People often said that in times of turbulence, you learned to appreciate the little things. Poetic and whimsical notions like sunsets, the sounds of birds and the varying colours of dainty flowers.
Well, Hermione could safely tell those people that it was all bollocks.
Bollocks. Bollocks. Bollocks.
Sunsets were pretty much the same everyday, squawking birds were actually very annoying and gave her a headache, and she could really care less about the hues and shades of flowers. They all died anyway; all wilted into ugly, shrivelled shapes. Especially when winter was starting to strangle life out of the world.
No, when times were bad, and they really were, it pretty much distracted you from everything else. Everything else was irrelevant and distorted, clouded by the gravity of the darkness. Hermione had noticed that even her classes had become meaningless, and the worst thing was everyone seemed to feel the same.
The students of Hogwarts were drowning in melancholy. All of them.
Well, the ones that had been allowed to return.
She'd worked out there were just over a quarter of the usual number of pupils, and all of them were scared; moving around the lonely corridors with glum faces and whispered tones. But the classes were still held, as were the Quidditch matches and other events, even though it was glaringly obvious that most of the students had lost the will to compete, socialise and even learn.
McGonagall was doing her best to keep things consistent and familiar, but it was pointless. Hogwarts was pseudo-school now; just a shell with ancient walls that people had once thought were safe. But, of course, that was all bollocks too.
It was the 1st of October, meaning Hermione had only been back at school for a couple of weeks, but it felt longer. It also meant that Dumbledore had been dead for exactly five months. No, Hogwarts was definitely not safe, and everyone knew it. The Death Eaters had breached their school, all thanks to Draco fucking Malfoy, and then Snape had murdered the most brilliant man she would ever know.
Voldemort was back. Well, he'd been back for a few years now, but the curse of his return was becoming louder and more threatening with each day that passed. She was petrified. That's right. Screw the stereotypes that came were her Gryffindor colours, sometimes it was rational to be frightened.
It certainly didn't help that her two supposed best friends had left her here all alone. Yes, Harry and Ron were currently traipsing all over the country searching for Horcruxes. Without her. She wasn't sure where the reasoning had been in that decision but it had been Lupin's suggestion. She loved her friends dearly, but if she was right Harry was probably having a mental breakdown every hour, and Ron would most likely be tripping over his own feet.
She knew it hadn't been their decision, but she couldn't help the resentment that had burrowed into her brain. At least they had each other.
She had been left here to assist McGonagall with turning Hogwarts into a shelter. A safe place. There were a few other Order members here such as Seamus and Dean, and Ginny was helping along with the rest of the professors. The youngest Weasley was nice enough, but she didn't come close to filling the gap the boys had left her with. For the most part, Hermione felt significantly alone.
She'd been given the title of Head Girl of course, possibly so she could have her own room to help with the Order's plans. Or perhaps it was so she could have some freedom to lock herself in the library at night with the hopes assisting the cause. Or maybe it was because she was the infamous best friend of Harry Potter, and was supposed to provide some symbol of hope to the miserable souls that were haunting Hogwarts. Whichever it was, she was glad she could help, but she'd have rather stayed with Ron and Harry.
Michael Corner was Head Boy, but she'd never really found out why he'd been chosen. It was probably just because he'd been a prefect and a member of Dumbledore's Army, but she doubted he was doing much in the way of preparation for the Order. She could have asked him, of course, or even attempted to make conversation with any of the other students, but the only person she really spoke to these days was McGonagall. She was too busy...too immersed in her desperation to help.
Her Head Girl dorm felt empty. Hollow.
Near the Gryffindor Tower, there was her bedroom, a little kitchenette, a small living space, the bathroom, and another bedroom. The bedroom that Harry would have probably occupied if he'd been chosen as Head Boy. Corner had his own Head dormitory near the Ravenclaw Tower, and for that she was grateful. If she was going to be angry and anxious about the state of the world, she didn't want anyone but Harry and Ron to know about it.
But, as she had noted so many times, they weren't here. They sent her one letter every fortnight, careful not to owl any more in case it alerted Voldemort to their Horcrux-hunt.
So, yes. Things were bad. Remarkably bad.
So bad that the words in front of her were just sliding over her brain and escaping her attention. It had just passed midnight when she'd made her way to the library to research Horcruxes again, spurred on by her passionate insomnia.
It was easily two in the morning now. The place was obviously empty, and only the faint glow of her Lumos gave any indication of life between the labyrinth of bookshelves. She rubbed her sleep-deprived eyes and tried to focus on the blurry letters and shapes, but it was difficult.
"Right," she mumbled to herself, trailing her fingertip under the sentence to steady her gaze. "'The first known wizard to create a Horcrux was Herpo the Foul, and they can only be...
She'd already read that sentence twice.
* * *
"You are insane," he spat harshly, stopping in his tracks. "I don't know which of your crazy potions you've knocked back, but there is no way I am going back there."
"And I suppose you have a better idea?" Snape tuned slowly to face his companion, regarding the young man impatiently.
"Have you forgotten what we did in there?" he questioned, raising his fury-trembling hand to indicate the dimly-lit school. "I'll be killed on the bloody spot if I step one foot in that place!"
"We do not have time for these arguments, Draco," the ex-professor sneered, grabbing the back of the younger wizard's collar. "I made a Vow to protect you and this is the only place you will be safe-
"Get off me!" he hissed, struggling against the grip as Snape marched towards Hogwarts. He tried to dig his heels into the ground and pry the hand away from his robes, but it was futile. "You blood traitor scum!"
Snape stalled his long strides and adjusted his grip on Draco's clothes to bring their faces close. It didn't show on his face, but Malfoy suddenly felt very wary of the dangerous look in the wizard's eyes, but he didn't flinch. He was a blood traitor. Fact.
Snape and himself had been in hiding for the last few months following the...events in Astronomy Tower. Draco wasn't stupid. He knew his failure would have consequences, but he could have never imagined the magnitude of them. The Dark Lord wanted him dead.
He hadn't spoken to either of his parents since, and he had no idea what had happened to them. He'd barely left some Shetland shack, with his only companion consisting of the greasy and eerie man currently glaring torture at him. And he had a price on his head. Both sides wanted him dead. Peachy.
And then Snape had told him that he was a spy; that he'd betrayed them all and that he was one of them. Draco had vomited the barely-digested scraps they had managed to salvage that day and spent the remainder of the evening trying to escape their Scottish hideout.
But where would he have gone?
Had it not been for the fact that Voldemort wanted him Avada'd as soon as possible, he would have disclosed that revelation for some personal gain. But he had no place with the Death Eaters any more, which left him substantially buggered; forced into following around the blood traitor who had told him he could no longer protect him.
And now he had brought him to Hogwarts.
He'd tried to ask questions about the extent of Snape's involvement with the Order, but the odd git had characteristically said the bare minimum. Draco had wondered if insanity had finally caught up to the older man; that the whole spy concept was just the hysteric ramblings of a half-minded man. He'd murdered Dumbledore after all. But then why would he be taking him to Hogwarts if he didn't have some leverage with McGonagall and the Order?
All the questions and anxiety pounded against his temple and throbbed with echoing reminders in his ears. But he'd had no answers. No promises. Nothing. Just left to simmer in a limbo that ached and wondering when everything had become so complicated.
Five months in a rickety shed on some desolate Shetland Island, with only the drones of sheep to slice the silence, had left him more than a little...tense. Of course, having the most powerful wizard on Earth hunting for your corpse didn't help.
What a shit week. Shit month. Shit year.
"I am trying to protect you, Draco," the sinister man snapped, tightening his hold on Draco's robes. "This is the only place you will be safe-
"I will not be safe here," the blond growled, curling his lip in disgust. "I am their fucking enemy-
"You're an enemy to both sides now," Snape pointed out, continuing his steps towards Hogwarts and yanking the Malfoy heir with him. "But this side is the least likely to kill you. Professor McGonagall had already agreed to this."
"Stupid cow," Draco barked, earning him a choking tug. "So I am to entrust my safety with that crazy hag?"
"You don't have a choice."
His protests stopped.
* * *
Autumn had crept up on the castle too quickly, and it squandered the cold at the back of her neck. Her breath left her mouth in silky mists and she bunched the fabric of her jumper in her fists to protect her fingers.
Hermione jumped out of her seat when she heard the library door swing open, followed by shuffling steps. She grabbed her wand, silently ending the Lumos charm and listening carefully to the intrusive thumps against the floorboards. She made her breaths as quiet as possible, managing to rise from her seat without making the faintest noise.
She peaked through the gaps of the bookcases, searching for a glimpse of something out of place. All the shadows mingled into one mass of almost-black, so she concentrated on the sounds. Whoever it was still lingered by the door, but was slowly making their way further into the library. Her hand tightened around her wand.
"Miss Granger?" a familiar voice called, and she relaxed her shoulders. "Are you in here?"
"Lumos," the witch sighed, her feet following the friendly tone. "I'm here, Professor Slughorn."
"Oh, there you are," the jittery man smiled when she came into view. "You know, we've looking everywhere for you. You really shouldn't be out this late, even if you are Head Girl."
"Is everything okay?" she questioned, ignoring his comment.
"Professor McGonagall would like to speak with you," he stated simply, leading her away from the library. "She's in her office."
"Is something wrong?" her brows knitted together wit concern. Why would McGonagall need her at two in the morning?
"I'm not sure what's going on, Miss Granger," he admitted with a harmless shrug. "I'm sure everything's fine, or we would have been informed."
"I suppose so," she nodded absently, tucking her hands in her pockets. "It just seems a little odd."
"In times like these, Miss Granger," he breathed, and she could hear how tired the man was. They were all so tired. "I'm surprised you can still find anything odd."
"I will walk you to the office," he told her, his voice croaking with fatigue. "Would you like me to wait outside for you to make sure you get back to your room safely?"
"That's not necessary," she dismissed with a little shake of her head. "My room is only a small walk from McGonagall's office. Plus, you look very tired, Sir."
"I was woken rather suddenly," he confessed, smothering a yawn into his sleeve. "But then, you were reading in the library. Are you sleeping okay, Miss Granger?"
"Well enough," she lied.
"Might I recommend some Dreamless Sleep Potion?" he suggested, giving her a meaningful look. "I could brew you some for tomorrow?"
"No, thank you," she offered him a weak smile. "I have some Muggle sleeping pills I can take if I really need to, but I'm fine, Professor. Really."
"If you say so, Miss Granger," he relented, stopping as they reached the door to the passageway that would take her to McGonagall's office. "I shall leave you here then."
"Thank you, Professor Slughorn," she nodded politely, waiting until the wizard had disappeared down the corridor before she mumbled the password. "Tabby cat."
* * *
Draco was sat in an oversized chair, grinding his teeth and chewing his tongue. The two professors were bickering in front of him, and it had taken every bit of self-control not scream at the pair. If McGonagall wasn't clutching her wand defensively, he would have probably hexed them by now, or at least cast a few silencing charms to block out there scratching tones.
"I agreed to meet you, Severus," the witch spoke harshly. "I made no such promise that I would actually let him stay here."
"There is nowhere else," Snape stated calmly, turning his eyes to Draco for a moment. "If the Dark Lord finds him, then he will kill him, Minerva."
"And you would have me put the rest of the students in jeopardy?" she snapped, her Scottish accent thick and reminding Draco of his vile stay in the North. Always hiding...
"You are trying to protect the students," the sullen wizard spoke. "He needs protection more than anyone-
"That boy is the reason this place was attacked!" she shouted, pointing an accusing finger at him. "That boy-
"Is a child," Snape interrupted, ignoring the offended grunt from the otherwise silent teenager. "He was mislead, Minerva."
Draco's eyes shot up at those words, and he analysed the man he had once trusted with wary scepticism. It felt odd and degrading to be defended by someone he now despised.
"He knew what he was doing," the headmistress said quietly, her conservative tone back into place. "And if he hadn't been so foolish, things would be very different-
"The Dark Lord would still be a threat," he reasoned carefully. "You know that Albus-
"Don't you dare try to bribe me with his memory!" she warned, her voice rising a decibel that harassed her own ears. "Don't you dare, Severus-
"You know I'm right," he said with a subtle force. "You know full well how determined he was to ensure Draco didn't follow...that path."
The Malfoy heir felt his jaw slacken. The inevitable questions flooded his brain too quickly, and he hissed the air through his teeth. The old oaf had taken an interest in him? Had wanted to keep him away from the dark path? And Snape knew this? Just more secrets; more splinters into his brain.
"What the hell-
"I warned you to keep your mouth shut," Snape drawled purposefully, not even bothering to glance at him. "Minerva, you know Albus would have let him stay-
"Well," she sighed, massaging her forehead with her age-creased hand. "Albus' benevolence could have been considered his downfall, alongside his desire to see the good in everyone."
Snape made a small sound of agreement. "Be that as it may," he mumbled quietly. "I'm running out of time. He needs a place away from the Dark Lord."
The old witch tensed her lips and moved her wise stare to study the youngest inhabitant of the room. Draco tried to hold the exchange but found himself glaring down at his lap, his lids heavy with fatigue. He'd been unable to manage a decent night's sleep since the night of June 1st, four days before his seventeenth birthday. Call it the cold that had crept in through the cracks of their hideout, or the painful hunger pangs that he'd suffered for five months, or perhaps even the flimsy remains of his conscience.
Sleep was a forgotten luxury, as was a decent meal. And a bed. And a shower. And warmth...
"Very well," McGonagall murmured finally, holding her head a little higher as she spoke. "He may stay. But I have my terms, Mr Malfoy, and if any of them are broken, you will be on your own."
Draco slowly raised his eyes to regard the woman with an agitated look. Who was she to lay down a list of rules? Like she was doing him a favour. He didn't want to be here. He didn't need her bloody help. She could stick it up her-
"Your wand, Mr Malfoy," she demanded calmly, stretching out her hand.
He snorted. "Sod off," he muttered coldly, but he felt something at his side move, and watched with furious eyes as his wand left his pocket and landed in her palm.
"You will not be permitted to attend classes with the rest of the students," she told him crisply. "I would think the reasons would be pretty obvious for that. You are to remain unseen and I'm sure you wouldn't be welcomed back by the other students anyway."
He rolled his eyes. He hated people who found it necessary to state the obvious.
"You will not leave the room you are given," she continued harshly, her lips pursed with stress. "If you step one foot out of Hogwarts without my permission then you will not be allowed back in. Ever."
Draco rubbed his chin and looked at Snape, who was watching him with that familiar impatient stare. He wanted to tell them both to fuck off; to mind their own business, but he knew this offer wasn't optional. He reminded himself again that he had nowhere to go. So that was it. Another place he wasn't allowed to leave. Another sanity-draining prison. Merlin, help him to save his mind.
"He will stay here?" Snape questioned, breaking the silence. "With you?"
"I have far too much on my plate to play chaperone, Severus," the witch explained in a clipped tone. "I have someone else in mind to keep an eye on him."
Snape frowned. "Slughorn?" he guessed. "One of the professors?"
"You know first-hand that they wouldn't have time for that," she replied with an arched eyebrow. "Considering the circumstances, Severus, there are only a handful of people I trust fully, and if you want Mr Malfoy's whereabouts to remain secret, then he will stay with Miss Granger."
Draco's eyes doubled in size and mouth went dry. "The fucking Mudblood-
"You will do well to mind your language, Mr Malfoy," she threatened with her clipped tone. "I think I've made it quite clear that your stay here is conditional-
"You think shoving me in a room with her will be safe?" he questioned with a disbelieving face. "If there is anyone other than the Dark Lord who would want me killed, it's the Mudblood-
"You will stop using that word," the witch reiterated with a scolding finger. "I am certain that Miss Granger is capable of handling this...situation maturely."
Draco released a humourless bark of laughter and shook his head. "You're off your bloody rocker."
"Apparently so," she agreed. "But if I was you, I wouldn't encourage me to reconsider this arrangement."
He narrowed his glare and tuned to Snape with an expression of sheer disgust. "This is your idea of protection?" he spat though his bared teeth. "Handing me over to these morons-
"Enough," he hushed him quietly, still eyeing McGonagall with a curious expression. "Are you certain Miss Granger is the wisest option, Minerva?"
"She's the only option," she stated resolutely. "She is the only student I completely trust."
"But one of the professors would surely be more appropriate."
"The professors have enough trouble keeping their eyes on the other students," the headmistress said with an edge of impatience. "Miss Granger is perfectly capable and she just so happens to have a spare room in her quarters-
"This is a joke," Draco growled, wrinkling his nose with disdain. "I refuse to stay with that-
"I won't tell you to shut up again," Snape sneered, take a long stride to smack the back of of his head.
"You will do as you are told, Mr Malfoy," the witch warned stiffly. "You will only have one offer of help from us and then you're on your own."
He felt the urge to challenge the witch rise in his throat, tickling his tonsils, but he was so exhausted. Hogwarts was so much warmer than the shed, and the warmth was like a sedative. The plush chair was absorbing him, no matter how hard he tried to ignore it. The smell of food lingered in the air too, and it was doing betraying things to his empty stomach.
"Shall I take that your silence means you accept our offer?"
Offer. He snorted. It wasn't an offer she was giving him, and everybody in the room knew it. It was an ultimatum. Stay with the enemy or risk death. The will to live only just beat his pride. Fine, let them feed him and provide an ancient roof over his head. His parents would be looking for him. His father would convince the Dark Lord to overlook his...mishap. Perhaps.
"He accepts," Snape spoke on his behalf, giving his ex-pupil a stern look that dared him to protest.
"So be it," McGonagall sighed, with all the dread of a demon-bargained soul. "Do you have any belongings?"
His eyes fell into his lap again. The simple answer was no. No, he didn't have a bloody thing to call his own. Just the multi-scourgified and battered clothes he'd been wearing since that night, and a set of robes that Snape had given him. He was stripped of all the tokens of wealth; the symbols that represented his infamous heritage, and he hated it.
"No," he spat quickly, shuttering his eyes.
"Then I will have the House-elves get some things for you," she told him, her tone no softer than before. "I'll have them sent to Miss Granger's room at some point tomorrow."
"And Miss Granger has agreed to this arrangement?" the older wizard questioned with a sceptical tone.
Draco's golden eyebrows rose high on his pale forehead. Not yet? The woman was digging his grave faster than Voldemort.
* * *
She dragged her anxiety-nibbled fingertips over the old bricks as she shuffled her feet down the corridor, her other hand clutching her glowing wand to guide her way. She'd figured out why McGonagall had summoned her now. There was only one possibility.
Someone had died. Or been hurt. Perhaps Harry and Ron's plans had been discovered. Maybe the school was under another threat. Or Voldemort could have found the Order's headquarters.
There were hundreds of possibilities, and all of them bad.
She mourned her optimism; wished it hadn't been stolen by Astronomy Tower's dark memory and the absence of her best her sad thoughts of that night were stolen when McGonagall's distorted voice rattled down the passage, and just as the echoes subsided, another voice joined her. A man's voice.
Her grip on her wand tightened and she picked up her pace, the smacks of her footsteps loud amongst the acoustics. She couldn't discern specific words or even if there was perhaps a third voice vibrating along the walls now. With a twitch of her wrist and the password whispered again under her breath, the thick door slammed open. Her eyes went wide and wild when she absorbed the scene.
Snape. Here. In Hogwarts.
She didn't even notice Malfoy.
Three heads whipped around to look at her, but she only saw one. Him. The man that had killed the greatest man she'd ever known. She felt fire burst in her chest.
"You," she breathed, her features stretching with shock for a moment before the angry lines creased her face. Her wand arm straightened with an agitated snap of her elbow, and her bark-brown eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. "Impedimenta!"
He blocked her spell effortlessly, and it infuriated her more. The witch's rage was pounding her ears, muffling McGonagall's request for her to relax. Her magic was throbbing at her fingertips, ready for revenge. She fired a Stupefy, but it was deflected like her last attack.
Draco watched the duel silently with his calculating eyes, wondering why Snape was actually participating in it at all. Surely a quick Petrificus would put the meddlesome Mudblood in her place. She hadn't noticed him; hadn't once taken her eyes off the other wizard. He would bet his family's fortune that spotting him would hardly calm the little tantrum she was having right now.
Snape eyed the girl calmly and shot a silent disarming spell in her direction, deciding it was best to end this before it got out of hand. He cocked an impressed eyebrow when it had no effect, and faltered when another one of her curses made him stumble on his feet. She had been practising. When had she learned silent shielding charms?
"Enough!" McGonagall tried to intervene, but Hermione's eyes barely flicked over to the woman. "Miss Granger, calm down and let me explain-
The young witch didn't blink. "Confrin-
Her wand flew away from her hand, and her confused and betrayed stare shifted over to the headmistress. She felt charmed ropes coil around her to restrict her movements, and frustrated tears sauntered down her cheeks. The older witch gave her an apologetic look before she jerked her wand again, and Hermione felt her feet leave the floor before she went flying back into a closet.
The door closed behind her with a blunt bang, and she remained frozen in the dark for a stunned moment before she was struggling with everything she had and shouting until her throat felt stripped by bleach. Why was McGonagall doing this? She coughed on an outraged sob and swallowed back the scream caught in her windpipe.
What the hell was going on?
On the other side of the door, Draco sank back into the chair with a roll of his eyes. He watched the pair of professors as they shared a look of scepticism and resisted the compulsion to shake his head or laugh at their stupidity. How could they honestly be surprised that she had reacted the way she did? He really was surrounded by bloody idiots.
"Well," he commented, his voice raspy at the back of his throat, but still rich with surplus sarcasm. "That went well."