Hermione laid on her back, her head comfortably cushioned by the soft plush pillow. Her eyes wandered over the ceiling and walls, watching the soft flickering glow of the candle dance around the room. She couldn't sleep. Hours had passed since she and Draco had said goodnight. The sky outside the window was already beginning to brighten slightly, turning from pitch black to a deep blue.
Draco had fallen asleep only an hour ago but Hermione's mind was too full, too busy to allow her any rest. Her mind flashed through pictures of each one of her friends wondering just what they were doing at that moment. She could visualize the faces of the death eaters clearer than she ever had in the past. She knew now just what they were capable of and hoped that her friends would suffer none of it. A rustle of blankets pulled her mind back to the room she was in. Draco gave a soft groan and Hermione looked over at him. His body lay still and quiet for a moment before he groaned again. His body twisted and she could see the tortured look on his face. His groaning became louder and his movements more pronounced. He was having a nightmare. Hermione stared at him with concern, her heart aching as she wondered where his dreams had taken him.
Hermione slipped her legs over the side of the bed and slowly walked over to him. "Draco…" she whispered softly. His lips twitched into a deep frown and he moaned again. "Draco," she whispered a bit louder, running her hand over his silky blonde hair.
Draco jumped in surprise, his eyes snapped open. He was breathing quickly, his face full of terror as he stared up at Hermione.
"It's okay," Hermione soothed. "You were just having a nightmare." Draco's rapid breathing slowed a little but he heart continued to race. His look of fear turned to one of frustration and embarrassment. "I'm sorry I woke you," Hermione apologized, sitting down on the edge of his bed. "Are you alright?"
Draco nodded his head slowly. "Yeah… yeah, I'm alright…" Hermione looked down at him, her warm brown eyes full of sad sympathy. "I'm sorry I woke you."
"No… I wasn't sleeping," Hermione said mournfully.
"Yeah, I had a hard time getting to sleep too," Draco agreed.
"I'm really sorry I woke you. You just sounded so frightened." Hermione tilted her head to the side to better look in his eyes.
"No, I'm glad you did," Draco replied, his mind recalling his terrible dream. And uncomfortable silence followed.
"Well…" Hermione said, getting to her feet. "Goodnight, I guess." Hermione started slowly walking back to her bed but stopped halfway and turned back to Draco.
Draco stared at her expectantly, but she just stood there biting her lip, unable to say what she was thinking. But he knew just what she wanted to ask. It was the same thing he wanted to ask… but he just couldn't. It just didn't feel right. They stared in each other's eyes, begging the other to say what they wanted to themselves. Draco finally realized that he too was biting his lower lip.
Draco sighed deeply and pulled back the corner of his blankets. Hermione gave him a warm grateful smile, full of relief, and climbed into Draco's bed. Draco threw the covers over her as she settled next to him. They both lay on their sides facing each other, their faces only inches apart. The bed was rather small for the both of them but they had grown used to being close to one another while they slept. So much so that it felt almost painful to sleep on separate sides of the room. Neither of them spoke a word, neither daring to touch each other. It had felt a little awkward when they first started sleep so close together in the chamber but quickly became comfortable. And although it was uncomfortable to be apart now, it was awkward once again. This wasn't the chamber. They were no longer in danger. But they could bear the thought of being alone yet.
"Draco..." Hermione whispered apprehensively.
"You're not going to leave... right?" she asked.
Draco gave a tiny chuckle. "I don't have a wand and I have no idea where I am, so I'd say that's a pretty safe bet."
"You know that's not what I mean..." Hermione continued sadly. Hermione's chest tightened with anxiety when Draco did not respond. "Draco, I don't want you to leave," she continued, her voice becoming high with her nervousness.
"Hermione..." Draco started slightly exasperated. The crease in Hermione's brow deepened and she found it harder to breathe as she wouldn't even look at her. "Hermione, we're not in the cellar anymore. This is the real world again."
"And what does that mean?" she asked, her voice rising as she came closer to tears.
"The last few weeks we've been living in a different world. Even now, just hours after being tortured, it seems like just a long terrible nightmare. This is the real world again. Things are different here. You don't need me anymore. You have Potter and Weasley, and all the other Weasleys," Draco explained.
"That doesn't mean I don't need you," Hermione said desperately.
"But it does," Draco insisted. "You've suffered alot and your pain is still very raw and it's clouding your judgment. You only see me as the man that's been there to comfort you through your suffering. But you're not suffering anymore. You're going to heal and you're going to see me for who I really am - who I was..."
"My pain is still raw but it's not clouding my judgment. We've changed, both of us. I know exactly who you are now, and it's helped me to see who you were all along," Hermione persisted. "I've not forgotten the past, I've forgiven it."
"But that's just it. This is the real world. No matter who I am now doesn't change who I've been or what I've done. Just because you've forgiven the past, it doesn't mean that others will. I was a death eater, Hermione. That's not something people are going to let go," he argued vehemently.
"But it can be forgiven!" Hermione demanded. "You never signed up for any of this. You were threatened with you life and the life of your family, and still in the face of it, you didn't carry out you-know-who's orders. You didn't kill Dumbledore and you were ordered to guard me and you protected me with great risk to yourself. Such things do not go unnoticed. Those things count! I'll stand up for you. I promise that I will give everything I've got and then some to protect you. If I have to pull strings I can and I will. I'll not let you be punished for crimes you never even committed!"
"Fine. Say that you can. Say that I'm saved from Azkaban. But that doesn't change what I've already said," Draco argued fervently. "We've grown close in a completely different world than this. We grew close because we needed to depend on each other. We're not there anymore! You've got your life back, and it's not a life I fit into."
"Things have changed! We've changed. My life isn't what it was. My life will never be the same again. I don't even know where I fit in my life anymore! It doesn't matter why we've grown close; the fact is, we are and that's not going to change just because our situation has. We became friends under the very worst circumstances. What makes you think that our friendship won't work now that things are better?" she challenged.
"We have changed. We're not the people we were a month ago, and much, much farther from the people we were a year ago, and the year before that. And we're going to keep changing. Next month we will be completely different people than we are today, and even farther from ourselves in a year's time. You're going to heal and you're going to see, I'm not who you think I am," Draco maintained.
"You're wrong. I do know who you are. Name one person who knows you better than me, yourself included," Hermione demanded. "We have changed and we've changed with and for each other. We will keep changing, but I don't understand why you think that we can't change together! We will be different next month and the month after that, but that doesn't mean that we have to grow apart! I want us to grow together..."
Draco sighed wearily. He didn't know what to say to that. Ever since the night that he picked her up and carried her from the study to the cellar, the night that he conjured the bed for her, he no longer knew what to do. His life had always been laid out for him; never did he have to wonder what to do with his life, the expectations had been there since the day he was born. But now he was free, not just from imprisonment in Malfoy Manor, but free to decide for himself what he should do with his life. And he was lost. Hermione was right that he didn't know who he was, and that scared him. He had no one. The people he once counted family and friends now disowned him. He had sided with those he called the enemy, but he didn't belong with them either. There was no place for him in the world anymore.
The only friend he had was laying there beside him, but he feared her as well. He felt closer to Hermione than anyone else in his life. She had cared for him like no one else ever had, but that was when she had no one else. Unlike him, she had many people who cared deeply for her and he feared he had no place among them. Potter was once his greatest enemy; it was very unlikely that they would be able to completely put such a rivalry behind them. Though Draco was a changed man, Potter was not a very forgiving one, and Weasley grudges were infamous. He feared committing himself to this girl for he worried that she would come to realize that he was not fit for her. Everything he once had, had been taken away from him. He now had nothing but the clothes on his back... and even those were not his. He was afraid of this friendship because it was unlike anything he'd ever known. It was a great risk and he wasn't sure he'd survive if it was taken away from him. It felt safer to withdraw than to be pushed away.
"Hermione..." he breathed dejectedly. Hermione tucked her head down, hiding her face from him, and her body began to shake with silent sobs. Draco looked on her with a pained expression, his heart breaking with hers. "Hermione..." he whispered, placing a comforting hand on her upper arm.
"I really thought we'd grown close... I really believed you cared for me..." she cried.
"I do… more than you know," he fervently assured, bending is head closer to hers.
"Then why would you want to forget me?" Hermione implored. She looked up into his mysterious grey eyes, her soft brown eyes shining with the hurt he was causing.
"I don't," Draco replied honestly. "You and I may get along now, but that doesn't mean anyone else will accept me. In fact, I'm sure they won't. I don't want to sit around and wait for you to realize that I really don't fit in your life."
"And you think I make my decisions based on what other people think?" Hermione asked indignantly, a slight bite in her tone.
"Actually, I am concerned you might…" Draco admitted heatedly.
"Draco, nothing anyone says or does will change how I feel about you," Hermione answered sternly.
"Look. I don't want to put you behind me…" Draco's heated tone mellowed with Hermione's, but he still sounded serious with a slight edge to his voice. "I've never cared about anyone the way I care about you, which just makes everything even more complicated than it already is. I risked everything and I lost everything. I don't exactly feel comfortable investing in something that's so… unexpected and unpredictable. I don't want to decide to stick around for awhile just to have you change your mind about me."
"Why do you keep expecting me to change my mind? When I choose a friend, I never change my mind. And you act like you're such a terrible person…I've seen you at your best, and I've seen you at your worst. I know who you are!" Hermione ardently proclaimed. She closed her eyes and breathed in a unsteadily as she determinedly repressed the tears that were threatening to form.
"Hermione… I didn't mean to insinuate that-" Draco started soberly, but Hermione was quick to cut him off.
"You don't know what you mean, because you don't know what you want," Hermione accused. "If fear is the only reason you want to quit me, then don't. I should be the last person in the world you fear. Can't you see what you mean to me?!" Hermione pleaded. Draco stared straight into her deep brown eyes, searching for the answer that she expected him to know. Her voice became as soft as her eyes, "Draco… can't you see that I love you?"
And there it was, the expression in her eyes that had been eluding him. It was not as though Draco had never seen a person in love before. He had seen the emotion simply pouring out of people when he was at school, couples walking around everywhere with silly little grins and a sappy look in their eyes, looking as if they were about to burst. But that was just it. Hermione never wore a ridiculous grin, her eyes never shined with a sappy infatuation, there was no desperate obsession. This love she confessed was something Draco had never known before. It wasn't a light flitty feeling that bubbled on the surface. The feelings she had for him, whatever they could be called, were deep and solid and… comfortable. This love did not need physical signs of affection to survive, only requesting a simple acknowledgment of its existence.
She cared for him, loved him in a way that he never knew possible, and yet in placing a label on her feelings for him, he realized that it was the exact thing he'd been carrying around in himself. He loved her too. His care and concern for her, his feelings of protectiveness and possessiveness, were strong solid feelings that were anchored deep inside him, feelings that he knew would never fade no matter where life might lead them. It was the pain he felt when he thought of leaving and moving on in his life without her, the pain when he worried that she might one day reject him. It was the feeling that gave him the resolve to forfeit his life to ensure her safety and escape. It was love they shared - deep, steady, constant love. It was a love that demanded no romance, but upon its admission and upon its requite, an amorous desire fell upon them.
Draco wove his fingers into her still damp curls and pressed his lips to hers in a sober yet passionate kiss. Hermione placed her hand on the back of his neck, holding him to her as her lips moved in slow time with his. Slowly their lips parted and Draco rested his forehead against hers. Both of them were breathing slowly and steadily as their bodies and minds buzzed with the intense new thoughts and emotions. Hermione stared into his eyes, slightly worried by his response. But his eyes were closed, the tiniest of smiles on his lips. What had he meant by it?
Draco opened his eyes and saw that hers were filled with concern. His smile grew, but still looked so small, but still mild and pensive. He wrapped an arm around her back and pulled her against his chest, lightly kissing her forehead. "I'll not leave," he whispered. "At least not until I'm sent away…"
Draco pressed his nose into her soft brown hair and breathed in deeply. He couldn't refuse her. "I promise."
Hermione smiled and sighed deeply.
"You know I never really wanted to leave you… right?"
Hermione nodded against his chest and wrapped an arm around his waist. "I know."
There were a million more things Draco wanted to say, a million things he felt. His mind was still protesting, coming up with reasons why this wasn't a good idea, but his heart would not allow him to speak. Whatever pain his mind imagined this could cause, his heart told him that it would be much more painful to leave. Neither of them knew just what they had or where it was going, but they couldn't bear to let it go. Hermione breathed a deep comfortable sigh and Draco snorted a silent chuckle to himself. If anyone had told him even a month ago that he could fall in love with Hermione Granger and give up everything he had for her, he would never have believed it. No one would have. But now he wondered why he had wasted so much of his life hating her instead of getting to know and love her. How different their lives could have been.
A tiny snore issued from the girl in his arms. She had been completely exhausted, but it was until she was with him that she was comfortable enough to give into rest. Draco smiled and sighed, relaxing himself against her and allowing himself to join her in peaceful rest.
Hermione woke an hour and a half later to a burning sensation in her ear, the sky outside a light grey of dawn. It took her a moment to gather her thoughts and she touched her earring. The burning sensation continued. Seconds passed turning into a minute, then two. Hermione became more and more concerned each passing second. Someone, at least one, was not responding to the call of their ring. Hermione tried to tell herself that the person just might be unconscious, but an ache in her chest told her that it was more. Someone, at least one, could have been killed. The battle had lasted for hours and the battle would have casualties. Hermione's stomach became queasy at the thought. She didn't want to imagine who might have been lost. Her heart and mind could not bear it so she shut the idea out completely.
Nearly three minutes after her ring started burning, the message started. Hermione concentrated extremely hard on deciphering the code. She let out a large sigh at the end, tears gathering in her eyes. 'Harry's alive – defeated V. Over.'
It was over. The battle was finished and Harry survived. The thought of those that might not have survived flickered in her mind again, but she quickly pushed it away. There was no use in worrying over it yet. Though the battle was done, Hermione was sure that there was still much work to be done there. She would not receive another message for at least a few more hours. There was plenty of time to think and worry when they returned.
There would be a terrible mixture of sorrow and joy when they returned and she could not waste her energy on them just now. There would be a time for mourning, a time for rebuilding, and a time for healing, but that time was not now. Hermione had been through a lot and there was much tribulation still ahead. No, now was not a time to think of the future. It was a time to rest. She would need a lot of strength and energy to get through the days ahead. Now was a time relax and recover, for when she woke next she would begin to fight a new battle, a battle to rebuild her life and the many other things that had been damaged during the war. There was much work and a different kind of suffering ahead.
Hermione smiled at the blonde boy sleeping peacefully next to her, his slow breaths soothing her anxiety. She snuggled closer to him. The freedom Harry had won the world, though it was a great relief, did not come without consequence and suffering. The defeat of Voldemort didn't mean that the next morning things would be just as they had been four years ago. There was a lot of work to do. But Hermione knew that so long as she and Draco had each other for support, they could find the strength to make it through. They would help to rebuild the wizarding world and build a place for themselves inside it.
There it is. I really hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I loved writing it.
But I know that my imagination isn't satisfied here, so I'm writing a sequel. I just finished writing the first chapter and I'll be posting it under the title "Out of the Ashes"
I'll let you all know though, because I haven't given myself a good headstart in writing, I'm not going to be able to post everyday. (I usually make sure I have at least 5 chapters written before I start posting) But I can still promise updates at least twice a week. Thanks again for reading and for all your wonderful reviews. You really know how to make a girl feel loved. ^^
Please review. ^^