She sat quietly in the library. She relished the space around her, the smell of old musty books and the half full mug of milky tea that was starting to go cold. She stretched, straining her neck away from her study for a moment, and simply expanded her senses to take in the world around. Hogwarts Library... Home... Freedom.
It sometimes felt hard for her to believe. Nearly a year on, and the world still felt bigger to her, bigger and brighter and sharper. She could do anything she wanted to, go anywhere she wanted to go, see anything she wanted to see...
The war was over. Harry had defeated Lord Voldemort. There was peace in the Wizarding World at last. There was peace in the world... and within her. She closed her eyes, and all she heard was silence... quietness... peace. The world was no longer a jarring memory of all that she had suffered through. She had a future now, and maybe more importantly – she had a present. She had a now that wasn't soaked in the past. She did not indulge the pain or the misery. Hermione Granger was not a victim.
Harry was in the common room with Ron. At first, they wouldn't leave her out of their sight. At first, truthfully, she hadn't wanted to be out of their sight – when she first started to get her life back together, they had been the bricks and the mortar that had built her back together. They were consistent and they were strong and they were heroes – and she was proud of them. She wanted them to be proud of her too, and she knew she could only do that by being strong. By surviving.
The more she survived, the stronger she got and the less she needed to rely on them so much. The world became round again. Study began to matter once more. Her brain began to function again. Emotions – not intense, crazy, anguished emotions – but day to day emotions – annoyance, ambition, vanity in her work – began to feature once more, became present again like long lost friends. Her grades soared and so too did her spirits.
There was just one ink blot on the completed scroll of Hermione Granger's recovery, just one Dark Mark that still remained in her blank sky ... and that was Draco Malfoy.
They sat in the same classrooms for nearly a year. They walked past each other in the same hallways. He had taken what she had said to heart – he left her be. He was an outcast in the Slytherin House, not that it mattered much anymore. House rivalry was no longer encouraged and there were more groupings of people that walked together, rather than the House Unity of before. But Draco, he walked with nobody. Many of his old friends had perished in the war, and many others had turned their backs on him once they learned of the truth of what had happened in Malfoy Manor. He was alone.
And yet, he did not try to hassle her, he did not try to confront her, and he certainly didn't make any new professions of his love for her – the love that had made him destroy his father and condemn his best friend to death. She had asked him to let her live her life, and he kept to his promise. He let her grow into a person again.
But he couldn't quite hide his feelings. She could feel his eyes often on her, even when she couldn't actually physically see him. And when she caught a quick glance, just before he flinched away, she saw such pain and sorrow and regret laced on his face – and such warm longing in the depth of his grey eyes. Sometimes, the expression on his face made her breath catch in her throat.
It took her a long time to feel ready. It took her a long time to gather up the courage and the compassion to finally let Draco become a part of her life. Sometimes, she felt ashamed by how long it took her, because she knew, without vanity, that she was all he had in the world. His love for her had destroyed everything else.
It started with a "Hello."
She was sitting in the library, studying as usual, and felt his eyes on her. She turned, instantly, and caught just a flash of his shadow as he turned to go the other way. She made a sound – more a yelp than anything, not knowing herself at first what she was doing – and he froze. And then, with his back facing her, the tension clear on his neck and shoulders, she said, "Hello."
He turned as if in slow motion. His face, which used to hold no expression except perhaps a smirk, was a flood of emotions. He was too confused and too shocked and too open to wear a mask anymore. He did not answer, but those grey eyes gleamed almost feverishly from his pale, drawn face as he took her in.
"Draco..." she said and swallowed. Her voice wasn't working correctly. It didn't sound like her own – it was the voice of a stranger.
Looking almost entranced and completely unaware of what he was doing, he took a step towards her.
She took a step back.
She realised after what she had done, taking that step back. But for a moment, a flash of all the past pain had went through her like a streak of lightening. The remorse on his face that showed after her step made her wish desperately she hadn't taken a step back – because although the pain had struck momentarily, she knew that she was not afraid.
"I should go," he said, not moving any closer.
"How are you?" she blurted out. Her voice now sounded too informal, almost casual. Inappropriate.
"I miss you," he said suddenly, abruptly, as if no other answer would have been possible.
She wasn't sure what to say to that.
"I'm sorry," he said and broke his gaze from her at last to look at some far off point. It was like he couldn't meet her eyes for a moment. "That was a stupid thing to say – a selfish thing to say. I want you to be happy. I just... I don't really know what my life is now without you."
She swallowed, "Draco..."
He looked back at her. "I know you will never forgive me."
She closed her eyes for a moment and when she opened them, she had made up her mind. "I can try," she said.
It started with a hello. It continued on to a cup of tea together in Hogsmeade. Then, there was a few lunch times spent in the astronomy tower. Then a few evenings in the library, where they shared the same table. They tried to steer the conversation away from the darkness and look to brighter things – like the future.
As she begun to forgive him, he began to forgive himself. He began to play Quidditch again. He started doing his Potions Homework. He began thinking about life outside of Hogwarts, after his exams. But he never stopped thinking about her.
She seemed, in his eyes, to only grow more and more beautiful – but not only in a physical way. It was as if every part of her rejoiced and blossomed in her new freedom. She glowed – or maybe it just seemed to him that she glowed. Her hair seemed like liquid gold to him, streaming down her back, and her eyes flashed and crinkled and shined with light. With the despair of her past trials slowly melting off her, she seemed to represent a picture of health and buoyancy and strength and brightness. He found himself staring at her, drinking her in, and felt like he may be able to absorb some of that vitality into himself too. Like a child discovering colours for the first time, like a moth that has lived without a flame for too long, his love for Hermione couldn't seem too diminish.
It took him a long time to realise that those eyes of light, her eyes, were looking back at him. Those walks around the lakes became longer and longer and the distance between them became closer and closer. It was strange to Draco but although his love for her had never wavered, it had changed. Before, he realised, he had felt a poisoned love – a love built on control and jealousy and destruction – the only type of love he, Draco Malfoy, had been able to give at the time because it was all he had known.
He'd realised when he'd tried to remove her memories and remove her pain, that love was simply more – it was a concept he'd never understood until that moment. Her happiness had finally, finally, meant more to him than his own – her needs had meant more than his. Love was unselfish. Love wasn't about control – it was about respect and decisions and it was about two people.
It was about freedom.
Hermione had the freedom to be anywhere she wanted to be – and yet she chose to be walking around the lake with Draco. The realisation that she may have some feelings – that she may feel some of the love and longing he felt – filled him with wonderment beyond anything he had ever imagined. But he could hardly dare to hope...
He would not push her. He would not force her to do anything she did not want to do.
It was only as they neared Graduation – neared the end of seventh year of Hogwarts – that he began to realise that soon he would not see her every day. Would this be the end? After all this... after everything... would he not even get to kiss her one last time...?
It was on that last day before graduation, when she finally said, "You've loved me more than anybody else has ever loved me my whole life."
It was such a surprise – so out of the blue and out of context to their earlier conversation – that for a moment he was afraid he'd heard her wrong.
"You've suffered so much and I know you pay for it every single day – I know the ghosts of your parents and Pansy and Justin haunt you and will continue to haunt you forever, I know you hate all the horrible things you did to me. And Merlin, I hate the things I've done to you too. We've both hurt each other and we've both suffered...But we're bonded now, Malfoy. We have survived, together, and we will be stronger for it. And Lord knows we deserve a little bit of happiness... after everything, Malfoy, we deserve some kind of happiness... some kind of peace..."
He'd stared at her the whole time as she talked in a choked and emotional voice. Her hand was resting on his and her eyes were brown and heavy and large with feeling. She looked beseechingly at him and he felt like she could see into his very being.
"I'm sick of trying to fight it, and I don't want to have to justify it to myself anymore," she continued. "You've changed. You're not the same man you used to be. You've paid the price... in blood. What's more, I've changed. I can't just bury my head in the books anymore. I can't just leave Hogwarts tomorrow..." Her voice was pitched and shaky, "...and not realise that I don't have feelings for you. I'm never going to feel this way about anybody again in my whole life, and I - "
He cut her off with a kiss, not even considering the action until it was done. All the nerves in his body seemed to soar with realisation and fear but then suddenly she was kissing him back, a long, hard kiss that sparked with overdue emotion and heat. Her hands were in his hair, his were on his back and he felt like he could finally find air after a year of drowning, of sinking. "Oh, Hermione, I love you... I love you... I love you..." he kept whispering hastily and she was gasping in response, in agreement, as much in the moment as he. The kiss softened, eventually, once the mutual desperation subsided, into a soft, shivering, aching kiss that drew the muscles out of their bones, leaving them both a tangled, exhilarated mess.
"We just deserve to be happy," Hermione whispered against him, exhausted, a long time after.
"We will be," Draco replied. "I promise."
And Hermione believed him.
This was just a sudden flash of inspiration - Is anybody still out there anymore? :)