Lanterns Go Out
"Oh… oh Merlin, oh..." She chokes back a sob. "Draco, what did they do to you?"
The gashes, the bruises, the sunken contours of his face. The indigo-ringed eyes and twitching fingers. She takes them all in. Damn them. How could his own parents have let…
"It doesn't matter. Hermione…" His voice cracks and he grabs her clenched hands around the bars. His are colder than death. They hardly feel like flesh and blood. Devoid of life, like him, like her.
"You can't give it to them. Whatever they want, I'm not worth it."
She almost laughs, but it dries up on the way out.
It's funny because he knows.
He knows that to her, he's worth more than the entire universe.
"They want to know where this wand is," she whispers, wrapping her thumbs around his hands, needing to hold on to some part of him before he can slip away from her and disappear like a phantom. "The Elder Wand. Supposedly, it's the most powerful wand in the world- undefeatable and all that. And I'm…" She gulps. In the weeks after their 'visit' with Xenophilius, she had been loath to encourage Harry in his growing obsession with the Hallows. He always took things like this to such extremes. But her curiosity had prodded her to look through her books anyway, and she'd found it. A sketch- rough, inaccurately proportioned, and familiar. A sketch of 'The Deathstick', of a wand she'd seen before, clutched between the burnt fingers of a very old man.
"I think I'm the only one who knows where it is."
Draco's face goes white, more than it already is, if that's possible.
"No." The word is hoarse. Harsh. "I know what he'll do with it. I've seen enough of him firsthand, in his home base. I know him. Listen-" His grip tightens around hers and he steps closer, crushing shards of glass from a fallen lantern underfoot. "If you give him that kind of power… Hermione, this could be the tipping point of the whole war. You can't let him have it." He searches her face. "Potter and Weasley don't know? Just you?"
"No. Just me." A sudden tightness pulls at her throat as she remembers her hand slipping during Disapparition, the feeling of being completely alone in a tent surrounded by Death Eaters. "They aren't here, anyway. They escaped."
"Oh. Then… how did the others know…?"
"Bellatrix got in my mind just as I figured it out, and I was too distracted to notice. She didn't get the location, though, so..."
"Wait." He scans her with wild, panicked eyes, and his speech grows strained to the point of snapping. "Did they do anything to you?"
"Did they do anything to you?"
Hermione takes in a shaky breath and looks at the ground. "Yes," she says, barely audible, "Cruciatus, and a knife, but-"
"Oh, God." His forehead sinks against the bars and then he's trembling, tremors shuddering across his body. "I'm so sorry, Hermione, I'm so…"
"It's not your fault!"
"Yes, but it's my family!" His head is back up now and hatred and shame is burning in every line of it. She loosens one hand from his grasp, reaching up to smooth the tension from his jaw. It loosens slightly, but the pain is still there, painting the rest of his features. Eating him alive.
"Draco." She lets the name slip like soothing medicine from her throat, soft as a breeze. He closes his shadowed eyes. Her head shakes and she runs a finger back up his jaw, then down again. Up, down, up. "You think you have reason to feel guilty? You've suffered so, so much worse than me. My cuts are nothing compared to yours. And it's directly my fault. You're here because you chose me, I… I did this to you."
Something painful shifts in her. Her voice grows low.
"I can't let them do any more."
Draco's eyes fly open, but he doesn't argue. Doesn't beg again for her not to make the trade, because he knows it's futile. Instead, he mumbles, quietly but with the force of an avalanche.
"I'd choose you again a thousand times if I could."
Then he grabs her chin through the bars of his dungeon, his home, touch featherlight, and slides his lips against hers.
She hesitates for only an instant before pressing as close as the icy metal will allow.
His lips are swollen and cracked, and she tastes his blood mingling with the sweetness no amount of torture could erase. The fingers that had been stroking his jaw fall to his neck, and their clasped hands become an unbreakable link, no gap discernible between them to mark the distinction of two separate beings. A tear, hot as fire and frigid as winter, slides down Hermione's cheek without her consent. It doesn't matter that she's about to save his life- that there is no hope for his freedom is enough to break her. And even if he lives another day, the future, their future, is in precarious hands indeed.
When she pulls away, she expects him to console her. Expects him to say there's no point in crying; everything will be alright when all's done. But he doesn't. He sees her tear. He smiles- a watery, packed, terrifying smile. He seems to struggle for words to say, but just three come out of his mouth.
The only three that matter.
And Hermione's screams echo against every aristocratic arch and wall in the Manor as he plunges a shard of glass from the broken lantern into his heart.