What was I doing to myself? Whatever these feelings were, I couldn't let them control me. It's bad enough that my inability to control my impulses led me this far. I couldn't let that same impulse that saved Hermione put her in more danger than she already was. What her skin touching my lips did to me was undeniable. By the time I was back in my room, all I could do was pace back and forth, running a hand through my hair to try to calm myself. I wasn't about to admit to any possibility of mine and Hermione's relationship escalating above an alliance.
"Master Draco, Dobby will go inform the house elves of the plan now." I nodded at the elf, giving him leave so I could think. The plan wouldn't be put into action until the following evening, giving us enough time to at least attempt resting. We couldn't risk going into this sleep-deprived. Besides, I needed time to review the plan again, having not been entirely focused when I was with Hermione.
Potter and Weasley would explain the plan to Tonks, Lupin, and the Weasley twins. We were to be as discreet as possible. The Order had their own supply of Invisibility Cloaks they could use. Under the ruse of going down to inspect the prisoners, I would lead the small group, Hermione included, down to the lower levels of the dungeon. Originally, before my Potter knew who I was, they were going to rely on Hermione to get them down there. It reassured me somewhat, that I now had a more active role in rescuing the prisoners. This way, at least, I could ensure Hermione's safety.
Once we got down to the dungeons, the house elves would join us. Potter wasn't taking any chances. The way he saw it, Voldemort couldn't be stupid enough to overlook the house elves magic to the point where they could free prisoners. Wizards would have to open the cages first, as a precaution, then the elves would transport prisoners. There wasn't any margin for error.
All that was left was to wait and see what would happen. It wouldn't do us any good if I stayed up debating my feelings for Hermione. I had to focus on the task at hand. With a frustrated sigh, I allowed myself to lay back and rest. Sleep wouldn't come unaccompanied though.
When I got up later that day, it was difficult to imagine that the events of the early morning had actually happened. Draco had come, and Harry and Ron had found out he was our informant. I just hoped that my inability to help him maintain his secret wouldn't cost us the mission at hand. I got up and dressed, donning my own cloak. A part of me wished I could wear his, but not only would it weigh me down, but it was stupid. If I were caught in the castle wearing his cloak, he was as good as dead.
I joined the rest of the order members involved down in the foyer. It seemed they were just waiting for me.
"Is everybody ready?" Harry had assumed his natural leadership position, making it clear that even though Draco would be the one leading us, he was still in charge. Dobby appeared with a few of the other elves, enough to take us to the castle. In the blink of an eye we stood in Snape's-now Draco's-living area. He was waiting for us, seated b y the fire. As soon as we arrived, he stood, turning to face us. He acknowledged me with a nod of his head, but focused his attention on Harry.
"Alright. As everyone has already been informed of the plan, I'll be brief. There are over a hundred prisoners down there. Small children are the priority."
"What about the ministry members?" Ginny was very quick to interrupt. Draco seemed taken aback by this.
"Where's your motherly instinct Weaselette? It's more important make sure the kids get out safe. Most of the ministry down there have their years counted anyway." Ginny quickly quieted, any retort she may have made against his insult bitten back. "After the kids go the ministry members. I'm not quite sure how many of them can aid in helping the escape, so our best bet is to try to do this as quickly as possible. As for our fellow ex-classmates, they may be of some use in the escape, but don't count on it. Longbottom wasn't looking very good, and I don't think anyone was better off than him."
Harry's fists clenched at the mention of our old classmates. He was worried for them, that was clear. He gave Draco a stiff nod.
"How much time do we have?"
"There's no way to tell. Since we only recently discovered the existence of prisoners, I didn't have the time to see who does rounds. By the looks of it, we might be in luck. When I was down there Longbottom seemed surprised to see anyone. Apparently no one goes down there very often." At least that was marginally good news. If we had a big enough escape window, we could get more people out.
Everyone pulled their cloaks over themselves, while Draco grabbed his mask from the mantle of the fireplace. We couldn't afford for one of the prisoners to recognize him. If things went badly, at least we could still maintain our spy. He looked like he was going to be sick. After slipping my cloak on, I made my way over to him, taking his hand without anyone noticing.
"Relax," I whispered. "It's me. Everything will be ok. You're doing the right thing."
"Tell them that…" His voice was barely audible, but I knew what he was referring to. Upon our arrival, it as obvious that Ron and the twins still held severe contempt for him, not to mention the glare he received from Harry.
"When this goes off without a hitch, they'll realize you deserve a second chance." I was trying to convince myself as much as him. Everyone's nerves were on edge, that was clear. This pep talk was evidence of that. He gave my hand a squeeze before pulling away, leading us out of the room.
It may have looked like I was alone, but the air around me was thick with dread. I tried to keep her words in mind as I led them deeper into the dungeons. You deserve a second chance… Do I really? I didn't think she would ever say something like that. I made her miserable for years, went against everything she represented and fought for, yet she believed I deserved a second chance.
Doing my best to steel myself against the onslaught of doubt, I continued forward. Things were going too smoothly, and I was beginning to get paranoid. As soon as we reached the dungeons, I heard the rustling of fabric behind me, and turned to see Potter ripping his cloak away and rushing to the nearest cell. He was too self-righteous for his own good.
"Potter you idiot, someone could have seen you!" I wanted to hex him into next week. If this mission didn't go well it would be his fault, not mine, yet I knew I would get the blame.
"Shut up, Malfoy. I don't know why you're doing this, but you couldn't possibly understand what it means to care that these people are safe!" I winced at his obvious disbelief in my ability to change. He shoved me away from him as he began to unlock one of the cells. Everyone followed suit. The elves were arriving with Dobby.
"Stop with the self-righteous rubbish! I may not care as much as you do, but if that's what keeps me thinking clearly, I'm better off that way." I shoved him back, putting my mask on before anyone recognized me. He didn't spare me another glance as he continued to work. There were more prisoners than we could count and there was no way to know how much time we had to free them all.
"Draco…" Her whisper brought me out of my thoughts. "Focus…"
"I'm fine!" I didn't mean to snap at her, anger at Potter getting the best of me. She winced, but I couldn't bring myself to apologize, my own words coming back to me. If that's what keeps me thinking clearly. Caring too much would cause me to fail, I had just finished explaining that to Potter. I couldn't let caring for her override my thinking. "Just…go help with the escape. I'll keep watch." She left without another word.
It seemed like hours before Lovegood came up to me. I didn't bother to hide my frustration.
"Malfoy…most of the prisoners have been saved. It should only be about another hour. There were a few scattered cells that still had some of the kids." I simply nodded. She walked away, leaving me to wallow in guilt at how I snapped at Hermione. Before long, the sound of an explosion shook the dungeons. I muttered an oath. Who had been stupid enough to open a cell with an explosion?
By the time I made it to the source of the noise, the rest of the Order had beaten me there.
"So Potter, thought you could just waltz in here and play hero?" I knew that voice. Before I could do anything, however, I felt a yank behind me. Small hands pulled me away from the crowd and into the shadows.
"Put on a cloak. We can't let Zabini know you're here! There are about twenty prisoners left. We'll get them out." In seconds Hermione draped a cloak over me and ran. The Mark began to burn, and I felt Voldemort's order. Moments after, the dungeon flooded with Death Eaters. Before I could fully register what was happening, an all out battle had broken out. I didn't even see which way Hermione went. The house elves had immediately disappeared, that having been one of the fallbacks if we were caught: maintain the elves a secret in case we could try again later.
Several Order Members took prisoners and went to the upper levels. The twins had shared their secret passages and escape routes with the others, as that would be our only hope after getting caught. I ran in the direction of the Order members, acting as a kind of guardian to the ones running away. I needed to get away from the fighting to think through my next plan of action. By the time I was in my room, I had narrowed my choices down to two: play Death Eater and attack the Order or stay hidden and assist. Would the other Death Eaters notice I wasn't there? The commotion outside was increasing.
"Run! We have to get these kids out of here!" Hermione's voice rang through the halls, and my decision was made for me. If she was close, it meant a Death Eater was after her. I ran out of the room, pretending to join the Death Eater chasing her.
Unfortunately for our side, the kids would be deadweight in our escape attempt. If the prisoners we had left were adults they could have at least put up a fight. The child Hermione carried in front of her was small for a first year, but not small enough that she was easy to carry. I didn't even bother to identify the Death Eater running beside me. He was shooting hexes at her, and it was all I could do to keep myself from turning on him and giving myself away.
We continued to run, and I was forced to shoot curses at her, intentionally missing, but running the risk of hurting someone else. She rounded a corner about ten feet ahead of us, and it took me a moment to realize where she was going. When we made it around the corner, the hallway split in two directions, a blank wall staring us in the face.
"Go left, I'll go this way." I began to run to the right, listening for the other Death Eater's footsteps to fade. Once I was sure he was out of sight, I turned and ran back to the blank wall. I need a place to hide…I need a place to hide… A small door materialized before me, and I ran in.
Running to the Room of Requirement was a risky shot, but I didn't have a choice. With two Death Eaters chasing me down, I had to think fast. I hadn't counted on either one of them thinking I would use it, though. When I saw the mask and black cloak enter the broom cupboard, I acted as fast as I could. Hiding the little girl behind me, I brandished my wand.
"Stu-" The curse was cut off abruptly by his hand over my mouth.
"Shh…It's me. Calm down." He removed the mask with his free hand, the gray eyes I had come to trust looking down at me. My entire body relaxed, and something compelled me to slack against him. He received me with open arms, holding me to him. I let my arms wrap around his waist.
"I thought I told you to keep a low profile."
"And let you have all the fun? You'd have better luck getting the Weasel not to eat."
"Umm…" The little girl behind me tugged at my robe. She looked worried, fearful eyes looking from me to Draco.
"It's ok, sweetie. He's going to help us escape." Some of the apprehension in her eyes left, but I could still feel her tension. "Right?" I looked back up at him. There was a fair amount of iciness in his gaze, but some of it seemed to melt away as he looked at us.
"Yeah. I will." His tone was cold, but something about his embrace showed that he was just as afraid, or had been, as we were. "Dobby."
He appeared beside the door, making the small space more cramped than it already was.
"Take Hermione and the girl. Tell the other elves to go back to evacuating. If we can get all the prisoners out now there's no need for the secrecy."
"Just take her Dobby, I'm staying behind to help." Dobby did as I asked.
"What the hell do you think you're doing? You were almost cursed a thousand times over not five minutes ago! Leave while you can." His sudden outburst took me aback.
"I will not turn tail and run, Draco. I still have a job to do. If I can make it that much easier for the elves to help, I will." Even though we were whispering, the vehemence in my voice was not lost on him, or vice versa.
"Your ridiculous bravery is going to get you killed! You'll be a better help tending to the prisoners we've recovered." The space between us was shortening by the second. The more we argued, the closer we got.
"I'm no coward. I will not run." Something flickered in his eye at my old insult for him.
"It isn't cowardice, it's strategy. Living to fight another day is better than dying on the spot." I couldn't deny his logic, but I also couldn't just stand by and hide while my friends were out there fighting.
"I won't stand idly by and let others die for me." I tried to shove him out of the way, tried to push past him, but he grabbed my arm, holding me back.
"And I'm not going to let you just walk onto a battlefield."
"What I do isn't your problem! It's not like you care. Caring would cloud your judgment." I don't know what made me say it. His earlier words came back to me and I couldn't help but use them against him. What surprised me more than my own words was how he reacted to them. Despite the ice that froze his gray eyes, he pulled me to him and crushed my lips with his.
It was nothing like a fairytale kiss, no warm tingly feeling, no fluttering butterflies in the stomach, but there was electricity running through both of us. One arm wrapped around me tightly, pressing me to him with a strength I hadn't realized he had. He was crushing me to him, but I wasn't about to stop him. Despite my better judgment, I wanted to return his kiss. But I was in shock, and didn't react as quickly as I should have.
As swiftly as he had pulled me to him, he pulled back, practically shoving me away. My heart was doing double time, and I had to steady myself against the wall behind me to keep from falling. I could taste blood on my swollen lips, the result of the force he'd used, and the way he'd bitten, albeit softly, as he pulled away.
"My problem, Hermione, is that I care too much."