… we can do tonight. We need to get home and get some sleep."

" Get some sleep?" Harry shouted, "While Hermione's out there alone and terrible things could be happening to her? Just leave her out there?"

Ron threw his head back and started laughing hysterically, "If Hermione were here." He laughed, "She'd tell us exactly what to do, exactly where to look."

" Draco Malfoy did something to her." Ginny snarled, "I say we get some friends and pay a visit to the Malfoy mansion."

Harry whirled on her, eyes narrowing, "I agree."

" The mansion has already been searched." Mr. Weasley broke in quickly, "So has the Burrow."

" Oh I bet mom loved that." Ron muttered.

" We need to go home. Tomorrow we'll start…" he trailed off, head snapping up as someone approached them.

" So they searched your…burrow?" Lucius Malfoy's lip curled, "Not much work overturning a rock, not enough room to hide my son there either."

" What have you done with Hermione?" Ginny hissed.

" The Mudblood?" Lucius smiled, "I can't say I'm sure what happened to her. But then that's what makes this whole situation so exciting, the not knowing." He lowered his voice, "Maybe my son killed her in one shot…or maybe he let her linger."

Harry’s breath hitched as something inside him shattered.

He lunged, blinded by rage, blinded by sudden acid tears, "You twisted son of a bitch!"

Mr. Weasley grabbed his arm but Harry lurched out of his grasp when Arthur tried to intercept the charging Ron and Ginny as well.

Lucius' whipped his wand out but Harry grabbed the blond man’s wrist with one hand and slammed him against the alley wall with the other. Instantly, several people were hauling Harry away from the man and Harry was struggling madly, trying to keep a grip on Lucius' throat.

" You bastard!" Harry screamed, " I'll kill you for this! I'll kill you!"

“ Glad the Daily Prophet’s not around to hear that, you idiot!” wheezed Moody somewhere behind him.

Harry growled and surged forward.

There was scuffling as the men tried to keep a hold of Harry then suddenly two hands were placed gently on his shoulder.

" Harry, I must ask you to remain calm."

" Dumbledore…" Harry was surprised enough that the fight drained from him and he felt himself go limp, breathing hard. When had Dumbledore arrived?

" Violence on your part against Lucius will not help our case against him. I know this is hard on you but I need you to go home for the night and get some rest."

" But Dumbledore, I can't! I can't leave her! She’s… Hermione… She’s my family, she’s… Even…" his breath shuddered, and his voice cracked on his next words, "Even if she's gone, I can't leave her lying out there somewhere."

" Harry," Dumbledore said softly, leaning down to speak close to Harry’s ear, " Hermione is not dead."

Harry stiffened." Hermione…is okay? She's alive? Do you know where she is?"

" Shhh. Shhh, Harry. Unfortunately, I do not know where she is." Dumbledore whispered slowly, "But I know she is alive. I always know when it comes to my students.”

“ The Ministry isn’t helping. They’re not even taking it seriously!”

“ But I am.” He squeezed Harry’s shoulders comfortingly, “Go home and rest Harry. You must trust me and you must remember that Miss Granger is an extraordinary young woman. She is self-reliant, independent and stronger than any of us give her credit for. It is only a matter of time before we find her. I promise."


Pansy smoothed her robes with determined resolve, took a deep breath and knocked on the expansive door to the luxurious Malfoy Mansion.

After finally getting away from the disaster in Diagon alley, She and Millicent had spent the night at Blaise’s. The girls had talked late into the night and slept well into early afternoon.

They found the Daily Prophet and a stack of letters waiting for them when they awoke. The story had made front page: Hogwarts Students Missing!

Under the headline were two photographs. One was a large family portrait of Draco, Lucius and Narcissa in expensive dress robes. The photo family looked distressed by the title of the article but the portrait Draco seemed to be enjoying the attention anyway. He gave the girls a cocky smile that oozed charm.

Millicent snorted. Photo Draco stuck out his tongue.

The other was a photo, obviously taken at Hogwarts, of Hermione Granger wearing school robes, one arm around Harry Potter and her other arm around someone, most certainly Weasley, who had been hacked out of the photo by the newspaper editors. The photo Granger and Potter were glaring at the Malfoy family and trying to squeeze as far away from them as possible. Weasley’s chopped arm was waving frantically and trying to keep a hold of Granger.

Disappointingly, the whole article was actually pretty vague, saying only that two Hogwarts students had disappeared from Diagon alley within hours of each other and that anyone with information should contact the Ministry. Granger was listed as Hogwarts’ Head Girl, top student and Harry Potter’s long time girlfriend. Draco was listed as a bright, cheerful Slytherin prefect and the son of the esteemed Lucius Malfoy. The article pretty much painted the two as angels, it didn’t mention that Draco and Granger were long time rivals who hated each other and would kill each other if given the opportunity.

The possibility that they were kidnapped was mentioned but to everyone’s shock there was no actual finger pointing. The article then went on to describe in great detail how devastated Harry Potter was at this latest blow to his already shattered life.

All three girls were furious that the Golden Boy was getting publicity out of Draco’s disappearance.

The pile of letters had been from various Slytherins, all wanting to know what the hell was going on. Pansy wasn’t too surprised when she found among the pile a letter from Lucius addressed to her. The note was short and to the point saying only that he had information about Draco and that she was to meet him that afternoon for tea.

The idea did not appeal to her. She didn’t like Lucius, didn’t trust him. And while she didn’t actually believe he was any danger to her (he really didn’t have any reason to be), she certainly didn’t want to chance it. But in the end, her desire for information about Draco won out. She didn’t tell Blaise or Millicent where she was going, Millicent would tell her not to go and Blaise would insist on accompanying her, but she did owl a note to Sky telling him what was going on.

Button would keep it quiet.

Now she could only wonder what Lucius had found out. If Draco had been found he would have said so…or would he? Had Draco contacted him?

The huge, oak door swung open without so much as a creak and a scraggly House-Elf bowed, eyes downcast and led her into the house. Pansy had only been in the mansion a few times. It was massive and extravagant, immaculate. Privately, she thought it was sort of silly to have such a big house for just three people.

Pansy’s shoes clapped loudly on the hard floor, echoing. The House-Elf led her through a long conference room into a small private study. The room was cheery in a detached, deliberate sort of way and large enough not to make her feel closed in. She noticed a teapot and two cups filled with tea sitting on the desk. Lucius stood behind the desk, looking through some papers. He looked up when they approached.

The House-Elf bowed and squeaked, “ Miss Parkinson, Master.” Before beating a hasty retreat.

Lucius set the papers down and straightened to his full, and impressive, height, eyeing her with arrogant distaste.

Pansy, usually outspoken, felt the words stick in the back of her throat.

Okay, so she practically ran Slytherin House single-handedly and there wasn’t a pack of first-years, a prefect or a professor anywhere who could outmaneuver her and technically she had the biggest band of badasses in Hogwarts at her beck and call…but private meetings with the Dark Lord’s second? This was big-girl time. And she was suddenly wondering if she wasn’t in over her head.

The door slammed shut behind her.

“ How good of you to come, Miss Parkinson. Have a seat.” Lucius ordered.

Uncomfortable, and getting angry because of it, Pansy sat down in the chair in front of her, still at a loss for words.

Lucius sat down in his chair and set one of the cups of tea in front of her.

“ Have something to drink.” He said curtly.

Pansy looked down at the tea then back up at him with her eyebrows raised.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

“ I’m not thirsty, thank you anyway.” She said with exaggerated politeness.

Lucius smiled, sweetly patronizing, “ I’m not trying to hide what I’m doing, you little bitch. We both know what’s in that cup. I just thought it would be nice of me to give you something to mask the taste instead of making you drink the foul stuff straight.” His voice was low and vicious, “You will drink it, or I will make you drink it.”

Pansy went rigid, “You do anything to me and…”

…and that sounded whiny even to her.

Lucius pulled his wand from his robes slowly, with liquid grace and trained it on her, “You’re making this much harder than it has to be. This is about Draco, not you. Drink it now.”

Pansy gritted her teeth, natural stubbornness battling with very real fear.

“ If I have to use the Imperious curse to make you drink it, precious one, I will most definitely make you regret it.” He said softly and raised his wand.

Pansy snatched the cup and took a big gulp. Just drinking the damn Veritaserum was a much more attractive option then being placed under the Imperious by Lucius.

Lucius smiled, lowering his wand, “There now. That was easy.”

Pansy snarled at him, slamming the cup down, “ I hate you.”

The blond man let out a bark of a laugh, “ Now, now, darling child, I am not so bad.”

He stood and strolled to a nearby shelf, gathering some papers off of it, and flopped them down in front of her, “You’ve read the Prophet this morning?”

“ Yeah.”

“ Not exactly helpful, is it?”

“ Never is.”

“ Say ‘yes’, darling child, and ‘it never is’. Complete your sentences. Someone might think you were common-bred gutter trash.” He grinned viciously at his own joke.

“ What the hell do you want?!” Pansy shouted, “ I came here for news on Draco. Not so you could insult me.”

Lucius looked down at her for a long moment, “Do you know where my son is?”

Pansy’s jaw dropped. She was stunned for nearly a minute.

“ You…honestly…did not bring me here to ask me that…did you? You can’t possibly think I kidnapped Draco.”

Lucius chuckled, “Don’t be simple. It’s just that I wouldn’t put it past my son to come up with his own grand scheme and not tell me about it.”

Pansy shook her head in disbelief, “ You give Draco too much credit.” She told him bitterly, “He doesn’t think anything but what you tell him to think.”

“ Answer the question.”

“ NO! I do not know where Draco is! Nor am I privy to any sort of plan or scheme.”

“ Good.” Lucius turned away from her, and there was another moment of silence, “ I’ve been to speak to My Lord. I thought perhaps he gave Draco an assignment and did not see fit to inform me. But…My Lord was incredibly angry to hear that Draco was gone. He has…big plans for Draco, you see. My son is important to him.”

“ So…you actually suspected me…and the Dark Lord?” Pansy asked slowly, confused, “I thought you thought the Gryffindors did it.”

“ They did and I do. But I had to be sure. Suspect everyone, my dear. I would have been a fool not to think Draco might arrange his own disappearance.”

“ You know what happened? You’re sure the Gryffindors did it?” she leaned forward eagerly.

Instead of answering Lucius turned around to give her a searching look, “Where do your loyalties lie, my dear? What about your parents? Who do they follow?”

Pansy balked. This was exactly what she’d been afraid of. This was dangerous ground, deadly ground. Because the truth, either way, was binding, damning. She clenched her fists.

She could hate Lucius all she wanted but there was no help for it. She had to answer and she would just have to live with the consequences of the truth and be damn grateful it wasn’t worse, “ My parents think you and the Dark Lord are the greatest thing since Quidditch. Me…I…I don’t know.”

“ Are you loyal to Dumbledore?”

“ The Slytherin hater? Are you nuts? Of course not.”

“ Then who? Who do you follow?”

The truth? The honest truth?

She closed her eyes in defeat and let the words fall from her lips. “ I follow Draco.”

Lucius’ expression didn’t change. He pondered this for a moment and then nodded, “Do you love my son?”

Pansy’s face flamed. Bastard! How dare he ask that! But her answer was already being wrenched from her. There was no hesitation.

“ Yes!”

Lucius regarded her as if she were a very interesting insect and Pansy knew he was going to use that bit of information to it’s fullest.

“ Fine.” He said at last, and sat back in his chair, “Then to the point, I will be using you as a contact inside Hogwarts. Our Master is concerned that Dumbledore and Potter might attack the children of his other supporters. It is imperative that these children be protected and that the Gryffindors be watched closely.”

“ Wait! Wait just a minute! You never told me how you know that Potter is behind this! And you’re talking like this is long term. We’re going to find Draco soon, aren’t we?”

Lucius’ face tightened, “I fear to know what has become of my son. I know that Dumbledore is behind this. If Potter is not involved, he soon will be. Last night, I overheard Dumbledore telling Potter that the Mudblood was safe. The old man knows exactly what is going on. But I do not know what he wants, if he will frame my son or simply kill him.”

“ And you don’t think we’ll find Draco in time…”

“ It may take time. I have all available resources searching for him but in case we don’t find him within the next few days, I want resources set up within Hogwarts. My sources say that even without Draco, you will control Slytherin this year. I need you to do what you can to protect the students and gather information. If Draco is not found then the boys will probably choose a new leader, even if he’s temporary. I know the boys usually choose their own leader but I also know that none of them will stand against you if you overturn their decision. I will be sending you a list of acceptable boys, and I expect you to choose from one among them.”

“ Alright. I’ll agree to this…on one condition.” She pushed her tea cup towards Lucius, challenge gleaming in her eyes,“ Its my turn. Drink up.”

Lucius seemed momentarily shocked by her audacity but he was ultimately impressed. This was Slytherin politics at its best. It was part of the game that Slytherins loved to play: the grandstanding, double talk and manipulation.

Lucius smirked coldly and raised the cup. He was taking a chance, but then there was always a risk involved in Slytherin politics and the bigger the risk and the more elaborate the dance, the better the player. And Lucius was a master. If she were honest with herself, she’d admit, Veritaserum or no, he was still in control of the situation and he proved it with his next words.

“ I don’t think I need to remind you to be very careful what you ask. The wrong questions will have…devastating consequences.”

And he took a drink.

“ Do you know where Draco is?” Pansy asked after he swallowed.

“ No.” Lucius answered, still smirking.

“ Do you know what happened to Draco?”

“ No.”

“ Do you know where Granger is or what happened to her, who took her or why her wand is broken?”

“ No. Very good, you’re choosing your words wisely.”

Pansy’s eyes narrowed, “Did you know we’d find Draco’s wand and Granger’s broken wand abandoned in the alley?”

Lucius sneered, “Yes.”

“ Did you know the Gryffindors would find us and blame us?”

“ No.”

Pansy blinked, surprised by that, “Fine.” She nodded, not being able to think of anymore questions she wanted to ask, “I’ll work with you to find Draco. I’ll start sending out letters and have a couple meetings before school starts. Don’t worry,” she said when Lucius opened his mouth, “I won’t say anything in the letters to indicate what we’re doing.”

“ Then we have an understanding. Very good. Perhaps you are not as dull and useless as I believed.” He sneered.

“ Does Draco know you’ve been taking stuff from his private potions cabinet?” Pansy retaliated sharply.

“ No.” the Veritaserum forced the surprised Lucius to answer and then he seethed, angry at having been caught off guard.

Pansy smirked.

The blond man growled. “You’ve wasted enough of my time. Come, I’ll see you out.”

Pansy bounced to her feet, all too ready to get the hell out of there. The door opened for her automatically and Lucius followed her out.

Narcissa Malfoy stood up from her seat on the sofa against the wall, her expression strained and angry. Pansy stopped in surprise as the woman hurried over to her and took her hands.

“ Are you okay, Pansy?” she asked anxiously, casting an angry glance at Lucius who looked away and sidestepped them.

“ I’m fine, Mrs. Malfoy, thank you.” Pansy said in surprise.

“ Are you sure? I practically had to strangle the House-Elf to find out what Lucius was up to and…”

“ This is not the time or the place for your woman’s prattle.” Lucius cut Narcissa off sharply.

Pansy and Narcissa glanced at him to see him almost to the door, glaring coldly at them. A dark-haired woman Pansy didn’t recognize, but whom she assumed was one of the Malfoy’s houseguests that Draco had told her about, stood half in the doorway, eyeing them speculatively.

To everyone’s shock Narcissa did not gracefully fall silent.

“ Its bad enough our son is missing,” Narcissa barked back, “ I don’t like that you’re involving other children.”

“ Narcissa!” Lucius looked stunned.

But the blond woman exploded, apparently having suffered too much in silence the past twelve hours, “ You never answered my question about your Dark Lord either!” she shouted, “ Is he or is he not behind this? Damn you, Lucius, you will answer me! Are you gathering more children? Is Pansy to disappear next!” she shrieked.

“ Mrs. Malfoy.” Pansy whispered. She had no special love for Narcissa. They weren’t friends or anything. But Pansy couldn’t help being afraid for her now.

“ Shut up, Narcissa!” Lucius hissed.

The woman in the doorway was grinning excitedly and weaving back and forth.

“ NO!” Narcissa roared, “I have let you raise Draco as you see fit! I have said nothing and asked nothing about your coming and going at all hours and doing that…that creature’s bidding!”

“ You go to far!” Lucius stormed towards her but she darted around the side of the conference table.

“ But I would be a fool to not know what goes on!” she continued, “ And this! This is brilliant! Our son, a pure blood Adonis, is viciously attacked and killed by a Mudblood on Dumbledore’s orders! What better way to get the pure blood families who haven’t chosen sides to follow the Dark Lord? I can hear it now ‘follow the Dark Lord to save your children!’. You and I both know that Dumbledore would never kill a child! But that monster you serve,” her face twisted in disgust, “…that thing…that…”

Lucius lunged around the table and backhanded her with incredible force, sending her crashing to the floor and effectively cutting off her tirade.

Pansy’s hands flew to her mouth. The woman in the doorway squeaked and ducked her head.

“ You..” Lucius stood over Narcissa, trembling in rage, “Bitch…” he hissed, breathing deep to get control of himself, “You stupid bitch. You will shut your fucking mouth or I will shut it for you. This is your last warning.”

The blond man whirled and stormed away. Pansy’s eyes trailed him out of the room and then she darted around the table to the woman on the floor.

Narcissa was sitting up weakly, face dazed. She daubed lightly at her mouth and came away with blood.

“ Narcissa! Narcissa!” Pansy whispered urgently, “Are you okay?”

The woman who had been in the doorway was suddenly kneeling beside them.

“ Narcissa! You poor woman!” the stranger cooed, putting an arm around Narcissa to support her,“ Such a man to hit his own wife!”

“ She’s right!” Pansy snarled, “You don’t need to put up with that.”

“ Come, let me heal that awful wound.” The stranger-woman drew her wand.

Narcissa blinked at the two of them as if just realizing they were there and then smiled tremulously and shook her head gently, “ Oh no, Pansy dear, Margaret, I’m afraid Lucius was in the right and I will keep the injury to remind myself.”

Pansy’s jaw dropped, “Say what?” she squeaked.

“ I was quite hysterical. I never should have spoken like that about our Master. It was terrible of me.” She touched her swelling mouth again, “It’s just that a mother’s instincts go wild when her child is missing.”

The stranger woman looked unconvinced, “I wouldn’t know.” She said lowering her wand slowly.

Narcissa smiled at her, “Well, my worry for Draco has made me half crazy. I would never insult our Master normally. I am such a wretch. Lucius was right to take me to task. I shall have to apologize to him tonight.” She patted Pansy’s hands, “Do not be angry, you will understand when you are finally initiated.”

“ Oh!” the stranger-woman’s eyes snapped to Pansy excitedly, “Will she be joining us?”

“ Of course. Now Margaret, would you be kind and help me to my room? Pansy, dear, can you find your own way out?”

Pansy rose to her feet slowly,“ Yes, thank you…I…I’m sorry.”

“ Hush, child. It was nice seeing you again.”

Pansy hesitated and then gave a sort of half wave and left the women. She found her way back to the front door and was surprised to see Lucius brooding in the shadows near the main staircase. She stared at him for a moment and then let herself out, but paused halfway out the door.

“ You’d better hope that mark on her face fades before they find Draco.” she warned him coldly, “Your son will kill you if he sees it.”

She heard his answer just before the door clicked shut behind her.

“ I know.”

Next Time: Its back to the forest to check up on our little Junior Cub-Scouts. How are Draco and Hermione coping? Is Draco even still alive? Has Hermione finished the entire year’s worth of homework yet?

A/N: I know everyone misses D/H and I promise that the next couple of chapters will focus solely on them. The bulk of this story will be about them but I do have a subplot going that will focus on Harry, Ron and the Slytherins. These last two chapters have been setting things up for what’s going to happen at Hogwarts. I’m actually pretty excited about it. Its gonna be cool.

Other notes:
mewhoistoolazytosinginoraddspaces: Good question. Pansy was actually trying to keep Draco's name out of it. The Gryffs were already upset and bringing up words such as 'Draco' or 'Malfoy' would not be conducive to calming them down. If Pansy had her way she'd have said "Uh, we don't know where Hermione is" the Gryffs would have said "Okay", they'd have walked off and no one would ever have known Draco was even involved. That was basically her plan.
And, to his credit, Arthur did sort of try to keep everyone calm. Everything just happened really fast. Anyway Blaise started it. Blame her.
Non Compos Mentis: I just don't like the idea that just because they're in Slytherin they're automatically completely evil. And the questionable sanity is what makes them fun.
As for the beating… that is kinda weird now that you mention it. I wonder what actually happened that night… ((shifty eyebrows)) :P

A/N: ….. erm….

Chapter 6: Just A Little Smile

Most large predators are nocturnal.

Who had told him that?

It didn't matter. He was pretty sure they were right. Sure enough that he dared not sleep after the sun sank behind the trees. Sure enough that he kept on the move after dusk and made damn sure he couldn't be cornered. Sure enough that he was almost painfully relieved when the pitch black, star-washed sky began to lighten to milky blue.

It was dawn once more.

The pale-haired boy hiked himself over a huge fallen tree probably five feet in diameter and slid down the other side, scratching his palms on the rough bark. He was filthy, sore and sweat-soaked and he moved with a jerky sort of tension. His eyes never stopped moving, sweeping his surroundings constantly as the forest around him turned pale and misty in the predawn light.

He recognized where he was now and some tightness in his stomach loosened. The familiarity was comforting. He jogged up a ridge, and came to an abrupt slope. Setting his feet, he slid easily down the muddy embankment and landed lightly in the small gully below. The ground here was pebbled and sandy and a creek trickled through, carving a path in the earth.

He dropped his bag to the sandy ground, along with a pile of sticks and forest roughage, a pitifully small chunk of firestone and a freshly dead forest rabbit. Casting one more searching look around his little resting spot, he flopped gracelessly to the ground with an exhausted groan.

It was safe to stop now, even though the sun wouldn't top the mountain for another hour or so. All the really big, nasty things were heading off to bed. Or most of them anyway, there was no accounting for the schedule some of those big bastards kept.

Sleep seemed like an incredibly good idea at the moment. He was beyond exhausted and he'd found the perfect place to take a well-deserved nap just over the gully wall. But it wasn't to be. Not if he wanted to get to his destination before dark. He wasn't exactly certain how much further he had to go, but he had a good rough estimate. He could probably make it before noon, before the sun reached its pinnacle in the sky.

Why weren't humans nocturnal? Weren't they supposed to be the ultimate predators? It was stupid, and at the moment he wanted to take it as a personal insult. If you weren't predator than you were prey.

Draco Malfoy was nobody's prey.

The boy arranged his sticks into a teepee-like pile, with the littlest sticks on the inside as kindling. This was another thing he'd had to learn. He'd had to cast through his memories of camping with Ryan and the others to remember exactly what he'd been told about building a fire. He hadn't really been listening at the time.

Yeah, fire, sticks, ventilation, kindling, whatever, I'll just use my wand, thank you.

His first attempt at building a fire had been abysmal and he'd wasted his only piece of firestone only to get a pile of smoldering leaves that quickly cooled to useless ash. He'd gotten better though.

It was frustrating to remember bits and pieces of useful information, or information that would be useful if he could just remember the rest of it. He'd spent most of the time since he left the clearing cussing himself for not paying more attention in Herbology or, damn it hurt to admit it, Care of Magical Creatures. That dumbass Hagrid's knowledge of really dangerous animals was exactly the kind of thing Draco would kill for at the moment.

The boy finished carefully arranging his sticks, knowing he only had enough firestone for one try, and was enormously pleased with himself when he managed to get a small, steady blaze going. He wrapped his arms around his knees and stared blearily into hypnotic flames.

Three days.

It had been three days since he left the clearing. Three days since he'd gotten to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. Three days since he'd eaten anything but sour crabapples, the only fruit he could recognize in this stupid place. He had a crabapple tree in his backyard and the hard little fruits were perfect micro-missiles for throwing at people, windows and animals. He'd seen a few other trees and bushes with tempting-looking fruit but he wasn't anywhere near dumb enough to eat from a plant that he didn't recognize. In a magic forest, that was worse than suicide. Poisoning would be the least of his worries.

He'd been traveling nonstop since he left the clearing. Searching for some sign of civilization. It hadn't been easy. There had been few things to eat and only a few places to get water. He'd had to be constantly on the alert for anything suspicious and it was made worse since he didn't know exactly what he was looking for. He didn't know the dangers to be able to recognize them when he saw them. It made traveling in one direction hard. He'd skirted everything that he didn't like: a patch of large bushes with waxy red leaves, a clearing with funny gray dirt, a whole section of forest with trees that had long vines hanging down, swaying in the wind.

At first, he'd planned to travel a day in each direction to see what he could find. But yesterday he'd gone East and found the mountain summit. He'd gone up as far as he could go, until he could survey the land in all directions. And what he'd seen hadn't been comforting.

They really were in the middle of fucking nowhere.

He could see no indications of human civilization. No roads, no cities, no tents or hikers. Nothing. It had really pissed him off. He'd stayed up there for hours, squinting, thinking maybe there were things he couldn’t see or was overlooking. Was that movement over that way? Was that a flash of light? Sunlight off of metal?


Son of a bitch.

So that was it. There was no point in searching anymore. Plan A wasn't working. It was time for Plan B.

He didn't like Plan B. Plan B sucked ass. But there was no help for it. And he was so tired…so incredibly tired that he didn't even have the energy to be mad about it. He gave into it with a sort of dull resignation.

There were no people nearby, no one was coming to rescue him. That meant it was up to him to get his own self out. That meant trekking through the forest for who knows how long.

But hell, he wasn't stupid, he knew the score. He was surviving, but just barely. It was killing him. He was so hungry, hungrier than he'd ever been in his life, and so tired that he knew that sooner or later he was just going to drop. Besides that…he didn't even know which way to go.

He'd be a fool to simply pick a direction and start walking. That could end up with him walking further into the wilderness or walking straight into a canyon and having to double back. He doubted his luck was going to hold out long enough for him to make mistakes like that.

If he wanted to survive he needed all the resources he could get.

…meaning, he needed Granger.

The silly girl probably had the survival skills of a retarded lemming but if there was a way to find out which direction to go, she probably knew it.

The more he thought about it, the better the plan sounded.

She'd tell him which way to go. Maybe she'd even know where to find stuff to eat! And she was the perfect chew-toy for any monsters that decided to head his way. He could escape while Granger…er, 'distracted' them.

The thought made him chuckle.

So he left the summit and had been heading back to the clearing ever since. He was almost there now and hoping that Granger had managed to keep herself out of trouble while he was away. He wasn't really that worried. He was perfectly aware that she hadn't been eaten or rescued…well, as of the day before anyway.

He'd headed North that first night, using the stars as his guide (thank you Astronomy class) then doubled back and headed South. So he'd passed the clearing in the early afternoon of the second day and had stopped by to see if she was still around. He'd seen her doing homework of all things.

The silly bint!

Did she think they had a test on Friday or something? He'd been hard-pressed not to jump out and scare her or something just because he was a bastard, just because he wanted to punish her for being calm and composed, (pissed off, screaming, crying Granger was an exciting Granger) but he didn't want her to know he was around just yet.

If she'd been fine the day before, he was fairly certain she'd still be there today.

So he had a plan. That made him feel better. If there was a plan then things were under control.

There was just one more thing…

Draco looked down at the dead rabbit and stroked its soft fur idly.

Meat. The only thing he could readily identify. He'd been desperate enough this morning to kill the rabbit, but if he wanted the meat, he'd have to skin and clean the rabbit and to do that….

He looked down at the knife sheath at his waist. He hadn't dared touch the dagger. It hung at his waist, probably the most useful thing he had in his current situation, and he didn't have the balls to defy his father.

Lucius would kill him. He'd spent thousands of galleons and waited nearly two years for this knife. He'd been really excited about finally obtaining it too. Most people couldn't tell when Lucius was excited, but Draco knew him well enough to realize his father was practically quivering with anticipation. If Draco ruined the dagger…he couldn't imagine what his father would do to him. But if he didn't get something to eat, he was a dead man anyway. Which would be worse: starving to death or whatever cruel torture his father would devise?

The boy gulped and made up his mind.

Eat now, die later.

For a moment he still hesitated. In a way, drawing the dagger was admitting that this little problem didn't have an easy solution. It was admitting that he might be out in the woods for more than a day or two more. It was acknowledging that this really was a kill-or-be-killed situation.

He glared at the knife in frustration.

His fingers skimmed across the leather for a moment, daring himself. He flicked the latch on the sheath and lifted the leather cover away. The plain handle looked innocuous, innocent…or as innocent as a knife could look.

What had Borgins called it? A Base? What kinds of things did a Base do? Would it even work like a regular knife?

He closed his eyes and took the plunge, grabbing the handle quickly before he lost his nerve and yanking the blade out into the cool morning air. He flinched in that first instant, holding the plain silver knife up in front of his face.

Nothing happened.

He opened his eyes to stare at it in confusion. He wasn't sure what he had expected. A flash of light? Or tingling through his arm maybe? But the dagger felt…ordinary…in his hand.

The boy frowned, instantly and irrationally annoyed.

" Hmph."

Maybe Borgins had ripped them off. High failure rate indeed!

Being male and now possessing a very sharp knife, Draco proceeded to start hacking up everything within arm's reach, gratifying his natural urge for destruction and amusing himself to no end. When he'd satisfied himself that he did indeed have a pointy knife with which to cut things into little pieces, he turned his attention to the rabbit and, after a few moments of contemplation, trying to figure out the best angle of attack, carefully began to skin it.

As he worked, he silently thanked Ryan's father for the lessons, though, at the time, those lessons had made him rather ill. That the great Draco Malfoy lowered himself to be thankful for anything was a testament of just how hungry he was. His hands were shaking and his mouth was watering at the prospect of real food.

Gutting was the worst part. It was downright nasty, and by the time he was finished his hands were cold and wet with blood and bits of entrails. He remembered that he had to be careful not to pierce the stomach or the intestines.

The rabbit's glassy eyes stared at him and he looked away, swallowing hard, before taking a deep breath and getting back to work. He circled the neck and legs with the knife and slit down to the main cut on the stomach, then peeled the skin off. The rabbit fur was pretty cool. He wished he could do something with the pelt, but he didn't know enough to be able to tan the hide, and walking around with a bloody skin wasn't a pleasant thought. He almost decided to bury the entrails and the pelt but then he figured if he just left them there the other animals would take care of it.

He spit the rabbit on a stick he'd found and then shoved the end of the stick into the sand to keep it upright so he could stop for a moment and wash his bloody, tacky hands in the creek. He washed the knife off too, rinsing the soiled handle and running his fingers over the blade, mindful of the sharp edge. The creek water was intensely cold, numbing his hands. That was the only reason he noticed the warmth of the blade. He stilled, holding his hands under the water.

The dagger was warm. Even under the icy rush of water, it was warm.

Draco pulled the knife from the stream to stare at it. He turned it slowly around in his hands, watching beads of water skim down the glittering blade like tears. If the knife was doing anything magical, he couldn't tell just by looking at it. It looked perfectly normal.

" Stupid thing." He muttered, in what should have been a snarl.

It was only then that he realized he was grinning. He was grinning at the knife, a wickedly pleased baring of teeth. He was grinning a grin that wasn't his own.

" SHIT!" he threw the knife away from him, falling back hard on his butt and breathing hard.

What the hell?

He'd been grinning like a maniac and he hadn't even realized he was doing it.

The knife lay innocently against the dirt. Draco growled and watched it suspiciously.

When nothing further happened, he worked up his courage and darted forward to snatch it up and stuff it in his sheath. He touched his face afterwards to make sure he wasn't grinning again. But no, his skin was clammy and his mouth was pulled down in a scowl.

That had been decidedly creepy.

What in the world had happened? Why would the knife make him smile? He'd have to be careful with it from now on. If it could make him smile, could it make him do other things?

He shook his head, too tried to give it much thought and pulled the end of the spit from the ground before flopping down next to the fire to roast his bunny.

An hour later he was sprawled on his back, staring dreamily up at the sky. His stomach felt so much better. Not quite full, mind you, but a whole lot better nonetheless. He'd never tasted anything so good as that unevenly cooked and gamy rabbit. It was a lot freaking better than sour crabapples.

A creeping sunbeam slid over his face and he scrunched his nose, cracking an eye to glare at the sky. The sun had topped the mountains, it was time to go.

From here it was easy to get to the clearing. All he had to do was follow the stream. That wasn't to say it was a straight run. The creek twisted and turned and there were places he had to climb over or under fallen trees and places he had to go up if he wanted to avoid sloshing straight through the water. Getting wet was not something he wanted to do at the moment. Traveling in wet clothes tended to get uncomfortable, his underwear always started to chafe.

He was achingly close to his destination when he jogged around a bend in the gully wall and jerked to a halt, choking back a squeak of surprise. He froze, face to face with a strange animal.

It was the size of a sheep, with a long shaggy coat of purple fur, two tiny bat wings on its shoulders, long legs that looked too skinny to hold it up, cloven hooves, and a long head with a narrow muzzle. Draco didn't dare breathe. He had no idea what the hell it was.

Long, floppy ears flipped up and shiny black marble eyes stared at him. He stared back.

Wait! Didn't someone tell him that you're not supposed to look wild animals in the eye?

He dropped his gaze, wondering if the thing would follow him if he made a break for it.

" Bleeeeaaaaaa!" the thing whined, displaying an impossibly long pointy tongue and waggling it in the air before turning and prancing away.

Draco followed it with his eyes to see the thing bounce further down the gully to where a whole herd of the sheep-things stood around blocking his path like cows on a road. He watched the creatures, still afraid to move, and saw that some were drinking from the stream while others were using their hooves to peel bark off of trees and nibble at it.

He could go around them, he supposed, but the gully walls here were sheer. If he wanted to go around the herd, he'd have to double back.

He glared at the beasts impatiently.

Well, the things weren't meat-eaters and they didn't seem that dangerous. Draco walked cautiously towards the herd, ready to bolt any second, but the stupid-looking things didn't pay him any attention. He got close to one and froze. It continued nibbling, ears flipping around to keep the flies off. It didn't seem to care that he was nearby. He walked past it and it didn't even look up.

Growing bolder, Draco began to wade through the herd and the sheep-things ignored him or stepped out of his way. He reached out and touched one as he passed and it shook his hand off irritably, fluttering its wings, but otherwise didn't look up.

Heh. Stupid things.

He wondered suddenly, deviously, if they were good to eat. The idea was tempting but he quickly dismissed it. It wasn't a good idea to eat strange magic animals anymore than it was to eat strange magic plants. You could end up eating a transformed person or something. He'd read a case a year ago about an animagus, a pig, who'd gotten himself served up as bacon. Nasty.

He'd just gotten to the edge of the herd when a smallish sheep-thing bumped into him and stepped on his foot. He swore and shoved it.

" Get off!" he yelled.

The creature stumbled back, ears erect.

" BLLLEEEEEEAAAAAA!" it squealed.

Every single beast snapped its head up and suddenly the entire herd was looking at Draco.

Oh crap…

" BLLLEEEEEAAAAAAA!" the little one squealed again, waggling its tongue at Draco and flapping its wings.

As one the herd charged.


Draco bolted.

The gully thundered with the sound of pounding hooves chasing him. They were fast, he wasn't going to be able to outrun them. He lurched over a fallen tree, busting his shin hard enough that he yelled. He limped for about three paces and then forced himself into a dead run again. Behind him, he heard the sound of the tree snapping, being shredded under the razor-sharp hooves of the animals.

He wouldn’t survive if they caught him.

Desperately he flung himself at the gully wall, seeing a place where it wasn't as steep as before and tried to scramble up. He nearly slipped twice, crumbling dirt falling into his eyes and coating his robes, but managed to find handholds and clambered to the top and over the ridge. Amazing what you can do when fueled by sheer panic. Panting, he turned around to look down.

The herd stopped at the wall. They milled around uncertainly, staring up at him.

" Eat that you sons of bitches!" he yelled breathlessly.


The beast closest to the edge reared up and braced its front legs on the wall…and started flapping its wings.

No way…

It dug its hooves into the soft dirt and flapped harder. Draco's jaw dropped as the sheep-thing began to climb up the side of the gully, using its wings to help support it. The others followed suit.

He scrambled back away from the ledge as the first beast topped the ridge.

Draco ran.

" BLLLLEEEEAAAA!" he heard the cry behind him and knew they were coming.

He was in trouble. The damn things could fly and he couldn't outrun them. What the hell was he supposed to do?

He glanced back and saw that most of the herd had topped the ridge. The others were pounding after him.

Then it came to him.


Wasn't this exactly the kind of situation he'd decided he wanted her around for? If he could just get to the clearing and run past her or something maybe the sheep-bastards would attack her and forget about him.

Draco, you're a genius.

He forced himself to run faster, putting everything he had into it. He burst through the brush into familiar territory and grinned wickedly.

" GRANGER!" he bellowed, "GRAAAANGER!"



Hermione looked up from her books with a frown.

Perfect, now I'm hallucinating.

But it was a sarcastic thought, half arrogance and half grim pleasure.

I knew he'd be back.

She hadn't of course. She'd half figured he was dead by now.

The last couple of days had been awful. She'd been lonely and frightened and torn with indecision.

Why hadn't anyone come? Surely she should have been rescued by now? Or had Malfoy been right? No, that wasn't possible!

She'd barely slept that first night, uncomfortable on hard, rocky soil. She was exhausted when the sun rose. And when she saw that Malfoy hadn't returned during the night as she half expected him to, she'd been in a panic.

He probably hadn't survived to see the morning, the fool. But what if he wasn't dead? What if he was hurt or something? Shouldn't she go look for him? Impossible! She had no idea where to look.

She stood in the silent, empty clearing and didn't want to be alone. She desperately didn't want to be alone.

Finally she had no choice but to shove Malfoy to the back of her mind, to shove everything to the back of her mind. She couldn’t think about it or she'd go crazy.

'Keep busy' was her new mantra. She'd been okay for a while after that. She'd spent her time exploring and gathering anything and everything that might be useful. She'd made lists of the uses of everything she found and circled the ones that might be helpful. Most of her time was actually spent scrounging for food and telling herself cheerfully that when Ron and Harry came they'd be able to have a picnic or something before they left for home. And when there was nothing else to do, she sat down and did homework.

There were N.E.W.Ts this year after all. She needed to be prepared.

She kept waiting. Ron and Harry would arrive any moment. But they never did.

When the sun rose for the third time and she woke to the stillness of the forest, she had a complete and total breakdown. She finally confronted the full seriousness of her situation. and sobbed into her arms, wishing violently that she were home in bed, or safe in Ginny's room at the Burrow. But tears weren't productive and it wasn't her nature to sit around and do nothing. She pulled herself together with stern determination and began making formal "escape" plans.

She was going to tackle this forest and it wouldn't know what hit it!

Now, hearing Malfoy's voice, even his voice cracking with panic, was like a warm wind of hope.

Hermione dropped her books and climbed to her feet, sparing a thoughtful glance at the pile of supplies that she had organized neatly next to the smoldering campfire. Malfoy sounded like he was in trouble and she didn't want him tearing through here if he was. She scowled, hands on her hips.


Alright, alright!

She trotted into the woods, running through several possible plans of action depending on what exactly he'd gotten himself into.

" I’M RIGHT HERE!" she shouted, " OVER BY THE CLEARING!"

There were several moments of stillness and then he came tearing into view like the proverbial bat out of hell, a sea of purple rising up behind him like some kind of woolly flood.

A herd of Shutoeis?

She could only blink at him in astonishment.

" RUN YOU CRAZY BITCH!" Malfoy screamed at her.

That broke her paralysis and she whirled.

" Follow me!" she yelled and darted off into the woods.

This was an easy one, she knew exactly how to take care of angry Shutoeis.

Malfoy was a fast runner. He caught up with her easily, breath coming in short even pants, his eyes wild and his face strained. He stayed level with her though it was clear that he could easily outdistance her if he decided to.

Note to self: never challenge Malfoy to a race.

" Over this way!"

She veered past the clearing and over to the right where there was a huge fallen log next to a large tree.

" Up there!" she pointed as they approached, " Climb up on the log and get in that tree."

" What? But they can fly!"

" Just trust me!"

She saw the look he gave her, the wild look of complete shock laced heavily with suspicion, and thought grimly that it was always hard for someone who couldn't be trusted to trust someone else. He hesitated, a jerky half twist as if he thought about simply ignoring her and bolting off the other direction, but then he lunged towards the fallen log and scrambled up. He ran across the top and fairly leapt into the tree.

Hermione was impressed.

He's like a monkey!

Hermione slowed down and stopped at the base of tree, leaning over to put her hands on her knees and catch her breath.

" Just stay up there!" she panted, and walked over to the fallen log to lean against it.

Malfoy stared at her, fidgeting from his perch on the high tree branch, obviously waiting for her to do something to escape the rampaging herd pounding towards her.

" What are you doing?" he shouted down finally.


The Shutoei's arrived bleating and bucking and stomping angrily. The beasts crowded around the tree, looking up at Malfoy and waggling their tongues as they screamed up at him. They completely ignored Hermione.

" What now?!" Malfoy roared, "I'm trapped!"

" BLLLLEEEEEAAAAA!" the Shutoei's responded.

Hermione crossed her arms, "Just calm down. If you just sit down and be quiet the Shutoeis will eventually just forget you're there."

" WHAT!?"

" BLLLLEEEAAAA!" they reared up and stabbed at the tree with their hooves, flapping their wings as they tried vainly to climb the too-steep tree.

" Sit down, Malfoy! And shut up! Don't move, don't talk and they'll forget you're there!"

" How come they're not attacking you!"

Was it her imagination or did he sound disappointed?

She shook her head at him," Don't talk. I'll tell you when it's safe to come down."

Malfoy opened his mouth, struggled with himself and then sagged on his branch with a huff. Hermione wondered idly if he really could keep his mouth shut long enough for the Shutoeis to forget him. It wouldn't take that long, ten minutes at most. But hey, Malfoy didn't know that.

A small feline smile curved her lips and she turned away so he wouldn’t see it. She'd felt a wash of surprised happiness when she'd heard his voice, an almost painful relief that she wasn't alone anymore. But now she was getting mad. He never should have left in the first place! And for the pure vindictive pleasure of it, she decided to see how long she could keep him up that tree.

The Shutoeis near the edge of the herd were already beginning to forget. They hadn't really known what was going on in the first place, they'd simply followed the herd. Some of them wandered over to scratch and nibble at the local plant-life, a few others came over to investigate Hermione.

" Why hello there!" she said in a sweet, baby voice, and the Shutoei's wiggled their ears in happiness as she reached out to pet them and scratch behind their bulging eyes and under their chins.

" Bllea." They nickered at her, one of them nibbling her robes.

" You are so sweet! Yes you are!"

She glanced out of the corner of her eye to see Malfoy glaring at her in righteous fury, chest heaving. He was actually trembling with the effort to stay silent. He looked about ready to explode. She could tell he was dying to dish out some snarkiness, but he didn't dare.

" Traitor." He mouthed hatefully.

Hermione grinned, " Did that bad Malfoy bother you?" she cooed to the Shutoeis, "He's so mean! What a jerk!"

She distinctly heard Malfoy growl.

" I don’t blame you for wanting to stomp on his head. He's got that stupid hair, like he's wearing a shiny helmet and…"



The herd converged on the tree again. Hermione threw up her arms in disgust.

" Malfoy!" She shouted in what she hoped was a fair imitation of anger, " Shut up! Now we have to start all over!"

His face was flushed red and he looked ready to murder her. Hermione grinned hugely but then felt guilty for provoking him and stopped making rude comments about him to the Shutoeis. The Shutoeis were soon wandering around again, not really in a hurry to be anywhere else. The ever-studious Hermione quickly forgot about Malfoy, who continued to glare at her with utter loathing, as she started to investigate the Shutoeis. They were fascinating creatures.

For two hours she examined individual Shutoeis, observed their behavior and tried to determine if they had any kind of herd structure. It was with a start that she remembered that she had Draco Malfoy up a tree. She couldn’t believe the obnoxious blond had managed to stay quiet for this long.

Glancing up she saw him still sitting on his tree branch. He was leaning his forehead against the tree tiredly, his eyes hazy and faraway, and his expression was…soft. He seemed about ready to fall asleep any second.

Now that she really looked at him, she could see that he looked like he'd been stuffed in a blender set on 'pulverize'. His normally shiny, slick hair was loose and wispy and hung about his face, long enough to brush his cheekbones. His hands were dirty and scratched, bleeding in places. His face was paler than normal, scratched and streaked with dirt. His robes were dusty and his shoes were caked with mud.

She stared at him, understanding that seeing Malfoy without his patented hateful sneer was a rare opportunity. He looked…young…vulnerable. Something inside her stirred in pity. She was suddenly sorry that she'd made him sit up there this whole time. He was probably hungry and thirsty and tired. It was really mean of her to do that to him.

She stood up, " Malfoy." It came out much gentler than she meant it to, "Malfoy."

He jerked upright and snarled at her, spitting like a cat.

" You can come down now."

He glared at her hatefully, before he sidled off the branch and climbed slowly down, his eyes following the Shutoeis who ignored him. He lowered himself onto the fallen log and then jumped down to land right in front of her. So close that she actually 'eeped' and stepped back.

He glowered, looming over her, all softness and vulnerability gone. Maybe it had never been there at all.

" How much longer than necessary did you keep me in that tree?" his accused coldly.

She couldn’t keep the guilty surprise off her face and knew he saw it. His lip curled in an angry snarl.


" I saved you from becoming Shutoei food, didn't I." She snapped back defensively, turning her back on him and quickly changing the subject, "I take it you didn't find anything out there?"

He said nothing, but she could feel his eyes on her.

"No, you didn't." she answered for him, " You wouldn't have come back if you did."

" You got that right."

She tossed him a smirk, "Actually I think you would have." She said matter-of-factly.

He returned her smirk with one of his own, "You think so?"

" Oh yeah. The two of us disappear and then you come back alone." She smiled prettily, "They'd have you in Azkaban so fast your head would spin."

She saw the disconcerted look on his face and knew the idea hadn't crossed his mind. Surprisingly, he didn't pop out a snappy comeback, he simply turned and walked away. She frowned, taking one step after him.

" Where are you going?" she asked angrily, " Ditching me again?"

" I have to take a piss you nosy bitch!"

She put a hand over her mouth, smothering her giggles. She couldn’t help it.

"Oh you think that's funny? Lets stick you up a tree for a couple hours and see how funny it becomes." He lunged at her and she darted away with a squeal, "That's what I thought." He snarled and stalked away, leaving her alone again.

Bemused, she wondered if she should wait for him to come back or if she should just head back to the clearing. Part of her didn't want to lose sight of him, as if he would vanish if she didn't keep an eye on him. Logic won in the end, reminding her that he'd found his way back to the clearing before, he could do it again. It wasn't like they were very far away.

She stomped back to her haven.

He hadn't even thanked her! She'd saved his scrawny butt and he acted li… Продолжение »
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