[A/N: Oh god, so it has been amazing writing this story and getting the feedback that I have been lucky enough to get from you guys. It still is seriously boggling me that I was able to wrap this up within the year, and I'm so proud to be saying goodbye to this story and the year in the same day. It was a blast, and I really hope you guys enjoyed the ride. Happy New Year!]
When she woke up, it was to the steady beat of Harry's monitors. She had no idea what any of them were for, but she was using them as a sleeping aide. It lulled her to sleep and woke her up all the same. It was strange to wake up to that and the pain in her neck from falling asleep wrong on the loveseat, instead of an alarm clock and slight pain from an old bed, but the sight of Harry sleeping calmly helped ease her. It was why she'd opted to stay here rather than return home to the battlefield that was her room. Of course, she'd been told by the cops and her parents that it would be cleaned up as soon as all the evidence, photos, and god knows what else was taken. And since it was now Sunday morning, that meant everything was supposed to be otherwise clean. Though she doubted the carpet or window had been repaired yet and those were the two things she wanted to never see again.
There a grumble from somewhere in the room. Hermione sat up, popping her back into place as she scanned and spotted a splash of red pooling out around Harry. For a moment, she panicked, her lungs collapsing and her heart swelling past her ribs capacity as she remembered so vividly the pool of blood she'd tried to keep inside him. But this red substance was wavy, lighter, and moved when its source shifted from its vegetating state. Ginny rose from the glob of hair, shaking it back with a twist of the head as she blinked herself awake. Her eyes always went to Harry first, her hands never leaving his, and Hermione's panic quickly deflated. She smiled when Ginny's eyes met hers, though tired as they both were. She was sure the bags under Ginny's eyes were mirrored under her own.
"Anything happen while I was asleep?" Hermione asked. Disappointment flashed in Ginny's eyes briefly before she shrugged it off.
"Not yet. He's sleeping like a baby."
"He'd kill you for saying that," Hermione muttered. To which, Ginny rolled her eyes.
"At least then he wouldn't be a vegetable. I'd take strangulation over this any day."
Hermione couldn't argue with that. She knew the doctors had said it would be a while before he came to, due to the loss of blood and the stress of operation and, well, getting shot, but she wanted to see him walking around. Or even just blinking, saying some snide comment here or there, complaining about the hospital food, about getting shot. Every once in a while, he'd give her a slight movement, a curl of a hand around her or Ginny's hand, a flicker of eyelids. God, she would give a leg to hear him snore and she hated it when he snored, so that said loads.
"How are you?" Ginny prodded, as she had the night before when, after returning from the police station, Hermione had collapsed into a heap on the loveseat.
As she had the night before, Hermione shrugged. "Doesn't matter."
"The hell it doesn't. We talked about this. You know, about how you don't talk to me anymore. You used to be such a motor mouth. It's pretty bad if I'm actually missing that," Ginny teased, eying her friend until finally the girl caved.
"I gave Draco the worst ultimatum," she muttered, twiddling with her hair. After so much fuss, between running her hands through it and rolling around in her sleep trying to find a comfortable spot, there wasn't a curl in sight. Just frizz, uncontrollable frizz.
"Oh, no. You pulled the 'it's me or her' thing, didn't you?" Hermione glared at Ginny.
"A version of that, sure. It was something along the lines of 'it's me or jail'."
She could feel Ginny's eyes boring into her.
"I didn't say it was logical," she blathered out in her defense. Ginny sighed, scooting her chair so that she could face Hermione and her issues face-on. "Wait, before you say anything that's going to make me sound like an idiot, I want to clarify a few things that may or may not make me sound more logical or just worse."
"Please, do go on."
Hermione sighed, wiggled around in her chair, and finally formulated the right words. "Okay, so, I may have bumped into Narcissa Malfoy last night."
Ginny gaped. "Draco's mom?" Hermione nodded, making Ginny almost combust in her seat. "What was she like? Wait, besides the point. Go on. Wait, no, when did you see her?"
Hermione was whiplashed, decided to latch onto the last thing Ginny had said. "Uh, I actually bumped into her twice, first when I was on my way to the station and the second when I came back to the hospital. She was visiting Remus and Tonks, and I think her sister was there too? I'm not so sure, it was awkward and tense and completely not my business. But, the first time around, she actually pulled off the road to talk to me. She'd just come back from visiting Draco and I could tell that she was frayed around the edges, desperate enough to come to me. I'm not sure if she likes me or not, it was as if she was still on the fence about how much time Draco tried to spend with me instead of family but, nonetheless, she got out of her car and asked me to visit Draco and talk sense into him. She didn't seem to notice that I was on my way there, her mind was elsewhere. She'd been talking to the sheriff after the visit and found out that the charges would be dropped as long as Draco went back to school, structured his life around things other than crime. It was also on the condition that he left town, just to ensure that none of the connections to the gang were still around. She had already been planning to leave beforehand, and this was just the best news she could've heard. But, in her own words:
"He's not going to do it, not if he has to leave you behind. And he'll have to, because he needs to focus on his own life and not yours, and that means I can't have him distracted by you. He'll ruin his life if it means you'll visit him every day until he's released. He's not thinking straight, and if I can't talk sense into him… I need you to. Can you do that for me, Miss Granger?" Narcissa Malfoy had prodded. She had been gripping onto her last straws, even going so far as to grab onto Hermione. She'd held her wrists and they'd felt like shackles, and Hermione would've said anything to be let free. But it wouldn't have been a lie if she'd said yes.
"He'll insist that I keep in touch, that we see each other on weekends or school breaks," Hermione had reasoned, her nerves rattled even more than they already had been. She had just wanted to go and see that he was okay, to slap him if he was, and say that she wasn't really mad, just relieved.
Narcissa's stare had turned stone, as had her grip. "And then what, when you go off to college? Harvard, isn't it?"
"How do you know-"
"Because it's my job to know what my son is investing in. If you go to America, what then? He'll still be catching up in his academics. He won't be allowed to go abroad, not until he graduates and, even then, what would he do? He would, what, get a job to support the two of you? He has dreams, and you're the dominant one. But he has others, and he has the right to chase them. He can't do it with you in the picture. You black out everything else."
Hermione had pulled at her arms, growing to hate the woman that had birthed the boy she loved. "I wouldn't let him do that!" She'd cried out, enraged, but Narcissa's face had remained unwavering. There had been a flicker of recognition in her eyes, as if she were looking at something she'd seen before- like a reflection.
"You think that now, but it'll happen as it always does. He's my son. I know that you think you know him best, but he is my blood. And he loves too strong. It's always the one who loves the strongest that gives up the most. And it's not your fault. I blame you but it's not your fault. It's just," finally, the cracks began to show themselves and Hermione stopped trying to fight against her, "It's just the natural course of things. I know better than most how it'll be. You'll love each other most adamantly and then resentment finds its way through the hidden cracks."
Narcissa and Hermione studied each other's faces and Hermione feared seeing her own reflection in the older woman's eyes. "I can already see it, right there behind the eyes. I know you can feel it, it's why you're fighting so hard against me. You feel many things in one moment, but my boy is so easily consumed by one emotion to ever recognize the others before it's too late. It's why he loved his father for years and then, in the moment he finally recognized the hidden resentment, that hatred was so large that it overtook him. Do you want him to look at you as he looks at his father?"
Hermione had swallowed against the hard reality in her throat but it had refused to move. It was lodged there, where Narcissa had shoved it. She could feel the burn of tears as she had suffocated around it, felt the need to breathe more strongly than she had when she was being strangled to death that very morning. She had refused to let this woman see her crumble.
She'd clenched her jaw, hating the words that would be said if she unclenched it.
" 'I'll see what I can do'," Hermione sighed as she finished the retelling of her most recent nightmare of an exchange. "I said that, she let me go, and then I went in and gave him the ultimatum."
She could feel Ginny judging her, feel it drilling into her skull. When she looked up, finally, from the strand of hair she'd focused on so harshly, Ginny was livid.
"You tricked him. You knew by saying that, he'd take the offer, but you don't plan on seeing him when he gets out. Do you?" Hermione shrugged the most uncommitted shrug she could muster. Ginny hurled her pillow at Hermione and, possibly from the tense and suffocating atmosphere, Harry stirred in his slumber. Ginny barely noticed, she was that focused on mentally killing Hermione.
"Well? Do you?"
"Probably not." Ginny was about to hurl herself this time. "Look, it just makes sense. Okay? For both of us. You weren't there, Ginny, you didn't feel what I felt when I," Hermione stumbled for words, looking at her hands and acknowledging how foreign they looked to her now, "when I held that gun in my hand. I wanted to kill him."
"Riddle? Hermione, that's normal. I would've wanted to do the same." Hermione shook her head vigorously.
"No, I wanted to kill Draco. I wanted to get him out of my life, completely, because I knew if he kept breathing I would want to be with him, breathing in that toxic air of anger and resentment until it killed us both. Sure, it was a heat of the moment feeling, or whatever excuse you want to give for that, but I thought I'd lost Harry. And it didn't matter that it was Riddle that pulled the trigger. It was me and him behind that bullet. I was so angry, I still am, that he brought Harry back with him. That I didn't move that gun faster, in a different direction, that any of that happened. And I will never be able to forget the feel of my finger on that trigger, and the urge to just," she paused, watching as her finger twitched, "to just pull it."
She hated the silence that followed but what else was there to say? There was a shuffle as Ginny moved, probably uncomfortable with the seat and situation. Hermione sighed and sunk back into the seat.
"But you love him," came Ginny's quiet but insistent voice.
"Of course I do. It's not an on-and-off switch," Hermione snapped, flinching away from the sound of her own cruelty. It was getting harder to control herself. "I'm sorry. I just think that it's healthier."
"You think it's healthier to trick him into believing he can have his happily ever after?"
"He doesn't believe in fairytales. I don't think I do either." Finally, Ginny got up. Hermione could hear the creak of the chair when the weight of hours of sitting there was finally gone. She felt the hands on her face before she saw the raging redhead staring down into her soul and scrutinizing it, as always.
"Maybe you changed that for him, ever thought of that? Maybe, after all the shit he's been through and fought through, that he deserves a happy ending? That he thinks he might actually deserve one? That you deserve one?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "There are all kinds of alternative happy endings, if that's the case. He'll go off to school, get his life back together. And I'll go to Harvard, my dream school, become a lawyer who tries to save boys like him from going to prison."
Ginny pinched Hermione's cheeks, yanked at them and then at her eyelids. "Open your eyes, you idiot. Not all happy endings are the same. Some kick way more ass than others. And those sound like settling, not like winning, so stop being lame," Ginny demanded, pulling again at her friend's cheeks to smooth out the too-early wrinkles. "If you think it'll be better for you two to take a breather, then fine. But tell him, and let him have a say in it. I know he wasn't the most truthful bastard, but maybe if he started getting the truth from the people around him, he'd be a little more open. And maybe, just maybe, you guys can work it out."
Hermione scoffed, swatted Ginny's hands away. "And then what? Do the long-distance thing?"
The ginger's face screwed up but then, as if a light bulb had went off, it smoothed out into a smile. "I hear phone sex is fun."
And that's when Harry said his first words: "What the hell?"
"And you're not going to change your mind?"
Draco suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. The old man had started to rub off on him. Even if he and law officers didn't really see eye-to-eye on many things, he and the old man had an understanding that Draco had better places to be than in jail or, worse, prison. So, with that, he was finally getting out after an overnight stay filled with whining and cursing down the cell block. His mother had gotten him a change of clothes and he carried, under one arm, the remnants of yesterday's debacle and, under the other, a folder filled with offices to call for future employment and volunteering opportunities. When he'd been handed said folder only moments after he'd woken up with a sore back, he'd tried hard not to throw it into the hidden portal to hell that was his toilet. Now, he wasn't thrilled about it but he also wasn't about to completely disregard the deal he'd made.
"Nah, I think I'll stick with this decision."
Albus smiled, not that fake and polite stuff people felt obligated to do when saying final goodbyes, as they both hoped this was, but the kind that made you feel obligated to stay around for a few more of those smiles. He reminded him of the grandfather he'd never imagined or hoped for having before.
"It's a good decision to stand behind. Now, not to sound rude, but I never want to see you again," Albus said in his own form of goodbye. Draco grinned, shaking his head in mock exasperation as he reached out to shake the sheriff's hand.
"Rude, not rude, whatever. I don't want to see any of this, ever again either."
"Take care, Draco." The firm grip he had on Draco's hand was so strong for an old man. It held his hand there until Draco nodded an "okay".
"You too, old man," he shot back with a smile. He heard his mother come through the station's front doors, just in time to haul him off. He felt a messy swarm of relief and distress at the idea of getting into the car with her. She was determined as she steered him around, practically shoved him out the door, and away from everything dealing with the legal system. It was a stiff ride, filled with a lot of questions Draco wasn't up to asking but needed to if he was going to set everything straight, the way he wanted it all to play out. He knew his mother had every right to dictate where they were going, when they were going, and how they were going to go about everything but he had the nagging feeling that none of it involved his relationship with Hermione.
It was as they made a turn that was in the opposite direction of home that he finally spoke up.
"Mom, where are we going?"
"House hunting," was all she said, her eyes suspiciously focused on the road more so than necessary.
"Today? Wouldn't you rather I took a shower first?" He didn't even want to smell himself, honestly. He still had bits of dried blood on him, under his nails and, of all people, he expected his mother to want him to clean up.
"Oh, sweetie, it's alright. I have a hotel booked for us along the way, and you can shower there." Draco took a double take between the outside visual of his hometown swiftly vanishing behind him and his, apparently, less than stable mother.
"Draco, the foreclosure isn't going to wait for us. There have already been a few offers, so we need to start looking," was the rehearsed excuse.
"Isn't that what a computer is for? Why do we have to drive all the way out there? And how far is out there?" He ranted, eying the lock on his door like a wild animal in need of escape. Even if he did jump out, the speed at which she was going promised him a very painful landing. He decided against escaping that way.
His mother sighed behind him.
"Far enough," she answered vaguely. "And I wanted to see the schools, the neighborhoods, in person because I refuse to take the word of a few websites. You can't blame me for having a few trust issues right now."
He tried not to get angry at her, he really did, but she was a putting a very large wrench in his plans. "Mother, I love you, I do, but I'm also having a hard time trusting you right now. Why couldn't this wait a day or two? I wanted to go home for a little while before I had to start thinking of saying goodbye to it," he reasoned, trying to reach her though she seemed adamant about keeping her eyes on the road, on getting onto the highway and starting fresh right then and there.
She was silent, her lips pursed until one moment they weren't, and the real issue came blurting out. "Goodbye to home or to Hermione Granger?"
"Is there really a difference?"
Finally, she looked away from the road, her eyes searching her son's and seeing so much of herself there that it scared her witless. In such a rare moment, he saw his mother in all her vulnerability and uncertainty. It was more than just him making a mess and her trying to clean it. It was her trying to clean everyone's messes in one foul swoop, protecting him all the while.
"Stop the car, mom," he pleaded quietly and she listened. She took a deep breath and turned onto the curb, shut off the engine. It was finally just them, no cool wall between them. "I know you're trying to protect me, doing what you think is best for me, but I have someone to protect now, too. And honestly, she's what's best for me but I'll go with you, wherever you want us to go and we can start over. I'll be a better son, or I'll try at least," he gave as a feeble promise, and she smiled. "And I'll go to school, and do what needs to be done but at the end of the day, she's home and I'm always going to want to go back to her. You understand, don't you?"
He felt the comfort of his mother's hand on his cheek and she felt the absence of his childhood, instead feeling the strength of adolescence and manhood there in the strong line of his cheekbones and jawline. He would always be her son, but he was so much more than that now. It made her nostalgic for the days before, when Lucius and she were relatively happy, with their mischievous son bonding them all together. She feared letting him go.
"Unfortunately, I do," she admitted with a heave. Her hand left him, and he felt the small sample of absence he had to look forward to whenever he decided to fully grow up and leave her side. It was a time soon approaching, but he silently made a promise to her that it wouldn't be too soon.
She was restarting the car, turning it around, heading back home. "We'll use the computer, but not today. Today, we just go home."
They shared smiles and he swore it was the first time in a while that he'd smiled so much outside of Hermione's presence. It was a nice change, one of many to come. Another swiftly came to mind on their way back, hit him like a bulldozer to the head. And he'd taken enough hits already.
"First, can we make a stop somewhere?"
"Harry, I'm fine. I'm okay, I'm going into the house right now and there aren't any bad guys about to jump me. I'm fine. I'm just getting you some clothes. Would you please stop whining," Hermione chanted into the phone as she unlocked the door to the empty house. Her parents, upon getting the call that Harry was up and running his mouth, had fled back to the hospital after a few hours of sleep and, due to extreme sleep deprivation, had completely forgotten to get a few supplies before leaving. It included clothes for both Harry, for whenever he was supposed to be released, and her dad. Apparently, he'd completely forgotten he was in a t-shirt and boxers when he'd gotten in the car that morning.
"It's like you're trying to make up for the day you couldn't talk," she muttered into the phone when she heard Harry start up another conversation with Ginny, something about sneaking 'real food' in.
"What'd you say?" He accused when he got back on the line.
"Nothing, I'm hanging up now."
"You can't hang up on me, I'm in pain," he tried and failed to pull at her heartstrings. She smiled into the receiver, pushing through the door with the box of bloodied clothes Hermione failed to persuade her parents into throwing away. She dumped them near the washing machine, thankful to have it away from her.
"If you're in so much pain, go back to sleep and stop running up my minutes." With that, she slapped the phone shut and made her way up the stairs, trying not to remember the last time she'd used them. It was like she was retracing her steps, except she avoided her room at all costs. Instead, she weaved her way towards Harry's room, two doors across from hers. She braced herself against the storm of clothes, games, paper, and other inanimate objects as she hopped over to his drawers and closet. It wasn't too difficult to choose clothes for him, since he didn't care what it was as long as it was comfortable. Finding them was the hard part, sorting through drawer after drawer until she finally found items that looked reasonably clean.
She packed them into her duffle bag and left the wreckage behind only to have to cross past another.
Hermione could feel her feet gravitating towards her door, cracked open as it was. It allowed for a sliver of the room to be seen, if she tried hard enough to look. She tried not to look, to keep walking past as if she'd never seen a door there, had never had a room there, but she lingered. She had to face it at some point, whether it was today or the next day or the next. Her parents had assured her that the bloodstain had been covered, along with her window, and that in no time at all it would be all fixed. The carpet would be torn out on Monday, while she was still in school, and the window replaced by the end of the week. It would be as if nothing had ever happened there.
She needed to see it before then. She needed to soak it in, remember it clearly instead of in that haze of the moment she lived it, before it was all erased. It would serve as a reminder as to why she was going down the path she'd chosen.
Hermione approached her door and slowly pushed it open, and it swung so silently in front of her that she couldn't help but feel peace even when she took in the black tarp splayed haphazardly next to her bed. She could still see a bit of the blood poking from underneath it and she had to fight the urge to pull the tarp away and see the full extent of it. She wasn't really winning that fight.
Her fingers wrapped around the fabric as she bent down beside the spot, pulled it up and took a deep, well-needed breath. She'd breathed at the wrong time, though, because the smell of iron filled her lungs and it scared her how she could tell the difference between the smell of fresh and dried blood. She dropped the tarp and stood away from her bed.
Hermione dropped the duffle bag on the mattress and walked over to her covered window, taped up in the same kind of heavy, black tarp that was on her floor. It flapped lazily every once in a while as an occasional summer breeze popped by, it was seldom and in between since it was getting hotter and muggier outside. She was glad that the glass was all cleaned up, even more so when she pulled at the cover and saw that all the shards, blood-covered and all, had been plucked off her windowpane. It allowed her to climb through with ease.
With the ease of someone who'd done this before, with someone else, she settled down on the small spread of roof that sprawled out longer under her window than at any other spot around the house. It was as if it was made for the teenage daughter to use as an escape, to lie down as she did now and stare up at the cloudless sky above her. She didn't mind the hardness of the shingles against her head, under the padding of her layers of hair, or the heat that clung to her skin like yet another layer. She sweat out yesterday's worries and thoughts, letting her pores breathe in the first real fresh air she'd gotten in days. She was glad to be rid of the hospital and downtown smells, loved the familiar earthiness that surrounded and filled her nostrils.
She forgot her purpose in driving home for a while, watching as the sun slowly made its way around the sky. When it was staring straight at her from up above, she dared it for a while but then finally seceded and closed her eyes. She let herself recall voices, fond ones as they told her what a horrible decision she was making.
"Are you telling me I got shot for no reason?" She wasn't expecting such a dry question from Harry, the look on his face completely deadpan after Ginny had forced her to tell her brother about the 'Malfoy encounter', Ginny's words, and the decision dealing with Draco. She glared at him and slapped his hand, which lay limply at his side. The flinch he gave almost made her feel bad.
"Honestly, Harry, that's what you're going to go with?" She snapped at him in disbelief.
He shrugged, the wires moving along with him. "It was worth a shot." He eyed her expectantly and both she and Ginny almost choked him on his own wires.
"One more shooting joke, and I'm leaving," Ginny warned, the seriousness of her tone finally hitting home with Harry and the guilt, remorse on his face whipped away the smile he'd had on. They shared a look, and Hermione knew that at some point she would have to leave the two of them to have a very long-awaited talk. Ginny was the first to break it, clearing her throat to clear the air and get attention back on Hermione, even though she didn't want the attention.
"Look, jokes aside, obviously Harry thinks this is a bad decision. Now you have at least two people voting against you. And, I'm sure, if you were letting Draco have a vote, it would be three against one." Hermione groaned, rubbing her temples as a headache neared. She was so tired of talking about this, so tired that, even if they were convincing her to change her mind, she probably would've been too tired to breach the subject with Draco anyway.
She looked to her brother, the source of a very heavy amount of Malfoy animosity, as her last hope. "Do you really think that? That's it's a bad decision?"
He pursed his lips, only recently losing the sickly blue color that had overtaken them since hospitalization. "I'm never going to be his biggest fan, and I'm so certain of this that I would bet my one and only kidney on it," Ginny pinched him and he quickly murmured an apology, "but I'm always going to be your biggest fan, and I can see that you're not happy now and you won't be happy later if you just let him leave without saying goodbye first… Without talking about a future hello."
She fidgeted in her seat, hauled up her legs next to her and clutched them to her chest. "His mom was pretty clear about what she wanted for him." Obviously, that excuse wasn't going over well with Harry. He scowled, rolled his eyes, completely dismissed her.
"Please, like you give a shit what that old hag has to say," he muttered and Hermione gawked at him.
"Harry," she chastised but he just waved a hand.
"Yeah, yeah, she's a great lady and whatever you said earlier. But you also said that you didn't want to become her."
"Yes, exactly," finally someone was getting it. Harry was shaking his head, cutting her off from reiterating what she'd already made clear: that she didn't want to become yet another Malfoy who suppressed her emotions, who grew resentful, who ended up alone with nothing a cursed family name. It was bound to happen.
"But you already are, becoming her." She sat back in her chair, feeling winded.
"The both of you are choosing for Malfoy. You're deciding what's best for him without even taking his thoughts into consideration. And you're going to regret doing that, trust me." She saw Ginny's hand clench onto Harry's, the distant smile that came to his face when she did so. "It's a complete waste of time. Talk to him, tell him the truth, and tell him that he owes me a kidney."
She gave out a confused sigh, a small laugh escaping from her mouth as she let it out. She wasn't even sure she'd be able to see him again, whether the leash his mother had on him would be loose enough for him to come around. There had been no car in the Malfoy driveway when she'd driven up and, from a small peek out the corner of her eye, there still wasn't. For all she knew, Narcissa had already sold the house discretely and quickly just so she get her son out of dodge the second he got released. She wished she was able to feel it when he left. She thought she should've felt a severance of a string or a cord, felt as the plug that connected them was plucked out and killed the electricity that coursed through her at the thought of him. Maybe if he went far enough away, for long enough, the lights would just turn off in that corner of herself, go to sleep.
"But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun," a voice lulled her subconscious and she smiled, hearing the certain imperfections in the voice that made it so familiar and soothing, even when it was butchering Shakespeare. Eyes closed, she could imagine a boy speaking from below her window. It wasn't her favorite play, but it was making for a nice summer dream. "Arise, fair sun, and blah, blah, blah, what is this crap?"
Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Shakespeare isn't crap," she blurted out, opening her eyes. She blinked against the sunlight that burned her eyes, and squinted down over her little patch of rooftop. For a moment, it was all just a bleached blur from the sun, but slowly the bleach blonde hair she saw made itself solid, the face beneath it a welcomed sight against the summer heat.
"He is when you have to read his gibberish all summer," Draco retorted with a snort as he flipped through the pages of an anthology that looked fresh from the bookstore. He sighed and looked up, shaded his eyes from the blaring sun with his hand. Even then it was hard to see, Hermione's face in shadow under the shield of her mane. She was sitting up, pulling her legs up to her chest.
"Can I come up?" He asked hesitantly.
She bit her lip against a way too urgent, desperate "yes!" and shrugged. "Sure, come on up. The door's unlocked, I think."
He eyed her, shaking his head as he moved towards the front door. "I can't tell if you're being lazy or reckless," Draco muttered as he tried the doorknob and it opened easily under his touch.
She stayed motionless as she waited for him to come upstairs, her eyes locked on the tree across from her house, wondering what the view was like from up there. She heard him behind her, the door creaking, the slow-paced movement of his feet crossing her room and stopping just where she'd stopped. She heard him clear his throat, his feet move again, the scuffle of him hopping onto her windowsill and sliding onto the roof. She tensed for contact but there was none. She could feel him staring at her from behind, probably wanting to hold her but knowing better.
He sat down next to her, pulled up his legs as well and the both of them stared off into the quiet neighborhood. It was so different from the morning before, strangely calm after the storm.
"So what's this about Shakespeare readings?" Hermione said to break the silence, though it hadn't been uncomfortable. She liked sitting next to him, hearing him breathe there when she thought she wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to do so. She felt her muscles relax, felt her body return to itself after feeling like such a stranger. She wanted to be closer to him, but she had to remind herself that this was supposed to be a goodbye.
He fingered the pages again and she watched him as his face fought between annoyance and pride. "I enrolled for summer courses, and it turns out I have to read this blubbering mess."
She tried not to get her hopes up. "Summer courses? But I thought you were leaving."
Her mouth clamped shut but it was too late. She watched for Draco's reaction and it wasn't what she'd expected. He gave a heavy smile. "So you did talk to my mother, then. You knew I was going to have to leave when you saw me last night, didn't you?"
She caved under the weight of his stare. There was anger there, layers of it writhing around in the grey, but mostly he looked resigned.
"I'm sorry I tricked you."
His eyes flickered away from her, back down at the book, at the tree. He shrugged. "I kind of knew that it wasn't possible for me to get everything I wanted. My mother had mentioned leaving before you visited, so had the sheriff, but I figured I could twiddle my fingers and, poof, there would be a different outcome."
His hand balled into a fist over the book, his fingers digging into the cover. Without warning to either of them, her hand was there, holding onto the fist until it eased. His fingers weaved through hers. She preferred to look at their hands than his eyes.
"But, hey, we still have the summer. You could be my tutor, and I promise I won't be too much of a smart ass," Draco tried to lighten the mood, his head leaning to take a peek at Hermione's expression. She let out a little laugh, shaking her head.
"You couldn't pay me enough," she sighed, smiling as she finally looked up at him.
"Oh, come on. I'm sure I'd find a… preferable payment method," he murmured, and she realized how close he'd gotten by distracting her with little promises and imagined, delightful scenarios. She could hear him breathing, his heartbeat so loud in such proximity to her own. Hermione leaned into the alluring illusion, and she felt a soft and fervent kiss press itself onto her temple, into her mind like a stamp.
"How about you just give me an 'I owe you' and, that way, you'll have to come back," Hermione breathed, leaning further into that kiss. His hands were around her, then cupping her face and pulling her back up to look at him.
"I owe you so much, already, so there's no way I wouldn't come back. You have to know that," he urged, pulling her towards him so that she could see straight into him. Their foreheads touched and he swore he could finally hear what she was thinking, and she could hear all the promises he was determined to keep.
"I'm going to graduate at the speed of light, it's going to blow you away how short of a time I'm going to be away. Besides, you have a phone and I have a phone. We're not barbarians, we've got technology on our side, okay? It's going to be like I never left."
"And what about when I go to Harvard? Letters, email? You're really going to keep up with that?" She scoffed in jest, though in the pit of her stomach it wasn't a joke.
He rolled his eyes, laughed as his hands clutched at her cheeks, forced her frown to disappear. "Please, it's you that's going to have a hard time in between all of your studies. But even if we don't, it doesn't mean I've suddenly forgotten about you or that you've forgotten about me. You have your studies, and I have a whole life to figure out but it's going to be okay."
He smiled at her reassuringly, trying to reassure himself as well. "Just think about it. You're going to be reading up on archaic law one day and be bored out of your mind, wondering what on earth you were thinking about when you gave up life back in England with me to go study in that hellhole, when I'm going to have finished all the prerequisites to being with you. For old time's sakes, I'll come to your window-"
"I'm three flights up in an apartment," Hermione hurled in. He rolled his eyes, nudged her nose with his.
"I'll find a way to your stupid window, up the fire escape or something. A very large ladder. Whatever. It doesn't matter. As long you leave the window open, I'll find you."
Hermione searched his eyes and saw herself in them, saw a near future in which he finished grade school and did chase her to Harvard. She would be studying, as usual, her head smashed inside a book that smelled like pine and old leaves when a knock would come at her window. He would have been there longer than she'd known, watching to make sure she hadn't changed while he was gone, afraid as she had been before about such a long estrangement. He would worry that maybe university had changed her somehow, that American air would rework the things that made her her. But then Draco would see her, going with a black pen to correct a grammatical mistake she'd found in a textbook and just know that she was still Hermione, his Hermione. He would knock and then realize that the window was unlocked, feeling nostalgic about years past but also scared shitless that she went around with her apartment unsecured. She'd turn and see him, and the room would light up as a star was reborn. He would ease open the window as she rushed to him and embraced him through the opening, again scaring the shit out of him because he really was on a fire escape, three flights up. She'd laugh at his barely hidden hysteria and then he'd sneak in while the roommates were still asleep.
They'd talk into the early morning, Hermione completely forgetting she had class in, oh god, a few hours. He'd make her coffee and shove her out the door, sitting back down to look for jobs even though he'd already set up appointments for interviews in the city. He would apply for college, too, studying part-time while raising money to get them their own apartment away from prying, college girl eyes. And it would be as if he'd never left, as if she'd always had a special place carved out for him in her life that had simply been waiting for him to fill it up. And they wouldn't be his parents, but be their own people and free.
The vision fled and she smiled, her eyes turning to the very open window behind her.
"It doesn't look like I have much of a choice," she noted, pressing her lips together against a laugh as Draco grimaced. He was looking down, suddenly feeling another wave of guilt, but she refused to let him drown in that any longer. She took him in her hands, held the love he had for her there so warm between her fingers, and kissed him.
And there wasn't room for goodbye in between their lips, because there was no goodbye to be had. Of course, the summer would end and the house next to hers would no longer be filled with the boy she'd fallen in love with. He would leave and she would let him go with a wave from her room. But the view of their future was clear and beautiful from that height, and as vast and promising as the world she saw from her window.
And it was time for them to finally enjoy the view.