A/N: Sorry this took so long to get up. I was having trouble writing it for some reason, but beyond that, I've had a whole lot of crappy luck with computers as this is the third computer I have had in the last week and a half. The first got the blue screen of death within 3 days of having it. The replacements screen went out three days later, and now I'm on the third one and if it messes up, I'll probably have a temper tantrum.
Draco looked at nothing but his plate as he ate the food sent up by Dumbledore. He sat stiffly and quietly, ignoring everything around him and he did so because he was confused. The entire situation was odd and confusing and worst of all, his feelings were confusing.
He had spent weeks secluding himself from everyone and for good reason. Rumor had it that some of the students that were followers of Voldemort had made a little bet on who would catch him and beat him to a pulp. He wasn't scared, he was sure he could take any of them had they tried, but he didn't feel like looking over his shoulder everywhere he went. It was nerve wracking and his nerves were already strained enough.
And he had also spent the last few weeks convincing himself that he didn't care that he wasn't going home for Christmas. Again, he couldn't imagine Voldemort sitting around a tree sharing gifts, or being happy about celebrating Christmas for that matter. He knew that had the Granger incident not occurred, he would have gone home and most likely would have spent the entire break doing small missions or being dragged to some unfortunate muggle house to watch its occupants get a gift they never wanted. He had convinced himself that being in this castle, alone, was the much better option. And sense what ifs didn't really matter, the Granger incident did happen. It couldn't be changed, end of story. If he were to show up at the manor for break he knew the only gift he would get was a powerful Avada straight to the chest and probably by his father of all people because not only did he disgrace the Malfoy name, he had also put his father in a bad light with the dark lord.
But when he woke up this morning and saw that he did in fact have gifts, the loneliness he had been enduring over the past few weeks had crept up and smacked him hard. The solitude had finally worn him down and it loathed him to think it, he didn't want to be alone for Christmas and Granger had seemed like the best bet since she was probably the only student in the school that wouldn't laugh in his face. And in his opinion, she owed him one.
He didn't plan on being in her room and eating breakfast. His plan was to corner her at the table and seek her company, as limited as it would have been, over meals. But now that he was here, he felt strangely comfortable and mildly appreciative the presence of another human being. Yes, he was sure the solitude had finally cracked his spirit for he never thought he would be content with hanging out with Hermione Granger.
As he swallowed his last bite of food, he knew it was now or never. He would demand her company and being a Gryffindor, she could be made to feel guilty enough to where she would agree. After all, this entire situation was her fault to begin with, but looking at her in her god awful night dress and seeing the hopeless look in her eyes, he decided to ask nicely, just once.
Hermione looked over towards her company for the day and frowned, "I really don't think this is a good idea, Malfoy. We have no clue what's down there."
Draco sighed, she had agreed easily enough, but now he was wondering if he really needed her company. He looked towards the large brown door once again, "You're right, we don't have a clue, but I'm bored and this door has bothered me for years. I opened it once, saw stairs and closed it… but now I want to see."
She groaned, did everyone she associated with have to go exploring around the old castle? Surely it stopped somewhere. She shook her head again, not believing she was going to agree and head down a dark staircase with Malfoy of all people, but they had both agreed to take their minds off the whole Christmas mess and find something to keep them occupied.
"Alright, Malfoy, but if I die, I'm coming back to haunt you." She warned
He smirked, "this is Hogwarts… what the worst that can happen?"
She groaned again. Three headed dogs. A wonky mirror. A chamber holding a large basilisk… a lot was what her mind answered as he opened the door.
They walked down the stairs slowly, holding their wands out for light. Once upon a time, she would have felt a guilty little rush about exploring something like this, but things had changed and while she wasn't exactly terrified, the mutant bats flapping around her stomach were not helping the situation. She gripped the back of his robes tightly, ignoring the aggravated sigh he let out. He would just have to deal with it, plain and simple.
The stairs wound around in a wide circle going deeper and deeper into the belly of the castle. The silence was eerie and the deep they got, the more flapping the mutant bats did.
"There's probably nothing down here Malfoy, nothing we need anyway, and the deeper we go, the more likely that whatever is down here isn't good."
Draco sighed, "For Merlin sakes, Granger, we are getting close to something… can't you hear it?"
She listened closely, straining her ears for anything but the only thing she could detect was the sound of dripping water. She hated dripping water, especially after listening to it for days when she was captured.
After another five minutes of walking, the stone steps were suddenly becoming mossy as were the walls. She could smell the moisture now, damp, earthy, like the woods after the rain and her fear turned into confusion and curiosity.
As they stepped off the last step, both Draco and Hermione were dumbstruck as they looked around, mouths gaping open at the world around them. It looked like an old coliseum, stone columns, wide open field, but there were no stands for crowds. And there was definitely life all around them as they took in the majestic garden that surrounded them.
"Oh my god." Hermione whispered, as she stepped forward, "The founder's garden exists."
"What are you on about?" Draco asked, looking confused.
"I found a book one time on the founders of Hogwarts." She stated, not looking at him, but at everything around her, "When the school was founded, this garden was created as a sanctuary of sorts, a place where all things natural, like plants and insects, could thrive as sort of a backup plan on the incase of something being used up. They spent years filling this place with rare flowers, herbs, small animals, and everything else… an untainted environment that time couldn't touch. It was said to be destroyed."
Draco rolled his eyes. Did she have to know everything? Still, the place was different enough, a quiet place to get away if the need arose. He walked silently towards the middle of the massive garden, looking at all the plants and flowers around him. He wasn't much on stuff like this, but some of these plants had been gone for many, many years and to see them, the last of their species growing so proudly and strong, was really nothing short of a miracle.
"Granger, come look at these!" he said with a little more excitement then he had meant to. Magical snap dragons, he had only read about them, became slightly interested in them as a child, but to see them in real life.
She walked towards him wondering what had suddenly got into him. When she reached him, he was on his knees looking intently at the odd plant in front of him.
"What are you looking at?" she finally asked.
Draco looked up, "You mean you don't know what these are?" he asked, almost amazed that there was something she didn't know about.
Hermione looked closer at the plant reaching about six inches tall with long thin flowing leaves that resembled arms, legs, and a tail, and at the top, a blooming flower that resembled a dragons head, complete with a hinged jaw.
"They are amazing, what are they?" She asked, not embarrassed in the least that she didn't know. Her quest for knowledge too great.
"Magical snap dragons, Granger, no one has seen one in over three hundred years!"
Her mouth formed an 'O' in understanding.
"These are young ones, Granger, they morph in maturity." He stood up, careful not to step on anything and looked around. "There, over there is one!' he said as he darted, carefully, to a large rock with little holes burrowed into it.
Hermione followed, curious to know what all the excitement was about. Sure, a plant though to be extinct was amazing, but she didn't think such a thing would spark such an interest in Malfoy.
Draco held out his hand as a small dragon climbed into his palm, no bigger than a regular garden lizard.
"These are what they morph into." Draco said with a grin.
Hermione looked down at the small dragon and actually smiled. An animal being born from a plant! She could see why he was thrilled.
It took almost three hours but Hermione and Draco had looked at about every plant and animal in the place, noting that quite a few were rare, if not extinct. But Hermione was curious. This, all of it was supposed to have been destroyed. Why hadn't anyone found it before? Surely Dumbledore knew about it.
The pair sat on a large rock, continuing to look around at everything before Draco finally broke the silence.
"Granger, I have to ask –"He let out a deep breath. He didn't know if she would even answer, "But if you knew that you were at risk, why were you out in the open?"
He had been curious about that since he first spotted her on the table in his dining room. His life had changed so drastically and he felt he was owed something, even something as little as information. He guessed he just needed something like closure. To know the why's of what happened.
Hermione looked over to Draco and sighed, "I was set to go back to stay with Harry and Ron the next day. With the war coming on quicker and quicker each day, I wanted to spend the time with my parents doing something meaningful, not just sitting around. I didn't know if I'd be seeing them again, you know." She whispered the last part.
"So my father suggested a picnic of sorts, like we did when I was younger, and he knew the perfect place, a field a few miles from our home that had a small patch of ground that didn't grow wildly with tall grass and other things. Like a small pasture, if you will."
She sighed and looked over to Draco who was watching her with no emotions on his face. A nod was all he gave for her to continue.
"I was cautious. I looked around almost constantly… it was driving my mother batty, but I had a feeling that we weren't alone. But every time I looked around, there was nothing there. No disturbance, no noise, no nothing… so I relaxed and decided to enjoy the day."
She looked up to him again, meeting his eyes, "Letting my guard down was a foolish mistake and because of that, they were killed and I was taken. I knew better." She said softly, "And I have to live with that for the rest of my life, knowing that it was my fault. Knowing that had I stayed guarded, I could have gotten them out of there in time… they died trying to protect me."
Draco shook his head. It wasn't her fault and Hermione noticed it.
"Malfoy, before you even say it, it was my fault. I knew better." She said a bit angrier. She needed to vent and had for a while, but she couldn't with Harry or Ron, they were driving her crazy with sympathy as it was, " After everything I had already been through, I should have known to trust my gut when I felt like we were being watched. I should have gotten my parents and myself to safety, damn the picnic, but I didn't and they paid dearly for my mistake. I will never forget their faces, Malfoy, never. I will never forget the look of dread, fear, panic, and sadness all rolled into one when that death eater grabbed me. The look of failure when my father couldn't get to me. The look of panic when my mum realized that her only child was being taken from her… I'll never forget those things, I can't.
And when I was being held, I knew in my heart that they had died. I was panicking and not focusing on what was going on around me… but I remembered my mum screaming. I remember seeing my father hit the ground. I remembered bits and pieces but every time a death eater came in to see me, I forgot the details a little more and before long, I didn't know what had happened."
She let out a hollow laugh, one that a person did when they were trying not to lose it, "And you, you lost everything you owned to bail me out of something I should have been smart enough to avoid on my own. You put your life at risk for someone you hated… but I don't regret that part."
She stood from the rock, "For years, Malfoy, I knew you were in with the wrong crowd. I thought you would never change, never see that even though I was not born from magical blood, that I belonged in this world. It wasn't my choice to be here, fate was what gave me magic. But lately, I had seen change. You didn't have the same look in your eyes that you had when we were younger and I had hope that you were starting to see that Voldemorts ways were not the right ways." She spoke softer when she noticed the look of confusion on his face, "You are one of the smartest students at this school. I hated to see such potential go down such a wrong path. I don't regret you saving my life and being torn from the life you had. You deserved so much better and so much more than the death eaters could ever give you."
She looked at him once more before turning and leaving the Founders garden. She felt like she had gotten a load off of her chest but bringing it all back to the front of her mind made her tired and depressed. She just wanted to go back to her room and go to sleep, which is exactly what she did.