This is for HollyPotter28's The Latin Challenge - Libero (free, set free) and Servo (save, look after).

Saving Draco Malfoy

Sixth year students are not supposed to be this stressed. There's always school stress, of course. The night during which there's just too much work and not enough hours in the day. The NEWTs that are still a year off. But that can be brushed off; there certainly shouldn't be stress like this.

There's so much to be happy about during sixth year. The OWLs are behind them. Their coming-of-age is approaching. Graduation is only a year away.

And yet, Hermione Granger was beyond stressed. See, some of the sixth year students were going through a lot of what she was going through – hiding her jealousy at her best friend's relationship, actually being in love with that best friend, trying to make said best friend jealous, running away from Slughorn, etc. etc. However, most sixth year students were not carrying a portion of the Wizarding World on their shoulders, a responsibility that came with being best friends with Harry Potter.

She was the brains of the Golden Trio, the so-called brightest witch of the age, the one who was always expected to think their way out of trouble. And she was sick and tired of sitting there and holding on. She was sick and tired of taking everything the world threw at her without a second glance. She was sick and tired of putting everyone else above herself. And yet Harry needed her. As much as he hated to admit it, he needed her. For support, if nothing else.

And so now, Hermione was muttering darkly to herself as she ran down the corridors, fully intent on brewing herself a Calming Draught in Moaning Myrtle's second floor bathroom. She could, of course, just go to Madam Pomfrey, but then there would be questions and general embarrassment and Merlin-knows-what-else. Besides, it was a simple enough potion.

She should have known that taking Cormac McLaggen was a mistake. Making Ron jealous was not worth spending a night with him. He had been utterly full of himself, always talking about great things he had done. He had been pushy and inconsiderate. And he wouldn't stop trying to get her under the mistletoe. Merlin, did he really think she wanted to kiss him? She shuddered involuntarily. She would rather kiss a Blast-Ended Skrewt. She would rather kiss a flobberworm. She would rather kiss Snape. And then she promptly shuddered at that thought as well.

Hermione stumbled to a stop outside the bathroom door, checking both ways to make sure no one was around. She pushed open the door, ignoring the haphazard 'Out of Order' sign plastered to the front.

The stone floor was wet, and she immediately realized that she was not alone. Draco Malfoy sat cross-legged in the middle of the stone bathroom, his head down and his normally perfectly plastered platinum hair falling messily into his face, tears running down his cheeks, dripping onto the floor, forming a little puddle. She quickly noticed the half-empty bottle of Firewhiskey to his right; his hand was loosely grasped around it. His left sleeve was up and she gasped at what she saw there. Harry was right, had been right all year. The Dark Mark stared angrily up from his arm, black tattooed grotesquely on white skin, light battling the dark even on his arm.

"Oh." The breath whooshed out of her lungs in a single syllable.

Draco turned around suddenly, madly, a mix of fury and horror on his tear-stained face. He whipped his head away again, this time burying his head in his hands. He stared at his dark trousers, unseeing.

"Get the fuck out, Granger." His voice was hoarse, raspy, broken. One hand reached down in front of him, and she realized with a shock exactly what he had begun twirling in his hand. He leisurely spun the revolver over and over, his pale finger caressing the trigger, his thumb spinning the chambers.

"No." Her voice was firm and resolute, and it sounded much more confident than she felt. But in reality, she was scared to death. Not of this boy, who had gotten himself into something he knew nothing about and was struggling not to drown. She was scared to death of what this drowning boy would do to himself.

She moved closer to him, letting the shock of Draco Malfoy actually knowing what a Muggle gun was fall behind her.

"And just what are you going to do, Granger?" There was a bitter edge to his words. "Tell me to grow up? To get over it? Or are you going to tell me I've made a mistake?" His voice rose uncontrollably. "Don't you think I already fucking know?! Or maybe I wouldn't be sitting here on the floor of this bloody bathroom in this bloody school twirling a bloody gun around my fingers, trying to work up enough bloody courage to shoot myself in the head!" He took a long swig from the bottle.

Hermione moved until she was sitting in front of him.

"You're hardly the person to comfort me, Granger. What, are you going to run off to Potter and let him know that he's right? That I actually am in league with the Dark Lord? I know he's been waiting to hear it for ages now." He looked down at his arm darkly.

"Let's play Russian Roulette," Hermione suggested suddenly, not knowing what else to say. She reached hopefully for the gun, but his nimble fingers pulled it out of her reach.

"Every one of those chambers is loaded, Granger. You'll die. And no one would want that, would they?" he sneered. "I'm not a fool. And I have no intention of walking out of this bathroom tonight."

"Draco," Hermione tested, rolling his first name off her tongue for the first time in her life. He looked up sharply at her. "Draco, what happened?"

He laughed darkly, bitterly. "What happened? This happened, Granger." He yanked up his sleeve, revealing the Dark Mark for the second time that night.

"Fine. We'll start this conversation off as civilly as possible. How are you, Draco?"

He scoffed, tugging his sleeve back into place with a pained expression. "I'm fine. If by fine you mean pushed over the edge, hanging on by a thread, ready to give up, then I'm fine."

Compassion burst in Hermione's heart. Harry had been going on and on about how Draco was a Death Eater and yet the whole time he had been drowning, keeping everything just out of sight. Or maybe they were just too blind. But rival or not, this was a boy – a man – who was hurting beyond belief, and needed someone to talk to. She felt a sudden flash of anger toward Harry and Ron for being so ignorant.

"You're not fine. It's not worth pretending that you're fine. It's never too embarrassing to get help. Draco, you need someone," she pleaded, begging him to see sense.

His expression darkened. "You think I can just get help? He's going to – he's going to kill my family – my mother – if I don't obey him – if I don't –" He stopped abruptly, realizing his mistake.

Hermione leaned closer, placing a hand on his knee reassuringly. He looked torn between raising the gun to his head and leaving it on the cold floor. "Draco, if you don't do what?" He shook his head back and forth violently. "Draco, you can trust me. Trust me."

"If I don't—" His voice lowered to a nearly inaudible whisper. "If I don't kill the Headmaster."

Hermione flinched back as if shocked. Sweet Merlin. Of all tasks.

He laughed bitterly at her reaction, looking back down to where his hand was continuously playing with the cold metal of the gun.

"Yeah." His voice was steely. "I thought it was so great at first. I was so proud that the Dark Lord chose me for such an important task. Especially as my first task. Then reality, as it is always liable to do, slapped me in the face. He doesn't trust me." His face twisted into an ugly scowl. "He's angry at my father for what happened last year at the Ministry. He doesn't mind if I get killed doing this. He just wants his revenge."

Hermione sat in silence long enough for Draco to glance up at her, his stoic mask back in place.

"I'm so sorry, Draco. I didn't know."

"Clearly," he scoffed. "But if I do this" – he raised the gun half-heartedly – "then my family won't be disgraced. Then my mother won't be harmed. Then I'll be free."

"There's more than one way to be set free. Go to Dumbledore, Draco. Before someone gets hurt. He can protect you."

"Are you a fool?" he asked angrily, his face contorting and making him look quite deranged. "He'll kill my mother, Granger!"

"The Headmaster can keep her safe, too. Draco, I promise we can fix this."

He looked at her levelly, judging her words and expressions for their honesty.

"I can't." He raised the gun to his head, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath.

A thousand things ran through her head as she watched his finger tighten on the trigger.

Not here. Not now. Not like this. Not him.

She pushed the gun away from his head abruptly, and the gun went off, the bullet hitting the ceiling and ricocheting around the bathroom.

"Don't you dare, Draco. You have everything to live for." Her voice was stern. She barely kept it from shaking.

"What do I have to live for?" he demanded, looking annoyed that she had stopped him.

"Draco, I promise life will get better. There is always the opportunity for it to get better, and after the war, you won't have to worry about as much. We've all got so much on our shoulders right now, but it'll be over soon. Don't you give up. Don't you let go." She moved forward to pull him into a tentative hug. He tensed immediately, but slowly relaxed, letting the tears flow again. Sobs wracked his figure as he leaned into her embrace.

"I don't – I don't think I can do it," he whispered, pain leaking through into his voice.

"That's what we're here for, Draco. That's what I'm here for." She tugged the gun gently from his hand and slid it across the stone floor towards her. Once it was out of his reach, she emptied the bullets from it, each one falling to the stone floor with a resounding clink.

After what seemed like hours, he pulled away, wiping his face in embarrassment and standing up. Hermione did the same, waving her wand to vanish the gun and bullets lying forgotten on the bathroom floor.

"To Dumbledore?" she prompted, and indecision flashed across his face.

After a moment, he questioned, "You'll be with me?"

"Always," she reassured, and a hint of a smile tugged his lips up at the corners. "We're getting there. Just don't bring that smirk back!" His signature smirk appeared, and she laughed freely.

He stepped closer and wrapped her in a hug. "Thank you for saving me," he whispered in her ear. "No one ever has before."

This is the last night you'll spend alone
Look me in the eyes so I know you know
I'm everywhere you want me to be.
The last night you'll spend alone,
I'll wrap you in my arms and I won't let go,
I'm everything you need me to be.