Hermione suspected that she was running in circles, but with no light she couldn't be sure. All she could do was run and run until she woke up, or found something else. If she had brought Malfoy in, maybe she had brought someone else in as well. She doubted it, however.
She was on the verge of going insane. This was the longest a blackout had lasted in years. She had been here for three hours now. Tears were pouring down her face and he legs were cramping. Her stomach felt uneasy. She was making herself sick. Finally she stopped running and collapsed to her knees. She was sobbing, her arms wrapped around herself and her body shaking with her anguish. She was going to die in here, or worse, be trapped in here forever while her body was killed by Malfoy.
She felt something then, pressure upon the top of her head. She opened her eyes and saw a familiar glow. Malfoy was squatting in front of her, with his hand on her hair. He looked disgruntled. "Would you please shut up? I can't even think with you crying like this."
Hermione's eyes were wide, gaping at him in shock. He hadn't escaped! He was still in there with her after all! She wasn't alone. The sudden emotion was overwhelming, and without thought she threw herself against him, clutching his robes in her trembling hands and burying her face in his chest.
He fell backwards, surprised, and she lay on top of him. "Hey… what are you doing!"
Hermione felt his hands on her shoulders, waiting for him to shove her away. But he didn't. He simply held her, uneasily as if he didn't know how to hold her. She pulled back. "I'm sorry… I just thought I was alone. I couldn't handle being left alone in here again, like all those other times."
Both of them sat up, facing each other. The wand was laying beside them, still glowing. Malfoy looked uncomfortable. "You said 'all those other times'. How many times has this happened?"
"Oh, many times. Many many times. For a whole year after… after they started, it happened at least once a week."
"And you never saw a doctor for it? Or talked to Dumbledore?"
Hermione pulled her knees up to her chest and leaned her face on them, looking at him sideways. "I couldn't. I was afraid they'd call me insane and have me locked away."
"Not much difference, to be honest," Malfoy said distantly, looking at his hands in his lap. "Azkaban was a lot like this. Only it was twenty-four hours a day, and no one to talk to at all."
Hermione's eyes were wet again. Her voice came broken and whispered, as if she could no longer hold in her fear. "Tell me, Malfoy… how could you stand it? How did you hold onto your sanity?"
He looked at her, somewhat taken aback by yet another show of raw emotion from his enemy. Such uncontrolled feelings made him uneasy, having been brought up in an atmosphere that encouraged utter control over such things. "For the first few weeks, I thought I was going insane. I thought I had nothing left. I had no future, even if I ever did somehow get out. What kind of life is there outside Azkaban for a convicted Death Eater? But then… I found something to hold onto."
Hermione leaned closer to him, trying to see his face clearer in the pale light of the wand. Her voice was still small. "What was it? What did you hold onto?"
Malfoy sighed and looked up thoughtfully. "I made plans. I decided, after a few weeks, that I would escape. I knew it would take a long time, years even, but I had to do it. And after I got out, I planned to bust into Gringotts, take out all the funds my father left for me, and leave the country. I would live on a small, unpopulated island where I could exist in peace and luxury."
"And what about me? And Harry? Didn't any of your plans involve us?"
Malfoy looked at her again. "… Yeah… I planned to get revenge on you for sending me there in the first place. As for Potter, I really wasn't concerned with him. I had far more important things to think about than him. Like what I could piece together of my own future."
Hermione's mouth was open, and new tears fell down her face. "Malfoy… you really didn't do it, did you? You were innocent…"
Malfoy's eyes grew impossibly narrow. "Haven't I been saying that this whole time! I told you, the wand I was holding that night wasn't mine. And I certainly didn't draw that damn circle!"
"But then who's wand was it? And who drew the circle?"
Malfoy shrugged. "How should I know? I was supposed to meet someone there that night, but when I got there I saw the light from a wand just lying there. I picked it up to check it out, and that's when you came along. I knew you'd go straight to Dumbledore, so I threw the wand into the forest and ran back to the castle. I didn't even know about the circle until later."
Hermione was shaking. "Oh… God… Malfoy, I sent you to Azkaban! I didn't know… I had no idea!"
Malfoy scooted closer to her. "Hey… calm down, alright? You can't loose it till we get out of here!"
"How can I calm down! All this time… you hated me and wanted to kill me for a good reason! Always before, I didn't care that you hated me for stupid reasons like being Muggle-born. I just told myself you were an idiot, that it didn't matter. But now… you have every right to hate me!"
Malfoy sighed. "Look… I believe you, okay? You can shut up now."
She looked up. "What do you mean?"
"I believe that you didn't set me up. I'm not saying I forgive you, or that I ever will… but I might skip on killing you, alright? So stop crying."
Hermione was shocked. "But… what are you going to do? Even if I tell the Ministry that I believe you now, there's no way they'll release you based on that."
"I'll follow my plans. If you ever wake up and get us out of here."
Hermione nodded. "I'm sorry. This is all because of me."
"You're right. It is. But you're the only one who can get us out."
Hermione slumped against the wall. "I wonder… how I brought you in…"
Malfoy shrugged. "Probably because we were touching when you blacked out."
"No, that's not it," Hermione told him, "Earlier today, I blacked out while Ron had his hand on my shoulder. I didn't bring him in."
"Weasley, huh? I expected that."
"What do you mean?"
Malfoy smiled smugly. "I knew you and that moron would end up together. He was always so easy… all I had to do was pick on you to get his blood boiling."
Hermione frowned. "Ron and I are friends, nothing more. And I can't believe I was nothing more than a tool for you to use against him!"
"Not just him," Malfoy corrected, "But Potter too. He was furious whenever I hurt you. They were both easy. I could do something to you and kill two birds with one stone."
Hermione blanched. "You… you're really a terrible person, aren't you?"
Malfoy laughed. "It was fun. The look on their faces whenever I came out one step ahead of them…"
Malfoy suddenly stopped laughing. "But then… it wasn't fun anymore. It was something more personal, when Potter sent my father to Azkaban."
Hermione felt uneasy at the mention of the topic. She didn't know what to say in this situation. She couldn't bring herself to remind Malfoy that his father belonged in Azkaban, that he deserved it. Right now, she owed Malfoy an incredible debt. She remained silent.
"I had a lot of ideas after that," Malfoy continued, "ways I could get revenge on Potter. A lot of them involved you."
Hermione stiffened. "Should I even ask what they were?"
Malfoy looked her in the eyes. "The details would make you run away, but let's just say I was willing to taint myself for the purpose of hurting Potter in the most extreme way."
"Taint … yourself?" Hermione asked, though she already knew what he meant. She felt more nervous now. Here she was, alone in the dark with a boy who had once schemed to rape her for the purpose of hurting Harry. Finally, she spoke again. "Why didn't you do it? Why didn't you go through with any of your plans?"
Malfoy looked back down. "Because somewhere along the way, I realized that I'm not my father. I can't go that far… I can't give up who I am, just to further a goal. I thought I could. I thought I could be ruthless, like him. But in the end, I couldn't do anything."
Hermione smiled. She put her hand on his shoulder, slowly and hesitantly, unsure of how he would react. "I'm glad you're not your father," she said.
Malfoy snorted. "Because it saved you from a lot of pain?"
Hermione shook her head. "No, because you're a better person than he is."
Malfoy pulled away from her. "Not really… I tried to kill you, remember?"
"No you didn't. You couldn't do it, could you? You had plenty of chances."
He frowned. "Don't go jumping to conclusions."
"I'm jumping to the truth, Malfoy. You couldn't kill me, just like you couldn't kill Harry. Even though you hate us, you're not a murderer."
Malfoy's pale cheeks were tinted pink. "Will you shut up? You're going to make me change my mind."
Hermione laughed. "You're embarrassed!"
Malfoy folded his arms and looked down. "You're the most annoying Mudblood I've ever met, Granger."
"When will you stop calling me that?"
"When all the Muggle blood has been pumped out of your body."
"That would kill me."
Hermione stood directly in front of him. "So, in your eyes, I'm dirty just because I'm alive? How does that make sense to you?"
"Hell, I don't bloody know! All I know is, you're not Pureblood. The way I was taught, that makes you dirty."
Hermione put her hands on her hips. "Who are you trying to live up to now, Malfoy? Your father will be in prison for the rest of his life, your mother is dead, Voldemort is dead, the Deatheaters are no more. Can't you start thinking for yourself now?"
Malfoy's eyes flashed, the same way they had that day in court, and in a whirl he had shoved Hermione to the wall and pinned her against it. "Don't you dare speak of my family! You have the nerve to say these things to me when you condemned me to Azkaban! Have you forgotten that, Mudblood?"
Hermione was frozen. She realized too late that she had been out of line. She should have chosen a better way to say that. But it was too late now. Malfoy was furious, and she had no idea how to curb his anger. She only looked at him.
He stared back at her, rage in his face. "I can think for myself. And I still think you're a filthy Mudblood. But I'm dirty now too, aren't I? I'm a fugitive, because of you. You brought me to your level. It doesn't matter anymore, does it?"
Hermione was breathing fast, nervous. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying, I could fuck you right here and now, and it wouldn't matter. I'm already tainted. I have nothing to loose."
Hermione's eyes were huge. "Why would you do something like that? Just to prove to yourself that you don't care anymore?"
Malfoy leaned in, his face close to hers. "Maybe I've thought too much about it over the years. Maybe all those plans to hurt you melted into something else."
Hermione's body was trembling. "What else?"
Hermione's heart was thumping painfully in her chest. What was going on? Malfoy hated her, he always had. But now he was attracted to her? She didn't understand. Sure, she found him attractive as well, but it was only surface beauty. She knew he was ugly on the inside, that he was a snake of a person. She never even entertained the very idea of it. And even now, he only wanted her so that he could satisfy some sick, forbidden, schoolboy desire he'd harbored for years. He wanted to touch a Mudblood, to explore a Mudblood, to taste a Mudblood, simply because he'd always known that he couldn't. She would be merely a personal triumph for him, his last rebellion.
She shoved him away. "You just want to use me to fulfill some demented fantasy!"
"Maybe. But not just any Mudblood would do. Granger, the only Mudblood I want to fuck is you."
"Why!" Hermione screamed.
"I don't know," he told her honestly, "But every time I imagine taking a Mudblood, it's always you. Maybe it's because I hate you so much, that I think about you so much."
Hermione had her back against the wall. "I can't do it. I can't have sex with someone who hates me."
Malfoy stepped back to her, closing the distance slowly. "What about someone who's thought of nothing but you for the past three years?"
"The entire time I was in Azkaban, I couldn't think of anything, or anyone, but you. I hated you so badly that I wanted to completely destroy you. I wanted to do anything in my power to hurt you. And at some point, I guess I became obsessed with you. You were in my dreams, in my nightmares, and I saw your face every time I closed my eyes."
Hermione was trying to take it all in, but she still didn't understand. "But… you still hate me."
"Maybe I do. But I want you even more than I hate you. Haven't you ever thought about it?"
"No, I haven't! I spent three years terrified that you would escape and come back for me! I spent three years tearing myself apart because I wasn't sure you were guilty! I spent three years coming to this hell, just because I couldn't handle the reality of what had happened!"
Malfoy took a step back, holding the wand so that he could see her face. It was paler than his, and tears were streaming down her face in unbarred currents. He had no idea she had suffered this much, almost as much as he had. They had both been broken by this, only he had made the mistake of assuming he was only one. "Granger… it's over. None of that matters anymore. I'm out of Azkaban. I'm free. I'm going to live on an island. You're going to keep being an Auror and marry Weasley. Everything that happened three years ago is a memory. You don't have to come back here anymore."
In a sudden flash, Hermione was standing in her kitchen. Malfoy was in front of her, holding her wand. She blinked. "We… we got out!" she cried.
Malfoy was looking around. "You're right. I guess it worked."
"I realized that you were blacking out because you felt guilty for sending me to Azkaban. Somehow, in the back of your mind, you probably suspected that I was innocent. So, your conscience was punishing you by sending you to a place that was similar to where you had sent me."
"And where was that place?" she asked.
"Not sure. I suppose it was created by your own fears. But you couldn't stop going until you could let go of the guilt. All I had to do was convince you that you're forgiven."
Hermione smiled, tears welling up in her eyes. "You forgave me… for doing something so awful…"
Malfoy smirked. "What makes you think I wasn't just trying to get out of there? Now that I'm out, you can go back all you want. I don't care."
Hermione stared at him. "You're lying. You can keep that attitude if you want, but I know the truth."
Malfoy's smirk disappeared. "Alright. No need to put on a show then, right? So you remember what I said back there… about wanting-"
He was cut off by the sound of a fist slamming against Hermione's front door. Ron's voice yelled through the wood, "Hermione! Are you in there? What's going on? Ginny said you never made it!"
Malfoy pointed the wand at the door. "That's Weasley, isn't it? He'll throw me back into Azkaban in a heartbeat!"
Hermione looked back and forth between Malfoy and the door. Finally, she put her hand on Malfoy's arm and took the wand. "No, he won't. In fact, he'll have no idea that you're here."
Malfoy looked at her curiously. "You mean you're going to lie to Weasley, of all people!"
"You keep acting as if there's more to us than friendship. There's not. There never was, and there never will be. Ron is married, Malfoy." Hermione ignored Malfoy's wrinkled nose and practically dragged him into her bedroom. "Stay in here until he's gone. Then you can make a break for it." She walked out and shut the door behind her.
Malfoy stood with his ear against the door, listening as Hermione assured Ron that she was fine, that she had simply fallen asleep and lost track of time. He couldn't believe it, she had actually chosen to help him, had risked breaking the law.
She reappeared minutes later, looking a little disheveled. "He's gone. You can escape now."
Malfoy didn't know what to say, so he nodded to her and walked out of her room. "I'm heading for Gringotts. It'll probably draw attention, but I have to get my inheritance. Then, I'll disappear."
Hermione wanted to ask "Where are you going? At least tell me," but she didn't have the courage. There was no way he would tell her. Revealing such information could be dangerous. She simply watched as he laid her wand on the kitchen table and straightened his cloak.
"Well… I'll be off then," he said, looking at her with a peculiar expression.
Hermione shocked herself when she grabbed hold of his arm. "Malfoy… do you still want to touch a Mudblood?"
Malfoy blinked. "What?"
Hermione put her hands on his face, stood on her tip-toes, and kissed his lips. It was a deep yet short-lived kiss, one that left her heart pounding in ways she didn't understand.
Malfoy stared down at her, then gave his trademark smirk. "Well, with enough of that, maybe I can purify you."
Hermione smiled breathlessly, watching his back and he walked away from her house, and seemingly out of her life. It would be agonizing months later before she would begin to adjust to the fact that Draco Malfoy had saved her from her own nightmares, confessed that he desired her, and then left her life in the blink of an eye. And just as she began to get used to it all, a snow-white eagle owl landed on the kitchen window sill with an envelope in its beak.
The envelope was blank, but inside was nothing more than a hastily scribbled address. She wasn't sure where it was, but the name of the country definitely sounded like a tropical island. With enough research, she could find it rather easily, as well as the person who sent her the letter.
Hermione smiled to herself, clutching the letter in her hands. When she was ready, she would pay him a visit. And maybe this time, she could meet his desires. Maybe, just maybe, she would stay.
Many thanks to my beta reader Ananya. :D