This is the last chapter of this story.
I personally hate to accidentally glimpse the end of a story before THE END. I actually cover the screen or page with my hand to avoid peeking. So, if you are like me in this, I would recommend you do this, too (as silly as it sounds) because the end of this story is revealed the final word of the final paragraph.
Thank you for reading "The Oubliette". Reviews are welcomed. Love, Captainraychill.
Hermione had been alone in the oubliette for twenty-eight hours when Draco returned to her.
It was pitch black. Cold and silent and so foul-smelling that he almost retched.
"Lumos Maxima!" he shouted. A blinding sphere of white light shot from the end of his borrowed wand, illuminating the dungeon like a moon.
Hermione lay curled upon the floor, unmoving. He cried out her name and fell to his knees beside her. He pushed her matted hair away from her face. She was bruised and bloody and pale. Her lips were chapped. He scrambled in his bag for a bottle of water, uncorked it and poured it gently into her mouth. She didn't react at all, the water sliding down her chin like drool. Dread ran through him. He felt her skin.
She was cold but not that cold. And not stiff. He leaned over her mouth and felt the lightest stir of breath against his ear. He took her wrist, so thin and frail that it looked like a child's, and felt the faintest pulse.
Thank you, Draco prayed silently.
He studied Hermione's small hand in his. Her ring finger was broken. Her fingertips were bloody from trying to climb the black walls of the oubliette again. Her littlest nail was gone, revealing the pulp underneath.
"Hermione, wake up," he said, shaking her gently. "Wake up." She didn't respond at all.
"Enervate!" he said.
Her eyelids suddenly fluttered as if she were dreaming. It was a small sign, but it was something. She was still in there somewhere. He had to reach her. He had to bring her back. His hand dipped into his bag again and touched something soft.
He pulled out the peach.
A bite would be too much. He thought about the dosage and pierced the fruit with his fingers, squeezing the sticky juice into the palm of his other hand. He poured the equivalent of a teaspoon into his mouth and leaned down to kiss Hermione, letting the sweet flavor slide from his tongue onto hers. He kissed her until he felt drowsy and then he closed his eyes and lay down next to her, flinching at the shocking coldness of the stone floor.
Draco stood on the balcony of the ballroom, looking down at the maze. There was no snow on the ground and no sun. He couldn't tell the season or the time of day. Slate-gray clouds obscured the sky. Ferocious winds tore leaves off trees and whipped them into swirling frenzies at his feet.
The maze had changed. It was the maze of the Triwizard Tournament, its yew hedges tall and wild. Its complex paths shifted, obeying the whim of a dangerous, magical will.
Draco saw a flash of lightning illuminate the clouds and heard thunder. Then he saw a flash of white on the ground. Hermione stood at the entrance of the maze, wearing her white ball gown. The dress was tattered and stained, as if she'd run through the forest in it, like a lost princess. The ruined silk and her long hair snapped in the wind. As stinging raindrops began to fall, she disappeared into the labyrinth.
He ran down to the garden, into the maze, to find her. The moment he entered the thick, tall hedges, he felt their menace. They creaked and swayed, pressing against him, twisting with sinuous vines. He saw a scrap of white silk caught on a thorn. He found Hermione's dirty, white slipper and then its mate. He followed these remnants deeper into the labyrinth, calling out her name. The rain soaked him, chilling him to the center of his bones. The gray clouds above boiled with violent light and sound.
Draco felt like he'd been running for hours when he finally turned a corner and saw her. Hope flared inside him. She seemed to be waiting for him, at the end of a long corridor of evergreen. The rain and wind stopped. The clouds fractured to form a brilliant sapphire of blue sky. The path between the two of them brightened with sunlight. They looked at each other across the distance. It was the eye of the storm.
It passed within the space of three breaths. The clouds shut, casting them both in shadow, as the storm resumed with a soul-shaking crack of thunder.
Draco ran toward Hermione as fast as he could. The maze shuddered and groaned around him, narrowing his path. Hermione gazed at him, the saddest expression in her dark eyes as one of her curls twined around her pale neck. She swayed. Her head tilted back. And she collapsed.
He never saw her hit the ground as rough leaves pressed painfully against his skin. The path between them disappeared as he was consumed by the labyrinth.
Draco woke up struggling.
The oubliette was dim, his Lumos Maxima spell nearly extinguished. He shouted it again, and the dungeon was flooded with light. He saw Hermione on the floor, as broken as before. Except for her eyes. They were open. He scrambled to her, heard her shallow breathing and gazed down at her.
Her eyes were like the eyes of the dead. There was nothing inside them.
He had seen that blank gaze before, in Azkaban.
"No, no, no, no," he begged. "Hermione, wake up! Look at me! HERMIONE!"
He gripped her shoulders and shook her brutally. Panicked, he reached back his arm and slapped her so hard across the cheek that the sound echoed through the dungeon. Half of her face was brilliant red from the impact, but her eyes - her terrifying eyes - were unchanged.
With a whimper, Draco pulled her roughly into his embrace. His mind frantically searched for a safe place to Apparate. To the garden, the most secret and quiet heart of the garden. He was trembling. He had to gain control of himself, or he would hurt them both. He pulled away from Hermione, holding her firmly by the arm and trying desperately to concentrate.
The more he tried to focus, the more erratic his thoughts became.
Was she damaged beyond repair? Had he waited too long?
He thought of Hermione's kiss, of how right it felt to love her. He thought of his mother, her white hair like milk in the moonlight. He thought of his father and the Dark Mark that condemned him. He thought of Bellatrix, her black eyes like beetles. He thought of how her cell in Azkaban had reeked of piss and shit.
The oubliette smelled worse.
Draco had no idea why he next thought of Harry Potter's words to him.
I owe your family a debt, and I always pay my debts.
Potter had defeated Voldemort. Potter was the master of the Elder Wand and possibly the most powerful wizard in the world.
I always pay my debts.
This thought pushed away all the others. It filled Draco's mind and allowed him to achieve focus, if not calm. Enough focus to Apparate safely.
The instant before he thought of the secret place in the garden, his fingers released Hermione's arm.
Draco sat alone on a marble bench in the center of the Malfoy hedge maze. He had sat there all night, thinking of Hermione, lingering over memories of her, both intense and inconsequential, until it was the dark before the dawn.
He had remembered the first time he'd seen her on the Hogwarts Express, when she'd asked him about a toad and he'd mocked her. He had remembered her endlessly raising her hand in class and how she'd slapped him senseless in third year. He had remembered the feeling of her soft skin pressed against him and the bliss he'd felt inside her body. He had remembered her blue gown at the Yule Ball and her white gown at the Winter Masquerade and the way she'd disappeared into the Triwizard maze like a ghost and never come out.
Strangely, his mind kept returning to one memory over and over, and he didn't know why.
It was just an unremarkable day from years ago, a Hogsmeade weekend in October. Snow had covered the ground. He'd been warming his hands around a hot butterbeer when he'd seen the three of them through the frost-laced window. They'd been bundled up in coats, smiling, their Gryffindor scarves wrapped tightly around their necks. Hermione's knit hat had been as red as a cardinal.
Draco had followed them as they'd walked back to Hogwarts. He'd hidden just inside the darkness of the forest, listening to them talk and laugh. They had fallen silent when it had begun to snow again. He'd felt it, too. The wonder of the moment. The smooth, white hush of pristine winter.
When the path had turned icy, Potter and Weasley had both reached out to take one of Hermione's gloved hands in their own. To make sure she didn't fall. To protect her from harm.
Dumbledore was no longer Draco's greatest failure. Hermione was. He'd known what the oubliette was doing to her. He'd known, and he'd ignored it, telling himself it would be all right every time another piece of her was smoothed away.
He had ruined her with fear and hesitation.
How could he wake up to this nightmare every day, to the crushing knowledge of what he had done and all he had lost and the kind of man he was?
No, he thought, taking a deep breath.
Draco put the tip of his wand to his temple. It felt cool and lethal, like a knife. The maze moved around him, but he was completely still, the center, the eye of the storm. He thought of Hermione one last time, of the light in her eyes. Then he whispered the incantation that would end his pain.