He was disappearing. Draco realized this, and he was actually relieved by the idea of it, but every time he thought he might finally get to leave for good, there she was again. Weeks went on like this. He began to lose hope he could ever find peace.
And then one night-in the dead of night, the bloody witching hour-Hermione showed up at his graveside again.
This time she was carrying a rather large book, a small cauldron that had steam coming off of it and melted the snow where she set it down, and a grim look on her face. He wasn't immediately visible to her this time, and she looked around hesitantly, as if afraid that he really was gone for good. And then he stepped out of the shadows and nodded towards the book.
"What's this then?" Draco asked her.
"You wanted a way out of this," she reminded him. "I did some research." Draco rolled his eyes, but she ignored it. "There is a spell here in Moste Potente Potions that should help you…move on, or whatever it is you need to do," Hermione explained. "I would have been here sooner, but some of the ingredients were difficult to find, and more than a few of them illegal."
"Granger's bending the rules for a dead enemy?" Draco asked her sarcastically. His tone was joking, but in actuality he really was shocked by this idea.
"You're not an enemy, Draco," she insisted, catching his transparent gaze before taking a seat on the foot of his grave, directly in front of the cauldron. "You never were."
"To survive," she insisted. "You did what you had to, to survive. We all did." She turned her gaze towards the cauldron for a moment. "These are dangerous times, and will be until Voldemort is destroyed."
Opening the lid to the cauldron even as she continued, "You never wanted to do those things. I don't believe for a moment that you're as evil as you pretend to be, and I never did buy it. You have a tell."
"A what?" he asked, moving over to take a seat on his own headstone.
"A tell," Hermione replied, glancing up at him. "It means that you give yourself away without realizing it," she explained, practically rolling her eyes at the fact that she had to explain this to him. But it was a phrase he'd never heard before. She occasionally forgot that the wizarding world had its own language.
"I do not," he insisted, glaring at her.
"You do," Hermione told him calmly.
"Whatever," Draco snapped. "Just…do the spell or whatever it is that you have to do with that soddin' potion and get me out of here already?"
She sighed, staring at the cauldron for a moment before looking back up at him, and her eyes were sad now. It was a look Draco had seen on her before, but never on his behalf, and it startled him a bit.
"What?" he asked, his voice quiet now, as if he were afraid of scaring her away.
"I am sorry for what they did to you," she whispered. "It's an image that haunts my nightmares," Hermione assured him, "and always will. We're in a war, but what sets us apart from them is how we treat our prisoners and enemies, and I thought Harry and Ron had understood that. Guess I was wrong."
He was hesitant to reply, unsure if she meant what she was saying-because it sounded an awful lot like she was doubting her two very best friends. "Guess you were," he agreed finally.
For a moment they looked at each other in silence. The silence was heavy, almost tangible in a way that Draco knew he never would be again. This was it, this was death in all of its glorious finality and no one-not Voldemort or Lucius or anyone-could drag him back. He was finally going to be free of all of them, of all the worries and responsibilities. Of this stupid war he'd never wanted a part in anyway.
"Well?" he finally asked her. He meant it to sound impatient but his tone was more quiet, calm.
"Right," Hermione commented, as if coming out of a daze. She took her wand out and waved it over the potion, muttering, "Sileo." A flash of light sparked into the potion and it begin to bubble. Hermione reached for the cauldron and tipped it over so that the mix could melt through the snow and seep into the ground. When the cauldron was empty, she looked up towards Draco.
Only to find he was no longer there. A small smile curved the corner of her mouth, but it was a sad smile that never quite reached her eyes, the smile of someone who wasn't entirely sure she was glad the spell had worked. In the past weeks she had become somewhat used to his company. Where Ron was insisting on keeping his distance, Draco was there when she awoke from nightmares, and even though they never talked about it directly he took her mind off of the dreams just by holding conversations with her.
It was tragic that she would get to know the real Draco Malfoy after his death, but there was nothing she could do about it now.
"I'm so sorry I kept you here at all," she whispered, standing up and gathering her things before she left the cemetery.
He opened his eyes to a painful nothingness. This wasn't heaven but he didn't think it was Hell either. It was entirely too cold to be Hell. Cold and enclosing and oh gods he had never been claustrophobic before this moment, but he just needed to get out of whatever was keeping him.
Draco did the only thing he could think of, he Apparated, willing himself to go right back to where he'd been moments before sitting on his headstone. He hardly noticed the fact that he was solid until he hit the stone, cracking it and throwing them both onto the cold ground.
For a moment he just laid there, trying to catch his breath-because it was clear to him now that he needed it now-eyes shut tightly for fear of what he would see when he opened them. Eventually, he lifted his body up off of the ground with either hand against the dirt and coughed. Coughing and gagging, he laid there hovering until he could no longer feel the dirt scratching up the back of his throat and oh gods…
He was back.
What the hell had Granger done? It wasn't like her to fuck up spells like this, and this one had been meant to let him find peace not fucking bring him back from the dead! Only here he was, and as he reached up with shaking hands to wipe the dirt caked along his face and eyes, he winced slightly at the pain of his wounds. The fatal wound was healed-something he discovered when reaching beneath his shirt to touch the tips of his fingers against the nasty scar there-but the other wounds, the ones Hermione didn't even know about, they were all still very much there.
Instinctively he reached for his wand in his pocket. Of course he found nothing. They had probably disposed of it soon after his death. The fact that he was covered in dirt told him one thing-they hadn't bothered with a casket. The headstone had most likely been upon Hermione's insistence or out of guilt, but other than that, they'd tossed him into a hole and covered him in dirt.
Draco sat up, arms resting on his bent knees, and looked around. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to seeing again, and even longer to adjust to the surrounding darkness.
Everything hurt. His muscles ached and argued that he was dead, that they shouldn't have to move anymore, and his lungs echoed these in screams every breath he took. There was still dirt in his throat and mouth-something he imagined he'd be feeling for a while-and the cut along his forehead was throbbing and bleeding again. He reached up to touch it and found it stitched shut. Well that was something at least-they'd done a bit of cosmetics before throwing him into his grave, but probably more to keep the head wound from bleeding on them than anything. His hand moved next to his throat, and his fingers shook at what he found there.
Blood and dirt lined around his neck in a nearly perfect ring. The rope had bitten into his flesh when they dragged him here, and he could feel the scratches and cuts along his back. It was the sort of treatment he should have expected from Potter and Weasley, but now that he had to fucking live with the effects of it, he wanted to wring their necks.
Coughing again, he attempted to stand up, fell, and simply sat there for a while longer before trying it again. This time he managed to stand, but his legs threatened to buckle, so he kept still.
It wasn't until the sun began to rise that he was able to walk, and even then it was slowly. It took him most of the day to reach the platform, and even longer to make his way into Hogsmeade. By the time he arrived, he was starving and weak, and the snow had caused his skin and lips to turn a bluish color. He looked, ironically, half dead.
Stopping by one of the shops, he snatched a cloak with a hood that made the walk a bit more bearable, but just as he could see one of the entrances to a secret pathway to the school, he collapsed.
When he awoke hours later, it was to panicked shouts and screams.
Draco sat up, instantly regretting it when he felt his head throbbing. Landing on it hadn't helped the cut a bit, and it took a moment for his vision to clear up so that he could see what he was looking at. There was a small crowd of people gathered near the store entrance, but it wasn't until they parted that he realized what they were all so excited about.
There stood Harry Potter, looking very tired and very worried, and the minute their eyes locked, Draco knew he wasn't safe. Silence fell across the room as Harry made his way over to where Draco sat. Kneeling down, he stared at Draco as if trying to figure out what exactly he was. His stupid gaze followed first along the cut on his head then down to his throat, and it was in that moment that Draco knew Harry realized this wasn't a trick. He'd tied the bloody rope that had caused those marks, after all.
"Harry, what is it?" Both of them turned their heads to look at Hermione, who had just walked into the room. "Oh Jesus," she whispered, rushing down to Draco's side. Her hand immediately when up towards the cut, but she thought better of it and glanced at Harry.
"Don't," she told him in a stern tone. Everyone there looked at Harry to see what his reaction was, but Draco kept his gaze on Hermione. Harry opened his mouth to argue, but she insisted, "Don't."
"Fine then," Harry snapped, glaring at her. "You take care of him. Get him cleaned up, and then we're locking him up."
"I hardly think that's necessary given the condition he's in," she argued.
But Harry was already turning away from her, storming out of the room. Hermione watched him go, then looked back at Draco.
"What did you do, Granger?" he whispered, his voice rough and forced and pained.