"If you can keep your head when all about you,
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you."
Wednesday 23rd July, 1997.
Grange Cottage had been empty for years; it was deserted, desolate and dilapidated. The people of the nearby village wanted it demolished and a new supermarket to be built in its place, but for an unknown reason the land was protected. Severus Snape watched through the broken window as two fat-looking officials wandered around outside, inspecting the land as they often did. He pointed his wand at them, knowing that they would both suddenly remember urgent appointments elsewhere and scuttle away. He remained looking at the night sky after long after they had left, lazily trailing his finger through the thick layer of dust and trying desperately to pay no attention to the sobs behind him. When he was unable to ignore it much longer, he spun around to see his young friend still slumped on the floor.
"You must stop that noise, anyone could hear you Draco."
"Who?" He spat back. "Who is going to hear me out here? We're in the middle of nowhere."
"As we should be. We would be found easily, were we to move to somewhere more populated."
"I'm sick of hiding like this. We're dirty, almost starving, and this place is always so cold…"
"We have no choice. Would you like to go back and live with your father? It could easily be arranged."
Draco looked up suddenly, his grey eyes meeting those of his companion. They spoke of agony, regret and deep loathing. The intensity of them almost moved Severus Snape, if he were at all inclined to melancholy.
"Never. I would never go back to him. You wouldn't send me back would you? I couldn't take it…"
"If you wish to remain with me, you must strengthen yourself."
"But I can't! How many times have I told you? Those meetings…I would rather be dead…" Snape swept forwards and grasped Draco by his collar.
"Don't ever say such a thing to me! After everything I have done to preserve your life, you would rather I had left you to the mercy of your father?"
"I didn't ask you to save me, did I? He would have finished me off and then I wouldn't have to attend any more meetings…" The elder laughed bitterly, throwing the boy away from him.
"So that is the matter with you this evening. He won't call us again for a long time, I shouldn't think, so you needn't worry."
"I worry every night about it! I'm not as practiced as you, I can't do it." He began sobbing afresh, burying his head in his hands; he was shaking furiously.
"I will simply have to make arrangements for you elsewhere, then. Is that want you want?"
"Perhaps it is!" Draco finally clambered to his feet and began pacing. "Perhaps that is what I want." Snape's face suddenly cracked into a rare smile, revealing a mouth full of yellow crooked teeth.
"You will go to them? Happily admit to them that you were wrong, and submit to their questioning? They will not offer you safety if you don't…"
"I'll do anything…anything to get out of this. You'll take me there?" Snape took three deep breaths, as he contemplated the situation.
"Tomorrow." He said eventually. "But I shall not wait for you to change your mind. Are you really so weak now that you must go back to them?"
"It isn't always the weakest thing to give up. If I go there I'll have a warm bed, three meals a day, a bath, clean clothes… I'll be away from my father. It's in the interest of self-preservation, something you know too much about."
"I have already said I will take you, there is no need to be so defensive about your choice. You must be aware, however, that we will be in even more danger. There will forever be a price on our heads, from one side or another."
Thursday 24th July, 1997
Draco Malfoy looked out of place walking through the luxurious London square. His clothes were filthy, his hair lacquered with grease and dirt and his body thin from hunger. Snape had given him a piece of paper that bore the address of the house, and he read it hurriedly. Before his eyes the houses shifted, and a tall and distinctly magical house appeared. Looking around him for followers, he strode up to the house and banged furiously on the door; Snape had assured him that, once on the top step, the Fidelius curse would protect him. He waited for a moment, his heart thumping beneath his rib cage, hoping that they would accept him…that he could have something to eat…The door opened, and Draco was surprised to see Hermione Granger stood in the doorway.
"May I help you?" She asked hesitantly. Her right arm was behind her back, and Draco suspected that she was clutching onto her wand. "I'm not sure how you found this house, but…"
"Am I really that changed?" Draco mumbled. "Have I really altered that much? I suppose that is what happens when one has to fend for oneself…
"Do I know you?" She asked again, her wand now held out in front of her. "Who are you?" Draco smiled crookedly.
"Master Draco Malfoy, at your service."
Before he knew it, Draco was dragged into the house with a wand digging into his back. He could practically hear her anger as she pushed him, motioning him to follow the dark corridor and descend the stairs. They arrived in a large, but grim-looking, kitchen in which several people were eating breakfast. The smell of bacon hit Draco like a wave, and his mouth began to water uncontrollably; he hadn't eaten meat in too long. Suddenly, the whole kitchen fell silent and turned to look at Hermione and the guest. Hermione broke the silence.
"He knocked on the door." She said simply, as if it was a normal occurrence. "So I let him in." A loud angry cry echoed around the room, and Draco staggered backwards as Weasley came out of nowhere and punched him.
"What do you think you're doing?" He yelled, his face turning puce. "Why are you here?"
"I haven't come for a boxing match, Weasel, if that was what you were thinking. I need help…I'm in danger." Ron lunged at Draco again, his fist pummelling Draco's stomach and face.
"Don't!" Hermione screamed. "Stop it! Please!" The blonde led on the floor, his nose bleeding profusely and a lopsided smirk on his face. Remus Lupin stepped forward then and put a hand on Ronald's shoulder.
"She's right, Ron. If he has sought us out…he must need our help."
"What if he's on a mission for Voldemort? What if he was sent here to kill us all?"
"I doubt that's why he's here – you're being ridiculous." Hermione replied. "He couldn't kill Dumbledore…"
Everyone else began muttering amongst themselves, avoiding looking at Malfoy. Everyone but Hermione. She was watching Draco, who had flinched at the mention of his name. He looked truly awful; emaciated, dirty, skeletal almost…"Look at him." She said quietly, but nobody heard.
It was agreed that Draco would be given some food and a bed for the night. Ron disagreed with the decision, but Remus was insistent; even Molly Weasley seemed eager for him to stay, but she could never turn away someone who needed feeding. Once he had devoured two helpings of breakfast, Hermione steered him upstairs – nobody else had wanted to do the job and so she volunteered. He stank to high heaven, and Hermione sincerely hoped that he would take the opportunity for a bath. She opened the door to one of the bedrooms, and they stepped inside.
"This is your room; you don't have to share it with anyone. There's a bathroom just down the corridor, with hot running water and anything else you might need." She expected a thank you, or a nod at least, but he simply sat down on the bed. "You should show more manners." She chided.
"I apologise." He drawled, quite clearly not meaning it at all. "I'm simply overwhelmed by the…warm hospitality."
Malfoy was surprised as Hermione rolled her eyes and sat on the small stool in the corner of the room, crossing her legs and folding her arms. She looked at him steadily, performing an inspection of his person with a scrutiny that Draco was uncomfortable with. "What?" He barked suddenly.
"I was just wondering why, that's all." Draco blinked.
"Why you did it. And, more importantly, why you came back." He sneered at her.
"I'll make this easy for you. I did it because I wanted to – I believed every single line of bullshit my father fed me, and so I did what I thought I wanted. As to why I came back…I came back because I was scared. Is that a sufficient answer, Granger?" She stood up and looked at him haughtily, smoothing down her skirt.
"There's no need to talk to me that way. The questioning you'll get under Veritaserum will be much worse – at least I'm somebody who believes your intentions here are honourable. Harry and the others…well, they won't be so agreeable. Good night, Malfoy."
Draco stared at the door long after it had closed. The way she acted greatly unnerved him. It was as though she wanted to get inside his head, to know what he was thinking, and it panicked him. As he led down on the creaky bed, his mind drifted to the events of the past few weeks. Nothing had gone the way he had planned, nothing had gone right, and it seemed as though nothing would be right again.
Author's Note: So this is the very first chapter of my new fic I think I'm absolutely mad, devoting myself to another long project like this, but I really cannot stay away from writing! It's been a little bit difficult: getting inspiration, finding time & motivation to write, but hopefully it will come off as a success. This story is based on the poem "If" by Rudyard Kiping, and there will be one or two lines posted with each new chapter; it would be great if you read these lines! Also I have, for some reason, decided to give precise dates for each event in the fic. It has made it quire awkward, what with having to define the timeline, but i think it adds to it.
One last thing (before i do the customary review request!) I plan to update this fic every Saturday. I'm quite busy, however, so if things aren't exactly on schedule, please don't be too angry. That is, of course, if i get any readers at all. If you have managed to last this long - please read and review! It means the world to me. :) Thanks.