Edited 10/11/15


19. Finale, Part One: Don't Stop

I hope

Do you wanna let go?

Do you wanna this time?

I hope you wanna let go

'Cause this is home

[This is Home, Blink 182]


Belonging and Birthdays

He woke up to Hermione's mouth around his cock and her hands soft and firm on his thighs, her tongue laving up the shaft of his morning erection, and closing around the head, sucking. She was a shape under the blankets, and Draco smiled and found her head beneath the blankets, hand twining in her hair, his eyes still shut, making a humming sound of approval. It was a fitting way to wake on his eighteenth birthday, he thought dreamily, tensing and groaning as she took all of him into her mouth, sucking and swallowing around his cock. Not that she could know that - there was no point in celebrating his birthday. He wasn't a child anymore, and all a birthday was anyway, was just another day, and no one but Hermione would care about Draco Malfoy's birthday. So there had been no point in telling her, or anyone else.

"Fuck, Hermione...oh damnit..." Draco got out in a strangled gasp, thoughts shattered as she choked on his cock, gagging, throat convulsing around his cock, and his hips snapped up and she choked again and pulled back. Her hand stayed on his cock though, sliding up and down, slicked with her saliva, and Draco shoved the blanket back and unveiled her. She grinned up at him, lips all swollen and reddened, and cheeks flushed.

"Happy Birthday, Draco," she said breathlessly, and pressed her lips against the head of his cock in a strangely tender kiss. What? "What?" he asked her blankly, thinking he mustn't have woken up after all, he must still be asleep, and having a wet dream for the first time in bloody months.

"Happy eighteenth birthday," she said again, hand still twisting up and down his cock, smiling smugly at him, all bright eyes and tangled hair, in a thin tee shirt and pyjama shorts. Draco struggled up onto his elbows, staring down at her, not quite frowning.

"How the hell did you...?"

"It's a secret," she said primly, and smirked at him, and Draco wondered if his smirks infuriated her as much as hers infuriated him. He frowned at her properly now.

"One of the Professors told you?"

"Nope," she said, popping her lips on the 'p' and still smirking insufferably at his apparent stupidity.

"Bloody well tell me, Hermione." It irritated Draco not to know how she'd found out, for some reason. He hadn't wanted her to know. Hadn't wanted a big deal made out of it. Hadn't wanted...he'd wanted to keep something to himself, some distance. Something that she didn't know, that kept him apart, ever so slightly. "Don't be so childish," he scolded her sulkily, knowing he was probably being childish himself but not caring, because that was different.

"Childish? Is that what you really want to call this?" she asked coyly and filled her mouth with his cock again, and Draco's head fell back and his mind spun helplessly as her tongue and lips did delicious things to him.

"No, probably not," he said with breathless pleasure a few minutes later, fingers all twisting around in Hermione's hair again and dragging her up his body, the sun slanting through the gap in the curtains and lighting her with the early glow. "But honestly, how did you find out?"

"I'll never tell," Hermione teased him, straddling his hips, her hands on his shoulders, rubbing her pussy lightly against his erection, kissing a wet, nibbling path along his jaw. Draco's hand came up to grip one soft, curving arse cheek and he grinned wickedly at her as he lifted her up and sank her back down on his cock hard, groaning at the tight, slick heat of her.

"We'll see about that," he threatened her, bumping his hips up and thrusting into her hard, prompting a moan to thread from that plump mouth of hers.

"I have ways and means of making you talk," Draco added in a strained, teasing voice, smirking wickedly at her. He snapped his hips up, cock driving into her cunt and eliciting another choked moan from her lips, and he felt ridiculously proud of himself as she panted for breath and moaned clung to him with frantic, desperate fingers. He kissed her, his mouth capturing hers and tongue dipping between her parted lips, and he felt her shiver, grind down onto his cock with a mewl, and Draco thought that maybe it was nice she knew it was his birthday after all, if this was what he got as a birthday present.

Of War

"You feeling okay, 'Mione?" Ron asked as he stuck his head through her bedroom doorway, finishing buckling his Auror leathers on, and Hermione nodded weakly, feeling ill and horribly nervous, and not ready for this in the slightest. She wanted to run away and hide.

"Yes. I'm fine, just a little nervous I guess," she said in a thin voice as Ron wandered in, staring intently down at her, and he clapped her on the shoulder. Drew her into a tight, squashing hug, and then let her go abruptly, and finished doing up his vambrace and checked his wand holster.

"We'll be fine, 'Mione. It'll go off without a hitch." His blue eyes met hers sharply and filled with the fires of certainty. "You have to believe that," he told her, and she nodded, managed a weak smile.

"I know, Ron. I do believe it."

"Well, I better go say bye to Cho," he said, and strode from her room with his spine straight and chin up, confidence in every step, not a trace of doubt of fear to him, and Hermione was so envious of his bravery. She turned back to securing her own damn leathers, which she'd never gotten used to buckling and lacing despite wearing them so often. She swore with annoyance at a recalcitrant rerebrace, forehead all furrowed up in a frown as she tried to jab the strap through the little metal buckle. A hand covered hers, still her angry movements, and then Draco was helping hold the buckle up for her, so she could slip the strap through and pull it tight.

"Thanks," Hermione said, trying not to let her voice shake, but Draco knew her, and he knew how scared she was right now. He gulped hard himself, throat clicking dryly, grey eyes slipping away from hers, and she knew then that he was afraid too. She wondered if he was afraid for her, or himself, or both of them. She suspected any fear that Draco had was for her, not himself. Hermione's safety appeared to be one of the few areas of Draco's life that he allowed his facade - or reality, more likely - of selfishness to slip away. She stood watching the sharp lines of his face, all set grim and expressionless, neither of them saying a word as he tested the fit of her leathers, making sure everything was secured properly with nervous, worried little movements.

He was fussing, Hermione thought with a curl of amusement; it didn't seem to fit with Draco's character somehow. Fussing was something Mrs Weasley did, but here Draco was, clucking his tongue disapprovingly over the looseness of her right vambrace.

"You have to make sure everything is on properly, Hermione," he said with tight anger, and she let the emotion slide off her - it wasn't aimed at her, not really. He was just worried.

"Sorry," was all that she said, and his head jerked up from his fiddling with her buckles and straps, to give her a startled, wide-eyed look. She didn't normally capitulate or admit fault so easily.

"Good," Draco snapped, prickly with his worry and refusing to let that fear out - and she knew the feeling. She was keeping all her terror bottled tightly up, clutching it to herself like a badly kept secret, a precious bundle, because she was afraid if she let it out it would swamp her. She'd drown in it. She needed to keep it together, or she'd be useless on this mission. And Hermione needed to be there, because Draco was going, and she couldn't let him go without her. He had a tendency to drop his guard on his right, thanks to his new left-handed duelling, and she needed to be there at his right, protecting his flank. And Harry would be there, and Ron, and it just didn't seem right that everyone would be going, while she stayed here.

"Weasley's right - you have to believe it. You can't go in all muddled up with doubts, Hermione. You'll just get yourself killed."

"I know that after this war, I'm going to marry you," she said firmly, staying his flustered, fussing hand and interlocking their fingers, putting her other hand on his shoulder and stepping in close to him.

"Whether you like it or not," she added and he smirked at that, squeezed her hand a little tighter. "So you can bet I believe we'll be okay. We have to be. There's no way in hell this marriage isn't going to happen, now that you've finally surrendered to the inevitability."

"Oh, inevitability, was it?" he queried, arching an eyebrow at her, and she grinned, trying to seize the moment of calm before the storm, and savour it.

"Of course. I'm Hermione Granger - I can out-stubborn even you, and I did. So there." She did everything but stamp her foot, and he seemed greatly amused by her childish pique.

"I might change my mind..." he teased her straight-faced, a dangerous little purr to his words, as if he really would, and Hermione shivered and pressed in closer to him, leather against leather, but he was warm through it all, and he smelt so good, like home and soap and sex and Draco. He belonged to her, and she to him, and they'd tried being apart but it hadn't worked, and she knew he would never leave her so long as she told him to stay. He couldn't help himself - he was too selfish, he said, and if that was selfishness then Hermione was horribly selfish too, and she didn't care. She wanted him, and she would have him, and that was that. End of story.

"You can't, you swore," she said, firmly, and he smirked at her, that generous, expressive mouth tipping up at one corner.

"I'm a Slytherin, Hermione. Why in Merlin's name would you believe I'd keep my word?" he said with a lazy, smug tone, and she narrowed her eyes at him, still playing, and it was just her and him, alone, and nothing else existed. And Merlin, he was irritating like no one else could be. She couldn't think of a comeback, and she huffed at him grumpily and batted him on the shoulder with the heel of her hand, and he snorted at her impotent fury, kissed her mouth, sucking on her lower lip and then pulling back. He looked down at her, with a taut fear that he covered very, very badly, today, clear in his eyes as they caught the sunlight.

"We'll be all right," she said, waiting for him to confirm it, and he did, jerking off a sharp nod.

"We'll be fine, Hermione. Get in, gas everyone, retrieve the horcrux, and get out." His voice was crisp and hard, eyes far away, and she knew he was picturing the mission unfolding perfect in his mind. "It'll be easy."

"That's what you said about Russia, and we all nearly died" she blurted out stupidly before she could stop herself, and Draco went utterly still. Stared at her, his mission face on - cold and hard and very, very dangerous - and said: "That was Russia."

He slid his hand from hers as if her touch unnerved him, stepped back from her, retreating defensively, and she could barely see the memory of how close they'd come to death in Russia in his face, but she could see it. Draco swallowed hard and lifted his chin sharply, stared at her for a silent, awkward moment, and then spoke with jerky precision.

"I'm going downstairs."

There was nothing she could say, so she just nodded and sat down on the edge of her bed as he walked out, knees feeling suddenly weak, and his fear frightened her. It wasn't going to be simple. It wasn't going to be easy, and they all knew it. And Draco was terrified for her. That she was going to die. Hermione felt dizzy and ill, and she clamped down on the nausea, teeth grinding together. They had to believe it.

A Memory Out of Time

The first time Draco had ever been afraid for her, that Hermione remembers, was at the manor. In his own home, his family around him. The perfect pure blood, gazing down at the filthy Mudblood whore, and looking so horrified by what his aunt was doing to her. She remembers the tears glinting in his eyes, and she remembers hating him for daring to cry them. But even back then, so long ago when she'd been Granger and he'd been Malfoy, and they had despised each other, he'd still been afraid for her. He'd still cared enough to let her escape, despite the consequences he knew would be inflicted upon him for his failure to bring Hermione to Voldemort.

He'd lost his fingers for that small act of mercy, and Hermione thinks now that maybe that was when it began. Hermione suspects that when Draco spoke releshio, it was the one word that had changed everything. Maybe that was when they had become connected, inextricably. When it all began. When he saw her bleeding and ruined on the floor of the manor, when Voldemort tore away his fingers for his mercy, and, later, when she discovered that he had suffered for her. Maybe there had never been any other possible path but them being together, after that. She doesn't know if this is the truth, but it's a good thought to hold onto, right now. It helps with the fear.

Of War II

They appeared in Diagon Alley with a crack, and Hermione tried to shake off the nausea fast, gritting her teeth and breathing hard, swaying on her feet. Draco's hand grabbed her elbow and she shook it off, furious with him for it.

"Grab your fucking wand," she snapped, so angry that he would put his safety at stake by choosing to lend her support that she shouldn't need, rather than arm himself. He shot her a look, startled, but grabbed his wand, waggled it at her.

"I'm all right, Hermione." He looked into her eyes, and she almost believed him. "It's going to be fine. Just keep your head, all right?" She nodded, and tried to smile, and he pressed his nose and forehead down against hers, a brief kiss of skin, and then Kingsley's booming voice split the Alley.

"Let's go, come on, people, go, go, go."

She ran with the others the hundred metres to Gringotts, keeping up despite her foggy head and wobbly legs, ignoring the stares of the curious or startled wizards and witches on the sparsely populated street as the Order team rushed past them. Her wand was in hand, her boots were pounding the cobbles, her breath rasping in her lungs, and then they were at Gringotts, at the base of the steps in front of the impressive building. They cast bubbleheads on themselves, and made sure their gasmasks were secured properly as well, as back-up to the bubbleheads just in case, and stared around at each other briefly. They all looked alien to Hermione's eyes with the heavy black gasmasks on, and she gulped, steadied her nerves with an iron will. It wouldn't be good to vomit with this on.

"Go!" Kingsley ordered again, and they took the stairs two at a time, Johns and Kingsley slamming through the doors, and Hermione and the others pouring in behind. Fred, George, Mr Weasley, Truffle, Draco, Neville, Ron, and Harry twisted the gas canisters filled with Kolokol-1 open, and flung them down the long room, as Kingsley, Johns, Professor McGonagall, Dean, and Seamus secured the doors of Gringotts against unwelcome Death Eater reinforcements. Hermione had her own job.

She ran to the nearest goblin and grabbed him by the high, stiff collar, wrenching him out of his seat and casting the bubblehead charm on him. And then she faltered. She cast an incarcerous to buy her time, staring down at the goblin and unsure if she could cast the imperio on him.

And then Draco's voice said, "Imperio," crisp and cold as ice and for a moment Hermione was thrown back into the past; when he had always sounded like that, and had called her Mudblood, and knocked her books out of her hands, and laughed at her when she'd gone down on her hands and knees to collect them up, holding back her angry tears.

"Thanks," she told him numbly, automatically, and released her incarcerous, and Draco nodded, white and strained and sickened, and she wondered if he was remembering Madame Rosemerta, and suddenly thought how awful that year must have been for him. She straightened and scanned the room; almost everyone was going down as the gas hissed out - swaying and toppling, goblins littering the floor like the sprinkles on Draco's birthday cake yesterday. But there were a handful of wizards and witches who had bubbleheads up in time and angry faces, mostly already engaged in battle with the other Order members. One of them was standing quite close to Hermione and Draco, and swaying on his feet, and the world seemed to move in slow motion as he slashed his wand at them.

"Diffindo!" he cried, and Hermione reacted on instinct, shoving Draco to the side, bringing her wand up and sending a silent repulso at the wizard, sending him flying across the room to smash into another enemy wizard. She bit her tongue as the wizard's diffindo sliced into her arm, straight through her Auror leathers. She scrambled to her feet shaking and frantic, checking her arm - it wasn't deep, although the blood was running freely. If she hadn't been wearing her leathers the wizard's curse would have cut straight through the bone, though, and she shuddered at the thought. She flicked her wand at another witch who was duelling Fred and George, and took the woman down with a stupefy, and then everything fell silent.

"Are we clear?" Kingsley called, and everyone looked around anxiously, and finding no one else awake except for themselves and the goblin Draco had used the Imperius on, relaxed.

"We are," Professor McGonagall called crisply, and waved her wand, setting another locking charm on Gringotts' main doors, to make sure the enemy couldn't get in when they realised what had happened - which they surely already had. Some of the witches and wizards in Diagon Alley who had seen the Order storm the building must be Death Eater sympathisers, and they would have informed them. Luckily for them, Gringotts already had anti-apparition wards set about it, so the only way in were the barricaded doors.

"You had better hurry." Professor McGonagall said briskly, "We'll remain here and hold the doors for you."

"Good luck," Kingsley said to the Professor, striding over to Hermione and Draco, looking deadly dangerous and hard as stone, and grabbing the goblin by the collar, hefting the dazed creature to his feet. "Take us to the Lestrange vault. Now."

"Of course," the goblin replied, inclining his head slightly. No trace of the confusion common to a botched Imperius, just friendly obedience, and Hermione wondered if Draco practiced before he imperioed Madame Rosemerta, and if so, how. She kept her hand clamped over the wound in her arm as she, Draco, Harry, Ron, Neville and Mr Weasley hurried towards the archway that led to the tracks with Kingsley, the others remaining behind, to hold the doors. Her blood spattered weakly on the floor every few steps, and she swore and fumbled out her vial of dittany as they hurried along, dripping it on her arm.

She fell behind the others, and Draco noticed - like she had hoped he wouldn't - and snarled, snatching her unwounded arm, all cold hard lines and no pity left in him, even for her. He was in that place he went, that place that made Hermione not recognise him in the slightest, that made her stomach flip with half-frightened want instead of the usual welcome hot swirls. He frightened her and made her feel safe at the same time, when he was like this. He stared at her hurt arm, and the muscles in his jaw twitched and bunched.

"You're hurt," it was a sharp statement of fact snapped out, and Hermione nodded, tried to pull her arm away.

"I'm fine." But his fingers were like iron and the butt of his wand jabbed painfully into her flesh. She held up her wounded arm for him to see, the gash already slowly closing over as the dittany went to work. "See?"

"Hurry up, you two!" Kingsley growled, and Hermione jumped, caught Draco's eyes with hers, worried by the fear underneath the cold.

"You have to believe it," she told him, half-snarkily, and then flashed him a smile, running toward Kingsley and the others, her braid thumping against her back and the sound of Draco's footsteps behind her.

Belonging and Birthdays II

She brought him breakfast in bed, after the sex. He said she didn't have to, but she insisted, a bundle of nervous energy, planting a kiss on him that missed his cheek and hit his ear, half deafening him, before skittering out of the room. When she brought up his breakfast - an inordinate amount of time later, and sporting burnt fingers - Draco sat up in bed, naked under the sheet, and dove into the slightly underdone poached eggs, black-edged toast, limp bacon, and cereal she'd brought him.

Hermione picked at his food in a lacklustre fashion for a while, despite his playful warning jabs at her thieving fingers with the tines of his fork. She didn't eat much though, and said she wasn't really hungry; in the end she just sat on the bed cross-legged in her pyjama top and shorts, and watched him eat, her chin cupped in her hands.

"It makes me nervous, when you watch me like that. I keep thinking you're plotting to murder me," he said with lazy amusement, and popped a spoonful of muesli in his mouth, and Hermione blushed and immediately looked down at her hands.

"Sorry."

"That's not a denial," he commented, and she glared up at him, dipped her finger in the yolk of one of the eggs, and deliberately flicked the drips in his face. Warm, runny yolk spattered sparsely over his nose and cheeks and he only just managed to shut his eyes in time to avoid getting a drop of yolk in it. He spluttered, and while his eyes were screwed shut she took the opportunity to flick more yolk at him. He spluttered again and flinched, wiped his eyes and narrowed them at her, grabbing her wrist and stopping her from flicking any more bloody yolk.

"You bitch," he said, half-laughing, half-furious, and she smirked at him, an expression that wavered and melted into desire when he yanked her hand to his face and drew her egg-covered finger into his mouth, swirling his tongue around it, sucking hard.

"Mmph," she said faintly and he grinned, triumphant, and released her finger, trying to smudge away the spatters of yolk that decorated his face.

"Is it gone?" he asked her, and she covered her face and snorted gracelessly, peeking between her splayed fingers at him and snorting back more laughter as she struggled out a choked, "Yes," that a Hufflepuff wouldn't have believed.

"Merlin's sake, you are the worst liar I have ever met, Hermione," he said, shaking his head with mock-disappointment.

"I am not!" she said automatically, frowning fiercely at him, managing to be straight-faced for a moment. And then she choked back a string of giggles again. "I'm sorry, you just look so funny," she said, and then, regaining some of her composure: "Here, let me help you." And then Hermione was leaning forward on her hands and knees over the tea tray on Draco's lap, and licking a cold, wet trail along his cheek. Draco shivered at the sensation and jolted away from her instinctively, and the damn muesli spilled everywhere, sloshing over the tea tray and soaking into the sheet below, and the Malfoy family jewels below that.

"Oh Merlin's fucking balls that's cold."

A Memory Out of Time II

He can still see it in his mind, as clear as if he were viewing it in a pensieve. It is easier in the dark. The day that she brought him down the tray of Mrs Weasley's delicious home cooked lunch, it is clear in his mind. He had been huddled in a corner, feeling loathsome and defeated, and she had come and spoken his name with worry in her voice, and he had felt the poisonous sting of gratitude - for her having kept her word, and for the kindness in her voice when she spoke his name. She had tried to be kind to him, and the awkwardness had been palpable in the air, but he had been too sunk in self-loathing to care.

Draco thought that that had been the first time he'd looked at her and seen her, when she had said, "Oh... I'll be perfectly comfortable on your bed, Malfoy," and he had realised that Granger was female, and actually rather attractive. He wonders now how he could have ever not noticed how pretty she was, how quietly, glowingly beautiful. But that was then, and this is now, and hindsight is always twenty/twenty, and he can't blame himself for not seeing it. He thinks it would have been easier if he'd never seen it.

But Draco finds Hermione's fingers in the dark and curls his around them, and remembers the way the slim digits had twined in her lap as she had stared at him surreptitiously while he'd eaten that day - trying to be sneaky, but failing miserably. He had thought at the time, that she was just staring at his stump, and he had been angry, uncomfortable, all mixed up with that horrible, unwelcome gratitude. And he'd hated her, when she had asked him what happened, to maim him. He had lashed out, and so had she, and the poison of old hate and fresh anger had hung thick in the damp cellar air. But she had been distressed as well as angry, and in the end, he hadn't wanted her to go.

There had been something more than hate between them - there had been her clumsy attempts at kindness, and his damned gratitude. She had brought Draco food and succour, and he had clung to her for that, and despised himself for it. He still wonders why she reached out to him, then, and the answer is always, because she is Hermione Granger. He wonders why she came back down to the cellar, after leaving in a cloud of anger and hurt, his insults of mudblood, and then his pathetic pleas in her ears. Right now, there is a large part of him that wishes she hadn't. She changed everything when she gave him the second chance no one else would, and he is not selfish enough to think that was a good thing. Not anymore.

Belonging and Birthdays III

She handed him a rectangular package, all wrapped in brown paper and tied up with twine, and Draco paused in trying to button his shirt and raised an eyebrow at her.

"What's this?"

"Your birthday present, of course," she said and gave him a little, nervous smile, as if she was afraid he wouldn't like the gift. He took it - obviously a book - and flashed her faint but genuine smile, feeling slightly stunned. Bemused. He hadn't had a birthday this nice in years. He hadn't had anyone love him with this sort of quiet, certain, loyalty in years - not even his mother. Her love was intense and clinging, but in the end had proved a fair-weather friend. Hermione's love was something entirely different to anything Draco had ever experienced, and sometimes - like now - he still didn't know what the fuck to do with it.

"I - ah - thank you," he said quietly, and sat down on the edge of the bed to open the present, his shirt half-buttoned and his hair still spiky and damp from the shower they'd had after she'd tipped his muesli all over him. She watched him anxiously as he examined the package. Shook it, as if he expected it to rattle, held it to his ear. Making a performance out of it, watching her watch him all anxious and worried, growing more and more frustrated with him.

"Just open it!" she finally burst out with, hands all knotted up in front of her, and hair straggling wet over her shoulders, and Draco laughed at her softly, feeling the lightest he has felt in months. Happy.

"I'm just trying to figure out what it is," he protested, trying to look very serious, and she shot him a scathing look.

"You," she said disgustedly, and then poked him in the shin with her bare toes. "Open it!"

"All right, all right," he said placatingly and undid the twine, neatly unfolded the paper, revealing a slim volume that read: The Scrabble Player's Handbook. Draco stared at it, lip curling in disgust. "The Scrabble Player's Handbook," he read aloud slowly, disbelievingly, and an odd noise strangled out of Hermione's throat, and he looked up to see her hand clamped over her mouth as she laughed into it, bent over nearly double.

"The look - the - the - the look on your face! Oh my god!"

"You got me a Scrabble rule book," he said blankly, and she kissed the jut of his cheekbone impulsively, still laughing. Since his proposal, Hermione had been infected with an odd mood, and Draco didn't quite know what to make of it, especially at moments like these, when she was cackling hysterically in front of him. Annoyance began to dawn on him, mixed up with fierce affection for the girl who was really too thin, and had hollows under her eyes that never went away, and scars on her gorgeous fucking skin that she'd had to cover with a glamour at Weasley's wedding. Who still had nightmares about being tortured by his aunt, who got so scared before missions that she threw up, but went out and fought anyway. Who'd gotten him a birthday present, and was laughing like the war didn't exist and they were just two normal teenagers, in a room, on an eighteenth birthday.

Draco laid the book to one side, on the bed, and stood when Hermione's laughter began to fade a few moments later, and swallowed the last of it with his lips on hers. It was a brief kiss, but demanding, hard, hot, greedy, despite that. He pulled back after the searing kiss that left them both gasping and him somehow icy-hot all through his veins.

"Thank you." His mouth quirked into a lopsided smirk, and his voice was dry as hell. "This is exactly what I wanted." And it was, in the strangest sort of way, and Hermione shrugged awkwardly, ducked her face away.

"I didn't know what to get you." She looked up at him sidelong, shrugging again. "You're very hard to buy for, you realise."

"I'm sure I am," he said and his hand stroked up the curve of her neck, cupping her jaw, thumb splaying out to rub lightly over her chin, eyes on hers and she slid them away, shuffling on her feet.

"I know it's just a silly gift. But..."

"Thank you, Hermione," he interrupted her, and meant the words with every part of him, and she smiled and the tense set of her shoulders relaxed, and she went up on tiptoes and kissed the corner of his mouth.

"Happy Birthday."

Of War III

They screamed along the tracks in the cart at a breakneck pace, and Hermione bit her lip and held onto the edge of the seat so hard her fingers cramped, barely breathing, hating the speed. It was worse than flying, because she didn't even have the slightest control - the Imperiused goblin was operating the cart, and Hermione hoped to god that Draco had really done a good job of imperioing the goblin. He was squashed up against her, lean and thin and all sharp angles, his hand locked around her wrist, a comfort, and Ron was on her other side. She was crushed between the two of them so much so that she could barely breathe - six of them hanging onto the cart that was only meant to hold four, and her heart was in her throat.

"Isn't this fun?" Ron yelled and flashed her a wide, toothy grin, and Hermione pushed down the urge to throw up as her stomach roiled, and shook her head vigorously.

"No! You're mad, Ron!"

"Oh, come on, 'Mione, this is -" The cart jerked to a halt and Hermione nearly got whiplash as they braked viciously. A red flashing light popped up at the front of the cart, and a funny wailing sound pierced the air.

"The Thief's Downfall," Kingsley said, and Ron said, "oh fu-" And then the seats flipped down and they plummeted downwards. Hermione screamed until she thought her head was going to split open, legs kicking uselessly beneath her, and arms flailing as she dropped like a stone towards the rapidly approaching ground. And then she realised she had her wand in her hand, and with seconds to spare, flashed it around, and her and the others' descents suddenly slowed. Someone else must have cast the same charm too, because a second later their descent slowed again, to a slow drift, and then they were floating gently down to the ground.

Hermione's feet touched earth and she fell to her hands and knees, feeling the roughhewn stone beneath her fingers, never, never so glad to be on solid ground as right now.

"Christ - that was exciting," Harry said breathlessly, and his hand clasped around Hermione's wrist, helping her up to her feet with a grunt of effort. She swayed there, blinking and trying not to decorate her shoes.

"You're insane, Harry. We nearly..."

"Went splat?" Draco asked from behind her and made her jump with fright. She clutched her hand to her chest and waited for her heart to calm, and her breathing to slow.

"Yes," she said vehemently, glaring around at everyone else, who all seemed to have enjoyed the terrifying ride - even Neville, white-faced and panting with fear, was grinning away like an idiot too. Even Mr Weasley and Kingsley looked like they'd gotten a thrill out of the near fatal ride. Even the goblin, was sitting on the ground smiling pleasantly up at everyone, as if he hadn't just nearly fallen to his death, completely unmoved by the experience.

"You're all bloody mad," Hermione huffed, still feeling like she was falling, heart lodged intractably in her throat.

Kingsley smiled ever so faintly, and then straightened and looked around at them all. "We should keep moving. If the Thief's Downfall has been activated, then the Death Eaters won't be far behind. Goblin - the Lestrange vault, if you will." The goblin struggled to his feet and nodded, headed off at an uneven trot along the rough stone walkway, past the doors of other, lesser, vaults, and Hermione followed with the others.

Draco was close at her side, a constant presence, and although she had to watch where she placed her feet on the rough ground and couldn't spare a glance at him, just knowing he was there was enough. She stumbled along with everyone, and despite the goblin's short stature, he could move at quite a brisk pace, and in the dark with only their lumos charms to light the path, she nearly fell several times, either Draco or Ron grabbing her arm and yanking her upright each time. Harry was ahead of them, keeping pace beside the goblin, and his head jerked around like he was scenting the air, there was a vibrating anticipation to him.

"I can feel it," he said loud enough for them all to hear as they lagged behind him and the goblin, a dreamy urgency to his tone. "I can feel that it's close. Feel him..."

A shiver ran down Hermione's spine and she, Ron, and Neville exchanged worried looks. Harry picked up the pace, moving faster, pulling ahead of the goblin, running through an archway ahead of them, and Kingsley called out to him, ordering him to come back. And then there was a rush of heat and thunder, and Harry came tearing back out through the archway like the devil himself was on his heels, looking distinctly singed. He barrelled full-tilt into Hermione and they nearly both fell down in a tangle together, but Hermione clutched at him and held them both upright.

"Harry! Harry, are you all right?"

He stared at her wildly with those big green eyes, and panted: "D-d-dragon!"

Their goblin escort started to chuckle at that, a whistling, rusty, wheezing sound, and Hermione spun on him and glared daggers. He just kept laughing, though, and then reached out and showed Hermione something dangling from his gnarled hands. A leather bag, and Hermione furrowed her brow, puzzled, and he shook it and a ringing, clanking noise rang out, like a blacksmith at work in his shop - the ring of metal on metal, pure and loud.

"Clankers," the goblin said by way of explanation. "The dragons are trained to expect pain when they hear the sound. It...tames them."

"That's horrible!" Hermione cried automatically, and in the dark she saw the silver flash of Draco's eyes as he looked over at her, his lips curling in faint amusement by the bluish light of his Lumos, and she felt silly for worrying about the ethical treatment of dragons when they had far bigger problems to focus on. But...

"It is!" she insisted stubbornly, and the goblin ignored her, and Draco just kept smiling that faint, unnerving smile, and then Kingsley snapped for the goblin to get going; they had a limited time frame, and then they were moving toward the arch. She could hear the thrashing and thudding of the dragon - irritated by Harry into a rage, and gouts of flame licked out the archway. The goblin went forward first, and lifted the clankers, shaking them, making ringing, clear noises, and Hermione heard a growling whine, and the scrabble of huge claws.

They passed through the arch, she close by Draco's side, and she winced at the sight of the dragon. Huge and cowed, half-blind and scales rubbed and patchy, cringing against the far wall in an attempt to get away from the pain that it expected.

"That's cruel," she muttered and Draco looked down at her, his pale hair stark white in the bluish lights of the Lumos charms and falling over his eyes.

"Yes, it is," he said neutrally, no judgement whatsoever in his voice, and they kept moving, hurrying through out of the dragon's reach, and the goblin let the clankers fall silent. They stopped before a vault door, and the goblin went to open it, but Hermione's attention was distracted by a slippery dance of silver toward them.

It was a patronus - a rat with thin silver whiskers and a long lashing tail, and it spoke with Truffle's voice: The Death Eaters are here. We'll hold the doors as long as we can, but hurry.

They all looked at each other, full of fear and adrenaline pumping - they'd run out of time - and then the vault doors clicked and whirred, and opened with an oiled whisper, revealing a rolling hill of treasures, all glittering and bright.

A Memory Out of Time III

He has always been ruthless and cold and cruel, even when he hasn't been, if that makes any sense. Hermione thinks he can't help it - it's part of him, in his nature, the way he was raised, and every time that he is kind, or thoughtful, or compassionate, he is defying his nature. It is not natural for him to care for others who are not of his blood. But there is a seed inside Draco that his upbringing could not crush out of him - the thing that stopped him from killing Dumbledore, that night on top of the astronomy tower. The seed of humanity that stayed his hand, and made him waver in his resolve to murder the Hogwarts Headmaster.

Draco may be ruthless and cold and cruel, but he does have a conscience even if he hasn't always listened to it, and she knows it pains him, because she is there when he has the nightmares.

He kills and he maims, and he does what he has to, but even if know one else can see it, Hermione can see the weight of it all on his shoulders, locked away and shuttered behind his eyes. It is a strange thing, to love Draco Malfoy. A frightening thing, even if she has long since embraced it. No matter what it has brought her, no matter how much it has hurt, it is right and they are right and she will never deny that. She wonders sometimes, at how much she has changed, that she can accept the ruthlessness, which in anyone else would repulse her. she thinks that he has corrupted her, and she doesn't care.

This is war, and there is need for ruthlessness and callousness, and as much as Draco's attitude on missions has scared her in the past, it makes her feel safe too, and although she doesn't like that about herself, and it makes her feel uneasy, as if she somehow isn't the same Hermione Granger, she also accepts it. Because things change, and Hermione, and Ron, and Harry - and Draco, especially Draco - they have all changed. None of them have been left untouched by the greedy, sooty fingers of war, clawing over them and leaving stains on their skin and their souls.

In the cold and the dark, Hermione remembers the look in his eyes when he had shoved her against the wall in the Death Eater residence on that mission, arguing. She hadn't known if he was going to hit her or kiss her, and then the spell had struck right by her head and nearly killed her, and his face had turned to stunned horror. She remembers the twisted pleasure on Draco's face, the boyish, excited glee at the sound of that same Death Eater's ribs crackling like kindling under his vicious kicks. Because the Death Eater had tried to hurt Hermione and Hermione was Draco's. She remembers hearing after the fact, that he had choked the Death Eater who had trapped her under the bookcase with a repulso. Choked him to death with one hand, his leg a twisted char of meat, and madness in his eyes when they'd dragged him off the Death Eater, unlocked his hand from around the dead man's throat.

It makes her uneasy, that a man she loves can do that sort of thing and she can still love him. When they are away from all that, he is Draco and he no longer radiates that controlled danger, but when they are in it, he is a weapon, he is heartless and cold and just like a Death Eater, except fighting on their side. It makes her worry about what the war has done to her, for that to bother her so little, but despite her ethical worries Hermione is glad she is with Draco. She would rather have Draco with his disturbing ability for pitilessness by her side, than a bleeding heart who hesitated to hurt or kill the enemy if they had the chance. Because this is war, and it is a matter of life and death and more than just that, and Hermione thinks that she is finally starting to understand that, deep in her bones.

Of War IV

There was nothing they could do but stand outside the vault and watch Harry helplessly as Kingsley tried to carefully levitate him towards the cup. There was a Flagrante Curse on the Lestrange's vault that caused objects within to turn white-hot and multiply with heated, worthless copies when touched, which they had only belatedly discovered. Harry's leathers were scorched with burn marks, and he hovered unsteadily in the air under Kingsley's spell, reaching out with his wand, trying to hook the cup. The floor of the vault was piled up with white-hot copies of the things he had already touched, and Kingsley was taut with the strain of keeping the Boy-Who-Lived steadily aloft.

Draco was jittering by Hermione's side with impatience, darting glances over his shoulder constantly, the tension radiating off him, Neville was muttering anxiously under his breath, and Ron had his fists clenched by his sides, saying a quiet, urgent litany of: "Come on, Harry, come on Harry, come on, Harry."

They were running out of time, and Hermione herself was bouncing from foot to foot, afraid and impatient and bubbling up with adrenaline and terror. She was trying not to think about the fact that they had no clue how to get back up to the lobby of Gringotts, trying not to think about the Death Eaters trying to break through the doors upstairs, but she couldn't help it.

"Come on, Harry," she whispered, joining Ron in his looping, desperate words, watching Harry like a hawk, wincing as Kingsley bumped him into a stack of galleons, and they exploded into a shower of white-hot coins that burnt his face, neck and hands, and burnt round blackened pieces into his leathers.

"You can do it..." she added, nails digging into her palms, as if she could make him get the cup through sheer force of will. And then his wand tip slid over the cup, hooking it up, and she gasped and her shoulders sank with immense relief.

"Thank fucking Merlin," Draco muttered tightly, and she reached out and curled her fingers around his elbow, drawing his attention, smiling at him waveringly.

"We've got it," she said half-disbelieving, almost weak with the relief of at least one part of the mission having been accomplished successfully, and Draco eyed her, all grey and silvers and whites in the light. He seemed to contemplate her gravely for a brief moment, and then he bent his head to hers and kissed her, and Hermione made a soft mm-ing sound and happy-relieved-pleased want swirled through her stomach. Taking the brief moment they had before they had to start trying to figure a way out, to savour the taste of his lips and tongue against hers.

"So not the time," Ron said with disgusted amusement, and Hermione remembered they were surrounded by people and blushed and pulled back, staring at the ground and fiddling with her wand.

"You just wish your wife was here, Weasley," Draco snarked, and Ron huffed a sound of derision.

"No, I really don't," he said, and meant it, and the brief lightness and hope faded from the air at his grim words. Harry dropped to the ground heavily by the vault door, and grinned at them all, holding the cup aloft by the handle hooked over his wand.

"Got it!" he said triumphantly, and they all looked at the thing, and shuddered in near unison.

"Fiendfyre, then, Kingsley?" Mr Weasley asked, and Kingsley nodded sharply.

"It would be best to destroy it now, in case we don't..."

"I agree," Mr Weasley replied steadily, although there was worry filling him up to bursting - he wasn't very good at hiding his feelings, and his gaze rested on his son.

"Best figure out a way out of here, first, before you go setting the damned place on fire," Draco commented with careful casualness, looking around the enormous cavern without much hope in his eyes, and they all sank into sudden, grasping thought. Ron paced and Harry gnawed at his lip, and they were all painfully aware that up above them somewhere, the remainder of the Order team were trying to hold off the Death Eaters, and they had to get up there soon.

Hermione racked her brain, tried to claw up some sort of plan, some kind of solution. But they had no brooms, and the cart had whizzed back up the tracks and the tracks far too high up anyway, for them all to get to. They were stuck, she realised bleakly. It was Russia all over again. Her hand found Draco's and after a start and a pause, his fingers clamped bone-achingly tight around hers. They didn't look at each other though.

And then Hermione's unfocused eyes slid over the blank-faced goblin jiggling the bag of clankers absently in his hand, and it came to her in a flash of what she liked to think was pure genius.

"The dragon," she said cryptically, grinning around at the utterly confused faces of her friends. "The dragon!" she repeated, and rushed forward and snatched the bag of clankers off the goblin. "Come on!"

They could do this, she thought as she hurried towards the spacious room the dragon huddled in, and tried to breathlessly convince the others her plan was a good one. They could do this. They had to believe it.

Belonging and Birthdays IV

Everyone was being so fucking nice, and he didn't understand it, didn't even really like it. The group of Order members in the lounge said a rousing "Happy Birthday!" when Hermione finally dragged him down the stairs into the room, and Draco just stood there in speechless, blank surprise, feeling like a fucking idiot. When had he started to become part of this ragged group of do-gooders? When had they started to accept him? He just nodded his head at them all in acknowledgement, and then slouched to the couch with a scowl firmly back on his face - his standard defensive expression when he was confused by something like this.

"What do you want to watch, Malfoy?" Thomas asked.

"What?"

"We were about to watch a movie. It's your birthday, you choose," Thomas said and Draco fought the sudden urge to stalk back upstairs. Hermione sat next to him on the couch, legs all folded up under her, her hand laying softly on his thigh. He shrugged.

"Dunno."

"Oh, hurry the fuck up and pick something, Malfoy," Weasley said from his snugged up position on an armchair with his new wife, and Draco growled under his breath, staring at the stack of video tapes by the telly.

"Ahh...Starship Troopers..." he said arbitrarily, the first title he saw that didn't look like it would induce floods of tears in the girls - they'd watched Titanic the other day. Never again. Merlin that was a shite movie - sickening. At least Hermione had only sniffled a bit at points, and not spouted tears like a fountain, as Chang and Brown - who had been visiting - had done.

Thomas went and put in the video tape, and it whirred into life on the telly screen - so odd, Muggle technology. So interesting. The movie started playing, and Hermione snuggled up to Draco's side, all affectionate like she had been since the proposal. Unless Draco was trying to irritate Weasley and Potter, he wasn't big on displays of affection in public, but he breathed in deeply, let it out very slowly, and put his arm around Hermione's shoulders and tried to make himself relax and watch the movie.

It wasn't easy to concentrate, while his mind kept flipping back to the Order members' uneasy-making friendliness, wondering when exactly the dynamic had changed, and how had he let the odd, bickering camaraderie creep up on him so slowly, without even noticing it happen?

The movie, at least, actually wasn't half bad, and he rather liked the way Hermione's fingers trailed firm and teasing over his thighs the whole time, although the raging erection her touch gave him was a little awkward.

A Memory Out of Time IV

The night before the Gringotts mission, Draco had fallen asleep before her, for once, and Hermione had lain quietly beside him, face to face, and just watched him sleep. The moment is imprinted in her mind, and she remembers every moon-soaked detail like it is happening now. She had laid there, his breath warm and minty on her face, and committed every last millimetre of his face to her memory. His high forehead all fallen over with sheaves of platinum hair, his eyes shut and lashes throwing curling shadows on his cheeks, his straight, aristocratic nose, and the sharp strength to his chin and jaw, the thin lines of him carved with war and worry.

She had watched him and thought about how peaceful he looked when he was sleeping without the nightmares prowling the halls of his mind. How young he looked, how oddly innocent. He was eighteen now and only barely a man by Muggle standards, and if, when he was awake, he looked immeasurably older, now, sleeping, the weight of his burdens had lifted off his shoulders and he was someone else entirely. He still had the bruised shadows around his eyes, and he was still too thin, and his maimed arm was drawn up so the stump rested beneath his chin - a stark reminder that they could never forget the war entirely - but he was gentle and serene looking in a way he rarely was, when awake.

Hermione thinks of how she had traced her fingers along his temple, gently pushing his hair back off his face, and he had twitched under her touch, mumbled something. How he had opened sleepy grey eyes and tipped that generous mouth at her, and said very drowsily, "Go back to sleep, Hermione. Stop staring at me, it's strange." And then he had curled his maimed arm around her and pulled her in close to him, his chin resting on the top of her head and her breath puffing hot against his chest, and he had fallen back into the deep, slow breaths of sleep. And she had lain there and tried to sleep, her fingers splayed on the skin of his back, and all she had been able to think about was whether or not they would get their future.

She can't stop thinking about that now, although she knows it doesn't help to dwell. She thinks about fantasies of perfection and wills them to come true. Winning the war, getting married, he not being ostracised by Wizarding society, and them both getting good jobs; enjoyable careers to pour their energy into. And having children, one day, and watching her parents play with them, and sending them off to Hogwarts on the train and waving goodbye, and welcoming them back on holidays. She plots out their whole future - a shining, wonderful vision - and she whispers it to them both in a low voice, and she knows that he is smiling despite himself.

Her throat is parched and her voice is little more than a cracked whisper, and she still plans their lives aloud, seeing it all in her mind's eye. What they will name their children. What their children will look like. All the arguments they will have. The dinners they will have with Harry and Ginny, and Ron and Cho, and the bickering between the men, which they will still use to try to hide their friendship. She whispers of him meeting her parents, once they've found them, and of Narcissa's horror at having half-blood grandchildren. She tells him what their house will look like, because they won't live in the Manor, and she tells him with a laugh to her voice of how many times she will beat him at Scrabble.

He is smiling in the dark, she knows it, and he is crying, and she knows that too because she can feel the tremor of his fingers around hers, and when she reaches out she can feel that wetness of tears on his cheeks over top of the dried blood. And every time she stops in her halting, fairytale narrative of how their lives will unfold, to take a breath, or lick her cracked lips with a thick, swollen tongue, Draco whispers, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, Hermione," through his tears, like his heart if broken and he hates himself. She wishes he would stop, because she doesn't have any regrets, and she wishes he understood that.

If she had to do everything over, she would do it all the same.