A/N: For those of you who followed, favorited, or commented on this story thus far:
I. LOVE. YOU.
Like Hagrid loves Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback.
Like Merope loves Tom Riddle.
Like Dobby loves socks.
Yeah, maybe it's kinda gross, maybe it's kinda bordering on obsessive-stalker-chick, but there's no doubt that it's REAL.
Baby-dragon-love-potion-crazy-elf real, y'all.
#awks #drunktalk #drunkonLIFE #ineedsleep
Hermione paced back and forth, unable to fall asleep. It was hours later, and she was in one of the many spare guest rooms at Hogwarts, a sumptuous chamber with deep garnet curtains and stately oak-paneled walls that were meant to exude comfort and warmth.
Not that it worked. Her mind was anything but relaxed.
She was still seething at Malfoy, of course—she had half a mind to Scourgify his mouth the next time he even thought about spitting the word "Mudblood" at her—but aside from that, there were so many unanswered questions swirling around in her head.
Where did the werewolf come from?
How did he even enter the grounds in the first place?
Why did he apologize for biting Dennis Creevey then turn himself in? Does that mean he has a conscience? Or does that mean he has something up his sleeve?
Why didn't the Werewolf Capture Unit leave for Hogwarts at once when they got the message? She was highly dubious of Nott's no-Apparition zone excuse—these guys were trained to find ways around something like that. And while she was on the subject of the WCU, why did Theodore Nott—quote-unquote Wolf Hunter—take her side against Malfoy? She thought they were friends, and even if they weren't, surely Nott's defense of a "Mudblood" must have been a breach of the Slytherin code of honor or something equally ridiculous?
And finally, the recurring question of the day:
Why was Malfoy a complete and utter prat?
Hermione shook that last question out of her head. It was no use trying to figure that one out now, not when she'd spent the past nine or so years trying—and failing—to find any other reason for Malfoy's obnoxious nature other than the fact that he simply enjoyed being a wanker. But the other questions tumbled around and around in her mind until she felt like they were going to implode.
Quite without realizing it, her feet took her over to the window where the grounds were bathed in the blood-red glow of the dying sun. The Forbidden Forest was ablaze in the crimson light, almost as if someone had set fire to the trees to try and smoke out a certain secret prisoner within…
Hermione shook her head and sighed. It was sad—deplorable, really—how many misconceptions revolved around so many magical creatures and beings in the wizarding community. Of course, she understood the shock at having a full-fledged and transformed werewolf prowling the grounds of what was supposed to be a safe haven for many young wizards and witches, and naturally the fact that a student was fatally wounded, not to mention permanently scarred for life, was tragic; but to Hermione, those things did not warrant instant death. They did not warrant the use of chains and shackles and a godforsaken paddock, as if it was not a man in there with an unfortunate affliction but a fire-breathing dragon. At the very least, Hermione felt that the werewolf, whoever he was, deserved a chance to explain himself, a chance that Malfoy was only all too happy to take away.
She watched the sun sink lower and lower beneath the horizon, struggling to fight her own sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Even the breathtaking sight of the first few stars glimmering against the now-dusky lavender sky was not enough to lift Hermione's flagging spirit. There was still so much to be done. So many loose ends left to tie.
And that was when she saw it. A dark blur in the velvety darkness. A movement that should not have been there.
Squinting, Hermione could just make out the rough outlines of two cloaked figures emerging from the shadow of the castle and slinking off toward the darkening forest.
Something akin to white-hot rage reared in her heart like an ugly snake. There could only be two people in the entire castle who would stand to gain from a little twilit visit down to the forest.
Malfoy and Bulstrode.
By the time she made her way out of the castle and onto the grounds, the sky had ripened to a dark purple bruise of a color, which Hermione hoped would be the color of Malfoy's eye after she hit him with a Shiner Hex. Taking care not to make too much noise, she glided along the edge of the forest, tracing the path that the two cloaked figures had taken just minutes ago. Her wand was tightly gripped in her right hand, ready to be whipped out and put to use at a moment's notice. Before long, she could hear voices, and Hermione skirted behind a few trees so as not to be seen.
"Me? Why do I have to climb in?"
"Don't be thick, Bulstrode. Of course it's got to be you. How else are you going to get close enough to take a swing with that axe?"
"I'm not goin' in there, Malfoy. He's dangerous, he is. I'm not risking my life, I'm not."
"For crying out loud, he's asleep! Plus, you're bloody BIGGER than him, you stupid oaf! Just go in there, wallop him in the back of the head, and get this over with!"
"I dunno, Malfoy… I dunno. I'd feel more comfortable if you stun him first... or something..."
"Oh, very well, you stupid fool. Stand aside now, stand aside. Stupe—"
Malfoy's wand flew out of his hand and soared straight into Hermione's waiting one. She watched, with some amusement, as a dumbstruck Malfoy whipped around to face her.
"You!" yelled Malfoy, his long nose scrunched with disgust.
"Me," said Hermione coolly. She saw Bulstrode make a slow, not-so-furtive moment and flicked her wand in his direction. In an instant, his wand also flew into her hand.
Malfoy stomped over to her, his face like a charging bull. "What do you think you're doing, Granger?"
She adopted the calmest look she could muster even though her blood was boiling. "Why, sabotaging your plan, of course."
"You"—he jabbed her, hard, in the chest—"are making a big mistake! That monster needs to be put to death before he inflicts any more harm! I'm doing you all a big favor—"
Hermione hissed like an angry cat. "Favor? How is arbitrarily killing someone a favor, Malfoy? What kind of a cruel, sadistic—"
"Well, at least I'm not a bloody know-it-all who sticks her nose in where it doesn't belong! This isn't part of your job description, Granger! Leave it to people who actually know what they're doing—"
"Excuse me? I know exactly what I'm doing! I'm saving him from the likes of a prejudiced brute like you!"
"He doesn't need saving! He deserves a beheading, that's what—"
They bickered like this, in short, overlapping bursts, for God knows how long. But then, quite suddenly, the atmosphere shifted. Smooth, velvety darkness pressed in on all sides.
Night had fallen.
And that's when she heard it. The low growl behind them.
Dread spread through her stomach like a chill she couldn't shake off. She knew what she would see even before she looked up. And sure enough—the sky was studded with winking stars and smeared with wispy clouds. It might have looked serene to Hermione, pretty even, if not for the ominous glow of the orb-like moon.
Fear shot up Hermione's spine, and before she could gather her wits about her, she heard a terrible shredding sound, an earsplitting roar, the clanks and scrapes of chains and shackles straining to contain a very large body—
And next second, she was knocked to the ground—her cheeks scraped the grass—something heavy fell on top of her—Malfoy's voice yelled in her ear:
But it was too late. She was frozen with fear. A horrible scraping sound—the likes of which Hermione had never heard before—ripped across the air. And she knew. She knew the werewolf had freed itself from its fetters.
She had seen an adult werewolf once before, years ago when Remus Lupin had also transformed on these very grounds, but the years must have addled her memory, for she'd quite forgotten just how menacing and scary a full-grown werewolf could be. Longer, leaner, and bigger than a regular wolf, this werewolf had a coarse mane that stood on end, and due to his constant twitching and snarling, Hermione thought he looked quite rabid. Demented. Dangerous.
She scrambled to her feet—only to trip on her own robes. Cursing, she whipped out her wand, just as the werewolf's spine-chilling howl rendered the air. She knew it was only a matter of time, minutes and seconds before the werewolf would sense them and leap over the paddock fence—
A loud thud sounded nearby.
Bulstrode had fainted.
And in the half-second that it took for Hermione to glance over at Bulstrode, the werewolf, sensing her presence now, had leapt over the fence, and suddenly—all too suddenly—she had the wind knocked out of her, her nose was assaulted with the damp stench of mangy, unwashed fur—and the werewolf was on top of her and half-drowning her with ropy strands of saliva—her screams died in her throat as claws like knives sank into her chest, pinning her to the ground, rendering her immobile—
The bite would come soon, she knew it—it was only a matter of time—
A burst of red light knocked into the werewolf, sending him flying. She couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't do anything. The wolf had attacked her. Attacked her. Her wounded chest still throbbed with raw pain.
Something—or someone—seized her arm.
"Granger! Get up! Get up—quick!"
Malfoy yanked her with such force that she cried out, not out of pain but out of shock.
"Damn it, Granger, get up! We have to go! We have to—oof!"
It took her almost a minute to realize what had happened. Malfoy was still hovering over her, light blond strands falling into his pale face, his hands still gripping her arms.
But something was different.
Gone were the fear and frustration flashing in his gunmetal eyes. Instead, they were frozen with shock. Pure unadulterated shock.
Her eyes fell to the gleaming row of yellow, razor-like teeth half-buried in Malfoy's shoulder. She took in the great mangy head poised over Malfoy's shoulder, almost nestled into the white crook of his neck as if they were lovers engaged in a playful embrace. The triumphant gleam in the werewolf's eyes as he claimed his prize. Bile rose in her throat as the truth slammed into her.
Malfoy had been bitten.