Draco hated working the dungeons. Not only was it dirty work, the work he was supposed to be above, but it tested his loyalties more than anything else. The sounds… the smells… and the dead eyes of those who had already given up. The women were the worst. Submitted to the whims of the Death Eaters… the women had to go through the most relentless type of torture imaginable. And here was Draco, forced to tour the aftereffects of all of his wrong choices.
These thoughts would lead to his death, a death that he wished closer with every cell that he passed.
Long ago he learned not to look in the cells. If he did, sometimes he would be met with faces he knew. Faces that were barely recognizable through the swelling, the gashes, the bruises and blood. Each face he knew tore him apart, sending him back to that day in Hogwarts when he let the enemy in. The day that he passed the point of no return, and sealed his fate.
Each time he guarded the dungeons, the flashbacks would hit. But this time, something interrupted him. A voice that made him want to scream and rip out his own heart before the pain could kill him where he stood.
The voice was small, but strong. Soft, but terrified. It was hers.
Draco turned, doing his best to hide the horror on his face, though he knew that he was failing. She was standing right in front of him, dirty and bleeding from a cut on her face. There were no signs of torture. She was freshly caught, then. But she, being who and what she was, would surely be treated worse than all of the others combined. A strangled cry left his throat, so quiet as to almost not be heard. She was never supposed to be in this position. Never supposed to be wearing the look of grim acceptance, never supposed to await what the future held for her.
"H-Hermione no… not you…" he moaned. Draco threw himself at the bars, holding them as he leaned his head in-between. He expected her to back away, but she didn't. "Y-you're supposed to win, beat the bad guys, save the world, live… I…"
Words failed him when he felt her soft fingers wrap around his, they were trembling. That fact hit him harder than anything, and made all of his veins, bones and organs tremble in cadence to her fingers. This couldn't be happening. Out of everything he had been forced to endure, he just could not endure the thought of what might happen to her. Thoughts raced through his mind. Plans, ideas, scenarios, going over anything and everything he knew about the encampment they were at, hoping to find some way to free her.
If he could get her out of the cell, he could disapparate and take her away, to anywhere. Back to Potter. But there was no way, there was every form of ward imaginable on those cells, and only Voldemort and Bellatrix could give people the clearance to open them. There was nothing he could do.
"Draco," she whispered. "Draco, I need you to save me…"
Her voice was so soft, sending warm puffs of air against his face. Draco sobbed, cry after cry ripping itself straight out of his heart and escaping through his throat.
"I can't! Merlin I want nothing more than to be able to but I can't break through the wards I don't know how to get you out-"
"Shhh…" Hermione interrupted, removing one of her hands from his and tilting his chin up so that he had to look her in the eye. "Draco, I did not ask you to set me free. I asked you tosave me."
And there, as he stood and stared into her warm, molasses eyes, he remembered that night during 6th year. The night before his life as he knew it ended, when she found him sobbing in a classroom while patrolling the halls.
He was staring out the window, looking out over the grounds, reveling in the peace that came with the night and contemplating how everything was about to change. He had done all of the preparations, set everything up, and tomorrow night he signed his life, and death, over to the Dark Lord.
As he sobbed, he wondered if there was anything he could have done differently in the past that would have prevented things- and came up with a million things he wished he could change. What he wouldn't give for a time-turner.
The door behind him opened, causing him to curse and wipe at his eyes. Was it time for patrols already? He'd been up here for hours then. A voice called out to whoever was in the room, and he had to bite back a groan. Of all the people to find him, it had to be her. Probably the biggest of his regrets. How would things have been different if he hadn't made life hell for her and her friends?
"Leave me alone, Granger," he rasped. As good as he was at controlling his face, was as terrible as he was at controlling his voice. He heard her take in a bit of air in shock, and then he heard the door close.
Had she left that easily? Was she that afraid of him?
"What's wrong, Malfoy? Are you alright?" she asked. He could tell by her voice that she was wondering why the hell she was even bothering with this, with him.
About to curse her and order her to leave- he stopped. Tonight may well be the last night of his life, and at the very least his life would never be the same after this. So why not?
"No," he answered. "I'm not."
Silence. Was she shocked that he had answered, and left speechless? Or was she waiting for him to elaborate? In for a knut, in for a sickle.
"Tell me, Granger, what would you do if your entire future rested on one moment, and you knew what would happen during that moment, but you had no choice in the matter?"
To his surprise, she answered.
"I would search for a way to break free of whatever bond held me. There is always a choice," she said. Her voice was so soft, so kind. Why was she being kind to him? He didn't understand…
"Not for me. He has my parents. He'll kill them if I don't do it," he whispered. Damn him if he wasn't crying again. But this time there was nothing he could do to stop the tears, and so he let them flow, awaiting whatever judgment she made on him. He waited for her scorn, for her to say that he wasn't trying hard enough, or even for her to say that his parents deserved to die, so why bother? But she didn't.
"I'm sorry," was all she said.
He felt her hand rest softly, oh so softly, on his shoulder. Like she was terrified that he would push her away. He had no idea why, but he didn't. Instead he just stood there, with her next to him, looking out of the window. There was no sound other than that of his tears hitting the cold stone floor below him.
"Do you want to do it?" she asked.
Draco wasn't sure how he knew that she meant whatever task was given to him, but somehow he did. And he came to a sharp realization.
"That's the first time anyone has ever asked me what I wanted in all of this," he laughed, though there was no humor in it. He must have sounded so pathetic, but all that happened was that her grip on his shoulder tightened.
"Do you?" she repeated.
"No. I never wanted any part of this," he sobbed. And at this point his entire body began to shake, and then heave, and he lost himself in it. He lost himself in the sorrow that came with finally voicing his thoughts out loud; for all that he damned himself in the process.
Eventually the Dark Lord would find out that he was not truly loyal, and he would suffer a traitor's death. But that death would be his alone, and his parents would not be killed for it. At least he hoped not, but that was all in the future- assuming that he lived past tomorrow, of course.
And then, none of that mattered. Because he felt arms wrapped tightly around him, holding him close. He could smell flowers, and he could feel her warmth. The warmth that she offered to share with him, the warmth she offered to a known enemy despite all he had ever done to hurt her.
And he broke.
It was like all of the emotion he had ever felt tore through him at that moment, and he held onto Hermione Granger as if his life depended on it. He buried his head in her hair, at first, and allowed the scent of roses to overtake him. But soon after that his legs gave out and he fell to his knees. He expected her to let go of him, then, but instead she pulled him closer and he leaned into her stomach, held firmly in place by her small arms.
He had no idea long they were like that. Long enough that he ran out of tears and his sobs began to ease. Long enough for him to come enough into his own senses to feel her tears falling down onto his head. She was crying for him, because she cared, and it was a gift that he did not feel like he deserved. He moved a little and found his legs working again. Draco stood, and she refused to let go of her hold on him as she looked up into his face.
Her tears were still falling freely, and as each one fell it chiseled a little more stone off of the case that held his heart.
"Is there anything I can do? Is there any way that I can help save you?" she asked. He didn't know what to say to this, so he said nothing, continuing only to look in her eyes. Eyes that met him with acceptance, and concern, and something else he couldn't quite name. But the silence proved too much for her, so she spoke again. "Draco?"
His name, his REAL name, and nothing else. Then, before he knew what he was doing, before he could stop himself, his lips were on hers. He was gentle, afraid of being turned down, but he couldn't have stopped himself from kissing her if he had tried. His soul had been bared in front of her, and she had held him through it. In this, he was helpless.
But then, she returned the pressure oh-so-slightly, and he lost himself.
He walked them until she was up against the wall, and he wrapped his arms around her, and deepened the kiss. Her lips were warm, and soft. Softer than what he had imagined clouds to be like, and she returned his kiss just as deeply as he had offered it. But then her tongue traced his bottom lip, and it caused a moan that started in his toes and shook his nerves until it escaped through his mouth.
She gasped, and it was the most beautiful thing he had ever heard, and he took his chance and pushed his tongue in to dance with hers as they kissed as if it was their last night on earth. Which, for Draco, it might well be.
Eventually the kiss slowed, the sweetness of the moment blasting away any walls he had ever been stupid enough to build, and he pulled away. As he held her face in his hands and ran his thumb over her cheekbone, he looked in her eyes and saw the future that could happen if he were willing to sacrifice his parents.
He could join her, and fight against his family, and watch what had started between them this night grow into something more. He could have children by her, and live a long and happy life. And maybe that life would be enough for him to forget that in order to have it, he killed his mother. His mother than had never done anything wrong other than marry the wrong man, and love her son with every ounce of her being. And as he sat there, and thought of his choices, his newly found heart shattered into a million pieces.
He could sacrifice himself, but he could not sacrifice his family.
One lone tear slid down his face as he reached his decision. Before he spoke, leaned in one more time to kiss those sweet lips that offered him everything, everything that he had to turn down. Before he could change his mind he released her and walked to the door. As he opened it, he turned his head to the side and spoke, the heartbreak evident in his voice, before he turned and closed the door behind him.
"I'm sorry, Hermione, but the only way to save me, is to kill me."
When he pulled out of the memory, the full meaning of what she asked hit him with a force strong enough to send him straight into insanity. Before he knew what he was doing he was shaking his head, unable to bear the thought of what she was asking him to do. He saw panic hit her, then, at his refusal. And before he knew it she was crying, and begging.
"Please, Draco! You know what they'll do to me… I-I can't handle that. I'm not strong enough for that. No one even knows that I've been taken, they won't figure it out for hours and by then… by then it will be too late…" she pleaded, her voice no louder than the wind.
Her voice was shaking, her entire body was trembling, and the sight was enough to break the heart that had broken years ago in an abandoned classroom all over again.
"Hermione… I-I can't… I," he stammered, emotion clogging his voice and refusing to allow him to choke out a complete sentence. She was all that was good and kind in this world. How could he possibly do as she asked? There was no way. His memory of her is what had given him hope that this war would someday end, that he would somehow be free.
But as they stood there, lost in their own turmoil, footsteps and laughter could be heard coming down the hall.
They were coming for her.
As realization of what was happening widened her eyes, she threw herself at the bars, pushed her face between and kissed Draco in desperation. Her scent enveloped him as he returned that kiss with everything he had, his heart pounding in his ears in time with the speed and ferocity of the kiss they shared.
The voices were getting closer; they were right around the corner now.
Hermione ripped her lips away from his and sobbed her desperation, her final request only a whisper.
And so, as he whipped out his wand to grant her final wish, the feel of her lips against his haunted him. He looked in her eyes, and saw gratitude. But he also saw a glimmer of what he had seen in her eyes all of those years ago, when she held him close. A strangled scream escaped him when he finally realized what it was.
When the Death Eaters rounded that corner he could see them, and he could sense them reaching for their wands, but they weren't quick enough to stop him.
His soul was ripped apart as Hermione nodded at him, and offered him a small smile, a smile that spoke of the love in her eyes.
"Av-Avada Kedavra!" he screamed, though the sobs that wracked his body almost prevented him from getting it out, and his arm was shaking so violently that he almost missed. But in a flash of green, her body was falling, and as he strained to see her through his tears, searing pain hit him in his side and he toppled over.
Curse after curse hit him, though Draco didn't really feel any of them. Tears cascaded down his face and he turned towards her cell. With the death of its occupant, the wards had fallen, allowing her hand to fall forward between the bars not far from his own.
Even in her death, she was reaching for him.
The last sensation he felt before the life was stolen from his body, was the feel of her still warm fingers as he covered them with his.
He was with her at last, and she?
She had saved him.