Posted 4/4/2014

.

This is a work of fiction, based on the book series by J.K. Rowling. Neither do I claim ownership nor do I intend to.


Chapter Thirty - Six Weeks Later

.

As Daphne wrote down the last of her observations for her Transfiguration essay, she thought about the last six weeks. True to Zabini's prediction, a lot had changed around school. For one, Defence against the Dark Arts had taken a turn towards darker matters. Professor Carrow had started the semester by pointing out that defence had to mean knowing what to defend against. In his opinion –which was now the Ministry's opinion, of course –dark creatures were easy enough to spot. Poisons, he had argued, were dealt with in another class, which was of course true as well. Therefore, his main concern in defence for the upper years had to be spells and duelling. And he had begun his curriculum very much like the impostor had done in fourth year, by showing off some nasty spells, albeit from a wider range. From hexes that severely limited an enemy's capabilities, for example the entomorphis as a means of robbing an enemy of their speech while they crawled on the ground –Professor Carrow had added that a bug was quite easy to step on for either side, which could cause quite a bit of confusion among the enemies –to actually painful and limiting curses like conjunctivitis –an enemy who couldn't see was an easy target as well –as well as potentially deadly curses like the Entrails-Expelling Curse. Professor Carrow had also shown off his talent with Fiendfyre –cursed fire, that could easily get out of control if one was not careful, especially since once its creator was knocked out, it was freed and almost incontainable.

He had soon followed his explanations with practical lessons, more harmless at first, but he had also voiced his plan to introduce more dangerous spells as the class would improve. It wasn't hard to see where Defence against the Dark Arts was headed, but Daphne didn't mind it. Other schools didn't shy away from teaching the use, so why shouldn't Hogwarts students get a more rounded education as well? Knowing them wasn't the same as using them, after all. And truth be told, even those who had no interest in ever using the spells would learn something from it as anyone with even a faint understanding of Arithmancy and spell creation could attest. If one understood the underlying principles of the spell in question, a proper counter could be developed far easier. It was one of the basic principles of magic, in fact, and one that Daphne had learned very early on. It was the reason her father did all those dangerous experiments; only if he knew how the potions worked could he reliably develop their counters as well. If one wanted to know an antidote, one needed to know the poison.

Daphne didn't hate the new Defence, but she disliked the teacher. Professor Quirrell with his stutter had been a painful experience, and they had learned little from him. Gilderoy Lockhart had been incompetent, no doubt. The werewolf Lupin had known what he had talked about – they had actually learned something that year. The impostor had been as unsettling as the real Moody would likely have been, but Daphne had learned a lot as well. Umbridge had done actual harm to the education of the school, to the point that it had been a surprise to see anyone passing their O.W.L.s that hadn't received the additional tutoring. Professor Snape had been an interesting case. At first he had been his usual self to Daphne, offering advice and acting supportive. However, once he had learned about her betrothal to Potter, he had been rather cold towards her. But Professor Carrow was downright cruel. Daphne had heard stories about him cursing students in class; she had also seen and heard about the increasing number of visitors to the hospital wing. And in class, Daphne could see just how much he liked abusing the power he had been given.

From what Daphne had heard, History had also turned out like Zabini had said. The boring lectures about goblin wars were no more. Professor Malfoy, as she liked being called, had begun addressing the many crimes of Muggles against wizards and witches. She had pointed out the many poison attacks as their only weapon against magicals – which Daphne supposed was somewhat true as it didn't need magic to use poison – and had blamed them for murders which Daphne knew had had very little to do with Muggles or wizards and more about gold changing hands. She had talked about the witch burnings and had ridiculed the Muggles for their small imagination. Well, Professor Malfoy had a point, of course. A simple flame freezing spell took care of the fire, and many witches and wizards had easily escaped not only notice but their sentence. But without the knowledge of these possibilities, Tracey had explained back in third year, Muggles simply couldn't have known any better.

The last addition to the staff, Professor Alecto Carrow, proved to be a special kind of problem, but she had done her work. She knew exactly who had taken the class beforehand, and had taken to punishing them for even the slightest dissent. Tracey had gotten a detention for pointing out that at least some Muggle inventions had been adapted and proven useful like the Hogwarts Express and the Wireless. Professor Carrow had made no secret about her point of view; Muggles were, according to her and by extension the Ministry, little more than beasts that tried to poison and weaken the clearly superior magical culture. Like beasts trying to claim territory by fighting those they found until one side finally eradicated the other, Muggles were trying to invade Wizarding Britain. But unlike real beasts, Professor Carrow had said, Muggles were capable of deception and resourcefulness, and they had found a way to challenge wizardkind – Mudbloods, Professor Carrow had claimed, were the Muggles solution. By invading with those who looked and acted as if they were actually of magical blood, Mudbloods were slowly undermining wizardkind. By interbreeding with purer blood – Daphne had kept quiet about the implied admission of Mudbloods still having magical blood, even if it were supposedly less pure – Mudbloods were, according to Professor Carrow, slowly destroying the foundations of society. The decay would be going on until it would finally be stopped. Nobody in class had missed the glare at Tracey, the traitorous Slytherin and half-blood.

But there had been another problem bothering Daphne the first week, and one she hadn't been able to ignore. She had thought it would have been done with, but wherever she went, students looked at her. The other three houses were gossiping; that much Daphne had learned when she had questioned Hufflepuff's Natalia French-Boyd more forcefully than strictly necessary. People were talking about Potter and her. Since the Daily Prophet had not printed any report about the wedding, the wildest rumours had gone around. Daphne would have liked half of them having been the truth. She could have used a golden chariot or a French chef at the celebration.

The rumours had died down, thankfully, after word had spread about the truth. No secret love had been revealed, the couple had been distant with each other and kept contact to a minimum, no secret political alliance had been sealed with it. Someone had dug up the report from February, and it had about equal influence on the rumours about Daphne dying as the introduction of harsher punishments to keep people occupied.

The Slytherins on the other hand had kept quiet about the business apart from the occasional glare. But Daphne was used to those. She was friends with Tracey who was a traitor in her own right, Pansy who was bitchy if she wanted to, and Millicent who many thought to be silently threatening instead of withdrawn. Additionally, she was on speaking terms with Zabini who had a bit of a reputation, and had been seen with Draco in the past years who had tried to establish himself as the leader of the house and had stepped on some toes. Glares were nothing new to Daphne, and it only bothered her that they were based on something she seemingly had had no influence on –the betrothal –and didn't care about either. Rather, these glares were built on the false belief that she had a deeper connection to Potter. She hadn't, as far as they knew. She didn't even have anything from him apart from that beacon in her pocket he had given her. She had taken to carrying it around - the next time she would run into him, she would throw that piece of trash in his face with a laugh.

Daphne had been happy when the glares from her house-mates had died down. The Slytherins had found better targets for their anger, and with the schoolwork picking up, routine had settled in. Daphne was no exception. Each morning she woke up and prepared for her day. She went to class, did her homework, talked with her friends and went to bed. Time passed, and like a smart Slytherin, she kept her head down mostly.

Though there was the absence of the Muggleborns – Mudbloods, she should think, Daphne reminded herself. She didn't need another reprimand because she had used the wrong term.

She had expected it, of course. With the current political climate, they were no longer welcome at Hogwarts. But without them, the school seemed a lot emptier than it had been in the past, or maybe it was merely the fact that they stood out in her memory. People like Granger did draw attention. It had weighed more on the professors than the students, as they had lost some of their favourites. No longer could they call upon the likes of Granger to solve a problem.

And then there had been the news from the wider world. The Ministry had gone through a major overhaul, with some new offices created and others repurposed. Pardons had been given to many suspected Death Eaters and minor crooks - new recruits for the Dark Lord's army, most likely, but maybe also in part to make room in Azkaban. For while there had been quite a few releases of people who had seen the errors of their way as the Daily Prophet had called it, others had been sent in their place for anything from taking bribes to attempted murder. Inofficially, it had been for posing a problem or maybe even a threat to the new order. And there had been the occasional episodes as well - rumours about strange disappearances or surprising arrests of hitherto harmless and unassuming people. On the other hand, there had also been odd news. Millicent's father had gotten a promotion and had been allowed to join a regular department, for one. It was no secret it was the result of his ancestry, of course - he had pure blood, and that made up for his incompetency. His lack of backbone might also have helped, since opinions and courage carried the risk of getting in the way from time to time.

Had it really only been six weeks, Daphne wondered as she copied a scribbled sentence from her notes into the essay. She knew it to be true, but it didn't feel like that. Maybe it had to do with the fact that Hogwarts had always been a constant in her mind. It had been the same way for years, her parents had learned from some of the same professors, the classes had been unchanged. Many details had been conserved, and the frequent reminders that the school had weathered more tumultuous times had been a clear sign of stability. Yet in these short six weeks, it had changed. The classes had for their part, for sure. Like a sudden fresh wind, three professors had been newly assigned, the tone within the walls wasn't the same she remembered from her first year, and Professor Snape's warning to his Slytherins not to be caught doing dubious business did not carry the same weight when they didn't have to fear punishments anymore.

Just as she was about to think further on it, she heard someone clearing their throat from the doorway. Draco stood there, sending her an uneasy smile that didn't reach his eyes.

"Daphne? A word, please?" he asked her nervously.

She rolled her eyes, tensing slightly. "No interest. I'm almost done, and dinner is about to start. I don't want to let my friends wait."

But he didn't move. Instead, he narrowed his eyes and glanced around, before lowering his voice. "I don't want to be overheard, it's... I'll make it quick." He looked nervously around, but didn't seem to find what he was looking for. For just a second, Daphne could see real worry shine in his eyes.

She stood up to face him fully and shook her head in resignation. "Fine. Fine, but if it isn't important..." She walked into the room, covertly loosening her wand in her sleeve, ready to be drawn at a moment's notice. After last February, she preferred to be better safe than sorry.

"It is, Daphne," Draco told her, stepping into the room and closing the door again. "It won't take long."

"So?" she asked, looking indifferently around the empty room and out of the window. Outside, she could see some students playing some game with a lot of running. "What is it?"

"How are you doing, Daphne? I'm sorry I haven't found the time to talk with you this semester," Draco said, looking apologetic. "We used to talk from time to time in the past, do you remember? Granted, I think that had been mostly because we were still caught in that contract and tried to get to know each other, but it was fun, don't you think?"

"We were also considerably younger and had a lot of stupid ideas," Daphne replied, raising a challenging eyebrow. "I doubt you wanted to recall the old times, and it certainly is neither important nor something you wouldn't want to be overheard talking about. So out with it, Draco. Get to the point. Why did you feel the need to speak with me so urgently as well as privately?"

He fidgeted. "I just wanted to know whether you had heard anything from Potter," Draco told her, smiling innocently.

Daphne groaned. "Oh, you've got to be joking. You know, sometimes you really do sound as if your interest in him was more than simple rivalry. I don't have the time for this. Like him if you want, I don't care. Write him a letter or something, maybe a Valentine's Day card, who knows, maybe he'll return your feelings. I don't care what the two of you get up to, do you understand? I don't care; it's none of my business. Now go, I'm busy here. Have fun, Draco."

She pointed to the door, but he didn't move.

"You haven't answered my question, Daphne," he reminded her calmly. "Have you heard from him?"

"Leave," she told him once more. He sent her another smile, and she thought she saw a glint in his eyes. "Draco, I'm warning you..." Daphne began, letting her wand slip into her hand. But he was faster. His wand came from where it had been hidden in the folds of his sleeves, and with a flick he disarmed her, smiling gently. His skills as a Seeker paid off; despite still being halfway across the room, he caught her wand and pocketed it.

"You still haven't answered." He spoke easily.

"Congratulations, you got me," she sighed sounding more confident than she felt. "My wand, Draco." She extended her hand.

"My answer, Daphne," he replied, mimicking her. "Have you heard from Potter?"

She clenched the hand on her side to stay calm. "Why do you think my answer would have changed in the last few weeks? I already told you on the train; I haven't received any message, nor do I know of anyone who has. I don't know where he is or what is doing. My answer won't change. I have nothing I could tell you about your boyfriend. Now then, my wand, Draco?"

"Oh, I don't believe you, Daphne. I think you know where he is. It is my duty to learn about it as well. Do you think it is wise to lie to me?" He frowned at her, shaking his head slightly. "Do you think it is wise to hide anything from me? I was kind, Daphne. I have given you time to get comfortable back at school and then come to me, to tell me what you know."

"I have just answered you, though," she pointed out. Should she make a run for the door? No, she told herself, it's just your paranoia. He's just teasing you. Bad taste on his part, nothing more. "Not my fault if you don't believe me."

"And yet I'm not convinced. I'm not convinced. There is something there, Daphne, something that worries me. You are hiding something from me." Draco looked at her, looked in her eyes as if searching for the solution for his little mystery. "I sense a lack of respect, Daphne. You don't respect me or my authority."

"Well, you are acting like an idiot, Draco, and I find it difficult to respect someone who does that. I have told you repeatedly that I have no contact with Potter. If you want him, fine, by all means, take him. I'm sure if you want to, you two can be happy together." She chuckled nervously. "Come on, dinner's almost ready. My wand, please?"

"You're not taking me seriously," Draco stated. "I have asked you a simple question and all you do is joke about it."

"I can't help it if you have these funny ideas," Daphne defended herself. "My wand, Draco."

"You really are becoming like him," Draco said, his eyes going wide, momentarily breathless. "Like Potter."

"Last I looked in the mirror, I was a brunette. And my eyes are working quite fine, thanks for asking, that's why I'm not wearing glasses. Oh, and unless he's hiding something, I'm pretty sure Potter's not a girl, unlike me. Let's see, what else? Oh, I wear green and silver, not red and gold; I'm a pureblood, not a half-blood. I'm not like him, Draco, although if I were, it'd explain your fascination with me. Now then, for the last time – my wand, please." Daphne snapped her fingers impatiently, but when he didn't react, she was fed up with him. "Fine, keep it for the moment. Let's see what the professors have to say about it." She tried to push past him, too annoyed to care anymore. And then, just as she was about to shove him out of the way, she felt herself lifted off her feet. Thrown backwards, she landed on her butt. Both stared at each other; she was too shocked to do much than gape at him.

"You disrespect me? What do you think, that I'm just a small boy?" He looked at her in bewilderment. Then something flashed in his eyes, comprehension or something similar, Daphne thought, for his face lit up. "That's it, isn't it? You think I'm a child, you think I'm the child I was in the past." He chuckled, shaking his head. "Oh, Daphne! And I had thought; I had worried! But you are still yourself; you really are still one of us. Ah, you had me worried, you can't imagine. When I heard about it, I thought we had lost you, but no, you are still one of us aren't you?"

His chuckles evolved into laughter, and he pocketed his wand. "It's just bad luck, bad luck. And here we are at each other's throats, friends fighting over a silly misunderstanding. Ah well, that simplifies matters. That's a weight off my shoulders. But don't do that again, young lady," he told her, wagging his finger with a playful glare, "don't do that again, I don't know whether my heart can deal with that anymore. He he, and she had thought... Well, come here, let me help you." He extended his hand, but she swatted it away and rose to her feet on her own.

"Feisty. I should have known. Well, I'm sorry I doubted you. I thought you had deserted us and had joined Potter's merry band of traitors, but I was mistaken. You're still a proud pureblood. No hard feelings, alright?"

"A hard floor, though," Daphne pointed out, watching him carefully. She hadn't been lying, the floor had been hard, and she really didn't like being thrown to the ground. Also, his sudden mood changes were worrying her, but could she trust her instincts? Was something off or was she merely overreacting?

"Ah, good one, Daphne, good one, just what I should have expected from a cheeky child," Draco replied, nodding. He looked about as happy and relaxed as she could remember him ever being. Had she been mistaken in distrusting him?

"You're half a year younger than me," she replied, still trying to come to a conclusion.

"Oh, Daphne," he told her with a shake of his head. "Daphne, I didn't mean age, silly. Why would I talk about age? Do you think Professor Snape is any less mature than McGonagall? He's younger, yes, but look who got the job. It wasn't her; no, it was him. The Ministry trusted him to do the job. They entrusted the school to him and not her. They knew he would do what needed to be done in the school; that had a lot to do with it, of course. And he wasn't under investigation for criminal activity at the time, also important. They realized he is more trustworthy."

"And he knew just the right people in the right position," she added with a roll of her eyes, covertly taking the room in.

He glanced at her, surprised to see someone standing there. Or rather, Daphne felt as if he was surprised to see her standing there, as if he had momentarily forgotten who he had been talking to.

"Yes, of course, Daphne, of course. It's all about knowing the right people; it's all about making a name for yourself; that is the pureblood way, it's what sets us apart from the common crowd. Where would he be now if he had simply stayed Severus Snape? Nowhere, of course. Or my father? Where would he be if not for the contact he had made? A nobody, a non-entity, slaving away in some menial job. Where would Dolores Umbridge have gotten to if she hadn't known important people, if she hadn't had the connections to back her? And look at her now, even after the debacle here at school, even after all the problems she had to face, she had people who caught her and helped her get back on her feet. It's all about making a name for yourself, it's about showing what you can do, proving your worth, Daphne. That is how you get ahead in life –that is how adults do business. Of course it is about knowing the right people."

She stared at him, completely taken off-guard by his exclamation. She couldn't remember ever hearing him say something similar. He had rambled in the past, yes, and he liked to hear himself talk. But in past years, he had spoken about his father, about what his father thought or did, about how his father would have dealt with things differently. Or he would have ranted about the many injustices he saw around him, about preferential treatment for Gryffindors, about the lack of recognition of his superiority. But she couldn't remember him ever stating a positive belief of his own, and certainly not one based on accomplishments and his plan in life.

"That's great, Draco, really great," she told him.

"It is, yes. Just wait until you make your own connections, until you are standing on your own feet. I mean, just look at me! Look at how far I've come in a year. In just one year, so much can change. Back then, I was still a boy. I didn't know what to do, I didn't know how; I was overwhelmed. Where to begin? Well, no, that's not true," he conceded, shaking his head in reply to his own thoughts, "I did know where to begin a year ago, I did know what to do. So... maybe fifteen months ago, then. I had no idea what the next year would bring, I didn't know just what I could accomplish with my own hands. I had no idea... well, not true, I had a feeling, I guess. All I knew was that the business with the contract would come to an end, one way or the other." He shook his head. "So much I have grown over the last year –I've grown up and become a man. And you can do it too. Grow up, I mean, of course." He chuckled. It sounded familiar, but even though she couldn't place the sound, all she knew was that it didn't remind her of Draco.

"Yes, I figured. I have little interest in becoming a man," Daphne replied with a roll of her eyes.

"Yes, yes." Draco stared wistfully into the distance. "And to think I could have spared myself all this worry, all these precautions, had I just confronted you sooner. I wasted precious time there. But I guess that is part of growing up, you learn from your mistakes, you learn to read the signs. And he was satisfied in the end, so all worked out decently in the end.

"I have a feeling; I have a feeling you could do great. There's potential, Daphne. You're not lost yet. He was upset when he first heard about it, upset that a pureblood would be degraded like that. But you can prove yourself, you will get your chance. All will be forgiven, Daphne, if you want. I will vouch for you, and then you can prove yourself. Not everyone does, sadly. Not everyone has the potential. Some aren't ready for it, but I think you are. You have that... that drive, that fire in you."

She blinked. Somehow the talk had switched to her. And more worrying, Draco's words reminded her of someone who had been upset at finding a pureblood degrading herself. And it fit, but at the same time, Daphne didn't want it to fit, mostly because she hated the implications and didn't want to see her suspicions proven correct. She suddenly felt twice as threatened without her wand; the wand Draco still had, the same Draco who had taken to rambling –a bad sign.

"I am just so relieved; I had worried, we had worried. But you are still one of us, aren't you? A proud pureblood? And to think, to think how..." he broke off, lost in his thoughts. Then he shook his head. "But no matter. And it fits, actually. He wanted to meet you. And he will, won't he?"

Daphne watched him warily. "Er, yes. Yes, he... he will. He... he wants to meet me?" She wondered if she should dare, but then decided it wouldn't really matter. Draco had been quite open about it, so surely he wouldn't mind too much, especially in the present climate. "The Dark Lord?"

Draco's face lit up as he smiled. Grinning, he tapped his nose, but didn't reply.

"So that's it," Daphne said. "That's what you were doing last year. You... you were talking to all these people, I saw you in the Common Room. That's what you did, you were... scouting? Recruiting?"

He leaned back on his heels, reminding her of an impish child who had just managed the most brilliant mischief of his life. "No idea what you are talking about!" He winked at her. "So you were watching me?"

She chuckled nervously, relief washing over her. She had just taken a large step towards leaving the room. "Don't fool yourself. You were acting suspicious. It seems like I was right about you, I had suspected something, even if it wasn't this," she rambled on. "It was kind of obvious, now that you think about it, wasn't it? Heh, Draco Malfoy, scouting potentials." She chuckled, shaking her head, and added under her breath, "A killer, as if."

"A... ?" Draco asked, blinking at her in disbelief. "What do you... Potter. Did he say that? Potter, he told you... that I'm a killer?"

Daphne froze for a moment and glanced at him as he stood rooted to the spot. Crap. "Well, yes, that's what he said. After the wedding. Instead of mentioning how good I looked or how he was too nervous to speak or had to fight the urge to scratch his nose or, really, anything else, he talked about you. He's obsessed with you, same as you are with him." With an unsure smile, she winked at Draco. "You two would make a funny couple, always trying to one-up the other. Just saying, just saying." She quickly glanced to the side with an playful smile of her own. She was as good as out of the room, she told herself. As long as she didn't make any other mistakes, she was safe. She turned to look at him and found him staring at her.

"He thinks... I'm a killer? He thinks I... I killed someone? What did he say?" Draco asked her, shocked at the revelation.

She frowned as if in thought, but shrugged shortly afterwards and shook her head. "Don't remember what he said in detail. I was dead tired. Doesn't matter, does it?"

"What did he say?" Draco asked her again, this time the shock even more evident.

"Draco, calm down," she said, smiling tensely at him. "It's just Potter, he's... delusional," she substituted. "Obsessed. He's an idiot, didn't you say so in the past? Well, I agree. He was probably just... rambling. Or telling lies to impress me or something, you know better how boys think. No one listens to what he says, he's just..." She broke off.

Draco turned away and started pacing. Should she dare try to make for the door? Not run, no, running away was suspicious. But perhaps she could –

"Yes, you are right, Daphne; you are right, it's Potter." He chuckled. "It's Potter, of course. Yes. That's the answer. It's Potter." Draco scratched his neck, still chuckling to himself. "Just Potter. That's the answer. Everything leads back to him one way or another. I offer him my help, but he refuses. It wouldn't have been him if he had taken my offer, so that's how it is. He battles trolls and survives against all odds. It's Potter, of course he does." Draco shrugged, facing Daphne. "The Heir of Slytherin returns, students get attacked, and who is at the centre of it? It's Potter, of course, who else? People thought he was the Heir. Him, the Heir! He's got nothing Slytherin to him.

"Yes, you are right," Draco continued in an amused voice, "it's Potter, so of course he'd stick his nose into everyone else's business. And whatever I do, he does too. He's already Seeker for his team. With McGonagall and Dumbledore playing favourites, he's even allowed in his first year when no one else is."

Draco resumed pacing. After a few steps he turned towards Daphne. "Laughable, isn't it? We're practising duelling, I should have the upper hand; I can take him, no sweat, I have all the spells I need, but no, he's simply a Parselmouth." Draco grinned at her. "Laughable, isn't it? Always his luck, always already there. No one knows, but he does.

"The tournament, no one under seventeen can enter."

"No one but him?" Daphne guessed, inching slightly back. She forced herself to ignore the hints that something wasn't quite right with Draco – that Potter had seen more in Draco than she had allowed herself to. She needed to keep calm. "It was a trap, though," she pointed out, eyeing his pocket with her wand, "from what I understood. If you want to..."

"Been talking to him, have you?" Draco asked her promptly, but still in a light, casual tone as if commenting about the weather. "Trap or not, he was still allowed to compete. He shouldn't've been, no, but he was when no one else was. And he won, didn't he? Doesn't that prove the tournament could have been won by anyone? You? Me? Anyone? He's nothing special, is he? Anyone could've won, but no, Potter did it again. He saw the Dark Lord before any of his followers, he did it again."

"Draco?" Daphne tried moving back even more. She recognized the signs now, but she didn't want to accept the reality. She had to be mistaken, simple as that. She merely saw shadows on the wall – what she thought she saw, not what really was. Breathe in, breathe out. Paranoia, nothing more, she tried telling herself. But she still couldn't keep the slight quiver out of her voice. "Draco, calm down. Potter's... a n-nut job, haven't you always said so?"

"Fifth year he was crazy," Draco replied with a smile, nodding at her in acknowledgement, "spouting nonsense theories about the Dark Lord – only he wasn't, was he? And he organized that rebel group here at school, I know he did, not Dumbledore. Collapsed in the exam – hilarious, wasn't it? People wanted to follow his example to get out of that rubbish exam, grades be damned. People did, did you hear?

"Last year, my chance to shine, my chance to prove myself – my worth. Got to you first, yes, chose him, but no matter, right? Potter suspected me, he tipped them off, got in my way, but I was ahead of him, wasn't I? How it's meant to be."

"You... you were, Draco," Daphne told him with a forced smile. She was now convinced he had lost his mind, and the only explanation she could come up with was the realization that once more Potter had outdone him and seen through Draco's lies and tricks, which in turn meant Potter had been right – Draco had killed Brooks and McLaggen. She found herself in the presence of a mentally unstable killer.

"Yes," he agreed, calming down. "It's just Potter." He laughed. "You know, it's actually kind of funny how much I have changed over the last year, how much I have grown. Fifteen months ago, this would have been a game, a rivalry, him and I, always competing, always trying to outdo the other. But why should I worry about that? Does it matter?"

She watched him warily. "It's alright, Draco. Everyone has these days, I think." Keep calm, she told herself. Don't draw attention to yourself.

Draco shook his head and ran a hand through his hair. His eyes gazed at something only he could see. "Fifteen months ago, it would have been a childish game to me," Draco spoke into the silence with a shake of his head. "But not anymore." Tilting his head slightly, he looked to her.

"Not anymore," he sighed, smiling sadly. Quick as lightning, his wand was back in his hand, too fast for her to wake from her fright. With a sudden glint in his eyes, he sounded distrustful as he said the next word.

"Crucio."

She fell to the ground. Her legs couldn't hold the weight as waves of pain coursed through her. Every part of her body screamed in pain, and she did too. Hot nails were driven through her, burning hot liquid fire creeping through her. A strange ringing sounded in her ears, and just as she thought she would never again take a breath, it stopped.

Slowly the world around her regained its shape. She found herself on the side, shivering, her face on the soft, pillowy stone floor.

"Good thing I prepared, that I put those charms up, wasn't it? Didn't want to be interrupted, you see, wanted to keep things private, and now it pays off. Let's see whether you have something you want to tell me, shall we? What did he say to you?" A voice sounded above her from the depths below. "What did Potter tell you?" Draco repeated, and his shoes appeared as the blinding light dimmed and left.

"More then," said the voice with determination, and the burning sensation returned for day-long seconds as arms and legs twitched and tensed uncontrollably. When it ended, Daphne fell on her back, too spent to regain control of her limbs. At least she had an idea about up and down this time. Her lungs were aching, yet she wasn't sure whether she was gasping for more or throwing up.

"What has Potter told you?" Malfoy asked again. Out of the fog in front of her, his face took shape. "You know, I could just make you tell me? It's a simple spell, it really is, once you know how it's done. I could make you do anything I want; I could make you sing every last secret to me, but where would the accomplishment be? Where would the fun be if I simply made you tell me? What did he say to you?"

It didn't matter, she decided, as long as she wouldn't have to feel the pain anymore. "Brooks! McLaggen! He th... thinks you..." she coughed, quivering.

Malfoy nodded slowly. "I should have guessed. I should have known." He narrowed his eyes, growling. "Potter, he's always the answer, always there. Even when no one knows he still finds out? Always the answer, always there. What else?" He prodded her with his foot. It felt like a punch. "What else?"

"Nothing! He said nothing else! Please, D... Draco, I..."

He kicked her in the stomach. Something cracked, or maybe Daphne imagined it, for almost at once, ripples of pain shot through her once more and scattered any sensible thought.

"Didn't ask for your opinion, did I? No, I didn't," Malfoy told her. "Don't like it, do you? No, I knew you wouldn't. Never did like that, did you? But it's so much easier than merely waiting for the answers, and it's more entertaining as well. Yes, pain does work wonders, as long as one asks the right questions. 'Don't do that.' Cheh. Foolish? No, I don't think so. I don't need anyone looking out for me, I'm not a child any more. There's nothing to fear, is there? No. Who'd stop me, eh? No one, that's who. And it works, doesn't it? People don't lie so easily when in pain. She was right; I have to give it to her, she knows her stuff; she knows how it's done. I had a lot to learn, I had a lot of room for improvement. Well, what do you think, Daphne, did I do alright? Did I... improve? Answer me! Crucio!"

For the third time, the fire coursed through her –she screamed, but it stopped faster than before.

"Well? What do you think?"

"Yes!" she gasped out, her voice cracked. "Please, no more."

"Lying and yet telling the truth. Yes, I have improved since. They all say that. I'm not the little boy anymore, am I?" He didn't wait for a reply. "Hmm. Dinner is about to start," Malfoy mused playfully. "But I think I need to work up an appetite first. This is too much of an opportunity – a treat to let it go to waste. What do you say? Shall we skip dinner for once?"

"No," Daphne gasped.

"No?" he asked, sounding surprised. "Has no one taught you obedience? You've forgotten the lessons, haven't you? Crucio."

The pain returned, more vicious than before.

"Really," Malfoy reprimanded her, "one might almost think you don't enjoy my company. Let's see what else you can tell me. Where is Potter, eh?"

Daphne rolled on her side and was glad to find the pain in her head subsiding slightly. It didn't help against the quivering of her limbs, but at least she could think more clearly again. "I don't know. I don't know where he is. He left, he is gone." She felt her stomach clenching. Her breathing became ragged as the aftershocks of the spell receded.

"And you are sure about that?" Malfoy asked her.

"Yes. We... split up on the road. Some road I didn't know. Potter wanted to... lie low, I don't know where, he never said. I haven't seen him since." Her left leg returned to her control.

"'Haven't seen him since,'" Malfoy imitated her. Then, he stomped down, only missing her hand because Daphne had jerked it away. "He has gotten to you, hasn't he?" Malfoy spat. "He has gotten to you. Of course. Yes, he would try to turn you against your own kind, to corrupt you and lead you astray. That's how he thinks. That's what he's good at. Tricking people, yes, that is what he does. Gets inside their heads, poisons their mind, plants all these crazy ideas. Heh, funny, him planting the crazy in your head. Bit late for that, isn't it? 'Haven't seen him since.'" He paused in his ramblings as a small smile appeared on his face.

"I wonder... would your answer change if I just forced you to tell me? 'Haven't seen him since.' Well, if I can't find him, then what shall I do with you? What shall I do, I wonder. Perhaps you have something else you might want to tell me. So, Daphne, do you have any secrets you might want to share with your old friend Draco?" When she stayed silent, he sneered. "Potter's work of course, to turn you against us. 'Haven't seen him since.' Heh. Well, let's make sure it stays that way, alright, Daphne?" He slashed his wand lazily in her direction. She could see the spell coming, but had no time to evade it. A deep violet flash hit her in the face.

She couldn't exactly feel it at first, but see it. Part of the world, the left part to be sure, folded, crumbled in on itself slowly, distorted as straight lines bent more and more. At the same time, Daphne felt a rising pressure on her left eye. And then, with a Pop! and a hiss she couldn't hear but feel, blood poured from her eye.

"I knew it'd work. Few know it; you are one of the few who has experienced it. Moody too, you know? Funny, really, when I saw him first, I thought a dog had bitten him." Malfoy chuckled. "But no matter. What else? Ah, I've wanted to try that one for a while, an entertaining spell, old family secret. Well, another one, technically. Something to catch your attention."

Malfoy slashed his wand, hissing something that sounded like "pariavuncinos!"

As if three iron hooks had sunken into Daphne's belly, she felt herself hoisted into the air by invisible force. But neither her clothes nor her skin could hold her weight; both ripped, and she fell to the ground. The smell of blood filled the air. She tried to scream, but it only doubled the pain.

"What else? What else I wonder?" He hummed a few notes of a happy tune. "Maybe a classic? A Bone-Breaker? Your body does have some nice bones, if I may say so. A leg maybe? You can't run from death, did you know that, Daphne? But then, I know how much he likes Disarming, so why not give it a try myself?" He threw the curse at her, and her right arm snapped. "There, but what else? This could stop, you know? Just tell me what you know and I'll stop." He waited for a moment, but Daphne couldn't speak through her pain. "Come on, I'd like your help, Daphne. I want to stop, but I can't when you don't help me. It's not my fault this has to happen. It's yours, since you tied the knot," he told her, and Daphne felt herself pulled from the ground by her neck, hung by an invisible noose. Panicked, she tried to grab the non-existent rope, tried to get a clear footing or stop from losing her consciousness. Instead, the rips on her stomach just opened further.

"What can you tell me? What can you tell me about Potter? Potter. Always there, always first. Ah, don't be so hung up about it, Daphne," Malfoy scoffed, watching her struggle. "Soon enough, you'll be dead useful - dead useful." He chortled and cancelled the spell.

Again she fell to the ground. Her legs were too weak to carry her weight anymore, her left eye destroyed. But she didn't have that much time to think about her situation, as once more she was hit by the Cruciatus curse. It felt longer than before, or maybe she just imagined it, but before long, the pain stopped.

"You know," Malfoy told her with a frown, "you're boring, do you know that? Yes, boring. Bit unfortunate, now that it's come to this. Worse, you're also not very helpful. You're wasting my time. Maybe I should simply cut your face off, huh? A message to Potter, a challenge? That is, if he cares enough about you. Does he, Daphne? It'd be easy to send in any case; even an owl could carry it - just a small box. Or I could burn that grin off your face. I know you've been conspiring with him and laughing at me. Don't deny it, I know you did. Plotting, planning, conspiring with Potter. I should teach you a lesson – one you won't forget. I shouldn't let you get away so easily." He sent a cutting spell her way, but it left little more than a scratch on her shoulder – a warning about what would come later on. Or maybe it didn't seem so important – the arm was still attached, after all, and it was only bleeding a bit.

Malfoy started pacing once more.

Not long and he would kill her after he was done with her, Daphne knew. Not long until he'd slip up and overdo it. Not long until Malfoy might kill her if he wasn't careful. Might death not be a release, a voice said suddenly in Daphne's head. Sleep, peaceful and serene, Daphne, the voice whispered before Daphne could block it out. But as a fire started in her, the pain lessened and the noise in the room pressed in on her.

For the time being, Malfoy wasn't careful, Daphne realized. He had turned to musing and let her be for a moment. And, panting on her side, she knew her best option for survival was an escape, as far from Malfoy as possible. Her breaths were throaty rasps as her healthy eye locked on his back. He needed to be gone. If she wanted to flee, she needed to get past him and out of the door. She wasn't dead yet, she still had some fight left in her. She knew what she had to do, and she focused on her task ahead. She forced herself to her knees.

"Naturally, yes," Malfoy was saying, swaying on the spot. "This is Potter we're talking about; naturally he would have gotten there already, so that's out. Of course he's gotten into your head; so that's why you don't help me - why you're so unreasonable. And if you don't remember the lesson... no. No use. Still, what to do, what to do? Hmm." He turned to face her again, staring down on her with a raised eyebrow. "What do you say? No ideas? You're no help again, no useful answer. But you don't remember, do you? Say something! Crucio!"

Maybe it had been the fierce survival instinct or his contempt towards her finally bringing her to her tipping point, but Daphne jumped with sudden strength, pain turned to determination, and the spell, sloppily cast at a supposedly weakened target, hit stone as she stumbled towards the door.

"No, you don't," Malfoy hissed and flung himself in her way. A new, only half-formed idea came to her mind, born out of desperation. She needed to get away – as far as possible – and she needed a wand. She grabbed into Malfoy's robe pocket who tried to turn away. His hand caught her wrist, pulled at it as he spat at her, his face full of pure hatred, hatred for everything he saw in her, everything he couldn't direct at his nemesis, couldn't do to Potter. As they wrestled, a spell shot out of his wand and past her face. She instinctively tilted her head to the left, away from the pain.

Her fingers touched her wand. She felt it reverberate like it had done the first time she had found her companion, like it had been when her love for magic had been reignited. With the memory vivid, she yelled the first spell she could think of, the first magic her father had shown her as a little girl one winter evening, the spell that had meant warmth and light and wonder to her back then.

And her companion reacted to her wish, did as it was told.

Malfoy screeched, let go of her and fell to the ground. She had done it, Daphne realized, glancing dazedly to the wand in her stinging hand, which was almost dancing in joy at being reunited with its mistress. She had reclaimed what was hers and was free. Or as long as Malfoy wouldn't get back up, at least.

She stumbled to the door. It was unlocked. As soon as she had left the room, Malfoy's shrieks could no longer be heard. What had been created to silence her cries now bought her valuable seconds, but how many? She couldn't waste any time. Forward she staggered, in the direction she knew the Entrance Hall to be.

"Dear Merlin!" a painting yelled at her and ran off.

She didn't stop them. By the time they found someone, Malfoy would probably already be on his way, knowing her luck. She continued, and after a few more steps, she found her strength returning and her resolve growing stronger. She had to recover. She needed to get away from school where she would be at Draco's mercy. She needed to be as far away from him as possible; she had hurt him –or at least she hoped she had –and he wouldn't let her be otherwise.

She met no one, for once glad about the missing mu...

Muggleborns, she decided in her mind. She would resist whatever he stood for, and if Malfoy wanted that other word, Daphne would stick to Muggleborn. Every bit of resistance gave her new strength.

Finally, she stumbled outside and into the fresh air. Had it really just been six weeks since she had arrived at school?

As soon as she had reached the path, she sped up. She couldn't allow herself to be caught on the final leg, to be dragged back to a school where Malfoy and his mother had all their comrades in one place. Her broken left arm swung loosely in the breeze, useless for the moment, but her stinging right hand still held her wand.

The gate was already close when the first spells were sent after her. The chase had begun. Daphne fell forward, forcing herself to move her feet. A blue spell hit the grass to her right. Blue smoke rose, causing a disgusting smell that mingled with the one of burned flesh. A sickly yellow curse made one of the trees wither in front of Daphne's eyes. Jumping away from it had been instinct and luck, as a wild crackle hit the ground only moments later, and in a shower of dirt, Daphne managed to make her way towards the gates.

Were the wards completely matching to the property? Or was there leeway, allowing her to disapparate from inside the gates already? A spell struck them, missing her by inches. They sizzled and shrivelled up, miraculously opening just enough room for someone to duck through. Daphne managed it well enough, dead tired on her feet. She staggered a few steps behind the front gates and towards her safety.

She had waited too long – a spell hit her shoulder and back. It sizzled, searing hot as the flesh melted away.

But she was too close to give up. Putting all her intent behind it, she spun on her heel. The last glance of Hogwarts showed her familiar faces, enraged by her betrayal - friends and family, led by Alecto Carrow and Professor Snape.

And then, she was pushed through a pipe, too tight for a human but still wide enough somehow, and moments later she fell on the grass somewhere surrounded by trees and undergrowth she had never thought of consciously. Wooden splinters from her pocket pierced her leg. The smell of blood, of burnt flesh had followed her. Nausea rose in her, and Daphne threw up. As her mind drifted off into nothingness, she left delirious illusions of voices and noises behind.


Well, that explains a lot, actually.