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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17. Stars

Hermione groaned into the pillow as her alarm chased away the whispers of her playful dream. Draco had been deliriously wonderful last night, just as he had been their first time; patient and unselfish, but still oozing that stubborn nonchalance that was definitively Malfoy and rather alluring. The nerves had affected her again, but she had certainly felt more comfortable this time, and something about the water trickling between their bodies had soothed her qualms and tickled her in a delicate but delicious way.

Wrap your legs around my waist.

Her sore muscles clenched as she recalled his lips and mumbles against her throat, lulling her into a place that felt sinful and yet somehow safe. She had let him press her against the tiles and rouse that throbbing warmth in her stomach, amongst the rose-scented steam and the echoes of pulsing water. She had quaked and moaned with abandon, like Friday, and then he had carried her to her room, waiting until she had gathered her senses before joining their hips again to satisfy himself.

Granger…

With her body sated, she had simply watched him with fascination as he sought his own release. His features had softened and he'd looked completely unburdened for those brief moments, and she had absently freckled kisses across his jaw and neck. She had studied him intently and silently decided that he had never looked more beautiful and free, and she had kissed him hard when he had let go. Her sheets were still damp from shower-drops and sweat, and while she knew the space next to her was empty, she peeked under her lashes anyway; just to check.

She was alone, but that was…okay.

He had come to her last night, and that was enough for now. His pride was taking a severe beating, and she was wise enough to know that it would take time for him to adapt to their…odd situation, as did she. Truth be told, she wasn't exactly sure what she hoped to gain from all this, but she knew she liked him, and Luna's words had her tempted to act on impulses.

Sometimes, Wars can bring good things. They can teach people to hold on to what feels right, even if there are risks involved.

She had a feeling fate would work against her but, just this once, she decided to let things happen and follow the flow. Merlin knew, she would find it hard not to over-analyse the strange relationship with her Slytherin houseguest, but she was learning him, and rushing to make decisions or find conclusions would prove futile.

A quick glance at her clock warned her that she had remained in bed too long and was slightly late, and she quickly began her morning routine before she went to meet McGonagall. Classes had ended so that the Headmistress could start sending home students for the Christmas Holidays as safely as possible, and Hermione and the other Prefects had agreed to assist her. Unfortunately, Michael would be there too, which meant she would finally have to face the Head Boy after running away from him at the Ball with no explanation.

She had already fed the excuse of a sudden stomach bug to Ginny and her other friends when she had stayed in the Gryffindor common room on Saturday night, and she hoped the white lie was substantial enough for Michael to believe. Striding down the familiar corridors, she checked her reflection in a frosty window-pane to ensure that any marks left by Draco had been successfully covered by her rushed Glamour Charms, before slipping down the hall for McGonagall's office.

A guilty flush crawled into her cheeks as she heard the familiar voices drift down the corridor; McGonagall, Michael, Neville, Ginny, amongst the other Prefects. If she had felt guilty after kissing Draco, the paranoia was driving her mind to madness now. Surely they would notice her slightly swollen lips? Or glimpse an ill-disguised bruise from a rough kiss? Or realise that there was a hint of masculine scent to her now?

Sucking in a deep breath, she pushed open the door and flinched when about twelve pairs of eyes shot over to her.

"Sorry I'm late," she mumbled, accidentally catching Michael's stare. "I overslept."

"It's alright, Hermione," McGonagall assured, gesturing for her to take a seat. "You know most of this anyway. I was just explaining that the first group of students will be heading home today around three O'clock. Madame Maxime has agreed to lend us her Abraxans, and they should be arriving about two so I you might need to assist Hagrid."

"How many students are there going to be?" Neville asked, scribbling down notes on a piece of parchment. "If I'm escorting them home, I want to make sure I'm not missing anyone."

"Twenty-two, including you, Mr Longbottom," she replied. "After they have all been dropped off, the horses will take you to your home, and find their way back to Beauxbatons, but all of you should help to ensure that the listed students are accounted for."

"Who's taking the next group on Wednesday?" Ginny asked.

"I am," Lee raised his hand. "I'm using the Charmed Bus, right?"

"I believe so," McGonagall nodded. "All the details are on the rota I've sent around."

"How many are staying behind, Professor?" Hermione questioned, purposefully keeping her eyes away from Michael.

"Just a handful," the Headmistress explained. "I think there are six students all together."

Hermione concealed a frown as her friends continued with their questions, realising that it would very well be her loneliest Christmas this year. She only had herself to blame; she had offered to remain at the school, much to Ginny's irritation, but staying at the Burrow without Harry and Ron wouldn't have been the same. Plus, with Draco stashed away in her dorm, she felt responsible for ensuring that he remained hidden, and also for helping McGonagall keep things steady at Hogwarts. And the sad truth was, Hermione was content to let Christmas slip by like any other day this year.

There was too much going on beyond the castle's walls, and it clouded the festive feeling like a thick and poisonous smog. The absence of familiar friends and family would leave an empty space in her chest, and with only a cold Slytherin lover for company, whom she was still struggling to understand, it was guaranteed to be sullen day.

"Right," McGonagall's voice stole her blue thoughts. "If you could all make sure the right students are ready by two, then that's it for today, if there are no more questions?" Only the sound of the pupils gathering their belongings answered her. "Okay then, I will see you all later, and if you see anyone outside, tell them to mind the snow. Hermione, could you stay behind for a moment please?"

"Okay," she nodded nervously, offering her friends soft smiles as they left her with the Headmistress. "Is everything alright?"

"Everything's fine," McGonagall assured her, muttering a Silencing Charm on the door. "I just wanted to see how things were going with Mr Malfoy?"

She tried so hard not blush. "Fine," she managed steadily. "I think…he's settled down a bit now."

"So he's calmed down?" McGonagall pressed. "He's stopped being hostile?"

"No…he's not hostile," Hermione murmured distantly. "He's just…better now. I think we have become accustomed to each other."

"That's good," she agreed. "I wanted to thank you again for staying here over Christmas. Miss Lovegood is still uncertain if she is staying or not, so I know you won't really have any friends here, and this isn't your home-

"It's okay," the young witch shrugged. "It's just another day, right? And Hogwarts feels like home sometimes, but it's just not the same without Harry and Ron."

"Well, I know that your current living arrangements aren't ideal," McGonagall continued with a thoughtful tone. "So I wanted to let you know that you are more than welcome to join the other staff and myself for the day-

"Thanks for the offer, Professor," Hermione interrupted quietly. "But I think I'll just stay in my dorm and keep things normal."

"You don't mind spending it alone with Mr Malfoy?" the Headmistress asked, arching an eyebrow.

"I just want it to be like any normal day," she replied, keeping her features as even as possible. "Plus, it wouldn't really be…right to leave Draco completely alone on Christmas Day. He must feel lonely enough as it is."

Minerva hummed in thought. "You are…softening towards him?"

"I-I just…," Hermione stuttered, releasing she had possibly revealed too much. "I just understand him better, and I doubt leaving him alone would do any good for his…disposition."

"I guess not," McGonagall agreed with a sceptical tone. "Well, if you change your mind, you are free to join us."

"Thank you," she said, rising from her seat. "I'll see you later on, Professor."

With a parting smile from the Headmistress, Hermione shuffled out of the office with a secret reminder to watch how she referred to Draco in McGonagall's presence. Turning into the corridor, she sighed, but it caught in her throat when she felt a masculine hand hook onto her elbow.

"Michael," she breathed harshly when she recognised the set of brown eyes regarding her anxiously. "You made me jump."

"Sorry," he mumbled awkwardly. "I was hoping we could talk about what happened? At the ball?"

"Right," she nodded absently. "Yes, of course, I-

"Perhaps we could discuss it in your dorm?"

"I fancied having a wander," she told him quickly. "Could we walk around and talk about it? I don't really want to be cooped up in my room today."

"Okay," he agreed, leading them into a slow stroll down the enpty corridors. "So-

"I am really sorry," she blurted, pushing a few strands of hair behind her ears. "About leaving you there like I did. I didn't feel very well-

"It's alright, Hermione," he frowned. "You don't need to lie. I know you were thinking about him and that-

"Him?" she repeated. "I-

"Ron," he clarified with a knowing look. "I'm sorry, I didn't realise you two were serious, but Ginny explained everything to me."

"I see," Hermione said uncomfortably, pushing aside some guilt that had invaded her stomach. "Right…well, I-

"I don't want things to be awkward between us," he interrupted, steering her around a corner towards the library. "I consider you a friend, and I wouldn't want things to-

"I'd like us to be friends," she told him honestly. "And I'm sorry I didn't make my relationship with…Ron more clear. It's just a bit complicated with him being away, and the War going on."

"That's okay," Michael nodded. "Would you like me to walk you back to your room?"

"I think I'm going to spend some time in the library," she supplied. "I have some things I need to do, but thanks anyway. I'll meet you later on to start rounding up the first leavers."

.

.

Draco watched the light snow fall on the other side of the window pane.

He had never been a particular fan of it, but after weeks of the same views from this room, he had to admit that the crisp, white landscape looked somewhat picturesque. After too many weeks stuck inside this shit-pit, he was beginning to forget what the outside felt like, and he could honestly say that he missed it.

He'd heard Granger leave a good hour ago, but she was still here. Her scent hung in the air and he could still taste her against his tongue, and he tried to pinpoint when exactly her essence had turned from an irritant into a comfort.

Despite his personal promises that shagging Granger would be a one-time incident, he had already resigned himself to the fact that he would do it again, and again, until that troublesome craving for her in his gut had ebbed away.

If it ebbed away.

At least he had managed to wake up before her. Every self-respecting male knew that lingering in a post-coital bed meant something deeper than a physical tumble between the sheets, and he'd sooner Crucio himself before he let that happen.

It was only meant to be one night…

That little theory had certainly shrivelled up and died if their shower antics were anything to go by. He blamed her threat of a new prison for this.

He could have questioned his reasons for pursuing Granger, and possibly given himself a hernia in the process, but there seemed little point in over-thinking a problem that had no solution. Knowing it was something he would definitely regret, he had decided to take Granger's earlier advice, and just do what felt right for the time being.

There was nobody here to judge him or scold his deranged and dangerous behaviour, and when she was the only element of his isolation that made his instincts tingle and his blood rush, refusing the desire to touch her wasn't an option.

If this was insanity, then all that talk about the happiness of madness was beginning to make sense.

.

.

After spending a few hours amongst more books on Horcruxes, Hermione had said her goodbyes to Neville and the other students before they'd left Hogwarts behind to join their families. They had been a little delayed when a fifth year had taken a nap and failed to show up on time, and by the time the herd of Abraxans had taken flight, the dark, winter sky had started to drown the white hills.

She had found herself strolling around the snow-covered grounds for a couple of hours, relishing the pleasing crunchy noises beneath her feet as she went. She bent down to rake her fingers through the sugary powder, uncaring that it was so cold it made her hands burn.

She cast a Warming Charm and seated herself on a tree stump to gaze up at the clear skies. She adored nights like this; when the clouds had retreated, and the stars were sprinkled across the navy universe like frosty freckles.

She began to play dot-to-dot in her head, finding the constellation Lyra easily with its bright star, Vega. Her studious stare instinctively shifted to Draco, and she followed the serpentine sway of the long trail of stars. They winked at her and she simply stared at it for a few moments, appreciating the beauty and complexity, before deciding that it was getting too late and dark to be alone.

Back in the walls of Hogwarts, she made her way back to her room; distracted by concerns about how to act in her Slytherin companion's presence after two nights under his spell. She was moving past the kitchens without paying much attention, when a firm tug on her robes startled her out of her daze.

"Bloody hell!" she gasped, clutching her chest as she whipped around and gave the confused House-elf an apologetic look. "Sorry, Dobby. You gave me a bit of a fright."

"Dobby is sorry, Miss," he apologised earnestly. "Dobby has been looking for you! I have a gift for you!"

"A gift?" Hermione repeated with a frown. "You didn't need to get me anything, Dobby."

"It's a Christmas tree," the small creature explained, reaching into the flimsy pocket of his top to remove a small sapling. "I managed to save a good one for you, Miss! It's pretty! Miss must use the Finite spell, and it will grow into the tree I chose for you!"

She offered him a weak smiled. "That was very sweet of you, Dobby," she said. "But I don't think I'm having a tree this year. Perhaps one of the Professors would like-

"Miss must have a tree!" he protested enthusiastically, pushing the small seed into her hand. "Miss needs a tree for Christmas!"

Hermione accepted the thoughtful present and decided that arguing was both futile and ungrateful. "Thank you, Dobby," she nodded, giving him a friendly pat on the back. "That was very thoughtful of you."

"Miss is very welcome!" he beamed at her. "Dobby must go now, must help Winky clean!"

With a snap of his fingers, he disappeared, and Hermione eyed the sapling in her palm for a moment, before she continued to head towards her room. She contemplated leaving it as it was, but that seemed almost cruel when Dobby had taken the time to select it for her. As she pushed open her door, her eyes automatically landed on Draco's room, and she felt little pixies prance in her stomach, as the always seemed to do now. Shrugging away her nerves, she placed the sapling in the darkest corner of the sitting area, and stepped back before removing her wand.

With a quiet mumble of the appropriate spell, she watched a trunk slowly rise up and sprout long branches with healthy, evergreen pine needles. By the time the Douglas Fir had finished its regeneration, it was just over six feet tall and, as Dobby had promised, a fine specimen with perfect proportions and a refreshing smell.

Hermione angled her wand and had an incantation to decorate the tree on the tip of her tongue, but she hesitated. She lowered her arm and headed into her bedroom, kneeling at the charmed trunk by her bed and rummaging for the bag of red and gold Christmas decorations that her mother had given her before she'd returned to Hogwarts. Her lips creased into a sad frown as she considered how much she missed her parents, but she carried the small bag, also spelled with an Undetectable Extension Charm, back to the sitting area anyway, and began to absently hang baubles and tinsel from the sturdy branches.

That was how Draco found her; fawny-eyes distant and forlorn as she toyed with a snowflake-shaped ornament between her fingertips. He cocked a curious eyebrow and took some steps towards her, stopping a few feet short of her back and scowling when she gave no indication that she was aware of him.

"Why don't you just use a spell to put those on?" he questioned bluntly. "You're just wasting time and energy."

He heard her release a sad breath before she latched the snowflake onto the tree. "I like to do it this way," she told him. "It reminds me of home."

"And red and gold trimmings?" he commented snidely. "How very predictable of you, Granger."

"It has nothing to do with the Gryffindor colours," she replied in a blank tone. "My family always have red and gold on the tree. I always thought that green, red and gold go together really well."

He debated disagreeing with her for the sake of it, but the defeated slump of her shoulders made him pause. Rolling his eyes at himself for being too mindful of her feelings, he collapsed onto the sofa and regarded her carefully; already sensing that persistent itch to touch her pull at his stomach.

"Exactly how many days are there before Christmas?" he asked.

"It's the fourteenth today," she mumbled. "Eleven days."

Draco cleared his throat. "And you're staying here?"

"Yes," she nodded as she continued her work. "It was the safest option."

"I would have pegged you for a Christmas enthusiast, Granger," he admitted in a stoic tone. "But you seem…indifferent."

"There's hardly anything to celebrate this year," she sighed, finally turning to face him. "Was there anything you wanted for Christmas?"

He narrowed his eyes and gave her a cold stare. "Freedom from this hell-hole?"

"You know that's not possible-

"Then no," he grumbled, resting his elbows against his thighs. "And if you aren't bothered about Christmas, why have a tree at all?"

"It was a gift," Hermione shrugged. "If you change your mind, I'm taking a trip to Hogsmeade on Saturday-

"I don't need anything," he affirmed in a gruff voice. "If I have to spend the day in this place, then I'd rather ignore it all together."

She bobbed her head in agreement. "That sounds fine."

A melancholic silence drifted between them as she half-heartedly planted the last of her decorations on the branches, and she reached into her bag to remove the final piece; the essential star to crown the tree. She examined the striking design and stroked her finger over the edge as she counted the pretty sequins and followed their intricate patterns.

"My father always used to put the star on the tree," Hermione murmured, unsure if Draco was even listening to her. "It was always something the man of the home did. A tradition, you know?"

She glanced up to find her new lover watching her with hooded eyes, and his lips set into a stern line. After a few moments, he exhaled and shook his head, as though he was angry at himself, before fixing her with a yielding look of understanding.

"We had the same tradition," he confessed reluctantly.

Hermione swallowed back the nerves in her throat and extended her arm to offer him the star. "I guess that would be you here," she said. "Care to do the honours?"

Draco pushed away her hand. "This isn't a home, Granger."

"It's the closest thing we've got to one," she offered sadly. "Besides, I can't reach-

"I'm not putting it on the tree," he finalised. "Just leave it, Granger."

She frowned in defeat and placed it on the coffee table, shuffling her feet as she gathered the courage to mumble her next words. "Draco, I've been thinking-

"Shocker-

"Should we…," she trailed off with uncertainty. "Should we talk about our…situation?"

"No," he replied quickly. "Talking about it won't make a difference-

"But I-

"Just leave things be, Granger," he hushed with a tense jaw. "Weren't you the one who said it was best to just let things flow?"

Her eyes widened a fraction at that remark. "I guess I did say that-

"Then I suggest you take a leaf out of your own book," he muttered; his eyes dropping to his lap. "I made my decision clear last night, and I don't want to discuss it any further."

Hermione chewed her bottom lip as she realised she wanted him to stay with her tonight, if only because today had been a bitter reminder of how lonely the next fortnight would inevitably be. She took a deep breath and tried to locate another dose of that Gryffindor bravery, which always seemed to wither whenever Draco was concerned.

"I think I'm going to head to bed," she told him with a wavering voice. "Are you…are you coming?"

He arched an eyebrow with slight surprise before he shook his head. "No," he answered, and Hermione had to fight hard to conceal her hurt.

"Okay," she mumbled lamely, making her way towards her bedroom, feeling rather humiliated. "Goodnight then."

"Granger," Draco called just before she reached the door. He clenched his eyes shut and massaged the bridge of his nose; conceding to the fact that his tattered dignity was questionable from this point on. "Leave your door unlocked. I might change my mind."

Hermione's mouth twitched into a private smile before she slipped into her room, leaving Draco behind to glare at her unfinished tree. He stayed still for long minutes; his mind burdened with conflicting notions as his eyes shifted to the star on the table. A growl rumbled in his throat before he grabbed it and marched over to the tree, reaching up to effortlessly place in on top and complete the task Granger had started.

He stepped back to give it a critical look, and privately decided that green, red and gold did indeed compliment each other fairly well. With a final grunt of surrender, he turned on his heel, with no intention of heading to his own room.

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