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TABLE OF CONTENTS chapter1 chapter2 chapter3 chapter4 chapter5 chapter6 chapter7 chapter8 chapter9 chapter10
TABLE OF CONTENTS
chapter1
chapter2
chapter3
chapter4
chapter5
chapter6
chapter7
chapter8
chapter9
chapter10
chapter11
chapter12
chapter13
chapter14
chapter15
chapter16
chapter17
chapter18
chapter19
chapter20
chapter21

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CHAPTER1

It was like waking up in the middle of a nightmare.

Consciousness came to Draco Malfoy like a hammer to the head, and he gasped himself awake. Almost immediately, he wished he was unconscious again. He was in a world of pain he never knew existed. Excruciating agony ate at his skin, as though he had been doused in accelerant and lit up. He could almost feel the flames licking their way up his body, but he couldn't smell any fire. It was all he could do not to move, not to scream. He felt the panic rise in his throat. The air was stale and damp, heavy with fear. Disjointed memories came back to him, but he didn't want to believe they were real. They were too hard to accept.

How could they leave us here to die? After all we've done?

He registered the fact that he was lying on the ground until another wave of pain hit and cleared his mind of anything rational. Heartbeat after heartbeat pulsed against his tender skin, making him almost wish his heart would stop altogether. No more heartbeat, no more pain. It sounded so bloody tempting. A small groan escaped his lips. Even the inside of his mouth burned - had the Dark Lord's spell reached him there too?

He could feel his anger simmering underneath the injury, fury speeding up his masochistic heart.

Betrayed, taunted the voice inside of him. We've been betrayed by our own side.

He didn't want to believe it.

There were shouts and explosions, but he couldn't summon the energy to open his eyes. He knew with sick certainty that he was still in that godforsaken basement, tortured and thrown down there because the Dark Lord no longer favoured his family. After all they had sacrificed.

He still didn't want to believe it. Denial seemed easier, somehow. Easier than the terrifying truth.

In exchange for power, the Malfoy family paid with everything they had: their wealth, their home, years of service. In return, the Dark Lord kept them in his inner circle, favouring them and keeping them

close to his operations. They were revered and feared as Malfoys should be. Years dragged on and the war continued, each side vying for control. Things were comfortable. Predictable. As much as can

be during a war at any rate, working as a Dark soldier, trying to stay alive.

But then something changed. The Malfoys started slipping down in the ranks, barely noticeable at first, but impossible to miss near the end. It culminated in the worst way possible: the Dark Lord murdered the matriarch in a violent rage and left the father and son to die a painful, shameful death. It was a drastic and humiliating fall from grace. Malfoys belonged at the top, or so Draco had always believed. Right now, the only remaining Malfoys were drowning in their own blood, forgotten in some Death Eater hideout. Even in his pain-induced stupor, Draco could see how hopeless the situation was.

Nobody will ever find us here. If they do, we're as good as dead. Nobody wants us alive.

The situation made him furious, his anger burning as intensely as the spell that was eating him alive. They belonged in Voldemort's inner circle. They believed in everything he stood for. They were fucking loyal. Those opportunistic, sniveling rats didn't deserve the goddamn glory. Why were they tossed out while others got to stay?

There was a scream from somewhere in the darkness. It was familiar. With some difficulty, Draco focused his thoughts. Father? Is he still alive? He knew he'd never hear his mother scream again. He'd never hear her do anything again. He saw her struck down, horror frozen on her face in a flash of green light. He pushed the image away - it was too much to handle. She can't be dead.

But there was no mistaking it

or at least partially, if those screams were any indication. Somehow, his father hadn't succumbed to the blood loss or the poison. It would take him soon, but he was fighting it.

That was his father's voice. Draco had a flickering memory of Nagini slithering towards Lucius, his father's eyes lit up with fear. Nagini must have succeeded in reaching him,

He could fight all he wanted. There was no hope for them.

Draco heard more shouting, voices he couldn't identify. Surely the Death Eaters weren't coming back for them. It wasn't their style. Their style was to turn on their own kind. Perhaps they came back to finish the job? One could only hope.

He was hit with another wave and he heard himself whimper. Oh God, the pain. When the Dark Lord had turned his wand on him, Draco knew it would be bad Curse would have been quicker, but perhaps that was the point.

More yelling. What the fuck was going on?

He heard a far away scuffle that must have been his father.

"Information for rescue!" Lucius yelled, hoarsely, in between tortured sobs. "Please! Please help us!"

But this was unspeakably painful. A Killing

Draco felt his consciousness waver. Who on earth are you begging for rescue? Nobody wants two Death Eaters who have outlived their usefulness.

Feet hammered along the dirt floor, sending small rumbles in the earth towards where Draco lay. Every little movement hurt, every ripple in the air stung his skin. His eyes remained closed - for all he knew, they had been burned shut. He didn't care who was there, not anymore. He was waiting to die. It wasn't happening quickly enough.

"Holy shit," said a voice near his head. "We need to get them out of here, and fast." The voice sounded like it had been slowed down and replayed under water.

Strange, Draco thought.

A pair of hands touched his shoulders and he screamed bloody murder.

"Knock him out and bring him," said a harsher voice. "If he dies in transit, so be it."

Draco didn't remember anything after that.

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He was being carried, that much he could tell. His ears picked up snippets of frantic whispers as he drifted along death's divide.

 

"

Lucius is missing a leg. A fucking leg, Remus. It's been bitten off, and you get just bloody bet it was that snake

"

"We're trying to stop the bleeding - it was torn off at the knee, and you know we're trying Tonks, but we've got no real Healers

"

"He said he would give us information! We need to do more! We haven't ever been this close to getting solid leads in years! Just think of what we could learn

"

"Merlin Tonks, don't you think I understand that? I know how important this is."

 

"I think you both know what we have to do," said a third voice, scratchy and tired. "I'll ask Harry and Ron to talk to her. They won't survive without her help."

 

"She'll never agree," hissed the female voice. "She doesn't even speak to anyone these days, let alone leave the house. She's completely unhinged. And asking her to keep them alive? That's a blind shot in the dark."

"She'll have to. There is no other choice. Lucius we can subdue for now, but the younger Malfoy is as good as dead if he doesn't get some help. They knew each other in school that -"

Maybe there's a chance

"So let him die! It's Lucius we need, and as I understand it, their relationship at school left much to be desired - "

 

"Do you really think he'll talk to us if we let his son die, Tonks? Word is that Narcissa was killed earlier tonight

"

There was a low whistle. "You-Know-Who sure isn't happy with the Malfoys. How the mighty have fallen. I wonder what happened?"

 

Draco had been trying to follow the conversation, straining his ears to operate through the waves of pain that were rolling over him. Denial hit him again as a sheer defence mechanism. He wanted to scream at the voices that they had it wrong - the Dark Lord appreciated his family, he understood how dedicated they were. This was just a mistake. His mother couldn't possibly be dead. His father

couldn't possibly have lost a leg. And as for himself blurred.

All he remembered was the feeling of being set on fire, and the Dark Lord's maniacal laugh. As he was hit with another wave of pain, his thoughts

I don't want to believe it.

"I'm going to talk to the boys," said a voice. "We don't have much time, and if she agrees, she will want to get this done as quickly as possible so she can get back home."

 

"I'm telling you Moody

She'll never agree."

"It's all we can do. She's the only one with enough training. Anthony is dead. We have to try."

 

The next time he woke up, he felt completely numb. There was no more pain, but there was no more anything either.

 

He cracked open his eyes and looked blankly at the unfamiliar face staring down at him.

 

"Pain cancellation spell," said the person by way of explanation. "Had to do it. Your system was shutting down. She'll help you in a minute."

 

Draco let his eyes slide sideways in the direction of the stranger's jumpy glances.

 

His father lay a few metres from him on a low table, pale as bone. Drenched in sweat and blood, his long hair stringy and knotted, Lucius looked like a corpse. His right leg was severed at the knee, just like the voices had said. The part of him that was clinging to denial scoffed, assuming he was hallucinating. Your father can't be missing a leg. The other part of him wanted to scream. It was a scene from his most horrific nightmares. Lucius Malfoy, broken, dying, at the hands of his Lord. No, no, no.

Anger started to simmer within him as he saw who was kneeling beside him - that fucking Mudblood. Goddamn it. They had been rescued by the Order. Of all the self-righteous, useless, powerless bunch of halfwits

I would have preferred to die.

"My name is Hermione," said the Mudblood to his father, her voice monotone. "I'm going to seal your wound now."

 

She began, and Draco watched as if it were a strange dream. Granger. Hermione Granger. The war had not been kind to her; she was a rake, her hair limp, her skin pallid. But there was something

niggling at his thoughts

What was it? He tried to puzzle it out through the fog in his brain.

There's something wrong, Draco realized suddenly. Something other than the obvious. Granger, the Gryffindor Princess, was working on his father like a robot. Cauterize, mend, seal, repeat. Wipe the blood on a cotton sheet. Not a single expression crossed her features. She might as well have been sewing on a button.

Granger's eyes, normally so full of pride, misguided courage and fire, were completely dead.

 

Lucius must have been given something for the pain as well, because he was able to keep his eyes open while she healed him. He observed her drawn face with something like angry curiosity, his breaths laboured.

"Aren't you the Mudblood?" he rasped.

 

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"One and the same," she responded, not moving her eyes from his massacred leg. "And if you tell me not to touch you, I will leave you here to die. I owe you no favours." She delivered the words as though she was reading the weather. Still not a flicker of emotion.

Draco continued to study her, oddly shocked at the change in her demeanor since school. They were much older now - the war had been going on for years, and Draco was twenty five going on fifty. But to have changed that much? To behave like the walking dead?

Lucius didn't speak after her blunt statement, staring at the ceiling in defeat. She bandaged his stump and said a few more spells over the damaged area.

"You need to rest now. When you have healed enough, we'll find you a prosthetic." It wasn't a sympathetic comment; it was factual and cold.

 

Abruptly, she stood up and grabbed a leather satchel from the floor. Bottles clinked around inside. In three steps, she had reached Draco's side.

Dropping to her knees, she met his eyes. Draco found nothing familiar there.

 

"Hello Malfoy."

 

"Fuck off, Mudblood. I'd rather die than have your filthy hands on me." He barely even knew he was going to say the words until they were already out of his mouth, but damnit, he was just so fucking angry about everything. Why him? Why her?

She regarded him with that same, expressionless gaze, her eyes empty of anything distinctly Granger.

 

"No problem," she responded, calmly. With a tap of her wand, an ocean of pain rushed into him. He had thought earlier that the pain couldn't possibly get worse, but he was wrong. It was like being set aflame all over again. Draco's screams pierced through the air as Hermione calmly stood up, cleaned her hands, and walked out of the room.

Someone was howling.

 

It was him, Draco realized.

"You fucking moron!" hissed a familiar voice. "Do you know how hard it was to get her here?"

 

Draco heard a door slam and someone ran into the room.

"She's having tea, mate. She's not talking again. I swear to Merlin, she's cracked. Looking off into the distance with no bloody feeling

"

"We know she's cracked, Ron! She's broken. She's broken and this idiot thought it would be smart to rile her up

"

Draco heard himself scream again. Oh Gods, this needed to stop. He was going to lose his mind. Pain pulsed through him like a battering ram. Light exploded behind his eyelids. He thought he meant what he had said to Granger, but he also didn't really expect her to leave him here either. It went against everything he knew about her. Granger didn't leave people to die. She justdidn't.

His voice was going hoarse. He screamed anyway.

 

"Please

"

he heard himself say. "Please

"

"Don't beg to me, arsehole," said the voice he now recognized as Potter's. "You told our only Healer that you'd rather die than have her touch you, and she obliged. We had to beg her ourselves to get her to come. She didn't exactly relish the idea of saving your life. You gave her the perfect excuse to leave."

"Granger!" Draco screamed, ignoring Potter, hoping she would hear from wherever she was. He was delirious now - he knew he was going to die if this pain didn't stop. It felt like a permanentCruciatus. Pride be damned, he was going to beg until he passed out. "Granger, please!"

They all waited in the room while Draco screamed her name until he was reduced to quiet sobs. Ron and Harry looked sadly at the ground. They didn't really know if she would come back either. She wasn't the same now. Everything was different.

Draco's voice was nearly completely gone. Death it was, then. She wasn't coming. He had fucked up. He felt a flicker of regret that he hadn't just kept his mouth shut. He hated her, hated every inch of her, but he wanted to stay alive too.

Suddenly, the door creaked open. A few soft steps and a small, whispered spell, and the pain vanished. Draco opened his eyes, sweaty and shaking. He whimpered.

Granger stood above him, calmly unfolding a sheet and throwing it over his body. She vanished his clothes underneath. A small cauldron sat beside her, filled with something that smelled like eucalyptus.

Her dead eyes met his.

 

"Don't push me again," she said, her expression still blank. "I'm going to heal you now. Go to sleep."

 

With a shudder of relief, he did.

 

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CHAPTER2

Draco woke up in a strange room. The bed was soft. The sheets were soft. He wasn't in pain, but he was covered in some sort of ointment. Everything smelled like eucalyptus.

Lucius sat in the chair across from him, looking as though he had bathed and eaten since the last time Draco was conscious. He now had a metal cap over his stump, with a long pole in place of his shin and foot.

"Son," he said, sternly. "You almost didn't make it."

Draco swallowed with great difficulty. His tongue felt thick and numb.

"I will bring you up to speed on what has happened in the past week," Lucius continued, sounding angry and tired. "After we were tortured, we were left in the basement of the fourth safe house, presumably to die. Somehow the Order had planned an attack on the site that night, found us, and I traded information for our rescue. I've agreed to respond to specific questions about our operations, while they've agreed to heal us and hide us."

"You sold us out," Draco ground out between clenched teeth, glaring at his father, his sluggish tongue slowing him down. He was furious with his father. How were they supposed to get back in the Dark Lord's good graces now? His head pounded just thinking about it. "You're helping the Order? We are Death Eaters, father! We don't associate with these types of filth! We need to get back to our side!"

Lucius turned livid, the vein in his neck straining with the tension. He brought his face within centimetres of Draco's, locking eyes.

"Sold us out?" he growled. "Our side, Draco? Our side murdered your mother, took our money, our ancestral home, and left us to rot like common prisoners. I may not like associating with the blood traitors, but I'll be damned if I let your mother's death go unavenged. And do you know why they turned on us? Because a curse from my wand rebounded during a mission and struck one of our own. Yes, a rebound I had no control over cost your mother her life because the Dark Lord was waiting for an excuse to be rid of us. You would do to gain some perspective, my dear son. As I understand it, you almost died from pain before the Mudblood finally came back. Apparently she doesn't heal anymore - she had to be persuaded to come in the first place. You're lucky to be alive! Don't feed me any more tripe about 'our side.' They left us to die. They used us while they needed us, and then disposed of us. I owe them nothing."

Lucius slammed himself back into the chair, fuming.

Draco blinked dumbly. He had never seen his father like this. He pushed down the nausea he felt imagining his mother's eyes again, right before she was killed. Then he pushed the memory away. He couldn't deal with that right now. He didn't want to believe it. The rest of his father's words bounced around in his head. Something stuck out…

Granger doesn't heal anymore? What the fuck happened to her?

Before he could articulate the thought, Mad-Eye Moody came barging in, looking as crazy as ever.

"Awake, are you? Good, because we don't have room to keep you both here much longer. We are looking into places we can hide you, but every single safe house we have is full, and I think you'd be killed anyway if we put you in with some of those folks."

"Where do you expect us to go, you bloody fool?" snarled Lucius. "Are we to stay in this sitting room until the end of the war?"

"Watch your tongue, Lucius," said Moody, a dangerous smile on his face. "Beggars can't be choosers. We're working on it."

The door opened behind him and all three men looked at who had come in.

"Out," said Hermione, her face as expressionless as ever. "He needs another treatment."

Lucius and Moody sighed simultaneously and began to make their way out of the room. Moody leaned towards Hermione as he left. "Thank you, Hermione," he said, softer than Draco could ever remember him speaking. It puzzled him. She wasn't a fucking porcelain doll.

She didn't respond. In fact, she didn't acknowledge that she'd heard him at all. With her satchel in hand, she walked towards Draco without meeting his eyes, and started unloading potions onto the floor next to the bed.

He looked at her with morbid curiosity. Something had happened to her. Something big. Everyone here was walking on eggshells, trying not to make a misstep. The goody-two-shoes bookworm had turned into a shadow of her former self, and he was clearly not the only one who saw how strange it was.

The bottles clinked together as she finished arranging them on the floor.

Draco decided that as long as he was stuck seeing her this often, he might as well fish for information.

"Where'd you learn how to be a Healer, Granger?" he said, testing her, wondering if she could even hear what was happening around her. She looked like a zombie. It felt like a stupid question, but he wanted to get her talking.

She continued to work, uncorking bottles, ignoring him completely.

His anger flared. "Don't fucking ignore me, Mudblood," he growled, letting his temper get the better of him. How dare she pretend he didn't exist? People like her were meant to serve people like him, and here he was, dependent on her for survival. It was unnatural. He was only trying to make conversation, anyway. She was always such a fucking swot, even in school. Too good for anyone but her precious idiot boys.

Her eyes drifted towards his, indifferent as always.

"I don't answer to anyone, Malfoy, and certainly not you. I'm here to siphon some of the curse out of your body and give you more medication for pain. If you want to pull what you did last time, I can leave. The curse will eat you up, eventually. It will take months to get it out of your system, even with daily treatments."

She made a move to put the bottles back in her bag, and his hand shot out, touching her wrist.

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"No!" he said, trying to keep the panic out of his voice. He knew he couldn't take the pain again - it would break him. "No. Don't leave. I

Please don't leave." Begging was humiliating, but the idea of the

curse coming back was too much to handle. Noticing his hand was still touching her wrist, he wrenched it away with a disgusted sneer. Just because he wanted to be healed didn't mean he wanted to

touch her, filth that she was.

 

With a shrug, she went back to preparing the lotions as though nothing had happened. Draco watched her work. Their short conversation had done nothing to ease his curiosity, and now he was humiliated too. The bitch.

He refused to believe he couldn't get some kind of information our of her. He was always good at manipulating people - some moody Gryffindor shouldn't be a challenge. He decided to try a different approach.

"Can you tell me about the curse?" he asked. She always liked to prattle on about things before - maybe her desire to lecture others had survived whatever happened to her. He didn't know why he was so damn curious, but in his universe, Granger was always one way. It was an annoying way, a way that made him want to strangle her, but it was familiar. It irked him a bit to see this strange, damaged version of her in front of him.

She appeared not to hear him at first, and he almost sighed out of frustration. Always so goddamn stubborn.

 

Then she began to speak.

 

"It's known as the Curse of the Flame. It doesn't cause visible burns, but it will make you feel as though you've been set on fire until the pain kills you. It's like a Muggle virus in that it can stay dormant inside you for a long time before coming back again. You need to have someone pull it out of you, bit by bit, until it's fully gone."

She stood up now, her hands cupped with a red liquid pooling inside of them.

 

"Pull the sheet down to your waist," she ordered.

Glaring at her, and biting his tongue to keep the slew of insults from escaping, he did as he was told. It was the first time he noticed that he was completely naked under the sheet.

 

With his chest exposed, she leaned over him and let the cool liquid spill onto his skin. The liquid was more like a gel in consistency, oozing from her hands in slow motion as it connected with his torso. She pressed her hands into his chest and started murmuring an incantation.

Draco felt the strangest sensation as she spoke. Her small, freezing hands pushed into him, the potion was heating up, and something deep within him started to stir.

 

The curse, he realized with a start.

 

It felt like it was being sucked out of him, through his blood, up into his chest and straight towards her hands. It was the most peculiar feeling he'd ever experienced. It burned as it left him.

 

She slowly pulled her hands away, and black stringy webs followed as she continued chanting. She was, literally, pulling the magic out of him. The black tendrils hung from her fingertips now, no longer connected to his body. With a final word, they were dropped into a small bucket.

"I trained in secret with a Healer who supported the Order. He was killed."

 

Draco looked up at her with surprise. She'd answered his earlier question. Much later, and still without an ounce of emotion, but she'd answered it.

"That was a weird feeling," he said dazedly, answering nobody's question in particular.

"Go back to bed," she said, her dead eyes focusing on packing up the potions and then gliding out of the room.

He fell into a fitful sleep.

 

Something prodded him out of slumber. Sounds. An argument.

 

"

I think it's a terrible idea

"

"But what are the options, Harry? Seriously. They have to go somewhere, and they can't stay here. The Ministry is under You-Know-Who's control, and the safe houses are full."

 

"We can't ask that of her. Have you seen her? She's hardly said three words to us in the last week. She can barely function. It's a miracle that she hasn't left yet

"

"She won't leave because we asked her to stay. We're the only reason she's here to help, which is why we're the ones who can ask her to do this."

"Ron, we are not sending the Malfoys, two people who would rather see her roasted on a spit, to live with her! You're fucking barmy!"

"There is nowhere else to put them! They need regular medical attention, and we have to at least provide that to keep up our end of the bargain. Harry, I'm not suggesting this to be difficult

Look at it this

way: it will give her something to do. You know as well as I do that looking after two people, even though they're total pricks, would be better for her than sitting around at home brewing mysterious potions

and then trying to off herself."

 

There was a depressing silence in the room.

 

"Yeah," said Harry, clearing his throat uncomfortably. "I guess that's a valid point. But I'm still not sold. I mean, Malfoy? I wouldn't wish him on anyone. He could just make things worse."

 

"I resent that," muttered Draco, who had been listening to the conversation with interest, feigning sleep to make sure they kept talking. Granger tried to kill herself? You must be joking. He opened his eyes to find Potter and Weasley glaring at him from the corner of the room. "Why are you having this conversation here, incidentally?"

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"Because we're at capacity," Ron spat, angrily. "Every bloody room is full of people recovering from your lot."

"So that's why you're trying to push my father and I off on Granger? Fascinating."

"Fuck off, Malfoy. You'd be bloody lucky if she agreed. Otherwise this room will be your home until the war is over. As you know, it doesn't really have an end date."

Draco didn't much like the sound of that, but living with the Mudblood? Those were his choices?

"What broke her?" he asked, suddenly.

"Excuse me?" seethed Harry.

"What broke her?" Draco repeated. "She's a fucking zombie, walking around like the undead. What happened to your precious princess?"

"Like you care, Malfoy," snarled Ron. "Your side's fault anyway. Fucking deranged what they did to her. C'mon Harry, I don't feel like talking to this sod."

They left in an angry huff, muttering to themselves as they stomped off.

My side's fault? he thought muddily before sleep took him again.

"You want me to do WHAT?"

Draco heard the screech echo through the entire house, which he had concluded was Headquarters for the stupid Order. How long had he been here now? Two weeks total? What a fucking waste of time. He should be at the manor helping plan out the next attack, not lying helplessly in a sitting room while the Gryffindor Princess pulled black magic out of his chest.

"Are you out of your collective minds?" came the next shriek. Soothing voices followed, trying to calm her down.

Sounds like Potter and Weasley are having a great time convincing Granger to take my father and I, he thought bitterly.

Not that he wanted to stay with her. She was a filthy little know-it-all, a pathetic Mudblood and a member of the saintly Golden Trio. He hated them. He hated her.

But he also hated staying in a fucking living room while the misfit representatives of the Light traipsed through and glared at him. They ought to be dead. They would soon be, if the Dark Lord had his way. He hoped that day would come soon.

But for now, he wanted a room with a door that closed properly, and a bed that wasn't a transfigured couch. If that meant staying with the Mudblood, so be it. He saw her miserable face every day as it was - nobody else knew how to pull the curse out of him, and she wasn't in a state to train anyone. She didn't seem to speak at all outside of the tiny group he saw day in and day out when he happened to be conscious.

Hermione came storming in then, bag slung over her shoulder, her eyes still dead but her face fuming. It was the most emotion he'd seen her display since his rescue.

"Sheet down to your waist," she ordered, mixing her potions with vigour. He did as he was told.

As she was dropping the tendrils of the curse into the bucket, he took a small chance, hoping she understood what he meant.

 

"I'll be nice, Granger."

Her eyes drifted upwards. She had calmed down - expressionless again. Damn.

"You don't know how to be nice. Never did."

 

And then she was gone.

Draco was prodded awake days later by an angry Ron Weasley.

"What the hell did you say to her?" he growled.

"What do you mean?" Draco mumbled, trying to remember his last conversation with Granger.

"Out of nowhere, she tells us she'll allow you and your father to stay with her. Three days ago, she was screaming at the idea. What did you say?"

"Fuck off, Weasel. I told her I'd be nice. She didn't believe me, okay? Hasn't said a word about it since."

Wait

We can stay with her?

Ron thought about that for a moment. "Told her you'd be nice." He said it more to himself than anyone else.

He narrowed his eyes at Draco. "Listen Malfoy. We're going to set you up over there. 'Mione will take care of your medical needs, but otherwise, you're on your own. You're in hiding, got that? You stay at her house, and you don't leave. I know you'd rather be back with your precious Dark Lord, which I'll never understand after what he did to your family, but you will stay hidden if you want to stay alive."

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Ron brought his face right up to Draco's, rough anger twisting his features. He looked like he was trying very hard to control himself, and lowered his voice. "Hermione's been through a lot. She's not herself.

She won't take care of you if you fuck up again - she's only doing this for Harry and I. Don't make things harder for her, okay? Just of you, I'll murder you myself."

Just don't push her. I swear to Merlin, if her condition worsens because

Draco looked at Ron, trying to decide how he felt about his strange plea. Or was it a threat? And what was her condition?

"What broke her?" he said instead.

"Piss off," Ron snarled, standing up and leaving the room.

Draco smirked. At least he'd be out of this goddamned sitting room. Stupid, soft-hearted Gryffindors.

 

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CHAPTER3

Hermione was sitting in the broom closet off the kitchen at Headquarters, nursing a cup of tea, wondering what on earth she had gotten herself into.

She had agreed to take them in. The two remaining Malfoys. Her own personal beacons of all that was wrong with the world. Two Death Eaters that didn't come to the Order because they'd had a change

of

heart, or a moral epiphany, but because the other side decided they wanted them dead. Simple as that.

As curious as she found Malfoy's strange promise that he would be nice, she didn't believe it for a second. She actually meant what she had said: he didn't know how to pull such a thing off. He'd never learned how to be nice, and he was too damaged to start learning now. Malfoy was poisoned to his core, and he was far worse now than he ever was in school. At least in school she could believe that he was just parroting what he'd been told, shooting off at the mouth because he loved the attention. Now he really seemed to believe the rubbish he had learned serving under Voldemort. He wasn't a parrot anymore, he was a hawk, and he missed the power he had when being a Malfoy still meant something. Hermione could tell he hadn't come to terms with his situation yet, as evidenced by the fact that he was pretending his mother's death didn't happen, glossing it over with angry insults and diversions. That's going to be a powder keg of an explosion when he finally accepts it, she thought. Something's wrong with your brain if you say you'll go back to the same maniac who wants you and your family dead.

And Hermione knew all about having something wrong with your brain.

She sighed, and sipped her scalding tea, wincing as it burned her tongue. Sitting in a broom closet and sighing to oneself didn't make her look sane or together, she knew, but she also knew that she couldn't possibly damage her image any more than she had already done. She heard the whispers. She knew everyone thought she had cracked. She just didn't care.

Besides, it's not like they were wrong.

Hermione had moments of lucidity, like right now, thinking things over in a closet the size of a house elf. She could manage in here, with nobody around, no expectations. Thoughts came to her clearly and coherently. She could almost pretend that her brain worked as it should.

But when she stepped outside, where people were staring, judging her, asking her questions, it was as though her mind sunk into static. Her thoughts were no longer clear, she didn't speak, she didn't hear half of what was said to her. The outside world was too big, too loud. Her brain couldn't take it. She was lucky she knew how to heal as well as she did, because she could set herself on automatic and let the motions play out. Wash, rinse, repeat. If it required any more independent thought, she'd be completely useless.

Hermione slurped a little more of her tea, grateful that it had cooled down enough not to sear her tongue, even though the damage was done.

She knew what it looked like. The Order would assume that she decided to do the unthinkable and accept the Malfoys into her home because of Harry and Ron, because they asked her to. Not only were they her best friends, but the Order knew that they had also rescued her after the incident, as they had taken to calling it. It angered her that such a simple word could describe such a horrific event, but that wasn't a fight she was willing to start. Call it a massacre. Call it a Holocaust. Don't dumb it down. Harry and Ron were the ones who pulled her out, the first faces she saw after completely losing her mind, a trembling screaming mess. It took her months to start speaking again, and even then, it was only a few words here and there. She had started with "thank you," and expanded her vocabulary bit by bit, when the static gave her the space she needed to form sentences. Harry and Ron heard her speak the most, because she was forever grateful to them for her rescue. Otherwise, she kept quiet.

Still, she wasn't doing it because they asked her to. She was doing it because she understood their motivations for doing so, she understood their fears, and she shared them.

The static took over her brain at random times. It could stay for hours, days, weeks. Sometimes, she could sink in so deeply that she would lose track of who she was, where she was, and how long she had been there. She had sat in the bathtub for an entire day once until Harry came and pulled her out, blue and shaking.

Those long bouts of lost time allowed parts of her brain to act without her express knowledge, as though it were operating on messages that she didn't remember formulating. That's when she started making the potions, not entirely consciously, and taking them with the muted hopes of never waking up. She had been revived three times now after swallowing enough sleep potion to kill an elephant, and Harry and Ron no longer allowed her to keep the stuff at her house. They delivered one dose every day and watched her drink it before bed to keep the night terrors away. She felt like a child, but she knew it was for her own good. When the static took over, she seemed to give up on life. As empty as her life had become, she didn't particularly want to die.

Harry and Ron clearly hoped that having the Malfoys in her house would give her enough to do that she wouldn't try to slide into a permanent sleep again. And as strange as it was, she agreed. Lucius was

a

cruel man, but he didn't push her buttons. Malfoy, on the other hand, made her brain work. She had said more to him than she had said to just about anyone over the past year and a half, and although

she didn't understand it, she figured it was because he made her angry. If looking after him and his father kept the static at bay, if it gave her some sense of routine, than she would take it. Not just because Harry and Ron asked, but because it might save her life.

When she needed to escape the Malfoys, she had her job to run off to. She only worked half days, writing spells for Wolfgang Armiste, a friend of the Order and a friend to her. She knew she was good at her job most of the time, providing the static didn't take over and turn her into a zombie. She simply didn't show up if she was having an off day. Wolfgang didn't mind, and never bothered her about it. He looked after her.

wasn't exactly a normal job - she knew she only had it because it kept her centered and safe, and because Wolfgang seemed to genuinely care about her well-being. The lab was secure, quiet, and she didn't have to see anyone while she worked, having been given her own space and a door that locked. She had her groceries delivered to the lab so she wouldn't have to go outside. Every weekday afternoon, she would head to work, chip away at her To Do list of spells, and head back home for dinner.

It

Now her mornings and evenings would be filled with angry Malfoys instead of dangerous silence.

She sighed again, staring into her cool tea. What had she gotten herself into?

A

knock on the closet door lifted her out of her troubled thoughts.

"'Mione? You in there, love?"

Instead of answering, she pushed the door open to find Harry leaning against the frame. His black hair was still as messy as ever, and his green eyes were so gentle. As much as she hated being coddled, she appreciated Harry's kindness more than she could say.

 

"Hi Harry," she said.

"You don't have to do this, you know," he said, quietly.

static

"I know. I think it's a good idea though, now that I've given it some thought."

He nodded, and glanced over his shoulder.

"Shall we set them up at your place, then? I'm sure you'll be happy not to keep coming back here."

It was her turn to nod. She hated Headquarters. Too many people. Too much chatter.

"Are you going to be okay with them? I know Lucius only needs care every few days, but Malfoy

Well

His condition seems more involved."

She shrugged. "It's a bad curse. You-Know-Who wanted to make sure he suffered. He'll need treatment daily for the next month or two at least - the pain will come back to him quickly if he misses a day. He just calls me Mudblood and asks random questions - it's fine. Predictable enough. He doesn't scare me."

Harry offered her his hand, and she took it, lifting herself off the overturned bucket she had been using as a stool. They intertwined fingers and walked towards the sitting room where they would floo to her house.

Malfoy eyed their joined hands suspiciously as they entered the room. She noticed but couldn't bring herself to care. He could think whatever he wanted. She was allowed to hold hands with her best friend. Looking around, she saw Ron, Lucius, and a surprise guest.

"Wolfgang!" she said with a smile.

"Hermione," said the tall, handsome man with long black hair. It was heavily streaked with grey already, but he didn't look older than his thirty five years. He smiled at her warmly.

Harry started to talk about the arrangements, but Hermione wasn't listening anymore. The static was settling over her brain again, muting everything as she let her thoughts roam. She vaguely remembered getting in the floo and walking out into her living room. She was aware of the five men in her peripheral vision, discussing rules, being shown around the house, trading veiled insults. She just wanderd out to her yard and sat down in the grass, waiting for the fuzz to leave her mind.

"Earth to Granger," snapped a voice.

The fuzz disappated. She looked up to see Malfoy's piercing grey eyes, looking at her angrily, as usual.

 

"How did you afford a house like this, Granger?" he sneered. "Bit beyond your price range, isn't it?"

She was almost tempted to smile. Malfoy had just unwittingly paid her a compliment. True, she would never have bought a house like this on her own, but she wasn't going to turn down Anthony's bequest.

"Ask Harry," she said, standing up and heading back inside. She must have been out there for a while - the sun had set and the air was cold. She shivered and wandered over to the stove to put water on for tea.

"I did," he said, angrily again. "Told me it was none of my business."

She wasn't listening anymore. She filled up the kettle, placed it on the stove, and stared off through the window. What day was it today?

"Mudblood! What did I say about ignoring me?" he seethed, bringing his face directly in front of hers.

 

He's always so angry, she thought with indifference.

"I'll remind you of my response last time," she said, calmly, and retreated to her room.

Sometime later, there was a knock at the door.

"'Mione? It's Harry. Ron, Wolf and I are leaving now."

He opened the door to see her lying on the bed.

"I have your potion for you," he added.

She sat up and waited for him to come over. She didn't want to speak anymore. It had been a tiring day.

 

He handed her the small vial and she drank, giving him back the empty bottle when she was done.

Kissing her in the forehead, he whispered goodnight, and tucked the blackets around her as she began to slide into sleep.

Harry closed the door quietly as he left Hermione's room. She could use the undisturbed rest after having had such a long day. Twirling the bottle in his fingers, walked quietly back to the living room, where Ron, Wolf and the Malfoys were waiting for him.

"Right," he said. "She's asleep now, and you both know where your rooms are. We've told you the drill - you can't leave this house even if you want to. We've got your wands, and the building is enchanted anyway. It's protected by the Fidelius Charm, and it's only connected to the floo with Headquarters and Wolf's lab. Even still, only Ron, Wolf and I are authorized to use the floo. Anyone else will be rerouted back to their starting point unless they are accompanied by one of us."

static

"Awfully tight security to protect a useless Mudblood, wouldn't you say, Potter?" sneered Malfoy.

Harry saw Ron flinch and he instinctively put out his hand to calm him. Wolf tensed up, glaring at Draco with a menacing stare.

"Hermione's terms," said Harry with a shrug. He knew Malfoy was just trying to rile him up, and he wasn't interested in rewarding him with a reaction. "She's not very trusting."

Malfoy glanced down at the empty bottle in Harry's hand, his mind mulling something over.

"Do you bring her one of those every night?" he asked.

"Ron or myself, yeah."

"You know it's addictive after a while. How long has she been taking a sleeping potion?"

Harry sighed. "Not that it's any of your business, Malfoy, but for about a year and a half."

Malfoy looked angry then. "It's addictive after a couple months of solid use, Potter. Surely you're not stupid enough to forget something so simple."

"We know, you git," seethed Ron.

"So you're just feeding her addiction?"

Harry nodded, looking somewhat defeated.

Malfoy gave him a puzzled glare.

"Why?"

Harry glanced at Ron, trying to decide how much information to give away. Malfoy and his father were living here now

They were bound to figure things out soon enough.

"Let's just say the alternative is much, much worse," Harry said. With a jerk of his head towards the floo, he, Ron and Wolf began to walk towards the fireplace.

Wolf turned around suddenly, looking at both Malfoys with an expression of utter distaste.

"I'm sure you've had this warning from both Harry and Ron, but I'd like to repeat it on my behalf. If anything happens to Hermione while you are here, I will track you down and tear out your stomachs through your throats."

With a curt nod, the tall man stepped into the floo and disappeared in a roar of green flames.

Malfoy and Lucius both had the decency to look surprised.

"She's got quite the fan club," muttered Lucius.

"Yeah," challenged Ron. "She does. We'll be by tomorrow."

He and Harry flooed away, leaving the Malfoys to head back to their new rooms.

Draco slept surprisingly well. The house was quite large, furnished in a modern style, and almost empty in its minimalism. Not a look he expected Granger to go for, but then, he suspected that Granger wasn't responsible for choosing the house in the first place.

His room had its own bathroom, and he washed up slowly, relishing the space and the quiet. Headquarters was just a messy, noisy disaster with one bathroom for everyone there. It was revolting to be forced to live in such squalor - Granger's place was a definite improvement. Even the manor had become full after a while, as more and more Death Eaters began to stay there and the Malfoys were slowly pushed out. It was a gradual process, and Draco couldn't quite pin down when it had started. It got worse over the year, until it was clear even to him that his family was being rejected from the very group they helped form.

But he didn't want to think about that.

He opened his new closet doors with surprise. There were already clothes in here - men's clothes. Was he supposed to wear these? The quality was good, but the idea of wearing some stranger's clothes made him feel like a pauper. He put on the pants and shirt he'd been given at Headquarters. They weren't his either, he admitted grudgingly, but at least he was used to them by now. He would try on the stranger's clothes another day.

Granger was in the kitchen making breakfast, and his father was seated at the table, looking annoyed.

As his welcome, Draco simply glared at her. She stared blankly back.

He nodded at his father as he sat across from him at the table. To his surprise, a plate of hot food was set down in front of him. His father's annoyed expression disappeared, and he looked at the meal approvingly. It did look tempting; steaming sausages, eggs and potatoes. Draco found himself wondering where the Mudblood had learned to cook like this.

"Anthony left me the house," Granger said out of nowhere, in her expressionless voice.

Draco's head snapped up.

static

"Must you always answer my questions so bloody long after I've asked them?" he growled.

She shrugged. "Could just not answer them at all," she said, biting down on a pear.

He didn't want that, but he wasn't about to tell her so. Might as well encourage the conversation before she lost her mind again.

"Is Anthony the Healer who trained you?" he asked, gaging her reaction.

She nodded as she took another bite.

"Are those his clothes in my closet?"

She nodded again, chewing.

"Why do Potter or Weasley bring you a sleeping draught every night?" he said, knowing he was pushing it. He saw his father arch an eyebrow at him from across the table.

She stared at him for a while, her eyes dead, but her brow furrowed in thought.

"Security," she eventually answered, evasively. Then she got up, and left the room.

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CHAPTER4

Their first full day in the house, and Draco was already starting to feel it - that twinge in his chest that told him the burning sensation would start up again soon. It stirred mild panic in him, and he glanced at the kitchen clock anxiously.

5:15 pm.

"Father, when is the Mudblood supposed to get back from the lab?" he asked, trying to mask his concern. She had been gone since one in the afternoon, and he hadn't really been listening when Potter and Weasley had told him her schedule. If he had realized how helpless he would feel being at the mercy of the curse, he might have listened a little better. At the time he simply hadn't wanted to hear their stupid voices anymore.

Lucius looked up from the book he was reading. Despite the minimal furnishings, Granger had not disappointed when it came to books. She had a large room dedicated to her collection, and Draco was thankful, because it appeared to be the only thing to do around here. He knew his father loved to read too. They could read themselves into oblivion in this bloody prison.

"Six o'clock, I believe," he replied. "Is the curse troubling you?"

Draco nodded. "It's fine. I can wait. That's not too long." He was trying to convince himself. It felt worse today than usual. Much worse.

Lucius looked out out of the window that faced the large backyard. He seemed lost in thought.

"What is it, father?" Draco asked. Lucius tended to guard his thoughts with the ferocity of a rabid dog, but sometimes it was worth testing to see if he was in the mood to share.

Lucius sighed. "Just thinking about how much has changed," he answered.

Draco knew that he was talking about Narcissa, and instinctively pushed her out of his mind. He couldn't think of her right now. He couldn't handle it.

They sat in silence.

When Hermione stepped out of the floo at exactly 6 pm, Draco was on the couch, sweaty and pale, looking haunted.

To Draco's immense shock, concern flitted over her features.

She didn't say anything, but disappeared into a spare room and came back with her usual potions. She started to mix them directly in front of him and gestured to his chest, again without speaking. He hesitated only for a moment before tearing off his shirt. For some reason, the action seemed more intimate than pulling down a sheet.

She made another vague gesture and he interpreted it accordingly, lying down flat on the couch.

Suddenly her hands were on him, and he breathed a sigh of relief. The curse stirred within him, sliding through his blood, up to his lungs and out through his chest, into her small fingers. She dropped the tendrils into the bucket and cleaned off her hands.

"Drink," she said, handing him a bottle.

He obeyed, too exhausted to think up an insult.

The shaking slowed.

She assessed him carefully, searching his face as the potion took effect. He noticed that her eyes held something in them, something different, some sort of emotion. They were a warm brown again, not that empty shade he could never identify. He stared into them, trying to figure out what was going on in her mind. Maybe it wouldn't be as bad as he expected, staying with her. She did seem to be trying to keep him alive, after all.

She blinked. Seemingly satisfied, she packed up the potions and headed to the kitchen to make dinner.

Draco sat on the couch for a long while, thinking about how much had changed.

It was Ron who came back that night with Hermione's potion. Draco was reading on the couch when he stepped out of the flames, looking around for her.

"Here to feed the addict?" he sneered.

"Fuck off, you ungrateful sod," Ron replied, evenly. "Where is she?"

"Treating my father in his room," Draco said with a shrug.

Ron took off in the direction of the bedroom, and Draco decided to follow. There was really nothing else to do.

Lucius was lying on the bed, his metal leg leaning up against the frame. Hermione was wrapping the stump in fresh gauze, her hands coated in some sort of ointment.

"Hi 'Mione," said Ron, standing in the doorway. Draco was looking over his shoulder.

She smiled at Ron and tuned back to Lucius.

static

Draco realized that was only the second time he'd seen her smile since he was rescued.

"You've been standing on it for too long. I don't want it to get infected - please don't walk more than necessary," she said, sternly. Lucius grunted his understanding.

"Cup of tea before you go?" she asked Ron, who nodded. Draco felt annoyed that she didn't offer him anything.

"You too, Malfoy?" she asked, packing up her supplies.

"Uh, no," he said, surprised. Maybe the Mudblood had manners after all.

She looked at Lucius with the silent question. He shook his head.

Draco stayed in the room with his father as Granger and Weasley walked off to the kitchen.

"Strange, isn't she?" said Lucius.

Draco nodded. "She's always been strange. But she's stranger now that she's gone mental."

"What do you suppose did it?" asked his father.

That was the question, really. Draco had been thinking it over, and guessed that it had something to do with the Healer who was killed.

"Not sure," he responded. "But it's changed her. You wouldn't believe how much she used to talk in school. Now she hardly says a word."

Lucius chuckled, and then his expression sobered. He looked out the window next to his bed.

"Your mother used to talk a lot too," he said.

Draco left the room and went to bed, pushing torturous thoughts of his mother's eyes out of his mind.

The following morning, Draco came across the familiar scene of Hermione cooking breakfast while his father scowled off into the distance.

"Morning Mudblood," he said, sitting down at the table.

She simply arched an eyebrow at him and continued to cook. Minutes later, the two Malfoys had hot plates of food in front of them, this time waffles with cream and berries. Instead of a pear, Hermione actually sat down with a plate of her own.

"Where'd you learn how to cook, Granger?" Draco said, impressed with the spread.

He glanced over, and saw that her eyes were dead again. He shared a look with his father, and decided not to push it this time.

She ate in silence, and then cleared their plates.

As she was getting ready to leave the room, she said, "My parents. They loved to cook. They were killed."

She wandered off to her bedroom, and Draco sighed, running his hands through his hair.

"She's bloody complicated," he muttered.

Lucius smirked, and opened his book at the page he'd marked off.

Draco was able to hold it together much better that day, and when Hermione came home from the lab, he wasn't a shaking mess. They shared a cup of tea in silence before she treated his chest, and then went to check up on his father.

Seconds after Draco had pulled his shirt back on, Harry came through the floo.

"Malfoy," he nodded. "Hermione is

?"

"A fucking bitch, as always," he responded with a sneer.

Harry narrowed his eyes. "Where is she?"

Draco pointed and Harry left him standing in the living room alone.

A week later, after much of the same routine, Draco was bored. Hermione set his breakfast plate in front of him, and gave Lucius his own with a cup of tea. He'd been peppering her with mild questions all week, and he figured it was time to pull out the big guns.

static

"What made you lose your mind Granger?"

She gasped and Lucius choked on his tea.

Draco smirked at her, pleased to see that she was angry.

"What happened to your mother?" she shot back. His smirk dropped off his face.

She left the room, her breakfast untouched.

Lucius glared at him from across the table. "Was that really necessary?"

Draco didn't have an answer. He stood up, furious, and started walking quickly towards Hermione's bedroom. That righteous little swot had no right to bring up his mother, whether or not she had lost her mind. She had no right.

"Son

"

came his father's warning voice from the kitchen.

Draco ignored him, and threw open her door. She was standing by her window, looking out with an unreadable expression on her face.

"Listen to me, you pathetic, filthy Mudblood," Draco screamed, advancing on her. He was shaking he was so angry. Everything he had been pushing down since his rescue came bubbling to the surface. "Don't you ever speak of my mother again!"

"Why, because you're afraid you might actually have to deal with her death?" she seethed, turning towards him, angrier and more alive than he'd ever seen her.

He grabbed her shoulders and slammed her against the window, her head smacking against it loudly.

"You know nothing about her," he growled, almost nose-to-nose with her. "You know nothing about me. You are worthless. You will be dead soon, when the Dark Lord has his way."

"Your precious Dark Lord murdered your mother in cold blood," she rasped, tears in her eyes from being thrown against the window. "You're in denial. Accept it and move on. We've all lost people we love

in this war."

Draco slammed her against the window again, his fingers digging into her thin shoulders.

"What, because you lost your precious Anthony you think you understand me? You lose one person and your mind breaks? You're fucking weak!"

She looked at him with wide eyes, disbelief colouring her features.

"You think Anthony's death broke me? Or maybe my parents'? Is that really what you think? Oh Malfoy, you are a misguided little boy."

Fury at being taunted coursed through his veins, and he slammed her against the window again, as hard as he could. This time, the glass broke, and she screamed. Blood coated his arms and hands as he looked down at what he had done, still holding onto her shoulders.

A cold dread settled in his stomach.

"Oh my God, Granger

"

She slid down the wall, a trail of blood coating the paint behind her. He could see glass in her hair, embedded in her skin, shards in her neck. She was gasping for air.

No. This wasn't supposed to happen. He wasn't supposed to get so angry he actually hurt her. He was just supposed to teach her a lesson

His fingers became slippery with her blood as he held onto her, shocked at what he had done.

"Draco!" hissed Lucius, limping up from behind him. "You imbicile! If she is injured, our bargain is over and we will be delivered to the Dark Lord without a second thought! What have you done to her?" Lucius looked terrified. The scene was a mess of glass and blood, and Hermione was shaking from head to toe while Draco gripped her.

In that moment, Draco realized he didn't want to go back to the Dark Lord. He knew he had been denying the truth, clinging to the hope that he might still be relevant, but the thought of heading back to the

manor now made him quake with fear. He wasn't welcome there, Malfoy name or not. He would be torn limb from limb. He would be fed to the snake. He would be burned alive.

They were no longer his people, as hard as that was to accept.

His mother had been killed there. Murdered. The woman who raised him, who loved him unconditionally, who protected him right up until she was struck down. Granger was right. The fucking swot was right.

He looked down at the bleeding girl in his arms, and without another word, scooped her up and brought her to the bathtub.

"What are you doing?" his father growled. "She needs help, you idiot, not a fucking bath."

"I'm helping her," he snapped. "I'm going to make this right. Somehow

Somehow

"

He was muttering under his breath now, arranging Granger in the bath so he could get a good look at the damage. There was blood everywhere - how was he supposed to heal her? Even with a wand he was no good at this stuff.

"Get me the ointments that she uses on your leg. And get me the gauze, too," he said, pleading. He felt his father hesitate before limping off to find what he needed.

static

He steadied her head with his hands, meeting her eyes as tears spilled down her cheeks. Her eyes were a warm brown again, but the emotion they held was something like despair. He felt terrible.

"I'm sorry Granger," he whispered. "Let me fix you. You can toss us out after, but let me try to make this better. You were right. I don't know how to be nice."

She didn't answer, but let her eyes drift shut as he started pulling the broken glass out of her skin as gently as his shaking hands could manage, murmuring his apologies as he worked.

Hermione didn't go to work that day, and stayed curled up in bed, her wounds bleeding through the gauze.

Draco paced nervously outside her bedroom door, peeking in every few minutes to check on her. He wondered if Potter and Weasley would kill him before the Dark Lord had a chance. He might actually prefer that. Or maybe that Wolfgang fellow would make good on his threat. He seemed capable enough.

Lucius was a wreck, wringing his hands on the couch, his eyes darting anxiously towards his metal leg. Visions of Nagini slithered through his mind. Draco had always had a temper, but this was a grave mistake. Lucius remembered the torture, that dirty basement and the feeling of having his leg torn off. The poison of Nagini's fangs. Draco's screams as invisible flames licked his skin. Narcissa's cold body. The sting of betrayal.

There was no dinner.

Draco and Lucius were in the kitchen now, sick with nerves. It was 9 pm. Somebody was going to come through the floo any second and Hermione was still in the bedroom, covered in blood-soaked gauze.

"I'm sorry, father," Draco said, his voice hoarse. "I shouldn't have taunted her. I shouldn't have gotten upset."

Lucius ignored him, staring angrily at the table. He had difficulty trusting himself to speak.

"For a Mudblood, she has been very kind to us," he said eventually. "Especially given your history together."

Draco felt even worse. He had never been good with his anger, but this was bad. Very bad. The curse twitched inside of him, as if it sensed that it would be free to roam his body again soon.

The floo roared to life, and Harry walked out. He took one look at the nervous Malfoys and his eyes narrowed.

"Where the fuck is she?" he said, his tone hard as steel.

"Here, Harry," said Hermione's voice. She walked up to him and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Did you want some tea?"

Draco and Lucius both stared at her. She looked as if nothing had happened.

Harry seemed suspicious.

"Wolf said you weren't at work today," he said.

"Wasn't in a good head space," she replied. Draco almost groaned at the double-entendre. What the fuck is she doing?

Harry looked at her for another long moment, and then shrugged. "No tea, thanks. I just came to give you your potion."

Hermione nodded, and uncorked the bottle, draining the liquid in a few gulps.

"Thanks," she said.

"I'll walk you to your room," he said with a soft smile.

They left, and Draco looked at Lucius with a disbelieving stare. Neither of them spoke.

Harry came back a minute later, nodded briskly to them, and left by floo.

Draco got up quickly and ran to Hermione's room.

"Granger?" he said at the door. Opening it, he found her tucked into bed, all the blood vanished and the window repaired. It looked as if nothing had happened, as though he hadn't slammed her violently against the glass. Her eyes were half closed, but she was still awake.

He sat down on the edge of her bed and observed her. Looking closely, he could see that she had repaired many of the wounds herself and applied glamour charms to the others. She must have done it in a hurry after noticing the time. She had saved him.

"Why?" he asked.

"I don't know," she answered sleepily. "Don't make me explain it." And then she drifted off.

He sat there for another ten minutes, watching her sleep, wondering why she had spared him. Why she had spared his father.

Draco fell asleep in the fetal postition that night, thinking of his mother, her elegant smile and her soft eyes haunting his dreams. He missed her so much. He mourned her, finally, letting his tears soak into his pillow until the light of dawn lulled him to bed.

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CHAPTER5

When Draco woke up, his first thought was Granger. Then he shuddered and cursed himself for thinking of her so quickly. Yes, he was grateful that she hadn't sold them up the river for what he had done, but he would not, could not start thinking about her with anything other than disdain. She was still a Mudblood. He was still himself. No act of kindness would change that. He would not start feeling concerned about her.

Granger.

He got out of bed angrily and splashed water on his face. His pale eyes stared back at him in the mirror, daring him to acknowledge what he wanted to do.

He wanted to make sure she was okay.

He just wanted to check.

Granger.

Draco stalked down the hall towards her room, feeling increasingly agitated with every step. This is stupid. It's not my job to worry about her.

The door was already open, and he looked in.

No Granger, just a freshly-made bed.

He let out a deep breath.

Hermione was already in the kitchen, making breakfast. His father was at the table, reading another book. She looked up when he walked in the room. He saw the bruises around the sealed cuts, the redness on her neck, and cringed inwardly. The glamour charms had expired.

Their eyes met, and for a brief second, Draco felt forgiveness slide across her features. He stared, unsure, feeling like a bundle of nerves. He had assaulted her. Why was she doing this? Why was she giving him a chance? She was so fucking confusing.

Breaking their gaze, she looked down and continued to cook, so he seated himself and waited in awkward silence.

When she served his father breakfast, Draco saw Lucius smile at her. Not a malicious smile, and not a smirk. Just an expression of gratitude.

Draco felt momentarily jealous of his father's courage.

Breakfast was laid before him and they ate without speaking.

"I'll need to look at your leg today," she said suddenly, her fork halfway to her mouth. She wasn't actually looking at Lucius, but he nodded anyway, and turned another page of his book.

She finished her meal and cleared the table.

"Thank you," Draco said as she took his plate. He wasn't sure what he was thanking her for, but it seemed important to say it. He wanted to make sure she knew. He was thankful. For everything.

She looked surprised for a moment, and then smiled at him. Turning away, she started on the dishes.

She smiled. At me.

He felt flushed and uncomfortable, and bolted from the room, determined to immerse himself in a book for the day. Anything to keep his mind off the way her lips looked when they quirked upwards. Almost like the old Granger, the one who was always laughing. He wondered if she would ever laugh again.

Draco growled to himself. He couldn't think about her anymore.

"Granger, I don't want to read any of the books you have," Draco complained an hour later. The library was full of curious texts, stories, historical tomes, but nothing piqued his interest today. He had stayed in there for ages, flipping through page after page, getting increasingly frustrated, before he decided to bother her about it. There was really nothing else to do.

She looked at him from her spot on the couch where she was checking Lucius's bandage.

"And?"

Draco huffed in annoyance. He was bored, and since he wasn't going to risk taunting her today, he needed to find something to occupy his time. She would leave for work soon and then he'd be even more restless.

Hermione looked him over and then pointed to one of the kitchen cupboards.

"There's a wizard's chess set in there. You can play it with your father if you want."

Draco's ears perked up. He hadn't played wizard's chess in years.

"What, you don't play, Granger?" he smirked.

static

She shook her head and went back to checking his father's leg. "Nope. Never got the hang of it."

"Hold on," he said. "Do you mean to say there's something Hermione Granger isn't good at?" Although it came out as a sneer, he realized too late that it was actually a compliment.

"And flying," she said, her face carefully blank. "I'm shite at flying. It's the heights, you know."

Without another word, she packed up her supplies and left the room.

Lucius observed Draco for a moment.

 

"Decided on civility, have you?"

Draco hadn't really decided that, but it occurred to him that it might be worth trying after all. Civility wasn't friendliness. It wasn't affection. It wasn't loyalty. It was just operating with slightly less venom than normal. He could manage that.

He shrugged. "Can't hurt, I suppose. We are stuck here, after all."

"Why do you suppose she did that?" Lucius said, looking puzzled, staring off in the direction of Hermione's room. He was obviously referring to the fact that they were very nearly handed back to the Death Eaters only hours before. "We'd be dead right now otherwise."

Lucius was, like his son, perplexed by the incident. Hermione had been badly injured; Lucius watched in horror while Draco picked piece after piece of glass out of her skin, her hair, her skull. The bathtub was smeared with blood when it was done, and Draco had clumsily wrapped her up as best he could, murmuring terrified apologies under his breath. Both Malfoys had expected to die. She hadn't said a word to contradict their belief.

Then she went and spared them, without any elaboration or explanation. She hadn't lorded it over them or listed any terms for blackmail. In short, she was not behaving like anyone they knew.

Hermione Granger was strange, Lucius affirmed to himself. Victim of a mental breakdown, certainly, locked in a bizarre dream world where she occasionally just checked out of normality and stopped talking.

But lately she had been less and less distracted. Almost chatty, considering how she had been beforehand. She took good care of both Malfoys, and didn't seem to resent the work. They were always well fed. Her house ended up being a bit of a refuge for all of them, in one way or another.

"I

have no idea," said Draco quietly, bringing Lucius out of his thoughts. "I don't understand her."

Both men were still for a minute, before Draco said, "Fancy a game of wizard's chess?"

One week later, Draco offered to teach Hermione the game.

"I'm bad at it," she declined, dropping the black strings of the curse into her usual bucket and taking her hands off his exposed chest. The bucket was halfway full now, swimming with a black substance that looked like crude oil. It made Draco's skin crawl just to look at it.

"I'm a good teacher," he responded, wishing for a fleeting moment that she would put her hands back on him. He tried not to think about why. It was comfortable. He was used to it now. That was all.

"Ron tried. I still never got it." She wiped her wands and took a cloth to his chest, cleaning off the red potion. He liked that she was always so thorough. No shortcuts.

"Weasley's a fucking tosser. I can teach you properly."

 

Her fingers brushed his ribs and he shivered.

"Put on your shirt," she said. "You're cold."

He didn't bother to correct her.

A

week after that, she finally agreed.

"I

don't understand why you're pushing this," she said, annoyed.

Hermione hadn't noticed that she had started displaying emotion more regularly, but Draco had. Even passing annoyance was better than her dead eyes. He relished it every time she let a smile slip, or an

aggravated frown, or a thoughtful gaze

It reminded him of how she used to be.

"Granger, I'm doing you a favour. I know it must kill you not to be good at something."

She rolled her eyes and then cracked a smile, walking to the kitchen to get the game.

Draco caught his father's eye, and Lucius raised an eyebrow at him.

Okay, so maybe two people had noticed that she'd started displaying emotion.

static

Two weeks later, Ron and Harry were injured on a mission, and didn't come back to Headquarters as planned. In the confusion, nobody in the Order remembered to tell Hermione. The strange trio sat in the living room, trying to ignore her anxious glances towards the fireplace.

"Granger, stop staring at the floo," Draco snapped. "They'll come by. They come by every night."

She sighed. "You're right. They're just not usually this late. I worry." She fiddled with her hands. Draco noticed that they were trembling.

Ah yes, the addiction.

Lucius looked up from his book and observed her for a minute.

"If you'd like to go lie down, we can direct them to your room when they arrive. I'm sure they will be here soon."

He said it in such a kind tone that Draco was startled. What was his father playing at? Hermione didn't notice the difference though, and nodded agitatedly.

"Okay. Thank you. I'll just be in my room."

After she left, Draco arched an eyebrow at his father and said, "Decided on civility, have you?"

Lucius ignored him, and turned another page in his book.

"You're going to read through her entire collection at this rate, father."

"Not a concern. She orders more by post every week. Haven't you noticed?"

He had, but he didn't want to admit how often he watched her when nobody else was looking.

Another hour passed and Draco shared a look with Lucius.

"They're not coming. Do you think they were killed?"

"For her sake, I hope not," Lucius replied, dryly. "I don't think her mind could take it."

"I should go check on her," Draco said, and before his father could protest, got up and walked towards her bedroom.

He cracked open the door to find her asleep on the bed in her clothes, curled up in a ball, her hair covering her face.

Without thinking, he walked over and gently moved the hair out of her eyes.

"You confuse me, Granger," he whispered.

Carefully covering her in a blanket, and walked back out of the roon, wondering when he'd started enjoying her company.

He woke up hours later to the sound of tortured screaming.

Both he and his father ran into the hallway at the same time, looking around frantically for an intruder.

The screams were coming from Hermione's room. Draco threw open the door in a panic.

Hermione was on her bed, her terrified eyes open, seeing something that nobody else could. She had thrown off the blanket and was wedged in the corner, sobbing hysterically and pulling at her hair. She let out another scream that made Draco's ears hum with pain.

"Granger!" he shouted.

Her eyes were wide, but stared right through him as she continued to scream. She started running her nails down her arms, pressing so hard she drew blood.

"Save them!" she shrieked, sobbing harder.

"Night terrors," whispered Lucius beside him. "But I've never seen anything like this."

"Granger, wake up!" Draco shouted, realizing with delayed clarity why Potter and Weasley were so diligent about maintaining her addiction. Fuck, why didn't they show up? Couldn't they have chosen another day to disappear?

Instead of responding, she bolted from the bed and knocked both men over as she ran out of the room, howling with fear.

Draco ran after her and found her in the kitchen. She was holding a large butcher's knife, looking possessed.

"Granger, calm down," he said, hoping he sounded confident. He heard his father limp up behind him.

static

"Merlin, she's dangerous, Draco," he breathed. "She doesn't even know it's us."

Hermione had started to growl, slicing the air with the knife. Her face was shining with tears and her arms were dripping with blood.

"Somebody has to save them," she whispered, advancing on them.

"Granger, it's just us

Draco and Lucius

We live with you, Granger. You know us. Put down the - "

She lunged.

The tip of the knife caught Draco's forearm, and he hissed with pain as he wrestled the knife out of her hands. She struggled violently, kicking and biting, screaming as though she was being tortured.

Wrenching the knife away, he handed it to his father and roughly picked up the shrieking woman. His arm was cut, but it was a small enough wound, and he ignored it. He wouldn't bleed out, at any rate.

"Hide this. I'll subdue her."

 

Lucius needed no encouragement, and limped away.

Hermione was bawling now, her small hands opening and closing as she sobbed into his chest. Draco felt his heart twitch as she pressed her face against his neck, wrapping her arms around his shoulders. She felt so fragile.

"Fuck Granger, you could have warned me you turn into a monster at night," he murmured against her head. "You could have really hurt yourself." Or me, he added mentally, wondering why he didn't say that part out loud.

He walked over to the couch, cradling her in his arms, and sat down with her in his lap.

"Can't even bloody well leave you alone now," he muttered. "You'd just as soon stab me through the heart. What am I supposed to do with you, silly girl?"

She continued to cry as though she hadn't heard him, and he wasn't even sure she was awake yet. He tightened his arms around her with a sigh, and noticed that she quieted slightly at the gesture.

Her sobs got quieter and quieter, until she was eventually hiccupping against his chest. Draco was trying hard not to move, keeping his arms tightly wrapped, and pushing down his desire to comfort her any further. It would be too easy to stroke her back or bring her even closer to him. He couldn't let himself do that; she was off bounds. Drastically off bounds. In every way.

Eventually her breaths started to slow.

 

"What did this to you, Granger?" Draco said, quietly, resting his chin on the top of her head. She smelled like jasmine. He supposed he had noticed that already, but he never put a name to the scent. Jasmine would always smell like Granger to him now.

He looked down for a response, but she was already asleep.

Slowly, he let himself drift off, marvelling at the strange sensation of holding her body against his.

Hermione cracked open her right eye and knew something was horribly wrong.

Her own arm was the first thing she saw, and it was covered in bloody scratches. She knew what those scratches meant. She had fallen asleep without her potion. She could be anywhere right now. She used to run all night before Harry and Ron started warding her room, eventually settling on the potion as the best way to keep her calm.

Clearly, she hadn't run all night. She recognized her couch and the pieces of wall that were slowly coming into focus. She was still in her house, thank Merlin.

She was also sitting on someone. There were arms around her and a blanket tucked around her waist. Her head was on someone's chest. The person was asleep, if their heavy breathing was any indication.

Hermione willed herself not to scream.

 

Who is holding me?

The embrace was firm and affectionate, the person's fingertips resting on her ribs, the other hand cradling her head. Perhaps Harry or Ron had come by in the middle of her episode and had stayed with her to keep everyone safe. She hoped that was the right explanation, but as she took a deep breath, her stomach sank.

Harry always smelled like clean laundry. Even days into a mission, he smelled like lemon detergent and fresh air. It was trademark Harry - Hermione could bet her life on it.

Ron smelled like grass and the sweet soap Molly always bought. He had smelled that way since the day she met him and she knew it would never change.

Whoever was holding her smelled like rich sandalwood. Unless Harry and Ron had drastically changed their grooming, she was probably not being held by either of them.

This left Wolfgang, who smelled like rosemary, much to her surprise, or one of the Malfoys.

Sandalwood. That had to be a Malfoy thing. It just fit.

 

Oh no.

static

She was being held by one of the Death Eaters she was charged with taking care of. And she was going to guess that if she was being held this tightly, there was a chance she had gotten violent last night and needed to be restrained.

The likelihood of Lucius chasing her down and grabbing her seemed slim, only because he'd never really gotten used to walking on his new leg.

That meant

Carefully, she pulled her head back slightly and saw a bloody gash on the arm that was wrapped around her.

All her worries about who was holding her left her mind, and she gasped, her hands flying to her mouth.

"I hurt you!"

Scrambling, she fell backwards onto the floor, scooting away from Draco's body as she realized what she had done.

"I hurt you

Oh, Merlin, I hurt you

"

Draco's eyes had snapped open and he tried to grab her before she hit the ground, but his reflexes were shot from exhaustion.

"Granger, it's okay

It's not a big - " he had started to say, but she was slipping into hysterics.

"What did I do? Was it a knife again? Jesus, I can't even trust myself not to hurt anyone

"

She heard uneven footsteps and saw Lucius approaching from the hallway.

"Did I hurt you too?" she sobbed.

"I assure you, both myself and Draco are fine. We are far more concerned about your well-being," he said, sternly. Although Lucius sounded authoritative and firm, Draco could see the worry in his eyes though, slipping past his usual emotional barricade. "We didn't realize that you had night terrors. You should have told us."

"I thought Harry and Ron would come

"

she said, and then her eyes widened when she realized what that meant. "Oh my God, they never came!"

She started to hyperventilate in front of them, and Draco looked at his father helplessly. It was one thing to hold and comfort her when she was in an altered state. It was quite another to do so when she was lucid. But she had just realized that Harry and Ron might be injured, or worse, and Draco didn't know how to talk her down from her rapidly escalating panic attack.

"Granger, please just listen

"

Hermione's eyes started to glaze over and Draco swore.

"She's gone into her fucking trance again," he growled.

"Well, we can't leave her lying here, son," said Lucius, pinching the bridge of his nose with an aggravated sigh. "Put her on the bed and we'll try to find out if her friends are dead."

Draco swore again and stomped over to where she lay, her eyes dead and her face blank.

"Damnit Granger, you're going to be the death of me."

Scooping her up, he marched to her bedroom, leaving his father to work the floo and try to contact Headquarters.

Once inside the door, away from his father's eyes, he was much more gentle with her. He placed her on the bed and smoothed out her hair. He searched her bathroom for a facecloth and ran it under warm water, bringing it back to wipe her face and arms. He placed a pillow under her head.

Sitting beside her, watching her lifeless eyes stare at the ceiling he realized something.

When she had woken up, she was upset that he was hurt. It was her first reaction.

Not that she woke up on his lap, in his arms. The arms of a Death Eater, her childhood enemy, and the same person who slammed her through a window weeks earlier.

She was upset that he was hurt.

Draco let out a soft groan, and pulled himself away from her bed. He didn't know what this meant, but it meant something.

He closed the door behind him, wishing everything was less complicated.

static

CHAPTER6

"They're injured, not dead," Lucius said when Draco walked back into the living room. "The Order certainly wasn't happy to see my face floating out of the floo, but when I explained the were more accommodating."

Situation

They

Draco pushed down his unreasonable anger at the two idiots for getting injured when Granger needed them.

 

"How is she?" his father asked.

"Unresponsive," he replied. "I hate to say this, but I think we had better learn how to make our own food for the next little while. She's deep into it. Doesn't seem to hear anything at all."

 

Lucius grunted, clearly annoyed.

"Those two friends of hers need a backup plan in the event of their absence. They were clearly aware of her condition. Some warning would have been nice - she could have killed us. She certainly injured you."

Draco looked down at his arm. The cut was deeper than he remembered, but it seemed unimportant given the mess that Granger was in. Cuts could heal. He shrugged.

 

"Security," he said, suddenly, and snorted. "Remember what she said? When I asked her why she took the potion every night? I was trying to get her to admit her addiction, but instead she said 'security.' Bloody hell. I wonder what else she's done during a night terror. Probably scared the snot out of Potter and Weasley."

His thoughts were interrupted by a roar, and Wolfgang stepped out of the floo, clearly upset.

 

"Is she alright?" he asked, his hands clenched. Both Malfoys noticed the extreme tension of the man's shoulders, jaw, overall demeanor. Draco narrowed his eyes.

"She's in her room, in one of her states," said Lucius, cooly.

"Was she hurt? Did she hurt anyone?"

Draco held up his arm so Wolfgang could see the cut, and said "She's a bit scratched up, but she'll be fine. We took the knife away from her before she could do any real damage."

 

Wolfgang let out a breath. "I'm grateful. She

She's been through a lot."

Without further explanation, he left in the direction of her room.

 

Lucius furrowed his brow in thought. Draco could tell he was deciding how to phrase his next statement.

"The ones who care about her appear to care about her quite deeply," he said, eventually.

Draco pushed down the uncomfortable feeling in his stomach, remembering the feeling of her small body in his arms, her arms around his neck, her face pressed into his chest.

As if his father had read his thoughts, Lucius turned to him and said, "It would be best if we didn't let ourselves get too attached to her, Draco. You know as well as I that she is a target of the Dark Lord.

That aside, even if she survives, we could never be compatible with

Her kind."

 

Draco didn't respond. He got the message all too strongly. He felt strangely nauseous about it.

"Son, tell me you understand me."

"Of course," he snapped, angrily. "You don't want us getting friendly with a Mudblood. I'm not stupid, father."

 

Lucius didn't seem to be very happy with the situation, but Draco wasn't sure why. He got what he wanted - Draco's word not to get close to Granger. It was infuriating

How could he avoid warming up to

her a bit? How could either of them? She was a fucking enigma, but there was no denying her quiet appeal. Even his father had softened towards her, no matter how much he might deny it.

 

"She is certainly very kind to us," Lucius said, absently. "It's a pity about her blood."

 

He left Draco in the living room to go inspect the kitchen for something edible.

Draco stayed in front of the fireplace, trying to calm his furious pulse before he followed.

They ate stale muffins with tea.

Lucius glared at his plate and picked at the food half-heartedly.

 

"I hope she feels better soon. I've gotten used to her cooking," he said.

Hermione stayed in her room all day, staring up with dead eyes. Draco checked on her frequently, but she gave no indication that she saw him.

 

"I may not be allowed to be friends with you, Granger, but I still want you to get better," he said, awkwardly, sitting beside her on the bed. "Don't worry about the cut on my arm. It's nothing. It's healing quickly. I know you didn't mean it."

static

She blinked, and Draco sighed, leaving her alone again.

At 9pm, the floo roared to life. Harry and Ron stumbled out. Draco and Lucius looked up from their reading, surprised at the intrusion.

They were both heavily bandaged, but appeared to be healthy enough. Ron had a nasty black eye.

"Wolf said you were hurt," Harry said, glaring at Draco.

Draco raised an eyebrow. "Don't pretend you care, Potter. It's a shallow cut. I'll be fine. She's in her room if you want to see her."

They left to find Hermione without another word.

Half an hour later, they returned.

"She's in a pretty bad state," said Ron, frowning. "Was it triggered by the night terror?"

"No," snapped Draco. "It was triggered when she realized you two morons didn't show up and drew the obvious conclusion."

Pained guilt crossed both Harry and Ron's faces.

"Fuck," said Ron. "She thought we had died. How long do you think it will take for her to start talking again?" he asked, turning to Harry.

"It was months last time," Harry replied with a heavy sigh. "We'll just have to see. Malfoy, I don't know if she'll be able to keep up your treatments or not. We may have to send someone else to try it if she can't."

Draco grimaced. He only needed treatments every second day now, so he wasn't desperate yet, but the thought of some random Order member putting their hands on his bare chest was repulsive.

"I thought nobody else knew how," he said.

"Nobody else does, not as well as Hermione, but it's better we try than to have it take over your body again," Harry said with a shrug.

Draco simply grunted. He wanted Granger to look after him. Only Granger. He was used to her.

"We'll have mum send over some food," said Ron, eyeing the crumbled remnants of their breakfast on the kitchen table. "Don't know when Hermione will start cooking again."

Lucius sneered as the two men left by floo.

"If I have to subsist on a Weasley's cooking, I swear to Merlin I'll go back to the Dark Lord myself."

The following day, an Order member named Rose came through the floo with Harry and Ron.

"Malfoy, Rose is going to try and do your treatment. She's had some Healer training, and she's familiar with the potions Hermione uses," said Ron. He had slightly fewer bandages on, but his black eye was as puffy as ever.

Rose looked extremely anxious. She seemed to be about the same age as Draco, but she was very petite, her mousy brown hair chopped off at the chin, awkwardly framing her skinny face. Her eyes were darting around the room.

Draco arched an eyebrow at her. This was Granger's replacement? The girl looked like she was about to pass out from nerves.

He saw his father smirk as he pretended to read his latest book.

With a shrug, Draco took off his shirt and lay down on the couch, the way Granger liked.

"Go on then," he snapped, and the girl almost yelped with fright.

Harry rolled his eyes. "We're going to see 'Mione. Don't frighten the poor girl, Malfoy." He left with Ron.

Rose inched closer to Draco, her hands shaking as she set out the potions. Draco resisted the urge to growl at her.

"O-okay," she stuttered. "I'm just going to - "

"You don't have to explain, just fucking do it," Draco snarled. He hated this simpering flower of a girl. Even a brain-damaged Granger had more grace than she did.

Her potion was thinner than Granger's, and when she smeared it on his chest, it ran all over the couch.

"You fucking idiot, you've ruined the couch!" he snapped. Rose whimpered and pressed her hands onto his chest, beginning the incantation in a shaky voice.

She was only able to pull a few strands out before Draco lost his cool and told her to bugger off. The treatment was enough to hold him for a while, even if it was a woefully inadequate impression of Granger's skill.

static

Lucius's smirk only grew as the girl ran into the floo, clutching her bag of potions, her lower lip trembling.

 

"You haven't lost your touch, son," he said.

 

"She's a shitty Healer," he replied. "Granger could run circles around her."

 

Lucius didn't respond, and turned another page in his book.

Draco went to visit Hermione that night after Harry and Ron left.

 

"Hi Granger," he said, perching on the edge of the bed. "Just thought you'd want to know that they have some moronic female Order member doing my care now. She's a complete dunce."

 

Hermione's eyes were closed. Maybe she was asleep. Her hand rested close to his and he wondered what would happen if he touched her fingers.

 

"She ruined your couch, too. Maybe you can fix it with your wand when you get better."

He touched his index finger to hers, and then traced along each finger, slowly and carefully. Nobody had to know he was doing this. Nobody had to know anything.

"My father doesn't want me to get too close to you, but I think he's full of shite. You're not bad when it comes down to it. Even my father likes you. He just worries because of

Because of the blood thing."

He smoothed his hand over hers. Her skin was so soft. Nobody had to know.

"I used to worry about that. Not so much anymore. You're different than I expected." He was whispering now, worried Lucius was listening at the door. "I'm not saying I want want to be friendly. But we're too different, I suppose."

Anything

With you

I just

Draco sighed to himself. Everything was fucked up. He wanted to be friends with the Mudblood. He had just said it out loud, and it was the stupid truth.

 

"We used to be something, you know. My family. Now I don't know what we are. Nearly extinct, I guess."

He rubbed his thumb across her wrist. Every part of her was soft.

"I heard Potter and Weasley say you tried to off yourself. I hope that's not true, but if it is, I hope you don't do it anymore. I know what it's like to lose hope right? You've got a lot of decent things in your life. People really care about you. Not everyone has that."

But it's not so awful here. This is worth living for,

With a sigh, he gave her hand a squeeze and stood up.

 

"Weasley and Potter say it will be months before you're back to normal, but they're idiots. I know you'll bounce back from this. I sure as fuck hope you do, anyway, because they've got us eating that Weasley woman's cooking. And Granger, if I have to suffer through another treatment with that nightmare of a Healer, I think I might just let the curse take over again. She has clammy hands."

 

He walked out of the room feeling worse than he did before he went to see her. Everything seemed so much more dire coming out of his mouth.

 

He slept restlessly while the curse shifted around inside him.

Two days later, he was a quaking mess.

 

"I don't care if she's scared of him, he needs a Healer!" Lucius was shouting into the floo. "The curse is gaining strength again. If she had done a better job, we wouldn't be having this conversation!"

 

Draco was barely listening, curled up in the fetal position on the couch, sweaty and pale. Waves of burning pain were rising in his blood - nothing like the night Granger had left him, but enough to make him terrified it would get worse.

Rose stumbled through the floo several minutes later, carrying her potions and looking warily at Draco. Lucius crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes at her.

 

"Please take your shirt off," she said in a squeaky voice as she mixed the potions. Draco tore it off and lay down, his body jerking against his will.

She began the incantation and Draco waited for the relief.

Nothing happened.

 

"What the fuck

"

he rasped.

"I

I don't know what's wrong

"

she said. Concentrating, she started the incantation again.

 

"Maybe I mixed the potion incorrectly

"

she began, looking puzzled.

"You fucking worthless excuse for a Healer!" Draco yelled hoarsely. "I'm burning up and you can't even get the goddamn potion right? You're a useless, pitiful - "

 

"That's enough, Malfoy," said Hermione's voice. "Rose, go back to Headquarters please. I'll be able to do his care now."

Rose shot Hermione a shocked and grateful look. She literally ran into the floo.

static

"Granger!" Draco croaked. "Thank Merlin."

Hermione walked up beside him. She looked pale and weak, but her eyes were alive with anger.

"You were a complete arse to her," she snapped. "Lie down properly."

He shifted into position quickly, overwhelmed with relief at seeing her face. He didn't even mind being bossed around. It was so distinctly Granger, it was almost comforting.

She sniffed the girl's potion and crinkled her nose. After making some adjustments, she smeared it on Draco's chest and began the incantation.

That same strange feeling bubbled up in his blood as she pulled the curse out of him, but there was something else there.

It was her hands. He loved the feeling of her hands on him. His pulse sped up. He almost groaned at the sensation, but bit it back.

"You'll need a lot more treatment now," she said. "It's gotten stronger again."

Draco found himself saying a small 'thank you' to the Gods for that. Her palms pressed against him, her fingertips resting near his collarbone. He wanted to cover her hands with his own.

You can't, he chastised himself. You promised you'd keep your distance.

He looked up and saw Lucius frowning at him. Instead of reading into it, he closed his eyes and enjoyed the last few minutes of Granger's soft hands on his skin. He never wanted to see that other fucking Healer again.

Eventually she pulled away.

"You're okay," Draco said, staring at her in awe. Now that the pain was gone, he was able to see how incredible that was.

"We were very worried about you, Miss Granger," said Lucius, eyeing her carefully. Draco resisted the urge to sneer at his father. Lucius did like her. There was genuine concern in his voice. What a hypocrite.

"I'm sorry I worried you," she said with a soft smile. "It was easier to bounce back this time, for some reason."

Draco wondered uncomfortably if she used the words "bounce back" by coincidence, or because she had heard him talking the other night. Because if she had heard him say that, she heard him say a lot more too.

"Have either of you eaten?" she asked. They shook their heads no.

She stood up and walked to the kitchen, rifling though the cupboards to prepare a late dinner.

Draco avoided his father's eyes and walked to his bedroom. He could use a cold shower before he went out there again. The memory of her hands was doing strange, wonderful things to him.

They had a quiet dinner, and Draco paid extra attention to the way his father treated Hermione. Lucius smiled at her twice. He refilled her water without her asking. He thanked her for the meal.

After she retreated to her room, Draco caught his father's guilty eyes.

"You're a lousy fucking actor," he sneered.

"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about," said Lucius, wiping imaginary dust off his sleeve.

Draco snorted. "You care about her! You want to be her friend!" he hissed. "Don't even bother to deny it. You know what, father? I don't give a rat's arse if you do, but then don't feed me that tripe about not getting attached to her. She may not be a Pureblood, but as you may have noticed, she is the only person who has given us the time of day since our rescue. Everyone else would rather see us dead - on both sides. If you're allowed to be friendly to her, then so am I."

Lucius returned Draco's glare. "Just how friendly do you want to get with her, son? She's quite pretty, you know. The way you look at her hasn't escaped my attention."

"Oh please," Draco scoffed. "I'm not looking to sully the bloodline. I wouldn't stoop that low. I just don't see why we can't treat her the way she treats us - nicely. The girl attacked us with a knife and then felt

badly about it

Surely you realize how rare a reaction that is?"

Lucius smirked at the joke. "Yes, perhaps I see your point. It is nice to have an ally, even if she is of questionable blood status. We can be friendly to her, if you wish."

Draco let his shoulders relax. He was relieved at his father's words - it was getting harder and harder for him to cover up his lack of hatred towards their hostess.

"But son, I don't want this getting beyond the realm of friendship, you understand? You will not destroy hundreds of years of perfect breeding just because a Mudblood is being kind to us."

His shoulders tensed up again. He was starting to dislike that word. But if those were the terms, fine. He didn't want more than friendship anyways. He didn't.

The memory of her hands slipped into his brain, and he pushed it out with a scowl.

static

CHAPTER7

Hermione sat in her room trying to figure out why she was able to function. It didn't make sense. Her previous breakdowns had left her in a useless state for weeks, sometimes months, forcing out the occasional word or short phrase. Now it was just a matter of days, and she really felt this time. She was able to converse. She could heal beyond the basic auto-pilot motions she had memorized. What had changed?

She had slid into her mind after having the night terror, after finding out that Harry and Ron didn't show up. The possibility of their deaths jolted her system and sent her spiralling inward. Just like last time, she was wallowing in that fuzzy dream state where she was only minutely aware of what was going on around her. It was like being under water. It was also like being paralyzed. She floated there, wondering vaguely how long it would be until the fog cleared.

But she picked up more detail than usual. That was the first sign that things were different this time. Something in her mind had changed. There was no detail before - just muted sounds, fuzzy faces, the occasional bout of lucidity.

She knew Draco had placed her on the bed with peculiar kindness.

She knew Wolf had come to see her, fretting over her and stroking her hair, murmuring soothing words into her ear that state. Maybe she had missed something. Had Wolf always looked at her like that?

The way a lover would, not a friend. Certainly not an employer. It puzzled her, even in

She knew Harry and Ron eventually came by. Relief registered somewhere in her brain, but she couldn't break out of her trance to tell them how worried she had been.

Lucius popped his head in and told her she was missed around the house. He kept looking over his shoulder as he spoke, as though he was worried about getting caught. Who was going to catch him? Draco? If he only knew.

Draco the chameleon. Dropping in on her to say hello. Telling her about Molly's food, or about Rose's healing. Telling her he wanted to be friends. Saying he was having doubts about blood status. Telling her he didn't blame her for the night terror.

Touching her hand. Washing her face and arms. Tracing her fingers.

Being so incredibly gentle.

And even in her state, she remembered the fact that she had woken up on his lap. Wrapped in his arms. He may be surly and arrogant, but he certainly wasn't the looming testament of hate he used to be.

It was like a coffee percolator, she decided. All these little details filtering down into the caffeinated slew that was her consciousness. Poking her awake. Telling her that people needed her. Draco's face

sliding in and out of her mind, his fingers tracing her fingers. Around the index, around the middle, around the ring

It was such an innocent yet intimate act.

And then he was telling her she could snap out of this. Like he really believed it. He tended to say things as if there was no room for argument.

Somewhere in the fog, her mind agreed.

The next thing she was aware of was his frantic whimpers echoing down the hall as the curse gained strength. Her ears picked up the sounds easily at first, and she guessed he was in his bedroom. Then he moved to the living room and she could just barely hear him gasping for air. Worry permeated the fog. She knew what that curse was doing to him. Someone had to help.

Drip, drip, drip. Her consciousness was being prodded awake. Up you get.

Suddenly, she was sitting up in bed, and Rose was squeaking instructions in the next room. Draco was angry and rude, but that was Draco.

It was enough to bring Hermione back. Not like her old self from school - far from it - but she was able to function and chat and get angry at Draco for being a complete arse. She would take the small victories as they came.

Okay, Hermione thought. Maybe Harry and Ron were right. Taking care of the Malfoys is helping me cope, helping me function.

It was encouraging and slightly amazing to think that those two difficult men might be pushing along her recovery. She couldn't deny it though

But what was she to do with all these new details?

They certainly made her feel needed.

Behind closed doors, Wolf had behaved as if he was in love with her. At work, he was friendly and kind, checking up on her fairly often but giving her as much space as she wanted. He'd never displayed a great deal of emotion, and she'd never considered the possibility that he might want to be more than just a friend or an employer.

This put her in a difficult position. He would assume that she wouldn't remember his behaviour, and it was an understandable conclusion. Under normal circumstances, she wouldn't. Except that she did this time, and it was going to be hard to pretend otherwise. She was puzzled - he was a handsome, influential man. What could he possibly want with a girl whose brain was broken?

Lucius was a curious one. Pretending to be cold and distant with her, warning Draco away from becoming close, when in reality he was just as concerned as everyone else. Hermione guessed that he was stuck between two governing impulses: one, so far dominant, telling him to reject her because of her blood. The other, slowly gaining strength, telling him to move beyond his blood prejudice and treat her like a proper ally. One day, he might consider treating her like an equal. It was a big maybe, but it was there.

Then there was Draco. Hermione had noticed his lessening vitriol over the past month or so, and hadn't reached a conclusion about it. Sure, he still whipped out the predictable Mudblood taunt, but he also appeared to like her company and even occasionally struck up a conversation that didn't end in an insult. He had been teaching her chess with more patience than she had ever thought possible. He had even started giving her backhanded compliments.

More small victories.

But those actions didn't really hit home until the night terror. Looking after her the way he did, and then his unguarded comments in her bedroom, painted a completely different picture than the Draco Malfoy she had known for so long.

static

He was a strange one.

Hermione glanced down at her hands and noticed that she had been absent-mindedly tracing her fingers in the same manner Draco had done.

Draco.

When on earth did she refer to him that way in her thoughts? This whole situation was too bloody bizarre. And of course, he didn't know that she remembered everything he said. It would probably make him defensive, so she would keep it to herself for now. She would try not to think of his fingers tracing hers.

Shaking herself out of her thoughts, she decided to hide out in her room until Harry and Ron arrived. Rose would have told them by now, and she wanted to show them how far she had come. They would be so impressed. Maybe she was even getting better.

Hermione stretched out on her bed and waited.

Draco and Lucius were sitting in tense silence when Harry and Ron came through the floo.

"Is it true?" Harry asked, too surprised to remember to sound angry.

"What, that your princess is awake and talking?" snapped Draco. "Yes, it's true."

"Do you think she's getting better, mate?" Ron said to Harry, a small disbelieving smile on his face, completely ignoring Draco's jab. "She's never recovered that quickly before."

Harry shrugged, but he was smiling too.

"Oh, just go visit the girl before you send her into another fit, you idiots," Draco snarled. He was sick to death of the Wonder Duo, and if he had to watch them swoon over Granger for another second, he was going to break something.

They both scowled at him and stormed off in the direction of her bedroom.

Draco turned a new, uncomfortable idea over in his head. "Father?" he asked.

Lucius looked up.

"You don't think that

I mean, if Granger really does get better, you don't think they'll take her back, do you? Put her on missions again and keep her away from the house?" He was trying hard to sound

calm and indifferent, but the possibility made him feel anything but. She was functional again - that meant she could spend her days the way she did before. He had grown to enjoy teaching her chess, and he was pleased that the three of them could all sit and read in the same room without it feeling horribly uncomfortable. It was annoying enough that she went to work in the afternoons with that tosser Wolf. If Potter and Weasley started involving her in the Order again, her time would be all used up.

Lucius frowned, obviously drawing the same conclusions. "I suppose it's not impossible that she would spend less and less time here if they deemed her healthy enough."

Draco grunted. He wasn't happy about this at all. Maybe Granger could just pretend to be a total basket case again? But that would mean she would have to want to stay at the house with them. Maybe she didn't want that at all. Maybe she wanted to join the missions. Maybe she wanted to be the fucking bitchy know-it-all she was in school.

She didn't need him around to do any of that.

He rubbed his eyes angrily, frustrated that a functional Granger could bring so many complications along. Couldn't things just go back to normal? He had his father's blessing to be friendly, after all. He could make it worth her while if she stayed tucked away in the house with them. He could learn how to be nice. They needed her more than those other idiots. Besides, she was a target. If she got more involved again, she would be in danger. Surely they didn't want that.

A door slammed and Harry and Ron came walking briskly back into the living room, frowning.

"What, not happy with your princess's progress?" Draco said, dryly. In truth, he was confused as to why they had come back so quickly, looking none-too-pleased either. They should be overjoyed with how she was doing.

"You certainly must be thrilled, Malfoy," Harry ground out as Draco's eyebrows rose. "Apparently she became lucid after she realized the curse was taking you again."

Draco felt a strange twitch in his heart. That's what woke her up? He saw his father straighten up in his chair.

"What did you do to make her worry about you?" Ron seethed, advancing slowly on the Malfoys. "Last I checked, you didn't even want her 'filthy' hands on you."

Draco thought briefly of Hermione's soft hands sliding over his chest, and quickly shuffled the image away. Now was not the time. He didn't like the way Weasley's fingers were twitching near his wand, anyway.

"It's been two months since I said that," he said, dismissing the issue with a wave of his hand. He had to get Potter and Weasley off this train of thought before they tried to take Granger away from him. If they thought things were getting too comfortable, they would purposefully ruin the quiet balance of the house. "Obviously I'm grateful that Granger has been able to treat my father and I. As for her being worried, I think that's just a typical bleeding heart Gryffindor thing, don't you? Doesn't your kind worry about everyone?"

His father caught on to Draco's attempt at diversion and joined in. "Surely you don't believe that my son has somehow swayed Miss Granger into being more concerned than she would be for anyone else," sneered Lucius. "Are you worried that your Mudblood has softened to a Malfoy?"

"Don't use that fucking term around me, Lucius," said Harry, angrily.

static

Ron was looking between the two Malfoys suspiciously. His fingers relaxed somewhat.

"Let's go, Harry. It's true

'Mione couldn't possibly give a shit about these two murderers. They'd as soon kill her as look at her. It was their side that broke her mind in the first place. She's just being nice.

She'll come back to the Order as soon as they're better."

Draco flinched. He heard the roar of the floo as they left, but his eyes stayed locked on the table.

"Do you think she would?" he asked his father, quietly. "Leave, I mean?"

Lucius sighed. "We've already discussed this son. Of course it's possible, but we really have no idea how her mind would fare outside the house. Perhaps she's able to function her best here. Perhaps not. I really think you're too invested in this - we can't allow ourselves to become too dependent on her."

Draco's anger flared. "Dependent? Dependent? We starve without her, I become possessed by a curse, your leg is already starting a new infection, and we have zero stimulation other than her library. I think we've passed the point of being dependent, father. My concern is, since we know we rely on her, and don't you fucking deny it, will the Wonder Duo try and take her away? We have no idea how long this war will last, and honestly, if Granger makes our time here a little more bearable, it's not surprising that I'm concerned she might leave." He stood up so quickly his chair fell backwards. Fuming, he stalked off to his room, not looking back at the shocked look on his father's face.

As he was reaching for the doorknob, he heard a shaky sniffle coming from Hermione's room. He froze. Was she upset? Of course, Potter and Weasley had been less than welcoming about her reasons for waking up, but would they be stupid enough to voice that in front of her?

Draco stood in the hallway for several long seconds trying to decide what to do. Would it seem too friendly to go check up on her, or just friendly enough? Maybe it was easier just to be rude to her after all. This business of introspection was bloody exhausting.

With a sigh, he knocked lightly on her door. "Granger? You okay?"

He pushed open the door, and found Hermione curled up in the bed, her eyes red and puffy, wet with tears.

It was a very sad sight.

Completely unsure how to proceed, he sat down awkwardly on the edge of the bed.

"Not liking the real world?" he said, knowing the joke was probably in bad taste. To his surprise, she chuckled.

"They were mad. I mean, actually mad that I was worried about you," she said. A strand of her hair was plastered to her cheek, and he tried very hard not to reach out and move it. "I thought they would be happy with my progress, but no."

"Your progress is brilliant," Draco scoffed. "Even I can see that. You're stronger than you give yourself credit for, Granger. If those two dolts can't figure that out, than maybe it's a good thing you're not more involved with the Order right now."

She looked at him in surprise. Even though he had become less frosty, that was an unusually kind thing to say. "Thanks, Malfoy," she said.

He grunted in reply.

"I'm not going back to what I used to do for the Order," she said, unexpectedly. "I feel safe in my house, and I get anxious enough going to work, but I can't imagine participating in missions again. I think I'd

shut right down. It's the over-stimulation that does it

The unpredictability. I can control what happens here. Makes it easier to keep my brain focused."

Draco nodded. That made sense. The relief he felt at her comment about the Order raced through his body.

"So you're saying you're up for a chess game tomorrow?" he chanced, smirking.

"If you're prepared to win without lifting a finger," she deadpanned.

Draco snorted. He never thought he'd hear her joke again. "You're not that bad, Granger. Game after breakfast. No backing out now."

He stood up as a tiny smile crossed her face.

"Thank you for being worried about me, by the way," he said, not meeting her eyes. He hated thanking people for anything, but this seemed right, as long as she didn't get used to it. "I'm glad you woke up. Rose was useless. I'd probably be burned to a crisp right now if I had suffered through any more of her so-called care."

He could see Hermione's smile widen in his peripheral.

"You're so rude," she said.

"At least I'm predictable," he said with a shrug, and left her room before things got any friendlier.

She doesn't want to leave, he thought as he lay in bed that night. She feels safe here. He dreamt of her hands until morning.

The next day, Draco beat Hermione at chess, but he made sure to give her a fighting chance before he went in for the kill.

"Checkmate," he said with a grin.

static

"Predictable," she sighed. "Oh, Lucius, I almost forgot

have an interest in astrology, so I ordered the back copies of the Wizard Astrologer for you. I guess they came in a few days ago when I was

"

She stood up abruptly and walked over to the kitchen, opening a drawer and pulling out a stack of magazines. "From your reading, I noticed you

Well

Out of commission."

She placed then in front of him on the table, and then went to work on the dishes.

Lucius stared at the stack.

Draco observed his father, curious how he would react to such a thoughtful gesture. Hermione didn't notice the strange tension, scrubbing away at the plates that she insisted on washing by hand.

"Miss Granger, these have been out of print for many years," Lucius said, carefully.

Hermione nodded absently, wiping down the counter. "Yes, but I've been curious about them myself, and I figured that if you might be interested, it would be worth ordering. I have some contacts who get me publications that are harder to find."

She hung up the dish towel, still oblivious to Lucius's struggle.

"Thank you, Miss Granger. That was very kind of you."

Her eyes drifted upwards and gazed amusedly at Lucius. "You can call me Hermione, you know," she said, softly.

static

CHAPTER8

Hermione stepped out of the floo at 6 pm sharp with a sparkle in her eyes.

Draco arched an eyebrow at her. He hadn't seen her look so animated since school. "Why are you looking so pleased, Granger?"

 

"I had an epiphany," she said, sitting next to him on the couch. "If I make an adjustment to your potion and then do the treatment twice a day instead of once, we can probably pull the rest of the curse out of you in about a week. The sessions will be a bit longer, but I think it could work."

He tried not to let his face fall at the news. Only one more week of treatments? "That's great," he choked out. "Can't say I'll miss the burning sensation." But I will miss your hands.

"Excellent," she said with a smile. "Shall we try now?"

Draco nodded and lay back on the couch, pulling off his shirt. Funny how comfortable it was to do this now, considering how intimate it had seemed months earlier. Hermione ducked into the room where she kept her potions and came back with her arms full. Placing them on the coffee table, she started tossing the ingredients together with practiced ease. Draco watched her as she worked, admiring the way her stubborn curls kept falling into her eyes. After the fourth time an errant curl blocked her vision, he reached out and tucked it behind her ear.

She paused in her mixing and looked at him. Neither of them moved for a moment.

 

Then she cleared her throat and continued to stir as if nothing had happened. Draco let out a nervous breath - he had acted without thinking. Gods, he was glad she took it in stride. It was surprisingly easy

to be nice to her, but intimate actions like that were a slippery slope. He was already worried enough about keeping his word to his father really, she had given no indication that such a thing would even interest her.

This had to stay platonic. He couldn't have a future with her, and

That was generally true for him as well, except when she touched him. When her skin met his, he started to wonder if maybe he was in a little deeper than he ought to be.

 

Suddenly, he felt the potion being spread over his chest and her small hands stretching out into position.

"So it will take a bit longer, and I'm going to try a couple of new areas to see if we get better results," she said.

He nodded, and tried to push inappropriate thoughts out of his head.

Pressing in, she began the spell. After a while, her hands slipped lower, from his chest to his ribs. He sucked in a breath as she continued the incantation. Minutes passed, and he focused feverishly on everything but the feeling of her fingers.

Her hands slipped down to his stomach, and he nearly lost it.

She will never touch me again if I get turned on by this. Focus, Draco

Focus

She slid her hands from his stomach back up to his chest, as though she were pushing the curse out of him.

 

He lost track of the time, and only realized she was done when she lifted her hands off him. He heard her let out a shaky breath. She wasn't affected by the treatment too

Was she?

"All done," she said, wiping her hands off, and then wiping his torso. "Again tomorrow morning?"

He simply nodded, and then bolted to his room before he could reach out to tuck another curl behind her ear.

Lucius was watching the treatment the following morning, and Draco exercised the control of a saint when her hands slipped down to his stomach.

 

He watched the curl hanging in front of her eyes with regret.

Lucius smirked.

His father was in the library when that evening's treatment took place, and Draco let himself relax a bit.

 

When a curl came loose, he tucked it behind her ear, and met her gaze as bravely as he could.

The following morning, he wondered what would happen if he really did cover her hands with his own.

 

No curls came loose, to his great disappointment.

He noticed her biting her lower lip in concentration. He wet his lips with his tongue, suddenly feeling parched.

 

Too soon, they were preparing for his last treatment.

"I think this should do it," she said. "There was almost nothing left this morning."

 

static

He simply nodded. His throat felt scratchy and thick. He didn't want the sessions to end. They guaranteed one-on-one time with her. They guaranteed physical contact. He had gotten extremely fond of both.

"How will you ever fulfill your need to put your hands on me now, Granger?" he teased, his voice hoarse. Merlin, now he had reduced himself to shameless flirting.

She quirked her brow at him. "I'm sure I'll find a way," she joked back.

His heart tightened a bit, and she began the treatment. She was right

There was hardly any of the curse left, but she went through all the motions anyway, taking her time.

Draco's chest was aching, and he grudgingly accepted that it wasn't from the final remnants of the curse. He tried to enjoy the touch of her hands, knowing it would be the last time he got to experience the feeling of them sliding over his body.

She pushed her hands back up to his chest. That was the last step. In a few moments, it would be over. Draco braced himself.

He noticed her hesitating, not pulling her hands away when he expected her to.

Taking a huge leap of faith, Draco brought his hands up and covered hers with his own. Even he could feel his frantic heartbeat through her palms how she felt about that.

There was no way she had missed it. He wondered

They stared into each other's eyes, breathing slowly. He didn't want to let go. She was so bloody soft.

A

door squeaked open, and Hermione gasped, pulling her hands away. He saw that she was trembling slightly as she cleaned them both up.

"All done," she whispered, sitting on the edge of the couch beside him, leaning in to wipe the rest of the potion from his chest.

He propped himself up on his elbows, bringing his face at level with hers. She was distractingly beautiful. He wished he had realized it sooner.

"Pity," he whispered back, and kissed her on the cheek. He hadn't planned to do it, but he was pushed by the fear that he might not get another chance.

Colour flushed up her neck, and she glanced down at his mouth. Draco saw the look, and his breath caught in his throat. Did he dare? Would she let him kiss her on the lips? It was very much not in the plans, but suddenly seemed like exactly what he wanted to do. It felt like everything was leading up to this moment. He could analyze it later, but he knew how badly he wanted this, and it scared him. His life was morphing into an unrecognizable mix of emotions that he'd never felt before. Slowly, very timidly, Draco leaned in, the smell of jasmine taking over his senses like some sort of heady aphrodisiac. Hermione's eyes started to slide shut. So close

A

door closed loudly, signalling his father's imminent arrival, and she pulled away with a jump, quickly gathering the potions up and grabbing the now-full bucket. Draco let loose a colourful string of swear

words in his mind. Damn his father's timing to hell.

"All set to check your leg," she said to Lucius as he walked down the hall, her voice unusually high. She hurried to the room where she kept her potions. "Just give me a moment."

Lucius caught Draco's eye.

"She seems a bit flustered," he said, narrowing his gaze at his son.

Draco shrugged, trying not to seem overly upset at his father's intrusion and failing. He was fucking furious.

His lips felt numb. His heart was still going wild inside his chest. Fuck, he had been so close.

Lucius looked at his son's distracted demeanor and drew his own conclusions, clenching his jaw angrily.

Hermione closed the door of the spare room behind her, frantically putting away her potions. Her heart was racing and she felt uncomfortably warm.

I kiss Harry and Ron on the cheek all the time. They kiss me on the cheek too. It doesn't have to mean anything.

She tossed the potion-soaked cloth in the hamper and placed the bucket on top of the dresser, the curse sloshing around inside.

It doesn't have to mean anything. He was just being friendly.

Oh, but she liked the gesture, she realized with a groan. Unexpectedly, she liked it. Harry and Ron's kisses felt sweet and caring. Brotherly. This kiss felt charged. It didn't feel like a simple kiss on the cheek between friends. It felt like a precursor to something bigger.

Something that made her heart skip.

Something nice.

Something that had almost happened. A proper kiss. The kind of kiss she could probably drown in. She wasn't sure if she felt relieved or furious at Lucius's abhorrent timing.

was true; she liked Draco's gentle manner these days. When he tucked her hair behind her ear. When he touched her hands. She liked all of it, even if it scared her. It made her feel again, using parts of her heart and brain she thought had died long ago. Parts that died with Anthony, or with her parents, or with those children. She had missed that feeling more than she knew.

It

Suddenly, she was doubting herself. She hadn't imagined it, right? He had leaned in, hadn't he? Would he really have kissed her on the mouth? Gods, she didn't even know if she minded the idea anymore.

static

Confusing. This is confusing. Damn you, Malfoy.

 

Hermione could hear the murmers of Draco and Lucius talking in the living room, and she knew she'd have to go back. She had to check Lucius's leg, she had to make dinner about that kiss. And that almost kiss.

She had to stop thinking

Just STOP. Just because he's been nice lately doesn't mean he wants something more. Stop worrying. It's probably nothing.

But wait

His heart had been hammering underneath her hands. She had felt it. Hell, he had probably felt it too.

Hermione had never been a big fan of denial, but the truth was scaring her. His heart had been pounding, and then he had kissed her on the cheek. He probably would have done more if Lucius hadn't interrupted.

It meant something, didn't it.

 

Hermione swore quietly. Yes, it meant something. Something she was shocked to discover she might not be opposed to after all.

 

She took a deep breath and stood up, schooling her face into an expression of calm. She would think more about it later. For now, she would have to plead ignorance and get through the rest of the evening.

With a determination that surprised her, she forced the image of his lips out of her mind.

 

Hermione walked out of the spare room to find Lucius and Draco glaring at each other.

 

"Everything okay?" she asked, warily.

 

Lucius snapped out of his tense expression and gave her a strained smile. "Yes. Yes, of course." Draco continued to glare.

 

"Good. Shall we look at your leg?"

 

Lucius nodded, and Draco stood up.

"You can use the couch," Draco said, avoiding her eyes. "I'll be in my room." He took off without a backwards glance.

 

Hermione frowned as she started looking over Lucius's leg. That was odd. "You two didn't argue, did you?" she asked.

Lucius gave her a guarded look. "No, not exactly."

 

She removed the gauze and added an antiseptic to the reddest area. Lucius flinched - it was obviously still sore. "It's alright, we don't need to talk about it if you don't want."

 

She could see Lucius assessing her out of the corner of her eye, but stayed focused on her work. If he really wanted to talk, he would do it on his own. She had enough to think about without worrying about some father / son spat, and besides which, Lucius could be a little frightening when he was angry. She knew he hadn't seen anything between her and Draco because she had pulled away before Lucius came into view.

Besides, there was nothing to see

Right?

"Miss Granger

"

"Hermione, please."

 

"Very well, Hermione. I'll be frank. I've noticed that you and Draco seem to have gotten over some of your differences recently. It's quite a change from how things were when you first decided to take us in."

So that's what they've been arguing about.

 

Hermione waffled briefly between being honest or cautious. As much as Lucius had warmed up to her over the past few months, she knew he still held on to some of his old prejudices, and Draco had already let slip that he wasn't "allowed" to be friends with her. She guessed his father wouldn't be thrilled to know about Draco's affectionate, albeit confusing, behaviour.

She shrugged, playing it safe. "Seemed pointless to keep up an internal war when there's so many bigger things going on. It's easier to be friendly than to be hostile."

 

Please drop it.

Lucius was assessing her again. She busied her hands unwrapping some fresh gauze, trying not to seem nervous under his gaze. The man could certainly be intimidating when he tried.

"How friendly?" he asked.

 

"Excuse me?" she said, her eyes shooting up to meet his. He was really serious about this. That didn't bode well at all.

 

"How friendly are you and Draco?" His gaze issued a silent challenge to her. It said, you know what I mean. It also wasn't the most cheerful look he had ever given her.

Hermione's mood shifted. Her skittish nervousness and happy glow transformed into a mix of anger and sadness. Apparently she needn't worry about whether or not Draco was developing feelings for her,

or vice versa

Lucius was determined to stop anything before it started. Perhaps she shouldn't be surprised, but she was.

 

static

She tightened the gauze around his leg in one deft tug. He flinched again.

"Worried Draco will start being nice to a Mudblood, Lucius?" she said, knowing she probably sounded as upset as she felt. She already knew the answer, and if she was being honest, it hurt.

He had the decency to look slightly ashamed.

"That's not what I meant

"

"Yes, it is," she snapped, cutting him off. "I know it is. Don't lie to me." Her composure was slipping and she felt tears prick her eyes, but she decided to continue before she lost her nerve. "Allow me to put your mind at ease. Draco and I are only just getting to be friends, largely because he was raised to believe that I am beneath him in every sense. His friendship will be hard enough for me to secure, you can trust that. As for anything beyond friendship, I'm sure his upbringing and continuing societal and familial pressures will be enough to keep him far away from me and my dirty blood. Apparently I am good enough to feed you, heal you and provide conversation, but anything else is off the board. Have I read you correctly?"

She threw her medical supplies into the tote and stood up abruptly. She had to get out of there before she started to cry or something equally as humiliating. She knew how much hurt and anger had radiated through her words, but at least it was accurate. So what if Lucius knew she was upset? The Mudblood wasn't good enough for his son. Message received, loud and clear.

"Hermione, I'm not trying to make things difficult for either of you

"

Lucius said.

She gave him a disbelieving glare. "Please stop the act, Lucius. I'm unstable, not stupid."

He gave her a sympathetic look and continued. "I know you're not stupid, which is why you must understand my point of view. Draco is a Pureblood, and it would not be proper for him to develop feelings for you. We can't have weak blood introduced to the family line. Surely you understand that - "

"Weak blood?" she whispered, slightly in awe at the attitude of the man she had become rather fond of over the past while. "Weak blood. Really Lucius? Is that still what I am to you? Just some witch with weak blood?"

He opened his mouth to speak, but no sound came out. He seemed unsure how to respond. He shifted uncomfortably.

"Amazing," she spat. "You are a real piece of work."

She turned on her heel and walked away.

"Miss Granger!" she heard him calling behind her. "Hermione!" She ignored him as a few renegade tears finally escaped her eyes. It had felt nice to be cared for, even for that brief moment where Draco had touched her hands and kissed her cheek. It had given her a sliver of hope that she could still mean something to someone, even if things had ended up going nowhere. The hope was the nice part. It had been so long since she'd felt like there was half a chance for her, and suddenly she was given a reprieve from the oppressive loneliness that had swallowed her whole.

But that was silly. The person who had given her that hope was a Pureblood, she was not, and it would be hard enough for them to be friends. Anything more? Well, that was impossible, apparently. Served her right for hoping in the first place. Draco probably hadn't even leaned in at all. She had conjured the idea out of blinding emptiness, no doubt. How pathetic of her.

Hermione locked her door and silenced her room. Her two houseguests could feed themselves dinner. She was done being their maid.

static

CHAPTER9

Draco walked out of his room at 9 pm, wondering why he hadn't been called for dinner. He expected to find Hermione in the kitchen, his father reading at the table. There was such a routine around this house now that he was rarely taken by surprise.

Instead, he found his father on the couch, trying to read but looking disgruntled. Hermione was nowhere to be seen.

"Father?" he said, puzzled.

Lucius looked up, his face drawn and tired.

"She's gone to bed. Mr. Potter already came by with her potion."

Draco didn't understand. She never left them without food

Unless she was completely incapacitated.

"Was she feeling ill?" he asked, worry kicking around in his stomach. "Did she have another episode?"

"She wasn't feeling up to having company," his father replied, vaguely, not meeting Draco's eyes.

Something clicked in Draco's brain. That strange expression on his father's face was guilt, and that could only mean one thing.

"What did you say to her?" he said, suddenly angry. "You upset her, didn't you? Was this about earlier? Did you draw some drastically incorrect assumption about my behaviour towards her?"

"I think I am quite correct in my assumption about your behaviour, son," Lucius snapped. "You are developing feelings for her, just as I feared. I simply reminded her that you are not able to be involved with each other. Surely the girl knew that."

"But we're not involved!" Draco shouted, almost pleadingly. "We're just becoming friends! What right do you have to scare her off? Maybe I like having a friend!"

"You want more than friendship with her and you know it," snarled Lucius. "But you can't. You can't have it, you hear? I won't have you falling in love with someone of lesser status than you. I regret that she took it badly, but all I did was tell her that we can't have weak blood poisoning our family line - "

"Do not tell me you used that language with her," Draco seethed, his voice dangerously low. "Even you wouldn't be that callous. Tell me you didn't say that to her."

Lucius didn't respond, and looked away.

"You did. You actually did." Draco ran his hand through his hair, astounded that his father would do such a thing. After she saved them from a death sentence. After she had cared for them so diligently. He almost wanted to laugh, it was so absurd. "Do I need to remind you of everything she's done for us? Do I need to point out that it is our blood that is a handicap in this world? Two Death Eater Purebloods, ready to extinguish our family name because we can't be bothered to evolve - "

"Evolve?" Lucius shouted. "Do you think having pure blood is something to evolve out of? We are privileged! Of course I am grateful for everything she's done. She's a very bright young woman, and I owe her a great deal for her sacrifices. But I cannot allow you to be reckless with your relationships! You are to marry a Pureblooded witch - "

"Who, father? Who am I to marry? Surely you realize that nearly all the eligible Purebloods in our community are involved with the Dark Lord. They wouldn't want me, and at this point, I wouldn't want them. Would you condemn me to a life of bachelorhood if I can't find someone you approve of? Either way, the Malfoy name dies with me."

Lucius snapped his mouth shut, breathing heavily. He looked furious, but Draco could tell he had hit a nerve.

"You know what, father?" Draco said, more calmly now. "I didn't know where things might go with her. I was interested in finding out, seeing if she'd give me a chance after how I've treated her, but it wasn't

some sure thing. I just wanted to see. She's

than we deserve, too. I actually feel happy when I spend time with her. I can't think of anyone else who has that effect on me. You've not only ruined that, the tiny, minute chance of something romantic, but

you've ruined my chance to have an actual friend too. She really is the only person in my life right now. The only person who might be forgiving enough to befriend me. Everyone else wants me to disappear." It was hard to say these things out loud. Although Draco knew them to be true, they were very depressing realities and he had been happy to ignore them. Other than his father, he had no one. At times like this, he missed his mother more than he could ever explain.

Different. She's intriguing. She's forgiving." He let out a sad, desperate laugh that sounded a bit like a sob, his calm facade slipping. "She treats us both better

Lucius was looking at the ground, guilt clouding his harsh features.

"What's going to happen, father?" Draco said, even softer now. "Let's say for the sake of argument that the Dark Lord is brought down. Do you really think anyone but her will give us a chance? If you do, you're dreaming. The Order hates us; they only keep us around for those paltry bits of information you feed them. I'm actually amazed they keep us around with how little you say. The other side, well, we know how they feel about us. The public won't be forgiving, either. They'll want us slaughtered. Who else but her?"

Lucius didn't respond. He looked so old in that moment, Draco was taken aback. The monologue was over; he knew he had made his point. Hermione was their hope, and Lucius had dashed it.

"Perhaps I was hasty with my words," his father said eventually. "I acknowledge that she has given us more than we deserve. And I'm sorry if I've denied you the chance to have her company, as a friend or otherwise. Of course you deserve that kind of happiness. I don't regret my motivations, but perhaps I wasn't thinking about the future in the same manner as you. Sometimes I forget how much things have changed."

Draco sighed, and looked down the hall towards her room.

"She'll be so hurt," he said, quietly. "She cares about you too, father. You know she does. She must be so hurt."

Lucius swore under his breath. "Perhaps I should speak with her."

"No," said Draco. "I'll try."

static

He left his father sitting alone and padded up to Hermione's door. "Granger?" he said, knocking. He tried the handle, but it was locked. "Granger? Can I talk to you?"

There was no response. If anything, the was a vacuum of sound, signalling to Draco that she had cast a spell to keep her from being bothered. He wasn't surprised, but he was saddened. After that charged moment they had shared earlier, the feel of her hands under his, his lips on her cheek, it had to end like this. Fuck he was angry at his meddling father. He had hoped to gage her mood over dinner; see how she reacted to his earlier advances. See if there was a chance for him to try again. But anything he might have gained had been erased. She didn't want to see either of them.

He walked back to the living room, defeated.

"She's locked and warded the door. Maybe she'll speak to us tomorrow," he said, not quite believing his own words. "I'm going to go see if there's anything in the fridge."

Both Malfoys spent the night feeling extremely empty, wondering what the future held for them, if anything.

Draco and Lucius woke up fairly early the next morning to see if Hermione was about. Exiting their rooms at the same time, they shared a look and walked briskly to the kitchen.

What they saw there made Lucius groan and Draco swear.

The table was set for two, and there was a quiche in the centre for their breakfast. No third place setting, and no sign of Hermione.

"When on earth did she make that?" Lucius muttered.

don't fucking know, father," Draco growled. "But I'm willing to bet we won't see her until she leaves for work, if even." He kicked the kitchen chair in anger and stomped back to his room, leaving his father alone.

"I

Draco spent most of the day in the library, reading and sifting through Hermione's ever-growing collection. He jumped eagerly every time he heard a door open, and ran into the hall hoping to see Hermione's familiar mass of brown curls. Each time, it was Lucius. His father had taken to pacing agitatedly around the house and Draco used every last reserve of his patience not to scream at the man. He held off simply because he could see the guilt eating away at his father. Good. He deserved to feel guilty.

Draco had been right, of course. She was hurt. Really hurt, if her reaction was anything to go by. She had always brushed off Draco's "Mudblood" comments before, but Lucius saying the equivalent was different. Draco knew that she had come to enjoy his father's company. The fact that she ordered back copies of his favourite magazine, completely unprompted, was evidence enough.

But Lucius telling Hermione to her face that she wasn't good enough to be friends with Draco, let alone something more

Well

That must have been difficult to hear. Especially after that moment they

shared at the end of his treatment. Merlin, what he wouldn't give to have leaned in a little further and kissed her on the lips. He liked the girl. He liked her a lot. He knew that now. And the worst part about his father's horrendous oversight is that his suspicions were actually correct - Draco did want something more than friendship with Hermione. Friendship would be great, it would be wonderful, but it wouldn't be enough in the long run. Not with the way his pulse raced around her. Or the way he shivered when her bare hands touched his chest.

He wanted more, and he might not get it.

door opened somewhere in the house, and he almost didn't bother to go check. His father had been pacing like a lunatic for hours, and it was most likely him. Still, it was worth looking. He poked his head out of the room.

A

Hermione's small frame was walking quickly towards the floo.

"Granger!" he shouted, and took off in a sprint. "Wait!"

She ignored him and picked up her pace. In turn, he practically threw himself at her, grabbing her by the shoulders and spinning her around right before she was about to reach for the floo powder.

"Granger," he panted, staring into her wide eyes. "Please. Please just talk to me."

"There's nothing to say, Malfoy," she said, her expression sad and strained. "I'm off to work. We don't have anything to discuss."

"But we do," he said, pleading. "I need to apologize for my father. He needs to apologize too, frankly, and he will. But I wanted you to know that I don't care what he says. He barely means that tripe anyway - you and I can be friends if we want to."

She sighed, looking anxious. "Malfoy, listen

Although what your father said upset me, I guess he's right. You and I are from different worlds. He would never accept me as your

Your friend

And I don't

belong in your society. He's just saving us some trouble. It's fine. I shouldn't really have thought that - "

"Yes you should have! I want to be friends. I want us to keep getting to know each other. Please Granger, this is hard enough for me to say as it is work? I don't want you to shut me out. Please."

Can we just talk about this more after you get back from

She sighed again and closed her eyes, as if she was trying to block him from her consciousness.

"Hermione, please."

Her eyes snapped open.

"What did you say?" she asked, incredulous.

called you by your name," he said gently, brushing a curl out of her eyes. "Promise me we can talk more tonight." He was looking at her straight on, wanting her to know how serious he was. He didn't want to mess this up.

"I

She chewed on her lower lip. He held his breath.

static

"Well

I guess we can talk more later

"

He let out a sigh of relief and gathered her into a hug, ignoring her yelp of surprise.

"Thank you," he said, earnestly, relishing the contact before letting her go.

She stammered briefly, and then stepped into the floo, calling out the name of her lab in a shaky voice. She was gone in a roar of green flames.

"Son?" came his father's voice. Draco turned to see Lucius walking unevenly down the hall.

"You're smiling," Lucius observed. "Do I take that to mean that you spoke with her?"

Draco nodded, trying not to grin too widely. "She said we could talk more when she got back from work."

Lucius seemed to relax a bit. "Well, I'm glad to hear it. Perhaps I can apologize after all."

"Indeed," said Draco, still smiling. "I think she would appreciate that."

He looked at the clock in the kitchen. It was 1:05 pm. Just under five hours until she got home.

He went and cut himself a generous piece of quiche and waited.

It was 6:10 pm.

 

"She's never been late before," Draco said, frowning. "Never. Not even by a minute." He was tapping his fork nervously against the table.

Lucius seemed equally perturbed. "It is odd, but ten minutes is not a drastic amount of time. I'm sure she was just tied up with a project."

Draco nodded, still tapping his fork. Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.

Lucius glared at him, and then his expression softened.

 

"She'll be here soon, son. Don't worry."

6:25 pm.

"I don't understand. Do you think she's staying late because she's angry with me? She seemed to want to talk when I asked her earlier." Tap tap tap tap tap tap.

Lucius frowned at the clock.

 

"It is rather strange," he said, absently.

Draco cut himself another piece of quiche.

6:45 pm.

Draco was pacing.

 

"Something isn't right, father. It's not like her. I don't like this." He had thrown his fork across the room minutes earlier.

Lucius stood up stiffly and walked towards the floo.

 

"Although I'd like to believe the best, I agree that this is quite out of character for her. I will contact the Order in case they have information we don't."

Draco continued to pace as Lucius stuck his head into the flames, presumably to talk to Potter or Weasley or anyone else who could help.

He pulled his head out ten minutes later, a deep frown marring his features.

"They haven't heard from her, and nobody is answering at the lab."

Draco felt his stomach sink.

 

"The lab is secure though, right? That Wolf guy said so. Granger said so. She's supposed to be safe there, right?"

Lucius cleared his throat uncomfortably.

 

static

"In theory, yes," he said. He looked doubtful. "Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley are going there now to investigate. They will come here afterwards."

Draco felt the panic rising and fought to push it down. Panicking wasn't going to help the situation. Still, his breaths were coming up short, as though someone was squeezing his windpipe. Where the hell was she?

"She never leaves the lab," he murmured. "Not even for groceries. Gets too anxious in public."

Lucius nodded. "Another reason why I am concerned about the situation. I see no reason why she would have left."

They sat in torturous silence while they waited for news.

Half an hour later, Harry and Ron burst through the floo looking frantic.

Draco jumped to his feet.

"What?" he said. "What's going on? Why are you both looking so worried?"

Harry ran his hands quickly through his hair. He had dark circles around his eyes.

"We found her wand," he choked out.

"We found blood," added Ron, sombrely, looking equally destroyed. "It's hers," he added, seeing Lucius open his mouth to ask.

The room swam before Draco's eyes, and he swayed.

Harry reached out with alarm. "Easy Malfoy. Have a seat." He guided him towards the couch. Draco's vision was still spinning.

"Her blood?" he echoed, pressing his hand over his eyes. "Oh my God."

Harry and Ron glanced at each other, clearly wondering when Draco had become so concerned about Hermione, but both of them kept quiet. There were more serious things to worry about.

"What about her employer? What does he have to say?" Lucius asked, all colour gone from his face.

"Still trying to reach Wolf. He's away on business," said Harry. "I hope to Merlin he answers us soon. He's going to flip."

Ron sat down and sunk his head into his hands, mirroring Draco. Harry looked haunted.

"She'll break if they hurt her again," Ron mumbled, lifting his head and staring into the floo. "She can't take another incident like last time."

Draco heard Harry let out what could only be described as a whimper. He looked like he was cracking at the seams with worry.

Harry stood up suddenly, grabbed a heavy vase off the end table, and threw it against a wall with a huge crash and a growl. Glass splintered off onto the floor in satisfying disarray.

Nobody even flinched. Harry sat down again, looking slightly more calm.

Draco felt that he understood Harry for the first time in his life.

static

CHAPTER10

An hour later, Wolf came charging through the floo, his eyes wild. All four men looked up anxiously.

"I got your patronus - forgive me, I was out of the country," he said to Harry and Ron, ignoring the Malfoys completely. "Another one of my employees is missing too was taken against his will though, so he might be the attacker."

Bryce Court. There's no sign that he

"That gives us a lead, thank Merlin," said Ron, scribbling down a few notes. "We couldn't find anything other than her wand and the blood security at the lab."

It makes sense that it would be an inside job. You have excellent

"Apparently not excellent enough," said Wolf, looking heavily strained. "I can't believe she's been taken. Do you have any idea where she might be kept?"

Harry shook his head. "We know very little about where they keep prisoners. Tonks is working on it, but we have almost nothing to go on most solid lead we have at this point."

I think we'd do best to gather more information on Bryce. He's the

"And what about these two?" Wolf sneered, turning on Draco and Lucius, pointing his finger angrily. Both men tensed. "They want her dead. We all know they do. Perhaps they've been feeding information to their old colleagues. Have you questioned them?"

Both Malfoys clenched their jaws, glaring murderously at Wolf and bristling at the insinuation. Harry caught Draco's eye and gave him a surprisingly reassuring look.

"Wolf," he cut in quickly. "They have no way of contacting anyone but Headquarters. Hermione designed the system in the most restrictive way possible impossible for them to have gotten around the safeguards. They don't even have wands."

Death Eater connections aside, it would be

"And not to mention the fact that we're no longer working for You-Know-Who!" snarled Draco, desperate to make himself heard. "We wouldn't wish harm on Granger. We want her back too." He heard Ron snort, but ignored it, continuing angrily. "I'll remind you that we were the ones who alerted you to the fact that she hadn't returned home!"

"Yes, how convenient for you," snapped Wolf, looking dangerous. "What a handy alibi. And you wouldn't wish harm on her? That's shite. We all know what your lot think of Muggle-borns. You think that they are beneath you, that they'd be better off enslaved or dead than treated as equals." Draco noticed his father's face fall out of the corner of his eye. Guilt from his last words to Hermione, no doubt.

"Don't waste your breath on me," Wolf continued. "Just because Harry believes you, doesn't mean I do. I'll be watching you both."

Turning on his heel, he walked into the floo and disappeared.

Draco let out an angry growl and tugged at his hair. "Fucking tosser." Lucius had lowered his head into his hands, massaging his temples with his thumbs. He looked horribly conflicted.

"Mr. Potter, may I speak with you for a moment? In private?" Lucius said, suddenly.

Harry shot him a strange look, but nodded curtly and gestured towards the hallway. Lucius stood up and followed, leaving Draco and Ron in the living room.

"Weasley," said Draco, his expression pained. "I won't pretend that we get along, or that we even like each other, but you believe me, don't you? You know I would never want this?" Draco didn't know why he suddenly cared, but Hermione was missing and he wanted Potter and Weasley to understand that he wasn't responsible. She had grown on him. She had more than grown on him. The suggestion that he might have plotted the attack actually made him feel sick.

Ron looked at his feet for a minute and then shrugged. "Hard to say, but yeah, seems like a stretch to think you're involved. You and 'Mione seem to have been getting along better recently, for whatever reason." He sounded fairly annoyed to be admitting that out loud.

Draco felt some relief at Ron's words. If Ron could see it that way, maybe Harry could too.

"What do you suppose your father wants with Harry?" said Ron, his brow creased with confusion, gazing off to where the two men had disappeared.

Draco looked off in the direction of the hallway. "Not sure. Maybe he wants to help somehow. He's grown a bit fond of Granger too."

Ron chuckled. "Never thought I'd see the day."

"Me neither."

Ron appeared lost in thought. He rubbed his eyes with his hands and then started to speak, staring back at his feet.

"Just over a year and a half ago, Hermione went missing in a battle. We were trying to protect a Muggle neighbourhood from a Death Eater attack near Bristol."

"I remember that battle. My father and I were kept at home

We'd already started slipping down the ranks, I suppose, but I didn't realize it then. Thought they wanted to keep us safe," Draco snorted.

"Glad to hear you weren't there, honestly," said Ron. "It was a long battle. She was missing for three hours. The losses were heavy on both sides. Harry and I were freaking out. When we found her It was a pretty horrific sight."

Well

Draco shifted uncomfortably. He knew Ron was about to tell him what caused Hermione's breakdown, and if Ron's anxious fidgeting was anything to go by, it was serious.

"The Death Eaters had attacked a Muggle school, and she went in to save the kids, of course. Got cornered in a classroom with a whole group of children. The Death Eaters

looking worn. "The sent a spell in through a window. Broke the glass. The spell killed the kids

charm, and cast it before she inhaled. The kids didn't stand a chance

They

" Ron trailed off,

Worked kinda like a Muggle gas chamber, I guess. 'Mione only survived because she knew the Bubble-Head

Died immediately. She was trapped in there with all the bodies for hours until we figured out how to lift the locking spell."

Ron's words echoed around the space between them. Hermione

had the biggest heart Draco had ever seen. It must have destroyed her.

Magically locked in a room full of murdered children. Children she had been trying to save. It was enough to break anyone, but Hermione

static

Everything started to spin and Draco ran to the kitchen. He barely made it before he threw up, managing to get his head over the sink in time and completely emptying his stomach. He dry heaved several times after before collapsing in the floor, shaking from head to toe. His heart screamed for Hermione, for all those children who were caught in the middle of an ugly fight they didn't understand. They should never have been involved in the first place. And the Death Eaters responsible? Maybe Draco had been sheltered somehow, but he couldn't think of a single Death Eater who would have had the guts to pull that off. They were prejudiced, hateful people, but it was far more their style to take individual Muggles and torture them than it was to slaughter a room full of kids. Death Eaters were cowards who wanted power, by and large. They didn't have the stomach to be mass murderers. That was the Dark Lord's job. Draco could see that now.

Ron walked over and sat beside Draco on the floor. Draco tried not to dissect the action - he was grateful for the momentary lack of hostility.

"Who did it?" Draco choked out. "Who would do that?"

"Called themselves the Morrati brothers. The Order tracked them down and killed them, but the damage had been done."

"Those brothers were insane," Draco said, trying to remember details about the pair. It had been ages since he thought about them, and he had been relieved when they went missing. "Even the Dark Lord called their methods 'unecessary' if you can believe it. Thought they were too flashy. Didn't like their style."

Ron nodded, unsurprised. "Yeah. We've never encountered Death Eaters who were that crazy. Plain old bloodlust. Just serial killers looking for a cause, maybe. Liked the psychological torture too. And it

worked

'Mione was a basket case. Screamed and shook for days. Stopped talking. Stopped eating. Tried to hurt herself. It was such a mess. She dreams about the kids every night, as you've probably

figured out. And then her boyfriend was killed a few months later in a separate battle. Her parents had been killed the year before. She completely shut down."

"Her boyfriend

You mean Anthony? Is that why he left her the house? Because they were involved?" Draco had always been curious about the Healer Hermione had studied with. It made sense that they

had been together, even if she hadn't said as much.

"Yeah. He was nuts about her. Sometimes I wonder if he didn't know he would be killed too

Put everything in her name, made sure she had anything she needed. Good guy. They hadn't even been

together for all that long. Anyway, you can see why Harry and I were pretty amazed by her progress over the past few months. For a while there, we expected to lose her completely."

Draco sighed, understanding dawning in his eyes. "Probably also why you were upset that her improvement coincided with my father and I staying here."

Ron smiled weakly. "Admittedly, we weren't happy about that, but we probably overreacted a bit. As long as she gets better, there's not much we can do about her motivations. It's weird that her motivation ended up being you, but that's our fault, really. We were hoping that taking care of you both would help her, and it seemed to. It was good for her to have something to do. People who needed her more than just emotionally. She responded well knowing that you needed the curse worked out of you every day. She obviously took it seriously. Started to change for the better pretty fast."

They sat in silence, thinking over the details of their conversation. Draco decided he liked being Hermione's motivation. Would he continue to be now that the curse was gone? Would she ever make it back to them?

Eventually they heard Harry and Lucius coming back, and they stood up.

"Ron, Lucius is coming back to Headquarters with us," Harry said, looking somewhat calmer. "He's agreed to tell us everything he knows about the Death Eater operations and You-Know-Who instead of answering our specific requests, as we had agreed to before."

Draco shot a proud look to his father, who pretended not to notice. The terms of their rescue meant that Lucius had to answer very specific questions about the Dark Lord's work, but since Lucius had been part of the inner circle, he had far more knowledge that he could impart. He simply hadn't wanted to out of ingrained distrust for the Order. Hermione appeared to be enough of a reason to offer up the information.

"Malfoy, will you be okay here alone for a few hours?" Harry asked.

"No problem," he said with a shrug.

Harry, Ron and Lucius disappeared into the floo, leaving Draco to pass out on the couch, thinking of Hermione.

Two days passed, and they found no sign of Bryce, nor of Hermione.

Both Malfoys kept a constant vigil at the house, waiting by the floo and jumping at any small noise. Harry and Ron stopped in several times a day. Although the four men hadn't exactly grown friendly, Hermione's disappearance had united them in a strange way. They were no longer at each other's throats. They kept out of each other's way and sat in easy silence, subsisting once again on a steady stream of Molly Weasley's cooking. Draco missed Hermione more than he could express to anyone, and he was making himself ill thinking of what might be happening to her while they all sat around, fruitlessly searching for clues. He knew all too well what happened to the prisoners of Death Eaters. He shuddered to think about the state of her fragile mind, locked away in some cellar.

Wolf only dropped in to talk to Harry and Ron, looking more and more unwell with each visit. He had dark circles under his eyes, and his skin was deathly pale. The handsome features that once defined him were lost under grief and anger.

Draco had the same dream both nights in a row. He was back on the couch, watching as Hermione finished his last treatment. He covered her hands with his, but instead of kissing her on the cheek, he brought his lips to hers immediately. She tasted like honey. He felt like he was melting in the best way possible, and wrapped his arms around her with a groan.

That's when he woke up each time. It left him feeling completely helpless, teeming with regret. He could have been kinder. He could have been braver. What if the worst had happened? What if she was dead? He would never be able to tell her how sorry he was. It was almost too much to handle.

He had become a nervous wreck, jittery and distant, his hands spilling his tea from shaking too much. Eventually, his half-hearted attempts to hide his miserable state were abandoned - he was beyond caring what anyone thought of him now. Even Harry and Ron noticed, sharing a sympathetic glance. They had never expected Draco Malfoy of all people to be so affected by Hermione.

The third night, Lucius had gone to bed early and Harry and Ron were at Headquarters. Draco was fiddling with the chess set when he heard the roar of the floo. He looked over, expecting to see Harry or Ron walk out.

Instead, a body came sliding out in a bloody heap, curled up in a ball.

static

Granger.

He was barely aware that he had leapt to his feet, shouting for his father. He hardly noticed his father yelling into the floo as Draco carefully extended her limbs, checking for damage, cringing at her blood- soaked clothes, her tangled hair and her blue lips. He checked for a pulse as if in a trance. It was there. Faint, but existent. His chest was aching.

He scarcely registered Rose running through the floo with Harry and Ron, whipping out her potions and shouting instructions at the boys. Hermione's body was whisked to her bedroom almost as quickly, levitated and rushed over as Rose lifted layer after layer of clothing off her.

Rose let the men stand in the open doorway, but insisted on being alone in the bedroom with Hermione while she worked at a record pace to stabilize her. Hermione was only in her knickers and her tank top now, and even those were stained with blood. Rose was completely concentrated, murmuring spells while she poured potions down Hermione's throat and slathered her in creams. Draco wondered if maybe he had misjudged Rose. She was healing Hermione with a fervour he would never have expected. He was grateful she was there. Anything to help Hermione.

Draco only noticed then, when he leaned back against the wall and let his mind catch up with what had just happened, that his cheeks were dripping wet.

 

An hour later, Rose emerged from the room, wiping her hands on a cotton cloth.

 

"She was tortured and beaten, but she's stable now. Not sure how it's affected her mentally yet

She's remained unconscious since she came out of the floo."

All four men sagged slightly at the news that she had been tortured. Draco noticed that Harry was blinking back tears as he angrily rubbed his scar. Ron swore under his breath. Draco felt a mix of fury and hopelessness with the situation. He needed to get into the room to check on Hermione himself. He only hoped that everyone in the hallway would find something else to do so he could slip in unnoticed. He felt an irrepressible need to be close to her, even if she was unconscious.

"Ron, we need to get to the lab again and see if we can find anything," Harry said, much to Draco's relief. "I think someone pushed her through the floo and sent her back here when she stepped in and passed out in travel, someone helped her get back. We need to find out if they did it to scare us or if they did it to save her."

Unless she was conscious

Ron nodded, his eyelids heavy. They trudged back towards the floo.

 

"See you Malfoy, Lucius," said Harry before he stepped into the flames. "And thank you, Rose."

Draco snuck a glance at his father, and then at Rose.

"I'll be back tomorrow morning," she said, glaring at him slightly. She left without another word.

Now it was just his father. Draco wondered if he should make up an excuse to distract Lucius from Hermione's room so he could slip in and see her. As if reading his thoughts, Lucius rolled his eyes.

"I'm going to get an early night, son. Go ahead in. If she wakes

Please

Please give her my best."

 

Draco didn't need any more encouragement. The door was slightly open, and he walked in quietly, closing it behind him.

 

She was under the covers now, lying flat on her back, her arms resting above the blankets by her side. The straps of a fresh cotton tank top were peeking out over her exposed shoulders. He didn't notice Rose changing her clothes - that girl was definitely smarter than he had given her credit for. Even Hermione's hair looked brushed out, and her skin was clean again, not a speck of blood or dirt to be seen.

He choked up, and sat on the edge of the bed.

 

"Granger," he said. "I was so worried about you." He began to trace her fingers, remembering how nice it had felt to do so before. She was still incredibly soft.

 

"This wasn't supposed to happen, you know. None of it. I wasn't supposed to stop hating you. You weren't supposed to be so nice to me. You definitely weren't supposed to get kidnapped right when I start

needing you. And I do, Granger. I need you. I think maybe you're addictive or something

It's like I feel ill when you're too far away for too long. I don't know why."

 

He looked at her sleeping face more closely, still tracing her fingers.

 

"Okay, maybe I do know why," he said, quietly. "But that part wasn't supposed to happen either."

His chest was still aching, but the pain was starting to subside. The ache made him nervous, because he knew it wasn't from the curse. It was from something scarier.

 

"My father feels terribly, Granger. I think he thought he was helping me or something stupid like that by saying what he did. Anyway, he knows he was wrong. It's hard for him too

Realizing that everything

we fought for probably wasn't true. Makes him question everything. He's started helping the Order for real, you know. Let them give him Veritaserum. Gave them a goldmine of information, anything they asked for. That's all because of you."

Draco wondered briefly what he would have to do to get Hermione to let him touch her hands whenever he wanted. They felt like silk.

 

"I was going to kiss you, you know

That day before you disappeared. Did you know that? I think maybe you did. I hope you would have let me, but maybe not. Maybe it would have just upset you. I know