Hermione backed up against the white, marble, wall. Her heart was pounding loudly in her chest and she was finding it hard to breathe. It was impossible that she'd just heard Draco Malfoy and his father, his fugitive, Death Eater, father, planning to kill her. As each second passed she was finding it increasingly hard to breath. Her head was starting to spin. She feared she'd faint right there, but then, Hermione Granger had never fainted in her life and she didn't think now was the time to start. She quietly took deep, even, breaths and then she strained her ears to hear what they were saying. She soaked up every word, branding it into her mind.
"Do it tonight, I put the vial in your room in the secret compartment. I want that mudblood dead, Draco. Do not fail me. You know what will happen if you fail." The voice was so cold yet so nonchalant, as if he was talking about nothing more important than the weather. If only that were the case. They were talking about ending her life. As the truth of what was being said sunk in, she felt like they already had.
"I won't fail you, Father. I'll do it at dinner. She'll be dead by morning. I've tired of her, you have no idea what a hell this last year has been, having to pretend that I actually love her. There were certain advantages, but I've grown weary of even those." Draco laughed and Hermione wanted to put her fingers in her ears to block out the sound of that horrible, cruel, laugh she had heard for her first six years at Hogwarts. To think that he had actually made her believe that he'd changed. That he was in love with her. She'd given him so many things, her love, her trust, her virginity... she clamped her hand over her mouth, desperate not to make a sound lest they hear her. Bright summer sunlight was flooding the room but she was coated in a layer of cold sweat. They were laughing. Laughing at her, at the fact that she was going to die tonight. How could she be such a fool? How could she ever have believed that there was something good in him?
She silently crept away feeling sick to her stomach. She walked through the elegantly decorated Malfoy Manner where she'd been staying since they graduated a few months ago. She ignored the extravagant beauty and went upstairs to the room that they shared. When she threw herself on the bed the full meaning of the conversation really hit her. He was going to kill her. It was too much for her brain to process. How could he? She loved him. Harry and Ron had been right. Damn them for being right. He was just using her. Didn't love her, had never cared about her. She had to leave right away before he came back, before she had to look at him and see the truth in his eyes, that he never loved her. Seeing that in itself would kill her.
In their seventh year at Hogwarts Hermione and Draco had been Head Girl and Boy and they'd been forced to share a common room. At first she had hated every minute of it. Somehow, they'd ended up studying for the NEWTs together and slowly they'd become friends. It had all been nothing but a lie. When he'd told her he was falling in love with her it had been a lie. When they'd laid in bed together, tangled in the sheets and he'd kissed her on the forehead and told her that he loved her frizzy hair and her freckles and that he would never hurt her... nothing but empty words. She'd believed it all. She had jeopardized her friendships with Ron and Harry for him and he was going to murder her.
She froze as she heard the door open and looked up to see Draco standing there, silently watching her. She had just pulled out her suitcase and she cursed herself for not just apparating as far away as she could. She looked up at him and wondered how she could actually love him. She wanted to pull out her wand and curse him but she couldn't. Why not? Because she was a fool and she still loved him. How could he not love her back? All of the times she'd made him laugh flashed through her mind. He had shared so many stories with her. So many secrets. Had it all been nothing but a lie?
"What are you doing with your suitcase?" he asked walking towards her. Hermione had to stop herself from backing away in fear. How could he talk to her in that gentle voice after he had just finished talking to his father? He was going to betray her. He was going to kill her. Why did it hurt so damn much to breathe?
"I was just looking for something," she lied as she put her suitcase back in the closet. It was the first time she'd ever lied to him and guilt twisted in her stomach. She stifled the urge to laugh at the irony. While she took a minute to compose herself she studied the interior of the closet. She looked up at her clothes, side by side with his, and nausea hit her again. So many little moments and memories raced through her head. It was all a betrayal. It was all lies. All of those moments that meant so much to her actually meant nothing at all. She turned around to face him and her mind screamed.
"Are you feeling all right? You look upset." Damn him for looking at her like that. She still couldn't see it. She still couldn't discern that he was lying. Where was the malice? Where was the hate? How had he gotten so good at hiding it? When had she become so blind? Was there some spell hiding his real emotions? Would he go that far to deceive her? Was he even, at that moment, smirking at her. She studied him intently trying to see some sign of how he really felt. She realized that she hadn't said anything and quickly tried to gather her thoughts.
"I have a headache." She cursed herself for allowing her voice to tremble. He walked over to her and she looked up into his gray eyes. She had to fight not to look away or let her hatred for him show. He smoothed her hair away from her face and his hands were tender... loving... deceiving.
"Take a walk with me, it might help," he said planting a kiss in the middle of her forehead. She fought down nausea again for the millionth time. She didn't want him to touch her. She didn't want to walk with him. She wanted to protest but she knew that it would only make him suspicious.
"All right, maybe it will help." She stiffened as he took her hand, his fingers entwining with hers. She'd always thought that his hand was a perfect fit to hers, now she wondered if he could feel how cold and clammy her hands were. Was she shaking? Could he feel the change in the way her body responded to his? Panic was welling up in her throat as he led her down the marble staircase. Hermione felt like she was choking back tears. Why was she doing this? Why did she stay? She told herself she had until tonight to escape. A part of her wondered why she just didn't do it now. Why she didn't just leave him standing there alone. She knew why. She wanted answers... she just wasn't sure she had the courage to ask them. She had until tonight.
The July sky up above was a brilliant blue and she wondered how the world could look so calm and peaceful when there was such turmoil inside of her. It seemed to her like the world ought to be polite and stop. Everything should just freeze and then shatter like glass. Her entire world was falling apart before her eyes yet nothing had changed. It wasn't fair. None of this was fair. They walked down a small path towards the gardens and she was reminded, despite herself, of other similar walks. Just the two of them and the stars twinkling up above. She'd been so happy. They were so happy.
Her mind wandered back to six months ago when she'd realized that she'd fallen in love with the snarky, sarcastic, Slytherin. She'd been so afraid of her feelings and that if she let things progress it would ruin their friendship. She had also worried about her relationship with Ron and Harry, who had barely tolerated her friendship with Draco. She hadn't been able to imagine how they'd react to a romance. On the day before Valentine's day they had been sitting in front of the fireplace in their common room and he had asked her to go to Hogsmeade with him. That had been the beginning of it. Ron and Harry had tried to tell her that Draco didn't love her but she'd ignored them. She'd been stupid enough to tell them that if they couldn't accept Draco then they could at least be happy for her. She should have listened to them. When Draco had invited her to stay with him at the mansion for the summer, she'd readily accepted. She'd been so happy, deliciously happy. Sitting outside on the veranda reading, staying up late and watching the stars with his arms wrapped around her, going up to their room and making love, falling asleep next to him... She loved the smell of him. The way he held her. The way he kissed her.
"Hermione? What's wrong? Is your headache worse? "
She hadn't even realized that she was crying and she berated herself for showing weakness. He gently wiped her tears away and she wanted to physically strike out at him and cause him at least an ounce of the pain she was feeling. She wanted to yell, to confront him but she was unable to say a word... and why was he looking at her like that... pity? She pitied herself enough for the both of them. She didn't need his.
"Hermione?" he asked worriedly when she didn't respond.
"It must be allergies or something, they've never been this bad before though. Do you mind if I go and lay down for awhile?" Merlin how she hated him! She wanted to take her wand and show him what it felt like to hurt like this. The only thing that stopped her was the one thing that enraged her even further and that was the fact that she still loved him. She kept telling herself over and over again that the person she had fallen in love with was not the person standing here with her. She had fallen in love with someone that wasn't real.
"That's fine. I can brew you a potion to help if you'd like?"
"No," she said quickly and she tried to cover. "I just need a little nap and I'll be fine." She was such a liar.
They went back to the mansion and up the stairs to their room and the whole time the only thing Hermione could think about was that he had betrayed her and despite that fact she still loved him. She started to hate herself more than she hated him.
"I hope you feel better soon," he said kissing her softly on the lips and despite herself she wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. He was so warm and the spicy scent of him wafted around her.
'What you feel for him isn't real, you only love the idea of him,' she told herself as she turned around to hide the tears in her eyes.
She had always loved the way he said her name, softly, as if he savored the feeling of it on his tongue. So much better than Granger, or Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood. That's what he really meant.
"I just need to rest," she said turning around with a fake smile plastered on her face. He cupped her face and looked into her eyes and she was unable to look away.
"You can tell me anything... anything," he said his eyes never leaving hers. When she didn't say anything he brushed her cheek with his thumb and she saw the disappointment in his eyes.
"Sleep well." He turned around and left, quietly shutting the door behind him.
Hermione collapsed on the bed fighting tears and losing. "I hate him," she repeated over and over again into the pillow, trying to make herself believe it. She wanted to leave, was tempted to get up right now but she needed to see if he would go through with it. She laughed bitterly, wondering if she was mad. How could she stay here and see if he would really poison her? She wondered when she had come dependent on him, when the thought of him not in her life had become unbearable? Maybe it was because he saw through her brisk, know-it-all exterior and found... and accepted... all of her insecurities. He knew how vulnerable she was even when she tried to hide it. She'd thought that she had seen through the malicious smirk he always hid behind. They'd shared hopes, dreams, fears, memories, she'd given him everything of herself, trusting that he'd never hurt her.
Minutes slid slowly past as she stared into the semi-darkness. Warm tears fell down her cheeks and she hated herself for it. Where was the brave, courageous, Gryffindor that had slapped him their third year? She didn't know anymore.
The tears fell harder and she hated him and loved him all at once. All she wanted to do was look into his eyes and know that he loved her. She would never have that comfort or that security ever again. It was all over. Broken. Lost. Destroyed. Because of him.
She cried herself to sleep and when she woke up the sun was just beginning to set and it filled the room with an ominous red glow. She lay there for a moment trying to gather her thoughts when she heard footsteps coming down the hall. She cringed. How many times had she lay here in this very bed waiting in anticipation for him to walk through the door and now all she felt was fear. There was still time to apparate but she had to stay, she didn't know why but she had to see this through to the end no matter what the end was. She had always thought of herself as independent. She had never been one to let others define her, especially not the opposite sex. Hermione thought that she could take care of herself but her relationship with Draco had showed her that, yes she could take care of herself, and be independent, but you needed someone to share it with. She'd thought that he'd been that person. She didn't know if she could ever open up to anyone else in the same way again. Draco had made her come alive and she didn't want to give that up. She'd rather die...
The door opened and a rectangle of bright light flooded the room. She closed her eyes, working up the courage not to falter, to face him. She heard him walk over to the bed and she felt the bed move as he sat down beside her but she stayed motionless. His hand ran through her unruly hair and he sat like that for a few minutes.
"You are so beautiful." The words were said softly so as not to wake her and she had to strain to hear him. He was quiet for a minute and then he gently rubbed her arm.
"It's time to wake up."
She made the pretense of yawning and waking up and he smiled at her as she opened her eyes.
"How are you feeling?"
Hermione sat up, how could he be so nice? He was so different from the Slytherin pureblood they all used to hate. He was still rude sometimes, mostly to Ron and Harry, and snarky, not to mention sarcastic and she had accepted it all as part of who he was. When he was with her he was nice and thoughtful and sometimes even romantic when he came out from behind the walls he'd built around himself.
"I'm feeling a bit better, thanks." Liar. Liar. Liar. She didn't know who she was accusing. Him, or herself.
"Good, if you're up for it I thought we could have dinner out on the balcony tonight."
She wanted to protest, say she wasn't hungry and she just wanted to go back to sleep but she just wanted to get everything over with.
"That sounds fine."
"I'll let you get dressed then." He kissed her and left the room. Hermione went to the closet, not many of her clothes were elegant or fancy but she managed to find a simple black strapless dress. She put it on, surprised that she wasn't nervous, she felt strangely empty. As if what was going to happen tonight was just something that she'd dreamed up and nothing more. Tomorrow she'd wake up and laugh at herself for being silly, but this wasn't a nightmare that could be banished by sunshine and rainbows. She slipped the dress over her head and then tied her hair back. She went into the bathroom and applied a little eyeliner, mascara, and lip gloss, she had never been a big fan of makeup... Draco had said he liked that about her. She finished off her look with a simple bracelet made from amber, he had given it to her last week as a gift.
Her ensemble complete she walked out of the room and shut the door behind her. That would be the last time she would lay in that bed, comforted by his arms wrapped around her. She walked through the dark silent mansion, on her way to the balcony that overlooked the garden. They'd eaten there her first day here, she found it quite fitting that tonight would be her last and she was spending it in the same spot.
Hermione got to the balcony to find Draco standing there waiting for her. He looked handsome, like a prince out of a fairy tale. He was wearing black trimmed in silver and it brought out the color of his eyes. He took her arm and led her to the table and told her what they were having but she wasn't paying attention. Candles were floating above the table and it reminded her a little of the Great Hall at Hogwarts. He pulled out the chair for her and she sat down and noticed a single red rose in the center of the table that had been enchanted to let off a soft silver glow. He sat down across from her and she wondered what he felt. Guilt? Satisfaction? Happiness? Why didn't he just pull out his wand and use avada kadava? Spare her the pain of sitting here across from him, knowing that he wanted her dead.
Wine appeared in silver goblets as the first course was served. She slowly picked it up, willing her hands not to shake. She knew that the wine was poisoned, or at least suspected it, she wondered if maybe he had put it in her food. If she drank this dark red liquid it would kill her. She slowly brought it up to her lips and the cold liquid filled her mouth and she swallowed, the whole time Draco's eyes were on her. He looked away as she sat the goblet down. She tried to eat but she didn't feel very hungry so she listlessly pushed the food around on her plate. Three sips of wine later she was fine and she began to wonder if maybe it all had been nothing more than a dream.
"This wine is very good," she said casually while in her mind she was pleading with him to look at her but his eyes never strayed from his plate.
"I found it in the wine cellar this morning," he said and frustrated she took a defiant sip.
Their plates disappeared and the second course appeared in front of them. The wine was half gone now and she felt no pain or dizziness.
"Draco, I would like to go to Diagon Alley tomorrow, they just got in a shipment of new books that I'm dying to read." Was he ever going to show any emotion other than uneasiness? She wanted him to confess, she wanted... something. She didn't know why she didn't confront him, why she didn't scream or yell or cry she didn't know if it was fear of what he'd say or what he wouldn't. She took a long drink of the wine, punishing herself for still loving him.
How could he sit there calmly? How could he do this to her?
She picked up the goblet and drained it. She held it for a moment and she just wanted to go to sleep, she was so tired. She loudly sat the goblet down, making the dishes clatter and finally he looked up. She stared into his gray eyes, she was starting to feel it now. Everything was slightly out of focus, and her limbs felt heavy.
His declaration pierced through the silence, startling her.
"Yes, I know," she said bitterly, resisting the urge to break out in tears, her resolve was weakening. Her heart was breaking. "Was this planned from the beginning? Has everything been a lie?" Her voice sounded far away. Her chest hurt so bad. Why did he do this to her?
How could he?
He got up and knelt down beside her. "I thought it might come to this, I love you, Hermione and I never wanted this to happen. Tell me you understand."
"Understand?" she shrieked. He wanted her to understand? Things were getting fuzzy now, it was hard to think, harder to breathe.
'So this is what dying feels like?' she felt herself sliding from the chair and he caught her, and then everything went black.
Light. It hurt so much, her head was pounding, and her throat was dry, it felt like a ton of weight was on top of her, dragging her down. But she could feel it and that made the pain bearable because it told her that she was alive. Cool liquid filled her mouth and she swallowed it greedily hoping to assuage the dryness of her throat. She rapidly blinked, trying to let her eyes adjust to the sudden brightness, where was she?
She could finally make out shapes and movement and then suddenly her eyes focused and she found herself looking into silver eyes, concerned silver eyes. Almost on its own accord her hand slapped him across the face, instantly leaving a red mark on his pale flesh. She was very confused. Hermione sat up and looked around, she was in their bed and she was alive. Her mind seemed covered with a cloak of befuddlement and it was hard to concentrate, hard to sort things out, and her head was pounding.
"Here, take this." Draco handed her a vial and she flung it away from her where it landed on the floor with the sound of shattering glass.
"Trying to finish the job?" her voice sounded heavy and tired and she barely recognized it as her own.
"What are you talking about?" he asked as he pulled out his wand and cleaned up the mess on the floor with a spell.
"You tried... I... I heard you talking to your father, you... you were talking to him about how you were going to poison me. How could you, Draco? Howcould you?" The last part was almost swallowed by her sobbing. He looked as if she had just stuck a dagger in his heart, was it guilt? It damn well better be. She wanted him to feel something.
"I would never, never, hurt you, Hermione." There was something in his voice that made her want to believe him but she couldn't. There was evidence...
"But I heard you," she said, her voice breaking. He got up off of the bed as if he wanted to put distance between them. There was pain written all over his face and it was a look she had never seen him wear before... he was hurt, and as the fog in her mind began to clear away she got a horrible feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"You didn't give me poison." It was a statement not a question but she held her breath, waiting for him to answer.
"No, I didn't." His voice was harsh and it took her back to their earlier school days when he had taunted and tormented her.
"When I'd heard that my father had broken out of Azkaban I wanted to keep our relationship a secret, but it was too late for that, everyone at Hogwarts knew about us and I knew it was only a matter of time until he found out. I got a message from him and he was furious at the thought of the prestigious Malfoy heir dating the Gryffindor Mudblood." He sneered and she flinched as he said the word, it had been so long since she'd heard him say that awful name but it was more the way he said it. He was hurt and resorting to old habits, but that didn't make it any less painful. What had she done?
"What was I supposed to do? There was no way for me to reach him since he's in hiding so I had no way to try to explain. One night while you were asleep he came here, ready to kill us both. What was I supposed to say, 'Sorry father but I'm in love?' I told him that I was only with you so that I could get information about the Order. He thought it was a brilliant idea, of course, but when he wasn't getting reliable information he said that you were useless... and that... that I should kill you... I agreed."
What had she done?
Hermione stared down at her hands feeling sick to her stomach, she knew he was telling her the truth and it made her sick inside that she had thought that he would actually kill her. Tears fell from her eyes in fat salty droplets but Draco continued.
"I managed to get word to Dumbledore, and I asked for his help. He arranged for me to fake your death by giving you the draught of the living dead. We both decided that it was best not to tell you, it was the only way. After I'd hidden you up here a metamorphmagus apparated here and took on your appearance. She acted like she was dead and we apparated to the Burrow where my father told me to dump your body. Everyone will make a great bloody deal of finding your 'body' and you will be safe."
Hermione looked up at him but he had his back to her.
"Draco..." he cut her off before she could finish.
"When you're well enough, in an hour or so, you can apparate to Grimwauld place, the Burrow, or anywhere else you bloody well please."
"Draco-" he stormed from the room and slammed the door behind him. She sat on the bed for a long time wishing that it had really been poison, anything was better then seeing the hurt in his eyes.