Author's Note: Ohmigod I can't believe this is the last chapter! I mean, hey, yeah – there's the sequel I'll be starting on immediately, but stillThe Risk-Reward Ratio is over, and that feels so weird. Thank you so, so much to everyone who has read, favourited, followed, and, most especially reviewed this story. Knowing people have enjoyed something I've written has been seriously so awesome. It's what's kept me writing even when my muse has disappeared on me, because I didn't want to leave you with an unfinished tale, so thanks for the motivation and support :)

Trigger Warnings for graphic violence.

A reminder on the segments – "Belonging and Birthdays" is set the day before the Gringotts mission, which takes place in "Of War", and "A Memory Out of Time" is set at an unspecified point in the future, but mostly revolves around remembering past events.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the finale of The Risk-Reward Ratio!

# # # # # #

Finale, Part Two: Together

When the sun runs out

And there's no one left to save you

Will you go to our favourite place

And try to say goodbye?

At the end of, at the end of the world

Will you find me, will you find me?

At the end of, at the end of the world

Will you find me so that we can go

Together, together, together

[End of the World, Ingrid Michaelson]

# # # # # #

Of War V

The dragon clawed its way up, flapping and making roaring, whining calls for freedom, and they all clung to the spikes along its spine with desperate white-knuckled fingers. They tried to aid its escape by casting multiple reductos at the rocky ceiling above them, and huge chunks of rock and showers of dust rained down upon them, making their situation even more dangerous than it already was. Below them the Fiendfyre raged, consuming the horcrux, and Kingsley – who had cast the curse – was trying to extinguish it. But the magical cursed fire was notoriously difficult to control, even for a wizard with years of skill and experience, and he was struggling. Hermione tried to breath, and refused to let herself look down, knowing that would bring on a bout of vertigo which could easily prove deadly.

Draco was next to her, wand clenched in his teeth, holding onto the dragon with his one hand and grinning at her manically, and she wanted to murder him for looking so un-terrified. He only had the one hand to hold on with, unlike everyone else, and Hermione was petrified that with all the falling rocks and panicked, furious thrashing and clawing of the dragon, that he would fall. And that she wouldn't be able to save him. But all she could do was hold on, one-handed half the time herself as she aimed reductos at the rock ceiling above them. And then finally, the dragon burst through with a flex of its neck, giant head thrusting up past the rock, into whatever was up there. Enormous slabs of rock broke free and Hermione flung up a protego that covered her, Draco and Kingsley, trusting the others to shield themselves as well. Chunks of stone and marble as big as her head bounced of her shield and tumbled down to land in the remnants of the Fiendfyre, which Kingsley was succeeding in extinguishing.

And then the dragon scrambled out of the hole that they, and it, had created, great claws skittering shockingly loud over the marble of the bank's lobby. They had come straight up through the floor, Hermione realised with a shock and half a laugh, panting and clinging on as the dragon dragged its hindquarters out of the hole. It tipped its head up, tasting freedom, and then reared itself upwards, head smashing up through the ceiling, glass and plaster hailing around them and littering the floor of the bank. Down on the floor, she could see that the Death Eaters had broken through Professor McGonagall's locking charms on Gringotts' doors, and there was a pitched battle going on. The other Order members and the enemy alike paused and stared in shock as the dragon and its six passengers erupted from the floor and took out half the roof, but resumed sparse seconds later.

"Jump!" Kingsley roared over the blasting sound of the dragon gouting fire from its massive jaws, as the creature started to scramble up onto the outside of the roof, and Hermione shot Draco a white-faced look, grabbed his elbow in hers, and jumped. She didn't have the time or the clear head to cast a feather-falling charm, and she hit the ground feet first and hard, bolts of pain whiting up her legs, and she fell forward clumsily onto her hands and knees, screaming. When she'd shoved the shock of the pain back down, she looked frantically to her right – she'd lost hold of Draco when she'd hit the ground. She saw him lying on his back on the marble a few meters away from her, wand still between his teeth. Her heart wrenched and panic seized her as he lay utterly motionless for a long, long moment, and then she saw his chest rise and fall at last, and she shuddered with the relief of it. He was alive, at least – she only hoped and prayed that he hadn't broken his back or neck and paralysed himself, falling like that.

She scrambled up and fell again as pain ripped through her right ankle and up her leg, and realised with a sick shock that it was probably broken from the impact. She sheathed her wand and breathed through her clenched teeth, trying to filter out some of the dust in the air, which was already filling her lungs and making her choke on it. The Order members that had been left to hold the doors were falling back towards the group who had just tumbled from the back of the dragon, and the Death Eaters outnumbered them three to one at least and were advancing steadily. Hermione's head whipped around and scanned the room as she crawled to Draco, still lying on his back, motionless but for the rise and fall of his chest. Everyone else was up, although Neville's arm was bent around horribly and hanging limp, and Ron was bleeding all down the side of his face from a deep gash to his temple, and Hermione felt some measure of relief that the others were all right.

"Draco?" She gasped his name, coughing on the dust raised by the dragon's destruction of the bank, reaching his side and staring down at him, and he blinked dazed grey eyes up at her.

"H'hi'ne?" he asked and then growled and snorted a rattling laugh and ripped the wand from between his teeth and tried again. "Hermione? Are you all right?"

"Fine, fine," she said hurriedly, eyes running over him, because she was so relieved he was conscious and her ankle didn't hurt when she didn't put weight on it, so in her book she was fine. She couldn't breathe properly, and her head was a sea of numb panic, but she was totally, absolutely fine. She choked down a hysterical giggle. "Can you get up?" she asked rapidly, tongue stumbling over the words, and Draco tested his limbs cautiously but quickly, flexing his arms, and neck, and legs, and then nodded.

"I think so. But – oh fucking Merlin it's going to fucking hurt," he said, and then dragged in a breath, ground his teeth together, and rolled weakly over, shoved himself to his feet, and Hermione cringed at the sight of the needle-like shards of glass that had jabbed into his back. "God, Draco, your back," she said, and held up a hand so that he could pull her to her feet, and his eyes went very round and wide with shock, his hand jerking back before she could grab it.

"What?"

"Your hands," he said, and it was only then that Hermione realised they were bleeding, sliced ragged by the glass she'd crawled over to get to Draco. And it was only then that the pain hit her, a fierce, horrid burning that made her eyes well up with tears.

"Shit," she said, and reached up to Draco again and he grabbed her wrist gingerly and hauled her to her feet. "Shit, shit, shit. That hurts. Oh my god." She stared at her hands in dismayed confusion, and coughed again, hacking on dust and grit and bending over double, swaying on her feet.

"We have to go!" the Auror, Johns, yelled, reaching them, backing up and placing his feet carefully, so he didn't trip on the rubble, and Hermione jerked her head up. She looked around and saw swarms of Death Eaters advancing, and the small Order team, fighting for their lives, and with her hands like this, she couldn't even defend herself, let alone pull her own weight. She weighed up the time it would take, versus how much she needed her hands usable, and made a snap decision as people folded in around her and Draco, sheltering them, shielding them from the Death Eaters. She up stared into Draco's white face, and straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin. "Pull them out."

"What?" He looked at her with ripples of uncharacteristic blanching fear falling across his face, and she repeated herself, adding, "And hurry up. I can't hold my wand like this."

He bit his lip and backed up a step staring at her outstretched hands, blood pooling in the dips of her palms and dripping over onto the floor, bloodstained glass spiking out of her flesh like a hedgehog's prickles. "I – I can't. I. Hermione. Fuck." He stepped forward and reached out, and plucked a shard out of her flesh decisively and she winced at the stabbing hurt of it, and he winced at her pain.

"Hermione, what the hell?" Ron was asking her, suddenly very close to her, so close she could feel his body heat, having appeared like a blood-coated ghost out of the dust that billowed in the air, "What…?"

She shoved her other hand at him, showing him what had happened, and people were yelling and screaming spells and the dust was still settling and it was chaos, and Kingsley and Johns were shouting that they needed to fight their way out now. They couldn't stay, they couldn't hold their own, and they had to retreat, now.

"Pull it all out, Ron! I can't hold my wand!" Hermione yelled over the noise and Ron rubbed some of the blood off his face with a swipe of his palm and stared boggle-eyed at her hand. He only hesitated for a moment, and then took her wrist in one hand and started pulling the shards of glass out with the other. "Bloody fucking hell, Hermione," he swore as his fingers moving quickly and roughly, coated with his own blood, which then mingled with hers. "Trust you to get yourself sliced up."

She couldn't spare the concentration to answer him with a verbal jab of her own, trying not to bite through her tongue as she winced and yelped and gritted her teeth through the yanking, tugging sensations in her flesh that sent fiery pain through her hands and up her arms.

"Done," Draco said with limp relief as he let go of her right hand, pulling out his dittany, jerking the cork out with his teeth and sprinkling it hurriedly on the wounds. As soon as he was finished, Hermione grabbed her wand and took notice of the battle raging around them again. She, Ron and Draco had been being protected by Harry, Neville, Johns and Truffle, who were fighting tooth and nail, Neville's left arm hanging twisted and limp by his side. Hermione blinked hard and tried to concentrate, as Draco turned away from her and flicked his wand, hitting a Death Eater that was distracted by duelling Neville with a reducto, which sent the wizard blasting apart in a shower of blood and bone and flesh, and Hermione was glad she hadn't eaten before they'd left on the mission.

"Done," Ron said and dripped dittany generously on her left hand, blinking through his own blood sheeting down his face, and Hermione lifted her hand and smeared it over his cut before he could pull back. "Oh fucking gross, Hermione," he said disgustedly and she laughed weakly at him. And then his cut started closing and he understood and grinned at her, clapping her on the back and making her wince. "Thanks, 'Mione."

"Duck," she snapped at him roughly almost before he'd finished speaking, and shot a stupefy over his head as he dropped, hitting a Death Eater square in the face and sending them toppling to the rubble-strewn floor. "Thanks," Ron gasped again, scrambling upright, eyes bright and shocked in his blood-smeared face, and then he was moving off, further down the ragged line that the Order was forming in their efforts to fight their way past the Death Eaters and toward the door. It made them too vulnerable though, too easy to pick off, outnumbered as they were, and shouts rang down the line to split up, to go for cover and get to the door.

She hadn't even taken a step when a spell exploded into the floor between her and Draco, throwing up chunks of marble, and she was flung back, choking and flailing, slamming into the ground hard with her shoulder. She crawled to her feet spitting blood and grit and trying to hold her cries behind her teeth, taking a wobbling step and putting weight on her broken ankle and stifling a scream at the pain. She couldn't see anything but the flashing lights of spells through a haze of dust, and vague shapes within the dust. She couldn't see Draco, couldn't see Ron, Harry, Neville…anyone. She was all alone and she couldn't walk.

A face loomed out of the dust, terrifyingly close, with the bone mask of the Death Eaters covering the human features, and Hermione reacted thought-fast, slashing her wand at the Death Eater's chest and throat and shouting, "Diffindo! Diffindo! Diffindo!" The Death Eater gurgled and fell, and Hermione was left gasping for breath, heart pounding in her chest, rattling against the cage of her ribs. She realised she couldn't just stay here and hope for someone to come and find her – she had to get out. Had to get to the doors. The dust from the explosion that had flung her back was starting to settle, and she could just see the big doors on the other side of the huge room, and shapes there, moving, milling about. The Order. And between them and her, the Death Eaters.

Hermione's stomach lurched and sank, and her breath hitched in panicky exhaustion. But she had to make it, so she swallowed hard and shoved her fist into her mouth biting down hard and howling against it as she put her weight on her broken ankle. Stabs of pain ripped through her and she nearly fell, but forced herself to take another lurching step, and then another, biting down on her fist so hard she was breaking the skin, but that pain helped distract her from the agony in her ankle. She lurched and stumbled, and her shoulder was a mass of pain, and her hands hurt where the dittany hadn't healed them completely, and her ankle was a sea of broken, wretched agony that drilled up her leg. She had to make it to the others – they couldn't risk themselves to come back after her. They couldn't.

# # # # # #

Belonging and Birthdays V

So far, the day had been going well, and Hermione was quite pleased with herself, and with how it was turning out. Draco seemed a bit bemused and unsettled – had since she'd gone to cook him breakfast – but he also seemed happy despite that bewilderment. Hermione cautiously pronounced his birthday to be a success, glad that everyone else was being so well-behaved about it too. A few days ago she'd given the boys all a few hard words and stern glares about being nice, and friendly to Draco, and they had looked at Hermione in confusion, and told her that they already were nice and friendly to Draco, and she had realised with a shock that they were, in their own ways. Even Dean and Seamus, who didn't spend much time around Draco – unlike Harry and Ron – were perfectly civil to him.

So everyone sitting in the lounge – their peers, the older Order members not much interested in Muggle movies – had said raucous birthday greetings to Draco when she and he had come into the room. And he'd stood there stunned, like the world had been turned upside-down and shaken on him, and then nodded sharply and scowled at them all, and Hermione had laughed inwardly at how lost he'd been. They'd sat on the couch together and watched Starship Troopers with the others, and Draco's arm had been at first awkward, and then relaxed around her shoulders, and her fingers had crept boldly over his lap, to knead him through his trousers. Teasing promises of what was to come later on, tonight, and he didn't shove her hand away, so he must have liked it.

The movie was nearly over now, not that Hermione had been paying much attention – it hadn't been her sort of film, although Draco seemed to have found it interesting enough. She was all curled up against his hard warmth, his arm a thin, wiry bar of heat behind her, around her, and her temple rested on his shoulder. It was lovely and peaceful, and Hermione treasured these moments that were so close to ordinary, that they made the war feel like a bad dream, only not quite because she was still scarred and Draco's hand was still missing, and so was Cho's leg, and… "Oh god, that's horrible," she said, covering her eyes at the sight of the gore onscreen, and Draco snorted, chest moving beneath her head. Her hand was resting on his stomach now, so intimate, so comfortable, and she could feel the muscles tense and contract as he chuckled quietly at her.

"We've all seen worse than that in real life, Hermione. This is just Muggle games of pretend, and you really can't watch it?"

She looked up and saw him arch an eyebrow at her, his expression dry, the telly screen throwing light over him and tinting his grey eyes bluish.

"I don't like it because I've seen worse," she mumbled quietly, feeling stupid and defensive. "It never used to bother me before – violence in Muggle movies and TV shows, I mean – but now…"

Draco nodded and sighed roughly, and his arm pressed her closer to him, and she sank her head back against the bony jut of his shoulder and collarbone, and her hand on his stomach was stroking and seeking, idly probing over the warmth of his lean muscle.

"Sorry," he said, with that unwilling edge to his voice that his apologies almost always had, like they were being dragged out of him, even over such simple little apologies as this one. Most people would throw out a 'sorry' without even thinking about it, but not Draco – no, he tore it out of himself almost against his will, and Hermione thought that it actually made his apologies mean more, in a strange kind of way. She knew he hated saying sorry, and yet he did anyway, for her. There was an awful lot he did for her – even today was for her, in a way. Hermione knew that he would perhaps have rather had the day go by unnoticed and unremarked upon, but he was letting Hermione go through with everything she had planned without questioning or protesting or stalking back upstairs, because it made her happy.

Hermione was pretty sure he liked celebrating his birthday too, though, in the end, even if he would have let it pass by without comment – without her even knowing. That annoyed her slightly, she had to admit; that if Pansy hadn't told her Hermione would never have known. But before she could start getting annoyed over that, Draco's hand folded over hers on his stomach, tucking her fingers up inside his all cosily, and he kissed her lightly on the head before he turned his attention back to the telly. It was the little things like that, which made her feel content these days. She watched the rest of the movie with him in peaceful silence, and he didn't make anymore snarky comments when she looked away during the goriest bits.

# # # # # #

A Memory Out of Time V

This all-consuming dark is conducive to letting his mind wander, and Draco finds himself leafing through memories like they are pages in the book of his life. Seeing them play out behind his eyelids like Muggle movies. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad. Tonight – this morning? this afternoon? this evening? – he keeps thinking about the bad ones. It is a punishment, of a sort, to lie here with Hermione's cold, limp hand in his, and think about all the times he has hurt her. He can think of so many. So many. Right from the very first Mudblood, most of his interactions with her have been cruel, designed to hurt her, designed to punish her for what she was. What she still is.

The times that he tripped her in the corridors, or knocked her books out of her hands, and then laughed at her as she bit her tongue and glared at him, and held back tears that he wished she would spill. The times that he spread vicious rumours about her for fun, out of boredom, and the times that he mocked her to her face, or within earshot. Always accompanied by sneers, and harsh laughter and contempt to further grind down her spirit. He had been an evil little git to her, and part of it had been just because she was a Mudblood, but most of it had been because she was a Mudblood who beat his marks in nearly every class. He had been nasty and horrible, and he'd hated her with a loathing that made his soul revolt from the memory when he recalled it now.

"I'm sorry," he says to her again, in a hoarse, broken voice that is unrecognisable as his, his tongue thick and dry in his mouth, and his lips cracked to bleeding. Saying that word, sorry, comes easily now, in a way that it never used to – although each time he speaks it, it still rips the guts out of him. Draco just welcomes that feeling now, instead of hating it and flinching from it. He deserves to hurt, he deserves to be sorry. She doesn't, Hermione doesn't, and yet here she is. With him. Together. And he can never be sorry enough for that. He says it again and squeezes her fingers, but she doesn't squeeze back. He doesn't know if she's just sleeping or – or – and senseless panic seizes him in a vice and he can't breathe himself until he finds her chest with his shaking hand and feels the shallow rise and fall of it as she breathes.

He lies back, beside her, and he passes the time deliberately remembering everything awful that he has ever done to her, from when they first met up to this moment right now, and he weighs it against everything good he has ever done for her, and he comes up woefully short on the side of good. And he is sorry – sorrier than he can ever express to her, and he says it over and over to her as she sleeps. He remembers hating a small, bossy, buck-toothed Mudblood, and he remembers how cruel he had been to her for so many years, and funnily enough, he wishes that he had been crueller, because then things might be different. Then she might have kept hating him when he'd come to the Order, instead of giving him another chance. And then they wouldn't be here, together.

# # # # # #

Of War VI

Draco swam up to consciousness being hauled up unceremoniously by a firm hand on his maimed arm, and he flailed out with a fist and struck flesh, and shook the rough grip off, and turned and swung his wand at – Johns. He bit back the Avada on his lips just in fucking time, and lowered his wand, looking about him, dazed and surrounded by clouds of dust, coated in the fine grit, his back on fire, his head aching fiercely, and his stump killing him with pain. He'd hit it on something very fucking hard and jagged when he'd been thrown to the ground, and it was bleeding now.

"Shit. I thought…" he said to Johns by way of half-apology, stopping to cough and hack wretchedly as he breathed in a lungful of grit. Something was wet and hot on the back of his head, and he touched his hand to it, and it came away soaked in fresh blood. Well, that would explain the blurring to his vision, he thought with a strange, dizzy calm, and tried to clear his head, blinking hard and concentrating.

"We have to go," Johns said, coughing into his arm as he held up his wand, ready, eyes darting about; alert for any threats in the dust that still mushroomed around them from the explosion that had sent Draco flying. Draco nodded, and then snapped his wand in a flourish, focusing his magic, and an approaching Death Eater's insides became his outsides, and he fell like a hunk of tattered meat. "Where are the others?" he asked a few seconds later, when he'd turned full circle and his eyes had picked up no one else, and Johns shrugged. "I don't fucking know, but we sure as hell aren't going to find them in this muck. We have to get to the doors and trust the others will make it there too."

And then Draco realised that it was just him and Johns, and no one else.

"Shit. Fucking motherfucking shit," Draco spat, as his dulled brain finally realised the obvious. "Where's Hermione?"

Johns flashed him a look of sympathy that Draco rejected absolutely, nearly snarling with the dazed panic of the moment. He didn't want what that sympathy was meant to convey. That fucking pity. Because Hermione was fine, they just had to find her.

"I don't know, Malfoy, and I'm sorry, but we have to fucking move."

They were duelling back to back as they spoke to each other in clipped, angry sentences – Draco taking down a Death Eater with a diffindo and Johns stupefying one and using a sectumsempra on another, but the Death Eaters were everywhere in the chaos and the settling dust. Johns yelled again that they had to go, and Draco knew they were probably going to die if they didn't start for the doors right bloody now. But he wasn't leaving without Hermione. She'd only come on this damned mission because he was going, and there was no way in hell he was going to abandon her now. That wasn't even a possibility. He had to find her. She'd been limping – she couldn't run, and if she was alone then she was screwed, and fear gave his battered body a burst of energy.

But Johns was in better shape than Draco, and he grabbed Draco by the arm, dragging him along bodily, swearing in his rough, uncultured voice in Draco's ear, his wand flashing as he defended them both. Draco dug in his heels though, trying to shake Johns off, swearing right back at him, furious beyond reason, blood dripping down his neck from his head wound, and not at all certain he was thinking straight. In fact, he was rather certain he wasn't. But he couldn't leave Hermione.

"Friend! Friend!" came Longbottom's voice in a high shrill, as the boy stumbled back from the tip of Draco's wand, which he'd just had shoved into the hollow of Longbottom's throat. The idiot had come up behind them and put his hand on Draco's shoulder, and nearly gotten himself killed for his troubles. "You fucking –"Draco started, and then decided he didn't care if he'd nearly killed Longbottom. There were more important things going on, and Longbottom was still alive and kicking, so no harm done. Johns had paused at Longbottom's sudden appearance, and Draco asked quickly, "Have you seen Hermione?" Longbottom blinked at him stupidly, and Draco tried again, snatching out and grabbing Longbottom's wrist and snarling it in the boy's face. "Have you seen Hermione?"

"I – I –" Longbottom looked stunned, mouth opening and closing like a fish, and Draco wanted to rip his damn head off. "I think I saw her with Ron," Longbottom finished with a stutter, sounding uncertain. Draco clenched his jaw and snorted out a breath through his nostrils.

"Are you sure?"

"This isn't exactly the place for a conversation!" Johns yelled, taking out a Death Eater, but not before taking a cutting hex to his side that made the older man hiss and clamp a hand to the wound.

"I – I think so." Longbottom's face was distraught, all furrowed up as he tried to remember if it had been Hermione or not, and Draco wanted to demand what was so difficult about knowing whether it had been Hermione. It either had been, or it hadn't. It was fucking simple. "I think so, but – but…I can't be sure. I didn't get a good look at them – there was a Death Eater duelling me at the time."

Draco was about to demand Longbottom think harder and make sure that he was fucking well certain, when five Death Eaters approached the three men in their hoods and masks, and crippled and wounded as they were, Draco, Johns and Longbottom would be no match for the enemy.

"Go!" Johns growled at Draco, shoving at him and then dragging him along, and Draco didn't have much choice but to run – it wouldn't do Hermione much good if he died right now, especially if Longbottom was right and she was with Weasley. Draco trusted Weasley to protect her, he realised with a strange lurch to his stomach, feet stumbling over the rubble on the floor and breath burning in his lungs, head pounding. He knew that Weasley would protect Hermione with his life, if need be, and that trust was something to hold onto. Something very strange and disturbing, but nevertheless, reassuring in the moment.

Longbottom was at Draco's left, and Johns at his right, and the three of them sprinted in a mad dash towards the doors on the other side of the huge room, heads down, protego charms up, although whether they would hold against a concerted attack, Draco was doubtful – it was hard to keep a protego strong and solid when running like this. But they got to the door, where all of the Order members seemed to be already, just outside in a defensive formation, holding the doors, and Shacklebolt and Mr Weasley grabbed Draco and Longbottom and thrust them out into Diagon Alley by the scruffs of their necks, and slammed the doors shut.

"Hermione!" Draco found Weasley and grabbed him by the arm, shaking him. "Was she with you?"

But he already knew the fucking answer even as he asked the question, because the person hanging onto Weasley was Truffle, not Hermione, and although Draco could see how Longbottom could have gotten the two confused in the chaos of battle, he could have killed Longbottom right then. He dragged himself out of the red of rage and fear to register that Weasley was snapping questions at him and generally devolving into useless panic.

"Is she not with you? I thought she was with you! Oh fuck, Hermione? Hermione!" Weasley was yelling, looking around frantically as if he expected Hermione to pop up out of the cobbles of the damned street, and Draco cut off the redhead's ramblings. "I'm going back in for her."

Weasley slammed his mouth shut and stared at Draco. "I'm coming too."

Draco just nodded, turned and made his aching body run back up the steps to the doors, which Kingsley and Johns were laying locking charms on. Half the Order team had already disapparated, and Johns glared at Draco as he approached. "What now?"

"Open the fucking doors."

Shacklebolt blocked his path. "Malfoy, what are you –"

"Hermione's still in there, now let me fucking past." His voice broke on the last words, cracked and urgent, and he balled up his fist around his wand and stared Shacklebolt down. "I can't do that. We have to go," Shacklebolt said, regret and pain in every line of his dark face and Draco wanted to murder him. He stepped forward, raised his wand and opened his mouth, fury raging through him, wiping away all coherent thought, and then a hand landed on his arm and he jerked his head up.

"We're not leaving her," Potter said, and then Weasley was flanking Draco's other side, all three of them standing together, and Draco couldn't shake the feeling that the world was tipping on its axis. He and Weasley and Potter, all bound together by Hermione – whether they liked it or not.

"No, Harry. I can't let you go, I'm sorry. If they take her prisoner, we will do everything we can to get her back alive, but right now we have to leave. Now. We can't risk losing you for her," Shacklebolt said again, cruelly, but Merlin-damnit, he was right, practically speaking. There was no way that trying to get Hermione out was worth risking Potter's life, in the grand scheme of the war. But Draco didn't care about the damned war, he cared about her and she was still fucking in there. Shacklebolt looked at the three boys, his face grave and taut, and Draco shook Potter's hand off his arm, stepped forward, wand pointed down at the ground by his side instead of at Shacklebolt, despite the twitching and itching urge to raise it. Threats wouldn't work with this man.

"Me, then," Draco said sharply, although he didn't know what the hell he could do against a room full of Death Eaters, or if Hermione was still even alive. Fuck. Time was ticking away, and every second that passed made her death more certain, and he had never been more fucking scared in his life. The intensity of his fear, of his feelings for her, managed to scare him, and he was shaking with it, and his anger. "Let me in. I have to – I have to…" Draco stuttered to a halt – he had lost the ability to even speak with the force of his vibrating urgency and panic, and he just stared at Shacklebolt, his pale eyes to the older man's dark ones, and he didn't look away, didn't blink. Just held those dark eyes, pleading with the man. It was Shacklebolt who dropped his gaze after several seconds that seemed to stretch out over eons, and it was Shacklebolt who caved.

"Harry, Ron, apparate out of here, now. Go," he snapped. Potter and Weasley looked furious but they both nodded, Weasley's face red with anger and blood, and Potter dead, stark white. Potter turned to Draco before he went and opened his mouth as if to speak, and then shut it again, looking lost, but Draco understood the boy, for once in their lives. "I'll come back with her, or I won't come back at all, Potter," he said to the other boy with a wry, humourless smile. "Spare you the trouble of trying to kill me, if I fail."

Their gazes connected and understanding snapped between them, and Potter nodded at Draco sharply and then ran down the steps, outside of Gringotts' anti-apparition wards, and snapped away. Weasley lingered a moment longer – just long enough to jab a finger at Draco and say, "I'll fucking resurrect you just to kill you over again if you fail, Malfoy. Bring her back." And then he was gone too, and Shacklebolt lifted the locking charms at Draco's request, although he looked like he was already regretting the decision to let Draco in. "Johns and I will wait here, and cover you for as long as we can…"

"Don't put yourself out for us," Draco grated out, the words dry and deathly bitter on his tongue, even though he understood Shacklebolt's decision. Hermione was one girl; one mediocre fighter, not worth risking other peoples' lives for, especially when they were all exhausted or wounded, vastly outnumbered, and all but assured to fail in their attempts to retrieve her. But Draco had to try. He snorted inwardly – what was he now, a fucking Gryffindor? Johns and Shacklebolt both stuck their heads in through the doors, scanning for Hermione, and then sent reductos blasting through at the three bunched up Death Eaters tearing towards the now open doors. The explosions ripped chunks out of the floor, puffing up more dust and grit into the air, a screen, a shelter for Draco, and he gripped his wand harder in his hand and went in.

He ran, ignoring the pain, sprinting towards where he thought one of the long counters that the goblins usually sat at was, half-blind with all the dust from the reductos that Shacklebolt and Johns were still spitting from their wands as they stood either side of the doors. They were giving him a chance, at least, and he felt a sharp pain of gratitude and anger, because their back up was more than he deserved, but so much less than she deserved. He trampled over the bodies of several goblins – unconscious or dead, he didn't know, but their bodies were both firm and horribly squashy under his feet, and he felt sick to his stomach. His mind was racing, impaired by the head wound he'd received – dulled, panicking, slow. If Hermione had hid, if she hadn't been grabbed, then they had a chance. They had a chance to get out.

Draco told himself that over and over as he flattened himself against the end of the counter, and peeked around it, got off a stupefy that actually hit home and toppled a Death Eater, more through dumb luck than any skill at aiming. His heart was racing, pumping like crazy in his chest and Draco felt like it was going to go faster and faster and faster until it just exploded. His head was fucking fuzzy and felt as though it were stuffed with cotton wool, and his hand was fucking shaking, and his back screamed against the counter as he pressed against it, grinding shards and chunks of glass deeper into his flesh. He bit down on his lip hard and tried to control himself, to focus through the pain and exhaustion.

Draco stuck his head out around the corner again, firing off a binding hex, and then he saw her and for a moment he froze and his heart stopped its frantic stampeding, jerking and jolting to a stuttering halt in his chest. His eyes were slammed open wide as he saw her there, and then he slammed back around the corner as a bolt of yellow light flashed at him, his breath rattling in his chest, not thinking about how close he had been to being stupefied and failing before he'd even tried – only thinking about her, and what he'd seen.

# # # # # #

A Memory Out of Time VI

When Hermione crawls to him and shakes and cries in his arms, Draco strokes her hair and tells her that he loves her, and that it will all be all right, in the end, and he's such a fucking liar. Nothing will be all right, and they both know that. The heels of her hands dig into his shoulders as she clings to him, her fingers like broken spider's legs and black and swollen to sausages with bruising, and he ignores the agony her slight weight on his broken body sends roaring to life. He tells her that he loves her, over and over while she shakes with tearless, hitching sobs, and he remembers the first time that he told her he loved her. The first time without the caveat of an 'I think' tacked on to it.

Had had returned from his mother's, wrung out, control hanging by a frayed thread, to find Karkaroff's people in his cellar. And he'd nearly lost it on Lupin, and Hermione had taken him up to her room for the first time, and he'd followed her like a lost child, anger and grief all balanced on a knife's edge. She had slipped her arms around him and told him that she'd loved him, and it was then that it had come shuddering out of him for the first time. I love you he had said into the tangled, suffocating mass of her hair, holding her so tightly his fingers left bruises in her flesh that didn't fade for several weeks. I love you, he'd repeated himself, urgent and meaning it more than he'd ever meant anything, and terrified by the intensity of it, breaking apart under the strain of everything and filled with self-loathing, and crying like a fucking ponce into her hair.

He tells her he loves her again, now, in the moment, and the heels of her hands are vices on his shoulders, making the dislocated one scream out with sharp fire, and he bites his swollen tongue so hard it splits and blood fills his mouth. More blood. More blood; they are coated in it already and so he doesn't care when it sputters and dribbles out of his mouth and down his chin as he repeats those three words to her, like she wants him to. Needs him to. They are painted in blood, fresh and old, and as he has since he first started falling in love with Hermione, he thinks about how her blood looks exactly the fucking same as his. Their blood is black in the dark, tasting like iron filings and life and death at once, when she kisses him and the taste fills both their mouths.

He doesn't tell her he's sorry anymore; it only seems to upset her, to distress her, and he won't hurt her any more than she is already hurting. Draco waits until she has slipped into the unconsciousness that isn't really sleep, not really, and then he whispers it in her ear over and over like a penance, listening to her heart beat and her breath whistle and rasp. Tells her that he loves her and he's sorry for it. That he's sorry that he failed her. That he's sorry for everything, and that he wishes that Voldemort had killed him, instead of taking his hand. That he wishes they had left him to bleed out on the Manor floor instead of staunching the blood pumping from his wrist. Because then she might not be here – she might be safe. Everything might have gone so differently, and he is so, so fucking sorry.

Draco tells her this quietly in the dark, the stone chill and hard beneath them, her whimpering half-delirious from her injuries in her unconsciousness, and he biting back on the pain roiling through every inch of him, trying not to fall asleep, despite how tired and weak he is. He can't protect her, he can't stop it from happening, but he refuses to awake to the sound of her screams, or to simply find her gone. He has to know, he has to watch over her, even if he can't do anything to save her he has to bear witness to it. He has to be aware of every second, because if they live through this Draco will need to pay penance for every scream that bursts from her raw throat, every hurt that is inflicted upon her.

When Hermione wakes too soon, he thinks maybe she half-remembers him talking to her, and apologising, because she tells him in a cracked, shattered voice, the heels of her broken hands sliding over the heavy stubble on his face, that she doesn't regret anything. She tries to reassure him, and Merlin damn him, he believes her. She says that if they had never…then she could still be here; she would just be here alone. And she asks him if it's horribly selfish and monstrous of her that she's glad he's here with her, and Draco pulls her to him, burying his face in the crook of her neck, the blood-matted mass of her hair, and tells her no, that there was nowhere else he would choose to be. He thinks with bitter humour, as his hand tries to find patches of unwounded skin on her back to stroke and soothe, that he has picked a fine time to turn bloody selfless.

She has rubbed off on him, in more ways than just the filthy one. The old Draco Malfoy would never have told Hermione Granger that he would rather be here with her rather than safe and free, because he wouldn't have. He would have never gone back into the bank for her, he wouldn't have cared, and he wouldn't be lying here in half-delirious agony right now, like some stupid fucking useless martyr. But that isn't what hurts right now – his fate is not what he cares about. It is hers that makes him hate himself.

"I don't regret anything," she tells him again, like it's so important that he knows, urgent desperation in her thin, rasping voice, sprawled over his lap so they are both in pain, together. Together. Draco closes his eyes in the dark and presses his bloodied lips to her forehead, whispering against the skin, only half a lie, "I don't either."

# # # # # #

Of War VII

She screamed and fought and lashed out, anger and terror blinding her to the pain, ignoring that fact that they'd ripped her wand away, disarmed her. She had her teeth and her nails still, and she flailed and punched wildly and bit down on an arm that tasted like filth hard enough to make blood well into her mouth, and they were laughing at her. That enraged her, hurt her, more than anything else.

"It's Potter's friend –"

"Are you sure?"

She was twisted to the ground by her arm ripped up behind her back and pushed down, and a booted foot stamped hard on her spine and she arched and buckled and screamed beneath it. It held her still, kept her there, her bloodied hands scrabbling at the ground, fingernails clawing and tearing away as she tried thoughtlessly and uselessly to get away. A hand grabbed her braid and yanked her head back, an unfamiliar face with pale eyes and a cruel snarling mouth loomed in her vision.

"It's Granger, all right," the wizard's rough, low voice said, and she spat in his face, a gobbet of blood and phlegm and the face jerked back from hers, voice swearing and cursing angrily, and a hand smacked across her cheek and pain snapped through her. "Fucking bitch, filthy fucking mudblood, I swear to Merlin you'll pay for that." The back of the wizard's hand struck her face again and pain bloomed like fire through her cheek and jaw and neck and she cried out despite herself.

"Best not kill her," another voice said, and terror rushed through her making her limbs weak and watery, and she hated them. "She'll make a pretty little prize. Wonder what Potter would do to get her back…"

"The Dark Lord will be pleased," another voice said all filled with hateful, smug triumph, and she gurgled something unintelligible, a slew of hate and anger and defiance, and they laughed at her again and the foot left her back. She threw herself forward, crawling, scrabbling, a crippled mouse trying to escape a circle of snarling, hissing cats. She didn't have a chance. She was dragged up to her feet by her hair and her scalp screamed at her – she put her weight on her feet to relieve the pain, but then her broken ankle gave way beneath her in a wash of agony, and her vision blacked out for a few seconds at the fire that rattled through her body.

She stumbled on her feet, still held half up by the fierce grip on her hair, the Death Eaters' words washing over her as they decided the best way to get her out – through the doors, past the Order which could be laying in wait, with back up, or out the ceiling, and apparate from the roof? She couldn't make much sense of any of it – her left ear was ringing from one of the backhanded blows to her face, and she was dizzy and nauseous and all filled up with mind-blanking terror. She knew what it would mean if they took her. Torture in all its different forms – and her skin crawls and she wants to die – and then if she was lucky, death. She refused to contemplate Harry risking his life to save her, as part of some sick deal – Hermione didn't want him to die for her. She wasn't worth it.

And then explosions rocked the building and she screamed with fright and terror and a growing hope as she saw where the explosions were coming from – the doors, where the rest of the Order were. And then she realised she didn't want them to come back for her, because they were outnumbered and outclassed, and she didn't want them to die. But then she saw a flash of white-blond hair all streaked with red through the clouds of dust from the explosions. She saw him, and no one else and she cursed Draco viciously under her breath, knowing immediately what had happened and hating him for it. He had come back for her alone, and she didn't want him to get caught and killed too, and she felt sick and she shook all over, helpless, just hanging in the Death Eaters' hands.

The Death Eaters exchanged hexes and stunners with Draco for a few moments while Hermione watched helplessly, her hands balled up into fists, swaying on her feet. There was no way he could get to her; there was no way he could save her, and now the Death Eaters' had him pinned down and he was all but trapped in here with her. What the hell was he doing? He had always laughed at what he called Gryffindor nobility, their drive to achieve martyrdom – he had always said that Slytherins were smarter than that, so what the fuck was he doing right now? She couldn't breathe and her body hurt and her heart was sick, sicksicksick. She didn't want him to die for her. The idiot, the utter stupid prat. Why did he have to pick now to decide to emulate Ron and Harry's foolhardy impulsiveness?

And then the Death Eaters seemed to grow weary of exchanging fire with Draco, and one stepped up to Hermione, pressing her wand tip against Hermione's temple. "You want your little dirty filthy ally to die, traitor?" the witch asked in a clear call, a cruel smile to her lips, and Hermione whimpered behind clamped together lips.

"She's too valuable to you," Draco's voice came rough across the room, filled with something achingly painful. "You won't kill her."

"Why'd they send you in for her, Malfoy? Don't care if you die, huh? Why do you fight for them?" Sudden fury in the Death Eater's voice, and her wand jabbed harder into Hermione's temple.

There was a long silence from Draco's end.

"Come out and drop your wand, Malfoy." The Death Eater regained her calm, a little, her tone cold and contained. "We can do this the easy way, or the hard way, but either way you haven't got a fucking chance in hell, and you may be a fucking traitor but you're not an idiot, and you know it."

Still silence from Draco, and Hermione knew he was desperately trying to formulate a plan – she knew him. She could picture what he looked like, crouched against the end of the counter there, his forehead furrowed and face cold. Determined and calculating. And then she heard him snarl Avada Kedavra so fast it was a slur of sound, and a wizard near her collapsed and the Death Eaters snarled and shuffled uneasily. Hermione moaned and bit her tongue – she had seen him briefly – a flash of him – as he'd spun out of cover to cast the Unforgivable, and he hadn't looked cold and calculating – the lines of his white, bloodied face had been stark and desperate. He'd lost it – lost that ruthless control that had kept him alive for so long, and that scared Hermione, a chill that seeped into her very bones.

"You fucking filthy traitorous bastard!" The Death Eater snarled, and dragged in a rasping, angry breath. "Drop your wand now or I'll make her pay for your refusal."

Hermione shook with fear, but she opened her mouth and screamed, "Don't you dare, Draco! Don't you fucking dare! Run – get out of here, don't –" A fist smashed across her face and she choked on her words and on blood, spitting the blood out and feeling a tooth wobble in her gums. God, her parents would be so angry about that, she thought disconnectedly, still reeling from the blow.

"What makes you think I care," Draco spat, trying to sound contemptuous and unconcerned by the thought of them hurting Hermione, but there was a tremble to his voice, a tightness to it, that gave him away. And out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw the Death Eater smile, and then the woman spat, "Crucio," and everything disappeared beneath the haze of pain. Like her skin and muscle was being flayed from her bones, like her skull was being crushed in a vice, like every inch of her, inside and out, was on roaring, consuming fire. She was vaguely aware that she was seizing, her body jerking and flailing, teeth clattering together, only held up by the iron grip on her hair, but everything else was just pain.

# # # # # #

A Memory Out of Time VII

She remembers every moment that they have been safe and together, and every time that Draco has held her – wrapped in his arms, all tangled together and locked in each other, the way that they always do. Always touching in bed, always all wound up and bound together, in the softness of blankets and mattress, and the tickle of his hair clean and soft on her forehead, his hand strong and elegant. She remembers all the time he has whiled away in kissing her – in anger, or confusion, or hungry, desperate need, or sorrow, or gentle tenderness. She remembers the slide of his hands over her skin, the lave of his tongue over her nipples, the feeling of being filled up by his cock as he thrusts into her. She pictures the colours of his eyes, and the different shades and expressions of them, and remembers the look in them such a short time ago as he told her he couldn't live without her, and asked her to marry him.

Hermione remembers all the good things, drifting through her mind in a happy, warm daze. She thinks about everything wonderful, and everything safe, and everything that is home – that is her and him, and Harry and Ron, and everyone else. But mostly she thinks of him. Mostly she thinks of Draco Malfoy, and all the happy, precious memories that they have woven together, since he turned up at Godric's Hollow. She sees it all playing out on a reel in her head, like her face is dipped in the cool shock of a pensieve; everything so clear, so brilliant.

She is only vaguely aware that she is convulsing and choking in her own blood on the stone floor, and he is crying over her, trying to roll her over so the blood doesn't drown her, his tears splashing hot and stinging on her face as he apologises, over and over and over.

# # # # # #

Of War IX

Hermione's wails cut through the echoing room – not screams, not yells, but gurgling, animalistic noises of agony that sounded like they tore from her throat bleeding and ragged, and Draco stuffed his knuckles into his mouth and moaned softly as he listened. His body was wracked with tension, muscles cramping and horror grabbing him and shaking him like a rag doll, and he couldn't block the noise out. It was awful, it was horrible, and it just kept going, and going, and going – hoarse, strangled shrieks and wails, and awful, bubbling, choking sounds, and Draco swore over and over as he tried to figure out what to do and came up with nothing, his eyes clenched shut and his teeth bruising his knuckles as he bit down. And then the doors boomed shut and he jerked his eyes up and realised that Shacklebolt and Johns had gone. Left them. And rather than the rage Draco had expected to well up at the realisation, a tired hopelessness came over him instead.

"Stop! Stop!" he screamed out, and Hermione's wails trailed down to weak, shaky sobbing, undercut by whimpers that sounded like they came from a mortally wounded animal.

"Why should we?" The witch's voice came, and Draco gritted his teeth.

"I'll surrender." It physically hurt to say that, but he didn't have any damned choice, did he? His head was hurting like shit, and he couldn't think of anything that would save them both, and he was beginning to think that Shacklebolt had been right. He'd been a fucking idiot to come in after her, but…he couldn't leave her. There was a muttered discussion between the Death Eaters, and from what he overheard over Hermione's wounded, shivering cries, they decided in the end that Voldemort would be pleased to have Draco – to make an example of him. Draco crouched there and prayed to a god he didn't believe in, to the fates, to anything that might be listening that please might they get out of this alive, because he knew very fucking well what happened when Voldemort made an example of someone, and he was afraid.

"Show yourself, then," The witch who appeared to be in charge called out, and Draco stood, exposing himself, trusting that they wouldn't change their minds and kill him outright. And then his stomach wrenched and his chest hurt, as he stared sickened at the scene in front of him. Hermione was loosely surrounded by Death Eaters, sagging onto her knees on the floor, only held up by a hand fisted around her braid, her head dragged back slightly and her eyes glazed over, a witch holding a wand to her head. Blood dripped down her chin, her face was already swelling and bruising horribly from the blows she'd taken, and her arms hung limp at her sides and twitched and shivered with the aftershocks of the Cruciatus. Her eyes rolled to him, one already swollen half closed, and she sputtered blood when she tried to speak, the sound a desperate croak.

"Don't. Draco, don't. Don't, don'tdon'tdo" The hoarse plea was cut off when a Death Eater backhanded her across the face, and she screamed and Draco's breath caught in his throat and he choked on it, and on the impotency of his hatred.

"Shut up, filth," the masked Death Eater told Hermione in a voice Draco didn't recognise, and everything took on a dreamlike quality as Hermione spat at the Death Eater, and he hit her again, and again, and she was crying and still screaming her damned defiance at the wizard, and the witch holding the wand pointed at Hermione's head said to Draco, "Drop your wand or Smythe here'll keep going, traitor," and Draco shuddered and shut his eyes, and then snapped them open.

"Stop it, stop it! Get your fucking hands off her," he snarled, voice trembling, and the tableau froze, and he held his arm out to the side, gripping the butt of his wand between finger and thumb, and dropped it to the floor with a clatter. "I surrender. I fucking surrender, you bastards," he spat, his voice dripping with contempt and hatred. They laughed at him, rough and hard and full of malice, and Hermione was sobbing and shaking her head no, staring at him with wounded, horrified firewhiskey eyes. Draco kept his eyes locked on Hermione as he walked towards them all – looked at her and only her, and he realised full well that he had probably just thrown away his life for nothing, but he had made the only choice he could make and not hate himself.

Hermione just stared at him with open devastation, and he could see she was shaping his name with her swollen, split lips, and shaking her head in a vehement no at what he'd done, her limbs still quivering from the Cruciatus. He was two metres away when he said her name, full of apology. "Hermione." He didn't see anything but her, hanging there like a broken puppet, and he blamed himself for what she was going to go through. It was his fault. Somehow. Somehow, it was his fault, and he accepted that – welcomed it, even. "I'm sorry." The Death Eaters laughed uproariously at him, and he hated them all but it was easy to ignore them. "Herm–"

And then it wasn't so easy to ignore the Death Eaters. A fist struck his face, and he spun and his hand flew up to clutch his jaw as pain exploded there, and another fist hit him in the small of his back and he staggered on his feet. Another, and another, the thudding explosive pain of fists driving into his battered flesh, and he couldn't even defend himself. He just fell to his knees, ducking his head to try to protect his face, and then a boot landed in his stomach and the air whooshed out of him and he clutched his abdomen, hunching over and gasping for air that wouldn't come. Another blow – the kick of a steel-capped boot to his shoulder, and a grinding cry of pain wrenched from his lips and he was driven forward, flat on his face in the rubble.

He was a mass of pain – fists and feet driving into him, and he instinctively curled into a ball and wrapped his arms around his head, chin to his chest and knees up to his stomach, trying to protect himself as much as possible. It hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt, and he could hear Hermione screaming, but she wasn't screaming in pain, she was screaming for them to stop hurting him, and that was good, he thought vaguely through the pain. It was good that she wasn't being hurt. They had turned on him instead, like he had hoped. And then someone snarled, "Crucio," and his last coherent thought before he began seizing with agony, was of his birthday.

# # # # # #

Belonging and Birthdays VI

The war went on.

His father was still out there somewhere, and whether or not his mother had chosen Draco in the end, she still loved his father and that couldn't help but taint things between them. He still didn't know what was going to happen after the war was over, if they even won, because the Order couldn't make promises about his freedom. They could only try, and so Draco was acutely aware his future still could involve a cell in Azkaban, instead of marriage to Hermione Jean Granger. And the mission to Gringotts was tomorrow, and he wasn't ready for it – none of them were – and they were all worried and tangled up in nervous knots. But today was his birthday, and Hermione had baked him a cake – with sprinkles on it, she'd pointed out with absurd pride – and they'd sung him Happy Birthday standing around the table, Weasley singing some rude Muggle version Dean had taught him about Draco smelling like a monkey.

And Draco had blown out the candles, and at Lovegood's insistence, like a child, made a wish – and he refused to tell anyone what it was, but Hermione knew, and he thought Nymphadora and the rest of the older Order members probably could guess too. Everyone was grinning at him, seizing the excuse to celebrate, as they had yesterday at Weasley's wedding. Speaking of whom, Weasley was stuffing his gob with cake already – and Lovegood was babbling something ridiculous at him about birthday luck, which he tried to ignore. Then something jabbed him hard in the side and Draco jumped and turned a scowl on Hermione, who stood there with a broomstick in one hand and Potter's invisibility cloak in the other, neither of which had been there a moment ago, he was certain of it. Draco's scowl faded and a funny feeling came over him, muddling up his stomach.

"This is your serious present," Hermione said softly, with a little, slightly shy smile, holding up the items. "I know it's not much, but…I thought we could go for a fly, today…"

Draco's throat felt all choked up suddenly, and he couldn't speak, just stared at Hermione dumbly. He knew how much she hated flying, and she knew how much he loved it, how being on a broomstick made him feel alive and free. And she pushed up on tiptoes and swayed into him, kissed him long and hard on the mouth in front of everyone, and for a perfect moment, Draco forgot about the war, and his family, and the possibility of Azkaban looming in the far-off future. Hermione pulled away, eyes rich firewhiskey and sparking with amber as she grinned up at him, saying playful and teasing, "If you drop me to my death, Harry will avenge me."

"I'll try my very best not to kill you. I'd hate to have to murder Potter in self-defence," Draco promised mock-earnestly, happiness bubbling uncontrollably up in his chest, because the war wasn't over, but it was his birthday, and Hermione was smiling at him with a broomstick in hand – and Weasley was stuffing himself with cake, and Potter was canoodling disgustingly with Ginny Weasley, and Angelina Johnson and the Weasley twins were distressing Mrs Weasley with their open mutual affections, and Nymphadora was feeding baby Teddy, their hair a matching green, and – and – they were all so bloodyirritating, and yet…Draco realised that this was what home felt like.

# # # # # #

A Memory Out of Time VIII

It could have begun at the Manor, when she was being tortured, but Draco thinks he probably would have let almost anyone escape, given the chance. Especially a girl. No, that hadn't been specific to Hermione. He doesn't think that was really where it all began properly, although he knows that is what she thinks, and maybe that is where it began, for her.

But Draco thinks that it all reallybegan for him when he first walked through the front door of the Godric's Hollow house, worn to the bone and frightened as hell – more for his mother than himself, although he was plenty worried for himself, too. And he had blinked in the bright light of the foyer, the warmth of the place sinking into him, squinting about at all the faces, and seeing the shock and revulsion there. He had curled his lip and sneered at them all, like he was still above them, superior, despite crawling to them for their aid. He had hated them all, and his arm had hurt like hell, and he had been weak from lack of food and sleep, and then he had seen her.

In a doorway near the back of the foyer, Draco had seen hollow amber-brown eyes set in a white, shocked face that was framed by wild dark hair. Her mouth had hung open, and her thin hand had pressed to her chest as she'd shrunk back from him, swaying on her feet. Granger, he had thought, and he remembers that he had felt the strangest rush of relief and gratitude that she was alive. Oh, Draco had hated her too, in the moments following that initial reaction – despised her, in fact, because he'd lost his fingers for her – but his first instinctive thought was that he was glad she had survived.

Yes. Draco thinks it really began then; there in the foyer of the Godric's Hollow house, when he had seen Hermione, and for some unfathomable reason, had been happy that she was still alive.

He just wishes it wasn't going to end here. He supposes he should take some small comfort from the fact that they are together, but he doesn't, not really. He wishes it were him, alone.

# # # # # #

Fin.

Coming soon…the sequel to The Risk-Reward Ratio:

The Just-World Fallacy

They say that people get what they deserve. That bad things happen to bad people. That the guilty will always get their just deserts. They speak of Karma and Fate, and all those pretty, meaningless words.

They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. That people can adapt to anything, given time. They say that the universe doesn't give you more than you can handle, as if it somehow knows.

They say, that everything turns out okay in the end, and if it isn't okay, it's not the end.

She hopes that last one is true, because she knows for a fact that the others are not; knows it right down in her bones – the heavy, leaden truth of experience. But that last one, well… Hermione is waiting to find out.

# # # # # #

Author's Note: So… ::scratches head:: Err, ah, sorry about the kind-of-cliffhanger ending :D But I really couldn't figure out any other way to write the ending that was a fitting and climactic conclusion. It just seemed like the mission was the best, most natural place to conclude this part of Hermione and Draco's story, before I continue the remainder of it in the sequel.

So, what did you think about the chapter? It's been a while since I wrote really full-on action scenes, with people getting injured and such, so…what did you think of them? Did they turn out okay? Realistic and gory enough? :p I was also going for some real intense emotiveness in this chapter, this being the finale – and I hope I achieved that goal, to some degree at least. My biggest aim in writing, apart from general reader enjoyment, is to make readers feel all the feels, lol.

Now…onwards to The Just World Fallacy, the first chapter of which will hopefully be up in a week or two – I may take several days to decompress before I start seriously working on it :)

Please review!