Chapter Eight: Vacation
The party couldn't be over soon enough. The minute the Emperor left, the rest of the guests followed his lead. I let out a sigh of relief when the last of them was gone.
"Did you not enjoy your party, Darling?" said Lady Greengrass, as if I'd hit her with a stunning spell.
"No, it was wonderful," I said with a tired smile. "Just—long. And I could have done with about a third of the people."
"Well, you're a high-profile couple. You have to get used to gatherings like this." She kissed my cheek before walking off.
Draco took her place. "Shall we start packing for Italy?"
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Daphne heading toward the library. "I'll meet you upstairs," I said to him, then followed her down the hall.
She reluctantly stopped and turned around. "What do you want, Stori?"
"Look," I sighed, "I know things haven't always been easy between us, but I hope you can believe me when I tell you how much I love you."
"The way you love Draco, you mean."
I frowned. "No. I actually do love you, Daph. In fact, I wanted to ask you to be my maid of honor."
"At your fake wedding?"
"At any wedding I have," I said, taking her hands. "Whether it be this December or in ten years. You're my sister, and I love you."
Her expression softened slightly. "Fine, if that's what you want."
I pulled her into a hug. "Nothing would make me happier."
She hesitated a minute before returning the embrace. When we parted, I thought I glimpsed a smile. No sooner had I seen it then she was gone.
I smiled to myself as I walked back to the bedroom. I didn't care who Astoria was or how she'd act. For however long I was Daphne's sister, I was going to be a good one.
When I reached the room, Draco had already pulled out two suitcases. His was already half full. He smiled at me as I entered.
"I would have started packing yours, but I know how particular you can be."
I walked up to him and wrapped him in a hug from behind. "I'm really excited for this trip," I whispered.
He set aside the pants he'd been folding and put his hands on mine. "Me too. I know how badly you've been wanting to see Italy again."
I smiled against his shirt. In that moment, I don't know if anything could have brought down my spirits. I was less than twenty-four hours away from seeing my best friend for the first time in seven years. I didn't care if he was in a coma—he was alive.
There was always the chance that Malfoy was playing games with me, but for some reason I didn't think that anymore. I broke off the hug and watched him as he continued to pack. He seemed just as excited as I was. Whoever I was looking at, it wasn't the Draco Malfoy I went to school with. He'd changed somehow.
After a few minutes he noticed me watching him and chuckled. "Are you just going to stare at me, or are you going to pack too?"
My cheeks burned and I hurried into the closet to change out of my dress before packing. We finished about the same time—turns out I wasn't so particular.
When we got into bed, Draco absentmindedly wrapped his arms around me. I couldn't explain why, but his embrace no longer made me feel uncomfortable.
That fact, however, did.
We rose early in the morning. Lord and Lady Greengrass were already up, to see us off. They each took a turn embracing me, and Lord Greengrass gave Draco a firm handshake.
"You take care of my daughter," he said.
Draco laughed. "I think Astoria can take care of herself, but I'll watch over her, I promise."
"How are you getting there?" Lady Greengrass asked.
"I've booked a portkey for us. We'll pick it up at the travel agency."
"All right then. Have a safe trip!"
We said goodbye, then Draco put an arm around my waist and apparated. I looked around—we were in the middle of a forest.
"We're not at a travel agency."
"Astute observation, Granger."
"Oh, suddenly it's safe to talk again?"
"You think I'd apparate somewhere they could track us?"
I rolled my eyes. "Okay, where are we going then and how are we getting there?"
"By portkey, like I said. Well, a couple portkeys actually. One wouldn't be enough."
I raised my eyebrows. "Where are we going?"
He just smirked and started walking up the hill. I sighed and followed him. I should have known better than to expect a straight answer.
After a few minutes, he stopped. I caught up to him and looked around.
"I don't see it."
"Of course not. That's the point. We're trying to hide our true location, aren't we? A registered portkey is too easy to track."
"But you did actually book a portkey to Italy, didn't you?"
"We're not going to Italy."
"I know that," I said, annoyed. "But if you told the Greengrasses you registered for one, they might check."
He narrowed his eyes. After a minute, he sighed.
"I'll take care of it once we get there."
I shook my head. "This is why you should have let me in on the plan in the first place."
"And risk the Emperor, or anyone else, finding out? I don't think so. Even if he found out Harry was alive from you, I needed to keep the location safe."
"In case you've forgotten, I spent a whole half hour alone with him and didn't blow my cover."
"Trust me, if you'd given him the slightest reason to suspect you we wouldn't be having this conversation. You're a fast learner, Hermione, but not that fast. He would have broken down your walls and had access to all of your memories within seconds."
I opened my mouth to retort, but he was done with the conversation. He grabbed my free hand, the one not holding my suitcase, and placed it on a nearby rock. I glared at him as I felt the portkey starting to work. I was so annoyed I hardly even registered that he'd called me by my first name.
When we landed, we were still in a forest, but it was clearly somewhere else. The trees were greener, and closer together. I looked around.
"Are you going to tell me where we're going now?"
"You'll know soon enough."
Gritting my teeth, I forced myself to follow him again. This time, the portkey was a log. I put my hand on it without question, wondering if I was making a huge mistake. When we landed this time, it was again in a forest, but unlike any other I'd ever seen. The trees were humongous—they were hundreds of feet tall, and at least fifty feet wide. I stared in awe.
"We're in the redwoods."
Draco just nodded.
"California?" I said in disbelief. "You brought Harry all the way to California?"
"The further from England the better, right?"
I couldn't argue with that.
He extended a hand, which I took with some reluctance, and we disapparated to a hotel. I didn't recognize the chain, but it looked nice. We walked up to the front counter, and the receptionist looked up.
"Do you have a reservation?"
"Yes. Christopher and Jean Scott."
I glanced at him. At least he thought far enough ahead to put our reservation under a false name.
After a minute, the receptionist handed us our keys. "Your suite's already paid for. Have a pleasant visit, Mr. and Mrs. Scott."
We went up to the room and dropped off our suitcases. It seemed nice, expensive, but I didn't really pay much attention to it—I was growing anxious. If what Draco'd told me was true, I was moments away from seeing Harry again.
He could sense my anxiety. Once the porter had left the room, he took my hand again. My heart leapt and I closed my eyes as we apparated for what I assumed was the last time.
When I opened them, we were standing outside a small hospital. I didn't speak as Draco led me through the front entrance and to the lift. We stepped inside. Instead of pressing one floor he pressed several, as if typing in a pin. The lift lurched backwards, and I grabbed onto the handle on the wall. We came to a quick stop and the doors opened, revealing another door.
"Peverell," Draco said loudly.
The door swung open. My heart beat wildly. We walked down a series of hallways until we reached another door. The password for this one was "Marauders." Behind that, more hallways, then dead end.
Draco drew his wand, mumbled something, and traced a pattern on the wall. The wall disappeared to reveal a young nurse standing behind it.
"The snake always catches his prey," she said.
"But the lion is king," said Draco.
She smiled. "Welcome, Mr. Malfoy. We've been expecting you."
She turned and started walking down the halls. As we followed her, I look up at Draco with a raised eyebrow.
"You did all this?"
He shook his head. "I wouldn't know where to begin. My father did it, using his connections of course. You wouldn't care to hear about what he did with those who helped him afterwards, though."
I ignored the comment, and focused on the nurse in front of us. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached one last door. She turned the doorknob, and it opened inward.
I gasped and covered my mouth with both hands. A huge grin spread across Draco's face. Numb, I stumbled across the room to the hospital bed at the end. I gripped his hand with my right, and pushed up his jet-black hair with my left. My fingers traced the lightning-bolt scar on his forehead, and my breath caught in my throat.
"I thought you might be hungry. Would you like something to eat?"
I looked up at Draco, snapping myself back to the present. He offered me a sandwich and sent me a sideways smile. Slowly, I released Harry's hand to take the food.
"Thank you," I said softly.
Draco pulled up a chair and sat next to me. I took a couple bites of the sandwich, but I didn't really have an appetite. With my free hand, I reached out and played with Harry's hair. I'd been sitting here for hours, but I still couldn't believe it. He was alive.
"I can have them make up a bed for you in here," Draco was saying. "You don't have to go back to the hotel."
I traced Harry's scar again before pulling my hand away. All I wanted, more than anything, was for him to wake up, to see those bright green eyes again, full of life—
"No," I said reluctantly. "It—it won't do any good to stay here."
"Have the doctors talked to you?"
I nodded. They talked to me. They told me he was doing well, that there wasn't much brain damage, that they thought he might pull through. They weren't being completely honest with me, of course. After being in a coma for seven years, I knew the chances of him coming out of it were small. I wasn't about to give up hope, but the reality of Harry's situation was grim.
Still, he was alive.
I shook my head and chuckled to myself. Draco eyed me curiously.
"It seems impossible," I said, still gazing at my unconscious friend, "to survive the killing curse twice." I looked up at Draco. "He's beaten all the odds already. Who's to say he won't this time?"
Draco smiled. "That's what we're counting on, isn't it?"
We fell into silence. I forced myself to finish my sandwich, knowing that even though I didn't have an appetite my body needed food. As I ate, I couldn't help but stare at Draco. He noticed, and set aside his food.
"What is it now?"
"Why?" I muttered.
He leaned forward. "Why what?"
"Why do this?"
"I already told you. My mother realized there really was nothing to be gained from this war, so—"
"No," I said, cutting him off. "Why are you doing this?"
"I'm not sure I understand the question."
I shook my head. "It would have been so easy, so simple for you to come clean about Harry when your mother told you. I'm sure 'the Emperor' would reward you. You could have all the glory, all the riches you'd ever want. More than that, you wouldn't have to be afraid of the Dark Lord anymore. The Draco Malfoy I knew, the one who went to Hogwarts with me, would have done it in a heartbeat." I paused. "What happened to him?"
He smiled. "He grew up."
"That's not an answer."
"But it's the truth. That Draco Malfoy, the one you remember, took a long, hard look at his actions and what they'd caused. He saw the world around him falling into complete despair and hopelessness. He saw all the lies, all the deception for what it really was. And he saw you, and Longbottom, and the Weasleys, still speaking out and standing tall, even after you were beaten."
He looked into my eyes, more sincerity in his than I'd ever seen. "I'd never felt that way about anything, never been willing to give up everything for a cause, least of all the Dark Lord's." His smile widened. "Now I've found that feeling, that purpose. Whatever happens to me, I'm going to make sure that when Potter wakes up—and he will wake up—that the Dark Lord's empire falls, once and for all."
Something caught in my throat—I was completely speechless. After a moment, Draco stood and left the room. I watched him go, trying to sort through what I was feeling. Taking a deep breath, I looked back at Harry and ran my fingers through his hair one more time.
"Wake up soon," I whispered as I kissed his forehead.
I walked into the hall just as Draco was returning with two water bottles.
"Is everything all right?" he asked.
I nodded. "I'm ready to go back to the hotel now."
He looked confused. "I thought you'd want to stay longer."
I glanced into the room at Harry, then back at Draco, and felt my lips curve into a smile. "I can leave knowing he's in good hands."
He smiled back, and we walked down the hall, away from Harry's room. As we walked, I took Draco's hand. I thought I saw him look down at our hands intertwined, but I wasn't sure.
When we stepped out of the hospital, the sun was setting. We watched it for a moment before apparating back to our hotel room.
"I thought tomorrow we might go hiking in the redwoods," Draco said tentatively. "As long as we're here, we might as well do some site-seeing."
"I'd like that," I said quietly.
Draco grinned. "Great."
He released my hand and headed for the door. I frowned.
"Where are you going?"
"I just have something I need to take care of."
I smirked. "Making a trail to Italy?"
"No, I did that while we were at the hospital," he said, returning my smirk. "I'm sorry I didn't consult you more before, I was just trying to protect you, and Potter."
"I forgive you," I said, a little surprised by how much I meant it. "So what are you doing?"
"Just a business transaction. I'll be back soon."
I sighed as he left. It wished he would be more open with me, but I just had to accept that it was in his nature to be secretive. And for some reason, I no longer felt like he had to tell me everything. Something had changed in the past couple days, and I trusted him.
I turned on the television and got into a comfortable position on the bed. I tried to pay attention to what was on, but my mind wouldn't let me. I couldn't stop thinking about Draco, about how he'd changed, about how my feelings toward him had changed. It didn't make a lot of sense—just a few days ago I'd been in Azkaban, and though Draco was the one who'd freed me, he hadn't made it easy to trust him.
So why did I?
The door opened. I turned off the telly and climbed out of the bed. Draco smiled at me as he entered the room.
"Anything good on?"
I stared at him. He wasn't at all the man I'd expected him to be. Yes, he was still rough around the edges, but he had grown up. He'd become a better person.
A force that I couldn't explain compelled me to move toward him. Without understanding why, I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed my lips against his. After a moment of hesitation, he pulled me close and deepened the kiss. I responded, running my fingers through his hair.
He lifted me up, and my legs automatically wrapped around his waist. We staggered over to the bed, and he laid me down. I pulled on his shirt, bringing him down on top of me. He kissed me hungrily, with increasing passion. Slowly, his lips moved to my neck. I sighed.
I momentarily opened my eyes, shocked at what was happening. That's when I saw the stain on his collar.
"What is that?" I whispered.
He reluctantly pulled back. "What is what?" he breathed.
I grabbed his collar and examined it. There was a small red spot on the inside.
"Is that blood?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Why is there blood on your shirt?"
He frowned. "Is there? Did I cut myself or something?"
He reached up to feel his neck. I grabbed his hand before he could, and stared at his cuff. More red spots.
I pushed him off of me and scrambled to my feet. "What did you do?"
He looked at his sleeve and sighed. "Hermione, I can explain—"
"Can you? Because if that's what I think it is—"
"One of the nurses was threatening to talk," he yelled. "She would have given us away, gotten Harry killed—"
"Unbelievable!" I cried. I felt disgusting all over—all I wanted to do was wash out my mouth and take a long, cold shower. I turned toward the bathroom.
He grabbed my arm. "Hermione—"
"Don't!" I whirled around. "You haven't changed at all! You're still one of them. I was foolish to think otherwise."
"If I was one of them, Harry wouldn't be alive!"
"And if you were one of us, that nurse still would!" I screamed. "And so would Astoria, and so would your child!"
I wrenched my arm out of his grasp, grabbed my suitcase and my wand, and marched toward the door. Malfoy followed me.
"Where are you going?"
"Away from you!"
He let out a sound that resembled a growl. "If you're trying to blow our cover—"
"We said we'd be gone for a week, right? Well, I'll be back at the manor in a week. But until then, I am getting as far away from you as possible!"
He reached out for me again, but I disapparated, back into the redwoods. After a few minutes of searching, I found the portkey and touched it, still fuming. Malfoy would have to find another way back. When I'd reached the middle destination, wherever it was, I quickly found the rock and grabbed it, transporting myself back to England.
When I'd landed, I dropped the rock and my suitcase. My whole body was shaking. I crumbled to the ground and buried my face in my hands. I didn't cry—seemed I couldn't anymore—but I took long, deep breaths, trying to calm my anger and hatred.
When I'd finally calmed down, I stood. I needed to go somewhere, but where? I had no family left, and no way of finding Ginny and George and whoever else was still alive. I couldn't go back to Malfoy Manor, because as much as I hated to admit it pretending to be Astoria was the only way I was going to get close enough to the Emperor to defeat him.
I opened my suitcase and found a dark cloak inside. I wrapped it around myself, and pulled the hood over my head. Once I'd done that, I apparated to the first place that came to my mind, leaving the suitcase behind. I could come back to it later.
I caught my breath as I stared in front of me at what remained of the Burrow. The house, kept standing by magic, was now nothing but rubble. No one had bothered to clean it up after the war. Slowly, I walked forward, into the destruction.
I felt closer to Ron than I had in seven years standing in the ruins of his house. I closed my eyes tightly as I thought of him, what we could have had, what I almost gave to someone else. I felt so guilty for forgetting him, even for a moment. I could never feel for someone else what I'd felt for Ron.
There was a crack beneath my feet, and I looked down. I caught my breath as I picked up a picture, wiping away the broken glass. Harry, Ron, Ginny, and myself stared back at me and waved. We looked so happy, so hopeful. Harry kissed Ginny, and Ron put his arm around my shoulder. I shut my eyes again, wishing I could cry.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
Suddenly, a hand covered my mouth. I tried to scream, but the sound was too muffled to hear. I dropped the picture and clawed at my attacker, trying to get free.
Something hit me on the head, and everything turned to black.***
A/N: Can't wait to read your reviews!