A Day and A Night

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Chapter 13: A Grave and A Threat

Holding Hermione’s hand, Draco ran with her through brush and bramble, under limbs, and over stones that littered the path. The sleeve of his jacket caught in a vine once, just as one of the large birds swooped lower. Hermione freed his sleeve with a swish of her wand. He continued to hold her hand and they ran even faster. They traveled deeper into the woods, under the canopy of the tall, ancient trees, far from the well-worn path, hoping to hide from the birds overhead.

However, the birds followed.

Hermione shouted, “What do they want? Are they wizards?”

“They aren’t parakeets,” Draco spat. He stopped when the path became all but hidden, not knowing which way to go. He looked to his right, and then to his left, to try to find some type of covering. He pointed his wand at the birds, said a curse, but they didn’t disperse.

“I can’t run any longer,” Hermione complained, bending at the waist. He knew she was still recovering from her gunshot wound, so her complaint was a valid one. She was even having trouble breathing. She looked up at the birds and said, “Go away!”

“Right, like that will work,” Draco responded with disdain.

He covered Hermione’s back with his arm and they both ducked their heads at that precise moment, as a large falcon began pushing his way through the limbs and leaves of the tall trees, right toward them. Oddly enough, a very large eagle flew in the mix, just as the large falcon had almost landed upon them. The eagle scared off all of the other birds. Hermione knew at once that it was Milo’s animagus form. Draco must have known it too, because he said, “About time he called off the other birds.”

Hermione placed her hand on her heart and willed herself to calm down. “How did he know we needed his help?” she asked.

“Maybe he has a crystal ball, or perhaps he was out birdwatching,” Draco said sarcastically. “Are you okay?”

Hermione nodded. She wondered about what Milo had told her earlier. He had said that he would protect her if she needed him. She hadn’t thought of him outright, but she had thought that they needed help and then the eagle appeared. Draco snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Are you paying attention to me? I asked if you were okay.”

“Fine, fine,” she said, waving her hand. He took her hand again and looked at it closely. He took out his wand and swiftly finished healing the wound from earlier.

He let it go just as quickly, almost as if touching it now was too much for him, even though he held it while they were running. She looked down at her hand and then up toward him, but he was already walking back toward the path.

She ran to catch him and asked, “What was that back there?”

“A bunch of birds, falcons mostly, perhaps hawks and ravens, but I don’t think any vultures. I’m sure they were Valdes. I don’t know what made them come down upon us like that,” he answered quickly, walking away from her. He wondered if they came because of the smell of Hermione’s blood. He wouldn’t tell her that was what he thought.

Hermione stopped walking, shocked at his response, because she already knew that they were birds! “No!” she argued. “What did you do to my hand?”

He looked back, irritated, and said, “I healed it. A thank you would suffice.” He continued walking. She stayed put. He looked back, saw that she wasn’t with him, rolled his eyes, and then yelled out, “Are you coming or are you waiting to be a worm treat for some hungry birdie?”

She stumbled toward him, almost tripping over a rock and then a vine, because she was watching him instead of the path the whole way toward him. She looked incredulously at him and said, “No, I mean earlier! You sucked blood from my hand when I hurt it, after you removed the splinter! You sucked my blood!”

He frowned, and when she got close enough, he put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her away slightly, and he even took a step back. “What? No I didn’t!” he protested, even as his brain was shouting,
“Yes you did!”

How could he explain what he had done to her when he couldn’t understand the reasons why he did it himself? He was as outraged by his actions as she was, apparently. The only thing he could do was to feign ignorance, and that was all, so that was what he did. “I don’t even know what you’re talking about; I was merely removing the rest of the splinter with my teeth!”

“And with your tongue, and after it was already removed by your wand?” she accused.

His mouth opened wide, waiting to say something, but nothing came out, so he remained quiet and indignant. He had no excuse for his actions. He felt shame, embarrassment, confusion, remorse, and revulsion, all rolled together. He was horrified. He didn’t answer, since he couldn’t. He sat down on a large rock and hung his head. He finally said, “I don’t know why I did that. I’m so very sorry, but I won’t talk about it again, so keep all your little theories and hypotheses to yourself.” It was the best he could offer her. He stood back up, without looking at her, and he continued walking until he found the path.

She followed, befuddled and baffled, but she knew he felt the same, so she wouldn’t press it right now. She felt there was something strange going on with him, with them, and with this village, and she needed answers, but she wasn’t going to get them from him, because he was as mystified as she was. He looked back at her once, but that was the only time.

He said, “Keep up,” as rudely as he could muster saying those two small words, and when she ran to keep up, he quickened his pace.

After a half an hour of walking, she asked, “Where are we going, anyway?”

He didn’t answer. Instead, he stopped walking, and she walked right into his back. He exhaled a puff of air from his nostrils, as if he was upset about something. She placed her hand on his arm, and leaned forward to turn her head upward to look at his face. He pointed his finger at something to the right of them. His hand was shaking. She followed the line of his hand to the place where he was pointing.

Hermione stepped around him and fell to her knees. She stated in a shaky voice, “The earth is unsettled here. There's a mound higher than the rest of the ground, the dirt is darker, and there aren’t leaves and twigs on top of it, which you would expect in the forest. It almost looks like…”

Before she could finish her sentence he said, “A grave.”

He plopped down on his knees beside her. She pointed toward the mound again and said, “It looks like some of these rocks were placed on top by design, not nature. It’s too neat and tidy, and look over there, Draco. Something, an animal perhaps, tried to dig something up. Something white is sticking out of the ground.”

He placed his hand on her back, and while still kneeling on the ground, he leaned forward, but just as suddenly, he knew what it was. “Granger, that thing sticking out is some sort of white material. It’s identical to the fabric that was covering the other bodies when they were found, remember? They were wrapped in white muslin.”

She looked over at him and asked, “Do you think we found another body?”

He nodded, but then said, “We found a grave and a body.”

“A grave? A body?” She felt slightly sick and afraid, even though she hadn’t needed him to confirm something that she had already suspected. She scrambled to her feet, but he stayed on his knees. He moved over toward the top of the mound and moved aside some of the earth.

Draco said, “It’s a crude gave, new I would say, not deep, but a grave nonetheless.” His Auror instincts told him that they needed to preserve evidence, even while some baser instinct, some primal instinct, told him to get her the hell out of there. He moved his wand back and forth over the grave, to take an image of the scene and to collect evidence by magic, but then he looked up to see if the birds had returned. He only saw one bird. This one was a vulture, it was on a low tree limb, and it looked as if it was looking right at him.

“Draco, do you think it’s another victim?” she asked.

“I don’t think it’s someone’s pile of rubbish,” he said flippantly. “It’s another murdered girl, and I know if the body looks like the others, we won’t be able to tell exactly when she died, since the other bodies were so well preserved, but Hermione, this grave is new, I know it. There are even footprints around it that aren’t ours.”

He stood back up and put out an arm again, instinctively, to back her away. He looked back up once toward the vulture. With his wand, he removed a portion of the dirt covering the top part of the mound, and when enough dirt was uncovered, they could see clearly that it was a body wrapped in white muslin. Some of the girl’s hair was even exposed.

“Merlin,” Draco said softly.

“Should we call the Ministry?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe not yet. I don’t know.” Draco knew that they should, but he also knew that Hermione’s assessment from last night, that the Ministry would come to this village with an army of Aurors, and perhaps level this place, bring all the villagers in for questioning, or take them all from their homes, would come to pass. They would never know what happened to these girls. They would never get answers. He would never get answers. He might never know what was happening to him.

Hermione could tell he felt torn, and oddly, she knew why he felt so conflicted. She placed her hand on his arm. He looked down at it and then up to her eyes. He was begging her, beseeching her, with his gaze, but she didn’t know what to do for him. She finally asked, “Should we at least tell Milo?”

“Milo?” Draco asked. He took her hand in his, but instead of holding it, he threw it off his arm. “First name basis already? Didn’t take you long. It took you twelve years before you started to call me by my first name.”

“Listen, this isn’t the time for petty jealousies,
Draco,” she said, adding his name at the end, and emphasizing it by saying it loudly. “What’s wrong with you? You’re becoming unhinged! Maybe you need to leave this place. Maybe we both do.”

“You don’t know everything, Granger, even though you think you do,” he spat. “I’m fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. If you want to leave, leave. If you want to tell Milo, tell him. You stick to your job, and I’ll stick to mine!” He looked up and the vulture was still staring at him. He pointed his wand at it, but it left before he could curse it.

Hermione hadn’t even noticed the other bird. She hissed, “Your job should be to call the Ministry then, because we’ve found another body! Your job is to protect me, not to go around sucking blood from my hand!”

He was so angry at that comment that he saw red! He took her shoulders and shook her. “I apologized for that! Nothing like that will happen again! I told you not to mention it! Nothing like that will ever happen again, so don't mention it again!”

“Then prove it to me! Prove you haven’t lost all of your faculties. Call Harry! Call the Ministry! There’s another murdered girl there, Malfoy! We have to tell someone! We can’t cover it up, as someone covered her up with sticks, mud and leaves!”

“What would you have me do, bring the whole Auror department in here? They would tear this place apart. They would put these people in Azkaban, without question! They would treat them no better than they treat giants or goblins! They would treat them as oddities, and examine them, and probe them, and what good would come of it?” He was so exasperated! He was also afraid they would do the same with him. He walked slightly away from her, but turned back to face her and said, “The Aurors would come in here, lock up these people, treat them like freaks, make them register like magical creatures, treat them as less than human, and you said it yourself, in the end, no one will care two snaps who killed three, no, four women!”

She yelled back, “Maybe they are less than humans!” She pointed toward the grave. “Killing women, draining them of their blood, turning into beasts. It’s sick, Malfoy! What humans would do this?”

“Humans have done much worse in both magical and Muggle history, Princess Naive, and you know it!” he barked in return. “Do you think I’m less than human? I sucked your blood!”

She didn’t know what to say. She started to give a response several times, but finally she said, “I’m sorry I said that. No, I don’t think you’re less than human.”

“I sucked your blood,” he said again softly. He turned away from her. She started toward him, but he turned back, and she stepped away from him, because he yelled, “Why did I do that? It was sick and wrong, but I felt compelled to do it! I wanted to do it, so I did! I’m disgusting! It’s this fucking place! It’s doing things to me! You need to stay away from me!”

“Maybe it is this place,” she said to placate him, but also because she agreed. “We need to at least call Harry. He’ll understand.”

He scowled and said, “Oh, Harry’s virtually a saint, isn’t he? He would tell the Ministry in a second flat, and if he found out what I did to his precious pet, he would have my head.”

Hermione walked up to him, compassion on her face, but then she hit him upside the head with her cupped hand. He grabbed his ear and said, “Ow, what was that for?”

“I’m not his pet, you prat!” she said back. Then she softened her tone and said, “I really think Harry would help us.”

Still rubbing his ear, he said, “Are you afraid of me now, because I know that I’m slightly afraid of you now?”

He was joking, so her response came as a surprise, nevertheless she wanted to be truthful, so she truthfully said, “Yes.”

He hadn’t expected that answer. He grabbed her arms again and shook her hard as he asked, “Why are you afraid of me? Do you think I’m going barking mad? Do you think I’m bonkers?”

“I don’t think you’re going mad, but you’re here to do a job, and part of that job is to protect me, and can you promise me that you can do that?” She placed her hands on his chest, to back away slightly, although his hold on her arms tightened. She said, “Because right now, Draco, I’m wondering who’s going to protect me from you.”

Milo Dorchester walked along the path and said, “I will. Let her go, Malfoy. I know you don’t understand what’s going on with you, and I’ll try to explain it to you later, but for now, let Miss Granger go.” He said it steadily, but with authority, but would Draco respond?

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