It all felt very silly. Graces stared at her reflection in the mirror and waited as if the mirrored image would say something to her, do something other than what she herself was doing, answer questions she didn't dare speak. She worried her bottom lip for a moment before standing up from the vanity. She needed to go meet Neville now for their date.
She moved to put her things away properly in her dorm and as she did so she put away her thoughts regarding her father. She didn't want them. She wanted to tuck away all she was feeling and thinking for at least one night; she didn't want to ruin what was between her and Neville. She could, though. She paused as she held her tie thoughtfully. Would it be worth it? Destroying her and Neville for her father, for her family.
She put away her tie and the thought. She would trust Neville. She was not blind and in love with him, nor was he with her. He understood her, he loved her, and he wouldn't say something to her if he didn't mean it. He had sworn to consider and he would. She was going to enjoy her night with him, she was determined to. Part of her wondered if this determination to have a date with him was out of desperation, if maybe she needed to be reminded that they were in love, that she could trust and love him.
Graces blinked over to where Graham was sitting in the common room. He eyed her dress, before frowning slightly and looking at her hair and face.
"Are you not coming to dinner tonight?" he asked quietly.
Graces swallowed. "No, I am having dinner with Mcgonagall as per her request."
It was a lie she didn't need to tell. Graham's lips tightened. "This is our last chance, Graces," he said quietly, his eyes pleading with her to listen. "Your last and Draco's last. I have used every favor, opportunity, and resource at my disposal to do this for you all."
That sick feeling was suddenly pooling in her belly at his words. She let out a barely audible "I know."
"If you can do anything you need to."
"It's not that simple."
"It is that simple, Graces," Graham snapped, standing up. "It is. I know it is, because I have done all of the hard work to make it that simple. Ask, demand, cry, beg, I don't care. You do any of those and I know without a doubt he would bend."
Graces shook her head, her earlier determination already crumbling.
"It's Draco," Graham reminded, his voice filled with disbelief. "Draco."
Graces swallowed. "I—" she stopped and again tried to regain herself. "I need him to choose this on his own. It cannot be me that forces his hand."
Graham let out some noise of disgust. "You want proof of his love?"
"It doesn't matter to me," Graham clipped. "Whatever your excuse is, it's meaningless."
His words felt like poison. She could feel them contaminating her resolve and she could see herself perfectly as Graham saw her now and she didn't blame him for how he viewed her. Perhaps how he viewed her now was how she truly was: selfish, stupid, perfidious.
"I need to go now."
Graham let out a noise of disgust. "Right."
Graces tried to swallow the ball of emotion that had welled in her throat. "I can not ask him this, Graham. You don't understand. He—" she stopped. "He would feel damned. And he would eventually blame me for damning his soul."
"Draco's damned his soul for you. I've damned mine for my sisters. For Draco. For you. Do you think all that we've done doesn't weigh on us? That it hasn't torn us apart from the inside? Why does Neville Longbottom get to remain whole? Do you think he's better than us?"
She glanced down nervously. "No."
Graham didn't remove his gaze. She continued to shrink under his judgment. She felt broken open before his eyes and the worst part was the look on his face, a mixture of disgust and shock she felt it deserved. Whatever reasoning she had was not good enough for him and if it wasn't good enough for him she knew it would not be good enough for Draco. She moved past him, unwilling to stand there any longer.
But even with Graham no longer staring at her she still felt his eyes on her. She examined herself through them, thought of herself the way he must have been thinking of her and realized that not too long ago she would have felt and believed the same things as him. Suddenly everything she had said the night before to Neville seemed wrong and everything Graham said felt true.
The greenhouse was far from anything Graces would call lovely. She supposed in some people's minds that perhaps because of the flowers and other assortments of plants it would be considered quite beautiful, but she honestly didn't think of it that way. When she thought of the greenhouse she saw the work desks with old stains of spilled ink, the smell of fertilizer, dirt scattered throughout the areas—some where it was meant to be and some just a product of a day's work. She noted the crisp, dead leaves along the windows, the ground, legs of chairs and in old pots. The dirty gloves were always left at work stations, some leaving a smell of mildew around them. No, the greenhouse was not what she would consider a romantic place, but she wasn't surprised at all when Neville asked her to meet him there for their date.
Neville would think the greenhouse beautiful, perhaps even comforting. She imagined he also looked at it with significance to them considering their relationship started in the greenhouse. First with them being partnered together and then with them sleeping together there. No, she could never tell him her real thoughts on the greenhouse.
With all that being said she was very impressed with its state now. Neville very clearly had put a great amount of effort into the ambiance. Candles were set up through the greenery so everything glowed with soft warm lights, you could see pretty shadows of leaves and flowers around the room and on the ground. He had even carefully put some candles behind larger leaves- letting you see the arrangement of green veins and yellow hues through. Then he had put together an arrangement of tea roses on a table - cutting them short so they didn't obstruct their view from one another as they ate. And that was all without mentioning the meal itself which Neville also seemed to have gone to a lot of trouble to procure.
And yet, she couldn't enjoy any of it. The beautiful scenery, the decadent food, the boy sitting across from her. None of it felt right and she sat there silently across from Neville, her heart torn apart and poisoned with doubt. She hadn't even commented on any of the efforts Neville had made, too scared that if she spoke the lump in her throat would move and she wouldn't be able to do anything other than cry. Or worse.
She wanted so badly to be the girl that deserved to be sitting there with him. She was fighting her very nature to do so. She didn't feel in control. She felt like a boiling pot about to overflow and she knew if she allowed that to happen she would burn both of them. She was destructive; she knew that. There had been times where she even believed it a good thing, a time before Neville, and now she was fighting that urge to burn the world down for her family for the sake of the boy sitting before her.
"Graces." She looked up at Neville's voice, his eyes all softness and understanding. "I would rather fight," he said gently.
Neville stared across the way at her as she drew lines in her food with her fork. She could feel his eyes on her, his damn kind eyes with so much understanding and sympathy. He wanted to talk, to make this better. He thought that she could do that as she had the other night, but she knew that she couldn't. Her control was slipping. Doubts were setting in and the last thing she wanted was to give any of it a voice.
"You won't even look at me," Neville murmured. "You wanted this, and… and you won't even look at me."
Graces felt her lips part to apologize, but nothing came. Stillness and silence continued to suffocate them in the room and in her head she was drowning in a sea of thoughts that wouldn't stop crashing into her.
"Yesterday you said—"
"Yesterday I was a stupid girl, madly in love and desperate to not ruin the one good thing I had left in my life, the last relationship I had that was still good."
Neville let those words sink in. Yesterday. Was. It took all his efforts not to rise to them, to dismiss the feelings and panic they invoked. He should have expected a change today; he did expect a change today. He just didn't expect such a drastic one so soon.
"Yesterday you were in love," he repeated slowly. "Yesterday you were determined to not ruin us. So what are you today?"
Graces looked up sorrowfully. "I'm still in love," she whispered. "I didn't mean it like that. I just—" She stopped and seemed lost for how to put all her thoughts into words. "I never wanted to be that girl that… that girl that puts her boyfriend before her family."
Neville considered a moment. This to him was a lot more than just choosing him over her family. He considered the war, the morality of it all and he sat there piecing together what Graces just said and realized that she may not care about the morality of it. He didn't want to discuss that. He didn't want to lay out his fears of what Lucius Malfoy would do if given the opportunity to be free, but now he realized he may need to.
"I can't be my aunt," Graces whispered a single tear rolling down her face. "No, I am worse than my aunt. My aunt ran off in the middle of the night and got married, leaving her family in ruins. I am possibly killing my family. Because I have the ability to save it right now and I'm not doing it."
"This is not at all the same," Neville protested, trying to be firm and gentle at the same time. "Your father is where he is because of his own actions. You know that, I know you know that. And—"
"I don't want to talk about this," Graces shook, wiping away her tears. "We shouldn't talk about this."
"Obviously we need to," Neville said, looking across the table pleadingly.
"Draco is going to talk about me the way my father and mother talk about Andromeda Tonks," Graces murmured mutely, staring at nothing. "I can't do this. I can't be this person anymore. I don't want to be good or noble. I want to be a good daughter and a good sister and I cannot be those things and be with you."
"What are you saying? Are—are you breaking it off with me?"
"I don't know what I'm doing," Graces sobbed, pressing her face into her palms. "I don't know. I love you, but then I think about what I am doing and about my father. About everything he has done for me, about how much he loves me and how much my family loves me." Graces paused as though she couldn't bear to think of it all now. "And the next thing I know I hate you."
"You hate me?" Neville asked, his eyes wide. "Wha—"
"I know it doesn't make sense," Graces snapped. "I know! I know I said I wouldn't make demands, I know I suggested this date, I know!"
Graces was standing now and she looked as though she were going to pull out her hair. She was so distraught.
"Graces, please. Please just talk to me. Please."
Graces pushed her way out of his arms when he went to hold her.
"I am talking!" Graces cried, moving farther away from him. "I am talking. I am telling you what I am thinking and I know it doesn't make sense. I know my feelings are… all over the place, but I can't stop thinking them!"
Neville moved towards her again, but Graces moved farther away.
"I don't want you to touch me."
"Why?" Neville asked, terrified of what the answer would be.
"Because if you touch me, it will feel better," she choked, and another piece of Neville's heart broke. "And I will be lost in you again. I will hold you and remember how good you feel, how much I love you, it will feel right to be with you, to choose you, and I don't want that right now."
"Do you feel lost in me?" Neville asked.
"I am lost in you, Neville," Graces bemoaned, gesturing to her chest. "I am so deeply in love with you that I have entangled myself to a point where I can't even go back."
"Entangled," Neville repeated. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. What she was saying. "Do… do you want to leave? Do you want this to end?"
"No. No, I love you. I do," Graces sniffed.
"Then why are you saying things like this? Why—"
"Because it's true. Because I told McGonagall and now there's no going back. I betrayed my family. I betrayed Draco and I did it for you," Graces declared, her voice almost accusing. "I should be asking you to let my father free. Demanding you do this for me, but I'm not. I'm just— I'm just here."
Neville looked away from her. He could feel his anger rising inside him. He was so tired. So damn tired of all this back and forth. He thought this was over, thought Graces really could be grown about this. He should have trusted his gut.
"Then ask," Neville dared, gesturing his hands open as though welcoming her to. "You know you have the power to. I already said you did. So just bloody ask me then."
Graces fell silent at his words. She for a brief moment looked as though she would, but stopped herself.
"You want to ask, Graces? Ask. But don't torment me with words like entangled, hate, lost. I did not coerce you into anything. I didn't lure you away from your family and your friends. You chose this. Every step of the way you chose this," Neville snapped. "I will not be made to feel badly about this. I said you could ask. I said you have the power, I have made it perfectly clear that I would tear apart my very soul if you so wished it of me, so here it is. If you want this then ask!"
All the fire that had been there a few moments ago seemed to have slipped away at Neville's anger. Graces didn't ask, she just cried. She turned away, as if she were embarrassed of her tears, or maybe she was embarrassed about everything that occurred. Neville wasn't sure all he knew was he felt horrible and sick to his stomach. And a very small part of him longed for a time where he didn't have problems like this and he wished he had never gotten into this mess with the girl in front of him.
He closed his eyes at Graces words, at her tears. He gave himself a moment. He needed to calm his thoughts and more importantly to calm his anger and fear. He had to really consider what he was thinking.
"I just need a moment," Neville cut off, taking his seat back at the table. He took a long breath before looking back at her. This was always going to come. He knew that, somewhere in the back of his mind he knew that they would have to address her family. He didn't imagine it would be in this way, but he knew it was coming. He had known it since she declared in that hospital wing that if she loved him she would choose.
And she had chosen. She had chosen him and she was in the midst of tearing herself apart to be by his side. Maybe she was entangled, but it wasn't just to him she was entangled. She was entangled by them as well. And the more she pulled to come to him, the more she chose to move away from her family, the harder those lines pulled her back.
Neville picked up his drink and only after finishing it did he speak. "This is your line? I accept that. I understand that. You love your brother, you love your family and… I understand." He stared over at the girl he had fallen so helplessly in love with. He never wanted this conversation to come, since the very moment they came together he never would have dared speak an ill word against Lucius Malfoy. "But before you draw your line, I ask that you hear my thoughts regarding your father."
He struggled for a moment on where to begin. In the past day he had so many different thoughts that had been in his head about her father, Draco, justice, morality. His mind had not known a moment's peace since he received that letter. But each time it went back to the same thing. He could not release Lucius Malfoy. The problem was he didn't know how to tell the man's daughter this, and he had not been willing to commit to the decision until he spoke to Draco. It wouldn't be fair to not speak with Draco.
"I am so glad that you had the father you had," he began, his throat tight. "Honestly, I am even envious of the love you received growing up. I want you to know that. I have never wished that you were not his daughter, because I can see very clearly the parts of you that are him and they are parts of you I love the most."
"You love your father and I do not blame you for it. I will never blame you for it or ask you not to see him. I will never try to discourage your feelings for him. I need you to understand that. I know that for me to say or do anything to hurt that relationship would be wrong and I have no intention of doing so. And if—if I never got this letter I would have kept these thoughts silent from you."
He could see the defensiveness coming to her face. "I'm not a child. I—"
"You're his child though," Neville cut in. "And I believe what I said the other night. A good father shouldn't have his name slandered to his children."
The hardness on her face diminished slightly at his words.
"I do not want to release your father," Neville admitted quietly. "He is… dangerous."
Neville closed his eyes, too much of a coward to see Graces' face at his words. "He is a killer, and lives—innocent lives—have been lost or ruined because of him. I believe that he should remain in Azkaban. He has no remorse for the things he has done, and if given the opportunity I know he would continue doing as he pleases with no regard for life."
"And on a personal note," he swallowed and looked up to meet Graces' eyes. "I did not know peace after the Ministry until he was sentenced there. And even then I would wake in the night and have to remind myself that I was safe from him."
And there it was. The look of devastation he had wanted to prevent her from having to know. Everything about Lucius Malfoy he had put away for her.
"Neville," she whispered, her voice almost an apology.
"And I could still do it for you, Graces," he continued, his own heart breaking along with hers. "I can and have gotten over my feelings regarding your father. I can listen to you talk about him and enjoy the stories of your childhood. I hold no resentments that you will always love and adore the man that tortured me. But I can't help but think that if I allow him free I am taking someone else's peace, someone else's family's justice. And my answer if allowed is no."
Graces took a shaking breath and covered her mouth for a moment, turning her back and trying to suppress her own emotions. "Then why haven't you said no?" she asked, turning to him helplessly. "If the answer is no, why can't you just say it and be done with it? If you considered it and still was decided why not—"
"Because of Draco," Neville reminded, as if she should have already realized the reasoning.
"I love you and I know that Draco must be tied into that love. I cannot make a decision like this without speaking to him. It would be wrong."
"You once asked me to love you right or wrong with the same devotion I would a God. Well, I do. I do," he whispered, moving forward and taking her hand. "If you ask this of me I will do it, because I love you and as wrong as it is I could not deny you this if it would mean ruining us. What we have is the one and only thing that I have ever wanted. And it's selfish and wrong, but I could not give it up. So if my not allowing your father free will ruin us, if you will not be able to forgive me then tell me now and I will spend the rest of my life trying to forgive myself."
Graces searched his face as though looking for a reason to believe him not sincere.
"Neville, I love you too," Graces murmured, moving to be closer to him. "You don't have to do this. I know I behaved—"
"You are tearing yourself apart loving all of us," Neville interjected. "I know you love me, Graces. And I know you love your family, and I have never wanted to stand in the way of that. Not ever. I still don't want to. So I am asking, is this your line?"
He stared down into her gray eyes and felt a wave of relief when she shook her head. "It is not," she swore, moving forward and encircling him in her arms. "It's not."
Neville closed his eyes. "Tomorrow we will speak to Draco. We will tell him everything, absolutely everything," he whispered.
He could feel Graces stilled at his words. "But—"
"Graces, we have to. We have to," Neville emphasized, taking her shoulders and pulling away so she could see his face.
"We're telling Draco tomorrow." Graces whispered, as though she were just now realizing it.
"Yes, we are."
He could see the panic plain as day on her face. "I don't know how to. I—"
"Let me then."
Graces' eyes fluttered at the thought. "What are you going to say?"
Neville felt he had won a great battle at those words. Not what would you say, what are you going to say? He took Graces' hands in his and pressed a soft kiss to her knuckles.
"That I love you, that we tried—you tried—to put an end to us, to keep away, but we couldn't. It just happened."
"Is that it? Aren't—don't you think there should be more?"
Neville pressed his lips together. "I think—" he began delicately, "—that something short and to the point would be better than trying to explain it all at once. I imagine Draco will have quite a lot to process at this news and that talking to him while he is trying to process it all will make things go very poorly."
Graces nodded numbly, and he felt the grip she had on his fingers tighten. "Don't go up to the Tower tonight. Stay with me."
Neville nodded and they quietly snuck back to their room in the castle. They didn't speak. Graces seemed lost in her own thoughts and he just watched her cautiously as they dressed for bed. When she slipped under the covers she curled up into him, her arms tight around his middle. He was so tired he couldn't barely keep his eyes open. His fingers toyed with the ends of her hair and he was thinking how he missed the length as sleep began to claim him.
"I told you a date was a bad idea."
Neville chuckled at Graces' twisted line of thinking.
"I said awful things tonight," she continued quietly.
"It's okay," Neville murmured, kissing the top of her head as his eyelids fell.
"It's not okay."
"It is, because I said it is," Neville yawned, holding her closer.
"You forgive too easily," she whispered.
Neville remembered when she had said that before. Of what and all that he had forgiven since then and what he had not forgiven and allowed. "No, I don't. I just… I understand you, and what you do is forgivable."
Even in the dark Neville could tell Graces was considering his words. "I said I hated you. Doesn't that—if you had said that to me—"
Neville was quick to shush Graces thoughts. "You don't though. And I know that. I think sometimes you may—resent?—what loving me has done, all that it's cost you." He sighed, considering himself what the price of it had been to her. "But I know you don't hate me."
Graces sat up, untangling herself from his arms so she could look down on him laying in their bed.
"Do you remember what it was like for a while? In the barn when… when we were getting to know one another?"
Neville couldn't help but smile fondly at the memories. "Yeah."
"I wanted so badly to have a night like that with you, a night like we used to have. I can never seem to give that to you," she sniffed. "And it's been so long I sometimes wonder if you remember."
"I remember," Neville grinned, reaching up gently playing with a piece of her hair. "Card games, thestrals, star gazing, dancing, and lots of bad music." Graces made a face at his last comment, but didn't argue with him like she would have before. "It was heaven to me."
"It was for me too."
"Graces," Graces met his eyes at her name. "You were the heaven, not what we were doing. Getting to know you, having someone care to get to know me. I went to bed each night with an ache in my chest at being away from you."
"I know you miss it."
"I miss you happy," Neville corrected. "I miss your smiles and your laughs. I miss your teasing and insistence on chocolate. Things weren't perfect then, I remember the nightmares and the pulling away from me at any inconvenience. You were not telling me everything that was going on. I was in the dark so much back then." He sat up with her so he could hold her chin to his attention. "I don't want to romanticize that time and act as if it were perfect. I don't want you to give me what we had in the past. I don't want it. I prefer this. You love me. You tell me what's going on. You share my bed without backing away from me. You send me books on joinings."
Graces let out a sob at that and he kissed her, letting her tears fall on his lips.
"I'll never know when I loved you," she cried, her hands wrapped around his neck so their foreheads remained touching. "I think I loved you in the barn. I just lied to myself- saying I wanted to get to know you and figure out what I wanted with you. The possibility of us being in love felt so impossible. And yet I knew with each night I was falling for you. I would wake up and if the nightmare wasn't about Draco it was about you, or it was both of you. And I would be desperate to see you, to hold you to make sure you were still there, that you were okay and whole."
Neville scowled at that. He had never thought back then that the nightmares were about him. She never would talk about them. He wanted to ask about them, to see what they had been, but he couldn't bring himself to. As he leaned away to look at her he could tell they still haunted her.
"At the beginning I was resolved to not get close, to not love you. But with the more time we spent together my resolve became water in my hands. It would slip through the crevices if I wasn't paying attention at all times, and all my determination to keep you at and arms length slipped with it. I remember wanting to think of things with you- a future with you- that I had no business thinking of. And I hurt you so many times because I wouldn't-"
"Graces, it's late. We don't have to -"
"No," Graces bit out forcefully. "I said I hated you earlier. I said- You think I resent what loving you has been for me. You have to let me tell you this, because I want you to know it."
"You-" the words died on her lips for a moment. "You didn't make me love you, Neville. You just were and I loved you. We would be in the barn and any time you would look up at me your eyes were warm and gentle and all those things I wanted with you didn't seem far at all. Like none of it was out of reach- it was all just there for the taking. And I knew if I wanted it you would give it to me," she said tightly.
"I don't hate you and I don't resent you," she whispered, brushing her lips against his. "And the cost- whatever that may be- would be worth it to me."
"You tell Draco tomorrow that we just happened, but I wanted you to know you and I didn't just happen. We were always going to happen. I was able to see it in the beginning, the possibilities were there every time I looked in your eyes. We were always going to happen, the world, my family, everything else gets in the way of us. We just are."
We just are. It felt true, it barely made sense, but it felt true. He felt his throat and heart tighten around the words and couldn't even articulate something to say in agreement. So he didn't try, he pulled her closer and kissed her. And when her lips parted he took his time tasting her, until her breath came shorter and her cheeks were red.
"I thought it was late," she reminded, her teeth dragging along his Adam's apple.
"You think you can say pretty things like that to me and I'm not going to make love to you?"
"What if I'm sleepy?" Graces giggled.
"Then you better wake up, because I plan on taking my time with you, Miss Malfoy."
The worst part about waiting for Draco was watching Graces wait for Draco to show. Neville stood against a wall and did his best to not move or even breathe too loudly. Graces paced around the room, across the room, fidgeted with her ring, her dress, and at one point Neville was almost sure she was biting the nail of her right ring finger, something he had no idea she did. She had even dressed nicer, in the same dress that Draco had chosen the other night. Neville glanced again at the dress before looking away uncomfortably.
"Where is he?" Graces hissed, the hem of her dress billowing out from the force of her turn.
Neville shrugged."Uh, I don—"
"What did he say?"
"When you asked to meet. What did he say?"
Neville tried to remember. Their talking had been when Draco was impersonating Graces.
Graces frowned. "Okay?" Neville nodded. "Nothing else?"
Neville again just shrugged.
"That doesn't sound like Draco," Graces scowled.
"He—well—he wasn't exactly himself," Neville murmured awkwardly.
Graces shook her head and cast another Tempus. "It's been twenty minutes. Almost half an hour!"
"He's… he's just a bit late. Maybe it's nerves?" Neville offered hopefully.
Graces just shook her head again and resumed her pacing. "No, Draco would never be late. To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unacceptable. Our mother drilled that into our heads. She considers tardiness to be exceptionally rude and Draco needs something from you so he wouldn't dare insult you by being late."
"I'm not insulted."
Graces looked up from her thoughts and glared at him. "That's not the point."
Neville cleared his throat and looked down at his shoes. The last thing he wanted to do was make this worse. "I'm sure he's going to come. I—we just need to wait."
Graces took a deep breath at his words and ran both her hands through her hair until she was holding the base of her neck, her eyes darting around as though she could see a whole range of decisions before her. "I'm not waiting," she declared, stomping towards the door.
Graham stood outside the room of requirement and tried to calm himself before entering. The last thing he wanted was to put Draco on edge. If he was put together and confident, Draco would follow suit. At least he hoped the other boy would, he needed him to. He entered the room and found Thomas perched on an old desk reading through some old pieces of parchment that had notes on previous plans that hadn't worked.
Thomas looked up from the crumbled piece of paper and then nodded over to an end of the room where Graham knew he had a little makeshift room set up for nights when he didn't leave.
"Is he sleeping?" Graham scowled, noting how late in the day it was.
Thomas just shook his head. "Dres-sing."
Graham nodded and adjusted his sleeves around his wrist, opening up the first button.
"Thomas, I think it best you let me talk with Draco alone," Graham said, swallowing hard. Thomas fidgeted, it was something that annoyed him about the younger Slytherin. He always had to bite back a comment instructing him to stop bouncing his knee or adjusting his shoulders (as though he needed to constantly check that his posture was good). Graham liked Thomas well enough, especially because he didn't speak unless he truly had something to add—a rare trait—but he was still young. Too young to be in this room. Too young to be looking at those failed plans.
Thomas glanced up at him from where he was sitting, before nodding dutifully and standing. Graham also appreciated that he had a knack for understanding when he was not to question something. He went to leave and then paused for a long while, putting together what he wanted to say, before slowly asking. "She couldn't remember, could she?"
Graham's eyes narrowed. "I don't know what you are talking about," he said meaningfully. "And neither do you."
Thomas flushed and gave a small nod before leaving the Room of Requirement. Graham waited quietly for Draco and, when the blonde still didn't come forth promptly, he decided to go to him. He knocked on an old chair that was near the entrance, trying to give some piece of normalcy to the situation and not just barge in on the other boy, but when there was no answer he just walked in.
Draco was standing before a mirror angrily undoing his what looked to be a perfectly tied tie. Graham slowly walked over to the other boy who jumped at the sight of him.
"Are we past knocking?" Draco muttered, annoyed, not moving his gaze from the mirror.
Graham narrowed his glare and then took a seat on a nearby bed. "We're not."
"You're just choosing not to then?"
"I did knock."
Draco paused and looked over at him for a moment, before continuing to tie his tie.
"Are we past apologies?" Graham asked, raising a brow.
Draco looked at him in the mirror, a small ghost of a smile on the edge of his mouth. "Yes, I believe so."
Graham shook his head at Draco's antics, but didn't say anything. He let Draco fidget and tried to recount how he was going to bring up the delicate situation that was before him. Watching the blonde continue to struggle with the basic task of tying his tie was making Graham realize that this may be too much.
"Draco we need to talk."
"Can it wait? I'm meeting Longbottom."
Graham frowned at that. "Are you?"
"Yeah, in about five minutes," Draco muttered, his focus on his watch and not at all on Graham.
Graham considered this for a moment. "Draco, I need to talk to you. It's important."
Draco stilled at this and then turned to face the other boy, his eyes shifting slightly. "If this is about Bell I think we're in the clear. I mean… I know she returned today. And clearly I am not being dragged off to Azkaban."
"It's not about Bell. I wasn't exactly worried about that. Rosmerta doesn't remember anything, why would Katie Bell?"
"Because she has been at St. Mungos with healers and—"
"And we both already established you're still here so clearly she doesn't remember anything," Graham finished, before Draco could work himself up over something that wasn't even an issue anymore.
Draco just narrowed his eyes at him for a moment before looking back in the mirror. "I don't know why I am even bothering with a damn tie. I highly doubt Neville is going to wear a tie."
"I'm just going to not wear one. It doesn't—"
"Draco," Graham said again more forcefully.
"What? What!" Draco demanded, clearly annoyed.
"You're not meeting Longbottom. We need to talk."
Draco licked his lips and then pinched the bridge of his nose. "What could possibly be more important than me talking with Neville Longbottom? Why would you even want me to miss talking to him considering everything you did in order to—"
"Because none of that matters anymore," Graham snapped, his own frustration and fear slipping out in his words.
Draco stilled. "What do you mean? Did-did he write the Ministry? Did he say—"
"No, nothing like that," Graham swore, balling his hands into a fist to prevent them from shaking. Draco's eyes glanced down at the action, those gray eyes more perceptive than they had been earlier this year.
"If… if it's Sunder," Draco continued quietly. "Whatever you need I'll take care of it, we don't have to have a discussion regarding it. Just tell me what you need, or what idea you have and it will be done."
Graham felt as though the wind had been knocked out of him at Draco's declaration and before he could dismiss the words they took hold of him and his throat closed tightly. Draco would do that, of course he would. Draco was the only living person that would ever say such things to him, the only one he knew that offered to help carry burdens when his were already too heavy.
"You should never have been a Death Eater," he choked out, unable to stop the thought from escaping his lips.
A small furrow appeared on Draco's brow at Graham's words.
"Well, there's no changing that now is there?" Draco scoffed. Graham just nodded and Draco decided that Neville would have to forgive him for being a bit late. "I'm listening."
Graham glanced up at him briefly, before looking down at his balled up fists.
"I have a message from our Lord."
A chill began to creep up Draco's spine.
"You take too long and his patience is thin."
"I see," Draco breathed. "What else was said?"
Graham looked up at him and Draco did his best to try at a somewhat kind smile. "You're upset and I've known for a while that the Dark Lord was impatient. Last time you cruciated me… I am assuming he wants to send a similar message.``
Graham swallowed. "He demands the task be carried out soon and he has made it clear that if it is not carried out quickly you—" Graham paused again and looked up at Draco pleadingly. "You are to be killed."
Draco did his best to keep his face guarded. "By you?"
Graham shook his head. "I could never."
"You know I much rather it be you," Draco informed.
"It would be quick. Painless. I wouldn't have to—"
"I said stop it!" Graham snarled, his fist hammering into the wood of a broken bedpost. "I couldn't do that. I wouldn't."
"You would leave me to be tortured then?"
Graham's face twisted into something almost feral. "Could you kill me?"
"Yes, I could. I wouldn't let you suffer," Draco cast out accusingly.
Graham stood so quickly that Draco took a step back. "You bloody would kill me so I wouldn't suffer?" Graham screamed. "You can't even do the killing curse! Or else maybe we would have the chance of killing Dumbledore tonight! We wouldn't have to be tinkering with this damn cabinet."
Draco flushed. "I have a plan. I—"
"Well maybe we should change the damn plan!" Graham roared, grabbing Draco by the lapel of his shirt and dragging him over to the birdcage.
"What are you doing?" Draco demanded, trying to loosen the other boy's grip.
Graham grabbed one of the birds and slammed it down on the table. A sickening crunch reverberating in Draco's ears.
"Stop! Stop it!"
"Kill it," Graham demanded, shoving Draco's wand in his palm. "You know the words. Do it."
"No. No," Draco could barely get out the words over the emotion welling in his throat.
"It's hurt anyways," Graham declared, his hands pulling at Draco's wand arm and manhandling him into a position to do the spell. Draco hated how much stronger Graham was than him. He couldn't pull his arms away, couldn't hit him hard enough to get him to stop. He had always admired Graham's shape, the muscular build of his arms and chest, and now it was being used against him.
"Gods damn you, Draco! Do this! You need to do this! THIS IS YOUR ONLY CHANCE!"
"Let go of me!"
Graham flung him unceremoniously to the floor. Draco landed on something hard and turned over grabbing the area on his ribs.
"You are out of time!" Graham screamed, if the other boy noticed his injury he didn't show it. "Even if your father is released it would not be in time to help or save you! Do you understand that?! You are going to learn this spell!" Graham commanded, yanking him up from the floor so hard that Draco bit out a cry against the pain now searing through his shoulder. "So help me, Malfoy, you will learn this spell!"
Draco struggled a bit longer against the other boy, before relenting and holding up his wand. He couldn't even hear Graham's instructions against the blood rushing in his ears. He wanted to cry and scream all at once. His stomach twisted into so many knots. He felt as though if he opened his mouth to cast the spell he wouldn't even be able to get the words out before sick overtook him.
"Now," Graham commanded, stepping back and waiting.
Draco glanced at the other boy for a moment, before Graham shouted again for him to cast the spell. Draco jumped and tried to steady his wand arm, heat was prickling against his skin as his stomach rolled to the point of pain.
"Mean it!" Graham barked. "This is your life! Graces' life! Your mother's life! Mean it, damn you! It's a fucking bird!"
And after the bird it would be a real person. Graham's eyes flared as if he could hear Draco's thoughts.
Nothing. Not even a green wisp came forth. Graham bellowed for him to do it again, which Draco obeyed. The words seemed almost meaningless. These forbidden words that haunted his dreams were nothing but syllables strung together when Draco said them. It held no weight, no meaning, it brought nothing forth from his wand. He watched the bird suffer and even tried to convince himself it was a kindness. It was in pain, he could alleviate it, but even that reasoning didn't seem to change anything.
Graham was no longer shouting at Draco. He just stood there hollowly watching as Draco tried again and again to perform the spell. After a while Draco too just stood there hollowly so the only sounds that filled the air was their breathing and the birds faint, pained coos.
He didn't meet Graham's eyes when he went forward and gently picked the bird up, murmuring healing charm after healing charm until the poor thing returned to itself. He was weak, he knew that about himself, but he had not wanted Graham to know it. He had never wanted Graham to think that of him and it was clear that not only did Graham think that now, but he was tired of it. He brushed the small feathers along the breast of the bird, comforted in the softness and gentle cooing against his fingers.
Draco looked up, the bird still cradled in his palms against his chest. Graham stared at him, his brown eyes welling with tears as though him holding the bird was a painful sight. Draco looked down at it and realized it was. He couldn't kill a bird.
"Unicorn hair, right?" Graham whispered. It took Draco a moment to realize Graham was commenting on his wand. He nodded.
Graham took a shuddering breath and looked up at the ceiling, his hand brushing down his mouth and chin. If the gods were real, if they resided up in the heavens, Graham's face pleaded up to them, before it turned cursing.
"I will do it. If it needs to be done," he swore, his voice tight and firm. "You won't suffer."
Draco just nodded, his jaw tight against a sob.
"We're past apologies correct?" Graham asked.
Another forced nod.
"Draco, you're not weak," Graham murmured. "You're good."
Draco just shook his head against the words. "No, I'm dead."
Graham didn't offer him any comfort. Didn't reach out and shake his arm. He just said he would be back later tonight to work more on the cabinet and left. Draco suffered in that silence. He held to his chest and tried to calm down, but the more he tried to focus on his breathing the more difficult it seemed to be.
He left the Room of Requirement to go to the girls bathroom on the second floor. Deciding he would much rather be with Myrtle than alone in this moment.
Draco briefly looked back at Graces calling out to him, before waving her away. He couldn't deal with her right now, with the mess that they had become. He needed to be alone. He didn't want to unravel with her around.
"Not now," he said over his shoulder, stumbling over to the girls bathroom on the second floor. Myrtle was there in an instant with her worried look and questioning eyes. And then Graces was there with her anger and huffyness.
"Why didn't you meet with Neville?" She demanded, her black dress swirling around her legs as she slammed the bathroom door shut.
"Not now, Graces," Draco said, undoing the bottom of his collar and bracing himself against the sink. He was going to be sick, he could feel it and he glanced at himself briefly in the mirror to see he was still crying.
"Yes now! You were supposed to meet him! We've been waiting!"
"Leave him alone!" Myrtle screeched, putting herself between Graces and him as though she could do anything to stop the other girl.
Draco saw Graces in the reflection of the mirror give Myrtle a disdainful look before side stepping around her. Myrtle yelled out a demand that she leave him alone, but if Graces cared what the young ghost had to say she didn't show it.
"Come, you two can still meet. He's—"
"It doesn't matter," Draco gulped.
"What are you talking about? Of course it matters," Graces argued, her heels clicking loudly as she stomped up to where he was.
She was wearing the black dress he had worn the other night as her. His eyes widened at her appearance, just as hers widened at his.
"Draco," she whispered, her fingers grazing the sleeves of his shirt as though she were scared to touch him. "Draco, what's going on?"
"He's upset, you should leave!" Myrtle wailed, moving to Draco's side.
"I'm his sister," Graces hissed. "You leave."
"Why are you dressed like that?" Draco demanded, ignoring her question all together.
Graces blinked. "For our meeting."
"I never told you about the meeting with Longbottom."
"Neville did," she retorted, as though it were all that simple.
Draco narrowed his eyes. Why would Neville tell her? He had thought Draco was her.
"It doesn't matter," he cast out, his head swirling with questions, but also too dizzy to think straight to address them. He was still trying to wrap his head around what had happened with Graham, he couldn't now dive into another conundrum.
"What do you mean it doesn't matter? Of course it matters. Draco, you said you would meet him."
"It doesn't matter!" Draco screamed, his heart pounding so loud he couldn't even think straight. There was something nagging at him. Something not quite right. He just wanted Graces to leave, he needed a moment without anyone to stop himself from drowning. "He isn't going to help us anyways! If he was going to, he would have by now! And it's too late anyways even if he by some miracle agreed."
Had she been waiting with Longbottom?
"That's not true. That's not true! Just talk to him, please," Graces begged. "I know he will listen. I know he will do whatever it is you need. You have to meet him. Please, Draco."
"Why! WHY?! WHY?! WHY! Why do I have to meet him!"
"Because I love him!" Graces shouted, her hands moving with her hysteria.
It was as if all the air had disappeared from the room at Graces' words. Draco stared at his sister incredulously. Everything made sense now. The fog that had surrounded her all these months had now lifted and he was left winded at the first clear sight he had had of her in months.
"Because I love him," Graces repeated softly.
"No. No," Draco shook, reality creeping back into his senses and waking him from his perverse reverie. "No, you can't. You can't."
"It just happened. We—"
"Things like that do not just happen!" Draco roared, grabbing her by the arms and shaking her. He knew he was walking a dangerous line of being somewhere between murderous rage and seriously upset. And it spoke volumes to his control to keep his feelings more towards the latter than the first.
"Neville?! Neville Bloody Longbottom! How could you do this! How could you— Do you have any idea of all that I've done?"
"Draco, you're hurting me" Graces pleaded.
"I'm hurting you?!" Draco scoffed, a mad laugh escaping his lips.
"We didn't mean for us to happen. We just did. We both tried to stay away from—"
"Do you have any idea what is going on? Do you care at all? Or are you too busy being in love with Neville Longbottom?!" Draco seethed, his whole body shaking with emotion. He couldn't believe this. He knew it was someone, but Longbottom?! Longbottom? Graces braced herself against the sink tears rolled down her face as she looked up at him pitifully, but Draco did not let go of her. "I'm failing. I can't do it… I can't— It won't work— and unless I do it soon… he says he'll kill me. He will kill you. I'm fighting for our lives and you're—"
Draco stopped short and stared at the corner of the broken mirror behind Graces to see the reflection of familiar green eyes watching the two of them.
I'm so sorry it has been so long! I had a baby back in late March, another little boy, so I have been incredibly busy adjusting to life with two kids. And also healing from a C section. It also took me so long to write this chapter, I think not writing for so long through me off my groove and I had to restart, delete and start again over and over to get it write. And then my beta suggested a pretty big adjustment and I again had to rewrite. But here it is! I hope you all are still around and I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I just want to say I am so glad to be back and for those that sent such wonderful messages, reviews and the surprise tik toks thank you it meant the world.