(A/N: Well, this is the final installment. Happy reading and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it! And remember when you're done - reviews make awesome Christmas presents. They're free!)
It's clutching the trunk of a tree.
Hm. Holding on for support… not great. But apparently she's on her feet, rather than on the ground – not terrible, either.
Still I don't call out. I increase my pace, though – I'm flat-out running now. When my boot comes down on that twig; slightly larger, thicker than most; it makes a sound like a whip-crack, like a bludger breaking a bone.
The retort echoes through the cold woods, and suddenly she's around the tree and facing me. She's bracing herself against the trunk but her wand arm is steady enough, steady and trained directly on my heart.
I skid to a stop some ten feet from her, throwing up my hands, palms outward, in a gesture of peace. "Granger," I say. I'm drinking her in with my eyes. No external signs of harm, other than the fact that she's leaning rather heavily on that tree.
Well, she's breathing hard, too – almost panting. But then again, so am I.
Her eyes narrow. "Malfoy?" she says distrustfully.
Oh bugger, I forgot. I'm wearing my bloody hood.
Moving slowly, I stash my wand in its holster with one hand while reaching for my hood with the other. I watch the relief flood her face as I yank it off.
Only now does she lower her wand.
"Malfoy," she says again, and this time it comes out almost as a sigh. "I thought you were… when you didn't… when they came… I thought you were…"
I know exactly what she thought. I can read it in her face. She can't bring herself to say the word, though… the same word I couldn't bring myself to even think about her.
"I'm fine," I say. "There was an interception, but I'm fine." I realize distantly, distractedly, that my hair, freed from the confines of the hood, has fallen across my eyes. I raise a hand to shove it back.
That's when her legs fail her and she starts to slide down the trunk of the tree toward the ground.
I cross the last of the distance between us in time to catch her, hauling her back to her feet.
She's a warm, solid weight in my arms – I love the feel of her there. I'm worried now, though; all my relief of a moment before washed away in a rising tide of concern.
"Granger, what's wrong? How are you hurt?"
Her hands are on my shoulders now, gripping me. She speaks into my chest. "I'm okay," she says, and I can feel her steadying herself in my arms. She feels so right pressed against me. "I am, really. I'm just… just shaken, that's all. They came at me so fast, it… it was a bit of a shock."
"Who, Granger? Who came at you?"
"Over there." She gestures vaguely to the left. I look past her shoulder and see them; Avery and Nott, sprawled unconscious on the ground. She has bound their hands and removed their hoods. I don't have to check them to know that they're stunned, but alive. Granger doesn't kill.
Two against one, and the element of surprise on their side… and still she took them both down without getting so much as a scratch on her.
Merlin, what a woman.
She's speaking again. " – Patronus with my coordinates to the Order. Someone should be here any minute to help bring these two in. You should get out of here, Malfoy. If either of them – " she gestures again toward the two prone figures – "were to wake and see you – "
I cut her off.
"It's too late for that, Granger. I was compromised the moment that owl was intercepted; I can't go back. I'm done with this double-agent shit – I'm sick to death of it anyway. From here on out, I'm with you."
Her eyes widen, and she opens her mouth to speak – then the unmistakable sound of multiple Apparitions cracks the air and a second later I find myself staring over her shoulder at two more hooded figures who have just arrived.
They are definitely not Order members.
In fact, hoods or no hoods, I know exactly who I am looking at; one can usually tell family. It's my father and Aunt Bell.
Apparently Granger was not the only one who managed to fire off an S.O.S.
That's all I have time to think. Then the first spell's coming at us; a wicked looking jet of light in a violent shade of puce, courtesy of my mad bitch aunt.
I just have time to register my father shouting "NO –! " and shoving Aunt Bell to the side… so he's actually trying to protect me? How unexpectedly noble.
Or, if you prefer to look at it from my aunt's perspective, how intolerably weak.
Of course, I doubt his concern is as much about me personally as it is about the continuation of the Malfoy name and bloodline; I am the only heir, after all…
I don't really have time to process such trivialities at the moment, though. The spell is coming and I'm already moving, launching myself sideways and taking Granger with me; turning us a hundred and eighty degrees in the air at the same time, making it so I'm the one between her and our attackers, rather than the other way around.
The spell slams into me from behind as we fall together. Aunt Bell's always had a knack for hitting people in the back.
The pain that rips through me is immense – breathtaking. And it only gets worse when I impact the ground. I have no idea what she threw at me, but it was a bastard, whatever it was.
I've barely landed when I'm trying to push myself up again – I still have to protect Granger, by God – but I'm having a considerable amount of difficulty just now. Part of it is that she's lying on top of me, but most of it is that my limbs don't seem to want to obey me anymore.
Well, that's just great.
My father and my aunt are grappling with each other now, and Granger's scrambling to her feet; I manage to get up onto my elbows and then the air is rent by yet more Apparitions, sounds like half a dozen this time at least.
Everything's becoming rather blurry now, but I can make out the unmistakable red of Weasley's hair and hear the unmistakable self-importance of Potter's voice, and then everything disintegrates into a bonafide melee. Seems father and Aunt Bell have banded together again in the face of adversity and now spells are flying every which way.
Me, I fall back, and gray out.
I'm not actually losing consciousness, let's get that right out in the clear. That would be perilously close to fainting, and Malfoys don't faint.
I grit my teeth. I wont, I won't, I won't.
Whatever is happening here, wherever this is going… I'm holding on to my consciousness to the last bitter end.
The chaos of wizarding combat ebbs and flows around me for a while – one minute? Five, ten? I'm not sure… and then Granger's back, apparently having realized that I did not, in fact, jump up right behind her as she doubtless expected me to.
"Malfoy? Malfoy!" I can see her lips forming my name. I can hear her too, but only distantly now. There's a rushing in my ears, like wind. She turns her head, shouts to her friends. Something about healers.
My father is shouting too, furiously in the background – "Draco!? DRACO! Let me see my son!" I suppose that means they've restrained him now. It's really not important, though; not anymore.
What's important is that her hair is brushing my face; it's as soft as I've always imagined it would be. Smells nice, too. And is she – ? Merlin, she is… she's actually straddling me, one knee on either side of my hips and oh my God, I have fantasized about this moment.
I just never factored in the whole dying part.
I want nothing more than to reach up and pull her down for a kiss, but unfortunately that would require the use of my arms.
A second later, though, her hair whispers away as she turns toward me again. She's leaning down so close now that we're almost nose to nose. I can see snowflakes caught in her eyelashes. I knew I was racing the snow. But that's all right. I reached her first.
"Malfoy, stay with me, help is coming. Hold on. Malfoy, are you hearing me!? Don't you dare close your eyes. You have to stay with me now, please!"
What an odd thing to say. My eyes aren't closing… are they?
She's so close. I'm cold and getting colder with every passing second, but where she's pressed against me, at least, there's warmth.
I can feel her heart thudding in her chest, going so hard and fast it's as if it's trying to beat for the both of us.
The thought brings a smile to my lips.
Things are fading quickly now; she's still shouting at me, but I can't hear her anymore. There is some sort of a… a gulf that is trying to open between us.
I've dreamed this forest.
And now I think about it, I'm pretty sure I've heard somewhere that recurring dreams are widely considered to be harbingers of death.
I don't know if that's true. For that matter, I don't know that I'm dying, not with any certainty. The world around me is changing, though; it's losing its vibrancy, its immediacy. It's almost as if – how can I explain this? – as if reality is splitting at the seams, and all the sound and color are leaking out. Which is… worrisome.
But I'm all right as long as Granger stays with me. This is it – we're together now. Done with all that double-agent shit, that's what I told her; sick to death of it anyhow.
I'm right where I want to be.
I'm with her.
And here's something I do know for a fact; the color of her eyes, hovering so close above me? That's not changing. They're as brown as ever, and as warm.
Her eyes – the warmth in them – it doesn't matter that the first snow of the season is falling all around us. To me those eyes look like Spring.
And her hands, one of which is loosely tangled in my hair, the other pressed against my cheek… they're solid too. The reality of them is not fading.
Her hands feel… they feel like…
Like coming home.
It was her hand I saw first.
Merlin, I love those hands.