A/N: Hey everyone, so here's (the slightly delayed) part two. Can I just thank everyone who reviewed/followed/faved part one. The reviews were all completely amazing and lovely and I'm absolutely thrilled to see that you enjoyed it and that I managed to pull off a realistic Dramione. (Well, as realistic as Dramione can be, anyway). Thank you all so much! :D
So yeah, I pulled out all the stops for part two; let's hope it lives up to expectations. Warnings for dark imagery, violence, bad language (f-bombs), angst, and a generally intense roller coaster.
Fasten your seatbelts everyone, and enjoy the ride!
"In Light there is Dark, and in Dark there is Light."
― Kami Garcia, Beautiful Darkness
- Part II -
After that night, Hermione and Draco seemed to come to a silent consensus that everything had to go back to the way things were. They went on with their lives stressing about the same things and insulting one another at any given opportunity, but whenever they encountered each other in the corridors or made eye contact across as classroom, the kiss was never far from their thoughts.
No matter how much they wanted to, neither of them regretted it. In fact, as the days went on it became difficult for either of them to believe it ever happened at all: the notion of a Death Eater and Harry Potter's best friend sharing a kiss was almost laughable. Or at least, it was laughable, until Hermione happened to stumble across the chilling harmony of both his and Moaning Myrtle's sobs in the first floor girl's bathroom one day. She felt her blood run cold at the sound, and all of a sudden she was hit with the reality of what was going on and why that kiss happened; keeping her distance from Draco had evidently made her forget just how serious his predicament was.
Until then, Hermione had been speculating about all aspects of his new allegiance on her own. It was really tempting to tell someone else, if only to get a second opinion, but she knew what would happen: whoever she told wouldn't stop to read between the lines. Hell, Hermione didn't even think she would have if it hadn't been for that chance encounter in the Prefects' bathroom.
Even before then, she had a hunch that things wouldn't be so black and white if Harry's theory was proven to be true – which it now was. Now Hermione's mind was overflowing with questions. For the most part she was able to come up with logical explanations, but this was all baseless conjecture unless she got answers from Draco, and the chances of that were very slim.
When she came across the first floor bathroom she'd been musing the reasons why Voldemort would need to recruit a student. She gulped, realising that the only explanation was that Draco must be carrying out an inside job – but what?
One of Draco's chilling sobs rang out from inside, and Hermione recalled her very words to Harry and Ron regarding the bathroom in their second year: "No-one ever comes in here." That meant Draco didn't want to be found. Nevertheless, the sound of his broken cries was too much for her to bear this time, and Hermione found herself walking into the bathroom.
Draco looked a mess; perhaps even worse than the night she found out he'd taken the Mark. He wasn't only crying, but lashing out with his fists and his wand at random objects like water pipes and the mirrors over the sinks. His instability, his stress, and his haunted reflection in the shattered glass were enough to convince Hermione that his task was something serious… deadly serious. Everything about it just seemed to be a bad omen that the war was coming. And soon.
He was a talented student, so Hermione knew his task must be a huge burden if it was causing him this much trauma. She couldn't say for certain that he didn't want to be a Death Eater, but she did know that he was out of his depth and quite possibly out of his mind… not that she could blame him; she had a hunch Voldemort wasn't the forgiving type if it came to someone failing to carry out orders.
Draco caught sight of her in the mirror just as he lifted his wand in a clenched and bloody fist to unleash his wrath on one of the taps. His face was contorted with rage and anguish, and his eyes dead behind the fiery exterior. Moaning Myrtle's terrified shriek peeled off the walls, and Draco lowered his wand slowly as he turned to face Hermione. His breathing was heavy and ragged, and his voice was rough and gravelly when he spoke.
"Granger," he merely identified her, completely conflicted with what he had to say to keep up appearances and what he wanted to say.
All Hermione could do was stare at him, that same concerned look on her face that had been there that night. Draco stared back for a moment, scrutinising the witch intensely. The way she stormed off after uncovering his Dark Mark led to too many sleepless nights and unproductive days in the Room of Requirement, with him worrying that she would have told Potter. But she hadn't, and he couldn't understand why.
He knew she was his enemy, but something in him felt like she may have started to put the pieces together. 'Death Eater' was just a label; it did not define him as a person, and it seemed Hermione had come to the same consensus. He hoped this was the case, anyway; the whole thing was beginning to mess with Draco's head. He was starting to wonder if there was any truth to that statement or if he was just bullshitting himself.
Draco's knees buckled as the little boy won out over the heartless man Voldemort had made him to be. His wand fell to the floor and he buried his face in his hands, which soon became wet with fresh tears. For a second he completely forgot about Hermione's presence, and the fact that he was openly showing weakness in front of her was more than enough to prove that.
Hermione crouched down and wrapped her arms around Draco's shoulders as he cried. The warmth of her touch soothed him slightly, but it only fuelled new sensations of annoyance and stress at the same time. This wasn't how it was meant to be: Draco was supposed to be putting on that strong, bloodthirsty and determined front to succeed in his task. He managed that no problem in the presence of Snape and his friends – in fact he didn't even have to pretend in front of them - so it completely threw him how he couldn't do it in front of Mudblood Granger.
He really wasn't accustomed to not being able to hide his emotions: that had been something he'd always been good at. He shuddered against her, not even wanting to consider what that might mean.
Hermione's natural, pure scent soothed him to an extent, and Draco sunk into her embrace for longer than necessary, but he found the strength to push her off eventually.
"Get the fuck off me, Granger," he hissed before hastily grabbing his wand and getting to his feet. He clenched his fists at his side to hide the fact that he was trembling with rage. "Why do you mess with my mind like this?"
"Malfoy, I…" Hermione's eyes were still wide from his sudden movement. "I…"
"Don't," he snapped. "Just… don't. Stay the hell away from me."
He was already marching away from her and out of the room before she could respond. Hermione winced as the door slammed shut, and she was left alone with only the sound of running water and Moaning Myrtle's sobbing to keep her company. She knew very well she'd over-stepped the line just now; she'd just completely altered whatever twisted relationship she and Malfoy had shared ever since their first year…
But Draco had let her comfort him. He may have pushed her off eventually but the point was that he'd let her do it in the first place. To accept such an act of sympathy from someone he viewed as inferior was the loudest cry for help Hermione could imagine.
The ambiguity of his task was more terrifying than ever now, and Hermione knew that running to tell Harry, Ron or even a professor wasn't an option. She needed to get answers from Draco, though she had no intentions of using the information to double-cross him. She legitimately wanted to help him, and the funny thing was that she thought he wanted her to, based on a brief encounter they'd had a week ago:
It was New Years Eve, and Hermione and Draco crossed paths as he left the kitchens with a bottle of Firewhiskey in his hand. Hermione (being Hermione) leapt at the chance to scold him for drinking alcohol when he was underage. His remark at the time had been obnoxious, snarky and sealed with that signature Malfoy sneer.
"Yeah, well I'm too young for a lot of things, Granger."
Hermione may just be reading too much into it, but after everything that had just happened, she couldn't help but wonder if that had been a cryptic, subtle and yet direct hint about what exactly had been stressing him out.
With his most convincing sneer, Draco put up his imaginary blinders when he entered the Great Hall, determinedly facing forwards at all times and trying to block out the stares of students all around him. He felt like a complete pariah, like he was now the enemy of every single person in the school – not just Hermione. The room was so large and crowded, and yet, he'd never felt more alone. He still had friends, or rather: admirers, in Slytherin house, but all they wanted to talk about these days was his mission. In some ways, it was useful: it gave Draco a slight ego boost when he needed it, and he had Crabbe and Goyle to recruit as lookouts when he needed them.
Draco couldn't deny that he liked the attention, and he had not received the Dark Mark against his will, but his friends didn't understand how rapidly he came to regret this decision… not that he could have refused even if he'd wanted to. At the end of the day, Draco was the one with the tattoo: he was the only one who truly appreciated how difficult being a Death Eater was.
His heart sank when he saw that Potter was talking to that Bell girl. Hermione spotted him before Potter did. The accusatory glare in Harry's eyes when he turned made Draco think Hermione had told him about his Death Eater status, but he soon dismissed this idea when he noticed the worry etched onto Hermione's face. He really wished she'd stop looking at him like that: it just made him want to confide in her, and that was something he could never do, for obvious reasons.
Draco had been avoiding her like Dragonpox ever since that day in the first floor bathroom. For the sake of his sanity and resolve, he couldn't afford to get himself into such a vulnerable position around his enemies. He'd hoped keeping his distance would also make Hermione's meddling brain move on to someone else's life it could interfere with, but apparently that had been wishful thinking. Her chocolate-brown eyes were now darting between Harry and himself uncertainly.
Draco became riddled with unwanted guilt when he looked at the girl he'd almost killed. In that split second, reality set in, and he realised that the idea of murder was something that was a lot less daunting and difficult to deal with in theory than in practise. Katie had been unintentional, and Draco felt a new wave of fear and dread hit him as he remembered he'd been ordered to kill someone for real, and by very deliberate means.
He didn't consider himself a good person by a long chalk, but a killer? Draco didn't think he was capable… or was he? He hated that he'd know the answer to that question by the time the school year was over.
An acidic tang of bile scorched his throat as his stomach churned, and Draco felt a new burst of stress and desperation flood through him. He quickly turned on his heel to flee from the room. His head was fuzzy, and his limbs were aching and moving as if completely detached from his mind. Draco was vaguely aware that Harry was following him; however he was oblivious to the fact that Hermione was, in turn, following Potter.
She dreaded to think what Harry was intending to do to Draco. Since he was still so obsessed with that damn Potions book, she knew it could be anything, and 'anything' wasn't something Draco would necessarily be prepared for - especially in his current state. She just knew Harry would link Draco with the cursed necklace and act on that without first thinking about the reasons Draco had. Part of Hermione felt that he wouldn't care even if he did consider the options.
"Harry! Wait!" she yelled. Harry either didn't hear her or just ignored her, for he didn't turn around and continued to pursue Draco. Hermione sighed and did her best to keep up with her friend, barging through groups of students and profusely apologising to random people as she did so.
She was losing ground now, but knew that it was imperative to catch up as quickly as possible. Her cheeks were red and her breathing was laboured as she staggered into yet another bathroom about thirty seconds later, clutching a stitch in her left side. Both boys were already throwing spells to and fro, and several mirrors were cracked. Harry and Draco seemed completely vacant behind their frustrated eyes.
A water pipe burst and drowned her voice out. The two wizards continued to duel mindlessly, and Hermione could see Harry lose a little more composure with every spell he cast. All she could hear was the blood pounding in her ears and muffled sounds of incantations and spells ricocheting. The longer she stood in the doorway, the more detached her thoughts became. It took the sight of the faint tearstains on Draco's face and the frailty of his body compared to Harry's for her to act.
Draco dodged to the side and shielded himself the best he could as he anticipated the blow of Potter's curse. But it didn't come. The silence that filled the room made him think for a moment that the spell had backfired on him. Draco turned, hoping this thought would prove to be reality.
Harry was standing across the room; glasses askew and slightly bloodied up from their duel but otherwise unscathed. The dark-haired wizard was no longer looking at Draco; instead he was looking down at the floor with a mixture of horror, guilt and shock on his face.
Draco couldn't help but follow his gaze, and suddenly his thoughts came back into focus. His heart seemed to stop altogether for a moment when he saw Hermione lying in a shallow pool of water on the ground. He vaguely recalled hearing a female scream a few moments ago, and knew she'd taken Potter's curse in order to save him. At a first glance, Draco couldn't help but wonder: Why did the Mudblood save me?
He didn't even realise his knees had given way again until he started crawling towards her. She was bleeding. A lot. The blood seeped through large gashes in her skin, making it seem like her body was crying. Her complexion had paled considerably with the amount she'd lost, adding even more sickening emphasis on the good and pure aura Draco had never been able to un-see since the night in the Prefects' Bathroom. The contrast between her white face and the pool of red that swirled around her was almost as harsh as the one between Draco's skin and his Mark.
"It doesn't look like mud," Draco whispered to himself in disbelief. His body started trembling. "Why doesn't it look like mud?!" he asked louder. Harry was still too transfixed on Hermione to answer or even hear him.
"FUCK!" Draco scraped his nails down his face. He found himself crying again, but this time, for a completely different reason.
He knew that Voldemort, and the Death Eaters were Pureblood supremacists. That's what they stood for. Their purpose, and therefore his by default, was to rid the wizarding world of impure people like Muggles and Mudbloods…
Except now Draco knew there was no such thing as a Mudblood.
He slowly lowered one of his hands and dipped the tip of his index finger into the pool of blood, water and tears, and brought it up right in front of his face.
It was no trick of the light; Hermione's blood was as red and vibrant as his own.
What the hell had he gotten himself into?
Draco subconsciously hiked up his sleeve and clenched his right hand over his left forearm where the Dark Mark was imprinted; he was just lucky that Harry wouldn't be able to see the Mark from where he stood. Draco dug his nails into his skin, hoping he'd somehow be able to rip the tattoo off. All he achieved was drawing his own blood. He watched as it dripped down and swirled with Hermione's in the water.
It was exactly the same, completely indistinguishable from hers.
Draco didn't even care that Potter was watching. He'd completely lost sight in why he'd ever thought he was doing good by becoming one of them.
He just knelt beside Hermione, and watched as the vibrant scarlet swirled around her body in the water. It started to stain her hair, which lay splayed out around her white face. She'd lost so much blood; it was quite disturbing how angelic she looked like that.
Draco knew he ought to get help, but he remained frozen to the spot. Only, it wasn't his pride and reputation that was getting in the way this time. It was fear. And confusion. And guilt.
He heard a faint moan escape Hermione's pale lips.
He looked up just as her eyes fluttered closed.
"Granger?" he said more sharply, not totally understanding why he was so worried about her. He'd joked about seeing Hermione die many times, but this was too real. The presence of death already seemed tangible in the air.
He reached out to touch her hand, wanting to check her body temperature than anything else. It seemed that this was enough to bring Potter back to his senses.
"Get away from her, Malfoy," he spat.
"Me?" Draco cried incredulously. "You're the one who fucking did this to her!"
The colour drained from Harry's face, and tears sprang into his emerald eyes. Draco didn't sympathise with the wizard at all. He'd gone almost seven years of his life not sympathising and he wasn't about to start now. Especially not now.
Harry knew what he'd done, but he didn't want to believe it. He couldn't admit it yet, even to himself, which just made him feel even worse.
"It should have been you," he said in a hollow voice, tearing his gaze away from Draco. It was true: Harry had intended the curse to hit Draco, but he'd never have imagined the effect of it would be so dangerous. All things considered, Harry didn't even think he'd enjoy seeing Malfoy in this kind of state. But Hermione… it should never have been Hermione.
It was ironic that he'd chased the Slytherin into the bathroom to punish him for almost murdering Katie when Hermione now lay in front of him in the same dire circumstances. Only this time, Draco wasn't the one to blame. Harry felt like an awful hypocrite, and grew nauseous when he remembered something his late godfather once told him:
"We've all got both Light and Dark inside of us. What matters is the part we choose to act on." In this instance, Harry had chosen the Dark. He knew right then and there that he needed to get rid of that Potions book, and tried not to consider the fact that if he'd listened to Hermione, she wouldn't be so hurt right now.
By this point, Draco had finally found the strength to yank down his sleeve and run from the bathroom, from Potter, from Hermione and above all else, from that awful red blood of hers. He strode out with his head bowed, stepping in time with the beating of his heart. This created enough of a distraction for Draco to temporarily get over the shock, but he soon he felt someone tug the back of his collar.
"Going somewhere, Mr Malfoy?"
Draco scowled upon recognising Snape's drawling voice. He jerked himself from his grasp and spluttered when his shirt collar dug into the front of his neck.
"You seemed in a hurry to leave the Great Hall," Snape commented. "Care to explain?"
Draco shook his head rapidly from side to side as his throat ceased up. His eyes darted subconsciously towards the entrance to the bathroom where he knew Hermione was almost certainly dying.
Snape sighed derisively and dragged Draco sideways into an alcove. "Listen boy, you and I both know that you are in way over your head here. I advise you to finally admit you need my protection when the time comes and get your head out of that narcissistic cloud it lives in as soon as possible. The Dark Lord may have specifically chosen you for this but –"
"I don't need your protection," Draco hissed between gritted teeth, his eyes flashing menacingly in the fading sunlight outside. "How many times do I need to tell you that?"
"You aren't fooling anyone, Draco. Questions have been raised amongst staff about your…" Snape's black eyes scanned him, all the while deciding not to question why the bottoms of his trousers were wet, "… unhealthy appearance."
Draco stamped his foot in agitation and ran a hand through his hair. The next thing he knew, Snape's bony fingers were clasping his wrist.
"Ow," he groaned. "What the -?"
Snape stared intently at the red stains beneath Draco's jagged fingernails. "Whose blood is this, Mr Malfoy?"
Draco gulped. "Granger's." Even he found it incredibly questionable why he'd tell Snape this information, knowing that leaving Granger would result in one less nuisance to worry about. But at the same time, Draco knew he couldn't deal with her death on his conscience. He labelled this as a purely selfish decision and yanked his wrist away.
"What did you do?" Snape demanded. "Honestly, you really are an ungrateful swine. Here I am literally putting my life on the line for you, and you have the gall to waste precious time assaulting your classmates when there are more important things to-"
Draco's eyes were stony as they met Snape's cold stare. "I never asked for you to be my bloody guardian angel, Professor. More importantly, I'm not the one who attacked her. You can blame Saint Potter for that one."
"Do you really expect me to believe that Potter would harm Miss Granger, Malfoy?" Snape's eyes were accusatory.
"He was aiming for me!" Draco yelled. "Used some weird spell that I've never even heard of, too."
"Oh?" Snape arched a brow, obviously expecting some bogus tale that he'd heard Draco spin on many occasions in the past. "Do tell."
"Sectumsempra or something like that," Draco said with a frown, unsure if he was pronouncing it correctly.
Snape's expression changed at the mention of the spell. "Where is she?" he asked, sounding almost panicked, as if he knew what exactly that spell did.
Draco just pointed towards the bathroom and Snape's long cloak swished as he pivoted sharply on the spot.
"Wait in my office, Mr Malfoy," his booming voice echoed as he marched away and towards the bathroom. "We still have things to discuss."
"Can't it wait?" Draco moaned. "All I want is one sodding minute of peace from all of this shit!"
"Well I hate to break it to you Mr Malfoy, but nobody is entitled to the cushy student life forever," Snape responded vaguely enough so other students wouldn't be able to read between the lines, but specific enough that Draco knew what he was talking about.
"I still am a student, though!" Draco shouted as he stomped towards the dungeons. He entered Snape's office and slammed the door, casting several locking and silencing charms on it and sinking to the floor. He drew his knees up against his chest and idly examined his nails again as if hoping to find some kind of divide between what was his blood and what was Hermione's in the dim light.
He still couldn't find one.
Hermione felt extremely woozy and exhausted when her eyes fluttered open. She stared up into the blackness at an unfamiliar ceiling, and unwisely attempted to crane her neck to take in her surroundings. The sharp spasm of muscles in her shoulders and neck jolted her brain back into gear, and she vaguely recalled being given a substantial amount of blood-replenishing potion by Madam Pomfrey before she passed out. This was enough indication to give her confidence that she was lying in the Hospital Wing.
Hermione started to drum her fingertips against the sheets beside her body but soon stopped when even that was too painful. Looking down, she gasped when her eyes fell on the jagged white scars that stretched between her shoulders just above her chest. A tear threatened to escape her eye as she realised how awful Harry would be feeling, but soon sucked it back. 'No', she told herself. 'Harry should have listened to me about not trusting that bloody Prince.'
It hadn't been a wise choice on Harry's part to use an unknown, and quite possibly an unregistered, spell. But then, acting like a human shield to save Draco Malfoy of all people wasn't particularly a well thought out plan on Hermione's part either.
"Why doesn't it look like mud?!"
As soon as Draco crossed Hermione's thoughts, she heard his voice in her head. She remembered that Harry's spell had drawn an extortionate amount of blood from her; was it really possible that Malfoy had finally had a reality check on the whole blood supremacy situation? Hermione daren't think anymore about it as long as she wasn't completely certain her somewhat fuzzy mind had just imagined the words from a side effect to the immense pain the curse had left her in.
Hermione squeaked in surprise, and she forced herself to sit up at the sound of a voice. Her muscles screamed at her when she attempted this, and she flopped back against the pillow a couple of seconds later. The room was pitch black, but she hadn't seen any sign of life. That settled it then: she must have imagined the voice earlier if she was doing the same thing now.
"Ah!" her face contorted in agony when she felt something poke her in the arm.
"Shit," she heard that voice again. Looking up, she saw Draco standing next to her bed. His face was obscured in shadow, but his platinum hair was unmistakeable. Her mouth fell open; was she seeing things now, too?
"Where the hell did you come from?" she demanded breathlessly. She winced at the pain in her throat when she spoke, and rubbed her neck absently.
Draco arched an eyebrow. "It is customary to use a door to enter a room, Granger," he frowned.
"But, just now… I didn't see anyone," Hermione mumbled.
"Well you did look in the opposite direction to the entrance," Draco said.
"Oh," Hermione said sheepishly. "What are you doing here? What time is it?" She watched the shoulders of Draco's silhouette shrug. Her eyes were then drawn to a long and thin extension to Draco's arm and instinctively flinched away from him, realising that he was holding his wand. Was he seriously planning on inflicting further injuries on her after she took that curse for him?
"Shit," Draco repeated as he saw the fear in Hermione's eyes, putting his wand back in his robes pocket.
"Malfoy, did you use that to poke me awake?" she asked, her mind taking longer than usual to put two and two together.
Draco shrugged again.
"Oh, I get it," Hermione snorted, for some reason feeling annoyed that he hadn't yet thanked her for her earlier act of stupidity-cum-bravery. "Didn't want to risk skin-to-skin contact and get tainted by my Mudblood germs?"
Draco stiffened but Hermione didn't notice. He gulped, and there was a long pause before she heard him say, "No."
It was a simple response that ought to raise further questions, but Hermione was stunned into silence by that word alone. Just a few weeks ago Draco had been close to throwing her out of the bathroom on the basis of 'Purebloods before Mudbloods', so she couldn't help but wonder what had brought this on.
"To answer your earlier questions," Draco said in a forcibly calm voice. "I don't know why I'm here, to be honest, and I don't know what time it is. It's probably four in the morning, something like that."
"Four? How are you still so awake?" she asked, suddenly realising how weak her body felt.
Another shrug. "As I've told you before, I haven't been sleeping much."
"And you had your wand out, because…?"
"Protection," Draco answered. His tone was calm but something about the way he said it sent a chill down Hermione's spine. It just implied that he didn't feel safe, even here in the castle. If her mind was fully engaged she'd manage to link this piece of information with the various clues she'd picked up about Draco's task, but in the moment, Hermione was exhausted, and didn't read too much into it.
"Why the hell did you take that curse for me, Granger?" Draco suddenly blurted, his voice cracking. Hermione's eyes were adjusting to the dim light now and she could just about make out Draco's wide and haunted eyes staring down at her.
"Spit it out," Draco snapped impatiently.
"I don't know," Hermione said quietly. It was a pathetic answer, but it was the truth.
Draco grunted. "Fine then, how about you answer me this: why haven't you snitched on me to Potter about…?" he gestured vaguely towards his left forearm.
Hermione chewed her lip and stared down at the bed sheets.
"Granger," Draco crouched so she could see him in her peripherals. "As much as I've been praying for the day to come when you'd shut that annoying mouth of yours, now is not the time! What's been stopping you from telling Potter and getting me expelled?"
"Because I'm a fucking bad person," Draco continued matter-of-factly. "A Death Eater. Why have you been going to insane lengths to protect me?"
"Don't flatter yourself," Hermione said snippily, knowing that I some twisted way, rebutting his claim would offer him comfort under the guise of familiar and snarky exchanges. An awkward silence then stretched between them as Draco's words caught up to her. Did he really just use the words 'bad' and 'Death Eater' in the same sentence? Maybe she hadn't imagined those things she heard him say earlier, after all.
She turned her head on the pillow and looked at him with wide eyes. It'd been one thing for her to see that he was obviously not ready for such a responsibility, but now it sounded like he actually wanted to defect. If that was the case, Draco was more vulnerable than ever, now. Her teeth clamped onto her bottom lip so hard that she drew blood. She hated feeling this amount of sympathy for him. It didn't seem natural.
"No," Draco stood. "Forget it. I don't want any more pity from you, Granger. I neither need nor want it; all it does is fuck with my mind, and believe me that is the last thing I need."
"Okay, okay," Hermione held up her hands beside her head in surrender. It really disturbed her to see how unpredictable his emotions were; she'd always considered Draco as being the epitome of composure. She just wasn't aware that Draco's outburst this time had been completely justified. He'd seen a fleck of blood glistening in the faint moonlight on Hermione's lip, and even though it was dark, all Draco could see in his mind was a blinding flash of scarlet. Not a muddy brown. He sniffed back tears and turned away from her.
Hearing this, Hermione's resolve melted away. "Malfoy, come here."
Just like in their second bathroom encounter, Draco did not protest, even though he should. It'd been weeks since he'd allowed Hermione to comfort him that day, and being near her now was just torture. Human contact was never something he'd really missed when he didn't have it, but lately he almost craved it. Because that was the only thing that let Draco know he was still alive, still human.
Draco scoffed to himself as he gave in and gingerly sat on the bed; he didn't even know who he was anymore. The old him would never cry in front of a Mudblood, let alone sit beside one on a bed and let them stroke his hand gently as Hermione was doing now. Then again, the old him still thought Mudbloods existed.
"You don't have to do this - whatever it is - alone," Hermione said, focusing entirely on Draco's pain in the moment and not on her own. She may be going too far, but her gut told her that Draco would listen this time.
"I do," he said flatly. "I was… only I can…" he couldn't seem to form the words; he felt like he was betraying someone or the other if he spoke or remained silent. "Nobody can help me, or he'll… I'll…"
A single tear fell from his eye and landed on Hermione's hand, which still covered his own. She decided not to press him any further. Somehow she got the feeling that knowing everything was going to make the situation a whole lot worse for both of them.
"You may be an utter tool sometimes Malfoy, but you aren't bad," she said bluntly. "Not completely, anyway. In Light there is Dark, and in Dark there is light; you wouldn't be human if that wasn't the case. Voldemort on the other hand," Hermione shook her head slowly. "There's a different kind – an all-consuming - Darkness in his soul that no amount of magic can erase."
She felt Draco's hand start to tremble beneath hers. "Maybe…" he cleared his throat and kept his gaze straight ahead at the door. "Maybe I have that kind of Darkness in me, too."
Hermione swallowed hard. "You don't," she gave his hand a squeeze. "Voldemort lost his humanity, but you… you can still feel."
Draco looked down at her and held her gaze for a while. Hermione looked back with a neutral expression, tracing every sign of exhaustion or ill health she could see on his face, whilst his grey eyes followed every movement of hers before they found each other. Draco felt like he was looking at her through a new pair of eyes. He still didn't like her, but apparently the knowledge that she was not a genuine 'Mudblood' made something shift.
They both realised this was about as close to an understanding as they were ever going to get, and that lifted a small amount of Draco's unease from his shoulders. Everything Hermione had just said made sense, even though there was no way she could truly understand. Draco slowly lowered his head and captured her lips in a single, tender kiss. He was unable to find the words to express the relief and gratitude he felt for her washing away the self-doubt he'd been experiencing.
Hermione didn't even have time to react; the kiss was over before she even knew what was going on. Her lips tingled when he pulled away, and the next thing she knew, Draco was getting to his feet again and heading towards the door.
"You still have a choice," she croaked weakly after him.
"Not anymore," he replied. "This thing on my arm signifies an eternally binding contract. I've sold my soul to the Devil, and now I'm paying penance for it."
His words more than confirmed to Hermione that he no longer wanted to be a Death Eater. Or at least, he wanted to be rid of whatever 'honourable' task he'd been given.
"I can help you," she said. "Dumbledore can help you. All you have to do is accept that you need it and ask for it, Malfoy."
Draco's stomach knotted at the earnest expression on her face, and all of a sudden he had the urge to throw up again. Very soon, by his wand or not, Dumbledore would be dead. There was no stopping it. Of course, there was the option of explaining everything to the headmaster before that time came, but then what would happen to Snape?
He sighed. These were not the kind of things a sixteen-going-on-seventeen year old should be worrying about.
"Granger, just go to sleep," he drawled, seeing how Hermione's eyelids were drooping. "You look like hell."
She rolled her eyes. "That makes two of us, then," she replied tersely.
Draco watched as she drifted to sleep, harbouring a vague sense of envy at how peaceful she seemed. Once he was sure she wasn't going to wake up, he slowly advanced towards her bed again. His wand was drawn.
The last thing he wanted to do was this. Though he hadn't cared to admit it before, Hermione was actually the main thing that kept him going lately. She'd been there for him during times he hadn't even realised he needed someone, and just now, she showed him that the divide between labels of Dark and Light wasn't as clear as he'd first thought. It still felt like there was a huge rift separating them, but Draco felt like she'd been brought a tiny bit closer through all of this.
Hermione had put her pride and their rocky history on the backburner in order to get through to him, and Draco was scared about what else she may do to truly help him. Knowing Hermione and her infuriating integrity, she wouldn't stand back and let Draco join Voldemort's side once the inevitable war came around. She'd taken an insane and potentially life-threatening risk for him today by saving him from Potter's curse, so what was stopping her from doing it again?
She'd be in more danger knowing about his undetermined loyalty than not. Draco got the feeling that Hermione wouldn't be so lucky as to survive if she risked anything on his behalf again, and that's exactly why he had to do this: to protect her. He also needed to do this as a means to get rid of the guilty conscience he'd developed ever since he saw her blood.
With a heavy heart, and a final glance at the serene face of the girl he didn't hate as much as he used to, Draco gripped his wand tightly and uttered the incantation to the spell he should have cast on her weeks ago.
He then turned, left the Hospital Wing, and began to skulk through the dark, deserted corridors. He felt completely empty now that he was without the emotional safety net he found in Hermione that he didn't even think he needed; that he'd stubbornly pushed away for so long. The cold emptiness only increased when the ghost of her warm and compassionate touch on his lips faded altogether.
It was sad that it had to come to this, but it was necessary if it meant she wouldn't take any more dangerous gambles for him. Hermione had both realised and acted on the notion that he could still be saved, and now Draco had done the same thing for her.
It seemed that in Dark, there could be Light after all.
A/N: It's a sadder ending than I was planning on: originally I was going to end it after Hermione falls asleep and leave it quite open, but then I thought that's a bad idea because knowing me it would've just turned this into an MC with everything that may or may not happen if she retained her memories and I have a word count to stick to on this so yeah, I had to do something a little more conclusive xD
That being said, I do like how the end turned out. I think it's more realistic and it allows everything from this point on to be canon-compliant but with the twist that Draco knows the truth about 'Mudbloods'. I also thought it was important for Draco to realise that he does have a good and selfless part of him (somewhere).
Sorry - I'm rambling. I just kept changing and re-changing my mind about the end so I feel the need to justify my decision.
Thank you SO much for reading this; I've been so inspired writing it. Hearing your comments would be wonderful! :)