Disclaimer: I own no part of the Harry Potter franchise; all characters and ideas belong to J.K. Rowling.
It is hard to tell of happiness.
Time goes by and we feel safe too soon.
-One Stab: Legends of the Fall
In the heart of the ministry, deep in the bowels of subterranean London, an argument was taking place.
"We know exactly what it is! Percy, we have to do something now!"
"These disturbances are nothing. I refuse to wake the Minister because some wizards got drunk and had a few hallucinations! Now get back to work- we have an early shift tomorrow and I'd like to get some sleep tonight."
The other redhead stood back from his brother's desk, stifling barely controlled anger. He sighed, frustrated with the pigheadedness of the man before him. Honestly, how he'd ever gotten through five years of school without killing him…he ran a hand through his well trimmed hair and counted to ten. Obviously, convincing Percy to take action would require subtlety.
After a prolonged silence, he spoke again. "Well…perhaps I have been a bit hasty-," his brother eyed him with smug approval, "but to be honest, I'd feel better if you'd at least let me call a meeting between my department and Malfoy's."
Percy's gaze faltered and he focused on his paperwork once more. "Fine," he said shortly. "If it's the only way I can get you out of here."
"Thanks, Percy, you won't regret it. I promise!" His brother scowled after him as he left the office.
"Just one meeting, George- and don't you dare bring up the wards! I refuse to deal with any panics you create! George?"
Percy's voice fell on an empty hallway. His brother was gone, apparated already- probably home, where he could floo Malfoy first thing. Home…he groaned and walked back to his desk. He hadn't been kidding when he'd said he had mounds of paperwork. Groaning again, he sat down to finish up so he could follow George 's lead. Perhaps his mother had even left some dinner on the stove for him this time.
To look at, Draco Malfoy hadn't changed an awful lot in the last ten years. He was still tall and slim, with pale blond hair- almost white- and grey eyes that had lightened considerably. His wife liked to call them silver, but it was a vanity he never acknowledged. He still held himself with an air of belonging and arrogance that lingered about him like fumes on a waste truck. He still smirked when he didn't know what to say; he still talked down his nose to people; and he most definitely still preferred his own company to that of anyone else on the planet, save one.
His insides, however, were another matter entirely. There existed scars on his psyche that he had long ago given up hope of ever mending; he now sighed with relief whenever someone else took it upon themselves to speak first; he didn't need to have the last word in a discussion; and he lived for kind words from strangers. He'd learned to live with the existence of muggleborns in the wizarding world- not simply tolerate, but actually live with them and their muggle contraptions, too. He no longer believed in blood telling, except perhaps in that purity of bloodline just led to problems anymore.
Most of all, though, Draco Malfoy had learned how to do without.
For ten years- longer, really- he'd gotten by without a word, a glance, a motion. He'd drifted along the outskirts of life, always doing and never being. Studying to take his mind off things (her), working to keep himself busy (and not thinking about her). He'd even joined an amateur Quidditch league once the war was over, hoping that all the physical exertion would let him finally sleep peacefully through the night.
The war…it had taken a lot away from him. It had taken his respect, his honor. It had claimed the lives of countless of his friends. It had kept him from being with her. It wasn't just her that mattered. He knew as well as anyone that she was not the only reason he had problems. That he was mental.
He'd gotten married at twenty- perhaps too young for some, but he'd wanted to. Oh, how he'd wanted to. And then a baby three years later. A little boy. The heir to his fortune. The apple of his eye. The only thing that took his mind off of everything. Well, for a while, at least, because they didn't even know if he had magic! Two pureblooded parents and their little boy hadn't shown one sign of magic in nearly six years. It was too much to bear, at times. He knew, somehow, that if only she had let him, if only he could have been with her instead, this wouldn't have happened to him. And if she wasn't going to be with him, then could she at least stop plaguing him? Couldn't he just get over her and move on?
But a pair of pleading eyes wouldn't let him be. And he didn't even have her to confront, to ask to please leave him alone because he'd done everything he could that night to save them! Hadn't he?
He rolled over in his sleep
Then there was the other pair of eyes- so terrifying, so frightening. As if one man could eat him alive, make him be the coward she'd always known him to be. The bad person. The one on the losing side. For all his scars and time in counseling, for all his trials and confessionals, she wouldn't leave him. In a way, he didn't want her to. In a way, he knew he deserved to suffer and be reminded.
No, the war had not been kind to Draco Malfoy. Ten years had not been kind. And Hermione Granger had not been kind.
Then again, neither had he.
He slept on, fitfully.
Somewhere on the other side of London, Hermione slept peacefully next to her husband. If the years had not been kind to Draco Malfoy, they had only helped Hermione to blossom. Her hair was still a bright brown- the chestnut highlights shone more brilliantly now. Her curls were perfectly manageable, her teeth were straight, her eyesight sharp. Though she had not gained height, she had gained enough weight for the pallor from sunless days in libraries and dark corners of the earth to be replaced with rosy cheeks and charming curves.
She and Harry had survived the war in a blur of victory that would only be remembered in photo albums stacked upon dusty shelves. They were albums the Potters never looked at; not because they were not proud of their accomplishments or were unhappy with the events past…but simply because they were events past. Perhaps someday, when their children were old enough, they would draw the dusty tomes from their spots on the shelves to reminisce and teach life lessons. Lessons that had come very hard and at a high price.
For, while Hermione had survived and flourished, it was not done without any heartache. There had been deaths, as she'd anticipated- although not the ones she'd expected- and there had been suffering. Oh, there had been suffering.
She whimpered softly in her sleep and the arms of her husband circled her instinctively, cradling her to his warmth. Keeping her safe. He had kept her safe through it all. In betrayal and torture and even torment at the hands of an old, would-be lover, he had seen her through. It was a comfort to her.
Now she had everything she had wished for, hoped for. Her life, the life of her husband, a happy, healthy child with him. A career in the ministry, saving lives, writing laws. Conserving the world she loved so dearly with efficiency and competency. She was loved by all who knew her; she was adored. She was not only ultimately happy, despite the grief she felt from the loss of friends and family so many years ago, she was content.
It was a place she had long dreamed of and struggled toward, this contentment.It was well deserved.
She sighed and snuggled down into her husband's arms. The dawn was far off for now and the hours of sleep she took were as kind to her as the years had been. Her conscience, if it had ever been marred, was clear now. Old loves had been replaced with new…old desires replaced with joy.
She slumbered on.
A loud pop sounded close to Draco's ear and he sat up quickly, dragging the covers with him. Pansy rolled over in her sleep and grumbled. He looked down first at the house elf beside him who was watching him with great, big, shining eyes. He blinked and rubbed his own eyes.
"Who?" he asked, his voice hoarse with sleep.
"It is a Master Weasley, Sir."
Draco blinked again and looked over at Pansy, who was flailing one arm about, trying to snatch the covers back. He smirked and slipped from the bed before reaching back over to tuck them up under her chin. She smiled in her sleep, her snub nose wrinkling up with pleasure. He turned back to the elf.
"In my study?" At the confirming nod from the elf, Draco marched down the hall and into the other room. A face peered out at him from the fireplace.
"May I?" it asked. Draco waved his hand and the face turned into a full figure. Ah. It was the other Weasley. Or was that the other other Weasley? He shook his head, still fuzzy minded from waking up. He gestured at a chair, which George took with great alacrity, and then sat down across from him.
"What's the emergency?"
George's face grew grim. "No niceties?"
Draco smiled wryly. "I have nothing to offer you but my services. So what is it?"
"Well, if you must know. It's the wards, Malfoy."
Draco sat up a little straighter. "And you aren't supposed to be telling me that, are you?" He paused as the redhead nodded. "You told your brother?"
"Of course. How do you think he reacted?"
"Well, he let you come and talk to me at all, so that's a sign he's not a complete idiot."
George nodded again. "True. I want to set up a meeting between our departments. We're not supposed to talk about the real reason behind it with anyone."
Draco raised an eyebrow.
"Well, anyone else," he amended. "But I plan on sharing with my number one, so please feel free to follow suit."
"You trust Granger?" Draco couldn't help it, the words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself. "She's a notorious worrier!"
"She gets the job done, Malfoy. Can you say the same of Smith?"
Draco felt himself bristle and beat the feeling away. After all, George had passed over his mistake- honestly, when was he going to stop calling her by her maiden name? She'd been married six years already. Ah well, George was understanding enough. Anyone who left him his dignity these days was a friend. Besides which, he and George had found themselves working together on more than one tough project over the last two years, which was how long he'd been Head of Muggle Relations. He needed to stay on the man's good side.
Draco's department handled basically anything that was muggle related. That meant crime, crime…more crime and the occasional mishap, or, Disasters We At The Ministry Didn't Want To Take The Fall For. It was a fairly new department, being only seven years old, and one which he'd helped to create. It was actually suggested that he help, the implication being that his misdemeanors of the past might be forgotten if he took the job. It was a department where many reformed death eaters, purists, and cowards of the war had been placed. They worked in close contact with Magical Law Enforcement most of the time; Draco knew it was to keep everyone on their best behavior. Still, their other major partner had turned out to be the good folk at Magical Accidents and Catastrophes.
George had risen to power in that department fairly quick. Everyone at the Ministry pretended it was because of how extremely competent he was. In reality, it was because his background with Weasley's Wizard Wheezes made him most, ah, knowledgeable. Draco contemplated the other man for a moment. George hadn't faired well during the war. He'd survived, true, but he bore at least as many emotional scars as the next man. Draco knew a little of the story. Fred had almost been killed- been in the hospital for weeks- and George had sworn to be a better wizard if he survived. So the day Fred woke up, he'd given up his position (though not his stocks) in the business and applied to the Ministry for a job.
He blinked again and snapped his fingers. The same elf who'd woken him appeared with a tray of mugs and a coffeepot.
"What's this? I thought you couldn't offer me anything. You've been holding out!"
"Shut up and drink, Weasley." Draco poured and the other man accepted. "And leave my men out of it for now. They're as good as any others and Merlin knows the Ministry gives us nothing to work with."
George waved a hand vaguely. "Enough. The Ministry itself doesn't have enough to work with if my brother is any indication. Now, let's talk about this and then we can get some shut eye before our big, disastrous debut in the boardroom."
"Fine," Draco replied.
Out the window, the first grey shades of dawn began to light the horizon. Draco called for more coffee. Weasley, he thought, is and always has been overly optimistic.
A morning owl swooped in on the third floor flat and scratched frenetically at a window. Harry smiled and lifted the sash to let in the creature who was damp with dew. She hooted solemnly, dropped the missive on the breakfast table, and took the sausage Harry proffered. Then she swept back out into the chilly morning. Harry glanced at the name on the paper. It was for Hermione- probably work.
He leaned back in his seat and looked back out the window, enjoying the breeze as it wafted in. He was always warm when he rose in the mornings- whether it was from sleeping next to another person all night or because Hermione always kept the thermostat turned way up, he wasn't sure. His wife had funny habits. She hated to be cold, but loved the winter. She made a mess when cooking, but was perfectly poised during a meal. It was like being married to two different people. He smiled again and finished up his tea before rising to go wash. A small noise caught his ear and he peered in the master bedroom.
Hermione was stirring. She rolled over and smiled sleepily at him.
"You had an owl from the office."
She frowned. "Already? I'm not even up yet!"
Harry grinned. "And why not? I've been up for an hour already."
She snorted and rolled back over. "Oh, go take a shower, you goody-goody morning person."
She heard the bathroom door close and the water start, then threw back the sheets and rolled herself from the bed. Pathetic. Hermione didn't know exactly when she'd stopped being a morning person, but she suspected it had something to do with her late nights. Ever since she'd taken the job at the Ministry it seemed like there was always something. Really, she would have thought that ten years after the war was over the fallout would have trickled off. No. Of course, people were just as stupid as ever. But at least this time things got taken care of in a timely fashion. Paperwork was always proper and action was always prompt. Actually, now that she thought about it, most of her late nights were her own fault. She sighed and padded out to the kitchen to have her morning cuppa. Maybe she needed to just take some time for herself. Starting now.
Ah, good. Harry had left plenty of tea for her. She was just taking her first sip when she spied the handwriting on the envelope. George. She should've known. Sighing, she decided to give herself fifteen more minutes of peace before opening the damned thing.
She heard the water turn off and a door opened a moment later. Harry wandered back out to the kitchen a few minutes later, hair damp, a few beads of water still clinging to his bare chest. He was wearing his dress pants, but held a shirt in either hand and was holding them up for inspection. Hermione giggled at him over the rim of her tea cup.
"Come on, Hermione, I have to appear in court today."
She waggled her eyebrows at him and put down the cup.
"Hermione…," he tried to sound very stern.
"You know," she replied thoughtfully, "I think I saw another shirt in your closet that suits your eyes."
She walked past him and back into the bedroom. He followed her unsuspectingly, only to be pounced on the moment he opened the closet door. Ten minutes later he sat back up from the bed and grinned, holding up the previously discarded shirts.
"Really, now. Which one?"
Hermione covered her face and moaned. "For Merlin's sake, Harry. You'll be wearing your Auror robes anyhow. Does it really matter?" Then she reached up and pulled him back to the bed rather determinedly.
Another five minutes later there was a timid knock on their door post.
Harry dissolved into laughter and stood up quickly as his wife's face flushed that bright pink he was so fond of. Hermione sat up herself and turned about, pulling her bath robe closed tightly. Her eyes took in the bleary face of her four year old; black curls tumbling down over her face in an inevitable rat's next. She smiled softly at the girl.
"Mummy, there's something at my window."
Hermione cast a sidelong glance at Harry who was innocently knotting a tie. She rose and padded across the hall to her daughter's room. Another owl was scratching at the window. She had Viola stand back and flung the window wide, snatching at the letter. The owl hooted, annoyed, and flew off. After closing the window, she stood and looked down at the letter. Another message from the office. Looks like I picked the wrong morning to take some time off, she thought.
Hermione smiled and knelt down, hugging the small girl, then picked her up and swung her around her hip. The girl squealed with laughter.
"Mummy needs to take a shower. Want to get clean for school with me?" The girl blinked her bright green eyes up at her and nodded happily. Well, at least someone doesn't care if I'm late. Narrowing her eyes at the letter she still held in her other hand, she tossed it onto the unmade bed and waltzed into the bathroom with her little girl. Harry smiled affectionately at them both before heading for the front door.
"Don't forget about dinner with the Longbottoms tonight!" Hermione called after him. He waved a hand and she heard the door close and then, a second later, lock. She smiled down at the mess of curls below her and turned on the water. Then, keeping the squirming bundle as still as possible, she reached for a hairbrush.
"Now, I know you hate this part, but please stay still, darling."
Moments later, howls filtered out of the bathroom. Hermione thanked Merlin for silencing charms and decided that once she was done getting Viola ready she would send a reply to George. Better not to keep him waiting too long, especially if the issue was important enough to warrant two owls.