He discovered Harry Potter was coming over when he heard him arguing with Hermione in the hall outside the flat. At the sound of Potter's voice Draco stood up and backed away across their main room toward the bedroom. Hermione's bedroom. He exhaled and made himself appear calm. This would be fine. They'd hated each other as boys. They'd gone through a war. He'd been to prison. They were both different now.
It would be fine.
Except Potter was saying, "I don't get it, Hermione. I mean, fine, rescue the man. You're the girl who moves worms out of puddles, I get that. But he's out now. You've done your thing. Why is he still living with you? Send him on his way to one of –"
"This is not your problem." She cut him off. "He's happy here."
"He's not a bloody rescue dog, Hermione!"
"He's happy here. I'm happy having him here. Why do you care?"
"Because he's a wanker," Potter snapped so loudly he might have been standing a foot away from Draco the words were so clear. "He was a Death Eater, he betrayed everyone and everything you care about, and then you ruined your life to save him. It's enough." Potter sighed. "I just hate how much he's taken from you."
"I don't think my life is ruined."
She was offended. Draco braced himself against the doorframe, instincts telling him to go hide in the bedroom at war with the ones telling him to listen, to eavesdrop. To learn.
"Really? You work at a bloody bookstore ringing up the purchases of people who… and all because of him."
"I made my own choices and there's nothing wrong with my job." She paused. "And I think you're forgetting I needed time. Do we really have to do this again? Right here in the hallway? I chose not to go back to school right after the war."
"You chose to fuck your life up!"
"I chose to save an innocent man from a lifetime of hell," Hermione snapped. "And I'm choosing to open up my home to him."
"Not innocent," Harry said.
"Innocent," she said again, more insistently. "He was innocent.A boy, just like you were, except there was no one there to help him the way Molly was there for you." He could hear her sigh. "He was as alone as I was, Harry. Everyone wanted me to just pick and up move on like nothing had happened and, I'm sorry, but I couldn't. Can't."
"So this is my fault? Because I wasn't supportive enough? You were a fucking black hole of neediness, Hermione. No one alive could have been supportive enough for you."
Draco felt himself tense against the urge to fling open the door to the hall and hit the man. The woman had been tortured. He'd had to watch it. Maybe she'd downplayed it to her friends. Maybe they hadn't really understood how bad it had been but he had.
She still woke shaking.
"Not your fault, no," she was saying, "but you made your choice and I made mine and I'll not tolerate you standing there telling me how bad mine was. I made it for good reasons, Harry."
"He's Malfoy." Potter sounded frustrated.
"And he's my friend," Hermione said. "My… he's mine."
Draco stilled at that fierce possessive tone. So, apparently, did Potter.
"Oh, Hermione," he said. "Tell me you're not… not Malfoy."
"Oh yes," she said. "Malfoy. Draco."
"He's just going to use you," Potter said. "Take even more advantage than he already has."
Draco could almost hear her shrug. "Well, I've had a lot of experience with boys I love taking advantage. Maybe it's nice to have it be about… about just me instead of about my research skills for once."
Draco retreated all the way at that, shutting the door to the bedroom and lying down on the bed. On their bed. He put his fingers up to touch the fairy stone and closed his eyes.
When Hermione came into the flat, came into their room, she was alone. Potter had apparently decided he'd rather not visit with the paroled Death Eater, Draco Malfoy. She didn't mention he'd ever been there and Draco didn't ask.
"I got pizza," she said.
He sat up. "I love pizza," he said, "thanks."
. . . . . . . . . .
That night he sat in the bed – their bed – and watched her pull her hair back into a braid. It helped keep him from waking up with her hair in his mouth. She had on an old t-shirt and a pair of soft pajama bottoms and the fabric clung to her curves. He reached a hand out and touched the edge of one breast, tracing his fingers along the lines it made.
"You're so beautiful," he said quietly and she made a huffing noise and shook her head. "You are," he said again. I used to lie in prison and picture you in that white dress you wore when you came and saw me at the courthouse." He smiled a little. "I hated that dress when I first saw it, then spent months imagining every line, every wrinkle, every fold."
She'd stopped fussing with her hair and was still. "Why did you hate it?" she asked. "It was just a –"
"I thought I'd never be free again, never… never go out in the sun, never be in a place a sundress… it was light and freedom and warmth and all the things I thought I'd lost." He traced the curve of her breast again. "All the things you've given back to me."
"Anyone would have done it," she muttered self-consciously. "It was wrong to send you there in the first place. Keeping you there past your year would have been… it wasn't an okay thing to do."
He didn't bother to contradict her. Didn't point out that no one else had.
She was, as Potter had said, the girl who rescued worms from puddles. Who tried to free house elves. Who'd freed him.
"I don't know a lot of how I feel anymore," he continued. "It's still very strange. I still… I can hear the guards telling me I'm worthless. I can hear Voldemort threatening me. My whole family was worthless, he'd said. See if you can't save them, though I doubt you can." He swallowed. "I couldn't, of course."
"Your mother saved us all," Hermione said softly.
"And got herself killed by her own side for the trouble," Draco said.
Hermione nodded. Narcissa Malfoy had been turned on by Death Eaters when Harry Potter had stood up, not, as she'd claimed, dead. Draco had had to watch her be slaughtered in front of his eyes.
He'd never talked about that to anyone. Not to anyone else at Hogwarts. Not to anyone in detention. Not to the lawyer who'd somehow found this woman to save him. Not to her. Not until now and even now he couldn't really discuss it.
Well, she didn't talk about the war. They both understood the comfort of silence these days.
"I don't know, sometimes, if things I'm feeling are because of real things in front of me or because of nightmares still echoing in my head," Draco said. "I'm scared all the time. I know people hate me. I don't even really understand why you don't."
"Draco – " Hermione said but he held a hand up.
"Just…" He closed his eyes and swallowed and she was kissing him, her mouth gentle on his, and he felt himself take control and start to kiss her back, kiss her far more roughly than she had until he had her pinned beneath him on the mattress, her hands at his neck and he was pulling that t-shirt off over her head. "Could we go more quickly?" he asked.
In answer she dragged his mouth back down to hers and ground her pelvis into him.
He took that as a yes.
He ran a hand over her breasts, marveling at how perfect her skin was, how utterly unblemished. Other than the slur carved on her arm she was flawless.
She was flawless.
When he ran a thumb over a nipple she gasped and arched up under his hand and, never a slow study, he nipped at her lip with his teeth and then moved his mouth to suckle and lick at her breasts. She nearly keened under his touch and he slid his hands under her back and pulled her up to him, moving from one breast to the other as she curved her body to him.
"I never thought I'd do this," he said. "Never thought… I told that lawyer I'd die –"
"Well, you won't," she said, propping herself up on an elbow and looking at him. "You do want me, right? Not just… a body, right?"
"Oh, I want you," he said. "You, just you, always you. You forever and you for always and you until the bloody sun explodes." He pushed the long hair that had fallen into his face back and looked at her. "You do believe me, right?"
Her brown eyes sparkled a little to much but she smiled at him, if a little shakily, and said, "Really?"
"Really, truly," he said.
"I…" she trailed off and he looked at her.
"What?" he asked.
"Just… never mind," she said. "I'm glad you… you want me, that's all."
"I do," he said. "I really do."
He lowered his mouth back to her skin, tasting her, letting his tongue drag from the curve of the underside of her breast down along her stomach to the waistband of those faded pajamas. She whimpered again and he let his forehead rest against her for a moment as he tugged the fabric down over her hips. She raised her bum to help and he slid hands under her, feeling the rounded shape of her arse in his hands and then, her pajamas still only halfway down her thighs, he kissed and licked along the curve of her hipbone towards her. Finally, he slid his tongue lightly along her and, she gasped and struggled to push the pants down the rest of the way. He laughed and pulled then all the way off and she spread her legs with eager and fervent abandon and he ran his fingers along her, pulling her open and looking at the pink perfection of her.
She tasted better than she looked.
She sounded better than she tasted.
She keened and whimpered and gasped and grabbed onto his hair as he licked and probed and he could tell, novice that he was, that she was close, damnit, she was, when she hauled him back up, pulling him by that long hair, and nearly snarled at him. He'd been lost in the world of pleasing her and wasn't sure, for a moment, what she wanted until she sat up and fumbled with his clothing. "You," she said, "I want to feel you," and he didn't need to be told twice.
He shucked off his clothing and positioned himself, checked her face to confirm that, yes, she wanted this, and then, using his hand to help guide himself, thrust into her.
He lasted exactly fourteen thrusts.
He knew because he counted.
She came at thrust number nine. No screams. No dramatic gasping of his name. She just tensed, closed her eyes, and shuddered.
The knowledge that he'd done that, he'd brought her there to her nearly silent climax, pushed him to his. Those last five stokes were almost unbearable and he did choke out her name as he lost himself.
As he found himself.
Words of devotion and adoration and love hung on his tongue but he pressed his face into he neck as he lay on her and kept silent. She wrapped her arms around him and twined a leg through his and he could feel the hot tears he didn't want her to know about running down the side of his nose.
"Draco," she said.
He thought he'd known what fear was. He hadn't. Fear was lying here waiting for her to tell him to leave.
"I didn't… I didn't get you out of Azkaban for…you don't owe me. Don't… don't do this as some kind of repayment."
He lifted his head and looked at her.
She went on. "I don't want to… I could fall… I don't want to be hurt, is all. I… this scares me."
He sat all the way up and looked down at her. "You think I… that I have a feeling of obligation? That I wanted to…no. I… it's just you. Just you for me. Broken, lousy, Death Eater me."
"Just you for me too," she whispered. "And you aren't broken."
"You just don't want to see the cracks," he said, lying back down.
"You're changed," she said, her voice still very quiet. "It was war. It did that to all of us. Me too. And Azkaban… you've gone through hell but you aren't broken. Forged, maybe. Tempered. Not broken."
. . . . . . . . . .
The longer it took McGonagall to respond to Hermione's note regarding the N.E.W.T. exams the tenser she got. Draco watched her pretend not to wait for the post every day, watched her pretend not to care that the woman hadn't replied yet.
He knew she didn't really believe this would work.
Knew she didn't want to admit how much she cared.
He held her without telling her it would be fine even though he knew it would be. He would sit in the miserable townhouse Potter had inherited from the Blacks and go through their law library if he had to; he'd face down all the politicians that wanted to use her as a bit of victory propaganda while holding her to their ridiculous bureaucratic nonsense about testing windows. He wasn't going to let her keep hiding like this.
"It's different for me," she'd say, rubbing at her arm.
"Me too," he'd say, putting her hand over his Mark.
"Welcome to being a despised minority," she tried to jest but she sounded so sad he'd just hold her more tightly and silently damn the rest of the world to the hell they so deserved.
Finally McGonagall's response arrived. It was terse. A generous person would claim she was overwhelmed with the responsibilities of rebuilding a school that had been a battlefield. Draco, not that generous, suspected she'd always found swotty Hermione a bit of an irritant and therefore hadn't been motivated to seek her out and make sure she finished school; she probably didn't like being reminded of that now.
Well, Draco knew how easily rules got bent when people in power chose to do so. McGonagall could do some bending.
It would be easiest for you to stay at Hogwarts and write the exams with this year's class, McGonagall had written. Let me know your arrival date and I'll have a guest room prepared for you.
Hermione looked at the parchment with wide eyes, then up at Draco. Those brown eyes narrowed in consideration and then she looked back at the sheet and grabbed a quill to write a quick response. He looked over her shoulder and felt his shoulders tighten with every word.
Draco Malfoy and I will be there the day before the exams begin to get settled so please prepare two rooms unless you're comfortable with us staying together. As I'm sure you're aware, he was also unable to write his exams on schedule. I look forward to seeing you. Perhaps all three of us can have dinner after the exams are over. ~ Hermione Granger.
She'd sent it off before he could stop her.
"You learn fast," he said, charmed against his will.
She smiled at him, a warm smile that made his mouth twitch up in an answering grin.
"I guess it's cram time," she said. "Let's figure out which exams we're going to ace."
. . . . . . . . . .
By spring they'd turned the kitchen into a Potions lab.
"Potions," Hermione said, "And Runes. And Arithmancy."
"Don't want to be a Auror?" Draco teased and she snorted.
"I want nothing – nothing – to do with the Ministry," she said. She dropped her head and said, "I thought I might like to travel, find Potions ingredients. Get out of Britain."
"Why Runes?" he asked.
"More complex Potions can be adapted using runic work," she said, not looking up at him. "I think. And if we can use that rock around your neck to safely incorporate plants that only grow where the Fey congregate we might want extra warding when we work with them."
He bent over the paper she was reading and got more and more absorbed into the possibilities until he'd pulled it away from her and was just reading it. She'd brought books over from Harry Potter's library and their living room was piled with texts – many probably outlawed but that was the old Black book collection for you – on the subjects she was pursuing.
"You're coming with me, right?" she asked, head still bent down as he read. "I'm pretty good at camping after that year on the run. I do a mean undetectable extension charm; we can get everything we need into a couple of packs to live like, well, the brilliant witch and wizard we are and –"
"Really?" he asked, setting down the article he'd taken from her. "You'd really… yes."
"Granger and Malfoy's Rare Ingredients?" she asked, looking up.
"Malfoy's Rare Ingredients," he corrected her.
She frowned at first and looked like she was about to argue and then she just stopped and stared at him. "You're not…?"
"It's just you," he said. "Just you for me."
He waited, watching her. The long moment balanced between them "Malfoy's Rare Ingredients, then," she said.
He nodded. "After we pass those exams. No one will buy from people who don't have Potions N.E.W.T.s." He paused. "Do we have to invite Potter?"
"Yes," she said.
He hid his smile under a pout and she laughed and picked the book she was studying up and joined him on the miserable couch he hoped she had no intention of trying to pack up into her magical camping kit. "I love you," she said. "Draco Malfoy."
"That's good," he said as she leaned on him, "because I just adore you. I'd do anything for you."
"Even go camping?" she teased.
"Even get married with Potter present," he said.
. . . . . . . . . .
She passed, of course.
So did he.
McGonagall pretended to look happy to see them both but people who lied quite well had, as he'd said, raised Draco. The Head of Hogwarts was happier to see them leave. She hoped they'd never return.
Harry Potter witnessed their simple ceremony at the Ministry. So did Ron Weasley. Hermione had suggested to Ron he leave Lavender at home and the man was smart enough to follow her advice. If neither man was exactly pleased with her choice they'd both acknowledged that she was happy and that was what mattered to them.
Harry Potter had actually shaken Draco's hand and muttered awkward thanks that the man had gotten Hermione "out of that fucking bookstore."
Theodore Nott stood up for Draco, looking uncomfortable. His eyes widened when he spotted the fairy stone around Draco's neck and he made an almost undetectable questioning expression, tipping his head towards Hermione. When Draco nodded, Theo yanked Hermione into a tight hug. "Was it obligation or love?" he asked so quietly neither Ron nor Harry could hear him. "When you gave him that thing, what was it?"
"It was obligation," she replied, just as quietly.
Theo shook his head. "Bloody Gryffindors," he muttered. "Giving away a fortune to do the right thing by a man whom you didn't even like."
She stiffened and muttered, "It's not obligation anymore."
"You saved him," was all Theodore Nott said, his voice controlled. "And I owe you because I couldn't, wouldn't have even been allowed to try. I'm as broke as the rest of us, thanks to my father's wartime choices and the Ministry, but if you ever need anything I can do –"
She stepped back and smiled at him and nodded. Harry and Ron both glared at the lanky, dark-haired man. Accepting Draco was just at the edge of doable; two snakes was too many. Theo excused himself as soon as was possible after the ceremony, giving Hermione one last glance of mostly concealed wonder and shaking Draco's hand.
"I'm glad he came," Hermione said as she packed her bag. Draco watched her drop things into it with some awe. She'd undersold her undetectable extension charm.
"He's a good guy," Draco said. "Potter just makes those of us who were on the wrong side uncomfortable."
Hermione leaned over and kissed him on the tip of his nose. "You'll get used to him," she promised. "And he'll get used to you." The latter was muttered under her breath and had the distinct edge of a threat.
Draco doubted that but he didn't care. Potter could go hang. He'd gotten the girl and he'd decided he didn't care about anyone or anything else. He'd make nice and the tosser could either do the same or not. It didn't matter to him.
He reached up to touch the rock at his neck. He hadn't been able to afford to get Hermione a ring and she just had a string wrapped around her finger; she wouldn't even let him transfigure it. "Let's keep it what it is," she'd said.
Still, he'd stammered an apology about his poverty and how he wished he could have given her one of the heirlooms from his seized vaults. She'd just kissed him and suggested he use the royalties from their first patented potion to buy her a ring that would leave 'dilute purple girl and all her ilk' furious with jealousy.
"I'll do that," he'd said.
"I love you," he said now.
"Enough to go camping, even" she said.
"As long as it's with you, I'll go anywhere," he said.
~ finis ~