For anyone interested, I now have some original fiction WIPs posted. You can find the link on my FFN profile, or simply head over to Fictionpress. com and check for me (same name) ;)

Chapter Eleven

"Absolutely not. I forbid you to do it!"

"You forbid me?" Granger's angry words followed Father's declaration and Draco was absolutely positive he'd picked the wrong moment to step into the parlor.

Wrong to convince Granger to stay despite her own better judgement. Wrong to not have realized there might be some . . . brewing negativity in the house on account of things left undiscussed between the two. Hell, perhaps he was wrong to have gotten out of bed at all this week, or any day since War's End.

He looked back and forth between the witch and wizard. Father had not even risen from his favorite cushy armchair by the fireplace as he admonished her for whatever she'd just told him; Granger stood before him, her fists braced on her hips and her chestnut eyes sparking as though she was contemplating drawing her wand on the man. Draco started to weigh the chances of him simply backpedaling from the room without either of them noticing he'd even entered.

"Oh, I am sorry. Did I stutter?" Lucius asked with an easy wave of one hand, his expression blank.

Hermione uttered a scoffing sound. "I've no idea where you got the notion that you have any authority to tell me what to do, or why you're in such a foul mood!"

Draco exhaled a quiet sigh as he pressed a palm against his forehead. Yes, yes, he thought again, in trying to avoid the topic of whatever 'almost' could've happened in the kitchen between them the previous morning—and avoiding each other the entirety of the day which followed—there was a chance of emotional backfire, but he'd actually not expected two of well, two of the most mature and grounded people he knew to devolve into bickering like this so quickly.

"I don't recall asking for your permission, Mr. Malfoy, and if you've no wish to accompany me, that's fine. I'll go investigate the place alone."

Lucius was out of his chair and towering over her in a blink. "You most certainly will not!"

She gave him a once-over as though his very appearance had suddenly become quite repugnant to her. "Hah. Watch me."

"It's a terrible idea, Miss Granger. Moreover, it could be dangerous."

"The incident was half a century ago!" Gripping her hands into her hair, she looked for a moment as though she were about to tear out some of her wild golden-brown locks in frustration before she let it go again, spreading out her fingers in a semblance of trying to be the reasonable one. "Even if you're right and it wasn't the first or last time, there's no reason to believe anything like that is still happen—"

"Wait, wait," Draco said, unable to stop himself from finally cutting in as he waved his hands to get their collective attention. The quibbling pair snapped around in place to fix narrowed-eyed glares on the younger wizard. Wincing, he reflexively stepped back a pace, feeling half-ready to bolt from the room without saying another word. "Sorry to interrupt . . . whatever this is, but are you really talking about going back to where you were found?"

Hermione opened her mouth to answer, but Lucius responded before she could get out the first word. "Yes, that is exactly the sort of madness Miss Granger is suggesting."

"It's not madness," she said through clenched teeth, whirling back to face him, as though she completely forgot about Draco's attempt to intervene. "If whatever happened to me is tied to something that location was being used for, there might be some clue still there!"

Lucius let his head fall back to stare daggers at the ceiling. "Miss Granger, please think rationally about this! That was sixteen years ago." His tone seemed about as close to a pleading whine as she imagined someone of his breeding and upbringing could get. "Any chance of there being something left behind is—"

"Slim, I know. Just as I know it's a wooded area, and occasionally tromped through by parties curious about the wych elm murder, I'm sure. But there is still a chance, however slim, that something might be there, or that going there could jog some scrap of memory that might tell me something!"

He lowered his gaze to fix on hers, shaking his head. "We have a plan of action! We can start right now—we could've started yesterday, but someone was far too occupied with doing things anywhere I wasn't, but then I suppose I should've accounted for an ounce of childishness at some point—" He didn't even pause when she let out an affronted gasp; he was clearly refusing to acknowledge that his choice to be occupied anywhere she wasn't yesterday was then equally childish. "Yet, you wish to go traipsing off into the woods, into an area that may or may not be used for sacrificial rituals in case you have a 'scrap of memory' occur to you? Tell me how that makes any measure of sense?!"

"I . . . ." Staring up into his gravely serious grey eyes, she felt her reasoning crumble a bit. Her shoulders sloping downward, she exhaled slow. She was ignoring that his pointing out her childish behavior yesterday whilst ignoring his own felt very much like an attempt to remind himself of how much younger she was than him. Clearly he'd not put their almost-moment behind him as firmly as he wanted to pretend he had. "I can't actually tell you 'how' it makes sense, because I'm not certain it does. I just can't get it out of my mind. Ever since we read that article, it's been stuck in the back of my head. Two nights in a row I've dreamed about the place, and neither time was it by any means a pleasant imagining!"

Lucius scowled, looking very much like Draco just now, and folded his arms across his chest. The change in posture drew attention, once more, to his towering height. He peered down at her in silence, his eyes narrowed, as he waited for her to finish pleading her case.

"I wish I could explain this better, but I can't. That place is haunting me," she said with a heavy sigh. She wasn't thrilled by her choice of words, but it was fitting; it was the only description for the sensation. "I have to go there, even if I find nothing. I have to see it. Even if I remember nothing. It might be the only way I can get past this . . . dread that perhaps I barely escaped some terrible fate."

His expression closed off, not letting her see what he might be feeling at her sharing her fear. "Is that what you believe?" Certainly, it was an option, and even one he'd mentioned to her himself back in the Muggle library the other day, but he didn't think she'd put any stock into the notion—mostly because it was a horrifying notion, to consider that someone had done something terrible to her chaperone and might've done the same or worse to her, at all of two years old, if not for some unexpected circumstance which allowed her to escape.

She shrugged. "I don't know. Honestly. What I know is when I dream, I'm in the woods, I'm running from someone. A—a man I don't know, I think . . . ." Hermione swallowed hard, suddenly cognizant that he might be upset at hearing this new detail. Hell, before this moment, he hadn't even known about the nightmares at all.

"A man was chasing you?"

Another gulp went down her throat at the sharpness in his tone. Was Lucius angry again? With her? With the mystery man from her nightmares who might not even exist?

She glanced over her shoulder. Draco was watching her and his father with rapt attention. Actually, the look on his face reminded her of Gran watching her daytime dramas on the telly.

Returning her full attention to Lucius, she only offered another lame shrug. "I don't know. But that's what I feel in the dreams, this very distinct impression that I need to get away from 'him.' I don't know anything beyond that—not where I came from, or where I'm going, or even who it is. And it's terrifying and I have to get to the bottom of it."

To Draco's shock, the tension in his father's frame eased, the set of his shoulders dropping a little. Bloody hell. Lucius Malfoy was actually concerned for Hermione Granger—enough that the things she felt and thought mattered to him. This was getting unsettling.

"This might not be my place to say," the younger wizard edged out the words, twisting his hands before him in a gesture that betrayed how very ill at ease he was despite his calm tone of voice, "but I think you should just go with her."

Again, Draco found himself the focus of their combined attention. Hermione looked surprised as she mouthed a word of thanks, and his father, well . . . . Lucius appeared as though he was just barely holding himself back from crossing the room to throttle his son.

Exhaling sharply, the elder Malfoy collected himself. "I beg your pardon?" The question slid out from between his lips positively dripping with ice.

"Well, I may not be entirely clear on everything that's been happening with this . . . scenario, but I do know her, Father." Draco shrugged. "Six years of tormenting each other in school can teach you a lot about someone. I know that if she says she's going to investigate that place with or without you, then that's exactly what she means. So, if you're looking to stop her from getting into any further trouble than what she's already prone to, the only thing to do is to go along with her."

As earlier, Lucius arched a brow. Touching a fist to his chin in thought, he murmured, "I don't suppose simply locking her in her room would be an option in this?"

Draco nearly sputtered a laugh at how fast Granger's expression shifted from grateful toward him to wrathful at his father as she slowly turned her head to pin the taller of the Malfoy men with a chilly glare. "It most certainly would not," she answered in a scathing whisper, even though the question clearly hadn't been directed at her.

Lucius squared his jaw, clearly displeased even as he said, "Have it your way. To Hagley Wood, then."

As soon as they turned off the causeway and onto Hagley Wood Lane, Hermione felt a cold, almost itching sensation, creep into her bones. They had appeared somewhere in Worcestershire, in an area with which Hermione was mostly unfamiliar—he'd brought her side-along, as he had been through here a few times in travels elsewhere, and it was the closest to Hagley Wood either of them had traveled—which Lucius had warned her left them with a bit of a walk ahead. It was currently very early in the evening, but they might still be poking about when night fell.

She hadn't minded the walking, not at all. It was the unnerving silence between them as they strolled along that needled at her brain. Put it behind them, put it behind them . . . . Bloody hell, curse Draco and his simplification of the situation. Nothing had even happened, and they were barely able to speak to each other.

The tension made her want to crawl out of her skin, which was not what she needed right now. Not as they walked along the road and she kept her eyes on the approaching tree line, looking for anything that might stand out to her. The distinct quiet between them made her more acutely aware of his presence, though she refused to even glance at him just now. More aware of the hush in the air around them, of the distant sound of leaves rustling further in beyond the road. The chill that wrapped her seemed to tug at her skin, but she was so distracted with everything else on her mind, she was not at all cognizant of the faint tremor wracked her every few steps.

Something brushing against her shoulder had her bolting to one side. A handful of rushed steps away, she threw out her left arm defensively as she moved to draw her wand with her right hand.

Swallowing hard, she found Lucius blinking down at her in muted shock, his brows drawn upward, but his face otherwise in that carefully expressionless mask he'd been wearing since the kitchen yesterday morning. He was holding his cloak in the air, at approximate shoulder height of where she'd been standing a split-second ago.

"Well, I suppose it is comforting to see that the end of the war did not blunt the edge of your combative instincts." His brows pinched together as he went on to explain, "The evening is unseasonably cold for this time of year, but I didn't think it was bothering you until I noticed you were shivering a bit."

Of course, Hermione thought, dropping her hands to her sides and uttering an abashed laugh. Pure-blood Lucius Malfoy was a gentleman, after all . . . as irritating as that could sometimes be. Nodding, she tried to force her muscles to relax a little. She couldn't believe her nerves were so strained, already. Perhaps continuing on while she was so on edge was not the best idea, but she'd dragged him all the way out here; she could not let that be for nothing if she could help it.

Plus, the witch was not looking forward to his smug I told you so expression if she informed him that he might be correct and that maybe this was simply a terrible notion.

Another moment of silence fell between them and she made the words come out of her mouth, "I'm sorry. Thank you."

A sigh rumbling out of him, he nodded and rustled the cloak in offering. "It pains me to suggest this, but should we perhaps talk about what's bothering you?"

Hermione paused mid-motion as she allowed him to place the warm garment over her—bloody thing draped the ground on her considerably shorter frame. "Um, bothering me?" She shook her head as she tugged the cloak more securely around her shoulders. As if he didn't know!

Annoyed that he was acting as though this were her problem, alone, she narrowed her gaze at him. If he wasn't going to admit that his attitude over the last day was a result of the same issue, than she certainly wasn't going to be the one to open up about it.

After a moment, and finding it a touch amusing how he seemed to be waiting for her to say more, she looked off into the treeline, again. "Nothing is bothering me, Mr. Malfoy. I think . . . I think we should go in here."

She started off into the woods without so much as a glance back to see if he followed.

Lucius only watched her a few heartbeats. Squaring his jaw, he whispered to himself, "Lucius, you are about to get lost in this damned murder-forest with a woman who is, at present, so jumpy she might well draw her wand to attack her own shadow. That's simply . . . brilliant." Holding in yet another sigh, he started to trail after her.