… feel like that?

Stop it Hermione!

They hardly ever date the same girl for more than a few weeks at a time and that's their idea of a long relationship. Usually it’s just a few days...


Draco Malfoy was going to drive her crazy. She was going to be raving mad, a certified loony ready to go bouncing into the crazy house by the time they got home.

The last couple of days had been horrible enough without the ferret hopping along behind her like her very own pale demented shadow. She'd never been this tired or hungry in her life. They walked every day till her body felt like a limp noodle. They went to sleep every night on the cold earth with growling bellies and, tonight, with their faces singing with sunburn.

One upside was that they seemed to be sleeping better at night, if only because they were so tired that they were asleep before their heads hit the ground.

They had been lucky with the wild animals for the last couple of days too, had seen only a few. The Roc had scared her to death. When she first saw the huge shadow winging towards them over the golden field and looked up to see that massive black silhouette against the sun, she'd thought for sure it was a dragon or Malfoy's wyvern.

She sniffed. Malfoy's wyvern that didn't exist.

She'd seen a wolf the other night too, while Malfoy was off on one of his mad tweaker missions, a giant white wolf loping off into the trees. Her breath had hitched in her throat, her heart suddenly thundering double-time, but the animal hadn't even glanced at her or her campfire. By far the worst thing they'd seen was that possessed frog. She wasn't even sure why it had been so horrible, she just knew that it made her feel awful, like she was seeing something that had crawled half dead from a nightmare. But if that was the worst thing they saw, then she supposed she should be grateful.

School was going to start the day after tomorrow. She wanted to believe they were going to make it in time. But there seemed to be no end in sight. Was it even a matter of when they were going to make it back? Would they make it back at all? Sometimes she felt like her and Malfoy were on another world, a big empty world that they'd forever circle in their attempt to find their way home.

Maybe she'd died and gone to hell. She snorted.

Traveling with the ferret was an experience in itself. She had thought maybe if she got to know him a little better he wouldn't be so bad. But she couldn't stand him even when he wasn't snapping at her heels like some kind of vicious animal and trying his hardest to hurt or humiliate her. He was obnoxious and loud even on his best behavior. He talked constantly. He complained about everything nonstop. He was tired, his feet hurt, this was her fault, it was hot, or he'd launch off onto some tangent that had little to do with anything but always seemed to come around to the point that stupid muggles were responsible for all the ills in the wizard world.

Or even worse, he'd start bragging about his family and she'd have to listen to him explain his background, pedigree, family creed, how his family had helped shape society blah blah blah… She now knew more about the Malfoy bloodline then she'd ever wanted to know. She needed earplugs. Desperately.

The really funny part was that sometimes he wasn't doing it to deliberately provoke her. Sometimes he'd be talking and he'd forget who he was talking to.

She could see it, the visible relaxing of his tense body, the softening of his face, sometimes the barest hint of a real smile. And he'd just talk on glibly and easily as if he were talking to Crabbe or Goyle or another Slytherin. He was a fast talker, a bragger and an exaggerator, sometimes he was funny and, when he was really relaxed, there was an underlying sort of inadvertent friendliness, something akin to charisma. She noticed it because it was different from the way he usually spoke, or maybe it was just different from the way he usually to spoke to her when he came at her, Ron and Harry in full seek-and-destroy mode.

He'd go on talking to her in that easy manner, then later, sometimes hours later, he would suddenly remember who he was talking to and the results were explosive. He'd puff up like an angry cat, stiffening defensively, sometimes in almost a panic, and start spitting out any nasty thing that came to mind to remind them both that they were enemies.

Like this afternoon, she could have sworn his attempt to 'feed her to the trees' had been half playful. Like when Ron grabbed her in the astronomy towers and threatened to throw her out the window. And she'd reacted just as if he were Ron, kicking and shrieking but not at all worried that he would actually do it. He'd been completely bluffing from the beginning and they both knew it. But then he'd realized what he was doing, that he had a Mudblood practically wrapped up in his arms, and he'd reacted like he'd stuck his finger in a light socket. He'd gotten angry and violent. It was like he was punishing her or being extra mean to make up for his accidental slip into humanity.

Humanity. Geez, she could have punched his lights out for that remark. He'd meant it too. He'd meant every poisonous word and that had just torn her up. That just because she wasn't pureblood, she wasn't human. How could anyone think that? Rotten. He was so rotten.

It had taken everything she had not to start screaming at him and trying to defend herself. But she knew better by now. He'd been waiting for it, intent on dragging her into another fight. He was angry and he wanted to fight. It wasn't even on his agenda to listen to her rebuttal, no matter what he'd screamed after her as she walked away. It would have been a waste of breath to try and reason with him, to give him any real facts or try to change his mind. His mind was set, his ears would not hear. There was no reason to even open her mouth. It would be like trying to hold an intelligent debate with a brick wall.

Walking away had been the best option, even though it had taken all her willpower to do so and left her awake half the night just seething over his remark, thinking of a thousand things she wanted to say, wanting to hurt him as much as those words had hurt her. Then she'd woken up the next morning and found that her monthlies had started and that had just been the icing on the cake. She'd wanted to throw her head back and scream. It had still been early, predawn, and she scrambled to find something, anything at all, to fix the situation. Because she did not, under any circumstances, want to explain to Malfoy that they couldn't leave yet because she was on her period.

She'd gotten lucky. So very very lucky. She actually wept when she found her solution (Sangiri seeds to halt the flow and absorbent Medicarp moss) and Malfoy slept through the entire ordeal. In fact, he slept hours later than she did. So she had hours to sit by the fire and contemplate him even after she'd gone out on a brief forage for food.

It was really strange how you could see someone almost every day for seven years and not 'see' them. She'd been absolutely stunned after the whole antlion-mirage-Malfoy ordeal. How could she have ever thought that faded decoy looked a thing like him? She was stunned that she, who prided herself on having a realistic, down-to-earth view of things, could have a perception of the world that was so skewed. Malfoy was supposed to be the one with the warped mind, Death Eater spawn that he was, not her!

Perversely, she'd been mad at Malfoy for tainting her perception of the world. She was furious that now there were times she couldn't even look at him without blushing. She was mad at him for a whole lot of things come to think of it. The events of the last week, every nasty thing he'd said and done, kept circling about in her head, festering and bubbling until her eyes settled on the empty cauldron next to the fire and she made a very rash decision.

Oh yeah. Scream baby, scream.

And after that moment of waterlogged triumph…

I am so dead. He's gonna murder me.

He hadn't. He'd pulled one of his Malfoy mood-swings and ended up laughing at her instead, divining everything she didn’t want him to know in one fell swoop.

She sighed tiredly.

In all honesty, he hadn't been too awful the last couple of days. Of course they'd both been too busy to pay much attention to each other. They'd fought, he'd pushed her around, she'd thrown rocks at him, once hard enough to send him tearing into the woods to avoid being hit. Throwing rocks at him had happened on something of a whim, when she'd been so frustrated that it was either throw something at him or go screaming mad and claw her own eyes out, but ultimately it seemed to have been a wise choice. Malfoy now took greater care about choosing whether or not he wanted to get physically violent now that she might choose to break his skull open in retaliation.

Today hadn't been their worst fighting. It was just that he'd scored a direct hit this time. He'd gone straight for her heart and cut deep.

Don't think about it anymore. Forget him. Forget Malfoy.

She rolled onto her back to stare up at the stars, losing herself in the deep blue washed with diamonds. She had a vague idea that she should be able to tell where they were by what constellations she could see, but even she wasn't that good.

What was everyone at home doing?

Her parents were probably out of their minds with worry. They knew all about Voldemort and the war. They'd been informed after the Craighton mall massacre two years ago. They were probably terrified that she was dead.

Unbidden, faded memories of Karina rose up in her mind and she bit her lip, her heart squeezing painfully and the stinging tears welling up again.

Harry and Ron and everyone probably assumed she'd been kidnapped, what with Malfoy missing too. She wondered vaguely what Lucius thought. Did he think she had kidnapped his son? The thought made her give a little sobbing giggle. Maybe she'd tell everyone back home that she had kidnapped him. It was her fault they hit the portkey after all.

What about Dumbledore? Did he know what had happened? Why hadn't he found her yet? The man wasn't omniscient but he was the next best thing. He had to have some way of tracking his students. How else did he find her in the first place, back when she was just a little muggle girl who could grab scorching hot cookies right off the oven pan and not get burnt and sometimes make the old music box that grandma had given her work when everyone else said it was broken...

Harry, what are you doing tonight Harry?

She went to sleep with the sound of the old music box chiming in her ears.

She woke to full sun, her body stiff and cold and her tongue feeling like a shag carpet in her mouth. Her right arm had fallen asleep underneath her. She grunted and flopped onto her side to let it come awake with pinpricking tingles, rubbing to increase the circulation. She sat up and then her stomach twisted painfully and she jerked forward onto her knees and nearly threw up, a wave of spots fuzzing her vision. The moment passed and she was left sweating and shaking and breathing hard.

Please, please, please don't let me be getting sick. She chanted desperately in her mind, although she didn't think that was the problem.

The problem was that she hadn't had any real food in days. What did she have to eat yesterday? A handful of berries and half a palm-full of nuts? Actually a quarter of a palm-full because she'd given half to Malfoy.

Her face was hot and painful with sunburn and her mouth was parched and desert dry. Limbs stiff and joints cracking, she crawled on hands and knees to the edge of the river and drank deeply. A shuffling sound behind her caused her to turn in time to see Malfoy pushing up on his arms only to klutz over on himself, landing on his side and swearing softly. She would have laughed if she didn't feel like crying.

He'd been complete uncoordinated lately. Physical stress was apparently messing with his ferret equilibrium.

The boy didn't look at her, didn't speak to her, just dragged himself over to the leaf-littered river shore. They washed up in the icy water, drinking as much as they could to fill their empty bellies and dull the stabbing hunger pains. There was nothing for breakfast and he didn't ask. It took only a moment to pack her stuff up and stomp out the fire and then they headed out without saying a word, their pace slow and hobbling.

After only ten minutes, Hermione was panting and sweating. Her head felt all light and hazy and her stomach was a twisted knot of bitterness. The world began to tilt and dip five minutes later and a numb tingling sensation began buzzing through her entire body only to coalesce in front of her eyes, like snow on an empty television channel.

She realized quite calmly that she was on the verge of passing out and that passing out was most definitely not an option. Getting sick or passing out was the worst possible thing she could do. If Malfoy thought she couldn't keep up anymore, he'd leave her.

He'd told her so himself.

He'd just keep going. He'd said he knew which direction to head now. He didn't need her compass. If she became too much trouble, he'd ditch her. It wasn't a claim she had the courage to test him on either. She didn't want to find out whether or not he was bluffing because she was pretty certain he wasn't.

Breathing hard through her nose, she concentrated on trying to clear the bubbly carbonated feeling from her head, gritting her teeth and digging her fingernails into her hand when it felt like she was about to go numb and float away.

Malfoy was a blurry shape in front of her. She focused on him as hard as she could but then the bubbles rushed up, straight from her toes.

Oh no. Oh no.

And when they got to her head in an effervescent rush everything melted away.

When she opened her eyes again she was on her back on the ground and Malfoy was kneeling over her, shaking her. Her backpack lay to the side. She mustn't have been out long, a minute at most.

" What the fuck is wrong with you?" the boy asked when she focused on him, his expression wavering somewhere between consternation and annoyance.

" I dunno." She croaked, "Everything just went blurry…"

He rose to his feet as she pushed herself into a sitting position. Even that seemed to be an exertion and sweat dripped down her forehead.

" I feel really sick." she whispered.

" Yeah, well, I don’t feel so hot myself." Malfoy said without sympathy, "Get up."

Slowly, she got to her feet and even that was hard. She was shaky and her stomach turned with nausea. Malfoy gave her a once over, deemed her fit and walked away. She tried to follow him. She managed to get five paces before her knees buckled again and she crumpled to the ground sniffling with helpless tears.

" Ah, shit, Granger." Malfoy sounded disgusted. He stomped back to her to stand over her impotently, "Are you sick? Do you have a fever?"

" I don’t think so. I feel a little hot because of the sunburn. But its mostly dizziness and queasiness like I'm going to throw up. I don't know what I'm going to throw up since I haven't really eaten in three days." She began to sob quietly.

" Shit. Fucking shit." He went on stringing curses together, completely at a loss.

" Malfoy…" she stared down at her knees, "I don't think I'm going to be able to go any further today."

" You stupid, useless bitch." He turned his back on her without another word and stormed away.

Hermione bit her lip and squeezed her eyes shut, tears leaking down her cheeks. She did not want to watch him walk away, did not want to see her last link to human civilization callously disappear over the next hill and leave her to sit there until either her strength returned enough for her to find shelter or something came along and finished her off.

Damn him. Damn him for doing this to her.

And damn her. A lot of good all those spells and facts did her now. She thought bitterly. When it really counted, she just wasn't strong enough or smart enough or anything enough...

An arm wrapped around her shoulders and she yelped in surprise as she was hauled unkindly to her feet. There was a moment where she leaned unsteadily against him, wondering what the heck was going on, before she was roughly wrenched off her feet and into Draco Malfoy's arms.

" Fucking, stupid bitch. Ugly Gryffindor mother fucking…" the muttered curses kept coming, long lists of increasingly vulgar expletives that, at the moment, she was too stunned to take personally.

She rested her head on his shoulder and stared at her knees, not daring to look at him, or question this turn of events, not daring to even wonder what he was doing. Because he couldn't possibly be helping her. She kept quiet, afraid to do anything but meekly hold onto him.

It took her a few minutes to realize he was taking her back to the oasis.

" You're fucking heavy." He panted, "You could stand to lose a few pounds for someone whining about being hungry."

He continued cursing and berating her, coming up with shocking and impressive word combinations, some of which she numbly made a mental note to remember, all the way back to the river campsite. She peeked up at him once from under her hair and saw him staring determinedly forward, his face set and hard. Back under the shade of the trees, he unceremoniously dropped her next to the remains of their fire and she landed with a bruising jolt.

" Stay." He snapped, pointing a finger warningly as if she were a dog, and disappeared into the brush.

She stared after him, shell-shocked.

Just what in the world was going on?

She knew better than to ask. For once, analyzing the situation didn't seem like a good idea. She lay down instead, pressing her cheek to the cool earth gratefully, waiting for the dizzy sickness to pass. She'd experienced something like this before. A few summers ago she'd gone with some friends on a very long bike ride on a very hot day on a very empty stomach. Her head had gone hot and fizzy and her stomach had warbled. She hadn't fainted, but she'd been forced to get off her bike and sit down rather abruptly. This was a lot like that.

She dozed lightly, drifting in and out of real thoughts and restless half-formed dreams. She had no real way of knowing how long she lay there but she thought her strength returned fairly quickly, telling her that her body's reaction had been more of a warning then a serious lapse. Not that it wasn't serious. She just wasn't down for the count yet. When she finally sat up, she was still tired but able to move without nausea. The oasis was quiet, Malfoy was still out somewhere doing who knows what.

Was it possible he was out looking for food? Ridiculous! He didn't know what to look for. If that were the case, she should probably go help him.

She reached with one hand for her backpack and turned quickly when she realized it wasn't there. Had Malfoy left it out there in the grasslands? She wouldn't be surprised.

That idiot.

With a groan and a sigh, she got to her feet, pleased when no spots rushed her vision. She'd taken two steps towards the trees when an angry voice made her jump.

" I told you to stay put!" Malfoy barked.

" Sorry," she mumbled," I was feeling a little better. I thought I'd look for food."

" Yeah and then you'd do one of your stupid fainting bouts out there and I'd have to go find you." He stomped into their campsite, glowering.

Okay, so he had a point.

" Here." He tossed something at her feet and it landed in a brown-furred boneless flop.

Hermione squealed, jerking back in horror. The dead rabbit stared up at her with glazed eyes, its mouth open in a frozen scream, square yellow-brown teeth jutting outward obscenely.

" Oh mi gosh, Malfoy! What did you do!" she screamed, staring down at the poor thing, completely appalled.

Malfoy sneered at her, apparently pleased with her reaction.

" You killed a little rabbit? Why? How could you?" she was shaking with anger, " Did you do it for fun? Does this sort of thing get you off? What is wrong with you?"

Malfoy burst into laughter at her indignation. He clutched his side and laughed until he almost cried.

She couldn't believe him, she glared at him, her face flushed.

" Oh, Merlin! Poor Mr. bunny!" Malfoy gasped out between laughs, "You're insane Granger, really."

" And you're really sick." She hissed, "Perverted, nasty freak…"

He sobered, face darkening, " I think we've already discussed which one of us is the freak."

" We haven't discussed anything yet, but I look forward to the conversation. There is something wrong with you, isn't there. You make darn sure everyone knows who the freaks are so they won't look too closely at you…"

He went still, some emotion, something odd and guarded, flashing across his face, but then he snarled, "Ungrateful bitch. See if I ever bring you food again."


It hit her quite suddenly and then she felt incredibly stupid. The rabbit. The rabbit was food. Of course the rabbit was food! What in the world was she thinking?

It had just sort of surprised her brain. She'd never actually looked at a living creature, or a dead one in this instance and identified it in her mind as food. Something seemed fundamentally wrong with the concept but here it was. And then Malfoy had surprised her by tossing the poor little corpse at her feet and well…

She glanced queasily down at the bunny, still a little horrified, " Food. You brought me food?"

Draco Malfoy had brought her food. The idea sank in and she looked up at him in awe.

His eyes narrowed and he took a step back, " Oh no! Don't you dare look at me like that! I did not do this out of the kindness of my heart! I'm helping you because if I don't keep you around then I might end up walking into another antlion's nest or something like that. I don't care how sick you are or how bad you feel, in fact I find your pain incredibly funny. So don't you for one second get gooey-eyed on me you psychotic troll."

A bit of cold reality reinstated itself with his words and she nodded slowly but was still a little amazed at him despite herself, " Thanks Malfoy… I mean, thanks anyway. I'm…I'm sorry I yelled at you." She choked on the words. The apology was warranted, she supposed, but it still took a lot of willpower to force the words out, " Um, I have no idea…how to prepare it." she gestured lamely to the dead thing at her feet.

He growled and rolled his eyes, "I'll set this one up to cook for you and then go out again. This isn't going to feed us both."

She stoked a fire as he sat down and unsheathed his knife, taking hold of the rabbit with practiced ease. She closed her eyes and looked away, a tiny sound escaping her lips as the blade bit into flesh.

" Hey!" Malfoy snapped, "You're going to watch this and learn how to do it. I had to suffer through you bitching to me about circles and protective plants and all that crap, so you have to watch this."

That was fair, she guessed. She cracked her eyes open to see the boy scowling at her. He grinned evilly when she met his eyes and proceeded to explain the process gleefully as he sliced and diced and then tore the skin off and…oh Merlin…she was going to barf.

" Look, Granger, it’s the heart. Yummy!"

She moaned low in her throat, covering her eyes to escape seeing the tiny red organ in Malfoy's bloody hand. He laughed at her, delighted. She shrieked in horror when he hacked off the rabbit's head and threw it at her, her face several shades paler than normal.

Food or not, he was a maniac to be able to chop that poor thing to pieces like that.

He set the animal on a spit and stuck the end of the spit into the dirt at an angle so the rabbit hung over the fire.

" When…uh, how can you tell when its done?" she asked, shakily.

Malfoy gave her a blank look and shrugged, " Just make sure it doesn't catch fire. It doesn't taste good charred."

She slapped a hand to her forehead at this perfectly Draco cooking advice, as the boy went to toss the bloody waste into the underbrush and wash his hands in the stream.

" Go ahead and eat all of it. I'll get us some more." Malfoy said finally and left without another word.

Food, food, food, food, dead bunny, oh Merlin, fooood. And not just food, MEAT! She hadn't had meat in a week.

She was left staring at the roasting meat, watching it like the pot that never boils. She groaned, the smell of cooking meat was intoxicating, had her stomach jumping and gurgling in anticipation, but the preparation of the carcass was still vivid in her mind, threatening to make her ill.

That jerk, he did this on purpose.

Several things turned through her mind as she turned the spit over the fire. The most obvious being that, from the confident way Malfoy had dismembered and disemboweled the unfortunate forest creature, this was something he did quite often. Which meant…

Which meant that that despicable, nasty, vile inbreed had been eating meat this entire time AND taking half of her collected food on top of that! She realized in outrage. What a sleaze!

He'd been hunting from the beginning. That's where he went when he snuck off every night! That's why he was always taking firestone from her backpack! And that's why he never ever complained about being hungry. He might ask for food but he never actually said he was hungry. He had been trying, maybe even subconsciously, not to alert her to what he was doing.

That rotten, evil git! To be getting extra food and eating it all himself and not bringing her a scrap! She remembered that it had occurred to her before that he might be finding food and eating it himself, she hadn't thought it would bother her. It wouldn't have bothered her had he not insisted on eating half of what she collected as well. But that he had the nerve to take half of her food and then not share what he had found just blew her mind!

Oooh, she wanted to tear into him. Here she'd been dying of hunger and he'd been having barbecue every night!

Speaking of which…

Nothing so nasty had ever tasted so good as that poor murdered creature. At first the meat was so hot she burnt her fingers and her tongue when she tore strips of meat off and stuffed them in her mouth without thought, but she didn't care. Her stomach screamed in welcome. She had to put the meat back over the fire once or twice when certain areas looked suspiciously pink but on the whole the animal was cooked much better than Draco's first try. She didn't know that though.

The boy returned as she was finishing up and licking her fingers eagerly.

" I got lucky." He grunted and two more rabbits hit the ground near the fire, " But the rest of them know I'm out here now. It'll be harder to catch anymore."

She pulled her finger from her lips with a wet smack, "Just how in the world are you catching them anyway? Its not like you have a gun…or a wand." She added at his blank look, " All you have is that knife. Do you know how to set traps or something? I think catching one is pretty amazing, let alone three."

He looked away, " I used to go hunting a lot with Ryan Nott and some friends."

" So you do know nature stuff and you've been keeping it a secret this whole time!" she accused.

He shrugged, " I know how to hunt, that's about it. We didn't go prancing around the woods gathering flowers."

" Oh and I do?" she snapped.

He gave her a withering look, "If you have the strength to bitch at me, then you must be feeling better. I'll put one more rabbit on to cook, you can have the whole thing. But I want to save the last one for now."

He was gone a lot longer this time and when he finally returned it was with four squirrels and…


" People eat these, don't they?" he questioned uncertainly, holding up the headless snake.

" Y,yes, I've heard of people eating rattlesnakes. But Malfoy, squirrels? That's just gross."

" We'll eat lizards and grasshoppers if we have to." He said adamantly and looked vaguely pleased with the idea, "Are you still hungry?"

" No…I think I just lost my appetite."

" We don't have time for girly-shit, Granger. Are you hungry?"

" No. I'm full."

" Fine. Get out of the way. I'm starved."

She moved away from the fire though it wasn't really necessary, "Where's my backpack?"

" Uh, oh yeah, its in my bag." He flopped down next to the fire and fished out his bag, tugging her backpack out from the thin sack.

Hermione took it from him, " Are we going to leave after you eat?"

Now that her stomach was happy, she was full of energy, feeling much better and rearing to go.

" No, we're staying here for the rest of the day."

Her jaw dropped, "But school starts tomorrow! We can't waste a whole day just sitting here!"

" Granger, you could barely stand up this morning and I was almost about to fall over myself. We need to rest today."

" No way, Malfoy! No way am I just going to sit here! We have to get back!"

" Sit down! The only thing we need to do is stay alive, so shut the hell up. We wouldn't make it back in time anyway even if we started right now so relax and we'll start again early tomorrow morning."

" NO! We leave now!" she put steel into her voice, telling him she wouldn't balk on this issue.

Malfoy gestured towards the grasslands," Go ahead. You're free to go. Nothings keeping you here."

She stood there uncertainly for a minute or two, knowing full well that she wouldn't leave without him and also that there was no way to budge him if he didn't want to go.

Finally she made a ragged sound of frustration, " You just don't understand! I'm Head Girl…"

" You'll be easy enough to replace. " Malfoy interrupted dryly, calmly skinning his rabbit.

" And what about the NEWTS? We have NEWTS this year and I for one want to be prepared!"

" For someone supposedly so smart, you are oppressively stupid. You were ready for NEWTS two years ago and you damn well know it. As for me, I could give a shit about the NEWTS."

" You…don't want to do well?" the idea was appalling.

" I don't need to do well. My dad can buy me into any job I want." He snorted, " Hell, I don't even have to work if I don't want to. Its not like I'm ever going to need the money. The only reason Malfoys do work at all is so we can set an example for society and be able to help out in the Ministry."

She peered at him through her lashes," You mean so you can bribe and threaten the Ministry."

Malfoy smirked, " Just so."

" What happened to Slytherin ambition? I thought you had plans?"

" I do have plans. I'm just not going to kill myself to accomplish them if I don't have to. Its Hufflepuffs who get off on hard work. Slytherins know a good deal when they see one."

Hermione sank down on the ground, cross-legged, frowning, "What are you going to do after Hogwarts?"

Malfoy snorted, " Move out for one. My mum doesn't want me to cuz Malfoy's are supposed to live at the Malfoy mansion or some stupid shit like that. Tradition blah blah blah. But I can't wait to get my own place."

Hermione smirked, "You'll have to get yourself a House-Elf, otherwise you'll drown in your own filth. You're a slob."

Malfoy grinned, " Heh. I can always hire a Muggle House-keeper. What say you, Granger? Need a job?"

" SHUT UP!" but she giggled, " I don't want any job that involves folding your moldy underwear."

He laughed," You should be so lucky…" he started but then he suddenly froze, his grin vanished and his face went cold and dark in an instant, " Fuck you, Muddy! You'll be lucky to be alive, let alone a servant, after we take over." And he turned his back on her.

Hermione's smile faded, her heart sinking.

He'd done it again. For just a second they were almost having a civil conversation, their very first one, and then he'd caught himself and reverted.

He must have been very tired to let himself fall into conversation with her without realizing it. Or maybe he was just getting used to having her around and his guard was dropping.

She studied his brooding face and knew he was going to make her pay for this big time.

He'd carried her in his arms, brought her food and talked with her. Later today or maybe tomorrow, there was going to be hell to pay. She would suffer dearly for each moment he hadn't been his usual bad Slytherin self.

The boy sat in front of the fire, intent on his work. The rabbit carcass was now roasting and he was working on the squirrels (Yuk!). He had withdrawn completely back into himself. His face was neutral, his mouth set in a cold, disdainful line but his eyes darted about like a hunted thing.

In a flash of insight, she wondered how closely he was watched back home. He was the perfection of all things Slytherin, he was their King, the center of attention at all times. A slip up like the one just now could have cost him his crown back home. What would everyone say if they knew he'd been talking and joking with a Mudblood?

Back at Hogwarts he was never alone, and even now, here, in the middle of nowhere, he couldn't relax. Because someone somewhere somehow might see him being "nice" to a Mudblood and tell his father. He wasn't betraying them. No, she understood. He was doing what he had to do, helping her to help himself. But someone else, and it was the Slytherin thing to do, could easily take his actions and twist them until he looked the traitor.

That would destroy him completely, his reputation, his power…

What was it like to have his every word, every movement, recorded and analyzed by a hundred pairs of eyes? To have everyone else watching him for cues on how to behave? To have his detractors just waiting for him to slip up? To have his father, the Death Eaters and Voldemort himself breathing down his neck?

It was not that he was being forced to be something he wasn't. She didn't believe that for an instant. No, he was Slytherin and pureblood all the way down to his black little soul. He hated her, if not for being a Muggle then for being Harry Potter's friend. It was just that he was constantly putting on a show, playing the part of the ultimate Slytherin. Back home it was probably something he enjoyed immensely. He loved the attention, the shock, the notoriety.

But out here, he couldn't find respite from the role. This whole situation had to be screwing with his head. He was tired but he couldn't relax, couldn't act like he normally would when he was tucked up snug in the Slytherin common room surrounded by kith and kin. No, tonight he was bunked with the enemy so he had to keep his guard up, no matter how tired he was, no matter how much he just wanted to lay the role aside and rest.

She tucked her knees up to her chin and closed her eyes. She was tired too.

Next time: It’s the first day of school at Hogwarts. Sides are taken, lines are drawn and Pansy has a plan…

A/N: Hmm. There were a lot of ideas introduced in this chapter, a whole lot of things that probably don't make sense yet. It'll make sense later. But there wasn't much action and I always feel unfulfilled if I haven't gotten in a good dose of butt-kicking.

Anyway, one thing to mention is that there are several things that I have sort of led you to believe that aren't true. It was done intentionally. Its sort of the perception thing all over again. Just because one character thinks he knows what's going on doesn't necessarily make it true. For example: Harry and Hermione aren't dating. I never said they were, only that several people think they were (like the Daily Prophet etc).

Other Notes:

The seagull's sister: Its all good. Actually several people have said something about Hermione supposedly being a wimp and while it would be kind of fun to see her go Bruce Lee on everyone I see her as a pretty passive person. She's going to avoid confrontation when she can. She's going to analyze her situation very carefully before acting. She's not going to try to beat Draco into submission, rather she's going to try to manipulate him into doing what she wants. But that's calm rational Hermione, we haven't seen her backed into a corner yet…

Scarlett: The wyvern is your average run-of-the-mill European mythological beast. Most Square Soft beasties in Final Fantasy games and such are usually mythological based (ie Bahamut, Odin etc. etc.). My first exposure to wyvern was from a video game though. It was from Dragon Warrior III, my very first RPG when I was like 6, for the Nintendo. I remember it because the wyvern always killed me. I loved that game. I hated the princess though. "Dost thou love me…" " NO!" " But thou must!" she was such a manipulative little...

Antlion is a shout out to Final Fantasy (although there is an actual bug called an antlion and *surprise* it eats ants). This incarnation of it though, is all mine.

Dreaming One: Wow, thanks for the multiple reviews. I read them all and then I read them again and then I showed them to my roommate and said 'SEE! Some people think I have talent'. But she just told me to shut up and pay my half of the rent. Anyway, I'm sorry you're angry. I know the feeling actually… *cough* JungleKitty82 *cough cough* "Another Life" *cough*

Further more: some rabbits eat their own fecal matter as a way to glean an optimal amount of nutrition from their food. I'll never look at Easter the same way again.
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Books » Harry Potter » The God of the Lost text size: (+) : (-)
Author: Gravidy
R - English - Action/Adventure/Romance - Reviews: 1503 - Published: 05-20-03 - Updated: 09-26-04 id:1352741

Disclaimer: LOBSTER STICKS TO MAGNET!! (if you’ve never seen the lobster magnet music video do so. Unfortunately I don’t have a url at the moment)

A/N: I hate the holidays.

Peaches and Love to all reviewers. Double Peaches with a cherry on top to Stupid_Girl_of_Cold for being my 200th reviewer. I’d write all the other names but I already have writer’s cramp.

Chapter 10: Call to Battle

We are scanning the scene
in the city tonight
We are looking for you
to start up a fight
There is an evil feeling
in our brains
But it is nothing new
you know it drives us insane

Metallica~ Seek and Destroy

Harry dreamed of Hermione. It wasn't the first time, not anywhere near the first time. But this wasn’t one of the warm, slippery, flesh-colored dreams that made him stutter a bit around her the next morning nor was it one of the dark, blood-stained nightmares filled with the sour musk of reptiles that had haunted him since Cedric’s death and tripled in intensity since Sirius’. This was….different.

It was fuzzy and dim at first, there was nothing but a speck of orangish-yellow light dimly glowing off somewhere in the distance of an infinite eternity of inky blackness. He walked closer to the light, though he was certain there was nothing beneath his feet, nothing but more empty darkness. Negative space. The absence of all. Except that one flare of light…and the distant chirping croak of frogs, as if there was a pond somewhere nearby.

That one spot of light became clearer until he could see it for what it was. A campfire. A small campfire, weak and straining, flickering with all its tiny might to fend off the overwhelming darkness. Hermione knelt beside the fire, gazing into the flames. Her face was calm and serene and she was wearing some sort of strange concoction of skins and furs, one of her hands played absently with a necklace made of bones and animal fangs around her neck. She looked like a tribal maiden.

" Hermione..?" his voice was distant and echoing as if from far away and he knew his mouth hadn't move.

She turned chocolate-colored eyes up to him soberly, sadly, and didn't seem surprised at all to see him there anymore than he was surprised to see her.

" Its behind you Harry."

The words turned his blood to ice, as realization and a feeling of pure terror burst over his skin in tingling waves.

He whipped around but it was too late. There was a flash of glacial eyes, pale pale hair and a curling snarl and the other boy bore him to the ground, a wicked-looking dagger in hand raised for the kill. Harry grabbed the hand clutching the weapon and tried to stop it from descending, choking as Malfoy's other hand closed around his neck.

“Re’loiuth Eedai Mevnox.” Hissed Malfoy, madness in his eyes.

Sickened chills raised the hair on his arms, causing his stomach to clench, and his strength to give out. With a triumphant cry, Malfoy slammed the blade home.

Harry jerked upright in bed, biting his tongue on a scream, sweat pouring down his face and soaking his chest. He was tangled up in the many patchwork quilts that covered his bed in the Burrow…

Only this wasn’t the Burrow.

For a horribly disoriented moment he had no idea where he was. Then he remembered. The Weasleys had been uprooted to a temporary safe house after Hermione's disappearance and he’d stayed with them, refusing to return to the Dursley’s for the last week. Ron lay on the bed across the room, snoring obliviously. The place was sweltering, someone had probably left the heating charm on.

Harry sucked in deep calming breaths, slumping back against his plump feather-down pillow, running a hand over his sweaty forehead, over his scar.

A nightmare? Just a nightmare?

He never could tell anymore, he didn't trust his own instincts. There had been a clarity to the images that only existed within his true dreams…but all his true dreams were connected to Voldemort and there had been no sense of his enemy anywhere in this dream.

His true dreams were also scenes from reality, like the ones where he'd seen the inside of the Ministry building. They were real places and real events. This dream had been a study in surrealism. He highly doubted Hermione was actually sitting in an empty black void beside a floating campfire while dressed in animal skins.

It was just a regular old nightmare. Just some crazy acid-trip his brain had thrown together. Hermione had to be somewhere after all. No one seemed able to find her, to tell him where she might be, but she couldn’t have vanished from the face of the Earth. So maybe she was floating in the twilight zone wearing bone jewelry with only a psychotic, knife-wielding Draco Malfoy for company…

Stop it!

He cringed, horrified by the thought, his breath shuddering painfully from his chest.

Hermione was out there somewhere, all alone with the Malfoys, with Draco Malfoy and Lucius Malfoy and all their buddies.


What had the boy said in his dream? Re….

No! Don't think those words.

He shuddered again, feeling ill. His mind shying away from the horror he'd felt at that moment.

He crawled, rumpled and sleepy, from the bed with a grunt, his mouth sticky and foul tasting, and limped to the window. The drapes were thick and heavy enough to block out all light even in the afternoon. Harry lifted one side and saw that the sky was just beginning to turn pale at the edges. It was incredibly early if Mr. Wealsey wasn't in there already to chase them out of bed.

They'd be boarding the train today. Without Hermione.

His world was falling apart.

Voldemort didn't need to kill him to destroy him now. All Voldemort needed to do was take Ron, take him like he'd taken Hermione and Sirius and Cedric and his parents, take the very last thing in the world that Harry cared about and…and that would be it. He'd be broken, snapped, mad, and that was worse than dead.

Because maybe if he were dead, the pain would stop.

His little life that he'd built for himself had been so fragile. Ron and Hermione were the first people in his entire life that he could remember ever caring about him in any way. Hermione was the first to ever offer him physical gestures of affection, a hug, a kiss. Things so simple and everyday for most people, but something he'd never experienced or even wanted until she came along.

That first year at Hogwarts he'd been more comfortable with people hating him than with people being nice. Until Ron and Hermione changed him.

Merlin, he loved them both so much.

He'd been shocked that first day when Ronald Weasley wanted to be his friend. Didn't this red-headed kid know what he was? Couldn’t he tell just by looking that Harry Potter was a freak, a worthless waste of skin, something to hate, to spit on and grind under foot. Isn't that what the Dursleys had taught him every day of his existence? It didn't matter. He'd been certain this kid would soon realize his mistake and not want to be friends anymore.

Quite the opposite. Instead he'd found himself with an adopted family of good-natured red-heads who fussed over him as if he were their own.

Harry felt his fists clench in his hands until his knuckles were white.

He wouldn't let it happen. He wouldn’t let them be hurt because of him. He couldn’t go back to that cold, destitute childhood after tasting their warmth, their love, after discovering (and it had taken him years to realize it) that there was nothing wrong with him.

Hermione was gone. They had taken her, but he'd get her back and make damn sure they didn't live long enough to take Ron. Anything else was unthinkable.

Harry dressed and slipped down the hallway, unable to even fathom getting back to sleep. The house was completely dark except for the dim orange light coming from the downstairs living room. It reminded him eerily of his dream.

A fire crackled cheerily in the living room fireplace. Ginny Weasley was curled up in a large armchair nearby, still dressed in her pajamas, a blanket over her legs, her tangled mane falling haphazardly over her shoulders.

“ Morning Gin.” He whispered.

“ Morning Harry. Couldn’t sleep?”

“ No.”

“ I can never sleep the night before school.” She admitted in a hushed voice, “ I always dream that I miss the train.”

“ Yeah. I’ve had that one before.”

“ But not tonight?”

“ No, not tonight.”

She didn’t press. He sat down in the chair across from her, eyes drawn to the darting flames. They sat that way in companionable silence, and Harry simply soaked in the peace of the moment.

“ Mom is crying again.” Ginny told him, breaking the stillness.

Harry sighed very softly, feeling helpless.

He had been there when Mr. Weasley explained what had happened to Hermione. Molly had listened soberly and then nodded curtly, her mouth in a thin tight line. At the time, Harry had felt a burst of rage towards this woman who was almost a mother to him and her calm, almost aloof, reaction to the news, remembering that she did not care for Hermione nearly as much as she cared for him. Only later, in the quiet of the night, did he hear her sobbing, wailing, as Arthur tried uselessly to comfort her.

She had said nothing, not a word, but Harry remembered the photo album Moody had showed him, and all the photos of Molly and Arthur’s friends.

And he knew she believed Hermione was dead.

“ She doesn’t want us to go back to Hogwarts.” Harry said inanely, they both knew this.

They had been trying these last few days, to prepare for school as normally as possible only to discover that Mrs. Weasley had started insisting they not return to Hogwarts at all this year. She’d fought Arthur to the wall against them returning, saying they should be home-schooled instead.

Harry had been horrified by the idea. Hogwarts was home, even more than the Borrow was. Nothing was going to stop him from going back. Not even Molly Weasley. They could forbid him all they wanted, he was seventeen and technically an adult, legally they couldn’t stop him. He was going to Hogwarts one way or another and that was final.

Luckily, the Order backed Arthur, and Molly had given in. Harry hoped she had given up on the idea. He didn’t want anybody changing their minds at the last moment.

“ Do you really think Hogwarts is safe?”

The question caught him off guard.

Safe? His immediate inclination was to say ‘yes’, Hogwarts was safe. Safe as safe could be.

That was a lie. After everything that had happened to him and his friends at Hogwarts, it would be a bold-faced lie to say nothing could harm them there. The truth was that nowhere was safe. Hogwarts was simply safer than anywhere else.

He had waited too long to answer and Ginny simply nodded her understanding. At her quiet acceptance, Harry felt a pang in his chest.

There had been owls the morning after Hermione’s disappearance. Flocks of them, droves of them.

There were sympathies and condolences. There were frightened friends wanting to know what had happened and how they could help. There were Slytherins and purebloods sending Howlers and jinxes to Harry for his ‘abduction’ of Draco. There were crazies claiming that they’d seen Hermione in Bangkok or Brazil. Others bragging that they had been the one to take her and that they meant to take Harry next.

And there had been terrible terrible threats against the Weasleys. Threats against the family, against Ron, against Ginny.

The Order screened all of the owls coming through but that first day there hadn’t been enough of them around and they’d missed several owls. One of the owls carried a letter directly to Ginny.

She had come running, crying in pain, to Fred and George. George was the one who caught her up in his arms, while Fred demanded to know what was wrong, bellowing in a voice that had brought Mr. Weasley, Ron and Harry running.

Ginny’s hands had been severely burned by a curse in the letter. Mr. Weasley and George carted the hysterical girl off and Fred, Harry and Ron were left with the letter. A simple plain parchment with the words ‘I’M GOING TO KILL YOU, WHORE’ scrawled across the center.

Harry didn’t understand how anyone could blame Ginny for Malfoy’s disappearance. She was an innocent bystander. Yet that letter had only been the first of many. Fortunately it was the only one to actually reach Ginny.

“ I feel like I should apologize.” Harry murmured.

Ginny’s eyes sought his curiously.

“ If it wasn’t for me, you’re family…” he trailed off, shaking his head, “Its my fault, you know. Your dad getting hassled at work. Percy still not coming home. You and Ron… If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be in danger.”

“ Harry, you’re being a jackass.” Ginny cut him off sharply, “Not one of those things are your fault. Us Weasleys make our own trouble. We like trouble. Its in our blood. Just look at Fred and George. For heaven sakes look at Charlie, he plays with dragons!” She smiled grimly at him, “ Besides, if it weren’t for you Harry, then Ron wouldn’t have a best friend and he probably never would have made Prefect. If it weren’t for you, Fred and George wouldn’t have one of the most successful shops in Hogsmead. And if it weren’t for you…I wouldn’t have had anyone to rescue me from Tom Riddle and the Chamber of Secrets. He brought me into this, Harry, him and Malfoy, not you. Between me and Riddle, its personal.”

She glared at him, cool and imperious even with her hair in disarray and wearing bunny pajamas with lace at the collar. Harry felt a grin tugging helplessly at his lips at this glimpse of the wild woman Ginny Weasley was growing up to be. She was a firecracker, that was for sure.

As suddenly as it came the grin faded in a wave of overwhelming weariness.

“ I don’t want to lose anyone else, Gin.” He murmured, pressing the crown of his head into the soft cushion as he stared at the ceiling. The confession was completely unlike him.

“ Oh Harry…” Ginny’s face softened and she started to reach one hand out to him but the twins chose that moment to come pounding downstairs. She sat back, retracting her hand, “ We’re here for you, Harry.”

By the time Mr. Weasley finally rolled a groggy, irritable Ron out of bed, Ginny was dressed and the morning post had come. There were two letters for Harry but they were quickly snatched away, much to his frustration, by an Order member who happened by.
Harry knew he should appreciate that they were screening for information and keeping threats and jinxes away but in the mean time he was trying to send and receive private messages with friends and classmates and this constant snatching of his letters was making it impossible. He definitely did not want the likes of Moody reading his messages. Especially since Moody might be periodically patrolling the school as he had the year before.

It was a mess anyway with remembering who knew what and who he’d last written to. Harry had owled most everyone to tell them to stop writing him, that he’d talk to them all once they reached Hogwarts. But he’d apparently missed a few. He already felt bad since the only information the other Gryffindors now had to go by was the newspaper which was rapidly turning into the circus what with all the false reports and tips.

Breakfast was quick and subdued, no one felt much like eating or talking. The twins ate sullenly, George practically hovering over Ginny as he had all week, despite her snarled, sometimes shrieked, protests that she could take care of herself.

Usually the twins would already be off to work at this time of day but they had stuck around especially to see the others off.

Their reaction to Hermione’s disappearance had at least been gratifying. The two went ballistic. Harry was certain they had started plotting revenge almost instantly, but Lucius struck first. The elder Malfoy had insisted the twins be implicated as suspects in his son’s disappearance. The Wheezes was searched and Lucius had tried to get the shop shut down ‘until such time as Draco is returned’. Arthur had fought like mad to keep the little shop open and had thus far succeeded, but the sheer amount of paperwork alone was keeping the twins too busy to retaliate.

Mrs. Wealsey had cooked an enormous breakfast and she watched them all with a strained pale smile, her eyes red-rimmed but there was otherwise no sign of her early morning tears. She had kept up a cheery front all week but it seemed to be taking its toll. She sipped at her tea and wrote another letter to the Grangers. She had dutifully written to them once, sometimes twice, a day since their daughter vanished.

Hermione’s parents hadn’t been informed of her disappearance until a full day after the incident. The Ministry apparently had never sent anyone to tell them. It was not a ‘priority’ they said. They considered the disappearance a Wizard matter and hadn’t thought it necessary or wise to share information about an ongoing investigation with a pair of Muggles. Arthur had been absolutely horrified by this lack of common human courtesy.

The Granger’s had been fighting bureaucratic red tape ever since, fighting for every scarp of information they could get. Molly and Harry tried to stay in contact with them. The Grangers had even been down to the safe-house for a night to speak with Arthur.

They were nice people, but even Harry felt a bit like they were outsiders. He couldn’t shake the feeling that they didn’t quite understand how dire the situation was. Or maybe that wasn’t fair. Maybe they did but they refused to acknowledge it. He knew they had lost a niece in the Craighton mall massacre. He knew they understood that Voldemort would kill them as soon as look at them. But what parent gives their child up for dead? They would always have hope, even if Hermione was never found.

The ride to the train station was more like a parade. Harry was accustomed to having escorts but this years entourage, made up of ministry and Order alike, seemed absolutely ridiculous. He endured it stiffly, ignoring the stares they received. Molly kissed them as they stood on the platform, hugging them like she was never going to see them again, tears in her eyes as she waved goodbye.

Fred immediately threw himself at them in over-exaggerated mimicry, making a show of hugging the three of them weepily, getting an angry squall from Ginny, an unnatural cold silence from Ron and an embarrassed mutter from Harry before Fred hastily shoved a small bag into Harry’s hand and winked as he pulled away. Harry quickly stuffed the bag in his robes.

If Fred had to sneak it to him, he was fairly certain it was ammunition of some sort. He gave the twins a faint grin of thanks. Fred and George could always be counted on.

“ I’m so glad that’s over with!” Ginny groaned as they boarded the train at last, voicing Harry’s sentiments exactly, “ I thought mother was going to snap and start shrieking about home school again.”

“ I won’t be comfortable until we’re actually in our common room.” Harry muttered, thinking that Mrs. Weasley still had several hours to snap.

“ Here here.” Ginny agreed.

Ron still said nothing. Harry was getting worried. The red-headed boy had been coping well the last couple of days. He’d been as fierce as ever in making plans during war meetings with Harry and the twins. But this morning he’d been cold and silent as stone.

Its because she wouldn’t miss school. Harry thought, nothing would keep Hermione Granger away from her first day of school… but she’s not here.

“ Harry! Ron!”

Lavender and Parvati came jogging into the car. The two girls had probably seen them from a window as they boarded. Lavender gave them each a quick unexpected hug, pulling away before they could react. Parvati’s face was red and her breath was coming in little hitches like she was struggling no… Продолжение »
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