< >Hermione puttered around her office with nothing to do. She was bored, angry, and tired, and those three together were not a good mix. She paced the office, back and forth, back and forth, until she couldn’t stand it anymore, and opened the door to her office.
< >“If anyone here was wondering,” she called loudly, in a sneering tone, “I did go looking for Mr. Draco Malfoy. I won’t deny it, but did I find him, or even see him? No, and I’m glad I didn’t.” She then slammed the door to her office for at least the tenth time that day and sunk into her chair, falling asleep almost immediately.
< >She woke to someone nudging, then shaking her arm. “Hermione, wake up. Hermione? Hermione! Wake up! Are you deaf? Come on, I need you to look at these, and neither of us has got all day!”
< >“Colin,” she mumbled sleepily, “let someone else do it . . .”
< >“You always want to see the pictures before anyone else, though,” Colin pressed.
< >Hermione pushed the photographs away from her without looking at them. “They’re fine, Colin. You’re a . . . wonderful photographer . . . and the Witch’s Brew with Cameron Mannheim on at two . . .”
< >Hermione jumped and replied with the same, confused, “What?”
< >“You were asleep, Hermione,” Colin said with a sigh, sitting in a chair across from her. “Dead asleep and talking about some radio show . . .” He pushed the pictures back into her hands. “Could you look at these now?”
< >Hermione rubbed her eyes, yawning, then peered at the pictures. She blinked, looking up at him. “What are these, Colin? Where did you get them?” she demanded sharply, gripping the pictures in her hand tightly.
< >The first one of top was of a young boy, about sixteen or seventeen years old, sitting in the crook of a tree, looking out at a large, black and white castle, with his back to the camera. The wisps of his light colored hair swept around his head, but he took no matter in them as he stared out, seemingly unaware of the camera. His eyes, even though dark in the picture, shone on the side the camera caught them on, with a sort of teary look to their appearance . . .
< >Hermione’s hands trembled.
< >Colin looked embarrassed and shifted nervously in his chair, thinking Hermione was going to blow up on him. “They’re pictures I took of Draco at Hogwarts . . . I pulled them out of an old album this morning. Maybe we could put one of them in with that article you wrote . . . they’re exclusive pictures, no one else has them, but if you don’t want - ”
< >Hermione waved him off. “Go ahead. What do I care?” she said, handing him back the pictures. “Don’t do the top one, now, Colin, all right? Save that one for later. I personally don’t care which of the others you use, though.” She pointed directly to the door and Colin left obediently.
< >Draco finally remembered the articles that Ministry officials had given to him as dusk had begun to fall and pulled them out of his suitcase, ready to read them, for what else did he have to do besides vomit once or twice every hour?
< >Some of the articles were old ones that he had seen before, but most of them were ones that had been printed in the last two weeks since then. He read each one carefully, his lip curling ominously on some, and sometimes smiling on others.
< >Draco stopped when he came to the articles written by Hermione. He closed his eyes tightly, as if trying to will away her name so he wouldn’t . . . well, he wasn’t exactly sure why he didn’t want to see or hear her name, but he was doubly sure that he didn’t want to see or hear her name.
< >He opened his eyes and not to any of his surprise, her name was still there in black ink. He sighed, feeling a bit sick, but continued to read through the articles. Lupin came back as Draco was doing so. He read aloud a passage in one article.
< >“‘He was hunched over, his hair covering his eyes, and looked extremely tired in the face. All the pictures I’ve seen of him was his looking into the camera directly and extremely shrewd looking. The man I saw looked older than he was and only once looked me in the eye, and I can’t even be sure of that.’”
< >Draco looked up at Lupin questionably. “Do I really look that terrible?”
< >Lupin bit his lip and didn’t answer him. Draco looked down, ashamed of himself. He must look awful - an ill, shrewd, awful looking man without hardly a shred of his dignity or self-respect left.
< >“Here,” Lupin said, dropping two newspapers into Draco’s lap. “Read the top one first. It’s the evening news. You know no one does that very often, unless it’s a very busy news day.”
< >Slowly, Draco picked one up and read aloud:
< >Draco threw down the paper. What was she thinking when she wrote that? he yelled in his head. How stupid, how asinine, how . . . how straight to the point. “God damn it!” he shouted, yanking off his ring, and throwing it straight at Lupin who jumped out of the way, just in time. The ring skidded under a bush as he pounded his fists on the hard, dirt ground.
< >Lupin stared at Draco in amazement who had hunched over slightly, and put a hand on his forehead to cover either his face, or his crying. Lupin couldn’t tell if he was bleating or growling.
< >Draco wasn’t doing anything, though. He was lost in horrendous thoughts. You are such an ass, Draco, he told himself denouncingly, you deserve to die for what you’ve done to the person that you . . . that you once loved! How dare you hurt her - or anyone, for that matter!
< >Lupin slowly edged toward the bush and recovered the ring. He then moved toward Draco cautiously and sat down next to him, handing the young man back his ring. “I believe this is yours.”
< >“Burn it,” Draco snapped.
< >“Like hell,” Lupin snarled, snatching Draco’s free hand, and pressing the ring into it. “Are you completely insane, or is that the anger talking? You were always a fool in school, but you shouldn’t be one now, because you aren’t.”
< >Draco looked at his old professor, askance. He opened his hand and let the ring fall from his palm.
< >Lupin calmly picked it up, dusting it off on his mud caked slacks. “This ring, Draco. Why do you wear it?” he asked slowly. “Does it symbolize something other than a weapon of defense and defiance?”
< >“No,” Draco lied quickly and tersely.
< >The older man laughed as he fingered the ring carefully, studying it.
< >“You don’t believe me?” Draco demanded fiercely, snatching the ring back.
< >“No, of course not!” Lupin laughed, slapping his thighs in high amusement. “I mean, of course, in the nicest way possible, Draco, why should I?” He shook with silent laughter for about a minute until he collected himself.
< >Draco stared down at the ring as he twirled it in his fingers. He slipped it back onto his hand. “You shouldn’t, then, Professor Lupin, if that is your opinion,” he whispered quietly.
< >Lupin laughed again and Draco jumped to his feet and stormed away into the forest angrily.
< >Hermione lay in bed that night, kicking herself mentally. She didn’t know why she had written that article and demanded a printing for that night. It was ridiculous. She would be reamed by the Ministry, the owner of the Daily Prophet - who hated getting into personal problems - and who knew who else?
< >The article had been poorly written, in her opinion, composed in a mad dash of confusion, anger, and humility. She wanted to cry, but refused to. She was not a weak person to cry over something as . . . as trivial as this all was.
< >But every word she had said was true. She still loved the Draco she knew. She did not know that year’s Draco, or the year before’s Draco; she knew the last two years of Hogwarts’ Draco. That was who she knew, who she loved.
< >And it was true - she would help the Ministry in any way to track down Draco. It was getting to be too much. Draco, the one she knew, however, was not a murderer, but how did she know the Draco she didn’t know wasn’t a murderer? And it was already proven that Draco was a thief, a con man, and that was against the wizard laws, so he should be prosecuted, Hermione tried to tell herself reassuringly. But what will I do if the Ministry can somehow prove that Draco is a murderer . . . ?
< >Draco came back an hour later and sat in front of the fire without a word to Lupin who was carving a piece of wood and humming to himself as he warmed himself in front of the large fire.
< >Lupin smiled at him. “Have a good tantrum?” he asked cheerfully.
< >Draco looked sourly at him.
< >“Is that a no?”
< >“Leave me alone, Lupin,” Draco muttered.
< >“Only if you tell me what the ring is about,” Lupin replied.
< >Draco looked at Lupin angrily. “I will not tell you what my ring is not, just to get you to stop talking to me,” he growled in a low tone. He looked away from Lupin and into the roaring fire.
< >“It’s not good to look into the fire,” Lupin said quietly as he resumed carving.
< >Draco snorted, but didn’t looked at him. “Why?”
< >“If you look into the flame too hard, the fire demons will get you,” Lupin said quietly.
< >“That’s a myth,” Draco snapped, annoyed, but yet he found himself looking away from the fire. He looked up past the fire where little balls of fire rose above and disappeared into the black of the night sky.
< >Lupin smiled to himself, his face looking eerie in the firelight. He said nothing.
< >“Have you figured out what you’re going to do with me?” Draco asked, catching Lupin off-guard. His smiled turned into a frown.
< >“No. Should I have?”
< >Draco sighed and got to his feet. He threw up his arms and spun around, staring straight up at the stars as he did. “Yes - you - should - have,” he told Lupin in short breaths as he still spun, never seeming to tire or dizzy. “My - fate - is - in - your - hands - and - I - will - not - trust - those - hands - unless - they - trust - me.” He stopped spinning and put a hand against a trunk of a tall tree to steady himself. He stumbled a bit, finally dizzy, and he cocked his knees slightly, looking as if he would throw up.
< >“I trust you.” Lupin still sat on the ground, looking up at Draco vigilantly.
< >Draco laughed shortly. “No, you don’t. You wouldn’t disappear into the forest every night where you know I cannot see if you trusted me. You think I’ll kill you.” He slid against the rough bark of the trunk and onto the ground. “Admit it, Lupin, you think I would kill you given half the chance.
< >“I do not believe you would kill me.”
< >“Ha!” Draco laughed curtly, pointing an enraged, accusing finger at Lupin, but trying not to show too much that he knew he was hysterical. “You, Professor Lupin, are only a liar to the liar! You would not lie to anyone else but me. I frighten you, and you don’t want to admit it! Many people admit it, but not to my face. Are you like that, Professor Lupin? Are you?”
< >“I am not a liar,” Lupin said in a tone right for a child.
< >Draco’s eyes narrowed angrily. “Don’t you dare try to patronize me anymore.”
< >“If I even thought you were capable of killing me, Draco,” Lupin continued calmly, “would I be here? I told you in the beginning that if I even had some premonition that you were or are a murderer, or a murderer-in-training, I would turn you in immediately. Tell me, Mr. Malfoy, have I?”
< >Draco looked away, put out.
< >Lupin pulled himself to his feet with a stretch. “I haven’t - yet,” he warned, shaking a finger at Draco. “You’re going to have to shape up and get some manners if you ever want to accuse me of something, and - ”
< >“Are manners going to factor in at my trial?” Draco shouted.
< >“- and get some evidence,” Lupin finished. He bent over and picked up a blanket, then threw it at Draco.
< >Draco wrapped it around himself silently, pulling it on his head to keep his ears warm. “Everyone has the evidence that I gambled, cheated, and screwed people. They have the evidence that I stole for money, for clothes, and for a bit of power and influence on every society I wanted . . . and evidence can be manufactured to ‘prove’ that I’m a murderer.” He looked up at Lupin with a pathetic look of hopelessness in his eyes. “My word is no good. I’m a liar, a cheat, a thief. Who believes someone like me?”
< >Draco threw back his head and shook with laughter. “As if a werewolf’s word is as good as a convict’s, if not more looked down upon!” He bent over, laughing and sniggering into the dirt, trying to muffle his giggles with his hand. It didn’t work and he just sputtered with even more laughter. He had tears in his eyes, but then they turned to real tears, his laughter quickly fading.
< >Holding a hand over his face, trying not to show Lupin his tears, he sobbed. Draco’s shoulders shook as he hunched over, leaning sideways against the tree. “I’m pathetic,” he moaned through tears. “My father knows it, I know it, the whole world knows it! I am a lying, pathetic brigand who cries like a baby! Oh, death would be better than the anticipating wait, just expecting officers to jump out of the bushes to bring me to my assured death!”
< >Lupin turned away to give Draco a little sense of dignity.
< >“My . . . my father,” Draco said, choking out his words slowly, but thinking hysterically. “He . . . he knew I was a wretched piece of crap . . . but maybe he was just looking out for my greater interests. . . . Think of what I could have become if I had just gone home!”
< >“I’d rather not think of it,” Lupin said quietly.
< >“But . . . but he . . . he . . .” Draco wiped his face with the blanket as more tears spilled out.
< >“He what, Draco?” Lupin asked, turning around tediously.
< >Draco closed his eyes. “I was so angry, so cross, so immature. . . . I knew nothing about the real world . . . I was just a kid!” he cried more to himself than Lupin. “He . . . he told me that he would . . . he would torture her if . . .” He broke into more sobs, thinking to himself all the while he was truly going insanely mad.
< >Lupin crouched in front of him and pulled Draco’s hands away from his face. Draco was forced to look at him, sniffing back tears and the mucus, threatening to pour out of his nose like a floodgate being opened.
< >“Who did your father say he would hurt, Draco?” Lupin asked in an almost baby voice, trying to coax him to speak. “Was it your mother? What happened? Can you tell me? Did your father want to hurt your mother?”
< >Draco shook his head and ripped his wrists out of Lupin’s nimble, yet firm grasp. Lupin’s nails raked across Draco’s exposed wrists, but Draco didn’t seem to notice. He pulled the blanket over face, trying to block out Lupin’s voice.
< >“Draco . . .”
< >“I am not a baby!” Draco screamed abruptly.
< >Lupin regarded him with surprise. “I never said you were, Draco.”
< >“Yeah,” Draco sniffed, “but you were thinking it!”
< >“People deal with things differently than other people.”
< >“Then I am the most different of them all!”
< >“Different isn’t a bad thing, Draco . . .” Lupin said softly.
< >Draco wiped his nose with the blanket and took a deep breath. “I know it isn’t, but there is nothing I’d rather give up at this moment just to blend in with the crowd! To not be what and who I am! My difference is what sets me apart from the rest! From my father, especially!”
< >“Is this about your father, Draco?”
< >“It is about many things,” Draco said heinously, as if damning himself, moving slowly around so he could face Lupin. “But I tend to moan more about him than anything else, besides saying and thinking and living, ‘My life sucks.’ It does, though, and I admit it.” He smiled wanly at Lupin. “I, however, at times, have a good humor about it. This, though, is not one of those times.”
< >Lupin peered at Draco closely. He sat on the dirt and curled his legs up to his chin, so he could set it upon his knobby knees. “What happened with you and your father, Draco?” he asked delicately.
< >Draco snorted. “You think I will tell you at any time when I have told no one in my entire life since then?” he demanded shortly. “Professor Lupin, excuse me, sir, but you truly are a daft teacher and person if you think I will open up to anyone about the goings-on of my personal life concerning my father and I.”
< >Lupin straightened and motioned to the dark trees surrounding the two with his hands and a jab with his head. “Look around you, Draco! There is no one here!” Lupin replied, dropping his hands onto his knees, aghast.
< >“And that makes it all right?” Draco yelled.
< >“There is no need to yell.”
< >“No, there isn’t,” Draco agreed, “but I want to!”
< >“Did your father hurt you, Draco?” Lupin demanded, his voice rising. “Can you at least tell me that, damn you be whimmed enough to?”
< >Draco lowered his eyes and didn’t answer.
< >Lupin leaned in. “He did, didn’t he?”
< >“He beat me up,” Draco whispered, “threatened me that he would torture and kill Hermione . . . and her whole family, if . . . if I followed what he considered the wrong footsteps. . . .” Draco rubbed his forehead nervously. “He told me that if I came home without leaving to go back to Hermione or even thinking of Hermione, he would leave them all alone, especially Hermione . . . but yes, he beat me until I couldn’t refuse . . .”
< >“That’s all I wanted to hear,” Lupin replied.