***Okay…new chapter! Sorry that this took so long. I was blocked for about a week, then I was on vacation (not that that really is an excuse seeing as how I have a laptop), and then ffnet was broken. Anyhoo, I've decided to make my epilogue just a last chapter. So ignore all that epi. crap that I've been mentioning. The next chapter with be the LAST chapter. It is official. :-)
****Thank you to everyone who has reviewed. I appreciate it so much. And a special thanks to Kenzie who always defends me very vigorously against all criticism. :-)
It was a bad time. He stood in the hospital wing with Potter, and Weasley. Their wounds paled in comparison to hers. There were several tense moments, and whispered worries from behind the curtain. And then, to add to their fears, Dumbledore came into the hospital wing with something that none of the boys had ever seen in Hogwarts; a specialist from St. Mungo's.
Draco had felt sick, well, sicker than he already did at any rate. And Potter seemed to see this for he turned to the Slytherin.
"She'll be all right," he told Draco softly.
Weasley nodded in agreement and Draco felt strangely comforted. Not that he would ever admit it to anyone, but he decided then that there were worse wizards on the Earth and as much as he disliked then, Potter and Weasley weren't quite so bad. And he had to give Hermione credit, she might have a pair of idiots for friends, but few could have held their own against a couple of Death Eaters.
The tension in the room was becoming almost palpable by the time the Headmaster finally pulled back the curtain and slipped out. For a moment there was no twinkle in his blue eyes and Draco decided that he didn't want to hear it. He would rather stay forever in the Hospital wing outside of the curtain that separated the two of them rather than find out she was gone.
"She's going to be fine."
Dumbledore's voice stilled all of these thoughts in Draco's mind. He noticed then that Weasley was paler than he had ever seen him and that Potter's hands had been so tightly clenched together that his knuckles were white and a crimson tinge, that might have been blood had Draco gotten a closer look, marred his palms.
"It was rather close there as you can imagine," The Headmaster continued, "it wasn't Cruciatus, although the lingering effects of that curse can plague a body for days, but rather the damage done to her skull was, as Madame Pomfrey put it, most severe."
The curtain was pulled open again and the wizard from St. Mungo's walked out. He nodded at Professor Dumbledore, "Albus, if there's nothing else I must be on my way. I've left instructions with Madame Pomfrey, bandages won't be necessary as long as she continues with the Claustrium charm on every half hour for the next twelve hours."
"You have my deepest thanks Tyler, please give my regards to Betta and the girls." The Headmaster gripped the doctor's hands and smiled.
Madame Pomfrey pulled open Hermione's curtain again, leaving it agape, and the boys were able to see her for the first time since the Headmaster had taken the girl from them in Hogsmeade. She was terribly pale, her dark hair fringing a pallid face. There was no trace of the blood that had stained her skin earlier that evening. She was no longer wearing her school robes but a white hospital gown that made her seem even frailer. But Draco, in his relief, never thought she had looked better.
After the specialist left, the Headmaster turned back to the boys, "Poppy, I do believe that Misters Potter, Weasley, and Malfoy will be needing your attention as well."
"Of course Headmaster," She said as she went to Ron first, his obviously broken arm the most noticeable injury.
"And you Mr. Malfoy," Dumbledore took Draco's arm and led him to a bed near Hermione's, "you will be needing your rest I imagine."
Draco leaned against the bed, not wanting to sleep, but finding the softness against him overwhelming.
"Once we are all as we should be," the Headmaster said softly, "I believe that you and Ms. Granger have some very interesting news for me. There are many things that need to be explained, but there will be time enough for that later." Professor Dumbledore glanced down the hospital wing to where a closed door was at the far end.
Draco knew what was beyond that door; he knew what was in that room. For Draco had been watching when that half-giant had brought in the body of Lucius. But he had been to worried about Hermione to think much of it and as he had laid back onto the hospital bed, he found that he would much rather put thinking about it off just a little while longer. At least until the next morning when the sun was up, the sky bright, and the cold emptiness of his father's dead eyes not so chilling.
The morning was radiant and clear. Draco was pleased to wake up before the two Gryffindor boys that were there. He looked quickly to Hermione, but she hadn't moved at all. Her eyes were still squeezed tightly shut and her body still lay curled on its side. With the light of the new day, Draco could see a dark bruise marking her otherwise pale cheek. He felt white- hot rage as he looked at Lucius' handiwork. And then a nervous flutter of tension as he thought about what might have happened if he hadn't gotten there in time.
"She's not awake yet?"
Caught off guard, Draco spun back on his bed to glare at Potter who was sitting up, scratching his head sleepily, in the bed next to his.
"Actually Potter, she's already been up. Ran down to the library to catch up on the homework that she didn't get to do last night and just popped back in a moment or two ago for a little nap." Draco told him sourly.
"Was' going on?" Another voice mumbled as Weasley, farther on down the hall, pushed his blanket back.
"Malfoy is just trying his hand as a comedian," Potter said to his friend.
"Not going over to well with the audience is he?" Weasley asked as he looked at Potter's annoyed face.
The door to Madame Pomfrey's office opened and the nurse marched past them to Hermione's bedside. She held her wand at the base of Hermione's head and said a spell. She then turned to check on the boys.
"Well you are all looking a might better I dare say." She said kindly as she checked Ron's repaired arm. "I think that you two might even be able to pop on down to the Great Hall for breakfast if you hurry."
Weasley practically flew out of his bed. But then he stopped and looked at Hermione, "Couldn't we stay until she wakes up?"
Potter nodded in agreement as he stumbled out of his own bed and began pulling his school robes on top of his hospital gown.
"What, and have you two under foot all afternoon?" The nurse pulled a curtain around the boys so that Potter and Weasley could get dressed.
"But why does he get to stay?" Weasley complained shoving the curtain aside and motioning at Draco who was still sitting in bed.
"Because he is suffering from a severe level of exhaustion and I don't trust him to get any decent rest down there in that dungeon of theirs. Too wet and drafty, no good at all." She then forcibly headed them towards the door.
Draco for his part put on a pained expression and yawned deeply as the nurse mentioned his many ailments. But as soon as Madame Pomfrey had her back turned, he winked slyly at the departing boys.
Potter opened his mouth to say something nasty to Draco but the nurse gripped his shoulder in what was most likely a very tight pinch seeing as how Potter blanched and then slouched from the room in silence, Weasley in tow.
Draco settled back comfortably, a victorious smile spread wide across his face. But once the heavy door had closed behind the departing Gryffindors, Madame Pomfrey turned to Draco with a gaze that could freeze brimstone.
"Don't get too cocky Mr. Malfoy." She told him sternly as she approached with a potion of dreamless sleep.
"I really don't think that's…" Draco tried to counter as the nurse grabbed his chin.
Madame Pomfrey snorted as she forced the cool drink into his mouth. "There now," she said in a gentle, if somewhat patronizing voice, "that's better now isn't it?"
Draco glared at her smiling face. She obviously was unimpressed by his lineage. He wasn't able to become very annoyed over this however. The draught was already working its will and Draco was yet again fighting against his body's desire for sleep. With a grumble of defeat he settled back down and the nurse bustled away. And he gazed back over at Hermione.
Draco angrily pushed his food around on his plate, his fork scraping the bottom of the china. He seemed to be the subject of interest for most of his fellow students. It didn't help that no one really seemed to know what had happened. Not the other students, not the Headmaster, not Potter or Weasley, Draco himself was even unsure of the events of the night before last.
He looked up from his half eaten lunch as Crabbe and Goyle settled into their usual seats on either side of him. They looked about to say something but both stopped. What could they say really? His father was dead, that much they must know, but reports that he had been helping Potter and Weasley were held in high disbelief by most of the students in Hogwarts.
Draco looked down the length of the table, taking in the other Slytherins. Unlike the rest of the rowdy students, many of the Slytherins were somber and quiet. He looked at the seat across from him, and not surprisingly, Pansy wasn't there.
The Gryffindor table was just as raucous as they normally were, even with Weasley and Potter absent. Draco hadn't seen them since yesterday morning in the Hospital Wing. Whether they had snuck back in with the invisibility cloak like he had expected, he didn't know. The dreamless sleep potion had rendered him completely comatose for the rest of the evening.
And just as the wonder boys had been forced from the Hospital Wing yesterday, Draco had met with the same exile when he had awoken that morning. While Hermione slept on unknowing.
Draco stood up abruptly, startling Crabbe and Goyle who were still trying to think of something to start a prying conversation with, and strode from the Slytherin table. His steps were certain and his expression calmly sardonic as he strode out of the dining hall. He stopped abruptly once the doors had closed behind him though.
At the foot of one staircase were Potter, Weasley, and Weasley's sister. They appeared to be arguing, the two Weasleys especially. As Draco watched, he saw Potter becoming less involved with the fray. Weasley grabbed his sister's shoulder as the heated exchange escalated. The girl had suddenly spied Draco over the shoulder of her brother and he decided then that he wasn't really in the mood for a scene so he turned to head down to the dungeons. But he stopped when he saw the young girl hit her brother's shoulder, forcing him to withdraw the controlling hand that he had placed on her.
"Malfoy," she called and sprinted towards him. She looked him up and down when she reached him, sizing him up.
"Was there something you wanted?" He asked almost nicely, not really having anything against the girl other than the fact that she was another Gryffindor Weasley.
The girl bit her lip and looked back at her brother and Potter who were both wearing very guarded expressions. "She's awake," she said finally in a tumble of words. "I…I just thought that you should know."
Draco nodded his thanks silently, he spared a moment to glare at Potter and Weasley, mentally taking back any thought that they might be somewhat all right, before turning and heading to the hospital wing.
"But I'm not hungry Madame Pomfrey."
"Nonsense! I will not have anyone starving in here as long as I'm in charge of the hospital wing!"
Draco stood just on the outside of the open door, unbelievably pleased to hear Hermione's voice, annoyed as it was at the moment.
"I am not starving! Ron brought me some toast earlier." Her voice was trying to achieve its normally bossy tone, but she was obviously still to weak to put much into it.
"Toast? That's not nutritious enough! Here, have some porridge dear."
Draco grimaced as he remembered that very same goop that Madame Pomfrey had forced him to eat earlier that day before she had expelled him from the hospital wing. With a sense of anticipation, Draco stepped into the room.
"Really Granger, it's not that bad. Once you get past the color, texture, and taste, it's quite good."
Madame Pomfrey made an exasperated sound and stalked into her office. Hermione just stared up at him from where she lay on the bed; a look that Draco didn't really understand in her eyes.
"Draco," she said softly.
He stood in the doorway feeling very uncomfortable all of a sudden. "You're awake," he said stupidly.
Hermione looked down, "yes," she replied unnecessarily.
"That's good, everyone was worried." Draco was feeling more idiotic by the second.
Hermione smiled slightly and glanced at the table next to her bed, which, Draco had just noticed, was brimming over with assorted treats and stacks of books, "yes, I had gathered that."
"Gryffindor Tower strikes again," Draco muttered as he approached the table, but his words held no bite. "What, did they just grab half the Divination section?" He held up a book contemptuously and read, "Is It In The Cards? A Witches Guide to Romantic Entanglements," and then with even more disgust, "Palmistry of Love. You don't really read this stuff do you?" His voice was incredulous.
"No, of course not, Lavender and Parvarti must have sent those with Ron and Harry when they found out that I was awake." She smiled weakly and settled back against her pillow.
Draco looked at her, really looked at her, and felt guilty. It was his fault that she was in here after all. It was his fault that a dark bruise marred her pretty face. It was his fault that her skin was alabaster wrapped in cotton. He had never seen her so pale. Hermione was always warm and brown in his mind, not wraithlike and colorless.
"What is it?" She asked anxiously.
He almost flinched, when had it become so easy to read him? "I was just wondering why you didn't have Madame Pomfrey remove that bruise."
"Oh," she flushed and Draco was pleased to see some color in her cheeks. "I just thought that, well it would be silly to have her magic it off. It wouldn't change things, at least this way I've got something to show. Does that sound strange?"
"I don't think so," He replied seriously, marveling once again over the girl in the bed.
He continued to study her and she looked away from him shyly. A thought seemed to occur to her because she began to chew her lower lip, a sure sign that something was on her mind.
"Your father," she started but then paused nervously. "He is dead, isn't he?"
Draco nodded, hating his father more than he ever had. He wondered if what had happened in Hogsmeade would haunt her always. Would she always be afraid of him? Would seeing him always make her think of Lucius? But her next words completely shocked him.
"I'm so sorry." Hermione said shakily as an escaped tear fled down her cheek.
"Sorry?" Draco moved quickly to her side and looked down at her imploringly. "Why are you sorry?"
Hermione sniffled, "because your father is dead."
Draco almost laughed. His muffled snort did serve to draw her out of her tears though, "Hermione, he tried to kill you. He got what he deserved." He cupped her cheek and made her look at him. "Do you understand? I'm not sorry that he's dead." And with these words he leaned closer to her and brushed his lips against her forehead. She whimpered against him and he pulled back quickly. "Did I hurt you?"
Draco noticed for the first time that her eyes were unchanged. Her eyes were that same light brown that he had become so accustomed to. He wanted to pick her up, collect her into his arms and spin her around for still being the same girl inside despite her appearance. But the Malfoy side of him assured him that not only would this be an improper course of action, but that she was also still too sore to appreciate it. So not wanting to incur the wrath of Madame Pomfrey were she to find him practically on the bed with Hermione; Draco turned and pulled a chair over to her bedside and settled himself into it. They didn't speak for a few minutes as he sat and looked at her.
"Draco," she said suddenly, "did you kill him?"
"I don't think so," he replied truthfully.
"Then was it O'Leary's spell?" She asked with interest.
"That's what we're going to talk about." Said a voice from the doorway.
Draco and Hermione both looked up at the new voice. The Headmaster was beaming at them from a few steps away. Draco hated it when he sneaked up on them. The old coot must have silence charms on every single part of his body.
"How are you feeling Ms. Granger? Better, I hope?" He asked kindly as he came to stand next to them.
Hermione nodded without speaking. She was studying the Headmaster with deep interest.
"I believe that the best place to start would be for the two of you to tell me about your intriguing discovery." The Headmaster prompted amiably as he summoned a chair for himself.
Draco looked to Hermione, who nodded at him, before he started to recount the story of their work. While he found himself reveling in revealing such information to the obviously impressed Headmaster, part of him hated it. He was giving away himself, and her too. For what they had done in their room belonged to them, was them, and Draco hated sharing it.
When Draco had finally finished the Headmaster was nodding, a small, triumphant gleam in his eyes.
"Yes, yes, I had suspected as much." Professor Dumbledore stood and wandered aimlessly about deep in thought. He stopped and looked back at them, "I have long been interested in the Knights of Aequitus, they had intrigued me. They were noble men fighting a dark enemy. And they eventually were triumphant, but the means that they used to achieve their goals ended up being as gruesome as that of their adversary. And with the rise of Voldemort, their struggle seemed even more pertinent."
"History repeats," Hermione said simply.
"I truly hope that we never have to stoop to such levels." The Headmaster said quietly.
Draco noticed that the Dumbledore hadn't said that they wouldn't though.
"When I came across a few essays written by O'Leary, I thought that they might be of some use so I acquisitioned the entire collection for the school."
"You knew," Hermione said slowly as realization fully struck. "You knew it was there, the spell."
"Yes, I knew of rumors that told of a spell that could block the killing curse or," Dumbledore paused, "return it."
"You mean that it just sent his own curse flying back him?" Draco asked.
"So it would seem. An inquiry from the ministry has already started. Several aurors were dispatched to the house where your father had been using as a waypoint in Hogsmeade. They were only able to find the residue of one killing curse, not two." The Headmaster stopped to offer Hermione a piece of candy.
Draco digested this piece of information slowly. He hadn't killed Lucius, not really. But the ministry had started an inquiry and Draco knew enough of the wizarding legal system to fully understand what that might mean for him.
"How much trouble should I expect?" Draco asked simply.
Hermione looked up in surprise, "trouble, why should you be in any trouble?" She glanced at Dumbledore who was studying Draco very closely. "Headmaster, he can't get into any trouble, it was Lucius who cast the curse that killed him. Draco was protecting me. He didn't, he didn't do anything wrong. Please Professor Dumbledore," Hermione's voice was becoming quite panicked as the elderly wizard simply looked at Draco.
Dumbledore finally turned his gaze to hers and smiled, "don't worry Ms. Granger, I have no intention of letting the ministry anywhere near either of you."
He turned the smile towards Draco and for the very first time, Draco felt that he might understand where all of Hermione's admiration for their Headmaster might come from.
"Now I must ask of you both to closely guard what you know." Dumbledore turned to Hermione as she opened her mouth to argue and said, "I have little doubt that this knowledge will soon become known to Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley, if it isn't already," here he gave Draco a penetrating glance. "And I'm sure that it will also manage to trickle out to various relations such as certain wayward Godfather's, but I ask you to tell only who you must. This is very valuable information that the two of you possess. Do you understand?"
Draco and Hermione both nodded silently, under the deep gaze of their Headmaster, there seemed to be nothing else to say. At the moment, surprise was there best defense against Voldemort. And having some of his superlative spells suddenly become useless would certainly be advantageous to the side of Potter and his friends.
The Headmaster put a small candy in his mouth and then smiled at Hermione. "My dear Ms. Granger, I had almost forgotten, you're parents should be arriving here in a few hours."
"What?" Hermione gasped in surprise, "but they're supposed to be in Ireland, attending a conference."
"Once they were notified of the incident, they decided to cut their trip short." The Headmaster paused for a moment as if knowing that what he was going to say would upset the young woman. "I am under the impression that they intend to take you home with them."
Draco's eyes widened, school was almost over, that was true, but he had anticipated spending the last week or so with Hermione. He hadn't ever thought how her parents might react to all of this. Neither, apparently, had Hermione.
"But…but Headmaster, what about exams?" Her voice quavered dangerously, "what about OWLs?"
Dumbledore chuckled, "I do not think that they intend to pull you out of school child. I believe that they just want to make sure that you are properly cared for. I know that no nurse has ever tended a wound better than a mother. And as for your finals, I have spoken with all of your professors; they have all agreed that other arrangements can be made. As far as OWLs are concerned, there is a make up exam offered in early June."
Hermione still looked on the verge of bursting into tears, but she took a few steadying breaths and calmed down. "Thank you Professor." She said softly.
"No Ms. Granger, thanks belong to you, to both of you." The elderly wizard stood up then and headed towards the door.
A question that had bothering Draco for a day suddenly came to mind, "Headmaster?" Draco asked as he stood as well. "How did you know that we were in Hogsmeade?"
Hermione watched interestedly as Professor Dumbledore turned back to them.
"That is a very good question Mr. Malfoy." His blue eyes twinkled, "Ms. Parkinson was waiting for me when I returned early from my own conference. She was quite distraught when I found her, apparently she had been misled by your father."
Draco laughed derisively, "that little bint? She knew what she was doing."
"I don't think so Mr. Malfoy." The Headmaster's eyes were steady; "she wouldn't be the first to fall victim to Lucius Malfoy's administrations. I think that she is fairly innocent in the harm caused to Ms. Granger, and I have always regarded myself as a fairly good judge of character." He turned then and strode out the door, leaving the two alone.
"Good judge of character?" Draco laughed sarcastically as the door closed behind the headmaster. "That from the man who hired Lockhart."
Hermione laughed, and Draco turned back to look at her. "So you're leaving." He said simply.
"I guess so," she replied evenly as she studied the blanket covering her.
"That'll be nice, to get to go home early," he said non-convincingly as he slouched back into his chair.
"Yeah, I suppose," she replied equally unsure. "Draco," she stopped and bit her lip.
"What about us?" She asked without looking up, her face beginning to redden.
"What about us?" Draco snapped back sharply. He hated questions like these. Not only because he wasn't fully sure of what she was asking of him but also because he didn't know if he knew any answers.
She looked up glaring at his tone, "is this all done then? When I come back in the fall, will everything be as it was between us?"
Draco almost grinned in relief. He knew the answer to this question. "You obviously know very little about Malfoys, Granger." Draco said and took her hand in his. "We never let go of something that belongs to us."
Hermione let his words sink in for a moment. "You know Malfoy, it's a good thing that I find you somewhat charming or I might have just slapped you for that."
Draco leaned across the bed and gently kissed her. His lips hardly touching her and yet he felt all the passion underneath it. He leaned back and smirked superiorly at her.
"You think I'm charming."
"Oh shut up," but Hermione was grinning.
"Well, I did tell you that I'm the most charming bloke in the school."
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