…re was just an empty field.” He turned and shoved her down harshly, sending her crashing onto her butt on the rocky ground and making her jam her finger against a rock in the process.

She made another sound of gasping pain, gripping her hand, “ You…you…Will you STOP pushing me around!”

He snorted, “ Hold this.” He shoved the torch into her hands.

He chose a long, leafy branch from the ground and lifted it experimentally to feel the weight. Cautiously moving to the edge of the water, he lifted the branch and slapped it down in the river, making a loud splash. They both went still, listening, but they heard nothing but the soft sound of deep, rushing water. He lifted the branch and did it again. He splashed around in the water for a good five minutes, and when nothing attacked, he was satisfied.

He turned and tossed the soaking branch at her, making her squeak and dodge, and lurched towards the black, earthy shore, practically falling into the water as he knelt to drink.

“ What about sphagnum?” she asked weakly, but he wasn’t listening, too busy scooping great handfuls of water to his mouth.

She quickly got tired of waiting for her turn and half stumbled, half crawled, mindful of her injuries, over to kneel on the shore. Malfoy snarled at her but said nothing as she held the torch with one hand and scooped water to her mouth with the other. They drank until the chill of water had seeped through their entire blood stream, until they literally could drink no more.

Malfoy sat up, shivering, water streaming down his face, “ Should we cross the river? We might freeze to death, but I’d choose freezing over burning.” His tone was so casual that she shuddered.

Things were bad indeed if they weren’t talking about staying alive, but rather choosing the best way to die.

She shook her head, sitting up and wiping her mouth,“ I honestly don’t think the forest will catch.”

“ But you said…” he started, voice heavy with accusation.

“ I was hardly thinking straight,” she interrupted him angrily, casting him a spiteful look over her shoulder, “ I’d just been attacked and I had blood pouring down my leg and the whole field was on fire and if we were in a regular forest we’d be toast by now.” She rubbed a hand over he face, “But I think we’ll be okay. I can’t recall ever hearing about a magic forest succumbing to a wild fire. I don’t think its possible for a fire to destroy a magic forest. The trees themselves wouldn’t allow it.”

“ But you’re not sure?” he pointed out.

“ No, I’m not sure.” She sighed, “ I mean, fire is a type of forest maintenance so you’d think there would have to be forest fires even in a magical forest but…I’ve never heard of one.”

“ Not that you’re a nature enthusiast.” He replied snidely.

“ No, you’re right.” She conceded tiredly, scooting away from the water to sit with her back against a large cold rock, “Maybe we should cross.”

Instead of answering, he grabbed the torch from her and stabbed it into the sandy ground before kneeling down to examine her injuries. She stiffened, watching him tensely, knowing if she tried to get away he’d knock her to the ground.

It was hard to see anything in the dim light and with so much muck and blood obscuring her wounds. A part of her was darkly satisfied that she’d gone so long ignoring her injuries even though her leg was now covered in dried blood, dirt and sand. A week ago she probably would have completely freaked out seeing so much blood and knowing it came from her own body. Heck, she hadn’t even cried in pain. Fear yes, but not pain.

Malfoy ripped a long strip from the already ragged hem of his robe, dipped it into the icy river water and began to mop up the blood on her leg.

Seeing the frayed material, Hermione realized that he’d used his own robes to make the torch. He’d wrapped a stick with cloth and set it alight with some of the firestone he was forever pilfering from her bag.

You’d think our robes would be spelled against fire! She thought indignantly, but supposed she should be grateful they weren’t.

“ The scratches aren’t that bad.” Malfoy diagnosed clinically as if he knew anything at all about such things, his touch on her leg was gentle.

This was his new game.

He’d had to come to grips with helping her despite the fact that it went totally against everything he believed. He had no other choice, so he resigned himself to aiding her, but there was nothing nice about it.

Since carrying her to the clearing, he’d jumped at every opportunity to help her and been as cheerfully vicious as he could while doing it, the whole point being to hurt her as much as he possibly could while he helped her.

He had gathered firewood for her and then shoved her hand down on one of the rocks that lined their fire pit, searing her skin. Another time, she had slipped on a rock in the thigh-deep shallows of the oasis river. He’d caught her, steadying her, and just as she turned to thank him, he’d grabbed her and plunged her down under the water, holding her there until she thought he really meant to drown her. When he finally let go, she’d popped to the surface sputtering and gasping and terrified and he’d picked her up like a child and carried her out of the water.

Since then he’d been roughly attentive, mockingly tender, and completely sadistic. He scared the hell out of her.

The scientist in her held a horrified fascination for this twist in his behavior and she was at a complete loss as to how to react to it. She’d tried ignoring him, yelling at him, throwing rocks at him, none of it discouraged him. Any reaction spurred him on and no reaction seemed to make him even more determined.

“ I think they were just trying to trip you. Maybe they like to eat their prey alive.” He looked like he was enjoying the horrified look on her face, “ These two are deep though.” He touched the short punctures on either side of her leg lightly, then harder, his fingers digging purposefully into her skin, gouging,“ Maybe those things are rabid. Have you thought about that?”

She held her breath, refusing to whimper. They locked eyes in a silent battle of wills. Defiance would cause him to hurt her more but at least she kept some dignity. His steady gray eyes gauged her reactions until his fingernail sliced through the open wound, through the raw meat of her leg, and a small, pained sound burst from between her clenched teeth.

He released his grip, satisfied.

“ Shut up, Malfoy.” She gritted, humiliated, pressing a hand to the throbbing wound.

“ Don’t worry, if you start foaming at the mouth I’ll make sure to put you out of your misery. I’ll even do it painlessly.” Before she could react, he reached forward and cupped her face in his hands, his grip unbreakable,“See, I just twist your neck like this…”

“ STOP IT!” she lashed out at his face, willing to scratch his eyes out if she had to.

He laughed, releasing her quickly as he dodged and scrambled to his feet. She glared at him.

“ Let me see your knife.” She demanded.

Malfoy recoiled, all humor flown, “ I told you no!”

“ Oh for heavens sake! I need bandages.”

He considered.

“ Fine, but we use your robes.” She yelped as he swooped down on her, ripping her robes off of her, practically mugging her, and ignored her reproachful glare as he drew his knife and gleefully began to cut the material to pieces. He’d probably reduce the entire thing to shreds just to spite her.

Her eyes lingered on the glinting silver knife. It was bright tonight. In fact, if her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her, it had been growing brighter every day.

She wondered again what kind of magic properties it held. Malfoy wouldn’t talk to her about it. There was something beautiful about the blade, even though the design was plain. She wanted desperately to hold it. The thought of stealing it while Malfoy slept had crossed her mind one night. Maybe if she held it just once and showed him that nothing would happen, he’d let her use it. She really wanted to touch it, just for a minute.

She blinked, filing her plots away for later consideration when she realized the knife had stopped cutting. She looked up to find Malfoy glaring at her accusingly.

“ Don’t do that.” He bit off each word in a low thunderous growl.

“ Sorry.” She mumbled and looked away. But she was glad she’d stared because he finished up faster, leaving about half her robe in tact, and threw the strips at her. She gathered them up, “ I need my backpack.”

He growled in annoyance but fished it from his bag then threw it at her so hard that she squealed in pain when the base, laden with firestone, barked against her wounded shin. She slapped a hand over her mouth as her companion whipped back around to face her, ‘concerned’.

“ Are you okay?” he asked. He even sounded like he meant it, which caused a hysterical laugh to bubble at the back of her throat.

She choked it back and nodded quickly, “I’m fine.”

He eyed her as if he didn’t believe her and she held her breath until he turned away, apparently deciding she’d been punished enough for the night. Or at least for the time being.

Malfoy began building a fire while she sorted through her bag, looking for any kind of plants that would cleanse or detoxify. She didn’t have much and made due with squishing Baintictio berry juice into the wounds and wrapping them up tight with some packing leaves for pressure to stop the blood flow.

What if those rabbit-things did have a poisonous bite? She shuddered. They’d certainly looked riddled with disease.

She knew their claws weren’t poisonous. Malfoy hadn’t suffered any ill effects from his scratches.

She sneaked a peak at him, her eyes trailing over the jagged marks on his face.

Why only on his face and chest? Why weren’t there any marks on his legs? It just seemed weird.

She was glad now, so glad, that he’d suggested a rest day. They’d be dead now otherwise.

They’d spent the day yesterday napping and eating and exploring and staying away from each other as much as possible because Malfoy had started picking fights every time she approached him.

One of them occurred when Malfoy, after cooking the rest of his bizarre assortment of animals, had informed her that snake tasted like chicken and threatened to use force to make her try a bite. Luckily, a couple of stone projectiles aimed at his head was enough to cause him lose interest in expanding her culinary horizon.

She’d gone foraging instead, spending a few hours digging for roots and such, a lazy, time consuming but rewarding activity. She still had several large bulbs in her bag.

Malfoy decided to try and catch fish by netting them in his robe and spent hours splashing through the river in his attempts. After watching him for awhile, she had fashioned herself a fishing rod with a stick, a loose string from her robe, and an old paperclip found at the bottom of her backpack baited with grubs she found while digging roots.

Neither of them caught anything, which was probably for the best considering neither of them knew how to prepare fish.

Then, as night fell, Malfoy skulked off as he always did. And came careening back to their campsite twenty minutes later with blood smeared over his face like a gory Halloween mask.

He’d screamed for her to renew the Circle. That frightened her. Blood was streaming down his face and chest but he was more worried about the Circle then his wounds. Her brain had stuttered to a halt at the sight of him and she mentally slapped herself and quickly complied.

Even then, when the circle flared up around them, he didn’t spare his wounds a thought. He’d stood there with his knife out, panting and terrified. She’d never seen him like that, not even after the antlion.

He’d been so afraid.

“ Malfoy, oh my gosh, let me see your face! What did this?” She’d grabbed his shoulder, touched his cheek. He’d shoved her away.

“ Get ready to run.” He ordered.

But nothing ever came.

“ Let me look at your face! Malfoy, let me see!” her voice went from worried to demanding and rose with impatience. She shook him to no avail and got herself thrown to the ground again, this time almost absently.

“ I have to make sure.” He muttered.

It was almost like he didn’t even know she was there. He started back the way he had come, leaving the circle.

“ You’re going back out there?” she gasped in amazed confusion, some part of her awed. Here he was, more afraid then she’d ever seen him and he was going back?

Why didn’t he run? Slytherins always ran.

“ If you hear anything that isn’t me, get the hell out of here.”

“ I’m coming with you!”

He didn’t acknowledge her, but he grabbed her arm and steadied her when she tripped trying to follow him into the dark, so distracted that he didn’t even take the opportunity to twist her wrist or squeeze until he bruised her.

The trees in the oasis were not nearly as clustered together as they were in the forest, the canopy was open enough to allow for plenty of moon and starlight, but Hermione was still amazed at how deftly Malfoy moved through the dark while she tripped over branches and stumbled into dips in the ground and stubbed her toes on rocks.

He led her to the edge of the oasis, to the edge of the golden fields, and slowed as they reached the grass, growing tenser with each step, his breath quickening.

Hermione gasped.

The entire field was lit with moonlight and thousands of zipping silver fireflies winging about in beautiful harmony.

“ Its so pretty.” Hermione murmured from her hiding place behind Malfoy’s shoulder.

He snorted, grabbing a rock off the ground and cocking his arm back to chuck it out into the field. They heard it land, heard the soft thump and the rush of dry grass. Immediately, random clumps of grass rustled all around the field, swaying to and fro. A chorus of peeps, cheeps and chirrups, sweet and innocent filled the air.

It was amazing. From her standpoint behind Malfoy, the field had seemed completely empty. It was apparently filled with animals hiding in the grass.

“ Oh how cute!” she stepped out from behind him, face lit with wonder.

Malfoy spared her a look of complete disgust.

He chucked another rock. It landed roughly in the same area.

This time the entire field exploded in movement. The chirps rose to screams and Hermione clasped a hand to her mouth as lines of movement blasted through the grass and congregated in the area the rocks landed. Whatever the creatures were, they had rushed to where the rock fell like scrub jays flocking on breadcrumbs.

She could swear she heard faint snarling.

“ What…what..” she stuttered.

Malfoy stepped forward until his knees nearly touched the edge of the grass, “ HEY!” he screamed, “ I’m over here! Come get me!”

In the blink of an eye the entire field was silent and motionless once more, as if someone had taken a Muggle photo, ceasing all movement in one static frame.

“ What are you doing?”


He waited.


“ Peep?” one of the creatures in the field asked.

“ That’s right mother fucker.” Malfoy shot back.

Endless silence.

“ What…what are they?” she asked as he walked back towards her, apparently satisfied with whatever the heck had just happened.

“ I don’t know. I didn’t get a good look.” Malfoy told her grimly, “I came out here to hunt. I saw something moving and thought it was another rabbit.” He gave a bitter laugh, “ It nearly tore my face off.”

“ You mean, it was those things, whatever was making that noise? But they sound so cute!” she cast a nervous glance back towards the field.

“ Oh yeah, real cute. They’re like field-piranhas or something. I bet that’s why we didn’t see any animals in the grasslands at all. The smart ones won’t go into the grass and the stupid ones get eaten.”

“ Why did you come back here?”

“ I had to make sure they wouldn’t come out of the grass. I barely got away when they attacked me. I think I startled them or they would have killed me. I panicked and I used my knife.” He touched the blade absently, “I can use it most of the time and it only makes me a little tired. But when I use it to fight…its like it sucks my strength right out of me. I knew that, but I panicked and used it anyway.”

Hermione gasped as the implications hit her.

“ So then I couldn’t do anything but just lay there, you know. Luckily, I fell in here. They didn’t come after me. When I got my strength back, I ran for it. I’m pretty sure now that they won’t come out of the field. They don’t like to be seen or something, so I think we’re safe.”

They’d gone back to camp and Hermione had looked at his injuries after he washed up in the stream. He’d stood up from the river with his shirt and robes hanging from his waist and water streaming down his face and very naked chest and Hermione felt her breath catch at the sight of him pale and half-naked by moonlight. She tried to keep her face expressionless, or at least professional, but part of her brain was turning to mush and her stomach was flipping like a fish out of water. Fortunately for everyone involved, Malfoy was worn out enough to let her fuss over him without complaint and didn’t seem to notice if her touch or her gaze lingered.

All in all, his wounds weren’t as bad as they could have been. The scratches on his chest were worse than the ones on his face, which looked more like glancing blows. There were three big gouges that would probably scar but that was nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a Medi-witch once they got back.

Malfoy woke her up just before dawn the next morning and she could tell by his haggard appearance that he hadn’t slept at all.

“ They’re gone.” He said, “ We need to leave.”

She didn’t ask who ‘they’ were.

It seemed whatever those things were they only came out at night. Which meant the two of them had to get across the grasslands before the sunset. That had been today.

“ So you saw them.” Malfoy’s voice snapped her out of reverie and back to the present.

She realized with a stir of unease that the blond boy had finished with the fire and was now casting the circle about them. She watched nervously while he frowned as he tried to remember what came next and awkwardly walked the circle. Sure she’d started out wanting him to learn how to do it, but now that he had made the effort and actually could, she wished she hadn’t shown him.

What was he planning that he suddenly needed to be able to do it on his own?

“ Yes, I saw them.”

“ What are they?”

And there was the million-dollar question. She didn’t like that there were so many things lately that she simply couldn’t identify.

“ I don’t know.”

He looked up from sorting ingredients, his face twisted in scorn, “You’ve been completely useless lately.”

She couldn’t tell if he was threatening her or just disgusted.

“ I don’t know everything.” She snapped impatiently, reminding herself as much as him, as she moved closer to the fire, slipping what was left of her robes over her arms, “ What now?” she asked mutely. He looked at her sharply.

“ What do you mean ‘what now’?” he snapped, “We follow the compass right? You haven’t gotten us lost have you? I swear if you have, I’ll…”

“ I guess we go to sleep.” She ignored him, “ If the fire comes we’ll be dead of smoke-inhalation long before our bodies burn, so its not like we’ll feel anything.”

“ That’s the spirit.” He muttered.

She rolled her eyes, and yawned, “ You go to sleep. I’ll keep watch tonight.”

He looked over his shoulder at her, derisively, “ You think I’d trust a useless bit of Muggle fluff like you to keep watch all night? You’ll be asleep within the hour.” He closed the circle.

“ I will not!” she gasped in outrage, lifting her head to glare at him,“ How dare you! I’ve kept up with you, haven’t I?”

“ Yes,” he agreed amiably, he dusted his hands off and wiped them on his robes, walking over to sit across from her,“ but I’ve had to slow way down so don’t be too proud of yourself.”

Her eyes narrowed and she told him arrogantly,“ You never would have made it this far without me!”

“ I’m not so sure about that. I think I would have managed.” He drawled, shifting into a comfortable position. She could see the fire reflected in his eyes.

“ Yeah right! You never would have figured out which direction to go, you probably would have ended up eating something poisonous or been killed in the night because you didn’t have any protection. If it wasn’t for me, the antlion would have gotten you…”

“ If it weren’t for you,” He interrupting scathingly, eyes hard,“ the antlion wouldn’t have had anything to lure me with.”

“ That’s not true! The enchantment…”

He interrupted again, “ Face it, Granger, if it weren’t for you, I’d probably be home already. Hell, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t even be here. You’re slow, you’re pathetically weak, and when it comes down to it, you’re completely useless. Your protective circle, your stupid lectures, its all bullshit. The only thing you’re good for is monster bait. But what else can you expect from inferior breeding?”

Her lips parted in preparation for yelling but at this her mouth snapped closed, and she stared at him in disbelief, “ Oh no you didn’t.”

He leaned forward slightly and hissed, “If you weren’t a fucking Muggle, you wouldn’t be holding me up so badly.”

The challenge was clear.

“ You—honestly—want to have this conversation now?” she asked in amazement, “We’re both exhausted, blood-soaked and sweat-soaked and you want to discuss this right now?”

“ I thought you were looking forward to the conversation.” He countered snidely, using her own words against her.

She had known it was coming. The words had been hanging in the air like black thunderheads bloated with rain ever since she’d denied him the battle he’d tried to start days ago. They had both been waiting for the topic to break. Sooner or later she was going to have to attempt to justify her right to live to him. It was inevitable. But she still couldn’t believe that he would choose this moment to draw lines in the sand.

“ Muggles just aren’t built the same as wizards.” He continued in a careless, amiable voice as if they were discussing the attributes of a favorite movie, “ They have less muscle-mass, their brains are smaller, they’re more inclined to be fat,” a pointed gaze at her, “Probably because their respiratory systems aren’t up to par and exercise wears them out a lot faster.”

“ Where are you getting this garbage?” It was so ridiculous that she wanted to believe he was just making it up but it had probably come from some Anti-Muggle propaganda he’d read, “ Muggle brains are smaller? Do you really think I’m mentally deficient? I’m smarter then you will ever be.”

He smiled sweetly, “But that’s what’s so much fun about you, Granger. You’re some kind of freak of nature. Some kind of weird one-in-a-million mutation, like a person with six fingers or three kidneys. It happens sometimes.”

Her face flushed at the implications his words held,“ And who decided that?” she asked stiffly, trying to keep her voice careless, as if it didn’t bother her at all that him and his prejudiced friends had gotten together just to discuss little ole her and why a filthy, inferior Muggle was doing better than them in every subject and then came to the conclusion that she was an aberration of nature.

“ You’d be surprised.” He snickered. He paused for effect, looking upwards, as if greatly interested in the stars before meeting her wounded gaze with sharp amusement, “Professor Vector has some interesting theories about you.”

Her breath caught in her throat at the sting of this betrayal but she shook it off. Not wanting to let him see, “ People have been claiming to be better than one group or another since the beginning of time and they’ve used every imaginable excuse to do so and they’ve never been right and neither are you. Muggles and Wizards are almost exactly the same.”

“ But not exactly the same.” He pointed out, casually stretching and leaning back to show that he was completely relaxed and completely in control of the conversation,“ You admit there’s a difference.”

“ The only difference, you racist jerk, is that wizards can access a certain area of the brain and Muggles can’t.”

His eyes flashed with triumph, “ So you also admit that Muggles don’t have the brains that wizards do.” He jeered.

“ No, all people use only about ten-percent of their brain, that includes wizards. So wizards may be able to access certain portions of the brain that Muggles can’t, but they make up for it by not being able to access other portions that Muggles can.”

His sudden frown and the tightening of his shoulders told her that this was not information he’d heard before. Of course he hadn’t, if his idea of unbiased literature was Anti-Muggle pamphlets, “ That’s bullshit. What can Muggles do that wizards can’t?”

“ No one’s entirely sure about all of the functions of each area of the brain, Malfoy. The point is that if sometime in the future Muggle scientists can form synapse connections to those other portions of the brain, its likely that Muggles will be able to use magic the same as wizards.” It was an interesting theory and one she secretly planned to study when she graduated.

“ Now I don’t believe that for a second.” She was gratified to see him looking shaken, but he quickly regained his footing, “ Muggle brains would have to be the same as wizard brains, and they aren’t. Muggle brains are smaller..”

“ That’s not true!” she interrupted sharply.

“ And our genetic makeup is different. Muggles have no inherent latent magic ability, as you claim, synapses or no synapses.”

“ Then how do you get people like me? How do you get wizards born from Muggle families if our genes aren’t the same and our brains aren’t the same, just wired a bit different?”

“ Obviously you have a wizard or a squib relative somewhere along the line. The only way you get magic from a Muggle line is by having a wizard marry in to the family at some point. The only way you get squibs from a wizard line is by dirtying your line with Muggle blood. Muggles and wizards are a separate species.”

She was countering instantly, “ I have no magic relatives. I’ve done my genealogy and as far back as I can find, I have plain old Muggle ancestors and past that point it doesn’t even matter because the blood would be so diluted it wouldn’t affect me anyway. As for us being different species, different species can’t breed! And if by chance they do, the offspring are always sterile!”

“ Nothing says wizards aren’t an exception to the rule. After all, a wizard in animagus form can breed with another animal. As disgusting as that example is, it proves that wizards have an adaptability that could force the incompatible muggle species, to bear children.”

Despite herself she was mildly impressed with him. He had really done a lot of reading and thinking on the subject, even if it was to a very bad end, “ Everything you’ve said has been speculation, half-truths and downright lies. You don’t have one shred of real evidence. You say I’m slowing you down because I’m a Muggle but I bet you’d rather be here with me than Crabbe or Goyle. The two of them are so stupid that…”

Malfoy jerked upright, “ Crabbe and Goyle aren’t stupid.” He barked, “and I’ll thank you to keep your dirty mouth off my friends. You’re straying from the topic. If you think you can win this by badmouthing my friends instead of giving evidence…”

“ I can’t win!” she shouted, “It wouldn’t matter how much evidence I had. You would refuse to listen to me!”

“ If you think…”

“ What do you believe in Malfoy?” she asked softly, intensely, face serious,“ Do you believe in God? In Evolution? Do either of those terms mean anything to you?”

He cocked his head at her.

“ Because in either scenario, human beings came from a single source. Therefore we are the same no matter how you look at it.”

“ Then maybe neither of those scenarios work.” He stated softly.

“ You’re impossible.” She broke off abruptly and gave him a long, searching stare, “Tell me what you’ve been told about Muggles.”

“ What I’ve been told or what I believe?” the calculating look in his eyes said he hadn’t counted on this turn in the conversation but that he was intrigued enough to go with it.

“ A little of both. If you know more about Muggles then I do,” her scathing tone said how ridiculous she thought that was, “Then tell me. Convert me.” She spat that last part.

He sat back, eyes straying back to the stars as he gathered his thoughts, “ Do you know why we’re not supposed to tell Muggles what we are?”

Hermione blinked, taken aback by the question and the realization that she didn’t know why. She’d never really thought about it.

“ Its because we’re hiding. You see, when your people find out who and what we are, they invariably want to kill us.”

Hermione’s eyebrows snapped together, “ That is so not true! My parents…”

“ Will you shut your fat mouth for two seconds.” He growled dangerously, “ I’m trying to answer your fucking question.”

Hermione went silent. Malfoy eyed her until he was sure she was paying attention.

“ For every one Muggle who accepts us there are five who want to kill us. Do you have any idea how many first years have been killed by their own Muggle parents after getting their Hogwart’s letters? And I’m not talking a hundred years ago, I’m talking about the last incident which was three years ago.”

Hermione forced herself to keep silent, watching the brooding look on his face intently.

“ Some woman found out her child was ‘devil’s spawn’ and strangled him to death in his sleep in order to ‘save his soul’. Another muggle told his muggle friends when his son got a Hogwarts letter and the kid and his family got lynched by wizard-haters. So you see, you might think its okay to tell one Muggle but they always tell others and before you know it, there’s an angry mob out to have a good old fashion witch burning.”

“ But…the history books say.. Burning wizards… it…”

He seemed to catch the turn in her thoughts, “ Oh sure. There are lots of accounts of wizards and witches who thought it was funny to let the Muggles ‘burn’ them. But what happens if you don’t have your wand with you? Or it gets taken away? What happens to the kids who don’t know the charms and spells of protection? And the Muggles didn’t just burn us, they tortured us to death. Have you ever heard of the Salem witch trials in the States? Those guys thought they could live together in harmony with the Muggles and look where it got them. The Muggles slaughtered them all.”

He let her absorb that for a moment.

“ But it isn’t just that your people are barbaric animals that enjoy a good killing spree. Its also the sheer idea that we have to hide from you. US! We’re better than you! We were the pinnacle of culture, living in mansions with glass windows and running water and composing literature and poetry when your people were still living in caves, wearing animals skins and shoving berries up their noses. And then some benevolent wizards decided to take pity on the poor stupid Muggles and your people got a bit more civilized and, once they did, they decided to run us out of our homes. London was ours. Your people stole it from us and forced us into terrified hiding for the last thousand years. Your society is built on our bones.”

“ And you want what? Revenge?” Hermione asked quietly, “Revenge against innocent people for the crimes of their ancestors?”

“ No you dumb bitch! I want what is rightfully mine. And I refuse to live in hiding like my father and his father before him. We can’t anyway. Like you said, Muggles are getting smarter. There are even rumors that underground factions we haven’t detected know about us. We are unable to hide any longer. So we’re going to kill them before they kill us.”

“ I guess you’re not one for making a stand for tolerance.” She said sarcastically, hiding the cold horror she felt at his fierce declaration.

“ I’m not willing to lose any more of my people.”

“ Just the ones that don’t agree with you.” She narrowed her eyes shrewdly, seeing right through him.

He was silent.

“ You’ve given me a history lesson, but now tell me what you’ve been told.”

“ What I’ve been told?” he cleared his throat, “ First there are the things I don’t believe: I don’t believe that Muggles are actually monkeys transfigured to look like people and who subsequently got away and began to breed.”

“ Well that’s something.” Hermione muttered, studying him carefully, trying to determine his mood because he must have been taking the conversation very seriously if he wasn’t pretending to believe that line just to pull her chain.

“ I don’t believe Muggles are under my bed and will come out and get me if I don’t eat my vegetables.”

Hermione made a choking sound.

“ My aunt told me that. I don’t believe that Muggles can tell I’m a wizard on sight and will automatically jump me and tear me apart. I don’t believe Muggles are wizards who were drained of their magic and forced into exile. I don’t believe that Muggles are pasty monsters wearing the skins of wizards.”

“ Someone told you that?”

“ I do know that Muggles aren’t human, bare with me, you’ve heard some of this, they are physiologically different, they can never be as intelligent as wizards, every advancement they have made came from a wizard source.” he ignored Hermione’s noise of indignation, “ I believe you are inherently violent and disease ridden and no amount of breeding with wizards can dilute it. I believe wizards and muggles cannot live together peacefully. I believe Muggles would destroy us one way or another, they’d either kill us outright or breed us out until all magic was gone.”

Something was off about his little speech. She was certain he believed it and even that some of the history he’d divulged was true, as she had heard dilute accounts here and there regarding such things, but Draco Malfoy was not a nationalist. He was not the type to ‘fight for the good of his community’. He didn’t give a damn how anyone else was doing as long as he was fine.

So the question became: what did any of this have to do with him?

“ Its human beings that can’t live together in peace.” She countered, “ Not just Muggles and wizards.”

That raised an eyebrow, “ So you don’t believe in world peace?” he mocked.

“ Not anymore.” She answered quietly.

“ Well, shit, and I thought that was your objective. Who convinced you? Me?” he crossed his arms, puffing up proudly.

“ Don’t flatter yourself, and stop acting all wounded. If you want to compare scars then don’t act like wizards aren’t guilty of any wrongdoing. Wizards kept Muggle slaves. Wizards used Muggles as guinea pigs for sick magic experiments. Wizards wiped out Muggle villages to obtain the land. And to this day wizard teenagers go out on weekends and torture Muggles for fun, like little kids tying tin cans to a dog’s tail.”

“ I guess you were right,” he leaned forward casually, arms resting on his knees, “ neither of us can win this little argument. But that doesn’t matter. What really matters is what we decide to do about it…”

“ What do you mean?” she asked suspiciously, knowing that this was the punch line and that she wasn’t going to like it.

“ Have you ever heard the term ‘racial cleansing’?” The words rolled off his tongue as if he were savoring them.

“ You’re sick.”

“ Oh, I’m not so bad. See, Voldemort wants to kill all the Muggles and Muggleborns in one giant bloody massacre. I think that would be a disaster. Not only would we be likely to suffer major losses ourselves, but I’m well aware that Muggle and Wizard economy has, in the last two decades, become sort of intertwined. We’d suffer major losses if our business industries were suddenly cut off from important supplies. So I’d rather the Muggles die out naturally.” He smacked his lips on the last word, tasting it as he smiled at her smugly.

“ What do you mean, naturally?” she felt her fingers digging into the ground as she tried to control her facial expressions.

“ We’re working on a spell. A simple, painless spell. Very humanitarian of us. Mass Sterilization. Once the spell is cast, anyone with Muggle blood will become sterile. Over the course of the next eighty years you all die out slowly and naturally, giving our economy time to adjust, and cleansing our race once and for all.”

“ You…you…” she couldn’t describe what she was feeling, gut-wrenching, dry-mouthed horror. She didn’t know how to respond, so many different emotions were tearing her so many different directions. She was surprised by what finally came calmly out of her mouth, “ Do you have any idea how terribly that can backfire? If what I say is true, and we’re all the same, then that spell could render the entire human race sterile. Do you understand that? Because of your pitiful need to be better than everyone else in your own mind, you could destroy the human race.”

“ Believe me, we won’t make that kind of a mistake.”

“ And what about all we’ve accomplished!” she screamed suddenly, surprising him, “You said we stole from you but it’s the other way around! You stupid wizards take your magic so much for granted that you don’t care how anything works. You wave your wand and you get what you want, but you still don’t understand how. Almost all of your science is stolen from us. Muggles have done extraordinary things, things wizards never even conceived of in their wildest dreams. Our technology makes some of your magic look like backwards country-bumpkin peasantry! Our literature, our music, our ideas, everything we’ve struggled for and achieved and that your society has strived to imitate. And you want to wipe that out?” she struggled with the emotion burning up her throat that wanted to dissolve into tears,“You have no right, you monster.”

“ And here I was thinking I was being incredibly merciful. If you’d rather have a bloodbath, I can accommodate you.” He looked at her threw his lashes, face mildly annoyed.

“ Why are you telling me this?” she asked tiredly, slumping down, anger draining away into exhaustion, “You know I’m going to tell everyone what you said.”

He snickered and crawled over to kneel in front of her, “ I can tell you anything I want. I can tell you where the Death Eaters meet and where Voldemort is staying and what his daily schedule is like. I can tell you exactly what we’re going to do in the next year and when and how and I don’t have to worry. Do you know why?” his eyes were black in the dim light and something dangerous was staring out of them at her with an air of affectionate malice.

She stared numbly into those black, hating eyes, “ Because you’re going to kill me.” She murmured, feeling perfectly numb. A tear slipped unheeded down her cheek.

He trailed it with his eyes,“ Don’t cry about it.” he scolded, patting her on the head like she was a dog, taking a moment to twirl one of her curls around his finger,“ If we’re lucky, the forest will kill you for me. But either way, only one of us is getting out of here alive.”

She looked up at him slowly as he stood and felt an awful stillness around her heart, as if all of winter was blowing glaciers and ice mercilessly inside her, “ I’m not crying for the reason you think I am.” And her voice was just frightening enough to give him pause.

But he didn’t understand and she didn’t expect him to.

He turned and disappeared into the forest.


She didn’t sleep that night. She knew she should rest but, despite the childishness of it, she wanted to spite him by proving him wrong about her ability to keep watch.

She was awake, bleary and red-eyed, when dawn came and illuminated her surroundings.

The river, it turned out, was huge. The other side was a good fifty feet away, the current was swift and there was no telling how deep it was towards the middle. The size and direction, North-East of their oasis river, made Hermione think that this was the parent river and the oasis river in the grasslands had been an offshoot.

They never would have made it had they tried to cross the night before.

The area they were camped in was almost swampy and something niggling in the back of her mind said this was odd, that an extremely dry grassland shouldn’t be a hundred feet from a wet, mossy, humid swamp.

Malfoy returned from wherever he had run off to at daybreak looking worse than ever and that gave her some satisfaction.

She had offered to keep watch. She had successfully done so. It was his fault if he hadn’t slept in two nights.

No mention was made of the night before. No mention, in fact, was made of anything. They ate, packed up and headed out.

She was back to carrying her backpack. Now that the danger had past, Malfoy wouldn’t hold it for her anymore and she was actually sort of glad not to have to ask him for it every time she needed something. He tended to get cranky when she requested it too often.

She had decided to head South-East until they found the Tangle Trees again, then they would head East along the tree line. It would take longer to reach the Tangle Trees but she hoped to keep the river in sight. It was a rare thing to be able to have water whenever she wanted it.

The dial on her compass was still pointing South-East but was slowly creeping South, which meant they would eventually pass the place they were trying to go and be forced to double back at some point. She didn’t want to head East any further than she had to. Once the Tangle Tree forest petered out a bit, they’d begin heading their original direction again.

The forest was thick and dark around them, the exact opposite of the grasslands, and she found herself missing the dry fields. It had been easier to walk when the ground was even and not thick with bulging roots and squelching slippery under their feet.

Their trip to the oasis had taken them a bit North of where they had started from and their search for water had taken even further North. She surmised it might take them half the day to get to the Tangle Tree

The hours seemed to drag by. Her mind continually jumped between worrying about her wounds and lamenting her miserable condition. Her head was foggy from lack of sleep, her legs were sore from her run and stiff from her wounds. She had checked her scratches this morning, rewrapping her leg in a tight, dry cast. Her biggest worry was infection. She hoped if she kept the wounds clean and dry and applied any and all cleansing agents she came across, that she’d be fine.

It wasn’t till early afternoon that Hermione pinpointed the source of the unease that had floated around in her belly since beginning the hike that morning. She had been so focused on her own discomfort that she hadn’t been paying any attention to the odd silence coming from Malfoy.

He hadn’t said a word all day. Not one.

Considering that he hadn’t shut up once since they’d started traveling together, this was instantly alarming.

She sent him a cautious side-long glace from the corner of her eye and saw him glaring moodily at his feet as he tromped along. It reminded her so much of the Malfoy Doppleganger the antlion had made her see that she came up short.

Malfoy stopped when she did, raising his head to scowl at her.

“ Malfoy?” she asked hesitantly, searching his eyes, half expecting to see empty nothingness within his gaze.

“ What?” he grunted.

Okay, that was a good sign, she guessed. She took two uneasy steps towards him, ignoring his narrowing eyes, reached out and poked him in the arm. Her finger met solid flesh just before he slapped her hand away.

“ What the fuck is wrong with you?” his voice was almost hoarse.

She opened her mouth to explain that she was used to him talking more than Lavender and Parvati put together but quickly decided against it.

“ Are you feeling okay?”

He glared at her.


When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to answer, she turned away and started walking again. He punished her for interrupting his brooding by tripping her twice in the next five minutes until she screamed at him. She didn’t ask him again but she watched him carefully for the rest of the day and besides being extra clumsy, which she found extremely entertaining, he seemed fine.

They found the Tangle Trees an hour later and nearly walked right into them because she wasn’t paying attention.

“ That’s it! I’m done!” she announced loudly, turning her back on the trees and marching back the way they had come.

Malfoy glanced at the trees, glanced at her, then turned and followed her without a word.

The river had zigzagged along their periphery all day and there was a looping bend nearby. There were still hours of daylight left but Hermione felt sure that she was so tired that she was going to start hallucinating any moment. As far as she was concerned, they could stop for the day by the river and enjoy the sunlit shore.

Malfoy didn’t argue. He still wasn’t speaking. He prowled up and down the riverbank while she set up camp.

Her gaze strayed to him every so often. She figured this was some sort of silent treatment, though she couldn’t imagine what he hoped to accomplish.

“ Why don’t you get some sleep?” she called to him as she tried to make herself comfortable.

“ I’m not tired.” It was curt, abrupt. He stood facing the river, not looking at her.

“ Whatever.” She didn’t believe him and said so with a shrug, and fished through her backpack, pulling out some roots, “Then why don’t you eat something? I’ve still got some…”

“ I’m not hungry.” He cut her off sharply, a definite streak of annoyance growing in his voice.

She cast him a disbelieving stare, “How can you not be hungry? I’m starving.”

“ You’re fat.” He grunted.

She clamped down her anger and instead taunted in a bored tone,“ I know you’re more creative than that.”

He walked away, heading for the forest.

Hermione sat upright, eyebrows so far up they were nearly lost in her hair line.

Malfoy running from a fight?

“ Hey, I think you might be coming down with something, you know that? Where are you going?”

“ I’m going to go kill something.” He said darkly, before vanishing into the trees.


She laid back, dismissing him, and settled down for a nap, covering her face and arms with her robes so they would absorb the light and keep her warm but also keep her from getting sunburned.

The smell of cooking meat woke her. Her eyes popped open to see Malfoy roasting…something. She hadn’t seen what it was to begin with and with Malfoy there was no telling.

She watched drowsily as he pulled the meat from the fire and began ripping off hunks regardless of the temperature, hissing as he burned his hands and mouth.

“ For someone who claimed they weren’t hungry, you sure are stuffing your face.” She murmured, rubbing sand from her eyes.

He started a bit, nearly tipping over before he caught himself. He muttered something through a mouthful of meat but otherwise ignored her.

He ate about half of it and suddenly became disinterested in the food. She sat up.

“ Can I have some?”

His eyes snapped to her, zeroing in, “ Why should I let you have any?”

“ Because I’m hungry? Because I share my food with you?” she pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Obviously his sharing attitude had deserted him. She wondered if she was going to have to make some kind of deal with him to get him to supply her with meat.

“ I caught it, its mine.” His body was tense like he expected her to jump up and take it from him.

“ Well if you’re still hungry, I’m not going to take your food.” She shrugged mildly.

He stood up and, before her stunned gaze, deliberately dropped the meat into the dirt and brought his foot down on it, twisting his foot to grind it into the filth.

“ MALFOY!” she was on her feet.

He picked up the ruined meat calmly and chucked it as hard as he could so that it landed with a plop in the river and sank.

“ YOU IDIOT!” She shrieked with fists clenched, completely horrified, “ You just wasted perfectly good food! We’re in very real danger of starving! Have you forgotten that? Has that knowledge slipped your tiny Slytherin mind? We don’t have tons of extra food lying around that you can just throw stuff away!”

“ Does that answer your question?” Malfoy asked lazily, eyes heavy-lidded.

Her tirade stuttered to a halt, “What?”

“ You asked if you could have some.” A faint curl of rich amusement in his tone, “ Go get it. Fetch.”

She wished fiercely at that moment that she could strangle him, wished she had the strength in her hands to just wrap her fingers around his throat and squeeze until his head exploded. She couldn’t believe he would be so irresponsible.

Of all the childish, foolish, idiotic things to do!

“ You listen to me, you arrogant little nazi, I would rather you had eaten the rest of it even if you barfed it back up later. At least then you would have gotten some nutrition out of it!”

“ You know, I could always shut you up with my fist.” The lazy mood deserted him and his mouth twisted in irritation. One hand rubbed at his temple as if he had a headache.

“ Is that your answer to everything? You don’t have the vocabulary to defend yourself so you go all Neanderthal and Hulk smash!”

He looked confused at the reference but dismissed it with a snort, “ Whatever works.” He took a step towards her.

“ It won’t work if I crack your head open!” she threatened ineffectually, face twisted in a snarl while looking wildly about for ammunition. Unfortunately there was only dark, moist earth and no rocks nearby with which to smite her enemy.

He took another step.

“ You come one step closer,” her voice rose to a shriek, “and I’ll scream until your eardrums burst like rotten fruit!”

It seemed to work, he winced at her volume and backed away, eyeing her like a cat that had just gotten sprayed in the face with water.

Quite suddenly he seemed to lose interest in her and wandered back towards the river. It was so anticlimactic that she stared after him with her mouth hanging open in half fearful suspicion and half awed disbelief.

For the next half hour she lived in constant terror of a surprise attack. It eventually became apparent that Malfoy was thoroughly occupied elsewhere and wasn’t interested in retaliation.

Calming herself, she had something to eat, two large white bulbs that weren’t particularly tasty but that were better than nothing and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon napping.

When she woke again, it was still light out but her surroundings had taken on the bluish tinge of pre-dusk.

Feeling pleasantly groggy, she hauled herself up off the cool earth and stumbled down towards the river bank. There was a large flat boulder there that had soaked in the sun all afternoon. It had been too hot to sit on during the day but now that the sun was hidden behind the trees she eased herself up onto it and sighed at the nearly scalding yet exquisitely pleasant heat.

She had just curled up on it when an unidentifiable sound had her cracking an eye open. Malfoy wasn’t far from her. He was crouching by the water, toying with his knife. It was glowing faintly. As she watched, he stood up slowly, unsteadily, and began to stagger drunkenly back towards the campfire. She sat up in alarm at his wobbling gait and slid off the rock as he tripped and landed on his hands and knees.

“ Malfoy? Are you okay?” she scrambled over to lean over him.

“ Fine.” He muttered and she squealed, lurching backwards as he swung the hand with the knife at her.

He hadn’t actually meant to try and cut her, it seemed, it was more like he was absently waving her away and had forgotten that he had a giant knife in his hand.

He shoved off the ground and managed, after falling back to his knees twice more, to get to his feet, swaying unsteadily.

“ Here, let me help!” She tried to help him up but he was too heavy and he pushed her away.

She noted his pale skin and glazed eyes with worry. Something was terribly wrong with him. She would have liked to believe it was lack of sleep but these symptoms were just too severe.

Could it be the rabbit scratches? She thought in alarm. Were they really poisonous? Would it really take this long to manifest? Or maybe it was something much simpler than that and maybe worse. Maybe the scratches had gotten badly infected and had given him a fever.

“ Malfoy,” she began calmly, “ There’s something wrong with you. I think you’re sick.”

“ Nah, um fine.” He was swaying on his feet, his eyes practically rolling in his head. He was really out of it.

“ Maybe you should lay down and let me look at your scratches.” She coaxed, trying to lead him towards the fire. It would be a lot easier to examine him if he passed out or something.

“ Um not tired.” He slurred, pulling his hand out of hers. He was looking down at the knife, playing with it absently.

“You haven’t slept in two nights.” she spoke slowly and reasonably, maneuvering around him to tug the side of his collar down so she could see his scratches. She got the barest glimpse of them, but she could detect no redness or swelling. She ran a hand over them, feeling for the heat or wetness of infection but he jerked away from her, his eyes sharp and suspicious.

“You waitin’ for me to go to sleep or sumthin?” he growled distrustfully.

He sounded drunk. If it wasn’t the scratches then maybe he had eaten something bad. Maybe that animal he’d had this afternoon. What had it been?

“ What did you eat this afternoon? What was that animal you roasted?” she asked sternly, halfway reaching her arm out to him again but then drawing it back uncertainly at the dangerous expression on his face.

“ What do you care?” he wheeled on her, and she sprang backwards in alarm, “ You’ve been watching me! I’ve seen you! You’re waiting for me to go to sleep! You… You muggles…trying to kill me. And you’re trying to poison me…”

She stared at him with jaw hanging open. He was delirious.

He pointed the knife at her accusingly and she flinched, “ I’ve seen what you did.”

The knife was brighter now, throbbing with light. It had only glowed like this right before he used it to fight. Was he about to attack her? She knew she was far enough away to evade him, he was too clumsy at the moment to catch her, but with that knife he didn’t need to actually cut her skin to get her. How far was the knife’s range?

This was so not good. Delirious Malfoy with a magic knife.

“ Malfoy, stay calm.” Her voice wavered slightly as she held up her hands in a placating gesture and put more distance between them.

Get the knife away from him. I have to get the knife. If I don’t, he’ll hurt himself or me.

“ Malfoy, put the knife down.” It was the wrong thing to say and she knew it.

His eyes went huge and he jerked the knife against his chest, instantly the blade shown brighter, “ You can’t have it! I told you, stupid bitch! Stupid, nasty Muggle! Its my knife, not yours, not Lucius’. Fucking Lucius. He thinks he’s better than me. Thinks I’m not good enough to be his son. You think you’re better than me too. You and that fucking Potter. Damn wank-brained assclown. I’m gonna kill him.”


She tried a different tactic, “Good. You should.” She told him soothingly.

He looked at her in bleary surprise, “Yeah?”

“ Yeah. I hate Potter. He’s a..a…Muggle-lover.”

“ Yeah!” Malfoy agreed with her loudly, “Damn filthy Muggles ruin everything! I hate them!”

The knife seemed almost white-hot with light. Alarmed, she saw that Malfoy’s hair was stirring lightly in a soft wind. She felt no wind, the trees were not moving.

It was coming from the knife.

Get the knife. Get it away from him!

She had taken two steps eagerly forward when she suddenly jerked back in alarm. There was no way she could get it from him in this condi… Продолжение »
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