Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, no money is being made from this.
Note: Inspired while I was walking through the hospital one day and thought of the song "This Was Pompeii" by Dar Williams. She talks about losing a kingdom and I wondered, if Draco lost his kingdom, what would that mean?
Special thanks to three lovely betas on this story, dear Z, Eilonwy and kazfeist! Lots of hugs and Draco stickers!
And as for my own kingdom, not a table leg was charred. I simply lost my kingdom 'cause I held it much too hard.
Dar Williams: This Was Pompeii
It was a grey morning. One of those mornings where you knew it would rain that day, so you carried your umbrella with you.
Her umbrella was red – bright, plain, red. But she felt grey, like the day.
Hermione left her hotel room alone, with a small pack, and met the other tourists outside the front doors of the hotel. They waited for a bus to arrive that would take them to the ruins of Pompeii. She'd wanted to visit the ancient city for as long as she could remember, and now she was finally here. But it was grey. The way she was grey—the way, even before she opened her eyes every morning, she knew her day would be grey. It was the color of her pain.
Eventually, the bus arrived, and she joined the queue to get on. An old woman with curly, white hair sat next to her, and smiled kindly at her. Hermione tried to return the gesture, but failed. The woman patted her arm as if to say she understood, then turned back to her family, who had seated themselves around her. Hermione stared out the window as the bus made its way from Naples to Pompeii, but she wasn't looking at anything. All her life, she had wanted to see Italy, to see Rome, and most desperately, the frozen city. But the circumstances that brought her here were too terrible to contemplate, and she couldn't help but feel guilty that she was here on a forced holiday, when all her friends were home fighting a war. Her parents had forced her on this trip. She'd whined and complained and rebelled, but in the end she knew they wouldn't relent. They said it would be good for her; they had a feeling about it.
Nothing especially good had happened so far. They'd been to Rome and to Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. She'd seen St. Peter's Basilica, Michelangelo's statues of Moses and of David. It was like looking at a picture book; she didn't feel as though she were really there. Her parents didn't talk to her much. At least, not about what had happened. They told her about how long it had taken to carve the David, how the piece of marble Michelangelo had used had been so large that the people had nicknamed it Goliath. They discussed each panel in the Sistine Chapel; and she felt as though she were looking through stained glass. She saw the colors, but only because they were on the glass, and she knew that through the glass was the same grey world that had been the landscape of her heart, mind and soul for months. The ceiling of the Chapel was incredible, but even it had been restored recently. Once it had been covered with thick layers of muck and grime. Once, it too had been grey.
She told her parents she wanted to see Pompeii alone. The entire trip had led to this place, and she didn't want to have to think or pretend to care about what they were saying. The people who died there nearly two thousand years ago would understand her, and she would understand them. They had lost something; their perfect little corner of the world, their tiny little kingdom, just as she had lost something, too.
The bus stopped. The sky was even greyer. She held her umbrella tightly as she left the bus. The tour guide led them more quickly than she usually would have, because of the threatening sky. Hermione stayed at the back of the group, not interested in facts and details; she knew them by heart already. She peered into every house, walked down every alley, and tried to imagine what the people had thought on that day when they saw the dark clouds filling the sky. Perhaps they expected it would rain; certainly they hadn't known, they couldn't have known.
While going through the House of the Faun, the replica of a mosaic that had once been the floor of a room caught Hermione's attention. It depicted a battle scene between Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia.
The image of Alexander, on his horse and charging into battle, stood out because it was surrounded on three sides by nothing, the mosaic having been damaged over the centuries. What caught her attention so acutely was the look on his face and on the face of his horse. Alexander was looking forward, his eyes focused intently on his enemy. The horse was facing forward, but his eye was looking back toward his master as though making sure this was the course of action he truly desired.
She could have been either the man or the horse.
After awhile, she looked up to find the group nowhere in sight. She sighed and trudged on. She didn't need the group, of course; she could Apparate to the hotel. Actually, her spirits lifted just a little at the thought of finally being alone with the spirits of the people who had been captured in the middle of their days, alone with the sorrowful history of the place.
She stopped to peer into another house, as she had done with all of them, and nearly fell over with surprise. There was a man inside, and he'd certainly not been with the tour group. He was dressed all in black. She couldn't see his face, or his head for that matter, as he appeared to be wearing a hood. His hunched back was to her and as she watched, she saw his shoulders heave and he rocked lightly back and forth on the bench where he sat.
Hermione couldn't take her eyes off the man, even though she knew he most likely would not appreciate an audience during this private moment. The man continued to sob into his hands without reserve. Once, he lifted his head and looked up toward the sky as though he could see straight through the roof, as though pleading for something so far out of reach he could only look upwards. Then he returned his hands to his face and he slumped over once again to rest his arms on his knees. She didn't know how long she watched him, but a loud clap of thunder broke the trance.
There was just enough time to look around her before the rain crashed down, drenching her in seconds. She gasped, then did the only logical thing; she ran into the house where the man was. There was an outer chamber, and she performed a drying spell on herself. Her heart was beating furiously. Should she alert the man to her presence? She didn't want to disturb such a private moment, but she felt that he deserved to know he was no longer alone.
Slowly she moved into the main room of the house. The man stiffened when he heard movement, and the sobs halted; he was on instant alert.
"Don't – I'm sorry," she blurted, taking a few steps into the room "The rain; I didn't want to get wet. Is – is it okay if I just wait here until it stops?" She mentally berated herself; her first instinct was to speak in English; yet most likely, this man was Italian.
The man took a deep, shaky breath, stilled for a long moment as though straining to hear something, then shrugged. He must have decided to ignore her, because he returned his face to his hands and wept silently. Hermione felt her heart tug inside her. He was doing what she couldn't do, what she hadn't been able to do – pour out her sorrow without shame or fear.
For a few moments, the only sound was the heavy fall of rain on the saturated ground and the roof of the small ruin. She glanced out the window at the spot where she'd been moments earlier and saw a sheet of grey. Then she returned her gaze to the man, who was still weeping without regard for her. He was in pain, and it tugged on her heart again. She wanted to approach him, but… would he let her? Would he talk to her? She was a stranger after all, and she'd found him crying, something she knew would greatly embarrass most men. But this man, at this moment, didn't seem to care one iota. Maybe speaking to a stranger would be just what he needed.
Hermione stepped further into the room and sat down on the opposite end of the bench where he sat, facing the window. The man didn't give any indication he'd noticed; his shoulders continued to shake silently.
"Mi scusa, per favore?" she asked quietly, remembering to ask in the country's native language.
For a moment, it appeared that he hadn't heard her over the pounding deluge outside. But soon his sobs slowed and he moved his hands from his face to his lap. His hood hid all of his features, but she knew his eyes would be red, puffy, and wet. His cheeks would be shiny from the steady stream of tears, and his nose runny and red. She reached into her pack and retrieved a small packet of tissues. She held it out to the man, who turned slightly and stared when it entered his periphery.
"Se lei vorrebbe prenderlo, per piacere," she encouraged, extending her arm further. He slowly reached a trembling hand out and accepted the box. Hermione watched as he simply held it for a moment, and then started to shake again. She decided he wasn't in the mood to talk, so she looked back out the window.
"My – " he started wearily, obviously unsure of his voice. He cleared his throat and began again, this time with more strength. "My mother died."
Hermione's heart clenched. "I'm sorry," she said quietly. The man's head turned toward her slightly when he heard her speak English. Then he turned back to stare at the wall in front of him.
"How – how did she die?" Hermione was not good at these situations; they made her uncomfortable, and she had no idea how to say the right thing. Death was too intimate a topic for her right now.
He shook his head only a fraction of a degree. "It was my fault." He spoke in a whisper, his pain and the enormity of what he was saying evident in the heaviness of his tone. She had no idea what to say next. She sat there, watching the rain continue to pound the earth. Her own eyes remained guiltily dry as she thought of the pain he evoked.
"I'm sorry," was all she could say, in a strong whisper that was full of her own pain.
He cocked his head as if he'd heard it.
"Why are you here?" he asked evenly.
"It was the rain. I was—"
"No. Here. In Pompeii. You're from England, right?"
"Yes. I'm on a trip. With my parents."
She saw that he'd flinched at her last word. How could she be so insensitive! He'd just lost his mother, and she had to go and mention her parents, who were very much alive. She wanted to hit herself.
"I sense… sadness in you."
She inhaled sharply; was it written on her face? Was she emitting some sort of subliminal message?
"My best friend died. My parents made me come here to get away from everything." Maybe this man hadn't needed to speak to a stranger that day, but she did. She'd never said those four words aloud: My best friend died. She felt a little flurry of strength return when she did.
"I'm sorry," he said.
They sat in silence. The rain drummed rhythmically. Little drops pooled on the roof of the house and fell in less frequent plops onto the windowsill. A few of them splashed her face as she stared out. Then the need to talk arose in her – to spill it all, to scream at how unfair the world was. But in that quiet, deafening roar, she had to move slowly.
"Tell me about her," she said.
Seemed like talking might have been what he needed after all, because he rushed to speak. "She was – beautiful. Amazing. Everything good I can imagine. She wasn't the most affectionate mother, but she loved me, I know she did. Sometimes I could feel it when she looked at me, beneath the masks she usually hid behind; she loved me. And I loved her, which is strange, because I didn't really know it until—" he gulped "—until she was gone."
Hermione could say nothing. He continued, "And I never told her, just as she'd never told me. But as I – I watched her die…" His voice broke. "…I knew that she knew something I didn't even know yet. She knew," he whispered, emitting a solitary sob that went through his entire body.
"She was everything; she taught me right from wrong, helped me when I made bad decisions, and treated me like a person. My father—he's an awful man. I was never close to him, but she was almost everything a real mother should be…" his voice trailed away, as he seemed to lose himself in a memory of her. "Almost," he said, with a tinge of bitterness and anger.
"Tell me about your friend," he said after a long moment of silence.
Hermione took a deep breath, ready to start letting go. "He was wonderful. I met him when I was a young girl in school, and we were friends all the way through. He was quick to laugh, and he made me feel special. He had bright eyes and bright hair, a bright smile and a bright life that ended too soon. He was killed… " —she had to be careful what she said around Muggles—"…because he fought for something he believed in. I know he was resigned to the idea of dying, he knew it might happen, but it still hurts. I miss him so much." A small lump started to form in her throat, and perversely, a part of her jumped for joy. She hadn't shed one tear since they'd told her…
"It seems we share a mutual pain," he commented, turning his head more toward her than he had before. She could just see his eyelashes move when he blinked.
"I'm sure it wasn't your fault your mother died. I think it's natural to blame yourself when someone you love dies."
"No," he said, voice full of bitterness. "No, it was because of me. My father made sure I knew it. He left no doubt."
She looked at him intently. His father sounded like a monster. "How could that be? What part could you have possibly played in her death?"
His shoulders shook, this time in mocking laughter. "You have no idea. But how could you? You know nothing about me, about any of this. And that's good. If you did, you'd be in serious trouble."
"Because you're talking to me. But don't worry, you'll be fine. Once the rain lets up, you'll leave, go back to your fancy hotel, and order room service and drink from your mini-bar so you can forget that we ever happened to meet." Silence filled the room once more.
"What about you? Why are you here? Did your mother die here?"
"No, she died at home. In my home. I couldn't stay there anymore so I just… wandered here."
"All the way from England?"
"Yes. I don't ever want to go back. Now that she's gone, I have nothing left there. Things – things are hard there. Where I live. If I went back, they – I would probably be dead too."
Things weren't making sense to her. They just weren't. Something about this conversation – this man – wasn't adding up the right way. "Are – are you in the Mafia?" she blurted. She saw him stiffen again, for a brief second.
"What's that?" he asked. She blinked and then closed her eyes tightly. She felt dizzy; this man didn't know what the Mafia was. She thought just about everyone knew what the Mafia was. Well, Muggles, anyway. Her breath caught. He couldn't be a wizard… could he?
The man chuckled. "Besides, if I told you, I'd probably have to kill you, right?"
She exhaled. She would not reveal that she suspected him; she needed to know more, to be sure. "My friend loved sports. He talked about them non-stop; he knew every player on his favorite team, what position they played; their statistics. He could talk about it for hours, and never get tired of it. He could talk about it to anyone, even someone he had just met in a pub. I never understood it; it was just a dumb – and dangerous – game. What was the big deal? I'd try to play with him, and our other friends, but it never meant anything to me."
"Yeah, I know what you mean. I've done a lot of things that never meant anything to me. I was – am –a horrible person. If you knew… you'd run, right through the rain, as fast as you could. And you would not look back."
"You can't be that horrible." She could feel rather than see him looking at her with an expression that clearly said she had no idea what she was talking about. "Was your mother successful, then? When she taught you right from wrong? Was she a good person?"
He seemed to take his time in choosing his words. "'Good' is such a relative term. Most people wouldn't say she was 'good.' But she was, in her own way. The way she cared about the flowers in her garden. She would water them faithfully in the summers, cover them during a frost, and even talk to them, as if they were her friends. Sometimes I would walk with her through the gardens, and she would tell me stories, stories of heroes and the eternal battle between good and evil. She told me once she wanted me to be a hero, but I scoffed at her. That rubbish was for Gryf- other people. She looked straight into my soul and said it could be me. I never believed her. I still don't. I don't think it's in my blood."
Blood! How ironic that the conversation twisted its way there. Blood had been everywhere when they'd found him; she would never forget it. When she closed her eyes, she saw that scene, frozen in time. She didn't think it would ever cease to haunt her. But here, it had a double meaning, and she heard his pain, and understood that he was confused about it.
"Blood doesn't make the man."
He whipped his head around and she nearly caught sight of him; a single clump of nearly white hair fell out from his hood. She almost gasped when she saw it. She knew of only three people with hair that color; and only one was around the stranger's age. And he'd said something that had sounded suspiciously like the name of her house…It had to be him. Malfoy! Then her stomach wrenched. If it were Malfoy…
Tears welled in her eyes and Hermione quickly turned away so he couldn't see her face. The last thing she could let him see was her grief for his mother. That would lead to many questions she couldn't answer. She wanted to scream in frustration, but instead, she only sighed heavily—she hadn't been able to cry over Ron, but the tears came easily for Narcissa. It wasn't fair.
Dozens of questions started running through her mind—why was he there? Was he on a mission? Were there others? HereAnd there was still a chance it wasn't him, though her heart told her it was. And the sight of that firm evidence made her heart jump in fear. He was still who he was, and if he found her out, he might kill her; he was honestly that terrifying, at least by reputation. .
And yet… here he was, in a frozen hut in Pompeii, sobbing like the world was about to end. Was he really that scary? He was a boy, crying for his mother. She knew he needed peace; if he'd seen her die, then that image was firmly etched behind his eyelids, and he, too, saw death when he closed his eyes. She could give him a little peace. Just a little, to help ease his shredded heart. Part of her screamed that he didn't deserve it – for everything he'd done – but she remembered that he'd cried before, in a cold, dank bathroom, with only a ghost for company. It was almost like that now. It was cold and wet, and she felt very nearly like an imprint of a dead soul.
"What did you say?" he rasped.
"You are who you say you are. Your blood doesn't determine a thing about you; it doesn't have the right to control who you are or who you want to be. It's just like the rain out there, a liquid that keeps us alive. All people bleed the same."
He seemed stuck; he was still staring at the back of her head. He seemed on the verge of saying something, but then he turned back toward the wall.
Hermione decided now was as good a time as any. She spun around so that she was facing the wall too, and moved closer to him. He seemed to shrink from her, but she did not relent. Finally she was seated right next to him, their shoulders almost touching. She was about to speak but he beat her to it.
"Blood. That's all I've heard my whole life," he spat. "How much it matters." Hermione realized that he might be suspicious of her; Muggles didn't generally discuss blood. Or maybe he just didn't care, or he thought he was hallucinating. Or that he was trapped in a nightmare – Merlin knew she had felt like that nearly every day since the War had started. "Blood. It's red, and it's wet, and if you're not careful, it gets in your hair." Hermione nearly laughed, though it was really not funny. It was always about his hair. "It's so stupid, all of it. When you die, no one really cares about your blood. When my mother's last breath left her lips, I didn't care about blood. All I knew was that the only person who'd ever loved me was dead; if I'd found out that her blood wasn't pure, I still would have loved her."
Bugger, she thought. This was important, it really was. Someone needed to hear the things he was saying, someone other than himself. He needed a witness to the strength he had found in his darkest moments. And she wanted to be that witness. But now he'd gone and said "pure blood". So he must know. She waited for the inevitable outburst.
But instead he continued. "I would have loved my mother no matter what, and that shook me. Maybe love isn't dependent on physical things, like blood. Don't laugh – that's what I was told and I bought into it, every single bit of it."
Hermione smiled grimly.
"I was told that only those who were weak loved, and that love was something you took. My mother wasn't weak. So I don't know why I ever believed what my father said." He shook his head slightly. "Well, that's not true if I'm honest with myself."
Hermione cast him a sideways glance. He was staring at his hands resting in his lap. His fingers were long and thin, but they looked strong and nimble. He wore a ring on his right hand; it looked familiar, and she concentrated on the symbol, trying to remember where she'd seen it. Then it hit her: the Black family crest. It was on many of Harry's possessions.
A loud thunderclap made them both jump; the rain was still pouring down, the wind driving it in sheets. He had a robe at least; she only had her clothes, and her back was slowly getting wetter. She shivered; he looked at her, nearly showing his face, but Hermione quickly turned away from him.
"Are you cold?"
"Yes; I'm getting wet."
He reached into a pocket somewhere in his robes. Hermione smiled at her little secret, the knowledge of his identity. He pulled out a spare cloak – a magic pocket, she reckoned – and handed it to her. She accepted it and put it around her shoulders. It was warm; he must have used a warming spell on it.
He said nothing.
"Your mother sounds like a wonderful woman."
He nodded. "She…was. I'll never forget her, what she tried to do for me. But I think it was too little, too late. I was a lost cause by the time she noticed I needed saving." Hermione felt a stab of pain for him. She truly believed a person could change direction, no matter what they'd done, no matter how far they'd gone. Even him. Even he was worth something, more than he might believe.
"She really tried." His voice cracked again, and she saw his hands shake as he put them on his legs. "And I let her down. It was my fault; she's dead because of me."
Hermione couldn't stand it anymore. She put a tentative hand on his arm and felt him flinch under her touch, but he didn't pull away. He would hate the idea that a Muggle was touching him, and in his eyes, she wasn't much better. But still, he allowed her hand to rest on his arm.
Everything changed in that instant. A cold breeze blew in through the window, bringing a fresh sheet of rain. Lightning flashed. He ripped his arm away from her and jumped to his feet, spinning to look at her, wand drawn and pointed at her heart. He pulled his hood off; fear flashed through his eyes and his face was drawn and sharp. She remained sitting perfectly still, her eyes looking straight into his. He let out his breath when he finally recognized her.
She stood slowly, hands outstretched at all times. "Yes." His eyes flicked between the door and the window in a brief panic and then narrowed at her.
"What are you doing here? How did you find me? Who sent you? Where are the rest of you?"
She did everything she could through her body language to display nonaggression; he could easily kill her, and she didn't want to provoke him in any way.
"Please, Draco, let's sit again. I swear to you, everything I've said is true. I'm here with my parents. I found you completely by accident. I didn't even know it was you at first. No one came with me; there's no one else here. Believe me. You –you can check, if you want."
The rain pounded down as he stared into her eyes. Lightning flashed again, illuminating his pale, grey eyes that were so full of pain and yet seemed so empty at the same time. His hair shone silver in the white light. Hermione could only hear the rain and her heart hammering in her chest. An infinity seemed to pass as they both stood there, peering into each other's eye and breathing hard.
Then she felt her mind assaulted but only briefly, as he sifted through the extraneous and found the pieces that showed him the truth. The last thing Hermione saw before he let her go was an image of her embracing Narcissa. Draco almost threw himself out of her mind and she staggered and reached out to the wall for support. She looked back at him.
He was staring at her, eyes wide and frightening. "What—what was that?"
"Please, Draco," she said, cautiously sitting on the bench. "It's what I want to tell you. About your mother."
"What aboutmy mother? What can you possibly know about my mother? " he asked angrily.
"I—I knew her. She…we talked a few times. Please, you really should sit."
Slowly he let his wand arm fall to his side and he leaned back against the wall. "Why?"
"Because it's going to be quite a shock." He just stared at her and crossed his arms. She closed her eyes and prepared to tell him what she hoped would help him find peace. "Your mother – she joined the Order after you left Hogwarts."
His jaw dropped. A lock of hair fell in front of his eyes and impatiently, he dragged his fingers through it, pushing it back. He searched her eyes, her face, for any sign that she was lying, and when he didn't find it, his eyes watered. "You're serious."
Hermione chose her words carefully. It would be easy to make it sound like it had been because of him, which was, in truth, part of the reason, but she didn't want him to find a reason to continue blaming himself for her death. "She was tired of being manipulated and used by your father and by Voldemort. When you were treated so mercilessly, something inside her snapped and she wanted to do something about it."
Draco's knees threatened to buckle beneath him. He moved to sit on the bench, but he needed some space between himself and the girl. Hermione sensed this and moved away from him, all the while never taking her eyes off his face. Minutes passed in silence. Draco stared straight ahead at the wall; Hermione watched him.
He swallowed. "My mother joined the Order."
He shook his head. "I – I don't understand." Draco's eyes moved furtively over the wall, as though there were something written there that was going to explain it all to him. Then they froze and his lips parted in a near-gasp. "They found out. Didn't they?"
"They must have."
"And they killed her." Another peal of thunder broke the silence. He blinked. "Granger, who died? Your friend—who was it?"
Her breath caught in her throat. "Ron," she said, welcome tears finally pricking the back of her eyes.
Draco closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. "I'm sorry. I really am. I—"
"Don't," she said, sadly. She would not listen to him talk about Ron, as though he meant something to Draco too. "I know you never cared before, in school or after, so don't pretend that you do now."
"But I do," he said softly, his eyes pleading with her to believe him. "Since she died, everything has been turned upside down, and the fact that you're sitting with me in this ruin in bloody Italy is just the tip of the berg for me. It makes my stomach clench that Weasley is dead. All of it is just so stupid. And you're hurt, and that makes me want to pound something, and I don't know why. Nothing makes sense to me anymore – nothing." He put his head in his hands and she thought he might be crying again.
She put a hand on his shoulder. She wasn't finished telling him what she felt she needed to tell him. "Draco, there's more you should know. Your mother didlove you." He stiffened at her words, but not at her touch. "She told me."
He looked at her, an odd expression on his face. "Show me," he said firmly, almost angrily. She started to nod, and at the first movement of her head, he leapt into her mind; she gave him easy access to the memory.
Hermione had returned to Order Headquarters after an especially tiring mission. It was late, and most of the residents were asleep, so she quietly let herself in. But she wasn't the only one awake; she heard muffled sounds coming from the drawing room and went to investigate.
Sitting on the sofa was Narcissa Malfoy, all alone, sobbing quietly. Hermione felt uncomfortable around the woman, even though she'd defected more than two years before. There was something about her blonde hair that put Hermione on the defensive. She debated speaking to the woman. In the end, the choice was taken out of her hands when, as she shifted her weight, the floorboards creaked and Narcissa looked up.
She quickly dabbed her eyes and tried to hide the fact that she'd been crying, but it was no use. Hermione moved to sit on the sofa, on the opposite end from Narcissa.
They both sat in silence for a few moments, and then Hermione said, "Are you, uh, okay?"
Narcissa held her head high. "Yes, of course. What would give you the impression I was anything but?"
Hermione wanted to roll her eyes at the blatant lie, but refrained. "I suppose it was just the fact that you were crying. But if you were simply, say, flushing your eyes, then I'll leave you alone." She made to stand, but Narcissa's eyes stopped her.
"Don't go," she finally whispered.
Hermione sat back down on the sofa.
"It—it's Draco," Narcissa quavered.
Hermione stiffened at the mention of the young man's name, instantly on guard. However when she looked at the woman beside her and saw she'd let a few more tears fall, she couldn't help but feel a little sorry for her, despite who she was talking about.
"What…about him?" Hermione asked cautiously. Narcissa had never once mentioned her family outside of what she said during meetings, and those things were purely informational. Hermione knew it must be very difficult for the woman to talk about the family she was, in essence, betraying.
"I worry about him so."
Hermione waited for more, but Narcissa said nothing, only stared into the dying fire as though hoping her son would emerge. "I'm sure that you do. What mother wouldn't worry about her son, especially when he's running with such a… dangerous crowd? And besides, he always comes back relatively unscathed."
"Yes, but every time he goes – away, I know it could be the last time I've said goodbye. And he would never even know…about me, about this." She swept her hand around the room, and Hermione knew she meant the Order and her own betrayal. She sighed and glanced at Hermione. "I know you were never friends with him, but you must understand, I tried so hard with him, but Lucius was stronger. Lucius didn't understand that I didn't want my son to become – what he's become. Lucius provoked and encouraged him in all his errant musings."
"You must have done some good for him," Hermione offered, despite her belief that there was nothing good within Draco Malfoy.
Narcissa shook her head, smiling sadly. "I don't know. I wonder…"
The two women sat in silence. Then Narcissa started crying hard again. Hermione felt the impulse to comfort the woman. Were she anyone else, Hermione wouldn't hesitate, and even though Narcissa had defected, she was still cold and impersonal to nearly everyone in the Order. She kept herself at arm's length, and Hermione suspected it was to remind everyone that she thought she was above them all, or at least that she thought she was. When Narcissa's sobbing didn't slow, Hermione finally put an arm around the woman. Narcissa stiffened initially, but after a moment relaxed into Hermione's embrace. "Don't cry," she said, but Hermione didn't know what else to say. She couldn't think of anything nice or good or encouraging to say about Draco.
"Sometimes I dream about him," Narcissa said once the sobs subsided. "He's at one of those Death Eater meetings, and he's my little boy again, only seven, and he's asking me to read him a story. Then Lucius appears and he hits Draco, who starts crying. Then... he appears, and Draco's older, and Lucius hits him again and then Draco looks at me, his eyes pleading, scared, begging me to help him. I always wake up in a cold sweat. Maybe it's just that I'm his mother, but I can't stand seeing him like this. His eyes, oh, his eyes are so vacant when he looks at me. I can't imagine what they've seen, but they look dead. They used to be so full of life…"
Hermione stroked the woman's hair, softly telling her things would be all right—that her son would be unharmed. But of course, she didn't believe it. She'd heard the stories about Draco Malfoy. She forced herself not to shudder visibly at the thought.
"He doesn't love me. He's my son, and he doesn't love me," said Narcissa between sobs. "He loves his father; he's always wanted to be just like his father. His eyes aren't empty when he looks at Lucius."
"D-Draco loves you, Narcissa," Hermione said, trying to sound positive. "I'm sure of it."
She scoffed. "You don't know him then, do you?"
"No, not at all," she admitted, "but I can be nearly certain that your son loves you."
"How? Why would he love me? I've done nothing for him, nothing to save him from this life."
"He loves you because you're his mother. That's all there is to it. There's nothing magical about it, it's just… you're his mother. He loves you." Hermione said it with such conviction that she herself was almost convinced. It was hard to truly say anything good about the man, yet Hermione truly believed there was some good in almost everybody. If there were any in Draco Malfoy, it would be connected to his mother.
Narcissa sat up and dried her tears with the poise of good upbringing. She gave Hermione a watery smile and fidgeted with her hands. "What if he doesn't come home? I've never told him I love him, and I want him to know that. I want him to know about me, about everything."
"Then tell him."
"I can't. He'll – laugh at me. He's learned that love is weakness. He'll only hate me more."
"No, Narcissa, never. He would never laugh at you for saying that."
"You don't know him. He is his father's son."
Hermione couldn't speak. How could someone laugh at a declaration of love? From his mother? It seemed like a bad line from a horror movie. He wasn't that cruel, was he?
"He's your son," Hermione finally said with conviction. "You must tell him, if it's going to eat you up inside like this. If he laughs—and I don't think he will—then take away his broom for a month." Narcissa looked at her, startled, then laughed at the hopelessness of everything.
"It has eaten at me inside, ever since he was a child and Lucius forbade me to spend time with him. I love him so much, Hermione. He is the reason I get out of bed every morning, and the reason I have joined the Light, and the reason I haven't killed my husband, or lost my mind. Everything I do, I do for him, and he has no idea. He barely even notices me. I would give anything for a pure moment with him, just a sincere smile. And he doesn't even know." Narcissa shook her head sadly. "You must think me pathetic."
"Not at all! You love your son; there is nothing pathetic in that. Love is beautiful and there's nothing to be ashamed of. And I'm sure he knows you love him."
"How could he? I've never spoken the words to him, never shown him through my actions."
"I'm sure you have, in ways you don't even realize."
"What if he doesn't come back from this one?"
Hermione closed her eyes. It was entirely possible, of course. He was in a dangerous world, surrounded by dangerous people, and he was a dangerous person himself. There were no guarantees.
"Just tell him. Next time you see him. There will be time."
Narcissa gazed absently at the dying embers in the fireplace. "I hope so."
Hermione's eyes snapped open and it took her a moment to remember where she was. The sound of the rain was so similar to the sound of the dying fire in her memory. She looked at the man sitting beside her. He had his face in his hands and he was sobbing again. For a moment, she hesitated, and then reached out to take him in her arms. He let her pull his head down to rest it on her shoulder, and he even grabbed her arm for support. She held him and ran her fingers through his perfect hair and soothingly told him everything would be all right. After a moment, his hand reached up and found her hand, and he brought them both to rest in her lap. He squeezed her hand tightly through his sobs like someone getting a tooth pulled without anesthetics. The waves of pain would lighten and he would relax, then they would grow again, and he would squeeze her hand. She had to bite her lip to keep from gasping; his hand was like steel. Still, she didn't complain, continuing to whisper that he would be okay.
Finally, his body stopped shaking and his breathing became steady. She would have thought he'd fallen asleep if it weren't for the occasional squeeze from his hand, reminding her that he was silently fighting demons she couldn't even imagine.
"I – I don't know what to do," he said in a thick voice, full of pain and despair. He didn't let go of her hand.
"It's all right, Draco. You don't have to worry about that now."
"I love her. I wish I could tell her." His voice was broken, and he didn't even care.
They sat that way—Hermione holding the dangerous man in her arms, his head resting on her shoulder—for hours, or minutes, or an entire turn of the earth. Draco absently played with her hand; he ran his fingers through hers and gently rubbed her palm, exploring every inch of her hand. Each touch—every movement he made—sent shivers and lightning bolts coursing through her and she couldn't be positive, but she didn't think they were bad shivers.
It hit her that she was comforting Draco Malfoy. Draco Malfoy He was someone she'd come to truly fear, and he was holding her hand, tracing small circles on her palm with his finger. She was letting him find…something in her arms. Peace? Absolution? Forgiveness? Hermione repeated those words in her mind, still not able to completely understand it. It had been a progression, she decided, and that was the only way it had happened. She found a man sobbing and it had wrenched open her barely-held-together wounds. Then the sudden deluge forced her into the hut where he was, and she'd talked to him.
The pure emotion he emitted had captivated her. When she learned who the man was, she had been astounded, and to her surprise, her empathy for him had only increased. Instead of the old, familiar feelings of hatred and enmity she had always reserved for him, something new had manifested in her. And it was more than empathy. It was something of a bond, a sense of solidarity. She understood him, just a little. And she thought maybe he understood her a little, too.
Draco slowly sat up and looked at her – really looked at her, like he'd never seen her before in his life. And he probably hadn't. He'd never had a reason to truly look. But now it appeared that he did, and he searched her face as he'd searched her hand; he explored the length, width and breadth of her, as though he was trying to memorize every feature. Hermione allowed the intimate perusal. Eventually, the hard lines of his face softened, his shoulders relaxed, and the rest of his body followed.
He took a deep breath, and then turned to face the wall, moving her hand from his left to his right. "I've been so… wrong. So horribly, eternally wrong. I've always wanted to be like my father, ever since I was a child. I mean, he was my father. He was my world. He was strong and fierce and loyal and hard. I didn't know any better than to idolize him. I didn't know there was any other way life could be. I chose the wrong parent," he whispered, squeezing her hand tightly. "I never should have wanted to be like him, I should have wanted to be like her But I didn't know, I didn't know…"
Hermione had no words. Tears pricked her eyes and in a way, she felt every pain that he felt. Her loss was not the same, precisely, but it was still profound. And he was here, grieving—pouring out his soul to mix with the falling rain and she couldn't shed a single tear. She hadn't cried when she had been told Ron was dead, or when she'd seen his body, or when he had been buried. She'd stood next to his mother who collapsed in a sobbing heap at her feet, her own face remaining curiously dry. His father and his brothers and his sister had cried; Harry had cried, and still she couldn't. The tears that pricked her eyes now were like the tears that had threatened since his death, but would not fall; something kept them locked in place, unlike Draco's, which had flowed so freely down his death-white cheeks.
"She was right, my mother, when she said there was something in my eyes when I looked at my father. It was fear mixed with loathing. I had so wanted to be like him that I never made space for all the things I wanted in life. It was my own fault—I understand that completely now—but part of me still blamed him, for taking those choices away, for everything he said and did to me. For everything."
Neither of them spoke for a while. She merely stared at the wall, wanting to finally feel, wanting to be rid of the enormous weight and guilt she bore.
She blinked, unable to immediately process that he'd just used her given name. "Yeah?"
She chuckled sadly. "No."
He sat up straight, and looked at her with concern in his eyes. "Why?"
"I don't know."
He frowned. "Can I do anything?"
"Talk about it. It – helps."
She took a deep breath. "He was killed by – you know. Your people. It was awful." The tears smarted again, but refused gravity's call. "There was blood everywhere. They didn't just kill him, they…" She couldn't say it. Wouldn't say it. She would not say aloud what she had seen. It would make it real, and she didn't know if she could survive that. "And I haven't shed a single tear. Even now, I can't. What's wrong with me? That isn't right; I should be able to mourn my friend."
Draco squeezed her hand and held it in both of his. It was so small, wrapped inside his hands. "Sometimes what we go through doesn't require tears. I – I had my world crash down around me when she died. You didn't. You knew he was your friend, that he cared about you and he knew you cared about him. It's war; someone was bound to die."
"But why him?" she cried, suddenly angry. She jerked her hand away from his grasp and brought it to her other hand, which she then wrung in edginess. "Why him? Why couldn't it have been me? Ron never did anything to deserve that. At least there would have been some excuse with me, a reason that they would spread my dirty blood all over the room." She paused to let the anger flow through her yet again before dissipating. "It's not fair," she added with a defeated tone. "It should have been me."
Draco reached into his robe and extracted a handkerchief, a square of white linen with his initials on it. He handed it to her and she stared at it, and then gave him a wry smile.
"I have no tears. Remember?"
"There's no reason that he died instead of you. As I said, it's all so incredibly stupid. I would do anything to get him back for you, Hermione, I would. I really mean it. There is no way you found me completely by accident." His voice was stronger now than it had been since she found him. It held conviction that seemed to grow with every word. "What you've done for me… I'll never forget it. I don't ever want to." He pushed a strand of hair out of her face and gave her a smile. It warmed her all the way to her toes.
"What happens now?" she asked. She didn't ever want to leave that room. It was safe, and the world outside was grey, so grey. She didn't think the sun would ever shine again. But here, inside this grey hut, with only four walls and a bench and a Death Eater for company, she felt safer than she had in a long time.
"We sit. Until the rain stops."
"Then what? What are you going to do? What are we going to do?"
He furrowed his brow in concentration as he thought about her question. "I have to do what she did." He looked at her, and she saw his eyes clearer than they'd been a moment earlier. "I will return to England and join the Order. Take her place. If they find out and kill me, then so be it; I can finally tell her what I never did. If I help take them down, then I've only just started repaying an insurmountable debt. Only…" His confidence faltered as a flash of worry passed over his eyes. "Could I maybe go back with you? There's probably a lesser chance I'll get hexed if you're with me."
She had to pause after his question to replay what had just been said. He really meant it – he would give up his life to help bring down the Dark Lord. The determination and strength in his voice, absent until that very moment, said more even than the words he spoke. Still, she had to be sure. "What brought you here? Today?"
He blinked, not knowing where her question originated. "I heard about this place from a group of tourists yesterday. They told me the story of the volcano that erupted so quickly and spectacularly that the people had no escape. It reminded me of myself, and I wanted to see it firsthand. I came alone and wandered the streets, and it was as if I could hear the sounds of the people from that day, and they were talking to me, telling me it wasn't too late, but I didn't believe them, and then I came in here." He looked around the hut. "I was here for hours before you found me."
"And now? Do you still think it's too late?"
He frowned in thought. "I don't know. Perhaps not." He looked at her. "And that I can even think like that is thanks to you. Anyone else would probably have hexed me as soon as they knew it was me and carted me off to Azkaban." He chuckled bitterly. "I'm not sure I would really have cared. But now – will you help me? Will you help me make it up to her? I mean it, Hermione."
"I believe you, Draco. I will go back with you, and present you to the Order."
Then collapse into this nothingness I feel, she thought, heavily.
He nodded. "Thank you. Do you think they'll accept me?"
She laughed a little. "No, of course they won't. Not at first. It will take time, and proof."
"What proof can I give?"
"Daily proof. Just be a part of the Order and do as you're asked."
"Like a good little minion? That sounds a little too familiar."
"No, of course not. I just mean – be there. Don't sit on the fence; don't help only when it helps you too. Really give yourself to the Light; accept the whole philosophy, and all its consequences."
He stared at her. "You can't be serious."
"I am, Draco. I really, really am. You can't possibly expect to get away with going at it halfway. They'd pick you out and tear you apart in seconds."
"I don't know how to do something like that. Even following the Dark Lord was mostly out of fear and self-preservation. You know, not wanting to die or be tortured – things like that. I don't know if I've ever given myself over completely to anything."
"Just think of your mother, of everything she did for you. She wanted you to have a better life, not to be used and hurt, and eventually killed by your master if the fancy took him. Whenever you don't think you've got it in you, remember her."
Draco was silent, thinking. Then, "Yes, that sounds about right. I think I can do that."
The rain and the storm worsened, the thunder and lightning striking often and close. Hermione knew that soon they would not be able to see much of anything.
"What if the rain doesn't stop?" she whispered, turning over her shoulder to look out the window.
"It has to sometime."
"What if it's late? After dark?'
"I'm a wizard and you're a witch, remember? We have wands. We'll be fine. Besides, nothing will happen to you as long as you're with me."
She couldn't help but smile a little at the irony. Of all the huts in all the cities in Italy, she had to walk into his. The day before his very name had made her heart race with fear and now he was promising her his protection.
"What's so funny?" he asked.
"Nothing. Well, what you just said. I mean, think about it. Can you believe you actually just said those words?"
Draco frowned, and then a smile slowly crept across his face as he remembered what he'd said. "You're right. I can't believe it. It's just so – natural, I guess. This place is like something outside of time. Nothing that was true before is true now."
"I know what you mean," she said, barely above a whisper. "I feel it too."
After a moment, he said, "I promise I will never hurt you, Hermione. It feels like you have single handedly given me a second chance. No one – except the old man – has ever offered me another chance. As if to suggest that I deserved one."
"If everything I've heard is true about how evil you are, then I can't even imagine what would happen if you turned those efforts for good."
"If? I told you, I'm coming back with you."
"I know. It's just still so hard to believe."
He sighed, running his hands through his hair. "I know. I'll believe it when I see it, too."
She laughed. "But it's you! Have a little more faith in yourself."
"Have you met me?" he asked, smiling back at her, really smiling. "I'm The-Boy-Who-Couldn't-Kill. That's going on my headstone when I'm dead and six-feet under."
She kept laughing. "Right next to, 'Draco Malfoy: Here Lies the Most Beautiful Ferret Ever To Have Existed."
He scowled, but with a friendly glint in his eyes. "As if your headstone will be much better! 'Here lies Granger, The Only Person in the World Who Cared About Hogwarts: A History, Knitted 500 Hats and Scarves For Poor Dobby, and Could Never Tame Her Horrid Hair.'"
She couldn't stop laughing. She hadn't laughed in such a long time; she couldn't remember ever laughing so freely. And it wasn't even that funny, but it just felt so good.
"I think yours would also mention your girlish grooming habits, Draco. Seriously, no one has hair like that."
"Oh? You liked my hair, did you?"
She giggled. "Who didn't? Lavender and Parvati talked about it all the time."
They both became silent. Days at Hogwarts, though not that long ago, felt like another lifetime to Hermione now.
"Do you miss school?" she asked. "I mean, those simple days when the biggest concern was what would be served at lunch, and how many points Snape would deduct from Gryffindor in Potions this time? You know, predictable things."
"Yeah, sometimes. But school wasn't nearly as easy for me, you know. I knew there was much more going on than most, especially after fourth year."
Lightning flashed, as if to underscore the meaning behind his words. The thunder followed after only 'two one thousand.'
"What do you think all of this – today – means? Do you think it means anything?"
"Yes," he said softly, and he took her hand in his again, rubbing it in a comforting way.
"What?" she asked.
He shrugged. "I'm not sure, really."
"Come on, Draco. What?"
"Maybe – maybe we shouldn't take this lightly. This can't be a complete accident. I'm not saying someone set us up, but something outside of ourselves brought both of us here. I mean, what are the chances of you and me running into each other in Pompeii, Italy, in the same small house, when there are hundreds of little houses, just like this one? We're not exactly in Hogsmeade, you know." He ran his free hand through his hair. "I think it could mean something." He paused, looking thoughtful, then shook his head. "I don't know."
"What were you thinking?"
"That maybe when we leave, we're not supposed to be the same people we were when we came here."
She stared at the handkerchief in her hand, embroidered with the initials of the enemy, and decided she would keep it. It would be proof of her witness to him, and of his witness to her. She tucked it away into her bag, releasing his hand.
"Hey – " he started, and then stopped. Maybe he understood. Then he looked at her thoughtfully. "I think it's your turn."
She looked at him questioningly. "My turn?"
"Yes. I think maybe you're supposed to cry now."
She laughed. "Oh, do you?" She shook her head. "I have tried. I've done just about everything I can think of. I've watched sappy movies; I've read parts of books that have always made me cry in the past. I've thought about that moment over and over, and nothing helps. It will happen. It has to, right? But I don't know when, and I feel like I'm walking around in a fog all the time.".
"Can I help?" he asked quietly, and she knew he wanted to. They were so close, and when he said those words, all sound ceased. All she could hear was him breathing, all she could feel was the lack of warmth around the hand he had held. Then she blinked. She couldn't hear the rain.
Hermione turned to look out the window and saw that though it was still grey, it was only drizzling. "You already have, in a way. Today was the first day I felt the fog lift. Not completely, but partially. And that's something."
"Do you have anything of his with you, Hermione? Maybe something he gave you?"
She turned back to him. "Uhm, oh, yes, this bracelet," she said, taking it out of her pack and showing it to him. "It was a birthday present."
"Let's bury it."
"What? No! This is one of the only things I have that he gave me!" She pulled it back and clutched it to her chest, as if afraid he would try to take it from her.
"You came here to move on. Let's do this. Together. It will be – appropriate, I think."
She stared at the man in front of her, a complete stranger. He stood up and held out his hand to her. She looked at his hand, then his face. A soft smile played about his mouth, and his pale grey eyes shone with something other than the tears he'd been shedding, almost as if they were emitting their own light.
Cautiously, she accepted his hand, and he helped her stand, leading her out of the house and into the drizzle. The grey world persisted despite the relenting of the rain—grey sky, grey buildings, grey clouds in her heart. Neither of them cared about the drizzle.
They walked in front of the house and Draco found a clear spot in the ground.
"We have to make this quick, so no one sees us," said Hermione. "What with this being an ancient ruin and all."
"No problem," he said, digging a deep hole with his wand. "We can Disillusion the bracelet and erase any evidence we've disturbed the earth." He then stood and turned to Hermione. She was staring at the where the hole had disappeared.
"You can do this, Hermione," he said quietly, encouragingly. "One thing I'm certain of is that you are strong enough to do this."
She fell to her knees and carefully dropped the bracelet into the hole. Her eyes filled with tears. Then Draco knelt beside her and, after a look at her, started to cover it with dirt. A single tear fell from her flooded eyes. When the hole was covered, Draco stood and pulled her up with him. He took her hand in his and held it tight.
"Do you want to say something?" he asked, almost at a whisper. The rain continued to drizzle down, falling on the patch of freshly patched dirt. She shook her head. "If I may?" he whispered. She nodded.
Draco cleared his throat. "Weasley."
Hermione's smiled to herself.
"Ron. A strong wizard. Son. Brother. Friend." He looked down at the top of Hermione's head. "His bull-headedness, quick temper, and fierce loyalty will be missed by all who knew him. Someone else should be talking about him now; I was never nice to Ron. I envied what he had, because it was what I never had – a full family of people who loved him. True, he didn't have a lot in the way of possessions, but he had more love than even his family could contain. They shared it with anyone who would receive it. He had true friends, who would give their lives for him. He had a girl who loved him more than anyone deserves."
Hermione looked up at him, a puzzled expression on her face.
Draco continued. "And even though I didn't count him a friend, he was the richest bloke I ever knew."
Draco actually sounded like he meant everything he said. It was so simple, the truth he'd expounded. But she still couldn't cry. Instead, she couldn't help but laugh a little at Draco's eulogy—the end reminded her of a film she'd seen at Christmas. Her shoulders shook and Draco put his arm around her and pulled her close to him. She realized he probably thought she was crying. She looked up at him, his hair now dripping from the rain, dressed head to toe in pitch black. She laughed again, out loud this time, and Draco looked down at her.
She shook her head. "Nothing."
Silence. They both watched the place where they'd buried her bracelet, maybe waiting for something profound to happen.
"Let's go inside. It's raining harder," said Draco, pulling her after him, his arm still around her. And in that moment, she really believed that he would protect her, and not just now. Even when they returned to the Order, even when they were fighting Death Eaters.
Draco guided her back into their little house. He dried them both, and then made sure the warming charm he'd put on his cloak that was still wrapped tightly around her shoulders had remained active.
Once they were both seated on their bench, Hermione spoke. "Thank you, Draco. That was really… nice, actually."
"Sure. I meant it. Did it help any?"
"I feel better, if that's what you mean."
"You sure laughed more than I expected."
"It was ironic, don't you think? I mean, you talking about Ron."
"I'm glad it did you some good."
"And who were you talking about? That girl who loved Ron."
He looked at her with obvious confusion. "Well, you, I thought."
Hermione shook her head. "No, we were never more than friends."
Draco shifted uncomfortably. "Oh."
In the silence that followed, Hermione heard nothing but the rain, steadily falling, beating a rhythm she'd missed until then. An upbeat rhythm, one of hope, maybe. "Draco, what do we do when it stops raining?"
He turned around to look out the window, and then looked back at her.
"I guess we go. Only, when do I go back with you?"
"Well, we still have a week of vacation left." A thought, a wiggling, squirming thought crept into Hermione's mind and planted itself there, forcing her to pay it attention. Of course, it was a pleasing thought, so it didn't take a lot of effort to be heard.
"I can wait a week. I'll find a little hole to hide in."
"What if… what if you didn't?"
He looked at her oddly.
After another turn of the earth, Hermione spoke. "I hadn't laughed in a long time, even before he died. Yes, I will take you back to the Order with me, and I won't let them hex you." She looked at him, smiling through watery eyelashes. "Promise." He smiled back, through still red and puffy eyes. "Only…you have to do something for me."
He nodded. "Anything."
"Come with me for the rest of my trip. Make me laugh."
He blinked, and she knew this was the ultimate test. Would he – could he – do this? Who was this man? Would he let her know him?
Draco looked at her, his expression oddly blank. He took time in answering. "Why would you want to do that?"
She shrugged, now embarrassed at her offer. "You'd be in the Muggle world, where no one's likely to look for you, and it's better than sitting in a hole somewhere, don't you think?" She figured that he would not take her offer. It was much too soon. They weren't even friends. They –
"Sure," he said stiffly. She looked at him, and he gave her a tight smile. "An actual holiday would probably be really nice. Even if I have to spend it with you," he said. Hermione looked at him questioningly, but saw that he was smiling more easily now. She punched his arm lightly and he winced, reaching to grab his arm.
"Oh! Are you okay?"
"Yeah. Just got in a little scuffle with my father before I left."
"Does it hurt?"
"Just a little gash. I'll be fine."
Hermione looked at him. "So, you'll come with me for the rest of my trip, then we'll return to England together and you'll turn yourself over to the Order."
"Yes." He paused and looked away for a moment before turning to look at her unwaveringly. "You've seen me at my worst today, Hermione. I want you to see me at my best. Whatever that is."
The rain continued for the rest of the day. Hermione stayed in the frozen hut with the Death Eater until both of them were too hungry to think about anything else. Finally, they decided to brave the rain in order to eat. As the rain pounded two figures emerged from the house. The shorter one opened a small, red umbrella, meant for only one person, and handed it to the taller one. He took it, smiled at her, and held it over them both. The girl got wet on one side and the boy put his free arm around her to pull her close to him, away from the edge of the rain.
They walked in silence through the ancient ruins, unconcerned about where they were going or how they were going to get there. They just walked forward, two figures huddled under a small red umbrella, a spot of color on a grey world.
A/N: Thank you for reading!
The verse in the picture is part of a poem called 'A Red Umbrella' by Alicelotus. The entire poem can be found at http://my.