The hazy world that materialized around Draco had the quality of a bad dream, foggy and gray. And yet, in the intricacy of its detail, the sharp stone walls and floor, the dank, wet aroma, it all felt very real. A slight inhale of breath next to him alerted him to Hermione's presence. Although moments before she had seemed so sure in her decision, exuding her typical confidence, her body language now betrayed her anxiety. Her thin shoulders moved up and down with her forceful gasps of air, and her expressive eyes showed a deeply rooted fear that seemed to have bubbled up from within her spine, seeping its way up into her copper eyes. Footsteps echoed off the stone wall. One step, then two, then three. Draco could hear the shuffle of a limp leg, followed by the pounding of a heavy footstep. The rhythmic noise continued for a few moments while Hermione and Draco stood entirely still.
"Granger where are-" Draco said after a moment, but his voice was interrupted by the appearance of a ragged, wounded looking Hermione from around one of the stone walls. She was hazy, much like the rest of the world, shadowy and surreal. Draco blinked for a moment, orienting himself to the vision of two Hermione's; One who was stronger, yet fearful, and the other who looked beaten and helpless. Draco felt Hermione's soft, warm hand on his shoulder, nudging him forward to follow her mirage. To keep up, they both had to sprint as they followed the limping woman down the narrowing, dimly lit halls.
"This is the Labyrinth," Hermione whispered softly beside Draco as they wound through the stone maze. "Our cell doors had just opened and I was trying to find an exit."
"And what does this have to do with me?" Draco said, confused as to why Hermione would choose this as a starting place for his own memories.
"You'll see soon," Hermione snapped. She was more focused on trying to calm herself than attend to Draco's arrogant sneering. Being back here, feeling the claustrophobia of the impenetrable stone walls, the suffocating shadows, Hermione could hardly breathe. When she had gone over this moment, of showing Draco his memories, she never anticipated feeling the effects of the Labyrinth again.
In the distance, the whispers of the Death Eaters echoed off the walls, but Hermione and Draco continued to follow her memory down the winding halls. Draco was entrapped by the scene around him, his own heart picking up in pace. Though he knew Hermione lived through this ordeal, he was still nervous as to what would happen next.
He watched with fascination as the memory of Hermione discovered she had hit a dead end, the footsteps of the Death Eaters banging ever louder behind her. Suddenly, a hand reached out a grasped her through the wall, pulling her through the seemingly hard stone. His eyes widened a fraction, and then Draco quickly dove after the image of Hermione through the wall, not wanting to miss a moment. Hermione slowly followed, reluctant to witness the moment Draco saw his depraved state for the first time.
From afar, it looked like two lovers caught in a moment of passion up against the wall. In reality, the image of Draco was whispering of his intention to kill her, and Hermione's eyes were fearfully looking at the man covering her body.
"Granger, if you don't stop making noise I swear I will kill you myself," Draco's image whispered. "Be absolutely still."
Draco was curiously inspecting the scene in front of him with a mixture of horror and fascination. Hermione's memory of him was nearly unrecognizable. The only feature that Draco recognized was his signature white-blonde hair, which was streaked with dried dark blood. He walked close to the images of himself and Hermione, listening to the whispers exchanged between them.
"You're...You're a prisoner," Hermione's memory sounded muffled, dulled by the surrounding haze. Draco took a step closer to hear his response, fearfully inspecting his ghost's emaciated body, and injuries.
"Yes well the Dark Lord doesn't take too kindly to blood traitors," His image snapped. "We should keep moving."
Blood traitor? Draco was stunned. And he was the one to suggest they continue on together? Draco's heart constricted in his chest under the sudden weight of his anger and he indignantly turned to the woman beside him.
"I am not a blood traitor! These are lies... I'm witnessing your lies," Draco spat out, anger boiling within. In a moment of irony, he cornered her body against the wall, a mirror image of what had just transpired between them in the memory.
"Draco, this is real. All of it. Please just keep watching, I promise it will all make sense soon." Hermione anxiously attempted to calm him. She placed her hand against his hard chest soothingly, and gently pushed him back a step, her glistening eyes never leaving his. "I know this is difficult, and… and it's okay to be angry. Just give this a chance," Hermione pleaded softly. Knowing his mental state was even more precarious than her own, Hermione watched him intently, looking for the moment when she needed to end their time in the Labyrinth.
Draco took a deep breath, giving her a curt nod before turning his back on her. Despite not trusting Granger, he knew this was his only chance to find out what had happened. His skull throbbed painfully as he tried to remember his own memory of this moment, of him whispering threats against Hermione's neck, but his attempts were futile. The more he tried to find these memories within, the more pained he felt.
"Why should I go anywhere with you?" Hermione's memory spat out, "What the hell is going on Malfoy. One minute I'm sitting in my cell, and the next you're pulling me through enchanted walls. And now you're asking me to follow you? I don't trust you."
Draco continued to watch the tense exchange between the two in the memory; He noted, in particular, the anger that flashed in his eyes when Hermione further accused him of being a Death Eater, and how he looked at her with pity as she tried to pick herself up off the Labyrinth floor. There was clearly no trust to be found, and yet, the pair still followed each other down the halls. The image of himself cringed angrily when Hermione accused him of being a Death Eater, struck him as a peculiar response, Draco noted. Shouldn't he be proud of that fact? But, as he looked at the condition of his image, the ragged clothing hanging off his thin frame, he knew that he was no longer a Death Eater within the Labyrinth.
As Hermione stood watching the scene, both what had happened, and Draco's new reactions, she could not help but feel hypocritical. Here, she had directly stated she did not trust him, just as Draco had upon his arrival to the Order. Hermione had not given him any real reason to trust her, other than the fact that she had memories of a time when he did place his faith in her. But, despite her not trusting Draco initially in the Labyrinth, she had followed eventually, Hermione thought begrudgingly. Perhaps there was still hope that Draco would trust her, as she had learned to trust him. She let out a small sigh, patience, Hermione. Draco's face was as usual, mostly unreadable. His eyes, though, were like that of a hawk, moving to follow every detail within the scene. The only emotion she could gauge were the brief flashes of confusion behind his light eyes and the furrowing of his brows.
Hermione allowed the memory to continue for a little while longer. She wanted Draco to fully understand the horrible, crippling silence, and to see the growing sense of fear both of them had felt as they lost themselves in the maze. There was a small part of Hermione that was glad Draco could experience these feelings, if only second-hand, so that she herself would have someone who could finally understand an inkling of what she had gone through.
Draco watched the pair intently as they walked through the dark halls. Surprisingly, they had managed to walk without bickering much. Though Draco did not really know what he had been thinking as he walked, he could see the tension in his body language; Draco knew he had been fearful. As they walked, the image of Hermione asked him few questions, largely regarding what little he knew about the Labyrinth and how it was managed.
When Hermione finally felt as though Draco had a good understanding of how their hours had passed, she thought of another moment on their walk, and the pair were suddenly enveloped in a different part of her memory.
"This is ineffective" Hermione had hissed, "Malfoy, we need a plan. We are going to walk ourselves to death..."
"And what do you suggest we do, Granger?" Malfoy growled, sounding just as frustrated as she was.
"I don't know but this isn't workin-"
"Brightest witch of our age? Laughable." Malfoy taunted.
Draco snickered at his taunt. "It's true, you know."
Hermione rolled her eyes in response, not giving him the satisfaction of her words. Suddenly a howl rang out through the Labyrinth walls. Though Hermione knew she was safe inside the Pensieve, her heart still stopped beating for a moment, and her hands grew cold and sweaty in response. Draco and Hermione chased after their images as they took off running, through the memory of the Labyrinth halls. When they came to the Limbo mist, Draco took note of the general cooperation between the pair, and the small moment when he had gently touched Hermione's back to keep her moving forward. It was almost too much for him to understand. Why was he helping her? Why had he chosen to save her through the Labyrinth wall? Though he was watching Hermione's memory, he had no idea what he had been thinking through all these moments, and it was driving him mad.
Draco watched as they finally passed through the Limbo mist and into a large hall, filled with doors.
"This is where they keep the prisoners," Hermione interjected into the memory, breaking Draco out of his thoughts. Her voice was small and weary; He could hear the sadness clinging around the edges of her words.
"Wait… Malfoy wait! We have to help them."
"I don't have to do anything. I owe them nothing, Granger," The memory of Draco sneered back.
After years of practice, Draco's cool facade and impassive face was coming back to haunt him. He could not gauge what he had been thinking in that moment. He saw brief flashes of vulnerability every so often, but he longed to read his mind, to know what thoughts were floating through his brain as he stalked away from Granger.
What he could see, however, was the inner workings of Hermione's mind. Her large, ever expressive eyes presented a clear window into her thoughts. The guilt seemed to swallow up her form, making her appear frailer than she had moments before.
"Maybe in your fantasy world you lead them all to safety, but I live in a world where it is every wizard for himself. You're not as brilliant as everyone thinks you are if you are seriously even considering this. You can stay and get yourself killed for all I care, but I value my life. Do you really think they would do the same for you?" The image of Draco bit out sharply.
Draco observed as the words left his mouth, of the conviction, and years of training in self-preservation in action. Watching the scene before him, he'd likely make the same decision now, he thought.
"You really are nothing but a coward Malfoy. They are innocent witches and wizards. How can you live with yourself?" Draco watched as the anger turned into a clear disgust on Hermione's face, as well as in her body language. In the memory, she had been nearly shaking with rage at the audacity and coldness of his words. That anger, however, quickly gave way to frustration. Hermione rubbed her temples, as though in pain under the weight of her decision. Fascinated, Draco took a step closer to Hermione's image and saw how her eyes dimmed the longer she processed the decision before her. Draco knew Hermione was not dumb, and he suspected that they had left the Labyrinth with no other prisoners, which meant Hermione had eventually drawn the same, cold, calculated conclusion that he had; Taking prisoners would be a death sentence for them.
But then, from the frustration, curiosity washed over Hermione's features. Her brows furrowed and she stared hard at Draco's back.
"Malfoy," Hermione called after him, curiosity evident in her voice, "Why did you save me?"
Draco waited eagerly for his answer, as he could not see his reaction to Hermione's question. He had been thinking the same thing as he watched the memory. He had no reason to save her, and yet he had pulled her through the wall. That was very unlike him.
"If you want to make it out of here alive, I suggest we move quickly. Your stupidity is going to get us both killed."
Draco paused, displeased that he did not have an answer to his question; why had he saved her? As he went to turn towards Hermione of the real world, to further ask about this particular memory, he paused, seeing the fear etched into her eyes.
Though Hermione knew what was coming next, the scream of the lone prisoner reverberated through her ears, and once again stabbed her soul like a knife. She closed her eyes, shaking her head, trying to steady her breathing but the gasps would not stop. The regret of leaving the others behind flooded her, just as sharply as it had the first time. She was drowning in the sound of a single scream, gasping for air at the memory alone.
I can't do this anymore, Hermione thought to herself as she watched the memory of the Labyrinth cloud around her. The pain of what she had done, of the people she had left… This has to end. Now.
The room around them swirled in a cloud of gray fog, and when Draco's vision finally righted itself again, they were back in the cottage. Hermione's eyes were squeezed shut, and her breathing was audible, sharp gasps ripping from her throat. Draco took a step towards her so his toes nearly touched hers, and stared down at her shivering form.
"Why did you stop?" Draco arrogantly questioned, angry that the memory had been interrupted. It felt as though his consciousness had been ripped from him. Hermione's pause in the memory created a barrier against his own.
"I can't see anymore tonight," Hermione whispered painfully, her eyes downcast, ashamed.
"Why not?" Draco demanded. After a moment of silence, Draco grasped Hermione's chin lightly and forced her eyes upwards to meet his. Hermione opened her mouth ungracefully and then shut it again quickly, unable to form the proper words. Physically she looked stronger than she had in the flashbacks, Draco noted. Her hair was lustrous once again, and her cheeks had a healthy glow, despite still being nothing more than bony, sharp edges. But, she looked mentally just as worn as in the Labyrinth, and less determined than when they had entered the Pensieve. The inquisitive gaze she usually looked at him with was nowhere to be seen, replaced by a solemn stare.
But, despite Hermione's deteriorated state, there was a need in him to see more, to experience his lost memories.
Draco sneered, "I have a right to see this." Draco narrowed his eyes, analyzing her for another moment, her short breaths, her wide eyes. The Gryffindor courage was nowhere to be found. Noticing his hand was still resting under Hermione's chin, Draco quickly snatched it away, almost in disgust, and took a step back. "What are you so afraid of, Granger?"
Hermione rubbed her temples. "It's just more exhausting to be back there than I anticipated. What you are seeing is a sliver of what it was actually like to be trapped there. I just...I just don't wish to see any more for tonight." Hermione said, and though Draco could sense her honesty, he ignored it, his selfish nature roaring out in force. How could she possibly make him understand the regret for her actions? His heart was just as cold now as it had been in the memory.
"Granger, I don't particularly care how you feel. I demand you take me back! Unless…are you afraid I will see something? Something to prove you are a liar?" Draco challenged.
"What purpose do I have to lie to you?" Hermione snapped, taken aback by his arrogance and distrust of her. After all he had seen, he still was suspicious.
"To get me to stay here," Draco simply stated, realizing a moment too late how childish the words sounded.
Hermione rolled her eyes, "You're an insufferable, selfish arse."
"And you're just as weak as I thought," Draco sneered. Though the words he said were no harsher than things he had said in the past, the moment they fell upon Hermione's ears, he regretted it. Her face hardened, and her expressive eyes became blank, and stony.
Hermione turned to exit the room without another word to Draco.
"And what exactly would you like me to do now?" Draco called after her.
"Search around, go back to your room, run away... I really don't give a damn what you choose to do right now, Malfoy," Hermione said, never turning around to face him.
And with that, she walked down the stairs, leaving Draco alone to analyze what he had just said, Hermione's memories, and his actions towards the Gryffindor princess.
Balise's warning from earlier came back to him, and he let out a groan. Even if he managed to find a wand lying around in the house, and leave without anyone stopping him, who knew what was waiting for him out there. Blaise was right... he would die alone. Not the least of which, if Hermione's memories really were accurate, he was a blood traitor of some sorts. The thought bothered him less than he cared to admit, truthfully.
Becoming a Death Eater had not been his choice, at least, not entirely. He was supposed to kill Dumbledore. Had he done that? And what of his father? If Blaise was to be believed, why had Lucius turned on his only heir? There was no end to the number of questions Draco longed to ask, but Granger was not the person he wanted to let into the private workings of his brain. He didn't trust her, especially seeing as though these memories had not helped in the slightest. Now, Draco was just more confused, angrier, and his head was pounding with over-activity.
Taking a deep sigh, Draco trudged down the stairs to his tiny room, slamming the door behind him.
What Hermione needed after that travesty was a good cup of tea. And a shot of fire whiskey. Or a butter beer. Anything really.
She made her way down to the kitchen, hoping not to bump into anyone along the way. There was little will in her left to deal with people, no matter how much she may love them.
She began to prepare the water for her tea. Because her mind was elsewhere, she burned herself twice before accomplishing what she set out to. She had not anticipated it to be so difficult to review her memories. The scream of the prisoner had been too much of a burden on her mind. It awoke all the feelings of regret and guilt that she had spent the last few weeks trying to heal. Here she was, in a cozy cottage, relatively safe, while there were still people locked away, suffering under the rule of a madman.
And then there was Draco. Was he correct? Was she really weak? She certainly felt it. The old her would not even recognize these feelings of uncertainty. After all the work to get Draco into the Pensieve, he was still an unappreciative arse. Still demanding, still cruel… much like he was at the beginning of their trek through the Labyrinth. She had chosen to forget their first meeting, and how he treated her in favor of remembering their later memories, the warmth he brought to her, their comforting conversations as they aimlessly wandered through the maze.
Hermione thought over her words to him. Despite his insufferable nature, Hermione did feel guilty about her equally harsh words to him. She had just been so angry at her helplessness in the Labyrinth, that she had snapped. And just as she thought they were making progress...
"You've been gone for a while," A calming voice startled Hermione out of her deep thoughts. She jumped, causing a bit of hot water to spill on the wooden kitchen counter.
"Merlin Harry! You could have knocked before barging in here," Hermione gasped out.
"Yes... because knocking to enter the communal kitchen is customary," Harry said with a chuckle, ignoring Hermione's glare as he sat the table. "How'd it go?"
"It… oh it was shit. A total fucking mess honestly," Hermione let out a hysterical laugh, rubbing her temples for a moment. "It ended up in a screaming match. I didn't realize that I wouldn't be able to handle reliving the Labyrinth. But he was totally unappreciative of my memories."
"I never thought I'd stick up for Draco, but… you're judging each other on memories that you both don't have anymore," Harry sighed. "That's not to say he's not a bastard," He quickly added, "but you need to find new common ground."
Hermione thought for a moment before responding, "It's just hard. I'm impatient," Hermione huffed.
"You're beginning to sound like me," Harry smirked. "And Ron for that matter..."
"Oh Ronald," Hermione muttered. "Is he alright?"
"You know him... he's sulking but he will get over it. He's a hothead, but he really does love you, Hermione." Harry shrugged, trying not to take sides amongst his two best friends. It was best if they worked things out for themselves.
"I just don't think he's right for me. I've changed, and I've realized a lot about myself," Hermione tried to explain. "I need a challenge, something more..." She whispered, her cheeks turning slightly red. As she spoke the words, Draco's face floated into her thoughts; His soothing touch in the Labyrinth, his presence that made her feel safe even as they were surrounded by danger.
"You mean you need someone like Draco?" Harry asked curiously, observing Hermione's uncharacteristic blush.
"That's not what I said," Hermione huffed. Harry raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to speak, but before he got the chance Neville, Ginny, and George barged into the kitchen.
"Well, this is a sight I haven't seen in ages!" George excitedly said, slapping Harry on the back, and giving Hermione's shoulder a light squeeze. "What are we drinking?" He eyed Hermione's mug curiously, leaning down to take a sniff.
"Still boring," George yawned, pulling a flask out of his pocket. "Care to spice it up?" He winked, devilishly.
Hermione laughed, "I am not boring!"
"I mean," Neville interjected on her behalf, "She has a point, George. How could a boring person get into so much trouble?"
"Because she's friends with this lot," Harry chuckled, smiling at Hermione's scowl.
"Very funny," Hermione sarcastically quipped. "I will have you know that I don't need alcohol to have fun."
"But it helps," George replied.
"Oh lay off," Ginny came to her defense. "Hi Hermione!" She smiled excitedly.
Hermione smiled back, shaking her head slightly at her friend's enthusiasm. She did miss them something awful. While her reading was comforting and distracting, there was a large piece of her that she had not yet regained by avoiding her friends. As they were all laughing at another joke George was telling, Hermione was the only one who noticed Remus wearily enter the kitchen, looking pale and drained.
She watched as he walked over to the cauldron of hot water she had prepared, and quietly poured himself a cup of tea.
"Everything alright?" Hermione turned to him and asked. The state of his thin frame and his dreadful appearance made Hermione worried. The rest of the group turned to him, their prior exuberance giving way to melancholy.
"We followed another false lead, and were almost ambushed," Remus slowly stated. Ginny gasped slightly from beside her. "We are fine, but were it not for Arthur we would have fallen into a trap. We suspect they know we are looking for another Horcrux."
"Another Horcrux?" Hermione exclaimed in surprise. "I thought... It's not possible," She shook her head, looking at Remus to answer the questions pooling in her eyes. Remus walked over to the table and sat in the chair across from Hermione, taking a long sip of tea before continuing.
"We still don't know why Voldemort did not fall after the battle. We did everything right, we followed Dumbledore's instructions. Hell, Harry sacrificed himself," Remus said, exasperation bleeding into his voice. "The only thing we can think of is that we missed a Horcrux."
"Merlin's beard, you really think he made more than seven?" Hermione felt ill as she even spoke the words. To rip one's soul, even once, was detrimental to the whole. To rip a soul seven times, was entirely damaging. But to rip the soul eight times? That was a degree of madness so treacherous that Hermione could not comprehend it.
"Perhaps he knew that Dumbledore would eventually find Slughorn's lost memory in which he asked about splitting his soul seven times. Because the memory was not safe, he created an additional Horcrux. Even in his arrogance, he is cunning," Remus rapidly spoke, not thinking about the words before they flew from his mouth.
"Or," Hermione began brainstorming with Remus, "What if we interpreted the memory wrong all along. What if he never counted the soul in his own body as a piece, but instead wanted to make seven pieces outside of himself? It would make sense as to why when he inadvertently created the Horcrux in Harry, it nearly destroyed him."
"There are many possibilities Hermione, but right now we have nothing to go on." Remus was clearly frustrated, stretched as thin as a unicorn hair about to snap. This war had been going on far too long, with far too many casualties. "We have collectively started looking for the other Horcrux, but everything we have destroyed never ends up being an actual Horcrux. Voldemort is weak and in hiding, potentially hanging on to the only living piece of his soul left."
"So we have nothing?" Hermione surmised drearily, her hand reaching up to push a strand of hair out of her eyes.
Lupin stared at her for a long moment before shaking his head sadly.
"We have nothing," He confirmed, sullen, a man about to shatter under the weight of his stress.
Hermione looked around at the fearful, despondent faces of her loved ones. It was all too much. "Oh fuck it all," She yelled as she reached for the flask of fire whiskey George had placed on the table. She tipped her head back and swigged straight from the bottle.
Neville looked on in shock. Harry laughed, and George, well, he reached for the bottle and followed Hermione's lead.
The news was awful. There was little hope. And, if they were all to die, if there really was to be no happy ending to this fight, they could not spend their last moments together living in fear every second. Hermione giggled as she watched Neville hesitantly sniff at the bottle, his nose scrunching in disgust. Her worries about Draco and his memories, and the fight against the Dark Lord could wait until the morning. She would head to the library as soon as she woke up, she promised herself.
Tonight, they all had things they needed to forget. She smiled lightly at George, who gave her a small wink as if he were reading her thoughts and silently agreeing with her sentiments.
And as Hermione stumbled up the stairs later that night, laughing prettily against Harry's shoulder, forget was just what she had done. Well, she had mostly forgotten. There was one more thing she needed to do before a drunken slumber overtook her.
After Harry had shut the door to his room, Hermione stumbled towards Draco's door. She tried to muffle her whiskey induced giggling, to no avail. She needed Draco to know. She wanted him to understand why his words had upset her. She knocked on his door furiously, not caring whether the man was sleeping.
From the other side of the door, Draco groggily rose out of bed at the insistent knocking. What the fuck? Draco thought. No one ever bothered him at this hour. Without putting on a shirt, Draco quickly made his way to the door, not bothering to smooth out his messy hair. When he pulled the door open, his jaw dropped open slightly. A hard finger pushed into his bare chest.
"You," Hermione slurred, poking a finger above his heart. "You're a mean git. But you once admired my courage."
"Are you drunk?" Draco said, appalled at the sight of the woman before him. Never had he seen so much uncontained life in her eyes. Her cheeks were painted a warm pink. With her body in such close proximity to his, he could feel the warmth radiating off her as she stumbled closer to his chest.
"I. Am. Not. Weak." Hermione annunciated every word as clearly as her brain would allow. Before Draco could respond, she turned on her wobbly feet and tried to walk to her room, but, her legs failed her and she slipped ungracefully to the floor. Her maddening giggles echoed down the hallway.
Draco was stunned at the sight but knew that if she continued to make noise the weasel across the hall would wake up. Without another moment of hesitation, he grabbed Hermione from under one arm and pulled her to her feet. Her head fell against his chest as he walked her, with great difficulty, to her room. Thank Merlin the door is open, Draco thought, as he half dragged the lithe woman to her bed. As he pushed her onto her small bed, Draco noted that she smelled of an alluring mix of cinnamon and fire whiskey; warm, familiar scents from his past.
Before anyone could see him, half naked, standing over a very incapacitated Hermione, he fled the room, and quietly shut his door behind him. He knew she would never remember this moment, and he chuckled at the irony of the situation. Now he had leverage over her, the way she did over him.
For the rest of the night, Draco paced his room with a determined purpose, lost in his ever maddening thoughts. After Hermione's unexpected slurred scolding, there was no falling asleep again. His restless night gave way to an equally restless day, that was only interrupted by Mrs. Weasley bringing him meals.
Why had he saved her? Why had she followed him? He saw no reason as to why she would. She herself admitted to not trusting him, and his exchanges with her were none too pleasant if he were being honest.
His time in Hermione's memory had only served to further frustrate him.
Draco knew he had always been prideful, a trait of the Malfoy's. But this situation, his current life demanded that he not be. He sighed, accepting his reality as he had not been able to before. Perhaps that is why Hermione followed him? She too was prideful, as he knew from their time together at Hogwarts. But their situation had made her more willing to follow him, or so she assumed. Although she was annoying and had plagued him his whole life, Draco knew that he had little reason not to trust her, he begrudgingly admitted to himself.
Draco could sit in his tiny room for the rest of the night wasting away under his thoughts, but the logical side of his mind knew that would yield him no answers. In order to move past this, to solve his situation, he had to confront the one person he loathed with a passion. Sighing, he stood up, and walked over to the door, determined to learn more about his past, so that he could find a new future. When he turned the door handle, he half expected to find it locked again, as it had been for weeks, but he easily pushed it open. Trust, it seemed, was at least going one way.
He knocked on Granger's door and waited for an answer. Hearing none, he paused, thinking about where else he could find her. Likely the library, he scoffed, thinking back to Hogwarts and all the times he had seen her with a stack of books in close reach.
From across the hall, he heard the door opened and turned. While Hermione had given him permission to leave his room, he doubted anyone else would feel the same. A red-headed girl emerged from one of the doors. The Weaselette, lovely...Draco thought condescendingly. She stopped dead in her tracks and eyed him with suspicion.
"What are you doing out of your room?" She asked cautiously, as if afraid of him.
"Where is Granger?" He responded, arrogantly ignoring her question.
"Why should I tell you?" Ginny shot back, defensive of her friend.
"Because I need to speak with her. She is the one who unlocked my door," Draco answered, trying hard to keep his tone even, so as not to offend the girl more than his presence already did. He didn't have time, nor the patience to be in this pissing contest with her.
Ginny eyed him with even more suspicion, her face squinting as she stared at him, but, eventually, she gave in. "She's in the library. It's the door on the left when you head downstairs," She replied coolly.
Knew it, Draco thought, rolling his eyes. He turned quickly to walk down the stairs.
"You're welcome!" Ginny called from behind him. "Arse..." Draco heard her mutter under her breath.
Draco walked down the flight of stairs, and when he finally found the room, he paused in the doorway. Hermione was curled up on the leather sofa, tucked into a book. Her eyes were deeply focused, yet bright with unanswered questions and curiosity. Draco had to admit, despite her annoying, self-righteous attitude, she had grown into herself over the years. Her confidence was subtle, though more commanding. Her hair had grown long in the Labyrinth, tumbling in light waves past her shoulders. Her petite features and small nose were accentuated by wide, copper eyes. She did not possess the classic pure blooded beauty of Astoria, but she was certainly not ugly, Draco thought uneasily.
"Granger," Draco said, breaking the woman out of her trance. She jumped, startled by the abruptness of his tone. "In the Labyrinth, why did you follow me? You didn't trust me, you said so yourself." Draco questioned, apprehensively. Their interaction in the Labyrinth had been none too kind, and even he was a tad embarrassed by the harsh words he had said to her. But what he could not understand was why he would even want the filthy girl to be near him. Surely she was just cause for trouble.
Hermione paused in momentary thought, carefully considering her words, a trait Draco noted, that she did often. He had to admit, he had slight admiration for this, as most people just spoke to hear themselves. In Draco's world, he knew many wizards, intelligent or not, who operated simply with their impulses, the most primitive of human function. Hermione was above that, and each syllable was thoughtfully chosen to maximize its effect. She carefully laid down the parchment she was reading, lifting her chin so her eyes met Draco's directly.
"I think I followed you because I had nowhere else to go. You had no reason to save me, and yet you did. I certainly didn't feel good about it, but," Hermione shrugged her delicate shoulders, "I made a quick decision and went with it."
"And why did I save you?" Draco finally asked the question that had been taunting him since he left the Pensieve.
"I don't know," Hermione answered honestly. " I can only guess that while we both hated each other, it was understood that we would not survive alone. From my perspective, I had been locked in a cell alone for months, and so had you. There is no worse punishment than loneliness," Hermione finally whispered, and in her voice, Draco heard a pain he had seldom before. The sharpness of her voice that typically carried her confidence was shattered and weak as she admitted her fear of this loneliness. Draco was witnessing her hurt, and understood, finally, how difficult this all was for her. While Draco was experiencing this world for the first time, Hermione was reliving it, sacrificing her comfort so that he may have some understanding.
As much as he hated to admit it, he knew he owed her the same courtesy she was bestowing upon him; understanding, patience, and above all, respect. Draco was remembering their past from Hogwarts and using it to judge their current situation. Without his memories, he felt strangely empty, like a cauldron of water that had bubbled over and was never replenished.
"I'd like to try again…when you're ready, of course." Draco quickly added.
"Draco, I really want to show you more, I just... I need a small break to prepare myself before we go forward. It gets much worse," Hermione shuddered.
Draco held up his hands in surrender, "Alright then, you know where to find me when you're ready," Draco said cautiously. "Just don't make me wait too long," He added arrogantly for good measure.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Would you like to join me here? Our rooms aren't terribly comfortable, and...and at least there is something to keep you busy," Hermione cautiously suggested, motioning to the endless supply of books surrounding her. She didn't know why, but she held her breath as she waited for his answer.
Draco's eyes widened. Surely this woman, after everything he had said to her over their lifetime, did not actually want to spend time with him. But, as he surveyed her expressive face, he found no malice towards him, only eagerness as she awaited his answer.
"Alright," Draco shrugged, trying to look casual as his heart picked up tempo in his chest. With poise that only a Malfoy could possess, he sauntered over to the old, worn couch and sat down on the opposite side of Hermione, making sure to keep as much distance between them as allowed by the couch. He looked at the pile of books next to him and read the labels; Memories and Magic, Potions for the Mind, Dark Magic for the Soul.
"On second thought... It may be less boring in my room," Draco muttered. Hermione chuckled next to him, and his own mouth quirked upwards in response. The small gesture was stunningly bright on Draco's cold features, and Hermione felt as her skin erupted in tiny chills. It was the first smile she had seen on his face in weeks, and it was then that she realized how much she truly missed him. Sitting on the couch next to her, curled up in their books, this seemed normal, like an evening she would spend even if the world wasn't crashing down around them.
But for his physical closeness, Hermione knew just how far away Draco still was from her.
"Tomorrow," Hermione spoke suddenly, breaking the comfortable silence in the room. "We'll go to the Pensieve again tomorrow," she said, more determined this time.
Draco nodded, his eyes staring into hers, searching for any bit of doubt. He found none.
The pair sat in a comfortable silence for the remainder of the night, comfortably tucked into their reading. Every so often, Hermione glanced over to observe Draco; his eyes were scanning the pages thoughtfully, and every so often, his eyebrows would pull in concentration. He looked far better than he had last she had seen him, and she wondered what brought about his change in their arrangement. Whatever the reason, Hermione was content enough to be pacified for the night, despite the looming travel back into the Labyrinth tomorrow.
"I should get some rest," Hermione finally whispered through the silence, stretching against the back of the sofa.
"Why?" Draco said, arrogant once again. "It's not as though you sleep at night anyway."
"And how would you know that?" Hermione haughtily retorted.
"I hear you some nights, pacing, crying," Draco elaborated, much to Hermione's horror. She should have realized that if she could hear him pacing, that he could hear the same from her room.
"Right," Hermione said, embarrassed by Draco's admission, though she still stood from her place on the sofa. " I'll see you in the morning, Draco."
All Draco could do was nod in agreement. "Knock on my door when you are ready," He said, making no move to leave the couch. After another long glance, Hermione silently left the room, thinking about her strange encounter with Draco, and all the next morning would bring.
Author's note: *Phew* The emotions I have right now! Don't love it, don't hate it- that about sums up my feelings toward this chapter. It just isn't living up to what I want it to be, but after two total rewrites, I needed to just post what I had.
To all my readers and reviewers, thank you for your kind words. It's what keeps me going to write this, even when I get writer's block.
While you are waiting for the next update to The Labyrinth, check out my story Behind Enemy Gates. It's a Dramione espionage thriller with a slow build to a lot of planned steamy action, but I'd love to hear some feedback on what I can do to improve it! Chapter 4 will be posted sometime next week. Summary is in my bio :D - AMJ.