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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25. Miles

Her glazed eyes lingered on where he had been.

There was nothing now; just a mocking gap sliced by spitting raindrops and a whining lash of wind that seemed far too eager to invade the void. The smell of the storm was beginning to drown away the remains of his scent, and the tingle of his warmth against her cheek was fading fast. Her body was frozen as if he was still there; the hand that had pressed the Portkey against his knuckles still outstretched and trembling, and her chin still tilted from her whispered words of goodbye.

I love you…

She couldn't move.

Couldn't rip her eyes away from the empty space.

Just stared at it…

But the hot singe of tears forced her to blink, and the world began to move again.

Dropping the thin sheet of material that had been wrapped around the Portkey, her arm fell limply to her side, and she choked on the lump in her throat. A scream was lodged somewhere in her chest, but her lungs were too strained to release it, and the suffocating sensation burned so hard, she could barely breathe.

And, oh Merlin, the ache in her heart was excruciating; like everything within her was collapsing in on itself.

Her knees caved, and she fell hard to the ground, ignoring the mud slithering up her jeans and pressing into her palms as she doubled over, barely managing to catch herself with her weary arms. Her eyes fell to the indentations of Draco's footprints; the only indication he'd been here mere moments ago, but the rain was pounding away the outline, and within seconds they had blended with the damp earth, and she was completely alone.

The wind turned crueller at that point, and she wrapped her arms around her trembling body in a futile effort to ease the bite of the cold and the loneliness. A howl of thunder drowned out a broken-hearted sob that made her stomach heave, and her eyes clenched tight as she tried to ride out her violent shudders.

"Oh Godric, it hurts," she sputtered to no one, holding herself tighter. "It hurts."

Annabelle Snowbloom's words whispered somewhere as the back of her brain.

It feels like dying, only worse.

She stayed there for some stolen seconds, simply trying to regain a sense of reason as she numbly rocked back and forth, but there was no time to seek some composure. The echoes of disorder from Hogwarts disrupted the rhythmic patter of rain, and Hermione reluctantly opened her eyes and glanced in the direction of the school. She remembered then; remembered that she couldn't stay here, and she scolded herself for letting the heartache consume her.

Sucking in a breath that felt so deep it stretched her ribs, she gritted her teeth and forced tension into her muscles to stop them shaking. She raised her hands and roughly palmed away the tell-tale tears, but every inch of her was speckled with raindrops, and she couldn't tell them apart as her sodden curls slapped against her cheeks. A frustrated whine scratched the backs of her teeth when she realised it was futile, and she dragged her hair out of her eyes, gagging on the lump in her windpipe that wouldn't shift.

Drenched to the soul and trying so hard to ignore the nausea that made her head swim, she swallowed several more hefty gulps of air and slowly hauled herself to her unstable feet. Smothering a moan when her limbs protested, she willed her legs to remain sturdy and keep her balanced, and with a final dejected look at the empty space, she clenched her fists with determination, and spun on her heels.

Her movements were clumsy as she jogged back the way she had came, barely noticing the clawing thorns and thistles of the Forest as she stumbled in what she hoped was the right direction. Her bearings were compromised and her vision was still hazy at the seams, but she trudged blindly through the thick, squelching dirt and searched desperately for the red rock.

"Crookshanks," she called with a croaky voice, minding to keep her tone hushed as the eerie sounds from Hogwarts grew louder. "Crooks."

A small meow responded somewhere to her left and she corrected her path, and she staggered through biting brambles and poison ivy as inhuman noises began to bustle around the Forbidden Forest. She had no idea if the magical creatures that dwelled here had sensed the attack and were panicking, or if there were Death Eaters whipping through the trees, almost breathing down her collar.

Summoning the final and flimsy remains of her energy, she drove herself onward with a pained growl, gripping her wand tighter. She burst through a stubborn wall of leaves and branches, coughing on a sigh of relief when Crookshanks bounded over to her, spitting low and agitated hisses, and his wide stare scrutinizing the space around them.

"It-it's okay, Crooks," she stammered, and she would swear her cat was looking past her to search for Draco. "He's gone," she mumbled, and the words sent a destructive bolt of angst to her chest. "C-come on, boy. We need to go."

Gathering her pet in her arms, she made her way to the rock beneath the ominous bow of the Oak tree and felt the air tingle with differing magic. She clutched Crookshanks tighter as she struggled to pacify her racing thoughts and frantic breaths, preparing herself to Apparate.

With a goodbye glance in the direction of Hogwarts, and a silent payer that Draco was safe, she left their broken haven behind.

.

.

Draco landed on buckling ankles.

Toppling forward onto his knees, he just managed to brace himself on his forearms before his face smacked into the dirt. Fisting his hands around crispy tufts of grass, the muscles of his back tensed as he tried to fight the churning spasms in his stomach. He gagged and retched as the brutal dry-heaves vibrated through him and bile scorched his tonsils.

Spitting against the soil and panting heavily, his watering eyes focused on the unfamiliar soil, and he watched drops of sweat, rain or possible tears splash against the backs of his hands. Fury and regret bubbled in his veins so hard it felt destructive, like venom eating away at his nerves and cells.

"Fucking hell, Granger!" he hissed to no one, punching the ground. "Fuck." Again. "Fuck." And then again. Until his knuckles were on fire and blood dribbled between the dents. "Fuck, Hermione."

His vocal chords knotted and his rant died in his throat. Too angry. Too troubled. Too lost. He lifted his chin and tried to scan the surroundings, but his sight was distorted and speckled with white dots, and he could barely see a few feet in front of him. All he could discern was a carpet of grass and the sickly shade of indigo that dawn had painted across the sky.

There was no storm here, just a cruel wind that clawed at his drenched skin, but he still smelled of Scottish rain and Hermione's soap.

He didn't belong here.

His mind cruelly began to replay what had happened mere minutes ago with unforgiving flashbacks that made his temple throb. He recalled the flick of her wand as she'd Petrified him, and the dangerous swell of dread that had twisted his gut. He remembered how she had nestled against his statue-stiff form, her features raw with emotion, and broken words feathering across his jaw.

She had kissed him, and he had fought the spell so hard that his bones had felt close to shattering beneath his flesh, just to twitch his mouth and give her a response. The spell had been immune to tenacity and desperation; he knew she had been kissing dead lips, and he hated that.

And then…

I love you…

He stiffened. He didn't know what to do with those three words; three words that clawed at his brain but warmed…everything else. So calming and yet chaotic. It changed everything and yet nothing, because she had still sent him here. Alone.

If he'd been concerned about the state of his mind when he had first been shoved into that room with her, this reality was so much worse, like a Crucio to his psyche.

A part of him wanted to track her down and tell her he didn't want her love, that he didn't fucking deserve it, and that she was insane for wanting him in her life. He'd be the red and putrid stain on her white dress. The shard of glass wedged into her vein. He was not worthy of her. He knew that now. Had probably known it all along.

Another part of him wanted to find her and lick their wounds, maybe kick his pride to the corner again to echo her need. Because he did need her, and not in the romantic, naïve sense that stirred vomit, but the painful and crippling way that battered brains and stabbed at the soul. He'd blurted it once and he'd blurt it again if he had to. Pride suddenly seemed so irrelevant compared to the fucking agony swarming in his ribcage.

Maybe he even loved…

He didn't know, and whatever was coursing through his veins was completely foreign to him. Labelling it with some over-used word that was so carelessly tossed between strangers these days seemed insufficient for the feelings that had brought him to his knees. It reminded him of that odd sensation when fire is so hot that it feels like ice, or when ice is so cold it feels like fire. Nature's paradox.

If this was love, then it felt like insanity. It felt like torture. Or bliss. All the same.

He just wanted to return and do…something. Something to prolong their intertwined heartbeats.

His wand. She'd put it in his pocket.

His hand raced to grab it, feeling the comforting crackle of long-missed magic tingle his fingertips. Clutching it in his lap, he tried to steady his thoughts before trying to Apparate, but then there was hand on his shoulder, and he froze.

"The Wards won't let you go back," a soft, feminine voice spoke. "And she will have left by now."

Draco whipped his body around and scrambled to stand, barely managing to maintain his footing as he blinked away the salty haze in his eyes. Suspicion and shock creased his brow when he realised who had disturbed him, her face only recognisable to him from an accidental encounter in Diagon Alley and a tattered photograph he'd found in his mother's handbag when he'd been rummaging for a spare Galleon for a Chocolate Frog. The features were familiar too; the aristocratic lines and grooves that were so similar to Bellatrix's, yet notably more delicate and lacking the menacing edge that had always made him uncomfortable.

"You?" he hissed, too drained to put any real force behind it. "They sent me to you?"

"Yes," Andromeda nodded uncomfortably, keeping her wary stare on his wand. "McGonagall-

"Has a sick sense of humour," he finished. "I don't need your help."

The Aunt he'd never known arched a slim eyebrow. "You are underestimating how bad things have gotten, Draco," she said slowly. "Believe me when I say that you do need my help-

"Why the hell would you offer to help me anyway?" he questioned, narrowing his eyes.

"I was reluctant at first," she admitted on a sigh. "But in spite of the past, you are still family, Draco. And apparently you and I have something in common now-

"What are you talking about?"

Andromeda hesitated. "McGonagall told me about your…relationship with Hermione-

"YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT MY RELATIONSHIP WITH GRANGER!" he barked, straightening his wand-arm. "FUCKING NOTHING!"

"Calm down!"

"DON'T TELL ME-

"Keep your voice down!" she scolded. "You will not wake the others! You might not like it, Draco, but I was in the exact same position as you many years ago, so I know what you're feeling-

"You don't have a bloody clue-

"And if McGonagall hadn't told me about your relationship with Hermione, then you wouldn't be here," Andromeda said in an even voice. "They both seem confident that you have changed your ways to some extent, and I am willing to give you the benefit of the doubt-

"How big of you-

"But I made it clear that if you put a foot wrong," she continued. "Then you would be on your own. I want to help you, Draco, but I have other people to consider."

"This is bullshit," he scoffed.

Andromeda clicked her tongue. "Do you have any idea how lucky you are?"

"Lucky?" he spat bitterly. "You think Voldemort wanting me dead is lucky?"

"I'm talking about the people who are trying to help you," she frowned. "Considering the things you have done, I would call that very lucky."

Draco's glare faltered and dropped back down to the grass. "You don't know everything that happened-

"I know enough," she cut him off, her expression softening slightly. "And I understand that you were put in an awful situation, but that doesn't excuse your actions."

The truth can be like bleach; it strips everything bare and removes the dirt. But swallow too much and it will devastate your insides. And maybe kill you. Despite his best efforts, he couldn't quite bring himself to despise the witch in front of him, perhaps because there was simply no space within him for any more damaging thoughts. Perhaps it was because he knew she was right.

"I know this isn't easy for you, but I promised McGonagall that I would keep you safe," she told him, releasing an exasperated breath. "And it would do you well to remember the risks Hermione took to get you here."

A scathing retort readied itself on the tip of his tongue, but somewhere at the back of his skull, he could hear Hermione willing him to accept the circumstances. Grinding his teeth as another wave of longing for his lover thumped his stomach, he lowered his wand, and his lids suddenly felt like lead. "What's the catch to your…hospitality?"

"No catch," Andromeda assured him. "All I ask is that you respect the others and my home."

"The others?"

"You'll see," she said. "I will explain everything properly in the morning when you've had a chance to settle in. I have a room ready for you."

It was only then Draco realised he was in a garden, and that behind his Aunt was a rather large yet modest cottage, drowned in darkness save one flickering glow on the ground floor. The temptation to continue the argument with Andromeda scalded his tongue, if only to grasp some flimsy dignity, but his need for a bed and some isolation to sift through his thrumming thoughts made him waver.

"Fine," he mumbled reluctantly, bowing his head. "Just…fine."

"Good," Andromeda nodded, although her tone implied that things were far from good. "Come on then, Draco. You look like you could do with some rest."

Too worn and weary to resist any longer, his feet moved of their own accord, and Draco absently realised that some of Hermione's scent lingered in the fabric of his coat. The coat she'd gifted him with at Christmas. The agonising and relentless craving for Granger's presence intensified and almost doubled him over, but he clenched his jaw and straightened his spine, sinking himself deeper into the lining of the coat.

He felt Andromeda's palm rest against his back as she guided him to her home, and while he knew he should shrug it away, he let it be.

.

.

Her arms went limp, and Crookshanks landed gracelessly on her toes.

Hermione gazed blindly at nothing, lips slightly parted, and every muscle rigid to keep her standing. Godric knew she was trying to collect herself, but her body was refusing to cooperate, and she didn't dare move.

"Hermione!" a familiar voice called, breaking her trance. Suddenly there were arms around her, a comforting shock of purple hair against her cheek and a baby bump curving into her abdomen. "Thank Merlin you're okay. Where have you been? McGonagall sent her Patronus ages ago."

The younger witch tried to find her voice. "I…I got a little lost," she murmured, falling into the hug. "I had trouble finding the Apparation point."

"But you're okay?" Tonks asked, pulling back to study her friend. "You're not hurt or anything? No offence, sweetheart, but you like hell."

"I'm fine," Hermione lied, because she didn't know what else she could say. "I'm fine. I just…I tripped, but I'm fine."

It's funny; how the repetition of a word can make it unreliable and contradictory.

"Are you sure?"

Even though Hermione knew Tonks was oblivious to her involvement with Draco, she feared it was written in between every worry-wrinkle of her expression. She felt transparent. Fixing her posture defiantly and setting her lips into a thin line, she adopted the pretence of a witch who was in control.

"I'm sure," she nodded.

"Alright," said Tonks, evidently unconvinced but quelling her questions. Hermione felt a reassuring arm drape across her shoulders, and she was gently guided to her friend's humble home. "Let's get out of the cold."

"Okay. Where's Lupin?"

"He went to the Burrow when we got the warning," she explained, her tone laden with concern. "He thought Arthur might need help setting up some more Wards. We're trying to contact everyone, but it's difficult."

Hermione prayed her next words didn't sound too hopeful. "Is there any news on Ron and Harry?"

"No," Tonks sighed, squeezing Hermione's shoulder. "I'm sorry."

She didn't blink. "I didn't think there would be."

"I'm sure they're fine." That word again. Crookshanks skimmed between their legs as they entered the house. "I have some tea, if you'd like some?"

"No, thank you," she declined, barely noticing the buzz of a freshly-cast Warming Charm as she stepped over the threshold. "I know we need to discuss what's going on, but I'm really tired-

"Of course," said Tonks sympathetically. "We can talk about it after you've had some sleep. Do you remember where the spare room is?"

She nodded and grasped the banister of the stairs. "First door on the left. I just…I need to use the bathroom first."

"Help yourself to whatever you need. This is your home now."

Hermione knew that Tonks had intended to be reassuring, but she had to stifle a deflated grimace as she climbed the groaning stairs. This was not her home. Everything seemed so surreal; as fragile as clouds, and simply a distorted reality that her brain couldn't quite catch up to.

Numbly wandering into the bathroom, she bent over the sink and stared at the pristine porcelain for a long moment. When she lifted her head to confront her reflection, her gasp misted the mirror. Her face was smeared with cracked mud and crumbling blood, her eyes swollen with grey rims, and her lips an icy shade of violet. The rain she'd left behind in Scotland had done little but speckle the mess staining her features, but her curls and clothes were slicked against her skin like tar. She couldn't decide if she looked like one of those warriors who marked their skin before a battle, or if she looked like a battered soul lingering in the aftermath.

Combing aside her rowdy hair and twisting the taps, she cupped her palms and smothered her face with the water. It was freezing, and the sucked the air between her teeth, but she ignored it and rinsed away the red-tinged dirt with desperate and trembling hands. Pausing between laboured breaths and checking the progress in the mirror, her agitated actions calmed when inch by inch of her fawny skin was cleansed, until there was simply a peppering of mud that mingled with her freckles.

She dabbed at them with her fingertips as her eyes fell to a small mark on her neck; the fading crest of a love-bite. A pang of longing smacked her, and she titled her chin to get a better look. She normally disguised them with a Glamour Charm, but she wouldn't cover this one. She hoped it would stay a while.

Godric, she missed him.

Only minutes had passed since they'd parted, not even an hour, but she felt the weight of the miles between them.

The Sun must have breached the horizon, because a loud blast of rays burst through the window and hit the mirror. The light was the colour of flames, and it illuminated her face like the fires of war.

Her eyes dropped back down to the porcelain, and it was the colour of rust.

.

.

With a final sweep of the damp cloth, Draco studied his ashen skin in the mirror and scowled. He'd been tempted to leave his and Hermione's mixed blood where it was, but he'd resented the mud that had blended with it, and the dark undertones to that thought had made him uneasy.

He hunted for hints of Granger in his reflection; a slight bump on his lower lip from a kiss, a small scratch beneath his ear from a pre-lust kiss, and the scar from third year. She was everywhere and yet nowhere.

Another flashback of their last seconds together made his eyes pulse behind his lids.

Petrificus Totalus!

I want you in my life.

I love you.

He groaned and rested his forehead against the mirror. He was so fucking angry. Angry at her for silencing anything he could and should have said. Angry at himself for leaving her no other option but to Petrify him. Angry at McGonagall for sending him here. Angry at his parents for dictating his prejudices. Angry at Potter and Weasley because his lover was probably with them now. Angry at circumstances for ripping them apart.

And beneath it all was this dangerous pining that pierced his everything.

Anger he could deal with, he knew it well, but the ache in his chest was a different story. He felt broken; barely human and clashing with the situation.

Don't belong here. Belong with her.

Giving his reflection another disgusted glance, he shook his head and headed back to the room Andromeda had showed him to earlier. He hesitated in the long hallway and absently wondered just who exactly was behind the other six or seven doors, but he was too distracted to give the question any heed.

His new room was small and simple, containing a three-quarter bed that took up most of the space, a chest of drawers, and a few slanting shelves that were in dire need of a Reparo. Hermione's absence mocked him from every corner; none of her little trinkets, no bookcases caving under the weight of an army of books, and no peppermint and cherry scent.

His heartbeat faltered again, and he slowly shrugged off his coat, carefully hanging it on the door and letting his fingers trail across the fabric when he realised this was all he had that linked him directly to her. Tucking his wand under the pillow, he then he slipped out of his clothes until he was left in his boxers, and eased himself into the mattress, gathering the itchy and abrasive blankets around him.

He kept his body on the left side of the bed, and absently stared at the empty space next to him before lids fell shut.

He'd always slept on the left side in Granger's bed.

.

.

Hermione stood in the spare room, gazing vacantly at the wall as her hands met to fidget in front of her. She was almost scared to settle into the bed, aware that days are broken up by sleep, and memories become less vivid as time crawls along. But her body was a whisper away from surrendering to the mental and physical exhaustion, and she needed to be well-rested tomorrow. There would be no place for her tears amongst the discussions of War and Order's plans. Tomorrow, she would be the prepared Gryffindor. Tomorrow, she would be fine.

Peeling her jumper away and discarding it at the foot of the bed, she went to the next layer of clothing, but stilled her movements when she realised it was his t-shirt. She drew in a sharp breath when she caught a trace of Draco's scent in the mornings; masculine musk with a hint of minty spice, and something that reminded her of new books.

She was so relieved to have this small symbol of their forbidden relationship, and she cast a quick Drying Spell that didn't erase the murmurs of his scent. Forgetting the pyjamas that were in her charmed bag and removing her jeans, she gave into fatigue and sank into the sheets, slightly comforted that she would be wrapped up in his shirt.

Nuzzling her face into the pillow, she felt the final few lonely tears glide down her cheeks. She fell asleep curled up into a tight ball with her palm across her bruised heart.

On the right side of the bed.

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