The next several moments were a blur. There had to be at least a dozen Death Eaters tailing them, as close as she could tell. She managed to knock three of them off their brooms with stunning spells as Draco shouted at her to KILL them, Granger, God DAMN it, FUCK Stupify - you need to KILL them!
She was killing them, though; that was the thing. A stunning spell was a death sentence to someone this high up in the air. She was killing them and she knew it - she'd never actually killed anybody before, not even in the heat of battle. She'd always used non-lethal spells. She'd expected it to be difficult, this business of knowing that she was ending someone else's life - but really, it wasn't. They were just shapes in the dark. Shapes in the dark that would kill her if she didn't get to them first. Every time she hit one of them and watched him (at least, she assumed they were all "him" - most Death Eaters were) fall soundlessly away, she found herself hoping – hoping furiously - that it was Nott or Zabini. Or the pig-eyed fellow they'd brought with them that time. The time that Draco had bought her away from them. Had saved her.
God, she hoped that so damn much.
In between firing spells at their pursuers, she was screaming directions to Draco. There are three on the left! There are four on the right! Pull up! Brake left! DIVE!
She only suggested they dive once. The free-fall he threw them into was so sheerly terrifying it nearly robbed her of her ability for rational thought. It did, however, throw the Death Eaters off their trail, at least for a few precious seconds. "We're almost there!" Draco yelled to her over his shoulder.
They were flying low now, low and fast, skimming treetops. Hermione could see a clearing ahead - a clearing that was empty, and then suddenly, an instant later, wasn't anymore. She couldn't hear the whipcrack sound that accompanies Apparition because she and Draco were still some distance away - but she saw the flashes, and then there were people standing there; ten or twelve people, at least.
"Thank God," Draco muttered, starting to slow their breakneck speed, and that was when one of their pursuers came barreling up beside them - Hermione hadn't even been aware of his approach, so riveted had she been on the figures below - and shot off a curse at nearly point blank range.
Draco, who'd become aware of this new threat just a fraction of a second before she did, wrenched the broomstick sharply to one side. His evasive action was enough to keep the hit from being lethal, but not enough to save her altogether. Pain like fire ripped through her left shoulder; it had been a cutting curse and had ripped open a deep, jagged gash.
She screamed and almost slipped off the broom; her left arm had gone utterly and instantly numb, and an incredibly powerful wave of lightheadedness swept over her. She slumped against Draco, only barely managing to keep hold of his wand with her right hand, and started listing to the side.
"Granger!" His voice was sheer panic. "Granger, no! NO!"
Even as her left arm fell limp to her side, she managed to drag her right hand higher, fisting it in the fabric of his shirt and holding on for dear life. She was still clutching the wand, but unable, now, to make any further use of it. A heartbeat later, though, the Death Eater that had managed to get so disastrously close to them was blasted off his broom by a spell that had not originated with either her or Draco. And it most certainly was not a stunning spell. The people on the ground were firing now. Hermione could hear them shouting. But everything was starting to go hazy.
"Sorry, Malfoy," she mumbled, her head falling against his shoulder. Her own shoulder felt like hot lead, and her sleeve had gone all warm and tacky. "I'm suh... sorry..."
"Fuck that, Granger, do not let go!" His voice was pure fury. "We're almost there, so hang on, do you hear me! I didn't do all this for NOTHING! Do NOT let go!" They were almost directly over the clearing now. He plunged them into another free-fall.
This time she couldn't even find it in herself to scream.
At the last moment, he yanked up on the broomstick - slowing their descent just enough so that their impact with the earth couldn't exactly be called a crash landing. Not exactly. It was close though.
It was damn close.
He twisted around at the last second, catlike, in order to grab Hermione to him. This action caused them to thud down on their sides instead of head-on, and they rolled a couple of times before they came to a true halt.
He was sprawled on his back, Hermione lying draped over him, clasped to his chest. She felt him heave beneath her, once - twice - pulling for breath. It seemed that the impact had knocked the wind out of him. Nevertheless, he was the one who regained the ability for coherent speech first.
"Granger." Shifting her slightly sideways, he struggled into a sitting position. He was panting from exertion. "Granger." He started looking her over through narrowed silver eyes; scanning quickly for damage. "Where are you hit? How badly are you hurt?"
"I -" she was gasping for breath herself. "It was just my shoulder, I'm bleeding but I don't think it's -"
"SHIT! Get DOWN!" Faster than she could comprehend, he was rolling with her again; the world seemed to spin and turn upside down, and then she was the one flat on her back, with him crouched protectively over her, and hostile spells were hitting the ground all around them; vicious streaks of light in poisonous colors throwing up clods of dirt and grass wherever they struck down, a couple of them causing the ground to actually sizzle.
Someone was shouting nearby, "- Up, get a barrier up around them, for fuck's sake, NOW!" It was a voice she recognized; a voice she knew. Could it be? Dear sweet God, could it actually be?
"Harry...?" she breathed, unable to make sense of it - everything was happening so fast. Harry... was here? How? HOW?
A split second later a protective shield was thrown into place above them, deflecting the hailstorm of curses raining down from above. Hermione couldn't see who was responsible for the forcefield, but considering how chaotic the entire situation had become, it was done with remarkable speed and accuracy.
But still not quite quickly enough.
One final spell got through, in the nanosecond before the shield took effect - and this one didn't hit ground, as its predecessors had. Hermione knew that Draco'd been hit because of the way his body snapped tight against hers, his fingers digging into her with a sudden painful intensity - but more even than that, she saw it in his eyes.
They flew wide and in the heartbeat's worth of time before he slammed his guard back into place, she saw that this was bad. This was very bad.
"No," she said hoarsely. "No!"
"It's fine, Granger," he said, but he was speaking through clenched teeth. "Come on. Get up."
"No, you're -"
"I said I'm FINE." He got to his feet, pulling her up with him. Then staggered, falling sideways into her. For just a moment, she was the one who was supporting him - but then he mastered himself again.
"Come on." He seized her by the arm - the uninjured one - and pulled her toward the small knot of people who stood a short distance away, ranged in a loose circular formation with their backs to each other, protected, so that they could fire into the air at the Death Eaters that were now circling above them.
The forcefield that had been thrown into place around them seemed to travel with them, because though the air was thick with flying spells and curses, they were left untouched. But even so, they were still several yards away from their newly arrived defenders when an intense wave of faintness, liberally tinged with nausea, engulfed Hermione. Her knees buckled and would have spilled her to the ground were Draco still not holding onto her arm.
As it was, he had to act fast to prevent her full collapse. Swearing a blue streak, he caught her and swung her up into his arms - wincing and stumbling as he did so. His jaw was clenched in a hard, tight line; his face paler than she'd ever seen it. And for Draco Malfoy, who wore "pale" like a fashion statement, that was saying something.
But everything was sliding out of focus. Her entire left arm was a warm, heavy, useless weight - the sleeve of her shirt utterly soaked. Tacky. Crimson. Vaguely, distantly, it occurred to her that she was losing a lot of blood. A lot. Too much.
"Hold... on, Granger," Draco muttered, even though it seemed that speech was becoming an issue for him. His voice was thick; fuzzy around the edges. "You're almost safe."
And then they were there, right in the midst of the people who were holding the Death Eaters at bay. Draco shouldered his way into the protected space at the center of the circle, before sinking to his knees and easing Hermione to the brown, trampled grass.
A second later he was ripping at the blood-saturated fabric of her sleeve, causing her to choke out a little cry of pain.
"Granger, I gotta see how bad it is -"
"It's just my arm," she protested, trying to jerk away from him. Not succeeding. "What about you, you're hurt too!"
"I fucking told you I'm fine -"
"No you're not, I saw you -"
"Will you just shut the fuck up and let me LOOK!"
Theirs weren't the only voices flying back and forth, either. In addition to the multitude of spells that were being cast and deflected, a fractured conversation was taking place among the people now grouped around and above them.
"- check, make sure it's really her!"
"Yeah, don't trust that -"
"What's our exit strategy? There are too many of them!"
"Kingsley, can I -"
"Yeah Ron, go on. We've got it covered, for a minute anyway -"
And then, incredibly, unbelievably, he was there - right there, dropping to one knee beside her, opposite Draco. Ron. Her Ron. It was almost more than she could comprehend. Her head was spinning.
He looked awful. Almost unrecognizably awful. Looked like he'd aged ten years since she'd seen him last. Face gaunt and lined; eyes haunted. Hair too long, five-o'clock-shadow clinging to his cheeks and jaw.
"Hermione?" His voice was hoarse almost to the point of being strangled. He raised a shaking hand to cup her cheek.
"Don't take anything for granted, Ron!" someone shouted down. Distantly, she thought it sounded like either Fred or George. "Make sure! You have to make sure!"
"Right." Ron swallowed hard; raked his other hand through his hair. "What... what did I give you for Christmas last year?"
"I... uhm... a silver pendant shaped like a Quidditch broom... and a... a gift certificate to Flourish & Blotts."
His face crumpled then; he was crying. She'd never seen Ron cry, never. "It's her," he shouted, and then he was pulling her to him, engulfing her in his arms, and she could feel that his whole body was shaking just as his hands were; all of him shaking, and hard.
He was actually rocking her a little, back and forth, and sobbing into her hair, "Oh God, Hermione, I thought I'd lost you, Hermione, Hermione, oh my God..."
But there was too much going on around them for Hermione to be able to lose herself in the moment. The shouts of their defenders were becoming increasingly panicked -
"- more of them arriving!"
"Must be twenty of them up there at least!"
"How are we gonna get out of here! What the hell are we gonna do!"
"- don't know, just keep bringing them down!"
And then, at a much closer proximity, there was Draco, who was now shouting at Ron.
"- all very touching, Weasley, but she's hurt! You have to get her some medical attention, do you hear me! You have to get her help!"
"Hurt...?" Ron sounded nearly as dazed as she felt. He disengaged from their embrace, holding her gently at arm's length, looking her over. "Hurt how? Where?"
"Are you fucking BLIND! Look at her arm! She's losing blood. Weasley." Quite suddenly, Draco had Ron by a fistful of the redhead's shirt, bringing the two of them nearly nose to nose. "There are three things," Draco said, "that you have to do now. And you have to do them quick. First, get her the FUCK out of here. Second, get her the help she needs. And third - Weasley! Are you bloody well listening! - Third is a paternity spell. You have to perform a paternity spell. Do you understand me? Get her out of here. Get her well. And then, a paternity spell. It's simple. All right?"
"Pa... paternity... Malfoy, what?"
"Goddamnit, Weasley, just DO it. Now get her out of here. I'll cover you." Reaching over, he seized his wand, which was still clutched in Hermione's right hand, and pulled it gently but firmly away from her. He glanced up at the sky, where an increasing number of dark figures were circling. "I'll cover all of you," he said. "I should be able to hold them off, long enough for you and everyone else to Apparate away."
He stood then - swayed on his feet a second - but caught himself, gritting his teeth. He thrust one arm high in the air, pointing his wand straight up, and began muttering what sounded like an incredibly complex incantation.
Ron, meantime, unfolded to his feet, pulling Hermione up with him. He still had her clasped tightly against him - she would not have been able to stand on her own.
"Malfoy," Ron said, his voice still croaky and unsteady with emotion. "Why?"
Draco's silver eyes settled briefly on Ron's dark ones. "Why did I return her? Trust me, Weasley, it had fuck-ALL to do with you. And that's really all I've got to say about it. Now shut up - you're distracting me."
He closed his eyes, brow furrowing, and with a few more murmured words, completed the incantation. There was a whooshing sound and a sudden swift breeze that ruffled his sugar-white hair, lifting it away from his face. Then a beam of light shot from his wand into the air with such force that he staggered - but again, managed to steady himself.
The light was violently green in color, and incredibly bright. It arced outward in all directions, from where Draco stood almost dead-center in the circle of people on the ground, quickly forming an umbrella-like shield that was far larger and more substantial than the one that had been thrown over him and Hermione earlier.
The people on the ground stopped firing as it became apparent that they were protected now. A couple of them braced their hands on their knees, panting for breath; a couple more dropped to their knees to tend fallen comrades. Harry raced to where Ron was standing with Hermione and pulled her into a crushing embrace, before turning to face Draco.
"How are you doing this, Malfoy?" he demanded. "I've never seen a spell like this before."
"Not... surprising, Potter," Draco panted, his breath - and words - now choppy and labored. "It's dark... magic and... it's incredibly draining. So get... the hell out of... here now. Can't do... this much longer."
As if to punctuate his words, he then abruptly slipped to his knees - but his wand arm remained steady, and the glowing green umbrella-shield barely flickered.
"All right, everyone go!" Harry yelled. "Get the injured to St. Mungo's, then we meet up again to debrief - you all know the coordinates. See you on the other side. GO!"
They began to disappear, popping out of existence in two's and three's. "Do you want the coordinates, Malfoy?" Harry asked.
"Thanks, Potter but... I think not," Draco said. "I don't suppose you've noticed, but I'm... a little wrapped up at the moment."
"But if you wanted to follow -"
"Potter would you just GO! I can't... keep this up... I can't."
"All right." Harry stared hard at him for a moment more. He, Ron and Hermione were now the only ones left beneath the shield, save Draco himself. "I don't know what brought this on, Malfoy," he said then, "but thank you."
Draco responded with a short, bitter bark of laughter. "It's nothing... and I mean NOTHING... to do with you, Potter," he said. "Seriously. So you can save... your thanks."
"I don't doubt that for a second," Harry replied, "but whatever the motive, it benefits me just the same... so the thanks are yours. Keep them." He turned to Ron then. "All right?"
"Yeah," Ron said. "Right behind you, mate."
Harry nodded - and vanished.
"Seriously, Malfoy," Ron said then, "why?"
Again that bitter, humorless "Hah!" of laughter. "Seriously, Weasley, you don't want to know. You DON'T. Want to know. Oh, but here -" He plunged his free hand into his trouser pocket; groped about for a minute, then pulled it out, fisted around something. "Catch -" he threw a very small, silvery object toward where Ron and Hermione still stood locked together, and Ron - ever the Keeper - snatched it out of the air with ease.
In that instant, Draco locked his pale gaze not on Ron's eyes, but Hermione's. "I got it back for you," he said, and Hermione looked down to see her engagement ring sparkling in the palm of Ron's hand.
Time seemed to slow down for Hermione as she stared at the ring. She couldn't believe she was seeing it again - she hadn't thought she'd ever see it again. And then the implications hit her - why had he returned it now, why had he chosen this particular moment to give it back? It could only mean -
"But you are coming too?" she said slowly, raising her eyes back to Draco's. "You are coming with us - right?"
She read his answer in his face.
"NO!" She wrenched herself free of Ron. "No, you're coming, there's no reason why you can't, you don't even need the coordinates, you can just side-along with us -"
She threw herself toward him, but he surprised her by flinching away.
"DON'T TOUCH ME!"
She stopped just a couple of feet shy of him, arrested by his shout, then slipped to her own knees, their eyes locked together.
"Granger," he said more gently, "dark magic, remember? You cannot touch me while I'm performing this spell. Some of its essence would be channeled over to you. It would hurt you - it might kill you. You have to go."
"Granger, there's nothing to argue. All you've got is a slice to your shoulder - you're gonna be just fine, if your idiot boyfriend ever gets you to hospital. But I got hit too, remember? And I gotta say – mine was a bastard. There's nothing... that can be done... I'm on borrowed time. And that time is running out."
He looked past her. "Weasley -" his voice was now colored with desperation - "get her out of here. Get her out of here. Please."
She didn't even hear Ron come up behind her; a second later he was just there, wrapping his arms around her and murmuring, "come on, love - we gotta go."
And God, it had been so long since she'd felt this safe, snug in his arms, and God, she had missed this, missed it wildly - the sound of his voice, the smell of him - cut grass and leather and chocolate, and something else that was harder to define, but wholesome, all so wholesome and good - but her mind was screaming no, No, NO - they couldn't leave Draco like this, they couldn't, could NOT -
And she remembered then, suddenly and with crystal clarity, a thought she'd had on her very first day of captivity, watching Draco interact with Zabini and Nott -
She wondered whether any of them had ever really loved ANYTHING other than their own hides... were even CAPABLE of love as she knew it; a love that could compel a person to acts of deep courage, selflessness and sacrifice.
Her question was being answered for her; another thing she'd never thought would happen, but she didn't want it answered this way, not like this, nononoNO -
Ron was standing with her again, preparing to Apparate. "Malfoy," she sobbed out one last time, "Draco - PLEASE!"
"Remember... what I said, Weasley." Draco was looking past her, looking at Ron again, each word appearing, now, to be a supreme effort. "Puh... paternity. Spell. And Granger -" he met her eyes again, for the last time. Graced her with a tiny shrug and the ghost of a smile. "Goodbye."
Then a great many things happened all at once. Draco reached the end of his endurance, his entire body sagging and his arm dropping to his side; wand falling to the grass. The dome-like green shield that he'd been holding in place for the last several moments flickered once - twice - then winked out of existence entirely. There were shouts from the sky and then the Death Eaters - there had to be close to thirty of them now, Hermione thought sickly - thirty at least - were diving, letting loose with an absolute barrage of curses as they came. Draco, who'd held her gaze all this time, let his own pale eyes fall shut, bowing his head toward the ground, that small, subtle smile still playing around his lips -
And the familiar clutching, suffocating darkness of side-along Apparition closed over her as Ron spun them both away. And she was screaming "Draco, Draco, Draco, NO!"
And then it was over. All over. She was, quite abruptly, miles away. And safe. Protected. Sheltered. Loved.
And Draco? Well, he was simply...
She is sleeping. She's cried herself to sleep, the tear tracks silver against her pale face. Well, pale except for where it is flushed, high up along her cheekbones. She's definitely running a temperature; he considers summoning the healer elves but decides against it. At least not yet. There's something he wants... no, NEEDS to do first.
He must be quiet because he really doesn't want to wake her. He wants her to stay asleep for this, in case it results in news she really wouldn't want to hear. He should know first, before she does. Then, depending on what is revealed, he'll figure out his next step. Will it involve telling her, or keeping her in the dark?
Well, that depends on the result.
He pulls out his wand, praying without realizing he's praying. Or no, that's not quite right. It's more that he's simply not ADMITTING to himself that he's praying. Not admitting to himself how much this matters to him - how deeply, deeply vested he's become in her.
Because that wasn't supposed to happen. He wasn't supposed to care.
He thinks he's done a pretty good job overall, in convincing her that he doesn't care - that he's just looking out for her because she has value as a hostage.
Lying to himself, though... well, that's harder.
He's not sure exactly when it started, and really, that hardly matters. What matters is that the mantra which is running through his mind as he places the tip of his wand - gently, so gently, mustn't wake her - against her stomach is, Let it be mine, let it be mine, please God just let it be mine. I don't think she can handle it's being one of theirs... I think that'll be too much for her. I think that might even kill her, for fuck's sake. So please... please... just let it be mine. I'll get her out of here somehow; I'll do right by her. I know she's broken and I know I'm part of the reason, but I'll spend the rest of my life putting her back together if you'll only let it be mine. Let it be mine.
Let it be mine.
He whispers the words of the paternity spell. The answer appears in the air. All the strength runs out of his legs. He actually collapses to his knees on the floor, staring in shock at the letters that hang in the air, written in light, shimmering and already starting to fade. The letters that form a word. The word that is a name. Trying to make sense of it. Trying...
It can't be. It can't BE. HOW can that BE?
It is Draco's turn to lose some time.
When he comes back to himself, he's sitting on the floor, his back against the bed where she sleeps on unsuspecting, his elbows braced on his knees and his head cradled in his hands. He doesn't know how long he's been like that. But he knows what he has to do.
There's only one thing left that he CAN do. Now that he knows what he knows.
It was delusional anyway, to think that he could be the one to put her back together... when he is one of the people responsible for breaking her in the first place. The very notion was ridiculous. Impossible. He knows that she's starting to fancy herself in love with him - and he also knows that it isn't real. There's no possible way that the sick, twisted relationship he'd engaged in with her could ever result in true love. What she feels is a product of her captivity; she has started to cling to him because he's treated her better than the others did.
That doesn't mean that he's treated her WELL. He doesn't deserve her misplaced loyalty, much less her love. He knows this too.
He picks himself up and sinks down on the edge of the bed. His mind is racing ahead now, already gauging distance, weighing risks, noting variables that could affect the outcome of his newly hatched plan. He sees nothing that gives him cause to reconsider. He thinks he can do it. There will be pursuit - he doesn't have any illusions about that, or about the likelihood of his returning from this trip. But as far as reaching a safe place to make the hand-off, well he's confident that that, at least, can be accomplished. Assuming his Patronus reaches scar-head and weasel all right. And assuming they respond. But of course they'll respond. Of course they will. All his Patronus will have to do is speak the word 'Granger', and they'll be there with bells on.
So, it's time. In fact, now that his mind is made up, there's no time to lose. It's the middle of the night; the darkest watches before the dawn. The defenses around this place are never low, but they are lower now than at any other time of day.
If he's going to attempt such a reckless, suicidal act as this, then they should be moving right now; every second counts. Still, he lingers a little longer. He's looking at her again now, and is transfixed by her sleeping face. He leans close over her; brushes a stray curl off her forehead. Her brows knit together, a little furrow appearing. She whimpers in her sleep. She has no peace anymore, even in dreams. Which is terribly sad. He puts his lips close to her ear.
"I'm sorry, Hermione," he whispers. "I'm sorry for what you've been through, and I'm sorry for my part in it. I can't undo it, or I would. But I... I can do the next best thing. I can end it now. I can return you to where you belong, to the people who love you, who... who have a right to love you. Because I don't. It's almost over - I swear to you. By morning you'll be safe. You'll be... cherished again, like you were in that memory you showed me. You deserve that. You deserve that for your whole life. Don't ever think otherwise. Please." He pulls back a little, looks at her for just a second more.
Leans in again - brushes her temple with his lips. Not an actual kiss, no... but close. Close enough. "You're brilliant and you're strong and you'll recover in time," he murmurs, "I know you will. It'll take a while, but all of this will start to fade, especially once you realize it's Weasley's child you're carrying. You'll have a good life. Goodbye, Hermione."
He stands - concentrates for a moment - conjures his Patronus. Sends it racing ahead with his message. It shoots straight up through the ceiling of the cell in a blur of silver and is gone.
Things are in motion now. It's time.
He schools his face into a calm, emotionless mask. Bends over the bed again. Grips her by the shoulders and gives her a single, sharp shake.
"Get up, Granger," he says curtly as she blinks her eyes slowly open. "Come on. We're leaving."
He knows what's coming. The knowledge changes nothing.
It's time to go.
And there's one more thing she'll never know. In that very last instant before a dozen horrendous curses converged on him at once, he took the memory she'd shown him, of that brief and shining, perfect Hogsmeade moment from her seventh year, and he made it his own. Just as she had done over and over to protect herself during the course of her captivity, he spun it around himself quickly and absolutely, making it solid; impenetrable; airtight. Only this time it wasn't Weasley who was gathering her up, swinging her around, confessing his love, pulling her in for a kiss.
It was him.
In his very last instant of existence on earth, it was him.
A/N: Thus concludes Pieces. If you read my opening author's note at the beginning of Chapter 1, you know that this was written for an exchange. That means it had to fulfill specific criteria given to me by the person who requested it. That criteria is below; I hope most people will feel that I managed to respect it while still "keeping things real" - i.e., I personally don't feel that TRUE, reciprocal love could ever be born out of the circumstances described in this fic. So I put in my own twist in order to try and reconcile my feelings on the subject with the criteria I was given. For those who were surprised by how quickly things moved along, that was again a result of the exchange. Participants are given a limited amount of time to complete and submit their work (usually about 6-8 weeks) and therefore many fics that are born of exchanges are, by their very nature, "condensed". Anyway, thanks for reading; hope you enjoyed it, darkness and all!
Preferred rating: I'd say R-NC17
Describe what you'd like in as few words/keywords as possible: Hogwarts war, Voldemort is winning, Hermione is gifted to Draco, Blaise and Theodore who rape her. She eventually falls for Draco and discovers she's pregnant, but doesn't know with who
Dealbreakers (absolute no-no's): - none