**Okay, chapter 29…Woo-Hoo! Okay, I think I can safely say that there will be one more chapter after this, and then a small epilogue. Seriously…I know that the number of chapters has changed a lot, but truly…the end is in sight. Not entirely though since a sequel is already in the works. (
**** This is just a little side note from my weekend. I was at Disney with my beta reader, Vegeta. And I had hinted about a future conversation in my fic, but I didn't think he was being appreciative enough, so I wouldn't tell him. So he says to me (very gruffly)… "Woman! I bought you a soda, and found that t-shirt that you've been wanting for three weeks, now tell me about your damn fic!" It was just a very Vegeta-esque statement (for those of you familiar with the anime Dragon Ball Z). And I just thought that was amusing. (
As Hermione awoke, she was instantly aware of one thing, something was very wrong. She moaned softly as a slicing pain erupted from the back of her head. There was a low chuckle.
"I'm glad to see that you've finally woken up Ms. Granger, I was almost afraid that I had killed you." A silky voice filled with mirth sounded from very close by.
Hermione's eyes shot open and with a surprising burst of adrenalin she got to her feet and lurched backwards. But her panicked strength couldn't withstand the white-hot agony that flooded her head at the sudden movement. Her vision was clouded by pain. Hermione stumbled into the wall behind her and slid back down to the floor with a whimper of barely containable pain.
There was another chuckle, "I would suggest that you try not to over exert yourself, that's quite an injury you have. And there's no need for you to suffer needlessly child."
Hermione opened hers eyes again, taking the time you survey her surroundings for the first time. She was in fairly small room. Not a dungeon or a cell like she would have imagined, but rather, an old fashioned sitting room. Not far from her there was a warm fire in a hearth. The wood-paneled floor was mostly hidden by a faded rug. The walls were covered in a shabby paper that might once have portrayed yellow flowers. On the far side of the room was a door, the only exit, as the windows seemed to have been boarded up in the not too distant past. The nails that held the shutters closed looked rather new and shiny. Near the door was a hall tree. Hanging from one of its many arms was her very own cloak. She felt an intense hysterical need to giggle, but fought against it.
The only other occupant that the room contained was Lucius Malfoy who was sitting in a comfortable looking high-backed chair, a small table to his right where Hermione could see a crystal cut decanter holding some deep golden liquid. Next to the bottle was her wand. He watched her with amusement, a matching glass held loosely in his hand. The older Malfoy was ever so slightly twirling the snifter, the amber liquid swirling hypnotically about.
"I don't suppose you'd like a drink?" He asked, almost kindly, as he followed her gaze.
His tone made it seem as if she was nothing more than a guest who was showing deplorable manners. Hermione shivered, this benevolence was far more frightening than any thing she had ever experienced.
"My son has a good eye, I'll give him that much." Lucius sipped his drink while his eyes swept Hermione up and down. "I wouldn't call you beautiful, but I can see how some might find you endearing."
Hermione looked away from him with a shudder, as he continued to size her up.
"Now while I've never approved of interactions with mudbloods of any kind, there are some among us who find that they have a taste for such commonness. While I might not have approved, I wouldn't have been ashamed of my son had he sought you out simply as a way to teach those Gryffindors a lesson." Lucius set his glass down on the table and removed his wand from his robe. "But you and I both know that that is not the case with Draco."
Hermione slouched further against the wall, wishing desperately that she could simply fade into the cracks. She watched him twirl the wand carelessly in his fingers just as he had the glass, almost as if he had all the time in the world.
"But no, that is certainly not the case," he repeated again the smile fading from his face. "I'm afraid that my son has become rather infatuated with you, thankfully I believe that it won't cause him reputable harm if it is put to a stop quickly. It will take him a while to undo the shame that he has caused to me and to our Lord, but in due time I believe that he can make his amends."
Hermione's pale face broke into a glare, "he didn't want anything to do with your Lord long before me." She hissed.
The smile was completely gone from Lucius' face now. His gray eyes that once Hermione would have thought similar to Draco's were nearly black with rage. He leisurely raised his wand.
"Crucio" He whispered.
Hermione had never felt anything like it in her life. All she knew was pain, every inch of her body, every fiber of being ached with excruciating hurt. She bit her lip without even realizing that she was fighting a scream. Tremors racked her body and her head bounced against the wall behind her. A shot of slicing stars emanated from the blow and she slumped to the ground thankfully unconscious.
Something cool, and yet burning filled her mouth. With a splutter she swallowed and then shot to full awareness as the sting of alcohol permeated her throat.
"I thought that might do the trick," Lucius held her chin with disdain. "I hope it wasn't something I said, I always worry about my conversation skills." A wicked smirk clouded his features and distantly Hermione was pleased to know that a smirking Draco did not resemble a smirking Lucius.
She jerked her jaw out of his grasp and glared at him, ignoring the stinging pain in her head, "I wouldn't be worried about your people skills if I was you. Headmaster Dumbledore knows everything that goes on at Hogwarts, do you think that you can just kidnap a student and he wouldn't figure it out?"
Lucius stepped back from her, chuckling. "True, true, Dumbledore is a rather omnipotent nuisance. But luckily for us, he is being coincidently detained in Lyon, a conference on the state of muggle affairs. He won't be returning for at least another hour. And that, my dear," Lucius cupped her cheek and looked closely at her, "is plenty of time for us to finish with our meeting."
Hermione's lip trembled; there really was no hope. "Why don't you just go ahead and kill me then? Save the pleasantries for someone who doesn't know what you're capable of." Hermione's voice faltered on these words, she wished she could be stronger. "I'll bet you'll be greatly rewarded for killing one of Harry's allies." She said bravely.
Lucius chuckled and got to his feet, he strode back to his table and set the decanter down before turning to back to her. "Let me assure you, Ms. Granger, that your death has nothing to do with Harry Potter. Although I will admit that shaking the Potter boy's fragile existence will be an added perk."
Hermione could hardly believe her ears; she had always known that she was in danger by being Harry's friend. But to know that she was going to die for something that had nothing to do with him was almost laughable. She closed her eyes against the hopelessness of her situation. And then Lucius struck her.
"Keep your eyes open girl, your distasteful parentage is no excuse for bad manners." His voice was just as calm and casual as it had ever been.
She glared at him and found that she was overcome with the urge to do something very brave but also exceptionally stupid. Lucius recoiled from her as the bloody spit marred the hard perfection of his cheek.
"Mudblood bitch," he hissed, the cool demeanor slipping slightly as he pulled a white handkerchief from his robes and removed her slight from his face. But when he lowered it, his visage had once again returned to that of the amused host. His smile did not reach his eyes however. "And to think, my son is willing to turn his back on his heritage for a little urchin like you. But that will be remedied soon enough, I do understand that he has reached a period in his life where rebellion is par for the course."
"Draco has never wanted to be one of you." Hermione hissed, feeling the need to defend Draco's principles. "Do you think that just because you kill me that will change?" Her voice sounded defiant, but inside Hermione was quaking with much more than fear. It was becoming apparently harder to maintain any type of banter with the man who intended to kill her. Indeed, she was beginning to find it hard to keep her eyes open.
"My dear child, this really has very little to do with you. Draco must learn that such petty feelings, especially for something as expendable as you, are only a temporary pleasure. Real satisfaction can only be attained through power. Once your charming presence is removed from my son's life, I have little doubt that he will once again see things my way." Lucius told her snidely.
Hermione looked past Lucius to the diminutive table where her wand sat teasingly. If only she could reach it. But her head was pulsating and a few shudders were still shaking her body from the Cruciatus curse. And the table seemed so dishearteningly far away.
Lucius, as if reading her thoughts, looked back at her wand and then grinned cruelly at her. "Think you could get to it? Go ahead and try, I won't stop you."
She glared at him with the deepest hatred that she had ever felt and then suddenly tried to spring up. She might be about to die, but she wasn't going to just lie there on the ground at his feet while he did it. But despite Hermione's determination, her body was too weak to comply and her legs gave out before she reached the table. Falling to the ground, she lay collapsed on her side, the pain beginning to fade, which she found to be very odd. The effects of the Cruciatus curse were supposed to be agonizing for quite some time after the fact. But the ache in her joints seemed far away and dulled.
Lucius snorted in mirth when she fell. His laughter was cold and lacked any true pleasure as if amusing as he found her antics, this was all far beneath him.
Hermione felt, more than heard, him circle around her. His near silent footfalls making the old planks shift beneath his passing weight. She knew that she should be frightened, but Hermione was becoming so tired.
He crouched down in front of her finally. "I think," he said softly, "that's it's time to finish this." He stood up and Hermione knew that it was over.
He pointed his wand at her and Hermione couldn't even find the energy to stiffen for the killing curse. But before he could utter the spell there was a shout from somewhere outside the room and Lucius turned sharply towards the door.
"Now what?" He hissed angrily as he stalked out into the hall.
Hermione wanted to watch him, but her hair was in her eyes. She snaked a hand up to feebly brush it away. The sticky tendrils caught to her fingers and as she tried to push it back, she saw with nauseous horror that her fingers were red. The offending curls that were still clinging there were wet with her blood.
There was more shouting but Hermione didn't really notice until Lucius fell back into the room with Draco following. There was a scuffle between the two and Draco struck his father, sending the older man to his knees.
"Where is she?" He snarled as he grabbed the collar of Lucius' robes and lifted him off the floor before slamming him back down.
Lucius broke loose of Draco's grip and brought his wand up, casting the Cruciatus curse for the second time that night.
Hermione watched in terror as Draco fell to the ground in fit of seizures.
His eyes rolled back into his head showing the milk white. Hermione squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out his scream. Trying not to remember what it had felt like for her only a few minutes earlier.
And then Lucius let the spell go. His stance was once again casual; he straightened his robes, and brushed a lock of flaxen hair back to where it had originally lain. If it weren't for the two inert forms on the floor of the room, things would have looked perfectly normal.
"Draco, Draco, Draco," Lucius said with soft disapproval, "attacking an armed wizard with nothing but your fists. Have I taught you nothing?" Assuming his son to be in a Cruciatus stupor he turned his back on him and began to refill his glass.
"I think I've just been spending to much time with Weasley," Draco hissed as he launched himself at his father. He knocked the surprised older wizard to the floor. His blows were so intense he began to draw his father's blood.
Hermione watched from where she lay near the table, unable to call out. She felt tears prick at her eyes and a pained whimper sounded from deep in her chest.
Startled, Draco looked in her direction. He thoughtlessly dropped Lucius and sprung towards her, knocking the table out of the way, the decanter shattering; it's drink staining the floor.
She couldn't see him as her eyes started closing on their own volition but there was a delicate pressure as he lifted her gently, his arm supporting her back as he kneeled next to her.
"Hermione wake up." He whispered desperately. He ignored the body of Lucius as he titled her face towards him with his other hand. "Hermione please…" His voice started to shake as he noticed the blood on his hands.
Hermione's eyes fluttered open and she smiled wanly at him, "Draco…"
A hard voice drew their attention away from each other. Lucius had gotten to his feet. His wand pointed at them, the casual grip that he had used earlier was gone as he faced his son. Hermione felt Draco's arm tighten painfully around her but she was thankful for the pain, it stopped her from floating away.
"Draco, get away from that mudblood trash," Lucius growled, his icy demeanor gone.
Draco's wand was pointed at Lucius as well. His fingers leaving crimson stains on the wood. "Don't call her that."
Lucius broke into a lewd grin, and then an amused chuckle. "Seriously Draco, this little game is quickly beginning to lose it's thrill. I'm ending this now."
Draco tightened his grip and glared at Lucius, Hermione watched in fascinated horror as a muscle in Lucius' jaw twitched. There was more shouting from outside the room and Lucius risked a glance towards the door.
"I didn't come here alone." Draco said.
"Get away from her Draco, I won't tell you again." The veneer of coldness was cracking, as the shouting got closer, Lucius was looking extremely nervous.
"Go to hell," Draco hissed at his father.
"If this is how it must be," Lucius spared a moment to sound almost crestfallen before he cast the spell that Hermione had been expecting all evening. "Avada Kedavra"
"arma immeritus!" Draco cried instantly as if he had known that it was going to come to this.
Hermione saw the bolt of green light coming towards them, she saw the same shimmering cloud that Draco had seen only a few days before, she felt his arms tighten convulsively around her as he tried to shield her with himself. Then the green death struck and again, blackness overwhelmed her.
"Wake up," an urgent voice insisted in her ear and Hermione struggled back to consciousness.
She was still in Draco's arms, still in that old room, still alive. Draco gave a frantic sigh of relief and Hermione could tell that he was shaking, but she wasn't sure if it was from fear or from using the spell. She twisted in his arms then, finding strength that she thought had left her long ago. There, on the far side of the room, was the body of Lucius Malfoy. His eyes stared without seeing at a point above them. His wand lay inches from the tips of his fingers. And with an epiphany of thought that one wouldn't expect from someone who was so hurt, Hermione knew that he was dead.
Draco's hand cupped her cheek and he drew her attention back to him. His gray eyes were brimming with terrified worry. His skin was so pale, more ashen than she had ever seen it, even after the manticore had robbed him of so much blood.
"I'm sorry Hermione," his voice sounded so broken, "it's my fault, I should have known that Pansy…"
"Shh…" Hermione murmured gently. "Shh…" she repeated, unable to make her brain form the words that she needed to comfort him.
He pulled her closer to him and kissed her, his mouth terribly soft against her own. She wasn't able to kiss him back, only distantly revel in the fact that he was here and that he was kissing her again. His breath was warm and heavy against her cheek and Hermione almost smiled in pleasure. He pulled away from her mouth and knelt his head against her chest, almost seeking comfort. He shook even harder and Hermione hoped that he wasn't crying. It would break her heart to have her Slytherin be so wounded.
The ruckus from outside the room had died down. The door opened and hurried footsteps entered.
"Hermione? Malfoy?" The voices were ones that she knew and loved.
"Hermione!" Harry rushed to Draco's side with Ron right behind him.
Harry was bleeding from a cut at his temple and Ron was holding his arm carefully, but they appeared all right. Hermione wanted to greet them, to tell them thank you for coming for her, but the room was getting hazy again. She felt so lightheaded, so tired, so far away.
"Is she all right?" Weasley asked in a stricken tone.
"She's hurt, I have to get her back to Hogwarts," Draco replied, his voice shaking.
"Give her to me," Harry told him urgently.
"Sod off Potter!" Draco hissed determinedly.
"Perhaps, Misters Potter, Weasley, and Malfoy, I should take Ms. Granger to the hospital wing myself."
The three boys looked up in surprise, Ron and Harry both spinning with lightening reflexes, their wands at the ready. But even in her near stupor, Hermione could recognize the voice of their Headmaster.
Harry and Ron lowered their wands slowly, unsure of the Headmaster's presence, not trusting the miraculous appearance. But Draco seemed to realize almost as quickly as Hermione that this was indeed Albus Dumbledore. Draco sighed deeply, almost in defeat. Then the comforting arms of Draco seemed to be loosening and she cried against this, but she couldn't make a sound as she drifted further away. And as her eyes closed for the last time that night, she wondered distantly if she would wake up again.
**There will be another chapter! Please Read & Review!