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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19. Greys

Hermione was stirred awake by the heavy breaths tingling the sensitive skin between her shoulder-blades, and she blinked away the shadows of what had felt like a pleasant dream.

She stared into space as her slumber-slow thoughts gathered together, and her gaze widened when she realised what the breaths against her skin meant. She carefully twisted her body around, and her eyes to fell to the sleeping Slytherin next to her, following the line of his lazy hand, tossed across her waist.

He had stayed. He had stayed with her in bed until morning.

She smiled in spite of herself, and carefully grazed the tips of her fingers over his knuckles, catching sight of her bedside clock and noting that they had almost slept in until eleven this Boxing Day morning. She couldn't even remember the last time she had managed a lie-in with her previous bouts of insomnia taking their toll, and the fact that he was here gave her a forgotten feeling of peace.

She settled back down in the toasty sheets and admired his relaxed features; so beautiful when he was lost to the dreams and oblivious to reality. It might have been selfish and a bit irrational, but she almost allowed the darkness of the War to slip to the back of her mind as she cherished this surreal moment.

He shifted, gripping her hip a little tighter, and Hermione tried to steady her breathing. She didn't want him to wake up; not just yet. Merlin knew if he would ever treat her to his presence in the morning again, and she wanted to remember how it felt to feel like this…like they were real…

And content…

She knew it was only a temporary thing; the Christmas season had a nasty habit of deluding people and giving birth to dangerous levels of optimism, but for the moment she felt warm and the closest to…happy in months. And all because her should-be enemy was at her side. Her smile stretched as she recalled their night outside.

Forgive me…

The specifics weren't necessary, nor were the reasons he had asked her for forgiveness, but Godric it had been a shock. An amazing shock. That had been her Christmas present; a small sacrifice of his pride and ego for the sake of her clemency.

He really had changed in the last three months.

It was becoming more obvious now, the shrinking lies and prejudices that had been scratched into skull, and he was starting to think for himself and make his own judgements. All she could do was give him the facts and hope that he would eventually see sense, and acknowledge that blood purity was an irrelevant circumstance, like hair colour or the shades of skin. It was a painfully slow process and it was barely the beginning, but Dumbledore had clearly thought Draco's soul was worth saving, and now she understood why.

And she liked him…Godric help her, she really did.

"Do you often watch people sleep, Granger?" his gruff voice made her gasp, and his eyes slowly peeled open to fix her with an agitated look.

"I hate when you do that," she mumbled with an embarrassed blush, frowning as he dragged his arm off her.

"Diddums," he smirked, propping his head up with his hand and leaning over her. "Fuck, it's cold in here."

"Are those levels profanity necessary at this time in the morning?" she grimaced.

"Are your big words?" he fired back smugly. "And yes, I know what they mean, but really, Granger. You could at least wait until midday before you smack me with your internal thesaurus."

"Well," she grinned, encouraged by his unexpected casual manner. "I thought you of all people would be able to keep up."

"That's a backhanded compliment," he said with subtle amusement. "Dare I ask why you're up so early? Some weird Muggle tradition?"

"It's almost eleven."

"Don't be ridiculous," Draco scoffed, but when he spotted the clock, his brow creased with surprise.

His eyes shifted to the photograph next to it; the picture Potter had given her yesterday of her and those feckless morons she kept around. The three of them were smiling and laughing about something he would never know, and both of her friends had a protective arm slung across her shoulders, as if to warn him that she was theirs and not his. The peculiar sense of calm that had settled between them this morning quickly dissipated, and when the photograph mocked him with another private chuckle between Granger and that ginger fuckwit, Draco felt his defensive instincts kick back in.

"I should get up," he grumbled, moving to the edge of the bed and sliding his boxers up his legs. "It's late-

"Don't do that, Draco," she stilled his actions with a firm tone. "Don't shut off like that. We were just talking-

"Then what would you have me do?" he asked between gritted teeth. "Pretend that this is normal?"

"I would have you define 'normal' first," she replied. "Come back to bed-

"You were always a fan of facts, Granger," he said slowly, keeping his back to her. "So here's the facts; we are enemies-

"Draco-

"To make it clear," he carried on, eyeing the Dark Mark on his forearm with bile rising in his throat. "I'm a Death Eater-

"No you're not-

"A shit one, I'll admit," he muttered in a low voice. "Shit enough that I managed to piss off Voldemort within a year, but a Death Eater nonetheless, Granger. And you are a member of the Order-

"You were never really one of them," she argued adamantly. "And you know it-

"You fight for the Light," he continued with an almost dejected tone. "And I am part of the Dark, and that's how it is."

Hermione sighed and tried to place a hand against his back, but he shrugged her away. "It's not that simple, Draco," she tried.

"It is that simple," he growled. "You can search for the anomalies all you like, Granger, but these are the facts. Most things are black and white."

"Then why are there so many shades of grey?" she whispered, moving carefully behind him and wrapping her arms around his abdomen. She rested her cheek against the taut muscles of his back and peppered dreamy kisses down his spine. "I like the colour grey."

He sealed his eyes and tried not to bend to her lulling lips and tempting words. "You're too stubborn, Granger."

"So are you-

"It's all very well to pretend our…antics are normal in here, Granger," he scowled. "But we won't be in here forever-

"We can cross that bridge when we come to it," she offered in a quiet voice.

"It would be wise to end this now," he told her stoically, and Hermione felt her chest constrict. "I will end up hurting you."

"If you don't care about my feelings, then why should that matter?"

He flinched, and resigned himself to giving her another shred of his tattered dignity. "I never said I didn't care for your feelings."

Hermione felt the optimism warm her blood, but optimism is a dangerous thing.

"Then how do you feel for me?" she asked nervously, stroking absent shapes across his stomach. He had started their repeated use of this question, and as she considered all the previous answers they had each given, she realised how different they had become.

"I don't know," he murmured quietly. "It's…impossible to define."

"Do you still hate me?" she pushed.

He released a defeated breath and raised a hand to rub his forehead. "No," he answered after a long pause. "It would certainly be more convenient, but you know I don't, Hermione." He hesitated to take a sobering breath. "And how do you feel for me?"

She gave the back of his neck another kiss. "I like you, Draco," she admitted softly, and the confession was so innocent and honest that it made his insides clench. "I thought…I thought that was obvious-

"I will hurt you," he repeated, louder this time. "It's all very well to play fairytales in this room, but it won't last-

"Then surely it would make more sense to make the most of it," she reasoned steadily, relieved when she felt his muscles relax under her cheek. "Draco, I am getting tired of trying to convince you to stop questioning this."

He tensed his jaw. "Then why do you?"

Hermione licked her lips and hoped her voice didn't waver. "Because I feared this War had made me lose hope," she breathed. "But you reminded me how to smile."

Merlin, her honesty was crushing his resolve, but then, had he really ever wanted this to end? It was simply instinctive to question and battle it for the sake of his waning pride. He slowly placed his hand on top of hers and bowed his head in surrender as he brushed his fingers across hers.

"Never say I didn't try to warn you," he spoke stonily. "This will all end in tears."

"Perhaps," she agreed sadly. "But for now, we have no bridges-

"To cross," he finished for her, turning slightly to glimpse her over his shoulder. "Must you always work in riddles?"

"They're more like analogies," she corrected, craning her neck to peck his cheek. "Are we finished arguing?"

"We will never be finished arguing, Granger."

.

.

Hermione followed the sunken foot-tracks in the snow and dragged her hand across a branch to steady her steps.

She felt guilty for the notion, considering Draco's inability to leave, but she had needed to escape her dorm and swallow some fresh air. He had slipped away for a shower and then predictably disappeared into his room; perhaps to scorn himself again for their complicated relationship, or maybe just to catch up on lost sleep. She had no idea, and knew better than to ask when she had seen that slightly tormented look in his eyes before he had left her.

She cast a quick Warming Charm to hush the chill and seated herself on a hefty rock under a brittle and winter-beaten Oak to study the familiar surroundings. The snow had paused for Boxing Day's afternoon, and she missed that infinite childish tingle that it always gave her, but the grey clouds in the sky promised more, and she hoped it was soon.

"Miss Granger," a wise voice broke her reverie. "I thought that was you."

"Hello, Professor," Hermione greeted the Headmistress. "You needed a walk too?"

"I don't have many duties at the moment," she said with disappointment. "You looked rather distant. Is something troubling you?"

"Nothing that shouldn't be troubling me," the youngest witch shrugged.

"Would you like to be left alone with your thoughts?" McGonagall asked, bristling when a harsh wind tore through the air. "Or would you care for some company, albeit the company of an old woman?"

Hermione breathed a laugh and patted the space next to her on the boulder. "Have a seat."

"Just a moment," McGonagall muttered, removing her wand and casting a charm to soften the rock before she settled next to her student. "My back is not as forgiving as it used to be. What is on your mind, Hermione?"

"I was wondering what Harry and Ron are doing now," she confessed slowly. "And hoping that they managed to enjoy Christmas on some level."

"I'm sure Mr Weasley managed to create some form of entertainment," the Headmistress offered with a knowing grin. "You should not worry so much about them. If they were in trouble or really needed to get a hold of one of us, there are ways they could do so; Patronuses, Owl, et cetera."

"I know," she agreed absently. "I just wish I could have gone with them."

"I hope you don't resent me for asking you to remain here with me," McGonagall sighed. "The only reason Remus agreed to let them go was because they assured him they would only be gone a week. Had any of us known that they'd intended to leave for these many months, it would not have been permitted."

"I knew they wouldn't come back after a week," Hermione mumbled. "Harry was too determined to find the Horcruxes."

"Well, I must admit that they are doing better than I predicted," she said in a thoughtful tone. "Have more faith in them, Hermione. Perhaps I need you more than they do at the moment."

The brunette cocked her head to the side and regarded her mentor hesitantly. "Professor, will you forgive me for asking a blunt question?"

"Depends what that question is."

"Well," Hermione began awkwardly. "You obviously like children, or you wouldn't be a teacher, and you're very good at giving advice, so I was just wondering why you never had any children of your own?"

"But I have had many children," she replied, and Hermione's eyebrows arched in surprise. "Thousands actually. Some good and some bad, but they all hold a place in my memory."

"Your students."

"Of course," McGonagall nodded, giving the young witch a meaningful look. "And every now and then, an exceptional one comes along who makes me feel as proud as any mother."

Hermione smiled as she felt a warm rush of gratitude and respect for her mentor. "Thank you," she sighed. "For everything."

"You're very welcome," the Headmistress said, rising from her seat with some age-induced difficulty. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I agreed to meet Filius and Horace for some lunch, but if I may ask you a question before I go?"

"Of course."

"This arrangement with Mr Malfoy," she started with a measured voice, and Hermione tried not to flush. "I can see that things have…altered between you, and I am wondering whether I should be concerned?"

Hermione wondered for a moment her lips were slightly swollen from kisses, or if she had accidentally failed to conceal a bruise on her throat that would be suspiciously shaped like Draco's mouth. She hoped that the tensing of her shoulders wasn't obvious, and that the guilty shadow in her eyes was successfully hidden beneath her lashes.

"No," she mumbled finally, feigning certainty. "Everything's fine."

As McGonagall offered her an accepting nod and turned to leave, Hermione laced her fingers together and released a comfortable sigh when the snow started to fall again.

.

.

Draco nursed his self-made coffee between his palms and inhaled the steam.

It wasn't as good as Granger's, but it would do, and as odd as it sounded, he actually felt like he'd accomplished something on his own today. Despite the fact that he had done it the Muggle way, he felt neither degraded nor foolish, but simply relieved that he was capable of doing such a mundane task. And if he'd done it, then perhaps Muggles were not quite as different as he'd assumed…

His head snapped up when Granger entered the room; frosted with snow and looking decidedly cold, but still charming. It almost disturbed him how alluring she was to him now, even in her baggy, Muggle clothing and with her slightly dishevelled appearance, but there was a sad bow to her lips that made him curious.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked, perhaps a little sharply.

"Nothing," Hermione breathed wearily. "I'm just a little tired."

"Liar," he accused, his ashy eyes tracking her as she moved past him into the kitchenette. "You are transparent at times, Granger."

"It's nothing," she insisted. "I just get a little down after Christmas. January always feels so bleak."

"It's not January yet," he pointed out, leaving his seat and coming up behind her. "Christmas was only yesterday."

"I know," she nodded. "But I know that next year is going to be awful, and I…I wish that things were different."

"Different," he repeated, reaching up to coil one of her curls around his finger. "You mean you wish that you were with Potter and Weasley."

The muscles in her back stiffened beneath his touch. "I miss them," she confessed sadly. "Just as I'm sure you miss your family. But I…" she trailed off, and Draco could imagine the blush staining her cheeks. "I would never…choose to erase what has happened between us. Even it meant seeing Harry and Ron."

A scary and dangerous bout of something close to affection hit him in the gut, and he continued to toy with the lock of her hair. "And what would they do, if they knew about us?"

"I don't know," she murmured, closing her eyes and leaning into his touch. "I think they would shout and scream, but I would hope that they love me enough to understand eventually, but I would be lying if I said they don't despise you."

"And I despise them."

"You despised me once," she reminded him, turning her body and taking a moment to admire his storm-grey eyes. "And what would your friends do if they found out about us?"

"We both know my friends wouldn't be the problem," Draco said with a pointed look, moving his busy fingers to fiddle with the hem of her jumper. "My parents would disown me, and I wouldn't see a knut of my inheritance. You know all this, Granger. I'm sure you've heard all about what happened to Andromeda."

"I have," she said, raising a hand stroke her fingers up his jaw. "There are more important things than money and reputation."

His lips twitched with scepticism. "Maybe in your world, Granger."

.

.

Several nights later, and Hermione realised she had lost track of time. Draco had been notably calmer and less agitated since his Christmas stroll across the grounds, and she couldn't help but take advantage of it. He had stayed in her bed until morning-light a couple of times, although she couldn't decide if it was simply accidental, or if he chose to linger in their warmth and pass the early hours in her company.

That was where tonight found her; between his legs and leaning back into his chest, with only a few blankets tossed carelessly around them and body heat to rush the blood. She had Charmed her window-sill into a window-seat, and temporarily broken the wards so the wind could chase away some of the mustiness in her room. Plus, Draco seemed to like the breeze rousing goosebumps across their bare skin, and she was too relaxed here to disrupt it; with his limbs tangled around her, and his chin against her shoulder as they both read the book in her lap.

"Have you finished the page?" she asked.

"Granger," he muttered, his voice husky against her throat. "You can be quite a sly witch when you want to be."

She stifled a laugh. "And what would make you say that?"

"You're telling me your book choice wasn't intentional?"

She indulged in a private grin. "Perhaps on a subconscious level-

"Bollocks," he accused, but his tone was rich with amusement. "Two enemies shagging in secret? It's hardly subtle, Granger."

"This happens to be a Muggle classic," she told him, twisting her neck to peck the edge of his mouth. "Can I turn the page?"

"Go ahead," he nodded, returning a kiss to that tingly spot behind her ear. "Although I feel the need to point out that this Romeo bloke is a bit of a tosser."

"How so?"

"Well, he was supposedly obsessed with that Rosaline girl," he started critically. "And then he marries this Juliet after only knowing her a couple of days. The guy is a complete wet."

"I agree, it is all a bit rushed," Hermione mumbled reluctantly. "But romance was a lot different back then-

"You mean it was unrealistic," he said. "I'm actually quite looking forward to the part when he kills himself."

Hermione lowered her brow in confusion. "How do you know he kills himself?"

"That bit at the beginning," he explained as though it was obvious. "'A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life.' It kind of gives the plot away, Granger."

"Spoilsport."

"Don't blame me," he rasped, pressing his lips against her throat again. "Blame the author."

"But-

A loud bang followed by a burst of light echoed across the night, making Hermione start before she could retort. Her hand covered her hammering heart as she felt Draco's hold around tighten, almost protectively. Another crash of colours came seconds later, and she pushed her window open wider to catch the simmering remains of a sparkling unicorn galloping across the clouds.

"Fireworks," she sighed with understanding. "Merlin, that made me jump."

"I noticed," he mocked, releasing his firm grip on her. "Open the window a bit more, let's see what Flitwick settled on this year."

She complied and adjusted her body so they could both watch the display of animated creatures dance in the air. She adored magical fireworks; so different to the Muggle shows she had been accustomed to, and Flitwick never failed to impress with his creativity.

"It must be New Year's Eve," she whispered with realisation, hastily shooting a look over to her clock.

One minute to midnight…

"Kiss me," Hermione blurted clumsily.

Draco turned to face her, and his eyes narrowed suspiciously at her bold words. "What are you-

"Just kiss me," she said again, desperately grasping his face and pulling him close to seal their lips, and their fates, if superstition was to be believed.

He was initially hesitant, but he quickly surrendered and tugged her into his lap, greedily running his hands over her waist, which ignited wonderful shivers to shoot down her spine. Her fingertips combed imaginary paths through his hair, and she sighed into his mouth appreciatively when his teeth gently latched onto her lower lip. She would never admit it, but she could easily kiss him for long and lazy hours.

When he pulled away, she hummed with disappointment and the sense of loss, but her eyes darted back over to her clock to discover it was indeed midnight. She turned back to Draco and watched the brazen colours of the fireworks reflect in his grey eyes and waltz across his pale features, and she felt something deep in her chest burn and swell.

"What was that about?" he asked in an uncertain voice, regarding her expectantly.

"It's a Muggle tradition," Hermione clarified automatically, knowing it wasn't something the wizarding community was familiar with. "It means…

That I want to spend the year with you…

It means that you are important to me…

It means that I want to keep you…

"It means nothing," she lied as a second thought. "It's just…it's just something Muggles do on New Year's Eve."

She could see he was reluctant to accept her explanation, but he simply rolled his eyes disapprovingly and shrugged his shoulders. "Muggles really are bizarre," he remarked, gesturing for her to settle back between his thighs. "Come on, Granger. I'm actually quite curious to find out what happens to the 'star-crossed lovers.'"

Hermione barely managed to suppress her cringe. "You know what happens," she murmured. "They die."

.

.

She glided her fingers across the army of books in the restricted section of the library, scrutinising the titles that had any indication that they might contain any reference to Horcruxes. She finally selected an ancient-looking text that was withering in her hand before she turned and headed back to her dorm. She'd woken up alone this morning, and had decided she had a good few hours to continue her research before Draco emerged from his room later on.

New Year's Day assured that Hogwarts' corridors were barren and silent, and the afternoon was slowly pushing into the evening, which meant the remaining residents were probably all in their respective rooms, so Hermione was a little surprised when she spotted a figure urgently rushing towards her.

"Miss Granger, there you are," McGonagall breathed with apparent relief. "I need to talk with you."

Dread bubbled in her stomach as she absorbed the older witch's flustered behaviour. "Is something wrong?"

"I'm afraid there is," the Headmistress admitted in a grave tone. "Let's go to my office, I can explain it to you there."

Hermione barely had a moment to protest before McGonagall turned on her heel and began stalking back the way she'd come. "What is it, professor?" she questioned nervously, met only by silence as she tried to keep up. "Professor-

"I need to show you," she called over her shoulder.

Hermione's heart was rattling around her ribs by the time they reached the Head's office, and she followed McGonagall inside with trembling legs and a thousand questions. "Take a seat-

"I'd rather stand," Hermione declined, eyeing her teacher impatiently. "What's going on? You're frightening me."

McGonagall offered her an apologetic glance before she reached for the newspaper on her desk and handed it to the younger witch. Hermione's eyes scanned the Daily Prophet's front page, willing her mind to stop racing so she could properly make sense of the black, white and greys mingling together to create ominous words and shifting photographs. She skimmed over the article; the content barely registering in her head before she felt her heart shrink and snap.

She raised her watering eyes to McGonagall and tried to find her broken voice. "All…all of them? Dead?"

"Yes," the Headmistress nodded sullenly. "I'm sorry, Hermione, but I think it may be time."

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