a/n: Hello! This is a little one-shot present for Alexa (feltonbeats/becausemakorra on tumblr) for being lovely and helping me with Isolation! Her request a Dramione fic with Adam Lambert's song Runnin' as a prompt, so I hope this okay, sweetie!
It's only in love and in murder that we still remain sincere.
~ Friedrich Dürrenmatt
By the fickle light of one weak candle, Draco clumsily poured the Firewhiskey into his glass, filling it to the brim. He knocked it back, spilling half of it down his chin and chest, not that he cared. Heat swam around his mouth, down his throat, and then sank to his stomach. He'd never particularly enjoyed the taste of Ogden's, but he liked the warming sensation spreading through his body and the slight fuzziness in his head.
Above anything else, he liked that it numbed him.
He liked that the tingles distracted him.
And distraction was necessary.
How long had he been here now? He guessed around four months, but it might have been longer. He didn't trust the clocks and calendars in this place any more than he trusted the people.
He was still coming to terms with the change.
He'd been officially fighting for the Order for seven years, since his eighteenth birthday, but it was so much more complicated than that.
While Voldemort had only injured Potter during the Battle of Hogwarts, breaking both of his arms, his spine, and leaving him with a severe head injury that had taken months to heal, it had been enough to secure victory. Potter had woken up from his coma to discover that Voldemort's army had almost quadrupled in size and that Great Britain was ravaged by war, with all of the major Muggle cities under his control or annihilated. London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Dublin; in less than six months, they were all destroyed.
The Order had realised that they would have to separate to avoid being located, so over twenty safehouses were secured. They all communicated with each other, strategising and planning various battles and missions, but they rarely saw each other face to face except for fleeting glimpses on the battlefield.
When Theo, Blaise, and himself had sought to join the Order a few months after the Battle of Hogwarts, they'd passed all the necessary Veritaserum and Legilimency tests and had been assigned to Mad-Eye Moody's safehouse, where the likes of Oliver Wood, Jason Samuels, Katie Bell, Jimmy Peakes, and Cho Chang had also been staying. The safehouse itself been an abandoned asylum in Cumbria, up in the hills and surrounded by forest, and he'd lived there for the whole seven years.
It had taken a while for him and his two friends to be accepted, perhaps a year, but he'd simply kept himself to himself, completing whatever tasks Moodyassigned him and fighting in every battle without protest. The others in the safehouse allowed him his privacy, silently respecting him, especially after he'd saved Oliver Wood's life five years ago.
Draco had discovered he excelled in battle. It's amazing how resilient and focused people can become when they're fighting for a cause they believe in, and while he'd been reluctant at first, he'd come into his own in this environment.
With so many Quidditch players in their safehouse, they became known as the 'Flying Fighters' by the Order, usually attacking Death Eaters from above when that tactic suited the circumstances. Various other safehouses had their own nicknames, like Pomfrey's safehouse: the 'Helpful Healers', Slughorn's safehouse: the 'Potion Party', McGonagall's safehouse: the 'Wise Warriors', and so on.
Whether by accident or intention, each group seemed to have its own speciality, and he'd been comfortable with the aerial team. Very comfortable. It was only natural after seven years in the same situation with the same people.
So when it was ripped away from him, he'd been more affected than he cared to admit.
The Death Eaters had attacked at night, setting the asylum on fire and blocking every exit, firing Killing Curses at anyone who managed to make it to a door or window. Only he, Theo, and Katie had escaped after managing to locate one of the Emergency Portkeys, which had taken them to the Order's unofficial base in Kent; Potter and Shacklebolt's safehouse, aka 'Headquarters'.
It was only when the other members of Moody's safehouse had been confirmed dead that Draco realised he had come to regard Mad-Eye as his mentor, and the others as more than mere allies. Their deaths left him with even more anger and resentment for Voldemort and his henchman, which he'd never thought possible. The losses of Blaise and Oliver in particular weighed heavily on his mind, and in one night, his already chaotic world had been flipped on its arse.
Every day he wondered if he should have tried to find more of his group before he'd grabbed the Portkey.
He'd stayed in Kent for a week before they'd informed him that he was being moved to McGonagall's safehouse near Canterbury, barely twenty minutes away by broom. After recently losing Terry Boot in battle, they had a spare room. Katie was sent to Sprout's safehouse in Devon, and Theo to Flitwick's safehouse in Worcester, and he hadn't seen either of them since.
So, here he was.
He was now a member of McGonagall's 'Wise Warriors', where Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood, Michael Corner, the Patil Twins, Marcus Belby, and many others were residing. The safehouse itself was a deserted library, perhaps a little smaller than Moody's asylum had been, but not as different as he'd anticipated. What bothered him the most was that the people living in this safehouse didn't trust him.
Reputations are like shadows; dark smudges following you wherever you go.
He didn't care about their opinions or the wary glances cast in his direction, but these people didn't respect him enough to allow him any privacy or consideration, and that bothered him. The only time he was permitted some peace was at night, while they were all sleeping. So for the last four months, he'd secluded himself in the kitchen each night, forcing himself into insomnia and gargling whiskey until he felt sick.
The only issue to his routine was Hermione Granger.
Hermione Bloody Granger.
While the others in McGonagall's safehouse had eyed him with nothing but suspicion and caution, she had simply seemed curious, perhaps even intrigued by his arrival, which he found unnerving. She observed him like he was some potion experiment and she was noting all the results, or like he was a book in a language she was trying to decipher. For the first month of his stay, she didn't say a word to him, simply watching, but then she'd slowly started to interact with him, just asking him the odd question here and there, like if he'd like a cup of tea, or if he knew where one of her friends was. Despite his not so subtle hints that he wanted to be left alone, she continued to pester him, and it irritated the shit out of him.
That was the first problem.
The second problem was that Granger apparently also suffered with insomnia, and they'd crossed paths several times at night, usually in the hallway or in the kitchen. Merlin forbid he be allowed any peace. The atmosphere would become awkward; she would try to engage him in idle chit-chat, and then he would get up and leave when he'd had enough of her presence, which was usually after about two minutes. Her questions were getting bolder though, and sometimes he was almost tempted to linger to see how far she would go, but his desire for solitude always outweighed his curiosity.
Still, at least she didn't bother him every night.
At least he had some privacy.
He growled when he heard footsteps heading towards the kitchen, and he realised tonight wouldn't be one of those nights. Pouring another glass of Firewhiskey, he knocked it back just as the door opened and in she walked, offering him a small, brief smile in greeting. Of course she wouldn't be surprised that he was here, but he hated how casually she regarded him, like he was the family pet or a piece of furniture.
"Hello Malfoy," she said, making her way to the kettle.
He didn't respond, simply studying her from beneath his lowered lids.
It was summer and the nights were humid. Granger was clad in a pair of blue, baggy pyjama shorts and a white t-shirt that was a size too large, her hair scraped away from her face in a rushed ponytail. Her features always seemed more defined in the darkness with the candlelight playing with her bone structure and making her eyes glow more golden than brown.
"Are you alright?" she asked.
"Fine," he replied crisply. "Or I was until I was interrupted, anyway."
If she was offended by his rude comment, she didn't show it. "Would you like anything?"
"Not even a cup of tea, Malfoy?"
"As I have told you countless times, I don't drink tea."
"No, of course not," she mumbled. "You just drown yourself in alcohol until you pass out."
He coughed. She'd never spoken to him so bluntly and it caught him off guard. "Excuse you, Granger?"
"Well, honestly, it stinks in here." She added a sugar and stirred her tea. "You smell like a distillery."
Ah, so she'd decided to change her tactics tonight; skip all the boring and pointless questions and go straight for what she really wanted to say. This was new. Merlin forgive him, but he was intrigued to see how this would play out; so he leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest.
"I wasn't aware my drinking habits were any of your fucking business."
She frowned and took the seat opposite his at the table. "No, I guess it's not my business. You do drink a lot though, Malfoy."
He rolled his eyes, pouring himself another Firewhiskey, more out of principle than thirst. But before he could bring the tumbler to his lips, she snatched it out of his hand, too fast for his sluggish reflexes to react. Then she grabbed the bottle as well.
"Hey, what the fuck?" he snapped. "Give that back!"
"I think you've had enough."
"That's not your decision to make!"
"Wait a moment-
"Give it back, Granger!"
"If you tell me why you drink so much, I'll give it back."
He scoffed. "You want to know why I drink so much? You should ask everyone else why they don't drink. Are you oblivious to the world we're living in?"
She rubbed her lips together with thought. "So you drink to cope with the War?"
"No, I drink to get the giggles and dance to tacky music," he said sarcastically. "Of course I drink to cope with the War."
"That's no good reason to-
"Are you seriously going to scold me? Everyone has something to help them cope with the War. We all have our escape tools, Granger. You bury your nose in books to block shit out and I drink. End of."
"Do you realise that all this alcohol is damaging your health?"
He scoffed again. "I'm pretty sure fighting all of those sodding Death Eaters is more likely to kill me than a bottle of bloody Ogden's. And again, Granger, it is none of your bus-
"Did you drink this much when you were staying with Moody?" she asked. "Because I don't think you did."
He scowled coldly at her, trying to think of a response, but his hesitation was telling. "Just give me the bloody whiskey, Granger."
Her lips twitched and then she was nibbling her bottom one, like she was nervous about what she was going to say next. "It's not your fault they didn't make it out, Malfoy."
He was speechless. His mouth was actually agape. Who the hell did she think she was?
"How fucking dare you!" he spat. "You don't know anything about-
"You wear your guilt. It's so obvious."
"You don't know me, Granger!"
"No," she agreed. "I don't know who you are now. All I know and remember is the idiot you were at Hogwarts, but I believe you are different now. If you weren't so determined to shut out everyone-
"In case you failed to notice, I was hardly welcomed here with open arms," he said. "Despite the fact that I have been fighting for the Order for seven years, everyone here looked at me like I was piece of shit on the heel of their shoe."
"I didn't. I have tried to talk with you, but you do everything you can to avoid me regardless."
"Don't take it personally, Granger, but perhaps I just don't feel like speaking with you."
"But I would like to speak with you," she said softly. "I would like to get to know you."
The sincerity of her response struck him speechless again, so he simply shook his head, looking at a speck on the wall instead of her. She sighed and slowly pushed the Ogden's towards him, then his glass, watching him expectantly as she sipped her tea. He seized the glass, downing the Firewhiskey and trying not to wince when it scorched his tonsils. Apparently his numb buzz had worn off or she'd simply pestered him sober.
"As I recall," she said suddenly, "You were rather good with Runes in Hogwarts."
"Second only to you," he replied, sounding bitterer than he'd intended.
She nodded thoughtfully. "I'm not sure how things worked at Moody's safehouse, but we do a lot of research here-
"I gathered that."
"And we have lots of texts and old scriptures on Dark Magic and the like. We like to be prepared for whatever awful and obscure Curses the Death Eaters throw at us, and we also have texts on Horcruxes, the majority of which are coded, usually in Runes."
He arched an eyebrow. "Do you have a point?"
"I was going to ask if you would like to assist me tomorrow, trying to decipher a particular book about Horcruxes. I am having trouble with several passages-
"And you are asking for my help?"
"I'm asking for your input," she said, giving him a shrewd look. "It's best to keep busy."
He considered her with guarded eyes, tapping his finger against his glass, hoping the repetitive noise would irritate her a little, but her face didn't change. "I would prefer to spend my time training than reading."
"You know we train more than enough here. Seven hours a day, in case you weren't counting-
"Well, I'd rather make it ten hours a day if the alternative is reading some ancient books that are probably pointless."
She pursed her lips and then shrugged. Rising from her seat, she cast a quick Scourgify on her mug and placed it back in the cupboard. "If that's your decision, there's little I can do about it," she said, heading out the room, but she hesitated in the doorframe. "If you change your mind-
"Then the offer will still be there. Good night, Malfoy."
He rolled his eyes as the door closed behind her, realising that she had been the one to walk away from him this time, and he frowned down at his empty glass. Pouring another, he tossed it back, but this glass didn't give him the satisfying hiss of calm that he was accustomed to.
He blamed Granger for that.
The explosion behind him knocked him off his feet and he was propelled forward, landing several yards away, face-down in a shallow puddle.
The rain and splinters hammered against his back as he pushed himself up, spitting out water, gasping for air, and his eyes darting around as he tried to get his bearings. His ears were ringing from the blast, but he could make out the distorted voices surrounding him, Death Eaters and Order members screaming Hexes and Curses at each other, accompanied by more explosions. They were flashing all around him, but he didn't blink. He was used to this.
He quickly checked himself over, ensuring he wasn't injured, and then he jumped to his feet, racing back to the core of the battle. Disarming and stunning two Death Eaters in a matter of seconds, he was back in his element.
The Death Eaters were starting to retreat; they were outnumbered and had been completely unprepared for the attack. Snaps of Apparition echoed around him and before he realised it, he was standing in a line of twelve Order members, creating a human wall to protect several injured people behind them who were being checked over by Pomfrey's group. Ahead of them, the fight continued, and Draco could make out Granger, Weasley, Theo, Shacklebolt, and thirty or so others dealing with the remaining twenty Death Eaters. He wanted to join them, but McGonagall's voice called out over the racket before he could make a move.
"Keep up this barricade!" she yelled. "None of you break this line!"
Draco gritted his teeth but stayed put; he knew better than to disobey one of the Housemasters.
With no Death Eaters to kill or stun, he could do little but watch the battle continue and he caught himself watching Granger. It was impossible not to stare at her, and he wondered how he'd never noticed her in battle before.
Each one of her movements was graceful and precise, like it was all choreographed. She ducked, twisted, fired a spell, spun around, fired another, dodged a Hex, and she did it all with such poise, dancing in the middle of the storm. She was calm, focused, and agile; undeniably impressive. He had no idea why, but he'd expected her to be somewhat clumsy and disorientated in battle, but, as much as it pained him to admit it to himself, she was brilliant.
She was clearly in her element here, too.
Perhaps he was so fascinated by her technique because it differed so much from his own. His fighting style was forceful and brutish, rough and unforgiving, and he wondered how Granger could appear so gentle as she aimed her curses at her enemies.
It was such a paradox to him and he was captivated by it.
The Death Eaters were dropping like flies, but the ones that remained were arguably the most skilled and ruthless: Bellatrix, Rudolphus, Yaxley, MacNair, and several others. All of them appeared determined to slay as many as possible before they abandoned the battlefield, but, one by one, they began to disappear. As the rate of Apparition cracks accelerated, Draco saw MacNair aiming his wand at Theo, and then he shouted a spell Draco had never heard before.
It struck Theo square in the chest and Draco could only watch from a distance as a grey shadow slowly began to spread out over his friend's upper body. Theo sank to his knees, crying out in panic and pain as whatever was taking over his body continued to stretch and expand until it was covering his entire torso.
Draco was about to leave his post and sprint to his friend's side, but then Granger was in his line of sight again, talking to Theo and pointing her wand at where the curse had hit. Fixated on her ministrations, Draco heard her recite an unfamiliar spell and then a delicate, blue light poured out of her wand, enveloping Theo like a glowing cocoon. The grey shadow receded until it vanished completely and Theo's screams stopped.
As Granger helped him to his feet, Bellatrix and Yaxley Apparated, and all the Death Eaters were gone.
Draco braced himself as he brought the glass to his bruised and split lips. It burned like torture, but he downed the whiskey anyway and then poured another.
McGonagall's group had only returned from the battlefield a few hours ago, around midnight, and most had headed straight to bed. They'd lost Belby today and the safehouse was so silent, like the library itself was in mourning; but beyond the door, the tell-tale sounds of Granger's footfalls headed in his direction.
He didn't frown this time. Tonight he was waiting for her.
He shifted in his seat when the door swung open and in she ambled, sporting a split lip of her own and a half-healed black eye. Greeting him with the usual nonchalant smile, she predictably crossed the room to make herself a tea.
"Am I wasting my time if I offer to make you one?" she asked over her shoulder.
"You know the answer to that."
She shrugged and joined him at the table, and it was only then that he noticed how swollen her lips were, but he didn't comment on it. He shouldn't have been staring at her lips anyway.
"So," she began, breaking the silence before it could linger. "How was it for you? Fighting with our group? This is the first time you've fought with us."
"It wasn't any different," he said. "When you're fighting for your life, you don't take much notice of the company."
"I can tell you're not comfortable here, though."
"I'm a grown man, Granger, I'll deal with it. I'm not going to bitch about my living arrangements. At least I am living."
Her expression softened a little. "Isn't it awful when you consider it lucky that only one person died?"
"No, that's war," he said bluntly. "We are lucky that only one person died."
"Someone's still dead-
"It could have been worse." He stroked the rim of his glass and shifted in his seat again. "Speaking of which, what happened to Theo today?"
It was the first time he'd asked her a legitimate question, and her eyes widened a fraction. "What do you mean?"
"At the end of the battle, MacNair hit Theo with some curse. I didn't recognise it."
"Oh, the Saxum Totalus?"
"That was it."
"Yes, that's a rare one," she said, and her voice changed into the rambling bookworm tone he remembered so well from Hogwarts. "It was used as a torture method back in the Thirteenth Century, but it was outlawed at the beginning of the Fourteenth because it was deemed too cruel. It's an interesting spell, though. Very similar to the Petrificus Totalus, and many historians believe that-
"Granger," sighed Draco. "Take a breath."
Her blush was barely noticeable in the dim light, but he caught it.
"Sorry," she mumbled.
"What does the spell do? It looked like it was turning Theo into stone."
"Not quite. It actually encases the victim in a stone shell. Depending on how powerful the spell is, it can have different outcomes. Sometimes the victim is crushed to death by the weight of it, or sometimes they suffocate. There were even cases of the caster opening up a small hole for the victim's mouth so they could breathe, and then leaving them to starve to death."
"How the fuck do you know all that?" he asked. "And how did you know the counter-spell?"
She flashed him a knowing smile. "I read it in one of our pointless books."
"My offer still stands, you know. You're welcome to assist me with deciphering the coded texts."
Narrowing his eyes, he studied her intently, uncertain what he was hunting for. He couldn't help but respect her a little after he'd seen her fight today, and also for her quick-thinking response to Theo's distress. He'd always known she was ridiculously intelligent, but he would have never expected her to be so adept in a warzone, and it somehow made her less...irritating. Knocking back his whiskey, he ensured he didn't flinch in front of her.
"Maybe," he said finally.
"Well, I'm in the back reading room most evenings from eight if your maybe turns into a yes."
"For fuck's sake, Granger, this thing is falling apart."
"If you weren't so bloody heavy-handed with it-
"I'm not being heavy-handed-
"Yes, you are!"
He glared at her, but he knew it wouldn't do much to dent her feistiness. After three weeks of joining her in the reading room most evenings, she had become immune to his intimidating looks, not that she'd ever been particularly affected by them before. She'd certainly been less argumentative in the first week though, perhaps merely to keep the peace, but now she just shouted back at him when he initiated a quarrel, and they would bicker back and forth until they reached a stalemate or one of them stormed out of the room. She was infuriating, but he couldn't deny she was entertaining and he liked that she could keep up with his wit, even challenged him.
She was the only person he really spoke to in the safehouse and he didn't particularly want to speak with anyone else. Keeping up with her temperamental behaviour and multiple personalities was more than enough. But when it mattered, she did listen to him, taking note of any suggestions he had regarding their work, and it was oddly... satisfying to know that she considered him an intellectual equal. She was the brightest witch of their age, after all.
But today he was pissed off.
He had a headache that wouldn't wane, he'd barely managed an hour's sleep last night, and Granger had handed him the most decrepit and fragile book he'd ever seen in his life. The pages were practically disintegrating between his fingers and his frustration was mounting with each shred of parchment that crumbled in his hands. Taking a deep breath, he tried again, but the corner of the page ripped the second he gripped it between his fingertips.
"Fuck this," he grumbled. "This book is impossible to read, Granger."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake," she said, scooting her chair a little closer to him, "You just need to be gentle with it." Carefully, delicately, she pulled the book towards her, turning a page with her nimble fingers. "See."
Sighing, he reached out to try the next page, but Granger's hand shot out and settled on his, lining up their fingers and essentially guiding his movements. His first instinct was to bat her away, but he didn't. He wasn't sure why; he just didn't. Her hand was so small compared to his, and she steered him slowly, pushing down his fingers to pinch the page.
"Gently," she whispered, right by his ear. "That's right. Perfect. Just like that."
He resisted the urge to shiver when her breath teased the fine hairs on his neck, refusing to break his concentration. It was ridiculous really to be this focussed on turning a sodding page, but he was determined to do it now, if only to prove he wasn't as heavy-handed as she thought him to be.
They flipped the page and he flicked his eyes over to Granger to find her smiling at him.
"There," she said. "Just think of the pages as flower petals."
"This may come as quite a shock to you, Granger, but I don't have much experience playing with flower petals."
Draco had never done this before.
He'd never intentionally looked out for someone else during battle. Yes, he'd kept an eye on members of Moody's safehouse and other Order members, but never at the sake of his own concentration. The Order could preach love and teamwork all they liked, but he'd always fought to defend himself first and foremost. His life was his main priority and that was that.
Yet here he was, keeping a watchful eye on Granger, staying as close to her as he could, blinking the rain out of his eyes to ensure she was never out of his sight.
She wasn't fighting like she had the first time; her movements were sluggish, her spells were weak, and her reactions were slow. Too slow.
After suffering with a bad case of the flu for a week, Granger had barely been out of bed a day before the Order had decided to attack the Death Eaters today, but she'd inevitably ignored McGonagall's insistence that she stay at the safehouse. That was typical Granger though; determined to fight and do her part, but she was paying for it now.
Draco didn't recognise the Death Eater she was currently duelling, but fortunately he seemed young and inexperienced, barely casting any spells beyond the repertoire of a standard Sixth-Year student. On any other day, Granger would have thrashed him in a heartbeat, but her fatigue made her sloppy and they were almost evenly matched, meeting each other spell for spell.
He had to look away from her when a Death Eater charged at him, but he dealt with the witch swiftly, knocking her off her feet with an Impediment Jinx and stunning her before she could get back up. When he turned back to Granger, she'd successfully Petrified her opponent, but she was clutching her left arm tellingly, her face contorted in agony.
They locked eyes for a second, but then Draco saw something over her shoulder; Alecto Carrow, advancing on Granger quickly and quietly, like a snake.
Hermione noticed Draco's eyes settle on something behind her, and despite the painful throbbing in her arm, it was the panic gripping her heart that she felt most.
She whipped around, but a spell smacked her hard in the stomach before she could react. Flying backwards, she landed hard, and the ground was wet and cold against her cheek. She glanced up to discover it was Alecto Carrow who had cast the jinx and her mind began to race. She'd known that coming here certainly wasn't a wise or responsible decision, but she'd let her pride affect her judgement and now she regretted it.
Yes, she'd managed to successfully disable a couple of rookie Death Eaters, but she knew she would struggle to hold her ground with a witch as skilled as Carrow on a good day, let alone now.
Scrambling to her feet, Hermione aimed her wand, but it was knocked out of her hand before she could even begin to recite a spell. And now she was wandless. Useless. Target practice. Tilting her chin for dignity's sake, Hermione stared at Alecto as she stared back at her, trying to calm her laboured breath as the Death Eater smirked sadistically, twirling her wand.
"You're the one, aren't you?" sneered Alecto. "Potter's favourite Mudblood?"
Hermione swallowed heavily, but she didn't respond.
"Yes, it's you. You know, Bellatrix is pretty keen to kill you herself, but I see no reason why she should get all the fun."
As Alecto aimed her wand, every muscle in Hermione's body tensed and all she could hear was the terrified beat of her heart, pounding in her head like the rain. Like battle drums. Like everything . But she could read Alecto's lips as they wrapped around the word Avada. The Kedavra never came, though.
Hermione grunted when something collided with her. A strong arm fastened around her waist, securing her against a muscular and definitely male chest as she and her anonymous saviour fell down into the mud, her back to his front. They rolled over twice until he was on his back and she was settled on top, looking up at Alecto from the ground. The arm belted around her waist felt so safe and familiar that she draped hers over it, finding his hand and intertwining their fingers without really realising it.
The man that was holding her so firmly and protectively raised his wand, pointing it Alecto, and she appeared far too bewildered to react in time. A gruff and unwavering voice recited "Avada Kedavra" right beside Hermione's ear, so close that she could feel the dampness of his breath kissing her neck, then the green light of the curse shot Alecto right in the heart.
Alecto had been so close that when her body collapsed to the ground, she partially landed on Hermione's shoes, and she hastily pulled her legs back, ensuring no part of her was touching the dead Death Eater. Her free hand clamped down on her saviour's knee, her fingernails stabbing into him as she snapped her head to the side to discover just who had saved her life. She blinked a couple of times to shake the rain from her lashes and then she gasped.
"Draco," she breathed disbelievingly, her eyes wide. "How did...What are you-
"You shouldn't have come here," he told her bluntly. "You are clearly not in a fit state to fight."
"You're doing more harm than good."
The arm around her waist moved upwards, dipping under the collar of her shirt to remove her necklace. Her Portkey. Before she could even think to protest, Draco activated it, and she was swirling through the air until she landed heavily on her backside in the safehouse, still panting. Still stunned. And with Draco's breath still in her ear.
Draco had the shock of his life when he wandered into the kitchen just after midnight.
Yes, he'd certainly expected Granger to appear here at sometime in the night, but never had she been here before him, apparently waiting for him. With her arm in a sling and a bruise surrounding her left eye, she looked more vulnerable than he'd ever seen her, but her expression was determined and stern, unknowingly defying his notion. And that was good. Vulnerable didn't suit Granger.
On the table in front of her was a ready-poured glass of Firewhiskey and a glass of clear liquid that she clutched in her hand. Arching an eyebrow and wondering why she would pour him his favourite drink after countless reprimands about his habit, he warily took his usual seat, studying her closely trying to determine her mood or intentions.
"No tea tonight?" he asked.
"We've run out of tea."
She didn't look at him. She simply stared at her glass, and that bothered him.
"What are you drinking?"
"Bloody hell, Granger, treat yourself to a tipple for once."
"I don't drink."
"Of course you don't."
She lifted her eyes to him then and he'd never really noticed how...brown they were until now. They were like Autumn. Like October. She leaned forward slightly, resting her uninjured elbow on the table and settling her chin against the back of her hand. She lifted her head and he thought she might look at him then, but she didn't.
"I..." she started quietly, clearing her throat. "Thank you...for today. For saving my life."
Why wasn't she looking at him? He clenched his jaw. "What the hell were you thinking?" he asked. "You shouldn't have been there in the first place."
"McGonagall told you to stay here and you defied her. You were not in a fit state to fight and you were a liability."
"You could've been killed, and — Granger, why the fuck are you refusing to look at me?" he shouted. "Look at me when I'm talking to you!"
Sighing, she slowly brought her eyes to him and they were sullen and weary, like they were melting.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I am...embarrassed."
"You should be."
"It was poor judgement on my part," she admitted. "But I just...I..."
"Needed to fight," he finished.
She nodded and a comfortable silence settled between them. Downing his drink in one go, Draco realised this would be an appropriate time to leave. She'd said her piece and he'd said his, but he wasn't ready to leave her presence just yet. On the contrary, he wanted her to continue talking. Her voice was more soothing than the Firewhiskey.
"Draco," she said softly, "Thank you. I really am grateful...eternally grateful that you saved my life."
"I know you are."
"I'm still kind of befuddled by it all. It happened so quickly."
"Would you have preferred I'd taken my time?"
"No, of course not," she frowned. "But, I mean, you just came out of nowhere and grabbed me, and then you...you...um..."
He narrowed his eyes with puzzlement. "Killed Carrow?"
"What, you've never seen someone get killed before?"
"Yes, of course I have. Just not that close," she muttered, pausing to nibble her lip. "I heard you say the Killing Curse right by my ear and you sounded so... so calm."
"So?" he shrugged. "How do you sound when you-
"Can I ask you something?" she rushed out. "How many people have you killed?"
Her question shocked him more than he let on; years of training the muscles in his face to retain some level of composure had been time well spent, in his opinion. But still, she had certainly knocked him off kilter, and he poured himself another glass of Firewhiskey, predicting he might need something to take the edge off. He knew the number of people he had killed better than he knew his age, but he hesitated before telling her. He wasn't sure why.
"Carrow makes it fourteen," he said. "And they're not people, Granger. They're Death Eaters."
"Fourteen," she echoed. "Fourteen."
He took a sip of his drink. "How many have you killed?"
She averted her eyes to the table and he choked on his whiskey because he somehow knew what she wasn't saying. Apparently he hadn't trained his face well enough to remain indifferent to this surprise, but it didn't matter; her gaze was elsewhere. Again.
"You've never killed anyone?" he asked, his tone almost accusatory. "How have you never...? That's impossible!"
"Evidently it's not impossible," she said, reluctantly flicking her eyes back to him. "No, I've never killed a Death Eater."
"How the fuck have you managed to survive this long without killing someone?"
"I don't know," she shrugged. "I just always stun them. It's instinct-
"No," he interjected. "Stunning them is not instinct. Killing them is. It is the very definition of instinct. Everyone is born with the instinct to kill, but society and morals subdue it. War coaxes it out of the shell we force it into. War unleashes the instinct to kill."
Hermione stared at him with big, round eyes, her mouth slightly agape. "But...where is the line between murderer and soldier?"
"Survival. If I don't kill them, they'll kill me."
"But if it can be avoided...And it's not like everyone uses it all the time. You stun Death Eaters, I've seen you."
Draco hummed under his breath. "It's not as simple as that. No one can cast the Killing Curse here, there, and everywhere, except for completely fucked up people like Voldemort or Bellatrix."
"Well then...what makes you use it?"
"It's a combination of frustration and hatred, and it makes something in you...snap. With most people, the trigger is a Death Eater threatening your life, or killing someone you know, or sometimes it's just when you reach that point in battle when you're sick of fighting and your patience gives up on you. I refuse to believe you've never experienced any of those."
"I've experienced all of those."
"Then how the fuck have you avoided killing someone?"
Massaging the bridge of her nose, Hermione sighed heavily. Guiltily. "You know, I did try the Killing Curse once. Ron was almost killed by Greyback. I tried it then, but nothing happened."
"Then you let your conscience stop you," he said matter-of-factly. "Learn to leave your conscience at home, Granger."
"But...how would I live with myself?" she murmured quietly.
"There are two options in this war, Granger. Become a corpse or a killer; I choose the latter. Again, it's instinct."
"But it's called an Unforgivable for a reason. It's against the law-
"There is no law anymore."
Tapping her fingernail against her glass, Hermione grimaced. "No, I guess there isn't."
Draco watched her for a moment longer than what was probably appropriate, frowning at her slumped shoulders and slightly pursed lips. She appeared disappointed and lost in thought, and the silence that lingered above their heads was uncomfortable this time. Downing the last of his drink, he rose from his seat, flinching when his chair scraped across the floor, but the shrill sound seemed to have no effect on her. He contemplated saying goodnight or something as equally trivial, but what he actually said surprised even him.
"When it means enough to you, you'll kill. When it matters and you're scared that you or someone you care about is going to die, you'll ignore your conscience. You're just waiting for your trigger."
With that, he made to leave the room.
"Draco," called Hermione, before he'd even reached for the doorknob. "What does it feel like? The first time you use the Killing Curse?"
He stiffened and balled his fists. It wasn't so much the question that troubled him; he, Blaise, and Theo had discussed the Killing Curse on multiple occasions; in hindsight, sometimes too casually. It was the fact that it was Granger he would be explaining it to and that was...harder than it should be. Whenever he looked at her now, he would see her innocence glaring at him. Mocking him. It didn't matter how skilled a dueller she was or what atrocities she'd seen; there was no blood on her hands. Not a drop. She was the only person he knew without red hands and for some reason it made his hands feel so much filthier.
Comparatively, he was a wolf and she was a sparrow.
"It's like vomiting," he said, keeping his back to her. "You sweat and your breathing falters. Your face gets hot, but everywhere else is cold. It's disgusting, and degrading, and then afterwards there's this...unsettling sense of calm and satisfaction. But you never really get rid of the taste. It stays in your mouth and nostrils for days." He paused to lick his teeth. "That's the only way I can think to describe it."
Behind him, he knew she was anxiously nibbling her lip.
"Okay," she mumbled.
Taking a step forward, Draco reached for the door, but her voice stopped him again.
"Draco...Who was your first kill?"
"Oh. Do you...do you regret it?"
He clicked his jaw. "Not in the slightest."
It was true; he didn't regret it. And if that wasn't the saddest story ever told, he didn't know what was.
In the two months that had passed since Draco had saved Hermione's life, they hadn't mentioned it. It was as if an unvoiced agreement had been established between them to never bring up that day or, more specifically, that night and their conversation about the Killing Curse. In their effort to avoid talking about that night, they'd talked about everything else, usually harmlessly taunting each other about their schooldays. Particular favourites included when Hermione had smacked him in third year and how Draco had screwed up her teeth in fourth year.
Like most evenings, they were sat in the reading room alone, flicking through books and articles or deciphering Runes, bickering in between. In reality, their interactions now weren't so different to the ones they'd had in Hogwarts, only it was like all the malice and hostility had been removed, leaving behind healthy and amusing banter. They were comfortable now; comfortable enough that Granger had apparently decided it was acceptable for her to pinch some of his crisps.
When she took two at once, Draco fired her a glare.
"You know, if you go down to the kitchen, you can get your own bag of crisps."
"I only want a couple."
"You've taken seven."
She looked up from her book and arched her eyebrow at him. "I wasn't aware you were monitoring the situation."
"I monitor every situation," he said, rising from his seat and heading to the bookcase. "Where's that book on Ernest Fangswell? That weird hermit bloke who botched up his Horcrux? "
"It will be near that book about the history of the Ministry of Magic, because he was born the year it was founded."
Draco blinked. "Ernest Fangswell was born in 1632."
"Yes, I'm aware of that."
"The Ministry was founded in 1623, Granger."
She gave him a sharp look. "No, it was founded in 1632."
If there was one thing Draco had learned about Hermione Granger, it was that she detested her intelligence being challenged. In her defence, she was right ninety-nine percent of the time, but he knew on this occasion she was wrong. He was certain of it, and a childish sense of smugness made him smirk.
"I am not wrong!" she retorted, getting to her feet. "You are wrong! The Ministry was founded in 1632!"
"It was 1623."
"Fuck me," Draco grinned cockily. "I can't believe you're actually wrong about something-
"For the last time, I am not wrong!"
"Well, the answer will be in here," he said, plucking the book on the Ministry from the shelf. "Why don't we find out? But before we do, would you care to place a little bet on it?"
Hermione placed her hands on her hips in a haughty fashion. "What are you, thirteen?"
"No, actually I'm twenty-five. You're not doing very well with numbers tonight, are you, Granger? You've been wrong twice in less than five minutes-
"I am not wrong!"
"If you're that convinced you're right, you shouldn't have a problem betting on it," he replied. "Let's say the loser has to do the winner's washing for a month. Deal?"
"Fine, whatever!" she huffed. "Just open the bloody book."
"You can do the honours."
Dropping the book onto the table in front of her, his grin widened when the loud bang made her flinch. He took a few steps back, folding his arms across his chest and cocking his head arrogantly, but then, Granger looked just as confident as he did. As she flipped the pages with agitated fingers, he watched her face intently. She really was quite fascinating to observe. When she reached the section she needed to determine the answer, he was even more drawn in by her features, particularly when her brow winkled and her jaw slackened with chagrin. Clenching her eyes shut and bowing her head, Hermione whispered one word that confirmed her defeat.
Draco's smirk stretched. "What was that, Granger?"
"When does the book say the Ministry was founded?"
Pursing her lips and closing the book, she studied her nails as she mumbled under her breath, "1623."
"So..." he said, "I was right, and you were wrong-
"I'd just like to point out-
"You, Hermione Granger, the walking Encyclopaedia, were wrong."
Draco thought he heard her growl, and his smirk was aching his cheeks now, but he didn't care. Taking a step back, he looked around the room in an intentionally exaggerated manner, waiting until she noticed.
"What the hell are you doing?" asked Hermione.
"I just proved Hermione Granger wrong," he replied. "Shouldn't a unicorn be galloping into the room right now to high-five me or something like that? At the very least, I'm expecting a confetti explosion and a choir to start singing."
"Oh, honestly, you are ridiculous."
"Ridiculous, but right."
"Are you seriously going to gloat about this? And so childishly?"
With her red, flustered face and her hands fidgeting at her sides, Granger looked very much like a petulant child, and Draco's amusement grew. He enjoyed teasing her; not in the malevolent or vicious way he had often tormented her at Hogwarts, but in a harmless, comical manner. And really, it would have been so easy for him to revisit those old habits and strive to make her feel inadequate, but he was different now. She was different, too. But the differences were good. Very good. And yet, she was still Granger, and that was good, too.
"You okay over there, Granger?" he asked. "Is this the first time this has happened to you? Maybe you should take a seat? Or lie down? Just don't get in the way of my victory unicorn."
"You are...you..." said Hermione clumsily, still flushed in the cheeks. "You are such a...a git!"
He couldn't contain it. The laughter spilled out of him, and it was loud, genuine, and refreshing; one of those cathartic outbursts of laughter that soothes the tension in your shoulders. The kind of laughter that makes you close your eyes; but when it simmered, and his lids peeled open, he found Granger's perturbed expression had melted into one of thought and intrigue.
"What?" he asked, still amused and half-chuckling. "What are you looking at me like that for, Granger?"
"It's just I..." She hesitated. "I've never really seen you laugh or...or even smile. Not really."
He literally felt all of the humour leak out of him, and not because he was annoyed by her comment, but because the content of it was troubling. His face automatically moulded back into its guarded facade without him really wanting it to. When you wear a mask for so long, you are the mask, even amongst people you trust. Especially amongst people you trust, because if they see the real you and decide you're not good enough, then perhaps you're not good enough. If you trusted their judgement, why shouldn't you trust their judgement of you?
But his mask had apparently fallen from his face, or maybe Granger had torn it off when he hadn't been looking.
There are three types of people in the world: the people you don't want in your life, the people you do want in your life, and the people that just are in your life, regardless of circumstance, distance, or any other conceivable factor. Somehow, and without him realising it, Granger had slipped herself into the last category. She was a constant element, like breathing and blinking. Just there. Always.
"You know," she carried on, more to herself. "That's a lie. I have seen you smile and laugh, but it was so long ago. Years ago. Perhaps fourth year... or maybe fifth? Either way, it's been over a decade."
"That sounds about right."
"You haven't laughed in over ten years?"
His throat felt constricted as he watched her intently, sweeping his stare up and down her. When he met her eyes, his Adam's apple bobbed heavily in his throat. "I've had no reason to."
She looked so sad then, with her bottom lip pushed out and her eyebrows slanted low. Draco thought he should feel irritated or resentful about her sympathy, but he didn't. Not at all. It wasn't that condescending sort of sympathy that made you feel small; it was warm and authentic, just like Granger. If he was completely honest with himself, it was just...decent to have someone give a shit about him.
"You should try smiling more often," she said, tucking some hair behind her ear. "It suits you. You look younger, and quite...well...handsome, actually."
He didn't respond. He didn't need to. Their discussion had drifted into the waiting game; that awkward, yet somehow stimulating moment of a dying conversation when words become obsolete and futile. There's nothing but silence. Silence and waiting. Waiting and anticipating, because something is going to happen. Something significant. Draco could feel it, sitting in the room between him and Granger, waiting to be noticed, waiting for one of them to act on it. Judging from the anxious expression on Granger's face, she felt it too. It was simply a matter of who made the first move.
After thirty full seconds of indiscreet glances at Granger's busy, chewing lips, Draco decided he'd had enough.
His body jerked forward so abruptly that Granger appeared slightly startled by the sudden movement, but she recovered quickly. They'd been several feet apart, but Draco was cutting the distance down with his fast, long strides, completely uncertain what he intended to do once he reached her.
When he was perhaps two steps away from her, the candle that had been illuminating the room flickered and died, and he froze. He wasn't sure why. Perhaps the change had thrown him off, or maybe his eyes had needed a moment to adjust, but either way, it had interrupted his course, and he felt stuck.
The only light falling into the room now was the glow of the strong, winter moon. The beams seemed to stretch for Granger, gliding across the contours of her features and bouncing back brighter. Beneath the moonlight she was white and almost luminous, like a ghost. The moonlight wasn't on him; only her.
He took another step towards her, and he was close enough that he could feel the breeze of her breath against his chin, but he was blocking the moonlight, and Granger was in his shadow. He didn't like that. He didn't like it at all. But she was so close...Her lips were close...He thought he saw her lean towards him a little, but he could hardly see her now, and his better judgement suddenly decided to catch up to him.
Taking a step back, he knew it was gone; whatever might have happened had disappeared. The moment lost.
It's strange how people can long for something that never happened. How people can physically ache for an almost. A nothing that could have been something.
He watched Granger blink, shake her head, and then tentatively move past him, her eyes downcast. Resisting the urge to reach out and grab her wrist, Draco felt his fingernails stabbing into his palms, and it hurt like hell. All of it did.
"It's late," mumbled Hermione, organising her books into a neat pile. Her hands were shaking. "I'm going to bed."
"Alright," he nodded. "Goodnight, Gra..."
She was gone before he could finish, and a cloud shrouded the moon, leaving him alone in darkness.
In exactly the same fashion that they had avoided discussing the Killing Curse conversation, Hermione and Draco never mentioned the night in the reading room. The night nothing had happened. Nothing at all.
They were both stubborn, and for once that had worked well to their advantage. They'd been so determined to forget that night that they'd forced themselves back into their old routine: meeting in the kitchen after midnight and reading together in the evenings like nothing had happened.
Because nothing had happened.
A month after the nothing night and they were sat in their usual seats in the kitchen; Draco with his Firewhiskey and Hermione with her tea. Just as they should be. The only difference to now and then was that the kitchen was littered with makeshift Christmas decorations: mismatched tinsel, handmade cards, and a three foot, half-dead Grand Fir adorned with random trinkets. Draco rolled his eyes as he plucked another shred of tinsel out of his drink.
"This shit gets everywhere," he said. "It's bloody annoying."
"If you complain about the Christmas decorations one more time..."
He rolled his eyes and sipped his drink. "I never thought McGonagall would be the festive type."
"She's not particularly. Luna and I did most of this. Luna's really good at making things."
"The only things Lovegood can make are headaches."
"And just look at these Christmas decorations" — he gestured to a fragile, scuffed bauble and a battered reindeer ornament — "They're pathetic."
"Hey!" she snapped. "Most of these are mine, thank you!"
"Well..." she sighed, lowering her eyes. "My parents'. My house isn't...wasn't far from here; less than thirty minutes by broom. I went back a few years ago and found these in the attic."
Draco rubbed his chin. "What happened to your house?"
"It was destroyed. Like many others."
"Were your parents killed?"
He hadn't intended to blurt it out like that. His question sounded so harsh to his own ears, he could only imagine how it sounded to hers.
"No," said Hermione, her hands fidgeting on the table. "I sent my parents away a few months before the Battle of Hogwarts. I Obliviated them so they wouldn't remember me."
"So they'd be safe. Lots of Muggle-borns and their parents were being killed at the time. They're in Australia — or they were in Australia. I'm not sure where they are now."
Draco wanted to take a sip of his drink, but he couldn't seem to bring himself to. He wanted to remember everything she told him. Soberly.
"You don't know where they are?"
She shook her head sadly. "No, I...I had a contact with the Australian Ministry who had been keeping an eye on them, but my parents apparently moved a year ago. I don't know where they are now and I've lost contact with my friend at the Ministry."
The tone of her voice was calm, and had Draco not become an expert at reading the subtleties of Hermione Granger, he might have missed how difficult it was for her to discuss the topic. He thought she might cry, but she didn't. Not really, anyway. Her gaze glistened for a moment, but when she blinked, she was fine. He had more questions balanced on the tip of his tongue, and he was surprised by how curious he genuinely was about Granger. But she beat him to it. When it came to curiosity, she would always beat him.
"Can I ask you something?" said Hermione quietly. Nervously. "What happened to your parents?"
Draco's guard immediately went up and he sat upright in his seat. "You know what happened to my parents."
"I know you killed your father-
"And I'm sure you heard what happened to my mother. People talked about it like it was fucking gossip. It was sickening."
Hermione took a slow sip of her lukewarm tea. "You're right, people talked about it. But the truth is always hazy in gossip. I heard several different versions of what happened to your mother. I'd like to hear the true version from you, but if you're uncomfortable talking about it, I understand."
Draco dropped his head and exhaled, sending ripples across the surface of his whiskey. He'd never really discussed the details of what had happened to his mother with anyone. Blaise and Theo had asked questions and he'd responded monosyllabically, never really divulging the details, because it was easier to lock up those events in a corner of his mind and leave them there, gathering cobwebs. Just like Granger's Christmas decorations had gathered cobwebs in her attic. And just like Granger's Christmas decorations, she was pulling them out of their hiding place.
He finally managed to muster the effort to take a swig of his drink.
Granger might understand, actually. After all, she had suffered in a similar fashion to his mother. Yes, Granger might understand. And really, isn't that all anyone wants? For someone to understand?
"Okay," he said. "Remember what Bellatrix did to you in my house?"
Hermione grimaced. "Yes, I do."
"And that was for, what? Maybe half an hour?" He frowned when she averted her eyes. "I'm not trying to trivialise what happened to you, Granger. It was a genuine question."
"Yes...I guess it was about half an hour. Time becomes...quite distorted."
"And what was it like?"
"It was the worst thing that's ever happened to me," she replied without hesitation. "The pain...It's impossible to compare it to anything else, but I imagine it's like being burned to death from the inside out."
Draco poured the remainder of his drink down his throat. "Well imagine living with that pain for a fortnight. From morning till night, imagine burning to death from the inside out for fourteen fucking days. That is what they did to my mother."
Hermione's eyes went wide. "Fourteen."
"Yes," he nodded. "When Voldemort realised that my mother had lied about Potter being dead, he made her pay. Voldemort, Bellatrix, Rudolphus, Fenrir, and some of the others took it in turns to torture her."
"Where were you when this was going on?"
"Tied up in the dungeon."
"Then how do you know-
"Her screams," he hissed, and he hated how pained his voice sounded. "And they brought me upstairs to watch a couple of times. And they made me watch when Bellatrix killed her."
"And do you know what my father was doing the whole time?" he spat, his teeth clenched. "Nothing. Not a fucking thing. He just let them ruin her. He allowed them to kill my mother. His wife. He did nothing to get me out of the dungeon or bring me food or...or fucking anything! He let them destroy us, and that's why I killed him. Because I fucking hated him."
"And everyone tries not to turn into their parents, but there's always some of them inside of you, isn't there? So when you hate one of your parents, you hate a part of yourself. And when you kill one of your parents...I'd kill him again, though. I wouldn't hesitate."
Sucking in a sharp breath after his rant and topping up his glass, he stared hard at his slightly shaking hands and willed them to steady. He wasn't ready to look at Granger just yet. Granger and her big, brown eyes. Big, brown, innocent eyes. He might get lost in them.
"How did you escape?" she asked.
"Blaise," he said. "When the Death Eaters were away tearing apart Liverpool, Blaise came with one of his old House-elves to get me out. Blaise came to get me. He got me out, and when Moody's safehouse was burning to the ground, I didn't get Blaise out!"
With a roar of rage, Draco leapt out of his seat and hurled his glass against the opposite wall, his chest heaving as the shards and whiskey rained down to the floorboards.
"I did nothing! Just like fucking Lucius did nothing!"
He collapsed back into the chair and cradled his face in his hands. He didn't want Granger to see him like this. He didn't want anyone to see him like this. Feeling exposed and foolish, a part of him wanted her to leave him alone, but the other part of him thought he might need her to stay. When he heard her chair scrape back, he felt somewhere relieved and disappointed, but then her light footsteps pattered towards him, and he felt her small hands on his shoulders. She leaned into him, her chest pressing into the space between his shoulder blades and her chin resting against his crown. She was like a blanket; warm. Always warm.
"You're not your father," she whispered, bowing her head so her lips were by his ear. "You are one of the bravest people I know-
He scoffed into his palms. "That's bullshit-
"No, it isn't. I swear to you. I think you are so brave."
Her hands fell, stroking their way down his arms to settle at his elbows where she traced her fingertips in soothing circles against his skin. He liked how that felt. He liked it a lot. She brought her hands back up to his shoulders and started to massage them, kneading his taut muscles hard enough to be effective, but gentle enough to remain pleasant. A groan spilled past his lips before he could stop it, and he leaned backwards into her touch, dropping his hands from his face. He liked this, too. The anger seeped out of him slowly, like smoke, and he closed his eyes. Perhaps it was the several glasses of whiskey he'd consumed in the past couple of hours, or maybe it was Granger's ministrations, but he felt more relaxed than he had in a long time. A very long time.
"I wish..." mumbled Hermione tentatively. "I wish you could see what I see in you."
"Your perception is blurred by optimism."
"And yours is darkened by pessimism."
He hummed under his breath. "You're good with your hands, Granger."
His eyes peeled open. There'd been a shift in her tone. A small, nervous hitch, like she'd forgotten to swallow. It was back in the room again; that something. That almost tangible mass of a moment waiting to happen. It had situated itself between him and Granger again, waiting for one of them to acknowledge it, to do something. Holding his breath until his brain screamed fuck it, he shot up out of his seat and whirled around to face her. His stare skimmed over her slightly startled features, lingering on her blushing cheeks, flecked with a spatter of freckles, and then falling down to her parted lips.
She was so much closer than she'd been in the reading room a month ago. All it would really take was one step forward and her nose would be bumping against his chin, and then if he bent his head a little...Granger's lids lowered, her eyelashes fluttering softly, like she was waiting for something to happen. Waiting for it to happen. And he really wanted to. He really wanted to take that step towards her, tilt his head, and just...do it.
But it was Hermione who stopped it this time, before it could even happen.
Pulling away suddenly and almost stumbling, she regarded him with a long, measured stare and Draco didn't dare move. Again, he felt somewhere between relieved and disappointed that another almost incident had slipped through his fingers. Granger rubbed her lips together and glanced at the bottle of Firewhiskey on the table before she looked back to him.
"You've had a lot a drink."
His tongue darted out to dampen his dry lips. "I have."
He had had a lot to drink — nearly half the bottle — but he felt completely in control. Too in control. He wanted to be spontaneous, wanted to silence her accusation with his mouth, but he didn't. Couldn't. His past had turned him into a man who would forever consider the consequences of every action. He wasn't sure what the consequences of kissing Granger would be, but that made them all the more foreboding and daunting to him. He didn't like uncertainty.
"I should go to bed," murmured Hermione. "Goodnight."
She slipped past him, her thigh grazing his, and Draco clenched his jaw. Waiting until she'd disappeared, he braced himself against the table, digging his fingers into its surface so hard he thought he might get splinters beneath his fingernails. He wanted to slap himself for various conflicting reasons, but he simply huffed out a burdened breath and shook his head, battling with his thoughts.
Battles, battles everywhere, and never a moment to think.
Draco was drowning.
The racket of the battle sounded so thick and cloggy in his ears that he knew he had to be underwater, but he felt too detached from himself to do anything about it. Slowly, his eyelids peeled back, and he was confronted with a world of brown. His eyes began to sting, and it was that sensation that jolted him back into action. Pulling his body back, he gasped and heaved in air, his lungs raw and aching with the strain. He spat out the lumps of mud in his mouth, but the bitter, dirty taste remained on his tongue and tucked between his teeth, mingling with blood.
His reflection in the murky puddle stared back at him. There was blood dribbling down his temple from the powerful spell MacNair had just launched at his head, and his left arm was almost certainly broken from a earlier clash with Dolohov.
Draco wasn't doing so well today.
Not at all.
All of Voldemort's finest and most skilled henchmen just seemed to be directing their curses at him in particular tonight, honing in on him like vultures.
As he tried to get to his feet, a crippling bout of nausea pulled him back down to his knees. The breath of vomit lingered at the back of his throat and his head felt fuzzy, throbbing in time with his heartbeat and blurring his surroundings. Growling with determination, he blinked several times, willing the shadows to become shapes. As the world returned to him, the first thing he did was scan the area for Granger.
There was no particular reason for it this time; she wasn't ill or injured, as far as he knew. Apparently, it was just something he did now. Like instinct.
He couldn't see her anywhere.
With a sudden wave of alarm gripping him, he forced himself to stand, turning his head left and right, hunting for Granger amongst the flashing spells. He barely had five seconds before another Death Eater was on him. Thankfully, this one was a rookie, and even with his injured arm, Draco managed to deal with him quickly. His eyes roamed the grounds again.
This battlefield was different to what he was used to. They usually fought in wide, open fields, but tonight they were fighting on the grounds of Netley Abbey, a derelict abbey in Hampshire. The broken building was providing people with hiding places and casting confusing shadows across the grass, making it difficult for Draco to distinguish shapes with his still-dizzy head.
Where the fuck is Granger?
Ignoring the pain shooting down his arm and the hot blood pouring from his head-wound, he jogged towards the abbey and then...Fuck. His heart stuttered when he glanced a body on the ground with brown, frizzy hair, but as he edged closer, he realised it was Fay Dunbar, wide-eyed with blue lips. He absently wondered if he should feel guilty for being relieved she wasn't Granger. He shouldn't have allowed himself to get distracted.
The spell that struck his side sliced into the skin just below his ribs, and he released a roar of agony as he crashed to the ground, smashing his shoulder into a pile of bricks. With both of his arms now too damaged to move, and his wand out of reach, he knew he was in trouble.
And then it got so much worse.
As the familiar silhouette of Bellatrix towered over him, her wand aimed mockingly at is chest, Draco willed himself not to panic. Oh, this was just perfect. Fucking brilliant. It was almost poetic for fate to put him in this position; helpless, wandless, and at the mercy of his psychotic aunt.
"Well, well, well," cooed Bellatrix. "If it isn't my favourite nephew."
"I'm your only fucking nephew, batshit."
"And such a disappointment." She grinned, flashing her crooked teeth at him. "Just like your mother."
"Don't mention my mother!" he spat. "Don't you fucking dare-
"And just like your mother, you'll die a traitor." Her eyes twitched with sadistic glee. "Let's see if you beg for your life like she did. Crucio."
There was acid in his veins, fire in his blood, knives in his skin. Just pain, pain, pain, fucking everywhere. He'd managed to avoid the Cruciatus Curse his entire life and he'd always wondered what it would feel like, but it was so much worse than he could have ever imagined.
Granger had been right.
It was like being burned to death from the inside out. Slowly.
It stopped, and he was panting heavily, trying to regain his senses. He tried to speak, but his vocal chords refused to comply. Every inch of him felt bruised and tender. He thought it was such a cruel play by fate; to have Bellatrix's hideous, deranged eyes staring down at him on his muddy deathbed. Holding his breath, he prepared himself for the inevitable.
"You know," said Bellatrix. "I'm so tempted to drag this out and torture you a little bit, like I did to your mother, but I am needed elsewhere." She twisted her wand. "Night, night, little nephew."
Draco waited for something; waited for the pain to stop, or a darkness to shroud him, but nothing came. Instead, he watched in complete awe as a green light enveloped Bellatrix, and then those deranged eyes rolled back into her head, and her body went limp. It was only when he heard the thump of her deadweight hitting the ground that he dared to breathe again. Tilting his head to the side to discover just who had saved his life, he saw her; her face ashen, her mouth agape, and her wand trembling in her grasp.
Granger looked just as stunned as he felt.
But then she seemed to snap out of it, and she was all...Granger again, her expression calm and her movements fluid. He tried to speak, but all that left him were intelligible, gargled noises, and he'd had no idea what he'd intended to say anyway. So he simply watched her, gawped at her as she came to his side and dropped to her knees.
"Bloody hell," she mumbled to herself. "You're not looking so good, Malfoy."
Running her concerned eyes up and down his body, Hermione reached behind her and rummaged in her bag, removing a small, half-empty vial of green liquid; Essence of Dittany, Draco guessed. Grazing her fingers across the gash on his side, she poured the remainder of the vial's contents there, rubbing it in gently. It hurt, but it was barely a pinch compared to his first experience with the Cruciatus Curse. Still, a stifled groan vibrated in his throat as the potion began to knit his torn flesh back together, and Hermione lifted her free hand to stroke his cheek.
"I'm sorry," she whispered. "It will stop stinging in a second. I just want to ensure you're fit enough to survive the Portkey."
Something in his mind split open like a blister and he choked on the air. The first thought that came to him was so bizarre and unfair and completely hypocritical, but he couldn't do anything about it. He knew he was too injured to continue fighting, but he didn't want to leave. Specifically, he didn't want to leave her. Not here. Not with this battle going on.
He wanted to keep an eye on her, wanted to stay close to her, and it was such a ridiculous notion. What protection could he offer her in his current state? And she seemed fine, anyway. Certainly better than him. Aside from a small cut on her chin, she appeared to be completely unscathed.
Nevertheless, his reluctance to go ricocheted around his brain like a Caterwauling Charm and, somehow, he managed to force enough strength into his arm to jerk it upwards, grabbing her wrist.
"Don't...send me back," he rasped out.
Hermione frowned down at him. "Now is not the time for your pride, Draco."
It wasn't about his pride; it was the exact opposite, in fact. It was about her.
He tried to speak again, but her quick hands had already looped the Portkey around his neck before the words could form on his tongue. Pulling her hand free from his, she gave his cheek another soft caress, and then she activated the Portkey.
Draco sat alone in the kitchen, perched on his usual stool.
He was angry; so angry that a thin layer of sweat glistened on his forehead, and his knuckles were as white as the moon.
He wasn't even sure why he was angry, but then, that was the worst kind of anger to bear. It was that erratic, hot sort of anger, ripping through him without any control, like a leaf kicked down the street by the wind. That sort of anger that brings tears to your eyes and makes your body quiver. That sort of anger that's destructive and scratching and everywhere, hurting.
He didn't dare move, not trusting himself to keep his actions calm and composed. The smallest thing, like a fly zipping by his ear, might set him off, and he might just smash every dish and glass in this kitchen. This kitchen. This fucking kitchen. He really should have found another location to call his safe place after Granger had started showing up all those months ago. Then perhaps he wouldn't be sat here now, ready to explode. Ready to punch, kick, beat, and break anything or anyone.
Except her, apparently.
Because he could hear her footfalls approaching; could hear the timid little tap tap taps of her feet in the corridor, and he closed his eyes. The first thing he felt was a jolt of fear; that childish rush of nerves when you're too close to your crush or someone you've wronged. His heart fluttered and his spine snapped to attention, going as stiff and straight as a board. But then, when his pulse had steadied, he was angry again. Not at her. Not at anything.
As the door creaked open, he held his breath, watching her amble into the kitchen. Clad in a pair of loose-fitting pyjamas bottoms and a t-shirt, she looked as she always did except for the bandage coiled around her left arm and a deep grey bruise on her cheek.
His anger weakened a little.
Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and for some reason he found himself staring at her exposed neck, fixated on her muscles as she swallowed. And then he found her eyes; rich, brown, and sad. Quietly sad, and suddenly he was furious again. Absolutely infuriated. Completely enraged.
He didn't even allow her the opportunity to sit down before he jumped out of his chair.
"What the FUCK were you thinking, Granger?!" he yelled.
Hermione flinched and retreated a step backwards, her expression anxious and wary. "What are you talking-
"You know what I'm talking about! Bellatrix!"
"You're angry because I saved your life?" asked Hermione incredulously. "That's why you're angry?"
Draco hesitated, grinding his teeth so hard he thought one chipped. "That's not-
"How dare you?!" she shouted. Exploded. Within a second her cheeks were red and her pupils so dilated her eyes looked black. "How bloody dare you?! I came here to check and see if your were okay and you have the gall to scream at me? For helping you? Who the hell do you think you are?"
"Dammit, Granger, I'm not pissed off because you saved my life! I'm not demented!"
"Then what the hell is your problem?!"
"You fucking killed her!"
Hermione's mouth slapped shut and her eyes shot over to the adjacent wall. "So? You killed Alecto. You've killed fourteen people-
"And you've killed none," he said, quieter now. "Or at least you hadn't yesterday."
"What exactly are you getting at?" she questioned, folding her arms across her chest. "As I recall, you were horrified when I told you I hadn't killed anyone-
"I wasn't horrified."
"Yes, you were! And now I've killed Bellatrix, possibly one of the most evil people that has ever existed, and saved your life in doing so, and yet you're still horrified!"
"No, no," he said, growling with frustration. "That's not the reason!"
"Then what the hell is the reason? You're making no sense!"
"You don't get it!"
She huffed out an impatient breath and yelled, "Well! Maybe if you tried to bloody explain it to me-
"I DON'T WANT TO BE IN YOUR NIGHTMARES!"
The shock that punched Hermione in he stomach was so intense that her knees wobbled and she felt her eyes water. Draco's voice had been so...pained that she didn't really know what do except gawp at him as he heaved in some deep breaths. With his face scrunched up in an unsettled expression and his body so tense she thought he might shatter like glass, he looked both volatile and vulnerable.
Combing his trembling fingers through his hair, Draco exhaled so heavily that Hermione thought his lungs must be aching.
"It fucking haunts you, Granger," he muttered. "In the night, in the day...it never leaves you. And for some reason, your mind always takes you back to the first kill, and you..." He paused and studied the floor. "You know why I killed my father."
She nodded nervously. "Because he didn't help your mother."
"Exactly. My mother was the reason for my first kill, and every time I kill someone, regardless of the circumstances, I see her. She pops up in my mind. She's always there. Like a ghost."
"I don't understand," whispered Hermione. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because if you killed Bellatrix because of me, then I am your ghost," he said. "Do you get it now? I'm going to be in your nightmares. You'll think of me if or when you kill again. I'll permanently be in that dark corner of your mind that you'd prefer to forget, and I don't fucking want to be! I don't want you to start despising me!"
"I don't despise you. I...I could never-
"Every time you look at me, I'll remind you of that sick feeling you got when you killed Bellatrix. I'll remind you of it every day. Every time you'll look at me you'll feel sick."
"I'm looking at you right now and all I feel is..." Hermione's voice faded and she dented her lower lip. "I certainly don't feel sick."
Draco scoffed cynically. "You will. Eventually."
"Since when do you care about my opinion of you anyway?"
A brief but definite look of offence flashed across Draco's features, but it was gone so quickly Hermione barely had a chance to absorb it. He said simply, "Don't do that, Hermione."
Silence for one long minute, both pairs of eyes downcast.
"Well, I don't know what you want me to say, Draco," she frowned. "During our discussion about the Killing Curse, you were obviously critical about the fact that I'd never killed anyone, and when I do, you chastise me for it."
"During our discussion, you were evidently concerned about the moral implications." He clicked his tongue. "It was important to you."
Hermione shrugged. "Some things are more important."
After her remark, his eyes locked onto her like a missile, and she fought very hard to retain her composure. Blood warmed her cheeks and chest beneath his stare, but she ignored the tingling heat and the sudden urge to shift her weight. His eyes were dark and lazy, half-hidden by his dipped lids, and she guessed by the twitches of his mouth that he was chewing the inside of his mouth, something he only did when he felt uncomfortably restless. Like that night in the reading the room and the other night in the kitchen.
Those two occasions that weren't really occasions at all, and yet they'd been significant. Like a book without a conclusion, those two nights had left her craving something, but she didn't know what. She wasn't even sure that Draco had been pestered by similar thoughts, and his fondness for Firewhiskey didn't help. Regardless, on those two nights without conclusions, his mouth had twitched in much the same way that it was twitching now.
"You said that I was waiting for my trigger," she mumbled. "Perhaps...seeing you in danger was my trigger."
He shook his head. "I wish you hadn't listened to a word I said that night."
"I don't think it would have made a difference, really. It's not like I thought about our discussion before I acted. I just did it. It was..." She sighed. "Instinct."
He took steps towards her without really intending to go to her. He just wanted to be a little closer to her so he could better distinguish her eyes in the dim light, maybe even make out the multi-coloured speckles in her irises. Half-tempted to take another step forwards, but convincing himself not to, he scoured his brain for something to say. The situation called out desperately for words, but everything that presented itself on the podium of his mind seemed either foolish or worthless.
Merlin knew why he decided to voice these particular words, but the poured out of him before he could stop them.
"I find it difficult to believe that seeing me in danger could provoke you to use the Killing Curse when seeing Weasley in danger couldn't."
He heard the pinch of jealousy in his tone and almost rolled his eyes at himself. Really, his comment had been so ludicrous. He knew full well that Weasley and Granger had had a romantic relationship some seven years ago that had barely lasted four months. They were friends and nothing more. He knew that. Any thought to the contrary had never even occurred to him until now.
"What, so you think I killed Bellatrix just so you might have a higher opinion of me?" she asked, angry again. "You believe I am that fickle? That I would be so easily swayed by our conversation that I would compromise my moral beliefs?"
Draco willed the floor to transform into quicksand.
"No. No. Dammit, Granger, I didn't-
"Yes, I have killed someone!" she yelled, flailing her arms with agitation. "Yes, it was my first time! And yes, I felt...disgusting afterwards! I felt like scum! But I'm glad I felt sick, because it means I'm human. And I'm glad I did it, because otherwise, you might not be here! And I couldn't bear..."
She trailed off and Draco wished she hadn't.
"What?" he asked.
"I..." she started quietly, but then she exhaled and squared her shoulders. "Sod it! You want to know what was going through my head before I killed Bellatrix? You want to know what I was thinking when I saw her getting ready to kill you?"
She stomped a few steps towards him. He could count the speckles now.
"I swear," she went on, "I'm going to sound like such an idiot, but I don't care! I was terrified when I thought she was going to kill you! And not just because I would have been devastated if you'd been killed. Of course, I would have been devastated, but I was thinking...I was thinking..."
"I was thinking...I wouldn't have the chance to see if...Look, this might all be in my head, and if it is, I will deal with it, but I feel like the last few weeks there's been something...there between you and I. Like...a s-spark, maybe."
As she rambled on clumsily, stuttering over her words, her eyes drifted between him and the floor.
"I feel like we're on the brink of something happening," she said quietly. Nervously. "I feel like we've been tiptoeing around this...thing, and there's been a couple of times when I thought something was going to happen and I...I remember feeling scared that I'd never know if something was going to happen between us if you were killed. That was my trigger."
Draco's expression didn't change, but everything else did. The pace of his heart, the air in the room, his world. Everything. In the silence that followed her rant, he found himself counting the speckles.
Four, five, six...
"Are you going to say something?" asked Hermione, impatiently drumming her fingers against her thigh. "Anything?"
No words came to him. It was like all his knowledge of the English language had disintegrated, so he just kept on counting.
Eight, nine, ten...
"So you're just going to stand there and say nothing," said Hermione, pursing her lips. "You know what, fine. Obviously I was wrong."
She started to walk, heading towards the door, but she would have to walk past him to reach it. She moved like a wind-battered snowflake; erratic, yet elegant, desperate to get where she was going. As she approached, he carried on counting.
Eleven, twelve, thirteen...
She was almost at his side and ready to brush past him.
His hand shot out and cuffed her wrist, perhaps a little tighter than necessary, but she didn't seem discomforted by it. Cocking his head to the side, he looked down at her and he was confronted with angry features, but there were traces of apprehension and anticipation there too, if he looked close enough. And he was looking close enough. He was looking at her like he'd never looked at anything or anyone, carving her into a memory.
"You're not wrong," he said.
Hermione blinked. "What?"
"You said you were wrong and I'm telling you that you're not. About what you said."
She breathed out like she'd received a jab to the stomach and dipped her head, shielding her eyes from him beneath her lashes. He didn't like that. He missed the speckles. Tucking his index finger underneath her chin, he tilted her head back up. He hadn't really planned anything beyond that gesture. As bizarre at it seemed now, he really had simply wanted to see her eyes. But here he was now, holding her face, and he was dying to kiss her. The moment craved it. Demanded it, even.
They met each other in the middle; Hermione leaning up on her tiptoes and Draco bending down. He liked how much shorter she was than him. The lips connected, and like a first kiss between nervous yet eager adolescents, this kiss was gentle. Testing. Careful. Curious. Slowly, Draco worked to deepen the kiss, pressing his mouth harder against hers and licking her tongue.
This was better.
This was more like them; purposeful and challenging.
If there was one thing that Draco had learned about kissing, it was that there was no such thing as a bad kisser, or a good kisser, for that matter. There are simply pairs of people that share amazing kisses, like their mouths are specifically designed to meet and touch. To kiss.
Draco decided that he and Granger were one of those pairs. They simply...worked.
As the kiss ended and she drew back from him, he scrutinised her features intently, hunting for any hint or clue about how she felt. Much to his confusion, her eyes were wide and shiny with intrigue and she was rubbing her lips together with thought. She looked like she did when she was struggling to decipher some runes; always analysing and inquisitive. And normally, that was fine. Expected, even. But after what had just happened, her reflective expression was disconcerting.
"What?" he asked.
She licked her lips. "You taste of tea."
He half-scoffed, half-choked, uncertain what he should do with her remark. "What the...that's the first thought that popped into your head?"
"Have you been drinking tea?"
"Yes," he admitted reluctantly.
She frowned. "But...you don't like tea."
"I never really liked Firewhiskey, either."
"I'm going to make some tea," she said. "Do you want some?"
Draco was half-temped to say no, if only for familiarity's sake, but he caught himself nodding. "Okay."
Smiling, Hermione lifted herself up on her tiptoes again to peck his lips, too quickly for him to really do anything about it. As she spun on her heel and headed towards the kettle, he grabbed her wrist again, waiting for her turn around and meet his eyes.
"I am..." he started quietly. "I am grateful you saved my life, Granger."
Her features softened. "I know you are."
He leaned in and lightly brushed his lips against the ridge of her jaw, and then again just behind her ear. Hermione shivered. She liked that. Flashing him a subtle smile as he released her wrist, she removed two mugs from the cupboard and flicked the kettle on. As she waited for the steam to rise, she considered her earlier thought about books without conclusions.
Stories without endings.
She decided she'd been wrong.
The only thing worse than a story without an ending is a story with an ending.
A/n: Hello! Hope this is okay! I am sorry I've been SO SHIT. I've moved house, started a new job, and had a severe lack of inspiration, so I am very sorry. For anyone who's reading Iso, I am working on it and I'm putting off all the other one-shots I've promised people until I've finished Iso.
Anyway, I hope this was okay and that you liked it! Huge thanks to my Beta, Meaghan (occupymalfoysbed on tumblr) for being so amazing! And...yeah! Read and review please!