Author's Note: Wow… Long time since my last update! Kudos to all those who are still reviewing and waiting ever-so patiently! Thank you, thank you! I hope this chapter is worth the wait!
Passion of Hate and Love
Chapter 22: No Te Vayas, Mi Amor
By Callisto Callispi
Draco stared at her, his eyes wide. Then, he cringed, dread dropping like dead weight down his stomach. "Wh-what did you say?" he asked carefully, making sure his voice didn't betray any emotion. Lucius would have been proud of him.
Hermione spoke in tired whispers now. "I…I know about the mark. I know…you're his heir."
Draco sculpted his face into a cold stone mask. "And Weasley told you…this?" His voice did not reveal anything -- no horror, no shame, no regret. "How does he know?"
"I…can't tell you that; I don't know myself," she said quietly. "Is it true?"
Draco and she remained in silence for the longest of times. Draco wanted to grab her, shake her, do something! But what could he do? He couldn't kill her. Even if murder were legal, he couldn't kill Hermione. Oh, Merlin. What would his father do if he got the word that Hermione knew about his mark? Draco paled at the thought.
"Granger," he said, crawling toward her.
Hermione stared at him for a few moments then turned her head.
"Granger," he said more firmly. When she did not heed him, he sat up and grabbed her chin. He brought her face up close to his so they were mere centimeters apart. Her eyes were wide, her breaths hot against his lips. But Draco did not release her from his gaze. His pale eyes held her dark ones so that she did not even dare blink.
"You won't tell anyone about this," Draco said, his voice low. "Promise me."
Hermione eyes widened, eyes glistening. "You…you do have the mark." She said it as if she didn't believe it. Perhaps she didn't want to.
Draco let go of her face and back away, rubbing his eyes with both hands. What a damn mess. What could he say? He was the Dark Lord's heir, but back then, he had no regrets. He was one for power and respect, if not the Cause as well. Now, everything was a muddled mess. "Granger, promise me."
Draco sighed. He expected this. "Promise me."
Draco did not insist anything anymore. Instead, he calculated his next response. Of course, that's what he should have been doing from the start. He couldn't control Hermione with threats. She was a Gryffindor, after all. "Granger…please."
"No!" But this time, she hesitated slightly.
Draco remained silent. As he knew she would, Hermione spoke up.
"Why?" she asked. "We need to tell someone, Malfoy. Voldemort, oh my God, Malfoy what in the world were you thinking! You don't make deals with the Devil! He uses you and throws you away in the end --"
"Oh, I fucking know, Granger!" he suddenly raged, standing up and pacing furiously in front of her. "You think I don't know that by now? Do you think I'm that stupid? They lied to me, and like the power-hungry idiot I was, I drank in all of it! I fucking hate myself too, Granger."
"I don't hate you," Hermione said quietly.
"You don't know how much I despise my naïveté. I don't want it anymore, can't you see?"
Draco paused slightly. Was he telling the truth? Because if this was the truth, he hadn't told himself before. Hermione still sat on the floor, her knees folded under her. He felt a sudden pang in his heart. Her offer to take him with her away from before sounded awfully tempting. But he couldn't take it. No one fled from the Dark Lord and got away with it for long -- they would analyze him, try to find his weaknesses no matter how long it took. They would send spies. They would keep watch over him in the guise of beasts, birds, children, insects if not for months then years. Then, when they uncovered every single bit of his life, they would torture him before killing him. But no matter how gruesome the death, they would break him first. By breaking him, they would kill those closest to him. Mother…Father, probably as well. And…Hermione. Draco suddenly wanted to throw up. He felt so trapped.
"We could tell Dumbledore," Hermione said quietly. "He'd know what to do."
Draco scoffed at the suggestion. "Think about it, Granger. If Weasley got a whiff of this, Dumbledore would probably know the time, date, and place this all happened, and even now, he hasn't lifted a finger to help me. I doubt that he would even if I went on my knees begging -- not that I would. I still have my pride, Granger." Draco's eyes darkened slightly. "Sometimes, I think it's the only thing I have left within me."
Draco couldn't see the expression on her face. Dusk fell heavily over his room, and he could barely see his hand in front of his nose. The Quidditch stands to the far west glowed orange and yellow from the lights in the distance. He almost forgot -- Ravenclaw versus Gryffindor today. Everyone would be there. Yet, such things seemed so trivial to him. Quidditch -- what did that matter in the whole scheme of things right now?
He wanted to rip his hair out, but just barely resisted the urge. He had to be strong. He couldn't break down. Because if he did break down, Hermione would as well, and he couldn't afford to have her make mistakes on behalf of him. They wouldn't only kill him. And even if Hermione did escape, how could she live on, knowing that her actions harmed him? At times, Draco marveled at his ability to calculate each and every step ahead of him -- right now, he was grateful for that insight.
"What are you going to do?"
Draco turned his tired eyes down upon her shadowed form. He didn't answer. He heard her expel a heavy breath -- something that she had held for a long time.
"Are you going to go to him?"
"Don't lie to me now, Malfoy. You've always lied to me, tricked me, used me…" She stood, her voice shaking, rising with every word. "So don't you dare lie to me now! Don't you DARE! Just…" Hermione trailed off, turning her head. "Just…tell me the truth. Is that so hard?"
Draco stared down at the ground. "Yes."
A cheer rose from the quidditch stands. Someone must have made a goal, Gryffindor by the red and golden glow of the quick succession of fireworks.
"Because. Because I'm afraid of what you'll think of me."
Hermione turned and walked up to him, clasping her hands with his. She stood with him like that for a long time. "That's not the reason," she said in a manner as if dragging the words out of her mouth. Draco stared at her.
"What?" he asked as she turned away from him and pulled her cloak tighter over herself. He made a move to grab her arm, but she pulled herself away. "What are you trying to imply?"
Hermione faced him, Draco struggling to read her expression. He wasn't successful -- perhaps it was the darkness, or perhaps she possessed a mask as cold as he did. Perhaps they were not so different.
"You know that's not the reason. You know it just as well as I that I nor my thoughts could never stray you from the path you have chosen, no matter how highly you think of me. Because in the end, there is only you, only Draco Malfoy."
Draco felt the blood rush up to his head. "So that's it? You're going to leave me with those words?" Draco slammed his fist down upon his bed stand, ignoring the pain shooting up through his knuckles. "Cold wench. Cold, cold wench. What do you want from me? What more do you want! I try to help you, risking my own fucking life! I've reduced myself to a dog in front of you, pleading that you go home! I've bartered my own sanity, offered it as collateral, by attempting to salvage the one thing in the whole world that Voldemort wishes to destroy! I've spent the last month trying to save a muggle-born witch, knowing that heir or not, Voldemort would torture me until I ended up half-mad! And you say that I only think of myself? Think only of my own hide? I didn't know you were so blind, so ungrateful, so petulant. I've tried to protect you, to save you! So how can you accuse me of this?"
"'Save me' as if you would a piece of meat to enjoy later on, then?" Hermione shot back. "Because right now, that's all I am to you. Nothing but a special treat after the great Draco Malfoy conquests over his foes and establishes himself as the Supreme Prince of the Universe." Hermione paused as she caught the furious look on his face and wondered if she should continue. But like Draco, she knew well herself that she couldn't stop there. Not after drawing the first wound; she would have to complete her offensive.
"No matter what I say, you will never make your stray from the path of your own choosing." Hermione closed her eyes. Merlin. What was she saying? "Because you can't stand being wrong and if someone tells you you're wrong, I think you'd go insane with anger and disbelief. It's difficult, I know, living like that. Because you know, you and I are not so different. And I can tell you, no one but you will ever shape your life. People may try, but you will never allow it."
Draco stared at her, his eyes narrowing slightly in disbelief and was it hurt?
"You know it's true," Hermione replied quietly. Was that the finish, then? Was she going stand there silently, waiting for his response? Even if she wanted to, she couldn't say anything else. What more was there to say? Nothing more, for her anyway.
She stood there for a few more minutes in his room, quietly braving the chilly silence. Draco stared at her, his gaze frozen as if he couldn't look away. Hermione stared down at her feet, unable to face the hurt she caused him. I'm sorry…but I had to tell you. Lies can't win you, not now nor ever. So I had to tell you the truth. I had to tell you because I want you to come with me. Hermione forced her head up to stare at him, her eyes pleading in their silent way. Draco breathed out shakily, though he did his best to hide it.
Heat rushed up to her eyes. Her lips curled forcefully up into a small, quick smile that fell as soon as she turned around toward the door.
"You know, someone told me something that I wished with all my heart was wrong," Hermione said, pausing in front of the door.
Draco didn't say anything.
"But, I think some wishes aren't ever meant to come true." Hermione looked over her shoulder and allowed a quivering smile to grace her lips. "Do you know what that someone told me?" Her heart burned in her chest. How did it come to this? "He told me…he told me that…you could never love me."
And without allowing him to utter one more word, she fled from his room and through the empty common room into the hallway.
A shadow stained the dimly lit corridor like a soot-covered ghost, though the caster's humanity was painfully obvious as he stepped into the light. Blaise Zabini drew back his hood, eyes narrowing slightly as he reached out his arm. His fingertips grazed the cold, rough stonewalls of the castle as he walked slowly, deliberately.
Not much time left now, and the day of unveiling drew near. Blaise, however, did not feel ready for anything. All of his desire to uncover those ancient secrets and please his master all but withered and died with the declaration of Draco's future inheritance of the Dark Lord's domain.
Blaise grit his teeth and pressed his hand more harshly against the cold stone, painfully chafing the pads of his fingers. He welcomed the pain. Pain drew his attention from anger. Anger made people foolish, and he could not risk being a fool now, especially with everything close to being solved.
With an impressive amount of willpower, Blaise calmed his facial features to that of a blasé student going about his classes and breathed in deeply. No anger. Not now. Later, but not now.
Blaise kept his gaze mild, though his jaw was strained from clamping it so tightly. His brain ached dully as flashbacks of his childhood threatened to spill out from the abused, weakened dam of his brain.
He learned things that children should not have even heard of. He thought of things that children should not have even known existed. The Zabinis preened him since his birth in their own cold, quiet methods for the next uprising of the Dark Lord right after his defeat against Harry Potter. When everyone else thought him killed, when the Death Eaters pulled down their sleeves over their marks, when the champagne bottles burst open, the Zabinis stood quietly in the shadows, plotting the return of the Dark Lord and calculating the continuation of the Dark Lord's legacy after waging another War.
How was it that some snot-nosed, spoiled, arrogant Slytherin whose family lineage only boasted generations of frivolous muggle-hating wizards ever ascend above the loyal Zabinis? The very same Zabinis who assisted the great Salazar Slytherin in his conquests a thousand years ago? The very same Zabinis who, upon Salazar's death, vowed to nurture and protect his descendants, no matter how long that would take?
Blaise sneered. All of his expectations, all of his impeccable investigations, all of his quiet suffering as the Zabini clan argued this and that over every insignificant aspect of his life… All for nothing.
Blaise walked the corridors, his heart burning a hole through his chest. He needed to walk faster. Staring at the floor only made his head wander into the dark, unwelcome depths of his traitorous assumptions.
He walked more quickly, almost desperately. He needed to analyze something, think of something other than the downward spiral his life was. Blaise's heart thumped in his chest as soon as he reached the corner where the painting of the two dragons lay in waiting. But as soon as he stepped into the soft light of the torches, the breath he was holding escaped through his lips.
She heard him and looked over her shoulder. "Blaise?"
Blaise stared at her, eyes wide. "Hermione?"
They stared at each other for a few more seconds in utter stillness. Then Hermione grimaced slightly and shifted on her feet. "Blaise." Her voice was dry.
His eyes narrowed. How dare she be here of all times? Why wouldn't the world just let him wallow in his own dreary thoughts for a few minutes? Why must he always cast away his own true feelings and put on his mask? For that's what he did. His lived his whole life with his true face behind his mask, acting and speaking as others instructed him to. "What are you doing here?" Blaise asked calmly, disinterestedly, though her answer was very important to him. Did she feel the pull of the painting as well? This little mudblood who had made the usually easily controlled Draco so volatile and unpredictable? "Well?" he demanded as she neglected to answer.
"Why shouldn't I be here?" she asked quietly.
Blaise grinned, though happy was the last thing he felt after getting his answer taken from him. Instead, he shot at a different angle. "I hope you've enjoyed your time with Draco Malfoy."
Hermione stared at him evenly. Not a flicker of emotion shot across her cold stare, and that made Blaise a little uneasy. He expected her to reveal something, anything to give him the edge. They would have to play on equal terms if he didn't think of anything quickly.
"Who would have thought, though. Gryffindor and Slytherin. Together. Willingly." Blaise walked toward Hermione, his eyes not leaving hers. "Lion and snake. Mudblood and pureblood. So very interesting."
"Is it really that important?" Hermione said, her voice low and without emotion.
The torch above them flickered, draping shadows over their features. Blaise's eyes gleamed with the fire, shining like rubies one minute and shadowing them into endless pits the next. "Filthy animals."
Hermione's eyes narrowed slightly. But her voice remained neutral. "I meant Draco and I being together. Is it really that important?"
"Will you tell his father?"
"If it serves me, yes."
Hermione nodded slightly. She knew how the Slytherin mind worked. "Will his father try to hurt him?"
Blaise answered before he could stop himself. "Yes, but to an extent." He paused, wondering if he should venture further into murky waters. "There are worst things Draco could have and might do."
To Blaise's surprise, Hermione did not ask what those worse things were as he expected her to. Instead, she walked up to him slowly, deliberately, as if she knew he would not run away. Blaise held his ground, even as she was but a millimeter away from him -- so close that he felt the heat radiate off her body. She stared at his chest and he at the top of her head. Blaise breathed in, aware of the scent of her shampoo and her feminity.
"Am I filthy, Blaise?" she whispered.
Blaise closed his eyes and opened them again. "Yes."
"Am I an animal?" she asked again, her voice growing softer but so much deeper.
Her hands suddenly latched onto both of his arms, nails digging into his skin even against the cotton of his Slytherin sweater.
Blaise stood rigidly. He didn't know how to respond. Even his mind, which should have been running rapid mental circles to flip the tables and tilt the game to his advantage, was a stark, white blank.
"Blaise," Hermione whispered, her voice ragged. Her nails dig more and more deeply into his arms. He would bear her marks if she didn't let go soon. "I don't believe you."
He breathed in. "You should," he replied throatily, wincing as her nails caused the sweater to chafe against his skin.
Hermione got on her toes and tilted her head up so that her lips were against his ear. Her breath was hot and slow. "It's so unfair sometimes. Those words, those thoughts…" Her voice tickled his skin and sent shivers down his spine. "Do you hate me?"
Blaise pulled back slightly, back rigid, though she still had her hands latched onto his arms. He could lie; he knew he could. He was in Slytherin: he was supposed to manipulate and play and seduce the opponent. But this lioness's fiery passion razed his cold calculation and left his body tingling with her fire. "No."
The two stayed like that for a few more minutes, though it seemed to pass like seconds. Neither thought of anything. Just the intensity of each other's stare was too much to manage. It was Hermione, however, that backed away. Her nails slowly retreated and Blaise, so trapped by her gaze as she was by his, didn't even acknowledge the throbbing pounding of blood in the veins of his skin. She backed away, slowly, her eyes never leaving Blaise's, and finally backed into the shadows where the darkness granted her refuge from the all-seeing light.
When Blaise tried following her a few moments later, he all but reached for air, the only proof of her presence the moment before being the distant echo of her footsteps whispering through the hall.
Emiliano Zabini, a native of the Mediterranean, was one of the most durable men of the extended Zabini clan. The outer circle of Zabinis regarded him with awe, and the most powerful of the inner circle, those with the monetary, magical, and political power respected him for the unflinching wizard he was. He seemed to have no weaknesses, no qualms in regards neither to women nor to power.
However, the usually stoic young man's face twisted in anguish as he found himself stand in a land of gray and white. He flung his arms around himself and clenched his teeth together to stop the shivering, though it was to no avail. For most of his life, he lived with the heat and could easily stand the blistering sun. Snow, however, was almost foreign to him. He had taken extra care with his dress before apparating here: thick fur boots that went up above his knees, a winter coat designed especially for Antarctic explorers, hat, muffler, and gloves. However, victim of the murderous wind, he might as well have stood naked. Yet he forced himself to walk, picking up one booted foot out of the snow and taking one difficult step. Because of security spells and enchantments, apparating straight into the building itself was impossible. Portkeys as well did not function inside the building. The closest one could apparate was about one hundred meters from the stronghold, which was just the same as committing suicide since the cold could kill instantly if precautions were not observed. Not to mention one could easily get lost in the snowy terrain.
Emiliano breathed out through his muffler as soon as he saw the telltale signs of the black gate, even cloaked in white and gray against the heavy snowfall. He did not need to alert them of his presence. They had been expecting him, and as soon as he walked up to the gate the keeper appeared on the side in all black -- a shocking contrast to this entire hazy wintry gray ambience.
"I bow to you from the path of darkness, repenting evils I have never committed," came the voice, cold and clear though almost lost against the shill shrieking of the winter wind.
"I bow to you from the path of darkness, delivering the justice many claim as evil," replied Emiliano, his voice reduced to but a hoarse whisper form the cold.
The black gate swung open with a shrill, extended creak as if the port keeper were stretching the noise like a rubber band. Emiliano entered, trying not to walk too quickly and display his impatience. The port keeper drew up his black hood and took the lead almost immediately. Emiliano followed, uncaring of such displays of arrogance on the port keeper's part.
The prison stronghold was abandoned and as a consequence neglected to either rot from the inside out or to collapse with the freezing gust of the region. Emiliano's eyes narrowed slightly as the stone fortress slowly emerged within the thickening snowfall. It was ridiculous that they even had to be here. Emiliano hated how they hid, just like frightened rats. He preferred to face his opponent head on and fight, not run away like a kicked dog with his tail between his legs. Emiliano sighed through his muffler. Apparently, the Ministry (and consequently Dumbledore) got a whiff of the Dark Lord's previous location and ordered a raid. Fortunately, Voldemort had been re-located to a more secure location before the aurors burst through the door. Unfortunately, that secure location had been in the north of Russia in one of the strongest, most impenetrable Death Eater headquarters in all of Europe. A frozen-over hell was not an exaggeration in regards to ambience. The region had been reserved for "sanctuaries" to which Russian political criminals were sent. The last of the muggles had deserted the premises about thirty years ago when the cold became too unbearable. Even wizards dared not brave the harsh winters that were terrible enough during the summer seasons. Only a few of the sturdiest trees with the thickest trunks thrived where he stood, and they were discouragingly bare of any sort of greenery.
Death Eaters that needed refuge from the Ministry officials after performing a particularly dangerous mission were stationed here for an amount of time until they were forgotten and were able to be put back into action. To the rest of the world, they simply vanished into thin air; spells and curses were cast upon the castle to keep it from being easily found, and northern Russia was indeed a vast, difficult terrain to conquer. To this day, the prison remained unknown to everyone outside the Death Eater fellowship, though thirty years of neglect hardly made it a refuge anymore even for the most desperate of refugees. Indeed, it resembled more of a graveyard of frozen stone and whistling wind.
The inside of the fortress as well was as barren as the outside. Stone floors, stonewalls. The ceilings were curved in a style resembling Gothic Revival architecture with wooden supports built solidly into them. The door closed. It was dark inside. The cold, however, bit less fiercely. Emiliano unwrapped the muffler from his face and turned toward the port keeper as soon as the torches flickered on by themselves.
"He will grant an audience, but only for a short time. He is weakened from the cold, and your little insider --" he spat the word as if spitting mud out of his mouth, "--has not been delivering what your family has promised."
Emiliano snarled but held back his angry retort. His voice was serene and light, tinged slightly with an Italian accent. His eyes burned like coals. "I am here to speak with the Dark Lord, not to tally worthless words with petulant fool of a doorman."
The port keeper drew back his hood to reveal the face of Lucius Malfoy. Emiliano's eyes widened and on impulse grabbed for his wand. Lucius Malfoy, however, coldly watched every move. His own hand was inside of his robe pocket, fingers slowly curling around the frigid wood.
"Temper, temper, Zabini," said Lucius slowly, wisps of white escaping his thin lips. "I'm not here for a fight, but I'd be happy to engage you in a duel after your little meeting with the Dark Lord."
"Oh, why not now, backstabbing trash?" hissed Emiliano, eyes narrowing until they were nothing but slits. "Need time to run back to your little manor and tip the point of your sword with your vile poisons?"
A smirk. "I do what I must to win, though I could easily flatten the likes of you with one little enchantment."
"Obviously that wasn't the case with your son's sudden promotion in our revered Death Eater ranks." Emiliano's lips curled with distaste, his white teeth gleaming with the torchlight. "Who did you have to bribe, Malfoy? How many threats did you deal out?
The smirk fell slightly. Lucius's voice, once darkened with irony and sarcastic humor, suddenly grew flat. "Draco has earned the Dark Lord's favor through his own actions, not mine. He is the better, he is the best. I have raised him to act as his best, and he has learned enough to be able to accept what the Dark Lord has bestowed upon him."
Emiliano's voice grew colder. "The Zabinis were meant to head the next era."
Lucius's pale eyes glimmered with hidden laughter. "Things are not always as they seem, now, are they?"
Tendrils of anger slowly coiled within Emiliano's heart. All of the frustration dealt to him and his family threatened to surface once more in his mind. He, however, let his wand fall back into the depths of his pocket and took his hand out. Lucius did as well, though very cautiously lest Emiliano were playing a trick though Lucius didn't suspect he was. The Zabinis were a people bound to their own twisted code of honor more than anything else.
"As I have said before, I am here to speak with the Dark Lord, not tally worthless words with petulant fool of a doorman," Emiliano bit out.
Lucius Malfoy bowed mockingly and motioned toward a darkened corridor with an outstretched arm.
Emiliano walked away wordlessly.
"He's in a foul mood, Zabini. Tell your cousin Blaise to keep his head on the task at hand and to watch where he shoots off his mouth about the Dark Lord next time. The Dark Lord is very displeased with Zabini inability to fulfill his desires," Lucius called out.
Emilano whirled around and threw himself at Lucius only to be struck in the chest by something that felt like a thousand little pinpricks of ice. He screamed and fell back down to the ground, hands digging into his clothes for his dagger. Lucius, however, was quick and placed a binding spell on the man, watching impassively as blood dripped down onto the floor from the man's chest.
"Your skill is slipping, Emiliano. Years before you would have never even turned around and blocked my spell with one hand. What has happened to the cold-blooded assassin that killed without even a flinch?"
Emiliano looked up at the wood-framed ceiling, his jaw clamped shut from moaning.
Lucius stared always piteously down at his fallen opponent. "Is that woman truly worth so much that you've lost the skill to guard your own life?" The man's fists clenched.
Without another word, Lucius unbound Zabini and walked out of the door and into the freezing cold. Emiliano stared after him, getting up slowly and wincing slightly as he picked out the shards of ice sticking to his coat. He left the others -- they would melt quickly enough. That Lucius Malfoy. His heart was colder than the blizzard wind.
His eyes trailed down the darkened hallway. The path that led to Voldemort. What was Lucius Malfoy doing here? Surely not to act the part of an insignificant port keeper. Pettigrew was notorious for such menial tasks, but a Malfoy? Another conference with Voldemort, then, in his attempt to dig up a piece of information?
Malfoy was planning something, with or without the Dark Lord's knowledge. It was painfully obvious in Emilino's eyes: the way Malfoy's characteristic arrogance gave way to quiet pondering; the way his eyes shifted increasingly over his shoulder; the way his previous blasé, know-all demeanor now demanded to absorb every bit of information regarding everything in the Death Eater world.
Emiliano was sure of it, though it was based more on feeling and until he had solid proof to show his Dark Lord, he had to keep to the shadows.
Emiliano walked down the darkened path. Though only just barely thirty, he had lived the life of a war-veteran of a thousand battles that endured not only open warfare but discreet espionage. Intrigues, murders, blackmail -- those were not new to him, a member of the backwater Zabinis who operated in stealth unlike the main members of the family who put on a good face to the public by acting as upstanding politicians and corporate businessmen. Nothing surprised him anymore until he saw her walking down the streets of Florence, shopping basket in one hand and waving for a cab with the other.
A woman of an ordinary face. A woman of an ordinary demeanor. Emiliano could not ask for more except that she be safe. But she wouldn't be, if Lucius Malfoy knew about her.
Lucius Malfoy and his son had to be put in their place: mangled bodies stuffed in the dirty London sewers, giving way to rot through rain and shit. Not only for the safety of his woman, but also for the pride of the Zabinis.
Kill two birds with one stone.
Emiliano smiled. That had a nice ring to it.
Lucius walked calmly out of the building, but rushed out of the ring of anti-apparition charms that circled the prison perimeters. Without wasting a single second, he waved his wand and found himself in the Malfoy manor. Lucius cursed as he tore off all his heavy winter wear. He made a new enemy today -- Emiliano Zabini, the famous assassin whom the Ministry officials never detected. This made his task a few times more difficult. Emiliano was no fool, and he by now surely expected something out of Lucius; perhaps not as serious as betrayal but close enough.
His meeting with Voldemort had proved more than fruitful. It gave him all the incentive he needed to act upon his own.
Lucius immediately owled his finance attorneys for a discreet, emergency meeting. They would arrive tomorrow morning. Lucius hesitated with his second owl. Was it right to use Draco like this? He denied holding any affection for the child, but still -- Draco was his blood and flesh. Lucius closed his eyes for a few seconds, the quill in his hand quivering from his fierce grip. Narcissa would never forgive him.
But he had achieved too much, gone too far, risked too much to wither from a bout of righteousness. After all, as he said to Emiliano, he does what he must to win.
His lips set in a firm line, Lucius Malfoy signed "father" at the end of the letter and attached it to his most trusted owl. The letter needed to get to Draco.
As Lucius watched the grand bird fly off into the night sky, his eyes glittered. He did not deserve the title, "father." Whatever he did that night afterwards was a blur, and all he could remember was that the ache in his heart had not faded one bit for the longest time.
Wrinkled sheets coiled about Hermione's leg like taut snakes. Her face was crinkled, as if in concentration, though her eyes were definitely closed. Hermione was sleeping, though not very easily. She tossed and turned in her bed, her body restless and her mind forcibly trapped in the black haze of sleep. An active mind with no outlet for six hours did not encourage rest and relaxation; it would be as if she had never slept in the morning when she got up.
Half-dreams with a blend of memories and probability played continuously in front of her mind's eye, exhausting her mentally. Voldemort rose from his seat, cackling, and Hermione found herself trembling under his gaze. She had to be brave. She had to spit in evil's face. She was a Gryffindor -- she had to uphold that honor.
Easier said than done. It was Voldemort, once Tom Riddle, a genius of cruel cunning and dark pleasures.
His hood was drawn and his face black with shadows. Only two red pinpricks that were eyes glowed and made the darkness only seem darker. Hermione wanted to run, but when she tried to stand, a searing pain raced up through her veins and she found her shins wrapped with layers and layers of thorny rose vines. Her fingers brushed against something soft and found bits of rose petals burrowing under her nails and staining the tips of her fingers red.
The roses, brightly crimson and in full bloom, were a beautiful sight, though very out of place in this hideous, freezing dungeon. Voldemort laughed. His voice was shrill and almost painful to the ears.
The tips of her toes seared with a pain as cold as ice. Hermione flipped on her belly, her screaming broken by sobs. She reached out arm after arm, digging her fingernails into the cold stone floor and trying to pull herself away from Voldemort by the strength of her upper body.
The icy pain slowly veined its way up through her legs, immobilizing her ankles and slowly creeping up to her shins.
Yes, crawl away like the little slug you are, snarled Voldemort, his black coats flaring up behind him with the shrill winter gust. Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood. Mudblood…
Hermione clawed at the floor, heart throbbing in her chest. The whole earth seemed to twist and churn. Hermione's head spun and pounded as if someone were drumming her cranium with the blunt side of a hammer. The cold that originated from her toes soaked through the muscles of her shins and twisted around the tendons of her knees. The shrill laughing still echoed about the dank dungeon, though seeming to get higher and higher in pitch. It was unbearable.
SHE HAD TO GET OUT. NOW.
A sudden explosion of pain near her temples sent shockwaves through out her body, followed by something warm and liquidy running down the sides of her face. Hermione traced the shattered tips of her fingernail across the base of her ear and froze, eyes wide and face pallid, as she pulled her hand back. Steamy red liquid covered her fingertips. Her left ear…
The ear drum… Had it burst?
No. No. Had. To. Escape.
This maniac. This world. This dirty blood.
Get rid of this dirty blood.
The pain in her head amplified. The cold reached her thighs and her legs refused to move. They got heavier as if they were lead, and pulling herself away was almost an impossibility. Exhausted and drumming with pain, she flipped over onto her back. It was too late to save herself.
Like a giant bat, Voldemort swooped down and slammed both fists but mere centimeters from each cheek. The tendrils of his shredded black cloak grazed back-and-forth over her face.
"Far too late for this nonsense, isn't it, Mudblood?"
His voice was ice. His tone was patronizing, mocking.
Hermione screamed an thrashed her head back and forth, hands desperately clutching her chest. The cold reached her stomach and hastened to her heart. "Please," she gasped, her voice shaking. "Please, let me go. Please…" The cold -- it hurt her so much.
One of his gloved fingers grazed across her cheek. Hermione whimpered and turned her face, though that did not discourage the Dark Lord from getting what he wanted: her fear of him.
"Cowardly mudblood," he whispered into the bleeding ear, his tongue sickly sliding out from between his lips to brush against the thick red liquid oozing out of the side of her head.
The cold had already passed her heart. Hermione couldn't breathe anymore. Her neck lost all strength to move. Her throat hurt too much for her to make a sound. Cold tears leaked out from Hermione's white eyelids. Her eyes were wide-open, glassy, and shiny, like that of a doll's.
It's what she was in this game. A doll -- a cute-looking thing with which to be played then put back away when the child got tired of it. Though Hermione wondered briefly as she was awakened by his hand whose doll she was in the end: was she Draco's playmate, as she had always suspected, or was she a part of a bigger game? (Voldemort, her mind whispered continuously.)
His voice sounded like something from a dream, but so did the two-syllable word that haunted her life ever since she found herself blessed (cursed; again her damnably rebellious mind) with the magic.
"Wake up. Wake up."
The darkness cleared, as if a fog was lifting, and Hermione's lids drew back. The hand on her shoulder retreated, shocked by the look in her glassy, doll-like eyes.
Pale face, rosy lips, thickened lashes, glass eyes.
A beautiful, too-real doll that called only for and from nightmares.
"Granger," the intruder whispered.
The eerily doll-look was gone from her face with a blink of an eye. The color rushed backed quickly to her cheeks and her hand rose to rub against her sleep-heavy eyes. She looked up questioningly, her hand automatically reaching for her wand on the stand. It was three in the morning. She hadn't given anyone her new access passwords to her private quarters. Her heart pounded in her chest as her fingertips grazed the wood her wand.
"Granger, it's me."
That voice. Hermione narrowed her eyes, noticing for the first time how dark everything was. Her curtains were closed, and only darkness lingered in the room, a darkness similar to that of her sleep. His shadows moved toward her bed. His.
Hermione sat up. "What are you doing here?" she hissed quietly, the sleep wiped from her face.
The light almost hurt, even though it was from the tip of a wand. Hermione cringed a bit. His hair, fair and almost silver, reflected the light back into her eyes.
But the look on his face caused Hermione to keep silent. Her heart thumped wildly in her chest, and she felt her whole body grow limp. Her voice was low and controlled and tight, as if on the verge of snapping from being pulled too tight. "Malfoy, what's going on?"
He handed her a piece of paper. Hermione took it and without any sort of precaution (it could have been a nasty enchantment that would bewitch her as she read or worse, it could have exploded on her face) opened it and read it.
Her chest tightened. She closed her eyes slightly, folding the paper carefully along the creases.
"When did you get this?"
"Tonight," he answered quietly.
"Why do they call you?"
"They don't need to give me a reason."
Hermione felt her heart drop into her stomach. Her fists tightened around the letter, crumpling the paper into a little ball. The first thing she felt was coldness. Then the heat.
"But you can't go!" Hermione cried suddenly, whipping the covers off of her and getting out of the bed. "You can't! They can't make you! You need to stay in Hogwarts!"
"It's not what they want," said Draco quietly.
Hermione's heart throbbed with anger and despair. The utter defeat in his voice. The slump of his shoulders. The monotone voice. Draco was always proud, arrogant, and confident, possibly even to the point of fault. But he shouldn't have changed like this. Not like this.
"Oh God," Hermione moaned, her voice breaking as heat drowned her eyes. "It's unfair. They are such beasts. It's so unfair."
Draco tried to manage a small smile. "It's what I agreed to: to be at their side when they should call." He reached out a hand to brush back Hermione's hair. "Don't be upset. It wasn't as if I didn't expect something like this. They don't care about me --"
Without warning, Hermione jumped into Draco's arms, her eyes squeezed tightly together. She tightened her arms around his chest. "I care about you," she said, voice shaky and forced. "Please. Please. Don't go. Please don't go."
His arms tightened around her shaking body, but he didn't respond, which only made Hermione more desperate.
"Please," she whispered, clenching the fabric of his night-shirt. "Please, don't go."
Draco's eyes were dull. The muscles of his face were lax. He gently pulled Hermione from his body and stared deeply into her eyes.
"My heart," he began quietly, "belongs to you. But…everything else belongs to them."
He kissed her on the forehead. Hermione, her teeth clenched, pushed him away.
Draco did not argue as she backed away from him, her eyes flaring and her chest heaving. "I'm sorry you had to waste your time on me… Someone who can never be there for you… Someone who can't even properly protect you from…his own self."
Then he turned and walked out of the room.
Hermione stared after him, her gaze furious and her heart hot. Her tightly pursed lips began to tremble, and as hot tears rolled down her cheeks, she climbed back into bed and wept quietly and angrily.
letter must be brief, for I am not certain in whose hands it will
fall. The notification
for the members to regroup has been sent. He is waiting for us. He is waiting for you.
He calls for you. Will you answer Him? Will you answer us?
Chapter 22 Featured Songs!
"Ghost of You" by Chemical Romance
End Notes: All I seem to be doing is apologizing for late updates! But once again, I'm sorry for the delay. It's just that real life has been butting in a lot… And as you all may have noticed, I do have a lot of things going on in my life right now. Hopefully, the next chapter will come out more quickly. I'm sorry -- I'm not a good updater. But a huge thanks to all of your wonderful support. You guys mean the world to me!