Hermione turned her head to look at Draco. She was surprised, no shocked, over what he'd just said. He squeezed her hand and pulled her closer to him to clarify what he truly meant. "It's misery to be away from the one you love. It's misery to not know if the one you love loves you just as much. It's misery when night falls and you aren't holding your girl as you sleep. It's misery...." He stopped. "But I love Hermione. More than anything. And for that, I would endure any misery whatsoever. But I guess you have never loved like that, have you?"
Snape was silent, but shaking. Hermione couldn't tell if he was near tears or violent explosion. His lip trembled, and he bit it, drawing blood.
"You can obliviate my memory all you want," Draco said with a surety to his voice, "but the heart will remember one day."
A sound issued from Snape's mouth. It was born of anguish, knowing young Malfoy was right.The memory of the mind and the longing of the heart were on two different tracks. He closed his eyes and for a moment he too remembered the heart's lonely path. And he knew the path of action he must take, even if it was only a temporary thing. He opened his eyes and pointed his wand at Draco. "I am sorry, young Malfoy. Love is the darkest art for a reason. You aren't supposed to have it." Before Draco could react, Snape made a swirling motion with his wand as if it were just dying to snatch memories right out the air.
Hermione screamed. "Professor, no!!"
There was a crackle building in the air, a charging of electricity, as if Severus was going to let loose the most terrible of curses. Then a dark shape collided into him, knocking the wand from his hand, wrapping its teeth around his wrist. The boarhound drove him to the icy ground, growling and thrashing, even as the wizard tried to escape the furious beast.
"Get off me," Severus snarled. The creature held on, drawing blood in a tight toothy grip. For this reason, Snape couldn't repel his attacker with magic. It could rip his own hand off in the process.
Draco looked at the scene in front of him, his mind quickly deciding whether to help Snape or not. His eyes took in the still unconscious forms of Harry and Ron, short term memories obliviated by Severus. They were starting to stir. They would be awake soon. He turned his eyes on Hermione, who was recoiling in horror at the bodies rolling in the snow, Snape beating the huge dog thing with his free fist to no avail.
"Fang!" Hagrid's voice bellowed. "Good boy! Now release him."
"We have to go, love," Draco whispered. And before she could protest, he clutched her hand and said, "Disapparate!"
"No," Snape screamed, upon hearing the command that made the couple disappear before the eye. He knew they were gone, magically fleeing to some other destination. He was going to have to hunt them now, if he were to obliviate their memories and set things back on track again. As Fang let go of his wrist, he angrily threw Hagrid's dog aside and clambered to his feet.
"Hagrid," he snarled. "You let them escape. I was returning all these unruly students to Hogwarts, and you have the gall to sick your fur pest on me. I will report this to Umbridge. That should go well with your already poor record."
The gamekeeper consoled Fang by rubbing the back of his big head. He looked up at Snape, seemingly unconcerned by his threat. "Yer was pointing yer wand at defenseless students," he said. He looked over at Harry and Ron, who were now awakening. "And looks like you'd already used it on some of them. Unruly indeed."
Snape snorted in disgust, peering across the snowy landscape. "You fool," he muttered, but it was hard to tell if he meant Hagrid and his interference, or Draco, spiriting he and Hermione away to some unknown location. He scanned the area quickly to see if he could spy them, but he knew at the moment it was futile. Draco would hide them well. Snape would just wait for them to resurface. Christmas was almost upon them. They had to come out from hiding in order to board the holiday train to go home to their families. Severus shook his head. He didn't need this. It slowed down things. He needed to do better at reeling Draco back in if he was to fulfill his destiny. Hermione Granger was going to have to go, one way or the other.
Hermione wasn't thinking of going anywhere. She had apparated with her lover in a forest. The forbidden one. Where humans weren't supposed to walk. But she didn't care. She was with Draco now. He had been returned to her from the midst of frozen death, and now here they were reappearing in the forest, his strong arms wrapped around her protectively. But there was no need for protection now. They were alone. Still, he did not let her go. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm afraid I got us in this mess, being stupid as always."
"It's not your fault, love," she whispered. "We'll escape for the holidays and when we come back, everything will be alright."
"I wish I had your optimism, Hermione Granger. But Snape knows about us. He may protect our secret, but he won't allow us to continue either. If he's prepared to obliviate us, who knows what lengths he will go to?"
"So what are we going to do?"
He mustered a smile. "For tonight, we hide." He looked around the silent forest. "Do you recognize this place? Do you remember?"
Momentarily confused, she looked around, seeing nothing but rock, trees, faded footpaths made by forest creatures. "I'm not sure I..."
"Last time it was raining," he reminded her with a smile. He turned and drew his wand, pointing it to a congested stand of trees and shrub. "Revelio!" Suddenly, a tent appeared before them, still half hidden among the dense forest.
Hermione smiled, remembering the first time they'd taken refuge here. It had seemed like ages ago when she had summoned the tent in the rain, drawn from memory of seeing it in a shop window in Diagon Alley. They'd hid inside during a storm and fallen further in love from the close proximity. She remembered how Draco had kissed her that day, and said dreamily, "I really need to take this tent back before I get in trouble."
"No need," Draco replied. "I already returned it."
"Then why is it still here?"
He grinned. "I had father buy it for me. I told him I wanted it to camp out with Crabbe and Goyle." He flashed her a conspiratorial wink. "He thinks I have it hidden on the estate somewhere."
Hermione shook her head. "You're devious. I like that in a boy."
He laughed. "You're a thief. I like that in a girl."
She looked at the tent. "I just wanted to borrow it."
"I wasn't talking about the tent."
"Oh?" Hermione feigned ignorance. "What were you talking about then?"
He touched her face. "My heart, Hermione Jean." His finger stroked her cheek. "But you already knew that. Every thief knows what they have taken."
"What about the things you've stolen from me," she asked teasingly.
"I can only hope to steal more."
She put her hand in his. "Then perhaps we should go inside," she said, leading him to the tent.
"Yes, perhaps so." He allowed her to pull him into the tent, and once inside he uttered the charm that would hide it again, so none would find them in their special place.
"I had such a horrible dream," Draco confessed weakly, looking up into Hermione's teary eyes. "That there was a life without you and I ever loving one another."
"Never," she sobbed, overcome with emotion over Malfoy's return from icy darkness. "You will never be without me. I have loved you from our first kiss."
"Would that be our first kiss in the library or last year at the Yule Ball?"
"Well, you didn't actually kiss me at the ball, now did you?"
"Yes I did," he protested, with a cold rasp in his throat. "You slapped me, remember?"
"That was hardly a kiss. And hardly a slap, as I recall."
"Then why don't you show me what a real kiss is?"
Hermione smirked, shaking her head. "Even at the point of dying, you are scheming and mischievous."
He laughed, though it almost hurt to do so. "Impending death makes one appreciate life's little moments."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Little? I'll show you little, you smug little Slytherin."
Then her lips were upon him. Full, passionate, unsated. He welcomed the kiss and parted his pale lips upon hers.
"No, no, and triple no," Ron muttered, flabbergasted at the scene before him. "This can't be right."
Harry, stood beside him, jaw slack and open. "Somebody wake me," he stated matter of factly.
Ron shook his head. "I can't believe this!" He looked at the odd couple, still in the throes of their delirious kiss. "You lied to us, Hermione! I suspected you had a secret...but this! You and Draco! All this time...."
The two lovers separated, but Hermione was still looking dreamily into Malfoy's silver grey eyes. "All this time," she whispered. Then it hit her. The realization of what had happened. In her joy of Draco being returned from the lake, they both had forgotten themselves. For them, all that existed was their ecstatic happiness of life returned. There had been no Harry. No Ron. Not even Snape. And yet there they were.
She turned her face to her friends. "I'm...I'm sorry...I didn't know how to tell you guys..."
Ron flushed angry, or perhaps it was just hurt. Often they can look the same. "How about, hey by the way, I've been sucking face with Draco Malfoy half the friggin' school year!"
Draco opened his mouth to come to Hermione's defense, but she put her finger upon his lips to shush him. Still, she heard him whisper and mutter under his breath. But when she looked at him to let him know she could handle this, she realized it wasn't him that was mumbling. It was Severus Snape.
He stood halfway between them all. Eyes closed, he was muttering under his breath in chant like tones. It stopped Hermione from addressing Ron's angry retort. For a moment she thought maybe Snape had been possessed somehow. Perhaps the dead spirits from the lake had found a way to claim a Slytherin after all.
Ron and Harry were also stunned to silence, both unsure what was happening to the Potions Master of Hogwarts. Only Draco suspected the truth. His teacher was modifying a curse.
Harry finally realized what was about to come, and raised his wand. Snape's eyes opened, dark and terrible. His wand was up a split second before Harry's. "Obliviate!" he snarled. The curse hit Harry full on and the boy collapsed on the ice before he could defend himself.
Ron gasped. "What?!" Holding his hands out in surrender, he pleaded "No, wait! Please! I don't want my memory erased! Hermione, please...tell him.. " He stopped. He knew Snape wouldn't listen. And in minutes, he himself wouldn't remember either. But maybe Hermione would. Ron looked at her with sad, lonely eyes. "I...Hermione...I've always lo...."
"Obliviate!" Snape's curse cut him off mid-sentence. The force of it drove him to the ice, where he lay unconscious, as the effect of the spell weaved its way through his mind like clouds chasing each other across a darkened sky.
Now there was no sound but wind in the trees and the slow exhalation of Hermione and Draco's breath. "What did you do?" Hermione asked incredulously. Suddenly brave, she glared at Prof. Snape. "You wiped their entire memory?"
"No," Snape answered. "Just the last hour of it."
"You modified the curse?" Draco asked, now sitting up on the ice. "Impressive."
"Of course, it was impressive."
"It was unnecessary," Hermione said sadly.
Snape looked at her. "It wouldn't have been necessary if certain parties had their priorities straight."
He took them both in with his cold, dark eyes. Draco noticed he hadn't yet put his wand away. But it was Hermione who put it all together. "You're going to wipe us all," she said.
There was a hard gleam in Snape's eyes. "I gave you so many chances. Overlooked so many things, and protected your secret, thinking it was but a candle flame soon to blow out in the beeeze. But no, you had to continue this forbidden course."
" Why is it so forbidden? Why can't we....?"
"Because," he snarled. "You both have a role to play in the coming war."
Draco struggled to his feet, clutching Hermione's arm to do so. "War?" he asked, a tremor in his voice.
"Yes, war. Do you think the arrival of Umbridge was just a chance thing? No, she and all her rules are the heralds of what is to come. She prepares the way for battle." Snape stared at Draco. "And you! You are supposed to be helping her."
"Don't play coy with me, Malfoy. You know what is expected of you..." He rolled up his sleeve to show the Death Eater mark. "...if you want this."
Hermione turned to her boyfriend, a look of surprise on her face. "Draco?" she asked, feeling slightly confused.
Draco couldn't look at her, but instead stared down Severus. "I don't care about that anymore," he said. "It's not important. Not like love. Nowhere near it, in fact. This is the only important thing to me." He reached out and took Hermione's hand.
She let him take it, despite her shock at realizing he'd wanted to be a death eater himself. Did he still feel that way? What had been doing all this time? Acting in the interests of the enemy or truly baring his soul to her?
Snape looked at them both and shook his head. "Your loyalty to your dreams is useless. You are still children, even if you think you are grown up now. Your dreams don't belong to you. You are here to do as you are told by those more experienced than you."
Hermione couldn't be silent any longer. Gripping Draco's hand in hers, she squeezed it for courage. "And what experience do you possibly have, professor? What do you know about dreams, or of the heart, or even love?"
"I know plenty! Love is the most destructive thing in the universe. It changes you. It takes every bright spot that may have existed within you and turns it to darkness. You yourselves have said it. Love is the darkest art."
"But it's not meant to be," argued Hermione. "It's meant to save us, to make us better, to fulfill our lives."
For a moment, Snape faltered. He smiled sadly. "Silly girl. Love will take all those notions from you one day and you will see it for what it is."
"Then what is it, Professor? Tell us in all your good wisdom what love is."
Before Snape could reply, Draco provided the answer. "It's misery," he said.
Hermione wailed over the prone form of Draco Malfoy. Her protection charm had worn off but it hadn't been enough to save him from the cruel hands of fate. So all she could do was hold him close, clutching his head to her breast and cry. "No, no, no," she sobbed. "Please come back, Draco. Don't go!"
Harry stood there awash in the moment. It nearly made him cry himself, seeing his dear friend overcome with tears. It was no secret Draco Malfoy never cared for him, but this reminded him too much of last year. The Tri-Wizards Tournament. The Death of Cedric Diggory.
Ron wasn't on the edge of crying, but he was still sad, mostly for Hermione, who seemed to be taking Draco's apparent passing harder than he imagined she should. Just look at all the horrible things Malfoy had done to her over the years. Perhaps she blamed herself for whatever had happened out here before their arrival.
Hermione turned her pleading eyes on Severus Snape. "Please, Professor. Do something. Bring him back!"
Snape frowned, but one had to wonder if it was out of compassion or because he didn't want to be bothered helping any more than he had. He shook his head.
"Oh please," Hermione wailed with a fresh round of sobbing at his refusal.
"I'm sorry, Granger. I can't."
"It is a dark magic that has stolen a piece of his soul. A piece that now puts him in this nonresponsive state. It is beyond me to restore it. It takes a darker art than I possess."
Hermione looked down at Draco's face. This can't be the end, she thought. I refuse to accept it. Snape was the darkest wizard of Hogwarts and if he didn't have the power to restore Draco, then who did? Who had it within them? What was the darkest art anyway? And then she remembered. All the places she'd been with Draco. All the things they'd done. Things they'd discovered and learned. Draco had given her the answer to his life. He'd already shown her the darkest art. They had lived in it. Felt it. Shared it together. Their forbidden love. She began to cry anew, and when a teardrop touched his face, it was like a drop of water in an ocean they had already swam in. And then the realization hit her.
Hermione looked at the hole in the ice. Then she looked up at Snape and tried to smile. "It wasn't my protection charm that made Draco rise back up from the lake," she said. "Was it?"
Snape said nothing. Hermione looked like she had just discovered an answer to a test. She looked at Draco once more. He'd been taken by the lost boys of the lake, thrown into its depths. She had loomed over the hole, trying to grab him. A tear had fallen from her cheek into the cold water. And the lake had released his body. It had been returned to her. Now, she knew how to get them to give up his soul as well.
Hermione threw herself at the opening in the ice. "Please give him back!" she shouted to the dark depths. Then somberly, "I know you may not understand. Just what people mean to each other. How one could care for another above themselves. I know you feel lost. Down there. Cold and lonely. I know it must be the most miserable thing ever. But that's the way I'll feel up here if you keep even the smallest part of him. "
The tears began to come, running from her eyes, down her cheek, to drop from her skin into the icy water. "I've never felt this way before," she continued. "Never wanted something so much that I would beg for it to remain. But the truth is, I can't bear the thought of Hogwarts without Draco. Of Slytherin, the house you came from, without Draco." She hesitated only a second. "Of me without Draco." A burst of sobbing, brought on by this devastating thought, sent more tears into the water, ripples spreading, not outward, but down as they sank like stone into the fathoms of the lake.
She waited, but nothing happened. Her tears were not working as she thought they would. Hadn't she cried enough to let them know the depths of her heart were just as lonely as the lake's? Wasn't love the darkest art that could achieve anything with its mad, unpredictable magic? She looked at Snape, her eyes red rimmed and still leaking tears. "It's not working," she lamented.
Snape nodded as if he knew that speaking to ghosts achieved nothing, relying on one's own sorrow would bring nothing back. It would take more than shouting down into darkness. "Perhaps," he said, "you are imploring the wrong ones."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you really think the key to his soul and all its little pieces are in the hands of the dead? " He scowled. "Perhaps education is lost on you."
Hermione turned and looked at Draco's still form. She wiped her face and knelt beside him. She lifted his head into her lap. She closed her eyes to fight back a fresh round of tears. His eyes were closed too, but hadn't she'd seen them open a second before he'd been tossed into the lake?
"Please Draco," she said, her voice barely over a whisper. "Open your eyes. Come back. I'll be your soul, just come back."
Nothing. No fluttering of his eyelids, not a single twitch.
"Come on baby, you can do it."
Standing at the sidelines, Ron looked at Harry with a quizzical look. "Baby?"
"Draco Malfoy," Hermione continued, "you listen to me now, and you listen good. I'm your mudblood, okay? But you make me feel completely magical. You make me feel pureblood. You make me feel..." She stopped suddenly, lifted her head skyward as if muttering a prayer, then looked down at Draco again. "You wake up now, you little shit!" She pounded her fists against his chest. "Asshole! Don't you leave me! I'm not going to let you leave me without so much as a goodbye! Open your beady little eyes right now! Say something stupid like you always do." She clasped her hands together and began to push on his chest, trying to force air into his lungs and make him awake. This might have worked among muggles, but she knew he was already breathing. He was just trapped somewhere inside. She felt so helpless. She had to do something. She began to cry again in her desperation. The tears came much faster this time, dropping from her eyes and falling onto Draco's face. She soon followed her anguish and pressed her cheek to his. "I love you," she whispered. "I truly, really do. Our time together has been the most exciting, beautiful times of my life. If I can't have you back, then let me join you wherever you are." She let out a loud sob and she felt something against her cheek. Was that his eyelids twitching?
She pulled away to look at him. His eyes were closed, but something was definitely going on behind them.
His lips trembled. Fingers moved. His eyes slowly fluttered open. Welled with tears of his own, they focused on her. "I'm so glad you don't ever shut up," he whispered hoarsely, the old mischievous look coming back into his eyes.
Her sob turned to a cry of joy. "Draco!"
He mustered a tired smile. Though his face had bern pale from the cold, a warmth seemed to coming back to his cheeks. "That's why I love you, you know. Those constantly flapping lips of yours."
She couldn't help but laugh. Her Draco was back. Whether she or her tears had brought the missing piece of his soul back, or the dark denizens of the lake had released it, she didn't know. In the end, it didn't matter. All it mattered was he was back, whole and complete. And this made her complete once more.
"I love you too," she said. She leaned down and kissed him. "So much." His lips parted, as did hers, full upon each other, as if they were the last two pieces of a puzzle finding where they belonged. And then came the memories. She and him in the library. The greenhouse. The astronomy tower. In the tent in the forest. The rain. Dancing unseen under an invisibility cloak. Cuddled up alone at Malfoy manor after a death eater attack. It washed over her like his kisses, making her forget everything around her. She put a hand to his face, just as his rested against a spot of bare skin just under her throat. The cold was forgotten. Death a never to remembered dream. They surrendered to the kiss as if they were alone, not noticing that Severus Snape was frowning at them, nor hearing Ron ask Harry, "Um, Did she just say she loved Draco?"
Fire and flame hit the dead boy in the legs. He buckled and dropped Draco to the ice. Hermione ran towards them, knowing the other two were charging her way. The burning boy, his hair writhing on his head, grabbed Draco and began to drag him towards the hole. Hermione dove. She hit the ice hard, barely missing Malfoy. With the wind nearly knocked out of her, she grabbed Draco's legs to keep the creature from dragging him any further. She felt the other dead boys grabbing her, trying to get her to let go. Desperate as she was to rescue Draco, it wasn't enough. As he was pulled from her grasp, she tried one last charm. "Protego!" The dead boy grinned and threw Draco through the hole into the icy waters. For a split second, that last second, Hermione thought she saw Draco open his eyes, and then he was gone. "No!" she screamed. "Draco!!"
She tried to break free of the villians, but they held her fast. Hermione sobbed, giving up the fight. "No, Draco."
"He was always meant to be one of us," one of them told her. "A Slytherin to replace the one we lost."
She looked at him, pleading in her eyes. "Please give him back. He's everything to me."
"No," they all said in unison. "We have waited too long. Our vengeance will no bounds. Those who hid us from mind and memory will suffer the most horrible of losses. Now the strength of five will arise anew!"
Hermione crawled over to the hole in the ice. She looked down into its cold, icy depths. A tear fell from her cheek, causing a ripple. Something was rising up from the deep dark water. But it was not five as they had stated. It was only one. Draco rising up, buoyed by the protection charm Hermione had cast before he'd been tossed through the hole. A charm that not only protected him from the ice, but also made the lake reject him. The evil that lived there, whatever it made be, was throwing him back. Hermione quickly grabbed Draco's collar and hauled him up. But though the lake surrendered him, the lost dead boys would not.
"No!" they howled. They lunged towards Hermione and grabbed her, snatching her away from Draco. One of them shook her furiously.
"He will never wake, but sleep the sleep of ice. The old order of Slytherin wins against the new." He threw back his head and cackled. "And as the victors, we will still take another to add to our number." He looked at her and sneered triumphantly. "You..."
"I'm not a Slytherin," Hermione replied defiant.
Again the cold laugh. "Oh, no matter. We're not taking you to join us...only to feed us with your pure, pure soul."
An image filled Hermione's head. A horrible, dismal picture of the four lost boys feeding on her, alive and squirming under the ice. Of life without Hogwarts. Without her friends. Her teachers. Her Draco. Just utter frozen loneliness. Food and sustenance for dead creatures enchanted to live forever, yet never be free. She began to cry, then a scream erupted from her throat as they all held her over the icy hole. Hermione took one last look at Draco. Lifeless in frozen sleep, but protected from harm thanks to her. "I'm sorry, Draco," she said.
She heard the laughter of the lost boys and closed her eyes, waiting for the touch of the icy water. Their hands let her go and she dropped through the hole into the water. But before her body was completely submerged, she heard the command, "Wingardium Leviosa," and then she was rising into the air, away from icy fate.
The tall, dark figure stood on the ice, towering above his two shorter companions. In his outstretched hand, colors seem to swirl around the tip of his wand as the charm lifted Hermione Granger to safety. Severus Snape moved her out of the way and then the two friends let loose their righteous anger. Both Harry Potter and Ron Weasley shouted, "Augamenti!" and pointed their wands at the dead boys of the lake. But it wasn't color that erupted from the tips. Instead, jets of forced water shot forth, striking the enemy, and sending them skidding across the frozen surface away from the opening in the ice. Then all three heroes ran towards Hermione, Snape lowering her gently to the ground.
"Hermione," shouted Ron, catching her before she could collapse to the ice. She quickly righted herself, just as Harry shouted, "Here they come!" They all turned to see the three remaining dead boys regrouped and charging their way.
Severus stepped forward and placed himself protectively in front of the students. His wand swirled among the fingers of his hand like a gunslinger in a muggle's old west movie. "Locomotor Mortis!"
The legs of the attackers locked and they fell face forward on the ice. Upon impact, chips and pieces of ice broke free from the surface, creating fissures as it started to crack.
Harry stepped up next to Snape and issued his own magicl attack. "Oppugno!", he cried, causing the broken pieces to rise in the air and attack the villians, plummeting down like rain upon their heads.
Ron, wanting to contribute, drew alongside Snape and Harry, aiming his wand carefully at the now fallen dead boys. He hesitated a moment, started to say something, then mumbled, "Oh blimey, I forgot..."
Snape looked at him in apparent disgust and let out an exasperated sigh. With a complicated twist of his wand, he muttered something under his breath and summoned the three boys. They slid across the ice towards him, the leg locking curse still rendering them unable to stand. The one with the pale green hair looked up at him, his eyes going wide. "You," the lost boy hissed.
Harry and Ron looked at the potions master in confusion, but Severus was looking down at the boys sadly. "Me," he said. "Watching you all those years ago, I should have stopped you then. But I was content under the tree, watching you fools tempt fate."
Now, Hermione realized what her earlier nightmare had meant. Snape had been there when the boys fell victim to the evil in the lake. He was the fifth boy. The one they claimed to have lost. As a young boy, he would have succumbed to the curse as well, if he hadn't been sitting under a tree, writing.
"You should have joined us," the lost boy of the lake said. "What was so important, that you couldn't play with us on the lake?"
"I was writing a letter," Snape quietly confessed.
The boy grimaced. "Who could have been more important than your Slytherin brothers?"
For the shortest of moments, Severus glanced at Harry. Too brief to even be noticed, he returned his attention to the cold, cursed boys. "It's not important now." Then he cast a look at the fallen Draco. "But you must return Malfoy now."
"We can't," the boy seemed to cackle. "He is the chosen one....unless...you care to finally join us." The others snickered with him.
A look of anger crossed Snape's face. He muttered some dark and terrible words, jabbed his wand toward the ice and it collapsed under the boys, sending them back into the icy waters that had claimed them long ago. Another few words and blocks of ice materialized to push them towards the bottom, weighing them down like heavy dirt over a grave.
Harry stepped back, fearful of Snape's rage. Ron too, retreated, afraid he'd turn his curses on them in his anger. Snape turned his eyes towards them and they began to think maybe it wasn't such a good idea to come with Snape in search of the rebellious Hermione. But Severus was no longer looking at Harry or Ron. His gaze was on the poor fallen student he was supposed to protect in the boy's father's absence. Draco. Cold and lifeless, now being held in the arms of a wailing Hermione Granger.
I wish I could go beyond the gate to venture forth in search of delights now denied me. I stand here, hands gripping wrought iron, my head full of memories that once were, or perhaps never had at all. But the cemetery, final as it is, won't let me leave.
Hermione looked at the broom in trepidation. She'd never been much good at flying, and the broom Hagrid provided wasn't in good shape.
"I use it for sweeping," he explained. "Can't fly very well on a stick, being my size and all."
Hermione nodded, looking at the ratty thing. For once, she wished she were Harry, or even Ron. They knew their way around broomsticks. "What were those things?" she asked, trying not to think of what she was getting ready to do. "Those boys? Are they like ghosts or something?"
"Well, they be dead, that's for sure. But not exactly ghosts. They used to just call them the lost boys of the lake. Until Dumbledore froze it over year round. I guess everyone had forgotten about them."
"What killed them and made them that way? They were wearing Slytherin colors."
"Yeah, Slytherin. They say it was he who enchanted the lake long ago. Gave it an evil soul, I reckon. I can only assume he meant it fer his enemies, but it turned on him and years later took some of his own. Back when most yer teachers were students here themselves. They say a group of Slytherin boys were playing on the ice one winter. They were troublemakers, like Draco, and I guess they was doing stuff they shouldn't out there. The ice broke through and they were lost in the lake. Don't know what happened to them down there but when they were pulled out it was too late. They were dead. Froze solid, I heard. But something of them remained in that lake. Maybe a dark piece of their soul or something, and it took on a life if it's own. So, Dumbledore sealed the lake. I guess somebody let them out."
Hermione thought of her nightmare. The boys on the lake. The one who was sitting on the sidelines. Who was he? She had no time to waste on these things. She had to rescue Draco somehow. She looked at the old, tattered broom in front of her. "Up," she commanded. It did nothing. "Up," she said again, a little more forceful. Begrudgingly, the broom rose, allowing Hermione to straddle it. She gripped it tight, apparently nervous about flying on the ratty thing. She looked at Hagrid. "Wish me luck."
"Um, look here, Hermione, you can't go off like this, trying to save the day all by yourself. That Draco, he don't even like you."
Tears started to well up in her eyes, but she couldn't tell Hagrid the truth. He might have been the most relaxed and open minded of her teachers, but he wasn't very good at secrets once he got to talking. "It doesn't matter," she finally replied. "He's Hogwarts, and that's all that matters."
"You have a good heart, Hermione Granger. Go on and go. I'll try to catch up quick as I can." He slapped the back of the broom as if it was a horse's flank. With a sudden jerk, it leaped forward, nearly unseating the girl. "Oops, did I do that?"
"Fly, new friend," Hermione whispered in a tiny voice, and the broom took off into the air, leaving Hagrid to talk to himself.
Once he realized she was gone and on her way, he whistled. A large black boarhound was suddenly to his side. "Well Fang, you ready for a run?"
The wintry night air was so chill, Hermione's hands were nearly stuck to the broom. But this was a good thing. At intervals, the broom bucked, as if trying to shake her off. "I don't like riding on you any more than you like me to," she scolded. "Just get me to the lake, and you can go back to being propped up in a corner waiting for dust."
From this height, and she wished to go no higher, Hermione couldn't see the lost boys of the lake. They'd had a pretty good lead on her, and by all likelihood, had already returned to their icy home with the captive Draco. Please don't let me lose him, she thought. Don't let them kill my Draco. With the thought of killing, she began to cry anew, but then caught herself. She had to be strong. For Draco. Only courage was going to save him. This was no time for a weeping girl. This was a time to step up and be somebody's hero for once. The time for victims was over.
Up ahead, she spied the lake as it came into view. There were figures on it's frozen surface. Maybe she wasn't too late. With strong resolve, she commanded the broom to go faster. It didn't argue this time and followed her orders as if she were its master, and it a nimbus model broom.
As she drew nearer and swooped down towards the lake, she saw the figures more clearly. Draco lay sprawled on the ice, still unconscious. His four captors seemed to be searching for something. Frantic, they scurried around, looking for something they couldn't see from their vantage point. But Hermione could. The hole in the ice from which they had emerged. They couldn't locate it. But she saw it and knew she had to reach them quick if she were to save Draco. Her Draco. Not theirs. Hers!
She sent the broom into a dive, much in the way she'd seen Harry do in the midst of exciting Quidditch matches. The dead boy creatures noticed her swooping down and snarled, still trying to find their way home. Hermione released the broom and rolled off just inches above the ice. Instantly she was on her feet, wand drawn.
One of the boys growled and charged at her. Once he may have had blonde hair, but now it was a sickly pale green, and it writhed on his head like angry sea snakes. Normally, it would have been a frightening visage to terrorize, but now it just made Hermione angry.
"Impedimenta," she shouted. The tip of her wand sparked and the boy seemed to freeze in place. He snarled, unable to fully move but still struggling against the spell. Hermione turned to the next one, jabbing her wand in his direction. "Impedimenta!" He tried to duck to avoid the attack, but it still struck him full on causing his limbs to lock, rendering him immobile.
The remaining two lost boys hit her both at the same time, sending her and her wand skittering across the ice in different directions. One of them, a boy with ice protruding from his silvery blue face, let out a cry of triumph. He had discovered the opening in the ice. Quickly, he went for Draco's prone form and snatched him up. The other clutched Hermione's throat in a tight grip, lifting her off the ground.
"He is ours," he hissed. "We have waited many years for another to be added to our number. It was always supposed to be five."
"Pick somebody else," Hermione managed to say, though the supernatural thing tightened its grips. "He is mine."
For a moment, the thing's face slackened, as if for a brief second humanity had tried to regain hold. But it snarled again. "Then we'll take you both," it said, dragging her towards the hole.
She tried to fight him, but he still held her by the throat. The more she struggled, the tighter his hold became. She began to choke and gag, but she managed to get one word out. "Accio."
The wand raced towards her and settled in her hand. She twirled it in her fingers and hoarsely choked out the command, "Incendio," before jabbing the tip into the lost boy's eye. A burst of flame erupted from the socket. Hermione was released and she fell to the ice, still clutching her fire tipped wand.
The dead boy howled in terror and anguish. From his eye, and down onto his cheek, he seemed to be melting, as if he were made of ice himself. He tried to pat the flame out, but to no avail. Half blind, he ran towards where he thought the hole in the ice would be. He couldn't find it and screamed his anger and fear, spinning around on the ice. Then the Impedimenta charm wore off of his companions.
Hermione turned to them, ready to incinerate their faces too, but they were gliding past her, seizing their frantic companion and pulling him to the hole. They dropped him through and he sank into the icy depths, the flame immediately extinguished. Then they turned to Hermione, a cold rage in their eyes. She knew she couldn't take them both and save Draco as well. Already he'd been seized by the boy with the ice in his face. She was going to have to choose. Fight the oncoming dead duo or wrest Malfoy from the one who was dragging him to the ice opening. Wielding her wand, she took aim. "Incendio!"