Disclaimer: I don't own the characters. Just the plot bunny.

Intro: Six months post-war, Malfoy is in serious trouble. He's on the run from the Ministry, Death Eaters, and a deadly curse which is eating him alive. When he hits rock bottom, a change in fortune lands him in 12 Grimmauld Place under the Ministry's custody - and forces Hermione to remember the secrets they've both kept for years. Dramione, Sick!Draco, flashbacks to Hogwarts

Note: The final chapter! Thanks for sticking with it. I should point out that if you have alerts on, this will look like a new chapter... it's really just the same as before, but I've added bits and bobs earlier in the story. Wanted to do a rewrite to correct some changes and flesh things out. Hope that makes sense!

Chapter Twenty Five


They Apparated just in front of Hogwarts' gates, and the familiar sight of the castle against the clouded December sky greeted him like an old friend. Draco had such vivid memories of the pure white grounds, the silent, snow-capped forest, the turrets and towers frosted with a shimmering film. Hogwarts had always come into its own at Christmas. There had been Peeves' incessant pranks, the insurmountable feasts in the Great Hall and, best of all, lying entwined with Hermione in her Prefect room bed, nothing and no one to stop them, until one of them was dragged away home for the holidays. The last time he had laid eyes on this place, it had been in ruin. The final battle had torn it apart, burned it to the ground. And yet now the castle had come back to life, almost as if there had never been a battle at all. But then again, the scars left over from the fray were not to be seen in the castle itself. As he took Hermione's hand and headed into the grounds, his eyes were drawn instantly to the tall, white marble sculpture which stood at the edge of the forbidden forest, close to the lake. It was such a familiar place, a place that he had Hermione had once gone to when they wanted to be alone, when they wanted to talk or laugh without worrying about people watching them. It was strange to think that, after all that had happened, their biggest fear had once been simply being discovered.

It was towards the memorial that Hermione and Draco now walked, hand in hand, side by side. It was dusk, which meant that the distant flickering candles in some of the windows of Hogwarts cast a dull light over the rolling grounds. Some of the teachers and staff had begun to return in preparation for the new school year. Soon, they would all be picking up where they had left off. Which was a strange thought to be confronted with, particularly after all that had happened. Their footprints marked a steady tread across the immaculate white carpet, over to the foot of the marble form. She let go of his hand as they grew nearer, passing over the bouquet of lilies they had brought with them. He took them, but it was a few moments before he had gathered the courage to step forwards without her. But the privacy was necessary – he hadn't had a chance to have this moment to himself yet. He approached the memorial slowly. Its fluid, twisting shape reminded him of a tongue of flame, arching up into the sky. It was an abstract form. Perhaps, either way, that was appropriate.

He reached the low step at the foot of it and knelt down to lay the lilies carefully at its base. It was almost as if there was a force field of peace around the structure – as if he had stepped into a calm bubble of silence. He closed his eyes for a moment, trying to think of something appropriate to say. But there was nothing quite appropriate, nothing that would make sense. So he just said the first thing that came into his head. His words were stunted and halting in the cold air.

"Hi, Mum. I wanted to give you these. It's not a proper grave but… but I don't think you'd want to be buried in the family crypt anyway. I'm so sorry for… for everything that happened. If I'd have been braver, if I'd tried harder… I always wanted you to be safe. And now I just… I just really miss you."

His eyes were growing hot. He glanced down at the snow for a few moments, taking a deep breath, trying to steady himself. He didn't know what would sound right. He should have planned something, written something down. Words teetered on the edge of his tongue, always too small to encompass everything he wanted to say.

"I don't really believe in an afterlife. But if it's real, and if you're there, I hope you can be happy now. If I can see you again, I'd be glad to be wrong. Just know that I love you, and I miss you… that I'll always miss you. You were always the best half of me."

He heard footsteps crunching in the snow behind him, and dragged a hand across his face. He rose to his feet in time for her to duck under his arm and wrap her arms around his waist. His eyes were slightly watery and his lips were quirking, but he took a deep shuddering breath as she clasped her hands around him and pressed his lips briefly against her forehead, grateful for the contact. She leaned on him, her eyes on the fluttering petals of the lilies.

"You ok?" she said softly.

He huffed. "Yeah. It's… It's good."

She looked up at him, trying to read his face. He smiled weakly, allowing himself the freedom to let his walls down, and shifted to open his coat and let her slip her arms under it. Her cool hands moved up his back.

"I'm ok," he heard himself say.

They stood there together for a long time, letting the snow fall and settle against their skin and hair in great, fat flakes. It did feel good. It felt like unwrapping a wound that had been bleeding for a long time, and finally sewing it shut. He had been denied the chance to say goodbye during the battle. He had forced everything that reminded him of his mother out of his mind in the months since, trying to just make it through each day as best he could. But the return of his father had driven home the fact that she would not be coming back. Now, as he looked down at the long, thin petals tinged with pink lying on the memorial, he felt as if something prickly and hard in his chest had released for the first time in months.

He looked down at Hermione, and found her watching the flowers, her arms wrapped tightly around him. He smiled and pulled at her.

"Come on. It's Christmas Eve, after all."

She held on until he looked down at her, and then reached up on her tiptoes to kiss him gently. The heat of her lips against his was enough to send a shiver down his spine and make him wish they were going back to a place of their own, but they had agreed to attend a certain Christmas party. She parted from him, frowning. Her large brown eyes reflected the snowflakes that tangled in her hair.

"Are you sure you want to go?"

She always had been good at reading his mind. He smirked.

"Come on, nerd."

She slipped her hand into his, and he took one last look at the monument, at the lilies in the snow. He heard the crack as they Disapparated, and closed his eyes.

The tall, lopsided shape of the Burrow appeared when he opened them, and he could feel his shoulders stiffening automatically. He knew them all much better now, but there was still something about being cornered in a room with his former enemies that filled him with uncertainty. Hermione turned to face him, taking a moment to tug his collar straight and smooth his blazer. He watched her serious face, enjoying the way her hair was already breaking free of the smooth curls she had wrestled it into. She was wearing a dress beneath her woollen coat that he was particularly fond of, and he was looking forward to going inside and getting said coat out of the way. She glanced up at him, and he lifted a hand to push a stray strand of hair back from her face. She smiled.


He nodded.

Almost as soon as they turned towards the door, it flew open and warm light spilled out into the gathering dark. Ginny's long red hair was impossible to mistake, and Hermione held out her arms to embrace her friend as they reached the doorway.

"There you are! We thought you weren't coming!"

"We're here," she said with a smile. "Sorry we're late, we were–"

"Is that Hermione?"

Mr. Weasley appeared, leaning past Ginny, his face slightly flushed with alcohol to match his flaming hair. His eyes shifted to Draco and only darkened a little before he smiled. The slight strain in his voice was almost unnoticeable.

"Evening, Malfoy."

Draco inclined his head slightly. As they stepped into the hubbub of noise and motion inside, he pulled a bottle wrapped in brown paper from his pocket and offered it to their host.

"Happy Christmas – we got you a little something to say thank you."

Mr. Weasley's eyebrows lurched, but he covered his surprise quickly and pulled the brown paper wrapping aside. Draco shared a brief glance with Hermione, who was looking very pleased with herself. She had been adamant that the Dragonbreath Firewhiskey was a favourite of the Weasley patriarch, and that it would smooth over any ruffled feathers at Draco's arrival in a heartbeat. It seemed that, once again, she was correct – he watched with bemused satisfaction as Mr. Weasley fumbled for a moment, stammered out a couple of half-formed expressions of gratitude, and then gave in and simply offered Draco a short, business-like handshake before striding off into the kitchen to show Molly.

"Think we got past the bouncer," Draco muttered.

Hermione chuckled, and Draco took the opportunity to glance around at the busy living room. Molly was there, rushing to and fro from the adjoining kitchen, levitating a couple of glasses of mulled wine over to them without even looking up. The room was cramped with all manner of Muggle devices and odd furniture – and grouped around the fireplace in a bubble of noise and laughter were the usual suspects. Ginny, Harry, Ron, Percy, Bill and Fleur – a medley of redheads clad in Christmas jumpers.

"Happy Christmas," Harry called to them, lifting his mulled wine. "How're the parents, Hermione?"

"They're fine," she replied, leading the way over to the group. "How're the travelling plans coming along?"

Harry opened his mouth to reply, but beside him Ginny's eyes had lit up at once and she beat him to it.

"Great. We're going inter-railing around Europe, then on to Morocco, then India. And after that–"

"It's a poor choice, you know," Percy cut in, frowning from behind his glasses. "You two should really finish your education before gallivanting off on a world tour."

"It's Christmas, you Grinch," Bill smirked. "Leave them alone. Repeating the final year at Hogwarts is optional anyway."

"Percy does have a point," Hermione began, and then bit her lip as Harry and Ron grinned at each other. "It's just that we missed out on an awful lot, and it could come in really useful."

"What're you going to do, Malfoy?" Harry spoke up.

Draco's eyebrow arched automatically as the others looked around at him. Percy and Bill in particular eyed him with some suspicion. He caught Ron's eye briefly, which was only slightly uncomfortable. Some progress had been made. Perhaps all it took was being taken hostage with your enemies to get a little team building going. He lifted his chin.

"Depends," he said. "Not sure retired Death Eaters are allowed within 50 feet of vulnerable first years."

His joke fell a little flat – he knew his voice had sounded altogether too irritated to come off as humorous. But he was rescued by a voice from behind him before the atmosphere could turn awkward.

"Knock it off, Malfoy, you were a pathetic Death Eater."

He turned to find with some relief George coming into sight at the foot of the twisting stairs. The other boy offered him a lopsided grin.

"I mean, you dated one of Voldemort's most wanted and helped his greatest nemesis escape certain death. Even I could do a better job than that."

Draco rolled his eyes. "I don't think he took gingers, but find a time-turner and you're welcome to try."

George jerked his head at the back door, and Draco dropped a kiss to Hermione's cheek before heading after him, grateful for the opportunity to escape scrutiny. He didn't want to hear questions from the others. His court date was in a week, and he and Hermione had kept quiet about it all. He was sure that some of their friends must have been called as witnesses, but so far no one had brought it up. He preferred to keep things that way.

Outside, the garden was covered in a light frosting of snow and lit by large, glowing fireflies. The sky was clear here, pin-pricked with stars. He breathed in the cold night air and sipped from his mulled wine, enjoying the crunch of the snow beneath his shoes. Beside him, George put a cigarette between his teeth and smiled, rolling his eyes at the group inside.

"How's the arm?"

He stowed his drink on the windowsill and rolled his sleeve up, holding out his arm for George to inspect. The spell Travers had used had left a violent, uneven scar stretching from his elbow to his wrist. The Mark was still visible on either side, but Draco had been informed that the Healers at St. Mungo's would be unable to heal the gash that had ripped through it. He was surprised to find that he didn't mind at all. It was almost a trophy, a physical symbol of his rebellion. Of his freedom.

"Gross," George remarked.

"Yeah," Draco smirked.

The other boy offered him the pack of cigarettes. Draco hesitated, his hand already halfway towards the box. George's eyebrows lifted, and Draco let out a short bark of laughter.

"I'm cutting down. Well, quitting. Supposedly."


"Yeah. Thought I should try and help maintain my health seeing as it's been so unexpectedly returned." He caught his tongue between his teeth, then shrugged took the box. "Well, it is Christmas."

He tapped a cigarette free, relishing the light weight of it between his fingers. He really had steered clear of them over the last few weeks. He knew he used them to hide behind, to mask anxiousness, and he was trying to do less of that these days. As George felt in his pocket for his wand, Draco lifted his hand and clicked his fingers. His thumb was instantly lit with a small tongue of bright fire, which lit the end of the cigarette dangling from George's mouth with an orange glow. The expression of surprise and glee on George's face made him laugh out loud before lighting his own, unable to shake his smugness.

"So, what, you found some kind of magical laxative?"

"Don't worry, Ginge, you're safe for now." He breathed in the old, familiar taste of smoke and watched it rush out again in a soft plume into the night air. "It's almost back to normal. Practice makes perfect, I guess. How's the shop?"

They stood out among the lights, talking for a while, enjoying the soft ambiance of the fireflies at the bottom of the garden and the smell of food cooking on the night breeze. It was more comfortable out here in the garden with George – not quite so many niceties to navigate with the rest of the Weasleys. He was struck, too, by how different this Christmas was to any he had experienced before. At the Manor, Christmas had always felt like a formal, uncomfortable affair coupled with estranged family and excessive drinking. This was a very different atmosphere – the gentle hum of noise inside, the relaxed, easy manner in which the Weasley's laughed and called to one another… He was just beginning to relax when the distant sound of a knock on the front door caught his attention. George glanced around, frowning. Draco felt his mouth turn dry.

"Expecting someone else?"

George shook his head. "Didn't think so."

The door opened and Draco listened to the surprised tones of the person who had answered it – perhaps Harry – and then, with a sinking sensation in his stomach, the unmistakable quiet voice of the person who replied. He couldn't make out what she was saying, but a quick glance at George's widening eyes confirmed his guess.

"What's Hestia doing here?" George muttered under his breath.

"Don't know."

Draco ran his tongue across his lips, his hand gripping his drink slightly harder than was necessary. He took a last drag on his cigarette and tossed the end aside, grimacing. The feeling was all too reminiscent of when she used to turn up unannounced to interrogate him at Grimmauld Place. What would require her to visit now, interrupting them on Christmas Eve? He could only suspect that he was about to be hauled into the Ministry, that their apparent luck had finally run out. He didn't turn around when footsteps approached and a silhouette blocked out some of the light from the back door.

"Evening, George. Malfoy."

George turned to greet her, but Draco could only keep his eyes on his drink. His tongue felt dry, and he could feel his heart beginning to pound a little faster in his chest. Hestia's voice sounded friendly, but then again her true feelings had always been rather difficult to read.

"Hi, Hestia. Happy Christmas."

"Happy Christmas, George. Malfoy, could I have a word?"

He could sense George looking at him, as if asking for permission to leave, and swallowed down his building anxiety. Shooting the other boy a brief nod, he turned to face Hestia. She stood there in the doorway, her face cast half in shadow, her hair drawn back into its usual stern ponytail. And yet, for the first time, she was not wearing her Auror robes. Instead, she was wearing black jeans and a dragonskin jacket. Caught off guard by her informal appearance, he had to remind himself that she had asked him a question. He tried to appear cavalier, despite his cover having already been blown by his extended hesitation.

"Depends. What word in particular?"

She stepped into the garden, and George seemed to take the hint. He paused in the doorway on his way back inside.

"Drink, Hestia? Draco?"

"No, thank you," she replied. "We won't be long."

Which left George no choice but to leave them alone in the garden. Draco sipped his drink and turned away to watch the fireflies, the air practically shivering with uneasiness as Hestia moved forward to stand beside him. She did not continue with her usual approach, instead simply standing in silence, her hands in her pockets. Eventually, his nerves got the better of him and he spoke up first.

"So, joining us for dinner are you? I think Molly's got some kind of delicious roast on."

"Thank you, I'm a vegetarian."

"Of course," he smirked. "Didn't know the Ministry made you guys work on Christmas. You'd think imprisoning the last of the Death Eaters would earn you a decent holiday."

"I wasn't required to work today. I had a couple of things I wanted to wrap up before Christmas Day." She turned to face him, her arms folding across her chest, her eyes narrowing. "You're looking well. I hear your arm has healed and your magic is progressing."

"Yeah," he said. "Is that why you're here? I'm considered a menace again?"

Her eyes flickered with something, and he could have sworn that she had almost smiled.

"We've also concluded our interviews with your father. He has been sentenced to five years in Azkaban."

"Five years?"

"It would have been longer, but the sentence was reduced due to the fact that he handed himself in and was compliant during our questioning. You do, however, have the right to visit him should you wish to."

He wasn't sure what to say to that. Perhaps it was some kind of test? But she did not look suspicious. She seemed to be waiting for him to respond, and he wet his lips uncertainly.

"I don't… Ok. I'll think about it."

She nodded. "If you wish to visit him, you can contact Azkaban directly. There's no need to go through the Ministry – they'll let us know."

She reached into her jacket and removed a scroll of parchment from her inside pocket. Draco's stomach lurched at once, and he reflexively gripped his glass tighter. He glanced briefly towards the door to the kitchen, making out motion just inside. If they had brought a warrant for his arrest, surely he would be able to see Hermione first, to say goodbye… Hestia cleared her throat, spinning the parchment between her fingers.

"I need to speak with you." She paused, and he thought he detected a hint of uncertainty in her face. She glanced briefly towards the open door, as if to check that they were alone. "As you know, a couple of weeks ago the Death Eaters impersonated my colleague, abducted yourself and Mr. Weasley from Grimmauld Place, and then attempted to coerce Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger into a trap by impersonating you."

He couldn't understand what she was getting at. "I'm aware."

She looked at him. Her dark eyes glinted in the halflight. "And I'm sure Ms. Granger has shared with you that I knew that my colleague was an undercover Death Eater when I left you with him at Grimmauld Place."

Of all the things he had expected her to say, this was not at all in the ballpark. Of course, he and Hermione had talked about it, but he had assumed the plot was born out of Hestia's personal vendetta against him and, therefore, not to be brought up. He frowned, trying to figure out where on earth this odd conversation was headed. Hestia sighed.

"I guessed at their plan, but couldn't be sure that we could capture all of them without letting them carry it out at least partially. I waited for them to contact Mr. Potter and Ms. Granger and then gave chase, correctly assuming that this would allow us to capture at least one Death Eater, learn the location of the others, and successfully put a stop to the operation."

"And you're telling me this because…"

"Because I knowingly put you in danger in order to fulfil the mission. I apologise." Her face was slightly strained in the light from the open door, a kind of sincerity flickering in her eyes that he was not at all used to. "I felt that Ron would be able to capture the first Death Eater, or failing that, that he would be too valuable to kill. I did not expect them to keep you alive for longer than a day at most."

He considered her words quietly. In truth, it made a lot more of the events of that day fall into place – there would have had to have been one oversight too many for the Death Eaters' plan to have worked. The polyjuice, followed by the lack of security at Grimmauld Place, followed by Harry and Hermione being able to easily leave their safehold… looking back, it was all too obvious that someone had been steering the situation towards their own means. What was rather unexpected was Hestia's response now. He looked up at the Auror, who was standing in front of him in silence, her serious dark eyes fixed on him. She folded her hands behind her back, her shoulders straightening.

"I apologise for placing you in danger, Mr. Malfoy," she said, her voice firm and level.

"Quite alright," he said hoarsely, and was surprised to find that he meant it. "You got them off the streets, didn't you?"

"You won't have to worry about them anymore," she said, offering a small nod. "I'm grateful for your help in the matter."

He decided against pointing out that he had not helped willingly. She lifted the scroll of parchment, which he had almost forgotten about, and held it out to him.

"I wanted to give you this. It's your court ruling."

Any happy surprise he had been expecting was instantly extinguished. So it was confirmed. The Ministry had decided to sentence him without even giving him a chance to defend himself. She had come to explain that his court date had been cancelled, and that he had a cell in Azkaban with his name on it ready and waiting, no doubt right next to his father's. The apology for putting him in danger had simply been to soften the blow. He took the scroll of parchment she was holding out, and suddenly found that he didn't have the guts to open it. He tried to smirk at her.

"So, not such a friendly visit after all. Are you arresting me before dinner, or after?"

"You're acquitted, Malfoy. Of all charges."

He stared at her. She stared back with her dark, serious eyes. It was the only time that he had ever been convinced that she was capable of joking. Her gaze moved to the parchment and back to his face before she elaborated.

"The Ministry has heard all of the evidence put forward from our interviews, and from other witnesses. The extreme circumstances of your involvement in Lord Voldemort's campaign are enough to suggest significant coercion. Your father confirmed that you were forced to carry out Voldemort's orders due to threats against himself and your mother. Your friends have confirmed that you helped them on numerous occasions due to the war. The Death Eaters' recent attempt on your life also helped your position – Travers and Nott complained at some length about you being a 'slimy traitor', as they eloquently put it. I offered a character reference on your behalf to support the motion."

The torrent of words were hard to take in. He held the scroll with both hands, unable to do anything but gape at her like a fish out of water. All he could see was bright green light flashing against tall trees. He wet his lips, realising that she had been quiet for a while.

"I would've thought some of the charges were a little…" he cleared his throat uncomfortably. "…uncompromising."

"Your affiliation with Voldemort's campaign will remain on your permanent record. However, your assistance during the war and subsequent aid in imprisoning the Death Eaters will also be on your file."

He blinked at her. "But… But what about…"

She fixed him with a sudden, unwavering glare. It was clear that she had not wanted him to bring this particular topic up, and he quickly fell silent. But he had to understand, and eventually she let out a slow sigh. She looked away, towards the fireflies at the bottom of the garden. For the first time, there was something vulnerable about the way her face twisted before she spoke. Her voice broke through the cool air like a knife through butter.

"During the war, the Death Eaters carried out an attack on a group of Aurors fighting on behalf of the resistance. Draco Malfoy and Theodore Nott cornered one Ursula Tavistock. Ursula Tavistock was murdered by Theodre Nott that night, who had been ordered to kill her by Lord Voldemort."


"I strongly recommend that you keep your particular memories of that night to yourself." She took a deep breath, and he had the distinct sense that she was trying to condense a great well of emotion into as few words as possible. "That's the official record of events. As far as the Ministry is concerned, you had no part in it."

"Why would you…"

"Malfoy." Hestia looked over her shoulder once more, back towards the warm house and the happy voices. "The use of the Killing Curse is unforgiveable. The Ministry would not have pardoned it, not under any circumstances."

"So you lied to them? You obscured evidence?"

She seemed to find that funny. Her eyes drifted upwards towards the starlit sky, her face oddly soft. "Ursula was always far more understanding than I am. During those months while we were at war, we spoke now and then. She would always say, 'Don't we all deserve a chance to put this war behind us?'"

She shifted, glancing at him, as if remembering he was there. "Perhaps that's her legacy. Perhaps she's right."

Draco stared at her. It was possibly the most forgiveness she would ever offer him, and he was sure that this was the last time they would ever discuss Ursula. He could not have imagined, when first explaining what had happened to Hestia in his attic sick-room, that they would have ended up here. It was the greatest gift she could have given him, and one that could potentially destroy her career. He didn't dare pursue his questions on her decision to hand him a free pass to the rest of his life. Instead, he let his face twist into a half-hearted sneer.

"Maybe," he said. "Either way, she was braver than me."

She only looked at him. He couldn't read her face, and focussed instead on the fireflies. Part of him was still waiting for her to reveal that the whole thing had been a trick, but she only stood there quietly with him. After a while, she spoke up once more.

"Are you going back to Hogwarts to repeat your final year?"

The question caught him off guard. He paused to take a large gulp of his drink. Their conversation had been too much of a rollercoaster for him to continue without the help of alcohol. He shrugged.

"Hadn't thought about it," and then, with a smirk, "Homework is going to feel a little trivial."

"Well, it's not the only option," she said, her tone playful. "The Ministry is always on the lookout for new Aurors to train."

Draco let out a bark of laughter. "You're joking. They'd never let me in."

"I don't know," she said. "Devil you know is better than the devil you don't, and all that. You might be good at it."

He looked at her to check if she was joking, but as always her face was a wall. Any shred of emotion she had unveiled previously was now gone. She was once again Hestia Jones, with her severe ponytail and calculating eyes, surveying him cautiously as one might observe a threstral from a distance. She glanced over her shoulder as there was an eruption of laughter from inside.

"Seems the festivities are underway." She held out her hand to him and he shook it, still convinced that he had hallucinated the entire conversation. But her grip was warm and real, and she inclined her head slightly as she stepped away. "Enjoy your freedom, Malfoy."

She turned on the spot and Disapparated, leaving him alone in the garden. He slowly unrolled the parchment and ran his gaze over the carefully inscribed letters, still not quite able to believe it. And yet there it was – inexplicably, the court ruling had been in his favour. Perhaps it paid to have a guilty Auror on your side.


He looked up. Hermione had appeared in the doorway. He took her in – her frizzy mane of hair, her dress, her calculating gaze and furrowed brow – and he smiled.


Hestia's arrival at the Burrow abruptly punctured the warm glow Hermione had been settling into, and she did her best not to look unhappy to see her. The Auror greeted them quietly and declined a glass of mulled wine before enquiring as to Draco's whereabouts. If Hermione had been nervous before, she was terrified now. She watched with her heart in her mouth as Hestia crossed the room and disappeared out into the garden, her shoulders straight and her head held high. The only comforting factor was that she was not drawing her wand.

Ron nudged her in the ribs and she flinched, so focussed on the Auror that she hadn't even noticed him move over to her.

"What's that about?" he muttered.

She shook her head. "No idea. His court date isn't for another week."

"How's it looking?"

"Uncertain," she said ruefully. "There's so much to go over… It's complicated."

He rolled his eyes. "It always is."

She allowed herself a small laugh at that. She glanced towards the garden, but she could no longer see Hestia or Draco. She could only assume that they were talking – about what, she would have to wait to find out. Beside her Ron shifted uncomfortably, his eyes wandering around the room, looking anywhere but her. She suddenly realised that it was the first time that they had been alone together in a long while – Ginny, Fleur and Percy were arguing over some recent regulation from the Ministry, Harry and Bill were helping Mrs. Weasley, and George and Mr. Weasley were talking over a glass of whiskey in the corner. She and Ron were well and truly alone.

"Thanks for asking," she said. And then, in a lower voice, "And, Ron… I never really thanked you for what you did. With the Death Eaters."

He snorted, but she could tell that he was slightly flustered. His ears were already growing pink. "What d'you mean?"

"You know what I mean."

She turned towards him a little more, blocking their conversation from the others. Ron's earnest, tentative freckled face tilted towards her. She kept her voice soft as she spoke, not wishing to invite attention.

"Draco told me that he wouldn't have survived without you. He said you wrapped up his arm and led the way out."

Ron shrugged awkwardly. "Well, couldn't leave the git there, could I? You would've told me off."

"Yes," she said with a smile. "But still… Thank you."

"S'alright." He jerked his head at the back yard. "So, are you transferring to Slytherin when you go back to Hogwarts, or what?"

She elbowed him, rolling her eyes. "I haven't changed, Ron, nothing's changed really. I'm the same as I've always been."

"Except for the ferret tagging along everywhere you go now."

The bitterness was only just noticeable in his voice. She paused, trying to formulate how best to proceed. He was still hurt, clearly. She was surprised that the others had all adjusted to the change so well, considering what a shock the revelation had been. It was to be expected that Ron would be the last to come around. And yet she couldn't help but feel like they were close to bridging the gap, finding some kind of reconciliation. She watched as George pulled an ancient record player down from a shelf and tapped it with his wand – it promptly began to emit the radio, which was playing ancient Christmas songs.

"I know it's strange for you. I just…" she could feel a lump growing in her throat, and hurriedly swallowed it down. "I miss you. And even though everything is different now, I hope… I hope we can still be friends. Because you're one of my best friends, Ron."

He laughed, shuffled awkwardly, and then abruptly threw an arm around her shoulder. His movements were stiff and uncomfortable, but she would take that over him yelling at her or storming out any day. She met his gaze as he looked down at her, his hazel eyes clouded.

"Don't be silly, 'Mione. Of course we're friends."

She let out a breath she hadn't realised she had been holding. He released her quickly, glancing around to make sure that no one had noticed, and she held up her glass to clink against his. An effort to diffuse the ice.

"So?" she challenged as he took a sip. "Are you going back to Hogwarts for the final year?"

He shook his head. "Nah. Hestia's setting me up with her colleague at the Ministry. I'm going into an apprenticeship there. Auror training."

She smiled. "You'll like that."

"Yeah." He nodded at Ginny and Harry. "Not as much as I'd like to go hitch-hiking around Europe like these two, but whatever. I really thought Harry would be trying out to be an Auror too, you know?"

"No." She watched as Harry laughed at something Bill had just said, raking his hands through his scruffy hair. "I think he's had enough of fighting. He deserves a holiday."

"And the ferret?" Ron glanced over at the back yard.

"It kind of depends."

She followed his eyeline, concerned that Draco and Hestia were still out there. She couldn't figure out what was so important that it had to be said now, and could only assume that something had gone wrong. That she was going to take him away from her. She felt like she was constantly waiting for someone to snatch him away from her again. She didn't even really like having him out of her sight for long anymore, preferring to at least have him within earshot. It was irrational, but after the chaos of the last few months, she knew it would be a while before she could relax into normal existence again.

Ginny joined them, rescuing her from her thoughts, and she tried to listen to her and Ron discussing the recent win for the Holyhead Harpies before a distant crack reached her ears, and she found herself moving reflexively to the back door. For a moment she was sure Hestia would have dragged him off somewhere, but there he was, standing in the garden alone, pouring over a piece of parchment. His grey-blue eyes were shining with a medley of feeling. She loved seeing him in a suit. His white blonde hair was smoothed back against his skull, his face unusually open and vulnerable rather than wearing its usual trademark sneer. It struck her that he had gone through a transformation of sorts over the past few months. He looked brighter, newer, stronger. His shoulders heaved in a deep sigh, and she stepped out into the garden.


He looked up at her, and a rare full, warm smile spread over his face. She felt the tension in her stomach ease at once and headed over to him, sparing a glance up at the night sky as she went.

"What's that?"

"It's my court ruling."

He was trying to smirk, but he couldn't quite hide how happy he was. She took the parchment from him and read it quickly. Her stomach flipped over and she looked up at him, her eyes wide.

"Is this…?"

"Hestia just gave it to me." He lifted a hand to tuck her hair back behind her ear, ran his thumb over her cheekbone. "Looks like you're stuck with me, nerd."

The joy of the surprise seemed to suck all the air out of her lungs. She reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck, burying her face in his shoulder. He laughed and she felt his lips against her head, felt his arms wrap tightly around her in response.

"You did it," she murmured.

The dizzying realisation that it was over, that they were free, was hard to come to terms with. She realised that she hadn't yet let herself believe that this was a possibility for them. That morning in Shell Cottage when they had made breakfast together was now a tangible potential future – they would go to bed together each night, they would share details of mundane daily life, they would dodge chores and drink wine.

"What do you want to do first?" he said, his voice rumbling against her ear. "Go on holiday? Get a flat?"

"I don't care." She held tight to him, swallowing back the emotion rising in her throat. "Anything."

She drew back and reached up to push her fingers through his hair, savouring every piece of him. Somehow, against all odds, they had made it. They had won. His blue eyes fixed on hers and she could almost feel the heat from them, the overwhelming intensity. He still had the same effect on her as he always had. From the open door of the house her ears snatched at fragments of conversation, at the melody of some song or other playing on the radio. And, as he lifted his wine to his lips, she was sure something was familiar about it.

"Listen…" she said, cocking her head.

He did. Through the open window came the distant drumbeat, the lilting melody, the melancholic vocals. His face shone with sudden understanding and he let out a bark of laughter.

"I hate this song," she said, letting a grin spread over her face.

"God, me too," he chuckled.

He swigged down the last of his drink and put down his glass on the ground, reached out to take hers off her. She let him, watched him straighten up and pull his jacket straight with theatrical care.

"What're you doing?"

"What do you think?"

He stepped up to her and she took the hand he held out. He pulled her against him and she leaned her forehead against his, nuzzled his cheek with her own as he began to sway. The first time they had done this, they had both been so nervous that their bodies had barely even shifted – they had moved in tight, carefully organized circles and she had done everything in her power not to look at him. Her heart had been pounding so hard that it almost leapt from her chest when the first years came running out of the bushes nearby. Now, she let her body slide up against his like a puzzle piece, let her hands stray from his shoulders to his waist and back. His wandered perilously slowly from her hips to her butt before one hand stopped on the small of her back, the other lifting to pass over her hair, down her nose, and finally catching up her hand and interlacing his fingers with hers.

"Granger," he said softly through a trademark smirk.

"Do shut up, Malfoy," she muttered back, her lips ghosting against his neck.

She leaned back a little, took the time to take him in. She let herself bask in the vivid memory of first losing herself in those liquid pools of blue and grey, of first feeling his hands on her. Of him tapping on the window of her Prefect room, his broomstick hovering just outside. Of lying in bed together, half asleep, legs entwined. The fairy lights in the garden lit his skin with a dim amber glow, painting shadows across his cheekbones, his white blonde hair, his neck. He was older now, and yet she could have sworn that he was looking at her with the same intensity as he had then. His tongue darted out and ran across his lips. Apparently, after all this time, he still had the power to leave her breathless.

"Make me."

So, she did. She put her arms around his neck, standing on her tiptoes to reach, and as his arms encircled her waist she let her lips move across his in a way that sent sparks through her stomach and made her blood pound in her veins. His body melded against her, so close that she was sure she could hear his blood too. As far as she was concerned, that was how they could stay forever. But after an amount of time which could have been five minutes or five hours, her ears caught at a voice calling for them. Reluctantly, she let go of him. He groaned.

"No, no, no, fuck the party. Let's stay here."

"Later," she promised, smiling impishly. "Come on. We can tell them the good news."

She kissed him one last time before taking his hand and tugging him back across the garden, towards the golden light spilling out of the back door. He stopped her, digging his heels in, and she looked back to find him smirking at her, his lips parted, his eyes running over her hungrily.

"Hey Granger?"


His smirk widened. "I love you. You nerd."

She thought that he might have been the most beautiful thing she had ever seen at that moment. It took her a few moments to respond, her heart full and her eyes bright. She went back to him, enjoying the look of smug elation lingering on his face as she placed her hands on his chest. She let him dip his head to lean his forehead against hers, revelled in the intimacy.

"I love you, too. Happy Christmas, Draco."

The End.

Thank you so much to everyone who read this little rambling, and to everyone who took the time to leave a review. When I went back to refine this, those reviews were incredibly helpful – all the corrections and notes and thoughtful comments you left behind are what made me fix it. I would never have finished this without the tidal wave of internet support which I appreciate very, very much.

As always, hope you enjoyed the ride. It was a pleasure to write.

Until next time!