He grinned.


Then she passed by his tree.

He had one split second to make absolutely certain the knife was sheathed and both her hands were free before he launched himself at her with a war cry. She screamed as he slammed into her, locking his arms around her middle to pin her arms to her side and then threw his weigh to the side to try and bear her to the ground.

Only something went wrong.

One of her arms slipped free from his grasp and she threw her weight to counter his, making them spin slightly as she seized the blade stock. He tried to grab her hand but by moving his arm he opened the trap.

Still shrieking, she twisted to the right, out of his grasp, ripping the knife free and, instead of trying to regain his hold on her, he forcefully flung her away, losing his balance as he did so. He crashed to his hands and knees while she slammed into a tree, the jolt of it throwing her aim off, and slid to the ground across from him. He was already retreating at full speed, tearing at the ground to get his feet back under him and breaking for the trees as fast as he could.

He heard the next blast coming, heard the ground rip up behind him, felt bits of rock, dirt and debris pelt his back, and knew he’d barely dodged her second attack.

She continued to scream choice words after him long after he had lost sight of her. But that was good, as long as he could hear her he could keep a bead on her position.

Once she was on guard it was hazardous to be in the same hemisphere as her. He never knew if she would decide to come after him, if he would stop to rest somewhere only to have her ambush him as he had ambushed her.

He zigzagged a path through the trees and found a place to collapse, panting. He dropped to the ground against a large oak, snickering over this latest attempt. He was impressed that she had slipped his hold like that, but it didn’t matter, he’d gotten her to use that knife (more than once!) and that meant he’d won that round and she knew it.

He ran the back of his sleeve over his sweaty forehead.

It had been four days since ‘the incident’ and each had been just slightly less bearable then the last. At the time, after she left him lying bruised and bloody on the ground, he thought that things had reached rock bottom.

But he’d been wrong, things had definitely gotten worse from there.


4 days ago

Draco prowled back and forth through the wooded area furiously. His temple was throbbing, he was sure a dark bruise was spreading like blue ink over his skin, but at least it had stopped bleeding. His throat looked like it had been mauled, which he guess it had, it was stinging with scratches and itchy with dry blood.

He wanted to leave.

His eyes kept straying to the spot where Hermione had lain and then to the spot where he’d nearly been gutted and then he would start thinking about it all over again and he was certain it was going to drive him crazy.

He wanted to take off, he didn’t care where they went as long as they weren’t here. He wanted to pretend nothing was different. He wanted to pretend this day had never happened, that these past weeks never happened, and it would be a whole hell of a lot easier to do if he wasn’t here where the atmosphere was still raw and tight and so ionized with pain that his lungs hurt with each breath he took.

But he couldn’t leave this spot because she wasn’t back yet.

He’d been waiting for over two hours, almost three, and he was trying with all his might to be patient but three hours really was pushing it.

He glanced up, tracking the sun’s path across the sky.

When she returned they’d leave. Maybe she wouldn’t talk to him for awhile but he could try apologizing again when they stopped for the night and she would see he was serious. He would hunt up some meat and she would find some firestone and they’d get warm and dry and in a few days she’d forgive him.

Everything was going to be just fine.

He raked his hands through his hair, which was now sticking up in just about every direction, for the hundredth time.

How many different ways could your world flip in a single day? In a single hour?

It was official. His life was origami. Somebody with a really twisted since of humor was rolling him up and twisting him around until he wasn’t at all sure who he was anymore or what he was supposed to feel. It was a distinctly uncomfortable feeling.

He was furious.

He held onto that because it seemed like the only safe thing to be, his old standby. When in doubt, get pissed. He wasn’t quite sure what he was mad at: her, himself, the world? It didn’t matter. He needed the anger. He could only feel horribly guilty for so long.

Did he even have the right to be that mad?

He dashed the thought away. It wasn’t like he could help the way he felt.

She’d slapped him around like a little bitch and humiliated him. Cute little bushy-haired slip of a girl had handled him like a dog handled a gopher. He damn sure could be mad about that.

He’d been helpless. There had been absolutely nothing he could do to fight or get away, one wrong move and she would have slit his throat like carving a Christmas ham. He had never been that scared of anyone in his entire life outside his father and Voldemort. Probably because no one had ever tried to murder him before.

It was unreal.

How could he have misjudged her so badly? Less than an hour ago he would have bet his entire fortune that Hermione Granger was incapable of violence. She was a pacifist, everyone knew that! She thought it was wrong to kill. You could beat her up and murder her entire family and she’d insist you just needed a hug.

All that perfect goody-goodyness couldn’t be an act, could it? The thought gave him pause, she couldn’t really be that good a faker! Someone would have noticed in all the seven years she’d been at Hogwarts.

It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for. He’d heard Narcissa say once. You never know what they’re thinking.

Well he knew now, she was thinking KILL!

He supposed everyone had a breaking point. Things had been really rough and he’d done a smashing job of making it worse. He probably shouldn’t blame her for freaking out and yet he really really wanted to.

So now what was he supposed to do? Was he supposed be understanding? To just accept it as his punishment and expect her to have forgiven him when she returned? It probably wasn’t a good idea to push her any further—she’d snap completely. But could he allow her to go unpunished? Was he entitled to revenge?

That was his first thought: revenge! No one made him feel that weak and helpless and got away with it. No one pushed him around. He knew he’d gone too far and he knew he might have deserved what he got and he knew he should try and be patient with her but there was still that little kernel of childish rage that was pissed at being unmanned.

He sent an indignant glare the direction she had gone.

Hell, he hadn’t even really done anything to her! He hadn’t gone through with it, had he? So what was her problem? Maybe she could be a little mad, but where the hell did she get off trying to kill him?

That’s not what she was really mad about…

No. I mentioned Voldemort and she went rabid.

It only proved that Muggles were dangerous, that Dumbledore was teaching even the sweet, innocent, harmless ones to kill wizards. How had the old man managed to do it? It couldn’t just be for Potter, could it? Was she outraged on her wanna-be boyfriend’s behalf?

Or maybe the Edelmans were her friends.

He gulped, feeling slightly shamed, slightly disturbed that he had taken credit for something like that. He hadn’t known them, they were just names on paper to him, but what if she had?

No, it was the Craighton mall thing she was most interested in.

He recalled the glassy horror in her eyes when he’d said whatever he had about Craighton mall, how she’d suddenly gone limp.

It was weird. It seemed like every time he went back over what had happened, he remembered something new, as if time had sped up but he had slowed down and now both parts were coming back together. Part of him cheerfully proclaimed that that meant he wasn’t responsible for his actions. He could plead temporary insanity.

He snorted.

She had a right to be mad about the Craighton mall thing, didn’t she?

He shoved away the lingering guilt. He still didn’t see what any of that had to do with her. Maybe she’d just snapped pure and simple.

He scanned the trees again impatiently, growling in frustration.

Damnit, where was she? She should have been back by now! She should have…

The snarl died on his lips.

No way…

He took two steps in the direction she had gone, eyes straining into the distance as if he could catch sight of her if he tried hard enough.

No way… She wouldn’t…

It hit him like a blow to the gut.

He was so dense. Such an idiot.

Hermione wasn’t coming back.

She was gone. She’d ditched him.

That bitch!

He didn’t stop to think, he just tore off into the woods after her.

It took him hours to find her.

He knew which direction the compass was leading her and he was getting better at tracking, but still, if he hadn’t had his own particular arsenal of skills, he never would have found her. This wasn’t like his first time out alone when he’d been gone for three days, back then he’d been certain of his direction, of where she was and that he could find his way back by following certain landmarks he had chosen, this time she was a moving target, she could drift a mile to the left or right of her original path and he’d never find her again.

What actually allowed him to find her was the land itself. Further North the land opened up into a lush marshy wetland. There were vast grassy green fields filled with shallow, cold water, and droves of wildlife. He rather fancied the whole area was some sort of very low peninsula; seventy-five percent covered with water and interspersed with groves of trees with large tangles of thick roots at the base, as if the land couldn’t make up its mind about what it wanted to be.

White cranes marched through on stilt legs, swarms of insects clouded around gorgeous blooms, huge rainbow-colored dragonflies zoomed by, chased by laughing, squealing pixies. Biting pixies, he would discover later.

Herds of deer, all different kinds, came to drink at the waters edge and stared at him with pricked ears, curious and unafraid, as if they had never seen a human being before. A creature that looked like a very fat raccoon meandered by on its hind legs, walking upright like a person, the pelt of some other animal hanging off its back like a cloak and its three babies waddling quickly after it. It looked at him with beady, black, intelligent eyes and he nearly gave in to the urge to ask it a question, to see if it could talk. In the end, he chickened out.

The distant croak of frogs made his hair stand on end. But he didn’t see any of the bad kind. He did see a very fat orange toad that was probably a foot long, sitting at the water’s edge eating pixies. It gave him a solemn wink and snapped up another screaming sprite.

And in the middle of this mess was little Hermione Granger, plodding steadily forward. He was more than a little relieved to see her. As the hours passed he had tumbled closer and closer to the edge of absolute panic, certain that he would never find her again and that he was lost for good.

It was late afternoon, approaching evening, by the time he finally caught up with her. She had stopped under a small stand of trees to rest and was sitting in the dirt, munching on a piece of fruit, knees drawn up almost to her chest, a small pile of different kinds of fruit in her lap. She didn’t see him as he approached

“ Hey!” he called, “Hey!”

She started with a little yip, eyes flying wide to stare at him in utter shock and he had just enough time to register the horror on her face before her expression suddenly walled off, going cold, neutral. She relaxed, resting her arm on one knee, half-eaten fruit held loosely in her grasp. Other than that she didn’t react.

He jogged over and leaned up against a tree to catch his breath, “ Where have you been?” he yelled.

He pushed off the tree and faced her, glowering though he was so relieved he almost could have laughed.

He’d had his entire hike to think of what to say to her first, it seemed a toss up between apologizing profusely and screaming his head off at her. Maybe he could do both. He’d finally come up with a ten-minute speech that he felt was perfect but now his mind was quickly going blank, all the accusations and anger and guilt jumbling up.

What finally came out seemed strangely inevitable, “ I can’t believe you ditched me!” he blurted in his old arrogant tones, “ Are you insane? Damn psychotic Mud….” The look on her face made him think better of finishing that sentence. He trailed off, clearing his throat.

She didn’t say anything at first, didn’t change expression, just studied him with that peculiar look and he was silent, trying not to be nervous, trying to decipher what the hell he was seeing. She bounced the fruit in her hand nonchalantly, and her expression was scary.

“ Wha…” he started uneasily, but she cut him off.

“ I can’t believe this.” She shook her head slowly, never taking her eyes off him, “You’re like one of those dogs you tie up and dump off a bridge only to find it waiting on your front porch when you get home.”

He blinked, “ I..” his jaw dropped, “Holy shit, you really were trying to ditch me!”

He hadn’t really believed it. He thought maybe she’d been so angry she ran off, he’d refused to consider the idea that she would purposefully try to leave him behind. If he lost her, then he had no knife, no compass, no knowledge of the world around him. Hell, that was akin to attempted murder!

“There is no way you could have tracked me.” She continued in that same calm, mildly annoyed voice, then she shrugged,“ Well, whatever. I guess it doesn’t matter.”

“ What doesn’t matter?” he asked but she was rising to her feet briskly, fine tension humming just beneath that cool facade as she wrapped the rest of the fruit up in her robes.

She faced him coolly, “ Leave.”

He stared at her, “Granger…”

She threw the half-eaten fruit at him and he flinched as it bounced off his shoulder,“ Get out of my face, get out of my way, get out of my life.” She drew the blade smoothly and it hummed to life, ready for action. He held very still, remembering what that cold steel felt like,“ I’m not taking care of you anymore. You want out of here, you find your own way out. You come near me ever again and I’ll kill you.”

“ Look..” he started in his best ‘lets be reasonable’ voice, taking a step forward but she raised the blade and let if flare with light and he retreated hastily, hands up, “ Okay, you need some time. I guess I understand that.”

He backed away from her slowly, not taking his eyes off her.

“ Keep walking.” She snapped and, when she deemed him far enough away, turned her back on him and stalked away.

“ Hey!” he called suddenly, “ Er… I don’t suppose I could have any of that fruit?”

She didn’t answer.

Okay, she’s still mad, he thought, disgruntled. No matter, just give her some time and she’ll cool off.

That wasn’t a problem, he could entertain himself for a few hours, but he was incredibly hungry. He hadn’t had any food since breakfast and he had no idea what kind of plants were good to eat. He could still hunt, the wildlife was abundant, but he didn’t have any firestone to cook with and Hermione had the blade so he couldn’t skin his catch.

A peace offering, that’s what he needed. If he caught a deer for her, maybe she’d be hungry enough to let him skin and cook it. After all, without him, she didn’t get any meat either.

He followed Hermione at a safe distance the rest of the afternoon, making sure he wasn’t looking her direction whenever she glanced back over her shoulder to glare at him and fondle the knife, as if itching to use it on him.

He glared at the back of her head. He would get her back for this later, he thought darkly. Let her have her way now, let her cool off and when things got back to normal he’d make the bitch pay.

When it became clear that she had found a place to stop for the night and wasn’t going to be moving anytime soon, he went off to hunt.

The marsh deer turned out to be, not only be very big, but incredibly intelligent, which made for very bad hunting. More than once he was nearly stomped to death when the entire herd turned on him. In the end he grabbed what he could, two small quail-like birds and a creature that resembled an otter that had strayed too far from its pond. He didn’t recognize these animals but, at this point, food was food.

It was dark when he took his catch back to Hermione. She had a very weak fire going. It was so wet around here it was amazing she found anything dry to burn, he was relieved that she had managed to find some firestone. He could catch all the game in the world and it wouldn’t help them if they didn’t have fire to cook with.

He approached her from the far side of her little camp, keeping the fire between them. She was sitting up against a tree but dozing, her head lolling against her shoulder, hands in her lap, the orange light of the campfire splashing color over her cheeks.
He stepped into the circle of light,“ Hi.” He said gently.

Her eyes snapped opened and he heard the metallic ‘sniiick’ as the blade cleared its sheath. He could hear it humming with power, crackling expectantly.

“ What did I tell you earlier?” the girl growled, getting to her feet, looking for all the world like a lioness just disturbed from her nap.

“ Wait! Just wait.” He held up a hand to stall her, “ Look, I thought you might be hungry. I brought some food.” He showed her his catch, held by their legs in his other hand. He laid them on the ground.

“ Aw, that’s so sweet. Goodbye.” She lashed the blade through the air without warning.

“ HEY! SHIT!” he lurched out of the way frantically. The heat of the blast grazed his shoulder, and he spun around, clutching at the wound, eyes trailing after the energy. “ What are you doing?”

He turned back towards her in time to realize he shouldn’t have taken his eyes off her. She rammed into him, sending him slamming to the ground with a pained grunt that turned into a shout when she kicked him in the ribs.

“ Son of a…” he snarled. Anger blazing, he grabbed her foot and wrenched it out from under her.

She fell with a startled yelp, catching herself on her arms, the knife clanking to the ground beside her. He started to drag her towards him by the leg, but she flailed and kicked. He yelled, releasing her in favor of cradling his face when her foot caught him in the jaw. She flew upright, snatching up the knife and lunging at him. He scrambled backwards, getting a good distance from her.

They eyed each other narrowly, both bruised and aching and breathing hard. When neither moved to attack, they got to their feet.

He spat blood and rubbed his shoulder, “ What. The. Fuck. Are you doing?” he bit out, “ I’m trying to apologize. I’m trying to tell you that I’m sorry. What I did was really stupid, I know that. I don’t have any excuses and I don’t expect you to forgive me but I’m trying to make it up to you.”

“ With dead animals.” Her eyes flicked to his catch sardonically. She was smiling. The little bitch was grinning at him.

“ With whatever you want!” he burst out, throwing up his arms in exasperation, “What do you want me to do?”

She took a swaggering step towards him, her eyes heavy-lidded with contempt, “ I want you to choke and die.”

He stared at her, throat dry, speechless.

“ I don’t think you get it.” she continued sweetly, slapping the flat of the blade against her palm, “ I don’t care how many dead animals you bring me. You’re on your own now, kiddo.” She drawled the word at him, “ You can take care of yourself from now on.”

His throat worked, “ You need me. We’re in this together.”

She chuckled softly,“ Oh, suddenly we’re a team, huh? I find the food and you get groping rights? Get out of my sight.” She brought the blade down again and sent another scalding blast at him.

He darted off into the darkness.

He didn’t try to approach her again that night. He stormed off, cursing through his aching jaw and harassing the wildlife until he worked off his temper and then he searched for a place to sleep for the night. He was exhausted, he hadn’t slept in days. He found a place that was close to Hermione but shielded from her sight and, cold and hungry, tried to get some sleep.

She was gone when he woke up in the morning. The only sign of her ever being there the black charcoal of her campfire and the remains of his kills. She’d skinned, cooked and eaten them after he left, and what she hadn’t finished, she’d given to the scavengers.

He stared at the remnants of his catch in horrified disbelief and then furiously kicked them out of his way.

Stupid bitch!

Raging and starving, he spent the morning tracking her down again and found her a little before midmorning. He approached her again, holding onto his temper by a tiny thread, hoping she’d calmed down a little, but she didn’t even bother speaking to him, she just attacked and sent him fleeing.

That whole day he followed her at a safe distance, exiled from her presence. If he came too close, she drove him away and he could do nothing about it while she had the knife. He could only run. He continued to follow her desperately.

When she found something good to eat, he watched from his vantage point and then moved in after she left, hungrily devouring whatever remained or whatever she hadn’t tried to spoil. He made damn sure whatever it was that he had actually seen her put a piece in her mouth and swallow. More than once that day she led him to some plants and he saw her pick some and pretend to eat them before discarding the pieces some distance away.

He didn’t want to know what would happen if he tried to eat those plants.

He contemplated hunting and eating the meat raw. He couldn’t bring himself to do it yet, but it was fast becoming a very attractive option.

At night, he learned it was best for her not to know he was around. If she could see him, he was too close. At first he took to sleeping behind trees or shielded from view by bushes but that became a problem because she would lay awake, bristling and paranoid and wondering what he was up to and then he’d be rudely awakened in the middle of the night by her kicking him in the ribs and telling him to get lost. So he eventually learned to simply disappear in late afternoon and keep out of sight until dawn.

It became harder when she took to sleeping in trees. It was a necessity as they came to be familiar with the larger predators that roamed the marshlands. From what he could see, she still hadn’t gathered all the ingredients she needed to cast a Circle, even if she had he knew he wouldn’t be welcome within it. They had no protection on the ground. So when he saw her climb into a tree one night and stay there, he followed suit. It was still somewhat of a problem. If she caught sight of him he had to sit and wonder if she was going to get angry and chase him away.

Falling asleep in a tree was awful. It was terminally uncomfortable, rough, cold, twigs biting into his back, insects crawling all over him and he was afraid that one night he was going to fall out and break his head. It probably would have been impossible to sleep like that except he had been sleeping on the cold hard ground for nearly three weeks. Apparently a person can get used to anything.

She was always gone when he woke up in the morning and he spent every day tracking her down. It was becoming easier though. Left alone, he was beginning to learn how to deal with his own problems.

It was amazing what starvation could do for one’s scholastic skills. When she led him to an edible plant, he forced himself to memorize exactly what it looked like, where it grew, what its leaves looked like, how it smelled. He would eventually know more plants on sight then he ever learned in six years of Herbology. The first time he found an edible plant all by himself, he was ecstatic and held a fondness for that plant the rest of his life.

He also learned to manage problems with the local wildlife.

He was stomping through a wooded area, kicking the brush out of his way as he went, when he realized he was being followed. He was startled to find ten little blue fuzzy animals about half the size of his fist, each with big, unhappy eyes, little black button noses, little nubby arms and six scurrying legs trailing along behind him. He had never seen anything like them.

He stared at them. They stared at him.

Uneasily, he decided to ignore them and continue walking. A minute later he looked back and halted when he saw that there were now twenty little blue things scurrying after him.

“ Okay, that’s it. Shoo!” he ran at them, waving his arms and they scrambled all directions making little distressed ‘meep’ sounds like finches.

Satisfied, he continued on his way, but the tiny sound of little shuffling feet quickly told him that he’d been unsuccessful in deterring his stalkers. He whipped around, ready to yell only to jerk back in shock when he found over fifty little blue fuzz balls at his heels, staring at him mournfully.

“ What? What do you want?” he yelled at them, and they scrambled around meeping in terror but then all shuffled right back into rank when his voice stopped.

He shifted uncomfortably. They didn’t exactly look dangerous but if they kept growing in number and mobbed him or something, he might be in trouble.

He started backing away from them, watching them all the while, and they scrambled after him and continued to add more to their numbers. He couldn’t actually see it happening, he never saw where they came from, it was like suddenly there were two more on the right and then another over there.

He stopped.

“ You little bastards.” He muttered in frustration, not knowing what to do. He rubbed his forehead, feeling the beginnings of a headache.

Merlin, he wished that Gryffindor chit would just forgive him already.

He hated to even think it but he missed Hermione. He was blindly, righteously, insanely enraged with her, he wanted to put her in a headlock and choke her till she cried ‘Mercy’ for putting him through this, but he missed her just the same. She probably knew exactly who these little buggers were and what they wanted. Though he supposed if she were here now, she’d probably just laugh at him and walk away.

He missed the old Hermione. He had gotten used to her, he supposed. He missed having someone to talk to and someone to pick on. He’d gotten used to her silliness and that little pout she got when she was thinking, and her constant fretting and worrying over every little cut and bruise he got. She always did that, no matter what he did or how he yelled at her.

It had been…nice…to be fussed over like that.

He found himself thinking of her constantly now that she was gone. Like thinking about how she’d react to these little guys. He knew exactly what she’d do. She’d squeal and do her little girly ‘oh that’s so cute’ dance and kneel down to talk to them.

His lip curled.

They’d probably love her.

He blew out his breath in a long puff and glared down at the little fuzzies. Crouching down, he stared the nearest little blue thing in the eyes.

“ What the hell is your problem.” He asked it sternly, wagging a finger an inch from its face.

It watched his finger nervously, eyes crossing.

He snickered.

He swung his finger back and forth in front of its eyes and the whole herd watched, then he made the nearest one turn a circle by circling his hand over its head.

Bored, he stood up, ready to chase them off again, when the whole colony simultaneously about-faced. Draco froze. They were all staring back the direction he had come.

Cautiously, he took a step towards them. The herd scuttled forward.

Do they want me to follow them?

Slowly he walked after them and they continued to scurry forward and the further they went, the more of them began to disappear. They turned slightly to the right and he followed, recognizing this as the direction he had come from.

Their number continued to dwindle until there were twenty and then ten and then five and still he couldn’t see them actually leaving. And then there was only one and it stopped before a fallen log. It looked at the log and then looked up at Draco.

Draco stared at it, “Huh?”

The fuzzy continued to look back and forth between the two until suddenly Draco realized that he had kicked this log out from where it sat when he came stomping up this way. He could see the muddy place on the ground where it had originally lain.

“ Is this your home?” Draco asked, “ Did I move it?”

The little blue fuzzy looked at the log forlornly and kicked at it with one tiny foot.

Draco reached down and moved the log, plopping it back into its original place.

“ There. Is that better?” he started to ask but the little blue thing was gone. He looked around in surprise then scratched his head,“ I guess that was all it wanted.”

He continued on his way, looking back every so often, but he didn’t see the blue fuzzies ever again.

He smirked, pleased with himself. He’d fixed the problem on his own.

Maybe he had a chance at winning this game of hers after all.

It was his fondest wish to outlast her because this couldn’t go on forever, one of them was going to fall.

He thought at first that the knife would take care of her for him but he had given up on that days ago. He’d only held it for five days and it had nearly killed him. She’d had the knife for nearly twice that long and she wasn’t even showing signs of slowing down. Maybe for some reason it wasn’t absorbing energy from her the way it did from him. Or maybe whatever had happened was a one-time event.

Whatever the reason, he couldn’t depend on the knife. He’d have to depend on his wits. Each small victory, whether it was finding a chunk of firestone, finding something to eat or solving a problem, gave him more confidence and a greater hope of winning. He’d dearly love to rub that in her face. To stand over her when she was broken with failure and laugh at her like she laughed at him.

He growled, clenching his fists.

The Gryffindor nerd-queen laughed at him, she looked down on him and laughed. It was definitely a unique experience. He found himself both fascinated and disturbed, baffled and repulsed. He had no idea how to respond to treatment he had never received before.

He’d always been worshipped, feared, respected. At school he was a god. Everyone knew who he was and that he was better than them, better looking, richer, more popular. Even those who hated him had a healthy respect for him, feared and deferred to him. He was infamous, he was popular, he was what everyone talked about. Voldemort himself often inquired after him, sometimes even sending him an owl post.

He was important. Everyone knew that!

Hermione Granger knew that. She had always feared him and hated him and looked at him in awe. Even when she was slapping him across the face, her body language said that she knew who was better. And that was how it was supposed to be.

Of all the things that had changed, their hierarchy should not have been one of them. He couldn’t understand it. Suddenly she was in the dominant position. Suddenly she was looking at him with contempt and scorn, as if he disgusted her, as if he was the shit on her shoes.

She treated him like he was worthless, like she didn’t need him, like she could make it home without him. He’d show her she was wrong. She wouldn’t make it home unless he let her.

It was on the third day that the breach between them was driven home and the lines were finally drawn in the sand.

He woke before dawn, restless and unable to sleep any longer. The first thing he did was check to see if Hermione was still around. Satisfied that she was sleeping, he washed up in one of the abundant ponds that dotted the soggy field and ate some fruit he’d picked the day before.

He hid when she woke a few hours later, and watched in amusement while she searched the surrounding area, poking through the grass and checking behind trees, obviously searching for him. When she didn’t find him, she scanned the area with a frown on her face and then bounded away. He followed.

He was fascinated and disturbed by her penchant for speaking aloud to the blade as if it were a person and could talk back. When he had first seen her do this, he thought she was doing it just to freak him out or give him the illusion that she had some sort of power that he didn’t know about, but then he saw her doing it when he was sure she didn’t know he was around.

He’d had the knife for nearly a week and it had never spoken to him. She had claimed before that the knife could speak, hadn’t she?

“The knife will tell me if you're lying."

She was either crazy or really bored.

He made it a game to see how long and how close he could follow her before she realized he was there. He was apparently good at it because two hours later, she was still unaware of him and the little spring in her step that said she thought she’d lost him for good annoyed the hell out of him. So he decided to throw hard, green berries about the size of grapes at her head for the rest of the morning.

“ I’m still here, bitch.” He drawled darkly when she finally realized who was pegging her with the berries, “ Don’t ever get comfortable cuz that’s when I’ll get you.”

She glared at him, fingering the tender spot on her head where he’d beaned her, but said nothing. She was too far away to attack him and if she spoke to him then she lost face, so she just spun on her heel and stalked away.

In retaliation, he began bawling the crudest wizard songs he had ever learned at the top of his lungs.

He had just finished a rousing rendition of ‘my girlfriend has an every-flavored twat’ when he noticed she was crying very softly and that just ripped all the fun right out of it. The song died on his lips and he grumbled, shoving his hands in his pockets, and was quiet.

She stopped for lunch around noon and he left her to her own devices.

One thing he liked about the marsh was that there was always something to drink. Even if the land hadn’t been abundant with ponds and streams, there were always plants around filled with liquid.

There were several species of reeds that provided a sweet drink when you snapped the stem in half and sucked on the ends. There were flowers that formed perfect little cups and filled with nectar or caught rainwater. There were vine patches where melon gourds that you could poke a hole in and drink from like a coconut grew.

There were several watering holes around, most of them teeming with the local wildlife. Draco didn’t much fancy drinking after the deer had muddied up the water or having to fight his way past the big land tortoises. There were herds of them, big ugly guys with brutish personalities. They averaged three feet high, with shells four feet in diameter that were often covered with growing plants, large patches of weeds or even tall cattails so when they nested down in the fields and retreated into their shells they were camouflaged completely in the grass.

There was one pond that had no animals around it. Draco didn’t think anything of this other than a spot of good luck.

It was incredibly stupid of him. He had learned long ago to watch the animals for cues on what was going on. The fact that they wouldn’t go near that pond should have made his crazy-shit-o-meter go off ten different ways, yet he was oblivious.

“ Mal…”

For just an instant he thought he heard Hermione’s voice. He turned to find her standing a few feet from where she’d been sitting, as if she had taken a few steps towards him. She was biting her lip, worrying it between her teeth, peering at him with an odd expression. She opened her mouth to say something but then just huffed and turned away.

He blinked.


He stared at her for another heartbeat but shrugged, figuring he could work out her odd behavior later. Hell, maybe she was warming up to him.

The thought put a cocky grin on his face.

If she was going to start talking to him again then he probably shouldn’t make a big deal out of it or push her too hard. He’d just give her some space and let her come around.

Satisfied, and even a bit cheerful that Hermione might finally be ready to forgive him, he walked to the water’s edge.

The pond was deep and clear and blue and… almost too perfect, like a picture of water.

Frowning, he cautiously poked at it with his toe.

And met resistance.

It jiggled like jello.

What the hell?

He crouched down curiously, reaching down to poke at it with his finger. He didn’t seem to notice the sudden silence or that all the animals had turned to watch him.

Before his finger touched, the water sucked together with an audible slurp and a clear tentacle exploded upwards to wrap around his arm.

“ AAGH!” he wrenched backwards, jerking out of its hold and falling back on his butt. Before he could move, another tentacle was already whipping out to wrap around his leg. It looked like water, but it was moist and squishy, and definitely solid.

The entire pond rose up, slurping together into a shape like a gumdrop, a twenty-foot-tall gumdrop. Draco had a moment to stare as huge, black bowling-ball eyes rolled up into place in the clear, jello-y skin, and see in the very center of the thing a pulsing, pumping organ, like a heart, before the tentacles were wrenching him through the grass.

He screamed, flipping onto his stomach to claw at the ground. He found purchase and held on for dear life.

“ Granger!” he screamed, “ Granger! Help!”

But even as he said it, comprehension dawned on him. His eyes widened.


That look in her eyes...

She had almost called out to him. She had almost warned him. But she hadn’t. She had known this was going to happen…and she’d let it.

“ HERMIONE GRANGER YOU GET YOUR ASS OVER HERE AND HELP ME!” he screamed in panic as the creature behind him made some sort of huge blurbling water sound, and, unable to drag him any further, started to slowly slurp over the grass towards him.

Another cold tentacle wound around his other leg and he screamed.

He kicked and struggled against the watery ropes, trying to drag himself further away but the best he could do was just hold on.

A noise made him look up, and he saw Hermione standing some distance from him, an agonized look of indecision on her face.

“ Help me! Please!” he called, his voice cracking with terror,“ The knife! Use the knife!”

More tentacles twining around him in a chilly embrace.

Her face was pale, her eyes blank and shimmering with tears.

He pleaded, “ You can do it! Just draw the knife! Just…”

She turned from him and walked away.


Don’t worry she’s coming back, his brain babbled hysterically, she’ll come back. It’s not like she’d leave you…

She kept walking, disappearing into the herd of animals, some of which watched impassively as he struggled, others whom simply walked away.

The water creature started to pull him in, he could feel it, a thick rubbery skin that burst open to allow him in and then a rush of icy, watery insides surrounding his feet like a slushie. He kicked, flailed, screamed curses. It dragged him in up to the thighs, up to the waist. He tore at the ground, trying to claw his way out.

She’s coming back. Any moment now. She’ll be back…

And then the deeper, truer voice of despair.

She’s not coming back. She meant for this to happen and she’s not coming back.

He shut his eyes and clenched his teeth against the burning terror in his stomach.

She’s not coming back and it isn’t going to be all right. Nothing is, not ever again.

He was so stupid. He’d been in denial all this time.

He had kept telling himself that everything was going to be okay. He told himself that Hermione would forgive him and that they could both just forget what he had done. So he’d acted like nothing had ever happened while she silently nursed wounds that weren’t healing, hating him all the while.

She couldn’t forget and everything was not okay. Everything was not going to magically go back to normal. He’d been pushing and pushing and trying to put everything right back where it had been that day by the ocean. He had thought if he tried hard enough, she’d go back to petulant innocence and he would go back to grumbling and calling her Mudblood, as if they could somehow erase his attack on her and it would be like nothing ever happened. Like going back in time.

But some things can’t ever be fixed or replaced or ignored, some things can’t ever go back the way they were.

Like innocence.

She had made her decision. He was dangerous to her. He had humiliated her far worse than she had ever humiliated at him. He had sworn to kill her on several occasions. She believed what he had said and she wouldn’t let him do it. She’d get him first.

She’d see him dead even if it killed her.

He’d been such a fool.

The water monster pulled him in up to his chest. Then the rubbery skin rolled up around him and over his head, wrenching him all the way inside. He screamed soundlessly and then shut his mouth when it filled with water. He was floating, he was floating inside the big jelly monster’s belly. He would drown in here and then he would be digested.

He lost himself to panic, flailing mindlessly, not knowing which way was up, he couldn’t see past the fleshy skin. From the outside it had been clear but now it was like a foggy blue covering, like the outside world had disappeared, and it drove him further into panic.

His thrashing hand struck the skin and he grabbed onto it instinctively. When he realized what it was, he began tearing at it. The jelly monster bubbled unhappily and with his last burst of strength he ripped his hand through and pulled his head out into the open air. He coughed watery juices and sucked in a deep breath of air before water tentacles formed and pushed him back inside.

He flipped around and shoved off the skin with his feet, diving for the other side. This time he ripped purposefully through the skin in one blow and took two deep breaths before the water monster, shaking and quivering with fury or maybe pain, shoved him back in.

But his panic had receded now to purpose. He wasn’t a mindless animal to drown and die in here. He could swim and he could think.

Snarling, he lunged at the skin once more, tearing through and getting another breath before he pulled back inside of his own accord, kicked off the skin and swam right for the creature’s heart.

The pumping organ was slippery but solid. He tore the pericardial sac, the membrane covering it, off in one wrenching tug and then dug his hands into the meat of the organ viciously, clawing and ripping and biting at it.

The water monster began to jerk and convulse and bubble. Draco tore chunks out of the heart, snapping the translucent veins and connections, doing as much damage as possible. Something in the heart burst and black liquid spewed into his face, clouding the water.

The monster wailed.

Draco ripped the heart to pieces then swam desperately for the skin. He was out of air, he was out of strength. His vision hazed over, his head going woozy and his body going numb. He stopped struggling. He was sinking.

Without warning, gravity returned and he hit the ground like dropping out of the sky. Water burst over him like a water-balloon popping and flooded through the grass in a rush. Shocked, he flopped onto his back coughing and sputtering, dizzy with confusion.

Rising up on his elbows, he blinked rapidly, gulping in air. He was lying on the ground, sopping wet and covered with slime. The water monster was gone.

He’d killed it.

Grinning, Draco fell onto his back and passed out.

The show over, the animals around him flicked their ears in the equivalent of a shrug and went about their business.

He had no idea how long he was out. It had gotten cloudier while he was unconscious and he couldn’t see the sun, but he didn’t think it had been that long as his clothes were still sopped.

He had one thing on his mind: Hermione Granger.

She had left him to die.

He took off to find her.

She wasn’t that far away. She was standing under a willow tree next to what was obviously a REAL pond, with her head in her hands, crying. The wildlife gave her a wide berth, not liking the noise she was making.

Oh boo hoo, I killed Draco. He thought nastily. Not this time, bitch.

He tried to slip up on her from behind but she heard him coming and whipped around, knife out automatically to face whatever was creeping up on her. She went white when she saw it was him, her lips forming his name soundlessly. The look on his face must have been murder because she backed away, trembling, blade at ready.

“ Uh oh.” He mocked in a sing-song voice, “ Draco’s back.” His lip curled, “Someone really should have told you that when you kill someone, its important to finish the job right the first time or else bad things happen.”

“ I… I…” she stuttered, then stopped trying to say whatever she was choking on and swallowed hard.

“ You fucking bitch, you left me to die.” He whispered, not moving.

Her face hardened, becoming haughty and defiant, but she said nothing, just tightened her grip on the blade.

Rage snapped through his brain, overshadowing caution. “ You want to kill me? Here I am!” he lunged for her.

She almost forgot to use the knife, so surprised she was that he would attack her head on. She gripped the blade with both hands and brought it straight down. Power exploded out in a flash of gold but he was already dodging to the side. He prepared to throw himself at her again but checked himself when she stumbled back and fell to her knees, panting and shaking.

He stared at her, at the sweat beading her forehead, at the way she was heaving for breath as if she’d just run a marathon, and then he understood.

A slow creepy grin spread over his face.

Oh this was too perfect. Better than he had dared to hope.

“ You’re getting weaker.” He laughed

She went still, head snapping up to glare at him hatefully, terror glimmering just behind that arrogant mask of hers.

The knife was draining her energy after all.

He shook his head, still laughing, and backed off. He left her there and sauntered away, humming a tune.

“ W…where are you going?” she stuttered, an edge of desperation to her voice.

He continued on without answering, smile broadening.

There was no need to finish things just yet. In fact, now he didn’t need to lift a finger.

All he had to do was wait.

It had taken awhile but the knife was wearing on her just as it had worn on him. In a few more days she’d collapse and he’d be back in charge. He’d have the knife and she’d have to do what he said, if, that is, he decided to be nice and save her when the knife started to kill her.

She must have been hiding the weakness from him all this time, he realized. That’s why she kept him away, so he wouldn’t be close enough to feel the pull of its power. That’s why she watched him so carefully, and why she’d tried to get rid of him so badly.

Because in a few days she’d be completely at his mercy.

The thought made him extremely happy.

He was back on top.



The days seemed to be growing cooler. It was always foggy until early afternoon and then the sun might shine for a few hours or it might rain again. It rained a lot.

It was raining now.

Draco pulled one of the spare robes he had tied around his waist up over his head in a practiced motion, his eyes continuously scanning the little foresty area as he moved.

His quarry was very close and he had to be very careful or she would spot him before he spotted her.

That always led to trouble.

He ducked down behind a tree to consider his next move.

The cover ended here, at the edge of a sparsely wooded field. He’d be completely exposed as he crossed but there was no help for it.

He’d have to go at a fast walk. It wouldn’t do to run. Running was the surest way to attract attention. Besides, if he ran, the other animals would think there was a reason to run, which might inadvertently cause a lot of ruckus and then she’d know for sure that he was on her trail again.

He wiped his hand across his face, flicking away water.

The one good thing about the rain was that it decreased visibility.

He squinted across the field.

Of course that could always work against him.

When he didn’t see her anyway, he moved out into the open. He loped across the field, keeping close to the herds in an attempt to blend in but the animals were smart and new a hunting predator when they saw one, they cantered skittishly out of his way.

He was ten feet from the trees when something prickled at the back of his neck and some instinct made him look up and consequently saved his life.

She was up in the trees.

He leapt backwards automatically with a hiss, nearly panicking, ready to dart any direction until he realized he was out of her range. If she threw anything at him now he’d have time to dodge.

Breathing a bit shakily at how close that one was, he straightened with a grin.


Hermione snarled at him hatefully from her perch some fifteen feet above the ground. She was well hidden, tucked in between two branches, her robes blending into the shadows with the dark, wet bark of the tree, her brown hair further blurring her with the brown and red autumn leaves. In fact, it seemed a bloody miracle that he had spotted her at all.

Had he walked under her tree, she would have struck and he would have been dead before he even knew what happened. Had he walked by but been too far away for the blade to get him, she still would have been able to get behind him, follow him for however long she wanted and then ambush him.

Her little tricks were getting cleverer by the minute. He’d have to be more careful with her or one of these days she would skewer him like a pig.

She didn’t have much time left, and her growing desperation made her dangerous.

He liked to think of it as a Komodo dragon scenario. The Komodo dragon wasn’t very fast but it had a nasty bite. Once bitten, an animal could run all it wanted but it would eventually collapse from the bite, right into the Komodo’s path.

Hermione had been bitten.

He snapped his teeth at her.

Satisfied that he knew where she was, he gave her tree a wide berth and darted into the forest behind her, quickly losing himself amongst the trees. He got far enough away, crossed back over what he figured her path would be and headed around to get on the other side of her, then slipped back towards her tree.

She was climbing down when he got her back in his sights. There was no point in her staying up there any longer, not if she wanted another opportunity to ambush him.

He noticed with satisfaction that her movements were slow and very clumsy. He winced once or twice when he thought she might lose her grip and plummet to the ground but she managed to hold on and slide down till her feet touched the ground, even then her knees shook, she took two steps and fell.

If she was this bad off, there was no reason to prolong things.

“ I think you’re done, lioness.” He said grimly and stepped out of hiding.

She struggled in almost a panic to get up but dropped to her hands and knees,“ Get away from me!” she yelled hoarsely, panting as she grabbed onto the tree once more and firmly managed to haul herself to her feet, “ I’m fine!”

“ You must be really weak if you’re speaking to me again.” He taunted.

“ You come near me and you’re DEAD!” she screamed the last word at him, terror on her face as she searched desperately for some avenue of escape. She looked like a small, trapped animal.

“ Give me the knife.” He ordered calmly, moving closer very slowly.

She sneered at him, “ I’d love to give you the knife. The pointy side, right in the chest.” She fumbled the blade from its sheath.

It was glowing brightly, humming.

He kept a wary eye on the blade, though he wasn’t too worried about it in the condition she was in. “ I doubt you can even aim that thing right now.”

She giggled,“ Well, chest or groin, doesn’t matter to me.”

He felt a vague wash of amusement, “ Hermione…”

“ SHUT UP WITH THE NAME!” Pure rage.

He stilled cautiously, not liking the gleam in her eyes, “ If you keep on like this, the knife will kill you.” He told her calmly.

“ So I should just hand it over to you right? Piss off!”

He snorted, “ Have it your way. It doesn’t matter to me, either way, I’m getting it today.”

She slumped, her face crumpling but she staved off the tears. She took a shuddering, tearful breath and rubbed at her eyes. “And then you’re going to kill me right?”

He was silent.

She laughed, her face pale, sweat beading her forehead, “ You know, you were right about Harry, those things he said to me and the girls he’s with. I didn’t want to see it and even if I did have a chance with him now, I’m not sure I want one anymore.” She sobbed.

Draco kept quiet. She had told him that he had been babbling and crazy when the knife did this to him, but she still seemed rather coherent. Hysterical but coherent.

“ We’re not getting home, either of us. I’m pretty sure we’re going to die.” The pensiveness in her face washed away before a flood of dark hatred, “ But I’ll be damned if I let some wanna-be punk Death Eater kill me. I won’t let you do to me what they did to her. I’ll kill you first!”

The glowing light flared and the energy around the blade roared. The wind hit him like a slap in the face, blowing his hair straight back.

“ SHIT!” He staggered back, shielding his face. If she struck with that much energy, he wouldn’t be able to dodge. It would be like running from a freight train going 200 miles per hour. She might as well have been point-blank.

The animals in the meadow behind him bayed in fear and scattered.

He understood now that she had purposefully brought this on earlier than it should have happened, she was hoping to harness the energy and use it to her own benefit. But he knew from experience that the knife would take until there was nothing left. She was at her limit. She stayed standing for another heartbeat and then her eyes rolled up and she dropped like a sack of potatoes.

Draco lunged forward, falling to his knees beside her body, snagging a heavy stick off the ground. She was terribly white and the knife was blazing brighter. He grabbed her wrist tightly, noting the death grip she had on the hilt. He set the stick against her palm and literally pried the blade from her grasp.

It fell away, clanking to the ground and she slumped, going utterly limp. He let out a breath he hadn’t known he was holding.

The light around the blade began to die rapidly, the heavy rumble of energy dying to a weak whine.

“ No you don’t!” he snatched the knife up before the last of the light could fade.

The dagger practically combusted to life, fire roaring up his arm and he screamed in surprise. There was no pain, though his body insisted that that much heat should be excruciating. He grabbed his arm to steady it and he felt the fiery hooks sink into his soul. He gasped at the feeling of familiarity, and the next blast rocked him back, the flash of light blinding him, the grinding scream of metal like nothing he had ever heard.

He opened his eyes, ears ringing, and gaped.

It had changed again.

The hunting knife was gone, in its place was a pure silver blade, the hilt had a pebbled, spiral design and it took him a moment to realize there was a dragon curled around the hilt. The blade itself was ornate and wicked sharp, ending in a very fine point, the back jagged with several small spikes, the front curved cleanly down to below the center and then a curved indention and another spike coming from the base.

It was flashy, unnecessarily so, and it just screamed ‘Draco’. He grinned, ridiculously pleased, and then instantly frowned, remembering how this had happened last time and trying to sort his own feelings from whatever was coming off the knife.

It had changed but not just in shape. He could feel the change in energy. The heat was there as always but there was something twisted into it now, a cool swirl, a chaser of Hermione.

He waited to see if the blade might speak to him or something but, though he … Продолжение »
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