Wherever Draco Malfoy turned, war was raging. Hogwarts had turned from a battlefield into a death trap, with people falling all around him, never to stand again. There were no screams or cries of pain. Everyone was just silenced as electricity crackled around him. Light streaked through the air as wands slashed in front of people, and they toppled like toy soldiers. Fear gripped him wherever he stood. Too many people were dying.
Draco couldn't pinpoint exactly when he started crying, but as he ran through the halls of the crumbling castle, dodging spells every few steps, he felt the cold wetness of tears across his cheeks. He had to get away from the war, and he knew that. He no longer wanted to see the deaths of those who couldn't help where they came from, or who they were; he couldn't justify the slaughter of people for no reason other than old prejudice. Deep in his heart he felt a change, a change he only admitted to one other person, and he knew he could no longer stay in the middle of the fight without being killed himself from his former side. And it was all her fault.
The change started forming months before, in the middle of his sixth year. Draco was bound to do Voldemort's bidding, and was slowly breaking on the inside. Few noticed the cracks in his cold, hard demeanor. But, surprisingly, no one noticed better than the ever-attentive Hermione Granger. As the year progress, she stopped looking at him with a cruel, vindictive glare, and began looking at him with an expression akin to pity. She never addressed him, though, until a few weeks before that fateful night atop the astronomy tower. He was sure it was the distasteful duo preventing her from encountering him at any other time, but she found him eventually. Even if it was by accident.
It was the night he found the bird, dead, on the floor of the vanishing cabinet. He looked at the small, innocent animal, and instantly saw himself for what he was becoming: a murderer. And he couldn't take it. That was when he fully broke. He ran out of the Room of Requirement with hot tears streaking down his face, and hid in a small niche in the wall, half obscured by a tapestry of some relatively-unknown wizard. He didn't know how long he was there for, rocking back and forth and sobbing semi-silently into his knees. In fact, he probably would've stayed there all night if she didn't show up. But she did.
He didn't hear her approach. He didn't see her feet appear under the tapestry, didn't notice them stopping and turning in his direction. She didn't give any indication of her presence, except for flinging back the tapestry and revealing his hiding space. Draco didn't try to act angry, Hermione didn't pretend to act superior. The one thing he noticed through his blurry vision was that she looked concerned, saddened, and legitimately worried about him. But it was the next action that shocked him, and her. Hermione walked into the niche, sat herself down next to Draco, and put her arm around him. Draco didn't even try to fight it off. It was the first time in months he felt something even remotely like support, and he just leaned into her semi-embrace and cried until the tears no longer flowed. Hermione didn't question him at all, just rubbed circles on his back until he stopped crying. Before she left him, she pulled him to his feet and into a real hug (to the surprise of both of them yet again), and said the eleven words that began to change him:
"You're not a killer, Draco. You don't have to follow them."
Draco was hesitant to seek her out again. Even if she was the one who saw through his mask, she was still a Mudblood, stuck-up know it all friend of Harry Potter, and the constant thorn in his side since day one. He immersed himself in his work repairing the cabinet again, trying to push the feeling of her tracing circles on his back out of his mind. He acted as if nothing happened, and though he caught her glancing at him from the corner of his eye, so did she. But eventually, a week before that night on the astronomy tower, he couldn't bear it anymore. His job, the task he was given, was tearing him apart still, and she was the only one who showed any sign of caring. One night, around eleven, he found his feet carrying him towards the library, through the doors, and past rows of books to the table she frequently studied at. She was alone, immerse in a book, with the candlelight illuminating her face just so to make her look like an angel with brown bushy hair. His angel with brown, bushy hair. Wait, what am I thinking? tugged at the back of his mind, but he stepped forward so she would notice him, and muttered four simple words:
"Hermione, I need you."
They talked for hours. Draco found out that despite her seemingly off-putting personality, she was a great listener, and not as judgmental as he originally made her out to be. And the more he talked to her, the better he felt. She didn't berate him for his decision, didn't wince at the sound of anything he said he had to do, and when he broke down crying she just rubbed his back again. The one thing she did tell him was that he could still change his mind. She gave him the slightest bit of hope that he would be okay. When he lashed out at her for no reason other than feeling that she did not fully understand his position in the grand scheme of things, she just took it in stride.
"We all make mistakes, Draco. What matters is what we learn from them. You can escape this. You may be cruel and rude, but you're not a bad person. You're just stuck in a world where you're expected to be a follower, not a leader. You can make your own decisions."
For that entire week, they met in an abandoned classroom and talked for hours at a time. He began to feel like his old self, but improved in a way. He didn't know when he stopped looking at her like an inferior being, but eventually he did. And on the night before the tower, he found himself kissing her lightly, thanking her for everything. He planned on dropping all plans to aid Voldemort, until his Mark burned and called him to his side. There, he saw his mother, beaten and bruised, held captive by other Death Eaters. And he was terrified.
"You've been forgetting something, Draco, as you've been talking to the Mudblood."Draco's mouth dropped open in shock. "You have no choice. If you fail, you and your family will suffer and die. I hope I make myself clear this time."
He dismissed Draco, who went straight back to his room and stayed there until the following night, when he snuck to the Room of Requirement. Before he left, he called a House Elf to his room, scribbled a note on a piece of paper, and asked for it to be dropped off on Hermione Granger's bed. Then he exited the dormitory, putting his mask of cold cruelty and hatred towards the world back on, and didn't look back. He only faltered when finally face to face with Dumbledore, his target, and when Snape finally blew him off the tower. As he was leaving the castle with the Death Eaters, Hermione was reading the note left on her bed by a House Elf:
"I'm sorry. I love you. Thank you." – D.M.
He had to live through seeing her tortured at the hands of his aunt, and he couldn't do a damn thing about it. The entire time, he wanted to run to her, dive in front of his ruthless relative and protect the one person (besides his mother) who ever showed that they truly cared for him, but he couldn't. He was rooted in his place. He watched her almost die. At one point she turned towards him, and their eyes met. All he saw was pain, sorrow, and something pleading him to save her. But he couldn't. And that nearly killed him. When she was finally gone, he swore to himself that he would make it up to her, that she would never be hurt again when he could prevent it.
He was remembering that now, as he was running through the crumbling school. The vow he made to himself to keep her safe was running through his brain on repeat, and suddenly he found himself calling her name. It was quiet at first, merely a whisper, but as he ran frantically through the hallways he began screaming for her. He had no idea where to find her, and that terrified him. What if it's too late and she's already gone? He tried as hard as he could to push the thought from his mind, thinking of how strong she was. Draco NEEDED Hermione to still be alive.
It seemed like hours until he found her. She was separated from the dynamic duo, fighting off an unmasked Death Eater…a Death Eater with flowing blonde hair…his father was trying to kill Hermione. He ran towards them, not paying attention to the dozens of other people fighting around him. He just needed to get to her. Right as he was within her reach, a burst of green came out of nowhere, narrowly missing her. She lost her footing dodging the spell, and fell on the ground, unable to stand back up. Draco stopped dead in his tracks, and everything slowed down. The chaos raged on, but he didn't notice. His father was taking aim at her again, a jet of green light hit Lucius Malfoy straight in the chest; a jet of green that erupted from Draco's wand. He watched his father's eyes widen in shock right before he fell. Draco felt no sorrow or remorse as he watched Lucius crumple to the ground, broken and lifeless. He crossed over to Hermione, who was still struggling to get up. Pulling her to her feet and into his arms, he watched her eyes widen suddenly as he lowered his head to hers and kissed her, right in the middle of the fighting.
He pulled away, looking straight into her eyes. She looked shocked and confused, as if searching for an explanation for what just happened. He bowed his head again, this time next to her ear, and whispered his answer:
"You saved me. I don't care about this war anymore. To me, it's just us. Us against all odds, against the prejudice of hundreds. I'm not on their side. I'm on yours. It's you and me, babe, against the world."
She looked up at him, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. However, they were so lost in each other, that neither noticed the lone Death Eater not in battle turning around, shouting at the sight of the Slytherin prince and the Mudblood standing together in the middle of the fighting. Neither of them noticed him raising his wand, or the shot of red that caused Hermione to fall to the ground unconscious. Draco tried to catch her, but couldn't, and his heart stopped.
The fighting around him was still occurring in slow motion, a blur around him and Hermione, as he crouched over her damaged form. She really is beautiful… he thought, as the tears began to flow harder as he saw her nearly lifeless. He scooped her into his arms, and her eyes opened a crack. She looked at him with shock and apprehension, until she saw the concern and worry, and tears, in his eyes. Her eyes fluttered closed, and he squeezed her tighter to his chest.
"Don't die, please don't die…"
He was pleading with her unconscious form. He could not remember the last time he was this afraid of anything. He bent down and kissed her, not caring who saw. The world was moving in slow motion, stopping for a moment as it became just him and the unconscious witch in his arms. He then straightened up and apparated out of the war. He promised to save her life. He didn't care if she was angry when she woke up. He just wanted her safe.
A day later, Hermione finally opened her eyes to a disheveled Draco Malfoy sitting in a chair next to her head. He was hunched over, his head in his hands, seeming to be asleep. As soon as she moved to sit up, though, he straightened up and his eyes widened. He scooted off the chair and knelt beside the bed where she was lying, stroking her hair out of her face. She furrowed her brow in confusion as she took in her surroundings fully.
"How…how did I get here? What happened? The war…good God, is everyone okay?" her voice rose to a hoarse shout as she finished her sentence. Draco, whose eyes were beginning to glisten with tears, just continued to stroke her hair, silently thanking the Gods that she was okay.
"He's dead. You almost were too. My father tried to kill you…so…I killed him. I Apparated you out of there as soon as I could. I couldn't let you die there, Hermione, after you saved me and I left you to Bellatrix. Weasley and Potter are okay. Lupin, Tonks, and Fred Weasley died, as did Snape. I'm sorry, Hermione. I know you would've wanted to stay and fight, but I couldn't let you die. I almost lost you once, I wasn't going to let it happen." By then, Draco was fully crying, and Hermione reached a shaky hand over to him, wiping the tears off his cheeks.
"Why did you change your mind?"
Draco closed his eyes at the question, trying to find the right words. The truth was, he didn't know when he changed his mind again. "I don't remember why. But it had to do with you. I was sick of the fighting, sick of not being able to see you, or protect you…and then you were almost killed in my house. And it made me sick. I didn't care about the fighting in the battle. The entire time I wanted to find you and keep you safe. I fell in love with you, Hermione, and that changed me."
They were both crying now. Draco moved to sit on the bed, drawing her into his arms as he did so. He buried his head in her hair, letting the tears drip from his eyes onto her head. "Hermione, the world stopped when I almost lost you. I told you at Hogwarts, I'm done with the fighting. It's just you and me now. That's what I hope for, at least. It's us against the world. In fifty years, this could happen again, and it wouldn't matter as long as you were there next to me. I don't care who approves and who doesn't. It's us. In this chaotic world, it's us. Against the world."