Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters, they're just fun to scare!
Note: Happy Halloween!
It was a great big pumpkin patch, in the middle of a field, which was surrounded on three sides by trees with leaves of all different colors – gold, orange, red, purple, and even the green leaves of evergreens.
The fourth side of the patch was fronted by a giant house that looked exactly like a haunted house would look. Its charms included broken windows, rotting wood, stray cats, and even a belfry. Around the house was a rotting fence and overgrown yard. Vines were crawling up the sides of the house and in through the broken windows.
In short, it was perfect.
Ron said so, grinning feverishly at Harry and Hermione.
They went to examine the pumpkin patch, and found it was wild like the yard around the house. The orange vegetables grew anywhere they could, not in neat rows that had probably once been the design. Some of the pumpkins were unnaturally huge, coming to Hermione's waist. And there was something distinctly strange – and magical – about the pumpkins.
As Hermione walked among them, she could feel it – raw magic. It made the hairs on her neck stand on end and the hairs on her head stick out in all directions. When she tried to pat some of her hair down it crackled, and she got a shock that to anyone else would have been static electricity. Only she knew better; she knew it was the magic in the air.
The pumpkins themselves looked like pumpkins might look in nightmares. At first glance, the patch looked nice, perfect almost. It was only on closer inspection that the grotesque deformities became apparent. Some appeared to have things sticking out of them, pushing out, trying to get out through the skin. Like the one with screaming face, twisted in horror.
She shivered as a cool breeze blew around her, which she noticed did not touch the pumpkin plants. Subconsciously, Hermione took a sip of pumpkin juice from her canteen. The juice tasted like it always did, but with a little more kick to it than she remembered.
"Shall we go inside?" Harry asked.
"Are you sure this is a good idea?" Hermione asked, concerned. But she was so tired, and they'd been on the go for so long, part of her was almost willing to accept the temporary shelter without question.
"Oh, Hermione, let's just stay here. One night, and we'll keep moving," said Harry, utterly exhausted. It had been four months since their sixth year ended, and instead of pursuing the defeat of Voldemort, they were instead constantly running from his minions, who were intent on catching them. What the Death Eaters might do once they caught the three friends was what kept them running, even when they didn't think another step, another movement, was possible.
No matter where they went, how quickly they moved, or what they looked like, it seemed the Death Eaters were always one step behind. In the last town – Hermione couldn't even remember its name, there had been so many – they'd heard about this old, rotting house. Some of the villagers even said it was haunted from time to time, especially around this time of year – All Hallow's Eve.
"Let's at least go in and see if we even can stay here," suggested Ron, a little too eagerly.
"Okay. Let's go inside," she said, relenting and following the boys wearily up the stairs.
Inside, the house looked just as it did on the outside – rotting and decrepit. With weary eyes, the three friends scanned the rooms, looking for any excuse to claim the house fit to use for the night.
Hermione couldn't remember the last time she'd slept in an actual bed, so when she came to a room containing one, she nearly cried in joy and exhaustion. She didn't think about the fact that it didn't feel quite like the rest of the house. The fact that the linens looked old, had yellowed spots, and even a few holes was enough for her tired mind. A simple warming charm would deal with the draft from the holes.
Harry and Ron came to the room to tell her they had put up a few wards around the property and declared it safe for the night, then headed to look for places for them to sleep. Hermione merely nodded as they left and sank onto the bed. It felt like a dream. Within seconds, she was fast asleep.
She should have noticed that the linens, while giving the appearance of age, smelled fresh, like the forest outside and pumpkin juice. But she didn't notice; she slept.
It was the best night's sleep she'd had since leaving Hogwarts, and she woke feeling refreshed. She heard her friends making noise downstairs and went to join them. They were talking softly in the kitchen, sipping mugs of – was that coffee?
"Where did you get that?" Hermione asked, pouring herself a cup.
Ron shrugged. "Icebox," he said, taking a sip. He and Harry had their maps spread on the table and it was obvious they'd been looking over their options of where to head next.
Hermione joined them, relishing the hot liquid as it flowed down her throat. "So what's next?"
"Ron and I are going to go back into the town to get a few supplies. We're mostly sure we weren't made there yesterday."
She frowned. "What am I going to do?"
"Stay here. Relax. Take a hot bath; you deserve it, Hermione. I checked the bathroom, everything you could want is in there."
He nodded. "We'll set up wards around the house, in addition to the ones around the property; we think you'll be safe."
"Why don't we all just go together? I'm not sure I want to stay in this house by myself. It's a little creepy."
Harry and Ron exchanged a look. "Well, Hermione, we're going to try to talk to some people we noticed yesterday. We think it would be better for you to stay here."
"What are you going to do?" she asked suspiciously.
"Nothing," said Ron, "Just, you know, talk to some people. Only, they might be a little dangerous, so we want you to stay here."
She looked between them and saw they were telling the truth. She sighed. "Okay, I'll stay here. But don't forget those wards."
Harry and Ron left in the late morning. Hermione wanted nothing more than to do just what Harry suggested and take a long, hot bath, but she realized there might be things in the house they could use in their travels. She decided to take a quick shower then explore the house in the daylight.
She had only one change of clothes with her and she brought it into the bathroom, as well as a fluffy white towel and washcloth. Her mind stuttered over seeing the fresh, clean towel, but again, it was too good to think about.
The water was hot and she stood letting the water cascade around her for ten full minutes. She couldn't remember a shower ever feeling so good. Hermione washed herself with the soap that seemed brand new and the shampoo that was half-empty. She knew things weren't as they seemed, that the house was used, and recently, and she fully intended to leave it once she finished her shower.
She was rinsing her hair when she thought she heard the creaking of a door opening. Her blood froze in her veins. Someone, a man by his build, dressed in all black, threw open the shower curtain and stood with a large knife, poised to strike. Hermione screamed at the top of her lungs. Through her tears of fear, she saw the man step back and lower the knife; she saw him frown; she saw his silver-blond hair.
"Granger?" he said.
"Malfoy?" she gasped, drawing the curtain half-closed to keep herself hidden from him. "What is the matter with you? A knife? Honestly, are you some kind of psycho?"
He frowned, setting the knife on the sink. "What are you doing here?"
Hermione knew she was in trouble. Draco Malfoy was a Death Eater, her very own personal enemy, and the individual responsible for the death of Dumbledore. She was completely vulnerable, her wand with her clothes on a shelf across the room.
"What are you going to do?" she asked, trying not to show her fear, now getting cold.
He continued to peer at her curiously. "What are you doing here?" he repeated.
"Are you going to kill me?"
"What do you think?"
She forced herself to think clearly. "No. If you were going to, you would've by now."
"True. Now. What are you doing here?"
"If you're not going to kill me, I would prefer to converse under different circumstances. For example, when I'm not soaking wet."
He smirked. "I don't know. I think I like you in this position. You'll be far more willing to cooperate, and you don't have your wand on you."
She glared at him. "My wand is currently at your disposal, Malfoy. You can always just take it when you leave the room."
"Of course I can." He looked at her intently. "Okay, Granger. You have two minutes to get dressed, then I'm coming back in. Got it?"
She nodded. She hated being so vulnerable, and to him of all people. He left her alone, closing the door behind him and taking her wand. Hermione quickly dressed and opened the bathroom door, peering into the hallway; Malfoy was no where to be seen.
Hermione crept softly downstairs toward the door, only to have Malfoy step in front of her. And smirk.
"Now, Granger, I thought we were going to talk. Where do you think you're going? All alone, with no wand?"
She set her jaw and glared at him. "Nowhere. Let's get this over with. What are you going to do with me?"
Malfoy raised an eyebrow. "Do with you? Whatever do you mean?"
"I am going to ask you the question I've been asking since I saw you. What are you doing here?"
She sighed. "Is that all you're going to ask?"
He nodded. "Until you answer it."
"Fine. I'm – traveling. Seeing the country."
He rolled his eyes. "Do you honestly expect me to believe that?"
"I don't really care if you believe me or not."
"Well, I'm afraid I do not. Are you alone?"
She bit her lip. "Yes."
"Yes, you are. And you're terrible at it. Yet, I know that you are alone here. So where are they?"
He tutted. "Now, now, Granger. I know you're a smart girl. And you know to whom I'm referring."
He sneered and grabbed her arm, pulling her close to him. "I don't have time for your games and lies, Granger. I want to know right now what you're doing here. My patience is running thin."
"Why aren't you going to kill me?" she asked, still being held by him. Her arm was starting to sting from his tight grip.
"I don't kill people. Thought you knew that."
"You didn't kill him. That's all I know."
He pushed her away roughly. "Tell me what you're doing here this instant, or I will make you. Don't think I won't; that's one spell you know I won't hesitate to cast."
She glared at him. "Fine. I'm running from your people."
"My people? What's that supposed to mean?"
"Come on, Malfoy. You're not stupid. You – " she sputtered, " – evil people. Your pals." He still looked like he wasn't sure what she was talking about. "Death Eaters."
He paled, instantly. "You're running from Death Eaters? Since when?"
His jaw dropped. "They're following you right now?"
"Yes. I think we got away this time, though…" she trailed off when she noticed the look on his face.
"We? What do you mean, we?"
"Harry, Ron and me."
He groaned and put his head in his hands. "Great. Just great."
"When did you get here?"
"Last night. Look, Malfoy, I answered your question, now answer mine. Why aren't you going to kill me?"
"Stay here. Don't leave, don't move, don't do anything, do you understand?"
She glared. "Malfoy, what – "
"Are you going to listen to me or not?"
"I will stay here. Not because you told me to."
"Of course not. Whatever. I'll be right back." With that, he turned and strode quickly out the front door. Hermione rushed to a window and watched him walk up the path that led to the house and out of sight.
She ran upstairs and threw all of her things in her bag, and gathered Harry and Ron's things too. Just as she was nearing the front room, Malfoy returned.
"Where are you going?" he demanded, eyes flashing in anger.
"Nowhere, just calm down. I only gathered our things."
"Good. I've put up wards to alert me if any of my people come within five miles of this house," he said with sarcasm.
"Malfoy, what is going on?" Hermione said, frustrated, angry, and tired. "Why are you doing all of this? And why should I believe you? You probably sent signals out alerting your friends that I'm here."
"Granger, if I wanted you dead, I wouldn't wait around for them to come collect you. I would take you to the Dark Lord myself." He held her wand out to her. "Take it. I'm not going to hurt you."
"Why not? What are you doing here?"
He sighed in exasperation. "Are you always like this? Asking questions incessantly?"
She jutted her chin out in defiance. "I'm thorough. And I don't like being kept in the dark. What is going on?"
"We have to make this house look like no one's been here for years. Then I will be able to breath easily enough to answer your questions."
"I gathered my, Harry's, and Ron's things."
"Fine. Wait here. This will only take a minute." He disappeared up the creaking stairs, and, true to his word, returned in just over a minute. "Okay. Now. Let's sit, shall we?"
Hermione sat in a chair facing him. "What are you doing here, Malfoy?"
He sighed. "I'm going to have to answer you, aren't I? You won't just, drop it, right?"
"Okay. I've been running too, like you. After – that night – I was supposed to return to him, since the deed had been done." He swallowed hard. "I asked Severus for a few minutes to see my mother, and told him I would meet him and we'd go together before the Dark Lord. He granted me the time, and I Apparated home, where I spent an hour thinking about what I wanted to do. I had no desire to continue serving him, so I had few options. I chose to run. I found this place after only a few weeks and made it my refuge. I live here. You have intruded."
"You're running from the Dark Lord?"
"Well, I haven't actually been running for quite some time, now. And you three have to come along and bring the Dark army behind you." He scowled at her.
"Why are you running?"
He shook his head. "I thought you were supposed to be smart! Because they're looking for me, too. They want to kill me, too."
"Because, I didn't fulfill my task, a penalty worthy of death, and because I ran away from him. He doesn't take betrayal lightly, and running from him equates to betraying him."
"Why didn't you – "
At that moment, Malfoy's eyes widened, his color paled, and he whipped his head down to look at his arm; it was glowing red. Then he looked back at Hermione. "They're coming. Follow me. Now."
She didn't argue, or question this time. She followed him. He practically ran out the back of the house, carrying a small pack, and muttering spells as he went. Hermione followed as he ran into the pumpkin patch. Over halfway through, he stopped, bent down, and bushed straw, plants, and pumpkins away, revealing a door in the ground. He pulled it up and turned to find Hermione.
"In," he said, pointing through the hatch door.
"Wait, I mean, how do I know – "
"Do you want to get caught, or not?" he asked, glaring at her.
She returned his glare and approached the door. Stairs led down into a dark tunnel. "Malfoy – "
"In, Granger." He goaded her ahead of him, down the stairs, and into the tunnel. Then he shut the door, muttered more spells, and finally lit his wand with a simple, Lumos!
Hermione lit her own wand, and looked into his eyes. Odd; she'd never noticed they were grey before. But then, she'd never been this close to him either, except when she'd hit him, that one time, in third year. Although that was very brief, and certainly not a situation where she could linger over any of his finer features. His eyes. She blinked.
"Follow me," he said, breaking their eye contact and starting down the tunnel.
"Malfoy, how do I know – "
"That I'm not going to kill you? That I'm not leading you right to them? That I'm telling you the truth?" He stopped walking and turned around to face her, looking straight into her eyes again. "You don't." Then he resumed his course.
She followed, grudgingly. The tunnel descended for the first five minutes, then continued straight for another ten. They walked in silence. Finally, they came to a door ahead of them. Malfoy waited for her to catch up to him, as he'd been walking at a near-run.
When she was beside him, he opened the door with a flick of his wrist. "You first," he said, opening the door wide.
Hermione stepped through into a small, dusty room. A table and one chair sat in the room, and on one wall there were shelves. Books, parchment, quills, and dried out ink bottles filled most of the space, but she noticed a few jars of what looked like food. She went to inspect them.
"Peanut butter," he said. She turned around. "It's a highly nutritious food that keeps for a long time." He looked around the room. "I found this place too. Don't ask me why there's a secret tunnel heading away from that house. I think the house is creepy." He looked back to her. "Grab a jar, if you want. It's okay, I put it there. I have enough rations in here to last a week. And come on."
"We're not stopping here?"
"No. I can't fully block the tunnel from in here. We need to go through there," he said, pointing to a door Hermione hadn't noticed before.
"Oh." She took a jar hesitantly, looking at Malfoy the entire time. He moved across the small room and stood in front of the door.
"Are you ready?"
"Yes," she said, her voice betraying just a hint of uncertainty.
He pushed open the door and she was blinded, but only for a moment. She followed him through the door, and found herself outside on a ledge. Above her rose a sheer rock face thirty feet high. The ledge extended about five feet, and the cliff continued to drop for sixty feet to a large expanse of water.
Hermione gasped. "Where are we?"
"On the coast. You didn't know there was water nearby?"
"No; we have no idea where we are half the time."
"Oh." He sat down on the grass, the cliff wall behind him. He pulled out a green apple and took a bite.
She stared at him, amazed at his apparent calm. "So, now what?" she asked.
"Them to leave the area."
"Do you think they will?"
He nodded. "The house looks like it's been abandoned for half a century. The entrance to the tunnel has been concealed heavily to simply look like part of the pumpkin patch. They have no way to detect us, and they can't see this ledge from above."
"So this is your back-up plan."
"Yes. I've never had to use it, but I made it as secure as I know how."
She looked at him, then sat down next to him, but not close to him. "Got another apple?" He reached into his bag and handed her the apple he retrieved. "Thank you," she said, taking a bite. It was then she remembered that they would probably have to miss lunch.
"How will you know when they leave?"
"The Mark will let me know. It's part of the wards I set; a bit like the one used – well, that night. You know; at the Tower."
They sat in silence for a few minutes. "How long do you think it will take?" she asked.
He groaned and threw the remains of his apple over the edge of the cliff. "Are you going to keep asking questions?" he asked, annoyed.
"Well, what else is there to do?"
"I don't know, sit here in silence?"
"Merlin, Granger! Do you even know how to be quiet?"
She frowned deeply and turned away from him, looking toward the water. After what felt to her like an hour, he finally spoke.
"Okay, fine. We probably can't sit here for hours in silence. What would you like to talk about?"
"Why didn't you want to follow Voldemort? I thought you joined up proudly."
He scowled. "What, no persiflage before the heavy stuff?"
"Why bother? We both don't really care about each other. I want to know the important things."
"I had no desire to serve him. Yes, I joined proudly. But quickly I came to realize he'd only let me join so that he could punish my father for his failures. He didn't want me, he didn't care about me. It didn't take me long to figure that out, but I had to keep at it. Otherwise I was dead before I even started."
"You left because you changed your mind."
He glanced at her sideways. "What do you mean, exactly?"
"Well, you haven't called me Mudblood this whole time."
"I think it's my turn to ask a question. What's something no one knows about you?"
"That's your question?"
He shrugged. "Yeah. I mean, I already know where your loyalties lie, who your friends are, you're in love with the Weasel, and you're the smartest witch in school. There's not much more to know."
Anger sprung up inside her like a struck match. "What do you know, Malfoy? How dare you presume to say you know all there is to know about me."
"I didn't; that's why I asked you to tell me something no one knows. Because I don't know everything about you. I meant no ill-will."
"Yeah, right," she mumbled, loudly enough for him to hear. She thought long and hard for something no one else knew. "I'm afraid of dying. I'm afraid of this War that I don't completely understand, of why people want to kill me just because I was born." Unbidden tears crept into her eyes. It had been an impossibly hard four months and she was tired of running, tired of never feeling safe. She felt safer in that moment, on the edge of a cliff with a Death Eater than she had since leaving Hogwarts. It was probably because she knew that at least, for now, he didn't want to kill her. She sighed, refusing to let the tears fall. Refusing to cry in front of him.
"I'm scared too," he said softly.
They passed another few minutes in silence.
"Tell me something, Malfoy. Something no one else knows."
"I think you're beautiful."
Hermione nearly choked. "What? Are you mad?"
"No. I've thought so for a while."
She shook her head. "Unbelievable."
"Are you mad?"
"Why would I be? I think you're mental, but I'm not mad."
"Mental? Because I think you're – "
"Do not say it again, please." He shifted slightly. Farther from her. "I didn't mean anything, it's just – weird. Okay? I mean, you're you, and I'm me. You are not supposed to think that about me."
"Says you, remember?"
He waved his hand in the air. "Oh, that. What do you expect? Of course, I am not supposed to think that about you. But really; what rubbish. Don't you think?"
She was flabbergasted. This was not a conversation she would ever have imagined sharing with him of all people. "I find your reasons for believing you aren't supposed to think that way about me to be rubbish, yes. I always have."
"So do you mind?"
Weird. Just weird. "Uhm, I guess not."
"My turn for a question. Are you with Weasley?"
She couldn't believe he was asking her such a ridiculous question. "No, Malfoy, I'm not. Why should you want to know that, anyway?"
He shrugged. "We had something of a pool going in my house about when you two would finally get together. And about how that would happen. You know, would you say it, would you kiss, would you write it… my money was on next year. This year, I guess. And I bet that you would slap him for kissing someone else, then snog him senseless in the corridor."
She balked. "Are you serious? Your house had a bet going about Ron and me? A couple of Gryffindors?Had you nothing better to do?"
"Hey, we were always up for a chance to win money off each other. We had hundreds of bets going at any one time. I was in charge of sorting through all of them, and seeing to it people got their due earnings. Minus a small fee, of course."
"Why am I not surprised?"
Time seemed to be passing quickly. Already the sun was low over the horizon, and Hermione was sure they'd left the house around lunchtime. Surely they hadn't been sitting there for five hours. She could only recall a very short conversation between Malfoy and herself.
"Did I fall asleep?" she asked, curious.
He looked at her. "Yes, actually, and you snore."
She looked offended. "I do not."
"Do too. And you were saying something about a red cat. Do I want to know?"
Hermione quickly looked away before he could see her blush. Once; once in her life she'd had a dream about Draco Malfoy. It involved a red cat, of all things. In the dream, she'd been lost, and he'd come to her in a forest and told her to follow the red cat. Then he disappeared. The red cat found her moments later, and she followed it to a little house in the middle of the woods. Inside, Draco was waiting for her, with a romantic, candlelit dinner and music. He transfigured the cat into a red dress, and an instant later she was wearing the dress. They sat down to eat, but before they'd taken a single bite, he had leaned over and kissed her. Then she woke up, confused and a little short of breath.
She couldn't believe she mentioned the cat in her sleep. At least there was no way he could possibly know about her dream.
Hermione didn't answer him, and he reached a hand over and poked her. "Well? Want to tell me about the red cat, Granger?"
"No, leave it be, Malfoy."
"Have they gone yet?"
He shook his head. "I hope they go soon, though. I'm getting hungry."
"What's your most embarrassing moment, Malfoy?"
He looked at her, amused. "Why?"
She shrugged. "We're learning things about each other, aren't we?"
"All right. Most embarrassing moment. My parents threw a party before fifth year and I was supposed to give a toast to the guest of honor. I was incredibly nervous. I'd spent weeks working on what I would say, and I had it perfect. The moment arrived for me to give the toast, and I completely messed up his name. I called him Dillweed instead of Stillmeade."
Hermione laughed hard. "Dillweed? But isn't that an herb used for – "
"Yes, male potency potions. It was awful. My parents were horrified, the guests couldn't decide whether to laugh or stare open-faced at me. Finally, Mr. Stillmeade burst out laughing, causing everyone to feel at ease about the situation, but I was red-faced the entire rest of the evening, especially when he spoke to me afterwards. I wanted to crawl under the table and wait for everyone to leave before coming out."
"That is funny. Oh, and terribly embarrassing, I'm sure," she said with a smile. He smiled back at her, and her breath caught. In an instant he was kissing her, as though he'd always wanted to, as though this was the moment he'd been living for. She kissed him back, for some reason, but one she didn't care to think about. The voice in the back of her head telling her she should stop – screaming she should stop – was drowned out in the rush of feelings the kiss evoked. Never had a kiss been so truly powerful, and she felt like she would melt under the force of it. After trying to rationalize why she was letting him kiss her, and failing miserably, she gave up thought and let herself be passionately kissed by the enemy.
Finally, needing air, she pulled away, reluctantly, and looked into his pale grey eyes. At that moment, the sun dipped below the horizon, plunging them in a swirl of colors – pinks, purples, oranges, yellows, blues – a fantastic fireworks display of the firmament. His usually pale cheeks were flushed, slightly, and he looked about ready to devour her again.
He neared her, ready to do just that, when his expression changed. Hermione frowned, realizing she very much wanted him to devour her, and not appreciating anything that would prevent or delay it. He looked at his arm.
"They've gone," he said. "It's safe."
"Oh," she said, disappointed. It surprised her that she could be disappointed that Malfoy wasn't going to kiss her again. She clearly could not remember ever wanting him to kiss her before, or ever wishing to be close enough to him that he could kiss her. It was all very strange, and she was about to mention it to him, when he stood up and pulled her up along side him.
"Let's go," he said, a hard, frosty exterior returning to his expression.
It was only then that she remembered Harry and Ron. They hadn't said when they would return to the house. What if – oh, Merlin, no – what if they returned while the Death Eaters were there!
"Open this door this instant, Malfoy."
He looked at her, puzzled, and obliged. Hermione took off, running the entire way back through the tunnel. When she reached the stairs, she paused to catch her breath before running up them as well. Malfoy was somewhere behind her; she caught sounds of him from behind her, but she was focused on reaching the house as soon as possible.
Up the stairs, she came to the hatch door. She tried to push it open, but it wouldn't budge. She was nearly panicking when Malfoy arrived and calmly muttered whatever spells were required to make the door open, and she pushed it open with a force that surprised him.
Then she was out and running to the house. Malfoy followed closely behind. Hermione ran in through the back door, calling for Harry and Ron. There was no answer. She looked all through the house; it was a mess. Things were thrown all over the place, and anything that hadn't been broken before, now was. Dishes, glasses, mirrors; all broken. Furniture was slashed, curtains ripped even more then before; nothing had escaped the fury of whomever had come looking for her – for them.
She sank to her knees and sensed that Malfoy was standing behind her.
"Your friends haven't been here," he said, putting a hand on her shoulder. She jerked away from his touch.
"How do you know?" she whispered.
"I just know. If they had Potter, then, well, this blasted Mark would be singing with activity."
Oh, right. "So, they're gone?"
"Yes," he said calmly, surveying the room. "What a mess."
She nodded, the tightening constrictions around her heart and lungs lessening at the understanding that her friends might still be okay.
"Now what?" she said.
He looked down at her. "What do you mean?"
"What happens now? With you, with me? I mean, what are you going to do?"
He frowned. "Nothing. You will leave with Potter and Weasley, and I will remain here."
"If you aren't following him anymore, why not join us?"
Draco actually laughed at that. "Yeah, right. Join your little crusade – oh wait, no, I would really just be joining you in running for your lives. Sounds lovely, really it does, but I don't think so."
"You could help us! We could defeat Voldemort together!" she pleaded, not understanding why she was suddenly desperate for him to come with them; with her.
He shook his head. "No, Granger. I'm not going to come with you. I want him dead, just like you, only I'm not like you. I'm not the kind to run toward danger and death; that's what you Gryffindors are all about. Not me. I will sit here until it's all over, then I will run away even farther, where no one will ever find me."
"That's no kind of life, Malfoy."
He shrugged. "It's my choice. This is what I choose. Nothing, and I mean nothing will change that." The way he said it, she knew he was talking about their kiss earlier. Had it really only been within the last fifteen minutes that they were kissing and watching the sun set?
"You're a coward."
"I know that. I've come to terms with that. I'm scared to die. Oh, wait, so are you," he said with a sneer.
Hermione hated to admit it to herself, but his comment hurt. It hurt like nothing he'd ever said before had hurt. Because after she told him that, they'd kissed, and didn't that mean you weren't supposed to throw things back in each other's face? Tears filled her eyes again, and she hated them. She was being so weak. She dropped her head to look at the floor so he wouldn't see the tears.
Then he sank onto the floor beside her and lifted her chin so she had to look at him. "Don't cry, Granger. You're scared to die, but you're going to fight the darkness anyway. I'm scared to die and I'm not. We're different people."
She jerked her face away from his and looked in the opposite direction. "They'll be back soon."
"And I won't be here. You will tell them nothing that happened, especially not me being here. Then you will leave, move on, with the knowledge that the Death Eaters have been temporarily stymied. One day, I'll learn that the Dark Lord has been defeated. Maybe you'd come out here to say goodbye."
"Don't count on it," she said, bitterly. How could one – okay, two – kisses make things so different now? And why did it seem they were only different to her? He didn't seem to even remember that it had happened, yet he'd been the one to do it in the first place!
"And don't worry," she continued, "I won't tell them about anything that happened. Especially not that – "
With lightning-fast reflexes, he cupped his hand over her mouth. "Don't say it," he hissed. After she looked at him, he let her go.
"Why, Malfoy? Because saying it would make it so? Would make it true that you – "
He covered her mouth again. "Do not say it," he said, his tone quite serious.
She wanted to say she hated him. She felt it, in her mind, in her bones, but she couldn't say it. Instead, fresh tears appeared and she jerked out of his grasp again. It was just a kiss, she thought, shaking her head.
"Don't say it because it was the absolute most perfect thing that's ever happened to me, and I know it never will again, and I want to leave it there. Where it happened. I'll always have that moment, and I don't want it cheapened, or lessened, or in any way made into something more or less than it was," he said quietly.
She looked at him and he looked at her. Their eyes met and she saw sadness in his eyes. She reached up to touch his face and his eyes closed. She traced his jaw lightly, then stopped to rest her finger on his lips. She leaned in, but he pulled back.
"No, don't," he said, opening his eyes. "Not here. Leave it there."
"Why? Come with us," she pleaded.
"No," he said firmly. "None of this ever happened."
"But it did. I remember it, you remember it. It's happened, and nothing can change that."
"After you're gone, and the months pass, I'll start to wonder if it was only a dream. Something that my mind has made up to keep me sane, to keep me from running off and doing something stupid, like rejoining him or coming after you three. And you'll forget it too; you'll be fighting grown men, and probably defeating them, and this – that moment – will seem like a dream to you, too."
She stood up with a determined expression on her face and held out a hand. He looked at her, puzzled. "Come on. We don't have much time."
"What do you mean?"
"Let's go. Let's do this now."
She sighed, frustrated. "Are you coming, or not?"
He hesitantly took her hand and she helped pull him to his feet. Then she led him through the house and out the back door, into the pumpkin patch. They reached the hatch entrance, completely disguised.
Hermione dropped his hand and found the perfect pumpkin. She pulled out her wand and carved her initials into the pumpkin. Then she motioned for him to do the same. He looked at her, confused.
"I won't forget," she said, "Trust me. And now, whenever you start to forget, you can come out here and see proof that it happened."
He nodded, amazed at the calm and fierceness of her voice, and carved his initials under hers. Then she drew a circle around the two sets of letters, and charmed them not to decay.
Draco was so touched by her actions, by the evidence of that perfect moment, that he moved to stand in front of her. He looked down at her, and slowly lowered his head toward hers. She pushed away from him.
"What about all that stuff you said? About leaving it there?"
He smiled. "Well, now this is a good place too."
She smiled back, and he resumed moving in to kiss her. His mouth was almost on hers; she could feel his breath on her face; when –
"Hermione! Wake up!"
Someone was shaking her. Roughly.
"You've got to wake up, now! Someone's coming!"
She cracked her eyes open, expecting to see Malfoy. Instead, Ron was bent over her, looking apprehensively toward the door. She sat up, and looked slowly around. "Where are we? What happened?"
Ron turned back to her. "What? We're in that creepy house. And we think someone's coming."
She got out of bed and grabbed her bag. "How long have we been here?"
He gave her a worried look. "Hermione, we've only been here for a few hours, remember? You fell asleep after we decided to look around the house, and you've been asleep for a few hours now. It's the middle of the night. Come on, Harry's waiting." Ron turned to leave the room.
Hermione touched her lips, that still burned with a kiss that had occurred only in a dream. She sighed. None of it had been real. Make that two dreams in her entire life about Draco Malfoy. And how strange that she'd had one this night, of all nights, when he hadn't been anywhere near in her thoughts.
She followed Ron down the stairs to find Harry.
"So how long do we have?" she asked. Harry didn't seem to be in too big a hurry to leave.
"Few minutes," he said, shrugging.
"How many?" she asked.
"Just one." He looked at her. "I want to take him alive."
She bristled. They'd never fought the Death Eaters who chased them unless forced. But they'd never come upon just one before, either. It was the perfect opportunity to get information, if they could successfully capture this one. Unless it was a trap.
"Harry, what if – "
"It's not a trap, Hermione. The ward I used to detect the Dark Mark is undetectable, and it goes off each time someone bearing the Mark passes it. There is only one of them."
They crouched in the front room to wait. Time seemed to move agonizingly slow, but soon they heard the sound of footsteps outside the house. They approached the front, then, to their surprise, became fainter and disappeared. She looked at Ron, who looked at her, and just then she realized; the back door. She spun around to the back entrance of the room, just in time to see the Death Eater appear, wand drawn.
Ron, who'd been watching her, turned around, training his wand on the man as well. Harry soon followed.
"Show yourself!" Harry demanded.
The man, who wore only a simply black robe with hood, did nothing but look at each in turn, though they couldn't see his face. He gaze lingered on Hermione, which made Harry and Ron quickly angry.
"I said, show – "
"I heard you, Potter," came an all-too familiar voice to Hermione especially, having heard it in her dream. Malfoy pushed back his hood. "Surprise," he said, bitterly.
"Malfoy," said Harry, gritting his teeth, almost spitting the name. "Have you been following us?"
Hermione watched the Death Eater's face and was rewarded with a flicker of fear crossing it.
"Of course not, I have much better things to do than trail you three."
"What are you doing here?" Ron asked.
"I should ask you the same question, Weasel, seeing as this is my house."
Things were happening too strangely for Hermione. She had just held nearly the exact same conversation with Malfoy in her dream. The three friends stood, wands directed at Malfoy's heart, while he could aim at only one of them; he chose Hermione.
"Your house? Your house?" Ron said with a bitter chuckle. "And to think, you used to make fun of my house. This place is worse than a bin!"
"Shut it, Weasel, or I'll hex her."
Harry and Ron turned to Hermione, who was staring at the blond. She didn't think he'd really do it; something inside her told her he wouldn't hurt her. But she couldn't communicate to her friends their need to call his bluff.
Draco was alarmed to see that Hermione didn't appear afraid of him at all. She looked at him like she knew something, and it was starting to get on his already frayed nerves.
"Don't you dare, Malfoy. You'll be in so much pain if you do you will beg for us to kill you."
"Oh, I know that. But at least I'll take one of you down with me."
The light hint that he might actually kill her had the opposite affect on Hermione than on the boys. She was even more certain that he wouldn't kill her, while Harry and Ron moved toward Malfoy. Harry didn't stop until his wand was poking into Malfoy's throat.
"Give me a reason, Malfoy. Go ahead. I dare you," he spat.
"Harry, no," pleaded Hermione. All three boys looked at her, none more stunned than Draco.
"Hermione, didn't you hear what he just said?"
"Yes, Ron, I did, but I don't want you to kill him – kill anyone," she corrected.
Harry looked back at Malfoy. "I will say again. What are you doing here, Malfoy? Are you following us?"
Draco smirked. "I've already answered that, Potter."
"I don't believe you. We've been running from the likes of you for months now, and all of a sudden, you show up?"
Hermione again watched Malfoy, and he blanched at the mention of other Death Eaters. There was something too familiar about this. It was so much like her dream; it couldn't have been some kind of prophecy, could it?
"Dillweed," she said, looking directly at Malfoy. His eyes bugged out and he gaped at her. It was all Harry needed; he grabbed Malfoy's wand out of his hand and Ron punched him in the gut. Hermione screamed.
"Harry, Ron, don't," she pleaded, putting herself between them and Draco.
"What's the matter with you, Hermione? Has he put you under some kind of spell?"
"No, he hasn't. I just think maybe we should listen to him."
Behind her, Draco stood up and came to stand behind Hermione. "Red cat?" he said, hesitantly. She felt tingly and prickly and all sorts of weird. How was it possible he would know about that, unless… it hadn't been just a dream, but some kind of mental connection between them. Why it would happen was completely unknown to her, but she resolved to find out. Once they were out of this whole mess, anyway.
When Malfoy mentioned the red cat, Ron looked at him. "What are you talking about?"
Hermione ignored Ron and spoke to Malfoy. "You had it too?"
"I guess. All of this seems too familiar."
"And the hatch; does that exist?" she asked. Harry and Ron now exchanged looks of complete confusion.
"Yes, it does."
Hermione spun around to face him. "The pumpkin," she said.
Malfoy clenched his jaw and nodded.
Without a word, Hermione left the room, taking a path straight into the pumpkin patch where she knew the hatch would be. Draco was right behind her, followed by Harry and Ron, who still had Draco in their wand-sights. So to speak.
She found the hatch, but waited for Malfoy before looking for the pumpkin. He stopped beside her, and they looked at each other. He inclined his head, and she found the right pumpkin; the one that looked exactly like it had in her dream. And there, printed in black, were their initials: HG and DM.
She fell onto the ground, staring at the pumpkin. Malfoy ran a hand through his hair. Harry and Ron weren't sure what to do, so they kept their wands trained on Malfoy.
"Hermione? Uhm, what's going on?"
At that moment, both Harry and Draco felt the magical indication that Death Eaters had passed through their wards. Hermione read Draco's expression and he looked at her.
"What now?" she demanded, standing up to face Draco. "What happens now?"
"You mean, does the same thing happen?" he asked.
"No. There's nothing down that hatch but a storm cellar. No tunnel."
"We have to get away," she cried, nearing a panic. "Let's Apparate."
"We can't," he said. "This place has residual magic on it. No Apparating in or out."
"We have to go," she said, "They'll be here any minute."
"There's another way off the property, through the woods."
Harry and Ron had given up understanding what was going on. All they knew was that Death Eaters were on their way. And that one was standing in front of them, but that he wasn't hexing them, or harming them, or even insulting them. He didn't even have his wand.
"And you?" she said, stubbornly. "Are you going to be the same?"
Draco looked at her intently. He knew what she meant; would he refuse to come with them, to help them? He knew what his answer would have been before that dream, before that vision. But he'd kissed her, and she'd kissed him back, and he could still remember it, still feel it, like it had been real. Maybe that was something worth fighting for, the chance to kiss her for real, not in a dream.
"No," he said simply. "Are you all ready to go?"
She nodded; Harry and Ron nodded. Draco took her hand and pulled her after him toward the woods. She turned and motioned for Harry and Ron to follow. Quickly, silently, they melted into the shadows of the dark woods.
The next morning, when they were safely on the road again, Hermione told her friends about her dream, which apparently Draco had shared. When she skipped the part about them kissing, she glanced at Draco, who grinned at her and reddened slightly. It made her pulse race.
Everything Draco had said in the dream, he meant, he told them, only he'd never said it to anyone before. It felt good when he knew that Hermione knew the truth about it, and now three people knew it. It was liberating.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione were only slightly better off than they had been before stopping at the old house, but Draco's situation was infinitely improved. The four – not friends, no longer enemies – set off with renewed purpose. The road would be rough and hard, the way challenging and brutal. But perhaps, together, they would be successful and rid the world of its most evil being.
And maybe, just maybe, Draco and Hermione would live happily ever after. Maybe.
A/N: Thanks for reading:)