Author's Note: Welcome to Boardwalk! This started out as a fun, quick summer story, and has since expanded to something more. I hope you enjoy!

Potentially worth a mention, I am not American and haven't been to the places featured in this story - so I hope you can allow some grace in the event of minor detail discrepancies. Thanks!

I've been working with two alphas on this piece, Kyonomiko and LadyKenz347, and endless love and hugs to them both, as well as to my rock star beta, I was BOTWP.

Content Warning: This story contains the following: Alcohol consumption, profanity, sexual content, and recreational marijuana usage. If this isn't your thing, I suggest you steer clear. Please take this as your warning for the entirety of this fic.

Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter franchise. This work is for enjoyment and no profit is being made.

We're gonna be birds and fly
We're gonna set the world alight
We're gonna lose ourselves tonight
Heaven - Avicii feat. Chris Martin

"You're going where?" Hermione blinked, surprised, at Daphne's expectant grin.

The other girl waved her hands. "California! With some friends who went to Beauxbatons." She paused, giving Hermione a pointed waggle of her brows. "You should come."

Chuckling, Hermione gave her friend a placating smile. "I can't. But I'm sure you'll have fun."

They very thought that they'd completed their eighth year – with no significant, life-threatening snags – was still one Hermione found herself struggling with. But now that they'd left Hogwarts for the last time, there were so many things she needed to do in order to prepare for her life after school.

Like select a career path from the stack of letters she'd received.

Healer training was a frontrunner – but she still wasn't certain whether she didn't want to pursue a position with the Ministry. Harry and Ron had foregone their eighth year at Hogwarts in favour of beginning Auror training early, but Hermione had been unable to fathom the thought of leaving her NEWT studies incomplete.

Becoming an Auror had never held the same appeal for her, but she also had offers from the Departments of Transportation, International Magical Cooperation, and Magical Creatures.

There was also the possibility of a Curse-breaking internship with Gringotts, and Hermione couldn't deny the intrigue she felt each time she considered that avenue.

"Come on," Daphne urged, jabbing Hermione in the arm with pointy fingers. Hermione scowled, rubbing at her flesh. "Just for a week. Maybe two. You won't be starting on with anything just yet anyways."

Hermione frowned, realizing the truth of the matter. Healer training didn't start until September, and the same was true of the Curse-breaking program.

"Regardless," she said, shaking her head, "I have plenty to do around London. Not to mention I need to spend the summer making money, not spending it."

When she'd sent her parents on to their new life in Australia, she'd left very little money in her own account. And even if she didn't get on with a proper career just yet, Hermione didn't have enough money to last her until September without some source of revenue. She'd essentially resigned herself to working whatever sort of job she could find until she was ready to pursue something else.

Until Daphne, with all of her cheery persuasion, had approached Hermione once they'd arrived back on the platform in London.

Daphne waved a finger. "We'll be travelling by International Portkey. That won't cost you anything." She held up a second finger, cocking a brow. "My family has a timeshare villa near Venice, so we won't be paying for that either."

"Okay," Hermione huffed, "but food, drink, entertainment. I know you'll want to go out every night."

"Every night," Daphne repeated seriously. "Come on, Hermione. You're going to go off and start your fancy job, and then when are you going to have time to get away and take a fun trip?"

Daphne's words tugged at something in her chest; for so many years, she had been forced to take everything seriously. Maybe it was a good opportunity.

Hesitating, Hermione stared at her new and unexpected friend. Their eighth year at Hogwarts had been filled with surprises, including a more inclusive and accepting eighth year class. And without Harry and Ron, Hermione had found herself branching out in her friendships.

She and Daphne shared more in common than Hermione had ever realized – but there were still certain differences between them.

Hermione wasn't interested in drinking to excess each night, and she didn't even know Daphne's Beauxbatons friends – but something about the girl's latest argument settled into the pit of her stomach with a churn.

Once she started on at the Ministry, or St Mungos, or Gringotts – that would be it for a long time. She'd be too focused on moving forward in her career to do anything so frivolous as travel across the world to visit the beach and party.

And aside from all that… her heart still mourned the loss of her parents, stuck in an alternate reality across the world. Hermione was losing hope the healers would be able to reverse the spell she'd cast during the war, and she longed for a distraction.

Her lips twisted to the side as her eyes tightened on Daphne's knowing smirk.

"One week."

"Yes!" Daphne exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "Hermione, we'll have so much fun!"

With a sardonic smile, Hermione fell into step with her friend as they made their way back onto the platform proper. She was already beginning to regret her acquiescence – but how bad could it possibly be?

Running through a mental checklist, Hermione prepared to leave her parents' old house in London. She had everything packed for her week in California – but more importantly, she had numerous interviews arranged with some of the shops in Diagon Alley for the week after she was to return home.

Daphne had already left days earlier with her other friends from Beauxbatons, only a few days after returning home from Hogwarts, but Hermione had wanted to ensure she had everything organized before she was set to leave.

Her International Portkey was scheduled to activate in ten minutes, and Hermione debated the merits of backing out at the last minute.

But there was a part of her that was interested in having a little fun before settling into the tedium and routine of a job. Following everything that had occurred with the war a year ago, and then jumping into ten months of NEWT studying, the thought of simply relaxing and enjoying life was appealing.

Clapping her hands together, Hermione perched on a seat at the kitchen table to wait for the Portkey. And only minutes later, when it glowed blue, she grabbed hold of the rusted metal flagon without hesitation.

After four days in the heat of the California sun, she was both relaxed and exhausted. Daphne and her friends had wanted to go dancing in the clubs every night – having acquired some fake identification for the lot of them – and they spent the majority of every day sunbathing on the beach in Santa Monica, hiking, or exploring the boardwalk.

Daphne's friends – Alexander and Marie – were due to return to Paris the following day, and the group of them decided to spend their last day together at the Santa Monica Pier.

Much like she had for the beginning of the week, Hermione trailed after the rest without any agenda of her own. She'd come to realize she was enjoying just going with the flow, even if the trip had left her in a nearly constant state of exhaustion. The endless stash of hangover draughts and pepper-up potions they'd brought along hadn't gone unused.

The pier itself was packed with tourists, and while the three others drifted away to ride the roller coaster for the fourth time, Hermione decided to explore the end of the pier on her own.

After nearly a week of almost constant companionship, it was nice to get away on her own and breathe.

The sun was beginning to set and Hermione found herself leaning against the rail, gazing out upon the way the dropping sun lit the sky into an array of oranges and golds. It was the most peaceful she'd felt all week – and away from the bustle of people she allowed herself to release a long exhale, letting the residual tension sink from her shoulders.

Even if she had been hesitant at first, she'd enjoyed her time in California. And while she was eager to get on with her life, there was so much indecision surrounding her future that Hermione found she wasn't in a rush to deal with all of that.

There was something about the sun, surf, and sand, that had delved into the still healing cracks of her heart.

The thought of returning to London – and the anxiety that went along with all of that – had become daunting.

She didn't want to work at a shop, but she didn't know that she was quite ready to settle into the career that she would make a focus for the rest of her life. She was only nineteen – but she'd been fighting for her life for years.

Hermione had found she was glad for Daphne's invitation, even if she wasn't really the type to drink and party every night. But she'd smiled and laughed, able to push away the demands she'd been facing for the time being.

And she'd even developed a bit of a tan.

She and Daphne would return to London in two days time, and from there… Hermione wasn't quite certain anymore.

Gazing out the end of the pier at the ocean, she felt a sort of easy joy settle in her heart.

She wasn't sure the next time she would feel that way.

A slight chill lifted into the air as the sun drifted lazily lower on the horizon, and Hermione grasped her bare arms with her fingers, turning back to return to the park.

The four of them had arranged to meet for supper, and they would be looking for her.

But Hermione froze, doing a quick double-take as she walked. A man walked by in the opposite direction, and something twinged in her heart, setting it into a rapid jolt and an escalated pace.

Certain reminders of the war still hit her harder than she liked.

And the man's hair had been a particularly light shade of blond – a shade Hermione had only seen on one other before.

As soon as it had come, the moment passed. It was California, and bleach blond hair was abundant beneath the almost ubiquitous sun.

Still, the man's figure was so similar, and a shiver crept the length of her spine as she peered through the crowds, growing again as she neared the bulk of the tourists.

It was irrational – Draco Malfoy was presumed dead.

In the wake of the Battle of Hogwarts, the former Slytherin had vanished into the ether, leaving behind his name, his family, and his future. His personal bank account, according to his mother, had been emptied – but that had been more than a year ago.

No one had seen or heard from him since. According to Daphne, his classmates and friends had held onto a shred of hope that Malfoy might have turned up at Hogwarts in September to complete his NEWTs; that hope had proved futile.

Now, fourteen months after the Battle of Hogwarts, Hermione knew better than to mention his name in front of Daphne, who had taken the loss of her friend hard. The girl liked to insist Malfoy wasn't as bad as he acted. In an effort to avoid an affront to his memory, Hermione hadn't pushed.

It still didn't change the fact that he had vanished off the face of the earth without a trace.

Hermione jumped as a hand curled around her wrist, and she narrowly avoided letting out a yelp as she turned to see Daphne's wide smile. "There you are! We've been looking for you."

"Right," Hermione managed, even as she still peered over the crowds – but the man with the pale hair was nearly gone from her line of vision. His hair wasn't the same style as Malfoy had kept his anyways – it was longer and scruffier than the posh and proper heir would have worn.

Daphne snickered. "What are you looking at?"

Squinting at her friend in consideration, Hermione shook her head. Her heart hammered in her throat as she turned to look once more – but the man was gone. "Nothing." She pressed a smile into her lips. "Shall we?"

By the time they were finished eating, the darkness of the sky overhead was fuzzy with an abundance of light, and Hermione found herself wandering the length of the pier with Daphne, the edges of her mind hazy with the two drinks in which she'd indulged at dinner.

Daphne slipped her elbow through Hermione's as they walked, and pranced along the wooden planks, peering up at the night sky. She grinned, rolling her head to face Hermione. "We're going dancing for Alex and Marie's last night. Are you coming?"

For a brief moment, she debated the idea of sharing with Daphne what she thought she'd seen – but there was no sense dredging up the past.

With an apologetic smile, Hermione shook her head. "I was thinking I might stay here for a bit longer."

Clicking her tongue, Daphne released Hermione and spun into a twirl, laughing into the dark sky. "Fine. I'm not surprised – though I am surprised you went along with most everything this week."

Allowing an indulgent smile, Hermione said, "It's been more fun than I expected… just existing. Without worrying about everything."

"Told you!" Daph exclaimed with a wide grin. "It's healthy to unwind now and again, Hermione." She checked the watch at her wrist. "I'd better go – you know where to find us if you change your mind. And be safe!"

"Be safe," Hermione echoed, watching with a smile as Daphne twisted and danced away in a semi-intoxicated flutter.

Something was still niggling at the back of Hermione's brain from the encounter earlier, and as she found herself wandering the aisles of carnival games on the pier, she attempted to push the thoughts from her mind. But still, she'd survived a war relying on her instincts, and she wasn't so keen to discount them now.

Realistically, even if Draco Malfoy was still alive – which was possible, despite that no one had heard from him in over a year – he wouldn't be in California, of all places. For one, his pale skin would probably melt.

Hermione snorted at the thought as she walked, feeling the last of the buzz from her dinner drinks fading into the night. The chill was beginning to seep into her bones, and she debated returning to the villa and getting some sleep while the house was empty and quiet.

And even if it was Malfoy she had seen earlier – just to allow the thought – there was no way she would see him again, hours later.

She wished she had brought a jumper, but she wasn't keen to spend the money on one at the shops, so she turned and made her way back down the aisle towards the exit.

Stopping short, her jaw fell open and her heart slammed to life in her chest. All Hermione could hear was the roaring of her pulse in her ears as she stared until her eyes began to water and she pressed her lips into a thick swallow.

It was Draco Malfoy.

Draco bleeding Malfoy – and he was working at the Santa Monica Pier.

Someone shouldered past Hermione, startling her back to her present reality, even as her mind raced and spun so that she couldn't make sense of anything.

Crossing the midway, Hermione found herself peering at him as if he were a caged animal – and his expression looked remarkably trapped.

The rest of the people operating games and booths in the aisle were shouting to draw attention to their stall; Malfoy merely stared out at the passersby. She could see him speaking to a couple who had stopped, and watched as his lips pulled into a hint of that old smirk she remembered.

Unintentionally, she released a startled gasp.

He was alive.

Realizing she was frozen to the pavement, with no clue what to do, Hermione found herself staring from a distance. Then her feet moved her towards him as if of their own volition, while the couple carried on without spending any money.

Malfoy peered the other way as Hermione approached. His hair was longer than she remembered, swept back from his face; the curve of his jaw was scruffy with stubble, and his skin held the golden tan she'd come to associate with Californians.

Sensing her presence, he turned to speak – and froze. His eyes widened, his lips parted, and he blinked several times before slamming his mouth shut.

Hermione could only stare; her mouth felt dry. Her head dropped to the side, calculating, considering.

Malfoy rubbed at the back of his neck, his mouth twisting into a grimace.

Feeling uncomfortable with the prolonged silence, Hermione muttered, "Hello."

His lips pressed into a thin line, and he nodded. "Granger. Yeah. Hi."

It was only then that Hermione took the time to look closer at his booth, her eyes narrowing at the row of horses on what looked to be slats of wood painted like fake grass.

Shifting on the spot, Hermione nodded. "You're… alive."

"I'm alive." Malfoy stood still as a statue, and he frowned. "Just as smart as they always said you were."

Scoffing in a mixture of amusement and derision, she examined a spot on the nearest plastic seat. "You know… because everyone thinks you're dead."

Malfoy clicked his tongue. "My mother knows I'm alive."

Stunned at the flippant response, Hermione gaped at him. "And you're just… here at this carnival running this…" She waved a hand. "Horse game."

"Right." His expression darkened. "It's exactly what I always wanted to be doing. Look, Granger, are you going to spend some money or no?"

"Fine," she huffed, settling down onto the torn plastic of the stool. She peeled an American paper note from her pocket and handed it to him. "How do you play?"

Malfoy ignored her, affixing some sort of electronic headset to his head and adjusting the mouthpiece. He barked, "Oi!" at a man walking past, and the man jumped in surprise. Malfoy waved his hand, twisting it towards his booth, and fixed the man with a glare.

Looking uncomfortable, the man edged closer, slipping into a seat three down from Hermione. As he paid, he cast her a grimace, which Hermione returned.

"So," Malfoy drawled, his voice amplified, "you have to shoot this spout into the target, yeah? Winner gets a prize." He waved a hand at the display of prizes on the wall behind him with a scowl.

Hermione gave a nod, fiddling with the controls of the water spout she was meant to aim, given the way it shifted up and down. Before either of them could respond Malfoy rolled his eyes and hit a switch, initiating the game.

Caught off guard, Hermione struggled to align the water spout with the target, and watched as her opponent's horse shifted steadily towards the finish line, beating hers by nearly half.

Malfoy huffed an irritated breath and brandished a small stuffed tiger at the man, who accepted it with a quick, "Thanks," before he edged back away.

"Pitiful," Malfoy said, turning to Hermione with a lifted brow. "One would think you'd be good at these things."

"I haven't been to a carnival since I was a child," Hermione deadpanned. It occurred to her at that moment that this was one of the oddest scenarios in which she'd been involved in years – and that was saying a lot.

Not only was Malfoy alive, he was working at a carnival in the United States, conning Muggles out of their hard-earned money. And he was conversing with her as if it was nothing.

Malfoy shrugged and tossed her a stuffed green snake with a smirk. "Pity prize. Look, I'd appreciate it if you didn't tell anyone I'm here. Right. Thanks."

Appraising him, Hermione said, "Daphne would have liked to have seen you I'm sure. We're headed home in two days."

His expression tightened so quickly she might have imagined it. "You're here with Daph?"

"Yes." Her voice dropped as he stared at her, as if warring with something internal. "She only just left maybe half an hour ago."

Malfoy's lips pursed. "Don't tell Daph either. Just… don't tell anyone."

Hermione couldn't keep the questions contained anymore. "Why? Why leave London? Why are you here, of all places? Working this lousy Muggle job?"

"Mind your own, Granger," he said, his tone cold. "And unless you're going to play again, carry on. I'm not talking to you about this."

A chill gust swept through the midway and Malfoy glared at her. She rose from her seat, hands pressed into the wooden surface of the booth ahead of her. But then something broke between them, and she leaned away, stepping back.

Wrapping her arms around herself, Hermione stared at him for a long moment, clenching her snake prize in one hand. "Fine, Malfoy. I won't tell anyone. But… you should."

"No," he said, his voice low. "I'm quite fine with the way things are. And it isn't your place."

"Right," she muttered, wanting now more than ever to return to the villa. Before she walked away she turned back to him. "Malfoy?"

He rolled his eyes, his jaw clenched. "What?"

"I'm glad you're alive." She pressed her lips into a thin approximation of a smile. "You know. Compared to the alternative."

"The alternative being dead," he mocked. "Brilliant as ever."

Despite the situation, Hermione felt her lips twitch. She pointed a finger at him with the hand holding her stuffed snake. "Exactly."

Malfoy huffed, shaking his head. "Take care, Granger."

Her eyes blew wide with surprise as she nodded, stuttered a step forward, and walked away.