I am thrilled at how many people are fav-ing and adding this story to their alerts! :) That makes me happy. But what would make me even happier (and really, what gives me the most incentive to keep going) is if folks tell me what they think! I need to hear it! :) So please review, and above all, ENJOY! (Oh, and I've changed the rating because things are going to get rough and scary.)
I heard her following me. Fine. My hands still stung—however invisibly—with the bites of several snakes. I rolled my eyes as I passed between the gray trees, the pine needles crunching beneath my feet. I should have let her get filled with venom and die. Except, she probably couldn't actually die, so she would have just screamed into my concentration as I tried to find a way out. Yes, it was better that I pulled her out of there. She was quieter. That's what I told myself. I rubbed my hands and grimaced. My hands still hurt, though.
"Do you recognize this door?" she said from right behind me.
"Do you constantly ask questions?" I sighed.
"How else can I learn anything?"
"I dunno—maybe by listening for once in your life," I shot back.
"I'm trying to listen," she said. "To your answer."
"No, I don't recognize the door."
"I think I do," she said. I jerked to a stop and looked at her. She walked past me, her gaze fixed on the door.
She did not answer. Her footsteps slowed as she approached the door, and she stretched out her hand and grasped the doorknob.
"How do you recognize it?" I asked. She said nothing, just stood there.
"Oh, I see—as soon as I ask a question, you stop talking. I suppose—"
She turned the knob. Bright morning light spilled out through the gap. I flinched and held up a hand to shield my eyes. Hermione drew in a slow breath.
"It is…" she whispered, pushed the door aside and stepped into…
"Granger?" I frowned, then followed her. I was instantly hit with a fresh, floral smell. I had to blink to get my eyes to adjust. Hermione now stood at the foot of a quilt-covered bed. The walls were white, there was a tall paned window with a seat to the left, hung with purple patterned curtains. Straight ahead hung a huge bulletin board covered with pictures, newspaper clippings and flowery notes. Beside that, on the window wall, hung framed pictures of pansies and other flowers. On the floor, following the wall about thigh-high, stood bookshelves absolutely packed with books—but very neat. In the far corner, atop another pile of books, sat a little stuffed animal. The room was littered with all sorts of other girlie odds-and-ends: lamps and boxes and knick-knacks. I frowned at the pictures. They creeped me out—they didn't move.
Hermione hurried across the carpet, took hold of the little stuffed animal and pulled it to her chest. When she turned around, a surprised smile flashed across her face.
"This is my room!"
I panicked. I spun around, snatched at the doorknob I had just shut, yanked the door open to dive back through—
And blundered right into a dozen hanging dresses.
"What the—did we come in through your closet?" I cried, batting at the dresses and turning back around. She gaped at me.
"I don't have parasites or the plague or anything Malfoy," she cried.
"I know that," I growled, unable to keep the uneasy expression from my face. "It's just…" I waved my hand at the bed. "I'm in a…"
"What?" She lifted her chin. "A Muggle's room?"
I took my hand off the doorknob and straightened.
"No," I said. "A girl's room."
Her eyebrows shot up, her mouth worked for a moment, and then she laughed at me.
"Oh! Well…ha," she shook her head, but the smile didn't go away.
"What?" I objected, blushing.
"Nothing, I…" she paused, and her face grew more serious. She frowned at her walls. "How did we get here? I'm fairly sure I wasn't thinking about my room…"
"Well, it isn't the way out, and now the forest has turned into a closet," I gestured back at it. Hermione gazed at her wardrobe, then gave it a thoughtful look. She stepped toward it and passed me—I got out of her way. She cocked her head and touched one of her dresses.
"Like the door to Narnia," she murmured. My mouth fell open.
"Granger, how in blazesdo you know about—"
"Sweetheart? The tea's ready!"
I jumped. Hermione turned to face the opposite door.
"Mum?" she yelped.
"Mum!" she gasped, tossed the stuffed animal down on the bed and raced to the door.
"Granger, this isn't…Granger, don't be a fool—" I tried, then hurried after her. The next moment, I found myself in a tiny sitting room—sparse walls, a cloth couch in front of a strange box with a moving, talking picture on the front of it; another chair, a piano—
And two people standing up, on the other side of the couch. One was a thin, fair-haired man with a sweater-vest and pale trousers. The other was a plainly-dressed, dark haired woman, who had her arms wrapped tight around Hermione.
"Mum!" Hermione said again, squeezing her eyes shut and pressing her face against the woman's sweater.
"Sweetheart, what's wrong?" the woman cried, laughing, but her pretty face showed concern. I stood there by the piano, feeling more awkward than I ever have. The man—Hermione's father—caught sight of me.
"Who's this?" he asked. Hermione turned her head but did not let go of her mum.
"Oh, this is…um, this is Draco Malfoy. From school."
"Draco Malfoy?" her mum repeated, looking at her, then her dark eyes met mine. "The boy who called you that name—"
Hermione cleared her throat, then gave me a strange look. I swallowed.
"Mr. Malfoy," the Muggle man stepped toward me, smoothing his consternation with a half-smile. "Pleasure to meet you." He stuck out his hand to me. I shot a trapped glance at Hermione, then raised my head and gripped his hand for an instant, then let it go. I resisted the urge to wipe my palm off on my trouser leg. Hermione glared at me.
"What are you doing home?" Mrs. Granger asked her, backing up and taking her by the shoulders.
"Well, I…we…" Hermione looked at me again, and now I saw a change in her eyes. I wanted to roll mine. She had already forgotten where we were…
"We got sort of…lost," she tried. "And we were looking for—"
The front door blew in.
The concussion shook my bones. Glass rained into the sitting room. I jumped back five feet. Hermione and her mum screamed, and threw their arms around each other. Mr. Granger grabbed them. My heart leaped into my throat.
Outside, day turned to night like the flip of a switch. The door toppled onto the floor. The remaining glass in the panes shattered.
"Get down!" Mr. Granger commanded, throwing his wife and daughter to the floor. I dove behind the end of the couch, slapping my hand to my pocket—
I swore. Idiot—I didn't have my wand.
"Draco—" Hermione gasped—her head was only a foot from mine. I couldn't see her for the darkness.
"Shut up!" I ordered. I twisted, sat up, then peeked over the top of the couch.
Lightning burst outside. Thunder rolled. And two figures stood silhouetted in the doorway.
Recognition flashed through me. My heart surged. Even on a Muggle threshold, in a house far too meager for their presence, I knew these people.
My father, and my Aunt Bellatrix Lestrange.
A hand grabbed mine.
"Who is it?" Hermione hissed from her hiding place on the floor. I did not answer, and pulled my hand out of her grasp. I braced my feet underneath me so I could stand up and greet them—
"Lumos." My father waved his wand. White light illuminated the room. My father's visage, hard and cool, turned to face Mr. Granger. I smirked. What a contrast. There stood a bumbling, shivering, magic-less, skinny peasant, in front of my father, with his long white hair, magnificent flowing black cloak and ice-blue eyes.
Aunt Bellatrix snaked in behind him, cocking her wild head to one side, twirling her wand in her right hand.
"Come on, Lucius," she said lightly. "Let's get on with it."
My father only minutely raised his eyebrow, then addressed a trembling Mr. Granger.
"Where is your daughter?"
Hermione's hand found me again—encircled my ankle. Her fingers were cold. The smile faltered on my face.
"Who wants to know?" Mr. Granger said through his teeth.
"Two Death Eaters," my father replied. "That ought to give you enough information."
Bellatrix snorted as she laughed.
"Your daughter is Hermione Granger," my father purred. "Hand her over to us, and your life, and the life of your wife, will be spared."
Mr. Granger closed his hands into fists.
"Would you hand over your only child?"
Slowly, my father canted his head. My eyes went wide, and my breath stopped.
"It depends on who was asking," my father replied. "And in this situation, it most certainly does."
I sank back to the floor, my vision blurring.
"It doesn't matter to me," Mr. Granger answered. "I'm not letting you have her."
I felt Hermione's hand on my ankle start to shake.
"Very well—I was only being gracious," my father said. He raised his wand. Hermione let go of my ankle.
"Daddy!" she cried, clawing her way out of her mother's grasp.
"Hermione, no!" her mother cried.
"Daddy, I'll go!" she scrambled to her feet. Her face was white, her eyes desperate. She threw herself toward my father. Her shins hit the couch. "Stop! Please, stop!"
My gaze flew to my father. But it was like he didn't see her—like she wasn't even there. His eyes were fixed on Mr. Granger.
"Stop!" Hermione howled.
I threw myself onto my back as green light exploded through the room. Aunt Bellatrix let out a ringing cackle. A heavy body thudded to the floor.
"NO!" Hermione's wail ripped the air. Mrs. Granger let out a wrenching cry and flung herself toward her toppled husband. Bellatrix's wand flashed.
"Avada kadavra!" she bellowed. Mrs. Granger stiffened, then crashed to the floor atop her husband, her eyes blank.
Now, Hermione's shriek carried no words—it was like she was being torn apart. She threw herself down beside her fallen parents, rending howls shaking her whole body. My father laughed at her. Bellatrix could not contain her glee. I felt sick.
"Granger," I mumbled, trying to get my frozen lips to work. "Granger, it's not…"
"Mum!" she wept, completely broken, smoothing her mother's hair away from her face, then taking hold of her still shoulders. "Mum, look at me. Mum, come on!"
I was going to be sick. I bent over, my face twisted, then I clamped my jaws shut. I looked up at my father.
Now my father saw her. He leveled his wand at her head.
"Get up, Mudblood."
Hermione kept pleading with her dead mother. Bellatrix stepped around my father and took a fistful of Hermione's hair.
"He said get up!" She yanked on Hermione's hair, forcing her to stand. Hermione, tears streaking down her cheeks, slapped Bellatrix in the face.
"Why you—" Bellatrix gasped. Hermione kicked her knee with all her force. Bellatrix yelled and released her.
"How dare you?" My father shoved his wand into his cane, lunged forward and grabbed Hermione around the throat with his left hand, then slammed her back into the wall, sending pictures tumbling to the floor. Then, he struck her across the face. Blood ran down her lip.
I shot to my feet. I didn't know what I was going to do, or even why. I just knew that this was too nonsensical to be real.
Bellatrix and Father spun around to see me, but Father kept his hand on Hermione's throat. She tried to claw him loose.
"Draco?" my father asked quietly, his brow furrowing. "What are you doing here?"
"I…I'm actually…" I cleared my throat, feeling like a dunce saying this to my father's face. I shrugged. "I'm in the Room of Requirement. At Hogwarts."
My father stared at me a moment, then both he and Bellatrix glanced at each other and chuckled.
"The mudblood must have put a memory charm on him, poor boy," my father laughed. But my comment had the effect I wanted. Hermione's face changed. Just slightly, but it was enough. For half a second, she remembered.
The whole room wobbled. My father let go of her. She tumbled to the carpet. All light extinguished.
For just an instant, everything was totally black, and quiet. I blinked several times…
Then, soft light lifted the darkness. I found myself standing at the edge of the whispering barley field, a late afternoon sun beaming slantwise across the sky.
A long, choked sob rang through the silence. I glanced around. Just fifteen feet in front of me, Hermione knelt, her arms wrapped around herself, her forehead pressed to the ground. She sucked in a jagged breath, then wrung out deep, wailing cries. She collapsed onto her side, curled up in a ball and covered her face.
I gazed past her, into the forest. I let out a long sigh, but it shook. My eyes found Hermione again. She had gone quiet. And now the wind was the only one that spoke—softly, wordlessly, as it moved through the barley.
Agony gripped me so hard I couldn't even breathe. It was worse than the poison of the snakes, for that pain had faded, and this one built with every sob that pulled through my body like a sword drawn back out of a stab wound.
As if it came from somewhere far away, I heard someone step toward me through the brittle grass. I tried to open my eyes, but scalding tears filled my eyes and blurred my vision. My consciousness flickered. I wanted nothing more but to lose it.
"That wasn't real, you know." It was Draco's voice. Quiet, but cold. I didn't answer.
"Look, there's no sense crying about it," his voice grew louder, more callous. "We're in the Room of Requirement—none of this is real. Why can't you remember that?"
I grabbed several stalks of barley and ripped them up by the roots, scrambled to my feet and threw them down with all my might.
"Because it was real, Malfoy," I raged, barely able to control my voice. "It is real."
"No it isn't!" he insisted, holding his hands out to his sides. "Look where we are! We're in the middle of a field! Those Muggles are fine."
"Muggles?" I repeated, fury building until my vision turned red. "Muggles? They were my parents!"
"No, they were illusions of your parents," he barked, stomping toward me, his blue eyes burning into me. Blue eyes exactly like his father's. "Just like they were illusions of my father and aunt. It's all some stupid concoction the room made up. None of that happened."
"But it could," I said back. He stopped. Confusion crossed his fair brow.
"Just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it never will," I told him. He blinked.
"That doesn't make sense."
"Why not?" I swiped at my face. "There isn't a day goes by that I don't worry about my parents, that I don't pray they stay out of mess—that I don't dread the idea of Death Eaters breaking down my door and murdering them because of me." Fresh tears spilled down my cheeks. He shook his head, like I was speaking another language.
"Nobody would waste their time killing your Muggle parents," he said, like I was being dense. "That's how I remembered where we were. My father would never kill them once you had surrendered yourself."
"Oh, no?" I shot back. "Why not?"
"Because he isn't like that!" Draco insisted.
"He's like Voldemort!" I roared. "At least he wants to be. Muggles are nothing to Death Eaters—they're like bugs to be crushed. You and your father have made that more than clear, ever since I met you."
"My father isn't unreasonable," Draco said, but his breathing got faster when I spoke Voldemort's name. He took a short breath. "If you would surrender yourself, Father would leave your parents alone."
He blinked, then twitched away.
"Bellatrix is mad," he murmured. "Everyone knows that."
"And what's to stop her from killing unarmed people if she wanted to?" I demanded.
"My father would!" Draco shouted.
"Why?" I shouted back. "He doesn't care—he would probably think it was fun."
Draco lunged at me and grabbed my shoulders, then shook me so hard I bit my lip.
"My father is a noble man, a warrior, and he has more honor than that, you pompous, dirty-blooded little rat," he snarled. His hands crushed my shoulders. His nose was inches from mine. A strand of white hair fell across his angry brow and touched the bridge of his nose, just between those icy, burning blue eyes. Blood trickled down my chin.
"What?" I gritted. "Are you going to hit me, too?"
His expression cleared. His hands loosened until he just held me there with almost no pressure.
"You're so selfish," I whispered, hot tears beginning. I knocked his hands away from me and backed up. "Do you even stop to think before you hurt people?"
He fell away from me, his face stark and pale. I swiped at my eyes again, then wiped my mouth on my sleeve.
"I'm getting out of here," I decided. "I don't care what is in that forest, or what enchantment this is or what it makes me see—I am getting out of this room right now." With that, I turned on my heel, clenched my fists, and marched right back onto that path, determined that nothing would make me leave it this time.
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