4. Charlotte's Web, E.B. White

"…when your stomach is empty and your mind is full, it's always hard to sleep."

July 20th

Many miles away from Malfoy Manor, nestled in a tranquil, little suburb right outside of London, a two-story home was built around seventeen years ago. It was mostly white, with a brown-shingled roof and a red door that stood snugly in between a pair of white pillars that held up the porch roof. On either side were rectangular windows, with more on the second floor. The wall in the front was lined with a neat little row of hedges, and the backyard was ringed with meticulously-cut baby-evergreens that would never grow over ten feet.

There was nothing really special about this house, nothing to suggest that one of its occupants were any different from you or me. The neighbors could tell you one or two stories about a bench getting stuck in a tree nearby, or the neighborhood stray being suddenly "replaced" by a white doe, or even a snowy owl or small, brown one soaring through the air and landing in a tree near the white house. But there were few, like any other neighborhood.

Presently, a Barn Owl that could now be seen quite often near the white house was swooping towards this house, its golden-white back gleaming in the afternoon sun. The window to one room on the top floor was open, and the owl flew in gracefully, landing on the desk that sat underneath.

And sitting on a chair, in front of that desk, was a young woman, with a mane of thick, curly brown hair, pale skin (possibly acquired from hours in an isolated, quiet corner of a library) and bright brown eyes.

"Hello, Artemis," the girl said with a toothy grin. "You're back a bit early, aren't you? Draco rushed to get you out of the house?"

The owl let out a soft hoot as it dropped a slip of parchment from its beak and held out its leg, around which an envelope was tied.

The girl took the envelope for the bird's leg and opened it, while the dropped slip of parchment lay to rest on her carpet, for the moment unnoticed.

She read the letter out loud.

"Dear M,

I'm sorry about this, but I can't continue to write to you anymore. Thank you for all the books; I'm enjoying reading them. And thanks for a nice start to my summer. You gave me something to look forward to every once in a while.

Again, I'm sorry I've got to stop. But would you do the favor of telling me who you are when we get back to Hogwarts?

-Draco"

M's eye's narrowed as she read it to herself. His letters were never this blunt and stiffly polite. They were conversational, and had once made her laugh, even.

"That's very strange, don't you think?" she asked her bird. "But this just won't do, will it? He must know I won't be giving up on him," she said, tucking the note in the drawer of her desk, nestled beside three others covered with the same crunched, slanted handwriting as the letter she had just received. She would reply to his mysterious letter later.

"Hey, what's this?" she said, taking notice of the piece of parchment her owl, Artemis had dropped.

She picked it up and scanned it slowly to herself, then again, faster, and then again, even faster, her eyes widening with every word.

"Where'd you get this, girl?" she asked her owl. Because surely there was no way that Draco would've sent this to her on his own. Her heart stuttered as she passed over "Would he be able to find her? I don't really want that to happen, though…"

Which is silly, she thought as she shook the thoughts from her head. He would not have been writing this if he knew it was me. To him I am M, not…

Her thoughts trailed off as another thought entered her head. The Order. What should she do, then? The Order would find this information useful. She needed to give this note to them.

But when do I say when they ask me how I got this? Do I tell them that I have been writing to Draco—even gave him a birthday gift—since the beginning of the summer? He is the enemy, M thought bitterly. I shouldn't have started this at all, she added. Now look what I've gotten myself into.

But there was something about this correspondence with Draco, something that sent adrenaline through her veins every time a new letter came, even though she was sitting down.

This was not meant to happen. The original plan was to send him the gift anonymously. But then he wrote back, and she could not help but write back as well. What spurred that? Was it how sincere he sounded in the letter? The thrill of having a secret correspondence? How she could have a real conversation with him and and no hear him shouting insults at her every five seconds?

I am officially an idiot. The biggest bloody moron the wizarding world has ever seen. Brightest witch of her age my arse! The brightest witch of her age wouldn't have gotten her into this miss, she thought miserably, sitting down and pressing the heels of her hands into her jaw and her palms into her cheeks.

Artemis let out a cheerful hoot, and it was so contrary to her despondent feelings that M couldn't help but reach out a hand to pet her loyal bird.

~YIC~

There were two more days until Lucius Malfoy would be back in the Malfoy home, and Lord Voldemort would reside in Malfoy Manor. Draco Malfoy was presently lounging against one of the sofas in the living room while his mother bustled about the house, screaming at house elves, testing dishes to be preserved for a dinner in two days' time, ordering another piece of furniture to be scrubbed again or just getting rid of nervous energy by pacing around the manor.

Draco was attempting to look calm and careless, but it was very hard, because of the fact that he had not told his mother about the accident with M yet. And he was not planning to.

The Slytherin had decided the night before that whatever his mother did not know could not possibly hurt her; plus keeping the accident to himself would ensure his safety from a nice hiding. He figured that he was a good enough Occlumency that he could at least keep that little piece of information away from the Dark Lord, if not the letters from M.

For he knew that if the Dark Lord knew about the letters, he would get punished by humiliation or by a more subtle form like a dangerous task. But if the Dark Lord found out about the piece of parchment, then his family would be severely punished with extreme torture or death.

The only thing that kept him sane after yesterday's incident, it seemed, was reading. He finished the Hobbit earlier that day. Reading kept his mind off other matters; something that nothing else—even flying—was able to do now. The book was pretty good, he guessed, though, like the books before it the author had a pretty bad understanding of magic. Then again, they were muggles, so how could they be expected to know anything about magic?

The one thing that really bothered him about the book, though, was Gollum. He was a creepy little character, and if Draco thought about him too much he would end up shuddering and feeling sick to his stomach.

He wondered if Gollum was supposed to be a manifestation of all things wrong with the world. Greed. Secrecy. Pain. Trickery. He could practically hear the little monster's voice in his head… "My precious… my precious…"

The blond was jolted out of his thoughts by his mother, of course.

"Draco, if you're not doing anything, could you please help the house elves clear out the cobwebs in the library?" his mother said. "You are much taller than me."

"There aren't any cobwebs up there, mother," Draco reminded her gently. "You just cleared them out two hours ago."

"Haha," Narcissa tittered, flashing a nervous, almost delirious smile. "Haha, quite right dear, I think I may be losing my mind…"

Wouldn't be the first time, Draco thought to himself, allowing himself a small smile and ray of light to filter through his deep lake of dubious and annoying thoughts.

~YIC~

That night was cold for summer, as if nature itself knew of Draco's blunder. He sat in his bed, the silk not doing anything to keep him warm. That in turn did nothing to help him to sleep, and all night Draco tossed and turned, uncomfortable in body and mind.

Why they hell didn't I eat dinner tonight? Draco cursed at himself, feeling an annoying pang in his stomach. He turned from his back to his side, hoping that maybe that the new position would help him to sleep. There was one thing he was grateful for, though. His mother was so distracted by his father's homecoming that she had not paid much attention to him. If she had, she surely would have noticed something was up with Draco. His mother was an annoyingly observant woman.

But no, she was too busy cleaning up the already flawless house to notice his absence of appetite—despite the fact that he was near-starving, Draco just couldn't manage to shove the food down his throat—or how unfocused he had been all day or the distracted tone in his voice that even he had caught onto and had tried to hide in vain.

Two more days, Draco, he thought to himself. Two more days until Father comes home, and the Dark Lord makes Malfoy Manor his—Draco shuddered—his home.

Why the hell did life have to be so damn hard? "Couldn't you make something easy for me for once?" Draco whispered furiously to no one in particular, which just made him angrier. There was no one, no one at all, who would listen to him.

M would've listened, he found himself thinking. She probably would have listened to anything I needed to say, and wouldn't have asked any questions. She just seemed like the kind of girl who did things like that.

No, bad Draco! he scolded himself. Forget her. She's not a part of your life anymore. You ended any contact with her. She's done.

Oh, but how wrong he was.

A tap from the windowsill.

Draco's head snapped up from his pillow, eyes wide. An owl. Her owl. Artemis.

"No no no no," Draco whispered to himself repeatedly. I told her not to reply. I told her I didn't want to talk to her anymore. Oh, you idiot, you didn't say that you didn't want her to reply to that particular note! After all, when someone says goodbye to you, you always answer goodbye back, don't you? Wait—maybe it's not Artemis.

But as he walked slowly towards the window, he could tell this was not true. The barn owl, its speckled-white feathers gleaming in the moonlight, stood at the sill, a package tied to her leg.

No! Damn it ALL!

Draco receded back to his bed, hoping that maybe if he ignored her, the bird would fly back to her owner and M would give up. Yes, that was the best thing to do.

He climbed under the silk blankets and lay his head down on the pillow. There. Now that blasted bird would see he went back to sleep and leave him be.

But Artemis was a determined owl, as she had shown him before. So she pecked madly at the window, and for a moment Draco thought she would drill a hole through his window.

"Alright, alright, just shut up!" Draco whispered furiously, creeping back up to the windowsill. Artemis was quiet, and Draco took advantage of the moment to check that his mother had not woken up or stirred at all in the next room.

He sighed in relief. Everything was quiet.

He turned back to the sill just in time to see Artemis lean forward to peck at the glass again.

"No!" he said, pulling open the window before her beak could hit the pane. "Come in, then," Draco said nervously, moving off to the side to let Artemis step inside.

She did so cautiously, perhaps sensing the Slytherin's anxiety, and hopped over to his desk with a flutter of wings that Draco was sure would wake his mother.

"Would it kill you to be quiet as you moved?" he said irritably to the bird. Artemis responded with a cheery chirp that was quickly silenced with Draco's palm.

He pulled out the letter and sliced open the envelope.

Dear Draco,

I am sorry that you feel that way, but I am not one to let things go. I'm glad I've made an impact you and I plan on continuing doing so. Subsequently, don't count on me stopping any letters anytime soon. Eventually I won't need to tell you my name; hopefully you'll figure it out.

Please enjoy this next book,

Yours in Correspondence,

-M

It seemed as if she had only gotten the letter; the scrap of parchment had not made it through. Artemis must have dropped it on the way to her house, he thought giddily. He breathed in, and suddenly the air tasted so much sweeter. He would no longer need to worry about M finding that paper!

But what if she dropped it on some other wizard's head? Draco thought to himself inevitably.

Couldn't've just let me feel happy for once? His other side thought angrily. I was fine for what, five seconds?

It's true. You don't know who has that information now.

Draco shook his head clear of the negative thoughts. This was supposed to be a happy, triumphant moment. And it would be. The information he had written down on the little piece of parchment was gone, now, and it could've very well be at the bottom of some lake instead of another wizard's hands.

Little did he know that it was in neither of these places; of course, it lay across his four letters in M's desk drawer.

He opened the package to find a book titled Charlotte's Web by a man—or at least he assumed it was a man, since only men used two initials and a last name for pseudonyms—named E.B. White. There was a young girl with reddish brown hair on the cover, holding a pig and surrounded by many other farm animals, all of which were looking up at a spider web whose thread made the title.

It was a short little thing, filled with inked illustrations. This is a children's book, Draco realized, which almost made him not want to read it. But the lure of the muggle book was too tempting, and eventually he decided not reading it would be worse than the alternative.

One last try, Draco, he thought to himself as he sat down on his desk. Despite how excited he felt at the prospect of the new book and the fact that M had not read the little piece of parchment, he had to remember that he still couldn't continue to write to the mysterious girl. Maybe it was luck that she was too stubborn for her own good and insisted on sending him another book. But he had to end it, once and for all.

Dear M,

I don't think you understand. I can't continue writing to you. I thank you for the books, I really do, but I really can't keep this up. I hope you understand. Thank you again for the books.

-Draco

(P.S., please don't reply again.)

There, that should do it. Or, at least, he hoped. He couldn't afford to have any more contact with M; for the sake of his family, his life—everything. He hoped she would understand.

Draco felt a strange ache in his heart as he watched Artemis fly away. But he pushed the feeling away; there were more important matters at hand.

~YIC~

Today was the day. He wasn't sure when; all he knew that it was the day.

His father was coming home that day. Coming home to his family, back to the Manor he barely had to work for; the wife he never had to fall in love with; the son he didn't bother to support.

Draco wasn't sure what he should have been expected. A dramatic entrance, filled with dark, mysterious flourishes? Or would it be more subtle? A knock on the door and a group of Deatheaters in cloaks? Or maybe they would fly in, landing on the balcony… Or maybe it would be just a simple apparition, his father putting down the wards for them and allowing them to appear into the parlor. What to expect from a man who was nearly not even a man?

It seemed the Lord Voldemort wasn't one for dramatic entrances when it came to returning one of his failed Deatheaters back to their home.

Narcissa and Draco were in the parlor room when it happened. The room where Artemis had flown in so many times, carrying one of her packages or a letter from M.

Naricssa was sitting up against one of the stiff couches, trying to decide if drumming her fingernails onto the side table would be considered unladylike.

Draco sat opposite of her, reading a book—a wizarding one, of course. He was not stupid enough to read Charlotte's Web in front of the Dark Lord, his father, any Deatheater; or any one he knew, for that matter.

It was taking him an unusual amount of time to read this one. His mother had him running around the house, making adjustments to the silver on the mantle or the direction the head of the table in the dining room was facing. Finally, about an hour ago, his mother had made her final decision and let Draco rest.

Of course that just might have been because she did not want Lord Voldemort walking in while she and her son were doing housekeeping.

Then, there was a knock at the door.

Three raps of the silver knocker that changed Draco's life.

~YIC~

Lord Voldemort did not stay for dinner. Which was expected, of course. Draco could not picture the Dark Lord sitting at their dining room table eating roast pig with the rest of them.

He said he had other business to attend to, which was fine with Draco. For the most part, the Dark Lord had ignored him. So the Slytherin had stood in the corner, observing carefully.

He watched as his parents greeted each other formally, and though Lucius's hardened gaze seemed true, it made Draco sick to see his mother's crazed want behind her obedient, proper Deatheater mask. Her devotion to his father was maddening, sometimes, to Draco, as he knew his father didn't return those feelings by half.

And he would bet that his mother knew that, too, which made him feel even sicker.

There were only three Deatheaters that had accompanied Lord Voldemort to Malfoy Manor that day: Wormtail, Aunt Bella, and Snape. All were invited for dinner, but only Snape accepted. But that was normal.

The minute the Dark Lord and his little party of Deatheaters exited the house, Draco suffered through the sight of his mother flinging himself at his father, sobbing uncontrollably, while Lucius awkwardly held on to his wife. Just because he wasn't in love with Narcissa didn't mean he felt nothing towards her.

As his parents continued their one-sided reunion, Snape pulled him aside; or, at least, farther aside than he had been before.

"What have you been getting up to over the summer, Draco?" he asked.

Draco swallowed. Did Snape know about his letters to M? No, that was impossible! Unless his mother wrote about it to him… No, his mother wouldn't do that. Would she?

"Nothing much, Severus," he said, trying to keep his face still and his voice even. This was not the time to panic; not when his godfather seemed so especially close to the Dark Lord.

Snape looked at him for a moment, and for a second Draco thought the man was pondering whether or not to invade his mind. But then he blinked, and the worry was gone, replaced by the uplifting feeling of relief.

"You can't get into trouble right now, Draco," Snape said. "This is vital for your parents and yourself. You screw this up, and you will pay dearly." his breath seemed to catch in his throat, as if he wasn't supposed to say something.

"Screw what up?" Draco asked, brow furrowed. It certainly would be important if Snape had tried to avoid saying it in the first place.

"Just keep your nose down, and be a good little boy," his godfather hissed. "This summer means more than you know."


A/N:

It's here! I apologize DEEPLY for the horrifyingly long wait, and I really truly hope you enjoyed this chapter.

Now, I'm sorry if I offend anyone my saying this, but you've got to have shit for brains if you haven't guessed who M is by now. Pardon my language.

Do you want me to tell you a secret? I only have six more chapter planned for this story. On the bright side, I am COMPLETELY finished writing the ending, so as soon as I get that penultimate chapter done, I'll be ready with the last to keep you guys from waiting. I've got it all planned out in my head now.

Thanks so much for putting up with my evil little hiatus that may or may not have driven you insane.

Again, hope you enjoyed this chapter, and thanks BUNCHES for all of the brilliant reviews you guys have given to me! They mean so much! Oh, and if you did know already, I've started a blog!: realmweaver - fanfiction . blogspot . com (without the spaces, of course) So just in case you are feeling like exploding because I haven't updated in a month, I probably will have posted a reason why on it.

So peace out for now, and I promise I'll punch out this next chapte P!

Yours ever,
~Weaver