…felt the energy shifting back and forth like a bird flexing its wings experimentally, he heard nothing.

The stupid grin felt more like a smirk now. He wanted to test it out, see if there was anything different in the way it cut…

He shook off the feeling, knowing it was part of the blade’s enticement.

He pilfered the sheath from Hermione, attaching it back to his own belt and returning the blade to rest.

Then he turned his full attention on the girl lying still and pale on the ground, rain pattering down on her face.

He was silent a long moment and then he sighed deeply, releasing the pent up strain of the last handful of days, letting go of the screaming tension and need to be on guard every single second.

“ Okay, you.” He said, “ Lets find someplace to crash.”

He carefully scooped her up in his arms. They were both soaked and muddy but it mattered little.

She was so pale and her face was scrunched and worried even in unconsciousness.

Did she really suffer so?

“Spoiled rotten little brat crying around the silver spoon in his mouth while the rest of us are fighting for our lives. For our families lives!…. You go around hurting everyone else, trying to make our lives even worse, as if there wasn't a madman out to kill us all! Like its not hard enough just going to class everyday and acting like nothings wrong, like we don't need to spend every day trying to prove that we're worth something, that we have the right to live! I HATE YOU!"

What in all hells had happened to Gryffindor’s perfect princess? Things couldn’t be that bad for her, could they?

I won’t let you do to me what they did to her. I’ll kill you first!

What who did to who? Hell, did it matter?

Do you remember the other night, I told you I wasn't crying for the reason you thought I was?

" I was crying," she told him softly, " because I realized at that moment that I was going to have to kill you eventually.

What had it cost her to make a decision like that, a decision that went against everything she believed? He’d completely warped her.

“ I’m sorry.” He choked on the whispered words, “ I know you don’t believe me but I’m sorry. And I owe you…a debt of honor…so I’ll take care of you while you’re out, okay?”

He needed to find a safe place to stash her. It wasn’t really safe on the ground and he couldn’t haul her up a tree so his options were limited. He needed a hollow tree.

He wandered through the forest, not sure where he was going or if he’d find what he was looking for but, right at this moment, not caring. The fight was over and he felt calm and peaceful and he wanted to just enjoy the feeling.

She had tried to kill him. Yes, he was furious and yes he wanted to respond in kind, to punish her for her actions. It was natural for him. But he couldn’t help feeling, the more he thought about it, that it was a terribly childish reaction. It was all childish, Merlin, he was embarrassed when he thought of it, throwing berries at her head, pushing her because he was annoyed that she wouldn’t talk to him, singing crude songs without thinking of how it would affect someone recovering from…from…

Say it Draco, you bastard. Recovering from sexual assault. What--did you think she’d get over it in a single day?

Fuck it. He was such a…

Spoiled rotten little brat

One thing he had learned as the Slytherin King was that once in awhile a person had to take responsibility in order to get something accomplished or else it just never happened. That’s what he had to do now. He had to take responsibility for his actions. He had to stop this cycle of them each trying to hurt the other worse, because she wasn’t even trying anymore.

This entire time he had just been sitting back and letting her do all the work. He had goofed off and pestered her and made things as hard as he possibly could, knowing that she would work her ass off to keep them going. If he threw food into the river, she’d find more food, if he refused to carry his share of the load, she’d carry twice her share, if he were itchy, cold or uncomfortable, she’d go out of her way to fix it for him.

He could have kept it going until the very end, only he’d ruined it. He’d completely destroyed the girl he knew. She wouldn’t, or wasn’t able, or didn’t want to, pick up the pieces and get them back on the road. It was up to him if he wanted them to survive. And one thing he knew was that it was going to take both of them. He wasn’t sure when he realized it, but he was certain now.

If one of them died, the other would soon follow.

So he would watch over her and he would make it easy by telling himself it was a matter of honor and maybe it would be a start to making up for what he had done.

A hushed sound behind him, like a rush of wet leaves.

“ Ooo ehh..” a very low, almost mournful, grunt.

Oh hell no.

Rain Gorillas.

Why now… Of all the times, why now!

Panicked, he turned as slowly as humanly possible.

“Ooo ehh…” it was a slurring, stupid sound. A harmless sound, as harmless as the high trilling chirp of the field piranhas.

He concentrated but couldn’t tell how close the thing was. The grunting sound was purposefully deceptive. It would sound the same whether the creature was a hundred feet away or right on top of him. The creature itself moved so silently that not even the meadow deer would hear it until it was dangerously close.

He couldn’t see it. It wasn’t behind him. Screaming curses in his mind, he kept searching. He couldn’t move until he knew where the thing was, but he couldn’t afford to stay still as long as he was out in the open.

The shuffling sound came again and the hair on his neck stood on end.

Son of a bitch!

He turned slowly, shaking, and found two massive creatures not twenty feet in front of him.

They were big, man-sized and hunched over, walking on their knuckles like gorillas. When he had first seen them, he had thought they were gorillas. They looked like gorillas, moved like gorillas, sounded like gorillas, but then he’d gotten a very unfortunate, almost fatal, closer look.

Up close they were almost reptilian. They didn’t have fur, their skin was black and leathery, wrinkled like they had too much of it and it had to be bunched up to fit on their bones. Their faces were sickeningly man-like, with short blunt noses and grinning mouths with very large, blunt dogteeth. They had no eyes as far as Draco could tell, only black skin where their eyes should be, stretched thin and sunken into the sockets.

And they only came out in the rain.

They looked slow and stupid but he’d seen how fast and vicious they were. When they sensed prey they turned into screaming, rampaging pack hunters and tore apart their victim.

They were staring at him, directly at him with those sightless faces.

He didn’t think they could see him but it was hard to make his instincts understand that when those blank sockets where eyes should be were staring right at him. The real problem was that they could hear incredibly well. If he sneezed from two hundred meters away, they’d be on him in a heartbeat. Usually all he had to do to evade them was climb a tree or hold still, keep quiet and not do anything overly conspicuous and he would be fine unless one of them happened to walk right over him.

These two knew he was here. He could tell. They were both holding still and silent. He could see their nostrils working furiously. Could they smell him? One gorilla took a slow, rolling step towards him, sucking air in noisily through mouth and nose. He could see its black tongue tasting the air for his scent. The other dipped its head and began snuffling the ground.

Shaking, Draco very slowly began to lower Hermione’s feet to the ground. He had to free up a hand to get to the knife. The sound of fabric sliding on fabric seemed impossibly loud and both gorilla’s snapped their heads up and growled at him, lips drawing back from black gums and yellow teeth. He froze with both his hands still wrapped around her.


Both predator and prey held perfectly still.

The Gorillas took another step towards him and Draco began rapidly trying to think of an escape plan. He’d have to just drop Hermione flat on her ass and fight these things. He just hoped he could get them both before one of them got him.

He felt his own lips part in a feral smile and prepared to drop her, his hand itching to hold the knife again.

You’re dead.

Draco felt his ribs contracted in shock, because he could have sworn someone had whispered the words in his ear. He had felt their icy breath tickling his skin.

The temperature seemed to drop twenty degrees and he shivered as something went wrong with the light or his vision, and the color began to leach out of the world around him. He stared in fascination as everything faded to gray.

The chill reached inside him and his battle-eagerness drained away, he felt…he felt…

The world was like a black and white photo. There was no color left and he couldn’t bring himself to move. His body felt numb but not like he was paralyzed, numb because he suddenly didn’t care.

Something snapped behind him like a twig breaking. The Rain Gorilla’s stiffened excitedly at the noise and began lopping towards him.

He didn’t care. There was no reason to fight. There was no reason to live…

Soft laughter in his ears. The voice low but hurried with excitement.

Don’t worry. It’ll be quick. Just relax. Just sit quietly and let it happen.

He could feel it again, like someone was whispering just a breath away from his ear.

Sound seemed to slow and dull. His own heartbeat thudding in his ears began to slow. He felt empty, listless. All he could do was stare as the beast drew closer, already salivating in thick, slimy strands.

The God has been waiting for you…

The Gorillas caught his scent and shrieked in triumph. He felt his knees give and sank to the ground with Hermione still clutched in his arms, waiting for the beasts to free him.


The Gorillas halted their charge and wheeled, perking up like dogs who had heard their master call.

Color and warmth snapped back into the world and Draco gasped, clutching Hermione convulsively and wrenching around to face the sound.

A hundred feet from them stood a boy. He couldn’t really make out the boy’s features but he could tell he was around their own age. He had brown hair and was wearing black robes.

A wizard!

Draco felt his throat work, he tried to call out instinctively, excitement clawing through his chest but his throat still felt clogged.

“ OVER HERE! COME GET ME!” the stranger screamed with a wild whoop.

The Rain Gorillas shrieked and charged. The boy turned and ran into the trees, the monsters hot on his trail.


“ Kid!” it came out a thin, weak croak. Draco tried to scramble up, “ Wait!”

It was too late, whoever he was, he was gone.

Next Time: Lost, alone and wandless… nope, scratch the alone part. The natives are restless.

A/N: I know what you’re thinking…. And that’s too damn bad. Its my cookie.

Plug: Finally an HP fic!! Its actually an HG/SS fic, not my favorite pairing but the fic itself is GORGEOUS. The Twenty by Leyna Rountree

Other Notes:

A/N: sigh I love all my reviewers, even my hecklers and nay-sayers and those of you who review just to tell me I’m a bitch (someone has to love you, might as well be me) and I’d love to reply to you all, especially those of you who’ve been with me for a long time but whom I haven’t written anything to (I love recognizing return reviewers) but I’m sooo tired right now so I’m gonna post this and crash.

Disclaimer: I'm having the oddest sensation of déjà vu.

A/N: Heh. You guys are gonna hate me.

Um, I'm having a problem with someone pretending to be me, using my name and posting my stories as their own. I'm not going to say where cuz I'm trying to take care of the problem myself but I really appreciate the people who tipped me off and if worse comes to worse, I might just sic all of ya'll on them. I almost decided not to post this chapter just yet cuz I'm all leery and stuff of them stealing more, but there's no reason you guys should suffer cuz of someone else.

Chapter 16: Running Blind

Who made up all the rules
We follow them like fools
Believe them to be true
Don't care to think them through
I'm sorry, so sorry
I'm sorry its like this
I'm sorry, so sorry
I'm sorry we do this
Do you see what I see
Why do we live like this
Is it because its true
That ignorance is bliss
Excerpts from Jem "They"

He had never in his life appreciated the little things.

Not once had he ever thought 'well, I can't beat Potter at Quidditch but at least my stomach is full'. He'd never much dwelt on what it would be like without a roof over his head, or what it would be like to be constantly soggy and filthy, he'd never appreciated his rickety little bed at Hogwarts. He'd even complained that it was too small and that he was sick of sharing a room and raised all kinds of hell until Snape told him to shut up and deal with it.

Right about now he'd gladly cuddle Potter and Weasley like teddy bears if it meant he'd get to sleep in a warm bed at Hogwarts.

That brought him up short, eyes wide, a shudder between his shoulder blades.

I seriously cannot believe I just thought that.

Haha! I knew it! Homosexual tendencies! The snarky little voice that had taken up residence in his head due to lack of mental stimulation was beginning to sound suspiciously like a certain anal-retentive frizz-ball.

" Shut up." He muttered aloud.

Okay, so he wouldn't go as far as Potter-snuggling. He'd sleep in between Hermione and that Lavender girl and call it his burden. Heh.

His lip curled in a cat-like smirk.

Don't think about me like that!

" Shut up."

Draco shifted slightly, getting a better grip on his passenger as he climbed a small hill. The forest was back full force and thick enough so that he couldn't guess at what kind of terrain lay ahead of them in any direction. He was pretty sure they were heading into the mountains.

There were small, rubber-limbed monkeys swinging about above him, watching him with curious, stupid eyes, occasionally conking him on the head with things they'd picked off the tree and goggle-eyed lizards scuttling away where he tread.

Hermione was still unconscious and he was carrying her piggy-back style, her arms limp around his neck, cheek pressed to the back of his neck, he could feel her breath against his skin. This was easier than carrying her in his arms, her weight was spread out more and he could go for the knife faster. He was hoping he'd get her to their new hiding place before she woke up, which he thought would be fairly soon. He had no doubt that she wouldn't appreciate the position she was in, slung across his back, his arms under her thighs.

I'd smack you upside the head if I was awake.

He snorted. It wasn't like he had a much of a choice.

This was the second time he'd had to move her from their hiding spot.

The first time he'd moved her because, although the place was relatively safe, it was far from water and he had to go a ways off to find game. He didn't like leaving her alone while she was unconscious, not in this environment. There were wolves and Rain Gorillas, carnivorous boars and a mess of other predators around.

Worse, he could have sworn he'd seen the wyvern the other day. It had been far away, very far away, just like the first time he'd seen it. The similarity of the situation creeped him out, as if the wyvern knew where he was and was simply biding its time.

He'd had a horrible dream that night that he had come back from hunting to find the forest animals eating her, to see a lump of black robes, one small, delicate white hand motionless on the ground and the animals, a strange assortment, wolves, deer, Rain Gorillas, and rabbits, raising their heads leisurely to look at him with vague curiosity as if wondering where he had been and whether or not he was going to join them, their muzzles smeared with blood, and thicker things dangling from between their jaws.

He'd barely been able to leave her alone since.

Their second hiding place had been a small cave. In the end, the rocky hole was simply too cold and the area was absolutely ripe with Rain Gorillas. He did not want to get caught by them again, not after what happened last time.

He'd found a place on one of his scouting missions the other day that was perfect to stash her. A large hollow tree with a very small entrance, a stream nearby and several trees that he could swear he'd seen her use for protective purposes. Hopefully this would be their last stop until she woke up.

We're going the wrong way! The little Hermione-voice in his head said petulantly.

" Like it matters at this point." He muttered, "Besides, I can't use the compass and I doubt you'd appreciate me feeling through your robes to find it."

Hermione-in-his-head puffed up indignantly but didn't reply.

He'd spent the last several days bored and lonely, had fought off a brief bout of depression, and finally threw himself into taking care of her because it was the only thing to keep his mind occupied. He was tired. He was tired of feeling guilty for helping her and he was tired of feeling guilty for what he had done to her and he was tired of trying to figure out just how he was going to reconcile his actions with his life back home and he was tired of having no one to talk to and it was just so much easier not to think.

He had dreamed the other night of touching her body. He hadn't really remembered it much right after it happened, but it had returned to him in his dream in stark, sensory completeness, rasping his tongue across a pebbled nipple, the taste of her skin in his mouth, his fingers petting the nest of curls between her legs. He'd jolted awake, feeling sickened and horrified because he was horribly aroused, until he remembered that in his dream she had only whispered encouragement and threaded her fingers through his hair and that was even worse. He'd gone out that night and not slept again.

There'd been no sign of the boy who had saved them. After hiding her in a safe place, Draco had gone back to where they'd been attacked and tried tracking the boy down from there. He'd found nothing, not a track, not a trace.

Once Hermione woke, they'd go back the way the boy had run, compass be damned.

Once Hermione woke up.

There was another problem. He wasn't exactly sure how he was going to deal with her when she awoke. He had no idea what to even expect. Tears? Violence? Recriminations? Stony silence?

Attempted murder?

Whatever. He wouldn't worry about it. She had no choice now but to do what he said whether she liked it or not.

He sighed with relief when they reached their new hiding spot, his back was one giant ache from carrying her around so long. He groaned and tried not to drop her too hard as he slipped her off his back to the ground. He left her lying there as he slithered into the tree to check things out. Everything was the same as he'd left it, so he reached through the narrow entrance and pulled her inside.

He had filled the place with leaves the other day, most of them were dry now and he settled her on them and checked to make sure the spare robe he'd wrapped around her was secure. He was always worried that she was too cold, it was hard enough for him to stay warm and she wasn't awake to tell him if she was freezing to death. He covered her with more leaves then slipped out of the tree.

He filled his small cauldron with water and left it beside her, along with a small pile of fruits and an even smaller pile of nuts in case she woke up while he was out. He covered the entrance with another of his robes (the very last one), a rock to hold the bottom edges in place, then spared a small, precious bit of firestone to build a weak fire a few feet from the entrance in hopes of scaring off anything that happened by. He had yet to try to use fire on the Rain Gorillas, but he was fairly sure creatures that thrived in the rain wouldn't be too thrilled with flame.

The sun had shone a bit that morning but it was clouding over again already. He checked the position of the sun, barely visible through the clouds, and determined to be back before it started to rain, and left to hunt.

Game had been scarce lately. He couldn't decide if maybe the Rain Gorillas cleaned out all the small mammals or if maybe the animals here were smarter and avoided him.

An hour into his hunt and he'd not seen hide nor hair of any tasty little animals, though he had seen other predators slipping along his peripheral vision, keeping out of his direct sight so he couldn't tell what they were and what they were doing, hunting him maybe, though none ever approached. The sky was clouding over faster than ever and he had an uncomfortable feeling, vague but persistent, that he should head back to camp. He took a break when he found some fruit he recognized and stuffed a bunch in his pouch, noting that the fruit was full and ripe but hadn't been much nibbled on, which was odd, with so many tiny mouths to feed, fruit rarely survived long enough to get this ripe.

Thunder rolled ominously overhead and he watched the first spear of lightening streak across the sky. He stood there, entranced in the light show, counting the seconds between flash and boom. The thick clouds blanketed the sky, made the whole woods dark and gray, almost colorless. The wind picked up, sending goosebumps down his arms. He shivered and rubbed at his arm with his free hand.

The cold seemed to spike, he watched his breath fog out, and then everything drained away until he felt nothing, like all his senses had just switched off.


He blinked, slightly woozy and looked down at the red and peach speckled fruit in his hand.

It was gray. Nothing but gray.


A whisper of breath in his ear, the skin of his back crawling because something was there. Fear broke through the numbness and searched, eyes straining, for the source, seeing nothing but cold, gray forest. Even that last bit of fear was slipping away now and he grabbed at it desperately. He wanted to be afraid.

An icy hand clamped on his shoulder.

" Draco!"

He yelled and whipped around, knocking the hand away. He half expected to see Hermione there, half expected to see nothing at all. He wasn't prepared for what he did see.

" Hi."

Draco reeled back, face ashen, " What the hell?"

The other boy smirked.

" Who…who the fuck are you?" Draco rasped.

The boy's smirk widened to a grin, "I thought that was fairly obvious, dumbass."

" No…nononono…" Draco mumbled, looking around futilely for an escape route, which was ridiculous because you can't escape delusions created by your own mind.

The other boy's face darkened, " Snap out of it, cumbucket, we don't have much time."

That got his attention, he stopped searching for a random bush to leap into and locked eyes with the delusion," W-what?"

" I don't have much time to talk to you." The boy snarled, " Shut the fuck up and listen, this is important."

Draco shook his head angrily, pointing an accusing finger at the boy," You're a hallucination. Like the.."

" The antlion thing?" the boy cut him off with a cool drawl, " The antlion's enchantment didn't speak and certainly didn't interact with the physical world." The boy strode forward, ignoring the way Draco stiffened and snatched the fruit out of his hand, took a big bite out of it and threw the rest at his head.

Draco caught it reflexively, dumbfounded and stared stupidly between the bite mark and the other boy. The other…

The other Draco, the other him.

It was like looking into a mirror, a slightly distorted mirror. This Draco looked exactly like him except he was wearing black robes that were cut slightly different and made from something like rough wool while his own were processed cotton, this Draco was also notably cleaner and his long hair was slicked back in his old hairstyle.

" I still say you're not real." Draco sputtered angrily.

" I don't care what you think!" and now there was a thread of desperation underneath the anger in the phantom Draco's voice, " You have to listen to me! Something really bad is going to happen if you don't."

Draco was silent, not sure what to do. He only stared distrustfully at the other him.

" You saw the wyvern the other day." The other boy started and Draco felt a sharp jerk in his chest, but it didn't make him feel any better about this new Draco-Doppelganger.

" Yeah, so what…"

" It was far away, right?"

" You tell me if you know so much." Draco felt his chin jut up defiantly, then was instantly embarrassed because he knew it was a pose he'd gotten from Hermione. He coughed and ran a hand through his hair, trying to play it off.

" It can't get to you here." The other Draco went on calmly, "This land, this whole forest, is divided up into territories. This isn't the wyvern's territory and it can't come here to get you. It can't kill you unless you're on its territory."

" W-why not?"

" Because there is a monster here too and it defends its lands against the wyvern."

" Then…then we're safe here?"

" Oh no." the other Draco shook his head slowly, " The other monster already knows you're here. You've noticed, haven't you, that there are no animals to hunt? It's keeping them away from you. It's angry that you're on its land. It'll come for you soon."

Of course, how stupid of him, 'safe' had become a foreign concept ages ago. How dare he invoke it now, "Then what am I supposed to do?"

" Keep going the direction you went today. Keep traveling straight on as fast and as far as you can."

" But I'm going the wrong way. The compass…"

" Is taking you straight to the wyvern." The other Draco cut him off ruthlessly, " Didn't you notice how things just kept getting worse the further you followed that thing? Get rid of it! Take it from Granger and smash it."

Draco processed those words and then asked slowly," Will we make it in time if we travel the rest of the day? Hermione's still unconscious, it'll… what?" He trailed off at the look on the phantom Draco's face.

The other boy was shaking his head slowly, his expression grim.

Draco's blood turned to ice, a terrible feeling of premonition ghosting up his spine, "What?"

" You can't save her."

" What? What the fuck do you mean? Why the bloody hell not?" his voice rising, then sputtered, "Not that I'm interested in protecting the bleeding Gryffindor but I need her to get home. I…"

" She's going to die." The Draco-Doppelganger cut him off.

" …Shut the fuck up…" barely a breath.

" She's going to die and there's nothing you can do to stop it."

He couldn't breathe, " How?"

The other Draco's mouth tightened, " Knowing won't help. There is only one thing you can do for her, only one way to keep her from suffering…"

" What? What is it?" His voice was strangely clipped, strangled.

The other Draco looked up, looked him straight in the eye, " Kill her."

He stared. At first he thought he'd heard wrong and he waited but the words didn't change, then he thought it was probably a joke, but the look in the other boy's eyes was enough. He tried to speak but only choked.

" I know it sounds bad, but it's the merciful thing to do." The other Draco's voice was soft with commiseration, soothing and oh so reasonable," She's not going to live no matter what you do. She's going to suffer and die and be in pain. Kill her now in her sleep. She'll never know what happened. She won't feel a thing."

Draco swallowed, his throat felt like sandpaper, " I…I…"

" If you're a man, you'll do what has to be done to spare her the pain." And wasn't there just the tiniest edge of spite to that sentence.

The numbness was back, a great sweeping tide of cold like he was a thousand feet beneath the glaciers of the arctic sea.

" Be a man Draco, kill her." the other boy repeated in a whisper that seemed to slide along his brain, and echo deep in his skull, "Kill her."

Thunder boomed overhead, color and life snapped back into the world and Draco started as if coming out of a dream. He was frozen to the bone and completely disoriented. The wind was howling, rain pouring down in heavy sheets, he was soaked, water sluicing off him like he was standing under a waterfall and the other Draco was gone.

He took several deep, gasping breaths, trying to get his bearings. For a moment, he wondered if it had all been a hallucination and then he looked down at his hand and saw a speckled peach and red fruit with a bite out of it.

Draco tore his gaze from the fruit, wanting to look anywhere but at it. He looked up at the angry, broiling sky and didn't know what to do.


Hermione was having one of those dreams where she was outside her body, watching what was going on around her.

She saw her own body, apparently asleep (oh please not dead, please don't be dead), lying in a pile of leaves in a small, dark tree hollow. There was a boy kneeling down next to her. He was a stranger and she examined him curiously and without fear. He didn't look like anyone she knew from school. He was wearing black wool robes and had soft brown hair that fell into his face, covering his eyes.

" Hermione!" the stranger boy whispered loudly, desperately in her ear. He put one hand on her shoulder and shook her, " Hermione, wake up!"

He stopped shaking her to jerk a paranoid look over his shoulder as if expecting something big and nasty to be there, his mouth twisting nervously, then turned back to her.

" Hermione, you have to wake up!" he whispered urgently, shaking her unresponsive body harder, " Hurry! He's coming!"

Hermione started awake, flying upright with a little gasping cry. She sat for a heartbeat and then slapped automatically, reflexively at her shoulder, like slapping at a spider, half expecting to feel a hand there.

There was nothing.

She was horribly disoriented and achy, her throat parched and her head, throbbing dully, was fogged over and stuffy. Acting without thinking, she shoved the leaves off of her and tugged the extra robe off, throwing it to the side. She tried to stand and bonked her head hard on the low roof, falling back on her butt with a low cry of pain. It was dark and it only took a moment to realize that she was in a tree hollow. It was thundering, low and growling outside and starting to rain, soft but slowly pelting harder.

She found the cauldron of water not far away and drank deeply, coughed as some went down the wrong pipe and then took it slower, taking smaller sips. She splashed her face and washed her hands and grabbed at the fruit, stuffing the first piece into her mouth voraciously. The sweet, tart juice burned her throat but it was good.

She sank down against the cobwebby tree bark, a fruit clutched in each hand, and tried to remember how she got there because she was very very blank on the whole matter. The minute she wondered, it was all terribly clear. There was only one explanation.

Malfoy. She fought Malfoy and he won. He must have brought her here. She patted at her side and found the knife was indeed missing. Fear crept through her veins like spiders up her arms.

Why did he bring her here? Why was she even still alive? She'd tried to kill him, surely he'd want her dead now.

Unless he was going to hurt her first…

She set the fruit down slowly, the pulp suddenly thick and tasteless in her mouth.

She had no doubt his revenge was going to be awful.

She had to get out of here!

Heart thudding, she slipped to the small entrance of the hollow, moving the soaked robe covering the opening to the side to peer out. It was cold and rainy and she didn't see Malfoy anywhere. Maybe he was off hunting or something. With the weather this bad though, he was probably on his way back.

Shivering, she grabbed the other robe, the one she'd woken in, and tucked it around her before creeping out of the hollow. She cringed as she stepped out into the open but Malfoy did not suddenly appear out of nowhere and pounce on her. He wasn't there.

She ran.

She didn't know where she was or which direction she was going, she just fled blindly, determined to put as much distance between them as possible. She was still slow and kind of stiff and probably not thinking clearly, but at least she had a head start.

Wait! The compass!

She dug it out, checked the pointer and decided to veer a different direction. He would expect her to go the direction of the compass, that is, if he decided to come after her.

Would he come after her? Could he find her if he did?

Before the wetlands, she would have thought it would be impossible for him to find her if he didn't know which direction she had gone, but he had shown an uncanny ability to track her. If he was still mad, he'd come for her. Though really it would kind of be redundant at this point. She had no knife, no supplies, no way to defend herself. She was a sitting duck.

She wasn't sure how long she ran, skidding in the mud, falling twice, panting weakly though she refused to stop, no idea where she was headed.

She had just scuttled over a fallen tree branch, the skeletal limbs snagging her robe and refusing to let go, when a giant white wolf stepped out of the woods in front of her and went still as it spotted her.

Eyes huge, she flinched backwards, tearing her robes free, then froze up, remembering it wasn't good to run from wild animals.

The animal regarded her with pricked ears, body language tense but so far non-threatening. She could see its nose twitching.

It was big, bigger than any wolf should be and she automatically began mentally skimming through a list of wolf species that were dangerous to humans: wargs, werewolves, fire jackals, wind bears, dire wolves, crocotta, garms and vores.

Just hold still, She told herself firmly, Show it that you mean no harm and that you aren't afraid and it'll go away.

" Go away." She said the last part very softly, not sure if she should look it in the eyes or not because looking it in the eyes was a challenge but she didn't want it to get the idea that she was weak in any way either.

The animal's head perked up slowly and then its ears folded back and its lips pulled away from large, glistening white fangs, its face wrinkling in a snarl, a rumbling growl starting in its chest.

" Go away." She repeated in a whimper, feeling herself shaking, taking a careful step back.

The growl escalated.

Okay, it doesn't like to be told what to do. She thought shakily.

She took another step back.

With a sound too terrifying to be called anything but a roar, the animal lunged.

Hermione bolted, shrieking in alarm, flying in blind panic through the trees. She didn't dare look back, was too terrified and too focused on running to try and find a tree to climb. The rain blinded her, muffled the sound of pursuing paws. She nearly fell, slipping in the mud, her arms windmilled as she caught herself, knowing if she went down it was all over. She kept running.

She zigzagged through the trees, ducked under a huge fallen tree that was propped up on something and laying almost completely sideways, scaled a small ridge, chanced a look back and saw only empty forest behind her.

The surprise caused her to fumble to a walk, breathing hard, looking about in all directions, but there was no white blur of fanged death careening towards her. Deciding not to chance it, she set her jaw and ran…

…right into Malfoy.

She nearly bowled him over and when hands grabbed onto her she tried to scream, but he locked a hand over her mouth, whipped her around, slammed her back against his chest, and backed them up until his back was against a tree. For an instant she was too stunned to fight and then she started clawing at his hands, not sure if she was going to scream because it was Malfoy who had hold of her or because there was a man-eating wolf somewhere around.

Malfoy shook her roughly, " Knock it off!" he hissed in her ear. He sounded absolutely furious and she went still, heart sinking.

She waited, but no wolf appeared. Maybe it had seen Malfoy and ran off or maybe…

" Ooo eeh."

She felt herself slump in his grasp.

Of course. Why not? It wasn't like things weren't bad enough, they just had to get worse. Thank you oh so much Mother Nature.

" Just hold still." Malfoy whispered.

Was he going to feed her to them? Being eaten alive was pretty high up there on her 'worst ways to die' list. He had to know that.

The minutes ticked by but she saw nothing and heard only the occasional distant grunt of the Rain Gorillas. Malfoy swore softly in her ear.

" Damn things. We'll be here all night." He breathed. His voice hardened "I'm going to let go of you. You move an inch and you know what will happen." He threatened softly, squeezing her slightly in added warning.

She nodded against his hand.

He released her and she jerked away from him, though not daring to move too far away. He ignored her in favor of digging around in the mud for some fist-sized stones. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye as she sidled around the tree, a brief warning glare, before he started chucking the rocks at a tree some distance away. He missed once or twice but when the rocks hit, they made a dull 'thunk' sound.

Hermione had enough time to figure out that he was trying to attract one of the gorillas, which meant he really was going to feed her to it, and to start to wonder if she had a chance if she just ran, when his hand flew out and caught her arm.

" There." he whispered, he wasn't looking at her.

One of the Rain Gorillas came bounding into view and pounced on the place the rocks had hit, feeling around with its hands and even stuffing a rock in its mouth automatically before realizing what it was and spitting it out, the expression of disgust on its hideous face almost comical.

" Gotcha." Malfoy whispered. He unsheathed the knife and the Gorilla looked up at the soft metallic sound.

The beast cocked its head and Malfoy swung the knife. The Gorilla stood up on its hind legs in alarm just before the blast of energy sliced into it and then it was rolling around on the ground, squealing, one arm held on by only a thread of flesh.

There was instant pandemonium.

Three more Rain Gorillas barreled onto the scene and mobbed the fallen Gorilla in a cannibalistic frenzy, screaming and slashing at each other and tearing at the hurt one. The noise was deafening. They flailed wildly, leaping around, howling like mad things, beating at the ground, at their chests, at each other, one of them picked up a large tree branch and began swinging it around blindly, trying to club its fellows.

Oddly the thought came to her that she had been to one of these kinds of parties before. It had involved, unsurprisingly, the Weasley twins' 18th birthday party, Marcus Flint, who hadn't been invited, unceremoniously crashing with several of his buddies, and an extravagant amount of hard liquor. It had then deteriorated to a scene much like this, and included Harry and Ron puking their guts up in the background because they'd never drank before and her clucking over them and telling them 'I told you so' as the "designated medi-witch" for the night.

She was suddenly sorry she'd made such a big deal out of it, but not sorry that she hadn't gotten drunk with them. She wanted that memory in its untainted, unblurred completeness. She wanted that memory of being happy and safe, of dancing with Fred and George, and dumping out every glass of 'punch' Marcus Flint brought her because she knew it was spiked because he'd been terribly obvious about it, laughing and shrieking when the boys stripped down to their underwear, completely unselfconscious in their drunken stupor, to jump in the lake, Ron throwing her over his shoulder and jumping in, and the warm, quiet morning after, doctoring and fussing over Harry and Ron when they woke up.

She wanted to be there. She wanted it back. She wanted to go home!

Malfoy slumped against the tree weakly, breathing hard, but kept a solid grip on her when she tried to jerk away. He sheathed the knife, keeping his eyes closed and seeming to focus on regaining his strength. She waited a full minute, docile in his grasp, and then wrenched back as hard as she could. She very nearly slipped free and he fought to retain his hold on her. There were several seconds of silent tussling and then he locked one arm around her middle, and wrapped the other around her throat.

She could feel him trembling with exertion. If she struggled just a bit more…

" Do you have a death wish?" he hissed in her ear, outraged, and tightened the arm around her throat.

She gulped and went still, struggling to get enough air.

He kept her in that position and began walking them backwards slowly and quietly. The Rain Gorillas too distracted by their own noise to hear the two humans slipping away.

When they were far enough away, several minutes later, Malfoy released her throat and grabbed her arm, dragging her uncaringly through the forest without a word, jerking her so that she stumbled. His body language was barely leashed fury, he looked fit to rip something apart and she didn't dare draw his attention any more than she already had. She could struggle, but to what end? She was too slow to evade him, noise would draw the attention of the Rain Gorillas and he might just punch her or knock her out to keep her quiet. So she stayed silent.

He led them unerringly back to the hollow tree she awoke in, how, she had no idea, unless she'd been out for long enough for him to become familiar with the area.

It was still raining pretty hard as he pulled her to the hollow tree and fairly slammed her against it.

" Get in." he hissed, voice deadly.

There was no way in hell she was willingly going to crawl into that tiny space with him. He must have seen it in her eyes because he grabbed her before she could bolt and started to shove her through. She began kicking and screaming, not caring anymore if they attracted the Gorillas, and knocked him a good one in the jaw before he grabbed her shoulder, twisted her arm behind her back and painfully maneuvered her inside. He shoved her away from himself, keeping his body between her and the exit.

" Knock it off! I'm not going to hurt you!" he screamed, touching his face where she'd scratched him," Shut up before you bring every freaking Rain Gorilla in the forest down on our heads!"

She froze up, quieting, on her knees in the low, dark hollow, waiting in terror for his next move.

She didn't have long to wait.

He rubbed at his jaw distractedly, frowned at the blood that came away on his fingers, waited to see what she would do and, when she did nothing, he lunged at her, grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her roughly.

" What were you thinking?" he roared, " I came back here and you were gone! I thought the animals had gotten you!"

" Leave me alone!" she wailed and was surprised when he released her, grumbling, sliding back to sit next to the entrance, blocking her way out.

There was silence. They sized each other up.

She waited and waited but he didn't move again.

" What are you going to do?" and she hated herself for the quiver in her voice.

"I'm not going to hurt you." He repeated coldly.

To her own surprise she giggled a little breathlessly, a little hysterically, at his declaration, " No? You should. If I was you, I'd kill me while I had the chance."

" I know." He growled.

" Then do it!" She jeered, not at all sure why was she was stupidly egging him on.

He said nothing, his face set in hard, angry lines.

" I left you to die!" her voice was rising, the words hate filled. She couldn't seem to stop herself. It was like her mouth was going despite her brain's frantic commands to shut up," I wanted you to get killed. I would have danced on your rotting corpse!" she spit the words because they were vile on her tongue.

She was tired of waiting. She had been terrified out of her mind for so long. His revenge was inevitable now and waiting for him to do something, wondering what he was going to do, was worse than the fate she had already resigned herself to.

" I know." He said, softer this time.

" Then why don't you kill me? Beat me up? Rape me?" she screamed at him, breathing too hard, " That's what you're supposed to do! You were born and bred to do it! So do it! Be a man, Draco!"

He visibly flinched, looking for a moment as if she'd slapped him, " Shut up."

She sniffled and then couldn't stop, and wanted to just bury herself alive for the shame of crying like a child in front of him. She covered her face with her hands and wailed, rocking back and forth. She hadn't cried for what he'd done, for other things but not that. Not then, not afterwards. It was the bitterest gall that everything she was so proud of keeping pent up tight would come pouring out now, in front of him.

" Shut up!" Cold, ruthless. Then, " Don't. Please." It was choked and ragged and just shocking enough to make her look up at him. He wasn't looking at her, his face was turned away but there was no ridicule or scorn on his face, just horrible guilt, " I'm sorry."

Her mouth twisted into a snarl. How dare he…

" I don't believe you." She hissed. How dare he apologize! What a stupid, gutless fool to think he could say those words now and that they would mean anything more than dog shit.

" I know."

" I left you to die."

He gave a short, harsh, bark of laughter," Then we'll call it even."

She shook her head slowly," I don't trust you and I won't forgive you and I'll kill you if I ever get the chance."

" Yeah." He murmured sounding distant. He finally looked at her, hesitated a long moment and then said," I swear on the pureblood of my father that I'll never try to hurt you like that again. I don't care how angry you make me, I won't ever hit you or…or hurt you, okay?"

His face was so sincere. She wanted to smash it in.

She opened her mouth to tell him where he could stuff his promise but reason randomly reinstated itself in her brain and she decided that if he wanted to believe his promise, or was going to pretend to be nice to trick her into believing it, then it was better not to antagonize him.

If there was a chance she'd live through this, she'd take it.

" A lot of things happened while you were unconscious." He said when she didn't reply.

" What happened?" she asked, giving him the outing and the pretense that she accepted his words.

" I saw a person." He told her about a boy who'd saved them from the Rain Gorillas and about how he'd tried to find him.

She processed his words dubiously. It was hard to believe that there was another person out here and that this kid would just show up randomly out of nowhere and then desert them again. Maybe it was like that weird old man they'd seen. Had that even been real?

Malfoy was either seeing things or lying. Without being there herself, she had no way of knowing for sure.

He kept talking and she tried to listen but could hardly focus on what he was saying.

What was he trying to pull? Why was he acting like this?

He'd tried to rape her, and she'd tried to kill him and now they were both acting like nothing had happened because she didn't want to break him out of his delusion. This was stupid. Did he really think she would believe he had just miraculously forgiven her?

But then he hadn't said a word about forgiving her had he.

" Are you listening to me?" he broke into her thoughts impatiently.

" No." she answered honestly, hollowly.

He made a disgusted sound, "We're leaving the minute it stops raining. " his voice hardened to the cold tones she was used to, " We'd leave now but we'd get cornered by those damn Gorillas and have to sit up a tree all night. We might as well wait here where it's dry."

They both sat awake all night. Her afraid to close her eyes, afraid to take her eyes off him. Him sitting stubbornly by the door, grimly knowing if he shut his eyes, she'd be off like a shot, Rain Gorillas or no.

Despite the debilitating fear, she felt physically better than she had in days. She hadn't slept well since before that first night in the wetlands when he'd tracked her down after she'd been so sure she'd lost him.

When she stood there and thought she was finally free of him, she had felt safe, secure, like a huge weight was off her shoulders. That's what Malfoy was, a burden.

She wouldn't feel guilty about it. She had done what she had to do. She had been gracious and left him alive, she had even wished him luck as she strode away. Maybe he'd make it out, maybe he wouldn't. It was no longer her problem.

Either he was an incredible tracker or her trail was so obvious that anyone could follow it because he found her. Every time she tried to leave him, he found her.

Against her better judgment, against cold, hard rationalism, she'd spared his life after he attacked her and spent nearly a week in constant terror because of it.

He wouldn't leave her alone, had returned to hunt her down day after day and she could feel the knife wearing on her with every step she took. She had known from the beginning that her strength would eventually wan and run out and then she'd be completely at his mercy.

And she couldn't do it. She couldn't suffer that horror and humiliation again. She wouldn't.

She would rather have the blood of an innocent boy (man) on her hands then give him another opportunity to hurt her. To rape her and maybe kill her afterwards.

If she left him alive everything she had nightmares about would happen. She'd be too weak to even lift a finger against him once the power of the knife had run its course.

So she started planning his death, unable to just turn around and give it to him and that was another mistake, wanting him to fall to his death accidentally when she had so many opportunities to simply take his life herself.

She still held back. She hoped he'd lose her trail, hoped he'd eat something poisonous. Not that anything she showed him was so poisonous that he would die, just make him sick enough to get her further away from him.

She had spent those days alone reliving the attack, unable to relax because he was always nearby. She thought constantly of the pictures of her beautiful cousin, bloody and naked and superimposed her own face on the twisted body in her mind in order to harden her heart against him.

He hadn't done it. He hadn't been there when her cousin died. But he'd made it damn clear he would do those things to her, maybe instinctively, maybe it was in his blood. Maybe they were all just animals and Death Eaters were bred to attack Muggle-borns.

He had said she wasn't human. But what was a human? Just another type of animal pretending to be more. Or less, because what animal ever killed another for hatred, for simple bigotry?

Giving him to the water monster had been the hardest thing she'd ever had to do in her life. It was premeditated murder. She nearly called him back about a hundred times but by then it was too late for either of them. It was him or her.

And she had done the right thing.

It would have been wrong to sacrifice her own life because she was too squeaky clean to take responsibility for his death. In the long run, there were more lives involved then just her own.

She had decided as she watched him walk away that she would tell Dumbledore what she had done when she returned. She would surrender herself to the Aurors and confess completely. Let them do with her as they would, she would live and die with the knowledge that Draco Malfoy would never don a white mask and kill Muggles as his father had done and his father before him.

There was no morality in war. Most of the time it wasn't even fair or just or right. But you can't not fight. That's what she had learned. You can't just stand there and scream for peace and hope that someone will listen. It doesn't solve anything and you end up being a pawn for whoever can use you.

Just like Moody had wanted to use her.

Malfoy hadn't died and so her greatest sacrifice, her greatest betrayal of her own self, had been for nothing at all and what was there left to do but run and run, even as she slowly lost her strength. He'd cornered her and she'd seen her death in his eyes and she'd prayed that her last blast of power with the knife would kill one of them. At that point, she hadn't cared which.

Like so many other things, it was too much to ask.

And here she was now, subject to his strange mercurial whims.

How long would this penitent face last, she thought staring into those slate-blue eyes. How long before he got violent again?

It was hours before dawn when he shoved some fruit at her.

" Eat, we're leaving."

" It's dark out." She murmured, accepting the fruit, noting that he must have picked these himself.

He was learning. The thought shot a chill through her.

" It's not raining anymore and obviously neither of us are going to get any sleep." He muttered, getting to his feet, dusting himself off before heading out, " I'm going to take a leak, don't you dare move from this spot."

" I have to go to the bathroom."

" Then be back in two minutes or I'll hunt you down!" he snapped over his shoulder.

She stuffed another piece of fruit in her pocket and, noting the direction he went, headed the opposite way. She almost didn't go back. She stood there in the pitch darkness and almost just ran for it but then decided it would be better to put him at ease and slip away when he wasn't ready to come down on her like the hounds of hell.

He was waiting angrily and impatiently at the campsite when she stepped out of the brush, and visibly relaxed when he saw her. Before she realized his intention, he grabbed her wrist and started hauling her through the trees.

" Did you even wash your hands?" she blurted out in disgust, and then wished it were light out so she could see the shocked and embarrassed expression on his face, " Let go of me!" she tried to twist her wrist from his grasp.

" Shut up." He wrenched her forward.

He led her nimbly through the pitch-black forest while she stumbled blindly.

" Do you even know where we're going? How can you see?" she panted, he was wrenching her along at a fast pace.

" We have to get the hell out of here." He whispered, " Keep your voice down."

She shut up and then she could hear it. Rustling, the soft pad of feet. There were things out there in the trees.

" Malfoy." She whispered seeing several sets of eyes glinting at them from the darkness.

" I know. I see them." He murmured and drew the knife. It let off a pale light, humming in readiness, not nearly enough to illuminate anything, but enough to make her feel better.

" Oh!" she whispered, staring at the blade.

" Yeah, it changed again." He said shortly. He raised his voice, addressing the things in the darkness," Keep back or I'll kill you. We're leaving your land as fast as we can, so just stay away."

The eyes circled them. A twig snapped far to their right, a sharp deliberate sound. Were they intelligent? Was that why Malfoy was speaking to them?

" What are they?" she breathed, unconsciously pressing closer to Malfoy when the eyes at her back crept closer to her.

" I don't know. They're hiding themselves from me." His voice was grim.

" We should have just waited for morning."

" No. They want us out of here."

She was quiet for a long time, long enough for the sky to brighten with predawn light and cast a misty blue tint to the world around them, long enough for the creatures that followed them to scuttle off to hide from the day. Malfoy relaxed, sheathing the knife, but didn't let go of her until they found some water.

" Rest for a minute." He ordered and fairly flung her hand away from him and disappeared into the trees.

She contemplated running from him but was still standing there contemplating it when he returned. He gave her a withering look and she blinked, not sure what she'd done to deserve it.

" Wolves?" she asked.

He started, practically jumping out of his skin, " What?" he asked sharply.

" Last night, could it have been wolves?" she hastened to explain, " I saw a wolf the other day, before you found me. It tried to attack me. And when we were…um…in the wetlands, I could hear them howling sometimes."

" Wild wolves don't attack people." He said in a clipped, cold voice and turned away from her, dismissing her.

Her jaw dropped, "What? Are you saying I'm lying?"

He gave her a half-lidded gaze over his shoulder, "Maybe exaggerating." He shrugged," Wolves have a bad reputation because of stupid people but wild wolves don't usually attack people. It's only when they're rabid, starving or have lost their fear of people, that they're dangerous. If there are any wolves around here, you can bet they've never seen people before."

" Well this one almost had me for lunch!" she insisted loudly.

" Then you must have pissed it off." He said carelessly, walking over to put his foot up on a log so he could tie his muddy, bedraggled shoelace, " You don't exactly fit the description of their usual prey."

" It might not have been a regular wolf! There are plenty of types of wolves that would eat you as soon as look at you! Wargs…"

The shoelace snapped and he frowned, tossing the soggy … Продолжение »
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