Well... Oh my goodness, hello again, everyone. ^^; I suppose it might be a bit awkward to apologize, hehe... -bites lip-
I can't necessarily promise that this means I'm back for good, but somehow it struck me today that...I should really update. I'm sorry if my writing doesn't live up to expectations, it's a bit hard to try to get back into it.
But here is the next part! I hope you enjoy, or at least that it is a good thing that I showed my face again. :) We'll see how things go from here. I probably will update again... even if it takes another two and a half years. -awkward laugh-

Draco was thoroughly annoyed, and felt strongly what he would have liked to call depression, if anyone had been near enough to hear and give him sympathy for it. Perhaps he should have been thoughtful enough to realize that by this time he easily could have been sitting back at home, explaining to his parents why he had been expelled, but there would have been no self-glorifying or self-pitying in that line of thought, so he automatically skipped over it.

Scuffing the hallway stones with his feet and wishing with all his might that he had the strength to shatter them with only the glowering scowl on his face, the disheartened Malfoy turned into the next corridor, only to scramble back and hold his own mouth silent a moment later.

Of all the people he would have wanted to run into, the Weasley twins could honestly have placed in the bottom ten. Not only were they a blatant reminder of the entire mess he was in, even if Draco's pride had taken something of a blow, his self-preservation was still mightily intact. Granger could have told them everything by now, or maybe George was just in a fine mood to hit something, either way Draco was happy to keep his distance and keep quiet until they passed safely by.

"George, please... just walk." Draco instinctively leaned his head for eavesdropping as Fred's voice reached him. "No, no-no-no-this way. SHHHHH-!" There was a short sigh. "Just come on..."

"Come...on...where?" An exaggerated whisper replied to its twin.

"It doesn't matter, George, just listen to me. We'll be back soon, just walk. And be quiet, you have to understand that we don't want anyone to hear us, George..."

The footsteps finally returned to a steady pace, and Draco was left to think as George's voice faded out. The pondering didn't last long, though, and he creaked the separating door open, leaning his head out to make sure that they were truly gone, and then daringly, or so Draco would have called it, following after them.

He had almost forgotten that there was still George to be entertained by, and where was the point of all of this trouble if he didn't see where it led to. He couldn't start to make sense of their conversation. After all that he had seen of George recently, it didn't fit in. A sense of paranoia pressed him to get to the bottom of that as well - any complication probably meant bad news for him.

Draco watched his feet as he crept down the corridor, feeling apprehensive when he was easily able to track the twins around the next corner, looking just in time to see them leave through another door.

It got colder the further they went, and Draco tried to place where in the castle they must have been at that point. It became clear with the next turn, as he found himself watching Fred magically pick the lock of Filch's convenient side-exit from the school, exclusively for the caretaker's use, supposedly.

Draco sneered away the tiny bit of fear that bloomed deep in his throat, his remedy for removing any nuisance. This could lead to anything, and there was too much at stake for him too even think of backing out, no matter that he was running out in the dark with the Weasleys, or that he would only be in more trouble if he were caught along with them.

It was an easy enough lock to break, any student knew how to do it, even if some used it more often than others. Draco continued to follow silently, suddenly wishing that there had been any way for him to think to bring a coat. Stumbling and shivering was even harder to keep quiet, but Fred still seemed mostly absorbed in directing George, though he looked around to check his direction from time to time.

He was close to turning around and getting out of the damn cold and finished with this stupid, worthless chase when finally, something happened. Draco realized where they were going.

"Fred…. That's the Whomping Willow." The emotions in George's voice were a bit hard to recognize, but Draco decided to call them fear and horror, and take comfort in the fact that at least one of the people he was sharing the late-night venture with was sane and didn't like murderous plant life.

"Yeah, I know… Come on, George, I've got something to show you. Just stay….way behind me…"

Draco watched in utter confusion and slight horror as Fred started easing his way down the hill. The redhead stooped at one point, selecting a large rock from the ground and balancing it in his hand.

Wide blue eyes saw as Fred neared the tree, and the branches gave a stir. And then almost as soon as it had started, it was finished again… Careful aim, perfected with years of being a beater, had helped Fred to hurl his stone through the tree's drooping branches, and then there was silence.

It took Draco several moments to gather his thoughts after watching Fred and his twin walk….into….the trunk of the infamous tree. It was still and safe. They were getting away, and he was still sitting there. It was part curiosity and part desperation that drove Draco forward, cowering in the shadow of the tree as he crept to the suddenly visible entrance in the side.

He tentatively stuck a toe onto the first step and found it easier to stumble the rest of the way, extremely intimidated by the shady surroundings. The twins had surely gone far out of hearing range by this time, and Draco allowed himself to tremble freely.

Even vocally he began to shiver when he lit his wand and saw the tunnel before him to be just as spooky as he had imagined. The perfect lair for anything unpleasant – but at least the Weasleys were there to warn him with their own screams were anyone to start being devoured.

Fortunately there were no twists or detours in the path. None that Draco noticed, at least. Coughing on dust most of the time, his travel through the filth was nothing but grueling.

Uneasy, he eyed the staircase he reached, and grimaced before starting his trip to the top. When would this ever stop happening to him, it wasn't fair… Everything was always harder than it looked.

By the second set of stairs Draco was panting, but the sound of voices at the end of it renewed his motivation. There was obviously a light lit behind the rickety door, and more than enough cracks for him to silently peek into the small room on the other side.

"It's just… a game, George. An adventure game, alright?"

Draco blinked and leaned closer, studying the scene. George in a unsteady sort of chair – Fred leaning close…and apparently fastening ropes around his brother's wrists. None of it made much sense at all, especially not to explain why George was so damned calm when it had cost Draco a lot to get him to the point where he was anything but. He could only assume that the ropes were Fred's own precaution, and probably a good step to take.

"Fred, that doesn't make any sense, why would we play a game? I'm tired, can we go back to the school?" George lifted his arm away from the chair rest.

Fred sighed, pulling him back into place and working quickly. "Not yet, George, but everything's going great. We'll be fine, just…come on, George, just trust me. I've got a plan, but I can't tell you yet."

"A plan for what?" George looked scared when Fred knelt, using yet another rope to tie his ankle. "Fred, stop it. Let go of my leg."

"Just trust me… We'll get this fixed. I don't care how long it takes, it will fix. There…" Draco watched him stand and look down at his tightly bound brother. Fred subtly pointed his wand, using a spell to weave the ropes into each other, making them impossible to unfasten without being cut.

George began another protestation, but Draco had already begun to run, turned far away from the scene. It wouldn't be fixed, not out here. George would die, and while at some point Draco had gotten a generous amount of sick pleasure at the thought, he had always known that as long as they were in the school it would be caught before then. As soon as George became sick Madame Pomfrey would have had him, and somehow he would have been taken care of.

If things stayed this way… If they stayed here, George would die. There was no way around that. If he admitted what had happened, if he warned Madame Pomfrey about what had bitten George then she could save him, or at least get him to someone who could. If they had just stayed in school no one ever would have been able to pin anything on him, there was absolutely no proof left. The only way now would be to turn himself in, but then what would become of him?

The entire run to the exit was spent on a battle with his conscience. It turned out to be an unfair fight – the only type that Draco would ever participate in – and naturally it was a clean win for his side.

Once George got sick Fred would take him back, right? How would he be so stupid not to? Really there was nothing to worry about, it was going to be pretty obvious, and if they couldn't take care of themselves maybe they deserved whatever happened. Besides, Fred obviously had a plan. Maybe he knew more than Draco thought. None of his was his responsibility anymore; he was just going to put it from his mind.

Draco climbed into the fresh air with a deep breath, glad to finally see green grass rather than dust and cobwebs. He took one guilt-free step forward, and lifted his foot for another, unsuspecting of the thick branch flying to knock him onto the ground.