Life Debt

Arguments and a Mission

~Hermione~

When I woke up, I was still in his arms. I refused to open my eyes, though, knowing that once this moment ended, there was no way to know when there would be another one like it. Unfortunately, this peaceful calm was short lived. Outside, I could hear voices, one of them sounding distinctly angry, while the other two tried to calm it.

"Let me in! She must have spoken to him by now. Filthy traitor has to be punished!"

"Ron, relax. I'm sure there's an explanation. You need to calm down."

"Like hell I do!" I couldn't help but groan at the argument. All I wanted was to bury my face in Draco's neck and keep sleeping, pretending none of this was happening. My practical side overruled that, though. I began to get up.

"Bloody Weasley has to ruin everything." I was surprised to hear Draco's voice, thinking he was still fast asleep. His wounds were still somewhat fresh, but he looked much better than before. Sitting up now, I looked down at his tired face. He opened his eyes, immediately meeting mine. His hand stroked my cheek, a soft smile playing on his lips despite his words.

"Hermione! What the bloody hell are you doing?" I had been so distracted, I hadn't noticed Ron had managed to get through Lupin and Tonks. He was staring at us in disgust. Behind him, Harry stood as well, but he was more pensive than upset. I noticed his wasn't one of the voices I'd heard through the door. I sighed, removing myself from Draco's side and taking up my post at the stool again.

"Ron, you need to relax."

"Malfoy is the reason they almost took Harry!" He spat Draco's name, and I winced in time with him.

"Draco is the reason Harry is still alive." I turned around to look at my friends, Ron still clearly raging inside. Harry had moved past him, and was now moving towards me. "Harry…"

"Ginny told me what happened." The last thing I expected was for Harry to hug me. "I trust you Hermione. You know it's him I don't trust." I was about to retaliate, but he continued to speak. "But…he seems to care about you. He protected you, so he can't be all that bad, can he?" His words completely took me aback. What happened to the angry, enraged Harry from only the day before?

"Harry…what…?" He pulled away and smiled at me, something I hadn't seen since we'd been in school.

"You were right. Voldemort was messing with my head. Now that I think about it, none of that anger was really mine. I'm willing to listen to whatever Malfoy has to say. Then, I'll make a judgment. If he can swallow his pride, I can too." I couldn't help but beam back at him. This was the Harry I'd known in school, before this war turned him into a bitter man.

"Thank you…" He walked past me and I turned to look at what he was doing. He extended his hand to Draco. I never thought I'd see the day.

~Draco~

My eyes widened at Potter's offering of peace. It suddenly occurred to me how incredible all this really was. Years ago, when I'd first met him, I had extended my arm in friendship to him, but he'd denied me. Of course, he'd been right to do so. I was a nasty little bugger, still am when I want to be, but I was so much worse back then. Our eyes met, and it was difficult to describe what I saw in his. He was grateful, that was clear, but behind that I could see something familiar, though why any expression in Potter's eyes would be familiar was far beyond me. I hardly ever looked past his glasses.

Hermione was watching from the side, as were Weasley and the other two. Without a second's hesitation, I took his offered hand. A ghost of a smile appeared on Potter's face, and I couldn't help but return it, though mine had its ever-smirking quality to it. And then it clicked in my mind what it was I saw in Potter's eyes. Despite his usually warm expression, the one he usually bestowed on his friends, and now somewhat tried to do with me, something icy was behind them. It was a very distinct 'Slytherin' look, calculating. If there was something Potter was not, nor would he ever be, was calculating.

"Anytime. You're right, Potter." The name didn't hold the contempt I usually laced it with. "It wasn't your anger, it was Voldemort's. I can see it in your eyes." He raised an eyebrow at my statement, and I explained further. "When you have to stare at that monster's eyes as long as I have, you pick up on a few things. Too many times I've seen that same look, and it's never been from you. They say eyes show you a person's soul, and with you being the bleeding heart that you are, it's more than true." My eyes darted to his scar. "Seeing as you share a connection, it would make sense for glimpses of Voldemort's expressions to be seen in you."

"Good point." He gave me a once-over, his eyes scanning the injuries. As if those were the confirmation he needed to trust me, he sat down on the stool previously occupied by Hermione. "That was one hell of a beating you took, Malfoy." I shrugged. It felt strange to be talking like this with him. He was almost friendly.

"It comes with the territory. Believe me, I've had worse." He nodded solemnly, and I looked over at our audience. Tonks and Lupin were long gone, having seen that the crisis was averted. Hermione looked on with teary eyes, and I smiled at her. This meant a lot to her, I knew that, and if I wanted to be a part of her life after this, and I most definitely did, I would have to get used to being friendly with Potter, even with Weasley.

I looked at the red head in question, surprised that he was still here. He'd calmed somewhat, apparently satisfied with Potter's approval, yet still slightly fuming. Despite the red leaving his face, anger definitely hadn't left his eyes. I had a feeling it wouldn't for a while. I'd have to build my trust there. I didn't blame him. Hermione walked back over to me, sitting on the edge of the bed. With a flick of her wand, she conjured a second stool, clearly expecting Weasley to take his place beside Potter. After another glare at me, he did as Hermione wanted and took the seat. We sat in silence for a while, tension clear as none of us were used to this. Even back when I'd visited Grimmauld Place, Hermione had to be there to keep Potter and Weasley from hexing me.

"We need a plan, Harry." She spoke before any of us, probably the one most comfortable and relieved with how things were panning out. "Voldemort has Hogwarts and Grimmauld Place…he probably already has the Ministry. We need to stop him. Now, before it's too late."

"She's right, mate. If we don't act now, the war is as good as lost. We can't stay underground forever." Potter looked down at his hands, clearly trying to ignore the dependence in their voices. It didn't strike me until then the kind of pressure he was under. Before, he'd been able to hide behind Dumbledore…

"I know, but with Malfoy discovered, we don't have any way to know what he's planning. There's no way to counterattack something we can't see coming."

"Then we obviously take the offensive." As if remembering for the first time that I was sitting among them, the three of them looked at me. Hermione took hold of my hand. "Defense only worked for our survival. If we plan on beating him, we have to do so at his own game."

"Last time we attacked it ended in your exposure and a miserable failure." Weasley sounded downright depressed. At one point, I would have laughed at him.

"Because you weren't expecting their sheer numbers, and you weren't organized enough. We can't just rush in wands blazing. We have to strategize, plan…" I looked to Hermione for support, and saw the way her eyes lit up. I could practically hear the cogs turning in her mind. "We need to send someone ahead to do reconnaissance, preferably under an invisibility cloak. We have the advantage of knowing where the enemy is. Knowing Voldemort, they're probably singing victory by now."

"We have the element of surprise." Hermione's voice was soft, surprised. "They won't expect a well planned attack, Harry. I don't think they expect an attack at all. Why would they? And if they do, I'm willing to bet my life that Voldemort would expect you to come in person, in a rage. He knows you're connected, even similar." Distaste and disgust at the fact were clear on Potter's face, but he accepted it.

"Chances are, Potter, he'll expect you to react how he would given a reversal of the situation. Rapid fire revenge."

"I hate to admit it, but that's exactly the first option I considered after waking up. It wasn't until I heard what happened that I stopped to reconsider. Alright, then. First things first, who are we sending in?" The four of us exchanged uneasy looks. Potter was unwilling to risk anyone but himself, Weasley would follow where Potter went, Hermione was apprehensive, worried over whoever ended up going, and I was hell-bent on going, by myself.

"I'll go. No offense, but I've been in the castle the most recently." I removed my hand from Hermione's, swinging my legs over the other side of the bed and standing. Soreness was all I had to show for my injuries.

"You're in no condition to go!"

"She's right, Malfoy. You just took the beating of your life. I doubt you wanna go back into the fray so soon." Of all people, I thought Weasley would have been the most eager to see me go. "I'll go." Potter was about to interrupt, likely to volunteer himself to join Weasley, but the redhead cut him off. "No, Harry. We can't risk you on a mission like this. You have to be ready to fight Voldemort."

"Are you sure?" Hermione's concern was evident in her voice.

"Yeah. We have to run it by Lupin first, though." An hour later, we were back in the room. Lupin had approved of the plan, but had said someone had to accompany Weasley. His younger sister was in the room with us this time, as well as Luna Lovegood. Potter and Weasley refused to let the Weaselette volunteer, and Weasley refused to take Lovegood. I didn't blame him. I was just as adamant about Hermione staying as well. It came down to either her or me, and I'd give myself up in a heartbeat.

~Hermione~

"I'll go with you, Ron." I was ready to go back to Hogwarts. There was no way I would let Harry go, or either one of the other girls. Draco was in no shape to go either.

"Like Hell you will. I'm going with you Weasley." My head snapped at the sound of Draco's voice. Had he lost it?

"No you're not. You hardly recovered from your injuries! You think I'm going to let you go?" I barely contained my anger at the idea. Practically seeing only red, I almost didn't notice Luna and Ginny leading the boys out.

"It's not a matter of whether you'll let me go or not. I'm going, you're not. End of story." His haughty tone returned, as if he could control my every choice, every move. I glared at him, and for a moment we were back in our school days, the old resentment towards him resurfacing in a different form. I wanted to protect him, and that feeling was even fiercer than the hatred I once had for the blonde before me.

"You can't tell me what to do, Malfoy." I was seething with anger, unreasonably so, but still. The self-sufficient side of me conflicted with his macho need to shield me all the time.

"The same goes for you, but when it comes to your protection, I most certainly can, Granger." His voice didn't hold its usual anger, or the hatred he'd once used when saying my last name. He looked away from me then, a storm brewing in his eyes. He sighed, closing them and pinching the bridge of his nose between his index finger and thumb. "You know it makes sense…I'll take Weasley to speak to Dumbledore and Snape. We'll figure out where to go from there." He sighed again, hand moving to take mine, his eyes boring into mine. "I don't want to leave you…Merlin knows I never want to leave your side again…but I refuse to let you go." His voice had softened considerably. My heart skipped a few beats, and I pulled my hand from his, opting instead to wrap my arms around his waist and resting my head on his chest.

"I just got you back, Draco…please…don't put yourself in danger again…" His arms came up around me slowly, but he embraced me firmly. He pulled back after a moment, one of his hands coming up to cup my chin.

"I promise to come back. Weasley and I will return before you know it." He brought my lips to his, placing a soft kiss on them before pulling back again. Of course he won. His plan made sense, and he could navigate the castle better than the rest of us. I sighed, trying to dispel my fears. He and Ron would be alright. He would take care of Ron and my best friend would watch his back in return.

Moments later he, Harry, and Ron were working out the finer details of the plan. Among them whether or not they would try to recover the Elder Wand. I had yet to investigate the portraits I'd seen upon my arrival, and my curiosity was getting the better of me, so I excused myself from the planning and made my way to the parlor. Again, Bellatrix did nothing but mock me as I examined them.

"Hermione! Great to see you again, but I have to say, did you have to kill my dear cousin so soon? I mean really, you would have saved me an immense headache."

"Sorry Sirius…" I couldn't help but smile at the portrait of the older man. He didn't look nearly as worn as when I'd first met him all those years ago. Come to think of it, none of the portraits really looked like what they had looked like at death. Narcissa, although always beautiful, looked lively and rejuvenated. Bellatrix was as maniacal as ever, but also younger-looking.

"So do these portraits work like the Headmaster ones at Hogwarts?"

"Yes." It was Narcissa who answered me. "Every blood relative of the Black Family Tree is here, in their own spots about the house. Not every portrait is connected to the outside, however. I took precautions when Draco was a child…I magicked the one that would activate upon my death at Malfoy manor to be connected to this one. The one at Grimmauld place already was."

"Only the blood relatives?"

"Yes, which effectively means that, upon Draco's death, he'll have a spot here, while Lucius won't." It wasn't until she mentioned her husband that something clicked in my mind. We still had a spy we could use. She'd demonstrated her ability to do so just before the attack on Grimmauld Place. Just like Phineas Nigellus had traveled between Grimmauld Place and Hogwarts, she could do the same for us. Something in the way she looked at me made it clear that she knew what I was thinking, and agreed.

"Would you be willing to…?" I didn't even have to finish the question.

"Of course, my dear." This was perfect. After the reconnaissance mission to Hogwarts, no one would have to be sent as a spy or anything similar. We wouldn't have to risk any more lives until the last battle.

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