A Feeling Unknown

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Chapter 27: Gentleness –

Ron ran back into the garage, saw Draco and Hermione still on the ground, and said, “When he reached the edge of your property and the borders of your wards, he disapparated.”

“Did you see who it was?” Draco asked, rocking Hermione back and forth in his arms. Ron thought it was eerie how quiet she had become.

“No, I couldn’t tell. It was a tall man, but that’s all I saw,” Ron said.

“How did he get past my wards in the first place? I don’t only have wards protecting the house, but outside. He shouldn’t have been able to even enter the yard,” Draco seethed, “And just how did he get past you, Weasley?” Draco began to stroke the side of Hermione’s head.

Ron knelt down beside them and sighed, “I’m sorry. I don’t know. I was sleeping, and I told Hermione not to leave the house. She asked me to get her something from the garage, and I told her I would do it tomorrow.” He reached out and touched Hermione’s shoulder. Draco turned her slightly, as if he was protecting her from Ron.

“Well you should have known she would sneak out. You should have gotten your lazy arse off the couch and gotten her whatever she wanted,” Draco blamed.

“I’m sorry,” Ron stated.

“YOU SHOULD BE!” Draco shouted.

“I am,” Ron pleaded. He looked toward Hermione and said, “Believe me, Hermione, I am so sorry.” Ron looked back toward Draco, and defended, “I really didn’t think she would go outside by herself.”

“WHY NOT? She’s proven that being by herself is her forte! GET OUT OF HERE!” Draco pointed toward the door.

Hermione looked up and said, “Enough! Stop laying blame. It wasn’t Ron’s fault. It wasn’t even mine. It wasn’t yours for leaving tonight. Let’s stop all the blaming; it’s empty and useless, please.” The world please came out as a strangled cry. Then her tears began to stream down her face once more.

Ron thought that she was finally exhibiting a normal reaction for almost being killed. Ron spoke again, “He’s right, though, Hermione. I should’ve known you’d do whatever you wanted. I should have glued myself to your side. Do you need to go to Hospital?” Ron stood back up.

He reached for her hand, and helped her to stand as Draco struggled to stand. She said, “I’m fine. I won’t go to St. Mungo’s.” Draco placed his hands on her shoulders, examined the bruises on her neck, and then reached up to the back of her head. She winced in pain, and when he drew his hand back down, he felt warm liquid on his fingers. Blood.

Deciding he wouldn’t press the matter, and that he would rather keep her at home anyway, Draco pulled her to his side. “One of us has to go make a report to Potter. He’s on duty tonight,” he challenged. He felt it was Ron’s fault, no matter what Hermione said, and so he was the one who should have to explain why he messed up to Potter.

Understanding, Ron said, “I’ll go right now.” He took her hand and said, “I really am sorry. Shall I still come tomorrow and help you sort through your things?”

“No,” Draco answered. “I’m here.”

She looked up at Ron and said, “Its okay, Ron.” Draco took her hand and led her inside as Ron left. He steered her toward the bedroom, but she said, “I need a hot bath. I hurt all over.”

He ushered her to the bathroom instead. He sat her on the closed toilet seat and started the water in the tub. He didn’t know how to proceed. Blast it all, he was going to help her. It was natural, and he shouldn’t feel uncomfortable. Without question or explanation, as soon as the tub filled with hot water he turned off the faucets, walked over to the toilet, and started to pull her shirt over her head. She didn’t question him, either. She put her arms in front of her breasts. He winced when he saw the pale pink and blue marks that were already forming on her neck.

He lifted her to stand, leaned forward, and looked behind her to her back. She had a nasty bruise in the beginning stages there as well. Blood had dripped from her head injury and had dried in splatters on her back and neck. His fingers went gently to her head, and felt the large knot that was there. His fingers gently went from her scalp to explore her neck. He touched the bruises and he felt as close to tears as he had ever felt. He never wanted her to feel pain again, physical or otherwise. He inhaled deeply, and brought his hands down her shoulders, to her waist, and he pulled down her pajama pants. He looked back at her face. Her arms went to her sides, as her eyes fell to the ground. He had a fleeting thought that she was baring more than just her body to him. She was baring her soul. He put his right hand under her chin, his thumb and index finger holding it captive, to force her to look in his eyes. He brought her toward him and kissed her lips with a gentleness that he didn’t even know he possessed.

“The hot water will feel good against your tired muscles and bruises. I’ll leave you now. Please, call me if you need anything else. I’ll be outside in the hall.” His hand went from her chin down to hold her hand. He couldn’t help but glance at her nearly nude form. He felt the passion that he always felt for her, but compassion was a stronger emotion at that moment. He kept her hand in his as he started to walk away. He turned back because she grasped his hand harder and held it tighter.

“Please stay. I don’t want to be alone,” she said in a soft whisper. She never wanted to be alone again.

He could only agree with a slight nod to his head. She grabbed a towel, placed it in front of her, and slipped out of her knickers. She stepped lightly into the tub, her face away from him, and he stepped backwards. She lowered herself gingerly into the hot water, her back still to him. It dawned on him that she was thinner than he had ever known her to be. He could see the outlines of her spine and ribs as he stared at her back. She was still beautiful, and he still longed for her. He wanted her more than he ever remembered wanting her. He felt like banging his head against the wall, but instead, he stepped forward when she sat down in the water.

Sitting on the side of the tub, slightly behind her, looking over her shoulder, he took a large sponge and he washed her back, careful not to touch the bruise. Instead, when he rinsed off the soap, he squeezed the hot water from the sponge repeatedly over the contusion, the water streaming down her back, and over the bruise. He hoped against hope that it soothed her somehow.

She reached behind him and took the sponge from his hand. She began to wash her body, so he took a cup and rinsed her hair. He took a small dab of shampoo, rubbed his hands together, and placed both hands in her hair, massaging her scalp gently, careful not to touch the tender spot. She slumped over slightly. He began to rinse the shampoo from her hair, letting the water flow over her face and body. She raised her face mid rinse, the water covering her eyes and mouth. She felt she was receiving a baptism, the water washing away her sins, and she was being born again. She said, “Again.”

He dipped the cup back in the water and again let the hot stream of water drip down her face, covering her eyes, nose and mouth, as well as her hair. He made a decision as he continued to rinse the shampoo from her hair. He was never letting her go. He realized the irony of that thought – after all, he had made that claim before, but this time he was determined. He wouldn’t let anyone or anything take her from him, not some lunatic seeking revenge for an unknown transgression, not guilt, nor depression, and not her sense of nobility and self-sacrificing crap. Even fear wouldn’t be strong enough to take her away.

From now on, everything he did that concerned her would be thought out and deliberate. She was a strong woman, he always felt like a weak man, and he was ashamed of that. If he had been the strong one, he would have found her the day she ran away and brought her back. He would never make a mistake like that again. Never.

He continued to pay reverence to her body. He leaned down and kissed her shoulder, the water droplets on her skin made his lips tingle. He stood up and bent down to pick up the towel. As he rose to stand, she had risen as well. He looked at her body, from her head down to her feet, as she stood in the rippling water. His gaze went slowly back up to her body and then he wrapped her in the towel. He helped her out of the tub. He patted her dry and he guided her to the bedroom. They continued in silence as he pulled down the covers and she went to lay down, nude, beneath the comfort of the blankets, the towel still around her body. He kicked off his shoes to lie beside her, and pulled the covers up over both of them. She turned so that her head was on his chest. He held her tightly.

“Are you cold?”

“No,” she answered.

“Are you okay?”

“I don’t know.”

“Shall I get you anything?”

“Just stay. That’s all I need.”

He was comforted when she finally fell asleep. He couldn’t sleep if he tried. He crawled out of the bed and went to the kitchen. He grabbed a butterbeer from the icebox, wished it were something stronger, and sat down in the dark living room to think about all of the events of the last week. He had to make some sense of things. There had to be a connection somewhere with something. Her mother’s death, the fire at her house, and now the attempt on her life, were definitely connected, but why did Draco’s thoughts keep going back to Theo’s suicide? Why did he feel certain, deep in his gut, that it was connected, too? His mobile phone rang. He couldn’t find it at first. He wanted to answer it before it woke her so he looked around frantically for it. Finally, he found it in the pocket of his coat on the hook by the back door. He answered it and it was Harry.

“How is she?”

“Sleeping. She’s fine.”

“Listen, Ron feels horrible.”

“He should.”

“Yes, he should,” Harry agreed. “I have a favour.”

Draco huffed but then said, “What?”

“I don’t mind that you took the file home tonight, but I need you to bring it back first thing tomorrow.”

“What file?” Draco asked.

“Theo’s file.”

“I left it on the desk when I walked out.” Draco paused for a moment and then said, “No, I didn’t. I remember throwing it at you and leaving it on the floor/”

“And I picked it up,” Harry added, “and put it back on your desk, and when I came back in the office an hour or so later it was gone.”

“I don’t have it,” Draco said, slightly alarmed.

“Well, neither do I,” Harry answered, also distressed.

“Potter, do you think what’s going on with Hermione is related to Theo’s death?” Draco asked.

Before Harry could answer, Hermione stood in the doorway, a blanket around her body, and she asked, “How could Theo’s death have anything to do with what’s happening to me?”

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