A/N: Apologies for the very late upload. This story isn't abandoned though, hope you've stuck with us. Chapter written by avdubs, also uploaded on her ao3 profile. Song recommendation: Horizon by Garth Stevenson
She heard the back door creak open, and a second later she spotted a blond head of hair in her peripheral. Mentally preparing herself for the inevitable conversation, Hermione sat up straighter on the bench and cleared her throat as Draco sat down to her left. She glanced to the right, and spotted the locket laying where she'd left it as it had been distracting her from doing research.
"I'm trying," she said. "It doesn't seem like it, I know-"
"You're right about that," he replied, an edge to his voice. "The three of you never were good at subtlety were you?"
Hermione turned her head to gape at him, taken aback by his reply. "Oh please, you're one to talk," she snapped, glaring at him. She paused, forcing herself to take a breath, then continued, "Fine, maybe we could have been less obvious. But trusting is easier said than done, Draco. Harry and Ron didn't trust you right away - the bloody Order interrogated you in case you've forgotten - and you still had to prove yourself despite what my word was."
He opened his mouth but nothing came out at first; with brows furrowed, and nostrils flared slightly. "Just work on the subtlety, alright? This is awkward and difficult enough as it is without the blatant acts of dislike."
She nodded, not meeting his gaze. In hindsight, she probably should have smiled at Pansy, or told her where the tea was, but in that moment all she had thought of was getting the hell out of there; they didn't exactly have the best history together. The last thing she wanted was to endure Pansy's insults and snide remarks, especially that early in the morning.
"I'm going to talk to Pansy about this as soon as I go back in," he said.
"Good, good," she said, running her hands down her thighs. "I'll, uh, apologise to her about earlier. I just need a bit more time alone, alright?"
Draco nodded, squeezing her shoulder and kissing her cheek. "I'll see you in a few minutes."
Hermione watched him go with a heavy weight in her chest. She felt guilty, foolish and childish for how she'd acted earlier. She knew she should apologise to Pansy, and that she deserved a second chance, but like Draco had said, it was not going to be easy in any way.
When Hermione returned inside, the first place she checked was the kitchen, and sure enough, Pansy was still there. Harry and Ron had gone, undoubtedly to discuss the locations of the other Horcruxes, again. The Slytherin was finishing her toast and coffee, looking down at her plate, unaware that Hermione was even there.
"Pansy?" Hermione called out, the name feeling wrong on her tongue. She'd never addressed her by first name before.
Pansy looked up only after she'd finished chewing, wiping the tips of her fingers on her napkin. Her face remained expressionless when she replied shortly, "Granger."
Hermione gave herself a little shake and sat down across from Pansy. "There are many differences between you and I, Pansy, however, I think we both can agree that this-" she gestured between them and around the room, "-is going to be difficult to get used to. Therefore," she spoke matter-of-factly, "it would be unwise for either one of us to act in a way that will increase the difficulty of the situation. I shouldn't have walked out earlier, and I'm...sorry if it made you feel uncomfortable, but I won't lie and tell you that I'm looking forward to this arrangement."
She saw Pansy's chest rise as she inhaled, one eyebrow arching up as she spoke. When Hermione finished, Pansy smirked. "You're shit at apologies, has anyone ever told you that?"
Hermione chuckled, finding that the comment didn't bother her. "It is definitely not a strength of mine."
"I'm not looking forward to this arrangement either," Pansy continued, sitting back in her chair, crossing her arms across her chest. "Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the protection, but if I had it my way, I'd be somewhere in France," she paused, gazing off into space. "Or Italy."
Hermione snorted. "I think we'd all like to be somewhere other than here."
Pansy hummed, bringing her cup up to her lips for another sip of coffee, her gaze fixed on the window looking out into the forest. Silence fell between them, and while Hermione felt uncomfortable, her chest felt lighter. By no means was she on good terms with Pansy, but it felt like the start of something better. Hermione averted her gaze before clearing her throat and dismissing herself from the kitchen.
As she walked out the room, she inhaled deeply and forced herself to stand up straight. She was more than capable of being the bigger person. It wasn't as if she had to befriend the prickly Slytherin, she merely had to be civil. I can do that, she told herself, for Draco's sake.
When she collided with something solid and taller than her, Hermione stumbled backwards. Two arms reached out to hold her steady, and a familiar laugh rang in her ears. Hermione blinked, shook her head, and found herself looking up at Draco. He was shaking his head, smirking.
"Lost in that big brain of yours again?" he teased, wrapping an arm around her shoulders and steering them towards their bedroom.
She smiled up at him, snaking her arm around his back. "How did you know?"
Draco kissed her temple. "I know you too well, Granger. Besides, it was a bit of a giveaway when you ran into me."
Hermione chuckled. "I suppose it was, wasn't it?"
"Everything all sorted now?" he asked, now looking anxious.
She nodded, her smile fading. "I think so," she told him as they entered their bedroom. "Neither one of us are really happy about it, though. But we've come to...an understanding."
Draco pulled her in for a hug, sighing deeply. "Thank you," he murmured, pressing his lips against the top of her head. "That means a lot to me."
Hermione smiled into his chest, her arms wrapped around him, basking in this moment of peace.
After Hermione and Draco had resolved things, she had thought that all would go back to normal. Well, as normal as it could get these days. Draco had brought a plate of food up for Pansy that same evening and spent some time with her. Hermione guessed she wasn't yet comfortable enough to join the dinner table, and Hermione couldn't blame her. While Hermione was ready to move forward and adjust to their newest member of the household, Ron and Harry were not there yet. They'd both hid in their shared bedroom all day, and when it came time for dinner, they'd both gobbled their food before disappearing once more.
Draco had given her a quick peck on the cheek before disappearing with two plates, one in each hand, and she hadn't seen him until it was nearing midnight and she was already in their bed, a book in her lap. Admittedly, she had been a tad annoyed that he'd been holed up in Pansy's room for so long, but she still asked how the other girl was doing when he had returned.
"All right, I suppose, considering the circumstances," Draco had replied, sounding exhausted and flopping onto the bed next to her. "I've forgotten how much she can talk."
Hermione hummed in response, but couldn't muster much sympathy for him at the time. She returned to her book while Draco changed into his pajamas and brushed his teeth. When he returned to their bed, he cuddled up next to her, trailing light kisses down her neck. Hermione pulled away as she shut her book.
"Sorry," she said, wincing at the dejected look on his face. "I'm just tired, I'm not really in the mood for…"
"It's fine," he said quickly, scooting away from her and pulling the covers over them both. "We both need rest, yeah?"
"Yeah," she said quietly. She felt guilty for brushing him off, but she couldn't help but feel annoyed. She had the locket hidden under her shirt, and a fresh wave of hurt washed over her when she realized Draco hadn't noticed.
"Goodnight, love," he mumbled, turning on his side, back to her.
"G'night," she murmured, setting down her book on her bedside table and turning so she faced the barren wall, away from Draco.
Despite the heavy weight of the locket pressed against her chest, her heart felt empty. Let this be the only night we fall asleep like this, she thought before forcing her eyes shut and eventually drifting off into a restless sleep.
It was unsurprising to her that wearing the locket to bed meant an awful night of sleep; between the tossing and turning, the unsettling dreams featuring large black shadows following her; Draco and Pansy laughing at her; Harry screaming at her for failing him; and a strange booming laugh that echoed continuously, Hermione felt as though she hadn't slept a wink. When she rolled over and found the spot beside her empty, it only added to her irritability.
Down in the kitchen she found Remus, Harry, and Ron sitting around the table, eating in silence. They looked up as she entered, and she gave them a silent nod.
"Everything alright, Hermione?" she heard Remus ask from behind her as she crossed over to the cabinets to pull out a mug and a bowl.
"That's kind of a ridiculous question, Remus, don't you think?" she snapped, filling the teapot with hot water and setting it on the stove.
"Hermione..." Harry hissed, the clang of his fork ringing throughout the small kitchen.
She sighed, hanging her head and gripping the edge of the counter. Silence followed as she took three deep breaths, anxious to get the Horcrux off of her. "Sorry, Remus," she apologised, turning around to face him. The greying wizard looked more concerned than anything, only making her feel worse. "I got an awful night of sleep," she explained, rubbing the heels of her hands against her eyes. It only made the pain in her head worse.
Remus looked between the three of them, catching Harry and Ron's knowing looks, and the miserable look on hers. He cleared his throat, gathered his half-empty plate and mug, and got up from his seat. Hermione shuffled her feet, avoiding looking at him directly, and watched beneath hooded eyes as he slowly made his way towards the hallway.
"Why don't I give you three some time alone?" he suggested.
"Thanks, Remus," Harry called after him.
None of them made a sound until they were sure they could no longer hear Remus's footsteps. When all was silent once more, Hermione heard the sound of wood scraping against wood, and a moment later, Harry stood in front of her.
"I believe it's my turn," he said quietly, pulling her in a for brief hug. Before he released her, she felt his hands go to the back of her neck, grasping the chain of the locket. As she backed away, he lifted the locket over her head.
As soon as the locket left her chest, she felt like she could breathe properly again.
"Thank you," she mumbled, feeling embarrassed by her snide remark to Remus.
Hermione turned back to her mug, fixing her tea quickly and moving around Harry to fetch the cereal. Harry said nothing more before retreating back to the table to finish his breakfast. She was thankful that he hadn't pressed her, as she'd realised how hungry she was now that she no longer bore the locket.
The three of them ate in silence, while Ron and Harry cast each other worried glances over their plates. Hermione did her best to ignore the looks exchanged between them, but each one grated her. When she was nearly done her cereal and tea, they heard another set of footsteps entering the kitchen.
"Morning," Draco called from behind her.
Hermione felt her body tense, but she turned around anyway, giving him a stern look. Ron and Harry grumbled in response to his greeting. She knew they could feel the tension in the air, but she couldn't care less. She knew where Draco had disappeared to so early, and it didn't sit well with her.
"Don't forget you've promised to help me with Tales of Beedle the Bard today," she reminded him instead of returning his salutation.
There was a pause, and a clang of dishes. Draco wasn't facing her, but she saw the hanging of his head. Hermione pursed her lips, eyebrows furrowed and her irritability rising once more.
"Shit," he said, turning to shoot her an apologetic look. "I forgot. I came down to fix Pansy and I breakfast and then we were going to go for a short walk."
Hermione raised an eyebrow, her arms now folded tightly across her chest. The remainder of her cereal was growing soggy, left forgotten in her bowl. Harry and Ron rose quickly from their chairs, depositing empty plates in the sink and excusing themselves from the kitchen.
"You forgot?" she asked, her tone icy. Anger was boiling inside her now, despite the locket leaving her chest, and she had to gather the will to stay composed.
Draco truly did look guilty, and sorry, but there was a hint of exasperation when he spoke. "We're not really making much headway, are we? I have no bloody idea why Dumbledore left you that book, and even if I were to help Potter brainstorm again, it's not like we're going to magically come up with the locations of the other Horcruxes, or the sword. Does it really matter whether I'm there to help or not?"
Hermione was fuming now, her chest was heaving and her cheeks were growing hotter by the second. She opened her mouth to retort, to tell him it wasn't about what he could offer, it was about keeping his promise, but no words came out. He'd become a part of this, and now he was bailing on them?
"I'm sorry, Hermione," he said softly, crossing the room, and gripping her shoulders. "Really, I am, but...Pansy needs me right now. I swear I'll help you tomorrow, alright? All day, if you'd like."
"Fine," she said. She didn't have the energy at the moment for an argument, she was far too tired. "But please don't bail on me again tomorrow, Draco."
Draco kissed the top of her head. "I won't, don't you worry."
Before she could respond, Draco pulled away and took the two plates he'd prepared for Pansy and himself. Hermione watched him disappear from the kitchen without so much as a backwards glance at her. She sighed, staring down at her soggy cereal, feeling defeated and alone. I won't worry when you actually show up, she thought miserably.
Five days later, Hermione found herself once again locked away in the small study, pouring over the Tales of Beedle the Bard. She and Draco had hardly spoken much over the past forty-eight hours, chatting mostly at meals or stopping to peck one another on the cheek if they crossed paths, and of course, their brief interactions before going to sleep at night. To Hermione, it seemed as though Draco was spending majority of his time with Pansy. The newest addition to the cabin had still refused to come out of her room, her only exception being grabbing a quick bite to eat at breakfast and lunch. Normally, Hermione would talk to Harry or Ron when she was frustrated, but as this was partially classified as a relationship issue in her mind, she felt that they weren't necessarily the best candidates. Andromeda was currently at her own home, Ginny was still at Hogwarts, Molly only ever came for meetings, and even Remus seemed unavailable for a chat.
If her chest was bare from the heavy weight of the locket, it all seemed manageable; her distancing boyfriend, the war, finding the sword, the damned children's book...but once the locket slipped around her neck, all bets were off. She had made one rule for herself, however, after she had broken down in tears the previous day. She'd been going over the same book that sat in front of her now, when she realized her eyes had gone glossy and her thoughts had wandered to Draco and Pansy once more, and tears had begun to flow and all the emotions she'd been feeling for the previous days had come pouring out. It was the first time she had cracked while wearing the blasted thing, and she had sworn it would be her last. She could not let her distracting, upsetting thoughts distract her from their task. None of them had the faintest idea where to look next for another Horcrux, it was still a complete mystery as to where the sword of Gryffindor was, and she could tell Harry was growing increasingly anxious.
Hermione had handed off the locket to Ron before she retreated to the study, eager to take another crack at the book. Her eagerness faded quickly, however, and the frustration that had been laying dormant began to boil. You would be doing the same if it were Harry or Ron, she reminded herself. But would I? She questioned. Would I not at least try to split my time equally?
Her thoughts were quickly interrupted when a knock came at the door. Hermione nearly fell out of the chair, and after quickly scrambling to her feet, she found her wand and flicked it at the knob. There was a click, and the doorknob turned. Narcissa stood in the doorway, a brief look of surprise on her elegant features.
"Oh, Hermione," she said, stepping in and shutting the door behind her. "I thought it might be you who was in here."
"No one besides me," she replied, turning back to the book lying open on the table.
She heard the swishing of Narcissa's robes as the older witch made her way across the study, before pulling out a chair and sitting down beside her. Hermione felt Narcissa's gaze on her, unwavering and already burning a hole in the side of her head. It didn't take long for Hermione to pull away from her book, afraid of the expression she might see on Narcissa's face. To her surprise, there was a hint of a smirk, and with a tug at her heart she was reminded of Draco.
"It's no surprise you're bothered by my son's absence," she said placidly.
Narcissa shot her a knowing look, silencing Hermione. She felt her cheeks burn, and her gaze fell back to the table. "Is it that obvious?"
"I can tell you love my son deeply, Hermione," Narcissa said, a note of tenderness in her voice. The older witch placed a pale hand over Hermione's, squeezing it gently. "But I am afraid you do not yet completely understand him, or rather, you do understand the values of a Slytherin."
Hermione opened her mouth to retort, now offended and a bit angry, but Narcissa held up a finger.
"Allow me to continue," she said, lowering her hand. "Slytherins value loyalty just as Gryffindors value it, perhaps not in the same ways, but regardless, it is a shared value between the two houses. Draco, from my understanding, was detached from his friends this past school year. The friends he has had since he was two years old suddenly had no idea what was going on in his life, and he in theirs. After learning what Pansy has been through, it has left Draco feeling guilty and ashamed. Now...he is trying to make up for that. For lost time, for his behavior, even if he did have good reason. His friends are important to him, Hermione, as yours are to you."
When Narcissa finished, Hermione remained silent. She hadn't thought about all of that. Draco had told her plenty of times during the school year that his friends weren't really his friends, but was that the truth? Was he perhaps just telling himself that to make it easier to push them away, to keep his secret safe? She couldn't blame him for feeling guilty, for wanting to make things right between a friendship. She would want to do the same.
"Draco loves you just as much as you love him," Narcissa said when the seconds continued to tick by and still she had not spoken. "But you need to let him take care of this."
Finally, Hermione nodded, still processing everything Narcissa had just said. She forced herself to take a deep breath, and pushed her hair away from her face. The frustration she had been feeling when she first secluded herself in the study faded, replacing itself with shame. All the events of this past week seemed to play over in her head, and it was only now that she realized how foolish she had been acting. She couldn't fully blame it on the locket, as she wasn't wearing it all the time, but it made her feel slightly better that at least her paranoia and anger wasn't all her.
"You're right," she said quietly, unable to look Narcissa in the eye. "He's never given me a reason not to trust him, well," she chuckled to herself, remembering the secret he'd kept from her for months, "at least when it came to us. Thank you."
Narcissa was smiling faintly when Hermione finally met her gaze. "Of course, dear. Now, I don't know about you, but I am starved. Shall we see about some dinner?"
Hermione wanted to tell her no, and get back to studying The Tales of Beedle the Bard, but at the mention of food her stomach grumbled loudly. She smiled sheepishly at Narcissa, who chuckled quietly.
"Dinner sounds wonderful, actually," Hermione said as both women stood up and headed for the door.
"He wouldn't have hidden a Horcrux at the orphanage," Harry repeated. "He hated it there."
"I know, Harry," she said, hiding her exasperation. "But we don't have any other leads and-"
"We're stagnant," Draco cut in bluntly. "We have the locket, yes, but we have no means of destroying it. Besides, wouldn't it be better to definitively say the Orphanage was a dead end? We'd just be sitting back in the cabin, debating our next move."
"Shouldn't we be looking for the sword, then?" Ron chimed in.
Draco rolled his eyes. "If we had any idea as to where we could look, don't you think we'd already be out there?"
"Draco," Hermione said sharply, casting him a stern look and laying a hand on his arm. She then turned her attention to Ron. "He's right, though, Ron. We have no idea where the sword is, and without any inkling of an idea, it's too much ground to cover."
"It was just an idea," he grumbled, fidgeting with his wand.
Silence fell over the four of them, the sound of the fire crackling in front of them. Hermione hugged her legs to her chest, fixing her gaze on the dancing flames. It felt as though they couldn't agree on anything these days.
"Maybe you're right, Malfoy," Harry said after several minutes of silence.
Hermione's head snapped up, looking from Harry to Draco, who was looking at Harry as though he couldn't believe his ears. She rolled her eyes as she saw a smirk creep up Draco's lips.
"Did you just admit I'm right about something, Potter?" Draco asked, the smugness clear in his voice.
"Watch it," Harry said with a firm look. Draco looked momentarily taken aback by Harry's tone but didn't utter another word. "It feels...wrong to be sitting around doing nothing...I mean, not nothing," he glanced sheepishly at Hermione, "but we're not...out there, searching. And even if I'm certain he wouldn't hide one at the orphanage, at least seeing it with our own eyes will be confirmation for all of us. We can move on after that."
The four of them exchanged glances, murmuring in agreement.
"Let's get planning then," Hermione said, grabbing a fresh roll of parchment and a quill from the table near by.
It took them only hours to plan for the tiny excursion, mainly because Harry was certain that Voldemort would have no protection around the place he hated most. Hermione was wary of this decision, but had decided she'd had enough of arguing for a while. They had their wands, their coins, and the cloak. They should be perfectly safe. There was still a tiny voice in the back of her mind asking all of the "what if's", but she pushed them away and forced herself to focus on the task at hand.
"We'll leave a note," Draco said, scribbling out a vague message to the rest of the Order and leaving it on the kitchen table while the rest of them waited in the hall.
With Hermione's beaded bag packed, their wands tucked away, coins in their pockets, and the cloak fitted around the four of them the best they could manage, they slipped out the front door as quietly as they could and walked until they reached a point just beyond the protective enchantments around the cabin. The four joined hands, Hermione giving Draco's a tight squeeze.
"Ready?" she whispered, already picturing the Orphanage that they would arrive at in a few moments.
The three boys nodded. Hermione inhaled, squeezed her eyes shut, focused solely on the depressing building, and spun.
The night air was cool, the wind whipping gently around them, ruffling the cloak that kept them hidden. Before them stood a modern office building several stories high, with floor to ceiling windows covering every side. In front of her, Hermione saw Harry shake his head and sigh. Ron let a small stream of curses under his breath.
"They got rid of it," Draco murmured.
"It doesn't matter," Harry replied, a trace of bitterness and disappointment in his voice. "He wouldn't have hidden one here anyway."
"Should we go back to the cabin then?" Ron whispered.
"No," Hermione said before any of the others could respond. "I mean, it...it hasn't been very long at all since we left, and we left a note. Let's just...let's camp out for a night. It's been awhile since we've gotten out of the cabin, and maybe a change of atmosphere will help us clear our heads."
In truth, she didn't want to return to the cabin just to have Draco tell her he would check to see if Pansy was awake. She'd barely spent any time together with him since Pansy had arrived, and she was eager for just one night with him, even if Ron and Harry were in their company. Her talk with Narcissa had opened her eyes, and helped her loosen up a bit, but it didn't stop her from missing Draco.
"I could use a break from that cabin," Harry agreed, running a hand through his hair. "Malfoy? Ron? What do you say?"
Ron and Draco grumbled incoherently, clearly not pleased with her suggestion. Hermione knew Ron just wanted to be back in the warmth, with a hearty stock of food and a comfortable bed, but Draco's displeasure stung.
"Right then," Hermione said, lifting her chin in false confidence and trying to hide the tremble in her voice, "everybody still holding hands?"
"Yes," the three chorused back to her.
"Three…" she started, focusing her mind on the woods she knew were only a few miles outside of the small town, "two...one."
She felt the air leave her lungs as they turned into the night once more. After a few seconds of feeling like she was being squeezed through a tight tube, her feet landed on solid ground, and an owl hooted from nearby, disturbed from their arrival. She felt the cloak being pulled off of her, and the chilly night air hit her cheeks. She could hardly make out the silhouettes of the three boys beside her. Above her, the tree tops blocked out the night sky, dimming the moonlight that shone above.
"Harry, Ron, grab the tent. Draco, help me set up the wards," she said, fumbling for her wand.
Draco said nothing as he pulled out his wand and walked in the opposite direction. She turned her head, and was just barely able to see his white blonde hair only twenty feet away, arm raised to the sky. Hermione turned back, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath.
"Protego totalum," she murmured, moving her wand appropriately, ignoring the heaviness in her chest, and blinking back the tears forming in her eyes.
He heard the ruffling of the tent flaps and the crunching of leaves under sneakers. When he turned his head, he saw Hermione standing next to him, staring at him apprehensively.
"Could I sit down?" she asked, pulling her jumper tighter around her, shivering.
Draco nodded before turning his gaze back to the darkness. All was silent in the forest, save the ruffling of leaves in the wind. Hermione settled in next to him, their sides touching. He could feel her looking at him, but he wanted to remain alert. If she wanted to talk, he would listen, but out here in the forest with minimal protection, he didn't want to risk looking away. This was the only reason he would have rather returned to the cabin after their discovery that the Orphanage had been demolished; he felt vulnerable... naked. The feeling didn't sit well with him.
"I've been wanting to talk to you about something," he heard Hermione say quietly. From the corner of his eye, he could see she had pulled her legs up to her chest. "About the whole Pansy thing...and how I've handled it."
"Hermione, is this really the best-" he started to say, but she placed a hand on his arm.
"Just listen, please," she begged. "That's all you have to do. I had a talk with your mother yesterday, or rather, she had a talk with me. You see, before yesterday, I was starting to think you cared more about Pansy than you do about me. I thought that this mission, and our relationship were...were becoming less important to you-"
"That's ridiculous," he said, shaking his head, and perhaps sounding harsher than he intended.
"I know that now," Hermione said, withdrawing her hand from his arm. "Whenever I wore the locket...it was all I could think. It...it skewed everything. When I wasn't wearing it, I could think rationally, but you were still spending all this time with Pansy and we were hardly speaking and I just… I was so confused, and worried, and jealous-"
It was then that he tore his gaze away from the forest, locking eyes with Hermione and firmly grasping her by the shoulders. He inhaled deeply and said, "Hermione, you never have to worry about that. Not just with Pansy, but with anyone. You are it for me. I love you and nothing will change that, alright?"
He could see the trembling smile on her lips. "I know," she said softly. "I know, and I'm so sorry that I ever doubted you. I know now that you were trying to make amends with Pansy to make up for lost time. I respect that, truly I do, because I know I would do the same for Harry and Ron."
Draco slipped an arm around her waist and drew her closer to him, planting a kiss on her temple.
"I love you too, you know, more than words could ever explain," she murmured, leaning her head against his shoulder.
Draco smiled and sighed. "I know, love. I may never understand why, but I know."
They had sat in silence for what felt like hours, but when she glanced down at her watch she saw only forty minutes had passed. She didn't mind the silence this time; the wall that had formed between them had been torn down, and she'd been able to enjoy the warmth of his body next to hers, focusing on the sound of his breathing. She had missed this, just being in his company.
It was only when the question flitted into her mind that she broke the silence.
"Is Pansy going to be alright, Draco?" she asked, running her hand up and down his forearm.
"Physically, yes," he said after a moment's pause. "Emotionally, I'm not so sure."
"Tell me what happened," she said, closing her hand around his arm. "Not because I'm nosy," she added when she felt him stiffen, "because I genuinely care. She's hardly come out of her room and it's been over a week since she's arrived. She begged your mother to help her in Hogsmeade, and according to her, Pansy was hysterical."
Draco sighed. "I don't know...she told me not to tell anyone…" He paused, wringing his hands and biting his lip as he contemplated. He turned to her, but only briefly before returning his gaze to the forest, "Listen, if I tell you, you have to promise me you won't go telling anyone else, alright? She'd kill me if the whole house ended up knowing."
"Draco, please," she said indignantly. "Isn't it obvious that I'm good at keeping secrets? This whole mission we're on? Our relationship? I really do want to try and form a friendship with her, even if it's going to be difficult. But I feel like not understanding her position completely makes initiating the entire process harder for me. The last thing I want to do is say something insensitive or sound stupid or-" she had started to ramble, and was only silenced when Draco chuckled and squeezed her gently.
"Relax," he said, his voice soft. "You've made your point. Alright," he sighed, running his free hand through his hair and looking up at the tree tops, a few stars poking through, twinkling faintly. "It started not long after the start of this school year," he said. "Pansy realised what a Hogwarts under You-Know-Who's rule was really like. The Carrow twins were torturing and punishing students, Snape was doing nothing to help the students, and she didn't know where to turn...or what to do. She'd written to her parents, hinting at how much Hogwarts had changed, that she'd wanted to come home. They weren't writing back, not once did she get a reply. So...she started asking around, hoping that maybe someone knew what happened to her parents, hoping to find out why they weren't answering-"
"Did anyone know? I mean, there has to be a reasonable explanation," Hermione interrupted, her brows furrowed in concern.
Draco shook his head. "No, no one knew anything. Anyway, the Carrows had heard about what Pansy was doing, from the letter writing to asking other students about her parents' whereabouts, and...they overheard her comforting a first year who'd been tortured at the hands of the Carrows. They heard her telling the little girl she wanted to go home, too," he paused again, squeezing his eyes shut and grimacing. "They tortured her, Hermione," he said through clenched teeth, his body shaking with anger.
Hermione gasped. She couldn't believe this was what Hogwarts had turned into; the one place in the world that was supposed to be safe… Even that had been ruined. Her mind jumped to Ginny and Neville, and sweet Luna, and her stomach grew sick. Were they safe? Had they been tortured too? Would they make it out of there alive? No, she scolded, Don't even think about that.
"Did she-" she cleared her throat, "Did she ever find out what happened to her parents?"
Draco sighed again, hanging his head low.
"Her parents abandoned her, Hermione," he whispered. "They just left. No goodbye, nothing."
Draco was stiff beside her, sniffling and staring out into the dark forest. The wind ruffled the dead leaves on the forest floor, branches creaking in the night. Hermione shivered, hugging her jacket closer to her body.
"Wow," she breathed. "Draco, that's...that's awful."
She couldn't even form words. Everything that Draco had just told her still had her mind reeling. The image of Pansy comforting a child was hard to imagine, yet Draco had heard it from her first hand. Pansy had wanted to go home, she had wanted her parents... She'd wanted to be safe. There was a lump in her throat now. She swallowed hard, and cleared her throat.
"I, uh… I don't know what to say," she spoke again, her voice thick. "Is she going to look for them?"
"No," he said, sounding surprised that she'd even asked. His brows were furrowed, his mouth set in a slight frown. "I mean, that was where she had wanted to go when she managed to escape Hogwarts, but when she got caught in Hogsmeade the plans changed… And now that she's staying with us. She's doubtful they'll even be at their home."
They sat in silence for several minutes before she spoke again.
"Maybe...maybe she should look some day," she said. "Maybe we should. All of us."
Draco cocked his head, his lips spreading into a wide smile before he leaned down to kiss her. His lips were warm, the kiss slow and tender. Hermione snaked a hand around the back of his neck and pressed her body against his the best she could. She felt every muscle in her body relax as warmth spread throughout every inch of her. He deepened the kiss for just a moment, holding her tight as she sighed into his mouth.
When he pulled away, he rested his forehead against hers, staring deeply into her eyes.
"I love you so much, Hermione," he whispered, his breath tickling her nose.
She smiled, biting her lip. A heat rushed to her cheeks as she murmured, "I love you too, Draco."
Draco turned the page of the book in his lap, while running his other hand up and down Hermione's calf absent-mindedly. He could hear the scratching of her quill against parchment and the occasional muttering when she talked to herself. The fire crackled in the grate, radiating its warmth onto the two of them. He was grateful that things between him and Hermione had since returned to normal. He gave her calf a squeeze, causing her to look up from the parchment and smile at him.
She returned to her scroll of parchment and he turned his gaze back to the book in his lap, but it wasn't long before they heard the sound of approaching footsteps and the low voices of Remus and Narcissa.
Hermione must have heard them as well, as she removed her legs from his lap and tucked them under her bum. Draco set aside his book, turning around to see the two of them looking rather tense as they entered the living room.
"What's wrong?" Hermione asked, frowning at the look on their faces.
Remus and Narcissa did not answer right away. They each took a seat on the loveseat, Narcissa locking eyes with Draco and Remus looking down at the floor. His leg was bouncing incessantly as he chewed on his lip, clearly trying to formulate his words. Draco started to grow anxious; his palms began to sweat and his heart rate picked up. He hated when the Order Members did this: kept them waiting in suspense.
"Draco," Narcissa said softly. "There have been...whispers of your father being sighted."
"So he's alive?" he said, leaning forward as excitement flooded through him. Hermione laid a hand on his thigh. He could feel her eyes on him, but he didn't look at her. He was waiting for an answer to his question.
"We can't say for sure," Remus said, finally lifting his head. "We have no leads as to whereabouts or any evidence that these rumors are true. A few members of the Order are still investigating but, well... It's tricky at this point."
Draco looked back and forth between Remus and his mother. Her mouth was set in a thin line, but her eyebrows were scrunched together and he could see her tensing her jaw.
"Well you have to keep investigating!" he said finally, excitement and anxiety flooding through his body. He scooted forward to the edge of the sofa, eyes wide and heart pounding. "He could still be alive. If Death Eaters find him first…"
"Draco," Narcissa said quietly. "The Order is aware of the urgency-"
"But we're trying not to lose any of our own in the process," Remus finished calmly. "We're already struggling in this War, we needn't lose any more lives."
Draco said nothing. Instead he clenched his fists and forced himself to bite his tongue. It was no use shouting, and his mother would only scold him. He sat there, fuming, staring down at the rug beneath his feet. Hermione placed a hand on his shoulder, giving him a firm squeeze.
"Narcissa, Draco," Remus said, looking at them earnestly. "We will do everything we can to try and track down Lucius, but we will do so with great caution. And Draco," Remus's voice grew stern, "we beg that you do not go looking for him. I would have said forbid, however, you are of age and are legally allowed to do what you please."
Draco nodded, reaching for his mother's hand and gripped it firmly. When he glanced over at her, she could see that her eyes were watering but she kept her gaze firmly on Remus, her mouth set in a thin line.
"Draco," Remus spoke again, his tone softer this time. "Do I have your understanding?"
"Yes," Draco ground out, forcing himself to look the older wizard in the eye.
"Good," Remus breathed, standing quickly and excusing himself quietly. His mother followed not seconds after, keeping her face hidden as she left.
It was just him and Hermione now, alone with the weight of the news. His father was out there somewhere, probably, and he was supposed to just sit around and wait for the Order to find him. Inside Draco's mind, a battle of thoughts raged. His father had rejected the Order's protection, had chosen to abandon his family at the time, and for that, Draco was still furious. But Lucius was still his father, a man he once idolised, a man he still loved. He wanted him found, and he wanted him safe, no matter what had happened in the past.
"They're going to find him," Hermione's voice rang out in the thick silence. "Draco, look at me," her voice was sharper this time, louder.
"How can you be so sure?" he asked, looking at her with narrowed eyes and his jaw set. He sounded harsher than he meant to and it was evident in the look on her face. But his tone hadn't phased her for long; she lifted her chin ever so slightly, a spark lighting in her eyes.
"You trust me, right?" she asked, her voice surprisingly no louder than a whisper.
"Yes," he answered, unsure of where she was going with this.
"Then just," she paused, turning so she sat facing him, and gripped both his hands in hers. Her hands were tiny compared to his, leaving plenty of pale white flesh exposed. "Trust me on this, alright? They will find him."
Draco looked up at her, finding it hard to believe her words. The Order wasn't even sure his father was alive, that was yet to still be confirmed. And so, when she pulled him for a hug, he kept his mouth shut, merely nodding his head before resting it on her shoulder, because he couldn't bring himself to ask the one question that had been playing itself over and over again since Remus had left.
What if they find him dead? What then?
When Pansy saw the living room was barren, she quickly snatched a blanket from the closet close by and curled up on a sofa closest to a large window. It had started to storm not long ago, and she would have a better view of it from here opposed to her bedroom. Besides, this was the first time she'd had an urge to leave her bedroom and she wasn't going to waste it.
She settled on the sofa, wrapping the blanket around her, and listened to the rain pounding against the roof and windows. The sound was soothing, allowing the muscles in her body to relax for the first time in ages. Her eyes drifted shut as thunder crashed overhead, and she allowed her thoughts to drift to her parents. Were they safe? Were they trying to figure out a way to contact her that wouldn't result in them being caught? Had they run off to their home in Italy? Were they thinking of her like she was thinking of them?
The subtle sound of footsteps jolted Pansy from her thoughts. Her head snapped up from the back of the sofa, and her eyes narrowed at the person standing before her.
"Oh," Ron said, rubbing the back of his neck, eyes cast at the ground. "I, er, didn't know you were in here."
"Well I am," she snapped, turning to look out the window. "And I'd like to be left alone, so leave."
"You can't just tell me to leave," he said hotly. Pansy smirked; he really did have a short temper. "This isn't your cabin."
Pansy turned to look at him again, the smirk now gone from her lips and replaced with a small frown. "Fair point," she said. "But you could respect my desire to be left alone."
Ron said nothing at first, instead stepping further into the living room. Pansy rolled her eyes, turning back to the window once more. Maybe if she ignored him he would go away on his own.
"I didn't know you'd be in here, but now that you are I just… I want to see how you're doing. You seemed really freaked that night in Hogsmeade," he said tentatively, sitting down on the opposite end of the couch.
Bold move, Weasley, she thought irritably.
She could feel his gaze on her, but she kept her eyes focused on the rain spattering against the window. Why did he have to bring up that night? She closed her eyes briefly, wishing she could feel the rain on her skin. Pansy lifted her chin, swallowing before she answered him.
"Did I?" she said, her voice flat.
"Uh, yeah," Ron said. "You were crying and-"
"I remember," she said harshly, glaring at him now. "And if it will make you stop talking, I'm fine now."
There was a moment's pause. His cheeks had turned bright red, almost matching his hair. He smiled awkwardly, barely looking at her.
"Good," he said, "good. Do you mind if I sit here for a bit? Watch the storm?"
Pansy scoffed, flicking her hair over her shoulder. "What's the matter, friends don't want your company? Granger stuffing her tongue down Draco's throat?"
Ron grimaced in disgust. "Do they do that often? Nevermind, don't answer that," he said quickly when she arched an eyebrow. "They don't, actually - want my company right now. Hermione and Malfoy are in their bedroom, and Harry wanted to be left alone."
Pansy sighed, pulling the blanket up to her chin. "I don't care what you do, Weasley," she said. "But no talking, I'm not in the mood."
Ron nodded solemnly, mimicking her position and resting his chin on the back of the sofa. As she turned her head slowly back to the window, she saw a faint smile appear on his lips. Something tugged at her heart, and she couldn't help the tug of her own lips as she heard another crack of thunder rumble through the sky.
Several nights later, Hermione found Pansy curled up on the sofa, watching the fire roar in front of her, with a blanket over her legs and a blank expression on her face. Hermione took a breath, and sat down in an arm chair close by. Pansy gave no sign that she knew Hermione was there; she didn't move, nor did she glance in her direction. Perhaps Pansy didn't want the company, but after learning what she'd had been through, Hermione felt a strong inclination to try and form some sort of friendship with the Slytherin. She couldn't even begin to imagine what it felt like to be abandoned.
There was no denying the tension growing in the air, but Hermione wasn't easily deterred. Pansy could be short with her, or ignore her outright, but it wasn't going to stop her from trying.
"How are you?" Hermione asked, shifting uncomfortably in her seat.
Pansy sighed, flicking her hair as she raised her head, an eyebrow raised as she shot Hermione a skeptical look. "You want to know how I'm doing?"
"Yes," Hermione said simply, her voice unwavering.
Pansy scoffed and rolled her eyes. "First Weasley and now you," she said.
"Ron asked you - Nevermind..." Hermione said, with a shake of her head. "Seriously, Pansy, I mean it. How are you?"
Pansy glanced at her out of the corner of her eye. The Slytherin sighed, leaning her head back before she said, "Fine, I suppose. Draco's been...helpful. It's very uncomfortable for me, being among all these Order Members and what not."
"Understandable," Hermione replied, keeping her tone light and friendly. "Listen, Pansy," she said, feeling a strong urge to cut to the chase. She couldn't stand small talk and she got the idea that Pansy didn't either. "Draco told me what happened...with your parents-"
"Did he?" Pansy asked, her head snapping to stare directly at Hermione, nostrils flaring and eyes wide. Hermione watched her clench her jaw, and saw her hands ball into tiny fists. "He shouldn't have done that. I didn't want anyone to know."
"I know," Hermione said, feeling guilty now that she gave Draco away. "And it wasn't Draco's fault, I mean, he didn't volunteer the information. I...I pressed him pretty hard. Don't be angry with him, please. I was genuinely curious and I really do want to try and be friends…"
Pansy shot her a skeptical look, though only briefly. "I don't need your pity," she said.
"And I won't give it to you," Hermione assured her, excitement building inside her. Maybe we're starting to get somewhere, she thought.
Silence fell between them. It seemed as though Pansy was ignoring her once again. It's now or never, Hermione, just say it! She urged herself, knowing that Pansy wouldn't be the one to approach the subject.
"We should go look for them," Hermione said firmly, yet quietly.
Pansy's head snapped up, eyes narrowed and questioning against Hermione's determined gaze. She felt Pansy trying to read her, trying to figure out whether she was serious or not.
"What?" Pansy breathed. She shifted in her seat, fully turning to face Hermione now. "Why...why do you want to do something nice for me?"
Hermione inhaled deeply, running her hands along her thighs. She swallowed, images of her own parents flashing before her eyes. "Because," she said, voice shaking despite her efforts to keep it steady, "because inside we're all just children wanting to be safe, to feel loved, to be with the ones who swore from day one that they would always protect us."
Pansy nodded once, slowly, then broke her gaze once more. Her face glowed orange in the light of the fire, illuminating the sharpness of her features.
"Maybe...maybe someday," Pansy said almost inaudibly. "I'm not ready yet. I don't want...nevermind. I can't even believe I'm talking about this with you."
Hermione chuckled. "Neither can I," she said. "But this war has found us in unexpected places, and who are we to question it?"
When Hermione awoke the next morning, she could tell something was wrong. There was an anxious buzzing in the air. She looked to her left and saw the bed was empty, the sheet thrown back carelessly. Hermione threw the sheet off of her, quickly changed into jeans, and a sweater, and practically raced out of the room. She found everyone in the living room, huddled around Andromeda. Their voices were hushed, and a faint sobbing sound came from the witch in the middle of the group. Hermione's heart plummeted into her stomach.
She had opened her mouth to ask what was going on, but there was no need. Draco had looked up, as though he'd known she'd arrived. He locked eyes with her, and just by his expression she could tell something was terribly wrong. His face was white and his mouth was set in a grim line. With a flick of his wrist, he motioned for her to come closer. Her legs shook with every step she took, and when she reached Draco's side, she felt his face next to his hers, his breath warm on her cheek.
"Ted's run off," he whispered. "Left a note for Andromeda, telling her it was too dangerous for him to hang around. We think he went into hiding, no one else knows anything."
Hermione gasped, turning her head to look up at him in shock. A huge part of her was relieved to hear he hadn't been killed, but these circumstances weren't much better. Initially, she questioned why Ted would think it necessary to run away, to go into hiding, and then it dawned on her. She felt like someone just punched her in the stomach, as her heart started to pound, and anxiety flooded her veins. Ted's a muggleborn...yet he's stayed at this safe house before...their house was under protection as well...or so I thought…
Was there something the Order wasn't telling them? Why did Ted feel as though he couldn't stay at the cabin, or another safe house? Had he done something? No...surely that couldn't be the reason. Had the note been a fake? Did Ted really disappear of his own accord, or had something more sinister happened? Was she in more grave danger than she'd first thought? Of course she knew she was one high on the Death Eater's list; muggle-born and best friend of Harry Potter. This did nothing to comfort her, however. If Ted Tonks, an alliance of the Order, felt he needed to run, then what did that mean for her?