Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Depressing, but true.
Ron growled as Hermione's fireplace lit up again with a floo call. It was the seventh time in the past hour the strange foursome had been pulled out of their melancholy to accept the joyful congratulations of the magical world. The news of Voldemort's fall had spread like fiendfire.
"Harry, maybe we'd best get back the Headquarters," he said, defeated. "Everyone in the wizarding world wants to talk to you, and there's a chance someone's picked up information about 'Mione over there."
Harry sighed, fidgeting with his cold cup of tea. "You're probably right. Draco, Lucius, we'll keep in touch... And we'll let you know the second we hear anything, okay? And vice-versa?"
Both Malfoys nodded. Draco decided that he liked the fact that Harry had started using his first name. It reminded him less of Hermione that way. Thinking about her made his heart twinge, and it was a chore for him to breathe calmly as it was. For most of the day, he'd been struggling to keep his mind blank. He'd made it to a record of three seconds before that blood-soaked carpet floated in front of his field of vision. He was hoping to make it to four, if only for the sake of his mental health.
Worst of all, he didn't even know who to blame in all this. Harry and Ron for keeping it from her? His father for agreeing not to tell her? Himself for trying to stop her in the first place, or for not trying to stop her fast enough? Mad-Eye Moody for hiding their wands? Aunt Bella for being a violent, sadistic psychopath? The Dark Lord for simply existing?
Hermione? No, he couldn't blame her. She reacted exactly the way he should have expected. If anything, she was remarkably consistent. He probably could have guessed her reaction even back at Hogwarts, having only a superficial knowledge of her personality then. Helping others was an integral part of her nature. Throw in an impressive recovery and a final battle... And well... There was never any question she would go to help, as much as he hated to admit it. Even if it meant leaving him behind. Besides, it seemed that she had managed to keep quite safe before her run-in with Bellatrix, and she had certainly saved more lives than Draco could count. She did exactly what she set out to do, right up until she got hurt.
Draco sipped his cold tea just to keep himself busy. If it still had any flavour, he couldn't tell. Everything tasted like sawdust.
That bloody carpet floated into his head again. Fucking hell.
He never thought it would be such a problem for Hermione to have so many people that cared about her, but now he found himself wishing that her friend circle was significantly smaller. Anyone could have rescued her. There were hundreds of people fighting for the Light during the final battle, nearly all of whom knew Hermione or knew of Hermione. While he was endlessly grateful to whomever had snatched her away from Bellatrix, it was killing him that she was still missing. With so much blood loss, her rescuers would have to be extremely well-versed in healing techniques to keep her alive. That knowledge was fucking with his brain. He needed her to be okay. He needed her to come back. Anything else would destroy him.
The bloody carpet slid into his mind, mocking his helplessness. Draco groaned and sipped his tea again, grimacing as the cold liquid slithered down his throat. He looked up at his father who was sitting perfectly still, staring off into nothingness. Noticing his son's gaze, Lucius looked over and caught Draco's eye.
"How are you holding up, son?" said Lucius.
Draco shrugged. "I feel like my life is falling apart," he said, matter-of-factly. "You?"
Lucius nodded. "Same," he said. His voice was scratchy and worn.
Draco let out a heavy sigh. They were both feeling incredibly stripped down. The remaining Malfoys had maybe, possibly lost the only two women who ever meant anything to them. His mother and Hermione. Merlin knew that Malfoy men tended not to get attached easily. When they fell, they fell hard, and forever, apparently.
He prodded his tea cup with his index finger. "Guess I'll make a fresh pot of tea. I'm going to blow up this fucking table if I have to drink any more of this cold shite."
He had barely finished talking when he heard the distinct and somewhat alien sound of the doorknob turning. Both men whipped around. Indeed, the metal globe was rotating as they watched, gaping at the sight, as though at was happening in slow motion.
"You don't think..." Draco breathed, scared out of his wits to get his hopes up, but not being able to keep his heart from racing. He heard his father swallow heavily.
"I don't know," Lucius whispered. "But it could be."
The door swung open and Draco let out a cry. Hermione stood there, looking perfectly lovely... Not a gash in sight. No blood. Her hair was curling wildly around her face as it always did, and she was smiling so widely Draco thought his heart would burst. Both men jumped to their feet and made to run towards her.
"Wait wait!" she said, holding up her hands. They both froze, wondering why on earth they should stay away.
"I've brought you someone," she said, her smile more nervous now. She turned slightly and beconed to whomever was beyond their line of vision.
"Lucius? Draco?" said a voice that both men knew intrinsically. Draco heard his father gasp.
The next moments were a blur.
Narcissa walked in. She was solid, beautiful, vibrant... And looked nothing like a ghost.
"'Cissa...?" cried Lucius before running forward and crushing the woman into his arms. "I don't understand... I don't understand..." he repeated.
"Mirtu saved me. I can explain the details later," she said, tears rushing down her cheeks. "Draco! Come here, love," she said, opening an arm to her son, the other wrapped tightly around her husband. Draco had been frozen to the spot since she walked in, staring incomprehensibly at the woman he believed to be dead. He stumbled over and let himself be wrapped up in her arms.
"Mother?" he choked. "Is it really you? I don't - "
"Shh, it's me. Details later. I just want to enjoy this for a quick moment... I thought you were both dead until earlier today. I think you've been in a similar position, if I'm not mistaken."
Draco let himself be held, but after several emotional seconds, Draco pulled away with an apologetic kiss on his mother's cheek. He could digest this later. There was someone else he had to greet; someone else he thought might have been dead until she walked through the door. He rushed over to Hermione, who had been crying happily as she watched the reunion.
"I think you might be some sort of fucking angel," he said, silencing her attempted response with a bruising kiss as he pulled her into his arms. She melted into him and Draco felt like he'd been given a second chance at something. Or maybe a fifth chance. Merlin knew he fucked things up regularly enough. "Seriously Granger, don't lie to me... Are you? Because my life has gone goddamn pear since you came back into it, and I mean that in the best possible way."
"As far as I know, I'm not an angel," she said, putting on her best serious face. "I think a little team of house elves deserve that distinction. You're not going to believe what happened to both of us."
Draco looked over her shoulder to see Mirtu and Sunny, two elves he remembered very well from the manor, hovering by the door. Sunny was smiling gleefully. Mirtu was frowning, but then, Mirtu was always frowning. If these elves, or any others, for that matter, were truly the ones responsible for this miracle, Draco decided he would build them a mansion of their own.
"Draco," said Narcissa, still clinging happily to Lucius. "Your beloved and I can tell you all the details over tea. Would you mind?"
Draco's eyebrows reached his hairline to hear his mother's description of Hermione, and he stuttered some sort of affirmative response. He and Hermione walked hand-in-hand to the kitchen to put on the kettle, and he stole several glances at her to make sure he wasn't seeing things. He couldn't believe she was standing next to him. And that she walked in here with his mother. His mother. It was blowing his mind. He had so much to tell them both! That thought reminded him, and he scrambled to pull up his sleeve.
"Hermione, look!" he said in an giddy whisper as he lifted his arm to show her the fading Mark.
She nodded excitedly, touching the skin gently as she marvelled at the sight. "It's so interesting, isn't it? The magic of the Dark Mark? Would you let me study it? I could run some little experiments on it over the next few months... I was thinking that we could set up a little lab here..." Hermione continued to chatter happily about her plans, but he'd stopped listening after she said "the next few months."
She really wanted him to stay. It was no joke. She wanted him in her life. Part of him had been worried that once the final battle was over, once she wasn't obligated to keep him and his father in her house, she'd realize that she could have anyone she wanted. She could have a Healer, or a warrior, a proper hero, either of the Wonder Duo, or even the fucking Minister for Magic. But here she was, talking about what they were going to do in the future. Together. She didn't seem to consider the alternative for a second.
Yet again, as had happened so many times over the past few months, Draco didn't recognize his life.
"Draco! Are you listening to me?" she said, grinning cheekily.
"Uh, yes," he lied. "Dark Mark. Experiments."
"I finished talking about that a while ago," she said, looking at him pointedly. "What I said just now was..." she leaned in to whisper in his ear. "I don't want to wait anymore."
He sucked in a breath and stared at her. Was she talking about what he hoped she was talking about? "Really? Are you sure?"
"Positive," she whispered. The kettle started to whistle and she turned away from him to prepare the tea. "You're still staying here, right?" she said, dropping the tea bags into the pot. To his surprise, she looked a bit nervous, not meeting his eyes. "You don't have to leave. In fact, I'd rather you didn't. The manor is a mess and it will take months to make it fit for habita - "
"Hermione," he said, grabbing her shoulders and gently turning her to face him. "I'm not going anywhere as long as you want me here."
"Oh good," she said, smiling anxiously. "So you're never leaving. I'm glad that's sorted."
Turning on her heel, she walked off quickly holding the tea tray, and he stood open mouthed as she sat down at the table with his parents. His father looked happier than he had ever seen him, if not completely shell-shocked, his mother looked radiant, and Hermione... Well... Hermione had just dealt the final blow to his emotional cowardice. He was staying. This was his home now. Maybe, underneath it all, there had never really been any doubt. Since that first night terror, part of him knew, didn't it? What a mysterious sort of magic.
As he sat down with her and listened to his mother explain her miraculous survival, something occurred to him.
Hermione Granger, the same witty chatterbox, courageous Gryffindor and swotty know-it-all had returned. She'd changed since their school days, mellowed and matured, but they all had. Growing up in the face of war, having to make choices that nobody should ever have to make, especially people so young. But looking at her now, fully in her right mind, dynamic and passionate, he realized that despite her scars, she had made her way back.
Her reception at Headquarters was explosive. The Wonder Duo screamed when she walked through the floo, rattling the nerves of the few remaining Order members, and Ron was so surprised he reverted to his clumsy teenage self and accidentally set the table on fire.
Draco left them in the kitchen to catch up. She had already offered to explain Narcissa's mind-boggling return to their lives, and he had left his parents alone at the house to do Merlin-knows what. He promised Hermione he would give her fifteen minutes of chatting time with Harry and Ron, and then he was taking her back home. To bed. Where he planned to please her so thoroughly that she'd never consider leaving him to play hero again.
He wandered the halls of 12 Grimmauld Place, marvelling at how different it seemed to him now. When he first came here, angry and hateful, he'd truly wished death on all the inhabitants of the old house. The memory disturbed him a bit. He was quite comfortable with the knowledge that he was not a nice person. His snark was more genuine than forced politeness and he wasn't interested in pleasing anyone other than his family, Hermione now included. But he'd let go of a lot of the hate that had been fueling him for so long. He felt lighter. The change hadn't really been terribly apparent until this moment, looking at the sitting room where Hermione had started his treatments. Where he had snarled about her "filthy hands." Where he had still called himself a Death Eater. It felt like years ago. A million books ago. A thousand chess games ago. Merlin could guess how many cups of tea.
His feet led him from room to room, most of which were deserted now that everyone was able to return home without fear of being murdered as they slept. Eventually he reached the small room that had served as the library, potions lab and medical storage area. He pushed open the door and strolled in.
Draco froze, fingers hovering over his wand.
Wolf glanced up from a book he had been flipping through, sitting in a ratty reading chair that had been pushed into a dusty corner at some point over the past several decades. The hand that had been turning the pages hung there limply as his attention shifted.
"Draco Malfoy," he said, his face blank. "I should thank you."
"Excuse me?" Draco hissed.
Wolf closed the book and set it down.
"I owe you thanks. For killing Bellatrix. For releasing me from the spell, even if you didn't mean to."
Draco focused on his breathing. He was imagining a variety of ways he could murder Wolf without alerting everyone downstairs. Eventually they'd remember that Wolf was up here and they'd come running. He'd have to move quickly.
"Go ahead," said Wolf, looking resigned. "Go ahead and do it."
Draco narrowed his eyes. "Do what?" he growled, wondering if Wolf had somehow read his thoughts.
"Kill me," he replied, solemnly.
The surprise was evident on Draco's face, and Wolf gave him a knowing look.
"I can't live with myself anyways," he said, his face showing strain and sadness now. "After what I did. I was fighting as hard as I could, but I should have fought even harder. I love her, you know. You probably figured that out quickly. We can always spot competition, hey? I love her, and I still hurt her."
Wolf broke eye contact and gazed out the little window, the dying light of the day still barely filtering in. "She'll never trust me again. Actually, she'll probably never be in the same room as me again. My memories are haunting me. Torturing me. I haven't even been free of the spell for a day and I'm already being driven mad by what I did. I hurt Hermione so badly... And I killed Bryce. He wasn't just an employee - he was a friend too. I dragged him into this, and now he's gone." He met Draco's eyes, hopelessness emanating out of him. "Don't you see? This isn't a life worth living. So go ahead. Kill me. You'd be doing me a favour, and I know you want to. It's written all over your face. A win-win situation, if you will."
Wolf stood up, and Draco tensed, his fingers resting on the hilt of his wand. He was conflicted now, and watched in awe as Wolf spread his arms open as if he was offering himself to the Gods.
"Better do it now," he said. "They've forgotton that they let me walk freely through the house. They'll remember soon. They'll realize where you are." He closed his eyes and waited.
A cacaphony of voices argued in Draco's mind, and he struggled to decide which path to take. He desperately wanted to let his anger out the way he had with Bellatrix, but he knew it wasn't the same. Bella was the monster here. Wolf, although Draco despised him, was one of her many victims. And of all the voices that argued for justice, Hermione's rang out the strongest. She wanted a different kind of justice. It was her voice that reminded him that Wolf was already suffering, that he had actually saved her from a terrible fate despite being under Bella's influence. She would have been given to the Dark Lord if Wolf hadn't interfered.
Her voice silenced all the others.
His anger backed down enough for him to speak. Draco cleared his throat.
"I wouldn't be so quick to assume you know what Hermione's reaction to you will be," he said, removing his hand from the wood of his wand. "She's staggeringly forgiving. She did give me a chance, after all."
He saw the look of surprise on Wolf's face as the man opened his eyes.
"I love her," said Draco, without an ounce of humour. "She loves me, and we're both going to live at the house now. Permanently. She won't be coming to work for you again. But I'm not going to kill you, and I think it would be a poor use of time torturing yourself over what Bellatrix made you do. She's gone now. You can take your life back. Don't waste it."
He turned and walked out of the room in long, focused strides in case he changed his mind. He had to get out of there quickly. The voices in his head were leering that he'd gone soft. He needed distance from that man, and he needed it fast.
He was halfway down the staircase when he heard Hermione, Harry and Ron running out of the kitchen, likely having realized that Wolf and Draco might have crossed paths. They rounded the bend and started charging up the stairs without raising their gaze, nearly taking him out in the process.
"Oh!" Hermione said, colliding with Draco's shoulder. "Sorry Draco! We're just... Well... We thought that - "
"Wolf's fine," he said quickly. "He's alive. Reading, even. But I'd really like to go home now," he said, pleading to her with his eyes and ignoring the Wonder Duo. It had been a long, long day. He needed the comfort of their bed something awful. He needed her there with him.
"Of course," she said, gently. "Harry, Ron, can we talk more tomorrow?"
The boys nodded, shooting quick glances at Draco. He suspected that they didn't quite believe Wolf was unharmed. Tossers.
He kissed Hermione on the forehead and guided her back down the stairs, glaring daggers at the duo. Just because they'd saved the world, didn't mean he had to be friendly. Besides, he'd helped them, in a roundabout way. They'd said so themselves. They were even now. He owed them nothing.
The moment where he finally got to cocoon with Hermione under the covers was every bit as satisfying as he expected it to be.
First, they had spent some more time talking with his parents, Draco just enjoying the sound of his mother's voice after having missed it so desperately. She was surprised and momentarily saddened to hear about the death of her sister, but upon hearing that Draco was the one responsible, she shot him a look of pure pride. Hermione's look was more one of thanks. Even with a heart as good as hers, she knew the world was a better place without Bellatrix.
Hermione had clearly told Narcissa about their relationship, because aside from the "beloved" comment earlier, the woman seemed downright pleased to see Draco stroking the back of Hermione's hand as she talked. He'd been embarrassed about being caught for a fraction of a second before he realized that there was nothing wrong with the picture. He'd simply found a woman he was comfortable being affectionate with. His mother didn't care, and he certainly wasn't ashamed of it. Things were different now. He could do this. He could be the bloke with the steady girl and the loving relationship. He'd just never expected to find himself in this situation. When he was a Death Eater, part of him assumed he would never really survive all that long. He certainly never planned beyond the next mission, and had never pictured what his life would look like down the line. It just didn't occur to him that he'd ever make it there.
Now he knew what his life could look like. A complete 180 from where he had been. It was nearly enough to turn him into a fucking optimist.
Eventually everyone went off to bed. His parents would stay with them at the house for as long as it took to get the manor livable again, but Draco secretly hoped it would take a while. He'd come to enjoy his father's company immensely, and he figured he would never get tired of seeing his mother. Hermione seemed to be quite fond of his parents, so really, there was no rush for anyone to leave. It made him strangely giddy to think of the four of them living under one roof for a while. All alive. All happy. It was a bizarre concept, but he was working on making it seem normal. Making it seem like despite his past, he deserved this.
Hermione broke Draco's train of thought by scooting under the covers with him and burying her face in his chest. He realized with a start that she was already fully undressed.
"Hermione? Are you sure you want to - "
She silenced him with a kiss, running her soft hands down his exposed chest and hooking her fingers on the waistband of his cotton pants.
"Yes," she said, and pulled down the offending garment. "No more wasting time."
Her forwardness had him ready to go within seconds and he responded happily to her advances, slipping his fingers inside of her and finding that she was more than set. Merlin, she wasn't kidding around. Her hips met the movement of his fingers full on and she grabbed his length firmly, giving him the most torturous squeeze. A soft cry escaped her lips. Fuck, this was going much faster than he'd expected. Was he totally misguided to imagine that their first time would be some sort of sweet lovemaking session that took hours to complete?
With a frustrated groan, she pushed him flat on his back and swung her leg over him, pressing themselves together intimately. He was perfectly positioned to enter her, and he hadn't even done a thing. He looked up at her with a mix of wonder and confusion. Perhaps he had been misguided after all. She wanted this now.
"Holy shite Hermione, I can take it slow you know, if you prefer to - "
"Draco," she said cutting him off. He decided that she was welcome to sit on him like this anytime. Seeing the love of his life straddling him, confident, beautiful and stark naked was something he could never ever tire of. He struggled to keep his focus as she began to talk again. Words. She's saying words. "This is the first of many times we're going to make love tonight. We can go slow later."
With that, she lowered herself onto him, and he let out a mix between a groan, a gasp and a cry.
"Make me yours," she whispered into his ear. Oh yes, the bossy Hermione Granger was definitely back, and Draco had never been happier about it.
He obeyed three times, as it turned out, each time more incredible than the last. Hermione was fast asleep now, curled up against his chest, their bodies completely intertwined.
Draco was still catching his breath. Or maybe he was just trying to slow down his heart. Either way, his chest was so full of good feelings that he was getting choked up. He looked down affectionately at the mass of curls he'd come to love, and said a little thank you to the universe for bringing Hermione back into his life. He only wished he could give something back to her... She'd saved him. In every way, she'd saved him. He wanted to give her the world in return.
Hermione twitched and whimpered and Draco sobered up quickly. Of course. Voldemort may be gone, but the night terrors still haunted her. The success of the final battle couldn't wipe away the terrified faces of those poor kids. Hermione started to cry softly into Draco's chest.
And then a thought hit him like a bolt of lightening.
Sure, the success of the final battle might not dull her pain, but he could. Excitement started to surge through his veins. Why hadn't he thought of this before?
Every Death Eater had a special talent. Some were good planners. Some were good killers. Some made potions and some doled out torture.
Draco messed with people's minds.
He was very good at it, always receiving praise from his former colleages on his skills. He could search, infiltrate, confuse and alter people's memories with disturbing speed and accuracy. It had been ages now since he'd practiced his art. Once his family started getting pushed out of the inner circle, he wasn't asked for his abilities as often. After they were rescued and he lost his wand, there was really no way for him to do anything. He'd been rendered magically impotent.
But he had his wand now.
Carefully, without disturbing Hermione, Draco reached his free arm over to the bedside table and gently lifted his wand from where it rested. Hermione was sobbing now, and he started to whisper calming words to her as he pushed her hair away from her face. He placed the tip of his wand to her temple and readied himself.
Suddenly, he was there. The classroom was dark and full of a strange, toxic mist. Hermione had placed the charm on herself, screaming hysterically as the children dropped like flies around her. The battle boomed in the background, fire and explosions echoing in the distance. The scared faces of the children were carving themselves into her memory as they cried and collapsed, shrieking for their parents. Draco found himself shuddering within the memory. His heart broke for her, having to see this every night. It was truly horrific.
Then he went to work.
One by one, the children's faces became blurry. The definition of their features disappeared, and the crying quieted. Instead of shrieking and falling, the children were sitting calmly and then laying down to sleep. The sounds of the battle became muted, taken over by a soft wind and the chirping of the bugs in the field outside. The children slept, wrapped up in cozy blankets, and the Hermione inside the memory patted them sweetly, telling them to rest. She wasn't hysterical anymore. She was calm, reflective, and sad. Sad because she knew the war would take these children somehow, but at least, for the moment, they were safe. The memory was altered. She would always feel the sting of their deaths, she would know that they were gone, but the terrible details were missing from her mind. And starting now, she would know she had helped them, somehow, if only just for caring as much as she did. Abstract melancholy replaced the terror. Melancholy that would fade, bit by bit, over time.
Draco pulled out of her memory with a gasp. He was crying... Shaking at the atrocity Hermione had been dealing with for two years now. He looked down at her face. She was sleeping calmly, and he put his wand down before wrapping her into a tight embrace, telling her how much he loved her, even though she was asleep. Eventually, his tears slowed, and he pressed a kiss to her forehead.
They could do anything together, he realized, and he wanted to do it all. He wanted to marry her. He wanted to raise a family with her. He wanted to be everything he always assumed he wasn't good enough to be. She made him better, and he was going to show his thanks by being better.
But for now, he would start their journey by joining her in a night of sound, peaceful slumber, wrapped up tightly in each other's arms.