Branches scratched at my skin, but I was numb, unable to feel any of the stinging pain I should have. Trickles of blood seeped into my mouth, the only evidence I could register that the branches were causing any damage. I couldn't hear anything above the screaming, the blasts of spells on trees and bodies being thrown about. Couldn't hear myself think, either. I was functioning on primal instinct. Run was the only command my body followed. Feeling the forest debris crunching underneath my feet was the only hint that my body was actually even following that command. The order to retreat had been sent out over an hour ago, and I was pretty sure I was among the few Order members left.
Many had begun their retreat even before the order was sent to do so. Everyone had scattered their separate ways, and I was positive that Harry and Ron were long gone. Molly would have made sure of that. Distinct cracks could be heard in the distance, and I knew those were the rest of the Order Apparating away. Exhaustion was threatening to set in, and I had to push my body further, just a little further. If I could reach the point of the forest that was no longer Hogwarts grounds, I could Apparate as well. A strange silence settled around me, and it seemed as if the fighting had stopped. Was I really the only one left?
"Search for stragglers! Crucio them until they divulge information!" Bellatrix Lestrange, a voice I had come to recognize anywhere. It was lucky that Molly had been able to get out of that fight alive. If only we'd been quicker, more alert, we could have caught the Dark Lord off-guard. But no, Harry could not find the opening he needed to kill him, and we were forced to retreat. And now here I was, running, severely outnumbered by the enemy. "Lumos Maxima!"
Her spell brought me out of my chaotic thoughts, forcing me to duck and hide. Luckily, there was a large root protruding from the ground, creating a small alcove that I managed to fit into, albeit tightly. Just in time, too, because seconds later I could see two pairs of feet where I had just been, Death Eaters speaking in hushed tones. Unable to recognize them, I ignored their voices and tried to figure out a way to escape. Bellatrix had shot her light spell into the sky, illuminating any exposed part of the forest. It would be hell trying to get out. I forced myself to breathe evenly. If I was going to get out, I couldn't allow myself to panic.
It took a moment to collect myself, enough time for the two Death Eaters to be out of earshot, still waiting for the Lumos to dim. With a deep breath I slid out of the alcove, staying as pressed against the ground as I could. I crawled away, trying to put a safe distance between us so I could get up and continue running. Once I was sure I would have a decent advantage, I got up and ran, ignoring the sounds of surprise around me. Clutching my wand, I prepared to turn on my pursuers if I had to. It would be too perfect if I could escape without a fight. There were only two or three Death Eaters behind me, but none of them, I could tell from their voices, were of the inner circle.
My chest was heaving with the effort to run away, and finally the lights dimmed completely, plunging everything into darkness again. Suddenly, a flash of green light illuminated the trees around me, and I could feel the curse coming from behind. I was going to die, no way could I outrun or possibly dodge it. My mind was paralyzed in 'run' mode, my body wouldn't register anything else. Something pulled me from my left, yanking me and pressing me against a large tree.
Heavy breathing, that's all I could hear in the dead silence after the Avada hit a poor tree. Breath blew against my cheek, and I could feel a masculine chest pressed firmly against mine, my savior's arms above our heads, covering us with what I recognized as an invisibility cloak. Harry's cloak? Did he leave it behind? My breath caught in my throat as I caught a glimpse of my savior's hair. Platinum blond. It couldn't be, could it? But who else, if not him? No one else had that same hair color, except for his mother and father, but there was no way in hell it could be Lucius.
My pursuers kept running, not having seen me be flung aside. Once their footsteps faded into the dark, we were encased in silence again. He pulled back, but still kept us under the cover of Harry's cloak. His eyes gleamed silver, like the blade of a dagger, and just as dangerous. I felt invaded, his piercing gaze seemingly looking into me. If it wasn't because fear kept me frozen to the spot I would have bolted out of there like a bat out of hell. I never broke eye contact, refusing to show any kind of weakness, masking my fear with defiance.
Just as suddenly as he had grabbed me and hid me, he pulled away entirely, cloak still clutched in his hand. As if his proximity had been what paralyzed me, I was able to move again, brandishing my wand immediately. He made no move to defend himself.
"Go, Mudblood, they should be gone by now." The insult didn't bear the sting I usually felt at hearing it. What surprised me most, however, was the fact that he was telling me to run.
"What? So you could attack me from behind, ferret? I don't think so." My voice was a harsh whisper. I couldn't risk other Death Eaters overhearing me. That's when it registered that Malfoy had also whispered his words. He made no move to defend himself, but I knew he could draw his wand as readily as Harry, having similar Seeker skills.
"You're making this more difficult than it should be, Granger. Run. I have no interest in killing you. Stop letting your ridiculous Gryffindor recklessness get in the way…" The word 'Gryffindor' was loaded with more venom than I had ever heard come out of Malfoy's mouth.
"At least I'm not a Slytherin coward. You foul, loathsome-"
"Evil little cockroach? I already heard that one, Mudblood. Now get going before I change my mind." Again, that word lacked the sting, the venom. His jaw clenched, and the grip on the invisibility cloak tightened. Those were the only signs of his growing frustration This unnerved me to no end, but I couldn't deny what he was so readily presenting. My escape, as hesitant as I was to take it, was laid out before me. "Just go. Trust me." Wrong words to say.
"Trust you? Trust you? Even you can't be stupid enough to honestly believe I could ever trust you." Why it never crossed my mind to attack him first, I still don't know. Maybe it was my shock at having to be the first to attack, and not having to defend myself against him. Whatever the case, attacking first wasn't my style anyway, and I kept waiting for him to make the first move. When it never came, I closed the distance between us. He didn't even flinch beneath my gaze or my wand, which I now had at his neck.
"Yes Granger, trust me. Isn't that what you're all bloody about anyway? Trust and pride and all that rubbish? Show some of that Gryffindor courage and trust a Slytherin. Besides, I just saved your bloody life! That counts for something, doesn't it?" His voice trailed off at the end, and the sudden change in his tone took me aback, almost causing me to lower my wand. He shifted his eyes skyward, avoiding contact with mine. Some clouds had moved and moonlight was streaming into the small clearing we were in.
Malfoy's skin was luminescent, and what I could see of his eyes gleamed brighter than before. His eyes swept to mine for a second, and what I saw was panic, confusion. I assumed his eyes were reflecting what I knew were contained in mine. Without moving my wand hand, my other one took hold of the invisibility cloak. I nearly jumped at how icy his skin was, having brushed my fingers against his.
"Give me back Harry's cloak, and I'll leave." That got his attention, forcing him to look at me. He quirked his eyebrow up, and I had to beat down the thought of how attractive that slight movement was. I really must have been panicking and losing it if thoughts like that were starting to take root.
"Take it Granger." He shoved the cloak at me, the simplicity in the movement enough to make me step back, shocked. I didn't think he would give it up so easily. I took the cloak in both my hands, no longer able to contain the look of confusion. My mask of defiance fell, and all that was left was full blown puzzlement at his actions.
"Why? Why haven't you killed me yet?" My wand was back to his neck, his face suddenly calm. Only his eyes betrayed the confusion we were both feeling.
"Good question. I'll get back to you when I know the answer, Mudblood." I didn't get an opportunity to respond, as we both heard the rustling of branches coming back from the direction I'd been running in. My pursuers were coming back, apparently having given up chasing me. Panic flit across his eyes. My own panic froze me in place again. He acted faster than I could. Pulling the cloak from me, he draped it over my frozen form. Just in time, as well, since the Death Eaters appeared barely a second later. I still hadn't moved.
"Come on Draco, we lost her. The Dark Lord will want to see us." They were voices I didn't recognize. The malice in them was undeniable, though, clear in every word they uttered.
"Alright. I'll finish looking around and go back on my own." They seemed to accept his answer and moved on, leaving him behind. That struck me as odd. Was he really that trusted among the other Death Eaters? When the others left, he turned around, knowing I was still there. I managed to command my muscles to move long enough to uncover my head, like removing a hood, watching him as he watched me. Only now did I truly take in what his face looked like. He was paler than I was used to seeing, sickly looking even, with bags under his eyes. When was the last time he'd slept? I hadn't noticed it before, but now I could see a thin scar running down the side of his face. Something urged me to reach out and touch it, unbelieving that it was actually there.
I contained the urge, though, making sure not to so much as flinch. I was beyond confused at this point. He'd had me outnumbered! Everything he did was against what I knew about him. "Are Mudbloods really that thick? Where's your sense of self-preservation?"
His question brought me out of my stupor. Where was my sense of self-preservation? Here I was, in what was now enemy territory, and still hadn't taken my way out. "Go. Like I said, before I change my mind…" He walked up to me, and I instinctively took a step back. He took hold of the cloak, but before placing it over my head again, he placed his face beside mine, whispering, "You owe me one."
My eyes widened at the realization. He pulled back, smirking. The cloak was over my face again, and it seemed to break me out of my paralysis. Before I left, however, I couldn't help but speak, "Thank you."
I ran before he could speak again, surprised at how soon I reached the edge of the forest. I Apparated to Grimmauld Place, nearly collapsing on the street. My exhaustion was finally winning out. The invisibility cloak slipped from me, and I vaguely registered Ginny and Luna appearing from the entrance of the house. Both girls caught me, but I couldn't make out what they were saying. Everything was a rush. They practically dragged me into the house, and even more chaos ensued, as faces upon faces appeared before me.
Apparently I had worried them, taking much longer to get back than they had anticipated. I'd been right, I was the only one of the Order that had been left when Malfoy found me.
Draco Malfoy…I owed him my life. If not because he let me escape, then because he pulled me away from the Killing Curse. Hopefully, I will never have to repay the debt.