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Chapter 10: Epicyclical Elaborations of Sorcery

Unconscious, Harry fell, and as he fell he dreamed. In his dream, he was at a garden-party at the Weasleys. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were there, and so were all the kids: Charlie, looking slightly burnt as usual, and Bill with Fleur Delacour, who he'd been dating for about a year now. Fred and George and Ron were playing Exploding Snap with Ginny at a green wicker table in the corner.

Draco Malfoy was there as well, standing under the shade of a spreading oak tree, wearing tennis whites and looking very pleased with himself. He was talking to a slender girl in a yellow dress and an enormous white hat.

Am I dead? Harry wondered. Is this Heaven? And if this is Heaven, why is Malfoy here?

The girl who had been talking to Draco suddenly turned, and Harry saw that it was Hermione. She came towards him across the grass, swinging a tennis racket. He recognized the yellow dress she was wearing from a summer holiday he'd spent with her and her parents. He'd always liked it."Hi, Harry!" she called.

"Hermione," he said, coming towards her. "I think I'm falling."

"For me?" she said, looking thrilled.

"No, I mean, literally falling," he said. "Like, rushing through the air falling. In fact, I feel kind of sick."

The thrilled look was wiped off her face, to be replaced with a look of fury. "You are such an idiot, Harry Potter," she said, raised her arm, and hit him hard in the head with her tennis racket.

Harry yelled with pain. "What'd you do that for?" he shouted. "Honestly!"

"Hey!" said a voice in his earóa voice that wasnít Hermioneís. "Harry! Settle down!"

"Maybe the fall unhinged his mind," said another, worried voice.

"Harry?" said the first voice again, "Harry, come on, wake up," and this time Harry knew who it was. He opened his eyes and stared.

He was lying in the back seat of a car and Ron Weasley was crouched over him, looking very pale but grinning like a madman. George was in the driver's seat, and Fred was sitting next to him. Both of them had turned around in their seats to goggle at him, which might have been a problem if the car had been moving, but it wasn't because the car was just hanging there.

In midair.

Harry sat bolt upright. "What--what?" he stammered. "How? You? Here? Flying car?"

"That's right," agreed George. "Us. Here. Flying car."

"He seems to have an excellent grasp of the essentials, doesn't he?" observed Fred.

Harry tried again. "How did you--?"

"We caught you while you were falling," explained George enthusiastically. "It was the coolest thing ever."

"Good thing Dad upgraded to a convertible," added Ron.

"And I fixed your arm," put in Fred, twirling his wand like a baton. "No problem."

"But what are you doing here?" said Harry in amazement. "Don't tell me you were taking your dad's car for a midnight spin and you just happened to spot me toppling over a cliff."

"Not hardly," said Ron. "As to that..." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a folded piece of paper, which he threw in Harry's lap. "I was going to be really pissed off at you," said Ron, "but since you've just fallen off a massive cliff, I'll give you a break."

Harry unfolded the paper wonderingly. It was a note, addressed to HARRY POTTER, and he had to scan it twice before the contents sank in. "It's the ransom note," he said, amazed. "The one Wormtail sent to me at school, telling me they had Sirius here." He looked at Ron in wonder. "How did you get hold of it?"

"Harry, you thundering great prat," said Ron in disgust. "I opened your mail, of course. What'd you think I was going to do? You and Hermione vanish, and then I get this mad note from her - remind me to show it to you- saying she's gone off with you on some sort of rescue mission and not to tell anyone. Well, naturally I knew something very bizarre was up, so when this nasty-looking black bird arrived the next day with a letter for you, of course I opened it."

"And a bloody good thing he did," interjected Fred.

"So I showed it to Fred and George right away, and we went rushing home and got Dad's new car that he bought with the money from the joke shop, which of course he'd enchanted to fly - and we blackmailed him by threatening to tell Mum, so he had to give it to us - and then we followed the instructions from the ransom note and came on here." Ron beamed. "And in the nick of time, I might add - we just managed to fly onto the grounds when we looked down, and there you were, dangling right off the edge of the cliff with Hermione holding on to you. It was a shock, I'll tell you. And then you let go and you fell, just hurtled down, mind, it was really terrifying, so George jammed on the accelerator and we rocketed straight down and swerved under you to catch you." Ron sighed in satisfaction. "It was better than the Wronski Feint."

Harry didn't share Ron's enthusiasm. Instead he put his hands over his face. "Oh," he moaned, "Hermione. Oh, no."

"You kept yelling for her while you were coming around," said George, in the tone of one imparting significant information.

"I had a dream she was hitting me with a tennis racket," muttered Harry between his fingers.

"Right," said Ron, who obviously did not believe him.

"We've got to get back to the path," said Harry anxiously. "Hermione and Sirius, they probably think I'm dead. And Malfoyóhe ran off--"

"That reminds me of another question I had," said Ron. "There was a lot of stuff in Hermione's mad note about Malfoy - what on earth was she going on about, Harry?"

"Just bring the car back up," said Harry. "I'll explain on the way."

***

It took a little while for them to rise back up to the top of the Pit. On the way, Harry described the events of the past few days to the other occupants of the car. Fred and George were a very good audience, booing and cheering and yelling in all the right places. Ron, however, was a different matter.

"Hermione kissed Malfoy?" he demanded when Harry was done talking. "Draco Malfoy?"

"Just that once," said Harry. "That I know about," he added, crinkling his brow.

"Hermione kissed MALFOY?" Ron said again.

"Did I mention the big scary demon arm?" asked Harry.

"Yeah," said Ron, "But Hermione -"

"Oh, shut up, Ron, do," pleaded George. "You're giving me a headache."

"That's just not like her," said Ron in amazement. "I always thought - I mean, you know - her and you," he said, and trailed off at the look on Harry's face. "Or not," he added hastily.

"We're here," said George, and indeed they were pulling level with the walkway. The Weasleys leaped out of the car, Harry, on legs that were still very wobbly, followed them.

At first it looked to them like there was only one person sitting on the path. Then, as they drew closer, they realized it was Sirius, holding Hermione, who was sobbing into his shoulder.

Hermione rarely cried, and Harry had never heard her cry like that. It was a horrible, lost, awful sound. He started forward but couldnít make his legs work right. He stumbled, and George caught him. "Easy there, Potter," he said.

Hearing George, Sirius glanced up. His eyes widened when he saw Harry, and he grinned all over his face. Gently, he put his hands on Hermioneís shoulders and pried her off him. "Uh, Hermione," he said. "Hermione," and he put his hand under her chin and turned her head. Hermione followed his gaze and saw...

Ron?

She didn't even stop to think how Ron might have gotten there, just gasped once and leaped to her feet, flinging herself on him, sobbing hysterically into his shirt front. "Ron, oh Ron, Harry's dead, I'm so sorry, it's my fault, I really tried -"

Ron patted her head. "Dead, did you say?" he said, not sounding the least bit sad. "Well, it was bound to happen."

Hermione pulled back a little and looked up at him uncertainly. "What?"

"Well, he led such a risky sort of life," said Ron, ignoring the shocked look on her face, "Donít you think? I suppose the only thing for us to do is dedicate the rest of our lives to making sure the memory of Harry never fades from the recollection of the wizarding world. Perhaps a zonking great monument is the way to go. Some huge block of marble with a statue of our favorite midget in glasses right on top. We can get Fred and George to fund the construction." Seeing her expression, Ron relented and shut up. "Hermione, you great ninny," he said with a grin. "Look behind me."

She turned her head and saw Fred and George Weasley standing behind her, grinning like mad. And between them, looking very much the worse for wear, with his hair sticking up every which way and his glasses on crooked, but very much alive, was ... Harry.

Hermione's knees gave out, and she sat down hard on the ground.

A second later, Harry had shoved Ron (rather rudely) out of the way, and was sitting next to her on the ground. "Hermione," he breathed, putting his arms around her. "I'm sorry...I'm sorry...Ron's an idiot." He turned and glared at Ron. "Ron, you're an idiot!" Ron rolled his eyes. "I'm fine," Harry went on. "Don't cry."

But she wasn't really crying - more gasping in great, shuddering breaths as if she couldn't get enough air. Harry held her and she clung on to him, breathless, burying her head in his shoulder. Harry looked over her head at Ron and mouthed desperately: What should I do?

Ron mimed patting an invisible someone's head, which Harry did.

Hermione's gasps quieted somewhat.

Now Ron mimed dipping the same invisible someone and kissing that person passionately.

Harry glared at him furiously. Not now, moron! he mouthed.

The Weasley twins watched Harry and Hermione clutching on to each other as if the world were ending, and shook their heads.

George sighed. "Look at him," he said in an undertone, "he's got one of the great makeout lines of all time available to him - 'hey, I'm back from the dead' -and he doesn't use it."

"He's a cretin," agreed Fred.

"I'm glad he's alive, though," said Ron, who was listening.

"Me, too," said George. "We've got a match against Slytherin coming up next week and we'd be flattened without him."

***

Nobody wanted to hang out on the walkway where Harry had fallen (even if he was all right), especially not Hermione, so they got in the car and drove back up to the top of the cliff, where they parked in the middle of a grove of trees and Sirius made a rather startling announcement.

"We're not leaving," he said.

"Oh, right," said George. "We'll just hang around a bit, shall we, have a campfire. Toast some marshmallows. Wait for the Dark Lord to return and kill us all."

"We're not leaving," Sirius clarified, "without Draco."

"Come on, Sirius! " said Ron, sounding horrified. "For six years itís been my dream to leave Malfoy stranded on a horrible, barren plain full of giant spiders, and now I finally get the opportunity and you want to take it all away?"

"They're his giant spiders, Ron, they won't hurt him," pointed out Harry.

"Well, you can't have everything, can you?" said Ron.

"Sirius is right," said Hermione.

"Oh course, you would think so," snapped Ron. "You've been kissing Malfoy all over the place, after all, it's only natural you'd want to save his scaly hide. You--you bad girl, Hermione. You smoocher of evil."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Ron! Honestly!"

Sirius crossed his arms over his chest. "I am not leaving without Draco," he said again.

"Has he been kissing you, too?" asked George. "Gets around, Malfoy does."

Harry had turned and was looking away from them, back in the direction of the Mansion. "He won't come, Sirius," he said.

"You'll have to believe me that it would be a very wrong thing to do, not to at least give him the chance," said Sirius.

"Wrong?" said Ron angrily. "First chance he got he turned right around and stabbed you all in the back, didn't he?"

"Only because Voldemort used the Veritas curse on him," said Sirius, sharply.

Harry and Hermione both started talking at the same time, and Sirius held up a hand.

"Draco didn't tell me," he said. "I guessed. And I wasn't going to tell you, because I figured it was his business, but you might as well know. And I'd like to see you, Ron," he said with a flash of anger in Ron's direction, "fight it as hard as he did."

Hermione and Harry looked at each other, with identical expressions of guilty horror. Then they turned back to Sirius. "Why didn't he tell us?" demanded Hermione. "He said Voldemort didn't torture him to get him to talk."

"The Veritas curse isn't torture," said Sirius. "Technically speaking."

"He's so stubborn," said Harry, angrily.

"Like someone else I could mention," said Sirius.

Harry looked at his shoes. "Go and get him, Sirius," he said.

"Be practical," protested George. "How're we meant to find him?"

Sirius tapped his nose. "You forget I'm a dog," he said. "I can follow his scent. Chase him down."

"That's kind of gross and disturbing," said Fred. "You know that, right?"

"But very effective," said Sirius. "You five wait here. I'll look for him for twenty minutes and no more. I've a feeling he hasn't gone far."

***

" I've got a question for you, Harry," said Ron. Harry and the Weasleys (possibly another band name? -ed.) were crowded around the car, which was parked near the chasm edge. George had claimed the car was making a funny grinding noise, and he and Fred were messing about under the hood, trying to figure out what it was. The Weasleys had brought food with them, so Harry was currently stuffing a jam sandwich into his mouth, in between swigs of pumpkin juice.

"Yeah?" asked Harry, around a mouthful of sandwich.

"Are you ever going to tell Hermione how you feel about her?"

Harry choked on his pumpkin juice. "What?" He glanced around nervously. Hermione, saying she was exhausted, had retired with her sandwich and juice to the edge of the clearing, and was lying down in the grass some distance away.

"You heard me," said Ron. "You big stupid nitwit, it's written all over your face, are you ever going to say anything?"

Fred and George had come out from under the hood now, and were listening in with great interest.

Harry looked at his juice. "I did tell her," he said.

"When?" demanded Ron.

"When I was falling off the cliff," said Harry. "Just right before my sleeve came off. I told her I loved her."

"Way to do the exit line," said Fred, sounding deeply impressed.

"Yeah, it's almost too bad we saved you," added George, "her whole life, she'd never have forgotten you if that was the last thing you ever said to her."

"Right. That's how I want Hermione to remember me for the rest of her life," said Harry. "Bottomless Pit Guy."

"Better than Way Too Late Guy," said Ron. "Better than Just Stood Back Like A Prat And Watched Her Go Off With Malfoy Guy."

Harry upset his pumpkin juice. "You're not helping," he said. "Anyway, I'm not sure she even heard me."

"One way to find out, isn't there?" said Ron.

***

Sirius loped over the silvery-dark grounds swiftly, skirting anything that looked like it might be a nasty obstacle of some sort. Although he was fairly sure he was safe in dog form, he didn't want to run into anything that would slow him down.

His suspicions that Draco hadn't gone very far were confirmed as he neared a small stand of trees, shadowy and spectral in the darkness. Sirius turned back into a man and ducked under the outer branches.

Draco was sitting with his bank to the trunk of a tree. His legs were drawn up, his head on his knees. He reminded Sirius oddly of Narcissa, perhaps because he looked so vulnerable, and his hair, like hers, was white-silver in the moonlight.

As Sirius approached him, Draco's arm shot out, holding his wand. He directed it at Sirius and said, "Don't come any closer."

"It's me," said Sirius calmly.

"I know who it is," said Draco, raising his head. "And I said not to come any closer."

Sirius reached into his pocket, drew out his own wand, and laid it on the ground. Draco watched him warily.

"You have great reflexes," said Sirius, straightening up. "You're on the Slytherin house team, aren't you? What position do you play?"

"Seeker," said Draco.

"You should be a Beater," said Sirius. "You're quite strong, as well."

"You're the second person who's told me that in the past two days," said Draco in a monotone. "Why are you here, anyway? You didn't chase me down to talk about sports."

Sirius sat down and leaned his back against a tree trunk opposite Draco, who was still holding the wand on him. "I guess I wanted to tell you," said Sirius, "that you remind me of someone I knew when I went to Hogwarts."

"Really," said Draco, without much interest. "Who? My dad?"

"No," said Sirius. "Me."

Draco laughed shortly. "I don't believe that," he said. "You? You were Harry's dad's best friend, my father told me all about you and James Potter. You were in Gryffindor house, you were do-gooders, you were just...like...Harry," he said, with emphasis.

"Maybe James was," said Sirius. "But I was always the bad kid, the do-wrong kid. My parents...well, you donít want to hear about that. Suffice it to say I didnít have the happy home life James did. We were roomates my first year, in Gryffindor, and I hated him."

"You hated him?" Draco was interested now, despite himself.

"Sure, I did. He was an excellent student, nice, great Quidditch player, everyone liked him, and he seemed to be able to be good without trying. Whereas I always went with my first instinct, which was usually bad. And I was always in trouble for fighting. I beat up Severus Snape more times than you can count, sometimes for no reason. Okay, always for no reason, unless you count that he was a slimy little git and I loathed him. Dumbledore despaired of me."

Now Draco looked astonished. "You were in trouble with Dumbledore?"

"All the time," said Sirius.

"Now don't tell me," Draco interjected, "then one day James saved you from a horrible fate, and you realized what a great guy he was after all and you were friends ever after."

"No," said Sirius, "actually, one day I finally pissed him off royally, and he threw a punch at me. I hit him back, of course. Actually, we beat the hell out of each other. Dumbledore forbid Madam Pomfrey to fix our cuts and bruises, so we just had to heal the old-fashioned way, locked up together in the hospital wing. When we came out, we were friends, and stayed friends."

"Are you suggesting I beat the hell out of Harry?" asked Draco, with a shadow of his old grin. "Because that's the kind of advice I could really get into."

"If you want his friendship, it's an unorthodox way to go about it. Is that what you want?"

"No," said Draco. "Oh, hell." He lowered his wand. "I don't know."

Sirius was very still. "I learned a lot of things about myself in Azkaban," he said. "I thought about James a lot, as well. I realized that part of the reason we'd been such great enemies and then such great friends was that we were so alike. Proud. Stubborn. Determined..."

Draco grinned again, a little more strongly this time. "When did Dog Man become Advice Man?" he said.

"Obnoxious," added Sirius. "I forgot obnoxious."

"I do see what you're getting at," Draco admitted. "But I'm not like Harry. I should know. When the Polyjuice spell was working...it was like someone switched a light on inside my head and I could see into every part of my mind, knew why I was doing things, knew what I wanted, knew what the right thing to do was, and wanted to do it. And now..." He snapped his fingers. "It's gone."

"What you're saying," said Sirius gently, "Is that when you had Harry in you, you could be good without trying. Now you'll just have to try. Like the rest of us do."

"Don't preach at me," said Draco. "I hate that." But he didn't look angry. He looked sad, and even more like Narcissa, with the same pale and melancholy beauty. "There's still no point in my going back with you," he said. "They hate me now."

"No, they don't. Harry doesn't hate you, and Hermione definitely doesn't hate you."

Draco looked at Sirius quickly. "Did she say - anything?"

"If you want to know what Hermione's thinking, you'll have to ask her," said Sirius. "Trust me on that one. She's that kind of girl."

"Why are you being so nice to me?" asked Draco, squinting up at Sirius.

"I told you," said Sirius. "You remind me of me. And besides, I think Harry needs you."

"Harry doesn't need someone like me."

"That's where you're wrong," said Sirius. "Come on." He reached down a hand, and Draco took it. Sirius helped him to his feet. "I should tell you the Weasleys are here," he said.

"Okay, I know they hate me," said Draco with finality.

"No, they donít," Sirius began, and stopped. "Okay, they do. But as a wise man once said to me, if youíre holding out for universal popularity, youíre going to be here a long time."

***

"Hermione." It was Harry's voice. She opened her eyes and looked up. He was standing over her, a cloudy Harry-shaped shadow backlit by a canopy of stars. For a second she just smiled up at him - it was like a lot of dreams she'd had, and she thought she might not quite be awake. In her dreams, though, Harry hadn't been looking quite so anxious.

"Harry," she said, sitting up. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah," he said, looking at her with a funny expression. "Will you walk with me?"

"Where?"

"Just a little way," he said. "I don't want to be overheard."

"Okay," she said, getting to her feet and following him. He was walking away from the car, along the side of the chasm.

"I wanted to thank you," he said. "For saving my life."

"I didn't, Harry, you fell," she pointed out, regretfully.

"If you hadn't held on to me as long as you did, Ron and them would have been too late. Did you hear what I said to you?"

"What?" she replied, thrown by his abrupt question. "When?"

He stopped walking and looked at her. His face in the moonlight was dark, lined with silver shadows, the most familiar face in the world to her and yet somehow, the least known. Looking at him had that effect on her, as it always did, of making everything else in the world seem not quite real. "When I was about to fall," he said. "Did you hear me?"

"I thought you said you loved me," she said, looking away. "But maybe you didn't."

There was a long silence. Then he said, "I did."

Her heart started to pound and she looked down at the grass. "I know you love me, Harry," she said. "I'm your best friend. Is that what you mean?"

"You know it isn't," he replied, dropping his voice.

"I told you," she said, "I told you I wasn't going to have this conversation with you again."

"Then don't talk," he said. "Just listen to me."

She raised her head and looked at him again. He had that look on his face. Harry's determined look. The look he got when he had to steel himself up to do some horrible thing, like face a Hungarian Horntail, or defeat the Dark Lord, or tell her how he felt about her.

"I love you," he said. "And I don't just love you, I'm in love with you. And I have been for ages."

Hermione just stood there. She felt as if she'd left her body, and the real Hermione was floating somewhere above her head, watching everything with detached interest.

Harry was looking anxious. "This is supposed to be the bit where you get really happy and kiss me," he said.

"Ages?" Hermione heard herself say. "What do you mean ages?"

Harry looked flustered. He obviously hadn't been prepared for questioning. "I-I guess, I mean, I've known it for about two years. Before that it was probably true but I just didn't know it. I remember when I first realized. We were on holiday with your parents and you were wearing that yellow dress - it's not as pretty as the dress you have on now, but -" He gave her a worried smile. "You were so beautiful."

Hermione remembered. She'd worn the yellow dress because it was the first time she would be seeing Harry after two months of vacation, and she'd hoped he would like it, but he hadn't said anything, anything at all.

"Last year," she said slowly, "I told you I loved you. And you said you didn't have any feelings for me besides friendship."

"I didn't want to lose my friendship with you. I guess I was afraid."

"Afraid?" she echoed. "Do you know what that did to me, Harry? Do you know what you put me through? Hearing you say you didn't love me, that was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I can't believe you just - " She was so angry now, her voice was cracking. "You lied to me, Harry. And about something like that!"

Harry looked astonished. "I never wanted to hurt you," he protested. "I justóI never thought it would work with us, okay? I thought we were too different. And I thought, if I tried to make it work with Choó"

"That's the difference between you and me," interrupted Hermione, "I never would have tried to make it work with anybody else but you."

"I'm trying with you now," said Harry, making a visible effort to be calm.

"You never would have, though, if it hadn't been for Draco. If it hadn't been for him, it never would have occurred to you that you might lose me. You just thought I would sit there, waiting for you to someday show an interest in me, like -- like left luggage!"

"Luggage?" Harry was white with shock.

She folded her arms and glared at him. She was filled with unreasonable anger, which she knew was unreasonable, but it didn't help. The look on his face made her even angrier. He had been so sure of her. So certain.

"You don't have to say all this," he said finally. "It'd be enough just to tell me you don't love me back."

"But I do love you, Harry," she said. "I love you more than anything. I love you so it scares me."

"Then why?"

But she shook her head. "I donít want to be scared any more," she said, and started moving away from him, back towards the car.

"Hermione!" he called after her, sounding desperate.

She paused without turning around.

"He doesn't love you like I do," he said to her back. "He doesn't know you like I do."

"No," she said. "And he can't hurt me like you can."

She walked away.

*** crack (that would be the sound of Harry's heart breaking into teensy little pieces)***

"I'm never taking your advice again," Harry said to Ron.

He had gone to sit in the car with the Weasleys. Hermione, who was still refusing to talk to him, was standing a distance away, staring off towards the Mansion.

Ron's grin began to fade. "What...?"

"She hates me," said Harry, with finality.

Ron, Fred and George all looked utterly and completely astonished. They had obviously been even surer of Hermione's feelings than Harry had been. "Hermione doesn't hate you," said George, at last, in a shocked tone of voice.

"She does," said Harry. "Well, maybe only the guts part of me."

"What did you do?" demanded Ron. "You must have done something."

"Thank you, Ron, for the vote of confidence," said Harry in a dead tone of voice.

"I just meant -"

"Have some pumpkin juice," offered Fred, shoving a glass at him.

"I donít want pumpkin juice," said Harry. "I want vodka. Do you have vodka?"

Ron shook his head regretfully. "Just pumpkin juice, really."

"And motor oil," said George. "You want some motor oil?"

"This is it," said Harry in the same dead voice. "I have hit rock bottom."

"Hey, look," said Fred, pointing. "Sirius is coming back. And he's got Malfoy with him."

"I was wrong," said Harry. "Here's an even lower place."

He straightened up reluctantly. Sirius and Draco were indeed coming towards them, Sirius in human form and Draco looking much as he had last time Harry had seen him.

The Weasleys jumped out of the car as Draco and Sirius approached. Harry followed more slowly. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Hermione walking towards them from the edge of the clearing.

Up close, Draco looked -- different. Harry wasn't sure how, exactly. He just did.

Ron, Fred and George all had their arms crossed over their chests. They were looking at Draco as if he were a bomb that was about to go off. "Malfoy," said Ron, nodding guardedly at him.

"Hallo, Weasley," said Draco. "Weasleys," he added, glancing at Ron and Fred. Then he turned to Harry and stuck out his hand.

"I wanted to thank you for saving my life," he said.

Harry stared. Draco continued standing there serenely with his hand out. Over Draco's head, Harry could see Sirius glaring at him.

He put his own hand out, took Draco's, and shook it. "You're welcome," he said.

They dropped each other's hands quickly. Then Draco turned to the Weasleys. "Look," he said. "I know you don't like me. A lot of people don't like me."

"I really believe that," said Ron.

"And I..." Draco frowned. "Dammit, Weasley, you broke my train of thought."

"You were just telling us how nobody likes you," said Fred helpfully.

"I didn't say nobody," snapped Draco, whose air of serenity was beginning to dissipate. He looked up at Sirius.

"Better quit while you're ahead," Sirius advised.

George snapped his fingers, remembering something. "Sirius," he said. "Could you come here and look at the car for a second? It's been making a funny grinding noise...and I thought, since you have that flying motorcycle..."

"Sure," said Sirius.

He followed the Weasleys over to the car. Harry, wanting to be as far away from Hermione as possible, went with them. That left Draco alone with Hermione, who had been very silent throughout the whole exchange.

"Hey," said Draco.

She looked at him and, like Harry, thought he looked...different somehow.

"I'm so sorry," she said. "Sirius told us about the Veritas curse. I was much too ready to think the worst of you and I totally misjudged you and I'm sorry."

Draco shook his head. "You didn't misjudge me," he said. "You thought I was a jerk, and I am a jerk. And I probably always will be."

"Maybe," said Hermione. "But you're a moral jerk. Does that make sense?"

"Not really," said Draco.

"It means," Hermione explained, "that even though I don't trust you to say the right thing - ever - I do trust you to do the right thing. Always."

Draco grinned. "Does this mean that the invitation to spend the holidays chez Granger is still open?"

"Yeah," said Hermione. "And I think my parents might like you, after all, considering you saved my life."

"You know," said Draco, "they say that once you've saved someone's life you're responsible for that person forever. So I'll have to keep an eye on you from now on."

"That seems like an unfair rule," said Hermione.

"Any rule that means I get to spend more time with you is a good rule in my book," said Draco.

Hermione blushed. She couldn't help it. It occurred to her that the only two boys in the world who seemed to be able to make her blush just by looking at her were both standing here on top of this cliff. Of course, one of them wasn't speaking to her.

Draco seemed to be able to read her mind. "You're thinking about Harry," he said.

"We had a talk," she replied. "It didn't go well."

"He looks awful," said Draco.

"So would you, if you fell off a cliff," said Hermione defensively.

Draco grinned at her. "That's not what I meant, and you know it," he said. "You just have no idea what you want, do you?"

"I always thought I wanted Harry," she said. "Now I don't know anymore." She sighed. "He just makes me so mad."

"Off the topic of Harry," said Draco, "although I love talking about him, of course, something just occurred to me."

"What?"

"Iíve never kissed you while I was in my body," said Draco.

Hermione felt herself blushing again. "Would it be...different?"

"One way to find out," he said, giving her a lazy, catlike sort of smile.

"Hermione!"

It was Sirius calling. She turned and saw his gesturing her and Draco back towards the car. He and Harry and the Weasleys were already sitting in it, ready to go.

She looked back at Draco, who seemed unperturbed. "Itís all right," he said. "Weíll have plenty of time during the holidays."

Awfully confident, isnít he? Hermione thought as they headed back towards the car. Just the opposite of Harry. Harry, who was sitting in the back seat, next to Ron, and staring fixedly off towards the Pit.

Draco got in and sat next to Harry, who didn't turn around. This left nowhere for Hermione to sit.

"Out of room?" said George cheerfully. "Hermione, you'll just have to sit on someone's lap."

Both Draco and Harry looked at her. Harry looked hurriedly away. Hermione glared at George, then sat in Ron's lap.

"Couldn't you have made this space bigger with magic?" she asked George as they backed up.

"And your point is?" he said airily, and revved the car. It shot forward and upward with a loud bang, George shouted in glee, Ron complained loudly in Hermione's ear that she was squashing his leg, and over all the noise, she heard Harry make a noise that sounded very much like a yell of pain.

She spun around and saw Harry rising out of his seat. In fact, he wasn't rising so much as it looked like he was being lifted by invisible hands -- hauled up by the collar of his shirt and dragged backwards, out of his seat. He had his hands at his throat, trying to keep his shirt from cutting off his air supply.

"George!" screamed Hermione. "Stop the car!"

They were about ten feet off the ground now. George turned around, saw Harry, goggled, and slammed the brakes on. The effect of this was that Harry sailed up into the air, hurtled over the back of the car and fell twenty feet to the ground.

George slammed the gas on again, whipped the car around in a circle, and propelled it back toward the ground. They landed with a bone-jarring thud and began piling out of the doors.

The first thing Hermione saw as she scrambled out of the car was Harry, kneeling on the ground. He had his hands behind his back.

The second thing she saw was Lucius Malfoy, standing about five feet away from Harry. He was holding his wand in one outstretched hand and had it pointed directly at Harry's heart.

"All of you," he said, not looking at them. "Stay where you are."

***

"How did he find us?" Hemrione hissed at Sirius.

"Epicyclical Charm," Sirius whispered back. He was looking anxiously at Lucius. "Acts as a homing device."

Lucius stepped a little closer to Harry, keeping his wand trained on him. "Harry Potter," he said. Lucius was looking much the worse for wear. His hair was standing wildly out all over his head and his robes, where they weren't slashed and torn, were smeared with blood and mud. "You have caused me a great deal of trouble." He lifted his head, looked at the others where they stood by the car, open-mouthed with shock. His eyes lingered on Draco. "All of you have caused me a great deal of trouble."

"Leave him alone, Lucius," growled Sirius.

"Why should I?" said Lucius, now looking back at Harry. It looked, Hermione thought, like he had put some sort of

Binding Hex on Harry's hands, she could see ropes around his wrists.

"Because you can't kill all of us," said Sirius sharply. "And if you touch Harry -"

"Why says I can't kill you all?" said Lucius, looking rather mad. "I am a Malfoy! In my veins runs the blood of Salazar Slytherin!"

"It does not," said Harry, suddenly. "Dumbledore told me there were no descendants of Slytherin left alive besides Voldemort!"

Lucius snapped his head back and glared at Harry. "It is beyond my comprehension how all of our efforts to kill one stupid little boy have come to nothing," he said. "But no more. My master wished to have the pleasure of killing you, but he will have to content himself with the pleasure of being presented with your dead body."

He pointed his wand at Harry. "Avadaó"

And broke off. Because Draco had darted forward and placed himself between Luciusí wand...and Harry. He faced his father, panting slightly, looking at him steadily.

Lucius Malfoy frowned. "Get out of the way, Draco," he said impatiently.

"No," said Draco, who was looking very pale. "If you want to kill Harry, you'll have to kill me first."

Lucius looked furious. "Don't be a fool,," he said.

Behind Draco, Harry began to struggle to his feet. He was doing something with his hands, but Hermione couldn't see what.

"I know you would have let the Dark Lord kill me," said Draco, still looking at his father. "But I don't know if you can do it yourself."

"I assure you I can," said Lucius. "And I will. Move out of the way."

"Kill him and you lose Narcissa, too," said Sirius.

"Shut up, Black," snapped Lucius. His hand went to his throat and closed over the pendant there. He lifted it over his head. Draco looked at him, confused.

"You are my son and my only heir," said Lucius to Draco. "For the last time, will you move out of the way?"

Draco shook his head. "No."

"Ah, well," said Lucius. "I am young. I can marry again. I will have more children."

And he tightened his hand on the pendant in his fist, digging his nails in.

Draco screamed and crashed to the earth like a tree falling. As he fell, he collided with Harry, who was knocked to the ground with Draco on top of him - blue in the face, but still breathing.

Lucius released his tight hold on the pendant, and Hermione saw it glimmering in his fist - dented, but not broken.

Not yet.

Lucius began striding across the grass towards Harry and Draco. Hermione glanced sideways and saw that Ron, Fred and George all had gone for their wands, and were about to point them at Lucius.

"Not now!" she whispered at them.

They looked at her as if she were crazy.

"Wait," she hissed.

Lucius reached the crumpled forms of Harry and Draco. He bent down and seized the back of his son's shirt in one hand, and yanked him off Harry. He shoved Draco's limp body aside.

Harry lay on the ground with his hands under him, looking up at Lucius.

"Goodbye, Harry," said Lucius, lifting his wand.

"Hello, Lucius,," said Harry, and sat up.

Hermione saw something silver flash sudden and bright in his right hand. It was the sword he had taken from the fencing-room back at the Mansion. He slashed out with it, and cut Lucius' wand in half. Harry jumped to his feet as Lucius yelled and fell back, the fingers of his right hand pouring blood, his other hand still gripping the Epicyclical charm.

Harry turned his head towards Hermione and she knew immediately what he wanted her to do. "Hermione!" he shouted. "Now!"

Hermione pointed her wand. "Accio!" she cried, and the Epicyclical pendant shot out of Lucius' left hand and flew through the air towards her. She caught it very carefully and turned to the Weasleys, who had their swords trained on Lucius.

"Go," she said.

"Stupefy!" shouted Ron, Fred and George.

White light shot from their wands and struck Lucius head-on. Hermione had seen what the combined force of several Stunning spells could do before, but it was no less impressive this time. Lucius was blasted sideways and flew through the air, fetching up against the trunk of a tree, where he lay very still.

Harry dropped to his knees next to Draco, still holding the sword. Hermione and Sirius ran to join him, while the Weasleys hurried to see if Lucius was still conscious, and therefore dangerous.

Kneeling, Hermione put her hand on Draco's shoulder. He was still looking bluish, but his breathing seemed to be regular. She looked up at Sirius worriedly.

"Is he going to be all right?" she asked.

"I think he fainted from the pain," said Sirius quietly.

Draco stirred, and his eyes opened. "I did not," he said. "I don't faint."

"That's right," said Harry. "You just decided to take a rest in the middle of all the excitement."

Draco looked at Hermione. "My father?"

"He's alive," she said quickly. "We Stunned him."

Draco suddenly looked very, very tired. "That's good."

There were black shadows under his eyes. Hermione reached out and, very gently, touched his face. "You were amazing," she said. "You really were."

Draco looked at Harry. "How did you get those ropes off?" he said.

Harry lifted the sword. "Sliced them off on the edge of this," he said, and Hermione saw that his wrists were cut and bleeding a little. "And you know what else?" he added, and turned the sword over. "I think your dad might have been right about you all being related to Slytherin." He turned the blade so the others could see the words inscribed on the handle, just above the green gems: Salazar Slytherin.

"I always knew I was special," said Draco, and shut his eyes again.

Harry looked at Hermione. He didn't look angry any more. Just tired, and worried, and sad.

"Good Summoning Charm, Hermione," he said. "Thanks."

She nodded at him, not trusting herself to speak.

At that moment, Ron, Fred and George came up. Ron was walking ahead, Fred and George were dragging Lucius between them. Sirius glanced up at them.

"Put him in the back of the car," he said.

Although Sirius had doubtless meant them to put Lucius in the back seat, the Weasleys commenced stuffing him into the boot instead. Sirius looked at them, shrugged, and turned back to Draco.

"And when we get back to school," said Draco, turning to look at Sirius, "youíre going to tell me what was up with that pendant thing?"

"Sure," said Sirius, looking anxious.

"And Potter, youíre going to give me that sword back? Cause it isnít yours, you know. Itís been in my family for years."

"Malfoy," said Harry, without rancor, "you never even noticed it until today, did you?"

"Maybe, maybe not," said Draco. He grinned up at Harry, whose face, to Hermioneís surprise, broke into a very tired, very reluctant smile.

"Whatever you say, Malfoy," he said. "Whatever you say."




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