I promised my "Into the Unknown" readers yesterday that I would soon post my new story. Here it is! As always, I own nothing. Also, enjoy!
The Ministry was again celebrating the end of the Second Wizarding War. It was the third event held in the months since the war ended. Various fighters were honored and posthumous awards were presented to those whose lives were lost at the hands of the Death Eaters. It was only the third event, but Hermione Granger had had enough. Dress robes annoyed her, too many people demanded her attention, and the speeches had all been heard before.
And so, as she night wore on, Hermione found herself slowly inching toward the rented hall's front door. A warm breeze rustled her curly hair once she stepped outside. The lights from inside softly illuminated the front courtyard, casting a glow on the lone blond seated at the bottom of the stairs.
"Gate crashing, are you?" she accused, descending the stairs.
Draco Malfoy's head turned at the sound of the voice behind him. A sneer turned up the right corner of his lips for only a moment. "I'll have you know I was invited," he replied, looking away from her. "I really have no idea why though," he added, lowering his voice so she wouldn't hear.
Hermione reached the bottom step and sat down with enough distance between them. "I can't think of a reason either," she replied as she adjusted her robes around her.
"Shouldn't you be inside?" he asked, dusting off his pant leg.
Hermione scoffed. "Wow, Malfoy, one whole minute of kindness. This must be some kind of record," she commented as she rose. Three steps up, she stopped and turned back to him. "As always, great to see you, Malfoy."
The sound of shoes hitting concrete sounded behind her. "I didn't mean it that way, Granger," he stated, stopping her near the front door. Again, Hermione scoffed. Then she noticed that his hand held her upper arm. He slowly withdrew it and clasped his hands behind his back. "All I meant was...I don't know. You belong here, unlike certain other guests." He pointed to himself before shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Why did you come then?" she wondered softly.
Shrugging, Draco leaned his back against the door. "It seemed like a good way to start restoring the family name," he replied. "With my father in prison and my mother not leaving the house, it's all up to me."
"Sounds like a lot for one person to take on," Hermione commented. Draco nodded, turning his head away. "You'll probably not accomplish much if you spend the entire evening out here."
He pushed away from the door and took a seat on the top step. "No one wants me here anyhow," he muttered. "Between the looks and the waiters refusing to serve me, I'd say it's decidedly less chilly out here."
"I don't really want to be in there either," she admitted, joining him. This time, they sat closer than they had before. The wind picked up, sending a shiver down her spine. From the corner of her eye, she watched Draco remove his jacket and silently drape it around her shoulders. "Thanks," she whispered, receiving a nod in response.
"Not one for all the fanfare?" Draco guessed, though he knew he was correct.
Hermione pulled his jacket tighter around herself. "The first one wasn't terrible, I guess," she said, staring off into the night. "It just seems wrong to celebrate so much when we lost so many people. I'm sure you'll think I'm crazy, but every time the doors open, I expect it to be Tonks or Lupin or Professor Dumbledore walking in. They never do though.
"I'm just getting tired of it all," she continued. "There are more important things to do than sip champagne and listen to speeches."
"Like what?" Draco wondered.
She sighed deeply. "Like finishing school, figuring out what to do with my life, and...and finding my parents." Draco flashed her a questioning look, and so she explained what she had done before the start of the war. Before she had left for the Burrow the summer before, she had modified her parents' memories. They were now Monica and Wendell Wilkins, nature photographers who loved Australia, and had no children.
"So, you don't exist to them anymore," he summarized. Hermione gave him a confirming nod. "When will the Golden Trio dash off to the outback to rescue them?"
"Harry and Ron aren't coming with me," she answered, tucking a stray curl behind her ear. "Auror training will begin soon, and they've been accepted without their N.E.W.T.s. So, I'll be going it alone."
They sat in silence as the minutes passed, each one lost in their own thoughts. No one seemed to notice the two absent guests, and Draco and Hermione were both grateful for it. The moon stars shone overhead, casting a soft glow over the two classmates.
"I never apologized to you," he finally spoke up. Brown curls flew around her head as she jerked it to the left to look at him. Honey brown eyes widened and her mouth hung slightly agape as she waited for any further explanation. "Is it really that shocking that I would know how to apologize?" he asked mirthfully.
"Actually, yes," she replied, blinking several times.
"Well, I am sorry for what's happened in the past," he continued. "I spent a lot of time trying to be like my father, and in the last couple of years, I realized that everything he did and said were completely wrong. I'm sure it doesn't do much to change your thinking of me, and I won't blame you if you can't accept. But, honestly, I'm sorry."
"Thank you, Malfoy," she replied sincerely.
He shrugged. "You didn't deserve it. Any of it," he replied, glancing at her covered right arm. Both knew what was to be found underneath - the scarred etching of the word "mudblood" courtesy of his aunt, Bellatrix Lestrange.
Hermione nodded, but said nothing. Her mind replayed the events of months earlier - the witch dressed in black, the dagger in her hand, the wand pointed on the frightened girl as pain shot through her malnourished body. It wasn't until Harry and Ron escaped the cellar that a reprieve had come. But she still bore the scars of that day, felt the twitches in her muscles from the Cruciatus curse, and relived the memories in her sleep.
"You didn't either," she finally said. Gray eyes met brown, and for the first time that evening, they finally looked at one another. An unseen force drew them closer until their shoulders touched. At the same time, they leaned in, face to face, until lips touched. It was a soft, gentle kiss; one that lasted only a few seconds.
"You're not here with Weasley, right?" Draco sought confirmation before continuing. Hermione shook her head and closed her eyes as his lips touched hers once more. Draco deepened the kiss, now knowing what he needed to know. He hadn't expected to want to be near her, to touch her. But, with her lips pressed to his own, he didn't want that feeling to end.
"Hermione?" The lip-locked pair turned to face the staring, angry redhead above them. "What in the bloody hell is going on here? Merlin, it's bad enough they invite the likes of him to these things, but now I have to watch my best friend snog this trash?"
"That's enough, Ronald," Hermione admonished as she got to her feet. "Just...that's enough."
Ron took hold of her arm and began to lead her back into the party. "Dessert's out," he spoke softly. "We can go home after that."
Hermione jerked her arm out of his hold and told him to go on without her. "I'll be right in," she told him, though she had no intentions of returning to the party. Minorly assuaged by her promise, Ron reentered the hall, leaving Draco and Hermione alone once more. Taking a deep breath, she walked back to where Draco sat. "Come with me," she requested.
Warily, Draco rose to his feet and took her proffered hand. "You're not going to drag me back in there, are you?"
Smiling, Hermione shook her head. Her smile managed to calm him and increase his nerves at the same time. She said nothing as she led them down the stairs and to the walk. Then the disorienting pull of Apparation took over until finally the world was clear again.
"Where are we?" he wondered, looking at the two story house in front of him.
"Home," was her simple reply. She let them in through the front door and turned on the sitting room lights. "I grew up here. Sometimes, when staying at the Burrow becomes too much, I come back here. It's quiet and peaceful, and I swear to you, it still smells like my family."
Draco surveyed the small space - the floral sofa which faced the fireplace, the white lace curtains that hung around the large picture window, the books that were crammed onto shelves and stacked high on end tables. But it was the pictures on the mantle that soon caught his attention. There were holes, as if a person were missing, and then he realized it was Hermione who was missing from the still scenes.
Turning around, he saw Hermione standing behind the couch. He rounded the sofa until he stood beside her. A hopeful look passed between the pair, and then he kissed her.