Her head was heavy and full of cotton, and when she opened her eyes, the light was so bright that it hurt. She closed them again, frowning. Why was light so bright? She didn't remember it being so bright.
"Harry," someone yelled far too loudly. "She's awake! Quickly, she's awake."
Gentle hands lifted her head, and someone touched a glass of water to her dry lips. She was parched, but her throat could not cope with more than a drop of water before she started coughing.
"Easy, Hermione," Harry said softly, moving the glass away. "It's okay. You just rest. We're here."
It wasn't long before she drifted off again.
Ginny pulled a chair closer to the bed and placed a napkin on Hermione's lap.
"I can feed myself, you know?" said the older woman, tired of being fussed over.
"Just enjoy it while you can," Ginny said. "Next week they'll have you back doing chores and on mission rotation. Ah, how I long for a life of leisure."
"I'd settle for a life with proper food. What do you call that?" Hermione tried to smell the concoction she was being fed, but quickly regretted the impulse.
"Some sort of French thing." Ginny led the spoon to Hermione's mouth. "Fleur said it's good to regain health."
Hermione made a face but swallowed it anyway. The flavour was… unusual. "I suppose that what doesn't kill me must make me stronger." After a few minutes in silence, she finally brought herself to ask what she had wanted to know for days. "Whatever happened to Malfoy?"
"They caught him when they found you." Another spoonful of that vile soup. "He's down in the cellar, awake as well. Moody and Dean have been trying to get some information out of him."
"What kind of information?" Hermione asked, starting to feel queasy.
Ginny shrugged. "He's high up on their hierarchy. I'm sure he knows all manner of useful things."
Everything was dark and still in the manor. There were guards posted outside, but nothing moved between the heavy walls of the old Malfoy estate. Hermione chose her way carefully, trying not to bump into anything or anyone. Knowing that what she was doing was a bad idea did not stop her doing it.
The cellar door had no keyhole and no latch. Magic kept it closed, and there were more wards on it than Hermione had ever seen anywhere else. They fulfilled the dual role of keeping people out while also keeping people in. There was a very select number of people who could walk past those wards, and Hermione was one of them. Being part of the Golden Trio — was it now a Golden Duo? — had its perks.
She didn't have to look very hard to find the wizard. He was chained to the far wall, his hair matted with blood, and his face a collection of cuts and bruises. The cellar was empty except for him. The Order of the Phoenix kept no prisoners — not for long. Bodies still hung from the gallows on the front lawn, swinging gently in the cold night air.
Draco struggled to sit up straighter when she approached, his chains clanging too loudly against the stone floor. He tried to open his eyes, but his left eye was almost completely swollen shut.
"Out of the frying pan, into the fire, aye Granger?" His voice was low and strained. "Not invisible anymore."
Without replying, Hermione vanished the manacles that kept his arms and legs chained. Then, without giving herself time to regret it, she knelt beside him and pressed the Hawthorn wand against his hand. That seemed to get his attention.
"This is a terrible, terrible idea, Granger," he warned, wrapping his fingers around it.
Didn't she know it? "We can't go out through the door," she said, helping him up. "I trust there's another way out?"
He smirked as only he could. "Obviously."
The smirk turned to a grimace as he shifted his body weight to his right side, but once he started moving, he did not stop. Malfoy made for the south corner of the room, where the ceiling dropped at an angle. He whispered an incantation and four blocks of stone slid to the side, revealing an opening. "Ladies first," he said, waiting for her to join him.
Hermione pushed away whatever scruples she still had and carefully made her way down the passage with Malfoy close behind her, his breathing strained and his steps unsteady.
She put one foot in front of the other, willing herself to keep moving even as her brain kept going over all the reasons why she should stop. He and people like him had started this war. He and people like him had tortured and maimed and killed their way across Britain, destroying everything in their path. He and people like him had deemed it preferable to set the world on fire than to just live in it with her and people like her.
And yet here she was, trying to get him away from the flames.
He was a monster, and she was a traitor, and maybe they both belonged on the gallows outside, two more rotting corpses for the ravens to peck on.
Hermione looked over her shoulder and stopped, waiting for Malfoy to catch up. The wizard moved with difficulty, an arm wrapped protectively around his torso, and one leg dragging slightly against the floor. They were being too slow. They were being far too slow.
"We need to hurry," she said.
Malfoy leaned heavily against a wall, trying to regain his breath. "Had I but known there was a grand escape in tonight's programme," he said, "I'd have been more rested."
Trying hard to suppress her frustration, Hermione walked up to him and made to touch his robes, but with a swiftness she had not thought him capable of, Malfoy put his wand between them.
"If I meant to hurt you," she said, "I'd have done it when you were chained to a wall."
His expression was unreadable, and for a moment Hermione thought he wouldn't lower his wand. He finally did, however, closing his eyes with a sigh and leaning his head back against the wall.
She did not know exactly what Dean and Moody had done to him, nor did she want to know. War made barbarians of them all, and she had enough things keeping her up at night. But she couldn't fix what she couldn't see. Draco stifled a groan when she touched his side, running her fingers along his rib cage. She could do nothing about the leg, but she could handle a few cracked ribs and hope there was nothing else wrong internally.
Malfoy's shoulders relaxed while she worked her magic, and his breathing became less strained. These were spells she knew like the back of her hand. Spells that put back together what other spells had torn apart. They had fallen short too often, but on this occasion they were up to the task.
"Come on," she said when she was done, putting his arm around her shoulders for support. "We either hurry out or we're not getting out."
The closeness felt disturbingly familiar, and Hermione struggled to focus on the path ahead, trying hard to ignore the knot in her throat.
They walked for a very long time, but finally surfaced in the middle of a field. The sky was clear and nothing stirred in the snow-covered landscape.
"These are no longer Malfoy lands," Draco said, looking around. "We're past their wards."
Hermione nodded, crossing her arms for warmth. It was done. "You've got your freedom," she said. "Have a nice life." She turned to go, but stopped again at the sound of his voice.
"Why do it?" he asked. "Why get me out?"
Against her better judgement, she turned to face him. Under the soft glow of the moon, surrounded by the snow-covered field, the little girl inside her recognised him as the friend she had lost, and it was all she could do to keep her voice steady.
"Does it matter?" She had no answers for him. She had no answers for herself. "Just go before someone notices you're missing."
Malfoy didn't move. "Come with me," he said as if it was the most natural suggestion in the world.
Her laughter sounded bitter to her own ears. "And go where? Where do a Death Eater and a Mudblood go to hide?"
"It's a big world, Granger."
"It's not that big." Even if she wished it was. "And I can't go." Even if she wished she could.
"They'll never understand it," he said. "They'll never forgive it either."
It was just as it should be. She would never understand or forgive it herself.
"Just go," she repeated, dangerously close to tears. "Please."
He moved closer to her and tucked a stray curl behind her ear. "Take care of yourself, Hermione."
And just like that, the last of her defences crumbled and she broke down crying. She could have hit herself for it. He was no friend of hers, not really. She had no reason to cry. But in some strange, twisted way, she felt his loss. She had felt it ever since that day in the Room of Requirement. Because somewhere deep inside of her lived the little girl he had once played with, and comforted, and kept safe. And that little girl missed him. She missed him more than she could say.
Draco pulled her to him, wrapping his arms tightly around her. He felt warm and familiar, and she held on to him as if to keep from drowning. She had lost so many friends to the war, so many people she loved. She couldn't bear to lose anyone else.
Draco let her cry, giving her the time she needed to grieve for him.
"Come with me," he repeated softly.
But it was not that simple. Hermione kissed him on the cheek before taking a step back.
"Goodbye, Draco," she said with a strained smile.
And with that, he Disapparated.