The soft summer air was thick and sultry: full of promise of demise, the crumbling fall of summer and the hint of gold crisping the leaves showed that September was nearing.
It was nearly 10 years after Voldemort had been killed, and the Seventh Years that were Hogwarts Students during the Dark Wars had been invited back, to give speeches for other students, new and old, and the families of the people involved in all parts of the war.
Neville Longbottom stepped down from the pedestal after a moving tribute to Dumbledore, the bravery of Dobby and Colin Creevey, and the others who perished. He wiped his eyes, and blearily walked back towards his seat, sitting in between Luna Lovegood and Ginny Weasley, who patted his hand consolingly and slung an arm around his shoulders, a clutching sideways sob. All three were crying, surrounded by their friends and family. It would be okay for them, Draco thought, his chest inexplicably tight.
He steeled himself for the glares he would receive at his unexpected speech, and a few frosty glares were fired towards the former Death Eater, but there were no cat calls, or heckles: just silence. He couldn't decide which was worse.
Clearing his throat, and placing his sheet of paper in front of him, he straightened his back, smirked his familiar expression toward the crowd, and began to talk.
'I am here to talk to you today,' he paused, his chest once again tight, 'about Love.' The way he said it, and thought it, made it capitalized, important. Significant.
'Some of you who knew me,' he looked around, the faces of Nott and Pansy and other Slytherins in the crowd, as well as the black expressions of Weasley and Potter, 'would believe I don't know anything about love.' He stepped around from the podium and walked towards the end, facing the lake. He didn't need his prompts, his speech: his idle words with idle meaning in front of him. He scrapped the whole, 'study-learn-good job-earn' thing. He wanted to talk about the thing that changes Light from Dark, Good from Bad. Him from Her.
'And you might be right. Love is fleeting, and carelessly stupid and excruciatingly painful.' He turned away from the dusky sunset, his voice slightly husky. 'That might just be me. There is love for your parents. Unconditional, no matter what, you'll always love them. There is the love, and respect, for your friends. The people who, in some ways, can be closer than family. They stick with you for who you are, not blood ties,' he almost spat the word. 'And then,' his eyes misted over, stretching back, 'there is the love you have for the one person you would do anything for.
I wasn't a model student. I wasn't a Ravenclaw, with their brains. A Hufflepuff, with their loyalty to their friends, not that I had many, or a Gryffindor, with their bravery. No, I was a Slytherin. Cunning, clever, and weak willed. Easily led. I fell into a trap. Indoctrinated, with no thought of my own.'
His eyes swept the now rapt audience, each face a picture, a mirror into their heads. Some were flabbergasted, some annoyed (mostly Slytherins,) and some were intrigued. Knowing he wasn't likely to be hexed right now, he carried on.
'I never thought I'd get a happy ending.
I never thought I deserved one: I'm a Malfoy. By tradition we take first, and ask questions later. We don't think about others. We don't respect the love between people. We're 'traditional' Slytherins. But who gives a fu- sorry Professor McGonegall. Slip of the tongue. Anyway, who gives one over what House you're in now? I mean, I did. But only because I was told you. Everything I did,' he pointedly looked at those whom he had once known, whom he had hurt, pleading with them, 'was no original thought. No will of my own. I was a puppet.
I didn't think I would ever find someone who could see through everything I had built up around me. Someone who could break down everything I hid behind, and find the person underneath it all.
And, to be honest, for a long time, I didn't want someone to.
I liked being untouchable: a mystery. Unsolvable. Unknown.
Like I could ever be unknown, I was a Malfoy.
But yes, like a mystery, something alien, I was alone.
Sure, there were people. But the words 'alone in a crowded room' spring to mind when I think of the time I spent growing up: or rather in school.
I only grew up because of her. I am who I am because of her.
Anyway, the other thing I never thought, was that it would be her that would change me.
Her who would see through everything, including the lies and hate I hid behind and hurt people - hurt her - with. I thought that eventually she would see sense and turn away, back to Weasel or Potty. Or even one of the Twins, perhaps. Those were my names for Fred and George Weasley, and Ronald Weasley and Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived (twice) and his little friend. I was awful to those people, because they stood for everything I was taught to be against.
I never thought she'd stick with me. Never thought that anyone cared enough to try to change me.'
His eyes filled up with tears.
'Hermione Granger did.
Hermione Granger, model student. She was everything that none of us could aspire to be: pure. She was all Light. All Good. There wasn't any ill will in her, she had her moments, but,' he rubbed at his eyes, trying to make it hard to tell he was close to tears. He choked on the lump in his throat. 'Hermione Granger was the sole person who reached out to me.
She... she was the person who made me believe the world isn't black and white, it isn't just darkness and lightness, and once its one it can never be the other. She showed me that inside myself, there was a person.
Original thoughts. Feelings. Emotions.
Hermione Granger was the person who saved me from giving myself completely to the Dark, to Voldemort.' He paled, his back becoming rigid as he watched people flinch at his name. 'Oh, grow up! You're pathetic. Look at you! Adults! Professors! Role Models! These children, more than half your age, and younger when they fought and defeated Voldemort and his followers. What did you do? Deny it was happening! Up until the last, some of you,' thinking of a certain Minister of Magic...
'Love can get you through the toughest things. That is what Dumbledore wanted us to learn. That is what we lived through, with love. I was shown love, when I didn't know what it was. I was given the chance to be a different person, like Harry was, when he was nearly killed the first time by Voldemort. Love saved him, and it saved me.
Love can condemn you, or save you.
It can cripple or heal, but nothing ever can change the fact it's real.
It never goes away.' He stopped, and blinked. Large, fat, crawling tears bled down his face, streaking it. It was a deep red, contrast to his flaxen platinum hair and steely eyes, which screamed his pain into the faces of the people listening.
'I never knew what love was until I lost it, but it saved me, and because of Hermione Granger, I finally found the happy ending that I didn't even know I wanted.
Hermione, I love you, and always will, because you rescued me.'
He looked directly into the eyes of the witch that his whole speech was dedicated to. The love he felt within him burst forth from his eyes, locking hers and more pain and anguish was in them than could ever be expressed. He had hurt her, so many times. More times than he could ever be forgiven for. He didn't deserve her, but she deserved to know the real reason he switched sides.
He let the tears fall, the lump in his throat crushing his chest: his breath was knocked out of him as he saw she was crying too. And suddenly, he couldn't take it any more. He had to run, far away. Away from her, and the life he had known.
'And that's what got me through the War. Love. If you learn anything in Hogwarts, remember this: nothing is worth it without love.' He turned away, and walked down the hard mahogany steps of the platform erected next to the lake, and past the marble phoenix, engraved with the names of all of the people who had died. Been murdered.
He broke into a run, and heard another set of feet behind him. Hermione.
'Draco... did you mean all that?' Her voice was soft, and husky. Her eyes were curious, wondering. Slightly wary, but trusting him, the way she used to.
All he could do was nod, and he felt the inexplicable urge to hug her, right at that moment, and say he wished things were different. That he was different.
He opened his mouth to speak, when suddenly her lips met his, and as the sun sank behind the horizon, Draco Malfoy thought maybe, just maybe, he'd finally found his happy ending in the person who had saved him.