Content warning: Torture. Violence. Major character death.
. . .
. . . . .
. . .
"No," she whispered, reaching out to him as he walked toward the front walk where they were standing. "You can't! Please don't do this, please, I'm begging you," she said in her hoarse voice and his step faltered for a moment before he kept going. "I won't make it without you!"
He didn't look back.
He thought she was dead.
If she weren't, she would be soon.
Blaise didn't think anyone could have lived through what he'd been forced to witness over the past hour. He hadn't even liked Hermione Granger, and he'd wanted to beg the pair of Death Eaters in charge of the show to stop.
He wasn't that stupid, of course, or that self-sacrificing. He'd bit the inside of his cheek to keep from vomiting as the class swot, heroine, and Mudblood met a long, horrible end. He'd only made eye contact with Draco once. The blond had made the tiniest shake of his head from beneath his mask and hood. There was nothing they could do. After that, Blaise had kept his eyes focused on a spot directly to the left of the girl's head so it looked as if he were watching her demise with the greatest of interest and began reciting Potions ingredients in his head. This was what life was now. The Dark Lord had won and Blaise had two things in the world to be happy about: he'd managed to keep from getting a Mark burned into his own arm, mostly by dint of showing enthusiasm for the cause but no interest in moving up the increasingly crowded ranks, and Draco was still alive.
In theory, so was Harry Potter, out in the world doing something heroic and pointless to kill the mad bastard who ruled Britain. Blaise didn't hold out hope of that happening, however. He wanted to just keep his head down - bless his mother for only shagging wizards, since his blood was unlikely to ever land him on a dais like poor Granger, tortured for the amusement of madmen - and he hoped he'd manage to stay alive until it was all somehow over. He'd flee, but the Mark on Draco's arm tied him down. That meant they both stayed, living in their cottage, thankful they'd gotten it under a Fidelius charm, just surviving.
Granger hadn't broken. That amazed him. He doubted she'd been able to speak after a bit, but she hadn't given up Potter. She'd screamed until she couldn't even make sounds, but she'd kept his whereabouts locked in her mind.
"Take care of the body," one of the older Death Eaters said to Draco, who nodded submissively. "Rubbish heap's the place for trash like her," the man added with a laugh as, one by one, the audience sauntered out.
The arms held her up. "Come on, Granger. You have to drink this." Someone put a vial to her lips and she wanted to yank her head away because she was sure it was poison, but she was too weak and, when the potion was tipped down her throat, she swallowed.
"Good girl," she heard that voice say and everything faded away as gentle hands settled her back down. "Sleep will help."
Blaise followed Draco out as he carried the body, cradling it as if she were someone other than the girl he'd despised for years. He reached a hand out to brush some of the bushy hair away from her face, sorrier than he could say that she'd met such an end. No one deserved what she'd endured. When she flinched at the touch, he almost jumped. "Fuck, Draco, she's still conscious."
They both stopped walking and Blaise bent down and put his cheek to the girl's mouth and felt the steady puff of air against his skin as she breathed in and out. He wasn't even sure how it was possible, but she'd survived. "We can't just dump her," he whispered. "Draco, we can't."
Grey eyes met brown ones and Draco said, "It would be suicide." He hefted her body up. "Do you want to die for Hermione Granger, Blaise?"
But they both knew the decision had been made.
Draco sat and braided her hair back; his hands fumbled around the work and he handled the dirty strands with obvious distaste. For three days they'd poured potions down her throat and mostly kept her sedated and healing, but her hair was such a bushy nightmare it kept getting in the way. By now it was sticky with Dreamless Sleep and pain elixirs of all sorts. "It's a good thing Blaise and I are both better at brewing than you ever gave us credit for, Granger," he said conversationally as he worked her hair back into as tight a plait as his inexperienced hands could manage. "It's not exactly like I can loot the stores at Insanity Central, you know. People might start to wonder who I was off torturing in my spare time and they'd want in on the fun."
Blaise rolled his eyes as he held her up. "Am I supposed to talk for her like a puppet?" He tilted his head to the side and said in a high pitched voice, "Oh yes, Draco, you're so good at brewing. Always admired your skill with a flobberworm."
Draco just shrugged as he tied the band at the bottom so her hair wouldn't come undone. "Wanker. Grab another sleeping draught. It's been at least an extra hour since she could have one and she's probably aware of the pain again."
"Always 'ware," the woman between them said, struggling to get the raspy words out. "You're a prat, Mal'oy. Arsehole. But never said you were bad at classes."
Blaise tried to hold her up with one arm and put the next dose to her lips with the other hand but she weakly batted him away. "That shite's 'ddictive," she said. "No more." She clamped her lips shut and Draco shut his eyes and rubbed at his forehead.
"Look who's conscious. Oh goody," he said. "And, surprise, surprise, she's a know-it-all even when she can't even sit up without our help. But, fine, Granger, suffer. It's one less batch we have to make up for you." He got up and stalked off, tossing the spare hair tie down onto the table. "I'd better get back to the Manor and play the attentive and dutiful little Death Eater lest I end up on the wrong end of someone's wand."
He slammed the door on his way out.
Blaise made an annoyed noise and lowered her back down. "We'll get you set right, Granger," he said. "As counter-intuitive as it may be, trust us." He sat next to her, stoking her arm, until she fell into a more natural sleep.
When she woke it was dark. With the drugs cleared out of her system, she could think for the first time since Draco Malfoy and Blaise Zabini had, as improbable as it seemed, carted her off and tried to heal her instead of dumping her into a mass grave.
Everything hurt. Her muscles burned. Her bones ached. Her very soul hurt. But she could think. Voldemort's crew hadn't turned her into a shell like Neville's mother. She was in a bed in a small room and she felt filthy. She'd sweated her way through at least one bout of nasty fever, and not all the potions they'd fed her had gone in her mouth. More, beyond the stink of illness that hung over her, she'd been living on the run for months before she'd been so very carefully alone and vulnerable and Voldemort's Snatchers had grabbed her.
She stirred and the man on the bed beside her woke instantly. "I'll get you more pain - " he began.
"I want a shower," she said. Her voice hurt to use and sounded as if she'd damaged her throat. She turned to look at the man. Dark skin, slanting eyes, high cheekbones. Blaise Zabini. Her eyes fell, almost involuntarily, to his arm. He followed her gaze and slowly pushed the sleeve of his shirt up so she could see the unMarked skin.
"He hasn't got me," he said. "Not that way, at least."
She supposed she shouldn't feel so relieved. The men who'd grabbed her in the woods hadn't rated a Mark either.
"Do you think you can stand?" he asked. She tried, and couldn't, and thus began one of the most humiliating hours of her life. She couldn't fault the man for courtesy. He helped her strip down and kept his eyes firmly on the shoulder where an old, puckered scar, courtesy of a long-ago battle, lay along her skin. He carried her to the small bathroom and stood with her in the shower, his own clothes getting soaked, as he held up upright so she could wash herself. He handed her soap. He undid her hair and washed the matted strands not once but twice. By the time he turned the water off she was shaking from the strain of being upright and sobbing from the utter shame of having to be washed. He did her the kindness of pretending not to notice and instead carried her back to the bed, wrapped in the largest, softest towels she could remember. He changed and brought her a pair of what she guessed were his own pajama bottoms and a worn t-shirt. "We couldn't exactly buy you anything," he said. "People watch everything and everyone. They're encouraged to turn neighbors in for anti-social behavior."
"I know," she whispered. It was why they hadn't been able to trust anyone.
It was why she didn't trust him for all that he was helping her pull on the soft black flannel, for all that he was patting her hair dry.
"Is this when I break down in this little play because you're the savior and tell you - "
"Don't," he said before she could even articulate knowledge she might have. "I don't want to know anything. You're already a death sentence."
"Not if you bring him what he wants to know," she said. "Assuming there's still anything I didn't tell."
Blaise took a deep breath. "You didn't tell anything," he said. She closed her eyes and uttered a brief prayer of thanksgiving to gods she'd long ago stopped believing in. "You screamed and you… I hope you don't recall, to be honest. But I had to stand there and watch the whole thing and you spit in their faces and you begged them to stop but you never… as far as I know you don't have any knowledge to share." She could hear the dripping of the water in the shower and the sound of his breathing and there was a bird outside so, as dark as it seemed, it must be near dawn. Finally, he said, "No one could have withstood that if they had secrets that might have spared them for a moment. You clearly don't."
"Where's Malfoy?" she asked. She was almost sure he'd been there before. She could remember the sound of the door shutting when he'd stalked off.
"Off playing Death Eater," Blaise said.
"Why are you so determined to play the hero?" Draco demanded as he lay the woman's filthy body, nearly a corpse, down onto their bed. "And why for her, of all people?"
"That was just… that was hard to watch," Blaise said in a fit of understatement. "And she was the one it happened to."
There was a moment where they looked at one another and then Draco sighed and began taking stockpiled potions out of one of their cupboards as well as basic brewing supplies. Blaise did some of the simple healing charms he knew - they all knew those now - and they worked in silence until Draco said, "Don't expect me to pull out the heroics. I've never been a hero and I don't plan to start for her."
"I know who you are," Blaise said. He set a single hand on the other man's arm and they stood there for a moment, joined by that simple touch.
She'd been fighting for the spoon when Draco Malfoy came back, flinging a soiled robe over a chair. The shower had exhausted her, but Blaise had coaxed her into trying to eat and so she sat, propped in the large bed, a tray over her lap and a food in front of her. The spoon she'd finally convinced Blaise she was capable of using shook in her hand at the sight of the mask in Malfoy's. She struggled to control her fear and took another bite of the bland mush Blaise had made for her.
"Feeding her breakfast in bed?" Draco asked. "You're doting."
"How was work?" Hermione rasped out. "Off killing children or did you stick to people who could fight back? Little old ladies, maybe?"
Draco's steps across the floor hesitated for a brief moment before he said, "Those little old ladies are tricky bastards; I try to stick to school girls." He dropped the mask on the counter and began preparing himself a plate of toast while she watched.
"Your father must be so proud," she said. The jab made Blaise go grey and she watched Malfoy's jaw clench. He rather deliberately pulled bread from a package, used his wand to toast it, and began spreading marmalade. He held the butter knife in a manner that suggested he was considering transfiguring it to something sharper and finishing her off the Muggle way.
"He probably would be," the man said after he very deliberately set the knife down. "Unfortunately, he's no longer with us so he'll have to forego any pride in my murderous talents, as well as the utter shame he would have felt that I didn't just dump your Mudblood body on the midden like a good boy." He took a bite of his toast and chewed as the cereal she'd been eating stuck in her own throat. "Much worse than the whole gay thing," he said conversationally after he swallowed. "Saving someone like you, I mean. Blaise he could write off as just a minor, youthful indiscretion, sure to result in nothing more than the occasional extended vacation away from our wives, and he did, but you? You're a disaster."
"I'm sorry," she said, stung and angry and guilty all at once. "I'll leave as soon as I - "
"That, Granger, is where you're wrong," Draco Malfoy said. He glowered at her from where he leaned against his small counter. "They think you're dead, and, through some dollop of luck we had no right to expect, no one went out to check the body pit to make sure you were in it."
She closed her eyes as his words battered into her.
"But as soon as you go wandering about with that oh-so-distinctive hair and that face that's on every wanted poster, you'll get caught, and while I don't care at all about your fate, I am fairly invested in not having Alecto Carrow show up with a knife in one hand and a wand in the other, eager to find out why a woman whose body I was told to dispose of is rather peculiarly alive."
His anger hung there. Draco Malfoy was stuck with her, didn't want to be, and resented the danger whatever impulsive choice he'd made to bring her home had put him in. She didn't blame him. Not really. She'd be furious too if she'd been saddled with caring for him, knowing every moment he was with her decreased her chances of long term survival.
"I'm afraid you have to stay," Blaise said. "We'll figure out something eventually, but right now - "
"I'll get polyjuice," Hermione said. It wasn't fair for her to stay and put them at risk. Her eyes were still pressed closed so she missed the reaction to her words. "I'll look like your damn mother just long enough to go to France and disappear - "
The Death Eater's mask hit the wall beside her head and fell to the bed with a thump. She shrank away from it and opened her eyes to see Draco Malfoy, fists clenched. He seemed bigger in his fury, and frightening in the way the petulant schoolyard bully never had been. "Twitchy little ferret," she whispered, determined to be uncowed. "Don't like the idea of me mimicking your precious mummy? Fine, get me any - "
"She's dead," Draco said. He took a step toward the bed and released and reclenched his fists. "So it would be a trifle obvious if you disguised yourself as her, even assuming I'd be willing to go find a hair lingering on her brush for you. Which I would not."
"How?" Hermione whispered, the word out of her mouth before she considered how much he probably didn't want to talk to her about this. He raised a hand and she braced herself for the blow, but instead he turned and flung his body back out the door, the rest of his toast abandoned. Blaise followed him and she was left alone with her cereal and a Death Eater's mask leering at her from the pillow where it had fallen.
She tried to get the tray off and set to the side but her hands shook and it ended up tumbling to the floor where it lay, cereal spread out in a circle. She curled onto one side and would have cried but that hurt too much. She stared out at the small cottage and let her eyes trace along the lines of the furniture over and over again. There was the one bed. There was a small kitchen along one wall. A couch sat on the opposite. A table squatted in the space between them. It was a small cottage, sunny and inviting in the morning light. It was a retreat. It was a home.
She had no idea why they'd brought her here instead of leaving her on the midden, as Malfoy had so charmingly put it, like good little minions of evil. It wasn't as if they liked her.
Neither man returned and eventually, despite the pain, she slept.
When she woke, it was getting dark again, another day gone into a haze of pain and sleep, and Draco Malfoy was sitting at the side of the bed, his white hair down over his eyes as he rubbed one hand over the bare skin of her back in a steady motion. She jerked away from his touch and he lifted his dropped chin to look at her. "It helps," he said without introduction. "When you've been crucioed, having someone just stroke your skin like this helps. I'm not sure why, but Blaise figured it out one day when I'd… I'd failed to please and suffered the consequences." He put a hand on her lower back and rolled her onto her stomach, slid a hand back under the t-shirt, and returned to running a hand over her skin. She could feel a scratching where he had developed some kind of callous as he passed his hand back and forth over her.
"I'm sorry," she said, her already quiet words muffled even more against the pillow. "I didn't know you'd been…but of course you have."
"Been on both ends of that one," Draco said, his hand never faltering. "Cast it the first time at sixteen. Felt it then, too."
She didn't know what to say.
"Not like what you… that was something special. I'm shocked you're not a gibbering idiot after that, really. You should be."
"Thought you already thought I was a gibbering idiot," she said. Blaise was passed out next to her, one arm tucked under his head. She supposed it was Malfoy's shift to watch her.
"Not gibbering," he said. "Annoyingly clever, really." She could die happy, soothed like this, she thought. Still mostly asleep, she let herself sink into the bed and the silence, both of which seemed to enfold her in comfort she'd never expected to feel again.
Draco sank into one of the hard, wooden chairs at their small table and rubbed his head. Hours later they'd gotten the witch resting as comfortably as could be reasonably hoped, mostly via heavy painkillers. He'd brewed and Blaise had healed and they'd both cringed when she tried to scream at even the lightest touch.
Now she was on their bed.
Blaise settled into the seat next to him and nudged his foot. "How are you?" he asked.
Draco shrugged. "There's a Mudblood in our bed, my head hurts, and I kind of want to fuck you so I can stop thinking." He looked over at the other man. "How are you doing?"
"I'm tired," Blaise said. "Raw, I think, after tonight." He let out a sad huff as he looked over at the woman they'd rescued. He'd never been a fan of hers. He wasn't the kind of violent extremist the Death Eaters cultivated, but he'd never considered Muggle-borns as anything other than lesser, and this one had been particularly grating. She'd trampled over customs and traditions with self-righteous abandon, sure that she knew more about the world she'd entered because she'd read a book than people who'd never known anything else. She'd judged, and thrust her hand in the air and her chin out, and managed to antagonize everyone but Potter and his merry sidekick.
He felt grudging admiration that she'd stuck with her friends until the proverbially bitter end. Most in her shoes would have fled back to the relative safety of the Muggle world and left the wizards behind to fight their own battles.
"Why couldn't it have been someone who got on their bad side but who wasn't, well, you know," Blaise asked, his eyes never leaving the prone figure.
"Yeah," Draco said. "Ginny Weasley, maybe? I know you aren't a fan of hers, but - "
"At least she's not Granger," Blaise said. "Assuming she's still alive."
Draco shrugged The Weasley clan had gone into exile after the Battle of Hogwarts. They'd been smart enough to recognize they needed to leave and, if the girl had gone with them, she'd probably survived. Maybe she'd stayed to fight. Maybe she'd died at the end of someone's curse. Maybe she was living in hidden squalor. He didn't care. He didn't have the energy to care about anyone other than Blaise anymore. "Well, we're stuck with her now," he said. "Like a Kneazle kitten you find at the side of the road and decide to take home."
"I hope she's litter box trained and doesn't scratch the furniture," Blaise tried to quip and Draco laughed. "It'll never be enough," he said more seriously. "I can't… how do you make things like that right?"
Draco didn't answer because he didn't think he ever could. There was no atonement for the role he'd played in helping to bring this obscenity to power. So he healed one, worthless Mudblood. It wasn't enough. It would never be enough, and every day he added more crimes to his tally.
Blaise leaned over and caught the blond man's chin in his hand, interrupting his thoughts. "About the fucking," he said.
"Merlin, yes," Draco said.
They were tired, and worn out, and Draco reeked of the potions ingredients he'd chopped and sliced and grated, as well as the ever present stench of blood, but they fell into one another with mouths and hands desperate to push away another night of hell, desperate to silence the demons. "You should go," Draco said as he wrestled the other man's trousers off. "Get out of here, go to the continent. You have the resources. You can - "
"I'm not leaving alone," Blaise said. It was an old argument. "You can't go, so I won't."
"You're a fool," Draco muttered, but he was grateful for it anyway.
. . . . . . . . .
A/N - Many, many alpha and beta readers have helped me with this one. It's the fic that didn't want to be birthed and their midwifery skills coaxed it into being against its own will. Much love and thanks to shayalonnie, turbulenthandholding, sunset-oasis, slytherin bunney, stefartemis, and ibuzoo.