FOR EVERYONE ELSE
Disclaimer: This is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who created and, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.
A/N: Spoilers, seventh year fic, begun after OotP and not compatible with HBP or DH. Thanks to all my reviewers and especially to my previewers, Bellegeste and Cecelle and Lady Memory.
Sorry for the delay. I had anticipated this chapter so long that when I came to write it all my ideas had gone stale and I had to labour at draft after draft till it began to gel – and then do almost as many revisions in the polishing stage. I hope you'll find it to have been worth waiting for.
It was cold outside, even with cloaks and scarves and gloves. Hermione and Hannah hugged themselves while Ron and Ginny stamped up and down the porch. Only Neville and Luna seemed unaffected, Neville standing with his hands in his pockets staring at the floor and Luna staring dreamily up at the sky. Behind them, the door to the Entry Hall opened.
"Hermione? Did Severus ask you to wait out here too?" Minerva said. "But didn't he tell you that the news was confidential until further notice? He won't be pleased to find your friends here."
Hermione's chest tightened so that she could hardly breathe. "No," she said. "He didn't send me a message of any kind. We came out here because my fob watch showed him travelling and this seemed the best place to wait. What did he tell you? Is he all right? Is Harry?"
Minerva looked over the little group and pursed her lips. "I suppose it's too late to be mended now. They can stay, as long as they promise to say nothing until they're given permission."
"Yes, yes, but what is it?" Ginny asked, above the chorus of assurances. "Did something go wrong? Is Harry all right?"
"Why don't you ask him yourself?" the Professor suggested. "Isn't that Mr Potter and Mr Malfoy coming up the path now?"
Hermione reached them first, pushing past one to hug the other.
"You're all right! I'm so glad! Where's Severus, Harry?"
The arms that had tightened around her, slackened and gently put her aside.
"He sent us ahead a little because he had things to discuss with my father that he said didn't concern us. You'll find them further back down the path. They're not Polyjuiced, so no fear you'll hug the wrong one of them," the person who looked like Harry said with great clarity and bitterness.
"What? I don't – What do you mean? Tell me if Severus is all right, whoever you are!"
"He's fine, Hermione, I promise," the other boy intervened. "All of us are fine and everything's all right. We beat Voldemort, and they've probably shoved him through the Veil by now. Snape will be here in a minute, but go have a look, if you like. They're probably about past the Quidditch pitch by now."
She blinked at him. "Harry?"
"Yeah, it's me. Or it will be when the Polyjuice wears off and I get this manky Slytherin uniform off."
"You played for Slytherin?"
Ron's voice rose disbelievingly behind her as she sped down the path, her eyes stinging from the cold in the air and the chill in her heart. She'd thought Severus would at least hurry back to find her, but he was dawdling along at his leisure – with a Malfoy, of all people! And he'd sent a message to Minerva, but not to her. How could he? Then she was close enough to see them, blond head and dark bending towards each other in colloquy, and she stopped, fists clenching. Before she could speak, one of the pair broke away and came striding towards her.
"Hermione? What are you doing, wandering the grounds alone at night after an attack on the school?" Severus demanded with a heavy scowl.
"This morning you said, 'Don't be ridiculous, this is Hogwarts.' And you knew all along what was going to happen," she said, her lips trembling. This wasn't the meeting she'd envisioned, if he came back safe and sound, but she couldn't hug him in front of Lucius Malfoy and she wasn't even sure she wanted to. How could he? How dare he? "Why did you let Minerva know you were coming and not me?"
"I thought it very likely you were still scouring London. I could hardly send you a Patronus in amongst all the Muggles."
"Why not? It's not as if they'd see," she muttered.
He didn't blink. "Please go back to our rooms and wait for me. I have some pressing matters to attend to."
"Wait for you?" she burst out. "Harry said Voldemort's finished! How can you not have time? You said our private lives would come first."
"Troubles in paradise, Severus?" the elder Malfoy drawled.
Hermione spared him a glance of repulsion before turning back accusingly to Severus.
"I hear Azkaban is pleasant at this time of year, Lucius," Severus said shortly, his eyes never leaving his wife's face. "The more you interrupt my conversation with my wife, the less inclined I'll be to expedite your meeting with yours."
"Becoming a war-hero has not improved your temper, I see," Lucius said. "I'll wait over there, shall I?" He strolled back until he was out of earshot, heedless of the privacy spell cast savagely behind him.
"You married Hogwarts when you married one of its teachers, Hermione," Severus said as soon as they were alone. "The only time any of us can put private life over public duty is when the doors close for the summer." The clefts in his brow deepened. "I must speak with the children whose fathers I sent to death or capture, before they hear the news from anyone else. After that, I promise it will be your turn."
"Oh." She rubbed hard across the tip of her nose with the back of her hand. "Couldn't you have at least sent me a message you were all right?"
"Perhaps I should have." He took her hands in both of his. "I wanted to tell you in person," he admitted, "not in a Patronus message. I didn't expect you to be wandering the paths looking for me. I thought you could wait half an hour longer, and then I could come to you and close the door behind us and forget that anyone else even exists until tomorrow morning."
"You thought I could wait another half an hour? I was dying inside with every second!" But her heart felt a little less cold. He had never had anyone who cared more for his safety than his success. It was no wonder he'd underestimated her anxiety. "When I got back to Hogwarts and you weren't here, I was so afraid!"
"I told you you would regret this marriage," he muttered, releasing her.
"Don't!" she said. "Don't even try to make this about whether I should have married you. Just don't." She gulped and shook her head, squeezing her eyes shut against the ache in her throat. "You didn't let me help. You sent me out of the way."
"I didn't send you anywhere. You chose to go to London and I acquiesced in your decision."
"If I'd known, I wouldn't have gone!" A sharper gust of wind blew the ends of his Quidditch scarf up and her nails dug into her palms with the effort of not ripping it off his neck and stamping it underfoot.
"All the more reason that I couldn't tell you. The attack had to seem unexpected. How could you have explained your change of heart to Mr Longbottom without raising his suspicions?"
She bit her lip. "We'd have found a way," she said sullenly. "You just wanted to shunt me off somewhere safe."
"I had no assurance that London was any safer than Hogwarts, but of course I wanted you safe. I'd have sent the whole school to safety, if I could. Prophecy or no prophecy, would I have taken children into battle, if I'd had any alternative?"
"I'm not a child. You thought I couldn't do it." She pulled her cloak tighter around her body.
"I thought you shouldn't do it. There's a difference. You have courage and strength of character and determination –yes, even the most annoying of your friends – but you're not soldiers. And you shouldn't be."
"We're old enough to fight for what we believe in. We have fought for it!"
He snorted. "Yes, and look where it got you. Five of the six of you into the hospital wing, needing Poppy's services, and you the worst injured of the lot."
"I've improved since then." They were standing toe to toe now and still he made no move to take her into his arms. She swallowed and bit hard on the inside of her cheek.
"You'll never be cannon-fodder, if I can help it. Why are you complaining? You found your friend's mother for him, and that was a worthy task that you should be proud of."
Her mouth parted. "How do you know I found her?" she asked in a small voice, stealing a glance at his tight lips, his narrowed eyes.
"I've known you since you were a slip of a child, insisting you'd gone to fight a troll by yourself. Could you possibly have returned this soon without her?"
They walked the rest of the way in silence. Hermione didn't want to talk where Lucius Malfoy could hear, and he, after one swift glance at their faces, seemed to have decided not to push his luck.
As they approached the castle, they heard Draco say sharply, "Oi, Weaslette! You keep your paws off Potter until he changes back, got it? My eyes!" and Ginny reply, "Take the glasses off then, and don't look!"
"Ah, I should have known to expect your friends to be just where they weren't wanted, shouldn't I?" Snape muttered to his wife. "Well, at least you will have company while you wait." His gaze swept over the group of students and he raised his voice to a command. "Wands away, immediately! Mr Malfoy is an ally."
"He is, is he?" Minerva rejoined, casting a disparaging glance over the man in question.
"Indeed. Minerva, will you please join with me in conveying the Malfoys and Mr Potter and Mr Longbottom to the headmaster's office? He's asked that Lucius await him there. Miss Lovegood, inform Professor Flitwick that I will need to see the Ravenclaw students we discussed, in my office in around fifteen minutes, if he'd kindly accompany them there. Miss Abbott, the like message to Professor Sprout, if you please. They'll know whom I mean. Mind you say nothing to anyone else or you'll be washing bedpans for the next month."
"It's perfectly simple," Ron said doggedly, while Hannah fidgeted with Severus's favourite quill and Hermione stared down at the silver fob watch she cradled close to her chest. Its hand had just moved from 'Headmaster's office' to 'Potions office'. "The Gryffindor Seeker caught the Snitch, so it's Gryffindor's game. Doesn't matter if he was dressed Slytherin, it's still our match. And by a long margin too."
"Who cares about Quidditch?" Ginny said scornfully, nudging aside a pile of books with the toe of her boot. "It's Harry you should be worried about.What's he doing with those blond gits?"
Luna smiled dreamily, painting little golden suns on her fingernails with a circling motion of her thumb. "Take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves," she mused. "Sometimes it's easier to complain about what doesn't matter than what does."
Ron shot her a startled look and reddened, but a sudden knocking at the door thankfully closed the topic. It was Harry. They asked, to make sure.
"At last!" Ginny said, flying into his arms and kissing him long and wetly while everyone else stared at the ceiling or the bookshelves. "And no Malfoy this time!"
"No Neville either," Ron said. "What did Snape want with him anyway?"
"Said his parents had been separated long enough and sent him off to St Mungo's to help his grandmother settle his mum back in. And then he sent me here as soon as the Polyjuice wore off and I'd changed back into my own clothes. The last thing I saw before Professor McGonagall closed the door behind me was Draco's dad kneeling down at the Floo to talk to his wife."
"So," Ginny invited, pulling him over to the chair she'd been sitting in. "Tell us everything."
They spent the next three-quarters of an hour comparing notes.
"And the Slytherin Quidditch team flew straight into the changing rooms and didn't come out until the vampires were gone!" Ginny said. "Cowards!"
"Oh, they were more afraid of Snape than Belo – Belo-what's-his-name. The head vampire. Snape had warned them to get under cover and stay put, in case of trouble, or they'd get worse than cleaning bedpans."
"Belododio?" asked Luna. "The one who wrote Pastures of Gory and Carotid-Farming for Fun and Profiteering? Daddy profiled him in the Quibbler three years ago."
"Er, yeah," Harry said. "Him. I think."
Hermione listened absently, fingering the fob. Still in his office.
"The trickiest bit was getting our own wands back to us," Harry was saying some fifteen minutes later. "Snape thought it was worth risking Crucio for. I could have used either – we tried them yesterday – but Priori Incantatem's so rare no one knows what happens if you do it twice and Snape thought my wand might trap Draco into that bubble-thingy with Voldemort if he tried to use it. He gave Draco a Portkey, just in case, but we couldn't be sure it would work."
"They should have given you a Portkey," Hannah said.
Harry shrugged. "No one was looking at me. I could have Apparated away before they noticed I was leaving, but Draco was stuck."
"Draco, is it?" Ron sneered. "When did that slimy git become Draco to you?"
Harry shrugged again. He had rummaged through Draco's mind before agreeing to trust him as an ally, but he had no intention of saying so.
"There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other," he said. "Looks like knocking out a snake-faced Dark Lord is one of them."
Hermione glared at her husband. He'd sent her friends away and they were alone at last, but he'd taken almost three times the half hour he'd asked for.
"How could you save Lucius Malfoy? He belongs in Azkaban!"
"Since the Dark Lord's return, Lucius has done as little harm as any man could and stay alive."
She snorted. "And before Voldemort's return, he was slipping cursed diaries into eleven-year-olds' cauldrons and trying to kill me! I can't believe you! Have you been planning this ever since you got him out?"
"Of course not, but we needed his help tonight, and he gave it. I knew he would, if it could be put to him the right way. I could tell you that was why we saved him. That was Albus's reason, so it would be true enough." He folded and unfolded his lips, meeting her gaze squarely. "But it was not mine. I saw a chance to save a friend and I took it."
"You saw a chance to save a murderer and you took it?" she echoed. "Why?"
He glanced sideways at her through veiled eyes. "I'd have thought you of all people would understand about loyalty."
She turned away, biting her lips. "You told me the friendship had cooled!"
"But you still saved him."
"Hermione, I don't ask you to associate with Lucius; I don't even ask that you let me associate with him. Only that you allow me the comfort of knowing that two of my oldest friends – the last two – are alive and well and finding whatever peace they can with each other. That I have not betrayed quite all of my old companions to their deaths."
"What next?" she grumbled, blinking wet eyes. She hated to hear that desolate note in his voice, but wrong was still wrong. "Lucius Malfoy, the Patron Saint of Muggle-borns?"
"What?" she squeaked, whirling around to stare at him.
"You surely didn't think we were letting him off scot-free? He owes us, and we're exacting payment. The price for his life and soul and reputation is that he abandons forever his opposition to Muggle-borns and instead exerts the full force of his political influence towards advancing their rights. Albus called it 'a gentler bondage than Azkaban, but a bondage nonetheless'."
"What if I say it isn't worth the cost?"
"I'd remind you that Lucius is not the only Slytherin of my generation to be given a second chance."
He had an answer for everything. She was silent, digesting it.
"How can I trust you out of my sight again? You went off into danger without warning me and you didn't even say goodbye," she whispered, reverting to her other complaint.
"I did. You promised I wouldn't lose you."
She looked at him and saw that he had his spy-face on, and her heart clenched suddenly. He had spent too many years stalking off to lick his wounds in private; she could quarrel him to a standstill and he would stay and answer and explain because he'd promised her no more secrets, but every word would take him further and further out of her reach. Oh, he would love her still, but warily, from a safe distance. She didn't want him distant. She didn't want him guarded.
"You're sneaky and manipulative and underhanded," she told him, sniffling and rubbing her nose. "I really don't like your friends and you don't much like any of mine. You treat me like a child and expect me to be an adult. And you trick me into making promises I didn't know I was making, or they mean different things to what I thought." She shook her head and smiled through tears. "And none of it changes anything. I will love you forever." She stumbled forward into his arms, which closed and tightened around her. "When you deserve it and when you don't."
"I never deserve it," he said, burying his face in her hair. "I rescued Lucius and cast the others into the fire, merely because he was my friend and they were less so. I destroyed the families of children I've parented since they were eleven."
"You don't think their parents destroyed themselves?" she murmured.
"That tiny first year with the dreadlocks will have to become a ward of the state. The Marryat twins wouldn't stop crying, even after Pomona took them away." He laughed harshly."Harbin might be lucky. His father only joined last week; he might get out of Azkaban in time for his son's wedding. And my Slytherins!" His hands were like claws at her back. "I killed Vincent Crabbe's father tonight. He and young Gregory are two of the most stupid but most loyal and trusting boys I've ever taught. They're not trusting now."
She closed her eyes against the pain in his voice. "You had to do it. For everyone else."
"I thought so, but maybe I just didn't look hard enough for alternatives."
His shoulders were too thin for the weight they carried. She could feel them trembling. Impulsively, she pressed closer.
He stooped and scooped her up in his arms, carrying her through the door and to their bed. Was it only five days since the first time he'd brought her thus? She kissed him, her hand to his rough cheek. Then there were no more words for a long time but "Yes", "Right there", and "Don't stop. Never stop."
"I was so angry with you," she told him afterwards, as they lay tangled in pliant ease. Her fingers tickled and smoothed where his Dark Mark used to be. She thought she'd never get enough of touching the no longer forbidden flesh. "When I came back and found you gone without telling me. I didn't know whether to be more angry or afraid. Or hurt that you didn't trust me."
"You are the only one I trust." He said. "All my life, I've had to be strong for everyone else. Even for Albus. You are the only one to hold me when I fall. To hold me until I stop falling."
She kissed him again.
"And it's really all over?" Hermione asked some time later. "'Broken mended' and 'cold hearts fond' and 'sorrow's grip ended', like the dreams said?"
"Do you doubt it?" Severus murmured, his lips softly curved and his eyes half-closed.
How could she, when he looked like that? "I'm just so glad we managed to change it so you didn't die. We must have done something right. I wish I knew what. And what use I was in all this. It seems to me I did nothing but open my eyes one day and find that the bravest, dearest person in the world was all mine." She could say things like this to him now, knowing that he wouldn't sneer and he wouldn't laugh.
"You did everything." He ran his hand lazily up her body, from hip to navel to breast and up, over her shoulder and down her arm to her fingertips. Their hands locked. "You told me once that you were less clever than I, but I find you so much wiser. You have a sort of cleverness of the heart, an instinctive understanding that's quite beyond me."
"Do you know what made the difference between the dreams and the reality?" he asked, propping himself up on his other elbow so he could look into her face. "It was you making me teach Potter and Longbottom, whom I'd despaired of; you, building bridges of cooperation between our houses into strong bonds of trust."
She shook her head, the wild curls ballooning up on either side of her face with the movement.
"Turning Potter from a loose cannon into a fellow-soldier," he continued, his eyes intent, "and giving Draco the courage to choose against his family. That was crucial. No matter how we studied the dreams in the Pensieve, we were left with two vital gaps, the date of my death and the location. We knew it was an abandoned quarry, but which one?"
She knew there was no longer need to be afraid, but she shivered. "You knew the date had something to do with Quidditch. You said in your letter that you were wearing your green scarf. Why is every wizard I know obsessed with that stupid game?" she grumbled. "Couldn't you just have put the house matches off until next month?"
"Circumventing a prophecy is not that easy. The scarf would have found its way onto my neck one way or another; if not by my own hands, perhaps Conjured onto me by another. We had to work around it." His lips pursed. "The problem was that Lucius suspected me and set up the attack with Draco instead, leaving me in the dark. I believe our dreams showed what would have happened if Draco had been more obedient and I'd had to choose between saving Potter or myself. In this reality, the one you created, he brought his concerns to me." He smiled at a memory. "Draco and I have always been allies, since the first time he climbed into my lap for a sugar biscuit when he was three."
She couldn't help grinning at the image, although she doubted she'd ever be on good enough terms with her godson to tease him about it.
"I know you have." She scowled. "And how furious it used to make me when you would always praise his potions and look down your nose at mine." She stroked a finger down his nose to match her words, and he bent and touched his forehead to hers, smiling. "It was always him starting the fights, not us, and you always believed him, always."
"But you married me anyway. Are you sure it wasn't just to change my opinion of you? In which you've succeeded admirably, I may say."
"Of course it wasn't."
He lifted an eyebrow and she added, "Well, not just for that. Maybe it had a little to do with it." She stuck out her tongue. It was a provocation he couldn't ignore.
…The four recipients of the Order of Merlin, First Class, were unanimous in modestly attributing their achievements to their family and friends. Draco Malfoy spoke for all.
"Let us not forget the courageous self-sacrifice of James and Lily Potter, that ended the first war and contributed so much to moulding their son's character. It is an accident of circumstance that placed me in his company on the fateful night, rather than those who have previously faced Death Eaters at his side – my dear godmother Mrs Snape, my good friend Neville Longbottom, Miss Luna Lovegood, and of course the two youngest members of the illustrious Weasley family, Ronald and Ginevra.
"My godfather told Neville on the morning of the battle that it is sometimes no less brave to be the one who waits behind. He never spoke a truer word. The courage and loyalty of those who waited on our return was an inspiration to us, as it should be to all. I can only hope to, one day, be as fortunate in the choice of a wife as my father and godfather have been…"
In other news, the mangled one-handed body discovered in Begbroke Park, has been definitely confirmed to be that of the rat-Animagus, Peter Pettigrew, otherwise known as Wormtail. Cause of death, massive head injuries, is believed to have been inflicted by an owl while he was in rat form. This news enables us to draw a line under the Voldemortian era…
"So, that's that, then," Neville said matter-of-factly, dropping the newspaper to take another bite of toast. "You really laid it on with a trowel, didn't you? You practising to become Minister of Magic or something?"
Draco scowled at the porridge he was stirring. "Maybe. Someone has to do it." His lips twitched. "Besides, I like winding up the Weasels. Did you see their faces when I called their family 'illustrious'?"
"I saw Hermione's, when you called her 'dear'."
"Yes," Draco said slowly. "So did I. Some dreams come true." His spoon stilled. "And some don't."
A/N The line about "some things you can't share" is a twist on the end of PS, ch 10, except there it was "a twelve-foot mountain troll".
The Death Eaters' children are mostly OCs. The only canon students known to have Death Eater relatives are Crabbe, Goyle, Nott and Malfoy.
Oxford University Begbroke Science Park is not many miles distant from Kirtlington Quarry, so if you were wondering, Wormtail didn't get far.