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A Season For Setting Fires

Chapter Text

“There are five ways of attacking with fire. 

The first is to burn soldiers in their camp; 

the second is to burn stores; 

the third is to burn baggage trains; 

the fourth is to burn arsenals and magazines;

 the fifth is to hurl dropping fire amongst the enemy.”

-Sun Tzu, The Art of War

 

Draco

 

She’s pleading and Draco can barely stand it. He feels sick, stomach in his throat, a bile brine pickling his insides. Worse, gold glints in his vision. A metallic, translucent cord, tattered and frayed, stretches in a meandering line from his chest to hers.

Her scream strikes like a bludger to the skull. He hisses, grappling for his temple as his father’s fingertips dig into the soft flesh beneath his shoulder joint. The cord tugs, a tiny insistence, at Draco’s chest. But he is not to move; the warning is clear. He drops his hands, vision spinning as his mother slides her fingers around his wrist. 

Flanked by his parents, Draco watches Hermione Granger scream.

Watches her beg. 

Watches her cry.

Watches her writhe.

Watches her vomit, choke, and recoil from the slap across her face as Aunt Bella snaps, vicious demands for answers about a sword found in Granger’s possession. 

She’s bleeding out on extravagant, antique carpets. Bella spits horrible threats, dragging a knife through Granger’s arm, transforming it into a jagged, gashed mess.

Draco locks his knees in place. He wants to run, and he’s not sure where. He doesn’t trust himself not to do something stupid, something irretrievably traitorous and entirely against his better judgement.

He hates her. Hermione Granger has been the worst Mudblood thorn in his side since the day he first heard her snotty voice, inquiring about a lost toad and acting as if she owned the Hogwarts Express. She’s insulted him and his, bested him in most subjects, and made her allegiances clear by allying herself with Harry fucking Potter. And now she’s bleeding on his family’s drawing room floor, pleading for her life, and twisting a terrible, gut-wrenching sympathy from him that he has no interest in experiencing.

Ron Weasley’s screams echo hers from the cellar below.

Draco Malfoy hates Hermione Granger.

But he does not want her dead. 

He does not want most people dead, save perhaps for the Dark Lord. But it doesn’t look like Potter has much of a shot at that anymore. 

And now there’s this cord, these filaments, all this gold glittering in his vision. Blink and it’s there, connecting him to the pile of pain on the floor. Blink again and it’s gone, only a glowing echo left in its wake. He both sees it and he doesn’t. It moves and it doesn’t. It connects them and it doesn’t. He’d known his whole life that a cord would someday appear, one of his many Malfoy privileges. But he’d forgotten, under stress of fear for his life, for his family’s lives, that this would happen to him. And it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Life and death scenarios are not the place for magic like this.  

He watches gold threads snap as Granger unloads another wail: a raw, broken sound as her voice gives out. And for a moment, he is doused in the silence left by her aborted scream, watching her mouth stretched open, sound held hostage by torment. 

Her free arm, the one Aunt Bella isn’t making a sick art project out of, travels in a flat arc against the floor. Her fingers trail along the carpets, quite unfortunately soaked in her blood.

Draco inhales a sharp breath through his nose when her hand stops at the gilded cord between them. Her hand flips, palm up, fingers curling to graze the fibers that aren’t really there, not to anyone but them. His gaze slips to her face and immediately snaps away again; she’s watching her hand, watching this thing between them, all with a blank, dead stare. 

He pulls in more air. 

Torture smells like spring.

Like daffodils and tulips and snowdrops. Like the bouquets brought inside from the manor gardens to lend their life to cold stone walls that house criminals. Easter mixed with madness makes sense in this twisted landscape; Draco’s only chance at survival is to endure it. He knows this. But that doesn’t quell the twitching in his calves, the flexing in his fingers. 

Granger lifts her hand off the floor and Draco nearly loses his lunch, stomach churning as he watches her extend her arm, reaching through the translucent cord, reaching towards him. He tries to blink it away, blink blink blink, but both she and the cord are stubborn, persistent things. 

Even with eyes screwed shut—avoidance rather than confrontation—Draco cannot ignore the copper light staining the inside of his eyelids, a visual echo. Granger has doomed them both, reaching for him like that. 

There’s no way she knows what’s happening. He searches for solace in knowing he’ll probably never have to explain it. He’s not sure if that prospect makes him hate her more or less. 

He wants to beg her not to acknowledge it, to pretend it isn’t there. This is a distraction neither of them needs. His aunt wants answers about a sword, that’s all this is meant to be. And perhaps in another life, that’s all this is. A terrible torture for information wherein Granger breaks and admits how she came upon an object meant to be in Bella’s vaults. Or maybe in that life Granger doesn’t break at all; maybe she withstands this torture and Bella gets none of the answers she seeks.

In either imaginary version of this moment, and in the version Draco is currently living, he is doomed. At least no one else in the room can see the cord between them. That is perhaps the only benevolence bestowed upon him. 

Bella’s shriek snaps his eyes open again.

“What is she doing? What is this?” Bella cackles her question, swinging a foot in her crouched position to pin Granger’s wrist to the floor. “You think someone is going to help you?” Bella lowers her head, angles it to align herself with Granger’s outstretched arm, and reads the lay of the land. Bella’s eyes pierce Draco as easily as her blade sliced Granger’s flesh. 

Her smile widens, and it’s anything but joyful. It revels. It mocks. It shoots fear straight down his spine as he tries a sloppy hand at Occlumency, a tool she’d taught him. 

Bella’s voice scratches, barely below a screech. “You think Draco will help you? Why would Draco help you? You’re nothing but a filthy Mudblood. A werewolf’s plaything, soon enough.” In punctuation, Bella must have dragged her knife through Granger’s skin again, because another scream lights up the room. Torture in technicolor.

Draco watches Granger’s fingers as they graze the golden filaments, still reaching towards him. His shoulder throbs, and Draco realizes his father is holding him upright with his grip. Draco has gone gelatinous, body disintegrating in fear and nausea. 

Bella whips her head around again, focus snagged by Granger’s hand. Her wicked humor morphs, supplanted by wild suspicion and wide eyes.

“Do you think he will help you, stupid girl? What does she want from you, Draco?” He barely meets his aunt’s eyes before she repeats, bellows, “What does she want?”

Draco realizes he’s going to die. She’ll kill him for this. His parents might even let her; he’s unsure. But this thing he didn’t ask for, this tattered, fraying cord, represents nothing less than a death sentence. And if Bella doesn’t kill him, the Dark Lord will.

He fails to form a response, tongue stuck to the roof of a mouth run dry. 

They may not see it, but he knows he cannot hide that it exists. Not for long. Not indefinitely. But for now, the best he can do is pretend nothing is different, that his life is unchanged and his soul is untethered. 

Granger laughs, a sound that acts as a vacuum, drawing them all in. Her head lolls, limp against the carpets, but her eyes have life. She’s laughing and she’s crying and she’s staring right at Draco. 

On a sputtering laugh-turned-sob, she utters a single syllable that seals his fate. Hers, too. “Why?” 

Bella abandons her hunched position over Granger, launching to her feet. Bile burns the back of Draco’s throat as he swallows it down, knees failing him as the magic connecting him and Granger pulls taut in a flash of agony that buckles him. 

His mother tries to pull him to his feet, hands hooked beneath his arms at the same time Bella’s hand finds his hair, nails scratching his scalp as she jerks his head back, face level with his. 

“What does she mean? Why is the girl asking questions of you, Draco? You’ve always been a spineless boy—what does she want with you? Are you helping them? Helping that filth?” Despite her rancid breath and horrid proximity—and the fact that his father has drawn his wand somewhere in the periphery—Draco cannot look his aunt in the eye. He looks beyond her, at the limp witch on the floor.

He does not give his words permission, but they flow from him in a flood. “No. Not her, no, no, no.” Draco thinks he might be crying, too. If he is, they are angry tears, grieving tears, tears that give form to the fear that has choked him since the moment the Dark Lord branded him as his own. His fear has a new shape now, and it’s Hermione Granger’s fault. His scalp burns where Bella yanks on his hair.

“Release my son,” Lucius spits, and of all things, Draco wonders if this is the first time his father has ever stood up for him, claimed responsibility for his protection. He’d certainly done no such thing in the Dark Lord’s presence.

The intensity behind Bella’s eyes flickers, near-black irises darting between Draco and Lucius. Then Bella glances to where Narcissa still hovers near his face, slender hands gripping his upper forearm with a force that will leave purpling bruises on his fair skin. 

He knows how much pressure it takes to prime a bruise in his flesh, be it from his own hands, his father’s, his aunt’s, or the Dark Lord’s.

In another blink, Bella has evidently determined that Lucius’s threat is empty, because her grip tightens on Draco’s hair again, hauling his head back and forcing him within an inch of her face.

“What does the girl want with you, Draco?” 

“I don’t—” he starts, voice breaking when Bella tugs harder. He feels hair ripping from its roots, a sharp sting that has him hissing against the pain. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. She’s nothing. No one. Kill her, for all I care. I don’t know anything.” His lies spill from a broken dam at the base of his throat, pushed to bursting by a sense of self-preservation overriding every other instinct he has.

Bella laughs and spittle strikes his cheek. She tears away from him, stalking in a circle between him and Granger. 

The gold cord dissolves and reforms around Bella’s steps. 

Draco can’t tear his eyes from it.

It tugs his chest, a subtle request, begging he close the distance.

And then, his mother’s voice in his ear.

“Draco,” she says, softly so that Bella does not hear. When he turns to her, he realizes her face hovers just as close as his aunt’s had. But Narcissa’s is a face of illumination, of concern. Not madness. 

In that moment, Draco knows his mother has figured him out. And of course she would, considering the bond she has with his father.

“The bond?” she asks. The question is a death sentence.

He attempts a denial, tongue stuck to his teeth. “I don’t know—”

But Bella inserts herself again, wild black curls wafting into Draco’s face.

Draco’s mouth snaps shut. Narcissa’s does as well. 

Distantly, through a roaring in his ears that must be Draco’s pulse—what else could it be?—he hears his father issue another threat, this time with his wand pressed against the side of Bella’s neck. She grins, eyes darting up to glance at him while the rest of her face remains impassive. 

As if the threat means nothing, her eyes flick back to Draco and Narcissa.

“What’s this? Are we having a family chat? Let’s chat, then.”

She lunges with the speed of a coiled snake, striking. Her clawed hands grab him by the throat and before he can even think to fight back, Draco’s shoulder connects with carpets, followed by his head. A moment later, a red stunner sizzles on the floor next to him and the grip on his neck releases. 

Draco rolls; his mother’s wand is out, pointed at Bella. Lucius steps forward, pulling Draco to his feet.

“Don’t you dare touch my son.” Narcissa looks moments from murdering her own sister. Maybe his parents won’t condemn him for this after all. 

“You tried to stun me,” Bella says with a cackle, dropping her own defensive wand position, shoulders and neck rolling like she’s stretching out. She lifts a hand, extends a single digit. She points it between them. Once at Narcissa, once at Lucius, and then once at Draco. She pauses there, drawing the moment out, before she pivots just enough to point once at where Granger lays. Bella looks like she’s enjoying herself, piecing it all together. 

“What’s going on here? Keeping secrets, are we? Not from family, surely?”

“Bella, please—”

“Please what, Cissy?”

Draco has never thought of his mother and his Aunt Bella as particularly similar. Bella has always been unsettling and incarcerated. His mad aunt locked away in the middle of an ocean. Then later, his mad aunt roaming his childhood home. And his mother has always been controlled, a regal kind of constant in his life. But now, this stare down happening between sisters, they wear identical, unyielding expressions.

Lucius’ grip on his shoulder tightens again. Quietly, in Draco’s ear. “A Mudblood?” The percussive force of blood burrows into Draco's eardrum. He sneers, flooded with rage. He jerks his head, just enough to catch his father’s gaze in a sideways glance. 

“It’s not as if I can help it,” Draco snaps. Too loud, it grabs Bella’s attention. His stomach turns. Already, he’s defending his position, trapped to arcane magic that burst into existence while his classmate screamed on his drawing room floor. 

A connection with her.

It looks like Bella might ask another question, but she stills when she opens her mouth. Draco is struck by how translucent her skin is, a ghostly white webbed by blue veins and dark shadows.

Her head tilts; she looks between them. Draco can nearly see the idea come alight behind the black holes her eyes have become.

Narcissa jumps in. “It can’t be helped, Bella. You know that, like with me and Lucius. It just—happens.” She looks like she wants to say more, explain more, but it becomes clear that the family magic, magic tied to her own bond, muzzles her. 

Bella doesn’t blink, only smiles. Body still, gaze predatory. 

“Draco, is it a soul bond? Finally happened for you, has it?” she asks, voice soft. He knows it’s a deception. “You look a little unwell, and you keep looking at—something.” She sweeps a finger between where he stands and where Granger lays. “Right there. What do you see?”

A pop in the cellars cuts her off. Lucius’s hand on Draco’s shoulder tightens. 

“Wormtail,” Lucius barks, and from the room’s far corner, the rat of a man appears. “Go and check on the cellars.”

“I don’t want none of this, just here for my reward—” Greyback starts from where he’s been stuck in observation. Draco had forgotten that Greyback and Wormtail were even in the room at all, trapped in his own panic.

Bella shoots several stunners at Greyback: a forceful demand that he not interfere. He falls to his knees, not fully stunned, but solidly out of commission. With a clatter, his wand rolls on the stone floor and comes to a rest where the carpets start.

“This is a family matter, mutt,” Bella spits. “And if you’re a very good dog, you can have the Mudblood when it’s time to dispose of her—”

She doesn’t finish, can’t. Because Ron Weasley bursts into the drawing room bellowing, with Harry Potter following quickly behind. The shock of their arrival stalls Bella long enough that Weasley strikes her with a disarming spell, sending her wand soaring into Potter’s hand. 

Draco drops to the floor on instinct, just in time to avoid the stunner that hits his father, toppling him over on the hearth. Another stunner sizzles into the carpet next to him. Poor aim from Potter, but enough motivation to push Draco back to his feet, defending himself out of necessity. But his shoes drag heavy, his gait ungainly, as he is irrationally occupied with not stepping on the golden cord on the floor. 

He only fires off a couple of spells, shoulder to shoulder with his mother, before Bella’s voice screeches them all to a halt.

“Stop or she dies!”

Like a blow to the solar plexus, the cord between him and Granger pulls taut. Bella holds her knife to Granger’s throat. “Drop your wands. Drop them or we’ll see exactly how filthy her blood is!”

A vicious, desperate part of Draco wishes Bella would do it, slice Granger open, let her bleed out, and release Draco from his circumstances. But even as that transient thought flits through his brain, the image nearly bowls him over, on the brink of retching from imagined, disproportionate grief.

Potter and Weasley eventually drop their wands, and Bella snaps at Draco to retrieve them. Instinct tells him to move, to follow her orders, but Draco’s legs have forgotten how. 

His mother’s hand finds his again, leaning into his shoulder. Her voice is low, but urgent.

“Go,” she says, a harsh whisper in his ear. “Bella will tell the Dark Lord and he will not be merciful. Draco, you must go. With them.” 

When he meets his mother’s eyes, he wonders which of them looks more terrified. He cannot see his own face, but he feels it. He feels the terror racing through his bloodstream, hot adrenaline searing his veins. He swallows and finally moves when Bella once again commands him to retrieve the wands. 

He doesn’t know what to do. Allying himself with Potter means nothing if Bella still has a knife to Granger’s throat. His stomach twists at the thought. Too soon, he finds himself in front of Weasley and Potter. He leans down, grabs what must be Wormtail’s wand, Bella’s wand, and Greyback’s lost one as well. 

With his own wand gripped in his left hand and the other three in his right, Draco turns back to Bella, uncertain what he should do.

He is spared of his decision-making by a grinding noise from the chandelier. It trembles, sways, and then crashes with a shatter on top of Granger, having been shoved by Bella directly into its path. Glass shards fragment, exploding.

For a confusing blink, Draco’s face stings, and he realizes flying glass has bitten into his cheeks. It takes him a moment, a single breath, to sort that pain from the agony traveling through the cord between him and Granger.

Weasley doesn’t hesitate, ripping a wand from Draco’s fist and launching himself towards the chandelier. Draco stops thinking. He follows orders. This time, his mother’s.

He turns and shoves the other two wands in his right hand at Potter, who barely spares him a blink of confusion as he takes the wands and reaches for Dobby— Dobby? —who evidently brought the chandelier down. 

Bella screams about the elf, about Draco and the wands, about Narcissa who hovers over Lucius’s stunned body. 

“Ron—Go!” Potter shouts. 

In a crack, he disapparates with Granger, and it’s as if all the oxygen has left the room. Terrible agony, but oddly peaceful, like Draco can finally think. 

It’s just enough clarity that he knows the only way he can follow is if he hijacks Potter’s apparition. He reaches out, grabs the little elf’s other hand, catching only a blink of shock in Potter’s face before the compression of disapparition sucks them away in a muffled crack, already distant to his own ears. 

Watching Potter’s surprise, Draco doesn’t see the knife.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione lurches, splutters. She searches for stability, for purchase on solid ground, but finds only wet sand slipping through her fingers. She’s cold, wet, disoriented, and gasping for breath after an unexpected apparition. At least, that’s what she thinks just happened. Part of her wonders if it’s all a trick, something happening inside her head, a cruel respite from unimaginable pain.

Her chest aches, a twisting sensation pulling at her sternum as she tries to prop herself up, hands sinking in soft sand as a trickling tide ebbs and flows beneath her.

Arms encircle her torso and warm air puffs against the back of her neck. Distantly, or perhaps from very nearby, she hears her name repeated like an incantation.

“Hermione. Hermione, are you—you’re not, I know. I’m so sorry. Hermione. Can you stand?”

The arms around her middle pull gently, helping to shift from her elbows to her palms, partly vertical. She wants to laugh at the way her whole body sizzles, nerves on fire. Laughter is the only answer. Her tears hadn’t worked. 

She doesn’t want to sit, let alone stand. She wants to sink into the sea. The cold water is a welcome relief. So she slumps again, either in defiance or exhaustion, half-prone in several inches of water.

“Hermione? Can you hear me? Hermione!”

It’s Ron who’s talking to her. Ron who’s hovering. Ron who cares; who screamed when she screamed. Who burst from the cellars and dueled Bellatrix Lestrange. Who saved her.

Clarity of consciousness crashes with the next pull of the tide. 

She’s not at Malfoy Manor anymore. 

Her head jerks, scanning the beach. Bellatrix isn’t with them. They’ve escaped.

She feels like crying now, but she has nothing left inside to let out. 

“Ron?” she asks, voice as haggard and hoarse in sound as in feel. “Where’s Harry? Is he—”

She needn’t finish. A crack echoes across sand and water, apparition exploding into existence several feet from where she lays in the tide with Ron beside her. 

The aching in her chest relents when a silver rope reappears, the same slithering thing that wormed its way into existence while Bellatrix had her on the drawing room floor. Madness, apparently, isn’t bothered by a change in scenery. 

The rope snaps taut, and when she follows its path, Hermione sees why. 

Draco Malfoy kneels in the sand, clutching his ribs. Blood speckles his pale face, more of it pouring down his side from where a knife— the knife —protrudes from his side. Harry hovers nearby, fighting the tide with stumbling steps. He’s holding out panicked hands as if he can’t quite decide how to help Malfoy. Or perhaps, if he even should. 

Ron’s arms around her middle loosen enough to forecast that he’s going to let go the second before he does so. Hermione braces herself against the sand as Ron jumps to his feet, advancing on Malfoy. Dimly, Hermione recognizes Bellatrix’s wicked, crooked wand clutched in Ron’s hand.

“He’s hurt—he’s—” Harry starts.

“He’s Malfoy—”

“He gave us the wands back. He—”

Malfoy slumps, one of his palms landing in the tide beneath him as his body pitches over, hunched. Hermione only realizes after she’s done it that her hand has stretched out again, reaching for the shining rope between them as if she might grab hold, pull it, and tug herself towards him.

It’s an instinct she doesn’t understand. It’s also one she doesn’t know how to fight, not with her muscles twitching and aching, an open wound on her arm inundated with salt water, and a brain steeped in the dangerous fog of having nearly given up.

Hermione slumps, too, practically laying in the shallow water. Electric currents sear along her muscle fibers, forcing them to flex, to release, to flex again. If she had anything left in her stomach, she’s certain she would be throwing it all up right there on the beach. She vaguely remembers vomiting already, all over soft carpets while a mad woman cackled above her. 

Ron lunges. The next second, his fist cracks against Malfoy’s jaw. 

The silver rope flares bright, but neither Harry nor Ron seem to notice it as Malfoy tips backward, dropping his wand in the sand. He grips the dagger in his side with both hands, evidently unconcerned about the blow to his face. 

With a shout, Harry throws himself between them. His shoulder takes the brunt of Ron’s redoubled momentum, knocking them both over as they land in the surf.

“Stop! Ron—he’s hurt.”

“He hurt her—”

“Bellatrix was the one—and we don’t know—Ron, stop fighting me! He needs help.”

Silver glitters in Hermione’s vision as the boys struggle; Harry holds Ron back as his attempts to lunge at Malfoy grow more and more feeble. 

Saltwater surges up Hermione’s nose. She chokes, gagging. At some point, her head had slipped too close to the surface and a rolling tide took its opportunity to attack. Suddenly, Ron’s arms are around her waist again, pulling her into a sitting position: her back against his chest.

He mutters in her ear: repetitions of her name, platitudes about how she’ll be okay.

An inescapable weariness wants her to sink back beneath the waves. She’s curious about the silver rope, wants to see more of it, but can’t seem to keep her eyes open. They slip shut as she rests her head against Ron’s shoulder.

“Do you see it?” she asks. 

“See what, Hermione? What do you see—Harry!” 

Hermione winces behind closed lids as Ron’s body shifts, his chest propelling a shout. 

“I know,” Harry responds. He sounds distant. “Dobby,” Harry says. “Can you get Bill and Fleur? We need help—I don’t—I don’t think either of them should apparate again—”

“Who cares about Malfoy,” Ron mutters somewhere against Hermione’s hair as the tide whooshes around her. If Harry hears him, he does not respond.

Hermione never noticed the line between consciousness and unconsciousness before. But she sees it now, a silvery stain behind her eyes as she slips, sinks. And when it comes, it’s quiet.

 

Draco

 

Draco grunts, eyes screwed shut. Saltwater stings his nose as he focuses on his breathing, on a fleeting sense of consciousness as Potter hauls him to his feet. 

Blackness encroaches on his vision, beach darkening. 

What started as hot pain in his side flushes cold, bordering on numb. He tingles from toes to tongue. And when Potter tries to lead him forward, frantic encouragements that he put one foot in front of the other, Draco decides this is a fine time to die.

Bella was going to do it.

The Dark Lord most certainly will.

At least now his parents won’t have to live with the shame.

And neither will he.

Maybe Potter will send him off to sea. Or bury him in a sand dune. Anything would be better than becoming food for a snake. 

His foot drags in the sand. Gritty, wet resistance weighs down the toe of his shoe. When he falls, he suspects he won’t get back up.

 

 

Surviving was unexpected. The resulting imprisonment is not. Draco realizes he is considered an enemy, perhaps a war criminal: a soldier in an opposing army. He cannot be trusted. To some degree, he must be dangerous.

It’s laughable.

Draco has gone from being something of a prisoner in his own family home—and before that, his school—to being a much more literal prisoner in a tiny beach cottage.

He has had several days of solitude to categorize, evaluate, and rank his personal collection of woes.

First and foremost, they’ve taken his wand. He thinks Weasley snatched it off the beach while Draco was bleeding into saltwater and seashells. He hasn’t seen it since.

Second, they’ve locked, warded, and silenced him in a tiny room with only Fleur Delacour, of all people, tending his wounds and bringing him his meals. He hasn’t thought about Fleur Delacour since his fourth year, and he has no idea how she fits into this place.

Third, the wound in his ribs refuses to heal because Aunt Bella is a massively psychotic cunt. That’s really the long and short of it on that front.

Fourth, because his side is constantly oozing, bleeding, and otherwise improperly healing, he cannot leave his bed. His legs ache, restless and demanding that he move. He cannot lay on his side; he can barely shift without something inside him exploding in agony. His spine feels fused into a single rigid column of bone. 

Stillness is agony. 

Bedrest transfigures his own body into a prison cell. The locks and wards mean nothing when he’s wasting away inside his own bag of bones.

And lastly, his Dark Mark is killing him; possibly in a very literal way. He can’t tell. It’s why they’ve silenced the room. Every hour on the hour, he receives a summons, what is effectively a fugitive search party. Bella will have told the Dark Lord what happened in the drawing room, the thing Draco refuses to think about. Even now, with a golden cord slithering from his chest to the floor beside him, every ounce of Draco’s magic begs him to answer the Dark Lord’s call, knowing it’s a summons to his own death sentencing. 

The compulsion is slowly driving him insane. It burns like fire, lighting him up from the inside out and reducing him to smoldering remains with a dry, cracked throat from the screams he can’t hold back.

Fleur brings him food, brings him water, brings him cautious kindness. Unlike the tall, scarred ginger who hovers in the doorway while she works. 

Draco hisses when she lifts his shirt to examine the bandages around his ribs. They’re waiting on a potion to counteract the cursed blade; until then, it’s wound management only.

“How are you feeling today, Draco?” she asks.

“Peachy.”

“Ze pain?”

“Lovely as ever.”

“And ze Mark?”

He wants to snap, but he suspects a large part of his isolation is tied to the fact that they cannot ignore his connection to the Dark Lord when he is being so regularly summoned. He doesn't want to lose his mind locked in this room.

She notices his hesitation. “Well?”

“Less frequent.”

“What does that mean?” the ginger asks. Draco suspects he’s a Weasley based on the red hair and general sense of poverty. 

“It hasn’t been every hour.”

“Every other?”

Draco resists the nasty comment begging to be snarled. Instead, with the grace of a man held prisoner in a charming little beach cottage: “Less than.”

“When will they assume you’re dead?”

Draco grits his teeth and lifts his chin. He has nothing left but a veneer of pride. “I don’t know.”

“Why did you defect?”

This song and dance again. The maybe-Weasley asks it every day. It is the sole joy left in Draco’s life to respond with a spitting, “Fuck off.” 

Potter has probably told them everything: from barely avoiding identifying them to his parents to returning the wands. Draco has nothing to add. Nothing will change whatever opinions they already have of him.

And there’s no world in which he’s telling them about the gold cord, not that he could say much if he wanted to. He won’t even look at it when Fleur and her ginger spectre are in the room. 

The Weasley leaves as Fleur wraps up her work: rotting ribs back in stasis as they wait for a potion to counteract the curse. 

“It was very brave of you to step in front of zat knife, you know.”

Draco rolls his eyes. He’s tired of her trying to be nice to him. They won’t let him die, but they aren’t letting him live, either. 

“If I’d known about it, I would have grabbed Potter instead of the elf.”

“Dobby has been asking to speak to you. He was standing on ze chandelier. He says you saved his life.”

Draco doesn’t dignify such absurdity with a response. He returns to lamenting over his circumstances and pointedly ignoring the worst of them, the one he will not acknowledge. Despite his excellent avoidance, it glitters all the same. 

 

Hermione

 

The first time Hermione wakes after losing consciousness on the beach, it’s with a scream in her throat, silver exploding from behind closed lids and into the room with her. She jerks to a sitting position, stiff limbs protesting. The rope is still there, sliding beneath the door and out into the corridor. She glimpses more of it when Ron bursts into her room.

She blinks rapidly, breath heaving inside her chest. The silver fades, an echo. 

Hot fear flushes her, up and down and up again; it’s dizzying. When she lifts a hand to cradle her head, she sees the bandages wrapped around her forearm.

Ron is by her side before she can even think a question, let alone speak one. 

“You’re okay, Hermione. You’re safe.”

She doesn’t feel safe. Her heart hammers a painful beat against her breastbone. Her own pulse sounds like warning drums, a march towards war.

The heat in her limbs recedes, pulling back towards her chest, slowly dissipating in a crackling sort of fuzz, like white noise on a television screen.

With a deep breath, Hermione forces herself to relax, leans back against her pillows as she realizes for the first time that it’s the middle of the day. Flimsy, diaphanous curtains fight a losing battle against an outpouring of sunlight forcing its way in.

She notices Ron is holding her hand only after the fact, after she’s settled beneath her blankets again. He sits on the edge of her bed, wide blue eyes watching her carefully. 

Nausea gurgles at the base of her throat. 

She’s not sure what he expects, but everything inside her aches.

Harry appears in the doorway, closing it with a soft click before leaning against it.

Both boys look so thin. She probably does, too.

Harry speaks from across the room, eyeing her with caution. “How are you feeling?” He winces. “Probably a dumb question, all things considered, but…”

Ron squeezes her hand, speaks before she can answer. “Fleur healed most of the surface wounds, the cuts from the glass. Gave you a potion for some of the—to help with the aftereffects of the”—he coughs, strangled for the word—“ cruciatus used on you. Your arm though...” he clears his throat this time but doesn’t continue.

Hermione looks down at her arm as it rests atop a beach themed quilt. The brown bandage is unexceptional, but she sees the darkened stain, the shift in shade, indicative of moisture. She’s seeping, and she can feel it.

“It’ll take longer,” Harry says, stepping forward. “Bill needs to get the right ingredients, but he said Remus knows how to handle cursed blades. They’ll have a salve for you in a couple of weeks. Malfoy’s is behaving the same.”

“Malfoy?” The question tears from her throat without her permission. She wants to shove it back down, gobble it up. Banish the question from her convalescence. The first word she says is Malfoy’s name, and it makes her sick.

The silver rope slithers again. With several aggravated blinks, it dims. She doesn’t trust her vision, barely trusts her own mind. Tightness constricts the back of her throat. The boys don’t react, clearly noticing nothing. Whatever this rope is, it’s hers and hers alone.

Ron’s grip on her hand tightens again. “He’s here,” Ron says. “Defected because he’s a spineless git.”

Harry sighs. “He didn’t identify me. He gave us the wands back. Threw himself in front of a knife as we disapparated—”

“I don’t buy that last bit.”

“Either way, he ended up with a knife in his side.”

“He’s here?” Hermione asks. She’s lagging behind in the conversation, still processing bits the boys have already moved on from.

“Fleur healed him.” Ron’s frustration is palpable in the way he punctuates the word him with a shift in his posture, leaning closer to Hermione. He brushes her hair away from her face. 

“We should let you rest,” comes Harry’s voice. But all Hermione can see is Ron, hovering over her with worry.

Reluctantly, Ron agrees. “Yeah. You should rest.” His fingers linger in her curls, other hand pulsing pressure against her own. 

She doesn’t want to be left alone. 

She doesn’t want them with her, either.

She needs sleep and can’t close her eyes.

She wants to scream but finds she has no voice. 

 

 

Everything—the world, her body, her mind—feels a little less dire the next time Hermione wakes. Day has given way to night, but which day and night have changed guard, she can’t reliably say. 

She wakes sluggishly, as if emerging from a tar pit: overheated and sticky, struggling towards the surface in search of an escape. She suspects dreamless sleep or a calming draught, or perhaps a combination of the two. Whole days could have passed without her knowing. As much as such a thing might have once set her brain spinning into action, in the quiet darkness of her beachfront bedroom, with the gentle white noise of ocean waves somewhere in the distance, she struggles to care.

Thirst drives her to sit, then to stand. Her left arm flashes with white hot pain beneath her bandages, ripping a hiss from her throat. The sear echoes in her nerve endings, ricocheting through muscles that remember pain far too keenly. She swallows, blinks, tries to separate memory pain from present sensation.

Only when she looks at the floor does she realize the faint silver glow in her room is not from the moon, but from the metallic, shimmering rope hazily connected to her chest. It slips down her body and dances in a gentle wave against the floorboards, disappearing beneath her door.

Of all the things she might have chalked up to the madness and confusion fogging her recent memory, this silver rope was highest on her list. 

Not imaginary, it seems. 

She sweeps her foot out, drifting bare toes across the glowing strands. It shimmers, dissipates, and reforms as if her interruption means nothing. Panic prickles somewhere in the pit of Hermione’s stomach, and she finds herself grateful for the lingering potion effects dampening its impact. 

She has suspicions. Several of them. That this is nothing more than an extended, trauma-induced hallucination, for one. Alternatively, it could be some kind of archaic curse, the sort she’s read about, outlawed for centuries now, that binds a witch to a wizard as a part of marriage negotiations. Even more obscure, she has suspicions about arcane, rare branches of soul magic that, until this very moment, she’s never bothered to believe in. Much like Divination, some magicks reek of self-congratulation, of manifestation by the power of belief and nothing more. 

She bends, hands and knees on the ground, and lowers her face to the rope. It gives off light; the entire room undulates in a diffused silver glow, ebbing and flowing in fractions. But she can’t touch it, not in any meaningful way. She can sweep her hands through it and she feels nothing, can only watch when the luminosity dips as fibers dissolve and reform. If she blinks rapidly, tries to banish it, it flits out of existence. The effect is only temporary, ping-ponging in and out of her vision on the next several successive blinks. Light then echo, echo then light.

Hermione inhales and the rope glows brighter, exhales and it dims. She tracks the way the rope slithers, writhing against the floor, and times the pulses with her own heartbeat. Incomprehensible impulses press against her ribs. She inhales again; her room glows brighter by a shade. She exhales, darker again. Her mind wanders, questions about correlation, causation, and concepts of free will rattling around her head.

She falls asleep like that, pulled back beneath the tar by whatever potions her friends have given her, cheek pressed against floorboards specked with tiny grains of sand. When Harry and Ron wake her in the morning, helping her back up into the bed, they make no mention of the silver rope. 

When they ask her how she feels, she makes no mention of the ache in her chest.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

Weeks pass. 

Most nights, when he’s feeling especially sorry for himself, Draco wishes he’d died on that beach. The isolation and the pain and the stiff, ever present ache in his joints can’t be any better than death. They’ve drawn it out much longer than Bella or the Dark Lord would have, but letting him die slowly is functionally the same as killing him. 

His hopes aren’t high for a real cure for his ribs. He suspects the promise of a potion is nothing more than a carrot dangling in front of his ravenous face, an incentive to give them whatever information they seek.

He knows nothing, and that’s probably the worst part.

He expects they’ll shift their tactics soon enough: less asking, more demanding. They aren’t getting the answers they want, mostly because he has very little to give. Any day now, Draco expects Bill—now confirmed as a Weasley—to draw his wand and force something of substance out of him. It’s become unsettling, really, how long they’ve dragged out this promise of a cure for his wounds and the idea that they won’t, ultimately, bury him in the sand. 

Every day, it’s the same:

Why did you defect?

What are You-Know-Who’s plans?

Why did you defect?

How many Death Eaters are in his army?

Why did you defect?

How many Death Eaters are staying at Malfoy Manor?

Why did you defect?

And every day:

Fuck off.

I don’t know.

Fuck off.

I don’t know.

Fuck off.

I don’t know.

Fuck off.

Defecting makes it sound like Draco had a choice. He’s got enough shredded pride struck to his bones that he’ll let them keep thinking that. Choice, fucking hilarious.

The shift in tactics, when it finally comes, doesn’t look how Draco expects. It looks like Remus Lupin, notable werewolf, Order lackey, and former Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.

Lupin sits on a conjured chair next to Draco’s prison-bed; Weasley looms in the door frame as he always does. For an absurd moment, Draco wonders if Lupin will tend to his ribs and offer him soup and crusty bread like Fleur does. 

Instead, he pulls a vial from his ratty jacket pocket and sets it on the bedside table.

“Hello, Draco. I’ve been told you don’t have much to say.”

Draco’s ribs do not appreciate his derisive snort.

Lupin crosses his legs and leans back in his conjured chair. “I recall you having quite a lot to say in school. A close group of friends. Opinions you were more than willing to share.”

“Not anymore.”

“I see.”

Draco looks to the vial. “Is that real?”

“How do you mean?”

“Will that heal my side or is it just a prop to convince me to talk? I’ve already told the ginger and his wife: I don’t know anything useful.”

Lupin sighs. He carries heavy bags under shrewd eyes that, despite their weariness, watch Draco carefully.

“Where do your loyalties lie, Draco?”

Not quite the same question as, Why did you defect? Draco finds his answer is not quite the same, as well. Exhaustion forces embarrassing honesty from him.

“Wherever they must.” He almost looks to the cord running from his chest, over the side of the bed, beneath Lupin's chair, between Weasley’s feet, and out into the corridor. But he resists.

“What does that mean?”

Irritation swells. “Exactly what you think it means. I never have a choice. I’m here now; isn’t that enough? Are you going to let me rot because you don’t like my answers?”

Lupin’s posture sinks in what looks suspiciously like disappointment. “We wouldn’t do that to you, Draco.”

All this faux sympathy is no better than explicit threats from Death Eaters at the Manor. At least Draco had more freedom there. He doesn’t respond, just tilts his chin back, eyes on the ceiling. It’s the most he’s able to disconnect from a conversation he does not wish to have.

Lupin sighs again, stands, and shares a look with Weasley. Anxiety spreads: cold tendrils crawling through Draco’s chest. They’ve had enough of him; it’s time to trade the carrot for the stick. Or the wand, as it were.

But then, Fleur appears and busies herself at Draco’s bedside while Lupin and Weasley engage in a whispered conversation at the door.

Draco doesn’t believe it when Fleur picks up the vial.

Nor does he believe it when she unstoppers it, peels back the quilt, and lifts Draco’s shirt. 

He holds his breath, world moving at a strange pace, slow like syrup.

Then it happens too fast. 

After weeks of waiting, his ribs are healed. A moment sparks with the sudden belief that perhaps he won’t die in this room. It nearly chokes him, this novel sensation that feels too much like optimism. But it fizzes quickly, smothered by the look on Lupin’s face. On Weasley’s face. On Fleur’s. 

They lock his door. Ward it. Silence it. Nothing changes apart from the sudden lack of pain in his side. Later, his forearm erupts with the fire of another summons.

 

Hermione

 

Hermione is only tangentially aware of time passing since her first night in the cottage. Days that bleed into weeks. At least two of them, maybe three. She’s not sure. She can do very little but force her way through something like normalcy while she heals. They keep talking about healing like it’s a path she’s on. Like it’s something with a start and therefore a finish, too. 

Like they expect her healing to end and for her to be healed.

She doesn’t think it’s working. She insists on using Bellatrix’s wand because if she has it, it can’t be used to hurt her, not again. Every night, she locks and silences her room, lest her nightmares wake the rest of the cottage, which she now knows plays host not just to her, Ron, Harry, and Malfoy, but to Dean, Luna, Mr. Ollivander, Dobby, and Griphook the Goblin, too. 

Most people share rooms, but she has her own.

Malfoy has his own room, too. Locked and silenced just like hers, but for different reasons.

They don’t know what to do with him, don’t trust him, certainly, so his room stays locked, and he locked within it.

The silver rope shivers every time she passes his door. Curiosity whispers to her, begs her to follow it.

Lupin arrives with a healing potion for her arm near the end of April, finally closing the red, raw slashes that refused to heal. 

And suddenly, that’s that. She realizes that’s the finish line they’ve all been barreling towards. If they can’t see her scars, then surely they must be gone. 

Hermione sits in her room on the second to last day of April, staring at the sea. Harry has suffered much worse, she knows. For much longer, too. Perhaps not in exactly the same way, but he knows the cruciatus, knew it years ago. Has known it relatively recently. He’s lived with the knowledge that someone—probably the most terrible someone there is—has wanted him dead for his entire life, and has made multiple attempts on it.

Harry moves on. He gets up every day, some more sluggish than others, but he gets up. He converses with Bill and Ron; he talks to Ollivander and Griphook; he tries to figure out how to move forward.

Harry has momentum. Hermione feels like she has none. 

She taps at the tiny seashell fragments mixed with mortar in her windowsill. She bends, pressing her ear to them, wondering if she hears the ocean because it’s so close by, or because the shells are willing to share their magic with her.

When Ron knocks on her door, she straightens. She smiles as if absolutely nothing is wrong, even though everything is. 

Harry has had a thought about wands and wants to talk to Ollivander again. Ron asks if she wants to join them. She doesn’t want, but she will. She has to push through this. Harry is. Ron is. She can, too.

She ignores the silver rope trying to trip her as she walks by the silenced room holding Malfoy. She hasn’t asked about him since the first time she woke. Nevertheless, questions eat at her.

Fear of madness keeps her from asking about her silver companion. No one else sees it, that much she knows. She watches her friends’ expressions whenever it slips back into her awareness.

Later that night, after cobbling together a plan involving polyjuice and Hermione wearing the face of the woman who tortured her, she thinks for the first time, the first traitorous time—she’s done so well avoiding such thoughts for so long—that they might not survive this. 

This, being a war. Her, being a soldier. 

All of it, stark and sudden and real in a way that had never felt quite so crippling before.

 

 

Hermione has her knees pulled to her chest. The lumpy armchair with its scratchy upholstery sits farthest from the cottage door, and Hermione in it. To her left, Bill leans against a cabinet at the mouth of the small, attached kitchen: arms crossed, face carefully neutral. Fleur stands beside him, one hand resting on her husband’s arm; she leans too, her head to his shoulder. She looks anything but relaxed. Anxiety has sealed her mouth into a tight, tense line.

Seeing this, Hermione relaxes her own jaw, forces the muscles around her mouth to soften. With effort, she refrains from biting at her bottom lip. She’s already torn it to bits, red and raw from her idle thinking action turned destructive habit. 

She finds herself dragging her nails down her inner forearm instead, where cursed wounds bled into her bandages mere days before. It still aches sometimes, phantom sensations of pain or itching or existence she can’t quite shake.

In her periphery, the silver rope slithers against the floor, winding up the stairs and out of sight.

“There are too many variables, Harry.” Lupin sits in an old rocking chair across the room, leaned forward with fingers steepled and brows furrowed as he, and the rest of them, listen to Harry present their plan.

Their last ditch effort.

A hail mary.

A shot in the dark.

“There always are,” Harry says. His conviction feels like leadership. She catches the hint of desperation, the exhaustion he’s keeping carefully corralled behind a determined veneer. “Dumbledore gave us a job to do. This is our best chance at doing it.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Bill says, eyes on Ron. “I can only give you so much information. Security protocols are updated regularly, and old family vaults are always the most secure.”

Hermione’s voice feels foreign when she speaks, her confidence misplaced. She surprises herself with how sure she sounds, how that certainty is so at odds with the paper thin confidence she arms herself with.

“We don’t have many other choices,” she says, “or ideas. We need to get into that vault and we can’t tell you why. If it works, we’ll be a step closer to finishing this.”

Lupin sighs. “If you would only wait until Kingsley is back from—”

“There isn’t time to wait,” Harry says, volume rising. He looks to Hermione, who unfolds her knees and plants her feet on uneven floorboards. 

“You’ve said yourself that we’re stretched too thin,” she adds, looking directly at Professor Lupin. “We’re running out of resources. People. Morale.” Time. They were running out of time. 

At this, Professor Lupin shares a look with Bill. “Any word on the international apparition points?”

To escape. If it comes to that. Hermione only barely suppresses a shiver. Dread enters the room like a shadowed intruder, lingering in crevices, whispering wicked things about their chances of survival, about their odds of actually winning this war.

Bill shakes his head. “Nothing official. But Dad thinks they’ve all been shut down. Anything out of Great Britain has been warded and locked. And not from our end.”

“What does that mean?” Ron leans forward in his seat on the sofa. He does a worse job sounding determined and sure like Harry, but he’s trying. 

No one answers, not at first. Several sets of eyes avoid Ron as if they can avoid the answer by way of avoiding the question. Fleur even turns away, slipping into the kitchen, probably to scrounge together something resembling a nutritious meal with their dwindling supplies. 

Finally, Professor Lupin responds. “It means the international magical community has abandoned us, at least for now. We’re a threat and we’re being contained.”

The comparison barrels to the forefront of Hermione’s brain before she can cut it off. She doesn't want to think it, doesn’t want to make the connection. But she hasn’t had much control over her own cognition these days, so it’s no surprise that she thinks it anyway.

They’re no different than Malfoy, locked away in that room upstairs. Only their prison is island shaped. And they’re running out of time and resources to save themselves. 

Before Professor Lupin leaves, he slips a vial of polyjuice potion into Hermione’s hands with offers of good luck that sound more hollow than encouraging. His hug with Harry lingers; it feels like goodbye.

In less than twenty four hours she will wear Bellatrix’s skin; she will attempt to break into Gringotts; and if she is very, very lucky, she will survive.

The problem is: she doesn’t feel lucky. Not at all.

 

 

The sense that she might actually die drives Hermione from her bed around the same time the moon is framed between her curtains. It glows the same color as the rope: silver in her window, silver slithering against the floor.

Carefully, she swings her legs over the side of her bed. She lets one foot touch the floor, applies weight, waits for a creak. Nothing. She lets her other foot join, more weight, no creaks. She shivers, either from a chill or nerves, she’s not sure.

She wraps the quilt from her bed around her shoulders and rises. Several steps later, her hand rests on the doorknob. She looks down; silver travels from her chest to her feet, and then a subtle pulse under the door. She turns the knob a millimeter at a time, and every tiny friction-wrought noise shoots a bolt of paranoia through her. 

She pulls, steps back with cautious, careful toes against the floor, and swings the door open. 

She has no need for a lumos when a silvery rope leads her way. She follows it to the end of the hall, enraptured, and still not quite believing she’s alone in seeing it.

At the end of the corridor, she turns to the right, away from the narrow, rickety stairwell, and towards the dead end and the single door occupying it. The rope stretches from where she stands, travels along the floorboards, and slips under the door and out of sight.

Hermione pauses when she reaches the door, nose nearly touching the wooden panel.

She sinks, first to her knees, then fully to the floor, back wedged against the wall as she pulls the quilt tighter around her shoulders. Her fingers glide through the silvery rope against the ground, feeling nothing. Every time, she expects it to tickle or have texture, maybe temperature. It only has light and a persistence to exist that she both does and does not want to understand.

She walks her fingers on the floor beside the rope, casually marveling. When she reaches the door, she places a palm against it, feeling the hum of magic holding something in, or perhaps, everything out. With a swallow solidifying her choice before she actively makes it, Hermione pulls Bellatrix’s wand from the extendable pocket in her pajama bottoms. 

She has to get used to the feel of this, after all, if she intends on passing it off as her own while polyjuiced.

Quietly, she cancels the room’s silencing charm, poised to recast in the event she is met with screams. After a month of silence, she doesn’t know what to expect from this room and its recalcitrant occupant.

Eerie silence is only apparent in absentia; subtle sounds buzz to life through the door.

She watches the rope shiver, dissipate, and reform in the same way it does when she steps through it. She leans her forehead against the wood. Her chest yearns in a way that hurts, that burns, that terrifies.

“Are you there?” she whispers. She regrets it the moment she asks. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.

Malfoy says nothing, but she knows he is. She can nearly see him, can imagine him so clearly in her mind’s eye. Just on the other side of the door. The rope sways, shifting against the ground.

“What is this?” she asks because she can’t help herself. 

The curiosity, the unknowing, eats her alive. She doesn’t think she imagines the huff of a single condescending laugh through the door. Annoyance balloons at the base of her throat. She hates the idea that he knows something she doesn’t, and that he’s reveling in it.

She needs research. She needs books. Surely an answer must exist: some old, obscure magic just waiting for her to identify it. It almost feels like she should know already, but doesn’t. As if the answer is right there on the tip of her tongue and she’s meandering around the wrong words, wading through a misinterpretive swamp.

“You know what it is, don’t you? I saw your face.” Her words shoot out of her on a fierce whisper.

She hears a scrape, something like a nail on wood. She doesn’t think he’ll answer. And then he does.

“Of course I know.”

“Tell me.”

Another muffled laugh. “No.”

“Why do you have to be difficult, Malfoy?”

His laugh is meaner this time. She imagines it sticking to the door, spreading like a stain. Anger rushes her.

But her chest aches. And this rope, this visual manifestation of some kind of magic thrumming between them, between Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy, it must mean something, she just doesn’t know what.

“Do you see it, too?” she asks as her fingers connect with the door in an irritated sort of tap. Something to get the fury out of her muscles, directed at him through an inch and a half of solid wood. 

He doesn’t answer. Only silence. 

She should have taken Divination more seriously. Maybe given it another year. This unknown magic reeks of that discipline, of sensation and inner eyes: souls and omens and signs.

“We’re leaving tomorrow.” She doesn’t know why she’s telling him, but part of her feels compelled to. And she hates that, hates feeling like she doesn’t have complete control over her own actions, ruled by impulse, not reason. “You’re not a part of we, by the way,” she adds, with a matter-of-factness she knows sounds swottish and snobby, even at a whisper.

More silence.

For some reason, she needs him to know she’s leaving with Harry and Ron. That they’re going to do something stupid. Something completely reckless.

She hates that she wants to give him an explanation.

But then: “Where?” He asks it quietly. She almost doesn’t hear.

“I can’t say. Especially not to you.”

More silence. Again.

“We have work to do,” she says as if that explains it.

She imagines she can hear him chewing his words, considering them, selecting which ones he will spit in her direction. 

She drags her fingers around the metallic, glowing rope, watching it swirl, undulating until it disappears beneath the door. A moment later, it sways again, momentum propelled out of the room and in her direction. 

“And if you don’t come back?” he asks as she stares at the rope.

“Bill and Fleur will still be here. Dean and Luna already went back to school. I’m not sure about Ollivander.” She bites her tongue, she’s already explaining more than she planned to. But another part of her supposes he deserves to know the worst case scenario. “If things go badly, though. Really badly, they’ll come too, I’m sure.”

She hears a thud; it sounds like a fist on the ground. “And I’ll be locked in here? They took my wand.”

Hermione’s chest tightens, clenches as the rope stills, tense and taut. She has an absurd notion that if she plucks it, she might hear a note, music like from a guitar string. Or perhaps a violin. She swallows, wondering if she might be sick.

Her teeth grind together, jaw stiff as she stands. She can’t be there any longer. 

On her feet again, she leans against the door, almost entirely against her better judgment, possibly her will. She hears shuffling, suspects perhaps he’s stood as well.

“If we all die, the wards on this place will fall and you’ll be free.”

She says it simply and casts a new silencing charm before he can respond. When she walks back to her room, she doesn’t look at the ground, doesn’t look behind her, pretends she sees no silver.

She closes herself in her room before she can go back and enumerate her fears just so they’ve been said. 

The next day, she will attempt to break into Gringotts, to steal something dangerous from a very important vault. She has no idea what will come after, but it feels a lot like dread in the pit of her stomach.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

Draco thinks it’s been two days. Possibly one, maybe three. The warding spells they keep on his windows prevent any light from getting in, so he can’t even measure time with sunsets and sunrises. He only has his body’s own internal clock which, after a month of barely moving, favors sleeping at all opportunities.

What he knows with certainty is that this is the longest they’ve gone without feeding him. Fleur came by the morning after Granger showed up with her questions, brought him food, and then locked and silenced his room again. Without the ability to hear beyond his four walls, he can’t tell if there are any noises inside the cottage at all, but he suspects they may have left him alone. 

When sound rushes back into his room, Draco doesn’t move. He barely breathes, pauses his pacing on the thatched rug.

Ambient noise is almost deafening. 

He hears the sea beyond the cottage, the rustle of beach grasses, gulls squawking. 

But he hears no voices, no footsteps, no spellwork.

No golden cord, either. Granger left exactly like she said she would. Too much distance and the cord disappears: its magical usefulness limited to proximity. Wherever Granger went, she’s stayed far enough away that the cord hasn’t so much as blinked into existence for a single second. He’d just barely gotten used to it, spending a month with it glittering in his periphery as they shared a house. 

Draco approaches his window with caution, surprised to see dawn breaking over the ocean’s blue horizon. The fact that he can see anything at all confirms that the wards holding him in his room have definitely fallen.

Shock sucks the breath from his lungs.

In several deep strides, he reaches the door and throws it open. A few more steps and he’s launched himself down the stairs and into the living room. 

The door outside has been left open and there isn’t a single soul in sight. He forces himself to breathe, to resist a temptation to swallow air and claw the panicked feeling from his own flesh. 

Halfheartedly, he ransacks the living room in search of his wand, and perhaps, a clue to tell him what has happened. 

He finds nothing.

If we all die, the wards on this place will fall and you’ll be free.

He runs to the door, bathing in a fresh morning breeze. By his count, he hasn’t been outside for nearly a month. Maybe more. The relief passes, a tiny blip of comfort. 

If we all die, the wards on this place will fall and you’ll be free.

Granger isn’t one of them. She’s not dead. He’d know if she was. And he wants to scream, curse his selfish fucking ancestors that he should even care about her survival. 

It’s not fair; it’s not fair; it’s not fair. 

He sprints up a modest dune, bare feet sinking comically in the sand. He hadn’t even thought to put his shoes on, not that they would have helped him much. He’d been dressed for the Easter Holidays before he’d ended up here: trousers, button up, and dragonhide wingtips. If not for the fact that he’d had to haul those snatchers to the gardens when Bella started interrogating Granger, he would have been wearing a suit jacket, too. But as it stands, lugging unconscious bodies, even with the aid of magic, was easier without an extra formal layer.

He sees the ocean and nothing else, wind whipping tiny sand particles up the dunes’s slope and into his face. It stings, but at least it’s something. 

If we all die, the wards on this place will fall and you’ll be free.

Who’s dead and why? Who managed the wards? Was it the older Weasley? Fleur? She’d been the last one to cast the spells on his room, as far as he knows. As much as Draco doesn’t want to think the thought, he hopes it isn’t Potter. If Potter is dead, then they don’t have a chance. Either way, Draco isn’t sure he could ever go back to his family, not now that Bella knows about his entirely non-consensual connection to Hermione Granger. 

A crack startles him from his reverie, sinking in a sand dune as the sun escapes the horizon. More distant than the crack, he hears a crash coming from the cottage. 

Draco has no wand. Running up a single sand dune has left him winded. Now that he’s finally free of that horrid room, he has no intentions of going back in. He wants nothing to do with whatever noises are coming from the cottage that had been his prison.

But then he blinks and the golden cord flares to life in front of him. Suddenly, his chest feels like it’s on fire, the kind of heat that licks at his ribs and toasts his chilled core: like finding a campfire after a long night in the cold.

He sprints down the dune and stops at the cottage door.

Granger sits on the living room floor, back against a sofa leg, screaming into a pillow.

Draco doesn’t move from his place by the door frame, stunned at the force by which sobs rack her whole body, face buried in fabric and stuffing. She’s filthy, with soot and dust and a general layer of grime covering her from head to toe.

Her mass of hair is still technically braided, but only such. Blood trickles down the side of her face, from somewhere above her hairline, through her temple, down her cheek, and curling beneath her chin. It’s splattered all over her sleeve and stains the pillow currently muffling her scream.

Draco doesn’t know what to do. He wants to turn and leave and never look back, never see or worry or think about the likes of Hermione Granger so long as he may live. But the golden cord between them won’t allow for that. As much as his mind may want, the rest of him can’t. 

He puts two and two together. 

If we all die, the wards on this place will fall and you’ll be free.

“Weasley is dead then? Or was it his wife that managed the wards?”

He should regret being so cold, but he can’t bring himself to spare tact for the people who kept him prisoner for a month, no matter how nicely they healed his wounds in the end.

Granger flinches, head snapping up, pillow landing on the floor. He watches the agony roll through her, watches comprehension dawn not unlike how the sun has so recently done. 

He suspects she has no one left, based on what he observes. She cries harder, breath coming in great heaves as her shoulders shake and she claws at her chest, her throat.

The noises she’s making pin him to his spot, still several feet from her in the doorway. It’s disgusting, how she’s falling apart. He latches onto that feeling, a familiar sense of superiority, of disgust. If he lets himself think of anything else, like the fact that this scale of a breakdown must mean that Potter has failed and the Dark Lord has—no. He can’t think it. 

She pitches forward, bracing herself against the floor, one fist distorting the shape of the decorative pillow as she twists it in a vice grip.

He knows not to touch her. The magic thrumming between them begs him to move, to comfort, to touch. But physical contact is just the first step in a vicious cascade rooted in arcane magic. 

He steps closer. He doesn’t mean to. 

Her tears make him viscerally angry. They locked him in a room for a month. They’ve both been through something here. She needs to stop. She—they—can’t just wallow. 

“Get up, Granger.”

She doesn’t acknowledge him but for a dismissive sweep of her hand through the metallic magic hovering between them, as if she intends to dissipate something so sacred with nothing but willpower and frantic hand movements.

“Get up,” he repeats. “Crying about it won’t do you any good. In my experience, sometimes scar-headed idiots even come around with dark spells that shred your torso to ribbons on a bathroom floor.”

She twists to look at him, fury exploding behind her eyes. 

“Don’t you dare—” she breaks off, words wheezing. She looks like she can barely breathe. “Don’t say a single thing about him.”

She wipes the blood from the side of her face, a strange cry-turned-groan pushing itself from her throat as she rears up, suddenly standing.

Draco knows the look on her face. It’s the same she wore right before she slapped him in third year. In the blink it takes him to register that fact, she lunges, a crazed kind of agony contorting her features.

He barely hears her wail, her threats not to speak ill of the dead— the dead, Potter is dead —because all Draco can focus on is that he knows not to touch her, not to make this any worse than it already is.

She obviously knows no such thing. 

He shouldn’t have been such a smug arsehole, savoring the one thing he had control over when she came to his door asking for information. Because if he’d just explained it—this revered, rare magic—perhaps she would have employed some self-control, and not sought to attack him for a tasteless jab.

It’s a peculiar sensation, her clawing at his face: a burst of bright pain immediately followed by something else. 

She stills on a gasp, an irritating sound that slips beneath his skin in a way it absolutely shouldn’t.

She keeps crying, keeps mumbling her defense of Harry Potter, but her attack has been halted by his hands around her wrists. The side of Draco’s neck stings. A glance at her grime-encrusted nails makes him worry about cleanliness, about what diseases she’s introduced to his system by attacking him with filthy fingers. 

His concern is brief, engulfed by the cord between them, glittering and golden and glowing. It snaps taut, a near-suction of magic pulling to magic.

For the span of seconds he holds her wrists, skin-to-skin, his magic explodes in his blood, ricocheting in a cage of flesh and bone and muscle fiber. He hisses, seared by such a stark shift in his circumstances.

He shoves her back, releasing her wrists as if she’s burned him. And perhaps she has. If magical ability could be fueled by this, well, he imagines he could single-handedly take down The Dark Lord with barely any effort. 

He fights whatever forgiving instincts hum beneath his skin. 

“Don’t touch me. Don’t you ever touch me again.”

Even as he throws the order at her, he yearns for the relief of a connection again, golden cord pulling him, begging him to shift closer, to seek contact.

No. He won’t do it. 

Blood smears across her face as she wipes her tears. She looks rabid, feral, desperate. Her grief morphs in front of him; he watches her build anger from her pain. 

“It’s not fair,” she says, staring at him as if he’s personally gone and murdered her friends. As if he personally ushered in a victory for the Dark Lord. 

She rubs at her wrists where he’d held her back. “I don’t have time for whatever this is,” she says. “You hate me. And now everyone is—Harry is—” She resists whatever else she planned to say. He’s glad for it. Pity has no place here. Not for themselves and not for each other.

Instead, she looks mournfully down at the golden magic swaying between them before she turns, mounting the stairs. Leaving him there. He’s gone from a prisoner to someone she can’t be bothered to keep track of. 

The cord shivers when she slams a door somewhere on the second floor. 

 

 

She barricades herself in Potter and Weasley’s room for fifteen minutes. Draco knows because curiosity got the better of him, compelling him to creep quietly up the stairs to investigate the sudden and disconcerting silence that took hold of the house. And to grab his shoes.

Without a wand, without a family he can reliably count on not to turn him over because of an unwanted connection to a Mudblood, he has no choice but to wait for Granger to get her shit together.

And when she doesn’t, after close to twenty minutes of tense patience wherein Draco expects a crack to announce a Death Eater raid at any moment, because surely one is coming, he marches himself back up the stairs and hammers on her door with a closed, furious fist.

The door swings open. 

She looks marginally more pulled together, blood mostly cleaned from her face, though patches persist near her temple: drying and flaking and sticking to her ridiculous hair. Her mouth draws tight, flat, as furious as he is.

“What do you want, Malfoy?”

He almost laughs. He doesn’t want anything from her apart from answers. His wants have never had any part in this. Not for a month now. But he has to know. With certainty.

“So he’s won, then? The Dark Lord?” He crosses his arms over his chest, firm posture on his side of the doorway. 

He watches her jaw clench, watches her fight it back, whatever emotion threatens to split her open again.

“Yes.” A tight, distorted word through a stone jaw.

“Will your people keep fighting?”

“We have to.” He watches her eyes drop to the golden cord between them. “You’ll go back to them?” It’s a sharp question, preemptively disappointed. 

“I can’t. My parents know. They—” he breaks off, barely manages to resist gesturing between them, at the thing he can’t bring himself to acknowledge. “They have it as well.” He clears his throat, swallows back the revulsion. “Bella figured it out, too. Or, suspects at least. Which is enough. Even if I don’t want—it—you”—a sneer twists his mouth—“I can’t be trusted. Ever again.”

Her hollow laugh rattles him more than he would have liked it to. 

“Well, I don’t trust you.” She slams the door in his face, air whooshing in a sheet over his skin, gold cord glittering as it reforms.

Draco’s mouth drops open, fury flooding him in a hot rush. In her dramatic statement, she forgets to lock the door. He bangs on it once before trying the handle, shoving it open again. Seashells tumble from the nearby windowsill.

“I don’t need you to trust me, Granger. I need a wand and a way out of here. We’ve already stayed far too long. This safe house will be compromised.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you. I’ll leave when I’m ready.”

He realizes too late that she’s sitting on one of the twin beds, clutching a shirt to her chest. An insane, irrational, utterly unwanted jealousy surges up his spine. He stamps it back, wants to spit on it for its audacity.

“I have no desire to be an outlaw with the likes of you. But I won’t get far without a wand. Give me one and I’ll fuck off to France and you’ll never have to see me again.”

Even as he says it, his ribs ache, as if tiny golden threads have attached to every last one of them, pulling tighter and tighter until he either concedes to their pull or his bones snap. At present, Draco is willing to break several bones to escape this clusterfuck of a situation. 

With a deep, truly unsettling breath, Granger lets go of the flannel oxford clutched to her sternum. “I only have one wand. And it’s Bellatrix’s.” A pause. “She’s dead, by the way. Your aunt.”

He doesn’t miss the vindictive glint in her eye. Hermione Granger: bookworm, nauseating overachiever, and an indulger in schadenfreude, it would seem. Not that Draco doesn’t understand hurting and wanting to hurt in exchange. 

“That’s good. That she’s dead.” Another pause lingers as that common sentiment overtakes their many differences. “I still need a wand, Granger.”

He wonders, could he overpower her without magic? Take the wand for himself? Probably not. She’s just survived a battle, evidently. She clearly knows how to duel. She’ll lay him on his back before he gets within five feet of her. 

“There’s a little coastal town a few miles east of here. You can walk it. You were an athlete, right Malfoy?”

“I was locked in a room for a month; I doubt my stamina is much of anything anymore.” Not to mention the last two years of terror that have slowly atrophied him from the inside out.

Granger doesn’t move from the bed, but he sees now where her hand grips the wand in her pocket. 

The cord, the pull, this terrible thing between them insists that he step forward, that he approach. And not in attack or deception, but to comfort, as a companion. 

So he steps back. 

And again. 

Several steps until he’s back in the corridor. Down the stairs. Through the living room. Out the door, which he slams.

He’ll walk a thousand miles without a wand if it means escaping from this horrible house. From Granger. From all of it. 

 

Hermione

 

The door slams downstairs, punctuation at the end of a terrible conversation. He’ll save himself if he can. Hermione knows enough about Malfoy not to expect anything else: nothing more, nothing less. His motives might not make much sense, but she thinks he doesn’t carry quite the same hate that most Death Eaters do. She does suspect he harbors enough selfishness, enough self-preservation to make up the difference.

Minutes later, the silver rope vanishes, eaten by the ether. He’s gone too far, and whatever magic connects them fades into the background. She’s thankful, in that moment, that she can grieve without a connection to Draco Malfoy lingering in her periphery.

Hermione sets a timer with her wand. Much as she hates it, Malfoy had a point. This place won’t remain a safe haven for long. She doesn’t know who’s been captured—how many have been killed. But if the wards on this place have fallen, evidenced by Malfoy roaming around, it means their secret keeper has died. Which means that only a single moment of weakness from someone could put this place in Voldemort’s crosshairs. 

She’s wasted too much time crying already, but she feels so hollowed out, scraped clean of hope and purpose and happiness. They weren’t supposed to lose. Even at their bleakest, Hermione still hadn’t truly believed Harry wouldn’t walk out of that forest. She’d said goodbye like she’d meant it. But she hadn’t. She expected him to win, for all of them to win. Good over evil, light over dark. 

They must have had something wrong. Between the horcruxes and the hallows, her brain is a grief-pocked minefield incapable of focus.

She crumples, torso folding as she sits on the bed, legs tucked up beneath her, crying into one of Harry’s shirts, desperate for some kind of closeness with her friend.

Her dead friend.

She tilts, head to the pillow, and squeezes the shirt to her chest. When she opens her eyes, she realizes that even though she’s holding Harry's shirt—found in a pile on the floor, to no great surprise—she must have lain on Ron’s bed. 

Several chocolate frog cards sit lined up on the nightstand. She reaches out, entire body curiously numb and tingling in a strange counter-sensation. They’re his duplicates: Merlin, Dumbledore, Circe. She wonders where Ron is, if he is anymore. She doesn’t know and since he hasn’t shown up, her faith dwindles, dimming like a flame on a short wick, the bottom of a candle. 

She hopes amidst these duplicates that he finally found Agrippa or Ptolemy. He spent years of his life dutifully consuming chocolate frogs to complete a collection for no reason other than because he enjoyed it, because it tied together his childhood, adolescence, and potentially truncated adulthood with a modicum of consistency. 

Pinpricks rush her: an attack of agony, a fresh wave of grief. She lets out a sob, screws her eyes shut, and holds Harry’s shirt closer. 

Her wand screeches. She can’t avoid the alarm, having wasted so much time already. Indefinitely ignoring her grief won’t work, but she can’t let it consume her either. She clenches her jaw and hisses a breath as she pushes herself to sit, shirt still clutched in a fist now shaking from the strain. 

She’ll give herself time to grieve again tomorrow. For now, she has to accept that it doesn’t look like anyone else plans to rendezvous at Shell Cottage. Because it isn’t safe for them to or because they’re dead, Hermione can’t spare a thought to parse the difference. 

Her chest aches. Losses in several sizes, too big and too small, poke holes in her lungs and twist at her heart. 

She pulls her beaded bag from her pocket and stuffs Harry’s shirt and Ron’s chocolate frog cards inside, knocking over a stack of books in the process. A flood of irritation catches her off guard, a disproportionate reaction. She knows she’s too emotional, but every part of her feels like it’s on fire. Her body. Her heart. Her soul.

She leaves Harry and Ron’s room before she can change her mind and lie back down on the bed, waiting for Death Eaters to find her. After a quick stop in her own room, she realizes she hadn’t left anything behind that needed packing up again. Everything she has left, she already carries on her. 

She descends the stairs two at a time and proceeds to raid the kitchen of any remaining food. Only a loaf of crusty bread, three apples, and a couple cans of beans remain for her to claim. She hadn’t realized quite how low their stores had been before—the end? She supposes she can call it the end. She swallows back a sob. It certainly feels like the end.

She’s in the loo rummaging for medical supplies, anything useful she might toss in her bag before she leaves, when something clicks back into place inside her chest. She blinks and finds the silver rope undulating in her vision again.

A warm sensation, presenting like safety, battles with her rational mind. If Malfoy has returned, there’s a very real possibility he’s returned with Death Eaters in tow. Her mind whirrs, tires spinning out inside her head. Then it occurs to her.

He can see the rope, too. Which means that if he’s brought Death Eaters back with him, he’ll know exactly where to find her. She stuffs her bag back in her jacket pocket and whips out Bella’s wand.

Agitation rides the tail end of a full body shiver. She doesn’t want to experience fear; she doesn’t need for her heart to pound as painfully as it is. The most she can do is grit her teeth, breathe through it, and step out of the tiny toilet with her wand raised.

Malfoy stands in the middle of the living room.

He doesn’t look at her when she enters. His jaw is ground tight, a muscle protruding from the center of his cheek, over his jawbone, and disappearing into his neck. His nostrils flare. 

The rope shimmers, silvery and alive and pleased to have them in the same room again. 

Hermione’s anxiety, her grief, her agony, it’s all reduced by at least half, dampened by the effect this magic has on her. She hates it. Hates that she finds comfort in it.

She wonders how far he walked before he turned around. Before the pull became too strong. It’s the only explanation she can think of. He looks miserable. She suspects he’d rather be anywhere else in the world right now.

The fact that he’s not, that he’s standing all stiff and furious, tells her everything she needs to know about the gravity traveling along this rope between them. 

The annoying unavoidability clenches Hermione’s jaw, too. She pulls her beaded bag from her jacket pocket. 

“I have a spare tent in here. It’s not overly large. But—it’s shelter.” It requires sustained focus not to let her eyes gloss over, lost in dread. She’d never —ever planned on camping another day in her life. 

After a deep breath: “Where?”

“I don't know. Somewhere remote. A place to hide until I can get in contact with the—'' A crack silences her mid sentence. 

Her heart jumps to her throat when, a fraction of a second later, fire erupts, swallowing the cottage.

Hermione spins, flinching as glass shatters; fire tears in a circle, engulfing every wall around them. 

Crack

Crack

Crackcrackcrack

She forgets to breathe; cracks echo through her subconscious, displacing her. 

She’s back at Hogwarts. 

She’s running through The Dark Forest. 

Harry Potter is dead. 

Her friends are dying.

And cracks surround her. Death Eaters making a mockery of what had once been impenetrable apparition wards. Her heart pounds. Her head aches. Her vision has run red, stained by a stream of blood she has neither the time nor the presence of mind to manage. Five seconds, that’s all she needs. If she can find safety for five seconds, collect her breathing, calm her focus, she can apparate. 

She can escape. 

She hits the floor. Only distantly aware that Malfoy’s surprisingly dense body has crash landed into her, toppling them. Air whooshes from Hermione’s lungs as his elbow digs into her diaphragm. His full weight bears down on her for a staggering moment that explodes silver sparks from the translucent rope now tangled up between them. 

He rolls off, a hand pressing her shoulders to the ground as more glass shatters. 

As the foundation shakes. 

As sand and mortar crumble from between the brittle wooden beams blasted apart by jets of red. Of purple. Green. 

Awareness surges back into Hermione’s brain, mortifyingly aware that she’d just frozen, utterly incapacitated by a sensation somewhere inside her brain nearly as effective as an immobilus. 

Too late, it occurs to her that between the two of them, she’s the only one with a wand. A stubborn, obstinate, hateful wand, but a conduit for magic nevertheless, and the only one they have. She digs for it; she always keeps her wand in her right pocket. But she finds nothing. 

Panic tightens a chokehold around her throat. It’s an unfamiliar sensation, at least in this kind of context. Over exams, over a tricky potion, over a particularly nuanced assignment, that panic she knows well.

But she spends enough time with Harry Potter— spent enough time, past tense—to know what it means to stay collected in a crisis.

She is distinctly uncollected, scattered like marbles across the cottage floor, and she doesn’t know where all her pieces have rolled. 

Malfoy screams in her ear, voice raw and ragged and demanding over the booms and whistles disintegrating the house around them. She sees his mouth, but she does not hear his words. He stops shouting when she lifts her left hand; she’s already holding Bella’s wand. She has been since she left the toilet. 

His relief is tangible in the way his body slumps, softens. His mouth snaps shut. He blinks twice before he moves, grabbing her wrist. His grip is tight, painful in a way that shifts the bones inside her skin, a way that will bruise, most likely.

The silver rope sings at the contact, skin-to-skin again. Hermione hates the way her breath catches, both from the absolute absurdity of it, and from the way it compounds the breathlessness of apparition.

Somehow, Malfoy apparates them without a wand of his own. Bella’s is still in Hermione’s left hand. She can’t think too hard on it though, lungs compressing to nothing, blood burning, begging for oxygen, as the world reforms around her. 

Chapter Text

Draco

 

Draco lands on twigs and leaves, face directly in the dirt. Coughing, he half expects to find himself or Granger splinched. He feels intact, and suspects she’s fine, too. The golden cord in his periphery is pleasant and humming, glad for proximity, and lacking any suggestion of grave injury.

Rolling onto his back, he stares at a forest canopy. His heartbeat thunders painfully against his ribcage; he might be sick; he chokes on his next breath. He thinks they’re somewhere just outside his family’s property—the only remote hiding place that came to mind as he stared at Hermione Granger failing to act. 

She’s acting now. Acting like an obnoxious, entitled bitch. She’s already on her feet, hovering over him. His right hand throbs. 

With great effort, he sits. He lifts his hand to find an enormous splinter, what could understandably be labeled a significant shard of wood, lodged in his right palm. 

Granger curses when she sees it, and the sound is as surprising as if she’d started speaking another language entirely. She drops to her knees in front of him and begins performing lackluster healing spells with a wand that seems reluctant to cooperate.

She curses again. Words vibrating across the cord in a disconcertingly not-unpleasant way. She yanks the splinter out of his palm. Ignores his hissing protests.

“This wand. It’s—it’s not suited to healing magic.” Her words croak. Her voice pitches and dips, surges and strains, as if she can’t decide if she’s catatonic or manic.

Draco winces as his skin hastily knits back together, painful when it should be numbed. She rummages, bicep deep in her hideous little bag. Curses again. “I don’t have any disinfectant.”

“Any what?”

A sigh. “Never mind. That’ll have to do.” She gestures as his barely stitched together palm before she rises again, looking around. 

Draco forces himself to stand. “We’re near Malfoy Manor.” He grabs her wrist and she jerks back, trying to break away; he holds tight. Seconds later, realization finds her. He instructs her anyway, taking what pleasure he can from having more presence of mind—in whatever capacity he does at the moment—than the great Hermione Granger. “Pick somewhere they won’t find us.”

She doesn’t acknowledge the order, just follows it. His lungs decompress, squeezing between dimensions, before reforming in another, almost identical forest. He drops her wrist.

“How did you do it before? How did you—” She breaks off, voice shrill in a shriek before she hushes herself. The forest rustles around them; sunlight filters in bright flashes through overhead leaves.  

“Do what, Granger?” He can’t bring himself to entertain her, not when the throb in his palm has graduated to a sear, a crimson pain shooting through his hand.

“You don’t have a wand!” She winces at her own volume, lowers her voice again, hunches closer. “You don’t have a wand. How did you apparate us?”

He doesn’t want to have this conversation. Ideally, he’d like to remain as far away from it as possible. They could shove it under the leaf litter, bury it in the dirt, forget it ever happened. But one look at Granger, with her wild eyes and wilder hair, tells him that she won’t be forgetting anything.

It’s a helpless feeling, standing in the middle of an unfamiliar landscape with pain pulsing beneath his skin, and the only wand, his only real chance at survival, gripped in the hand of someone looking at him like she’s seen a ghost. Or like he’s a ghost. Or she’s a ghost. Like they’re both already ghosts and haven’t even realized it yet. 

“You were holding Bella’s,” he finally says, too twisted by adrenaline to come up with a lie.

She looks down at the wand in her hand. Her expression says she doesn’t know what to make of it, and that such a sensation is foreign and unwelcome. She screws her mouth up, straightens, and starts casting ward spells: muggle repellents, sound dampeners, light refractors. It’s efficient, practiced. She’s done this before, and routinely.

“But how did you do it?” she asks again, not looking at him. Her curiosity sounds a lot like exhaustion.

Draco frowns. They’d had a perfect opportunity to drop the subject. And here she is, still poking, despite the fact that not five minutes ago he felt reasonably certain they were about to die. His heart hasn’t stopped pounding. His hand throbs. And now he’s stuck with her, so she might as well suffer, too. 

He spits the answer at her. “I was holding onto you.”

She pauses in her casting, sucks in a breath, and then continues again without so much as looking at him. That, of all reactions, makes it worse. 

“You can’t—” she starts, breaking off, restarts. “That’s not how magic works.”

His laugh is cruel, furious. It’s been barely a month, and almost none of that time actually spent in her presence, but he’s already so fucking sick of this he could scream. This stupid circumstance has taken everything from him.

“That’s how Malfoy soulmate magic works, so get fucking used to it.”

He doesn’t realize he’s shouted until the echo stops winding through tree branches, leaving a dead, stale sort of silence in its wake. 

He said it. He hadn’t planned to say it. He never wanted to acknowledge it in his own head, let alone out loud or to her.

He backtracks, pathetically. “Not that that’s what this is , ” he says. He sounds like an idiot. The damage is done.

Where his laugh had been cruel, hers mocks him. “Oh no? Good. I was worried, what with all this.” She pauses her spells again, leaning to swirl her hand through the golden cord. It unforms and reforms as she swipes at it. Her hollow mirth shifts. “Why would Malfoy sou—magic want anything to do with me? When does it go away?” Her words are snappish, snippy, and as mean as he’s ever heard her.

“Go away?” A sick mania grips him. He feels a grin splitting his face, pulling dry, cracked lips taut over his teeth. There’s no joy in his smile; he knows it. “It doesn’t go away. Brightest fucking witch, my arse.”

“So I’m just going to”—she clenches and unclenches a fist at her side—“I’m just going to see… this? For what? The rest of my life?”

She doesn’t even gesture at the cord, but he knows what she means, even if she can’t bring herself to say it. He has no desire to look at it either. And zero intention of discussing it. He can barely stomach thinking about it.

If he had the wand, he would leave. Right then. Vanish. Distance would erase this glittering fucking reminder of a figurative golden girl that fate has saddled him with. Never mind that he hadn’t gotten very far not so long ago. 

She pockets the wand in question, evidently done with her protective spells. His lack of a response means nothing to her, apparently. 

She pulls a shrunken tent from her bottomless bag. Draco scoffs.

“So, that’s the plan? We’re just going to camp? That’s your solution?”

She unshrinks the tent with a tight jaw and several deep breaths. “We’re going to lie low for a bit. Give everyone”—a hitch in her breathing—“who made it a chance to settle. Regroup.”

It’s a ridiculous optimism, even in its relative pragmatism, for someone who’s just lost a war. 

Pointedly, he does not participate in pitching the tent. She has the magic; he doesn’t. Instead, he sits on a felled log, wishing for a better plan to materialize. He watches as she struggles with even the most basic spells, wand refusing to cooperate. Evidently Bella’s wand takes issue with more than just healing magic. Granger grumbles and huffs and releases occasional sounds distressingly similar to sobs as her hands shake and the wand barely allows her to assemble a magical tent. He almost laughs when she tries to make modifications, to enlarge it and presumably give them more space.

Almost laughs. But he doesn’t. Because he’s too busy staving off the insistence of a little golden pest that wants him to help, to comfort. 

The moment she announces its completion, he promptly enters the tent and claims a cot.

That night, he finds he cannot sleep. Depending on how he wants to define his own safety and freedom, this is the most he’s had of both in a month, maybe more. And somehow, he’s as trapped as ever. 

Granger hasn’t even entered the tent yet. The cot sitting beside his own remains empty. 

Alone with his thoughts, he fantasizes about her coming to sleep and letting her guard down just enough that he can steal the wand and run. He refuses to acknowledge the concern buttressing all his other thoughts with a plea to banish ideas about abandonment. Consciously, he wants to run, he wants to leave her. He doesn’t want any part of this. Subconsciously, and close enough to the surface that he’s frustratingly aware of it, he knows running isn’t actually an option. Not without her. Not now. That doesn’t stop him from wishing, though.

He only realizes she’s crying when a strangled hiccup sneaks through the closed tent flaps. The hiccup breaks into a sob, harsh breathing, hysteria mere feet from him. The cord practically vibrates as it dances along the floor, dim but present, and begging him to act.

He clenches his teeth so tight that it feels like his jaw muscles are melting, succumbing to his irritation as he stands, walks to the flaps. 

He hears her more clearly: frantic, strangled, messy tears. 

The Patronus surprises him when he peers outside, not expecting the silvery glow of a floating animal hovering beside her. Granger looks mournfully at it, as if it’s delivered her the worst news she can fathom. He’s losing track of how many times he’s watched Hermione Granger cry. 

When she sucks in another heaving breath, the gold cord between them heaves too, pulling taut, pulling them closer. She stumbles back as he pitches forward, drawn a step out of the tent. She twists, sees him, and crumples. A heap in the dirt between them. 

The Patronus vanishes. 

 

Hermione

 

Malfoy offers her no comfort, and Hermione is glad for it. She doesn’t want his help or his understanding, but she can’t deny the relief she felt when she saw him standing there, a tiny reprieve from her grief. She’d allotted for more time to grieve tomorrow. This wave is unplanned, unexpected, and unwelcome. But she’s so brittle, so ready to break, that every iota of bad news bends her a little further, closer to a snap.

She looks up at him, trying to swallow back her tears, trying to level her breathing and scramble for her dignity. She doesn’t have any left, not anymore, not with him. And she hates that. 

His face is indecipherable. Tight and tense and unlike anything she’s ever seen from him. Between them, the silver rope has loosened again, almost slack as it slithers, dim against the ground and the only light between them without the Patronus.

“Well,” he says to the darkened, quiet space between them. “Who was that from?” She can’t tell if she hears hope or dread in his tone. Maybe a bit of both.

“It was mine.”

She doesn’t elaborate.

He makes no demand that she does.

But they stay like that, him standing just outside the tent, her with her knees in the dirt, tears drying on her cheeks. She concedes first.

“I tried sending it to…so many people. It couldn’t find”—she struggles for air—“it didn’t…they must be—” she breaks off. Every blink brings a new face into her vision, a snapshot of her friends, of people she worked with, fought with, dying. Dead. 

She’s aware enough to feel the spiral when she enters it. She knows a panic attack when she experiences one. But she’s never had one in front of another person, especially not when she’s kneeling before Draco Malfoy like he owns her. She tries to put distance between them. In her surging panic, distance equals dignity. She’s not sure that makes sense, but it’s all she has as she scrambles away, rocky dirt into her palms. She gulps air, great heaves, far too fast. She should slow it down.

She can’t.

She isn’t even crying anymore. Just gasping for air so hard, so fast, that her head feels hot, heavy, like she’s wrapped a thick blanket around it. 

She can’t breathe, but it’s all she’s doing. 

Another blink and Malfoy is kneeling in front of her, still unreadable. 

He still offers her no comfort.

She’s still glad for that.

“They probably have wards up, Granger. Just like you do.”

She shakes her head and her world tilts with it. She wants to look away from him, but she can’t. Bathed in a faint silver glow, between the rope and the moonlight, he’s never looked so soft, so otherworldly. If she didn’t know any better, she’d think him some kind of angel here to offer help, not remind her of everything she’s already lost. 

“The way we set the wards up—we allow for Patronuses. They should—mine should be able to get through.” And maybe because she needs him to understand the extent of her desperation, of the vacuum left in her chest by the absence of hope, she reaches into her pocket and retrieves a single gold Galleon. “And we have this. For messages.” Her words temporarily fail as an inhale chokes her. “I’ve tried it, too. All night. And no one, no one is responding.”

She drops the Galleon in the dirt. Malfoy sits back against his heels, regarding her calmly.

It makes her want to scream.

“Granger.”

She slams her eyes shut. She doesn’t want pity; she’s embarrassed enough, being found like this. Breaking down like this. Over and over and over.

“Granger,” he says again. Harsher. She doesn’t open her eyes. “You got out. You are…impressive. But you are not so singular in your abilities that I believe for one second that you’re the only person who managed an escape.”

She shakes her head, gripping sticks and dried leaves and dirt in her fingers as if a hold on the very earth might tether her to something real. 

“I was just in the right place.” The confession expels as a croak. “I got to the Dark Forest before the others once—once we started to run. And there were so many. So many stunners and curses and avadas and—” She gasps for air, fingertips digging into the ground.

Malfoy’s voice sounds far away, even though she suspects he’s still right there. “Granger. Granger, focus.” 

It’s so serious a demand that she can’t help but to comply.

“Did you see my parents? Were they there? Are they alive?”

Malfoys only ever care about each other. His questions shouldn’t surprise her. But they do. Because there are so many others. So many good people who she can tell him with absolute certainty did not survive. Not knowing whether his terrible parents made it shouldn’t rip her heart to shreds. She doesn’t have the energy to be cruel, much as the temptation swells in her throat.

“I don’t know,” she says, finally opening her eyes. 

“Can you send them one?” he asks, then makes a vague sort of gesture at Bellatrix’s wand. “They won’t help me. I don’t—I don’t care about that. I just want to know if they’ve survived.”

In another life, Hermione’s parents would have killed her for the way she grinds her teeth together. 

“And what if they’re with him when it shows up? That’s an idiotic idea and you know it.” Her panic cools as anger takes its place. “Besides, I’ve spent all night trying to force Patronuses out of a wand that hates the idea of joy, and I have barely any energy left to try. I’m running out of the ability— I just. I can’t keep thinking of happy memories when all this—” she cuts herself off, requiring another gasping breath, vulnerable and mortified. 

His seeker-fast reflexes catch her off guard. 

In one instant, she’s waving Bella’s wand between them, incapable of getting enough air in her lungs, and in the next he’s snatched it up, already risen to his feet and watching her with the wand in his hands.

A jolt of fear lances her, echoing across the silver rope. He could hurt her. He could kill her. The wand would much prefer that to the Patronuses she’d barely managed to conjure while she sat in the cold and clung to every last drop of happiness she had left. 

He only points the wand at her for a moment, but it’s long enough, stretching between them like the rope.

“I’m not—I’m not going to hurt you,” he says flatly. 

“I’m not afraid of you.”

A muscle in his jaw flexes and his wand hand drops. You should be. She can hear him thinking it, sees him turning over the words inside his head. Or perhaps it travels the length of the bond between them and she doesn’t need him to speak it aloud at all. 

“Give it back,” she says.

“I feel much better having it on me instead of letting you be in charge all the time. You froze up earlier, if you’ll recall.”

“I guess that means you can just send a Patronus to your parents yourself.” It’s a low blow, she knows it is. She’d bet every pound, every Galleon, every drop of dwindling wealth she has left to her name that he can’t cast a Patronus. A tiny, hateful little part of her heart relishes in having that over him.

The rope flares, a flash of silver in the night as it courses with anger. He unclenches his jaw and makes a surprised, thoughtful sort of noise dripping in disdain.

“Huh. Never knew you were such a bitch, Granger.”

She digs her fingers deeper into the dirt.

“Shame we don’t have two wands, Malfoy. Then you could just Imperius me to send one for you.”

She doesn’t expect him to look so shocked. For his eyes to go so wide and his grip on the wand to slacken. His offense only lasts a moment, long enough for her to blink and pretend it never happened to begin with. She doesn’t have the time or the energy to worry about offending Draco Malfoy. She didn’t ask to be stuck with him, and he’s just stolen the only wand they have between the two of them.

But then he drops it, falling in front of her trainers and the terrible rust color death has stained them. 

He goes back inside the tent without another word. 

 

Draco

 

Time trapped with Granger passes slowly, infuriatingly. Night after night, Draco pretends it doesn’t bother him. That it doesn’t grate on him, irritate him, agitate every last one of his already frayed nerves whenever she mutters her timer spell. Every night, every fucking night, she spends at least an hour casting Patronuses to varying degrees of success. And when she’s done, she sets her blasted timer.

He does not watch the process, and he does not watch the aftermath. 

He doesn’t hear it, either. She casts a Muffliato every time. But he knows. Because the timer spell and the sudden shift in white noise piqued his curiosity and set off all kinds of warning bells the first time it happened. So he crept to the tent flap and he watched as Granger allowed herself a set amount of time to cry. 

A sound dampening charm that fills his ears with errant buzzing can’t erase what his eyes see. 

Hermione Granger practically tearing her hair from her roots.

Hermione Granger bent over her knees heaving for air.

Hermione Granger crying like her entire world has ended.

And he supposes it has. 

She still refuses to send a Patronus to his parents. In retaliation, he’s said barely a word to her in almost a week of silent, freezing contempt as they simply exist in roughly the same space together. The highlight of his day becomes the several laps he walks around the border of their wards, a pretense of vigilance, but mostly an endurance exercise. Verticality is difficult; walking winds him. Laying in a bed for a month has liquified too much of his insides. He’s weak, and hunger isn’t helping. 

Granger leaves the safety of their wards every morning to forage for food. 

The golden cord begs him to accompany her. Spitefully, he ignores it until it blinks out of his vision, gone when she’s walked too far. He stays in the tent, punishing her for not sending a Patronus to his parents with his lack of participation in food gathering. As such, he also spends a lot of time cursing Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration and the unfortunate fact that he can’t transfigure his cot into a cake. 

She returns most afternoons with berries she’s surprisingly adept at identifying, mushrooms she insists won’t kill either of them, and one time, a fish she somehow managed to catch. She’s resourceful and intelligent and sets a timer for her grief.

It’s slowly driving him mad.

He loses it over a tiny piece of roasted fish and the last of their painfully tough crusty white bread pulled from the bottom of her little bag.

“Can you not just apparate into a nearby village and get us real food?” His fork clatters on his tin camping plate. He knows he’s being an annoying, uppity prat, but he’s hungry and he’s tired of eating, sleeping, and spending all his time on a dreadfully uncomfortable cot. Furthermore, his ongoing nerves have stretched him so thin he’s practically transparent.

Granger, from her cot a few feet from him, finishes chewing her portion of fish with daggers in her glare. The gold cord stretches tight.

“I’m kind of recognizable, Malfoy. So are you.”

“Even in Muggle towns?”

“Well, no—not as much—”

“We can’t just keep sitting here, Granger. What are we going to do? We haven’t heard from anyone in your Order, and we don’t even know how—if—he really won. We’re just…hiding here.”

“I don’t want to leave,” she snaps, stabbing at her fish.

“What?”

“I’m not—ready yet. To face it. Okay?”

“No, that’s not okay. We can’t just stay here indefinitely. If I’m stuck with you, I at least expect that there’s a plan or—something happening besides sitting in this fucking tent all day not knowing if you’re going to get snatched up while looking for chanterelles.”

“Drop it, Malfoy.”

“No. We need to do something—”

“I said drop it—”

“Fucking make me—”

“I’m a coward, alright? Is that what you want to hear? I’m not ready to leave because I don’t want to know.” She stands, dropping her plate on her cot. Her voice has spiked, taking on the straining quality of someone doing everything within their power now to cry. “I don’t want to know what’s left—who’s left. And I don’t want to run again.” Her shoulders drop. “I’m tired.”

“That’s not what I want to hear at all.”

For a brief but genuinely terrifying moment, Draco thinks she might reach down for her plate and throw it at his face. Her hands twitch. Her mouth twists into a deep frown, and she releases a hissing breath from between clenched teeth and nearly sealed lips.

Instead of attacking him, she marches to the tent exit. He speaks before he even realizes he has a question to ask.

“You’ve been on the run since what—August?”

She stops. Turns. Her shoulders rise and fall before she answers him.

“More or less.”

He shrugs from his cot. “I suppose that makes sense then.”

“What?” Her snappish tone cracks across the cord, slamming into him with her irritation.

“I’m just agreeing with you. That it makes sense you’d be tired. Merlin, Granger. I’m being understanding. I won’t do it again.”

“Just because I’m tired doesn’t mean I’ve completely given up.”

“I didn’t say you had.”

“I just need time.”

“Fine.”

Her face screws up, like she can’t decide if she’s offended, grateful, or considering testing an unforgivable on him with Bella’s wand. Before she makes her decision, a silvery-blue glow erupts inside the tent.

For several beats, neither of them move. Unblinking as a Patronus upends their argument with its presence.

Draco’s mouth drops open at the same moment Granger lands on her knees, a strangled half-laugh, half-sob tearing from her throat.

“Whose—whose is that?” Draco asks, reminding himself to swallow as he watches a silver dog bounding around the inside of their tent. He hadn’t realized until that very moment that he never expected anyone to respond. 

Granger doesn’t have to answer because the Patronus sits right in front of her in a model of obedience. Then, Ron Weasley’s voice comes out. 

An ugly, terrible, entirely unwanted jealousy heats the golden cord into something molten. Draco had grown quite adept at ignoring it, but he can’t ignore this white-hot sensation. Granger’s eyes snap up to him, gazing through the translucent dog. He wonders if she felt it, too. He’d be mortified if she did. He wants to scream that it’s not his jealousy; he doesn’t want anything to do with it. It’s this thing’s fault. 

“…hope you’re safe,” Weasley’s voice says through the Patronus. “I found some others. We’re—organizing. It’s not over, ‘Mione. If you can, we’re gonna try and meet one week from today. At the place where we saw Archie’s flowered nightgown.” There’s a pause. Draco watches a vertical line form between Granger’s brows before it softens. She smiles. 

The Patronus shifts impatiently, a little dance on its paws as it waits, and speaks again. “Please know where I mean. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to think of that.” Weasley laughs, then quiets. “I love you, Hermione. I hope, so much, that you’re—okay. Wherever you are.” The Patronus dissipates.

Hermione Granger laughing is somehow both better and worse than Hermione Granger crying. Perhaps it’s a result of how foreign such a sight is to him. Draco has never been privy to her joy before. He doesn’t know her smile. The molten sensation in the cord cools, stabilizing.

But then she looks up at him and speaks with such joy and relief that an ache twists in his stomach. “Ron’s alive,” she says. And it feels something like a death sentence. Or, at least, another nail in his coffin.

First the cord.

Then his parents finding out.

Then Bella shortly thereafter.

Then locked in a room at that beach hovel.

Then attacked and on the run.

Then a week of doldrums not unlike a dirge. 

Now, potentially forced to interact with Ronald Weasley again.

“Outstanding,” he says. He catches a glimpse of the twitch that flattens her smile as he returns to his cot. At least now they have something of a plan. One week.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione braces herself, wiping a tear from her cheek as she cancels the timer on her wand. Her grief is on a morning schedule today: time required to prod at the sore spots behind her breastbone that ache for Harry, that ache for Fred and Remus and Tonks and Hagrid and everyone else. Allotted time spent, she has other plans for her day outside her usual trek into the forest for food.

She enters the tent.

“You were right.” She doesn’t mean to sound quite so snappish, but offering an olive branch to Draco Malfoy isn’t easy to do when he’s been nothing but a grumpy, recalcitrant child for the last eight days. 

He looks up at her from his cot, barely moving save for the lift in his brows. The silver rope shivers.

Hermione forges on. “We have six days until we need to meet Ron and…whoever else is left.”

“You think I’m coming with you?” 

He almost sounds bored. His fingers drum against his knee: left handed. His right has been bothering him, still improperly healed. He’s been avoiding it.

Hermione lets out a breath, more of a frustrated huff than a sigh. She lets the tent flap fall closed behind her. This will not be the simple conversation she’d hoped for. “Well, I don’t think you want to. I don’t even want you to. But what other choices do we have?”

“I could leave. They’re not locking me up again.”

“They won’t.”

He barks a short laugh and angles himself away from her, eyes on the tent’s canvas wall beside his cot. 

Hermione insists, “They won’t. You’ve been here with me and we’re—”

“Don’t you dare tell them anything about that.” He gestures at the silver rope slithering from her chest, from his own.

Truthfully, she doesn’t really want to tell anyone anything.

“Why not, Malfoy?” Hermione resists an urge to strangle him. Emotion aside, there’s logic to be had here and he’s being a petulant prat about it. “Whatever this is, it explains away your change of sides very neatly.”

“I didn’t change sides. I ended up here. I had no choice.”

“And you think I did?”

“You’re still fighting your war, aren’t you?”

Hermione laughs this time. “My war? You were fighting in it, too.”

“I was trying to survive it. I don’t want anything to do with this.”

“Well, not all of us have the luxury of opting out.”

“Clearly.” 

Hermione has to put Bellatrix’s wand in her pocket lest she hex the idiot boy in front of her. He’s still not looking at her, focusing his blasé attention on the tent wall and drumming his hand on his knee as if he hasn’t a care in the world.

“You have no idea how hypocritical you are, do you? Acting like you’re some victim in this. How hard it must be. No choice in me? Or a war? Well, sod off Malfoy. I didn’t get a choice, either. And it’s a little worse when the war wants me dead. Specifically.”

He finally snaps his gaze to her when she sinks onto her own cot. “Oh boo hoo for you, Granger. So you think you have it worse?”

Ideally, if she had her other tent, lost in the woods when the snatchers grabbed them up, she would have had other places to plant herself besides her cot just a couple of feet from Malfoy. But as it stands, this reserve tent is small; charming it larger requires more energy and effort than Bellatrix’s wand allows. 

To compensate for having to be anywhere near him, she lobs a nasty look instead. “I do, actually,” she says, “and that isn’t even the point. The point is that we’re clearly…stuck. Regardless of how big of an arse you are. As I was saying, I think you were right. We should try going into town. A muggle town. To see if we can pick up some supplies.”

Malfoy doesn’t say anything, jaw tense. He blinks his gaze to meet hers for beat before his focus drifts elsewhere. Finally: “Of course I was right.”

It requires more self control than Hermione would have preferred not to whip out the wand and hex Malfoy’s mouth shut. Instead, she focuses on the matter at hand. She has a purpose.

“We’ll need food. More than I can forage. I don’t know how many people we’re meeting or what supplies they’ll have. We should probably consider medical supplies, too. In case…in case anyone is hurt?”

“That’s a lot of we, Granger. And why is your voice doing that? Are you asking it as a question? Do you need it or not?”

“Because I don’t know.” She stills, jaw snapping shut. She hadn’t meant to speak quite so loudly. Despite knowing and trusting the efficacy of her own sound dampening charms, having shouted feels so off limits, so dangerous. She breathes, controls her voice. “I’ve never handled the logistics of a war before.” It comes out bitter. “I’m spinning my wheels here.”

“Spinning your wheels?”

“It’s a muggle expression.”

Draco stops drumming his fingers. Then suddenly, he rises, as if propelled by frustration. Hermione leans back, away from his crackling energy. His right hand shoots out, and for a moment, Hermione wonders if he intends to hit her. But he stops, shaking it out with a grimace, watching his hand with a frown. “And what about wands? We only have one between the two of us. What if the others are missing them? And potions supplies? Don’t you think that would be better than anything the muggles have?”

Hermione rises to match him, refusing to let him literally talk down to her. She tries to ignore the way the silver rope has coiled around his ankles, the way it starts to slither towards her feet the moment they hit the ground.

“Do you really think we’ll be able to get anywhere near a wizarding shop? Not to have a big ego about it—or to inflate your already enormous one—but I imagine we’re probably some of the most recognizable people in the wizarding world right now.”

“Do you not have any polyjuice in that immeasurable little bag of yours? What about transfiguration?”

Hermione lets out a frustrated sound; she came to him because she’d already thought this through. Informing him is merely a formality. 

“I’m out of polyjuice.” She says nothing of the fact that she’d had to wear Bellatrix Lestrange’s face with the last of her supply. “And the wand—your aunt’s wand—it’s antagonistic. I doubt any meaningful transfiguration would hold.”

She pulls it from her pocket with a sneer she can’t quite keep off her face. To prove her point, she spells her hair straight. It falls suddenly, silken and smooth and twice as long as it was before. A pine needle drops to the floor, evidently freed from her curls. She holds her breath. Not that she wants her spell to fail, but she needs to be right. She knows she can’t bear Malfoy’s smug face if the transfiguration sticks. 

His face transforms, blank, in the span of seconds her hair remains straight. Then, thankfully, it shrinks again, recoiling. 

The irony that she is actively wishing for her magic to be less effective just so that she can be right isn’t lost on her. Malfoy clearly brings out all her worst qualities. 

She clears her throat, absently threading a hand through her curls. “So, now that that’s settled. I’ve already decided where we’ll apparate.”

Malfoy blinks. “Now?”

“Yes. Now. Is your social calendar too booked at the moment?”

“Fuck off, Granger. At least—do something to your hair. Put it in a bun or pull it up...anything to make it not so noticeable.”

Hermione hates that she agrees. Grumpily, she gathers her hair into a lopsided plait that favors her right shoulder.

“Better?” she asks with an aggressive sort of gesture.

“Not the word I’d use, no. But less distinctive, if that’s what you mean to ask.”

Every single word he speaks seems perfectly aimed to needle beneath her skin and prick at every last one of her nerves. She huffs in frustration. “If you’re quite done being a prat,” she snaps. “Let’s go.”

“And why should I join you, again?”

Hermione does not have time for this. “So that we don’t end up separated if something goes wrong. So that I’m not alone like I am every day foraging for food that you eat. No matter how much I might hate it, you’re the only help I have. I might need it.”

“I don’t have a wand.”

“You have a brain, don’t you?” They scowl at each other. “Besides. You couldn’t, not really.”

“Couldn’t what?”

“Leave. If you wanted to. Which I think probably extends to not wanting me in danger. Would you really want me to go alone?”

It’s a tricky double-blind-fake-out-reverse-psychology type of question. So far, she’s refused to do much thinking about his outburst when they first arrived here, about what he called this magic. If she does, whole lobes of her brain seem to slough off, brain dead by disbelief and skepticism about taking anything Draco Malfoy says at face value. Especially when he says unbelievable things. For as much as she refuses to acknowledge it, she also suspects there are compulsions at play—or at least, suspects he believes there are compulsions at play—which drive him towards proximity. Towards something shockingly similar to loyalty.

He’d knocked her out of the crossfire back at the cottage. He could have let a killing curse hit her and been done with all this. But he didn’t.

Malfoy’s jaw visibly tenses. He fixes his stare away from her again. Hermione can’t help herself now; she pushes. This, in all its absolute insanity, is the closest thing to a normal conversation she’s had since the battle. Something about magic, about theory, not about war or wondering where her next meal might come from.

“You know more details about—this magic though, don’t you? You said it’s your family’s?”

His teeth stay ground together, lips only parting enough to force five syllables out in short, percussive bursts. “I do. And it is.” 

Honestly, she hadn’t expected him to answer, and certainly not with frankness.

“So—could you? Leave, that is? Really and truly? Surely you must. We can’t be expected to be together all the time.”

“We’re not properly bonded. It’ll keep pulling until we are.”

Rather than finding satisfaction in having a new answer, irritation swirls with fear in her stomach. Hermione both wants to know more, know everything, and hates that she has to ask him. Nor does she want to know, frankly, what properly bonding—heavily subtexted with him— means. So she pivots. Tries to throw him just as off balance.

“Let’s go, Malfoy. Time to steal some stuff.”

“Gallant Gryffindor has stooped to thievery, has she?” He hesitates to take the arm she’s offered him for a side along. His mouth pinches some of the mirth from his jab as he finally takes it.

“We don’t have a choice,” Hermione grits out. She focuses on her destination, takes a step, and pulls them into a compressed void. A moment later, air rushes back into her lungs as Malfoy staggers away from her and directly into a dumpster.

She’s landed them in an alleyway. Malfoy curses, then tries to muffle himself, then curses some more, massaging the arm that took the brunt of his impact.

Hermione hasn’t finished her very necessary explanation. 

“This—is a war, Malfoy. Stealing for our survival is a necessary means to an end.”

“Easy to twist ethics in wartime, is it?”

“Excuse me?”

“Or perhaps the ethics themselves look exactly the same. And whether it’s justified in the end is only a matter of whether one fights for the winners or the losers.” Malfoy is far too nonchalant for a conversation like that.

“Stealing some necessary supplies is hardly anything in the grand scheme of things. It’s not like we’re killing people.”

“So you wouldn’t do that then? You haven’t?” It’s part accusation, part question.

“I—” She can’t actually answer. She doesn’t know. So much happened at Hogwarts, at the battle that took place in a school. She’d upended walls, sent Death Eater’s flying with more knockback jinxes than she could count, stupified people in the path of giants. Had any of them died? “I’ve never cast a killing curse.”

A span of silence follows wherein it almost looks like he doesn’t believe her. But then he says, “I haven’t either. Not on a person.”

She neither needs, nor wants, elaboration. They have other things to do. 

He’s told her not to touch him, but hauling him out of the alleyway is a fantastic outlet for her frustration. Further, an excellent way to avoid responding. And lastly, irritatingly, the flash of contact from where her finger slides past his cuff and onto the skin of his wrist suffuses her with a magical, artificial calmness that helps to slow her adrenaline-steeped heart rate.

“Where are we?” he asks, blinking rapidly against the sun. There’s a little less bite in his tone, a little more caution.

The sounds of life, of noises other than a forest, disorient Hermione for a moment. She regroups after a breath, answering his question. “Near the coast. My family used to vacation here in the summers. I thought it—well, there’s a little convenience shop for tourists. It has a chemist and some snack foods and personal care items and...I’m just hoping it won’t be busy. It’s still quite early. I think they’ll have just opened.”

She’s nervous. But determination has powered her through much more terrifying situations than this. This is no Gringotts, no Hogwarts. This is a chemist in a small muggle town that has no reason to suspect either of them of anything unsavory. 

Malfoy yanks his arm from her grip as they duck into the shop. The tinkling bell above their heads alerts the cashier to their presence. Leaning over the counter and reading a beat up paperback, the girl barely looks at them as they enter. 

Malfoy staggers briefly, just long enough that his steps fall out of sync with hers. With a hard stare, she regathers his attention and steers him to a short aisle filled with prepackaged nonperishables. Hardly the best nutrition, but calorie dense snack foods are better than nothing. 

With a shaky breath, Hermione doesn’t allow herself a moment to reconsider before pulling her beaded bag from her jacket pocket, uncinching the top, and shoving a packet of crisps inside.

The crinkling sound zips through her nervous system with a jolt that has her whirling towards the cashier, mostly obscured by the aisle height. But there’s a fish-eye mirror at the end of the lane.

It's ridiculous, the way a memory of being seven or eight at this very same shop bubbles up out of nowhere. She used to love that weird, rounded mirror. She thought it was so silly, made her look like a clown. She would make faces in it while her mom picked up her dad’s prescriptions he always managed to forget to pack. Cholesterol, she thought. 

The mirror isn’t so silly now, cutting around the corner such that the cashier—if she happens to look up from her book—can see exactly what Hermione is doing. Specifically, the illegal thievery bit. 

“Malfoy,” she hisses. And she realizes he’s barely moved, scanning the interior of the shop with an enormous crease between his brows and his nostrils flared wide. He blinks, looks at her, and snaps.

“What?”

“Stand right there so she can’t see.” Hermione gestures to the space in front of her that would obscure the cashier’s line of sight. To his credit, he doesn’t argue. But he does scowl as he shifts into place, eyes already unfocused.

“What are you looking at?”

“It’s…I don’t know. Like Zonko’s. Or the Weasley’s place.”

“What?”

“The lights. And the”—he gestures to where a row of brightly colored boxes of period products advertise their varying absorbancies—“colors.”

It takes longer than Hermione would care to admit—as she grabs one of the colorful boxes and shoves it in her bag—for her to put those pieces together. She’s not in the practice of seeing the world from a pureblood aristocrat’s eyes, but when it clicks, she’s not sure if she wants to laugh or cry.

“Have you ever been anywhere in the Muggle world?”

His already thin lips press into nothing, mouth tight from his sneer.

“Not if I could help it.”

Hermione allows herself a single sweep of the shop to try and understand what Malfoy must be seeing. He probably expected something like an apothecary: vials and potions and shelves lined with raw ingredients. Cauldrons and scales and candles. Maybe an owl perch and clutter and questionable hygiene practices in a business making things to be consumed, justified only by the convenience of magic. 

Instead, this little shop is neat, orderly, and sanitized: stuffed to the brim with bright packaging meant to draw the eye and encourage purchase. Egregiously fluorescent light bulbs shove light straight through their corneas. That sensory overload is softened by the quiet, inoffensive music drifting from ceiling speakers. It’s about as unmagical as a muggle setting could get, yet packed with wonders that, to an unfamiliar eye, might look utterly unbelievable. 

“Just block the mirror while I get more food.”

He humphs, but remains in place as Hermione works her way down the aisle. Her caution steadily evaporates as she grows bolder, sweeping boxes of energy bars, jerkies, tinned beans, crackers, and biscuits into her extendable bag. 

At the end of the aisle, she peers around the corner at the chemist’s desk. 

“How long do you think until a Statute of Secrecy breach is detected?” she asks. 

Malfoy doesn’t immediately respond. Perhaps he doesn’t realize she’s even speaking to him. When she turns, she watches him frown at the label on the back of an Aero Bar and then pocket the candy anyway. As if her own theft hadn’t been bad enough.  

“Malfoy—are you even paying attention?” She steps into his personal space, fighting the urge to very loudly clear her throat to get his attention and convey the property gravity of their situation. “We are”—she drops her voice— “stealing from this place. Could you please focus.”

Malfoy narrows his eyes, gaze flicking between her features in too rapid a succession for her to tell where his eyes land and when. He reaches around her and pulls something off a display: a bottle of bright red nail polish. He looks at it, then down at her dirt-encrusted hands clutching the bag. He drops it in, smirking, but says nothing. When he looks back up, she’d almost guess he’s having fun, the first hint of joy she’s seen from him in—well, years probably.

“I’m aware of your conveniently flexible moral activities,” he says. “Now what’s your question?”

It takes a substantial amount of willpower to resist growling in frustration. “The Statute of Secrecy. How long do you think until a breach is detected…until it’s followed up on?”

“I don’t know. I would think fairly expediently, what with the potential emergency of muggles being exposed to magic and all.”

Hermione tilts her head to indicate the chemist’s counter behind them.

“What’s that?” Malfoy asks.

“Medicines. You have to have a healer’s permission to get them.”

“Why?”

“They—well, some are powerful painkillers, I presume. Some are antibiotics, which fight infection.” She gives a pointed look at his hand and the barely knitted together skin that won’t seem to heal.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine. It’s getting inflamed. I’m worried—”

“Don’t worry about my hand, Granger.”

“Too late, I am. And there are antibiotics right there. I’m not unfamiliar with many of the names; my parents used to prescribe them sometimes. And I had strep throat a lot as a child—took all sorts of things in the Penicillin family.”

Malfoy looks down at his hand. A couple of his fingers twitch as if he’s trying to fight off the impulse to flex or form a fist. He can’t, Hermione knows. She’s watched him struggle to close his hand all week.

She edges around the end of the aisle, creeping that much closer. Hermione’s heart pounds in her chest, breath catching on erratic, anticipatory thuds. “There will be other things we should get too, but those will be in front of the chemist. Ointments and paracetamol and bandages. I don’t know what kind of wands or healing skills we’ll have available. It couldn’t hurt to be prepared.”

“And you want to know about the Statute of Secrecy because?”

“We need to confund the chemist.”

“That’s not just magic in the presence of a muggle, Granger. That’s magic performed on a muggle.”

“I’m aware,” she snaps. “It's probably the only magic this wand will do for us. I doubt it will object to questionable legality.”

Malfoy peers around her, eyes the chemist setup. It has a simple, easy push door separating the main interior of the shop from the rows and rows of medications. All of it out of sight of the cashier at the other end of the shop. 

“Fine,” he says. “Cast the confundus; I’ll grab the—stuff.” He doesn’t even have the correct vocabulary.

“Oh no, no. You have no idea what to look for.” She pulls Bellatrix’s wand from her pocket and, body angled away from the chemist, shoves it at him. He closes his left hand around the wand but she doesn’t immediately let go. A bolt of fear lances her. “You—you won’t hurt me, right?”

He yanks. “Give me the fucking wand and start stealing—”

“Lower your voice. They might hear you!” Hermione shout-whispers as the wand leaves her grip. They both look at it for a moment, entirely within his control. In the blink Malfoy makes eye contact with her, Hermione feels like several potential diverging futures fracture all at once, shards scattered on the ground and all they have to do is pick one. 

Shards are sharp; they can cut. Hermione worries they’ll all lead to pain. 

Draco steps forward, shoulder connecting with her own as he pushes past her. He walks right up to the chemist and casts a confundus like it means absolutely nothing to him.

The chemist’s smile goes lax, face drooping, eyes glossy. Malfoy glances over his shoulder and nods at Hermione with a sharp jerk of his chin to tell her to move. She does, nearly as confounded at the chemist. 

She walks carefully, quietly, to the push door and slides through just as Malfoy gestures to the row of pamphlets lining the countertop and begins asking questions. 

“I would like to know more about meso—mestheli —Merlin, what the fuck— mesothelioma? Sir, if you please.”

The chemist’s head tilts, craning to look at the brochure in question. “Chemicals,” he slurs. But Hermione can’t spare any more attention for the absurd conversation unfolding behind her. She opens her bag and starts scanning the bottle-lined shelves.

She’s lucky if she recognizes one in every ten labels she reads. She’s not sure what she expected—well, she supposes she expected recognizable antibiotics she took as a child and easy-to-spot, dangerous painkiller names she knows people can get addicted to if not handled properly. She doesn’t have any clue what Neomercazole or Clopidogrel or Leperamide Hydrochlorine do. She’s not even sure she can reliably pronounce them if required. 

“And this one,” she hears from Malfoy behind her, accompanied by a paper crinkling sound that tells her he’s picked up a pamphlet. “Do I have reason to worry about an overactive bladder?” His muttered curse comes across as something of a grumble. In any other situation, she might have doubled over laughing. But presently, Hermione feels a bit like she wants to vomit. 

She doesn’t know what to do. Nothing looks familiar and they don’t have time to spare so she simply opens her bag and starts dropping pill bottles inside. The noise must draw the drowsy chemist’s attention because Malfoy’s suddenly raised voice startles her.

“Actually, sir, I simply must know about this erectile dysfunction—oh for fuck’s sake. I mean. I’m asking for a friend, not for me. You see, this is not a problem for me. Neither is the bladder, while I have you.” 

Hermione rushes back out of the swinging door, scoops up a whole row of bandages and over the counter pain relievers in full view of the confunded chemist and promptly cinches her bag shut. She hoofs it, brisk steps directly at Malfoy where he’s still babbling about his bladder and his penis. She loops him under the arm and pulls him down the nearest aisle and out the front door. 

He doesn’t stop talking the entire way, which helps her not to look at the cashier as they step back out onto the pavement.

She looks at him, registers his look of astonishment before he says, “I can’t believe that worked.”

It’s the last thing Hermione hears before everything goes black. She feels arms around her middle, hands gripping her waist, and she experiences a shocking sense of safety, of contentment. A strange absence of fear despite her rapidly dwindling consciousness.

Then she hits the ground.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

If Granger were conscious, Draco might have quipped something about how long it takes the Ministry to follow up on a Statute of Secrecy breach.

The answer is very, very quickly. 

By Draco’s best guess, less than two minutes have passed since he cast the confundus. And now he’s on his knees, struggling to keep his arms around a limp Hermione Granger after she took a stunner to the chest and plummeted to the pavement. He barely thinks; he’s still holding the wand. 

He hauls her up, twists his body, and apparates them in a blur of color just as a spell hits him: distinctly not a stunner from the way it slices through his upper leg. 

He stumbles. 

Fumbles his apparition. 

Fully expects to end up somewhere as a pile of splinched limbs. 

All he thinks as his lungs compress and the air around him squeezes to a sheet of parchment between dimensions, is that he can feel Granger’s hair tickling his collarbone. It floods him with distress. It’s all so utterly unfair. 

They land in a forest: a disturbingly recurring trend for him these days. Hopefully he’s landed them somewhere near their camp. His leg feels like it's on fire and his head spins after having landed with a thud in the slightly spongy dirt. He’s terrified he’s missing one or several important body parts. Granger’s hair still invades his personal space from where she’s landed partly atop his good leg. 

A broken groan rips from his lungs as he pushes himself to sit. 

He inspects himself first: limbs, bits, and senses all seem to be intact, apart from the giant slash gushing a grotesque red from his thigh. His stomach flips. He tries casting a quick skin-stitching charm; nothing happens. He casts again and his leg throbs, still bleeding. Panicked, he drops the wand somewhere in the dirt and presses shaking hands to his leg, trying to hold his blood inside. It pours from him as a personal river: intimate irrigation for greedy land.

Granger still lays draped there half on top of him; he’d nearly forgotten.

Her head hangs at an odd angle, golden cord coiled around her, too much like a noose. He tries to be gentle, tries not to hurt her, but she’s crushing him and he can’t do much with her there. He pulls an unsteady hand from his leg and lifts it to her mouth. She’s still breathing; blood slides from his palms to his wrists. He winces when her head lands with a soft crunch in the leaves as he maneuvers her. At least she has enough hair that he imagines it acts as a sufficient cushion for her skull.

He returns his focus to his leg, still oozing, but slowing. At least he thinks it’s slowing. He’s too distracted by the pain, by the utter unbelievability that a Ministry Official sent a slicing hex at him. Were they even allowed to do that? Although, Draco supposes, he probably counts as a war criminal to whoever runs the Ministry these days. Since he suspects it might be The Dark Lord, the use of force really shouldn’t surprise him. 

He grapples for the wand again, tries several more healing spells: ones to stanch blood flow, ones to knit skin together, ones to accelerate healing. They all work at a fraction of the expected efficacy. He’s not terrible at healing spells; he’d taught himself enough of them sitting alone in his room at night and expecting the worst every morning. But the wand resists him. Granger hadn’t been exaggerating.

After several more minutes of stunted effort, he manages to stop his leg actively bleeding and close the wound enough that it’s no longer a gaping entryway to his insides. He lays back against the dirt. The adrenaline that had propelled him through their escapades at the chemist slowly leaches from his body, fertilizer for the forest floor. 

He needs to rennervate Granger. She should be conscious when they travel again. He’s not sure how close he got them to their camp, but they could definitely be closer. He pushes himself back into a sitting position and twists, hovering over her.

He stares. 

He knows he’s staring.

He knows it’s weird. 

He can't help it. 

Has he ever had the chance to really look at her before? Certainly not from this close up. He feels the draw again, becomes aware of the golden filaments dancing between his chest and hers. 

Why did it have to be her? The only person on this planet who would instantly make a traitor out of him?

He almost doesn’t recognize her face. Does Granger look different than she used to? He remembers making fun of her. Calling her ugly, believing she was. He hovers over her now, studying her as if the degree of his focus might reveal something extraordinary. He lifts a hand and brushes her hair out of her face. It leaves a smear of blood against her temple.

His stomach turns again. He hates the way this feels: to experience contentment, joy, a rush of pleasure when his fingers touch her skin. Touching her is supposed to be dirty, vile. He doesn’t know if he still believes that, if he ever really did. He’s never had the luxury of indulging in dissent. 

He barely touched her face and yet his fingers tingle. Warmth shoots through the top of his hand. He sits back. He could leave her here. He could. She had that wrong. He could do just about anything.

A jolt zips up his left arm. When he looks down, he realizes his hand and hers rest mere millimeters apart. His pinky finger just barely grazes hers and it feels wonderful, powerful in a way he can’t bring himself to admit, like there are threads stitching him—them—together.

With a jerk, he remembers himself, pulls away, and casts a rennervate to wake her. At least that spell seems to work.

Her eyes open. 

She blinks. 

She lets out a muffled sound as if trying to cough with no air in her lungs, and then heaves a huge, horrifying breath. The same kind she’d heaved while being tortured. It sends his head spinning. He has to put distance between them. Leaving her to adjust to consciousness, he forces himself to his feet, not quite fully vertical as the improperly healed muscles in his thigh scream when stretched. He feels blood begin to gush again, down the inside of his trouser leg, pooling in his socks. 

When her breathing quiets, he risks a glance to find her sitting, cradling her head in her hands, fingers flexing in her hair, against her scalp.

“A stunner,” he says simply.

She nods, face still cradled. When she does finally look up, her eyes widen. 

“You’re bleeding.”

“Barely. Slicing hex. They—followed up quickly. Recognized us, one of us at least, after they stunned you. Because they switched to a lot more force.”

“You apparated us? Again?”

“I’m not terrible in an emergency, apparently.”

“Where are we?”

“Not sure. My deliberation got a little thrown off with”—he gestures to his leg—“but neither of us is splinched so feel free to thank me.”

“Thank you.”

He doesn’t care for how genuine that sounds. 

“We should head back to the tent,” he says, entirely ignoring her thanks. “Can you stand?”

“I can. I’m just—a bit dizzy.”

“Stunners can be like that.”

Her little laugh carries no spite, almost sounds like she didn’t mean to do it. Then she says, “And you would know?”

“Yeah. I would.”

Her mouth shuts with the distinct sound of teeth clicking together. She looks to his leg again.

“Did you try to heal it?”

The sneer is a reflex. “Of course I did. It’s much better than it was before.” He offers her an arm, preparing to apparate.

“The wand?” She stands. Hesitantly, she wraps her fingers around his forearm; the fabric of his shirt feels threadbare under her touch. 

“Doesn’t like Patronuses, transfiguration, or healing, apparently.”

“Or it just doesn’t like us,” she says, just as he steps into apparition again. 

When they reform: “Maybe that, too.” 

He barely manages to keep the disgust from his voice, eyes landing on their pathetic tent again. The swelling sense of safety is even more unwelcome. 

 

 

Draco sits on his cot trying to straighten his leg while Granger takes inventory of their stolen goods on her cot across from him. She mutters to herself as she organizes: sections for food, for supplies, for medicines. She reads labels with frantic, murmuring lips and occasional growls of frustration as he suspects she tries to decipher the extraordinarily long words. 

She heaves three anguished sighs before finally looking at him. He refuses to give into her obvious ploy and ask what has her so annoyed. Asking would imply he cares. Which he doesn’t.

“We don’t have as much as I thought. I felt like I was grabbing so much but…I don’t even know what a lot of this is.”

“You said there would be something for pain?” His question pushes through clenched teeth and an unwillingness to elaborate.

Her eyes dart to his leg regardless. She grimaces.

“I don’t know if they can be taken with antibiotics. I—” she breaks off, face crumpling as a sort of manic jolt has her blinking rapidly, cycling through stuttering false starts. “I—I thought I knew more about—it’s been years since I’ve taken any muggle medicine besides paracetamol. And I don’t think I’ve ever taken any prescription pain medicine—I…oh god. What if they combine and have a reaction? Or what if you have an allergy? It seemed so simple when I was planning—” she cuts herself off, hand flying to cover her mouth. She drags her fingers across her lips, almost clawing in her panic. 

“What does that mean, Granger?”

“It’s like with potions. There are some you shouldn’t mix because they might curdle or…explode. Muggle medicines are something of the same. I think. I know you shouldn’t mix certain kinds. I have no idea which combinations are fine and which will kill you.”

“That’s atrocious.”

“It’s literally just like potions. There’s no difference.”

“Still barbaric.”

“Do you even mean that or are you just trying to get a rise out of me?”

He’s mostly trying to ignore the throb pulsing through his thigh. When he doesn’t answer, Granger makes a decision. 

“This one’s an antibiotic. I’m positive. I think we should treat your hand first since it’s the older injury. And an infection can be deadly. Pain, well, it can be endured.”

Considering the way his leg sears, he begs to differ. But he can hardly bring himself to disagree with a woman who’s withstood torture. She summons a mug from their small pile of dishes and fills it with an aguamenti. She hands him the water and a single oblong tablet. 

“Swallow. Don’t chew it—just, swallow with the water.”

Draco looks at the bit of Muggle medicine in his hand. It looks like nothing; a tiny off-white tablet meant to deliver health? It bears no resemblance to a typical healing potion. He lifts it to his nose. It has no smell. Is it even anything at all? It seems too small to deliver any real benefit. 

“Just swallow it.”

The command sings across the cord, golden shimmers from her chest to his. It feels disturbingly like trust, or worse, faith. He obeys.

And then she’s on her knees in front of him and he nearly jumps away out of shock.

“I’ll look at your leg,” she says, already far too close to him for comfort.

“You’re not a healer.”

“I’m sorry, do you have one handy? No? Well, I’m not going to be able to heal it anyway since the wand is useless for that. I did get some bandages. It looks closed enough that I don’t think you need stitches.”

He doesn’t bother asking what that means. He’s too stunned by the fact that Granger is screwing up her features and reaching for his knee. 

“Don’t touch me.”

“Malfoy, I have to.”

“You really don’t.”

“I do. You’re already fighting an infection in your palm. Do you want one in your leg, too? This is a much larger wound. I just want to make sure it’s cleaned and bandaged properly.”

“And you know how to do that?”

He sucks in a breath when her hand finally lands on his knee. He can’t do this. His heart jumps to his throat, choking.

“Yes, I do. Look, I know it’s uncomfortable—”

“You have no fucking idea,” he grits out, interrupting her. Only a single layer of fabric separates them. He can’t take his eyes off her hand on his knee. 

She sighs, removes it, and is suddenly fiddling with the cuff of his pants. Draco feels as if he’s turned to stone. He can’t move. He’s not sure he’s breathing. Her fingers brush his calf and he confirms he can, in fact, still move; his leg jumps. Pain rips through him.

“I’m—uh, I’m not going to be able to roll these high enough.”

“I could have told you that.”

“I could cut them above the wound but…I’m already worried about being able to repair the cut from the slicing hex and since you don’t have a change of clothes I don’t want...well, for you to have trousers with only one leg.”

Draco might prefer that she cut off his entire leg instead.

Granger clears her throat, averts her eyes, and heaves a breath. “Or you could just take them off.”

He knew the suggestion was coming. It’s the only thing that makes sense. But he hates that she’s suggested it all the same. He doesn’t have a better idea; he’s furious about that. When he looks at her again, her cheeks have bloomed red but her jaw is screwed tight. 

“I know it’s, well, this is rather embarrassing for both of us—”

“Must be so difficult for you, Granger—”

“But this will give us the chance to try and mend your trousers and maybe even take them to the stream for a wash. I’m worried about all the scourgifies wearing our textiles too thin.”

“I’m not taking them off.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Malfoy. I can’t clean and bandage your wound through a hole and I don’t want to risk damaging your clothes any more.”

“I don’t want to.” He knows it sounds petulant.

“Malfoy—we can be mature about this. Or is stubborn Draco Malfoy refusing to do something because it’s me who’s asking? Do you have to be difficult all the time?”

“Gods, you’re so obnoxious. I’m not going to sit here in nothing but my boxers while you touch me.”

She doesn’t launch into another tirade. She blinks, processing, and then he watches when it hits her, mouth dropping open. 

“Oh.”

Her face grows rosier by the second, pink splashing across her cheeks. Draco does everything in his power not to flush too, either from his own embarrassment or something else. 

He doesn’t have another choice.

She’s still kneeling when he stands. He refuses to think about her position relative to him for even a second as he unbuttons his trousers, winces as he peels them down, and then sits again in nothing but his boxers. 

He wishes for something more interesting to focus on besides the inside of a fucking canvas tent. His gaze wanders, seeking a focal point to distract him. But the moment her fingers touch him, a gentle prod near the edge of his wound, his eyes snap down. 

Pain throbs where she touches, but comfort blooms, too.

It’s awful.

It’s instantaneous, the way his body thrums with satisfaction.

“It looks decently pulled together.”

“I performed several healing charms.”

“When?”

“Before I woke you.”

She sits back against her heels, looking up at him with confusion knitting her features together. As if she’s just realized she was unconscious in his presence for an extended period of time. He frowns. The idea that perhaps she might wonder if he’s capable of anything uncouth aches like a brand behind his breastbone. 

She doesn’t say anything, just swallows and reaches for her bag. She pulls out a bottle. 

“This might sting,” she says.

Good, is all he can think. A sting sounds like distraction. 

She dampens a cloth, presses carefully around the edges of his wound. She doesn’t touch him directly again, but not even the sting of whatever monstrous liquid she’s torturing him with can disintegrate the unbidden want for her touch.

This could not possibly get any worse. 

She finishes wiping at the dried and crusted red edges of his wound. 

“Fucking cunt,” he shouts when she lays the cloth directly over the open part of his wound.

“I know, I know,” she says, leaning away with a grimace drawn across her face. “I wanted to make sure it was clean. I’m sorry, I know that must have—”

“Fucking bitch.”

“I certainly hope you don’t mean me, Malfoy. I’m doing you a favor.”

He grits his teeth, saying nothing as she drops the cloth and pulls out another bit of muggle medicine he imagines she intends to use as torture.

“This is an ointment. It has antibiotics in it. I—I’m going to apply some and then wrap your leg, alright?”

Apply means touching. Draco knows how to read between the fucking lines. He’s barely breathing as is, willing the warmth in his skin to stay in his leg and not ascend the scant space required for something more.

Dread drops in his chest the moment she touches him, delicate fingers gently tracing his wound. She’s trying not to hurt him, but he almost wishes she would. Because her focus is devastating. She cranes, careful in her application. And her chest touches his knee. She doesn’t seem to notice, but he definitely does. 

Perhaps this will be the single greatest ironic moment of his life, that Hermione Granger over all people has just lit his entire person on fire with a few brushes of her skin to his. He doesn’t even have the capacity to whinge internally about the unfairness of it all. All he can focus on are his hands gripping the canvas covered metal rod that composes the frame of his cot, and of never letting it go. 

She applies the ointment and she should be done. But her fire starting fingers linger; it only lasts the span of several agonizing seconds. What started as massaging in the ointment becomes a trailing finger down the length of his outer thigh, pausing at his knee. 

Something misfires inside his body, a bubbling potion exploding, a boom and whoosh of hot, unavoidable lust. His cock grows heavy, warm against his leg.

Then she moves her hands back up again, as if she’s just realized she has more work to do. Pretenses of not touching fall and scatter in millions of little pieces as her renewed energy has her pressing her entire torso up against his knee as she cranes over him. 

She unwinds a gauzy bandage and hovers about his wound. Much as he has many other things on his mind right now, it does briefly occur to Draco that it looks much cleaner than before, that perhaps she hadn’t engaged in this activity strictly out of a perverse desire to torture him.

“Could you—” she starts, voice soft.

It forces him to look up at her, to stop staring at the bandage.

She looks like she’s been sitting in the sun all afternoon: slightly pink, winded, mouth dropped open and breathing in tiny, shallow breaths. But instead of pupils like pin pricks, reduced by so much sun, hers are blown wide: dark, unknowable portals to whatever is happening inside her head.

“Could I what?” he manages to ask.

“Lift the leg of your boxers.” She swallows, averting her gaze back down at the bandage. “Just a bit. Just so that I can…” She makes an unintelligible little motion with the bandage he assumes she means to suggest wrapping his leg. 

He’s going to have to move his hands from their death grip on his cot’s frame. There’s no getting out of this. His cock is still rapidly hardening the longer she hovers mere inches from it. It’s down that leg of his boxers too. He should have thought of that when he’d shoved his trousers off, adjusted before he sat back down, now that he has concrete proof that just a few brushes of her hands and pressure of her torso against his knee can have him hard and aching in a matter of minutes.

He’s going to die of mortification, tongue smashed against his teeth, lips twisted into a terrible sneer.

“Fine. But—I need you to back up for a second.”

“What?” Innocent, pupil heavy eyes glance up at him. 

“I need to adjust”—he clears his throat—“other things.”

She sucks in a breath, brows shooting to her hairline as she immediately sits back, breaking contact while looking rather stunned, as if she’s only just realized how much she’s been touching him.

Then she does exactly the thing he wishes she’d have had the good graces not to do. But she’s a bloody Gryffindor: subtlety and tact don't exist in her zeitgeist.

Her eyes land on his cock, straining against the leg of his boxers. She makes a tiny, squeaking sort of sound and it shoots straight to the inappropriate places Draco is trying not to think about.

But it’s the kind of squeak he thinks she might make with a cock deep inside her, right at the deepest part of a thrust, hips slammed together, force pushing air and sound out of her lungs. 

Fuck . He can’t decide if he hates or loves the fact that he’s just had that thought. More so, that he doesn’t know how much of it belongs to the magic and how much of it belongs to him. 

She keeps watching, and he realizes she’s not going to stop. Worse, he’s not sure he wants her to. A sort of recklessness has cocooned them in this terrible tent and real life consequences have exited through the feeble flap.

He unlocks his knuckles from their death grip on the edge of the cot. His hands aren’t nearly as steady as he wishes they would be, stained pink from his own blood, as he lifts them to his underwear. 

Granger’s mouth closes; she swallows.

It shoots another sudden thrill swimming like fire through his veins. She feels something, too. At least he’s not alone in his agony. In this lustful stormcloud. He suddenly feels less exposed and more like a performer. A small thrill of singular exhibitionism. Only for her. For eternity, it would seem.

He slips a hand inside his waistband, chokes on a groan he refuses to release as his hand wraps around his cock. It drags across the fabric as he pulls it up; he immediately seeks out Granger’s eyes and—yes—she’s watching him as if hypnotized. He imagines she’ll be mortified when the spell breaks and reality finds them. He should be too, but he’s intoxicated by the power of having her attention and can’t seem to find it in himself to care.

Obscured by his oxford’s shirttails, he repositions his cock flat against his stomach, secured by the waistband to his boxers, irritatingly erect. He barely remembers his original purpose. The only thoughts flooding his brain are of hands on his cock, pumping him to release. Hers or his, he doesn’t much care at this point. He’s aching to come.

But he shifts, pain shooting through his leg, and remembers himself. He curls his fingers around his boxer leg and shifts it up so that Granger has more room to work.

She snaps into action, quickly wrapping his wound. Her sense of extreme care and caution has vanished, now she’s working as if her life depends on it. When she’s secured the bandage she throws herself back, away, onto her own cot. 

They sit, neither looking at the other, as it becomes apparent that both of them are struggling for breath. She bolts out of the tent before he can die of mortification. A small mercy, in the grand scheme of things.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione hadn’t realized, not until that night, just how close she sleeps to Draco Malfoy. 

Except she can’t sleep. Not now. Not with his cot only a few feet from her. She’d had herself under control, steadfastly ignoring the silver rope burrowing into her chest in all its translucent glory. That is, until she woke from a stunner with him hovering over her, looking inexplicably like safety and relief.

And then she’d had to touch him. And she lost herself touching him. Merely prodding the faintest edges of that memory has her face flaming, chest clenching in embarrassment. She’d thought she would combust simply from tending to an injury. 

She hadn’t been disingenuous in her concerns about the state of their textiles. He’s been wearing the same thing since they fled Malfoy Manor in April, and she only has a couple outfits in her bag. After bolting from the tent that afternoon, she hit her knickers—soaked through by a sudden, overwhelming wave of desire—with a scourgify, praying silently they survived the spell. That she’d had to worry about such a thing was out of place and inappropriate. 

Just because she’s lonely, feels so alone, and has only Malfoy for company, doesn’t mean she should be entertaining any thoughts even closely related to lust. She doesn’t have the time, shouldn’t have the energy for things like that. 

Her face burns against the dark. She’s surprised she hasn’t developed bioluminescence; she’s fairly certain there’s enough heat in her face to light up the whole tent. And now, laying in her cot and trying to find sleep, she can’t ignore the silver glints twisting with renewed activity in the air. It’s as if she fed the rope with touch and now, having had a taste, it demands more. 

It's hard to ignore his presence when it tugs at her through her breastbone. 

She listens to Malfoy’s breathing, uncertain if he’s asleep or just quiet. She doesn’t know well enough what he sounds like when he sleeps. How could she? She knows Harry and Ron’s sleeping sounds nearly as well as she knows the pitch of their voices. She bats back a swell of grief. She won’t hear Harry’s again.

Malfoy shifts and makes a quiet, low sort of grumbling sound. Perhaps he’s having difficulty sleeping, too. She can’t decide if that’s a consolation or a concern. He releases a breath; it sounds suspiciously like an annoyed sigh.

She can’t help herself. Hermione sighs, too.

Their silence stops feeling so silent. Rather, it thrums. It’s silver and singing. Precious metal. 

Fabric rustles.

It reminds her again of his physicality. He exists, right there. His body is right there. And she’s drawn to it in a way she can neither explain nor understand. 

His skin was warm. Muscles solid. And he’d been affected earlier, too. 

She swallows against her embarrassment. Of all people: cruel, sharp, sniping Draco Malfoy has the fewest reasons to find something pleasing in her touch. And yet, this Draco Malfoy hasn’t left her yet. He’s been petulant and difficult and snotty, but he hasn’t hindered their survival, has helped it, even. 

She sighs again, shifting her position to lay on her back. She’s almost resigned when she presses her thighs together; she’d been thinking about his arousal earlier and has now wandered into her own again. 

Her unwelcome desire blooms warm, low in her pelvis. It’s agonizing, almost, how much she’d wanted to touch him, be touched by him. 

She has a war to plan and fight and win; she has no other options. Her list of responsibilities and worries stretches a mile long. She’s overwhelmed and on alert nearly every second of every day.

Which is the only way she knows how to justify the sheer relief in the simplicity of desire she experiences every time she touches Malfoy and gives in, just a bit, to the pull of this rope between them. 

She wants more touch and she knows she shouldn’t. She wants more than hands on wrists and bandages on thighs. She craves touch like she’s never known before. It’s growing, only getting worse, the pulse of want in her knickers. Part of her wonders if she just needs to take care of it herself, snake her hand beneath her panties and indulge in the stress relief of acknowledging her own needs. She nearly does it, hand hovering over her stomach, when she hears him breath a quiet fuck, almost inaudible, from his cot beside her.

She holds her breath. 

Counts to ten. 

Releases it. 

Then engages in an act of self-destruction.

“Can’t sleep?” she asks in a voice barely above a whisper.

He lets out a hollow, almost silent laugh. She hears shuffling, more fabric rustling, and turns her head. Faintly illuminated in the silver glow of the rope connecting them, she sees that he’s sat up on his cot, sideways with his feet on the ground. He’s bent, head dropped over his knees.

With a painful, lusting jolt, Hermione realizes he’s shirtless. 

“You’re not wearing a shirt,” slips out of her before her brain fully registers the thought.

She can’t tear her eyes from his smooth, pale skin, a beacon, almost, in the dim glow of her silver companion. 

His laugh is louder this time. He lifts his head, looks at her. The glow from the rope at his chest lights up his face from below. It’s still dark, but it casts severe, sharp shadows across his already angular face. He looks otherworldly, unreal, like a nightmare come to life. Tailor-made just for her.

“Difficult for you, is it?” A pause. “You’re not wearing trousers. I can see your thigh sticking out from your blanket.”

Hermione lifts her head enough to glance down her body. One of her legs is indeed outside her covers.

“I’m wearing sleeping shorts,” she says.

“They’re indecent.”

She throws his words back at him. “Difficult for you?”

“Incredibly.”

Banter fizzles. His answer is raw and honest and a broken kind of croak. Hermione wonders, if not for the cover of this glittering darkness, maybe he wouldn’t have admitted to it at all.

She’s staring idly at his shadowed form, occasionally illuminated by a pulse from the rope. He moves. It looks like he’s touching—no, adjusting, probably shifting—himself. 

But her breath hitches. Loudly.

And he stops.

The glow from the rope dims, just when she needs it to flare instead. But it’s simmering into something quieter, softer. It fades, leaving nothing but darkness in the space between them.

She thinks he’s looking directly at her. The thought of it scorches.

She can’t help herself, she squirms, uncomfortable under inspection. In frustration, she leans her head back against her pillow: chin up, neck feeling eerily exposed, staring at the tent above her. She lets go of a breath that comes out like a frustrated groan, stripped of rumble by a tight throat.

It’s his breath that catches now.

She rotates her head against the pillow. This time she knows, without even seeing him, that his eyes are glued to her face. And hers on his. Until she lets them flit down against her better judgement. 

His silhouette shifts, shoulders and arms moving. It’s hard to see, difficult to tell, but a rebellious, horribly hot seed in the pit of her stomach blooms into a field of wildflowers, wildfire. He’s probably just adjusting something. Maybe he’s uncomfortable. 

She’s uncomfortable. 

But not in the way she should be. She’s uncomfortable because she’s curious about what Draco Malfoy’s hand must look like on his—

Gods. What if he pulls it out of his boxers? Does she want him to? Heat rolls through her again, no longer so centralized in her stomach, but a wave from chest to cheeks to toes. Ebbing and flowing, surging like a hot tide. It robs her of breath. Sanity too, it seems.

Hermione has to shift again. She throws her blankets off because she’s burning up. She thinks she hears him make a sound, but she’s shifting again, trying to cool down, finding a position that doesn’t remind her of hot coals and melted metals. 

Tiny sparks of silver glitter when he speaks. “Are you doing this on purpose?” He sounds strangled.

For some reason, that shoots a thrill through her.

“Doing what? I’m hot, Malfoy.”

He groans before she’s even finished speaking his name. She stares at the tent ceiling, suddenly very concerned he might actually touch himself. More concerned that she thinks she might want him to. She might want to watch.

She can’t think. Her whole body feels electrified, a live wire requiring grounding lest she seek the nearest object for an emergency outlet.

“Don’t make noises like that,” she tries to snap. It comes out panted and breathless instead.

“Why not? They’re your fault.” His snap is sharper than hers was, but equally breathless.

And before she can even consider that perhaps she ought to keep her traitorous, heat-softened mouth shut, she spills. “Because they make me want to...”

“Then do it.” He groans when she gasps. “Fuck.”

Slowly, she twists her head again, watching his silhouette for confirmation that he’d just said what she thinks he did.

“What?” Her voice enters a new stratosphere, simultaneously impossibly high-pitched while also nothing but choked air. “Do”—a waver—“what?”

He sounds furious that he has to say it. “You know what—fuck, just—” 

His voice cuts off and she doesn’t think. Her hand descends, sliding beneath the waistband of her sleep shorts and her knickers in one solid, disorientingly confident motion. She whimpers despite her better judgement.

She wonders if he can see, if he knows. If this was even what he meant—surely it’s what he meant. She blinks and realizes she’d been wrong before. He definitely hadn’t pulled himself out of his pants, not then. Because he certainly has now. His silhouette just barely gives it away, but his left arm is moving very slowly: up and down.

Another tiny noise escapes her and his movement jerks, twists.

She wants to look away. 

She can’t. 

Her ears catch the soft sound his forearm makes when it comes in contact with his cotton boxers on the downstroke. He is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, touching himself. Right there, mere feet from her. Inexplicably, her dry mouth waters.

She has no right to be amazed. Because she’s touching herself, too. She should feel mortified, appalled at her own daring. But she can’t spare the time for such things when the thrilling novelty of it all sizzles her thoughts.

She’s never…done this with anyone else before. War has made amorous moments difficult to come by before now. But here she is: still in a war, in a dark tent with Malfoy and these faint silver filaments, his hand moving up and down and up and down and— oh gods. He’s really doing it.

She’s been dragging her fingers through her arousal with little aim or focus, driven by an indistinct desire, something like want. His pace gives her direction, a steady beat she can follow as he strokes himself. It rattles her breath, thinking something like that, but she presses her fingers against her clit, shocked by a fresh jolt of intense pleasure. She begins circling with two fingers, matching his tempo and trying to stifle the sharp gasp that finally giving in forces from her lungs. Her body floods with warmth, heavy and blurred, like soft television static with the volume turned all the way down. 

“Yes,” she hears from him. A low, almost inaudible hiss in the darkness. Then, more audibly, “Like that.”

She nearly implodes. 

She twists, squirms, rocks her hips against her own hand and pushes lower. She slips a finger inside herself, seeking depth. She craves more. But this will have to do. Her back arches. Distantly, she knows she’s breathing heavier; she tries to hold it in. She rolls her lips over her teeth, smothering a whimper. Her eyes flutter.

Malfoy’s heavy breathing nearly short circuits her brain. 

He says “fuck” again, and it nearly sounds pained: part-pleasure, part-disgust.

She’s almost offended, but she’s losing herself, dragging her fingers back to her clit, circling frantically, finding her own pace now as she chases a tension coiling her muscles tight. Tiny, pleasured sounds get swallowed back, trying to contain so much inside her body of flesh and bone.

A noise slips when she realizes she’s close, a tiny sharp sound that cuts through panted breathing. Her toes curl, face pinching. She just needs to crest a wave, a single spike of pleasure out of reach.

And then Malfoy boosts her over.

“You first, Granger.” 

Her whimper stutters, caught on a surprised breath as her neck tenses along with everything else, mouth dropped open as she rides out the spasms zipping pleasure up and down her spine.

He grunts a moment later and she knows he’s finished, too.

Fireworks still explode beneath her skin. She’s buzzing. Electric and floating, brain and body sizzling in the aftermath of release, relief. 

It’s so silent. 

Absolutely no noise finds their tragic little tent of temptation apart from their ragged breathing.  

She drifts in the quiet, heart rate slowing until finally, her thoughts catch on the absurdity of what just happened. She flushes again, mortification this time. Should she—they?—say something? Is this something one talks about after the fact? She finds she’d rather pretend none of it happened. Ideally for the rest of her life. 

He casts a scourgify and her brain stutters over the idea that of course he has to clean himself up. More distantly, she wonders why she didn’t realize he has the wand. She’s surprised when he casts another spell and the wetness in her knickers vanishes too. 

That kindness is somehow worse. She’s even more embarrassed now. Her eyes were closed; she hadn’t even noticed. When she opens them, his silhouette has flattened, laying back on his cot again. It’s brighter in the tent. Glittering silver pops and sparks off the rope, barely even translucent, glowing enough to illuminate faces, choices.

She opens her mouth, not sure what to say but feeling like she should say something. She barely even manages a single syllable before he cuts her off.

“Don’t, Granger. Don’t.”

She doesn’t.

Instead, she finally finds sleep. 

 

Draco

 

Draco doesn’t sleep. He can’t, not with a cacophony lighting up the inside of his skull. It’s a violent clatter repeating: what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck ad nauseam. Literally. To the point of nausea. And not because he feels disgusted with the astonishing thing that happened in their dark tent. More so because he liked it. He liked it so much.

It cracked open a libidinous dam inside his chest and now he’s flooding everywhere, unruly want swallowing shorelines and cities and all the places where he’d shoved every last remotely unantagonistic thought he’d ever had towards Granger.

He now knows the kind of sounds she makes when she comes. He’s half hard all night just remembering that fact; he’s never heard a girl do that before. In between all the what the fucks rattling around inside his head, her strained whimpers flutter too, sounds she’d tried to hide from him.  

They don’t talk about it. Draco rises early and leaves their wards with the wand clutched in his hand. He doesn’t tell her where he’s going. He just let’s her sleep, silently grateful he won’t have to face her, not yet. He wanders to the nearby stream and decides to follow her recommendation to actually wash his clothes in lieu of a scourgify. Particularly after the emergency cleaning his pants needed last night, he hates to admit it, but he shares her concerns about the longevity of their clothing. 

He realizes, naked and irritated, that he doesn’t entirely know what it takes to clean his clothes. He’s never washed a single item of his own clothing before. He’s fairly certain soap ought to be involved, but they don’t have any of that. So he mostly just submerges his clothes in the waist-deep water and agitates them a bit before giving himself a scrubbing as well.

His hands linger on his half hard cock, stubbornly stirred with desire all morning. Not even cold river water can deter his persistent lust. Hermione fucking Granger and the sounds she makes with her fingers on her quim. What he would have given for more light, for the cord to have shown him her face, her hand; he’d wanted to watch. He still does.

He pumps himself, slowly, before he even realizes he’s doing it. It’s a relief, the way heat has him hardening, aching. If he doesn’t let himself think too long about how he’s half submerged in a river, stuck in probably the worst set of circumstances imaginable, while thinking about Granger as he fists his cock, he can almost ignore how pathetic he is. And how desperately he wishes everything was different. 

He groans, a soft sound in the forest, but loud enough that it unsettles him. The only person around to find or hear him is Granger, and he most certainly does not want her walking up on him touching himself.

Except that perhaps he does. 

He imagines the cord suddenly flaring to life as she approaches, golden and warm. He twists his palm over the head of his cock beneath the water; he’s certain he’s leaking. 

What would she do? She’d already completely upended his expectations about what a good little Gryffindor she is the night before.

Would she step into the water with him? Peel off her clothes and let him see her tits? Touch her? Touch him? He groans again, pace increasing. 

She’s supposed to be his. And even though he’s never so much as thought about wanting Granger before, he can’t easily deny he wants her now. At least, he wants her to slip into the stream with him, disappear beneath the surface, and wrap her warm mouth around his cock.

He spills into the river with a muffled grunt he tries to hold back. 

It takes him three heavy breaths to regret it, to remember how pathetic this is. He scrambles out of the stream.

At least Bella’s wand lets him dry off. 

He can’t go back yet, not with such a fresh fantasy branded inside his eyelids. So he practices with the wand.

It’s a finicky bitch, only sometimes working when he fiddles with the most basic spells like lumos and nox. He’s too nervous to try a bombarda in the middle of the woods while they’re meant to be hiding, but he gets the feeling the wand would perform that one just fine. Serpensortia works. Diffindo doesn’t. Wingardium leviosa takes two tries, but ultimately he’s able to levitate a decent sized log. 

By the time he finally returns to the tent it must be midday, close to lunch based on the way his stomach grumbles. 

He hates that Granger was right. His clothes feel much better actually washed as opposed to the veneer of cleanliness a scourgify offers. 

When he steps through the tent flap he finds Granger in a panic, hair huge, stuffing their belongings into her beaded bag. She mutters to herself, flushed and frantic. His first thought should have been something like what’s wrong, or what happened?

Instead, he wonders if that’s how she flushed when she came the night before. Just feet from him. He’ll never be able to unhear those sinful, strangled sounds she tried to hold in. He can’t escape these thoughts. 

She looks up and her eyes bulge, wide and round. Her jaw slackens as her brows pull together. Her panic has him panicking now. Lecherous thoughts indulged in, now he worries for what has her so frazzled.

“Has something happened? Did you hear from Weasley, or—”

Impossibly, her mouth drops open more.

“You—” she breaks off, dropping down onto her cot as she clutches her chest. Her eyes find the golden cord in awe, as if she’s only realized it popped back into existence when he walked close enough to the tent. 

A huge breath gusts from her lungs.

Draco’s chest thuds. Anticipation feels like fear. 

“Where were you?” she finally asks.

“I went to wash my clothes.”

“You took the wand.”

“I left the wards. Of course I took the wand.”

She rubs her temples, practically tearing her fine baby hairs from their roots. 

“Did it even occur to you what that might look like?” A pause while she drops her hand, a fist on her knee. “Me, waking up to find you and the wand gone?”

Well, no. He hadn’t thought about that at all.

“You thought I left?”

Her laugh is hollow, empty. She wraps her arms around her middle.

“Of course I did. Especially considering—recent events. So, yes. I thought you bolted and left me here without a wand and”—she makes a weak gesture at the pile of items she’d been cramming into her bag—“I didn’t know if you’d, I don’t know, tell someone where I was. I thought I had to run again.”

Her posture sags. He can practically feel the adrenaline seeping from her, finally given permission to relent. 

Her doubt shouldn’t bother him. He doesn’t want it to bother him.

Fuck this whole fucking situation. She’d thought he’d left her while he’d been imagining what it might feel like to come down her throat.

“Have you not been paying any attention?”

She looks up at him, angry. “Of course I have. I have to pay attention to everything. Wards, food, Patronuses, your bloody hand and your bloody leg. And I’ve been paying attention to this too.” She makes an agitated gesture to the gold cord burrowing into her chest. “But you haven’t told me anything, so…”

He’s angry, suddenly and viscerally. And he knows it’s not her fault but it feels like it is because he’s so mad at her. For existing. For tempting him. For the flood behind his ribs he doesn’t want to exist. 

He steps forward, so annoyed that she doesn’t know. That he might have to explain. “Ask your questions then.”

“I did. At the cottage. You laughed at me.”

“And you’ve barely asked anything since.”

“What? Would you like me to beg you daily to bestow your knowledge on me, Malfoy? I won’t do that. I asked. You declined to tell me anything because you’re so prideful and desperate to feel better than everyone that you’re willing to hoard pertinent information just so that you’re the only one who knows it.”

“Trust me, Granger, you don’t want to know what I know.” And no, he doesn’t think he’d mind her begging at all.

She blinks up at him. He could tell her. This is a perfect moment to. But then an unbidden memory of her back arched off her cot while she pants filters through his brain. It’s unfair. All of this. 

And it’s inevitable. That’s the worst part. But that doesn’t mean he can’t avoid it a little longer. He won’t encourage it. He already encouraged and indulged far too much last night. 

He pulls the wand from his packet and drops it onto the cot beside her. 

“I was serious when I said I won’t leave, regardless of my actual wishes. This”—he makes a vague sort of gesture at the cord—“hasn’t changed much about my life, to be honest.” 

She looks up at him: startled, confused. He takes a sick kind of pleasure in feeling like he’s tricked her, just for a moment, into thinking perhaps he harbored forbidden feelings for her before all this started. 

That would be romantic, and theirs is not a romance. 

“I still have no choice in where my loyalties lie—they just all belong to you now. Whether either of us likes it or not.”

He sits on his cot, then lays down. He’s exhausted, needs sleep. Needs to be away from her. At this point, it’s just as uncomfortable to be around her as it is to be separated.

“Go wash your clothes too, Granger. You smell.”

He’s not sure if that’s what she does, but she picks up the wand and goes.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione walks to the stream. Washes her clothes. Tries to wrangle her heart under control. It echoes with the panic that launched her out of a drowsy morning slumber when she’d noticed her sudden solitude. 

She doesn’t speak to Malfoy for the rest of the day.

She wants to ask again what it all means. But now she can’t. Her pride won’t let her. Not now that it seems like all she has to do is beg a bit. She’s better than that.

List making becomes her outlet. Each day, a new list:

Potions they need, and the subsequent ingredients required for each of them.

Wands they need, specifically, a number larger than one.

Basic survival gear they need, including a change of clothes for Malfoy. Hermione is lucky she has a few outfits in her bag, but Malfoy’s Easter ensemble has been his only option for more than a month. 

They don’t go anywhere, don’t risk another outing after how spectacularly their last one blew up in their faces. They ration their food. They do not speak when Hermione sets aside antibiotics for Malfoy each morning and each night. She hopes she has the dosage right. She’s mostly guessing, making educated assumptions, and trying to tread water. 

Treading water is too idle. She needs forward momentum, movement, to feel like she’s making progress even though all she’s really doing is waiting for a week to pass so she can meet with Ron and find some sort of support system for her life again. 

Her latest list, an inventory of what items they do have, a whimsical break from her lists of what they need, inflates a panic like bad air in her lungs as she sits against a tree just inside their wards. She tries to smother it, holding her breath. Maybe she can suffocate the panic before it suffocates her.

She’s already indulged in ten minutes of tears today, stuck on an image of little Teddy Lupin growing up without his parents. Just like Harry had. Parents stolen from their children in a war where they fought and died for good, but for what sometimes feels like nothing. 

Their food supply dwindles. The books Hermione thought would be necessary when she packed for this adventure with Ron and Harry going on a year ago have mostly remained stashed in her bag. She and Malfoy have a tent, a couple of cots, some stolen bandages and medicines, and a single wand between them.

How were they meant to fight a war with that and not end up just like Harry and Tonks and Remus and Fred and Hagrid and—

She chokes on grief.

And there’s still a horcrux to destroy. The snake is out there somewhere. And who knows if Voldemort has made more since. 

Her brain stalls. 

What if he had made more? It’s been what? Two weeks? How much splitting could a soul stand in that time? After having made so many before? After having suffered their destruction? Was it possible? She didn’t know. 

“What is—” Malfoy throws open the tent flap to find her sitting there. She hadn’t realized she’d started hyperventilating.

“What if he made more?” she chokes out, looking up at him.

Malfoy inhales, the worry on his face sinking into annoyance. They’d survived almost a whole week without having to engage. No more middle of the night—whatever that had been. No more panic over him suddenly disappearing. No more fighting. No more talking. 

“What if who made more of what?” He sounds as if a conversation has never so inconvenienced him in his life.

“You Know Who,” she whispers.

Malfoy sneers. “What happened to all that reckless bravery you used to have? Can’t even say his name now?”

She can’t breathe, but a sudden fear he might do something ridiculous, like actually say You Know Who’s name, rips an answer from her throat. “We can’t! Don’t—there’s a taboo on it. That’s how the snatchers found us before they brought us to…” she trails off, choking. She regroups. “What if he made more horcruxes?” 

She has to ask. She has to ask someone, voice the question out loud lest she simply explode from the stress.

Malfoy just blinks at her, giving her a curious look with a tilt of his can’t-be-bothered head. His blond hair falls carelessly over his eyes. In the sunlight, she can barely see the silver rope between them, almost entirely invisible.

“What’s a horcrux?”

The devastatingly casual way he asks that question almost kills her. Hermione’s heart sinks. He has no reason to know, of course he wouldn’t. Then she realizes: is there anyone else alive in this world who knows about them besides her and Ron? What if they both died? Then would anyone know? 

She should tell Malfoy. But she feels petty, nasty, still annoyed with him. A deep seeded, irritated part of her wants to snap that if he asks a couple more times, maybe begs, she’ll tell him. But she can’t do it. Practicality demands that such critical information not be siloed in two people. She chooses reason.

More than that, a sensation not unlike trust thrums along the mostly invisible rope between them. Unearned trust. But trust all the same.

So she explains horcruxes to Malfoy: what they are, how many Voldemort made, what they were, how they’ve been destroyed, and the one that’s left.

He’s quiet when she finishes, paler than usual, still standing just beyond the tent flaps. Wind blows through branches, rustling leaves like soft paper all around them. It rushes, whooshes, reminds Hermione of her own pulse. 

Malfoy asks for the wand.

She hesitates.

“Why?”

“Give me the wand, Granger.”

“Why?” she repeats. A jolt of fear overcoming the implied trust in the rope.

“Give me. The wand.”

“Are you going to hurt me?”

He scoffs like that’s the most ridiculous thing in the world.

“What? Are you—fuck. Why are we still going in circles with this? Are you really not paying attention? Give me the fucking wand.”

She has no real reason to deny him, other than her fear, her misgivings: she doesn’t want those things to define her. So she hands it to him. 

He immediately spins and yanks the tent flap aside, disappearing. He shouts, “Stay out there, Granger.” 

Hermione’s confusion only lasts as long as it takes for her to recognize a sudden muffling silence. He’s silenced the tent. She’s already on her feet and approaching despite his order.

A flash through the gap in the flap stuns her to stillness, then she moves again, more urgent now.

She tears the flap open and sound rushes her.

Malfoy is screaming. His cot is on fire. He’s bombarda’d a hole in the far side of the tent, and his whole body heaves. Huge breathes and grunts and shouts that sound terribly similar to sobs. 

“We’re dead. We’re dead.” The words spillover from between growls and groans. 

He turns to find her. His hands are in his hair now, practically ripping it from his head. She’s never seen him like this; he has no color left in his face. Even his lips have paled. His eyes are huge, chest expanding and contracting fast as bird’s wings. He looks annoyed to find her there with him, though not entirely surprised.

“Granger, we’re dead. We fucking dead. Why—why have you even bothered fighting as long as you have? He won.”

“They can be destroyed. I told you—”

“If he can make more, Granger, what’s stopping him from doing it again?”

“I don’t know if he can make more. His soul might be too fragile. It all depends if he…gets the pieces back? When a horcrux is destroyed—”

“You not knowing isn’t reassuring.”

“Well how can I possibly? I haven’t made any of my own. None of us knows with certainty.”

“You had one chance. You knew what they all were, where they were. And then Potter had to go and get himself killed.”

She slaps him. Hard across his pale, pointed face. He recoils, and before the sound of her slap has even fully faded from the tent, he has Bella’s wand pointed at her throat.

“Don’t you dare,” she says, meaning how he spoke about Harry. Concern about herself swells in a delay, wand pressed to the flesh of her throat.

The rope pulls tighter, a desperate desire for reconciliation thrumming from it.

For a horrifying moment, he looks like he might do it: slice her open, bleed her dry. Spill her muddy blood all over his Easter loafers. But then, teeth clenched, he lowers the wand.

“We’re not thirteen anymore, Granger. You can’t just hit me when you don’t like something I’ve said—”

“You can’t just speak ill of Harry when he’s—when he—”

“He’s dead, Granger. You need to accept it. He left us all to die.”

“He sacrificed himself so the rest of us might live.”

“Might. Might. We’re not going to. That’s my point. We are so fucked.”

“We are—not. We aren’t. We can’t be.”

So far gone in her emotions, overrun with adrenaline and agony and horrible, raw truth, Hermione only notices after the fact that they’re nearly touching from head to toe. Her fingers wrap around his forearm: the one with the wand. His other arm hovers around her waist, not quite touching, but she sees it in her periphery.

He stares down at her with a look she doesn’t know how to place. She nearly ignites: tinder too close to a flame.

He seems to realize their proximity, too, still studying her so closely. 

Quietly, “We’re going to die, Granger.”

“We’re not.” Even quieter. Her insistence falls flat.

His face shifts. Almost predatory. Wanting. Obviously lustful in a way Hermione has never seen directed at her before. Not from anyone. Not like that.

His hand stops hovering, palm to waist. He presses them closer and her body flattens against his. His concave and convex angles all smooth against hers, puzzle pieces fitting into place. 

He exhales at the fresh contact. She does, too. 

He frowns, a deep vertical line creasing between his brows. His nostrils flare with each pull of breath.

He looks simultaneously annoyed and desperate. His head dips, near her neck, hot breath puffing against her ear.

Hermione’s breath rattles in her chest, shaky as she tries to hold herself together, tries to resist the inexplicable desire to cant against him, to seek more contact. 

His next words come out slow. “If there’s really no hope…”

She can see it in how his face contorts. He has a pink welt forming on his cheek. He’s grieving for the entire world. His life, his parents, everything she imagines is dear to him. He really thinks they’ve lost. And she sees it, how she’s become his consolation prize in all that. 

That’s not good enough.

“There’s still hope,” she insists.

It requires more strength than she wants it to, but her hand finds his chest. She applies pressure, pushes. 

He doesn’t actually move, he’s too strong for her to actually push him away. If anything, his grip around her waist tightens in the split-second before he looks down. She watches realization, the consequences of his actions, dawn on him in real time.

He grits his teeth, practically snarls, and pulls himself away.

“What time are we leaving tomorrow?” He doesn’t look at her when he asks. He faces entirely away from her. At the hole he’s burned in the side of their tent.

“You heard the Patronus same as me. There weren’t that many directions.” She doesn’t mean to sound so breathless. But her chest is tight and she can’t quite seem to get air all the way down to the bottom of her lungs. “We’ll leave around the same time we got it. As close to exactly a week as possible.”

He doesn’t say anything, but she watches his head nod in a kind of acknowledgement. Instead of speaking, he begins work on trying to repair the tent.

 

Draco

 

With the tent packed away, Draco can’t help his grumpiness. He fixed the hole in the canvas as best he could, but a vague transparency lingers. The char marks on his cot weren’t so easy to scrub, either.

He’s woefully out of his depth and he knows it. His hair is a mess. He feels filthy. He’s hungry all the time, having already blown through the snacks they’d stolen from the muggle shop. He never wants to see another energy bar so long as he may live. Fucking disgusting.

And the antibiotics. They irritate his stomach if he doesn’t eat enough, which he hasn’t been for the last two days. So he feels a bit sick. His leg still aches. Every step feels like something rips inside his thigh. Every moment is a fight against grimacing. What had looked like a moderately healed wound the week before had clearly been more serious than either he or Granger realized. Something inside his leg isn’t right. 

But he doesn’t complain, bucks up. He won’t give Granger the satisfaction of knowing he’s struggling. He can already imagine the commentary about the poor aristocrat roughing it in the woods. Nor does he have any interest in having her tending to his wounds again. 

None of these woes even come close to eclipsing the mental and emotional haze he’s been in, drowning in Granger’s proximity. He wants to touch her all the time. He has neither a reason nor a right to. But fuck if he doesn’t want to anyway. 

He limps, just barely, as they finish packing up the tent.

“Is your leg bothering you?”

“It’s fine.”

“Are you sure—”

“It’s fine. Let’s do this.” Her mouth snaps shut. “Are you apparating us or shall I?”

“I’d rather, if you don’t mind.”

He rolls his eyes. “Control issues?”

She frowns. “I know the exact place Ron is talking about.”

“I went to that World Cup, too.”

“I doubt you spent much time around the Muggle Ron is referencing.”

He has no rebuttal to that. Instead: “They’re not locking me up again. If I don’t have the wand…”

“You’re not a threat. They won’t lock you up.”

He laughs. “I’m not a threat?”

“Do you want me to vouch for you or not?”

“I want you to give me the wand so I’m not unarmed.”

“I know where we’re going, Malfoy. Maybe try trusting me.”

He tenses his jaw and says nothing. He’s not willing to experiment with sharing magic again, with the strange rush of power he’d called upon to apparate them out of Shell Cottage while she’d still been holding the wand. They could do it in reverse here, let him have the wand while she controls the magic. But that requires more touch and trust than he’s able to handle. 

He just holds out his arm. She hesitates before taking it. He silently begs her not to comment on the rush of warmth he knows she must feel, because it’s flushing him of his foul mood and replacing it with something else. She stiffens before shaking herself.

Then, she turns on her heel, zipping them in an uncomfortable pinch and compression. 

They land in a field, overgrown and messy, just next to a copse of trees. 

Draco tumbles, landing clumsily on his bad leg. He feels the sickening rip of skin splitting.

“Fuck!” he shouts, pain shooting through his leg. Granger pushes him into the tree line and all he can do is wobble and wince and hiss.

“Quiet, quiet. Are you alright?” She glances down at his leg. Blood has already dampened his trousers. “Oh no no no, did I splinch you? Oh no—”

“Not splinched,” he grits out. “From last week. My leg. It—I think it’s split open.”

“What? You said it was almost entirely healed—”

“I lied. Obviously. I landed on my leg wrong and—” he breaks off, hissing at a sharp stab of pain. 

Granger begins digging in her bag and rather pitifully produces a mostly used up roll of bandages.

“Save it, Granger. I’m already bandaged.” 

“But you’ve bled through.”

He rests his head against a tree, leaning all his weight onto his good leg. Stuck in another forest with her; he can’t seem to escape them. 

“Yeah, it has. Doesn’t mean we should waste our time redoing it when—”

A crack cuts him off. Through the trees, Draco spots red hair.

“Hermione?” 

She gasps at the sound of Ronald Weasley's voice and it ignites an entirely unwanted jealousy in Draco’s chest, ribcage on fire. He grunts, pushing himself to his feet and stumbling out of the tree line after Granger, just in time to see her throw herself into a hug with Weasley. He asks her a ridiculous question about fourth year between their overwhelming joy. Granger answers and asks a ridiculous question of her own. 

Draco realizes several moments later that they have been testing each other. That this is something they’ve even remembered to do in such an emotionally charged moment astonishes him. 

The hug lingers, and an absolutely insane and possessive rage floods Draco’s senses, seeing red.

“Get the fuck off of her,” he spits. The fury in his tone sounds foreign to his own ears. 

Weasley holds her tighter, making everything worse, and instead, he spins with Granger still in his arms, positioning himself between them. His eyes widen, as if he’d just now noticed Draco is even there. Some sense of surroundings he has. Useless.

The surprise only lasts long enough for Weasley to aim a wand at Draco’s chest. 

Granger, for her part, pulls herself from Weasley’s grip and begins sputtering her own outrage. “Malfoy, who do you think you are—and Ron, stop, he’s been—”

But Draco isn’t paying attention; his rage has found a new outlet.

Weasley is pointing Draco’s own wand at him

“Give me my fucking wand, Weasley.”

He doesn’t wait for a response, doesn’t even think. Barely processes any kind of sensory input beyond the whooshing of his own pulse behind his eardrums. He has no wand. His leg screams at him. But Draco still takes two lunging steps forward and, with his bad hand, decks Weasley.

Several things happen at once:

Granger squeals and jumps back as Weasley eats a face full of leaf litter: highly satisfying.

Both old wounds on Draco’s palm and leg have clearly split wide open. He’s potentially broken at least one bone in his hand based on the crunching sound when his fist made contact with Weasley’s face and the agony zipping through his nerve endings: less satisfying.

Draco, perhaps because he’d already invested blood and bone into this endeavor, hauls himself on top of Weasley and starts swinging with his off hand.

How dare Weasel. Somewhere deep in the logical part of Draco’s brain, he knows his wand has rolled away and he should just grab it and be done with this. But Weasley touched her, had his hands on Granger in something more than friendship, Draco could tell. He felt the warning hum through the bond, his bond with her.

He swings again. White hot pain sears him when the skin on his knuckles bursts. Stars erupt into existence behind his eyelids with every blink. He might be in just as bad of shape as Weasley is—Weasley, who’s walloping Draco’s torso, stealing breath with a well aimed punch to his solar plexus.

Hermione scream-whispers for them to stop in a mostly comical tone, because not even an emergency like him beating the ever living shit out of Weasley can make her forget her perimeter protecting sensibilities.

Weasley lands a punch under Draco’s jaw, sending him reeling. His teeth crack together, biting right through part of his tongue. Copper spills into his mouth.

Draco spits it right into Weasley’s face and it feels fucking fantastic.

Two more apparitions crack in rapid succession. Draco barely has the chance to wonder who else might be arriving before he hears Granger leveling a stupefy at him. Then, silence and sleep.

 

 

Draco wakes on another cot. Not his though. This one smells different, he realizes. Like body odor and bile and maybe a little bit of piss. 

He’s standing before he’s even fully awake. He’s in a small room with an ordinary desk and chair on one side and the cot he’d woken up in on the other; it’s claustrophobic and awful. His head spins, still a bit out of it. He has no idea how long he was unconscious. Stunners blinked you on and off with no awareness of the inbetween.

Which begged the question of who woke him.

Finally scanning the rest of the room, he finds Granger standing in an open doorway, leaning against the frame with her arms crossed and a scowl on her face. She’s holding a wand that is neither Bella’s nor his. 

He glances around the room again, searching for confirmation of what he suspects has happened.

“It’s warded,” she says with a sigh. 

“You let them lock me up? What did I say, Granger? You let them—”

Her eyes narrow and she doesn’t shift in the slightest as he approaches her. That tells him everything he needs to know about where the wards keeping him in begin and end. 

“I helped them do it, too,” she says. “Literally the first thing you did was start a fight. You broke Ron’s nose.”

“He has my wand. Where is it?”

“Ron still has it.”

“What the fuck is Weasley doing with my wand? I want it back.” His shout reverberates against wards and walls.

“You think just demanding to have it, or worse, beating someone for it, is going to get you what you want?”

“Nothing else has worked so far. I’ve tried strategy, Granger. I’ve tried doing what I’m told. I tried laying low. I tried doing nothing. And none of it has worked so what’s another failure on the fucking list? At least beating his stupid freckled face felt good.”

“Well, congratulations. Now no one trusts you, or will even believe me that you’re a neutral party at worst. So yes, we warded you in.”

“I’m not neutral.”

Granger blinks but doesn’t comment. 

“Who else is here?” he asks.

She hesitates. “They’re still trying to send out Patronuses, gather folks. But if people are—have been killed. Or are being held somewhere with wards that won’t allow—or somewhere else a Patronus might not—”

“How many, Granger? Who?”

She clears her throat. “George Weasley. Justin Finch-Fletchley, Neville Longbottom. The Patil twins.” A beat of silence passes wherein he waits for her to go on. Surely she will go on.

“What—that’s it? Less than ten of us?” He laughs, and he can hear it for the manic, insane cackle that it is. If he had a wand, he’d blast another hole in his living quarters. If he laughs, he can’t scream. “And you think we’re not going to die? With that many of us—where are we—who is even supposed to be in charge? George Weasley? He’s the oldest one here? Not even a real adult around—”

“We’re all adults,” she interrupts.

“No.” He halts her rebuttal in its tracks. “Not really. Are you kidding yourself? This war is generational, Granger. We’re not even close to adults. It’s barely even about us. We’re just unfortunate participants.” He asks again. “Who’s supposed to be in charge?” He hears the panic slipping out.

Granger clears her throat, doesn’t look at him.

“It was—Dumbledore, obviously. Then Harry, Ron, and I were looking for Horcruxes while—well we haven’t heard from Professor McGonnagall. Or Molly and Arthur. Professor Lupin he—I saw him. His body. Hagrid’s, too. I’m hoping to hear from Kingsley but—” Her voice breaks, a stutter between syllables and a complete stop. She swallows, and Draco watches the labor in the action. He knows how it feels to swallow a sob. “When we ran, when we realized we had to...a lot of them—the adults—they tried to give us time to escape…”

When she trails off, he notices the quiet tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. She wipes them away, doesn’t say anything else. She jerks abruptly, as if she plans to leave.

And all Draco can think, in the blip of a moment, is a desperate plea that she not lock him in. Not another room. Not again.

She pauses, hand on the door frame, gaze on the floor.

He wonders if she knows what he’s thought, if she’s thinking it too. She inhales deeply, and Draco watches her eyes track the golden cord on the floor between them, following it up his body to where it burrows in his chest. She stares for several seconds before making the leap from his chest to his face.

Her expression says, don’t make me regret this. He’s glad she doesn’t actually make him promise. 

She casts a finite, steps aside, and makes a sort of gesture with her head that he interprets as a sign that he can follow. 

“Stay with me,” she says. “I—no one will hurt you but—they aren’t going to trust you, so don’t throw any more punches, okay? You’ve lost literally every chance you had at goodwill here.”

“I want my wand back.”

“I’ll ask Ron for it.” He follows her down a long, cavernous hall that comprises the ground floor of the Quidditch stadium. Long-abandoned booths for snack and trinket sales stare at him from their places of destitution. “He—Ron says he took your wand off Bill when he—” she pauses, clears her throat. “Ron’s been using spares ever since the manor...And well, he has both yours and Bill’s now. Apparently yours works better for him.”

Draco feels a little bit like retching.

“It’s mine. He can’t have it. I don’t care if it likes him more than his dead brother’s.”

Hermione stops. When he turns to look at her, her face has paled; she looks steps from the grave herself. Then her eyes widen, mouth curling to a snarl.

“Don’t. Don’t you dare. You stop that. Stop doing that. Stop being cruel. I refuse to believe that’s who you are. That I’m—with you—just stop. Whatever it is that makes you think you have to be this nasty, heartless person, just—stop. Ron has lost at least two of his brothers. We still don’t know where Ginny or his parents are. He hasn’t heard from Charlie in a week and he’s worried Percy might have”—she swallows—“defected.” 

Draco tries to start walking again, perhaps a tiny attempt to run away from Hermione Granger’s sudden ire, but she stays rooted to the spot, fury emanating from every last curl atop her head. 

She keeps going. “His best friend just died and I—” she falters, fails, stumbles over her words. “I can’t even seem to explain what’s happening to me, but when he tried to hug me I thought I was going to be sick.”

Draco shouldn’t feel pleased. Not after that verbal lambasting. But the sensation of knowing that touching someone else, touching Weasley of all people, turned her stomach, zings with a thrill up his spine. 

When the thrill calms, he realizes he can’t decide if she’s right. Who is he anymore? Is he playing a part or acting like himself? At what point did the part he played simply become him? He used to know who he was. Draco Malfoy. Heir to the Malfoy dynasty. Pureblood. Proud. Descended of a long, revered line of talented, special witches and wizards. His family had precious secrets and magic and power thrumming through its veins. 

Now, he washes his trousers in a river and begs not to be locked in a room. 

Maybe he isn’t truly this cruel. Perhaps it’s all performance, an obligatory act.

Or maybe this is who he is now, who he’s had to become.

He doesn’t know. And that upsets him more than anything else.

Even more than the impulse to apologize. To beg for Granger’s forgiveness. So instead of doing that, he remains quiet until she moves again.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione has certain expectations about what her friends will think when she shows up with Malfoy in tow. She expects they’ll be annoyed, but that they’ll refrain from hexing him out of respect for the fact that she has thoroughly exhausted herself defending his presence.

Thoroughly exhausted. 

Throat sore from pleading.

Head aching from extensive reasoning.

Gnawed lip bearing the brunt of her idle anxieties.

Both Ron and George asked her to leave him locked up.

She couldn’t do it. Not when he’d looked at her with panic that read of too much time spent in the same room against his will at Shell Cottage. 

That, and the silver rope. It sizzled with magic that felt like fear. 

What she doesn’t expect is for Ron to take one look at Malfoy when they emerge onto the overgrown Quidditch Pitch, walk up to him, and clock him across the face.

Malfoy drops like a heavy bag of books. 

Hermione hears the clatter inside his jaw as Malfoy’s teeth clack together. She’s on them in an instant, already pulling Ron away.

But he steps back with almost no prompting, hands up as if to say that was his one shot. When Hermione looks to George where he stands nearby, she sees his scowl and planted posture for the signals they are; he won’t intervene, no matter how many punches Ron plans to throw. 

Ron tosses Malfoy’s wand down into the grass. “Try asking nicely next time, you entitled prick.”

“Ron—”

“I asked you not to let him out yet.” Ron looks tired. He looks disappointed. But mostly, he looks confused. The same look he wore when she was wading through her defenses of Malfoy, not understanding half of her own instincts to trust him.

“He’s not a problem.”

Ron’s blue eyes hurt to look at. “He already is. The only reason he’s getting his wand back is because I trust you. That’s it.”

Hermione turns to Malfoy and finds him pushing himself to his feet, one hand rubbing the side of his cheek, the other firmly grasped around his wand. A trickle of blood spills from the corner of his mouth, so shockingly bright against his pale skin.

Paler these days than he used to be. He used to be a generally pale sort of person, now he’s more permanently ghostly.

Hermione reaches for her hair, plaited messily and falling over her left shoulder. She doesn’t remember the last time she saw herself in a mirror. She can’t help but wonder how much her appearance has changed too.

Her clothes fit looser. 

She’s found dried leaves and small twigs stuck in her hair on more than one occasion. 

She avoids touching her scalp. She’s terrified she’ll find ticks. At least with more agreeable wands she can take care of that now. Maybe Parvati can help her.

When Malfoy wipes away the blood at his mouth, there’s a gasping second wherein Hermione can’t decide if he’s going to do something idiotic, like use his freshly returned wand to eradicate every last ounce of goodwill she’s bargained for him with her good name. 

Hermione breathes easily, ironically, when he’s just an arse instead.

“Why are we on the pitch? Shall we play a little pick up game for nostalgia’s sake?”

She shoots him a warning look. It’s as if he doesn’t care about the thin ice barely holding him up. His voice is nasty, nastier than when it was just the two of them. It almost seems like a reflex, a freshly unstoppered leak spewing vitriol.

“Sure Malfoy,” Ron responds. “Why don’t you grab your Death Eater outfit and we’ll do a full reenactment of the last time we were all here, yeah?”

“I wasn’t with them you fucking dolt.”

“Your father was.”

“I’m fully aware.”

Around Malfoy and Ron’s verbal standoff, the others have gathered, loitering in anticipation of—something, clearly. George looks one word from launching his own insults. Neville hovers cautiously with Justin, Padma, and Parvati. All of them watching as Malfoy makes such a wonderful introduction for himself.

“We put our strongest wards around the pitch,” Hermione offers. “There’s a secondary apparition line just outside, but the whole stadium is a lot to maintain, but this way we have space and open sky if we need to leave.”

Malfoy’s brows lift.

“We have a couple brooms,” Neville says from the background.

“How’d you manage that?” Malfoy’s tone isn’t entirely hostile, almost curious. 

“Hid out in the changing rooms at Hogwarts for two days before I finally got out of there.”

Hermione feels the clip in Neville’s words, an unspoken story contained in that single sentence. Her heart aches; she can’t entertain ideas about what he endured. Not in addition to everything she’s already carrying. 

The immediate threat of more conflict seems to have passed, and Hermione jumps on the opportunity to further deescalate. She retrieves the shrunken tent from her beaded bag and tosses it to Malfoy. He catches it easily.

“Could you set this up?” she asks. She almost cringes. It’s obvious what she’s trying to do. She wants him out of their hair for a minute. And she’s sure he knows that.

Instead of looking annoyed or offended, he mostly just looks bemused. Eventually he sighs as if he’s terribly put out by the suggestion, but complies anyway. 

Neville steps forward. “Maybe you could…show me the spells for it?”

It’s so transparent Hermione sees straight through him. She’s grateful, though, that it’s Neville who offers. Malfoy just rolls his eyes and shakes his head. He gestures to the cluster of three other tents pitched near the center of the field. “There, I assume?” he asks with a tone that says he doesn’t care at all about the answer.

Hermione nods, throat tight, drowning in the discomfort of this whole dynamic. She feels like an actor on stage and someone has forgotten their lines, or an audience member has jumped up and joined them, or they’ve just realized they are meant to be performing an entirely different show altogether. 

Disquiet hovers in the spaces between bodies standing uncomfortably still and words waiting to be spoken. 

Malfoy walks to the other tents with another dismissive shake of his head. Neville follows.

The inquiry is instantaneous.

“You can’t be serious,” from Justin.

“He doesn’t seem—alright,” from Parvati.

“Kind of—unhinged,” from Padma.

“And you just gave him his wand back ? What were you thinking?” from George, to Ron.

Ron, however, stays silent. He crosses his arms, levels Hermione with a look stuck somewhere between disappointment and accusation.

“We can trust him.” Hermione isn’t sure when she decided to believe that for herself.

Ron's scoff rolls across the overgrown grass, meandering around the Quidditch pitch with its derision. 

“He defected, Ron.”

“Did he?” George cuts in. His voice is sharp. Everything about him is harsh, whittled down to a point. She’s never known George without his smile. But she’s not sure she’s seen it once since they arrived.

She can’t explain it. Literally cannot form the words to describe that there’s some kind of connection between her and Malfoy and, much as she doesn’t understand or want it, it has clearly realigned his priorities. It’s not that she wants to tell them, doesn’t want to expose this uncomfortable connection, but part of her thinks it’s the only way they’ll fully believe her. And just when she pulls together the courage to simply say it, she can’t form a single word: magically gagged. 

Instead, she rotates eye contact between her friends, between these people who she loves and trusts and has fought a war with. She opts for the closest thing to truth she can offer.

“I can’t—explain it. But please. If you trust me, you can trust Malfoy. He’s on our side.”

George scoffs this time. “Malfoys are only on their own side. He’s never going to pick any of us over himself, Hermione. You’re starkers if you don’t see that.”

But he has. He’s picked her several times. He hasn’t been especially happy about it. But he has. And she can’t seem to verbalize any of it. 

It snaps frustration inside her. “If I’m stuck with him, then so are you. There’s no point discussing it. Figure out how to trust him or ignore him. I don’t care.”

Ron looks away, arms still crossed, mouth tight as he directs his gaze across the pitch, somewhere in the distance.

 

 

That evening, planted around a fire with rice simmering over the flames and nearly killing Hermione with anticipation, their quiet standoff is killed by Malfoy acting as a wrecking ball.

He sits apart from them, slightly outside the circle they’ve formed, twirling his wand and seemingly indulging in little spells and charms just because he can.

With the sun down and more food cooking than Hermione has seen in two weeks, Malfoy sighs from his place apart from them and says, “So what went wrong?”

Everyone freezes. Neville, crouched over their dinner. George and Ron, leaning together and whispering. Justin, crafting whistles with blades of grass. Parvati and Padma, deep in their own conversation. And Hermione, steadfastly ignoring the silver rope slithering in the grass, a serpent stalking her, trying desperately to straddle the divide between her past and her present. 

Ron says, “What?” with enough annoyance that Neville winces.

“What. Went. Wrong?” Draco repeats with agonizing emphasis on each ‘W.’ 

Neville starts passing around tin plates of rice and beans. Hermione’s mouth waters in anticipation despite the stress stringing her out.

Nobody answers, perhaps all defaulting to someone else. Someone who might have otherwise had a retort. Someone like Harry, if he was alive. 

“Well?” Malfoy prompts, aggravation bleeding into his crisp letters. “You were supposed to win, weren’t you? Why didn’t you? Why is the great Harry Potter dead right now?”

Ron and George are on their feet in an instant. Strangely, Neville is on his, too, blocking them, shoving plates of food into their hands and muttering things like, “Come on,” and, “He’s not worth it.”

Hermione turns to Malfoy. 

“What did we just talk about?” she snaps. Then she returns her attention to Ron and George. “And you two. Are you going to jump down his throat every time he says something annoying? You’ll get really tired really quickly. He’s annoying all the time. I’ve lived with him for over two weeks now, I know.”

Neither Ron nor George nor Malfoy seems particularly affected by her small outburst, but they form a sort of ceasefire. 

Finally, Justin asks his own question. “Do we, though? Know what happened?”

Hermione doesn’t have it in her to explain horcruxes to anyone again. Can’t explain that Harry was probably one, too. That there’s a snake out there, the last—at least, she hopes it's the last and that Voldemort hasn’t made more—that they still have to kill. Her chest starts seizing, a clamp around her ribs squeezing her to pulp. 

When she glances at Ron, she sees the same kind of agony reflected on his face, too. He stares at the fire, orange light reflected in glassy blue eyes. 

No one answers. No one speculates. They aren’t ready for this conversation, Hermione suspects. So they eat. They think. And when they’re done, they sit in a heavy silence. Ron leaves first, retiring to his tent. George follows shortly after. Justin and Neville disappear into another tent not long after that. Padma stops in front of Hermione before she follows Parvati. “We have room in ours”—she glances over at Malfoy—“so you don't have to share with him anymore.” A pause. “If you want it.”

“Thank you,” is all Hermione can muster, wrung out from finally being around other people for the first time in two weeks. She doesn’t yet have the energy to drag herself to her feet.

The stadium looms huge around her, stands surrounding the pitch. Despite open air and vibrant country stars shining down on her, there’s something claustrophobic about feeling walled in. In a strange, terribly ironic way, she misses the forest. 

“As nice as campfire bonding time was,” Malfoy says, voice emerging on her left. He sits beside her, close enough that it strikes her as unusual. “This hasn’t been especially productive. Do they know anything? Is there a plan?”

“I thought you wanted nothing to do with this war.”

“As I’ve made clear before. My wants have no part in this.” She doesn’t miss the way his gaze lands on the silver rope between them, so short in their proximity. “You painted a fairly dire picture. Does that not inspire you Gryffindors to action?”

“Justin is a Hufflepuff. And Padma is a—” she breaks off when he lifts a brow at her. A war worn version of an eye roll disarms her, redirects her. “The snake,” she says, bridging the conversation from earlier. “It was the last horcrux left. Once we kill it, You Know Who can die, too.”

“And Potter?”

She didn’t tell him this part when she first explained the horcuxes to him. She didn’t have the stamina then; she’s not sure she has it now. She tries.

“Harry was one, too, we think. That’s why he went into the forest and—and faced You Know Who. He sacrificed himself.”

“So he died on purpose?” The shock and awe in Malfoy’s tone convey a total inability to comprehend such a thing. 

Hermione chokes on a sob; the clamp around her ribs forces it out of her. “He had to. We knew he did. We just— I thought there might have been a way that he could…I don’t know—”

“Cheat death?”

“He’d done it before.” Hermione runs her fingers through the grass beside her, sweeping through the silver rope. It swirls, glitters, and reforms. Malfoy watches too. “But after. It was—I don’t know. Neville tried; he took a swing at it but...everything fell apart quickly. We didn’t manage to get the snake and then when things really started turning—” She ran. They all did.

“You survived.”

“It’s not so noble.”

He runs his own hand through the rope. Infinitesimally, the pressure around her heart lessens. “Is there a plan? At all?”

“Waiting. For now. See if anyone else shows up. We’re giving it a few days.”

“And after that?”

Resolve shoots through her: struggling does not mean she’s given up. “Then we start fighting again.” It’s thrilling to say, almost like she has a little bit of control over her life again. 

When she looks down, the edge of her pinky finger has grazed his, a tiny hum of contact. It deflates her, wondering if that thrill of bravery had even been hers to begin with, or if it had come from something else.

She should move her hand. But she doesn’t. She just wants a moment of peace, no matter how she has to get it.

“It’s my family’s magic,” he says when the campfire has dwindled to nothing but orange embers barely brighter than the rope.

Hermione’s head jerks. Her hand, too. Away from him, looking at him.

He makes a feeble movement, sending the rope scattering a reforming again.

“Soulmate magic, among other things.” His voice is almost inaudible, face and jaw tense. “Cast by my ancestors. Centuries ago, when we still lived in France. Any magic involving the soul is—well it’s considered rather unsavory, as you know. Of course you know, horcruxes and all.”

Hermione isn’t certain if she has a million questions or none at all.

“I’ve been looking forward to it my whole life, you know. Unique Malfoy family magic.” He lets out a sour laugh. “Probably didn’t help my ego as a kid. And—of all people,” he pauses, finally tearing himself from his staring contest with the dying fire, looking directly at Hermione, “it’s you.”

He frowns when he says it.

It’s not that she wants to be pessimistic. Nor does she want  to shut down the fact that he’s actually told her something. But the thing he’s said isn’t possible. Ever since his outburst when he first referred to it as soulmate magic, she’s been turning over alternative, much more likely options: like a curse, perhaps something cast by Bellatrix to put her in Malfoy’s possession or tie them together in an act of punishment. She hasn’t— can’t —consider anything quite so…romantic.

“I’m—am I just supposed to take you at face value then? Soulmates are—they aren’t—that kind of magic doesn’t really exist, Malfoy. Am I supposed to believe your family has been benefiting from unheard of, ancient magic for—how long did you say?” 

“You wanted to know Granger; I’ve told you. My family invented it. Got run out of France for it.” It’s as if a switch flips in his voice box, from cautious to caustic in an instant. 

She breathes through his tone, tries to hear his message, not the delivery. “What does it mean, then? If it’s true. What does it mean?”

He looks away.

His hand flexes. The one she healed while he was stunned. She healed his leg, too. 

He doesn’t answer. 

Instead, he shoots an aguamenti at the embers in front of them and stands. The dying fire hisses and sizzles. White smoke, illuminated by the silver glow of the rope, pours into the sky. 

 

 

It doesn’t even occur to Hermione that she followed him into their shared tent out of habit until she’s cautiously treading the line between consciousness and unconsciousness. A compound oversight: she also realizes that despite each of them now having a wand—her, a spare and Malfoy his personal one, no less—their tent remains the cramped, tiny size she’d grown oddly comfortable in.

She only realizes these things when Draco’s voice tips her toward wakefulness again, whispers in a silver-painted darkness.

“I’m not happy about it,” he says, she assumes to level-set his position. “But I am stuck with it. Stuck with you. I don’t think you get it, Granger. We’re—”

Silence stretches uncomfortably in the wake of his aborted thought, held in the space just before a gasp, or perhaps a sigh. 

Eventually, Hermione rolls onto her side, curious if she might divine his meaning through his silhouette. 

“We’re what, Malfoy?”

She imagines she can see her question traveling the rope between them, pulsing in silver shivers. When it strikes him, he tenses.

“We’re never going to get another choice. This is forever.”

“Assuming I believe you.”

Malfoy jerks, head lifting from his pillow as he shifts to stare at her across the narrow divide separating their cots. 

“Hate to break it to you Granger, but my family magic doesn’t require you to believe in it.”

Even in whispered tones, their words feel atrociously loud in their tiny tent, cloistered among the others in a silent Quidditch Pitch.

Hermione scoffs. “Why would your family magic even pick me, Malfoy? It makes no sense. I’m the embodiment of everything your family hates.”

“It’s not—that’s not— fuck.”

Hermione ignores his nonanswer, sitting up in her cot. Her annoyance has redoubled, refueled her.

“Furthermore, why have I never heard anything about this? Not even a whisper. Soulmate spells are widely regarded as romantic myth. If anyone actually performed one I’m certain I would have read about it.”

“Because you’ve read everything? Merlin, Granger.” When he pauses this time, it’s not the frantic cutoff that his other failed sentences have been. This pause lingers. “There is a book.”

“What?”

“At the Manor. An old family copy of Beedle the Bard.”

“I have my own copy in my bag.”

“It won’t be like ours.”

“Mine belonged to Dumbledore. I assure you it’s possible for something to be just as prestigious without having the Malfoy name stamped on it.”

“I’m telling you,” he starts, sitting up to match her. The rope is positively pulsing between them, pulling taut such that it doesn’t even touch the ground. It simply suspends from her chest to his. “It’s different.”

She very nearly rolls her eyes. 

“Don’t believe me, then,” he says. “Clearly you only believe in things you’ve actually read for yourself.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Books are literally one of the most effective ways to acquire new information.

He sighs. Briefly, his hand touches his chest, fingers dragging through the rope. It swirls, brightens. 

In a peak of light, he makes eye contact with her, silver stare doubly so.

With a grimace, he reaches his hand out, suspended parallel to the rope, palm up. Hermione watches; the inside of their tent is pure silver, like his face and his eyes and his hair. 

Finally he says, “Humor me.”

She doesn’t immediately oblige, gaze lingering on his outstretched hand. Then she gives in. Lifting her own hand, she meets him in the middle.

She rests her palm atop his and her veins ignite, metal melted in her bloodstream. A gasp escapes her when his fingers close around her wrist, holding her in place. Without her conscious consent, her eyes close. Her body thrums, alight with magic. 

Her hand is on fire.

Her hand is numb.

Her hand and his have no distinct edges, no borders. Like she’s losing something of herself.

She jerks back, the suddenness from her movement allowing her to escape his grip. Her face must look horrified because when Malfoy looks up at her, his twists to a sneer. He retracts his arm. He doesn’t look at her as he twists, lays back down again. “What time do you plan on having your cry tomorrow? I’d like to be out of here before you do.”

Hermione blinks, stunned for a second by the shift into cruelty. She flushes, prickles beneath her skin that poke equally with embarrassment and indignation. 

She stares at his prone form for too long. 

When the silver rope begins to fade, nearly translucent, dimming the tent around them, she finally lays back down, rolls away from him, and forces herself to sleep.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

Draco wakes to an argument. It’s Granger’s voice, shrill and grating, that pierces his sleep and drags him into the land of the living. His chest throbs. 

He winces, blinking several times to try and lessen the golden glow from the cord. He wants to banish it, if only temporarily, so he doesn’t feel like a marionette constantly managed by magic. Granger must have gone elsewhere for her morning cry. As he throws on one of the clean shirts they’ve lent him—one of Weasley’s he’s fairly certain and he can’t spare that too much thought lest he expire from the shame—he wonders where she went to do it. In the two weeks he’s spent with her, he’s learned that structure keeps her sane, keeps her going. Even if that means structuring something as impossible as grief. 

He hasn’t yet grown used to the novelty of standing on his leg without a limp, nor has he managed to inquire about what precious resources were wasted on him. His leg would have required more than a few simple healing spells; they probably gave him potions or used some salves, perhaps even dittany while they had him stunned. And if that’s the case, then he owes someone a measure of gratitude. He suspects Granger, and he neither needs nor wants to be any more indentured to her than he already is. 

His stomach gurgles. After eating something substantial the night before, his greedy insides demand more, tempted by satiation. When he exits the tent, he finds Granger and the two Weasleys bickering, gesticulating with short, frustrated motions and postures that seep annoyance into the soil.

“We can’t just do that,” from Weasley number one (the younger).

“It’s the next best option,” from Granger.

“It’s really not a bad idea,” from Weasley number two (the elder). 

Granger sighs, shoulders rolling back like she’s rearing for a fight. Draco has seen that posture up close, right before she slapped him in third year. 

“We don’t even know if the Death Eaters are there,” adds Weasley number one (the ugly one), quick in what sounds like an attempt to cut her off. “We have to be strategic about this. War is chess. We have very limited resources. We only have pawns left on the board.”

“War is messy, Ronald.” 

Draco learns of a new love for hearing Granger skewer Ronald Weasley with only his name. 

Weasley throws up his hands and the action agitates Draco. He doesn’t like the energy happening in front of him. It draws him from his idle stance in the background, approaching.

Longbottom intercepts. “I wouldn’t, Malfoy. They’ve been going in circles for fifteen minutes.”

Draco’s first instinct is towards annoyance, towards being an arse. But he resists, caught on the residual effects from the lambasting Granger gave him the day before. He supposes he doesn’t have to be contrarian all the time, even with the people he doesn’t like. 

“What are they on about then?” he asks, aiming for a neutral tone. It still comes out clipped. 

“What to do next,” Justin answers from where he and the Patil twins look like they’re sorting through supplies. 

“And the options are?”

In the background: “You’ll never have a perfect strategy, Ronald. Did the last year with Harry teach you nothing?”

Longbottom offers Draco a hunk off the crusty loaf of bread from the night before. He hesitates to take it, mostly out of concern it’s cradled in Longbottom’s unkempt hands. Draco misses full service meals with elves and serving platters and sparkling crystal. In the end, hunger wins.

“Hard to tell,” Longbottom says. “They keep going in circles but it sounds like Ron wants to lay low, gather more information on where You Know Who is setting up.”

“And what about Granger and the other Weasley?”

“Hermione wants to—and George seems to be in favor—sabotage Hogwarts.”

Crusty white bread crunches in Draco’s molars as he chomps down in shock. “Sabotage Hogwarts?”

“She thinks he’ll be there,” Neville offers with a shrug and a grimace, hands shoved in his pockets. “Makes sense I guess. Apparently You Know Who has a thing about the school.”

“But sabotage? How?”

Neville’s grimace shifts closer to a true frown. “Burn the greenhouses, for one. Lots of rare potion ingredients are grown there, especially greenhouse three.” His tone takes on a slightly more excited, animated color. “Hogwarts is actually a major supplier of several rare plants. It would cripple supply lines for portioneers.” The wave of excitement crashes, back onto shore with a frown again.

“Burn. The Hogwarts greenhouses?” Draco can’t decide what’s more unbelievable: the suggestion itself or the fact that it’s Granger doing the suggesting.

“She’s basically proposing attrition,” one of the twins says.

In a way, that’s both a perfectly appropriate and entirely extreme next step. He’s caught between the two, so he asks a follow up question. “What’s Weasley’s plan then? How does he want to ‘gather information?’' The air quotes and general tone of condescension probably aren’t necessary, but they feel great.

Part of Draco wants to scoff, outwardly laugh at the idea that they’re anything like spies gathering intelligence, that this is a real resistance. That they’re not just aimless kids trying to make the most of the horrible situation they’re in. He doesn’t entirely understand why they’re still trying; hadn’t they already lost? 

Of them, he wonders how many are fighting to survive and how many are fighting for some perverse sense of justice and nobility.

He doesn’t know the Patil twins well enough to say. Nor Finch-Fletchley. The elder Weasley seems out for revenge. And judging by the fact that his twin isn’t around, Draco suspects this isn’t a war for him anymore, just retribution. Granger is definitely fighting for good or light or whatever abstract ideas attached to morality help her sleep at night. Draco is in it to survive, plain and simple. 

Weasley, though? Draco isn't sure. Is it the cause that motivates him, or obligation? His family and friends have been caught up in this war for years, just like Draco’s. Perhaps he’s only fighting out of habit, because the people around him have a part in it.

The fleeting thought that maybe he and Weasley have something in common is enough to kill Draco’s burgeoning appetite. 

All of which is to say: none of this makes them real soldiers. They aren’t spies. Aren’t strategists. They’re collateral damage at best. Tragedies at worst. 

“I don’t think he has a plan yet,” Longbottom says.

“Encouraging.”

The disagreement picks up volume, peaking when Hermione storms off. She stomps right up to Draco. She takes the hunk of bread from his hand and shoves a huge bite in her mouth, breathing heavily through it. Clearly worked up, several sets of eyes watch as she chews. 

She swallows. Looks down at the bread in her hand and frowns. “We’re going to Diagon Alley,” she finally says.

“That sounds like an excellent way to die.” Draco tries to say it casually, but anxiety has already rocketed up his spine.

“We need supplies. We’re still short on agreeable wands. And we have almost no potion ingredients left. And it’s—it’s the best way to try and passively gather information.”

“You think we’re just going to be able to walk around Diagon Alley unnoticed?” Draco asks.

She addresses the lot of them. “We’ll transfigure, of course. And I…won’t go. Ron won’t either. Really, George should stay away but he thinks the private Floo at his shop is our best shot getting in…assuming it’s still standing. And Malfoy won’t go, for obvious reasons.”

She looks up at Neville, Justin, Padma, and Parvati. “George says he’s willing to go alone, so none of you have to put yourselves at risk. Especially you, Justin. It—I assume it’s incredibly dangerous to be a muggleborn in public right now.”

Despite the dour warning, they volunteer anyway. One by one. The ease with which they all seem ready to put themselves in danger boggles Draco’s sense of self-preservation.

“We’re pureblooded,” from Parvati, he thinks. They aren’t quite identical. “Our parents moved back to India our second year. We’ve never had a formal allegiance in the war, so we should be fairly safe. I don’t think there’d be a reason we couldn’t access our account at Gringotts. We could use the funds, right?”

“Gran has the key to our vaults,” Longbottom says, sounding dismayed. 

Finch-Fletchley offers to check out the Quidditch supply shop, which seems exactly like a Hufflepuff sort of suggestion. Though the offer to get them more brooms isn’t half bad.

Granger rubs at her temples. 

“Stop thinking about it,” Draco snaps at her.

“What?”

“You can’t go.”

“I know.”

“Then stop thinking about going.” He blinks. For a second, the cord glows brighter between them. He half expects everyone around them to react with the same sort of surprise he feels on his own face, that he sees reflected on Granger’s. But no one says a thing. 

Instead, Longbottom agrees. “You and Ron are on posters. I saw a couple.”

“If any part of your transfiguration were to slip, or if someone countered it, you’d be dead.” Draco decides he likes the frank way Padma lays that out, because it seems to have something of an effect.

The conversation fails, stalled in awkward silence, steeped in fear. 

“When?” Finch-Fletchley finally asks.

“Tomorrow probably. Maybe the day after. No point waiting. I—the longer we take to recoup, the longer You Know Who has, too. It’s already been more than two weeks.” She lifts a hand to her chest, pressing in the center. It looks entirely subconscious, but it swirls the cord between them.

Their standing gathering dissipates, dissolving into people going off to do whatever modestly productive tasks they think comprise the inner workings of a war. Only then does Draco realize just how close he and Granger had been to each other this whole time. And how the cord thrums with calmness. 

 

Hermione

 

The fine hairs on Hermione’s arm lift, as if compelled away from her body by magical static and a thrill of closeness. With a deep breath and another bite of her stolen breakfast, she steps back. 

The rope yearns. It pulls. She wants to seek the comfort closeness begs of her. Every inch in the opposite direction amplifies her frustration. She knows she’s emotional, and she’s frustrated over it. It’s a self-fulfilling spiral wherein her agitation only grows.

She swats at the rope, silver swirling, dissipating, and reforming. She wants a moment of peace from it, just one. 

“Not right now. I just”—she huffs, sighs, swats some more—“don’t want to. Not right now.” Her eyes sting, a raw burn in the back of her sockets so fierce she wonders if petrol might be involved. Her throat closes, tense and aching. She can’t breathe, but she’s still mumbling, still trying to tell the rope no, not right now, please leave me alone for just one minute of my day.

She thinks as far as meltdowns go, this is a quiet one: self-contained. The sort that Harry and Ron typically never even noticed while she stared at the same page in a book for ten minutes straight, struggling to breathe. She’s not unfamiliar with this kind of panic. It happens, has always happened, but more so since the war. 

What she’s not used to is having someone actually notice it happening. 

“Granger,” Malfoy starts.

“No. Stop—I don’t want this. I don’t. Not right now.” Breathing is easier when talking, it loosens up the places in her throat sealed shut with frustration, agitation, and anxiety. But she has nothing to say and doesn’t want to speak. She rubs at her chest, as if she can forcibly remove the silver rope from its place burrowing into her. She’s never tried this before; it seems like an oversight. Maybe it will work. She rubs harder.

Malfoy grabs her wrist, tight enough that it pinches tendons and compresses bones.

“I told you what this is. There’s no break from it.”

“You told me something.”  

“And you’re too stubborn to believe me just because you’ve never heard of it before. Or Merlin forbid, because you haven’t personally read it in a book.”

“I’m not stubborn. I’m logical.” Irony consumes her as he says it, fighting off the illogical parts of her brain that insist there’s no more oxygen left in their world cup sized Quidditch Pitch. 

“You’re infuriating is what you are.”

Her breathing picks up. And before she can begin counting, start wrangling herself back under control, Malfoy pulls her by the arm. A rush shoots through her, straight through skin and sinew, stitching together some of her wobbly pieces.  

She catches Neville’s eye, then Ron’s and George’s, as Malfoy hauls her out of the pitch. She shoots several dismissive looks at their alarm, shaking her head with an insistence she hopes conveys a kind of blasé attitude about how Malfoy is acting. As if this is normal. Or routine. Or just a part of their dynamic now. 

With a yank, she tears herself from his grip halfway across the pitch. “You can ask, you know.”

He glares at her, then gestures with a single hand held out to indicate the direction he insists she walk. She waits, making him go first, and then follows anyway. 

Two steps into the concessions corridor and he rounds on her. Hermione takes her own two steps back, finding herself pressed against an enormous support beam. With nowhere else to go, he crowds her.

“You didn’t wake me up.” That accusation is not what she expects.

“I—what?”

“I was being a prick but I also meant it. You didn’t wake me up this morning for your—” he breaks off, gesturing at her. “Your cry.”

“I don’t need to—”

“Are you seriously about to pretend that you don’t set a timer to cry every day?”

“I don’t cry every day.”

He sighs. “Fine, grieve. Feel. Be a normal human being who’s affected by the truly awful situation we're stuck in. Whatever you want to call it, you do it every day.”

Hermione presses her back further into the stone support beam behind her, seeking some measure of space. In a different state of mind, she might have called it control.

“Well—I didn’t want to wander off to find a place and then have to explain to everyone why I needed ten minutes of alone time in an empty office or something.”

“Why not just use the tent? Like I said.”

“You were sleeping.”

“I told you to wake me.”

“You said that to embarrass me. Don’t act like that was sincere.” 

His head shakes, lip curled. Hermione can perfectly imagine the way his tongue must be smashed against his front teeth, locked in place. “Fine,” he says. With a wave of his wand, he sends a silencing charm at a closed door not ten feet from them. “There. There’s a random office right there. Use it next time.”

Her heart hurts inside her chest, still thudding so strongly it’s as if someone has beaten and battered her ribs from the inside out, a monster trying to escape or the warning of war drums. The latter thought feels more apt. 

He acts like it’s so simple. As if she can just disappear for ten minutes of alone time when everyone around her is hyper vigilant and paranoid because they half-expect to be attacked at any minute. 

She only realizes she’s been staring, teeth clenched together, at Malfoy’s shirt collar and probably blinking less often than is advisable, when he lifts a hand and waves it in front of her face. She looks up, expecting disgust, but finds something worse: pity. 

“Granger,” he starts. She almost bolts then and there. She doesn’t want to hear it, doesn’t need an assessment of the fact that she’s starting to crack, just a tiny bit, under the stress. It’ll be June soon, if she’s been counting correctly. Which means it's been almost a year since Professor Dumbledore died, since all this began in force. 

She’s been doing this for a year.

And she’s lost so many people in the process. 

Worryingly, she feels like she might vomit. 

“Granger,” Malfoy says again. “Fuck—I can’t believe I’m going to say this. But we need you to keep it together, okay?”

“I’m trying.”

“Well try harder.” He drags his hand through his hair. “If you need to let it all out once a day, do it. More than once a day, fine. If you need to”—he swallows, looks like he’s experiencing tremendous discomfort, or late-stage aristocracy-induced gout—“just talk about it so you aren’t drowning in it. I—I would listen. Much as that pains me to offer. You’re valuable when you’re functioning Granger. And you looked like you were about to collapse into the literal weeds out there.”

“I’m fine.”

“You aren’t.”

“And why are you?” She sounds like she’s going to snap and she knows it. “Why aren’t you more—more—” Unsaid: broken, falling apart, obliterated by everything that keeps happening. “You seem perfectly fine.”

“Fine? Granger. I am not fine. My”—he lowers his voice—“family’s soulmate magic gave me you. Don’t make that face—it’s not as if we even like each other. Let alone have anything worthwhile in common. This is the worst case scenario, if you haven’t noticed. But nothing has really changed for me. I’ve been living my worst case scenario for two years now.”

Hermione’s throat clicks, mouth partially open, as she fails to find articulation. She doesn’t want to believe anything he has to say about his family’s alleged soulmate magic. That’s what it comes down to, another reason why she’s unravelling. Because if she believes him, that means he’s someone she’s meant to be with, in whatever vague, indistinct magical way that means. 

And when she stops long enough to think about it, the fact that he hates her hurts. And it shouldn’t. She certainly doesn’t want it to.

How unfair is that? Her best friend is dead. She’s still stuck fighting this war because having lost isn’t an option. And now the person claiming to be her soulmate hates her? Once wanted her dead? The more she thinks about it, the more she can practically feel the rope burrowing into her chest, cracking her open, bleeding her out. 

“Granger,” Malfoy says. She’s been staring at his buttons this time. He’s standing so close she can't even focus on them properly, eyes crossed and blurred. “Why do you look so pissed off?”

He lifts a hand and scratches the center of his chest. The rope swirls, something of an orb in the scant space left between them. 

Her hollow laugh feels a bit like breathing. “Because it isn’t exactly my greatest wish to be someone’s last choice, now is it? And I’m not saying I believe you. Because I don’t—I can’t—but if I did. Well, it’s pretty awful to be hated by the person who—” she breaks off. She tries shoving past him, but Malfoy doesn’t move a muscle, so she simply ends up barreling into him, bouncing back, and landing against the support beam with a thud. Her shoulder blades twinge. 

He leans even closer, anger on his face. “I’m mad I don’t have a choice, Granger. Not mad that it’s you.”

A laugh erupts from her throat. “Oh, so if I was some pureblood princess you’d be this hacked off about your lack of a choice?”

“No. Probably not. Because that would be so much easier, wouldn’t it? I was trying to say something nice, Merlin. You’re not all that awful, okay? But you’re so fucking self-righteous all the time. And it’s not like we can—like there’s any hope to—”

“Hope to what, Malfoy?”

“Resist it.”

She realizes only then that when she inhales, her chest touches his.

Hermione has finally gotten her wish. The rope has vanished, unnecessary when there are but centimeters between them. 

Fear lances her in a strange tandem with an almost painful jolt of unwanted lust. “Is it a compulsion? When you say you have no choice—”

He shakes his head. “No. It’s not like that. I didn’t mean it like that. We could. Resist. If we wanted to. But the point of the magic, of it…pointing us out to each other…is why would we want to? Basically. The cord is just a reminder of what we are. Could be.” 

His voice is so quiet, and they’re standing so close.

Hermione’s breath catches in her chest, choked by her heart when his hand sways forward, strikes against hers like flint to steel. Gone in an instant when it sways back. His brows quirk, glancing down at his hand as if it acted entirely independent of his wishes.

Her first instinct is to push back—again, always—so she snorts in disbelief. Her response shoots a dark look over his face. This close, she watches it overtake him. And it’s not just darkness of a bland variety, but spiced with something like vulnerability, maybe even hurt.

The desire to erase that look from his features is a foreign body in her esophagus, moving in, kicking its feet up and making itself at home. 

“Still don’t believe me?” he asks, spitting the question. “Fine. Whatever, Granger. Think what you want. You clearly know everything. But I’m telling you. This spell, this magic, it’s designed to identify and amplify. The Malfoys were as self-serving then as we are now. They wanted the best. It’s supposed to be a gift.”

Hermione’s brain stalls. The best? For a moment, she almost thinks he’s going to kiss her. Perhaps to prove a point, or perhaps because the tension coursing like live electricity around them is almost too much to bear. Lust floods her brain. And she wants to hate it, but it’s so hard fighting what she feels, compartmentalizing every last bit of her life.

But then he steps back, mouth curved into a hateful scowl. “The best,” he says again. “The best connection. The best... sex. Just. The best. Physically”—he gives her a lewd sort of up and down appraisal—“and emotionally. Perfectly complementary. That’s that we supposedly are.”

“Supposedly.”

“Just use that office, Granger.” He takes another step away. “Set a timer. Get yourself under control.”

“And what will you do?”

“Avoid getting hexed by your friends, I imagine.”

 

Draco

 

Draco makes excuses for her. He eavesdrops on her friends. He loiters. He feels generally useless as they discuss plans and tactics like they have a boggart’s chance in a sunbeam at pulling together something of a resistance. They keep acting like the war hasn’t already been won, and not by them.

It’s comical. Seven teenagers against the Dark Lord and all his Death Eaters? A joke.

Draco keeps his opinions to himself when Granger returns, when she joins the discussion of future plans and progress. He makes no comment about how ill she looks, how tired. No one else comments either, though he wonders if they simply don’t notice. 

That night, in the tent, which Granger inexplicably shares with him again, he asks her a question he hasn’t asked in over a week.

“Can we try sending a Patronus to my parents?”

“What?” Her voice is bright, clear, wide awake. 

“They think I’m dead.”

“How could you possibly know that? What if they’re around You Know Who?”

“I would be very surprised if they haven’t already fled. Or at least been…I don’t know. Demoted. Father wasn’t fairing well. Aunt Bella will have almost certainly told The Dark Lord everything she knew about my family’s…magic. Which isn’t much. Mother could never really tell her. But it will be enough.”

“That doesn’t explain why they’d think you’re dead.”

“I haven’t had a summons since before the battle. They either believe I’m dead or don’t care enough to look anymore.”

“Or none of that is true and they’re still looking for you. And a Patronus would be an excellent way for you to make contact and coordinate returning to them.”

“You still think—why? Why would I still be here if I was just going to leave? I have my wand. There’s nothing stopping me.” Silence. “You’re not being logical. Isn’t that your thing? What other explanation is there? I just want my parents to know I’m alive. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

“It’s big a risk. Especially with us going to Diagon tomorrow.”

“Us? There is no us. Neither of us is going.”

“I’m aware. Us, the collective. We’ll be here waiting, packed up in case we need to run again. Ready to help if something goes—wrong.”

“Great. Sounds like a splendid time.”

She doesn’t rise to his snarl.

In the morning, Draco doesn’t force Granger to have her cry, even though he knows she needs it. She just scowls at him as he follows her out of the tent.

He watches as she wishes her friends luck and pointedly does not tell them goodbye. 

He watches as she transfigures Longbottom’s features into someone who looks like he hit a branch or two on the Goyle family tree while falling from a high place.

He watches as she passes around Galleons, ones that match the kind she’s carried and stared at for weeks.

He watches as she quizzes George on their apparition plans, on the Floo at a bed and breakfast with a reservation under a fake name they plan to use to travel straight to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. 

He watches her then quiz every subsequent person on that Quidditch pitch, himself included, on the emergency rendezvous locations they’ve planned for depending on which of them is compromised.

And then he watches as Granger stands very still while her friends apparate away.

The final thing he watches: Granger pitching forward into Ronald Weasley, not-quite-crying against his shoulder as he wraps his arms around her.

It lights Draco up with rage he has no business experiencing.

She has to know that seeing her seek comfort from him is a unique kind of torture. She simply has no care for him at all, not even basic consideration. Which makes sense since she doesn’t even believe him.

And it’s not that he wants her to. But eventually, he’ll need her to. He’s not strong enough to live his life with this ache in his chest and this sense of emptiness constantly reminding him that there’s a missing piece just there, within reach for the taking. Nothing else will fill it. He doesn’t want to feel empty, no matter the cost. 

He stays at the edge of their wards long after Weasley has led Granger back inside the pitch. Draco bites back at every instinct he has to follow, to start throwing punches again. Stupid fucking Weasley. 

Instead, he prepares himself. Arms himself with indignation. He has nothing left to lose, not really.

He apparates.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione feels the crack of an unexpected apparition before she hears it. Her head jerks; Ron’s does, too.

Her first instinct is panic. Are they already back? Has something gone wrong? Something must have, because her chest feels like it’s split in two. She makes brief eye contact with Ron, her face contracted in worry, before she turns and runs back to the concessions corridor, through it, and to the edge of their apparition wards outside the stadium. 

When she stops, skidding on leaf litter and disproportionately winded relative to the few seconds worth of sprinting she’s done, Hermione finds nothing and no one waiting there. She searches, head whipping from left to right; she knows she didn’t imagine it. She heard the apparition. She knows she did.

She claws at her chest, looks down, and in a horrified blink, realizes the silver rope has vanished. 

Ron stops beside her and she wants nothing more than for his familiar presence to offer her comfort. It doesn’t. No amount of desperation, it seems, can return what had once been easy, simple relief with him. Ron is her best friend. Once, almost something more than that. Now, even his hand on her shoulder and the questioning look he gives her feels a bit like nausea in the pit of her stomach.

She leans into it. She doesn’t want to lose this. Not because of some stupid rope and inexplicable magic.

But the question tumbles from her regardless of where she wants her attention to land. “Where’s Malfoy?”

“What?”

“Malfoy.” She looks down at her chest again. The rope is gone. She struggles for air. “Malfoy?” She shouts his name, turning back to the pitch. Shouts again, this time at the surrounding woods. 

Ron must understand her meaning, darting back into the stadium and bellowing for Malfoy before returning again. His kind features—freckles, blue eyes, propensity towards smiling—have twisted in fear.

“He had his wand,” she says.

“You told me he could be trusted with it.”

Hermione fights the impulse to sink into the earth. “He’s gone.”

“Fuck.”

“He—he said he wouldn’t. He couldn’t.” Hermione realizes she didn’t actually believe him until that very moment. Until he proved her wrong. Her diaphragm seizes, forcing out a strangled hiccup-turned-sob.

“We have to go.”

Her hand is still clapped over her breastbone when Hermione looks up at Ron. “What—no. We ca-can’t.” Her hands shake, voice too. Horror ravages her nerves.

“We have to leave, Hermione. Malfoy could be telling You Know Who where to find us right now.”

Ron makes sense. She believes him. Mentally, logically. She knows he’s right. But something indefinable in her chest disagrees, says that Malfoy wouldn’t. She can’t justify that feeling. There’s no evidence for it, not outside their forced cohabitation and the strange magic connecting them she literally cannot explain to Ron.

If they leave and Malfoy comes back they might not be able to find each other again. 

The thought devastates her. Not because of what it means at face value, but because she’d thought it before she considered George and Neville and Justin and Padma and Parvati. Her friends. They know the backup plans. But so does Malfoy. 

“Where?” she asks.

Ron has the decency to look sheepish. “We have another rendezvous.”

“What?”

“One in case Malfoy did this. And good thing, too. Since it looks like he has—”

Hermione unclenches, hand from her chest. She advances on Ron, savoring his blink of surprise and the way he steps back.

“And you didn’t tell me Ronald Weasley?”

He holds his ground. “You would have told him. You’ve—he’s done something to you. You trust him. You still sleep in that tent with him. You—” he breaks off, anger wilting. He looks broken, sad. With a deep breath, it seems like he’s preparing to go again, to throw in Hermione’s face all the ways he’s suddenly so observant because apparently her situation with Malfoy is something worth his observation. 

Before he can prove that he’s been paying far more attention than Hermione expected him to, several more cracks rip through the forest.

Hermione sees Padma and Parvati first, supporting George. A second later, Justin appears, staggers, and collapses into a scraggly, prickly bush. Hermione doesn’t move, waiting for another crack, perhaps two: hoping primarily for Neville, and secretly, Malfoy.

Neither appear. 

Ron beats her to them, panicked shouts alerting Hermione to the fact that all is not well with their friends. They’ve only been gone a handful of minutes. Her breath catches, pulse hammering. She finally moves.

Then she sees it. George Weasley, already missing an ear, has lost an arm to match. Struggling to support his weight, Padma sags under his good arm, bleeding herself from what looks like a deep and nasty gash across her temple. Parvati hovers, wand drawn, frantically trying to suppress the blood flowing from George’s shoulder joint.

Panic, but with a purpose, threads resolve through Hermione’s nerves. 

She summons her bag, procuring bandages and the last of their dittany. She reaches for George the moment Ron tugs him inside the wards.

“Get Justin,” she says, not breaking eye contact with George’s stump of an arm. Ron stutters a protest that she cuts off in an instant. “Justin. Get Justin. Get him inside the wards. I have this.”

And she does. Weirdly, inexplicably, she does. It feels like vindication for freezing at the cottage with Malfoy. She shakes the thought away; she can’t think about him lest her chest experience that cleaved feeling again. She tries to stanch the bleeding. Coagulation charms do their best while she tries summoning blood replenishers from her bag, despite a reasonable certainty they don’t have any left. 

“What happened?” Hermione asks of Parvati, who is examining the cut on Padma’s head.

“Snatchers, we think. Or Death Eaters. Must’ve had a watch on the shop.” She sucks in a breath, sitting back into the wild weeds and grass just outside the stadium doors: barely inside their wards. “It was a fight from the moment we stepped into the shop. Padma got some great hexes off but—”

Hermione doesn’t hear the rest, examining George’s arm. She nearly vomits.

He wasn’t hit with a slicing jinx, or anything nearly that clean cut. George’s head lolls; he’s barely making intelligible noises. 

“—s’okay,” she hears Ron say of Justin as he deposits him with Padma and Parvati. 

Ron, unfortunately, does vomit when he sees his brother up close.

Forced to guess, she suspects George’s arm was simply ripped from his person: some sort of tear or pulling or wicked dismemberment curse that shreds skin and muscle and ligament while ripping a joint from its socket. 

“Do we—” Hermione starts. She has to swallow. Makes a humming sound to otherwise occupy her gag reflex. Tries again. “His arm. Do we—is it—do we have it?”

“No—Ron are you?—sit down. No, we don’t have it. Ron, sit—” Parvati’s answer comes in fragments, bracketing an attempt to wrangle Ron.

Then she hears Ron heaving behind her, not just vomit, but tears too. She can’t bring herself to turn and look. It makes sense he would panic: Ron is staring down the barrel of losing another brother. 

Not that she thinks that will happen. She won’t let it. George’s bleeding is slowing; he’s somehow conscious, though admittedly not lucid; he doesn’t appear to be burdened with any additional curses complicating his condition.

He groans when she applies pressure, wrapping a bandage tight around what can only be described as a stump. Hermione tries not to watch the way blood seeps through the bandages, wetting her hands. Nor does she spare her focus for George’s feeble protests. It hurts. She knows it hurts. And she can’t do anything about that right now. 

Ron helps prop his brother up, stomach evidently emptied. After several fraught minutes casting various blood stanching spells, applying physical pressure, and reassuring a very-out-of-it George that it will be okay, you’re going to be okay, don’t look at it, you’ll be fine, Hermione finally feels confident enough to move him into the pitch so they aren’t all so precariously close to the edge of their wards. 

Justin is looking more lucid, too. Padma seems alright save for a bandage around her head. 

“Where’s Neville?” Hermione asks as she summons a cot and levitates George to it.

“Don’t know,” from Justin. “He was dueling…gave us a distraction—”

“He could be caught.” Hermione doesn’t mean for her statement to sound so final, but staring at George’s mostly unconscious form, everything feels final.

“We need to leave,” Ron suggests for the second time in an hour. Probably less. Time has moved both impossibly fast and terribly slow. How long since they’d left for Diagon? A quarter of an hour, maybe less?

“We don’t have a meeting place picked out for a situation where we lost Neville and Malfoy,” Hermione snaps.

“Where’s Draco?” Padma asks. The casual way she uses his given name shouldn’t strike oddly at Hermione’s nerves, but it does.

“Buggered off as soon as you did,” Ron mutters, head bowed over George's good—only—arm.

Hermione almost argues. But she sinks to the ground instead. Her whole body feels weighed down, like she might sink into the soil and become food for worms and beetles and bacteria. She fixes her focus on George’s stump of an arm as a distraction. 

Padma lifts her head, clutching it. “Where do we go?”

Hermione finds her voice. “We can’t leave.”

“We can’t stay here,” Ron says again. “Between Malfoy and Neville…we can’t.”

From Parvati: “We’re just abandoning them?”

“Ron, we can’t go,” Hermione insists. 

“You wanted to burn down Hogwarts and this is too much for you?” he spits. “We have the coins. We have Patronuses. Regrouping isn’t impossible but We. Can’t. Stay. Here.”

Hermione’s chest aches, burns, seizes. Something horrifying lingers on the diaphanous film that comprises her soul. “We can’t go,” she says again. How many times now? “Not yet.” Time, they need time. “George isn’t stable enough to travel. Once he is, then—then we can go.”

“And if Neville has already”—Ron swallows, throat bobbing—“given us up?”

“George can’t travel.” Hermione’s protests are weak, have weakened, as she shifts next to George, smoothing matted, blood-stained hair from his face. She tries not to cringe, wondering at whose blood it is, and if it’s his, what kind of burst from an arterial flow was required to send it shooting there. 

Ron rounds on Justin, Parvati, and Padma: a rapid fire series of questions about exactly what happened when they Floo’d into the shop. Hermione doesn’t hear. Her focus has reduced to what tiny details she is capable of managing. One at a time.

The fluttering feeling of George’s pulse against her fingertips. Then,

the insect, something black and shiny and the size of a fingernail, climbing a blade of grass. Then,

the rip traveling up the left leg of Padma’s trousers, pink, burned skin beneath. Then,

the spindly purple veins, branching like tributaries under the skin from beneath Parvati’s collar, up her throat, towards her chin. Then,

the sympathy sensation in Hermione’s own neck. What is that? A curse? A bruise? A trick of light and shadows? Hermione’s hand finds her chest; she only realizes she’s looking for the rope when she glances down and finds it conspicuously absent. 

Another crack rattles through the Quidditch pitch and it’s everything Hermione can do not to topple over. She sucks in a breath, makes eye contact with Ron, and then finds herself standing, then running, then barreling into Neville halfway out to the edge of the wards. 

He’s barely standing, a nasty bruise blooming over his right eye that seems to have thrown his entire center of gravity off kilter, wobbly and unsteady.

“Neville? Neville are you okay is this—is this a curse? A hex?” Hermione is torn between leading him into the pitch where she has her supplies strewn around George and letting him slump to the floor right there. 

“A doorknob,” he slurs.

“A what?”

Neville lifts a shaky hand to his face. “Doorknob. Someone threw one at me.”

Hermione doesn’t know what to say; her mouth opens and then closes. 

He leans heavily into her; something wet soaks Hermione’s sleeve and she doesn’t have to look down to know it’s probably a bright red. She holds onto Neville’s arm, loops it around her shoulder and leads him to the Quidditch pitch. 

“We don’t have any more dittany,” Hermione says. She thinks it might be an apology. Mostly to Neville, but Padma could use some, too. So could Justin. George.  

Before she can begin inspecting Neville’s damage—his disorientation is alarming—Ron’s panicked voice calls to her from where George lays.

“Hermione! Hermione. George is—he’s waking up some. He’s—”

When she looks over, she sees Ron struggling to keep George calm, to keep him horizontal. He’s making strangled sounds, horrible grunts, and Ron’s panic doesn’t help. 

“M’okay,” Neville mumbles, sitting in the grass, leaning back, slumping a little too forcefully for her to believe him. 

With a soft hand on Hermione’s shoulder, Parvati says, “I’ve got him.”

For what feels like hours, Hermione doesn’t breathe. 

She barely thinks. 

Her entire world becomes a blur of trying to ease what pain she can while ignoring the pit in her stomach that, with the right push, she could easily tumble into and never escape. 

She settles George. She gets Ron to agree that they can’t apparate with him just yet—and only because she offered to leave George behind if Ron wanted them to relocate so badly. Conveniently, his sense of urgency fizzled after that.

While George sleeps, she keeps Neville awake. She doesn’t know much about head injuries, has never had any herself, but she’s fairly confident you aren’t supposed to sleep after experiencing head trauma. So she sits with Neville all day, fighting off the urge to claw at her chest by focusing on something else instead. 

Once Parvati, Padma, and Justin set up their tents again, and while Ron sits slumped in the grass next to George on his cot, Neville asks about Malfoy.

“Is he gone?” he asks quietly.

Just considering the question floods her with dread and anger and something so close to sadness her eyes sting and her throat tightens.

“I don’t know.”

“Is he going to tell the Death Eaters about us?” She almost misses the question; Neville has his head in his hands, bent over his lap.

Defending him is her first instinct. Which is why Hermione diverts. 

“I think you can try sleeping now. It’s been hours. If you want, that is.”

He looks up, one eye mostly shut already from the swelling. They both agreed that what precious little bruise paste they have left should be saved for a bigger emergency. Though, looking at Neville now, the fact that a purple bloom surrounds his eyes socket, swollen and puffy and nearly shut, lack of vision seems like something of a big emergency.

“Yeah,” he says. “I do.”

Before he can stand, a crack echoes across the Quidditch pitch.

Silver erupts from her chest.

“Malfoy,” Hermione breathes. The dead weight inside her evaporates.

“How do you know?” Neville sounds more alert than he has all day. 

With a quick look, Hermione confirms that Ron hasn’t awakened. No sound stirs in the tents either. 

“I just do. I’ll—I’ll get him. You stay here, go to sleep.”

Neville tries to stand when she does. “Is that safe?”

“For me, yes. Him, no. I’m furious with him.”

He doesn’t try to follow as Hermione’s legs carry her at a pace just shy of a jog off the pitch and into the concessions corridor. The one spare glance she gives him shows only a cursory, questioning look on Neville’s face.

She finds Draco just inside the corridor and he’s…completely fine. Normal. Relieved, almost? 

That he might dare look pleased to see her ignites an awful indignation deep in Hermione’s stomach. She approaches so quickly, with such anger, that the rope swirls in a silvery glow all around her, amorphous because she keeps disrupting its path.

She registers the surprise in Malfoy’s face as she approaches, enough of a distraction that she can yank him by the arm and pull him into the tiny room he’d silenced for her to cry in. Silenced is good. She feels like she needs to scream.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

She looks like she’s going to kill him. 

It’s a relief. 

It was worse than he’d thought it would be, the ache at being away. More than an ache, a clawing inside his chest. She shoves him into a tiny administrative office, the one he’d silenced, and closes the door behind her with an ominously soft touch. Perhaps she doesn’t want the others to know where they are, or that she seems moments from murder.

She pulls out her wand and the possibility she plans to hex him skyrockets. Draco pulls his as well, mostly a reflex, he thinks. Not that it matters; she disarms him instantly. His sluggish, exhausted muscles can’t react fast enough. She must be off too because she misses the catch and his wand clatters against the wall, rolling somewhere under the desk. 

He can’t see much because the only light in the cramped little space comes from the gold cord. He doesn’t think about what he does next, just lunges and rips her wand from her hand. She tries for something like retaliation, but he lifts her wand high above his head with one hand while pushing her away with the other. In that same hand, he’s holding a book awkwardly against her chest.

“No, Granger. Quit that, would you?” He tosses her wand somewhere to the floor beside them when she starts hopping for it: a cross between unbelievable rage and absolute ridiculousness. 

The book in his hand is still pressed to her breastbone when she looks down at it. 

“What is that?” she asks. “And where were you?”

In the faint golden glow, her anger takes on a strange hue, closer to worry, closer to relief. He presses the book harder against her, insistence that she take it. “It’s proof.”

She looks down, still not reaching for the tiny, ancient thing. The fact that she doesn’t get it makes him want to scream. He doesn’t have the patience for her willfulness. Not after the day he’s just had. 

She must finally see the title on the spine because her mouth opens, then she releases a disappointed puff of air.

“I already have The Tales of Beedle the Bard; I’ve told you that.”

“And I’ve told you, you don’t have this one. Not this old. Not with a story about this.” He gestures at the gold cord stretching between them.

Her head swivels. “How old?”

“Old enough that I took it from a very special case and should probably be more careful with it.”

That makes her gasp: a terrible, outstanding, fantastic little sound that sows seeds like pleasure in his pores. 

With what looks a lot like reverence, she lifts her hands to the book, gasping again when her fingers graze his. Draco bites back his own satisfied sound. It’s humiliating, how badly he realizes he wants her to believe him, believe this. Forget being happy about it or embracing it, just believing in it would be enough. 

There’s something horribly tragic about being alone in this nightmare. 

He lets go of the book, lets her examine it. With nearness, the cord feels content. She doesn’t step away, and he doesn’t either. It’s difficult to breathe. The golden glow becomes something cloying, almost tangible in the air.

Granger turns, just enough to set the book on the filing cabinet beside them.

“What were you thinking?” The question gusts out of her. “I’m so furious with you.” Draco doesn’t think he imagines the strained quality in her tone.

“Good, I’m mad at you too.”

She startles. “Mad at me? You can’t be mad at me. You’re the one who left.”

“To get that book because you won’t believe me. You won’t look at what’s right in front of you.” He sweeps his hand through the cord. “This is it, Granger. This is us, our magic and it’s—fuck it’s so infuriating. Almost as much as you are.”

“I can’t—I don’t—” She stutters, flustered. “Why are you shaking?” she asks.

He didn’t realize he was.

“It’s been a stressful day.”

“Where were you?”

“The manor.”

She sucks in a breath, tries to step away, but ends up pressed against the desk behind her. “The what? Where?”

Snark is wildly out of place in this dark office. Therefore, snark is the thing that comes out of his mouth. “Wiltshire.”

“Malfoy.”

“Yes, that’s it. Malfoy Manor. It’s where we had the book, Granger.” He closes the distance she made when she backed up. Something about the horror, the concern on her face draws him in. Distantly, he wonders if she might be a little bit impressed. “I apparated near the grounds. Snuck in.”

“You snuck into Malfoy Manor?”

“It’s my family home. I know the wards and I know how to get in.”

She’s breathing heavily. A crease forms between her brows, deep and vertical. 

“But,” she begins. She doesn’t go on. 

Something about the way her breath shakes, the way the cord glows, has a sensation in his chest winding warm and relieved and satisfied. 

“I didn’t really leave,” he says, and it feels ridiculous how important that statement is to him. 

“You have before.”

“I have not. I’ve come back every time.”

She has nothing to say to that, and he hopes that means she believes him. He’s so tired and so stupidly relieved to be back at this awful Quidditch Pitch populated by all these people he doesn’t especially like. He doesn’t have the energy to deny his instincts.

“I wasn’t sure.” Her voice drops to a whisper. The glow drops too: dimming. 

“How many times until you believe me? I even brought you a book just so you would.”

“It’s not that I don’t—” She breaks off when she looks down at her hands; she’s clutching his sides. 

Quiet sneaks up on them. 

It speaks of the closed door, 

the silenced room, 

the darkness, 

the proximity. 

The cord is barely present because of how close they stand.

It overwhelms. He stops denying himself.

He stops thinking. Only does.

His hands end up buried in her hair. So soft. Granger’s head lands against his chest and it steals his ability to breathe. 

“I thought you were gone. I thought you were gone. I thought you were gone.” She repeats herself against his shirt. He feels filthy. He must smell, but she keeps burrowing her face into his chest. He holds her so tight he wonders if he might do damage.

How can he not do damage, being who he is?

She holds him too, arms cinched around his middle, pulling him against her and the desk. 

Heat drops, low and luscious and lustful as he realizes his hips are pressed flush to her. Their strangled hug has movement, subtle rocking, an ebb and flow that undulates between bodies.

Her fingers touch his bare skin and he realizes she’s gone from clinging to him to clawing at his shirt buttons. 

All he wants is for her to believe him: about his family’s magic, that he can’t leave. It’s not just about can’t , either. He thinks the distinction between can’t and won’t is an important one. It’s blurry, but as it settles, he leans towards won’t. Would he leave if he could? He doesn’t think so, not now. Not after watching her survive everything she already has. Not when she needs support and no one seems to notice her needing it. And not as long as she keeps touching him, those fingers grazing his skin. Before he knows it, she’s unbuttoned half his shirt. 

His hand drops from her hair just as she abandons her crusade against his shirt in favor of his belt buckle. Anticipation warms him, intoxicates him. It hijacks his higher thinking and reduces him to a being of want, a soul seeking a mate. Hastily, he props her up on the desk, finger dragging against her denims, finding the button. He wants to touch her, has desperately wanted his hands on her skin since he learned what she sounds like when she touches herself.

It reeks of sweat around them, damp and sour in the cramped office. That’s the last mostly coherent thought he really has; he’s just desperate to prove she’s not alone, that he wouldn’t leave.

And she seems desperate too. For what, he doesn’t know. He isn’t sure he cares. Not when she’s unbuckling his trousers and letting him thumb open the button on her jeans. He doesn’t breathe as he drags down her zipper, as she tilts and lets him pull them over her arse, down her thighs, bunched messily around her shins.

She whimpers when he drags his fingertips along the soft skin of her upper thighs. He’d happily spend the rest of his life making a tactile map of her skin if she’d allow it. He reaches her knickers. Desperate, daring, and drunk on the buzz of blood behind his eardrums, he swipes a single finger along the fabric and finds them damp.

The sound she makes, a high pitched mewl, zips like lightning through his blood. He grabs her knickers at the waistband and yanks them down. Too rough on too delicate a thing, the seams pop, threads snapping. The scrap of cotton lands on the floor by their feet. 

She stills, breathing shaky, before she whispers, “Now I only have one pair left.”

It strikes with an inappropriate pride, a strange sense of accomplishment. For reasons he can’t fully explain, all he thinks is good, before the flurry overtakes them again. The next moment, they’re nothing but a tangle of limbs as they struggle to shove his trousers down while she dips her hand inside his pants. 

It’s a white hot kind of sear, the way desire cuts through his brain at the idea that Hermione Granger has her hand on his cock, perched in front of him on a desk with her demims shoved down past her knees and her knickers lost somewhere on the floor.

All he can think is that he’s not alone. She’s not alone. They’re not alone. 

With his trousers around his ankles, he shuffles close. It’s clumsy. It doesn’t matter, not when Granger tentatively slides her hand up and down his length. Her grip is too tight, but he’s hardly about to start giving her instructions. 

He leans forward as she guides him closer. The head of his cock finds her wet; it’s worthy of a groan. She feels this too. He knows she does from the way her breath comes in pants, the way she rocks her hips, practically begging. 

It’s the same feeling as that time in the tent all those nights ago when he’d—when they’d— fuck. He groans again despite himself. With one hand holding onto her thigh, he wraps his other around hers on his cock, helping her line him up. He’s not sure how he got here, but he never wants to leave.  

It’s blinding pleasure and it’s only getting better. With a small push forward, he breaches her.

She inhales a shaking breath. He stills, finding her eyes. He expects a tight fit. Not because he’s especially enormous; he’s compared, like all boys do, and he knows he’s perfectly adequate. But because that’s what he’s heard, how it’s supposed to be. Even though she tenses, wide eyes penetrating the darkness to find his, she’s wet enough that the resistance feels like a complement, not a hindrance. 

There exists a moment, hanging between them, where neither of them moves. He practically hears her swallow.

She nods, eyes locked on him, fingers curled around his half open shirt. With an exhale, Draco pushes forward again.

It’s slow.

It’s searing.

She hisses. 

By the time he’s fully seated in her his brain has fogged over into nothingness. He can’t move or he’ll come.

All he can feel, all he can think, is how hot and wet and wonderful she is. A girl’s cunt. A real girl’s cunt. Better than all his dirtiest fantasies. Of course, all those fantasies were faceless, nameless, and vaguely pureblooded in nature. This is better by magnitudes he has no clue how to comprehend.

Despite all that, despite the better, it still isn’t best. Something’s missing.

He’s clinging to her but it’s not close enough. She must realize it too because he hears her suck in a breath before she says it one more time: “I thought you were gone.”

He needs her skin. 

More limbs tangle as he lifts her shirt, trying to wrangle it over her arms and shoulders and mass of hair. She’s on him too, finishing the buttons she’d started earlier, pushing his battered oxford from his shoulders. 

He rocks back as he finally manages to pull her shirt over her head. His world stalls, bliss blurring the finer edges of his motor control. 

When her shirt hits the floor he rocks forward again. Her quiet whimper floats on golden flecks around them. 

Then, it’s little more than grappling, hands biting into skin, trying to get as close as possible. He pulls her tight against him, holding his bare chest to hers because something inside him insists this is exactly what he needs.

It burns, but in a way that doesn’t hurt. It’s fire without the pain.

Her hands drop to his hips, fingertips squeezing into the flesh above his backside.

He’s already as deep inside of her as possible, but he gleans her meaning, especially when her cracked voice—has she been crying?—whimpers “Move. Please move.”

He does: dragging out then pushing in. Even in the dark, he can tell his vision blurs. He keeps his chest pressed to hers, nothing short of suffocating levels of clinging. The heat is too much, enough to forge metals, iron and tin and steel and gold and silver. 

The cord bursts from them.

No longer just gold, but silver too. With his face pressed to Granger’s hair, he watches as it expands around them, a circle in silver and gold. His body is still on fire, singular in seeking sensation. 

He thrusts again. Granger makes a sound, closer to pleasure than her other sounds have been. He wonders, in a vague, heat-scorched corner of his brain if that means this hasn’t been good for her. He should do that; that’s his job isn’t it? Make the girl feel good so he doesn’t feel bad about feeling good?

Before he can act on that moderately selfless thought, the cord contracts around them. It cinches through them.

Then: poof.

His chest isn’t hollow anymore.

It’s such a foreign sensation, fullness, that he staggers back. It steals his breath. 

It’s panic worthy, feeling this full.

He’d been so close to coming, and now everything has shifted. Still around his ankles, his trousers topple him. Which is fine, because standing has suddenly become more than Draco can handle.

On his hands and knees, he struggles to draw breath. He uses one hand to brace himself, the other claws at his chest, at what was once a hollow ache, no longer empty.

“I’ve never—I didn’t—” He realizes he’s crying when something wet lands on his hand. In more light, he imagines he would see tears wetting the floor beneath his face. 

Clarity rushes him in a blink, realizing what they’ve done. 

The bond. 

They’ve completed it. Or, at least, partially. 

Hermione kneels beside him. She has one hand on his shoulder and he spots the other in his periphery, holding onto her torn knickers. A flash of white in the dark. He wants to die of embarrassment; he sits up on his knees just enough to messily tug his pants up and cover his rapidly wilting erection. 

“I know,” she says. “I feel it too. It’s nice.”

“Nice? Nice? It’s terrible.”

Her head tilts. “Why would it be terrible? This is the most—it’s the closest I’ve felt to normal in a year, at least.”

“This is normal? Do you mean I could have—that it’s possible to feel this way just—all the time? Like there isn’t something missing?”

Her head tilts further as her hand drops from his shoulder. The loss of skin to skin contact is less jarring than before. He expects his chest to contract, for the flair of magic simmering on the surface of his skin to sink again, settling deep. But it remains: his chest like there isn't a crater in it, and his magic like it’s a living, breathing part of him. 

He drops his head to the cold stone floor, tries to control his breathing.

“Go,” he says, quietly to the floor. Then louder, “Please go. Just—go.” It’s not quite a shout. But it’s close. 

He doesn’t realize Hermione has listened until he hears the door click open. With that breach in the silencing charm, he hears the scream too.

Chapter Text

Draco: Earlier

 

A crack echoes through austere, old growth trees bordering the Malfoy estate. This time, Draco intended to land here, as opposed to when he’d frantically apparated himself and Granger after they were attacked outside the chemist. 

That had been just a week before. Or had it been more? Time had a strange elasticity to it these days, stretching and contracting, reducing itself to singular sensations: fear, hunger, filth, boredom. 

And now: a cleaved feeling in his chest. A pull to go back. A golden cord vanished.

He draws in a deep breath. He doesn’t think the air actually smells different; there’s nothing especially noteworthy about the air in Wiltshire. Nevertheless, familiarity swarms him. Something in his bloodstream, in his magic, recognizes this place as his home.

Draco looks around. He’d picked this particular clearing for a reason. It bears no evidence anymore, but he can still see so clearly in his mind’s eye the playfort he’d once built as a child. In the middle, he’d dug a shallow ditch, surrounded it with rocks, and willed himself to conjure fire before he had a wand or knew any spells. This is a hollow reunion, knowing how badly he’d once wanted to conjure a little fire here. He can conjure big ones now, terrible ones, ones Mr. Crabbe had taught him and Vincent and Greg how to produce the year before. Horrible, hateful fires that swallowed up every last thing they touched. Fires with fiendish names.

He’d used this place for other things, too.

He once spent whole afternoons hunting for magical bugs and animals, convinced that surely a herd of unicorns must have lived on his family’s property. They were the Malfoys after all.

His governess didn’t appreciate him slipping her notice and escaping to the far edges of the estate. Nor did his parents appreciate his transparent attempts at manipulation; even at seven years old, telling them that if he had a sibling to play with he wouldn’t have to play in the woods had been a heavy-handed strategy.

Of course, this was before he’d latched onto the drug that pride in his family name would become. There was a point of no return with that pride, held in the hand Lucius used to pat Draco’s shoulder as he said he’d done well, made the family proud. 

Back then, Draco had wanted to be a magizoologist. At least half the time. During the other half he’d wanted to be a famous Quidditch player. Either profession required time spent outside and not learning maths with an ancient crone of a witch employed to supervise his early education. 

He’d loved the outdoors then, spent most of his time zooming around on his toy broom, hunting for magical creatures, or playing tag in the gardens with the poltergeist that haunted the hedge maze.

After having now spent over two weeks exclusively outdoors, Draco never wants to be outside again. He wants windows and curtains and wallpaper. Carpets and ceilings and foundations. Cover from the elements. Safety.

It’s no wonder Granger has started losing it; she’s been uncivilized by the outdoors for nearly a year now.

Draco’s old outdoor escape isn’t here anymore. Hasn’t been for years. His parents had found it and informed him of how ungentlemanly it was, even for a young boy, to wander inside with dirt under his nails, scrapes on his legs, and burrs on his socks. 

They dismantled the fort and paid to have a magical playset installed in the gardens. In the end, Draco liked the new playset more. It could turn into a pirate ship.

Draco approaches the tree line, shaking untimely memories from his head.

It’s bright out, if a little overcast. But he expects little else in Wiltshire. He’s not sure what his plan is, he hasn’t exactly been thinking straight. He only knows that he’s tired of Granger not believing him, and for no other reason than because she can’t corroborate it with a book.

Well, he’ll show her a book and shut her up. 

He just—wants control of something. Anything. Even if it means doing something stupid and entirely against his intrinsic impulses towards self-preservation. This is stupid, dangerous. He knows it. But his pride wins out. 

Besides, Malfoy Manor and the surrounding grounds are sprawling enough that it’s highly unlikely he’ll cross paths with a single soul. 

He breathes again, crowding out his fear with fresh oxygen in his lungs. The estate’s wards start at the tree line. This is the tricky part, the do or die. It seems too simple, the idea of just walking back onto his family estate. But unless his parents performed some seriously complex magic to remove him and his blood from the family wards, he knows the Manor should recognize him as of its own.

Ahead, his eyes follow the manicured, sandy pathways that surround the Manor greenhouses. Beyond that, if he’s lucky, the South Wing Servants’ entrance won’t have anyone around.

Draco pushes his foot out, toeing the ward line. He’s much more willing to sacrifice a toe than he is a finger should the wards decide to reject or maim him. 

Nothing happens, just a familiar wash of family magic welcoming him home, traveling from the ball of his foot, to heel, to ankle, to shin: knee, thigh, hip, sternum, shoulder, skull. It dampens some of the ache in his chest that distance from Granger causes him.

It’s reassuring, if not a little sad. He might not have anything left to his name, not really, but the wards recognize him. So he still has that.

Stepping into the open, anxiety surges, sparkling like fireworks in his blood. He looks left. Right. Sees nothing, no one.

Just sunlight streaking the sky as it breaks through lavender-leaning clouds and neatly trimmed hedges.

He steels himself and takes another step forward. Then, all at once, he engages in a proper power walk to the greenhouses. He pauses against a glass wall just long enough to wrangle the chokehold his nerves have on his throat.

He moves again, grateful for the loamy, decorative dirt that muffles his steps. Another pause at the Servants’ door this time. Long enough to register the several discarded cigarette butts littering the ground. 

Not entirely abandoned, it would seem. 

With an errant plea to Merlin, he pulls the heavy metal handle, struck momentarily by the wrought iron ‘V’ decorating the center of the thick door. Not his family’s sigil. 

The Dark Lord’s.

If the Dark Lord has branded this place as his own, Draco doesn’t want to think about what that means for the occupants, the owners of this land. 

He forges ahead, fighting a shiver. Dread bobs like a buoy in his stomach.

Entering his family home feels like entering a tomb: cavernous stone walls, silence, something distinctly lifeless clinging to every surface. As if dark magic, and proximity thereto, has gobbled up whenever vestigial life dared to thrive.

He’s never thought of his home as particularly haunting before. But he feels it now.

And it’s ridiculous, the idea of sneaking into his own home for a book. That ridiculousness helps fight back some of the terror bubbling like an out of control potion in his stomach. 

Feeling absurd, he slinks from room to room, grateful for shadows, low lighting, and medieval architectural design for the first time in his life. He only has to traverse three rooms and one long corridor in order to reach the library.

When he does, he feels like he can truly breathe for the first time since landing amidst the trees.

He’s seen no one, heard no noise. It’s as if the manor has been abandoned. Or perhaps the Dark Lord has left it in peace, if only for a moment.

Once in the library, drunk on dark shadows and musty parchment, finding the book he needs is easy work. He’s known it his whole life. 

He speeds to the back of the library, where a row of glass cases house some of the crown jewels of the Malfoy family literary fortune. Precise spellwork controls the light, temperature, and humidity in each glass case. 

Draco passes a collection of Merlin’s personal journals, a first edition copy of Hogwarts: a History, and a hand annotated astronomy text that once belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw. He barely spares those things a second glance.

Instead, he comes to a stop at the Malfoy family copy of the Tales of Beedle the Bard, published prior to the content revisions that replaced The Tale of the Three Lovers with the similarly titled, though very differently themed, The Tale of the Three Brothers.

Wand held tight, Draco cancels the protective charms on the glass and opens the lid. Just like that, he’s holding a nearly millennium old book. Proof. 

The only kind of proof Granger, in all her infinite stubbornness, will accept.

He presses the book to his chest. For a flicker of a moment, it almost feels like relief, like it might soothe the ache distance has carved into his torso. After a beat, he pockets it. A small book, it slips easily into his standard expansion trouser pocket. 

The silence in the manor unsettles him.

It makes him feel observed, on display as much as these precious books. 

He taps a finger on the glass.

What if his parents are here? 

Their wing isn’t too far from the library. He knows the way as easily as breathing. And the manor does seem vacant.

It’s a bad decision, a niggling impulse he shouldn’t indulge in. But he can’t help it.

They probably think he’s dead. And no one will so much as send a single fucking Patronus to them, even to say something simple as your son is alive.

Nothing.

What if they’ve been punished for his defection? 

Draco’s heart sinks, a stone plummeting in his chest.

He’s tried so hard not to think about this, think about them. But now, back in his family home, he can’t fight the rush of unwanted what-ifs, gusting questions that cut off his air supply.

What if they’ve been tortured?

Killed?

His pulse stutters.

He has to find out. 

Mind made up, Draco takes a single, resolution-fueled step away from the glass displays only to immediately hit the floor, shocked by a series of flashes, followed by a flurry of voices erupting somewhere outside the library. 

It takes several huge gulps of air, forcing clear thinking with oxygen, for Draco to orient himself. Outside the library, but not outside the doors. Outside in the courtyard adjacent to the greenhouses. Still cause for alarm, still too close for comfort, but not so close that he’s trapped.

Suddenly no longer so ominously alone, he can’t justify a stroll down several more corridors just to see if his parents are in, if they’re well. 

He might have felt guilt, shame, for how easily he abandons his plans to check on them if not for the way a new rush of adrenaline locks away all errant doors to his focus, presenting him with one singular purpose: escape. 

It’s instinct, the way he runs. Out of the library, down the corridor, through the billiard room, the anterior butler’s pantry, and the small servants’ foyer beside the elves’ quarters. 

Dragonhide loafers, and ones that he’s been wearing for a month while traipsing through the woods, do not make for ideal jogging footwear. Nor for stopping suddenly on stone floors.

He’d had traction on the carpets lining the corridors and in the main rooms, but skidding onto the stone landing in the foyer, his poor worn shoes lose all grip. He overshoots the door, twists, and his shoulder collides with the door jamb.

He just barely swallows his groan, leaning on the nearby windowsill. Fresh pain blossoms in the fleshy parts around his shoulder joint.

“You ‘ear that?”

Draco’s heart drops nearly as fast as he does, sliding out of the window frame. He knows that voice. Rowle. A Death Eater.

Distinctively, not a nice man.

Whenever Rowle scrounged an invite to dine with Draco’s family and the Dark Lord, Rowle watched Nagini’s feedings with far too much glittering excitement in his eyes, hand constantly disappearing beneath the dinner table. 

Draco’s skin crawled just thinking of the meal they’d been seated beside each other. Nagini dined on a dead muggle between dinner and dessert and Rowle leaned over, hot breath in Draco’s ear, both hands somewhere beneath the table, and said, “You like that, boy? Like seeing ’em get what they deserve? I sure do.” 

Wedged between two distasteful options, Draco engaged as much Occlumency as he could manage, eyes tracing the intricate crystal design on his wine goblet. 

Evidently unimpressed by Draco’s lack of response, Rowle had grunted—probably something closer to a groan, in retrospect—and leaned back over into his own space.

Draco wants nothing to do with Thorfinn Rowle, with any of the Death Eaters, but definitely not with the ones that get off on pain and torture like Rowle does. 

“Can’t hear nothing over all this sniveling.” Another voice. One Draco doesn’t recognize. He hears the sniveling in question, too. 

Draco can’t seem to move, plastered against rough stone walls right next to the door. Through the heavy oak, he hears the Death Eaters, and what are probably snatchers too, hashing it out. He can’t keep track of the voices. At least three, maybe more.

Rowle’s voice again: “What you got for us?”

A tearful crying sound, followed by an all-out sob.

“Couple o’ mudbloods.”

“That it? The Dark Lord don’t want them right now.”

Another tearful sound. A cry. A plea. 

Draco can’t think in anything but panicked snapshots, terror stealing complex comprehension from his brain matter. He thinks he might be sick.

“Hear anything ‘bout the Malfoys, have you? Know where they might be? Now that’s somethin’ the Dark Lord wants to know.”

A series of no’s float through the door, punctuated by more tears in the background.

“Why would a mudblood know anything about the Malfoys?”

“Yeah, well, why would the Malfoy’s cut and run? Crazy shit happening these days, innit?”

Draco doesn’t hear the curse, but he sees the green flash through the thick, bubbled window panes above him. The killing curse cracks like none other, and smells of sulfur and copper when it's done. Even through stone and wood and panic, he smells it. 

A wail pierces Draco’s eardrums. Then, another green flash. More sulfur. More metal. Draco wants to gag. 

“If they ain’t got Malfoy blood, the Dark Lord don’t have time for ‘em. The king can’t ‘av someone else’s blood wards at the seat of his kingdom, you ‘ear?”

Draco can’t breathe, heart in his throat. His parents are traitors? That’s what it sounds like. Deserters, at the most generous end of the spectrum. And the Dark Lord has taken Malfoy Manor as his own.

It explains the sigil. 

More apparitions echo beyond the door. Draco flinches. He blinks. Sweat has dripped into his eyes, stinging. He blinks again, rapidly trying to rid his sight of salt and fear.

“More sightings,” from a new voice, out of breath. 

“Malfoys?”

“No, traitors though. Order, we think. Tried to sneak into Diagon.”

“Dead? Gotta be real special kind of stupid to try that.”

“Got away. Hit a couple with some nasty curses though—what’s this?”

“Trash.”

Draco squeezes his eyes shut, barely holding onto the conversation happening in the courtyard. 

It’s the sound of the iron latch to the door handle lifting that forces him into action. He panics, turns, and dips low.

He scrambles into the cramped doorway designed for creatures less than half his height. On his knees, he slides down the narrow corridor, pulling himself out of view. With all the focus he can muster, Draco tries to level his breathing, to draw breath as if he hasn’t just done his Quidditch warm ups.

To be frank, this is more activity than his body has experienced in a month, probably more. Add in the tremendous dose of adrenaline coursing through his veins and it’s probably by the grace of Merlin and Morgana alone that he hasn’t already keeled over of a heart attack. 

He certainly feels like his heart might hammer straight out of his chest. 

The door opens, more voices. A joke about what to do with the trash. They’ll feed the snake later.

Draco’s stomach twists. His limbs have frozen. He can’t move.

Panic hurts.

Worst of all, his chest still aches for proximity to Granger. Now, with a very real fear of finality, of perhaps never getting back to her, he can’t seem to find the requisite space in his chest cavity to breathe anymore.

He hates how this feels, how much he cares about how it feels. He cares about himself. He looks out for himself. His family. That’s it, how it’s always been. But he worries for her now, too. And what she would think if he never returns. His whole world has whittled down to desperation, to acknowledging the pull in his chest: a sense of obligation to something he wants no obligation to.

He doesn't even have the energy to fight that frustrating train of thought. He just leans into it, lets it lead him.

He grits his teeth, clutches his wand. He feels for the book in his pocket: the stupid, idiotic, ridiculous reason he’s here. He’s crouched in an elf cupboard in one of the biggest magical estates in Britain, reduced to just a few square feet, holding his breath. 

Prepared to fight if he has to.

He hates Rowle. But could he kill him? If Draco has to?

He’s never cast a killing curse on another person before.

He’s maimed. He’s tortured. He’s tried. 

But he’s also never felt quite so desperate before, either. Not even when standing on the Astronomy Tower with his own life on the line, with the implication of his parents’ lives on the line. Even then, his life hadn’t felt important enough to matter.

His life has consequences now. Consequences connected to her. 

The voices begin to fade, footsteps echoing on stone, then muffled by carpets.

Draco jumps, heart out of his chest when an elf appears next to him, wide yellow eyes glowing with an eerie light of their own in the dark.

“Master Draco? Is that—”

He lunges: one hand over the little elf’s mouth. In the dark he can’t even place her, isn’t sure who this is. The voice isn’t enough to give her away.

The elf fights, grapples at his hands, perhaps out of pure instinct, before going limp. Carefully, Draco pulls his hands away.

“Does master need—” He pins her against the wall, hand over her mouth again.

“Shh—no. You can’t—be quiet.” She flails again and Draco doesn’t know what to do. 

“I’ll let you go. I’ll let you go—just, you have to be quiet. You have to be quiet. Do you understand?” His harsh whisper shreds his throat, spittle flying in the dark. 

The elf stills again. Slowly, Draco pulls back. It’s a relief. He feels for a moment like they’ve survived this. But then she opens her mouth again and ruins everything in a high pitched whisper.

“I is supposed to be telling the new master if I is seeing you or any of my other masters and mistresses of the Malfoy family.”

For a blink after she speaks, there’s nothing but drop dead silence. Then, urgency takes over, commanding the use of Draco’s limbs.

He lunges again, both hands around her tiny neck this time. He comes to his senses quickly, fingers still closed around her throat. This is a house elf; she can simply vanish in a pop of elf magic whenever she gathers her wits about her to do so.

And then the Dark Lord will know he’s still alive.

Perhaps he’ll start summoning Draco again, torture at a distance. His arm practically lights up in memory pain. 

Worse, if they know he’s alive they might try finding him. And in a terrible scenario where they’re successful, that puts Granger at risk, too. All for his stupid mistakes. 

He feels like he’s going to be sick, flushed with a horrible tide of guilt and shame and panic and desperation roiling in a terrible sea inside his stomach. 

With his eyes screwed shut, Draco tightens his grip and—a flinching second later—snaps the elf’s twiggy little neck like it’s nothing more than a stick for his playfort out in the woods. 

He loses his fight against the tide in his stomach, twisting to spit bile and whatever remnants of the porridge he’d had for breakfast remained in his gut. The tiny cupboard sours, disgusting with his sick. 

He still doesn’t even know the elf’s name. She could have been one who changed his nappies, who helped him learn to walk. One who he’d known better than his own parents or governess for several formative years of his young childhood. Or, she could have been a kitchen elf he rarely saw, who’s name he only knew from a roster and nothing more.

He isn’t sure either eventuality matters. He wants one to soothe his guilt, but he finds himself disgusted and worn out either way. 

He sits in the cupboard for hours, seconds doubling to minutes doubling to an hour, then to multiple. Terror and horror have rooted him to the spot. He waits for any noise, any clue the Death Eaters might return. 

Finally, when he can't bear to sit in that tiny space any longer, he remembers to vanish his own sick before leaving without looking back. When they find the elf, he suspects no one will bat an eye at her death.

He opens the door and finds sunset. He sprints between the greenhouses, all the way to the edge of the wards and then far enough beyond that he feels safe his apparition won’t be heard.

He vanishes in a crack, desperate for relief from the ache in his chest and the guilt poisoning his soul, or whatever he has left of one.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione wobbles as if the screams are a physical force knocking into her. She’s already gelatinous, a little unsteady, and it feels like something has slid into place behind her breastbone. If she focuses on that sensation, and not what just happened, what she just did, she might be able to function long enough to figure out what’s going on. 

Stretched in too many directions, Hermione worries she’ll shred soon, leaving ragged bits behind. She’s already lost some. Her dignity. Her pride. Her inhibitions. Her knickers. And despite the fresh panic clawing its way up her throat, despite everything else: she feels warm and safe and whole in a way she hasn’t since Bellatrix Lestrange had her pinned to a drawing room floor.

In a moment that highlights the last few minutes of her life with painful irony, she shoves her ripped knickers in her pocket and breaks into a run. She crosses through the concessions corridor and onto the Quidditch pitch. 

Mayhem awaits her. 

Padma wails.

Justin struggles to hold her up.

George sits, staring at the place his left arm should be.

Neville ping pongs between points of chaos, right eye nearly swollen shut. 

And Ron stands in the middle of it all, looking lost, eyes fixed on a heap in the grass.

When he looks up at her, Hermione flinches. He can’t know what she’s just done, where she was when she wasn’t here with them. But it feels like he does.

She can’t bring herself to dissect the selfishness involved in seeking a distraction, in chasing something like enjoyment, pleasure, in a time like this. Because if she does, she might fall apart. 

Parvati lays dead near where Padma screams, putting every drop of their sound dampening charms to work. 

It sucks the air from Hermione’s lungs. She freezes.

Parvati had died while Hermione was seeking comfort in sour, surly Draco Malfoy.

In the aftermath, she’s crusted and stained and there’s stickiness between her legs that she realizes with a jolt of revulsion is her own because Malfoy didn’t—neither of them—finished.

A gust of wind blows across the pitch: refreshing, reorienting. 

Hermione moves, approaching Parvati.

She’s not a healer. Her inspection means nothing, especially not now. She’d done her best before, she had, but she’d also seen the purpling curse fragmenting through the veins in Parvati’s throat. It takes a single glance to see how they’ve spread, tributaries bursting their banks, flooding her from the inside out. She’s bloated with blood. Maybe even drowned in it.

Hermione can’t look.

Padma hasn’t stopped screaming. 

Neville touches Hermione’s shoulder. “We need to—do something?”

Hermione summons her beaded bag. She reaches in, finding Harry’s flannel. With a quick spell, she transfigures it into a blanket and covers Parvati’s bloated body. 

Padma falls beside the blanket. Justin is still trying to offer whatever meager support he can. Hermione, however, finds she has little else she can offer.

Grief and death and war have fatigued her. They’ve already lost and they’re still dying. 

She sinks to the ground and can’t help but wonder if the only thing keeping her chest from collapsing in on itself is the glowing sensation behind her ribs that hums like the rope.

 

Draco

 

At first, he doesn’t move, still prone on a hard floor. 

He’d been a prideful person once. 

Whatever pride he used to have has seeped from the damp sweat clinging to his skin, evaporating into the muggy office around him. 

He knows he should investigate why there’s screaming, but this whole day, all the stress and relief and the terrible, terrible sensation of feeling better that he most certainly doesn’t deserve, not in the slightest, still has him pinned to the floor, focused on his breathing as if his life depends on it.

He only moves when the shouting finally dims. 

The settling peace in his chest has faded from something panic-inducing to merely unnerving. He’d gotten so used to the ache, the emptiness. The feeling like there’s a cord inside him now, tying all his fragmented parts together, coiled and filling up his gaps, makes him even more aware of all the time he’s spent aching.

And now, with the cord suddenly in his chest, it’s no longer…around. It’s disorienting. For now, the bond is satisfied. At least, satisfied enough.

Panic shoots up his spine in a jolt, unwarranted. Without seeing the cord anymore, it’s almost like his proof has been taken away. But this is more real than ever. For both of them. Hermione has to know that.

He spots the discarded book he’d risked his life—a flip in his stomach—that he’d killed, to get. He grabs it before he leaves the room, pocketing it. It’s all he has left, really. 

In the concessions corridor, he realizes that without the cord, he can’t just follow it to find her. The convenience is gone, but so is the ache distance creates. In an entirely unwanted way, he misses the reassurance it gave him. 

He no longer knows how to find her.

He follows an uneasy quiet as if it’s a tangible thing he can sense. That, and he assumes they’re all on the Quidditch pitch.

It’s like finding statues, a human Stonehenge in the middle of a sports arena. 

It’s obscenely picturesque. 

George Weasley lays on a cot with Ron sitting in the grass next to him, head bent and resting on the edge of the cot. Nearby, Longbottom and Finch-Fletchley stand together: still. Justin looks down at Ron and George while Neville, with a huge bruise screwing one eye shut, looks in the other direction at…

A body. What has to be a body covered by a blanket. One of the twins, Draco can’t tell who, cries over it. 

Further away, Hermione sits in the grass with her knees drawn up against her chest, arms wrapped around them. She leans forward, chin resting against kneecaps as she stares ahead.

No one seems to have noticed Draco’s arrival.

He thinks back to what he’d overheard while at the manor. They’d been caught, easily from the sound of it. And while they’d escaped, it certainly did not seem to be an escape without losses.

He doesn’t know where to go, what to do. He’s not going to approach the Weasleys, for obvious reasons. Neville and Justin are…not his friends. Or anyone he wants to be around right now.

Then there’s Patil…whichever one has survived. He has no comfort to give. Her grief is so loud, so horrible. It’s hard to witness. He’s selfish to want no part in it. Even if he wanted to help, he doubts anyone here wants anything from him. They all expect the worst anyway, why challenge such low expectations?

Then there’s Hermione, sitting by herself. Minutes ago they’d—well, they’d—he’d—she’d—no.

In a world of evils, countless, innumerable evils, she is the least of them. She barely registers. In fact, she might not be evil at all if he allows himself to think it.

He crosses the pitch. 

If anyone is surprised to see him, or startled by his sudden return, they let grief swallow concern and say nothing.

He stops in front of Hermione, waiting for her to look up. She doesn’t. Her eyes remained trained on the opposite end of the pitch.

Tears wet her face. Quiet things, but just like her, persistent. Snot leaks from her nose. It’s disgusting. 

Conspicuously, he feels no disgust.

So he sighs, sitting in the grass across from her. He sets a timer on his wand and places it between them. 

She looks up when he casts the spell, the first real sign of consciousness since his arrival.

“Ten minutes,” he says, “then we need to talk.”

 

 

When ten minutes have passed, Draco half expects Hermione to remain in her semi-catatonic state. But she doesn’t. And it’s kind of miraculous, the way everything about her posture changes. 

She squares her shoulders, grits her teeth, wipes her tears, and stands, brushing the grass from her jeans.

Draco remains sitting, has barely moved.

She pulls in a deep breath, glancing around. Then she looks back at him, levelling him with an incredibly serious face.

“We can talk about what needs to happen next…what we need to do with”—her mouth twitches, she has to swallow, regather herself—“Parvati. How we need to prepare to leave. Where we will go.” She pauses, chest rising and falling with her next breath. “We will not talk about…”

The fact that they’d had sex.

They’d had sex

Sex.

Kind of. 

Not good sex. Considering neither of them, well, got anything out of it. At least he didn’t. He knows girls are trickier. He doubts she finished if he didn’t. He knows what she sounds like when she does; he didn’t hear any of those breathy little noises that haunt him. Besides, there was something else going, what with the cord and the bond and—

It was sex, but only in the barest kind of terms.

Still. He’d had sex with Hermione Granger. With… fuck. It had been awful. Wonderful and awful. It somehow patched a hole in Draco’s chest but it didn’t fix any of their problems. It didn’t solve for anything. It had been a distraction and nothing more.

Hermione pushes up her sleeves, literally pushes them to her elbows like she’s some vision of determination. Apart from the moment of totally unnerving eye contact in which she delivered her proclamation that they would not be talking about the sex, she’s not looking at him. 

He needs her to look at him. To help him figure out what the fuck is happening anymore. He’s not really sure. He’s half hard and it’s totally inappropriate, he knows, but he’s nearly eye level with her arse from where he’s sitting and all he can think about is how warm she’d been, how he’d filled her.

Merlin. He has to get it together.

He grabs his wand, stands, and takes a step past her.

He turns. “Are you coming?”

She hasn’t yet. 

He wants her to. He wants to do that to her.

He really has to get it together.

Her eyes close; her breath rattles when she inhales. Her gaze locks with his when she opens her eyes again. She nods, a little motion, then it grows with certainty. “I—I am. Yeah. I’m coming.”

 

Hermione

 

Wrangling Justin and Neville is the easy part. They seem nearly as brittle as Hermione feels. They let her take control; she ushers them into a tent where Justin has strict instructions to keep watch over Neville for any signs that his eye or concussion worsen. 

Ron is a different story; his worry over George has morphed into something obsessive, unproductive. And George, for his part, is more conscious than he was before and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Because he’s also in pain. A lot of it. And he keeps looking for a limb that isn’t there. He’s conscious, but still not totally with them. She gives him their last dose of pain potion, the one that Neville refused, and hopes it will help him sleep.

She’s iffy on the dangers involved in stunning an injured person, even if it means giving them respite from pain and stress. Fear prevents her from trying it. She can’t risk George’s safety, even if it means extending a painful consciousness.

Shamefully, Hermione has little she can do for Padma. She offers a glass of water and a blanket, but otherwise leaves Padma to her pain. Hermione doesn’t know how to expedite grief. She knows she shouldn’t.

Her wand timer is efficient, but it’s not for everyone.

Draco hovers like a specter behind her, following as she tries to organize a plan from disarray. He says very little. Nothing, in fact. But his presence is a small kind of shield from the terrible, stark reality thrust upon them.

Parvati has died.

Padma has lost her twin sister.

George has been maimed.

Neville is hurt.

And for the first time, Hermione actually sees what Draco has been saying in one nasty way or another for going on a month now.

They’ve really lost. They’re not fighting in a war anymore. They’re insurgents at best, uprising against a new regime. Voldemort won; everything is different. They’ll have to behave differently, too. 

In a blink and you miss it kind of moment, a terrible thought streaks through her consciousness.

Maybe it’s time to give up and run. Far away.

If the war has already been lost, why are they still fighting and dying? Why did Parvati die? What for? Information? It doesn’t seem worth it, not watching Padma curled on the ground against a corpse. 

It doesn’t seem worth it at all. 

“We need to leave,” Ron says, finally dragging himself from George’s side.

His face is red, eyes puffy from his own tears. Every single one of them is too strung out to do anything productive, to achieve anything in this war they’ve already lost. 

“I know, Ron. We will.”

“Soon. Now.”

“Stop.”

“Hermione. We have to go.”

“Listen to yourself, Ronald. George needs rest. So does Neville.” Her voice drops, low but vicious. He’s driving her insane. “Padma needs time.”

“We don’t have any time,” Ron hisses.

Suddenly, Hermione is hyper aware of the fact that they’re standing beside a tent, whisper-shouting at each other because no one needs to hear this fight, and Draco hovers right behind her. She can nearly feel his rising agitation at Ron, similar to how she feels herself.

“Look at us, Ronald. We aren’t in a position to pack up and go. Even if we had a plan, we are—not in great shape.”

George croaks from his cot nearby. “Speak for yourself ‘Mione, I’m alright.” Stunned silence gobbles up the following pause. “Get it? All right? Because I don’t have—anything left.”

He laughs and it's one of the worst things she’s ever heard, forced mirth trickles into a sob-like sound. 

She feels Draco’s palm against the center of her back, right between her shoulder blades and it helps her remain upright. Selfishly, she takes the support without protest. At least Ron is probably oblivious from where he stands opposite them.

She steels herself. “You’re missing an entire limb, George Weasley. I am not letting you apparate until the blood replenishers have had at least twelve hours to fully cycle through your system.” She returns her focus to Ron. “We used the last of our replenishers and our pain potions on him. I am not wasting them by apparating too soon.”

Ron’s mouth flattens, a red flush backlighting his freckles. His ears are nearly as red as his hair. “I know, but we’re not safe here.”

“We’re not safe anywhere.” 

Hermione thinks she says it, had planned to say it. But it comes from behind her, Draco’s voice floating past her ear and voicing the exact same sentiment she’d planned to. 

She clears her throat, ignoring the eerie symbiosis of it. Coincidence, more likely. “George was white as a ghost when he got here. Plus, Neville almost certainly has a concussion and we should avoid any unnecessary interdimensional compression, if possible.”

Ron looks like he’s chewing on several rebuttals. But he keeps them inside. Ultimately, there are no right or good or ideal answers here. They both know it.

“In the morning,” Hermione says, lowering her voice out of the pitched whisper-shout she’d been using, “we’ll—we will—bury Parvati. And then we’ll go.”

“I want to send a Patronus to my parents,” Draco’s voice sounds from behind her.

Hermione tenses; this is not the time.

Ron opens his mouth, presumably to say something nasty, but Draco cuts him off.

“Do you not care where I went today? Your little information gathering party failed pretty spectacularly, but I learned a lot.”

“Bollocks.” Ron’s face twists into a scowl. 

Hermione hears a patient inhale at her back. There’s a little shake, enough to know Draco’s invested, perhaps desperate, to get what he wants. Patience is probably a better annoyance to Ron than outright agitation. Maybe Draco has figured that out. 

“I’m in need of some goodwill here, yes? I came across some valuable information today. And I’ll share it. Especially since I’m stuck here. But I want a Patronus sent to my parents in return.”

Ron opens his mouth again but Hermione gives her head a sharp shake; this still isn’t the time.

“We’ll discuss it later,” she says, opting for something like mediation. “Now isn’t—”

Apparently, now is. 

A silver lynx bounds into the Quidditch Pitch with them.

For a moment, Hermione forgets to breathe. She can’t move. She doesn’t blink.

Everything about her body and her presence in it completely detaches, totally unreal as if watching from a new perspective, an absurd angle at which she can hardly comprehend Kinglsey Shacklebolt’s Patronus standing in front of her. 

“Hermione,” Kingsley’s voice says, and it's the most reassuring thing she’s ever heard. 

A strange sound tears from her throat: part relieved gasp, part choked exhale, part sob.

The Patronus continues, “I hope this message finds you as well as can be expected in these dark times. We’ve begun regrouping. There are others with me. It’s—we’ve lost. We don’t have the resources to go on, but we have a way out. Passage to France—”

Hermione staggers back. Another lynx bursts onto the field, this time, stopping in front of Ron. 

“Ron, I hope this message finds you as well as can be expected in these dark times—”

Hermione can barely breathe, lungs held captive by a runaway heart, pounding so hard that there’s no room left in her chest for anything else, even the memory of a silver rope.

She’d forgotten what real hope feels like.

“…we’ll coordinate details via Patronus once we know more about who we have left…”

Another Patronus jumps through the quidditch pitch, tearing Hermione’s focus from the one in front of her and the one echoing it for Ron nearby. 

This one hops straight into the tent where George lays. Kingsley’s voice floats out.

This feels like organization, like a plan, and someone in charge of it. 

Then another Patronus arrives.

Another.

Hermione’s mind spins with how many Kingsley must have sent, how many times he must have repeated the same message. 

That thought settles, gives her pause. 

How many did he make? As she watches so many find their destination, one to Neville’s tent, another to Padma, she now wonders how many didn’t find their destinations, had no recipient left in the world to find. 

She wonders if there’s a wandering lynx out there somewhere, trying to find Parvati. Kingsley is a day too late to save her.

In many ways, hope feels like heartbreak, too.

 

Draco

 

By himself in the tent that night, Draco pulls out the book. She hasn’t even read it, barely acknowledged it. It was supposed to be—an answer. Something.

He’s obsessing over it. He knows he is.

He’s obsessing a little bit over Hermione, too. Which is awful and disconcerting and there’s so much shit happening he’s barely had a second to breathe, let alone figure out what the fuck is going in his chest, in his head, with this magic.

She needs to read the book. She needs to see the story about all this and then maybe she’ll understand, just enough, that she’ll stop making everything so difficult all the time.

But she doesn’t come to sleep. She busies herself; he can hear it. Charms to shrink and pack and organize. Checking on George. Checking on Longbottom. Checking on Padma. Checking on fucking Finch-Fletchley who is perfectly fine. 

Draco isn’t perfectly fine and he’s pretty sure she’s ignoring him.

When she finally enters the tent, a quick tempus does the double duty of telling him it’s nearly three in the morning and alerting Granger to the fact that he’s still awake. Waiting. 

He sees the question forming on her face. Her mouth drops open, then closes, eyes darting from him to the book in his lap to her own empty cot.

It’s clear she’d expected to sneak in and sleep and not have to acknowledge him at all. 

He’s not sure he can speak. His face is hot, jaw welded shut with something like annoyance. He’s desperate to figure this out so he can stop being so stuck in the middle of it, but he can’t seem to get his mouth to work. Can’t form words. Can barely think them.

He holds out the book. This is important. He has to. 

“It’s widely believed—by my family at least, so do with that what you will—that this was the story collection Beedle the Bard modeled his own after in the fifteenth century. History and literature, oral and written tradition, they’re things my family has cared about and dabbled in for a long time.”

He pauses. Breathes.

Hermione watches him with wide, knowledge-greedy eyes. Slowly, she reaches for the book.

“The cover dates to the sixteenth century, restored and renamed after Bard published his almost-identical compilation. The contents, though, they date back to the eleventh century, shortly after the Malfoys fled France. The first four stories are the same. Page eighty-seven is where you want to start. The Tale of the Three Lovers.”

She blinks but doesn’t move. It takes tremendous self control not to snap at her.

“Just—read it, Hermione. Just read it.”

Mechanically, as if he’s made of cogs and gears inside his joints that need oiling, he lays himself down. He forces himself to disconnect, lest it become even more absurd that he’s waited up for her. That he wants desperately to watch her read, to watch her understand. That he wants to reach out and touch her.

He lays on his back, staring at the dim ceiling, eyes spello-taped to the canvas surface, as he both focuses on and tries desperately to ignore the lingering lumos for the next fifteen minutes.

Chapter Text

The Tale of the Three Lovers

 

There was once a grandfather, father, and son who lived in a large, lonely estate in the countryside. Though the nearest town was far and the population small, each man had the good fortune of marrying their one true love. In time, the men began to fear for the longevity of their family name in the small, rural town they called home as age and Death crept up on the grandfather. However, these men were learned in the magical arts, and so they combined their magical knowledge in an effort to ensure a prestigious legacy for their own.

They came upon a forbidden spell that, when combined with their own magical innovations, would do what no other spell had done before. On a dark night with only the silver moon and golden fireflies to light their cauldron, the men performed a blood ritual that would bind a secretive magic with their souls. Each man contributed as was their disposition.

The grandfather, who was a prideful man, imbued the magic such that it passed through the male line. Each generation would consist of just one son so as not to dilute the potency of their magic. 

And so their bloodline became one of solitary sons.

Then the father, who was a selfish man, decided he wanted this magic only for his own. With secrecy woven into the fabric of the spell, the men cast a blanket of silence upon all their future generations. 

And so only those directly affected by the magic could speak of its nature.

Then the son, young and newly in love, used his contribution to guarantee the best for his descendants, just like he had for himself. Thus, bound to their souls in each generation would be another to both rival and match, a perfect complement.

And so their souls would have mates.

Ritual complete, the three men continued in their lives, confident in the gifts secured by the obscure, forbidden magic they had indulged in.

In due course the men began meeting their ends, and in greeting Death, setting their magic into motion. 

The grandfather, ever prideful, made a braggart of himself in his final days, boasting to all who would listen that his family would be the best, have the best, and no other could rival them. He met Death while the father and son fled their ancestral village, across the water, to where none knew of their name and the arcane magic in their blood.

And so their magic made refugees of them.

In a new place, the father erected a family estate where he lived with his son. Here he built a new legacy. Selfish and greedy as he was, he engaged in a number of business agreements to generate wealth for his family at any cost. To his amazement and his delight, he suddenly found himself surrounded by riches. But these riches, and the deals that generated them, rotted on the vine. In his end, the father greeted Death after having nearly lost his love to the conflict wrought by his selfish, ineffective choices. 

And so their magic placed wealth and peace in opposition. 

The son though, still young and desperately in love, having watched the errors of his father and grandfather, endeavored to correct for their mistakes. Though he had engaged in forbidden magic, the son sought to treat it as a gift and wrote his tale down to be passed from son to son so that each might know of the mate for his soul and the costs borne by his ancestors to cast such magic. 

When the son met Death, he did so knowing that his passing would complete the cycle and that his son, and his son’s son, and all their subsequent sons, would have the joys he did.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

They don’t talk about it.

They don’t even acknowledge it.

Draco doesn’t know how to bring it up and Hermione seems content to keep hold of one of his family’s most precious books without a word about it. 

The next morning, they bury Parvati somewhere in the woods. Draco doesn’t know where; he doesn’t join them. He doubts anyone would appreciate his presence, and certainly no one will gain any comfort from having him around. He lingers by the tent after he packs it up, dangerously close to willful participation while everyone else is off grieving. When given the two options, he’d rather shrink down a tent and cram everything into Hermione’s tiny monstrosity of an impossible bag than participate in any more mourning.

He didn’t know Parvati, not well enough to justify being moved by her death. No more than he’s been moved by all the other death that clings to him like a stench he can’t quite scrub out. So he sits this one out.

When they return from the woods, Hermione’s eyes are bloodshot, nose red and running. She spends more time looking at the ground than at the others; her breathing is so eerily steady that Draco sees it for the exercise it is. 

He almost says something—what, he’s not sure—but she pulls him aside and tells him they’ll send a Patronus to his parents and every other thought in his skull evaporates, sizzling in the late-spring sun. It catches him entirely off guard, literally staggering in surprise. He doesn’t know when they decided, what tipped the scales, but the relief cuts him off at the knees, nearly toppling him.

Patiently, Draco waits near Hermione, watching as the others apparate away, tear-stained and exhausted even though the day has only just begun. Fear of risk, Hermione tells him, has them sending the others ahead. The fewer people around when she sends the Patronus, the better.

It’s as if they expect that sending a Patronus to his parents will instantly summon a hoard of Death Eaters. It’s ridiculous. Paranoid. And even still, he struggles, wandering across that line between improbable and impossible himself. A taboo on the Dark Lord’s name is one thing, but paranoia about other ridiculous ways to summon him is another. 

Padma leaves first with an unsteady George clutching onto her arm. It’s clear she can’t bear to stay there for a moment longer, leaving even before Hermione has finished explaining their plan.

Longbottom and Finch-Fletchley go next, apparition cracking from beyond the stadium wards. 

Weasley stays standing in the pitch with Draco and Hermione. 

“You can go now, Weasel.” Draco aims for impressive condescension. 

“I’m not going anywhere without Hermione.”

She turns to Draco, eyes rolling as she ignores the feeble barbs floating between them. 

“What do you want me to say to them?” she asks.

Draco blinks. “I—can I not—”

“Draco—”

His blood sings . Whole melodies floating through his bloodstream that had been off key, suddenly harmonizing. 

He didn’t know his name could do that.

She’d stopped talking, and for a moment he wonders if his name had the same effect on her. In a deep, not so sequestered part of his consciousness, he wants his name to mean something to her. To do something to her when she says it. It’s a greedy, wishful, selfish thought. And he has no right to think it.

In another world he might call it romantic.

But he thinks here it just makes him a creep.

It’s irrational and weirdly primal and still thumping with every squeeze of his heart.

She recovers. “If I’m casting the Patronus, I’m sending the message. We can’t—tell them much of anything, as you know. But is there anything specific you’d like me to say?”

Draco’s mouth dries out, as if forced to swallow a sponge.

In all the time he’d spent wanting this, he’d not put much effort into considering what he might actually achieve if allowed. How could he let his parents know, through Hermione Granger’s voice, that he’s somehow alive but not exactly okay? That he’s stuck in the middle of her cause and he’s halfway resigned that they’re all going to die. So while he’s alive now, he doubts he’ll be alive for long.

He opens his mouth; nothing comes out. He tries again.

“Just tell them—tell them I’m alive and that I hope they’re well.” A pause. “And—tell them the Manor isn’t safe. They probably know that but—just in case. He’s there.”

Hermione’s little intake of breath tells him she wasn’t ready for that information. He’s going to have to tell them what he saw eventually, but first, they need to uphold their end of the deal.

“Anything else?” Hermione asks.

“Not unless you’re willing to tell them where we’re going, or set up a place for us to meet.”

Hermione’s lack of amusement balances on a knife’s edge of irritation and pity. She doesn’t even deign to respond. 

She draws a deep breath and casts a Patronus, a shimmery little otter floating out of her wand. Seconds later, she’s relayed his message word for word: no liberties, no adjustments, and then the silvery creature is gone, leaving the pitch strangely absent.

Draco is getting sick of Patronuses. Convenient as they are, he’s tired of the news they carry and the complicated hope they bear. 

Weasley wastes almost no time being obnoxious. “Now what?”

“Well,” Hermione starts, “we wait to see if it comes back. The longest I’ve ever seen it take when a message is undeliverable”—her face scrunches, voice tight—“is just a few minutes.”

Draco swallows. “We don’t want it to come back, right?”

“Right. If it doesn’t then…we’ll know they got it. Wherever they are.” She turns to him. “But if it does come back, they could be somewhere with wards that don’t allow for Patronuses. Or too far away—there are limits—I sent one to Ron every day that first week and they all came back—”

Draco realizes she’s trying to comfort him, which is a weird, unsettling sensation in and of itself, but the look that passes between her and Weasley is even more comforting.

Weasley looks embarrassed, reaching up to massage the back of his neck. 

“I didn’t mean to set the wards up wrong, there was a lot going on—”

“I know. It’s fine. I’m not talking about this again.” She cuts him off and it's brutal.

Draco loves it. 

He clings to that tiny spark of amusement as a minute passes. Then another.

The next minute has his skin itching.

The one after, his foot tapping in a strange counter-tempo to his thudding heart.

The one after that and he’s scowling at the grass in front of Hermione’s feet. 

Nothing as confirmation is confirmation of nothing. 

A torturous imagination runs wild; waking nightmares about his parents receiving the Patronus mid-crucio, or while on the run and thereby exposing their position, or mere seconds before The Dark Lord, having finally found them, decides to execute them rather than spare their lives.

He hates hates hates that he almost agrees with Hermione. 

Maybe this has been a terrible idea. Maybe a life-ending one. Maybe he’s just killed his parents with his curiosity and his selfishness. That fear bursts, a blister rubbed raw behind his ribs, catching on muscle and bone and regret.

Hermione heaves a big breath. “Alright, well. I think we can assume they got it—wherever they are.”

Despite the rigamarole his own thoughts have just put him through, the only words Draco seems able to find are nasty ones, bitter ones, words coated in something uncomfortably close to hurt, so adjacent to fear that he has to lean into one in order to avoid the other.

“And how hard was that? Could have done it two weeks ago.”

He hadn’t realized Hermione’s face had been wide open, watching him. Not until it shutters, slats made of disappointment and indignation and frustration sliding into place, boarding her up.

She turns away, giving a sharp look to Weasley, who frowns and thrusts a slip of paper at Draco. 

Draco barely has time to look at the address in his hand before Hermione cancels the wards on the Quidditch pitch, reaches out, and with no warning, apparates him away.

 

Hermione

 

She’s been here once before. Nearly a year ago. Near here, at least. It looked different then.

For a moment, as air rushes back into her lungs and her entire head feels wrung through rollers, she wobbles.

Someone reaches out and pulls her through a wall of wards, slipping over her skin with a shimmer and a crackle of safe magic. She looks over, Ron has yanked her inside the wards, has his hand wrapped around her wrist.

It doesn’t necessarily sting, but it feels wrong, a sort of void memory that remembers what his touch used to feel like, comparing it to something else, something more. That feeling rushes up her arm and clashes in her chest with—

Oh.

She’s still holding onto Draco with her other hand. Not just holding, but her fingers have entwined with his. He seems utterly unaware of the unearned intimacy in holding hands. And of the battle taking place inside Hermione’s chest between what feels too keenly like her past and her future.

And her, in the present, forced to bear the burdens of both.

She drops her hands—both of them—to her sides. Something unspools in her chest; she imagines it’s the rope, filling up whatever empty spaces the unease over Ron’s touch have carved inside her. In her periphery, she sees Ron back away, head shaking.

“Where—where are we? What’s a Wisteria Walk?” Draco asks, still facing the street beyond the wards, eyes locked on a street sign bent and twisted at a right angle. “What happened here?”

“I assume You Know Who and the Death Eaters…they razed the place.” Hermione clears her throat. “This is one of our last safe houses. But—as you can see it’s not really in the safest place. We’ve avoided it but—we need to regroup. It used to belong to someone friendly to the Order.”

“Used to?”

“It’s my understanding that she went into hiding in the countryside last summer. Before it all began. This place was warded and turned into a safe house.”

“Why didn’t we come here before?” There’s only a small bit of bite in his tone, and she thinks it's mostly from shock.

“Ron is the secret keeper.” 

She watches Draco look down at the slip of parchment in his hands. She plucks it from his grip and immediately lights in on fire. It takes off, twisting in the air as it reduces to cinder and ash.

She steps up next to him at the edge of the wards. They tingle against her skin, warning her that this is the line. “It’s a last resort, anyway. We weren’t sure it would be—if it would even be here anymore. It’s not…ideally located.”

Draco laughs. “Yeah, I can see that.” His laugh hallows out, then fills with something else, something sour. “Why?”

She assumes he means why did they destroy what looks like several streets’ worth of homes. Muggle caution tape flaps limp in the wind. It’s nearing the middle of the day and it’s dead silent. 

“This is a Muggle neighborhood. This house—it belonged to a squib. And over that way”—she points, finger brushing up against the wards—“that’s a street called Privet Drive.”

Draco finally tears his attention from the spell-charred asphalt and bombarda’d buildings. He doesn’t ask, but she sees the question in his gaze when he looks at her. Why that street? Why this place?

It seems so obvious. But of course, she already knows, she’s been here before when it wasn’t smoldering. 

“It’s—” The words catch in her throat. It feels so final, admitting what it is, why it’s important. “Harry used to live here. When he was growing up. With his Muggle Aunt and Uncle.”

Draco’s eyes drift again. His brows draw together, mouth pinched, expression tense.

“Do you think they did this before or after they killed him?”

It’s the first time he’s referred to Harry's death in a tone that isn’t outright nasty. 

“I don’t know,” she whispers. Looking back out at the scene with him. 

“Now what?”

“We wait for Kingsley. It sounds like he’s coordinating an escape. I assume we’ll meet up with him as soon as he has passage to France figured out.”

“I have a villa in France—well, my family does.”

Hermione blinks. It’s almost as if he’s spoken the sentence in a different language. “Is that an invitation?”

He doesn’t look at her and his mouth pinches tighter before he speaks again. “For you. And no one else. If we survive.”

He turns and walks into the tiny house formerly belonging to Arabella Figg before Hermione can fully process what he’s said, or ask any of the questions that erupt in an onslaught inside her head.

 

 

Figuring out passage to France takes time, apparently. Ron exchanges a Patronus with Kingsley every other day, short perfunctory missives about smuggling and setting up illegal portkeys. Terse tomorrows and hang in there’s. Hermione participates, but is happy not to be entirely in charge. Exhaustion is getting harder to fight, weariness settling in her bones, turning her to stone. 

 The messages from Kingsley, all their tense coordination that has his voice sounding stilted and agitated through his Patronuses, start feeling stale after the first week.

After the second week, Hermione is restless. She has nothing to do, not even woods she can forage in. They’ve been told not to leave, to hunker down until whatever Kingsley is coordinating can be—coordinated, she supposes. 

It’s a boring, tedious existence. But she’d rather ration meals from expired tins in the back of a partly stocked pantry than wonder if she’ll be able to find enough berries to supplement the last energy bar in her bag. 

Hermione spends most of her time sitting on the lawn, watching the street through the wards, accepting sunlight. The whole place is eerily abandoned. No muggles. No witches. No wizards. No birds. No wildlife. Nothing. 

Draco’s book still sits in her bag with all her belongings, everything she has left in this world. She can't bring herself to read it again.

She isn’t sure what she thinks. What she believes. 

It’s different from her own copy, she knows that because she’s memorized her bequest from Professor Dumbledore front to back. But that doesn’t mean she believes what it says.

Because it’s ridiculous. And unbelievable. And too much. And she knows, even as she thinks it, that these excuses won’t hold for long. Because it’s also interesting. And compelling. And tangible in a way she can’t fully rationalize.

So she spends her time in the sun, sitting on the only patch of green grass left for several streets. She’s lost the energy to do much of anything else. Every conversation is a chore; her heart is too heavy to lift anything else, conversation and coordination included. 

Ron occasionally brings her his hopes that they’ll figure out a new way to fight once they’re in France, once they’ve regrouped. 

George recovers slowly, more lucid than ever, but struggles to maintain a positive outlook.

Padma seeks solace with him, the only other person who can possibly know the agony of losing a twin.

Neville proffers domesticity like a drug, trying to force a sense of calm and safety on a group of people barely staying afloat.

Justin discovers Mrs. Figg’s tiny but well stocked liquor cabinet and helps himself to several bottles.

Draco keeps to himself, passing both his days and nights in the tiny sunroom by the back garden. He eats his meals there, too. From what she can tell, he’s slowly working his way through Mrs. Figg’s modest book collection, ranging from literary classics to blush-inducing romances. He seems to have no preferences, working through the collection starting from the top of the bookcase. Hermione starts from the bottom. She imagines, if given enough time, they’ll meet in the middle.

A dull thud echoes in her chest whenever she thinks of Draco alone in the sunroom, perhaps hiding, perhaps avoiding. 

When she’s had too much sun, sometimes she sits with him. They read their respective books but rarely speak. He doesn’t ask about his book, the book they’re clearly avoiding a conversation about. Some days, she almost wants to say something, she’s almost ready. Fear clogs her throat, steals her bravery.

At night, Hermione pretends not to notice that while she doesn’t sleep, Padma doesn’t either. She wonders how often their nightmares converge, how severely they share an uncanny fear of the dark.

She also pretends not to notice when Padma finally rises, leaving the room. Hermione doesn’t know exactly where she disappears to, but she has her suspicions. 

Not that she minds, it’s the perfect, solitary opportunity to finally crack open Draco’s family copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and torture herself again the The Tale of the Three Lovers.

It’s similar to The Tale of the Three Brothers in so many ways: length, construction, even sharing some exact phrases.

But the content is wildly different. The moral too, if there is one. 

When she can’t bear to reread the six hundred and thirty one words any longer (she knows the exact number, she counted) she sets a new timer on her wand. She’s taken to scheduling her grief in the night when she’s alone and Padma has gone to George. 

When she’s done crying, done grieving, at least for now—she doubts she’ll ever truly complete the process itself; it doesn’t feel like something with an end—she rarely falls back to sleep.

Tonight, she stumbles upon a bottle of red nail polish amongst the junk in the bottom of her bag.

She holds it up in the dim lamp light. 

She knows Draco had most likely meant it as a slight, an unkind commentary on the state of her hygiene or her femininity or—something else. That, or he was simply indulging in the thrill of rebellion when he pulled it from a shelf at the chemist and dropped it in her bag. Either way, she knows it wasn’t really a gift , not something she was meant to use.

Looking down at her ragged, literally war-worn hands, she decides that even if it wasn’t intended as a nicety, she can make it one. 

Hermione doesn’t remember the last time she painted her nails. For Bill and Fleur’s wedding, maybe? 

The memory pulses with a flush of grief. But she’s already done her mourning today. 

With a few spells she knows mostly in theory and has only used a couple of times on herself, she sets to cleaning her nail beds, trimming her jagged edges, scrubbing the dirt from beneath her nails. 

Her hands shake too much.

She has to set them flat against her bedside table as she tries to spruce herself up just a bit.

It takes everything in her not to weep.

She used to have a steady hand, precise for spell work. She’s not sure when she’d started shaking so badly, but her precision is pitiable. 

When she’s done, it requires several more cleaning spells to flake the polish from her skin and correct for shaky work. 

Examining her hands, she’s not sure what she expected. Some kind of catharsis, probably. But she only finds a mediocre paint job on banged-up nails. 

She can’t take it anymore. It’s nearly four in the morning. She rises, giving up on sleep, or rest, or whatever she’s meant to be doing in a dim room with nothing but her nightmares to keep her company. 

 

 

She finds Draco in the little sun room that has become his home within this home. If she had the energy, she might have rationalized with herself that she hadn’t gone looking for him.

She doesn’t have the energy.

He, like her, and she suspects most others in this house, isn’t sleeping. 

“I like that I can see outside,” he says, back to her as she lingers in the small doorway separating the kitchen and the sunroom. From his seat on the squishy, two-person loveseat, he faces the back garden. Most of whatever Mrs. Figg had once grown there has already died, but it’s still a view of the outdoors.

“It’s nice,” Hermione says, even though she can see very little in the dark. She yearns, in an unexpected flash of a moment, for a silver glow.

She descends the single step into the room but doesn’t approach any further. 

“The window was blocked—at that beach cottage. Just a dim blur no matter the time of day.”

“It was necessary,” Hermione starts, voice quiet. “We didn’t know if you—what you—”

“It was cruel.”

“Yes. It probably was. But we did heal you. Kept you alive.” Her fingers find the door frame, dragging against the woodgrain. “You experienced much better hospitality with us than we did with you.”

He doesn’t exactly laugh, but his shoulders shake. “You’re right. Of course. Doesn’t mean I didn’t miss the sun—it’ll be rising soon. And then I spent all this time stuck outdoors with you and now…here I am, almost missing it.”

“We’ve been through—”

“Don’t. I don’t need you to rationalize what I’ve been through…or what I’ve had to go through with you.” He still hasn’t even turned around to acknowledge her. But his shadowed form feels agitated, matching a hard tone.

She’s not sure what they’re really talking about. It doesn’t feel like anything at all. 

At the same time, it feels like everything, or like it could be everything, and they’re just waiting for the sun to break and force light into the shadowy things they’ve been avoiding. 

She sighs, steps fully into the room with him and holds his copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard out over his shoulder. 

Her heart hammers in her chest, struggling against something like rope. “I think we should talk about it.”

Chapter Text

Draco

 

With one hand, Draco takes the book. He doesn’t need light to know what it is. He’s been a model of patience not asking about it, not bringing it up, barely even thinking about it.

Though that last bit is a lie; it’s nearly all he’s thought about in the two weeks they’ve sat in this house all slowly falling apart together, waiting for something. 

Defeat in this war has meant a lot of waiting.

With his other hand, Draco reaches down near his feet and grabs the bottle of gin Finch-Fletchley gave him. 

Apparently Justin doesn’t like gin.

Draco can’t say he likes it all that much either, but it will do. For early mornings when he can’t sleep because his brain keeps conjuring new and terrible ways that his parents might be dying, that he might die, that Hermione might die, it will do. 

The bottle’s already open; he takes a swig and sets it on the small table in front of him. He puts the book there too. 

Hermione walks around the side of the sofa. In a strange way, he finds himself missing the golden cord. He can’t see her face in the shadows. He only knows she’s there. 

Her form moves, sofa dipping beside him. 

“The story…” she starts, but she trails off, leaving it open ended. Surely she has thoughts, more than that. She’s her, after all. Annoying, know-it-all, ever inquisitive, and always questioning.

“About my family.” He concedes no more. If she wants to talk, she’s going to have to talk. He has too much to say and no inclination to say any of it if he can help it.

“Why was it replaced?”

“What?”

Of all the questions. That’s the most important to her?

“The other stories in your copy, they’re almost identical to what’s in my own. But the last one it’s—well, it’s very different.”

“I don’t claim to know what Beedle the Bard was thinking.”

“Do you think it was intentional?”

“What?”

Does she seriously have no questions about the content? About how he handed her an explanation of what’s happening to them?

“It’s the only thing I can really think of. Why not just add another story? Why replace The Tale of the Three Lovers?” She pauses, then sucks in a little breath. “Unless, of course, someone wanted it buried.”

“Someone like who?”

“Your family, I imagine. Ancient blood magic? Tampering with the soul and bloodlines? And from what it reads like, something invented by your ancestors. Got them run out of—France, did you say it was?”

Her voice brightens, tone thoughtful. There she is. The context was just a warm up. 

He takes another swig of gin. It tastes a bit like a pine tree. He doesn’t mind on his third gulp. He holds the bottle out to her. 

With some of the predawn darkness finally dissipating, he sees the hesitation in her gaze as she eyes the bottle. 

He’s about to say something, a suggestion that this might be easier if she does, or that she’s earned it, or that she should just relax for once, when she wraps her hand around the neck of the bottle—her nails are painted and it’s so out of place he can’t tear his eyes from them—and takes a swig.

She grimaces, coughs, and serves the bottle a nasty look as if it’s offended her. Then she doubles down, takes another, bigger gulp, before setting it back on the table. 

He imagines there are worse places to be than a modestly safe hiding place drinking gin with Hermione Granger before the sun has even risen. 

“Do you know anything about the specifics of the spell? Or the ritual?” She pulls one leg onto the sofa, tucking it under her as she turns to face him.

“I only know what’s in that book. And what my parents have told me. The magic itself—I think it’s been lost for centuries.”

“That’s good.”

“Good?”

“Magic involving the soul is taboo for a reason. The ability to tie a person’s intangible existence to a tangible object? Or another person? It’s dangerous. It could be cruel. And who knows what consequences it might have.”

“This is nothing like what the Dark Lord has done—those horcruxes.” His sharp tone cuts through the darkness with a severity that clearly catches them both off guard, judging by the way Hermione’s posture stiffens, the way Draco nearly, almost, wants to take it back.

“I—know.”

“Do you?”

“I wasn’t thinking about that at all, actually.” She crosses her arms. “Well, it crossed my mind, of course. There are…commonalities that can’t be avoided but, in this particular instance, I was only thinking of the more immediate, personal consequences I’m experiencing.”   

“Like how it’s pulling someone like you and someone like me together.” He thinks he means that as a question, but it comes out like a statement.

“Precisely.”

At least she’s not sugarcoating anything for his benefit.

It’s quiet for a beat before she asks another question.

“What…have your parents told you about the bond?”

“Not much, apart from that it exists. The father—in the story—he made it so it can’t be discussed between those not directly affected. And even then, my parents were always…secretive in their own ways about it. It’s very private.”

“But what is it, exactly? You used the word”—she stumbles over it—“soulmate. But what does that mean, exactly?”

Liquor warms Draco’s insides, luscious tendrils spreading to his limbs, loosening him. He’s so tired of holding everything in. But he’s not sure he knows of any other way.

“If you had to describe the Malfoys in a single word, how would you?”

“Cruel.”

He barely blinks. That cuts. “Another?”

“Arrogant.”

He swallows. Another slice. “Closer. Another?”

“Selfish.”

“That’s it. Malfoys are selfish.” He can’t decide if it’s the liquor heating him up or something else. “And we always have been. The magic was a way to ensure we endured and excelled. It consolidated wealth into a single descendent line. It does the work of finding a perfect—” his voice cuts off. 

It’s too early for that. The sun hasn’t even risen and he’s skating dangerously close to something like vulnerability.

“And the—rope. It’s…gone now?”

“In a way, I think. It’s more”—he reaches to his chest; feels ridiculous; drops his hand—“in us now. Satisfied. For the time being.”

“Because we…” Her voice pitches and the stiff cushions beneath them shift. She’s squirming. “The sex.”

Draco is grateful for the dark. He’s got to be bright red. This is awful. People couldn’t possibly just… talk about this. He reaches for the gin and takes another sip, smaller this time. Unlike Finch-Fletchley, he doesn’t actually want to drink his entire day away.

He just needs a tiny distraction. Maybe a bit of courage.

He looks at the dim shape where Hermione sits beside him and he wonders if she’s set her timer yet today. If she’s taken care of herself. 

An intrusive, infuriating feeling, tacky on the inside of his ribs, suggests that if she refuses to take care of herself, he’ll do it for her. He’s tired just thinking it, but maybe she could do the same for him. 

Maybe it would be easier to share the load. In an ideal world that’s what this would look like. 

He stands, so suddenly both his knees crack. Raking a hand through his hair, he casts a glance around the tiny sunroom. He’s already embarrassed. And he hasn’t even fully formed the thought.

“Do you know what today is?” he asks, stepping around the low table in front of the loveseat, positioning himself in front of the windows.

Even when he’s not facing her, he feels Hermione’s eyes on him. He turns to her. His skin feels alive, suddenly manic.

She shakes her head.

“If I’ve been counting right, and I’m not sure I have, but—I think it’s my birthday.”

He’s going to be sick. Desperation practically spills from his pores, an unfortunate flood inside his chest, surging with a new tide.

She blinks. “It is?”

He nods. He has to turn away again. He can’t look at her when he says this. The blueish, pre-dawn glow isn’t enough cover. He can barely look at himself, a hinted reflection in the glass.

“There’s something I think I’d like for my birthday.” He fights off the urge to ball his fists. “If you’re feeling giving.”

“What’s that?” comes her quiet question.

“To pretend.”

She doesn’t say anything and he knows he has to elaborate; he's just not ready yet. Mania and too much gin for not even five in the morning swim beneath this skin. 

Eventually, he gathers what meager courage he has to his name and faces her again, leaning his back against the window. He hopes it looks casual, and not like a very real attempt to prop himself up.

“I’d like to pretend that—we aren’t us. That this war didn’t happen. That there’s no history or hate or—any of that. This was supposed to be a good thing. The best thing.” His soulmate. It’s embarrassing how much he’d wanted it before he had it.

He’s furious he can’t have the things he wants. He’s never claimed not to be self-obsessed. Not be selfish. A little bit desperate. And maybe a little bit drunk.

He realizes he’s been staring at Hermione’s bright red nails, avoiding both her eyes and her judgement. 

It’s pathetic, what he’s just said. He’s pathetic. 

Desperation won out for a moment, and now he’s too embarrassed to move, let alone take it back.

She stands and he watches her hands with those nails—why did she paint her nails?—reach for the bottle of gin. She takes another small sip, then speaks.

“Would you tell me more? About it? If we pretend?”

She isn’t making fun of him.

She’s nearly agreed.

“Yes.” 

She nods and, with a wave of her wand, the door to the sunroom closes with a soft click. “What does pretending look like? If—we weren’t us. If this”—her gaze tracks past him, at the shadowed, ruined neighborhood beyond the sunroom windows—“wasn’t happening?”

Something akin to confidence sparks to life inside his veins at the way she’s indulging in this with him. The way he’s not alone. 

“I don’t know,” he admits.

She steps around the table between them. 

“What would you be doing for your eighteenth birthday? If you had a choice.”

That word sets off like a bad spell backfiring inside his chest. Choice. The idea of choice has mocked him for years now. For so long he’s stopped wondering about the ones he never gets to make.

“I—don’t know. I’d be sitting for my NEWTs. Probably worried I won’t get enough and father will—” he breaks off, banishing that train of thought. “I’d expect my friends to do something. Turn the Slytherin common room into a nonstop party for the night.”

Hermione flicks her wand again and the windows shift. Instead of the bombarda’d neighborhood beyond them, Draco stares at a decent approximation of the Black Lake.

“How did you—”

“Harry and Ron. It’s a long story.”

The charm on the window filters a deep green and blue glow into the room, bathing them in a water-hued dimness. It’s a good trick, and she’s gotten it fairly close. It almost feels like the common room.

“There’d be music,” Draco says. With his own wand, he turns on the gramophone in the corner of the room, gently floating whatever music the old woman who owned this house liked to listen to. Hardly what he would have chosen for his birthday, but it’s something.

Hermione reaches for the gin. “Drinking, too? I imagine you Slytherins have your ways.”

Draco can’t help the chuckle; he’s almost relaxed. “Goyle’s father owns several distilleries. He stopped bringing books in his trunk in fourth year, only booze.”

Hermione face scrunches. It’s so close to endearing he has to look away. She probably can't stand the idea of breaking rules and opting for booze over books.

But she also can’t imagine what it’s like to be the son of Gregory Goyle Sr. The alcohol was essential.

She sets the bottle of gin back down, eyeing it warily. “I’ve never actually had liquor before now. Wine and beer yes, but…this is pretty awful.”

“That one isn’t the best.”

“It’s warm though. Nice.” She looks back up at him. “So it’s your birthday. There’s a party just for you in the Slytherin Common Room. Now what?”

Nerve, daring he’s entirely unaccustomed to, catches on the prompt she’s left wide open for him. They’re still pretending; she’s still willing.

“You show up.”

“Me?”

“You. Well, my…” Soulmate. What else could he want for his birthday?

“And you would know? Because of the rope?” 

“I would have gone straight for you.” He pauses. “Or I would have panicked and watched to see if you did anything about it. You would have seen it too. Maybe—maybe we would have danced.”

Almost in slow motion, he watches her nod, watches her take another tiny step. He takes a bigger one of his own. Carefully, cautiously, he reaches for her waist.

As if automatically, she lifts her hands as if to loop them around his neck. He leans away. “No,” he says. “Not like that.” He turns her.

Her back to his chest.

Her arse to his groin.

His hand splayed across her ribs as he holds her to him.

She stills, perhaps stunned for a moment, but then her head relaxes, leaned back against him. Magic thrums in Draco’s chest, the cord recognizing closeness.

“It’s a Slytherin party for my birthday, remember?” His voice drops to a whisper as they sway. “The music we have right now might not set the mood. But it’s dark, and loud, and crowded—because everyone wants to be there—so we’re in the middle of it. And you’re pressed up against me like this, and I’m—”

He knows he doesn’t imagine the way she exhales, breath slipping out of her as she presses harder against him.

They’re moving, barely, but enough that he has to grip her hip with his free hand. It feels like the closest he’s ever been to her and technically they’ve had sex. But only just. 

He’s grateful for the darkness now. Inside the sea foam glow from the charmed window, he can play pretend and not have to face the mountain of mess between them in the real world.

It’s fantastic, the way her hips move. He’s not sure if Hermione Granger knows how to dance or if he’s just starved for any kind of contact, but he’s already stiff in his trousers and utterly unashamed about the way his hips and her arse grind together.

He almost wonders if he imagines her barely spoken words. They’re so quiet, whispered into a dark room and propelled away from them. He only catches them because her head is still thrown back against his shoulder, nearly limp, angled with her pale neck exposed to him. He watches her mouth as it moves.

“I like pretending,” she says, like it’s the worst thing she’s ever confessed. Even quieter: “I’m so tired.”

“Fighting it is—it’s more effort than it’s worth.”

A dim green glow dances in waves across her face. He sees it when her eyes flutter. “Why? How?”

His grip on her waist tightens; his fingers on her hip dip, press into the soft flesh of her upper thigh.

These tiny little sleeping shorts she wears are the best bane of his existence.

Before he lets his mind wander too far, whole body practically alight from the peppering of contact points between them, he turns her, finds her eyes. 

“I could show you,” he says. “We could still pretend. And I’ll tell you.”

She swallows. Nods. They can both get something out of this.

Still swaying so close together, he maneuvers them back to the couch, pausing only when her calves bump into it. 

“The cord is—dormant. For now, I think. It’s meant to show us each other, draw us together. It’s just….our magic, shared and amplified.”

“Why is it dormant?”

He knows she knows. She watched, too, when it disappeared while they had sex. That—very not good sex he wants to fix. He has several things to prove: the magic, his pride.

“Will you sit for me?” He’s not sure why he says it quite like that, but up close, he watches the way her eyes widen by a fraction before she sits without protest.

Draco sinks to his knees on the floor. The last time they were in a position like this their places were reversed. She’d been bandaging his leg and he’d been frantically trying to recall every Quidditch statistic he knew to keep himself sane.

“It’s stopped pulling, I think, because we—satisfied it. For now. We’re closer than ever, aren’t we? Even if it wasn’t—it can be so much better. The best. It’s supposed to be the best.”

Her eyes narrow when she thinks, her thoughts all focused right there. “The cord is visual. It shows us each other. And it makes us want to—” she breaks off when he shakes his head.

“No. No. It doesn’t make us do anything. It shows. It wants. But what we do with that…it’s up to us. I could have left. I could have left you in the woods. Or at that cottage. It’s uncomfortable. But it wouldn’t have stopped me.” He doesn’t know how to explain that the promise of his family’s magic, even when connected to someone he hated at the time, was enough to draw him back, keep him there.

He touches his hand to his chest. He almost imagines his ribs shifting, insides swirling, like something lives inside there separate from himself. 

“When we choose it”—he watches her hand go to her chest too—“it doesn’t have a job to do so it’s dormant. It’s only supposed to help; it’s just our own magic, projected…reaching. And when it’s happy, it’s quiet.”

Hermione says nothing at first, just watches him with her palm pressed to her breastbone. Then she leans forward, so close that her curls brush his shoulder as she reaches past him, picking up the bottle of gin and taking another sip. He takes it when she offers it to him.

“That seems…generous,” she finally says.

Draco has been staring at her kneecaps, stuck in this awkward position he’s put himself in. He both does and does not wish she’d wear more than these tiny sleep shorts to bed. They’re painfully distracting. “What does?”

“That your ancestors would place such a premium on choice. It’s very…modern of them. And unselfish. Which by your own words isn’t the Malfoy way.”

“The youngest of the lovers, he…had the most influence on the soul magic. He was different than his father and his grandfather. I don’t know why it mattered to him. Only that it did. And here we are.”

“Your parents?”

“Chose. And have kept choosing. It was…uncomfortable for a while when my father was in Azkaban. I think my mother struggled with her choice then. And has continued to since the war started again.”

The question in Hermione’s face, and the gin more likely, has him sharing more than he ever would have otherwise.

“I couldn’t see it, of course, but I think their cord returned for a while. Which…means it was bad. Unlike us they’ve—really solidly bonded. They wouldn’t have even felt it here”—he digs his fingers into his shirt, flexing—“after fully bonding.”

“And what is…fully bonding?”

He doesn’t miss the hesitation in her question, the little hitch. Like maybe she doesn’t want to know. Or maybe she wants to know too much. 

Once upon a time, only a month or so ago, he’d had less than no interest in explaining this to her. Embarrassment and disgust brewed into a toxic sludge in his stomach whenever he’d thought about it.

Now, the brew is warm and light and heats him up nearly as effectively as the alcohol does. 

“It’s—carnal in nature. As much old magic is.”

Her eyes blow wide. “So we’ve already—”

He shakes his head and feels a different embarrassment. Not embarrassment over being stuck with her, but embarrassment over not being good enough.

“We’d both have to”—he clears his throat, finds himself staring at her kneecaps again because anything is better than those deep brown eyes right now—“finish.” His face heats. “And I think…we can’t have any clothes on either. And something about touching chest to chest—well, heart to heart, technically. It’s all very archaic, the bonding parameters. My parents were never especially forthcoming with those particular details, as you might imagine.”

When she doesn’t say anything, he finally looks up, only to find her as flushed as he feels, pink rising from her jaw to the apples of her cheeks. Her eyes have a strained quality to them that reminds him of someone trying very hard not to look surprised—or aroused.

“When we did—it,” he says, leaning forward just a bit. Her knees dig into his chest. His throat feels sticky, clogged, like he has things he wants to say by they’ve melted into a mortifying gunk at the back of his tongue. “It can be better—we—I—” he has to swallow, start again. “In the tent. That first time, by ourselves. You—” He breaks off. Steels himself. 

He’s eighteen bloody years old and talking to the person who is meant to be his everything. 

He can talk about a fucking orgasm. 

The fire in his veins might be from embarrassment, frustration, or gin. He can’t reliably say.

“When we were in the tent, you came. Right?” He knows she did. He hasn’t been able to get those sounds out of his head.

She makes the most horrible (wonderful) squeaking sound, a backwards gasp that surprise must have pushed from her lungs. 

It takes three blinks for her to eventually nod her head.

“Show me how you do it then. How you like it. And I can—next time.”

“Draco...” It sounds nothing like a protest. If he closes his eyes, it might even sound like a moan.

“It can still be pretend. If that’s what you prefer.” Only then does he realize he has his fingers curled around her calves at the back of her knees. He slides them up, over, and skating across her thighs with more confidence and boldness than he’s ever known.

Perhaps it’s all this physical contact that’s been lighting him on fire.

She shivers under his touch and it’s the most magnificent thing. He watches his hands until they come to rest at the flimsy hem of her sleep shorts. Then he looks up, over the shorts, over her camisole with the barest pause at her breasts, over her exposed neckline, and up to her eyes.

Her squirming has him feeling confident and a little drunk.

Of all the things he’s ever said to her, thought to say to her, or vowed never to say to her, the next word out of his mouth is the one he thinks she needs to hear the most.

“Please?” he asks and he doesn’t even have to fake sincerity.

She holds his gaze and it's a combustible thing. There are enough liquor fumes around them that part of him wonders if the whole house might go up in smoke soon.

She parts her legs. It’s enough that Draco can lean forward, suddenly having the space. But before he does, Hermione shimmies her hips closer to the edge of the sofa, sinking into a slumped posture. 

This is how Draco finds himself kneeling between Hermione Granger’s thighs, inches from her cunt, and watching with what must be lust glazed eyes as the hand on her chest descends, stopping at the waistband of her sleeping shorts.

His fingers dig into the flesh at her thighs, probably a little too hard, but he’s holding on for dear life. 

The flannel pajama bottoms Longbottom loaned him do nothing to contain his growing erection. He’s hot and heavy and brushing the edge of the sofa. It requires a hefty dose of willpower not to tilt his hips just to find friction. 

Her fingers slip beneath her waistband and Draco feels like he’s living in a dream. He’d wanted to see, all those weeks ago, and now here he is with a front row view. 

Because he’s always been selfish, he wants more. 

He looks up and finds her watching him, lips rolled between her teeth. The flush in her cheeks has spread down her neck and splotched her chest, rising and falling with what looks like difficult breath. 

It’s his birthday.

They’re pretending.

He can pretend to be daring if he wants. He can pretend to have some of that Gryffindor boldness that seems to work so well for her.

“It’s hardly instructional if I can’t see my lesson, is it?”

Her chest stutters, breath stuck. Then she shakes her head.

His hands have moved before he’s fully figured out his own intent. Up her thighs, around the side of her hips, and curling into the elastic band on her shorts and the knickers beneath. 

“So I’ll just…” he prompts. He’s torn between watching the shape of her hand beneath her shorts and the tiny, almost imperceptible way it’s moving, and her face, seeking a response. When he looks up, her nod is slow, but unmistakable.

Better, her hips lift and inch off the sofa and that permission nearly does him in. 

He doesn’t think, just leans back and drags the fabric down her thighs, over her knees, and to her ankles where she helps kick them off.

“Oh fuck,” he breathes, finally taking in the sight of her, bared to him. 

As if on instinct, she immediately tries to close her legs, but they only clamp into either side of his torso. 

He responds by hooking his hands beneath her knees again and pulling her even further to the edge of the sofa. She whimpers when he does and he watches as she grinds into the heel of her palm, eyes screwed shut. She pants, pretty and flushed.

With her pulled to the edge of the sofa and spread for him like his most lewd, delightful fantasies, he can sit back on his heels and be practically eye level with her cunt.

She breathes slowly. Her hand has stopped moving, mostly just cupping herself, palm resting in a thatch of curls, fingers hiding most of her from his view. But those fingers are wet. And so are the insides of her thighs. 

And if she’s too embarrassed at present to teach him much of anything, he’s happy to self learn. 

He slides his hand up her thigh, watching as her fingers twitch. He travels just high enough to glide his middle finger through the dampness on the inside of her leg.

Her eyes fly open, but he’s already pulled back, holding his hand in front of him, watching how it glistens. 

With dim, blue-green colored light filtering through the water window behind him, Draco watches Hermione’s face as he lifts his hand to his mouth and pops his middle finger inside. 

Tangy. Intoxicating. Better than gin.

She sucks in a gasp.

“Show me,” he says. “You can do it.”

He knows she can. Because they’re in a quiet, relatively safe place playing pretend. None of this is real and there are no consequences, apart from knowledge.

He wants to know what kind of touches make her gasp. Make her keen. Make her screw her eyes shut. 

He’s already learned something that earns him instant eye contact. 

“I—I like, um, pressure. My hands are small so I don’t—get a lot of—uh, depth, inside but—” 

He watches, utterly entranced, as she brushes her fingers over her opening and positions her palm over her clit. Then her hips rotate.

Draco leans closer. “Good,” he breathes. “What else?”

Her hips jerk at the praise, a tiny sound escaping her throat. 

“This is good for—getting me going, but when I need to—”

“And right now, you need to—”

It’s a breathy, gusting agreement. “I do.”

“Show me.”

Her fingers ascend, and it's a blessing, because now he can see more of her, watching from a beautiful close up as two of her fingers begin circling her clit. 

“That’s how fast you like it?” The question slips from him as his hands wander her thighs, trying to memorize every inch of skin as he watches.

“Slow at first, sometimes. But not right now—” She sucks in a breath, head slumped against the sofa.  

“That direction?”

Her head lifts, wide, lust-drunk eyes searching him as if he’s just asked an impossible question. Pointedly, he lets his gaze drift to her fingers. 

Her throat bobs as she swallows. Then she nods. “Yes. Anti-clockwise is better. It—I’m more sensitive, I think lower on my…” she trails off, like she can't bring herself to finish her thought.

It’s weirdly clinical, he knows, but also horribly hot. 

He watches her fingers, wanting desperately to put his lips in that same spot and move his tongue in just the same way. He wonders if it would work, if he could get her off with just the pressure of his mouth and the movement of his tongue. 

He almost asks if he can try, but her breathless voice stops.

“It’s not fair.” He almost misses it.

His eyes snap up to hers in a bolt of worry. “What’s not?”

“I want to learn, too.”

The air rushes out of him, stolen by a single statement.

Hermione Granger wants to learn.

Of course she does.

Hermione Granger wants to learn what gets him off.

Everything happening not five inches from his face, for starters. But he understands her point, and can hardly pretend to have any modesty, not when she’s spread open for him and touching herself like a renaissance painting bringing the tiniest strokes of beauty to this dystopian world he’s in. 

He wastes no time. Because he wants to show her. Because he wants to get off too.

He lifts himself up to his knees, still perched between her thighs, and the tent in his pajamas nearly touches her knuckles. 

It’s tantalizing closeness.

Without fanfare, he shoves his pajamas down, biting back a grotesquely pleased sound when his cock brushes the inside of her thigh, leaving his own wet trail behind. 

When he looks up, her eyes are glued to his cock.

“Like this,” he says, fisting his length. “Not too tight, just enough to glide up and down and—” 

Hermione’s eyelids flutter and she makes a mewling sound with her mouth screwed shut. She shifts, body stretching, squirming, as if she can’t quite contain herself.

“You like that?” he asks, unsure if he means the way she’s touching herself, the way he’s touching himself, the way he’s talking about it, or some complicated intersection of all three.

She nods, eyes shutting, head lolling to the side at an awkward angle against the back of the couch. 

He pumps himself faster. He wants to be right there with her, and it isn’t going to take much. He’s already breathing heavily, feeling flushed. The sight of her fingers circling her clit has him barreling towards release at an almost embarrassing pace.

“Are you close? Let me see how you look when you come.” 

Her free hand flies up, gripping the back of the sofa over her head as her back arches. She looks like she might strain a muscle in her neck if she doesn’t finish soon, but she just nods, whimpering a broken assent.

Draco rolls his palm over the head of his cock, gathering moisture as stars burst to life in his vision. 

Hermione sucks in a huge breath, opens her eyes, and for a moment, it’s as if the cord has flared to life via eye contact, burning from her gaze to his. 

Her words come out a gusting whisper, but they do the trick. “You first.”

“Fuck.” 

He comes all over her, totally unprepared for the surge of white hot pleasure her command has over his person. 

A moment later, her hips lift from the sofa, and her come-splattered hand finally stills as her body twists, contorted against cushions. 

She’s panting and flushed the prettiest fucking thing he’s every seen in his entire life. 

He can’t help himself. He abandons his grip on his cock and reaches out, just as an unfamiliar warmth and tenderness latches itself onto his spinal column. 

He runs his fingers over her knuckles, up to the top of her hand, and then back down over her fingers, smearing his come. When her hand shifts, flopping bonelessly on her leg, his slips down to her cunt, molten. 

She twitches briefly at the touch, but softens into him immediately, languid hips welcoming him as he paints her with his spend. 

He sits back.

He’d been wrong before. 

Now she’s a perfect painting in this horrible landscape.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione’s heartbeat lives on the surface of her skin now: buzzing, prickling, pumping. Each inhale warms her chest. Her bones melting.

And Draco Malfoy’s head has tilted, leaned against her thigh as his own heavy breathing washes over parts of her she’d had almost no intention of ever letting him near again.

Her limbs are slack and she can’t seem to muster the energy required to move them, to preserve a modesty she can’t pretend to have anymore. 

Pretend. 

It had been nice. She fell into it easily because there’s something so intoxicating—more so than the liquor, she thinks, though the liquor probably played its own part—about the way it feels to not be so alone anymore.

Whatever this is, she and Draco are in it together, and that solidarity pulls her in like a siren at sea.

Her charm on the window flickers, then fades, letting sunrise in with them.

It must wake Draco from whatever trance had him tracing runes against her inner thigh with his sticky, should-be-repulsive fingers. She recognizes some of them: protection, power, and others she won’t acknowledge. 

He lifts his head, reaches for his wand, and vanishes the mess made between them. It leaves her cold, almost yearning. 

Hermione watches as he sits taller and pulls up his pajama bottoms. Lifted up on his knees, he still sits between her legs. His fingertips find her thighs again. They dig into her flesh. She doesn’t mean to shift, to lean into it. 

His grip loosens. It feels like they’re on a ledge: a single decision, or a stiff breeze, away from a leap. She’s not sure who of them, if either, has the willpower to withstand the wind. 

Then he dips. She can’t see what he’s reaching for, but when his fingers graze her calf, instructing her to lift a leg, she figures it out. She lets him maneuver her until she’s lifting her hips so he can slide her shorts and knickers back up.

He plants his palms in the cushions on either side of her hips, hovering over her. 

Hermione swallows, her pulse a foreign object wreaking havoc in her veins, and asks perhaps the most important question she has about the rope. 

The simplest, too.

“Do you really believe it? The story?”

She thinks she feels the place where the rope receded in her chest humming in their proximity.

He lifts a single brow. But it’s not in a sneering, cruel way. It’s almost resigned, just at the border of amusement.

“Do I believe my ancestors would have done something wildly selfish and then put a muzzle on the story so that only those intimately involved could even talk about it? Something special and archaic and unique to the esteemed Malfoy line? Ensuring ideal matches and lineage continuity? Yes, Hermione. I believe every fucking word of it.”

His amusement slips, face falling closer to resignation.

“I know you’ve had no choice,” he continues, “I didn’t either. But—at least I had preparation. I got to watch my parents work together, love each other endlessly, nauseatingly. Through wars, through terrible fucking decisions. Even when they struggled. When it was the worst it ever got. It was still—” He stops, glancing down.

Hermione’s hands have found his shoulders. How did they do that? When did they do that? It’s as if his honesty made her mindless and her reflexes sought contact.

As if one begets the other, he lifts a hand from the cushion. His fingertips start at her shoulder, travel across her collarbone, up her neck, and then finally find purchase at her nape, flexed against unruly morning curls. 

He’s so close she can smell the liquor on his breath. 

His eyes are glassy. Hers probably are too. It's barely sunrise and they’re both somewhere in the vicinity of tipsy. Maybe more.

“I’ve been trying to make sense of it,” he says. “If you think about it. If you ignore…everything else. We’re both clever. We’re survivors. We’re—” He falters, tries again. “We’ve both done things to help each other, which is more than anyone other than my own parents have ever done for me.”

Pretending had been a pretty proposition. 

“Basic kindness isn’t the baseline for a soulmate,” she says, letting her hands slip from his shoulders. He doesn’t seem to understand that barely something isn’t enough. The fact that she didn’t let him bleed out in the woods doesn’t equate to the kind of a connection he’s talking about. 

His jaw tenses but he doesn’t move, one hand still in her hair. “The magic is though.”

“Only if you believe in it.”

“And you don’t? You still don’t?”

“I might. I don’t know. But I have to choose it, right?” She leaves unsaid the fact that she hasn’t chosen yet. Doesn’t know how. Or know if she will.

His eyes drift shut as he releases a breath. 

His lips separate, tongue wetting them before his mouth opens wider, something ready to be spoken.

The door to the sunroom explodes open instead.

Immediately, Draco clambers away from her, crashing back against the coffee table. Hermione drops lower on the sofa, shielding herself from whatever has just crashed through the door.

She silently curses herself; she’d let the window charm slip, which meant her lock and silencing charm had probably fallen, too.

“Wand down, Malfoy!”

Ron’s voice.

Hermione sits up, looking behind the sofa to find Ron with his wand aimed at Draco, redness blooming behind his freckles. 

“Ron, what are you—”

“What’s going on in here?” His face twists with disgust, eyes darting from Hermione to Draco.

She follows his gaze and immediately sees what must have Ron so enraged. Draco looks disheveled. In a very specific way. The sort of way that echoes of his cheek on her thigh, of his fingers so recently wet with things she can barely think about. 

Hermione imagines she can’t look much better. Her hair is wild and unmanageable on a good day. But after writhing against the back of a sofa while touching herself? She cringes when she reaches up, testing the volume of her curls and finding them feral.

“None of your fucking business Weasel—” Draco breaks off as more bodies appear in the doorway behind Ron, crowding. 

There’s Neville looking panicked. Justin looking drunk and panicked (Hermione might have judged but she too has had much more to drink than any person needs before sunrise). And further in the background, George and Padma, standing close together, expressions like panic that’s been eaten away and annihilated by fatigue.

Justin holds up a wad of parchments. Ron’s focus splits, and Draco takes the opportunity to actually get his feet under him again, straightening from where he’d stumbled over the coffee table. 

He picks up a musty smelling afghan from one arm of the sofa and places it around Hermione’s shoulders; her eyes watch the action before her brain registers it. She blinks, realizing her sleep shirt is thin and her shorts, well, short. 

Ron’s wand arm lowers as he shuffles through the parchments Justin hands him.

“I ran three streets over,” Justin pants, neck loose as he lets his head droop.

Hermione has nearly gathered her bearings enough to ask what in the name of Merlin is going on, but what sounds like a small explosion—louder than a firework, but not quite at the scale of a bombarda—booms through the air. Outside, a flash of red pops in and out of existence just ahead of the sound. 

Hermione jumps to her feet and rushes to the window. 

Another crack and boom. A flash of purple this time. Draco stands directly behind her. His fingers slip through holes in the afghan, finding her waist.

In the sky, it looks like magic has ripped the world open: streaks and clouds and smoke. Beyond their wards, Hermione spots parchments fluttering to the ground, and she can only assume they are the same as those in Ron’s hands.

The commotion seems to have refocused Ron’s anger, because his voice cuts through the awe glueing Hermione to the scene beyond the window.

“What have you been doing in here? We couldn’t find you—and then this!” He makes a big sweeping gesture at the windows and, presumably, the magic wreaking havoc on the world beyond it. “And this room was locked and silenced. Hermione, we thought he’d taken you. Or hurt you. Or—”

“You really don’t want to know what I was doing to her, Weasley.”

Neville intercepts whatever hex Ron plans to launch by grabbing both his arms, forcibly holding him back. 

The parchments scatter, fluttering to the ground.

Hermione sees her own face on one.

She can’t move.

Draco does instead, gathering them up while Neville tries calming Ron. Justin slumps onto the sofa, eyes on the nearby bottle of gin.

Standing beside her, Draco cycles through the parchments, one after another. He pauses longer on some, less on others. His tension becomes a tangible thing, reaching out between them and recalibrating her heartbeat to a painfully rapid pace, galloping against her ribs.

“What is it?” she finally asks in a whisper.

He hands her one. The one with her face on it. It’s a bounty for her capture. Her stomach turns. But before she can fully process the price on her head, he hands her another bounty. His own this time. 

Draco’s unamused face blinks up at her from the parchment.

She blinks too, and he hands her another. George this time. Then Parvati. McGonagall. Kingsley. Dean. Justin. Ron. People they know are alive. People they know are dead. People they have no answers about.

Then there are the messages. Information dropped all over this Muggle neighborhood.

The war is over, one says.

Any remaining undesirables and those who have acted in sympathy with them are instructed to turn themselves over to the Ministry in three days' time, another says.

The war is over.

Peace and rebuilding begin when those refusing to cease hostilities surrender their wands.

The war is over.

All undesirables will be treated fairly under the law in accordance with the severity of their crimes.

The war is over.

And Hermione can’t breathe. 

“Do they know we’re here?” Draco asks. The snide tone he’d used to mock Ron has vanished entirely.

Ron is bright red and fuming and it looks like he needs time to cool off, so Neville answers. “Seems like a wide canvas. I apparated a few places when they first started falling—”

“You left the wards?” Hermione asks. Her head feels a bit hot, a bit woozy, a bit faint. 

“We needed to know exactly what Malfoy is asking,” George pipes in from the corridor behind Ron. His voice is dim like the shadows around him. 

Neville shrugs. “It looks like they’ve covered most of Little Whinging. It…doesn't really seem like there’s much of a Statute for Secrecy anymore. Or maybe they’re doing mass obliviations. I don’t know.”

Fear pushes Hermione into problem solving mode. Like running underwater or swimming through sludge, she cuts through swarming thoughts the best she can. “We should see if we can meet Kingsley early. If—people are going to think it’s over. What if they actually start turning themselves in? We need more time, but we need to see if Kings—”

“I’m way ahead of you.” Ron’s voice sounds level, like he’s gotten ahold of the anger that has him so close to an eruption every minute of every day. His face is still flushed, and his blue eyes still ice cold when they look at her. “I sent him one ten minutes ago. Almost as soon as they started falling.”

Ten minutes.

Ten minutes ago Draco Malfoy had been drawing runes on her with his—

She might be sick. Every time she takes even a moment to pretend a war hasn’t chewed her up and made a meal of her, she is forcibly reminded that she isn’t allowed to rest. She isn’t allowed to forget. The fight doesn’t end because she’s tired.

A Patronus bursts through the sunroom window, coming to rest in front of Ron.

Kingsley’s voice sounds like salvation. 

It also sounds off, strained like it has for the last two weeks, but even more so. Hermione can’t help but wonder what kinds of compounding stresses must be wringing him out, doing what he does, coordinating what he is.

If you haven’t seen them already, the Dark Lord’s Ministry has started canvassing fliers all over Britain, announcing the end of the war and ordering the rest of us to surrender. We must move quickly—we cannot afford any of our number turning themselves in.”

Hermione realizes Draco’s hand hasn’t left the small of her back, laced through afghan stitches, since before Kingsley’s silver lynx bounded into the sunroom and addressed Ron. 

Another flash outside, more bright purple. Seconds later, a boom. The pressure against the center of Hermione’s back increases. She gives up, gives in, and leans into it. Her back meets Draco’s chest.

“Hogsmeade? Did I hear that right?” Padma’s voice drifts from the hallway. 

Hermione has to mentally shake herself; she’d lost focus, stopped listening to Kingsley’s instruction. 

“If Kingsley says his spot is secure, it’s secure,” Ron says.

Neville adds, “He said near Hogsmeade anyway.”

“We just have to get a little bit north of village and Kingsley said—”

“We know a place,” Hermione says, heart hammering with a rush of adrenaline.

“You and Malfoy?” Ron asks with obvious incredulity.

“No, Ronald. Me and you.”

“We do?”

“Snuffles.”

Chapter Text

Draco

 

When the Patronus disappears, it’s as if this house full of idle, trapped people finally has purpose. There’s organizing, there’s packing, there’s debating—closer to arguing—over the use of a cave and the path to it just outside Hogsmeade as their apparition point. 

Draco has little to pack, nothing to his name except his word, his family magic, and his wand, so he trails Hermione as she bustles around the house. She packs her own things, checks on the others, and argues with Weasley. She doesn’t stand still.

Not for a single moment as soon as Kingsley’s Patronus vanishes. 

It’s as if purpose has propelled her into perpetual motion and she doesn’t know how to stop. Kingsley’s Patronus said to wait until sundown, which gives them nearly a whole day to prepare.

The house is much too small, and their logistics far too simple to justify her constant, never ending momentum. He feels it too, the adrenaline, but he’s using it to hold himself together, anchored on the promise of escaping this place, this country, if they must. Finding their way to France, to peace. 

After packing all her belongings and fastidiously setting cleaning charms to most of the house for reasons she refuses to elaborate on, she spends nearly an hour tending to George’s wounds. She changes bandages, doles out potions and muggle medicine from their dwindling supplies, and even helps him pull together his belongings spread around his room. 

She then delivers several of Padma’s things to her, found while helping George pack. Hermione spends another forty-five minutes assisting Padma with her shielding charms after Padma practically begged, in something of a panic when faced with the prospect of leaving the safety of their wards. Draco watches from the doorway, annoyance creeping steadily from a nuisance to a serious problem.

He’s going to say something but Finch-Fletchley intercepts them just as Hermione has finally broken away from Padma, confident again in her Protego that never needed any work to begin with. Draco has to ball his hands into fists as he watches Hermione gently inform Justin that while her extendable bag is technically much more spacious than it seems, it’s not bottomless and she doesn’t have room to bring along the remainder of Mrs. Figg’s liquor cart. 

She then squabbles with Weasley for twenty minutes over the precise location they intend to apparate, calling on memories of a location they frequented several years before, from what Draco can suss out. They dispute fallen logs and land markers and the relative risks of height differences and cave roof clearance. By the time they’re done bickering, Draco has mostly tuned them out, itching with agitation. 

Of all people, it’s Neville Longbottom who Draco wants to throttle the least. When Hermione drags them into the kitchen where Longbottom is organizing and dividing their meager food supplies into individual rations, he insists he doesn’t need help, even when Hermione keeps trying to offer it. Draco finds himself nodding at Longbottom before he leaves. 

Idleness won’t do though, because Hermione immediately launches back into her fastidious mental checklists, or whatever neuroses require her to thoroughly comb a tiny house for all their belongings.  

He pulls her into the cramped toilet on the second floor after she’s quadruple checked beneath all the beds and behind all the furniture for anything they might have failed to pack. 

“You’ve gotten everything,” he says, closing the door behind them.

“I just need to be certain.” She leans against the sink. Her voice is frazzled, washed out. She won’t look him in the face.

“I’m certain.”

“Well I need to be.”

“There’s not a square inch of this place you haven’t checked at least three times. I’m starting to get light headed from all the stairs.”

“That’s because we’re all terribly malnourished and out of shape.”

He frowns. “It’s going to be alright, Hermione. It sounds like Kingsley has a plan. It’s just been fast-tracked. It—it could be good for us.”

“If it had been safe for us to come now we would have already had it planned.”

He doesn’t think; he sees her on the cusp of a spiral and his only real thought is about how to keep her from sinking into it.

He grabs the hand towel from beside the sink, wets it, and places it against her neck where a red splotch has bloomed to life, crawling towards her jaw. 

Hermione finally blinks, looking away from the door and up at him. Her hand lands on top of his where he holds the cool towel to the side of her neck. 

He clears his throat. “My mother—she used to do this sometimes when I was a child and in a bit of distress.” She doesn’t stop him when he lifts the towel and repositions it against her forehead. She narrows her eyes.

“I’m not a child,” she says.

“But you are in distress.” He moves the towel again, to the other side of her neck. 

When he returns it to the countertop, she’s looking at him with an unreadable expression: something cobbled together with anger and fear and disbelief and annoyance.

“You can’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Act like a decent person.”

“I’m not a decent person.”

“You’re behaving like one.”

“Only because we’re behind a closed door. Only because it’s you.”

“And you have no choice?”

His molars grind together under the force with which he tenses his jaw, holding everything in. 

“These people don’t deserve everything you’re giving them.”

She frowns. “These are my friends. Basically my family.”

“And every time they ask for help you give it, more than your fair share.”

“Since when does fairness matter to Slytherins?”

“Since when are Gryffindors not brave enough to ask for help when they need it?”

“I am choosing to help them. I’m allowed to do that. I want to do that.”

“And you won’t ask for any in return?”

She scowls at him but doesn’t respond.

Draco’s teeth clench again, jaw aching. He works his mouth open, requiring the ability to speak. “Well I’ve chosen something too. If you haven’t noticed.”

She still doesn’t say anything. She’s so unforgivably frustrating he wants to scream.

“It’s going to be fine,” he says. 

“You don’t know that. You’re only saying so hoping it will calm me down.” 

“Forgive me for trying a platitude. Nothing else seems to work.”

She stretches a curl to its limit. “I’m worried.”

“I’ve noticed.” He can’t comprehend how someone so impossibly powerful, so mind-bogglingly strong, can look so fragile, standing pinned against a toilet sink. “If something happens, if we’re separated, I’ll burn the whole village to the ground and I’ll find you.”

That earns him the smallest twitch at the corner of her mouth, like maybe the idea makes her want to smile. “Seems a bit drastic.”

“Says the woman who was suggesting attrition strategies not so long ago. I’ll use a Fiendfyre to do it too. I’m tired of this war. I’ll happily resort to drastic.” 

“You know how to cast Fiendfyre?”

“Not because I ever wanted to learn.”

“It’s time,” comes Weasley’s voice from downstairs. Too loud, powered by too much adrenaline. It sets Draco on edge, and it has Hermione already reaching for the door, ready to go, to throw herself into the fire for the sake of her friends, for this war she thinks she’s fighting.

He imagines he’ll end up burning to a crisp with her, flames fanned by his own participation.



Hermione

 

Sometimes, it’s a burden being right. Hermione is no saint, she’s rubbed her rightness in the faces of her friends and foes alike in the past. Lately though, being right means nothing but confirmed fears coming to life before her eyes. She doesn’t want her worries to actualize; she doesn’t want her instincts proved accurate. For the first time in her life, Hermione would rather be wrong. Wrong and safe: well rested and well fed. 

Wrong and happy. She could live with that. 

“I think we should be prepared for a fight,” she says to the group as sunset, and their agreed upon apparition time, approaches. Hermione can’t look at Draco when she says it. She doesn’t want to know what kind of face he’s making.

Not that Ron’s face is much better. “We’re always ready for a fight. Just because those fliers said the war is over and we’re done fighting doesn’t mean we actually are.”

“I know, Ron, I—it didn’t go well the last time we tried something.” She steadfastly does not let her attention flicker to George and his limited limbs.

“We didn’t have Kingsley then,” Neville offers.

“He has a plan,” Ron agrees.

“He has a lot to coordinate. And he’s sounded more stressed than usual lately—I just want us to be prepared for the possibility that this could go badly. And with George still recovering, part of me thinks—”

“I agree,” Ron says.

They’ve spent most of their time either bickering or ignoring each other since coming to this house; Ron agreeing with her comes as a shock.

He continues, “Neville has agreed to go ahead and meet up with Kingsley. He’ll Patronus back when it’s safe. I have a plan, Hermione.”

She used to be included in those plans.

“Is Longbottom really our best choice?” Draco asks from somewhere behind her. He’s been her own personal shadow all day. “We don’t exactly have time for tact so I’ll be blunt. I was under the impression Longbottom isn’t particularly…gifted.”

“Draco, Neville is—” Hermione starts, but Ron cuts her off.

“I’ve considered that, too. Of us, he’s our best option. George’s stamina still isn’t 100%; Padma doesn’t feel confident enough; Justin’s hands won’t stop shaking; and you, me, and Hermione are too recognizable to risk walking into something we know nothing about.”

It’s quiet for a beat before Draco says, “So Longbottom.”

Ron’s expression doesn’t shift a millimeter. “Exactly.”

“He’s never been to the cave where—”

“Ron drew me a map,” Neville says, chiming in for the first time. His face is slightly flushed, but his jaw is set in a way that makes him look determined, almost confident. “He’s described it too. I think I have a good enough sense of it to avoid apparating into the center of the village.” He rolls his wand between his palms. “It’ll have to do.”

“It’ll work,” from Ron.

It seems like it might, like it will, right up until it doesn’t.

Neville apparates away. Hermione doesn’t breathe. She counts her heartbeats and refuses to seek comfort from Draco, even though every fiber of her being begs that she seek him out.

Several minutes later, when Neville’s silver toad Patronus hops into Mrs. Figg’s living room, Hermione nearly collapses with relief. Neville sounds strained; he sounds tense. But he’s found Kinglsey, and they can follow.

 Hermione’s worries were right. That’s the first thing she thinks as the world reforms around her, a persimmon-shaded sunset trickling from between the trees as Caterwauling Charms wail of their arrival outside Hogsmeade.

It’s chaos. Immediate, overwhelming chaos.

The Caterwauling Charm grants them no mercy, screaming to Death Eaters and Snatchers and anyone else in the vicinity that they’ve arrived. She catches a single glimpse of Neville on his knees beside a bloodied and battered Kingsley, both of them looking strangely serene about the wands pointed at their throats.

Imperius. 

Hermione is barely breathing on this side of her apparition before she’s running, air burning in her chest, weaving between trees, seeking escape from the crack and pop and blur of magic flying around her.

Spells zip through trees, blasting bark and soil and leaf litter into the air. 

She’s back at Shell Cottage.

She’s back at Hogwarts.

She’s back on a drawing room floor.

She’s back in all the worst, most horrible moments of this war; she runs, and keeps running.

Pain bites into her shoulder blade; she keeps running.

Debris cuts across her face; she keeps running.

She loses sight of Draco, of Ron, of George and Padma and Justin; she keeps running.

She keeps running until her shoes slip on damp cobblestones, wedging herself into a narrow alleyway, hoping to lose her pursuers in Hogsmeade proper. 

Stone flies from the side of the building somewhere not far above her head. She runs again, ducking into the first business she finds: The Hog’s Head Inn. 

Sunset in the summer means most business hours are winding down, but there are still enough patrons sitting in the Hog’s Head that she knows she’s made a mistake. 

Caterwauling Charms still scream in the streets and she’s got to be one of the most famous fugitives in the country.

She’s panting, every muscle in her body burning with exertion. It takes all of three seconds for someone to stand and shoot a Stupefy in her direction. She blocks.

 

Draco

 

He can’t find Hermione. Of all the fucking things, he could really use the cord to show him the way. He curses all his inordinately bad luck that it lives somewhere inside his chest now, no longer stretching straight to her. 

He’d been behind her for a bit, darting between trees as they fled towards Hogsmeade, towards more substantial cover than old growth conifers. 

Yaxley got in his way. Flinging spells with far too much glee, twisted smile cracking his face in two.

“Littlest Malfoy is alive, is he? The Dark Lord will be thrilled to hear it. Big bounty for you.”

Yaxley shoots a stunner, followed immediately by three unfamiliar curses Draco’s never heard before. All he can do is block, block, block.

He misses his last Protego, failing to get it off in time as a bright blue blur zips between trees at him. Staring it down, Draco prepares for his insides to melt or his eyes to pop from his skull or his skin to burst wide open. 

Instead, Finch-Fletchley has his back. Stumbling, shaking, and sweating as he runs right into Draco’s shoulder. But he can hardly complain when it’s Justin’s Protego that shields them both.

Surprise gives Draco just enough of an upper hand to counter and shoot off his own Stupefy before the world erupts in black smoke.

The darkness glitters, strangely familiar.

Peruvian instant darkness powder. George must be somewhere nearby.

Draco takes the distraction for the gift it is and bolts towards Hogsmeade again. Yaxley got in his way for all of a few seconds, and now Draco has no idea where Hermione is. 

He takes a small, self-indulgent breather, as much for himself as it is for Justin panting behind him, and it spares himself a moment to think.

He’s not sure what his priorities are meant to be in a skirmish like this. Survive seems like too nebulous a goal, both too obvious and too broad. But what else is there? They were just trying to get to Kingsley, to their escape. Draco thought he saw a glimpse of someone when all the chaos began, but it had been too brief to make sense of.

He only knows Kingsley Shacklebolt’s face from a Sacred Twenty-Eight genealogy text he’d been required to memorize as a child anyway.

“What do we do?” Justin wheezes, leaning against a dumpster.

Draco doesn't know. Screeching alarms cut right through his brain and make anything more than instinct impossible to figure out.

“I need to find Hermione.” It’s all he knows. It’s all he has left.

“Right. Okay.”

When Draco glances back, sweat pours from Justin’s temples. He’s pale, shaky. Even as the sun sets, a steady dousing of darkness, it’s clear Justin is unwell. 

“The drinking?” Draco asks.

Justin just nods.

“Can you duel?”

“Saved you, didn’t I?”

It has to be enough. 

Flashes at the other end of the alley draw Draco’s attention from the unsteady grip Justin has on his wand. 

Glass shatters.

There’s shouting.

He thinks he hears Weasley shout Hermione’s name.

Draco runs again. His thighs burn, lungs too. He finds dueling in the streets. Weasley is doing his best against Rowle over by Zonko’s, there’s glass on the street near the Hog’s Head, and Padma is on the ground with a shield charm dwindling in front of her, protecting what looks like George’s unconscious form. 

A curse hits Draco from behind; it feels like magma on his skin, bubbling away at his flesh from beneath his clothes. His knees hit cobblestones with a thud and a crack. Distantly, he hears Justin shooting off several more spells behind him. Draco turns his head and spots Yaxley barreling down the alley.

Another spell from across the street launches Yaxley into the air, high enough that he flies over Draco’s head, hits the ground with a thud, and slides to a stop against the shopfront opposite them. 

He stops right next to where Hermione stands between two storefronts with her wand raised, remnants of her spell still sparkling around her.

Draco forces himself to stand. It feels like his skin is sloughing off his bones, liquified. Pain can be endured. Hermione said that to him once. The pain he’d been in then seems laughable now, what with a very real fear that he’ll find his skin flayed from his bones if he looks down at himself. 

“We have to go,” shouts Ron from somewhere nearby.

No shit, is all Draco manages to think, trying to straighten his spine. The world tilts, wobbling. It’s as if a rectangular frame that houses his vision has been twisted forty-five degrees, everything at an angle. 

Someone grabs Draco by the shoulders. He tilts his head, vision rotating from forty-five degrees to ninety. Everything’s gone sideways. His sight. This situation. The trajectory of his entire life.

It’s Justin holding Draco up. On his other side, Weasley stretches an arm out to them. 

Draco’s focus snaps back to Hermione across the street. She’s in motion now. That’s good. He lifts his hand, reaching for her. He senses the disapparition incoming; it’s their only reasonable option. 

Weasley screams for George and Padma just as she takes a stunner to the chest, slumping over George’s body. 

“We can’t,” comes Justin’s voice. To Weasley maybe? The world has slowed to a tar-trapped pace. Draco’s upended vision starts narrowing, tunneling to blackness. 

“He’s been cursed!” Justin again? Maybe. “We have to go!”

Hermione’s hand slides into Draco’s. For all the madness melting him, at least her touch makes sense, feels safe. 

Her grip is strong for a moment, then it slackens with a bright red flash. Yaxley is back on his feet, wand pointed at Hermione.

She slumps, hand slipping from Draco’s just as the pressure of a disapparition compresses his already melting form to slide between dimensions. He tried to hold on, grip tightening.

He reforms back on Wisteria Walk, just in front of the house he thought he’d finally escaped. He hits the asphalt. Something tumbles from his grip: three fingertips with red painted nails. Splinched.

“I think I know this one—I think—” Justin’s voice breaks off somewhere above Draco. 

They left Hermione.

She’s stuck there, splinched. With Yaxley. With Rowle.

Draco’s going to be sick. Beyond the pain and the feeling like his skin has separated from his body, the fact that they’ve left her, that she’s injured, registers as the worst of it. 

A cord inside his chest twists to knots, rattling against a ribcage prison. 

He feels the counter curses before he hears them, refining his desperation, dulling his pain.

“How do you—” It sounds like Weasley’s voice.

“I’m not totally useless, you know.”

Draco pushes himself from the ground, skin settled, no longer bubbling and trying to escape him. It still stings, but it’s nothing compared to the worry wrecking his insides.

“We have to go back,” he says, searching the street for his wand. He must have dropped it, or it rolled away or—it’s in Weasley’s hand again. “Give me my wand. We have to go back. Hermione—”

“I know!” Weasley shouts, pacing, still holding onto Draco’s wand. “But it’s a war zone back there—we can’t. My brother is there too—”

“And Padma,” Justin adds.

“And Padma,” Weasley repeats. He looks a few seconds from throwing up 

“We’re too outnumbered,” from Justin again, voice quiet. 

Draco should probably be more grateful. Though, if there was any one of them he’d put money on knowing healing spells, it would have been the Hufflepuff. 

“They have Hermione.”

“I know!” Weasley screams. They’re still in the middle of the street, not even back inside their wards. Parchment fliers that fell from the sky that morning drift across the ground with every gust of breeze. 

“And you don’t care?”

Weasley advances, shoving Draco’s own wand up into the soft flesh beneath his jaw. It fucking hurts.

“I care more than you do,” Weasley shouts.

“You think so?”

Weasley blinks and for a moment, it almost looks like he can’t comprehend Draco challenging him on that.

“We need to figure out where they’re taking her,” he says instead.

“She’s a high ranking undesirable in your resistance. They’re going to kill her.” Draco’s stomach turns. “And soon. Or torture then kill her. Or make an example of her. Weasley, we have to go.”

Weasley jabs the wand even harder beneath Draco’s jaw. “We can’t go back there,” he spits. With disgust, Draco realizes there are tears streaming down Weasley’s face. “No matter—no matter how badly—”

“Malfoy Manor.”

“What?”

“That’s where snatchers have been bringing people. To Malfoy Manor.”

“That’s not enough information. We have almost nothing to go on.”

“It’s something!”

“It’s not enough!” Weasley tears away, pacing again. Draco’s throat throbs. 

Too much time has already passed. How many minutes has it been? She’s Hermione Granger for fuck’s sake. He tries to think back to the bounty he’d seen with her face on it that morning. Had it said anything about the nature of her capture? Dead or alive? He can’t remember. 

“We’ll get more information then,” Draco says with a terrible idea, the only one he has, blooming to life.

Weasley doesn’t even acknowledge him, still pacing. He’s started muttering to himself.

Justin asks, “How?”

“We ask them. Capture a snatcher or a Death Eater. Interrogate or torture or whatever it takes, I don’t care, but we have to do it now.”

“Besides you, Malfoy, I don’t have any Death Eater’s handy. So unless you know where to find more, that’s not going to work.” Weasley spits.

“We summon them to us,” he says simply.

Justin’s eyes dart to Draco’s arm. “With your…?”

Draco shakes his head.

“Then how?” 

Draco steadies himself, draws a deep breath in through his nose. “The taboo.”

Weasley lunges, but Draco has already resigned himself. It’s the only thing he can think of and they’re running out of time.

It’s a terrible idea. He knows it’s a terrible idea. But they’ll kill her. He knows they will.

And so, for the first time in his life, Draco says the Dark Lord’s name: “Lord Voldemort.”

Weasley shoves him but it’s too late, the taboo is already out in the world, already working its magic. 

Draco falls back against the road again and Weasley just looks at him. He doesn’t even look disappointed, just furious. Resigned like he’s been expecting this all along.

“The wards!” Justin shouts. “Get inside the wards—”

Crack.

Crack. 

One, two, three, more. More than Draco expected, if he’s being honest with himself. The snatchers spot Weasley and Justin first, probably because they’re sprinting to the wards while Draco lays on the street. 

Weasley still has Draco’s wand.

He doesn’t know what to do, hadn’t really thought that far ahead. He supposes he expected his valiant companions to actually put up a fight; they could probably handle a few snatchers on their own. At least, enough to stun one and apparate away, if needed.

But Draco’s half formed plan falls apart in less time than it took to cook it up. Justin disappears inside the wards a split second before Weasley. The snatchers’ spells bounce right off. 

They still haven’t even noticed Draco, not that it matters. 

Another crack echoes right on top of him. And suddenly, Draco is looking up into Dobby’s wide green eyes. 

A breath later, elf magic whisks him away.

Chapter Text

George

 

The joke is on him. George realizes this when he opens his eyes to darkness. At first, he’s not sure if it’s a lack of light or blindness that steals his sight from him. It would have been a good joke, maybe a bit morbid. After his ear. Fred. His arm. What’s a little bit of sight worth?

But as far as he can tell, it's only darkness in a dungeon that makes it difficult to see. Eventually his eyes find shapes, subtle differences in the darkness: extreme-dark to less-dark to almost-not-exactly-entirely-dark.

None of it’s quite as dark as Peruvian instant darkness powder, which is the comparison George keeps coming back to whenever his heart picks up with worry over whether or not he’s imagining his blindness. Or not-blindness, as it were. 

There are very few things he knows with certainty.

First: he’s in a dungeon somewhere. Dark, damp, and grime encrusted. It’s one large room, as far as he can see (which isn’t far, ha!), and they’ve all been dumped together in whatever state the Death Eater’s captured them in.

Second: they consists of himself, Neville, Kingsley, Hermione, several strangers George doesn’t have the energy to know, and Padma.

He would have given his other arm, lived his life as a useless stump, if it meant keeping Padma away from this place. Wherever this place is. 

It reeks of death. 

He’d wanted to keep her from any more of it.

But he barely stood a chance in another duel, in another battle, with only one arm and a balance problem he might have failed to mention to anyone. When a knockback jinx literally knocked him on his arse, George begged Padma to leave him, to fight for herself. Not to defend him. Not to protect him. She didn’t listen.

Now, he reaches for her in the dark, not entirely unlike how they’ve done so many times before. It’s hard to imagine the situation back in that tiny little house had been the best they might ever have, but this rank, horrible dungeon takes the cake as the worst.

It doesn’t matter. He holds her tight to his chest as they huddle together against hard stone walls on hard stone floors. 

Like he always does, he pretends he doesn’t hear her crying. She does the same for him. 

The third thing he knows, the thing he learns as time trickles like sludge around them, is that none of them has been killed yet. Barely even acknowledged.

It’s like they’ve been thrown in this dungeon and forgotten. If he has to guess, he thinks they’ve been left alone for several days before the first crack of light slices through their darkness like a bright knife.

Padma lifts her head from George’s shoulder when it happens. He doesn’t want to know what’s coming; fear has eaten away all the tattered remnants of his bravery. He’s tired. He’s crippled. He only has the energy to search Padma’s face in the tiny crack of light cutting across the room. 

She looks terrified as they take Neville. 

Padma clings to George’s shoulders and it’s all he can do not to shudder when the door closes again, reintroducing them to darkness. 

He presses his lips to Padma’s temple, or at least, where he thinks her temple is. The world is darker right after the light has left them. 

“I think we’re at Malfoy Manor.”

It’s Hermione’s voice that cuts as sharply as the light did. She almost sounds strong, unaffected. They haven’t spoken much since their first few frantic hours in this place when they were trying to figure out what had happened, where they were, and who they were with. 

Padma speaks directly into George’s shirt fabric. “Why do you think that?”

“I’ve been here before.”

The quiet is nearly as encompassing as the darkness. “Did Malfoy do this—” George starts, but Hermione cuts him off.

“No. He wouldn’t.” There’s a waver there, enough uncertainty that George isn’t convinced. 

He can’t help but snort. “Good one, ‘Mione. Hilarious.” 

Padma clutches tighter to his side.

“How’s your hand?” Padma asks, face still pressed to George’s shoulder. They’ve done nothing but huddle together, clutching each other, for however long they’ve been left alone in the dark.

Hermione doesn’t answer, not for several seconds too long. It’s enough to know she’s worse off than she’s willing to admit. She always is. How they ever got so lucky to have her on their side; the Death Eater’s done mucked it up writing muggleborns off. She’s the best of them. By leaps and bounds. 

“It’s bad,” she finally says, and the fact that she admits it flushes George with worry. 

“Infected?” Padma asks.

“I think so. I can’t see it. But it’s very tender. Warm too.”

“How many fingers was it?” It feels like something George should remember, but his mind has been doing funny things lately. Skipping forward and back, lost to memories, unknown to the present. He knows she’s missing fingers, but he can’t remember which ones or how many.

“Three.” Her voice is stronger again. Like she refuses to let weakness in. Like her physical distress is a much more surmountable thing than the question about Malfoy. “Ring, middle, and pointer. On my wand hand, which isn’t ideal.”

“Just…try to keep it clean.” Padma says. It’s useless advice. 

There’s no cleanliness left in a cellar lined with filth, when they’re all taking turns relieving themselves in a vile corner as far from where they huddle as possible, hoping whoever brings them their food might be disgusted enough to vanish it. 

It’s torture, one type of many they’re being subjected to. Sensory deprivation, filth, anticipation, fear. The Death Eaters haven’t killed them yet, for whatever the reason. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering.

As George holds Padma close, he loses himself to nearly-happy memories he’d had in that little safe house, finding comfort with the girl in his arms. Someone who knows the pain of losing their other half, someone who sees him as broken and doesn’t try to pretend he’s not. He clings to that fractured, half-comfort.

Chapter Text

Narcissa

 

They live in a hovel. Three beds, two and a half baths, and not even a solarium for morning tea. Narcissa had hoped to never need this tiny, off-the-books home Lucius purchased for them in the countryside. She’d never even bothered to furnish it properly. 

When they’d been considering the looming war, escape across the Channel had seemed more likely than going to ground. Every day, the walls feel like they’re closing in a little more, corridors narrowing, spaces shrinking. 

She hates it to the point of indignity.

But when she and Lucius had been planning for what felt like far-flung eventualities, Draco had always been with them. She’d not considered a version of their future where her son was lost to her. 

It’s been days since he’s been returned to them and still, he’s lost. He won’t speak. He’s despondent. He’s ill every time he eats.

“How were we to know you’d been separated?” she asks, perched next to him on a stiff sofa in the parlor. Draco stares at the ceiling and doesn’t respond, greenish and clammy.

“The elf felt indebted to you; he says you saved his life. It was our best chance to find you again,” she says out in the gardens while her son watches the horizon, a frown cutting harsh lines across his fine features.

“The plan was to bring her too. You must believe me, darling. We may not—well, it doesn’t matter what her stock is now. If she’s yours then she’s ours. If she’d been there, the elf would have brought her too,” she says over dinner at a table that only seats four, occupied by a family of three. Draco watches the empty seat and eats quietly. An hour later, he retches over a toilet.

Too much rich food after too long without has him bedridden and unable to keep anything down.

Narcissa’s tiny house grows tinier. Her son is sick and sunk in on himself and her husband has become a recluse, anxious and self-flagellating. Both these men she loves, trapped in their own heads.

She finds Lucius’s hand as they lay in bed, a horribly small and uncomfortable bed, but it’s better than none, she tries to remind herself. Her son has spent weeks with none at all.

“He won’t come with us,” she whispers to the dark. “Even if you find a way through the border wards. Draco won’t come. Not without her.”

Lucius’s voice is tight, graveled when he speaks. “I know.”

“We’ve barely found him again.”

“I know.”

“Has he said anything to you? About his bond? Do you know if it’s—”

“He hasn’t said a single word to me.”

“Nor have you to him.” She squeezes his fingers.

“What is there to say, Narcissa? He knows the things I’ve done, the things I’ve believed about people like her. If my father had ever thought those things about you…” His voice trails off.

Narcissa pulls herself closer, following a bright sensation in her chest, one that seeks to soothe, to comfort. She’s long since learned to follow where it leads, to lean into the precious magic her husband’s family has bestowed upon her.

Once, she might have resented it, like she assumes many before her have. It is inherently unfair. Even though it must be chosen to be fulfilled, it still lacks a complete sense of choice. But she chose it years ago, and she continues to choose it, even when she wishes she didn’t, even when she watches what it does to her son. 

“Draco,” she says, finding him in the small back garden. This is the first day he’s kept down real food in nearly a week. 

“I have to find her.”

It preempts whatever Narcissa might have said about how they need to go. About how Lucius is looking for a way off the Isles. About how even though it will be difficult, it will be possible to live without her. At least two have done it before now; it says so in Malfoy genealogy texts presently lost to all of them. Centuries of history stolen by a madman and his followers.

She has to ask. She suspects the worst. “Is your bond…completed?”

Draco lifts a hand to his chest, palm pressed flat to his breastbone. He rubs rough circles as if trying to excavate the magic from inside.

“Not…fully. But, enough.”

“Do you know where she is?”

“They have her.”

“We cannot—Draco, we are not in a position to—to do anything. The world is not how it once was. While you’ve been missing, society has kept moving forward as if this has been nothing more than a changing of the guard.”

For the first time, she sees curiosity in Draco’s eyes. Morbid as it may be, it’s still curiosity. He’s missed so much, of course her bright boy might wonder what has happened in his absence. 

“The Parkinson girl is missing. Shortly after the battle. Your friend Gregory now works at the Ministry. So does Mr. Zabini.” 

“Theo?”

Narcissa hesitates. “Dead. Presumed to be at least.”

Draco barely reacts: several blinks and nothing more. His attention lands on the horizon again. She might have her son back, but he feels just as lost to her as ever. If he had access to a wand, she might worry more that he will simply leave them.

Such a thought would have never crossed her mind a year ago.

Her son is miserable.

Her husband is haggard. 

More and more she senses that the time in her life where she can have both these men in it has passed.

She doesn’t know who she’s meant to mourn.

Chapter Text

Justin

 

He’s gonna be sick. 

“Where are we?” he asks through a gag. A damp clamminess clings to his forehead, the back of his neck, all his creases.

Apparition sucks with a hangover. With what probably counts as withdrawal. But he’s only got one bottle of Mrs. Figg’s nastiest ginger-flavored brandy in his bag and beyond being disgusting, he really shouldn’t be drinking it. 

Not when he’s running for his life. When it’s just him and Ron left.

“Near a muggle town,” Ron says. “I spent Christmas in a pub here last year.”

“Is it safe to go somewhere you’ve been before?”

Ron’s voice is tight. “I’m running out of options.”

Justin has never been particularly close with Ron Weasley. He’s never had much of a reason to dislike him either, apart from all that Chamber of Secrets stuff second year. But it’s clear Ron doesn’t like him very much. Whether that’s for some real, personal reason, or because they’re stuck on the run together and that doesn’t leave much room for something as soft and sentimental as friendship, Justin doesn’t know. He’s honestly not sure it matters. All he knows is that just about every word out of Ron’s mouth is short and snapped. 

Justin has never felt like such an annoyance in his entire life and they’ve only been alone together for a few days.

“I don’t—I don’t want to involve my parents, but my aunt and uncle have a good chunk of land up north. They used to have horses but not anymore…so there’s a barn. It just sits empty.”

Ron leans against a brick wall. The alley he apparated them into is cramped and hot and smells like rotten food. Justin really might be sick. His stomach flips, mouth filling with saliva.

Ron looks up, blowing out a big breath as he rubs at the back of his neck. “Can you—are you able to apparate us there?”

Justin swallows. “I’m not drunk, if that’s what you mean. I think you would have noticed if I’ve been getting toasted while we’re running for our lives, don’t you?”

Ron frowns. “Fine. Right, yeah. I’d rather sleep in a barn than any of our other options right now.” He says it like he means it, but he doesn’t immediately move, or make good on that statement. 

Justin knows he’s no Harry Potter, but he’s not useless. He holds out his arm. Ron hesitates. 

“I need to trust you,” Ron says. For a moment, Justin isn’t sure which of them he’s talking to. Then he follows it up with, “You were drinking a lot.”

“You were locked in a room making plans and not telling the rest of us about it a lot.”

“We needed a plan. We still do.”

“Seems to be a common theme, that. Look, I know I’m in way over my head. I’m not—figuring out what to do isn’t something I’m going to be much good for. But I can do once we know what we want. Just let me help. Hermione isn’t the only one of us who has reason to take this war personally.”

Justin has muggle parents too. Muggle grandparents. Muggle aunts and uncles. A muggle sister. A muggle brother. A whole life belonging to the muggle world he refuses to apologize or feel lesser for. 

Ron just looks at him, nods, and finally takes his arms. They apparate.

 

 

“We still have the Galleons,” Ron says the next day. There’s dried grass clinging to his shirt, probably Justin’s too. But a night in a barn is better than a night in the woods, though not nearly as nice as the time they’d spent in that house.

On instinct, Justin reaches into his pocket to confirm he still has that little piece of gold on him. 

“We do.” Justin turns the coin over.

Ron frowns. “Malfoy seemed pretty confident they were taking people to his house. And we need to do something. But we need more information.”

Justin looks up from where he sits on the barn floor. He wants little more than to reach over and find that awful bottle of ginger brandy and down half of it right then and there. Stress has long since gotten to him, now it’s just a matter of managing his symptoms. Or maybe he just needs a sip, a little bit here and there to help him keep his cool. It’s tempting.

He doesn’t like the way Ron's walking on eggshells.

“Just say it, already. What do we need to do?”

“I’m too recognizable.”

“Sure are.”

“Do you know where Malfoy Manor is?”

Justin’s grip tightens around the Galleon. “No.”

“It’s in Wiltshire.”

“That…doesn’t narrow it down very much.”

“We need to get close enough to observe. It’s a huge property. I’ve been there.”

“Then what? What happens if they’ve got them there?”

Ron swallows. He’s avoiding eye contact. A muscle in the side of his face flexes, like his jaw has ground together. “It’s not—we can’t focus on getting them back.”

“Your brother? And Hermione? What do you mean we can’t—”

“We’re too reactive. We’re on the defensive. We need information and a plan and to pivot our way out of this corner they’ve got us backed into.” Ron turns away, pacing on a packed dirt floor. “If we go looking for Malfoy Manor, we won’t be there to find”—he frowns—“our friends. It’ll be to find a snake.”

“A snake?”

“You Know Who’s snake.”

Justin feels his face contorting, twisted to a grimace. Snakes in dueling club are the first and only thing that come to mind.

“The snake is the key to everything. The snake is checkmate. Then we can kill the king and all the pawns are free.”

“Why is a snake so important?”

Ron turns away, jaw tense. “It’s something called a horcrux.”

Chapter Text

Neville

 

He did his best. They don’t lift the Imperius until they have him in a garden. He didn’t know an Imperius could last that long, left lingering indefinitely. But it isn’t like he knows all that much about dark magic and the ways dark wizards wield it. 

He knows more about gardens, about the roses they’ve dropped him next to, thrown onto decorative pebbles and sand. It sticks to his face, grains and grit adhered to sweat and grime and terror leaking from his skin.

“Not the girl?” a voice asks. 

“The mudblood gets hers later, apparently. Big plans or something. But this one is well enough known.”

“Who’s gonna care about this sniveling pile of shite?”

Neville assumes he’s the sniveling pile of shite. If he’s sniveling, he’s not really in control of it. He sees a greenhouse, a hedge maze. This seems like a nice place. Maybe in a different place, a different life, this could be a nice place to spend his time.

In the lingering fog left behind by a sustained Imperius Curse, he thinks it’s not such a bad place to die either. He can’t imagine they plan to do anything else with him. Whoever they are. Death Eaters, he guesses.

A crucio lights him up, burning away all that hazy fog inside his head, seared down to nerve endings and nothing but unimaginable pain. 

He’s barely moved for days, had no control over his body for just as long. The crucio engages every muscle in his body at once, raging through him. In an unexpected way, it connects him to his parents. He’s wondered, in his darker moments, what it must have been like for them. Enduring what they did for this cause.

He soils himself on decorative gardening gravel.

“Don’t play with your food, Rowle.” 

“But it’s so fun.” A laugh. More like a cackle. “Blood traitors are almost worse than mudbloods, don’t ya think?”

“The Dark Lord said to finish him, not play with him.”

“The Dark Lord said to make an example of him.”

It’s a horrible conversation happening somewhere above Neville’s head. He can’t seem to open his eyes. But if they’re talking, they’re not turning their wands on him. His breathing catches in his throat, stalled by a spasming chest. He can’t seem to get any air in, past a clench that won’t relent.

It doesn’t matter. Another crucio rips through him. 

His ears ring, a pitch from his blood or his panic and his magic simply sizzling out of control. 

“You’re supposed to use this,” one of the voices says. The one that isn’t Rowle. 

“Where’s the fun in that? What are we, muggles?”

“Don’t be difficult, Rowle. It’s Gryffindor’s sword. Supposed to be symbolic or some shite. I don’t ask questions.” There’s a pause while Neville’s heart skips and stutters and struggles inside his chest. “Just get it done.”

“What am I supposed to do with it, eh? Chop ’is head off?”

Murmurs follow. Neville can’t hear. He doesn’t really want to. He tries lifting an arm, stretching out on gravel, grabbing it. His body is a prison he can’t seem to pull himself out of. It’s going to be a tomb soon too, if he can’t figure something out, do something. 

A shoe knocks him in the stomach. Neville tips, rolling. Apparently he’d been on his side. He lands on his back.

“What’s yer name anyway, boy?”

Neville can’t speak. He’s trying to. They just laugh at him. 

He tries again. If he has no chances, no hope, nothing left; at least he has his name. And he’s going to own it if it’s the last thing he does. Because it’s his parents name. Parents who fought for this war, the same one he’s still fighting. 

And if there’s any silver lining to this, any infinitesimal scraps of comfort he can find, it’s in wearing his family name with pride.

“Longbottom,” he finally says. Croaked, broken syllables. 

There’s another cackle.

“Longbottom? Longbottom? Oh I’d forgotten about them. Didn’t know they had a sprog. Well look at you now, huh?”

Neville digs his heels into gravel, tries to push himself away, anywhere. Nothing happens. He just pushes dirt around.

“Forget beheading. I’ve got a better idea, more fitting for your name, eh Long bottom?”

“Rowle, I’m not staying if you’re gonna to keep playing with him.”

“Go then. Tell the Dark Lord it’s done. It will be by the time you’re back.”

It’s a blur after that. Crucios might cut through the Imperius fog, but they leave Neville in a similar kind of confusion, not totally attached to his own body, to the world around him. In a way, he’s almost thankful for how the pain has discombobulated him. It doesn’t leave much room for fear, for different kinds of pain, for what he knows must be coming next.

He briefly registers being levitated, hovering somewhere off the ground.

He hears a sticking charm. For the sword? Or something else? 

He’s manipulated in the air so that he’s upright. He blinks his eyes open, face to face with the man murdering him. Or at least, the man he suspects will be murdering him.

It must be Rowle. He wears a malicious sneer, yellow-stained teeth, and a glint in his eyes that says he’s enjoying himself too much. Far, far too much.

Rowle cancels the levitation charm and Neville plummets. 

At least it’s quick.

Pain like fire rips through him all at once, impaled on the sword of Gryffindor: through his backside, his insides, his heart. The tip lodges at the base of his throat. 

Torn to shreds, he bleeds out quickly. A flash of hot, draining cold, soon numb. 

He’s long gone by the time the Dark Lord, having been informed of his death, sets a snake on him. A snack among many made of traitors and examples. 

He’s longer gone still when Nagini, gorging on a fresh meal, nicks herself on the sword still lodged deep in his corpse.

Longest gone, but not forgotten, the snake dies.

Chapter Text

Ron

 

The Galleon burns hot in Ron’s pocket. 

Here, is all it says. 

Justin has made it to Malfoy Manor. Well, the outskirts of it. Ron had a vague enough recollection of the Manor’s whereabouts that it only took a couple days of cautious apparating—in a grid pattern based on the paper map he nicked from a muggle shop—to figure out where the Manor, and its extensive wards, begin.

Anything? He sends back. It’s a frustrating necessity, but Ron knows he has to stay further away, better hidden in the woods. He itches to go with Justin every morning to observe the Manor’s comings and goings. 

He’s not sure what they’re looking for, exactly. It’s one of those, they’ll know it when they see it kind of situations. Every time the Galleon burns he hopes for a five letter word: snake.

At least then he’d know they’re on the right path. Every second feels like they might be wasting time in the wrong place. Doing the wrong thing. Following the wrong set of instincts. 

His are the only ones he has left. Well, and Justin’s. But Justin seems more content to do, looking to Ron for leadership. 

Ron’s eyes hurt. He’s so tired of staring at his own messy handwriting crammed onto the last piece of parchment he has on him. He spends most of his time listing everything he knows about horcruxes and how to destroy them. Writing it down is probably a bad idea, Hermione would be appalled, but he can’t keep his thoughts straight any other way.

Ron’s throat tightens, a snitch at the base of his tongue he can’t quite swallow over. Every fiber of his being wants to search for her, to abandon everything else in favor of finding her and George and Neville and Padma. It’s killing him to focus on the bigger picture.

Not that the bigger picture matters much if he can’t figure out how to kill the snake, if it’s even there. 

It’s becoming more and more likely that they might have to resort to dark magic, to the kind of magic Crabbe had used in the Room of Hidden Things. It had worked on the diadem. 

Ron doesn’t know the incantation for Fiendfyre. Justin didn’t even know what it was when Ron asked. He adds to his parchment a list of potential ways to learn a powerful and dark spell on short notice. It all feels a little helpless as he writes. As futile as adding ‘win a war’ to a checklist. 

The Galleon heats in Ron’s pocket again. He pulls it out, hoping for five letters.

It’s bad. Followed by, coming back.

Barely a second later, Justin apparates several feet from where Ron sits on a conjured stool. The next second, Justin is bent in half, upending his stomach contents (crisps and biscuits nicked from the same place they got the map; Justin called it a petrol station) on the forest floor.

Justin hits the ground on all fours. Between heaves, Ron hears sobs.

For his part, Ron can’t move. Hot fear melts him in place, welded to solid surfaces and incapable of action. He doesn’t want to know. Whatever Justin saw or whatever has him heaving into forest brush. Ron doesn’t want to know.

He has to know. He doesn’t have the luxury of not knowing. Information is their most precious commodity.

He doesn’t have to ask. Justin retches several times, and between heaves, he wheezes, “Neville.”

It comes out like a sob.

The blood drains from Ron’s face, leaving him oddly chilled. He feels parchment thin, like he’s made of nothing but dread.

“Did you see him? What happened?” He waits for Justin to finish retching again. “Is he—do they have him? Is he—” Ron can’t quite get the question out.

Several more horrible seconds pass in which Ron waits for the answer to a question he has no real interest in knowing, and yet at the same time, absolutely has to know if he intends to continue breathing. His entire air supply relies on what Justin says next.

“He’s dead.”

Ron deflates. Every gasp of air he has left, whooshing out of his lungs as if squeezed by a foreign force. 

“The snake,” Justin says several minutes later. The sun has gone down. Maybe it’s been hours. “The snake is there too. I left as soon as I saw it. I…I couldn’t watch anymore.”

It’s the information Ron has been waiting for. He wants to send it back. Return this precious knowledge with the other bits of news that have been delivered with it.

Neville. 

He doesn’t ask any questions. He doesn’t want to know how. And the fact that Justin doesn’t volunteer the information suggests it’s as bad or worse than the things rattling through Ron’s head. 

“After we kill the snake”—a thing he still hasn’t figured out exactly how they’ll manage—“we still have to kill …him.”

Justin wipes drying vomit from his chin, eyes wide as he tips from the strange crouch he’s been stuck in, landing on his arse instead. 

“Us? Kill him? As in, him him?”

Ron snaps. “What did you think we were doing out here?”

“You don’t have to treat me like an idiot. I was out there all afternoon, you know. I could be living a normal muggle life right now. Nobody knows who the fuck I am.” Justin’s eyes narrow. It’s the most impassioned thing Ron has ever heard him say. Without the booze sanding away all his rough edges, apparently Justin has bite.

“I know. I know.” It’s as close to an apology as Ron can manage. “We still have to try.”

Seconds, minutes, or eternities later, Justin just repeats, “I know.”

Chapter Text

Padma

 

Apparently they’re putting her on trial. She finds out the moment she ends up in a courtroom. 

At the Ministry. 

Minutes after they pulled her from the dungeons. 

She still has pink scratches on her forearms from where George had tried to keep hold of her.

They dragged her up stone stairs; she’s going to have bruises on the back of her thighs. The next second, they apparated her with no warning, pulled her down a hallway, shoved her in a chair with a metal frame around it that looks suspiciously like a cage, and levitated her into a courtroom before a full sitting of the Wizengamot. 

She’s barely oriented to the fact that she can actually see anything after so long spent in what has been near total darkness, and the only thing she can focus on are the plum-colored robes sitting across from her. It’s a whole wall of the color, a cross between purple and mauve. She likes it. She’s always thought it seemed like a silly color choice, perhaps whimsical, for a judiciary and legislative body. But what are wizards if not whimsical?

They all look so clean. Padma feels filthy. She must reek, because she watches one of the men who dragged her here put up several charms to block out the smell. Even her chair is clean. The bars in front of her. It’s all gleaming and shiny and new and she’s crusted and stale and shivering. 

She blinks away from the plum and finds something else, something much worse, to focus on.

She’s never seen You Know Who in person before. In fact, she’d planned to spend her whole life never having the illustrious honor.

He’s more frightening in person than even her worst nightmares imagined. So pale he’s nearly translucent, with bluish veins spiderwebbing beneath his skin, and red, slitted eyes. He looks less human than monster.

He sits at the head of the Wizengamot almost lazily. There’s power and authority in his posture, to be sure, but part of it comes from a certain air of boredom. As if he’s lounging about his day and whatever trial they’re about to put on for her is nothing but a common nuisance, a quick task he must tend to.

Padma shoves her hands beneath her thighs to keep them from shaking. She’s going to die. That’s what this is. Neville never came back after they took him. She can only assume that means whatever they’re doing with them, there’s a sense of permanence to it.

If there’s anything consolation in this, perhaps it’s that she won’t be without Parvati any longer. It requires all of Padma’s self control, and quite a bit of her extremely mediocre Occlumency skills, not to crumble at the mere thought of Parvati’s name. 

Instead, she forces herself to watch You Know Who as he rises, addressing the courtroom around her. Immediately, a flurry of camera clicks roll like a crashing tide around the room. 

Padma hears almost nothing over the clicking. Nor over the audacity, either. The pander. The sighs. The beautiful, horrible propaganda woven into a fine tapestry right in front of her.

It’s a vicious display in proficient, deadly artwork.

“…a wayward pureblood child, influenced by years in a corrupt educational institution, and youthfully loyal to friends whose threat she could not possibly understand.”

You Know Who’s voice slips and slides around the room; he moves with it, a gentle stride weaving between the seated members of the Wizengamot, the press, and whoever else is in attendance to witness this sentencing. 

She’s not sure she’s been given any kind of representation, not sure how these proceedings are meant to unfold. All she knows is that she’s still sitting on her hands and You Know Who keeps talking.

He paints her as naive. Idiotic even. A lost lamb who strayed too far from the flock at the behest of well disguised wolves and errant shepherds. 

Padma realizes too late, only once the tale has been almost fully woven around her, that she’s being set up as an example. Just not the kind she thought she’d be.

She expected violence, death. The sort of example that incites compliance by way of fear. She knows that’s how so many despots throughout history have solidified their positions. 

But she’s not going to be punished in a display of power and authority and fear. She’s going to be released.

She thinks it just as the word rehabilitation floats from You Know Who’s thin, snake-like lips. She will be proof of his mercy. 

It means they’ll take her from George. It could mean worse things than death. If they plan to rehabilitate her, she worries for her mind. For the last thing she has left of herself.

Parvati. Gods, she misses Parvati. 

She wills herself not to cry in a cage on display. 

She’s so lost in a battle against her own emotions that she nearly misses the end of You Know Who’s pronouncement.

Her parents have made a plea to release her into their care. She’ll be sent to India.

And she will never be allowed in Great Britain again.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

Days after the new Ministry announced Neville Longbottom’s execution—paired with a final warning for all remaining insurgents to lay down their wands and turn themselves in—the trials begin.

It’s the most vivid, most lively, Draco has felt since his own parents kidnapped him with the help of a house elf. Since the cord coiling in his chest started winding to an agonizing degree. Since food and worry and stress turned his body into an enemy, caught between retching and listlessness depending on the hour. It’s taken a week to keep substantial food down; with no access to a healer and very few potions on hand, the road back from malnutrition has been almost as deadly as the malnutrition itself. He’d thought, more than once, he might simply die from dehydration hunched over a toilet.

An undignified death for the undignified man he’s become. 

But now, Draco is up first thing in the morning, waiting for a discreet owl to deliver today’s Daily Prophet to the small coastal cottage his parents have sequestered them all away in. 

Padma Patil is the first. Draco has braced himself for Hermione since the first announcement of the Rebellion Trials, sick to his stomach over his own helplessness, over what might happen to her. But it’s Padma first, then so many others. Names Draco knows, names he doesn’t. Every trial presided over by the Dark Lord himself. Several a day, to varying degrees of treason.

George Weasley’s trial is a sham. If Padma’s was surprisingly lenient, George’s is unnecessarily cruel. The photo in the Prophet shows him missing a limb, slumped in a caged seat, and barely able to keep his eyes open in the several second scene that plays on a loop. Draco regurgitates his breakfast in a planter pot when he reads about George’s verdict: The Dementor’s Kiss, life in Azkaban.

The kiss is awful, more terrible than death, Draco thinks. 

But it isn’t actually death. 

There are no more executions following Longbottom, as if his death was some kind of pivot point. To what? Draco isn’t sure. Politics has never been his strong suit, much to his father’s displeasure.

“Darling,” his mother says, announcing her arrival in the kitchen with him. She proceeds with caution, the same way she’s been since the moment Dobby brought him to this place. She eyes him warily before speaking. “Your father has—he’s secured a portkey out of the country.”

A heavy, painfully dense pause gathers like a fog between them. When it’s too much, Narcissa continues, “We would like you to come with us.”

Draco rotates on his stool at the counter island, the Daily Prophet still loops through a scene of Kingsley Shacklebolt’s sentencing from the day before. He faces his mother. Perhaps because she knows what he’s about to say, she forges onward.

“I realize this is an impossible choice.” Her gaze flickers to the periodical behind him. “But it doesn’t…seem likely there is any hope for the girl.”

“You’re going to France?” You. Not us. He knows she notices.

“Further. The property in Croatia. It’s not much bigger than this, which isn’t ideal. But we need distance more than space, we think. At least for a while. Draco, darling please—”

“I can’t.”

“You can.”

“I mean I won’t.”

“She can’t be saved, Draco. And if you—you’ll—” she breaks off, eyes widening as if surprised by the way her words catch. She clears her throat. Her face hardens. “You cannot help her. You will only doom yourself too. We’ll force the elf to bring you with us if we must.”

Above everything else, Draco is tired. He’s drained and morose and his chest hurts. “I don’t think so,” he says.

“You don’t think we will?”

“I think you’ll try. But Dobby doesn’t answer to you anymore. And I suspect the only reason he was willing to tap into the Dark Lord’s taboo magic to help look for me is because it was me.”

“We understand he has something of an affinity for you but—”

“I saved his life. Took a dagger—aunt Bella’s dagger, actually—to the ribs when we escaped the Manor over Easter. I didn’t mean to save him, but it looks like I did. So no, I don’t think he’ll take me wherever you want me to go.”

Draco has to turn away. He can’t bring himself to watch the horror, the desolation on his mother’s face as he breaks this down for her. He taps his fingers on the paper beside him. This next part will break her. He knows it will. And he can’t do anything about it. He’s been mulling it over for days, caught in a horrible state of helplessness. Now that he isn’t constantly sick, he can’t keep waiting around. “In fact,” he begins. “I think Dobby will take me wherever I ask him to. I’ve—I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. It’s how this all started, isn’t it? That elf can apparate right into the Manor. It could be…simple. Pop in, grab her, pop out.”

“There is nothing simple about dealing with the Dark Lord.” Narcissa’s voice shreds, desperation evident in every carefully spoken syllable. “Just send the elf. You needn’t go too. The elf can see if she’s there and bring her back.”

Draco shakes his head. “I almost did. Almost have. Every day I’ve been here. I know she’s partially injured.What if they’ve hurt her more? What if she has to be stabilized before she can travel? What if they have guards down there? Different wards we don’t know about? What if Dobby gets trapped or captured and that’s my one chance gone? There’s too much we don’t know and that’s historically been a very big problem for us.” He finds his mother’s gaze, trying to ignore the way her eyes water. He ignores the fear so clearly evident in her stare, the same fear he feels himself. 

“You are a child. Our child. We will not allow you to—”

“I’m an adult. I’ve been of age for more than a year.”

“That bears no relevance. Your age doesn’t make you—”

“It made me old enough to receive the dark mark.”

Narcissa’s jaw snaps shut. He almost lifts his left sleeve just to drive his point home. But she knows it’s there. She’d stood by while they branded him. “It was that or death for all of us,” she finally says, voice quiet. Laced with remorse. Disgust. Regret.

“I know,” he says. “You should go. You and father should go. I—would like to know you’re safe. But I can’t leave. I won’t. I told her I wouldn’t.”

His mother doesn’t reply. She searches him, fine lines forming between her brows as her eyes screen his face, down his arm, to the Prophet on the countertop, and then somewhere in the distance beyond both of them. She draws a deep breath through her nose, lips pressed so tightly together they nearly disappear. Whatever rose-colored lipstick she’s wearing completely vanishes as she smothers what he imagines are several things she wants to say. She must know as well as he does that it won’t work.

He doesn’t even need to say it.

He’s had no choices in his life. Not even with this magic that’s bound him to Hermione Granger. He’s never had the option to be his own person; he’s always been and always will be the product of generations of Malfoys and their magic. 

But he has a choice now, his first opportunity to make one that really matters. And he’s choosing, his mother must know he is.

As has always been the case, he could leave. He could do exactly as his mother is requesting and learn to live with this ache in his chest. But he won’t. And now that he has a real choice, he’s choosing not to.

It’s not his family name or magic that makes him who he is. He’d thought so for a very long time, too long. Long enough he’d gotten lost somewhere in the murk that kind of thinking became. He knows better now.

It’s taken a war to split him open and reveal the truth.

His choices make him who he is. And he’s made his most important one. 

Narcissa’s focus snaps back to him. “We’ve heard a rumor. I suspect it will be in the papers tomorrow. But your father heard it while negotiating for our portkey.”

Draco’s heart rate picks up speed in his chest, straining against taut golden filaments. 

“Hermione Granger will be tried as a traitor in two day’s time.” Narcissa closes her eyes; Draco imagines it requires most of her elegant poise and practiced self control.

She wouldn’t have said anything if she didn’t accept his choice. It nearly buckles him, having some kind of permission. Or at least, respect for a decision she disagrees with.

Then she pulls her wand. In the space of a blink, Draco doesn’t breathe, unsure what’s happening. She sets it on the countertop beside the Prophet, hand shaking as she pulls away.

“You’ll need a wand.” She doesn’t look at him when she says it.

Draco’s throat tightens, making it difficult to speak. “Thank you.”

“Please, Draco.” It’s not a question, except in all the ways it is. Are you sure you won’t come with us? Won’t you reconsider? It’s as if regret and fear have forced a non-question from her. She’s resigned by the time his name has fully passed her lips.

He doesn’t answer. She doesn’t make him. 

 

 

His parents won’t leave until he does, which puts them all in something of a holding pattern. Partly, Draco wonders if his parents are holding out hope that he’ll give in and flee with them, that he’ll let Hermione’s trial come and go and do nothing.

He’s going to disappoint them if that’s what they’re hoping for. He’s going to disappoint them again, though perhaps at least for the last time. The last time that counts, anyway.

The idea of doing nothing burns hot and angry in his chest, a physical thing he wants to claw from behind his ribs. He doesn’t even think it’s the cord anymore. This feeling is his, innate to his own person and not influenced by any arcane magicks.

He sends Dobby to the Manor. In thirty second intervals at maximum, trying to get a feel for what’s going on without drawing any unwanted attention. If Hermione is set to go on trial soon, that means she must still be alive. For now. 

In the meantime, Draco goes to the small koi pond in the garden.

His Imperius has never been particularly strong. None of his Unforgivables are. His Cruciatus is weak; Bella always complained. His Avada, even more so. He was always best at Imperius, even if it’s a skill he never wanted. 

But of the three Unforgivables—death, pain, power of will—Draco has only ever been inclined to impose one of those things on other people. He’s even better with his mother’s wand; it’s more suited to morally flexible activities than his own unicorn hair core was.

He still misses his wand though, and he can’t believe Ronald fucking Weasley has it again. First, Weasley punches Draco while he has a dagger in his side, snatching his wand up from the beach, then he grabs it again when Draco’s skin is literally melting off his bones.

Opportunistic git. 

Draco nudges a koi to the surface, suffuses his intentions through magic, and watches as the fish leaps from the pond. It lands on decorative stone pavers with a wet flump, flopping helplessly on land. Draco cancels his spell and levitates the fish, returning it to the water. 

His mother’s wand isn’t an instant fix. Just because he can get a koi fish to hop out of the water doesn’t mean he’ll be able to control an actual person. And even though he feels stronger than he has in months, especially now that he can keep food down and reliably stand for more than fifteen minutes without feeling exhausted, there’s nothing about him that suggest he’s ready to do something reckless or stupid or dangerous.

Or brave.

He’s terrified, if he’s honest. He puts on a determined face for his parents because he knows if he shows even the slightest bit of hesitation they’ll find a way to brow beat him into joining them. Determination doesn’t stop the way his pulse skyrockets every time he thinks about doing the stupid, idiotic things he’s planning.

He’s not in the habit of doing terribly selfless things. And definitely not for the likes of Hermione Granger, or anyone of her kind. But this is his lot now. 

Pop. 

Dobby wobbles on a decorative rock at the edge of the pond.

“The cellars?” Draco asks.

“They is still doing something with the wards. Dobby cannot get in.”

Draco blows out a breath in lieu of chucking his mother’s wand across the garden in frustration. They have to be using the cellars. It’s the only place that makes sense, and it’s where they’ve been taking prisoners all throughout the war. Plus, they’ve clearly been working on better securing it.

But the chance she’s not there, that Draco might have Dobby take him back to the Manor and then they can’t find her: it could ruin everything. 

If they’ve found a way to bar Dobby from the cellars, Draco imagines it’s only a matter of time until they manage to blanket the whole property in that same magic.

Which means Draco is running out of time and he still doesn’t have enough information. Or bravery.

He feels like Weasley on the not-knowing-enough front.

It’s extremely frustrating, both at face value and because it almost makes him sympathize with how fucking impossible it is to make a decision when the chance it will blow up in his face is so godsdamned high all the time. 

“Do they have anyone guarding it? The cellar door?”

“Dobby is not getting too close, like Mister Draco said.” Dobby’s eyes widen and it blooms frustration high in Draco’s spine, tensing at the base of his neck. If this elf tries to blame himself for not having an answer one more time, Draco really might chuck his mother’s wand across the garden. Considering it’s the only wand he has available to him, that would be a very, very bad idea. 

Hermione’s trial is tomorrow. Draco is as healthy as he’s going to get, at least before then. He has just about all the information he thinks he’ll be able to find, which isn’t much.

And his meager resolve is as confident as it’s ever going to be. 

He pockets his mother’s wand. “Tell me everything you saw. We’re going first thing in the morning.”

 

 

Ultimately, he decides against saying goodbye to his parents. It’s cruel, he knows. But he thinks saying goodbye will just make it worse. Not only would it give them one last chance to stop him, but it would give his resolve one last chance to crack.

He’s not sure he trusts himself enough to withstand the weight of his own fear. 

He waits until the darkest time between midnight and sunrise. When his parents, and hopefully most of the inhabitants at Malfoy Manor, are deep asleep. He hopes, desperately, that the hour will give him some kind of cover. A tiny advantage stacked against an impossible mountain of disadvantages. 

He grips his mother’s wand in one hand and Dobby’s little fingers in his other. 

Everything is backwards. 

He has a wand that isn’t his own.

He’s sneaking into his ancestral family home.

The side his family has been fighting for has won, and Draco now fights against it.

He’s doing something selfless. And for Hermione Granger, no less.

Much as he expects to have regrets, he doesn’t. He almost, barely, feels brave.

He lets Dobby whisk them away. To the corridor closest to the cellars. With hope for good luck thrumming almost as powerfully as Draco’s pulse inside his veins.

When the world rematerializes around them, golden light blinds him.

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

When Padma never returns, Hermione realizes just how dire her circumstances are. Not that they weren’t before. They always have been, for as long as she can remember, really. She doesn’t know what they’re doing with—or to— her friends. But it can’t possibly be good.

Whatever hope she has left, fumes barely keeping all her parts running, she’s tied them to the people she cares about. Neville and Padma and George and Kingsley. Justin and Ron, too, wherever they are. She’s glad they aren’t here.

And Draco. 

Sometimes, she wakes from nightmares where he’s the one who coordinated all this. Where he’d known Kingsley was under an Imperius and leading them into a trap. Where he’d let them take her. Where his attempts at comfort in that tiny toilet at Mrs. Figg’s house had been an award-worthy performance in lying to her face.

Then she thinks about the look in his eyes, even as his skin blistered and bubbled, reaching for her before Yaxley pulled her away. He’d been trying—even under the influence of what looked like a terrible curse—to get to her. 

For the first several days of her capture, she survives on hope that maybe Ron, Justin, and Draco will perform a miracle and save them.

When Neville and Padma fail to come back, that particular hope fizzles.

With Kingsley suffering under a lingering Imperius—not fully canceled, but not fully in effect—he can’t be counted upon for much help. 

Disorientation owns him.

It owns Hermione too, despite her best efforts to fight against it. In some ways, the darkness is a blessing. She doesn’t need to see her hand to know infection has set in. She feels it in the fiery spikes shooting up her arm, in the way her head feels heavy, like she’s moving underwater whenever she shifts. In the way she finds herself both sweltering and freezing, sensations rocking her one after another. She’s probably septic and her choices are to die that way or get out, even if she can barely stand without wobbling. She can’t tell if hours or days or weeks have passed; it feels like lifetimes slip away between each disoriented blink. 

Between Hermione’s missing fingertips and George’s missing arm, they’re still a few limbs short of having any shot at escape, but she convinces him to try once it becomes clear Padma isn’t coming back.

With no wands and no chances, they have only their hands and fists and feet, in whatever quantity and combination they have remaining. They need a wand. Hermione has enough pent up rage and grief and determination that she knows she can get them out if only she had a wand. Even dizzy beyond belief, even with her non-dominant hand, she knows she can do it. 

It takes one failed attempt, clawing at whoever brought them food, for their wide open cellar to become a much more formalized prison. They take George before partitioning the space up, cramming Hermione in a dark, tiny cell by herself.

She has no choice but to assume the worst. With no wand and no timer to temper her grief, her anger, when her hope dwindles, she becomes a being of rage.

She keeps clawing, lunging, whenever they bring her scraps of food. She’s effectively feral and she knows it. 

Her hand throbs, hot and swollen and angry. At some point—infection and isolation blur the details—they cast a containment charm on her arm when they found her unmoving and mostly unresponsive, delirious to the point she’d thought for the briefest, most glorious moment, that someone had come to save her. But no, they only contained her infection enough to keep her alive for whatever they have planned. Containment doesn’t erase the pain though, doesn’t reverse whatever infection has already taken hold.

Everything below her right wrist feels aflame. She is a being of rage and a being of fire and she has only her imagination to keep her company.

Her mind runs wild in a film played to darkness, splattered in imagined color and scenario. Regularly, she loops back to Draco, wondering, worried.

He had looked bad. Nightmares haunt her: visions of his skin slipping from his bones while Ron and Justin look on in horror. She clings to the feeling in her chest, a tight coil around her heart that feels as conductive as a lightning rod, just waiting for electricity. It feels too alive for him to be dead.

She can think of several curses that might do those things to his skin. They aren’t particularly complicated, nor are their counter curses. But they are time sensitive.

And time passes strangely here. 

They bring her food irregularly. She still has no light, no way of knowing for how long her dark isolation stretches. She only knows that when someone finally does bring her food, it’s from a different door each time.

They’re moving it. She can’t see it, but she positions herself beside it when they leave, ready to launch herself at them. Except the next time, the door opens across from her and a portion of bread slides across the floor before she even has a chance to move. She’s too weak and too slow.

If only she could see. Just enough to know what angle they’re coming from next. It’s torture, a kind of cruel game, whatever magic they’re using to disorient her. She thinks the lingering infection in her bloodstream is doing a good enough job of that on its own. Added magic to confuse her is just cruel.

She’s resolved to fight until such time that she drops dead from sepsis. Or starvation. Or hopelessness. 

She pulls her knees to her chest, banding her left arm around them. Her right hand rests carefully atop it. She keeps irritating it. But she’s at a bit of a dead end with her options. 

Exhaustion pulls at her. She can’t tell if it’s day or night and she keeps sleeping in fitful bursts that aren’t anywhere near restful enough. It could be the middle of the day and she’d have no idea. 

She hopes the door will appear on the wall beside her whenever they come next. The order seems random, and therefore impossible to predict, but if she has her orientation correct, she thinks this particular wall hasn’t been used recently. It’s the best guess she has.

She waits. Holding herself together with an arm around her knees, racking her brain for any plan, any tool, anything she can possibly do to save herself and her friends. 

She’s ruminating hopelessly on wandless magic, mostly berating herself for not investing more time in mastering it, when light blinds her.

Her head cracks against the wall behind her when she jerks back, away. Her eyes burn. She screws them shut, clapping a hand over her face. This is new, a different kind of torture. She wonders what the Death Eaters are playing at as she rubs her eyes, trying to banish the light stain from the inside of her lids. 

Cautiously she blinks them open again.

It’s not just light. It’s a very specific kind of light.

Silver. 

Bursting from her chest.

She nearly sobs, a choked sound catching in the back of her throat as she reaches for it. Still as intangible as ever, her hand swipes right through the luminous little thing. Silver and swaying and disappearing beneath the transparent outline of a door she can now see right beside her.

Would it be too much to hope?

The rope means proximity, fairly close proximity too. In or around the cellars in this place.

There are only two real options here. The first is that Draco has been captured and is just as much a prisoner as she is. 

The second is that he’s here to help them. How? She doesn’t know. But gods, she hopes.

Now that she can see the door, Hermione pivots, placing herself directly next to where it will swing open. The world spins. Her stomach turns. She’s done nothing but wait for however many days she’s been here. She’ll wait as long as it takes for that door to open, to reveal whatever eventuality lays beyond it.

But this time though, her world is illuminated. She’ll see it. And when she lunges, she’ll aim.

She’s getting a wand if it’s the last thing she does. And it very well might be.

Her heart thumps. She can’t parse adrenaline from magic. 

Thump.

Thump.

Thump. 

In the end, she waits almost no time at all. The lock on the door clicks and it swings open. 

She lunges, body barreling into a snatcher, scratching and clawing and taking him to the ground. 

He doesn’t fight back; he doesn’t react at all. He lays limp on the floor beneath her with an eerily placid look on his face, illuminated by a silver glow. Hermione scrambles away and looks up, following a silver rope for the first time in weeks.

Draco Malfoy stands beside the door to her prison-room with a wand raised, streaked in blood from head to toe. It paints his hair, bisects an eyebrow, curls beneath his chin, blooms in bright slashes against the fabric of his shirt, soaks his trousers, stains his shoes.

He stuns the snatcher and inhales a shaky breath. “Take his wand.”

“Are you—” Hermione croaks, voice weak and cracked through vocal cords that haven’t seen use since they put her in isolation. 

He’s wearing a lot of blood.

“It’s not—mine. It’s not mine.” It looks like he intends to gesture at the blood splattering his body, but his gaze snags on the rope. Hermione’s does too. She hasn’t seen it in so long, she’d almost forgotten what it’s like, seeing a visual manifestation of this magic. 

Magic she can’t really deny. Magic she doesn’t have the energy to. She’s so tired.

She follows the silver rope to where it disappears in Draco’s chest. He looks—better than he has in a long time. Nowhere near his prewar weight or pulled-togetherness. But substantially better than the last time she’d seen him. Even with all the blood.

She’s still on the ground, crouched beside the stunned snatcher, clutching her bad hand to her chest. Head hot and heavy, world a blur. How is she meant to greet him? She doesn’t know. She focuses instead on the things she does know, or needs to know.

“Other snatchers? Greyback? I’ve heard him—”

Draco shakes his head in a sharp, singular movement. “No.”

“No what? They’re gone, or…?”

He shakes his head again, silver light dancing with dark shadows on his face. It occurs to Hermione that they’re still in complete darkness; the rope is the only source of light around and between them. A light only they can see.

“Before I found you. Greyback is—and Dobby—that’s how—” He gestures weakly at the blood covering him again. This time, she notices the way his hands shake. 

Hermione pulls herself to her feet. Her body feels sluggish and unsteady, leached of adrenaline, atrophied from disuse. Even straightening her spine is a struggle. Her muscles creak and groan in an internal protest as she approaches, reaches for him.

“Are you real?” she asks. Because she doesn’t know. She’s had this dream before.

He doesn’t answer, doesn’t need to. It takes one second of contact, a sprung leak from her fingers on his forearm, for the flood to ensue. He crushes her against his chest. Barely a minute has passed since the door to her prison cell swung open and it feels like something of a lifetime, or several of them, thrumming on a rope.

She feels Draco swallow before he speaks, his throat pressed into her hair and against her skull. She must reek. She’s surprised he can stand it. 

“Dobby brought me here,” he says, voice very quiet. “We ran into Greyback. He was watching the cellar doors. It—we—” He breaks off, pulling back, eyes locked on the blood now smeared all over her. He grimaces. “Some of that is—Dobby. Greyback too.”

If she’d had any real food in her stomach, Hermione imagines she would have thrown it up. As it stands, her gut lurches, a gag welling in the back of her throat, but nothing more. All build up, no follow through. 

“Did you? Is Greyback?”

Draco nods.

She rephrases her question: “You took on Fenrir Greyback?”

Draco’s voice is tight when he responds. “Don’t sound too impressed.”

“I am impressed. And I’m—” she chokes up. Relieved, she wants to say. But this drastic change in circumstance is so startling and overwhelming that she’s finding she can’t stand very easily on her own. She’s weak.

Draco doesn’t make her go on. Rather, his voice washes over her a moment before his hand finds the crook of her elbow. The contact fills her with a warm glow, a facsimile of strength. 

“Without Dobby,” he starts, “we need to reach the edge of the wards to apparate.”

Hermione nods, forcing herself to walk, wobbly as she may be. Hope has taken on a lot of forms over the last year, worn many masks and manifested in many surprising and unusual ways.

Here, now, it’s a silver light in the darkness and the prospect of not being quite so alone.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

Hermione stops moving at the top of the stairs, just as they exit the cellars. For a moment, Draco assumes she needs rest. She smells like death, like the wretched stench of waste and rot and misery. She looks it too: hair matted, eyes sunken, skin ashen, stance unsteady. And yet, he’s never been so relieved to be in another person’s presence in all his life.

The golden cord practically vibrates between them, thrumming with what feels like satisfaction, like safety.

They’re nowhere close to safe. 

Draco positions himself between Hermione and the parlor doorway where both Greyback and Dobby’s bodies lay: comically huge and comically small in equal, uncomical measure. He can’t think about all the blood soaking his clothes, not if he wants to remain upright. 

Later, maybe, he’ll spare a thought for the house elf he’d both saved and doomed by accident. How was he to know Greyback would be right there when they landed? That he likes using his hands, slashing the tiny elf to shreds in the space of a few blinks? That when an Avada didn’t work, because Draco has never had that in him, using an Imperius to make a person tear themself to shreds is much, much worse? 

Draco’s stomach turns; he’s already thought too much about it. 

He looks over to meet Hermione’s gaze and finds her not resting at all.

She’s thinking.

Which is a truly horrible sign for him. Before he can so much as open his mouth to remind her that they are presently in his ancestral family home, where the Dark Lord may or may not be in residence, and therefore they must leave, and judiciously, she preempts him with the sort of thing he really ought to have expected.

If only he knew how to think like a Gryffindor.

But as it stands, his paltry stashes of bravery and self sacrifice have all been used up, thrown into this horrible plan to save this impossible woman.

His chest clenches.

“Where’s everyone else?” Her voice sounds as awful as she looks, like maybe she hasn’t used it in all this time. He can hardly picture that, Hermione Granger quiet. It strikes with something like sadness, loss.

“I hardly checked in with the host when I arrived.” He begins to shift his body weight, angling himself to imply they ought to move in a particular direction. Down this corridor, through the foyer, cutting through the solarium, and to the east wing with the servants entrance where they can escape to the gardens and the edge of the wards.

“I mean—” she starts, swaying. “George. Neville. Padma and—”

Draco doesn’t realize he’s cut her off with a sharp shake of his head until he watches her eyes widen, fear pouring from black pupils, brown irises, and bloodshot whites. All glowing golden in a dim corridor.

“There’ve been trials. I don’t think—they won’t be here anymore. But we have to go, Hermione. Now.”

With that, he steps forward, hooking his arm around her elbow and trying to tug her as gently as possible. He doesn’t want to pull her over. She seems as steady as a solitary blade of overgrown grass. A single gust of wind might tip her over.

“What about—Ron? Where is—or Justin? They weren’t”—she swallows over words spilling in broken chunks—“captured, right?”

“I don’t know.”

She pulls back against him. They’ve only managed two feet anyway. She looks haunted, haunting. A specter or a wraith or something a single step from decomposing and the only thing holding her together is the horror behind her eyes.

As if horror is a thing that keeps them going these days. That motivates and inspires and perseveres.

In some ways, he supposes it does.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Her voice scratches, etched with fear.

“I mean I don’t know.” He tugs on her again. They’re just standing in a corridor outside the cellars. It’s still early and the sun hasn’t risen yet, but the chances of no one walking by certainly aren’t zero. Draco has already come across Greyback in this very corridor and a snatcher inside the cellars. This place isn’t unguarded.

Hermione’s sense of urgency is honestly tragic. And he worries it might get them killed.

Being willing to risk his life and actually sacrificing it are two wildly different ideas and Draco much prefers one over the other. 

He rolls his mother’s wand in his left hand, palm damp from nervous sweat. Probably blood, too. He doesn’t want to look to find out. 

“You came here without Ron?”

Draco almost doesn’t hear her question. It’s as quiet as the drifting hints of an impending sunrise cresting millennia-old buttresses above them.

The fact that she’s still not moving, not following him, fills him with a strange new worry. She’s been through more than any person he knows—more than him, he’s even willing to admit. He can’t help but wonder if it’s done something to her. There’s a fight and anger and a clearly defined will to live blazing behind her eyes, but her body is eerily still, her voice disconcertingly quiet.

He stomps into her space, shoulders squared to hers, forcing her focus.

“I don’t know where he is. But I said I wouldn’t leave you. I’ve said it since day one. I don’t have much left to my name, you know. But I have my word and it’s the best I’ve got. And even if you don’t want it, I gave it to you. And so now I’m here, keeping it. As such, we have to go.”

“They took your family’s book.”

He nearly crumbles against her. It’s so absurd it’s almost a relief. He wants to laugh. He wants to cry. “Am I meant to be worried about that? You’re the one who needed it.”

Golden light illuminates her face from below, fires burning in her eyes when she says, “I don’t need it anymore.”

She finally moves, a weak hand skimming the surface of his shirt until her palm rests flat against the center of his chest, interrupting the cord.

“The snake could be here,” she says, voice stronger. “You said—you know how to cast Fiendfyre?”

“Hermione—”

“We can burn it down. All of it. And maybe we’ll get a horcrux, too. I can’t leave this place knowing it’s the seat of You Know Who’s kingdom without doing anything. Not after—after everything.”

“This is my family home.”

“Not anymore.”

There she is. 

It took time, but her mind has filled up her body again, wrangling control of her physicality. She stands straighter, the set of her shoulders matching the determination Draco is trying desperately to project with his own posture. She exhales before looking down the corridor. They’ve already been so lucky no one has come to check in with Greyback. Draco doesn’t know what time they intend to fetch Hermione for her trial, but he doesn’t want to be around when they do.

Hermione’s desperate voice floats between them. “Burn it down and I’ll go wherever you want. We can hide. I’ll stop fighting. But do this one thing—the only thing we can do. It’ll hurt them. And we need that.”

“I don’t believe you,” he says. Her eyes snap back to his. “You won’t stop,” he clarifies, but he’s already raising his mother’s wand. “But I’ll do it anyway.”

Because Hermione is right. This isn’t his home anymore. His parents have fled and this place is nothing but pain drenched in dark magic.

Fiendfyre feeds on dark magic, gobbles it up and uses it as fuel. It’s almost too perfect. Months under the Dark Lord’s thumb, Malfoy Manor is drenched in lighter fluid, and Draco holds the flame.

“Give me your hand,” he says, reaching out. She doesn’t hesitate, but she asks a question with her eyes.

“It’ll require a lot of power.” Self doubt creeps up his spine, threatening to unsettle him. He glances at the cord undulating between them, glittering and gold. “We can leverage this—like when I apparated us using your magic. I—” He needn’t explain further; Hermione nods, eyes locked on the way she clutches his right hand with both of hers. Slowly, she lifts his hand, placing it against her cheek. 

The world in that moment is a molten, golden thing made of more magic than Draco knows how to contain. 

He braces himself. They’re wasting too much time. 

In the end, the incantation comes easily. Probably too easily. Much easier than when Mr. Goyle made them all practice it the summer before.

Draco supposes it works better when he has something to fuel the fire. And an outlet too. 

He sends a flame-made dragon to devour his family home, shooting it down the corridor. 

Draco watches for a split second, just long enough for the flames to catch, fiery beasts spilling outward, gobbling centuries-old tapestries in the space of a breath. When he looks back to Hermione, she smiles, face still cradled in his hand.

And when he runs this time, she’s there with him.

 

Hermione

 

She follows the rope more than she follows Draco. She tries to keep pace as he jogs them through the Manor, but her whole body feels curdled, a split sauce slippery with oil and she’s drenched in it. Every step is another closer to freedom but further from Draco.

He pauses at a door, determination etched in a tight mouth as he turns, clearly expecting her right there, only to find her still several paces away, breath burning in her lungs. 

Her knees and ankles and hips and ribs all feel wobbly, unsteady, like any one of her joints might collapse beneath her. And she’s not ignorant as to why. She’s barely moved for days—weeks, maybe—and she was malnourished long before that, even if their time at Mrs. Figg’s had been the most restful she’d had in months. 

Smoke gathers around them, heat radiating through stone architecture, turning the Manor into an oven. It takes almost no time for a spell as powerful as Fiendfyre to wreak havoc, and the residents of this place have begun to notice. When faced with cursed flames behind her, coupled with increasingly frequent shouts, screams, and cracks of magic, Hermione chooses to push her body as far as she can, for as long as she can. 

She simply doesn’t have the energy to push much farther. She’s not sure what will happen when her strength fails her. Her head already feels heavy, sounds dim, sights cottony.

She follows Draco out the door anyway, onto soft decorative ground that has her knees nearly buckling. When she stumbles, he loops an arm around her waist and drags her with him.

Outside should have felt safer, but it’s just as loud, the fire maybe more so. Hermione staggers to a stop between two greenhouses and leans against the glass.

Draco points. “That tree line. We just have to get to that tree line.” In pre-dawn darkness, painted orange by a roaring flame behind them, she barely sees a shadow in the distance.

She can’t move another step. She’s about to tell him so, they’re about at the point where he’s going to have to levitate her, maybe even stun her, just to get her the rest of the way, when several windows explode out the side of the Manor.

Wretchedly hot air gusts over them, even at the distance they’ve already escaped. Hermione watches with a kind of morbid fascination, backdropped by several screams in the distance, as a herd of fire-sphinxes leap through the now open windows before crashing headfirst into foundation stones, pillars, and flammable wooden doors. 

Malfoy Manor is going to crumble, and it’s only been ablaze for a matter of minutes. If she had more energy, Hermione might have told Draco how impressive his magic is. Dark, horrible magic, but impressive all the same. 

Then suddenly, it’s not just flame-made magical creatures pouring out of the Manor, it’s Death Eaters and snatchers too. Hermione flinches, flat against a glass greenhouse, when a whole section of wall on the ground floor blasts outward. 

She’s having trouble keeping up, keeping track of everything going on. Delirium and exhaustion have wound around her limbs, crept like invasive vines through her bloodstream, thieving oxygen and energy. Black spots speckle her vision. 

 She hears shouts. Spells. None of which seem to be directed at her or Draco, but she thinks that probably just a fluke. There’s a lot going on, they’re fairly unremarkable when compared to giant, cursed firestorms engulfing the enormous manor before them.

Draco is shouting something too, hands on her shoulders, jostling her.

“We have to go.” She registers it after he says it several times. His face is wild, panicked, the same scared, impossibly human face she’s come to know beyond the horrible sneer and taunting remarks she’d thought were all that made him. Blood has dried to the side of his face. “We have to go,” he says again, voice lifted over the roar of a fire, of a panic. 

From the blasted out rubble at the side of the manor, something stark in black and white pulls Hermione’s attention from Draco’s very reasonable suggestion.

Her breath leaves her.

Pitch black robes and stark white skin. Even at a considerable distance in the dark, Hermione practically feels Voldemort’s every snake-like feature slithering up against her.

He moves like his feet don’t touch the ground, and eerie glide over charred lawns, casting graceful, careless protective charms as Fiendfyre-wrought beasts charge him. They dissolve against a water barrier as if little more than a party trick. 

Draco’s grip around Hermione’s shoulders turns painful, thumbs digging into the soft, fleshy bits of her not made exclusively of brittle bone.

“The trees!” he shouts, mere inches from her face. The blaze has turned to a roar, the only sound inside her head. “We just have to get to—”

He breaks off when he points down the path between greenhouses, at the tree line and their destination. Easier to see as the fire grows, painted in a dancing orange.

Draco cants his head, a visible shake of disbelief. Hermione follows his surprise and barely has time to register shock herself before Justin barrels into them, too much momentum on decorative sand paths. 

Draco holds her steady. Otherwise, she absolutely would have toppled. He shoves Justin back, anger winning a fight with confusion on his face.

Justin pants, “I sent Ron a message—I can’t believe you’re here—and Merlin, Malfoy where have you—”

Draco cuts him off. “I have this under control.”

Justin’s shocked stare stills him in his tracks, eyes drifting beyond them to the Manor. Terror douses him, fear Hermione has never seen on Justin’s face before.

Not ever.

And she’s fought battles with him.

She and Draco look back at the Manor at the same time.

Voldemort has spotted them, is stalking straight towards them. 

A mouth filled with fangs stretches wide; he raises his wand.

Hermione doesn’t think. She whips up a feeble shield charm and throws herself at Draco, desperate to escape Voldemort’s curse.

They hit the ground, tangled, toppling Justin too, just as a bright green flash cracks with a burn like sulfur above them. 

The killing curse behaves like lightning in many ways, would be terribly interesting to study in a safe, controlled environment. Hermione feels the curse as it misses them more than she sees it or smells it, because it feels like a lightning storm. Lifting the fine hairs on her arms and the back of her neck, a thrum like electricity needing an outlet. 

She thinks the things in tandem with the choked sounds escaping her as she hits the ground, solar plexus connecting with one of Draco’s elbows. Or maybe Justin’s shoe. 

She registers only two additional things in the blink before another green flash cracks through the air. 

Justin is scrambling backwards, away from them, trying to escape. Already several feet away.

Whereas Draco only manages to get them back to their knees before he stops moving altogether, crushing her to his chest with the same kind of force she’s using to cling to him.

They’ve both dropped their wands. They can’t escape this.

Draco has realized how close they are to death and he’s holding her tight. It’s nothing like how Hermione has imagined she might die, in all the many and horrible iterations she’s tortured herself with over a year of sleep-deprived nights and waking nightmares, constantly expecting her own death at any moment.

It’s with a strange sense of irony that she accepts this as a best case scenario, all things considered. 

Silver mixes with gold, blurs with tears, mixes with green, when the killing curse hits them.

Hermione’s magic— 

Her skin—

Her soul—

Cracks wide open for the world to see as she clutches Draco with everything she has.

She remembers almost nothing after that. But she remembers memory. A wisp of it. Which isn’t possible. 

But what is magic if not impossible things made possible?

Chapter Text

Hermione

 

Hermione isn’t exactly dead.

She should be.

But she isn’t.

Confusion surfaces before her consciousness does, brain a being of questions before it’s a being of her.

She wakes in an unfamiliar place. Calm, relaxing, warm: at peace. In a soft bed, wrapped in softer sheets. It smells of linen and cotton, summer breezes and the bracing joy of fresh air. There’s no death, no fear. No grime and dirt and day’s worth of filth.

Familiar aches and pains echo under her skin, duller than they’ve been in a long time. In many ways, she feels healed, whole. She has zero sensation in the truncated fingers on her right hand and it’s a strange, beautiful blessing.

The moment her eyes flutter open, straining against a buttery-yellow light floating on sunbeams and dust motes, a house elf appears at her side. 

The little thing immediately pushes a potion to Hermione’s lips. Too tired to resist, too tired to be aggravated at having a house elf waiting on her, she drinks. The potion further dulls her pains. She’s presented with a glass of water next.

Hermione’s insides feel paper-dry and desperate for relief. She reaches for the water and freezes, a gasp ripped from her throat by the sight of her own hand.

The missing fingers aren’t surprising. That her hand looks mostly healed, is. Hermione hasn’t experienced care in some time, but someone has clearly been caring for her. More surprising than her missing fingers—more startling than finding herself alive when the last thing she remembers is a flash of green light, a killing curse sent from Lord Voldemort himself—are the bolts like lightning spider webbing across her skin. Silver and gold, faintly glowing, she looks like her skin has cracked wide open and her illuminated insides are spilling out. 

She chokes down the water, trying to do too many things at once: insisting to the elf she needs no help, hydrating her parched body, pulling herself from what might be the most comfortable bed on the planet. 

By the time Hermione stands, the glass in her hand is empty but the elf still hovers, expressing stern orders about how Hermione is meant to rest. Instead, she drags herself to the dresser mirror across the room. She expects more resistance from her body, but it works surprisingly well. Shock at feeling steady morphs into shock at something else when faced with her reflection.

Cracking bolts of lightning shoot across every visible surface of her skin. She peers down the front of the airy chemise she’s wearing and finds lightning on the not-visible surfaces of her skin too.

Her face, her chest, her arms, her legs. She looks like she’s been dropped from just high enough to crack but not shatter, silver and gold seeping through.

“No one else sees it.”

Hermione spins and finds Draco standing in a doorway. She’s so struck by the sight of him standing in a lovely room drenched with lush sunlight that it nearly distracts her from how he, too, wears glowing lightning on his body. Equally golden and silver to match her own. In a way, it’s hauntingly beautiful. He looks unreal, standing there with his white-blond hair actually washed, styled away from his angular face, a slight glow leaking from lightning-shaped cracks in his skin. 

“At least, humans can’t,” he continues. He gestures to the elf still worrying herself at Hermione’s feet. “Minette here says she can. But the healers, after the battle—”

“Battle?”

“You should probably sit.”

Hermione immediately tenses. “I’m not some weak-willed damsel with a delicate constitution, Draco.”

“I’m aware.” He steps fully into the room with her. Despite looking healthy, or at least, healthier, and beneath the fractured lightning criss-crossing his skin, exhaustion weighs heavily in his body language. “But you should probably sit anyway. You’ve been unconscious for quite some time and malnourished for much longer than that. We still don’t know—no one knows—how they treated you. But it’s safe here. You’re safe. So don’t be…stubborn. It’s okay to rest.”

Hermione’s pulse thumps loudly, busily against her skin. Safety seems improbable, but she has no reason not to trust him. Forcibly relaxing, she relents her grip on the dresser and returns to the bed. Much as she might not want to admit it, the soft mattress and warm covers feel like bliss. Heavenly enough she could sink into them and never leave.

Draco lowers himself into the chair beside her bed. She wonders, briefly, why the chair is even there to begin with.

“They tried reviving us not long after the battle but—you were very unwell. You were in St. Mungo’s for several days and released into my care only yesterday.” He pauses, conjuring water to fill her empty cup.

Hermione takes the glass but does not drink. “I was released…into your care?” 

The question comes out stilted, slow. She tastes the words as much as she speaks them, seeking the untruth that must be hidden in the roll of the consonants or lilt in the vowels. 

She knows what they’ve been through together. Their strange, arcane, shared circumstances. But St. Mungo’s? She can’t fathom why anyone in their right mind would release her into Draco Malfoy’s care.

His jaw tenses, a muscle running up his neck flexing as his gaze slips to the window behind the bed. 

“You had—moments of lucidity. I was unwell too, for a time. I have Weasley, of all people, to thank for the fact that I’m not presently in a prison cell. Though I think they’re still deciding whether or not they’ll arrest me later. But for now, I’m free. And you’re in my care, in this place, because you asked to be.”

“I asked to be.”

“You did. You were quite insistent, in fact.” When his gaze meanders back to her face, there’s something softened behind his eyes, melted into his stare.

Hermione blinks. She remembers nothing. Only silver and gold and a sensation like home. 

“And what—is this place?” Hermione lifts her head, twisting to glimpse out the window. It’s a strange position to be in, waking in an unfamiliar place when she’d expected to be dead, knowing very little of her circumstances. She’s grateful for the window, that she can see beyond this room.

The irony isn’t lost on her. Their treatment of Draco at Shell Cottage feels exceptionally cruel. 

“France,” he says simply.

“Your family’s property?”

He nods.

“Your parents?”

“Not here.”

“And the…war? Is it?”

Draco’s mouth does a funny thing. Stretched between annoyance and mirth. Hermione struggles to catalogue the way his eyes crinkle with the expression, the way his posture relaxes.

He pulls his wand from his trouser pocket, looks solemnly at it, and twirls it twice between his fingers before setting it on the blankets beside her.

“Did you know when I disarmed Dumbledore that night on the astronomy tower, I became the owner of the elder wand? Sixteen years old. Me.”

Hermione’s body flushes with pinpricks, anticipation pushing against her viscera. It’s a feeling of discovery about to be made, of a breath held at the bottom of her lungs for several heartbeats too long as she waits, expectant. 

Draco meets her eyes, looking up from the wand. 

A crackle of lightning across his cheekbone glows brighter when he inhales.

“And did you know,” he continues, “when Ronald Weasley punched me in my face and stole my wand while I was bleeding out on a beach that he then became the rightful master of the elder wand?”

He drags in another deep breath and leans back against his chair. “And did you know when I punched him back at that godsforsaken Quidditch Pitch, because I never took my wand off the ground he still technically retained ownership? And even when he finally gave it back to me…it’s loyalty was still to him?” 

Draco reaches out, almost tentatively, and picks up his wand again. He narrows his eyes, scrutinizing it.

“My wand…it’s been something of a proxy for the elder wand all this time.” 

When it’s clear he’s done, Hermione asks a question. Her whole body feels seized, electrified. She wonders if her lightning strikes glow the way his do.

“How could you possibly…” she trails off.

“Figure that out? Well. I’m told it took several Unspeakable and two days of debriefing with Weasley, but apparently people start asking questions when a great ginger git marches right onto Malfoy Manor property, finds Hermione Granger on the ground—I was on the ground to, mind you, but I don’t think he cared so much about that bit—and proceeds to take down the Dark Lord with a single spell using my wand.”

Hermione blinks. In that blink lives a question her mouth and throat and lungs and brain cannot seem to form: what?

“Apparently he shot off a killing curse without a second thought. And the elder wand just…didn’t put up a fight.”

Anticipation feels like fear, like maybe, relief.

“You Know Who is…”

“Dead, Hermione.”

“But the snake?”

Draco shakes his head in a single, sharp back and forth. His mouth tightens before he works his jaw open. Dread hovers in the quiet space between her ask and his answer.

“They’ve said Longbottom took care of it. In the end.”

Hermione gusts a disbelieving breath. She can’t stand it anymore, her skin is alive, buzzing, battling disbelief. It couldn’t possibly be that simple. That final. It couldn’t possibly—

“And that’s it?” she asks.

“That’s it.”

“All of it over while you and I were unconscious?” She doesn’t know how to articulate the guilt exploding in the pit of her stomach. When it mattered, she wasn't able to help.

“I don’t think unconscious is the right word for it.”

Her eyes snap to Draco’s. She’d been staring at the lightning pattern on her hands. At the space where she used to have three fingers.

“We were hit with a killing curse,” she says.

Draco’s mouth tightens. “We were.”

“And we survived.”

“We did.”

“I should ask how. But I think I know.” She’s familiar with lightning-shaped marks resulting from killing curses. Her sinuses sting and all she can see is black hair, glasses, and green eyes.

“Well please, do share. That part not even the Unspeakable were able to explain when I woke up, not that I told them my own theories. But I’d be delighted to know what your brilliant brain has figured out.” He crosses his arms and he almost, barely, looks a bit smug. Like maybe he can be this lightning-struck person in front of her and the same snarky boy she knew in her past. 

Now though, there’s no cruelty on his face. It almost feels like they’re sharing a joke. Or perhaps, a devastating secret.

“It’s the bond, isn’t it? Soulmate magic. It protected us? It was love that protected Harry when he was a baby.” Her breath catches. “But you and I—?”

“My family’s magic is fueled by centuries of love. Nearly a millennium of it.”

She clears her throat of the tacky uncertainty clogging her up. It’s beautiful magic, interesting magic, taboo and questionable and hers whether she wants it or not. 

“Do you think that’s why we have these?” She traces a crack of lightning down the inside of her forearm, elbow to wrist. 

“I do.” He sounds less certain this time. “I’m hoping it can fade like the cord. Even if no one else sees it, I can’t say I want to look like this for the remainder of my life.”

For the first time since she woke, Hermione realizes there’s no silver rope stretching between them.

“It’s gone again?”

Draco gestures at himself, at a particularly deep looking crack seeping with a mix of silver and gold light. “It’s still…here. Burning us from the inside out, it would seem.”

Perhaps shell-shocked by the enormity and the simplicity and the unreal quality to everything about her existence in that moment, Hermione says the first thing that pops into her head. An errant factoid spilled with the kind of enthusiasm she’d once had for so many things.

“Have you ever seen a tree hit by lightning? The kind that’s been ignited from within?” She follows the pattern on his skin, gaze trailing over his cheekbone, his neck, assuming the places it transverses his chest beneath his shirt, and emerging again on his forearm where it cracks across the top of his hand, fizzling out in his fingertips.

Hermione’s right hand twitches with a phantom memory of fingers she no longer has. At least there’s no pain. 

“That sounds like something that would kill a tree,” he says.

“Not always. Sometimes they grow around it.”

 

 

In her convalescence, Hermione begins taking her meals on the balcony attached to her room. Malfoy’s villa is somewhere in an isolated countryside, surrounded by rolling meadows abundant with wildflowers. It’s a small property when compared to the Manor in Wiltshire, at least from what she’s seen, but it’s painfully lovely.

She imagines the lack of fear and stress and looming war and death has something to do with it. 

It’s a charming country cottage, stately without being a true estate. For how tired she is, for how worn down, she finds it a perfect place to pull herself back together. After so much insecurity in where she will sleep, what she will eat, if she will survive, a safe place with food and comfort and peace is almost an unbelievable thing. She doesn’t believe it most days, resting with a book in the sun or drafting correspondence to Ron back home.

Ron, who is a hero now, riddled with his own guilt about the war.

I don’t deserve it, he writes. I didn’t even know the snake was dead. I had no idea about the wand. I forgot every single strategy I’d made the second I saw you on the ground. I was reckless and I got lucky. That’s it. They’re offering me jobs. Money. People want to meet me, have me endorse things. 

He doesn’t seem to believe her when Hermione writes back telling him those things aren’t mutually exclusive with his bravery, with the fact that he’d finished what Harry started. Ron deflects, telling her she’s a war hero too. She doesn’t feel it. She’s capable of offering Ron the support and logic he needs while still succumbing to her own insecurities. Never before in her life has she felt so fallabily, simplistically human. 

Besides, she enjoys the quiet in this place with Draco over the idea of fame and interviews and rebuilding efforts. For now, she’s admitting defeat, or at least, a limit. She needs to rest. She needs to heal.

Draco gives her space to do it. Too much, she realizes with a startling, unsettling jolt to the pit of her stomach. She’s grown accustomed to his company, to sharing spaces with him. 

On a quiet afternoon occupied only by the breeze and the rustle of wildflowers and tall grasses, a week after Hermione woke up in this place, she asks Minette to invite Draco to join her for tea.

He doesn’t appear for over an hour. It’s a big house, but nowhere near that big. She wonders how he was stalling, what he did. Or if he’d debated declining all together. But when he does show up, he stands quietly near the small table on the balcony until she insists he sit.

Their tea is a silent affair, though not an uncomfortable one. They watch as the sun sets over the wildflowers, as fireflies spark to life among the tall meadow grasses and scattered drooping willows.

“I feel like I didn’t do enough,” she says as the last blink of daylight slips beneath the horizon. She faces ahead, watching the meadow, but she catches the way Draco’s head turns in her periphery.

“What?”

“We were unconscious when it all ended. I literally missed it. And before that, I was a prisoner. And before that I—I don’t feel like I did enough.” She feels Draco on the cusp of interrupting with a rebuttal. She plows ahead. “And yes, I know I did a lot to hold everyone together when things were dire. And I know that’s…valuable in its own way. And there are other things I’ve done that have been useful but—” she breaks off with a sigh. “I just. I felt helpless, at the end.”

Draco is quiet in a way that occupies much of the balcony. It’s a busy quiet, a loud one. It rings with the unverbalized thoughts in his head. Finally, he turns and refills her tea from the pot between them. He refills his own. He looks to the horizon again.

“You don’t have to do everything alone, you know. Would I prefer it be Ron Weasley who brought down the Dark Lord after all this? No, of course not. The indignity we must all suffer now. But am I glad it didn’t have to be you? Or me? Yes. Very much so. Because now we can be here. Now we’re safe.”

“It’s very peaceful here.” 

Another agonizing stretch of silence passes. And then finally, he agrees. “It is.”

Not long later, he goes back into the house and returns to wherever he goes to spend his time.

When Hermione reaches for her tea, she sees that some of the lightning zipping down her arm has narrowed, cracks beginning to close. 

 

 

Hermione once asked Draco, while in the thick of her own panic, why he didn’t seem affected by the war happening around him, why he seemed so infuriatingly pulled together while Hermione required all her strength not to fall apart.

In an isolated French countryside, safe for the first time in weeks, months, years, that’s when Draco finally crumbles.

She hears it through the walls: shouts and gasps and fits from nightmares that pull both of them from sleep. She ignores them for the first two weeks, clinging desperately to her own sense of safety, to the first time she’s been able to rest, and rest fully, in longer than she cares to remember. When his distress pulls her from sleep, Hermione reminds herself she is safe. Because she has never once considered that she is not safe here, even in a foreign place with Draco Malfoy.

She can leave whenever she wants, should she choose to. Perhaps it’s a surprise to both of them when she chooses not to. She owls with Ron every couple of days, learning of George, saved from a dementor’s kiss; of Padma, allowed to return to Britain; of Justin, finding the medical attention he needs; of Professor McGonnagal, found alive and already back at Hogwarts; of Kingsley, admitted to long term care in St. Mungo’s for his spell exposure; of Neville, memorialized to a crowd of hundreds; of so, so many more. She learns of what else emerges from the ashes of their war via the Daily Prophet every morning.

Hermione acknowledges the guilt involved in not being there, in opting out of the things that come after a war ends. 

And then she lets it go. 

Slowly, she releases her grip on her grief timer, letting it sprawl across every hour of her day. Overwhelming at first, but slowly settling, diluting memory with time, grief with peace.

While she finds progress, Draco deteriorates.

Nearly three weeks into what Hermione has come to think of as her French respite from the world, she finds she can’t take Draco’s night terrors anymore. Not physically, because they are disruptive. Nor emotionally, because they lash at a soft spot behind Hermione’s ribs.

Silver moonlight spills into her room through open balcony doors. Summer, safety, and an insistent elf have convinced her to keep them open.

No rope leads her to his room this time, nor do locks and silencing spells and a fear of the unknown keep her out. A sensation in her chest glows molten instead, leading her. She hears his voice, low and fraught, punctuated with heaves, beyond his door. She knocks softly but enters anyway; she hasn’t come this far to find herself barred from entry.

Draco sits on the edge of his bed. A single lamp on his bedside table diffuses warm light over his room, his form, where he hangs his head over his knees. Minette stands just before him, potion vials, food, and water hovering around her, clearly an offering to help calm him.

He seems entirely disinterested in assistance, torso expanding and contracting dramatically with his heavy breathing as he pleads in a low voice. 

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Minette, I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want—I’m sorry.”

Over and over and over again.

An ache asks that she enter; she chooses to follow it. 

Draco dismisses Minette and shifts into a stern being incapable of eye contact when Hermione sits on the bed beside him. She watches his throat bob with a swallow.

“Please, Hermione.”

“Please what?”

He doesn’t answer.

Slowly, Hermione rests her hand on his forearm, trying to distill comfort from touch. She’s not sure what else she can do.

Draco’s whole form shifts when his eyes land on her missing fingers; he curves into her. She feels the weight of his guilty exhale as he reaches out, his hand finding hers, gentle with her injury even though it no longer hurts. 

“I tried,” he says.

“I know.”

“I don’t know why it’s so bad all of a sudden. Was this what it was like?” He pauses. “Were you afraid to sleep?”

With her other hand, Hermione’s fingers find the hair at the base of his neck. She almost spares a thought for the oddity of her circumstances, offering Draco comfort in the wake of his nightmares. She might have thought them earned at one time, that he deserved suffering. That was a very long time ago indeed.

She doesn’t have room inside her for that kind of anger anymore. Not here. Not for him. Not when a silver rope occupies that space instead.

“It takes time,” is all she says.

His chest stutters, eyes locked on the floor between his feet. “I killed one of them.” His breathing heaves again.

Hermione’s hand slips from his neck to his back, resting between shoulder blades.

“An elf. At the Manor. Minette, she—she won’t tell me who—”

Draco’s confession is a hot rush inside Hermione’s own chest, an eruption of grief and fear. Grief for him. Fear for herself. Not that she’s in danger, but for what it means to be so in this and knowing that no matter the confession, she doesn’t think it will change anything. Not at this point.

She’s barely thought it to herself, but nebulous ideas about choices and choosing have begun solidifying amongst her liquified insides.

Draco continues breathing heavily beneath her hand. Unchecked, he’ll start hyperventilating. This grief, this fear, it’s familiar to Hermione. So is the desire to tend to it, to seduce it from the shadows in one’s mind and lay it to rest.

With surprisingly little effort, she coaxes Draco back beneath his sheets. He goes easily, as if resignation weighs him down as heavily as his guilt. Hermione tightens her soft cotton robe around her middle, fully intending to keep the scant nightclothes she wears beneath them shielded from view, especially in preparation for what she does next.

With Draco’s head against his pillow, eyes locked on his ceiling as his breathing levels out, Hermione walks around to the other side of his bed, lifts the blankets, and crawls in with him.

He stiffens but does not move. Not as she travels the mattress space between them, or as she lines herself up along his left side. She rests her head on his shoulder and her hand on his chest. 

If nothing else, she chooses to help. It’s what she’s done this entire war. That part of her hasn’t ceased to exist just because the fighting is finally done.

That her choice coincides with a warm sensation in the center of her chest is entirely by coincidence.

Chapter Text

Draco

 

In July, Draco takes tea with Hermione nearly every evening. They watch fireflies navigate familiar paths between trees and grasses: a routine back and forth in blinking rhythm. Steadfastly, they do not discuss the war. Not once. Not at all. Not even when a massive Ministry owl swoops down nearing sunset on Harry Potter’s birthday, of all days, delivering Draco’s official pardon in absentia. Those managing the grotesque and bloated administration involved in the end of a war have picked their battles.

In the end, Draco is but a Knut in a wartime economy flooded with Galleons. He committed no murders of consequence, was still underage when involved in the worst of his deeds, and spent a critical, pivotal part of the war in custody or support of those fighting for good. 

Character testimonies from Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger evidently didn’t hurt either. Draco didn’t even know Hermione had sent off a parchment several feet long testifying to his deeds, concluding the good outweighed the bad.

When the sun sets, he and Hermione retire to their separate rooms. He assumes she reads, what else would she do with her time in a place with little in the way of entertainment but a modest library and sprawling grounds?

Draco tries sleeping, but usually fails. 

Despite retiring separately, Hermione regularly ends up in his bed beside him, warm body tentatively pressed to his side, present for his nightmares and insomnia alike. When he wakes with green flashes behind his eyelids, nose stuffed with memories of sulfur, soul cracked wide open, she calms him through his terror with kindness and understanding he does not deserve. 

In another life, he would have hated her for it. He feels weak, small, pathetic. But that life is more distant than the war now, than the place where it was fought. In a new place, a new time, everything is different. Even his instincts. 

Those instincts keep expecting Hermione to leave, and he can’t understand why she hasn’t yet. Every day, he thinks he’ll wake and find her gone, returned to her life, to the fame that awaits her as a war heroine. 

Instead, he gasps awake from fitful sleep to find her setting a timer on her wand, telling him that if he tackles his life in ten minute intervals, he might just make it. The way she sleeps with him is entirely platonic, and somehow it’s the most intimate experience of his life, relying on someone the same way he’d wanted her to rely on him when things were at their worst. 

July slips and slides: restless and wary. But slowly, healing.

In August, the glowing lightning on his skin, hers too, begins to noticeably dim. The cracks are still present, but less obvious without so much light pouring out. He’s not sure if it’s the result of time, like a wound closing up on its own, or if it has something to do with how he thinks Hermione might finally believe him. About all of it. Why else would she stay with him in this place as long as she has? Sharing his bed more often than she uses her own?

She keeps calming him when nightmares creep into the quiet alcoves sleep opens up. And while they lay there, his heartbeat still a painful creature thudding beneath his skin, he gives her the only kindness he has left to offer. He shows her how he holds his wand with his left hand, how he articulates wand movements slightly different than she’s used to. Side by side on a soft bed in a safe place, conjuring little charms beneath the canopy above them, Hermione’s frustrations over her splinched hand have a natural limit. One can only be so frustrated, so annoyed, when one is finally safe.

He sees her frustration and he sees her shoving it away, determined to learn. Brilliant as she is, he suspects competency will come to her in no time.  

Almost too soon, August is gone.

In September, Hermione tells him about her birthday two days after it passed. Draco is so stunned, so annoyed, that he almost doesn’t hear her explanation. 

She’d not wanted to celebrate when so many of her friends wouldn’t have any more of their own. Martyrs have no place in his country home, and he tells her so with a scowl and a rush of heat roasting his breastbone.

That evening, he forgoes pretense and takes her hand when they finish their tea, leading her to his room. They lay side-by-side in his bed, reading independently until he notices her book resting flat against the covers, her eyes closed. 

He puts her book on his nightstand, turns off the lights, and struggles to control his heart rate as he settles into sleep. It requires all his self control not to reach across the bed and touch his fingertips to her spine, not to wrap himself around her and hold her to his chest. 

He can’t easily discern when it happened, just that it did. Hermione Granger has insinuated herself inside his bones, settling within his marrow. A piece of him he can’t carve out, nor does he wish to.

September fades like green leaves rusting over.

In October, the lightning on their skin has almost completely faded. But the pull in Draco’s chest remains. They’ve spent months in this cottage now, idle and isolated and finding quiet, careful routines to pull themselves together. 

Hermione suggests a visit to town, wherever the nearest town is. 

“Why?” is all Draco asks when she makes the suggestion, startled and confused by the strange simplicity in her offer. To spend time with him, and to spend it elsewhere. In the real world where people would see them. Even strangers in a strange place, it feels like such a leap.

“We could give Minette a break. If she refuses to be paid or freed, at least she could have an evening off. And…we could try being around people again?”

Her voice lilts with her question. He’s not sure if it’s because she’s asking him, asking herself, or setting up an opening for them both to decide they’d rather not. 

But there’s something almost hopeful in her expression, in the rounded way her brows lift, eyes widening. Inexplicably, Draco wants to nurture that look; he needs to see more of it. So he agrees, readily and easily.

Which is how he finds himself in a small Muggle town, the nearest civilization to his family’s property. It’s a quaint place, slow-paced. Exactly what he imagines they both need after months of self-imposed isolation, and before that, an unrelenting tide.

“Do you have any Muggle money?” Hermione asks.

“I had Minette convert some.”

And that’s all it takes; they share a quiet meal at a Muggle restaurant in a small French town and it’s the most peaceful Draco has ever felt. 

They sit outside, beneath something Hermione insists isn’t magic. “Just a heater,” she calls it. It’s a small tower of fire that douses their table with orange warmth. In the right balance of light and shadow, Draco can almost see the faded lightning cracking across Hermione’s face. He wonders if she sees his too.

When they return to his family’s property, Hermione hugs him unexpectedly. Right at the front door, before they’ve even stepped foot inside. They’re hovering at a threshold.

“Thank you,” she says, arms tight around his torso. “I’m so tired of pretending.”

That word. 

They’d pretended once before and it had been magnificent.

Draco returns the hug, letting his arms encircle her. “Pretending?” He hadn’t realized they were. Not now.

“It’s changed,” she says as she unclasps her hands, pulling away to look up at him. “How we pretend. Or, at least, how I’ve been pretending.”

He pulls her inside, steadies his breath, and dares to ask a question. “How have you been pretending?”

“Like it doesn’t feel right just being here. Being with you. It does and I know I should care more about the magic and what it’s done to my choices but—you’ve been—these last few months—” She pauses, swallows. “Is this what it could be like? If it was real? Peace and quiet and reading? Meals in cute little towns? Time and space to breathe?”

“If that’s what you want.”

“What if I decided I wanted to go back home? Reform the Ministry? Rebuild our community?”

“I have a lot of money to fund that.”

“If I wanted to go to elsewhere? Get a mastery?”

“I think you’d need your NEWTs first.”

“Back to Hogwarts first then.”

Draco’s heartbeat stutters. “I’d have to wait for you in that case. I could see what’s salvageable of the Manor in the meantime.” Returning to Hogwarts isn’t an option. Just the thought of it has his stomach tensing.

“And what if I wanted to stay here? Forever? Live in this little house? Sometimes invite my friends to visit, sometimes go to town. But for the most part, stay here.”

“After everything, I’d be very happy to do just that.”

“And if I decided in five years, or ten, that I was done resting? That I was ready to fight again?”

“For what?”

Her hand finds her chest, fingers digging into her skin. “I don’t know. I don’t know anything right now.”

Cautiously, Draco lifts his hand to hers, stilling the scrape against her sternum. “I’ve told you already. I chose. I have very few ambitions of my own, excepting for choice, for the ability to choose things for myself. And I’ve done that.” Draco can barely breathe through the way his pulse thunders.  

“And what if I wanted to research your family’s magic? Unravel it? Unburden all future generations of Malfoys from it? This is the perfect setting, isn’t it? Where it all began?”

Draco’s answer is slow. “It’s not—entirely a curse.”

“It’s not entirely a blessing either.”

His first thought upon waking in St. Mungo’s after being struck by a killing curse had been of the cord; it felt like lightning sparking in his chest, charring him. It ached for hours until it settled, but he still felt so immeasurably grateful for its presence. A reminder that Hermione was alive somewhere, even if they wouldn’t let him see her. 

He watches her, pinned by the blaze behind her eyes. Just out of reach, he senses a train of thought he’s only now noticed. Her lips part to say something else, something brilliant or devastating or both, he’s sure.

“You said I’d have to choose it. If I wanted it. This.” She leaves out you. 

“I did.”

“I’d like the opportunity to do so entirely of my own volition.”

His nod is slow, disbelieving. She still seems several steps ahead of him in this conversation they’re having. Doubt creeps in. But what if she doesn’t choose him? After all this? 

Tinder catches, an unexpected spark that feels a bit like long lost pride: but what if she does? He should like to earn that on his own merit, be the kind of person she chooses when she has every choice in the world. “I—would help you. If that’s what you wanted.”

She releases a tight breath, gusting like relief. “We’re so young, Draco. Even after all this. We’re still so young.”

“Some of us more so than others.”

She cracks a smile and reaches out, gliding her fingers through his too-long hair, brushing it away from his face. His skin erupts in pleasant shivers, tingling under her touch. There are some benefits to this magic thrumming between them. 

“In the meantime,” she begins, words a little shaky, “I’m choosing it anyway.”

When Draco blinks, it feels like his entire world dissolves and reforms behind his eyelids, a brief moment of unbeing, caught by an unbelievable thing. 

Her hands touch his chest again and it inspires a mostly involuntary reciprocal movement on his part, hands winding around her waist. Disbelief collides with hope in a rush beneath his skin. Once upon a time, he could have never imagined being here, wanting this. 

His fingers flex against her waist, gathering soft fabric in his grip. With a shuddering breath, she leans into his touch, and with a single step, she’s pressed against the foyer wall, drenched in saffron light cast by nearby sconces.

For the sake of knowing, and knowing without doubt, he asks one followup question before he lets himself go. “What are you choosing, exactly?” 

“You. This.”

She tilts her chin up.

He leans down.

And for the first time in his life, he kisses Hermione Granger.

The bond sings, cord unravelling from inside his chest, winding around them. He could melt, tasting sweet dessert wine on her lips. It begins as a soft, tentative thing, this kiss. Entirely unbelievable. Astonishing in how he’s never, ever kissed her before this moment. He can’t imagine going another day of his life without it ever again. A moment and he’s an addict. Give him minutes and he’ll fight another war for her. Hours and and he’ll bend magicks good and evil. 

One kiss and he completely understands his family’s ancient magic. He would do almost anything to keep this. But he would do more to keep her.

Slow and sweet turns fast, frantic when Hermione hooks her arms around his shoulders. When Draco’s hands tighten around her waist, pulling her flush against him. The undertow is just there, he sees it. Surely she must too. They wade in together, and it takes them under.

It’s as if all the times before didn’t count, or never happened, or weren’t enough. There’s no fear of being alone, no pretending. This is real, undeniable want that has them stumbling through the cottage, up to Draco’s room that has become hers too because he cannot remember a night in the last three months she hasn’t slept there with him.

Hermione’s blouse lands somewhere on the floor. Draco’s shirt, too. She steps out of her skirt. He pauses his imperative to taste every inch of skin between her jaw and décolletage when her hands find his belt.

“If we,” he starts. He can barely believe he’s about to say this, to potentially pause these beautiful-amazing-wonderful things happening to him. “If we do this—the bond. It might…I’m not sure, but—”

“It’s okay,” she says. “I know. And I’m okay with it.”

He almost staggers back.

He almost cries, a high sting in the back of his sinuses, burning in his eye sockets.

She’d said nearly as much at the threshold to the cottage, but it doesn’t hit him until right then. She’s really chosen. She’s willing to be…something to him, with him. Something huge. 

So maybe there had been a tiny fear of being alone, but she’s squashed that now. He pulls her hands from his trousers and leads her to their bed.

“I’d like to try something,” he says, backing them until her legs hit the edge of the mattress. “I received a lesson once.” He trails his fingers down her ribs, lower, hooking the edge of her knickers. “I’d like to put it to practice. Try a few ideas of my own.”

He nearly loses himself in the lust-darkened look she gives him as he slides her knickers down. His fingers glide along her thighs, skimming her calves, all the way down, and she trembles. He can hear her breathing, watching her chest rise and fall. He guides her to sink onto the edge of the bed as he sinks too, onto his knees.

His first kiss is to her hip bone.

His second, the inside of her thigh as he gently encourages her legs apart.

His third is exactly where he’d watched her fingers all that time ago, pretending in a safe place that they weren’t who they are. He watches her face, watches her struggle not to squirm, leaning back on her elbows, barely propped up.

He moves his tongue to match the tempo her fingers taught him. Slowly, it builds. It’s a head rush, wrapped in nerves and lust. He’s a mess, covered in her, and he doesn’t care. He tries something else, pressing a finger inside her when she starts to pant. He can’t relent. His jaw is sore. But she’s dripping and his and he wants to show her what he has to offer. His tongue might cramp. But he refuses, absolutely refuses, to fail at this. Not again. 

She makes a strangled sound, one hand lifting from the blankets, then falling again. Like she doesn’t know what to do with it, what to do with herself. It’s the best thing he’s ever seen: Hermione Granger stripped of control, and trusting him to see her through it. 

Her chin tilts back, chest expanding with a huge breath. Then, her elbows buckle beneath her and her head hits the mattress.

Her hips lift and he follows. Chasing the way she’s clenching around his fingers, two inside her now. He almost doesn’t believe it when she comes, body taut, cunt pulsing. 

She makes a new sound. He’d been expecting the quiet, whimpered noises he’s been fantasizing about for too long. The ones he learned in a dark tent months ago. The ones he revisits regularly with his hand fisting his cock, desperate for her. But this sound is different. She’s not holding back. It’s still a whimper, but with her full voice, wrung out of her with the remainder of the oxygen in her lungs.

He’s so grateful he can rest his tongue that he just lays there, head against her thigh as he watches her breathe.

When she comes back down, she sits up, looks at him, and unhooks her bra.

He barely has time to marvel at her tits before she’s sliding off the bed and unbuttoning his trousers. 

“I have things I want to try too,” she says. And somehow, it’s Draco sitting on the bed this time and Hermione on her knees. His cock aches, already so hard and heavy, having barely survived the proximal pleasure of pleasing her, that he almost bats her away the moment she touches him.

But he indulges, just for a moment. Because he’s greedy and she’s beautiful and he wants to be touched. When he divines her more devious intentions, licking her lips as she leans closer, he knows he can’t be too greedy. He has other things he wants to do with her and he’s already primed and on the edge, ready to fall.

“Hermione,” he says, threading his fingers in her hair, gentle pressure holding her away.

It’s a beautiful sight, the way she pauses and looks up at him, all deep brown eyes and pretty pink lips, inches from his cock. He shoves down an instinct towards embarrassment. They’re long past that. 

“I won’t…last. If you—and I’d really like to—”

“I know.”

He blinks. 

She smiles, and it's a wicked thing. She skims a hand up his thigh and wraps it around his cock. She pumps him slowly, eyes locked to his, and it’s a miracle he doesn’t lose it then and there. She rolls her lips between her teeth, as if she’s gathering courage to say whatever she plans to say next.

She could say any number of things and as long as she keeps her hands on him, he won’t care in the slightest.

She drops eye contact. “If you finish once—then when we—” she breaks off, sucks in a breath. “You’ll last longer.”

He both does and does not want to know how she knows that. Not that he cares. Blood rushes behind his eardrums, a dull roar. Even more so, it rushes south. He’s so hard it hurts. His bollocks are beginning to ache.

“Ok,” is all he manages. Because he thinks she’s offering to suck him off and then have sex with him. He literally cannot think of a more wonderful series of events. He can’t think much of anything. He flexes his fingers in her hair.

“Ok?” she asks.

She leans forward when he nods and the moment her lips touch his cock, he’s done for. A groan bursts from him, entirely against his will in the way it shoves through his chest, past his heart, up his throat, and out his mouth. 

It only encourages her more, and suddenly she’s hollowing her cheeks and sucking him down and the inside her mouth feels like nothing he knows how to process. Bury him here; it’s a beautiful way to die.

All he knows are her curls beneath his fingers and his heart thudding inside his chest. She pulls back, bobs again, does something delightful and debilitating with her tongue and he very nearly can’t stand it. His breath and his thoughts and his entire being feel trapped inside his throat. He manages a harsh, “Hermione,” in warning. It’s all he has.

She doesn’t stop, just blinks her gaze up to him, holding his stare before she moans around his cock and it pushes the life right out of him. He tenses, heat flooding him, and comes. 

He will never, for the rest of his life, forget the sight of Hermione Granger determined to take it all, only pulling herself from his cock once she’s swallowed everything. 

Rational thought is a slippery thing, sliding through holes in his cognition made by piercing pleasure, by a knife named relief.

“Come here,” he rasps, guiding her with the pressure of his hand still cradling her skull, tangled in her curls. He’ll happily get lost in them, never to emerge. When she stands, he pulls her into his lap, kissing her greedily, slanting his mouth against hers as if it’s his only method to find air, to sustain his soul. 

Never mind that her mouth tastes like him, that he must taste like her; he wants nothing but her lips and her tongue and her gasps. Her chest presses to his and it ignites a fire beneath his skin.

Her hands find his hair.

His find her arse. 

He wants to consume her. 

Be consumed.

Lose himself with her.

When he breaks from her lips and kisses down her jaw instead, she grinds her hips against his. It sparks warm. Hot desire and a straight shot to renewed arousal. 

“Please,” she whispers, a nearly inaudible gust of breath when he laves at the juncture beneath her ear, right where her jaw hinges as it drops open. In pleasure. Pleasure he’s giving her.

He follows when she eventually repositions them, pulling him to lay more properly in the bed. It’s his pillow she rests her head on, hair fanning out around her. It’s his blankets they slip beneath. 

Her skin slides against his as he settles himself atop her, rapidly hardening as they kiss again, as she writhes. 

A blur follows: her hands on him, the intensity of skin, the relaxation of falling into a bed.

And the unbelievable bliss of sinking into her again. 

Otherworldly.

Entirely unreal. 

He thrusts, cradling her face, breathing in the way she smells like fresh soap, like sweat, like smoke from the fires stoked between them. 

Chest to chest, she clings to him. He breaks a hand away to thread it between them, desperate to please her. To do this, and do it right. 

Perhaps because she’s already finished once, or because he has, or because they’re not pretending anymore, not in any way at all, her whole body tightens when she sucks in a breath, eyes screwed shut. 

Her orgasm ripples through her, around him, while she clutches his shoulders, panting and whimpering. It’s all the permission he needs to let himself fall too, holding her tight to his chest. 

They burst golden, silver, stunning. 

And when it’s over, when Draco catches his breath in the aftermath of what they’ve done, the cord settles once again inside his chest. Distant, happy. 

He can’t let her go, not yet. So he keeps holding on, pressing his lips to her skin: shoulder, jaw, brow. 

In all this time, theirs has never been a romance.

But maybe, given a choice, it could be.