Disclaimer: I think we've all realized by now that if I were indeed responsible for Harry Potter et al, the series would never have been completed.

A/N: Oh sweet baby Jebus, I'm actually updating Guilt! It's a miracle! Or, you know, something moderately unlikely, but exciting none-the-less. Wanna hear something shocking? 164 users have this story on alert, and 103 have favorited it. I wonder how many of those people actually remember what it's about? Hmm. Curious.

Chapter Nineteen: His Best Hope

Draco anxiously paced his cell, frantic gray eyes darting to the heavy wooden door with each turn he made. Having neither watch nor window, he had no way of determining the time other than his own fairly unreliable internal clock, but he reasoned that the time for Hermione's visit must surely be approaching. He'd spent the morning thinking about her recent visit to the Manor and worrying over the severity of the attack she experienced there, so much so that he had finally abandoned his attempts at reading and succumbed to the restless pacing his body craved in her absence.

When the door finally swung open, he sighed in acute relief before pulling Hermione into his arms the second her familiar head of unruly hair entered the room, a quietly amused Waverly following close behind. Hermione was caught off guard by his sudden embrace and mumbled something unintelligible against his chest, spurring him to loosen his hold so she could speak audibly.

"Draco, what's wrong?"

He hooked a finger under her chin, tilting her face up for his examination, scrutinizing every line and shadow as though the truth of her well-being was written in code upon them. "I heard about what happened yesterday, are you alright? I've been so worried."

Hermione's cheeks colored both in embarrassment over her episode and in response to the intensity of his gaze. "I-I'm fine; it was silly, really. I had a nice long rest yesterday, and I feel perfectly well, today."

"Hm." Draco continued his study of her face, noting with relief that her eyes did look less tired than the last time he'd seen her. Their exchange was interrupted by the tactful throat-clearing of Barrister Waverly, who was standing awkwardly by the now closed door, her eyes focused down on her notepad.

Hermione's head snapped around at the sound. "Oh, so sorry, Barrister!"

The older witch smiled fondly at Hermione. "No worries, dear, but perhaps we'd better begin discussing the trial? Our time is growing rather short."

They spent the rest of the morning going over the list of testimonies they would present on Draco's behalf, starting with Narcissa, then Hermione, Harry, and finally ending with Draco's own testimony. They discussed Ron's conversation with Barrister Hannah and the impact his story could have on the trial. It seemed that most of Draco's activities after sixth year could not be proven directly, and were lacking willing witnesses to condemn him. However, his repeated attempts on Dumbledore's life were another matter. While it had never been proven that Draco was behind the cursed necklace and poisoned mead that nearly claimed the lives of Katie Bell and Ron, they had no doubts that Hannah would use them in court. The fact that he came so close to unintentionally killing two minors was going to make it exceptionally difficult to gain sympathy from the wizengamot.

The atmosphere in Draco's cell was feeling rather bleaker than it had the day before. Draco and Hermione sat together on the cot, hands held in silent contemplation while Waverly packed away her materials.

She paused halfway into fastening her satchel and eyed the couple cautiously. "Mr. Malfoy…Draco, there is another possible course of action you might consider."

"What? What else is there?"

She cleared her throat, focusing her eyes on her hands. "The atmosphere right now, social and political, is very different than it was during the war. People are tired of the old, secretive way our government was used to functioning. There's been more and more movement towards transparency. Openness. People want the truth, but their trust doesn't come easily. They want proof."

Hermione tightened her hold on Draco's hand, emitting a small "Oh."

Draco cast a puzzled look from Hermione to Waverly and back. "What do you mean?"

Waverly cleared her throat before continuing. "You're aware, I'm sure, that the forceful use of veritaserum in a criminal trial has been unlawful for more than a century now." She watched Draco nod once before pausing, his eyes widening with realization. "They can't make you take it, but you could volunteer. Voluntary use of veritaserum would garner huge favor with the wizengamot. It eliminates all doubt."

Hermione and Draco remained silent as they processed this information, so Waverly continued. "It's a gamble. Hannah can't prove much of his case, but he doesn't necessarily have to, does he? If he can make you look bad enough in front of the court, they'll convict you regardless. Taking the veritaserum would prove to the court several things. First, that you're not hiding. If you can openly admit everything you've done, you have a real chance to express genuine remorse. And they'll believe you. Without it, you can go in there and express heartfelt regret and noble intentions until you're blue in the face, and all Hannah has to do is call you a liar."

Hermione squeezed Draco's hand. "It's the one way of guaranteeing that they'll really hear you."

"But you have to mean it. If there's even a hint of anti-muggle sentiment or Death Eater support, he'll find it. And it'll all be over."

Draco swallowed nervously. "If I take it, you'll both question me, then? You and Hannah?"

Waverly nodded. "And in these cases, nothing is off limits. He could ask you anything he wants."

Draco blanched at the thought. He'd said, done, and even thought an awful lot that he wasn't proud of. He couldn't imagine confessing all of it to the wizarding world—a world that already hated him on principle. They'd eat him alive.

"I wouldn't even suggest it if I felt confident that we could win without it."

Hermione looked sharply at Waverly. "You don't think we'll win?"

"I honestly don't know." Waverly paused, breathing deeply. "Draco can't claim innocence based on actions. As far as actions and physical evidence are concerned, he's guilty. His innocence lies in the motivation behind those actions. And, most importantly, where he plans to go from here. Intent is everything. If we can make the wizengamot see him as a scared kid who made a mistake, but who's also willing to spend the rest of his life making up for it, they'll want to give him that chance. We just have to make them see."

Draco nodded, looking pained but thoughtful. "Can I just…think about it?"

"Of course. Tomorrow is our last day to prepare; I'll be here in the morning and we can discuss this further. For now, I need to go and speak with your other witnesses, just in case."

Hermione stood to see Waverly off, leaving Draco to stare pensively at the wall. She stood a moment by the closed door, watching his face, trying to decipher the thoughts behind his frozen expression.

"What are you thinking?"

Draco let out a tired sigh. "I'm thinking the veritaserum may be my best chance."

Hermione again sat beside him, threading warm fingers through his. "But?"

"But I can't imagine being so vulnerable, just willingly offering myself and all my secrets up to be scrutinized by a group of people who already hate me. The idea is, quite frankly, terrifying."

"But who really cares what those people think?"

"Well, seeing as how they're quite literally holding my life in their hands with this decision…"

Hermione nudged him sharply. "That's not what I meant. How much of this is you worrying what everyone will think of you, of what you've done?"

Draco shrugged, his eyes trained down at their folded hands. "I'm not like you, Hermione. You've never seemed bothered by what anyone thought—you always do what you think is right, no matter the cost. That's not me; that's never been me. For years, I did as I was told, listening to all the wrong people, working for their favor, and this is where it's gotten me."

Hermione rested her head on his shoulder, letting him work up a bit to what was really bothering him.

"It's not really even about everyone else, though. I…I'm afraid of what will happen once you've heard everything. I don't want you to go back to hating me again, but I'm sure that bastard Hannah will pull out all the stops. I'm not proud of the things I've done…"

"Draco…" Hermione gently turned him to face her, smoothing soft hair away from troubled gray eyes. "I never hated you, and I never could. I know what you've done. Maybe not the intimate details, but I get the general idea. I also know that's not you. You have to know that, no matter what happens with this trial, it's not going to change how I feel about you. I love you, Draco."

Draco looked hard at Hermione, searching her face for hidden truths before replying in a soft, broken voice, "Why?"

Hermione, not knowing what to say, just pulled him to her, pressing her lips softly against his and wrapping her arms around him.

oOo

Draco spent the majority of that night pacing in his cell. He forced himself to think over his actions, his past, stripping away all of his self-preserving blockades in search of the honest truth at the heart of things. He considered questions he might come up against, wondering how he'd answer, knowing that his own answers just might take even him by surprise. Draco had lied to a lot of people in his life, but none so much as himself.

He'd never been one for introspection; never felt the need to question his actions, his motives. He'd never wanted to look too closely, afraid of what he might see. Afraid he'd see someone cold and ruthless. Someone without remorse, without feeling. He was afraid he'd see a Death Eater.

Draco had lived his life as a bully—selfish, cowardly, cruel. Was that who he was, truly? Was there more to him than the awful things he'd done? Hermione thought so, but how could she? He'd treated her worse than anyone, knowing she'd never deserved it.

He continued his internal questioning well into the night, going back and forth looking for the truth at the base of it all. Finally, mentally and physically exhausted, he came to the only conclusion that made any sense.

He'd take the veritaserum. He would face his demons head on, for once in his miserable life. He would spill his soul before the court, and let them make an honest judgement, placing his life in their hands. He would tell the truth, and let the world sort out his guilt. And if, by some miracle, Hermione loved him still, he could start to believe he actually deserved it.