To all my lovely readers:

This is my parting gift to you. My Author's Page may explain.

Enjoy.
-trieste

Disclaimer: No. It's not mine. What a revelation.


Once Upon a Time


August


Godric's Hollow had never been a particularly inviting place. But that, Harry had explained, was exactly why he needed to go there. He needed to be alone in the safehouse his parents had been killed in, to search for the clues that he knew would be present, to find that elusive sense of closure.

And that was exactly why they hadn't let him go alone.

So, several weeks before school started, Hermione was glad to be wading through the eerie heaviness of its streets, Ron and Harry walking a little before her, silent. To the Muggle eye, the town itself was unremarkable – paved roads, small one- and two-story houses, corner stores, abandoned lots. But to the trained wizard, Godric's Hollow was off-putting, even ominous.

The broken keys that lay scattered over one weedy lawn. A house full of open curtainless windows. Neat piles of dead spiders insects left under curbs. In the wooded area at the back of the town's lone "park," they even stumbled upon a tree that shook constantly, trembling in the perfect stillness of the air. Ron had reached out then to take back a sample for Neville to analyze but Harry had pushed him aside so quickly and roughly that it had hurt. "Don't touch it!" he'd shot at Ron, eyes blazing. Hermione remembered taking taking an inadvertant step back at the unexpected force of Harry's reaction.

With difficulty they finally found the house. It was located in a huddle of small buildings, vaguely decrepit but livable still. In the vague drizzle, Hermione barely made out the number on the front door.

"This is it, Harry," she murmured. He didn't answer and walked straight for the door.

"Wait – Harry – the wards!" She gave up and dashed along after him, Ron at her side.

Inside the house, the walls were simple, bare and white; dents in the hardwood floor peeked out from underneath various rugs thrown haphazardly over the floors. They split up to scour the place for anything that might be of use – photographs, promising objects, papers especially that might have been left behind after Voldemort's hasty departure during the first defeat.

It was starting to scare Hermione when she heard Ron call out from the next room down, the kitchen. She came running over, wand at the ready. "Ron! what –" She stopped dead.

"Ron. Your nose."

"Yes," he said, reddening.

"Ron. You've got some thing on it."

"Yes," he said.

"Ron. Why for the love of all things sane are you wearing an oyster on your nose?"

"Bloody hell, Hermione, will you just get it off already? I stuck my head under the sink to look around and this happened. I'm not using it to make a bloody fashion statement!"

He looked on in acute frustration as Hermione burst out laughing.

"Shut up, will you?" Ron ground out, contorting in an effort to pry the thing open. Hermione bit her lip and did her best to stifle the laughter, reaching out to help him.

"Sorry, Ron," she managed, grinning. "But, you know, your expression – " She stopped as he shot her another baleful glare, his ears reddening. "Why are there live oysters under the sink, anyway?" she asked as raised her wand at his unfortunate appendage. "I'll have to shrink your nose."

The redhead let out a sound of wounded anguish, and Hermione's eyes crinkled up in amusement. "Ready? one – two – " and she grabbed the oyster, shrank the nose, and yanked the offending agent off.

She laid the oyster on the counter with a loud clatter and restored her friend's unfortunate appendage to its normal size. "There – none the worse for the wear," she announced brightly.

Ron tapped his nose gingerly. "I'll bet it's all red now… it is, isn't it?" He winced, and winced again when he discovered that wincing hurt. "Bloody mollusk," he muttered, thoroughly peeved, and Hermione was biting back another giggle when a loud sound from above startled them.

Instantly they sobered. "I'll go upstairs and check on Harry," Ron murmured.

"I'll come with you," Hermione added quickly, and wondered when they'd switched to whispering again.

The upper floor was small – a corridor and three rooms. The first was a bathroom, and Hermione was surprised to see a toothbrush still on the counter. Left over from the night of the attack, she thought, and shuddered at the strange constancy of time.

When Harry wasn't in the second room either, Hermione felt Ron tense beside her as he silently reached for the doorknob of the third.

He stopped at the last second and glanced at her. "Wand ready?" he asked, so softly she barely caught it. She nodded slightly in response.

He set his jaw and pushed the door open. Hermione almost dropped her wand.

"Bloody hell." Ron was the first to speak, swallowing heavily and moving swiftly over to Harry's side.

The person Harry had been staring at blinked slowly. "Interruptions, Weasel. Still no manners, I see." And Draco Malfoy turned his back to the three of them, facing the window.

"Don't, Hermione," Harry said abruptly, ignoring him, and Hermione lowered her shaking wand hand, eyes wide.

"Harry. But - he – Dumbledore! Harry, you just can't- "

"Just shut up, Hermione," he broke in, and so weary was his tone that she couldn't even flinch at the words.

Harry turned around and straightened up. "We'll take him back to the Order."

-September-

They were one week into the month, and the notices still hadn't come.

"Well, I guess we're done for, mates," Ron said, plopping down into one of the many large, sagging chairs in the cluttered living room of the Burrow. The house was less overflowing, now that Arthur and Molly and Ginny were gone with Charlie in Romania, but there was still no hiding its size – or lack thereof.

"No, we are absolutely not done for, Ronald Weasley," exclaimed Hermione, bristling, "and nor is Hogwarts! The post hasn't even come yet today."

"Oh, and you think our letters'll arrive now? With, what, the book lists and stuff?"

Hermione stiffened visibly in her seat and glared daggers at Ron. "Shut up. See if I help you with Potions again this term."

"There will be no Potions this year, Hermione! Look, I'm sorry that you can't be the Head Girl with Hogwarts closed and all, but you need to calm yourself down!"

"Ronald, you stop it! You stop acting like this is all my fault! If you think for one second that this is about being Head, then –"

"Oh, and it isn't? Then what's it about, eh? NEWTS?"

"No, it is about the education of hundreds of young witches and wizards! And unlike you, I happen to care about getting all those Death Eater children out of their horrid homes –"

" – So they can infiltrate the school for another attack? Is that it?"

"NO! It's so that - mph!" Her words were abruptly cut off as something collided with her head. Hermione scrubbed frantically at the feathers stuck to her mouth and eyed the large black owl that had just arrived with a baleful glare.

Harry was already leaning forward to take the scroll from its feet, glad for the interruption. There was an uncomfortable silence as he read its contents.

"Look, Hermione," sighed Ron at last. "I – "

"No no, it's all right," she muttered, not looking at either of her boys.

"Stupid bloody War's turned us all into gits," offered Ron, tentative. He winced a second later as he realized what he'd said.

Hermione smiled wryly. "For the sake of peace and Harry's eardrums, I'll refrain from calling you on the implications of that last remark. …It's my fault, too."

Relieved, Ron smiled vaguely at her, and it was nothing like the old familiar grin that she loved so much. He looked drained, like all of them. Something in her ached for him.

She shook the feeling off. She'd gotten good at that. "Harry? What did the letter say?" Hermione asked, stepping over and holding out a hand for the parchment.

He sighed and didn't give it to her. "Nothing horrific, but something tells me that things are about to get a good deal worse."

Ron frowned and crossed his arms.

"The Order is sending Malfoy over to us next month," Harry said at last, to a chorus of protests. "And we have to take him. They've bought his story and have him on probation; he's less of a threat with us than he is in HQ, around all the plans and everything."


October


"Malfoy."

"Potter."

A silence. Two boys outside the front door, a haphazard house teetering behind them in the roaring wind.

"...He would say to forgive you. To forget about and move on." Hands stuffed in pockets. "So I will. Just so you understand." He turns and heads back to the house.

"Thank you," the other whispers, barely audible. It's the first time he's said it in this new life.

The first boy wonders is this a dream?


November


Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were surprised, to say the least, to find the Malfoy boy in their home. Although it may be accurate to point out their amazement lay mainly in the fact that no one had been killed yet.

In all truth, Hermione herself couldn't make full sense of it. Two weeks ago a stiff-lipped McGonagall had appeared with Malfoy in tow. The trio didn't know what to do with him after he arrived; he did not speak at all for the first two days and afterwards acted utterly unlike his normal obnoxious self. This meant long stretches spent behind closed doors, no sneering comments, and no pointed jabs.

The result was a smoother time than Ron had predicted. Mostly Malfoy stayed out of their way, and the Trio went on about their lives with greater equanimity than before – after all, it wouldn't do to show division before "the enemy," Ron had pointed out. The only real difference was in the way they planned. Research was now an exclusively individual pursuit – Harry and Ron no longer protested when Hermione announced that she would be "sequestering with the books." Horcruxes ceased to be breakfast conversation. Harry even made an effort to act more his normal self and less the intense obsessed, lest Malfoy suspect that something was wrong.

In the end, though, it was all for naught.

One late afternoon, Hermione came bounding down the stairs after Molly had left for the Alley. She'd managed to stay behind by dint of claiming her "reading" time. And she had found something at last.

"Harry! I've got it!" she shrieked, waving a voluminous scroll of parchment in one hand as she careened downwards.

It was unfortunate that Harry and Ron were, at the moment, outside with two brooms and a Quaffle in the brisk November air. It was unfortunate that Crookshanks chose this moment to slink out from the bathroom door that opened onto the landing. It was unfortunate that Hermione, turning the corner at the landing with frightening speed, tripped and teetered head-first towards the stairs. And it was simply damnable that Draco Malfoy had chosen this exact moment to proceed up the very same steps.

Chaos ensued, punctuated by a few unholy screeches and a fateful glimpse of what the scroll contained. At the very top of the parchment, Draco spotted the words "The Search for Horcruxes," with a double underline beneath.

He looked up from the ungainly heap of limbs that marked their fall to meet Hermione's horrified eyes.

"Hiding something, Granger?"

For a terrible paralyzed second, Hermione stared, mouth half-open.

She moved for her wand.

And there was a hand over her right front pocket, blocking it.

A tense second later, the she heard the old mocking drawl again.

"No, Granger, you may not Obliviate me. Merlin knows you'll probably just erase everything and leave me a soulless vegetable, all ready to rot in this cage of a place."

Ah – there it was – the mockery, the vague wit, the urge to not get along. She hadn't known that she'd missed it until after its reappearance. It meant that things had not changed irrevocably. It was the hope that one day they would all return to the way it was – three friends, tamer adventures, and one Malfoy to hate and be hated by.

But despite the old tone, somewhere she knew that it would not be the way it was ever again. His hand was too warm and foreign through the fabric at her hip. His eyes were not cruel enough, not desperately graspingly hurtful as she longed for them to be. They were just vague and somewhat cold, a thin film of mockery spread over the top. And the fear she felt proved her hopes idle as well, the consuming knowledge that this was not harmless, that this was the enemy, and that if he found out –

She forced herself to speak. Buy time, she thought, frantically. Buy time and ignore the hand. "That's surprising. I do believe that you can only be soulless if once you had a soul."

He sneered and Hermione felt a burst of gladness at the familiar expression. "Very funny, Granger. Tell me about the Horcruxes."

A stubborn silence.

"I already know what they are, you know," he murmured, his hand tightening over her pocket, fingers finding the long slim end of her wand and locking there.

"Unhand me now, Malfoy," she gritted out finally, furious at herself for a million unsure reasons.

He raised an eyebrow for the first time since his arrival a half-month ago. "'Unhand me?' Granger, you're aware that we don't live in the nineteenth century?"

She twitched slightly, briefly, convulsively. He watched the slight movement in her neck as she swallowed hard.

"Granger. I don't have all bloody day."

"I don't have to tell you anything," she muttered tightly, eyes straining away from him. She suppressed a hot shiver as his fingers wrapped around the wood of her wand, drawing it out in one quick, fluid motion. His hand left her hip and she released half a breath.

Malfoy held her wand delicately, with three fingers, inspecting it closely and then twirling it in the light, watching as her eyes followed the seven inches of light vine wood. "Oh, but you do have to, Granger, if you value an Ollivander's much. There aren't many of these around, not since the crazy old frog disappeared, no," he said softly, threatening, his eyes crossing over to gauge her reaction.

She looked caged, and Draco wondered why he was not relishing the moment quite as much as she should have. Had too much changed? He thought so, and he was pondering this and spinning her wand and musing over its lightness – how innocuous this dangerous, dangerous thing seemed, how smooth and perfect and well-crafted and unstained - and so he did not notice until too late that she had tensed, untensed, and that she had just launched full into him, knocking the air out of his chest and throwing them both down the stairs.

Sometime during the tumble, she snatched the wand from his fingers and jabbed it painfully under his chin. "Don't you dare move," she hissed, her eyes wild and her fingers clammy and frantic as she pinned his wand wrist down with her free hand.

"Stop it. You're crushing your research," he murmured darkly, slightly flushed, with a sharp pink wedge on his cheek that was new and rapidly bruising. He made a sudden twist and she yelped in pain, leaving his left wrist free. He staggered up, back against the banister. He held the parchment crushed in his right hand.

"You're damnable," she spat at him, her voice quavering with something he couldn't identify.

"Et tu," he tossed back, breathing hard, painfully conscious of the bruising area on his face and the torn skin on his arm from her fingernails.

"You're the Brutus here, you blackguard and backstabber," she bit out, vicious to hide the threat of tears.

He glared for a long moment. Part of Hermione – but only half, she realized with unease – was fiercely glad to see the hot untempered hatred in his gaze.

He raised his right hand and brought the rolled-up parchment soundly down and across her cheek, shaking slightly with rage.

She stared at him in shock, eyes round and watery, mouth parted slightly.

"I can't win," he hissed viciously, throwing the parchment down at her feet and shoving her roughly aside to run up the stairs.

He locked the room he slept in and skipped dinner. That evening, Hermione told her boys.

Harry had closed his eyes and paused for a long second.

"I'll tell him about it," he said at last, and ignored the gasps from the other two. "Look. I – " He stopped. "Ron. Hermione. Think about it." Dull green eyes grew shrewd, bold with urgency and mission.

"That night at Godric's Hollow… He would not have been there – could not have been there – if he did not want to be found."

There was a long and pregnant silence.

"No, look. He didn't move at all when I walked into the room. Don't think he couldn't have escaped out the window when he heard us. There's a tree right outside, it would've been easy. I think he'd been living in the house for at least several weeks before we showed up. He knew we would come." He stopped and let out a frustrated gust of breath.

"Really. I'm sure about this. I've seen him in places that…" he trailed off and looked away.

"Just listen to me on this," he finished at last, lamely, and refused to meet their eyes.

December

Ginny had been gone since October at Emrie Leanings' home, far away in the undisturbed corner of Canada, so Hermione had the room to herself. Still, she took to sleeping with a silencing charm on her unlocked door.

She hated waking up to find Ron and Harry at her bedside, a horrible mixture of worry and guilt and frustration and terror twisting their expressions. "We had to wake you; sorry, Hermione," Ron would stammer, as if it were his fault. "You were screaming again," Harry would add in monotone.

The dream itself was always different. The last battle, a scene out of Narnia, a Potions examination, a broomstick chase with Death Eaters gaining, slowly grabbing and shredding bits of their robes from behind. But the feeling was always the same – that horrible fracturing sensation, as if all the carefully constructed walls and paths and ladders had come crashing down. Draco Malfoy always appeared then, just before she woke. He always laid his right hand on her hip, threatening; in his hand he always twirled her wand.

So she woke to sharp stabbing pains in her head, to the same hot pounds that she had felt that day on the staircase. They came more often now. She learned to associate the feeling with the fear of making a fatal misstep, with the knowledge of impending failure.

Often in her dreams she was conscious that this was not really living. It never helped. She couldn't will herself to wake.

And tonight's was especially vivid, Hermione thought to herself as she ran through a forest. She was in pursuit of something in the dark and she was not sure what; she supposed it had to do with Horcruxes. She felt thorns and twigs reach out, tearing at the heavy velvet of her cloak. She didn't know why this pained her so; she'd never cared much for her clothes, especially when in danger. A gash opened up across her ankle – a sharp rock, she presumed – and she veered away from what she suddenly knew was the wrong path. She felt pine needles under her feet and an icy terror grew in the pit of her stomach at the knowledge that soon, soon she must step on something sharp and long, like the time she'd stumbled on a sewing needle that had lodged upside-down in the carpet at her grandmother's house. It had gone in a full four inches. A shiver of fear.

She felt something cold and clammy wisp over her shoulder and neck. She turned her head around. Nothing.

She continued to run, tiring, not able to stop. The damp gust again, again, raising the hairs at the nape of her neck. She turned each time, each time seeing nothing but the vague shadows of trees in the sparse woods.

The cold moist insubstantial clamminess licked at her ear, setting hot shivers up and down her spine. Her lungs were on fire and she was gasping for breath. Her limbs deadened. She couldn't stop.

And then suddenly – a clearing. Moss, or grass close-trimmed like the lawns of the golf courses she'd walked by as a child. In the center was a boy with a shock of pale blond hair. He turned towards her as she stopped.

"You're cold," he said, frowning – which was strange because he had no face. He pulled the heavy velvet cloak more securely over her shoulders. His hand was hot, almost burning as it brushed her skin.

"Thanks," she heard herself say faintly, and she was confused because it looked and sounded and smelled like Draco Malfoy but she knew it was not him. Suddenly there was no need to run.

He nodded a wordless acknowledgement, smoothing her wild coarse curls. "You should be careful," he told her, "there's a tiger in these woods."

"Tyger, tyger, burning bright, in the forests of the night," her dream-self said, quoting Blake. Hermione wondered why that line had come to mind.

"I know," he said, and suddenly Hermione felt something churn in her gut. He continued. "The tiger is me."

And suddenly his grey eyes - he had eyes now - lit up with a mad orange fire, and she saw that she was standing on grass littered with broken keys, and he lunged towards her with furred paws, the cruel claws unsheated, and she opened her mouth wide and screamed and screamed and screamed.

Then something covered her mouth, and she suffocated, so she stopped.

With difficulty Hermione opened her eyes and found grey ones staring back at her, and almost cried out again before he spoke.

"You were screaming. I had to wake you." His voice was soft, emotionless.

He turned and left the room, fully dressed.

Shivering, she sat up in bed, breathing quickly in short shallow gusts. It was still long before sunrise; the clock read 5:02 on the nightstand. If it weren't for her nightgown, she thought, she'd have run out after him and asked how by God he'd known that she was screaming, because she distinctly remembered casting the silencing charm last night.

It wasn't until many years later that she found out. Her room was Ginny's, and his had belonged to the twins before they moved out. Fred and George had tacked various bits of lead and quartz around the room until they had created a grid of magical flow. It allowed all silencing or amplifying charms performed within the room to work – except in their own quarters. Ginny, she discovered, had had a problem with nightmares in the summer after third year; her closest brothers had made sure to be by.

But at the time then, several hours before daybreak in the cold winter morning, Hermione could not for the life of her understand why she'd had the feeling again of failure in that dream, the hot darting pain. Why she had felt almost peaceful before she recited the lines from Blake, why he'd said what he did, why she'd screamed and screamed.

January

They'd grown to a kind of strange trust over the holidays. Once Ron had asked Draco (the boys called him that now) where his mother was, what she was doing. He'd gotten stony silence in response. Privately, Hermione guessed that she was dead. Why else would Malfoy have given up on everything at last?

She paced over the window and looked outside. The Weasley twins were back, and Ginny returned as well; Hermione watched in vague envy as Harry, Ron, and Malfoy pelted snowballs at odd angles on their brooms, swirling around Ginny and the twins. She was unperturbed that they hadn't asked her to join; they all knew she hated brooms. Besides - this way there were three to each side.

Hermione smiled faintly as a particularly effective maneuver landed George with a large, powdery snowball directly in his face. Ron had zoomed across from behind, neatly clipping George's hair; Draco'd charged the disoriented redhead straight on; and Harry delivered with the coup de grace, popping up with the snowball just after Draco veered away in narrow avoidance of collision. Temporarily unable to see, George did an interesting upside-down hang from his broom for a while as a laughing Ginny hovered below him, just in case his grip gave and he fell. Draco was looping large, triumphant arcs around her in her a circular race with Ron.

Hermione turned away from the window. She found that her breath was fogging the glass.

She was reading by the fire downstairs when they finally came trooping in, exhausted and soaked and pink-cheeked from exertion.

"That was a wonderful idea, Draco," beamed Ginny, removing her scarf.

"Merlin, yes," added Fred, grinning widely.

"I've not felt so… roguish in a bloody long time," George finished with a wink as he stripped off his coat.

"That's 'cause Draco's not one of the good guys, eh, mate?" stage-whispered Ron, jabbing his erstwhile foe in the ribs, catching Harry's eye and smiling on a scale that promised to crack his face.

"No, he's not," agreed Ginny, and Hermione thought privately that she hadn't seen the youngest Weasley look so happy since Dumbledore's funeral – the ending point of so much last year.

"Say something rogueish, Draco," Ginny commanded, with an impish smile.

The boy in question raised an eyebrow. "'Rogueish'?" Grey eyes glimmered with amusement. "Tengo un tigre grande en mi pantalones, then," he said in a throaty rolling accent, sweeping a mirthful bow.

Fred and George exchanged a look and burst out laughing, and had to lean on each other for support.

But Ginny stared, puzzled, as did Ron and Harry. "Er?" she said at last. "I don't get it?"

Under ordinary circumstances Hermione would have gotten up from her unobserved position and translated for the three who did not know Spanish. I have a large tiger in my pants. Then she would have laughed with the rest of them, vaguely embarassed and greatly entertained.

As it so happened, Hermione quietly escaped up the stairs instead, and was thankful that nobody seemed to notice. But her luck just never seemed to hold out around Draco Malfoy, and it was unfortunate too that she'd caught a glimpse of his silvery eyes fixed on her as she turned and disappeared from sight.

It was all right, though, she told herself. She was just feeling a little… solitary. She felt a little better now surrounded by her books and quills in the isolation of her room (though actually it was Ginny's, especially now that she was home). At least, Hermione told herself, at least now she understood why she'd felt so terrible and broken and failed and betrayed in that dream from a month ago.

It was because she had been attracted to him then, to his gentle hands and his half-whispers and the straightness of his nose. She had felt something in that forest clearing, wrapped in the cloak that was not hers, hushed in the face of what she did not understand.

She had felt something as she had woken up, too, finding this strange perceptive boy of secrets and too few words.

And she had felt something downstairs, there, as she watched Ginny Weasley finally stirring out of her beautiful broken painted shell, laughing and teasing and looking delightfully confused, half-guessing but not quite grasping that the pale boy with the face too sharp for handsomeness had actually flirted back.

It was to her great surprise that she heard the door open a few moments later. Hermione saw the reflection in the window glass and cursed her speeding heartbeats in silence.

"What?" she asked in the most unpleasant manner possible, turning around to face Draco Malfoy from her seat on the bed.

He said nothing, but closed the door and crossed his arms, an unreadable expression in his grey eyes.

She hated that expression, she told herself. She hated it because normally she could read people like books, but he was a blank to her. And she knew nothing there, and knowledge was the only power, and she always wanted to know.

She stared back and willed herself to be just as cold and unyielding.

"You know, you scream in your sleep because you can't scream when you're awake," he commented at last, blandly.

Hermione let her non-expression fall. Apparently she failed at being a puzzle.

"Yes, well, that was the idea behind silencing charms," she said, rather pointedly. "So that I wouldn't be disturbed, and so others wouldn't either." She hoped he'd flinch. He didn't. She felt something wither.

He did have nothing to say to that, though. In the awkward silence following, she caught a furtive wish in herself to have been a little less cutting, a little less cold. She seized it and squashed with the force of her frustration.

It was a long time before his voice came again. "You also scream in your sleep because you want to be saved," he continued, strange piercing eyes never wavering from her own. Then he paused, considering for a second.

"And when someone comes to do it, you always think you'd rather save yourself."

"That's only because I would rather save myself! I don't need anyone," Hermione murmured tightly, eyes flashing, "to save me." She stood and held her book to her chest, eyes defiant.

He stared at her for a while longer, until Hermione felt that she could not bear being judged and read by that terrible detached gaze for even a moment longer.

Something shifted in the air. Without warning he stepped close to her, closer until their bodies were almost touching, and Hermione wondered if she was imagining the thrum in the thin space between them.

"Wants and needs, Granger," he whispered, and she felt the hot gust of his breath on her forehead, brushing over the edges of her hair. "Not – not the same things." He trailed off and her heart did too, and only a very small part of her consciousness remained to shout terrible curses at herself for closing her eyes, for letting him touch her, for shivering as long fingers traced the curve of her chin.

But then she felt a slightly ragged breath whisper against her lips. She dropped the book. The small part silenced completely and lost itself in the kiss.

It was soft, and slow, and lingering, and she thought he's much gentler than Viktor and thank god this isn't a dream, although she took back the last statement the moment her senses returned. Hermione Granger was unforgivably poised, always.

She recovered herself. She did not blush but paled. She stepped away and pushed apart the hand that had settled at the nape of her neck. His eyes flew open, he let go of her as if she were a cursed thing.

They stood apart, their breaths terrible in their volume, awkward in the silence that lay in between.

He looked up suddenly and met her eyes. She saw that expression again – the terrible one, the one full of blankness and curiosity and secrets.

Perhaps her mind clung to his expression to avoid the thoughts of what had just occurred. Perhaps she wasn't thinking. For whatever reason, something suddenly became clear.

His face wasn't blank. He was merely thinking, reading, analyzing her reaction and calculating his next steps. He was not unreadable. That was just what people told themselves, so that they would not have to see. He had no mystery, held no more secrets than did she or Ginny or Harry or Lupin or Ron.

"You came because you wanted to," she said to him at last, her voice calmer than it had been for a long time. It was a statement.

"Perhaps." He looked away.

"You've got no secrets, nothing terrible to hide," she whispered, eyes wide and wondrous as she stared at the boy. "You're a coward and selfish and cunning and you like to have what want, and none of these are a surprise. That's your mystery - you have none."

"That's possible," was the soft reply, and suddenly the tables had turned.

Hermione stepped closer, eyes narrowing slightly now in the certainty of piecing him together or of picking him apart. She raised a slender finger to his cheekbone, traced it down to his jaw.

"You came to us at Godric's Hollow because you were tired, and angry, and lonely."

He closed his eyes.

"I'm an ambiguous person, Granger."

"You don't know what you need or want."

Grey eyes flew open and were hard now, flint or glacial ice. "No. No, Granger."

"Oh gods. Damn it all," she whispered at last, into his chest, half-dead with the drama, with the War, with the frustration of putting it all together and finding that it made so little sense. The hand that rested at his jaw slipped to the back of his neck.

"Agreed," he said softly, and kissed the lost girl again.


February


Cut out from the Daily Prophet:

WAR IN FULL SWING

DARK LORD: NO MERCY

The trio and Draco spent Valentine's Day somewhere in the woods of Normandy, searching for any trace of lost Order member Eyrin Meele. They met French centaurs. Unfortunately the herd had held a grudge against the Malfoys for several centuries.

In the end they escaped only by Ron's accidental discovery of foalsbane, an ivy-like herb that put centaurs into permanent nightmarish hallucinations.

That night, nobody blinked an eye when Draco disappeared into Hermione's tent.


March


News began streaming into the Order's headquarters. Nobody knew whom the informant was.

The 4th, Muggle Univ. Cambridge: 3 AM, infiltrants from within King's College. Est. 100 DE present.

21st: Owl Post Raid, Bristol.

30th: Dover. 400 French Purebloods to cross Channel. Intercept at the Strait.

And then, the inevitable:

14th: Hogwarts open. Switching from DE to Dementor guards at 4 PM. Have Patronus squad ready. I will join you halfway. Ask for my middle names: Priscilla Faedin Wessoueth.


April


On April 14th, Hogwarts was returned to "original" hands for the fifteenth time in four hundred years.

On April 15th, Pansy Faedin Parkinson was sent to the Burrow with a Cross of Morgan, awarded by the Order. Honors notwithstanding, she was under strict orders to be carefully watched, especially when in the company of Draco Malfoy.
Nobody did.

They destroyed three horcruxes that month. Nobody knew how they managed.


May


They spent the month resting, recuperating.

Harry found Ron and Pansy in the Burrow's pantry one evening. He closed the door quietly; they never even saw him.

That night he crept into the Weasley's broom closet after dinner and cried for a little bit, quietly so they wouldn't find him, wishing slightly that he hadn't told Ginny the things he did a year ago. She wasn't home, of course. She never was anymore, not since she had walked shakily downstairs from a strange encounter in January that she never told anyone about.

It had been in the evening of that day – that glorious day, Harry remembered, when he and Ron and Ginny and Draco and the twins were outside in the snow.

He thought of the seven years that he had been a wizard. The moments he remembered usually had Ron and Hermione in them, and usually Voldemort as well.

He realized that he wasn't crying for Ginny, but for the day he'd spent in the snow.


June


Diary of Hermione Jane Granger

June 5th, 1998. 11:45 PM.

There is not much to say, and everything to say.

It's tomorrow, they think.

We didn't do much. It was a Friday, so Mr. Weasley didn't get home until late. We played backgammon and Scrabble; I was so glad I'd brought a set from home before the Order had me come to the Burrow.

I haven't heard from Mum and Dad in a long time. I hope they're well. I trounced Draco in Hearts. He said it was symbolic. I don't know where Ginny is. I would've liked to have seen Winky and Dobby again. I was going to write a will, but I'm not that morbid, and I don't think anyone cares now about who's to get my cat and who my books.

Crookshanks is sitting on Draco's lap, purring. I still don't know why cats purr. I mean, I do, but I don't understand it, not really. I can't go out to find a book now, but I wish I could... We're under orders to stay within the bounds of the Burrow at all times. I'm told they've got a patrol set up on this place. Top security.

Too bad they can't do anything about time, or prophecies. I always hated divination, but tomorrow is the day.

I'd expected Draco to be terrified, but he isn't, not at all. I don't know. I think he's changed a lot in that one month, between July and when we found him in August. He's never told me why. I don't think he ever will. I have a theory, though.

I think – just conjecture, of course – I think that if someone has seen enough death, and it has hurt them deeply enough, they might just not care anymore. I think that he must have lived through something terrible, and come out as a shell. I think that's why he came to Harry at Godric's Hollow. I think it was a twisted sort of apology, in a way. And then he warmed up to us and we to him, for the very first time, and then there was… well, you know. Us. I still can't write about it really, it's like blasphemy or something. I wish it wasn't.

I wish he could give me some of that calm. I think he's been looking Death in the eye for so long that he just doesn't care anymore, that he's finally stared it down. But if I were him, I wouldn't understand at all how he does it. He says it's worth it all just to have lived, really lived, even for just a few months. But I would want to never stop living, if I were like him and I had just begun.

It's tomorrow, and I don't want to die. God, I don't want to die.

They'll go straight for Harry. We've been going over strategems since the first of the month; Harry laughed and said it was like soccer once, and I said it wasn't, because there are no practice games, and no fouls, and no protective headgear and large bulky pads. The referees are life and death. I can only say I'm scared.

They say it'll be tomorrow, but I don't know how it can be when the sun was so bright and warm and delicious today. The grass was almost heated and the air was sweltering but it was all thrumming, breathing. The sky was so, so blue, and Ron had to put on a shade charm to keep from burning all over, and Pansy's laugh was so lovely when he tickled her. I never knew that she had a lovely laugh.

I don't know what the grass is. Walt Whitman didn't, and I don't either. But I so wanted to find out. You have no idea. But it's tomorrow. They'll go straight for Harry, and maul down everything in their way. I hate myself for this but I can't help but ask – which would I rather it be? Because we won't make it all through unscathed. Harry or myself? Ron or Draco? Pansy or Ginny? Mrs. or Mr. Weasley? Which of the twins? It shames me that to some of these, I have answers.

It's 12:01. Draco says I need to go to bed.

-HJG


July


Afterwards they said that it was beautiful. They said that it was a giant, blazing force of light. They said it shattered sound barriers, blinded people, and that in the middle of it all The Boy Who Lived and He Who Must Not Be Named burned, grappling, turned to ashes like phoenixes to rise again in the souls of those who lived on. They say their wands fused. They were going to build a museum.

But none of the shit the Ministry put out was true. Draco Malfoy knew, because he saw it with his own eyes.

It was nothing like the campaigns he'd read about in the old wizarding books.

Chaos. He didn't know who he was supposed to kill. The Death Eaters had long since ceased to wear their dark robes; instead they had small blank face masks and from the back they blended in with the ones they were fighting.

Protego was a pointless spell. It blocked almost nothing.

Instead there was red light, a lot of red light. And there were some stranger colors for a few of the older Dark spells and the newest Light inventions. There was a lot of green light, too. Both sides used the last as often as possible.

It was unglorious and ugly and brutal and cold. Somewhere in the middle of it he forgot which side he was fighting for, or why. He thought maybe he'd killed some of the wrong side by accident. He couldn't dwell on it. These things happened. It was war. It was life.

He stepped in the mud and didn't know if it was blood or shit or urine that splattered his face. He suspected that it was a combination of the three.

He wanted to find her – how he wanted to find her! But they had to divide and conquer, and he swallowed his instincts to stay close to her, and lost himself in the insanity that clashed and shouted and buckled around him.

Kill the masks, he thought, kill them all.

He didn't even have time to hate himself for wanting them dead.

There was one woman – one, who'd called out Draco's name even as she fell. He blinked. Amadea Ivanovna, one of his mother's friends. As a child she'd read nursery rhymes to him, later she'd bought him books and colognes and expensive silk shirts, always in his size. She had a lovely smile, he remembered, and an unhappy marriage. No children.

He swallowed and pretended he didn't see her, and in the pretending almost didn't see the red-brown beam that shot towards him from his other side.

It missed him because he fell at the right instant. The next second he had to shake free the clutch of the dead woman's hand. But her hand was locked in rigor mortis and he had to sear off four of her fingers before he could budge from the place where the last vestige of his mother's existence had died.

He happened to glance back a minute later and saw her fingers, pale, one of them sticking up in the mud, a gruesome middle finger in a cruel irony of a gesture he doubted she even understood.

Someone stepped on it again, and Draco fired off three quick curses in succession and thought he was going to be violently sick.

It was a long time before he found her on the battlefield. Such a long time, and she looked so torn up and bloodied and covered in mud and snot and who knew what else. Her hair was crusted with dried putrid-smelling things. And he was so sure that she was dead.

The people were thinning out. It was just stragglers now, the few left over on both sides. The battlefield bore a confused palette and in parts the fog was red and the mud grey and the blood was brown and shit-colored, and Draco shuddered to hold down the heaves at the thought of something like it running through his veins.

He'd seen her fire off a few bright curses, red and pale blue against the blending colors of land and sky, never green. That was how he knew it was her – no green at all, and the attempt to hide the limp from the enemy as she slowly moved from place to place.

He polished off the last few around them, really not giving a damn anymore if he accidentally killed another one of their side. He suspected that was how she knew him – the prevalence of green.

"Hermione!" he called out, voice hoarse and crusted with something terrible and filled with pain.

She turned. He almost wept to see her eyes. She staggered over and fell against him, and it was all he could do to put his arms around her and keep her upright.

"I want to die," she croaked, again and again, never stopping until she felt something wet on her forehead and stopped because nothing should ever make Draco Malfoy cry.

He held her very tight, and she was weak so she really almost couldn't breathe, but she could look over his shoulder and see the fog lift slightly from a hollow a few hundred yards away. The battleground was almost silent now, as if steam were rising slowly off the earth and muffling all sound.

Suddenly she heard a voice she knew, very faintly, on the wind.

"Draco!" she gasped, pushing him away and straining towards the hollow. "Harry - !"

He looked in the direction of her gaze and grabbed her hand, pulling her along at a half-run through the ankle-deep mud toward the misty dip in the flat scorched earth.

They heard curses as they came closer. There were many more than two in the pit, they realized.

"Ron! Ginny!" shrieked Hermione, flailing at Draco's restraining arm. "Ron!"

Three men in pale masks heard her and turned towards them. Draco even hadn't had time to reach for his wand before three streams of bright blue had trapped the advancing men in solid cubes of ice.

And then suddenly he was in the fray, dragged quite bodily in by Hermione, buried in the thick of it. He thought was going to drown. He didn't, only because he must keep an eye out for Hermione and not let her be struck.

But she was carving a quick path to the crowd, suddenly reenergized as she fought to reach Harry somewhere in the frenzied chaos.

She saw something. Draco followed, quick on her heels.

Harry was firing in haphazard, Voldemort nowhere in sight. Fred and George were by his side. A sudden shock of light flew at the boy in the middle and Draco never knew which Weasley twin it was, but one of them had shoved forward straight into the path of the terrible green streak, like a beater rushing at a ball.

It didn't matter. The light glanced off him and hit the other twin too. For a second Harry stood there, still in the midst of the swirling frenetic battle, a column of shock.

Opposite him was the old Potions master, wand still raised, shaking violently with a manic glint in his black eyes.

"Potter! Stop it! You are the last horcrux! I am sworn to destroy you, or Voldemort can never be killed," he shouted, "and Albus Dumbledore would have died in vai – "

He crumpled into a pile of purple ash.

"Draco! He was one of us! I thought you cared about him!"

He shot her a pitying glance. "Hermione, does that still matter?" He snared two masks with another application of the Dark spell he had just used, and gave her a push toward the boy standing shocked not ten feet away. "Go to Harry," he cried, and it was all he could do to not fold into himself as she left his hands without a second glance, running the few steps to take her spot at Harry Potter's side.

They will kill everything in their way to get to Harry Potter.

And Draco Malfoy had just pushed her into their way.

He saw a flash of orange nearby and he grabbed Ron Weasley out of the crowd, yanking him over to The Boy Who Must Live with a horrible pounding bursting through his head.

And they were tensing, tensing, the crowd rapidly falling, thinning, and suddenly he was there.

And the next thing they knew, a green bolt was hurtling at Harry 's chest and it was as though they were underwater because nobody could move fast enough and the bolt hit.

Harry's glasses shattered in the air and Draco was sure that little chips of them had lodged in those green eyes.

Harry Potter crumpled.

Voldemort looked stunned for a moment, then laughed alone on the battlefield, his victorious armies mauled.

And then suddenly Hermione's blank eyes must have caught something, because she was shouting at them Get back! GET BACK! and they were stumbling away as quickly as they could and it was just in the nick of time because suddenly a loud crackling sound came and they turned around and saw Harry Potter's dead body turning inside out, spewing green flame that went higher and higher and higher until there was a roaring bonfire of green in the space of one second and it was consuming the man who stood next to the boy, and the man stopped laughing and started screaming, screaming, screaming, until finally the man was gone.

And Hermione's hand was ice in Draco's cold fingers and she was violently sick on the ground. And Ron was swaying slowly back and forth, rhythmically, and Draco was very glad when finally the tall boy's knees gave out because he was so afraid that Harry Potter's best friend would just topple forward, straight into the scarred putrid earth.

They huddled there, bent shaking forms waiting and wishing for the mud to swallow all of them right up. After twenty minutes they felt the beginnings of rain.

And that was the real July, the one without the parties and the fireworks and the precarious towers of champagne.


August


Wizardry was clever and knew how to hide the scars.

The battlefield was now green and verdant. A part of Hermione recoiled to think that this was probably not a surprise; growing magic aside, she was sure that all the blood and rotting flesh in the soil ensured the fertility of this place for years to come.

A child asked, what is the grass?

Once she did not know. Now she would say to Walt Whitman, it is the blood of innocents and the blood of loss. It is the bodies of the damned and the bones of the saved. And the two are one and the same, united in the inextricable meshing brought by death.

The funeral was held for Harry Potter but Hermione had stopped having nightmares about him by now. She was resilient. They all had to be, in order to survive. Instead she thought of the other boy who had died here, Tom Riddle.

Harry had a part of a childhood, she thought. But did Tom ever?

Ron was crying openly and she was glad that Pansy was here too, because even a blind man could see that she was his rock. And Ginny was just about drowning, with Neville was the only thing saving her. But she, Hermione Granger, was not crying, or drowning, or any of that.

She was resilient, she told herself, and bit back hard on her lip. She was her very own rock.

Hermione managed to carry this through until after the long ceremony, past all the respectful distant visitors who had known Harry only peripherally, or only superficially, or who hadn't known him at all. She carried it past with the real ones, too. The ones who had died a bit as they watched his body refract the spell.

But then Draco Malfoy put a chaste hand on her shoulder.

She cried.

She broke down and sobbed in loud, heaving gulps that worried Draco and tore at what she supposed was his heart. She allowed herself to be led aside in a quiet corner of the field. There was a tree there that hadn't been there a month before. Hermione resisted the horrible urge to destroy it.

She wept for the broken, for the damned, for all those who died. She wept for Harry, yes, who never had a true childhood. She wept for herself and Ron, who had been swept along with him in adventures that they were not meant to be in. She wept for Draco Malfoy, whose hurt she supposed she might never comprehend. She wept for Pansy, whose motives she would never learn. And she wept for Lord Voldemort, the literal twisting of the boy who was once Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Did Tom Riddle love? She wondered, as Draco wiped gently at her tears. Could he have? Would anything have changed? He must have been lonely, she decided at last, to be filled with so much hate.

She wept for all those that had been touched and burned by this War that was finally over, and Draco had to wipe her tears over, over, over again, a new piece of the handkerchief for each fresh flood.

"Hermione," he murmured at last, fingering the line of her jaw as he had so many months ago. She could've sworn that it had been years. "Cry for now, but remember that someday you've got to wake up again and live."

She let out a wounded noise and buried herself in the folds of his robe.

"…I did a very bad thing."

He got no answer, so he continued.

"I looked at your diary last night. I couldn't sleep." He stared down at her for a slow moment, grey eyes cool, unguarded, assessing – this she understood now.

"I hope you still want to live."

She looked up at him. "You don't seem to have this problem," she murmured quietly, bitterly.

"I lived through this moment a long time ago, Hermione. It was my own War."

She gave him a questioning look.

"Well, of course I wanted to live." He sent her a vague smile. "I went to Harry at Godric's Hollow, didn't I?"

"…Yes," she said, finally. "Yes." A very wan smile. He held her tightly and listened to their breathing in the cooling autumn air, alone on the field after all the other funeral guests had left.

"Harry would, you know, want you to live."

There was a long silence after his words. Hermione stared at something vague and shining and beautiful in the distance. A tomb, white marble, like another one thousands of miles away.

"Draco," she said, quietly. "What is the grass?"

"The blood of the dead," he said, without missing a beat. "But other things as well. Collo – chloriephyll, fiber, water. Food, for the thestrals. Home, to the buggy things." She let out a small laugh at this, a tiny one.

He smiled at her. "It's a lot of things, Hermione. I don't know the full answer."

"I don't either."

"Wouldn't you like to find out?" He lifted her chin with one slim finger.

"Yes," she said at last, biting her lip and smiling tightly, bravely. "Yes, I would."

He held both hands in his for a while, and thought about how wonderful it was that she was so strong and brave and resilient, and how wonderful it was that he never even questioned that this was love anymore.

"I find it impressive that you know exactly what I mean," he whispered, after a long time, meaning something left unsaid.

She smiled – really smiled – at that, and something in him felt a heady flood of pride at her reaction. "I find it impressive that I don't really have to answer," she said, and there was a wonderful tiny sting in her words, a bit of quick wit and perspicacity that Draco could have laughed for.

So he did.


Written originally for the 2006 Dramione Vday fic exchange, as one of multiple versions of a fic for dizzydragon. (The other story, the official one, is The Broom Closet Plots, also posted under The Dramione Fic Exchange at specs:

Side pairing: Harry/Pansy or Ron/Pansy or Ron/Luna or Harry/Luna or Ginny/Dean (options? Oh, hell yeah.)
Rating: Any
Period: Any
Includes:
1) Dude, I want real Harrys and real Rons here. Make them actual characters, even if they only appear in a sentence. I don't want no Ron or Harry bashing, dammit!
2) Awkward firsts
3) "Tengo un tigre grande en mi pantalones." I have a large tiger in my pants.In Spanish.
4) No Gorgeous!Hermione and SexGod!Draco
5) A singing teddy bear
6) Oysters
7) A fight! With violence!
8) "You know how the ambiguous, they say that they'd give the world for an ambiguous someone? I kind of would, you know, and maybe I'd even crown it with the moon. I kind of would. Just so you know."
You don't have to use all of these. But, um, I would really appreciate if you kept 1 and 4...?
Tone: At least a touch of humor. Angst/Humor, Drama/Humor works too! (And as this is a Valentines exchange, I suppose at least a touch of romance would work too...haha)
Ending: Happy, but like I said, you can fling the characters along a big slew of whirlpools and big-butt-thunderstorms until they get there.