a/n: Just the usual song recs! Aqualung and Lucy Schwartz - Cold, The Fray - Be Still and Mumford and Sons - Timshel. Huge thank you to my Beta, Maeghan (occupymalfoysbed on tumblr) for betaing this chapter! Hope you like it!

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ISOLATION

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Chapter 44: Dying

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Hermione had stopped crying ten minutes ago.

After wailing into Draco's chest for less than sixty seconds, she had abruptly stilled, pulled away from him, and then roughly sleeved away the evidence of her tears, like she was ashamed. She'd then squared her shoulders and heaved in a deep breath; a soldier's determination. Draco had asked her if she was alright and she'd replied, "Now is not the time. I should be helping." And then, with a final heartbroken glance at Tonks and Remus, she'd walked away and had barely spoken a fistful of words since.

Draco had wanted to tell her that no one would begrudge her some mourning time, and that she could scream into his shoulder for as long as she needed, but he didn't. He'd considered offering her some form of consolation, despite his discomfort with affectionate gestures, but she'd assured him she was fine when he'd tried to place his hand against her back. She'd shrugged him off, reiterating that she was fine, even though she evidently wasn't.

Had it not been for the crowd, he had a feeling he'd have been tempted to bait her into reacting, like he had after she'd Obliviated her parents. While some people coped well with bottling up all their angst, himself included, he knew Granger did not, but he couldn't provoke her here. There were too many eyes on him; most of them untrusting and hostile. And, no, he didn't give a shit about their curiosity as to why Granger was willingly at his side, but he doubted causing a scene would benefit the situation.

So he just let her be.

He just let her carry on, like everyone else.

The Great Hall was like a factory crossed with a funeral. Everyone in the room seemed to be divided into two categories: the mourners and the workers. Near the entrance of the Great Hall, not too far from Granger and himself, Draco could see Blaise and Lovegood's heads bobbing above the crowd as they helped with cleaning up some of the debris blocking the double doors. Millicent, Tracy, and Miles were working with Lee Jordan and Dean Thomas to hand out blankets, and countless other students were contributing in any way they could. Then there were the others, lingering by the fatality line, immobile with shock and sorrow.

But they were all mourners, really. Some were simply better at shutting the pain out and getting on with what needed to be done. Like Granger.

He and Granger were sat near the line for the wounded now, and she was keeping herself busy treating small cuts and abrasions on the victims and ensuring that they each had a supply of water. It was hardly arduous work; most of the people didn't care enough to have their minor injuries healed, but at least she had something to focus on. Draco couldn't understand how she could bear to be here, though.

The line for the wounded was so much worse than the line for the dead.

Almost all of the healing potions had been exhausted a while ago, before Draco had even entered the Great Hall, according to Slughorn. There was no Skele-Gro, no Blood-Replenishing Potion, no Wound-Cleaning Potion, and as all of the potions required a minimum of three hours brewing time, they wouldn't be available anytime soon. Pomfrey and the professors were trying to aid the victims, but Healing Spells and a half-empty tin of Burn-Healing Paste could only do so much.

The fighters with the most severe injuries simply had to wait in agony, delaying death if they could, and their whimpers and moans were a constant, haunting drone. In the past ten minutes alone, eight people had been carried into the Great Hall by the recovery teams; four had immediately been placed in the line for the dead, two were waiting to have treatable injuries tended, and the final two had died slowly. Painfully. Loudly. Barely twenty feet away from where Draco and Hermione were sat.

In reality, the line for the wounded was also a line for the dying.

Hermione lifted her head when Oliver Wood entered the room with the ninth recovered casualty slung over his shoulder, heading straight for the fatality line. Following her line of sight, Draco only saw a tuft of blood-matted, mousy hair and a Gryffindor tie swinging from side to side, but he didn't recognise the body from his angle. He turned to study Granger, watching her features tighten a little as she paused in her task to observe Wood carefully place the body alongside the rest of the fallen.

"That's Colin Creevey," she muttered. "He's underage. And a Muggle-born."

Draco frowned. "Granger-

"He shouldn't have been here. He should've left with the others."

Uncertain what he could or should say, Draco remained silent as Hermione resumed filling water bottles. Unwittingly, he reached out and tangled his fingers in some of the stray curls that had slipped out of her ponytail, coiling them around his thumb, grazing the back of his hand against her back as he did so. He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting her to do, but he'd hoped for a reaction of some sort; perhaps a sigh or a shiver, but she didn't move. Had it not been for the subtle rises and falls of her chest, he would doubt she was even breathing.

He studied her closely, taking in her unsettlingly grey complexion, swollen eyes, and chapped lips. She looked ill. Very ill.

He was about to say something. What, he had no idea, but it was irrelevant. Someone was calling his name before he could mumble hers.

"Mr Malfoy," said McGonagall, wading her way through the students towards him. "My apologies for the wait, but I can fix..." she trailed off and her expression softened. "Miss Granger."

Hermione's head lifted, but she stared at the Headmistress with blank eyes. "Professor."

"My dear, you don't look well at all."

Hermione glanced at the line of the dead and swallowed hard. "I'm fine," she lied. "I'm just...I'm fine."

Draco frowned and pressed his palm against the small of her back. Her skin was cold through her jumper.

"All of us are fine, but no one is," said McGonagall quietly. "Keep yourself steady, Hermione. That's all you can do for now."

"Yes, professor," she nodded. "What were you saying to Draco?"

"Oh, yes. Mr Malfoy, I can heal that shoulder for you now, if you're ready?"

"Alright," said Draco, rising to his feet. His limbs felt like tree branches; rigid and creaking. The pain in his shoulder had slowed to a dull, thudding ache that he had forced himself to ignore for the last thirty minutes. As he made to follow McGonagall to the back of the Great Hall, he felt a small, clammy hand gently tug his fingers. When he turned around, Granger's face was different; still sullen and lost, but also thoughtful.

"Do you need me to come with you?"

Draco paused. In all honesty, no. No, he didn't need her to come with him. But he wanted her to. And perhaps she needed to come with him. Perhaps she needed the distraction. Perhaps even both of them did.

"Yes," he said finally.

They walked side by side to where McGonagall was waiting, perched on a stool at the far end of the Great Hall. Draco took a moment to look around, noting the Weasley family not too far away, talking amongst themselves. Just behind McGonagall, Slughorn was healing Eddie Carmichael's mangled ankle, and his Head of House shot him an almost appreciative glance, like he was grateful for Draco's presence.

"Take a seat," directed McGonagall, waiting until Draco was settled on the stool besides hers. "This shouldn't take too long, but it might be quite painful. We have run out of Pain-Relief Potion."

"Brilliant," mumbled Draco.

As Hermione came to sit at his side, he stared solely at her as McGonagall cast a spell to rip the sleeve of his shirt, exposing the blue, bruised skin of his shoulder. When Hermione offered him her hand, he took it without hesitation, twining their fingers and gripping it tight. He stared at her hard, examining her features closely. He hadn't really had the chance to look at her recently. Really look at her.

As bizarre as it sounded, an intense wave of...something washed over him. One of those emotions that neither one word nor a hundred can ever really describe, but it's in your head, your heart, your stomach, everywhere. She looked so... captivating to him at that moment, despite her ashen skin and bloody lips. If ever he was interrogated and forced to reveal the inner-most secrets of his soul, he would say it was this moment — this precise moment — that confirmed how he felt about Granger.

And there was no particular reason for it. It was just there, inside of him, like a new organ; beating and warm. As real and as present as he was. As she was.

"What?" asked Hermione.

"Nothing," he said. "I just-

"Okay, Mr Malfoy," interrupted McGonagall. "Ready?"

He nodded but kept his eyes on Granger, trying to keep his muscles relaxed as the heat from the Headmistress' wand began to tingle his skin. Hermione squeezed his hand, and then his shoulder was burning. Scorching. He squeezed her hand back and clenched his eyes shut, grinding his teeth as his shoulder slowly slotted back into place with a loud and excruciating snap.

"Motherfu-

"Thank you, Mr Malfoy," said McGonagall flatly. "I understand it's painful, but I don't like bad language."

Draco was about to retaliate with a few of his favourite expletives, but then the burning suddenly stopped, and everything felt normal again. Testing his shoulder, he rolled it a couple of times and stretched out his arm, satisfied that it was indeed healed.

"There," smiled McGonagall. "All done. That wasn't so bad. Certainly not worth swearing over."

"Let me set your arm on fire and see if you keep your language clean."

"Draco," Hermione frowned. "Say thank you."

Reluctantly, he forced out a grumbled, "Thank you."

"You're welcome. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to check up on a few things."

Waiting until the Headmistress had disappeared, Draco checked his shoulder again. "Not bad. She could've repaired my shirt, though."

"Don't be petty," scolded Hermione, but Draco didn't mind. At least she was speaking now. At least she was more like her. "Does it still hurt?"

"No, it's fine."

She rubbed her lips together pensively. "What were you going to say to me before she started to heal you?"

"What? Oh. I just..." He tried to find the right words. "I was just looking at you and I...I couldn't-

"Hey, Malfoy!"

Draco growled under his breath as another familiar voice severed his speech. And this voice in particular was not one he wanted to hear calling his name. Weasley approached them with a slight limp and looking more rumpled than usual with his shredded clothes and mussed hair. Draco rolled his eyes as his long-time rival stopped in front of him.

"Look, Weasley, I'm not in the mood to argue with you right-

"Fred told me what you did," said Ron. "He told me you saved his life."

Draco's mouth closed. Beside him, he felt Hermione jerk with surprise.

"I came here to say..." Ron continued awkwardly. "Um, I came here to say...thank you. Thank you for saving my brother. My family is grateful."

Draco licked his teeth with discomfort. "Right...well...okay then."

"Yeah...so, thanks," he said again before he turned to Hermione. "Have you seen Harry anywhere?"

Hermione slowly dragged her round, bewildered eyes from Draco to Ron. "I'm sorry, what, Ron?"

"Have you seen Harry?"

"Oh. No," she replied. "I assumed he was with you."

"No, but I'm sure he's around here somewhere. He's probably helping the others bring in the injured or something. I'll have a look for him."

With that, Weasley turned and left them alone, and Draco could feel the pressure of Hermione's inquisitive gaze on the side of his face. When he twisted his head, he met her smiling gaze.

"Granger," he warned. "Don't look at me like that. It wasn't like I-

"You saved Fred's life?"

"Technically, yes, but I-

She cut him off with a swift kiss, pressing her hands against his cheeks and digging her lips into his rather forcefully. Exhaling into his mouth, she seemed to release all of her anguish into him, and he thought he felt her lips sway into a small, relieved grin against his own.

It was one of those need kisses; all about how hard you can push your face into someone else's face, and hold them as tight as you can without breaking them or yourself. One of those kisses that hurt, but you do it anyway because it's a good kind of hurt. The kind of kiss that reminds you you're human.

She pulled away, but kept him close, resting her forehead against his.

"Thank you," she whispered.

"What for?"

"I'm not even sure. Just...being here, I guess. Being here with me."

Her tone was scratchy and broken, like she was crying, but he couldn't find any tears falling down her face. He frowned at her, stroking her arms with his fingertips.

"Where else would I be?"

He wasn't sure why, but his response apparently pleased her; the muscles in her face seemed to soften and she gripped his hands tight, stabbing his palms with her fingernails. Her smile stretched up her cheeks before she kissed him again; just a brief, sweet kiss to seal the sentiment. Again, he was aware of a few nearby Gryffindors and Ravenclaws firing confused glances their way, but he really didn't care. Not in the slightest. In all honesty, he was just relieved to see her being...her again. There was still sadness folded in between each line of her face, but at least she wasn't completely and utterly consumed by her grief anymore. At least she was animated and speaking again. At least she was...present.

Severing their eye contact, Hermione swept her eyes over the Great Hall, drinking in the mess and madness of it all. Her gaze returned to the fatality line, and Draco watched her face closely, half-expecting her to revert back into herself when she found Tonks. But the longer he looked at her, the more he thought that her expression actually looked somewhere between contemplative and conflicted, like she was seeing the chaotic room for the first time and trying to process it all with the logical side of her brain.

"Do you think we can win?" she asked suddenly.

"Granger," he said carefully. "You know I'm not the best person to answer that question."

"I'd still like you to. Please."

Hesitating to respond, he sighed and rubbed his eyes. "I don't know, Granger. It's not looking great. That being said, Weasley and I just had an almost civil exchange, so perhaps anything's possible. Maybe if they..." His voice faded out when realised she was smiling at him. "What?"

"I expected you to just say no," she said. "Some of your cynicism seems to have melted away."

His mouth twitched into a half-there grin. "Well, we can indisputably blame you for that."

She smiled, breathed out, and leaned her head against his shoulder. He felt rather than saw some of the tension seep out of her muscles as he turned his head to kiss her temple, leaving his lips to remain against the soft skin by her hairline. Draco decided both of them needed this; just a stolen moment of peace to rejuvenate and calm the thoughts pounding in their heads.

Even when a distant voice shouted, "We've found a survivor!" Draco didn't move. He barely acknowledged it. Similar declarations had been echoing around the room every five minutes or so, and were as normal to him now as the sound of the wind. The familiar sounds of a commotion (as people rushed forward to see who had been recovered) drifted up from the front of the Great Hall to the back, where he and Granger were seated, but still; neither of them lifted their heads.

It was only when Draco thought he heard someone calling his name that he glanced towards the far side of the hall.

He caught sight of Millicent rushing by, shoving aside the people in her way to get to the line for the wounded. A small cluster of five or six people seemed to be crowding around something there, and among them he could see Madam Pomfrey, Miles, and Tracy, all shifting and fidgeting restlessly.

Something felt wrong; something was wrong, and suddenly his instincts were on fire. Uncertain why, but feeling the urge to do so, he scanned the room for Blaise as dread welled up inside of him, unable to find his friend anywhere.

He heard his name being shouted again — "Draco!" — and he recognised Blaise's voice, coming from where the others were gathered. The panic was so loud and raw in Blaise's tone that Draco felt like it rocketed across the room and smacked into him, until all he could feel was panic, too. A cold and cruel shiver of comprehension shot down his spine and he jolted out of his seat, straining his eyes across the hall to try and see what had his fellow Slytherins so rattled, although he thought he already knew.

"Draco," said Hermione, standing up beside him and trying to follow his line of sight. "What is it?"

He didn't hear her, but he unintentionally answered her question anyway; he muttered one name to himself so quietly that it sounded more like a breath than a word.

"Theo."

Blaise's booming voice reached him again. "Draco!"

His body dashed forward before his mind even told it to do so, like two strong, invisible hands had pushed him towards the other side of the Great Hall. Heat rushed to his head. Swarming. Sweat was pooling on his back and blood was pumping everywhere else. His heart was hammering so fiercely, so wildly, that he could feel the beats in his toes. Thumping. Drumming. He felt sick with fear and concern; could actually taste vomit on the back of his tongue, scorching his taste buds and nostrils.

Don't be Theo, don't be Theo, don't be Theo.

He thrust himself into the crowd, surging forward like a wrecking ball and knocking two Hufflepuffs to the ground. Behind him, Hermione was shouting questions, but he just kept on running, whipping around the obstacles in his path as fast as he could. The Great Hall felt longer than it had ever felt, seemingly stretching on for miles.

Please don't be Theo.

Why wasn't Blaise calling his name anymore? What had changed?

He was almost there, but he didn't slow down. He couldn't slow down. He was too frantic. Too urgent. Too fucking frightened of what he might find.

When he reached the huddled group of his fellow Slytherins, he skidded to a graceless halt, crashing into Miles and Millicent. Elbowing them aside, his eyes dropped to the floor, and then he lost his balance, staggering back two steps when the full extent of the damage registered. Miles reached out to steady him, but he was oblivious to it; his attention was completely focused on the scene before him, absorbing it all in stages. Slowly. Disbelievingly. In shock. He wasn't even sure where to begin.

The reason he'd been unable to locate Blaise in the Great Hall was because he was on his knees. On Blaise's lap rested Theo's head, tipping to the side and so misshapen that Draco initially thought it didn't look like Theo at all. But perhaps he could blame that on denial. Or hope. Weren't they the same thing anyway?

Theo's face was a colourful, broken mess. Both of his eyes were swollen, bulging out of their sockets and bruised a deep shade of purple with spots of sickly yellow at the edges. One of his ears was bleeding, the blood trickling into his hair and down the side of his face. There was blood dribbling from his mouth, too, and his lips were bared, displaying red-stained teeth; too dark and too thick to simply be from a split lip. Scratches and bruises decorated his skin like morbid scribbles and inkblots, slicing into his lifeless expression, and he was so pale he was almost blue.

Theo's body was in a similar state; all scarred, battered, and beaten. Gashes and grazes marred every inch of exposed flesh, mingling with more bruises, but they weren't what alarmed Draco most. The bottom half of Theo's once white shirt was drenched with blood. Completely sodden and saturated, and so...red. Dark red. Almost brown, like rust.

The obvious source was a thick and long wound near Theo's stomach, visible through the tear in his shirt, and Draco couldn't stop staring at it. It appeared to gape back at him, all wet and oozing, and so, so bad. The longer Draco looked at it, the slower everything else seemed to get; the people around him, the sounds, his heartbeat. He felt trapped by it. Stuck in a moment as realisation slowly seeped in, his brain refusing to function until he'd processed it all.

And when it finally sank in — when he understood — he felt scared. Scared and angry.

Scared because didn't know what to do, and angry because he didn't think there was anything he could do.

Everything shifted back into motion. Everything carried on. Draco's heartbeat accelerated, roaring in his ribcage now, thumping so fast it felt like it might force its way out of his mouth. The last time he'd felt like this was when he'd seen Granger after she'd been tortured by Bellatrix; that sick feeling of helplessness.

Reaching out, he placed his hand on Theo's arm, grimacing when he registered how cold Theo's skin felt beneath his fingertips. In an almost childish manner, he nudged his friend, waiting for a reaction that never came.

"Theo," he said, but his voice came out so much quieter than he'd intended. He tried again. "Theo."

Nothing.

He flinched when a warm hand settled on his back between his shoulder blades. He didn't need to look to know it was Granger, and she was speaking to him, but he didn't hear a word of it. Finally ripping his eyes away from Theo's wound, he turned to Blaise, who was holding Theo's head in his lap with such care and caution, like an egg that was already cracked. His normally calm expression was scrunched up with desperation and fear, and never, ever could Draco recall a time when Blaise had looked so lost. So terrified. And that made it so much worse.

Because Blaise was the logical one in their dysfunctional Slytherin trio. The soothing voice of reason. If Blaise was panicking, then there was good reason to panic. If Blaise was scared, the whole world should be scared, too.

Draco carried on staring at him, trying to focus on the words coming out of his mouth. Blaise was speaking — or rather pleading — with Madam Pomfrey, who was stood nearby, looking completely overwhelmed and flustered, still sporting bloodstains on her face and clothes. Willing his head to steady itself, Draco forced away the static muffling his ears and concentrated hard on their voices.

"...internal damage, Mr Zabini. The loss of blood-

"You must be able to so something!" he shouted. "The potions-

"Even if I had any potions, it's unlikely..." She sighed. "It's too late. He has...minutes. Perhaps an hour, tops. He's dying-

"And you're doing nothing about it!"

"There is nothing I can do. I'm sorry." And she really was sorry, but apologies can only do so much. Sometimes they do nothing at all.

Draco watched the exchange mutely, wanting to contribute, but unable to. Relevant and syntactical sentences refused to form in his head or on his tongue. Only idle words seemed to register, like dying, and pain, and Theo, Theo, Theo. Draco's hands began to shake.

"Fuck you and your apology!" snarled Blaise. "You call yourself a Mediwitch?"

"Blaise," whispered Lovegood. "It's not her fault."

"I'm not saying it is, but she should be able to help! That's your job! What the hell is the point in you being in here if you can't help?"

"I'm doing what I can, Mr Zabini-

"Well, it's not fucking good enough!"

Pomfrey closed her eyes and massaged the bridge of her nose. "Mr Zabini, I am sorry. I really am. There is nothing that can be done. If it's any comfort, he will probably remain unconscious and pass away peacefully."

"Just go away," said Blaise, his tone defeated. "Just leave us alone."

With a final apology muttered under her breath, the aging Matron left the Slytherins alone, heading over to another victim. Blaise heaved in a shuddering breath and then shifted his dark, sunken eyes to Draco, opening his mouth to say something. Draco's lips were slightly agape, too, ready with hundreds of questions, but they were both interrupted before they could speak.

"Sh-shows what she fucking knows."

Everyone looked down at Theo as he slowly peeled back his lids, his eyes narrow, weak slits, peering up at them from the floor. He swallowed and then choked, more blood leaking out of his mouth and spilling down his chin. His breathing was uneven, wheezing with every inhale, and his chest bobbed up and down with unhealthy jerks.

"Remain uncon-unconscious, my arse," he stuttered. "McGonagall better dock her p-pay."

"Theo," said Draco, moving closer. "Theo, you okay?"

It was a stupid question, but Draco didn't realise how stupid it was until it was out there.

"Oh, yeah," replied Theo, still managing to sound sarcastic. "Bloody sp-spiffing."

Horror flashed across Blaise's features. "Theo, did you hear what else Pomfrey said?"

"About me dying? Yeah, th-that part was pretty loud and clear." He somehow managed to tweak his mouth into a pathetic smirk. "F-fucking typical that I have to look at your two ugly faces on my deathbed."

"Now is not the time your sodding jokes, Theo!" blurted Blaise, suddenly furious. "You're fucking dying! Do you understand that?"

"T-technically, we're all dying," he said, somehow nonchalantly. "I'm just going to b-beat you all to the finish line, which is p-pretty decent considering I've never won anything before. D-do you think I'll get a medal?"

"Stop it!" spat Blaise, and his tone reminded Draco of the day Blaise had destroyed apple trees when Lovegood had been missing; rage and grief intertwined. "Stop trying to be fucking funny! This is not funny!"

"Blaise," Luna interjected. "Calm down."

"No, I will not calm down!" He glared sadly at Theo. "Didn't I tell you? Didn't I tell you not to go after your father? Didn't I-

"I k-killed my father. My father didn't do this to me." He tilted his head to regard Draco. "Yours did."

Draco thought he was going be sick. His body rocked forward a little and his spine went so stiff he thought it might fracture, or snap, or whatever it is spines do. Balling his hands into tight fists and trying to contain his temper, he glanced down at Theo's abdominal wound again and smothered a gag.

"My father did this to you?"

"D-don't get all fucked up about it. I think it was...I think it was an accident. I heard him cast a spell, and I think it got d-deflected. The wall fell..." He choked again, but he tried to cover it with a grin. "There go my d-dreams of becoming a river dance champion."

"Theo, stop it," hissed out Blaise. "You shouldn't be making jokes about this."

"Were you expecting some dramatic and touching last words?" he asked. "Because I-I left my speech in my other pocket. Not my l-lucky day, apparently."

"Theo," tried Draco. "Stop it."

He was still smirking. "F-fucking hell, you pair are miserable. Who died?"

A brief, but very present silence fell upon their little group like a wet blanket; heavy and suffocating. Draco felt Granger's hand press harder against his back, rubbing her thumb over one of the dents of his spine, futilely trying to soothe him. He didn't respond to the gesture. He was too trapped by the silence and the situation, anxious to escape one or both of them, but uncertain how. He didn't know what he could say, what he should say, or if he should say anything at all. Apparently Blaise was also at a loss because his lips formed around various words, but none left him, and his eyes darted from Theo's face to his wound, wide and petrified, like a child.

But it was Lovegood who kicked aside the silence. Leaning forward so she could better see Theo, her expression remained distant and her tone naive as she spoke.

"Are you scared?" she asked, sounding so eerily innocent.

The mirth drained away from Theo's expression like rain skimming down a window pane. He looked grave now; his brow furrowed and the muscles in his jaw fixed and tense.

"N-no. No, I'm not scared."

Luna frowned. "Why not?"

"I'm just d-done," said Theo, feebly shaking his head Blaise's lap. "I'm just...just sick of it."

"Sick of what?" asked Draco.

"Of this...this p-pathetic excuse for a life. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of being unhappy, but doing nothing to try and be ha-happy. I'm sick of crying out for help and then rejecting anyone who t-tries to help me. I'm sick of w-wanting things and doing nothing to get them. I'm sick of feeling dis-disappointed, and I'm sick of being a disappointment. I'm sick of not feeling passionate, or excited, or f-fucking anything about anything. I'm sick of being angry, and af-afraid, and sad. I'm sick of pretending that I'm okay. I'm sick of pretending that I un-understand. I'm just s-sick of it all, because all of it's nothing. And it's my fault it's nothing."

"Your fault?" echoed Blaise. "What do you mean?"

"It's like...my life is this c-cage, and from my cage I can see you all being happy, and living, and just being...n-normal. I just sit in my cage and watch you...wondering what it's like. And every now and then, someone will hand me a k-key to unlock my cage, but I never do. Because it's my cage. Even though I detest it, it's mine. And people keep giving me keys, and I keep throwing...throwing them away. I'll always throw them away, and I don't even know why." He coughed, spraying blood across Blaise's shirt. "Th-there's your speech, arseholes."

One small, stubborn tear slid down Blaise's cheek. "You had us."

"N-not enough," sputtered Theo, his voice weaker. "N-needed more. Needed my own reason...Never got it. N-never close."

Draco shifted closer again, carefully placing his hand on Theo's shoulder. "Does it hurt?"

"No," said Theo, stifling a whimper. "No, no. It doesn't h-hurt. Just...tired really."

Theo blinked heavily, and when he reopened his eyes, they were round and terrified, like he'd finally grasped the severity of his condition. His hands shot out, grasping the scruff of Blaise's shirt with clawing, desperate fingers. His breathing accelerated, leaving him in fast, irregular gasps, and he began to cry. Tears poured down his face in streams, splashing against Blaise's knees.

"P-please don't let them bury me with my father," he begged, his voice small and broken now. "N-not with any of my family. Please."

Blaise adjusted himself, cradling Theo's head in the crook of his arm, his face softer now. "Okay. Shh, calm down. It'll be okay."

"Please ask 'Dromeda if I...if I can be buried by T-Ted. I think sh-she'd be okay with that. You think she would b-be okay with that?"

"I'm sure it'll be fine," nodded Blaise.

"You p-promise me you'll ask."

"I promise."

Theo made an awful groaning sound deep in his chest, but he pushed past it and tugged at Blaise's shirt again. "I-I know after our parents got married, we refused to call ourselves b-brothers, but you were the closest fucking thing I ever had to one."

"I know," sighed Blaise.

"E-even if you are a dick."

Draco wasn't sure if Blaise laughed, or sobbed, or both to that last comment.

"Draco," said Theo, twisting his head. "I'm glad you...you're not a Death Eater prick trying to k-kill us all. I'm glad you sorted your...yourself out. I'm g-glad we're...we're..."

"Friends," supplied Draco.

"S-something like that, yeah."

Draco shut his eyes; he was doing everything in his power to keep himself contained and composed, but it was difficult. This was the first time he'd ever really lost somebody he considered...significant, and the weight in his chest was devastatingly heavy and so uncomfortably swollen that it was pushing up into his throat, strangling him. Restricting him. Something was in his eyes; tears or sweat, he wasn't sure, but they were stinging like hell. Burning.

Theo released a long breath and leaned back into Blaise's lap, his lids drooping. "P-proper tired now."

"No, wait!" yelled Draco. "Hang on for a bit. Maybe when the potions...Something might work."

"No, I think I'm d-done. Think it's just going to ha-happen now."

"No, no, no, Theo, just hold on. Come on, mate. Tell us some shit jokes or something."

"A j-joke?" he whispered. "Here's one: Th-there were three Slytherins...Three f-fucked up Slytherins. The first f-fell in love with...with the Gryffindor's P-Princess and became g-good. The second fell in l-love with Ravenclaw's An-Angel and became good, t-too. The third...the third did...n-nothing...b-but...but he tried..."

There was a prolonged moment of stillness and silence, and then Theo's head lolled lifelessly to the side, hanging over Blaise's arm. His hair fell across his forehead, partially shielding his open eyes as they stared at nothing. The only thing that seemed to move at all was the blood still dribbling down Theo's chin, slithering down his throat before gathering in the hollow of his collarbone.

But the rest of Theo was completely still. Locked in time. Dead.

Dead.

Draco sat on the cold floor, gawping at Theo, waiting for him to blink and say something like, "Did I fool you?" or "You two should see your faces." But nothing happened. Nothing. And then, as Draco slowly began to grasp the reality of what had happened, he realised that Theo would never do anything again, and for some reason, that thought killed Draco.

Theo would never be there again. He wouldn't be anywhere. There would just be a space occupied by his absence. Just a hole without a voice, or a face, or fucking anything signature to Theo. Theo was gone. Permanently. Always. And something in Draco snapped.

As Blaise gathered Theo's body close to his chest and bowed his head, Draco shot up to his feet, charging out of the Great Hall. The world was a cruel blur around him, carrying on like nothing had changed, even though everything had changed. Everything had gone so horribly wrong. Everything was broken.

He burst into a sprint, rushing by Wood and Longbottom, hauling in another corpse. The corridor felt like a vacuum; airless and empty. He couldn't breathe, but he kept running. At some point, he must have removed Andromeda's wand from his pocket because it was clutched tightly in his fist, ready and waiting. For what, he didn't know.

"Draco!"

Granger's voice, but he didn't stop. He tried to go faster when he realised her thudding footfalls were catching up to his. He didn't want her to reach him. She would stop him from doing something stupid, but he needed to do something stupid right now. He needed to break something. He needed to watch something explode. He needed a fucking orchestra of chaos to drown out the chaos in his head.

"Draco!"

Shit, she was getting closer. On any other day, he would have easily outran her with his long strides, but he was disorientated and breathless. He kept going, ignoring the ache in his limbs, but then he felt a hand latch onto his elbow and pull him backwards, slowing him down. He tried to shake her off, but her grip was firm.

"Draco, stop!" demanded Hermione. "What are you doing?"

"Get off me!" he yelled, refusing to turn and look at her. "Let me go!"

"Where are you even going? Don't tell me you're thinking about going into the forest and finding the Death Eaters."

Was he? He wasn't even sure himself.

"I don't know! I need to get the fuck away! I need to...I need to do something!"

"Draco, look at me!" she shouted. He didn't. "I said look at me!"

When he still refused, she he yanked his elbow again with surprising strength, twisting his body around, and then she grabbed his face, forcing it to angle towards hers. She held him there, her fingers digging painfully into his chin, but he didn't care. Keeping his eyes low, he realised just how shallow and erratic his breathing pattern was, and he doubted his sprint was solely to blame. No, it was something else entirely. It was rage. He could feel it in his expression, in his blood, everywhere. He felt like he was flammable, and he was simply waiting for something to provide a flame.

"Get off me," he ground out between his clenched teeth.

"Draco, talk to me. I understand."

"That's the fucking problem!" he barked, batting away the hand holding his face. "Everyone understands! Everyone here has lost someone! Perhaps more than one person! And that means no one understands!"

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"How many friends have you lost today, Granger? Ten? Twenty?" He shook his head furiously. "I can count the number of people I give a shit about on one hand! That's all I have! That's all I'll ever have! And now one of them is gone!" He paused and clenched his eyes shut. "He's gone. He's just...gone."

"I'm sorry Theo died," said Hermione. "I'm sorry your friend died, Draco."

Something about her words weakened him, like they'd punched him in the gut and abandoned him on the floor. It all caught up to him then. The lack of sleep, the fighting, the stress...all of it. He was tried. He was just so bloody tired. In the past few hours, he had felt too many things; from elation when he'd found Granger, to complete and utter devastation barely two minutes ago, and every other conceivable emotion in between. He'd experienced them all, and he felt burdened by them, like he could actually feel the weight of them pressing down on him.

He was exhausted. Exhausted from experiencing too many emotions and having to carry on with all of this.

He finally glanced at Granger, and he didn't know if he wanted to lock her in his arms or run in the opposite direction. So he did neither. He stayed where he was. He could feel her concerned eyes on him, studying him closely before she began to approach him, her movements slow and cautious. When she was close enough, she reached up and touched his face, gently brushing her fingers against the ridges of his cheekbones, stroking her thumbs across his lips. He didn't respond in any way. He just let her touch him, feeling every feather-soft graze of her skin against his.

She was warm, and soothing, and calming, each glide of her fingers like a sedative. Her breath kissed his face, tingling and cooling, and he felt all that hot, volatile anger slowly seep out of him, but it was replaced with something so much worse: grief. He knew how to cope with anger, but grief was completely different and a complete stranger to him. An invasive stranger, and it felt like it was swallowing him whole.

"Is this what it feels like?" he asked, his voice quiet now. "Is this...what it feel like to lose someone?"

"Yes," she replied, still touching his face. "This is what it feels like."

"When does it stop?"

Hermione sighed and leaned up on her tip-toes, kissing his unresponsive mouth with her frowning lips. When she pulled back, she said, "I'm not sure it does stop, Draco."

Her words smacked him right between the eyes and his head started to hurt. There was a pounding at the back of his eye sockets, making his eyes water, or maybe it was the water in his eyes that was making his head pound. Either way, they were coming. Tears. Stupid fucking tears. And, Merlin, they were burning, trying to force their way out. Lowering his attention to the floor, he closed his eyes, desperate to force them back inside, or at least hide them.

"Draco," said Hermione, tilting his chin again."If you want to cry, just cry."

"I will not fucking cry," he growled, keeping his eyes shut. "What does it accomplish?"

"Absolutely nothing. But lots of people cry when they lose someone. There's no shame in it."

He briefly wondered why Granger wasn't telling him that everything would be okay, but he was glad she wasn't. He didn't think he could bear that. He wanted her words to mean something. He wanted her honesty. He wanted her experience, because this was all new to him, and he didn't know what to do.

Inhaling sharply through his nose, Draco could honestly say he fought with everything he had to prevent the tears from falling. His mistake was opening his eyes and looking at Granger. Had he resisted doing that, he might have saved himself some dignity.

"I won't tell anyone," whispered Hermione. "If you need to cry because your friend died, then cry."

And it just burst out of him. He buried his face in Hermione's shoulder and coughed it all out like a sobbing, frightened little boy. He cried for the war. He cried for Granger and himself, because they were here, watching people die. He cried for his father, because he didn't know if he had a father anymore. But he cried most for Theo. He cried for his absence. He cried for the faceless hole.

He cried until he stopped, but Theo was still dead.

It had accomplished nothing.

.


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A/n: Yes, I know, I'm massively shit. I have a job and shit now. Life's a bitch. And I really am very, VERY sorry this has taken me so long. But please don't send me threats or rude demands to update in my reviews. That's not cute. And that's not what the reviews are for. They're for feedback. And funnily enough, people being rude to me doesn't make me update any quicker. It just pisses me off. So stop that. To the people who have shown continuous support and provided genuine feedback, THANK YOU.

There's not long left to go. Two more chapters (I think), and an epilogue. So yeah...almost finished! Wehey!

Oh, and I should probably say sorry for this chapter...because...well...Theo. I've had this chapter planned from the beginning so I hope it was okay and realistic...death scenes make me nervous and I find them hard to write. But yeah, I have my reasons for Theo's death. It's not just a random thing done to piss people off or anything like that. It has a purpose, which will probably be more obvious next chapter, but if people want to ask questions, I'll happily answer them. But yeah...sorry!

Thanks for reading! Read and review please!

Bex