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The Fallout

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The Fallout by everythursday

Summary: Hermione learns about growing up through the redemption of Draco Malfoy.

Categories: Fiction

Draco: Broody, Order Member, Redeemed


Genres: Action, Angst, Dark, Drama, Romance


Hermione: Blushing Virgin


Mod Tags: dramione_awards: Round 3 Winner


Side Pairings: Harry/Ginny


Themes: Forced Partnership, War


Timeline: Compliancy: HBP


Warnings: Graphic Violence, Psychological Trauma, Secondary Character Death, Strong Profanity, Yew List: Torture

Chapters: 49 Completed: Yes Word count: 310,229 Published: 29th January 2010 Updated: 14th April 2012

Story Notes

Disclaimer: In its use of intellectual property and characters belonging to JK Rowling, Warner Bros, Bloomsbury Publishing, et cetera, this work of fiction is intended to be transformative commentary on the original. No profit is being made from this work.

Beta Readers: Lorett and Spadul

Banners: jessi_rose

Dramione Awards, Round Three: Best WIP/Incomplete, Runner-Up for Best Angst, Runner-Up for Best Smut.

 


One by everythursday

Author's Notes

 

 

 

Hour: One

When does war begin?

Hermione thinks she could probably trace it back to her first year at Hogwarts, because a war began then, when Harry first met Voldemort as an opponent rather than a child. Or, perhaps, it was when Hermione first received her Hogwarts acceptance letter; when a young girl saw her world change, and the wizarding world saw another Mudblood. Or maybe it was when Dumbledore was murdered on a tower, in a structure of what was to be a haven for the Light.

Maybe it is bigger than just them though. War. Perhaps the first war just never really ended. Maybe it began with the start of time and the first Muggle-born. Tonks will tell her, days and days from now, that war just never stops - it builds, climaxes, ebbs, and builds again. But Hermione is not the sort of person who can believe in a world that can find no peace.

She watches the spirals of smoke, the wreckage of buildings, the blank air for a Dumbledore that is not there, the useless healer squad, the fires that climb the sides of the shops and homes until that is all you see, and then the team of Aurors that have come too late. She watches the Mark, bold and ugly above the chaos, and Moody's face grave and lined and spoiled with the acid of battles and hardships. 

Ron's fingers are twisted in the fabric at the back of her shirt, and Harry stands just ahead of them like the last solid structure in the entire city. 
 
And Hermione knows, with Lavender muffling her cries behind the scarf she has found under ash (Parvati... Parvati... Parvati, she says over and over again), that this is the start of war.  
 
 
Day: 14; Hour: 8  
 
It is over two weeks before the Ministry declares war. The Minister's voice is low and pressured, even when he tries to sound uplifting. Ginny sits and squeezes the carpet between her toes, and it is the only sound in the stillness of the room besides the crackle of the Wizarding Wireless Network and the rustle of Harry's clothes as he places his head in his hands.  
 
 
Day: 24; Hour: 9  
 
They have been in an Auror training program for ten days. Harry excels, Ron is easily frustrated, and Hermione is scared - though no one knows it. 
 
The beginning is a period of confusion, and mixed up opinions that begin to erode and whitewash, until everyone is very unsure of where beliefs have taken everyone around them. 
 
Hermione stands with Harry and Ron, with the Order, because this is where she belongs - but it still surprises her to watch some of the faces of friends and enemies come and go as they decide where it is they belong as well.  
 
 
Day: 35; Hour: 7  
 
"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" The words are hissed and furious, and spit flies into his face.  
 
Malfoy is in a rage as well. At first, he had been calm and unaffected, as if he had been relaxing on holiday instead of undergoing an interrogation. Once they realized the strong, burly looking Aurors weren't going to crack him, they brought in two men with a little more attitude. A little more of an anger problem.  
 
Malfoy obviously doesn't appreciate the total lack of respect for him, his family, his person, or his space. His body has begun to tighten, the muscles pulling and contracting. It progresses, until his face has become hot red and his veins are throbbing green and blue on his neck, and his knuckles are white in their clutch to one another.  
 
"We've got your little whore girlfriend with her arse up in the air a room over, begging us to fuck her for a pardon. I've heard how much you like cock, Mal-fuck, but you won't be getting off so easy. You'll be taking it like a bitch for your fellow Death Eaters in Azkaban by the end of the night instead." It is whispered in phlegm-cracked vowels in his ear, breathing spittle on his skin, the rage like a palpable storm around the three men.  
 
The other Auror grins and leans back over, an inch away from his face, and sneers. "Unless you want to give us the information we want. Then we'll just let your inbred daddy have at your lily-white arse--"  
 
"Get the fuck out of my face," Malfoy seethes, jerking forward just enough to hit his nose off the other man's.  
 
It is the first time he has spoken in two hours, and his voice trembles with all the emotions that look as if they are trying to claw their way out of his skin.  
 
"Oh," the Auror pulls back, laughing. "Thought of daddy's cock gets you a little excited--"  
 
A trail of milky white, tinged with red, glides down the Auror's face in a sickly trail of phlegm and blood. There is a second, a pause of still air, where a person can swear the world has paused and is now free floating in time. Then, like glass breaking or a building exploding, the moment is thrown back into animated life.


Rapidly, Malfoy and the chair he is bound to are thrown backwards to the ground, and then the first Auror is throttling him. Big, scarred hands are wrapped tightly around that structured column of muscle and delicate bones, cutting off Malfoy's air supply. Blood froths at the corners of his mouth, and though his face is even redder from lack of oxygen, he looks pleased. That is until his cheekbone is shattered under those huge, imposing knuckles. Then he is back to being angry, but with no way to move his body to do anything about it.  
 
The second Auror is yelling obscenities and Malfoy slander, but moves not an inch to mend the situation. Hermione is standing from her seat without realizing she is even doing so, her eyes wide and trained on the blond, because she is somehow sure that this will be the last anyone sees of him alive.  
 
Then the door breaks into the room, and there are several men and then several more. Malfoy is dead, she thinks, his eyes shut and black rimming his neck. The first Auror, with the spit still trailing down the side of his face, has taken to attacking the wall when he is forced to stay away from the blond. The second is still, but eyes the rushing crowd with the floating son of a Death Eater as if he might Avada them all. 
 
"Well," Hermione hardly hears over her own bewilderment and the surprised rush of her breath, but she manages to turn her eyes back to Kingsley, "I believe this went fairly well until the Auror lost control." 
 
Hermione agrees. Ron is laughing at her side. Neville is in a slow state of shock to her right. Behind her, several more friends and allies in training who breathe in the same bit of silence. 
 
"Why didn't they just use Veritaserum?" Neville whispers. 
 
"Because of you lot. You're going to have to know how to interrogate without having truth serum on hand. We wanted you to see a real interrogation, and considering how long it may be before we get a..." Kingsley pauses as Moody stepped into the doorway of the other room. "Briefly - we decided to forego the potion, so you have a better understanding on tactics." 
 
"That is really the best sort when it comes to the ferret." Ron grins and snickers into his hand. 
 
Hermione sends him a sharp look, because this is far from a joke or a Hogwarts rivalry. This is real. This is life and death for another person, and it isn't anything to laugh about, no matter who the person might be. 
 
"Timsfield is bound to be suspended without pay now. Not unless our lives are in danger are we allowed to attack a suspect or a prisoner. We must always maintain our self-control, even if other people or the situation is out of control. That goes with everything. As new members of the Order, you will be forced into situations much worse than this. Never. Lose. Control." 
 
 
Day: 35; Hour: 8 
 
There is a line through the world, she knows. She thinks this is clear now, though training and past experiences with Snape have told her that this line is not so easily defined.  

Malfoy is the first she has seen from the other side that she both knows as a person, and knows that he did not come from in between but from the side of his father. She does not think she should have been surprised to see him there, but she had been. It has not been long since the last time, but she spent so much time looking at him for change, because so much has happened since. He has done so much since. 
 
Ron is lighthearted because he knows Azkaban and torture stories, and repeats them out loud with Malfoy as the main character. Harry is quiet in the armchair, and it is with anger that he contemplates what he would have done had he been with her and Ron during the interrogation. Hermione is afraid of his anger, because it will grow, and there is already too much rage inside of him. 
 
 
Day: 42; Hour: 1 
 
Ron is the first to go fight, and all by chance because he was at the Ministry when the Aurors received the alert. Arthur said he had been excited to go, and would return in a few short hours. 
 
Ron is gone for two days, and it is on the third day that he comes back to the Burrow. His feet are heavy and his voice silent, and the door to his bedroom clicks behind him before he answers any of them. 
 
He does not come out for four days. 
 
 
Day: 51; Hour: 9 
 
The first time she had seen him in the cell had been the most surprising. They had been down at the holding cells to learn procedures, and how to handle prisoners, when Lavender had seen him. Most of their group consisted of ex-Hogwarts students or alumni, and 'Draco Malfoy' wasn't some thrown together mental image of a male with blond hair and a lot of arrogance. Rather, they knew him in the flesh, and could easily recognize him, even behind bars and prison grime.  

He had sat, silent, even when Ron walked past the cell like he were parading his freedom. Hermione hadn't even looked, despite her overwhelming curiosity, and had thought she would do the same on the way back out. There had been a noise though, a scruff of clothing against cement, and she blamed it on that. Though it could have been just in her nature to look. 
 
It wasn't remarkable. He had been a little dirty and unkempt, but it wasn't like he was sitting in his own filth and banging his head against the wall. There was nothing mind blowing about his actions at all. He simply sat there, and in her recollection, he hadn't even met her eyes. He had been reading something, pretending as if their presence was below his notice despite it all - perhaps he still felt it was.  

It was just the fact that was the most jarring. Malfoy was behind bars. Was locked up. Was imprisoned in the Ministry on charges pending. Despite what she knew of him, it had been so shocking to look through thick metal poles and see a face she had seen a thousand times in corridors and packed classrooms. This was war, it told her. 
 
The second time had been to escort the Auror taking her own prisoner down into the cells. Well, it wasn't so much her prisoner as a joint capture, but she was the only one who saw it through to the end, and the little man with no big part in Voldemort's circle had seemed like such a big deal at the time. She had been proud of herself and a bit smug walking that concrete line. 
 
She had passed by so close he could have merely stuck out his hand and grabbed her by the arm. She was jerked to the left instead, and when she turned her eyes to where the Auror was staring in accusation, she met Malfoy face to face. His long, browned fingers were wrapped around the dark grey bars, and his face was smudged and mocking. Yet there was something very haunted about him, some characteristic to his expression that chilled her bones, but that she couldn't place. All she knew was that it scared her wits from her, and she only stood and stared for countless seconds that gaped and gaped the lines of endlessness.  

He looked as if he were literally biting his tongue. As if there were a million things he wanted to say to try and devastate her, but that he knew he was in absolutely no position to say. Instead, he gave her one of the ugliest faces she had ever seen - an expression that needed no words at all. Her stomach rolled and acid burned the back of her throat.  

It was the first time, looking back; she would realize that she always had the biggest reactions to Malfoy. The most intense responses to his actions, and sometimes for what seemed like no reason at all. They were good, or bad, or tremendously horrible, but always the most intense with him. 
 
But for now, all she would realize was the boy in the cage. All she would see was the glint of desperation in his eyes, the tightening of his fingers, the sway of his body forward. She would feel fear rise up and prick her skin in a rush of waves, and have to battle to not step back. 
 
He was a stranger, she saw, and remembers now, as she stares at the empty cell he had been inside. She could swear that she had never seen him before in her life. A stranger. And it had made her feel more cold and more afraid than she had ever felt over anything important so far. 
 
 
Day: 59; Hour: 9 
 
It is Harry's birthday, and the Burrow is packed with sound and people. Harry is laughing, and when he pulls her up from the couch as Fred puts on some of the worst music she has ever heard, she does not care that she is not a great dancer and will step on his feet - neither does he. 
 
 
Day: 78; Hour: 8 
 
She has seen Grimmauld Place before, which houses only a few members of the Order. The rest of the rooms are left for offices, emergency guest rooms, or meeting places. Besides a short one-night stay there with Harry and Ron, she has slept at the Burrow since leaving Hogwarts. 
 
Her parents are somewhere that even she does not know the location to - the Order told her that it was crucial for her parents to be safe and hidden as early as possible. There are also Ministry-approved wards for her other family members, which is the best the Order could do as means of protection for them. With nowhere to stay in the Muggle world, and the need to be in the wizarding one to fight, her most obvious choice had been the Burrow. 
 
The lopsided and dirt-stained siding of the house in front of her is the first bit of evidence she has seen that there are other Order shelters in England. Inside, it radiates starkness. There are no pictures, knick-knacks, or scattered notes on the latest Weasley twin invention. There are no holes or marks on anything that comes with a story, or the smell of a home-cooked meal from the kitchen, or warm colors and soft smiles. There is white, and ugly worn brown, and more white. It is empty, save a purple couch in the living room and a small fireplace. There are shelves that line the hall, but nothing on them, and she meets no other sign of life until the kitchen. There, she finds a table and mismatched chairs, a sliding glass door to the backyard, and a few sorted items that let her know people are here. 
 
"Ah, Lupin. I was wondering when you were going to show." A man stands from the table, worn and hard, and reaches out to shake his hand. 
 
"We had some new information we had to check out first." 
 
"Right. I've got it locked in my room, if you want to follow me..." The man makes his way around the table, not sparing her a glance. 
 
"Hermione, just stay here a moment?" Lupin's fingers squeeze her shoulder warm, and though she is beyond curious as to what the mystery item they are retrieving is, she nods. 
 
She watches the wind blow the branches of a tree from the glass doors, and the howling it makes whipping around the house. There is something about the place that creeps her out, and she thinks she may have gotten too used to the home and comfort of the Burrow. This was more like war, here. Stark and empty. This place houses the people quick on the run or to hide, who had no time or care to bring the small comforts of home with them. She imagines what it must have been like; to leave home, arrive in a place like this, and know that this is the beginning. 
 
"Ready?" She turns, her eyes automatically following to his hands, though they are empty. 
 
"Yes." She follows Lupin's lead back out of the kitchen, and there is a slight thump when he passes the hallway. 
 
It is his turn to not spare a glance to the unimportant faces, but Hermione does. Draco Malfoy, and Pansy Parkinson directly over his shoulder, peer back at her. Her heart stops, hammers twice quickly, and starts in on an excited pace. She aligns the clean, scowling, questioning face with the mental picture of a dirt-streaked, scowling, desperate one, and it shakes her a little. 
 
They both genuinely seem as surprised to see her as she is them, though Malfoy less obviously. His stance is protective, and she knows this because she has seen Harry and Ron do it countless times in front of her. He is tense and braced, and she is unsure whether he plans on attacking or being attacked. 
 
She has passed, though, after that briefest second of a glance, and she refuses to look back over her shoulder at them. It is better to pretend they are just as meaningless as Lupin had made them out to be by ignoring them. 
 
She, however, does not ignore their presence once the door is shut and it is just Lupin and her back out on the porch. "Why are they here?" 
 
He sighs, a little weary. "Several reasons, I'm sure. I'm not in the know on all matters, but I would guess it has something to do with what Malfoy was offering." 
 
"Offering?" 
 
"Funding. They gave him Veritaserum, I know that much. He's not after anything but a little peace maybe." 
 
"He doesn't deserve peace." Hermione's voice is harsh and quick, and she feels her cheeks warm with anger and conviction. 
 
"Maybe. The point though, is that they are after bigger things than young Malfoy. They can make an example out of him, or they can use him. It's far more rewarding to our side to choose the latter. I'm sure, if his presence here tells us anything, it is that the Order is now making up for all those money shortages we've been so worried about by having access to a few packed vaults at Gringotts. I'm also sure all this new information being processed at Headquarters is from Malfoy, as well as the three feet of parchment on my desk about how to de-ward the Malfoy Manor." 
 
"So..." Hermione shakes her head. "So, he just gives them some money and he's an Order member now? Meanwhile he killed--" 
 
"No, no. He's been granted immunity. Which means if he doesn't screw up even marginally, he gets to stay in that lovely little house until the end of the war. No more jail time, and no more watching his back for angry Death Eaters." 
 
"The Death Eaters are angry with him? I--" 
 
"Well if they weren't before, I'm sure they are now." 
 
"It doesn't matter, Lupin! He-" He turns, his expression stern. 
 
"I know what he did, Hermione. Trust me, the only thing I want to do when I see him is..." Lupin shakes his head, regaining something Hermione does not have at the moment. "There are other reasons that the Ministry must have. Yes, he broke Death Eaters into the school, and yes, he attempted murder. I don't know why that's not worth a prison sentence now, but it will be worth something later - do you understand?" 
 
"It doesn't make sense for him--!" 
 
He smiles, like she was a child, and she is offended. "Most things in life don't, Hermione." 
 
 
Day: 103; Hour: 5 
 
In war movies, depending on the uniforms, she always wonders how they could tell between friend and foe. It is always portrayed as the simplest, most basic thing in a battle, besides perhaps 'duck and shoot'. 
 
However, it is a lie. It is one of the worst lies of all.  

She can hardly tell the difference at all. Some she can see their hoods, pointed and telling. Others, she can see the patch of orange on their robe sleeves that let her know Phoenix. But the vast majority stands in black and black, in rows and crowds of people she cannot identify. It is the most confusing, frustrating, damning group of billowing black that she has ever seen. 
 
She has shot four people from the Order, including Justin Finch-Fletchley, with Stunning spells. She is only glad that they do not use the Unforgivable Curses. Even if they did, she now could not trust herself to. There are only two Death Eaters that are stunned from her wand, and only one that she had been positive was actually the enemy. 
 
There are figures approaching and fighting around and toward her, and she stands in the middle, helpless and lost. Her hand is shaking just barely, but her shoulders are trembling. Her trainers slip and sink in the mud, and her eyes are useless in the smoke and the dark. There is a shadow coming at her from the corner of her eye, and two more to the right, another in front of her, and she does not know. 
 
Friend, foe, friend, foe? Friend or foe... friend or foe... Panic seizes her, and her breath is gasping into her lungs more heavy than air should ever be. She cannot feel her heart, but she can feel the brutal ache from the force with which it pounds. Sweat is running down her neck and back, and making the grip on her wand looser than it should have been. Frantically, her wand flies to the left, the right, and she circles round and round, and thinks to scream. To scream and cry, and then the least brave thing that she has ever thought suddenly slams itself into the forefront of her terrified mind. 
 
She will hide. She will pretend as if she was hit by something, and she'll lie on the ground, and pretend to be dead. Play dead. Play dead, that is what she will do. Suddenly, there is nothing in the world she wants more than to bury her face in the mud and not look up or breathe until she can hear no more. 
 
She hates herself for the thought. It makes her sick, and she screams and screams inside her head, because she is not that person. She is not the scared coward in the mud, and this is her war. This is her war, and she won't give them the satisfaction. 
 
She is lost, though. Hermione is so completely lost, and her hand is shaking uncontrollably as she swings her wand back to the left. She slides in the mud, almost trips, and it forces her to gasp and vocalize her fear. The figure to the right pushes closer, and she knows she will Stupefy them despite not knowing who they are for. Because this is life and death, she knows. Because these are Death Eaters (possibly, possibly), and they do not Stupefy. They do not. 
 
There is a flash of yellow and it misses her hip by just an inch, halting her heart. Her stomach caves in with the air choking out from her tight throat, and she's crying. She's crying without meaning to, or even really noticing, but she is. Because she does not want to die. She is eighteen, and scared, and she does not want to die. 
 
Her throat clicks wetly as she tries to force that hard knot back down into her gut, and she is certain of her actions as she points her wand to the one responsible for that jet of yellow. 
 
"Stup--" She is falling then, forward, frozen. 
 
She has seen no color, but there was a burst of pricking warmth at the center of her back. Her bones are locked, muscles stilled, and she topples like a mannequin. The mud is wet and cold and thick, and the irony over being face down in it now is not lost on her. It makes her want to cry harder, could she move the necessary parts to do it. Instead, she watches blackness and tries to breathe, but the mud is thick in her mouth, and blocks the oxygen from her throat and lungs. 
 
Please, please, please, she cries in her head, pushes all her magic and power behind trying to unlock herself. 
 
There are screams and yells, and the sounds of the battle she has heard for an hour now. She feels strangely detached now, though, and thinks she will die here. She will die here, in the mud for the Mudblood, and she will never see the sun again. There will only be clouded shadowed figures, fear and heartache, and then this grave of mud and rainwater. 
 
There is a hand, then, as she laments, and the grip is almost painful as it throws her onto her back. She is expecting a mask, or a familiar Slytherin face, keen on mocking or torture. Instead, it is only Neville standing above her, digging mud out of her throat with a trembling hand as he sobs his apologies. 
 
 
Day: 123; Hour: 11 
 
"Can't you feel it? It's like it's... like it's in the air. I mean, it's happening. Really starting to happen." Ron looks up from a corner-tattered copy of some Quidditch magazine he's read a hundred times over, and looks first to Harry. 
 
Because Harry can feel it and he knows this. Because Harry has felt it for years and years, exactly as they feel it now, and there is no one who understands that hollow ache in your gut more than Harry does. There has been a lot of fear now; it surrounds them like a wet, suffocating cloth. They feel as if they've lived with it for the longest time, but not quite like this. The most fear is in the unknowing. In letting one's mind wonder at the possibilities. 
 
But they are brave. They are Gryffindors, and they are friends, and they cannot afford to be afraid now. Especially for Harry's sake, if not the whole world. He is greatness in this room. Larger than life, and yet the smallest boy she has ever seen. His destiny has outweighed his heavy head. 
 
"All it means is that we won't be the only ones trying to fight him now. Voldemort's stronger now, and now we have more help to defeat him. It's just like it has been though." Hermione tells them, because she knows it's important that Harry thinks it doesn't get even worse than it already has been. 
 
He has lost too much already. 
 
Ron's bright, painful blue eyes meet hers, and they dig down for purchase in her conviction. He knows it is not like it has been, and Harry probably knows this as well. She also knows that Ron is the sort of friend who will tell Harry the full truth of the world as he sees it, and perhaps this is why Harry sees him as the better friend. But Hermione still knows what's best for him anyway. At times, we need to hear the lie to keep living the truth. That is the world. 
 
Ron falls into a moment of understanding that she does not take for granted, because it could pass as easily as the sun behind a cloud. But he understands, and nods, and returns to his magazine while she gropes for a different subject. 
 
"I think we should drink tonight. Ron, when do your parents leave for that meeting they were talking about?" Harry is tinged with mischievousness, and it thrusts back into her face that he is only nineteen, and they are still just children yet. 
 
Ron's eyes dart the room with the excitement of possibilities, as if there were people lurking in the corners, and he stares at Hermione for several seconds. She thinks to say a lot of things, but instead she only smiles and shakes her head, and he grins in the way that used to break her heart. 
 
They would be all right. They were one, two, three and together, and they would be all right. 
 
 
Day: 131; Hour: 17 
 
"Team A will come in here, B here, C down and up, and D along this route. Do not separate from your team! When you are at your destination, alert the other teams by way of the coin as we've done the past two months. When all teams are at their designated areas, you attack as a unit-- What, Thomas?" 
 
"Well, do we just... just full out charge or--" 
 
"I'm getting to that. Pay. Attention." 
 
"Sorry, sir." 
 
Moody isn't in that great of a mood today. He isn't most days. His eye rolls, and he wipes the sweat from his temple, scowling and fierce. He turns back to the complicated map at the front of the room, retracing routes with his wand again. He takes a few seconds to collect himself before explaining the rest of the mission. 
 
Hermione is attentive; despite that she knows it won't be that hard. She has learned to tell such things by who was in the room with her. Despite the presence of a handful of Aurors and senior Order members, it was mostly younger, more inexperienced fighters sitting around the meeting table now. 
 
So when Ron jokes about how twitchy Dean is, or mocks Lavender for trying to see her reflection in the table surface, she pays attention to him and laughs a little too. Because it's nice not to be so swept up sometimes. Because she thinks she might just break and crumble under everything if she doesn't smile at how immature Ron can be, or how quirky her friends were. 
 
However, that night, Luna Lovegood dies across the room from her, and eight more are injured badly. Hermione learns to never judge difficulty level by who is going in. It is war, and people die - in small battles, or big battles, or brushing their teeth in the morning. No one is safe anymore. 
 
She cries herself to sleep for days. 
 
 
Day: 140; Hour: 4 
 
She walks onto the Malfoy Manor yard, and raises her chin up so high she might begin to float. 
 
She has an appointment with Tonks here today, in one of the many rooms that have been put to use as offices. The rest are used as boardrooms, tactic rooms, and living quarters. A fallout shelter was created in the dungeons, and the entire West wing is used as an infirmary and lab for potions. It serves the Order well. 
 
Tonight, she will go back to the Burrow for her birthday celebrations. Though Tonks offered to reschedule for tomorrow, Hermione insisted on the original date. It is a gift in itself to know that she can now walk on what used to be a Death Eater stronghold. 
 
Every step of her feet on that protected Pureblood-supremacy grass makes her lips form a smirk worthy of a Malfoy. 
 
 
Day: 144; Hour: 12 
 
Ron and Harry both look up at her with wide eyes, clutching their stomachs and participating in some melodramatics. Hermione sighs and tries to ignore them, even though she knows it's of no use. Knew it was of no use the moment they asked. 
 
"I can't cook that well." 
 
"You can do everything well." This is Harry's way of buttering her up. 
 
"Except flying, or not talking or something." This is Ron's way of being Ron. 
 
"What is this for? Food? 'Cause I'm hungry too!" Terry tosses in after an uneventful trip to the pantry. 
 
"I can't be the only Muggle-born here--" 
 
"You are--" Ron starts. 
 
"Or the only one awake." Harry gives her his innocent smile, even though they both know better. 
 
"And since we're not allowed to use magic here for some reason--" 
 
"Because--" she tries. 
 
"Right." Terry nods, though he hasn't known her long enough to be able to cut her off like that, so she glares extra hard at him. 
 
Ron laughs, Harry grins. "I know how to cook a little, but I burn things." 
 
She personally thinks Harry is lying through his teeth. "So do I--" 
 
"Please, Hermione! I'm starving! We're dying! We only want some food." Ron is seconds away from panting and licking the tabletop by the looks of him. 
 
Hermione sighs, glancing at the clock that tells her Tonks won't be at the shelter house for another four hours at least. Which means she could sit and wonder more about where Tonks is supposed to take them after this, or she can make breakfast and get her friends to shut up. 
 
"Fine, but if I burn down the house, we're blaming it on Ron." 
 
"Hey!" 
 
 
Day: 147; Hour: 16 
 
Her alarm tells her it's half past four in the morning, and some Moody-sent Auror will be at the house to greet her in forty-five minutes. She has winded down the stairs, crossed the kitchen, and put on her coffee before she even really notices the three people sitting at the table. It isn't Neville, Lavender, and Justin like she thought, but Malfoy, Parkinson, and the plump man she faintly recalls seeing Lupin shake hands with. 
 
"Miss Granger." He deems her important enough for recognition now. 
 
"Sir," she croaks, nods. 
 
Parkinson looks at her briefly, and Malfoy is busy trying to light the table on fire with his glare. She blinks and thinks, staring at the coffee maker, and tried to make sense of their presence. Perhaps their location had been found out somehow, though it would be impossible without a leak from the inside. She thinks of what she can say to properly convey how she feels about them (him) being there, but is coming up empty. 
 
"What the hell are they doing here?" Justin, from somewhere behind her. 
 
She opens her mouth to say something scathing, but only says, "I don't know." 
 
"I'm here to transfer. Are you Blackwood?" the man spoke up. 
 
"I'm Finch-Fletchley. Transferring what?" 
 
"You're not at liberty to know." 
 
"Not at liberty to know? Not at... You bring a Death Eater and his little--" Malfoy's full attention is now directed at Justin, his palm braces against the table, and his body is tight and waiting. 
 
"Justin--" Hermione whispers. 
 
"No. No. You bring that fuck here, then you're going to tell me I can't know why? That Death Eater elitist piece of shit, contaminating my air with his--" 
 
Malfoy shoots up, the table popping and scraping, and Parkinson is up directly after him. "Draco." 
 
She reaches out a hand to calm, but it's batted away with a hard smack. "Perhaps your shortage of brains is the reason Pureblooded elitists think Mudbloods like yourself--" 
 
"Draco--" 
 
"--are useless pieces of scum and dirty flesh. I'm not a fucking Death Eater--" 
 
Justin is rushing toward Malfoy now, and Malfoy is yelling to be heard over Justin's inarticulate screaming. The portly man is standing and blocking, screaming back at both of them. 
 
"Touch him and it's over, Draco! Touch him and it's fucking over!" Parkinson is frantic, hoisting herself up and clambering over the table as Malfoy attempts to get around the bigger man. 
 
"You want to attack me! Come on! Come on, you sick piece of shit! You scum! You fucking... fucking... dick. You mother fucker! You Narcissa fucking mother fucker!" Justin is screaming, and on the verge of crying, clawing at the man to try and get to Malfoy. 
 
It is the accumulation of years of withstanding prejudice and Malfoy's sneering face. It is the outcome of a war fought over these same prejudices. It is the breakdown of a man who faces the hooded, masked figures of racism over the bodies of his friends, and remembers Draco Malfoy. 
 
Malfoy, who had been screaming so hard his face and neck were red and his tendons were bulging, is silent. Who had been shoving and squirming and stepping quick on his feet to try and bypass the man he had come with, is now still. His shoulders and chest rise and fall quickly with his labored breaths, and he is calming, while Justin just grows more frantic. 
 
He yells something about a bathroom, and then a desk, and then parchment, then a noisy stair (or perhaps nosy stare). He has reached hysteria, and it is ugly, and powerful, and raw, and Malfoy only stares in the wake of it. Can only stand and watch, and listen to the madness on the other side of the human wall. The color has drained from his face, and he's so still it's painful, and he does not look away from Justin's wet eyes for a second. Parkinson is standing on the tabletop and staring too, and Hermione cannot find the will to tear her eyes away. 
 
"Justin." She says it, and it makes her come to her senses a little more, so she repeats his name again. 
 
He doesn't listen, though she expects as much, and so she goes to him. Her grip is pushed off of him twice, and then he's yelling in her face and shoving at her, but only until he realizes what he's doing. Then, he is on his knees, and his head is bent, and his whole body shakes with the force of his crying. Words are muttered with no sense, wet and desperate like broken prayer. 
 
Hermione follows him down and clutches at him, and her own eyes are tearing up, because she feels the waves of what he feels like something bruising and poignant. 
 
"Get them out of here!" she yells. "Get them the hell out of here. Now!
 
They have no right to see this. They are the reason for it, and they have no right to see him lose it like this over what they did. You don't show your enemy the pain they have caused you; the weakness that they inflect. 
 
"Now!" Hermione screams, and there is movement finally, and it is not long before they are gone from the room. 
 
"I just... I just..." Justin cries, and rocks, and shakes his head. 
 
"I know, Justin. I know," she whispers, smoothed his hair, tries to lend the comfort she does not feel. 
 
 
Day: 156; Hour: 1 
 
There are twelve people sitting around the table at Malfoy Manor. At first, she thinks the low number is cause from people wandering and exploring the decadence of the Manor (much like she had done her first time here, as much as she tried to disguise her awe). However, it is now seventeen minutes into the laying out of the plan, and no one else has drifted through those heavy doors. 
 
It was a plan that required at least double their current number. It was a dangerous mission even with the extra people. Hermione honestly can't see how they plan on keeping their force down so low. 
 
She raises a hand, more timid than her school days but demanding all the same. 
 
"Granger." 
 
"Sir, is this it?" She waves a hand around the room. 
 
His eyes follow the half-circle of heads in front of him before looking back to her. "It is." 
 
"Sir, I... It just seems a little--" 
 
"We're at a shortage, Granger. We don't have enough people for everything we have to do. This mission can be completed with twelve people. You'll make it work - do you understand?" 
 
She doesn't. "Yes, sir." 
 
 
Day: 169; Hour: 10 
 
She heard through word of mouth that Malfoy has taken to fighting now, and it is something she very much does not understand. Though she knows that they have a shortage of people at times, she also has become the sort of person with him that does not want to give him the chance to redeem himself. The price they paid to even have him was too great. 
 
Parkinson, it is said weeks later, has taken to fighting as well. Hermione is both unsure and unsettled with the news, but her life is busy, and she often forgets until she sees them in different places and realizes why they are no longer stationary in the house with empty walls. 
 
Hermione herself does not understand why she pays so much attention to them. At first she thinks it is the same as everyone else; her eyes, ears, and mind are tracking them for the sake of her paranoia. Then, it is something more - a curiosity melded to her personality that she has never been able to shake. She watches them because they are different. She pays attention because the strangeness of their lives is a reprieve from her own. She is simply very aware of them, and is unsure if she is too aware for it to be normal. 
 
 
Day: 180; Hour: 11 
 
Twigs snap under their feet, but they are far enough away from any known danger to not be too worried over it. Exhaustion piled on top of hunger can make people have a strange and dangerous carelessness when it came to the world around them. They are focusing completely and single-mindedly on one task - getting to the camp Kingsley and Tonks had set up. 
 
"It's should be just over this hill." 
 
"They wouldn't put it at the bottom of a hill, Ron," Hermione pants out, swinging her bag back off her shoulder to adjust the weight.  
 
"Why not? It's good for blocking." 
 
"It's horrible for blocking! It would give anyone a perfect vantage point to spy on us." 
 
Ron groans. "Well, whatever, Hermione. It's up here soon." 
 
"I hope so," she mutters, because she is tired, worn, and it's easy to be afraid when dark hits. 
 
It is just the two of them now. Harry is being kept safe by keeping him out of the missions until all the Horcruxes are found. A nasty arm injury scared the Ministry bad enough to want to pull him from anything that dangerous anymore. Harry was pretty upset over the whole thing, but settled once they put him on the Horcrux Retrieval Squad. 
 
Hermione knows that Harry still hates being there when his friends are here, trampling through the woods without him. She also knows that Ron hates being here, instead of with Harry. At times, she thinks the only reason Ron is even still with her and not Harry is because they are afraid to leave her alone. Part of this is paranoia, but part of it is truth as well, and she isn't sure if this knowledge bothers her more than being alone would. 
 
They rise over the hill, empty at the bottom. The decline is sharp and steep, and Ron grabs her hand before they descend. She thinks of pulling away, but he is warm and a friend, and she doesn't mind as much as she should. 
 
 
Day: 193; Hour: 7 
 
She has seen him many times now, in different shelters as she travels. It is the first time she has seen him less than brooding. Really, the first time she has seen him sleeping at all. His head is on Parkinson's shoulder, and there are bandages peeking up from beneath his shirt. 
 
It is hard on him, Lupin has told her. They all want a piece of him to destroy. 
 
She can't say she cares all that much, because it is hard on everyone. Because he has made the choices he made, and he has to accept the consequences of running around and trying to be a Death Eater when he was sixteen. Even if he were only sixteen at the time. If Harry had died fighting Voldemort at sixteen, he would have had to accept that damning consequence as well. Malfoy didn't get to get away with anything. He didn't get her pity. 
 
Parkinson smiles, as she is in love with Malfoy, and always has been. Anyone with eyes at Hogwarts would have been able to tell you the same thing. Parkinson would have given her life for Malfoy in the blink of an eye, and would have married him even quicker. Malfoy's affections are a little less known, but only in the way that he likes to shag other girls, but he likes to sleep in the same bed with Parkinson. Or something to that extent. Hermione doesn't pretend to know their relationship, but she tries to guess at it when she has nothing else to do. She does know that in Hogwarts, while Pansy was making big eyes and warm smiles, Malfoy was busy getting blowjobs in the supply closets. Perhaps he was just the cheating, unfeeling boyfriend. Or maybe Pansy was just in love with a man who took what he wanted, and accepted nothing that would grieve him - like love. 
 
She does think that Malfoy took a pain relief potion by the looks of the bottle rolling in Parkinson's hand, and happened to pass out unexpectedly. Hermione doesn't really take him for the type that would allow himself to sleep unprotected in front of people who are his allies, but, yeah, sort of his enemies too. Pansy looks as if she is thoroughly enjoying the peaceful moment, and Hermione lets her. 
 
There will be time later to tell her that she'll be leaving with her in the morning. 
 
 
Day: 206; Hour: 20 
 
"Ron, my leg is fine. Completely healed." 
 
"I didn't say anything about that." 
 
"Oh. You were looking at it strange." 
 
"I was thinking." 
 
"Oh." 
 
"New concept?" Seamus grins. 
 
"What?" 
 
"That he thinks." 
 
"Piss off, Finnigan," Ron bites, and it's a lot angrier than she expects from him over something so small. 
 
She waits until Seamus glares and leaves, and leans forward over the chess game sitting between them. "What's wrong?" 
 
"Nothing," he snaps, pushes his chair back hard enough for it to knock over, and nearly storms from the room like a two year-old. 
 
"Ron!" Hermione stands, and he stops, his back to her. 
 
His head is lowered, and he's rubbing his hands on his pants like he does when he's nervous about something. Her heart counts the seconds, because she knows this is important and that it will not be good. 
 
"I'm leaving." 
 
It takes her a second to remember how to push a voice out. "What?" 
 
"I'm..." He turns back to her, because he was never that weak of a person to not look someone in the face, no matter what he was saying. "I'm going, Hermione. To Harry. I'm going to be with Harry." 
 
She stares, and blinks, and stares more. They haven't even been able to find out Harry's location for months now. Ron hasn't even mentioned wanting to leave her. Here. Leave here. 
 
"You're... why?" She shakes her head, swallows dry air. 
 
"I don't know. Lupin knows I wouldn't mind... really, and I guess Harry needs someone there, or something." Ron shrugs, a blush on his cheeks, and he's concentrating so hard on being the delicate one for once in his life. 
 
Because Harry wants him. A friend, and it's him, and she'll be the one left behind here. They both will have gone and left her here, alone now. 
 
"Oh." 
 
"Hermione, I..." He steps forward. "I asked if you could come, but they weren't for it. I mean... I... he needs someone. Or else I would stay. But I can't just leave him - he's alone." 
 
He is. She is. They all are a bit, right at that moment. Trapped in personal space. 
 
"It's fine, Ron." 
 
He knows it's not, or should at least, but he leans his head forward in that cute way of his that means he's buying it. "You sure?" 
 
"Yeah." She shrugs, because she has always been self-sacrificing, and Harry matters more than she does now. 
 
He always has, really. He is the Destined One. The boy who is supposed to save them all. Ron is the best friend. She is the girl who... well, she doesn't really know. She doesn't really have a clue what her title or position is, but she knows she loves them both, and she would rather be alone than let Harry be alone. He needs everything the most. She has always been willing to do her best to give that to him. To give both of them whatever they need. 
 
His clothes are a little cold, and he smells like grease and mint, but it still feels good. He is both hard and soft, and feels odd pressed against her, though she can remember a time, just barely, in the past where it used to be the best thing in the world. 
 
"You need to take a shower," she mutters against his chest, right next to his armpit. 
 
She feels the muscle tense and then he pulls her tighter, until she can barely breathe. "Do I smell?" 
 
He doesn't, at least not like anything bad, and she gives this away when she wraps her arms around his back. "Yes." 
 
"Good. I'll linger after I leave then." He lets her go, because he is touchy but doesn't like to seem too affectionate. 
 
She almost gets sappy and tells him he'll linger always, stench or no, but decides that there is enough sadness in war to not bring in anymore. "When are you leaving?" 
 
"A few hours." 
 
She nods, pulling her gaze up from the carpet. "Okay."

 

 

End Notes

Jessi_Rose made a soundtrack for The Fallout which can be found here at my LiveJournal.

Two by everythursday

Author's Notes

 

Day: 217; Hour: 18 
 
Hermione has developed a system. It is not the best system, and some might say it is the worst system, but it is hers and it works most the time. 
 
Cast and wait. 
 
She always does her best to look for the insignia or sign to let her know if it is a Death Eater or one of her own that she spots, but when it gets too bad and frantic and she can't tell, she has no choice but to Stupefy first and check second. She has learned by now that there isn't time for hesitation in a fight. 
 
Anyone who has noticed her lackluster method hasn't yet said anything to her. The people on the receiving end of it have varying reactions. Some are understanding, but the further up in rank they go, the less likely she's been able to get away without some sort of anger problem directed at her for at least a week. 
 
She brought up the issue at various meetings, and to Moody and Tonks personally. Nothing was done about it however, except for her being asked if she wanted to leave the Order (by a not so tolerant Moody). So, she adapted, as all people must do, to their environment in order to survive. 
 
Cast and wait. 
 
Hermione rolls, and swears she feels a spell hit so close to her that it burns. Thankfully, the Death Eaters play with Avada far less than she had thought they would. They were much more into the torture first. 
 
She rolls to her feet, less agile than she has seen it done by many others, and aims in the general direction of the spell caster. She's disorientated but she manages to hit anyway, and leaves her attacker fallen. It's too clear here, so she runs, looking for cover. The smoke that usually comes with a lot of wand work and destruction is both her enemy and her friend, and she realizes this the most when it is no longer there. 
 
There is a silhouette emerging into the path in front of her, and she gives it just a second before she stuns them. She can never tell which way they are facing when it's like that, and there is no time for hesitation. 
 
She creeps forward, watching for any signs of anyone else. She's horrible at sneaking around though, and her feet seem too loud, and she stops breathing to cover up the noise it makes gasping into her lungs. Halting her breath wasn't a good idea however, as the moment her body kicks it into a desperate need, she's even louder and more ragged than before. 
 
The woman on the ground wears no mask or hood, but her sleeve is void of anything as well. An Auror had been the first to make this mistake, and he was dead now, Hermione knew. They drilled it into their heads after that. 
 
Not all fighting for Voldemort were Death Eaters. Some were just hard supporters who managed to find out about the battle, or just weren't marked yet. There were also a few cases where Death Eaters stripped their identifying hoods off to masquerade themselves as friendly. No one could be trusted without the Phoenix or the orange band around his or her arm. 
 
Hermione isn't sure what alerts her to someone's presence, or if anything did at all but her natural curiosity to check around herself. When she sees him though, she gasps so hard that it stings her lungs, forcing her to cough. It is a booming sound in the stealthy silence around them. It minces her spell to ruins the first time, and when Lucius gets the idea and raises his wand, she manages to finish speaking Stupefy before he can finish whatever he was casting.
 
She watches him fall, disbelieving, and coughs violently into her sleeve, wide eyes still open over her arm and staring. She nearly expects him to rise back up and come blow her all to hell. She is more nerve-wracked now than she has been all battle, and she is completely unsure about what to do with herself. Or with him. 
 
Does she find someone? Does she try to alert the Order, or someone higher up? Does she just kill him off now?  

She sends furtive glances around her and rises up from her squat over the other woman. Her heart jackhammers the moment she is fully upright, because he knows she's coming. This is Lucius Malfoy, and he knows she is coming; frozen and waiting for her, just a dozen footsteps away. 
 
Except it's not. She blinks down at him for at least twenty seconds before she herself can move. The anger-twisted face of Draco Malfoy greets her from the ground instead, and she honestly should have known better. Lucius was in Azkaban, after all. Draco had also been close enough for her to see the waving orange ends of the tight knotted band had she looked past anything but his hair. 
 
"Crap," she mutters, and touches those same ends just to be double sure that they are there. 
 
She contemplates leaving him like that until someone finds him at the end of the battle, but she knows it will just be a worse situation if she does. She stands and watches his oddly positioned frame for a second more before un-stunning him.  

He is quick. Much quicker than she has seen from Harry, or Ron, or anyone off a broom. So quick that she is on the ground before she is completely sure that it was he who does it and not a spell from someone else. He takes a little longer to appear, but it is still faster than she can move to prevent him from doing so. 
 
His knees are heavy and bony, pressing and cutting into the softness of her thighs. He has a hand on her chest, no doubt able to feel the wild thrumming of her heartbeat, and his wand is pressing uncomfortably into the skin beneath her chin. His face hovers over hers, sneering, eyes dark, and she thinks that steel grey is cold at the same time as it is hot. His hair hangs forward, blowing against his face with the wind. 
 
"What. The fuck. Are you doing?" he seethes. 
 
"I thought you were someone else," she seethes right back, because he will learn she is not Parkinson or one of those girls, and she will not take his crap. 
 
The 'someone else' doesn't need to be defined, as understanding lights his features and then darkens them. Hermione bucks against that painful grinding of his kneecaps, and shoves an unmoving shoulder. She digs her own wand into the base of his throat, and it is a battle of eyes and unwavering hate. 
 
"If you can't see the big, bright, orange cloth on my arm, Granger, then you do not belong in a place like this." 
 
"One could argue that you don't belong with it on your arm in the first place," she yells, and it is too loud for the situation, but she is sick of Draco Malfoy telling her where she belongs. 
 
"Is that it? Stunned me on purpose, angry that I'm here, and then couldn't go through with whatever unsavory, ill-minded idea you had in mind?" 
 
"Please, Malfoy. You're not even worth the wand work. And if you were, it wouldn't be a stunning spell - I'd send you where you sent Dumbledore, because that's the only place you belong," she hisses through her teeth, shoving her wand into the skin of his throat until it could go no more. 
 
His face twists more, and he leans down further, digging everything in, and she knows that what he is about to say will be something horrible. He opens his mouth to speak, eyes lit in anticipation of a delivery that never came. 
 
"Can you tell me why you two are lying here in the middle of a fight, with your wands on one another?" An orange band flutters, and a vaguely familiar face greets them with anger and distaste. 
 
Malfoy is hauled off of her, but his grip on her shirt brings her up halfway before he notices and drops her painfully back to the ground. He whirls and shoves the man with the grip on the back of his shirt, looking seconds and inches away from all out going at his face. 
 
There is a yell, and the Auror drops, dead. Malfoy spins like the hunted, and it is not a Stupefy that she hears, but an Avada Kedavra that burns his lips. She stares up at him from the ground, less active but still panting in time with his own heavy breathing. 
 
He licks his lips, lowers his wand, and looks down at her, a murderer. He is haunted, but it is not the shock that comes with the first time, and she knows that even if it is the second, he is far too used to it than he should be. If Harry was right about Malfoy having not been too far gone to kill anyone on the tower, he was wrong about it now. 
 
He turns then, disappearing back into the smoke, and leaves her with two bodies and a head like a carousel. 
 
 
Day: 238; Hour: 8 
 
Ginny is one of the strongest girls she has ever had the pleasure to know, but she is also young and too hopeful for even Hermione. She has this tougher, sassy exterior that always makes her come off like she is better than she is. But Hermione watches her, and sees her crash over and over again, struggling with the daily dealings of no news from Harry and Ron. She has yet to receive even a letter, and it bothers her far more than she is willing to let anyone know.  

She loves Harry. Loves him as she always has. But there is not much room for love in war, and Hermione has begun to learn that as well. 
 
Ginny sleeps with Seamus on a night where he was half-drunk and she was... Well, Hermione isn't sure what made Ginny do it, but she had. Maybe it had been some sort of revenge thing because she was hurt, or maybe she had just been curious... All the same, she had emerged from a bedroom, rumpled and disheveled, at two in the morning.  

She locks herself in her room and cries for three days straight. By the time Fred and George discover what happened, Seamus was three quarters of Britain away. Thankfully, as far as anyone knows, the news remains elusive to Molly, Arthur, and the rest of her older brothers. 
 
She is standing in Hermione's doorway now, hair glittering orange and deep red in the shadows and moonlight. It is the time between the third night and the fourth morning, and only the fifth day since Hermione has been back. She is scheduled to leave again at the end of the day to the Malfoy Manor, and only God (or Moody) knows after that.  

Her motions are practiced and mechanical, but it is a defeated slump with which she collapses under the blankets. Hermione usually turns her back to people sharing the bed with her, because she has a thing about people breathing in her face - she hates it. This is an exception however, and she throws her arm around the bony pair of shoulders across from her. 
 
Ginny's skin is cold, like she had just come from the outside, and Hermione can hardly feel any life in the set of her bones. She rubs her shoulder blades in the little pinches she knows Ginny likes, and scoots closer so they share the same pillow. 
 
"He doesn't have to know." She begins to cry then, throwing Hermione into a hug. 
 
Hermione wraps her arms about the other girl's head, and twirls long strands of red around her fingers. She lets Ginny cry, and cry, and cry, and she stares at the black wall that is really blue with the lights on. 
 
"He'll find out," Ginny whispers, positive in her statement. 
 
"He'll understand." Eventually. "It's okay." 
 
Ginny shakes her head against Hermione's shoulder. "No, it's not." 
 
"It will be." And she is silent after that. 
 
 
Day: 239; Hour 12 
 
Molly and Arthur do their best to make all of them forget any other problems, and focus on the fact that it is Christmas. It is slow in the beginning, as the absence of Harry and Ron isn't easily forgotten, and Ginny is obvious in her depression and regret. It picks up though, when Hermione learns to forget the differences in past Holidays, and just focus on the positive things about this one. 
 
She is happy she is here with all of them. 
 
 
Day: 245; Hour: 19 
 
Hermione smiles at Hannah, Cho, and Justin, the only ones in the house for the New Year celebration. Her cheeks are warm and red with wine, and she hopes this year will bring change.

Day: 256; Hour: 10 
 
There is smoke, and smoke, and blood. Blood all over everything. It's on her hands, and clothes, and she can feel it caked and layered on her face. It makes her want to throw up, and so she does, all over her new shoes. She spits and spits to try and get rid of the long strands of saliva and the horrible taste in her mouth, but it doesn't work.  
 
She breathes deep, her throat burning and raw, and her breath catches in her chest. Her feet numb and dumb, trip over themselves, and the ground, then a body. It is warm, and crunches and squishes against her foot at the same time. He is dead, beneath his mask and blood spattered face, but she still scrambles back from him anyway. She spits the puke from her mouth, closing her eyes as she heaves again, and sees his lifeless brown eyes staring back up at her. It reminds her of her Uncle Henry and the dead deer he kept hanging from the walls of his garage, with their wide and petrified glassy eyeballs staring her down.  
 
Her fingers curl in grass and dirt, and she's crawling. Crawling until she manages to get enough momentum up to pull her feet to the ground, and then she is running. Running, and running, through smoke and the smell of sulfur and dark magic. There is a cracking in her chest and throat as she strangles air in through all the phlegm and bile, and her heart is like a dead weight in the hole made for it.  
 
"Jesus, help me. I just... home. Need... God." She's starting to edge to hysteria and she knows it, because her tears have made her blind, and she's running without paying attention. 
 
Through the grey, she sees a movement, trivial at first, and then the outline of a hood against the smoke. They are collapsed to the ground as she lowers her wand, and she keeps running. Wounds crisscross her skin, and her shirt is soaked with her own blood. It's running from her head in gushes that don't seem to end, and she twirls and twirls in a dizzy sort of dream.  
 
"Help!" She tries, screams, because she can't find the medical help she needs by eyesight alone. "Help!"  
 
And it is not for her, but a man she does not know, with the Phoenix orange and red on his sleeve. A man who is dying and gurgling blood bubbles, and who didn't want her to let go of his hand. 
 
"Help me! Help me, please! Shit! Shit." She breathes, harsh, spins. "Damn it. Damn. Damn." 
 
Her breath is rush, rush, rushing and now she's hyperventilating. Gasping in air, and reaching out to clutch something, but there is nothing there. 
 
"A man! He's... a man..." Her eyes drift, and she peels them open, but they drift again. "Help." 
 
The world tips, spinning up and to the right, and then any air she had left, leaves her in a whoosh, without a fight. She is met with blackness before she can even breathe again. 
 
Parkinson. Pansy Parkinson now, is in her face as she opens her eyes from that dark. It had seemed to last forever and ever, and if she thinks hard, she can see flashes in between of things she does not know if she dreamt or truly saw. The point is that she had fallen to unconsciousness, and now Parkinson is above her, drowning her. 
 
Yes, drowning her. There is water all around her, covering her, choking her as she breathed. Hermione gasped and choked, and lost all connection to oxygen. She grabs Parkinson's hands on her shoulders and cuts into them, or tries, but her fingernails are blunt and she can't break skin. She tugs instead, and yanks, and presses her fingers like a vice into the frail structure of bones that make up Parkinson's wrists. 
 
Hermione catches a breath, gasps and coughs. Coughs long and hard, and it burns her throat like fire. She is winning now, or something close enough as she can breathe a little more. Panic is still tough and terrible, but it is nothing to the look of fright on that face hovering over hers. 
 
Hermione drops a hand away to go for that face, but then Parkinson has pulled a hand back as well. It slaps Hermione across the face, again, and then again, and then so hard that it bashes the other cheek off the side of the tub. 
 
Tub. 
 
Hermione blinks slowly at the chipped yellow. Water rushes in a wave between her face and the porcelain, and it is tinged red with blood. Her blood. Pansy Parkinson's pure hands buried in all that muddy water. 
 
She breathes, slow, and pulls her head up a little. It is heavy, and she feels as if every bit of her has drained and rushed away with that wave. The water sloshes, and she looks back to Parkinson, shell-shocked. 
 
"It's alright, Granger," she whispers, and Hermione realizes that they are crying. 
 
There is a tightness in her chest that soars up into her throat, and it cracks and explodes as she breathes out, and she sobs. Pitiful, broken sounds that echo off the tiles, and lets her head fall back on the tub again. Her eyes focus on the water stained ceiling, and her fingers are stiff as they curl into the heavy fabric of her jeans. 
 
"Oh, God." She remembers the man, and falling, and does not know if this was real or if she has lost her mind fully to war. 
 
"It's okay." 
 
It is not. 
 
"Where am I? Where..." 
 
"You're at the shelter house on Pine Grove. They brought you here after... I suppose you were in a fight. There's others out there too, and that woman... Tonks. Tonks is coming back soon." 
 
"I don't remember," Hermione breathes, raises those foreign-feeling hands to her face and shakes her head. "I don't remember." 
 
"You were in shock, Granger. You were... all over the house, and hitting the walls, and yelling..." There is a mutter, a distant sound of speech. "I had to snap you out of it before you injured yourself even more." 
 
"Why..." Hermione shook her head, because she could not grasp how Parkinson, Pureblooded elitist, could begin to care. "Thank you." 
 
Thank you, because it doesn't matter how. Only that she did. That she did, and she had helped, and she deserves Hermione's appreciation because of it. 
 
Hermione tries to pull herself up, but Parkinson is forced to help. It feels as if she's lost most control over her basic motor functions. There is pain. In her head, and back, and arms, and everywhere. Everywhere. 
 
Then she forgets the hurt of it all as her eyes fall over Parkinson's shoulder and to the doorway. It takes her a few seconds of sporadic thought and placement before she really gets that Malfoy is standing there. He leans against the frame with all the nonchalance in the world, his stance relaxed and his face blank. He sneers when she looks at him though, and gives her an assessing glare before turning his eyes back to Parkinson. 
 
"I don't even know why you bothered. The fact that Granger has gone mad isn't your problem." 
 
Parkinson brushes her hair behind her ear and climbs out of the tub, ignoring him all together. He straightens up, tense and annoyed now, and simply watches as the two fumble to get Hermione out of the tub. 
 
Hermione is embarrassed and blushing like mad that she needs help at all, that she is in this circumstance, and that Malfoy of all people has to see it. 
 
"You're never going to learn, Pansy." 
 
"Fuck off," she snaps. 
 
"Fuck off?" He holds a rage laced through those words that makes even Hermione's skin raise in bumps along her shoulders. 
 
Parkinson stops and licks her lips, glancing up at Malfoy. He nods slowly, looking rather sinister, and moves from the doorway in all sharp movements and hard angles. Hermione almost cares what that was all about, but not enough, and Parkinson is helping her steady herself before she can even bother trying. 
 
 
Day: 274; Hour: 22 
 
There is a letter from Harry that she keeps folded and buried in her back pocket. She carries it with her everywhere. When she showers, it is transferred from one dirty pocket and into the clean one. At times, she can feel its presence like heat. Often times, she has to reach to make sure it is there. 
 
Neville waits patiently for her to take her turn as she shoves a hand down to feel the sharp edges. Just to be sure. Pansy and Angelina are yelling at one another in the other room, in a fight that had started over a bag of chips and escalated into something to do with Angelina's ex-boyfriend. Neville is completely put out by the presence of Pansy and Malfoy, and informs her it is only the second time he has had to deal with them in one of the shelters. Hermione has lost count of how many nights she slept in the same house with them, though she has no idea as to why that is. 
 
They generally avoided one another anyway. Besides a handful of fights with Malfoy about breakfast and the theory of Darwin, and a few rather civil words exchanged between Pansy and she, they basically kept to themselves. Pansy and Malfoy, that was. Hermione usually roamed the house in proof that she wouldn't hole herself up in response to their presence, and the two of them mostly kept to the rooms (or room) they were in. It was usually a surprise to turn the corner and see them. 
 
Unless, of course, she was with other friends. Her own ex-Housemates tended to be the worst. Seamus and Dean specifically. Malfoy was a huge, neon target for most the guys dealing with some pent up aggression. Malfoy didn't even seem to mind, and there had been quite a few duels and fistfights Pansy and she had taken to breaking up. 
 
There is a crash from the living room, and Neville's head snaps up to share a look with her. They are up, on their feet, and out into the other room in a matter of seconds. 
 
"Go ahead! Go ahead, bitch! Hit me! I'll have your ass in Azkaban so fast, your head will spin! They're just waiting! One little thing, and you're done! You Death Eater slag! You--" 
 
"I'll kill you--" 
 
"What? What? Was that a threat? I feel like my life is in danger now! I'll have to Floo Moody, and let him know that you are unstable and cause an unsafe environment--" 
 
"Oh, you can't fight me? I thought you were a Gryffindor, bitch! You pussy! You coward! Scared? Huh?" Pansy screams, throwing herself forward and trying to pry the arm around her waist off. 
 
It is no use, as Malfoy is not removing his grip from her. Instead, he walks backward, dragging her struggling form against him to take along. He walks slow, letting them get their words in, and watches Angelina with a smirk. He looks at her like one might upon a frog backed into a corner by a three year-old, but without the pity. 
 
"Coward! You--" Pansy starts, and Angelina yells and rushes forward, but a nameless man grabs her arm. 
 
Malfoy squats and hauls Pansy up against his frame. She bucks and yells, and elbows back against him, but he only wraps his other arm around her and speeds up his retreat to the bedroom. 
 
"So," Hermione turns back to Neville at the sound of the door being kicked shut and Pansy's furious yell, "my turn, right?" 
 
 
Day: 291; Hour: 17 
 
Seamus feels her thigh in a way that makes her stomach flip in the exact sort of way a man should never aim to make a woman feel. She thinks of Ron, the last to have ever tried it, and of Ginny, who still looked stricken at the mere mention of the Irish. 
 
The air is fresh and light outside, and she sits alone until the sun rises, thinking about friends and sex and how often the two seem to meet now. 
 
 
Day: 304; Hour: 18 
 
Hermione knows she should have sent the birthday well wishes three months ago if she wanted them to reach Ron on time, but she has good excuses for not planning this as well as she usually does. 
 
 
Day: 306; Hour: 7 
 
When Hermione walks into the house, she is sure the last thing she expects Malfoy's reaction to be is one of anger. Directed at her for walking wrong or something, sure, but not Parkinson. 
 
Still battle-weary and tired, Parkinson only squeals in protest and surprise as Malfoy grabs her arm and sends her flying into a different room. Hermione stills in her own surprise, but he spares her no glance as he charges into the bedroom and slams the door shut behind him. 
 
Hermione isn't sure if she should rush in to defend the girl who had helped her that night in the tub, and several times over the past few days as well, or if she should just sit and wait. She chooses the latter, because Malfoy/Parkinson business isn't hers. 
 
She is still worried though, and so she stays in the hall in case she might need to rush in. Malfoy only raises his voice once, muffled and deep, and it is Pansy who screams the most. Hermione knows Malfoy though, and in her head, she can hear and feel that velvet flow of hard words. When Malfoy is at his angriest, he speaks in the lowest tone. It's a dangerous sound - one a person is forced to pay attention to, and he probably knows it. 
 
Malfoy flings open the door, the knob breaking through the wall and plaster as it is slammed. He doesn't bother to shut it, and his body is tight and thrumming with rage as he paces a narrow line down the hall and out of sight. A moment later, a door slams, and in the stillness, she can make out Parkinson's crying. 
 
It takes her a few seconds of pushing herself before she peeks inside the room. Pansy is uninjured, sitting on the bed with her hands clasped in her lap. 
 
"Are you okay?" 
 
"Fuck off." 
 
And had it been Ginny, or even Lavender, she would have entered anyway. This was Parkinson though, and so after a slight hesitation, Hermione turns for a bathroom and a hot shower. 
 
 
Day: 324; Hour: 1 
 
Hermione lies and stares at her ceiling, though she is eavesdropping more than she is thinking. The walls are thin, and she can hear Dean and Malfoy screaming at one another down the hall. Hermione had been wondering how long it would take for Malfoy to snap, and he has now. 
 
Malfoy had been yelling about that night on the tower, and choices, and Hermione kept thinking of how Lavender put it in the same perspective for Hermione three weeks ago. At the time she had thought that Lavender was just trying to rationalize why she wanted to sleep with Malfoy, but perhaps she had just had a different insight. 
 
Do you blame a child for doing what his father said, when that child should have been old enough to make his own choices? Yet, if that person has only been exposed to one sort of right their whole lives, do you still blame them for having a biased opinion because they were never shown how to see from a different perspective? And do you still blame that boy, despite everything he faced, that in the end, he never went through with it? Even when he supposedly is now doing what he can to rectify his mistake in the first place? 
 
Perhaps you do anyway. Because a man was still dead because of his actions, wasn't he? And perhaps that is the reason Dean threw a fist into the aristocratic structure of Malfoy's jaw. And perhaps that was why Hermione remained in her bed instead of doing a single thing about it. 
 
 
Day: 360; Hour: 11 
 
She literally trips over Malfoy, the sun blinding her eyes and exhaustion making her feet stupid. He is sun baked, reeking of sweat and blood in a way that tells her he has been lying there for a very long time. Blood tracks from the corner of his mouth, down the sides of his face, and stains the white of his hair. His teeth are pink and lined red, and when he looks up at her, she isn't sure he sees her at all. 
 
There is a man, his black hood crooked on his head, lying just inches from Malfoy, dead. Malfoy's body shakes with the long aftershocks of Crucio, and it has seemed to paralyze him for who knows how long. 
 
"Malfoy? Malfoy, can you hear me? Follow my finger." His eyebrows draw down, and he gurgles as if he is trying to speak, but only more blood rushes up from his mouth. 
 
She rolls him to his side, blood as red as hers rolling onto the dirt ground and pooling in an oval. His shirt is scorching against her hands, despite how heated they already are. She lifts an arm and tries to wipe the sweat from her face, feeling the rub of burnt skin against the fabric. 
 
But it is nothing compared to Malfoy. He is beet red and soaked to the bone. 
 
She rolls him back over and he is breathing through his mouth now, his stomach caving and rising in short pants. "Okay, good. Very good, Malfoy. Now, I'm just...I don't know..." 
 
She shakes her head, because she only knows basic healing spells, and nothing that could really help him. There is a pain relief potion in her pocket, and she pulls it out, popping off the top with her thumb. 
 
"Alright, I'm going to pour..." His mouth shuts, and she goes about opening it again. "I'm just going to pour this in... it's going to help you, Malfoy. It's just to take the pain away, okay? I promise. Just..." 
 
He refuses to open his mouth, and she is forced to pry it open with a lot of pulling, clutching, and digging. The bright green liquid fills up his mouth before he can get it closed again. Hermione waits, but he does not swallow. He takes slow, measured breaths through his nostrils, the green sloshing inside his mouth. 
 
"Malfoy!" She wipes the sweat from her face again, in her eyes and burning now, and looks around them. "Just swallow! If it does anything but help, you can kill me, alright? Okay? I give you permission!" 
 
He blinks, his eyes on hers now, fully focused. It makes her feel as if he would like to kill her regardless. He still doesn't swallow. 
 
"Just..." She paused. "Can you swallow? Are your throat muscles locked too? Is... Jesus." 
 
She wraps an arm around his head and pulls him up a few inches, her free hand smoothing over his throat like something she had seen Lupin do once. She is shaking with fatigue and with lack of knowing, and it doesn't even matter that much, because it is just pain relief. It isn't going to save his life or anything. And she already knows how angry he is over it, and how much he is ridiculing her in his head, and it makes her blush under all the heat already in her cheeks. 
 
"Okay. Okay," she whispers and lowers him back down, and her hand is shaking when she cups his chin and turns his head. 
 
The liquid splashes over to join his blood, and his eyes are different now when she turns his head back. He looks at her like she is a little insane, maybe, and also in a way that she does not understand. Perhaps she has seen the look a thousand times, but never on his face, and that makes all the difference. 
 
"Okay. Okay. Okay," she repeats, looking around them again. 
 
The Order puts up Anti-Apparition wards around any place they attack, which is usually detrimental for any fleeing Death Eaters. All Aurors and members of the Order carried emergency Portkeys just in case they had to flee as well. Hermione pulls hers from her pocket, a lighter wrapped in a scarf, and presses it into Malfoy's hand. She curls his fingers around the weight, holding them tightly, and then pulls the scarf from between a crack in his fingers. Belatedly, she remembers that he carries one as well and that she should have used his, but it is far too late. 
 
His eyes are wide now, surprised maybe, and she presses the scarf with her name at the bottom onto his chest and pulls back before he disappeared. Just in case there is a mass emergency, and they might need to know that she has no Portkey. 
 
She stares at his blood on the ground, at the spot where he had been, and then the red sticky pureness all over her fingertips. After a second more, she forces herself back, and grips her wand, moving on. 
 
 
Day: 365; Hour: 2 
 
Parkinson sits on the bottom stair of the porch, the very one that Lee Jordan guided her over earlier yesterday morning because it was unsteady with the weak wood. Hermione is unsure if she is waiting for Malfoy or nothing at all, but the door still creaks when she opens it, and Parkinson responds as if she had been waiting for her all this time - no movement at all. 
 
"It's different, isn't it?" And Hermione meant the war, or the dark, or the quiet of the night, but Parkinson reaches up to touch the bob of her hair. 
 
"You noticed?" 
 
She sees it then, the shorter length, and thinks perhaps Parkinson isn't the sort of person to talk about much of anything else. "Yes. It's nice." 
 
She doesn't respond, and Hermione feels awkward at first, and then just lost in her own thoughts over the one year milestone they have reached now. 
 
 
Day: 397; Hour: 5 
 
Ron doesn't write her for three weeks, and she doesn't receive it for another two. It is a piece of something she feels as if she has been missing for a very long time, because it has been four weeks since she has seen a single face she can recognize. 
 
It is neat in some places, and so sloppy she cannot make out words in others, but she reads and studies it until it makes sense, before shoving it into her pocket beside the ones from Harry. 
 
 
Day: 400; Hour: 23 
 
"I should have known I would see you around with your nose up in the air, Granger. How does the air smell from your self-created pedestal?"  
 
"Excuse me?" Hermione isn't sure how having her head currently shoved inside the fridge was somehow Malfoy-equivalent to her nose being in the air. 
 
"Did your friends praise you? Hermione Granger, the sweet little Muggle-born saving the big, bad, son of a Death Eater. The schoolyard bully. The nasty ferret. How caring and giving she is." 
 
She blinks twice at the strange sauce substance in a jar, and pulls back to look at him over the door. "I haven't even said a word about it--" 
 
"You haven't had to. The way you've been walking around all day with that broom shoved up your arse and bending your spine straight says all you have to about it. Think you're one up on me, do you? Think you're some sort of better person--" 
 
Hermione wrinkles her nose at the odd slur to his voice, and the leer on his face. "Malfoy, are you drunk?" 
 
"Fuck, Granger. I must look completely evil in your eyes. Drunkenness. Does this break one of those cardinal rules of your God? Are you deeply offended by my sway and bloodshot eyes? Are you shitting yourself in indignation, Granger?" 
 
He smells of sex and liquor. It assaults her senses the moment he is close enough for his scent to kick in. He is rumpled, his hair messy and a red love bite, fresh, on his neck. His eyes are dull though, and there are smudges of purple under the grey. 
 
"I don't care what you do, as long as it doesn't hurt me or my friends, Malfoy. Furthermore, I didn't say or act in any way that was smug...or...or meant to rub in your face the fact that I Portkeyed you out over a friggen month ago. It wasn't that big of a deal. And if it was a big enough deal for you to be bringing up, it only proves what kind of person you are that you're angry about it, instead of just thanking me." 
 
He seems to only have understood one part of this. "Thanking you? Oh, yes, Granger. That is what I should do, isn't it? What would be proper of a fellow member of light, right? Thank you for bruising my ribs with your shoe when you fell over me. Thank you for nearly drowning me to death. Thank you for Portkeying me to an empty bloody house where I stayed, alone, for four hours! You're marvelous under pressure. I'm sure you know this already from your random Stupefys you like casting at passing shadows." 
 
She is blushing fiercely, embarrassed because this is the truth and they both know it. "I should have just left you there baking in the sun then. My apologies, Malfoy." 
 
She shuts the fridge door as hard as she can, though it is not hard enough, and only makes a soft sound as it closes. She is glaring at him, but he is smirking in a devious way that is almost frightening enough in the dark of the kitchen to scare her. Her wand is on the counter, next to her burnt bagels, and a good five steps behind his rapidly approaching back. 
 
"You should have. Yes, Granger. Yes, you should have left me there. The one who let the Death Eaters in, right? The bad, bad Slytherin who--" 
 
His tone of voice makes her hairs rise all down her arms. "Are you mad? Yo--" 
 
"Completely. I'm fucking insane. Insane." He is seriously beginning to scare her now. "Why do I deserve to be left?" 
 
"What?" 
 
He darts forward then, grabbing her arms, and she is reminded of just how quick he can be. He throws her up against the wall, pinning her with the force of his bodyweight slamming into her. The tip of her toes brush the linoleum, but the rest of her is suspended. Even her breath, as she stares at his face in front of hers, and waits for the fallout.  

His eyes are wild, wide, alert. They dart and track the minuscule movements of her face, and his breath reeks when it hits her nose. His fingers tighten, and later she will bruise, but she doesn't think of this yet. 
 
"Why do I deserve to be left?
 
"Malfoy. Put. Me. Down." 
 
"Answer the question, Mudblood--" 
 
She rushes her knee up and it only meets his thigh, and it manages to anger him more than hurt him. He pulls them back, slams her forward again, pulls back, forward again. Pain shoots from the small of her back to the bottom of her skull, and she almost cries out. She punches him instead, and digs her nails in, and pinches, and kicks at him some more. He tears his hands from her upper arms to find her wrists, and his hips jerk forward to slam her against the wall when she starts to slip down in her struggle. She growls, pulling her arms from his attempts to grab them, and clobbers him over the head and to the face. He is slowed with the droll of inebriation and the way she is coming at him from all angles, but there are chords and bricks of muscle in him where she is softer, and there isn't much of a chance before he has her pinned again. 
 
"Don't call me that! Don't you ever say that word again!" 
 
"Answer the question! Answer the question!" He yells this, his words so rushed that they form a stream of sounds she can't distinguish at first. 
 
"You are--" 
 
"Why do I get left? Huh? Why do I get left!" He slams her back again. 
 
"Because you're you! Because you-- Because you're a racist. Because you're a boy who can stand here and fight for my side, but still call me that fucking name! Because you're throwing me into a wall! Because you're Draco Malfoy, and you. Are. An. Asshole. Because you don't deserve to be saved!" 
 
"Then why did you!" he screams, frustrated and at the end of a short rope, as if this has been the question all along. 
 
Hermione doesn't know how to respond, and he bares his teeth and shakes her. She stops all her pushing and squirming and kicks, and looks back in the face of his confusion, drunkenness and rage. 
 
"Because I'm Hermione Granger," she whispers. 
 
Because she is the girl who has faith in humanity even when it has none in her. Because she is the stupidest smart person you'll ever meet. Because there always has to be the person who believed too much in nothing at all. 
 
"Draco!" His name was a whispered gasp, laced with shock and disapproval. 
 
He looks disgusted by her answer, and all the hardness of his body steps back. His fingers clench, making her face tighten in pain, and then he lets go and drops her. Her bare feet smack the floor, and Pansy is there, pushing between them and against him. She sways and staggers, and he is holding her up more than she is getting him away. 
 
"What are you doing? What are you doing?" she whispers, stumbling over her words. 
 
He stares and stares at her over Pansy's useless struggle, though he begins a slow, backwards trek to the doorway in acceptance of her attempt. He doesn't break eye contact, and it is the most captivating hold a person has ever had on her. Her heart hammers and her body aches, but she cannot look away from Malfoy and the clear grey that tells her lies about how drunk and sane he is. 
 
He raises a finger, long and pale, and shoves it into the air. "Don't ever do it again. Don't ever fucking do it again." 
 
Then he turns, Pansy stumbling against his back, and makes for his bedroom. 
 
 
Day: 410; Hour: 19 
 
Harry has messy handwriting, and it is even worse when he is in a rush. Judging by the sloppy scrawl in front of her, it looks as if he had been too busy to even write. Which makes her appreciate that he had even more. Though, it is Harry, and his busy could be battling Voldemort and a slew of Death Eaters, or an intense game of chess with Ron. All the same, she is happy for the letter. 
 
He tells her nothing of his location, or details of what he is doing, but he tells her there is progress - and there is hope in that. He misses her, and it feels good to be missed, and Ron is doing well too. They are kept up-to-date on how everyone is doing, and they don't understand why Arthur and Molly have allowed Ginny to join the real fighting. Ron has injured his finger somehow, and they are getting closer to coming home. She reads and reads over again this letter at least thirty times before letting it join the others in her back pocket. She would surely have read it thirty more times had Lavender not walked in the room to declare temporary roommate status. The last thing Hermione needs is for Ginny to find out she has received another letter, and another opportunity has passed where Ginny could have received one at all. 
 
"It's good that I don't know him that well. Passion dies the more you know a person. Proven. Fact." Lavender smiles at a girl Hermione does not know, but thinks is too young to hear about Lavender's sex life or fight in a war at all. 
 
Lavender shags a strange looking man with a thick beard and bright green eyes, who is at least ten years older than her, but who she finds undeniably attractive. It is a pattern Hermione has begun to see emerge, and perhaps people were having sex all over at Hogwarts too, but she does not remember seeing it so blatantly obvious. At times, she feels as if she is the only one not having sex with a stranger or friend - because it is usually a stranger or friend, as there seems to be room for sex in war, but not relationships. They excuse it as if it does not matter because it is a desperate time, but Hermione thinks it does still matter. 

Fighting and death and fear are not excuses to become whores and shag every winking bloke or bird that comes your way. But that is the way she is wired, and Hermione faintly recalls the number of times she has thought the same as her peers. 
 
Lavender and the girl continue giggling and talking about positions and techniques, and Hermione lies in bed and watches the shadows the clouds create over the moon. She thinks of how alone she has felt for months now, but without the ability to actually be alone. She thinks of Harry and Ron, and how happy or sad they might be now. She thinks of her parents, and friends, and death, and hoods moving in black towers against gloomy skies and white smoke. 
 
Sometimes, she thinks of her blood. She closes her eyes and feels it pounding and pulsing, and rushing against her skin and through her veins. At times, the feel of it makes the hollow of her throat cave and croak, and she wants to cry.  Other times, she concentrates really hard on feeling important, and confident, and to have faith in who she is. And at times, like now, she is not sure how to feel at all. 
 
She plays with the bottom of her dad's big T-shirt that she's worn to bed since she was nine, and she sings old songs in her head until she falls asleep. 
 
 
Day: 412; Hour: 4 
 
It is not like she thought it would be; war. Back at Hogwarts there would be a problem, time to find the solution, and then a way to solve it. There had been fear and danger, but it had been very different. At the time, she had thought it was a very dangerous thing, her life and her friendship with Harry. She understands now that she did not have a broad enough range of experience to fully measure that danger. 
 
War is sloppy. It is bloody, and hard, and wrong, and all the things that are normally associated with it. But it is sloppy, Hermione persists in her head, because she has never heard anyone else say it before. There is hardly any time, and what time they do find is never put to too much good use. Then there are long, long lags where absolutely nothing happens at all, but people letting off steam and trying to forget that they are waiting, and what for. But they still need more time, more people, and more research, because she knows already that a war cannot be won just by heroes and those with hearts. 

 

 

Three by everythursday

Author's Notes


Created by: phantasmagoria

 


Day: 416; Hour: 12 
 
"You know what I think about? While I have sex?" 
 
"Oh, Merlin." Ernie groans. 
 
"I don't think we even want to know." Lavender laughs.  
 
"This night just got scary, is what I think." Dean flips a card on the table between him and Ernie, and grins over his shoulder at Roger Davies. 
 
Roger gives him a glare. "No, no... Listen. How many people in the world, do you think, are having sex right now? You know? No! No... Look. When I'm having sex, I can't help but think... how many people in the world are currently doing the same exact thing, and feeling the same exact way? It's like an orgy. Like a mind--"  
 
"I've never been in an orgy, but I can guarantee it's not like--" 
 
"Sure, sure, Lav." Ginny laughs and the rest follow, despite the affronted look on Lavender's face.  
 
"So, it's like a cheap orgy," Roger tried. "It just makes it better. Sex is always better with more people."
 
The room laughs or bursts into agreement, and Hermione blushes and shakes her head at her knees.  
 
 
Day: 422; Hour: 6 
 
She vomits.  
 
There isn't much to give up, but her body heaves and pushes until all that's left of the liquids and soup she's had in the past three days is on the ground. Her snot is running all down her face, and she sucks it back up, hacks it out. The feel of it along her tongue sends her gagging, and it's green bile that splashes down across her hands.  
 
"God," she whispers pathetically.  
 
She does not have the stomach for war, or blood, or death. She is not made for it. 
 
She does not know his name, and she feels horrible about it now. She isn't sure why she does, but she does. His name is important, and his life was too, and this was a human being with a family. He is dead now. Dead, dead, dead, and he deserves to have her remember his name of all things. 
 
She runs a spell, checking for a pulse, but he is pale blue. "Okay. Alright." 
 
She wipes her hand, puke and saliva, on her jeans, and reaches up to shut his eyes. She mutters a prayer to a God he probably doesn't believe in, and flicks the blood-caked hair away from his swollen face. She moves on, because there is time to count the dead later (maybe), and absolutely no time for it now. 
 
The figure she has just Stupefied is now back up, but she has caught on by now, and throws another one at him. It will wear off in five seconds, she knows, and so she is quick to bind him with another spell, wrapping him in rope. He moves and she stuns him again, advancing to try and find his wand. Her hands shake from the Crucio she took (twice) before realizing that they were somehow throwing off her stunning spells. 
 
She has to stun him seven more times, all close calls to him attacking her physically, before she is able to find his wand. She runs backwards, breaking the thick length of wood and tossing it to the ground. He is back in motion against the confines of the rope, and then struggling to his feet with a roar when he finds his wand gone. Hermione is at a loss on how to handle the situation, her eyes darting the area for a way to keep him away from her without having to stun him every few seconds or-- She raises her wand and casts a Dancing charm at him, trying to force her mind to remember something useful. She cries out in frustration because it feels as if her mind has broken down on her, and failed her at a pivotal moment. All that knowledge, now suddenly blanked.  

She whacks the heel of her palm against her temple and clenches her teeth, groaning and impatient as she tries to think of something useful. The Death Eater currently dancing a jig several paces away yells out then, and she looks up in time to see a flash of green strike him between the eyes. 
 
Whirling, her heart pops up into her throat, and it is Malfoy behind her. "What the fuck are you doing! You expect to have the whole lot of them dancing their way across the bloody yard? This isn't a theatre production, or for your bloody entertainment--" 
 
"Shut up! Just shut up! They... they can't be stunned! I have... I've no idea why. I'm not--" 
 
"Then kill them--" 
 
"What?" 
 
"Kill them, Granger!" 
 
"I can't do that!" She knows she looks horrified, but she is, and so it is fitting no matter what he thinks of it. 
 
He steps forward, waving a dirt covered hand in a wide circle. "Why? What the hell do you think happens, Granger? Maybe twenty percent of them are questioned and put in Azkaban - the rest? Dead. Dead, Granger. Shorten the fucking process and kill them!" 
 
"I can't!" 
 
"So you're going to have them pulling fucking ballerina moves--" he pauses, clenching his jaw and his fists and shakes his head. "Here. Here." 
 
He moves forward quickly, grabbing the front of the shirt of the man that she had been sorry to not know the name of. "Hey!" 
 
"Who killed him?" 
 
"Wh-- That doesn't matter!" 
 
"It does matter, you dipshit! You dumb fucking do-gooder bitch! Do you see this? Do you see it? His guts are hanging out his bloody stomach, Granger, but you've got the guy who did it doing a fucking waltz." He seethes, drops the man down with more care than she expected, and starts toward her. 
 
"I am not that kind of person! I--" 
 
"Do you know that eighty-three percent of Stupefied Death Eaters are un-stunned by their allies, and walk from the battle perfectly fine? Did you know that? Almost all of them, Granger. This means, that eight out of the ten Death Eaters that you stun, end up going off and killing one of your friends. Do you like that? Hmm? Are you the kind of person who is going to let that happen?" 
 
Hermione spots a shadow over his head, and when she raises her wand, he visibly flinches. His is raising in counter, but she has already shot, Stupefying the figure. He pauses, his wand still raised and pointing at her heart, before whirling. 
 
"Was that a Stupefy, Granger? Was... Do you not get this! Do you not fucking get it!" They aren't questions, just a scream that have chords rising up from his neck. "Those are lives! Those are your precious Gryffindor chums hanging in the balance! Whose life is more important, Granger? Whose side are you on?" 
 
"Screw you! You don't know--" 
 
"I don't care if your heart is so fucking big it doesn't fit in your chest cavity, alright? I don't care if you want to save the world one bunny and house-elf at a time! If you want to save lives then you'll take them! Sacrifice some sleep like the rest of us Granger, and--" 
 
A jet of green shoots from his wand and hits the crumpled cloak on the ground. Hermione screams and runs forward, bile making a reappearance and burning the already raw tissue of her throat. 
 
"No! You... I... I don't..." Hermione is shaking by the time she reaches the dead, and it is with more relief than she can imagine that she drops and cries over the body of some nameless Death Eater. 
 
"Blaise always said you would lose your mind, but fuck Granger." He sounds as if he is in disbelief. 
 
"Shut... shut up." She sucks it up, and tries to regain some sense of normalcy, because she is acting mad and she knows it. "I... I didn't know..." 
 
He is silent, but only for four seconds, because he can be just as quick mentally as he is physically. "What side she was sporting on her arm, you mean? Merlin. Merlin, shit, you are so incompetent! You lack everything a person should have to even be here! Do everyone a favor and either go home or get hit by something! It woul--" 
 
"Leave me alone! I..." She growls and clenches the enemies robe in her anger. "I fucking hate you! I hate you! I hate you so much that I can explode!" 
 
"Have at it then." It is her anger that works to calm him, and his drawl is bored. 
 
Her hand falls on a rock, smooth and palm-sized, and she whips it at him. It hits his shoulder with a crack, and at first, he does not react at all. The moment his surprise has passed however, he has darted forward and claimed a chunk of her hair in his fingers. She cries out as her body is jerked to the side, and then forced to her feet. She punches him, square in the jaw, and she thinks her knuckles may be broken. 
 
"Let go of me--" 
 
"Oh, no, Granger. You wanted to get violent, hmm? You want me to fucking rip you apart?" He jerks her head back, and she can both feel and hear her hair rip from her scalp. 
 
He lets go and grabs her chin, his fingers cutting brutally against her bones and into her skin. He pulls her up until her eyes are level with the tip of his nose and she has to stand on her tiptoes to keep all her weight off her jaw and his palm. With a hard shove, the tip of her wand jabs into the soft spot beneath his jaw. 
 
"Going to kill me?" He looks amused, and she sneers, opening her mouth to hex him, when he speaks again. "I'll rip your fucking jaw off." 
 
But she is not the type to back down, and so she sends him flying back anyway. His grip is almost enough to stick true to his word, but it ends up only sending pain roaring up to her brain, but no breaking. At least that she can tell, because before she can even process her injuries or the ones he may have received by crashing to the ground meters away, she is on the ground herself. He has swiped her feet out from under her, and she cannot even catch a breath in before she is being scraped across the pebbles and hard ground. 
 
She comes to a halt, coughing and choking on the dust of dirt, and cradling her head where it has smashed off a rock. She can't even see through the cloud of dirt around her, and her shirt is grabbed, ripping as he pulls her up and forward. When his hand has released her, she finds herself on her knees in front of him with his wand to the middle of her forehead. 
 
"That was cute," he drawls, licking the blood from his mouth with a smirk. "I am thoroughly unimpressed. Is that all? The Great Third Wheel of the Gryffindor Wonder Twins, of the Hero and the Sidekick, and that's all there is? Color me unsurprised, Granger." 
 
"You have no idea what I'm capable of," Hermione whispers, and her wand is already trained on him, though she does not know if he has noticed. 
 
"Nuh uh." He shoves her back down when she tries to stand. "I have a fairly good idea--" 
 
Hermione jabs her wand into the back of his knee hard enough for him to cry out and buckle. He falls on the injured one and moves to grab her at the same time she moves to hex the hell out of him. Then, it is just Malfoy with his face twisted in anger and his hand yanking a clump of her hair at the side of her head. He pauses, eyes quickly scanning and categorizing. His hand gentles, brushing her cheek in a soft graze of his palm against her skin, and she knows he doesn't realize fully what he is doing, as he is just lowering his arm. He moves then, and before she falls, she can see him wobble and jerk his knee twice to get it to move and bend. She can see nothing but the sky after that, and the wind blows dirt into her eyes. It burns, but she can't blink. She can't move at all. 
 
She is positive it is Lavender's voice she hears next. "Oh, Hermione! I'm so sorry! I thought..." 
 
Then it's Malfoy, overcome with frustration. "You bleeding-heart, shit-for-brain Gryffindors!" 
 
 
Day: 449; Hour: 6 
 
Is it warm, the day she becomes a murderer. Which is not fitting in the least, and Hermione likes things when they are fitting. 
 
It is simply because she has no choice. She is one person, standing in front of two hooded men, and suddenly there is this impossible choice that cannot be impossible any longer. There is no time to try and disarm them both, and they have all found a way (some way) around her standard stunning spells. 
 
It leaves her like a crack. That is how she thinks about it. Like her chest plate, all the way down her ribs, cracked open with that spoken curse. This long, splintered crack in her bones that left her irrevocably damaged. Broken. 

Cracked. And suddenly, so suddenly, in just seconds and clicks of clocks and time, her life is changed. Forever. 

She is changed. Two words, and she will never be the same sort of girl she had looked up at those two boned masks as mere moments - seconds before. She will never be the same girl who finds it easy to judge another person for being who she now is. She will never be the same girl who has never felt that bitter, acidic taste of death rolling across her taste buds, like a cancer of the mouth. 
 
She speaks those words, and feels pain like an animal, wild and angry, tear up from her stomach. A cold creeps up from her arms, shoots across her shoulders, and drops like a waterfall to her toes. She feels as if she has woken up in a cold puddle. As if she is drowning in air. 
 
Then, there is a Crucio. A Cruciatus that hurts as badly as it always has, but still somehow not enough. It is seconds or minutes (but years, and years, it feels like), and then there is Malcolm Baddock above her. She knows this despite the mask, because she had held a crush for him for two weeks in fifth year, and indulged in a fantasy that he would be different and love her despite it all (she would never tell a soul). She had looked at his face for those two weeks for hours on end, and she recognized it now. 
 
He recognizes her as well. It is enough to make him pause, his wand aimed at her head and his boot on her chest. Enough to make her gain back enough motion to raise her wand, and she kills him too. He dies, collapsed on top of her, and she can hardly move from the curse, but she slides in centimeters and forced strength until he is off of her. 
 
There is no Ginny to crawl into bed with. There is no Harry to hug and take comfort in. There is no Ron to throw an awkward arm around her shoulders and tell her about things she didn't want to hear about, just for the sake of not having to think about what was bothering her. There was no one.

She pukes, and cries, and stares for days. Tries to sleep, eat, and can't. Tries to wipe the feel of a Killing Curse from the lay of her bones, but finds that it has been burned into her skeleton forever. 
 
There is no going back now. There was never any going back at all. And she feels change like the coming of winter. 
 
 
Day: 460; Hour: 13 
 
"I don't think I've been to a restaurant in years." Tonks smears butter on the roll in her hand before reaching over to snag the basket back from in front of the mischievous faces of Fred and George. 
 
Hermione has learned over time that it is an expression perpetually etched on their faces, and that it does not matter how many times one tries to sabotage their prank, because they will find ways around it. They always find any excuse for a good joke; tonight it happens to be Harry's birthday, which Tonks decided they should celebrate despite the fact he isn't here. 
 
Lupin takes Tonks hand under the table, or at least Hermione guesses he does by the small jump of surprise in her frame and then the smile she sends his way. Unless, of course, they are doing something completely different under the tablecloth, but this is something she absolutely does not wish to think about. 
 
Neville swirls his straw in his drink and gives her a look that lets her know he was thinking along the same lines, and they both burst into laughter to express their horrified amusement. Fred and George grin and wait for the punch line to join in, while Lupin and Tonks exchange worried glances and shift nervously. 
 
 
Day: 472; Hour: 8 
 
She is alone in the Burrow. She had been expecting Molly, and food, and warmth of friends and family, but it is empty. It is the first time she has seen it as such, and it unsettles her.  

In her hand, though, is a note from Harry. It is one sentence (All is fine, be safe), and at first she thinks of how little time he must have had if that was all he managed. However, yesterday morning Ginny also received a letter. Four pages of a letter, to be accurate. Hermione had been happy for her, but there is a jealousy, ugly in her throat now. She doesn't even admit its presence to herself, let alone to anyone else, but it is there.  

She reads. She had thought the chance to read in quiet would have been a happily accepted break from everything. Instead, she reads the page over and over, and then just stares at lines of black for hours on end. 
 
 
Day: 489; Hour: 17 
 
Malfoy watches silent from the table as she shows Pansy how to cook. It has been a week that they have been here alone, Pansy tells her, and three days since they have run out of anything edible. 
 
It is the first time she has seen him outside of a mission or a meeting room since they attacked one another. She acts pompous (for no reason), just because she knows it ticks him off. He glowers, and makes comments to Pansy that he knows ticks her off in reply. 
 
It is all very juvenile, but it feels good to be that way sometimes. 
 
 
Day: 492; Hour: 5 
 
The loud, boisterous noise of laughter and friendly yelling grinds to an unbearable silence as Malfoy and Pansy walk into the house. Malfoy scopes the room as if no one is there at all as they walk through, and Pansy pulls closer to him and keeps her eyes ahead. It is the first time Hermione sees them as what they are - the exiled duo. The two friends against the world; the couple in the middle grey; the drifters without purchase in the world. 
 
She wonders at the guts they have to have to walk into a house packed full of rowdy Gryffindors, being the people that they are, and with the pasts they carry. The balls it takes to turn sides. The bravery and strength it takes to deal with enemies and hate from your own side, and then face down your friends at the other end of that big thing call war, all for the belief of convictions that has turned your life inside out. 
 
She is light from two glasses of wine, and heavy in contemplation. 
 
 
Day: 495; Hour: 11 
 
There is a grunt and a plop-plunk as a body hits the stone wall beside her. Her head jerks so fast to the right that it cracks, sending a line of feel-good pain jolting up into the crown of her head. 
 
For a moment, she swears it is Blaise Zabini beside her, but she blinks and it is Lee Jordan now. A stark contrast, the pale white hands against the dark of his skin, tilting his face up. Hermione follows those long fingers to wide wrists, and she already knows who it is before she follows up his forearms. 
 
"What were you hit with?" His cultured accent is clipped and urgent, and for a man who always tries to pretend calm in bad situations, to look as if he is losing his cool, she now knows that their mission is as blown to hell as she thought. 
 
"I-- Don't. Don't know." Lee gasps and wheezes, and blood is spraying from his mouth with each exhale. 
 
It lands in tiny splatters all down Malfoy's neck and shirt. He tilts Lee's head back farther, assessing his eyes, before dropping his hands away with a nod. 
 
"Alright. Where is your Portkey?" 
 
"I..." Lee seizes in pain, clenching his eyes shut as he tries to move for his back pocket. 
 
Malfoy purses his lips briefly and mutters an oath, looking up at the towering black and moss-ridden stone as he reaches into Lee's pocket and grabs the Portkey. He glances over at her then, the only other witness to the fact that he has touched a man's ass, but looks unfazed by her presence. 
 
"Are you injured?" His eyes sweep the length of her, but it is not her blood that soaks her pants - though she supposes it looks more like she may have peed herself. 
 
"What... fuck... think." Lee winces, his whole face scrunching, and he sounds now as if he is trying to swallow his tonsils. 
 
"Not you, fuckwit," Malfoy mutters, looking perturbed as more bright red splashes his shirt, and though she thinks he may freak out, he doesn't. 
 
"I'm fine," Hermione replies, finally, because she feels she can breathe a little now. 
 
He looks sharply back at her, no doubt wondering why she's fine but still seems to be sitting this one out. He is observant, though, and it doesn't take him long to piece together the story behind her position and the Death Eater dead at her feet. He looks back up at her from the crooked mask, meeting her eyes, and they are wider and more grey than she has ever remembered them to be. He looks as if he's assessing her for a potential mental breakdown, and preparing himself for just how bad it will be. There is nothing, though, but knowing in his eyes when he looks away. 
 
"I can... I can..." Lee shakes his head, and Malfoy opens the ring box, pulling out the band and shoving it onto Lee's finger. 
 
"You can't, actually." 
 
It is just her and Malfoy then, and it surprises her when he turns off his haunches and collapses back against the wall. They are silent for what feels to her like forever, but it is just a minute. 
 
"You were with Team B?" 
 
"Osbie is dead. I saw...the boy with the red hair. I saw him go down too." This doesn't answer his question, but it is the first thing she thinks to say. 
 
Malfoy is still, then nods. "The girl with the braids is dead. That bloke... that... Anthony, he's either back at Headquarters or on a beach somewhere. Finch-Fletchley spotted Team C and took off." 
 
"What? We aren't supposed to leave our team members..." But she trails off, because she is a stickler for the rules, but not many people trust Malfoy to guard their backs. 
 
Anthony probably thought his chance of survival was better with the other team. In fact, the only people she has ever heard say they trusted Malfoy was Pansy and... And Neville, as strange as that is to acknowledge (He saved my life Hermione). 
 
"You beckoned?" A man with dark blond hair and a stubby beard is beside her, and it scares her so badly, because she should have seen him coming a mile away. 
 
"What?" she breathes and tries to calm the wild beating. 
 
"You activated the emergency coin..." His eyes have drifted beside her, to Malfoy now, and once she thinks about it, she can now feel the pulsing heat of it in her pocket. 
 
"We'll wait to see how many of us are dead." Malfoy gives for explanation. 
 
They are mostly silent for twenty minutes, and at the end of their impatience, they find themselves with less than half. Six out of fifteen (eight including the ones too injured to keep there). 
 
"We need a new plan." Malfoy cuts all the edges. 
 
"We need to pull out. We don't have enough people--" Dean starts. 
 
"We do have enough people. It goes like this - we can either go in and finish the job in a sweep, or we can go and have them send us back in with the same amount of people tomorrow," the older blond man beside her cuts in. 
 
They are quiet as the distant sounds of Unforgivables ring out. It is either two Death Eaters in confusion, or one of their own who wasn't able to make it back yet (or at all). 
 
"Fine. Fine. So say we do stay. There's no way the six of us can take on...however many of them there are. Which, I might add, seems like a hell of a lot." The girl, who has a striking resemblance to Ginny, pokes at a section of the wall. 
 
An argument erupts for the span of nearly ten minutes over different tactics that can be attempted, with more bickering than any ground covered, and a lot of people backing out and agreeing depending on the plan. Malfoy, it takes her a few of those minutes to realize, is growing more anxious with each passing one. He shifts, and yanks at his shirt, and rubs at his hands, and constantly pushes his hair off his face. Finally, just as Cho has reached a pitch near inhuman, he breaks. 
 
"We go in as a group." It is amazing how precisely his voice can cut through noise and leave people paying attention. "We'll take the right, around the hedge garden...here." 
 
He moves forward, facing them, and touches the tip of his wand to the ground. He takes a fortifying breath, mutters something to himself, and then begins to draw a game plan in the dirt. 
 
It is the best, most sensible plan she has heard since the very beginning (even back in the boardroom with the professionals), and so she agrees the moment he is done presenting it. Four of the others fall in short order, and after much hesitation, she believes Dean is swayed more by his loyalty to her (or, perhaps, to Harry and Ron) than his distrust of anything Malfoy. 
 
It is the first time she realizes how great of a strategist he is, despite how much he seems to hate being the one to step up and do it. So, when all six of them and the two more they find injured make it out alive and (fairly) well, she thanks him. It is the only thing he gets for coming up with something that saved them and the mission, but he still doesn't even look at her when she says it. 
 
 
Day: 500; Hour: 12 
 
It is pink and light, light purple through the leaves on the trees. The wind blows gentle on her cheek, and she closes her eyes and smiles. 
 
Some pleasures in life are very small, but she enjoys them all the same. 
 
 
Day: 505; Hour: 3 
 
"I'm telling you, there is no way we can pull this off with only eight people!" Hermione slams her hand onto the table, making the coffee in Dean's mug slosh over the side. 
 
"And I am telling you that you don't have a choice! I am a professional--" 
 
"I don't care! I don't care who you are--" 
 
"Hermione," Dean whispers, takes her wrist. 
 
She yanks it away, because she is tired. She is tired of all these professionals waltzing in and shortchanging them on people and supplies, and shipping them out to a badly planned mission. She is so tired of it. 
 
"It's only a recon mission, Hermione. We just have to get past a couple people and get some documents--" Colin tries. 
 
"We need--" 
 
"Fine! Fine, if you have such a problem with it, Granger, then leave." 
 
"Excuse me?" 
 
"Walk out! Go back to your cozy Burrow and home cooked meals, and leave this as a seven person job--" 
 
"I take--" 
 
"Go!" 
 
"No!" 
 
"Go!" 
 
"I said no! I--" 
 
"And I say, that if you don't like the fucking plan, get out. This is what's going to happen. There is no changing it, or fighting about it. You have two options; hate it and leave, or deal with it and stay." 
 
There is silence, and Hermione braces herself against it. Pride is the biggest, most jagged thing to ever work your throat muscles around. Dean tugs again, and she sits. Sits, and stares, and burns up like a fever in her blood.  

Fishier continues smugly, and when he is finished, he stares at her on his journey out of the room. Papers are shuffled and chairs scraped, and Hermione shakes her head. "You guys are honestly satisfied with this plan? Eight people, and he wants us to take these routes in." 
 
Parkinson snorted, though she is one of the last people Hermione expects to reply. "Got a better idea, Granger? Unless you can magic people out of your arse, I don't see any other option." 
 
"We can change the plan at least." Dean shrugs, eying the lines of blue on the board in front of them. 
 
"He's a professional. He knows better about what--" 
 
"I swear, Colin. Shut it up," Hermione breathes, rolling her fingers across the headache in her temples, and meeting his eyes when he looks up from his paper. "We can't split into pairs of two. It's not safe in the least. What if only one pair encounters the whole lot of who will be there?" 
 
"So..." 
 
"So, we'll go in as a group." Hermione stands, swallows, makes her way around the table and to the board. "All eight of us--" 
 
"That's as ridiculous as traveling in pairs, Granger," Malfoy drawls, focusing the room's attention on him. 
 
He looks bored, leaning back and relaxed in his chair, stretching out. The last time she had suggested a change of plans he had been the first one out of the door. The fact that he was still seated and now even participating just enforced how crocked she knew this was. 
 
"Why? If we--" 
 
"Two groups. One from the East, one from the West. Fishier already said the back was barred. We bar the front somehow before we go in. We'll sweep the rooms, meet in the middle, then check the North and South." Parkinson shrugs, and Malfoy stares back at her in what she takes as droll acceptance. 
 
There is a pulse of strangeness in the air. As if everyone were sitting up and paying attention to every word and movement, because they know it is important. If Hermione went with this plan, it was showing a little faith in Parkinson, in Malfoy. In the closest thing to an enemy allowed in these rooms. They stayed because they are willing to see if they can lend any fraction of trust to the idea formed by a Muggle-born. Hermione thinks she might be able to return the favor. 
 
"Alright. Alright, yes," she breathes, clears her throat and turns back to the board with seven waiting and watching eyes locked on her. "So...how are we going to block the front?" 
 
 
Day: 511; Hour: 18 
 
They talk about her behind her back, she knows. Some of them stretch their imagination to find out why it is she trusts Malfoy enough to follow the path he forges. Hermione will tell them, if given the opportunity, that it is because, no matter who he is or what he's done, she is willing to use the skills he has to further the advantage to their side. Hermione may be stubborn and proud, but the last thing she would do is sabotage herself and friends over her dislike for someone else.  
 
If Malfoy is willing to give, then why shouldn't they take? Hermione is cautious of Malfoy, because she knows that he is dangerous. Perhaps not in the sense that he is a spy for Voldemort, because she thinks he wouldn't have helped at all so far. But she leaves that as a possibility, because she knows that he might be planning on sinking deeper into their circle by playing their game. Yet, she knows for a fact, that Malfoy is dangerous as a person. He was volatile, prone to fits of anger, and she always made sure to stay on guard when she was around him. At the same time, she gives him enough reluctant trust to let him lead, because he's good at it -- and Hermione has far too many worries over the other side to think too much about anything that may come from hers.  
 
Guards are moving up between her and them, her fellow Order members, but she waits out the whispers and rumors, because there is always a price to be paid for doing something good.  
 
 
Day: 522; Hour: 20 
 
"Rewrite it." 
 
"What?" 
 
Hermione tosses the marker to him, and it spins across the table and into the palm he has placed at the edge to block it from falling. She realizes that he probably will refuse simply on the grounds of her 'ordering' him, so she backtracks. 
 
"I've been to this place before. In fact, I'm pretty sure you were on that mission with me, Malfoy. This layout isn't even accurate. The infiltration is good until we hit the doors, and after that, this whole plan is shot. I think you should rewrite it." 
 
"Hermione... are you crazy?" Seamus leans forward, shaking his head slowly. 
 
Malfoy stares at her across the room, still seemingly in a state of surprise. Then Pansy is whispering something in his ear, and by the look on her face, Hermione doesn't know if it's something negative about her or about Malfoy. She guesses the latter, considering the hard look he throws at the pinched-face girl. Sliding his chair back, he falters for a second, and then rounds the table. 
 
"Are you fucking serious--" 
 
"Seamus, don't talk to me like that. That language is completely unnecessary," Hermione whispers, leaning away from his hiss in her ear. 
 
"We're bringing you to St. Mungo's--" 
 
"She has her angry face on now." Dean sniffs. 
 
"Let's just see what he has to say." Neville breaks up the oncoming storm. 
 
Seamus throws his hands palm up and shakes his head at the other man. Neville only nods to where Malfoy is squiggling and crossing on the board. 
 
"If we hate it, we tell the wanker to go sod off. If we like it, we'll do it." 
 
"He could be in cahoots with the Death--" 
 
"Just stop, Seamus." Hermione shakes her head, but she is watching Malfoy's tactic play out on the board. 
 
"You, of all people--" 
 
"I don't trust him, Seamus! He just... he pulled us out of a really bad situation a few weeks ago, and he's good. He's here to fight for our side. I don't know why, but he is, so we should use his abilities as much as we can!" 
 
Seamus snorts and guffaws, but he will follow by the end of it. They all will. 
 
 
Day: 524; Hour: 21 
 
When Pansy sits in the worn recliner diagonal from her, she does not have the faintest idea that she will end up talking to her for well over three hours. It is full of uncomfortable pauses and awkward shifts, and is about everything and nothing all at once. 
 
Hermione is desperate for communication, she realizes. She needs conversation and with someone other than herself, and perhaps Pansy does as well, and that is why they don't walk away from one another even when it feels so right to do so. They don't speak of war, or Malfoy, or Harry and Ron, but they speak -- and that is enough. 
 
 
Day: 538; Hour: 15 
 
They hit a long period of time where absolutely nothing happens. She knows that the Death Eaters are planning something, but she also knows that her side is planning just as fervently, and that it is not her job to plan. So she waits, waits, and waits, and so much time passes that she finds herself feeling like she did before the war. Like knowing it is going to come, but not really grasping it. She is so used to empty time, and reading books, and visiting friends, that she feels safe when she closes her eyes at night. Her birthday is worry free, and almost normal, and with far more friends showing up than last year. 
 
After such a long time, when she hears the undercurrent of news sweep up from the floorboards of the safe houses that there is a team going out to infiltrate a Death Eater hideout, she goes back into the mind of war with something else to fight for. She wants it as badly in her bones as she needs her equality. 
 
She wants peace
 
Because it is the most beautiful feeling she's ever known. 
 
 
Day: 582; Hour: 10 
 
He had come because of Pansy. 
 
Pansy, who decided to turn traitor to her family ties. Pansy, who no one ever saw coming. He didn't trust her to be alone, and his only other option was leaving her at it and running until someone caught up. He chose to take his punishment, and remain by the side of his only friend who hadn't received the Mark burned into their forearm. He showed up with his wand drawn, offering information, money, and the Manor. He was Stupefied and locked in the Ministry holding cells for a month (though it would have been longer had it not been for Pansy) before anyone would take him up on it. 
 
He loved her, Hermione knows, though she isn't sure if it's in the way of friendship or a beloved. They didn't hold hands, or touch one another, or share smiles. But she had seen him take Pansy to his bed four times, and saw him kiss her once just as shadows against a dark blue curtain fell. Still, she had seen friends reach for friends before, and Draco and Pansy had not been the first unsure couple she had witnessed emerging from a bedroom in the morning. 
 
She died with Hermione still unsure. Sometimes she thinks about his reaction. Sometimes she imagines him violent and in a spitting rage; other times, she sees him silent and mournful, and with such a beautiful sadness it could clean rip your heart out of your chest. All the same, she was dead. Dead, and gone, and lost like the others, and Draco's mourning just melded into the air of war. It no longer mattered if he was in love with Pansy, or if he thought to marry her, or that if they were a couple, they didn't act like it. All that mattered was that he had loved her, in some way, and that the rebellious girl with jet-black hair and a fierce glare was the reason he was here. 
 
She saw him, at her funeral. She felt awkward and unsure, but she had known Pansy in a distant sort of way, and she felt loss with her passing. No one really questioned her request to go, besides a slightly interested look from Lupin, and she had stuck to the back of the small gathering. Her eyes had looked to the blond more than they should have, but it is in her nature to be ready for someone else's breakdown. He did nothing though, but stood and stared, and he stayed when it was over. She whispered something she can't now recall when she passed him, aiming for something brief and soothing, but he just kept staring at the gravestone. She imagines his loss must be something like how it would feel to lose one of her best friends, and it made the sadness sharper to her somehow. There was sympathy for him, and it was something she never thought she would feel in regards to the blond. 
 
He seemed to have lost his footing a little after Pansy died. Hermione imagines he looked around himself and wondered what he was doing and why he was even still there. Then, after two months and one week, he was suddenly back. Back with all the conviction of revenge, and fighting for something more than just survival. Hermione is pretty sure he is still fighting for Pansy; probably for a lot of other reasons too, but for her most of all. 
 
It was this sort of loyalty, and the kind that led him there to begin with, that first intrigued her about him. That made her see the first thin link between him and her - their fierce devotion to their friends, damn the consequence. Though, while Hermione was devoted to nearly everyone, he seemed only devoted to Pansy. Only very few people earned that position in his life, where they deserved his loyalty. After Pansy died, he switched that loyalty to the cause, though it really was still for her
 
If Pansy had died earlier, she doesn't think he would have stayed. He was so uncomfortable in his skin around them, and had he not had enough time to grow so used to that feeling, she suspects he would have walked out the second he got the news. Would be in some distant country, removed so far from the option of sides, the name of a traitor, the ghost of the past, the hardships of war and the debt of a Malfoy, that he could fade into obscurity and live his life alone and away from all the reminders of who he was and who he tried to be. 
 
But, he hadn't. 
 
He stayed. 
 
Draco Malfoy has something to prove, she figures. To Pansy, to his father, to them, to himself; any or all, she doesn't know. But he is out for something more than what he had ever come in with. Hermione doesn't know if he'll ever find it. 
 
 
Day: 619; Hour: 7 
 
"I heard we're winning." 
 
Hermione gives Anthony a sharp look. "There's no way to possibly know that." 
 
"More Death Eaters have been captured or killed in the past three months than we've had on our side." 
 
"That doesn't always mean something." Lavender joins the conversation from the porch, a slim cigarette resting between her fingers. She picked up the dirty habit a month ago, when she came back from the Muggle world after three weeks. 
 
"Sure it does. Look, they are losing more, and the war is cooling down. We don't have as many battles or Death Eater occurrences anymore--" 
 
"That's because they thought they could defeat us by going all out in the beginning. They just wanted to attack, attack, attack without any real planning behind it. Take us by surprise and overwhelm us. When it stopped working, they stopped doing it. It's going into more strategy now." Dean speaks up from the broom he is polishing to be ready for the Quidditch match they are playing at Grimmauld tomorrow. 
 
A group of them decided it was time to release some tension in a friendly match, which quickly turned into three matches, with the amount of people who decided they want to play. It is a show of how different things have turned now, Hermione thinks, because there had never been time or energy for that in the beginning of this all. 
 
 
Day: 630; Hour: 14 
 
There are footsteps coming down the hall, and when they pause, Hermione turns her head over her shoulder to look at Malfoy. For a moment he seems just as surprised to see her, but then it is gone, and his eyes are on the sink as he moves toward it. Hermione blinks and looked back out the window, where Ginny is grinning as she teases the other team for the goal she just scored. 
 
"Why aren't you out there?" She isn't sure why she even asked, but there it is, hanging in the silence he creates.  

At first she doesn't think he will answer, but then he makes a sound in his throat over the running water from the tap. "I fight enough not to volunteer myself for another." 
 
"It's a game." 
 
"Is that so." It's not a question, because they both know the answer. Every Bludger in the air would find its way to Malfoy's head. Hermione doesn't know why she didn't realize this first, but perhaps she did, and just wanted to try and take the awkwardness out of the air. 
 
She feels bad for bringing it up, despite who he is, because that is her nature. She never intends to cause other people hurt, unless they deserve it. She hasn't spoken or even been in close proximity with Malfoy since Pansy died, so he hasn't done anything to deserve any cruelty from her. As far as she has heard, Malfoy has been just as much a part of Order's side as she has been since the war began. Sometimes she gets so caught up in the present, that she forgets she can damn him for the past. And a lot of times, she gets so concentrated on what is wrong now, that she forgets to care about the past at all. Why taunt a member of her own side when there was a war to fight? She puts it down to maturity, or something she doesn't understand. 
 
She imagines herself on that tower sometimes, but not as herself, but Malfoy. She imagines the circumstance she heard he was under, and pictures what Dumbledore must look like through slate grey eyes that never saw any help come from the twinkling blue across from him. She thinks about her wand held out in front of her, and why she must do it, but always fails when she tries to find out if she would. What if it was Snape, with loyalties to the other side? Her wand would level out, she thinks. Would she be able to follow through, knowing what was on the line? Maybe now. Yes, now, maybe. And she hates herself for that just a little, because she knows she can kill when it comes to the choice between herself and her friends, against a Death Eater.  

Draco Malfoy couldn't. Not then, at that point, just as much as she is not sure she could have then either. It is strange, looking through the scope of Malfoy's life, and wondering. If she just changed some of the key players, what if it had been her? She thinks about it a lot, because now when there is hardly anyone around she knows, there is a lot of thinking to be done. Malfoy's name comes up, or she sees him across lengths, and she thinks. And, most of the time, she understands. Because Hermione has always been the sort of person who wanted, and could see the world through someone else's vantage point. Not a Death Eater, not an enemy, but someone who might prove themselves to be something more worthy than her hate. 
 
So she pictures it as herself at that tower, with the Order creeping through the passage she opened for them, and an enemy to their side standing across from her. Her parents and herself are on the line, and all her friends as well, because if she can achieve it, she would mark an important victory to her side. Does she do it? 
 
And at the moment when those pretend emotions manifest themselves into her body, until they are boiling up and choking her at the base of her throat, her view will change. It will be Malfoy, standing across from her, and her through the eyes of Dumbledore, and suddenly her understanding of why Malfoy did it will rest entirely on Dumbledore's understanding. But she will never know the answer, will she? Not ever.  

Malfoy is gone by the time she pulls herself from her thoughts, and the Quidditch game continues with just as much good cheer as it had begun. 
 
 
Day: 640; Hour: 10 
 
The Death Eaters attack three villages on Christmas Day, and there is only Ginny, Fred, and herself at the Burrow. They try conversation, and getting into the holiday spirit, but are too worried and the day feels nothing like Christmas at all. 
 
Instead, they wait until they are sure that everyone they are going to order to go has already gone, and get drunk off cheap champagne and eggnog. 
 
 
Day: 643; Hour: 12 
 
Moody walks in step with Malfoy, and it is the first time she has seen the patch over his eye in so many months that it looks strange now. She is stunned by their sudden appearance across the street in Muggle England, and wonders what it is they are doing here, despite that it is information she is likely not privy too. Just as much as Malfoy is not privy to the reason why she is there. 
 
They are speaking, and Moody suddenly looks amused before clamping a hand over Malfoy's shoulder and replying to what was said. Hermione blinks at the contact because Moody isn't one for it, and it's gone before she fully acknowledges that it was there. Malfoy must have done something to please him, as that small gesture was all that Harry ever received from the man when he had achieved something Moody thought an accomplishment. It feels odd seeing him give Malfoy the same acknowledgment, and she almost runs straight into the woman in front of her from being so distracted. 
 
When she looks up again, Moody and Malfoy are both looking back at her, and Moody gives a slight nod before her view is blocked by a bus. When it passes, they are gone.

 

 

Four by everythursday

 

Day: 645; Hour: 11 
 
Hermione had passed them again yesterday, which marked it twice in a row, and couldn't help but wonder what they were doing there. This afternoon she delivered the package handed to her that morning and received another to take back with her. She has no idea what any of the packages over the past three days have contained, but being a delivery girl at the moment is a lot more appealing than what she had been doing a month ago. 
 
"Granger." Hermione spins quickly, nearly falling over the man brushing past her, and stares white-faced back at Moody. He doesn't look impressed. 
 
She wonders if he had been waiting for her, as she had passed him the last two days at the same time going in the opposite direction. Now it is later, and she is on her way home, but there he is. "Sir." 
 
Malfoy stands just behind and to the side of Moody, his eyes somewhere above her head. She had thought they were done with whatever they were doing when she had failed to pass them earlier. 
 
"I believe you acquired something of importance to myself. We'll have lunch." She doesn't think she has ever heard Moody make anything less than demands. 
 
She nods, slightly, and waits for him to begin to walk so she can follow him to the location. She makes sure to stay beside him, so she does not feel like a tag-along, and so she is not behind Malfoy. Malfoy seems to have the same idea however, and takes the spot on the other side of Moody.  

Lunch is a strange affair, and when all she orders is a cup of tea, she is greeted with glances from both men. She has not been eating much, she knows, and is aware that it shows a little. Sometimes she can eat like she is ravenous, and other times it is days that she goes with soup or crackers before she eats much of anything at all. 
 
"I said lunch, not tea time." Moody stares at her until she orders a salad, and when he continues to stare, she orders fish, though she knows she will not eat it. 
 
There is not much conversation, though she notices that Malfoy and Moody seem far more relaxed in one another's presence than she would have ever thought. It reminds her of the pat to the shoulder she had seen a few days ago, and wonders just how much time they have spent together. Malfoy was constantly involved in missions, she had heard, and maybe that was why. 
 
Hermione breaks the silence by asking Moody questions to be sure of his identity. With the incident at Hogwarts, the fact that they were at war, and the odd timing of today, she knew she could not be too sure. Moody seems to know this as well, and though he scowls at her through the whole process, he responds to her inquiries. 
 
Malfoy stayed relatively silent as they ate, and spends most of the time staring out the window in front of him. His shoe scuffed hers when he sprawled out his legs more under the table, but he didn't acknowledge that he had. 
 
Moody stood with the package safely tucked into his coat and left to pay the bill. Hermione searches for something to say in the tense air left at the table, and when Malfoy seems to recognize that she is doing so, he levels his eyes on her. The last hint of the sun turns his eyes bright and takes the tint of yellow from his platinum hair. For a moment she is comparing and contrasting the differences in the structure of his face, until his solid gaze makes her uncomfortable. He still leaves it on her once she's looked away, and it remains until they stand and must head for the door. 
 
"I'll see you at home at eight," Moody tells her, and they move in the opposite direction before she has a chance to respond. 
 
 
Day: 645; Hour: 17 
 
Padma lets out a huff of breath between her teeth and shakes her head. 
 
"Is there a problem, Patil?" Moody turns his eyes toward her, his face just as stern as it had been when he announced the news. 
 
"No." She lingers over words, unsure, and then rushes on. "I just don't understand why we have to have a... leader." She turns her disapproving eyes toward Malfoy, who seems bored in the center of the room. 
 
"Yes, I suppose you wouldn't, considering the dismal mission you helped to fail two weeks ago," Moody snaps, and she blushes. "A leader is someone skilled enough for the position, and who can be turned to if the need for a backup plan comes during the mission. A leader eliminates procrastination on what to do, like your team's three hour indecision last mission, and provides a plan everyone must follow immediately to get the job done." 
 
Padma gives a tense nod, avoiding his eyes now. Hermione turns her own attention from the girl and back to Moody. It seems as though she wasn't the only person now to recognize Malfoy's abilities and determine it to be a good option to use them. Moody looks over his shoulder at Malfoy, and the younger man steps forward, laying out the plan. 
 
When he is finished, there is silence. Hermione isn't sure if it is because they all agree, or because Moody seems to have accepted the plan and will refuse for it to be changed. 
 
"Alright. One a.m., front door." 
 
 
Day: 646; Hour: 22 
 
Hermione shoves the cloth of her shirt into her mouth to stop herself from coughing too loudly. Someone had just blown a hole through one of the stone walls, and the dust of rock is choking up her lungs. 
 
She is bleeding. She had taken a rock to her left arm, and she is nearly positive that it is broken. She holds it over the wound at her side, but can't help but be thankful it was the most damage the Death Eater could do before Neville got him. She thinks she is bleeding at her back as well, hit with a slashing curse, because she can feel it burning and the waistband of her pants are wet. 
 
The slashing curse hit her just seconds after she lost sight of Anthony's back, and that was near the beginning. She knows she has been bleeding for a while now, and isn't sure if it is that or the lack of clean oxygen that is making her dizzy. Neville had found her, and she had followed him through corridors until this last explosion. He has been out of her sight for at least a quarter of an hour, and she has found no one but a single Death Eater. 
 
Her panic is a solid mass inside her chest, her heart beating wildly, and she has to feel along the wall as she walks just to keep her balance. Neville had told her they had found the pensieve they had come for, which is good, because Hermione has been to more than one mission in which the Order's spies have been wrong. They must have been pulling out now, she knew, and she is horrified at the thought that they might have left her. 
 
Her mind is disoriented, her feet clumsy as she tries to remember how to get out. Her cloak, with her Portkey wadded inside one of the pockets, was left beneath the rock and debris that had fallen on it. Hermione supposes it was just her luck to have taken it off before the explosion. If she hadn't been hit in the side and decided to use a scrap of it to wrap around her middle, she would be out of here by now.  

She hears rushed feet behind her, and turns. The world spins with her, speeding up, and whirls until she hits the ground. Her wand is still up, pointed at the figure until her vision clears enough and she can see it is Neville. She lowers her wand, bracing tired fingers against the rough stone floor, but then she is hauled to her feet with no attempt by herself. She panics, a strangled cry forcing its way out of her stone-dust covered lips as the arm tightens around her and she's pressed against moving hardness with a grunt from behind her. She points her wand at the arm pressing so hard into her, but the world tips and blinks to black. 
 
For a dread-filled moment, she is sure she has fallen to unconsciousness, but then suddenly there is Anthony and Terry in front of her against bright blue walls and blinding lights. She registers that mercifully, she can't be held captive by a Death Eater given the distant familiarity of the safe house they are in. Neville appears before her, looking disorientated himself, and then she is gone again. She closes her eyes, a mew rising up from her throat as she grabs the arm around her for some semblance of balance, and holds back the need to vomit from all the spinning. 
 
Grimmauld Place then, and it is three seconds after her arrival of utter silence before the living room bursts into activity. The arm releases her as Lupin performs a Levitation spell on her, and questions are thrown out as he brings her to what she assumes will be the small, makeshift infirmary. As she struggles to keep her nerves calm and focus, she raises her head, bypassing the image of a surprised Lavender and Colin, and settles her eyes on the figure directly ahead of her. Malfoy stands, staring after her, covered in her blood. 
 
Her dirty, dirty blood. 
 
 
Day: 662; Hour: 9 
 
The window is open, and Hermione half expects to see water covering the wall beneath, but it is dry. The rain is coming down in a constant heavy shower, and the wind flaps the summer green leaves wildly in its wake. Thunder rumbles, and halts, and rumbles deeper, and for a moment Hermione forgets she is a witch and worries that the power will go out. 
 
It has been just under three weeks since she last saw Malfoy, blood-caked, in the living room at Grimmauld Place. She has thought a lot about it since, and could see like a photograph, the image of him at the back of her eyelids. She wonders constantly how he must have felt that night, with Mud blood all over him. He had done it willingly though. He had come from behind, when she didn't have her cloak, and he must have seen. 
 
She imagines the old Draco Malfoy would have left her there, before daring to even come close to the proximity of her 'dirty blood'. Hell, the old Malfoy would have been the one to cause it, in all likelihood. 
 
Had his beliefs changed so drastically? There had still been this part of her that was holding out for the fallout of him. That was waiting for him to be found out for spying on them, and that all the things she had seen from him had simply been his way to dig into them deeper. Yet he had still passed the Veritaserum test when he was still in jail, and the Legilimency test after that, hadn't he? Or else he wouldn't have been there at all. And even if he had somehow managed to find his way around the truth being found out then, if he was really still a Death Eater at heart, why would he have touched her at all, let alone bloody, when he could have waited for Neville to Portkey her out? A Death Eater, undercover or not, would have never done such a thing. 
 
And isn't that a startling truth. Malfoy was on their side, he must have been -- and perhaps he was fighting for a different reason, but the fact remained that he was still fighting for them. His old beliefs and prejudices must have tapered off somewhere, and maybe it was at the top of a tower, or the first time he put the orange Phoenix cloth around his arm, or when he buried Pansy Parkinson. But they had all the same, to a good enough extent that he was here with the same purpose as the rest of them. To win the war, to defeat Voldemort, no matter how much Muggle blood he got all over his expensive trousers or Pure blood he would end up with on his hands. 
 
She watches him now, through the window, a clot of black and a flare of white. The sun is low as the rain drizzles out, the clouds moving to shine down golden through the layers of trees. Fog wraps around the branches, and with the light, it looks as if it is raining tiny drops of the sun. Malfoy is standing in front of two large oaks, his boots sunk in mud, and himself soaking wet. 
 
Hermione doesn't know why he stands there, waiting out the rain, or why he leans his shoulder against one of the trunks like he's going to keep on waiting. It's very odd, but there's a sort of peace in the set of his bones that she has never seen before. 
 
Later, he will walk in to find her sitting at the table, and his feet will slosh in the water inside his boots when he steps. She will briefly think of thanking him for the last mission in the same sort of way he had 'thanked' her many missions before, but will decide to be the better person. It will escape her in a rush, and he will pause with his back to her and his foot poised to step out of the kitchen. He will reply low and raspy, as if he hadn't used his voice in months, and tell her if it hadn't been him then it would have been someone else. 

But it was you, she will say, and he will keep walking. 
 
 
Day: 665; Hour: 8 
 
She had written a four-page letter to Harry and Ron two months ago, and never received a reply. She finds the envelope unopened on Arthur Weasley's desk as he talks to her about the possibility of using Muggle communication devices. He pauses in his excitement, and she looks up after a moment to meet a gaze that is far quieter in emotions than she has ever seen on him. 
 
"No letters in or out yet, Hermione." 
 
"That was two months ago." 
 
He pushes hers aside, revealing another envelope. "Mine has been waiting for three." 
 
 
Day: 667; Hour: 3 
 
Lavender is sitting at the table at one in the morning, and Hermione has to pause in her step at the way she looks so flustered. Lavender hasn't look flustered since the last Hogwarts' ball, as far as Hermione's recollection goes, and it's a damn good one. 
 
"What's wrong?" 
 
"It was just...strange." 
 
"What was?" 
 
Lavender looks at her for a very long time, until she realizes that Hermione isn't walking away without an answer. "I just slept with Malfoy." 
 
Hermione can feel her head pull back in surprise, though she doesn't know why she is so surprised. Lavender sleeps with a lot of people. People sleep with a lot of people. "Oh." 
 
"He was... He was rough, but I was expecting it. But he didn't even look at me. Not once. Just pushed my knickers and his pants down and...did it." 
 
"You didn't want him to?" Hermione hears her voice go thick and quick, because it does that when she feels the need to move but doesn't allow herself to. 
 
"No, no, I did." Her muscles unclench and she lets the breath out from the ball in her throat. "But...it was so odd. And then he just waited for not even two seconds, let go of me, pulled up his trousers, and nodded at the door." 
 
"Oh." 
 
"I feel... used." Hermione briefly wonders if Lavender realizes that 'using' is exactly what all the men have done with her. "I mean, I'm the one who approached him. I didn't know if he would give in, but he's gone a couple of months from what I hear--" 
 
"You approached him?" It must have taken some gall on her part. 
 
"Why not? Touch a man's chest and tell them you don't have any knickers on, and--" 
 
"Classy." 
 
Lavender rolled her eyes. "It's not that hard to make them interested when you are, I mean. But then he just made this sound, which bothered me. Like he had offers all day and had to keep throwing them off or something, when I know no one around here--" 
 
"Lavender, I really--" 
 
"And then he just shoved me into the wall, no foreplay or anything. He didn't even kiss me, which was so odd. I mean, it wasn't bad. I just... didn't expect that. That's never happened to me before. Usually a man wants to touch me all--" 
 
"Good night." Hermione's face contorted as she turned from the kitchen, because she doesn't want to hear about Lavender's sex life in the least. 
 
Thinking of Lavender's sex life was odd enough for her, but Malfoy's was even further out of that range. She had heard at Hogwarts when he dated Pansy, and then another Slytherin, she could never remember the name of. Besides a few overheard conversations on the Slytherin's attractiveness, that had been about all she heard on the matter. She might have known that he was having sex with Pansy, or at least thought so, and perhaps one or two others, but it wasn't something she had to think about. Or worse, be supplied the details of, as Lavender just attempted. 
 
Now she has to go through life knowing Malfoy's rough in bed, and Lavender likes to be touched all over. Wonderful. 
 
 
Day: 669; Hour: 2 
 
"Is it horrible to say that I always thought it was so cheesy when I arrived at Hogwarts and found out witches really do fly on brooms?" 
 
"Why is that cheesy?" Ginny comes to a halt and hovers beside her. 
 
"Because it was almost like a joke or something. In the Muggle world, it was a cliché in all the books and movies that witches rode on brooms, cackling in front of the moon or something." 
 
Ginny gives her a bemused look. "It's the truth, though, isn't it?" 
 
Hermione shrugs after giving the ground a hard look. "I suppose it depends on what you know first. That affects everything you perceive after." 
 
Ginny nods sagely, and flies around Hermione's unmoving form again. "That's life, Hermione. Hop on." 
 
"What?" 
 
"Hop on. You're bored, I can see it. Terribly bored, and I'm just as bored just floating here with you ground-ridden. So get on." 
 
"I don't like to fly, Ginny, you know that--" 
 
"Oh, yes. The big, tough Gryffindor afraid of heights." Hermione glowers and Ginny laughs. "Come on." 
 
Hermione eyes the broom in speculation, and then the woman astride it. "I don't know." 
 
Ginny dips her head before making her voice deeper. "I promise I'll be gentle." 
 
Hermione barks a laugh and shakes her head. "Will you hold me tight?" 
 
"With my rippling muscles, love." 
 
"You're an idiot." 
 
"And you're a coward." Ginny grins, dropping the manly act and tapping the front of the broom. "Come here and ride my stick." 
 
"Oh, my God! Ginny!" Hermione blushes hot red and laughs at the same time, embarrassed because all sexual innuendo makes her embarrassed, even when it's nothing more than a joke. 
 
She climbs on in the end, and Ginny doesn't pull any tricks and keeps the broom low, and Hermione forgets about everything but having fun with a friend for the first time in a very, very long time. 
 
 
Day: 674; Hour: 12 
 
She wonders how long he stood in the doorway watching her devour her food before she spotted him. She had just been depraved of food for almost three days except for a small package of biscuits she had to sustain herself with. Needless to say, as soon as she arrived at the stark white house, she headed right for the kitchen. 
 
She hasn't seen him in close proximity for weeks, since the morning after Lavender's confession. Even then, he had been in the other room as Lavender gave him saucy looks and he completely ignored her. Lavender had eventually given up and retreated to Hermione's side, where she once again ran commentary on his weirdness. 
 
"Is there anything left?" She can't make out his facial features in the darkness, but he sounds amused, and it surprises her. 
 
"I'm hungry," she snaps back, because she is, and she is also moody when she's starving to death. 
 
When he emerges into the kitchen fully, there is no trace of amusement on his face. She isn't sure if that's because of her reply, or if she has just imagined it in the first place. She feels minutely bad for snapping at him, especially as he may not have meant it in a bad context, and so offers him back up the middle ground. Malfoy may not deserve her feeling bad about anything when it came to him, but she had always made steps in her life to prevent herself from stepping on anyone who was being trampled on by everyone else. 

Considering that they hadn't gotten into a physical altercation in nearly a year, she figures she's allowed to feel a little bad for being mean if she wants. "There's noodles left in the pot if you want them." 
 
He digs around in the pantry instead, which is good, because when he emerges with a can of soup she takes the rest of the noodles for herself. He stands and watches her while she unloads the rest into her bowl, and it makes her nervous. 
 
"What?" 
 
"There's only one pot in the house, Granger." He explains this as if he has had to explain it to her every day for the past year. 
 
"Oh. Sorry." The apology slips out without a thought, and it immediately makes her uncomfortable that she just apologized to him of all people. 
 
He says nothing, but looks at her for a long moment before accepting the pot when she holds it out for him. He turns for the sink and grabs the washcloth, and she is struck by the oddness of Draco Malfoy doing dishes. He is probably aware of this, or of her watching him, or just of her being there at all, because his back and shoulders are set in rigid lines as he turns on the tap. 
 
"Have you been here long?" She knows what persuaded her to ask; she hasn't spoken to another individual in over a week, and there is desperation here. 
 
He doesn't seem willing to answer her, so she sits and shifts, and waits for him to speak or leave. The tap turns off, and she hears him squeeze the washcloth dry. Ron, Harry, Lavender, and Dean never squeeze them dry, and it has always annoyed her to no end. 
 
"Long enough." And this could have meant two minutes to her, with as much as this particular house gave her the creeps. 
 
He moves to the stove to set the pot down, and she watches out of the corner of her eye as he moves for the can opener in the drawer. The faint light from the window hits his shirt and she sucks in a breath. 
 
"You're injured." 
 
"Actually, this is the tomato sauce you somehow managed to get on the end of the counter." He is annoyed, and when she looks harder, she can see the dark wetness around it where he must have tried to wash it out. 
 
"It's not like I did it on purpose." 
 
"Perhaps you should clean up after yourself." 
 
"I didn't see it, Malfoy." 
 
"Then turn on the fucking light," he snaps, flinging a hand toward the light switch and shooting her with a quick glare. 
 
Hermione chews her pasta with narrowed eyes aimed on him. "It's just sauce." 
 
He turns and just stares at her, his body set tight and his jaw clenched, as if she can tell all that he wants to reply with through his eyes and body posture. But she does despite her annoyance that he thinks she can, because it was just sauce. Which was why he was bothered with it, but not angry enough to bring it up. She had been the one to do so. 
 
She does not know what to say, so she doesn't say anything at all, and turns back to the bowl in front of her. Malfoy's soup can hits the trash bin a little harder than necessary. 
 
 
Day: 685; Hour: 15 
 
Malfoy leaves the white house after a week and a half that had been filled with the occasional conversation that either ended in annoyance or awkward silence. Hermione had found herself relating to Malfoy in the fact that they both didn't have anyone else to bother with. Not just at the house, but in general. Hermione was alone or with strangers more than she was ever with her friends, and she had figured Malfoy was in the same situation more so than herself. Besides the slight acceptance he had seemed to gain from Moody, she doubted he spoke to anyone else. 
 
Except herself, now. Even that was forced and strange, and usually didn't last more than five exchanged sentences. He kept looking at her as if she was trying to find out how to gut him, and she couldn't exactly blame him. She may have wanted to talk to him because there was no one else, but she had the ulterior motive of finding out where Malfoy sat in life as well. She was a curious girl, and always had been, and Malfoy was something she had been wondering about since she had first seen him in that interrogation room.  

Though most of the time they had spent at the house was used up with ignoring one another, or with Hermione searching for common conversation that always floundered, she is definitely lonelier now with him gone. Not that he provided much in the way of stimulation, but there had been someone there at least and that she could recognize. 
 
Two days after he left she would be thankful for a stranger to fill the void. 
 
 
Day: 695; Hour: 18 
 
Most of the Aurors she encountered were older than her, and usually completely ignored her. They would sit and drink, or stay in their room, or huddle off in corners to whisper about things no one else was allowed to know. The few times she actually attempted to discuss something, even so much as the wallpaper, and she was immediately shutdown. 
 
They acted as if she were trying to glean information out of them or something. She personally thought they were all stuck on themselves and self-importance, and it bothered her to no end. As if they couldn't find something to discuss with her because she wasn't a high level Order member, or because she was so much younger. 
 
Besides the occasional surprise brief conversation over a book or television show, they were mostly lost to her. That was the exact reason why her trunk contained more books than garments. She read each day, all day, for the past week. She woke, she read, she ate, she read, she went to bed, and then repeated the process. Her eyes are tired and itchy by the eighth day, and she finds herself closing them to look at nothing at all for an hour. 
 
It begins to rain, her eyes still shut and the book still open in her hand, and she moves without really thinking of what she is doing. Thunderclaps are loud and startling across the sky, and lighting flashes white in front of the open window. She blames the window for being open, and therefore reminding her of the memory she had forgotten under piles of her life. 
 
The rain is hard against her tired skin, and ice cold, and by the time she is outside for a single minute, she feels numb. She carries on however, her untied boots sloshing in puddles and mud, until she finds a large oak tree in the middle of the dotted woods. She remembers Malfoy, relaxed and content in a body that had previously always looked as if it were trying to escape its skin, and she leans her shoulder against the trunk. 
 
Her clothes stick to her body, rivers of water cascading down her skin, and her hair weights and plasters itself to her head, face, and neck. She turns her face up, allowing the droplets to beat down against it. She looks up to the fog, to the skyline, and breathes until she's so lost in nature that she can't find the mind to be lost in anything else. 
 
 
Day: 701; Hour: 11 
 
Hermione groans as she shoves the door open, tugging her trunk behind her. She thinks she seriously needs to get rid of some of her book load, but she knows she will regret it when she's alone again. 
 
Neville looks up at her from the couch, and she finds Malfoy's gaze lifting up from the coffee table to meet hers as well. Both men are hunched forward over some sort of map, and Malfoy begins to roll it up before he even looks away from her. Hermione breathes out, the breath crackling in her chest, and she sniffs loudly as she kicks the door shut behind her. 
 
"Hey, Hermione." 
 
"Hey," she cracks. 
 
"Sick?" 
 
"Yeah." 
 
"I guess it's going around then." Neville winces. 
 
"No. No, I just got uh... caught in the rain." Hermione waves in an obtuse manner that likely makes him think it was about a mission or some such. 
 
She still isn't sure if the hour of mind-numbing relief was worth the week long cold that doesn't seem to want to go away. She isn't sure what even possessed her to follow Malfoy's unvoiced advice, but she puts it down to temporary insanity. A lot of people got away with that during war, she had heard. 
 
"Is it freezing in here, or is it just me?" 
 
Neville eyes her in her sweater and heavy robe while he sits in a T-shirt and shorts, and gave a small, sympathetic smile that she had never seen anyone pull off better than Neville. "I'll make you some tea. Or cocoa?" 
 
"Mm. Surprise me." Hermione shrugs, and leaves her trunk at the door, throwing herself down onto the loveseat. 
 
"Draco, can I get that blanket behind you?" Hermione's head snaps up, and her snot is nearly allowed to pass the border of her nostrils because she is too surprised to even sniff. 
 
Malfoy pulls the blanket off the back of the recliner and tosses it to the arm of the couch she's on rather than to the patiently waiting Neville. Neville throws her a smile as she slowly pulls the blanket toward herself, eyeing the two of them warily. Since when did Neville start calling Malfoy anything other than... well, Malfoy? She wonders just how long the two had interacted with one another for Malfoy to not even give a look at the sound of his first name coming from the other man. 
 
Neville disappears into the hall as Hermione decides to ask him later. Malfoy turned his attention to the notebook on his lap during her distraction, and she finds him working through the fringe hanging in front of his face as he scribbles something down. 
 
The blanket is warm, though she doesn't know if it's from the house or Malfoy's back, but probably the latter. She cuddles up to it anyway, wrapping it around herself snugly. She doesn't notice the silence, and only manages a few sips of the tea Neville returns with before she is too lazy to keep holding it. She watches through bleary eyes as Malfoy studies his notebook and Neville thinks, and she is lulled to sleep by the soft murmur of their conversation. 
 
When she wakes, it takes her several long moments to realize that it must be a different day. Malfoy sits in the same spot she had last seen him, now in different clothes, as he traces a bright pink line of a highlighter across lines of black on the paper in front of him. She can't see from her distance and the blur of sleep, but she knows the lines are names, because she has seen name sheets in much the same fashion in the meeting rooms. 
 
He sighs, but it is more a movement than a sound, and pushes his hair back from his face. He caps the marker, contemplative as he looks at the list, and then tosses the bright pink tube onto the table. He pulls his feet in, and she realizes that his socks are mismatched, and wonders if he knows this as well. 
 
When she looks back to his face, he is watching her, and Hermione knows how ridiculous it is to close her eyes despite the fact that she does it anyway. Blood rushes up to warm her face, and when she weakly pries her eyelids open again, his expression hasn't changed but for a lifted eyebrow. 
 
"Is that how you hide from the monsters in your closet?" 
 
No, just from the ones on the recliner, she will think to say later. Instead, she blinks, and blinks, and comes out with, "I usually pull the pillows over my head, actually." 
 
He huffs a laugh, seemingly just as surprised with her answer and his own reaction, as she is. "I see your methods are just as effective in all your battles then, Granger." 
 
She takes a moment. "Are you suggesting I hide from everything?" 
 
"No. I'm suggesting you always take the easy way out, even when it isn't going to work." 
 
She glares at him, propping herself up from her balled position. "I don't take the easy way out of anything--" 
 
"No?" 
 
"If I took the easy way out Malfoy, I wouldn't even be here right now." 
 
He stares for a long, pensive moment, before murmuring a reply. "I suppose you're right." 
 
"Furthermore, I don't see where you get off thinking you--" 
 
"Already going at it, then?" Neville appears in the entrance to the hall, waving a tea bag as if it were a white flag. "Hermione?" 
 
She almost doesn't drop it, because she doesn't like to play retreat when it comes to Malfoy, but Neville's face turns grave and tired, and so she does. With a huff and a groggy mumble, she shoves her covers aside, rumpled and a mess as she stands. She can feel Malfoy's eyes on her sleep-ruined and untamed hair, but frankly doesn't care. 
 
She glares at him as she passes, and his eyebrows rise to wrinkle his forehead, the corner of his mouth twitching. "Your socks don't match, by the way." 
 
Perhaps it was childish, or he didn't even care, but she sniffed and raised a haughty nose to him anyway. 
 
"I don't think you'll ever stop fighting with him," Neville tells her, later, when they are seated and she has woken up more. "No matter what. You're not in different Houses, you're not on different sides, but you'll always still fight." 
 
"It doesn't mean we aren't different people. I don't care if Malfoy comes up with every battle winning strategy and starts a foundation to free the house-elves, because there will always be a part of him that will be that arrogant git, and there will always be the part of me who will never forget it." 
 
Neville laughs, and stares down at his tea, and she knows he thinks he is going to say something she won't like before he even speaks. "He's not that bad, Hermione. He's still Malfoy, but... older. More mature. Less dangerous, and cruel. I don't know..." 
 
"I don't know why he's here. I've figured out that it's not for any nefarious reasons, and I know he's become an important part to this war somehow. So maybe he doesn't believe in genocide. Does that make him a good person? I don't think so. I don't know him." 
 
"He's different. He's more... withdrawn or something. But that could be where he is. I don't know. He's just different." 
 
"He is. But how much?" 
 
Neville shrugs and finally meets her eyes. "Enough, maybe." 
 
Hermione shoves her hair back and sighs. "I know he doesn't hold the same beliefs. I know he's a good strategist. I know he basically gave up all he knew just to be here. But I also know he's still arrogant, he's still mean, he's still angry, and he's still a prat. He still says things just to piss me off, and he still does things that tell me he thinks he's better somehow. Especially at fighting. Well, only that, really, that I've had to deal with so far." 
 
"He is pretty good at that." Neville shrugs again. "I'm not saying he's a good person--" 
 
"He could still be a bad person." 
 
"But given the fact that there has been change, I've seen enough to make me willing to give him a shot at seeing just how far the change goes. He's not the best person in the world, but neither are you and neither am I. He saved my life, Hermione. Twice. I'm not going to shut down the possibility of him being an all right bloke, while thinking him a bastard after he did that for me. I can't." 
 
Hermione nods, staring down at the table though all she sees is the rapidly shrinking figure of Malfoy standing with her blood all over his skin and clothes. "He's still a prat." 
 
"He'll always be a prat." 
 
 
Day: 707; Hour: 20 
 
"I think I see you more than I see anyone else." 
 
He probably doesn't know how to respond to this, and that is why he doesn't. 
 
"If you could have one thing in life, what it would be?" 
 
He doesn't answer this at first either, but when he looks up from that notebook she now always sees him with, she thinks he realizes she is going to keep bothering him. He sighs heavily, as if she were a child asking him to turn back time. 
 
"Absolute power." He continues writing, not even sparing her a glance. 
 
Hermione frowns at him, because she has been trying to think of him as Changed Malfoy, and this seems very much like just a Malfoy answer. "Absolute power corr--" 
 
"Upts absolutely. Yes, I know." 
 
"Well, I'm not surprised." 
 
He looks at her then, briefly, and looks superbly annoyed. "And why is that?" 
 
"You've always been on a power trip and looking for more of it." She is honest. 
 
He drops the pretense of the notebook and looks up at her from under his hair and eyelashes, and his forehead wrinkles down. "I suppose you recognize that trait in me, because you know it in yourself." 
 
"Excuse me?" 
 
He exhales hard through his nose and closes the notebook, raising his head to look at her fully. "What do you want out of life, Granger?" 
 
"That's not relevant--" 
 
"It's completely relevant. I answered your question when I didn't want to, now I expect you to do the same." 
 
"I don't care what you expect." 
 
"That's mature." 
 
She glares until her eyes hurt. "I want us to win the war." 
 
"And then?" 
 
She shakes her head with a shrug, searching for the answer in the carpet for a moment. "I don't know. Peace. To finish my last year. To get into a good university. To become a healer, or get a position in the Ministry, maybe. Or maybe I'll be a teacher." 
 
"So, I suppose you'll be able to achieve these things without any power?" 
 
"What?" It seems quite inadequate, her reply, and she knows this. 
 
"You need power to win a war. You need power to maintain peace. You need to find some power within yourself to complete your last year after all of this, and power in your accomplishments to get into a good school. You need power to heal people, or make headway at the Ministry, or to teach people. You--" 
 
"You're twisting my words aro--" 
 
"You twisted mine. I suppose you thought I meant world domination, or what? Pureblood supremacy, perhaps, or to become the new bloody King of England. I want the power to do the things I want to finally finish this bloody war and to move on with my life. You're the one who perceived it to be in a negative aspect, without any indication to what I might want to achieve with that power." 
 
Hermione stares at him and flounders. "Well, the way you said it--" 
 
"Bullocks. Everything needs power in order to work--" 
 
"Well, what am I supposed to think! You may be here, Malfoy, but I don't know why. It's not too hard to look at you and see the same person who called me Mudblood and who tried to kill my Headmaster. What should I think?" She yells this loud enough for the entire house to hear if anyone else was even there. 
 
His face is set in grim lines, his mouth tight, and the veins on his neck let her know he is seething. "I don't give a fuck what you think." 
 
"Why are you here?" He stands, ignoring her as he turns for the door, and so she asks again, and then again, until she is yelling it at his back. 
 
He turns suddenly, so fast she thinks he must have almost lost his balance, and the chords in his neck stand up sharply against the heated red skin when he screams. "Why the fuck do you think I'm here!" 
 
He hasn't meant it to be a question given the way he doesn't wait for a response, but she is on her feet now too, and following after him. "Why should I believe you mean things in a good way, when all I've ever seen from you, is you meaning those same things in a bad way? I--" 
 
"Yes, I'm a right bastard, Granger, aren't I? Volunteering for war, spending days coming up with plans and strategies, and bailing your pathetic asses out of bad situations. I guess this makes me a bad person." 
 
"Don't act like you're some angel--" 
 
He turns from his fast pace down the hall, just to start it back up immediately, but now toward her rather than the bedroom. "No, you're right. I grew up with all this racism caught up around my heart, and I hated you for what you were, and what you did despite it. And even now, after I've changed my ways, it doesn't matter what I do, because I'm still the man who came from that boy, aren't I? And I'm a murderer, of course. Of course. Let us not forget that." 
 
"Just because you've made some changes, it doesn't just mean--" 
 
"You're a hypocrite! Don't act like your hands aren't just as filthy as mine!" He bent his head until she felt his breath on her forehead, his face sinister. "I guess we're both dirty, Granger." 
 
"I do what I have to!" It came out thick and a little strangled, but she has never spoken to anyone about what she has had to do, just as they never do to her. 
 
"We all do in the end, don't we?" He waits as she shakes her head at him, disgust on her features for him and herself. "What do you want me to do? Do you want me to apologize for hurting your feelings in fucking school, like there isn't bigger shit to worry about? Because I'm not going to. I don't know what you fucking people want from me, but this is all I'm giving. If you're not satisfied, fuck off.
 
This time, she lets him walk away. 
 
 
Day: 708; Hour: 7 
 
Perhaps Malfoy did always do what he had to do. He was racist because that was what he was, and there is no excuse for that. It didn't matter if that was what he had been taught, because in the end, it was what he had practiced himself. He had let the Death Eaters in that night, and almost killed Dumbledore, because it was what he had to do. He had come to the Order because it was what he felt he had to do.  

To repent? If so, to himself or to everyone else? For revenge? 
 
And Hermione, as she lay in her bed, thinks that maybe it doesn't matter. The point is that he was there, now, fighting for them -- and doing a good job of it at that. The point was that he had lost all of his old life to start all over by risking his new one nearly every day, and that that was the biggest apology she was going to get from him. Perhaps it didn't matter that there was a part of her that would always be angry with Draco Malfoy, because there was the rest of her that had to be busy being angry with the real enemies. The ones who hadn't begun to seek redemption. 
 
When does redemption begin? She likes to believe it is at the top of a tower, when a boy lowers his wand, his power, his control, his future in the ranks he had been promised and walks away to never be the same again. 
 
The question for Draco Malfoy, of course, was when it ended.

Day: 713; Hour: 10 
 
She receives two letters at the same time, both from Ron, though there are three paragraphs at the end of the second from Harry. They are getting closer, she knows. The first letter is brief, though comically details a bad-cooking experience that left Hermione gasping for air, but the second letter reeks of enthusiasm. Ron even gave an exclamation point to the 'Hey Hermione' that introduced the rest of the letter.  
 
She searches for clues to support her theory in the faces of the people around her, but they are war worn and show nothing. It does not dampen her own spirit, however, and Ernie can only laugh at her when she smiles like a fool for days following.  

 

Five by everythursday

 

Day: 720; Hour: 2 
 
Hermione is chosen for the simple missions, and she knows this with both annoyance and relief. She also knows it has something to do with Malfoy, as she has learned he drafts most of the choices for each mission. Knowing this, she figures he probably wouldn't even put her in any if it weren't for the fact that they needed to give some of the more skilled individuals some breaks.  
 
Not that she hadn't improved, because she had. It had been extremely hard at first. When it was just her and a few others against a small group, she could handle herself very well. Her knowledge of magic is vast, she moved quickly enough, and she was always brave to boot. 
 
It was the big battles that did her in. When the air would be heavy with magic and smoke from wands, and when she couldn't get a clear vision or know who was on which side she became wary. There was confusion and panic in the air, and inside of her, and her mind would become frazzled and she would lose her cool. It wasn't something she was proud of, but something she admitted to herself was a problem. Her improvement was there, but it wasn't at the point yet where she was no longer a risk to herself or the people around her. 
 
So, she gets the smaller jobs now. Which suits her fine, because she's still involved and does her part, and she does it well. She is bitter with herself more so than anyone else because she is not as good as she wants to be, but at least she is doing what she can.  
 
 
Day: 728; Hour: 4  
 
There is a brushing against her side that hadn't been there a few seconds ago and when she moves to further herself from the person, they follow. Malfoy doesn't look at her when she turns her attention toward him, and she can hardly make out more than his nose and mouth around the hood of the sweatshirt, but she knows him anyway.  
 
She opens her mouth to question why he seems to be following her on her trek back through Muggle England, but he nods his head to the side and pushes into her as he turns. She is confused but turns with him as they head off down a small side street, and then into an alley. Malfoy pauses when they are sufficiently away from prying eyes, and pulls a large manila envelope out of his zipped up jacket. He nods toward her, casting another glance around before returning his eyes to hers.  
 
Hermione fingers the corner of the envelope, fidgeting. "What is the one thing you want out of life?"  
 
He scowls, but she thinks he had known she would ask him something to make sure it was truly him. The question may not be the right one considering the continuous clenching of his jaw now, but he answers her anyway. "Absolute power."  
 
She nods, pulling the envelope out and offering hers. "Me too."  
 
His eyes flash up from her hand and its contents, and she hopes he knows that is the closest he will get to an apology for that conversation. He takes the envelope and offers his, which she accepts after a moment. She tucks it away, clearing her throat to break the silence over emotions that she cannot define between the two of them. His eyes are still steady on hers, and she has to look away to bring back any semblance of normalcy.  
 
He is the first to walk away, and she follows him out. They walk all the way back to the small building that serves as an entrance to the wizarding world without a word, and though it is awkward at first, she forgets that it is supposed to be a few minutes in.  
 
 
Day: 730; Hour: 2 
 
She tries to remember the exact bunch of numbers, because she does not feel she can pay the proper respects to time and war without knowing exactly when it began. She does know that it has been two years now though, beginning three hours ago or at this moment. She feels the pull of time, of war, but somehow it seems as if it has been longer and shorter at the same time. 
 
Sometimes, when she closes her eyes and drowns out the world (which is a very hard thing for Hermione Granger to do when not buried in a book), she can see, and smell, and feel the beating of air and the stench of smoke. She can remember in vivid detail how she got to this point. But most days, she cannot remember beyond yesterday, because war is a tornado and she is just watching the eye turn. 
 
Two years, she thinks; feels it like heavy lead coating along her bones. Two years
 
 
Day: 741; Hour: 12 
 
"Granger." Hermione looks up at Neville and frowns until she sees Malfoy walk over to the couch opposite her.  
 
"Malfoy."  
 
Neville smiles at her when she gives him an apprehensive look, because he probably knows why it is Malfoy has taken to addressing her. The blond pulls a scroll from a small chest he placed on the table, and his fingers are careful as he unrolls it on the surface. Runes in old, brown-turned ink are slowly revealed with the turns of his fingers, the parchment brittle as he lays stones on the edges.  
 
"What is this?"  
 
"How do you feel about puzzles?" He looks up then, seeming to analyze her.  
 
She scans him as well, trying to tell what exactly he wants from her. "I like them."  
 
"Good."  
 
Hermione looks back to the parchment. "This is the rune for peace, though it's inverted. The Romans referred to it as corruption, or riots. The one next to it is for...a graph. Or a tablet." She glances up at him, then back to the scroll. "This line here symbolizes the importance of it. A riot over a specific doctrine?"  
 
"It's jumbled. Some of them we were able to understand, but others...this one, for example," his fingertip hovers over one at the end of the first row, tracing it through the air. "There are three different meanings for what it could be. We have to solve all of them, arrange them, and then try to figure out their meaning through placement."  
 
Hermione releases a breath, her eyebrows furrowing in concentration. "Here, let me...just..."  
 
She stands, making her way around the table, and Malfoy moves to the other end of the couch so she can sit. He hands her the notebook he's been carrying around with him for months, already flipped to a blank page in the back so she can't glimpse what else it contains. Neville supplies her the pen over her shoulder.  
 
"This one is for...place."  
 
"Yes, but I've seen this before. Do you see this curve off the top line? I believe that means something akin to 'at here', as the Latin used. It represents a specific place rather than abstract placement or general areas."  
 
Hermione nods, scribbling down their observations. "The short line at the bottom means it's grounded, perhaps in a literal sense of the word. It--"  
 
"Or it's home-based." She looks up at him and he leans forward again. "Look over here, in the rune of home, then again in the one for family. The line represents familiarity."  
 
"But what about here? In friends? There's no line."  
 
"Perhaps they weren't familiar with the 'friends' or 'allies' who are involved. Or, maybe, they thought they were, but were proved wrong."  
 
"You're making guesses before you know the story."  
 
"And that's why I came to you."  
 
She meets his eyes, and feels the tips of her ears heat up, though she isn't sure why. It is almost a compliment, and she is unsure how to take it.  
 
"Alright. Let's see then."  
 
 
Day: 754; Hour: 14 
 
It takes her almost two weeks to finish the scroll, and Neville is the one she hands it to. She has been hoping it would be Malfoy, just to see what he thought of what she came up with. She had never known he was as skilled in runes as he was.  
 
"You work with him a lot, don't you?"  
 
Neville shrugged. "I think everyone works with him a lot."  
 
"He's not mean to you, though, is he?" She blinks at herself, because she notices she sounds like a worried mother.  
 
Neville laughs, because he notices as well. "He jokes sometimes. Tells me not to blow anything up. But it's more...joking than being mean. For both our benefits rather than his."  
 
"Hmm."  
 
"Still don't think he's changed, huh?"  
 
She waves the scroll before handing it to him. "I like puzzles." 
 
 
Day: 761; Hour: 21 
 
She sees no one for a week, only passing shadows of strangers for two, and then suddenly almost all her friends at the same place. Two days pass before she thinks she is losing her mind.  
 
"Fred!" she screams from the top of the stairs, and Seamus stops to gawk at her.  
 
"Why, that is a lovely shade of orange, Hermione." The redhead turns the corner and smiles at her.  
 
"You!" she seethes, pointing.  
 
"Me? Wrong twin, love. Must have been George, or someone else in the house."  
 
"George left three days ago."  
 
"That is George actually." Seamus cackles behind his hand.  

Hermione practically stumbles down the steps and George is wise enough to turn and run in the other direction. Her bright orange hair flies up in her sprint toward him, and she doesn't know how he manages to outrun her while he's laughing the entire time. She's already out of breath just two minutes in.  
 
"I'm going to kill you!"  
 
"It wears off!"  
 
"When!"  
 
"A few weeks maybe? A year at the most." He tosses her a smile and she growls, lobbing a stick at him across the expanse of the yard.  
 
"You have to come back sometime!"  
 
But later, when she is already asleep and her hair has been washed thirteen times, he leaves in the middle of the night for his next mission. In the morning, she is more bothered that she hasn't had the chance to say goodbye rather than not having been able to get her revenge.  
 
 
Day: 763; Hour: 13 
 
Malfoy raises his eyebrows, halting, and almost keeps himself composed before bursting into laughter.  Hermione glowers and stalks away. If it wasn't his birthday, she would have hexed him. 
 
 
Day: 777; Hour: 12 
 
"You look like a Weasley." A sneer twists his face briefly, and then it is gone. Her heart lurches a little, because it reminds her of Ron, and she misses him terribly.  
 
The orange has begun to wash out of her hair, though it has taken weeks to do so, and he is right. The dye stained her hair orange and red, and left her looking as if she decided to do a bad job of making herself a redhead one night.  
 
"Thank you." Because she knows there is nothing else she could say that would goad him more.  
 
He gives her a look and pulls himself up on the table behind him. "I suppose you wanted to discuss something, Granger?"  
 
"I don't think you should send Lavender on this mission."  
 
He arches an eyebrow, looking classically bored and arrogant. "And why is that?"  
 
"She's off. I don't know what happened to her yet, but she's depressed. She mopes about, she's not eating, and she's chain smoking."  
 
"It's a war," he drawls. "I don't know who isn't depressed or stressed out. You hardly eat either -- should I not send you out? And Patil was passed out on the table when I walked in, so I shouldn't send her. Goldstein twitches when he's nervous, and that could cause bad aim, so I suppose--"  
 
"Malfoy. Just...give her a break -- all right? She's not thinking clearly, and I think it's a very bad idea. She just needs a little time. I'll talk to her and try to sort it out, but she won't be at her best tomorrow-"  
 
"She doesn't need to be at her best. It's a simple mission. There likely won't even be any opposition."  
 
Hermione can feel her annoyance kick in harder at her ribs, her hands balling under the table. "I'm asking you nicely."  
 
"I can see that."  
 
Hermione snorts and stands. "My apologies then, Malfoy. I nearly forgot you don't give a damn about anything but yourself."  
 
She exits the room without bothering to look at him again.  
 
 
Day: 778; Hour: 18 
 
Lavender does not make an appearance on the porch and Hermione is ready to go wake her, just as a breath fans itself across her ear. She's aware of strands of soft hair brushing against her ear and cheek, and a source of warmth close to her back. She has a feeling who it is before he even speaks. 
 
"The fact that I make sure I create plans that fit with everyone's abilities that I choose for their missions, and that I'm here at all, must mean I don't give a damn about anyone but myself. I suppose you're right then, Granger?" 
 
She blinks and blinks at the backs of her friends out in front of the house as they converse in distant morning voices, lit only by the dull grey of dawn. She doesn't know what to say, because there is a part of her that knows she might have been wrong even before Lavender's apparent dismissal from the mission; yet there is also a part of her that still thinks he only did it to prove her wrong, and wouldn't have otherwise.  
 
"No answer then? Right. I forgot you can't hear the question all the way up on that high horse of yours."  
 
He moves around her, stiff, as he descends down the stairs to join the rest of the team, and it takes her several moments to remember she has legs that must move.  
 
 
Day: 780; Hour: 7 
 
Hermione hates how she is always the one who seems to come off as being judgmental, rather than Malfoy, whom she always judges because he has always been the judgmental one. This realization has brought her to the idea that perhaps she is now the one who judges too much.  Malfoy is an ass. But she can no longer blame that on his prejudice, no more than she can blame Ron's tendencies for being one, as his. Because in both cases, she can't find it. 
 
She resolves to look at Malfoy now as a person she does not know, and has never known. This way, she thinks, she can stop putting her foot in her mouth. She does not like to be the one who comes off as the mean one, or the cruel person. 
 
She hates that she has lowered herself to the position, no matter who the other person happens to be. She is better than that, she knows, and perhaps it is time to act like it.  
 
But, God, he is infuriating.  
 
 
Day: 783; Hour: 12 
 
"What about you, Hermione? Have you ever been in love?" 
 
Hermione gives a small smile to the black and white film playing out on the screen in front of her and Tonks, and shakes her head. "No, not yet."  
 
"You will." Hermione, sometimes when she was away from the pull of the world, would sit and wonder if that was true. 
 
Not everyone fell in love, after all. She is officially out of her teens, and yet here she is, a young woman who has never been in love, or even lost her virginity. She always believed that the two must coincide, but the fact that she was older and still without both did not seem as all right as it had when she was still a girl in a dormitory at Hogwarts. She knows she is young, but the fact that everyone around her seems to have achieved at least one, if not both, of these milestones, it makes her feel as if she is running too far behind.  
 
"I thought you were in love with Ron." Tonks smiles at the screen, and Hermione glances at her.  
 
She takes awhile to respond, and it is both with regret and acceptance. "I thought, for a very long time, that I could have been. But that's over now."  
 
"Because of the war?"  
 
"Because of a lot of things. But mostly because we don't fit right, and I would rather keep our friendship then bother trying to change us both to make it work, and just have it end badly. I think some things just aren't supposed to happen, no matter how much you want them to."  
 
"And sometimes they do, no matter how much you don't want them to." She sounds as if it is her own revelation about her own life, so Hermione only nods and folds her hands in her lap.  
 
Life has a horrible way of surprising you.  
 
 
Day: 789; Hour: 20 
 
Malfoy is seated on the couch when she returns from her second attempt to fall asleep. A bowl of popcorn is settled haphazardly between his knees as he studies the remote control. It's dark except for the changing colors from the television. Lavender's voice rises from the bedroom she is in, moaning loudly, and Hermione blushes despite the fact that Malfoy is not even aware of her presence.  
 
Lavender's depression had been caused from a break with her lover, who she happened to claim she was in too deep of lust with to be able to function without. Hermione is of the opinion that Lavender simply loves the scruffy man who appears from her bedroom at random times, but doesn't want anyone to know. Their reconciliation has been going on intermittently for hours now. Hermione had attempted to drown them out with the television, but she was left staring pitifully at her ceiling as Lavender's cries rose above the booming volume of a bad fight scene.  
 
"You're up?" she asks, so he knows she is there, because she has heard a rumor that Seamus snuck up behind him and Malfoy sent him slamming into a wall on instinct.  
 
He jumps anyway, and clutches the popcorn bowl that almost topples with the movement. He mutters a curse, fixing the bowl before glancing up at her.  
 
"Between the obnoxious shagging and the blasting of the television, I would have had to be dead not to be."  
 
But she does not believe him, because there is a look in his eyes that she hasn't seen since Ron came home from his first mission and holed himself up in his room. It is a stunned sort of horror there. And with the odd pallor of his skin, the smudges from lack of sleep, and the glaze over his eyes, she thinks he looks haunted. She very much doubts Malfoy has trouble sleeping due to being too uncomfortable to hear someone having sex.  
 
"What are you watching?"  
 
His lips twitch, and there is a ghost of a smile. "The methods of safe sex."  
 
Hermione blushes fiercely, and squirms in the seat she has taken on the recliner. "Oh."  
 
"Muggles are quite inventive. Though I'm unsure how I feel about that rubber contraption."  
 
Oh, my God, she moans in her head, and rubs at her face like it will help with the heat of it at all. He hits a button on the remote multiple times, and her voice is rushed and high when she tries to change the subject.  
 
"The remote won't work?"  
 
"No, it does. I just like to push the buttons that don't do anything."  
 
She purses her lips at him and thrusts her hand out. "Let me see it."  
 
"No." He pulls it closer to him, as if she has extendable arms and can reach him from her position. Typical male, then.  
 
She sighs. "Try taking the batteries out and switching their positions."  
 
He blinks down at the black plastic in his hand, and then back up at the television. "I would rather watch this anyway."  
 
She knows he has no idea what she's talking about, or if he does know what batteries are, he certainly doesn't know how to locate them. He obviously wanted to watch the current program more than he wanted to show her he didn't know something.  
 
"Just let me see."  
 
"I said, no."  
 
"Well, I'm not watching this."  
 
He looks at her as if she is entirely too slow for him to talk to. "No one said you had to."  
 
"Well since we both have to deal with...that, then we should find something we both want to watch."  
 
"You're not in a position to compromise, I believe." She glares and he smirks, leaning forward slightly. "Does it make you uncomfortable?"  
 
She flames. "It's not interesting, nor is it anything I don't already know. So--"  
 
She stops when he grins wickedly, and turns even redder after he speaks. "Oh, so you're well-educated in safe Muggle sex, are you?"  
 
She catches herself before she makes a fool of herself by stomping away, and instead moves to the television set, waiting to respond until she's facing away from him. "That is none of your business."  
 
"I-- Hey, turn that back."  
 
"No," she grumbles, jabbing the button to change the channel. 
 
She waits until she lands on what seems a fitting enough movie, actors dressed in Victorian style clothing as the women titter at passing men. She holds her nose up all the way back to her seat. Malfoy glares at her and gives a refined snort, hitting the buttons on the remote again.  
 
"I suppose we'll watch this."  
 
"Or I could simply get up and change it, but then I suppose I would lower myself to your childish standing."  
 
It is her turn to glare. "Childish, was watching something that I obviously did not want to watch."  
 
"Childish self-importance is believing that one can come and change what a person has been watching for half an hour already, just because they don't want to watch it."  
 
"Childish is not wanting to share, when--"  
 
"Or, it's this conversation." He turns to look at her, eyebrow raised, and looking as arrogant as ever. Except for his mismatched socks that she noticed on her way back to her seat, or his butter covered fingertips as he pulls out another piece of popcorn.  
 
Hermione huffs, though regrets it when she remembers how immature she thought all his huffing was when she was flipping the channels. She turns back to the screen and ignores him, trying to concentrate on the woman being charmed by a relatively good-looking man.  
 
There are long, blissful minutes of silence where there is nothing from Lavender's room, or anything from the man seated five feet from her. Hermione becomes so caught up in the movie that she actually jumps when Malfoy speaks up. 
 
"He's a ponce."  
 
"What?"  
 
"That's the problem with these cinema pictures. What man has ever acted like that? Quoting poetry, waxing on about her bloody hands for five minutes. I am completely unaware how you can stomach this, let alone believe it enough to watch it."  
 
"There are some men..." She trails off at the look he gives her. "Well, perhaps some woman want to believe that there are men out there like that."  
 
He looks disgusted, wrinkling his nose. "Why? Do you honestly mean to tell me that you would enjoy...that?"  
 
He nods toward the television, where the man is gesturing wildly and going on a poetry rampage. Hermione watches for a moment, another, and then giggles. And she does not think she has done such a thing since she was five.  
 
"Maybe not." He makes a sound that lets her know he knew he was right the whole time. "But I would appreciate it all the same. It's sweet."  
 
"It's nauseating. And then you feed women these images, and they get ideas in their heads, even when no man acts like that. You're only all setting yourselves up for disappointment."  
 
"Sometimes it's just nice to pretend, Malfoy."  
 
"I would rather keep my dinner from making another appearance."  
 
"It's not that bad."  
 
"You can't tell me you actually get off on this romantic drivel? It's bullshit."  
 
"It's a little ridiculous, but at least it's better than your previous show."  
 
He looks at her as if he had just overheard her tell someone a dirty secret. "Are you a...a closet romantic, Granger? Skip the sex for the poetry, hmm?"  
 
She blushes hotly, which counts as being far too often this evening. "I am not a romantic. I'm a practical person, and love is not practical."  
 
He still looks at her like he has busted her, and his smirk is absolutely devious when he turns back to the television. He is quiet for three seconds, and then snorts, looking at her. "He just compared her hair to dirt."  
 
"He said she was as beautiful as nature, with her hair...like..."  
 
"Like dirt."  
 
Hermione laughs outright.  
 
 
Day: 796; Hour: 22 
 
The building is made of chipped stone, rising up two stories with broken towers and half the roof collapsed. Dark, angry vines twist paths up the length of it, and the wind howls through the branches of dead trees that are scattered across the barren landscape.  
 
"It's creepy," Dean whispers.  
 
"I think it's beautiful, in a gothic fashion," Hermione whispers back, and Dean gives her a strange look.  
"Pay her no mind, Thomas. She obviously looks at things through a romanticized scope," he pauses to accept her mandatory glare in his direction before continuing. "Give in to how much the appearance puts you on guard, because you're going to have to be. There could be anything inside, and all of you would do well to remember it."  
 
The end of the broom slung over Malfoy's shoulder comes closer to hitting her in the face, and she has to step aside to avoid it. The move sends Dean sideways as well, and his foot cracks a branch loudly. Malfoy stops and spins, holding up a hand to signal the rest of them to, and gives her his angry expression.  
 
He looks back over his shoulder at the building, as if there could possibly be anyone inside of it, and then gives her another look before gesturing for them to continue. She is already angry with him, so the apparent blame doesn't push him any further into the clear when it comes to the heaviness of her look.  
 
He hadn't informed them until that night that there would be some level of flying involved, and when she told him that he hadn't said there would be at the meeting, he simply told her that he was then and that it didn't matter. Malfoy would never stop being a pompous git as far as she saw.  
 
He stops them at the side of the building, and instructs them to fly up to the busted out window one at a time. Hermione grows progressively nervous the longer she stands there.  
 
"I don't fly."  
 
He growls, because he probably knew this was going to happen. "Did you take the basic flying lessons at Hogwarts?" 
 
"Yes, but--"  
 
"Then you know well enough."  
 
"I'll fly you up." Neville offers after Malfoy has flown up himself, and lays a gentle hand on her shoulder, as he knows how much she hates it.  
 
Yet she still declines his offer, despite the easy way out. Malfoy will likely think her a coward or incapable if she had accepted, and though she may have been like him in the fact that they didn't like people to see when they couldn't do something, she wasn't about to have him show her up.  
 
It takes her three commands to get the broom to even come up from the ground, and it sways uneasily under her nerves. She hovers up slowly, the broom jolting and moving enough like a seesaw to make her nauseous. Her heartbeat speeds up once she comes to a stop in front of the window. She doesn't dare step onto the windowpane like Malfoy had done, and she also doesn't trust herself not to slam into the edges.  
 
She puts too much pressure on the broom as she leans forward, anxiety and lack of experience catching up to her. Malfoy, waiting like a statue at the side, has to grab the broom before she jets into the wall at the other side of the room. It sends her whipping around, and she glimpses the stern frown on Malfoy's face before she tips over, hanging upside down on the broom.  
 
Hermione exhales a loud breath, embarrassed and shocked and turns darker at Anthony's sniggering at her side. She clutches the broom frantically, trying not to make a sound, and suddenly is spun back upwards. It takes her head a moment to catch up and settle on the growing smirk on Malfoy's face, but she's too unnerved to be angry over it. He laughs silently, his shoulders shaking, and gestures for her to get off as he holds the broom still.  
 
She uses his shoulder as leverage to not further embarrass herself and fall with her wobbly knees. She thinks the touch may shut him up, and though it works, he is not angry as she expected. His face is carefully blank as he looks at her, and he holds still and hard under her palm until she drops it away. 
 
 
Day: 804; Hour: 5 
 
She hears news down the wires of the Order that Malfoy and Tonks were injured badly at an abandoned church in Glasgow. She convinces Lupin to let her leave her delivery post at the dreaded white house, for Grimmauld. Tonks is on the mend; though out for a few days for the breaks in her fingers to heal. Hermione follows her from the living room into the infirmary, and Tonks does not say anything when she catches her looking toward Malfoy's bed several times during the conversation.  
 
"He broke his ribs. Fell from a beam he was running across when they found out he was above them. Got a nasty cut from the glass on the floor too."  
 
"Well, at least he's not dead. We would have been short a good strategist."  
 
But it is something more than that, because Hermione realizes that perhaps she would care a bit more if Malfoy were to have died. Tonks seems to know this too, because she does not answer, but Malfoy does.  
 
"I'm glad to see you've come to think of me so highly." She starts, thinking he had been asleep, as his body had given all indication that he had been.  
 
"At least it's improvement. A year ago she would have glared at your corpse." Tonks offers, he snorts, and she wonders if that fact could make her a bad person.  
 
He reaches down, running a fingertip along the scar she can see edge out from the bottom of his shirt. "Longbottom did a fantastic job of marring me."  
 
"He did. I was quite proud of him." Tonks smiles, and Hermione rushes to defense.  
 
"At least he healed you at all." It comes out harsher than it should have, and it is very silent for a gaping second.  
 
"I know," he whispers, dropping his hand away.  
 
Hermione looks back to Tonks who winks. "I don't think he's stopped complaining since he woke up yesterday."  
 
"If Draco Malfoy didn't complain about things," Hermione whispers back, "I think the world truly would stop turning from the shock of it."  
 
"I like him surly, myself. Not as much talking. They start pumping him with potions, and he gets chatty."  
 
"I can still hear you, you know."  
 
 
Day: 811; Hour: 6 
 
She has gotten to used to simple missions. She knows this in the way that she knows she cannot feel her legs, and that there is too much blood in her head. Her surroundings tilt, and spin, and she stumbles. The building behind her is soaked with fire, raging across the entire structure. It lights the night in orange and shadows, and there is ash on her tongue that clogs up her mouth.  
 
There is screaming, hoarse and full of so much fear that it makes her want to cry, and she finds Anthony Goldstein as a sinking yellow figure in the mud. He bows his head to God, or death, or something so much bigger than anything around him. She quickly raises her wand at the Death Eater grinning behind his mask of bone, and it does not shake, not at all.  

"Avada Kedavra!" The grin is frozen, malicious and dead, and the body accompanying it drops to knees and then falls face first.  
 
Hermione does not feel as if she has saved a life, but is weighted with all the knowledge of having taken one. And though it is not hard to kill a person, she has found, it is harder to have someone else know you have. He will look at her different she thinks, the way she did when she looked up from the ground after Malfoy killed that Death Eater. Or at Seamus. Or Neville. Or Angelina. Or absolutely anyone else. There is a tint to death, and it covers them like shadows.  

But Anthony does not look at her, collapsed and shaking, and she finds the answers in the body near the fallen Death Eater's. Padma's locks of black hair float like dancing strands in the wind of smoke and ash, and Hermione's heart knows before she does.  
 
 
Day: 811; Hour: 12 
 
Hermione does not expect to see him standing with Lupin in the kitchen when she drags her feet across the doorway to find the nearest place to collapse. When she does, she moves without acknowledging, and she forgets the tired in the marrow of her bones or the dull and heavy weight inside her chest.  
 
She must look a fright, but she thinks of this only later, when she eyes her reflection in the mirror of the bathroom, and only sees black ash and sorrow brimmed eyes. He just stands there, even when she is charging at him, but he moves when she shoves her hands against his chest and sends him flying into the counter's edge.  
 
"Hermione--" Lupin gasps, and moves, but Malfoy uncurls his long fingers from the expanse of his palm and halts him.  
 
"You bastard!" She yells, and shoves him again, again, again. It doesn't affect him, and so she balls her own fingers, sending knuckles to the curves of his body. "I fucking hate you! I fucking hate you so fucking much!"  
 
He grabs for her flying hands, and she opens one, smacking her palm into his mouth, his jaw, cheek, the side of his head. There is a struggle, and she loses sight of what she does, but she knows she is clobbering his head and anything she can reach. When he finally grabs her arms, she uses her feet. Her voice is shrill and phlegm-filled, but she doesn't know she is sobbing all the words she is screaming.  
 
"You knew! You fuck! You knew she couldn't handle it! That she couldn't...couldn't be there. And you didn't give a fuck! You did it anyway, you fucking, God-damned piece of shit!" And she screams, and it's broken and loose, and most makes no sense, but she doesn't care.  
 
She doesn't care, because there is a rage inside of her that swelters up along her skin, until she is ready to explode with it. It is the most terrible emotion she has ever felt, and later, she will never remember another time in her life where she felt as out of control as she did then.  
 
Malfoy has grabbed her and turned them, and she finds herself pressing hard against the counter until the edge feels like it might break her spinal chord. His thighs are holding hers still as he keeps them tight together, his fingers wrapped around her wrists and holding her arms up to each shoulder. She digs her nails into his clothes, but it's not enough, and she yanks them to cover her ears when her own scream breaks cracked from the muscles in her throat.  
 
She closes her eyes to the furious face hovering in front of hers, and the blood dripping from his lip. She unclenched her fingers, grasping at him as her bent head hits the hollow of his throat, and she sobs unabashed into the laundry soap scent of his clothes. There is a tearing pain inside of her that is so much bigger than herself, that she feels nothing but that, and all she can think about is Padma, all the others along the way, and the way she misses Harry, Ron, her parents, and how much she hates her life.
 
Malfoy relaxes marginally, just enough to where she can breathe between him and the countertop, but she still feels both. He pulls her hands from his shoulders and slides to the side against her.  
 
"It wasn't me," he whispers, and then there is a different set of arms, and she only takes a second to throw her arms around Lupin's neck as Malfoy's body disappears.  
 
"Alright. Alright, come on."  
 
"Padma."  
 
He exhales heavily onto the top of her head as he guides her out of the kitchen, and pushes a curse out with his breath. "Do you want to shower, or go to bed?"  
 
"I don't care." And bed it was.  
 
 
Day: 814; Hour: 17 
 
Hermione doesn't emerge from her bedroom for two days. It is depression on the first, and the second is more sadness and shame. She would never know what came over, but it scares and shocks her probably as much as it did Malfoy and Lupin. She hadn't known there was so much emotion boiled up inside the lines of her veins until it all split out at once.  
 
She had attacked him. Which she doesn't feel absolutely horrible over, considering he had done it to her in the past, but it isn't in her character. And it had been the wrong person. She had been so quick to blame someone else, and there he had been. The one she had thought planned the mission and picked the members for it.  
 
She would miss Padma's funeral. She had asked Lupin yesterday, and he had told her it would be a small affair and only a handful of people could go. He has asked if she wanted him to put a request in, but she refused on the grounds that the few who were picked should be people close to her. She knew Padma, but only just, and she did not feel right about the idea of taking someone else's spot that knew and loved her.  
 
By the late afternoon of the third day, when Lupin does not leave any food for her outside her door, or knocks to ask to come in, she knows he must have left like he had said. She exits her bedroom to the smell of something cooking in the kitchen, and knows Malfoy had remained behind. She comes close to changing her mind, but keeps her feet on route to the kitchen.  
 
He doesn't look at her as he sits at the table; the light lit on the stove letting her know something is in the oven. She searches through the line of cabinets for something to eat; she hasn't been to this specific house yet, and knows where nothing is. She thinks that perhaps he might tell her because he must know what she is looking for, but he doesn't speak a word.  
 
She finds hot chocolate packets in the cabinet next to the fridge, and settles on that instead of food. She opens them to find the powder stuck together in a paper thin wad at the bottom, but still leans them up against the toaster and puts the water on. She is content to keep her back to him at first, but then decides that if she wants to get it over with, she should face up to any possible fallout now.  
 
He still isn't looking at her when she turns around, though she can swear she had thought his eyes had been attached to her back when she faced away. He is sprawled out on the chair, and looks too large to fit on it. His legs are long and stretch out in front of him, one arm laying on the table and the other on his lap. His head is turned slightly away from her, eyes trained on the table. There is a red groove in the fullness of his bottom lip, and it is from her. She feels guilt like something sticky on the tissue of her throat.  
 
He looks up at her with all the knowledge on his face that she will be looking back at him, and she swallows tightly at the blank look that doesn't even contain recognition.  
 
"I shouldn't have blamed you."  
 
He slides the arm on the table back, and reaches blindly for the bright red mug that had been sitting in the bend of his elbow. He grasps it and brings it to his mouth, and his voice is even and dull. "No."  
 
He takes a sip from the mug and finally looks away from her, pressing his lips together as he sets it back down on the table. "I was...distraught."  
 
"To say the least."  
 
"I'm surprised you didn't hit me." This is honesty, though she hasn't meant to say it.  
 
"Have I ever?" He looks back up at her then, his head still bent.  
 
"Well, basically." Hermione flusters.  
 
"I've gotten rough with you Granger, but I don't believe I've ever hit you."  
 
Hermione stares back at him in silence, the truth of it swallowing her up a little. "You almost have."  
 
His lips twitch. "More times than you likely know. I believe you're the most infuriating woman I've ever had to know."  
 
"That's close enough, though."  
 
"Is it?"  
 
"Yes. And you're the most infuriating person I've ever known as well, so...we're even on that accord." He is quiet. "Perhaps I shouldn't have hit you."  
 
"It wasn't the first time."  
 
She narrows her eyes and points at him, her finger wagging. "Don't try to make it out like you're some innocent--" 
 
"In this case I was."  
 
"But--"  
 
"I know, Granger. What I meant before you got all caught up in your indignation, was that I probably wasn't as surprised by your actions as you were. So you can stop trying to ramble on half-apologies to ease your guilt."  
 
"I'm not feeling guilty," she snaps, but he doesn't respond. "I'm not."  
 
He arched a brow and took another sip of his drink. "We'll consider ourselves even."  
 
She snorts, loudly. "My one thing against you just evens out the playing field then?"  
 
"The new one, yes." Though he seems fairly annoyed by her question.  
 
"Fine. Even." She pretends to lick her hand and offers it to him. "We have to shake on it."  
 
He stares at her hand as if it is a house-elf doused in mud and demanding an apology, and looks up at her with less scorn and more incredulity. Hermione winces and thrusts her palm out for him to see the clean skin.  
 
"There's nothing there." His expression remains. "I'm just...joking. It was..."  
 
She drops her hand, now aware that Malfoy either has no sense of humor, she isn't funny, or she hasn't reached a joking stage with him. She clears her throat as he moves back to his drink, and she turns for the now boiling water.  
 
 
Day: 817; Hour: 11 
 
"I think enemies need one another."  
 
"They don't need one another. They hate one another. If a person's enemy turned their wand on themselves, said person would be delighted." He eyes her meaningfully.  
 
"Then they would have no one to hate, and people need someone to hate in order to get their anger out."  
 
"They could hate themselves, and perhaps that would get you to finally shut up."  
 
"Enemies are people you have to fight for something against. If you could just achieve everything you wanted without anyone there to make it harder for you, then when you finally do get what you want, it doesn't seem important."  
 
"It would still be important, or it wouldn't have been something you wanted in the first place."  
 
"But if it's easy to obtain, in the beginning, you already basically have it. So the importance loses itself quickly. If you work for something, if you earn it, then you're proud of yourself and hold your achievements closer to you. Their worth something."  
 
"That just makes life harder. Why prefer a harder life?"  
 
"Because it makes you cherish things more."  
 
"Know what I would cherish right now?"  
 
"I think you've been redundant enough for me to wager a good guess."  
 
"I think I've suffered enough."  
 
"Yes, maybe. But I'm still not giving it to you." He snorts, and she looks back out at the sway of the trees with a smile. "You'll appreciate it more when it comes. That's what enemies are for, Malfoy."

Day: 836; Hour: 17 
 
She has conversations with Malfoy under glinting fading suns, because he stays true to the darkness of his demeanor and pretends to be adjusted to a nocturne life. He is slow to wake, and she has learned to wait hours and hours before he is willing to reply to anything she says.  
 
He is there for two weeks, and when he leaves, it is only for four days before he is back again. She wonders if he chose to come back, because she supplies him with conversation (at least bickering) instead of the ignorance he is prone to receive. She doubts this though, because sometimes she catches him looking at her, and it is always darkly or with far too much agitation for her to think herself anything more than a hindrance to him. 
 
She provokes him into arguments, because he doesn't like to talk to her, but she needs someone to talk to at all. He answers when she is insulting or contradictory, but never on polite subjects. She does it anyway, because she is sick of reading conversations instead of having them, and she does not think about everything when there is something else to concentrate on. 
 
She thinks he feels the same. And that is why he answers at all. They are alike despite their differences, and while this is a scary thought, most truths are. She joins him because it is better than being alone, and he does not stay behind a locked door because he knows this as well.  

 

Six by everythursday

 

Day: 869; Hour: 2  
 
Nearly all the dishes in the house are littered in shards and ruins across the cheap linoleum floor. It's a pass-through house, which means it was heated and lit for any members of the Order or Ministry who needed a place to stay, but no one spent longer than a week, and no space was claimed for any one individual.  
 
It's the first time she has seen Malfoy in over a month. His presence, sleepy-eyed and bed-headed, has completely taken her off guard when she spots him in the doorway. Breakfast that consists mostly of stale muffins from the back of the pantry and the last of the tea and coffee is a quiet event, until a faceless Auror storms in. The dishes that had been piled on top of the counter in rows are all thrown to the floor in an outcome of rage that doesn't seem gratifying in the least. Malfoy, Fred, and she can only stare in a sort of dazed wonder as he screams nonsensically and smashes the glass to ruins.  
 
It took three of his friends to restrain him and bring him out of the room, and from what Hermione could gather of a few yells and grunts, it seems as if the Auror had lost someone close to him earlier that morning.  

It was upsetting to think she had grown almost numb to it. Not to loss, but to the idea of it. While she felt pity for the man, her sadness and grief for him was not acute, but dull and shallow. It was as if everyone had to lose someone during the war. She had mourned with enough grief for them all, each time she was forced into the same sorrow.  
 
The man's outburst still left a bad taste in her mouth though, and an uncomfortable awkwardness in the air, but the three at the table continued on, drinking their morning caffeine in silence, sitting amongst the chaos now on the floor. It felt strange. A little like she might have been dreaming.  

"War is such a downer." Fred shakes his head and stirred more sugar into his coffee.  
 
Hermione blinks at him. If there had ever been a more simple, almost flippant way in which she heard all of this hell described, she could not recall it. She was surprised. So surprised by his tone, and his choice of wording, that she laughs. Fred looks up in his own surprise at the sound, and when she is busy waiting for him to say something about it, she hears more amusement to her right.  
 
He is grinning. Malfoy is turning his face into the hand that had previously been pushed against his cheek, doing his best to hide the grin, but she can still see it through the cracks in his fingers, and the slight crinkle of his nose and the corner of his eyes, and the lines around his mouth. She could tell without actually seeing it, that he is grinning like a fool. His shoulder shakes with the breath of a laugh, and then another. He turns his eyes from the redhead and onto hers, and it is a moment shared. They both laugh outright, and fifty years could pass, and she will still be able to recall exactly how he looked at that moment.  


 
Day: 870; Hour: 7  
 
Strange music beats with the jangled noises of Alicia's bracelets behind the door. Dean and Seamus play a game of chess, as Lavender recounts her horrifying experience swimming in the lake to Colin. There is an undercooked half-eaten birthday cake in the kitchen with only the first two letters of her name on it, and Seamus has a piece in the scruff on his chin, though no one tells him. As her toes curl in the warmth of the blazing fire, for just a single span of her heartbeat, Hermione swears she is back in Gryffindor tower.


Day: 888; Hour: 3 
 
She huffs, and he grins when he finds her at a loss for a comeback. Hermione gives a scornful look to the way it transforms his face, and the cockiness now set in his demeanor.  
 
He had a way of making you feel special when he smiled, Pansy had said once. She had been horribly drunk at the time, and bits of her lunch had caked the top of Hermione's trainers, and there had been spit hanging from her fingers. She had been a talker when she was drunk, which explained why every time Malfoy was around for it, he put her to bed or was always beside her to change the subject whenever he needed to.  
 
She said he made you feel like he was smiling over an inside joke, and even if the entire room was in hysterics, when his eyes caught yours, it felt like you were the only two who actually got it and he wanted to share that second with you because of it. The real smiles though, not his fake ones, or the ones of malice. But the ones that made his whole posture easy, and he slumped a little, and one side of his mouth rose higher than the other. When he smiles like that.  
 
Hermione likes to think she knows exactly what Pansy had been on about, though at the time she had been busy calling her a list of unpleasant names inside her head.  
 
Draco Malfoy has a wicked smile. Everything about him is wicked, actually. As if all the parts of him had been thought over and created to form a different way in which to entice people to his way of thinking. Everything about him - his smile, his wit, his intellect, his face, his body - could be used as a weapon. It all just depended on who the opponent was and what he wanted out of them.  
 
Not that she likes to think of Malfoy in this way, but she has forgotten to ignore how attractive he could be, despite the ugliness he shows sometimes. 


 
Day: 913; Hour: 18  
 
Hermione is not sure at all how she seems to have reached a place where she is comfortable sitting next to Malfoy at a table. She knows him in the distant sort of way that comes with a lot of time and gradual talking, but not about anything too personal. Moody seems to notice the change in their bodies, because he looks at both of them strangely before returning to his meal.  
 
Hermione is curious about Malfoy in several different ways, but mostly now in the way the sun lights his hair and the way his fingers handle a fork, though she doesn't know why she is. It is slightly disturbing for her to feel so drawn to him, because she can't describe it, nor explain it, and it is him.  
 
She liked to think she still hated him, but when she was alone, she wondered if maybe she didn't know quite how she felt anymore.  


 
Day: 931; Hour: 20  
 
He was beautiful in the faded blue-grey of early morning, though she suspected he would hate to hear it. Despite how vain she had always thought him to be, he actually despises hearing about himself now. Growing up is painful, and one of the hardest things of all is when you can start realizing the truth about yourself as well. Draco Malfoy can be a really ugly person. It is usual, and most the time, but she likes to think there are moments that make up for it.  
 
There probably shouldn't be, but she is the sort of person that looks at absolutely anything and sees something decent about it. It is why he hates her and stays with her both. There is no one else in the world that can hate who he was enough to push for something better out of it. Without her, he would be alone. He likes to argue that he still is.  
 
He is nearly naked. Stretched, defined and pale, and looking more like a man than any other man she has spied lying in her bed before. Granted, she had been just seventeen then, and now she is twenty. Twenty to his twenty-one, and his body is harder from Quidditch, and war, and from being too proud to not be comfortable with his body naked.  
 
She traces his lines with her eyes, creating a visual memory in her retinas to burn into her brain. All the dips and curves and hollows of his upper body. She wants to reach out and run her fingers and hands over that expanse of lit-blue skin, just so she can feel what compact muscle under skin was like. Just so she can know what it was really like to touch a man, and could drag the memory up every time the girls talked, or she read, and she would no longer have to feel like the prude or the shy one ducking from conversation.  
 
Or just so she can know what it was like to touch him. Her stomach was alive, and her heart was this beating mess building in tempo against her ribcage every time she entertained the idea of touching him. She hasn't known enough romance in her life yet to know if this is just from the idea of touching a man at all, or if it's because it was him. She preferred to think the former, if only for sanity's sake.  
 
A lot of people lose their minds during war. She wanted to believe she can't be one of those people, because she had too much of it to misplace.  
 
He had arrived at Grimmauld several hours ago, and with the few beds in their infirmary taken, she had felt bad about forcing him to sleep on the couch. Ron and Harry's bedrooms had been an option, but not one she was willing to take, and so she had led Malfoy into her own room. Not that he knew it was hers, or he would have had a problem with it, she was sure.  
 
He breathed in shallow little breaths, but exhaled quickly each time, rustling the silver fringe falling across his forehead and eyes. His lids moved in circles and quick scans as he dreamt, and the muscles in his arms and shoulders bunch periodically bracing himself against things unknown. There were bandages taped crooked to his skin, and in the dim light they are maroon, but the sun would prove them bright, bright red she knew. His nails were uneven, dirt lining under and around, and in all the tiny lines of his knuckles and fingers. The row of knuckles on his right hand are black in the dark, swollen and hard to look at. They had gotten most the blood and dirt off him, but there was still a patch of dried blood streaked on his foot, and she always caught herself staring at it. Staring, and staring, and staring. 


 
Day: 937; Hour: 14 
 
Malfoy shifts, the couch dipping further down under his weight, and she has to tug herself back over to the arm so as not fall into him. He flips the channels casually; though he knows it annoys her, and rolls his neck, like watching television is the stressful part of his day.  
 
"Do you know that every year, the sun gets further and further away?"  
 
He looked completely uninterested, landing momentarily on a documentary about mice before moving on again. "Thanks for the useless information, Granger."  
 
"Don't you care?"  
 
"Why should I?"  
 
"Because one day it will end up just being too far. Our days will be perpetually dim, and summer will end up like winter. We'll all freeze to death by the time winter comes. Our vegetation will be in ruins. Water will--"  
 
"Why do you keep saying 'our' and 'we'? By the time it happens, it'll be a billion years. By then, the sun will have exploded anyway. To top matters, and the real point, Granger...is that we won't even be here. So, again, why should I care?"  
 
"Well, what about future generations? My children's children and so on down my family line, and yours as well."  
 
"They'll deal." He shrugs, tilting his head to follow the curving path of a car on some commercial.  
 
"But--" She stops herself when he turns to look at her.  
 
"Why do you care so much when there's nothing you can do about it? You're always going on about shit you can't ever change, when you should be concentrating on your own bloody life, or problems you can handle. Let it go."  
 
Hermione stares back at him until he turns away, and then watches the side of his face. "I've been trying."  
 
"Oh, yes. Quite obvious, that."  


 
Day: 948; Hour: 1 
 
There are two bright lights, red and purple, jetting toward a man with orange around his sleeve. His hair is orange too, orange in the sun, and Hermione, for a blinding second, knows that this is Ron and he is dying in front of her. Her feet have already kicked into motion by the time she makes it out as Seamus instead, but she was still running, because he might have had a chance to be saved.  
 
Her arm is torn then, burning and ripping, and she cries out at the pain that flares. She sails into air, pulled back by that weight on her arm, and almost falls to her knees. Instead, she is pulled into warmth and cloth, and something hard and obscuring. She sees black, and then a mask of bone, and she screams against the hand covering her mouth.  
 
She recognizes those eyes because she has seen then a million times, but she does not recognize them here, inside that mask, so she begins to struggle. 
 
"Sh! Sh, Granger! It's me! It's only me. Stop." He shakes her, and it hurts her arm worse, and he knows because she whimpers on accident.  
 
"Malfoy?"  
 
"Yes," he bites, and she is so busy staring at him that she doesn't even notice he is dragging her behind a fence.  
 
Everything seems to rock and sway, and she was not sure at all when this is supposed to stop being a dream she was having in a random bed, and when it started being real. Her heart pounds in a cacophony of awkward beats, and she cannot breathe at all now.  
 
"You're a Death Eater." She is panting now, and pushes a hand into that heavy cloak and against his chest to push him back, feeling his stomach cave in beneath her touch.  
 
"What? You're...are you blacking out on me? Snap out of it!" He shakes her, bringing the world back in focus a little more.  
 
"No, I'm not blacking..." She shoves him harder. "What...I... When did... How!"  
 
She is panicking now, and everything from her throat to the bottom of her stomach is seizing up in shock. Her eyes are burning and her head is swimming, and she just does not understand.  
 
"You're a...a spy? A..."  
 
"Wha--" He cuts himself off and shoves her back, and she gets a good enough glance at his face before he bends to know that he is angry and offended (and perhaps hurt, though she has not placed that look on him yet).  
 
He enlarges a hooded robe, and a mask, and pushes them at her. They fall through her hands as easy as sand, and her palms feel burnt in the wake of them.  
 
"What is going on?"  
 
"Take off your Phoenix band and your robe, Granger, and get dressed in your Death Eater garb. You're joining the Dark Lord's inner circle this evening." 
 
"What?"  
 
He tossed neon yellow shoelaces at her. "Lace your boots."  
 
"Malfoy--"  
 
"Is it not obvious by now? Lupin sent for backup, and Moody came upon this idea before we left--"  
 
"You did," she whispers, looking up from the shoelaces, and he looks at her before dropping his gaze back down to the hands smoothing out his robe.  
 
"We're all as Death Eaters from this moment on. Phoenix - Granger, pay attention, because I know you're shit at identifying - Phoenix are all yellow shoelaces. Alright? No yellow shoelaces, then that's a Death Eater. Understood?"  
 
"I can't..." She shook her head. "I can't wear this, Malfoy." 
 
"You don't think you can do a lot of hard things, Granger," he mutters, though it's only partly true, and he puts the cold bone of the mask to her face.  
 
She feels his magic like something raw and heated, and there is a static of such power that it sends goosebumps from her neck to her ankles. Her nipples pebble, her womb tightens, and she gasps out in surprise at the feel of it. It scares her as well, because she has never reacted in such a way to someone so quickly. It is the magic, she tells herself, again and again.  

He is looking at her quite differently when he pulls his hand back, and she has to drop her eyes to regain her senses. He takes a moment to speak, and when he does, his voice is hushed.  
 
"Simple as that. Now, hurry it up. We don't have all the time in the world."  

It takes her awhile to get her head together. "Seamus--"  
 
"Is fine. Hit with a Calming and Stunning spell so he didn't keep trying to send death curses at Longbottom and Thomas."  
 
"And how am I supposed to know who to go after when I have only shoelaces to guide me?"  
 
"They will think the Order left, and take us as their own. When they assemble, we strike."  
 
She pauses, squatting down and ripping the black laces from her boots. "I'm sorry."  
 
"For what?"  
 
"I...I just...I mean, you're wearing..."  
 
His feet shift. "Whatever, Granger. Just hurry it up."  
 
"I am, though." She looks up at him now, and he stares back down at her longer than he should for a man in such a rush.  
 
"Alright."  


 
Day: 949; Hour: 10  
 
Hermione can feel the weight of Tonk's eyes when Malfoy willingly takes the only seat left in the living room and sits beside her. It makes her shift around in her position, and for a second there is guilt, strange and bubbling at the base of her throat. Tonks, however, carries on with the normalcy of it; as if it weren't the strangest thing she had probably seen all day.  
 
"Draco, please make it two against one and tell her to turn off the brain-numbing stupidity of this program."  
 
He doesn't answer for several seconds, and Hermione isn't sure if he was even planning on it before she cuts in. "He's actually the one who refused to change it when I wanted him to weeks ago, so consider the odds still in my favor."  
 
Tonks sighs and mutters something, but Hermione is too busy concentrating on the heat at her side to acknowledge what the other woman is saying. More so, she is too busy concentrating on the way Malfoy smells, and after a few sniffs, blushes as she places it. Malfoy gives her an odd look, likely from her obvious smelling of his person, and then smirks at the look on her face. 
 
"You stink," she whispers, as if it will draw the attention away from her embarrassment.  
 
"You over-exaggerate."  
 
"You should shower after...something like that."  
 
"I wasn't up for showering."  
 
"But you were up for that?" He laughs lowly, and she takes a moment to find the double meaning before blushing all over again. "You know what I meant!" 
 
"She wanted me to do it, so I did it."  
 
Hermione snorts. "Like the only reason you did that was because she wanted you to."  
 
"Well I certainly wouldn't have sought her out myself."  
 
"Then why did you do it at all? If..." She trails off at the look he gives her, like she is naive, and suddenly she feels very much like she is. It's not like she doesn't know the answer to the question, but the idea of people sleeping together all over the place -- no matter how much they might not like one another -- is something she has been curious about for a long time now.  
 
"What are you two whispering about over there?" Tonks is leaning toward them, obviously frustrated with her lack of eavesdropping skills.  
 
"Nothing." Hermione answers quickly, and Tonks only grows more suspicious. Hermione sinks into the couch, as far from Malfoy as she can. The smell of him is making her think of things she does not wish to think about at all.


Day: 951; Hour: 22 
 
"Hermione!" It is hissed and low, and she can see the shock red of Seamus' hair despite the cover of night.  
 
"What the fuck are you doing?" Malfoy's voice is equally low, but tremendously more pissed off.  
 
"My Phoenix band flew off, and I had to--"  
 
"I don't give a shit. I told you stay on the fucking path, so stay on the fucking path!" he snarls, and it is very different from the moody but detached man she has gotten used to. Instead, it is very much like the one she used to know, and it makes her stand there like a gaping moron for far longer than his patience allows.  
 
His fingers are tight, clamping around her arm as he yanks and shoves her forward, sending her stumbling over her own feet to gain balance.  
 
"Hey!" Seamus steps forward, but Hermione is stepping forward with him.  
 
"Don't touch me, Malfoy."  
 
"Then move. We don't have time for you to mosey about after shit." 
 
"No. No, don't touch me. I'll move when I damn well please, and you have no right to make that decision for me!"  
 
"Alright. Alright, I'm sorry, Granger. You wanted to go find your band right?" He grabs her arm again, swinging her back the way she had been going. "By all means. Find us when you're done, or perhaps we'll just find you to Portkey back to the morgue. Sounds like a fantastic plan."  
 
He shoves her back again, gesturing for her to go before she can even speak. Seamus rushes at him, and he is quick to draw his wand, the point pushing into the beard stubble of Seamus' neck. Hermione draws hers as well, and Malfoy finds it aimed at his face when he swings his eyes back to her.  

He passes her off. He passes her off, looking back at Seamus as if she poses no threat at all. And damn it because he's right! Damn it, because she wouldn't do anything in a situation like this, unless she thought he would try to hurt her. She lowers her wand and shoves him instead, and finds his attention back on her once again. She shoves him harder, forcing him a step back, and darts her hands away when he makes a grab for them with his free one.  
 
"What, Malfoy? Don't like people trying to shove you around? Is--"  
 
He manages to grab her wrist this time, yanking her forward until she crashes into him. Seamus takes the opportunity to draw his own wand, while Malfoy lowers his head until his forehead touches her. His eyes are hot and angry, but she doesn't waver for a moment.  
 
"Don't fuck with me, Granger."  
 
"Don't fuck with me."  
 
As Seamus' wand tip hits Malfoy's temple, the blond snarls and smirks, letting go of her wrist to grab her shoulder and yank her behind him. He returns his eyes to Seamus' furious ones, and Hermione thinks that if it is not for the sudden appearance of the rest of the team, something would have begun that she would not have been able to stop.  
 
"We'll finish this later then, Finnigan."  
 
"You fucking bet."  


 
Day: 952; Hour: 8 
 
"It was extremely childish. On both parts." She glares at Malfoy's swollen eye before looking back to the frazzled and still angry redhead, currently sporting a broken nose.  
 
"I was defending you." Seamus' voice is thick and nasally, and Hermione shakes her head.  
 
"You were angry, and have been. Don't use me as an excuse." 
 
"It's what pushed me over the edge."  
 
She shakes her head again, pushing his hair out of his face to inspect his injury more. "And right in Moody's office, of all places! It was a good thing he made sure to de-wand you both before it ended up even more barbaric." 
 
He huffs a breath, hitting her in the face with hot air and the smell of chocolate. Once convinced he would be fine, she looks up to see Malfoy still sitting at the side of the bed, glaring at her as best he could. She feels like saying something childish, along the lines of 'you started it', but bites her tongue. Literally.  


 
Day: 952; Hour: 21 
 
"I would like to see the sun rise over the bay." She doesn't know why she bothered to look for the current high-on-pain reliever blond, but found herself lying beside him when she saw him in the snow at the back of the house. Silence had somehow turned into a very long conversation on many things, and now she finds herself discussing what they would like to do if they end up staying awake all night.  
"What bay?"  
 
"I don't know. Just a bay."  
 
He pauses, giving her time to wait and stare at the white puffs of air vapor from both their mouths. "You are weirder than I first thought you were."  
 
It is her turn for silence now. "Is that a bad thing?"  
 
He shrugs -- she can hear the sound of his clothes rubbing against his skin as he does. "It should be."  
 
"But is it?"  
 
His fingers flick across the mound of sparkling snow between them, and for a wild second, she thought he might take her hand, but he does not. "No."  


 
Day: 960; Hour: 5  
 
Hermione's fingers skim over the lines of potion ingredients, her list for the Grimmauld infirmary stock growing quickly on the parchment beside the book. When she glances up, Lupin is looking curiously at her, and seems to have been for some time now.  
 
"What is it?" She ignores the impulse of wiping off her face.  
 
"I've heard some interesting news."  
 
Her head snaps up, because this could be about absolutely everything that rushes past the walls of her head. "About who?"  
 
"You." Not so interesting then.  
 
"What about then?"  
 
"I heard you and Malfoy seem to be getting on fairly well." 
 
She blushes, and it makes it look far worse than it is, but she can't control her reaction. "Tonks has been talking, has she?"  
 
"Just that you both seem better acquainted with one another."  
 
"I see him around a lot, and he's usually the only person I know to some degree. No one else is very talkative."  
 
"He is?"  
 
When I get him angry. "At times."  
 
"I can't say I saw it coming."  
 
"There's not really an 'it'."  
 
"Even a semblance of normalcy between the two of you, I meant. Conversation and standing one another's presence goes a long way from where you both began."  
 
"Yes, well... I can't say I saw it coming either." He is still looking at her curiously. "It's not like we're friends, Lupin."  
 
"And what would be wrong with that if you were?"  
 
"Everything."  
 
"Like?"  
 
"The fact that all my friends hate him, the fact that he's still arrogant, opinionated, and mean. Who he is and where he came from, and the things that he has done. I was sick of not talking. Sometimes he talks back."  
 
"He's done a lot of good things the past year or so."  
 
"But it doesn't erase all the bad things from the past ten years or so."  
 
"No? Grudges make you old, Hermione."  
 
"He was a nasty, racist boy--"  
 
"Was, did you say?" He looks up from his own book then, smiling slightly at her. "Malfoy has made bad decisions in his life, and has been involved in a lot of bad situations. The man at the bottom of the hill, Hermione. And he kept pushing, and the boulder kept rolling back. Do you remember the story?"  
 
"Yes."  
 
"Young Malfoy has spent most of his life building that boulder, and the past year pushing it up the hill. Every mission gone right, every achievement he has reached with the Order, sends him forward a step. And every hated word, argument, prejudice, and look on the faces of his friends, when he faces them from the other side, has him faltering back one or two more. I don't know when he'll finally push it over and rid himself of his own failures, and of the hardship he created for himself. But he still keeps trying, doesn't he?"


Day: 964; Hour: 19 
 
Hermione looks at Malfoy with Lupin's words repeating in her head, and he sends her glares to let her know that he knows she is staring and finds it bothersome.  
 
Perhaps she has been looking at this wrong. Maybe you can't separate a person into two. One had to accept the past and the present as one constant flow in order to move on into the future, or that person would be hopelessly unmoving.  
 
Malfoy had been several things, and he still is many different things, and those aspects make up who he was as a single human being. He is an enemy and an ally, someone to ignore and a person to talk to. He is contradictory, but that is part of what makes him a person. Not everything has to have changed in order for someone to be different. Malfoy will never be made of perfection, but he will no longer be made out of hate and racism. 
 
This is a starting point, and an ending. It is a chance she had been reluctantly giving halves of for months now. Let him have it, she thinks. Let him push the boulder over. And they would all be better people for it. 
 
 
Day: 969; Hour: 3 
 
Christmas is dull, and not much like Christmas at all. The house is bare of decorations, an Auror stares glumly at the snowfall, and Malfoy keeps his nose buried in his notebook most the day. Besides a muttered ‘Merry Christmas' in reply to her, he doesn't speak to her until the day is almost officially over. 
 
She watches old Christmas movies, and Malfoy joins her for hot chocolate; when she tells him she will not talk about their mission tomorrow until Christmas is over, he makes fun of the movie every three minutes and then starts going over the plan exactly one minute after midnight. 


 
Day: 975; Hour: 12 
 
She does not receive her Christmas gifts until New Year's Eve, in a delivery from Fred and Ginny, though she likes to think their comforting presence is a gift in itself. There is no television in the house she is in now, so Fred and Dean rig a light bulb to a string for the thirty second countdown. It hits the ground unbroken before they even reach the last ten digits thanks to Justin's impatient hand, but Fred still stomps on it merrily at the end, and spills his wine over everyone in the room. 
 
It almost makes up for Christmas. 


 
Day: 981; Hour: 4 
 
"I think just about everything in life seems like a great thing in the beginning. Like kids leaving in a car for a fun night out, but who never think of the car crash that ends up happening. Like every beginning of war, because people think there's freedom and power waiting for them at the end, instead of thinking about the middle. Or even Midas. Midas with his golden touch, and who must have thought the world was in his hands before he completely ruined his life."  
 
"There are things that begin bad but end up finishing much differently as well."  
 
"But why was it bad? It must have been something good in the beginning, or a person wouldn't find themselves in that situation at all."  
 
"Well maybe they just thought it would be good, even if it wasn't." Hermione wonders if this is a piece of his boulder, because at times he thinks he's covering the parallel, but Hermione finds a lot of references to his life no matter what he says.  
 
"But it's the same thing. It starts great -- because it is, or you thought it would be, or because someone told you it is. But then...then bam. People walk around every day of their lives, and never expect the car crash."  
 
"Maybe there isn't one."  
 
"Maybe there is."  
 
He turns from the stove, cocking his head at her. "And you're going to spend every day of your life thinking about it?"  
 
"I think anyway." She shrugs. "I like to be prepared."  
 
"I don't think that's a life at all." 
 
"What about you then? You don't wait for the fallout?" 

He snorts, collecting the sugar bowl from the top of the fridge where he likes to hide it. "We're in the bloody fallout, Granger."  
 
"So you're waiting for the buildup?"  
 
"I'm waiting to wake up after the crash. I don't want to inflate my head too much with things that don't matter yet. I've heard it causes brain damage." He looks at her meaningfully, and she scowls at him in turn.  
 
"No. It's just that you're head is too large already to fit anything else inside."  
 
"Don't try to knock up my head size to compare it to yours, just so you feel better about yourself."  
 
"Malfoy, I knock you down when I want to feel better about myself."  
 
He releases a quick breath, which can be a laugh or a sigh. "Slytherin."  
 
"Hufflepuff." He points his spoon like a weapon and glares. 


 
Day: 989; Hour: 17  
 
Hermione threw the newspaper down, the four-month-old headline smacking against the table. "Muggles are not behind in the evolution process!"  
 
"Of course they are. Survival of the fittest--"  
 
"No! It's like a gene, all right? It's a gene, like the color of your eyes. And if two parents have blue eyes, it's nearly impossible that the child will have brown eyes. But sometimes that slips through the cracks, and a child will be born with brown eyes. Which is why there are Squibs, and why there are people like me! Most often, if there are two Muggle parents, the child is a Muggle. Two wizarding, a wizarding child."  
 
"This doesn't disprove my point that Muggles are behind. They have no magic! They lack the capability that we have. They are like a whole word of Squibs, Granger. An entire Squib filled population, and if one was found, every researcher in the Ministry would be trying to figure out what went wrong."  
 
"That's different! A whole community of Squibs could be a problem because they all must have come from wizarding parents in order to be a Squib. So the gene is getting lost somewhere. Muggles and wizards hardly integrate, and when they do, they stay in the wizarding world where they are allowed to do magic. That is why it doesn't spread throughout the Muggles. Because they never had it."  
 
"Exactly! They never had it! We're hundreds of generations in on our magical capabilities, and it has never shown in the Muggle world except for odd cases. Why is it that we hold magic, but they don't? Why is it that they haven't formed it over thousands of years? Because they are behind in evolving--"  
 
"Or maybe they are just that way! Maybe you're behind in evolving--" 
 
"I'm the one with the capability! How am I the one behind?"  
 
"Maybe it's just a weird mutation that started, and has never evened out--"  
 
"Mutation... A fucking mutation?"  
 
"And you know, for someone trying to redeem themselves, you're still racist!"  
 
"I'm racist?"  
 
"Yes, you're racist!" Hermione nods, as if he should have gotten this a long time ago.  
 
He hits the table, slamming it up against the wall, the leg smacking off her kneecap. "I'm the fucking racist? You just compared magic to a fucking mutation, but I'm the racist? You're a fucking hypocrite!"  
 
"You have an anger problem!"  
 
"All you do is judge people! You're waiting for the next incriminating word or action as much as you're waiting for your fucking fallout! You put people in lines, and all you do is judge everything and twist it into how you think it should be, instead of finding out what it is! If they don't act like you, talk like you, think like you, and breathe like you, then they must be something beneath you, right? Shoved under your sensible fucking Mary-Janes."  
 
"I judge people because I know--"  
 
"You think you know. You think you're so clever, and have got everything figured out. You walk around like most the world owes you something, but here's a life lesson, Granger." He leans in, face red and eyes hard. "The world owes everyone something. You are not the only one who feels screwed over by other people, because everyone feels they have been. From you, to me, to Harry-Fucking-Potter, to Voldemort. You don't have the right to judge them, and still go on about--"  
 
"You don't know anything about me! You're prattling on about me judging people, at the same time that you're judging me! You're--"  
 
"How does it feel when the tables turn?" he growls, furious. 
 
She stands then, too angry for stillness. "How does it feel to be judged? I'm the Mudblood, Malfoy, don't you remember? You're the fucking pureblood who thought himself so much better, and I'm the Mudblood who didn't belong. Remember? Do you fucking remember?" She screams, and hiccups, and thinks she might start bawling her eyes out from frustration and so many other things.  
 
He straightens up, leaning back, as if she has slapped him. Yes, Malfoy. Yes, remember that, Mr. Redeemed. Mr. I'm-Forgetting-About-My-Fucking-Boulder!  
 
"Maybe the reason I judge people is because I know they're judging me. I learned that the day I met you, didn't I? It's self-defense. It's how I protect myself, because I pay attention, and find out whose opinion is not worth worrying myself over. And you can't take that from me, Malfoy. You can't take it, when you're the one who gave it to me in the first place!"  
 
"Poor, poor, Hermione," he whispers. "Poor Hermione Granger, with her bad childhood and mean schoolboys." 
 
"Don't you dare belittle what I--"  
 
"Alright, you want to get the shit out in the air then? Is that what you want?" He slams his palm down on the table, hard enough to make her jump. "All I knew was how to hate you, because that was how I was raised. There was no other way of looking at it, because that was the only way I thought it could be. Just as how you grew to hate me. I acted out in that hate, just as you did as well."  
 
"I made no personal offense against you until you insulted me and attempted backward plans to hurt me and my friends!" she yelled. "I did nothing to make you that way."
 
"You didn't have to! I had knowledge, all stored up between my temples. I had facts, and lessons. Your kind was taking over, and they were bringing disease and dishonor, and they didn't belong there, taking things from us. Their world was on the other side of ours. They were stupider, uglier, dirtier, and something had to be done to bring peace back to our lives. I believe I heard something along the same lines from Moody just last month."  
 
"But I still didn't do--"  
 
"Your offense, at my mind set then, was just being there. For doing what I learned to hate you for, because you weren't supposed to be here. Even when I was younger, I had no reason to think about Muggle genocide. It was the ones here, taking what was ours that I wanted to get rid of. So I hated you. I fucking hated you so much."  
 
"And--"  
 
"But as much scorn as I subjected you to, you gave me the same. You may not have been racist, but you still hated me just as much."  
 
"For the person that you were, rather than what you were! You hated me for something I couldn't change!"  
 
"And you hated me for the same! So what the fuck is the difference?"  
 
"There's a huge difference!" 
 
"Like what?"  
 
"If you hadn't hated me Malfoy, I would not have hated you. I was obligated, even just to defend myself!"  
 
"And so was I!"  
 
"No, you weren't!"  
 
"Don't fucking tell me! You didn't live my life, Granger! And there's your problem, again. Judging, and never looking at the other side of things."  
 
"I look from another person's view when they deserve for me to."  
 
"When you deem them worthy of it, you mean?"  
 
"Yes, wh--"  
 
"There you go then. There. You. Go. Except I didn't start looking from your view until most the damage had been done, and you have. Never. Started."  
 
"Because Death Eaters have proved themselves worthy? Ha! They--"  
 
"Because I have!" he yells.  
 
Silence. Hermione finds them both breathing hard, not a foot apart, and red in the face. She stares up at him, forgetting her anger for surprise, but he is still holding tight to his rage. The chords in his neck are tight, his eyes flashing, and his fists are balling and releasing at his sides. 
 
"I'm not a racist," he whispers fiercely. "I am not him anymore. I didn't say Muggles aren't intelligent, or creative, or absolutely everything else that we are as well. All I said, is that they are behind in gaining magical ability. That was it. It was you who decided that must have meant they were a lesser people -- not me." 
 
He stares a moment longer before stalking away, his bones jilted on tight muscles.  


 
Day: 991; Hour: 12 
 
Neville laughs, stirring his coffee so that the spoon clinks off the side as many times as he moves it. "Was it bad?"  
 
"I don't know. I just... It's like he keeps trying to pry my eyes open when I'm already looking." 
 
"He had a point though. A little."  
 
"I know. That's what bothered me the most. Because I don't feel he has a right for me to have enough pity or feeling to look at it all from his point of view and understand why he did the things he did. Yet, if I want to understand him, then maybe I have to. I'm the one who he tried to alienate, but he just turns it around."  
 
"That's because it was the other way for him. And, Hermione, not for nothing, but the fact that he's even trying to explain it to you so you do understand, has got to mean something."  
 
"He's trying to feel less guilty over the things he has done. Or just wants to live easier now by not having me jumping on the things he says."  
 
"The fact that he would feel guilty means something too, though. As well as--"  
 
"I know, Neville. I know. And that's why I decided to give him a shot, you know? I give him a chance, and then I go back to thinking he's not worth it. Then another chance, then I take it back. I'm seesawing back and forth, and it's ridiculous."  
 
She feels awkward opening herself up to Neville, when it is something she doesn't do much with anyone. However, her conflict with Malfoy has been agitating at best and infuriating usually, and she needs someone to speak to who doesn't hate him.  
 
Or maybe just someone to talk to about anything at all. She found herself having the most brain dead conversations with people just for the sake of speaking.  
 
"You're letting yourself be vulnerable, and so you're keeping up defenses because you know you are vulnerable. And you're not going to go very far like that."  
 
She sighs. "So I should just drop my defenses? It's Draco Malfoy."  
 
"No, no. I mean you should stop looking at him like he's going to become his former self at any moment. Too much has happened for it to be that way. I'm saying that you shouldn't go in expecting everything to be different, but you shouldn't jump to conclusions about what he says, until you're sure you know what he means by it. Or else it's useless, because you're too used to looking for the insults that you're not paying attention to much of anything else. You're finding the hidden plastic Easter eggs that have nothing inside of them."  
 
"Nice metaphor."  
 
"I've been thinking of it since you started talking, so I had to add it in there." He blushes, and she laughs.  


 
Day: 994; Hour: 2 
 
Hermione writes and writes, far past the time her hand has cramped, and continues up until she signs her name. By the time she drops it off at Arthur Weasley's desk, she is close to positive her hand will dry up and fall off by morning.  
 
She does not care that a letter will likely not reach them for months, because at least she knows she did her part in trying.  


 
Day: 996; Hour: 10 
 
A man with a long black beard sits beside her when Malfoy enters the kitchen. She is nervous to see him, but slightly relieved in a strange way -- the man at the table has been looking at her oddly for twenty minutes now.  
 
You're Hermione Granger, he had stated. Yes, she had replied. And then he had stared.  
 
She glances up from Malfoy's hand, frozen around the sugar bowl. A perplexed expression rearranges his facial features, and the blank look on the Auror has changed to a stunned one.  
 
"What?" she asks, alarmed.  
 
"Your ass."  
 
"What?" She looks back to Malfoy, and his eyes track down her body as he juts his chin toward her.  
 
"I believe your ass is on fire, Granger."  
 
She blushes, sure this is meant to be a joke of some sort, until the heat in her back pocket reaches a level where she is sure she is not imagining it. She stands quickly, bumping the table and sending cold tea sloshing over the side of her mug. The coin in her pocket is so scalding hot that it burns her fingertips, the letters from Harry and Ron floating to the ground behind the coin still spinning to a stop on the floor. 
 
She waves her hand for the cool air against her injured tips, bending down quickly with her other hand to scoop up the smoking piece of parchment. It is yellow compared to the color of the others, and she knows it is the first letter Harry sent her since his departure.  
 
"Shit!" she breathes, waving the paper and stopping the gradual descent of the red and orange line from turning the rest of it to ash. Her heart lurches painfully, because it is something treasured that is half ash and half burnt parchment in her hand. A ball wells and grows inside her throat, and she must blink several times as she unfolds the parchment to find most of the letter gone.  
 
She is uncaring to how she must look to the two men, standing there and almost crying over a burnt piece of paper, but she feels negligent and horrible. She could probably quote the thing line for line. But that didn't change the fact that it was gone. Just as gone as Harry was to her now too.  
 
"How did it start?" the Auror asks her, and she ignores him at first, breathing heavy as she refolds the paper.  
 
"Granger." Malfoy is more insistent and far less patient, and she looks up at him and swallows hard.  
 
"It...uh... What?"  
 
"Is the coin activated? Is that what started the paper on fire?" the Auror speaks up again. 
 
"It shouldn't have gotten that hot." Malfoy stares disdainfully down at the gold coin, a scorch mark now circular in the floor.  
 
"The...the coin. Oh! Oh, the coin! Someone...trouble...I..." Hermione shakes her head, growing frantic, and darts barefooted from the house before she can form a coherent sentence.