The headache presses against the edges of her skull, drumming itself into the space behind her eyes and making the transition of thought between brain and mouth far more difficult than it should be. As a jolt rattles the train carriage she sucks in a breath, steadying herself with a hand atop one of the train’s plush seats.
The prefects she is currently attempting to address give her a mix of concerned and quizzical looks, and she plasters on a smile to try and dispel some of their unease. It is the beginning of a new semester, and Hermione can sense the anxiety that is beginning to thicken the air.
Forcing her way through her own feelings of apprehension, she straightens her spine, unrolls the small bit of parchment that holds her hastily-jotted notes, and begins.
“Hello, everyone. It’s wonderful to see you all again, old faces and new.” She smiles warmly at the baby-faced fifth years gathered up front, looking up at her with wide eyes, as if she were their mother and they want nothing more than to hide behind her skirts.
“Our job is more important than ever this year. After the— ” and Hermione pauses, struggling to find a word which encapsulates the particular horrors of the battles that had taken place over the past four months, of the people, families, lost, of the stark emptiness of the train as she had walked through it, of the dearth of prefects, which she could count on two hands. She doesn’t think there is a word strong enough, or a word horrible enough.
“After the…events of this past summer, the younger years will need us more than ever. We are no longer here to merely patrol the halls, to pass out detentions, to see that house rivalries are kept in place by uselessly taking points.”
She eyes them all, Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw.
“War keeps no points, bestows no glittering cup on those who have won. For some of you, that’s a reality you’ve already been faced with. For others, I hope you never have to confront it.”
She looks up at the red eyes of those who had lost siblings, parents, their families blown to pieces with the wave of a wand and a two second flash of light.
“But I expect you to be there for each other, as well. If this war has taught us anything, it is that you cannot go through it alone.”
Hermione is silent for a moment, hoping to Merlin that the words she has fretted over will sink in, knowing that they might, will probably, not.
Deciding that she has left them sat long enough she nods to Harry, the golden weight of the Head Boy badge weighing down the front of his jumper. She laughs, silently, knowing that he won’t change into his proper robes until the train pulls into the station.
After he’s passed out all of the timetables for rounds and explained the duties they would be expected to perform in ushering the first years back to their dorms after the feast, Harry claps his hands together, a “Now leave!” leaving him as a booming laugh. The prefects chuckle, tension dispelled, and Hermione again marvels at the power Harry seems to command over groups of people, effortlessly easy and confident.
Looking back at her with a boyish grin tugging at his lips, he quirks an eyebrow at her expression.
Hermione nods, meaning it. She is tired, yes, and stressed, and her headache still seems to be trying to snap all of the synapses in her brain one by one, but she is alright.
She pokes him in the chest, a grin of her own spreading across her face. “When were you planning to get changed, Head Boy?”
The train whistles overhead, signaling that they are about to pull up to the platform, and Harry laughs.
“Guess that’s my cue,” he throws over his shoulder as he saunters out, and Hermione can’t suppress a slight shake of the head and a smile at the thought of his robes, wrinkled and hastily thrown on.
The Great Hall is as lively and festive as Hermione ever remembered it being, excited voices chattering away and moments of sharp laughter puncturing the rumbling peacefulness. A peachy-pink sunset graces the clouds above them, the candles floating just below creating a warm, comforting atmosphere as the light passes itself over soft faces and willing smiles, so ready to put the past behind them.
McGonagall graces the ornate chair in the center of the long staff table, a quiet glint in her eye as she passes her gaze over the students that fill the room. Her appointment as Headmistress was a welcome one; after Dumbledore’s death the school had needed someone familiar, someone they could trust, to lead them forward.
Looking around the rest of the hall, Hermione is pleased to note the number of students who had returned for the semester. It seems that McGonagall’s strength and resilience had proven enough for parents, many of whom had had their worst nightmares realized before their eyes. This was improvement, though, and Hermione feels her heart swell at the sight of the laughing faces which hadn’t had anything to laugh at for so long.
The only house which seemed to be lacking was, ironically, sadly, Slytherin. It was, in a strange way, some of these families which had been ripped apart most of all. There was equal danger at school and at home; they faced either the stark, graphic depiction of the reality of the Dark Lord’s rule, or were left to the devices of rival schoolmates who were experts in the art of piercing the soft underbelly that Slytherins tried so hard to keep hidden.
The faces under a bright emerald banner are listless and dull; they find nothing about the occasion to smile about.
As she scans the rows of pallid faces, she come across one which stops the breath in her chest, lungs expanding against the resistance to push painfully against her ribcage. The hair is the same, white-blond and falling into his face in the style he had begun wearing it the last time she had seen him. His face, too, is unchanged: angular and with a small, aristocratic nose which she remembered him loving to tilt in the air. All of it is the same, and she feels a stab of anger at him for being so unchanged by this war which had managed to put its defining mark on everyone else. Although, she thinks to herself wryly, she has yet to see his left forearm. Perhaps the snake had make the biggest commitment of all, had let himself be defined for life by a madman who cares only for himself. Hermione feels none of the sympathy she might have expected of her former self at the sight of a tic which twists one side of his mouth into a familiar half-sneer, and she wants nothing more than to smack it off of his pointy face.
Slowly, his spine straightens, hands coming to rest in a clench on the edges of the dark table, head moving almost imperceptibly towards her, until he has one eye trained on hers. She dares not let herself start nor look away, meeting the harsh silver that is so unlike Luna’s liquid warmth, and a string tugs her stomach to the floor of her abdomen.
The sight of the massive plates of food in front of her send Hermione’s stomach rolling, and she feels her breath tightening in her lungs as she lowers her head into her hands, images flashing even as she shut her eyes against them.
The headache that has been plaguing her throughout the day all of a sudden seems to grow in intensity, pushing the black that had been hovering at the blurred edges of her mind to the forefront, blocking out everything else and she knows what is coming, she knows, and something that tastes like despair floods her. Her vision is static snow and her mind is a record caught flinching back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, a short-circuit replay screeching between her ears.
She catches Harry’s eye, knows that he can read everything that is happening from the widening of his eyes, the firm set of his jaw.
As she’s dragged away she thinks vaguely that it’s the shout that does it, one hand at her ankle and another on her head, forcing her back into a world she thought she’d left behind. There is smoke all around her, sulfurous and filled with the iron tang of blood and the darker, earthier scent of decay as limbs are blown off around her, sit rotting in puddles of stagnant water mixed with human waste. There is a fire burning in her legs, in her lungs, her wand arm aching and she is sure she can smell the ends of her hair burning.
Luna is supposed to be next to her, at her back, each defending the other. She turns around to look, to meet those mercury eyes flashing at her, the faint tug of a smile on her lips even as she sends a Death Eater crashing to the ground, mask askew, defeated.
But there is a crack behind her, like the lashing of a whip, and suddenly her back is stone and her legs are jelly, and down she goes to the trampled ground beneath her. Her lungs are crushed like a bag of crisps, and she struggles to breathe through the paralysis. She opens her eyes to find silver ones staring back at her, bloodshot and vacant, tears wet in the lashes but held in place by the death that has gripped them there.
Her scream is locked inside her throat, ripping through her, tearing her apart straight down the middle. Vision blurry, spells filled the air with purple, green, yellow bursts of light, the body in front of her becomes a mix of dirty blonde hair streaked with blood, limbs at odd angles and a face fixed in permanent terror.
Arms grip her from behind, tearing her backwards and into them, restraining her already frozen body. Hermione feels another scream work its way up her throat, only to be stopped again by the clench of her teeth, the furious work of her tongue to shove it back down, to focus and fight against the person pulling her back and away, away from Luna, she can’t leave her, lying there, tongue hanging from the limp mouth and it is her fault it is her fault, Luna is dead, and so she fights to swing leaden feet hard into anonymous shins, to bite the hand that comes up to muffle the sounds that her willpower fail to block.
A shout to her ear, the hands moving down from her upper arms to wrap around her abdomen, still keeping her arms close to her side, pulling her even tighter into them. Words whispered into her ear, desperately, brokenly, pleadingly.
“Hermione? Hermione, come back to me please, please, you’re safe, I’m holding you, I’ve got you, it’s Harry, you’re not there anymore Hermione, open your eyes, look— ”
His voice breaks on the last word, and then he seems to have none left, only soft shushing sounds pressed into the skin of her ear, firm arms wrapped around her, rocking her back and forth against him. She feels his chest shaking beneath her back.
Concentrating on his voice, the smoke begins to lift from around her, the screams of the fallen and the wounded and the dying fading, the pain still beating fresh and raw everywhere she moves, phantom pains that reminded her over and over again of the moment she had been split in two.
Reality swims in front of her as she opens bleary eyes to a soft darkness, guesses that they are in an alcove of some sort as she looks down to see familiar masculine hands, one marred with the words I must not tell lies.
She tugs her hands free from their restraint at her side, grumbling “I’m back,” when Harry tries to keep them there. He relocates them to her shoulder blades.
She wipes shaking hands across her face, pulls them away wet with tears and blood from when she’d bitten down on her lip. Moving her tongue gingerly inside of her mouth, she gathers she’s bitten that too, has only broken one molar this time.
“How much did they see?” she asks, not meeting his eyes.
“Not much,” Harry replies, still absently running a hand up and down her arm. “I tried to get you out of there as quickly as I could, but it—it seemed like a…bad one.”
Hermione knows that he is looking at her, can feel his gaze pressing on her and sees the anxious tilt of his head out of the corner of her eye.
“You told me they were getting better, Hermione.” And she can tell he is trying to keep the accusation, the hurt, out of his voice.
“They were,” she answers, closing her eyes as she tries to quell the flurry of thoughts that has begun buzzing inside of her head, her consciousness a net they are constantly beating against.
“Are you ready to be back? No one expected you to be ready, Hermione, not so soon—after.”
“I don’t know,” she answers truthfully. “But I can’t—I can’t just sit, wandering around the Order or the Burrow or— ” Hermione breaks off as she realizes that those are her only two options, two towering houses soaked in memories of war, of loss and heartbreak and not much else. Constant reminders of her place in that war, of her causes and her effects, of the way she touches people’s lives and they go away, and she is left forever waiting for their touch in return.
She sits in silence for a moment, and Harry seems to realize that she isn’t going to say anything more.
“Okay,” he says forcefully, in the voice that means he is ready to save the world, to take on its problems and make them his. She wonders how long it will take before the weight of them finally takes him down, snaps his back and leaves him just as broken as the rest of them.
“Okay, but you have to tell me when it starts to get bad again. You said you can sometimes tell when you’re about to get one? You have headaches.”
Hermione nods against his chest.
“Alright. You have a headache, you run and get me.” He presses a kiss to her forehead, ignoring the sweat that has gathered there. “You run as fast as you can, or you find yourself someplace safe, and quiet, and you send for me, and I’ll come get you.”
Almost as an afterthought tears begin to drip from her eyes, landing on Harry’s thumb even as he moves to brush them away. “No matter what, I’ll get you.”
It is a long time before either of them moves from that cool patch of marble floor, holding on to each other quietly and realizing that perhaps war is not the hardest thing, but what comes after it.
During the first meeting of the grief support group that she and Harry have set up, as she stands in front of her folding chair and looks out at the faces before her (too many) she loses the words that have been running through her mind since last night.
There are rows and rows of people stretched in front of her, all the way back to the biscuits and lemonade she’d set out earlier along hastily pulled together tables.
Harry, beside her, tugs on the sleeve of her jumper, and Hermione clears her throat.
“None of us are here simply for ourselves tonight. We are here to help each other, to listen to each other’s stories and share in each other’s grief. The war was difficult before the summer, and the summer was unbearable. But we weathered it, because we didn’t have a choice, and because we have to live for those who chose to stand next to us in battle.”
She takes a breath, tries to hide it when it shakes along with her hands.
“So…you already know everything there is to know about Harry and me from those brilliant Daily Prophet articles,” this invites a chuckle from the crowd, and Hermione lets herself smile, lets the breath in her chest even out, “so who’s willing to share first?”
There is a certain quiet that falls over the room, the quiet that always comes when volunteers are called for, and as Neville stands (God thank him) Hermione catches a shock of blond hair caught between raspberry tarts and lemon squares and thinks that she has never felt a fury burn through her faster than it does in that instant.
She sits heavily back in her seat, fingers digging painfully into the flesh of her thighs, and watches his pale eyes wander over the group seated before him, awaiting his silent derision.
She hopes that Harry doesn’t notice, because it really wouldn’t do to end their first meeting in a homicide.
Why is he here? Does he get off on it, knowing that he, his side, his Dark Lord, caused these peoples’ pain? Knowing that he probably saw some of their fathers, mothers, siblings dead in front of him?
The rest of the meeting swirls around her in a blur of red-tinged fury, and she doesn’t even notice that the number of people willing to share their stories has begun to dwindle until the scrape of Harry’s chair sharpens things into focus and there is a blond head bobbing quickly along the edge of her horizon.
Oh, no, he doesn’t.
She weaves her way through the throng of people gathering chairs and belongings and slips out into the hallway empty but for one lone, tall figure hurrying down the corridor.
“Malfoy!” she shouts, and there is no acknowledgement but the quickening of his feet.
Knowing the Weasley twins has its fair share of benefits, but perhaps the one that she appreciates most in this moment is her knowledge of nearly all the secret passages in Hogwarts, including the one that will put her in front of Malfoy, if she hurries.
Wiping away the tear of a nearby statue with her wand, Hermione hunches down into the passageway, ignoring the suffocating feeling of tight and dark and not enough air as she moves her way along, trailing her fingers along the stone walls and waiting for the fork in the path.
Moving to the left, she holds her breath, cursing the beating of her heart as she tries to listen to what should be, at any moment, Malfoy’s approaching footsteps.
When he is just in front of her she moves out from behind the tapestry, grabs his arm, and uses his surprise to shove him towards the wall, wand at his neck.
“The fuck—Granger?” His shock sets a smirk on her face, a sense of satisfaction in her gut.
“What do you think you were doing at that meeting, Malfoy?” She is almost surprised to hear that her voice is a snarl.
“It’s a grief support meeting. I’m in grief.”
“You’re not in grief; you’re the cause of it.”
He lays a palm over his heart with his free hand. “You wound me, Granger.”
He seems to be distracted by something then, expression changing as he looks over her shoulder. “No doubt you find this hilarious, but do attempt to restrain yourself.”
Wary, Hermione turns her head to look back, expecting to see one of Malfoy’s cronies doubled over in laughter, ready to hex her as soon as they catch their breath.
Instead, she sees nothing of the sort, only dust filtered softly through the warm September sunlight and empty classrooms.
Wand still at his neck she turns to face Malfoy, who is rolling his eyes and muttering, “Yes, a riot, I’m sure.”
Narrowing her eyes, she says, “I’m not sure what you’re playing at, Malfoy, but I’d better not see you at next week’s meeting.”
Something changes in his eyes, and though she doesn’t trust him as far as she can throw him she removes her wand from his trachea when he puts his hands up in the universal “I surrender” position.
As he moves past her to continue on down the hallway he says to himself: “Well, I’m glad someone found that entertaining.”
Hermione watches him leave feeling confused, angry, and with rather a bad feeling in her gut.
Malfoy is not at the next meeting and Hermione cries when Seamus does, because he hasn’t seen Dean in months, doesn’t know if he’ll ever see him again.
Hermione thought that the meetings would get easier, that the tight knot in her stomach whenever she stepped into the room, saw the rows of chairs and thought about the stories that would come from the bodies standing in front of them, would ease. Instead
the knot seems to be tightening, squeezing bile up into her throat and she’s counting down the days until she is sick in front of the whole group.
There is so much death, so much loss in all of their stories that Hermione is beginning to wonder whether this is really helping anyone.
Harry tries to assure her that it is, on those nights when her face is buried in her knees and his hand is strong on her back, platitudes so sugary sweet they only intensify the ache in her stomach.
“They just need time, Hermione. Grief isn’t pretty, you know that. Give it a few months, and they’ll start to remember the good times again, and they’ll be crying because they’re laughing.”
Somewhere deep inside Hermione doesn’t believe him, thinks that is will be more, much more, than a few months before these people will be okay again, but she lets the shallow part of herself bathe in it, bask, because in some things the war had made her terribly selfish.
She almost can’t believe her eyes when she sees him saunter into this week’s meeting, draping himself across a chair with more grace than the cheap folding thing deserved, and twiddle his thumbs.
He seems to be muttering to himself, throwing occasional glances to his right as though something other than a blank wall was sat next to him.
His face twitches, a particularly bad one, and the corner of his mouth stays suspended in a smirk even as he brings his hand to his face, tries to massage the muscle to bring it back down.
Malfoy suddenly seems to sense her watching him; his eyes snap to hers and she forces herself not to look away. This is her territory, her friends, her grief, and she will not let him have that.
And so Hermione settles herself back in her chair and lets herself cry three times.
Malfoy doesn’t move after the meeting is over this time, stays seated in his chair as people begin to shuffle around him, begin to notice him and make sounds of protest: sharp whispers to neighbors, stinging glances, swift kicks to the legs of his chair which leave him almost three feet from where he began the meeting by the time everyone has cleared the room.
It is quiet between the two of them, and Hermione picks up her chair, brings it over and places it next to his.
She thinks that she is too tired to be angry anymore, at least for now. The anger has been pushed out and replaced by sadness, but more than sadness the hopelessness that seems to surround her like a mist. Ever-present, she can feel it on her skin, taste it on her tongue, she can’t see her way out of it and she wonders if she will go mad with the feeling of it.
So Hermione doesn’t say anything as she sits next to Draco Malfoy, letting the mist engulf them both.
He is the first to break the silence. “You said I couldn’t come to the next week’s meeting. I didn’t.”
Hermione thinks that she has never heard anything more Slytherin in her life. His face twitches again, and she sees him grimace at the spasm. She turns fully to look at him, traces the tense line of his jaw up to where the muscle is standing out in sharp relief against his temple, the edges of his lip and nose and eye and pulled up with it, held against his will.
“Bad day,” he supplies when he notices her staring, turning his face so that the side of his mouth with the twitch is facing away from her. “There are a lot of bad days.”
The muscle finally relents, and as his face returns to normal she realizes just how much he’s aged since she had last seen him. Granted, there had never really been a time before when she’d had the chance to study his face this closely, but she thinks that now that she knows, she could spot it even from afar.
The lines on his forehead are deep, and there is a newly-formed ridge between his brows. The skin beneath his eyes is thin and a deep bruise-blue, the rest of his skin ashen, the green network of his veins visible.
His forearms are covered by the heavy black of his school robes, and Hermione wonders if beneath all of that cloth there lays a snake, branded onto skin and soul.
When Malfoy speaks again his voice startles her, draws her eyes back up to his, downcast and hooded. “I’ve made mistakes, Granger. Mistakes that put whispers in my head, follow me around, keep me awake at night.”
He closes his eyes as another spasm wracks his face.
“I’m tired,” he whispers.
He says nothing after this, and neither does Hermione. So they sit in stoic silence until the light outside the windows turns into a hazy twilight and it becomes hard to see in the dim room.
Feet slide to standing, chair legs scrape, and the room is left with the soft closing of a door.
Hermione is nearly back to the Gryffindor common room when she realizes that she hadn’t said a single word the entire exchange.
After that, Hermione doesn’t say anything to Malfoy about coming to the support meetings.
What she does is drag her chair up next to his, and listen to the things he doesn’t dare tell to a group of his enemies.
“My father isn’t himself anymore. He isn’t angry, he isn’t scared, he isn’t outraged…he isn’t anything. I lay awake some nights and listen to him scream, hear them, and feel them like they planted themselves inside of my skull, itched their way underneath my skin.”
That day she dares to lay a hand on his back when the spasm is so bad that he turns completely away from her, body tight.
She feels his breath under her palm. “I wonder when that will be me.”
Hermione doesn’t think anything of her and Malfoy’s tentative friendship until one Wednesday morning in December. She is eating breakfast in the Great Hall, crisp buttered toast and orange juice.
He runs a hand through his hair, he needs it cut, keeping his eyes down as he treads wearily to the Slytherin table. He never sits with anyone, she knows. Knows that he takes two sausages, one egg, one muffin, coffee black, paper a day late because Voldemort
has increased the required contributions of members and they can only afford one subscription now.
She’s looking at him, wondering why she knows his breakfast order and how he takes his coffee when he looks up, and she’s too frozen to glance away, pretend as though he’d just been in her line of sight.
He’s looking at her as though he can’t comprehend her, eyebrows pushed together and mouth in a pout, so she lifts up the corner of her mouth, raises an eyebrow.
It’s a second before he smiles back but he does, a line still between his forehead as though he hasn’t done it in a while and isn’t sure he’s doing it right.
Hermione’s heart flips right over, somersaults against her ribs, and she puts a hand against it to keep it in her chest.
When she looks back up, Malfoy is still smiling into his coffee.
It happens again as she’s roaming the halls on her nightly rounds, the only sound the loud reverberation of her footsteps against cold stone.
It happens when she realizes that she won’t see Draco until after the winder holiday, when meetings resume.
It happens when she realizes she said Draco, not Malfoy.
A flutter, in her stomach, the butterflies pushing themselves into her veins until she is humming all over, heart too tight not enough space around her chest and not enough room in her brain for all of these thoughts.
Suddenly there is a sound other than her footsteps in the hall, the faint echoes of a body moving, trying to be quiet.
The torchlight throws dancing shadows against walls and floors, and Hermione moves carefully to the end of the corridor as the sound gets louder.
As she reaches the end, looking around the corner, Hermione catches sight of Draco (Draco, in her head now, always) pacing back and forth, back and forth, up the long length of space.
“Just because you don’t like her doesn’t mean—dammit Agatha!”
She flinches when he punches a fist against the wall, hears the grinding of his knuckles against unforgiving stone.
“Why don’t you leave me alone?” He drops his hand, leaving a smear of blood on the wall.
Hermione shifts her eyes across the space, looking for the source of Draco’s frustration. Confusion twists uncomfortably in her gut when she sees no one, Draco still talking as he slides down to sit against the wall.
“You’re not—Iknow you’re not there, so why can’t you just—” his voice breaks, a hand comes up to cover his face. “I know.”
A hitched breath, and then tears, running down cheeks, along the veins in his hands, dripping from the family crest that encircles his finger.
The light vanishes faster and faster as the days slip into the deep darkness of winter, but their conversations carry on, lit by a wand or two, or sometimes none at all when harsh words are too much for harsh light.
Most of their conversations happen in the dark now.
And it’s a night such as this when Hermione brings up what she saw in the hallway. He’s silent for a long time, his breathing rapid and anxious in the tense silence between them, before he gives a tight laugh, injects an air of nonchalance into his words that
must have burned on the way up.
“Who else would I talk to, Granger? That’s what I have you for.”
He shifts, the whites of his eyes catching the moonlight that splashes its way into the room when they lose track of time.
“That’s what I need you for.”
A hand against her cheek, a scrape of chair against floor.
A feeling that she has been trapped into something she doesn’t quite know how to handle.
When he kisses her after the meeting one night, no light, no sound, just warm breath against hers and a brush of lips, she doesn’t think.
She slides shaking hands into soft strands, down a strong neck, and doesn’t think for the rest of the night.
Hermione finds Draco in the hallway five more times.
There are always the hushed, beaten-down tones of his arguments with Agatha, a piece of Draco that becomes bloody, and a sense of broken-ness that has Hermione avoiding the area more times than she would like to admit.
It’s windy the night that she follows him to the Astronomy tower after an especially vicious round of sparring with his demons.
Draco is standing in front of her, eyes all pupil, liquid silver, manic. His face contains no expression, but his mouth is moving, over and over again in the same motion, and it’s only as she begins to move towards him, haltingly, that she can make out the whisper falling again and again and again: Push.
Push push push push push
And she can tell that his eyes aren’t seeing her, that he probably doesn’t even know where he is right now. But the prickle of unease that she always gets when he’s like this tilts her head to the side, reminds her of where she stands on this windy night, whispers, pushes the warning through her blood, that maybe he does know where they are.
She’s edging her way towards the curved wall of the tower when he seems to shake himself, come back into himself.
“Draco?” She hesitates, not sure how lucid he is.
“No, Aggie.” He begins to move back and forth across the short space, back and forth back and forth back and forth, hands alternating between clutching at his hair and what looks like pushing something off of his robes. “Get off of me. How many times have I told you? How many times how many times how many times how many times…”
He gets stuck in that, staring at empty space in front of him. Then Draco is grabbing at the air violently, grasping at something and throwing it up against the same wall Hermione is currently frozen against. He doesn’t seem to feel the bones in his hands crush, bruises immediately purpling under the skin and blood running down in streams where the skin has broken.
“No don’t you touch her don’t touch don’t touch you said push I said no push.” Something in Draco’s face relaxes after a moment, calmed by something unknown to Hermione. “No push? Swear to me.” A pause, and then Draco seems to be satisfied because he nods his head.
But just as soon as Hermione thinks that her heart might begin to beat once again, Draco falls to the ground, a dull smack against the unforgiving stone that has her rushing to him, legs wobbling beneath her. She touches his shoulder when she reaches him, cups a hand to his cheek to turn it towards her.
There is a trickle of blood running down his forehead, dipping into his eye and out again, as though he’s crying blood. There is a Cheshire-cat grin on his face, a glint in his eye. When he begins to speak, she almost screams.
“So nice to finally meet you, Hermione, such a wait I’ve had.” His voice is high and lilting, sometimes getting stuck like glass in Draco’s true, deeper tone.
“He said you were clever, but I’m beginning to think that I was right. Not much there at all.” The smirk twisting at his lips is twisting into her heart, her gut; all of the air has been knocked out of her lungs, all of the thoughts out of her brain. “To think that I’d been there all along, and you had no idea.”
“I…I had a clue,” Hermione rasps, not sure whether talking will help or hinder. “I knew you were there sometimes, with him.”
Draco gives a small laugh, steps towards her and runs a cold finger down her cheek, grips his hand painfully around her jaw. “I was always with him.”
Then he’s smelling her, nose delving between her chest, over her collarbone, her pulse-point, which jumps, up the long column of her neck until his nose reaches hers, breath ghosting over her mouth.
“He is such a dear, loves you so. Unfortunate thing, loving a mudblood.” Draco’s nose curls, wipes some of the blood that is still seeping from his hand across her lips, onto her cheeks. “Obsessed with you, actually, never stops thinking about you talking about you dreaming about you, it all gets to be such a bore, really.”
Long-fingered hands move to encircle her throat, pink-stained digits moving up and down, causing her to shiver and Draco to smile.
“He was the one thing you couldn’t fix, wasn’t he?”
Hermione feels like a stunning spell has been aimed right at her lungs, because she couldn’t fix Draco, she didn’t know how, she’d talked to him and he’d talked and talked and talked but it hadn’t been enough and at the end she knew, knew that he wasn’t right that he wasn’t himself and he wasn’t getting better from her voice or her touch or her love and she thinks to the appointment book in Madame Pomfrey’s office, Draco Malfoy penciled with a shaking hand this afternoon, amid the runny noses and the aches and the check-ups.
Thinks about it as the fingers tighten around her throat, force a scream she wishes she wouldn’t make out of the depths of her fear again and again and again, thinks about it as her vision wobbles and everything dances in front of her, inky blackness with shining bright lights, Draco a constellation against the stars.