.

drum roll please

.

She called the lead up to the "moment" the drum roll: the tension that builds before the battle, the confrontation, the reveal; the reality. It's the mounting of adrenaline as instinct decides between flight or fight.

While the skirmish on the grounds of Hogwarts continued in strength for what felt like hours – the Astronomy Tower mercifully crumbling in a pile of smoking debris behind her – the drum roll began.

Hermione could feel it in her thundering heart beat and the tremble of her muscles beneath her skin as the declaration of the enemy resounds in her skull: "Harry Potter is dead."

In response everything and everyone had seemingly frozen in place, but an unexplainable something hammered in her bones, and her gut screamed at her to keep moving.

A Crucio directed her way was evaded as the thumping in her heart neared its peak.

By the time Draco Malfoy, double agent for the Light, had picked up the wand from the scorched earth and thrust it into the hands of the dead boy; the prophecy was set to be fulfilled.

The knowledge that they would live another day replaces the anxiety of months on the Horcrux Hunt, the trauma of her capture and the overwhelming fear that was residual after endless days-months-years in war. Relief and euphoria bubbled from within her where the rhythm of methodical thumps once was, even with mayhem and discourse still rife in the air; they had won.

However, since then Hermione had simply taken the event, the drum roll and its characteristic thumps against her heart as nothing more than adrenaline and a burning desire to not die.

If she had heard the reminiscent of it as she approached the Boy Who Lived and the Boy Who Made All The Wrong Choices, she didn't put any stock to it, nor did she flinch when she felt it pounding in her ribcage again as she murmured her thanks to the latter of the two.

Suffice to say, any unease Hermione felt following the Great Wizarding War was suppressed. There was no time for it.

The Wizarding world was in tatters; casualties were high and Death Eaters were scattering to get underground. Things needed to be fixed, lives rebuilt, people needed to be saved, and they needed her.

For as long as she could, she swallowed down the wrong kind of something and pushed on until, when the moment she thought the drum roll would come again it didn't.

When the wedding march sounded like the chimes of an impending death and her procession down the aisle felt more like she was walking towards her coffin, Hermione Granger knew that this wasn't what she wanted.

It's a conclusion that almost makes her stumble, but like a wreck she can't avoid, she continues to the altar.

You're barely twenty, a voice inside reminds, you're too young to do this: to have a family, to be stuck in one place with one person forever. I want a career, I want a life, I want to live.

It's just cold feet, another voice that sounds like Molly's soothes, you can still have all those things; no one says you can't. But it's different, she wants to argue. Because this wedding - this marriage she's walking towards is supposed to be something she wanted, something she finally got to chose for herself and-and it isn't.

Every step feels like a noose being tied around her neck and with every breath, it tightens like a vice. Through the veil draped over her head, she glances out at the guests that fill the pews of the church.

War heroes like her; people from school, the Weasleys, former professors; members of the Light.

Suddenly she feels ill.

Ahead of her, Ron waits, looking handsome in his formal dress robes, Medals of Honor pinned to the breast of his robes as an almost perfunctory smile graces his lips.

This place, this moment reminds her of all those ceremonies she had to take part in since the fall of Voldemort: of standing at statues erected and foundations started in the name of fallen comrades, and of sympathies passed around like flutes of champagne at functions hosted by the Ministry.

Her heart races for what feels like the first time in forever – thump, thump, thump. An inaudible gasp escapes her lips, and her journey halts.

"Hermione?"

"I…" thump, thump, thump. "I can't do this."

As much as she knew she was estranging herself from Ron following the debacle, she knew it was for the best. Even as she sobbed in a ruined white dress on the bathroom floor of her flat, she knew that this is what had to be done.

After what felt like hours, she crawled to her feet in that same dress – mascara running, lipstick and eye shadow smudged and her blush and foundation smeared onto the white gloves that accompanied her wedding clothes, she felt almost tranquil.

Thinking back on the faces of the Weasley family, her family, all she remembers is the sight of betrayal, but in her chest her heart is full with possibilities and for once as she looks at her reflection, her smile is real.

/

Hermione leaves for Italy after, choosing to stay in Rome for a few months before establishing contacts in France and moving there more permanently, she decides at the time. Her happily thumping heart sings as she settles a box of books she has collected on her short travels onto the side table before wandering over to the glass door that leads to the veranda.

Straightening her back, she stretches her arms out at her sides and inhales the strong salty breeze that sends the green shutters applauding against the white washed walls of her new home.

Overwhelming as it was to start somewhere new with no one to support her and no previous information (or books for that matter) to prepare her, Hermione relishes in the leap she took, and she tells Harry as much when he calls her on the telephone.

He's one of the few she still talks to.

Ginny, she knows, is still upset and only sends her letters to lament that fact.

Surprisingly Ron has not.

Though they don't exchange letters often, the red head she was to call her husband once upon a time has said in not so many words how grateful he is that they didn't go through with the wedding.

"It seemed like something he wasn't entirely sure of either," Hermione says into the receiver, "He was just going through the motions like I was, it was more obligation after we realized we were the only certain thing after the war."

"All things considered, you guys were," Harry agrees.

Parents had died, siblings separated, families torn, friendships buried and lovers lost.

Even Harry had been certain at the time of his demise at age seventeen that he had cut off all romantic ties to the only Weasley girl, and though it's been six months the Man Who Won didn't seem in any particular rush to amend it.

"And you?" Hermione ventures to ask, and she can practically see him shrug.

"I don't know…my whole life has been centered on Voldemort for so long, I don't know who or what I am without him…" She's seen that glazed lost look in his eyes ever since that day at the Battle of Hogwarts, and now that she's been away long enough to know something different she reminds him, "You're Harry."

His exhale comes with a smile, and Hermione's glad. But she isn't satisfied with just a momentary reprieve, and so she suggests, "Why don't you go away for awhile? Britain can stand to be without you for a month or two, don't you think?"

"Where would I even go?"

She bites down the automatic invitation because even though her lovely little cottage on the coast fills her with peace, Harry Potter needs a different kind of distraction and so she tells him instead, "Somewhere you can be free."

He pauses, considering, before asking tentatively, "What would I do?"

Her exhale sounds more like a laugh. "Whatever you want!"

Less than a week later, Ginny's exclamations about her audacity to still be in contact with both her brother and her mother (Molly was the first in the family to reach out to her so really, Hermione would have been rude otherwise) extend now to her anger that Harry has left.

"Gone to some far off country in Merlin knows where!" Her howler rages, "The Ministry says he's left on a sabbatical, and the letter he left for mum claims that it was your suggestion, how dare you!"

As the howler continues, Hermione shuffles about in her neat little kitchen, putting the pot on to prepare some tea and thoughtfully choosing a flavor of muffin to have for breakfast. Even as the rage of Ginny Weasley follows her, the bushy haired witch only ignores the passionate spiel and decides that she's in a poppy seed kind of mood.

When the letter finally shreds itself to pieces, Hermione has a list of chores ready for the day and a book to spend the afternoon with as a reward to herself.

As she prepares with leisurely slowness to leave for the day to run her errands (supper for tonight, a new bouquet of flowers, a few throw pillows and a painting for the living room), she is surprised by the sheer normalcy of her life.

It isn't the first time she wonders as she locks the door behind her, hops onto her newly purchased bicycle and travels through the sleepy seaside town of Ars-en-Ré, if this is what she expected – what she, on the inside, truly wanted.

Though it's a still quite early, it's a Sunday, and there are families heading to the local church for service.

Little boys scramble around each other as little girls are primped and twirled about by their parents and grandparents look on in quiet amusement. The stray teenager is either at a state of never knowing a life any different or on the verge of jumping off the cliffs just to escape the tedium of what she supposes, is the routine of being ordinary.

There's a tremble again from within her as she explores the small town, and the feeling keeps her company as the day continues on, stretching in breathtaking shades of purple and orange as the sun dips from its zenith and sinks towards the ocean.

The night life of the town isn't impressive, more intimate than anything else, but she lingers in a fancy restaurant for a glass of good wine while she people watches, only to feel the strength of the familiar thump, thump, thump against her ribcage increase – adrenaline building for an unfathomable cause.

She stops mid-step and blinks into the neatly lit streets.

What…was…?

A crash, a strangled scream –

Without really knowing, she moves in a familiar all-knowing direction as she had at the Battle of Hogwarts, and finds herself in the mouth of a narrow alleyway where a Death Eater has a wand pointed to a beaten and bruised dark haired woman.

Though the woman's one eye is swollen, she meets Hermione's gaze, and the woman's lips move in a breathless plea.

Before the Death Eater can turn to notice her, Hermione has cast the spell with wand in hand, and the perpetrator is in a heap on the floor, a Stupefy keeping him at bay. Without waiting a second more, Hermione's hand is in the woman's, and she disapparates them.

The drum roll has since stopped, but as she soothes the sobbing woman – healing her injuries and pushing a calming potion into her shaking hands, Hermione realizes she knows her.

"Pansy…Pansy Parkinson?"

She doesn't have a pug face anymore, at least not with the shell shocked expression she has on; in fact, she's quite beautiful now – bruises and cuts aside. But there's a frightened edge to her, a trembling that comes from her heart and seeps into her bones.

"It's okay," she says, "It's me, Hermione, Hermione Granger." Clearly still confused, Hermione elaborates further, "from Hogwarts."

It takes an hour of being around her that Hermione remembers that Pansy's magic has been stripped for a year, her punishment for having close associations to the Dark Lord through her father's involvement, and momentarily the bushy haired woman is wary.

It also takes an hour for Hermione to realize that Pansy is in the middle of nowhere to escape Death Eaters rather than to deliver one of Harry Potter's sidekicks to them (especially considering that one of them just tried to kill her).

When Pansy wakes in the morning wanting breakfast, Hermione is almost concerned that the pureblood witch won't accept her meager offerings (and demand something ridiculously grandiose), but her former schoolmate practically inhales it. Though Pansy scrunches her nose at the very idea of doing dishes and laundry, she quite enjoys watching mind numbing television. In the end, it's the most Hermione has spoken to anyone since she left Britain.

On the second night, Pansy takes it to the next level by invading her personal space and climbing into bed with her.

Half-awake, Hermione sloppily wipes the saliva she feels sitting at the corner of her mouth and mumbles an unintelligent, "Wha?"

Pansy, though, doesn't seem to care and cuddles close to her back. "I don't like being alone," she admits.

It doesn't take long for Pansy to decide that she's moving in, and the second bedroom is made up to her liking:

"You're incredibly high maintenance for someone who's disgraced," she notes with a roll of her eyes as Pansy discards yet another duvet with a scornful gripe that the thread count is ridiculously low.

"The need for quality, dear Buckbeak, is something that doesn't go away just because circumstances change," she is primly reminded before with a frustrated sigh, Pansy casts aside another bed sheet. "What an awful color, Hermione can't you just -"

"Oh no, not after that Buckbeak jab."

"Oh come on," Pansy whines, "you did it for the clothes in your closet which, by the way, I intend to completely redo once this sentence is over in a few months."

Hermione rolls her eyes. "That was different. If you had asked me to change a duvet I already owned, I wouldn't have minded but you insisted on emptying my account on your bed sheets."

"They'll be luxurious; you'll be so jealous."

She rolls her eyes once more out of fondness more than anything else, and so their debate on bed linen continues and despite the strangeness of the conversation, it's a type of normal she has quickly come to accept even though this is far from the life she pictured herself having after the war.

Hermione had never wanted to be ordinary.

For years she was the bookish and hardworking perfect goody-goody Granger, and this state that she's in where she's alone with no friends (would it be fair to Pansy to consider her one so soon and be a goody-goody by extension?) or any sign of a significant other at her side is surely one girls like Lavender Brown and Pravati Patil have foreseen since they fancied themselves to be Seers in third year, and the reminder tugs a frown from the corner of her lips.

But she's been on the edge of death near constantly since fourth year, she sacrificed her family for their protection, and constantly chosen other people's needs over her own, God damn it who even cares what they think anymore? Hermione stubbornly reminds herself. She got her drum roll the second she landed in this charming, nowhere town: This is what she wants.

In Britain she was Hermione Granger, war hero, one third of the Golden Trio and the brightest witch of her generation. But she was never just Hermione, and even if she had once scorned it, she finds that being ordinary is exactly what she needs.

/

Harry's version of a sabbatical is tracking down Death Eaters that relocated out of Great Britain when Voldemort had fallen, but who persisted in their prejudicial agenda elsewhere. When Hermione finds out she can't muster anything more than a sigh of annoyance.

Honestly, and people say that she's a workaholic.

"You're getting blood everywhere," she hears Pansy yell angrily.

"Well I'm sorry that my open wound is so inconvenient to you," comes the sarcastic reply that is soon followed by Harry's diplomatic placating, "She doesn't mean it like that Malfoy."

"Like hell I don't!"

Ignoring her, the bespectacled man continues unperturbed, "Hermione's couch will stain – let me at least transfigure you somewhere else to sit."

"You want me to get up?" Malfoy disbelievingly demands, "I've got a hole in my gut thanks to you!"

"Well you should have thought of that before you decided to be a hero," Pansy seethes.

By the time Hermione gets out her potions kit and some bandages, the room is terse from the two former Slytherins' glaring contest and Harry's barely concealed frustration.

"About time," Malfoy grumbles at the sight of her.

"Forgive me, I wasn't willing to walk through the explosive territory of my living room," she retorts, kneeling at his side with supplies in hand. "I didn't want to interrupt the reunion either, or get shot for being in it."

Pansy huffs. "Tell them to leave."

"What? Why on earth would she even allow that?" Harry demands.

It's been three months since she and Pansy Parkinson have gotten close, and at this point Hermione can sense the venom that the other witch is threatening to spew. With a look, Hermione puts out that fire, and again, Pansy huffs before stomping into the kitchen – opening random cupboards and slamming them loudly.

"She's gone mad," Malfoy mutters, more to himself than anyone else.

"You interrupted her favorite show; she gets a little snippy when that happens." As Hermione makes quick work of cutting away Malfoy's shirt to examine the wound, she asks in a deadpan without looking up, "Do you want to tell me what happened or?"

The arm chair creeks with Harry's squirming, as nervous and agitated as he always is. Hermione isn't surprised that he looks the same too: black hair tousled and out of control with his green eyes obscured by his glasses which are slightly askew on his nose. He's grown into his lanky build in the nine months since the war; looking more toned and (to her approval) well fed. There's a rigidity to his stance though that wasn't there when they were younger, borne from battle but softened with his habit to lean against things in whatever position he chooses – as if too tired to hold himself up on his own.

When he offers no explanation, Hermione has no gripes about looking to the blond before her, brow raised in impatience.

Unlike Harry, Malfoy has changed significantly since the last time she laid eyes on him.

His once pristine platinum hair is darker, a dusty gold; his jaw seems more cut and his features more defined; adapting from boy to man in the hollows below jutting cheekbones. He's filled out since his time as a double agent too – eyeful of well packed muscle notwithstanding – though the style of dress hasn't seemed to have changed with his ensemble (noticeably more muggle) of black and grey.

He meets her appraisal with a flicker of his molten silver eyes, and Hermione is given momentary pause as she waits for a drum roll that she doesn't hear quite as loudly as she thought she would…

Having returned from beating the kitchen cupboards, Pansy loudly places a bottle of pain medication and a glass of water on the side table before sitting on the arm chair opposite from Harry's.

After a bare glance at his former housemate's direction, Malfoy finally answers, "We got caught unawares."

"How so?"

Harry answered, "There were more Death Eaters than what we anticipated."

"How many more?" Hermione continues to patiently ask though her eyes slide back and forth between the two of them in a fashion that says otherwise.

Her best friend shifts again, and clears his throat. "It really wasn't so much more –"

"Half a dozen," Malfoy interjects, nonplussed.

Her jaw drops. "Half a dozen Death Eaters more; and it was just the two of you?"

Its Malfoy's turn to shift in his seat, wincing at the sharp pain that shoots up his abdomen and Hermione presses a hand to his uninjured side to still him. When she gives him a disapproving look, he suppresses a grumble and reaches behind him to toss the offending throw pillow and settles again. "It would've been just me if Potter didn't decide I was lonely."

"You needed the help," Harry insists with a frown. "Besides it seemed like a decent way to repay you for lending me a hand in Belize."

"I told you, I was already supposed to go after Volstruf."

Green eyes shift to meet hers in an exasperated look, and she snorts. How ironic.

"Besides," Malfoy continues, "that doesn't explain why you're still following me around. It's been two months Potter."

Harry opens his mouth to retort, but Pansy interjects, arms crossed and a scowl marring her pretty face, "I don't see the point in Saint Potter if you're still getting shot at Draco."

Behind his glasses, the wizard's eyes narrow while Malfoy only rolls his. "So now you're on my side?"

Though Pansy's glare softens, it's still there. "You're an idiot."

Almost an hour of careful potion mixing and muggle first aid training passes before Hermione sends Pansy off to feed their guests ("There's pie in the oven and tea in the pot, you've hosted dinners before," she reminds to Pansy's sniff).

The bushy haired witch almost regrets it when there's another round of passive aggressive cupboard slamming, and she sends Harry in to make sure the kitchen is still in one piece ("Oh you big baby, she doesn't have magic for another three months, what have you got to be scared of?").

Having insisted that Malfoy lie on the couch, Hermione finds herself sitting over him, manually stitching up the "gaping hole in his gut".

As she sews together his torn alabaster skin, she involuntarily lingers over the crisscross patterns that shallowly rip it. It's nothing compared to the wound he now sports; the scars that Harry inflicted at Hogwarts before Malfoy's turn was made known to them, are barely noticeable now even as she traces the silvery white trail of it.

"It doesn't hurt anymore."

Her eyes meet his, but he's staring at the ceiling. He repeats more firmly, "It doesn't hurt anymore."

"How did you -"

"Potter's a sad drunk." There's a ghost of a smile at his thin lips. "You're both easy to read otherwise."

"You saved him," she says irrelevantly.

"Just returning the favor," he claims, eyes fluttering shut again. Even if he's dismissed an event (and perhaps many more knowing Harry), she soothes the taut muscles beneath her hand, silently thanking him. He freezes for a fraction of a second, clears his throat, and then resumes his play of being a statue beneath her hands.

When she thinks he might have fallen asleep despite the noise of their two companions a few feet away from them, she murmurs, "Thank you Malfoy."

She's momentarily startled when his storm cloud eyes peek out at her from beneath his lashes, but only smiles some more as she continues her ministrations. His exhale sounds like an annoyed sigh, but he doesn't shoo her away and instead closes his eyes once more with an inaudible mumble, shifting unconsciously when the contact of her skin is gone too long from his.

It's quiet for several moments until Harry calls into the living room, "Malfoy, can you stomach food with a quarter of your gut missing?"

The blond doesn't open his eyes, but a corner of his lips twitch. "Ungrateful sod."

Pansy's voice carries, "Ugh Potter, Draco just risked his life for you, would it kill you to at least use the good cutlery?"

Hermione finds herself rolling her eyes. "I know that feeling."

Pansy's sour expression from the kitchen almost completely disappears when Hermione's patch work is done, and after putting aside the plate of food she's arranged for her former housemate, Pansy tackles him in a hug that makes him yelp.

"Hey-hey careful, I'm no Madame Pomfrey," Hermione reminds with a hint of panic at the thought of his wound opening up, "He's not completely healed yet!"

Ignoring the warning and pressing her face against Malfoy's shoulder, Pansy practically cries, "You're an absolute lout Draco, I told you to be careful."

Despite whatever pain he feels from her impromptu physical affection, Malfoy drawls, "How could I possibly be careful tracking down wannabe Dark Lords Pans?"

"You could have tried!"

"I did!" From the kitchen, Harry clears his throat indiscreetly, and Malfoy's eyes roll to the ceiling. "Fine, some of the time."

Hermione laughs. Irony indeed.

This incident leads to many others as Harry and Malfoy move in and out of her cottage with Pansy's ease, though both women are suitably unimpressed with the development as their temporary (though constant) guests crash in Pansy's room.

"Dear Merlin, why is everything so …"

"The next words out of your mouth better be "luxurious" and "too expensive to touch" Malfoy."

"Why are you offended?" he asks in surprised confusion, and Hermione grimaces. "Because I paid for it."

"Be glad you only had a room," he retorts, "she did this to a whole wing once."

"When did Pansy stay with you?"

His raised brow makes her feel like she's missing something, and when it finally comes to her a second later, her lips form an "o".

"After the sentencing…"

"Blaise offered his place first, but getting Pansy's papers was taking too long and her nightmares only got worse in her father's house," he said, nonchalant as both of them leaned on opposite ends of the door jam, watching as Harry and Pansy fought over transfiguring the room to suit two guys instead of one spoilt pureblood princess.

"Why…why'd she leave? Your place, I mean…"

His voice drops to a near threatening degree, his eyes glaring forward at nothing. "We had a breech in the wards, yet another mistake my father pays for."

"How is he?" She asks, her voice dropping too. With his double agent role in the war and his sentence to a year of rounding up Death Eaters, Malfoy didn't have many friends (by his own admission), and she wondered if he still considered himself to have a family.

"Mother says he's keeping in Azkaban."

Hermione frowns, and it was just like him to not give anything away.

Though it hadn't been a serious intention to get the former Death Eater and double agent to open up as Pansy had, his and Harry's presence in her cottage is a given after several incidents where one (or both) come out less "whole" than before. They stay at her place about three times a week in between missions, but they arrive with the expectation of food and a comfortable place to sleep.

More often than not they need to get healed which Pansy still shrieks that they'll get blood everywhere in "her" room and on "her" couch, even though they're both careful not to be bleeding when they come home out of self preservation: their hearing when it comes to Pansy, and with Hermione it is her refusal to assist them when they do anything particularly risky (some horrible claim that they deserved the injury, Malfoy would lament).

Its early morning on a Wednesday when Malfoy and Harry apparate in.

Hermione only glances over her shoulder at them as she eats breakfast.

With not a care for the world, Malfoy drops a seemingly unconscious Harry onto the couch and straightens his clothes. "Morning," he greets quietly as he strolls into the kitchen, waving his wand to get some cereal in a bowl and a hot cuppa for them both.

"Morning," she returns. "How was the mission?"

"Good, we're alive," he answers, and with a nod towards Harry who had just begun snoring, "me a little more than him."

"I can see," she says with a chuckle.

For awhile they eat their breakfast in silence, him standing across the counter from her.

"Why are you up so early?"

She shrugs. "Work, not everyone has a fortune to keep up with Pansy's spending habits, you know."

"Where?"

"Library," she replies with a wave of her spoon.

His eyes roll. "Of course."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

When he only continues to eat, she glares at him. "There's nothing wrong with doing something expected if it's what I want to do."

"I never said there was anything wrong about it; I just thought you'd be more ambitious than that." When all she does is glower, he continues, "Being a librarian is hardly the thing I'd expect from the brightest witch of our generation."

"Is that some kind of offhand compliment?"

A familiar smirk tugs at his lips. "I'm still holding a competitive grudge against you for beating me academically for seven years."

She huffs, but there's an embarrassed flush at her cheeks, her heart beat quickening. She's put herself so far away from Britain; Hogwarts, the aftermath of the war, and even the war itself, that sometimes she forgets who she was-is.

"I've always wondered," he continued smoothly, "why did you run away?"

"It…" She's explained this to Harry, Pansy, Molly, Ron and even Ginny many times, talked it to death in fact, the practiced neutral and diplomatic answer, but the selfish words that have never left her mind come instead, "Ron didn't love me the way he was supposed to."

Malfoy's just as surprised as she is to hear the words, and a single brow arches. "Oh? And what way is that?"

She remembers reading books, so many books, on how love was supposed to feel. Butterflies; sparks; drum rolls and with Ron, despite attempts to the contrary, he made her feel none of that, and she hated herself for it.

After the initial excitement and rush of being in a relationship with a boy she had fancied since fourth year, there was just…nothing. Doubtless it was both their faults, perhaps more hers than his. She'd put romantic love on such a pedestal – she had so much data on it after all (consisting of embarrassing teen magazines, harlequin novels and the gossip of her Gryffindor roommates). Hermione was logical enough to know that the information wasn't a completely reliable, but there had to be some truth in it somewhere, however, her and Ron's dynamic had hardly changed with the relationship status.

Brightest of her generation was hardly a title that was given out to people that didn't give their hundred percent in everything, and Hermione had done that for Ron. But he had never seemed all that invested in the same way that she was.

Besides a snog here and there, everything was normal and she was almost okay with it until she realized that she deserved more.

"He loved me like I was ordinary."

The shift in his eyes is indescribable as he murmurs, "I didn't expect that."

"No, I suppose you didn't…" She shakes her head. "I've always felt things intensely, and when I didn't feel that with him I thought – it's different for a reason – but it wasn't a reason either of us liked."

"Besides," she added as an afterthought, "I couldn't be the wife he wanted if we married when we did."

"What did Weasel want in a wife; someone popping out babies and keeping house?"

"Isn't that what everyone wants in a wife?" She asks, suddenly feeling tired. "I don't hold it against him; I wouldn't hold it against anyone for wanting that. But I…I don't, not right now anyway. The reason I told myself that I couldn't get married at nineteen was because I wanted a career and I wanted a life outside of taking care of someone else's needs."

"You want a career, but here you are working at a library," he drawls, "makes sense."

"I needed the time away to rethink what it was that I wanted," she insists.

"And taking care of someone else's needs? Don't you do that already with Pansy and Potter?" He continues to ask, practically ignoring her interruption.

"It's a part of me I can't change. Harry, Pansy, you," she emphasizes, "you're my friends; it's different taking care of a husband or a child."

On the couch, Harry snorts and mumbles incoherently in his sleep.

Malfoy's incorrigible smirk makes her roll her eyes again. "What's with all the questions?"

"I was just curious," he states.

They sit again in silence, cereal finished and mugs empty, Hermione was about to get up and leave for the day when he asks, "If we're friends, why do you still call me by my last name?"

Surprised, she blinks. "What?"

"You said that you're my friend, and with the way you've taken care of Pansy and me when I needed it, it's safe to assume that I think of you as my friend too." The thumping in her chest grew a little louder, a drum roll against her heart. "Why don't you call me Draco?"

"You call me Granger," she points out.

"Not since I find out that you were taking care of Pansy."

She paused; wracking her brain to remember a time, but only came up with far away memories of them as Hogwarts students. While he was around he only ever spoke about her or to her directly, never in a way that would refer to her. Sneaky ferret.

"When did you find out that Pansy was with me?" Hermione asks slowly.

"She wrote to me after that night you saved her from a Death Eater, she didn't need my help with accommodations as we'd arranged," he answered calmly. "But you're avoiding the question."

"Fine, so it's been awhile since you've called me Granger, but what's wrong with calling you by your last name, it never bothered you before did it?"

He paused, considering her before remarking coolly, "During school, no, it didn't, but now? You aren't the only one trying to escape something that makes them who they are."

The impact of his words only reaches her later, but when it comes in that moment, Hermione bows her head in shame. "You're right…I'm sorry, I just, I never thought about it that way…"

In her pocket, the alarm she set on her wand goes off; she's late.

"I have to go," she says, grabbing her coat from the back of the chair and charming their breakfast things away. "Are you and Harry staying?"

He nods.

"Okay then, make yourself at home," she continues irrelevantly, stopping to throw a blanket over a still sleeping Harry, and out of impulse more than anything else, she kisses Mal-Draco on the cheek as she usually does to either Pansy or Harry whenever they're around before she leaves.

She calls him Draco in her head from there on out, but for a few days only speaks to him directly, or doesn't refer to him at all, just as he had her.

Briefly, Hermione thinks he'll annoy her about it, but from the corner of her eye, she swears she sees him smirk, and if that drum roll becomes an annoying rhythm every time they're together, she does her best to ignore it because…because it couldn't be, could it? The thought niggles at her consciousness too often for her liking...

With Harry gone to the Burrow for the weekend at Molly's insistence (and Ron's begging) and Pansy arguing vehemently with a lady in the hygiene aisle about something or other, grocery shopping is left to her and Draco.

Shopping with any one of her housemates comes with challenges: Harry is the least troublesome because he knows how everything works and what is needed (except his inheritance from both the Potter and Black estate has come in and now it's like shopping with a hyperactive child). Pansy is the most troublesome, even though she's somehow survived nine months without magic she knows next to nothing besides how to work the television, use a cell-phone and turn on the washing machine, and to add to that, she has no money of her own to spend but Hermione's (the fact that Pansy knows the pin on her card no matter how many times she changes it baffles her).

Draco, however, is an anomaly.

He dresses casually in dark jeans and a grey button up, and he seems to know his way around the store and Hermione thinks for once she'll get through this month's shopping without a hitch until she makes the mistake of asking him to push the trolley.

Draco stares at the contraption blankly.

"Oh come on," Hermione sighed, "there are trolley's in the Wizarding world."

"Yes, but I've never had the need to push them myself."

"Are you being serious? Not even on the platform?"

He frowns. "No."

"Well it isn't hard you know; you just hold it and push."

"I'm aware of the physics required," he says with a roll of his eyes, but there's a hesitance to the actions that follow as he grabs the bar and pushes it along. Hermione, though, doesn't put too much stock in it and simply walks down the food aisles in search of the things she had written down earlier.

"Why can't you just get someone else to do this for you?"

"What?" she asks, distractedly as she compares brands and eyeballs the prices. "To push the trolley for me?"

"No, this shopping thing."

"Girls enjoy it."

His nose scrunches. "Even this kind?"

"Of course, this kind is better." Satisfied with her choice, she plops it inside and reminds, "After we remove the wrapping we get to eat what's inside."

"So the same as clothes," he deadpans.

"What kind of clothes are you referring to?"

"The kind that women wear because they want it removed," he answers simply, and despite the lewdness of it and the blush that sets on her cheeks Hermione manages to ignore it, and turns once more to peruse the aisles.

"What," he asks mockingly, "you don't do that?"

"What," she repeats mockingly, "wear clothes I want removed? Oh Draco, honey." She sighs with syrupy sweet innocence she has mastered from Pansy. "If I wanted certain clothes removed don't you think I'd avoid wearing them?"

After making a strangled sort of sound, Draco murmurs, "I'm both impressed, and a little turned on."

She laughs. "And you're being honest about it? Colour me surprised."

Their shopping continues undisturbed and is a lot more fun than Hermione had thought it would be, flirting aside – though if she's being honest, it's mostly due to the flirting, before they're almost at the end with few complaints on his side ("And why am I the one pushing this thing?").

"See, it isn't so bad."

"I could still be doing other things."

She snorts. Whenever he and Harry are with her, they rarely do anything other than play cards, watch television, eat, sleep and chat with her and Pansy. This is literally the only thing Draco has done outside of that. "Which would be what?"

"There's a beach right outside your house," he reminds dryly.

"Fancy a dip?"

"We could, as long as there are muggle swim suits involved."

"What do wizards wear when they swim?"

"Bar the Tri-Wizard tournament?" Draco muses, "Nothing."

"Liar, you're just trying to get me to skinny dip," she accuses with a laugh.

"Well the French are very open to such things," he informs tartly.

"Rain check."

They're comfortable camaraderie after months of living together isn't a surprise and hardly requires any sort of thought (or much of a filter for that matter) until for whatever reason, Draco's focus on the trolley's direction wanes and hits Hermione straight at the ankle.

Yelping, she grabs her offended foot and does a little bounce as she tries to manage the pain – hissing quietly and mumbling a few choice words under breath as she does.

He's quite quick to be at her side when it happens, and so is another man.

Ben, a neighbor of sorts, has a quote "Creepy Creevely Crush" on her as Pansy likes to say. The fact that he likes to follow her about during her visits into the town isn't exactly a secret, and though she's often complained to her roommates of it, she isn't willing to chase him off. He's harmless after all.

Creepy Creevely Crush aside, Ben isn't all that bad.

He's moderately good looking, educated as a dentist like her parents, and he's got an adorable, goofy sort of charm about him, but somehow knowing that he follows her around when she's out in public doesn't quite inspire amorous feelings towards him…

"I'm terribly sorry, are you alright, you went down quite hard there," he says sympathetically, already wrapping an arm around her.

"Oh uhm, no I'm fine, really," she says, already brushing him off.

"Are you sure?" He touches her slightly red ankle in an oddly intimate way, running the tips of his fingers over the bone in a way that makes her feel strangely gross. Again, Hermione brushes him off, and quickly gets to her feet, stepping back to instill more space between them.

Harmless though Ben may be, nothing good would come out of possibly suggesting something to him.

Draco is strangely quiet until Ben straightens and eyes the blond with a look that could be described as sizing up an enemy. "I'm sorry mate; you want to apologize to the lady for that?"

"I was going to, but you seemed to have done enough of that for me. You want to kiss both her feet too while you're at it?"

"Draco," she hisses in warning.

"I'm sorry; I don't think we've met." Ben stuck out his hand to which Draco looked down at it and coolly replied, "There's probably a reason for that."

Turning to her as if Ben hadn't interrupted their earlier conversation, Draco announces, "We should go home."

"Because you rammed me with a trolley?" she asks, slightly agitated.

"Well that and I could be ramming you with something else." His smirk is horrifyingly sexy, and even though she thumps him on the chest, grabs his shirt and drags him off, there's no suppressing whatever has possessed the Slytherin. Between awkwardly pushing the trolley and being led away by her, Draco asks loudly, "Are we in a rush because you're going to take me up on my skinny dipping proposal?"

If the drum roll continues on she swears it's probably due to the embarrassment he's caused her, and the fact that she's unlikely to go shopping here again.

/

On Pansy's last night as a muggle, and Draco's last as a Death Eater version of a dog catcher, Hermione decides to celebrate it with a dinner on the veranda to watch their last sunset in France before all of them return.

She'll miss her though, Pansy says solemnly as they stand side by side, admiring the rolling waves while Harry and Draco grab the last of their belongings (most likely doing it as slowly as possible in order to give the women their privacy). "I liked living here with you Hermione, and I really appreciate you taking me in…"

"I can hear a "but" coming up," she said lightly, and gently she nudged the other woman with her shoulder. "It'll be alright, I understand that you want to go back. Despite everything, Britain is your home."

"It's yours too," Pansy points out. "Come with us."

"I…I'm not sure I can yet." It's a weak reply, even weaker when Hermione knows there's no solid reason for it. She's been gone for well over a year, and even though she's come to terms with herself post-war, there's something here that she's waiting for...

Though Pansy frowns, her smile returns quickly. "Well when you're ready…I still need to redo your wardrobe."

"I suppose I'll hold you to it then," she says with a chuckle, even as her housemate of six months throws her arms around her.

Against the juncture of her neck and shoulder, Pansy claims, "I'll miss you bossing me around you know, taking care of me in my hopelessness. I think the only thing I would've learnt the past year without magic, and without you, is that I'd be utterly bollocks as a muggle."

"Perish the thought; you'd still be well dressed."

It makes Hermione laugh aloud when she feels Pansy's eye roll before she sees it. "Obviously."

For a long while they say nothing, and when Hermione closes her eyes she can feel the faint beginnings of a drum roll starting.

Sticking his head out into the veranda, Harry asks tentatively, "The Floo Network is up, ready?"

Both of them nod, and arm in arm they amble inside making promises about visiting one another soon:

"I've been watching that idiotic show of yours for months now," Hermione complains, "I can't very well watch it alone, or stop for that matter." But Lord, she had tried, that ghastly mind numbing show that Pansy had roped her into watching was strangely addictive and between personality clashes and the occasional heated disagreements regarding blood purity (for one, and what Pansy necessitates as a "need" when they go shopping, for another), that stupid show kept them anchored to each other, it was their safest common ground.

"You're right," Pansy muses, "you're just too difficult for your own good Hermione. Don't worry, I'll pop over on Saturdays, that's when the whole week's episodes replays and I'll make the goings on as complex as you want." If Hermione had thought Lavender was good at complicating uncomplicated things, Pansy was a downright master at it. An aftereffect, the witch had claimed, to attending one too many society parties.

"Lovely, bring fire whiskey, drunk is the only way I'll survive it."

If it was in her, Pansy would have clapped her hands in glee. "Ooh, now it's a girls' night. Perhaps I'll floo Daphne to join us…"

Harry is decidedly uninterested in this conversation despite watching the same show with them and making overly casual suggestions to their plans. The two witches give him knowing smiles.

As they approach the fireplace she spies the luggage of her housemates waiting and Hermione starts to feel the niggling of loneliness she hadn't felt since her departure from Britain.

"Where's your stuff Draco?" she asks as he joins them from what was once his room and Harry's.

"About that," he says, "I'm afraid I'll have to impose on you for a bit longer."

"What if I say no?"

"Please," he drawls, throwing a casual arm over her shoulders, "what kind of horrible friend would you be to throw me out hmm? In my time of need?"

"Since when have you ever openly admitted you needed anything from anyone?" she asks, giving him an arch look, already resisting the urge to laugh as his smile turns dastardly in that knowing way that Harry trademarked in a stage whisper as, "Bad boy puppy pout" (to the smack of Draco as he walked passed).

"Since I realized that you liked to give it."

"Are you taking advantage of me?"

"Not more than I usually do," he said with an amused chuckle before he raised a hand as Pansy and Harry turned to face them from inside the fireplace.

"Honestly you two, can't you wait until we're at least out the house to start?" Pansy says disapprovingly.

Harry made fake gagging noises to accompany the statement and Hermione thinks it's hilarious that its one of the few things the two of them agree on.

When goodbyes are said and she and Draco are alone, Hermione finds herself sitting on the couch and for the first time in a while, she feels a strange sort of tired.

"Another bottle of wine?"

Sighing, she sets her feet on the center table. "You know what I like."

He goes into the kitchen dutifully to do her bidding, a fact that Harry teases him about and that Pansy seems to envy ("I've been trying to train him to do what I want since we were kids, is healing him really all it takes to get Draco Malfoy to serve you?"). With his back to her, Hermione asks, "So, not that I'm not glad you're staying, but why exactly are you still here?"

"My sentence is ending," he says, returning to the living room, a newly uncorked bottle and two glasses in his hands. Mimicking her positioning on the couch beside her, he fills their glasses and raises it to the clock – ticking slowly to midnight. "To freedom."

"We made this toast already," she recalls, though doesn't fight him when they clink glasses and drink.

"It's to celebrate a personal freedom," he says, after their first taste.

"How so?" They'd talked about it just an hour ago about what it would mean to them, him and Pansy that is, to be done with a punishment they didn't really deserve to begin with. Pansy was going to sell her family home, maybe travel for real or start a business; it seemed she was no longer content to be a society ornament. Draco, on the other hand, had shrugged and said he couldn't get rid of his family so easily. Could he have had an epiphany of sorts?

"Before this sentence - before the war, I wanted to be exactly what my father and everyone of his ilk expected me to be. It's what I was raised to be after all, it's what I am considering my family history. I'm the product of both nature and nurture to become what I am, I didn't really have a choice."

"Now?"

He examines his wine glass. "I don't think it would make me happy to do those things."

"I certainly hope not," she says, bumping shoulders with him in an attempt to lighten the mood.

"I don't want to get married to a pureblood heiress my family has chosen nor do I want to follow in the footsteps in a long line of dark wizards."

Realizing the rawness of his words, Hermione turns to face him, her back resting on the arm of the couch, her one knee flush against his thigh and one socked foot just touching his leg. "You know you don't have to do those things."

"I know that," Draco says quietly, his eyes still that intense grey storm. "But I'm not quite sure what else there is."

Maybe it's just the drum roll impairing her hearing, but Hermione is sure that he's lying, and she has no problem pointing it out to him, "You've been running around the world by yourself and then for the better part of the year with Harry watching your back. Then all three of you (I'm including Pansy in this, because she was yours first) decide you're going to live with me for the rest of it. Pansy has practically been a muggle for a year while Harry's not a pureblood, and I'm just some muggleborn." He opens his mouth as if to argue with her, but she quickly continues, "You do muggle chores; you go grocery shopping, fetch me wine, and you watch telly. Draco, you've been living something completely different for the past year so don't give me that."

"Because it was a sentence," he interjects, and with uncharacteristic frustration and an underlying panic, his hand reaches up to ruffle his perfectly done hair. "What happens now that it's done? Would I ever watch the television or go grocery shopping or fetch you wine? Is Potter going to annoy me if I decide to become an Auror and we're in the same department, and what about you?"

"First off, there is no getting rid of Harry. If you ever decide to pursue that particular career you can bet he'll be at your door faster than you think – and knowing what you two have been through together – he probably trusts you more than any other person on the field, even me and Ron. Secondly, you would definitely get a television, even with magic messing up the circuitry, I know you'd find a way around it because you're just as obsessed with that stupid show as the rest of us. As for the grocery shopping, I'm not entirely sure how you'd feel about that when you're a free man, but you could always swing by here and help me with mine, you can even fetch me wine afterwards," she says sweetly, "get two birds with one stone."

Though he looks relatively calm, there's an upset turn tugging at the corner of his mouth and she continues quietly, "As for me, well, I'm here."

"Here as in?"

Hermione rolls her eyes. So obtuse. "Here; physically here, mentally, emotionally; whatever you need."

As they sit side by side, he opens his mouth to say something only to have the clock interrupt by striking midnight. They pause to listen to the chimes, and when the sound echoes across the wall, she gives him an encouraging smile. "You're free."

"So I am." Though Hermione can't shake the feeling that that's a lie too.

She tilts her head at him and asks curiously, "What now?"

He shrugs, and in a rather Harry like fashion, replies flatly, "Don't know."

Hermione hums, and when her brilliant mind comes up with an answer, she takes Draco's wine glass from him, sets it aside and asks, "What do you want to do?"

There's momentary confusion in his eyes, and when he doesn't reply, she declares, "You need help breaking in your freedom, I get it. I did mine on my own by walking out on that wedding, and it was freeing and all, but it was lonely, and if I have anything in common with you Slytherins is that we don't really like being alone."

"So you're proposing what, exactly?" he asks in amusement.

The mock authority in her voice sounds like a caricature of her younger self, and it makes her smile feel almost manic, a pleasant bubbling threatening to burst her from within as she states, "We, Draco Malfoy, are going to be free together. So tell me, what do you want to do?"

"Well," he begins with a familiar smirk at his lips. "How about that rain check?"

So the drum roll beats on.

A/n: So this took freaking forever to write and I'm not even sure why, but this was my first attempt at Dramione, and all things considered, I'm pretty happy with it. It's a little more Hermione centric than I had intended, but the muse got its way and that's what I rolled with.

Hope you enjoy the read; please, please, please, I'd love to know what you thought!