Notes: Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear readers. The past few months have been amazing. I will start plotting out the sequel soon, so if you want to remain updated, you can keep me on your alerts or follow me on Tumblr (youarethesentinels). The quote at the end of this chapter is by John Green, and I hope that, like me, you will find it sums up this fic. I loved making this journey with you. I loved reading all your wonderful, helpful comments. I would never have finished this story without your warmth and support. I'll see you guys again soon... :)
The Dreams People Have
It was strange how time could pass, how the years could shift. It was amazing and brilliant and terrifying, how a person could wake up one day and be fifteen.
Of course, it was less amazing and brilliant, and more terrifying, when the person in question stepped into the living room blinking the sleep from his eyes and was promptly bombarded with loud bangs from party crackers and rains of confetti and a rousing chorus of "Bonne anniversaire!"
As Draco stood there, white-faced and startled out of his wits, his schoolmates pounced on him, the girls hugging him and the boys clapping him on the back, and more than one person affectionately ruffling his blond hair.
"You're a man now, little fourth year!" said Adrien, grinning broadly. "Welcome to the halfway point of your teenage life!"
Draco murmured his thanks, and, finally, he was approached by Sabine, who had hung back because she was the only one who knew- or bothered to remember- that he was a little wary of physical contact.
"So. Fifteen." Her jade eyes twinkled. "Don't start thinking you're too cool to hang out with me anymore."
Draco smirked. "I'll try to keep that in mind."
Madame Maxime entered, bearing an enormous chocolate cake laden with blazing candles, courtesy of the Hogwarts kitchens. Draco briefly thought about what Hermione would say- probably something along the snide lines of, "Have fun celebrating the day of your birth on the backs of slaves!"- and, for this reason, he found he couldn't enjoy the surprise as much. Her odd ways had apparently ruined him for cake.
But he did like it, though he would never admit it, when they gathered around the table and clapped their hands and sang, candlelight shining on the faces of his headmistress and his schoolmates whom he'd spent one cold, unforgettable year with on these foreign shores. They beamed at him, the older kids, the ones who had taught him so much about life- albeit inadvertently- while Sabine stood at his side as she always had ever since they were eleven. Four years and counting.
Draco closed his eyes and made a wish and blew out the candles.
Later that day, he met Hermione by the lake and she dropped a neatly-wrapped package into his hands. "Open it," she said in her trademark bossy tones, and he complied.
It was a Muggle book, the cover battered and the pages dog-eared. "The Once and Future King, by T.H. White," he read out loud.
"It's the story of Arthur," she told him. "I've had that copy ever since I was a child. It's yours now."
"A British tale to remember a British girl," he mused, and, for once, the words came out right in English.
She smiled. "You will remember me, won't you?"
"I would be afraid to forget," he said, and her grin shone brighter until it was all he could see.
Too much, he thought, with the vague melancholy that cursed all writers. Too much for the heart to hold.
He turned away and she followed his gaze. They looked out over the lake, the backs of their hands brushing together. She asked him what his schoolmates did for his birthday, and he told her about the cake, leaving out the part about it being from the Hogwarts kitchens.
"What did you wish for?" she said.
He couldn't stop himself from glancing at her. The wind blew in from the moors, pushed her messy hair into her delicate profile, blurring it against the shimmering shores of the lake. Girl of wind and water, girl of red and gold. "If I tell you," he said, his mouth dry, "it won't come true."
The end of the tournament loomed in the distance, an enormous monolith that cast its shadow over the days they had left. Gryffindor House tapped into some previously latent sense of consideration, and refrained from teasing Draco whenever he sat at their table or walked Hermione to class. The Muggle-born Beauxbatons students stopped singing "Puppy Love" whenever Hermione dropped by the carriage. It was peaceful, but also a bit irritating, because all she wanted was a semblance of normalcy, and that did not include everyone tiptoeing around her like somebody was dying.
"It's okay to be sad," Lavender and Parvati assured her on a semi-regular basis.
I don't want to be sad, Hermione thought in a fit of rebellion. I just want to make the most out of it.
The fact of his eventual departure did strange things to her blood. She was suddenly hungry for their moments, seizing their time together with burning intensity. She threw herself into their quiet conversations, blurting out anything that was on her mind, telling him everything about her life, no holds barred.
This is me, said every word that fell from her lips. This is who I am. This is what I want to become. Please keep this. Please don't forget.
In contrast, Draco clammed up even more than usual. His replies were shorter and more clipped, although the look in his eyes was softer. He seemed content to just let her talk as they did homework, as they relaxed by the shores of the lake. This withdrawal into silence bewildered Hermione, and so, one morning, she sent an owl to Sabine.
The French girl met her in the library, looking as out of place as Hermione's housemates did. They sat down in one of the little alcoves, and Sabine listened intently as Hermione explained the situation. By the time she was done, the Beauxbatons student was wearing an expression of faint amusement.
"I have an idea why he acts this way," said Sabine. Her accent was still thick, but she had become more comfortable with English over the months. "But it is not for me to tell you. That is his, yes?"
"Yes, of course," said Hermione, her shoulders drooping. "I understand."
"But I can help, perhaps. Um, I should tell a story…" Sabine leaned back in her chair. "You know that I am gay?"
Hermione blinked. "Er, n- no. No, I didn't, actually."
"Well, I am." Sabine shot her a wry grin. "You don't know how to react. Neither did Draco, when I told him. We were third-year, and I was so nervous. Because I was his only friend, see, and if he let that affect him, he would have no one. When I told him I liked girls, he looked embarrassed. Then he avoided me for a few days. Finally, I got so angry I hit him and yelled, and that was when he said…" Sabine's green eyes softened. "He said he thought I did not want to be friends anymore, because of his bad reaction."
Hermione's brow creased. "Are you saying I need to hit him and yell at him?"
Sabine chuckled. "I am saying that Draco is hard to understand. He keeps his emotions. You will need to surprise him. So," she finished, flourishing a hand in the air like a magician after a successful trick, "do something surprising."
"Where are we going?" Draco asked Hermione as she dragged him by the hand up several flights of stairs.
"You'll see," came the enigmatic reply.
It turned out to be the Astronomy Tower. She flung open the doors and they walked into a world of spirals and windows and air and globes. He slowly made his way to the balcony, overcome by the majestic view of distant moors and mountains and gold-speckled water. It was sunset, and everything was veiled in a radiant haze of red and amber. The wind blew into his very fingertips, making all his nerve endings buzz and spark.
This is Scotland, he thought with awe. It's not your home, it's harsh and unforgiving, but it's beautiful, in its own way.
Hermione joined him on the balcony. He smelled brown sugar and warm vanilla, and he knew, with startling clarity, that he would never be able to separate these scents from her. The future opened up before him, long years of absence, who knows when I'll see you again, and he suddenly wrapped his arms around her and held her close.
"Oh," she breathed, surprised.
"Just… just go with it," he mumbled into her hair, sunset filtering into his lashes, the songs of wild birds in his ears, the late afternoon lonely and lovely all at once.
She returned the hug, her fingers curling at his shoulder-blades. "Why have you been so quiet lately?" she asked.
He found himself groaning as something clicked into place. "You spoke with Sabine."
"I-" She broke off with a laugh and tried again. "I would never!"
"Liar." But his lips were curving dangerously into a smile, because she had cared enough to ask his best friend about him, and so he let it go. "I do not talk because I want to listen to you talk. I want to remember your voice, your hands. Everything." He squeezed her tighter. "Okay?"
She squeezed back. "Okay."
He wondered what the two of them must have looked like, to anyone gazing up at the Astronomy Tower. Just specks at this great height, just silhouettes in a world of green and gold. He never wanted to go back down.
On June 24, 1995, Harry Potter reappeared in a flash of light from some place of unspeakable horror, pulling Cedric Diggory's lifeless body back onto the grass of the Triwizard Tournament arena. Draco and Hermione leapt to their feet as, all around them, people in the stands cried out and shoved and panicked.
Diggory's dead. The word spread like wildfire through the crowd. Cedric Diggory's dead.
No, Draco told himself. He'd seen the boy walk tall and proud into the arena just a while ago. This was a joke, a sick prank…
Ron and Hermione were talking. Harry… We have to go to Harry… Draco found himself being pulled along, down the stands, where he was swept up into a group of people he didn't know. Two of them- a plump middle-aged woman and a tall young man- were obviously Weasleys, their red hair blazing in the light of the torches, bright in the dusk.
"Mum," said Ron, and the woman gathered him and Hermione in her arms.
From beyond the curve of Mrs. Weasley's shoulder, Hermione looked at the young man. "Bill, is Cedric really-?"
Bill shook his head. "Not here."
"Malfoy!" someone shouted, and then Draco's schoolmates descended on him. Fleur looked slightly woozy from the effects of the spell that had taken her out of commission during the Third Task, but she was shaking off Cerise's and Lascelles' arms as they tried to support her.
"We have to go back to the carriage," Adrien rattled off in French. "Madame Maxime's orders."
"I have to stay with Hermione," Draco responded in kind. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Mrs. Weasley and Bill were now staring at him. "You go on. I will follow."
"Cedric is dead!" Fleur burst out. "We don't know what's going on. We have to stick together."
"Come on, Malfoy," said Bastien, taking his arm.
"No," an oily voice spoke up. Severus Snape had appeared in their midst. "Mister Malfoy needs to stay with us. He needs to see Dumbledore."
Fleur let out a frustrated breath. "Monsieur-"
"We'll take care of him, Miss Delacour," Bill interrupted gently. "Leave him to us."
For a brief moment, Bill and Fleur looked at each other, an undecipherable expression on the French girl's face. Finally, she nodded, and the Beauxbatons students started making their way back to the carriage.
Sabine reached out to squeeze Draco's wrist as she brushed past him. "Keep safe, okay?"
Draco nodded mutely and he watched his schoolmates disappear into the night. You, too, he thought. Keep safe, all of you.
"Draco," whispered Mrs. Weasley, and his gaze snapped to her and she flinched, as if she'd seen a ghost.
This is what I am to the older people, he thought. I will always be a ghost.
Mrs. Weasley shuddered. "He looks just like-"
"Yeah, Mum," said Bill, watching Draco intently. "I know. I see it."
As they made their way back to the castle, Draco noticed Snape idly fiddling with the sleeve of his robes, as if his arm was itchy. Before he could ponder this, though, Hermione's hand slipped into his.
"What do you think happened?" he asked her.
"I don't care." The worry on her face made her look fierce. "I just want to know if Harry's all right."
Snape left them in the hospital wing, and they waited there, with Draco hanging back as the others gathered around a harassed-looking Madam Pomfrey, demanding to know where Harry was. After what seemed like hours, the door swung open and Dumbledore and Harry stepped inside, followed by a large black dog.
As the headmaster drew Bill and Mrs. Weasley aside and Ron and Hermione ran to hug Harry, the dog stared at Draco, looking somewhat mournful. Draco took a step back, the urgency of the situation not enough to dispel his distaste for animals.
"Asseids," he commanded.
Instead of sitting, the obviously ill-trained mutt opened its jaws wide, tongue wagging out and wheezing. Was it… was it laughing at him? Draco frowned.
"Draco. Come here, please," said Dumbledore, beckoning him over. He went to the adults, still keeping a wary eye on the beast.
"You must leave for France tonight," Dumbledore told him quietly. "Not Beauxbatons- you must go home. Bill will accompany you. I have already spoken with your Minister about providing the necessary protection."
"Protection from what?" Draco asked, baffled.
"Listen to me. Lord Voldemort has returned." Dumbledore's tones were grave, his blue eyes robbed of all sparkle. "The Dark Lord holds his grudges. He will not forget that your mother defected. You are no longer safe on British soil."
On the other side of the room, Harry was valiantly fighting off Madam Pomfrey's ministrations. "Hermione," he whispered, "Voldemort's back, and Moody was Barty Crouch, Jr. He used Polyjuice-"
"What?" Hermione gasped in disbelief. "How-?"
"That's not important right now," said Harry. "Listen. Crouch told me there was only one thing he hated more than Death Eaters who walked free, and that was Death Eaters who walked away. He said Narcissa Malfoy would pay the price of betrayal, that Voldemort would take the one thing she held dear-"
Hermione whipped around to stare at Draco, who was deep in conversation with Dumbledore, Bill, and Mrs. Weasley. As if he felt her gaze, he looked up and their eyes met, space and oceans between them.
"Why does he have to leave?" Hermione angrily demanded as she, Bill, and Draco rushed over the grounds, wands out. "Surely he's safer here in Hogwarts, with Dumbledore and the professors-"
"The Death Eaters know he's here," said Bill. "Thanks to Rita Skeeter's article. They know he goes to Beauxbatons, but what they don't know is where he lives. You-Know-Who's only just returned, they don't have a foothold in France yet- it's the best option. And he has to go back; he has to be with his mum, yeah?"
For a second, Hermione looked like she was about to argue, but then she clamped down on her lip, as if to restrain the words from spilling out as resignation hardened her brown eyes. Draco wanted to comfort her, but his head was spinning so much that he doubted he would be of much help. He wondered where his father was at this very moment. Lucius will not risk seeking you and your mother out, Dumbledore had assured him. He only knows too well what Voldemort is capable of.
What if he tells the Dark Lord where we are? Draco had demanded.
The old white-bearded wizard had looked almost pained, before he patted Draco's shoulder gently and said, You are very young, Draco.
And now this, this frantic rush through the night, moonlit lake water and stardust-tipped grass and shadows leaping out from every corner, the golden lights of Beauxbatons carriage beaming softly in the distance. As they neared the vehicle, Bill reeled off a series of instructions to Draco.
"The threat level will be assessed for a few days. It will be up to your Ministry to decide whether to transfer you to an Unplottable location or just keep tabs. France is good at what it does; that's why you went mostly untouched during the war. Dumbledore has faith in your government. But, in the meantime…" Bill glanced at Hermione apologetically. "No communication with the outside. No Floo, no owls. Nothing that can be traced."
He flung open the door of the carriage and was immediately met by a half-circle of raised wands.
Bill held up his palms. "Calm down, I'm just returning him," he said in passable French, although he did use the wrong verb and it made Fleur wince.
The Beauxbatons students lowered their wands once they caught sight of Draco, and then they flocked around him, pelting him with questions from all sides.
"Are you okay?"
"Why do you need to see Dumbledore?"
Surprisingly, Hermione took charge. She squared her shoulders and lifted her chin as she stared them all down, looking much like she did the day of the snowball fight. "Due to unforeseen circumstances, Draco has to go back to France tonight," she told them bossily, bravely. "The reason will become clear in time, but, for now, he would very much like to say goodbye to all of you."
I do? Draco thought, glancing at her in mounting panic. And then he gazed at Sabine and the older kids, who were quiet now and staring at him in bewilderment, and he realized that, yes, he would like to say goodbye to them. He could dwell on the Dark Lord's return and what it meant later. Right now, he only wanted to stay in the present moment.
He slowly went to his room, followed by Hermione and Sabine. The two girls watched silently as he packed his belongings, but he could already tell from the way they were exchanging glances that they would have a lot to talk about later, when he was gone.
The wand felt unreal in his hand as he summoned all his things into his expandable suitcase, but he managed to finish packing in a reasonably composed manner, tucking in the book Hermione had given him with extra care, and by the time they returned to the living room, there was a pack of Floo powder in Bill's grip.
"I assume this fireplace is connected to all the students' homes in case of emergencies, and will be disconnected after the tournament?" Bill asked, and Draco nodded. "All right, then. Anytime you're ready, Draco."
Draco cleared his throat. "Jacqueline, the Triwizard article is on my desk. I haven't done the Third Task yet, but…"
His editor-in-chief waved away his concern. "I'll handle it."
"All right." Draco looked at Bastien and Sabine. "I will try to get in touch as soon as possible."
"You'd better," muttered Bastien.
Sabine looked like she was waging some ferocious inner battle. Finally, she caved and threw her arms around him, before stepping back just as quickly.
"Er…" He cleared his throat once more, looking around at his schoolmates. "À bientôt." Not au revoir.
See you soon, not farewell.
"Bye, little fourth year."
"See you, Malfoy."
"Keep your head down, kid."
Last, but definitely not least, never the least, Draco turned to Hermione, and her eyes were wet, but she managed a smile for him.
"I thought we would have more time," she confessed. "I would have liked that."
"Same," said Draco, his mouth dry, memorizing every curve of her face, every freckle as it gleamed in the glow of the fire. "But I must ask one more thing."
She quirked an eyebrow. "Which is?"
"Go before I do," he murmured, in a low voice meant for her ears alone. "I can't leave if you're still here."
She looked at him for a long, long while, her eyes dark amber in this light, always searching, always curious, always flickering over him. And then she nodded, because that was what their months together meant.
They hugged for the last time in who knew how long. He breathed in the scent of brown sugar and vanilla as she whispered, "I will get in touch. I'll find a way."
And, because there were some things he wanted to keep, he allowed himself to stroke her hair, burying his hand in the thick chestnut waves, looping the strands around his fingers. There were other people in the room, but the world was only the two of them. Safety. Peace.
He slowly untangled himself from her and stepped back. You asked me what I wished for on my birthday, he thought, and I can't tell you that because I want it to come true. It's foolish, but if I have one superstition, let it be this. I wished for grace. I wished for grace to carry me all through my life, to carry me back to you.
After she left, even the fire itself seemed to burn lower in its hearth as he approached it. His mother was waiting beyond the flames. The Loire valley. Home.
Sabine's voice disturbed the silence that had seeped into the room. "Malfoy," she said, "you really are an idiot, aren't you?"
Draco laughed. It had a strangled quality to it, because he was unused to laughter and because humor seemed surreal under these circumstances. "You're right; I am." He looked at Bill. "One moment, please."
And then he barreled out the door, back into the quiet night, where Hermione's lone figure was scurrying over the grass, already halfway back to the castle.
"Hermione!" he called, and she halted in her tracks and turned to him.
And Draco Malfoy had never run after anything in his whole life, but he was running now, kicking up dirt, the breeze whipping at his face, the dark silver world blurring past his eyes. He was panting by the time he reached her, and he took only a moment to collect himself before he leaned forward and caught her lips in a chaste, breathless kiss. She hesitated at first, taken by surprise, but soon she was kissing him back under the light of the moon, in the low rustle blowing in from the moors.
"Tu me manques," he mumbled against her lips.
"I'll miss you, too," she replied.
When they came up for air, they were grinning at each other, both of them helpless and hopeless and fifteen years old. They didn't say another word, because the last exchange had been perfect, had been the best possible ending. Instead, she merely reached out a gentle hand and touched his cheek, a simple gesture that managed to promise everything all at once.
After this is over, I will find you again.
And then she walked away, and he slipped a hand into the pocket of his robes as he watched her disappear. After the main doors of Hogwarts had shut behind her, Draco looked out over the lake, where the water murmured in its banks and the waves lapped at the rocks.
Britain didn't turn out so bad, after all, he mused to himself. Who knew?
He inhaled deeply, savoring the cold air, and then he started walking back to the carriage. The Northern constellations glowed in the black sky overhead, lighting his way.
I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.