Hello there, lovelies! It's been a while, hasn't it..? Goodness. I hate to say it, 'cause it's always my excuse, but I've been insanely busy these last few (numerous) months.
Anyhow, here is the FINAL installment everyone has been waiting for! I'm still not entirely sure about this, so lemme know what you think.
A large, wooden staircase.
A fort that looks like a castle sitting in a tree.
"What is this place?"
"A treehouse! My dad made it last summer. Cool huh?"
"Is...is it safe?"
"Of course it's safe, silly. It's the safest place I know."
Hermione's breath catches in her throat the moment her head stops spinning and she can see clearly where she is. She looks around her – at the forest floor, at the tall trees surrounding her. But mostly she just stares at the tree before her, the largest and tallest of them all with a tree house built into it. Her tree house; the one her father built years ago in the forest at her grandmother's house. She used to come here all the time when she was a kid, but stopped when she was around seven years old.
She looks at the person standing beside her, watching her from beneath his hood as she tries to find answers in his face. His face is blank and his eyes are unreadable as he stares at her with his hands shoved into his pockets. A thousand questions are floating around in her head but only one is persistent: how does he know about this place?
She thinks she might already know the answer and it's because of that that she isn't afraid.
"Recognize it?" Draco asks softly.
"Of course I recognize it, it's mine," she replies, her tone equally soft. "But how do you...why-"
"Let's clean you up first, yeah?"
She nods absentmindedly, allowing him to guide her toward the small hand-crafted staircase. Upon entering the tree house she's silent, hesitant – for she isn't sure what to expect.
It's exactly how she remembers it – except smaller (perhaps because she's bigger) and dustier.
Everything is exactly how she left it.
Draco guides her towards one of the two wooden chairs and tells her to sit down. She does as she's told and he slowly lifts his wand to her, muttering a few quick cleansing spells. When he's finished with her skin, he moves onto her hair and then her clothes.
She looks like her old self again in just a few minutes.
Moments later she finds herself walking around the small space, carefully running her fingers over the smooth wood. Carved into the wood of the little window sill her father installed is: "DM/HG" – and she knows immediately what it stands for. Her stomach turns over with butterflies and her heart jumps into her throat as she turns to face him. "So...explain everything. From the beginning."
Stars shining brightly above their heads.
Soft grass cushioning the hard ground beneath them.
"Have you ever just wanted to...disappear?"
"What, like run away?"
"Yeah. I guess."
"Where would you go?"
"My tree house. Where would you go?"
Pause. "Your tree house."
"Because that's the first place you'd go."
She licks her lips and then opens her mouth to respond but the words die on her tongue. She doesn't know what to say or how to react. She stares at him, taking in the innocent, hopeful look pasted on his pale, delicate features. He's telling the truth, she knows he is, and while it isn't that hard to believe it's almost impossible for her comprehend. "So," she starts hesitantly, pacing across the limited space in front of him. "So we knew each other before Hogwarts – we were friends."
"And then your father found out and he obliviated you-"
"And my mother obliviated you, yes."
"And that's why...that's why there's been this weird tension between us all these years."
"It's why I always felt like I knew you from somewhere."
"And you had dreams about me."
"Yes. Frequent dreams – all the time, starting when I was around eight years old. Only I didn't know it was you."
"Me too," she whispers thoughtfully. "I...it was always like I knew you, you know? Like...I knew there was more to you than what you lead people to believe."
He smiles softly, bowing his head as he leans forward with his elbows on his knees.
"They weren't really dreams though, were they? They were memories – from when we were kids."
"Yes, I believe so."
She blinks furiously as she pushes herself to her feet. She begins to pace around in front of him and he watches her every move. He knows she's thinking because of the look on her face and the look on her face looks like conflict. "H-how is that even possible? I mean...I mean they obliviated us – we can't just...remember on our own. That goes against everything we've ever been told. It's like we've beat magic, but how does one beat magic?"
"Love," he whispers. Their gazes collide for half a second as she whirls around to face him before he looks down at the floor. He runs his hand through his hair and rubs the back of his neck as he pushes himself to his feet at well. "My uh...my mum mentioned it my father yesterday – she said that maybe love is stronger than magic."
She blinks, staring at him questioningly.
He clears his throat awkwardly. "But maybe not, I dunno."
"It can't be love," she replies. "We were seven, we couldn't have been in love."
He shrugs. "Maybe it isn't just romantic love."
"Oh..."she murmurs, trailing off.
Silence falls over them as she walks around admiring her old haven. He, meanwhile, wishes he could tell her more – tell her that he truly does care for her, that even if his dreams had only been dreams they had always been real to him. He knows, however, that it's still too soon for that.
"We should find Harry and Ron," she announces.
"You need to get some more rest," he tells her.
"We'll find them," he assures her. "I'll figure out a way to find them as soon as possible. You need to rest."
She sighs, nodding tiredly. "Okay. Yeah. Fine."
"How are you going to find them?"
"I know where we can go. But I don't know that they'll be there."
"Do you think they're right about me?"
"The other boys."
"Right about what?"
"...me being ugly."
"No, I don't think they're right."
"But they are – my hair is too curly, my teeth are too big-"
"You're pretty, Hermione. They're just idiots."
She stares at the tip of Harry's wand pointed straight at her face.
"Bloody hell, Harry!" Ron roars from behind his best friend.
"We have to be sure, Ron," Harry replies calmly, despite the waver in his eyes.
Hermione nods. "Ask me anything."
"What did my snitch say when I touched it?" Harry asks.
"'I open at the close.'"
The second Harry lowers his wand Ron pushes past him and nearly bowls her over as he embraces her tightly. Harry hugs her next.
"We should wake the others," Ron says excitedly, walking past her towards the hallway to bolt up the stairs to the second floor of Number 12 Grimmauld Place.
"No!" Hermione protests quickly, grabbing hold of his arm. "No, I just... Let them sleep. I can see them tomorrow. Besides, we need to talk."
"How did you find us?" Harry asks curiously. "How did you even escape?"
"That's what I need to talk to you about," she replies. "You see, we didn't have a clue where to even start trying to find you and then I-"
"Wait, hold on," Ron stops her, looking confused. "We? Who's 'we'?"
Hermione blinks, looking hesitant as she moves closer to the exit to the hallway, making sure to put herself between her friends and her, well, friend. "You can come out now," she says loudly.
Somehow Harry and Ron both know she isn't talking to either of them.
On cue, Draco walks into the room behind her, putting both Harry and Ron on the attack. They raise their wands, pointing them behind her and directly at him.
She instinctively goes on the defense, shifting herself better between the blond behind her and the tips of their wands. "Don't! Stop – lower your wands," she pleads.
"I said lower your wands, he isn't dangerous," she tells them calmly, glancing backwards at him briefly – he looks calm, but also like he's struggling not to pull out his own wand. She looks back at Harry and Ron – Harry looks hesitant and uncertain and Ron just looks furious.
"He's a Death Eater, what the bloody hell are you doing with him?" Ron demands.
"I can explain everything, just put your wands down," she pleads again. "Trust me."
Harry, the more logical of the two, lowers his first, followed by Ron who grudgingly drops his arm to his side. She can almost hear Draco smirk behind her but she chooses to ignore it and instead show her appreciation to her friends by smiling at them.
"Thank you," she says softly.
"It's him who should be thanking us," Ron mutters aggressively, his angry glare boring into the blond's form.
She barely holds back an eye-roll – he doesn't know the delicacy of the situation, after all – and instead lead all three them towards the long dining room table. Harry and Ron take two seats on one side of the table and Draco takes one on the other, directly across from them. Hermione, being nervous as she is, stands next to him, facing her friends. She takes a deep, calming breath as she prepares to tell her friends everything she's just realized to be true.
"You really expect us to believe that he isn't a threat?" Ron asks incredulously.
"He's not," Hermione insists firmly. "He isn't a threat and he isn't dangerous – not to us."
"To who, then?"
"You know what I mean, Ronald. He's on our side-"
"He tormented you!" Ron bellows, pushing himself to his feet so quickly that the force knocks the chair backwards.
Hermione flinches at the sound and out of the corner of her eye she sees Draco lower his head in shame. "Ron-"
"He tormented you for years, Hermione – called you all sorts of nasty, derogatory names. For Merlin's sake, he watched his deranged aunt torture you for hours and he didn't do anything to stop her!" he shouts angrily.
"Not to mention what he did to us too-"
"Ron!" she shouts loudly, causing him to stop his own shouting and look at her. "I already told you-"
"Yeah, yeah. He healed your injuries and helped you escape and then told you some fabulous story of how you're long lost friends whose memories were erased and now have magically reappeared," he snaps, rolling his eyes. "That's bullshit and it's mad and you're mad if you believe him. He-he's probably just trying to get into your head – to help You-Know-Who and-"
"He isn't doing any such thing!" Hermione yells defensively. "Don't you think that if he were trying to get into my head he would've just left me there – continued to let Bellatrix torture me until I spilled something?"
Ron blinks, staring at her. He then turns his gaze on the blond. "What'd you do to her?"
"I didn't do anything, Weaselbee, and if you would actually listen to her for once in your bloody life you'd know that," Draco drawls, seemingly unfazed.
Ron lunges across the table at him but Harry catches him just in time and holds him back – meanwhile Draco pushes himself to his feet instinctively and Hermione moves to protect him. He yanks himself out of Harry's grip. "You believe her, then?" Ron asks his best friend, looking at him questioningly. "You believe him?"
"We have no reason not to," Harry replies calmly.
"He's a Death Eater! He has the Dark Mark – we've all seen it-"
"He was forced to take it, Ron," Hermione says softly, gaining everyone's attention. "He had to take it in order to protect his family. He's just as much a victim of this war as we are. He was just as scared and twice as lonely. He never wanted to take it. He's on our side now – a part of him always has been," she whispers, glancing back at Draco briefly. He offers her a small, tight-lipped smile and she returns it before facing her friends once more.
Ron seems to have settled down, but only barely. And Harry, who has remained fairly quiet during the entire ordeal, looks thoughtful. "You trust him?" he asks her.
She nods. "With my life."
"Then he can have a room," Harry says, nodding his head in the direction of the stairs. "He'll stay here, but he won't be allowed in on the Order's meetings until I know for certain that I can trust him. Deal?" He's looking directly at Draco.
Draco nods once and pushes his hands into his pockets. "Deal."
"Harry wants to get into Bellatrix's vault."
Draco blinks, staring at her from across the table.
"Hermione!" Harry protests from the other end.
"Harry, I told you, he can help us. She's his aunt, after all."
"That's exactly why he wouldn't help us," Ron mutters from beside Harry.
Hermione glares at him for a brief moment before turning her head to look back at Draco. "What do you think?"
Draco leans back and crosses his arms over his chest, his gaze trained on her beautiful eyes. "I think it would be damn near impossible."
"That's what I said," Hermione says. "But after her reaction towards us having the Sword of Gryffindor-"
"You think she's hiding a Horcrux."
"I wouldn't be surprised if she was. She's obsessed with You-Know-Who. And if she's as worried as she sounded, chances are she's got more security on her vault now than ever."
"Exactly. So we need a way around it – and the only thing I can think of is using-"
"Yes. And I have a hair of hers, from when she... It was on my sweater. I can use it."
He looks thoughtful for moment. "It's undetectable to the human eye, which means that as long the mission's quick, by the time anybody realizes that you aren't her you could be long gone. But it's still risky, Granger. What if the hair isn't hers?"
"It's hers," she says softly, her voice only slightly shaky.
He gulps, nodding his head ever-so-slightly. "What if they have some sort of security detail? Or a security question?"
"It's a risk we would have to take."
"And you have to be the one to take it?"
She nods. "That's the plan."
He nods, despite the fact that he looks highly unamused. "I think it would work."
Ron looks between the two of them, looking disgusted. "Well, now that we've got his permission can we start brewing the potion?"
"I've already started," Hermione replies, casting her gaze towards the table.
Draco smirks. "Of course you have."
Draco looks up from his book as she walks into his room. He sits up on his bed quickly and closes the book as he places it on his bedside table. "Hey," he greets her softly.
"Hey," she greets back. "Can I..?" she asks, trailing off as she motions towards the end if his bed.
"Yeah," he nods, pushing himself up so he's leaning back against the headboard. He swallows a lump in his throat as she moves forward to sit at the foot of the bed. She's leaving tomorrow – and in all honesty, the closer the day comes, the more anxious he's becoming.
She fidgets in the pocket of her sweater briefly before pulling out a plastic bag and handing it to him.
He looks at it, puzzled, and his gaze lands on a single white-blond hair. "What's this?"
"It's your father's. I found it tucked into the bottom of my jeans – I kept it just in case," she whispers.
"W-what do you want me to do with it?"
"I want you to use it – to come with us tomorrow."
He blinks, staring at her blankly. "What?"
"I want you to come. I-I know you'll be worried, and I'll be anxious – and I think if both Lucius and Bellatrix were to walk into Gringott's it would be much more believable," she explains.
He nods. "And your boys are okay with that?"
She smiles, rolling her eyes. "They don't have a choice in the matter."
Draco's standing in the back of the living room, nursing a champagne flute and watching Ginny open her birthday presents. They – the Order – have decided to take a short break from the war to celebrate. The Weasleys, Potter, Granger and a few of their peers are in attendance to the gathering. And despite not being a part of the Order – and the fact that the majority of the house doesn't even like him – Draco was invited by default.
And the reason for that is sitting cross-legged on the floor next to her friend, showing the redhead how to use whatever muggle device she's just given her. He watches her from across the room, over the rim of his glass. She looks beautiful. More importantly, though, she looks healthy – a massive improvement from the state she was in when they got here three and a half weeks ago.
He tears his gaze away from his brunette to look at the raven-haired man next to him. "Potter."
"You should know that Hermione's insisting you be a part of the meeting tomorrow."
He smirks. "Is that your way of telling me I'm allowed, Chosen One?"
Harry glares at him. "Only because Hermione seems to trust you and I've always trusted her judgment."
Draco nods and his gaze finds its way back to her.
"You truly care for her?"
"Hermione – do you truly care for her?"
Draco looks at him once more. "Yes."
"Nothing, really," he admits. "I think a part of me always has because a part of me always knew."
"Knew that you knew her?"
"Knew that I cared for her."
Harry nods, crossing his arms over his chest as he looks away towards his girlfriend and the girl in question. "Why did you choose her?"
"Over your family. You went against your father's direct orders to save her and now here you are, with her. Why?"
Draco licks his lips before gulping back the last of his flute. "It felt right. After I realized what was going on – what happened – it was like there was no other option."
Silence falls between them for several moments before Harry breaks it. "I hope she's right about you, Malfoy."
He's sitting at the piano, playing a song from his childhood when she sits down next to him. He glances at her as his fingers continue to glide across the keys and she smiles at him softly before looking down at the keys. Her hair is pulled back into a messy, floppy bun at the top of her head, which draws attention to her smooth, silky-looking, pale neck. She looks comfy in her too-large sweater and - and yet naturally beautiful.
How had he never known before?
"I love that song," she whispers when he brings the song to an end.
"Me too," he says, smiling softly.
"Where'd you learn it?"
He blinks. "I...I don't actually know. It's like I woke up one morning and I just...knew it."
"I used to play it when I was a child but I never really knew where it came from," she admits.
They stare at each other for a moment and he watches with a slight smirk as the colour rises in her cheeks.
"Y-You don't think..?" she wonders knowingly.
"I think we both know it," he whispers.
She smiles, shaking her head disbelievingly. "I still don't understand how all of this is possible."
He shrugs his shoulders slightly. "I dunno, I think my mother might be onto something."
He swallows the lump in his throat as he turns to look at her property. "The girl in my dreams meant the world to me, Granger. Both in my dreams and in real life. She was everything."
"So," she starts slowly, hesitantly, "if I'm the girl in your dreams, then..." She trails off, her mouth dry and her mind racing with all sorts of thoughts that she can't concentrate.
He nods once and licks his lips nervously.
She blinks. "Are you in love with me, Draco?"
His breath catches in his throat and he stares at her for a moment. "I think I'd be lying if I said I wasn't."
She sees the truth, the tenderness and the emotion in his light grey eyes and she knows he's telling the truth. What she doesn't see is Ron watching them from the hallway.
She jumps when Ron startles her from behind and instinctively places her hand over her chest above her heart. "Ronald Weasley!" she shrieks scoldingly.
"Sorry," he chuckles, rubbing her back. He leans over her shoulder and breathes in deeply through his nose, the smell of whatever it is she's cooking. "What're you cooking?"
"Chocolate fondue – mum used to make it all the time," she replies.
"Smells delicious. What's the occasion?"
She shrugs. "Draco asked me about it so I said I'd make it."
He groans loudly, rolling his eyes as he backs away and leans against the island counter behind her. "You don't really believe all that, do you? That you're long lost friends or something-"
"Of course I believe it," she says, stirring the chocolate slowly. "I've experienced the same types of dreams, Ron. We really were friends, his parents really did obliviate us and he really is on our side."
"So that changes the fact that he spent the last, what, six years bullying you?"
She sighs. "It wasn't that bad – and besides, he had his fair share of not-so-bad moments. He warned me about the Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup and he warned me before-"
"Before he let Death Eaters into the school, I know. Because he was a Death Eater, Hermione."
"Was," she points out. "People change."
"Yeah, he's a bloody saint now," he mutters.
"Look can we talk about something else?"
"Please," he agrees. "In fact I know exactly what we can talk about."
She blinks. "Ron…" she murmurs hesitantly. "I don't think-"
"C'mon, 'Mione, we haven't talked about us in months – hell we haven't talked about anything other than Malfoy in months. Let's talk about us – I miss you."
"I miss you too, Ron, but..."
He takes a step towards her and turns her around by the shoulders so she's looking at him. "But what?" When she looks down at the floor, he cranes his neck to see her face, worriedly. "You still want what we talked about, right? You and me, after the war."
She swallows the nervous lump in her throat as she lifts her hesitant gaze. "I...I don't know."
He takes a step back, like she's just hit him. A muscle in his jaw tightens as his thoughts fall on only one conclusion. "Is this about Malfoy?"
"It's about a lot more than that," she whispers.
"But he is a part of it," he concludes. "Do you have feelings for him? Are you in love with him? Or do you just like the fact that he's all 'good' and 'innocent' and 'misunderstood'-"
"I don't know, Ron! I don't know," she admits.
He blinks. "Fine. Let me know when you've figured it out then."
She sighs, opening her mouth to call him back guiltily as he turns to leave the kitchen but she can't find the words. She watches him stop just as he almost disappears into the hallway and hears him mutter "Of bloody course" in that tone he only uses when Draco's in the room. Her heartbeat picks up quickly and hammers in her ears – and that's why she can't be with Ron.
She finds him sitting in the living room next to the window, watching the rain drip down the panes of glass in front of him. It's well past midnight and everyone else is asleep upstairs. "Hey," she says softly so as not to startle him.
He looks up and smiles tiredly. "Hey. Can't sleep?"
She shakes her head as she walks towards him and sits next to him on the window bench.
"Yeah. Me either."
She pulls her legs up and wraps her arms around her knees. "Can I ask you something?"
She looks at him, resting her chin on the tips of her knees. "How come you never told me about magic?"
He blinks. "What do you mean?"
"Obviously you knew, I showed you. When everybody else called me a freak, you told me I was special – but you never told me about magic."
"I wasn't allowed to," he replies softly.
"You weren't allowed to do a lot of stuff and you did them anyway."
He smirks knowingly. "Yeah, I suppose. But telling you about magic would've been entirely different. Disobeying my father was one thing, disobeying The Ministry... Besides, I knew you'd get a Hogwarts Letter so I was just sort of waiting."
She nods understandingly. "So you knew I was a muggleborn before, but at Hogwarts you acted like...well, you know."
"I know," he murmurs shamefully. He sits forward, looking at her intently. "I was just a kid, so I never really understood what my father meant when he talked about muggleborns. I knew what you were when I met you, but it just hadn't mattered to me. When I was with you, in the muggle world, I could be myself. After he obliviated me he continued hammering me with his pureblood bullshit – probably even more – but it still never really resonated with me. Probably because deep down it all came back to you," he admits, smiling weakly. "But at school...I was being watched constantly, so I had to act like I despised muggleborns even if I really didn't care."
She smiles back, tilting her head to the side.
He watches her silently as she turns her head to look out the window then. He marvels in her beauty and in the way her skin shines in the moonlight, reflects the raindrops on her skin. Merlin, she's beautiful. "I hated it, you know. Acting like I hated you. Calling you...what I had to call you."
She looks at him again and she can see the guilt and regret in his in eyes.
"There was just something about hurting you that never sat well with me – and whenever someone else hurt you, I wanted to just tear them apart." He pauses and chuckles softly. "I was oddly protective of you."
"Not so 'oddly'," she points out.
He grins. "Yeah, I guess not."
"Remember the time you snuck into my room in the middle of night?"
She laughs, shaking her head playfully. "The first night you couldn't sleep. You snuck into my room and crawled into my bed before I even realized you were there-"
"And then we spent three hours just talking."
"I don't even remember falling asleep."
Two hours later she falls asleep and he carries her back to her bedroom, wishing more than anything that he could crawl into her bed like he used to.
She's anxious. Beyond anxious, really. Incredibly on edge and basically terrified.
She's sitting at the kitchen table, waiting for the sound of the front door open. Awaiting the arrival of two of the most important people in the world to her.
Ron finds her, alone, and smiles. "Hey."
"Hey," she greets back, her nails picking subconsciously at the table beneath her fingers.
"They'll be fine, you know. Much as I hate to admit it, Malfoy knows what he's doing."
She laughs softly and rolls her eyes.
He grins back – mostly at the fact that he's managed to make her laugh for the first time in days. "What do you think – think they'll be arguing when they come in, or will they be all chummy?"
"That's a tough one," she giggles.
"I reckon they'll be arguing about something – probably over who stunned which Death Eater," Ron says.
"Or who saved who's arse."
"Or who looked better doing it."
She smiles at him, shrugging her shoulders casually.
He stares at her for a moment as he leans forward with his elbows on the table directly in front of her. "You have feelings for him, don't you?"
Hermione blinks, looking at him sheepishly.
He nods, biting his bottom lip as he looks down and shakes his head.
"I-I'm sorry," she whispers.
"No, it's okay," he replies, looking back up at her. "I just never thought I'd lose you to Malfoy, of all people. Harry, sure. Maybe even Neville. But Malfoy?"
She smiles sadly.
As if on cue the sound of the front door opening echoes through the front hall. That sound is immediately followed by the sound of two sets of footprints coming into the hall.
Her eyes widen in relief as she launches herself off her chair, out into the hall and directly into the arms of an unsuspecting blond.
"Oof," Draco mutters as he falls back against the front door from the force of her body hitting his. He smiles as she buries her face into his neck and he curls his arms around her back tightly.
"Oh get a room," Harry says loudly, playfully.
She looks across at him, watches him talk with Harry, Ron and Lupin about the plan to protect Hogwarts. He's wearing muggle clothes borrowed from Fred, who's approximately the same height and his hair is all messy and wind-swept.
It's awful timing, but she remembers their brief conversation about his feelings for her. Remembers the conversation she overheard between him and Harry just the other day, when the latter told the former that he finally trusted him – not just in the Order, but also with her.
And suddenly her feet are carrying her across the hall, past Luna and Ginny and Dean Thomas. She reaches the small group of them - the men, because they're hardly just boys anymore, are they? – and she practically throws her arms around his neck as her lips crash against his. His lips are chapped and a little rough and his hands feel callused as he brings them up to cup her face as he kisses back – desperately, hungrily, vulnerably.
And for that moment there is no war. There's no looming death, there's nobody watching. For that moments it's just them and the fire and ice coursing through her veins and the butterflies fluttering around in her stomach and the feeling of jelly in her limbs.
When she pulls back, she's panting and then the words are out of her mouth before she even thinks them. "I love you too," she murmurs.
He blinks in response. "I - uh..."
"I know," she smiles weakly. When she turns to go back to her post, ignoring the smirk on Harry's face and the look of mocking disgust on Ron's, he grabs her and pulls her back, pressing his forehead against hers.
"Take care of yourself, okay?"
"Yeah. You as well."
He tries to keep one eye on her at all times. However, while he's dueling with one particularly nasty Death Eater, he loses track of her. After stunning the man in the white mask, he whirls around to where he last saw her – only she isn't there. She isn't anywhere. And so, battle forgotten, he takes off in search of his favourite curly-haired witch.
He passes her friends – Longbottom, Thomas, Lovegood – and asks them if they've seen her. They haven't.
He passes some of the Slytherins who have come up from the dungeons to fight alongside the Order – Blaise Zabini and Theo Nott – but they haven't seen her either.
He's in full-on panic mode by the time he hears a familiar drawl echoing down a dark, otherwise empty corridor. His blood runs cold at the sound of that word – Mudblood - and he makes his way quietly towards the voice. He peers around the corner and his stomach churns at the sight of his father having backed Hermione against the brick wall.
"I should've killed you when I first had the chance all those years ago," Lucius Malfoy murmurs darkly, his wand pressing against the underside of her chin.
"Why didn't you?" she asks softly; her voice holds no fear, only distant curiosity.
"Because your memories were never supposed to return."
"Perhaps your magic just isn't strong enough-"
Lucius growls. "Why you despicable, filthy-"
"Father," Draco says, making his presence known. He sees Hermione's gaze flicker towards him, but he keeps his own on the man whom is nearly identical to himself – more specifically, he keeps his gaze on the wand now aimed at her throat.
"Ah, Draco," Lucius sneers. "Nice of you to join us."
"Let her go," he replies stonily.
"I must say, I was quite surprised to find out that you'd disappeared with the Mudblood here. I thought perhaps I had finally gotten through to you. May I ask how you got out?"
Draco swallows the knot in his throat. "Through the front door. Now let her go," he demands.
"Why would I do that?"
"Because if you harm one hair on her head I'll never forgive you."
Lucius smirks. "How did you become so...soft, Draco? So misguided. Where did I go wrong?"
Draco gaps at him. "Wrong? You think-" he cuts himself off, gripping his wand hard at his side. "I wouldn't expect you to understand."
"Understand what?" his father snaps.
"Anything – you've never loved anything. You've never cared-"
"Love?" Lucius spits disgustedly. "You really think you love this one?"
Draco glares at him. "I know I do. And, you know, I think you had a lot – if not everything – to do with it."
"You drilled your pureblood supremacy into my head for so long and so often that it sparked my curiosity – and my curiosity led me to her."
"How dare you blame me for you discrepancies!" Lucius growls, forgetting - momentarily - about the the girl whom his wand is pointed at.
"I have given you everything, you ungrateful-"
"Yeah, everything except a loving, stable home," Draco snaps. "Everything except the freedom to think my own thoughts and follow my own dreams and find my own purpose in life."
"If falling in love with Mudbloods is your way of doing those things then you've succeeded miraculously, haven't you?" his father sneers.
"I haven't fallen in love with a Mudblood," the youngest Malfoy denies. "I've fallen in love with a girl much kinder and braver and purer than anyone I've ever known – than I could ever hope you to be."
Lucius glares at him dangerously.
Draco allows his gaze to flicker towards Hermione, standing still and silent beyond his father and nods his head ever-so-slightly. Within seconds, she catches the eldest Malfoy off guard and pushes him, causing him to stumble far enough away from her for her to dodge out of the way of Draco's incoming spell. The stunning spell hits the other man straight in the chest and sends him flying backwards before he even has a chance to catch his footing. His body hits the wall with a sickening thud and his head snaps back against the brick; he lands in an unconscious heap on the floor.
Draco stares down at the still body of his father for a few seconds – his eyes are sad and withdrawn – before turning his attention to Hermione. He takes her face in his hands and instinctively begins searching her for injuries.
"I'm fine, Draco," she insists, placing her hands on his arm to reassure him. "I promise."
"He didn't hurt you?"
She shakes her head. "He only threatened to."
His father is captured by the Aurors and taken to Azkaban where he will await trial. His mother goes willingly and unlike as he watched his father go, his eyes are regretful and sad. Hermione watches him watch her, watches the pain morph on his face. Watches his fists roll into balls at his side as he struggles to hold himself together.
Harry comes up beside her and curls an arm around her neck. He's just won the war against Voldemort and so there's a huge amount of satisfaction and happiness dancing through him but the pain and sadness of all the lives lost in the process is weighing heavily on his heart, she can tell.
Draco turns to them, then, and a small smile graces his lips when he sees her. He shoves his hands into his pockets and takes the few steps separating them before offering Harry his hand. The dark-haired wizard pulls his arm back from Hermione's shoulders to shake his hand.
"I'll speak for her," Harry tells him.
Draco swallows thickly. "You don't have to do that," he mutters.
"She saved my life," the other man says, shrugging his shoulders. "Even if it was just to make sure your pale arse was still alive."
The blond nods. "Thank you."
Seconds after Harry leaves them alone – save for the hundreds of students and professors and peers around them – they continue to stand across from each other awkwardly. Too tense to move and too afraid to make a move. It's like they're shy, embarrassed teenagers speaking for the first time.
"So...what happens now?" she asks softly, fiddling nervously.
"I dunno," he admits, smiling sadly.
"W-what about us?"
He holds his hand out, palm up for her to take. She slips her hand into his and he pulls her forward gently so she's flush against him. He curls his other arm around her waist and dips his head to kiss the tip of her nose – all the while keeping her gaze with his own. "We'll figure it out the way we started this. Together," he murmurs. "Yeah?"
She nods, smiling softly. "Yeah."