~ In which the play is just the background
The sky had darkened progressively throughout the day, and heavy rain clouds were making their way steadily towards the grey turrets of Hogwarts. Large, thick raindrops were just starting to fall when Draco Malfoy burst out of the entrance doors and ran blindly towards the Quidditch pitch. Breathing raggedly, he tore at the sword clanging painfully against his back, wrenching it free from its restraints and swinging it violently against a passing statue.
The sword clattered to the ground as Draco gave a strangled cry and clutched his ringing hands. Picking the sword back up, he flung it as far as he could. Thunder rolled as he darted towards the blade, the late sun gleaming in its reflection. He struggled to wrench it from the ground, only to stab it back in again and again, gritting his teeth excruciatingly hard to stop himself from screaming at the top of his lungs.
“I won’t ever leave you, Severus.”
“HOW COULD YOU?” Draco shouted as he continued to run, all self-control lost as he saw his two best friends kissing again and again in his mind. An unwelcome image of Severus smirking at him bubbled up in his memory. “AND HOW COULD YOU?!” he screamed. “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE MY BEST–”
THWACK! His sword hit the side of the Broom Shed, sending splinters of wood flying and barely avoiding Draco’s wide, seething eyes.
“I hate you,” he breathed, struggling to jerk his sword free once more, “I hate you and I don’t care anymore and I don’t know why I even fucking –BOTHERED!”
The force of
the suddenly freed sword sent Draco staggering backwards, making him whirl
around and start slashing at the shabby undergrowth marking the borders of the
“IT’S NOT FAIR!” Draco yelled, before collapsing to his knees in despised exhaustion. “It’s not fucking– I hate you…”
Draco continued to heave this defiantly to himself, swearing his hatred for Severus aloud as if to silence the treasonous voice inside him that said he didn’t. Draco ran clenched fingers through his hair, brushing it furiously off his forehead and hating the fact that he couldn’t completely hate Severus, no matter how hard he tried – for fuck’s sake he couldn’t even hate Ginny.
“I’m so stupid,” Draco seethed, viciously ripping out clumps of wet grass as he thought about the way Ginny had always blushed when Severus had touched her. All this fucking time, right under his nose. Why didn’t they… why couldn’t they… why would they egg him on like that?
Draco squeezed his eyes shut as wave after wave of angry humiliation burst through him. He started to punch the ground, his fists hitting the sodden earth again and again. It doesn’t matter, he told himself savagely, bullets of rain mixing with angry tears. I never want to see them again… I couldn’t care less what they do without me anymore –
Oh but you do care, interrupted the treasonous voice that was starting to sound infuriatingly like Severus. You don’t hate them and you do care.
“SHUT–” Draco lunged at the sword next to him and hurled it violently at the side of the Broom Shed, “ -UP!”
The sharp blade stuck into the wooden wall once more, but this time he made no move to retrieve it. His fists clenched, his chest heaving, Draco Malfoy glared instead at a small rolled up parchment that had fluttered to his feet. He didn’t have to look upwards to catch a glimpse of a sleek eagle-owl flying away to second guess where it had come from.
The familiar black seal that marked all Malfoy letters seemed darker in the dwindling light, and, stooping to the wet ground, Draco snatched up the parchment with a sort of vindictive pleasure. Imagining Severus’s reaction as he ripped it open, Draco read the words rapidly, his hands shaking with a fierce satisfaction at having this to wave in the other boy’s disapproving face.
I assume you have indeed taken my words seriously but have lacked the courage to reply sooner. Join me at sundown, to the northeast of Hogwarts where the forest extends beyond the school boundaries. I know you will be there to claim your heart’s desire, and because you will always be who you are – your father’s son. Do not be late,
A sharp barking laugh escaped Draco’s lips as he scrunched up the letter and thrust it deep into his pockets. He glanced towards the direction of the setting sun hidden by the heavy storm clouds, and cast a quick charm to stop the raindrops from hitting him in the face any longer. He looked back at the castle, his defiant gaze lingering on the windows of the infirmary tower. When he looked back at the forest ahead, his jaw was set and his eyes were cold.
“Why the fuck not?”
Swinging his sword back across his shoulder, he set off into the gloomy forest before him.
“Snape! Snape, we need you for the final –”
There was a sudden gasp as Philip Woodley came screeching to a halt, his sword cluttering to the ground as he froze in the doorway of the hospital wing. Severus pushed Ginny away with a shocked cry, sending the flushing girl staggering backwards while panting heavily.
“What the hell have I done?” he said faintly.
“Don’t,” whispered Ginny back, looking at him beseechingly. “Please don’t… I… I kissed you back.”
“You don’t understand!” said Severus in a horrified voice. “It’s all my fault! I’m completely out of line! I’m –”
“Don’t,” repeated Ginny tearfully, but then turning her head towards Woodley. “Please Philip, you mustn’t…”
Woodley nodded mutely at Ginny’s unfinished sentence, looking from one panting Gryffindor to the other. “Well,” he said at last, clearing his throat. “I suppose Malfoy didn’t end up giving you that sword then...”
“What?” demanded Severus, colour draining from his flushed face. “What do you mean? Was he looking for me? When?”
“Er…” stammered Woodley, glancing across at Ginny when he heard her sudden sharp intake of breath. “He was looking for you just ten minutes ago… I told him you were sent here…”
Severus had scrambled out of bed at his words and instantly whirled on a shaking Ginny.
“Did you see him?” he rapped out, grabbing her shoulders but then suddenly wishing he hadn’t.
“He probably didn’t come up here,” supplied Woodley quickly, breaking the tension that Ginny’s numb silence was creating. “He didn’t seem to believe me when I told him you were here.”
As Severus’s expression continued to tighten, Ginny found the resolution to speak. “He would have said something if he saw us.”
Severus’s shoulders slackened, clapping his palms to his bowed forehead before dragging them down his face in despair. “I don’t think so,” he mumbled in embarrassment. “I don’t know what he’d do, but…”
“Erm… all right then…” Woodley gave them both uncomfortable looks and started backing out of the room awkwardly. “I was just sent to fetch you if you were feeling better… I’ve got a few more errands to run so…”
Woodley practically fled from the room, leaving Ginny and Severus standing alone in tense silence.
“Maybe… maybe he didn’t come up here,” said Severus at last, despising himself for once again, taking the easy way out.
“OK…” agreed Ginny in a small voice, although her stomach sinking when she saw the look of loathing suddenly rise up in the other Gryffindor’s eyes.
“No, it’s not OK,” he said flatly. “We’re just being stupid. I’m not doing anything until we find Draco. I’m not going to lose him again.”
As Ginny gazed back at the challenging eyes before her, she saw yet another reason to kiss Severus Snape. “You’re right,” she murmured, but then pointing at the sword lying near the doorway. “Isn’t that yours?”
Severus walked across the room and picked up the sword Draco had given him that Christmas, gritting his teeth at the poisonous voice in the back of his mind telling him he didn’t deserve such a gift. “Woodley must’ve dropped it,” he said shortly, strapping it to his back before moving towards the exit. “Come on, then.”
Ginny nodded, determined not to think about what lay ahead. Taking a deep breath, she followed Severus out of the room.
Completely out of breath, Ginny popped her head through the door of the play rehearsals classroom, hoping that she wouldn’t get noticed. She’d torn around everywhere, checking every single empty classroom, secret passage, hidden nook and cranny she could think of in the west side of the castle. She glanced around the empty classroom in surprise, before realising with a jolt of guiltiness that her classmates were probably already backstage in the Great Hall.
Maybe Severus had found him already, she reassured herself. The thought of letting down her classmates and failing Muggle Studies was making her queasy stomach feel even worse. Don’t think about it, she told herself fiercely. Just concentrate on finding Draco.
hysterical voice of
“Did you find him?” burst out Severus, running over to her and pulling her behind a pillar.
Ginny shook her head morosely, and Severus groaned in frustration.
“Practically the whole blasted school is in the Great Hall, but Draco’s nowhere to be found,” he growled, his face paling slightly before he spoke once more. “He must’ve seen us – he’s avoiding us.”
“He might be outside!” protested Ginny, her voice higher than usual. “We haven’t checked –”
“Well, if he’s outside then he definitely saw us,” snapped Severus at once. “It’s practically dark and pouring – no one in their right mind –”
There was a lumbering creak as the heavy doors of the Entrance Hall opened. Philip Woodley burst through the doors, reeling to a stop when Severus reached out an arm and grabbed his cloak.
“What were you doing out there? Have you seen Draco?” demanded Severus, his eyes narrowing at Woodley’s dishevelled appearance.
“Let go of me! I just needed some air,” replied Woodley, narrowing his eyes in return but then having them widen as Severus grabbed his shoulders and shoved him back against the oak doors. “What –!”
“Answer my question!” snarled Severus, all of his pent-up frustration directed at the stunned boy before him.
But at that moment a loud squeal broke the rippling tension, coupled with a sudden sharp stinging sensation in Severus and Ginny’s palms.
But Severus and Ginny were ignoring the Hufflepuff’s indignant words, as they stared at each other in horror and mouthed the word ‘Draco’ before gripping the iron rings that opened the huge doors.
“He must be
Woodley quickly, pushing aside an enraged
“What d’you mean?” demanded Severus, rounding on Woodley once more, his eyes glinting dangerously. “What did you see?”
“N-nothing!” stammered Woodley, wincing as Severus grabbed his shoulders once more. “I-I mean… it’s just dangerous… at-at night.”
“Philip!” she cried, her flashing eyes taking in the way Woodley was avoiding her gaze. “Draco’s out there and he’s our responsibility! What did you see?”
There was a pause as Woodley looked at her oddly.
“He was around the far end of the Quidditch pitch when I saw him,” he said at last. “So around… northeast… he’d probably be in that part of the forest if he’s not somewhere in the grounds…”
“Go up and tell the Headmaster that that’s where we’ll be,” instructed Severus grimly, letting go of the smaller boy’s shoulders with a snarl. “You’re lucky I’m in a hurry…”
But Ginny and Severus had disappeared into the night, and Emily was then distracted by Philip Woodley racing towards the stairs.
“Not you too!” she screamed, stamping her Muggle Converse shoes in frustration. “You’re already in costume! Dumbledore’s probably already at the Great Hall.”
“He’s not,” muttered Woodley to himself, as he continued to race forward. “He’s going to be away for a very long time.”
But this was
the last straw for
“LOCOMOTOR MORTIS!” she bellowed, pulling out her wand at the receding Woodley.
The blonde boy fell to the ground with a startled cry, glaring daggers at her as she came jogging up.
“What are you doing?” he seethed, all good humour drained from his face as he struggled to roll over and grab his wand. “Let me go!”
“Certainly not!” she seethed back. “I’ve worked far too hard –”
“What’s going on here?” interrupted Hermione Granger sternly, coming to a halt at the sight of a leg-locked student on the ground. “No magic in the hallways!”
A step behind her were Harry and Ron, looking vaguely uncomfortable in their dress-robes and sighing at Hermione’s usual tendency to interfere.
trying to run away!”
“Hang on,” cut in Harry with a frown, looking down at Woodley who was scrambling to his feet. “Is Dumbledore back yet?”
“If he was
then he’d be in the Great Hall,” said
“Which is where we should be,” said Ron helpfully, motioning impatiently towards the side door. “Come on, who cares about these two kids? Let’s –”
“Just a sec, Ron,” said Harry, whose eyes hadn’t left a sullen looking Woodley. “What d’you want Dumbledore for, anyway?”
mumbled something indecipherable and once again
two bloody Gryffindors – your sister, in fact!” she accused, rounding on
a startled Ron. “Running around the
“What?!” yelled Harry, Ron and Hermione in unison.
Hermione tersely, “what do you mean, running around after… What’s Malfoy doing
“I don’t know,” said Emily sulkily, glaring at Woodley for suddenly stamping on her foot. “Why don’t you ask Philip? He saw him.”
“It’s too dangerous,” said Woodley shortly, glaring back at his fellow fourth year. “There’s no point in half the school running after–”
“You tell me where my sister is!” demanded Ron angrily, stepping towards him warningly. “And why didn’t you stop her? You’re supposed to be her friend!”
“Snape gave him a thumping,” sniggered Emily, but stepping back from Woodley in alarm when she saw his green eyes flash dangerously.
“Look, we’re going after her whether you like it or not,” said Harry. Hermione and Ron clenched their fists in agreement. “Now tell us, which part of the forest?”
“Northeast,” rapped out Emily before Woodley could speak, “bring them back straight away, will you? I’ll try and change the performance to after dinner instead of –”
“OK,” Harry interrupted impatiently, quickly moving back up the staircase. “Ron, Hermione – go on without me. I’m going to fetch my cloak and the map just in case.”
His two friends nodded resolutely, knowing full well they had all grown too large to fit under it as a trio anymore.
“You two wait for Dumbledore in the Great Hall,” instructed Hermione to the two younger students. “If we’re not back by the end of dinner, tell a teacher instead.”
looked defiant, but
“I’m sure she’s all right,” she murmured.
“Yeah,” muttered Ron in reply, but it was with a tense hand that he placed his wand on his outstretched palm. “Point me.”
Tugging open the great doors, Ron and Hermione sprinted off into the night.
“Woodley was lying,” snapped Severus to Ginny, making her pause and run slightly back to where he was standing. “Look.”
By the light of Severus’s wand, Ginny could just make out a set of sunken footprints on a particular marshy part of the wet lawn.
“What?” she said confusedly. “What d’you mean? Those could be anyone’s.”
“No,” said Severus grimly, “they’re too fresh and look at the heels on them; Woodley was wearing those ridiculous boots – they’re unmistakably his.”
“Well, so what?” replied Ginny with a shrug. “He told us he saw Draco around here.”
“No, he didn’t,” corrected Severus once more, striding forward but continuing to speak angrily. “He told us Draco was on the far side of the Quidditch pitch – northeast. We’ve been heading to enter the forest due east.”
“What?” exclaimed Ginny, jogging to keep up with him. “What on earth for?”
“That Woodley is hiding something,” Severus growled in reply. “I can barely see ten yards in front of me and he thinks he just ‘popped out for air’ and saw Draco all the way on the other side of the Quidditch pitch. Even from here you can’t see that far, let alone from near the castle – and that’s taking into account the fact that he had more light than us.”
“But he’s Philip,” argued Ginny incredulously. “Why would he be making things up?”
“I don’t trust him,” said Severus stubbornly. “His cloak was drenched even though he’d only supposedly been out for a little while, and the fact that he hadn’t bothered to dry it or put a rainproof charm over himself like us seems like he’d been in a huge hurry. He was also really shifty when he eventually spat out where he saw Draco –”
“So we’re just going to ignore what he said?” interrupted Ginny incredulously. “Severus, I think that’s loony.”
“Can’t you feel it?” said Severus uneasily, pausing briefly before plunging into the forest before him. “There’s something horrible going on here…”
“Yes, but Draco,” reminded Ginny, her hand gripping her wand extra hard as she entered after him. “What if he’s more north like Woodley said?”
“We know that Woodley was here and so if he saw Draco then he must be around here also,” replied Snape determinedly. “It’s a fair hike from here to the castle and considering that we saw Woodley just twenty minutes in the hospital wing before he came tearing into the Entrance Hall, I highly doubt he ran northeast towards the end of the pitch, saw Draco, then ran south along the forest border before seeing the castle to his direct right and running straight back towards it leaving his footprints in the mud. It’s a long, tiring, pointless journey, especially in the rain.”
“All right,” replied Ginny after a pause, her head whirling before she eventually gave up trying to map it all in her head. “Well, I suppose if you’ve got a feeling…”
Severus managed a weak smile which turned into more of a grimace. “Yeah…” he muttered back. “There’s always the feeling…” He rubbed his left forearm before gripping his wand tighter.
“I hope he’s all right,” mumbled Ginny at his side, breaking the tense silence punctuated by the occasional snapping of twigs in their path.
“We’ll find him,” Severus promised shortly, though his heart sinking slightly at what exactly he’d say if they did.
“Well? Wasn’t I correct, Draco?”
Lucius Malfoy’s usually cold tone had a slightly pleased element to it as he surveyed his only son rise slowly from the damp ground. It had stopped raining a little while ago, the heavy storm clouds shifting slightly and allowing a dull amount of moonlight to shine through the swaying trees. Besides the two of them there was one other shadowy figure in the small clearing, and it was to this one that Draco turned his bowed, moonlit head to.
“Thank you, my Lord,” Draco muttered, his voice low but shaking with anticipation. “It feels fantastic.”
Lord Voldemort stared at the quivering boy a moment before lifting his wand. Draco found himself jerked backwards, his arms and legs dangling helplessly by his sides while hovering slightly in the air. Voldemort flicked his wand once more and Draco managed to land heavily on his feet, with Lucius looking on in astonishment.
“The experiment has been successful,” said Voldemort to Lucius, but then glancing back at Draco as he made ready to leave. “I have made you great, boy. But know that I can break you if you ever try to defy me.”
“Yes, my Lord,” replied Draco dully, his eyes glinting in the wandlight.
“Remember what we talked about,” reminded Lucius, before following his master as they melted back into the night.
There was a long silence as Draco Malfoy stood stock still before turning slowly around at the faint sound of voices coming from the opposite direction. His eyes narrowed as he fingered his wand, the realisation that he’d finally be able to test out his newfound strength making the corners of his thin lips curve slightly upward. There was an unnatural gleam in the young Slytherin’s eye, making him barely recognisable to anyone who had gotten to know him in the past year.
Ron and Hermione burst out of the undergrowth and stumbled into the clearing, doing a double take at finding Draco Malfoy standing silently before them. Hermione automatically threw out a restraining hand towards her best friend, but Ron had already started charging at the motionless Slytherin.
“What’ve you done to her?” yelled Ron angrily, shaking Malfoy by the front of his robes. “What’ve you done to my – ARGH!”
Ron’s yell of pain was coupled with a scream from Hermione, as Malfoy wrenched away and struck Ron in the side of his face with his wand, sending the larger boy flying to the ground with impossible force. Draco glared at the two Gryffindors in loathing.
“If you dare touch me again, I’ll–”
“EXPELLIARMUS!” bellowed both Ron and Hermione at the same time, sending Malfoy staggering backwards slightly, his wand falling in between them.
Seeing him move forward to retrieve it, Ron threw out an arm and yanked the hem of Malfoy’s robes, halting him just long enough for Hermione to beat him to it. Ron scrambled hurriedly to his feet and leapt to Hermione’s side, briefly panicking at why she was standing so oddly still. Glancing back at Malfoy he saw that the Slytherin had barely moved himself.
“Hermione!” he whispered in alarm. “What’s…”
Ron glanced at where Hermione’s shaking finger was pointing and his eyes widened. The left side of Malfoy’s robes were hanging loose after being tugged down only moments before, revealing a black, skull-shaped tattoo heaving wickedly over Draco’s chest.
“Well!” responded Ron at once, fighting the urge to throw up but snatching the wand out of Hermione’s grasp. “There’s no way you’re getting this back then.”
And so saying, Ron placed a second hand on the smooth black wood and snapped it cleanly in half.
“Now,” he continued determinedly, “tell me where my –”
But Ron’s bold words were drowned out by the sound of Malfoy laughing. It was a horrible, disturbing laugh, and it made the two Gryffindors’ skin crawl as their grips on their wands tightened. Continuing to laugh manically, Draco’s arm reached to a handle strapped to the top of his back. Barely had the hexes left Ron and Hermione’s lips before Draco had pulled out his sword, the spells bouncing harmlessly off the gleaming metal before him.
“I believe,” whispered Draco viciously, pointing his sword at a horrified Ron, “I told you never to touch me again…”
Ron just registered the scream of a curse as he was suddenly blinded by bright light, feeling Hermione shove him to the ground before everything went black.
Harry Potter’s invisible body stiffened at the sound of a faint shriek in the distance. Ignoring the brambles hitting and tearing at his cloak he quickened his pace, desperately hoping that the scream hadn’t come from Hermione.
I shouldn’t have gone back, he thought angrily to himself. I should be by their side; I should be there.
Harry pushed through a particularly thick bush, breaking out into a small, grassy clearing made slightly marshy by the rain earlier. Not far to his right Draco Malfoy whirled about suddenly at the sound of snapping twigs. Harry stared in shock at the boy before him, a large sword in his hands, his narrowed eyes peering out into the gloom. Harry’s shock was quickly replaced with revulsion when he saw what Malfoy had tattooed over his heart.
It was then that a slight tinge of red caught his eye, and Harry felt his heart jump into his throat. Ron and Hermione were lying sprawled a small distance from Malfoy’s feet, their arms and legs limp, their faces turned away. A sudden wave of sickness seemed to hit Harry, and he thrust his wand before him blindly.
“STUPEFY!” he yelled, running towards his friends.
“Potter,” breathed Malfoy at the same time, recognizing the voice and quickly sidestepping the bolt of red light. “Finally.”
When Malfoy had looked up again however, Harry Potter was nowhere to be seen.
“Potter!” he called at once, his gaze flickering to the two unconscious bodies in front of him. “Reveal yourself or it’ll be the worst for your two –”
But it was just as Malfoy was about to hit the ground when he saw a brief flash of colour to the side of Ron Weasley’s body. With a sudden burst of unnatural energy, Malfoy swung himself around and dived towards the tear in the fabric, breaking out of the curse and tearing the invisibility cloak triumphantly from Harry’s kneeling body.
“Got you!” he exclaimed viciously, struggling to his feet and brandishing his sword.
But Harry hadn’t moved from his kneeling position, his face bowed over his motionless friend before he spoke in a voice full of quiet anger.
“What did you do?” he ground out, receiving no answer and suddenly glaring upwards and thrusting his shaking wand at the straightening Malfoy. “WHAT DID YOU DO?”
“They’re not dead,” replied Malfoy coldly, his eyes flickering between the two bodies before breaking out into a malicious smile. “I thought it would be more appropriate if they died in front of you.”
“You disgusting –” Harry leapt to his feet in front of his two friends, his wand raised and hot anger coursing through his veins. “WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE, MALFOY?” Harry motioned jerkily at Draco’s left shoulder. “AND WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?”
Draco followed Harry’s glare and instantly jerked back his robe to cover his pale chest.
“None of your –”
“One of Voldemort’s little lap-dogs now, are you?” cut in Harry with a sneer, feeling a wave of satisfaction as something in Malfoy’s composed face seemed to snap. “Can’t say I’m surprised, you fucked-up piece of—”
“YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE!” screamed Malfoy suddenly, looking as though he might plunge his sword into Harry at any second. “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO FEEL SECOND BEST –”
“YES I DO!” yelled Harry back, his green eyes blazing with a different kind of anger before replying in disgust. “And you know what? I didn’t go crawling to Voldemort for a power-trip to make me feel number one.”
“THIS POWER-TRIP IS GOING TO BE THE DEATH OF YOU, POTTER!” screamed Malfoy back, a streak of energy bursting from his sword and just missing the ducking Gryffindor.
“Yeah?” replied Harry, glaring back at him and standing straighter in the moonlight. “Well, at least I’m my own man.”
Draco responded by hurling another crackling curse at Harry. Harry’s wand shook as he blocked the curse, his shield eventually ripping to shreds as Malfoy hurled another. The famous wizard fell to the ground, his body paralysed from the neck down. Draco slowly lowered his sword. Seeing his enemy of five years broken and at his mercy, Draco straightened and regained his cool composure.
“You just don’t get it, Potter,” said Malfoy dispassionately, pointing his sword back at him when Harry opened his mouth to speak. “You see, I didn’t want to be that man – if you could call such a weak, spineless fool such a thing – I didn’t want to be, and never planned to be that pathetic thing I’d been turning into this past year. It was absolutely disgusting that a pureblood like myself, a Malfoy at that, would suddenly find himself spending time with the sort of people he’d always been taught to despise. Imagine my shock, when I actually started to think of Hogwarts as a pleasant place to be…”
“–So you went crawling off to Voldemort,” finished Harry with a glare, struggling fiercely to unbind himself.
“I never crawled,” snarled Malfoy, before regaining his composure once more. “I made up my mind and strode forth and did it. I was promised my heart’s desire and I got it – not just the pure power, but the way I can’t feel those pathetically weak emotions anymore.”
“No one can do that,” replied Harry at once. “You can’t just take away someone’s feelings, even if they are as bitter and twisted as you, Malfoy.”
“You’ve never dabbled in the Dark Arts now, have you, Potter?” replied Draco, waving his sword warningly near Harry’s throat. “And if you want proof I’m sure I won’t have a qualm killing your two friends over there. I assure you, the old Draco couldn’t have done that…”
“YOU COWARD!” yelled Harry, his green eyes flashing as he managed to wrench his wand arm free. “STUPEFY!”
But although it was such close range, Malfoy had seen him struggle and swung his sword just in time. The bright red light bounced off the metal with a crackle, and Harry found himself paralysed once more with a sharp point digging slightly into his chest. There was a long tense pause where Malfoy looked as if he was going to increase pressure when he suddenly seized Harry’s wand and took a step backwards.
“All right, Potter,” he said, his eyes gleaming oddly as he pocketed the wand. “I’ll fight you, one on one; where there’s no faster broom or thick-headed sidekick or teacher’s favouritism to get in the way.”
Harry seethed silently in response, scrambling to his feet as soon as he felt his limbs free up again.
Draco clenched his jaw slightly before lifting his sword into the air. “ACCIO, SWORD!” he bellowed.
There was a long wait as Harry stood on the marshy ground, his head whirling angrily but his mind set as he glanced at his two friends lying motionless behind him. He didn’t know what sort of game Malfoy was playing at, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to let himself lose.
After what seemed like eternity to Harry, the grim silence was broken by a silver sword whizzing past him and stabbing into the ground at Malfoy’s feet. The sword was similar and obviously a pair to the one that Malfoy was holding. Harry surveyed it curiously as the Slytherin took a few steps backward and motioned for him to take it.
The moonlight glinted off Harry’s glasses as he moved towards it steadily, gripping the hilt and seeing a shimmer of Ron’s hair in the blade’s reflection. Lifting the sword with renewed strength, Harry straightened. “All right,” he said quietly.
Draco didn’t bother to respond. He narrowed his eyes and charged.
The forest was eerily silent but for the hurried footsteps of a frustrated Severus and Ginny. The moonlight was dimming under the thickening trees, but still they ploughed doggedly onwards.
“Severus,” said Ginny at last, jerking her ankle out of some Devil’s Snare. “D’you think, maybe…”
Her voice trailed away, wondering how she could subtly hint that maybe Woodley had been right after all. Severus brushed irritably at a bramble and quickened his pace, barely acknowledging that she’d even spoken.
“Severus,” repeated Ginny wearily, throwing caution to the wind and reaching out a hand to touch his shoulder, “maybe we should try the other way.”
Severus shook off Ginny’s hand immediately, but then came to a faltering stop as he realised she may be right. Although they hadn’t dared yelling and attracting attention to themselves, there were no clear signs that Draco had went this way after all.
“All right,” he said heavily, feeling a wave of anxiety and guilt wash over him as he pulled out his wand to get the direction.
Was his logic really that obscure? He could’ve sworn…
“Wait.” Ginny hesitated, reaching her hand back towards him but then remembering its reception a moment earlier. She contented herself with snapping an overhanging twig instead, before plucking up the courage to ask the question that had been eating at her since the hospital wing.
Severus turned and glanced at her, his face tightening as he saw the way her gaze kept drifting hesitantly towards his left arm. He lowered his eyes in return, before cutting her off as she was about to speak.
“Can’t this wait?” he said quietly, feeling sick to death at all the lies that were the cause of the mess in the first place. “We’ve got more important things to be thinking about.”
“No, it can’t,” replied Ginny tentatively. “I know finding Draco is really important but… have you thought about what you’re going to say when you find him?”
“I don’t know,” said Severus, sullenly turning back around and placing his wand on his flattened palm. “Point me.”
“Also,” continued Ginny doggedly, her determination going up at no longer having Severus’s intense gaze on her anymore, “ –I know what I saw on your arm and I think we should talk about it.”
There was a long silence as she waited on tenterhooks for Severus to turn around and explain himself, but the moment never came. The only indication that he’d even heard her was the slight tensing of his shoulders before his spinning wand drew to a halt. As he started in that direction however, he felt a familiar, warm hand jerk at his arm.
“Severus,” said Ginny angrily, “you owe me an explanation.”
For what felt like the fiftieth time to him, he shook off her hand at once. “I don’t,” he replied, suddenly just as angry as Ginny and whirling around to scowl at her. “I don’t owe you anything –”
“I’m your friend!” broke in Ginny angrily. “And you owe me the truth!”
“You’re not my friend!” yelled Severus back, hating the way Ginny had pulled back as if he had hit her. “I never had any intentions of –”
“Of what?” interrupted Ginny, the back of her throat suddenly feeling very restricted. “Of caring what I thought when you kissed me back, only to shove me aside moments later and look at me like I’m a piece of scum?”
“I never meant to –” said Severus wildly. “I didn’t –”
“Well, I never meant to either!” cried Ginny back, struggling to keep her voice steady. “It wasn’t as though I was planning on …– it, it just happened, and I hate that you’re trying to pretend that it didn’t.”
“Well, why can’t we?” burst out Severus desperately. “It was a huge mistake and now Draco –”
“Stop making this about Draco!”
“But I thought you liked him,” yelled Severus in anguish, tearing his fingers through his short hair. “I can’t give you anything – he can.”
“He can’t!” yelled Ginny back, not bothering to hide the hurt and despair in her now shaking voice. “You know what he thinks of me! You were there this morning! I saw something in your eyes this evening that I’ve never seen in Draco’s.”
“Don’t,” stammered Severus, backing away from Ginny’s heart-breaking look. “I won’t – I can’t…”
But suddenly Severus was jerked violently to the right, his body flying through the air before slamming straight into the base of a tree. Ginny froze in shock, recoiling slightly at the sight of his sword still trying to jerk against the restraints on his back. Without thinking she pointed her wand at the struggling sword.
The restraints holding the gleaming sword tore into ribbons, and Ginny watched it dart away through the trees before running over to the unmoving Severus.
“Severus! Wake up – hurry up!” she cried, panicking slightly at not getting a response. “Quick, I think its Draco! I think he’s Summoning the – Severus, quick.”
Severus groaned in response and tried to shift his right arm that he’d fallen on. “My wrist,” he ground out, finally freeing his hand but then looking at it in horror. “Oh no…”
Ginny also looked on in horror. Beyond Severus’s quickly swelling wrist was a splintery half of a wand. Scrabbling quickly for the other half, Severus attempted to piece them together and mutter a charm under his breath, only to receive a small explosion of angry sparks and singed fingers.
“Try using mine,” said Ginny numbly, handing over her wand as Severus swore at the remains of his. “You should also fix your wrist if you know how… I don’t think I could though.”
But the unfamiliar wand with his left hand was to no avail, and Severus eventually gave up in frustration. “Which way did you say that sword went?” he snapped, thrusting her wand back towards her with a scowl.
Ginny pointed through the trees, knowing that there was no way they were going to continue the conversation they were having before. For some reason whenever she tried to bring up the Dark Mark on his arm, their conversation always landed back to why they had started kissing. And it was then that Ginny realised that she seemed to care a lot more about why Severus kept pushing her away than the fact that he could be a mass murderer, and wondered if she had gone mad.
Determined not to think about it, Ginny shook her head and picked up pace behind a tense Severus. Sooner rather than later however, Severus’s earlier words started to float unbidden through her mind.
“I can’t give you anything – he can.”
Why couldn’t Severus open up to her? And why did he think that Draco had feelings for her? How could he think that when Draco was a complete and utter prat to her all the time? Fine, so there may have been the occasional hint that he may have cared… but it seemed to her that Harry had always been around or involved in some way – and this tied in exactly with what Hermione, or rather, she herself had said about ‘him only wanting her out of spite…’
But what if he does like you? a tiny, too hopeful voice in the back of her mind asked her. What if he cares about you like Harry did, and needs you like you saw Severus did…
Ginny rubbed her face with her palms, stumbling over an upturned root.
And what about how he makes you feel? continued the small voice, but getting louder and louder in her mind. Like when he saved you from the Hellhounds, or when he danced with you during Christmas, or when he wore the cloak you made during the final Quidditch match, and when he was lying in that stretcher… You were stunned to find yourself thinking it— but you wanted so desperately just to burst out and scream at him that you were completely–
Ginny barrelled suddenly into a frozen Severus Snape. He gripped her arm to silence her and turned his head around through the gloom.
“Severus,” she whispered, ignoring his warning glare and knowing that she would explode if she didn’t set things straight, “I’m sorry I kissed you – I know we didn’t intend to do it, and it was wrong but it’s just… I really needed it. And I know you needed it too – and I’m sick of how you push me away and just don’t understand how much I truly care about–”
But Ginny’s response was cut off as she felt Severus’s lips thrust upon her own. Her vision blurred almost immediately and although this kiss was probably just a way to silence her, in that moment she really didn’t care and started kissing him back fiercely. She felt engulfed with warmth, the dull roaring in her ears getting louder and louder. It was as if she was drowning, but there was no way she wanted to go up for air because that would end that moment of closeness, that moment she’d never thought that Severus would give her.
It was then that a tentative hand on her cheek made her eyelids flicker half open in shock, their mouths breaking just far apart for a gasp of cold, forest air. There was a blurry moment as Severus opened his eyes also, and although they were so close their foreheads were touching, Ginny found herself finally able to read the mysterious emotion that was burning in her best friend’s eyes.
“Severus…” she murmured, when he kissed her again.
Although this kiss was still filled with mixed-up feelings of desperation, intensity and need, it seemed different to the two beforehand, and didn’t feel at all like the kiss in the hospital wing. This kiss was gentler, but still made her heart jump into her throat and her fists clench in response, for this kiss… it felt like goodbye.
Severus eventually pulled away, his face once more inscrutable as he dropped his hand.
“I heard something coming towards us,” he muttered hoarsely, before turning away.
“Severus,” Ginny repeated quietly, reaching for his hand and enclosing it with her own. “Wait.”
Severus’s hand felt warm and clammy and for once he didn’t pull away.
“You know it never would have worked out,” he said in a low voice, his back still to her. Ginny’s grip on his hand tightened until he turned around and finally met her eyes. “We both need him too much.”
There was a long silence before Ginny swallowed hard and looked away. Her head was filled with so many mixed emotions that she found it impossible to speak. She was finding it difficult to distinguish exactly what she felt for Severus and Draco; and the only thing she knew was that they were both so terribly important to her it was frightening. She was just forcing her tongue into forming a response when all her thoughts turned to ice.
A crackling surge of energy flew past where her head used to be, as Severus wrenched her down with a cry.
“Death Eaters,” he hissed into her ear, yanking her back to her feet as she clutched at him in panic. “Run.”
In a small, marshy clearing to the northeast of Hogwarts, Draco Malfoy staggered slightly and loosened his grip on his sword. Seeing his chance, Harry swung his blade as hard as he could, knocking Malfoy’s glittery sword clean out of his hands. Panting slightly, he thrust his sword against the Slytherin’s chest, hovering the blade just above his heart before surveying him warily.
“Yield!” Harry ground out, struggling not to let the fatigue of the fight show in his voice.
But it seemed as if Malfoy hadn’t heard him. The Slytherin was standing stock still, oblivious to anything but his left hand, as if Harry had chopped it off. It was then that he heard him mutter something that sounded suspiciously similar to ‘Ginny’ and Harry felt a renewed burst of anger.
“You’re really something, Malfoy,” he spat in disgust, thrusting the sword slightly to get his attention. “Throwing that name in my face to stop me at the last second –I’ll never know what she saw in you.”
Draco jerked back at the sudden point in his chest, his unfocussed look snapping back to Harry’s scornful eyes.
“Shut up!” yelled Draco back, his grey eyes pooling with hate once more. “You don’t know anything! SHUT UP!”
“God, you’re sick!” yelled Harry in disgust. “Of all the despicable things you’ve done – playing with her feelings – luring her in here – how could you just –ARGH!”
Harry staggered forwards, his sword narrowly missing Malfoy’s chest. If he’d looked behind him a split second earlier, he would’ve seen a large stone lift from the ground during Draco’s explosion, making its way towards his head at high speed. Barely had he hit the ground when he felt rough hands shaking at his collar.
“What did you say?” he heard Malfoy snarl through gritted teeth. “What d’you mean in here? Where is she?”
“Don’t… Get off,” said Harry feebly, trying to steady his splitting headache. “-Get off!”
“WHERE’S – GINNY?” yelled Draco between shakes, raising his hand to slap Harry in the face.
“I DON’T KNOW!” roared Harry back, his head exploding with pain at the hit. “SHE FOLLOWED YOU IN HERE, I THOUGHT YOU –”
“I haven’t seen her!” seethed Draco back, his eyes flashing furiously. “If you’re lying –”
But though his head was whirling and his mind still somewhat foggy, Draco knew that the pain in his left palm couldn’t be denied. For that single prick of pain had awakened feelings, feelings that weren’t supposed to be there. He suddenly felt starving, as if he’d been given a taste of something he couldn’t fathom living without. And though his hate for Harry Potter was colossal, there was something infinitely bigger inside him that had wrenched free at that moment, and there was no amount of denial or hurt or hate or dark magic that could fight it back down.
Snatching up his sword he strode back over to where Harry tried woozily to raise his own. Draco met his eyes before lifting the flat of his blade and knocking him out cold. Pocketing Harry’s wand, he waved his sword at his rival’s body. “Locomotor Mortis.”
Draco turned his head towards the gloom and sprinted off into the night, the body of Harry Potter streaking swiftly after him.
Ginny and Severus tore through the undergrowth, ignoring branches and vines whipping at their robes and faces. Ginny’s chest was pounding, and she was struggling to keep up with the boy in front of her.
“Sev’rus,” she panted, glancing quickly behind her before swallowing raggedly. “I…can’t –”
“You must,” growled Severus, pulling her sideways to avoid a crackling curse. “Just… hold on.”
And so saying, Severus clenched his hand around hers and sprinted steadily onwards, ignoring the shooting pain in his right wrist as he thrust his way through the brambles. He knew there was no point going after Draco wandless and with Death Eaters on their tail, so he had been manoeuvring roughly towards what he thought was west in hope they would find themselves back in Hogwarts grounds once more. However the tiny flicker of hope he had been harbouring was slowly fading into dread, as he realised that although they’d been running for a good fifteen minutes now, the trees didn’t seem to be getting any thinner and the Death Eaters seemed to be getting a lot closer.
After what seemed like an eternity of nerve-wracking close calls, Severus and Ginny found they could stumble no further. An impenetrable rising hedge was blocking their path, and Ginny looked left and right in horror, seeing it stretch outwards into the gloom further than she could see. Severus froze for a split second before veering off to the right, his flicker of hope suddenly flaring back up.
“Come on!” he hissed to Ginny, feeling a giddy wave of relief as they rounded the corner to a familiar stretch of hedge.
“Wait, is this–?”
“Yes,” breathed Severus, as he thrust her towards the concealed opening of the hidden garden. “Hurry!”
But just as
he was about to enter after her, two enraged Death Eaters barrelled around the
corner, bellowing curses and running straight at him. In an instant he threw
himself back towards the
Thrusting himself gingerly through the opening, Severus was just about to call for Ginny when he froze at the sound of all-too familiar voices.
“You fool, Wormtail. Make sure no other students have come wandering in.”
Severus’s eyes widened and he threw himself upwards towards a thick curling branch, jerking at the protesting pain in his right wrist, but managing to pull himself up just in time. He held his breath as a black-hooded wizard rounded the cluster of shrubs beneath him, his silver hand gleaming in the light of his wand, his footsteps hitting the worn path sulkily.
“There’s no one else, Master,” Pettigrew said below, as he swept through the nearby shrubs. Severus sneered at him for not bothering to check above, but his face dropped as Pettigrew finished, “It’s just her.”
As further proof he then heard Ginny’s stuttering demands for freedom, before being sharply silenced by what seemed to be a gagging charm. Using his left hand to grip the tree tighter, Severus slowly started to make his way towards the main trunk, inwardly thanking his cat-like stealth and vision and the thick cover of leaves beneath him. As he climbed he realised he had picked the best hiding place he could have–the ancient oak tree with branches that stretched over most of the garden. Sweating profusely, Severus reached the main trunk at last and continued to climb carefully upwards, before glancing down through the swaying foliage below.
There were seven black-robed wizards gathered in the central clearing of the garden. Two others were crouched over the pond, pouring smoking potions into the murky water and waving their wands. An angry hopelessness rose up in Severus, as a glint of Ginny’s red hair caught the moonlight and she was shoved cruelly down to the ground, bound now as well as gagged. He was useless, absolutely useless! He had no wand and even if he did, there were too many! There wasn’t time to go for help, no way to send a message. From the continued aching in his palm, he should’ve known Ginny wouldn’t be safe when he left her. He should never have left her alone! If only he could grab her and Apparate… but they were in Hogwarts grounds! The only comfort was that she was still alive. But still, Ginny’s usefulness to the Dark Lord was not something to rejoice in.
Severus started to creep forwards on the branch overhanging the ancient stone bench, watching the wands intently as he dug his fingernails into the bark. All he could do was wait, wait for an opportunity to grab her and run, fight, or do whatever it took to get her away from them alive. He had no real plan and Severus had long realised his actions had grown to be shamelessly Gryffindor, but he was damned if he was going to sit by and do nothing while Ginny was killed.
Because he’d lied when he’d said she wasn’t a friend. Because she meant so much more to him than that, a hundredfold more than anything had ever meant to him. Because he’d already lost Draco. He wasn’t going to lose her too.
The distinct drawl of Lucius Malfoy drifted upwards, the voices much clearer now that Severus was almost directly above them. His blood boiled as he noticed Lucius’s hand on Ginny’s shoulder.
“…Oh no, my Lord, of course I do not mind. But surely this pureblood child would be just as suited for the Cleansing as Draco. You have given him such power; it would feel like a waste…”
“You think it a waste, for your son’s blood to become my own?”
“Of course not, my Lord. It is an honour. But perhaps he could still be of use.”
“He shall not be of use for much longer,” said one of the Death Eaters. “The new kind – as you well know, Lucius, burn out very quickly. They are nothing but pawns.”
“And the blood must be given willingly for the Cleansing,” murmured Wormtail.
“If the blood is not willing, the mind must be weaker,” Voldemort allowed himself a smile. “Very well, Lucius. You have faithfully sacrificed for me before, and I am a gracious Lord. You may keep your son until his soul is consumed completely. I hope you enjoy his company.” Then Voldemort stepped forward to tilt Ginny’s chin upwards with his wand. “It seems our paths are always destined to cross, young Weasley. I broke you once before, now I shall do so again.”
Ginny’s eyes widened but she could barely breathe, let alone move. She wanted to scream that she’d never give him anything willingly, that she’d grown so much stronger than her first year self. Her mind wasn’t weak any more, she had confidence, inner strength, and friends that loved her. No one and no thing could break that from her.
A series of flashes and screams broke her train of thought however, as all hooded heads swivelled towards the source of the disturbance. A few of the Death Eaters shifted uneasily, but Voldemort seemed unperturbed. There was the rustling sound of someone entering the garden clumsily, followed by jerky footsteps rounding the cover of the undergrowth.
Ginny’s heart leapt and then froze. The distinct body of Harry Potter floated forward out of the gloom, a sword blade pressed tightly against his throat.
Draco’s grip tightened on the hilt as he walked slowly forward. “I brought you Potter,” he said to Voldemort. “But I want the girl.”