Disclaimer: see chapter I

A/N: Many, many heartfelt thanks to all my reader, reviewers and those who left me a note in my guestbook. Thank you so much!

I know I haven't updated this in months and for that I am sorry. The reasons? School, family and one of my best friends; school took up more time than I had expected, there was a bit of trouble in my family and my friend had a breakdown. Thankfully, school is over for the summer and my friend is feeling much better too! I hope that I can update this fic many times this summer, to make things up.

Oh, and this still isn't beta-ed. Any volunteers?

Chapter XIV

"No, Neville! First the Mandrake leaves and then the powdered Etna's Flame! Because if you throw in the powder first you'll get-" Hermione stopped her whispering when she felt a person standing behind her. She swallowed.

"Oh, please, do continue, Miss Granger."

"Professor, Sir... I was just helping Neville... He was about to throw in-"

"I have eyes and ears, Miss Granger! I saw what was about to happen. Do you doubt my abilities? Did you think I wouldn't interfere in time? Well, Miss Granger?" His silky voice only emphasised the underlying threat.

"N-No sir. My apologies."

"Indeed. Ten points from Gryffindor." Groans came from behind her and she bit her lip. Great. Just what they needed.

Neville shrunk back from the Potion Master and Snape gave the trembling boy a positively evil smile. "Well, Mr Longbottom, it seems that you are in need of some extra tutoring. Since you miraculously made it into this Advanced class, I do want you to succeed..." The sneer on Snape's face crudely belied his words, yet he continued in the same falsely sweet tone of voice. "Therefore I propose you will get tutoring lessons from myself, once a week, say on… Saturday nights? Will that suit you, Mr Longbottom?"

The poor boy had turned ghostly white and barely managed to stammer out a confirming answer. The sneer turned into a cruel smirk full of anticipation.

"Saturday night it is, then." Snape said smoothly and walked away from the horrified boy.

Neville seemed in shock. "Wha-... I... No..." He let out a long and deep sigh, then looked at his friends. "Why?"

Hermione felt truly and deeply sorry for her friend. She tried to never think bad of her professors and to respect them, but it truly seemed that in this case Snape was being unfair and he wanted Neville to resign this class, and what better way to achieve this than by traumatising him?

"We'll help you get through this," she promised the boy.

"Yes," Ron piped up. "Somehow... we will. We'll... distract him, or... Or... Or, we can land ourselves a detention. I think he'll pick supervising our detention over tutoring you."

"It isn't tutoring, it's torturing," Nerville ground out while he dropped his head on the desk, dangerously close to the fire and the hot cauldron.

"Watch out for the fire, Neville." Hermione warned him absent-mindedly. She stirred into their potion while she tried to think of a way to save Neville. "Do you really think he would prefer detention?" She asked Ron.

Ron nodded eagerly. "I think so! But if we want to make really sure Neville doesn't fall victim to the evil git," he stopped when Neville let out a loud groan and reached over to pat the distraught boy on the back. "If we're going to make sure, I only see one solution." Ron said quite dramatically, face very grave.

Hermione grinned at his theatrics. "And that is?"

"A very nasty potion accident. Something that will keep him bedridden for the rest of our years here."

"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed.

"Sssh!" Urged Ron and Neville her, while they kept a wary eye on the Potion Master who was at the other side of the classroom. The two boys let out their breaths, audibly, when Snape didn't seem to notice Hermione's loud exclamation.

"Sorry," Hermione hissed back. "But you can't wish bodily harm to Snape for something like this..." She trailed off when Neville muttered something like "Why not?".

"What I mean, Neville, is that we'll find a way to make sure you'll finish Advanced Potions without anyone being harmed, ok? Maybe, we just have to find Snape something else and most of all something better to do on Saturday Nights..."

"Back to our detention ploy, then?" Ron asked hesitantly.


"I think the bodily harm idea is the best option." Hermione turned to Harry, who had been strangely silent during the lesson.

"Harry, not you too! I know Snape's a down right bastard and-"

"Care to repeat that, Miss Granger?" Hermione sucked in her breath.

"She said snakes are down right bastards, and certainly that Basilisk thingy in the second year. I think these dried snake scales are bringing back bad memories, sir." Ron said calmly.

Hermione turned to Ron, mouth almost falling open.

"I don't think that is what she said, Mr Weasley."

"But you just barged in into our discussion, sir. You know how slimy, slithering and utterly ugly these creatures are! It's a wonder some people like them as pets!"

"Careful, Mr Weasley," Snape hovered over him like a vengeful black bat.

"Well, Hermione can't help the way she feels. I mean, I don't like spiders, she doesn't like snakes. Others hate felines. It's all a matter of personal preferences, sir."

"Indeed, Mr Weasley," the Potions Professor spat out. "Five points from Gryffindor for stating the obvious. And another ten points from Gryffindor."

"Why?" Harry dared to ask, though he sounded rather uninterested.

"Because of Miss Granger's tendency to disrupt class." He stared hard into Hermione's eyes and she did her best not to flinch.

"I don't want to hear anything more of you, or your friends, Miss Granger. Next time, it will be fifty points!"

After the class had ended, they were all in a hurry to leave the dungeons, eager for some cheer and light.

"Thanks Ron, for your quick thinking there! That was really nice of you. If you hadn't done that..." Hermione gave her friend a grateful smile while they climbed up the stairs.

"Well... You're welcome!" Ron grinned back at her. "But do you still think bodily harm is too much in this case?"

"Think about it," Harry suddenly spoke up from behind them. "Maybe we'll get a competent teacher if he's unable to teach."

"Really, you don't give up! I mean, the man does have some other... uhm... handy abilities?" Hermione hinted but clearly the two boys were unimpressed.

"Maybe, maybe not," Ron shrugged.

"I think he's done more harm than good," Harry added. "The whole situation isn't getting any closer to a solution."

"That's not only his fault," Hermione said softly. "I think he's doing whatever is possible."

"Right, Hermione. You're so naive, sometimes. You really think he helps us? Remember who he is." Harry wasn't in the least impressed by her defence of the hated Potions Master

"That's only an act," she whispered urgently.

"Right," he sneered. "That's why he's enjoying it so much. Wake up, Hermione. He's not going to help us! If we want this to end, we have to do it ourselves." He picked up his pace and hurried off.

"I worry about him," Ron said softly. "I don't think he's been sleeping well... Often, when I wake up to- When I wake up," he blushed, "he's often awake, or otherwise muttering and tossing in his sleep. And he doesn't talk with us anymore... Not about things, you know?"

"I've noticed. And I'm worried too." Though she was indeed very worried about Harry, she felt a bit better knowing that she and Ron were finally really talking to each other again.

They tried to engage Harry into their conversation, but he didn't say as much as two words, while he automatically ate his supper. Hermione shared a look with Ginny, who seemed rather concerned herself as the redhead stared at the quiet boy.

"Harry!" Ginny suddenly burst out. "If you don't stop being so gloomy... I'll... I'll lock you up in Moaning Myrtle's Bathroom! You two can be gloomy together! I even bet she can give you a few tips on how to gloom best!"

"Is gloom a verb?" Ron whispered his question to Hermione who smirked at him.

Harry gave Ginny a disturbed look. "Leave me alone. That isn't too much to ask? I'm just not in the mood tonight."

"Headache, Harry?" Ginny asked sweetly. The boys frowned as she and Hermione chuckled.

"No!" Harry answered, a bit chagrined as he seemed to miss the joke. "Can you please stop the childishness, Gin?"

"You're the one to talk, mister!" They both glared at each other.

"Nosy little brat," he bit out and though Ginny flinched a bit, she gave as good as she got: "Self-pitying git! Maybe we can't truly understand what you're going through but we are here for you! You can't push us away, Harry! We care, and that's it! So you better start talking to us again, because we won't take no for an answer!"

"Fine!" Harry snapped and abruptly stood up, banging against the table and the bench.

"Hey!" Some other Gryffindors gave Harry annoyed looks but he didn't see them or perhaps didn't care. He stormed away, watched by his friends.

Hermione made to rise and go after him, but was stopped by Ginny who wore a grim look on her face. "Let me take care of this, Hermione. I really want to talk some sense into him."

With determined steps she marched after him and soon she was out of the Great Hall.

"Should we talk to Dumbledore? Or perhaps Professor McGonagall?" Hermione just didn't know what do to anymore to help Harry. Or maybe they expected too much of him? Hermione pondered the possibility that because Harry's life had been so hard he didn't know how to deal with any more pain. Perhaps because he didn't have the security of a loving family to fall back on, he had never learnt to trust anyone with his sorrows and hurts. He had always been forced to deal with everything on his own.

She was pulled out of her thoughts when Ron shook his head. "I don't think he'll want them prying into his head. Only when we have no other solution we should go to the teachers." Ron laid down his fork, his plate still half full.

"Not hungry?" Hermione asked.

"Not anymore. Want to go to the common room and see if Ginny managed to calm him down?" Ron extended his hand to her and she took it. He helped her up, and she only realised what kind of impression it made when Lavender let out a loud snort. "How cute," she sneered but Ron surprisingly ignored her and pulled Hermione with him out of the Great Hall.

She blushed as he kept holding her hand. It was very... nice. She darted a quick look at Ron and immediately looked down again when she saw him staring at her.

"So... Uhm, Hermione... Would you g-"

"Please refrain from such silly displays of hormonal behaviour." Snape snapped as he passed them, heading into the Great Hall. Ron dropped Hermione's hand like he had burned himself and glowered after the Potion Master.

"Bastard! Git ! Bat! Snake!" Ron grumbled as he stomped up the stairs. Hermione too felt like she could hex the man. She was certain Ron was about to ask her something, and something important at that! He was all stumbling on the words and choking up, which usually meant he felt a bit embarrassed. Stupid Snape!

Both reached Gryffindor Tower in silence, suddenly feeling a bit uncomfortable in each other's presence. They didn't saw Ginny nor Harry in the common room and Hermione hastily made her retreat to her dormitory under the mom of wanting to see if Ginny was there.

In her room, she stomped a pillow out of frustration and disappointment. It was so unfair!

Crooks settled down beside the abused pillow, watching her vent her anger.

"And what has gotten you in such a fit?" Maggie asked curiously. The Mirror and her familiar were instantly flooded with the tale.

"Ah, but there is progress!" The Mirror exclaimed. "Maybe tomorrow he will find his courage again and ask whatever he wanted to ask of you. Yet, I don't want you to get your hopes up." The Mirror told her sternly, and was seconded by Crookshanks who gave a stern "Meow".

"Why not?" Hermione asked, a bit confused. "I am sure he wanted to ask me something... personal."

"Maybe he does indeed, but he's a man. They are a bit fickle and mule-headed."

"Oh." She frowned while she scratched Crooks behind his ears.

"He might want to pretend nothing happened."

"Ron's not like that!"

"I sure hope you're right."

"Thanks for being so optimistic." Hermione said sarcastically and glared at the Mirror.

"Ma spécialité, my dear," the Mirror drawled back. "Now, did you hear what Lavender did this morning! Truly, a faux pas like you've never seen before!"

Hermione listened to the gossip of Maggie, amused by the sharp wit and biting sarcasm. She felt quite thankful for the distraction from her problems, even if it came in the form of an obnoxious and rude Enchanted Mirror.

His boots clicked on the worn stones of the hallway. The chill of winter had invaded every nook and cranny of the old castle and his breath was visible. Yet his thick cloak and robes protected him well from the cold and he knew that in the infirmary the temperature was far more comfortable. Even stifling, sometimes.

He greeted the cheery nurse politely and quickly strode to his son's private room. He was very pleased to find out that the little Gryffindor was visiting him too. To see her devotion to whatever she deemed worthy gave him the same strange feeling of pleasure that he experienced every time he saw the girl. Her loyalty to his son, her enemy by all rights, was like a soothing source of warmth. Yet having such affection and given it away so freely made her vulnerable. He could exploit such feelings very well, had done such things his whole life. Yet it was rare, he knew, seeing such a pure... heart. Such pure motives. A shame to waste. So many possibilities to explore.

In time, he reminded himself.

"Good evening, Miss Granger."

She looked up from her book, startled. The girl let her guard down far too quickly and far too easily. She might be in a very well-protected institution, but that wasn't a guarantee that nothing could or would ever happen.

The lack of vigilance only made her easier prey.

"Good evening, Mr Malfoy," she replied politely. Yet her eyes were darting across the room, not wanting to lock with his own. Insecure, scared, confused. He wondered if she would ever be able to suppress her feelings. Her face was just to expressive, her eyes too lively.

"Is the light of the stars sufficient to read in, Miss Granger?" He asked softly, while she fiddled with a page.

"Oh, yes, it is." She answered, eyeing him warily. Smart girl, she was.

He seated himself next to her, much too close for her comfort. The fabric of her uniform rubbed against the heavy cloth of his expensive robes as he placed his cloak on another chair behind him. She smelled wonderful again, the soft tones of vanilla and cinnamon wafting through the air... He could almost taste it.

"You should be careful with your eyes, Miss Granger. Always read with suitable light." With a careless flick of his wand a few candles lighted around her, casting their warm glow on her young and rosy skin. Almost cream-like... He could imagine the feel of it, soft and yielding, like her supple flesh that was hidden underneath that loathsome uniform. Her skirt reached to her knees, her blouse was a seize too large, her jumper she had taken off as it was indeed quite hot in the room. He knew some female students took quite some liberties with their uniforms and he had enjoyed those in his own days. Yet this girl was dressed almost prudishly and it was more endearing to him than anything those other girls could come up with.

He had felt her blossoming body intimately against his own... Had felt her tremble underneath his touch. The memory still gave him a sense of power. Power over her.

He reached out and tightly grabbed his son's lax hand. He squeezed it and felt the warm flesh. He wondered if it was just his imagination... However, his son did feel warmer than the clammy coldness from yesterday.

Yet a careful perusal of his son's face didn't show any signs of returning consciousness. Maybe he was getting a fever? He had to talk with the nurse about it.

"He's feeling warmer to the touch, right? I told Madam Pomfrey and she said... She said it was a good sign. No fever or cold that might have induced it, or something else." She must have gotten back some of her usual confidence as she was now intently staring up at him.

"That's good," he said. Hope flared up in him. Draco would make it. He was sure of it. He was a Malfoy, a fighter. His son.

"It's nice, isn't it? It kind of gives you the feeling you're doing things right... Though Madam Pomfrey says not to get our hopes up too much... It could be only temporary..." She finished softly. However, she gave him something of a whimsical smile. "I won't let that get me down."

"Good." He closely watched her face, lightened up by her smile. He took in her twinkling eyes and the bushy curls dangling on the side of her face. He had noticed how often she would impatiently brush them away, or tie them back with a bit of irritation. They were long enough to go into her braid or bun, whatever she felt like, yet somehow they always managed to escape, bouncing merrily along with her movements.

"What are you reading this time, Miss Granger?" He looked thoughtfully at the old book.

"Oh, nothing important. Something about Potions ingredients and how to find the best suitable replacement for an unavailable ingredient." She said, shrugging. Yet as she spoke, she started to fidget with the book again. He smirked at her nervousness.

"Ah, I see. For a Potion project?"

"Something like that."

"Tell me something about it. I might not be an expert like your Potion Master, but I do excel in them. It such a delicate art; it asks for precision and care. And it is such a satisfaction to see a Potion turn out just the way you intended it. It's a skill mostly unappreciated, yet Potions are a feared and highly dangerous weapon. A Potion can be slipped into your drink, or put into your food." He spoke huskily, enjoying her rather uneasy expression as she in her turn watched him with a bit of suspicion.

"Some vaporise in the air, scentless, killing their victims while they will never know what has hit them. They can addle your mind and wreck your body. They can grant the maker control."

"And that's all you care about, isn't it," she quipped and shut her book with a soft thud. "I rather think about their incredible potential in aiding Mediwizardry, and all the useful applications in households."

"Of course," he drawled, pleased with her show of temper. He loved to rile her up until she forgot her fear and talked back. It made her lose her caution and then he really felt like he was seeing the fiery nature she held deep down. "Always such a good little girl."

She threw him a furious stare.

"Yet still, you haven't answered my question."

"You really want to know? Well, accordingly to my much admired Potions Professor, I am wasting my time, researching a completely useless fairytale. And yet, I can't help myself. After all, I'm just a little girl and therefore allowed some indulgence in silly things, right!" She almost snarled at him. He chuckled out right at her sudden brashness.

"Indulgence can be satisfying. But perhaps you have to find something else to indulge yourself with," he smirked as he toyed with her. She looked at him, uncertain and slightly puzzled, yet those was quickly overruled by her rising apprehension.

"I like this fairytale," she said stubbornly, while she unconsciously stroked over the dark, leather covering.

"My dear girl, fairytales won't keep you entertained for long." The frown on her face told him she didn't know what to make of his remark and he decided to take pity on the girl. He could pursue this game, yet it would scare her away. Once he started really playing, he would not want to stop.

"I guess your talking about the 'Death Delivered' ritual?"

"You know about it?" She was curious, yet a bit hesitant as she asked further. "You also think it's a stupid fairytale?"

"It is a fascinating tale. Yet, we don't have the time to chase after an illusive Potion ingredient. You can't replace the goddess' feather. I know. I have tried it once, when I was young. And guess who was my partner in my little experiment?"

"Severus Snape," she mumbled, defeated.

"Indeed." He confirmed. Her apparent disappointment amused him. She seemed even more vulnerable like this. However, there was still a hint of stubbornness.

"I think it's our best option in defeating Voldemort for good." She said strongly.

"Ah, if it was a possibility it would certainly be our best option. But it isn't. Don't delude yourself. Focus your efforts on things worthy of your time and trouble."

"It doesn't interfere with my duties or my schoolwork, so I don't see what it is to you," she huffed at him.

"Don't be ridiculous, Miss Granger."

"I am not ridiculous. This ritual has potential! And I'm not bothering anyone with this!"

"Except my son, apparently. If you're reading this rubbish to him, he is forced to listen to it."

"He should know it isn't just a silly idea! It's also for him! I think he wants Voldemort gone as much as we do! That abomination is the cause of him lying here, isn't he!"

"Miss Granger," Lucius shook his head in amusement at her. "If you want to spend your time on this, fine. I think my son does enjoy the company even if it's feeding him such nonsense."

"I think he would have something to say about my company!" Suddenly she smiled again, this time with a definite mischievous air. "I still expect him to start screaming at me to please leave him alone and give him a rest! I'm sure he doesn't consider me a friend. The idea!"

"Maybe not. Yet... I think he knows you... care, Miss Granger." She blushed a bit.

"Well... Uhm, care! That's a really large word." She tried.

"Oh, but you do." He glanced away, looking at his boy. It hurt, deeper every day. Memories of him, awake, full of energy... The ate at him. Now, he felt like he was abandoning his only child, by being unable to wake him up, to rouse him from this coma. To leave him every night again, in this limbo. He felt powerless.

And again, the clever girl seemed to effortlessly sense his mood. "You care too, sir. Very, very much. He knows that too, I'm sure."

He smirked at that, but it was bitter, harsh. "I might have been a bit hard on the boy sometimes. I don't think he really realises what he does mean, to me." It felt like a strange relief to finally tell her that he did care for his son. Love... That word was hardly ever used by a Malfoy, yet he knew he did. Malfoys showed that rare emotion rather with actions than express it in words. Yet, he had hardly done that, ever, to his son.

"It's a bitter feeling, Miss Granger, to experience regret. I hardly ever regret anything I've done in my life..." his voice trailed off, as he saw her flinch briefly. Yet, she gave him a rueful smile.

"I do regret now that he doesn't know this..."

"I told you he can possibly hear us. He's listening, right now," she added softly, sending a warm glance over to Draco.

Does she know how completely natural that comes to her? He wondered. How easily she gives that affection and warmth away, like it is the most normal thing to share?

"I hope he does, Miss Granger. I think if he-"

What he was about to say Hermione would never know as he suddenly fell silent and stared down at his hand, which was holding his son's.

"What is it?" She asked, suddenly worried. He had such a strange expression on his face... Almost like he was frozen or startled, and his mind was somewhere far away...

Then, she gasped with excitement. "He- He's…!" Her eyes were glued to Draco's hand, clutched by his father's.

"Draco, can you hear me?" Lucius leaned forward, staring intently into his son's face. For once, his face was unguarded and Hermione saw the naked hope shining in his eyes.

Hermione almost squealed when she saw it again.

"He is listening! He can hear us!" She said in awe.

Lucius tore his eyes away from his son and Hermione almost squirmed under the intense gaze.

"He squeezed my fingers…"

Lucius' voice was raw and husky and Hermione marvelled at the amount of awe and feeling audible in his voice. "He squeezed my fingers twice now…" He focused his attention back on Draco.

"I'm here Draco," he spoke strongly, carefully. His whole face lightened up when he again felt the soft but unmistakable pressure on his fingers.

"You're safe, Draco."

Hermione felt a bit awkward at hearing Lucius express himself so openly and freely. Should she give them their privacy?

"I'm going to tell Madam Pomfrey," she whispered to him, unwilling to speak louder, afraid to break the spell that seemed to have formed.

"No!" She almost flinched when his eyes set upon her again. "No. This is also thanks to you, Hermione. You should be here. You have to be here. You belong here." That last sentence unwillingly made her blush, yet it also gave her a sudden foreboding feeling. Though one might consider it an elaborate thank-you, the way his eyes slid over her with that disturbing light in them made her suddenly very feel ill at ease.

However, she gave hem a tentative smile and sat down again, forcing herself to relax. She wanted to enjoy this moment; Draco's first sign of awareness!

Hmm, I know, not much is happening in this chapter… Though Draco fans might feel a bit better now.

No author replies. I know, Bad author!

And, anyone actually foolish enough to apply for the Beta job? I might give a warning first: there's still a rather lengthy Lucius/Hermione FQF fic. (Yes, it is very, very late but RL is sometimes a bit more important than writing.)

So, anyone?