Disclaimer: Harry Potter belongs to J K Rowling. No profit is being made.
Summary: She no longer cares about making it out alive. All she can think, breath, drink, and consume is her need to finally figure him out. Because Draco Malfoy is an equation that needs to be solved. And Hermione Granger won't rest until she's received full marks.
He says my name like there's a bad taste in his mouth. He doesn't enunciate it with the grace of a well-bred young man, he spits it out like something bitter and foul; something that has no business coexisting with him or near his shiny molars. But at this point, anything to remind me that I'm still alive and breathing will suffice.
I couldn't tell you how many days it's been since my initial capture. So many people take the ability to determine day from night for granted; a sense of that esteem would be most comforting to me now. I can assume, by the eerie echoes of distant moisture, that I am most likely holed up in a cave. I daresay you can imagine the horrors that come from being held captive in an underground realm of stone and moisture. The endless 'pit-patters' and 'drip-drops' are lost in the encyclopedias of my mind.
I've attempted many different diversionary tactics to keep my mind from slowly slipping back into the all-consuming act of counting each drop in the distance. Humming works best. In loud, drawn-out monotones. It's most effective when my eyes are shut tightly, (although this really doesn't make too much of a difference in the grand scale of things, given the pitch-black cavern I'm choosing to will away with all of my psyche) and hands firmly pressed over my ears.
There is one drawback to this particular scheme; or can I really call it a drawback? It annoys the one person my former adolescent self lived to annoy, so perhaps I can consider it a success.
Being submerged in dark for an extended period of time has seemed to sharpen my senses. My eyes can detect the faintest turn of movement. Or at least if there were any movement to detect, I would do so with precision.
It's like he's bound to the same position. If I had nocturnal vision, I'm as sure as my name is Hermione Granger that he would be sitting there, back straight and rigid against the cold stone of the cavern wall, arms folded across his chest in that pompous way only a Malfoy can possess when thrown into a cave and left to die.
I would give a pocketful of galleons to know why Draco Malfoy is currently sulking next to me, the apparent hostage of a Death Eater. Which is really quite baffling for me to understand, considering I have hard evidence (and the scar above my left elbow) to prove that Draco Malfoy is, without a doubt, a Death Eater. And I am as sure as Merlin's beard was long that he is not acting as a spy. The Order may take in charity cases, but we don't work miracles. There are some things that can't be done, and the sooner that we move on and accept this, the easier it is to get on with our lives and get closer to ridding the wizarding world of evil. Or so I'm told.
I've told them time and time again that with some bargaining and choice vocabulary, we could have a handful of Death Eaters turned spy before you could say Riddikulus. But I suppose that is a useless battle now, considering the only (and probably last) things he's managed to mumble in my general direction were words of unavoidable death and misfortune (not exactly progress in Becoming-A-Spy-101).
And if Draco Malfoy has ever been right in his life, now would be that time. Misfortune certainly is the most realistic way of describing this particular circumstance. Don't be alarmed when I say that despite my overall high intelligence level and esteem for embracing common sense, I find myself easily falling for many different forms of trickery. I'll admit to finding myself on the wrong end of one or two (or three four five) of the Weasley twins' patent trick wands every now and again, but I always knew enough to tread with caution.
I like to think that if my life were a Roman Epic, my tragic flaw would be my unabashed sense of compassion for living things.
Which, when thinking of moral fiber and the like, things such as compassion and courage are considered good traits, and not flaws. I'd like to disagree, and by doing so point out that these 'good traits' have landed me in quite the precarious position: practically buried alive in a tomb of solid granite walls and decorative limestone speleothems.
If it were not for the circumstances, I would be beside myself with curiosity. However that is not the case, for I have an overwhelming sense of near-death looming over my head. And what a paralyzing thing that is. To realize that there's no hope left. All throughout the war you've survived on not luck, but pure skill. And now where are you? You're not standing beside your best friends, preparing for the ultimate battle. You're miles underground simply waiting to die alongside your long-time nemesis. And as that particular wave of guilt pummeled me in the gut, I suppose I must have let out some sort of strangled sob, because for the first time in however long I've been thinking, I heard Malfoy's head rise from where it was resting. He groaned and now I hear him rubbing his eyes (or I suppose that's what he would be rubbing, for I definitely just woke him up).
"Granger," he said through clenched teeth. "If you were any louder you would wake the dead."
"Well wouldn't that be just delightful? You'd get to explain to them why exactly you and your band of cowards killed them."
"I'm laughing on the inside, Granger." For somebody who dislikes me as much as he does, he surely makes it a point to use my surname at every opportunity.
"Naturally. And never you worry, the next time you decide to grace me with your charming state of torpidity I'll be sure to stop breathing entirely. To ensure that you're not to be bothered."
"That'll solve more than one of my problems, Granger. Sounds like you've outdone yourself this time."
Truth be told, I really have outdone myself. Not in the way he was implying, but outdone I was. I like the fact that I'm a fast thinker. I'm quick on my toes and everyone around me knows this. It's how I gained a lot of respect working with the Order, especially at my ripe age. I didn't have Harry's destiny or Ron's eons of red-haired, freckled relatives to back me up going in there. I was completely unremarkable for the first time in my life. And that terrified me. I found that when the fate of the entire wizarding world is at stake, soldiers for either the light or dark side will not hesitate killing you when they learn you received full marks on your OWLs. If anything, that information gives more reason for you to be thrown into a dusty room to investigate the patterns between attacks and the like.
"Speaking of being outdone, Malfoy," I started. I always had a problem concerning my curiosity. "Who did you piss off this time? Because, honestly, locked in a cave? I'm guessing this is something more than leaving the toilet seat up."
"Granger, I swear to Merlin. Death has never been more of a beacon of hope for me as it is now."
"Oh, you're just hilarious, aren't you?"
I'm glad I'll never have to hear Draco Malfoy chuckle ever again. It makes you feel as though Christmas has been cancelled. Also makes your insides freeze up, at the same time an awkwardly thick bile rises to your throat.
But although the mystery that is Draco Malfoy's sense of humor (however sick and twisted it may be) is surely entertaining and time consuming, I'm much more interested in finding out just what he's doing here. Perhaps his allegiance is not to the Dark Lord, and that he was found out? Or maybe he's not a prisoner here at all. Maybe he's here guarding me. Making sure I actually die. Which is really quite ridiculous. There are plenty of sharp rocks lying about. He could have done me off hours ago.
Maybe he's here to make sure you stay alive.
But for what reason? I'm not important enough to be held hostage. Surely Harry wouldn't fall for their master plan; steal the girl and wait for the hero to ride in on his white horse. What the Death Eaters don't know is that I made Harry commit to a vow; a vow that stated that if, hypothetically, I was ever taken prisoner by the opposing side, he would not search for me until after the Dark Lord's demise. Which thinking back upon was a very horrible idea, and I'm realizing now why he so strongly fought against the notion. For if it had never taken place, I probably would have already been rescued, and there would be another Death Eater locked behind the concrete walls of Azkaban. I'll be sure to thank my stubbornness for risking my hide if I manage to make it out of here alive (which at this point isn't looking like a possibility).
"So how did they manage to get the infamous Hermione Granger?"
The man has a knack for grabbing ones attention.
"And here we all were, thinking the great Granger, brains of the Golden Trio, was this invincible force to be reckoned with. How did they finally catch you?"
"If by 'they' you mean 'we'? Assuming you're talking about the Death Eaters?"
"Humor me, Granger."
"I suppose wearing my 'I'm-The-Adorable-War-Hero-Friend-Of-Harry-Potter" shirt down Knockturn Alley was less inconspicuous than I had imagined."
If you asked me why I continue to say things of this nature, I'd have to wait a few moments to really think on the subject, because at this point I'm drawing a blank. What I do know is that there are at least a dozen objects within his reach that could possibly (if used in the right nature) kill me. And this realization terrifies me; mostly because it also makes me realize that either way, I'm not making it out of here alive. I'll never be married, I'll never have children, and I won't live to see the day where house elves will be liberated.
"I'm glad you're so nonchalant about this whole thing, Granger."
"Nonchalant? How can you mention anything on nonchalance when we're here for completely different reasons?"
"I don't know if you've noticed this, Granger, but the chances of either one of us making it out of here alive are a slim as Longbottom being able to defeat the Dark Lord with a tea napkin."
"Perhaps if he soaked the napkin in poison."
"It's not happening, Granger."
"So what is this? Some sort of sacrificial kidnapping mission?"
He's looking at me like I've gone completely off my rocker. I know this without even seeing his face. I can feel it in the air; it's those crazy senses I've adapted to. Every emotion that is passed between the two of us is transferred in a wave of energy. But I truthfully don't know what he finds so surprising about this. I'm completely sane; it's not hard to do the math when there's a kidnapping with a Death Eater present; he must have had something to do with it.
"You think much too highly of yourself, Granger."
"That's a charming sentiment coming from the likes of you."
"Oh, is it now?"
"Well aren't you just precious."
"Am I now?"
"Malfoy," I warned.
Is it bad when you've begun to consider the fact that you'd be much better off dead?
"Why are you here, Malfoy?"
"You didn't ask very nicely, Granger."
"Why are you here, arsehole?"
"I was caught slipping inside information to the Order."
My pulse stopped dead in my chest. He couldn't be serious. He sounded serious; he didn't sound as if he were joking in the slightest. Is there a way I couldn't have known about it?
"Really? Since –"
"No, not really. I don't have a death wish, Granger; I'm not stupid."
"Do you even realize how hypocritical that last statement was?"
"No, but I'm sure that you're planning on telling me regardless."
"You're a Death Eater, Malfoy. The only people who don't want you dead or in prison are the people stupid enough to be right up there with you. And even then, at least half of them are probably waiting for you to snuff it."
"Speaking of comrades, Granger, what on earth is taking Potter and the Weasel so long?"
"At least I have people who would willingly look for me."
"It's tragic that they'll never find you then, isn't it?"
"Wait, what? What do you mean, we'll never be found?"
"Granger, I know that you're a stubborn optimist, but you can't honestly believe that there's any hope for us left."
"I wasn't counting on it, Malfoy. But it has to at least be possible."
"Granger. You haven't a clue as to what we're in right now, do you?"
I couldn't find it in me to speak. He definitely knows something I don't. I just can't seem to escape the thought that he has something to do with this. It doesn't seem likely that he's in the same position I am. How could Draco Malfoy end up trapped and locked away? He's one of the highest-ranking Death Eaters, or so I'm told. The things he's done, well, I'm sure they'd make the strongest of stomachs a bit squeamish.
He chuckled loftily before he said, "Granger, you really haven't been doing your research."
"If you know something, Malfoy, I'd advise you to just get on with it."
"What are you going to do, Granger? 50 Galleons says you don't have your wand."
No, I don't have my wand, Malfoy. But I have a lucky jagged rock that could finely substitute for a dagger sitting ten inches to my left.
"It's a secret-kept cave, Granger. We've been using them for the past five years. For when we want to get rid of someone without leaving a trail."
"But if the Death Eater's can find it, then it must be distinguishable in some way."
"Granger, it's under the same pretense as a Fidelius Charm. One Death Eater has the knowledge of where we are, and even then there's no way of telling which one is the Secret Keeper."
"But Veritaserum would work, wouldn't it?"
"It would, but it would be no use to us now, what with the Final Battle and all."
The Final Battle? He couldn't be talking of the Final Battle. The final of all battles. Surely there is one final battle before the final one takes place.
"You know, that thing where both sides meet up all at once to talk over their differences?"
"Your ingenious wit is really not necessary right now."
"Oh, but it would hardly be fun for me without it."
"How can you be sure the Final Battle is going on now?"
"We weren't just going to go into this thing completely unprepared, you know. And we sure as Merlin weren't going to sit around and wait for you lot to step up to the battle field. I suspect it's either already started or in the process of."
"So why aren't you there with them?"
"Why aren't you?"
"I'm locked in a cave, Malfoy."
Suddenly the silence reeked of smugness. I narrowed my eyes and pressed my lips tightly together, refusing to be the first one to speak after he so eloquently proved me wrong. And if there's one thing I hate more than being wrong, it's prolonged silences filled with boredom. And I'm as sure as this cave is dark that this will indeed be the longest of prolonged silences.
I sighed to indicate my extreme distaste for the situation (even though I knew it would do nothing for the silence, except extend its length) as I began to drum my hands on my thighs to the tune of "Eenie-meenie-minie-moe". Just as I was about to catch the baby by its toe, I heard a rustling over where Malfoy was sitting. I kept drumming my hands, because I could sense he was trying to be stealth in his operations. I willed my ears to act with more precision as I strained to interpret his every movement over the sounds of strumming hands against my legs.
Then, as if my body were imagining sounds for my ears to hear, I heard a most delicious noise. A noise I thought I would truly never hear again. But then I realized what the distinct 'crunch' must mean.
"Malfoy! You're eating an apple!"
"It's a pear, actually."
He had the nerve to speak between mouthfuls.
"I couldn't be bothered if it were a rotten plum! You have food!"
"Of course I do, Granger. A Malfoy never goes hungry."
Just as he said this, my stomach decided it was high time to grumble its protests of malnourishment.
"Malfoy, can I have some food?"
"Of course you can, Granger."
I waited for a few moments, eyes wide with excitement, waiting to hear him reach to wherever he was storing his goods. The sound never came.
"We're in a cave, Granger. Not a well."
"You said you were going to give me food."
"Ah, that is where you're wrong."
"You asked if you could have food. It is certainly possible for you to have food. My food, on the other hand, is a completely different topic that we have not discussed. And just to put it out there, no, you may not have any of my food."
I'll just wait until he falls asleep. Then I'll take his food.
"And don't plan on waiting for me to fall asleep, Granger. It won't be happening in this lifetime."
It must have been at least five hours later when I woke up, every bone in my body screaming for a scrap of comfortable fabric to lay upon. I wish the Death Eater who was in charge of my capture had at least allowed to me to die in comfort, with my knapsack even. But alas, I'm left sitting here on the hard rock, in my dirty khaki slacks and my thin cardigan.
And as a draft of particularly cold air chills me to the bone, I'm thankful that I can't see fully in the dark. For I'm not quite sure how I'd react to seeing Malfoy, probably resting upon a heated mattress, feeding himself grapes off of the stem like a King.
Which brings my train of thought to a completely different topic. How, exactly, was Malfoy so prepared for this? Normally when one is kidnapped, it's more of a take-and-go situation, not a let-them-gather-items-for-survival-needs type deal. If these caves were meant to be a sadistic tomb of sorts, they would certainly not allow the captured anything to prolong death.
This idea, in turn, leads me back to my initial hypothesis: that he's here to keep watch over me. Which, now that I have the time to think about it (without being interrupted by his witticism), is quite silly. If he were here as a type of surveillance to the Death Eater's, wouldn't it run more smoothly if his presence were not known? Or maybe I'm giving the Death Eater's too much credit, for it's not a little-known fact that they're not the brightest bunch of wizards.
I stare over at where (I assume) his body is laying, and I try to scheme up the most plausible reason to why he's here with food. Perhaps he was taking a picnic. And stumbled into the wrong cave?
Perhaps they give you too much credit, Hermione Granger, for that may have been the most idiotic thing you've thought in your lifetime. Death Eaters do not picnic. They eat raw meat and thick chunks of onion.
So I began to compile a list in my mind; Reasons Why Draco Malfoy is Stranded in Cave of Doom.
Kidnap has been crossed out. As well as picnicking, midnight stroll (for he was passed out when I 'arrived' early in the morning), apparation-gone-wrong (for he does not have a wand (that I have any knowledge of) present) and research. I was really getting quite frustrated. It's not as if he just strode right in here, well aware that he was going to be spending quite some time in a cave.
Somehow the gears in my brain clicked into motion and everything became clear. It was as if the Heavens beamed down the answer to me. I felt around the ground until my hand found a small pebble. Sitting up and squinting in Malfoy's general direction, I threw the rock and was satisfied when I heard it 'thud' against his silent form.
I suppose he was awake that entire time.
"I think I've found out why you're here."
I heard him right himself up against the wall.
"This ought to be good."
"You knew exactly when the Final Battle was set to begin."
"We've been over this, Granger. They said you were supposed to be smart."
"You were surprised when I showed up here."
"And you wouldn't be?"
"You planned on being here."
"No, I really don't believe that."
"Well you should. You've gone completely off the map on this one, Granger."
"You knew the war was coming. You have food and Merlin knows what other supplies with you. Holy Hippogriff, Malfoy, you're hiding here. You didn't know it was a secret-kept cave, or whatever it is. Because how would you know? And that explains why you were in this exact room; the same one I was sent to. Oh Merlin, it all makes so much sense!"
When his reply never came, I knew I had been right. And to be honest, I wasn't at all surprised. It was such a Malfoy move to pull. I wish it wasn't as dark in here, so he could see the smug smile on my face.
A minute later, something round landed in my lap. I picked it up, and the aroma of a fresh orange seeped into my nostrils.
Then I remembered. You can smell the smug in the air.