Chapter Twenty Six – Cryptic Messages

Hermione walked into the Slytherin common room and tried not to think. The room was decorated much like the Gryffindor common room—same style sofas, chairs, and tables, but all in green with silver trim. The lack of windows and natural light was disturbing.

She heard him shuffling in the other room and tried not to think about him getting dressed. She wondered if he had even worn anything to bed. The thought made her feel hot and panicky.

Don't think about it, she ordered herself, don't even start.

He sauntered out and she felt her heart leap into her throat. She shut her eyes and pictured a cold mountain lake. Edged in ice. With snowflakes falling. She took a deep, steadying breath.

"Feeling all right?" he asked casually. His sardonic tone actually helped calm her nerves.

"Never better," she said brightly and smiled sweetly at him. He gave her a measuring look and then shrugged. Her eyes skimmed over him quickly, taking in his white shirt—unbuttoned halfway down his chest, damn him; black pants, and usual black boots. He noticed her gaze and grinned ruefully.

"It seems I'm stuck with school clothes, too. Maybe we should go shopping."

"I could Transfigure something for us. I just wasn't in the mood this morning."

"Shopping is more fun," he insisted.

"You want to go shopping?" she asked derisively. "With me?"

"Absolutely. Lingerie, first."

She clenched her jaw in annoyance. Not even five minutes and he had her blushing scarlet again.

"That will be the end of that conversation," she decided. He laughed.

"All right, Granger. I'll stop 'tormenting' you. What did you and Potter find out?"

She was relieved—and a bit disappointed, though she shoved that thought aside angrily—that he was willing to move on to business. She watched him as he walked to the huge fireplace and examined his reflection in a small mirror propped on the mantle. His silver-blonde hair was perfect, as usual. He moved with a stunning grace that made her ache just to watch him. She turned away quickly, wishing she had never come down here. What had possessed her to seek out the wolf in his den?

She put a shaking hand to her hair and winced when she touched the tender spot on her head where she had torn her locks free. She glanced at him again and he turned to look at her with that maddening grin of his. Simply put, she had wanted to see him. She had rationalized that she wanted to question him about their trip to Snape's house, but in all honesty, it wasn't true. If she were completely candid with herself, she had been half-hoping what had happened would happen. She blushed, recalling his hands in her hair, his demanding mouth on hers, his—

"Over-analyzing again, Granger?" Draco asked dryly. She stared at him in surprise. How could he know her so well already?

"No," she said pertly. "I was thinking about the book." Her gaze dared him to say anything about lying.

"Really? I didn't realize secrets of immortality were such a racy subject. That's quite a pretty blush you've got there."

The blush darkened, to her chagrin. She had to stop thinking about him! He had only kissed her to prove a point. To show her that he could be utterly irresistible when he chose. To prove that raw passion could override common sense and every other rational thought… God, she was doing it again.

"I was not over-analyzing. I was merely thinking," she snapped. He was moving toward her, so she quickly walked to put the couch between them. She didn't dare get too close to him. He laughed.

"I'm not going to pounce on you."

She ignored that and remembered the question he had asked long minutes ago.

"The book is difficult to read. I know there is a spell to diminish the effects of the wavering text, but I have no idea what it is."

"I do."

She nodded. It was probably taught to Malfoys as soon as they learned to read.

"We deciphered a bit of it, though. It references something called the Sons of Horus. Have you ever heard of them?"

He began to casually stalk her around the sofa. She pretended not to notice, but she drifted sideways to keep the large piece of furniture between them. She tried to shake off the image of a hunting panther, but his grey eyes were gleaming mischievously.

"No."

"It also says to make an offering to Shu."

Draco stopped. "Shu? Now, that sounds familiar. Where have I heard that before?"

"It's most likely Egyptian. Some sort of god, I assume, since it requires an offering."

Draco's brow wrinkled in thought, but he started moving again, quickly this time. She gave up all pretenses and bolted behind the couch.

"Will you keep still?" she demanded. He chuckled.

"Why are you running from me? Are you afraid I'll kiss you again?"

God, yes! She shook her head, knowing if she spoke aloud he would see right through her lie.

"If I promise not to try to kiss you, will you stay there?" he asked. She looked at him through narrowed eyes, searching for a trick, but she couldn't see a downside.

"Yes," she said shortly. Surprisingly, he didn't smirk at her. She held her ground, barely, as he rounded the sofa and stood before her. She realized her mistake immediately. He didn't even need to touch her. His nearness was enough to send warning bells jangling through every nerve ending. The masculine scent of him filled her senses and she shut her eyes tightly, trying to think of anything else but her ridiculous urge to wrap her arms around his neck…

"Isn't this better?" he asked. "It's so much easier to talk without a huge gap between us."

Talk. Yes. She opened her eyes and swallowed hard. He had reduced the gap, for certain. He stood so close to her if she leaned forward a bit, she would be pressed up against him. Almost, she stepped back, but her Gryffindor pride suddenly reared its head and she raised her chin stubbornly.

Her resolve lasted all of six seconds, until he reached up and touched her hair gently with both hands. His thumbs massaged her head where the hair had been pulled.

"Did I hurt you?" he asked softly. She noted with alarm that she was forgetting to breathe and pulled in a shaky breath.

"No," she whispered. The word was both a response and a request. He smiled down at her and her eyes slid over his features. He was so beautiful. Pale and smooth as porcelain. She dug her fingernails into her palms to fight the urge to reach up and caress the even line of his jaw.

His hands suddenly became brisk in her hair. He tugged and twisted it in a businesslike manner.

"You're a mess," he said. "We'd better fix you up a bit or Weasley will suspect you've been rolling around in the sack with me." She glared at him when he laughed and continued, "Of course, he'd be right, for once."

"Can we just go?" she asked sharply. The thought of Ron had assaulted her with guilt. Draco sighed.

"If you insist."

He stepped away from her and drew on the black cloak that had been tossed upon the back of the sofa. In the same motion, he seemed to pull an invisible curtain about himself. His armor, she knew. She had figured it out in Hagrid's hut, why Draco was so different when he was alone with her. The wall of ice, disdain, and sarcasm was missing. Since Dover, it had slowly melted away, exposing the real Draco—the human, vulnerable Draco that he kept under such tight control. The one that refused to let anyone get close enough to hurt him.

He looked at her seriously.

"I need to send a message to my parents. I've been thinking about it since the lie we concocted yesterday. It won't be easy, but it can be done. I'll need your help."

Hermione nodded.

"I'll ask them where Regulus Black died. We'll do it tonight. Here, if you aren't afraid to be alone with me again."

"I'm not afraid of you," she said adamantly.

He laughed in what sounded like sheer delight. "Liar. Let's go have a look at that book." He gestured fluidly toward the exit and she gratefully went.

Ron was in the library with Harry when they entered and he shot a suspicious glare at them both.

"Any luck?" she asked. Harry shook his head.

"You were right. Not much of anything Egyptian in this place."

"That's just great. By the time we figure out what the Sons of Horus are, we may have collected all the Horcruxes. With no idea how to destroy them."

"Sons of Horus?" Ron asked. "I know what they are."

Three pairs of astonished eyes turned to him.

"Why is that such a bloody surprise?" he demanded. "I went to Egypt with my parents, remember? The Sons of Horus are the jars they use for the body parts in the tomb. They are supposed to protect the entrails on the Pharoah's journey to the afterlife."

Hermione gasped. "The Canopic Jars!"

Ron nodded. "That's it. Canopic. They were placed at the four corners—north, south, east, and west."

"I just remembered who Shu is," Draco said quietly. Hermione looked at him. "The god of wind, sunlight… and protection."

Hermione hurried to look over Harry's shoulder at the book.

"I think I know what it means!" she said happily. "The Sons of Horus is a reference to the four quarters! An offering to Shu… it's a circle of protection." She shook her head. "This is heavy. No simple spell; this is ritual magic. Ancient and powerful."

"The same magic used to create the damned thing," Draco said.

Hermione looked at Harry shrewdly. "Didn't Dumbledore say he destroyed the ring alone?"

Harry nodded. She continued, "I'll bet he dispensed with the ritual and tried to destroy it himself. He told you not to make the same mistake. We'd better do it correctly. None of us wants a withered hand—or worse. I wish we could find some information on the names of the Sons of Horus. It would be nice to do this according to the book, but we may have to improvise. Harry, get me whatever you can find on casting a circle, since none of us has ever done it before—"

"I have," Draco said nonchalantly.

"I don't even want to know why. Fine, then Malfoy can look for that information. Try to remember, this will be white magic, not the Dark Arts. Protection is the key word. You might also read the Horcrux section in the book. Maybe you can find something we missed. Harry, you find a way to invoke the elements. There are dozens of spells, so I'm certain you can find one that's appropriate. Ron, we need to find a place to do this. Somewhere we won't be interrupted. I suggest we do it at midnight. No one will be looking for us and the time seems appropriate. I'll start gathering some of the items we'll need, from what I can remember. If you find anything else we have to have, we can collect it later."

There was no argument, so she smiled and went out. It felt good to be doing something, rather than sitting around blindly searching for information. The weather was calm again, as she discovered when she headed for the greenhouse. The storm had blown itself out, leaving everything clean and wet. The sky was cloudless.

Inside the greenhouse, she took a basket from near the door and used her wand to cut sprigs of various plants: Angelica, basil, horehound, mistletoe, and nettles. She would stop by Snape's former storeroom to pick up myrrh and frankincense. At least they didn't have to sneak into there any longer. She hurried back inside and stored everything safely in the Gryffindor common room. She was surprised when the coin warmed on her chest and she looked at it quickly.

We're in the Great Hall. Your werewolf friend popped in and invited us for lunch. Ordered us to lunch, I should say.

Thanks. I'll be right there.

Lupin was probably wondering what they were all up to. He had to know they wouldn't be sitting idly around waiting for something to happen. She checked her watch. They had a full afternoon to prepare for the ritual, plus she needed to help Draco contact his parents.

Moody was having another tirade when she arrived. Apparently, he had just returned from Malfoy Manor and he was not pleased. In fact, he was yelling in Draco's face.

"Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater, I say!" he bellowed. "Now, where did they go, boy? I can cast a Cruciatus just as well as your ilk!"

Draco's eyes were frigid. He and Moody faced each other across a hand span's distance.

"Do it," Draco dared. Moody's wand jerked upward and pressed into Draco's chin with a snap. Malfoy's jaw clenched, but he gave no other sign of emotion. Hermione ran forward, but Lupin got to them first. He grabbed Moody's wand hand.

"Stop it, Alastor! Leave him be!"

"You're shielding Death Eaters now, Remus?" Moody snarled.

"He's no Death Eater and it's not his fault that they have moved on. You should have known that would happen the moment they pulled Neville out. We have the Carrows in custody because of Draco."

Moody's false eye swiveled in Lupin's direction.

"The Carrows?"

"Draco and Ron captured them at Snape's house last night."

Moody lowered his wand, but looked at Draco coldly.

"I'm watching you, boy. You'd better keep your nose clean."

Draco sneered, an expression Hermione hadn't seen in so long it nearly looked out of place. Moody moved off, peppering Lupin with questions about interrogating Amycus and Alecto. Hermione put a hand on Draco's arm.

"What was that about?" she asked.

"Apparently, Voldemort has vacated my house. Your barmy friend is a bit upset."

"Do you know where they might have gone?"

"No idea."

She nodded. "It doesn't matter. Let the Order locate them. We have our own business to attend to."

Draco returned to his seat and Hermione sat next to him, across from Harry, who looked at her, but made no comment. She snapped her fingers.

"Salt. We need salt."

Harry passed her a salt cellar, but she shook her head. "For tonight. A lot of it."

"I'll stop by the kitchen on the way out. Here's Ron."

Ron sat down next to Hermione and grinned at her. He ignored Draco completely.

"I think I know where we can do this," he murmured as he put a slab of bread on his plate and topped it with a selection of meats and cheeses. "Harry gave me the idea when he told me about one of the Pensieve memories. Remember that chamber where they hid the Stone? The one accessed by the trapdoor on the third floor?"

Hermione nodded. "Of course. It's perfect."

"I checked it out. It's empty now and there are no bloody traps on the way like Devil's Snare or life-sized chess pieces. I don't think anyone's used it, since. It's pretty dusty."

"Add a broom to our list of supplies," Hermione mentioned. "A cleaning broom, not a flying broom. Anyone know where we can get holy water?"

"Sure," Harry said. "Snape's storeroom. I saw some in there, once. It's in a silver flask."

"Excellent. I was afraid that was one item we would have to do without. Plain water will work, but holy water is better. Did you two have any luck?" she asked, looking at Harry and Draco. Harry shook his head.

"Lupin came in shortly after you left. I was still hunting for the right book."

Draco grinned. "I don't need a book. I already know how to cast a circle. And invoke the elements, although I agree you may want to get more specific with this one. Don't forget the offering to Shu. I recommend the usual: bread, beer, beef, and fowl. Perhaps oil. And fine linen for an altar cloth. And an altar, of course."

"Where will we find fine linen?" Ron asked.

"The Staff Room. They have a stockpile in a cabinet there," Draco mentioned.

"How do you… never mind. I'll take your word for it. Harry, you get the salt and find that incantation. Malfoy can grab the linen, since he's familiar with the Staff Room. I'll go back and get the holy water from Snape's supplies. Ron, go with Harry and pick up the food items."

She noticed Tonks shooting them a glance now and again from where she sat next to McGonagall and Lupin.

"They're getting suspicious," she mentioned quietly. "They don't trust us after Ron and Malfoy's little trip."

"Well, they seem to expect me to sneak off and confront Voldemort at any moment. Not that we even know where he is."

"It's rather useless to confront him until we destroy the Trinkets, anyway. The only legitimate purpose we have at Hogwarts is the Pensieve. They probably wonder why we're spending so much time in the library. If they think we're up to something, they might try to ship Harry back to Headquarters."

Harry laughed shortly. "I definitely don' t want to go back there. Especially with the Dursleys in residence. I wonder how that is going."

"Maybe you should ask."

"I really don't care," Harry said coolly. She decided not to push the issue. After all, she hadn't even checked up on her own parents, and she loved them. She made a mental note to do so, however.

"I think we should all go spend some time with Harry and the Pensieve. We can swing by the library and grab the books we need—be certain to get a good assortment so they don't know what we're looking for if they decide to snoop."

"You're pretty good at this underhanded business," Draco said admiringly. "I never would have guessed Gryffindors could be so sneaky."

"We've had a lot of practice," she said dryly with a look at Harry, who laughed.

"We've been quite aboveboard, lately," he protested. "I haven't pulled out the Invisibility Cloak since we've been here."

"Keep it handy," Hermione advised. "We might need it tonight."

When Ron finished eating, they trooped up to the library and then to Dumbledore's old office.

"All right, are you coming with me, Hermione?" Harry asked hopefully after he dumped the vial contents into the basin.

"Yes." She looked sharply at Ron and Draco. "Don't kill each other."

Dumbledore was in Snape's office again. Snape had a glass of amber liquid on the desk before him and he looked shaken.

"You wouldn't really have let them perform the dementor's kiss on Sirius, would you? Can you possibly hate him that much?" Dumbledore asked quietly.

Snape looked tired. His hand shook when he took a drink from his glass. He set it down and sighed explosively.

"I don't know. I'd like to think not, but when I saw him again… When I heard the story about them becoming Animagi…" Snape propped his elbows on the desk and massaged his temples. "It just brought back too many memories. I hated them all so much, and to find the four of them sharing such a secret… I'm afraid I went a little mad."

"Because you were jealous?" Dumbledore asked softly. Snape's black eyes flashed viciously.

"Don't try to psychoanalyze me, Albus. I made peace with my demons long ago. I was content to see Sirius languishing in Azkaban. But, no, I don't think I could have seen him given the dementor's kiss."

"And if he was innocent all along? If the children are correct and Peter Pettigrew is alive? What then?"

Snape shrugged. "It's more than likely. I never really believed that Sirius would betray James Potter. He loved James more than his own brother." Snape's voice was bitter. "I always assumed he was under Voldemort's Imperius Curse."

"And yet you allowed him to go to Azkaban without a word of protest."

"He was safe in Azkaban," Snape hissed. "And don't try to sound holier-than-thou. You thought he was guilty, also. Did you ever seek out the truth?"

Dumbledore shook his head.

"I'm afraid I was also willing to believe the worst. And Pettigrew was gone. He never resurfaced."

Snape laughed harshly. "Peter Pettigrew. My God, Sirius was a trusting fool. I wouldn't trust Pettigrew with the key to my laundry chute."

"Well, Sirius is free now."

"For how long? Until Voldemort returns and hunts us all down like rabid wolves? If Sirius was correct, Voldemort will have a loyal servant again. Do you still have no fear of him regaining a body?"

"We have had no word of him since he sought the Stone. We will, of course, continue to watch." He sighed. "Lupin has resigned."

"What a pity," Snape said dryly and his eyes gleamed with amusement.

"I will have to find yet another Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."

"I am willing to step into that post any time, Headmaster," Snape said. Dumbledore actually chuckled.

"I seek to teach the students to defend themselves against the Dark Arts, not embrace them."

Snape gave him a sneer. "I'm sick to death of Potions."

"But you are exceptional with them."

"Don't flatter me. I know my place."

"You are not a prisoner here."

"The hell I'm not. Now, please get out of my cell and let me drink myself into oblivion." He raised his glass. "To Sirius! May he fly to freedom and never return!"

Dumbledore got to his feet.

"I think you have already had enough drink."

"On the contrary. I have not even begun."

Dumbledore looked at him disapprovingly, shook his head, and went out.

"I don't understand all these Snape memories," Harry said when they returned. Draco and Ron were involved in a tense wizard chess match in one corner. Hermione watched them uneasily. "What is he trying to tell us?"

Hermione looked at Dumbledore's portrait. Surprisingly, he was present. His eyes twinkled at her.

"Why Snape?" she asked. "You can't ask us to trust him now, after what he did to you!"

"Well, Hermione, you must make up your own minds about that. All I may tell you is that some secrets cannot be revealed, even by death."

"You are trying to show us a secret about Snape? Something you cannot tell us directly?" Harry asked.

"Everything so far has been bloody confusing."

"And it doesn't matter, anyway, because Snape has rejoined the Death Eaters, where he belongs. He's gone back to the Dark Side, so trusting him has become a moot point. Did you leave us a single clue about Horcruxes?"

"The Horcruxes are a mystery, indeed, Harry. But of far greater import is what lies inside the human heart. It is not tokens that will decide this matter. It is the choices made by each of the players."

Hermione looked at Malfoy, who met her gaze with a slight smile before he turned his attention back to the chessboard.

Harry's hand scraped through his black hair, a sure sign of his frustration.

"Checkmate," said Draco, causing both Harry and Hermione to stare at them in surprise. Ron looked ready to spit nails.

"Ron knows about Canopic jars and Draco beats him at chess," Hermione muttered to Harry. "Are we in the right dimension?"

Harry chuckled. She sighed.

"Well, this has been another exciting Pensieve episode. I'm ready for a nap. I'll take some of these books with me," she said loudly. She gathered up several tomes. "Let's meet in the Gryffindor common room at nine. That will give us a few hours to prepare the chamber. We'll collect everything necessary after dinner."

She left the three males alone and vaguely hoped they didn't hurt each other. She went to her room and had just set the books on her bed when the Galleon heated.

I hate to bother you, but do you suppose we can concoct that message to my parents now?

What do you need me to do?

Meet me in the Slytherin common room and I'll explain.

All right.

She knew she probably shouldn't meet him alone again, but she had agreed to help him. She picked up the books and went downstairs, thankfully without running into Harry or Ron. Draco was not in the common room when she got there. She set the books on a nearby table and sat on the couch. No way would she go back to his room again.

As it turned out, he wasn't in his room. He arrived about ten minutes later and dropped a bundle of linen on the edge of the couch.

"I stopped at the Staff Room. It's deserted in the summer. It's odd that we haven't seen Peeves, either. Does a poltergeist take a holiday?"

"I doubt it. Maybe he's just used to tormenting the usual residents during the summer. Either way, I haven't missed him. How do you need my help?"

"Wait here. I'll show you."

Draco went to his room for a minute. When he returned, he carried an assortment of items. Parchment, two quills, ink, a small ceramic dish, and a small silver-handled knife. He set everything on the low table before the couch, added his wand, and sat down beside her.

"Okay, this is what I need your help with," he said earnestly. He picked up the knife by the curved blade. It looked wickedly sharp.

"I need you to draw my blood. Traditionally, a cut is made on the thumb, but that hurts like the devil for days. I prefer the wrist or arm—it bleeds more and hurts less in the long run."

She stared at him in absolute horror and ignored the knife he held out to her, hilt-first.

"What are you talking about?" she whispered.

Draco grimaced. "I'm a bit squeamish when it comes to pain. Particularly when it's self-inflicted."

"You have to draw your blood?"

"Unfortunately, yes. It's the only way to send a private message into a den of Death Eaters."

She shook her head. "No. Let's not do it, then."

"I have to. I'm sure my mother is nearly frantic with worry. I don't want her to do anything stupid just to find out what happened to me. I'll cut myself if I have to, but I'd rather not."

"Instead, you want me to slice you open?"

"You can't tell me you haven't dreamed of plunging a knife into me," he said dryly.

"I never once dreamed of plunging a knife into you! Besides, that was before…"

"Before you fell hopelessly in love with me?" he asked with a grin. She snatched the knife.

"You do have a point about the knife-plunging dream."

He rolled his white cuff back and held out his left wrist to her expectantly. She took his arm in her left hand and gripped the knife tightly in her right. She met his gaze for a moment and his silver eyes looked so appealingly trusting that her hand shook.

"I can't do it," she said after a moment. "I don't want to hurt you."

"Just try to recall one of the times you did want to hurt me. I'm sure that won't be difficult," he suggested.

She could feel his heartbeat beneath her thumb. She looked at his wrist and swallowed. His skin was so pale the veins were clearly visible. She would rather trace one with a finger than slice him open.

"Is this very dark magic?" she asked quietly and he chuckled.

"It's not dark magic at all. I just have to attune the message to those of my blood. Only my parents will be able to read it. Come on, this should be simple for a brave Gryffindor."

She shut her eyes and took a steadying breath. Just a nick. That's all it would take. She opened her eyes and laid the tip of the blade gently against a vein at the base of his palm. The knife trembled slightly.

"You know, I just don't think I can—" she began, but he jerked his arm suddenly and a red gash appeared under the blade. Hermione gasped and dropped the knife.

Draco picked up the small dish and began to collect the blood that seeped from the wound.

"Thanks, Granger," he murmured.

"That wasn't fair," she said accusingly.

"I know, but it worked."

She realized she still gripped his arm and quickly released him. She picked up the knife and cut some of the linen into strips to bind around his wrist when he finished obtaining a small pool of blood. She tied the linen for him and then watched as he alternately cast a spell on the parchment and dipped a quill into the blood. He wrote a quick message telling them he was safe and asking about Regulus Black. When he finished, he tapped the message with his wand and muttered another spell. The dark red words disappeared.

"Okay, I need you again. In your best handwriting write, in ink, over the words I just wrote. Make it sound like an advertisement. Something like 'Twillfit and Tatting's cordially invites you to a private viewing of their new fall collection.'"

"Wait, this has to be just right." Hermione grabbed a piece of parchment and wrote his words. They crossed out, added, and adjusted it until it sounded like a real invitation. She then copied it over Draco's invisible words and then he drew a stylized T copied from the tag on his cloak. She reached for the sand, but he stopped her.

"Sand can be traced," he said.

"You're joking."

"No, it's pretty simple. If even one Hogwarts grain is left on here, they can detect it. We'll let it air dry." He blew on it gently and she secretly admired the way his lips pursed. For just a moment, she imagined him blowing on her skin that way and immediately regretted it when a blush heated her cheeks. Thankfully, he didn't notice. They sealed the tiny scroll with a piece of black ribbon Draco located.

They took a roundabout route to the Owlery in order to avoid detection. Draco tucked the scroll into the carrier on a school owl's leg.

"Take this to Narcissa Malfoy," he ordered and released the owl. They both watched until it was a tiny black speck in the sky.

She noticed the makeshift bandage on Draco's wrist was stained red. She grabbed his hand and gently unwrapped the bandage. She looked at the gash and bit her lip. She met his grey eyes for a moment and then pulled out her wand. She rested the tip next to the wound and whispered a spell. To her relieved surprise, the injury sealed itself into a thin line that quickly took on the pale hue of a healed wound.

Draco rubbed a finger across it and raised an eyebrow.

"Impressive, Granger. When did you learn healing spells?"

"I read everything I could get my hands on when school let out. Memorized dozens of spells. I just haven't had the chance to use any of them. Until now."

"Well, you did an excellent job. How was it?"

"Strange. Not like other spells. You have to draw the energy from yourself, rather than elsewhere. I could feel a bit of a drain even for that small cut. There must be a trick or technique for healing larger wounds." She shuddered a bit. "I'm far too squeamish for major healing."

"That makes two of us." Draco grinned. "What shall we do now?"

"We should definitely get some rest, especially you, now that you've lost blood. We'll need all of our energy tonight. I'll walk you back to the common room, since I left the books there."

When they reached the Slytherin common room again, she made Draco lie down on the sofa and propped his head with green and silver pillows.

"Why don't you lie down here with me?" he suggested. She rolled her eyes.

"The object is for you to rest, not overexcite yourself with the need to show off your masculine prowess."

"Is that what you think I was doing before?"

"I don't want to know your motivation," she said quickly.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm likely to believe whatever you tell me, no matter how distant it is from the truth."

He scowled. "Actually, what you're saying is that you won't believe anything I say, even if it happens to be the truth."

She grinned. "That would be correct." He gave her a wounded expression and she didn't believe that for a moment, either.

"Now, stop chattering and go to sleep."

"Will you stay here with me?"

"Absolutely not."

"Why? Are you afraid of me?"

"No. I've been alone with you all afternoon. Why should I be afraid now?"

"Exactly. Wake me up before dinner," he said and shut his eyes. Having neatly trapped herself, she sighed, picked up one of the books, and sat on the end of the sofa, being careful not to touch him. After a moment, she leaned over and tugged off Draco's boots. He sighed in contentment and murmured sleepy thanks. She smiled and immersed herself in the book, but she still noticed when his breathing became deep and even. She levitated his cloak to cover him and let her eyes caress his features. She felt a strange sense of contentment, watching him sleep. It disturbed her.