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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23. Limbo

"Draco?"

"Hm?"

"Will you help me wash the blood out of my hair, please?"

.

.

The turbulent weather and his agitated movements roused her, and Hermione carefully removed her arm from under Draco's torso.

She must have coiled herself around him during the night, but she ignored the dull ache in her elbow and cheated some morning minutes to study his unknowing face. An agitated groan escaped him as he resisted the disruptive demons of his subconscious, and Hermione decided to linger and try to chase them away. Lifting her hand, she smoothed away the creases of his frown with her fingers, and relished a secret smile when he instantly calmed under her touch.

He was so beautiful like this. Unaware of her admiring gaze. Her fingertips caressed him gently; from the proud curve of his lips, to the blond dusting of his eyebrows, and every inch of milky skin in between. Her ministrations move to his hair, which was barely affected by bed, and her nails parted his cream stands in lazy circles. He might be oblivious to it, but the harsh edge that had once darkened his presence had eroded. Inside and out. And the difference made her heart tremble.

It struck her then

As hard as thunder, and as soft as lullabies.

She was falling.

Not yet love, but kissing the seams.

Her lips parted in a silent gasp, and she withdrew her curious hand. It felt wrong to have such romantic notions when the wounded and dying were just a few corridors away. Was there even room for love amongst the raucous throbs of impending War? Shaking her head and hastily leaving him alone in the bed, she scolded herself for misplacing her priorities.

There was work to be done.

Love would have to wait in the corner.

.

.

His dream was simple; neither obscure nor corrupted with metaphors or enigmas.

He was standing in a dark and dull room that vibrated with silence.

Standing in one corner were his parents; his father's face scrunched up with scorn, and his mother's aged with dejection and stress. In the other corner waited Granger; a hopeful look on her face and typically chewing her lip, and behind her was a misty and translucent version of himself.

In his dream, Draco's conflicted stare shifted between them for hours, before he finally gulped down a lung-splitting breath, and lifted his foot.

And then it ended.

Draco's eyes snapped open as he bolted upright in the bed, shudders itching down his spine and a cold sweat glistening across his body. Dropping his face into his hands, he groaned against his clammy palms and wondered why goosebumps were bubbling under his skin. His attention drifted to his side, and he frowned at Granger's hollow indentation in the mattress, but the quiet sounds of shuffling beyond the bedroom door informed him where she was.

The cold chill in the room nibbled at his pores, and he slipped into his baggy pyjama bottoms and an oversized t-shirt as he left the bed. He paused to watch the thunderstorm raging outside the window; the pane distorted by hammering rain and whipping winds, but he could see that it had washed away the snow.

Granger wouldn't like that.

Heading out of the bedroom, he stopped in his tracks and quirked an eyebrow when he saw her. Leaning over her cauldron and muttering measurements of ingredients to herself, her hair was a gravity-resistant mess surrounding her flushed features as she sprinkled some purple powder into her concoction. Nodding with satisfaction, she lifted her busy eyes and finally noticed him, and Draco's lips twitched in response.

"Good morning," Hermione said quietly. "Well, afternoon actually."

"Afternoon?" he repeated, glimpsing at the clock to find it had just pushed past midday. "You should have woken me."

"I thought you might need the rest," she shrugged. "You were quite restless in your sleep last night."

Ignoring her comment, he nodded his head at her cauldron. "What's that for?"

"It's just another batch of Dreamless Sleep Potion," she explained, giving it a quick stir. "I found some Murtlap Essence and Burn-Healing Paste too." She hesitated. "Draco, would you like me to save you some Dreamless Sleep Potion?"

"I'm fine," he grumbled, his brow creasing with irritation. "Perhaps you should take some, seeing as you were apparently up all night, taking notes about my sleeping habits."

"It was simply a suggestion-

"An unnecessary one," he interjected calmly, wrinkling his nose as the sharp tang of mingling potions hit his nose. "That smells like shit."

"I brewed some Skele-Gro earlier," she told him. "It stunk out the kitchen a bit-

"Earlier? Did you even sleep?"

"The rain woke me up pretty early," she mumbled. "I wanted to get these done anyway-

"You look shattered," he remarked, moving closer and noting the dark smudges under her eyes. "You should go back to bed-

"I'm fine," she shook her head. "I need to get back and help-

"Of course you do," he drawled, rolling his eyes.

He expected his witch to make a defensive retort, but then he should have learned by now that it was futile to predict anything about Granger's behaviour. Instead, she simply studied him from beneath her lovely lashes with a knowing glint in her eyes. He didn't like that look, and he blamed his vow last night, when he had assured that he would not serve Voldemort again. She regarded him like he was different; somehow…better, and he shifted his weight with discomfort.

She didn't get it.

Did she honestly believe that it had been born out of some moral revelation? That he gave a shit about Potter and his band of feckless fools? He almost snorted. His motivation was entirely selfish; he knew now that he cared for her welfare, and he didn't want to see her hurt or killed. Simple as that. Also, they shared an enemy in Voldemort, and she could pose the 'what if he asked you to rejoin the Death Eaters' question all she liked, but the mentally-deranged psychopath was hardly renowned for his forgiving nature.

Deciding to remain neutral was the rational decision. The only issue with that was the state of his parents, for he had no idea how they'd reacted to his disappearance, or whether their loyalties still lied with Voldemort. Snape had told him that his father had been broken out of Azkaban, along with many others, about a month after the Astronomy Tower incident. He would like to believe that his parents would have resisted, but his father's fear-induced desperation to please Voldemort made Draco doubtful.

"Granger," he started hesitantly. "The attack on St Mungo's. Were…were my parents involved?"

Hermione couldn't suppress her cringe. "I don't know, Draco. They all wear masks-

"But it's likely," he finished for her. "I get it."

"Draco," she sighed. "I really don't know. There is a possibility that the…circumstances with you might have altered their-

"But you don't know," he said in a jaded tone, resting his weight against the kitchen counter and clicking his jaw. "So what do you know, Granger? What exactly is going on out there?"

He watched her intently as her spine stiffened, and the muscles in her shoulders tensed. He could see her designing sentences in that ever-working brain of hers, wondering how much information to divulge, and measuring her level of trust in him. The dynamics had shifted now; he had verbally resigned as her enemy, and that changed everything, whether he liked or not.

"It's getting worse," she finally rushed out. "Before Christmas, the Ministry seemed to have some degree of control over the situation, but since the Muggles were murdered on New Year's-

"New Year's?" he interjected with narrowing eyes. "Does that have anything to with your parents?"

He almost regretted the question when he witnessed the pain flash across her features, but his curiosity had waited long enough to be sated.

"They were killing the parents of Muggle-borns," Hermione told him with a shaky voice. "I erased their memories and sent them somewhere safe." She swallowed down the lump in her throat. "At least, I think they'll be safe."

Aside from the slight flex of his fists, Draco neither moved nor spoke, but the hard pound of guilt in his stomach almost doubled him over. He didn't know where it had come from. He'd played no part in her soul-stuttering ordeal, but the guilt chewed at his insides anyway. That indefinable feeling for Granger burned a little harder in his bones as he watched her; struggling to keep her emotions subdued, and wearing a façade of composure that strained the muscles in her face.

"And now St Mungo's has been attacked," Hermione murmured, bringing them back to the current chaos. "The Ministry will be next, and then he'll be able to do whatever he wants." Her eyes shimmered with thought as she paused to glance around her dorm. "Hogwarts won't be safe anymore. Nowhere will."

Draco clicked his tongue. "Granger, where will-

"I don't know what will happen to you yet," she cut him off with an exasperated breath. "I need to discuss it with McGonagall-

"I was going to ask where you will go," he blurted, and his comment shocked them both. Recovering quickly, he donned a stoic mask and straightened his back. "Just out of curiosity, Granger."

Hermione blinked once. Twice. "I don't know," she repeated. "I will probably stay with some of the Order-

"And then you and your Gryffindor comrades will march into battle," he snapped in a scathing tone, wrinkling his nose with distaste. "How fucking gallant and noble-

"Draco, don't do that!" she demanded sternly, fixing him with a critical glare. "Don't undermine us like that!"

"Well forgive me for trying to talk you out of a suicide mission!" he countered. "You said it yourself! They are getting stronger-

"Then we will get stronger!"

"Don't be so bloody naïve!" he yelled, tossing his arms in the air with frustration. "This isn't a fucking fairytale! Good doesn't always conquer evil, Granger! You need to accept that you might not win this War-

"Then I will die trying!" she shouted hotly, and while Draco knew he should feel disgusted with her remark, he only felt his chest constrict with affection for his fiery witch.

"No!" he spat firmly, slapping his palm against the counter. "You can't-

"Why not?"

Because you're all I have left…

"BECAUSE YOU CAN'T JUST SOD OFF AND LEAVE!" Draco roared, his voice raw with intensity as he buried his pride. "YOU JUST CAN'T!"

Hermione tried to reach for his hand. "I'm not leaving-

"Not yet!" he barked, swatting away her touch. "But you said that when Voldemort infiltrates the Ministry, you will go to the Order! I'm not thick, Granger! I know that I won't be able to go wherever the hell you're going, so what? I just get tossed on my arse and left to fend for myself?"

"I told you," she sighed sadly. "I don't know where you will go, but I will talk to McGonagall-

"That old cow doesn't give a shit about what happens to me," he mumbled in a low tone. "You'd be wasting your breath-

"That's enough!" she shouted, slicing the air with her hand. "This War is bigger than you and I, Draco! People are dying! How can you be so selfish?"

His lips made an audible clap as his mouth slammed shut, and the silence pulsed in his ears. He refrained from flinching as her disappointed eyes studied him, desperately hunting for an indication of moral decency, but he knew she wouldn't find anything.

"Do you…" Hermione whispered hesitantly, moving around the counter until she could feel his breath cooling her face. "Do you care about anyone but yourself?" She worried her lip. "Do you care about me?"

Pride crumbled between his grinding teeth. "Have you forgotten that I asked you to leave with me, Granger? Do you think I just said that for laugh?"

"That doesn't answer the question-

"Yes, it does!" he argued fiercely, raising a hand to massage his forehead. "This is ridiculous. Your sodding Order put me in here, and now that I've become… accustomed to our situation, they're going to shove me somewhere else? I am sick of this mind-fuck bullshit."

"Change is inevitable in War, Draco," she said, wrapping her quivering fingers around his wrist. "All I can do is try to ensure that you will do somewhere safe-

"Stop doing that," he seethed through tense lips. "Why do you have to be so bloody concerned about what happens to me?"

Hermione gulped down the emotion wedged in her windpipe. "You know why."

Draco felt the beats in his chest quicken into an erratic staccato as he considered the subtle confession in her words. He didn't know whether to feel charmed or horrified, and once again he found himself lingering in between. Between Dark and Light. Loathing and Lust. His family and Her. What he'd been told and what he was and what he could be.

Just trapped in this soul-splitting limbo that seemed infinite, and yet somehow enlightening.

He remembered how he would have smothered Granger in her sleep and surrendered his inheritance to get out of this room, only mere months ago. Now, the prospect of the world beyond these warm walls seemed toxic and suffocating, and the idea of being separated from Granger made him feel queasy. She was both a sedative and stimulant; addictive perfection that sanity told him to reject, but instinct urged him to drown in.

"I need to get back to the medical wing," Hermione severed his thoughts, pulling away from him to organise her potions. "Professor Slughorn needs these-

"We haven't finished our discussion-

"Then we can finish it later," she mumbled, slipping the vials into her charmed bag. "I have to-

"Granger," Draco mumbled, snatching her arm and twisting her to face him. "I don't…" he released a husky breath of defeat. "I don't want this…thing to end yet."

"Yet?" she echoed, her eyes finding the floor. "Then you do intend on it finishing at some point?"

A frown marred his features. "I didn't-

"Let me ask you a question, Draco," she mumbled, and her heart faltered as she prepared a question with a potentially devastating answer. "What if we both survive this War? What then? What about our…thing, as you so eloquently labelled it?"

His stubborn silence and the indifferent haze in his rain-cloud eyes made her feel sick, so she tucked a brazen curl behind her ear, and lifted her chin with contrived poise. Again, she reminded herself of the injured victims on the other side of the Castle, and it put her personal feelings in perspective.

"I don't have time for this," she said steadily, brushing past him. "I have things to do-

"Granger, wait-

The slam of the door was louder this time, and it ricocheted around his skull until his ears felt like they were leaking blood.

More questions.

More decisions.

.

.

The bones in Hermione's fingers felt brittle and ready to snap.

After thirteen hours on her feet, with only the residual effects of Vitamix to lift her limbs, she could feel her body starting to shut down with exhaustion. When she had first arrived, her veins had been pumping with anger-fuelled adrenaline from her argument with Draco, but that had long since withered away as the day had dragged into night.

She had just finished redressing the Murtlap Essence-laced bandages around a young wizard's abdomen when McGonagall called her over for some assistance, and Hermione's eyes fell to the traumatized witch in the bed at the Headmistress' side. She instantly recognised the fragile woman, seemingly in her mid-twenties, as she had caused quite the stir in the afternoon.

After remaining unconscious since her rescue from St. Mungo's, Annabelle Snowbloom had awoken to discover that her husband of less than six months wasn't amongst the fortunate who had escaped, and she had screamed the screams of a broken-brained madwoman for hours, until her voice had simply shattered. Hermione neared the injured witch, and the sympathy was crippling as she noted the eerie void in her eyes, and how her shivering fingers absently toyed with her wedding ring.

"Could you replace the bandages on Miss Snowbloom's arms please, Hermione?" McGonagall asked, her voice scratchy with fatigue. "I just need to see Horace for a moment and get some more Dreamless Sleep Potion."

"Of course," she mumbled, moving closer to Annabelle and studying the deep and gory dents in her writs, from what must have been a violent Incarcerous. Sticky and weeping blisters speckled her flesh like macabre bracelets, but Hermione had become immune to such wounds, and she barely flinched as she withdrew her wand to clean away the pinkish mix of blood and puss. "Let me know if I hurt you, okay? This looks very sore."

Annabelle remained completely unresponsive, so Hermione started reciting her Spells and applying the dressings with gentle but precise attention, in a silence that was too tragic to be awkward.

"Is there anywhere else you were hurt?" she asked when she was close to finishing. "Or is there anything I can do for you?"

Annabelle's dead stare shifted towards her like a bullet. "Can you bring back my husband?"

Hermione flinched. "I'm sorry," she murmured, because she had no idea what else she could say. "I'm really sorry-

"It would have been better if I'd never woken up," the too-young widow said in a deadpan tone. "I don't want this life. It doesn't feel real."

Hermione's hands fidgeted in her lap. "Would you like some-

"You're a pretty girl," she remarked suddenly, but her expression didn't change, and her voice sounded bitter. "Tell me, have you lost someone you love yet?"

She nodded and felt guilty for it; it seemed wrong to compare when Annabelle's grief was so fresh. "I have lost friends-

"But not someone you wanted to spend your life with," she interrupted. "Not your soul-mate." Her voice cracked. "The person who makes you feel indestructible and vulnerable at the same time." She glanced down at her wedding ring. "The person you would die for, and die without."

An image of Draco instantly flashed across Hermione's conscious without prompt, and her heart shrivelled like a burning leaf; crackling and shrinking, just from the thought. Oh Merlin…it made a heavy lump of dread plummet in her stomach, and a shaky groan passed her lips when a stab of physical pain hit her. All from a thought. She forgot to angry at him. Words refused to form as the unsettling sensations harassed her nerves, so she simply shook her head, and refused to cry in front of a newly-made widow.

"I hope you never have to feel like this," Annabelle told her, her mourning gaze drifting back to stare at nothing. "Because it feels like dying, only worse."

Hermione could see the mental cocoon take over the witch's mind again, and she remained silent until McGonagall returned a few minutes later, placing a small vial of the purple potion next to Annabelle. "Take it when you're ready," the Headmistress instructed softly, steering Hermione away from the damaged witch. "We have done all we can for today. You should go and rest-

"I need to talk to you," she rushed out. "Privately."

"It has been a long day. Can it wait until tomorrow?"

"No," Hermione refused, keeping her voice low. "I want to talk about it now. I need to talk about it now."

Sensing the urgency in her protégé's tone, Minerva bobbed her head and led them to her office, noting the younger witch's stiff posture and her distracted expression. The moment she closed the door to ensure them privacy, Hermione began to pace around the room with impatient strides, her movements restless and quivering, like the thistle in Autumn winds.

"Calm down, Miss Granger," McGonagall advised, swishing her wand to summon a chair. "Take a seat-

"I want to know what's going to happen to Draco," she blurted heedlessly, encouraged by flashbacks of Annabelle's ordeal. She did not want to be that broken-hearted and soul-torn woman. "I want to know where he will go."

The greying professor pursed her lips with consideration. "You mean if Voldemort infiltrates the Ministry, and Hogwarts-

"Don't say if," Hermione interjected with an irritated bite. "There is no if anymore! You know as well as I do that St Mungo's couldn't have been attacked like that if there wasn't already some corruption in the Ministry, so I want to know what happens to Draco when the Death Eaters take over."

"Hermione, we have more pressing issues-

"Just answer the question!" she exclaimed, clenching her fists until her nails pierced her palms. "I need to know!"

Aside from the slight arch of one cinereous eyebrow, McGonagall seemed unaffected by her outburst. "What would you suggest I do with Mr Malfoy?"

"I-I don't know," she stuttered with frustration, whipping her hair out of her face. "There has to be somewhere he can go. Somewhere he will be safe."

"Hermione, you must understand that I have lot on my plate-

"I know you do," she sighed, rubbing her bag-crested eyes. "I know you do, and I'm sorry that I am being selfish about this, but I just-

"Look," McGonagall breathed cautiously, taking a moment to select her words. "I am not blind. I know that you have become somewhat…fond of Mr Malfoy, and while I may not understand your reasoning, I have refrained from saying anything because you have seemed more…like yourself recently."

Hermione contemplated denying it, but the tell-tale blush warming her cheeks betrayed her, and a guilty tear punctuated the confession. "I never intended for it to happen-

"I know you didn't," the Headmistress assured her softly. "And I'm not angry, but you must understand my predicament. What would you do in my position? Mr Malfoy's behaviour has been completely unacceptable-

"He's different now," she defended her not-so-secret lover. "Really, he is-

"Hermione, you are-

"Please listen to me!" she implored loudly. "He told me! He swore to me that he wouldn't serve Voldemort again! Surely that changes things?"

McGonagall's green eyes flashed with surprise, but it disappeared as quick as it had come. "You will understand my reluctance to trust anything that he says-

"Then trust me," she persisted. "I know he has made mistakes, but he was a victim of circumstance. You said yourself that it was important that he didn't go through with killing Dumbledore-

"Yes, but-

"He has changed so much," she continued with desperate haste. "And I know you probably think my feelings are effecting my judgement, but I promise you that I'm telling the truth."

The older witch regarded her flustered companion thoughtfully. "Exactly how strong are your feelings for Mr Malfoy, Hermione?"

"I care about him," she admitted after a thick pause. "He has become…important to me."

"And you believe he returns these…feelings?"

She sucked in a soothing breath. "Yes, I do," she whispered. "I think I mean something to him, but even if I didn't, I would still need to know that he was somewhere safe."

Minerva felt that maternal twinge flicker in her chest, and she dipped her head with weary acceptance. "I can't promise anything," she said in a hushed voice. "But there is a possible place Mr Malfoy would be safe. I will see if I can make arrangements."

Hermione lidded her eyes as the relief swamped her, and she placed a hand over her reassured heart. "Thank you," she exhaled. "Thank you so much, Professor-

"Please don't get your hopes up, Hermione," the Headmistress stopped her. "This is entirely dependant on someone else's judgement and I can't guarantee that they will agree to it."

Curiosity crept in. "Who does it depend on?"

"It's best I don't say until I contact them," she explained, smothering a yawn with the back of her hand. "It has been an eventful day. You should go and get some rest. I assure you I will do what I can."

"Thank you," Hermione repeated, making her way towards the door. "And thank you for…understanding."

"I am not certain I do understand," McGonagall disputed, leading the younger witch towards the door. "But emotions are what make us human, and I can't condemn you for having them. You are old enough to make your own decisions; all I can do is urge you to be careful."

"I will," she said, a pseudo-smile capturing her lips before she turned to leave. "Good night, Professor."

McGonagall simply nodded and watched Hermione disappear into the inky darkness that flooded the hallways. She replayed their conversation in her head and wondered if she should have done anything to discourage her protégé's interest in the boy with a brand on his forearm, but she had secretly guessed that there was something going on weeks ago, and had decided against intervening.

She absently questioned what Dumbledore would have done in her situation, and had a sneaking suspicion that her late friend would have praised the circumstances, and the dormant romantic in her couldn't help but feel a little moved by the dilemma.

No, it wasn't Hermione's confession that had surprised her, but the revelation that Draco Malfoy had apparently vowed to sever his connection with Voldemort, and furthermore that he reciprocated Hermione's risky affections. The concept was absurd, and yet, as she meandered through the memories of the last few months, she noticed subtle clues that indicated it wasn't a one-sided romance; be it fading glamour charms on Hermione's neck, or the faint hint of a male scent clinging to her clothes.

If anyone else but Hermione had told her such details about the Malfoy heir, she would have dismissed it at nonsense.

But Hermione had told her, and that meant it was true.

Perhaps Albus had been right about the boy's soul…

Rubbing her age-creased forehead, she slowly made her way over to the fireplace and tossed in some Floo Powder, as she recited an address she had used many times in the recent months. The emerald flames rippled and twirled in bold patterns, until a familiar face hovered above the hearth, and stared back at her with confusion.

"I'm sorry it's so late," McGonagall apologised. "But I'm afraid I have another favour to ask of you."

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