Isolation

He can't leave the room. Her room. And it's all the Order's fault. Confined to a small space with only the Mudblood for company, something's going to give. Maybe his sanity. Maybe not. "There," she spat. "Now your Blood's filthy too!" DM/HG. PostHBP.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6291747/1/Isolation

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38. Again

Draco stretched out his legs and tilted his face up to the morning sun. His thoughts were rather jumbled today — perhaps from his early start — and the warmth of the reaching rays seemed to steady him for a moment.

It had been four days since Hermione had barged into the kitchen and shouted at Potter, Weasley, Theo, and himself, and aside from a few snarky yet harmless comments the following day, things had settled down remarkably quickly. Andromeda had even had a private word with him and commended him for his 'maturity', but the fact of the matter was it had all seemed to dawn on everyone that there was simply no room for schoolyard grudges when the world was falling apart.

And that was the odd thing.

They still all gathered around the radio, listened to crackling Potterwatch broadcasts about Muggles being tortured, Muggle-borns being slaughtered, and the death-toll rising and rising. The pace and brutality of the War seemed to accelerate everyday, and yet at Tonks' home, where one-time enemies had managed to reach an unvoiced vow of amity, there was a bizarre sense of peace. It was disconcerting; it almost felt like they were detached from it all, but of course they weren't, and a glance at Granger confirmed that.

In the past couple of days, she'd been waking at dawn to practice spells with Remus and Tonks, insisting she needed to get used to Bellatrix's wand. He'd decided to watch her today, coaxed outside by the sun and also intrigued to see how she handled the unfamiliar wand, and so were his friends apparently. She was a fair distance away from where he was sat with Theo and Blaise near the front of the house — maybe fifty or so feet away — but he could see the thin gloss of sweat streaked across her brow as she discussed something with her two companions and shrugged out of her jumper. Before he even had a chance to realise he was staring, Theo spoke and shattered his trance.

"It's the last day of April."

Draco frowned. "So?"

"So remind me to punch you for first of the month tomorrow."

.

.

Hermione nodded and raised Bellatrix's wand, hunching her shoulders defensively as Tonks and Remus took a few steps away from her.

"Ready?" asked Remus, and she nodded again. "Go!"

"Stupefy!" she yelled.

He blocked it effortlessly, and she twisted her body to try and deflect the spell Tonks had fired at her, but she was still a little unstable on her legs. The moment her back was turned, she felt magic scalding her skin, and when she turned back to Remus he was already aiming his wand for his next move.

"Wait, just wait a minute!"

"You think a Death Eater is going to give you a chance to recover?" he retorted.

"No, I know that, but-

"They're going to know you're reluctant to use Dark Magic, and they will probably recognise Bellatrix's wand," he continued. "On top of that, you're reciting your spells. In doing so, you're telling your enemy what your move is-

"I know, but Bellatrix's wand is resisting me, and-

"You can do this, Hermione," he said firmly. "Brightest witch of your age, remember? Now come on, you are better than this!"

"Remus, give her a moment," sighed Tonks. "Perhaps we should just practice one-on-one-

"No, he's right," said Hermione. "The Death Eaters are hardly going to play fair, are they? I need to be prepared."

Remus gave her an approving look. "Exactly. Ready?"

Drawing in soothing breath and gripping Bellatrix's wand tighter, she focused on the tingling heat gathering in her fingertips. Her magic. Bobbing her head, she crouched a little and bent her knees, her eyes steady on Remus as he began to tilt his wrist for a spell. Without uttering a word, she extended her arm, and a bright, violent light shot out of Bellatrix's wand, and Remus stumbled back, his hand reaching up to shield his eyes. Spinning around, Hermione narrowly missed Tonks' Stupefy and hurled back an Impediment Jinx that caught her right in the stomach, sending her flying backwards several feet.

Turning back around just as Remus was beginning to recover, she aimed her wand again, and a rope came shooting out of its tip, wrapping around Remus' wand arm and throat, and with a few tugs he was on his knees, his wand discarded at his side, and she had Bellatrix's poking at his Adam's apple. Summoning his wand into her hand and turning back to Tonks, she fired a silent Expelliarmus at her.

With three wands in her possession, Hermione smiled to herself; not out of pride or a sense of achievement, but because she felt in control again.

.

.

Fifty feet away, Draco smirked almost fondly as he watched his lover beam with confidence and triumph. He'd only seen that smile once, back when they'd been ice skating at Christmas and she'd managed to keep her balance without his support, and the memory felt warmer than the sun.

Theo released a low whistle. "Fuck me, remind me not to piss off Granger," he mumbled. "Well, you know...again."

"You're honestly that surprised she's good at spells?" asked Blaise. "She was the smartest witch in our year. Of course she knows what she's doing with a wand."

"It's one thing to practice a few spells in a classroom. It's a whole different thing to use them effectively, and with someone else's wand, no less."

Arching an eyebrow, Draco glanced at Theo sceptically. "It's not like you to make a reasonably intelligent comment. Especially at this time in the morning."

"Piss off," he scoffed, grinning cockily. "Don't envy me because I have a brain to go with this handsome face and you're stuck with that ugly thing sitting on your neck."

"You're taking her recovery well," Blaise remarked, his shrewd eyes settling on Draco.

"Why wouldn't I?"

"Because it probably means she'll be leaving with Potter and Weasley soon."

Draco sat up straight, eyeing his friend with a narrowed glare. "What the hell are you on about?"

"What, you didn't think she was actually going to stay here, did you?" he replied with a shrug. "Granger and those pair hardly have a history of sitting back and watching things happen. I bet you anything they've already discussed plans about leaving and doing whatever the hell they're doing to beat You-Know-Who."

Clicking his jaw, Draco thought back over the last few days, recalling that Hermione had disappeared to talk with Potter and Weasley at least once every day, but not once had she given indication that they were scheming to leave. And he would've noticed if something was going on. Surely, he would have.

"No," he muttered, shaking his head. "You're wrong, Blaise."

"You reckon?" he replied, his tone cynical. "Luna's planning to leave and she hasn't told me."

"Then how the hell do you know that?"

"I just know she is. I'm pretty sure she's planning to go back to Hogwarts with Dean Thomas. They've been talking."

"You shouldn't assume the worst like that," said Theo. "Perhaps she's just cheating on you with him."

Blaise swiftly landed a hard punch to Theo's arm, and his sly smirk gave way to a wince. "Make another comment like that, and I'll aim for your face-

"Why would you punish so many girls by damaging this magnificent work of art? Anyway, I'm only taking the piss. Honestly, my hilarious jokes and wit are wasted on you people-

"Shut it," he snapped, turning his attention back to Draco. "The point is, I know Luna is leaving soon. She hasn't told me because she knows I'll try to stop her. It's the same reason Granger hasn't said anything to you."

Draco snorted and rolled his eyes. "You don't know Granger well enough to know what she would do."

"Perhaps not, but yesterday I saw her, Potter, and Weasley leaving the Goblin's room. Why would they be talking to Griphook if they weren't planning something?"

Hesitating as he tried to conjure a explanation, his brow furrowed with uncertainty, and a seed of doubt swelled up like a blister in his mind.

"Look," sighed Blaise. "You know I'm right. Our girlfriends have that bloody hero complex that is apparently contagious if you wind up becoming friends with Potter. Remember, we used to mock them for it all the time?" He breathed out a short, humourless chuckle. "And now it's our problem too."

"Pretty sure they call that irony," Theo quipped. "Or sod's law."

"If you're so sure Lovegood's leaving, why don't you confront her about it?" asked Draco.

"And what good would that do? She'd go anyway, and trying stop her would be like asking her not to...be her." He paused and massaged the bridge of his nose. "They will fight. There is nothing you, me, or anybody else can do to stop them." Getting to his feet, he casually brushed away the dirt on his trousers like everything he'd said had been insignificant. "I'm going to help Andromeda prepare breakfast. I'll see you in a bit."

Shaking his head as he watched Blaise stroll towards the house, Draco rolled his eyes and feigned indifference, casually leaning back into his previous position. "Do you ever think he'll go a day without pissing on someone's fire?" he said to Theo.

"Unlikely. Even for one of us, he's a depressing git sometimes. I think he might have a point about Granger though."

"Don't you start."

"Sorry, mate," he sighed, gesturing to Hermione. "Look at her. Blaise is right. She's not testing out a wand for convenience. She's preparing. For war."

Draco tensed so much his neck cracked as he turned his head, watching Hermione intently as a spell surged from the tip of Bellatrix's wand and caught Tonks' arm. She spun, crouched, ducked, blocked, fired; her movements agile and calculated. Prepared. He averted his eyes and bit down on his tongue until he could taste iron, and he could feel Theo's eyes studying him expectantly.

With a growl thundering around his mouth, he lifted his head and scowled at his friend. "Why don't you just mind your own fucking business?" he snapped. "Bugger off. Help Blaise or something. I don't care, just get out of my face."

"Fine," said Theo, shrugging his shoulders like he'd expected the reaction, and then rising to stand. "You know, if I was a Ravenclaw, I'd make some comment about you being in denial-

"Theo, I am warning-

"Yeah, got it. I'm buggering off."

He pivoted on his heel and stalked towards the house, leaving Draco alone with his bleeding tongue and the dull thud of an unforgiving headache in his skull. He stayed there for a few minutes, clenching and unclenching his fists as he stared at Hermione and her changing stances. Attack, defence, attack, defence, attack, attack, attack. She didn't glance over at him once, too absorbed in the task at hand, so he got up and left, feeling that if he watched her a moment longer, Blaise's words might start ringing in his ears.

It probably means she'll be leaving with Potter and Weasley soon.

.

.

When Hermione, Potter, and Weasley hadn't shown up for breakfast, Draco had grinded his teeth and pushed his food around the plate, refusing to make eye contact with Blaise. He didn't need another knowing look cast in his direction, nor did he wish to witness Blaise's anxious glances at Lovegood every time she turned to talk to Dean Thomas. And when a scratchy Potterwatch broadcast had announced a long list of fatalities, he hadn't lifted his head, simply sat there in a volatile silence with his finger tapping irately against his knee. He'd wondered if Granger had heard the broadcast, wondered if it would provoke her desperation, and tempt her and her sodding friends to abandon the safehouse and take action.

In an effort to distract himself, he'd forced his mind to drift elsewhere and realised there'd been a thought niggling at his brain for the last few days; he'd lost his wand. He couldn't for the life of him remember the last time he'd used it, and Granger had been so keen to practice with Bellatrix's wand that she would insist on performing any spells before he could even think to locate his.

After breakfast he'd headed to his room, attempting to Summon it several times with no success. Reasoning that it must've fallen out of bed and was stuck under something, he began to hunt for it, searching under the bed and checking the drawers in case Hermione had put it away for safekeeping. When he was on his knees checking beneath the bedside table, the door swung open and painfully smacked into his ankles.

"Draco?" called Hermione, frowning down at him as he sucked a profanity through his teeth. " Sorry! Are you alright?"

"Yeah, brilliant."

"What on Earth are you doing on the floor?"

Huffing his fringe out of his eyes, he got to his feet. "Looking for my wand. I can't find it. Have you put it somewhere?"

"No, I haven't seen it," she said, walking past him to sit on the bed. "You should ask Andromeda. She might've picked it up."

He looked at her then, and immediately wished he hadn't. She was studying him with soft and sad eyes, blinking heavily like she was trying to resist a tear or two as she drank him in. It reminded him of that pulse-slowing way she'd stared at him the first time she'd said goodbye, when she'd Petrified him, shoved a Portkey between his fingers, and sent him here. It was subtle this time, cleverly concealed with a steady expression that might almost be convincing if he couldn't see her eyes. Her eyes gave her away. They always did.

"Is there something you want to tell me?" he hastily asked.

The question seemed to stun her for a moment and she froze, mouth half-open like she might actually answer, but then she sighed, smiled, and shook her head. "No. No, I was just thinking about something."

"Why weren't you at breakfast?"

"I was with Harry and Ron," she said. "Harry's been having...bad dreams-

"Of course he has," he groaned. "The rest of us hardly have an easy night's sleep-

"No, I know that, but his are...different. It's difficult to explain."

He waited for her to elaborate but she was simply staring at him again. Soft, sad honey, and he thought he might drown in it. Sinking down on the mattress next to her, he clasped his hands in front of him, his wrists knocking against his knees. He considered just spitting it out, asking her if she intended to leave, but he rejected his instincts, convinced he was simply over-thinking Blaise's comments, and his stubbornness clamped down on his already swollen tongue.

"Are you okay?" asked Hermione, reaching out to tenderly trace her fingertips across his pulse point. "You seem anxious about something."

"I'm fine," he said firmly. "Blaise and Theo pissed me off earlier, that's all."

"What did they do?"

"Nothing important. Are you going to help me with my wand?"

She smiled at him. "Was that intended to be an innuendo of some sort?"

"No," he smirked back, cocking his head so he could peck the sensitive underside of her ear. "Although if that's what you'd prefer to do, I'll happily oblige."

"Draco, I'm sorry," she hummed with disappointment, gently pushing him back. "I have some things I need to do."

He grunted with irritation and drew away from her. "Like what?"

"I promised Harry and Ron I would help them with some...things-

"Is there a reason you're being so bloody vague?"

She cringed. Only slightly, but Draco saw it. "Well, Ron needs some help adjusting to the Snatcher's wand he stole," she explained uncertainly. "And then I want to practice more with-

"Lupin and Tonks," he finished for her, his tone curt. "Right, fine."

"I am sorry, Draco, I just need to discuss these things with them-

"It's fine. Are you at least going to share a bed with me tonight, or I am going to be stuck with your flea-ridden cat?"

"I won't be long," she assured him, craning her neck to leave a kiss at the corner of his mouth, one that lingered in a way that again reminded him of their last night at Hogwarts. "I love you."

He closed his eyes, and the image of her crying in the rain was plastered against the backs of lids, as if to torture him with the memory. "I know," he mumbled, watching her leave.

He quickly returned to the task of searching for his wand before he could think about Blaise's words again. It was only a hunch that had been born out of nothing. Just inane words without substance or foundation, yet they were ricocheting around his skull anyway, like frantic wasps, stinging his brain.

They will fight. There is nothing you, me, or anybody else can do to stop them.

.

.

When Draco woke up, he knew she wasn't there; he could tell by the cold air clinging to his shoulder where her skin should be.

He probably wouldn't have paid much attention to the clock had it not read exactly midnight, and something about the perfection of the time left an unsettling sensation in his gut. Turning to the empty space next to him, he ran his palm across her indentation, finding it still warm, and her pillow still damp from her shower before bed. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, glancing around the dark room as if it might hold some clue about Hermione's whereabouts.

The rational part of his brain — usually the loudest part — told him that she was most likely in the toilet or downstairs grabbing a glass of water, yet there was a tenacious, little itch that persuaded him to leave the bed, slip into some clothes, and seek her out. Scowling when he remembered he didn't have his wand, he made his way towards the door, grateful for the dazzling glow of the moon, casting shadows for him to navigate around. But when he left the room and stepped into the corridor, it was pitch black, the kind of darkness that suffocates you, like a coffin or tar.

Flattening his hands against the walls, he guided himself along the hall and down the stairs, and his ears twitched when he heard low voices drifting from the kitchen. He could hear Potter mumbling words that he couldn't quite catch, and he steadied his steps into silent footfalls as he approached the kitchen door. Hermione's voice joined in, and then Weasley's, but it was all too muffled and quiet, and he waited in the shadows for...something. Something to click.

And then he heard one word amongst all the whispers: Horcrux. It was sharp and definite, like a punctuation mark, and he was kicking open the door before he realised it.

Three pairs of stunned eyes snapped towards him, but he only felt the hazel ones. The three of them were standing around the table, papers sprayed across it like battle plans, and something in his chest sank, leaving it hollow and aching. But there was anger bubbling inside of him, rising into his throat, and he almost choked on it. Potter and Weasley seemed to edge a little closer to his girlfriend, their stances protective, and that pushed him over the edge into rage.

"Shit," said Ron. "I had a feeling that the wand didn't let me lock the door properly."

"Draco," breathed Hermione, futilely attempting to hide some of the papers. "What are you doing-

"What the fuck are you doing?" he shot back. "What the hell is this? A little secret Gryffindor meeting?"

"Malfoy, we were just-

"Don't even bother, Potter. I'm not stupid."

Ron snorted. "Well, that's not entirely true-

"Shut it, Weasel," he snapped, tuning back to Hermione with an accusing glare. "You're planning to leave again, aren't you?"

"Draco," she said softy, her tone almost pleading. "It's not...it's not like-

"What the hell is wrong with you?" he asked, forgetting the other two men in the room for a moment. "How the fuck could you not tell me?"

"Malfoy-

"This has nothing to do with you, Potter!" he hissed coldly, baring his teeth. "And don't fucking stand in front of my girlfriend like that! Like I would do something to harm her! You two are not her bloody bodyguards, and I am not a threat!"

"Draco, just calm down!" shouted Hermione

"Don't tell me to calm down when you're plotting something behind my back! We're talking about this right now! Alone!"

Hermione dragged in a long breath and dragged her nails through her chaotic curls. "Okay," she agreed. "Okay, we'll talk about it. Just give us a moment-

"Now, Hermione," he groused. "Get rid of them."

"Two minutes," she argued defiantly. "Just wait outside while we clean up, and we'll talk. I promise."

He hesitated and instantly regretted it. Her features were already softening with relief, as if he'd actually backed down, and he covered his frustrated growl with a sharp exhale. Narrowing his eyes into serpentine slits, he flicked them from Potter to Weasley for good measure, and reluctantly nodded his head.

"Fine," he forced out. "Two minutes."

He twisted around so fast it made his head spin, but he stalked out of the room with heavy and fuming strides, slamming the door behind him with enough force to make the walls judder. Back in the darkness of the hall, he paced back and forth like a caged dragon, counting the seconds and listening to the shuffling and incoherent whispers in the kitchen.

When he'd reached one minute and fifty-eight seconds, he was about ready to implode with impatience, but then the door swung open, and light poured into the corridor. Out ambled Weasley with a predictable frown on his face, and he didn't even glance at Draco as he breezed past and headed upstairs. Then came Potter with a more tentative walk, as though he was considering stopping and saying something, and Draco frowned when the boy-who-lived paused in front of him to do just that.

"What?"

"Listen, Malfoy," Harry rushed out. "Don't try to stop her-

"This has nothing to do with you, Potter, just sod off-

"It does have something to do with me. Look, I may not completely like it, but I know you are a part of Hermione's life now, and you need to acknowledge me as a part of her life too. She's family to me, like a sister-

"I am fully aware of your bloody relationship," Draco interrupted. "What the hell is your point?"

"My point is I know her, and I know that if you try to stop her, she will resent you for it," he said, quietly enough for only them to hear. "Hermione won't be talked out of anything. When she sets her mind to something, she does it. Don't try to change it, because it's what makes her brilliant, and it's who she is."

Draco kept the muscles of his face stiff, trying not to appear effected. "Are you done?"

"Yes."

"Good. Then piss off."

.

.

Hermione fidgeted nervously after she'd cast the Muffliato, wringing her hands and knotting her fingers as Draco marched back into the kitchen with a scowl still scrunching up his features. She could practically feel the anger radiating off him, striking her in waves, and she resisted the urge to nibble her lip. He took one, two, three steps towards her, his eyes never falling from hers, and burning he was that livid. But she refused to seem swayed, keeping her expression steady and deciding she would tackle this like any other challenge; with a calm and logical mind.

"Draco-

"Are you planning to leave?" he questioned, dragging out each word. "Well? Are you? Come on, Granger, you said we'd talk!"

"Listen, it's not that simple-

"Yes or no, Granger?"

She gave in and chewed her lip. "Yes, we are."

The dark and damaged shadow that swept across his face might've almost been beautiful if it wasn't so heartbreaking, and she didn't know if she wanted to reach out and hold him or turn away so she wouldn't have to see it. She held her ground and waited for him to react, ignoring the spike of guilt that pierced her heart. This is exactly what she'd hoped to avoid.

"How the fuck could you lie to me?" he asked.

"I didn't lie, I just didn't tell-

"Don't you dare try to pull that childish shit! You lied to me, plain and simple! What the hell is wrong with you?"

"Draco, I just couldn't-

"What's the plan then?" he cut her off again, scoffing at her confused frown. "Oh, come on, Granger, we both know you always have a plan for everything! You expect me to believe that you're just going to wing it?"

"I don't think I can-

"TELL ME WHAT IT IS!"

She winced at the vibrating volume of his voice and then sighed, pursing her lips with thought. Of course she had a plan, she was Hermione Granger, but she'd never anticipated having to reveal it to him, and the thought of doing so was oddly daunting. She considered refusing, but judging by the way his nails were digging into his palms, he was prepared to chip away at her reluctance for hours. And she didn't have hours.

"Okay," she mumbled, gathering some poise. "Yes, we have a plan."

Draco's nostrils flared. "Tell me."

"When we were at Malfoy Manor, Bellatrix hinted that she might have a Horcrux in her vault at Gringotts," she explained, and she was surprised how detached she sounded. Her tone was composed and stern, like she was conducting a lecture in very McGonagall-like manner. "I found one of Bellatrix's hairs on my clothes, and I intend to use Polyjuice to impersonate her to gain access to her vault so Harry, Ron, and I can examine its contents, and hopefully find a Horcrux."

She hadn't realised she'd been running out of breath until the last word had tripped past her lips. She watched Draco intently as his face went from shocked to outraged, his brow furrowing and his mouth slightly agape, like he barely recognised her, or couldn't comprehend what she'd said.

"Have you gone completely insane?" he spat incredulously. "First of all, the Goblins will see straight past-

"Griphook has agreed to help us with that."

"You're trusting a Goblin? Do you have any idea how sly-

"We have made a deal with him," she stated confidently. "We have insurance-

"And there is no way in hell that you will be able to mimic Bellatrix-

"I know her mannerisms well enough-

"And there will be Death Eaters at Gringotts-

"We will be able to handle it-

"Well, if it's such a fool-proof plan, then why can't I-

"Adding another person to the plan now would be too complicated. Plus, you might be recognised-

"STOP IT!" he yelled furiously. "Just stop! Stop fucking acting like this is sane! You will get yourself killed!"

She slumped her shoulders. "Draco, this is the only way."

His arm shot out like a whip, backhanding a few glasses off the table, and they shattered at his feet. "BULLSHIT! Why do you have to do this? Why not just tell the Order and let them handle it? Why do you have to play the sodding hero?"

"Because they won't find the Horcruxes. Only Harry can find them."

"What the hell are you on about?"

"Remember I told you about Harry's dreams?" she said, looking down at the puddle of glass. "They're more than that. Harry is somehow...connected to You-Know-Who's mind. He sees things, and he can sense things, including the Horcruxes."

Draco hesitated, raking his trembling fingers through his hair. "Right, then you know what? Let Potter do it by himself."

"You know I can't do that."

"Why not?" he demanded. "This is his fucking war, let him deal with it-

"This is as much my war as it is Harry's!" she shouted, pointing a finger at her own chest. "Muggle-born, remember?"

"That's not-

"And it's your war too! And your Mother's, and your Father's! And Tonks, and Remus, and Blaise, and Theo, and Luna, and everyone else that we bloody know!" She was panting by the end of her fiery rant. "And don't you even think for a moment that I will just sit at the sideline and observe-

"If it's my war too, then I see no reason why I'm not invited along to your fucking suicide attempt!"

"No," she groaned tiredly. "I've told you! Adding another person to the plan now would be far too dangerous, and someone could easily identify you! Not to mention that you don't get along with Harry and Ron, and that could cause all sorts of problems! You would be a liability and another risk that we can't afford!"

He flung his arms in the air irately, his temper flaring. "You always have to have an answer to everything, don't you? If I'm not going, then you're not going."

"YES, I AM!"

"TWICE, HERMIONE!" he blurted, and there was something about the way his voice cracked that made her gasp. "FUCKING TWICE!"

She blinked at him, her chest going numb as she watched him clench his eyes tight shut, as if he were in pain. "Twice what? I don't understand."

"I've had to lose you twice! The first time when you Petrified me at Hogwarts, and the second time when they brought you back here and I thought you were dead!"

He was still loud, his voice booming around the kitchen tiles, and there was a desperate and broken hum at the back of his throat that was devastating. But his eyes, Sweet Merlin, his eyes were what ruined her. He could barely look at her, but she saw the torment swarming in them, the ache, and it struck her speechless.

"Twice," he repeated quietly. "And I refuse to do it again." He paused and shook his head. "I can't."

Hermione licked her dry lips. "Draco, this is hard for me too, you know."

"Is it?" he hissed, and the anger returned to his face so quickly. "It was easy enough for you to fucking lie to me."

"Easy?" she echoed, the offence rich in her voice. "You think this is easy for me?"

"Well, you're certainly handling like it a pro-

"SHUT UP!" she barked, and she thought he might've flinched slightly. "How dare you assume this is easy for me! You think it was easy to Petrify you and send you away? You think it was easy to send you somewhere and not know if I would see you again?"

"Well, it wasn't exactly a pleasant experience for me-

"Let me finish!" She slapped the flats of her palms down on the table with the last syllable. "You saw how difficult that was for me! It broke my heart to have to do that, and refuse to do that again! Do you understand that? Do you have any idea how hard it is to tell a statue that you love them, and then just send them away without having any idea how they feel about you? That broke me down!"

Draco was studying her closely from the other side of the room, watching her chest heave and her hands shake with emotion. He wondered why they were still so far apart. "You didn't have to Petrify me," he said slowly. "That was your choice."

"That was the choice you drove me to!" she yelled, and she could feel her eyes beginning to sting as she tried to smother a frustrated whine with the back of her hand. "I won't do that again. I won't. That was...horrible, and I knew you'd try to stop me again, and I...saying goodbye just doesn't work for us."

"So what, you were just going to disappear?" he asked.

"No, of course not. I was going to leave you a note."

"Oh, a note?" he remarked sarcastically. "Excellent! How fucking thoughtful of you!"

"Dammit, Draco, what else was I supposed to do?" She could taste tears at the corners of her mouth. "I can't win, can I? What can I do?"

" Stay here!"

"NO! When are you going to get it into your head? I. Am. Leaving! And there is nothing you can do about it! Why can't you just accept that?"

"BECAUSE I LOVE YOU!" he blurted heedlessly, his face crumpling up in complete agony, and Hermione fell into an awestruck silence.

He leaned forward and gripped the table, and she thought he might be crying, but he was hunched over and his fringe was shielding his eyes. She could his shoulders trembling though, like his body was trying to manage, and her absent gaze dropped down to the straining veins sticking out of his arms, and then to his death-white knuckles. He was breathing heavily; she could hear him sucking in each harsh breath between his gritted teeth, and when he swallowed, it was more of a stifled choking sound, like the noise a near-death animal would make, and it tore right through her.

All his energy seemed to gush out of him, and he sank down to the floor, crumbling, exhausted, and deflated. Hermione was moving then, oblivious to the glass shards stabbing at the soles of her feet before she knelt down in front of him and tried to hold his face in her hands. He yanked his head away but she persisted, clutching his face firmly enough that she thought his sharp cheekbones might slit her thumbs. Bringing her face close to his, she sought his eyes, frowning when she realised they were pink, his lashes damp, lips tight, and his jaw clenched so much she worried he might chip his teeth.

"I know," she told him gently. "I know you do, and I love you-

"Then don't go-

"Draco, please." She dropped her forehead against his and felt his brow wrinkle against hers. "Enough now."

He shook his head vehemently. "Why you?"

She sighed and pushed her fingers into his hair, stroking the too-blond strands of his fringe away from his face. "Do you ever think about a future for us?" she asked. "I do, and I don't want us to have to hide. To run."

"I would rather run with you than walk alone," he said.

"I'm sorry," she frowned. "But it's not an option for me. I want more than that, and I believe we can win. I believe that Harry can do this, and I need to help him. I need to do this. It's just...who I am."

Draco grinded his teeth as Blaise's voice invaded his head again.

Trying stop her would be like asking her not to...be her.

He sucked down a long and quivering breath into lungs, inflating his chest so much that it pressed into hers, and Hermione swore she could feel his heartbeat, and it felt slower than it should. He looked away from her again, staring at a shard of glass poking out of her knee, and he plucked it away like a delicate petal. And then another one in her calf. And another. And another. And she thought it was so typical of them, shivering on a carpet of crushed glass, bleeding and mumbling confessions of fears and love.

"If Bellatrix's vault is anything like my mother's, there'll be a high shelf at the back where the most valuable items are stored," he said so quickly that she barely caught it. "If the Horcrux is anywhere, it will be there."

She gasped, eyes round with surprise and hope. "You're okay with it?"

"Of course not," he scoffed. "I fucking hate everything about it."

"But?"

"But..." he exhaled, his voice strained and reluctant. "I will let you...disappear."

The warmth that rushed into her body was an overwhelming mix of relief, gratitude, and love, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, melting her body into his, nearly crushing him in an embrace that she hoped expressed how much she adored him at that moment. She felt his arms slip around her, his fingers digging into her sides, almost painfully. Pulling back and crying again, she kissed his chin, then his cheek, and then finally his tense lips. She kept kissing until they softened and responded, pouring everything in her heart into his mouth, and swallowing down everything he breathed into hers. It was a raw and clumsy exchange, too driven by desperation to be neat, but it ended when a sob exploded from her throat.

"When?" asked Draco.

"Soon," she mumbled between sniffs. "Very soon."

He nodded absently, knowing from experience that she wouldn't elaborate, and he was too tired to argue now. Without a word, he made to stand, hoisting her into his arms as he did and carefully placing her down away from the glass puddle with little care to his own shredded feet. She helped him remove the shards from his ankles, heels, and soles, and then healed the scattered puncture wounds with a few swishes of Bellatrix's wand, all in silence, like there was nothing left to say.

"I meant what I said," he muttered after all the glass and blood had vanished from the room. "That I love you."

"I know," she said. "I love you, and I want you to know that I...I am so proud of you-

"I don't need you to be proud of me, Granger," he stopped her. "Just come home."

"I will," she agreed, as if she could promise or predict such a thing, but then they both knew she couldn't, and that somehow made it okay. "Draco, you can't tell Tonks or Remus-

"I won't." Another promise. The first he could remember making. "I won't say anything."

She forced a smile of gratitude and raked her finger through her hair. "We should go to bed."

She reached for his hand, but he avoided her touch, heading up to their bedroom without a glance behind to check if she was even following. She was of course, yet even as they entered the room and began to undress for bed, he didn't look at her, didn't speak.

It was only when they were in bed that he seemed to acknowledge her, snaking his arms around her waist so tight that he knew he must be hurting her a little, but she didn't protest. Didn't resist. He kissed the spot between her eyebrows while she kissed jaw, locking his arms around her like a cage and trying very hard to not to succumb to the persistent pull of sleep.

But he did, and when he woke in the morning, his arms were cold and empty, and he knew she was gone. Again.

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