Peace On Earth
Everyone jumped in their seats. After an hour of bleak silence, the interruption was more of a shock than it should've been. A loud stumbling noise followed the slam, and five people were on their feet at once, staring in concern at the gaping wound of a stairwell in the wall. Hurried footsteps sounded up in the hallway, then were abruptly cut off, an exclamation of surprise slicing through the air in their place.
"What is it? What's happened? Lupin called. His voice was strained tight as drum from the stress that had been building on them all for, in all honesty, years.
"It's Malfoy!" Ginny yelled down. "He's hurt!"
Hermione's heart leapt into her throat. Malfoy. Without a word passing between them, everyone jumped toward the staircase, clomping frantically up the steps in single file. It had been nonverbally settled long ago that going one at a time was the most efficient way to get up or down a set of stairs in case... well, in case something ever happened. Crowding together would only slow them all down. Really, it was almost sad that they all had this burned into their skulls, along with all the other steps and procedures for an emergency- and without ever having even planned it. But that was what living on a very narrow wire did to you, Hermione supposed. You were constantly alert and prepared. Or you fell.
Out in the narrow, slightly-less-dank-than-below corridor, everyone ground to a halt near Grimmauld Place's front door. Being rather more diminutive in stature than the others, it was impossible for Hermione to see past the varying widths of robe clad shoulders in front of her, so she shoved between her friends, needing to see how bad it was. This need was purely due to curiosity, she told herself. Not because she really cared whether Malfoy was alright or not. She didn't. She still hadn't forgiven him for the years of tormenting her and her friends- reformed or not. He might've been a spy for the Order now, but that didn't erase everything he'd done, everything he'd said. She could still feel the sting of tears and the achingly tight closing of her throat that first time he'd called her...
Hermione huffed. Not important right now. Sidestepping the last person in her way, her eyes zeroed in on the pale figure that had fallen across the rotting carpet. A hand clapped over her mouth on impulse. Oh... oh Merlin.
He was... a wreck was a mild way of putting it. Blood soaked his hair and clothes, staining the normally platinum strands dark red and dripping from his cloak to form a pool underneath him, which absorbed into the carpet almost as quickly. It was caked under his fingernails, too, and in all the cracks of his hands and across his face. There was a large gash running straight across one eyebrow and stopping just shy of his eye, his lip was busted, and it looked like his nose was as well. The eye that wasn't under the scar was swollen shut, and bruises painted every other square inch of skin with shades of purple, green, and black. That wasn't even mentioning his oddly twisted leg, the chunk of flesh missing from his wrist, or the sickeningly crooked bends of his fingers.
Bile rose up in Hermione's mouth and she swallowed at the bitterness. Malfoy might've done a lot of horrible things in the past, but none of them warranted this. She could never have wished something so terrible on anyone.
"Gracious." Molly Weasley's shaky voice broke the stunned silence. "What... what on earth...?"
"Moody, come on, help me get him up."
Lupin and Moody knelt down beside the battered spy, gently slipping their hands under him as Ginny stumbled out of the way. They hesitated when he let out a whimpering groan.
"Can't move him this way," Moody muttered. "Y'll kill the boy 'fore you get him to a couch." He produced a wand from one of his many pockets and waved it with a flourish. Malfoy was lifted into the air, hovering about a yard off the ground.
Once he'd been levitated over to a sofa and set gently down, Tonks knelt down beside him. "Oy, cuz," she said softly, meeting his pain-hazed eyes. "Can you tell us what happened, then?"
Malfoy tore his bloodied lips apart and swallowed, seeming about to talk, then winced and closed them again. He gave her a small, slow shake of his head.
Hermione's heart was pounding as she watched them. She couldn't quite explain why, nor why she was so very scared for Malfoy, but then, those weren't important questions right now. Her own emotions were something that could be examined at a later time. It was imperative to remain level-headed in situations like this.
"He needs to be mended up before he can tell us anything," she found herself saying. Her voice quivered more than she would've liked and she cleared her throat. "We can't know all of what damage has been done internally until he can talk again, of course, but we can at least fix what's visible. That should ease his pain somewhat."
The others nodded solemnly and several of the older adults began waving their wands over Malfoy's body, repairing wounds and siphoning up blood. Harry slipped over to stand behind Hermione. "What d'you reckon?" he asked, and she could hear the frown in the words, the weight. "Think You-Know-Who sent him into a den of thugs on a mission?"
She merely shrugged, unwilling to trust her vocal chords not to falter again. They could only hope that was all it was.
When the majority of perceivable injuries had been fixed to the best of his healers' abilities, Malfoy was appealed to for his story once more. This time, he answered.
"He knows," he got out hoarsely.
The temperature in the room seemed to drop ten degrees. Everyone knew who he was referring to, and what, but Bill asked anyway.
"What do you mean?" Every syllable of the question was drawn out. Threaded with the hope that they were all wrong in their assumptions.
Of course, they had no such luck.
A shuddering breath worked it's way out of Malfoy's lungs and the tension seemed to both decrease and heighten in the room as everyone's fear was confirmed. "He found out I was with the Order."
Arthur Weasley put a hand over his eyes. Hisses of dissent and fear erupted around the room.
"And Snape?" Bill asked anxiously. "Do they suspect him?"
"I can't be sure." Malfoy wheezed a little as he spoke, his eyebrows drawing together. "I... I don't even know how they found out about me. He just sent me out to an alleyway, and then Death Eaters started appearing, and... well, I barely made it here alive, in case you hadn't figured that bit out already."
Lupin began pacing, the lines already carved into his face by worry deepening with every fall of his foot. Hermione took a step back to catch her breath. This could be the end of everything. If You-Kn... Voldemort... found out about Snape's disloyalty, not only would there be no more incoming information about the enemy's plans, but the entire Order of the Phoenix could be compromised. They would threaten him. Torture him. He wasn't the Secret-Keeper, but they could still get a lot of valuable information out of him. And Snape aside, they were under a great deal of danger in any case now that Malfoy had escaped. Voldemort wouldn't stop until he was hunted down or dead. Which meant no more leaving the house for Malfoy, just like the rest of them.
She glanced back over at the danger-inducer, and was a little unnerved to see his gaze riveted to hers. She'd caught him doing this a lot recently, watching her intently for no apparent reason. For nearly ten seconds, neither of them dropped their stares. Then Malfoy sucked in his now unmarred lower lip and looked away.
What am I doing?
Hermione had asked herself this same question five times already. Her feet, her damned feet that apparently thought for themselves, were taking her into the sitting room where Malfoy was resting to allow the more serious of his wounds- the ones that couldn't be cured instantaneously- time to heal. They refused to stop moving, and they refused to listen to the angry signals her brain was sending them at all until she was inside the room and directly in front of Malfoy, who was now well enough to sit up and had been staring gloomily out the window until she walked in. Then the little rascals docilely allowed Hermione to ground them to the floor. Stupid feet.
Malfoy blinked up at her, looking a tad awkward. Interaction between them always was, thanks to their old enmity.
"Hey." Hermione let the greeting out quickly and then shut her mouth back up tight, like it was a fly that might try to get back in if she didn't seal her lips. Malfoy squirmed.
After an uncomfortable second that seemed more like a minute, he asked, "Did... something happen?"
"No, no." Hermione shook her head. "Just, um. Wanted to see how you were doing."
"Oh." Malfoy looked at his hands, which were bunched together in a white knot on his lap. "I'm fine."
Another off-beat silence. Then Hermione sat down beside him, not bothering to ask permission.
"I can't believe this," she sighed, her discomfort fading in the face of dejection.
"Any of it. You-know-who finding you out, us being stuck in this creepy hole of a house, none of us being able to accomplish anything." Anger started licking at Hermione's mind, tiny flames kindled by thoughts that had been weighing on her for months. "It's this damn war. I can't stand it. People are dying every day, innocent people, just because of what they were born. You can't control it if your parents don't have magic as an innate part of them! I mean, I know this must sound weird to you because you used to think that way, but it's just. So unfair. And we're not making any progress against this massive cloud of darkness that's swallowing everything up. All we can do is sit here in this awful place," she punctuated this with a slam of her fist against the couch's arm, "that has house elf heads in the stairways. Harry's already lost his parents and Sirius and Dumbledore to this stupid man, if I can even call him that, and you almost got killed just now! I can't even imagine how much pain you must've been in- how much you're probably still in- and... and..."
She trailed off, noticing that Malfoy was looking at her funny. She realized this was the first time she'd ever openly shown regard for his life. And... that outburst had probably been a bit much, considering she was supposed to have just come in here to check up on him. Sighing, she rubbed two fingers into her forehead. So, she didn't want him dead. Whatever. That didn't mean anything. Malfoy had changed since he'd accepted Dumbledore's offer to join the Order's side, she could acknowledge that. He wasn't cruel anymore, or arrogant, or spoiled. All that had been sucked out of him when he'd joined Voldemort, along with whatever shallow imitation of happiness he'd been in possession of before. That didn't make him likeable or anything, it just made him... tolerable. Forgivable. No more.
After a pause, Malfoy spoke, but not in response to what she'd just said. He went off on a completely different tangent.
"You know what day it is, right?"
Hermione lifted her head away from her hand, confused. "What?"
He turned his head to stare at the open doorway. "It's Christmas."
That took Hermione a moment to process. Christmas? Was it really? She'd sort of stopped keeping track of the days a while back. What was the point when each one was the same?
"Huh. No, I didn't know. That's..."
"Weird?" Malfoy offered.
"Yeah." For some reason, that often quoted line popped into Hermione's head: peace on earth, goodwill toward men. Fate must've been having a good laugh at the irony of that right about now.
A little bitter smile lifted her lips. "Hope you don't mind that I didn't get you anything."
Malfoy's demeanour shifted. "I..." He seemed to be debating whether or not he should say something. "Um. I have something for you, actually. But I don't know if you'll like it."
That took Hermione by surprise. Malfoy looked almost nervous, his re-straightened fingers twisting together against the dark fabric of his pants.
"Wait. Seriously? Why wou-"
She was cut off by Malfoy suddenly leaning close to her and pressing his lips to her still moving ones. Her eyes widened.
What... what on earth was he doing?
Kissing her, apparently. He was strangely gentle and soft about it. Sweet. That wasn't a word she'd ever thought would describe anything related to Malfoy. Then it was over, his head ripping away and his eyes scanning hers anxiously.
Well. That had been unexpected.
Or had it?
She vaguely recalled all the times he'd watched her from across the room, the oddly quiet way he spoke to her in particular now. Somewhere in the fuzzy shock of her brain, the pieces snapped together. Who would have thought. Malfoy liked her. And that wasn't even the weirdest part. The weirdest part was that she didn't mind.
"Sorry," Malfoy rushed out when Hermione continued to sit there mutely. His cheeks went slightly pink and he pinched his shirt, looking upset with himself. "I shouldn't have done that."
"No." It seemed to spill from her mouth of its own accord. "No. It's okay." And funnily enough, she believed it.
He raised his eyebrows, looking for confirmation. "Yeah?" He sounded cautiously hopeful. Merlin, this was strange.
They both looked at each other for a little while longer before turning to face forward, sitting together in disturbingly companionable silence. This was crazy. Completely mad. And Hermione couldn't understand where it had come from, not at all. But she liked it. Wonder of wonders, she liked it.
"Merry Christmas, Draco," she said after a while, testing out his first name. It felt nice on her tongue.
She didn't look over at him, but she knew, despite the freakishness of the situation and the utter hopelessness of this working, despite the ache of his mending wounds and the lack of any cheer at all in the gloomy, war-locked house, he was smiling. Smiling at their little abnormal, messed-up moment of sunshine in the darkness.
"Merry Christmas, Hermione."
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