Written for Dramione Fanfiction Forum's Sounds Like Dramione Competition.
Winner: Friends In Low Places - Admin Favourite. Runner Up: Whatta Man - Best Draco Characterization
Prompt: "I'll be right here now, to hold you when the sky falls down." Right Here - Ashes Remain
Smoke hangs sharp and heavy in the air, bolts of spellfire striking tree trunks and sending bark flying as Draco runs through the forest, indiscriminately firing curses behind him.
The Dark Lord's latest gathering at the Malfoy Estate did not go according to plan; with a simple slip up, Draco blew his cover, making survival his new and only goal. With his knowledge of the old magic permeating the land around his family home, he could escape quickly, Apparating away before capture.
When he lands somewhere in the English countryside that he has only a vague recollection of, he falls to the ground on top of his left arm. He feels something crack, fire racing down his nerves from elbow to wrist.
He has to go now; several pops ring in the air alerting him to his enemies in pursuit. They won't kill him, of course; the Dark Lord would want that pleasure himself.
Draco cradles his broken arm against his abdomen and stumbles to his feet, grasping his wand with the wrong hand in an attempt to secure a strong grip.
And he runs.
Death Eaters nip at his heels, unrelenting. It's over.
There will be no more masquerading as one of them. Months of a double life and with a single slip-up, it's all over.
He has to get to the safehouse. His arm is mostly-numb as he stumbles through the trees, barely keeping his balance as roots and stones trip him.
He's so close, just one jump away, but he has no chance of Apparating again if he can't stop and focus. With all his might, he tries to centre his mind on his destination, dashing behind a tree and performing the spell as fast as he can.
His wand barely flickers, and he wants to scream his frustration. His pursuers' pounding footsteps grow ever closer, and he tries again, eyes pinching closed as he envisions the safehouse tucked between rolling hills.
A sickening tug behind his navel signals his success, and he's pulled away from the forest with a faint pop.
When he finally lurches into the safehouse in the middle of nowhere, Granger is there, rising from her spot with her wand drawn and pointed at his chest, fire burning in her eyes.
Lupin takes her by the shoulders and speaks into her ear. It is clear what he tells her when her eyes go round, her mouth opening and closing like a goldfish. It is unendingly delightful to have one up on the swotty little witch, but he is filthy, dripping sweat, and cradling a snapped ulna. Draco can revel in her shock for only a moment before Kingsley calls him over to debrief and have someone tend to his arm. Following, he catches Granger's incredulous tone as she asks, "An ally?"
A smirk twists his lips.
The next time he sees her, Weasley is brushing the most platonic kiss Draco has ever witnessed on her cheek before leaving for the night's strike. The smile she returns is forced, the lines of her body tense and tight. Weasley doesn't notice, lumbering off down the hallway like a newborn Abraxan unsure of what to do with its limbs.
After being in the field for seven straight days, Draco is finally relieved, given downtime for the evening should no emergencies arise. With Granger stationed at the house ready to triage any injuries, it is just the two of them in the tiny kitchen.
As the front door closes, Draco raises an eyebrow in her direction.
"What?" she snaps, amusing him even further.
"You two certainly can't keep your hands off each other, can you?"
Her face scrunches up in annoyance—almost prettily—as she glares at him from the counter where she is slicing and dicing potion ingredients. "That's none of your business." She says it in that uppity tone that drove him mad when they were children, but now it looks like armour. Clearly, he's struck a nerve.
So he pushes further.
"Come now, Granger. I've seen Flobberworms with more chemistry between them."
"You have no idea what you're—Ah." A tiny gasp of pain leaves her lips.
Before he can fully engage his brain, he stands from the table and goes to her, carefully taking her hand to inspect the injury.
The sight of blood beading on her skin twists his stomach, and despite seeing that the wound is relatively minor, something pushes him to help her, to take care of her; she cut herself because he was distracting her, after all.
It's his fault.
He hurt her.
Somewhere in the depths of his rational mind, he knows what he's feeling is an overreaction; the ever-present guilt he carries with him taking the reins, making him feel responsible and reminding him of all the people who experienced unimaginable pain because he was stupid and naive.
Breathe, you idiot.
Chest expanding on a deep inhale, he grounds himself.
"I'm fine, Malfoy." She tries to slip her fingers out of his, but he won't let go. Instead, he draws his wand and whispers a quiet charm, watching intently as the blood disappears and the wound seals: a faint pink mark left as the only evidence that it was ever there.
"What was that?" she asks, eyes flicking between her hand and his wand in suspicion; she didn't trust him.
Of course she didn't. What had he ever done to make her think he was anyone worth her trust?
She glances up at him and her eyes narrow, wordlessly chiding him for the sarcasm. "I'm not familiar with the incantation."
He slides out of the uncomfortable state of caring about her and back into the familiar antagonism of their relationship.
"So what you're saying is I know something you don't? Give me a minute. I really want to savour this."
"Shut it." She jabs her elbow into his stomach, but there is a smile dancing at the corners of her mouth.
As she spins away, the scent of her hair overwhelms him, masking the unfortunate smell of old, rotting wood encasing the run-down safe house.
Waxing poetic about the scent of a witch's hair was not his usual mode of operation. Yet here he is, thinking about how it smelled pretty and soft and simultaneously wanting to take his wand to his head for such flowery thoughts.
This is Granger, after all.
She's already got someone to fawn over how her hair smells, no matter how odious that person might be.
Taking a few steps back, he can breathe normally again. Being too close to her is like a spell of its own, ensnaring him.
He needs to be somewhere else.
One of the raggedy couches in the sitting room is calling him, so he sinks into it, closing his eyes.
Time passes nebulously around him, and at some point, he hears the clink of ceramic. When he opens his eyes, she is sitting in the chair next to him holding two mugs in her hands. He sits up, swinging his legs down over the side of the couch. Without a word, she holds the blue mug with a chip on its face out to him. His fingers wrap around the warm cup, and he wants to sigh at the simple pleasure of a hot drink on a cold night.
The ceramic pattern reminds him of the fancy china his mother treasured, brought out only for special occasions. Thinking of his parents twists his heart. Gods, he misses them.
When he glances at Granger, he sees a similar sort of faraway sadness in her eyes, and he wonders if they share the same loss. Catching him staring, she reaches forward and gently pats his hand without a word, and somehow, it makes his heart sting just a little bit less.
They sit in companionable silence for ages, sipping their tea. It's not much, this little show of her not hating him, but it feels significant.
Freezing rain falls the first time they go on a mission together, making everyone miserable but masking any sounds of movement. It makes for the perfect ambush.
As they're tromping up a hill and he is trying not to stare at Granger's delectable arse swaying back and forth ahead of him, she slips in the mud and slides backwards, arms flailing around in an attempt to regain her balance.
It doesn't work; instead, she falls against his chest and he can do nothing but catch her. She is in his arms for a moment, maybe two—just enough time to feel the warmth of her despite their cold, wet surroundings—but the impression of her body against his lasts long after she is gone.
Grimmauld Place is deserted when he returns from keeping watch on Saturday night, and he desperately needs a shower. He wasn't exactly pleased when he'd been shuffled around to the dismal townhouse, but the working plumbing was a gift from the gods that his previous accommodations had lacked.
As he dries himself off, the sound of a door slamming comes from downstairs, followed by tense voices and thumping steps. Draco pauses, curious as to who is having a row on the stairs.
"I didn't mean it that way and you know it, Hermione."
Weasley stomps past the bathroom door, Granger obviously at his heels. Draco can easily picture how she might look in her ire, hair like a frizzy halo around her flushed face, and he grins to himself in the mirror, genuine laughter bubbling in his chest for the first time in weeks.
"What did you mean, then, Ronald? What did you mean when you said—"
"I'm overreacting? "
Another door is thrown open and slammed shut, the voices muffled now. There is more to her voice than simple anger. She sounds hurt and maybe a little lost. His grin rapidly fades at the sound of her pain.
Trouble in paradise flits through his mind before he can stop it, and he tries to ignore the insidious seed of hope sprouting at the thought.
Winter turns to spring.
One day as he listens to the Wireless in a tiny shack near Brighton, a transmission comes through that turns his blood to ice water despite the sunshine peeking through the clouds.
Granger is off with a small squad somewhere to the west, and over the crackly radio, a report of two injured and one dead from that area steals the air from his lungs.
It's been a month since he last saw her, but he checks in surreptitiously when he can. There is no rhyme or reason to his compulsion; he only knows that the ache behind his breastbone ebbs when he's certain of her safety.
He is no longer certain of it, and nausea hits him square in the gut. He can't stay sitting; he needs to move, needs to do something with the horrible nervous energy roiling within him, so he springs from his seat and walks the length of the porch.
You'll wear a hole in the floor with that pacing, darling. His mother's voice rings clear in his mind as if she were there beside him. It's almost stupid, how much he wishes she was there to run her delicate fingers through his hair and tell him that everything would be all right.
But she's not. She's gone, and the idea of Hermione being gone like that, forever and always, suffocates him.
The survivors arrive, and there she is, shoulder shoved under the arm of one of their classmates as she helps them limp through the door.
It is the first time he wishes he was brave enough to show her how he feels, because he wants nothing more than to pull her into his arms and feel the steady, reassuring beat of her heart.
He made an error.
And now he is royally fucked, cornered without his wand.
A smothering sense of impending doom tightens the muscles in his neck and shoulders until he's worried they might snap as he shifts his weight onto one knee, steadying his stance. Draco has never held much interest in maths, but even he knows that three hulking snatchers with full use of magic against one unarmed wizard meant pretty dismal odds for him.
"Gentleman, please lower your wands,."
The voice is familiar—feminine and firm—and when he whips his head around, Granger is there, striding through the gaping hole in the wall like a valkyrie, the air around her cracking with electricity and making her hair take on a life of its own.
She is glorious in her rage.
Glee spirals through him when one of the Weasley twins tells him that Granger finally had the good sense to break things off with their little brother. Becoming unlikely friends with people he'd have turned his nose at in the past is a strange side-effect of war. Companionship—that simple but powerful feeling that he's not alone in this mess of a world—is a gift.
Fred and George are sharp and quick-witted and make for almost pleasant company on long, cold nights on patrol. There's a whole wave of feelings crashing over him as they casually break the news he has been waiting to hear for longer than he cares to admit, but he plays it cool and shrugs.
A look is shared between the brothers, but they keep silent as George goes back to dealing cards to the three of them from a faulty deck of Exploding Snap. If they weren't careful, they could sear off a finger, but the cards do their job of keeping boredom at bay, so they play despite the risk.
Physically, Draco is there, tapping cards with the tip of his wand, but his mind is far away, lost in some convoluted and entirely fantastical world where Hermione chooses him. A memory from earlier plays in his mind; he crests the hill behind the cabin and there she is: head thrown back, ridiculous curls cascading down her shoulders as she laughs at something Potter says.
wants to make her laugh, but he hasn't earned that right, not really. He would have to find contentment in simply knowing that she was happy and healthy and whole.
That night, his sleep is fitful, plagued by nightmares of a wild-haired witch being snatched from his arms by dark, grasping claws.
One week later, she patches him up after a skirmish in the woods, hair falling to obscure her face as she hunches over his arm, attention entirely focused on the burn blistering his skin.
Chaos envelopes the kitchen, people coming in and out and bustling about, but in the corner with her, it is peaceful, and questioning why is beyond him. He'd rather soak up the moment instead. Small, calloused fingertips gently brush over his wrist and down his forearm as she spreads salve on the wound. A sigh escapes him as the paste immediately cools his skin, and her eyes flick up to him when she notices.
Clearing his throat to avoid croaking like a prepubescent teenager in front of a pretty girl, he finally manages a quiet, "Much."
With a soft smile, she nods and goes back to work on his arm.
They lose someone that night. Neither of them know the wizard very well, but the heavy fog of loss creeps over them just the same.
Later, in the wee hours of the morning when cool moonlight shines through the tattered curtains covering the windows in his room, she comes to him in the dark, all clutching hands and greedy mouth, seeking a little comfort without strings that he cannot refuse.
The reality of being with her, skin to skin—so close he can't tell where she ends and he begins—is far beyond any of his midnight fantasies.
In the morning, the sunlight catches on her hair where it's spread across his chest, gold threading through the dark strands.
For a moment, he feels safe and content.
But soon the reality of life comes crashing in when pounding on the door summons them for an urgent meeting.
With her back to him, she tugs on her t-shirt and steps back into her jeans, shimmying them up her legs, and he wants to commit the sight to memory.
When the war is over and she moves on, he'll close his eyes and remember when she was his for this single, fleeting moment.
To his astonishment, that night is not their last. Over the following weeks, the field work grows rougher and they grow closer, coming together in a tangle of limbs and whispered promises against damp skin over and over again.
It's convenient, their relationship. She needs something, and he's there. Simple stress relief. He should care that he's the worst of her choices, that they are finite and destined to end, but he doesn't.
He just wants her, however he can have her.
No one else knows what they do in the dark. He is her filthy little secret, but for him, nothing has ever felt more right.
He can't sleep.
His dreams are plagued by ghosts and endless flashes of bright green light.
They're all bunking on cots in the main room of their current lodgings, and he quietly slips off into the abandoned kitchen; lying there and staring up at the ceiling is doing him no good.
His initial assessment of the kitchen is incorrect. It's not empty; Granger is sitting at the rickety table, cradling a worn paperback in her hands.
Her gaze meets his, and the genuine affection in her eyes nearly knocks him back. It must startle her too, because she blinks rapidly and looks away, gesturing for him to sit across from her.
"Can't sleep?" she asks, and for a split second, he wants to tell her all the things caught in his throat, good and bad, but he swallows them down and simply shrugs.
Her answering nod is heavy with understanding, and she doesn't press, instead turning the page and reading him a passage from her book, her voice soft.
It's a book of poetry, he realises. It's beautiful, the way her tongue curls around the words. He could sit there and watch her all night.
So he does. And it is far better than sleeping.
In the morning when they sneak back to their cots before anyone notices that they're missing, her fingers twine around his for a split second, squeezing gently and releasing as she goes to her bed on the other side of the room.
He closes his fist as he lies down, wanting to hold the sensation of her skin whispering against his.
The gut-wrenching cries of grieving mothers and choking smoke fill the air as Voldemort is struck down.
Draco expects to feel victorious; instead, he is numb.
There is a moment amid all the chaos where time slows down. Everything happens at negative speed, each detail shown in sharp clarity.
He runs forward, taking out the remaining Death Eaters in his path by rote and muscle memory, his mind fully focused on finding Hermione.
His eyes search for her, head swinging slowly back and forth as he scans the area.
His heart trips in his chest when his gaze lands on a pile of smouldering rubble, and the exact shade of purple as the tattered jacket Hermione always wears stands out against the stone.
But then he rounds the corner and sees a head of wild, matted hair—a few particularly buoyant curls somehow still standing and defying gravity—and his numbness is overcome by sudden, unbelievable relief.
Trainers slapping against the cobblestones, she runs to him, launching herself into his arms and wrapping her arms around the back of his neck.
For the first time, she touches him in public.
He freezes, unsure how to react to such a visible display of affection when everything has been behind closed doors for so long.
But soon, his body catches up with his brain and he holds her tight, face buried in her hair.
It is a sentiment Draco finds hard to believe; so many years, so many deaths, and suddenly it was done, just like that?
He needs time to process, to retrain his muscles and nervous system to not jump into adrenaline-filled action at the slightest noise.
It will not be easy. For any of them.
But at the end of the day, he's been given a gift he'd never, not once, thought he deserved.
She's his light on the other side of this suffocating darkness.
And she's choosing him.
A/N: I really struggled to figure out this piece, and my amazing, fabulous alpha/beta team were so gracious and patient with me as I changed my mind several times. I'm so grateful to mightbewriting and LadyKenz347 for all of their help and time spent polishing up this story.
Thank you for reading! I'd love to know your thoughts. Respectful concrit is always welcome!