The day marched on its path and the sun slipped away and they ate another dinner together and then Draco hesitated, unsure whether he should leave, unsure whether he was welcome to stay. Despite her request he use her given name, he'd been calling her Granger, if unintentionally, all afternoon.

Granger was the girl he'd despised for years for her birth and her cleverness and her skill with her fist. Granger was nothing but a slave he'd unwillingly agreed to shelter. Granger he could despise.

Hermione, however, had refused to leave, had refused his offer of freedom with the Weasleys, had, instead, insisted she'd find out how to quiet the demons in his head. Hermione was a fool and an idiot and Hermione shook when she was afraid he was going to leave her alone and so he climbed back into bed with Hermione and, gingerly wrapping his arms around her, began to tell her what stories he remembered from children's story books.

Hermione he was unable to despise.

It was so much safer to call her Granger.

She seemed to not be paying attention to him and he thought she might be falling asleep when she reached a hand over to him and, laying it along one cheek, murmured, "What if the answer is sex?"

Draco had to blink several times because the comment was so incongruous. He'd been retelling, and badly, a fairy tale about a witch who turned herself into a frog and was unable to remember how to get back and so spent 100 years in a pond, and, unless Granger had a thing about amphibians he'd rather not explore in detail, the answer to the witch's problem was most certainly not sex.

"Your parents surely have sex," she continued, the tone turning up at the end into a question and he nodded, a bit unwillingly. He'd learned to not only knock on his parents' door but wait to be invited to enter because to do otherwise was to risk too much knowledge. "And I doubt that Vold - that thing did," she continued, stopping her use of his name when Draco visibly flinched.

The Dark Lord had very much preferred to be called 'Dark Lord' or 'my Lord' and lapses had been punished.

"No, probably not," Draco said. The idea of the Dark Lord - that thing, as Granger had called him, a moniker Draco intended to adopt - having even the least pleasant intercourse imaginable was oddly hilarious, and Draco found himself wondering if the man's penis had gone the way of his nose during his resurrection.

"And he was crazy," she said.

"Oh, yes." Draco had no doubt a mind Healer would have had a lifetime's work ahead of him if the Dark L - that thing - had permitted such attentions.

"So maybe sex is the secret that keeps people sane," Granger suggested.

Draco looked at the woman he'd been holding on to as he sat next to her on her bed. She'd tied her hair back to help keep it out of his face and was wearing a pair of soft, oversized pajamas his mother had left in a drawer, and she looked scrubbed and curious and fairly adorable. Her eyes sparkled when she was considering an idea, even one as ridiculous as this.

"I doubt it," he said at last, letting go of the brief but very pleasant fantasy of letting her try her hand at curing him that way.

She got a mulish thrust to her jaw and before she could accuse him of not being interested because she was Muggle-born Draco added, "A number of the Death Eaters were rather… active… in that area. And not the sane ones either." She looked like she didn't believe anyone like Alecto Carrow could have found a partner and Draco said, "Not the type of sex I'd like to talk about, but - "

He could see in her eyes when she realized what he meant. She pulled her hand off his cheek and he could see her simultaneously curse herself for her stupidity, flush in embarrassment at what had, after all, been a proposition, and flinch in fear.

"Not me," he said as quickly as he could. "I never… but, yes. They did."

He stopped and turned away from her so she wouldn't see the flush of shame on his own face. He'd been a part of this movement, after all. Its sins were his.

He felt her fingers touch the back of his neck and he shivered. She ran them right at the edge of his hairline, running them in and out of his fine hair and he could feel goose pimples rise all along his skin and frisson of longing run down his spine. He waited for the whispering voices to tell him he could just take what he wanted but they never came and the relief from that insidious pressure led him to turn back to look at the woman. At Hermione.

She put both hands on his face this time and leaned over and settled a kiss first at one side of his mouth and then the other. "You," she whispered against his skin, "are so much more than I had ever taken you for."

"I'm not," he said even as he wished he were.

"You are," she disagreed. She slid her hands back along his neck until she was brushing up against the same spot she'd been touching moments before and it felt like fire.

Draco leaned his forehead down against hers. "What are you doing?" he asked. "You don't have to do this. We aren't friends, we aren't… you can't possibly see me as desirable and even if you did this… you're stuck in this horrible nightmare the Ministry dreamt up. What do you want from me?"

She sat back and brushed a lock of hair that had fallen forward over his eyes back. "I think we're friends," she said. "If we aren't - ." She stopped talking and swallowed. "Are we friends?"

"I'd like to be," he said. "But - "

"Then we are," she said. She shivered. "Stay," she asked.

"I can do that," he said.

"Kiss me," she said.

"Why?" he asked her in desperation because he wanted to, oh how he wanted to, but he was afraid she was trying to bargain her way into safety and he couldn't do that, wouldn't do that. He felt dirty enough, smudged at the edges, and there were lines he didn't want to ever cross.

"It's less lonely," she said. "To touch another person makes it less frightening."

Draco had a sudden, unwelcome, tantalizing image of her and Luna curled up together, hands and mouths on one another in their prison cell, and had to force his mind to anything else lest he shove evidence of his arousal at that idea up against her. He swallowed hard and said only, "I don't want to take advantage of you. I'm not… I don't want to be a… a…."

He couldn't even say the word, despite having witnessed it often enough - or maybe because he'd witnessed it often enough and had seen the look of broken devastation on the faces of the bodies underneath rutting Death Eaters - and she stopped him from having to by looking at him with those eyes and saying, "You wouldn't be. You won't be."

He tucked an arm around her at that and brushed his mouth over hers. She seemed to be fighting back tears and she leaned her forehead up against his and he whispered, lost and unsure, "Hermione?" She didn't say anything, just shook her head a little and pressed her lips back to his, then to the side of his mouth, then to the line of his jaw. He made a little sound at that and she nuzzled him, then began kissing down the line of his throat. He held on tighter and let her take the lead, let her kiss him until his body ached, let her be the one to return her mouth to his. Then he parted his lips and let his fingers grip onto her with more force, waiting to see if she pushed away but instead she made a soft sigh that sounded content and sank into him and opened her mouth under his. Draco eased them down so instead of sitting up against the head board they were lying down and they kissed until exhaustion after an emotionally fraught day pulled them away and into sleep. The thought, "I love you," that tickled at the edge of Draco's mind woke him enough for him to think with his rational self that that was ridiculous. He barely knew her and as soon as he could convince her to go to France she'd be safely away. He couldn't possibly love her. He couldn't. Then he fell all the way into unconsciousness, his arms wrapped around a woman he couldn't possibly love.

. . . . . . . . . . .

After breakfast she made a list and insisted he come up with as many qualities his parents had that he could think of. "They're sane," she said, still in her pajamas, "so it's something they have that the others don't."

"They're blond," he said. She rolled her eyes at him and he spread his hands in mock confusion. "They are, Hermione," he said. "Granger. And my aunt Bella certainly wasn't."

He immediately wished he'd picked any other Death Eater as an example because she flinched at the name. "I'm sorry," he said, feeling like a heel.

"I lived through the torture," she said. "The woman is dead. I should be able to endure hearing her name."

"I should be thoughtful enough not to say it," he countered.

"Blond," she said, and wrote the word down with deliberation. "What else."

"Merlin," he muttered. "I don't know. They're rich. They're purebloods. They like music. They lie better than you would believe. They love each other. They like buying things. They like to wear black. They hated Dumbledore. They hold most people in utter contempt. What do you want?"

But she was writing as fast as she could.

"Okay," she said when she looked up from a scrawl so sloppy it would have made Draco's childhood governess pretend to have had a knife shoved in her heart. "Any rich, insane Death Eaters?"

Draco hesitated. "I'm not sure," he said at last. "Theo's dad is certainly rich, but he was never one of the really bad ones so… I don't know."

"We'll leave that one," she decided. "Any half bloods?"

"No one that admitted to it," he said, "But - "

But she was crossing that off with vigor. "Didn't you know?" she asked with satisfaction. "That thing was a half blood. I'd almost forgotten but… blood status isn't what's protecting them."

He grinned at her obvious pleasure at that. "How you would have hated it if it were," he said. "My special, magical blood." He made an elaborate, mocking bow from where he sat in her bed and she laughed.

"Music?" she asked but he shook his head at that. Bellatrix had been forced to learn to play piano, just like both her sisters, and had always seemed to enjoy it, at least as much as she'd enjoyed anything other than mayhem. They went through the whole list and she crossed off item after item, making notes next to them. When they were done she looked at the list and said nothing for a long moment. Then she set the parchment down and said, her voice a little shaky, "I think I want to take a shower. Will you be here when I'm - "

"Of course," he said.

She disappeared back into her bath and he heard the water running and once he was sure she wasn't going to come back out he snatched up the parchment and looked at her list. He could feel his mouth stretch out into a despairing grimace. It made sense, of course. Trust Hermione Granger to use logic to not only determine there was a solution to the problem of the taint of the Dark Arts on you soul, but to figure out what it was in all of two days. He laughed a little as he set the parchment back down and sank into one of the chairs by the fire. Too bad it was impossible. He'd let himself hope, which had been a mistake. The only real solution remained exactly what it had been before his bushy-haired, unwanted complication had shown up: don't do any more Dark spells and learn to ignore the promptings of madness already lurking at the edges of his consciousness. He was a bloody good occlumens; he could do that.

Better that than to pin all his hopes on some sodding emotion.

Better than than to risk having feelings for a woman who, if she were halfway sensible, felt nothing for him but, at most, friendship. After the way he'd treated her for years, he thought in disgust, he was bloody well lucky to have that. In her place he certainly wouldn't have been able to forgive.

They'd found the answer and now it was time to take her to France and reunite her with Weasley.

Draco shoved the whisper that he didn't have to do that down; all the whisper did was confirm the decision to hustle her off to safety far away from him was the right one. He'd turned his mind, again, to plotting how to sneak yet another Order member out despite increased security at the border when she emerged, towel wrapped around herself, wet hair down around her shoulders.

His eyes followed a single rivulet of water that traced it's way down the side of her neck and disappeared into her cleavage. He realized he was staring and yanked his attention back to her face. "I forgot to bring clothes in," she said, sounding embarrassed. "I'm really not trying to - "

"I could go," he said but at the panic on her face he added, "Or turn around?"

"That'd be… I'm sorry I'm so crazy," she said. "I don't mean to be. I mean, I hate it. This isn't… I'm sure once I've been out of… once I've been here longer I won't be like this."

"Take as long as you need," Draco said. He could hear her open drawers and pull things out and he wondered exactly what hell he'd fallen into that he was bound by honor not to turn around and look at her when he really, really wanted to. When she told him she was dressed he turned and wrinkled his nose at her in a mock complaint. "How can I tease you about you hair if you have it all pulled up like that?" he asked.

She'd somehow piled it on her head and held it in place with what looked like a narrow stick. The trousers she'd pulled on hugged the curve of her arse and the jumper clung and Draco realized he'd licked his lips and made himself stop. She saw the gesture and smiled, then crossed her arms, seemed to realize that looked defensive and uncrossed them.

"I need a shower too," he said into the uncomfortable silence. "Maybe you could wait for me in the living room?"

She nodded and followed him, a book in her hand, as far as the main room of his suite - their suite - and when he got back from a shower where he'd tried very hard not to think about her curves to no avail - she was huddled onto the sofa, pale and shivering.

"Hermione?" he asked, unsure what the matter was.

"Just.. . I heard people in the hall," she said, "and you were… I told you. It's not… I'm not like this. I wasn't like this before… I'll be better in a few days."

He nestled in next to her. "I should take you to France," he said. "It's the right thing to do."

He expected her to agree or nod or something - anything - other than put a hand on his cheek and say, "No, Draco."

He knew he should argue. He was tempted to point out she couldn't exactly stop him. But the lure of having her here, curves and smiles and wet hair dripping onto his neck, was so strong he thought what could it hurt to put off her exile a few more days? She was here, she was safe in the Manor, safe with him. "If that's what you want," he said. "Should we go back to the gardens after breakfast?"

But after she coaxed him through another meal, distracting him and teasing him until he'd eaten the whole thing despite the usual roiling in his gut what they did was sit. She sat and told him stories of growing up as a Muggle and he listened in what started as amused condescension and became wonder and sympathy and finally grief as she talked and talked about ballet classes and the confusion of accidental magic and travel with her parents and going to Hogwarts and then the prejudice and the war and her losses.

"I'm sorry," he said. They'd inched closer and closer while she spoke until he'd ended up with an lapful of Hermione. He'd done a drying charm on her hair because it had been wet and uncomfortable and when that made it poof into a giant, frizzy halo he'd patted it down in embarrassment as she'd laughed and laughed.

She didn't pretend he had nothing to apologize for. She didn't offer up a token, "That's okay," or "It didn't matter." It had mattered. He'd been awful and childish and his cruelties had been mere foreshadowing of the hell that had awaited her in the war and now afterward. "I'm sorry," he said again and then he started to say, "I promise," but stopped.

"What?" she asked, twisting in his lap to look at him. "What do you promise?"

He shook his head but when she poked him in the ribs he yelped and tugged on her hair. "Witch," he said. "Bushy-haired witch."

She grinned and made a motion as if she were going to poke him again and he grabbed her and hauled her up and suddenly her face was level with his and they both stopped laughing and he stared at her. "I was going to promise," he stammered, "Just, that it wouldn't happen again." He swallowed and tried to bring the smile and levity back but it was gone as he looked away from her eyes. "One of the good things about being the winner, I suppose. I can keep you safe. If you want me to."

Because he wasn't looking, because he was trying not to think too much about anything, he was surprised when she brushed her nose against his and then her mouth and then he made something akin to a sobbing sound and had his hands on her shoulders and was kissing her and kissing her and kissing her even though it had to be the worst idea in a lifetime of bad choices because she was going to leave, he was going to take her away himself, and he was an idiot.

"I can keep you whole," she murmured against his skin after a while. "If you let me."

He almost stopped breathing. "You can't," he said.

"You saw the list," she said and his fingers tightened on her. "You know the answer." She searched his face and he watched her slowly redden as she came to the wrong conclusion and began to mutter that she'd overstepped and clearly he didn't -

"I do," he blurted out and then turned as red as she was. "It's just…." He let her go and ran a nervous hand through his hair. "You've been here all of two days and you were in a cell… you aren't in any condition to… I won't take advantage. I won't."

She nodded and lay her head back against his chest.

"I should take you to France," he said. Her 'no' was soft but implacable. "I thought you were supposed to be the slave," he muttered. "Why am I the one getting bossed around?" She tipped her chin up to look at him and he refused to do anything quite so cliched as drown in her eyes but he might have waded into them and decided the water was fine.

"I agree," she said. "We'll do nothing. We'll wait. We'll see what happens. We're young and time is our ally."

"Whenever you say you want to escape Britain," he said, "I'll take you."

She made a small, pleased sound and Draco pushed some of her puffed up hair out of his face. That drying charm had been a bad idea. "This is madness," he said.

She laughed. "There's always a little madness in love," she said.

. . . . . . . . . .

The Death Eaters lost. Of course they did. Most of them had been driven round the bend by the whispers of Dark magic in their heads. They few that maintained their sanity were less cruel, less violent, more tempered. The law condemning the Order of the Phoenix members to slavery faded away with a whimper rather than the dramatic bang of a gavel; Draco Malfoy had a clause inserted at the end of a bill on importing rare potions ingredients that limited the time a person could be indentured to six months and, without an argument, all the slaves were free again.

The papers, still hardly a free press, published articles claiming the young Malfoy was the brightest political light wizarding Britain had ever seen. "Forging a new path ahead," the article read, and "whirlwind romance with Order freedom fighter."

"So I'm a freedom fighter now," Hermione had said when she read that.

Draco had kissed her temple. "Better that than a terrorist," he said. "I can't be a shining political star with a terrorist on my arm."

Hermione had laughed; it was the sound that filled his days with a happiness he hadn't known since childhood, since before the nightmare of the Dark Lord and his followers had begun, since before he'd held his own arm out to become one of the damned.

Most of the former slaves opted to stay abroad even when the law expired. Their trust in their home country had been shattered. The few that remained in Britain were ones who, like Hermione and like Luna, had found love. Narcissa Malfoy had not found protectors for the witches she had protected at random and, though not all of her matchmaking had been successful, the only one she'd really cared about had. Her son had found love in the arms of a woman brave enough to offer it and stubborn enough to insist he accept it and so he escaped the legacy of the Dark Lord.

What was blood purity when weighed against the sanity of your only son? It was nothing, and there was, after all, nothing Narcissa Malfoy would not do.




~ finis ~