Author's Note: This story is a thank-you gift for the lovely usermoonjameskitten, who made the header for my fic journal.

Beta Credits: A wonderful team of betas looked this over for me. Many thanks to drcjsnider, manda, eilonwy, and misterotter! I wanted this story to be as close to perfect as it could be, and I think it is.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to JK Rowling. I write to learn. No money is being made.

The Other Side

I know it would be outrageous, To come on all courageous
And offer you my hand, To pull you up on to dry land
When all I got is sinking sand, The trick ain't worth the time it buys
I'm sick of hearing my own lies, And loves a raven when it flies

David Gray, "The Other Side"

ooo

Hermione sighed as she walked through the corridor on the fifth floor. She had just caught a couple trying to sneak into the Prefects bathroom and had taken off the appropriate House points. She checked her watch; it read half-past nine. Half an hour remained in her bi-weekly patrol, and she would spend the time thinking of how she would call in her favor from Ernie, who had backed out of patrolling with her at the last minute.

Please, Hermione, I'll owe you! There's a big test tomorrow in Astronomy that I've got to study for …

If his reason hadn't been for a school, she never would have agreed. She didn't like patrolling the corridors by herself. The old castle held many mysteries, and every creak of the floor or stairs, every wavering shadow had her on edge. She couldn't walk past the boy's bathroom on the sixth floor without seeing images of Harry, white as a sheet with blood all over his T-shirt. From the way Harry had described it, Malfoy had been hurt very badly and was probably lucky to be alive.

Though she didn't let Harry know, not wanting to encourage his near-obsession, Hermione did think Malfoy was up to something. His behavior had been too strange to discount him completely; however, she didn't think him capable of anything too devious or complex. He was always brooding now, in class, in the library, in the hallways, during meals—if he even showed up.

Hermione had noticed that he still gave an effort in Potions, but got easily frustrated and then gave up altogether if he couldn't do something. In years prior, he had at least completed his work. Or else Snape did it for him, which wouldn't have surprised her in the least. She thought he was smart enough, as he had managed to attain the required O.W.L. for advancing to N.E.W.T. level in Potions and a few other subjects. He had never struck her as particularly bright, relying on his name and his father's money to move him along in school. She had always thought he could apply himself more.

Though, she had to admit, she saw him in the library quite often, always bent over a book with a stack beside him, scribbling furiously on parchment. One time she had been forced to sit near him when there were no other empty tables, and had been so distracted by the near-constant scratching of his quill, and his occasional muttering, that she left before she completed her first assignment.

She sighed again and checked the time as she made one final lap around the fifth floor. She had twenty minutes remaining. Hermione headed for the stairs that would take her to the fourth floor, when suddenly she was grabbed from behind and pulled into a dark classroom.

The hand that was clamped over her mouth was large and rough, and the arm around her waist held her tightly. She'd been so surprised at the attack that she'd dropped her wand in the hallway and was now mentally screaming at herself for being so careless.

"Silencio!"

The hand over her mouth disappeared and she tried to scream, even though she knew it was useless. Another large arm wound under her left arm and across her neck.

"Well, well, look what we have here?" a boy said, his voice a drawl.

Hermione glanced around frantically; they were in the Charms classroom. She could just make out a few large shapes around her, moving slightly, but staying in place.

"It's the Mudblood," said another boy.

"Of course it's the Mudblood," the first boy hissed. "We knew she'd be here, you idiot."

It had to be Malfoy and his goons. The thought made Hermione's blood run cold and she struggled, but to no avail. Her captor's grasp only tightened, pressing against her lungs. Malfoy was a prefect; he knew the patrol schedule, even if he never followed it. He would know the area to which she'd been assigned that night. She had checked this classroom, hadn't she?

"You know what Mudbloods deserve, don't you, filth?"

Hermione's eyes were slowly adjusting and she could see for certain that one of the boys in front of her was Crabbe. That meant Goyle was probably holding her, and the one talking to her could only be Malfoy.

A ray of moonlight broke through the clouds at that moment and Hermione silently gasped at what she saw. Blaise Zabini stood over her with a knife in his hand, a sneer on his face, and a maniacal glint in his almost black eyes.

"Mudbloods don't deserve to live, Granger," he sneered, twisting the knife in his hand.

Hermione tried not to panic, and then brought her heel down as hard as she could on Goyle's foot. He grunted, shifted, but his hold on her remained firm.

"Stupid witch!" Zabini cried, his face now a deranged snarl.

She had never seen him act this way, had thought that he didn't have strong opinions when it came to the traditional pureblood propaganda that the house of Slytherin perpetuated. He had always seemed very mild and soft-spoken.

"Just for that, we're going to do this the fun way." He sneered once again, nodded to Goyle, and then plunged the knife into Hermione's chest.

ooo

Draco was trying to get from the seventh floor, where he had been working in the Hiding Room, to the dungeons without getting caught. He had taken all the precautions he could—Silencing his footsteps, casting a charm that would cause anyone approaching to find the opposite side of the hallway fascinating. Granger and that brown-nosing MacMillan were on patrol duty, and he had a snowball's chance in hell of making it all the way without earning himself a detention.

When he reached the sixth floor without seeing Granger's massive hair or even hearing MacMillan's pompous brogue, he thought perhaps he'd gotten lucky and they had both, on the same night, decided to neglect their duties. That wasn't likely, for either of them … maybe they were off snogging. He shuddered at the thought. He had heard from Pansy, who had heard from Millicent, who had overheard some Hufflepuff girls in the bathroom discussing the fact that Ernie had warts on his tongue.

Not that Granger deserves any better.

Draco crept through as many shadows as he could, listening at every classroom door for the telltale sounds of a good snog. Once he was past them, he could go about his way, worrying only about Filch and his bloody cat.

Merlin, he hadn't thought about snogging since … well, far too long. He was too stressed to be able to concentrate, and besides that, he was still healing from Potter's nasty curse. The deep cuts Draco had sustained, though two weeks old, still hadn't properly healed yet. Snape had told him that it was going slowly because the curse was very Dark curse, and that Dark curses didn't fully heal. He would likely have a scar, though he would be able to hide it beneath his clothes. He would be disfigured for the rest of his life, which, at this point, wasn't shaping up to last much longer.

He was doing the best he could, but he was nearing desperation. If he couldn't fix the cabinet, which he'd been working on all year, he had no plan for completing his task. He felt like such a fool to have thought he would be useful to the Dark Lord. When his mother and aunt had approached him about offering himself in Lucius's place, it hadn't been real. When the Dark Lord had branded him, given him his first task, it hadn't been real. Planting the necklace on Rosmerta, using the Imperius to control her, poisoning the wine meant for Dumbledore … none of that had felt real. It had been as though he was far removed from his normal existence, watching himself do all of those things.

Now, though, it was staring-him-in-the-face-and-breathing-on-him real. He only had a few more weeks until the end of the term and after that, he would lose his chance, and would go home empty and a failure. He did his best not to think of the consequences of failure, as he had no doubt that the Dark Lord would follow through with his threat. Failure was not an option. His best plan was still a long-shot and it depended on him fixing the bloody cabinet, and gaining some kind of advantage over Dumbledore. Then he would find the old man, train his wand on him, and … Draco swallowed hard, his throat going dry at the thought of speaking those words aloud.

He had practiced in the mirror, but could only ever whisper them.

Draco cursed when he took a hard step onto the fifth floor corridor, his shoe tapping loudly against the stones beneath. He froze, his eyes darting around him, waiting for someone to spot him. When several long moments passed with no sign of anyone, he breathed a sigh of relief. Again, he was cautious as he neared the steps to the fourth floor.

Moonlight shone through a window behind him, falling on a wand, lying on the floor outside the Charms classroom. He paused, thinking it might be a trick. As he stared at the wand, he noticed moonlight coming from the classroom, wavering in such a way that indicated there were people inside.

Had he found Granger and MacMillan after all? If so, whose wand was he staring at, and why would its owner have left it there?

Draco approached the room and found the door was slightly ajar. He could hear shuffling inside and the scrape of furniture against the floor.

"You know what Mudbloods deserve, don't you, filth?"

He froze at the sound of his housemate's voice. Zabini was in the room, with a Mudblood, and he probably wasn't alone. No wonder Crabbe and Goyle never showed up to guard the room for him.

For a moment, he considered leaving, giving the classroom a wide berth. He could probably slip by unnoticed, trying his best not to imagine what was happening behind him. He was no hero; he wasn't Potter, for bleeding sake.

Draco had nearly decided to move on when he heard Blaise speak again.

"Mudbloods don't deserve to live, Granger."

Merlin's beard. They had Granger! What were they thinking, the thick lug heads? Her? Did they want to invite the wrath of every single Professor in the school plus the Headmaster, Potter and the Weasley brood?

Draco heard shuffling and a grunt of pain.

"Stupid witch!"

Granger must have tried to get away. Draco's heart was pounding in his chest, his blood rushing in his ears. It wasn't that he particularly wanted to save her, but in the seconds that had passed since hearing her name from Zabini's mouth, he found that he didn't want anything to happen to her, either.

"Just for that, we're going to do this the fun way."

Draco snatched up her wand and pushed the door open, stepping into the room in time to see Blaise stick a knife into Granger's chest.

A hundred different thoughts raced through Draco's mind, images from his past. Her bushy head bobbing down the corridor of the train before her first year at school. The defiant way she stuck out her chin when he'd called her a Mudblood for the first time. The angry glint in her eye just before she slapped him in third year. The way she stole the breath of every bloke in the Great Hall at the Yule Ball and the angry look on her face at something Weasley had said to her. The mischievous smile she wore during most of fifth year, as though she had just heard a really good secret. The scathing looks she had been sending in Weasley's direction most of that year.

She wasn't just a Mudblood; she was also a girl, with thoughts, feelings, goals and ambition. He had never cared for her, but as he stared at her bleeding form, he realized that he did not want her to die.

The look on her face at that moment was one of shock and pain. Crabbe was laughing; Goyle looked as though he was trying to decide if he would faint or join him. Zabini had turned to the intruder, only to relax when he saw who it was.

"Malfoy, just in time."

Granger looked at him then, a drop of blood trailing from the corner of her mouth to her chin, her breath coming in gasps. She remained silent, her eyes wide, scared and hopeful. For some reason, she was looking at him as though he was her last hope. Blood was oozing from the wound, flowing around the knife still embedded in her chest, staining her clothes.

The hilt … Draco recognized it. Zabini had been carrying it around all year, bragging about how he'd bought it off a street vendor in Tandoori the summer before fifth year, how it was reputed to have deep, Dark magical powers.

Now … the blood around Granger's wound was turning black.

She wasn't just a Mudblood …

She was also a girl.

Draco felt as though he'd been staring at Granger, eyes locked, for an eternity. Her life was slowly fading, the poison from the knife making its way to her heart. She would die if he did nothing, and he would be no better than Zabini or the others. An image of the old man flashed through his mind in place of Granger. He would die at Draco's hand so that his mother might live. He would have two black scars on his soul. Maybe … if he helped Granger, he could cancel out the blot he would be left with upon completion of his task. At the least, he would have a white spot next to the black one.

"Want to finish her?" Blaise said.

To Draco, Blaise's voice sounded as though it were coming from underwater. The question spurred Draco to action. He spun on Zabini and used Granger's wand to disarm him.

"What the—" Zabini began.

Draco Silenced him, then bound his legs and arms, and Stupefied him. Crabbe had only started reacting when Draco Disarmed him, sending him flying across the room, hitting the wall hard. Draco Stupefied him, then turned to Goyle, who had allowed Granger to sink to her knees.

"Draco," he said. "What are you doing?"

"I … I don't know." With a quick flick of his wrist, Draco Stupefied Goyle.

Hermione slumped onto the floor, gasping for breath. Draco rushed to her and laid her flat on the ground. He looked at her, met her gaze, and saw confusion.

"This will hurt," he said, closing his hand around the shaft of the knife.

She barely moved her head and closed her eyes.

Draco pulled with all his might and the knife came free. Hermione's mouth opened and her face contorted in pain, but she still made no sound. He frowned, and removed the Silencing Spell.

She was gasping then, watching him with her huge, brown eyes.

Draco examined the knife for some clue as to its origins and saw ancient Norse runes inscribed along the blade. The etchings were fairly recent, not dating to Norse periods; only the language was antiquated. He recognized the phrase, a popular one among Death Eaters.

From Hell's heart, I stab at thee. For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee.

It was a very powerful chant. When intoned during certain rituals, with the appropriate incantations and environment, it resulted in a thick cloud of deadly, red smoke. The smoke could then be captured, bottled, and used in poisons, or, in this case, forged into the metal itself.

To unbind the Dark magic from the knife was impossible; however, he could attempt to draw the poison from Granger's blood, and then hope to heal her wound. He crouched low over her, noticing how pale her face was from loss of blood.

He carefully began unbuttoning her shirt. She struggled against him weakly. "Relax," he said. "I'm trying to help you." She stilled. Draco finished the last button and examined the damage. The puncture had gone in just below the ribcage and from the way she was breathing, had probably punctured a lung. He cleaned the excess blood away. "This is going to hurt more," he told her, positioning his wand over the wound.

Granger looked at him and he thought she would tell him no. He took a deep breath, counted to three, and stuck the tip of his wand into the hole left by the knife.

She cried out, her face contorting into a grimace, and reached for his free hand. When she caught it, she wrapped her thin digits around his and squeezed so hard he nearly jerked away, yanking his wand from her flesh. He thought she might break his fingers. Gradually the pain lessened and her grip weakened.

Draco mumbled the words that would draw the poison, which had leached from the knife, out of her system. "Syphodio veneficus," he muttered repeatedly. Each time his wand would tingle with magic and then finally, it gave a sharp hitch when it had pulled as much of the evil substance that it could. That hitch sent Granger into a pained fit, and she passed out.

After withdrawing all the poison, Draco set to healing her wounds. He had never practiced it, but Snape had told him what to do. Maldirarum percuro was a spell for curing wounds of a Dark nature. Snape had used it on Draco after Potter cursed him, and Draco had wanted to know what it was so that he could use it in the future. He couldn't have known he would use it so soon.

Fortunately, she had only been stabbed once, though it was a deep wound. Draco methodically repaired her lungs, blood vessels, and the layers of skin until the puncture hole closed, leaving behind whole, pink skin. He noted with satisfaction that there would be minimal scarring.

He sat down on the floor, exhausted. He's been hunched over Granger's form for nearly half an hour, expending his energy on a specific, targeted area of her body. He smirked at the unwitting innuendo and then glanced at her still form beside him, thinking he should probably cover her up.

Draco sighed and returned to a bent position over her and began buttoning her shirt. She would probably need a few Blood Replenishing potions, but he loathed both the idea of telling anyone about what had happened and of people learning what he had done. He didn't regret saving her, but he was supposed to be working for the creature intent on eradicating people like her. He didn't think it would go over well as a conversation piece among his friends and family.

Just when he finished the last button, Hermione reached up and grabbed his hand. Startled, he froze, and then met her gaze. She was looking at him through groggy, bleary eyes.

"Does anything hurt?" he asked, withdrawing his hand and then sitting down beside her.

She shook her head. "I … I don't feel … so good."

"I expect not. You lost a lot of blood."

Hermione blinked a few times and when their eyes met again, her eyes were still bleary, but they were also determined. "Why?" she whispered.

He shrugged. "Sod if I know."

"Malfoy—"

"Listen," he said sternly. "This … never happened, all right? You can't go running off to Potter and Dumbledore about this."

"You're joking, right?" she said, her voice stronger. "Zabini … he sodding stabbed me! I'm not supposed to tell anyone? I won't let him get away with it!"

He winced and ran a hand through his hair. It was an unreasonable request, when he thought about it. "I'm buggered as it is," he said, the full weight of his looming task returning to rest heavily on his shoulders, heavier now with the ramifications of what he had just done. "They … when they tell what happened …" He glanced out the window at the bright, full moon.

"Of course," she said bitterly. "Mummy and Daddy won't be happy with you saving someone like me."

Draco was too tired to argue or think of any snarky comeback. "You don't know even half of it," he said.

The lack of venom in his voice surprised Hermione. He still looked awful—thin, too pale, even for him, and his robes hung loosely on his broad shoulders. His eyes were blood-shot with grey circles under them. It occurred to her that the consequences for his actions in helping her could be far more severe than wagging tongues. Painful curses and physical violence were more likely. Though she couldn't imagine keeping the attack a secret, he had saved her life. Perhaps she could keep quiet for while, so that he wouldn't be hurt … or worse.

"Maybe you're right," she said softly. "You could tell me. Half of it, if you want."

He cast her a weary look, then chuckled morosely. "If there was even the slightest chance that talking about it would matter … maybe, but only because I'm so infernally tired of it all. But it won't, so no. I won't be opening up to you or anyone else tonight." He glanced at the three prone forms of his classmates. "I've got to fix this." Draco wasn't sure he could do it, the exhaustion and dread threatening to overwhelm him. He had been planning and scheming all year for an approaching deadline, to no avail. Now the situation was dire and when he needed to think quickly, to solve an immediate problem, he couldn't. His shoulders slumped; he had failed again.

"Obliviate them," Hermione said. "Let them think they waited here for me but I never came."

Draco glanced at her skeptically. "Right, I know all about Advanced Memory Charms. Studied it last year, in fact," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

She narrowed her eyes. "Good, then you can perform it on Zabini while I work on Crabbe and Goyle." She got the anticipated reaction from him when his eyes widened in surprise.

"You … you've done it?"

"I've been studying," she said. "Help me sit up."

He gently but firmly pushed her back to the floor. "No, no, this won't work. You need blood before you can cast any complex spells. You'll just faint, and then you're no good to me. Keep talking." His voice held a distinct tone of exhaustion.

"Fine, you Obliviate them. I'll show you how, it shouldn't be too difficult. I couldn't care less if something went a little wrong, truth be told. Then you take them back into the dungeons—don't forget the knife—and while you're there, break into Snape's stores for the blood potions. If anyone asks why you're out past curfew, tell them Ernie offered to do your Potions homework for a week and give you a bottle of Old Ogden's to work his patrol tonight. Bring the potions to me, and then leave." She paused, looking at him intently. "I won't tell anyone what you did. At least, not until it's safe to."

He stared at her, disbelief evident on his face. Why would she keep this a secret for him? He hadn't begged, bribed, whined … or even asked! Perhaps his desperation was so apparent that she had read through his eyes, and seen the blackness of despair that threatened to drown him. For some reason, he wasn't incensed by her concern. It swelled something inside him, a pleasant feeling he had never experienced before.

"Will you be all right?" he asked. "I'm not sure I should just leave you …"

"Yeah," she said, giving him a weak smile. "I'll be fine once I drink the potions. I'll have to wait a while before I'll be confident to walk, but as long as this room is locked against anyone coming in, I'll be fine."

"You … you really won't tell?" he asked hesitantly, half expecting her to laugh at him for thinking she had been serious.

"I really won't tell, Malfoy. You did save my life, after all."

Draco exhaled in relief. For some reason, he believed her, and when he took his next breath his lungs filled completely with air for the first time in months. He wouldn't have to worry about his parents or, worse, the Dark Lord, finding out. There was no possible way he could thank her. No amount of money, gifts, or gratitude from him could adequately express the relief he felt, nor repay the debt he felt he owed her.

He was free … Draco's chest tightened again. Free to continue working on a mission that seemed doomed and would, if successful, leave his soul forever black, despite this one good mark he had earned. If he thought about it for too long, he often came to the conclusion that it had been doomed from the start.

"Okay," he said, picking her wand off the floor and handing it to her. Then he drew his own. "Are you sure we should do this?" he asked. It was probably the closest he'd ever come to admitting that there was something he wasn't sure he could do.

She smiled, catching his implication but not mentioning it. "You'll do fine. Luckily, the short-term version of the spell is rather uncomplicated." She lifted her wand and showed him the proper movement. "Obliviatum hora should do the trick. We haven't been in this room that long."

He nodded and stood. "I'll do it before I revive them. In the hallway, so they don't see you." Draco cleaned the blood off his hands and then Levitated the bodies of his mates into the hallway. "I … I'll be back," he said. "I'm going to ward this classroom so only I can come back in."

Hermione nodded from her position on the floor. The door shut and only then did she allow the tears to fall. She'd been frightened during the attack, and the cursed wound had hurt unlike anything she'd ever experienced, and then she was rescued by the least likely person imaginable. What was more, she had promised not to tell anyone, and what better evidence did she need to prove to Harry that Malfoy wasn't up to something? He had saved her from his housemates and friends, and she believed that he would return with the much-needed potions. That behavior did not fall in line with a Death Eater up to nefarious plotting. Hermione felt slightly bad for suspecting him, despite his nasty behavior toward them all through that year and those before.

She tried to sit up, but felt herself begin to swoon, and resigned herself to waiting on the floor.

ooo

When Draco returned with the potions, he saw Hermione's eyes closed and panicked. He rushed to her and took her face roughly in his hands.

"Granger? Granger, wake up!" he said frantically, his brow furrowed in consternation.

She moaned and her eyes fluttered open, then she cringed. "Ow," she said. Her chest was beginning to feel very stiff.

Draco exhaled in relief. "You scared me! I would have been very put out with you if you had gone and died on me. Would've broken into Snape's office for no reason."

"Merlin forbid I be the cause of wasted effort on your part," she said sleepily, trying to focus on his face. She thought she caught him smile before turning his face away from her.

"Here, drink up. Judging by how much blood is all over you, and the floor, and what I already cleaned off me, I'd say you need three vials."

Hermione nodded and downed the first one. She immediately felt the potion take effect. Draco's concerned expression and furrowed brow came into focus. She shook her head, not having realized how groggy she had felt until some of it was relieved.

"Better?" he asked.

"Yes," she said, accepting the second vial. When she'd finished all three, Draco helped her to sit up and lean against the teacher's desk. She could feel her strength returning and her thoughts clearing.

"I, er, brought you a shirt to change into. Thought you could Transfigure it to look like the one you're wearing. I imagine Potter and Weasley would go barmy if they saw you covered in blood. They'd start asking questions."

"Uh-huh," she said, accepting the battered T-shirt from him.

"It was the best I could do in a pinch," he said, as though apologizing. He didn't tell her that he had simply grabbed the first thing he put his hands on in his room, and that the shirt happened to be his favorite. It was a deep scarlet color and had a faded logo of the Caerphilly Catapults on the front.

"It's fine," she whispered. "Would you mind? I'd rather save my strength."

"Oh, right." He hesitated, having never Transfigured anything into an article of woman's clothing before. When he handed the result to Hermione, she seemed satisfied.

Draco watched, wanting to make sure she could manage.

She fumbled with the top button and then looked up at him. "Would you, um, look away?" Her cheeks flushed at her question.

"Yeah, of course." He walked to the far corner of the classroom, forcing his thoughts onto the set of Charms texts on the shelves in the back. It wouldn't do to think too much about what she was doing.

"Finished," she said after what felt to him like an age.

He went to her and stared at the bloody shirt, now in a heap next to her. "Reckon I should clean up a bit." He siphoned the blood off the floor, put the furniture back in order and went back to staring at her shirt. "What do you want me to do with it?" he asked.

"Burn it. Get rid of the evidence." She picked it up, touching a part that hadn't been stained, and held it toward him. "Go on. Just … aim away from me."

Her trust in him was astonishing, but he found that, had their situation been reversed, he would have felt the same trust in her. The ordeal had bonded them, at least for as long as they were in that classroom.

He wondered if it would extend afterwards, but knew that it shouldn't, it couldn't. She would never speak to him in public, because if he was seen having anything to do with her, the information would get back to his parents and then he would risk not only himself and everyone he loved, but her as well. Beside there was no point in wishing for a temporary friendship. If he was successful in his task, he knew she would never look at him with anything but pure hate in her eyes.

Draco nodded, swallowing hard at the thought. "Incendio!"

Fire consumed the shirt and Hermione was careful to drop it just before it reached her fingers.

"Thank you," she said, gratitude welling in her voice.

"It was … you're welcome." He gave her a tentative smile. He had never done anything so heroic or outright contrary to his upbringing in his life, and he marveled at the inherently good feelings his actions evoked.

"I'll just wait a few more minutes," Hermione said, smiling back. "You can go now."

Draco shifted his weight, and then sat on the floor beside her, leaning against the desk. "Nah. Might as well make sure you can walk back to your tower. Wouldn't want to leave just to have you pass out in the hallway. Someone would find you, questions would be raised, and they'd be looking for someone to blame."

Hermione smiled to herself, thankful for the company and amused by the excuses he made.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

"My chest hurts, and it's a little painful to take deep breaths."

"I've never really done that spell before, so I'm not surprised it wasn't a perfect job."

"I think it'll go away. Bodies aren't used to such abuse, and they tend to protest whenever they aren't treated well. I'm sure it's just bruising and scarring. I checked the wound when I changed, and you did a good job sealing it."

"Thanks," he muttered, reddening slightly at her praise. He wasn't used to it, especially not from people who were supposed to hate him, and he them.

"What spell did you use, anyway? And how did you know what to do?"

Draco stretched his legs out in front of him and leaned his head against the desk. "I've seen Blaise with that knife for two years. He left it hidden in his room after last year, under a few loose boards we reckon Filch doesn't know about. There's no way he could've gotten it in this year with all the security precautions. The inscription on it … I've seen it before. Dark Magic, a type of poison bonded with the metal until it breaks magical flesh. I had to pull the poison out of you before it reached your heart. Snape taught me the healing spell I used; it's designed for Dark curses."

She shook her head. "I can't believe … I almost died tonight. They were waiting for me; they'd planned it."

"I won't let them bother you again. I had heard Zabini talking big in the common room a few times, but didn't imagine he would do anything with it." Draco realized Blaise had probably been trying to show him up. Draco had bragged about a task, given by the Dark Lord, for the better part of the beginning of the year. Zabini had expressed interest in helping, but Draco hadn't trusted him.

"How can you stop them?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I'll lie, tell them something. You shouldn't go wandering the corridors alone, that goes without saying."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, enjoying the sensation of comfort and ease between them. Neither had ever imagined it was possible, nor did they expect it to continue. As soon as they set foot outside the door, it would evaporate. Twice, Draco's arm brushed Hermione's and he felt something akin to life flowing through him, a sensation he hadn't experienced in well over a year.

"I think I'm ready to go now," Hermione said eventually.

Draco repositioned himself to crouch beside her, snaking his arm under her left and around her back, holding her tightly. "Let's get you up," he said. He helped her to stand, and then to walk.

When she was confident in her strength, she removed herself from his arms, an odd feeling of loss washing through her, and took a few steps on her own. She pocketed her wand and looked at him. "All right. All better."

He nodded once, keeping her gaze.

"Thank you again, Malfoy. Guess we're even."

"I assure you, my motives were purely selfish," he said, a strained smile on his face. He couldn't tell her that, in fact, he was still in her debt. She would ask questions he couldn't answer.

Hermione shyly returned the smile and then slowly made her way to the door and turned the handle. She looked back over her shoulder. "I hope …" She paused, considering her words carefully. "I hope we both get to see the other side of this." She didn't wait for his response and softly clicked the door shut behind her.

Draco stared at the handle for a long while, contemplating her words. The other side of what? The war? Did she suspect … did she know what he was doing? How could she possibly … But what could she have meant? He felt a ridiculous urge to follow her and ask, but that would jeopardize everything he'd done in the last hour.

He waited for fifteen minutes before leaving the room, careful to make sure no one saw him. It wouldn't do to have people whispering about him and Granger leaving the Charms classroom in close succession after curfew.

As he lay in bed that night, Draco decided two things. He was still determined to complete his task. Nothing had happened to change that, but he would return Hermione's kindness if the opportunity presented itself. He couldn't imagine a situation in which he would be able to help her, or repay her, but he would take it if he stumbled upon one.

And if he ever got the chance, he would ask her what she had meant. If it was in his power at all, he would see to it that they both made it to the other side.

ooo

End Notes: Thank you for reading! Moonie, I hope you liked it, and I hope if filled your request!

The curse on the knife comes from Moby Dick, by Herman Melville.

Spells: I made these up, using an English-to-Latin translation site.

Syphodio veneficus – "sypho" means to siphon; "odio" means hate; "veneficus" means magical poison. Draco siphoned the magical poison that had been created through hate.

Maldirarum percuro – "mal" means bad; "dirae –arum" means curse; "percuro" means to heal thoroughly. This is a healing spell designed for Dark curses.

Obliviatum hora – "obliviatum" derived from Obliviate; "hora" means one hour.