Chapter forty – Of A Race
Ron leapt down the spiral staircase, forehead already coated with sweat, and forced his legs to move forward. He just didn't understand what was happening – where the hell was Hermione? Why in the world did Lucius Malfoy kidnap her? How? When? And most of all, why was Draco Malfoy seemingly on their side? Why did Harry and Ginny so willingly trust the ferret?
His head pounding in rhythm with his feet, he moved swiftly through the empty corridors. Where would Dumbledore be? He was in the courtyard . . . and then why not back to his office? Oh, if only he had Harry's map!
He felt his muscles straining as he ran up three flights of stairs – heading towards McGonnagal's classroom –, skipping every other step as he went. His breath was coming in quick, short rasps but he knew that feeling. It was panic, and he had felt it many a time before now. His mind still whirring, he was shocked when the bell suddenly rang. In the silence of the corridor, it made him halt in surprise.
Students flooded into the hall, each with their own personal destination. Exhausted, Ron was pushed and pulled and shoved every which way. Finally he tripped and fell onto the ground beside a small cove where a statue laughed at him.
"Shove it, you git," Ron grumbled, breathing still ragged.
But when Ron spoke he realized his words wouldn't come out properly. His vision wasn't right, either. The people walking passed him glanced, but said nothing. Ron tried to get to his feet, but flopped over. His heart was beating faster than a hummingbird's wings. What was wrong with him?
"Ron!" shouted a familiar voice. "Are you alright?"
Neville came floundering towards him, bent double and grasped Ron's arms. With surprising ease, he lifted Ron to his feet in one swift movement. He stared at Ron with concern and confusion in his eyes.
"Thanks, Neville," Ron panted. He looked around, tall enough to see over the students' heads, searching for McGonnagal.
"Neville?" a dream-like voice, hovering above them, came next. Luna's long blonde hair was the first thing Ron saw. "Why did you run off so quickly? Did you see a Hornswaggle? I told you they were frightening."
Neville blinked at Luna for a moment, then shook his head. "Oh – no, sorry. I thought Ron was hurt or something – he was on the ground." Neville looked at Ron and added, "Ron, your face is real pale and you don't look all that well, do you want us to take you to Madame Pomfrey?"
"Hm, yes, Neville's right – you look like you've had an invisible Grogswat attack," Luna said seriously.
"Um, maybe, but I think it was a panic attack. Gran said I used to get them," Neville pointed out.
Ron shook his head, frustrated. He was losing so much time. "No, I'm fine. Have you seen McGonnagal?"
"Oh, yes, I've just come from her class," Luna said.
Ron took off, and Neville followed him. Luna traipsed behind them, smiling and waving at the statue that had laughed at Ron.
Ron bounded into McGonnagal's classroom. She was sitting at her desk, and looked up immediately.
"Mr Weasley? What–?" she began, but stopped when Ron ran into a desk and tumbled onto the ground. He righted himself quickly and darted over to her. Neville hovered a few steps from the doorway, still looking concerned for Ron.
"What is the meaning of this?" McGonnagal demanded, standing at once.
"Professor! Hermione – kidnapped . . . Harry, Malfoy . . . gone . . . ," Ron panted.
"Excuse me?" McGonnagal said blankly.
"I need to find Dumbledore!" Ron managed. "Hermione's gone – Lucius Malfoy took her! Malfoy and Harry and Ginny left to try and help–"
"Mr Malfoy and Mr Potter?" McGonnagal repeated dubiously, but her face was grave as she absorbed the information. "Why would Lucius Malfoy do such a thing? What is going on here, Mr Weasley? Are you sure about this?"
"No! I have no idea what's going on – but I know Hermione's in trouble and they've left to try and get her back and I need Dumbledore!"
"Left? Left the school?" McGonnagal repeated blankly.
"Yes! Just now!"
McGonnagal rounded her desk and grabbed Ron's arm. "Come now, it appears we haven't a moment to spare."
Draco darted ahead of Harry and Ginny, flinging the door open with an amalgamation of fury and fear mixing inside him. The amount of rage he felt was nullified only by the ache in his heart – it helped him see clearer what he had to do; not just fight to win, but fight to save Hermione. If he lost, and she was safe, it was still a victory . . . he wondered momentarily if this is how Harry had done it so many times before, the hero thing. Was it really because of love?
He could hear Harry and Ginny close behind him. Draco knew where he was going. The scream had echoed in a way only fitting to come from the main sitting room. The high ceilings and broad space, coupled with the large open foyer that coalesced with it, gave it away immediately as their destination.
He bounded down the stairs, skipping three and four at a time. He slid on the marble floor when he made it to the bottom. He then glued himself to the wall beside the open doorway to the room. Harry and Ginny joined his side. As they caught their breath, Draco signaled for them to wait for him to go first.
Hesitating only in fear that he may be too late, he peeked his head around the corner.
"Malfoy!" screamed Ginny.
Draco flew ten feet back, hit directly in the chest with a powerful spell familiar to him. He hit the hard marble floor and slid another few feet before he hit the wall. He lay motionless, half-conscience, blood exuding profusely from the back of his fractured skull.
In the split-second it took him to realize that he would have to face his father one-on-one in a real duel, he knew that either he was going to die or . . . he was to try and kill his own father.
A million things rushed through his head; his earliest memory of his mother crying while his father shouted, his letter from Hogwarts and how his father had demanded that he uphold the Malfoy name, all of the many lectures of how purebloods were so much better than muggleborns . . . all of these memories made it easier to draw strength. Lucius Malfoy was a creature of evil. He had no right to treat others the way he did . . . there was absolutely nothing but an imaginary rule of blood that made him any different than anyone else.
"Insolent little traitor!" thundered Lucius Malfoy, stalking towards his son.
Draco tried to move, but felt like dead weight; the extent of his injury hadn't registered immediately.
Ginny raised her wand, and Lucius fired a spell at her. Harry swiftly snatched her out of harm's way and they ducked. Harry stood, faced Lucius and fired a spell at him. His wand flew out of his hand, and as he darted for it, Harry hit him with a stunner, knocking him to the ground.
Ginny was already at Draco's side. She mumbled a healing spell she had learned from Hermione and the bleeding subsided, but did not stop fully.
"What did I do wrong?" she asked hopelessly.
Draco grunted, attempting to sit up on his own.
"Hermione," he mouthed noiselessly.
"Idunno, but that's fine I'm sure for now," Harry said quickly. They pulled Draco to his feet and he hobbled beside them, passed Lucius, and into the main sitting room.
Draco was roused from half-conciousness and pushed Ginny and Harry away from him as they entered the room. He gasped in horror at what he saw.
"HERMIONE!" shouted Harry. Ginny covered her face and turned away, face paling.
She was on her side beside a destroyed chintz chair, blood like a lake around her. Her skin was pale white and her eyes were shut.
Draco fell to his knees beside her and put his ear to her chest.
"Oh, thank Merlin," he muttered. She was breathing. It was barely, and the breath was shallow and unsatisfying but it was still a sign of life.
He took his wand and carefully pointed it at Hermione. Arm steady, he began muttering quickly and in a mute voice spells that he had learned while reading his father's text books over the years. All the books forced on him by Snape and his mother and his older female relatives. He had hated reading them, but the information had been burned into his brain. Thankfully.
Slowly but surely, Hermione's skin regained color, and her breathing became more noticeable. And at last, after several minutes of silent tension, her eyes fluttered open and she looked around.
Draco helped her up and Harry came to her other side. They began moving quickly.
"Draco? Harry? Ginny?" she said, dazed. "How did you get here? Where is he? What's happening?"
"Not used to not knowing anything, are you?" Draco teased in a quiet voice. She smiled very faintly.
And as they were climbing the stairs, Ginny leading them, a shot of green blew passed their heads and exploded on the wall. Bricks and dust flew everywhere. Harry heard Ginny gasped and then a thud as she hit the stairs, unconscious. Hermione wobbled where she stood, and leaned against the rail.
Draco turned, wand at the ready, and found himself face to face with his father. Lucius approached him silently, a malignant smile on his face.
"Oh, the prodigal son has returned . . ." he mused, darkly sarcastic.
Harry raised his wand, and before Draco could tell him to stop, Lucius had shot a spell at him. Harry hit the opposite wall, legs locked, unable to move. Hermione watched in terror, knowing Lucius still had her wand.
"I would have had it that she would have been dead when you arrived, but you are a little quicker than I thought," he admitted. "Seems when you want to, you can be successful. So, have you wanted to be a failure all these years, then? Is that what it was, Draco?"
Draco didn't flinch, didn't blink. His father's words could no longer affect him. Especially not now. All that mattered was getting everyone out of here alive. How that would happen, he was not sure.
"Oh, your mother would love to see her only son now," Lucius said, quietly. Draco found his grip on his wand hinder for a moment. Thoughts of his mother always did this to him. Not that he had any desire to please his father, but his mother was somewhat salvagable as far as decent human beings went, and for some reason or another, she did love Lucius. In some twisted way, he was her other half. It would destroy her if he were killed, especially by her own son . . .
"Her only son . . . in love with a filthy mudblood . . .saving blood traitors like the Weasleys . . . working with Harry Potter . . ." He sneered. "This is the biggest disappointment, not to mention disgusting act of treachery I have ever beheld in my family. Draco, what have you become?"
His wand had only lowered a fraction of an inch while listening to his father, but Lucius had watched it carefully. Without warning, he raised his wand.
Hermione, having been useless up until this point, could not do nothing any longer. She saw it coming from a mile away. If she just gave Draco an extra thirty seconds, he would have the upper hand undoubtably. She knew what she had to do.
Draco had saved her enough.
There was New Year's . . . he had saved her from Blaise. There was the way he had admitted his love for her – that had saved her in more ways than any physical act of bravery ever could have. He had saved her in a way that let her know she was worth a person's love, she was worth falling for. And then, he had saved her from Lucius, brought life back to her when she was moments from death . . .
It was her turn to save him.
As Lucius raised his wand, Hermione leapt towards him, having extra momentum from the higher stance on the stairs. She launched herself in the path of the spell. She didn't see it, but she felt it. A horrible sting, like a hot poker straight through her chest. She felt like her lungs had been ripped out. She hit the ground, muscles burning, unable to move. She heard yelling, a vague sound.
Then the darkness, like waves, washed over her and pulled her under the surface.
It was like nothing she had ever felt before.
There was the physical part, and then there was where her mind went.
She was almost sure she was dead – what other spell would Lucius have cast?
The physical part was horrendous. Like dry ice burning her, it did not relent for as long as she held onto whatever state of awareness she was in. She was fearful that it wasn't even a real awareness. Maybe it was some step towards an afterlife? She did not know, but she could feel that if she let go, the fall would hurt worse than the forgoing. Notwithstanding the pain, she was relieved to still have some level of intellectual capability.
She did not know where she was anymore, if she was on the floor or not. She could not feel her limbs, or any other part of her body, really.
But she knew, wherever Draco was, he and Harry and Ginny were okay.
She had done a good thing. After all those weeks of fighting her feelings, of convincing herself that words were more real than what she felt in her heart, of forcing herself to stay away from Draco by letting Michael hold her in a state of ignorant bliss, she had done a good thing.
Because here, in her state of strange awareness, expiation had never seemed such a beautiful, relieving thing. She had saved Draco, after putting him through such hell, such torture. She knew it must have been torture for him, because in this place, it was also easy to see and realize the truth. She knew he loved her just as much as she loved him. His pain must have been, would have to have been just as excruciating as her own.
She knew he had never hurt her.
He had saved her.
He loved her.
And now, somewhere, he was alive.
But was she?
"You say there was nothing to do?" Dumbledore muttered.
The ministry official, looking grave, shook his head.
A group of them stood in the Hospital Wing. Dumbledore, looking very calm, but also fairly saddened; McGonnagal, looking highly stressed and confused; Ron, looking absolutely crazy and concerned; Ginny, completely healed of her concussion, sat on the edge of the bed, teary-eyed; Harry sat in the bedside chair, hunched over, still waiting for the healing potions to take their full affect; Madame Pomfrey was busying herself over Hermione, mixing potions, wiping her tear-stained face as she went. And then there were was nameless ministry officials asking Dumbledore questions about the commotion.
"Well, come, let us take this conversation to the privacy of my office. . ." Dumbledore said to the ministry officials.
"Well, know, see here Dumbledore . ." one of the brawny ones said assertively, no doubt exercising his authority to the most severe degree (no one talked to Dumbledore like that). "We would like to speak with one of these children, get a firsthand account, statements and the like . . . you understand, this has been quite a day, and Lucius Malfoy might very well be in St. Mungo's forever – we need to know some of the facts, the story, you see."
"Ah, of course," Dumbledore agreed, as pleasant as ever. "Well, Miss Granger is not yet able to be reached, as you can see. Mister Potter is yet to be fully recovered, too. Miss Weasley, would you be willing to accompany me to my office to release some sort of official statement with these gentlemen?"
"Of course," Ginny said quietly. "I'll go . . . Professor, will Hermione be alright?" She said the last part almost mute.
"That is yet to be seen, I'm afraid," Dumbledore admitted. Ginny's eyes brimmed over with tears again as she headed for the door.
"Well, what about this young man?" a skinner ministry man quipped, jerking his thumb at Draco. "He looks fine enough."
Draco glared at the man, and stood. He met his eyes.
"If you don't mind, I think I'll give my statement later. Besides, I've already told you what happened."
"Well! I think you should –," began the skinny man.
"Ah, Hugh, Mister Malfoy's had quite a night as well, you would agree. Let us leave him be for the time being, yes?" Dumbledore interjected on Draco's behalf.
"Fine, fine," the man named Hugh agreed in a huff. "What about the other red-head?"
"My name is Ron Weasley," Ron snapped.
"Would you be kind enough to lend your patience?" Dumbledore asked of him.
"Yeah, no problem," Ron agreed. He joined Ginny at the door.
Draco sat down and ignored the group as they left. Harry didn't move from his seat. Madame Pomfrey exited to her office. It was just the three of them.
"Well, here we are again," Draco said bitterly.
It took Harry a moment to realize that he was right; it was just like the day after the New Year's fiasco all over again.
"Malfoy," Harry said. "I'm real sorry about how this turned out . . . but . . . you shouldn't feel guilty at all, if you do, don't, I mean . . . he would have killed us all . . . you saved us. You saved me. You saved Ginny. I owe you."
Draco moved his eyes away from Hermione for a moment and met Harry's.
It was in that moment he realized that in some crazy way, this experience had made them . . . well, maybe not friends . . . but . . . it had absolved their passed differences, at least.
"You don't owe me anything," Draco said. "I think I've done enough to you up until this year that has earned you my service . . . I won't say 'let's call it even' because I've done some horrible things, but you absolutely do not owe me anything."
"What I did after New Years–," Harry began.
"Let's not bring that up again, not now," Draco said, effectively ending the conversation.
They sat in silence for a few minutes before Harry spoke again.
"She's going to be okay, you know."
Draco's stare hardened as his strength threatened to crack.
He walked feverishly through the halls. He had a large black bad in one hand, coat slung over his arm and another bag that he had charmed to fit all of his possessions.
He didn't know where he was going, really. He didn't want to leave . . . no, he didn't want to be away from Hermione. But he had to. After brawling with Draco Malfoy, a student, and accidently assaulting Hermione, he would be branded a psychotic professor who beats his students and, if Mister Malfoy really did know all about the rest of the ugly details . . . he would be thrown into Azkaban just as Hermione had suggested if anyone had ever found out.
He would leave. He had too.
He would contact her after graduation . . . she would have no choice but to agree and meet him. She loved him, he knew it. She had too. All that time they spent together? Those smiles? The conversation? There was no way she couldn't. Why wouldn't she?
As he hurried down the corridor and turned the corner, he halted in his steps.
About thirty years away, walking toward him, was Dumbledore and flanking him were three ministry officials, McGOnnagal and the two Weasley children . . . both good friends to Hermione.
He dropped his bags in shock, in panic.
Then quickly picked them, up, turned and began to walk where he had come from.
"Professor Dolop?" McGonnagal called.
He turned just in time to see the Weasley boy – Ron – whispering something to Dumbledore, who in turn stared at him.
"Hm?" Dolop stopped and inclined.
"Where, may I ask, are you rushing off to?" Dumbledore inquired, but not in a pleasant tone. Ron was staring at him curiously, and Ginny was glaring. He was caught.
"I – I have a family emergency. I could not reach you at your office. I sent an owl. I don't know if I'll be back before the term ends . . ." his lie was falling apart at the seams.
The ministry officials were looking awfully impatient. Dolop swallowed.
"Dumbledore, if you wouldn't mind skipping the faculty pleasantries just this once – there's a girl dying in your hospital wing!"
"She's not dying!" Ron snapped. Ginny's eyes welled up.
"What's this?" Dolop inquired.
"Miss Granger's been in a terrible accident," McGonnagal said gravely, speaking carefully. She was observing Dumbledore carefully, who was boring his eyes into Dolop like he held the secret to life.
"She – she has?" he spluttered, eyes popping out of his head.
"Professor, I think it best if you accompany me to my office as well," Dumbledore spoke again finally.
"I – I," he hesitated. But there was nowhere to go from here, nowhere left to run or hide. He had made his bed, and he knew what came next. His shoulders fell in defeat. "Alright."
Frustrating right? Ya I know I really thought I would end it here. But what I have for the rest of it would just make this chapter dragggg wayy too much, trust me. So one more chapter! I hope you enjoyed this one, anyway.