Life Debt

Falling Out

~Hermione~

I was awoken by a horrible throbbing in my temple. My whole body felt like deadweight. When I moved, it was as if I were under water. I managed to open my eyes, only to meet Tonks' worried look. As soon as we made eye-contact, however, she went from mourning to her usual happy self.

"Wotcher 'Mione! That was quite the scare…" I did my best to sit up, managing to swing my legs over the side of the bed. Unfortunately, the room began to spin. I clutched the mattress in a death grip. "Careful!" She helped me steady myself.

"I'm fine. How's everyone else? Where's Harry?" Some of my old anger began to simmer, and it was all I could do to keep from snarling his name. He nearly got me killed, or worse: got himself killed.

"It really isn't a good idea for you to get up…" I ignored her. After a deep breath, I got up and walked out the door. It wasn't until I was up and walking that I realized I had been placed in the library. For now, I ignored it, letting my mind go on a one-track Harry-hunt. I found him in the kitchen.

At my entrance, everyone in the room looked up at me. A few of the ministry members were still around, and they seemed the most shocked to see me. Harry's face immediately paled at the sight of me. Ron and Ginny wore similar expressions, while Luna simply looked off into space, while somehow managing to make eye-contact with me.

"You're awake, Hermione. I'm glad to see you're ok."

"Thanks, Luna." I looked away from her and at Harry. "So what is this? Another secret mission that could get somebody killed?" He looked away from me, guilt clear on his face. "Dammit Harry! Didn't you learn from your last excursion?"

"We can't just sit around and wait for Voldemort to make a move, that's too dangerous!"

"Oh, because going into a mission blind isn't? You're putting people in danger more than him Harry! You're losing it…you need to think things through." Tonks must have alerted Lupin and the other elder members, because at that moment they walked in.

"I am not losing it!" The way he said it was more than enough proof that he was. His eyes were alight with anger, his face red from the blood I knew was boiling. Fists clenched, he slammed one off the table. That's when the idea occurred to me. If he wasn't angry now, he would be murderous after I spoke again.

"Harry…I think I know what's causing this." After a deep breath, I continued. "Your connection to Voldemort…you're losing it because he is." It was the only explanation. Harry's onset of paranoia began around the same time as Voldemort's. I backed away slightly, knowing that he would not take my suggestion lightly at all.

"I am NOTHING like him!" His hand immediately darted for his wand. Ron went to stop him, but Harry pushed him away.

"It's ok, Ron. I've got this." I turned back to Harry. "You've always known you have this connection. It's not the first time it's affected you…" He brandished his wand, flicking it predictably. I deflected his attack, disarming him. I could practically see the rage rolling off him. "Harry. Look at what you're doing. You're attacking me. Your comrade. Your best friend."

That seemed to trigger something inside him. His eyes widened in shock, as if he hadn't realized what he was doing. His wand hand shook, and then he dropped it, wand clattering to the floor. Whatever it was that had happened to him because of the connection he shares with Voldemort seemed to be at bay, for now. "Do you see now, Harry? I've only been trying to help." He sat back in his chair, taking a deep breath. Mrs. Weasley took that moment to speak.

"Well, our Hermione isn't the brightest witch of the age for nothing! Now that that's settled, how about some tea?" She patted me reassuringly on the arm, then went on to bustle through the kitchen. Everyone began to take a seat at the table, the semblance of comfortable silence overtaking the room. We all appreciated her effort to calm the tension. It was working, too, until Harry spoke again.

"I still don't trust him, Hermione." The venom in his voice was undeniable. I couldn't help the hurt that sprung loose inside me, or the way my eyes watered. Fists clenched at my sides, I did my best to maintain composure.

"I'm not asking you to trust him. I'm asking you to trust me." I couldn't stay in the room any longer. Ignoring Mrs. Weasley's offer for tea, I walked out.

~Draco~

When I woke up again, my whole body was sore. Shivers ran through me at the cold. I was deeper in the dungeons than I should have been. Actually, I was in a cell, lying face down on the wet stone floor. As I tried to stand, my head began to pound. I took hold of the small cot in the cell, finally able to stand upright. It did nothing for my headache. I sat on the cot, trying to regain my bearings.

We had ambushed the Order. I saw Hermione get away, and then passed out. And now I was in a cell? My stomach sank. I was going to die. Hermione was going to die. They must have figured out I was the traitor. As if on cue, I heard footsteps coming down the hall. Getting up, I approached the locked door of the cell, looking through the bars.

"How the mighty have fallen, Draco…" Zabini looked at me through the bars. As much as I wanted to reach through and kill him, I was useless without my wand. Not to mention that I had to play innocent for as long as possible.

"What the Hell happened Zabini? Why am I in here?" He smirked at me, leaning against the wall directly across from my cell.

"Don't play stupid. Everyone knows you're the traitor." No doubt about it, I was beyond dead. My only reaction to his words was my grip tightening around the bars. With a gloating tone, he went on to explain. "I suspected you hadn't drunk any of your wine. After you passed out upstairs, I gave you Veritaserum again. You came to briefly and I presented you to the Dark Lord. All he needed was to ask one question. You answered 'yes,' then passed out again." Again, all I could do was tighten my grip. Some of the potion must have still been coursing through me.

I couldn't help the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Everyone in the Order was as good as dead. The war would be lost soon enough, unless they had come up with another plan. At least Snape hadn't been stupid enough to get caught. Suddenly, another set of footsteps came towards us. I backed away from the bars, Voldemort blocking my view of Zabini.

"Very well done, young Zabini. You will be rewarded for your efforts." Yes. As soon as I got out, if I got out, Zabini would be the first to pay. "As for you, young Malfoy, I expected better." I didn't look him in the eye, knowing how easy it would be for him to see through me with Veritaserum still in my system. Occlumency would be virtually impossible. That's not to say I didn't try, however. I knew what to expect, which is why the pain that shot through me didn't surprise me. He was torturing the information out of me, something I couldn't fight against.

I collapsed onto the stone, my body writhing. I couldn't hide my screams, the agony of the Crucio. I couldn't even see through the mist of pain induced tears. He could, though, and he did. Once he had eye-contact, I could feel him invade my mind, my memories. I tried my hardest to protect memories of Hermione, knowing he would probably seek out information on Potter first. No matter how hard I tried, though, he found her. He replayed the rescues, how I felt about her.

It hit me like a bludger to the gut. He was practically ripping through my memories, my thoughts. When he finally got out, I couldn't tell if the residual pain was due to the invasion or the Crucio. My chest was heaving, but I managed to prop myself up from the floor.

"So the young Malfoy has fallen for Potter's Golden Mudblood. Quite the unexpected twist." The loathing in his voice was poorly masked by his mock-amusement. Of all the things he could have mentioned, the location of their hideout, possible weaknesses among their ranks, all he focused on were my feelings for Hermione.

"Don't call her that." I meant it to sound fierce, but the lack of energy in my body acted against me.

"Get up." With a flick of his wand, he had me upright, facing him. I couldn't move my body, no matter how hard I tried. With a mocking sneer, he continued speaking. "I have a proposition for you, Mr. Malfoy." His tone was light, but his demonic eyes told a whole different story. I didn't like where this was going. "Find out for me where the Order's hideout is, and I won't hurt your precious little Mudblood. If you don't, I can assure you I will tear all of England apart looking for it, in the process killing thousands. And when I finally do find them, Zabini's reward will be your Mudblood."

He let me regain control of my body, and I collapsed onto my knees. Protect Hermione, or protect the Order? There was no way I could be sure that Voldemort would stay true to his word, but the other option, the one where thousands die, would be ten times worse. That, and I couldn't bear the thought of Zabini touching my Hermione. She would hate me for it, but I'd rather her be alive and hating me than dead. Clenching my fists against the stone floor, I answered him.

"Fine. I'll retrieve the information…my Lord." But not without coming up with something. At least I knew the Veritaserum was out of my system. With a wave of his hand, the bar door opened. Wandless, I was allowed out of my cell and back into my room. Before leaving me alone, he said one more warning.

"And if you tell her, or anyone else in the Order, consider our agreement void." All I could do was nod. "In order to ensure you will uphold your end, young Malfoy, make the Unbreakable Vow." I didn't have a choice but to comply. He took my hand, Zabini binding us in the contract. Once it was done, he and Zabini left me alone, and I walked through the threshold to my rooms. I had a sure death sentence, no wand, no way to defend myself, and no plan to aid the Order in any way. After a deep breath, I called Dobby.

"Master Malfoy needs Dobby?" I couldn't even look the elf in the eye.

"Yeah. Take me to Hermione." I had no idea how I would pull this off. When we appeared in the house, it wasn't where I expected. Instead of Hermione's usual room, we were in a library. Hermione was pacing back and forth, muttering under her breath. What surprised me most, however, was the portrait that hung on the wall beside her. My mother looked on worriedly at the pacing witch. Her attention shifted to me.

"Draco…" Hermione's head snapped up, and the look of relief was unmistakable. It hurt to know I would betray her to keep her safe. I gave my mother a look of remorse, hoping that she would understand what I was trying to say. She always had a way of reading my mind, maybe it would still hold, even now.

"Hello, mother."

"Draco! You're ok…" I could see her physically keeping herself away from me. I took a few steps towards her, sitting on a couch by where she was pacing.

"Yeah. I'm fine. How are you feeling? I was just coming to check how everything was going. Are the others alright?" Like I really cared. I wanted to take her and escape, go as far away as possible, hide her from the world.

"Everything is ok. Things seem to at least be marginally improving with Harry. He still doesn't trust me, but we've figured out part of the reason. He's literally sharing in Voldemort's paranoia." That took me by surprise, but I knew something of the connection they shared.

"I see."

"Draco, are you sure you're fine?" The concern came from my mother. I looked up at her from my spot on the couch, gauging her expression.

"I'm ok." My tone said otherwise, but neither one of them questioned me further. I wanted nothing more than to tell them, but there was no way. I would die. Even if Voldemort definitely kept his word, there was a chance of Hermione being in danger. I wanted to be there to protect her.

"Hermione, dear, could you fetch him a cup of tea, please?" She looked up, surprised at my mother's suggestion. Something must have registered in her, however, because she did as my mother asked. Once Hermione was gone, she spoke again. "Draco. He found out, didn't he?" I buried my head in my hands, ashamed. I'd failed as a son to her, and now I failed as a spy.

"I want to protect her, mother. That's all I want. This stupid war is the reason everyone's lives were ruined, and now it's ruined mine, as well. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I'd have her. That somehow, once this was all over, she would be my chance at redemption." I took a deep breath, trying to dispel the shakiness from my voice. I didn't tell her my mission. But I couldn't say any more than what I already had.

"You love her." It wasn't a question. It was a clarification of what I'd just said. I couldn't respond, so instead I looked at her the way I used to, when I was a child. "Do what you know is right." My mother left, worry clear on her face, and it seemed to trigger me into pacing, as Hermione had been before. My mother would be back soon enough, with some idea of what I was doing. I couldn't be there when that happened.

I was distracted by a desk set off in a small area, and that's when the idea struck me. I wouldn't have to ask for the location if I found a letter addressed to it. I began to look through the drawers, when I came across a small box labeled "Hogwarts Acceptances."

I couldn't believe it. The Blacks kept all their acceptance letters. I found the one labeled Sirius Black. 12 Grimmauld Place.

"Where did your mum go?" I jumped at the sound of Hermione's voice, dropping the letter. I turned to face her as she offered me the tea.

"I don't know. She just left." She didn't seem convinced, and shot a look at the letter. I sat on the couch again, and I was relieved when she joined me. I took a sip of the tea, then I put it down, unable to drink anymore. She placed a hand on my arm, casting me a worried look.

"Draco…" I looked at her, the way she was looking at me killing me inside.

~Hermione~

There was no denying there was something wrong with Draco. I could see it in his eyes, the same internal fight I'd seen every time he'd saved me. I inched closer to him, my free hand wandering to one of his.

"Please. Tell me what's wrong." His jaw clenched, but there wasn't any anger in his eyes. I couldn't help the way my hand slid up to his cheek. I didn't expect him to retaliate, to do anything at all, but he leaned in and kissed me. His hand left mine, arm going around me and pulling me closer. I let him draw me closer, taking hold of the cloth on his shoulders, unwilling to let go. He leaned over me, until I was flat on the couch. His kisses became light, fleeting, so I spoke. "I thought you said…"

"Forget what I said." His voice was pained, but he didn't give me the chance to respond. He sealed my lips with his, sorrow, desperation, hurt coming through with each movement. And then, just as suddenly as he began, he stopped, but he didn't pull away. We both breathed heavily, but neither one of us made a move to correct ourselves from the position we were in. Neither one of us wanted to let go.

"Draco. I…" I wanted to tell him how I felt, desperately so. He must have realized what I was about to do. He wouldn't let me continue.

"Don't. Don't say it." He looked away from me, pulling back. My heart sank. I didn't bother moving. From my spot lying down on the couch, I watched him stand.

"I understand…if you don't feel-" I sat up, watching him.

"That's not it Hermione." He called Dobby then, but before leaving, he spoke again, in what was barely a whisper. "Not even close."

Once he was gone, the room felt emptier than ever. His mother came back into her portrait.

"There's something wrong, Hermione. Voldemort knows." It was like a punch to the gut.

"H-How do you know?" I couldn't help the feeling in my chest, the pain that constricted my breathing.

"I was just at the manor. I overheard him and Lucius. Draco is returning now with information. He's telling the Death Eaters the headquarters' location." I couldn't believe it. He told.

"He can't. He doesn't know…" I rushed to the desk I'd seen him at when I walked in. The letter he'd dropped was one from Hogwarts. Sirius' acceptance to the school, with the house's address written across it in big letters. My knees felt weak, and I sat back onto the floor, stunned.

"Hermione…there has to be some kind of explanation." I shook my head. What kind of explanation could he possibly have? Harry was right. I'd been wrong.

"A-After everything…and he still betrayed us…betrayed me." I couldn't help the tears, couldn't help the sobs that followed. Dobby returned soon afterwards, rushing to my side at the sight of tears.

"Miss Hermione! Are you hurt?" I ignored his question.

"Get the rest of the Order, Dobby. Tell them we'll be under attack. Soon."

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