a/n: Hello guys! Song suggestions for this chapter are After the Storm by Mumford and Sons and The Funeral by Band of Horses. Let me know if they go well with the chapter!
Chapter 29: Weeks.
Hermione flicked aside another page with a huff of irritation.
After some intense reading about the Deathly Hallows and a futile hunt for any documented hints about the whereabouts of the Elder Wand, she had returned to her obsessive research on the Horcruxes. After a few weeks, with nothing accomplished but bags under her eyes and chewed fingernails, she could feel the inevitable tension sneaking up on Harry, Ron and herself.
It was only natural, she knew. While they would always be the closest of friends, spending every second of every day with only metres for personal space and drowning in all this angst and apprehension was taxing, to say the least.
It didn't help that they were all trying to deal with their individual troubles.
Harry was constantly uneasy, blaming himself for every death and swinging between moods of melancholy and madness, while Ron constantly fretted about his family and struggled to realise his significance in their little group, leaving him frustrated and testy. She knew she was hardly helping his insecurities with her rejection of anything that could lean towards something beyond friendship, but the thought of anyone other than Draco murmuring against her lips made her feel queasy and unfaithful.
And therein lied her own problems; guilt and heartache.
Hermione scorned herself for lying to Harry and Ron, but she went to bed each night begging nameless gods that she wouldn't call out Draco's name in her sleep so she could keep the secret just that little bit longer.
But she could feel the confession eagerly waiting on the tip of her tongue.
Lying to them was simply too hard on her conscience.
"Hermione," Ron's voice stole her, and she met his eyes over her shoulder. "Do you want some food?"
"No, thank you," she said, knowing Harry was resting in the tent. "I think I may be onto something, so I ought to keep reading."
The inevitable disappointment marred his boyish features. "You could come and sit with me for a little while?"
"I'll come back up in a moment," she offered. "I won't be long."
"Okay," he sighed with a nod, pivoting on his feet to walk the short distance back to the tent, his shoulders hunched with defeat.
"Ron," she called, frowning when he didn't turn back to acknowledge her. "Happy Birthday."
A week later.
Draco had forgotten what if felt like to have sunrays kiss his face.
February had come and gone, and March had brought some Spring heat to warm the breeze. He was in his usual spot, sat on the stone steps and trying to ignore the irritating voices of Bletchley and Davis, who were having an unnecessarily loud lovers' tiff inside the house. He absently realised he'd been here just over a month now, residing in Andromeda's safe-house with the defected Slytherins. A month without Granger.
A fucking month.
The notion that time heals all wounds does not apply to the scars of young lovers separated too soon. Draco still felt as damaged as the day Granger had cried in the rain and sent him here.
He drifted between moments of blistering anger to a damning numbness that made his bones vibrate beneath his skin. He had tried to distance himself from the others, preferring to linger on the outside and only involve himself with their discussions when he decided the solitude was getting to him, but he seemed to find himself interacting with them more and more as the weeks rolled by.
Since Ted's departure, Andromeda's sleeping pattern had deteriorated and hidden itself under the floorboards, much like his, and sometimes they would find each other in the kitchen during the lonely hours before dawn. They would sip lukewarm coffee and pass the nights with only a handful of sentences between them, and although neither of them would ever admit it, their odd routine became something of comfort.
And it wasn't just his aunt's company that helped to keep him sane.
Draco and Theo had taken to playing Wizard's Chess in the afternoons, and Blaise would often join them when Lovegood was elsewhere, like she had been for the last seven days. As if to punctuate that thought, Blaise burst through the door so violently that it slammed against the wall and shuddered on its hinges.
He surged straight past Draco without acknowledgement, his strides heavy and harsh, and his wand clenched firmly in his trembling fist. Draco remained silent as Blaise came to an abrupt stop a few metres away and raised his arm to hurl a non-verbal curse at one of Andromeda's apple trees. It exploded with a shrill bang, and cindering splinters rained down with red and orange sparks.
"Feel better?" Draco questioned.
"No," Blaise spat, slowly turning around. "I just felt like killing something innocent."
Unable to think of a response, Draco simply studied his old friend; from the shadow of week-old stubble glittering on his jaw, to the broken skin of his chapped lips, and to his swollen and bloodshot eyes.
Insomnia is never a secret. It carves itself into your appearance.
Seeing Blaise so affected by Lovegood's absence made Draco feel uncomfortable, for Blaise had always been the rational one, while Theo had a volatile nature that often led to outbursts, and Draco decided he was somewhere in between the two.
"Those two are doing my fucking head in," said Blaise, his voice hoarse as he started to pace back and forth. "Screaming at each other like a pair of ten-year-olds over something they can't even remember-
"They'll calm down in a bit-
"And Theo is pissing me off-
"Zabini, just take a seat. You're giving me motion sickness-
"It's been seven fucking days, Malfoy!" he blurted. "Seven! She's usually gone for three, maybe four at the most. Something happened-
"Blaise, just relax-
"Don't tell me to bloody relax, Malfoy!" he spat. "You don't know-
"I don't know what?" Draco cut him off, narrowing his eyes. "You think seven days is bad? Trying a fucking month."
Blaise hesitated. "You mean Granger?" he asked with a cynical tone. "It's different-
"No, it's not-
"You finally admit you love her then?" he challenged.
Draco broke their eye contact and stared at the smoking remains of the apple tree. "Ask me again when something good happens." He closed his eyes. "Ask me on a day when nobody dies."
Luna came back that evening and told them to turn on the radio, rambling about something called 'Potterwatch.'
Draco wore the coat Granger had given him and destroyed two apple trees.
Another week later.
In her dream, people were screaming, and she could neither move nor blink.
Draco, Harry and Ron were calling her name somewhere behind her, but she couldn't turn her head to find them, and the blood of the fallen was crawling her legs like a morbidly beautiful parasite. She willed her dream-doppelganger to twist or budge but it was futile, so she stopped fighting and just listened to the voices.
"Do you think Hermione's been acting a little odd recently?"
It was Ron's voice, and it sounded clear and close. She concentrated on it, and the howls of the dying started to weaken, and the dream began to fade.
"What do you mean?"
Harry's voice. She managed to blink, and her surroundings morphed into the familiar inside of their tent. Sucking the air through her teeth and shaking off the disturbing remains of her nightmare, she scanned the space for her two best friends and found their shadows near the entrance, flickering across the fabric. They were outside the tent, and she could hear the staccato crackling of a fire as she tried to catch their mumbled conversation.
"She's just…," Ron sighed. "She's been really quiet, and she's always reading one of those books-
She heard Harry scoff. "That sounds like classic Hermione to me-
"She won't let me touch her," Ron rushed out, and Hermione frowned into her pillow. "And I don't mean like…you know, like that. She won't let me hug her or anything, and it's like she doesn't want to be alone with me."
"Maybe she's just trying to focus on finding the Horcruxes," Harry offered. "You know what she's like when she sets her mind on something."
"No, it's something else," Ron argued. "Do you think she might still be mad about the Lavender thing? I mean, I know I screwed up with that, but I thought after what happened at Bill and Fleur's wedding-
"Please don't give me any specifics-
"That we would be alright now," he continued quickly. "That we would be together and stuff, like boyfriend and girlfriend or something."
Hermione grimaced and closed her eyes, Ron's words eating away at her conscience.
"Maybe she's just upset about something, like the whole thing with her parents," she heard Harry suggest with obvious uncertainty. "You could always ask her?"
"I'd say something stupid to make it worse. You could ask her for me, though?"
"Ron, I'm not sure that's a good idea, and I don't really want to get involved-
"But she'll probably talk to you about it," Ron pushed. "Even if I tried to talk to her, she would just make some excuse and leave. I told you, she won't be alone with me-
"And what makes you think she would talk to me about it?"
"Because you two are close with things like that. You said yourself that you're like brother and sister-
"Please, mate," said Ron, and Hermione's heart sank at the desperation in his voice. She hated that she was the cause of it. "Just give it a go, and then maybe I could-
"Just give it a little more time," Harry mumbled so quietly that she barely heard it. "She might still be a little upset that we left her behind-
"No, it's something else-
"Just give her a bit longer, Ron," said Harry, his words firm this time. "Everyone is going to be acting differently right now because everything is different. Hermione probably had a few things going on at Hogwarts that she's thinking about, like the whole thing with Snape. There's probably other stuff too-
"Yeah, like maybe she doesn't see me that way anymore," Ron mumbled, so quietly Hermione barely heard him. "Maybe she started to like someone else."
She inhaled a sharp breath and locked it in her lungs, keeping as still as possible when the voices of her two friends paused. Her pulse sped up a little, and she wondered if she had indeed whispered something indicative in the rare hours that granted her sleep.
"Is that so hard to believe, Harry?" he went on. "We weren't with her for months. She could have easily fallen for someone else, like Justin or Michael or…Merlin, it could be anyone-
"You don't know that-
"But it could have happened. And…you know, of course I'd be gutted and everything, but I'd rather she told me-
"You're jumping to conclusions," Harry interrupted tiredly. "I think you should just leave her for a little while-
"But if nothing changes, you'll talk to her for me?"
"Yes, alright," Harry groaned. "But I think you're getting worked up over nothing."
"Cheers, mate," said Ron, and she knew he would be forcing a tight grin. "Hey, pass me the radio. I want to see if that 'Potterwatch' thing is…
Hermione felt the guilt nibbling at her heart again, and she blanked out their voices as a lone tear skimmed down her cheek and stained her pillow. She tucked her chin against her chest, and the comforting ghost of Draco's scent, still barely trapped in his t-shirt, fell against her tongue. It really hit her at that moment; just how much her secret was pushing pressure into the cracks of her relationship with her best friends.
She knew then that she would have to tell Harry and Ron.
In a rare incident of reluctant rapport, Andromeda, Luna and the defected Slytherins (minus Tracy and Miles, who had yet to emerge from bed) somehow ended up meeting for breakfast in the kitchen that morning. Draco scowled at the back of his aunt's head when their elbows clashed, causing him to pour a little too much milk into his tea, but she was too busy trying to prepare food with rushed spells and a clumsy wand arm to notice. Rolling his eyes and deciding that starting from scratch would be pointless, he joined Millicent, Theo, Luna and Blaise at the table and stared at the steam rising from his mug.
"You make it the Muggle way," Luna remarked, dragging him from a daydream before it had even started.
"Your tea," she said. "You always make it the Muggle way."
"I noticed that," Theo chimed in. "Your food too, now I think about-
"So?" Draco shrugged. "What's your point?"
"You're a spoilt prat who is used to taking the easiest option," said Blaise curtly. "You would normally use magic-
"I didn't have my wand when I was staying in Hogwarts-
"But you have it now-
"I've just gotten into the habit of doing it myself," Draco shot his friend an impatient glare. "Merlin, you lot are fucking nosey-
"Is the new way better than the old way?" Luna asked suddenly.
His attention shifted to her; his eyes wary and calculating. After fractured weeks in the eccentric presence of Lovegood, he had learned that she wasn't the dim-witted girl he had always expected she would be. On the contrary, he was convinced that everything she said had a hidden meaning or a riddle attached to it, which irritated him to no end, and he was just about to tell her to mind her own business when the radio in the centre if the table screeched.
Since Lovegood had introduced them to the pirate programme, the radio had remained in the kitchen, and he had half-listened to two broadcasts, which had featured 'River,' 'Romulus' and 'Royal' attempting to calm the public and encourage them to assist Muggles. He watched Lovegood tap her wand against it and mumble the appropriate password - Padfoot this time - and as the sullen voice of 'River' floated into the kitchen, Draco felt his gut twist with anxiety.
Listeners, we don't have much time…
Draco did a quick scan of the room and knew they all felt it too; a foreboding knot of apprehension in their chests. Andromeda had paused her ministrations and was nervously wringing her hands, her eyes fixated on the radio. The others were all so still and rigid that it looked like their bones might shatter beneath their flesh, particularly Theo, who seemed to be holding his breath.
It is with great regret that we inform you that we have learned of several deaths that have not been reported by the Wizarding Wireless Network News…
In his peripheral vision, Draco saw Lovegood grasp Blaise's hand so tight, her nails sliced into his knuckles.
Fuck, he missed Granger.
We can confirm that the following people have been murdered…
Everything got a little blurry for Draco at that point.
He didn't recognise those names.
He heard his aunt take in a shuddering breath, and that's when everything began to fall apart. He couldn't tear his eyes from the radio, but he heard the drumming of stumbling footfalls and an unnatural strangled sound as Andromeda ran for the back door with sobs clogging her throat. Theo was up on his shaky legs a second afterwards, staggering out of the room and knocking over glasses and ornaments as he went.
Draco kept listening.
"Fuck," Blaise swore behind his teeth. "I should-
"No," Draco heard Lovegood say. "You go and check on Theo. Millicent and I will go to 'Dromeda."
There was another rumble of rushing footsteps and chairs clattering to the floor. A door opened and the broken cries of Andromeda harassed Draco's ears before the door slammed shut and cut them off.
"Draco," Blaise called. "Come on, I might need a hand with Theo."
Blaise's voice barely registered.
A Goblin by the name of Gornuk…
"Draco, come on!"
"Just give me a minute," he hissed quietly.
There was a heavy thud from upstairs and the piercing crash of exploding glass.
Blaise growled from the door. "DRACO, WILL YOU JUST-
"I SAID JUST GIVE ME A FUCKING MINUTE," he roared.
"What the hell-
"I NEED TO-" his voice broke for a moment. "I JUST NEED TO MAKE SURE THAT GRANGER ISN'T ON THAT FUCKING LIST, OKAY?"
That must've been good enough because he heard Blaise sprinting up the stairs, followed by muffled yells and heavy thuds that made the ceiling lights judder.
He was panting, and his heartbeat was pounding against his eardrums.
And Dominic McGrath. We have to go off the air now, but as we do, we ask you to take a moment's silence, in memory of those who have fallen. Keep safe and keep faith.
Draco let go of a moaning breath and dropped his head with relief. He stole some selfish seconds to let all the trepidation ooze out of his pores, but a choked scream from upstairs snapped him out of his alleviating trance, and with uncooperative limbs, he stood up and went in search of Blaise and Theo. He followed the sounds of scuffling and disconcerting whines that sounded too raw to be human to Theo's room, and he found carnage.
A section of Theo's desk was charred and smoking, the window had been smashed through with what Draco guessed was a chair, and there was blood smeared across the spider-web cracks of the destroyed mirror. His eyes trailed the path of blood down the wall and across the floorboards until they landed on Blaise and Theo.
They were struggling on the floor; Blaise desperately trying to keep a hold of Theo's hands and distribute his weight to gain some balance. Draco realised then that there was a wand a couple of feet away, and Theo was trying to drag himself over to it, hooking his nails into the splinters of the floor. There were shards of mirror-glass embedded in Theo's skin, glinting in the morning sun, and Draco cringed when one of Theo's fingernails split and ripped away from his cuticle, and he let out a pathetic whimper. He didn't stop reaching for his wand though.
"Draco, bloody help me!" Blaise demanded. "Grab his arms!"
He blinked to clear his head before he did as instructed, grasping Theo's elbows and giving them a firm tug so they were behind his back. Draco noticed the sweat gathering between Theo's shoulder-blades and dribbling down his temple as Blaise altered his stance and helped to keep Theo's arms locked in place.
"GET THE FUCK OFF ME!" he screamed. "BLAISE, I SWEAR I WILL CRUCIO YOU WHEN I GET FREE-
"Where is your wand?" Blaise asked Draco.
"Shit, mine too-
"I AM WARNING YOU, BLAISE!" Theo threatened furiously. "LET ME GO!"
"Theo, breathe," said Blaise steadily. "Come on, mate-
"Easy, Theo," Blaise tried. "Just breathe in, and then out. Come on. Just try it."
Draco heard him swallow a huge gulp of air, and Theo was shaking so violently, that his limbs contorted in disturbing shapes and angles. Then he started to retch and gag, and Draco hesitantly patted Theo's back as he heaved up his stomach contents, and the acidic stench of bile invaded the room.
"Easy, mate," Blaise mumbled quietly. "There you go."
"Fu-fuck them," Theo choked between heaves. "I-I hate them."
"It will be alright," Blaise soothed. "It will be alright."
But Draco didn't believe him.
Not a week. Just the hours of daylight.
Hermione flicked her wand to awaken the dying fire. It was her turn to keep watch tonight, and she had ventured a good distance away from their camp to escape the repetitive drone of Ron's snoring, mindful to stay within the Wards. She tilted her head and looked back up to the cloudless sky; a deep blue canvas speckled with blinking stars, and she decided it was all too calm. Too beautiful.
They'd listened to the 'Potterwatch' broadcast earlier and Hermione's heart had sank for Tonks. If her calculations were correct, Tonks was only a few days away from her due-date, and she couldn't begin to comprehend how her friend would be feeling under the circumstances. And Annabelle Snowbloom…
Yes, she'd only met the woman for a fleeting moment in time, but sometimes the briefest of encounters can leave the boldest of imprints on your memory.
Hermione simply found it all so bizarre that there were wizards and witches being slaughtered amongst the flames of war, and here she was; studying constellations with a book in her lap and only the snapping sounds of embers the to disturb the peace.
For the hundredth time, she caught herself staring at the fourteen stars that outlined the constellation in the shape of a dragon, and she closed her eyes to savour a daydream of Draco sighing against her neck.
Her eyes snapped open and she straightened her spine when a second set of breaths accompanied hers.
Her conscience was itching again.
"You should be resting, Harry," she mumbled guiltily as he neared her. "You kept watch last night, so you must be tired."
"I can't sleep," he replied, dropping to the ground to sit beside her. "I thought I'd come keep you company, and I wanted to talk to you-
"Are you going to ask me why I've been avoiding Ron?" she questioned before she lost her nerve, and she frowned when Harry's eyebrows lifted with bewilderment. "I heard you two talking about it several nights ago-
"Hermione, we didn't mean anything by it-
"I know, I know," she hushed him. "I'm not upset or anything. I mean, Ron was right, I have been acting…differently around him, and you are entitled to explanation, but I just…I am uncertain how to explain this."
"You know you can tell me anything," said Harry softly. "It's okay-
"I'm not sure if I…," she trailed off, but she shook her head firmly. "No. No, I need to tell you-
"Ron was right," she rushed out. "I, um…I don't feel anything romantic towards him like I used to, and there is…someone else."
Harry tilted his head, and she could see a flicker of disappointment behind his glasses. "We thought that might be the case," he confessed. "Well…that's okay-
"It's not that part I'm worried about," she moaned, and she had to avert her eyes. The dance of the flames captivated her for a moment. "I just…I need to figure out how to tell you this."
"Right," she said with conviction. Hell, she had started now. "Remember what I told you about Snape? Well, he came back to Hogwarts to ask McGonagall a favour…And I was there, and, um…the favour was to hide…" she hesitated before she said his name. "…Draco from You-Know-Who, because he failed his mission and-
"Malfoy?" Harry asked in a stunned tone. "Malfoy was at Hogwarts? We thought he was dead."
"No," she whispered. "He's very much alive. Anyway, McGonagall asked me to…keep an eye on him, I guess, and he was staying in my dorm, and we lived together for a few months-
"I don't understand," Harry interrupted, looking completely lost. "What does Malfoy have to do with this?"
"Everything," Hermione blurted, and she met her best friend's confused stare because she had to. Her heart went wild in ribcage. This was it. "Harry, it's him…it's Draco."
She felt her chest constrict when her best friend physically recoiled at her words. "What...what are you-
"Now just…just listen to me," she stuttered. "When he was living in my dorm, I got to know him and we just…I developed feelings for him and it just sort of happened-
"You're actually serious," he murmured incredulously, getting to his feet and backing away from her. "Hermione, are you-
"He's not what you think he is," she rambled desperately, following him as he moved away. "He's not, I swear-
"He's a bloody Death Eater!" Harry exclaimed. "How could you even think that-
"He's not really one of them!" she argued quickly. "You know he's not! You said yourself that he wouldn't have actually killed Dumbledore-
"And that excuses everything else?"
"No, of course not!" she tried, and she felt the tears begin to burn. "But he's not like that now! Harry, I swear, if you could just speak to him, you would see-
"I would see the same evil prat who did everything he could to make our lives hell!"
"No, no you wouldn't," she disputed adamantly. "He's different now. Think about Regulus, Harry! And Snape! It's not always so black and white. People can change. People do change-
"Harry, just listen-
"You betrayed us!"
"He's not one on their side-
"He's not on our side though-
"Harry, please trust my judgement on this," she implored, grabbing his arm and forcing him to face her. "You are…you are best friend, practically my brother and I need you to try and understand."
A pained expression crossed his features. "Hermione, I don't think I can-
"Harry, you know me," she continued. "If I…if I thought there was any way that he would still be associated with the Death Eaters, then I wouldn't-
"I just can't-
"I'm sorry for lying to you," she said sincerely. "I really am-
"But not for getting involved with him?"
"I…no," she stammered. "No, I don't regret what happened-
"Do you love him?" asked Harry suddenly.
"Do you love him?"
Hermione swallowed back the lump in her throat. "Yes, I do."
He grimaced and pulled away from her, rubbing his eyes with the heels of his hands. She could see the conflict etched in every muscle of his face as he began to pace for some lingering minutes, glancing back at her and shaking his head. She wanted to continue defending Draco, but she doubted it would help the matter, and as the silence stretched out between them, she could see the horror slowly leaving Harry, until he released a heavy breath and paused his steps.
"I'm not going to pretend I understand," he said finally. "I don't think I ever could-
"But you are my best friend," he carried on, looking completely defeated. "I love you like a sister, Hermione, and I…I'm thinking about the people who were killed today and…You know, the likelihood that we will all survive this War is not looking brilliant-
"You don't know that. We can win this-
"But we might not," he stopped her. "And I would never want you and I to end on bad terms after everything we have been through. You have stood by me through all the…insane decisions I have made with no questions asked, and perhaps I can…return that favour…I think."
"I'm not saying I'm happy about it," he told her. "Far from it. I think you are…completely wrong about Malfoy, and I don't think that opinion will ever change, but it's not like he's here and I have to see it, so I will…tolerate it, I guess."
"Okay," Hermione accepted his response with a weary frown. "Well…thank you. Now, I just need to figure out how to tell Ron-
"You can't tell him," Harry interjected swiftly. "No way-
"What do you mean?" she asked. "He needs to know. I feel like I'm leading him on, and it's cruel-
"Hermione, it would devastate him if he knew about Malfoy," he reasoned. "And he's got enough to think about. Didn't you see him today when they were announcing who had been murdered? All his family are involved in this War-
"I can't keep lying to him, Harry-
"He loves you, you know," he stated as though it was obvious. "He hasn't said it, but I can tell he does-
"Harry," she groaned. "That's all the more reason-
"You can't tell him," he said firmly, brushing past her. "I'm going to bed. Tomorrow we act like this conversation never happened, okay?"
Hermione sighed, looking back at the withering fire as she numbly nodded her head with assent. She could hear Harry's footsteps getting distant as he returned to the tent, and she was alone again. Retaking her seat on the ground, her eyes went back to the sky and sought out the constellation that stirred memories, and it was as if nothing had changed.
The lies and secrets remained, and her conscience felt just as bruised as before.
a/n: Okie doke. Sorry about the wait, guys! I just want to say a huge thanks to the girls who have offered to translate this fic into Chinese, Spanish, Italian and Russian! I mean…wow…thank you so much. There's a link on my profile for the Spanish translation, and I'll out links for the others soon! Also had some new fanart! Links are in my profile!
Ummm okay…here's the hard part. So, the final Harry Potter film is just a few days away and I think we're all going to be a little…heartbroken to say the least. I mean, did anyone see the premier with Emma and JK crying? I was bawling…I guess what I'm trying to say is good luck, and I think we're lucky to have such a beautiful fandom, which consists of people who are so supportive with each other, so I shall my raise my glass of wine to all the potterheads.
I hope the chapter was okay…ummm…yeah…let me know! Read and Review and all that jazz! Thanks for your amazing responses so far!