified. She'd never
seen him like that, not even after the antlion.
He'd been so afraid.
" Malfoy, oh my gosh, let me see your face! What did this?" She'd grabbed his shoulder, touched his cheek. He'd shoved her away.
" Get ready to run." He ordered.
But nothing ever came.
" Let me look at your face! Malfoy, let me see!" her voice went from worried to demanding and rose with impatience. She shook him to no avail and got herself
thrown to the ground again, this time almost absently.
" I have to make sure." He muttered.
It was almost like he didn't even know she was there. He started back the way he had come, leaving the circle.
" You're going back out there?" she gasped in amazed confusion, some part of her awed. Here he was, more afraid then she'd ever seen him and he was
going back?
Why didn't he run? Slytherins always ran.
" If you hear anything that isn't me, get the hell out of here."
" I'm coming with you!"
He didn't acknowledge her, but he grabbed her arm and steadied her when she tripped trying to follow him into the dark, so distracted that he didn't even take
the opportunity to twist her wrist or squeeze until he bruised her.
The trees in the oasis were not nearly as clustered together as they were in the forest, the canopy was open enough to allow for plenty of moon and starlight, but
Hermione was still amazed at how deftly Malfoy moved through the dark while she tripped over branches and stumbled into dips in the ground and stubbed her
toes on rocks.
He led her to the edge of the oasis, to the edge of the golden fields, and slowed as they reached the grass, growing tenser with each step, his breath
quickening.
Hermione gasped.
The entire field was lit with moonlight and thousands of zipping silver fireflies winging about in beautiful harmony.
" Its so pretty." Hermione murmured from her hiding place behind Malfoy's shoulder.
He snorted, grabbing a rock off the ground and cocking his arm back to chuck it out into the field. They heard it land, heard the soft thump and the rush of dry
grass. Immediately, random clumps of grass rustled all around the field, swaying to and fro. A chorus of peeps, cheeps and chirrups, sweet and innocent filled
the air.
It was amazing. From her standpoint behind Malfoy, the field had seemed completely empty. It was apparently filled with animals hiding in the grass.
" Oh how cute!" she stepped out from behind him, face lit with wonder.
Malfoy spared her a look of complete disgust.
He chucked another rock. It landed roughly in the same area.
This time the entire field exploded in movement. The chirps rose to screams and Hermione clasped a hand to her mouth as lines of movement blasted through
the grass and congregated in the area the rocks landed. Whatever the creatures were, they had rushed to where the rock fell like scrub jays flocking on
breadcrumbs.
She could swear she heard faint snarling.
" Whatwhat.." she stuttered.
Malfoy stepped forward until his knees nearly touched the edge of the grass, " HEY!" he screamed, " I'm over here! Come get me!"
In the blink of an eye the entire field was silent and motionless once more, as if someone had taken a Muggle photo, ceasing all movement in one static frame.
" What are you doing?"

" HEEEEEY!"
He waited.
Silence.
" Peep?" one of the creatures in the field asked.
" That's right mother fucker." Malfoy shot back.
Endless silence.
" Whatwhat are they?" she asked as he walked back towards her, apparently satisfied with whatever the heck had just happened.
" I don't know. I didn't get a good look." Malfoy told her grimly, "I came out here to hunt. I saw something moving and thought it was another rabbit." He gave a
bitter laugh, " It nearly tore my face off."
" You mean, it was those things, whatever was making that noise? But they sound so cute!" she cast a nervous glance back towards the field.
" Oh yeah, real cute. They're like field-piranhas or something. I bet that's why we didn't see any animals in the grasslands at all. The smart ones won't go into the
grass and the stupid ones get eaten."
" Why did you come back here?"
" I had to make sure they wouldn't come out of the grass. I barely got away when they attacked me. I think I startled them or they would have killed me. I panicked
and I used my knife." He touched the blade absently, "I can use it most of the time and it only makes me a little tired. But when I use it to fightits like it sucks
my strength right out of me. I knew that, but I panicked and used it anyway."
Hermione gasped as the implications hit her.
" So then I couldn't do anything but just lay there, you know. Luckily, I fell in here. They didn't come after me. When I got my strength back, I ran for it. I'm pretty
sure now that they won't come out of the field. They don't like to be seen or something, so I think we're safe."
They'd gone back to camp and Hermione had looked at his injuries after he washed up in the stream. He'd stood up from the river with his shirt and robes
hanging from his waist and water streaming down his face and very naked chest and Hermione felt her breath catch at the sight of him pale and half-naked by
moonlight. She tried to keep her face expressionless, or at least professional, but part of her brain was turning to mush and her stomach was flipping like a fish
out of water. Fortunately for everyone involved, Malfoy was worn out enough to let her fuss over him without complaint and didn't seem to notice if her touch or
her gaze lingered.
All in all, his wounds weren't as bad as they could have been. The scratches on his chest were worse than the ones on his face, which looked more like
glancing blows. There were three big gouges that would probably scar but that was nothing that couldn't be fixed by a Medi-witch once they got back.
Malfoy woke her up just before dawn the next morning and she could tell by his haggard appearance that he hadn't slept at all.
" They're gone." He said, " We need to leave."
She didn't ask who 'they' were.
It seemed whatever those things were they only came out at night. Which meant the two of them had to get across the grasslands before the sunset. That had
been today.
" So you saw them." Malfoy's voice snapped her out of reverie and back to the present.
She realized with a stir of unease that the blond boy had finished with the fire and was now casting the circle about them. She watched nervously while he
frowned as he tried to remember what came next and awkwardly walked the circle. Sure she'd started out wanting him to learn how to do it, but now that he had
made the effort and actually could, she wished she hadn't shown him.
What was he planning that he suddenly needed to be able to do it on his own?
" Yes, I saw them."
" What are they?"
And there was the million-dollar question. She didn't like that there were so many things lately that she simply couldn't identify.
" I don't know."
He looked up from sorting ingredients, his face twisted in scorn, "You've been completely useless lately."
She couldn't tell if he was threatening her or just disgusted.
" I don't know everything." She snapped impatiently, reminding herself as much as him, as she moved closer to the fire, slipping what was left of her robes over
her arms, " What now?" she asked mutely. He looked at her sharply.
" What do you mean 'what now'?" he snapped, "We follow the compass right? You haven't gotten us lost have you? I swear if you have, I'll"
" I guess we go to sleep." She ignored him, " If the fire comes we'll be dead of smoke-inhalation long before our bodies burn, so its not like we'll feel anything."
" That's the spirit." He muttered.
She rolled her eyes, and yawned, " You go to sleep. I'll keep watch tonight."
He looked over his shoulder at her, derisively, " You think I'd trust a useless bit of Muggle fluff like you to keep watch all night? You'll be asleep within the hour."
He closed the circle.
" I will not!" she gasped in outrage, lifting her head to glare at him," How dare you! I've kept up with you, haven't I?"
" Yes," he agreed amiably, he dusted his hands off and wiped them on his robes, walking over to sit across from her," but I've had to slow way down so don't be
too proud of yourself."
Her eyes narrowed and she told him arrogantly," You never would have made it this far without me!"

" I'm not so sure about that. I think I would have managed." He drawled, shifting into a comfortable position. She could see the fire reflected in his eyes.
" Yeah right! You never would have figured out which direction to go, you probably would have ended up eating something poisonous or been killed in the night
because you didn't have any protection. If it wasn't for me, the antlion would have gotten you"
" If it weren't for you," He interrupting scathingly, eyes hard," the antlion wouldn't have had anything to lure me with."
" That's not true! The enchantment"
He interrupted again, " Face it, Granger, if it weren't for you, I'd probably be home already. Hell, if it weren't for you, I wouldn't even be here. You're slow, you're
pathetically weak, and when it comes down to it, you're completely useless. Your protective circle, your stupid lectures, its all bullshit. The only thing you're good
for is monster bait. But what else can you expect from inferior breeding?"
Her lips parted in preparation for yelling but at this her mouth snapped closed, and she stared at him in disbelief, " Oh no you didn't."
He leaned forward slightly and hissed, "If you weren't a fucking Muggle, you wouldn't be holding me up so badly."
The challenge was clear.
" Youhonestlywant to have this conversation now?" she asked in amazement, "We're both exhausted, blood-soaked and sweat-soaked and you want to
discuss this right now?"
" I thought you were looking forward to the conversation." He countered snidely, using her own words against her.
She had known it was coming. The words had been hanging in the air like black thunderheads bloated with rain ever since she'd denied him the battle he'd
tried to start days ago. They had both been waiting for the topic to break. Sooner or later she was going to have to attempt to justify her right to live to him. It
was inevitable. But she still couldn't believe that he would choose this moment to draw lines in the sand.
" Muggles just aren't built the same as wizards." He continued in a careless, amiable voice as if they were discussing the attributes of a favorite movie, " They
have less muscle-mass, their brains are smaller, they're more inclined to be fat," a pointed gaze at her, "Probably because their respiratory systems aren't up
to par and exercise wears them out a lot faster."
" Where are you getting this garbage?" It was so ridiculous that she wanted to believe he was just making it up but it had probably come from some AntiMuggle propaganda he'd read, " Muggle brains are smaller? Do you really think I'm mentally deficient? I'm smarter then you will ever be."
He smiled sweetly, "But that's what's so much fun about you, Granger. You're some kind of freak of nature. Some kind of weird one-in-a-million mutation, like a
person with six fingers or three kidneys. It happens sometimes."
Her face flushed at the implications his words held," And who decided that?" she asked stiffly, trying to keep her voice careless, as if it didn't bother her at all
that him and his prejudiced friends had gotten together just to discuss little ole her and why a filthy, inferior Muggle was doing better than them in every subject
and then came to the conclusion that she was an aberration of nature.
" You'd be surprised." He snickered. He paused for effect, looking upwards, as if greatly interested in the stars before meeting her wounded gaze with sharp
amusement, "Professor Vector has some interesting theories about you."
Her breath caught in her throat at the sting of this betrayal but she shook it off. Not wanting to let him see, " People have been claiming to be better than one
group or another since the beginning of time and they've used every imaginable excuse to do so and they've never been right and neither are you. Muggles and
Wizards are almost exactly the same."
" But not exactly the same." He pointed out, casually stretching and leaning back to show that he was completely relaxed and completely in control of the
conversation," You admit there's a difference."
" The only difference, you racist jerk, is that wizards can access a certain area of the brain and Muggles can't."
His eyes flashed with triumph, " So you also admit that Muggles don't have the brains that wizards do." He jeered.
" No, all people use only about ten-percent of their brain, that includes wizards. So wizards may be able to access certain portions of the brain that Muggles
can't, but they make up for it by not being able to access other portions that Muggles can."
His sudden frown and the tightening of his shoulders told her that this was not information he'd heard before. Of course he hadn't, if his idea of unbiased
literature was Anti-Muggle pamphlets, " That's bullshit. What can Muggles do that wizards can't?"
" No one's entirely sure about all of the functions of each area of the brain, Malfoy. The point is that if sometime in the future Muggle scientists can form synapse
connections to those other portions of the brain, its likely that Muggles will be able to use magic the same as wizards." It was an interesting theory and one she
secretly planned to study when she graduated.
" Now I don't believe that for a second." She was gratified to see him looking shaken, but he quickly regained his footing, " Muggle brains would have to be the
same as wizard brains, and they aren't. Muggle brains are smaller.."
" That's not true!" she interrupted sharply.
" And our genetic makeup is different. Muggles have no inherent latent magic ability, as you claim, synapses or no synapses."
" Then how do you get people like me? How do you get wizards born from Muggle families if our genes aren't the same and our brains aren't the same, just
wired a bit different?"
" Obviously you have a wizard or a squib relative somewhere along the line. The only way you get magic from a Muggle line is by having a wizard marry in to the
family at some point. The only way you get squibs from a wizard line is by dirtying your line with Muggle blood. Muggles and wizards are a separate species."
She was countering instantly, " I have no magic relatives. I've done my genealogy and as far back as I can find, I have plain old Muggle ancestors and past that
point it doesn't even matter because the blood would be so diluted it wouldn't affect me anyway. As for us being different species, different species can't breed!
And if by chance they do, the offspring are always sterile!"
" Nothing says wizards aren't an exception to the rule. After all, a wizard in animagus form can breed with another animal. As disgusting as that example is, it
proves that wizards have an adaptability that could force the incompatible muggle species, to bear children."
Despite herself she was mildly impressed with him. He had really done a lot of reading and thinking on the subject, even if it was to a very bad end, " Everything
you've said has been speculation, half-truths and downright lies. You don't have one shred of real evidence. You say I'm slowing you down because I'm a
Muggle but I bet you'd rather be here with me than Crabbe or Goyle. The two of them are so stupid that"
Malfoy jerked upright, " Crabbe and Goyle aren't stupid." He barked, "and I'll thank you to keep your dirty mouth off my friends. You're straying from the topic. If

you think you can win this by badmouthing my friends instead of giving evidence"
" I can't win!" she shouted, "It wouldn't matter how much evidence I had. You would refuse to listen to me!"
" If you think"
" What do you believe in Malfoy?" she asked softly, intensely, face serious," Do you believe in God? In Evolution? Do either of those terms mean anything to
you?"
He cocked his head at her.
" Because in either scenario, human beings came from a single source. Therefore we are the same no matter how you look at it."
" Then maybe neither of those scenarios work." He stated softly.
" You're impossible." She broke off abruptly and gave him a long, searching stare, "Tell me what you've been told about Muggles."
" What I've been told or what I believe?" the calculating look in his eyes said he hadn't counted on this turn in the conversation but that he was intrigued enough
to go with it.
" A little of both. If you know more about Muggles then I do," her scathing tone said how ridiculous she thought that was, "Then tell me. Convert me." She spat
that last part.
He sat back, eyes straying back to the stars as he gathered his thoughts, " Do you know why we're not supposed to tell Muggles what we are?"
Hermione blinked, taken aback by the question and the realization that she didn't know why. She'd never really thought about it.
" Its because we're hiding. You see, when your people find out who and what we are, they invariably want to kill us."
Hermione's eyebrows snapped together, " That is so not true! My parents"
" Will you shut your fat mouth for two seconds." He growled dangerously, " I'm trying to answer your fucking question."
Hermione went silent. Malfoy eyed her until he was sure she was paying attention.
" For every one Muggle who accepts us there are five who want to kill us. Do you have any idea how many first years have been killed by their own Muggle
parents after getting their Hogwart's letters? And I'm not talking a hundred years ago, I'm talking about the last incident which was three years ago."
Hermione forced herself to keep silent, watching the brooding look on his face intently.
" Some woman found out her child was 'devil's spawn' and strangled him to death in his sleep in order to 'save his soul'. Another muggle told his muggle friends
when his son got a Hogwarts letter and the kid and his family got lynched by wizard-haters. So you see, you might think its okay to tell one Muggle but they
always tell others and before you know it, there's an angry mob out to have a good old fashion witch burning."
" Butthe history books say.. Burning wizards it"
He seemed to catch the turn in her thoughts, " Oh sure. There are lots of accounts of wizards and witches who thought it was funny to let the Muggles 'burn'
them. But what happens if you don't have your wand with you? Or it gets taken away? What happens to the kids who don't know the charms and spells of
protection? And the Muggles didn't just burn us, they tortured us to death. Have you ever heard of the Salem witch trials in the States? Those guys thought they
could live together in harmony with the Muggles and look where it got them. The Muggles slaughtered them all."
He let her absorb that for a moment.
" But it isn't just that your people are barbaric animals that enjoy a good killing spree. Its also the sheer idea that we have to hide from you. US! We're better
than you! We were the pinnacle of culture, living in mansions with glass windows and running water and composing literature and poetry when your people were
still living in caves, wearing animals skins and shoving berries up their noses. And then some benevolent wizards decided to take pity on the poor stupid
Muggles and your people got a bit more civilized and, once they did, they decided to run us out of our homes. London was ours. Your people stole it from us
and forced us into terrified hiding for the last thousand years. Your society is built on our bones."
" And you want what? Revenge?" Hermione asked quietly, "Revenge against innocent people for the crimes of their ancestors?"
" No you dumb bitch! I want what is rightfully mine. And I refuse to live in hiding like my father and his father before him. We can't anyway. Like you said,
Muggles are getting smarter. There are even rumors that underground factions we haven't detected know about us. We are unable to hide any longer. So we're
going to kill them before they kill us."
" I guess you're not one for making a stand for tolerance." She said sarcastically, hiding the cold horror she felt at his fierce declaration.
" I'm not willing to lose any more of my people."
" Just the ones that don't agree with you." She narrowed her eyes shrewdly, seeing right through him.
He was silent.
" You've given me a history lesson, but now tell me what you've been told."
" What I've been told?" he cleared his throat, " First there are the things I don't believe: I don't believe that Muggles are actually monkeys transfigured to look like
people and who subsequently got away and began to breed."
" Well that's something." Hermione muttered, studying him carefully, trying to determine his mood because he must have been taking the conversation very
seriously if he wasn't pretending to believe that line just to pull her chain.
" I don't believe Muggles are under my bed and will come out and get me if I don't eat my vegetables."
Hermione made a choking sound.
" My aunt told me that. I don't believe that Muggles can tell I'm a wizard on sight and will automatically jump me and tear me apart. I don't believe Muggles are
wizards who were drained of their magic and forced into exile. I don't believe that Muggles are pasty monsters wearing the skins of wizards."
" Someone told you that?"
" I do know that Muggles aren't human, bare with me, you've heard some of this, they are physiologically different, they can never be as intelligent as wizards,
every advancement they have made came from a wizard source." he ignored Hermione's noise of indignation, " I believe you are inherently violent and disease

ridden and no amount of breeding with wizards can dilute it. I believe wizards and muggles cannot live together peacefully. I believe Muggles would destroy us
one way or another, they'd either kill us outright or breed us out until all magic was gone."
Something was off about his little speech. She was certain he believed it and even that some of the history he'd divulged was true, as she had heard dilute
accounts here and there regarding such things, but Draco Malfoy was not a nationalist. He was not the type to 'fight for the good of his community'. He didn't
give a damn how anyone else was doing as long as he was fine.
So the question became: what did any of this have to do with him?
" Its human beings that can't live together in peace." She countered, " Not just Muggles and wizards."
That raised an eyebrow, " So you don't believe in world peace?" he mocked.
" Not anymore." She answered quietly.
" Well, shit, and I thought that was your objective. Who convinced you? Me?" he crossed his arms, puffing up proudly.
" Don't flatter yourself, and stop acting all wounded. If you want to compare scars then don't act like wizards aren't guilty of any wrongdoing. Wizards kept
Muggle slaves. Wizards used Muggles as guinea pigs for sick magic experiments. Wizards wiped out Muggle villages to obtain the land. And to this day wizard
teenagers go out on weekends and torture Muggles for fun, like little kids tying tin cans to a dog's tail."
" I guess you were right," he leaned forward casually, arms resting on his knees, " neither of us can win this little argument. But that doesn't matter. What really
matters is what we decide to do about it"
" What do you mean?" she asked suspiciously, knowing that this was the punch line and that she wasn't going to like it.
" Have you ever heard the term 'racial cleansing'?" The words rolled off his tongue as if he were savoring them.
" You're sick."
" Oh, I'm not so bad. See, Voldemort wants to kill all the Muggles and Muggleborns in one giant bloody massacre. I think that would be a disaster. Not only
would we be likely to suffer major losses ourselves, but I'm well aware that Muggle and Wizard economy has, in the last two decades, become sort of
intertwined. We'd suffer major losses if our business industries were suddenly cut off from important supplies. So I'd rather the Muggles die out naturally." He
smacked his lips on the last word, tasting it as he smiled at her smugly.
" What do you mean, naturally?" she felt her fingers digging into the ground as she tried to control her facial expressions.
" We're working on a spell. A simple, painless spell. Very humanitarian of us. Mass Sterilization. Once the spell is cast, anyone with Muggle blood will become
sterile. Over the course of the next eighty years you all die out slowly and naturally, giving our economy time to adjust, and cleansing our race once and for all."
" Youyou" she couldn't describe what she was feeling, gut-wrenching, dry-mouthed horror. She didn't know how to respond, so many different emotions
were tearing her so many different directions. She was surprised by what finally came calmly out of her mouth, " Do you have any idea how terribly that can
backfire? If what I say is true, and we're all the same, then that spell could render the entire human race sterile. Do you understand that? Because of your pitiful
need to be better than everyone else in your own mind, you could destroy the human race."
" Believe me, we won't make that kind of a mistake."
" And what about all we've accomplished!" she screamed suddenly, surprising him, "You said we stole from you but it's the other way around! You stupid
wizards take your magic so much for granted that you don't care how anything works. You wave your wand and you get what you want, but you still don't
understand how. Almost all of your science is stolen from us. Muggles have done extraordinary things, things wizards never even conceived of in their wildest
dreams. Our technology makes some of your magic look like backwards country-bumpkin peasantry! Our literature, our music, our ideas, everything we've
struggled for and achieved and that your society has strived to imitate. And you want to wipe that out?" she struggled with the emotion burning up her throat that
wanted to dissolve into tears,"You have no right, you monster."
" And here I was thinking I was being incredibly merciful. If you'd rather have a bloodbath, I can accommodate you." He looked at her threw his lashes, face
mildly annoyed.
" Why are you telling me this?" she asked tiredly, slumping down, anger draining away into exhaustion, "You know I'm going to tell everyone what you said."
He snickered and crawled over to kneel in front of her, " I can tell you anything I want. I can tell you where the Death Eaters meet and where Voldemort is staying
and what his daily schedule is like. I can tell you exactly what we're going to do in the next year and when and how and I don't have to worry. Do you know why?"
his eyes were black in the dim light and something dangerous was staring out of them at her with an air of affectionate malice.
She stared numbly into those black, hating eyes, " Because you're going to kill me." She murmured, feeling perfectly numb. A tear slipped unheeded down her
cheek.
He trailed it with his eyes," Don't cry about it." he scolded, patting her on the head like she was a dog, taking a moment to twirl one of her curls around his
finger," If we're lucky, the forest will kill you for me. But either way, only one of us is getting out of here alive."
She looked up at him slowly as he stood and felt an awful stillness around her heart, as if all of winter was blowing glaciers and ice mercilessly inside her, " I'm
not crying for the reason you think I am." And her voice was just frightening enough to give him pause.
But he didn't understand and she didn't expect him to.
He turned and disappeared into the forest.
oooo
She didn't sleep that night. She knew she should rest but, despite the childishness of it, she wanted to spite him by proving him wrong about her ability to keep
watch.
She was awake, bleary and red-eyed, when dawn came and illuminated her surroundings.
The river, it turned out, was huge. The other side was a good fifty feet away, the current was swift and there was no telling how deep it was towards the middle.
The size and direction, North-East of their oasis river, made Hermione think that this was the parent river and the oasis river in the grasslands had been an
offshoot.
They never would have made it had they tried to cross the night before.
The area they were camped in was almost swampy and something niggling in the back of her mind said this was odd, that an extremely dry grassland shouldn't
be a hundred feet from a wet, mossy, humid swamp.

Malfoy returned from wherever he had run off to at daybreak looking worse than ever and that gave her some satisfaction.
She had offered to keep watch. She had successfully done so. It was his fault if he hadn't slept in two nights.
No mention was made of the night before. No mention, in fact, was made of anything. They ate, packed up and headed out.
She was back to carrying her backpack. Now that the danger had past, Malfoy wouldn't hold it for her anymore and she was actually sort of glad not to have to
ask him for it every time she needed something. He tended to get cranky when she requested it too often.
She had decided to head South-East until they found the Tangle Trees again, then they would head East along the tree line. It would take longer to reach the
Tangle Trees but she hoped to keep the river in sight. It was a rare thing to be able to have water whenever she wanted it.
The dial on her compass was still pointing South-East but was slowly creeping South, which meant they would eventually pass the place they were trying to go
and be forced to double back at some point. She didn't want to head East any further than she had to. Once the Tangle Tree forest petered out a bit, they'd
begin heading their original direction again.
The forest was thick and dark around them, the exact opposite of the grasslands, and she found herself missing the dry fields. It had been easier to walk when
the ground was even and not thick with bulging roots and squelching slippery under their feet.
Their trip to the oasis had taken them a bit North of where they had started from and their search for water had taken even further North. She surmised it might
take them half the day to get to the Tangle Tree
The hours seemed to drag by. Her mind continually jumped between worrying about her wounds and lamenting her miserable condition. Her head was foggy
from lack of sleep, her legs were sore from her run and stiff from her wounds. She had checked her scratches this morning, rewrapping her leg in a tight, dry
cast. Her biggest worry was infection. She hoped if she kept the wounds clean and dry and applied any and all cleansing agents she came across, that she'd
be fine.
It wasn't till early afternoon that Hermione pinpointed the source of the unease that had floated around in her belly since beginning the hike that morning. She
had been so focused on her own discomfort that she hadn't been paying any attention to the odd silence coming from Malfoy.
He hadn't said a word all day. Not one.
Considering that he hadn't shut up once since they'd started traveling together, this was instantly alarming.
She sent him a cautious side-long glace from the corner of her eye and saw him glaring moodily at his feet as he tromped along. It reminded her so much of the
Malfoy Doppleganger the antlion had made her see that she came up short.
Malfoy stopped when she did, raising his head to scowl at her.
" Malfoy?" she asked hesitantly, searching his eyes, half expecting to see empty nothingness within his gaze.
" What?" he grunted.
Okay, that was a good sign, she guessed. She took two uneasy steps towards him, ignoring his narrowing eyes, reached out and poked him in the arm. Her
finger met solid flesh just before he slapped her hand away.
" What the fuck is wrong with you?" his voice was almost hoarse.
She opened her mouth to explain that she was used to him talking more than Lavender and Parvati put together but quickly decided against it.
" Are you feeling okay?"
He glared at her.
Oookay.
When it became apparent that he wasn't going to answer, she turned away and started walking again. He punished her for interrupting his brooding by tripping
her twice in the next five minutes until she screamed at him. She didn't ask him again but she watched him carefully for the rest of the day and besides being
extra clumsy, which she found extremely entertaining, he seemed fine.
They found the Tangle Trees an hour later and nearly walked right into them because she wasn't paying attention.
" That's it! I'm done!" she announced loudly, turning her back on the trees and marching back the way they had come.
Malfoy glanced at the trees, glanced at her, then turned and followed her without a word.
The river had zigzagged along their periphery all day and there was a looping bend nearby. There were still hours of daylight left but Hermione felt sure that she
was so tired that she was going to start hallucinating any moment. As far as she was concerned, they could stop for the day by the river and enjoy the sunlit
shore.
Malfoy didn't argue. He still wasn't speaking. He prowled up and down the riverbank while she set up camp.
Her gaze strayed to him every so often. She figured this was some sort of silent treatment, though she couldn't imagine what he hoped to accomplish.
" Why don't you get some sleep?" she called to him as she tried to make herself comfortable.
" I'm not tired." It was curt, abrupt. He stood facing the river, not looking at her.
" Whatever." She didn't believe him and said so with a shrug, and fished through her backpack, pulling out some roots, "Then why don't you eat something? I've
still got some"
" I'm not hungry." He cut her off sharply, a definite streak of annoyance growing in his voice.
She cast him a disbelieving stare, "How can you not be hungry? I'm starving."
" You're fat." He grunted.
She clamped down her anger and instead taunted in a bored tone," I know you're more creative than that."
He walked away, heading for the forest.
Hermione sat upright, eyebrows so far up they were nearly lost in her hair line.

Malfoy running from a fight?


" Hey, I think you might be coming down with something, you know that? Where are you going?"
" I'm going to go kill something." He said darkly, before vanishing into the trees.
Ouch.
She laid back, dismissing him, and settled down for a nap, covering her face and arms with her robes so they would absorb the light and keep her warm but
also keep her from getting sunburned.
The smell of cooking meat woke her. Her eyes popped open to see Malfoy roastingsomething. She hadn't seen what it was to begin with and with Malfoy
there was no telling.
She watched drowsily as he pulled the meat from the fire and began ripping off hunks regardless of the temperature, hissing as he burned his hands and
mouth.
" For someone who claimed they weren't hungry, you sure are stuffing your face." She murmured, rubbing sand from her eyes.
He started a bit, nearly tipping over before he caught himself. He muttered something through a mouthful of meat but otherwise ignored her.
He ate about half of it and suddenly became disinterested in the food. She sat up.
" Can I have some?"
His eyes snapped to her, zeroing in, " Why should I let you have any?"
" Because I'm hungry? Because I share my food with you?" she pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Obviously his sharing
attitude had deserted him. She wondered if she was going to have to make some kind of deal with him to get him to supply her with meat.
" I caught it, its mine." His body was tense like he expected her to jump up and take it from him.
" Well if you're still hungry, I'm not going to take your food." She shrugged mildly.
He stood up and, before her stunned gaze, deliberately dropped the meat into the dirt and brought his foot down on it, twisting his foot to grind it into the filth.
" MALFOY!" she was on her feet.
He picked up the ruined meat calmly and chucked it as hard as he could so that it landed with a plop in the river and sank.
" YOU IDIOT!" She shrieked with fists clenched, completely horrified, " You just wasted perfectly good food! We're in very real danger of starving! Have you
forgotten that? Has that knowledge slipped your tiny Slytherin mind? We don't have tons of extra food lying around that you can just throw stuff away!"
" Does that answer your question?" Malfoy asked lazily, eyes heavy-lidded.
Her tirade stuttered to a halt, "What?"
" You asked if you could have some." A faint curl of rich amusement in his tone, " Go get it. Fetch."
She wished fiercely at that moment that she could strangle him, wished she had the strength in her hands to just wrap her fingers around his throat and squeeze
until his head exploded. She couldn't believe he would be so irresponsible.
Of all the childish, foolish, idiotic things to do!
" You listen to me, you arrogant little nazi, I would rather you had eaten the rest of it even if you barfed it back up later. At least then you would have gotten some
nutrition out of it!"
" You know, I could always shut you up with my fist." The lazy mood deserted him and his mouth twisted in irritation. One hand rubbed at his temple as if he had
a headache.
" Is that your answer to everything? You don't have the vocabulary to defend yourself so you go all Neanderthal and Hulk smash!"
He looked confused at the reference but dismissed it with a snort, " Whatever works." He took a step towards her.
" It won't work if I crack your head open!" she threatened ineffectually, face twisted in a snarl while looking wildly about for ammunition. Unfortunately there was
only dark, moist earth and no rocks nearby with which to smite her enemy.
He took another step.
" You come one step closer," her voice rose to a shriek, "and I'll scream until your eardrums burst like rotten fruit!"
It seemed to work, he winced at her volume and backed away, eyeing her like a cat that had just gotten sprayed in the face with water.
Quite suddenly he seemed to lose interest in her and wandered back towards the river. It was so anticlimactic that she stared after him with her mouth hanging
open in half fearful suspicion and half awed disbelief.
For the next half hour she lived in constant terror of a surprise attack. It eventually became apparent that Malfoy was thoroughly occupied elsewhere and wasn't
interested in retaliation.
Calming herself, she had something to eat, two large white bulbs that weren't particularly tasty but that were better than nothing and decided to spend the rest of
the afternoon napping.
When she woke again, it was still light out but her surroundings had taken on the bluish tinge of pre-dusk.
Feeling pleasantly groggy, she hauled herself up off the cool earth and stumbled down towards the river bank. There was a large flat boulder there that had
soaked in the sun all afternoon. It had been too hot to sit on during the day but now that the sun was hidden behind the trees she eased herself up onto it and
sighed at the nearly scalding yet exquisitely pleasant heat.
She had just curled up on it when an unidentifiable sound had her cracking an eye open. Malfoy wasn't far from her. He was crouching by the water, toying with
his knife. It was glowing faintly. As she watched, he stood up slowly, unsteadily, and began to stagger drunkenly back towards the campfire. She sat up in alarm
at his wobbling gait and slid off the rock as he tripped and landed on his hands and knees.

" Malfoy? Are you okay?" she scrambled over to lean over him.
" Fine." He muttered and she squealed, lurching backwards as he swung the hand with the knife at her.
He hadn't actually meant to try and cut her, it seemed, it was more like he was absently waving her away and had forgotten that he had a giant knife in his hand.
He shoved off the ground and managed, after falling back to his knees twice more, to get to his feet, swaying unsteadily.
" Here, let me help!" She tried to help him up but he was too heavy and he pushed her away.
She noted his pale skin and glazed eyes with worry. Something was terribly wrong with him. She would have liked to believe it was lack of sleep but these
symptoms were just too severe.
Could it be the rabbit scratches? She thought in alarm. Were they really poisonous? Would it really take this long to manifest? Or maybe it was something much
simpler than that and maybe worse. Maybe the scratches had gotten badly infected and had given him a fever.
" Malfoy," she began calmly, " There's something wrong with you. I think you're sick."
" Nah, um fine." He was swaying on his feet, his eyes practically rolling in his head. He was really out of it.
" Maybe you should lay down and let me look at your scratches." She coaxed, trying to lead him towards the fire. It would be a lot easier to examine him if he
passed out or something.
" Um not tired." He slurred, pulling his hand out of hers. He was looking down at the knife, playing with it absently.
"You haven't slept in two nights." she spoke slowly and reasonably, maneuvering around him to tug the side of his collar down so she could see his scratches.
She got the barest glimpse of them, but she could detect no redness or swelling. She ran a hand over them, feeling for the heat or wetness of infection but he
jerked away from her, his eyes sharp and suspicious.
"You waitin' for me to go to sleep or sumthin?" he growled distrustfully.
He sounded drunk. If it wasn't the scratches then maybe he had eaten something bad. Maybe that animal he'd had this afternoon. What had it been?
" What did you eat this afternoon? What was that animal you roasted?" she asked sternly, halfway reaching her arm out to him again but then drawing it back
uncertainly at the dangerous expression on his face.
" What do you care?" he wheeled on her, and she sprang backwards in alarm, " You've been watching me! I've seen you! You're waiting for me to go to sleep!
You You mugglestrying to kill me. And you're trying to poison me"
She stared at him with jaw hanging open. He was delirious.
He pointed the knife at her accusingly and she flinched, " I've seen what you did."
The knife was brighter now, throbbing with light. It had only glowed like this right before he used it to fight. Was he about to attack her? She knew she was far
enough away to evade him, he was too clumsy at the moment to catch her, but with that knife he didn't need to actually cut her skin to get her. How far was the
knife's range?
This was so not good. Delirious Malfoy with a magic knife.
" Malfoy, stay calm." Her voice wavered slightly as she held up her hands in a placating gesture and put more distance between them.
Get the knife away from him. I have to get the knife. If I don't, he'll hurt himself or me.
" Malfoy, put the knife down." It was the wrong thing to say and she knew it.
His eyes went huge and he jerked the knife against his chest, instantly the blade shown brighter, " You can't have it! I told you, stupid bitch! Stupid, nasty
Muggle! Its my knife, not yours, not Lucius'. Fucking Lucius. He thinks he's better than me. Thinks I'm not good enough to be his son. You think you're better than
me too. You and that fucking Potter. Damn wank-brained assclown. I'm gonna kill him."

Assclown?
She tried a different tactic, "Good. You should." She told him soothingly.
He looked at her in bleary surprise, "Yeah?"
" Yeah. I hate Potter. He's a..aMuggle-lover."
" Yeah!" Malfoy agreed with her loudly, "Damn filthy Muggles ruin everything! I hate them!"
The knife seemed almost white-hot with light. Alarmed, she saw that Malfoy's hair was stirring lightly in a soft wind. She felt no wind, the trees were not moving.
It was coming from the knife.
Get the knife. Get it away from him!
She had taken two steps eagerly forward when she suddenly jerked back in alarm. There was no way she could get it from him in this condition. He'd cut her to
pieces before she even got close! Why did her brain keep going back to the stupid knife?
The light from the knife was illuminating Malfoy's face and there was indeed a wind blowing his hair and her heart sank to her stomach as she saw how ghastly
pale he was.
Malfoy's attention had gone back to the knife. He was staring at it dumbly, his breathing labored. It seemed to grow brighter as Malfoy paled even further.
Oh mi gosh.

"I can use it most of the time and it only makes me a little tired. But when I use it to fightits like it sucks my strength right out of me"
She remembered him saying that earlier.
The knife was draining his energy.
It must have been doing it for some time but it was only now really taking its toll on him. It explained why he'd gotten steadily clumsier as the days progressed,
why he'd lost his appetite, suddenly developed insomnia, and stopped talking. It was the knife.

She had no choice, she had to get the knife from him.
He's really slow and disoriented right now. If I'm quick, I might be able to take him by surprise.
She backed away from him until she was hidden in the trees. Malfoy seemed to have forgotten about her completely. He was staring at the knife, his face paper
white. As she watched his legs gave out and he hit the ground on his knees. Quickly, trying to make as little noise as possible, she circled around behind him,
checking to make sure his attention was elsewhere and then slowly slinked towards him from behind.
He didn't hear her and when she was close enough to feel the hot wind from the knife and feel its warm light illuminating her face, she pounced.
Malfoy yelled as she grabbed the wrist holding the knife in one hand and tried to wrench the blade from him with the other. The instant her fingers touched the
silver hilt, lightening jolted up her arm like she'd just stuck a fork in a toaster. The force of it smashed her backwards into the ground and she screamed in
surprise.
With an outraged bellow, Malfoy threw himself at her. She tried to spring out of the way but he shoved her down, his weight landing on her, pinning her down.
She screamed again as one of his hands grabbed her throat with clumsy fingers and the other raised the knife above her, his eyes were wild, his face ugly with
hatred. She grabbed at the hand holding the knife, futilely trying to keep it from falling all the while knowing she couldn't stop him. He was too strong. She was
going to die.
" MALFOY STOP! MALFOY PLEASE STOP!" she screamed, her fingers digging into his wrist.
The boy froze above her, swaying erratically, "Granger?" he slurred, his eyes hazy and confused.
" Yes! Yes! Its me!" she sobbed breathlessly, " Malfoy, please stop!"
" Granger?" he asked again, like a little kid.
" Malfoy, let go of the knife, please." She moaned.
He didn't seem to hear her. The hand at her throat relaxed and rose slightly to brush her cheek, "Why are you so pretty?" He mumbled thickly.
Then, in a flare of light, his eyes rolled up and he went limp, collapsing on top of her. The breath left her body in a whoosh and for a moment she could do
nothing but gasp and tremble. He was heavy, his shoulder pressed against her face and his cheek rested against her hair. The scent of him was all around her.
She just laid there, her brain still reeling with shock.
Oh my gosh, what if someone sees me like this? Was the first completely irrational thought she had when some of the traffic in her head cleared and then she
couldn't help giggling hysterically.
Her next thought was that the knife was still glowing, it was practically lighting up the forest.
Oh gosh, where is it?
She whimpered when she realized it was still in his hand, the flat of it pressing against her arm.
She shoved at Malfoy, grunting because he weighed a ton and managed to push him off her. He flopped bonelessly to the side and she crawled over him to try
and pry the knife from his hand. She bit her bottom lip, hesitating with finger tips a millimeter away, as she remembered the electric blast she'd gotten for
touching it last time. If all else failed, she supposed she could use a straight stick to break Malfoy's wrist. Better broken wrist then dead boy.
Flinchingly, she touched and this time the knife only felt warm. With a sob, she tore it from his limp, cold fingers.
And then she gasped.
Her back arched as she felt it go through her, whatever it was. Like icy tendrils of a ghostly vine wrapping around her and snaking through her soul, it went right
through her, into her, and found a place to settle, finding purchase and hooking in. The breath she gasped in suddenly whooshed out as another jolt sent
something she couldn't define pouring from her body, sucked from her flesh, leaving her feeling cold.
The knife went momentarily as bright as the sun and then, she couldn't really describe it There was a flash, a sound that was something like the scream of
metal and the warping of bells and when her dazzled eyes cleared she was still holding the knifeonly it was different.
She stared at it, turning it over and over.
It was longer and heavier, the blade was curved and the stock was hard and wooden. Two thin strips of leather decorated the butt of the stock and strange
designs were inlaid along the steel.
A smug smile slowly curved her lips.
She was pleased, proud of herself. She was
NO! Hermione shook her head to clear it, wanting to throw the dagger away but her fingers were cinched tight around the handle and wouldn't let go.

Parasite! She screamed inwardly, panicked.


But didn't it feed her? Didn't it fight for her? Wasn't she pleased?
Her breath shuddered from her throat, her eyes going round and her mouth popping open in a little 'o'. It wasn't like words. It was more like feelings,
impressions. They were vague and so quiet that she nearly missed them or mistook them for her own, but they were there.
" You nearly killed Malfoy,"She accused, " Oh gosh, Malfoy!" clutching the knife she turned to the boy and put her free hand to his throat.
His pulse was strong and steady, though his skin was still pale and clammy.

But it had been calling her for days. Why didn't she pick it up?
" Hehe wouldn't let me." She murmured in a daze, remembering how distracted she'd been by the knife and how she'd wanted to hold it. She wet her lips, "
What are you?"
There was no answer for the question. The thing wasn't really sentient, she could feel, it was more like a gathering of energy and it wasn't 'smart' enough to
convey complex ideas. All it knew was that it was hungry, its old source of energy had been fading and now it had a new one and it was pleased.
It had been calling her. And now it had her and it was adding her energy to Malfoy's. It was happy to finally meet her, having felt her energy ghosting its
peripheries ever since waking up.

She knelt on the ground in a daze and began to run her fingers over the blade, exploring the dagger as it explored her.
fin

Next Time: Draco discovers something's missing

*Chapter 12*: He Who Hesitates


Disclaimer: HELP! THOUGHT POLICE!
Last time:
" You nearly killed Malfoy," She accused, " Oh gosh, Malfoy!" clutching the knife she turned to the boy and put her free hand to his throat.
His pulse was strong and steady, though his skin was still pale and clammy.
But it had been calling her for days. Why didn't she pick it up?

" Hehe wouldn't let me." She murmured in a daze, remembering how distracted she'd been by the knife and how she'd wanted to hold it. She wet her lips,
" What are you?"
There was no answer for the question. The thing wasn't really sentient, she could feel, it was more like a gathering of energy and it wasn't 'smart' enough to
convey complex ideas. All it knew was that it was hungry, its old source of energy had been fading and now it had a new one and it was pleased.
It had been calling her. And now it had her and it was adding her energy to Malfoy's. It was happy to finally meet her, having felt her energy ghosting its
peripheries ever since waking up.
She knelt on the ground in a daze and began to run her fingers over the blade, exploring the dagger as it explored her.
Chapter 12: He Who Hesitates
You see the pain in my face
While you keep putting me down
Inside the rage starts to build
You push me I won't go down
You're the one who's always screaming at me
I'm the one that keeps your lives so care free
What the fuck more do you want me to be?
Why must you do this to me?
Run away, I can't see
Lead the way, make them pay
Counting, on me.
Always hoping I'll be
There for all of your problems
and in turn you're never there for me
You sucked the life out of me
You hate everything you see
I can't take this anymore
I always stay when I should leave
from Korn "Counting on Me"
oooo
" Oooooh Shiiiiiit!" Draco croaked, writhing in agony and digging his palms into his eyes.
He was dying.
He had to be dying. No one could be in this much pain and live.
He'd been dreaming that he was playing Quidditch when suddenly his head turned into a bludger and the Weasley twins (the terrors of his younger years)
started slamming him up and down the pitch. Apparently the dream had followed him into real life. Either that or a mountain troll had just stopped by to do some
tap dancing on his skull.
His other senses came into play slowly, dulled as he fought to feel them through the steady thudding going on in his temples.
The surface at his back was cool and gritty. He was on the ground, he realized in confusion. Where had he been? Was he supposed to be at school? Or at
home at the mansion?
He could hear birds and a light wind stirred his hair. Had the girls slipped him something last night and dumped him out on the Quidditch Pitch again?
" Fuuuck. What happened?" he groaned, flopping an arm across his face, " Who spiked my pumpkin juice?"
A feminine giggle made him start and he growled, cracking an eye open only to squeeze it shut in pain as sunlight seared his vision. He'd been right. He was
outside.
" Blaise!" he bellowed hoarsely, "If you've drugged me again, so help me I'll"
" Malfoy, its me." Someone cut him off gently.
He went still.
Who the hell?
Oh.
Memory returned in a ragged jumble of confused blurry images, like broken shards of a mirror, and along with it a wash of misery so strong it choked him. He
had been so sure in that first moment that he was back at Hogwarts
" Granger" he coughed, his throat so dry it felt like it was cracked and bleeding, "What happened? I remembershit, its all mixed up in my head." He tried to
swallow, tried to get some moisture in his mouth. He wished she'd give him something to drink.
" You were really sick." Her voice came from his right, but not very close to him, "You've been asleep for two entire days."

" What?" he tried opening his eyes again, lowering his arm cautiously. He squinted against the light, vision bleary but bearable.
" What's the last thing you remember?"
" I rememberheh, I remember chucking the rabbit into the river."
" Rabbit? Oh, the meat." Silence, " You are such a jerk." She sounded disgusted.
He sat up very slowly, wincing as his joints cracked, hissing in pain when his back seized up and his muscles shrieked in agony. He took several deep steady
breaths through his nose and waited for his stiff body to relax.
" I remember getting mad, I" he trailed off, wiping crust from his eyes and trying to focus on the shape hovering off to the side that he assumed was Granger.
If that was her, she was standing a good twenty feet away from him, which was sort of odd considering how she was all over him every single time he'd gotten
hurt before.
" Its like dream images. I remember seeing them but I can't see them now. What happened?"
" You weresick. Then you passed out." Her cautious tone sent alarms ringing in his already pounding skull. It was more than that, he was sure.
" What happened?" he repeated.
" Eat and drink first. There's food right there next to you and the cauldron is full of clean water."
He turned slightly and saw the items laid out next to him. He'd missed them when he first woke.
Oh sweet mercy.
He ignored the food for the moment, not sure his dry throat could get anything down, and slid stiffly to his knees. He would have plunged his head into the
cauldron of water if the opening was big enough. Instead he lifted it with extremely shaky arms and tipped it back, letting the pleasantly cool water spill into his
mouth and all down his front.
He had to pace himself. His throat burned at that first contact and then slowly he could swallow again. When he was finished he collapsed back with a pained
groan, dropping the cauldron so that it toppled and sloshed on the ground. He wiped his dry, cracked lips with the back of a dusty hand and eyed Granger
shrewdly. She was standing even further away from him, fidgeting nervously.
Something was up.
He tried to act like he didn't notice. He turned his back on her as if he oblivious to her odd behavior and concentrated on standing. He was slow and it took a
minute but he found that besides being really stiff and unsteady, he was otherwise fine. He even felt sort of good underneath the physical pain, more rested than
he'd felt for days. His head, now that the throbbing was beginning to fade, felt clearer.
Without a word or a backwards glance he limped towards the forest and Granger let him go. He was back a few minutes later and she jumped up from her seat
on the ground, pulling her tattered robes tightly around her in almost a defensive gesture. He walked towards her as nonchalantly as possible but apparently not
nonchalantly enough because she side stepped away just as casually, one hand going up to fuss, nervously, at her hair.
He felt his muscles tightening at her obvious evasion, bunching instinctively as he readied to pounce.
She opened her mouth to speak and he lunged at her. Unfortunately his body reacted too slowly. Granger yipped and darted away, evading him easily.
Damn.
" What did you do?" he glared at her accusingly, chagrined by his weakness.
She wouldn't be acting like this if she hadn't done something wrong.
She held up a placating hand, eyes wide, " Look, you're not gonna like it, but I had to do it."
" Do what?" his voice rose. He had absolutely no idea what she could have done to make her act like this but if she was this nervous about it, it was probably
bad.
" Do you swear you'll just stay there and hear me out?"
" No." he said bluntly, as if she were stupid for asking.
" Let me explain." She pleaded, wetting her lips, " Stay calm until you hear everything. You almost died."
That gave him pause. He straightened, feeling a small twinge of fear at her words.
" Just stay calm, okay?" He said nothing but she seemed to take that as agreement. She took a deep breath, " Your knife did something weird it changed
shape and it sucked all your energy out and it nearly killed you so I took it from you." It was said in one breathless rush, her brown eyes cringing as she awaited
his reaction.
There were several tense moments of complete stillness.
His hand slid down his side to feel the blank spot where his knife should be and then he uncoiled, knotted muscles melting as he slowly relaxed.
He shrugged casually, " Oh. No big deal."
Granger shrank further in on herself, " You're gonna beat the crap out of me, aren't you?"
" Oh no." he gave her a friendly smile and she flinched, slowly stepping backwards as he took two steps forward, "I'm not gonna beat the crap out of you. I'M
GONNA KILL YOU!"
He dove for her.
He wasn't nearly as fast as he usually was but he'd bet he was still faster than her, especially now that he was fueled by white-hot rage.
He couldn't believe she'd touched his knife when he'd made it absolutely clear that she wasn't to handle it under any circumstances. She'd probably ruined it.
His father was going to kill him.
Well, at least Granger would go first.

She wasn't going down easy though. The girl was off like a shot, shrieking. He was hot on her trail when she entered the forest but she was easily jumping over
obstacles and dodging around trees while he was reduced to half his speed, trying to get his still-numb body to maneuver.
She'd obviously planned this.
" Damn, girl! When did you get so squirrely?"
" LEAVE ME ALONE!" she wailed over her shoulder and slipped lithely between two trees and darted down a small incline.
" I told you not to touch it! I fucking told you a hundred times." he roared back, breathing too hard,"You put your shit-filthy Mudblood hands on my knife! You
ruined it!" He jumped down the incline and landed close enough to her that she screamed. Unfortunately, he lost his balance and slammed his shoulder into a
conveniently nearby tree. He shoved away from the tree and took off after her.
" You would have died!" she ducked behind a large tree. He lunged around it but she circled the trunk, keeping it between them as she tried to explain, " I saved
your life!"
He feinted to the right and she blasted off the other direction. He exploded after her, his fingers actually grazing her shoulder, causing her to scream and
redouble her speed.
" I should have known!" he panted, " I knew you were going to try and steal it! I saw the way you looked at it. You only wanted it because I said you couldn't have
it!"
She was heading back towards the river now, zigzagging through the most treacherous terrain she could find, footing deftly through a patch of up-thrust roots
and scaling a huge fallen log as if she knew exactly where to step to boost herself.
What the fuck? Had she practiced this?
She halted on top of the log, glaring down at him," I didn't steal it, you ungrateful, grease-headed quidditch whore! If I didn't hold it for you, the knife would have
been ruined! Without energy it would have stopped working."
He didn't know what she was talking about so he ignored it.
" Doesn't matter now! Voldemort is going to murder me himself! That was his knife!" He jumped up and tried to grab her leg. She yelped and leapt down the
other side.
He yelled in frustration and quickly scrambled over it.
" You can have it back! Just calm down!" she begged.
" Too late!" He ducked a tree branch, tripped on a root, stumbled forward and caught himself just barely in time to keep from getting a mouthful of mud.
" No one has to know, Malfoy! No one has to know I touched it! I swear its not ruined!" she cried desperately.
She broke through the brush into their campsite and put on extra speed as she ran right for the river.
What was she doing?
" They'll know! They're not stupid!" he slowed as she reached the river. He was completely out of breath and trying not to show it.
She stopped on the shore, turning to face him.
He forced himself not to double over and wheeze like an old man. Instead, he swaggered forward, panting so hard he was sure he looked ridiculous and
readied himself to dart whichever direction she tried to go. Instead, Granger reached into her robes and pulled out the knife, sheath and all. Her jaw was set
and determined.
" If you don't back off, I'm going to throw this into the river. You'll never find it in there!"
He went still, eyes flicking to the river. It was wide and it was deep. The middle murky enough that he couldn't see the bottom. It was very possible that if she
threw it in, he wouldn't find it again. It was also possible that if he tried to swim out to get it, the current would take him.
" You throw it and I'll kill you." He warned, stalking forward.
She actually grinned, " I'm dead either way right? If you swear to me, swear on your pureblood honor, that you won't hurt me, I won't throw this. Otherwise, its
going in."
She meant it. He could tell. That brought him up short. He considered her warily.
" What do you want?"
" Swear you won't beat me up or hurt me in any way."
" And you'll give it back?" he gritted out furiously, chaffing under his inability to leap forward and wail on her.
" No."
" WHAT?" He readied himself to pounce on her, hoping he could get her before she turned all the way around to throw the knife.
" I can't give it back until you're better. You weren't listening to me, you jackass. It drained your energy. It would have killed you. You're still very weak right now. In
a few days, when you're better, I'll give it back."
It all sounded so very reasonable. But he didn't feel like being reasonable. He felt like doing some serious maiming. He glared hard at the girl, willing her to die.
When she didn't, he realized he was going to have to give in.
" Fine!" he yelled, " I swear on my family, my ancestors, my honor, the blood of my father, that I will not beat you up or hurt you." He thought for a moment, "this
time."
Granger slumped, dropping her arm to her side with a sigh of relief.
He was on her in a heartbeat.
" You swore!" she screamed just before he grabbed her and tried to wrench the knife out of her grasp.

His fingers touched the sheathand the world exploded. Lightening jolted through him and he was thrown backwards, slamming into the ground violently with
an audible crack. He landed on his back, unable to even scream. The arm that touched the sheath was shaking uncontrollably, he grabbed it with his good hand
and clenched it to his chest, doubled over in agony.
Through a haze of intense pain, he heard Granger calling his name. She was crouched next to him, touching his shoulder.
" What did you do to me?" he rasped when he could speak again.
" It wasn't me."
He groaned wordlessly, feeling his body relax by slow degrees, the pain decreasing to a low unpleasant buzz in his bones. After a moment he realized Granger
was mopping his forehead with a cool, wet cloth. He growled in annoyance and pushed her away.
She gave way gracefully, falling back on the balls of her feet," I don't think you can take the knife from me. I think I have to be willing to give it to you or it will
shock you. It did this to me when I first tried to take it from you, not nearly as strongly, I think, but you were almost out of energy at the time."
" Then how the fuck did you get it from me?" he squinted at her, flexing his fingers and shaking the numbness out.
" You passed out and the edge of the blade was touching my arm. Since you willingly let it touch me, I could take it."
He passed out and the blade was touching her arm?
" Shit, will you just tell me what happened in chronological order because this isn't making sense." He collapsed back, pressing his palms to his eyes.
" I woke up from a nap and you were staggering around with the knife in your hand. You almost seemed drunk. I tried to figure out what was wrong with you but
you went completely berserk and started yelling nonsense at me. You were quite delirious."
Yelling nonsense?
" What did I say?" he asked suspiciously. This didn't sound good.
" Well," she hesitated, fidgeting, " Just incoherent ramblings." She wouldn't meet his eyes.
He went rigid, feeling a ball of ice in his chest, "What did I tell you?" he rasped.
" Nothing. It wasn't" she started to scoot away.
He grabbed her by the collar with his good hand, fisting his fingers in her shirt, and slowly sat up, drawing her close, panicked because she was hiding
something and a hundred different possibilities were running through his mind.
" What. Did. I. Tell. You." He bit out threateningly.
She blinked at him, large brown eyes innocent, doe-eyes, " Its okay, Malfoy. I won't tell anyone. I love Harry too. And I don't think there's anything wrong with the
way you feel for him. Its natural. I think once you learn to accept that part of yourself, everything else will fall into place. Dracoits okay to be gay."
He stared at her with his jaw hanging open for several heartbeats. Had she really just been setting him up for that line?
When her earnest expression cracked and she started to giggle, his eyelids drooped, " Don't bullshit the bullshitter, little girl." He said dryly, amused. Maybe it
was the intense relief that he hadn't spilled his guts that allowed him to find her little joke slightly funny. He was actually impressed with how serious she'd kept
her face.
He pushed her away, " Go on."
She settled back on her knees," You ranted about how I was trying to kill you and steal your 'precious'." The way she drawled the words made him think there
was a joke he wasn't getting but he dismissed it, " I had no idea what was wrong with you. Then I remembered what you said about the knife absorbing energy
and I noticed that the knife kept getting brighter while you got paler and weaker. So I jumped you and took the knife."
" You jumped me, huh?" he asked with a snort.
She just raised an eyebrow imperiously and ignored his amusement," When I touched the knife it was like an electric shock. It threw me back. And then you
tried to kill me."
" Damn, and I can't remember." He was honestly disappointed, " Hey wait, if I tried to kill you, you'd be dead. Believe me."
" Well, you weren't exactly coherent." She snapped, " And you stopped after a moment and passed out."
" On top of you?" he asked, aghast.
She nodded, and said dryly, "If there were any squirrels around with Polaroids my reputation is ruined."
" I'm gonna be sick!" he clutched at himself dramatically, "No wonder I smell bad."
" So glad your back to normal." She grumbled, getting to her feet and stalking away to go sit on the big rock, facing the campfire, " Now that you're awake, you
have to answer some questions."
" Oh yeah?" he hefted himself up, remembering that there was food next to the cauldron and that he was famished. He needed to rethink his strategy and it
would probably be easier to do so if he filled his empty stomach. He flopped down beside the fire to sort through what lay there.
" What kind of knife is this? What does it do?" Granger asked, looking down at the sheath in her hands. She turned it over and over, frowning.
He hesitated. He didn't want to tell her anything about it. It was an illegal item and if she knew what it was, she could report his father. On the other hand,
everyone knew his father had tons of illegal items and it hadn't stopped him yet. And what if she had any useful information about it?
" It's a Base." He told her, biting into a crunchy, watery bulb, and making a face at it,"A precursor to a Subtle Knife."
" A WHAT?" he was impressed with the volume of that shriek.
Granger dropped the knife as if burned, jerking her feet up off the ground as if she expected it to turn and bite. They both realized simultaneously what she'd
done and dove for the blade lying in the dirt.
He was too far away. He grumbled as Granger snatched it up, glaring at him as she resettled herself on her rock.

" Do you have any idea what that means?" she asked him curtly, " I bet you don't."
He glowered at her, stuffing some kind of fruit into his mouth.
" Did your father say you could play with it?"
Now she sounded like his mother.
" He told me I'd go blind." He drawled, mouth full.
" What?" She looked adorably blank for a moment before her face scrunched in disgust, " EWW!"
" He told me not to draw it under any circumstances." Draco conceded with a chuckle.
" Do you know why?" she asked with sarcastic sweetness, batting her eyes at him, " Because the fatality rate on the first draw of an uncharged Base is 80.
There's a reason these things are illegal, Malfoy."
" First draw? What are you talking about?"
" I mean the first person to take the knife from the sheath usually dies instantly. A Subtle Knife is an extremely powerful weapon. Some people call them
Legendary Weapons. There have only ever been a few in existence because the process of making a Base into a Subtle Knife is extremely difficult, hardly
understood and usually fatal. In most cases the first person to draw the knife dies. When that happens the knife is called a Rogue. Anyone who touches it after
that dies and the knife eventually fails. If the person happens to live, there's still a 90 chance the knife will either kill him or fail."
" Sothis thing can still kill us?" he was feeling just a bit alarmed and slightly nauseous at this information.
Oh Merlin, he could have been killed. Again. When he first pulled the knife out, he could have been zapped right then and there and no one would have ever
known.
"It almost killed you the other night." She reminded him impatiently.
He licked his lips nervously, " What do we do?"
" Well, my first impulse is to get rid of it. But I've been thinking and we probably owe our lives to this knife. It hasn't been really dangerous to us yet. As far as I
can tell, its just absorbing energy. Hopefully when it starts taking too much from me, you'll be well enough to take it again. We can hand it off to each other."
" But as far as you know it could just zap us at any moment." He pointed out bluntly, surprised that she was defending the blade.
" I'm not entirely sure." She said slowly, biting her lower lip, " I figure if it was going to kill us, it would have already."
This didn't sound a bit like careful, cautious Granger.
He studied her shrewdly, analyzing her words and then noticed her hands running over the sheath and hilt almost caressingly.
That was it. He'd experience it himself. She didn't want to give up the knife. There was something about it that made a person want to hold it. Seeing it now
from the outside made his hackles rise. But Granger had been right when she said they owed their lives to it. He'd be dead now if it wasn't for the knife. And he
definitely did not want to go back to a vegetarian diet.
They'd hold onto it just a bit longer.
" Why do you think it didn't kill me when I first drew it?" he asked.
Granger shrugged, " I have no idea." She changed the subject suddenly, " Hey, look, it changed shape." She grasped the hilt and drew the blade and he felt his
jaw drop as he saw what she meant.
" How does it still fit in the sheath?" he blurted the question out before his brain caught up.
She gave him a look, "Its magic."
" Shut up, bitch. Why did it change shape?" He walked over to her for a closer look.
" How should I know?" she stirred uneasily at his proximity, glancing up at him through her lashes, " I think maybe it got more powerful. But also" she turned
the blade over, " it looks like a hunting knife. Maybe it's a hunting knife because that's how you've been using it."
He held his hand out casually and she moved, thoughtlessly and automatically, to hand the knife over. At the last second she realized what she was doing and
jerked back, glaring at him.
He grinned, cursing inwardly because it had been so close," How do we keep it from failing? You said it could still fail."
" You keep asking questions like I'm going to know more the next time you ask." She snapped, exasperated, " Lets just keep doing what we're doing and hope
for the best. If it needs something it will try to tell us, and hopefully not kill us in the process."
" Tell us?"
" You haven't felt it?" she frowned at him, " Its likeits like I want to say a presence but that doesn't describe it. I want to say the knife talks, but it doesn't. Our
energy is in the knife and our energy will let us know what the knife needs but we have to be listening."
" I have no idea what you're talking about." He lied.
" Oh." She blinked, "You'll probably feel it the next time you hold it." she sheathed the knife and hooked the sheath to the waistband of her skirt, " So, do you
think you should rest for today? Its only late morning," she checked the position of the sun for confirmation, " but we should probably..."
Irrationally annoyed, maybe at the sight of her wearing his knife, or the deft way she hooked the sheath to her skirt, he smacked her on the forehead with his
open palm, cutting her off mid-sentence and making her yelp and catch herself on her palms as she rocked back. She growled and rubbed her forehead,
expression petulant.
" We stay." He commanded sharply and walked away, not wanting to be around her anymore.
" But.." she started, confusion coloring her voice, " Malfoy?"
He didn't look back, heading off into the forest again. He needed some time to think, to get his bearings.

Besides, he'd just thought of a spectacular way to terrorize his little Mudblood. The stupid bitch had taken his dagger. It was a personal blow. It made him feel
as if he had been bested somehow.
He knew exactly how to repay her.
He returned an hour and half later with an amiable smile on his face. Granger was instantly suspicious. The girl had her robe laid out before her on the dirt and
she was sorting some plants into piles on top of it. She went still when he approached her, shoulders tense.
" You hungry, Granger? Haven't had meat in a few days, right?" his smile widened and he flung the dead rabbit he'd been holding behind his back into her lap.
The girl went ballistic. He would have thought it was a flaming bag of poo the way she shrieked and bolted away, sending her plants flying every which direction.
The carcass hit the ground with a heavy plop, looking offended. Granger stood, chest heaving, staring down at it.
" Malfoy, if you ever do that again, I swear I will not rest until you've been drenched in pheromones and dumped into a pit of horny ogres in mating season."
" Now that is hitting below the belt!" Draco declared in righteous indignation. He grinned at her, " I think you're about to become a lot more familiar with Mr.
Bunny."
" What are you babbling about?"
" You have the knife. I want the meat. You get to prep the animal."
Horrified realization dawned on her face, and he gleefully savored his revenge as she looked down with huge eyes at the rabbit that stared right back up at her
as if saying 'what do you expect me to do about it?'.
" Forgot about that part, did you?" he chortled.
" I won't do it." she said curtly, folding her arms, " We just won't eat meat until you're well."
" But I already killed the animal." He said slyly, " Isn't this wasting meat? For shame Granger! Don't you realize that we're in danger of starving? Has that
knowledge slipped your tiny Gryffindor mind?"
" I I" he was delighted to see how pale she was.
" You're not a hypocrite are you?" he cajoled, clasping his arms behind his back and smiling at her.
" No, I" she whined.
" Don't you care about my health? I'm sure I'll get better a lot faster if I'm eating properly?" he cooed.
" But"
His teasing expression vanished abruptly, becoming cold and fierce, " Do it or I'll make sure meat is the only thing we have to eat."
She sucked in a breath, her fists clenching at her sides, " I hate you so much."
"Its not nice to hate." He sneered, knowing he'd won.
He searched for a good place to sit back and watch the drama that was about to unfold and finally settled on Granger's rock.
The girl stood silent and still for a long moment, eyes closed as if searching for zen. She took a deep cleansing breath, gathering her courage and opened her
eyes. Her face fell.
" Do I have to do this right now?" she whined, fidgeting.
" Get on with it, girly, I'm hungry!" he demanded.
Granger took another shuddering breath, one hand at her throat as she stared down at the dead animal. With a gulp, she knelt down in the dirt and drew the
knife. Shaking, flinching hands reached for the rabbit and she cringed, making a sickened keening sound in her throat when her fingers brushed the fur. She
pulled the limp body into her lap, knife raised.
Draco hooted, " Looks like a sacrificial victim. You're not supposed to stab it, Granger, its already dead"
" I know, will you shut up?" she gritted.
She made another sound of revulsion as she brought the knife to the fur and let the tip bite in that first little bit.
" That's right." Draco coaxed, " Just like I showed you."
Whimpering and whining the girl began, very slowly and clumsily, to make the cuts she had seen him make. Draco watched with rapt attention, more
entertained then he'd been in ages.
" Oh gosh, oh gosh." He could hear her saying softly, her voice high and faint.
" Good. Now pull the skin off, you might have to cut at the sinews." He propped his chin on his hand.
It took her a bit to get the skin off. She struggled with it, her hands now sticky and red.
" You're going to have to practice that." He admonished, " Okay, now's the fun part. What do you want to do first, gut it or cut the head off?"
" I" her voice was a dry whisper, she licked her lips, " I can't gut it while its looking at me."
" Well there's nothing around here to lay it on. So you're just going to have to hold it and saw the head off. Lucky for you the blade's got a serrated edge now."
" Oh gooosh." She moaned, " I can't.. I can't."
" Do it quick, Granger."
She positioned the knife, looked away, jaw clenched, and sawed as fast as she could. There was a sickening wet sound of tearing muscle and cracking bone.
" Help me! Help me!" Draco cried in a high-pitched voice, " Please don't cut my head off. What did I ever do to you?"
" STOP IT, YOU JACKASS!" she screamed at him, her breathing heavy, her face slightly green.

" Look at that gaping hole in the neck." He said in wonder.


She glared at him angrily and seemed to draw herself up. Apparently deciding she was going to act tough. She sliced the belly open in one furious hack but she
cut too deep and dark liquid and thicker things poured out and onto the ground.
The next thing he knew, the rabbit was on the ground and Granger was flying for the edge of the forest. She barely made it before she collapsed to her knees
and puked. Draco was roaring. He clutched at his stomach, laughing so hard tears streamed down his face, he nearly fell off the rock, his sides feeling like they
were going to burst.
When he had hold of himself, he got up quickly and walked over to the mess lying on the ground. His laughter died suddenly as he stared at the ground.
" Looking for this?"
He turned to see Granger still on her knees, glaring at him murderously, the knife still in her hand.
She hadn't dropped it like he had been sure she would.
" You're not as clever as you think." She hissed, wiping at her mouth with the back of her hand.
He gaped at her.
She had known?
" Why do you keep trying to get it?" she asked coldly, limping tiredly over to the river to wash up, " I told you, you're not well enough yet. Is it the knife, is it calling
you?"
He thought about it and was surprised that the answer was no. He remembered what it felt like to want to hold the dagger, remembered the need to touch it, but
looking at it now he felt nothing. Just anger that he had been, as far as he was concerned, outwitted and out maneuvered.
" No." he answered.
" No?" she repeated with a sneer, " You're just that stupid, huh?"
" You're pushing it, kiddo." He said dangerously.
" Oh go play with something poisonous." She snapped. Her gaze went contemplative for a moment, " Its not calling you because it doesn't need you right now."
She said, surprising him, " While you had it, it wanted your energy so it made you want to hold it. I didn't really feel the pull until you started getting weak. The
weaker you became, the more I wanted it. This knife is just like an animal, just like the antlion. It's hungry, so it uses a lure to get its prey and then it feeds on us."
Her voice was calm and analytical and that tone, along with her words caused the hair on his arms to stand on end.
Without another word the girl walked back to the dead rabbit and picked it up to finish prepping it. He blinked in astonishment. He had expected her to
abandon the task and refuse to finish it no matter what. Instead, she determinedly finished the gutting, though her face remained rather green. Afterwards, she
washed the carcass in the river and roasted it. She even ate some of the meat, which he had been certain she wouldn't be able to bring herself to do under any
circumstances. That she did left him in a foul mood.
He didn't like losing.
He was put-out about having to share the meat to begin with. He had hoped to keep the meat supply to himself but, now that she knew, Granger would probably
find a way to exploit his hunting skills. He might not plan on sharing but she'd eventually wheedle some away from him, even if she had to collapse dramatically
in a heap of robes and fuzzy hair to do so.
He was certain that he had yet to experience the full brunt of her wrath on the matter. She hadn't seemed very angry about him hoarding the meat, but he wasn't
fooled. She just hadn't had time yet. The moment someone wasn't fainting or being attacked or running for their life she was going to scream the forest down
and probably throw some rocks at him too.
He frowned. Her aim was getting better.
He didn't know what her problem was. What right did she have to his food? It wasn't like he asked her to share hers. Of course if she hadn't, he'd have simply
taken what he wanted anyway but that wasn't the point. The point was that she had no right to assume that he was somehow obligated to feed her.
Though if he were honest, which he wasn't, he'd admit that he wasn't about to let her starve. They had too far to go and she had her uses, no matter what he
said, even if it was just entertainment.

Did she really call me a quidditch whore?


He had actually been a little worried when she fainted back in the oasis fields. For a moment he was afraid she was going to drop dead and leave him
stranded on his own. The thought of making this journey by himself wasn't a pleasant one, it was more panic-inducing then anything.
Carrying her back to the oasis had been embarrassing. Here he was, heir to the scourge of Muggle-kind, carrying her around like some kind of pack-animal,
and she'd just laid her head on his shoulder as if he were Potter or the Weasle, as if he were someone she trusted. He hated her for that too.
What was worse was that it occurred to him later that he could have just stood there and waited for her to recover a bit and made her walk back under her own
power. He hadn't had to carry her, he hadn't had to take care of her, hunting for hours to bring her back as much food as possible. His guard had dropped,
somewhere along the way he'd started treating her, without thinking, like one of his girls. Carrying her like she was Pansy soused after a weekend in
Hogsmead. Bringing her food like she was Blaise stuck in bed with a cold. Bantering roughly with her as if she were Millicent in a playful mood.
He supposed it was a natural side effect of spending so much time together but he made damn sure she paid for it, made damn sure they both remembered
who was who. He'd pretty much outdone himself. After less than twenty-four hours of his full and complete attention, she'd looked as jumpy and nervous and as
ready for an emotional breakdown as his grandmother's Chihuahua.
Making her miserable was only one motivation though. It was also an excuse to touch her.
He knew he shouldn't. The idea should disgust him. He'd solemnly promised himself he wouldn't.
He snorted, a bitter smile twisting one corner of his mouth.
He couldn't keep his hands off her.
It was like overkill. As if because he'd tried to restrain himself, he had no restraint at all. Like the time when he was 12 when Lucius told him not to touch a set of
huge diamonds and emeralds he was holding for someone. Draco had managed to keep his greedy hands to himself for three days, though he walked by the
office where they were held everyday, before he finally lost all self-control and touched every single one of the gems and then stole one.

He'd always had something of an impulse control problem.


Luckily, Narcissa had found him before the curse in the jewels caught up with him and administered the proper treatments to keep him from simultaneously
turning into a goat, turning to stone, and coughing up his own lungs. She had made him keep the duck feet for a week though. She even kept pictures that she
sometimes used to blackmail him with.
Since carrying her to the oasis, he'd used every imaginable excuse to touch her, every opportunity. But it was okay. He wasn't betraying his father or Voldemort
if he only touched her to terrorize and hurt her, right? If he only touched her to punish her then it was completely acceptable, wasn't it?
At least that's what he told himself.
Speaking of terrorizing, if he hadn't been hunting before, he would have definitely started now just to pay Mother Nature back for sending all her various little
critters out to fuck with him. Did they go after Granger? Nope. They went straight for him. The Shutoeis, the antlion, the roc, the field-piranha, all intent on
disemboweling him for the general amusement of all.
Then Granger went and got herself attacked because she was too slow to make it to the woods and he'd been forced to go out and rescue her stupid ass. Heh.
He might have gone back out anyway just to burn the little bunny-bastards to death.
No one fucks with Draco Malfoy and lives.
In the distance a faint sound filtered through the trees, "Bleeeeaaaa.."
Draco twitched nervously.
Except maybe the Shutoeis...
He didn't remember much after the night of the field-piranha and reaching the Tangle Trees the next day. He did remember that he couldn't sleep and that he
didn't have much of an appetite and even though he was sure there was something wrong with him, he couldn't bring himself to care. He remembered the fight
with Granger over the rabbit meat and that he'd subsequently thrown it into the river, but after that, it was just a blur. He remembered a glowing white light,
Granger screaming, and one image he wasn't sure was real, one impression, of brushing his fingers over her face while she stared up at him with tear stained
cheeks.
" Here."
Granger broke into his thoughts to hand him the stick the cooked rabbit was impaled on. Apparently she was done eating and was giving him the rest. He
flashed her an angry look as he took the offered meat but she only gave him a sneering smile, as if she knew the cause of his ire.
She walked back to the campfire to try and salvage the plants that were still scattered everywhere.
He supposed he should be grateful she hadn't pulled the knife on him when he woke up today. She wouldn't. He knew she wouldn't. Hell, he didn't dare pull it on
her. If it had been a normal knife, he might have used it to scare and terrorize her. It wasn't normal, he didn't understand it and he wasn't sure he could control it.
There was no way either of them would willingly risk using it against the other. It was too risky. For all they knew they could kill the other just by thinking it. There
was a line there that wasn't crossed. It wasn't even spoken of or acknowledged but they both knew it was there.
He ripped off a hunk of meat.
He was disappointed in Granger.
The other night, during their little discussion, she had said that there was no way for her to win the debate. She'd said he was completely unwilling to listen to the
evidence she had presented and so could not be swayed. It was slightly hypocritical of her considering she hadn't given consideration to any of his points.
He had done a lot of research on the subject and the chance to debate the facts he'd read about with a Mudblood was a unique one. It wasn't like he could pull
one aside at school and have a philosophical discussion. First, he'd get in trouble for the things he said and second, none of them knew anything about what
made them so inferior or why they were seen as vermin and rightly so.
He hadn't just wanted to anger Granger or frighten her that night, he'd wanted to convince her. He was certain that if anyone of Muggle blood was able to
understand, it would be Granger. He knew it was ridiculous of him to think he could convince her on the first try. But he was still disappointed even though he
understood that it would be a hard truth for her, something a person of her 'unfortunate blood' wouldn't want to accept.
For all her assertions that she was levelheaded and unbiased, in reality she was still an idealist and could be as blind to the truth as anyone.
Though not so much of an idealist anymore. He thought, remembering her earlier words about no longer believing in world peace. And she'd given up on the
House-Elves eventually too.
The concession heartened him. She was blind to the truth. But she could be made to see.
He was still brooding when Granger hefted her backpack onto her shoulders, " I've got guts all over me, I'm going to go take a bath."
Well fuck it. He closed his eyes. Why did she always have to announce it?
" I don't give a flying shutoei's shit about your Muggle hygiene."
" You should take a bath too." She shot over her shoulder as she strode away, haughtily, " You've been lying in the dirt for two days, you smell like old ferret."
Bitch.
He kept his eyes on the ground, not wanting to watch her walk away.
The temptation to follow her was instant and maddening. It always was. Draco wasn't used to denying himself, not anything. If he felt like doing something, he
did it. If he wanted something, his parents bought it for him. He wasn't used to fighting temptation and he wasn't very good at it.
He rubbed his hands over his face in an almost nervous gesture.
The first time he'd followed her had been an attempt to humiliate her, it was justified. The second time, which had been back at the oasis during their rest day,
had been an accident. Really. Sort of. So it was okay.
His eyes slid to the patch of trees where she'd vanished. He had no such excuse now.
Was she unbuttoning her blouse now? Sliding it off her shoulders
He bit the inside of his cheek, memories rising up to further dull reason.

The knife His brain whispered. If she was taking a bath then surely she'd leave the knife on the shore with her clothes. He should go get it. It was his father's
knife and it shouldn't stay in the hands of a Mudblood. He wasn't about to let her beat him, was he?
Another part of his brain was screaming adamantly that this was just an excuse and a feeble one at that, that it was unforgivable of him and he was going to
hate himself afterwards but he was already on his feet and jogging into the trees.
She wasn't that far downstream.
Because she wholly trusted that he would never lower himself to do what he was doing now.
He glanced away uncomfortably. It was her fault for being so nave.
He watched her walk languidly along the shore and followed through the trees, far enough away that he had plenty of cover if he needed it. She chose a patch of
sunny shore, giggling as she disturbed a flock of duck-like waterfowl who scolded her frantically before diving into the river and swimming away under the
surface like a school of fish.
" And don't come back!" she hollered at them, still giggling.
He rolled his eyes from his vantage point halfway behind a tall sycamore, amused, then went still and tense a moment later as she quickly began to strip, not
bothering to fold her clothes, she tossed the shirt aside and kicked her shoes and skirt off. His eyes roved hungrily over every patch of skin, his throat squeezed
making it hard to breathe, his body tightening painfully.
She started for the water but suddenly stopped and looked back at her skirt, at the sheathed blade. She hesitated, her features scrunched in a thoughtful frown,
and then she smartly slipped the blade from its sheath and turned towards the river with it in her hand.
His jaw dropped, outrage and admiration warring for dominance in his mind. She was taking it into the water with her. Clever girl.
She slipped into the river, staying in the shallows near the shore. He watched her splash around, using sand to scrub the dirt from her skin. He watched with
paranoid concentration while she leaned backwards in the water, breasts up thrust, to wet her hair. The knife she kept either in one hand, under the water,
probably trapped by her knee, or with the hilt clasped between her teeth. He particularly liked the last look, her kneeling in the water, both her arms over her
head as she ran her fingers through her tangled mane with the dagger held in her mouth. Her hair was a matted mess and it took her some time to work the
knots from it, all the while lamenting its gnarled state and muttering to herself.
His lips twitched when he distinctly heard her say, "Stupid Malfoy."
He braced an arm against the tree, resting his forehead against it, panting slightly. He kept his mind forcefully blank, refusing to recognize his own betrayal,
absolutely refusing to acknowledge what his hand was doing.
She finished rinsing and sloshed onto the shore, wringing the excess water from her hair. His breathed hitched at the full sight of her, lean and lithe and tan. He
groaned and bit his knuckle to muffle the sound, his other hand working in long, even strokes. She spent some time sunning so she wouldn't be soaking wet
when she dressed, but not too much time. She was always harping on about the dangers of too much sun.
Some part of his brain was looking her over for flaws almost desperately. But there were no flaws. She was perfect. This flawed creature was utterly perfect. It
was bitterly unjust that she bore no outward markings of her lineage.
She turned to gather her clothing, a hand brushing absently over her breast, and there was a moment, just an instant, that her gaze turned towards him, that their
eyes met.
It was an illusion, of course. Had she actually seen him, her reaction would have been nothing short of homicidal. But the illusion slammed the breath from his
lungs, sent him over the edge, the illusion of looking into her eyes when He jerked, shuddering, collapsing to his knees, riding out something so intense that it
left him shocked and breathless.
He sank down against the dead forest litter in a daze until the last shivers faded. The world came back into focus slowly and on the heels of reality came the
guilt. Crushing guilt and black self-loathing.
He leaned his forehead against the bark of the tree, his chest filled with the acid bile of self-disgust.
He could only imagine what his father would say about this. The man already thought he was worthless, could hardly stand to even look at him. And why not?
Hadn't he just completely and utterly justified his father's attitude towards him? Hadn't he just proved how weak and misguided he really was?
He had worked so hard these past couple of years to try and gain the man's approval. Sometimes he felt like he was halfway there, but out here, when he was
looking at her, it all started to unravel. He was a million miles away from ever gaining an ounce of respect from the man. How could he expect the man to
respect him when he couldn't even respect himself?
He sat there lost in his dark thoughts, not noticing when Granger dressed and flounced away, swearing to himself fiercely that it wouldn't happen again and
knowing, in some deep despairing part of his mind that it probably would.
He was still sitting there when a sound broke the stillness of the forest, sending flocks of birds bursting into the sky with panicked cries, sending his own
thoughts bursting and panicking with them. It was a deep, resonating, wailing roar.
And it was very close.
Draco flung himself backwards, eyes like saucers as he fought to gain his feet. The rumbling cry died away, the echo lingering, as he stood breathing hard in
sudden terror.
" Holy shit!" he breathed, and bolted back towards the campsite as fast as he could go.
He got there in record time, skidding to a halt, "Granger! GRANGER!"
She was standing by the river looking nervous. Relief filled her face when she saw him. She jogged over, " I was getting worried! When I heard that"
He cut her off impatiently, " Do you know what that was?"
She bit her lip and shook her head, " I've never heard anything like it."
" I have. That's the fucking wyvern."
Her face went ashen even as her eyes hardened with disbelief, " I told you, Malfoy, there's no"
" Shut up!" he yelled and she gasped and backed up a step. He looked over his shoulder as if he expected it to come crashing through the trees any second, "
Does it even matter right now? How far away do you think it is?

" There's really no telling." She hesitated and then added, with the heightened pitch of fear, "Butits getting closer."
He stared at her until what she said finally clicked in his mind and then he felt a wash of horrified disbelief, " You knew it was out there? You knew and you didn't
tell me?"
" I've only heard it twice, both times yesterday while you were unconscious. It wasn't this close the last time. I wasn't really worried about it." she wrung her hands
nervously.
" Well worry about it now!" he yelled, eyes sweeping their campsite, his brain already concentrating on escape plans," Will our circle keep it out if it comes this
way?"
" I don't know. I don't think so. Our circle is pretty crude and we've only got it anchored to one tree. But even if the circle kept it out, there's no guarantee that it
won't just sit outside and wait for us."
" Then what do we do?"
She hugged herself and thought for a moment, " We get away from the water. We get into the trees, keep an eye out for a ring of protection, and hope it doesn't
find out we're here. If it is a wyvern we don't have to worry about it scent tracking us, they don't have a very good sense of smell. Malfoy, you'd better be telling
the truth because it will help me plan what to do."
" I'm not going to lie about something that could bite me in half." He snarled, "Its big. About" He struggled to find something to compare it to, " About a Hagrid
tall on its hind legs and two Hagrids wide."
" Hagrids?" Granger's mouth twisted as she choked on sudden laughter, " How many Hagrids long is it?"
" Shut up! This isn't funny! Its got red skin, compact wings and spikes going down the ridge of its tail."
Granger sobered, " That does sound like a wyvern. But they hunt in packs" she shut her eyes briefly, " Please tell me there wasn't a pack."
" There was only one."
" I guess that's something. We should leave now."
She gathered her things quickly and the two of them hurried into the forest. They went straight back to the Tangle Trees and then walked East along the border
of the two forests.
" Shouldn't we stay away from the Tangle Trees?" Draco asked uncomfortably, eyeing the vines that reached for him wistfully as he passed, some of them
looking as if they were waving goodbye to the pair, " I feel like we're cornering ourselves."
" Honestly, Malfoy, if I have to choose between facing a wyvern and facing the Tangle Trees, I'll go with the Tangle Trees."
He nodded, filing that bit of information away. It was always good to know which was the worse of two evils.
Despite that initial panic the walk remained uneventful until late into the afternoon.
Granger kept tossing glances over her shoulder nervously. " I wish it would roar, so I'd know where it was." She murmured.
" Aren't you supposed to be watching for good trees?" he snapped irritably, " I'll keep a watch out for the wyvern."
" Sorry." She muttered, kicking a stick.
After a period of silence, Granger slowed and went very still, a strange look on her face.
He stopped just behind her, nearly running into her, gaze flicking about, but he didn't see anything, "What?"
" Shhh." She whispered, very softly, staring straight ahead.
Alarmed, he looked about even more frantically for the cause of her behavior. Nothing moved around them. He whispered, " I don't hear anything."
" Exactly." She breathed, her gaze fixed forward and filled with hazy concentration as she focused on listening instead of seeing," The birds have all gone
silent."
" That means" his heart was beating double-time, "They're hiding. That always means there's a big predator around, right? Or something bad? What do we
do?"
" We keep walking. Go slow, no sudden movements. Keep a look out. These trees are fairly close together, I think we'd hear it coming before it saw us." He
could see her shaking, which scared him even worse.
They had gone perhaps twenty feet forward when something caught Draco's eye.
It was weird. Something was glittering on the trees ahead of them, sparkling.
" Granger? Do you see that?"
" What?"
" Look at those trees." she looked back at his face and then followed his gaze forward.
Granger's brow furrowed, " What in the world?"
They slipped forward to investigate, slowly stepping over a shattered tree stump. There were several shattered stumps, the heartwood bright and damp and
smelling of fresh wood. Draco stepped between the trees, turning a slow circle. The sides of the trees facing them were all painted silver. Silver spattered the
leaves, glittered all down the trunk, glowed and shimmered in the patches of sunlight that were able to filter through the dense canopy.
He didn't dare touch it.
It was beautiful but something about it stirred hairs on the back of his neck. Something about it was frighteningly familiar. As he watched, a strand of liquid silver
oozed from a leaf and splattered on the groundinto a pool of silver.
" Malfoy" Granger whispered, her voice faint with shocked realization.
He turned to see her standing over another puddle of silver. They locked eyes in a moment of perfect understanding. She couldn't seem to say it, so he did.

" Unicorn blood."


Granger let out a shuddering breath as if she'd needed the verbal confirmation, "What could have done this? It looks like a tornado. Like someone took buckets
of silver paint and splattered it everywhere." She looked up, " Its even above us. Oh Merlin, and its fresh, very fresh."
" The wyvern?"
" I can't imagine anything, even a large predator, making this much of a mess. Look at this, these broken trees are fresh, the blood is fresh. Malfoy, how come
we didn't hear this happening?"
He had no answer to that. He turned and saw more silver splattered trees to their left, "There's more over here."
They stepped through the wreckage of trees, trying not to get blood on their shoes and clothes. The trail of blood led a bit further into the trees and then
Granger cried out, hand flying to her mouth even as she whirled and lurched against him, burying her face against his chest. He was too stunned to do anything
but stare.
There were two of them. The smaller one had been decapitated and cut right in half down the belly, its innards burst out all over the ground. Its head lay to the
side, away from them. The second one was lying practically at their feet, it was whole, its glassy eyes staring right at them, but it was worse, much worse, than
the other one. It had been skinned. It was nothing but red raw muscle and sinew on bones. Even the face had been skinned, leaving its eyes in bare bloody
sockets.
The unicorns.
Granger was sobbing hysterically against his chest. He pushed her away, but gently, shakily and stepped forward. Granger stayed with her back to the scene,
shoulders shaking.
Draco stepped around the creature slowly, there was no way to avoid the silver blood now, it was everywhere. Had the wyvern done this? Butwhere was the
skin? There was not a patch of hide, not a scrap of hair left on the dead animal. There were no bite marks or claw marks either.
" Its them." Granger cried hugging herself, " It's the two unicorns we saw at the oasis." She buried her face in her hands and wept with wracking sobs.
" You can't be sure its them." He said in clipped, distant voice, " There are probably tons of unicorns around here."
She shook her head as if warding away his words, " I know its them. I know it."
" Granger," he growled, angry because it was easier than being scared, " Stop wailing like a fucking banshee and come take a look at this."
" I can't look. I can't look at them."
He sorely wanted to rub this in her face, maybe he would later, but right now his self-preservation instincts were saying this was not the time for a fight. They
needed to figure out what had done this and how to avoid it, " Hysterics is counterproductive and I honestly expected better from you."
He'd heard McGonagall say that to her once and it worked just as well now as it did then. She gave him a shocked, slightly hurt, look and made a visible effort
to control herself, taking deep hiccuping breaths and straightening her shoulders. Finally she braced herself and turned around. Her eyes were puffy and her
nose was red. His lips twitched.
" There's no way an animal could have done this." He leaned over the corpse to hide his amusement, then grimaced as he was once again faced with pounds
of glistening raw meat. At least it didn't smell yet. If it had, he was pretty sure he would have lost the contents of his stomach, " Unless it could melt the skin right
off." He straightened and looked around, " I don't see any trace of the hide anywhere."
Granger's jaw was set stubbornly as she stepped over beside him. Her face darkened, eyebrows drawing together, " Any.." she gave one last sniffle, " Any
corrosive agent that melted the skin off like that wouldn't have stopped with just the skin, it would have eaten the muscle as well. I think I'm going to be sick."
" As funny as that would be, don't." He wouldn't be able to stand the sound of her wretching at the moment. The very thought was churning his stomach.
" Its too neat. It really looks like something skinned it." to his amazement her eyes darted suspiciously, speculatively, to him.
His eyes widened and he didn't know whether to be amused or annoyed," You have the knife, kiddo. Don't look at me like that."
" Oh yeah." She muttered, a hand slipping down to pat the sheathed blade, maybe for comfort.
" Could it really be people?" he asked eagerly, feeling a burst of hope.
" It doesn't seem likely. But if it was a predator, why didn't it eat the meat?" she frowned, " Are there predators that eat unicorn meat?"
" I haven't the faintest."
" Its almost like" she turned towards the second one and quickly away, flinching, " Its almost like they were killed for fun. No meat was eaten, no blood, bone
or other essentials taken. They were just killed."
" Sure sounds like people to me. What about the skin? Could anything be done with the skin?"
" I don't know. Maybe it was for dark magic purposes. Malfoy, person or animal, whatever it was, I don't want to meet up with it."
He made a noncommittal noise, mind reeling at the prospect of seeing other people, even unicorn killers, after two weeks of solitude" Is there anything we can
take?"
" What do you mean 'take'?" she gave him a startled glance.
" Anything from the bodies that we can use?"
She looked appalled, " Not from a unicorn! I mean, sometimes people use the hair but I wouldn't take anything from one that's been murdered."
" Damn, too bad. That's a lot of meat." He gazed at it longingly.
Her eyelids dropped," Your sensitivity is awe inspiring."
" Oh give me a hug." He turned towards her, arms wide.
She yelped in alarm and darted away leaving him to snicker at her expense. It was too much to hope that she would fall for that one. She knew very well what
she'd be in for if he got a hold of her right now. Probably a make-out session with the skinless animal.

" Its getting late. Lets get out of here." Granger grumbled, " I don't want to be here if whatever did this comes back."
" Yeah." He agreed, it wasn't a pleasant thought.
They made their way past the two dead creatures, wiping their shoes on dry leaves and bark as they went. They had gotten no more than five feet from the
carcasses when a very soft sound, like the scraping of dirt and scrunching of leaves made them both pause. Granger turned, tense, and scanned the area
behind them, hawk-like. Draco's gaze slid through the trees, over the carcasses, but there was nothing around them.
" Just the wind?" he asked, trying to sound confident and cursing himself when his voice came out nervous.
Granger latched onto his arm with a vice-like grip, hard enough to make him hiss, her fingers digging into his skin. "Watch it!"
" Look." Her voice was a shaky whine, her face so pale he was suddenly worried she might faint.
" What?" he snapped and scanned the scene again, " I don't see anything."
" The head" her lips barely moved, her eyes were huge and blank.
He looked towards the decapitated head and went very still, chills sweeping over his skin.
Had it
Had Hadn't it been
" Its your imagination." He said tightly in a clipped voice and grabbed her, wrenching her away. They turned and ran into the forest as fast and as hard as they
could.
The scene stayed with him, right behind his eyelids.
The head had been facing the woods when they found it, he was sure of that, it had been facing away from them. But when he turned back, when Granger called
his attention to it, it was looking right back at him with dead glassy eyes. Staring right back. That was impossible because it had been facing the woods before.
It had been facing the fucking woods.
They didn't stop running for a long time.
There was no water where they stopped to make camp a few hours later, which meant they'd have to find water first thing in the morning no matter where the
hazel took them. They stopped when Granger found a good place to make a circle. A place with three large protective trees.
" This is probably as good as its going to get. We were always lucky to find one good tree. Three is fantastic and a very lucky number." She was surveying their
campsite with forced cheerfulness, trying to keep a bounce in her step when it was obvious she just wanted to wrap her arms around herself and huddle
shaking on the ground.
" Will that help?" he asked, curiously.
" Luck always helps."
They hadn't heard the wyvern again. Maybe it had gone off another direction. He could only hope. The odds of it finding them were slim but still, he'd rather not
take any chances.
They set up camp and then went out separately to scout about, Granger calling out to him to be back in the circle before night fell. It was already fairly shadowy
under the trees. He'd gotten used to the sunlight and missed it now that they were forced to spend all day under the dense canopy. He had liked camping on the
outskirts of the forest and in the oasis. There was a feeling there of freedom, of being outside, here under the trees it was almost claustrophobic, as if while they
were in the forest they were more susceptible to it, more strongly affected by it.
He went out as far as he dared, looking for signs of unicorn-slaughtering humans. Granger had had a point when she said the skinning had been neat. It very
well could be people. He wanted it to be people. He searched for any signs of civilized life, campfire remains, litter, anything, but there was nothing.
He had no luck hunting either and came back to camp empty handed, but Granger brought back some fruit.
" Would a wyvern be afraid of fire?" Draco asked that night, as he sat beside their campfire, staring into the flames, a hunk of fruit in his hand. He was thinking
of the torch he'd used against the field-piranhas.
Granger shook her head, mouth full, " Seeing fire would be a stimulus towards breathing fire." She warned after she swallowed. She was kneeling over to the
side next to a log, doing something incomprehensible with some sticks, leaves, the knife and some animal bones she'd found. It occurred to him that working
might be keeping her mind off things.
" Scratch that idea then." He muttered, alarmed, " So if we see the wyvern, what are we going to do?"
" Hit the ground." She said, looking down with concentration at her work, " Hope it doesn't see us."
" That's your brilliant plan?" scorn dripped from his words.
She raised her head to meet his eyes, " You can do better?"
" Yes." He grinned, " I was thinking I'd throw you in front of it and run."
" Hmm." She didn't react like he hoped she would, she continued working, "It's a good thing I have the knife then." She commented lightly.
He scowled, "You're giving that back the minute I feel even a twinge from it."
" Okay, Malfoy." She answered easily, as if she didn't really mean it.
He started to retort but got sidetracked by another thought, " Do you think we could attack it with the knife? The wyvern, I mean."
Granger sat up, expression thoughtful, " At this point I'm not even sure if it would cut the hide. Wyvern scales are tough."
" It went right through the antlion." He pointed out.
She shrugged, " Considering we know almost absolutely nothing about the knife its really hard to judge what it will and won't do. While you were unconscious
those two days I tried a lot of things with it. I tried to do to a tree what you did to the Roc. I stood back, I concentrated on wanting to cut it and I slashed the air. I
felt the wind. I felt the power. But it barely scratched the tree. Some bark flew, that was about it. Now why it didn't work is impossible to guess. Maybe it only
works against animals or certain types of animals, or animals with certain types of magic. Maybe it has to do with the strength of our feelings or maybe we have

to be in real danger. Or maybe the blade just isn't strong enough yet."
Draco stuffed another section of fruit into his mouth, " You think too much."
" You don't think enough." She muttered lowly, making him think he wasn't supposed to hear.
" What are you doing?" he asked just to be annoying.
She sighed irritably," We don't have a lot of the raw materials we need for proper charms and potions so I'm basically taking what I can find and trying to
improvise. Just like with the circle. But there are components, especially in charm-making, that I just don't know enough"
" I didn't ask for your life story, Granger." He cut her off, " In one word. What are you doing?"
She shot him a nasty look, " Divination."
He blinked, startled, " A few more words."
" Bones, carved wood, runes."
" Is it working?
" No."
" You hate divination." He commented.
She looked startled, "How would you know that?"
" Heh. Know thy enemy. I'm observant Granger. I know a lot more about you than you think. Besides, everyone knows you walked out on Trelawney. The
Ravenclaws are still arguing over whether or not that means you flunked the class and your school standing should be lowered accordingly. Someone pointed
out that since you've taken more courses than anyone else that acing three extra classes probably nullifies the flunking."
Her cheeks pinkened, " You say that like people talk about me."
" Did I not just say 'Ravenclaws' as in more than one." He felt a surge of annoyance, " You've been a little attention starved puffball since first year and now you
act all embarrassed like you don't expect people to be talking about you?"
" I'm not attention starved!" she looked offended.
" Oh really? So its more like you're showing off?"
" I don't show off." She said between clenched teeth.
" Then you're just that annoying." He said as if he'd come to a brilliant deduction, " And people have to talk about it."
" You don't know a thing about me."
He smiled, what a brilliant opening, " I know you're in love with Harry Fuck-Me-I'm-Popular Potter. I know your favorite book is Hogwarts: A History. I know you
have a thing for the Renaissance era, when Wizards pulled Muggles out of the Dark Ages. I know you're afraid of heights and can't stand riding a broom. I know
you're the only child of a moderately well-off family and that your dad's name is Aaron and your mum's name is Helen."
She'd slowly stiffened, going pale at the mention of her parents, " How do you know about my mum and dad?"
He made a show of looking thoughtful, " Where did I hear it?" He wondered aloud, then he brightened as if remembering, " Oh, I know! I believe I heard it from
my father. Yeah, he was having a little talk with our Lord Voldemort."
" You're lying." Her tone was as flat and cold as her expression but her eyes were terrified.
" No." he said amiably, as if it weren't a big deal, " I believe that's where I heard it. But its not surprising, is it? My father has met your parents before,
remember? Second year? I think he was interested in them because he seems to know an awful lot about them. At least he's told me a lot about them." He
shrugged, nonchalantly, inwardly cackling gleefully.
She was breathing harder now. Her eyes narrowed and hate slid across her face, " Now I know you're lying." She accused, practically baring her teeth, "Your
father never told you about them!"
" No?" he asked sweetly.
" No." she gritted out, " You want to talk about who knows what, then I'll tell you what I know about you."
" Oh dazzle me." He drawled, leaning forward as if in rapt attention, "This ought to be good."
She smiled tightly, setting the knife and her materials down in order to face him fully, " I know you don't like to read."
" No shit! WOW! Its like you're reading my mind!"
" But you keep a set of books on the history of the Ministry of Magic that your grandfather gave you."
He went still, frozen to the tips of his toes, his mocking sneer vanishing. The look on his face, the combination of befuddled shock and incomprehension, was
probably hilarious, but Granger didn't blink. Her expression was strangely fierce and fully concentrated on him.
" Your Slytherin bed is done up in green and silver but at home you prefer red and black. And you don't like snakes as pets because they have no personality.
You prefer birds, like your eagle owl. And you hate dogs. You have a map of Atlantis on your wall and a real sword and shield with the Malfoy crest on them.
Your mother sometimes drinks when she's angry and your father has a penchant for anything Eastern." Her eyes narrowed, " He also likes to hit your mom."
She said maliciously.
He flinched, breaking the stillness of his shock.
" Shut up." He forced it out, his chest feeling as if steel bands were compressing his ribs.
Granger stood up and sauntered over to him, never breaking eye contact," When you were little, you used to hide in your grandmother's old room when they
fought."
" I said shut up!" he was on his feet now, facing her even as he took an involuntary step back. He cursed himself, shocked that he had inadvertently given

ground before her.


" You're scared of your father. But he can't smack you around much anymore. You're too big."
" SHUT THE FUCK UP!" he lunged for her.
She didn't move, she just looked him right in the eye and said, " He can't stand you."
Draco came up short, his breath drawing in sharply, painfully, as if she struck him. He stood there, an inch away from her and couldn't move.
"You talk about him like you and him have this great relationship. But it's a lie. He says your worthless. You're not good enough to be his son. That's how I know
he didn't tell you anything. He wouldn't." Knowing eyes memorizing every subtle expression of his face, the way his eyes were over wide, the confusion deep in
every line of his body, the way he stood halfway between attacking and fleeing.
" Shut up, you filthy bitch, just shut up." It was a desperate whisper. It was appalling, horrifying, that something like this was laid out bare before his enemy. Did
Potter and Weasley know too? Were they laughing behind his back every time he mentioned his father?
She cocked her head at him and continued in mock sympathy," What's really sad is that your poor mum loves you so much that she tries to defend you against
your father and she gets hit because of it. Its your fault they don't get along. Your mum would have been happier if you were never born."
He actually screamed in rage, her words lancing through him like a mortal wound. He had her by the throat in a heartbeat, his grip crushing. She choked in
surprise, hands grabbing at his wrist. She couldn't even breathe to scream. He threw her back into the trunk of a tree as hard as he could and cocked his fist
back.
To beat her like he'd promised. To break her fucking face.
She staggered upright just as he swung his fist as hard as he could. Her arms flew up to protect her face.
But the impact never came.
Draco stood with chest heaving, trying to see through blind rage and sudden confusion.
His vision cleared and he saw his fist an inch from the girl, frozen in midair. He stared at it.
He had checked the blow.
He blinked, and replayed the last few seconds in his mind. He couldn't remember making a conscious decision to stop. He had meant to hit her. Had wanted to
hit her. Still wanted to hit her. Some part of his mind was still screaming 'break her jaw, fuck her up'.
But he had stopped.
Several silent moments ticked by and when nothing happened, Granger hesitantly lowered her arms the slightest bit, brown eyes huge, too frightened to even
cry. He looked from his fist to her, mouth working, wanting to say something smart-ass, something to explain his hesitation, but nothing came.

Do it now! Part of him roared.


He didn't move.

She's a Mudblood, a fucking Mudblood. Just do it! Whose voice was that? His father's? Lestrange's? MacNair's?
Brown eyes staring at him, like the first rabbit he'd ever killed. It had screamed when he caught it.
His arm shook.

You're pathetic boy.


He could hear her little gasping sobs of fear now. Before it was like he couldn't hear anything. Nothing but the pounding of blood in his ears.

Hit her.
He couldn't do it.

You worthless little shit.


What was he waiting for? Just hit her. It wasn't the same. It wasn't the same thing. She wasn't a real girl.
And if she was?

You gotta keep those bitches in line or they'll never respect you.
He volte-faced so fast that Granger flinched back with a gasp, cowering.
It took him a minute, a minute to force down the bile in his throat, a minute to force his voice out. It was strained and brittle," Your lucky I don't want to deal with
the problems beating the shit out of you would cause." He sneered.
He heard her straightening up slowly, could feel her staring at the back of his head, could imagine the look on her face, calculating, wondering, the dawning
realization. He stalked away, back rigid, ignoring the instinct to hunch over on himself in a futile protective gesture. As if by doing so he could keep his secrets
to himself.
He had a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach that she was seeing right through him

You're wasting your time, My Lord.


He had failed. But that wasn't really a surprise. He'd been failing for a long time.

My little bastard of a son will never amount to anything.


Father
fin

Next Time: Angst, breakdowns, flashbacks, emotional scars, crossing over and Draco comes face to face with a lion.

*Chapter 13*: Welcome to the Jungle


Disclaimer: Use your imagination.
Last Time:
He volte-faced so fast that Granger flinched back with a gasp, cowering.
It took him a minute, a minute to force down the bile in his throat, a minute to force his voice out. It was strained and brittle," Your lucky I don't want to deal
with the problems beating the shit out of you would cause." He sneered.
He heard her straightening up slowly, could feel her staring at the back of his head, could imagine the look on her face, calculating, wondering, the dawning
realization. He stalked away, back rigid, ignoring the instinct to hunch over on himself in a futile protective gesture. As if by doing so he could keep his
secrets to himself.
He had a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach that she was seeing right through him.
You're wasting your time, My Lord.

He had failed. But that wasn't really a surprise. He'd been failing for a long time.
My little bastard of a son will never amount to anything.

Father
Chapter 13: Welcome to the Jungle
Anger
Misery
You'll Suffer unto Me
Metallica "Harvester of Sorrows"
oooo
" Hey, I just noticed, we've been here for-what, two weeks? Shouldn't you have like, I don't know, facial hair?"
Pause.
Innocent eyes.
Big shit-eating grin.
His fists clenched convulsively as he fought down the urge to strangle her.
Draco slogged through the lush green underbrush of the heavily shaded woods without glancing back, without so much as twitching at the question. The girl
trotted along behind him, dogging his step, cheery and eager.
" You're seventeen right? Geez! I mean, Harry and Ron are already shaving everyday. I bet Crabbe and Goyle are too. Heck, Millicent's shaving everyday. You
must be a late bloomer. But hey, you do have some scraggly patches here and there, kind of like face mold, congratulations." She smiled prettily.
Shut up, shut up, shut up
She hopped over a small log," If those patches get any funkier you might try to use the knife to shave with, otherwise you'll end up looking like a billy goat." She
made a disturbingly accurate sound effect, "Meh-eh-eh-ehe!"
Merlin, where was the wyvern when you needed it?
He clenched his teeth, face burning.
She sprinted forward and hooked her arm through his, "So how are we today?" she asked primly.
He jerked his arm out of her grasp and stormed away, refusing to acknowledge her, hunching over slightly as her delighted laughter followed him. The girl just
skipped along behind him, smiling hugely at his annoyance, completely unperturbed.
She'd been like this since waking up that morning. Greeting him cheerily with a big goofy grin when he woke, triumph plastered all over her face. She started in
on him right away, teasing, badgering, being as obnoxious as possible. She made fun of him, pushed him, hung on his arms, dared him to retaliate; her eyes
alight with the knowledge that he wouldn't.
In response, he shoved her, twisted her wrist, shouted at her, threatened at the top of his lungs. She just got up, dusted herself off and grinned at him knowingly.
He understood only too well what the message in that triumphant smile was: She wasn't afraid of him anymore.
The only thing keeping her in line had been her belief that he was willing to do her serious harm. Last night he had unwittingly proven to her that his threats were
hollow. Now she was deliberately tormenting and provoking him because she knew she could.
She was heady with her own power.
" I guess you can't call Harry scar-face anymore." She chirped, " Yours are going to be much worse then his. We can call you trench-face, because they're more
like deep grooves cutting through that pasty skin of yours, not anything like Harry's cute little scar." Her eyebrows furrowed, "I do hope we can get yours fixed. It
would be so sad to see you permanently disfigured. I mean, what will Pansy say when she sees you?"
It was humiliating beyond belief.
He thought about punching her. Hadn't stopped thinking about punching her since he woke up. But he was afraid to even try. What if he looked into those big
brown eyes and froze again? It would be the coup de grace, the last nail in the proverbial coffin, and he would never hear the end of it.
He'd be psychologically neutered.
He didn't want to think about last night. He didn't want to examine the reason he had pulled back at the last second. He'd woken up this morning ready to
pretend the whole thing had never happened but she wouldn't let him. And the more he thought about it, the more confusing it became.

He wasn't the type of person who could easily analyze their own psyche, who could untangle the twisted web of feelings and thoughts into a fine linear thread of
logic. Trying to do so was endlessly frustrating and wholly uncomfortable. Nervously, he suspected that there was no fine linear thread of reasoning, it was all
contradictory.
An icy ball of biting frostbite formed in his stomach when he thought about almost hitting Granger last night. At the same time, he regretted with his whole being
that he hadn't clocked her a good one upside the head. (Even if it was just once and not very hard) Just enough to turn her back into a frightened, blubbering
mess ready to placate him at all costs.
He realized uncomfortably that some part of him, some very deep part that had nothing at all to do with logic and reasoning, perceived Granger as a real girl
instead of a Muggle. That part of him had completely panicked when he nearly hit her. Because in that first moment he hadn't even stopped to justify his actions
by telling himself she wasn't a real girl. He'd been so mad, it hadn't mattered. He'd just wanted to hurt someone.

Blaise convulsing on the ground in the throes of a seizure. Pansy cradling her friend's head, her face twisted in terror, screaming at him for help.
That was the true horror for him. Not that he'd nearly hit Granger. Not that he hadn't hit Granger. But that he had lost control. That he hadn't cared whether or not
he hit a girl.

"Only cowards hit women." He liked to say loudly whenever his father was around.
Lucius always studiously ignored him.
He believed it. He wanted nothing to do with the abuse Lucius and the other Death Eaters heaped on their women. He'd seen too much of it heaped on his
mother (and too many others) to ever want to emulate them.

You gotta keep those bitches in line or they'll never respect you. That was what MacNair liked to say, chuckling, as if there was anything at all respectable
about that fat, perverted bastard.
Draco had never hit a girl before. (That one time during second year with Millicent didn't count since he'd only gotten in one shot in self-defense and she'd
beaten the shit out of him)
He wanted to be nothing like his father.
And therein lay the paradox.
He wanted to be nothing like his father. He wanted to be everything his father thought the perfect son should be.
He loved his father. Almost as much as he hated him.
Narcissa once said that a person's greatest hatred was reserved for those they loved the most. He understood exactly what she meant.
He wanted his father to love him. He wanted his father to like and respect him. He wanted to make his father proud. He wanted to make his father suffer dearly
for not loving him and his mother.
He wanted revenge on the man, pure and simple.
He hadn't always felt like that. For the longest time he had honestly and truly worked his ass off to get the man's approval. He had tried doing everything his
father did, and nearly permanently destroyed his relationship with Pansy. He had tried rebelling against his father completely, and got nothing but bruises and
silent, mocking scorn.
He had tried being the best at Quidditch, and was beaten by Potter. He had tried being the best at schoolwork and was creamed by Granger, the top three
Ravenclaws and that damn Hufflepuff aberration whose name escaped him at the moment. Well then, maybe he could be the best at schoolwork in Slytherin.
Millicent had told him with a little sneer that, for a fee, she'd get lower scores so he could top them. He told her to shove her scores up her ass.
At long last, he had taken over Slytherin, became their king. Something not even his father had done because Lucius had been forced to share the power with
two rival groups. This, for sure, was something the man would have to respect and acknowledge.

" What did you expect, boy, you're surrounded by morons." And the man rubbed at the bridge of his nose, sounding tired, which for some reason hurt worse
than scorn, as if he had given up on Draco completely, " Leading a pack of imbeciles around in a game of baby politics is nothing to be proud of."
And yet he was mad that I didn't make Head Boy. Draco brooded. Nothing I do is good enough.
Things at his house weren't as bad as Granger had made them out to be. It disturbed him greatly that people were saying such things. People weren't
supposed to look at him with anything but awe and fear. He would have to set this right the moment he got back.
The truth of the matter was, his house wasn't an angry place or a hateful, abusive place. It was merely a very cold place. His father did not beat him and his
mother regularly and his mother was not a lush. While Draco had been afraid plenty of times he'd only gotten belted across the face a few times and really
physically beaten only once or twice, though that was definitely enough. Most of Lucius' abuse towards him was purely verbal. It was his mother who got hit,
usually when his father's friends were around, as if Lucius was showing off by abusing her.
Draco wasn't supposed to know about that. His father usually only hit her when Draco wasn't around. Draco figured Lucius realized how much he adored his
mother, and that eventually he would grow up and want retribution and so tried to hide what he did. Whatever the reason, Lucius only truly abused Narcissa
behind closed doors. That never stopped Draco from spying or listening in though, for the longest time it was the only way he could be there for her.
He felt every slap, every punch, as if it were done to him and he filed it away for later.

Millicent standing there with a blank, emotionless look on her face. Millicent who would grind you to a bleeding pulp if you even breathed wrong in her
direction. Millicent, the toughest girl in school, more dangerous than most of the boys. Millicent just standing there while a short, beautiful woman barked at
her like an angry dog.
" You disgusting cow!" Mrs. Bulstrode screeched dramatically, vying for the attention of the curious onlookers, making the situation that much more
humiliating, " Its your fault your father left us. Its your fault he went and got himself killed."
Silence except for the murmur of the crowd and Sky's soft teary voice begging his mother to stop. Millicent stared emptily at the far wall as if she could see
through it to the world outside.
SMACK "Answer me, you fat slob!"
Millicent didn't even blink.
Lucius had grown colder and more hateful of late. He had become more distant as the Dark Lord grew more powerful. That was fine, Draco told himself, the

more time Lucius spent licking his Lord's boots, the safer he and his mom were. And yet the further away his father went, the bitterer Draco became.
He had these memories of when he was young, memories where Lucius smiled at him, memories where Lucius scooped him up in his arms. He had believed
those memories for the longest time, clutched at them desperately for years as his only source of comfort when the man returned every ounce of Draco's
affection with cold indifference or dark malice. But now he wondered if those memories were even real, if maybe they were only dreams or fantasies he'd made
up for comfort some cold night.
No. Gaining the man's acceptance no longer appealed to him. He would not spend a moment more fawning and cowering like a dog. He would beat his father.
And he knew just how to do it.
He would become the ultimate Death Eater and take his father's place at Voldemort's side. He would surpass every goal his father had ever set while
simultaneously throwing his father out of power and destroying everything his father had worked to gain.
He knew that was what his father feared the most. He had heard them talking about it one night.

" Draco will never be a Death Eater of our caliber. He has too many faults. He is weak." Lucius insisted scathingly.
" You're just afraid he's going to replace you." One of the other Death Eaters grunted with a sly, grin, "Your looks and Narcissa's charisma and if it t'wernt for
the Potter brat, he'd be running Hogwarts. You never accomplished that Lucius."
Angry silence from his father.
He would prove himself. He would be better than his father. He would be the greatest Death Eater ever. Colder, darker and more ruthless than his father ever
was. He would be like a plague to his enemies.
The idea was as frightening as it was thrilling. To take his father's place. To become his father. Part of him kicked and screamed at the idea. While another part
of him was coldly terrified that he had no choice, that he was his father, that all of his father's worst traits were naturally and irrevocably instilled in him already.
All that darkness just waiting to be unleashed.
Some people weren't meant for violence. Others were genetically instilled with it.
That was why he almost hit Granger even when he saw her as a girl. Because he was his father no matter how hard he tried not to be. He was a natural born
abuser, killer and raper of women. Maybe he hadn't done any of those things yet but it was all inside him waiting to come out.

Him standing with a group of friends.


" Shit, you should have just backhanded the bitch." he chortled, " That's what I'd do if Pansy ever back-talked me" and turning to find Pansy standing
there, staring at him as if she'd never seen him before.
Running after her, pleading," Pan! Pansy! I didn't mean it! I swear I didn't. It was justguy talk"
" How much of it?" her voice was low and cold, " After we're married are you going to smack me around so everyone can see what a tough guy you are?
Smack me around like your father does you mother?"
" NO! I'd never hit you!"
" But its okay for you to tell your friends to hit their girlfriends"
" That's not what I"
" You son of a bitch," she shouted at him, "This is why we made the deal! I will not marry someone who beats me! If you're going to be just like every other
guy"
He grabbed her shoulders, " I swear on my life, Pan, I will never hit you."
She shoved away from him angrily, " You'd better mean that because if you ever lay a hand on me in anger, I'll curse your nards off."
He never wanted to be like his father in that respect. He would never hit his wife.
But in order to be the perfect Death Eater, he needed to be able to do the things they did. Beat, murder, and rape Muggles. As with most abstract concepts, he
hadn't thought it would be a problem until he was suddenly faced with the issue head on. He had blithely assumed that when the time came, he'd go about his
job merrily and wouldn't even flinch.
He had flinched.
It wasn't as if he had no belief in the cause. He hated Muggles, truly and utterly hated them. Even without his revenge on Lucius, he would have felt compelled to
join the fight against the Muggle threat. He wanted to make them pay for everything they had done.
He glanced back at the girl following him, horrified by the small spark, the muddled sense of warmth in his chest when she grinned impishly back at him, her
curls bouncing around her shoulders.

"That's why we don't keep Muggle servants." Nott told him, "They look too much like us. You hang around them too long and some people start having a
problem telling the difference. They're vermin, boy. Vermin in wizard suits. Don't ever forget that."
He would never reach his goal if he got soft on her. He would never beat his father if he couldn't beat her. He would never wreak the vengeance of Wizard-kind
on the Muggles if he couldn't take care of one lowly Mudblood. He had to prove himself. She would be the first to go. His first triumph over his father and over
the Muggles.
It wasn't like she was a real person. It wasn't like she had feelings.
She was just another filthy Muggle.
No.
It.
It was a filthy Muggle.
" You shouldn't frown like that, you'll get wrinkles." The girl prancing along behind him said sagely, breaking him out of his thoughts, " You should try to preserve
your looks since you don't have the brain capacity to ever really be successful at anything but male prostitution."

" Granger..." He gritted out in a low hiss, keeping his eyes forward and his spine straight.
" Do you like boys, Malfoy?" she asked with pleasant curiosity, and his back stiffened even more, "It would sure explain a lot."
" The only thing I like," he growled, "is the thought of shoving a tree branch through your skull and shutting you up for good."
There was stunned silence and then, "Geez, you don't have to be sogruff."
He stopped short, mouth working silently. Was that a pun?
He cocked his head to look over his shoulder at her and she grinned with delighted wickedness," Meh-eh-eh-eh-eh."
Oh that cut it.
He wheeled around, teeth bared and she froze like a squirrel, all muscles tense as if she were ready to leap away any second, watching him warily but still with
merriment dancing in her eyes.
"This is your last warning." He said with deadly softness, the words clipped and dripping with menace, " Shut your foul, shit-reeking mouth or I'll shut it for you!"
She looked him dead in the eyes," Not by the hair of my chiny-chin-chin."
" Fucking SHIT!" he screamed in frustrated rage and kicked at the ground as he whipped back around, sending a hail of dirt and debris into her face.
She coughed and sputtered, slapping at the air in front of her face and patting the dirt off her robes, "Wow." She murmured, rubbing the dust from her eyes,
"You don't have to have a seizure."
This was followed by speculative silence, which he ignored completely, intent on finding a bottomless pit somewhere to shove her down, and then to his
amazement she called after him, almost plaintively, "Are you mad at me?"
He started at the question. Tossing her a horrified glance.
Dear Merlin, tell me she's not serious.
Granger jogged to catch up with him, her expression serious. She was silent for several minutes, walking along beside him and fidgeting nervously while
sending him tentative glances from the corner of her eye. It was a heavy silence, he didn't dare hope that she was done talking. He was proven right when she
began, contritely, "I was only teasing. Its not like you haven't given me worse every day since we started traveling."
He growled low in his chest, rolling his eyes. What in the hell was she on? The unexpected mood swing had thrown him completely. He considered ignoring her
but petulant silence would probably only encourage that whiny tone she was using. He needed to find a way to distract her or get her fixated on something else.
He looked wildly around the forest and saw nothing of any use.
The Mudblood worried her lower lip between her teeth anxiously," Look, I'm sorry about what I said. I didn't think you'd take it so personally." When he didn't
answer, she scowled, " You shouldn't dish it out if you can't take it. I've been putting up with you for days. You have no right to get angry."
" Granger" he started, intent on screaming at her to shut up for the umpteenth time and then thought better of it. If she really was feeling guilty then he needed
to ask her about the things she had said the night before while she was good and malleable. He hated broaching the subject, he wanted to file the whole
incident into the 'never happened' portion of his reality but the not knowing was driving him mad.
" You shouldn't talk about things you don't understand." He snapped, trying to lead her into the events of the night before.
She completely misunderstood.
Her face clouded in momentary confusion and he could see her mentally flipping back through their conversation until her eyes bulged, her hand flew to her
mouth and she whispered in horrified realization, " You ARE gay! Oh Draco, I'm so so sorry!" she clutched at his forearm fervently, " I didn't mean to oppress
you"
" SHUT UP, I'M NOT GAY!" he squealed, cheeks flaming as he jerked his arm out of her grip and slapped her hand away.
She yelped and tucked her hands up to her chin, looking surprised and disbelieving. Her eyes swept over his face searchingly as if probing for the truth.
Disgruntled, he realized she was absolutely serious.
He took a deep breath, gritting his teeth, "I'm not gay." He snarled very calmly.
" Oh." She said in a small voice.
Insecurity dropped out of the sky and punched him in the face and he blurted, " I don't act gay." His face flushed brighter.
Stupid, stupid, stupid!
" Oh no." she agreed quickly, "Not at all."
" Right."
Uncomfortably they turned away from each other and continued walking.
"But it would be okay if you were."
" I'm not!" He nearly screamed.
" Okay!" she yelled back.
" Got that?"
" Yeah."
" Okay."
" Okay."
" Good."
A stretch of excruciatingly uncomfortable silence in which he was forced to ponder whether or not she sincerely thought he didn't act gay.

" Were you talking about last night then?" Granger murmured finally, eyes downcast.
Shit, he'd forgotten about that already. He berated himself for letting her distract him from his purpose.
She was already prattling on," I'm sorry. I had no right to say those things and I didn't mean them. I'm sure your father loves you very much even if he has a hard
time showing it." she gave him a tentative smile.
Could this conversation get any worse?
He had to bite his lip to keep from spitting at her that she'd been right. That his father did hate him and that he had every reason to. Draco didn't blame his
father for hating him, but that wouldn't stop him from getting revenge.
" How did you know about my room?" He took the plunge, deciding subtlety wasn't working.
" Oh." Her cheeks went red, " I guess you have a right to know. Don't be angry. It was Dobby." She cut him off quickly when he started to hiss with rage, " He
didn't know he was doing anything wrong! We were just talking and he mentioned some of the decorations at your house and it didn't seem like anything too
private oror anything so I asked him about your room."
" Had a good laugh with Pothead and the Weasles huh?" he sneered, shaking with suppressed rage. It made sense now. Especially considering the map of
Atlantis on his wall was long since gone. It looked like Hogwarts was going to find out what Elf guts looked like when he got back.
" N-no, it was just me."
He looked at her sharply but she wouldn't meet his eyes.
" I was just curious." She murmured.
Curious? About what?
" What did you expect? The severed heads of Muggles?" he taunted, thinking she was doing her own baby version of spying for Dumbledore.
" No, I" she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, still refusing to look at him,"I'm sorry, it was invasion of privacy but I" she shrugged," I wanted to know
what Draco Malfoy's room looked like."
He digested that for a moment, taken aback, and then sniggered, unaccountably pleased. It was almost flattering to think that the untouchable, aloof Queen of
Gryffindor whose only love was studying and Harry Potter had taken an interest in him enough to interrogate an unsuspecting House Elf.
" What-did you also ask him what color my boxers were too? Because Granger, if you really wanted to know, I'd tell you." He grinned, good humor at least
partially restored now that he had the upper hand.
Her eyes flew wide as she shook her head hard," No! I didn't ask him anything like that!"
His grin turned to a snarl, "But I suppose you asked him about my mom. I suppose you asked him to tell you about all the nasty little secrets he knew."
She shook her head even harder, " No! The rest of what I said, those things about your parents, Dobby didn't tell me anything like that. I sort of pieced the rest of
it together from things I've seen and things you've said."
He considered her, eyes narrowing, " How?"
" Well, like the time fourth year at the Quidditch World Cup." She told him nervously, " Your mom just sat there the entire time drinking, she didn't say one word
and she looked so angry. I think she was a bitah, tipsy before the night was over."
Tipsy? Hell, she'd been smashed, he remembered with a jolt. His mom and definitely been pissed that night. He thought it might have had something to do with
the whole Death Eater stunt his father pulled but he was never really clear on what about it she hadn't liked.
" And your father's just plain scary. Andandthe other night when you were delirious, you said something about him not liking you. You said he didn't think
you were good enough to be his son." She said it all very quickly, her fingers clenching in her robes with nervous tension, " I guess that was really rotten of me,
using something you said while you were sick against you."
He had said that? He stared off into the middle distance. He had never admitted that out loud. Not even to Pansy.
" Whywhy do you feel like that?" Granger ventured, predictably, " Does he really hit you?"
Oh right, lets have a freaking bonding session.
It was on his lips to snap 'none of your business' but that was as good as admitting it, " No." he said simply, coldly, " We just don't get along much."
" Oh." She said awkwardly and then seemed to gather herself up, " Well you don't have to worry. I'm not a gossip. I won't tell anyone anything I've heard."
" Not if you like breathing, you won't." he growled.
" Are we back to this again?" her voice rose in shrill annoyance, "Stop threatening me, jungle boy, we both know you don't mean it."
He glowered, keeping his face turned away from her and hurried on ahead.
They stopped for lunch in early afternoon, settling in a little sloping hollow of tree roots that hid them from view. The forest was dark and quiet, the foliage thick
and pressing in around them. The somber mood seemed to dampen their spirits, making them both unusually subdued. Granger sat quietly but Draco found he
couldn't stay still. His muscles ached, as always, but a restless, nervous energy had taken him and he had little appetite. He spent their break stalking around
their little resting place, not liking that he couldn't see their surroundings from the bottom of the hollow.
The ground was dark under his feet, so rich it was almost black and squelching wet. The air was heavy, laden with moisture. It seemed that overnight the woods
had gone from forest to jungle. Darker, thicker, wetter. The canopy was so heavy it was impossible in most places to find even a small patch of sky, almost like
being underground. Buried alive. Trapped.
Were they ever going to get out?
Something caught his eyes.
A stray beam of light, a weak ray that had somehow managed to penetrate the thick overhang, though he couldn't imagine how, struck something lying half
buried in the dirt.
He squinted, wandering over curiously to investigate. Suspicion niggled in the back of his mind but he swiped it away quickly. Crouching down, he brushed the

leaves away from the thing. His fingers touched it, the smooth even planes of it and in answer his heart lurched into his throat, skipping a beat before
hammering into double-time.
Noway
Hands suddenly shaking, he swept off the dirt to reveal the entire thing and then he choked because now there was no denying it. He tried to speak, to yell for
Granger, but all that came out was a strangled sound. His tongue felt thick and leaden in his mouth.
Frantically he snatched up the object and stumbled back towards the oblivious girl, falling at the hollow's edge and kneeling at the top of the slope.
" G..Granger!" he managed to croak, not bothering to get up.
She looked up, saw his blanched face and shot to her feet, "What? What is it?"
" Granger" he still couldn't seem to force out anything louder than a whisper, " Come herelook" He held the object out towards her.
Her brow furrowed and she scrambled, half crawling, up the slope, the crumbling dirt covering her hands and knees. She froze when she realized what he held,
her hand flying to her mouth as she knelt there in front of him. It took her a moment to speak, "Where?" she managed.
" Right over there." He pointed to where he'd found it, "Right there."
She reached out with trembling fingers, tears welling up in her eyes to pour soundlessly down her dirty face. She took the empty Bertie Bott's Every Flavor
Bean's box, running her fingers of the letters, bringing it to her nose to smell.
" Its real. Oh Merlin, its real." Her voice was shaking.
" People." He managed to choke, something inside him squeezing tighter and tighter until it threatened to burst him apart with it intensity, "Wizards."
" Oh my gosh oh my gosh." Her eyes were dazed as they turned to him, " We made itWeweOH MY GOSH!" suddenly she was on her feet and
screaming, shrieking at the top of her lungs and jumping up and down, " WE DID IT! WE'RE THERE! WE FOUND IT!"
And he was standing screaming back, " WE MADE IT! WE FUCKING MADE IT! OH HELL YEAH! TAKE THAT MOTHER NATURE, YOU DIRTY BITCH!"
" OH MY GOSH!" Granger shrieked and flung her arms around his neck, laughing and crying and he was so ecstatic all he could do was grab her and hold on
tight, swinging her around in his arms, howling with joy.
Urgency burst through the excitement, through both of them. He swung her back onto her feet, grabbed her hand and they started running. A mad, wild blind
dash for civilization along the borders of the Tangle Trees, the vines waving hurriedly at them as they past as if urging them on. They didn't seem to tire, they
couldn't feel the aching in their feet or the burning in their legs. None of it mattered, they were flying.
And then they burst through the underbrush, yelping as they were blinded by the blazing intensity of the afternoon sun, Draco letting out another whoop of joy as
he shielded his eyes.
" LOOK!" Granger shrieked.
Draco blinked the glare from his eyes. To their left the Tangle Trees abruptly veered South in an uneven line and ahead of them was an open brush field, behind
it a huge dry lakebed, the dirt sun-baked gold and cracked in a web-like pattern all the way across.
Past the lakebed, three hundred feet in front of them was a low, crooked wooden fence and a large, well-kept, two story cabin.
" A cabin. A cabin!" She squealed, doing a spin and a little dance.
" No time for that, woman, lets go!"
She grabbed his hand again and they bounded through the field and leapt into the dry lakebed.
" Home, home, home!" Granger shrieked and he had no idea where she had gotten the air to speak, " Soft beds and clean clothes and hot water and FOOD!"
" And homework!" he quipped in a squealing girl's voice.
" Andwhat? SHUT UP!" she tried to hit him and he dodged, laughing.
" Oh come on, girly, I know how you are! The thought of homework makes you all orgasmic." He ran a circle around her, laughing when she nearly tripped trying
to keep up with him.
" OH! Pervert! What about you, jungle boy? I don't even want to think about the reunion between you and your broomstick!" she made a disgusted face and a
rude gesture that had him tripping with laughter.
" Ouch!" he winced, pleased with her quick comeback.
" Exactly!" She laughed.
" Oh nasty!"
" HEY LOOK!" she shrieked suddenly, her arm flying up, nearly smacking him in the head and sending him falling flat on his back as she pointed across the
lakebed.
He turned quickly, head snapping around, a jolt going through him as he saw the figure of a man coming around the corner of the cabin.
" It's a person!" Granger screamed in delight.
The man looked up at her shriek and stopped walking when he saw them. Then he moved over to the low wooden fence and stood watching them.
" HI!" Granger shouted, waving so hard her arm might have flown off.
The man stood staring. They must have been quite a sight, two filthy, starved, black robed kids streaking from the forest like hell itself was on their heels.
Draco stumbled, nearly tripping as the ground gave a bit beneath his feet. He caught himself, flailing slightly and kept running. His foot came down and the
ground gave again, this time about an inch and wetness swamped his foot. He looked down in surprise and saw that the soil was softer here, he was leaving
footprints that were slowly filling with water.
" Hey!" Granger yelped and he saw she was discovering the same phenomenon.