Hermione's emotion was difficult to fight against. Usually, sentimental words from women would only serve to annoy me. This particular woman, though, she was something else. Her emotions weren't petty, or childish, like that of the Slytherins I was accustomed to. No, this Gryffindor was passionate, sincere. Sincerity is hard to come by in the Slytherin house. Which is why I couldn't help but let my expression soften at her words. The way she looked at me could have been sickening at one point, from how sweetly her eyes scanned my face, but not anymore.
A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth, and even I was surprised that I released it to easily. Aside from my mother, Hermione Granger was the only person to even catch a glimpse of me smiling, let alone have it directed at her. This was the second time now, that I smiled at her.
Both of us had felt the shock when our skin touched, and she had yet to let go of my arm. The fact that she lingered only intensified the small tremors her hand created. I watched her eyes widen as my hand came up to brush her cheek. Crimson began to ride up her neck and into her face. It only made my smile last longer.
"Don't let me take all the credit, Hermione. This was your idea, remember? Or better yet, Dobby's." I gestured to the elf with a nod, who was smiling at us, now flattered by my compliment. He looked on merrily, content to simply wait until Hermione was ready to go.
"Th-Thanks." Something flashed in her eyes, but it was fleeting, and I wasn't able to decipher it before it was gone. I masked my curiosity at her expression well, but she seemed to see through it, flashing me a nervous smile and stepping away from my hand. "I'll see you around, Draco. You'll hear from me as soon as we come up with something." And with that as her final farewell, she left. The ghost of her touch still remained on my arm.
Dobby took me to my room and promptly disappeared, leaving me to my thoughts. Was it wrong for me to react the way I did to his touch? His smile? This was a side of Draco Malfoy that didn't match with the arrogant boy I'd known in school, the confused man that had saved my life, or even the lost child I'd recently come across. I could still feel his hand on my cheek, and the image of his eyes searching mine was imprinted in my mind.
I cursed myself for letting thoughts like these occupy me when there were more important matters at hand. We had Merlin knows how many prisoners stuck at Hogwarts. Our missing persons lists were increasing by the day, with reports coming in from the Daily Prophet. Not everyone had escaped the battle safely, that was a given, but we only found out the numbers day by day. Most were thought to be dead. Now that there was news of prisoners, we had to get them out. How many of them were younger students? The thought chilled me to the core, and I immediately left my room in search of Harry.
I found him in the kitchen, speaking to Ron in hushed tones. They were trying to come up with a way to storm Hogwarts.
"We can't do that Harry!" I interrupted them without a second thought. It hurt, somewhat, that they were plotting without me. Ron looked at me questioningly, while Harry simply glared.
"Why? What have you found out?" He leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed, suspicious eyes scanning me entirely.
"They have prisoners, Harry. We need to get them out before we attempt a siege of the castle." His eyes softened at the mention of the others.
"I only know one name for sure, and that's Dennis Creevey. It's probable that they captured many of the younger students in our attempts to evacuate the school. Who knows how many they've got down there? If we attack now, we'd be putting them all in danger."
"Your informant told you this?"
"How does he know?" I cringed at what I had to tell them next.
"Voldemort is growing paranoid, apparently. He suspects disloyalty, and has been having them torture poor Dennis to prove otherwise. We can't risk waiting too long, Harry. It's only a matter of time before Voldemort starts asking them to kill prisoners." Harry nodded. I took a deep breath before continuing my message. "That's not all, Harry. I don't know how much you know about it, but the Elder Wand isn't working well for Voldemort." I continued on to explain the rest, for Ron's sake.
"I knew about the Elder Wand. It's the only reason I'm still alive. How did you find out, though?" I had to be careful with what I revealed.
"The Room of Requirement. Our informant stumbled upon a portrait of Snape and Dumbledore. They say Voldemort has destroyed the rest of the portraits in the Headmaster's office. It's all that's left of them in Hogwarts."
"What else did they say?" Harry looked to be somewhere between disbelief and relief.
"We have to be careful. I wanted to rescue the prisoners right away, but it would be too risky with just me and D-the informant." I had to catch myself before I let slip his name. I was so flustered, so eager to go into action that I wasn't controlling my words. Neither one of them seemed to catch my slip-up, however. Ron had been silent this entire time, until now.
"Hermione…how did you even get into Hogwarts?" Harry's eyes widened at the realization that he hadn't thought of that particular obstacle.
"Dobby took me." Harry nodded, knowing full well that the elf could gain access to the castle whenever he wanted to. "He's been helping me communicate with the informant this whole time." I didn't want to tell them that Draco had been inside the house. Harry would likely kill me, even though he didn't know his identity. "I was thinking we could use him in our rescue. He's more than eager. Isn't that right, Dobby?"
He appeared before us, smiling brighter than ever. He nodded, then bowed.
"Dobby would be honored to help! Miss Hermione knows she can ask Dobby anything!" I couldn't help but smile brightly at him.
"Thank you, Dobby." Soon after we called a meeting to plan our infiltration of Hogwarts.
If Hermione managed to figure out a rescue plan, I knew she would need the layout of the lower dungeons, and a count of how many prisoners were being held. Placing my cloak back on, I walked out of my room, casting Lumos to light the way. It was the dead of night, and even Voldemort slept. It took me a long time before I actually found the prison cells, but I knew well enough when I was growing near.
The stench of decay wafted up from the cells, and I had to cringe at the wave of nausea that hit me. When was the last time the dungeons had been used as prison cells? Rows upon rows of cells stood before me, and I had to stop to take it all in. At the hint of light, moans had begun to echo along the hall. I tried to maintain myself in shadow, so none of the prisoners would be able to name me if they were questioned. I walked on silently, raising my wand so I could see into the cells. I didn't recognize many of the younger faces, but I saw a few sixth and seventh years I recognized.
There had to be maybe ten or fifteen people to a cell. It wasn't only students, either. Ministry members were also being held here. I recognized them from many trips I'd made with my father to the office. When had they been taken? If there were missing officials, Hermione would have made a point of telling me so I would look for them. That could only mean Voldemort had more people than he led us to believe within the Ministry.
"W-Who's there?" By now I was at the end of the hall. The question came for my right, and I whipped around to see who it was, still keeping my face from being recognized.
The light revealed Neville Longbottom. He was lying in a heap on the floor, blood dripping from his mouth. He had a black eye, and I was sure it wasn't the only bruise on him. Of course Voldemort would have wanted to capture the one who killed Nagini. There were a few others in the cell with him, some Hufflepuffs I'd never really cared to know before. I swore under my breath but had to stop myself, before he recognized my voice. Merlin knew I'd insulted him enough over the last few years that he would recognize me without having to see my face.
I decided to leave and communicate what I'd found to Hermione. I couldn't risk staying longer and actually counting the prisoners. There were too many to count. Dumbledore was right; a rescue project between just the two of us would have been suicide.
Infiltration plans had taken up the better part of the rest of the night. Our sleeping patters had been so thrown off at this point, that it no longer even mattered what time it was. We slept when we were tired, even if it meant going to bed at four in the morning. That's exactly what I did that night. With a sigh I slipped under my sheets, closing my eyes to seek what little refuge I could in my dreams.
It didn't last, however. Almost as soon as I began to drift into that space between awake and dreaming, I felt a weight sink into my mattress, and a hand began to shake me slightly. A faint voice floated to my ears, and I could decipher my name. With a groan, I couldn't help but turn around to face the disturbance.
"What now…Merlin, Draco! Don't sneak up on people like that!" I had been rubbing my eyes sleepily when his face had come into focus. My heart beat faster, but I couldn't be sure of the reason. I hadn't even heard Dobby Apparate him into the room. I pulled my sheets around me, suddenly frighteningly aware that I wore nothing but a tank top and small shorts. He seemed to come to the same realization and stood up from my bed.
"Sorry, but I was hardly sneaking…" He tried to lighten my embarrassment by smirking. It only served to worsen it. I shot a glare at him.
"At least have the decency to turn around so I can put something on!" He simply rolled his eyes at me.
"Believe me, I've seen women in less. You look fine. Besides, don't you think there are more pressing matters at hand?" I blushed at his statement, more annoyed than anything else. I wasn't given a chance to retaliate, though. In that moment, we heard voices outside the door. Not even a second later, the door was open, revealing Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Luna. Damn it all to Hell. I'd never seen Harry and Ron draw their wands so quickly. Ginny and Luna weren't as rash.
I scrambled out of bed, not even caring how I looked anymore. Draco drew his wand, but it wasn't aimed as menacingly as Harry's and Ron's. His was up for his own safety. I stood between them, subconsciously placing my hand on Draco's and lowering it beside me.
"Calm down! Merlin, what are we, first years?"
Her reprimand was meant for her two friends, and I couldn't help but take some pride in that. Again her light touch caused reactions in me that I would rather not acknowledge. I let her lower my hand, but I was surprised her touch lingered. There was barely any room between us, and I wondered if she registered this. She held my arm at my side, hers lined up with it to keep it down, hand gently holding onto my wrist, successfully placing herself between my wand arm and her friends.
"Hermione, what are you doing? He was going to attack you in your sleep!" I felt her grow hot with frustration. I'd never been close enough to feel the heat she emanated. Her grip on my wrist tightened.
"Would you listen to yourself, Ronald? He wouldn't be able to set foot in this house unless one of us wanted him to." Weasley seemed taken aback, and I could tell it was because of her wording. The way she said it, she made it sound like she wanted me around. No amount of working together should ever inspire that kind of idea inside her mind, even I knew that.
"He's the spy…" I recognized the voice as Luna Lovegood's and I saw as she lowered Weasley's arm, as Hermione had done for me. The Weaselette made no such move towards Potter, though.
"What is he doing in your bedroom, Hermione?" I knew what Potter was insinuating, so I didn't hesitate in shooting a glare at him. I could tell she heard it as well.
"He was about to relay something, Harry, when you four burst in. Now lower your wand! We're on the same side." He did as Hermione ordered, but the look in his eyes betrayed his disbelief at the last statement. I didn't blame him for being suspicious. Hermione was right.
"I'm assuming Dobby is the one bringing him?" Dobby appeared then, confirming Potter's thoughts. The house elf stood off to the side, watching as we continued speaking. "So what do you want, Malfoy? Make it quick." Hermione tensed at the mention of my surname, apparently anticipating my reaction. I steeled myself against it, though, knowing not to expect too much from Potter and Weasley.
"Maybe we should go somewhere more comfortable to speak? It's kind of crowded here now, don't you think?" I was surprised at Lovegood's suggestion, but she wasn't met with any protests. The four of them walked out the door and I assumed that left us to follow them. I heard Hermione sigh in front of me, and she turned to look up into my eyes.
"I'm afraid things have only just begun to get more complicated."
"Because they were simple before?" She gave me a reprimanding look for my tone of amusement. It's war, after all, and you have to grasp onto what little amusement you can.
"Don't say anything stupid, alright? Don't provoke them." I shrugged in surrender.
"I won't make any promises." I removed my cloak, surprising her by draping it over her shoulders. She looked at me in surprise, and again I smirked. "You were so worried about how you looked before. It's kind of cold here, so I might as well let you wear it." She looked like she was about to protest, but thought better of it, simply leading the way out of the room, holding my cloak closer, while Dobby followed us. Weaselette and Lovegood gave her curious looks when we walked in. I got straight to the point.
"There are more prisoners down there that I imagined. I went to try and guesstimate how many, but that isn't even possible. To add onto our problems, they're keeping Ministry officials down there too." Hermione paled at my revelation. They were all sitting, except for me. I could do nothing but pace.
"How has no one reported them missing?" The She-Weasley sounded appalled.
"You-Know-Who probably replaced them within the Ministry." Potter sat still, not taking his eyes off me for a second.
"Any familiar faces?" I knew the question was coming, and I was loathe to answer it, knowing how touchy Potter could get when you messed with his friends.
"Longbottom, a few Hufflepuffs from our year, and one of the Creevey brothers. There were loads more, but it was too dark to distinguish many faces." Potter's fists clenched at the mention of Longbottom. I knew they were friends, not close, but friends nonetheless.
"We have to get them out as soon as possible. The less leverage they have over us, the better. If we save them, we can avoid countless casualties." Hermione's voice seemed to snap everyone into action. Potter and Weasley began to relay the strategy they had come up with. Hermione moved towards me as the spoke, grabbing my arm again and leading me to sit beside her. She still wouldn't let go of my arm. It was disconcerting, to say the least, that I was more aware of the warmth her body was emanating than the plan Potter was giving me. I still paid attention, though, enough to commit the strategy to memory and go over it in detail on my own later.
They decided to keep my identity to themselves for now. They would recruit two or three more Order members to help with the evacuation, but everyone else was to remain in the dark about me. Hermione was very adamant in that.
After our discussion, everyone retired to rest. That left me alone with Draco. I looked up at him, sitting beside me on the couch.
"You handled that pretty well. I was half expecting having to reprimand you, too." I couldn't keep the lightheartedness from my tone.
"Thanks. Slytherins aren't as rash as Gryffindors." He smiled at me, and again I tried to fight what that did to me. "I'd better go. Who knows what Potter would do if I lingered longer than necessary." I smiled at that, seeing that his smile was still firmly in place as well. We were in the middle of a war, yet neither one of us could help but to smile at each other. I nodded, agreeing with him.
When we both stood, I went to return his cloak, but he placed his hand on mine, keeping it from removing the garment.
"Hold onto it."
"You didn't have a problem with taking my cloaks before." I blushed at the reference, knowing I'd made a fool of myself taking his Invisibility Cloak. "Besides, I don't need it. I have enough cloaks as it is." He wouldn't let me return his cloak, so I gave up, simply looking at him in surprise. "Think of it as a thank you gift."
"For giving me a second chance." I hadn't expected the spontaneous show of gratitude, but I was caught even more off-guard by what he did next. Taking my hand, he brought it up to his lips, palm towards me, and kissed it. He closed his eyes, as if taking in the moment, then spoke again. "It means more to me than you can imagine."
I wanted nothing more than to commit that gesture to memory, engrave his words and actions in my mind. My heart beat quickened again, and I could swear he felt it in my pulse. When he lowered my hand, an empty feeling crept into me, making my heart beat turn into an ache. Before he let go, however, I squeezed his hand gently, smiling.
By the time I'd made it back upstairs, the scene had replayed in my mind more times than I could count. The ghost of his lips still lingered on my hand, and it was all I could do not to sigh like a school girl. Despite my efforts, however, something must have shown in my face, because I was met with the scrutinizing gaze of Ginny Weasley. She wasted no time in getting to the point.
"How involved are you with him, Hermione?"
"What? I-I'm not involved with him at all."
"Then why are you still wearing his cloak?"
"He wouldn't take it back." I've always hated it when Ginny got into one of her interrogative modes. She must have seen something else in my face, because her eyes softened. Luna spoke next.
"Just be careful, Hermione. He may be on our side, but he's still dangerous as ever, even if he doesn't intend to hurt you." I felt like a child being lectured by my mother, being told things I already knew. I crawled onto my bed, cloak and all.
"I know…" But knowing the danger didn't stop the dreams that plagued me that night.