"Oh Hermione darling it's been ages!" Molly Weasley grasped me in a tight hug. I smiled, it had been far too long.
"I know Mrs. Weasley, it really has." I sighed.
"Well what are you waiting for, come in, come in." She insisted, brushing off my shoulders as I stepped inside.
"Hermione!" George's bright voice was louder than some of the others. The Weasley family had yet again grown since the last time I'd seen them all.
"Hi." I managed to get out before Ginny threw her arms around me and held on tight.
"Oh Hermione we thought we'd never get another meal graced by your presence." She grinned. I couldn't help but stare at her tummy though. Harry had told me the news months ago, but it was entirely different, seeing her ballooning out with child.
"Ginny, you look…fantastic, I'm so happy for you." I managed, I was bewildered, everyone seemed quite different, yet exactly the same.
"Good to see you Hermione." Arthur Weasley patted me gently on the back, and I could all but keep myself from tears. I couldn't believe how long I'd let myself go without hearing the nonstop racket from the freckled, redheaded clan that was my family. I'd all but lost myself in bits of conversation flying about and around me when I caught sight of Ronald.
"Blimey Hermione, it's been a long time." I wasn't sure whether he'd said it to himself or to me, but it didn't seem to matter. I stood rooted to my spot, regretting my snap decision to join them almost instantly.
He stood with his arms crossed loosely in front of him, a faint and very forced smile lingering on his lips. He looked the same, but completely different, it had been almost a year since I'd had to talk to him, and even then it was brief.
"Yeah a year I think." I sputtered in his general direction.
"How've you been?" He glanced down, and the noise of the family around us seemed to quiet. This was suddenly so awkward. I dare say this was the quietest I'd ever heard this large family.
"Erm, well you know. Alright. I've been busy, you know…with…work and such." I stumbled over my own sentence. It was amazing to me how nervous I still was around him. How much looking into his eyes still stung.
"I heard you took the store up?" I asked him desperately, trying to change the subject.
"He sure did!" George interjected playfully. I exhaled deeply, thankful for the turn in conversation. "Not quite as good with the ideas as me, but he's got a bit of a brain for investments and somebody's got to be the bud of my jokes." George laughed, throwing his arm around his brother.
"Hermione's doing very well herself." Harry stood up smiling warmly at me. I appreciated that George and Harry were apparently going to have this conversation for us.
"She's the finest healer I've ever worked with. I mean it isn't surprising, all considered." He shrugged. I blushed. "You wouldn't believe how well she held up in auror training though, I had a hard time keeping up with her myself." Harry beamed. It wasn't that true. Being a healer wasn't easy, not to mention the fact that I ran with aurors, the on call healer assigned to missions. The wounds I dealt with were almost always fatal. I was much more interested in dodging a curse or two than firing one back.
"I think I can believe that, I watched her take on Bellatrix, you know." Ron shrugged. Crimson flooded my cheeks, he had to bloody bring up the past already, and I'd only been there a few minutes.
"Come on you lot, it's time for dinner!" Mrs. Weasley came into the room quickly, ushering the last few of us having conversation into the dining room. I was thankful for her interjection, maybe today wouldn't be quite as hard as I thought.
I took a deep long breath while laugher and banter erupted around me. I tried to eat without causing too much attention, as much as I loved this family, I didn't particularly want to talk.
"You alright?" Harry whispered inconspicuously
"I'm fine." I said, giving him a weak attempted at a smile. "Really." I added for good measure. He let it go, but it wasn't long before a stream of questions was directed at me again. I hadn't been with the entire Weasley family in nearly a year, and that was for a good reason. I didn't want to be the girl that tore their family apart first of all. Considering mine and Ron's past the last thing I wanted was to intrude on his family so quickly. It had been over four years now since Ron had broken off our engagement and I still felt that nearly every life choice I made had everything to do with him.
"Saving lives as usual, that's Hermione for you." Arthur chuckled.
"Her skill out there is nearly perfected, without her I know I would've lost an arm or leg on most of my missions." Harry added, I tensed. I didn't dare look across from me at Ron.
"Not that there's anything wrong with that." Percy muttered, trying to be helpful. I closed my eyes, he made it worse.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I didn't have to open my eyes to know that Ron was speaking. "Being injured on the field isn't my idea of an unabashedly good time." He scowled. I glanced to him, his brow drawn together, looking down at his meal.
"No, Ron of course not, we all know that." His mother chided. "You were an exceptional auror."
"Mum." He warned.
"Yeah mate, hell, I'm not any better than you were, it's dumb luck and a good healer that I've got on my side." Harry added. I was almost shaking.
"That might have been useful when I'd gotten hurt." He said, rolling his eyes as he took another large bite of mashed potatoes, avoiding my gaze. I couldn't help but grit my teeth, anger washing over me.
"It's not like you didn't have everything to do with my bloody career change Ronald." I spat, my hands folded in my lap. I was staring at him, but he refused to look up and it wasn't just because Molly's meal was enticing.
"Come off it Hermione, let's just lighten up." Ginny tried to soothe me.
"No, I will not come off it, Gin." I sighed, barely muttering now. "It's not like this was what I wanted with my life but everyone seems to overlook that." The last bit I was sure nobody heard until Ron's cheeks grew flush. I stared down at my food this time.
"Don't get all high and mighty with me. I remember me asking you not to do this, not for me." I didn't have to look at him to know he was getting angry. I took a deep breath, swallowing a lump in my throat.
"Why else would I have done it?" I muttered, Harry coughed rather loudly, trying to cover my comment. I knew I was only fueling the fire.
"What was that Hermione?" Ron's voice was clipped, angry. This time I looked up. He was near as red as his hair, his lips pressed in a straight line. His knuckles grew white from gripping his fork so hard. This time I didn't back down.
"Nothing Ron, just that I wouldn't have chosen this path if not for you." I looked right at him, fighting the familiar sensation of tears.
"I don't understand you Hermione." His voice was rising as he spoke. "I gave you a clear out and you just didn't take it. In fact I remember asking you not to choose that life, so don't put it on me that you hate your job. You knew there was nothing you could do for me." He was nearly yelling, his silverware clattering to the table.
"I do not hate my job Ronald." It was the first thing that came to mind. Tears were blurring my vision.
"Ron, just….eat." Molly Weasley shot a menacing and yet despairing glance at her son.
Ron ate by the spoonful, shoving his face until his plate was clear. He didn't look at me through the rest of the meal.
"Sorry 'bout all that Hermione." Harry said later, rubbing the back of his neck. I shrugged.
"Less violent than it could have been I suppose." I said quietly, sighing.
"It'll get better, I'm sure it will." Ginny said, but she didn't seem so sure either.
"It's fine, it's about time we both got over it right, I mean it's been…" I trailed off, trying not to think about how long ago it was that Ron asked her for her engagement ring back.
"Four years." Harry said, Ginny elbowed him, giving him a look.
"It really has been that long." I said, wondering when I would finally stop letting Ronald Weasley control my life decisions.
I left soon after that, Ron seemed to have disappeared up to his room, so that was one goodbye I wouldn't have to go through yet again. I promised the lot of them I'd be back soon, but I honestly wasn't all that sure.
I stepped into my flat rather exhausted, and I headed right for my shower. I'd been working too hard lately, and by lately I guess I meant the last four years. I sighed, letting the hot water hit my back, noting a few bruises I couldn't quite reach.
After the war, Harry, Ron and I went straight to the auror offices. We didn't have much of a choice, not that we minded, but with the information we had regarding the final two years of the war, Kingsley wanted us there. Auror training started six months in, and being that we were the golden trio, we were thrown right into the ranks.
About a year after the war ended, I settled into the auror offices, putting myself behind the scenes, working on cracking cases of missing death eaters, war crimes and such. Back then my life was pretty good, though it was still chaotic from the post war events, I was happy. Ron and I were dating, I was in a job I loved, my life was headed somewhere. When Ron proposed I was overjoyed, we were so happy and so in love. But I let my job slip, I was in charge of one of the missions and I underestimated the death eaters they were facing. Ron barely made it to St. Mugo's alive. I blamed myself for it, his injuries were caused by dark magic I'd never witnessed. Only a year and a half after the war and Ron was barely able to sit up, much less fight.
I tried my best those next few months, to nurse him back to health, but he grew bitter and began to resent everyone. He wanted to be on the front lines again and there was nothing I could do for him. I made the decision then that I would no longer be helpless, I'm not that girl. I enlisted into healer training, but it was a demanding career move. I barely saw Ron, and when I did he was yelling at me. He asked for his ring back eventually. It completely broke me, but I threw myself into my work instead.
I barely slept, I never ate. I lived and breathed healing. I kept up with Auror training too. I wanted to do it all, and it was taking a toll on my body. Three years after our break up I was able to fight, handle cases and heal. They did call me the brightest witch of our age for a reason. I took pride in my work, and every case was personal. Now that I had everything together though, I realized I didn't have much of a life. I just worked.
I stepped out of the shower and threw on my sweats trying to clear my head. I had a big case coming up tomorrow, my biggest ever actually. I tried not to think of Ron in those last few moments before I drifted to sleep, but it was difficult. I'd spent the last four years banishing the idea of a future with him out of my mind, seeing him made it hard to think of anything else. I knew I wasn't still in love with him, but I'd been pushing away the hurt he caused me for years, I'd never really given myself a chance to get over it. Thankfully my exhaustion proved worth it, and I fell asleep to the sound of my own heartbeat.
"I still don't see the necessity Minister." Draco Malfoy cleared his throat, trying to keep the obvious distaste from his tone.
"Mr. Malfoy this is not optional. It is simply not safe for you to remain where you are. Although I'm sure the wards on your home are sufficient—" Kingsley began. I hid a scowl, my wards were impenetrable, I'd love to have a go at one of the death eaters that dared to reside within a mile of my home. "but we cannot run the risk of knowing that our biggest target and one of the heads of this case is sitting unprotected in a location that is not secured by the ministry." He finished.
I had learned in my years working at the ministry that it was best not to argue, especially being in my social standing. I grimaced at the idea of being removed from my home. I could take care of myself, after all I had managed to not fret about the thousands of death threats I'd procured over the years.
"And you don't consider Miss Granger a target?" I added almost too hastily. The remaining death eaters would jump at the chance to kill her rather than get revenge on me.
"Miss Granger is arguably the most proficient auror the ministry has, let me assure you that she is more than capable of taking care of both herself and you, Mr. Malfoy." Kingsley said. "Besides, it will make life a lot easier for you anyway, she is the second head on the case, with her quick thinking and your knowledge on the subject, this case should hardly be difficult, nor should it last long." Kingsley almost smiled at the end of his sentence.
I fought the urge to roll my eyes. None of these cases were easy. We were dealing with ex. Death eaters here, not to mention Voldemort supporters and sympathizers. Besides I hardly believed working with Granger was going to make time go by any faster. I nodded curtly, trying my best not to lose my temper with the man. This would be my final mission before my name was completely cleared and all the tabs the ministry had on me would be abolished. I would no longer have to spend my Thursday afternoons receiving therapy, and my Monday mornings getting my wand checked. I would finally be completely free.
"I'm starting you off with a months' supply of polyjuice potion." Kingsley continued, setting a decent sized trunk on the table. I grimaced. The thought of keeping myself under the polyjuice potion at all times for an undetermined, but probably lengthy, amount of time wasn't exactly exciting to me. I was to a certain extent thankful though, this meant that I could go wherever I pleased without a disapproving sneer being thrown towards me. The more important point though, was that Granger would never have to know who I really was, which would make working with her infinitely less difficult.
"I expect you won't be finished in that time, but this is enough to get you started." He stated. "As we discussed, you are not to leave your residency without the polyjuice potion, unless it is imperative to the mission. You may disclose your identity with your partner on the case, and only with her." He drawled on. I nearly let out a laugh at the thought of shaking hands with Granger, introducing myself as Draco Malfoy, her most hated rival. Kingsley must have noticed my unease.
"She will know that you're under polyjuice potion. Your choice to reveal your identity to her, I will leave to your discretion." I nodded in understanding. I was silently grateful.
"All your paperwork is finished, you'll introduced now as Mr. Dominick Evans." I raised an eyebrow at my new name and frowned. It was an odd feeling, not being a proud Malfoy, at least not at the moment. Truthfully the Malfoy name lost its pride six years ago, with this case complete, it would be a prideful name once more, I was determined of that.
"Thank you, minister." I said politely. He nodded at me in acceptance, and sighed, his face tightening.
"Mr. Malfoy," He leaned close to me, holding my eye contact, scrutinizing me. "This will be the last time I refer to you by that name for a while. You've done your fair share here at the ministry over the past six years. I believe whole-heartedly that you regret the lifestyle that was forced upon you." He paused and his tone became dark. "With that being said Draco, if you set so much as a toe out of line throughout this mission, I will not hesitate to put you back at square one. Are we clear?"
"Crystal clear, sir." I held his gaze for just a moment longer so he could sense the sincerity in my words.
"Miss Granger will be arriving any moment now. I suggest you take a few moments to take the potion in private before I formally brief the both of you on this case. You are dismissed." I nodded and took the trunk full of potions to the lavatory. I locked the door swiftly, and only then had I noticed that Kingsley had charmed my wand to appear just a bit different. It felt the same in my hands, no doubt was it my wand, but it was disguised just enough that nobody would take a second look at it. I was almost impressed at Kinsley's thorough nature, almost.
I didn't even look at the potion that I chugged down, plugging my nose. I nearly choked on the vile flavor, but I would have to get used to that eventually. It wasn't until that moment that I was curious at what I would look like. I'd been so caught up in preparing myself to work with Granger that it had slipped my mind entirely.
This polyjuice potion was entirely special, in my opinion it should not have even been considered a polyjuice potion at all. The potion transformed it's drinker into a person whom did not already exist. Instead of looking like another wizard, I had a look entirely to myself. This potion also lasted a lot longer than the normal rendition of polyjuice, so I'd only have to take it once or twice a day. I closed my eyes while I felt my skin bubble and stretch. It was such an odd sensation, and one I wasn't all too familiar with.
I braced myself over the sink when I looked in the mirror for the first time. To my surprise, I didn't look all too different. My hair was a darker, auburn color. My cheekbones looked less sunken in as my face had rounded. My nose was a bit stubbier and just by a guesstimate I was a few inches shorter. My skin had taken a peachier hue. The only bit of me that remained completely unchanged were my eyes. They were the same steel grey as always, haunted by the same memories. I wasn't recognizable by any means, but someone who knew me well might take a second look. Fortunately for me, Granger never looked at me longer than she absolutely had to.
I sighed, almost disappointed that I could still recognize myself. A small part of me had hoped that I could forget myself completely, if only for a little while. I'd spent a long time repenting for the little that I contributed to the wrong side of the wizarding war, but it would never be enough. My name would soon be cleared, and my mother could walk the city in peace, but I would always have the memories, the nightmares and the regret. My arm instinctively twitched. The mark was faded, but it was still there, no amount of potion could change that.
a/n Some of you pointed out that I made some errors previously in mentioning Thanksgiving as it is not celebrated in England, I've corrected these mentions since then and I apologize for the error, thanks for reading! :)