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Chapter 14 : Crucified
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There are times when I lie in bed for hours at night, thinking about where writing has taken me. Over these past months, nothing has made me feel more fulfilled as an individual. I love this story. I love these characters. And I love every reader, writer, friend, and reviewer I’ve met though the process of writing. You are all so kind, wonderful, perceptive, and talented.
In January, I wrote Chapters One through Fourteen in two weeks. In all honesty, I had no idea what I was doing. Still, this is the first chapter in which I have not drawn from, or looked at, the base. This chapter marks a new beginning, as well as the end of Act I. This chapter will officially send the story to novel status: over fifty thousand words. It's the longest chapter I've ever written. These scenes also mark the one year anniversary of my time as a writer. For these reasons, in addition to plot, this chapter ranks along with Chapter Six as my favorite in the novel thus far. What I am trying to say, in a nutshell, is that Crucified means quite a lot to me.
The dedication of this chapter is split three ways. First, to my lovely beta Jill, who has spent hours pointing out plot holes and errors, as well as dealing with my questions and rants. Second, to CelticKisses, who inspired me to write Dramione. And thirdly, to you, if you have cared about Draco and Hermione throughout their journey thus far in Safe.
Though the updating time was abysmal, I truly hope you enjoy. And I hope this chapter does not let you down. xoxo
Chapter Fourteen: Crucified
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible.
John Milton (1608-1674); Paradise Lost
Hermione was disoriented when her feet collided with solid ground. She opened her eyes, her heart beating like a drum, to see the roofs of a small snow covered town in the distance. The wind was chilling, fiercely driving the frost into her bones.
He did not stop to think. Draco stepped behind her, pinning her arms to her sides. “Hermione, I need you to trust me,” he whispered. “We have to stay here.”
Time was moving in reverse. She could hear the cracks signaling the Death Eaters’ apparition, the crashes, the curse.
Her wand slipped through her fingers and landed silently in the snow, the white powder engulfing the handle as it disappeared from sight. She shook her head, blinking rapidly. Knowledge lingered on the frayed edges of her consciousness, tangibly heavy, suffocating.
What did he mean, stay here? Hadn’t he heard them?
“Draco, we have to go back.”
She tried to move but his arms locked around her, her back against his chest. She could hardly turn her head. “They’re there. My parents are there, we have to save them.”
She twisted and a searing pain shot through her arm. She flinched but his hands did not loosen. “Draco, come on. We’re wasting time. We need to get back.”
She stood very still and then the truth hit her like a bullet. Her fingernails tore through his skin as she attacked every part of him she could reach. Her vision was blurred; she could feel tears beginning to prick at her eyes, hardening into crystals, freezing before they could fall. Her nerves were beginning to regain feeling and the panic racing through her body nearly brought her to her knees.
“Let go of me!” She could feel his warm blood flowing over her fingertips as she carved ribbons into his skin. Her mind was spinning. Her muscles began to burn. She couldn’t free herself and time was running out.
The wind made no sound. She had to make him understand. They had to go back.
“There was only one curse! It might not have hit! My mother wasn’t even in the house!”
“Stop fighting me," his voice was temperate, perfectly even.
“They’re trying to lure us there! They’re keeping her alive to lure us there! That’s something they would do!”
“I can’t let you go back.”
“My mother is alive! She was outside! And the curse might have missed Dad!”
“There’s nothing we can do. They will kill her once they realize she has no useful information for them. Your father is already dead.”
“She does have information! She knows you’re with me!”
“They know that already. Whoever broke the spell must have told them everything. It’s over, Hermione.”
Twisting and gritting her teeth, Hermione’s knees buckled. A throbbing pain was building in her limbs but she only looked down when she began to lose feeling in her arm. Purple bruises had formed around his fingers; the black circles closest to the center continued to darken as she watched.
Fighting the reflex to release her, Draco refused to loosen his grip. She looked up to find him watching her, his face enigmatic, his expression cold.
“If I let you go, you'll disapparate. If I jinx you so you can't, we won't be able to disapparate within a hundred miles of here. And we’ll need to, soon. We have to find out what else is happening."
“My parents are dying! What else do you need to know?” she bellowed. The pain was charring her body and binding her in agony. Her throat constricted. Too much time was passing.
She was fragmenting in his hands.
“We need to know if the Death Eaters who killed your parents are at the Burrow.”
He was maddeningly calm but her mind had stopped processing. She leaned towards the thatched houses in the outskirts of the village, hoping someone could hear them. If a woman was taking a walk with her husband, if a child was sledding, they might be close enough to hear her them. If she screamed, if they saw her, surely they would help her.
“They can’t be dead.” Her voice sounded like a child’s. “They can’t be.”
Her throat tightened. “They'll hurt her. They won’t just kill her. They will destroy her, won’t they?”
Draco closed his eyes as the tumult in his mind reached a fevered pitch. Concentrate.
He needed to break her. She hadn’t quit fighting him and time was dwindling.
"They will have tortured her for information. She doesn't have any. By this time, it has become sport. It's a game to them. They will have tormented her, invaded her mind and unhinged her senses. If she is still alive, by this time she has gone mad with pain. You’ve seen the Longbottoms; I don’t have to tell you what that’s like.”
His tone was icy, sarcastic; Hermione’s frame bent as she sank to the ground. Draco crouched beside her, releasing her arm and lifting his hand to her face.
“We don't know if the entire Order has fallen. We need to know if this was a single attack or if the Ministry is under siege. If McGonagall is dead and all of the protective spells are broken, that might explain how they managed to find us. But, if she is alive and the Ministry is still operating, we’ve been betrayed. All we can do is hope that if there were multiple attacks, they were simultaneous.” He paused, moving his fingers over the tears falling from her eyes.
“Do you understand? I don’t give a damn if you do or do not want to go back. You cannot go back.”
His voice was so condescending and cold, Hermione let herself hate him. An idea was forming at the corners of her mind: a way to escape. She flinched away from him and he seized her wrist.
“Take me to Harry,” she whispered.
Anger flashed across his face but a moment later, he controlled his expression. He pulled out his wand without dropping her gaze; they both knew she was too weak to move.
She tried to scream but only a sharp gasp escaped her lips; he caught her as she swayed sideways. As he placed her gently on the snow, fury blazed through her body. She wanted to find his face. She wanted to see pain in his eyes.
She wanted to put it there.
“I’ll be as fast as I can.”
Her thoughts disintegrated. Her mind was screaming at her to do something as terror overwhelmed her. He was no longer calm, no longer detached. His tone was laced with the same fear that incapacitated her. She still couldn’t see him.
“If you can move before I come back,” Draco’s voice shook slightly as he continued, “you have to get away from here. Run. Don’t disapparate: if they’ve reached the Burrow, it isn’t safe to travel. Do not go home. Do not try to come after me. Please, Hermione-” his voice broke, “don’t try to fight them.”
She felt him move, felt the vibrations through the soil as he stepped away from her. Fear replaced any sense of anger, any sense of recklessness.
She couldn’t lose him.
A loud crack echoed through the fading light. She was utterly alone.
Hell was not made of fire. Hell was made of ice. At least in fire, she could have screamed. At least in fire, she could have cried.
Ice had rendered her powerless.
He had walked along the edge of the abyss and she had driven him over the edge. She was the reason the Death Eaters had attacked her parents. She was the sublimate to which everything could be traced.
The horror crushing down upon her was smothering. The knowledge of what she had done choked her and the uproar of her mind was deafening.
No owls flew overhead. The wind had stopped blowing. She had no way to gauge time as the vortex of thought overwhelmed her. He could be dying.
Had a minute passed? Two? Three? Hermione didn’t know.
She wanted to run but she prayed with every fibre of her being that his spell would hold.
She felt as if the panic was expanding inside her chest was ripping her apart.
Please, don’t let him die. Please, don’t let him die.
A loud crack echoed through the night and her heart leapt into her throat.
“She’s here," Draco murmured. “Finite Incantatem!"
She felt her muscles loosen and she was on her feet in a second. Harry was standing beside Draco, a dozen meters away from her; his vivid green eyes were full of an expression she couldn’t name.
Hermione didn’t know how it happened. She had only taken a few steps forward before she was running. She couldn’t feel the tears falling down her face or the stiffness that accompanied the full body bind. She couldn’t feel anything but unadulterated need.
A second later, she had flung herself into Draco’s arms and was holding onto him as tightly as she could. She fisted her hands into his shirt and began to sob. She couldn’t let go of him and she buried her face into his neck, clinging to him with all the strength she had.
“I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he said, over and over. He was shaking harder than she was, his arms enclosing her and pulling her as tightly against him, protecting her small from the blistering wind. Her warm body was covered in snow, her hands colder than ice. He could feel her tears cooling his skin as he bent his lips to her forehead.
Draco looked up and his eyes found Harry, whose gaze was fixed on Hermione. His face was guarded, his emerald eyes cautious; he mastered his fear. Draco moved his lips to Hermione’s ear.
“I’m not going to leave you, but we’re going to disapparate back to the Burrow. Mr. Weasley is Secret Keeper, so not matter what happens or what spells are broken, you will be safe. Okay?”
She nodded. Hermione felt Draco move an arm away from her, extending it to Harry. As he turned, still holding her, she embraced the darkness. She wanted not to think, not to feel. She wanted to dissolve into nothingness.
As soon as they appeared on level ground, Draco lifted Hermione into his arms. She wanted to object but a moment later, noise erupted, surrounding them. She recoiled, desperately wanting to become invisible.
Ginny appeared beside her, speaking rapidly; Hermione couldn’t distinguish the words. Fred's angry tone was echoing ahead of them and Harry’s steady voice was beside them, answering calmly. Ron was screaming.
“Let go of her!”
Draco walked through the chaos without a word. As he passed Mrs. Weasley, whose face was blood red and terrified, he nodded back to Harry. He walked into the house, moving through the living room and ascending the staircase. He turned into the first bedroom on the landing and Hermione recognized Ginny’s effects; her broomstick was leaning against a wall in the corner.
Draco placed her gently on the bed and sat beside her. She moved back, putting her back against the headboard. The chill of the cold night air had not deserted her. She couldn’t look at him.
"I shouldn't have done that to you, told you what they do,” Draco stopped. Hermione had taken a pillow from behind her and placed it in her lap, running a fingernail over the embroidered fabric, her gaze intent on the thread.
“I had to hurt you and I take responsibility for that, but I had to get you to understand what we were facing. You wanted to fight and listen, I understand that, but I couldn’t let you get killed. I won't let you get killed."
She kept staring at the pillow, her fingers lightly running over the case. Asking questions didn't matter anymore. Nothing mattered. They were dead.
“I understand.” She pulled her legs to sit in a cross-legged position. “What are they planning to do with me?"
A wave of frustration nearly unsteadied him. He had played word games; he had mastered them with McGonagall. She was cleverer than he was. She would be even better at circumlocution.
He hadn’t imagined she would try it with him.
“You're of age. You have complete control over what you do now.” He watched as her gaze flitted around the walls and to the door. Screams were still echoing from downstairs but his mind was disengaged from the noise.
“Draco, I'm okay. You don’t have to look at me like that."
He wasn't sure which emotion was stronger: disbelief that she had thought he would believe her or anger that she was already building walls.
“No, you aren’t.”
"I should have guessed you'd say that," she said finally, staring at the floor.
“Hermione, you can't do this."
A tear she had not known she was holding back slid down her face. He was pleading. She had to make him understand. Her chest was rising and falling rapidly: she was fighting for air.
“Draco, this was my fault. I could have done something, I could have protected them.”
He closed his eyes and spoke slowly, each jagged word cutting his throat. "Hermione, this wasn't your fault."
“Of course it was,” she was becoming increasingly panicked. “You knew what was happening the second I told you what my mum had said. If I had been listening to her, if I had put it together sooner, they could have got out. And she wouldn't be, he wouldn't be-" her voice broke and as she drew a shuddering breath. She turned away from him but he moved forward, taking her face in his hands.
“I didn’t react fast enough,” she choked. “You did. Harry would have…”
She wanted to be smothered. She welcomed the anguish.
In less than a minute, she would rather be dead than sitting here with him. The whine in his head told him she wasn’t the only one who would break.
She moved her hand to his wrist, taking a deep breath and trying to control the vertigo that was making her head spin. She took another deep breath and forced herself to look at him.
Without another word, he pulled her forward into his arms and hugged her against his chest. He could feel her vibrating so hard that she shook his body; the sounds coming from her throat were raw, almost inhuman. She was drowning. As he pressed his face into her hair, she coiled against him, her body folding in upon itself. He tried to cling to her but he knew he couldn’t bring her back. She was gone.
He listened to her breathing, every steady intake permeating the silence. His frame was wrapped around hers, her head resting on the inside of his shoulder, her form curled under his arm. He wanted nothing more than to lie here with her, to never face the dawn.
A sound from outside the door chilled his blood. Footsteps were moving quietly up the stairs, halting after each tread.
Slowly, he moved his arm from Hermione’s waist, pulling out his wand. He sat up, moving her head slowly onto a pillow while keeping his wand arm level with the door. A moment later he was walking across the room, slipping outside of the doorway and quietly closing it behind him. Harry was leaning against the opposite wall.
“I was going to wait,” he sighed. Draco shook his head.
“What do you want?”
Harry turned in the direction of the stairs. “Come with me.”
He disappeared without waiting for a response. Draco locked Hermione’s door with a flick of his wand before following.
The living room was deserted, the pale lights from the candles flickering against the dark walls. Draco felt his heart jolt as he recognized that the scene of a vigil.
Harry passed the fireplace, heading towards the door leading to the garden but Draco stopped.
“I’m not leaving her inside.”
“Of course not,” Harry answered flatly before sinking into an armchair. Draco watched him for a moment before walking over to the window. The drive before the Burrow twisted away into the darkness, the foliage masking the edge of the property from sight.
Harry ran his fingers over his temples, his head in his hands. “You don’t have to stand guard.”
“You can understand how I might doubt that.”
The atmosphere changed subtly. Silence fell between them and Draco waited for Harry to break it.
“I have to leave.”
The words were torn from him and as the light from the candles fell across his face, the shadows cast a sallow tint onto his skin. Draco tried to process what Harry was telling him, repeating the words in his head, trying to make sense of them.
“You cannot be serious.”
“Don’t you understand?” Harry’s voice was harsh, determined. “This is my fault. If I had started hunting the Horcruxes earlier, all of this might be over by now. They wouldn’t have been able to reach you, or her.”
“You can’t do this,” Draco tried to keep his tone even but a sliver of anger reached his voice nevertheless. “You’re walking out on her. She needs you more than anyone and you’re going to leave her? You do realize that would break her?”
“To save her,” Harry interrupted. “Defeating the Dark Side is the only way to keep her safe.”
“This isn’t about her,” Draco clenched his fists. “This is about you and your saving people complex-”
“You don’t know what she needs. She needs to be protected and I can’t let this happen to anyone else she cares about. If the Weasleys were injured or if the Order fell-”
“The Order has fallen. The Death Eaters ransacked the train, invaded Hermione’s mind, and killed her parents on their watch. It used to take weeks for Voldemort to break through so much as a shield charm.”
Draco spoke as calmly as he could manage. “If the Dark Side can break every single security measure the Order imposes, your side has lost even the slightest shred of power.”
Harry shook his head, repulsed by the words. “Even if the Order is broken, we can rebuild. We have to stop Voldemort.”
“And what do you intend to do with Hermione? I won’t let her go back to Hogwarts and hope that these spells will hold.” Draco watched Harry’s expression carefully. “I want to take her away from here and if you leave her now, you won’t be able to find us.”
“You can’t leave,” Harry looked up at Draco as if he were mad. “You can’t take her away from everyone she knows and everything she cares about.”
“You’re taking Ron.” Draco forced the name through his teeth, “You’re a fool if you don’t take Ginny to help you hunt these things. She’s a bright witch. She’s useful. Where do you think Hermione can stay?”
“I’m not taking Ginny.”
“I don’t give a damn. How are you planning to protect Hermione?”
Harry stood and began to pace. His fists were pressed against his forehead as he began to mutter, walking back and forth. The minutes trickled by, slowly, inexorably. Eventually Harry stopped, turning to Draco with finality; “Both of you can come with us. You can help us track the Horcruxes.”
Draco felt himself torn between furor and utter disbelief. “She’s shattered. She can’t travel with you, not while you plan to keep her locked up while you fight. She won’t be able to endure that.”
Harry’s eyes narrowed. “Then why can’t you just leave her here?”
“Because the Burrow isn’t safe.”
“Mr. Weasley is the Secret Keeper.”
“And you’re living proof that the Fidelius Charm can be broken.”
“How dare you-” Harry hissed.
“I’m not an idealist,” Draco spoke through gritted teeth. “We have to get away from here. Decide who you want to take with you and pack. If you’re leaving her, leave before she wakes.”
“Ron may want to stay with her.”
Draco closed his eyes briefly to try to regain the little patience he could achieve. “I know he loves her. But there’s nothing I can do. He loses control around her and she’s too fragile-”
“And what makes you think you have any control here, Ferret?”
Draco turned, exercising every ounce of self control he had not to reach for his wand. Ron stood a dozen feet away from him, frozen in the entrance to the kitchen. He was dressed in his paisley pajamas, his ears a deeper shade of red than his hair.
“What makes you think you can take her?” Ron repeated. He shook with rage as he took a step forward. “If I wanted to take her away from you, what would stop me?”
“Calm down, Ron,” Harry began but Ron cut him off.
“Who gave him the authority to decide anything?” Ron’s gaze fell on Draco and hatred emanated from every fibre of his body. “We shouldn’t trust him! Do you expect me to just sit here while he takes Hermione? Are you mental?”
“That’s out of line,” Harry stepped between them. “You haven’t heard everything. We’d be stupid to let her go back to school- the train, the dreams, the attack: it’s all connected and we didn’t realize it-”
“He wants to destroy her!”
A moment later Harry was thrown backwards and before Ron could move, Draco’s wand was at his throat.
“Do not attempt to manipulate me.” He could almost smell the fear rolling off Ron’s body as all the color drained from his face. “If I wanted to hurt her, Weasley, I would leave her here with you.”
“But you want to make Daddy proud, don’t you?” Ron’s voice was hoarse, his face contorted with hatred. “Killing her now would be too easy. You’re going to torture her, aren’t you? Like you tried to torture her parents?”
For a split second, Draco felt the curse at the edge of his lips. The words were so easy, so accessible, so close. One spell and Weasley would be writhing at his feet, sobbing as invisible flames consumed him, begging for mercy.
Draco forced his fingers to loosen his grip on the handle and turn for the stairs; he didn’t look back as he passed the railing.
“Decide by dawn.”
Ginny waited, leaning against the wall of the twins’ room. She was holding onto her sanity; it was slipping through her grasp as the words from downstairs echoed through the bedroom. Her arms were wrapped tightly around her torso. She had heard every word, every excuse, every plan he had formed. She felt entirely hollow.
The click of the door caught her attention and she twisted, running the back of her hand quickly across her eyes and blinking furiously, to see Harry’s form framed in the doorway. She moved to stand as he closed the door behind him, backing against the wall.
“Don’t,” she glared at him fiercely, moving away from the hand he extended to her. She swallowed to clear her throat. “Don’t you dare tell me to listen. I heard you downstairs. I won’t pretend anymore, Harry. I can’t do this.”
“Pretend?” His gaze burned through her but she looked away from him. “I’m not asking you to pretend anything. I want to explain.”
“Explain what?” She moved away from him, standing and shaking off his grip when he reached for her wrist. “That you want me to stay here, locked up? That you don’t trust me to fight with you? That you don’t think I can take care of myself?”
“That’s not it,” Harry interrupted, fighting to maintain control. “I can’t stand to put you in danger, Ginny. I can’t let you come with us. We could be caught, killed, tortured-”
“What makes you think that I can’t withstand anything Ron can?” she hissed. Her eyes flashed and she turned away from him, walking over to the window. She couldn’t look at him.
“You have to stay safe.” Harry glared at her, anger ripping his patience apart. “I could never live with myself if – if I were the reason you died.”
“We all might die,” she blinked back the tears and swallowed hard. She couldn’t think properly; she could hear him moving closer to her. “I don’t want to die alone.”
He wanted to shake her. In that second, he wanted to force her to feel a tenth of the furor raging through his head. His fists balled as he regarded her with a furious stare.
“Ginny, you are not going to die. Do you understand me?”
She turned to look at him, the moonlight filtering through the window casting odd shadows over her face. His face was bloodless and he was shaking, at the end of his rope, clinging to a desperate calm she knew she could shatter.
She took a step forward, tentatively testing. “No. I don’t understand.”
He froze and in that instant, he knew exactly what she was going to do. Carefully, cautiously, she moved closer to him, raising a trembling hand to his face. A moment later, her fingers had moved into his hair and his eyes closed. His breath caught in his throat.
But he didn’t move. She took another step closer, placing her other arm behind his neck.
She shook her head.
“Why?” she whispered. Harry’s jaw clenched as he opened his eyes.
“Because this can never happen again. I won’t do this to you. I can’t put you in danger like this.”
Ginny blinked back the resurging tears beginning to flood her vision. She moved her lips closer to his, feeling his breath on her skin. “That’s not a good enough reason.”
In one swift movement, Harry jerked away from her, pulling her arms from away him. She lost her balance, stumbling back against the wall.
“Because I don’t love you,” his voice shook with fury and when she met his gaze, determination was etched in every line of his face. “Is that a good enough reason?”
Without looking back, Harry turned and slipped out of the room, enveloping her in darkness once more.
Ron stood outside the door, fighting the chill of a cold breeze filtering through the sliver of space between the wood and the window pane. He drew his cloak tighter around his body, sucking the cool air into his lungs as if an abyss lay before him, making no apology for its precipice. Harry’s footsteps had long since died and the silence remained unadulterated.
His fists clenched, his short nails gouging roughly into his flesh. He could not hear Malfoy in the room within, yet he knew he must be inside. The fury racing through his veins threatened to make its way to the surface of his mind. He suppressed it, breathing rapidly.
Everything about this moment was wrong. His arms were meant to cradle her. His hands were meant to hold her. His body was meant to intertwine with hers, yet he was leaving her, tearing himself indelibly away from her. She would never be his.
His eyes misted as he stared at the brass doorknob; he raised a hand to his face, gruffly brushing away the moisture which accumulated at the edges of his eyes. Swallowing hard, Ron took a step forward, his hand grasping the cool metal. It rotated easily.
The darkness was ubiquitous, pulling him into its embrace. He could barely make out Draco’s form leaning against the headboard, a small figure curled at his side. His heart wrenched at the sight of the bushy hair.
Draco’s arm was quite steady as he pointed his wand at Ron but Ron did not hesitate. In one fluid movement, he drew his own wand and dropped it on the floor, where it clattered and rolled away from him.
“I want to say goodbye to her,” he rasped. “And I don’t want you listening.”
The tension seemed to condense, leaving the air and falling into invisible pools upon the ground. Without a word, Draco rose from his place beside her and strode to the door, slipping out into the landing. The click of the catch echoed quietly throughout the room.
It seemed to take an age for him to reach her bedside, to sink onto the carpet beside her head. Her eyes were closed, the shadows making it impossible for him to discern her eyelashes, the texture of her skin, her lips.
A burning sensation ran through his body as he placed his head against the edge of the mattress, resting it inches from hers. He bit the inside of his mouth, attempting to choke back the silent sob wracking his chest. Ron gritted his teeth and then forced himself to unclench his jaw.
“I don’t know what happened,” he whispered. She lay quietly beside him, utterly still. “I don’t know what I did, or what I said to make you hate me. I don’t understand,” his voice cracked but he forced the agony to the back of his throat, “why we don’t work anymore.”
The hot tears were cascading down his face and this time, he made no move to wipe them away. A quiet sound lingered in his throat and he shook his head, biting his lip. Shakily, he raised his hand so that his fingers lightly brushed against her hair.
“I don’t know why we don’t talk. I don’t know why you won’t look at me. I don’t know why we broke,” he moved his fingers from her hair to her wrist, lightly flitting over her skin. His breath was ragged. “And I used to think it was because of him but I’ve seen you with Harry and nothing’s wrong. And know that it isn’t because of him, but he gets to keep you and I hate him for it. I just,” he closed his eyes tightly, “I don’t want you to hate me for it. You can’t hate me for it.”
Clumsily, he moved his lips to her forehead, gently brushing them against her skin; as his tears fell onto her, he pulled back, turning his head away from her, drawing his arms around his knees. “I love you so much, Hermione. I love you and I need you and I don’t know how to let you go.” His body shook as he bowed his head over his knees, his hands on the back of his head.
He forced himself to loosen his fingers and stare at her, memorizing every detail he could see. Her nose. Her eyelids. Her hair. He longed to run his hands over her, to hold her against his chest but he couldn’t. If she awoke, he would never be able to leave. He watched her until he could not see through his tears. Time was flowing past him, around him, leaving his mind in decay.
A knock sounded quietly from the door. Ron pulled himself to his feet, refusing to allow himself to look back as he walked Draco’s path across the room. As he pulled the door quietly open, his wand rolled backwards, skidding across the floor. He bent quickly to pick it up, hastily glancing towards Hermione before slipping into the corridor. Harry stood before him in the darkness, their two school bags over his shoulder.
“Are you going to say goodbye?” Ron’s voice broke and he turned away.
“I can’t,” Harry’s voice trembled slightly as he held out Ron’s bag for him to take. He drew a deep shuddering breath. “We have to leave.”
Hermione knew she wasn’t sleeping. Her senses were deadened, stifled by exhaustion, but she could feel the flames licking the eroded edges of her mind. The veil of drowsiness was lifting slowly, unbinding her consciousness and casting it cheerfully into the blaze. Her fingers inched into the darkness, searching for her tourniquet.
“Draco,” she whispered. “Draco-” She opened her eyes, her breath coming in a rapid fusillade. The air was frozen, the coldness oppressive as the night pressed in upon her. The room was quiet, the furniture casting ominous shadows in the darkness. The little moonlight which poured through the window revealed snow covered trees: pale statues buffeted by the wind.
She sat up, reaching towards the nightstand, groping until her fingers found her wand. A tidal wave of fear was crushing her, knocking the air from her body as she swung her legs out from beneath her blanket. A minute later, her hand was on the doorknob and she had crept out to the landing. The creaking of the floorboards beneath her feet piqued her senses.
“Draco?” she exhaled and took another step. The answering silence was deafening as she descended the stairs, uncertainty choking her as she reached the kitchen. Through the small windows flanking the oak door opposite her, Hermione watched as the garden flickered in the moonlight; in that moment, the dying, decrepit plants seemed alive.
The glass of the windows rattled as she wrenched the door open; a gust of frigid air penetrated her skin like knife. Stumbling into the darkness, a tantalizing feeling of exhilaration swept over her. Forcing her locked muscles into motion and ignoring the burning sensation nearly incapacitating her, she began to run. The frozen ground crunched satisfyingly under her feet as her body became numb. As she entered the trees, her mind was racing. She had to run. She needed to run.
Draco kept his distance as he followed her. It was not difficult to keep pace with her; he pelted through the hanging branches and convoluted roots, keeping her within his field of vision. His wand was held loosely in his hand.
He knew exactly what she was doing, why she was doing it. He had run, run as far and as fast as he could, but he knew something she didn’t. When she could no longer breathe, when her body became the pain – not separate from it – when she hit the ground and stayed down, the agony would not have subsided. It did not lessen with time. Not at all. It intensified. And then she would need the energy she was wasting to fight through every second.
Time became blurred with every passing step. Hermione began to stumble, blinded by the tears falling from her eyes, her skin stinging as the thick snow sought every centimeter of exposed skin. It was all her fault. If she had not come home, if she had stayed at school, if she had kept them safe – they would still be alive.
Her ankle twisted as her foot caught a snake hole. She pitched forward, shaking, collapsing to the ground in a heap. She tried to remember the last words she had spoken to them, or the last words they had spoken to her, but couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember anything.
She pressed her body against the wet soil, tremulously sinking into the snow.
Her heart leapt into her throat as a hand caught hers. Her head was pounding: the pain was blinding. She had no strength to open her eyes but arms lifted her, pulling her against a warm body. She knew his grip, his scent, his touch. She turned her head against his chest, breathing so deeply that her head begin to spin. Draco.
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