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The Gift of Joy

Chapter Text

The deed was done…sort of.

Albus Dumbledore was dead. But not at his hands, as it was supposed to have happened. No, he had been a coward right to the end and hadn’t been able to kill his headmaster. Severus had stepped in and done the deed for him and he knew he was in deep shit now. The moment they returned to the Dark Lord, he would be dead for sure. Another Malfoy failure. Another disappointment. Draco shuddered at the thought of what awaited him back at Malfoy Manor. But whatever it was that awaited him, it was better than what would happen to him if he remained behind.

Draco followed behind his fellow Death Eaters, the top of the astronomy tower illuminated by the eerie glow of the Dark Mark, which hung in the air as a reminder of the evil that had just transpired moments ago. No, not evil. Necessary. The old coot had to go.

And now he had.

Draco stayed on the heels of the others as they wound their way down the staircases and through empty corridors. He heard echoes of shouting in the surrounding area, but he was so focused on getting out with the others to the apparition point that he couldn’t pinpoint where they were coming from.

A shrill cry behind him sounded and with a jolt, he realized that someone – no, scratch that – two people were on their tail. Their footsteps drew nearer and Draco sped up, his sense of urgency renewed.

He was right on the heels of Severus when his plans got derailed. It happened so quickly that Draco didn’t have time to process it all. One second he was right behind Severus, his sole focus on getting the hell out of Hogwarts.

A cry of, “Locomotor Mortis!” sounded from behind him in an older woman’s voice.

The next second he fell flat on his face, his legs suddenly incapable of movement. The wind was completely knocked out of him and he wheezed. Feeling his lungs squeeze tight, Draco knew he only had seconds to act. Taking the deepest breath he could manage, he filled his lungs to their greatest extent and screamed, trying to draw the attention of one of his fellows. Someone. Anyone.

Only Severus looked back. For the briefest moment, Draco saw the strangest glint in his eyes. What was that? It almost looked like relief. It couldn’t be. But as quickly as that look came, Snape whipped back around and continued sprinting toward the grounds. Just like that, he was alone. Wasn’t he just thinking that remaining behind at Hogwarts would be worse than returning to the Dark Lord a failure? His heart dropping to his feet, Draco continued to thrash against his captor. A flash of robes swooped past, trainers coming dangerously close to Draco’s face.

Potter. He was going to get himself killed.

Without warning, Draco found himself pulled to his feet, his legs – and now his arms as well – locked together. Standing in front of him was none other than Professor McGonagall, her face distorted with rage. Her eyes were wide and blazing, her mouth so thin it was almost invisible. She swiped his wand from his hands.

Normally, Draco would have had some sort of insult prepared to spit in her face. He had spent years with his tongue full of venom. But as he stared into her terrible face, no words came. It seemed she couldn’t bring herself to speak, either, because with the silent swish of her wand, Draco was levitated a couple inches off the ground and led down the corridor. A couple other people sped past them in the same direction that Potter had just run. They were never going to catch up in time. Only Potter stood a chance of even coming close, but even that was unlikely. It seems McGonagall had given up the chase to tend to him.

As they walked – well, she walked, he floated – Draco took note of the evidence of battle all around him. Rubble littered the floors and…was that a bloody handprint on the wall? Draco’s stomach lurched.

This sharp metallic smell of blood infiltrated Draco’s nostrils as they continued toward the seventh floor corridor. With a gasp, Draco realized where they were headed: Dumbledore’s Office. He struggled against the curse, giving a strangled cry that echoed through the hall.

“Stop that at once, Mr. Malfoy, or I shall have to gag you as well,” McGonagall hissed in a tone he had never quite heard from her before. Draco immediately fell silent. McGonagall spat out a password in front of stone gargoyles and the two ascended a moving spiral staircase in continued silence.

The headmaster’s office was revealed to them at the top, unfolding like a pop-up book from Draco’s childhood. The whirring and clicking of various instruments filled the air, and Draco felt the bile rise in his throat. This was the office of someone living. Of someone who, in the face of his own death, had offered nothing but kind words to him.

He was going to be sick. McGonagall lowered Draco into a chair on the near side of the desk. For a brief moment, the enchantment restricting his movement was lifted. Draco did not possess the strength to try and run. Instead, he crumpled forward and vomited at his own feet. Sick and spit dripped from his mouth as he groaned and sat back up, collapsing into the back of the chair. McGonagall whispered, “Incarcerous,” and a quick “Scourgify.” The vomit vanished from the floor, but the foul taste remained in Draco’s mouth. He longed for a handkerchief and glass of water, but knew McGonagall wasn’t about to offer him either.

Frankly, a voice at the back of his head nagged, you don’t deserve them.

Draco hung his head.

He heard McGonagall taking deep breaths. She was likely steadying herself on Dumbledore’s chair, willing herself to sit down and speak. When he looked up again, he found McGonagall occupying Dumbledore’s old seat. She seemed somehow small in it. Small gashes covered her face, leaving a trail of dried blood. Her eyes were narrowed, staring right through him.

“Mr. Malfoy. Do you have an explanation for tonight?”

Draco took a deep breath and cleared his throat. “Professor?”

“You heard me, Mr. Malfoy.” Her gaze continued to pierce him, just as his eyes had. Those damned blue eyes, so full of disappointment. So disappointed in him, yet ready to forgive. Disappointment he was used to. But forgiveness? Despite all he had done? All the horrible things he had done…

Draco had stared death in the face for the first time tonight, and it had shaken him right to the very core of his being.

“Draco, you are not a killer.”

Back in the present, McGonagall continued to search him with her eyes from Dumbledore’s chair.

Something snapped in that moment and Draco felt a hard lump rise in his throat, his eyes burning and his face flushed. A fierce sob came bursting forth, and Draco felt hot tears coat his cheeks, dripping down his nose and chin. He cried for his parents, who would surely face punishment in the wake of his failure. He cried for his own cowardice. He cried for those kind blue eyes, now empty somewhere on the Hogwarts grounds.

Through his blurry vision, Draco could make out McGonagall’s shocked expression. Surely, she had not expected this. Neither had he, really. He had to pull himself together. Taking a shuddering breath to steady himself, Draco hiccupped and prepared to say the words he swore he never would. It was time.

“I…I’m so s-s-sorry, Pr-professor,” he whispered. He really wished he could wipe his face, but his arms were firmly chained to the chair.

McGonagall leaned back in the chair, her face in her hands. She was clearly deciding how to respond.

“I’m afraid,” she began, voice shaking, “that a simple apology can’t possibly make up for the gravity of your actions.” McGonagall looked up again and leaned forward. “Why, Mr. Malfoy? Why this sudden act of remorse?”

“It’s not an act,” Draco pleaded, sniffing as his tears cleared up. He had to tell the truth. No more deceit. No more agony. His soul couldn’t take it any longer. “I started this evening with every intention of murdering Professor Dumbledore on the Dark Lord’s orders. I even had him cornered on top of the astronomy tower. But when it came down to it, I just, I just –”

Tears were filling his vision once again. He gulped, trying to find his voice, but he found that he couldn’t speak any more.

“You just couldn’t kill him?” McGonagall offered, a soft edge to her stiffness creeping in.

Draco nodded weakly.

“What changed, Mr. Malfoy? You must have been determined to get that far without Professor Dumbledore stopping you.”

Draco was surprised when a laugh came bubbling up. It tasted bitter. “He knew! The old fool knew right from the very start, but he let me continue my task. Who knows why. And when it came down to it, right when I had him cornered, he didn’t fight.” Draco turned his red-rimmed expression to look McGonagall right in the eye. “He offered me and my family protection. And if the others hadn’t shown up – if Severus hadn’t killed him-“

“Severus?” McGonagall jumped to her feet. “You mean to tell me that Severus Snape is the one responsible for-for –” She spluttered, reaching for words to express the unthinkable.

Draco nodded again.

McGonagall sank back down, hand over her heart. “What you mean to say is that if Professor Snape had not performed your task for you, you may not have been able to do it yourself?”

A third nod.

“I see. You realize what a difficult position you have put me in, Mr. Malfoy. I wish to believe you, I really do. Like Professor Dumbledore, I, too believe that you have never been destined for deeds as disgusting as murder.” Draco winced at the word, remembering Dumbledore’s feeble body as it fell backward.

McGonagall reached into a desk drawer and drew out a vial of clear liquid. Draco didn’t have to be told twice what that was. It certainly wasn’t water.

“Veritaserum. You are of age, are you not, Mr. Malfoy?”

“Yes,” Draco straightened himself as much as he could. Veritaserum could prove to his teacher that he was telling the truth – that he was genuine. That he was terrified and wanted out. That he didn’t care how.

“Very well. I will give you a dose and ask you some questions. You will not remember my questions, but the effects of the potion will wear off in an hour. If your answers are satisfactory, we will discuss arrangements. If not, well...” McGonagall sighed and got to her feet, “well, we will cross that bridge when we get to it.”

McGonagall moved around the desk, uncorked the vial with a pop, and tipped Draco’s head back. As the liquid coated his throat, Draco’s mind went blissfully blank for the first time, and he allowed the void to cover him completely.


 

When Draco came to, the first thing he noticed was the absence of chains. The second thing he noticed was that he was no longer sitting in Dumbledore’s study. Instead, he was sitting on a chair in a small, stone chamber surrounded only by a writing desk bathed in moonlight from a small window high above his head.

Draco stood and made his way to the desk, stretching. On its surface sat a singular piece of parchment with two words written on it.

Wait here.

He must have passed muster, or he would still be bound. Breathing a small sigh of relief, Draco pressed his ear to the wooden door, hoping to hear something. McGonagall must have silenced the room, because nothing reached his ears.

Slumping back into the hard, wooden chair, Draco put his head between his knees. What would his father think, him giving into the likes of McGonagall? Nothing good, certainly. He would have scoffed at the notion and then shown Draco the very meaning of disappointment once they were alone.

“This,” Draco spoke aloud, “really would be the biggest disappointment yet, wouldn’t it, father?” Shaking his head in disbelief, he scoffed. Rubbing his eyes, he realized his face was wet again. Damn crying. He hadn’t cried so much since he was a kid – his father had made sure of that. His father had never approved of crying. Or any strong show of emotion, really.

His mother, though…

At the thought of his mother, his lungs suddenly emptied of oxygen. His heart began to beat rapidly in his throat. Draco clawed at the air, his head lightheaded. His mother. His poor mother…what would become of her? What had he done? What the hell had he done? His mother had gone to such lengths to protect him, and yet he had sealed her fate with his cowardice tonight.

Draco began to rock back and forth, his breath coming in sharp gasps that never seemed to adequately fill his lungs. He began to sob in earnest once more, big fat tears rolling down his face.

“Mother!” he wailed. “What have I done? What have I done?”

It was in this state that McGonagall found him, curled up pathetically in the chair, gasping and crying.

She conjured a bed and led him to it, helping him under the covers as he continued to hyperventilate. She then did something that Malfoy would have never predicted.

She placed her hands on either side of his face and met his eyes.

“Breathe, Draco. It’s going to be all right.” Her voice was the softest he had ever heard from her. He had always viewed the matron of Gryffindor with disgust and frankly, a little fear. She was a fierce protector of her students, that he knew. But he never knew that that protection could extend to him.

“Just breathe.” Draco felt his lungs fill with air and his heart rate lower. Slowly, his breathing returned to normal and his thoughts stopped racing. He blinked.

“Thank you,” he mumbled as McGonagall let go of his face and settled on the chair. Draco wiped his face on his sleeve.

“The veritaserum served you well, Mr. Malfoy. I will work to fulfill Professor Dumbledore’s offer. I will find protection for you.”

“And my mother?” Draco croaked.

McGonagall sighed. “Yes. Should the opportunity arise, we shall offer it to her as well.”

Draco leaned against his pillow and closed his eyes for a moment.

“What would have happened to you, Mr. Malfoy, should I have not brought you here tonight?”

He turned his head to face her, not lifting his head from the pillow.

“I don’t know, Professor. That’s something I was trying not to think about.”

“I see.” She sighed again.

“All I know,” Draco offered, “is that I feel tired.”

McGonagall nodded. “Very well. Sleep here, Mr. Malfoy. I shall come to fetch you in a few days’ time. In the meanwhile, I shall arrange for food to be brought to you regularly. I ask that you do not try to leave this room. Your wand is in my possession, and I daresay you will not attempt to retrieve it. Am I clear?”

Draco turned away from McGonagall. “Yes,” he mumbled into his pillow.

“Get some rest, Mr. Malfoy. The days ahead will be long for all of us.”

He heard retreating footsteps, the creak of the door, and the click of its lock. Willing himself to continue breathing slowly and deeply, Draco drifted into an uneasy sleep.


 

Three days passed before Draco saw McGonagall again. As promised, a house elf delivered a tray of food three times a day. Draco kept himself occupied by counting the stones in the chamber and by tracing the path of the square of light from the window across the wall.

He did not cry again. He promised himself that there was no longer any room to cry.

That part was easy. What was not easy was keeping his thoughts from straying to his mother. But he somehow managed. He would have to from now on.

And so the three days passed in a bit of a blur. By the end of the second day, Draco began to grow anxious for news and for any sort of human contact. Being left alone to his thoughts was getting nauseating. He spent most of his days pacing or lying in bed, trying to pass the time by falling in and out of bouts of fitful sleep.

When McGonagall stood in the doorway on the evening of the third day and beckoned him into the study once again, Draco stumbled out of his little room. He blinked at the bright lights as his eyes adjusted. Upon entering the circular room once more, the first thing he noticed was the portrait of the old headmaster that now hung on the wall, its occupant dozing. His stomach twisted.

Draco, you are not a killer.

Taking a deep breath, Draco walked back to the chair he had occupied three days previously.

“So, what now?” he asked.

“Professor Dumbledore has been laid to rest and the rest of the students are preparing to return back to King’s Cross tomorrow.”

“The rest of the students, professor? Not me?”

“No, Mr. Malfoy. Your safety would be in considerable jeopardy should you board the Hogwarts Express. I have discussed this with a select few individuals whom I trust completely, and we have all agreed to give you sanctuary.”

Draco looked at his feet and mumbled a soft, “Thank you.”

“That being said, Mr. Malfoy, we are not quite ready for that placement.” Draco raised his head, his eyebrows cocked.

“If you’re not ready, then where am I to go now?”

“I have made temporary arrangements for you, Mr. Malfoy. You shall-“

There was a knock.

McGonagall stood and Draco whipped his head around to face the door to the study.

“Ah, yes. That will be her now. That is, to say, your temporary guardian of sorts.”

Draco craned his neck to see who this guardian would be.

He was met with brown eyes and bushy hair.

“Absolutely not.”

Chapter Text

The day after Dumbledore’s funeral had been surreal for Hermione. She spent the day lounging by the lake with Harry and Ron, both of them putting off packing as long as possible. Normally, she would have nagged them for their laziness, but she found that she didn’t have the heart for it just now. Instead, she chose to splash in the water with them, trying to look for any source of distraction they could find before the dark days looming ahead arrived.

They were definitely coming. Everyone knew it. But if for just 24 more hours they could find reasons to smile, Hermione wanted to seize that time and hold tight.

She and her boys had emerged from the Black Lake sopping wet and grinning ear to ear. Hermione had traded her usual robes for a pink T-shirt and cotton shorts, and Harry and Ron had made similar choices. Those items were far better swimwear than heavy, woolen wizard wear.

Stumbling to the shore, the three of them collapsed onto the grass below a large tree. Hermione laid between her best friends, breathing deep, cleansing breaths and soaking in the summer sun. After several minutes Hermione looked to her right, where Harry had his eyes closed.

Harry had grown so handsome these past few years. Though she felt nothing romantic toward him, she could see why Ginny did. It was lovely to see him so relaxed for once, his features clear of worry for this single, shining moment. She reached down and squeezed his hand. Harry squeezed back.

Turning to her left, she met Ron’s gaze. He had also seemed to turn his head at that moment as well. He smiled shyly and his freckled face flushed pink. Hermione returned the smile, feeling her own cheeks heat up slightly. Ron had really proved himself to be an arse this year. But somehow, through it all, he still remained her Ron. Reaching her hand towards Ron’s hand as well, Hermione gave it a tug, squeezing Harry’s hand again at the same time.

Both boys rolled in, placing their heads on her shoulders. Hermione sighed as she cuddled her boys in the afternoon sun. No words were needed. Not right now. Not yet.

She didn’t know how long they laid there in silence, but after a long while, her backside began to ache from the hard ground. Just as she was about to suggest that they should head inside, an outsider’s voice broke through their quiet moment.

“Miss Granger? Mr. Potter? Mr. Weasley?”

Groggily, the trio sat up and turned to find their new headmistress bustling over. She looked tired. The last few days had certainly taken their toll on her, just like the three of them.

Harry was the first to speak. 

“Good afternoon, Professor. How are you doing?” 

McGonagall smiled down at the three of them.

“I am doing as well as I can be. It’s nice to see you lot out and enjoying the day. Have you finished packing?”

Harry and Ron shot glances at her, and Hermione took it upon herself to speak for the three of them.

“We were just about to head back to Gryffindor Tower to finish up. Did you need us for something, Professor?”

“Indeed, Miss Granger. Rather, I just need you. Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, you may return to Gryffindor Tower. I suspect the two of you may need a bit more time than Miss Granger to pack.” She raised her eyebrows, a smile dancing on her lips.

Hermione gave a small chuckle, but Ron and Harry looked concerned.

“Why do you only need Hermione, Professor?” Ron asked, scrambling to his feet.

“Oh, nothing too much. I wanted to discuss a few school matters before my Head Girl hopeful heads home for the summer.” A true affectionate smile grew on McGonagall’s face, and Hermione returned it.

Though Hermione knew in her gut that she wouldn’t be returning for her seventh year – not yet, anyway – it was still delightful to hear it from the lips of her head of house. Head Girl! To think it was a possibility…

“Well, all right then,” Harry grumbled, pulling Hermione to her feet. “Come on, Ron. Let’s try to pack as much as we can before the feast.”

The four walked in amiable silence as they made their way to the seventh floor. At the top of the staircase, Ron and Harry said they’d see Hermione later and turned left. McGonagall and Hermione turned right toward the Head’s office.

“Now, Miss Granger. Before we enter the study, I must tell you that I lied to you before. I do, indeed, need to talk to you – to ask you to perform a task of sorts. But it is not related to being Head Girl.” 

Hermione felt her heart droop a bit, but if any disappointment showed on her face, it would have been brief.

McGonagall continued. “I beg of you to keep an open mind. The task I am suggesting is not easy. I daresay it may even anger you. But please, hear me out once I fetch your, ah, task.”

Hermione nodded solemnly, her brow furrowed in confusion. What sort of task would anger her? She couldn’t think of anything off the top of her head as she and the new headmistress ascended the staircase. McGonagall turned around and prevented Hermione from going any further. 

“I’m going to ask you to stop right there, Miss Granger. I want you to wait 5 minutes and knock. I will come to fetch you then. Do you understand?”

Hermione nodded and McGonagall disappeared behind the door.

A few short minutes passed and Hermione pressed her ear to the door. She could hear muffled voices from beyond. One was definitely McGonagall and the other was…male? How could another person be her task?”

Glancing at her watch, Hermione drew her hand back, took a breath, and knocked. Once. Twice. Three times.

As promised, McGonagall opened the door and Hermione stepped into Dumbledore…no…McGonagall’s study.

She heard him before she could process who she was seeing.

“Absolutely not.”

If her heart had drooped before, it was now on the floor. Her stomach clenched and her pulse quickened. She would know that voice anywhere.

Draco Malfoy. But how?

Hermione spluttered, her brain fumbling for the right words – the right questions. Malfoy stood before her looking more haggard than she had ever seen him. His robes were dirty and ripped and his blonde hair was mussed in a way that suggested he hadn’t tamed it in days. It almost looked as rumpled as Harry’s curls. But what stood out most to Hermione in that moment of bewildered silence were the dark circles under Malfoy’s eyes. 

Draco found his voice first.

“Are you implying that this mudblood is going to be my guardian?” Draco spat, his tired eyes full of contempt.

Hermione shook her head in disbelief. “I’m sorry. Your what? Professor, what does Malfoy mean by guardian?”

McGonagall sighed, looking from one to the other.

“Sit down, both of you. And Mr. Malfoy, I will not permit such language coming from your mouth.”

Draco plopped back into his chair with a huff. Hermione trotted over to the neighboring seat and sat, glancing sideways at Malfoy. He really did look awful. Harry had been so sure that Draco had escaped with Snape that night, but it seems he was mistaken. Somehow, the youngest Death Eater had remained behind. 

McGonagall took her place behind the desk and began to explain exactly how Malfoy had found himself in this office. Hermione listened aptly as the new headmistress insisted that Malfoy had been questioned under veritaserum and found to be quite genuine in his remorse. She shot her neighbor a look at this insistence. His head hung low and he was staring intently at his shoes, a grimace plastered on his face.

McGonagall had told her to have an open mind, but Hermione was finding difficult. The boy who had tormented her for years, had consistently called her mudblood, and who let in Death Eaters into this very castle only nights ago had expressed remorse?

It had to be bullshit. It just had to be.

“If you would like, Miss Granger, I can show you to the pensieve to observe Mr. Malfoy’s confession for yourself. I am willing to do that if it will help you complete the task I am beseeching you to do for me.”

Hermione felt Malfoy tense beside her. She straightened herself. 

“Yes, professor. I believe that would assist me in understanding.” The two women stood and headed to the pensieve, which was sitting on a nearby shelf. McGonagall drew a vial with a single, silvery memory floating inside from her robe pocket and careful tipped it into the basin.

With a brief look back at Malfoy, who was clenching the arms of his chair, Hermione leaned forward and fell into the memory. Harry had described the sensation to her before, and Hermione was fascinated to find herself in nearly this same spot nearly three days previous.

Professor McGonagall looked considerably more ragged than she did now, and Malfoy looked like he had been dragged through Hell. His eyes were streaked with tears and there was a wild, desperate sadness in his face. Hermione had certainly never seen him looking remotely like this. Seeing him in this state, Hermione was shocked to find she pitied him a little.

The two figures were talking and Hermione began to listen in to their conversation.

“Very well,” McGonagall said, “I will give you a dose and ask you some questions. You will not remember my questions, but the effects of the potion will wear off in an hour. If your answers are satisfactory, we will discuss arrangements. If not, well…well, we will cross that bridge when we get to it.” 

Hermione watched as McGonagall poured what she knew to be the veritaserum into Draco’s mouth. The change was instantaneous. Draco’s jaw went slack, and his eyes stared straight ahead, seemingly unseeing. 

“What is your name?”

“Draco Malfoy.” His voice was flat and expressionless.

“Why were you associating with Death Eaters this evening?”

“I let them into the castle. They were meant to wreak havoc and assist in creating a distraction while I killed Albus Dumbledore.”

Hermione shuddered at the frankness of response.

“Are you a Death Eater, Mr. Malfoy?”

“Yes.”

“Did you become a Death Eater by choice?”

Without missing a beat, Malfoy responded. “No.”

“Were you forced?”

“Yes. The Dark Lord threatened my parents. Said he would torture and kill us if I did not join. My mother pleaded with him, but he did not listen. My Aunt Bellatrix cheered as he branded my skin. It was the most excruciating pain I have ever felt. When it was over, the Dark Lord gave me my task. He told me that when I completed it, I would be honored and my family would be forgiven for our transgressions.”

Hermione listened with rapt attention as the whole tale unfolded. McGonagall asked him detailed questions about the events of the past year. The necklace. The mead. She was already familiar with much of this story through Harry, but her ears perked up when the story reached its climax.

“Why didn’t you fulfill your task on top of the Astronomy Tower tonight, Mr. Malfoy?” 

“When it came down to it, I was a coward. I could hurt someone from afar, certainly. But when faced with watching someone die at my own hand…I couldn’t bear it. I was ready to do it – to finally prove that the Malfoys are worth something to the Dark Lord. But that old fool offered me forgiveness. He offered to put my family into hiding and I faltered. He seemed so confident that this wasn’t my path. I lowered my wand. I wanted to listen…to believe that I didn’t have to kill.”

“And yet he still died?”

“Yes,” Malfoy continued. “Severus did that. I watched Dumbledore fall. I watched the light disappear from his eyes. In that moment, I wanted to die, too. I’ve never seen someone die before.”

It was several moments before McGonagall spoke again. The air was thick and Hermione could feel the professor shaking.

“Do you wish to continue fighting for You-Know-Who?”

“No. I hate him. He makes me sick. I don’t want to kill. I don’t want to fight. I want to live in safety with my family far, far away from this hellhole.”

Memory McGonagall nodded and Hermione felt herself falling back out of the memory. She landed back in the study, finding herself staring at the same boy in the same chair. He was no longer blank, but instead flushed, his jaw clenched.

Hermione made her way back to the desk and sat, actively avoiding Malfoy’s gaze.

“Are you convinced, Miss Granger?”

She blinked and hesitated. After a moment, she nodded.

“Very well. Mr. Malfoy wishes for protection, and we are willing to give it to him – and to his family, should the time arise when that is possible.”

Malfoy looked up at this point, leaning on one elbow. He was also carefully avoiding her line of sight.

“Now, as I have already told you, Mr. Malfoy, a permanent placement is not yet arranged. We are still waiting for a – ah – host for you. In the meanwhile, you need somewhere to stay where you can lie low without detection from anyone in the magical community. This is where you come in, Miss Granger.”

Hermione’s ears perked up and she leaned forward, afraid where this conversation was going. If she wasn’t mistaken, based on his body language, Malfoy was having similar thoughts.

“I am requesting that you take Mr. Malfoy back to your residence for some time this summer until we can find a more suitable placement for him.”

Both Hermione and Malfoy cried out in protest at that exact moment, but McGonagall held up her hand and they fell silent.

 “I realize this is not ideal for either of you. Miss Granger, your life in the outskirts of muggle London will not attract unwanted attention for some time, and with the correct wards around your home and neighborhood, I believe the two of you can have a relatively normal existence until it is time for him to be moved. Placement should not take long.” 

McGonagall paused at this time, leaving Hermione to her thoughts. Malfoy in her house? What would her parents say? What would Ron and Harry say? How was she supposed to live with a muggleborn-hating prick like Malfoy in her own home? She could hardly stand him for a few minutes in this office!

Once again, Hermione could tell with ease that Malfoy was mirroring her feelings. He spoke out with a look of utter revulsion on his face.

“Surely you can do better than that. I will not live in some filthy muggle shack with this mudblood!”

Hermione was about to fight back when Professor McGonagall rose to her feet, an air of power emanating from her whole body. On her face was a look far more terrible than Hermione had ever seen her wear. Her wand pointed straight at Malfoy’s face, her voice full of fury.

“You forget your place, Mr. Malfoy. It is not you who is in control here. It is at my own wand that you are shown pity. If it were not for my recommendation, several of my colleagues would have elected to throw you in Azkaban.”

Malfoy shrank back in his chair, terror etched into every inch of his body.

“Now I suggest,” she continued with her wand still aimed at him, “that you take my offer without complaint. Your remorse may have been true three days ago, but I can see the darkness that lingers in you, Mr. Malfoy. There is never need for such language. Use of that word will only continue to sully your good heart.”

McGonagall lowered her wand and sat back down. His expression moved from fear to confusion and settled in a sullen way.

“Miss Granger is brilliant in her own right, and you will find life in her family’s home quite satisfactory, I’m sure. That is, if she agrees to the task.”

The headmistress and Malfoy both turned to face her. Hermione took a breath and released it. As much as it made her stomach turn, she knew what the right answer was.

“I agree, Professor. I’ll watch over Malfoy until it’s time to move him.”

As McGonagall nodded, Hermione suddenly remembered something.

“Professor? Later in the summer I’m due at the Burrow for Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Is there a way I can still attend?”

McGonagall paused, looking thoughtful.

“I will think on that, Miss Granger. I will try to make it possible for you to attend. In the meantime, we must make haste. I have made arrangements to connect the fireplace in this office to the Floo in your family’s sitting room, Miss Granger. Your parents will be notified immediately, and the wards will be set up around the neighborhood and house.” She paused for a moment, her eyes moving between the two of them. 

“Miss Granger, you will return to Gryffindor tower tonight and return tomorrow as soon as the train departs. You are to tell Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley that we have arranged alternative transportation for you because no one is available to pick you up from King’s Cross. Is that understood?”

“Yes, professor,” Hermione piped up.

“Mr. Malfoy? A house elf will gather your things and send them ahead. You are to remain here until it is time to depart. Do you understand?”

Malfoy grunted an affirmative.

“Very well. Mr. Malfoy, let’s get you back to your chamber. Miss Granger, when I return, let’s walk to the leaving feast together.”

Hermione watched as Malfoy climbed stairs to a side door and entered, McGonagall poking her head in for a moment before locking it.

The two of them walked down to the Great Hall together. Hermione tried to put her thoughts together, but they were flying around her brain like a swarm of bats.

As she slid into her seat at the Gryffindor table between Harry and Ron, they immediately inquired her about her meeting. She answered their questions with improvised falsities. Something about scheduling and a change in patrolling policies. They bought it and dug into the feast. Rather, Ron dug in. Harry ate tentatively.

Back in the common room, the trio sat in front of the fire together. Hermione explained her departure plans to Harry and Ron just as McGonagall had asked her to. They almost seemed hurt, but accepted it. She cuddled with them both, praying they would forgive her for the promises she had made in secret.


After bidding her boys farewell the next morning, Hermione headed straight back to the headmistress’s office. Malfoy was already waiting, his appearance still disheveled.

“Good morning,” Hermione offered.

Malfoy shot her back an irritated look. Hermione sighed. This was going to be a long summer.

McGonagall appeared from the spiral staircase and shooed them toward the fireplace.

“I will send word with my Patronus when I have more information on a placement,” she said as both teens took a pinch of Floo Powder. “Do not try to owl or Floo anyone. We don’t know what’s being watched.”

The two nodded grimly.

“Miss Granger, I am placing you in charge of Mr. Malfoy’s wand. It has been warded so that he may not use it. You may wish to ward your own wand as well.” Malfoy looked longingly at his hawthorn wand as it passed from the headmistress’s grip to her own. She slipped it into her pocket.

“And do try not to murder each other. It would be such a shame for this effort to be for naught. Now into the fire, both of you!” 

Hermione entered the flames, shouting “Jean and Mark Granger’s Residence, London!” and was immediately whooshed away through the Floo.

Moments later she landed in her family’s sitting room. Her parents were waiting on the sofa and stood when she arrived. Dusting herself off, she walked forward and hugged them. As they embraced, Malfoy came shooting through the grate.

He looked around with moderate disapproval on his face, but Hermione was grateful it hadn’t reached disgust. Her parents were dentists, after all, and they made a nice living.

“Welcome, Mr. Malfoy, was it?” her mum walked forward to greet her guest. Malfoy drew back, seemingly uncomfortable. Mum took the cue. “That’s all right. Your stuff is already here and upstairs. Yours too, kiddo.” She smiled at Hermione.

“Why don’t you show Mr. Malfoy to his bedroom?” Dad suggested. 

Hermione nodded and motioned for Malfoy to follow her. “I’m upstairs to the left, and you’re to the right. Mum and Dad have a bedroom downstairs. You have your own bathroom right here in the hall, and knowing Mum, she’s put out fresh towels for you. I expect we’ll be having lunch soon.”

Malfoy didn’t look at her, but instead turned toward the room she had indicated as his, walked straight in, and shut the door.

Huffing, yet not surprised at Malfoy’s rudeness, Hermione changed into muggle clothes in her room. She hid Draco’s wand in an old nook she had made behind her desk as a child and returned downstairs to fully greet her parents. Malfoy did not appear at lunch. Nor did he appear at dinner. Mum left a tray outside his room, but the door did not budge.

When Hermione bade her parents goodnight that evening, she was unsurprised to find Malfoy’s door still shut, the food untouched. She closed her own door and tried to get to sleep. 

A noise woke her in the middle of the night. Glancing at the clock, she saw it was 2:30AM. She grabbed her wand and poked her head out of her bedroom door. Light was pouring from a crack in the doorframe halfway down the hallway, as was steam. It seems he had figured out how to turn on the lights and the shower. Hermione heard the sound of running water. Glancing further down, she noticed that the tray left by her mum was still there. 

Frowning, Hermione closed her door and returned to bed.


 The next three days proceeded in a similar manner. Malfoy did not emerge from his room, and the food left outside his room would go uneaten. Her parents shared whispered conversations over the kitchen table of their worries for the boy they had invited into their home.

Hermione was caught between complete indifference and severe worry. On one hand, Draco Malfoy was the very boy who had teased and taunted her for the past five years. He had made her feel inferior, tormented her friends, and even wished death upon her during their second year, according to Ron.

Yet the Malfoy she had seen in the pensieve – the sad, broken Malfoy – yanked at her heart. The logical side of her knew that the people who were hurting the most were often the ones who presented the hardest exteriors to the world. Malfoy’s shell was nothing short of titanium. Titanium covered in sharp spikes. There had to be more to him. 

At night, Hermione sat awake, listening for signs of activity. On the second night, she heard an odd noise from Malfoy’s room. When she focused her hearing more, she heard a distinct sniff and a shuddering breath.

Was he crying?

Hermione heard the sounds of tears again the next night. She lay in her bed, her heart fighting her mind.

On the third night, Hermione ventured from her room. She couldn’t hear the same crying noises she had heard the previous nights. Instead, a quiet whimpering filled her ears. Against her better judgment, she tiptoed across the hall and pushed the door to the guest room open.

Malfoy was in bed, twisted under the quilt. His face was contorted with fear, soft whimpers coming from his mouth. Hermione drew closer. 

“No, please! Mum! Don't hurt my mum!” he cried out, his voice strangled with sadness. Hermione froze. His mother? He was dreaming about his mother? Who was hurting her?

Hermione thought she might know the answer. 

Like a magnet drawn to metal, Hermione stepped forward, her socks making no noise on the carpeted floor. She lowered herself onto the ground by the edge of the bed. Malfoy was clearly in the throes of a nightmare. Her heart squeezed. Not even Malfoy deserved to have nightmares about his mother – especially not during a war.

Hermione reached forward and grazed Malfoy’s hair with her fingertips. It was soft. He had clearly been washing his hair each night. She moved her hand more firmly against his hair, stroking it gently. Her mum had done this for her when she was little, and she had always found it comforting.

Malfoy’s cries died down slightly as Hermione stroked his hair from his forehead. She tried to observe him as she had done to Harry the other day at the lake. He had been so pointy as a child, but adolescence had been kind to his features. He was rather handsome, with a strong jaw and sharp features that were obvious, even as he slept. As she continued her comfort, she even took note of his long eyelashes.

Too bad he was a jerk.

Hermione leaned her head onto the mattress, her hand still patting Malfoy’s head. What had she gotten herself into? She yawned and drifted off.


Draco woke up the next morning feeling more refreshed than he had in days. As he opened his eyes, however, he noticed a funny shape in the corner of his vision. Looking to his right, he was shocked to see a hand reaching past his face. After another moment, he felt what were clearly fingers tangled in his curls.

Confused, he sat up and removed the hand, setting it down beside him. He looked down to see the source of the hand.

Granger. 

What the hell was she doing here? When did she come in? He certainly had no recollection of it. He had half a mind to yell at her, scare her into waking, and chase her from the room.

Draco gave her a once over. She was fast asleep, her right arm tucked beneath her cheek. Her bushy mop of hair was spread out across the quilt. The sunlight splashed in through the windows, painting the room. In this lighting, Granger oddly looked like an angel. 

Shaking that very awful thought from his head, he focused once more on that hand he had moved. Draco brought his own hand up to his head and ran it through his hair. What had Granger’s hand been doing with his hair as he slept?

He had slept remarkably well last night, despite having awful dreams for several nights in a row.

Draco paused.

Had Granger stopped his nightmare? Had she come into his room and tried to comfort him? He looked back down at the mudblo – no.

At the muggleborn.

He had been plagued with nightmares for the better part of a year, ever since that abomination had been tattooed on his arm. No one had rescued him from his dreams before.

Not until today.

Granger slept on, her shoulders moving up and down as she breathed, unaware of his gaze. 

Maybe she wasn’t so horrible.

Chapter Text

Hermione eyed Malfoy out of the corner of her eye as he pushed his cornflakes around his bowl. After four full days of sitting in solitary confinement in the guest bedroom, Malfoy had finally emerged that morning. He now sat at the Granger’s kitchen table in his black pajama bottoms and a white T-shirt, his blonde hair mussed from his pillow.

Hermione was almost tempted to laugh at his disheveled appearance. She had certainly seen Ron and Harry in sleep-tousled states before, so she had a good idea of what teenage boys looked like in the morning. But she had to admit, there was something innately funny about duty-bound, pureblood, hair-slicked-back Draco Malfoy sitting next to her with sleep still in his eyes.

He seemed almost normal.

Malfoy looked up from his cereal bowl and glanced her way. Hermione quickly shifted her gaze back to her own breakfast. When Hermione woke up on the floor of Malfoy’s bedroom yesterday morning, she found him already out of bed. In a panicked state, she had jumped to her feet and fled back to her bedroom. She heard the hall bathroom door swing open moments later. It wasn’t until the door to the guest bedroom clicked shut once more that Hermione let out the breath she didn’t even know she had been holding.

All yesterday Hermione had been checking on him. Twice, even, she had walked up to the solid wooden threshold, her fist drawn up to knock. The heavy silence on the other side of the door and the weight of her embarrassment kept her from following through. Hermione turned red just thinking about it. How could she have just fallen asleep next to Draco Malfoy? She certainly remembered running her hands through his hair as he whimpered in his sleep. It had been so soft…

Hermione wanted to melt into a puddle and disappear through the cracks in the floorboards when she thought about how she must have looked to Malfoy when he woke up to find her there.

Fast forward to this morning, Hermione flushed pink when her school enemy joined her family for breakfast. If and when Malfoy ever joined them, she had half expected her parents to treat him with coldness. After all, they had confronted her on her first day back, demanding answers. Why was the bully Hermione had complained about for years suddenly a guest in their home? Was she all right with it? Why was she picked to watch him and not an actual adult? Did she have an out if she needed it?

Hermione had spent the next hour explaining why she had chosen to trust Malfoy, and after a while, she wasn’t sure if she was convincing her parents or herself. Yes, Malfoy was a horrible person, but no, he wasn’t evil. Yes, he had tormented her, but shouldn’t people be offered second chances? And she reminded them that watching a low-level Death Eater with no wand, no clue how to survive in the muggle world, and nowhere safe to go wasn’t exactly a danger or a flight risk.

Her parents weren’t necessarily happy with the answers, but they had accepted them. They had consequently filled her in on the rushed visit from a member of the Order of the Phoenix before her arrival. By their description, it sounded like it might have been Kingsley Shacklebolt. He had performed several enchantments and informed them that he and other Order members would check in regularly but would not make contact unless necessary.

The whole conversation had seemed to appease her parents, but she wasn’t sure what their approach would be to Malfoy. Hell, she still wasn’t sure what she would say to him, even sitting across from him at the breakfast table. But to Hermione’s great surprise, Mum had practically fawned over him, offering him the entire contents of their refrigerator and cupboards.

She had knelt down to his level, one arm on the back of his chair. “I’ll make anything you want, dear. Just tell me what sounds good and I can try and make it happen.” Mum, it seemed, had taken her daughter’s words to heart, and was definitely worrying over their houseguest. Malfoy sat in silence for a moment. Hermione groaned internally. Was he going to sit in sullen silence all summer?

But then he surprised all three Grangers by mumbling, “I’ll have whatever Gran…Hermione’s having.” Malfoy glanced nervously at Hermione and she gave him the smallest nod of encouragement.

So there they sat, eating their cereal at the kitchen table. Dad and Mum both read the paper, commenting on news stories to each other.

It occurred to Hermione that her parents were trying to give the two of them the opportunity to chat. Clearing her throat, she decided to take a stab at conversation.

“So, uh, I was going to ride my bicycle down to the park today. I haven’t gone out since we got back and we have, erm, permission to be in the neighborhood. Did you want to join me?”

Merlin, this was awkward.

Malfoy finished chewing and swallowing the bite he had just put into his mouth.

“Bicycle?”

Hermione noted that her parents’ eyes had stopped looking down at the paper and were now focused on the blond boy sitting next to her.

“Erm, yes. It’s a vehicle on two wheels. You use pedals to make it go and you can actually go pretty fast once you get the hang of it. Not as fast as a broom, of course, but it’s fun.”

Before Malfoy had a chance to respond, Dad piped up.

“Draco here can borrow my bike. It should be the right size.” The elder Granger raised his eyebrows at Malfoy in expectation, clearly looking for a positive response. Dad clearly wasn’t going to dote on Malfoy like Mum was, but he seemed to be giving him a chance.

With a great heaving sigh, Malfoy grimaced. “Sure. This bicycle thing sounds better than sitting in that damn room all day.”

Hermione was about to snap a response, but her dad beat her to the punch. “Fantastic! Let me dig the bike out of the garage before we head into the clinic. Don’t forget helmets, you two.”

“OK, Dad,” Hermione answered automatically, placing her spoon into her now-empty bowl. Noticing Malfoy had also finished, she motioned for him to follow her. At the sink, she took his bowl from him, rinsed it, and placed it in the dishwasher.

“What’s that thing?” Malfoy asked, the disapproving tone in his voice tinged with curiosity.

“It’s called a dishwasher. When it’s full we can put soap in here-” she indicated the pocket in the door “-and close the door. Then we just push a button and the machine washes and dries all the dishes in about an hour.”

“It takes an hour?” he scoffed. “House elves could finish all that in five minutes.”

Hermione pushed her annoyance down. “Well, Malfoy, we don’t have a house elf. So you’ll just have to get used to putting your dishes in here while you’re staying.”

“Whatever.”

Without another word, Malfoy turned to go back upstairs. Hermione frowned. This was definitely not the Malfoy she was used to. The fire he usually carried with him seemed to be dulled, and for some reason, that made Hermione uneasy. Either he was going to explode on her one of these days or something was seriously wrong.

Hermione wasn’t sure she liked either answer.


 

Hermione threw on some shorts and a T-shirt and took the stairs back down to the sitting room two at a time. She was just sliding her feet into her trainers as Malfoy made his appearance. Hermione gawked at him.

“Why are you so dressed up, Malfoy?”

He was wearing black slacks and a white button up shirt, the sleeves pushed to his elbows.

Malfoy gave himself a once over. “What’s wrong with this?”

“We’re just going to the park. Do you have anything more casual?”

“Of course not. Malfoys don't do casual.” Malfoy spat the last word out like it tasted nasty.

“Well if you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb on a hot July day, we should find you something casual.” Hermione purposely overemphasized the last word, jogging past Malfoy and back upstairs. She turned to her room and began rummaging in her trunk. Malfoy followed her and stepped into her bedroom.

“So…this is where the great Granger grew up?” Malfoy posed, leaning to get a good look at some photographs on top of her dresser.

“It is. Not very exciting, but it’s cozy.”

“Is this you, Granger?” Malfoy asked, motioning toward the framed photograph of a happy baby.

Hermione glanced over her shoulder to see what Malfoy was asking about. “Yeah, it is. I think I was about a year old in that photo.”

He appraised the photo for a moment.

“You were an ugly baby, Granger.”

There he was. Hermione rolled her eyes and continued rummaging in her trunk. After a moment, she emerged triumphant.

“Aha!” she raised the items above her head and brandished them at Malfoy. He eyed the items in her hands with confusion. “They’re Harry’s shorts and T-shirt.”

“What in Merlin’s name were they doing in your trunk? Something you’re not telling the rest of us about you and Potty?” Malfoy waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

“Oh, honestly,” Hermione folded her arms. “I keep extra clothes for both Ron and Harry in my trunk. They have a tendency to leave their washing to the last minute. We had an unfortunate incident in third year where they ran out of clothes and had to wear the same stinky shirts and trousers for four days. I’m sure you know there’s only so much scourgify can do. These are just a backup.”

Malfoy let out a bark-like laugh. “Why does that not surprise me about Potty and Weasel?”

Hermione couldn't help but smile, herself. “Well, they’re teenage boys.”

Malfoy feigned offense, his hand on his chest. “I’m a teenage boy, Granger. I assure you, I would never do that.”

“Fair. Maybe you’re the exception. In any case, go put these on. They’ll fit you better than Ron’s clothes.”

Malfoy reluctantly accepted the bundle and headed back to his room, and Hermione heard him mumbling something about ‘Potter’s hand-me-downs’. Three minutes later, he stepped into the hallway wearing brown cargo shorts and a blue ringer T-shirt. Though he looked a bit uncomfortable, he looked much less out-of-place.

“Much better,” Hemione praised, heading back downstairs. “Let’s go to the garage. Dad said he would get out our bikes.” Malfoy followed as they walked out the front door where, just as promised, two bicycles sat parked with helmets hanging on the handlebars.

Hermione walked over to her purple bicycle, fastening the matching helmet under her chin. Malfoy watched and copied with his own forest green helmet.

Hermione offered a small smile and swung her leg over her bike. “Ready?”

She watched as Malfoy fumbled onto the seat of his silver bicycle, uncertainty etched on his features. Hermione’s smile widened a bit. He was almost cute when he wasn’t being so arrogant. “Do you know how to ride a bike?” she asked.

“Of course not. This is a silly muggle thing.” He was clearly trying to come across as confident but his shaky voice gave him away.

“Here, let me help.” Hermione climbed off her bike and kicked the stand into place. She gave Malfoy a quick rundown of the mechanics. He listened intently, nodding in all the right places. Hermione made a mental note that Malfoy was already a better student than Ron or Harry. But then again, she knew that already. Malfoy’s marks were second only to hers in their year.

Her explanation finished, she told Malfoy to get into position. With a little push, Malfoy traveled forward a few feet before wobbling a bit and falling over.

“Fuck!” he cried as he tumbled. “Dammit, Granger, what the hell is this thing?”

Hermione stifled a laugh and offered her hand. Malfoy knocked it away and pulled himself up, scowling.

“You just need practice. See?” She sat back on her bike and took off down the street, turning around and stopping in front of Malfoy. He looked a little incredulous, his eyebrows raised and his mouth slightly open. If only Hermione could capture that expression. Surely, it was a rare sight.

“You’re good at flying. Surely you can manage to balance on two wheels,” she spoke encouraging words as she stood beside him again. Malfoy positioned himself on the bike again. “Here, let me help.”

Without thinking too much about it, Hermione reached around Malfoy’s back and grasped both handlebars, just like Dad had done for her when she was learning. She could feel his solid back muscles through Harry’s well-worn shirt; years of Quidditch had clearly left him lean and strong. She had never been this close to Draco Malfoy in her life, so she was shocked to find he smelled…attractive? She shivered.  If Harry and Ron could see her now, arm around Malfoy and smelling him, they might pass out.

Right, not thinking too much about it.

“You just focus on pedaling and I’ll keep you from falling over.”

Malfoy glanced at her and turned away quickly, his eyes focused forward. “Just go.” Hermione began to walk forward, her gaze switching between the path ahead and Malfoy’s feet.

“Good! Good job, Malfoy. I think you’ve got it!” Halfway down the street, Hermione let go. The bike continued with perfect balance. Malfoy’s straightened bike told her that he was gaining confidence. “Try to turn!” she called out. With surprising smoothness, the bike circled around and headed back. As Malfoy drew nearer, she saw the hint of a smile behind his concentration. “Stop pedaling to slow and pedal backwards gently to stop. Gently!” Malfoy came to an abrupt stop a foot in front of her. On his face was the biggest grin she had ever seen him wear.

She grinned back. “That was brilliant, you know. For a first time.”

Malfoy coughed as he tried to return his face back to nonchalant.

“So are we riding to this park or not?” he demanded.

“Yeah, yeah. All right. Hang on.” She swung her leg over the bicycle again and the two took off. Malfoy was still a little unsteady, so Hermione kept her pace slow. They rode in silence past Hermione’s childhood neighborhood. Her old classmates still probably lived in many of these houses, though she hadn’t spoken to any of them in years. Whenever she had returned home in the past, she had either endured awkward forced interactions because of her parents or had avoided seeing old classmates on purpose. Her Hogwarts friends certainly hadn’t visited her here. It struck Hermione as odd that the first real magical company she had at home was Draco Malfoy, of all people.

They arrived at the park after twenty minutes or so, and Hermione hopped off and unsnapped her helmet, walking the bike to the playpark near the entrance. Malfoy followed suit and joined her as she sat on the swings.

After a moment, Malfoy spoke. “So is this what you do around here for fun, Granger? These bicycle things and sitting? No wonder you’re a bore.”

Hermione dragged her feet in the mulch as she began to rock back and forth. “Gee, thanks for the compliment, Malfoy. Frankly, my life around here isn’t too exciting. You’re right about that. But I don’t think McGonagall assigned you to stay with me because life here is exciting.”

Malfoy shrugged. “True. But it couldn’t hurt to at least have a small Quidditch pitch nearby.”

“You know as well as I do that’s impossible in this neighborhood.”

“Stupid muggles,” he sighed. “Speaking of McGonagall, did she tell you anything about when they’re going to place me?” Malfoy looked over at her from his swing.

“I’m not sure at all.”

They sat in silence for another minute. Hermione listened to the sounds of the neighborhood – passing cars, children laughing, lawnmowers buzzing – and began to think about the predicament weighing on the back of her mind for the past couple days.

McGonagall had insisted they would be safe at her parents’ house, but she wasn’t so sure. Nowhere was guaranteed to be safe these days, and Hermione worried about the security of their location, Order check-ins and enchantments or not. If Death Eaters discovered where Hermione’s family lived, she was concerned that the wards around the neighborhood wouldn’t last. She knew that it was only a matter of time before she, Harry, and Ron became wanted fugitives when they sent of hunting for horcruxes, and her parents might be targeted by Death Eaters. The thought of her parents being held hostage or being tortured for information had been at the forefront of her mind for the past few days.

All that thinking had led her nearer to the conclusion she dreaded: if her family were to emerge from this war whole, her parents couldn’t remain here in London. The thought pained her, but Hermione prided herself on her logical side. She had to send them away. Certainly, they wouldn’t go if she just asked, and she didn’t want to cause them undue worry by telling them her true plans for the immediate future.

That meant she would have to move them without them realizing the extent of their actions. The only way she could think to do this was through memory manipulation, but the thought of Obliviating her parents her absolutely crushed her heart. She would give it some more thought over the coming days before she she reached a final decision.

Hermione looked over at Malfoy, who also appeared to be lost in thought. If these wards weren’t as strong as McGonagall had insisted, she might have to execute her vague plan soon. That meant that her Slytherin nemesis was along for the ride, whether she liked it or not. Granted, he hadn’t been nearly as bad as she had initially thought. Malfoy had actually been smiling and making conversation. Sparingly, of course, but it was far better than the venom he usually spat at her.

Who was Draco Malfoy, really? What kind of person was he beneath his tough exterior? Thoughts of his sleeping face filled her memory and she shook her head as though trying to rid the thoughts from her mind like an etch-a-sketch.

Hermione stood and straddled the swing, facing the blond boy. The motion seemed to snap Malfoy out of his thoughts.

“You want something, Granger?”

“Not really.” Hermione paused for a moment. “Just trying to figure you out, I guess.”

Malfoy chuckled. “Good luck with that. I think you’ll find that I’m a very complex person.”

“All the more interesting for me, then.” Hermione flashed him a smile. Malfoy’s mouth twitched upward in response. They fell silent again. The atmosphere was oddly relaxed as the summer sun caressed their skin. Dancing on the edges of her hearing, a familiar tinkling of music grew steadily closer.

“Fancy some ice cream?” she asked, standing and stretching.

“Is there a shop around here?” Malfoy copied his classmate and stood.

“Nah. Even better. Come on, then. Grab your bike.” Hermione clicked her helmet into place and climbed back onto the bike with Malfoy following in her footsteps. She sped down the road toward the source of the tinkling music.

“What is that infernal song? It keeps repeating and it’s dead annoying,” Malfoy yelled from behind.

Hermione rolled her eyes and shouted back, “Hurry up or we’ll miss it!”

“What the hell does this have to do with ice cream?” Malfoy was really worked up now, it seemed. His words were coming out choppy in between panting breaths.

“You’ll see! We’re nearly there – ah, yes!” Hermione spotted the yellow ice cream van and waved her hand to flag the driver down. The van slowed and stopped, allowing the two teens to catch up.

Hermione ditched her bike on the sidewalk and walked over to the window, motioning Malfoy to follow her. As he drew closer, Malfoy’s expression grew more and more confused.

“It’s an ice cream van,” Hermione offered as explanation. “Take a look at the pictures and tell the man what you want. I’ll pay.”

Eyebrows higher than she had ever seen on him, Malfoy examined the various pops and cones available. She watched his eyes dart all around. His eyebrows furrowed more with each passing second. Seeing Malfoy so confused with muggle life, Hermione bounced between amusement and vindication. Catching herself, she squashed down the latter feelings.

“Need help? What kind of sweets do you like? Fruit? Chocolate? Vanilla?”

“Chocolate, I guess. Just no fruit.”

Nodding, Hermione turned to the van driver and ordered two Magnum bars. She paid the man and handed Malfoy his ice cream. The two teens retreated back to the shade of a nearby tree, ripping the packaging (Malfoy doing so only after watching Hermione) and digging into their ice cream bars.

“This isn’t half bad for muggle food, Granger,” Malfoy said between bites.

“It’s my favorite. Don’t tell my parents, though. They don’t like me eating sweets.”

Malfoy smirked. “Acting naughty, are we?” Something about the glint in Malfoy’s eyes made her look away and blush. “But seriously, Granger, if this is the sort of secret you keep from your parents then you really are a goodie-two-shoes.”

Hermione stuck her tongue out at him and he chuckled. They returned back to a silence that Hermione was finding more and more companionable. Finishing up their ice cream bars, Hermione took both the popsicle sticks and wrappers and chucked them in the nearby rubbish bin. Turning back to Malfoy, he caught her eye and grinned in amusement.

“What is it?"

“It’s your face.”

Hermione frowned. “Why? What’s wrong with my face?”

Malfoy laughed out loud. “I could throw so many excellent insults out with that question, you know. But I’m feeling generous today. I’ll tell you straight up – you’ve got chocolate on your chin, Granger.”

Hermione squeaked and wiped her chin as her companion continued laughing at her. She knew that she should feel annoyed, but for some reason, she found herself laughing as well.

“Let’s go home. I can make us some sandwiches.”

“Yeah, all right.”

Malfoy righted his bike and took off down the street with Hermione just behind him.


 

The next three days followed a similar pattern. The two of them would ride their bikes around the neighborhood, sometimes to the park where they would sit together quietly and sometimes into the nearby shops to look around. Granger helped him select a few other summer-friendly muggle clothes, which her parents had insisted on paying for. He had been mortified at the prospect of muggles taking care of him financially and it had taken over an hour of convincing for him to cave. Even then, he only let them do it because he wanted them to stop nagging him.

Mortification aside, Draco was nothing short of shocked at how much he was enjoying himself. After the state he had been in mere days ago, to find himself smiling was nothing short of a miracle, frankly. Granger’s parents had welcomed him into their home without question and had treated him as though he were their own son. They spoke to him with respect and kindness, which was more than they could say of him. Granger’s dad liked to ruffle his hair in the mornings and tell corny jokes – mostly about teeth. Dr. Granger couldn’t have been more of an opposite of his own father. Her mum exuded warmth, hugging him a little more than he found comfortable. His own mother, while caring, certainly couldn’t be described as warm.

But what intrigued him the most about Granger’s family was how much they took an interest in each other. Granger asked her parents about their work every night at supper, and in turn, her parents actively listened to Granger’s thoughts on various matters. It was a give-and-take dynamic he had never seen before; not in his or any other pureblood household he had visited growing up.

If this was some muggle thing, Draco was almost ashamed to admit that he liked it. He liked living with the Grangers. Even the swotty, bushy-maned Granger girl was growing on him and he hated himself for it. Back at Hogwarts, he had been so focused on his innate dislike of her that he had never actually stopped to pay attention to her better qualities. She was certainly smart, but everyone within earshot of her knew that. She was also patient with him and was nice to him, even when he was being a bastard. Which was often. 

She also smiled at him a lot. As much as he hated to admit it, Granger had a nice smile. When had her teeth gotten to be normal size? He had never noticed. He had also certainly never noticed her arse before. It was almost impossible not to when she was wearing those tiny things she called shorts. Hogwarts robes were notorious for hiding students’ true assets, but Draco would have never imagined that beneath her heavy woolen robe and knee-length skirt she was hiding such a gorgeous body.

She may have been muggleborn and a swot, but he was still a 17-year-old boy.

On that third day, Draco and Granger found themselves at the park once more, bikes abandoned nearby. Draco watched from a stationary swing as Granger propelled herself upward on the swing to his left, her mane of curls flying to and fro. A smile radiated across her face. Draco’s own mouth twitched with both amusement and jealousy. That Hermione Granger, an infernal bookworm and Gryffindor princess about to enter a war, could smile so freely made him quite envious. He couldn’t remember the last time he smiled like that.

Draco watched as she swung higher and higher. Her eyes darted about as she flew level with the top bar. It was as though she was looking for something. Then, after a significant look in his direction, Granger let out a shriek as she let go of the swing entirely.

Draco stood as she launched herself upward, his eyes wide. Was she insane? If she went and broke her neck, he wasn’t allowed to use magic to heal her. Stupid girl. But his fretting was for nothing, it seemed.

Instead of flying aimlessly and dangerously through the air, Granger floated down with grace, delight etched on her face.

“Are you mad?” Draco demanded, stomping onto the grass where she landed. “This place is crawling with muggles and you’re floating about like we’re at Hogwarts!”

“I looked about before I jumped, Malfoy. No one’s on this side of the park.” In the most infuriating way possible, Granger had the gall to roll her eyes at him and then stretch out her stupidly long legs and lie down in the grass. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. After a moment just standing there like an idiot watching her, Granger cracked one eye open and lifted her head an inch up. “Grass is plenty comfy if you like,” she spoke to the air, patting the ground to her side. Draco’s eyebrow twitched. It was his turn to look around. His mind jumped to the possibility that some of his Slytherin housemates might be lurking behind a tree, waiting to call him out for lying on the ground beside the infamous mudbl – no, muggleborn Granger. But that was ridiculous.

With a great sigh, Draco joined her on the ground. They lay together side by side. Draco kept waiting for Granger to say something, but when he turned to face her, she had her eyes closed once more, a blissful smile painted on her features. Draco pondered this girl, whom he had never bothered to really examine closely before. The homely nature she had possessed as a child had faded into subtle beauty. While nothing like the alabaster glory of the pureblood girls he had known since childhood, Granger’s prettiness was simple and understated. The light dusting of freckles over her nose was close enough to count. Draco was almost tempted. Was this a view Potter and Weasley often had? Did she often lie in the grass with her two idiot best friends? The thought left a sour feeling in his stomach that he willed himself to ignore.

“It’s nice, isn’t it?”

 Draco jumped. Granger’s eyes hadn’t opened, but she had definitely spoken.

“What’s nice?” he drawled, expecting her to say something dull like the weather.

“Being near each other and not wanting to hex each other.”

Granger turned to him and flashed him a smile and he felt himself return one.

“Speak for yourself, Granger. I could always shoot Densaugeo your way again.”

The smile fell off her face.

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Wouldn’t I?” He raised a single eyebrow and smirked.

He watched with near-glee as her face faded from shock to fear to sudden triumph.

“Well even if you wanted to, I’ve still got your wand and mine is warded against you. Looks as though you’re out of luck, Malfoy.”

“So it would seem.”

Granger had barely begun to take a breath when a shadow crossed over their bodies. Malfoy looked up and Granger moved onto her elbows, shading her eyes.

“Hermione? Hermione Granger? Is that you?” a masculine voice asked from above.

Draco saw Granger grip her bag out of the corner of his eye. Certainly, she was preparing to draw her wand if necessary.

“And if it is?” she jumped to her feet.

“It’s Simon. Simon Hanford. From primary school? I recognized your hair. Haven’t seen you for ages.”

Draco stood as well and looked Simon up and down. He had sandy hair and stood just short of his own stature. This bloke didn’t seem too intimidating. Draco watched as Granger smiled shyly at this newcomer.

“Of course I remember you, Simon. You sat behind me in nearly every class. Our surnames were so close. They always paired us off together. I seem to remember you not being too talkative.”

Simon grinned. “Right. Well, I was a bit shy then. But you were always nice to me. I don’t recall you talking too much either.”

“That’s quite the lie,” Granger huffed indignantly. “I spoke in class all the time.”

“Yeah, to the teacher to answer a question. But rarely to one of us.”

Draco chuckled. “Her head was always in a book, was it?” he suggested, smirking.

Simon eyed him. “Too right, it was. You Hermione’s boyfriend, then?”

The smile fell off Draco’s face and he raised his eyebrows. “Absolutely not.” His reaction must have been too strong for this context, because Granger immediately cut in.

“We’re classmates from school. You know me – too busy studying to think about dating.”

Simon nodded, seemingly amused, and slid his hands into his pockets.

“School, eh? That’s right. You didn’t go to the local one. Your parents shipped you off to some fancy boarding school with all those wealthy old families. Never pictured you as a private school sort, myself. All the others in our class – they wondered where you’d gone when we all got to secondary. It’s like you just disappeared.”

Draco watched the gears turn in Granger’s head.

“Well…school was far away and very rural. Post took ages to arrive or send out, and I wanted to focus on making new friends, so eleven-year-old me never bothered to write.”

“Still,” Simon pushed, “You could’ve come ‘round in the summer.”

Granger shuffled her feet and shrugged. “Summer felt too short to do much else other than spend time with my parents.” Draco frowned. There was no way that was true. Her parents were gone at work most of the day and gave her free reign. Surely, if she had wanted to, she would have met up with old friends.

“S’all right. Listen, me and the lads were just headed to the pool for a swim if you wanted to join. You’d recognize them – Craig Spencer, Robert Adams, and Nicholas Messal are all there. They’d get a real kick out of seeing Hermione Granger all grown up.” Simon shot a grin at Granger that she did not return. Instead, her face turned red.

“Craig, Robert, and Nicholas? You do realize those are the boys who made my life a veritable hell all through primary, don't you?” Granger’s nostrils flared, her teeth ground together, and she looked every bit the terrifying witch who had punched him square in the nose third year.

“Well, yeah, but they’ve come around. They’re all right blokes now – real mature. We’re getting ready for our A-levels next year and everything.”

Draco watched as Granger swallowed her anger and held her head high in the greatest decorum she could muster and clear her throat.

“As nice as it was to see you again, Simon, I must decline. You were the only one in our primary classes who was even halfway decent to me. I’ve found a far closer group of friends in boarding school, including Draco here-”

Draco raised his eyebrows at hearing his own name counted among friends.

“-and really have no desire to spend time with that lot. I hope you have fun, though.”

Surprise etched on his face, Simon gave a half-hearted wave and said goodbye before trotting off toward the other side of the park.

“What they hell was that about, Granger?” Draco turned to see his female companion sitting back on the ground, her knees drawn up to her chest. Her jaw seemed tense and her eyes were red. A strange feeling welled up inside him, and he found himself sitting beside her. “Granger, are you all right?”

“I never had friends before I came to Hogwarts, you know. Other students just thought I was odd from the time we were in nursery.” She did the thing Draco had been dreading and wiped a stray tear from her reddened cheek. Unsure of whether he should comfort her or not, he sat stock still at her side.

“Simon – he – well, he was all right. But those other boys he mentioned, they were unspeakably horrid to me for years. Called me names, spread rumors about me, played mean-spirited pranks on me.” She paused, looking at him briefly. “Not unlike you, Malfoy.”

Suddenly, his shoes were undeniably the most interesting thing in sight.

After a moment’s silence, he spoke. “Why can you sit and talk to me and not those blokes if we both were horrid?”

Were?” Granger eyed him.

“Fine, are.”

Granger smirked and lay back down on the grass. Draco rolled his eyes and joined her.

“Because back then, I had no one. Primary school was intensely lonely for me, and I think meeting those boys would bring back some of that lonely feeling. That’s why I’m so grateful that now I have Ron and Harry.”

Draco could practically hear the smile in her voice. He much preferred it to her tears.

“They’ve been by my side since first year. Ron even vomited slugs on my behalf when you tried to hurt me. The reason I can talk to you without feeling awful is because I know they’ll love me even if you hex my teeth to gargantuan size again.”

“As much as I loathe Potty and the Weasel, they’re good friends to you. Even swots like you deserve friends, I suppose.”

“Why, Draco Malfoy, that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.” She flashed a grin at him, and to his horror, he felt his stomach swoop.

“In fact, that might be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to anyone.”

He scowled back at her.

They laid together under the summer sun for another hour, chatting about funny stories from their respective houses. He told Granger about the time during third year when Crabbe had sucked on the end of his quill so much that he and Blaise Zabini had decided to make it explode in his mouth. His tongue had turned black for a week. In turn, she told him about some of the funnier pranks the Weasley twins had pulled in Gryffindor tower, including a time when they had charmed a mirror to follow their older brother Percy around for several days, repeating everything he said in their mother’s voice.

He was honestly dumbfounded to see she had a sense of humor, given all he had ever seen was her obnoxious, brown-nosing side. A pretty face, a sense of humor, and a great arse? He had to watch himself, or this asylum could turn on him quickly.

That’s why, when he awoke suddenly in the middle of that night with her face inches away from his own, her fingers laced in his hair, he was caught between horror and delight.

“What the hell, Granger? Is this your new habit? Sneaking into my room in the night to watch me sleep?”

Granger scowled for a moment and sat down on the edge of his bed, forcing Draco to scoot over. It was only as he moved that he realized he was drenched in sweat, his shirt sticking uncomfortably to his skin. His heart was pounding, and his voice had come out thick. What was going on?

“I came over because you were crying in your sleep. I wanted to make sure you were all right,” Granger offered. She extended a handkerchief to him and he snatched it from her fingers, turning away to wipe his face. Of course she would carry a bloody handkerchief with her in the middle of the night. He dabbed at his face.

Damn. She had seen him crying. This was exactly what he had wanted to prevent.

“It’s all right to cry, you know. You’ve been through a lot in the last week. Well, no-” Draco heard her voice tremble. “-you’ve been through a lot in the last year, haven’t you?”

He turned back, searching for her face in the blue moonlight. Granger looked right at him, sincerity etched in every feature. Before he realized it, she had reached for his hand and grasped it in her own.

“I’m can be here for you, you know. As a friend.” She squeezed his hand. “I figure you could use a friend right now.”

Draco looked down at their interlocked hands. Why wasn’t he ripping is hand away?

‘Because no one has ever looked at you like that before’ a voice in his head whispered.

This was Granger. This was Hermione Granger, mudblood extraordinaire.

‘But you’ve seen her now. Really seen her. Do you still believe that shit?’

Draco moved his gaze back up to Granger, who was eyeing him with concern, her sweet mouth turned downward.

‘No, you don’t.’ the voice provided.

Draco squeezed her hand back and her smile grew wider. After a moment, though, she faltered. There was an unmistakable sadness in her eyes. Fighting every Slytherin instinct he possessed that was telling him to mind his own business and keep his head down, he cleared his throat.

“Well if we really are going to be friends, do you want to tell me what’s going on with you? I can see right through that smile, Granger.”

Her jaw dropped. She let go of his hand and began to fidget.

“Malfoy, I-”

“And sit more comfortably while you’re at it,” he added, moving further over on the mattress and indicating the spot next to him. Merlin, what was he doing? Was he turning into a Gryffindor? Acting before thinking? Or worse, a bloody soft Hufflepuff?

She obliged, swinging her long legs onto the bed and leaning against the headboard beside him. Staring straight ahead, she took a deep breath and spoke.

“I have to tell you something, Malfoy.” His ears perked up. “I…I don’t know how much longer you and I will be here.”

“Have you heard from McGonagall, then?” Malfoy felt an unexpected twinge of sadness at the thought. He wasn’t ready to leave the Granger’s house yet. Not when he finally was beginning to feel at peace.

“No, I haven’t. This is coming from me.”

Draco frowned. “Why wouldn’t we be here anymore?”

“I’ve been thinking that it’s time to take this fight into my own hands.” She looked directly at him. “There’s a war coming for us. We both know it. I’m relieved that you’ll be safe under protection, but-” her voice faltered, and Draco saw tears welling in her eyes. Oh no. He did not do well with other peoples’ tears. She had already gotten emotional earlier today, but that had just been for a moment. This looked like it might be more.

‘Stupid! Pay attention to her,’ the voice returned.

“-but with my involvement in the war, I’m scared for my parents.” She managed to get the words out before her face crumpled and a great sob wracked her body. Draco felt his heart clench as he realized what she had been thinking. He knew all too well the fear that his own actions would have dire consequences for his family. Granger gathered herself after a moment. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand like a small child.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, “Just being silly.”

Draco chuckled. “What’s that you just said to me? It’s all right to cry, you know. I understand being scared for your parents, actually.” Draco found words spilling out of his mouth, unsure why he was speaking them. He never spoke of personal things to anyone, but for some reason, he felt Granger was the right person to tell them to. “You saw the pensieve, didn't you? I spent the last year terrified of fucking up. He threatened to kill my parents if I didn’t cooperate.”

Draco figured she didn't need any clues to figure out who he was.

“Now that I’ve officially failed my mission, I have no way of knowing what’s happened to my parents. They could be dead for all I know. Or tortured to insanity like Longbottom’s parents.”

Draco curled his knees up to his chin and looked forward toward the bedroom window.

“Not knowing is driving me spare. Granted, being here – being out of the loop – it’s been like drinking a glass of water after a drought. I haven’t been this close to contentment in a long time. I can’t remember, really. But every time I feel myself smiling or forgetting all of the things I’ve done – all the awful things I’ve done –” Draco stopped himself, turning his head away from Granger. He couldn’t bear to look at her. “– I remember that he’s still holding all the strings. It feels as though even if I drink a hundred glasses of water, I’ll still be thirsty. It feels as though I’ll never be free of this.”

Draco indicated his left forearm, where the Dark Mark shone against his pale skin in the darkness.

“It still burns, you know,” he whispered.

Draco half expected Granger to react in disgust to the Mark – to flinch at the reminder that he was practically a monster. He tried to pretend that didn’t bother him.

Draco felt a small pressure behind him. Granger had placed her hand on his lower back. She rearranged herself to sit in front of him. When he looked up, Granger was practically in front of his nose.

She took his left arm into her palms and traced the Dark Mark with her fingers. Her touch was so light, it almost felt like a feather fluttering against his skin. She studied the mark with intensity for a full minute before raising her eyes to meet his own again.

“This Mark may be a permanent part of your body, but it doesn’t have to be a part of your heart.”

In that moment, bathed in moonlight, her eyes shining with care, Draco had never seen anyone so beautiful.

“I see you as you are, Malfoy. I can’t say that you’re a shining example of goodness. Nor can I say with any confidence that you haven’t done horrible, unspeakable things. You’re conceited, selfish, and a bit of a prick, really.”

“Gee, Granger. You sure know how to make a bloke feel good.”

She smiled at him, moving her hand from his wrist to his shoulder.

“But I can say this. I’ve seen your heart, and it’s a good one. Messy, sure, but still good. You aren’t a monster, Draco Malfoy. You faced the darkest hour of your life and came away a better person. If that’s not strength and goodness, then I don’t know what is.”

She was looking at him with such earnestness and Draco suddenly felt naked – totally exposed. He had the urge to run away, but at the same time, to stay right here, glued to this spot and to her every word. After all he had done to Granger through the years, how could she say such kind things to him? His eyes swam with tears for the second time that night. He tried to push them down, but they only overflowed onto his face instead.

Without warning, he felt arms wrap around him. Her embrace was so warm, and he leaned in. She rubbed small circles in his back as he cried, whispering soft words of comfort. He cried until his eyes ran dry and his hiccoughs died in his chest. The entire time she didn’t move an inch, holding him in her arms gently.

When he finished crying, he pulled away and leaned back against the headboard. She moved beside him once more and the two sat in silence as they had so often recently.

Draco had grown to appreciate their silences. The two of them were clearly going through a lot of stuff at the moment, and sometimes he just didn’t have the energy to talk or was lost in his own thoughts. He imagined Granger was the same. What a pair they made.

“I’m going to Obliviate my parents.”

Draco turned to face the girl beside him. “You’re…you’re what? Why?”

“In case Death Eaters come looking for them to get information about me. Or you. I can’t risk it. It would weigh on my mind, much as your thoughts weigh on yours. I’m going to erase myself from their lives and send them far away. It’s for the best.”

Draco didn’t know what to say. He wasn’t good with words like Granger.

Instead he laced his fingers with hers.

Chapter Text

After their late-night breakdowns, Draco sensed a shift in his relationship with Granger. She joked around with him more and was clearly more relaxed in his presence. They continued their daily bike rides through the neighborhood and spent their evenings together with her parents watching moving pictures on what was apparently called a telly. The telly pictures weren’t particularly interesting to Draco. So when the rest of the family watched the telly, he liked to watch Granger.

She was unlike any girl Draco had ever spent time with before. All the pureblood girls whose company he had kept as a child and as a student had been the simpering, vapid daughters of rich families. None of them ever expected to work a day in their lives, so more often than not, they took more interest in their appearances than their schoolwork. At Hogwarts, girls like Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode had followed him around like lost kittens, hanging on his every word and fulfilling any request he felt like throwing at them. And Merlin, did they eat it up.

But Granger…Granger was a different sort all together. She was dead clever and refused to take anything he said at face value. Sure, she was curious to know his thoughts, but she was quick to debate him or play what she called “devil’s advocate.” But she was more than just brains. She was all kinds of small things he hadn’t anticipated.

He hadn’t anticipated that she hummed to herself in the shower. Draco had found that out as he walked past her bedroom one evening. He hadn’t anticipated how delightful it was to watch her eat a bowl of strawberries, a blissful smile covering her face as she took each bite. He hadn’t anticipated how good she was. Draco had always known she was a goodie-two-shoes, but this kind of goodness was different. Just weeks ago, it would have disgusted him to be attracted to such a stupid thing as goodness. But the way she looked at him…the way she would hold his hand as they walked together…it was like a piece of him that was missing finally had revealed itself.

And that scared him absolutely shitless.

Feeling this strongly about Granger without warning was like being bowled over by a powerful wave. Like falling and hitting his head. Like jumping into the ocean with no clue how to swim. Draco wasn’t sure if what he was feeling was friendship or something more.

Ever since their talk that night on his bed, it was as though a wall that Draco didn’t even know existed had come crumbling down. Among his friends at school, talking about the intimate details of one’s home life was practically taboo. There were a lot of taboo topics in Slytherin. Many things happened behind closed doors and self-erected walls. But Granger, in all her infernal Gryffindorish-ness was chatterbox. Not the obnoxious kind, as he had always perceived her to be, but the kind that seemed to draw out words from others. Draco felt more compelled to talk to her than he had ever felt about talking to someone. Out of his lips spilled thoughts, opinions, musings, and even old memories. He had never told anyone about the first time his father had hit him – it had been after he had spilled pumpkin juice all over an old Malfoy family heirloom at the age of four. Of course, it had been easy enough to Scourgify, but his father had let him know quite forcefully that day what it meant to respect the name of Malfoy.

Granger had been properly horrified at that story. But she had also laughed when he told her about the first time he rode a broomstick when he was three, zooming about the gardens and terrorizing the gnomes.

He also found himself fascinated by her stories of growing up as a muggle. If living with muggles for two weeks had taught him anything, it was that everything he thought he knew about them was dead wrong. They had gadgets for everything. Keeping food cold or hot? Check. Doing the washing? Check. Flying? Check. Sure, being a wizard would always be a point of pride for him, and the muggle way of doing things would always be inconvenient and slow, but there was nothing inherently wrong with it.

What would his Slytherin classmates think of him now?

What would his parents think?

That was something he probably wouldn’t have to consider for a long time, for better or for worse.

One Saturday morning, about two weeks after he had arrived, Granger knocked on his door after breakfast. Expecting to see her smiling, asking if he was ready to go for a bike ride, he was surprised to see her standing in front of him with a grave expression instead.

“What’s up?” Draco asked as she walked past him and sat on his bed.

“Close the door first, would you?”

He obliged and moved to sit beside her. Draco took her hand and she leaned her head on his shoulder. He stiffened for a moment – she had never done this before. It seemed very intimate.

Clearing his throat, he tried to ask again. “What’s going on, Granger?”

She stared at the wall as she responded, her voice soft and shaky. “I need you to pack. It’s time. We’ll be leaving after lunch.”

“It’s…time?” He paused for a moment. What was she talking – “Oh! It’s time! Are you serious? You mean you’re going to – ”

“Please don’t say it out loud,” Granger interrupted him.  “I can’t bear to think about it.” Draco nodded and watched as Granger closed her eyes. After a moment, she stood again. “Remember to pack what you can carry. I’ll shrink your trunk to fit into a smaller bag when you’re finished.”

Without another word, she exited for her own room. Packing didn’t take long. Since he had no need for his robes or schoolbooks during his stay at the Granger’s home, most of his belongings had stayed in his trunk. Draco folded his few muggle clothes and grabbed the scant possessions he had kept around the room. Throwing them into his trunk, he padded down the hallway to the bathroom to fetch his toiletries.

Just outside the bathroom door, he paused. Draco could hear the clacking of objects coming from Granger’s bedroom. He could practically picture her scurrying about her room, gathering everything methodically. Knowing she would be in no state to talk, Draco gathered his toothbrush and a few other items, retreated back to his room, tossed everything in his trunk, and sat on his bed for what was probably the last time.

Nerves crept into his stomach. Where would they go when they left? Surely Granger had a plan. He would readily put all his trust in her at this point, were the stakes not so high. One wrong move and they could easily be captured by Death Eaters. Draco hoped Granger knew what she was doing.

Some time later Mrs. Granger called up the stairs for the two of them to come down for lunch. It was at this point that Granger made a reappearance at Draco’s door. With a wave of her wand, his trunk became the size of a cantaloupe. Draco picked it up and placed it into a grey backpack. The two walked down the stairs together to their final lunch in this familiar, safe space.


 

Granger had instructed him to wait upstairs while she did it. He had tried sitting on his bed once more, but he couldn’t stand being alone. Quietly, so as not to disturb her, Draco crept to the stairs and sat at the very top. From this vantage point, he could see the sitting room where the Granger parents were sitting together on the sofa watching some weekend telly. They were quite occupied with the program, it seemed. They didn’t notice when their daughter approached them from behind, her wand out.

Granger’s wand arm was shaking so badly that she could scarcely hold it steady. Draco’s heart clenched as he watched her whole body vibrate with fear. She was about to do the unthinkable – about to do something that Draco wasn’t sure he could ever do. He watched her take a breath. Her shoulders relaxed. Her aim steadied.

“Obliviate.”

Draco watched the Grangers stiffen. Their daughter lowered her wand and retreated to the kitchen. Unable to hold back any longer, he tiptoed down the steps and made his way to her. She was leaning over the kitchen island, grasping it for dear life, taking sharp breaths that shook her whole torso. Draco placed a gentle hand on her back and the breathing steadied.

“We need to erase all evidence of me from here. Go around and swipe any pictures they have of me. Put them in my bag –” she indicated a small beaded bag sitting on the kitchen table, “ – and meet me by the front door in five minutes. But first, we need to glamour ourselves. We’ve got a long way to go today, and I don’t want anyone to recognize us.”

With the air of a businesswoman, Granger pulled out her wand and waved it at herself and then Draco. Glancing at the hall mirror, Draco hardly recognized himself. His hair was mousy brown and curly, his eyes a bright blue, and his facial features rounded. Granger turned her hair a straight raven black, her eyes darker. She, too, gazed at her own reflection.

Her eyes were glassy with unshed tears, but her face was determined. She shook her head at him. “Now’s not the time. They’ll come out of their trance within fifteen minutes and will think there are strangers in the house if we’re not gone.”

With a nod and a turn, Draco made his way across the first floor, sweeping each room for any item that seemed connected to Hermione Granger. He found photographs on the mantle, two trophies on a bookshelf, and a framed poem she had composed as a child hanging on their bedroom wall. His arms full, he dumped all the items in the beaded bag as directed.

As promised, Granger met him by the front door in a short time. He opened the door and looked around. She was standing stock still in the front hall, her eyes fixed upon the backs of her parents’ heads. Draco grabbed her arm, but she stood rooted to the spot.

“Come on, Granger,” he whispered. “We’ve got to go.”

His hand around her small waist, he guided her through the front door. She glanced around one last time before shutting the door behind her. Draco was terrified she would break down – she seemed like she was made of glass in this moment. But instead, she steadied herself and started walking down the driveway and onto the sidewalk.

“Where are we headed, Granger?” Draco jogged to catch up.

“To a train station. We’re catching a train South.” She stopped and waved her arms at something. Draco turned to see a car slow to a stop in front of them. Granger motioned for him to climb in.

Granger gave the driver directions to some train station and the car sped off.

“Are we going to be traveling the muggle way?” Draco whispered.

“Yes. I figured it would be safer this way. It’s probably going to be a long day, so brace yourself.”

After several minutes the car pulled up to a station. Granger paid the driver and the two of them made their way inside. Draco followed just behind his companion as she bought two tickets at the window and they walked toward the platform.

“So, Granger. Where are we headed?” Draco asked after they boarded their train and settled in a compartment together.

“We’re going to the Weasley’s.”

Draco huffed, crossing his arms over his chest. Of course they were going to the Weasel dump.

“I know you’re not that happy about it, but it’s going to be perfectly safe there and Bill Weasley is marrying Fleur Delacour in a couple weeks anyway. Once we’re there we will inform McGonagall that we’ve changed locations.”

More than anything, Draco wanted to be acidic right now – to spit out insults about the Weasleys and their continual state of poverty. He was about to open his mouth and speak when he turned to see Granger. She had her knees drawn up to her chest, her slight body curled in the corner of the compartment with her head leaning on the window.

The venom in his mind dissipated and was replaced with worry. Suddenly, Draco wasn’t sure he had the heart to make rude commentary about the Weasleys or anyone else. Instead, he decided to change the subject.

“So, erm, how long will this train ride take?”

“A little over three hours, I think.” She didn’t look up from the window.

“Do you just want quiet, Granger?”

Draco saw her head make a slight up-and-down motion. He gave a sigh of defeat and settled into his own seat. After thirty minutes of silence, he was already sorely missing his chatterbox friend. To be so quiet was unlike her, and it was unsettling. Every few minutes or so, Draco glanced up to check on her, but she wasn’t crying. Not yet, at least.

Relaxing into his seat further, he allowed himself to drift off…


 

Hermione wasn’t sure how long she had been spacing out when she heard the unmistakable sounds of whimpering across from her. Looking up, she saw her now-curly haired companion fast asleep, a worried expression painted on his face. Small, sharp sounds escaped from as he slept, and two fat tears trailed down his cheeks.

Feeling her heart clench, she switched sides of the compartment and sat beside her friend. She took his hand in hers and squeezed. Malfoy jerked awake, though his eyes remained half-lidded.

“Wazzit?” he managed to slur.

“Shhh, it’s all right. Go back to sleep, Malfoy.” She ran her hands through his glamoured curls and immediately found she preferred his straight hair. Hermione pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped his face gently.

“Draco.”

“What?”

“Call me Draco…friends, right?” he breathed, settling his head on top of hers.

“Yes, all right. Go to sleep, Draco. I’ll wake you when we arrive.”

Mal…Draco’s breathing evened out after a minute and Hermione was left to continue contemplating her situation. The last few weeks had been some of the most bizarre she had ever experienced. The Death Eater attack, Dumbledore’s death, Malfoy’s confession…those had all been great shocks. But what she had not expected to shock her was Malf-Draco’s behavior these last two weeks.

Hermione would be lying to herself if she were to say that Draco hadn’t grown on her immensely. When he wanted to, he could certainly be charming and funny. She even found him to have a very decent heart. He had treated her family with kindness and curiosity and had reached out to her with empathy. Several times during their bike rides to the park, she had caught him smiling at the local children as they played. On their second time visiting the ice cream van, Draco had even lifted a little boy up to the van window to order and hand over his coins.

Seeing him this way was like seeing the world through a whole new lens. This boy who had played such an unfortunately pivotal role in her adolescence had wormed his way into her heart in a matter of two weeks’ time, and the whole thing was throwing her for quite the loop. She couldn’t quite explain it logically. Her brain was still quite confused when she tried to comprehend this great upheaval of opinion. But her heart was not confused. In fact, her heart was quite clearly drawn to him. The intensity of their newfound friendship was unlike that of Ron and Harry, whose friendship she treasured above all else.

This friendship was something different.

Draco’s head lolled to the side away from her, and Hermione held her gaze much longer than she would if he had been awake. Even under a glamour, Draco Malfoy was incredibly handsome. A small part of her wanted nothing more than to wrap her arms around him and hold him close so she could feel his body next to hers. The thought made her cheeks heat up. His face wasn’t the only part of him she found attractive. Helping him select summer clothes had been an eye-opener for her.

Being best friends with two boys, she had seen her fair share of their naked torsos over the years. She used to think that nothing could top Ron’s lanky body, but lately, a voice in the back of her head was nudging her toward Draco Malfoy. It was his voice and body that haunted her dreams of late, after all. In her dreams, it was his lean, muscular, blonde-haired form that held her closed and trailed kisses along her body. She had woken up flushed and heated more than once in the past few days. Not only did she find it embarrassing; she consequently felt guilty for not dreaming of Ron instead.

Her mind was just so mixed up.

Hermione turned to watch the countryside fly by outside the train window. They flew past countless towns and villages, each one merely a blur. Her thoughts turned to the one place she had actively been avoiding in her musings. Her parents. She felt her insides squeeze with guilt and panic. She had no way to know if she had done the right thing, but one thing was for certain. There was no going back now.

More tears threatened to spill from her eyes, so she actively switched trains of thought.

How would the Weasleys react to Mal…Draco? It would take a while to get used to calling him that. Harry would certainly try to murder him on sight. She would have to figure out a plan to make them listen to her before they tried to kill her newfound friend.

Hermione ran through various scenarios and dialogues in her brain as the train grew closer and closer to Devon. When the conductor announced through the PA system that they would be approaching the station in fifteen minutes’ time, Hermione shook Draco awake. To her amusement, he blinked blearily and wiped drool from his face before fully realizing what he was doing. The two grabbed their bags and made their way to the carriage door. Within minutes the train pulled into the station and they disembarked. Checking to make sure Draco was right on her tail, she deciphered the station’s signs and found the bus depot.

“A bus? You have got to be kidding me, Granger.”

“I most certainly am not. We’ve got about…45 minutes on the bus until we arrive,” Hermione said pointedly as she squinted at the bus schedule.

Draco groaned and Hermione punched him lightly in the arm.

“Ouch! Watch yourself, Granger. That’s my seeker arm.”

“Come on, you big baby. We need to head this way.”

After the predicted 45 minutes of travel time up and down country roads, the pair arrived in the town of Ottery St. Catchpole shortly after sunset. As they stepped off the bus and into the town, Hermione pulled Draco aside into an alley.

“We need to be extra careful tonight,” she whispered, double checking that her wand was in her pocket. “There are both magical and muggle communities here, so let’s keep our heads down. We may be glamoured, but we can’t be sure that we’re completely unrecognizable.”

“Right. So are we headed to the Weasley’s?” Draco asked, annoyance tinged in his tone.

“No, not tonight,” Hermione said. She watched Draco visibly relax. “We’re going to stay in town tonight while I send out some messages. One to Professor McGonagall to let her know where we are. She’ll be aware we’ve left by now, I’m sure, and will be furious, but that’s for me to deal with. I’ll also send a message to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley to prepare for your arrival. I’m worried if we just show up your welcome might not be so…warm.”

“You’ve got a point there, Granger.” Draco adjusted his backpack on his shoulders. “So where to, then?”

“Let’s get a room at an inn and we’ll head to the Burrow first thing tomorrow. We’ll have the kitchen deliver food up to the room so as to make as little appearance around town as possible.”

Draco agreed and the two went in search of an inn. They found one just two streets away in an old, but pleasant looking building. Hermione presented the squat woman at the front desk with a fake ID she had conjured back at home. As the woman looked through her paperwork, she asked in a thick accent with a single eyebrow raised, “Why are two youngsters like yourselves getting a room for the night?”

“Oh, this is my cousin Alfie. We’re on holiday visiting our Gran,” she jumped right in without missing a beat. “We’re headed all the way down to the shore, but it’s a bit too far to finish tonight.”

“How lovely, spending your holiday with your gran. What good grandchildren you are!” the woman gushed, reaching out to pinch Draco’s cheek. Hermione had to stop herself from giggling at the sour expression on his face.  “Well, dearies the only rooms we have available are rooms with one bed, unfortunately.”

“Oh, that’s all right. Alfie and I used to kip together as kids all the time. It’s no bother.” Hermione forced herself to smile, though this news made her heart speed up a bit.

“Very well, then. Room number 6 for Miss Saoirse Thompson and cousin Alfie. I’ll bring you up your dinner shortly, shall I? It’s cottage pie tonight.”

“That’d be lovely. Thank you so much.” Hermione took the key from the woman and motioned for Draco. “Come on, Alfie. We’ll want to call Gran before she goes to bed. Let her know where we are.”

The two of them shuffled up the rickety steps and walked down the upstairs hallway toward a wooden door with a brass 6 on the outside. Fiddling with the key for a moment, Hermione opened the door. The room wasn’t anything fancy, but it was cozy. As promised, a single bed was pushed along the left wall, a table, an armchair, and a fireplace along the right. Stepping inside, Hermione felt as though she left a great weight at the door as she collapsed on the bed.

“Don’t take up the whole damn thing, Granger!” Draco flopped down beside her. “Merlin, this bed isn’t nearly as comfortable as my bed at home."

Hermione rolled on her side to face him. “Your bed at home?” She grinned at him and was shocked when he turned slightly pink and grinned back.

“Yeah, well, I actually really liked your house, Granger. It’s a pity we had to leave.”

The events of the day came rushing back, and she rolled onto her back to look up, no longer feeling like smiling. How could she be smiling? She lost her parents this morning at her own hand. Who knows when she would see them again? And if she did, Hermione wasn’t fully confident she could restore their memories. If this war waged on for years…

Draco sat up and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Sorry, Granger. That was a shitty thing for me to say. I wasn’t thinking properly. I just mean…well, what I meant-” the poor boy stammered as his face colored thoroughly “-I meant to say thanks for letting me stay with you. Thanks for taking a chance on me. I’m trying not to be a prick, I really am.”

Hermione smiled.

There was a knock at the door and the woman from the front desk appeared with a tray of cottage pies, veg, and glasses of milk. Hermione and Draco ate on the bed with the telly on in the background. It was a nice distraction.

They finished and Draco put the trays back in the hallway. Hermione removed their glamours for the evening and moved to sit at the little desk in the corner of the room, but not before locking and warding both the door and window. She looked out from her perch at the peaceful town covered in soft summer moonlight. Tomorrow was the start of a new adventure. While she was excited to see Ron, Ginny, and the rest of the Weasley clan, she was admittedly nervous about how they would treat Draco and how that would affect her newfound friendship with him. She hoped he wouldn’t turn sullen again…if that happened, well, she thought it might break her heart a bit.

With a jump and a little yelp, Hermione stood up. “Oh my gosh! I completely forgot.”

“What? What is it, Granger? Are you okay?” He sat on the bed, his eyes wide as saucers.

“Yes, I’m fine. I just forgot to send a message to the McGonagall and the Weasleys.”

Hermione stood and closed her eyes. She had to think of a happy memory for this to work. Her boys swam into her mind. Harry with his floppy black hair. Ron with his adorable freckles. Draco. Draco with a big grin on his face.

Eyes open. “Expecto Patronum!” An otter burst forth, illuminating the little room.

Draco’s jaw dropped. His eyes were the size of saucers.

“Woah, Granger! I didn’t know you could make a Patronus.”

“Yes, well, Harry taught me…taught a lot of us fifth year.”

Draco’s jaw remained open as Hermione cleared her throat and directed her speech at the little otter.

“Mr. and Mrs. Weasley – it’s me, Hermione. I’ll be arriving tomorrow morning. I will be bringing a guest with me. Please keep an open mind and trust me when we arrive.” Hermione waved her wand and directed the Patronus out the closed window and into the night.

She conjured another.

“Professor McGonagall – it’s Hermione Granger. I apologize for not informing you or waiting to obtain your consent, but my charge and I have taken leave to go to the destination we had previously discussed earlier than anticipated. I am so sorry you were not informed beforehand, but I felt it was necessary. Beginning in the morning, you will find us in that previously-discussed location.”

The second patronus flew out to its receiver.

That should do it. She turned to see Draco sitting straight up on the bed, his mouth still resembling a codfish. “That was pretty damn good, Granger.”

“Thanks,” she smiled. “And you can call me Hermione, you know. If I can call you Draco, then you should be able to call me by my first name.”

Malfoy smirked. “Yeah? All right then, Her-mio-ne.” He said her name syllable-by-syllable, as if testing it out.

“Come on. Let’s get ready for bed. It’s been a long day and I have a feeling tomorrow won’t be any shorter.”

They took turns in the bathroom washing up. Hermione asked to go first, as her hair took longer to dry.

“You are a witch, you know. You could use your wand to dry it in an instant,” Draco shot at her as she moved to close the bathroom door.

“Tried it once. My hair went all wild and frizzy. I’ll let my hair air dry, thanks.”

“Wild and frizzy? Sounds normal to me.” Hermione threw the bathroom door open, stuck her tongue out at Draco, and snapped it shut once more. She heard Draco laugh as she turned on the shower. Very aware that Draco was just a few feet away in the other room, Hermione flew through her wash and emerged after just a few minutes wearing a clean pair of pajamas and her hair wrapped in a towel.

As Draco took his turn, Hermione listened to the sound of the shower and the clear sounds of its occupant. If she closed her eyes, she could picture his face in the spray of the water. What did the rest of him look like? Did he resemble how he appeared in her dreams? Hermione felt heat creep into her face and other places that made her squirm.

No! It’s Ron I like, she thought. Trying to cool down and take her mind anywhere but the naked boy in the other room, she removed the towel from her head. Sitting back at the desk, she brushed her hair and felt the warm air caress her cheeks.

“Ready for bed, Granger?” Hermione whipped around to see the blond Slytherin standing in the doorway to the bathroom, a toothbrush hanging from his mouth and a towel hanging from his hips.

Hermione squeaked and buried her face in her hands. He looked better than in her dreams. Oh, Merlin. “Please put on some clothes, Draco.”

“What if I don’t want to? It’s warm tonight and I’d rather just sleep in boxers.”

Hermione peeked at him through her fingers. “Don’t you have pajamas?”

He made his way over where she was sitting and stood so close that Hermione could smell his…oh gods…

Spearmint toothpaste.

Draco smirked. “Of course I have pajamas, but it’s fun to watch you squirm, Hermione.”

There was something in his silver eyes that drew her closer. Like a magnet drawn to steel, Hermione found herself looking right at Draco. His eyes searched her face, and they seemed to pierce her very being. It was as though he saw right through her. Draco placed his hands on the desk on either side of Hermione, bringing his body into her space. She took a deep breath and drew herself inward. She was suddenly keenly aware of Draco Malfoy’s state of undress. The sight of his bare chest so close to her was overwhelming, intoxicating, breathtaking…Hermione felt her brain go fuzzy, her muscles limp, and her mouth become incapable of speech. Heat pooled between her legs and her breath hitched. What had Draco done to her? Surely, this was an enchantment. Surely, he had bewitched her.

But no. Draco’s wand was safely tucked into her beaded bag. Whatever he was doing to elicit this reaction, it was nothing but him. She couldn’t do this. Not now. Not with him.

“Draco?” she managed to whisper, her mouth bone-dry.

He stopped leaning in, never breaking eye contact. “Mm?”

“We…we should get to bed.” Draco raised an eyebrow. “To sleep! To sleep in bed. You know what I’m – what I’m trying to say.”

With another smirk, Draco removed himself from her vicinity and Hermione immediately felt the cool night air envelope her body once more. She shivered.

“Whatever you say. I’ll go throw on pajamas if it would make you more comfortable.”

He turned back to the bathroom and Hermione flopped against the wall for a moment. What the hell had just happened? When her bones reappeared in her limbs she climbed into the bed and buried herself beneath the covers. Draco followed within minutes.

“I put on pajamas. Happy, Grang-Hermione?”

“Yes, thank you.” Hermione answered curtly, not wanting to give herself the chance to say something she would regret. “Goodnight, Draco.”

She heard Draco shift beside her on the mattress and had a hunch he was looking at her. There was a brief pause and a sigh. “Goodnight, Hermione.”

Closing her eyes and praying sleep came soon, Hermione tried to keep her mind as far away from that swirling feeling in her lower abdomen as much as she could.

Chapter Text

Hermione woke to the feeling of something tickling her face. Blinking her eyes as the morning sunlight filtered through the lacy curtains, she felt the source of the tickling sensation: fingers. Long, masculine fingers. She probably should have felt embarrassed or hyper-aware, but at that moment she felt sleepy. Stifling a yawn, she removed Draco Malfoy’s hand from her face and turned on her side to face the blond boy who had gained such a big place in her life in just a matter of weeks.

Draco’s platinum hair, which had once been styled so carefully as a child, now flopped in front of his eyes in slumber. His handsome face, so often full of anguish and spite these past couple years, was nothing but peaceful in this moment. Hermione noticed with relief that the dark circles that had haunted his eyes during the past few weeks had faded.

He was beautiful. There was no other word for it.

Hermione shook his shoulder gently, whispering his name. He groaned and turned away, curling into a ball. Unfortunately, this meant that Hermione was now facing, not Draco’s back, but rather, his backside.

Feeling momentarily evil, or, as Draco would put it, naughty, she reached out and pinched it. Draco gave a light yelp and whipped around to face her.

“What the hell, Granger?” The blond boy scowled and swatted her hand away.

“Just looking for the fastest way to wake you up is all.” Hermione gave her sweetest smile and sauntered toward the bathroom. She was about to close the door when Draco shoved past her and shut himself in the bathroom, instead. “Oi! What gives?”

“If you’re going to lay claim to my arse, then I will lay claim to the loo,” Draco called through the door. Hermione felt her face heat up.

“I did not…lay claim to your arse.”

“I can hear your blush through the door,” Draco called. Hermione spluttered and she heard a sharp laugh.

She cleared her throat and tried to save herself. “I’m sorry for touching your…bum. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.”

“First of all, you didn’t touch me. You pinched me. There’s a big difference.” Draco stuck his head out the door and Hermione jumped back. “A pinch is nothing short of flirtatious. Were you flirting with me, Hermione Granger?”

Hermione felt the heat in her face extend to her stomach. “No!” she spat defensively, looking anywhere but at Draco. This was the last thing she needed right now. Today was going to be stressful enough with the inevitable confrontation with the Weasleys, and Draco pushing her buttons was just the cherry on top.

“Whatever you say!” Draco closed the bathroom door again. Taking deep breaths to attempt to calm herself, Hermione laid out her outfit for the day and traded places with her companion when he was finished. After reapplying their glamour, the two ate eggs, toast, and coffee downstairs in the inn’s dining room and handed in the key. Whatever bit of playfulness Draco had been feeling right after he woke up had clearly evaporated as the morning wore on. His expression grew darker as the clock ticked later.

“Relax, Draco. I’m sure you’ll be fine. The Weasleys will be perfectly understanding,” Hermione tried to reassure him as he slid his backpack onto his shoulders in the foyer of the inn. The blonde boy made brief eye contact before turning his focus back to his feet. He mumbled something. Hermione strained her ears. “Sorry, what did you say?”

“I said – ” he sighed, “– nevermind. Let’s go.”

Draco made for the door, but she grabbed his shoulder. He swiveled to face her. Hermione frowned at her friend. She didn’t like this sudden coldness. It didn’t suit him.

“Nevermind nothing. I promise you that I will not abandon you. I have a task to carry out, and I fully intend to see it through."

“Oh, great. Good to know you see me as another line of your checklist.” Malfoy growled and took another step toward the door.

“That’s not true and you know it. You’re not being fair.” Hermione tightened her grip on him. “You know I consider you to be my friend. You know I see you as you are, right?” Draco’s shoulders loosened and he turned his head back.

“Are you sure, Granger? You sure you know what you’re doing, bringing me with you?”

“When have you ever known me to do something without thinking it through?” Hermione looked up to meet Draco’s eyes. “I care about you and your welfare, Draco Malfoy. And that means doing everything in my power to convince the Weasleys that you’re fairly all right.”

Draco smirked. “Fairly all right? Thanks.”

“Well I can’t rightly say that you’re a saint, now can I?” It was Hermione’s turn to smirk. Draco returned with a small smile. “But honestly, I won’t abandon you. I know it’s hard for you to believe, but you can have faith in that.”

Draco opened his mouth a couple times as if trying to respond. He nodded weakly instead. Hermione had never seen him so nervous before. Through the six years she had known the boy, Draco Malfoy had never seemed anything but confident to the point of arrogance. He used to walk around Hogwarts as though he owned it – or should own it, in any case. To see him now, withdrawn and anxious at the thought of meeting, of all families, the Weasleys, was jarring. Watching his shifting eyes, Hermione decided this wallowing had to come to an end. She grabbed his hand and opened the front door to the inn.

“Come on. We’ve got a bit of a walk ahead of us.”

Hermione laced her fingers through Draco’s, and she was pleased when he didn't pull away. They weaved through the streets of Ottery St. Catchpole and eventually turned onto a dirt road leading into the countryside. The Burrow was just over the big hill in the distance, and Hermione squirmed with delight at the thought of seeing some of her favorite people. Draco’s hand squeezed firmer the closer they got. Nerves were flying off him in waves.

The Burrow came into view and she heard Draco make an odd noise next to her.

“That’s it, is it?” he managed with a cough.

“Uh-huh. It’s one of my favorite places. Very cozy.”

“Is it…safe? It’s leaning a bit.” Draco tilted his head.

Hermione laughed. “Of course it’s safe. It’s nothing fancy or big, but it’s warm. Like my parent’s house.”

Draco raised an eyebrow, his mouth opening, probably to say something mean.

“Don’t bother trying to insult the Weasley’s house, Draco. It’s not going to do you any good by voicing any…negative thoughts you have on the place.”

His mouth promptly closed. Hermione pulled her wand from her sleeve and disillusioned Malfoy before removing her glamour. The two approached the garden, and she felt Draco jump beside her as a chicken wandered across their path. Hermione stifled a giggle.

“Now you wait here. Just stay by the door and I’ll be out to get you when we’re ready. Think you can do that?” Hermione spoke these words where she was quite sure Draco was standing.

“Sure,” she heard, about two inches to the left of where she was expecting. She released Draco’s hand, walked up to the front door, and knocked. On the other side, she heard a sharp gasp and a voice call out.

“Who is it?”

“It’s me, Hermione Granger.”

“Hermione, dear? Oh my.” Mrs. Weasley! There was a bustling, and the voice came closer. “Before I open the door, I’ve got to ask you a question. Standard procedure, you know, dear.”

“Of course."

“Let’s see. Oh…what did I send you for Easter during your fourth year?”

Hermione frowned. “You, erm, sent me a very small egg. Much smaller than everyone else’s.”

The door swung open. “Come in, dear. That’s a good girl.” Mrs. Weasley shepherded her inside quickly and shut the door once more. The locks clicked into place.

All at once, she was surrounded by a pair of strong arms. She had been expecting Mrs. Weasley, but no…whoever it was wasn’t nearly as soft as her. Looking up, she was delighted to see one of her best friends.

“Ron!” Hermione buried her face in his chest.

“What are you doing here so early, ‘Mione? I thought you weren’t going to be coming for another week at least.”

“Oh, well…let’s just say it was time.”

Ron held her at arm’s length and gave her a once-over. She blushed at being appraised like this. “I’m glad you’re here.” Ron gave her a lopsided grin that she returned.

“Would you like some breakfast, dear?” Mrs. Weasley called from a few feet away. Hermione turned to see the Weasley matriarch cooking breakfast as her husband sat at the kitchen table reading a very long piece of parchment.

“Oh, no thank you. I…we already ate.”

“We?” Ron looked at her, confused.

“Yes, that’s right. You said you would be bringing someone with you. Who is it?” Mrs. Weasley turned from the stove, her lips pursed.

“Well…I was hoping to speak to just you and Mr. Weasley to explain before…this person comes in.” Hermione bit her lip and tried to avoid Ron’s eyes.

“Why can’t you speak to me?” Ron’s eyebrows furrowed, his voice rising in defense.

“It's not that I don’t want to,” Hermione spoke quickly, knowing she didn’t want to start rowing with Ron before he even had a chance to have a real reason to be upset. “It’s just that I need the atmosphere to remain calm while I talk. You’re not exactly a calming influence, Ron.”

“But Hermione –”

“You heard what Hermione said, Ron. Just go upstairs and keep your brothers and sister up there while we talk. We’ll call you down when it’s appropriate,” Mr. Weasley cut in with a tone of finality in his voice.

Ron shot Hermione a look of hurt and headed up toward the bedrooms. Mrs. Weasley motioned for Hermione to take a seat at the kitchen table, and she followed shortly.

“So where is this guest of yours?” Mr. Weasley rolled up the parchment he had been reading.

“He’s out in the garden. Disillusioned for now.”

“I see. And you ask us to trust you?”

“Yes. I’m under orders from Professor McGonagall. And in a way,” Hermione hesitated, “in a way, Professor Dumbledore.”

The Weasleys’ eyes grew wide and they glanced at each other. Mrs. Weasley cleared her throat. Hermione knew very well her opinion on bestowing tasks on non-Order members. “You’ve been assigned to bring this person, then?”

“Yes. I’ve spent the last two weeks with him at my house, and we’ve gotten along quite well.” Hermione’s thoughts traveled to the invisible blond boy in the garden and her heart warmed. “I was surprised at first, but after a while, I found him to be much more agreeable than I would have thought possible. I…I think you’ll find the same if you give him a chance.”

“And who might we be talking about, Hermione dear?”

She took a deep breath and looked right at her friend’s parents. “Draco Malfoy.”

Mrs. Weasley’s eyes went wide as saucers and Mr. Weasley leaned forward to rub his temples.

“D…Draco Malfoy? Lucius’s son? The one who tried to m-murder Albus? The one who terrorized you all these years? That Draco Malfoy is in our garden? And he’s agreeable?” Mrs. Weasley stared at Hermione as if she had gone insane.

“Yes.” Hermione looked directly at Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, her face set. “He’s been through quite an ordeal this year. He was assigned to perform a terrible task by You-Know-Who, but only when his family’s lives were threatened. It almost broke him. I’ve spoken to him about it and seen his confession under the influence of Veritaserum in a pensieve. He’s very conflicted and upset about everything that’s going on.” Hermione felt the words spill from her, afraid that if she stopped only for a moment, the Weasleys would forbid Draco from their home as he had feared.

“I know it seems farfetched,” she continued, “but I beg you to believe me. I have his wand in my bag – he has no access to it. Professor Dumbledore offered him protection before he died.” Hermione gulped, feeling a hard lump grow in her throat. Why was she suddenly so emotional? She looked down.

She felt Mr. and Mrs. Weasley’s eyes on her. There was a long pause before either of them spoke.

“And you’re sure it’s really Draco Malfoy out in our garden?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Positive. He’s under a glamour at the moment, but I can remove that once he comes inside.”

“Very well. Bring him in."

Hermione pushed her chair out and stood, her footsteps heavy as she walked to the kitchen door.

“Draco?” she called into the seemingly empty garden. The sound of rustling clothes came from nearby and Hermione felt his presence beside her. She opened the door a bit wider and the invisible figure moved past her. As soon as the door was closed behind her, she turned and removed the disillusionment charm and the glamour.

There, standing in the middle of the Burrow’s kitchen and seeming entirely out of place was Draco Malfoy. He looked so nervous that he could pass out.

“Please sit, Mr. Malfoy.”


 

 Draco wasn’t sure what to do with himself as he stood in this…could you really call it a kitchen? He forced his tongue to remain unmoved. Now was not the time for insults. He wasn’t stupid. He couldn’t risk offending the Weasley parents and getting kicked out. And for some reason, he didn’t want to upset Hermione.

Mr. Weasley motioned for him to take a seat at the table and he quickly took his place next to Hermione and across from the Weasleys.

“So,” the patriarch began, “Hermione tells us you’ve been offered protection by Professor McGonagall and by Albus Dumbledore, himself. Is this true?”

Draco nodded. “Yes. It is true.”

“Is it true that you spent the better part of the past year working under You-Know-Who’s orders?”

Draco swallowed. “Yes.”

“Hermione tells us that you were only acting on his orders because he threatened your family. Is this true?”

He gave an affirmative answer for the third time.

“Are you in contact with your family now? Anyone connected to You-Know-Who?”

He shook his head. “No. I…I’m not sure what’s happening to my parents. They could be dead for all I know.” Draco tried to keep his voice steady as he spoke of the very topic he was trying to actively avoid. “I’ve spent the last couple weeks at Hermione’s house with her parents. Hermione can tell you that I haven’t touched a wand since…since June.”

Draco’s eyes darted between both the Weasley parents. Mr. Weasley was looking at him intensely, as though trying to read his mind. Mrs. Weasley appeared to be attempting to bore a hole in her mug with her eyes.

“I know you must find it difficult to trust me,” he began, “but I want nothing more than to get through this war alive – with my family alive. This past year was Hell on Earth, but I did it to stop the Dark Lord from touching my family.” He leaned forward, placing is elbows on the table and burying his face in his hands. “Before…that night in June…I would have told you that I would repeat my actions this past year without question. I would have said that even thinking about not fulfilling my orders would be weakness.” His voice shook and he took a breath. This was not the time and place for tears. This was not the right audience for these emotions.

Draco felt a hand on his knee. Hermione. Gathering himself, he continued. “I would have considered it weakness not to fulfill the Dark Lord’s wishes. To not obey my father’s wishes.”

“What changed?” A different voice spoke up this time. Mrs. Weasley now gazed at him with a strange look he wasn’t sure he recognized.

“I’m not a murderer. I refuse to be a murderer. I refuse to play those games anymore.”

Draco knew he should say more – should defend himself with his honest thoughts. He had shared those thoughts with Hermione late at night, but he didn’t want to get into those messy feelings sitting here in the kitchen of The Burrow. He wasn’t sure if he could handle more than one person knowing his deepest convictions.

Draco expected more questions from the Weasleys, but instead, they sat in silence, studying him. Mrs. Weasley in particular was looking at him with that same strange look. Then, without warning, she stood and marched around the kitchen table. Draco leaned back into his chair as she approached, trying to sink back into the wood. Instead, he almost immediately found himself pulled upward and into the arms of the Weasley matriarch.

She was very soft and warm, and her rounded arms cradled his body against hers. He had been expecting a slap or a shove. Not a hug!

Draco thought of his own mother, whose affection was not often physical. Her hugs had always been brief and stiff, even if she meant well. Were these the kind of hugs the Weasley brats grew up with? He found them nice, even if they were a little…smothering.

He coughed twice as his lungs began to feel pressured. Mrs. Weasley loosened her grip, holding him at arm’s length. He was slightly horrified to see tears in her eyes.

“My poor boy. I can’t imagine what you’ve been through. Of course you’re not a murderer. You’re just a child.”

If he weren’t receiving so much sympathy from the woman, he would have told her off for calling him a child. He had, in fact, come of age recently. However, circumstances being what they were, this was certainly a good reaction. Silence seemed the far better decision.

Hermione cleared her throat and Mrs. Weasley pulled her eyes away. “We’ve already reached out to Professor McGonagall yesterday and are waiting to hear from her, but we were hoping you would let Draco stay with you here at the Burrow for the time being. It’s well-warded and there are Order members coming through all the time.” She spoke the words so quickly that Draco could hardly catch what she was saying. “I know it’s a lot to ask, but is that something you would be all right with?”

Draco could feel the panic in her voice getting stronger with each word she spoke. Without thinking too much, he reached out and grasped Hermione’s hand in his own. He heard her voice hitch as his skin made contact with hers. Mrs. Weasley glanced between the two of them and their joined hands. Closing her eyes and taking a breath, she turned back to her husband.

“What do you think, Arthur?"

Mr. Weasley had also seen the brief exchange between he and Hermione, it seemed. His face had softened.

“It seems there’s nothing to it. Mr. Malfoy will remain with us for the time being. I trust you’ll keep an eye on him, Hermione?”

Hermione’s face had split into a smile, and Draco felt his own facial muscles turn upward.

“If that would make you more comfortable, of course I’ll keep him nearby. But you should know that I do trust Draco. He hasn’t done anything for me to consider otherwise recently.”

Draco’s smile faltered a bit. Her words were less than ideal. Sure, Hermione trusted him. But that trust was nothing if not recent. He had years of insults, misdeeds, and lies to overcome if others were ever going to trust him completely. Opening up to Hermione and spending some fun afternoons together was fine, but she would have to be a goddamn saint to fully accept him.

Even one slip up and that minimal trust would be nothing but an unfortunate memory for her. Draco felt his stomach sour just a bit.

“Very well,” Mr. Weasley declared. “I will also contact Minerva McGonagall to confirm our arrangements. Mr. Malfoy, please wait in the sitting room while I fetch everyone else. We don’t want any, erm, incidents before we can fully explain."

“Yes. Of course. I’ll just wait, then. Er, where is the sitting room?” Draco wasn’t sure what might constitute as a sitting room in this jumbled house.

“I’ll take you there,” Hermione interjected. “Come on, then.” She motioned for him to follow. They walked down the hall to the left and Draco found himself in a small room lined with overstuffed, well-worn chairs and a sofa. Photographs lined the walls, and the room somehow felt incredibly cramped, though it as currently devoid of occupants.

“I can’t believe Weaselbee actually lives here,” Draco scoffed as he sank into a brown armchair.

“Be nice, Draco. Insults are no way to get the Weasleys to even pretend to like you.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He rolled his eyes and looked around the room – anywhere but Hermione’s face.

“Hey.”

Hermione had leaned forward to grasp his shoulder, and their faces were only inches apart.

“What?” Draco smirked.

“It’s going to be fine. I’ll see to it that Ron and the others don’t murder you.”

“Gee, that’s comforting.”

“I’ll come get you in a few minutes, all right?”

Draco nodded and watched Hermione walk back toward the kitchen. A few moments later the thunderous sounds of many feet clambering down the stairs reached his ears. The entire Weasley horde appeared to be here in this very house.

Voices began to drift in through the door. Rather than focus on what he knew would be loud, angry voices discussing him, he allowed himself to zone out and take in his surroundings more. This house could not have been more of an opposite of his own home. Malfoy Manor would never contain such old, decrepit pieces of furniture, nor would there be so many family photographs.

His family’s large estate held three occupants, dozens of tastefully decorated rooms, and a singular portrait of the family in the dining room. The painting had been commissioned before he had headed to Hogwarts. The austere faces of his parents stared at him whenever he came home for the holidays; they would give him harsh commentary whenever his parents were otherwise occupied, which was fairly often.

Still, he supposed, it had been better than eating in silence.

Now this house, on the other hand, was the complete opposite of silent. Draco could hardly imagine growing up in a house with six siblings. What was it like, he wondered, to always share your space with another? To always be in the company of another? To squabble and laugh and find companionship with so many other people.

Draco had grown to appreciate solitude, certainly. But there had been a time when he wanted a sibling. For years he begged his parents to no avail. Finally, when he was eight years-old, his mother had fallen pregnant with a second child. Draco had been thrilled. He had read every book he could find in Flourish and Blotts about having a baby brother or sister and had gathered his allowance to buy a toy for the baby. But all that changed on a rainy summer afternoon. He had spent the day at the Nott’s house only to come home and find his mother sitting outside in the rain.

She had lost the baby. His mother didn’t leave her bed for weeks.

Draco never wished for a sibling again. Instead, he learned to enjoy being alone.

The Burrow was practically bursting at the seams with life and energy, and as grateful as he was to have been offered a safe place, he wasn’t sure how he would survive the hustle and bustle.

It was at this exact moment that a yell ripped him from his own thoughts.

“Ronald Weasley! Sit down immediately. You are making a fool of yourself!” Hermione raised her voice and it so it seemed, was taking the Weasel down a peg.

Draco smiled at the thought.

After loitering around the sitting room for a few more minutes, listening as bits of conversation floated in and out of hearing range (Draco was quite sure he heard “ferret” several times), a rather flustered Hermione reappeared in the doorway.

“You’re wanted in the kitchen.” She didn’t elaborate. Draco jogged over to her and they walked back together. The table was now filled with redheads. He recognized most of them. Weasel King. Weaselette. The Swot. The twins. Draco assumed the two older lads were the other brothers. The whole lot of them scowled as he entered, but he tried to keep his face as neutral as possible.

He took a seat next to Hermione at the table. Though he didn’t realize it was possible, Ron’s expression appeared to grow even surlier.


 

 The confrontation with the entire Weasley clan went exactly as Draco had predicted: long, loud, and annoying. The four youngest siblings had spent a great deal of time yelling at him and then yelling amongst themselves. Had the subject of the yelling not been himself, Draco would have loved to observe from nearby while making snide running commentary.

Eventually, everyone practically had screamed themselves hoarse. Draco had hardly said a single word in the exchange. The elder Weasleys and Hermione argued with the younger ones, and Draco wasn’t sure if he could have gotten a word in even if he wanted to. Hermione had almost turned purple in the face defending him against the Weasel King in particular. Draco smiled to himself as he thought of this several hours after the confrontation. After she told Ron that he “could either accept the fact that some people are capable of change or stuff it,” Draco could have kissed her. That brilliant witch may not have been terribly eloquent in that one moment, but to him, she truly had a way with words. Weaselbee had stomped away after that, leaving the family meeting to its awkward dangling conclusion.

He had spent the rest of the morning sitting at the kitchen table as others bustled around him, unsure if doing anything at all would be irksome to the family that just took him in against their will. Weaselette and the twins glared daggers at him any time they passed. Ron was nowhere to be found. The rest of the family hardly acknowledged his presence, which suited him just fine, frankly. Only Hermione offered a smile and a pat on the shoulder as she walked past.

Draco was left to his own thoughts for some time until Mrs. Weasley plopped down in the chair beside him some time later, slightly out of breath and holding a small platter of sandwiches. She, too, smiled. “Draco, I’ve got to be honest. Arthur and I are fine with you coming to stay with us, though I admit the timing is a bit fiddly. Bill and Fleur are marrying here in just two weeks and there is so much to do.”

“I can stay out of the way. Honestly, that’s fine.” Draco suggested.

“Don’t be silly, dear. I’ve got Hermione coming down here in a moment to help you with the programs. They’ll need copying and folding. Since your wand is currently…unavailable…I figured I could let you fold them.”

Wedding preparations? He was going to be made to do some mundane tasks? Without magic, no less. Draco held back a sneer. He had to keep his goal in mind. This was going to be harder than he thought. Heaving a sigh, Draco nodded his head. “Yeah, all right. I’ll help. Why not?”

“Wonderful!” Mrs. Weasley stood, mopping her brow. “I’ll get the sample program.”

Hermione appeared just after Mrs. Weasley left and replaced her in Draco’s neighboring seat.

“Where have you been just now?” Draco leaned on his elbow, facing her.

“I was up in Ron’s room if you must know.”

Draco frowned. He didn’t like the thought of Hermione alone with Weaselbee, though he wasn’t exactly sure why it bothered him.

“What were you doing with him? Snogging him after weeks apart?” Draco spat.

Hermione turned pink and furrowed her brow. “Certainly not. Ron and I don’t do…that. I was upstairs trying to get him to come around about you.”

“Has he?”

“Well…no. Not exactly. Ron can be so stubborn when he wants to be, and his stubbornness is especially tenacious when it comes to Draco Malfoy.”

Draco sniggered and Hermione cracked a momentary smile.

“Well, I suppose that’s an accomplishment to be proud of.” Draco grabbed a sandwich and took a bite. Swallowing, he continued, “So, Mother Weasley wants me to fold programs without magic. Any chance you’ll give me my wand back so we can finish eons early?”

Hermione grinned through a bite of sandwich. “Nope. Sorry. I’ll copy the programs quickly and help you fold by hand. How’s that?”

He grumbled and grabbed the first copied pink program as it materialized before him.

The two worked in companionable silence for a bit until they heard a distinctly feminine giggle from the stairwell.

“Is that Weaslette?” Draco scoffed, craning his neck to look for red hair.

“Ginny? Oh, goodness no. That’s Fleur.” Draco could tell Hermione was suppressing an eye roll.

“That’s right. How did a Weasley manage to land Delacour? Isn’t she part Veela?”

“Well, I’m not sure if you noticed, but Bill is very handsome, himself.”

“Afraid I hadn’t noticed. Facial hair and cocks don’t really do it for me.”

Unfortunately, Hermione had chosen this exact moment to take a drink of water, and she immediately choked in surprise, spraying most of the contents of her mouth into her lap. Draco let out a barking laugh as he watched her splutter and turn beet red. Bill and Fleur appeared in the kitchen right then.

“Oi Malfoy! What have you done to Hermione, then?”

Coughing, Hermione managed an answer. “Nothing, Bill. He just made me laugh at the wrong moment.”

Bill seemed to accept the answer.

“Bill, let’s go outside. I want to take a walk before dinner,” Fleur insisted, taking her fiancé by the hand. The eldest Weasley brother kissed her and the two stepped out the door and into the garden.

Draco allowed his mind to wander as he folded programs. He thought the two seemed very content. What would it feel like to marry someone? Surely, he would have to live through the war to find out. And even if he did survive the war, would he even be permitted to marry for love? No one in his family had done such a thing for centuries, unless you counted the family members who had been removed from the family tree. No, it was probably an arranged marriage that awaited him if his parents had anything to do with it.

What if your parents are dead? The thought floated across his mind and he tried to shake it. Now was not the time for those kinds of thoughts.

Draco’s musings turned back to the present. He watched as Hermione smiled at the kitchen door after the lovebirds made their exit. He could see an odd sort of longing in her eyes. She was a girl, of course, and girls went gaga over romance. He had certainly seen enough of that from Pansy Parkinson to make him gag. Hermione didn’t seem to be the type to obsess over lovey-dovey things like Pansy, though. Watching Hermione’s soft mouth turn upward at the sight of an engaged couple, he decided that it would be rather pleasant to romance Hermione.

Surely, it would be Weasel King who would have that honor, though. Draco wasn’t thick. He saw the way they had looked at each other for years. If this damned war ever ended, the two would certainly tie the knot and produce a whole nest full of red-headed children.

For the second time that afternoon, the thought of Ron Weasley being together with Hermione made his chest tighten slightly. Something about that picture didn’t sit right. Rather than dwell on the strange feeling in the pit of his stomach, though, Draco pushed his thoughts aside and cleared his throat.

“Are you going to stare out the door all day, or are you going to help me with these damn programs?"

Hermione turned back to face him. “Sorry, Draco. Lost in thought. Let’s keep going.”

Draco reached forward and grabbed one of Hermione’s copies. “Just be careful not to get the programs wet or we’ll have to start from scratch.”

“Hey! You’re the one who made me spit out my water with your vulgar comments. I don’t like it when people use…dirty language.”

Draco chuckled and threw a wink her way. “Whatever you say, Granger.” 

Chapter Text

After over a week at the Burrow, Draco found himself acclimating to the noisy, happy home. People stomped around the place at all hours of the day, and someone always seemed to be yelling, either out of anger or out of sheer distance. Whenever someone on the first floor needed something, they simply hollered up the stairs until the message recipient heard them.

All of that could be prevented with a house elf, but the Weasleys could never afford one.

Still, life with the Weasleys wasn’t as bad as Draco had imagined. Not that he would ever admit that aloud. Mrs. Weasley reminded him a great deal of Hermione’s mum. She was warm and inviting, offering bone-crushing hugs a little too often for Draco’s comfort. Was that common for mothers? After his experiences in the last six weeks or so, he thought it must be.

Mrs. Weasley had him bunking in Charlie’s room. Weaselbee had refused to share a bedroom with him, leaving other brothers to camp together for the past several days. Frankly, Draco didn’t mind the space. After spending all day surrounded by noisy redheads, it was nothing short of heavenly to have a little space to himself at night.

Much to his dismay, Hermione had been spending a considerable amount of time with Weaselbee and Weaselette. Sure, she still made an effort to sit by him at meals and make conversation, but it somehow wasn’t the same as when it had been just the two of them every afternoon at her parents’ house. Was she doubting their budding friendship? She had been reamed out by Professor McGonagall the day after their arrival for her reckless behavior. Perhaps she had been avoiding him. Hermione was nothing if not a goodie two-shoes, after all, and upsetting McGonagall may have pushed her over some sort of invisible line.

Draco found himself watching her whenever she talked with Ron or Ginny – in the kitchen, in the sitting room, and out in the garden. Although she would smile and laugh with her friends, her smiles never seemed to reach her eyes. He suspected she must have been thinking about her parents in those times. Draco wondered if she had come to grips with what she had done. Had she told anyone else? Or was he the only one privy to the devastating act she had committed? As he watched her, he wished that Hermione would confide in him. If keeping silent was eating her up, she needed someone to talk to, and Draco wanted that someone to be him.

Nine days after his and Hermione’s arrival, Draco found himself once again sitting at the kitchen table surrounded by a large group of people, all of whom were nursing an afternoon mug of tea. There weren’t only Weasleys present, but a large group of others sat at the table as well. Professor Lupin was there, looking shabbier than usual, though oddly happy. Professor Moody had stumped in as well, still slightly terrifying with his eye swiveling everywhere. The oaf Hagrid was there, taking up an entire corner of the kitchen. Then there were others he didn’t recognize – a woman who kept changing her hair color, a regal-looking authoritative man, and a shifty looking man who looked like he didn’t want to be there at all. Draco sat in the midst of it all, hoping he appeared inconspicuous. This group had held meetings before, but he had never been allowed to sit in with them. When it had happened previously, he and Ginny (who hadn’t been too pleased with the arrangement) had been made to degnome the garden together. She had grumbled to herself the entire time, sometimes chucking the gnomes a little harder than was intended.

This time, no one had kicked him out of this meeting, so his presence must not have been too big a bother. Ginny and Hermione sat on either side of him. While the former looked like she was about to open presents on Christmas, the latter was chewing her lip with worry.

“All right. Settle down you lot. We’ve got a lot to finalize. Tonight is the extraction date,” grunted Moody from the head of the table, his eye lolling about.

Everyone around the table looked solemn, except Fred and George. One of the twins was whispering something to the other, and they both sniggered into their hands.

“I’d like to go over our groups one last time to make sure we’re comfortable with the arrangements,” suggested Professor Lupin, who sat across from Draco and next to the color-changing woman.

“Right.” Moody pulled out a parchment from his coat pocket. “As I’ve come to understand it, no one else will consent to riding together with this idiot, so I’m saddled with him. Eh, Mundungus?”

The slippery looking man who was crouched in the corner of the room looked up and grunted in acknowledgement.

“We’ll be on a broomstick along with Arthur and Fred, Remus and George, and Tonks and Ron. Clear so far?”

There was a smattering of nods. Where were they all going on brooms?

“Kingsley and Hermione as well as Fleur and Bill will ride thestrals. Hagrid has managed to wrangle a couple from the Forbidden Forest. Isn’t that right?”

“Sure did, Alastor. Good creatures, they are. Have ‘em tied up in the garden jus’ outside.”

Thestrals? Hermione was going to ride a thestral? What in the hell kind of mission were they going on?

“And of course, Hagrid, you and Harry will be on the motorbike.”

Draco froze. Potter? Aha. It all made sense. This was the brigade that would be escorting Potter here. He listened in as Moody broke down in detail the itinerary for the following evening. It hardly seemed plausible that seven Harry Potters would take to the sky tonight. Everyone nodded along. Hermione, of course, was taking notes. This mission seemed both incredibly dangerous and stupid to him. The thought of Hermione participating gave him a nagging pull in the pit of his stomach that he didn’t like one bit. What could he say to Hermione to convince her not to go? He didn’t want to be stuck here at with the Weasleys without her. She was what made this hovel bearable.

At least that’s what he told himself. He had to say something.

When Moody stopped talking, the group stood and scattered to make last minute preparations for their journey. Draco made his way over to Hermione, who was now standing at the edge of the sitting room with the woman who he now knew to be called Tonks.

“Hello, cousin,” the woman greeted. “Glad we can finally properly meet.”

“Cousin?” Draco eyed this woman with suspicion as Hermione chuckled.

“Yep. Our mums are sisters. Only my mum got wiped off the dear old Black family tree.”

Draco reached back into his memory. “Funny. My mother never mentioned you or your mother.”

“Is that so? Well, that doesn’t really surprise me. She went and did most offensive thing a Black daughter could. Married a muggleborn, she did.”

Draco glanced sideways at Hermione, who was back to busying herself with notes. It seems that this look did not go unnoticed by Tonks.

“Of course, she always says getting disowned was the best thing that ever happened to her. Wouldn’t have been happy living under the oppressive rules of pureblood society. She married for love and hasn’t looked back.” Tonks then threw him the heaviest wink she could muster, and Draco turned scarlet. “Look at that, I’ve got to go. Need to talk to Ron before we shove off.”

And then she left, leaving Draco confused and blushing and Hermione seemingly oblivious to everything that had just happened.

“Is there something you wanted to discuss, Draco? I’m quite busy and this is the only way for me to work off my nervous energy.”

The Slytherin in Draco could think of several ways to deflect this conversation to work off some of that energy, but he managed to compose himself. Much to his dismay, the words he had hoped to say didn’t come out of his mouth. Instead, he found himself saying, “No. I was just heading for the kitchen,” instead.

She smiled and stepped aside.

Stupid stupid stupid.

Draco spent the next hour in the garden behind the kitchens wallowing in his own pathetic nature. Why was he suddenly incapable of speaking to Hermione? Surely it hadn’t been Tonks’s comments? Draco continued his contemplative silence throughout supper, which was already a heavy, silent affair, what with the fetching of Potter looming ahead.

Shortly after sunset, those going on the mission gathered in front of the Burrow. Draco watched as the Potter squad filed out, trying to decide whether to say anything to Hermione. Convince her not to go. Tell her to stay. Something.

 Just as she was about to cross the threshold, Draco grabbed Hermione by the elbow.

“Wha-? Draco, what’s going on? I need to be outside.” Hermione seemed frazzled.

“Yeah, I know,” Draco started. “It’s just, I…er…um-”

It was as though his brain had turned to pudding and his tongue to lead. What had he been trying to say again? With every passing second, Hermione’s confused expression was turning sour.

“What?” Hermione snapped, her impatience cracking through her voice.

“Just – oh, sod it. Don’t…don't go get yourself blown up tonight, all right, Granger?”

Don’t get blown up? Was that the best he could do? Honestly. He could have kicked himself.

Hermione’s face immediately softened. She seemed to know what he was trying to say.

Her petite hand moved to his shoulder and gripped it in a surprisingly firm grasp. Chocolate colored eyes met with his icy grey ones, and he saw the determination shining in them.

“I promise not to get blown up, Draco. I’ll be back here with Harry and everyone else here quite soon.”

Finding he could only nod, Draco then watched as Hermione joined the rest of the group in the yard as they set off on their mission. Draco thought that it might look funny to watch the empty night sky through the window, so he retreated back to the kitchen, where Mrs. Weasley and Weaslette were finishing cleaning up after supper.

When they had dried the last dish, Mrs. Weasley levitated a tray of hot chocolate to the table for the three of them. Draco accepted his mug and sipped in silence, staring off into the distance, trying not to picture Hermione getting curses flung her way by Death Eaters.

“Are you all right, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked, leaning into the table to get his attention.

“What? Oh, yes. I’m fine.”

“Rubbish.”

Draco turned to face Ginny Weasley, who had set her own mug down.

“What did you say?"

“I said that’s rubbish. Anyone can see you’re not fine. You’re clearly worried. Isn’t that right, mum?”

Mrs. Weasley pursed her lips and glared at her daughter. Ginny didn’t even have the shame to look sheepish, but instead raised her eyebrows in defiance.

With a sigh, Mrs. Weasley turned back to him. “I can’t say that I disagree with Ginny. You may put up a tough front, but anxiety shows itself in little ways.”

Draco was gladly looking anywhere but at the Weasleys’ freckled faces. “That’s ridiculous. I’m not anxious.”

“Then why are you trying to choke your mug with your grip?” Ginny gave a short smirk, drawing one knee up to her chest as she pulled her own cup up to her lips. Draco let go of his mug with a jolt and threw a scowl at the youngest Weasley. Instead of retaliating back, she sighed and laid her chin on her knee. “It’s all right to be worried. It’s difficult to just sit here knowing that anything could be happening and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

Draco found his head bobbing up and down slightly as he agreed with her.

Ginny continued to fidget as Mrs. Weasley watched the two teenagers in silence. With a sudden determined movement, Ginny sat up straight and gazed right into Draco’s eyes.

“Why did you so suddenly shift sides, Malfoy? What changed? I always was under the impression you were an evil bastard.”

“Ginevra!” Molly turned to her daughter, eyes wide and full of fire.

“Someone’s got to ask it, Mum. Don’t pretend you’re not curious.”

Draco shifted in his seat, his eyes traveling between the two redheaded women in front of him. Images from this past year floated across his memory – his father leading him to his first Death Eater meeting and leaving that meeting with his heart heavy, his arm in pain, and a death sentence in his future; months of struggle and deep depression, his horrible fate dangling before him; the light leaving Dumbledore’s eyes as Snape cursed him – Draco tried to shake them off before his eyes gave away that he felt like he was drowning.

He had been silent for an awkward amount of time, it seemed, because Mrs. Weasley had piped up. “Leave him alone, Gin-”

“A lot changed.” Draco heard his own voice before he realized he had spoken. Why was he telling this to the Weasleys of all people? He found he couldn’t stop speaking now that he had started. “Mostly…that night. I saw my own soul when I had Dumbledore cornered on the astronomy tower. I saw the core of myself and who I had become and I found that I hated every inch of me. I hated myself. I didn’t even recognize myself. Scared the shit out of me.”

Draco paused, glancing up at his audience. Ginny sat with her mouth hanging open like a fish and Mrs. Weasley’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears. “I’m not sure if I lowered my wand because I just panicked or felt guilty or was having some sort of crisis of conscience. But I just knew as I talked to Dumbledore and then watched as he died that I…couldn’t go forward on the path I was on. I am not a killer. I am not my father.”

He finished his last sentence with conviction, his face set in stone.

“Oh, my poor boy.” Before Draco could do anything about it, Mrs. Weasley had crossed to the other side of the kitchen table to envelope her arms around him. “No one is born to fill their parents’ shoes. You are so brave for walking away from your life, and even if some of the Order act wary around you, know that I am proud of you. I know for a fact that Hermione is, too.”

Draco pulled back from Mrs. Weasley’s arms. “She’s…proud of me?”

“Oh yes, dear. Quite. She told me all about this when you both arrived. She tells me that despite what you may have done or said in the past, even to her, that you have proved yourself capable of change and that you should be forgiven.”

Draco felt his heart fill to bursting, thrumming in his chest with an intensity he had never experienced before. Hermione wanted to forgive him? He had said and done some truly cruel things to Hermione Granger for years, and she was willing to let it all go?

She truly was one of a kind, that girl.

From across the table, Ginny looked on with a faint smile playing at her lips.

“Well I’ll be damned. I actually find myself beginning to like you, Malfoy.”

Draco snorted and smiled back.

The two began to discuss old Hogwarts quidditch matches, both shooting occasional glances at the special Weasley family clock, as if waiting for any sort of change. But all the names stayed stuck on ‘Mortal Peril.’ Mrs. Weasley grew more antsy by the minute, whispering that Fred, Mr. Weasley, Tonks, and Weaselbee should have been back by now.

Finally, after what seemed like ages, a great rushing sound came from the garden as one of the pairs arrived with their portkey. Unsure if he would be welcome, Draco stayed back in the corner of the kitchen as Harry and Hagrid came into view through the window.

Great. The oaf and his least favorite scrawny, specky git.

Harry made his way through Mrs. Weasley’s and Ginny’s hugs and then into the kitchen. It took a moment for Potter to see him, but when he did, the change on his face was instantaneous. Reaching for his wand, Potter drew it and cornered him, a snarl of fury on his face and his eyes ablaze.

“What the hell are you doing here, Malfoy?”

It took every inch of Draco’s self-control not to retort or even answer at all. He was smart and self-preserving enough to know that his arrangement with the Weasleys was precarious at best, even with the approval of the Weasley matriarch.

“I said, what the hell are you doing here?” Potter grabbed him by the collar and shoved him into the wall, a snarl on his lips.

“Harry! Get off of him – the Order’s offered Malfoy asylum!” Ginny came careening into the kitchen from outside.

With his fist inches from a punch, Potter froze. Hatred burning in Harry’s eyes, Draco watched as his face pulsated between anger and confusion several times.

“What? Asylum? You?” Potter watched him with narrowed eyes, a frown persisting.

“Yeah, it’s true,” Draco spat. “I’m with your lot now, Potter.”

“Since when?”

“Since that night in June.”

Draco saw shock flash across his adversary’s face and knew he didn’t have to elaborate any further. It seemed that Potter was about to retaliate but there was another whooshing sound from the garden. He continued to watch from his little corner as a severely-bleeding Weasley twin was carried inside and Potter was questioned by an angry Lupin. By the sound of it, they had been attacked during their journey. Draco’s stomach immediately dropped to his feet.

Attacked? Was everyone else all right? What if Hermione-? He couldn’t bear the thought of losing someone who actually claimed to be proud of him – someone with whom he actually felt a connection.

He didn’t want to be alone again.

And then, with another whooshing sound, Draco heard the sweetest sound. Her voice. Rushing from his seat, he found Hermione in the garden, her wild hair wind-tousled, her eyes wide and frightened and her breathing coming in short, sharp gasps.

She was here. She was alive!

He could have kissed her.

That thought stopped Draco in his tracks as he approached the muggleborn witch. Now that he saw her from up close, she was dressed identically to Potter from head to toe, glasses and all. Yet, even covered completely in everything Potter, she was lovely. Lovely and safe. Smiling, Draco took a step forward and Hermione turned to face him. She flashed a grin and opened her mouth to speak, but at that exact moment, another whooshing sound filled the air as Tonks and Weaselbee came crashing into the yard.

Within half a second, Hermione tore her eyes away from his own and she dashed over to practically tackle the ginger idiot. Weasley blushed as Hermione cuddled him and Draco felt his jaw tighten, his ears growing hot. The grinding in his teeth intensified as Potter joined their little group.

Draco turned on his heel and stomped back to the Burrow. He could tell when he wasn’t wanted. He might as well just go upstairs. As he stepped back in the kitchen, however, Bill announced Moody’s death. Draco found himself sinking into a chair in the corner. He had assumed in some stupid way that Mad Eye had been invincible. The man had, after all, survived years as an Auror and countless injuries. Hell, he was the one person who Draco had fully expected to return. Lost in his own thoughts, he was only drawn out of them when Potter doubled over, his hand over his scar. Draco watched a concerned Hermione try to talk him down, but as if aiming to win the Gryffindor-Of-The-Year award, Potter announced he was too dangerous to keep around and tried to leave.

What an idiot.

If Potter wanted to leave, Draco took no issue in that. Scarhead was trouble enough, and he was just starting to get comfortable with this new existence. He didn’t want Death Eaters to be attracted to his new…what was this place, anyway? Home?

He shuddered at the thought.

As Hermione and Weasel ventured outside to retrieve Potter, Draco slunk up the stairs to his room, his stomach churning. He must have eaten something funny. Even as he lied down on the lumpy mattress, he couldn’t quite get comfortable. Images of Hermione dashing off toward Potter and Weasley seemed to be glued to the insides of his eyelids, and he tossed and turned.

Draco must have fallen asleep at some point, because he woke up with a jolt and sat upright. With a crack, his head made contact with something else quite solid, and he bit back a string of curse words. Still clutching his head, Draco opened his eyes to see a pair of small hands clutching the top of a mass of dark curls.

“Hermione,” he whispered with a wince, “Are you all right?”

She returned the grimace. “I was until just a moment ago. I’m so sorry for waking you up.”

Draco leaned back onto the headboard, adjusting his pillows. Hermione sat on the edge of his bed. He drank in his companion as she continued holding onto the sensitive patch of her scalp. It had clearly been at least an hour or two since the commotion downstairs – Hermione was no longer wearing a Potter clone outfit, but rather, a soft-looking nightgown that stretched to her ankles. He could see the outline of her breasts through the thin fabric, and he forced himself to continue his visual journey upward. Too much time dwelling on such things and he knew he would find himself more confused than he already was.

“Feeling better?” he asked as Hermione finally let go of her head.

“Much, thank you.” She offered a smile, and he found himself returning one. “All the hubbub of The Burrow makes me miss my parents’ house.” Hermione’s smile turned wistful, her eyes dulling as Draco watched the meaning of her words drape over them like a stifling blanket.

Draco reached for Hermione’s hand and grasped it in his own. “I know what you mean, Granger. As much as I would have been horrified to admit it previously, I really liked staying with you. The Weasley’s house is too noisy for my tastes.”

“Is it now?” Hermione squeezed his hand and threw out a playful smile.

“I have no idea how you can stand having so many gingers around, honestly.”

“It takes some time to build up a tolerance, I must admit,” Hermione smirked and Draco felt his breath hitch in his throat. Gods, how had he never found this girl attractive until recently?

“So, er, why were you hovering over me while I slept, Granger?”

Hermione blinked several times before her eyes grew wide for a moment. She readjusted her sitting position. “Right. I just…wanted to tell you something.”

Draco raised a single eyebrow. Hermione looked down, avoiding his gaze.

“I…just wanted to tell you that while we were out on the mission tonight, and we were surrounded by Death Eathers, I kept thinking about…” she paused, playing with one of her curls. “I kept thinking about you.”

Forget a hitch in his breath. Draco wasn’t sure he remembered how to breathe properly. Although she wasn’t looking at him, her grip on his left hand grew stronger.

“I kept worrying what would happen to you if something happened to me. I…care for you.”


When Draco continued his silence, Hermione grew restless. It had taken quite a lot of Gryffindor courage to say those words to Draco Malfoy of all people, and her heart was only being met with a wall of silence.

She began to draw her hand away from his grip, but he reached out and grasped her hand in his once more.

“I…care for you too, Granger. When you were out on that mission, I thought I was going crazy. You really had me worried when you didn’t come back right away.” Hermione finally looked up to see Draco flushed in the moonlight, his cheeks colored several shades darker than his normally pale complexion. Their eyes met and Hermione felt her own cheeks heat up.

“You look uncomfortable. Sitting like that can’t feel good,” Draco posited. It was true. She was a bit hunched over and twisted as she sat on his mattress. Before she could begin to answer, Draco had scooted over and patted the now-empty spot beside him. “Come on, then. You had a hard night.”

A small smile escaped her lips. Gathering her nightgown, she slipped under the covers beside Draco, leaning on the pillows. He reached for her hand once more and she laced her fingers through his. Surely, this had to be some alternate dimension. That was the only explanation for the simultaneous pounding of her heart and the blissful calm she felt wash over her as soon as she felt his body beside hers.

Though their hands were intertwined, Draco stared straight ahead.

“I was worried that my father was among those attacking you tonight. It would have destroyed me if…if he did anything to hurt you.” Draco’s thumb rubbed her own. It seemed so intimate.

“I’m honestly not sure if your father was among the Death Eaters tonight. It was all such a blur that it was a wonder any of us got back at all. There was no way I would have had the opportunity to identify anyone properly.”

It was true. The events of Harry’s rescue had flown by in a rush of adrenaline. Images flashed through her mind. Red and green lights whizzing past her body. Kingsley’s terrifying, powerful face. Moody’s body falling. Shaking her head, she forced herself back into the present moment, which was far more pleasurable.

“I suppose that’s for the best,” Draco mumbled. “I wouldn’t want to know if he was there.” He looked briefly at Hermione, their eyes meeting. His eyes seemed hollow, much as they had weeks ago during his first few days in her home. Before she could say anything, Draco looked down once more, his eyes fixated on a new target this time. Ripping away the sleeve of his pyjamas, Draco revealed the hideous tattoo burned into his left forearm. He stared at the Dark Mark, his nose wrinkled in disgust.

“Gods, I just want to rip off this arm. I would if I had the guts.” He stole a glance in her direction, but she remained still. “At least if I cut it off then I wouldn’t have to remember the awful shit I’ve done. I wouldn’t have a cursed, burning mark reminding me every waking moment of my existence that I fucked up. That I ever had the notion to hurt you…and other people like you.”

She could hear the emotion in his voice as it trembled, yet no tears fell from his eyes. Instead, he held her hand in a vice grip.

With the gentlest touch she could, Hermione released her hand and reached forward to roll his sleeve back over his Dark Mark. What compelled her toward her next action, she wasn’t sure, but it seemed the natural next step to cup his face in her hands and lean in to kiss his cheek.

“Oh, Draco,” she whispered, wrapping her arms around the boy. “Thank you for caring. And for worrying."

Draco nuzzled into her shoulder and the two lapsed into silence.

Hermione certainly didn’t remember falling asleep, but when she opened her eyes again, a soft blue light was beginning to creep in through the bedroom window. The blond boy beside her remained immobile as she slipped from the bed and tiptoed from the room.

He would wake up alone later that morning, but perhaps that was for the best. After all, she would be leaving soon, and getting more attached to Draco Malfoy was the last thing she needed.

Chapter Text

Over the next several days, Mrs. Weasley kept everyone up to their eyeballs in wedding preparations. Given the Weasley matriarch’s worry about their impeding journey into the dangerous unknown, Hermione wasn’t surprised when she did her best to keep her, Ron, and Harry apart. Though she lamented the loss of time she could have spent better preparing for the horcrux hunt, she found she didn’t have any objections when Mrs. Weasley paired her with Draco for any number of tasks.

The two of them spent their time preparing trays of hors d’oeuvres (which Hermione placed under a stasis charm), setting tables, and generally trying to avoid an overly-flustered Mrs. Weasley when possible. Hermione supposed she had been paired with Draco because she was deemed most suitable to spend time with him. Anyone else might have “accidentally” de-gnomed him instead of the ugly buggers that crept about the garden.

No, Hermione had no desire to chuck Draco across the meadow. She liked to talk with him too much. As much as she loved Ron and Harry, neither of them could really keep up with her in a mental spar. Draco, on the other hand, never hesitated to fire back a nuanced response to her claims about the moral ambiguities of human transfiguration or the implications of the deconstruction of healing potions.

“I’m telling you,” he argued as they unfolded what felt like the thousandth tablecloth, “when you separate the bark of the willow tree from the spider venom it has the potential to cure spell damage in ways we’ve never seen before.”

Hermione scoffed, giving her end of the table cloth a flick to straighten it. “Do you know how difficult it would be to siphon every drop of venom from a nearly-dissolved bit of bark? You’re crazy, you know?”

“Not the first time I’ve heard that. But I’m determined to test the theory if I ever get a chance.”

The scoff on her face turned to a smile. Draco somehow never ceased to surprise her. She may disagree with what he was positing, but she had never seen such determination apart from her own.

“You’d make a good healer, you know,” she suggested, smoothing the wrinkles on the pale pink table runner she had just placed. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Draco look up at her, a pink flush spread on his cheeks and his jaw slack. The breeze blowing in from the gorgeous day ruffled his hair a bit as he stood stock still.

“You really think so?” His voice rang with uncertainty.

“Well, you’ve got a good intuition for potions, you’ve got natural curiosity, drive, and believe it or not, in the deep recesses of your heart I believe there’s some empathy buried somewhere. So yes,” she grinned in his direction, “I do think you’d do St. Mungo’s or anywhere else proud if you decided to pursue healing.”

Hermione could feel the weight of her own words pressing down on them. Healing would only be a potential career for Draco if they made it out alive from the war. If they even won the war. If Draco wasn’t convicted for the Dark Mark residing on his left forearm. Too many ifs. She didn’t want to dwell on that downward spiral of a conversation, so she quickly changed the subject.

“When I was a little girl, I wanted to be an astronaut, actually.”

“What’s an astronaut?”

“It’s a person who goes to outer space to explore. Very dangerous, but incredibly fascinating and rewarding.”

“Exploring outer space? That’s ridiculous. You can’t get up there on a broom or any other way.”

“Of course you can. Muggles invented special ships to go to space. I wouldn’t be surprised if in our lifetime they travel to Mars. It’s suspected that Mars once harbored life, you know.”

Draco’s eyes shot wide open. “Mars? What are they expecting to find there? Strange animals or something miraculous like that?”

Hermione chuckled. “No. Definitely not. Mostly they want to collect rocks for samples to test. It’s more for curiosity than for anything really practical.”

Draco barked a single laugh as he finished placing the forks on their table. “Impractical, dangerous, and rewarding. Sounds entirely up your alley, Miss Gryffindor.”

Hermione found herself chuckling along with her companion. “I suppose you’re right to a degree. I gave up on my dream when I found out how much physical training would be required of me if I actually wanted to go up there. I’d rather stay grounded these days.”

“Seeing as you have zero talent for flying, that doesn’t surprise me.”

Hermione stuck her tongue out at him, and he grinned, turning to face the rest of the tent. “Just a couple more tables and we’ll be done. Finally.”

“Come on, then. There are more tablecloths in the linen closet.”

The two of them walked side-by-side back into The Burrow. Ginny and Ron were helping their mother peel potatoes in the kitchen, and Hermione offered them a small smile and wave as she passed. Harry wasn’t there, but he was presumably working alongside another Weasley sibling somewhere else. The two non-Weasleys made their way up the stairs to the landing where Mrs. Weasley kept all the family towels, blankets, and other linens. She had expanded the seemingly-tiny closet with an undetectable extension charm to make the small space just large enough so both Hermione and Draco could slip inside. The door swung inward, so Draco closed it behind them to grant a few extra inches of space as they hunted for the pink cloth on the shelf-lined walls.

“I swear, Molly Weasley is a hoarder,” Draco said as he sifted through a pile of moth-eaten throws. “What does she need so many blankets for?”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Well, she has seven children. Of course she needs plenty of blankets.”

“Yes. Right.” Draco cleared his throat and turned around. He was now chest-to-chest with her between the shelves. “Budge up, will you?” He reached over her head to search the shelves above. This new position brought her nose right to his shoulder level, and she could smell his musky scent with every breath she took. Her throat grew dry and her eyes widened as his body shifted before her. Draco Malfoy was less than an inch from her, and suddenly her mind was full of nothing but him. How had she never noticed how good he smelled before now? Surely, this was the scent of heaven – her own personal Amortentia.

With Draco’s musk infiltrating her nostrils, her mind seemed to stall, and without a single forethought, Hermione placed her hands on his chest. Yes – this was the first step to move around him and escape toward clearer thoughts. She must have not thought her actions all the way through, however, because the moment her hand made contact with Draco’s chest, a ripple flew through her body, spreading to the top of her head and all the way to her toes. Her hair stood on end. Her heart raced. Her whole body became a livewire.

It seemed as though Draco might have felt something as well, because he bent his head down, his eyes searching for her own. If her mouth had been dry before, it was now the Sahara. She tried to swallow, but her breath hitched instead. Draco was watching her with an expression she only saw on boys’ faces in her dreams. His eyes were caught somewhere between curiosity and wonder. It actually reminded Hermione of how she felt whenever she was doing research and had made a new discovery in one of her books.

If that was the case, and if she had identified that honest look in his eyes, then that meant…but, no. Was she his new discovery? Her face burned with the realization.

“Bit cramped in here,” Hermione managed to choke out.

“Is it? I hadn’t noticed,” Draco responded in a whisper. He shifted his hands so they sat at either side of her head. His grey eyes pierced her own, his pupils shifting slightly. “Granger…Hermione…” He tried to speak, but his voice faded as he clearly continued to search for the right words.

Suddenly, the ripple her body had felt earlier returned, following an opposite path back up from her toes, through her chest and flowing to her hands. Almost as if she knew what to do – as if it were the most natural thing in the world, she moved her hands from Draco’s chest and cradled his face. He leaned into the touch, his eyes closing for a moment, and Hermione let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. Grey eyes opened, and she saw them filled for the very first time with an expression she was very familiar with: admiration.

She tilted her head, encouraging him to continue whatever he was trying to say.

“How did I never notice you, Hermione Granger?”

Hermione breathed a small laugh from her nose. “How indeed, Draco Malfoy? Who knew you were actually charming?”

He raised an eyebrow at her with a smirk.

“You think I’m charming, do you Granger?” He waggled his eyebrows, clearly trying to egg her on and make her blush more.

Hermione decided in that moment, eyes fixed on the one boy she never thought would make her heart flutter, that she didn’t want to dance around anymore.

“And if I did?”

The smirk fell away in an instant, that same wonder-filled expression returning. He took a step closer.

“Hermione…” Draco breathed. He was so close. Just one more inch, and their budding friendship would be forever altered. It was so complicated, but so deliciously enticing, and the moment was just dangling in front of them for the taking.

He kissed her.

In an instant, the world and all its messy complications melted away. Nothing existed outside this blissful state. Draco’s lips were soft and warm, and his scent enveloped her. He kept his body from pressing up against her own, but the space between them had grown scarce. After what might have been only seconds or perhaps minutes – she wasn’t really sure – Hermione began to move her mouth against his, and Draco wrapped his arms around her. She felt the soft pressure of his tongue against her own, and she sighed in delight.

After a short while – too short, in her opinion – Draco pulled away with a dazed look in his eyes, as though he was awakening from a particularly pleasant dream.

Then, to her great surprise, the one and only Draco Malfoy blushed. His whole face turned a soft pink, and Hermione had to stifle a giggle.

“That was…nice,” Draco choked out.

“It was lovely,” Hermione leaned in and pecked his lips. She wasn’t sure how she was so coherent at this moment. In fact, she was positive that sometime later, she would scream into her pillow and dance around Ginny’s room in private. But for now, it felt like something within her had clicked into place.

Kissing Draco had somehow felt…right. Oh, how her younger self would be shocked if she could see this moment in time. Over Draco’s shoulder, she spotted a stack of pink cloth. Hermione stood on her tiptoes and reached past him to grab the elusive tablecloths. She waved them a bit and noticed with a smile that Draco’s face now matched the fabric.

“We should probably get the tablecloths out to the tent,” she suggested.

Draco nodded, clearing his throat. “I suppose so.”

“Come on, then.”

The two of them traipsed back downstairs and past the kitchen. Ron and Ginny remained unmoved. Ginny seemed to be sulking about something and didn’t look up as they passed, but Ron grinned as she passed.

Even as Hermione returned the smile, a voice in her brain seemed to nag her. Aren’t you in love with Ron Weasley? Why did you just go and kiss Draco Malfoy, then? Her heart, which had felt lighter than air up until that very moment, grew suddenly heavy. What about Ron? What about the years of pining she had done? She was fairly sure Ron returned her feelings, even if he hadn’t said anything. Ron was steadfast, loyal, and could be kind and thoughtful when he put his mind to it. She trusted Ron implicitly. Her heart would be safe in his hands.

Hermione had never known Draco to be any of those things during their time together at Hogwarts; he seemed to know little of loyalty or of kindness. At least not before this summer.

Summer Draco was kinder and more thoughtful. He was an excellent conversation partner and confidante. This Draco was willing to be vulnerable – more vulnerable than she had ever seen Ron or Harry, even after years of friendship. His smile clenched her heart and his touch set her ablaze.

So where did that leave her?


 Draco wasn’t sure if he had gone mad or if he had died and gone to heaven. Or perhaps both. He had kissed Hermione Granger in a closet. And he had liked it. Sure, he had kissed girls before – he had, in fact, spent a lot of time kissing Pansy during his fifth year. But the pressures of this past year had driven girls from his mind.

His sixth year had been so goddamn awful that he never bothered to correct the rumors floating around that he had bedded several girls when he had, in fact, bedded none. Those types of ridiculous rumors acted as a nice façade for the true goings on in his life. The true, shitty goings on.

This summer was the first time in a long while that he had been able to just…be. Being out of reach of the Dark Lord, Death Eaters, and – as much as he hated to admit it – his own father, had allowed him to relax and be more himself than he had in recent memory. Spending time with Hermione Granger brought him joy such as he hadn’t felt in years, and that scared him shitless.

Kissing her? Terrifying. Thrilling. Wonderful.

Thoughts of her kept negative ones from creeping in. Whenever his thoughts wandered to his parents, he tried to think of her kind eyes. If he worried about the Dark Lord’s growing strength, he tried to focus on her soothing words.

And from now on, whenever his Mark burned, he would try to think of her sweet lips on his own.

Draco’s thoughts were filled with Hermione all that afternoon and into the evening. Even the thought of attending precious Potter’s birthday bash couldn’t dampen his spirits.

Several hours after he had kissed Hermione, guests had begun to gather for the event. Several Order members had arrived, and it appeared they had called for an impromptu meeting. To his utter disbelief, Draco was called to attend as well.

He sat at the Weasley’s long kitchen table, surrounded once more by the eclectic Order of the Phoenix. Hermione sat to his left and Charlie Weasley to his right.

“Right, you lot,” Arthur Weasley called out, causing the chatter to die down. “I know we’ve got a delicious birthday supper awaiting all of us outside, but some intelligence has come out that we would like to confirm, and there’s only one person in this room who has any chance of being able to confirm it. Draco?”

Draco’s ears perked up at the sudden mention of his name. What on earth was he supposed to know that the Order didn’t?

“Yes sir?”

“Do you have any idea where You-Know-Who’s headquarters might be?”

Draco’s stomach bottomed out. With all eyes on him, he didn’t have the chance to think of Hermione before dread filled every inch of him. He looked down at the table rather than face everyone’s stares. “Yes, I do. It’s at Malfoy Manor, sir.”

He heard several gasps from around the table as well as a handful of swears.

Lupin spoke next. “Seeing as the headquarters are located in your family’s home, can you give us any information? Do you have any sense of what they’re planning?”

Draco swallowed. He recalled harsh whispers by firelight and the mad shouting of his aunt, often followed by the cruel voice of the Dark Lord himself. To picture all those awful people in his childhood home sent shivers up his spine. At this very moment, they might be desecrating the only house he had ever known with blood and terror. He could see his mother in his mind’s eye, her normally bright eyes gaunt with despair as the home she had spent years building came crashing around her.

If she was still alive, that was. Draco didn’t want to be ambushed and questioned. He wanted to run; to be sick; to be doing anything but discussing the Dark Lord’s presence in Malfoy Manor. A lump grew in his throat and he closed his eyes. He would not show those emotions in front of this lot. He would not.

Below the table, he felt a hand grasp his own. Draco almost jumped at the contact, but immediately relaxed when he realized who was holding his hand: Hermione. She wasn’t looking at him, but her steadfast grip somehow kept him from getting bogged down by those awful thoughts – like she was his anchor. Strength radiated from their hands, and he found his voice.

“I don’t know what they’re planning, in all honesty. What I do know is that my parents did not wish the Dark Lord to use their home. My father, as...repulsive as his actions may be, did not – does not – want to mix his time as a Death Eater with his home life. If I know my parents, they would be quite disturbed to find their home sullied by the stench of murder.” Draco took a deep breath and Hermione squeezed his hand. He continued, “My defection may have caused my parents to fall out of favor with the Dark Lord. I…do not know if they are still alive, and if they are, what state they are in. If they have died, then headquarters may have changed. The wards would not allow for inhabitation of the manor by a non-Malfoy.”

Draco heard himself say these words, but it was as though they were someone else’s words. How could he be speaking so candidly…so apathetically about his parents? He put on a sour expression to stop the tension in his jaw from growing into angry tears. Not even Hermione’s thumb caressing the back of his hand could stop the negative thoughts flowing through his brain now.

“Very well. Thank you for sharing, Draco,” Arthur Weasley nodded in his direction. “Your information is very much appreciated. That’s exactly the intel we wanted to confirm.” The Weasley patriarch clapped his hands together and smiled. “Well then, all, out to the garden with you. It’s time for a certain young man’s birthday party!”

Those around Potter clapped him on the back and he gave a grin that didn’t quite reach his eyes. Draco caught it, though. He knew all about those looks. Pretty much the only real smiles on his face in the last year had been the ones from this summer when it was just him and Hermione. In that moment, she let go of his hand and stood. He felt an immediate coolness wash over him. Hermione motioned for him to follow her outside, and they traipsed together out to the garden.

As a child, whenever Draco had pictured turning seventeen, it had been an elaborate affair in his mind – a soiree at the manor with only the most elite of guests, champagne for everyone (a firewhisky for himself), and a girl on his arm – a girl from an excellent family who he might just one day call his wife. A younger Draco would have looked at this homespun dinner birthday celebration and scoffed. But seeing as he had been too preoccupied with the Dark Lord’s task that he had hardly noticed his coming-of-age come and go, he couldn’t help but feel a little envious of Potter. The Boy-Who-Lived stood, surrounded by a crowd of people who loved him and would go out of their way, even in the middle of a war, to celebrate with him.

Damn Potter.

Celebrations were about to begin when a Patronus interrupted to inform them of the impending arrival of the Minister of Magic. Lupin and Tonks departed almost immediately and with a squeak, Mrs. Weasley shooed him into the house and told him to stay upstairs until the Minster was gone. “No one knows you’re here, Draco dear. We don’t want Rufus Scrimgeour of all people to find out,” she patted him on the back before he found himself alone in Charlie’s bedroom once more.

So much for Potter’s perfect birthday party.

Draco flopped onto the bed and watched the sun sink lower in the sky. What in the world did Rufus Scrimgeour want with Potter? Clearly, there was no other reason for him to visit this house. Shadows on the wall grew longer as the meeting downstairs dragged on. He could hear the murmurings of talking from below, but he didn’t feel much like eavesdropping. The meeting with the Order had put him out for now.

Finally, after what felt like forever, Mrs. Weasley was knocking on his door again. “The Minister’s gone, dear. Come along and have some supper with us,” she smiled a half-hearted smile and led him back to the garden.

“What was that all about?” Draco asked as they walked toward the kitchen door.

“Never you mind, Draco. From what I’ve gathered, you’ve had enough trouble.” Mrs. Weasley squeezed his shoulder.

Feeling a little annoyed, Draco sat between Bill and Fred at dinner. Everyone ate rather quickly, and before it could even be called a party in his mind, it was over, and everyone was heading toward bed. Mrs. Weasley shooed everyone inside, reminding them multiple times that they all had to be up early for the final wedding preparations. Draco trudged up the stairs with the rest of the Weasley siblings, Potter, and Hermione. The latter shot him a smile in front of Charlie’s bedroom as she continued up another flight of stairs.

What must have been a couple hours later, Draco woke with a start to find Hermione, once again, perched on his bedside. It seems she had exchanged her pyjamas for…what in Merlin’s name was she wearing? She was dressed in muggle jeans and a white shirt that was delightfully revealing, showing off parts of her shoulders and chest that he wasn’t even sure had existed before this summer.

“Going somewhere, Granger?” he rubbed his eyes and leaned on his elbows.

“Yeah, I thought we could,” she answered, tucking a stray bit of hair behind her ear.

“Are you serious? We? What time is it?” Draco groped around for his watch.

“It’s close to eleven. Everyone’s asleep and I just thought…you deserve to have some fun, don’t you? We do – both of us, together. If that sounds all right with you…” Hermione rambled, her eye contact wavering between his face and her hands.

Draco sat straight up. Feeling bold, he leaned forward and kissed Hermione’s cheek. “Fun sounds nice,” he whispered in her ear and felt her shiver.

“Right then,” Hermione stood, clearly trying to pull herself together. “Get dressed – muggle jeans and a T-shirt. Maybe a jacket. I’ll wait outside.”

As Hermione slipped from the room, Draco obeyed and threw on the requested clothes after digging them out of his bag. Luckily, he had folded them so they weren’t wrinkly. What kind of fun was Hermione talking about? Images of her writhing beneath him with considerably fewer clothes on flashed in his mind, and he tried to drive them away. Surely, that wasn’t what she had planned. They had kissed only once, and he had a feeling Hermione wasn’t the type of girl to be impulsive about those kinds of actions.

When he finished throwing the leather jacket they had found at a vintage shop near Hermione’s house over his shoulders, he stepped into the hallway, making sure to close the door as silently as he could. She was waiting, still looking gorgeous as she leaned against the wall.

“Ready?” she whispered.

Draco nodded and Hermione tapped her wand over his head. She then tapped it over her own. Immediately, her brown curls turned a sandy color.

“You’ve been working on your glamours,” Draco noted as they passed by a mirror in the sitting room. His hair had darkened and turned curly and his eyes a dark blue.

“Yes, well, they’re dead useful. No one will recognize us this way. Come on, then,”

Hermione led them out of the house and into the garden. She waved her wand and transfigured two large rocks into bicycles. “No one will recognize us? Hang on, Granger, where are we going?”

She swung her leg over the bicycle and Draco once again got a fantastic view of her arse. “Into town. We need to de-stress.”

Off she went, sending up dust as she rode down the dirt road. Draco shook his head and began to pedal. He caught up to her easily and they rode side by side into Ottery St. Catchpole. As he watched Hermione’s hair fly behind her, a smile dancing on her lips, the weight of the last few days seemed to float away. No, it was as though they were back in their safe space together, just the two of them. He heard himself laugh as they flew down a hill and his heart swelled.

Hermione pulled ahead of him and pedaled toward a crowded-looking building.

“Come on, let’s go inside.”

“What is this place?” Draco raised his eyebrows. The grey stone building buzzed with voices and flashes of color lit up the windows. A heavy sound pulsed from the inside and Draco thought he recognized it a bit from the muggle radio in Hermione’s room.

“It’s just a pub,” Hermione laughed. “I figured we could use a pint and a bit of dancing.”

Draco wouldn’t be surprised if his eyebrows had disappeared into his hairline.

“Granger, are you suggesting that we get drunk on the eve of the oh-so-important Weasley wedding?”

Hermione chuckled and dismounted her bike. “I’m not suggesting we get completely drunk, but I could do with something to relax me.”

“Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?”

Hermione winked and seized his hand, pulling him into throng of people at the door. It was no secret that Draco was not a fan of crowds, particularly these kinds of crowds. And he didn’t mean muggles. To his own surprise, he found he didn’t mind muggle crowds. He meant loud, rude, drunken crowds of people dancing to…was that considered music?

Hermione ordered them both ales at the counter and passed a pint of amber liquid to him when it arrived. They squeezed their way through the other patrons and found a standing table in the corner. As they sipped their drinks, Draco watched Hermione sway to the music that seemed to reverberate throughout his body. She actually liked this? He was used to music that was a bit more…dignified. These muggles in the pub weren’t really dancing in a way he could identify with. Whereas he had taken proper dancing lessons from a young age, these people looked as though they had never learned their left foot from their right. No, they were just shaking their bodies like imbeciles.

However, watching Hermione, it seemed as though she wanted to be one of those imbeciles. She was drinking her ale at an alarming rate, and her whole body was now bouncing to the beat, which Draco had to admit, was a bit catchy. He looked down to discover his foot was tapping.

Damn.

He took two more gulps of his drink and saw that Hermione had finished hers. Her cheeks were tinted pink and she was gazing at him with a determined look in her eye. Draco felt his heart speed up and his pants tighten.

“Dance with me?” she asked, lifting one eyebrow, her tone of voice suggesting that she was actually flirting with him.

“No thanks, Granger. This music isn’t really my style.”

She pouted for a moment. “Fine, suit yourself.” She fished into her bag and drew out a few bills, slapping them onto the table. “Grab another drink if you like and come find me when you change your mind.” Hermione turned on her heel and danced her way toward the crowd, her hands thrown in the air and her hips swaying back and forth. Within moments, she was engulfed in the throng of bodies bopping to the music. Draco could only make her out by her bushy head. Even with her glamoured appearance, he could pick her out of a crowd in an instant, it seemed.

Draco drained his glass and headed back to the bar. Getting a drink for himself couldn’t be that hard in the muggle world. As he placed his order with the barkeep, he turned back to the dance floor and swept the crowd with his eyes. In a moment, he felt his stomach bottom out. There she was, right where he saw her last, still dancing away. But now a carnivorous-looking man had moved in, hovering predatorially as he danced beside her. Draco’s jaw tensed as he watched the foul beast swoop down on her and place his hands on her waist, and felt the bile rise in his throat when he watched the unbridled joy evaporate from her face in an instant.

Without a backward glance at his ale, Draco stalked toward the middle of the dance floor, his hands balled in fists. He pushed muggles aside, and as he approached he forced himself to remain calm, breathing so forcefully that he could feel his nostrils flaring. Never mind now the pulsating music or the throng of gyrating bodies around him. The moment he was beside her, he slipped himself between Hermione and the parasite.

Hermione snapped around, relief flooding her face the moment they made eye contact. Draco did all he could to send reassurance with his momentary gaze before turning to face the man he had nudged away.

“Oi! What are you playing at, moving in when I was already here?” the man spat.

“You’ll find that I’m not playing, especially since it’s my girlfriend you were practically molesting.” It was all Draco could do to keep his tone even, let alone reach into his pocket for a non-existent wand that could hex boils onto very unpleasant places.

Hermione seemed to understand his thoughts as she reached down to squeeze his hand. Her grip became his rock.

The man sniffed as he looked the two of them up and down, shoving his hands in his pockets. “Whatever,” he mumbled, shuffling away.

When he was out of sight, Draco sighed with relief. Hermione leaned into his arms, wrapping her own around his neck.

“Thank you,” she spoke into his ear. Draco felt her breath tickle his cheek and his chest tightened. He placed his hands on her shoulders and held her at arm’s length. Hermione sighed and shook her head.

“I’m sorry that’s happened to you,” a girl to Hermione’s left said. “Blokes around this place can be awful – even if that’s kind of the point of this pub.”

“I’m sorry, what’s the point of this pub?” Hermione tilted her head in confusion. “Sorry – we’re from out of town.”

“All the singles come here to pick people up. That’s the reputation, anyway.” Draco almost laughed at the surprised expression on Hermione’s face. This girl must have noticed as well, because she began speaking again. “You know, if you’re looking for a nicer spot for a date, I’d recommend the pub down the road. Much more of a friendly atmosphere – and they’ve got live music as well.”

“Really?” Hermione’s smile returned, and Draco could tell she was intrigued. “Is it relaxing? That’s what we really need.”

“Oh yeah,” the girl yelled – the abominable music had increased in volume again and Draco rather thought he was going to have a headache from all this so-called fun. “They’ve got darts and lots of sofas and the music is an Irish band tonight, I think.”

Almost immediately, Hermione’s eyes began to sparkle. “We’ve got to go, Draco! That sounds perfect.”

If it had been up to him, he’d have liked to pack it in and call it a night, but he could feel her buzzing with excitement. “Yeah, all right,” he heard himself saying. Merlin, what was he turning into?

“Thanks!” Hermione called back to the girl on the dance floor as she grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the door. The cool night air kissed them as they emerged onto the street and Draco couldn’t help smiling at the excitement in Hermione’s face. “Let’s take our bikes,” she said, and he was immediately rewarded with another spectacular of her jean-clad arse.

Just like the girl had suggested, another pub with a brighter atmosphere was just up the road. From the moment they walked in, Draco knew he much preferred this place. The pub was packed, but not to an absurd degree. A band lined the side wall, the twangs of an Irish tune filling the room. Some folks were dancing along in the middle while others admired from comfy-looking sofas and armchairs scattered around the place.

“What can I get for ye?” a woman from the bar called.

“A pint each of whatever ale you suggest, please,” Hermione answered as she began to clap along. Draco could feel her relaxing from the moment they stepped in. “Now this is what I meant by a pint and a bit of dancing, honestly.”

“This seems like it’s a bit more your speed,” Draco responded.

“Yeah. Sorry about that last place. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.” Draco blanched as Hermione’s lovely face turned red. How could she possibly be apologizing?

“Hermione, you have no reason to be sorry. It’s that awful bloke who should be apologizing. Now come on, let’s grab our drinks and sit.”

Hermione nodded and gave a slightly watery smile as the barkeep returned with their pints.

“You’ve snagged yourself a handsome one, lass,” the barkeep said with a wink.

“I have, haven’t I?” Hermione shot him the loveliest of smiles and Draco felt his heart flutter. “It’s our first date, you know,” she said as she took the ales in hand.

“Your first date, eh? Well then drinks are on the house. Have a lovely time, you two!”

Hermione beamed and said her thanks before leading Draco over to an empty sofa across from the band. Draco drank in the sights around him and found himself smiling. He could hardly believe where he found himself at present – could hardly believe he was spending time in a muggle pub surrounded by actual muggles and sitting next to the most beautiful witch he had ever seen, who happened to be a muggleborn. And better yet, he actually felt happiness, even if he knew it was fleeting. Tomorrow would come with its troubles, but for now, he only knew joy. The band finished playing a number and everyone stopped talking to clap.

“So this is our first date?” Draco smirked.

“I’d say so, wouldn’t you?” Hermione took a gulp of her ale and then squealed as the band started up again. “Ooh! I love this song. I took Irish dancing lessons when I was little, you know. We danced to this song at recitals a few times. I think I may still remember the steps…”

“I didn’t ever picture you a dancer, Granger.” Draco sipped his own drink. “Show me, won’t you?” He lifted a single eyebrow as she once again downed her drink.

“You know, I think I will.”

Draco’s eyebrows shot up as Hermione stood and walked to the center of the room. She was definitely drunk off of one and a half pints. Gods, this woman and her Gryffindor boldness…

And then she started to dance. Her hair flew behind her as she tapped and kicked in time with the music, a few others joining her. Draco tapped his foot in time to the beat, a warmth blooming in his chest as he watched the joy etched in her face with every step she took. As she whirled around, she tossed him a most out-of-character wink and couldn’t help it – a grin split his face ear to ear. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt so joyful…so relaxed. It was as though Hermione knew exactly what he needed. With all the pain and secrecy surrounding this war, a bit of time surrounded by all these blissfully oblivious muggles was pure delight. And to see his Hermione this happy, if even for a few moments? Heaven.

His Hermione. For the second time that day, he wondered how he had ever overlooked this beautiful witch.

The song ended and Hermione walked back over, a bit breathless, and took a long drink from her glass. Even flushed and a bit sweaty, she was marvelous – so very real and soft looking. Another song began and this time, a larger crowd flooded the dance floor to twirl about.

“Care to dance with me, Granger?” he asked, standing up.

Hermione flushed and nodded. Draco extended his hand and they began to – and Draco couldn’t believe he was actually doing this willingly – skip about. Hermione intertwined her arm with his and she began to turn them in circles. As the tempo of the fiddle and tin whistle began to pick up, they twirled faster, Draco’s arm planted firmly around her waist. Hermione was still flushed, a great grin spread from ear to ear on her gorgeous face.

Their bodies were so close, and he could feel the pressure of her fingers on his back, her soft breasts pressed to his chest. It was all he could do to stop himself from shoving this woman against a wall and kissing her until she forgot her own name. But no…surely she wanted to just dance and have a good time.

That’s what he thought, of course, until the song ended and Hermione looked up at him. Her eyes were like melted chocolate, smooth and luscious.

They were also full of lust.

He had been so focused on not wanting to push her that he just now began noticing how she was arching into him, her hand grasping at the fabric on the back of his jacket.

“Draco,” she whispered. “I think I’m ready to go someplace a bit quieter if you like.”

The hair on his neck stood up and he immediately grabbed her hand with a growl.

The moment they were back outside, Hermione grabbed the lapels of Draco’s jacket and dragged him into the alley beside the pub. He didn’t have a moment to even get a word in before her lips were on his and he found himself the one being pushed up against a wall.

Her lips were perfect in their size…their shape…their warmth. Draco closed his eyes in bliss as Hermione nudged his legs apart to stand between them, her hands resting on his chest. Kissing her wasn’t like kissing any other girl. Sure, kissing other girls had felt nice, but no other girl had made his heart pound and his stomach flip like this. Hermione moaned as he detached himself from her mouth and began attacking her neck. She tilted her head back for easier access and Draco took the moment to flip them around so Hermione was now pinned deliciously to the bricks.

She seemed to have lost all inhibition and Draco felt himself becoming lost in her beauty. The little moans she breathed into his ear as she dragged her fingers through his hair would surely be burned into his memory. She smelled like some kind of enchanting flower and he drank in her scent as his lips returned to recapture her mouth.

Hermione moaned again and Draco felt himself harden. These muggle pants were not ideal for this situation and if Granger continued to wriggle in his grasp much longer, he wasn’t sure he was going to last.

And then, without warning, her hips bucked against his and she gave an audible gasp. Her thigh had brushed his erection. Draco hissed with pleasure and felt his own hips move involuntarily. Draco opened his eyes to find Hermione blinking up at him. Oh bollocks, he’d just gone and messed this all up. Surely she’d pull away and turn purple and run away. He cursed internally. He doubted whether Hermione had never done this sort of thing and they’d only just kissed for the first time this morning in a broom cupboard. He’d just royally screwed up, hadn’t he?

But Hermione didn’t pull away, turn purple, or run away. Instead, her eyes blazed as she grabbed hold of his right hand and brought it up to her left breast, leaving it there.

Sweet Merlin. If his pants weren’t tight before, they were now. Taking his cue from her, he quickly brought up his other hand to her right breast and squeezed gently. Hermione moaned again and he knew at that exact moment that he was a goner.

“So fucking perfect,” he mumbled just before he kissed her again.

Suddenly, a loud wolf whistle interrupted what was turning out to be one of the best moments of Draco’s life. He looked to his right to see a group of young men and women cheering them on as they exited the pub.

Only then did Hermione turn purple. Draco grinned wolfishly.

“Come on. Let’s get back to The Burrow,” he suggested, tugging Hermione past the crowd of onlookers toward their bicycles.

The ride back to The Burrow was quiet. Draco’s mind was racing too quickly to focus on the path ahead of him. He followed just behind her, and the lights of Ottery St. Catchpole grew dimmer as they reached the countryside where The Burrow was tucked away. On the edge of the property, Hermione suddenly hopped off her bike and leaned it onto a large oak tree. Draco did the same, his eyes trained on his woman as he moved. With a flick of her wand, her hair was restored to a beautiful chestnut brown, the glamour removed. Another, and he assumed he had returned to normal as well. She stared back without so much as a blink. The warm summer air suddenly seemed thick and heavy with anticipation.

“It seems, Miss Granger,” Draco whispered, “that you want something. Is that right?”

“Quite so.”

And she smirked. She goddamn smirked and Draco lost it. He crossed the four feet that separated them and covered her lips with his own once more. The fire that had filled his veins in the pub alley doubled as his knees shook with the effort it took to stay on his feet. Draco’s hands returned to Hermione’s breasts and her moans returned in full form. He began to walk them backwards toward the oak tree, shoving the bicycles out of the way with his feet.

The moment he felt Hermione’s back hit the tree, she wrapped a leg around his waist and he grunted. Her center was pressed against his own and pressure began to coil. He wanted – no, he needed – to feel more, and reached behind Hermione to grab that lovely arse he had stared at so often. Her reaction was instantaneous, and her other leg immediately wrapped around him, lifting her into the air and pushing their bodies flush against each other.

Pure rapture.

Draco attacked her throat once more and Hermione let out a sound that he was positive no other man had ever heard her make. That thought only acted as a catalyst, sending his hips pistoning forward into an exquisite friction near the apex of her thighs. Oh gods, if they didn’t stop soon…

And then her hips drove forward to meet his and Draco scrunched his eyes as he saw stars, the coil that had been growing tighter and tighter suddenly releasing. He must have made some sort of sound, because Hermione was looking at him with light worry on her face, her eyebrows knitted together in concern.

Oh dear Merlin. He’d cum in his pants like a bloody fourteen-year-old. Now it was his turn to go purple in the face.

“Is everything all right, Draco? Did you just…?” Her question seemed to trail off as though she already knew the answer. And he didn’t know if his vocal chords would start working again to answer her. So instead, he let out a half-cough and let Hermione back onto her feet before turning around.

“May I…?” Oh gods, how was he to do this? “May I borrow your wand? I need to…erm…clean up.”

The dreaded silence that followed was the longest of his life. And then…giggles? He glanced over his shoulder to see Hermione doubled over, hands on her knees and her face alight with a laugh so deep there were tears in her eyes.

“Oi! It’s not funny!” he cried as he became ever more aware of the stickiness at the front of his legs.

“I think you’ll find that it is,” Hermione chuckled, reaching for her wand and pointing it at his groin. Draco flinched before she cast Scourgify. He immediately felt the mess clear up. “Come on, Draco. It’s time we go to bed. Tomorrow’s going to be a long day.”

Hermione transfigured the bicycles back into rocks and grabbed Draco’s hand, lacing their fingers together. She squeezed. He squeezed back. At the top of the stairs near his room, Hermione gave him a chaste kiss on the lips and whispered in his ear, “Thanks for tonight, Draco.”

She turned to leave, but something about the way her hand felt in his made him hold on. He didn’t want to lose her warmth. He didn’t want to be alone, didn’t want thoughts of the war and his parents to come flooding in once more.

Hermione turned back, a question lingering in her eyes.

“Stay,” he whispered.

And she did.

Chapter Text

Morning light filtered in through the open window, bringing the sweet smell of summer air all around a sleeping figure curled in the sheets. Breathing in deeply, Draco floated into a blurry awareness. He wasn’t sure why, but he had woken up with a smile on his face. Somehow, soft lips and wild curls came to mind. It had been such a nice dream…

Draco’s eyes flew wide open. It hadn’t been a dream. Hermione had really kissed him yesterday – twice! They had gone dancing and she had been wearing those deliciously tight muggle jeans and she…she…

She had made him cum in his pants. And she had cleaned it herself. Oh gods…

Draco stared straight up, willing himself not to look beside him. Hermione had willingly slept beside him last night, her soft curves pressed against him as he had drifted off into the best sleep he had gotten in months.

Gritting his teeth, he chanced a glance to his right, hoping against all hope that Hermione was still fast asleep.

Instead of a sleeping girl, he found the other side of his bed to be quite empty, the covers thrown off. She must have left already. The warmth that had enveloped him as they slept had gone, the sheets now distinctly cool. Disappointment pooled in stomach. Embarrassment or not, he had been hoping for a good morning snog.

There was a knock at the door and Draco jumped to a sitting position. He scrambled to flip the covers so they looked undisturbed. The last thing he needed was some Weasley yelling at him for sleeping with the Golden Girl, even if all they did was sleep. Sort of.

“Come in,” he called.

Hermione’s face appeared in the doorway and she slipped into the bedroom. Draco breathed a sigh of relief. Not a Weasley. Hermione had clearly woken up early to shower and get ready for the wedding. Her hair was piled atop her head in a messy knot and she had a tasteful amount of makeup applied to her face. The scant muggle attire from the night before had been traded for a fluffy blue dressing gown.

“Good morning,” he offered, stretching his arms skyward.

“Good morning. Have a nice sleep? I know how much energy you spent late last night.” She smirked knowingly and he returned in kind.

“Fantastic sleep, actually. Got a bit chilly at the very end, but the rest of the night was perfect.” Hermione’s cheeks turned rosy with pleasure; she crinkled her nose and eyes as her smirk turned to a genuine smile. She was so adorable in that moment, he could have kissed her silly. The look in her eyes told him that she may have been thinking along similar lines. As tempting as that seemed, with everyone running around, someone was more than likely to come bursting in. Probably not a great idea, then.

“So what brings you back to my bedside so early, Miss Granger?”

Hermione cleared her throat and gave a soft, “Oh!” as if she’d forgotten something. “That’s right. I came in here because I have a present for you.”

Draco swung his legs out over the side of the bed and leaned back, placing most of his weight on his arms. “A present? You gave me a lovely present last night, Hermione.” He waggled his eyebrows for extra effect. Hermione’s cheeks turned a deeper pink.

“Well yes, I suppose I did.” Tucking a flyaway strand behind her ear, she glanced coyly up at him. “But I know we can do better, especially if you’re a little more…patient.”

Draco felt heat flood his face and the rest of his body, rushing to his groin. He wasn’t sure if Hermione was trying to start something this morning; hadn’t he just been worried that with the house bustling, the risk of a Weasley walking in on them was high? But then again, they could prove to be extra distracted…

Draco crossed his legs in an attempt to hide his burgeoning erection.

Hermione’s eyes followed the movement of his lower half and chuckled. “As much as I would love to right now, this is different. Better, perhaps.”

“Better than sex? I doubt that,” Draco chuckled. She stuck her tongue out at him. That seemed to be one of her favorite actions. He could certainly think of other things he’d love to do with her pretty pink tongue.

Shaking her head, Hermione surged forward to sit beside him. Draco felt the fuzzy bathrobe brush against his arm and had to resist leaning in for a cuddle. There was a moment where it seemed their light-hearted flirting might continue, but when Hermione shifted her body to face him, her expression was somber. Draco managed to adjust the sudden shift in mood, tilting his head in anticipation.

Hermione swallowed. “I…I wanted to come up with a way for us to always be able to communicate. Even if we – even if I’m not with you.”

Draco nodded along with hesitation, sure that the other shoe was about to drop. When the girl beside him said nothing, he took a breath and attempted to fill the tense air between them.

“Is there a particular reason you wouldn’t be with me? Aren’t I your ward? McGonagall’s orders and all that.”

“It’s…it’s complicated.” Hermione fidgeted, keeping her eyes trained downward.

Draco leaned forward, moving his arms so his elbows rested on his thighs. From this vantage point, he could see Hermione’s lovely face, no longer hidden behind a curtain of curls. He watched as she licked her lips, scrunching her expression. “I guess I can understand if certain things are…confidential. But can you at least give me a bare bones explanation?”

She shifted, still not looking up. Draco watched her shoulders move up and down as she took deep breaths. The sweet summer air in the bedroom had grown heavy, and Draco felt his own breathing becoming labored. Silence hung around them for several long moments, and when Hermione began to speak, the words came tumbling out of her mouth in a hurry.

“Harry, Ron, and I are going to be leaving soon. I’m not sure when we will be coming back, or even when we’ll be in contact with anyone again. We’ve got something to do, and I can’t elaborate more than that, so please don’t ask me to."

Anguish radiated from her as she spoke; it became especially apparent in her last words as she practically begged him not to question her. Draco bit his tongue to prevent himself from responding too soon. Hermione’s words swirled in his head as her voice faded.

Leaving soon…not sure when we will be coming back…can’t elaborate…

Draco’s stomach bottomed out. He had been afraid of this. All of the whispering that Potter, Weasley, and Hermione had been doing behind closed doors; all of the knowing glances; all of the secrets kept.... As the silence following her words grew, his attitude soured, his jaw tightening. Negative thoughts began to swirl around his head, the poison from these ideas filtering through his body to his clenched fists.

Of course she was leaving him. Why would she stay? She was the golden boy’s sidekick and of course she would choose to stick by him rather than hang behind with poor, sad, branded Draco Malfoy. Of course.

But what really irked him more than her impending departure – which, when he thought about it, wasn’t all that surprising – was her unwillingness to tell him anything. After she had poured her heart out to him on multiple occasions…after he had shown her his vulnerable side…after they had been so physically close…not even a hint? Didn’t she trust him? Was he even worthy of trust in her eyes? Draco’s jaw tensed further as darkness encroached on his entire being.

Hermione took another breath and looked up at him, her eyes swimming with unshed tears. The sour feeling in his stomach immediately dissipated and was instead replaced with shame. He was such an arsehole for making this about him. Sure, it was partially about him, but she wasn’t his. She wasn’t his girlfriend. Was she? A teardrop spilled from her eye and onto the back of her hand. She was crying over this? Perhaps – he dared to hope – over him?

Hermione reached out and grabbed his right hand, bringing it up to her lips. “I’m going to have to leave you here with the Weasleys. I know they’re not your favorite family, but please, give them a chance. I wish I could stay, but I just…I can’t. It’ll be harder than I care to admit. I…I’m going to miss you, Draco,” she whispered as her lips grazed his palm.

Draco shivered. He tried to find the words to say something…anything…even a poorly timed joke about how cumming in his pants was surely better than this. Anything to relieve the tension. But the words couldn’t form, so he just stayed silent.

“I need you to stay here and stay safe. That won’t be possible if you come with us.”

Draco found himself nodding along in agreement, though the action felt hollow.

 A short breath. A swallow. More silence.

Draco grimaced, trying to push the conversation forward. “You said something about a present?”

Hermione sat up and smiled. “Right, yes.” She reached into her beaded bag and pulled from it a chestnut-coloured, leather bound book, placing it in his hands. Draco snorted.

“Only you would give a book as a farewell present to someone you just snogged yesterday.” Draco cracked a smile and Hermione elbowed him lightly in the ribs.

“It’s a special journal that I’ve enchanted,” Hermione explained. “I have an identical version – a twin to this one, if you will.” She gestured to her beaded bag. “Whenever we want to contact each other, we can use a password of our choosing to unlock the contents of the journal.”

Hermione paused, raising her eyebrows higher above her soft chocolate gaze as if confirming that he was listening. He nodded hastily, urging her to continue. “I’ve also cast a modified Confundus charm so that if anyone else looks at it without our permission, all they’ll see are potions notes. This way we’ll be able to write to each other without fear of prying eyes.”

She paused again, placing the journal into his hands. “Well…what do you think? You will write, won’t you?”

Draco flipped through the empty pages and snapped the book shut. “It’s brilliant. You’re brilliant, Hermione. Of course I’ll write. Every day, if you like.”

Hermione laughed. “That’s what Ron and Harry used to promise me during the summers. Never came to pass. As long as you write regularly, it’ll be fine.”

“And what would you like me to write? Sappy love poems?"

“Anything you want to tell me is fine. Just don’t write something stupid like Ginny wrote to Harry during second year.”

Draco smirked. “Oh, gods. I remember that. Took the mickey out of Potter for it. What did she write, again?”

“I don’t think Harry or Ginny would be terribly pleased if I reminded you of the specifics,” she shot him a reproachful look. “But I do recall that she compared his eyes to a pickled frog.”

“Toad.”

“What?”

“His eyes are as green as a fresh pickled toad…” he began in a sing-songy voice, mischief glinting is his eyes.

“Draco!” Hermione covered Draco’s mouth with her hand, panic in her eyes. “Don’t you dare let those two catch you singing that song. You know how Ginny is with her bat bogey hex.”

Draco put his hands up in surrender. “All right, you win. I won’t mess with the lovebirds. But seriously,” he said, holding up the journal, “this is incredible. A real clever bit of magic. I won’t waste it.”

He looked back up at her, a grin spread on his face. She returned a smile. Draco felt the previous tension melt away, his eyes still glued to hers.

“I have one more present for you.”

From her bathrobe pocket she withdrew his hawthorn wand. Draco looked from it to Hermione’s face and back again, his mouth agape. She took hold of his free hand and placed the wand it in his palm, closing his fingers around it with her other hand.

The familiar, smooth weight of his wand was immediately comforting. Channeled magic coursed through his veins, pulsing and bringing him life. Draco felt a sense of wholeness, as though a missing part of his arm had returned to his body. In all honestly, he had assumed that he may never see his wand again. At least until the war was over. He had accepted his fate, that he may live for years in a wandless state. To have it in his grasp again seemed a miracle. Hermione had given that miracle to him. He felt like a wizard again.

She did trust him. She trusted him without question.

Draco’s heart swelled.

He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Hermione, holding onto her as though she was his rock. He searched for the words to express the weight of his emotions. Yet, for all he was feeling, all he could choke out was a short and weak, “Thank you.”

Hermione’s hands reached up to cup his face lovingly. Her motions brought their eyes merely inches apart, on perfect level with each other. She leaned forward, resting her forehead against his own. Her chocolate eyes gazed into his and for a moment it seemed as though he could see into her very soul.

“Thank you,” he repeated, his voice fuller this time.

Though he couldn’t see the rest of her face, Draco saw her eyes crinkle and knew she must be smiling. Setting the wand at his side, he leaned forward and closed what was left of the tiny gap between them, his lips meeting hers in a kiss. This kiss wasn’t desperate, anxious, or tentative, but instead sweet and slow and full of so much Draco wasn’t even sure he could articulate. Her lips felt soft against his own and the way they moved made him feel as though he could fall to his knees with want and affection. He wished there was no wedding to prepare for – no time when they would have to part – no war going on just so they could remain like this forever.

“Hem! Hem!” 

Draco cursed loudly as someone cleared their throat; they sprang apart and whipped around. Draco discreetly stuffed his wand under the pillow. Standing in the doorway were Fred and George Weasley in their pyjamas. Each twin leaned against a side of the doorpost, eyebrows raised and identical smug grins painting their faces.

“Well, Freddie, what have we here?”

“It appears as though our lovely Miss Granger was snogging the ferret, dear brother,”

“Tut tut. So naughty, wouldn’t you say?”

“Indeed. And on the morning of the big wedding when they should be helping out? Our poor mother would be scandalized, wouldn’t she?”

“Oh, shut it, you two,” Hermione snapped, standing up. Draco scowled at the twins.

“I was under the impression you fancied our dear ickle Ronnekins,” George said, crossing his arms.

Draco watched with interest as Hermione shifted awkwardly. This was something that had crossed his mind more than once. He knew that at some point she clearly had feelings for the Weasel, but the thought of her holding onto those feelings made him want to crush something with his bare hands. As he watched her mind whir, he began to feel a little nauseous.

Hermione looked back at him, reassurance in her expression.

“That may have been true at one point, but it’s not anymore. I have eyes for someone else now,” Hermione beamed at him, and he forgot to breathe for a moment. She brought her gaze back to the twins. “And I would appreciate it if you didn’t go around telling everyone that I’m seeing Draco. You can imagine how…difficult that might get.”

The twins shrugged.

“We may not get it,” said Fred.

“But we’ll try to trust you, Hermione,” finished George.

“We might not fully like the ferret,”

“But you’re good in our book.”

“Thanks,” Hermione replied. “Now if the three of you will excuse me, I have to go help Fleur get ready.” Without another word she swept from the room.

Draco gave a curt nod to the twins. They folded their arms, their expressions solemn.

“We promise not to say anything, Malfoy,” said George, “but if you hurt Hermione, we’ve got some particularly nasty products in development that we’d love to slip you.”

“I’d watch your pumpkin juice if I were you.”

Draco blanched.

“She’s too good for you. Hell, she’s too good for any bloke.”

“Yeah, I know.” Draco sighed and watched as the Weasley twins left, standing and closing the door behind him. The moment they were gone, he collapsed back onto his bed, journal in one hand, his wand clutched in the other. He replayed Hermione’s words over and over in his head.

“I have eyes for someone else now.”

Draco flipped over onto his stomach and grinned into his pillow.


 

The wedding ceremony came and went in a pleasant fashion. Fleur made for the loveliest of brides, and Hermione sighed sweetly at Bill when he caught sight of her floating down the aisle like a goddess. Everyone beamed and a good number of people had tears in their eyes – especially, to no one’s surprise, Mrs. Weasley. Even Draco seemed to watch with interest; Hermione had observed the smallest of smiles tugging at his lips during the ceremony.

Hermione had been quite surprised to see Viktor at the wedding. They had always been on good terms, so his presence didn’t bother her in the slightest. In fact, she was rather excited to see him after such a long while. He had been her first kiss and well…he held a special place in her heart because of it. Viktor’s presence did, however, seem to bother Ron and Draco. Ron had turned his usual shade of red and spouted some rude words. Draco had worn the signature Malfoy scowl, which was unmistakable despite the Polyjuice potion he had taken. Seeing a curly, redheaded Draco gave Hermione a mild fit of the giggles. Those giggles only worsened when the scowl turned especially sour after her exaggerated reaction to Viktor’s arrival.

Other than the Ron’s and Draco’s attitudes, the day had been rather idyllic. It was a lovely escape from the war happening around them.

Yes, this wedding was nearly perfect, but the truly perfect escape had happened the night before. Draco in a leather jacket dancing with her at the pub…Draco riding a bike with a grin on his face…Draco kissing her neck with his supple lips, his hips pushing against hers…

Hermione’s cheeks turned pink as memories of the night before rushed back.

She glanced over at Draco – cousin Sam Weasley at the moment – and smiled. He picked at food on his plate from his place across the round table where they were seated with the Lovegoods. As she took a bite of her supper, the desire to kiss him again bubbled inside her, threatening to surface. That being said, she wasn’t sure how she felt about kissing cousin Sam. Perhaps later tonight when the Polyjuice wore off…

Hermione was so lost in thoughts of Draco’s lips that she became quite flustered when Viktor took a seat at the table out of the blue. Even though she was no longer a dewy-eyed fourteen-year-old, his presence still seemed to affect her like she was. From the moment the Quidditch star sat down, both Ron and Draco looked like they wanted to strangle something. Hermione tried to shoot a reassuring look at Draco, but her attempt was interrupted by an unexpected invitation.

“Come and dance,” Ron said suddenly.

“Oh. Oh!” Hermione blinked as she processed the request. It took a moment for her brain to catch up with the rest of her senses. Smiling affectionately, she took the hand Ron offered, her mind still a bit jumbled from the abrupt offer. She could feel Draco’s eyes trained on her as Ron led her to the dance floor. Mere weeks ago, the feel of her hand in Ron’s and his invitation to dance would have thrilled her from top to bottom. Granted, it was still a sweet and comforting feeling to be there with him as he grabbed hold of her waist. He was feigning confidence so well – Hermione could tell he was trying to project boldness, but she still saw the hesitancy in his eyes.

“Oh, Ron,” she sighed and laughed, giving his hand a squeeze as they began to dance. He shot a grin back at her.

Dancing with Ron was perfectly lovely. He was doing his best not to step on her toes, and he grinned from ear to ear as they danced song after song. But where her heart had once leapt at that smile, she only felt a contented feeling in her chest – one that she associated strongly with Harry.

During one particular jig, the tempo and melody reminded her so strongly of the night before that if she closed her eyes, she could practically imagine herself back at the pub, dancing in Draco’s arms rather than Ron’s. Now that she had danced with both young men, she knew which one made her heart pound and her skin tingle with anticipation.

No, that butterfly feeling for Ron is gone, she thought as she caught Draco’s eye. Fairies fluttered in her stomach as grey met brown. He continued to stare at her, and he wore an odd expression. Hermione would have thought that expression would be filled with jealousy or hunger or even anger. But his face played out something far deeper– something that made Hermione’s breath catch in her throat as Ron twirled her around.

Love.

She knew that look – she had seen it in movies, had seen it between her parents, and had even seen a glimpse of it between Harry and Ginny. Draco watched her unblinkingly, his lips slightly parted and his eyes so soft they were almost unrecognizable – like she could melt into them. In his expression she could see affection and admiration and so much more that she knew he might not be able to express with words. But she saw it. Love. It was unmistakable.

She had to speak to Draco. A funny feeling had taken hold in the pit of her stomach; it gnawed away at her with a sense of urgency, telling her that if she didn’t seek him out immediately, the opportunity might slip from her fingers.

“Ron,” Hermione interjected as they waltzed, her eyes returning to her best friend’s blue ones, “I’m sure you’re expected to dance with some family members tonight. Am I right?”

Ron winced, and she took the out. “I’m going to grab some fresh air. See you in a bit, all right?”

Ron looked briefly disappointed at the interruption of their dance, but he nodded and gave her hand a squeeze before disappearing into the crowd. Hermione turned to find Draco still watching her. His red curls had started to return to their usual silvery blonde, but he was so fixated on her that he hardly seemed to have noticed. With a flick of her head, she gestured toward the outside of the tent. Draco seemed to understand; he stood and walked toward the exit as well, his eyes never leaving her.

It was to Draco’s advantage that the party was in full swing, because by the time he poked his head into the night air, his hair had turned noticeably blonder. Only lingering outside the tent long enough to ensure he had seen her, Hermione smiled over her shoulder and motioned for him to follow her before walking into the night. Away from the hustle and bustle of the reception they crept, making their way beyond the orchard and into a secluded part of the Weasley property littered with old trees. She moved just out of his reach, ducking under stray branches, beckoning him forward in their little game of cat and mouse. Draco followed her, a grin painted on his face and a growl on his lips whenever she would evade his touch by mere inches. The closer he got, the more her stomach swooped.

Back and forth Hermione weaved through the trees, her laugh echoing through the warm summer air as Draco pursued her. Their game continued as they moved deeper into the woods, anticipation building in every muscle each time she caught his eye. He was clearly determined to catch her, but not so determined that he would stop allowing her to tease him. Confidence bloomed inside her; she had the power to make Draco Malfoy follow her into the unknown with a mere glance.

The next time she turned around to flash a grin at him, she found herself face-to-face – or rather, face-to-chest – with Draco, their bodies separated by no more than a foot. For some reason, despite being in close contact with him so many times, Hermione found herself trembling at his proximity. Swallowing, she looked up to find Draco’s eyes boring into hers, his pupils dancing. The expression he wore matched what she had seen earlier in the tent. 

Love.

His right arm reached out and wrapped around Hermione’s waist, pulling them gently together. She braced herself against his chest, her eyes never leaving his. Hermione could practically see his mind whirring, trying to find the right words to say in a moment like this. Despite baring his soul to her previously, she had a feeling that the words he was searching for carried a high risk. She knew Draco Malfoy to be self-preserving, so this attempt at emotional vulnerability would surely fill him to the brim with stress.

Hermione Granger knew his heart. He may not be able to say all that he meant, but his eyes said it all.

So instead of waiting for him, she reached up and held his face in her hands.

Draco quivered under her touch.

“I know,” she whispered. “What you feel…I feel it too.”

Draco’s eyebrows rose a millimeter, his mouth opening slightly. Without a word, he removed her hands from his face, planting a feather-light kiss on each of her palms.

Slowly, he began to back them up, his eyes fixed solely on her. Hermione wasn’t sure where they were headed, but in that moment, all that seemed to matter was not blinking – not tearing her eyes away from Draco’s. His eyes, normally so cool and calculating were filled with warmth and adoration.

With a soft thump, her back hit a rather large willow tree and Draco only hesitated a moment before bending down and pressing his soft lips against hers. It was absolute heaven, and Hermione felt the herself falling to pieces with each little nip at her mouth. He swept her up in his arms and consumed her as their bodies crushed together; there was hardly an inch of her that couldn’t feel him. Everything surrounding her was Draco – his scent, his touch, his taste…she couldn’t get enough. Draco, Draco, Draco.  

And then their hands were everywhere in a frenzy – his rubbing against her breasts and hers on his beautifully sculpted arse. His torso now pressed deliciously close to hers. While she was sure Draco was enjoying the rather thin fabric of her dress, his dress robes were rather cumbersome, leaving practically everything to the imagination.

That simply wouldn’t do.

As Draco pressed even closer, a moan escaped his mouth. Instead of returning the pleasurable noise, Hermione found herself growling with frustration, her hands moving to the buttons on Draco’s outer robes. She had to get closer – to get better access. She had to feel him the same way he could feel her.

Draco broke their kiss only for a moment as she fumbled with his buttons. When her fingers slipped, he gave a little chuckle as his lips reconnected with her pouting mouth. He gently removed her hands, undoing the buttons himself.

In no time at all, the offending garment fell to the ground in a heap, leaving him in a button down and trousers. Hermione’s hands immediately returned to their place on his arse. Her pulse increased considerably when she realized just how much of him she could now feel. His chest was taut and masculine and felt absolutely incredible pushed against her breasts. And his arse…without robes blocking her, she felt its perfect shape for the first time.

Draco’s hands trailed down until they rested on her hips, drawing their entire bodies flush against each other. Hermione found herself completely lost in a swirl of lips and caresses. Deft fingers worked button by blasted button on his dress shirt, peeling it from his chest and shoulders and bringing them even closer. She could feel Draco’s arousal through his trousers, and she reached down to palm him over the fabric.

“Hermione,” he groaned, biting her lip as he pulled away. Hermione gasped at the loss of contact, her eyes closing.

Though she treaded in unfamiliar territory, the feeling of Draco’s eyes on her gave her confidence.

Wordlessly, she drew her wand from a holster on her thigh – Draco’s eyebrows shot skyward – and cast a Notice-Me-Not charm on the surrounding space followed by a cushioning charm on the tree behind her. Not breaking eye contact, Hermione placed her wand gently at her feet beside her beaded bag. When she stood up straight once more, she took a deep breath and reached behind to her back to find her dress zipper.

Draco took a step forward as the zipper reached her hips. His eyes were full of questions, but Hermione’s nod gave him all the answers he needed. With careful hands, he took the capped sleeves of her summery dress and lowered them down her arms. The dress slipped off smoothly, pooling at her feet. Hermione stepped out of the garment, reaching behind herself once more to undo her bra.

Hermione watched in nervous anticipation as Draco drank in her near-naked form. His eyes seemed to trace her whole body from her toes upward. He paused for a long while at her breasts and Hermione fought the urge to cover up.

“You are so bloody gorgeous,” Draco said, reaching out to place his hand gently on her bare breast. His touch was so light; his fingers grazed her nipple. “So soft…it’s like silk.” Hermione hummed involuntarily and leaned into the touch so that his whole palm would engulf her. Waves of desire crashed over her and she wanted to reach out and touch the gorgeous man who stood before her.

“I…I want to see you,” she murmured to him, pulling on his buckle. Draco smiled lightly and had his trousers off in moments, pulling his shorts down as well. Hermione had never seen a man naked before, save for a diagram in a book her mother had given her when she was fourteen that she had dismissed as utterly embarrassing. But now, standing before Draco and soaking in his form, she didn’t feel embarrassed at all.

Draco Malfoy was a work of beauty and she wanted nothing more than to feel every inch of him.

Trying not to think too much, Hermione pulled her own knickers down and kicked them away.

The two teenagers stood facing each other, the air between them thick with anticipation.

“Draco, I – ” Hermione tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out.

“I know,” he said, smirking. “What you feel – I feel it, too.”

He was repeating her own words back to her. Hermione chuckled as she looked at the man standing before her, but the laughter immediately died when she saw the intensity of his gaze return, a blaze in his silver eyes. The look sent a thrill straight through her and she could practically feel her core pulsing. There was only one way she wanted this to end, and as the Gryffindor, she knew she had to be the one to take the chance. Taking a breath, she stepped toward him.

“I want you, Draco Malfoy.”

A pregnant pause passed, the atmosphere pulsating with magic, and then Draco was all over her, his arms encircling her waist and his pelvis grinding against hers. They both moaned with pleasure as Draco walked her backward toward the tree once again. His hands traveled down and cupped her sex lovingly. Hermione whimpered at the contact, her hips jerking forward automatically.

“So wet…so ready,” Draco murmured as he suckled on her neck.

“Please,” she cried as the pressure from his hand increased.

“Have you ever…?” he pulled back momentarily, his eyes searching hers.

“No. You?” she asked, hoping the uncertainty in her voice wasn’t showing. Draco shook his head. Hermione couldn’t help the grin that spread on her face at those words. She wrapped her arms around his neck, dragging his body against hers. “Be my first, won’t you?”

Draco leaned down and touched his lips to hers. “Only if you’ll be mine,” he whispered, leaning their foreheads together. If there had been any lingering impression that Draco Malfoy was nothing but a cruel, inhumane boy, those thoughts disappeared permanently with those words. Left in his place was just Draco, whose thoughtful, vulnerable, and witty nature stole her heart and made her body quiver.

They met once again, lips and limbs tangling together. Hermione broke the kiss, if only for a moment, to watch the silver in his eyes disappear as they dilated with lust. Heat pooled between her thighs, and her hips gave an involuntary thrust. Immediately, Draco attacked her once more and hoisted her legs around his waist. The tip of his cock bobbed against her entrance

Hermione nodded and swallowed as Draco searched her eyes one last time.

“Yes,” she murmured in the moment before he pushed into her. The sensation of him filling her was overwhelming, and she felt herself stretch. It was an odd feeling – not necessarily completely pleasurable, but somehow delicious and incredibly intimate. Draco, on the other hand, had his eyes closed, his mouth hanging open in pleasure.

With great effort, it seemed, he opened his eyes and managed to ask, “OK?”

Hermione moved hand from his shoulder to his face. “Please, Draco. Move.”

He withdrew almost completely and then filled her again. This time, the pleasure began to build and they both groaned. The noise seemed to encourage Draco, who began to pump in and out at a steady pace. His face was twisted with pleasure and Hermione felt heat rush through her whole body as she watched him disappear into her again and again. This feeling of wholeness…of completeness…this is what intimacy was supposed to feel like – she just knew. Her lips found his and any sort of disconnect that had ever existed between them melted away. All that mattered was the mounting pleasure in her abdomen.

The friction at their connection point was delicious, and Hermione’s lower stomach began to tighten like rope pulled taut. Draco continued to thrust, his movements becoming wilder by the second. He was panting, and when Hermione readjusted her grip on his back, she found it to be covered in a thin layer of sweat.

“Her…mione…I think…I’m gonna – ”

His thrusts grew erratic and frantic and the friction between her legs heightened until the rope inside her snapped. She felt herself contracting around Draco’s cock as he continued to pump into her, and she moaned and closed her eyes. This seemed to have an effect on Draco, who gave a grunt moments later, his thrusts deep and slow.

When he stilled, Draco peeled his eyes open and smiled lazily. He kissed her soundly once, twice, three times, before withdrawing from her and setting her back down on two feet. Her legs wobbled, and when she looked down, she saw his semen running down her leg.

“Uh, here,” Draco stammered, reaching down to retrieve his shirt. He shifted on his knees and clumsily wiped her thighs with care, looking up at her to smile as he worked. Hermione blushed – this almost seemed far more intimate than what they had just done.

When he finished, Draco dropped the shirt and stood, only to envelope his arms around her, pressing their bodies flush once more. Hermione felt Draco turn so his mouth grazed her earlobe, and she shivered as he began to speak.

“I want to tell you not to go, Hermione. I wish that I could ask that of you. I wish we could just live our whole bloody lives under this one damn tree if it meant there wasn’t a war and we could stay together.”

She felt Draco swallow and heard his breath hitch. “But I can’t do that to you, Granger. If there is ever going to be an end to this goddamn war, it’s going to hinge on you and the brainless duo. Merlin knows they can’t do it on their own.”

Hermione chuckled as Draco pulled back and held her at arm’s length.

“So don’t worry about me when the time comes – just do what you have to do. I’ll be fine here. Just promise me one thing, okay, Hermione?”

Draco’s eyes were shining with emotion as he bent down to fish something out of his trousers, discarded in a heap on the forest floor. Hermione watched with curiosity as he withdrew something tiny clutched in his palm. His expression in that moment was so earnest that it made her heart clench. When he stood again, he opened his palm to reveal two pebbles.

Hermione tilted her head. Pebbles?

“I was inspired by your journal earlier,” he started. “The journals can convey messages, but we may not always be in circumstances where writing is plausible. That’s why I enchanted these this afternoon.”

Hermione surveyed the pebble in her palm, rolling it around with her thumb as Draco continued.

“If you ever miss me or are thinking of me or anything, just give this a squeeze in your right hand and the other one will warm up. See?” Draco closed his fist around his pebble and almost immediately, Hermione felt a soft warmth radiate across her hand. She tried the same with her pebble and watched as Draco’s face lit up.

“I love it. Thank you, Draco.”

They stood there under the tree, the music from the party wafting through the air, completely naked from head to toe for another moment before Hermione swallowed and eyed her dress, now crumpled and wrinkly in the grass.

“We should, erm…probably get back to the reception.” Draco nodded.

As they redressed, Hermione peeked at Draco over her shoulder. He seemed to think alike, because they ended up making eye contact at the same time. The two grinned at each other, his trousers two-thirds on and her dress completely unzipped. Somehow, it all felt natural. It didn’t seem to matter that they had never done this before or that they had moved from enemies to friends to lovers at such a rapid pace. When Hermione had straightened Draco’s hair and he had Scourgified her dress in return, they began to stroll back to the tent.

Draco laced his fingers through hers as they sauntered, and all felt right with the world. As the tent came into view, Draco reached into his robe pocket and withdrew a vial.

“Well, love, cousin Sam Weasley must make his grand return.” He raised the potion slightly and downed it in one. After only a momentary twitch on his face, Draco smiled and turned toward the party, letting go of Hermione’s hand.

But she wasn’t ready to let go. Just as his fingers brushed the edges of hers, Hermione clasped their hands and pulled him back to her, crashing her lips into his. Draco Malfoy’s lips hadn’t transformed yet, and so she closed her eyes as blond turned to fiery red, savoring one more moment with this boy who made her heart sing.

And when she opened her eyes, cousin Sam stood before her once more.

“Come on, then,” she said. “Or people will start wondering where we’ve disappeared to.”

It wasn’t until several hours later, after Kingsley’s patronus had interrupted the wedding, after she had barely escaped danger – twice – with Harry and Ron, after she had a moment to catch her breath on a sofa in Number 12 Grimmauld Place, that she managed to pull Draco’s pebble from her beaded bag. Immediately, she felt warmth radiate from it and she breathed a sigh of relief.

He was alive. He was safe.

She squeezed her pebble in turn.

And wherever Draco had fled to with the Weasleys that night, she knew at that moment, he felt the same momentary release of worry.

Hermione clung to her pebble, even after she settled onto the sofa, and held it to her heart as she drifted into the first of many fitful nights of sleep.

Chapter Text

August 2

Draco,

Are you all right? Are you safe? Are you still at the Burrow? Was anyone hurt? What happened after we left?

Sorry for all the questions.

We are safe where we are. When we left, we ended up Apparating somewhere less than ideal, but we’re okay now. I can’t say where that is. You understand, don’t you? There is so much I want to tell you. But now that we’re apart, even though this journal is enchanted, I just can’t. Please understand. Please, please understand.

I wish I could write more, but Ron won’t leave my side. I’ve had to hide away for a bit to write to you. Can’t say I blame him after the scare last night. I don’t want to be alone right now either.

Be safe.

Hermione

 

 

August 3

Hermione,

Thank Merlin you’re all right. I’m fine as well. We’re back at the Burrow. No one was injured as far as I know, but you know I’m not kept in the loop around here. Loads of people were interrogated after you made your quick exit, but Mr. Weasley managed to hide me in a broom cupboard before the chaos settled. Everyone’s a bit shaken up, but they’re all okay. Mrs. Weasley is taking your absence pretty hard. I think she’s mad at you, Potter, and Weasley for leaving.

She’s especially mad at Weasel. Keeps screaming at a photo of him on the wall every time she passes by. Mostly yells about him being inconsiderate and not sticking around to help with wedding cleanup, but she cries when she says that stuff, so it’s clearly just a cover.

But the good news is that even though she’s stuck with me instead, she doesn’t seem to hate me so much. She’s trying to fatten me up, I think. I got third portions at breakfast. Keeps her occupied, I suppose. She carries that damn clock everywhere she goes.

It makes me miss my own mother. I wonder if she’s thinking of me or if she’s even allowed to think of me. I hope she’s alive.

Is the Weasel giving you any space? Please tell me he isn’t following you into the loo.

Don’t do anything too stupid, you Gryffindor.

Draco

 

 

August 5

Draco,

I’m glad Mrs. Weasley is taking good care of you. I wouldn’t expect anything less. I hope your mother is fine as well. I wish I could offer more than hope, but it seems cruel to make promises like that during a war. As long as her heart’s beating, there’s no doubt she’s thinking of you. How could she not? You’re her son and she loves you.

Ron is giving me a little more space, but we’re all still keeping rather close. Sorry of that bothers you, but it’s reality now. We’re trying to keep busy so we don’t think too much about what could go wrong. That’s the only thing that’s keeping us from hyperventilating, I think.

Was the wedding only four days ago?

I’m trying to pass the time by reading. I brought quite a large number of books with me and I’m finding they help to keep me from overthinking. I’ve never gotten to ask you. What’s your favorite book. Can you name mine, I wonder?

You should find something to pass the time. Maybe you could spend time with Ginny.

Be safe. Be happy.

Hermione.

 

 

August 8

Hermione,

Sorry I haven’t written. You must have been worried. At least I hope you were worried, because that means you were thinking of me.

Thanks for your words about my mother. I hope you’re right.

How in Merlin’s name did you manage to bring a large number of books with you? I saw you Disapparate from the wedding, and there were no books with you. Only that little beaded bag of yours. You really are a marvel.

As to my favorite book? It’s rather embarrassing, but have you heard of Benedict Thatcher? Not sure how well you know wizarding children’s books. He’s a fictional Dragon tamer – the best out there. I read the series as a kid and like to revisit it still. Reminds me of happier times.

Weasley has probably heard of it, but if you ever mention this to him, I’ll jinx you.

As to your favorite book? Easy. Hogwarts, A History. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen you with your nose stuck inside it.

Anyway, I feel useless just sitting around here. Can you tell me anything you’re up to? Even a hint? I’ve got no one to talk to. Weaslette keeps to herself. She’s gone and locked herself in her room and only comes down to help with meals.

I miss you.

Draco

 

 

August 11

Draco,

Now I’m the one who hasn’t written in a few days. I’ve been distracted recently, and I have to make time to write to you when I know Harry and Ron won’t bother me. We’ve been sitting together for long periods of time, and the only time I am by myself is when I’m in the loo. And no, as I said before, I am not followed in there. While it seems convenient, something feels odd about writing to you whilst sitting on the closed lid of a toilet.

I haven’t heard of the Benedict Thatcher books. I’d love to read them sometime, especially if they hold such happy memories for you. There are lots of books that hold those memories for me. You’re right about my current favorite, but my childhood favorite is Little Women. Have you heard of it?

I should tell you that my favorite part of every night is feeling the pebble you gave me warm up. Do you feel yours warm as well? I keep it clutched in my hands all night. It feels so reassuring that I don’t ever want to let it go. Of course, your body heat is much preferable to a tiny pebble, but it will make do for now.

I miss you too.

Yours,

Hermione

P.S. It’s an undetectable extension charm. Also, try Quidditch with Ginny. That might lure her out from her solitude.

 

 

August 13

Dear Hermione,

Yeah, I do feel the pebble warm up. I keep it in my pocket every day and if I ever miss you (which is too damn often for me), I like to take it out and hold it. It must always be warm on your end, because I’ve basically always got that bloody pebble in my hand. I feel like such a sap writing that. Somehow, it’s easier to write than to say.

I wish it was your body heat instead, too. I got used to you sleeping in my bed, Granger. If this damn war ever ends, I hope you can sleep in my bed again in any capacity.

I’ve never heard of Little Women. Is it about a bunch of women who ingest a shrinking solution? Is that why it has that title? Sounds like a ridiculous premise.

Oh yeah, great suggestion about Quidditch. Weaslette and I ran some drills yesterday. She is so damn talented on a broom. Shame she couldn’t play for Slytherin. But then again, that would probably crumble Potter’s heart into a million little bits, wouldn’t it? Can’t have that happening. What’s going on with them, anyway? She gets depressed whenever I mention the boy wonder.

Take care of yourself, Granger. Don’t get so distracted that you forget about that.

Yours,

Draco

P.S. Undetectable extension? Brilliant.

 

 

August 14

Dear Draco,

You’ve managed to make me blush with that last letter of yours. Well done. Truth be told, I wouldn’t say no to having you as a bedfellow again. You would certainly make a better one than my current companions, at least when it comes to sleeping. I adore Ron and Harry, but Ron snores as loud as a dragon and Harry…let’s just say he has trouble sleeping. Not you, though. You are a perfect gentleman in the bedroom.

Wait. Oh gods. I did not just write that. And I can’t erase anything. Bugger. I can just picture you with that smirk, laughing to yourself. Wipe that smirk off your face. You know what I meant.

Not that you weren’t a gentleman. Because you were. I feel weird writing about this. Is it weird? But you were. And it was lovely. And I’m going to stop writing now.

Anyway, I’m glad to hear you’re getting along with Ginny. She’s fantastic – she really is. Just don’t get on her bad side. I don’t recommend it. She’s got a keen eye for hexes as well as the Weasley temper, so I’d play nice. And as to why Ginny is all mopey at the mention of Harry? They broke up over the summer. Harry wants to keep her safe. But I can tell he’s heartbroken over the whole thing. Harry’s never been the best with dealing with emotions. Frankly, I don’t think any boy I know is good at it.

As to your last request, I am trying to take care of myself. We’ve been eating well enough – I can tell you that, at the very least.

Be well yourself, Draco.

Yours,

Hermione.

 

 

August 16

Dear Hermione,

It’s late and I’m writing this after everyone else is asleep. Honestly, Mrs. Weasley might be a better cook than the Hogwarts house elves. I don’t think I’ll eat for a week.

If my last letter made you blush, yours had quite the effect on me. I haven’t had that good a laugh in a while, so thanks for that. As to your assessment that I was a gentleman in the bedroom, I’m not quite sure how you are capable of making that assessment. Why, do you ask?

I have serious doubts as to whether ‘against a tree’ counts as ‘in the bedroom.’

Not that I disagree with you entirely – I was a gentleman.

Wasn’t I?

We never really got to talk after. I’m not sure I could have said much at that point, honestly. It felt so good on my end that I couldn’t even remember what words were. But like I said, we never talked.

Was it good for you? Was it too much for a first time? Did the cushioning charm on the tree make it okay?

Did you finish?

I definitely enjoyed it. There were a lot of rumors that floated around last year about my…prolific experience. But they weren’t true. None of it was true. How could it be true when last year was basically Hell for me?

I didn’t think I would be alive right now. When I think back on how I felt, I just knew in the back of my head that I probably wasn’t going to make it out of that year alive. But I had to try. Those rumors were a nice cover up at the time, and I didn’t think much of my reputation in that capacity because I had bigger things to worry about.

I just want to make it abundantly clear that I’m not going to go off and find another girl. Not that I could. Unless you count Weaslette, but I don’t particularly fancy my junk being hexed.

After everything that happened between us during our time at Hogwarts, I’m shocked you forgave me so easily and even wanted me. Want me. You do still want me, right?

What I’m trying to say is that it really meant a lot to me that you were my first. Somehow, I get the feeling that if it had been anyone else, it would have left me feeling cold, but you always seem to leave me feeling warm and comfortable. Even from far away, I’ve got this pebble.

Can you feel yours right now, Granger? Can you feel just how much I’m thinking of you? Can you hear my thoughts in your head? Can you hear all the things I wish I could do to you at this very moment? All the things I wish you could be doing to me? Write me back and let me know, Hermione. I’m going mad over here without knowing.

Yours and yours alone,

Draco

 

 

August 18

Dearest Draco,

Is your intention to make me squirm? Make my face turn beet red? Make me unable to breathe? Because you’re succeeding marvelously. I know this whole spill-your-soul-to-Hermione thing is new, you Slytherin, but give a girl some warning.

To answer all your questions:

1) Yes, you were a gentleman in every sense of the word. I’ve heard a lot of girls don’t enjoy their first time and that the boy can be…not great. But it was great. You were great. I’m glad you were my first, too.

2) It was good for me. Against a tree was a lot, but in a good way. I had no idea you were so strong. And the cushioning charm did the trick.

3) Yes I did. Finish, that is.

4) Yes, I do still want you.

5) As to the things you wish I could do to you? I think I’ll leave that up to the imagination, as I still don’t know if I want to put it in writing.

I’m so sorry if this letter sounds so robotic. My writing feels inadequate after that lovely letter you just wrote. I’ll try to do better.

And yes. I can feel your pebble in my pocket all the time. It’s a constant reminder of you. I wish I could sit and hold the pebble in my hand all day like you, but there’s too much going on for that. Instead, I try to reach into my pocket as much as possible.

Oh! Got to go!

Yours,

Hermione

 

 

August 19

Damn you, woman! I told you I’m going mad without knowing! Leave it up to my imagination? Are you kidding? I was really hoping you’d fill in the details, but seeing as you’re a bit quill-shy, I’ll tell you exactly what I want, then.

I want to put my hands all over that gorgeous body of yours again. I want to kiss you until you can’t think. Until I can’t think. I want to squeeze your tits and your arse and make you come with my tongue. And then I want to fuck you until we forget who we are.

That’s my wish.

Oh, and the twins stopped by today. We didn’t exchange even two words, but they wouldn’t stop waggling their eyebrows at me and it made me rather uncomfortable.

Speaking of uncomfortable, Hermione, squirm away. I wish I could see it. I will again one day. That I swear.

Yours,

Draco.

 

 

August 20

Draco Malfoy! Of all the things to put into writing! I happened to chance a glance at my journal in a common area with Harry and Ron nearby and I nearly lost it when I read what you wrote. I must have looked funny or made a funny noise, because Ron and Harry wouldn’t stop staring at me, asking what’s wrong.

I had to excuse myself to the loo for several minutes to calm down.

I appreciate your newfound freedom of expression, but Merlin’s beard…

Not that I didn’t like it. What you wrote. I just…wish I had been alone when I read it.

I also…oh gosh, I can’t believe I’m writing this…I also wish we could be together like that again. But take our time. We could do it someplace soft and warm and really savor each other. I feel like it was over almost as quickly as it started.

But for now, it’s just our thoughts that will have to sustain us.

Is Ginny getting ready to go back to Hogwarts yet? Is she even going back at all? Have you played more Quidditch together?

Thinking of you always,

Love, from

Hermione

 

 

August 22

Dearest Hermione,

I keep picturing you reading my dirty words while in the presence of your two friends and it makes me laugh every time. Thanks for that. I feel like I’ve written that exact thing before. Your clinical nature always puts me in a good mood. As to your ideas about our next time…I so hope there will be a next time…I’d like your suggestion. Just the two of us locked in a room with a comfortable bed for hours. That’s now at the top of my wish list.

As to your other question, yeah. Weaslette and I have played more Quidditch. As far as I can tell, she’s headed back to Hogwarts. Got no choice, has she? They’re tracking everyone. If she doesn’t show up, it’ll look suspicious. Shame she has to leave, really. We’ve been spending time together here at the Burrow, and I rather like her. She is by far the most tolerable Weasley sibling I’ve met to date.

Saw your name in the paper today. It seems you’re wanted for interrogation. Do you get the Daily Prophet wherever you are? You don’t have to answer if you don’t want. I know you can’t tell me much. But please, Hermione, whatever you do, don’t get caught. I know it’s silly to write it out, but Mr. Weasley has been telling us horror stories from the Ministry about muggleborns getting hauled in for questioning and being sent to Azkaban. Whatever you’re doing…whatever you’re planning…stay safe.

Yours,

Draco

 

 

August 24

Dearest Draco,

To answer your question, yes, we do get the Daily Prophet. I saw the mention and I’ll take your word for it. We’re always doing our best not to get caught. That’s absolutely horrifying what they’re doing to muggleborns. It makes me so relieved when I think of you sitting safely at the Burrow instead of off with Death Eaters interrogating innocent muggleborns and sentencing them to Hell on Earth, essentially. You might be bored at the Burrow, but knowing you’re safe and not forced to take part in such awful acts…I take comfort in that. I hope you do, too.

As to us…we’re staying as safe as we can for now.

I hope my pebble is still warming you regularly. Yours certainly is warming me. I still sleep with it in my hand every night.

Love, from

Hermione

 

 

August 27

Dearest Hermione,

Can I ask you something? Only if you promise not to laugh, because I will feel like a supreme fool if you do. But then again, fair is fair; I’ve laughed at what you wrote before now. Bollocks. This is serious. Please don’t laugh. I’ve been debating whether or not to even write this, but now I’ve gone and realized the same thing you did before. I can’t erase anything. Double bollocks. Whatever.

Let’s try this again. I want to ask you something.

You’ve signed your last couple of letters with “Love, from” and I want to get some clarification about that. There’s not much to do here right now except lie around and think, so I spent the entirety of the last couple of days dwelling on your words. Seriously. I laid in bed and thought about it. Mrs. Wesley told me that I “seem far away.”

It’s just…I’ve just never had a letter to me signed that way before, so I want to know exactly what you mean.

Oh, we did have visitors yesterday for dinner – my cousin, Nymphadora (though she told me to call her Tonks), and Professor Lupin. They told us they’re having a baby. Tonks seems really excited, but I can tell that Professor Lupin is nervous. Dead nervous. He was incredibly sweaty through dinner and his leg wouldn’t stop shaking. Frankly, I don’t blame him. I wouldn’t want to bring a kid into a war. There’s so much that could go wrong. I mean, look at Potter and Longbottom. The war took their parents and left them with shit, basically. Sorry to get so depressing.

Anyway, let me know about your greeting.

Yours,

Draco

P.S. Mrs. Weasley’s cooking is really getting to me. After hardly being able to touch food all last year, I feel like I’m being fattened up. My trousers can hardly fit me any longer. I had to put an extension charm in the waistband.

 

 

August 29

My dearest Draco,

Yes, I knew about Professor Lupin and Tonks – please don’t ask me how. It’s so exciting for them! I can certainly understand why having a baby might make Professor Lupin nervous, but aren’t new fathers supposed to be nervous, anyway? Besides, I think a baby can be a beautiful reminder of what’s good in this world. We could use some of that, couldn’t we? A reminder of what hope and joy look like. That’s not a bad thing, is it? I mean, look at the Weasleys. Look at you. Look at all our classmates. We were all born during a war (I mean…I’m a muggleborn, so it’s a bit different) and I bet most parents were glad to have something happy in their lives when there was so much death and destruction happening around them.

I suppose there would be risks involved. But I don’t think that’s what’s got Professor Lupin nervous. He’s likely worried that his child will carry his lycanthropy. Of course, that’s also ridiculous. But I digress.

As to your big question, I don’t say things (well, write things) that I don’t mean. I could dance around with my words, but since you’re clearly anxious about it, I’ll just tell you.

I love you, Draco Malfoy. I don’t know if we’re in love – it’s probably too soon to know one way or the other – but I do know this. I care for you very deeply and have feelings of great affection toward you.

I love you.

I choose to sign my letters that way because that’s how I feel. Do you understand what I mean now?

Love, from

Hermione

 

 

August 31

Dear Hermione,

I think I love you, too.

I feel like–

Hold on, Mrs. Weasley is calling. Seems she wants me to help prepare Ginny’s goodbye dinner. I’ll write as soon as I get the chance.

Love, from

Draco

Chapter Text

Draco sat at his desk and stared at a blank page his journal, wishing text would materialize. It had been two days since he had written to Hermione and he hadn’t yet heard back. Granted, it wasn’t the longest she had taken to respond to him, but something about Ginny leaving on the Hogwarts Express yesterday unnerved him. He hadn’t gone to see her off on the train. That would have been really stupid of him. Platform 9 ¾ would have been crawling with Death Eaters, and chances were high that someone would have recognized him.

No, he had stayed at the Burrow with Mundungus Bleeding Fletcher while a small handful of Weasleys herded Ginny off to her sixth year. He had to spend the better part of a day listening to Mundungus count out money and spit-shine some old dinnerware from an old witch who had recently kicked the bucket in hopes of selling it. Just the thought of those transactions made him feel disgusted. He was grateful when everyone returned from the station. Ginny had been given orders to owl as soon as she arrived, but when evening rolled around and they still hadn’t heard anything from her, everyone – especially Mrs. Weasley – grew uneasy. Knowing that Severus was now in charge at Hogwarts gave Draco a pit in his stomach. He never could quite tell what the slippery bat was thinking or why, and he wasn’t sure if that uncertainty would bode well or poorly for Hogwarts students.

Ginny’s owl flew in through the kitchen window shortly before midnight. Though devoid of details, Ginny informed them of her safe arrival at Hogwarts.

Draco visibly shuddered, despite the warm summer breeze blowing in from the open window. He was glad not to be going back. Hogwarts had become someplace twisted and beyond recognition. It was no longer a place of wonder or a second home for him, but instead, the unfortunate location of his most devastating emotional turmoil and failure.

No, he didn’t want to see Hogwarts again until this damn war was over. And even then it might be too soon.

Draco doodled on a piece of parchment. Really, Hermione should be writing. He felt on edge, as though there was a reason she hadn’t written yet. After Mrs. Weasley’s sudden interruption in the middle of his last message, he had returned to write a long note back, clarifying what he meant when he wrote ‘I love you.’ To say those words to someone was a big deal to him; as he had explained to her, those words had never been included in any letter written to him. Even from his parents.

His mother had always signed her letters “Fondly” or “Affectionately,” and that was the closest thing he had to compare it to. Not that she hadn’t shown him love in her actions, because Draco had never doubted how much his mother cared for him. But to see the word “love” written on a page in association with him had made him feel something he couldn’t quite articulate. Something like a twinge in his chest that didn’t seem to ever stop.

What would it be like to hear her say those words?

“I love you,” he whispered to himself, practicing forming the words on his lips.

It tasted funny on his tongue. Out of place. He certainly hadn’t told anyone he loved them since he was a little boy. His mother had occasionally said it until he went off to Hogwarts, but Draco wasn’t even sure if he had any recollection of his father saying those words.

The only possibility was a sleepy memory from around ten years ago. Draco had been seven or eight years-old and had woken up to the sound of Lucius Malfoy’s voice speaking softly, whispering five distinct words: “I love you, my Draco.”

Whenever he felt like his father was too much of a bastard who only cared about power and money, his mind would automatically carry him back to that night, and his hardened heart often softened. Ever since that night on the Astronomy Tower, those five words seem to play on repeat in his mind whenever he thought of his father. It was practically the only thing that kept him from completely hating the man.

Yet, he wasn’t even sure it was a real memory. Perhaps it was something his mind had made up to comfort a younger version of himself. He really wasn’t sure.

So when that word – love – materialized into his journal, Draco had been flooded with all kinds of emotions he hadn’t been expecting. Of all the people in the world, he never would have thought that the first person to say “I love you,” to him in over four years would be Hermione Granger.

Draco paced back and forth until he was sure he wore a hole into the floor, brain stuck on the notion that Granger loved him.

Hermione Granger loved him. Actually, truly, unbelievably, incredibly, miraculously loved him.

The thought brought a smile he couldn’t erase to his face. It was like he was floating. Draco hadn’t felt so light in years. Knowing that she loved him certainly didn’t rid him of the weight that constantly sat on his chest, but somehow, it felt easier to bear.

Draco sat down and pulled the journal toward him again. He traced her words with his finger, careful to not leave out any millimeter of script.

When he had written back to Hermione, he wrote of those words’ importance to him. Of how he meant it completely when he told her he loved her. That he was all in. That he would wait for her, no matter how long her journey with Potter and Weasley took. He didn’t want her getting any notions in her head that he wouldn’t wait. Hogwarts had given him an unfounded reputation, and he didn’t want her to even consider the idea that he would ever be unfaithful. No, Draco Malfoy would remain true to Hermione. That was the message he had poured out to her.

And she still hadn’t responded.

Draco thought he would go mad just sitting there at the desk, so he began to pace once more.

As he walked back and forth, he took out his pebble and rolled it in his palm. Somewhere out there, Hermione’s pebble was warm.

The only problem?

His pebble remained cool to the touch. It had for the past twenty-four hours.

That, more than anything, concerned him.

The possibilities of what could be going on had been swirling in his head like a damn tornado since his pebble had gone cold yesterday. Was she in trouble? Was she in any danger? Did she lose the pebble? Was she just busy? Was she disgusted by his intense proclamation of love?

He had no fucking clue. He continued to pace.

As the sun traveled lower in the sky, Draco moved back and forth between the middle of the bedroom and the desk several times, not content to stay in the same place for long.

His feet dragged him across the floor for the thousandth time that day. Just as the sun began to cross the horizon line, Draco was about to give up and lie in bed until Mrs. Weasley called him for when his pebble grew warm. The anxiety in his stomach and chest melted away as he squeezed the pebble back.

But then an odd thing happened. The pebble grew hot and then cooled off, and then back to hot again. It was as thought it was pulsating – as though Hermione was squeezing the pebble and then letting it go repeatedly. Why would she do something like that? Was it just unconscious stress relief for her?

No, it couldn’t be. Nothing Hermione did was truly unconscious or unintentional.

She must be trying to get his attention. Feeling excitement in his veins, he leapt to the desk and tore the journal open. Sure enough, Hermione’s script began to fill the page. He watched as letters morphed into words, which he read greedily.

September 2

Draco, I need you. I can’t think straight. I just need you.

Come to Princetown. Wear muggle clothes. There’s a bookshop with a blue sign. Look for blonde hair.

I’m waiting. I’ll be gone in an hour.

Hermione

Draco paled as he read. He had wanted Hermione to write, but a letter with this tone was not what he had been expecting. In fact, it made everything worse. What was going on? Why was her writing so clipped? Was something wrong? Had he done something wrong? Oh, Merlin…

Taking several steadying breaths, Draco managed to calm himself enough to throw on a familiar pair of shorts and a T-shirt they had purchased over the summer. He scribbled a note on a bit of spare parchment saying he was going for a walk and left it on his desk. Wand in hand, he opened the bedroom door a few inches and listened to the sounds of the Burrow. He was met with nothing but Mrs. Weasley’s footsteps further upstairs in another bedroom.

Draco crept toward the first floor, pausing every few steps to make sure Mrs. Weasley didn’t come down. The wooden steps at the Burrow were notoriously squeaky, and Draco winced each time a stair groaned. Once he reached the first floor, he tiptoed through the kitchen to the back door. Keeping his movements as silent as possible as he exited, he raced across the garden and the orchard, past where he knew the wards carried.

He paused only briefly as he passed the willow tree that held such a dear place in his heart.

Destination. Determination. Deliberation.

Princetown.

The world ceased to exist for mere moments as Draco was hurled through space toward Hermione. When he reappeared, it seemed he had apparated behind a café in a quaint village. He made sure to place a glamour on himself – dark eyes and chestnut hair – before moving out of the alley. His glamour charms weren’t as good as Hermione’s, but he didn’t have time to make it any better.

Draco walked down the cobblestone street, breathing in the fresh air. It was the first time in far too long that he had the privilege of being his own chaperone. The feeling was freeing, and he wished he had time to savor it. But no. He had Hermione to think about. She was here somewhere and needed him.

As he searched for the bookshop she described, he briefly considered that it might be a trap. The note had been quite out-of-character, and for Hermione to request his presence during this difficult mission was certainly odd. She had previously made it seem as though they would definitely not be seeing each other for a long time.

Yes, he supposed, it could be a trap. In fact, his self-preservation alarm was blaring in his mind, telling him to turn back. But if Hermione needed him, he had to be there. Surely, with all the enchantments Granger had put on their journals, someone using it to lure him out of safety struck him as unlikely.

Still, he kept his left hand firmly gripped around his wand, which sat just inside his pocket.

Draco wandered past pubs and various shops, his eyes searching each building top to bottom for any sign of a bookshop or a blue sign. After several minutes, he spotted a likely candidate on the street corner across from him. Its storefront was filled with shelves of books on display and a blue sign hung from above the door. Sighing with relief, Draco rushed to across the street. Pulling the front door open, the jingle of a bell reverberated through the shop. Draco stepped inside and the smell of well-worn pages and musty book covers met his nose. Yes, if Hermione was anywhere in this town, this would be it.

The shop was set up with several aisles facing him so he could peer down each one as he walked by. Draco started at one end and began to walk by each aisle, peering down for any trace of the girl he loved. With each empty aisle, his heart began to pound harder in his ears. This had to be it. She had to be here. If he didn’t find her by the end of the hour, he wasn’t sure if he could live with himself..

There she was.

He found her perched on the edge of a wooden chair in the fifth aisle, her nose buried in a thick volume, her knees bouncing. As promised, her bushy hair had been turned a sunny blonde. With a sigh of relief, Draco approached her. He walked so close that he could reach out and touch her if he wanted. And oh, how he wanted to. Here, at last, was his Hermione. He wanted nothing more than to take her into his arms and kiss her. But with the note she had written… he had no idea what to expect. What had she experienced to make her write such in such a frantic fashion?

“Hermione,” he whispered, squatting down in front of her.

The reaction was instantaneous. Hermione jumped nearly a mile and squeaked. Her eyes flitted up toward him, her expression pained. He could feel the nerves radiating off of her in waves.

She didn’t smile when she saw him, but her expression softened considerably. When she began to speak, it was in a rigid whisper.

“Thank you for coming.”

Draco wasn’t sure what reaction he had been expecting, but it hadn’t been anything like this. Cold. Factual. The only thing that gave him hope was the way her eyes shone as he soaked in her presence. He searched for clues to help him guess how she was feeling or what was going on, but she gave away nothing.

“Yeah. I snuck out of the Burrow. What’s… er… what do you need?”

She looked him in the eye, her gaze burning with intensity. “First, I need to confirm that it’s really you. And you should confirm with me.”

He nodded.

“During our third year you insulted Hagrid in front of me, Ron, and Harry. How did I react?”  

Draco felt himself smirk. “I do believe you slapped me. Rightfully so, I might add.”

Hermione’s mouth twitched in response, a smile ghosting her face before immediately disappearing.

“My turn. Okay. What flavor of ice cream did you order for us whenever we visited the ice cream van this summer?”

Hermione paused for a moment before answering in a whisper, “Magnum bars.”

He smiled at the memory, placing his hand on hers. “That’s right.”

Draco paused, waiting to see if she would begin talking. When she didn’t, questions came pouring out of him. “Why did you call me here, Hermione? Are you all right?” He hoped that these questions would have relaxed Hermione a bit, but she seemed as tense as ever, her knee still bouncing.

“Can we…can we go somewhere a bit more private?” she asked, her voice shaking.

Draco nodded without thinking, unable to take his eyes off the girl he had been dreaming about for the past month. Other than her blond hair, her appearance hadn’t changed that much. The main thing Draco noticed was the hollow look in her eyes, as though she had been through hell and back. It was like her eyes had seen something horrific that couldn’t be unseen.

Draco knew that look. He had seen it before. He had worn it.

When Hermione stood and replaced her book on the shelf, Draco wrapped his left arm around her, placing his hand firmly around her waist. The other hand sat in his pocket, his fingers gripping his wand. If she hadn’t been so clearly preoccupied with something, Draco would have felt in absolute heaven to have her in his arms once more. But the situation being what it was, he tamped down those feelings to keep his focus. They walked out of the bookshop together, Hermione guiding him toward an inn in whispered directions. The sky faded to purple as they weaved through the Princetown streets. With each step they took, Draco was becoming more concretely aware of Hermione’s presence beside him. Her soft curves. Her wild curls. Her scent. He couldn’t stop himself from cracking a small smile. The grin stayed until he realized that Hermione was shaking in his arms, her own expression glazed over. Draco squeezed her closer to him and pushed forward toward their destination. What had she been through that would make her shake like this?

Just as they had done in Ottery St. Catchpole earlier in the summer, they got a room at the inn Hermione suggested under pseudonyms, this time choosing to be Elise and Will Bearden – cousins. Hermione confunded the man at the front desk just in case.

As they wound their way upstairs, Hermione’s shaking subsided and she reached down to grip his hand, her grip firm. He held her hand tightly in return. Draco was getting the sense of how much Hermione needed to hold on to him – to something solid. She had taken the lead up the stairs, and now looked back and met his eyes. His heart immediately clenched at all the emotions conveyed in that one look.

Confusion. Want. Pain. Panic. Love. Desire. Desperation.

Draco returned her eye contact with a look he hoped was reassuring. Standing outside their room, she fumbled with the key, her hand shaking once more as she tried to insert it into the lock. Draco placed his hand on her shoulder, and she gazed up at him as took the key and unlocked the door. By the time he opened the door, his heart was pounding in his throat.

They didn’t break eye contact as they stepped inside, nor as Draco cast a locking charm and muffliato. They didn’t look away as they removed the glamour charms. Hermione took great, heaving breaths as she kept her eyes on him. Draco walked toward her until they were chest-to-chest, and she gazed up at him with those same emotions.

Pain. Panic. Love. Desire. Desperation.

Draco cradled Hermione’s face in his right hand and she leaned into the touch, closing her eyes.

“You’re shaking like a leaf, Hermione. What’s going on?” Draco posed the question as she continued to breathe heavily.

Hermione opened her eyes and stood straight, her eyes piercing his. Those chocolate eyes he loved so dearly were burning with determination, and before he had time to process what was happening, Hermione stepped forward and crashed her lips into his.

Draco knew that something was clearly wrong, and he really wanted to stop and ask Hermione what was causing her to act like this. But after he felt her sweet taste on his lips and tongue, any and all thoughts fell away and were pushed to the back of his mind. Talking could come later. All that mattered was right in front of him. While he pushed his tongue into her mouth, she backed him into the wall of their room. He responded in kind with enthusiasm, moving his hands from her chest and onto her arse.

She moaned in response and the sound made his groin feel rather tight. Hermione must have noticed, because she moved one of her hands to the front of his shorts, cupping his growing erection in her palm.

“Do you like that, Draco?” she whispered in his ear.

Goddamn. He held in a groan and managed to choke out a soft, “Hermione?”

“Yes?” she replied, pressing more firmly into his erection. Draco hissed, but tried to keep his focus. As much as he wanted to – as much as he tried to fight it – he couldn’t just let this happen without talking to her first.

“Are you… are you sure you’re all right? I don’t want you to think that I only came looking for you because I wanted to sleep with you. I was really worried something was wrong.”

Hermione broke eye contact and looked down. Her hand fell away from his body and she stood limply before him. Shit. Was she going to cry? He braced himself for her tears, but they never came. Instead, voice was determined, her eyes shining.

Love. Desire. Desperation.

“I’m not all right, Draco. I’m not. But right now, what I need is you.” Hermione’s eyes darted to his lips. “I need to feel you. I can’t explain it, but I need you right now. Can you help me? Can you touch me and let me give myself to you?”

Hermione’s irises danced back and forth as she asked the question. Draco swallowed a great lump in his throat. His heart beat an erratic thump as he felt himself nodding. Part of his brain still pushed for him to stop – to not allow Hermione to give into these impulses she might regret later – but she was pushed against him and her scent was intoxicating. Something delicate and flowery. Draco leaned down and buried his face in her neck, inhaling. He wanted to capture the way she smelled in his memory. Hermione’s hands rested firmly on his back.

“Gods, I want you,” he murmured into her skin.

“Then take me, Draco. I’m yours.”

Draco growled and began to suckle on her jaw. Hermione leaned back, allowing for better access and moaned as Draco crushed their bodies together. He felt every inch of her breasts pressed against his chest and the soft mounds sent jolts of desire down to his cock. Hermione grabbed his head with both her hands and guided his mouth to hers, her tongue ready to explore his mouth.

Draco found himself with his back pressed against the wall once again, and Hermione was already pulling at the hem of his T-shirt. Never breaking their kiss, Draco unzipped Hermione’s jumper and made quick work of her blouse and bra. The offending items fell to the floor unceremoniously. Draco moved his hands to her breasts without hesitation, flipping their position to be more in control.

Hermione’s breasts were soft and pliant in his hands, and he rolled her nipples in his palms. She groaned and grabbed the waistband of his shorts, pulling him backward toward the bed. The two tumbled onto the mattress. Draco lowered his face and took her delectable left breast into his mouth, kneading the other with his right hand. Hermione bucked into him and reached down to undo his shorts.

The feel of Hermione’s tits and the anticipation of the friction that awaited him made him thrust involuntarily. He grunted. Even through his shorts and her jeans, he could feel the heat coming from her core.

“Fuck, Hermione,” he rasped as he removed his mouth from her breast, his eyes drifting to her face.

“That’s the idea,” she smirked. Her eyes were filled with nothing desire now, and Draco felt the rest of his blood flow directly to his groin. Hermione made quick work of his shorts and boxer briefs and Draco felt them slide down his legs. He kicked them away, eager to return to the gorgeous creature underneath him.

Draco growled and leaned forward to bite her lower lip. She met his aggressive kiss with bruising enthusiasm. As his mouth tangled with hers, he reached down under her jeans. She took the cue and shimmied out of both them and her knickers, leaving nothing between them but the delicious friction of their skin.

They continued kissing and touching for another moment before Draco suddenly found himself with his own back on the mattress. Hermione had flipped them over, and she now straddled him. Draco savored this new angle, soaking in the way her breasts looked and the way her hair hung over them like a lovely curly curtain. She gripped his cock in her hand and began to stroke him. He didn’t think that he could have gotten any harder at that point, but her gorgeous little hand had him thrusting into the air, gasping with pleasure.

And then, with another sudden movement, Hermione scooted forward and up and lined herself up with him. He could feel how wet she was. The apex of her thighs sat just above him, and he could smell her from where he was lying on the bed. This scent wasn’t floral, but earthy and sweet. He swallowed as she looked at him, her eyes asking permission. He nodded.

Half a moment later, Hermione plunged herself onto him with a moan. Draco practically saw stars. She was warm and tight and absolutely perfect. Just as he remembered. Hermione started to move on top of him, rocking her hips into his. He stared as his girlfriend closed her eyes and concentrated on her movements. She seemed to be searching for the right rhythm as she bounced up and down; every few seconds, her pattern would change. He could sense her frustration and mild embarrassment as her face scrunched up in a frown, her cheeks turning light pink. She was so goddamn adorable. Draco was about to say something when she managed to move her hips at just the right angle so he found himself buried completely inside her.

Instead of commentary, all that came out was a gasp followed by a low, “Fuck.”

Hermione seemed to take the cue, and she repeated that exact motion. Draco was in utter heaven. He reached up to grab her breasts as she bounced on him. His hips bucked and soon they were lost in a haze of panting and thrusting. After a couple minutes, Hermione’s movements began to slow, and the thought floated through Draco’s mind that she might be getting tired.

He reached behind her, taking a firm hold of the middle of her back and flipped them over so Hermione was splayed out under him, careful to make sure their connection wasn’t severed. She squeaked in surprise, her eyes flying wide open as Draco leaned over her, his legs now firmly planted on the ground beside the bed. He grabbed her arse and pulled her so she was aligned with the edge of the mattress.

Draco covered her body with his, placing his hands on either side of her face. He lowered his mouth to her ear.

“I’m going to fuck you now, Hermione Granger,” he whispered, taking great pleasure at the way his words made her shiver and gave her goose pimples. She reached up and clung to his neck as he began thrusting, slowly at first. After filling her slowly four times, he pulled back all the way, letting his tip tease her entrance. Then, without hesitating, he slammed into her, setting a new pace.

Hermione cried out as he pounded into her, which only egged him on. The sound of flesh slapping filled the air and Draco quickly felt pressure build up in his groin. He kept his eyes trained on Hermione as she writhed beneath him, her breasts moving in time with his thrusts, and her eyes squeezed shut. Even though Draco wanted to last longer, he couldn’t stop the sudden tsunami of pressure that was bubbling up.

With two more thrusts, Draco came in an explosion of light, color, and feeling. He didn’t withdraw, but collapsed on top of Hermione, his cock still buried within her. His slick torso made contact with her own and he smiled into her cleavage, kissing the salty skin there. Hermione responded by lifting her head up to kiss his forehead.

“Wow,” was all he managed to say. His mind was blissfully blank for the first time in a month.

“All that and the only word you can say is ‘wow’?” he heard Hermione say from above him with a soft snort.

“Well, my lady, I deeply apologize. I’m having trouble finding the right words. So excuse me if I didn’t pull out a thesaurus immediately after to compose a poem.”

Hermione belted out a hearty laugh and Draco felt her whole body shake in a short moment of joy. He lifted his head off her chest to get a proper look at his girlfriend’s smile. Pulling out of her, he drew his knees onto the bed and peppered her chest and neck with kisses. Hermione giggled as he moved higher. Draco grinned from ear to ear. Gods, he had missed that sound. He didn’t think he would hear any more laughter while this damn wore continued on and on. But here he was, in some tiny inn in the middle of nowhere with his girlfriend laughing under him.

He wanted to bottle this moment and wear it around his neck. He wanted to savor the way her eyes crinkled around the edges when she smiled. He wanted to memorize the taste of her skin and her lips and the curve of her breast in his palm. Hermione Granger was so lovely. So very lovely.

He was the luckiest bastard in this twisted, cruel world.

With a solitary, soft kiss, he pulled Hermione up to a sitting position and rolled to sit beside her. The smile on her face had turned from joyful to wistful, and she now fidgeted with her hands in her lap.

“You okay?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

Hermione shook her head.

“Can you tell me anything? Can I say anything to help?”

“I…I’m scared, Draco.” She turned her head to look at him. “I just need to feel safe. Can you make me feel safe?”

Draco’s eyes went wide with concern. He was about to express his worry and press her for more information but thought twice. As much as it pained him to purposely stay in the dark, he wasn’t an idiot. Whatever Hermione was doing with the hapless Gryffindor duo was top secret for a reason. He wanted this war to end just like everyone else, but it wasn’t just that. He wanted a world where the two of them could walk the streets hand-in-hand without fear by day and spend their nights in never-ending bliss.

And that would never happen if whatever this secret scheme was became known to him or anyone else. She wanted safe? He couldn’t offer that, precisely, but he could offer her the familiar. He changed directions.

“Have you been doing something reckless, then? I honestly shouldn’t expect anything less from a bunch of Gryffindors.” He made his tone as sarcastic and condescending as possible, raising an eyebrow.

Hermione gave a small lopsided smile in return. “You could say that, I suppose.”

Draco leaned over and kissed her cheek. He nuzzled her neck and took in a deep breath through his nose. Hermione’s flowery scent filled his nostrils.

“Ew, don’t smell me! I’m so sweaty!” Hermione pushed him away.

“I think you smell delectable, Granger.” He leaned in once more and inhaled. “You are completely delectable here,” he breathed in the scent from her hair.

“And here,” he moved to her lips, “and here.” Her chest. “Here.” Her stomach.

Draco slid off the bed and knelt before Hermione. She let out a small gasp as he placed his hands on her thighs and glanced upward before spreading her legs. “And here.”

He buried his face between her legs and licked her. Her juices tasted just like she smelled: sweet and earthy. He could taste his own salty seed as well. The mixture of the flavors in Hermione’s most beautiful – most guarded place made him shiver with pleasure and he felt himself grow hard again.

Hermione keened when his tongue flicked the nub at the top of her opening. He licked again experimentally, and she repeated the sound with greater enthusiasm. She hadn’t made those sounds just now. Had she finished?

He moved his mouth away. “Hermione, before, did you… did you come?”

Hermione blushed and cleared her throat. “I… I didn’t. It was really nice, though. I did last time…” Her words faded to a whisper as she looked up

“It seems we’ll have to do something about that, then, won’t we?”

Draco smirked at Hermione and before she could react, he delved back into her with his tongue, attacking her with all his concentration. He found her nub once more and got to work. Within moments, he had her squirming and moaning. Her fingers threaded his hair and pulled, mixing both pleasure and pain. Draco was surprised to find he enjoyed the combination. He continued lapping at her until Hermione howled above him and went still.

Her body melted beneath him as he pulled away, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Draco vowed to never forget the expression on Hermione’s face as she sat up to look at him. Her chocolate eyes were unblinking and molten; her pink lips were barely parted. She was looking at him as though he was her entire world. Her gaze seemed to penetrate his entire being and Draco felt his heart thump in his chest.

Hermione stood and walked just past him, trailing her hand behind her so it grazed his cheek. Draco turned and reached out to take her hand in his own.

“Fancy a bath?” She smiled over her shoulder and led him to the pristine bathroom, where she leaned over the large claw-foot tub to fiddle with the knobs. Draco took the opportunity to soak in her form.

He had been right this summer. Her arse really was spectacular.

When the water had filled the tub, he climbed in before Hermione and beckoned her to lean back into him. She nuzzled into his chest and sighed. They sat in the water in contented silence for several minutes. Draco dripped water from his hand onto her, watching the droplets running down her shoulder.

“Thank you for coming to find me, Draco,” she said after some time.

“I’ll always come find you.” He leaned forward and kissed the back of her head, smiling into her hair.

“That’s a promise I’ll hold you to, you know.”

Hermione turned and kissed him, holding his face in her hands. He was surprised to see tears in her eyes.

“Hermione? What’s wrong?”

“I lied to come and meet you, you know,” she began, turning her body so she faced him, her legs wrapped around his waist in the chest-high water. “Today was… difficult. I should be back with Harry and Ron right now, but I chose to be with you. I needed to be with you.”

“Difficult? Why? What happened?” Draco frowned at her growing distress.

“I… I can’t say. I’m sorry.” Hermione sniffed as a tear fell into the tub. “But suspect you may find out the basics from some witnesses or even the Daily Prophet.”

“Are you all right? I mean, clearly three of you did something dangerous and made it out alive, but how are you feeling? Even just witnessing something traumatic can leave you feeling awful for days.” Draco didn’t feel the need to elaborate. She would know to what sort of events he was referring.

“I’m just really shaken up, honestly. I felt completely turned around and overwhelmed when we were finally out of the woods.”

And then Hermione did something unexpected. She let out a small laugh.

Draco tilted his head. “Something funny?”

“Just a funny choice of words on my part is all. Double meanings. You know.”

He didn’t, really, but chose to nod along anyway.

“In any case, seeing you there in that bookshop – even if you were glamoured – it felt like…” she paused, as if searching for the right words. “…it felt like coming home for the first time in a long time. I thought you should know that.”

Draco felt his heart flutter. He may have been more expressive than her when he wrote, but how was Hermione Granger always so good with words when she spoke?

“I feel the same way,” he began, stuttering a bit. “Wherever you are feels like home.”

“Well then, Draco,” she whispered, “Welcome home.”

Hermione brushed her lips against his. Draco smiled into the kiss and deepened it, pulling his girlfriend closer. Her arms wrapped around his neck and he felt her slick breasts press against him. Their tongues explored as Draco rubbed her back, wet from the bathwater.

This time nothing felt urgent; nothing was rushed. Draco took his time feeling every inch of Hermione’s gorgeous body and she seemed to be doing the same, running her hands over him. When he entered her for the third time ever, he did so with care and deliberation, trying to make the time pass more slowly. With every unhurried thrust, water sloshed around the tub, ebbing and flowing around Hermione’s breasts. Draco somehow found the sight so erotic that he wanted to come on the spot. Thank Merlin they had already had sex once that day; he was only able to hold back because of that.

This sex was unlike what they had done before. That had been fucking. Pure and simple. This… this was something else. The way their bodies moved together in the water was beyond pleasurable. It was almost religious, the way that they were connected, edging them toward mutual bliss. Her body was his and his body belonged to her, and something about that felt immensely right. Was this what making love was supposed to feel like? Was that what they were doing?

The very thought that he was making love sweetly to Hermione Granger was enough to put his mind into overdrive, and his thrusts grew harder and faster. Draco reached between them and rubbed Hermione’s clit until she began to moan. Friction began to build up and the combination of all that pressure and Hermione’s soft whines in his ears drove him over the edge. He cried out her name as he spilled his seed, her walls seeming to drink it in as they pulsed around his cock.

Completely spent, Draco leaned against the back of the tub. He felt Hermione move off of him and step out, water dripping onto the tile floor. His heart fell a bit; he had wanted to cuddle her close after that – never let her go.

She pulled a towel over herself and padded back to the bedroom. Seconds later she gave a loud yelp. Eyes wide with alarm, Draco scrambled from the tub, snagging a towel as he sprinted out of the bathroom.

He found Hermione furiously drying herself off, her knickers in hand.

“Hermione? What’s going on?”

“I hadn’t realized the time… I’ve been gone far too long.”

“You’re… you’re going? Right now?” Draco’s stomach bottomed out as he tried to piece together the situation before him. He wasn’t ready to say goodbye. Not yet. Not when he hadn’t ever felt closer to Hermione. Not after they had just experienced that moment together. Had she felt the same depth of feeling he had? The afterglow Draco had been basking in was snuffed out as Hermione jumped into her trousers.

“I have to. Like I said, I lied to come meet you. Harry thinks I’ve gone to scout out the area. We have… we have a lot to talk about and do when I get back.”

“I see.” Draco stood in his towel as Hermione pulled on her blouse.

“I don’t know when we’ll see each other after this,” Hermione said, zipping up her jumper. “I shouldn’t have even come here. I put you in harm’s way by letting you see me.”

She got down on all fours and checked under the bed.

“Really, Hermione. I’m glad you asked me to come. I missed you. So much.” Draco tried to say something else – anything else – but the words weren’t forming properly on his tongue.

Hermione stood back up and smiled at him, walking over. He was still practically naked and dripping all over the carpet.

“I missed you too. And I’m going to miss you. You helped me feel so safe and warm, and that’s something I’m never going to forget. It was just what I needed. I hope it was what you needed, too.”

She stood on her tiptoes and kissed him.

“Really, Draco. I don’t know what I would do without you. You mean so much to me.”

“And you… you mean so much to me. I lov–”

“Merlin, I really need to go. Harry’s going to be panicked.” Hermione checked her watch and squeaked. “You can get dressed and apparate back to the Burrow after I leave.”

Hermione picked up her wand and drew a breath to trigger her apparition.

“Wait, Hermione!” It seemed he had found his voice.

She turned to face him, an expectant look on her face. He wanted to ask her not to leave. To stay here with him in this little inn just a little longer. He wanted to tell her that he loved her.

But no. Long, drawn-out goodbyes were far more difficult than swallowing a potion in a single gulp. He opened his mouth to speak, unsure of what was going to come out.

“Be careful,” he managed weakly.

“You too, Draco,” she replied, a sad smile dancing on her lips.

And with a wave of her wand and a crack, she was gone.

Draco stood alone in their hotel room, a small puddle at his feet and the faint smell of sex lingering in the air. The only evidence of their encounter. A numbness was slowly filling the space in his chest that had just been full with emotion. If he was so numb, then why did it hurt so much?

With lead arms and legs, Draco redressed. He double-checked that his pebble was still in his pocket before grabbing his own wand.

Destination. Determination. Deliberation.

The little room at the inn disappeared and Draco found himself standing just beyond the Weasley’s orchard once more. The sun had set long ago, and he could see the lights of the Burrow blazing in the distance. As he traipsed through the orchard and the garden, he wondered if he could just slink upstairs unnoticed. The last thing he wanted to do was speak to anyone.

Draco turned the knob to the kitchen door and opened it to find Molly Weasley sitting at the table tracing the rim of a tea cup with her thumb. She jumped up at the sound of the door opening and stared for a moment before drawing her wand.

“Who were you disguised as at the wedding?”

“A curly, redheaded Weasley cousin. Sam Weasley. Hair was taken from a muggle in town.” He gave his answers half-heartedly, leaning against the doorframe. He was so tired. All he wanted was to go upstairs and sleep.

“Very well.” Mrs. Weasley smiled briefly. “You must be hungry. Let’s get something for you to eat.”

She gestured to the chair next to hers as she bustled into the kitchen to fix a plate. Draco collapsed into the chair, leaning onto the table with his elbow. Why had Hermione left in such a hurry? Sure, she had to get back to Potter and Weasley, but couldn’t she have at least lingered over their goodbye a little? Couldn’t she have acknowledged what had been such a transcendental experience? Had she felt the warmth he had felt? Her manner had been so detached, so cool…

He loved her. He had almost told her face-to-face, but the words hadn’t seemed even close to being on her tongue, and so he had swallowed them. And now he wasn’t sure when he would see her again. If he would see her. Terrible thoughts began to flood his mind as he sat at that kitchen table. Thoughts of her lifeless body, of existing in a world without her eyes, her hair, her lovely scent…

Draco felt the familiar tightening of his jaw that only came when he held back his tears.

Oh gods, why hadn’t he told her he loved her? Would that have made a difference?

Before he could stop himself, he choked out a sob.

“…and I was worried, Draco. You know you’re not supposed to disappear for that long. I know you wanted to get out for a bit, but you’ve got to be so careful right now… Draco?”

Mrs. Weasley was at his side immediately. He made out her form through thick tears that poured down his face. He tried to gasp for breath, but it came out jagged.

“Oh, my dear,” Mrs. Weasley moved her chair to be right beside his, and pulled him to her chest, embracing him with the gentleness only a mother could. Thinking of mothers only renewed his sobs. He cried so hard he thought he might fall apart. His tears soaked Mrs. Weasley’s shirt as she held him close, rubbing soft circles in his back and shushing him.

After several minutes, Draco’s sobs turned to hiccups and his tears slowed to a trickle. Yet even as he continued to sniffle, Mrs. Weasley didn’t move an inch, continuing to hold him close in comfort.

“Draco?” she asked softly, “Do you think you can move? I think you’ll be more comfortable on the sofa.”

He nodded with the slightest incline of his head and Mrs. Weasley stood, hoisting him up with surprising strength. She supported him when his muscles refused to work. It seemed as though all his energy had been spent in his actions of the past couple of hours, especially in the emotional devastation that was rocking him right then.

Mrs. Weasley helped him to the sofa and sat beside him. Draco leaned into her, pulling his knees up to his chest. He closed his eyes and he allowed himself to be comforted – to let Molly Weasley use her calm, motherly presence to ease him. He felt his consciousness slowly slipping, hardly noticing that she was humming a familiar lullaby. As he drifted off, visions of the gorgeous form of Hermione danced before his closed eyes, to both his delight and his devastation. But the sweet voice of Mrs. Weasley drove all of those negative thoughts from his mind and he fell into a peaceful oblivion – if only for now.

Chapter Text

Hermione managed to get a little sleep after arriving back at the tent. Before she had collapsed into bed, she informed Harry that she hadn’t been able to locate supplies, and that she would try again once they had moved. Harry accepted her answer easily, preoccupied with his own thoughts after such an eventful day.

Lying in her bunk, she listened to Ron’s soft snores crescendo over the gentle breeze blowing outside. From her snug little corner, tucked beneath her covers, she felt as though she could hear all the sounds of the woods surrounding them. They echoed in her ears as she tried to process the events of the last twenty-four hours.

Grimmauld Place had been so silent – well, with the exception of Mrs. Black; silent and austere to the point of oppression. While it had been a bit of a grim place to have a hideout, at the very least they had gained Kreacher’s allegiance and had had a bit of privacy.

Even with a magically-expanded tent, privacy was sure to be lacking from now on.

Staying in a tent for the Quidditch World Cup three years previously had been a rather exciting novelty. Bunk beds and fetching water was fun for a night or two, sure. But the prospect of that becoming her everyday existence on this dangerous hunt was daunting. Where would they get food? How would they live in such confined quarters for months… years, even? There was nowhere else for them to go, so as of now, the tent seemed to be the only option. The thought made her stomach lurch.  

She had to think of something else… anything else.

Hermione turned on her side to face the canvas wall of the tent, allowing her mind to drift back to the hours she had just spent in Draco’s embrace. If she closed her eyes, she could almost feel his hands on her body. The ghost of his touch lingered on her, and she couldn’t tell whether to treasure it or be terrified. Their first coupling on the bed had been rushed and more of a release than anything. But when they had been together in the tub – when Hermione had felt so connected to him that she couldn’t tell where she stopped and he started – it was as though every touch was imbued with a magic made just for them.

In that moment, Hermione could have sworn their hearts beat as one.  

As every inch of their skin collided in passion, Hermione swore she saw visions of a possible future. No war. A quiet home. Happy, quiet days. Long, pleasurable nights. The details were hazy, and it only came in brief flashes, but it felt so tangible that it almost made her want to cry with want.

Draco, of course, had interpreted that cry a different way and had plunged even deeper into her. Looking into his eyes in that moment, she saw nothing but possibilities

He somehow knew how to fill her so completely, milking pleasure from every inch of her body.

But in the immediate aftermath of their deed, those visions shattered. The bleak reality of their situation sank in, and Hermione was forced to relive all the horrific happenings of that day:

Innocent muggleborns dragged to Azkaban.

Being chased through the ministry.

Yaxley’s death grip on her arm.

Ron splinching.

The realization that they had nothing with which to destroy the locket – that all that turmoil had practically been for nothing.

With all of that happening in the real world outside of their hotel room, how could she have fallen so quickly and so deeply for Draco Malfoy? It had scared her to the point that she practically jumped away the second they were finished. But the moment his body had disconnected from hers, it was as though half her heart had been left in his hands, exposed and fragile.

She wrote to Draco because today had just been too much; she needed to feel the solid ground beneath her feet… the loving touch of someone who cared about her. Harry hadn’t been in the right emotional state to give her that support and Ron was missing a chunk out of his side. So she had chosen Draco in a moment of pure desperation and weakness. That’s what it had been.

And he had come. Draco Malfoy had been at her side almost immediately, risking his own safety just to offer her a bit of comfort and pleasure.

She was so selfish.

Selfish. The word ricocheted around her brain in the moments immediately following the most intensely emotional experience she had had in her nearly eighteen years; it was as though she had been slapped, and the feelings of being sated and safe in that damn tub evaporated instantaneously. That’s why she had practically flown from that inn, drenched in shame, leaving a stammering Draco Malfoy in nothing but a towel.

She told him that Harry would be expecting her, but that had been a poor attempt at an excuse. Harry hadn’t noticed her absence much, clearly. He hadn’t budged from where he sat, completely consumed by his own brooding during her entire escapade. Ron was simply unconscious the whole time.

No, Hermione had wanted to avoid confronting the incredibly complicated situation in which she now found herself; she had run to Draco to avoid thinking about the ministry, and she had run from him when faced with the possibility that she was growing more and more attached. It was an odd sort of Catch-22.

An owl hooting outside the tent brought her back to the present.

Inside her chest, the heart that had spent much of the day pounding in fear and passion had finally slowed to a steady rhythm. It felt strange. 

By now, Draco had surely returned back to the Burrow. It had been the right decision to make a hasty exit, she was sure. Forming an intense attachment to Draco… to anyone right now – it wasn’t something she could afford. Even if he was in hiding, loving Draco Malfoy and exposing their mission or her heart was too dangerous.

Yes, it had been the right decision to leave like that. Even if the look on his face had been the picture of devastation… no.

Now was the time to focus.

Hermione closed her eyes, searching for sleep. Draco’s slack-jawed, pleasure-filled face floated into her mind once again. She groaned, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes.

It was going to be a long night.


 

They didn’t stay in one place for long after that. After apparating to a new town the next day, Harry was the one to go scouting for supplies. The day had felt rather hopeful for a while, but he returned with news of Dementors and an inability to produce a patronus.

Damn locket.

Hermione hated wearing it. Every time the horcrux hung around her neck, she felt as though everything seemed a bit more difficult and a great deal dimmer. Her thoughts slowed and her mood darkened. For all the claims of her being the brightest witch of her age, the locket seemed to disprove these notions. For the first few days, it hadn’t seemed to bad. She had simply given up reading The Tales of Beedle the Bard while wearing it; translating the runes and trying to search for meaning between the lines was too monumental a task to attempt when her mood soured. 

After more than a week with an irritable lack of productivity, she stopped trying to do any truly useful tasks while wearing it. Instead, the ghastly thing only hung around her neck when she sat up on guard duty or when she had to do physical tasks like gathering mushrooms or setting up the tent. Unfortunately, these menial tasks gave her mind the opportunity to wander. Normally, this would made for a pleasant diversion, but the locket had the ability to blacken her thoughts – to poison the ideas that would normally have lifted her up.

Whenever she considered the possibilities for their next meal with their daily findings, it almost seemed to whisper, “You’ll starve to death before you can accomplish anything.

Whenever the horcruxes crossed her mind, the locket told her, “You’ll never find them all.”

But worst of all was when she thought of Draco. Which was quite often. She couldn’t help it, of course. No matter how much effort she put into blocking him from her mind when she wore the horcrux, his face, his voice, hell, the silky texture of his hair wouldn’t leave her alone. Though she had initially tried to push all thoughts of him away after their intense encounter, it seemed that those very thoughts were practically the only things that could make her smile. When she wasn’t wearing the locket, thinking of Draco left her feeling warm and safe. The love she felt for the blonde boy even gave her little bubbles of joy, leaving stupid little grins on her face that confused the hell out of Harry and Ron.

During her turn to carry the burden? It was as though all the negative thoughts and implications about their relationship circled in her head repeatedly, like an ominous sort of vulture. That locket made her brain scream out all the insecurities she tried to push down.

She was putting them all at risk by forming extra attachments.

She was supposed to be Draco’s guardian – not his girlfriend. 

She had basically forced him out of hiding for her own selfish wants.

If Harry or Ron ever found out about what she had done, they may never speak to her again. Particularly Ron.

She had jeopardized their entire mission by meeting up with Draco.

She had given her heart and her body to a known Death Eater.

That last thought usually brought her to a really dark place that she had to force herself to snap out of. When she reached that point, she often asked to switch out before finding a solitary place to have a good cry. As she sobbed, she would squeeze her pebble and then cradle it in her palm. Hope of a reply kept her from sinking even lower.

Each of those thoughts brought pain to her heart that she didn’t realize she was capable of feeling. But something in particular about having a twisted, evil version of her own voice tell her that she had given her heart and her body to a known Death Eater… that was enough to paralyze her.

There was no doubt in her mind that Draco wasn’t the cruel, evil person that so many made him out to be, but she wasn’t stupid. The world would try to pin that label on him whenever he emerged from hiding. Even if she managed to convince her friends that Draco had a heart under his alabaster exterior, much of the magical community would believe her to be under the Imperius curse or think of her as some sort of Death Eater whore.

Of course, there was always the option of taking the high road and ignoring everyone. Yes, that was a good idea until Hermione recalled the portion of her fourth year when she had been accused of playing with Harry Potter’s heart and had consequently been sent a slew of hate mail. And if it would be bad for her, it would be a thousand times worse for Draco.

She wished that loving Draco Malfoy could be straightforward. But from the way she looked at things, locket or no, if there was to be a path forward it would most certainly be filled with curves and twists.

In those dark moments, when she was in the depths of despair, her mind also took her to an unexpected place, or rather, an unexpected person: Ron.

Being with Ron would be nothing like that. If she were with Ron, her path would be straightforward. Given that they both made it out of this war alive, she and Ron would face no real obstacles to a relationship. Practically everyone expected it – that’s what it seemed, anyway. Frankly, the only person standing in the way would be Ron and his teaspoon-sized emotional capabilities. Whenever this damn war ended, they would likely marry and have a collection of red-haired children. Mrs. Weasley would certainly love that.

Yes, that would be the easy choice.

Please, her brain would beg. Let something – anything be easy.

But it wasn’t what she wanted. Not anymore.

When her tears turned to mere sniffles and the hysteria faded, the easy choice began to sound boring. Being with Draco came with risks, sure, but he excited her. He challenged her. And of course, the mere thought of him made her stomach feel like it was filled with pixies. Especially when the pebble grew warm in reply to her touch.  

Hermione’s thoughts of Draco oscillated so frequently and with such fervor that it often made her dizzy. After a particularly bad episode with the locket, Hermione decided that she was in desperate need of a way to compartmentalize and distract herself.

So she found ways to keep busy. When she wasn’t wearing the locket, she buried herself in research. All times of day and night found her huddled over one book or other, often by wandlight, trying to piece together some sort of picture that would solve their horcrux mystery. After a while, she found that researching helped keep negative thoughts about her relationship Draco at bay; most days, her subconscious didn’t seem to have the energy for an internal battle.

This came as a relief, as she was able to begin writing to him again without spiraling. Hermione tucked the journal in with her research books to have ready access whenever she needed it. The boys never touched her books, so it was a safe keeping place. The ideal time to write to Draco seemed to be when she had informed Harry and Ron that she needed some quiet time to concentrate.

In her letters to Draco, she had apologized for her quick exit from their encounter at least a dozen times by now. She had written ‘I’m sorry’ in just about every way she could imagine.

He had forgiven her each time and told her that he understood, but she couldn’t escape the feeling that he was still upset. Not angry, no… just melancholy about the whole thing. For over a month after their encounter, their writing to each other was stiff. Reports on what they ate. That he was bored at the Burrow. That the season was changing. How they had slept the night before. Their words felt stilted, and every time she tried to put quill to parchment, it was as though nothing could come out right. It all just seemed forced. Hermione felt the beautiful relationship they had built over the summer cracking under her feet with every labored word they exchanged.

No matter how much her mind played tug-of-war over loving Draco; no matter how much the horcrux poisoned her thoughts of their relationship, she still wanted him. She wanted him so badly she wished she could dive through the pages of her journal and kiss him senseless to make him see.

But as insufficient as they were, her words would have to do for now. Hermione pondered this conundrum through many October nights, Ron’s usual snores providing the soundtrack to her thoughts. If she wasn’t careful, their relationship could fall apart. She had to do something with her words – something to build a bridge between them once more.

Of course, what she really wanted was to write lovely, sappy poems, but she had a feeling that pouring such feeling into the journal would only entangle her feelings for him further.

Eventually, she settled on writing naughty messages to each other. She explained to Draco in one particularly long-winded letter that this way, they could still feel intimate without putting their safety on the line. Draco wrote back almost immediately, and she could practically hear the surprise in the unusually-sloppy scratch of his words. Though he had written her tidbits of his dirty thoughts and yearnings before, never had he written the level of detail she had requested.

Thankfully, he agreed.

Hermione wrote him the first message, and it was nothing if not awkward. Putting her desires onto the page proved difficult. She sat, hand tangled in her hair, tongue sticking out in concentration for over an hour as she wrote, fully aware that nothing in the journal could be erased.

I want you to touch me, Draco.

I want you to kiss me softly at first.

I want to feel your chest pressed against mine.

I want to grind myself into you.

Then I want our kissing to grow harder. Like your cock.

I want you to remove my clothes bit by bit.

Then I want you to put your cock in me until I scream your name.

It wasn’t well-written to any degree, but it certainly got the point across. By the time she finished and admired her work, a warm blush had worked its way up from her chest all the way to her cheeks. Yes, that would do. With a bit more of a snap than usual, she closed the journal and walked away.

Not even ten minutes later, her mind was rushing with paranoia as she went over the exact words she had written over and over in her mind. Would Draco find it the least bit erotic? Perhaps he would have a good laugh. At that thought, she almost ripped the page from the journal and set it on fire.

The rest of the evening found her nerves sharper than ever. She was unable to sit still for long, unable to read, and generally unable to do much other than stare into space. That night’s dinner – scavenged mushrooms – turned her stomach. Hermione groaned as she pushed her plate away.

Damn her nerves for acting up over something so stupid.

Ron ate her portion instead.

It seemed, though, that her worry was unnecessary. When she sank into an armchair to give another valiant attempt at research after supper, she felt the pebble grow warm in her pocket. With an odd sort of bubbling in her stomach, she peeked inside the journal.

He had responded.

In much neater handwriting than before, he confessed in his reply that he had wanked to the images the message had put in his head.

The very thought made her turn an even deeper shade of crimson.

Draco responded with his own erotic message three days later.

“Took your time, didn’t you?” Hermione grumbled to herself as she tucked the pebble back into her pocket and pulled the journal from in between  Spellman’s Syllabary and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.

As it turned out, Draco was rather poetic. Damn him. Here, she thought that she had written something decent, and he ended up writing this. His messages to her were a far cry from what she had been expecting. I wish I could fuck you or Your tits are great or something to that effect.

No, Draco Malfoy had pulled out all the stops to woo her, it seemed.

Your body pulsates with need, but I can see that it’s the beating of your heart affecting you from head to toe. A heart that beats for me, for some convoluted, wonderful reason. Your pink nipples taste of candy, and your lips are made of honey. And your pussy? It’s so complex in flavor that I don’t dare describe it. But I will say this. One lick of you and I am hooked.

You’ve made me insatiable, Hermione. I want nothing more than to bury myself in you and stay there forever. I want to feel that push and pull – that ebb and flow – that cresting of pleasure until you and I are unable to remember anything outside of our bed. And then I want to continue doing with that again and again and again until our worlds are nothing but pleasure.

I am far from done with you, Hermione Granger.

Hermione had to excuse herself to take a shower after reading that.

Showering in a tent with two teenage boys had proved to be a bit of an adventure. They didn’t seem to mind walking around in towels after their own showers, torsos exposed and dripping. Oh, no. That was normal. But seeing her in the same condition? It had sent both boys to the mouth of the tent immediately, Harry trying to look anywhere but at her and Ron spluttering about needing to look for berries.

At the moment, however, neither of them were around. Harry was out on a walk, once again lost in thought about the thief and it was Ron’s turn to wear the horcrux, so naturally, he was sitting outside grumbling about something. Not wanting to miss this golden opportunity of privacy, she gathered her books, shoved them back into her bag, and headed to the loo.

It wasn’t large by any means, but it did the trick for the three of them. An aguamenti charm had been placed on the shower so they had ready access to water, despite the lack of pipes. Hermione turned the tap, casting a warming charm and allowing it to steam up before shedding her clothes. As she pulled her shirt from over her head, her arm grazed her left breast and she winced. Had she managed to bruise herself somehow?

Unclasping her bra, she held her left breast in her hand and examined it. Nothing looked odd or discolored. Frowning, she shifted her hand to check the other side and winced again as a dull pain radiated from her chest.

How odd.

Had she been straining herself too much lately? Perhaps she had pulled a muscle during one of their frequent moves. Was it possible to pull a muscle in your chest? It must be, because she certainly hadn’t rammed that part of her body into anything.

Well, if she knew one thing about injuries and bruises, she knew they would heal with time.

Pushing the soreness aside, she stepped into the shower and allowed the hot water to envelope her body. It felt like heaven. Rivulets ran across her skin and seemed to wash away all the toxic thoughts that plagued her when the horcrux hung around her neck. Hot water seemed to be just the thing to relax her muscles and take her mind off the heavy problems that lay just outside this room.

When her body had relaxed just enough, she allowed her thoughts to drift back to Draco’s words, now tucked away in her beaded bag.

I am far from done with you, Hermione Granger.

Despite the heat, she shivered, her toes curling at the implications of his words. Hermione’s right hand wound its way down her stomach until she caressed herself, feeling the evidence of her arousal already gathering like nectar between her thighs. She sighed at the contact, pressing harder. Waves of pleasure began to course through her body, growing more intense with each swipe of her fingers.

She reached up with her left hand to palm her breast and – ouch!

With a yelp, Hermione drew her hands away from her body almost immediately, all pleasure falling away. A frown spread across her face, a frustrated groan escaping her lips. Clearly, something was going on with her left breast. She poked the right one experimentally and flinched when it also felt painful to the touch.

All thoughts of pleasure evaporated immediately. What in the world was going on? She reached back mentally, trying to grasp at anything that might be the cause. When no answer came, the desire to speak with another woman ached within her. Who she really wanted to talk to was her mother, but that was a distinct impossibility, and lingering on thoughts of her mother made the ache worse. She would settle for talking to Ginny. Even Mrs. Weasley would do. She just wanted to talk to someone about this. Certainly, pain in her breasts wasn’t normal. They had never felt like that before.

With a sigh, Hermione turned off the tap and reached for her blue towel that was hanging from a hook just outside the stall. Drying herself was normal until she reached her chest, suddenly hesitant to place any pressure there. She pressed the fabric to her skin and was relieved to find that if she was gentle enough, the process wasn’t painful.

As she began to dress, she allowed herself to sulk for a moment. This was supposed to have been a lovely little escape, if only for a few minutes. Draco’s perfectly good words, wasted… she clicked her tongue with disapproval for herself.

After pulling her trousers on, she checked the watch she had tucked in her pocket. Hermione scowled at the ticking face. It was nearly mid-afternoon, meaning it was her turn to take over with the locket.

She winced as she fastened her bra in place. Perhaps later she could work on an enlargement charm to try and loosen the garment a bit. It was all just odd. She was certain she had been losing weight with their lack of a stable diet, but this… this was just odd.

Hermione winced again as she pulled her shirt on.

“Stupid bra,” she mumbled to herself, trying to adjust the cups. If only she didn’t have to wear this wiry, uncomfortable garment…

But, no. Doing without was out of the question; Ron and Harry might very well notice, and she did not particularly fancy having a conversation with them that centered around her sore breasts.

At that thought, she chuckled to herself and gathered the rest of her things on her way out of the loo.


 

 After a week or so, the pain seemed to subside a bit, much to Hermione’s relief. She had loosened her bra, and that had proved helpful. Hermione remained vigilant to any other unexplained pains in her body, though she hadn’t really noticed any.

The trio continued to move every couple of days, and after almost six weeks of being on the run, they had gotten quite proficient and packing and unpacking their campsite. They delegated tasks without discussing them anymore. Their locket rotation also remained relatively fixed. Every day seemed to pass in a similar pattern of going through the motions. The only subtle change that Hermione noticed was the growing level of frustration in the group.

Despite all the time that had passed since their infiltration of the Ministry, nothing had changed about the horcrux situation. No new ones. No way to destroy the one they had. No information at all. The lack of progress didn’t seem to be bothering Harry too much, but it was definitely gnawing away at Ron. With each passing day, he seemed to grow surlier and more dangerous, much like a wounded dog. He had taken to listening to the wireless and grumbling about everything. Hermione had grown wary of him, paying particular attention to him when he was wearing the locket; that, after all, was when he was most prone to fits of negativity.

It seemed everything they did now had fallen into a frustrating routine. On a crisp day in mid-October, the three of them once again apparated to a new location – this time to a rural community in the highlands. Hermione rolled out of bed that morning feeling as though the Knight Bus had hit her. Everything about her felt sluggish, and she wanted to do nothing but have a lie in.

Much to her annoyance, however, Harry and Ron had already packed up half the tent by the time she got up. Wanting to contribute at least something, she threw out the suggestion that they go somewhere quite rural for a change. She had worn the horcrux overnight, and it sat against her chest even still, so she hadn’t been able to put much thought into her idea. The boys had accepted it without a fight and they arrived to their new location minutes later.

The moment they landed, Hermione let go of Harry and leaned forward, her hands on her knees. Everything faded in and out and she felt lightheaded. The world was spinning around her, the surrounding mountains moving in and out of focus. As she swayed, Harry gripped her arms to keep her steady. Hermione looked up to see a panicked expression on his face.

“Oi, Hermione! Are you all right?”

As Harry spoke, Ron turned around as well. His normally-disgruntled face was painted with concern for a change. He was immediately at her other side, his arm enveloping her to hold her up.

“Blimey, you look dead tired, ‘Mione,” Ron said, rubbing her back.

Hermione held her head in her hands as the world began to right itself, still leaning on her friends for support.

“I’m fine,” she murmured, standing upright. “Just a dizzy spell. My blood sugar must be low. I’ll have a bite and then help with the enchantments as usual.”

Hermione took two steps forward before her legs buckled from underneath her and her vision went spotty again.

Harry and Ron seemed to have caught her, because when she drifted back into awareness, she was lying on a patch of frost-covered grass and they were hovering over her looking concerned. She opened her mouth to speak, but Harry cut her off.

“Don’t even try to explain this away, Hermione. We both know you’ve been taking longer shifts than us with the locket. It’s finally taking its toll on you, and we can’t have that. Give it here.” Harry reached behind Hermione’s head and gently lifted her neck up to remove the offending object.

As Harry hung the locket around his neck, Hermione expected that familiar feeling of lightness and relief to wash over her like it normally did when her shift with the horcrux ended. But it never came.

How odd.

She felt better, certainly. But only marginally. Her body still ached, and her mind was stagnant. It felt as though fog had rolled through her brain, making the formation of thoughts or words difficult.

“Better?” Ron asked, pulling her to her feet.

Hermione had half a mind to say yes, but her hesitation must have given her away.

“We won’t have you getting sick, ‘Mione. I’ll do the enchantments. Once the tent is set up, why don’t you just go inside and rest a bit?”

She found herself nodding as the boys got to work – Ron with the tent and Harry with the wards – while she just stood there in the grass, unsure of how to proceed. The moment Ron finished, she excused herself to go lie down. Hermione slid into her bunk and stared out into the living space, not really seeing. Foggy though her brain might still be, she tried to fight through it to form a coherent thought.

Why did she still feel so fatigued, even with the horcrux off her person? Come to think of it, she had been feeling under the weather more often than not in the last couple weeks – headaches on and off, a fluctuating appetite… and that odd situation with her chest. Perhaps it was an odd chest cold? It was definitely autumn by now, so a cold certainly wasn’t out of the question.

Summoning her beaded bag, she sat up and dug inside for her medical potions kit. Perhaps she could spare a bit of pepper-up or pain reliever potion for the occasion. The vials were all inside a medium-sized box, organized by purpose and meticulously labeled.

As she sorted through the collection of potions, her fingers touched the label of a familiar purple potion – a menstrual pain relief potion. Hermione had made sure to pack a large amount, as she had no idea how long this journey would last. She was about to move on to regular pain relief potion when she paused, returning to the purple vials.

She counted them. Twice. They were all still there. She counted again. She wracked her memory. Surely there and been an occasion in recent weeks when she had needed one of these potions. Surely.

Hermione scrunched her eyes closed, delving past the fog to search for memories of blood, cramps, anything.

Nothing.

All at once, the fog from her brain disappeared, and her head began racing faster than it ever had before. Her period was admittedly hard to trace. Whatever spell Dolohov had cast in the Department of Mysteries had done far more damage than she cared to share with her male best friends. When she had finally woken up from her ordeal in the Hospital Wing at the end of fifth year, Hermione had spent several long minutes sobbing into Madame Pomfrey’s shoulder as the healer had explained everything with tender patience. She explained that the injury had reached her ovaries and uterus, and that it was unclear if Hermione would ever have a period again. And not having a period meant potentially not having children.

That was not a conversation sixteen-year-old Hermione had been prepared for. But thankfully her period had come again during sixth year, though it had proved to be irregular since.

When she concentrated, she was able to recall that her last period had been in July. Since it had resumed last year, it usually came every other month. But by that logic, she should have gotten her period nearly a month ago. The horcrux and all the trying events they had been facing since departing from the Burrow had driven seemingly mundane things like periods from her mind.

July. It had been three months since her last period.

Her heart sank to her feet and she buried her face in her hands. Hermione Granger knew what was wrong with sexually active young women whose periods were late. There had been some scuttlebutt last year among the older Gryffindor girls when a seventh-year girl, Marie, had been late. Luckily it had been a false alarm, but until they were sure, she, Parvati, Lavender, and the other seventh-year girls had stayed up late comforting Marie until she returned triumphant from the loo, her eyes filled with tears of relief.

How she longed for those kinds of tears now.

However, Hermione always prided herself on being a practical person, and there would be only one way to either alleviate her fears or come to terms with her new reality: she had to get a pregnancy test.

Pregnancy test. Just the words sent a shiver down her spine.

Of course, Hermione knew there were ways to find out with magic, but in her apparent wisdom, she thought she wouldn’t need that kind of spell for another few years at least. It seemed as though a muggle test would have to do the trick.

Her mind set, she attempted to busy herself for the rest of the day. Harry and Ron poked their heads into the tent to check on her several times. Each time they found her unmoved, sitting at the table surrounded by books. What they didn’t see was that in the middle, carefully placed to be concealed by various other tomes, her special journal sat open to a blank page. Every few minutes, Hermione would pick up the quill and hover just over the journal, poised to write to Draco. But what would she write?

After several failed attempts over the course of the day, she stowed the journal. Best not to say anything if there was nothing to report.

For all she knew, it could be nothing.

Throughout the day, every twinge of her lower abdomen gave her hope. Perhaps her period would arrive… but those hopes were soon dashed when nausea took over instead. The queasiness was especially bad every time she tried to go near the mushrooms they had been gathering for dinner that evening.

Hermione fell in and out of an uneasy sleep that night, her dreams oscillating between visions of herself holding a beautiful yet faceless bundle in her arms and nightmares of Death Eaters cursing her newborn child. After waking up in a cold sweat twice, she refused to fall back asleep and traded Harry for his nightly horcrux-wearing session. Harry seemed wary but grateful as he climbed back into the tent, leaving Hermione to the tornado of thoughts in her head for the remaining dark hours.

When Harry and Ron emerged from the tent after daybreak, she casually suggested that they make it a point to camp near a mid-sized town with decent shops in order to restock supplies.

“I’ll even be the one to go into town,” she offered, trying to sweeten the deal. “I’m feeling much better today.”

It seemed that step had been necessary, because both boys didn’t even offer any other suggestions of counterpoints. They just shrugged and agreed.

As soon as the new campsite was set up near a riverbank in Wales, Hermione tossed the horcrux to Ron, snagged Harry’s invisibility cloak, and headed for town. The leaves had recently turned brilliant shades of red and yellow, and if it hadn’t been for the heavy burden weighing down her mind, Hermione might have actually enjoyed the walk. As the cluster of buildings in the distance grew closer, she solidified the plan in her mind and ran through it several times.

Finding the grocers was easy enough, and she managed to slip in through the automatic doors behind an elderly couple without anyone noticing. A sign by the door showed the date: October the 24th. Hermione walked briskly through the food aisles, taking items off the shelf when no one was looking. Tinned vegetables. Pasta. Eggs. Milk.

Everything went into her beaded bag.

Food for the next couple of days secure, Hermione turned her attention toward the part of the store that had to be next on her agenda: the chemist. Her heart beating in her throat, she read the signs hanging above each aisle and made her way to the section of the store she knew would carry the item she needed now.

And there they were. Pregnancy tests. Right in between condoms and pregnancy antenatal vitamins. With a shaking hand, she grabbed two boxes at random. As she slipped them into her bag, she paused, eyeing the shelf once more. Gritting her teeth, she stuffed a container of antenatal vitamins into her bag as well.

Gods, she hoped she wouldn’t need them.

Everything she needed now in her bag, Hermione made a mad dash for the exit. Without stopping, she ran all the way back to where she knew their encampment to be. The wards opened to her and she walked into the tent and immediately began to unpack their supplies into a small cabinet. Both boys were exactly where she had left them: Harry sat brooding in a corner of the tent, and Ron was fiddling with the wireless, his knee shaking as he muttered to himself. Shortly after her arrival, though, they gravitated in her direction, eager to see the spoils she brought from civilization.

They marveled over the tinned fruit and each had a bite before everything was put away. Ron had wanted more, but she put her foot down, insisting that this batch had to last. He grumbled and went back to the wireless. She had been careful not to let the boys touch her beaded bag as she put the groceries away. If one of them had stumbled across the test or the vitamins…

She didn’t want to think about that.

The day grew colder as it passed, keeping everyone inside. Hermione had hoped for a bit of privacy as soon as she got home, but it seemed that wasn’t meant to be. She had no idea how she would react to the test results and wanted to be quite alone when she did. Not even the loo door would be enough to hide her reaction, she feared.

Gathering all the patience she had left in her, she pulled out her copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and the journal and settled in the armchair once more.

Opening the journal, she found that Draco had written a short, affectionate message. Mrs. Weasley had taught him to make pot roast, apparently, and he hadn’t burned anything. He had written some variation of “Aren’t you proud of me?" about six times.

Hermione went back and forth in her mind when she thought of Draco. Would she have wanted him there when she tested? Or was she glad he was away and blissfully unaware? Reaching into her beaded bag – she had been afraid to put it down, for some reason – she felt around for the box. The test would be waiting for her when she mustered the courage to take it.

Gods, she hoped she would feel relief and could move on from this silly notion of being pregnant.

After a couple hours of attempting to re-read The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, Harry and a still- grumpy Ron announced that they would be outside looking to catch some fish. Hermione nodded vaguely and watched them disappear outside. As soon as they had gone, she flew toward the loo, bag in hand.

With trembling fingers, she withdrew one of the tests and read the instructions over three times. Peeing on the stick turned out to be easy enough, but Hermione found waiting to be much more difficult. She sat on the closed lid of the toilet, her leg shaking as fast as her heart was pounding. As she sat, she prayed that Harry and Ron didn’t interrupt her. She needed these moments to think. As much as she was panicking, she couldn’t come face-to-face with another person until she wrapped her mind around this, for fear she would explode.

One minute passed.

What if she was pregnant? What would she do? It might be the smart thing to do to get an abortion. Bringing a baby into this situation was frankly an awful idea. So much of their world was out of their control right now, and the dangers of their very existence were high. No, bringing a baby into a life like this was a horrible idea.

Two minutes.

Draco’s face floated to the front of her mind. His eyes and his soft smile brought a kind of peace to her manic heart. His story about making pot roast even made her grin for a half-second as she thought of his most recent letter. If she was indeed pregnant, this… thing inside her would be a piece of her and a piece of him. Though her head knew that it would be just plain stupid to go ahead with a pregnancy, her heart filled with warmth at the thought of bringing their child into the world.

What to do? Hermione gave a soft whimper of frustration. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn’t.

At that moment, her wand buzzed, signifying the end of the timer. With a deep breath, Hermione closed her eyes and turned the test over in her hands.

Two lines stared up at her from the little stick. Two lines. Pregnant.

What the hell was she going to do?

There was apparently no more time to think, because Ron chose that exact moment to call out to her. “Oi, Hermione! Harry’s caught some fish. Cook it up, will you?” Hermione took a few shallow breaths, stuffed the pregnancy test and its accompanying wrappers into her beaded bag, and tromped outside to meet her friends.

In her distracted state, she managed to burn the fish. She had been too fixated on the thing growing in her womb to pay proper attention to their dinner and had promptly charred it. Despair building within her, she piled the lumpy fish onto a plate and made her way back into the tent.

Pregnant. She was pregnant.

Harry did a good job masking his distaste, eating his portion dutifully. Ron, however, gave his plate a disgusted look as he poked it.

“My mother can make good food appear out of thin air,” he grumbled, dissecting the fish.

Hermione felt badly that she had burned dinner. Honestly, she did. But considering her current preoccupation, everything else seemed so inconsequential. Sure, dinner was burned, and they were nearly always hungry. And yes, he was wearing the horcrux.

But Ron Weasley had no real right to complain. If he knew… if only he knew what was growing inside her at this moment…

Telling Ron and Harry that she was pregnant, though, would lead to certain disaster. So in order to prevent herself from saying something she would regret, she did the first thing she could think of: explain to Ron why his assertion was incorrect.

This, of course, set off a huge argument. Hermione jumped from her spot to yell at Ron, but regretted doing so, as she almost immediately felt ill from the sudden movement.

It was almost fortuitous that Harry had to shut them up to listen to the sudden visitors outside their tent: goblins, Ted Tonks, a man called Dirk, and… was that…? Dean! The trio listened to the group’s conversation in strained silence through an extendable ear. Hermione’s concentration faded in and out at first, but the mention of Ginny, Neville, and the sword drove everything else from her mind.

The subsequent conversation with Phineas Nigellus also turned out to be enlightening, and the deluge of information left her more clearheaded and driven than she had felt in weeks. It seemed as though the cogs of her mind were cranking themselves back to life after so long sitting still, covered in dust. She and Harry brainstormed in a frenzy, tossing ideas about the sword back and forth.

To feel like herself again, if only for a few moments, was like jumping into the Black Lake on a warm summer afternoon. But as the two of them looked around for Ron to join in their conversation, Hermione felt as though that pleasant dip turned to an icy trap. Ron’s expression had soured, and all at once, it felt as though all the air had been sucked from the tent.

Hermione struggled to catch her breath as the reality of her situation hit her once again, like a punch to the gut. Even with these new ideas, they were still exactly in the same position they had been for nearly two months. Harry would return to brooding tomorrow. Ron would still be surly. And she… she would still be pregnant.

Pregnant.

She had apparently been lost in her own thoughts for long enough that Ron and Harry were now screaming at each other – saying things she knew they would regret later. Hermione began to cry in earnest when Harry accused her of disloyalty – of whispering behind his back – and Ron only made the situation worse.

As the two continued to scream at each other, Hermione felt the tension build to a breaking point. One hand over her stomach, her face in tears, she watched as both boys poised to curse each other. But, thank Merlin, she got there first, casting a shield charm.

Hermione looked between her two best friends. She thought back to that afternoon just months ago they had spent by the lake – the afternoon before everything had changed. She thought about how they smiled at her in the soft summer sun and how easy it had all felt back then.

Not now, anyway. Not now. Now, it all just felt broken.

Sobs wracked her body as Ron asked her if she was coming, and she could hardly believe he was asking her to choose.

“I…Yes – yes, I’m staying. Ron, we said we’d go with Harry, we said we’d help –”

“I get it. You choose him.”

“Ron, no – please – come back, come back!”

Hermione ran into her own shield charm and by the time she undid it, he had gone. She ran into the night, calling after him. Rain pounded all around her, soaking through her clothes almost immediately. Her hair fell in her eyes, making it even impossible to see. In the distance, she heard a crack.

He was gone.

Hermione had just enough energy to drag herself back to the tent and collapse into a chair. Her jeans and jumper clung to her, soaked through and sopping. She began to shake, though she wasn’t sure if it was from crying so hard or from the cold. Harry threw a blanket over her before retreating to his bunk.

The hopelessness of this horcrux hunt.

Ron’s abandonment.

Her growing love for Draco Malfoy.

And now this burgeoning life inside her… it was all too much. It was just too much.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Hermione must have cried herself to sleep. When she came to, Harry’s soft snores filled the tent and the rain outside continued to pound. She wiped the remnants of her dried tears from her face and sniffed twice as she stood up.

She blinked, taking in the state of the quiet tent. Everything was eerily still, as if the world had suddenly paused inside this little bubble. Outside, the war continued to rage, but here, the air hung, unmoving and stale. Yes, all was quiet. But nothing was right.

Ron was gone.

She and Harry were all alone on this arduous hunt now.

They were all alone and she…

She was pregnant. Pregnant with Draco Malfoy’s child.

The thought repeated in her head, growing louder and louder. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. The word began to distort until it was just a bunch of sounds meshed together without context or meaning. The world that had seemed so still now seemed to tilt on its axis. The sense of control she thought she had on her life vanished like smoke, slipping through her fingers. Hermione reached out, trying to grasp at it – at anything, but she stumbled. Her heart began racing, her breath shallow and erratic. Her whole body shook violently as she searched for something solid to hold onto.

Pregnant. She couldn’t be. Not in the middle of the war – not when so much was at stake.

Sweat poured from her body, and she fluctuated between heat flashes and chills. Sinking to her knees, she somehow managed to crawl into the bathroom and away from the open air of the living space where Harry was still sleeping. He couldn’t see her like this – couldn’t know what was going on – how careless she had been to put them in a situation like this.

How Hermione was able to cast a silencing charm in the middle of a panic attack, she wasn’t sure. But the moment she knew she wouldn’t be overheard, she let out a gut-wrenching sob. She wanted to scream – to curse – to throw things. How could this have happened? One of her greatest sources of anxiety was feeling out of control, and right now nothing was as it should be. Ron had abandoned them. Harry was a brooding mess. They hadn’t destroyed any horcruxes.

And she was pregnant.

Harry would be so disappointed. Everyone would be when they found out. And Draco? She had no idea how he would react. Would he be angry that she hadn’t used contraception? She was supposed to be infertile!

But never mind just being pregnant. How was she going to bring a baby into this situation? Could she? Even if it was feasible, was that the right thing to do? Hermione curled up, her knees tucked below her chin, and began to rock back and forth on the bathroom floor.

She had to make a decision. Once she made up her mind, perhaps she might regain some sense of control. Hermione took deep, ragged breaths. If there was one thing she prided herself on, it was her logical mind. Her brain was meant to come to the rescue in moments like this. She just had to think about this pregnancy… logically. Concentrating, she tried to move past the anxiety and shock to get at the root of her thoughts.

The thing she was carrying within her was a child conceived in desperation and love, and once she tried to see past that initial hysterical reaction, Hermione wasn’t sure how she felt about it. What was she supposed to feel? Was she supposed to feel terrified? Confused? Excited? She had never read any books that told her to feel about an unexpected, potentially dangerous teenage pregnancy.

Hermione continued to search her feelings in an attempt to quash her panic attack. Yes, there was anxiety and fear. But yet, not all of her feelings were negative. There was a twist to her emotions that emerged unexpectedly. It gave her pause. She couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but curiosity seemed to be the best-suited word at the moment.

But was curiosity enough to justify bringing a life into the world? Perhaps into danger?

Hermione sniffed and wiped her nose on the back of her hand like a child. She was just a child, herself. There was no way she was ready bring up a baby.

What did girls in her situation normally do? Hermione didn’t have any particular moral or ethical qualms about any of the options that came to the front of her mind. Certainly, termination seemed the simplest. Find a town. Go to a clinic. Done. She could move on and continue the horcrux hunt with Harry to her fullest extent. There would be no concern about what to do when she got large or when she had to birth a baby or when she had to take care of said baby.

That would be simple. And by many accounts, it sounded appealing.

Then, there was adoption. She could remain pregnant and when the time was right, give the baby to a family that could keep it safe and happy. It seemed altruistic and like the noble thing to do – perhaps the right thing to do for some people.

To Hermione, this seemed the most complicated option. She would have to still go through the pregnancy but wouldn’t end up with a baby. No, the idea of allowing someone else to raise the creature she and Draco created didn’t seem right. Not for her any way. No, that wasn’t a good fit.

Hermione had stopped crying by now. Instead, she stared at the canvas wall, her mind seemingly a million miles away.

She placed her hand on her abdomen and allowed herself, however briefly, to consider the third option.

If she had this baby, how far would she be willing to go to protect it? To keep it safe and raise it? Would she be willing to abandon Harry? Would she be willing to trust another to care for the baby until the end of the war? Or until the war ended her?

Hermione felt a lump rise in her throat.

She couldn’t justify bringing a baby into the world when she, herself, was in so much danger.

And yet.

This thing growing inside her was a combination of her and Draco. Surely, it would be a beautiful child. And so smart. Capable of so much. From beneath the layers of terror and panic, that strange curiosity she had felt earlier began to grow. What would this child look like? What would its little personality be like?

Hermione thought back to her journal conversation with Draco two months ago concerning Professor Lupin and Tonks’s baby ( had it only been two months? ). He had specifically written that he wouldn’t want to bring a baby into a world at war. Back then, she had countered by saying that babies were a reminder of what’s good in the world and of hope. Now, she wasn’t so sure. She was groping in the dark for what to do, but her brain was too jumbled and clouded to reach any solid conclusions.

The panic attack had subsided by now, and Hermione stood on shaky legs, opening the bathroom door to return to the main living area. Thankfully, Harry slept on.

Hermione sat down in an armchair and summoned her journal and a self-inking quill. Surely, Draco deserved to know about this development. He would certainly have feelings. Perhaps, his feelings would be more definite than hers. Her mind, so often able to navigate complicated situations, felt bogged down. Whether it was this predicament alone or whether weeks of poor eating and wearing the horcrux had begun to affect her thinking, she didn’t know.

She grabbed the quill as it flew toward her and opened the journal to a fresh page, poised to write. Just as the nib was about to make contact with the parchment, she paused. What should she say to Draco? How did you go about telling your boyfriend that you were pregnant? She brought the quill to the parchment once more, waiting for the usual string of words to flow from her brain onto the page.

Nothing.

All right. There was no need to be poetic. She could just write out two words: I’m pregnant. That would certainly get his attention. Her ink-dipped quill was once again poised just above the journal, and with shaking hands, she wrote the letter I. Hermione licked her lips and closed her eyes, hanging her head. She could do this. As she moved to write the rest of the message, her chest began to constrict once more, her hand shaking so badly that ink dripped onto the page.

She couldn’t do this.

She wrote “ I love you ” instead.

Growling with frustration, she slammed the journal shut and began to fuss in the kitchen, trying not to think until Harry woke up. When he did, she avoided his gaze. She didn’t need Harry to pick up that something beyond Ron’s departure was eating away at her. If he noticed anything different, he didn’t say anything. They packed up their campsite in heavy silence, lingering later into the morning than normal. Hermione knew Harry was trying to hang on, hoping Ron would return. Hermione lingered for other reasons. She knew that when they apparated to their new location, everything would be different. It would be the beginning of a newer, more difficult chapter in their journey, and Hermione wasn’t sure she was ready for that chapter.

The moment they arrived in their new camping sight, misery washed over her anew. Without speaking a word to Harry, she sat on a boulder, her body numb with disappointment. For what felt like the hundredth time in the past twenty-four hours, tears spilled onto her face and her whole body began to shake with sobs. She knew Harry could see her tears. But she also knew he wasn’t nearly observant enough to realize the true reason behind them.

That night, she opened the journal again to see Draco’s handwriting on the page. “I love you, too.”

The tears kept coming. Over the next several days, she tried to limit her crying to the times when she was alone, but she knew Harry heard her sometimes. He had never dealt with emotional women well. Though she felt guilty about it, it seemed that all her crying had left Harry a bit wary of her, and she had been grateful for the space. When she wasn’t feeling overwhelmed, her brain had begun kicking into high gear, running through scenario after scenario for her complicated situation.

Hermione busied her mind by throwing herself into research. She tried interrogating Phineas Nigellus time and time again. Yet in the quiet moments at night and as she sat watch, she couldn’t help the trailing of her hands to her stomach. Was there really a burgeoning life growing in there?

The more Hermione dwelled on her pregnancy, the more she wanted to see a medical expert. It had occurred to her one night as her mind swirled around that she didn’t even know how far along she was. She and Draco had had sex on two different occasions, roughly a month apart. She suspected they had conceived on the latter date because of when her symptoms started appearing, but she couldn’t be sure. Her nausea had gotten worse the two weeks since Ron left, and most of the sparse food they had often turned her stomach. Instead of getting tighter, her jeans seemed to feel looser day by day. If she didn’t get a solid meal in her soon, she was afraid that she wouldn’t have a decision to make.

There were so many questions that she couldn’t answer, and it nearly drove her mad. Hermione wasn’t used to being in a perpetual state of not-knowing, and she was terrified that her ignorance would have a negative impact on whatever decision she ended up making. She wanted so desperately to see a doctor, but their journey had taken them deeper and deeper into rural Scotland recently. Hermione spent the better part of several afternoons trying to come up with an excuse that would take them to a town big enough to have a good women’s clinic. She wanted to find one that would support her regardless of which of the two diametrically opposed options she chose.

But no matter how many times she opened her mouth to convince Harry, nothing except a nervous stutter came out.

On a cold morning in mid-November, about a month after Ron’s abrupt departure, Hermione awoke to find their tent half-covered in snow. Harry slept on as she stretched, swinging her legs over the bunk. For the first time in several days, she had actually had a good night’s sleep. Her body felt limber and her mind relaxed. She hoped Harry was also sleeping well; they had agreed for their own sanity to take a day off from the horcrux once a week. Those days were the only times when it was possible for either of them to crack a smile. Last night, the two of them had found themselves in a rare good mood. Combining that with the warmth that had been radiating from her pebble, Hermione had fallen asleep with a smile on her face, her heavy heart lightened just a little.

Now, a full seven hours later, Hermione stood and rolled her shoulders back, sliding her hands down her abdomen to rest them on her hips. As her hands passed over her stomach, she paused. Rather than the usual, slightly-concave shape it had become in recent weeks, she felt a tiny swelling.

Her hands flew away from her body; the vestiges of sleep evaporating from her brain as her heart pounded to life. Hermione looked down to see that she had begun to show. No longer would she be able to hide her dilemma so easily. Thank goodness it’s winter she thought, grabbing the thick cardigan she had tossed on a nearby armchair.

As she put her arms through the sleeves, she glanced down at her stomach once more. Her hands trembling, she grazed her fingertips over the tiny bump. Closing her eyes, her mind drifted to her conversation with Madam Pomfrey nearly eighteen months previously.

“I am so sorry, my dear,” Poppy Pomfrey cooed, her hand rubbing circles in Hermione’s back as tears slid down her face. The two women sat on the edge of a bed in the hospital wing just days after the ordeal at the Department of Mysteries. “I wish I could give you a more positive prognosis, but the scarring caused by this curse is severe. If I knew more about the curse, I might be able to treat it, but this particular one… I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Hermione moved her hands to her heavily-bandaged abdomen.

“Are you certain of the odds?” she whispered, her breath hitching.

Madam Pomfrey sighed. “While I can’t be certain, uterine scarring tends to lead to fertility issues to some degree. At this magnitude, the likelihood that you could conceive and carry a child to term in the future is quite low.”

The gears in Hermione’s brain turned as she listened to the matron speak. At sixteen, she wasn’t supposed to be mourning over a role she did not hope to play for many years. She wasn’t supposed to picture the sweet faces of the red-headed children she hoped… had hoped to have one day.

She wasn’t ready to have the future she had imagined swept from under her feet in one go.

It seemed, though, that life hadn’t ever waited until she was ready to present her with a challenge.

“So there’s no hope?” she asked, her face hardening.

“I wouldn’t say that, dear,” Madam Pomfrey continued with her backrub. “But the odds are stacked against you. I won’t lie. If, when the time comes, you find yourself pregnant, count it as a near-miracle and be extra cautious. Your pregnancy will likely be far more delicate for you than it is for most, and the likelihood of you conceiving again might be low.” Hermione nodded along. “Not that you’ll need such advice for a while. A smart, driven girl like you won’t be likely to settle down just out of Hogwarts, I imagine.”

Hermione almost laughed at the memory. At the time, she had nodded along and agreed that she wouldn’t need to confront this issue head on for some time. How wrong they had been. She had gone and gotten herself pregnant at eighteen. What would the matron say to her now? She stroked her slightly-globed stomach as she pondered.

She would call your pregnancy a miracle Hermione thought.

A miracle.

Hermione’s hand lingered on her stomach, her fingers stretching to cover more area.

She had managed to get pregnant, despite the condition of her uterus. After her meeting with Madam Pomfrey at the end of fifth year, a visit to a muggle nurse at a local clinic near her parents’ home had confirmed the diagnosis of severe uterine and fallopian scarring. Statistics said that she shouldn’t even be able to get pregnant, let alone carry a child to term. Reason said that in the middle of this war, the stress of pregnancy and a child was the last thing she needed.

And yet.

She held the slight swell of her stomach and felt an immediate sense of calm wash over her. It was not dissimilar to the peace she had felt in Draco’s presence this summer.

All at once, the path before her seemed much clearer.

This child she was carrying could be her only shot at motherhood. It didn’t make any sense. Her head screamed for her to make another choice. Hermione always followed her head – that was her thing. Books. Cleverness. Making the right choices. Being the voice of reason.

She rubbed her hand over the bump. Perhaps, just this once, she could follow her heart. It was so, so selfish – she knew that – but she wanted this baby. The realization hit her like one of the Whomping Willow’s branches.

She wanted to see what it would look like, what its personality would be, and whether it would take after Draco. She wanted to fill the world with a little more life and hope.

Lost in her musings, she didn’t notice Harry yawn and stretch, rolling out of his bunk.

“Morning,” he mumbled, his eyes half open. Hermione squeaked and quickly drew her cardigan closed. Harry didn’t seem to notice anything as he shuffled over to the kitchen. The two munched on stale toast, not saying a word. The horcrux sat at the edge of the table in a menacing sort of way, and neither Harry or Hermione seemed inclined to put it on.

As Hermione chewed on her toast, her thoughts drifted back to her belly. She would have to get more food in her if she was going to have this baby – she would also have to start taking those prenatal vitamins seriously. She had taken them on occasion just in case, but now that she had made up her mind, it was time to commit.

“Harry,” she piped up after she swallowed the last of her toast, “I’ve been thinking.”

Harry quirked a half-smile. “What about this time, Hermione?”

“I think we should stock up on food supplies sometime soon. We can make our way to a larger town. If we are able to go to a city with a larger supermarket, I can probably take larger quantities of food without them noticing.”

Harry actually laughed.

“Hermione, are you actually telling me you want to pull a food heist?”

“And what if I am? We can’t exist like this forever.”

Harry sighed. “Yeah, all right. Let’s make our way South.”

“That’s a good idea,” Hermione said, standing. “Did you see how much it snowed? I’d much prefer rain over this.” She opened the door of the tent to make her point. A small pile of snow blew in.

Harry laughed. “I see your point. Let’s head somewhere more populated and less depressingly cold. At least for a bit.”

After due consideration, they decided to move away from Scotland and into warmer territory. Over the course of the next two weeks, they traveled bit by bit toward civilization, all the while planning the great grocery heist. Thanks to a great deal of insistence on Hermione’s part, it was decided that Harry would remain behind at the tent with the locket while Hermione would go into town to gather the supplies. She had argued that it was she who was the most proficient at the undetectable extension charm and at glamours.

In actuality, Harry could have simply borrowed Hermione’s beaded bag for the groceries, but she had insisted rather strongly that she be the one to go. Harry wasn’t the one who needed to go to a clinic, after all.

As they moved South, Hermione became more confident with her decision, though she kept it to herself. Multiple times, she tried to take out her journal and find a way to tell Draco, but every time she picked up her quill, her heart began palpitating and bile rose in her stomach. If she were to let Draco know now, he would, at the very least, insist that she leave Harry. And that was the one thing she couldn’t do. She couldn’t abandon her best friend. Especially not after Ron had.

They settled on the outskirts of Manchester as their destination. Harry had nicked an address book from a nearby telephone box for efficiency’s sake, and Hermione pored over the various supermarkets, looking for one nearest to a women’s clinic. The more days that passed, the more anxious she grew to visit a doctor. Her belly had really popped in the past couple of days, though she hadn’t yet felt any movement from the baby. Wasn’t it supposed to kick? Was it still too little to kick? She had no idea and was dying to get her hands on any information.

On the morning of the scheme, Hermione bade Harry goodbye while under a glamour charm, promising to return with food for a filling dinner. She left their wooded hideout and traveled under the invisibility cloak until she reached an empty alleyway on the outskirts of the city. The closer she got to her destination, the shallower her breathing seemed to get. She could feel sweat slicking her skin, though she wasn’t sure if it was due to nerves or all the layers she was wearing. Tucking the invisibility cloak away and smoothing her now-black hair, Hermione hailed a taxi and told the driver – a portly man who reminded her a bit of Professor Slughorn – to take her to St. Mary’s Hospital nearby. As the taxicab drove through the bustling streets of Manchester, Hermione felt her heart pound in her chest. She gripped her seatbelt in her left hand, the fingers of her right hand wrapped around her wand. She hadn’t been around so many people in ages. Not since their escape from the Ministry of Magic all those months ago. After spending so much time isolated with only Harry for company, seeing crowds felt a bit overwhelming.

It wasn’t until she noticed shop fronts covered in fairy lights that her adrenaline slowed down. Was it Christmas season already?

When the taxicab let her off in front of the hospital, she paid the driver accordingly and headed inside through a blustery gust of winter wind, wrapping her coat tighter around her expanding middle. The directory inside guided her toward the antenatal clinic. As she made her way to the third floor, she began to shed her various layers of jumpers. Being inside a heated building really made all the difference, and Hermione felt the tips of her fingers and toes begin to truly feel warm for the first time in a long while.

As Hermione opened the heavy wooden door to the antenatal clinic, she slipped her right hand over her wand. She didn’t have an appointment and certainly couldn’t allow hospital staff to properly process her visit. Everything done today would have to be under the radar, so to speak. A confundus charm would take care of that. She whispered the spell, pointing her wand at the perky-looking receptionist. The woman shuddered before Hermione gave her a false name for check in.

“Yes,” the receptionist mumbled, a glazed look in her eyes. “Ms. Michaelson. Our ten o’clock. Please have a seat and we will call you in just a moment.”

Hermione smiled and made her way to the waiting area, which was decorated for the holiday season. Several women were already there, each with bellies of various sizes. Some were accompanied by men, others by small children, and others were there, like her, quite by themselves. Situating herself in a chair, she felt a pang of envy in her chest as she looked at the women who had someone to be with them for their clinic visit. She wanted so badly to have Draco sitting by her side. In another life, perhaps they would be here together, both giddy and trembling with anticipation at the thought of becoming parents. If not Draco, she would want her mum there to rub her back and tell her it would be all right.

A lump in her throat began to grow at the thought of her mum. She stared at her shoes, willing it to disappear.

“Claire Michaelson?” a nurse called from across the room. It took Hermione a moment to respond, but when the nurse called her name a second time, she snapped up.

“Sorry,” she murmured, following the nurse into the back hallway leading to the exam rooms.

“Not to worry, dear. You’re not the first woman with pregnancy brain to walk through these doors.” The nurse chuckled, opening a door to the right. “In here for a urine sample and then go across the hall to exam room six.”

“Pregnancy brain?” Hermione asked.

“Yes. Hormonal imbalances may cause you to feel forgetful sometimes. They affect your brain circuits temporarily. But not to worry. It’s completely normal.”

Hermione balked at this. She vowed to add mental exercises to her daily checklist. The last thing she needed on the horcrux hunt was a dull mind. After fulfilling her duty to pee in a cup, Hermione walked over to exam room six and hopped onto the examination table. The nurse was waiting for her and took down some vitals and personal information. Hermione was able to take a peek at her clipboard to notice the date: December the seventeenth.

“Now, then, I see this is your first visit with us. By the looks of it, you’re more than a few weeks along. Have you been to an antenatal clinic previously or spoken with a midwife?”

Hermione cleared her throat. “Erm, no. Certain… circumstances have prevented me from having a proper visit before today.”

The nurse frowned momentarily but didn’t comment. “Very well. Any ideas of the date of conception?”

“Erm, either August the first or September the second. I’m honestly not sure which one.” Hermione grimaced, gripping the edge of the examination table.

“I see. Well, based on your size, I’m going to guess the latter, but an ultrasound will let us know. I’m going to send the doctor in shortly and she will do some tests and answer your questions.”

Sure enough, within minutes, a friendly-looking woman with greying hair and a kind smile entered. “Good morning, Ms. Michaelson. I’m Dr. Weiss. I hear this is your first antenatal visit. How are you feeling?”

“Fine, I guess.” Hermione shrugged.

“Ms. Michaelson, you should know that whatever you say at this appointment remains in strict confidence. If I may be frank, you are eighteen years-old and this is your first pregnancy, correct?” Dr. Weiss spoke firmly, but with a motherly tone that conveyed care in each word.

“Yes,” she bit her lip, her eyes darting about the sterile room.

“Then clearly you’re experiencing a number of new things both physically and emotionally.” The doctor reached out and patted her knee. “I don’t know what’s going on in your life to make your first antenatal visit so late, but this is the time and place to tell me any concerns and ask all your questions. Don’t be shy, dear. I’ve been working with pregnant women for over twenty-five years and there’s hardly anything I haven’t seen.”

Hermione let out a breath, her whole body relaxing at Dr. Weiss’s words. She needed to have the courage to actually talk to the doctor and get as much information as possible today. When there would be another opportunity to attend an antenatal clinic, she had no idea. If she was going to take responsibility for this child, she needed to lose any lingering shame or shyness. Hermione sat up straighter and she looked directly at Dr. Weiss.

“Actually, I’ve been feeling rather overwhelmed.”

The doctor nodded. “Understandably. Well, hopefully we can help you feel less overwhelmed from today. It says in Nurse Beale’s notes that you are unsure of the date of conception – either August first or September second. Is that correct?”

“Yes. I only – we only…” Hermione’s voice came out breathy as she tried to justify herself.

“Those are the only two possible dates of conception, I gather?”

Hermione nodded.

“I must ask, does he know? Is there any chance he can be involved?”

Hermione shook her head and whipped up an excuse. “He… he’s deployed with the military at the moment and he’s not allowed post.”

“I see. Well, we can’t change circumstances, can we?” Dr. Weiss set her clipboard down and clapped her hands together. “Let’s run some tests, shall we? We have an in-house laboratory that should be able to get your results back to you in an hour or so if we get them sent in. Will you be able to stick around?”

Dr. Weiss ordered several blood tests, and Hermione winced as she was stuck with a needle. She had always hated needles. The phlebotomist joked that she “had better get used to them if she was going to be a mother.”

Hermione’s eyes went wide at these words. It was the first time someone referred to her as a mother. Being called that word made her body turn ice cold and her heart radiate warmth at the same time.

Dr. Weiss returned and ordered Hermione to undress, offering her a two-piece paper gown to wear for the rest of the examination before disappearing back into the hallway. Hermione obeyed, removing her layers of clothing, folding them and laying them neatly stacked on a chair. She made sure to retrieve her pebble from her pocket. It was warm, and she held it in her hand, rolling it around her fingers. When she had a firm grip on it, she climbed back onto the table to wait.

As promised, the doctor returned within a couple minutes. She performed a pelvic exam; as a barely-experienced eighteen-year-old, Hermione had never had one before. She suspected, though, that Dr. Weiss might have guessed this after she had gone wide-eyed at the sight of the speculum.

“Now, Ms. Michaelson,” the woman began, leaning against the counter on her stool, “before we measure you and conduct your ultrasound, I can answer some of your questions and you can answer some of mine. Sound good?”

Hermione nodded.

“Right,” the doctor began, “First, let’s begin with how you’ve been feeling physically. Are you having any nausea or fatigue?”

Hermione furrowed her eyebrows, thinking. “Actually, I’ve been feeling all right in recent weeks. The smell of mushrooms really made me sick for a while, but I’ve been able to hold everything down well for a while. And fatigue?” Hermione’s mind wandered to the tent where Harry was waiting for her.

Harry and the damn horcrux.

“I was more fatigued earlier than I am now. But I’m still pretty tired every day. However, I should let you know that I’ve always tended to run tired. I have a tendency to overwork myself.”

Dr. Weiss wrote some notes and commented without looking up, “That will have to change. Feel free to work, but overworking isn’t good during pregnancy. You’re going to have to trust your body. It will tell you when to rest and when to go for it.”

“May I ask to borrow paper and a pen?” Hermione interjected. “I feel like I should be taking notes.”

Dr. Weiss chuckled, handing over a small pad and pen from a drawer in the counter. Hermione clicked the utensil to life and jotted down the phrase ‘don’t overwork .’ She looked up to see Dr. Weiss looking fondly at her, a twinkle in her eye.

“Ready to continue?”

“Yes, let’s.”

“Excellent. How’s your physical activity level? Are you getting any exercise?”

Hermione thought back to the hours she had spent with Harry foraging for edible plants and hiking along steep hillsides. “Yes, plenty. That shouldn’t be a problem. I really enjoy… hiking.”

“Good! Now, have you had any vaginal spotting or bleeding?”

Hermione shook her head, continuing to roll the pebble in her hand. Its warmth had dissipated slightly.

“Have you felt the baby move yet?”

“I don’t think so. Should I have?”

“Not necessarily. A lot of first-time mums don’t feel movement until around twenty weeks. If you conceived in August, you’re just past that date. That being said, my money is still on the September date purely based on your size. If that’s the case, you’re closer to seventeen weeks right now.”

Hermione jotted down more info as the doctor continued to ask her questions about her pregnancy so far. The more she discussed her experience, the more she wished her mum or Draco were there to support her. When the doctor’s checklist had been completed, she motioned for Hermione to lean back on the examination table.

“Right, we’re going to measure your stomach and have a look at baby. Sound good?”

Hermione gulped, but managed to get her neck muscles to move up and down. She settled onto the reclined surface, her legs extended straight in front of her. The paper gown began to itch as she shifted, trying to find a comfortable spot to settle. Dr. Weiss pulled out a measuring tape and placed it right over top of her stomach, stretching it from her pubic bone to her ribs. Hermione watched as she leaned forward, placing the tape between her thumb and forefinger.

“I am quite sure that I was correct, and that September is the magic date for you. You’re measuring fifteen centimeters. A little small, but still within normal range if you’re currently seventeen weeks.” When Hermione looked puzzled, Dr. Weiss continued. “The number of weeks you are into a pregnancy should just about match the size of your abdomen in centimeters. A difference of two centimeters in either direction is considered normal.”

“What does that imply, exactly?” Hermione pressed, lifting her head off the table.

“It means that your baby is a good size. A little small, but not enough to be concerning.”

Hermione perked up. “I was a small baby. I was just over five pounds at birth even though I wasn’t born early.” She recalled her parents regaling her with the story of her birth every year on her birthday; this was a detail she hadn’t forgotten.

Dr. Weiss smiled, patting her knee. “That could certainly be a factor. I’ll take note. Now, shall we get a good picture of baby?”

Hermione took deep, steadying breaths as Dr. Weiss wheeled a machine to her bedside. The thing was large and clunky, having lots of knobs and dials and a large monitor on top. Pushing buttons and adjusting the machine with practiced ease, the doctor grabbed a small wand-like device that was attached to the cart.

“I’m going to put some lubricant on your stomach to make the ultrasound easier. Are you ready?”

Hermione nodded and Dr. Weiss rolled up the top portion of her paper gown to reveal her globed stomach. The sight was still a bit foreign; she had to take a minute to get over the cognitive dissonance of seeing her own pregnant belly.

“I’m going to start now, Ms. Michaelson.”

Dr. Weiss placed the wand on her stomach and pressed down lightly at various angles. Her eyes were not looking at Hermione’s stomach; rather, they were focused on the monitor, which now came to life with a grainy, black and white image dancing on the screen. Hermione squinted. She knew she was supposed to see something here, but the only thing she spotted most closely resembled the image on the telly when there was no signal.

And then she saw it.

There was no mistaking the greyscale figure on the screen. Head, arms, legs, and tummy all swam in and out of view as Dr. Weiss moved the wand around. Hermione found herself staring, her eyes wide and her mouth bone dry.

“There’s your baby, Ms. Michaelson.” Dr. Weiss beamed as she looked between the screen and her patient’s face. Hermione felt her eyes watering as she stared at this beautiful thing growing inside her. “Let’s get a better look, shall we?”

Dr. Weiss moved the wand to a different area of her belly. “There. The angle from over here should be much better and should get you that silhouette shot everyone always wants. I’ll turn on the heartbeat, shall I?”  

A small tear dripped down Hermione’s face as she stared at the outline of her child, the rapid fluttering of its heart filling her ears. This little creature on the screen was really inside her. There really was an actual baby in there. That thought ran through her head over and over again as she gaped at the screen. This baby was a mix of her and Draco; it was a perfect blend of the two of them. Her heart clenched and a rush of love such as she had never felt enveloped her completely.

She knew in that moment that she would do anything to make a safer world for the child growing inside her.

She didn’t care what it took. She would wear the horcrux every day and go to the ends of the earth to destroy the others, and she certainly wouldn’t stop until Voldemort was good and dead. This child deserved to grow up in a world where it felt safe and wanted. Hermione squeezed the pebble with her left hand, trying to imagine that future with Draco and this child.

“May I offer you a tissue?” Dr. Weiss said after a moment.

“Yes, please,” Hermione sniffled, accepting one from the box in the doctor’s outstretched hand.

“How are you feeling? Would you like me to take a picture with the machine for you to take home?”

“I’m…” Hermione searched for the right word, but nothing seemed to fit the bill for all the layers of emotion building inside her. “…I’m wonderful.” It wasn’t the complete truth. All the layers of danger and anxiety still piled on like lead weights, but for this single moment, looking at the new life growing within her, she felt as though she could fly. The impulse to panic grew in her stomach, but she pushed it down. She could panic later. Now was a happy moment. “And yes, please. To the picture.”

The doctor pointed out various anatomical features and took measurements of the foetus. When Dr. Weiss pointed out that the baby’s legs weren’t being cooperative and that she hadn’t been able to determine the baby’s sex, Hermione merely shrugged it off.

“As long as the baby is healthy, that’s all I care about,” she said, continuing to watch the screen flicker. Hermione wanted to memorize this moment – to etch it inside her brain in order to have something to treasure and take out on the cold, dark days she knew were to come.

“Well, Ms. Michaelson, we should get your test results back shortly, but just based off the scan, I’d say your baby looks to be in tip-top condition. My guess was right – September seems to have been the date we wanted. That means right now you’re seventeen weeks. You should be looking at a May twenty-sixth due date.”

Hermione smiled, a layer of her anxiety falling away.

Just then, there was a knock on the exam room door. “Come in!” Dr. Weiss called. A man who appeared to be in his twenties walked in, dressed in scrubs, paper in hand. He shot her a friendly smile. Just then, Hermione became acutely aware of her state of undress. The top of the two-piece paper gown she had been wearing had ridden up, revealing the underside of her breasts. Her legs were already covered, but she felt completely exposed.

As if sensing her discomfort, the man turned away. “Sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable.” He spoke while facing the cabinets. “I’m a nurse here at the clinic. I brought back your lab results. Everything looked good except your iron levels. I’ll leave you to look it over, doc.” The man waved, his back still turned, and exited the room.

Dr. Weiss pushed a button and images from the scan began to print toward the bottom of the cart. She spoke as she cleaned the wand. “As much as you dislike it, you’ll have to get used to your body being on display a bit. When you’re pregnant, sometimes you’re going to need to be looked at in what feels like an intimate way.”

She handed Hermione a towel to wipe off her stomach. “Of course, if you ever feel anyone is being inappropriate, that is certainly one thing, but unless you feel strongly compelled to believe so, you should know that I trust everyone on staff implicitly. Now, go ahead and get re-dressed while I look over your results. I’ll be back in two shakes.”

Hermione put her clothes on layer by layer until her stomach was nearly hidden once more. The pictures of her baby laid on the counter, and she stared at them until Dr. Weiss made her reappearance.

“Nurse Hazen was right – your iron levels are a little low. I’d like to get you on an iron-rich diet. Dark green leafy vegetables, red meat, eggs, and nuts are good sources of that. I would also recommend taking folic acid and iron vitamins. If we don’t get this level up, you’re at risk of developing anaemia.”

She scribbled something in Hermione’s file and closed it with a snap, tucking it under her arm.

“Do you have any more questions, Ms. Michaelson?”

“Erm, yes, actually.” Hermione shifted. “I was diagnosed with uterine and fallopian scarring at sixteen and was told that getting pregnant would actually be quite difficult, if not impossible. That’s another reason why… why I’m coming in so late. It took a long time to process.”

“I see.” Dr. Weiss nodded. “Well, clearly impossible was too strong a word. If that’s the case, then we will need to watch for problems with your placenta. It doesn’t appear to be attached in a problematic place, but the scar tissue could create less blood flow to the foetus. That might actually explain the smaller size. We’ll have to continue to monitor that each time you visit.” She jotted down a few notes onto a sheet “Thank you for bringing that to my attention, Ms. Michaelson. Anything else?”

Hermione shook her head. She knew what she would have to do soon and wasn’t looking forward to it. Her stomach twinged as she reached into her bag and wrapped her fingers around her wand.

“Very well. Here are your scan pictures as well as a handful of pamphlets for you to read over,” Dr. Weiss handed her a strip of black and white, muggle photos and several colorful brochures. “Go ahead and schedule your next appointment with the receptionist. I’d like to see you back here in four weeks.”

“Of course,” Hermione mumbled, drawing her wand.

The doctor barely had time to open her mouth when Hermione whispered the words she had come to dread.

“Obliviate.”

Dr. Weiss went slack-jawed for a moment, her eyes glazing over. Hermione grabbed her file and exited the room without a backwards glance. As she made her way back to the waiting area, she shot a moderate confundus charm at the male nurse to make sure he wouldn’t bring up an encounter Dr. Weiss wouldn’t recall. Another confundus at the exit receptionist and she was able to leave the clinic without a fuss.

Hermione walked to the supermarket in a daze, the memory of the way her unborn child wiggled within her – was still wiggling – at the forefront of her mind. Before entering the store, she stepped into an alley, pulling the invisibility cloak over herself.

Over the next thirty minutes, she filled her bag with vegetables, fruits, meats, tins of various kinds, and all sort of other foods. The doctor had insisted that she improve her diet, and Hermione Granger did nothing by halves. Before putting each item within her beaded bag, she placed stasis charms on them to keep them cool and fresh. Though she couldn’t make food appear from nothing, she could multiply the items and continue the stasis charm for a while. It was a much better solution than having to constantly choose between lurking on the outskirts of towns or scrounging for scraps in the middle of nowhere.

Hermione grabbed the vitamins recommended by the doctor and tossed them in her bag before heading to the exit. She waited until someone else left through the automatic doors and ran through beside them, still covered in the invisibility cloak. The subsequent taxi ride and trek back to the campsite passed in a blur; her eyes stared ahead without really seeing, her mind off in space.

Harry practically bounced out to see her as she made her way through the wards. He wasn’t dressed in nearly as many layers as her, and he shivered in the December wind.

“Get anything good?” he implored, craning his neck as though he would be able to see the contents of her beaded bag.

“Yeah, I’ve got some food that I can multiply. Honestly, I don’t know why we didn’t think of that sooner.” She looked over to see Harry’s slack jaw turn to a laugh. Hermione joined him, and a good mood settled over the tent as they unpacked the groceries. The specially-purchased vitamins had been tucked away so Harry wouldn’t find them, though admittedly, she knew she ought to tell her friend sooner rather than later. She was a part of this horcrux hunt until the end whether he liked it or not; her decision would likely have a huge impact on him and on their mission, but her doctor’s visit had left her feeling determined and more optimistic than she had felt in a long while. Overwhelmed still, but optimistic.

After a dinner of spaghetti bolognese and tinned pears, Harry broached a subject that made that new façade crack a bit: Godric’s Hollow. Hermione felt sharper than she had in weeks and had spent some after-dinner time poring over The Tales of Beedle the Bard for what felt like the thousandth time. This time, however, insight from Harry led to a blunt realization. Perhaps the one place they had actively been trying to avoid was the one place they needed to go. Godric’s Hollow and Bathilda Bagshot seemed to be the logical choice for Dumbledore to choose as a step on their journey.

Still, even with plans set for the next week, an uneasy feeling settled into Hermione’s ever-growing stomach as she blew out the lantern for the night.

Chapter Text

Snow fell in big fat flakes over The Burrow, burying most of the garden in a thick, white blanket. From here, the world seemed peaceful and quiet; silence filled the air and Draco breathed it in. The snow felt like a calming draught; its presence quieted the worry that had been plaguing him as of late, filling him with an odd sense that perhaps, just for now, things were all right.

Christmas Eve had snuck up on him. It shouldn’t have, really, what all the decorations and baking he had helped prepare with Mrs. Weasley. Not to mention the recent return of Ginny for the holidays. Yet, Draco had lost track of time over the past few months. One day blended in with the next. He couldn’t even rely on a weekly routine to keep himself on track. The Order never met at a regular time or place, and gatherings at The Burrow happened only occasionally.

With Mr. Weasley off at work, Draco was left to the company of Mrs. Weasley much of the time. He had grown rather fond of the woman, and he believed she felt the same way about him. After Hermione, Ron, and Harry had departed abruptly, he had moped around, refusing to come out of Charlie’s room, much in the same fashion as his first few days at Granger’s house. To his surprise, it was Weaslette that at eventually lured him out with the promise of Quidditch.

Flying had always cleared his head like nothing else could, and zooming around the garden on an old Cleansweep Five with Ginny Weasley had been no different. His anxieties about his parents and Hermione’s mysterious journey still weighed on him immensely, but as he faced the wind, air filling his lungs, he couldn’t help but feel a little lighter. He hadn’t flown since fifth year; last year he had taken himself off the Slytherin Quidditch roster. It felt like coming home. Since that day, he had made a point to go flying as often as he could, even after Ginny returned to Hogwarts.

In the beginning, Mrs. Weasley had always kept an eye on him through the kitchen window or from the garden as he flew, but as time went on, she didn’t seem to bother keeping close tabs on him. That she trusted him meant the world to Draco; he was grateful to her that living there felt less like imprisonment and more like…life. Draco had taken a huge emotional blow following Hermione’s abrupt departure from the inn in Princetown. He had been ready to lay his feelings on the line, but they clearly hadn’t seen eye to eye. She disappeared back to her mission and he was left broken, cursed to remain at The Burrow. Mrs. Weasley helped him pick up the pieces. After his break down almost four months ago, he had grown close to her; she never pestered him to explain his tears that night, and for that, he was entirely grateful.

With only the two of them around most days, Mrs. Weasley had taken him under her wing. Members of the Order came and went from the house, so she liked to keep a stock of food under stasis charms and various healing potions readily available. Draco had become her apprentice, so to speak. At first, he had only assisted with potion prep work, but one could only make bruise salve and pepper-up so many times before boredom set in.

So he had learned to cook.

Roasts, meat pies, stews, puddings – he had attempted them all after some coaching on Mrs. Weasley’s part. And he wasn’t too bad.

Old Draco would be embarrassed to admit it, but he enjoyed taking raw ingredients and turning them into something delicious – something people could enjoy. Buried in the heat of the kitchen, he could temporarily forget all of the shit happening outside his purview. He could ignore the dread he felt when he thought of his parents. He could overlook the squirming feeling in his stomach whenever Hermione crossed his mind.

They had written a handful of provocative messages, but the frequency of those sorts of notes had waned with time. Now their journal mostly consisted of short check-ins, none of which contained heat.

“Things are OK here,” or “On the move again” from her end. Nothing terribly personal or even particularly affectionate, really.

Why the sudden change? Draco wondered. Even a couple months after their Princetown encounter, they had been writing meaningful messages filled with passion and what Draco had assumed was love.

Now, he wasn’t so sure.

The one thing that gave him hope was the warmth that still radiated from his pebble every day before he went to sleep and when he woke up each morning. It relaxed him and gave a soft rhythm to his life. It was almost like she was there with him in bed, providing comfort. At least, that was how he imagined it.

Living in this sort of cycle, time had apparently marched on. Draco tore his eyes away from the snow to focus on the Weasley’s sitting room. Lupin and a very pregnant Tonks sat on the sofa while Ginny regaled some tale about a Christmas many years ago at The Burrow. It sounded fun. Draco took a seat beside Ginny on the armrest of her chair.

“You’re looking well, cousin,” Tonks said, rubbing her belly. She was dressed in a soft red jumper and had turned her hair green for the occasion. He honestly thought she looked more than a bit ridiculous, but seeing as she was pregnant, he managed to hold his tongue. “Molly’s been keepin’ you busy, then?”

“Yes. There’s always something for me to do around here, it seems.” He leaned back, grabbing a biscuit off a platter and taking a bite. Draco smiled. They had come out perfectly – buttery, flaky, and sweet.

“Did you make these biscuits?” Tonks continued. “Because you might be a godsend. This little one – ” she indicated her stomach, “ – can’t get enough of them.”

Draco smiled and carried the platter nearest him over to his cousin. “Eat up, then.” He patted Tonks’s stomach. “Happy Christmas, baby cousin.”

Ginny gawked as he returned to his seat.

“Who are you and what have you done with Draco Malfoy?”

“I’m not Imperiused , if that’s what you’re implying,” Draco chuckled with only a hint of a smirk. “I’m just far nicer than you could have previously imagined.”

Ginny rolled her eyes and elbowed him as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came bustling in, wrapped packages in hand. Fred and George weren’t far behind, and they eyed Draco with suspicion as they sat beside him. The other Weasley siblings were too busy to join in the festivities. There had been hope that Bill and Fleur would make it, but they had apparently insisted on spending their first Christmas away from the family just the two of them.

“Happy Christmas, everyone,” Mr. Weasley said, sinking into his own armchair, a worn-out smile on his stubbly face. “It’s so nice to have you all here, even just for a bit.”

“Yes. Since we’re only all together this evening, I thought we could hand out presents now.” Mrs. Weasley indicated the small pyramid of gifts she had set on the floor. The two Weasley parents began to dole out presents one by one, first to Tonks and Professor Lupin – they received a tin of cakes and some pale yellow hand-knit baby booties. Tonks tucked into the tin after placing the tiny shoes on her distended stomach.

Fred and George each received one of the signature Weasley Christmas jumpers he had seen various redheads wear throughout his years at Hogwarts. Theirs were blue with identical Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes logos on their fronts. Ginny received a violet jumper with a Quaffle knitted it. Draco watched each Weasley sibling open a jumper, a sad smile plastered on his face. He wished Hermione could be there with him, even if it meant sharing attention with Potter and Weasel.

Ginny, Fred, and George had pulled their new jumpers over their heads by the time Mrs. And Mrs. Weasley exchanged presents – a new scarf and a simple necklace, respectively. Draco sank lower onto the armrest, basking in the warmth of the moment. This might not have been the Christmas he was used to, but it was lovely in its own right. A Weasley Christmas was nothing like a Malfoy Christmas. There was no extravagant tree and no giant pile of gifts exclusively for him covered in shiny wrappings. Yet, it was warm and inviting, and he almost felt like an intruder sitting there as this family opened gifts together.

“Draco, dear? Did you hear me?” Mrs. Weasley’s voice called him from his thoughts.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Weasley. What did you say?” Draco swiveled around to face her.

“I said, this present is for you, dear.” She held out a package wrapped in simple red paper, a single green bow sitting on top. Draco reached out, hands shaking, to accept the present. It looked identical to all the other gifts. Could it be…?

“You didn’t have to get me anything,” he looked up at the Weasley parents, his voice fumbling. Mr. Weasley looked at him with a gleam in his eye that he couldn’t quite place. Somehow, the word fatherly came to mind. Mrs. Weasley beamed, her eyebrows raised in anticipation.

“Nonsense,” she said, waving his comment off. “It’s our pleasure. Go on, then. Open it.”

With trembling fingers, he pulled the ribbon undone and ripped the edge of the red paper with care.

A hand-knitted, forest green jumper with a silver ‘D’ on the front slid into his arms. It felt feathery soft to the touch, but he could tell that it would keep him plenty warm through the winter. The jumper seemed to radiate love, if that was possible. Somehow, this gift meant much more than some silly toys he had received as a child. This gift was significant.

It meant he belonged.

To think he had ever made fun of these jumpers as a child made him a little nauseous.

Draco felt everyone’s eyes on him as he pulled the jumper on over his clothes. Straightening it, he looked up at Mr. and Mrs. Weasley; the former wore a soft smile and the latter had tears in her eyes.

“Thank you very much,” he whispered, is own eyes stinging a bit.

“You are very welcome, Draco,” Mr. Weasley responded with a nod.

The Weasley siblings watched the interaction with their mouths agape. Professor Lupin’s only indication of surprise was his raised eyebrows. Tonks stuffed another cake into her mouth, a small grin on her face.

“Right, you lot. Off to bed,” Mrs. Weasley clapped her hands, shooing them away. Everyone stood and stretched. Professor Lupin went to fetch his and his wife’s coats.

“Happy Christmas, Draco,” Tonks reached out and clapped Draco on the back. Even heavily pregnant, it seemed she was a force of nature.

“Same to you. Take care of yourself and the baby.”

“I will, of course. I’ve got Remus here. He’s a godsend. Don’t know what I’d do without him,” she looked adoringly up at her husband as he handed her coat. He shook his head, a doting smile dancing on his lips.

“Nonsense. You’re doing all the heavy lifting. I’m just here to bring you your coat.”

Draco watched the interaction with a hint of envy squirming inside him. His mind wandered to Hermione again. Where was she this Christmas Eve? Was she somewhere warm and safe? Were she, Potter, and Weasel exchanging gifts? The thought made his stomach sour. He bade everyone goodnight and Happy Christmas and disappeared upstairs to what had become his bedroom.

Closing the door, he reached under his bed to pull out his journal and his wand, all the while reaching into his trouser pocket to retrieve the pebble. It was cold. He pinched it in his fingers for a moment before squeezing it in his fist, his eyes falling closed. Visions of lovely Hermione danced on the inside of his eyelids. Warmth bloomed in his chest, and the ghost of a smile graced his face, if only for a moment.

He crossed the room and sat at the desk to write, placing his wand nearby. His quill scratched as he wrote line after line, paragraph after paragraph as the candle illuminating his work dripped lower. He had gotten much better at writing his honest feelings down in the journal. Younger Draco would have accused him of being an overly-soft Hufflepuff, but now, it just felt cathartic to get his thoughts out in the open. Or, at least, open to his girlfriend.

Dear Hermione,

Happy Christmas, love. It’s Christmas Eve, and I can’t stop thinking about you. The Burrow is covered in copious amounts of both snow and fairy lights. It’s so beautiful and peaceful, but it’s entirely incomplete without you here.

The whole house smells of cakes and roast that I made alongside Mrs. Weasley. I daresay I could open up a restaurant one day when this is all over. Forget healing. My true calling is making the world’s most perfect chocolate gateau. Though, if I am being completely honest, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop myself from sneaking a spoonful of batter. Don’t tell Mrs. Weasley. She’ll have my head.

I was gifted a Weasley jumper this year. It’s so warm and soft and it was really special to get one from Mrs. Weasley. She looked like she was going to cry when she gave it to me.

I can’t stop thinking about you. We haven’t been writing nearly as much recently and it’s honestly driving me mad. I’m not sure if you’re in some sort of danger or if you’ve gone and fallen in love with Weasley and forgotten about me. I’m not sure I could live with either answer. Please tell me you’re just… distracted or something. We’ve been writing less and less and I can’t help feeling as though something is wrong.

Draco paused. He flipped through their old notes in the journal, chewing his lip. Sweet words from August. Love notes from September. Dirty thoughts from October. Draco lingered on those October pages. Hermione was many things, but poetic was not one of them, especially when it came to discussing sex. Her messages to him had been fairly clinical; he felt bad, but he had fought back a chuckle when these notes appeared. In the heat of the moment, she could be sexy as hell; with words on paper, not so much. He could practically see her in his mind’s eye, hunched over in some armchair, tongue sticking out in concentration, trying to think of the sexiest phrases she could, but drawing a blank.

It was adorable. She was adorable.

Gods, he missed her.

He continued his letter.

I miss you. I miss everything about you. Your smile. Your brain. Your body. Merlin, I miss your body. Even just to hold you when I sleep. There’s no chance you can Apparate here for one night so I can hold you close, is there?

Memories of her soft curves filled his head, and Draco leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. If he concentrated, he could recall with perfect clarity the weight of her supple breasts in his palms, could hear the soft keens she gave as he kissed his way down her body, could taste the sweetness that lingered on her lips and unique flavor of her gorgeous pussy.

Draco set his quill down and pressed his hand to the front of his trousers. His cock twitched as his imagination roamed, and he made quick work of his button and zipper, allowing his member to spring free. Keeping his eyes closed, he grabbed himself and stroked with a practiced hand. Visions of Hermione swam before him, and he pictured her beside him now; he imagined her kneeling before him, sucking lightly and licking him from base to tip before taking him all in her mouth.

Draco groaned and continued pumping as he pictured taking Hermione right here on this desk. It could have been a reality if they’d both gotten bolder earlier in the summer. He could have had her in all kinds of places. They could have made far better use of the inn before they arrived at The Burrow…all those unsupervised hours at her parents’ home…

His hand reached a frenzied pace as imaginary Hermione moaned his name, his hips lifting off the chair in a swift rhythm as if to meet hers. Pressure built up past the point of no return, and with only a couple more thrusts he spilled into his hand.

Boneless and completely spent, he flopped back into his chair. His chest heaved as he pushed his hair off his sweat-soaked forehead. Gods, he missed Hermione. This was far from the first time he had wanked to his memories of her, but it was probably the loneliest he had felt in a long time. Being included in the Weasley’s Christmas had been lovely, but it had also made him realize just how much he wanted to be near Hermione.

Instead of feeling sated like he wanted, he just felt like there was a hole in his chest. With a sigh, Draco tucked his now-flaccid member back into his trousers and leaned back over the journal. He wanted to wrap up his note to Hermione. No more distractions.

Please take care of yourself and come back to me. I feel like a part of me is missing. Life without you doesn’t really feel like living, especially at Christmas.

I love you, Hermione Granger. I can only hope you still love me. Stay safe. Happy Christmas.

Yours, Draco

He looked up from the desk to see the snow still falling gently outside. The whole world was still and silent, and Draco felt as though he was disturbing it as he stood and stretched, padding across the room, tucking the journal and his wand under his pillow, and burying himself under the covers. As he closed his eyes and waited for sleep to come, his stomach twisted in knots, as though trying to tell him something wasn’t quite right.

He tried to push the feeling down as he rolled over, pebble clutched in his fist.

Christmas morning dawned, cloud-covered and frozen. The snow had stopped falling and now sat, gleaming on the ground. From the moment Draco woke up, he felt off. His stomach churned, the rest of his body acutely sensitive. He shivered, sending goosepimples shooting down from his shoulders to his toes.

Something wasn’t right. He wasn’t sure how he knew it, but it was as though the ground beneath his feet had shifted overnight. On an impulse, he reached under his pillow to check the journal.

There was no response. The lack of one yet wasn’t exactly surprising, but Draco couldn’t help the bile that began to creep up his throat. Nothing felt right – not the way air filled his lungs, not the way the light filtered in through the curtains, and certainly not the way the blank page in his journal stared back at him.

“Oi, Malfoy! Come downstairs. Mum’s got breakfast going.” Draco bolted upright at the sound of Ginny Weasley’s voice outside his bedroom door. Stuffing the journal under his pillow once more, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood, swaying a little. All the blood had rushed to his head.

Something wasn’t right .

In the kitchen, Draco seated himself next to Ginny. Despite it being Christmas morning, she looked slightly forlorn as she leaned on one elbow. Fred and George were presumably still upstairs, as their spots across the table were empty. The atmosphere had dulled since last night; Draco wasn’t sure if it was a foggy layer of sleep that hung around, or if there really was something wrong.

Breakfast seemed to pass in a haze. He ate his fry up without really tasting it. The Weasleys chatted amiably around him, but nothing seemed to stick. Multiple times, they had to call his name to get his attention.

“Are you all right, Draco dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked after the third time this happened.

“Erm, yeah,” mumbled Draco, pushing food around his plate. “I just didn’t sleep so well.”

“We don’t have much planned for today. Go and have a kip upstairs if you like.” Mr. Weasley spoke up from the head of the table. Draco nodded gratefully in his direction and pushed his chair out to excuse himself.

While walking up the stairs, he felt it again. That funny feeling in his body. Everything seemed to have shifted internally. Something wasn’t right. His walk turned into a run as his insides twisted once more, his breathing growing shallow. The moment his door closed, he crossed to his bed and tore the journal open. Still nothing.

Draco wasn’t sure why this bothered him so much. She had taken longer than this to respond in the past. With a jolt, he looked up. The pebble! Digging through is pocket, his fingers made contact with the smooth stone residing inside.

Cold. Like ice. As though it hadn’t heated in hours.

Hermione was in trouble. He just knew it. He didn’t know how he knew it, but he just did.

A sharp wave of panic crashed over him. He leaned forward, placing his hands on his bed, his eyes wide and searching. He knew it seemed crazy to just know something when there was no support to his claims – Hermione would have a field day with these types of assertions.

And yet.

Draco forced himself to sit and attempted to control his breathing. In and hold. Out and hold. Repeat. After thirty seconds of attempts, Draco’s heart had not slowed down and his mind only swam more. He stood and began to pace.

If Hermione was truly in danger, what could he do? He was not a prisoner at The Burrow, but the thought of leaving here left him feeling uncomfortable. Not only had the Weasleys been exceptionally kind to him, but he had also promised Hermione he would remain here out of harm’s way. Even if he did leave, he had no idea where she was or what trouble she was facing. He could end up walking into a trap. No, acting on his impulses to save Hermione from unknown danger was a terrible idea.

Draco rubbed his temples, his eyebrows furrowed. Suppose he didn’t go…suppose he just stayed here. Hermione might be fine, and his worries might all be for naught. But if they weren’t? If she was truly in mortal peril and he had just sat on his laurels and done nothing?

Nausea built in his stomach at the thought. Draco growled and cursed. He was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

The blank journal page sat open on his bed as if mocking him. By this point, he was surprised he hadn’t worn a hole in the floor from all his pacing. How had Hermione made the decision to obliviate her parents and leave? How had she known the time was right? He groaned.

There had to be a correct decision – a more objective way to know what to do. As his mind raced, a familiar feeling of dread filled his already-squirming stomach, turning it to lead. Moisture gathered in his eyes as his jaw tightened. He had to choose a path. He couldn’t fuck this up; for all he knew, lives could be at stake.

To his horror, he recognized this feeling. He knew it all too well.

Memories of this past year surfaced all at once: watching the appalled expressions on his parents’ faces as he received the Dark Mark; panicking when the vanishing cabinet failed again and again; coming apart at the seams day by day as his choices seemed to evaporate around him.

Draco had failed at his previous task. He wouldn’t fail again. Not for Hermione’s sake.

He couldn’t sit around anymore. He had been sitting for months. There was a war going on, and he was too entangled in the participants to stand idly by.

It was time.

His back straightening with a confidence he hadn’t felt in months, Draco made a beeline toward his dresser and began emptying it into his trunk. With a sigh, he pulled off his Weasley jumper and tucked it away. If he was going to be traveling, he didn’t want to wear something as easily-identifiable as that. No, anyone who wore a Weasley-made creation would have a target on their back.

When his trunk was packed, he shrank it, much as Hermione had done months before, and placed it in his day pack. Jacket on and wand in his pocket, Draco scanned the room. He didn’t have a plan, exactly, but several of Hermione’s more recent journal entries had mentioned intense cold, snow, and mountains. That led him to believe that she might be in Scotland. It was almost nothing to go off of – her descriptors were so broad – but it was better than nothing.

He was about to do the stupidest thing he could possibly imagine: act like a bloody Gryffindor, charging ahead without a plan. Acting on an intuition was not how he normally functioned, but nothing about this war that was normal. Taking out a piece of parchment, Draco leaned over his desk to write a farewell note. How was he to do this? His thoughts lingered on Ginny, who had grown on him immensely; on Mr. Weasley, who had accepted him from so early on…

He gripped his quill especially tightly when his thoughts landed on Mrs. Weasley. She had cared for him like another one of her sons and had given him a real chance, trusting him when so many hadn’t. She had knitted him a jumper meant only for family members.

He sniffed, wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve before putting quill to parchment.

I’m sure you’ll be upset when you see this, but know that short of Stupefying me or putting me under Incarcerous, there was nothing you could have done to stop me from leaving. Don’t think for a moment that I’m not grateful for everything you’ve done for me these last few months. I will always consider The Burrow a second home – I was wrong to have ever looked down on this family.

I have come to the realization that I can’t just sit back and let this war happen. Unfortunately, I played a part in it before, and I regret my actions every day. I must atone for my sins, or guilt will continue crushing me until I die. I’ll tune into Potterwatch when I can. Forgive me for leaving without saying goodbye. I’m terrible at goodbyes, anyway.

Draco

He paused after signing his name, his thoughts drifting momentarily to the warmth of the previous night. Visions of his cousin rubbing her belly swam to the forefront of his mind, and his mouth twitched to a smile.

P.S. Give Tonks my best for when the baby arrives.

There. He folded the parchment in thirds and placed it in the center of his desk. Everything packed, he walked toward the window, opening it and sticking his head out. As far as he could see, no one was outside. He knew that his bedroom window faced a side of the house with very few other windows. If he was very careful and covered his tracks, he could slip beyond the property line and Apparate from there. Yes, that plan would do.

With a little wand work, he floated down the side of The Burrow and landed with a soft crunch on fresh snow. Another wave, and his tracks were wiped away with each step he took. Though he was sneaking away, his heart and breathing had become surprisingly calm. Having a course of action and hope, however sparse, kept the panic at bay for now.

As the Burrow faded into the distance, Draco took one last look back. In his honest opinion, the tilted house still looked unsafe. But rather than through a critical eye, he now saw what Hermione had seen when they had arrived together in July: a loving home.

For all its grandeur and history, that was something Malfoy Manor was not. Especially not now that the Dark Lord had defiled the place with his presence. Draco shivered at the thought as he turned back around.

Scotland. He needed to get to Scotland. Immediately, a holiday home from his childhood in the highlands came to mind. The area surrounding the villa had been mountainous, and it was a good place to start if nothing else; he would have access to a house elf and could scout out locations nearby.

He drew his wand.

Destination. Determination. Deliberation.

With a pull behind his navel, he flew through space to arrive moments later outside an old, stone house that sat beside a frozen lake. The cold air barely had time to hit his skin before he heard voices behind him.

“Oi! You there – stop!”

Draco whipped around to see a tall man with a thick, dark beard and beady eyes stalking toward him, wand in hand. And he wasn’t alone. Several other wizards and witches stood up from where they had been sitting around a campfire. They were all dressed in thick, raggedy robes, and they looked as though they hadn’t seen a proper meal in a while. Based on their feral expressions, none of them seemed particularly friendly.

“Shit,” he whispered, backing away into a sprint.

Snatchers.

“Get back here!” a woman cried in a high-pitched wail. He could hear their footsteps as they chased him away from the house and into the wilderness.

Impedimenta! Stupefy! ” he shouted curses, blindly pointing his wand over his shoulder as he ducked under branches at the edge of a group of trees. Blood hammered in his ears as he ran; around him, flashes of light and blasts propelled him to move faster. He didn’t have time to consider Apparating away. His mind was too adrenaline-fueled to process any action except running as fast as his feet could carry him. It was as though his brain had shut off. Instinct took over as he jumped over obstacles, his feet pounding the rocky terrain. He had to get away. He had to find Hermione. This couldn’t be how it all ended for him. It just couldn’t.

Draco took a sharp right turn toward the mountains, where a forest sat at the base. Perhaps he would get lucky and lose them in the thick trees. If not, he could find a rock to hide behind to collect his thoughts for half a second once he got high enough.

He shot another jinx behind him and heard it smash into something solid. Likely a tree. Where had the snatchers gone? He was sure they were directly behind them.

From his left, he heard the crunching of fast-moving footsteps. Shit. They had changed their angle of attack. Before he could point his wand, a gravelly voice that was too close for comfort barked out, “Stupefy!”

Everything went black.


 Draco knew this place. He had opened his eyes only moments ago, his vision swimming and his head pounding. Though he didn’t know where the snatchers had taken him, the place seemed familiar. The light filtering into the room seemed heavy somehow, and everything he saw through his bleary eyes was dark. Dark floors. Dark walls. It was so familiar…

No.

“Well, well. Looks like we finally found you, nephew.”

Draco’s eyes shot wide open as the deranged voice of his Aunt Bellatrix reached his ears. That could only mean one thing.

He had been brought back to Malfoy Manor.

His faculties returned to him in a rush as he became acutely aware of his situation. Chains bound him to a chair at his wrists, ankles, and torso. He now sat in the drawing room at Malfoy Manor. Surrounding him were high-ranking Death Eaters: Bellatrix, Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange, Yaxley, Wormtail, and Dolohov.

Behind the immediate ring of Death Eaters, two new figures emerged from the darkness. Two familiar figures. Draco wanted to cry as their faces came to light.

His parents.

Gaunt. Disheveled. Alive.

He couldn’t help the sob that escaped his lips.

“Pull yourself together, Draco!” Rodolphus spat, smacking him across the face with his ring-clad right hand. Draco felt the metal cut into his cheek as the back of the man’s hand struck him. It stung, but he bit back a yelp.

“Now, now, dear husband,” Bellatrix simpered, “We mustn’t be too hasty to judge poor Draco. It is not our place. That is a job for the Dark Lord.” As she spoke the last two words, she turned to face him, her eyes gleaming with sadistic delight. “He shall decide whether a punishment is necessary.”

Draco looked out among the crowd surrounding him, locking eyes with his mother. The woman he knew to be upstanding and regal now seemed entirely too small in her own home; the pride in her eyes had dulled in his absence. Draco tried to search her expression for a hint of assurance.

“Looking at mummy, are you?” Bellatrix taunted, “You’ll find, nephew, that the name of Malfoy has fallen greatly out of favor these days. My sister – your mummy – has been sick with worry about you for some months. She has been so preoccupied, it seems, that she can’t even be bothered to be a proper host to the Dark Lord. Isn’t that right, sister?”

Draco watched as his mother swallowed, looking at her feet. “No, sister.”

“No, indeed,” Bellatrix continued. “Well, never fear. Cissy. Your darling heir has found his way home. Now you can focus your energies back to the task at hand.”

Draco felt his hair stand on end; a shiver made its way down his spine. He didn’t like his aunt’s tone of voice. It only grew this sickly sweet when she had a particularly nefarious train of thought.

“If not, well..” Bellatrix whipped her wand around to face him. “Crucio!”

It was as though a thousand knives were ripping his flesh to shreds. A fog seemed to settle over his brain as he tried to push through the torture. He heard himself screaming, vaguely felt his bonds cutting into his skin as he writhed in the dining room chair. The pain seemed endless, twisting his insides until he was sure he would snap in half.

And then it was over.

Instantly, he resurfaced, cold air filling his lungs in sharp gulps. Bellatrix stood before him, an icy smirk painting her face.

“Is that understood, Cissy?”

His mother must have nodded, because the next moment Bellatrix waved her wand once more and the chains around him fell away with a great clank . Draco fell forward on his knees, spluttering.

“Take him to the cellar to wait,” Bellatrix called to someone.

It was a full ten silent seconds later before footsteps made their way over to him. He braced himself for a body-binding or another Incarcerous , but it never came. Instead, a warm arm enveloped him, supporting his weight as whoever it was pulled him to his feet. “Easy, Draco,” a reassuring voice murmured.

His mother. Draco wanted to melt into the woman he had missed dearly over these past months, but with the eyes of half a dozen Death Eaters upon him, he didn’t dare show signs of what these people viewed as weakness.

But Draco knew. He knew the secret that everyone in this room would deny. Wanting to be held by his mother was not weakness. Mrs. Granger had showed him that, as had Mrs. Weasley, and most importantly, his Hermione. No, desiring love wasn’t weakness; rather, it was the opposite.

Already, he felt stronger with his mother’s arm around him. He could do this.

He was guided toward the cellar, where his mother swung the door open and led him down to the dark and damp space. She flicked her wand and the torches along the walls burst into light. Still not saying a word, she leaned him against a wall near the stairs, helping him to slide to a sitting position on the floor.

Draco looked up at his mother, searching for some shred of hope. The expression on her face said it all. Love.

Her eyes seemed to be doing their own searching, her pupils vibrating with intense concentration. They shone in the firelight. It was as though she was trying to speak to him only through her gaze.

I’m so glad you’re safe, my son , she seemed to be saying. My sweet boy.

Draco bit back tears.

And then she was gone. He watched her steel her expression before disappearing up the stairs. With a groan, he shifted his body on the wall. The Cruciatus curse had left him aching all over.

“Draco Malfoy? Is that you?” a familiar voice spoke from nearby. He couldn’t place the dreamy sound until Loony Lovegood squatted in front of him, her eyebrows quirked.

“Yeah,” he coughed. “It’s me.”

“That was a lovely moment you and your mother just shared. I didn’t want to spoil it by coming over sooner.”

Draco nodded, turning his head to the side to spit out bloody saliva.

“Did you get hit by the Cruciatus curse? I always bite my tongue or cheek when it happens. Sorry I don’t have any water to help you wash out your mouth.”

Draco looked up. “You, hit by the Cruciatus - ?”

“I’m a captive here. We all are.” She indicated a huddled figure in the opposite corner that was grey and shivering. “That’s Mr. Ollivander. He’s been here for months.”

He nodded, only half paying attention. His mind still lingered on his mother’s eyes. They had seemed so despondent.

“It’s nice to have a bit of company, if I’m being honest.” Luna had settled herself beside him, her back leaning against the wall. “Mr. Ollivander isn’t up for conversation usually. I’ve only been here a handful of days. It’s rather unpleasant, isn’t it?”

Draco couldn’t believe it. Loony Lovegood was actually talking about being held captive and tortured in his parents’ cellar as though it were a rainy day at the beach. He scoffed, closing his eyes. He was in no mood to talk.

Over the next two days, Lovegood attempted conversation a handful of times. He took the bait twice, offering short answers to some of her questions. Though when the topic edged toward the Gryffindor trio or the time he had been ‘missing,’ he would turn away. She seemed to pick up quickly, because their conversations often turned to her blathering on about some absurd creature or another. Draco found he didn’t mind as much as he thought he would. The constant stream of words kept him grounded as his confrontation with the Dark Lord grew inevitably closer and helped a hurricane of negative thoughts from encroaching on his already-battered psyche.

He had failed Hermione by getting caught. And now he would fail himself.

It had to have been two or three days later when the door to the cellar creaked open once more, a heavy set of feet stumping down the stairs. All three captives jumped to their feet at their arrival, but Draco knew the others needn’t have moved. This man was here for him. It was time. As Wormtail motioned for him to follow at wandpoint, Draco took deep, steadying breaths. He needed to erect his mental shields, just as he had practiced so often during his sixth year.

Empty your mind he repeated like a prayer in his head. No thoughts of the past few months. Just darkness and certain emotions. Fear. Regret. Anger. Anxiety. Draco let these feelings filter to the front of his mind as he pushed the true nature of his defection to some musty, forgotten corner.

Wormtail led him not to the drawing room, but rather, to the dining room, where the Dark Lord’s most faithful sat around the long table. At the head sat the Dark Lord himself, face trained, but eyes ablaze. The snake, Nagini, slithered at his feet.

“Welcome back, Draco,” the Dark Lord stated, indicating a seat three positions to his left. “Please, sit.”

Draco obeyed, sliding into the chair. He wiped his sweaty palms on his trousers as he kept his eyes trained on the Dark Lord.

“Tell us, Draco, where you have been since your rather disappointing performance this past June,” the menacing figure inquired with such nonchalance it made Draco feel nauseous.

He felt the uncomfortable prod of his mind being infiltrated, but his walls remained sturdy, allowing only the bits he wanted to show.

“I’ve been held captive by a bunch of blood traitors for quite some time. They confiscated my wand right away. It took far too long, my Lord, but I finally managed to give them the slip a few days ago while they were distracted with Christmas.” He sneered, trying to put on a convincing show.

“And whose watch were you under?” the Dark Lord pressed.

“I had numerous jailers,” he spat. “They kept me hidden away; I only received food from a house elf. I was blindfolded any time they interrogated me, so I never got a good look at where they were keeping me. I was moved a handful of times – never in the same spot for more than a couple months.” Though his heart pounded in his chest, the lie rolled off his tongue with ease.

“How did you escape, dare I ask?” The Dark Lord’s eyes bore into his own and he felt the pressure in his head grow; he was really pressing in now. Draco took a breath to keep his composure.

“Some idiot fell asleep while on guard duty. Too much holiday firewhisky. I managed to steal his wand and get out of my bindings. I found my own wand and my belongings and snuck beyond the wards until I could Apparate . I had planned on returning to the manor, but they caught sight of me just as I was about to leave. Managed to focus on the wrong destination. I consider myself quite lucky that I didn’t splinch.”

The Dark Lord seemed to consider his words. The other Death Eaters looked back and forth between their master and the Malfoy heir, waiting for a decision to be made.

“And why did you run away when confronted by my lowly associates?”

Draco quirked an eyebrow. “Surely, you don’t expect the Malfoy heir to come quietly when confronted with…people like that.” He sneered and spat the last word for emphasis.

The tension around his mind eased as Draco felt the Dark Lord’s presence begin to withdraw.

To his surprise, a cruel laugh burst forth from the evil wizard. “Arrogant as ever, young Malfoy. Though you failed the task I gave you, you were clever and returned to me…willingly,” the Dark Lord paused on that last word, and Draco felt him press into his mind so forcefully he thought he might cry out. “I must, therefore, commend you for your loyalty, Draco. I will see that you are rewarded for your return.”

Draco felt the Dark Lord release his mind entirely. Immediately, he felt light-headed. He needed to lie down or pass out, but he couldn’t show any signs of weakness. Not now. He had to be strong – to get through this. For Hermione. For all the people who had shown him kindness, despite all the awful things he had done.

Things like run away.

Karma, it seemed, had finally caught up with him.

“I will forgive you, of course, Draco. For what am I, if not merciful? Isn’t that right?”

“Yes, my lord,” Draco looked down at the table as he spoke.

“Now, now, Draco. You really need to learn manners. Didn’t you ever learn to look at your superiors when they speak to you?”

Draco felt his neck stiffen as the Dark Lord forced his head up until his eyes were level with the red slits. He felt red-hot hatred bubble in his stomach, and his fists clenched the armrests of the chair, digging into the dark wood.

“Much better, young Malfoy.” The Dark Lord pulled his eyes away and spoke to the group at large. “Yes, it’s true, I can forgive mistakes such as Draco’s. And yet…” and he paused, and Draco watched his gaze linger on his parents. The anger froze instantly, turning to icy fear. “…I cannot let him simply return without punishment. Isn’t that fair, Lucius?”

“My lord?” Lucius Malfoy spoke up in a whisper – the first time Draco had heard his father speak in so long. His voice sounded weak…defeated.

“The boy must be punished. I will leave his punishment up to you.”

“My lord, I cannot-”

“Oh, but you will, Lucius.”

The Dark Lord’s eyes flashed dangerously, and Draco watched as his father’s shoulders slumped, his will crumbling. Lucius stood from his place at the table, pointing his wand at Draco.

His arm didn’t shake.

Petrificus totalus!”

Draco felt his body go rigid, and with a swish and flick, Draco found himself lifted from his seat. Unable to struggle or speak, he remained aloft, slowly drifting toward the center of the table. He faced upward, his eyes wide as he stared at the chandelier. Fear filled his veins; he knew what was to come. Surely not…not at the hand of his own father. If he hadn’t been under the body bind curse, he would have been shaking from head to toe. Draco squeezed his eyes shut, trying to focus on something other than the impending hell.

“Crucio!”

The world was fire.

Crucio!”

He knew nothing but pain and suffering.

“Crucio!”

Draco felt like dying. Why couldn’t he just die already? Please. Anything would be better than this.

Crucio!”

After the fourth time, the pain sank into his bones, slowly ebbing. His body bind was released, and he fell with a crash onto the table. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw his mother flinch, but he couldn’t really be sure. A single tear escaped his eye; he felt it roll down his cold cheek. It was warm and somehow, comforting. It grounded him – reminded him that he was human. Darkness threated to overtake him as the moments passed.

“There,” cooed the Dark Lord. “That wasn’t so bad, was it? Learned your lesson, have you, Draco?”

“Yes, my lord,” he managed to croak.

“Good. Now get him out of my sight.”

Draco fought to keep his eyes open as multiple figures reached for him, but the pull of the darkness was too great.

When he came to, he was not back in the cellar, but rather, in a large four-poster bed. Wincing, he managed to sit up. Every inch of him seemed sore, and he had to hold his torso to keep from falling back onto the mattress.

His mattress.

They had brought him back to his childhood room. All around him, remnants of the life he had vowed to leave behind surrounded him. On the wall directly across from his bed hung an austere photograph of him as a child. He stood, tall and proud, a newfound smirk on his young face. Occasionally, little Draco folded his arms. If he could talk to that little Draco, what would he say? Would he be able to speak of the horrors he would witness? Of watching Dumbledore die? Of being tortured at the hand of his own father?

He wanted to scream, to vomit, to cry – but all he had the energy for was a half-sob as he fell back on his pillows.

All those months spent in the custody of the Order – the promise Dumbledore had made – they had all been for naught. He had still ended up in the Dark Lord’s clutches. Draco Malfoy was not just a failure anymore. That, he could live with. Not fulfilling the Dark Lord’s task had saved his life.

What he couldn’t live with was disappointment – disappointment from someone that mattered. From Hermione. She had poured her heart and soul into helping him, and he had fallen right back in with Death Eaters. How long would it take before they forced him to commit heinous crimes? How long before he would lose himself? Draco shuddered, his mind spiraling into the abyss of self-loathing and dread. His breathing came in pants and his whole body began to tremble.

Just as his negative thoughts seem to stand before him like a tidal wave – a miracle.

A warmth came from his trouser pocket. He felt the warmth spread from his leg, up through his stomach to his chest and out to his fingertips. The vice grip on his lungs released, and he drew a deep breath. With shaking hands, he removed the pebble from his pocket. Sure enough, it radiated heat, strong and intense.

Hermione.

Hope bubbled in his chest as he stared at the little object in his palm. She was out there. She was safe. He had not left her thoughts.

Draco reached for the wand at his bedside. As quickly as he could muster, he slid off his bed and had a look around his room. Sure enough, his pack sat at the edge of his bed, clearly pilfered, but intact.

Opening it up, he found his shrunken trunk. A prayer on his lips, he enlarged it to its original size and pulled it open. With a sigh of relief, he found none of his belongings missing. The Weasley jumper had been tucked into the trunk inside out , and therefore, hadn’t been a giveaway. No one would have thought much of a plain green jumper. He pulled it on, leaving his initial tucked against his chest.

It still smelled of his Christmas fry up.

Underneath his jumper he found the object he had been looking for – the journal. It, too, seemed untouched. Then again, Hermione’s brilliant spell work would have just shown potions notes to an onlooker.

He flipped the journal open to the page that had taunted him merely nights ago.

There, plain as day, was Hermione’s handwriting. His sob returned in full, fat drops falling onto the parchment. How had he been so stupid? Shame washed over him as the past few days’ events finally settled.

Wiping his eyes, he tried to focus his blurry vision on her words.

My dearest Draco,

Happy Christmas! I’m so glad you were able to celebrate properly with the Weasleys. The thought of a proper Christmas dinner is enchanting, really. And a Weasley jumper? I am amazed. Even I don’t have one. Mrs. Weasley must really love you.

I wish I could Apparate to your side. Nothing would give me greater joy than to be by your side. But for now, you must accept your lot, and I will accept mine.

All is fine here, I suppose. I won’t lie, it’s dangerous at times, but it will be worth it in the end, won’t it? When this is all over, I’ll have so much to tell you – to show you. I wish I could divulge more details, but we’ve got too much riding on our shoulders to reveal much of anything. Know that I constantly think of you. It’s as though you’re always with me, really. I can feel a part of you lingering and even growing within me, and it gives me strength. Our love has given me the greatest gift, Draco.

The letter ended there. Draco traced Hermione’s handwriting with her fingertip. She always looped her g in a specific way that made his heart ache, for some reason.

He held the journal to his chest and wept.

Chapter Text

In the aftermath of Godric’s Hollow, Harry slept for longer than he had in months. Despite her own exhaustion and heightened anxiety levels, Hermione kept watch. The events of the last twenty-four hours weighed heavily on her. She had just known that Godric’s Hollow had been a reckless choice, but she had agreed to travel there – encouraged it, even. And now Harry was without a wand and the two of them had come within an inch of their lives.

Scratch that. Three of them. Hermione’s hand traveled to her stomach as she sat at the tent entrance, rubbing her coat-covered belly with care. Coming face-to-face with such danger for the first time in months shook her to the core, especially since she had her child’s life to consider now, too. How could she have been so stupid? Of course it had been a trap.

Hermione sat in silent contemplation until she heard rustling from within the tent. Harry had likely woken up. Sure enough, not even a minute later, a raven-haired teen poked his head through the tent flaps and flopped down beside her. Though he appeared at least somewhat rested, his face seemed rather haunted. The bags under his eyes were growing, and he was impossibly thin. Hermione took in his haggard appearance as he rubbed his eyes, inquiring about his wand.

“Oh, Harry… I’m so terribly sorry, but…” she held out the broken pieces of the Phoenix tail feather wand and he slumped backward, his last shred of hope in the breath he exhaled. Hermione looked at his dejected form and sighed. This certainly wasn’t the ideal time to bring this up, but frankly, no time was good.

Hermione cleared her throat. “Harry, there’s something I need to discuss with you,” her voice cracked when she spoke, and she felt her whole body start to shake. Her baby’s existence was about to become a lot more real if she did this. There would be no turning back – no way to remain completely selfish any longer.

Harry looked up from his pity party and frowned. “What’s up?”

“I…I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’m trying,” she began. “I haven’t been feeling well these past few months.”

“Are you sick?” Harry interrupted, sitting up straighter, concern in his eyes.

“No, Harry. I’m not sick, exactly.” Hermione stared down at her shoelaces, trying to find the right angle to continue. “Do you remember when Dolohov struck me with that awful curse during our time in the Department of Mysteries?”

This might be a good way to approach Harry.

“Yeah, I do. Scared the pants off us, you did. Is the curse still affecting you?” Harry tilted to his head to the side in curiosity. “Does it linger and cause you pain or something?”

“It doesn’t cause me pain, no. But it does still affect me. You see, when Dolohov struck me, the curse affected many different parts of me; it affected my breathing, my bones, my strength, and even some of my organs.”

“Blimey, ‘Mione. I had no idea it was so bad. I mean, I knew you were taking loads of potions at the time…” Harry trailed off, his brow furrowed.

“Yes, well… it was bad. Anyway, one of the organs affected was my…” Hermione grimaced and took a breath,“…my uterus.”

She paused here as Harry’s ears turned spectacular shades of red and purple. He coughed but said nothing. She continued.

“Madame Pomfrey said that based on the damage she saw, the organ was scarred and that I would likely be incapable of carrying children in the future. I hadn’t ever thought about having children before, but getting news like that was devastating.” She glanced at Harry. The color had faded a bit from his ears, but his cheeks still burned. Hermione could see them even though he was staring pointedly at the grass. She plowed ahead.

“Anyway, this summer something happened. Because I never stopped to consider that my uterus might actually still be working, I didn’t bother being, erm, careful.” Hermione watched as Harry winced. “I wasn’t careful, and well…” she reached out to grab Harry’s hand. He whipped around, confusion in his eyes, as Hermione pulled his palm toward her stomach. She lifted the puffy coat so her swollen belly was exposed. With great care, she placed his hand onto her belly and held it there as Harry’s eyes grew wide with comprehension.

Quick as a flash, Harry drew his hand back, his jaw slack. "Hermione!" he cried, “You’re pregnant?”

She wasn’t sure why her mind chose this moment to break down, but the second those words exited Harry’s mouth, her lip began to quiver, fat tears rolling down her cheeks. All the pressure of keeping this huge secret for over two months seemed to burst like a dam, and her pent-up fear, loneliness, and frustration came pouring out. Through her tears, Hermione chanced a glance at Harry. She wasn’t sure how he was going to react to all this. Surely, he would be disappointed and angry. Perhaps he wouldn’t speak to her again or kick her off the horcrux hunt. Her breath shuddered at the thought.

To her relief and surprise, he said nothing, but instead wrapped his arms around her and squeezed tightly. Hermione hiccupped and sniffed as her best friend held and rocked her gently. They sat like this long enough that Hermione couldn’t estimate how many minutes had passed. Finally, when the last of her sniffles subsided, she pulled away from Harry’s arms and wiped her face with the back of her sleeve.

“You must think I’m stupid,” she whispered, chancing a glance at him.

“I don’t think you’re stupid at all,” Harry answered immediately. “Stubborn? Yes. A bit thick? Absolutely. But stupid? Our Hermione? Never.” Hermione shot him the ghost of a watery smile and twisted her hands in her lap. “It must be so hard with Ron not here. He is such an idiot,” Harry growled.

“Ron?”

“Yeah. He’s the baby’s father, right?”

There was a long silence as Hermione drew her breath. This part of the conversation was what she had been especially dreading.

“Actually, Harry, Ron’s not the father.”

“What?” Harry drew back, confusion on his features. “It’s not Ron? I thought for sure you two had something going on. Especially during the wedding. Is that not when this…?” He gestured vaguely at her stomach.

“Hermione closed her eyes for a moment. She could see how Harry would have had that impression. After all, the two of them had danced a fair amount at the wedding. What Harry hadn’t seen was Draco, his Polyjuice worn off, shagging her under the hanging branches of a willow tree in the Burrow’s orchard. Just the thought made her squirm in embarrassment and longing.

“At one point, I had hoped for… a thing… with Ron. But not anymore.” Hermione placed a hand on her belly. “Definitely not now, anyway.”

“Erm, then can I ask who the father is?”

Hermione sighed. “Please don’t be mad, all right?” She watched as Harry’s eyebrows practically disappeared into his hairline. “It’s Draco.”

If she thought it would be easier just to get the information out in the open, she was mistaken.

“It’s MALFOY? Hermione, why? How?” All the color had drained from Harry’s face as his eyebrows had returned in full force, furrowing in anger.

“I think you’re old enough to know how , Harry Potter!”

Hermione watched as her best friend spluttered and the purple color returned to his face. If she wasn’t so worried, she probably would have found it amusing.

“But if you must know, Draco and I grew close over the summer. We’re quite… fond of each other.”

Harry made a face. “But he’s Malfoy! He’s the git who made fun of us for years – who cursed you – who called you mudblood. How did you even consider becoming fond of him ?” Harry said these last words as though someone had covered them in too much salt.

“We spent a lot of time together this summer at my parent’s house. It was only a few weeks, but there was a lot of time we spent just the two of us. I really got to know him.”

“And after knowing him, you still like him?”

Hermione swallowed and pushed herself to say the words that had been teetering at the edge of her brain since August. “I don’t just like him, Harry. I love him.” Hermione watched as her best friend did a very poor job at holding back a groan. “He’s a good person who just wants to do the right thing, but unfortunate circumstances led him to the path he was following. Draco never wanted to do any of those awful things.”

“How do you know, Hermione? How do you know he wasn’t just… playing you or something? Teenage blokes would do just about anything to get into a girls’ knickers. The way Seamus used to talk in the dormitories… it wouldn’t surprise me if Malfoy is the same.”

Hermione smirked. “I know where you’re coming from – believe me, Harry – but like I said, I really got to know Draco this summer. He’s someone worth trusting. I respect his privacy enough that I don’t feel comfortable divulging private conversations we had, but if you trust me at all, then you have to believe me. Draco doesn’t have some ulterior motive. Actually, I think he loves me, too.” A shy smile grew on her face at the thought, her cheeks flushed pink.

Harry nodded along as she spoke. This was one of the many reasons she was grateful for Harry: he didn’t fly off the handle as easily as Ron. Of course, he had his moments, but if she had spoken a word of this to Ron instead, he would have probably screamed until he went hoarse. But Harry didn’t scream. He listened with an open heart. Or at least semi-open. She knew she had won him over when he sighed and gave her a “so be it” look.

“Well then,” he said, slapping his knees and changing to a business-like tone of voice, “I suppose the next thing to figure out is what to do about this.” Harry motioned to her protruding stomach.

“Honestly, I need a book.”

Harry snorted, a smile creeping back onto his face. “Of course you do, ‘Mione,”

“I’m serious! Pregnancy is something I know very little about. I didn’t even know how to cast the pregnancy confirmation charm. I had to steal a muggle test.”

“You… what? You stole a test? When did you do that?” Harry exclaimed.

Hermione looked down at the snow-covered ground. “The day Ron left. I nicked one from the chemist at the grocery store. I was in such shock from the results that I couldn’t really bring myself to try harder to get Ron back.”

Hermione could practically see the gears turning in Harry’s head as he was trying to recall the events of that day. After a few moments, his eyes turned to saucers. “No wonder you hardly said anything all evening. Jesus, Hermione. And the horrible things Ron said…”

“I didn’t have the capacity to comprehend it all, honestly. It’s kind of a blur. My brain was practically in overdrive.”

“Understandably.” Harry patted her back. “Well, what now? When is the baby coming?”

“May twenty-sixth. I saw a doctor at a clinic last week when we stayed outside Manchester.”

Comprehension dawned on Harry’s face. “So that’s why you wanted to get somewhere with people around!”

“Exactly.”

“How did you manage to get an appointment? And what did the doctor say? Are you healthy?”

Hermione smiled at Harry’s inquisitiveness. “I glamoured myself and confunded the receptionist at the hospital. The doctor says everything looks normal and healthy, despite the scarring. Though she did say that I have to remain vigilant. I also have to eat better or else I’ll risk anaemia.”

Harry nodded along, his green eyes focused intensely on her.

“And the… the baby?”

“It’s a little small, but otherwise perfect.”

Hermione patted her stomach fondly, her hand circling the small globe twice. She observed as Harry stared at the protrusion. Different emotions flashed in his emerald eyes. Fascination. Joy. Fear. He reached out, but paused, his eyes flicking between her face and her stomach.

“Can I…?”

Hermione nodded, unbuttoning her coat and revealing her small bump. Harry stretched out his hand. He blinked twice and licked his lips, his fingers shaking. His hand lingered about two inches away for several seconds before Hermione grabbed it with a laugh and laced her fingers through his; she placed his palm firmly on her stomach. Her bump wasn’t terribly large yet, so his hand covered much of it. Hermione watched as his expression continued to shift. The gentle pressure on her abdomen felt comforting; having Harry here with her – having her secret out in the open – it certainly didn’t erase the fact that they had come face-to-face with You-Know-Who last night or that Harry was wandless. Or that they still hadn’t found any more horcruxes.

It still didn’t change the fact that she hadn’t told Draco.

But someone knew. That was something. She told Harry. And if she couldn’t find the courage to tell Draco yet, Harry wasn’t a bad start.

The Boy Who Lived sat frozen, staring down at Hermione’s stomach. She watched him watching the bump , and could practically see his mind at work, trying to piece together a puzzle even she hadn’t yet managed. Around them, the cold winter air nipped at their cheeks.

“So what now?” he asked after a couple minutes of silence, withdrawing his hand.

“I’m not really sure,” she answered. “Godric’s Hollow was clearly a dead end. We’ll have to keep thinking. In fact–”

Hermione pulled out the book she had found in Bathilda Bagshot’s home, pristine, its pages clearly never before opened: The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore.

For several minutes, she and Harry poured over its contents. Multiple times, Hermione had to remind herself to keep her stress levels low. For the baby. It killed her to watch Harry come apart at the seams with each word they read. Surely, he wouldn’t believe any rubbish Rita Skeeter wrote – especially not after all she had put them through.

But doubt seemed to be clouding him, and Hermione took it upon herself to remove the book from his grasp before his expression turned to despair. It was too late, it seemed. Harry began to spiral into a dark place she had been afraid he’d go. His voice shook with anger when he spoke.

“Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again!

And don't expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I'm doing, trust me even though I don't trust you! Never the whole truth! Never!"

He paused, looking over at Hermione. He glanced down at her stomach.

“I’m just glad you decided to tell me the truth. You are telling me the truth, right? You do trust me?” His voice cracked.

Hermione swallowed, reaching for his hands. She caressed his knuckles with her thumb.

“With my life,” she stated simply.

Harry nodded.

“He loved you,” she whispered. “I know he loved you.”

"I don't know who he loved, Hermione, but it was never me. This isn't love, the mess he's left me in. He shared a damn sight more of what he was really thinking with Gellert Grindelwald than he ever shared with me."

Harry rubbed his face in frustration. “I need some time to think. About this. About all this.”

Hermione nodded. “Yes. Of course. Do you want to go back inside, then?”

Another glance to her belly.

“No, that’s all right. I’ll finish watch. You get back in the warm.”

Hermione stiffened.

“Harry Potter, I want you to listen to what I say and listen well. I do not need your pity.” She stood, towering over her best friend as he looked up, depression lingering in his eyes. “If you think for one moment that I will allow you to wallow in the depths of despair or perceive that I am some helpless, pregnant girl, then you clearly don’t know me at all.”

Hermione pulled Harry to his feet. She looked at him with fire in her belly and her eyes full of intention.

“We’ll figure it out. We always do. I’m not going anywhere. So like it or not, you’re stuck with me – someone who loves you very much and who trusts you.”

“And the baby?” Harry interjected, hugging his middle.

“Like I said, we’ll figure it out. When the time comes, we’ll know what’s right. We’ve got loads of time before baby is here, anyway.” Hermione paused, taking in Harry’s confused expression. “Besides, I’m not called the brightest witch of our age for no reason. I’ll think of something.”

Hermione’s lips twitched, trying to reassure Harry.

With a sigh, his shoulders slumped forward as he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Yeah. All right. Now get inside and have a rest, will you?”

Hermione recognized that the conversation was over for now. She turned to head back in the tent, but not before running her hand through Harry’s messy head of hair a couple times, trying to bring him at least a little comfort. Her poor friend had always had to cope with far too many stressors, and the last thing she wanted to become was another one.

“He did care,” she whispered once more before stepping into the tent.

Having stayed up a good deal of the night, exhaustion hit her promptly. Not even bothering to kick off her shoes, Hermione practically fell into her bunk and nodded off only moments later, her world dark and warm.


 

She and Harry barely spoke over the next two days. They were clearly still in shock after their close shave in Godric’s Hollow, and the heavy conversation that had followed the next morning seemed to be in the process of sinking in. Harry hadn’t mentioned her pregnancy again. They rotated watch, occasionally sitting together as snow fell all around them.

Over those same two days, her stomach really seemed to have popped more. She wasn’t sure if it was because of all the stress, because of the unusually high amounts of sleep she had been getting, or something else. Quiet moments often found her rubbing her belly, reading to it from The Tales of Beedle the Bard . Perhaps a fresh perspective – reading it aloud – could be the key to understanding Dumbledore’s gift.

In the middle of the next night, Hermione had been dreaming of long, summer nights past when a masculine voice woke her, calling her name. Harry. She sat up, pushing her hair out of her face and blinking away her dreams.

“What’s wrong? Harry? Are you all right?”

“It’s OK, everything’s fine. More than fine. I’m great. There’s someone here.”

Hermione scrunched her eyebrows, her eyes bleary from sleep. What on earth was Harry talking about?

“What do you mean? Who–?”

Hermione froze. There, in person, standing in their tent, sword of Godric Gryffindor in hand, was Ron fucking Weasley.

And he had the nerve to wave.

All at once, a fury grew within her. She saw red as she launched herself forward, trying to punch him. Hard. She wanted to make him bruise. How dare he just show up like this? How dare he try to waltz back into their lives after abandoning them?

“Ouch – ow – gerroff! What the –? Hermione – OW!”

“You – complete – arse – Ronald – Weasley!”

She wanted to hurt him as much as he had hurt them. Hurt her.

As she screamed at one of her best friends, it was as though all the pent-up frustrations and self-loathing she had kept bottled up over the past months came exploding out of her. The electricity from her anger crackled in her heart, sending shocks through her chest and abdomen and all the way down to her fingers and toes. Hermione wasn’t sure she had ever felt rage this unbridled.

She wanted it to feel cathartic – wanted to feel the release of some great tension that had been building. Maybe, just maybe, if that happened, it would make everything okay again.

But that certainly wasn’t to be.

Ron flung his hands up, clearly trying to protect himself. He backed up as she gnashed her teeth, continuing her unrelenting diatribe until she ran out of breath. In the brief pause, she found herself still incredibly annoyed with his presence, and that just wouldn’t do.

If a tongue lashing wasn’t going to do the trick, then perhaps her wand could speak for her. The moment her air refilled with lungs, she instinctively reached into her jumper pocket searching for…

“Oh, where’s my wand?” she spat the words at no one in particular before she remembered.

Head whipping to face Harry, she was about to advance on him and snatch her wand out of his fingers when the raven-haired boy got to it first.

“Immobulus!”

Her body froze on the spot, her hand stretched out toward Harry. The abrupt stop to all her motion jarred her; all the momentum she had been gaining as she prepared to barrel toward her friend was gone in an instant. The only thing left in motion was her heavily thumping heart. It was so persistent that she was certain it could be heard in the otherwise deathly-silent tent.

Unable to move, she watched as Harry took two steps forward toward her, his face stony. Hermione wanted to draw away as he leaned in, but the freezing charm kept her in place.

When Harry hissed into her ear, his voice shook with forced calm. “You need to breathe, Hermione. Think about–” He paused, his eyes darting to her stomach, and then over to Ron.

Though she could only stare at Harry in return, she tried to really convey with her eyes alone that he should shut the hell up and let me punch the fucker .

Judging by the way Harry’s own eyes widened, perhaps some of that came through in her expression.

Good.

With all the rage simmering just below the surface of her skin, he should understand not to interfere. He should back off and remove the charm so she could give Ron a piece of her mind.

“Hermione…” he warned, “this isn’t about you.” His eyes darted down again.

Dammit. Didn’t he know that Ron could see his eyes move? Didn’t he realize that she wasn’t ready for that redheaded wanker to know yet? Hermione felt her veins begin to vibrate as she continued to fight against the charm. She had to prevent him from giving away any more than he already had. Though she couldn’t see Ron’s face, she was thoroughly convinced he was about to ask all the wrong questions.

Hermione was not going to back down; she would keep fighting until he unfroze her. Couldn’t he see that?

Yet, instead of acknowledging defeat, Harry leaned in closer – so close, in fact, that she could feel his hair brush her skin. What the hell was he doing? She knew her best friend was a fucking Gryffindor, but was he that stupid? To get so close to her when she was about to explode?

When he spoke again, it was in a whisper; not in a harsh one, where the words sound more like daggers meant to pierce, but a soft, gentle whisper that filled her ears like an embrace and made her defenses fall away.

“Hermione, please…” he pleaded, taking his time with each word. “I know you’re angry. I do. I’d be furious. But you have to walk away. Please. For the baby. For you.”

He reached between them and gently patted her stomach away from Ron’s purview.

Hermione felt her heart stagger at the touch. Had she forgotten so easily that she was pregnant? Was the baby that unimportant to her that she had nearly pounced on Ron without thinking of her exposed belly?

The fire in her veins dulled until it was nothing more than flickers; the pounding of her heart slowed to a steady thump. Though she remained immobilized, Harry must have sensed a change in her, because he pulled away from her a moment later.

“I’m going to remove the charm in a moment,” he said, his tone wary, “but I need you not to try to kill Ron when I do. I want you to take a walk, ‘Mione. Breathe it out. Ron can explain everything when you’ve calmed down.”

Half a second later, she felt all the muscles in her body turn to butter. The momentum she had gained as she had hurtled toward Harry to snatch her wand came back in a rush; she would have barreled into him if he hadn’t been at the ready, his arms outstretched to steady her.

When she was sure she could stand unassisted, Hermione glanced back at Ron. The redhead stood, jaw dropped, confusing swirling in his eyes.

“Is… everything okay?” he asked after a moment, looking between the two of them.

Hermione was about to open her mouth to reply when Harry beat her to it.

“Yep. Hermione’s just going to take a walk while we get changed into warmer clothes. Isn’t that right?”

Under normal circumstances, Hermione wouldn’t stand for being bossed around like that. She was the one who usually gave marching orders – not the other way around. But in that exact moment, somehow, she liked being to be told what to do. Though imperative, Harry’s words were saturated with care.

And after months of trying to figure out how to take care of herself in this strange situation all by herself, it felt rather… nice.

So instead of arguing or putting up a fuss, she grabbed her jacket from its spot by the door and padded outside into the crisp, December night air. Try as she might to think calming thoughts, her mind buzzed as she walked in circles around the tent. Ron was back. Ron was back!

She didn’t know whether to kill him or cheer.

But the first wasn’t an option. Clearly. Harry had pointed that obvious point out to her. So she continued to drag her feet, rubbing her stomach as she did.

She wanted to write to Draco more than ever. But what would she say? At this point it was dubious whether she would ever find the courage to actually tell him what she needed to say.

Dear Draco, I’m pregnant and on the run from You-Know-Who with Harry and Ron. Almost got killed by the snake a couple days ago, but other than that doing fine. Do you want to find out the sex of the baby before it’s born? Love, Hermione.

No. Somehow, that didn’t seem like the right way to tell him.

But what was?


 

Though she listened with rapt attention to Ron when he regaled the story of his return, Hermione didn’t do much to respond. Frankly, she didn’t have the energy to formulate a proper response.

Ron conveyed so much in his tale – how sorry he was, how much he wanted to return, and to her despair, how much he loved her. Though he hadn’t said those last words exactly, she could see it in his eyes.

She knew that look.

Coming from Draco, it made her heart soar, her stomach swoop, and a smile dance on her lips.

But coming from Ron? Her stomach had bottomed out when she saw that look in his eyes; not because he felt that way for her, but because that look confirmed that that the baby growing inside her would absolutely crush him.

And she took no pleasure in that.

So she avoided the boys purposely for the whole of the next day, taking to curling up in her bunk for most of the day, re-reading Tales of Beedle the Bard. Again. Hermione managed to write Draco a note to respond to his Christmas message; once again, she had tried to tell him, but only managed to tell the truth indirectly. When she finished writing, frustrated, she switched over to Rita Skeeter’s book.

But after two hours of staring at the strange mark written on a page of The Tale of The Three Brothers, she couldn’t take it any longer. Rolling out of her bunk and making her way over to the boys, she spoke her first words in over twenty-four hours. The words felt scratchy in her throat.

“I want to go and see Xenophilius Lovegood.”

It didn’t take much convincing on Ron’s part, but Harry was another story. He kept sighing, looking at her stomach when he thought her head was turned the other way. But she saw.

After Ron had practically forced a vote, she pulled Harry aside.

“Look.” She began. “I know you’re concerned about me and about the… the baby.” Hermione stumbled over the last two words. “But you shouldn’t let that concern get in the way of us doing what we need to do.”

“But Hermione,” Harry interjected, shifting from foot to foot, “What if something happens to you? To the baby? I don’t know if I’d ever get over that.”

“Oh, stop making this about you,” Hermione snapped. “I’m fine. I told you that. I’m planning on putting a shield charm around my stomach just in case. Maybe a limited disillusionment charm. But I’m not not sure about that one. Can you see my belly much when I’m in this jumper?”

“Well, no,” began Harry, “but–”

“But nothing. It’s settled. I know my limits and no one will suspect anything if it’s not visible, anyway.” Hermione blew a strand of hair out of her face. “Besides, we’re just going to see Mr. Lovegood. I hardly think even a shield charm will be necessary.”


 

Hermione’s entire body thrummed with adrenaline. Even hours after their disastrous visit to the Lovegood’s home, she couldn’t seem to stop the blood pounding in her ears. That day’s scene played over and over in her mind… Mr. Lovegood’s slow descent into desperate panic;  the gruff sounds of the Death Eaters’ voices just down the stairs; the floor giving out underneath them as she blasted through it… landing in safety once more, if only just.

From the moment they had landed in the field, she had only one goal in mind: get to safety. Put up enchantments and get to safety. She had been so single-minded in her task that she jumped nearly a foot off the ground when Harry yanked her away from casting the muggle-repelling charm. Why was he interrupting her? He shouldn’t do that. There could be more Death Eaters here. They could be waiting just around the corner; they would find them again. She just knew it. All she had to do was get up these damn enchantments…

Harry yanked her away again.

“What?” she shrieked, tears threatening to leak from her eyes.

“I asked you if you were all right.”

“I’m fine , Harry.”

“Is your… did the shield charm work?”

For the first time since crash-landing, Hermione paused. Her hands flew to her belly as though she could diagnose herself by touch.

“I… I think so.”

Harry visibly relaxed and released her to continue working.

Hours later, shame still filled her to the brim as she laid awake on her bunk. Sleep had yet to find her. As much as she tried to close her eyes and will herself to sleep, her mind was only able to focus on one single fact:

She had put the baby in danger and hadn’t even stopped to consider its safety when she practically fell on her stomach. Thank Merlin she had placed that shield charm around her abdomen. Hermione shuddered and felt the urge to cry every time she considered the possibility of what would have happened if she hadn’t…

Hermione shifted onto her side. On top of her mental anguish, she just couldn’t seem to get comfortable. Since she had crawled into bed two hours previously, her legs had been cramping like crazy. Of course, she had gotten charley horses before. But these were almost worse, because they kept happening again and again until she was sure her face would settle into a permanent grimace.

After the latest bout of leg cramps, Hermione rolled into a sitting position. Though her stomach was barely visible under her lumpy jumper, she could see the faint outline of it nestled on top of her legs. In a poor attempt to get more oxygen to her leg muscles, she breathed deeply several times, her hands circling her belly with care.

From the mouth of the tent, she heard a small cough.

Ron.

Sighing, Hermione pulled herself to her feet. Sooner or later, she would need to have a real sit-down chat with him. The events of the day had left them all shaken, but grateful to be alive, and their revelations about Hallows that had followed had seemed to really put Ron in a better mood. Perhaps now was as good a time as any to tell him.

Reaching her arms to the sky in a stretch, Hermione padded past Harry, fast asleep, glasses askew, toward Ron. The redhead had his back to the tent flap, a maroon jumper covering his hunched-over torso.

“Budge up, will you?” Hermione whispered as she emerged into the chilly December night.

Ron turned and smiled at her, scooting over a few inches on the log he was currently occupying. As Hermione lowered herself down, her leg started to cramp up again. Though she tried to mask the pain, it clearly showed on her face as she landed with a thump on her rear end.

“Are you okay, ‘Mione? Are you hurt somewhere? Harry seemed awfully worried after we apparated here earlier.”

Ron’s eyes conveyed utmost concern for her wellbeing as he looked her up and down.

“Oh, no. I’m fine. Thank you.”

“But I’m sure… I’m pretty sure I saw you took a nasty fall when we landed earlier. Did you at least take a pain potion?”

“I didn’t–” Ron almost cut her off, but she pushed on. “But I’m fine. Honestly. Just a leg cramp.”

Ron nodded, seeming to accept her answer. They sat in silence for several moments, Ron shaking his leg and Hermione fighting the urge to rub her belly. She was highly aware of Ron’s presence, and it felt odd to be walking on eggshells again after spilling her secret to Harry.

Telling Harry hadn’t been easy, but it had felt tangible. Harry was just… Harry after all.  

Telling Ron, on the other hand? That felt impossible. Her relationship with him had always been more complicated – steeped in feelings of both loathing and longing. Though her affection had faded, the vestiges of it hung around, wanting to keep Ron Weasley from pain. This, of course, put her in a bit of a bind; she suspected how he felt about her, and she knew this news would absolutely crush him.

But she wasn’t getting any less pregnant. She wasn’t falling out of love with Malfoy, either.

“Hey Ron,” she began, keeping her eyes trained on the ground. “Can I talk to you about something?”

He turned his head. She could see the movement in her peripheral vision. “Yeah, all right.”

“I want to be honest with you. Because you deserve honesty.”

Hermione lifted her hand to put on her stomach but faltered. Instead, she placed it on top of his hand. Though she couldn’t see Ron’s expression while she continued to look down, she wouldn’t put it past him to look quite surprised.

“You’re scaring me a bit, Hermione. What’s going on?”

Hermione took a deep breath, tongue searching for the right words to begin.

“Gosh, this is hard to say.” she gave a nervous laugh and looked up at Ron’s face properly for the first time. He was smiling down at her with utmost care in his eyes, and the expression damn near broke her. “Can you just… listen? I don’t want you to interrupt until I’m done.”

Ron nodded.

“This summer changed a lot of things… for me,” she began, speaking slowly and considering each word before it rolled off her tongue. “You have to know that before this summer, I felt a certain way about you. I was quite infatuated with you, actually.”

She chanced a glance at Ron as she spoke and watched as several emotions crossed his face in a matter of moments. Concentration. Curiosity. Elation. Confusion.

“’Mione, what do you mean–?”

“Please don’t interrupt me, Ron. I have to get this out.”

He nodded again, withdrawing into himself, eyes still on her.

“It’s true. I… liked you. A lot. Even though you really pushed my buttons much of the time, I wanted nothing more than to be your girlfriend and to be loved by you.” She paused here as she searched for the right words to continue. Thankfully, Ron remained silent.

“But this summer… I didn’t see it coming, I swear. I… I fell in love with someone else.”

Another pause. This time, she didn’t dare look Ron in the face.

“Who?”

Hermione heard his voice croak as he asked the one question she was afraid to answer. Honesty. Ron deserved honesty.

“Draco Malfoy.”

She looked up to watch the confusion on his face turn to devastation. This was clearly not the answer he had been expecting.

“Malfoy? You’re… you’re in love with sodding Draco Malfoy? How? Why? Hermione? ” Ron’s face became more choked up as he spoke.

Shit. She knew this was going to be difficult, but trying to talk to Ron when she knew her words would wound him, it felt like her mouth was filled with glue.

“Draco and I grew… exceptionally close this summer. And he was a complete arse at first.”

“He’s still an arse!”

“Ron!” she hissed.

He looked a bit wounded and fell silent.

“Yes, Ron. Draco isn’t some perfect person a pedestal who was meant to sweep me off my feet. I know that. But somehow, when we’re together, we just… we just fit. We work.”

She swallowed again, digging deep as she prepared to shatter her best friend’s heart.

“I love Draco. I love him and I’m…” she closed her eyes, willing herself to keep speaking. “I’m pregnant, Ron.” To demonstrate this last point, she let go of his hand and placed it lovingly on her distended belly.

The beginnings of rage grew in Ron’s eyes as her words sat heavy between them. The December air had grown thick and impossibly hot, somehow. Any sort of winter wind felt numb on her skin. No one moved a muscle; only the rustling of the barren branches above made any sound at all.

Hermione withdrew slightly as she watched the cogs of Ron’s mind churn furiously. The rage in his eyes had faded slightly, and he was now looking between her face, her belly, and some space out in the dark woods. He was clearly wrestling with his fight or flight instinct. That was how he normally reacted to bad news, after all. She had been expecting an explosion or another attempt at running away. But not this. She had not expected angry contemplation – for him to think before he responded.

After several minutes of silence, he spoke again. The sudden noise made her jump.

“Hermione, I–” he began before stalling, licking his lips and running his hands through his already-disheveled hair. “I can’t say I’m not angry. Because I am. I’m angry and I’m sad and I’m about a thousand other things I can’t describe with words.”

“Ron, I’m s–”

“Hermione. Let me finish. Please.”  

It was her turn to nod.

“I… I love you, Hermione. Always have. Even when I didn’t know it. Even when I didn’t show it. And I wish I had shown it.” He ran his hands through his hair again. “But there’s no use dwelling on what could have been, is there? You love him. That’s that. You’re… gods, are you really pregnant?”

Ron seemed to break his inner monologue as he looked over to her. Where fire had lived in his eyes, now there was only pain.

“I am.”

Ron’s gaze seemed to focus solely on her belly now. Fingers shaking, he reached out an arm and caressed it almost lovingly.

Hermione wasn’t focused on that, however. She was focused on the longing and devastation now etched in every inch of his expression.

“You know,” he said after a minute, fingers still brushing her stomach, “when I dream about this war ending, there are loads of pictures that flash in my mind of what that’s going to look like. But of all the wonderful stuff that I see, there’s only one thing that pops up again and again.”  Ron took a deep breath. “And… it sounds ridiculous, I know. But I… I always picture us. Just us. Living somewhere. Just being, you know? And we’re happy. I can feel it. But there’s always a… a baby. Our baby. I can never see a face, but it’s got your curls. Every time.”

He withdrew his hand and ran his hands through his hair yet again. “It’s just hard to watch a dream die right in front of you, you know?”

Hermione had braced herself for yelling and rage and fire. She had steeled herself for his wrath and his jealousy.

But this? She was not prepared for sorrow.

“Oh, Ron…”

“I’m really sad right now, Hermione. I’m not gonna lie. But you know, I’m okay. Or… I will be. I love you, Hermione, and if that means being your friend and sticking with you and the… baby, then that’s what I’m going to do.”

Hermione promptly burst into tears. She wasn’t sure if it was the hormones, but something about the way Ron looked at her with such adoration pushed her over the edge. To her surprise, he chuckled and rubbed her back as she wept. The steady feel of his palm relaxed her until she was only hiccupping.

“I take back what I said fifth year.” She sniffed. “You don’t have the emotional range of a teaspoon.”

Ron laughed again, though she could see it didn’t quite reach his eyes.

“What can I say? I grew up a bit.”

The air around them had returned, and it felt refreshing as it filled her lungs, breathing life into her body once more. The cold pinched her cheeks, and out of nowhere, a bout of fatigue settled in her bones. She yawned.

“You should get to bed, ‘Mione. You need to get plenty of rest, all right?”

Hermione stifled another yawn as she stood and stretched. As her skyward arms fell limply to her side, she caught Ron staring at her belly once more.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” she prodded once more.

He gave a weak smile. “It’s like I said. I’m not. But I will be.”

Honesty in exchange for honesty.

“Right, well… have a good watch.” She cast a warming charm over him and leaned forward to kiss his cheek. “Goodnight, Ron.”

He waved vaguely before curling his legs up into his chest, his head turning to face the dark expanse of the woods.

As Hermione climbed back into her bunk and closed her eyes, she could here the soft sounds of crying from just outside the tent.

Chapter Text

In the weeks following the disastrous visit to see Xenophilius Lovegood, life in the tent passed at a flobberworm’s pace. The three friends woke, packed, and Disapparated each morning. They cast protective enchantments and set up camp upon arrival to a new location, only to spend the rest of the day sitting in near-silence, the weight of their journey turning the winter air to molasses. Food was assembled from their limited stock of multiplied goods, though Hermione knew they really needed to get fresh supplies. At night, they each took turns waiting for sleep to find them through the mental fog.

Day in and day out, they repeated this process. Nothing changed. They found no new horcruxes. They had no more revelations about the Hallows. The days simply passed, long, cold, and depressing.

The only sign that time marched on was the growth of Hermione’s stomach. Each day found her waking up to a slightly-more-distended belly; though she was sure most mothers-to-be delighted in the growth of their child, it brought Hermione more anxiety than warmth. Not only had she still not told Draco, but she still hadn’t figured out what to do with the baby once it was born, and she was angry at herself for not finding solutions to either of those issues.

She was tempted to blame pregnancy brain but knew that was nothing more than a cop out. It’s not that she wasn’t capable of making these decisions. No, she absolutely could if push came to shove. The problem? She just didn’t want to. Gryffindor though she was, Hermione found her courage dangling just out of her grasp these days.

It wasn’t for lack of trying on either accounts, certainly.

The former problem, of course, had a simple solution: just tell Draco. Grab a quill, write the words, I’m pregnant in the journal, and walk away. That’s all it would take. She had attempted to tell him around Christmas, but her words had been so indirect that they had likely gone over his head. The fact that he hadn’t questioned her told her all she needed to know.

Just thinking about the fact that she hadn’t told him properly made her face burn with shame and her stomach feel full of bitter guilt. Yet, despite having tried well over twenty times to sit down and do it, each time she tried, her hands shook and her mind raced. It had gotten to the point where just looking at her journal caused her heart to palpitate and bile to rise in her throat. It was as though the leather-bound book had almost become her enemy in recent weeks. She actively avoided it when she could, which brought on even higher levels of shame and guilt.

It was a vicious cycle, and Hermione was beginning to feel the wear and tear of her lie.

Her omission of the truth, really.

When she had insinuated recently that she was feeling a little under the weather – an understatement, to be sure – and Draco had fretted over her in his reply, expressing his wishes to make her soup and hex Harry and Ron if they made her do anything but sleep.

Of course, Ron and Harry were letting her take it easy. But their attitude definitely wasn’t due to a cold; instead, she had sharp, jabbing pains in her pelvis. But Draco didn’t need to know that. Not yet, anyway. That’s what she told herself.

Harry and Ron had only brought up Draco once. To her surprise, they had pushed her to tell him. One dark, damp night as they sat by the fire, Ron had insinuated that if he was about to become a father, he would definitely want to know.

“I mean, I don’t want the blonde git to join us. That’s definitely not what I’m saying. But what I am saying is that you’ve got to tell him. He has to know before it’s born.”

She had turned away at Ron’s words, her eyes red-rimmed as they were so often these days.

Hermione returned to her bunk that night and squeezed her pebble, as she did nearly constantly these days. Each time she felt the smooth rock roll in her fingers, she whispered four small words like a mantra – like a prayer.

“I’m so sorry, Draco.”

Somehow – some way – she prayed her words and her emotions would reach him.

Though her thoughts were with him often, her attempts in recent weeks to tell Draco had slowed down. It wasn’t because she had decided to keep the baby from him. On the contrary, she wanted nothing more than for Draco to be with her through it all. No, what kept her from trying harder to inform him that he was going to be a father was his own safety. Last time she had even hinted that she needed him, he had dropped everything and flew to her side in an instant.

That lapse in judgement on both their parts had been nothing but a massive muck up. It had put them both at risk unnecessarily. It was also the reason she now had a baby inside her.

But Hermione didn’t want to put Draco in a position like that again; she didn’t want to force his hand or risk him exposing himself. He was safe at the Burrow, and if nothing else, that was something.

The letters they exchanged now weren’t exactly stiff, but they weren’t particularly affectionate either. Something seemed a bit off with him, though Hermione couldn’t exactly put her finger on it. When she wrote back, she crafted her responses with care. She wanted to be honest with him about how she was feeling and the thoughts floating through her mind, but when her feelings consisted of joint pain and cravings for sour foods and her thoughts were consumed by the baby, it was hard to be genuine.

As to what she was going to do with the baby… it was still the largest conundrum of them all. Most of her sleepless nights could be attributed to a combination of this particular rabbit hole and her continued leg cramps.

Thus far, the only option she had come up with that sounded both viable and appealing was finding a semi-permanent place to stay when the baby was very young. Beyond that, she was still more than a bit lost. There was always the possibility of finding a temporary guardian, but that didn’t sit well with her. Just the thought of being separated from the little creature growing inside of her left her feeling as though she had been punched in the stomach.

Of course, that could have also been the baby. It was an active little thing these days.

She had spent many an evening filling rolls of parchment with pro-and-con lists and various names of potential guardians, but everything felt wrong. After Harry pointed out that perhaps she needed to follow her gut on the issue rather than obsess over minutia, she had set the lists down for a bit.

In the moments that she wasn’t a ball of stress about her impending motherhood, she tried to enjoy the sensation of having a little being inside her.

According to her calendar, she was nearly twenty-four weeks along. Back in December, only a couple days after she sat down to talk to Ron, she had felt the baby kick for the first time. In a rush of excitement that she hadn’t known she could still feel, she practically dove for Harry’s and Ron’s hands, tugging them to her stomach to try and feel what she had just felt.

Ron pulled away after a moment, an uncomfortable look on his face.

Harry, on the other hand, lingered for several minutes. His expression was poised on the edge of wonder until he felt the tiny bump, himself. When he felt the movement, Hermione saw a flash of joy in his face, his eyes wide and his teeth exposed in a huge grin.

If nothing else, she was grateful to have been able to pull Harry from his brooding, even if just for a moment. Since then, she had taken to finding Harry whenever the baby was particularly active – it always seemed to cheer him up a bit.

“It’s really in there, huh?” said Harry on a particularly cold late-January morning, his hand planted gently on the spot where they had seen the tiny movement.

“I suppose it is,” she replied, shivering.

They sat in silence for a few moments, eyes fixed on her stomach. Harry’s thumb rubbed small circles on a spot a couple inches over from her slightly-distended navel.

“I’ve been thinking about something,” he said after a moment. “My mum was only nineteen when she was pregnant with me. Twenty when I was born. That’s not too far off from where you are, Hermione.”

“No, I suppose it’s not,” she mused.

“Even though she was so young, everyone’s told me she was a wonderful mother. And I… I think you’ll be the same, Hermione.”

Hermione looked up from her stomach to see her friend’s eyes trained on her stomach with an odd sort of longing.

“Harry?” Her friend’s name hung in the air as he seemed to try and form the right words.

“I wonder what it was like for her. She was pregnant in the middle of a war. She must have been so scared. I know you’re scared.”

Hermione opened her mouth to say something but found her vocal chords unable to make sound.

“You know, it’s kind of funny. My mum gave everything to me. She gave me life and then gave her own to protect me. As grateful as I am to be here, there’s nothing I wouldn’t give to just have even one more piece of her. Or a moment with her. Something. But instead, I have nothing. I don’t have proof that she was actually a wonderful mother. Just a couple of photographs and letters and other peoples’ words.”

Harry shifted his hand, lacing his fingers through hers.

“You’re going to be a wonderful mother, Hermione. Just like my mum. But I wonder… can I suggest something?”

“Of course. Anything.”

She squeezed Harry’s hand, her eyes looking into his sad green ones.

“This is going to sound morbid, but just hear me out, okay? We want to believe that everything is going to turn out – I mean, it has to, right? But… my parents didn’t expect to get killed and leave me behind. It’s the last thing I want us to think about, but… you should leave lots of proof of how much you love this baby. Photographs. Letters. Something.” Harry paused, took a deep breath, and continued.

“We’re in a war and I couldn’t bear the thought of your baby having no way to know you, should something… happen. Maybe you could write to the baby or something? Tell it how much you love it. Let it hear those words coming directly from you. I would have… I would have really liked something like that. I think I even needed it at one point.”

The small amount of joy he normally exuded when he felt her stomach evaporated, leaving an odd hollowness behind. Harry’s voice faded and he stood, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“I’m going to take a walk, okay?”

Back to brooding, then.

Hermione hummed in response, the weight of Harry’s words still sinking in – still absorbing through her skin.

Harry’s mum had died in the war, leaving her son behind. Could she be condemning her child to the same fate? Would history be doomed to repeat itself? Of course, the child she was carrying was no child of prophecy as far as she knew, but death did not play favorites. Especially not during a war.

Hermione didn’t want to think about it.

She tried to brush off the conversation for a few days, but as she lay in bed, the early February chill creeping in, those thoughts invaded her mind, plaguing her as she teetered on the edge of sleep until she was wide awake. Giving up completely, she sat up and Accioed a blank notebook and a quill from her beaded bag. Hermione sucked on the end of the self-inking quill as she thought. Harry had suggested writing a letter to the baby. Perhaps that was a good idea. If she got her thoughts out there, maybe sleep would be easier to find.

Dear Baby,

Yes. That seemed like a good way to start.

You don’t know me yet, but I am your mother. Or do you know me? I wish I had more information about how you’re developing so I could know how familiar you are with me by now.

Hermione paused. This wasn’t exactly the message she was going for. Harry spoke of wishing he knew his mother’s love, and this didn’t exactly make the mark. She turned the page and tried anew.

Dear Baby,

This is my first time writing to you. I’m your mum, and my friend Harry suggested that I write letters to you so you can know how much you’re loved. It seems a bit late to start these letters given that I’ve known about you for a long while. But I suppose you’re not born yet, so it’s definitely not too late.

When I first found out I was having you, I was terrified. I am only eighteen, after all. And you may be too young to know about this for many years, but there is a war going on, and I’m playing a part in it. A big part.

I suppose that before I begin to tell you how much I love you, I have something else to say.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I don’t know more about how you’re doing or other things that a mother should know.

I’m sorry that I’m younger than most other mothers.

I’m sorry if I put you in danger. I don’t mean to. The world is a dangerous place right now, but I swear to do everything in my power to keep you safe.

I’m also sorry that I haven’t been able to find any sour foods to make you happy. I’m sure you’re quite grumpy with me right now.

I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to be sorry for, baby. I feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark.

But there is one thing that I know, my darling. I love you. I’ve never really met you, and yet I love you more than I can say with words alone.

I hope that love is enough.

Hermione stopped there, wiping the tear that fell from her eye. That was all she could manage for tonight.

Closing the notebook and tucking it into the beaded bag once more, Hermione snuggled under her covers and drifted off to sleep, the burden on her heart lifted, if only slightly.

 


 

Shortly after Hermione began writing letters to the baby, she brought up the idea of another antenatal visit with Harry and Ron. Writing to the baby had made her come face-to-face with the fact that she didn’t know hardly anything about the baby. After explaining her tactics from her last visit to the boys, they came up with a plan. They would make their way over to the nearest city – York, by the look of it, and find another hospital. Hermione had expressed an openness to either of her friends posing as the father for the appointment, but Ron made it abundantly clear that he would feel immensely uncomfortable.

“It’s just… I still need time, Hermione. You understand, right?” Ron shifted in his chair, looking anywhere but at her. “Plus, I don’t know anything about muggle healers. I’d bullocks it up somehow. Harry should go.”

A short, awkward silence followed. There had been a lot of silences like this between them since their discussion all those weeks ago. Most of the time, Ron seemed to want to focus on horcruxes and ignore the fact that Hermione was pregnant. It was as though he purposely put up blinders, and whenever the baby came up, the gap that had grown between the two of them felt especially tangible. Other than their conversation about telling Draco, he actively avoided the subject. Though she might have previously interpreted this in a negative light, Hermione now was able to see the little things Ron did for her: he reminded her to eat; he relieved her of watch duties early; he even swapped pillows with her because he claimed his was more comfortable.

When she asked him about the pillow swap, he just shrugged his shoulders in response.

No, Ron’s refusal to talk about the baby wasn’t anger or sadness. Not anymore, anyway. She was certain he was afraid of messing up and saying the wrong thing, as he had done in the past, and Hermione couldn’t really blame him for that.

“I’m happy to be fake dad,” Harry piped up, inserting himself into the tension. “It’ll be nice to put myself in a different mindset for a day, I think.”

They all nodded in agreement that this was the best path forward.

Within a couple days, they arrived and set up camp in a muddy field outside of York. As planned, Ron remained behind while Hermione and Harry trekked into civilization under the invisibility cloak. Once they arrived in the city, Hermione cast the glamours she had become so proficient at over them both before they caught a cab. Hermione’s leg bounced as the car traveled up the road toward the hospital that they had pre-selected. Somehow, she felt even more nervous than she had last time she went to an antenatal clinic. So much had happened between the last visit in December and now. She had almost died. Twice. Ron had come back.

She wasn’t alone. Not anymore.

Harry seemed to feel her nerves, because he covered her hand with his and gave a squeeze.

Hermione offered a half smile back at her friend. While it was lovely to have Harry along with her, he wasn’t the person she really wanted to be there with her today.

No, that was the one big thing that hadn’t changed from that day to this. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine that it was Draco sitting beside her in the cab. She could almost hear his nervous chatter as they prepared for this appointment – could see in her mind’s eye the loving gaze he would give her and her stomach every few minutes. She could also imagine him yelling at the cab driver to slow the hell down – that there was his pregnant girlfriend in the back seat, didn’t he know?

Yes, it was all a lovely picture. Unfortunately, she could also picture an expression of utter mortification and dread on his face when she told him.

Draco remained in the dark and she remained a horrible person for keeping it that way.

Opening her eyes when the cab came to a halt, Hermione climbed out of the cab while Harry paid the driver.

“Remember, what’s your name?” she whispered as they climbed the hospital steps together.

“I’m David Thompson. Your boyfriend.”

“And my name?”

“Claire… Michaels?”

“Michaelson. How long have we been together?”

Harry hesitated again. “Two years?”

“Good. We met at school. I’ll cover and answer questions if you feel lost. Got it?”

Harry nodded as he pulled the metal door handle leading to the antenatal clinic, allowing Hermione to walk in before him. Just like the last time, she cast a Confundus charm on the receptionist – a bored-looking young man this time.

The waiting area at this clinic looked shockingly identical to the previous clinic in Manchester; the only noticeable difference was the decorations. Whereas the last clinic had been filled with tinsel and Christmas trees, this clinic boasted numerous sparkly hearts and cupids hanging from the ceiling.

“Must be near to Valentine’s Day,” Harry commented, finding a seat across from the reception desk.

“So it would seem,” she answered, lowering herself beside him. With a little ‘oomph’ she landed onto the cushion and leaned back, resting a hand on her stomach. Getting up and down without assistance was proving more and more difficult each day.

Hermione watched as Harry’s eyes darted around the room, seemingly taking in the bellies of varying sizes. He swallowed and blinked far more often than normal.

“You okay there, Mr. Thompson?” she asked, a smile dancing on her lips. “Are you regretting putting yourself in a different mindset?”

He swallowed gain. “Erm… no. I just… I didn’t…erm. Oh bollocks. I didn’t think there would be so many… erm…” Harry floundered and Hermione stifled an actual giggle.

“So many what? Pregnant women?”

“Well… yes. Somehow I thought it would be just us or something.”

Hermione gave one more chuckle and patted her friend on the back. “Well, you’ll have to get used to seeing things like that.” She gestured to a woman sitting across from them who looked like she had stuffed a particularly large beach ball down her shirt. “I’m not going to get any smaller, after all.”

Harry’s eyes went wide as a nurse poked her head out and called for Claire Michaelson. This time Hermione responded immediately, ready to take the necessary steps to make this appointment go smoothly. The moment she and Harry went back into the patient area, Hermione cast another Confundus on the nurse before slipping the medical file she had stolen from the previous clinic into her hands. When the nurse came to, she only shuddered for a half second before directing Harry the exam room and Hermione to the loo, where she needed to pee in a cup again. After, she offered Hermione a sickly-sweet orange beverage to drink in order to test her blood sugar levels.

It all seemed fairly routine to Hermione. Of course, she had never been pregnant before, so she wasn’t entirely sure, but nothing was particularly odd. Instead of the gown she had been given last time, she was allowed to stay in her street clothes. Harry had seemed particularly relieved at this – he let out a small breath, his body visibly relaxing. His reaction was so mild, though, that she doubted the nurse noticed.

A few minutes after all her vitals had been checked, the doctor arrived with a knock: man this time, with a salt and pepper beard and eyes that crinkled as he smiled.

“Hello all. I’m Dr. Landrigan. Pleasure to meet you both. You must be Ms. Michaelson?”

“Yes sir.” Hermione grasped his hand as he extended it to shake. “And you are…?” he turned to Harry.

“Erm… David.” Harry stood to greet the doctor.

The men shook hands and Dr. Landrigan took a seat in the wheeled stool by the examination table.

“Right. Ms. Michaelson, according to these charts, you should be just over twenty-four weeks. Does that sound right to you?”

“It does.”

“Good.”

This doctor seemed to be blowing through her appointment a bit faster than Dr. Weiss had, though his jovial nature admittedly left her feeling quite reassured. Hermione answered all his questions thoroughly: questions about food aversions, questions about trouble sleeping, and questions about pelvic pain.

It turned out that the pain she had written about to Draco was called rounding ligament pain, and was considered quite normal.

“One last question, Ms. Michaelson. Have you been having any leaking or vaginal discharge?”

Harry turned the color of a beet. Hermione could see it through her peripheral vision. She honestly wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to pity him. Still, this was a doctor’s appointment and she needed to make the most of it. Hermione watched out of the corner of her eye as Harry’s gaze shifted over to some unknown spot on the ceiling as she began to describe, unflinchingly and in full detail, the brown discharge she had seen the other day.

Surely Harry deserved some sort of award for this.

“I assure you that is perfectly normal. As long as it’s not a suspicious amount of fluid or bright red, I wouldn’t worry.” The doctor set his clipboard down and slapped his knees with open palms. “Well then, everything seems good so far, Ms. Michaelson. Shall we take a look at baby?”

Hermione nodded and leaned back on the table, pulling up her shirt over her belly. She gave a small Umbridge-like cough when Dr. Landrigan turned out the lights. This seemed to shake Harry out of his embarrassed trance.

“Sorry,” he muttered scooting closer to the examination table.

“No need to apologize, young man. Lots of fathers-to-be like yourself don’t like to hear the nitty gritty of everything that’s going on. But I will say, the more you know and the better you listen, the better partner and father you’ll be. Even if you don’t want to hear it.”

Harry grimaced and grunted an affirmative response.

“Right then. Eyes on the screen, everyone.”

As before, the small telly screen flickered to life; Dr. Landrigan spread the lubricant over her much-larger stomach and searched around for just a moment before…

“Aha. Found the little thing. There we are, Mummy and Daddy.”

She gazed up at the grey figure wriggling about on the screen. She could see the outline of its little nose and lips and… was it…?

“Ah, yes. Looks like you’ve got a thumb-sucker in there.”

Hermione shot a grin at Harry, who was gawking, open-mouthed at the scan. He looked back and forth between her and the screen for several times, seemingly trying to form words. Eventually, he settled on, “Wow.” Harry reached for her hand and gasped it tightly in his own. Though Hermione appreciated the gesture, the taste in the back of her mouth grew bitter at his touch.

Harry was lovely and supportive, but he wasn’t Draco.

Dr. Landrigan moved the wand around a bit more, pointing out all kinds of anatomical features, before settling on a view from below the legs.

“Well, well,” the doctor chuckled, giving them a wry smile. "Seems like I’ve just found out the sex of your baby. Would you like to know?”

Hermione felt goose pimples ripple across her whole body. They could know right then and there. One more mystery solved. One less thing to fret about. She looked to Harry for reassurance, but he merely shrugged.

What would Draco want? Would he want to know? Surely, he would want an heir – a male. The thought of a little boy with Draco’s hair brought a small smile to her face. But what if she, as a muggleborn, wasn’t good enough to produce a true heir? Would he be satisfied with a girl, then? Visions of a curly-haired daughter floated past her brain, and she the smile returned.

But then again, what if he just didn’t want the baby in the first place?

The bitterness on her tongue came back at this thought, but she pushed past it. Draco wasn’t here. She was. Hermione had to focus on what was real and what was in the present. She had to make the decisions here. The baby was, after all, growing inside her.

“Yes, all right then. I’d like to know.”

Harry squeezed her hand, and when the doctor gave her the answer, she beamed.


 

Dear Baby,

What a day it’s been. Uncle Harry and I have been out and about so much today that I feel as though I’ve been hit by one of those thestral-drawn carriages at Hogwarts. With all the sitting I’ve been doing recently, walking all day really took it out of me. You better be growing well in there, little one, because your mum hasn’t been feeling too well lately.

But all this pain is worth it for you, darling. I’d walk into town and back under an invisibility cloak a thousand times for you. I know that might not sound like much, but with the way my hips are feeling, trust me. I love you. Besides, the walk was all worth it. I got to see you again.

The doctor told me you are fit as a fiddle, even if you’re still a little small. My stomach is measuring at 22 centimetres, and I’m just over 24 weeks. Keep growing, little one! We stocked up on lots of food to keep you happy. I know how much you’ve been wanting sour fruits, and we managed to get a whole bag of oranges as well as some yummy-looking granny smith apples. I’ve never been fond of the latter until now. You can bet that’s entirely your father’s doing. He loves apples.

You’ll be delighted to know that I am now in possession of no less than twelve books on pregnancy and infancy. I intend to start on the first volume tonight and take lots of notes. You may have a younger mummy than most, but I promise to be one of the most knowledgeable mummies out there. That won’t be so bad, will it?

I also picked up a book of names. The cover boasted over 60,000 options. How on earth am I supposed to pick just one? How does anyone name another person? This is the sort of thing I want to consult your dad on.

I still haven’t told him about you. You must think I’m a coward, baby. Perhaps I should have been in Ravenclaw rather than Gryffindor. I just don’t want to disappoint him or put him in danger. Is that selfish? I’m not sure what ‘selfish’ is any longer.

On the way back to camp, Uncle Harry surprised me with one last stop. He brought me to a shop filled with baby supplies. Cots, clothes, nappies, prams – the whole lot. It was so overwhelming, just looking at it all. I nearly had a panic attack in the nappy aisle, but Uncle Harry rubbed my back and a lovely saleswoman brought me some water.

Your birth is still over three months off and our life is so unpredictable that I couldn’t justify getting something like a cot, yet. But your uncle did talk me into a couple of purchases: newborn nappies, a soft yellow blanket, and several little cardboard books.

Your uncle, of course, purchased your first item of clothing. He was just too excited when he saw it, and I hadn’t seen your uncle with that big a smile in months. I just couldn’t say no when he saw these little pyjamas, soft pink and covered in tiny hearts and flowers. I’m not sure what it was about that particular pair, but you should have seen the way his eyes lit up when he spotted them in the girls’ section.

I picked out your second outfit. Little pink pyjamas covered in owls that come with a rather large owl stitched on the bum. I just couldn’t resist for my darling baby witch.

I never quite pictured my daughter to wear pink and lots of hearts, but then again, even having a daughter is a rather new concept to me.

I can’t wait to meet you, little girl.  

This is quite a long letter, isn’t it? I’ve been sitting on my bunk writing for so long, I think my lower half’s gone numb. I should probably take a walk. That would make you happy, wouldn’t it, little love?

Stay snug and warm in there, my beautiful girl.

Love,

Mummy


 

In the weeks following their excursion into York, Hermione made one particular observation: she could not move nearly as quickly as she used to with a large belly. Granted, she was grateful that her daughter was growing as she should, but given their situation, she couldn’t exactly picture herself waddling away from death eaters.

Nor did she exactly fancy the idea of anyone finding out she was pregnant. They had had a couple close shaves with snatchers and had come face-to-face with danger enough in the past months that she wasn’t comfortable with a mere shield charm protecting her stomach. Shield charms could be broken with enough force.

No, she would have to be far cleverer than that.

When Hermione wasn’t reading her new books on pregnancy and infant care, she had taken to sifting through her spellbooks for inspiration as to how to protect her daughter and keep her hidden while she still resided in her stomach.

After several experiments on rocks and enlarged chicken eggs, Hermione settled on the combination of four methods: the familiar shield charm, a weightlessness charm, a disillusionment charm, and a notice-me-not charm. On their own and without modification, none of the spells would do the trick, but used together, they were a near-perfect solution for their dangerous situation. The shield charm obviously stopped most spells or physical blows that might come at her stomach. The modified weightlessness charm allowed her to shift her center of gravity back to its usual position; this helped her gait return to normal and allowed her the freedom to run if needed.

The disillusionment charm had been particularly tricky, as she didn’t need a full-body disillusionment. Rather, only a partial one. After several not-so-spectacular results of testing on a half-willing Ron, she was finally able to make just the lower half of his arm disappear. On another go, just his abdomen. Watching Ron walk around for twenty minutes looking as though he’d been cut clean in two had been rather disturbing at first, but she hadn’t been able to hold back a laugh when Ron and Harry began to imagine what sort of jokes Fred and George would be cracking if they had been present to witness such an imaginative use of charms.

The last charm, of course, would cause any onlookers who stared a little too long at her stomach to suddenly notice something just beyond her shoulder or on the ground.

In her letters to Draco, she bragged about her impressive new skills – in vague terms, of course – he responded with words of praise a couple days later. Though she felt her heart swell at the praise, she couldn’t help feel that something was off with Draco. He hadn’t mentioned cooking with Molly in weeks, and that was his favorite go-to conversation piece, it seemed. Though he never wrote about anything being wrong, somehow, she could sense that something wasn’t right. It was almost as though there was a great deal he wasn’t saying that was written between the lines.

Almost like her letters to him.

Did they both have secrets they were keeping from each other?

All in all, Ron declared her spellwork nothing short of genius. Ever since she and Harry had returned from her doctor’s appointment, his attitude had shifted. Hermione wasn’t sure if Harry had talked to him or if he had reached this conclusion on his own, but it seemed he had come to accept her pregnancy as reality, as well as his lot to remain her friend. The tense air that used to surround them at all times – even back at Hogwarts – had dissipated and was replaced with something far more relaxed and comfortable.

Somehow, it felt even better than when she had felt attracted to him.

Ron seemed to feel better as well. He had really stepped up recently, and not just by offering her pillows or more rest time. Though Harry had participated willingly in the doctor’s visit, he hardly seemed to come out of his brooding these days. With his mind still clearly fixated on Hallows, it fell to Ron to take the lead on the horcrux hunt. At least, that’s how he seemed to perceive it.

Often, when he walked through the tent flaps on any given afternoon, he’d coax Harry away from his thoughts and her away from her books to help him brainstorm.

“Three Horcruxes left,” he kept saying. “We need a plan of action, come on! Where haven’t we looked? Let’s go through it again. The orphanage…”

She and Ron brainstormed for hours on end, trying to think of new locations they had yet to consider. Sometimes they got Harry to join in; other times, they weren’t so successful.

Regardless, Hermione often took breaks to excuse herself to the loo during these long thinking sessions. She found that the baby rather enjoyed kicking her bladder as of late, and her trips to the bathroom had become more and more frequent. The baby was, in fact, impeding on a great deal more of her daily activities these days. Though she could make her belly essentially disappear, the effort to keep all those charms up was more than it was worth to keep up all the time. Hermione found removing all four charms akin to kicking off high heel shoes after wearing them all day.

As the days continued to pass by, Spring crept into the trees and the air. The hard ground they had been camping on for the past several months was turning into soft, squelching mud, and everywhere they seemed to Apparate, they landed right in it. Hermione had practically given up the idea of having mud-free shoes. Though the arrival of Spring brought several frustrations like this, Hermione relished in the fading of winter. Nothing about this winter had been good, and she was grateful to move on. Each time she stepped out of the tent, now, she could smell the very Earth beneath her feet coming to life.

Something about that change of seasons also seemed to wake dormant parts of her courage. With her due date inching closer, Hermione wanted to attend an antenatal clinic at least once more. After talking to the boys about it, they had agreed to her plan. Ron had even agreed to stand in as the father this time.

They had also agreed to a special caveat: Hermione make a temporary stop off at the Burrow.

It was time to tell Draco.

Hermione had spent months trying to tell Draco with their journal and had failed. She knew if she put if off any longer, the baby would be in her arms and crying before she had the chance to tell him, and that wasn’t exactly fair.

Of course, she still planned to continue the horcrux hunt until the last moment possible, but she knew Draco would put up a fight. Understandably, of course. But if they could even just find one more horcrux before her daughter was born, that would put her mind at ease.

The three of them set a date for their next excursion to the far south of Britain, making plans to stop off in potential horcrux locations along the way. Each day that drew them a bit closer to Draco, Hermione grew more and more anxious. Sometimes, her heart beat so fast and her palms grew so sweaty that she felt as though she had been thrown back to the day she discovered she was pregnant. She was actually going to do it. She was going to tell Draco. He would know that he was going to be a father.

The thought made her heart soar and her stomach lurch simultaneously.

Just a week before their planned trip found the three of them in their usual spots for the evening: Harry sat just outside the tent, brooding; Ron tapped his wand on the wireless, muttering odd phrases; Hermione curled in her usual armchair perusing the baby name book she had purchased. Surely, Draco would have opinions, but she wanted to give her baby girl a name with sentiment… not just something traditional or cute.

She had just flipped past the E’s when a sharp pain in her lower abdomen made her cry out. Both boys immediately looked up from their preoccupations and turned to her.

“All right there, ‘Mione?” Ron called from over by the wireless.

“Y-yes. I think so. I had a pain. But I think they might just be practice contractions. I read about them in the books.”

Ron shot her a wary glance. “If you say so. I don’t quite fancy heading into hospital with you tonight.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and returned to her book. Not even five minutes later, Ron spoke again, his voice triumphant.

“I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Password was ’Albus’! Get in here, Harry.”

Hermione stared open-mouthed as Lee Jordan’s familiar voice boomed through the wireless. She couldn’t help the grin that broke out on her face as Professor Lupin’s voice joined in. Surely, his baby would be due any day now… that child and hers might grow up to be classmates at Hogwarts. The thought only deepened her smile.

Just hearing Lee, Professor Lupin, and Kingsley after all this time felt like a triumph. Hermione listened with rapt attention through the entire broadcast. Baby girl seemed to like the voices as well, because she kept doing somersaults through the whole thing.

Ron looked years younger as he listened to his brothers speak, and Harry seemed to be ultra-focused, his eyes glossy and the ghost of a smile threatening to break through.

When Lee ended the broadcast, the three of them were left to silence once more. But this silence was different. It wasn’t heavy or thick with difficult words unspoken. This was jubilant. It was medicinal. It was filled with a sense of hope and purpose long dormant under the winter snow.

“Good, eh?” said Ron, beaming.

“Brilliant,” Harry responded.

“It’s so brave of them,” Hermione sighed, leaning back in her chair to ease the discomfort in her lower back. “If they were found…”

“Well then keep on the move, don’t they? Like us.”

“But did you hear what Fred said?” Harry piped up. He’s abroad! He’s still looking for the Wand! I knew it!”

“Harry-” Hermione nagged. When was he going to let this go?

“Come on, Hermione, why are you so determined to admit it? Vol-”

“HARRY, NO!”

“-demort’s after the Elder Wand!”

“The name’s Taboo!” Ron screamed as she heard a crack just beyond the tent flap.

Hermione jumped to her feet, summoning her beaded bag, her other hand clutched protectively against her stomach, ready to cast protective enchantments over it. Her heart thudded so loudly, she could have sworn the snatchers outside would hear it.

“Come out of there with your hands up!” a voice called from outside. “We know you’re in there! You’ve got half a dozen wands pointing at you and we don’t care who we curse!”

Chapter Text

Draco had come to dread the new moon. Without the moon’s bright presence, it left the night pitch black and full of unknowns. The only thing left to give him a sense of place on those nights were the stars. Supposedly constant, the stars were guideposts in both navigation and divination – essential and comforting to many.

Draco was supposed to take comfort in the stars. He was named for a constellation, after all. Yet, for all his knowledge of the stars, he took no comfort in them. On nights like these, when he looked out into the blackness of the night, the guidepost he craved was the soft, pale light of the moon.

Where there was moonlight, there was sight, and where there was sight in this war, there was some knowledge of what was to come.

Looking out of the Malfoy Manor library window, Draco lamented the lack of moon in tonight’s sky. He couldn’t see a thing from where he stood and stared at what he knew to be the path in from the Manor’s gate – the Apparition point.

Guests at the manor these days – Death Eaters, mainly – always arrived in this fashion. Draco had taken to spending much of his day perched at this overlook. From here, he could anticipate what was to come. The arrival of certain Death Eaters or lack thereof meant he could spend the day quietly with his parents in the library or alone in his room. Those days were the good days. He tried to distract himself with books in the former location; he mostly paced in the latter.

The arrival of other Death Eaters… namely, his aunt and the Dark Lord, himself, meant a much darker, more sinister day awaited him. There was no reading or pacing on those days. Instead, he often bore witness to torture and murder.

He had participated in the torture occasionally. It had been under duress at first, but he had learned to fall in line. He kept a piece of parchment tucked away under his mattress of all those he had tortured. Some names he knew. Others were muggles unknown to him. An old woman. A businessman. A young mother and her two children.

Draco was grateful to this day that he hadn’t been asked to do most of the work on that last one.

He was also grateful he hadn’t been asked to murder yet, either. But the more he dwelled on that thought late into many nights, the yet was likely a temporary condition. It was all unknown to him.

Yes, if there was one thing he had come to dread since his time back at the Manor, it was the unknown. So as Draco stared out into the dark of the night on evening of March twenty-sixth, his stomach dropped to his feet when he saw the beginnings of movement out in the courtyard.

“Draco, come away from the window,” his father commanded from his armchair by the fireplace. “You’ll not be able to see anything, anyway. Have a drink with me.”

“It would be better if I abstained. Aunt Bella is here tonight, and I can’t afford to get sloppy around her. Besides, we may yet hold a meeting. I just saw movement coming from outside.”

His father shifted in his chair, his head tilted to the side. “Is that so? Well, then. We had better give a proper greeting to our guests. We are playing… host, after all.”

Draco watched his father as he spoke. Each word out of his mouth was carefully chosen, each facial expression guarded. Though his father had always been a calculating, vigilant person, having the Dark Lord and so many Death Eaters in his home for months on end and brought out these qualities to the extreme, to the point where he wasn’t sure if his father was actually capable of revealing his emotions any longer.

Granted, he wasn’t one to wear his heart on his sleeve, either.

Except around Hermione. That woman somehow managed to coax hidden sentiments out of him, and he was practically a bleeding heart when he was around her.

And perhaps Mrs. Weasley, a bit. But only those two. He had really just started opening up more when he had mucked everything up by running off and getting caught. He had been like a bud about to bloom in the warmth of Spring, but he had barely grasped at Spring before it had retreated, returning him to the cold stoicism of Winter.

That’s what returning to Malfoy Manor had felt like: a regression into the darkest, coldest Winter of his life.

“Yes, Father,” Draco agreed, keeping his tone cold as well. “Let’s greet our guests.”

The two men made their way down to the drawing room of the Manor, where all company was received. As they walked, Draco braced himself for another night that he would have to take out that parchment under his mattress.

His father signaled for him to take a seat near the fireplace in the drawing room as they saw his mother bustle toward the front door. Clearly, whomever it was had been deemed worthy enough to make it past the gates. Straining his ears, he tried to overhear the rough voices coming from outside.

“We’re here to see He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!” a familiar, gruff voice said.

Draco’s stomach rolled. Greyback.

A visit from Greyback usually meant torture and other, even more unspeakable things.

He wanted to vomit, but kept his face steady in case his father looked over. Taking a deep breath, he listened in again.

‘If you look a bit closer, you’ll see ’is scar. And this ’ere, see the girl? The Mudblood who’s been travelling around with ’im, ma’am. There’s no doubt it’s ’im, and we’ve got ’is wand as well! ’Ere, ma’am –’

The sick feeling in his stomach tripled. Scar? Mudblood traveling around with him? No… surely not.

“Follow me,” his mother said. “My son, Draco, is home. If that is Harry Potter, he will know.”

Draco heard several sets of footsteps approaching, clicking on the marble floors. Each footprint that tapped on the floor matched the erratic beating of his heart. His mouth had gone dry and his hands had begun to shake. Hermione. Hermione here in the Manor. With his parents. With his Aunt Bella. With Greyback. Surely, they would call the Dark Lord.

He wanted nothing more than to hyperventilate and panic, but months of living with Death Eaters had taught him to school his emotions. He was certainly trying; he could will himself to stop shaking, but the breath was a bit harder to control. Any normal prisoner or visitor wouldn’t cause any issue, certainly.

But this was potentially Hermione. His Hermione. And as much as he longed to see her lovely face, this was the last place he ever wanted her to be.

He had to get it together. To protect her.

His mother rounded the corner into the drawing room, followed by several other people. One, he recognized as Greyback immediately. Several others were crowded around three figures. They were scraggly and dirty; their body language spoke of bravado covering for terror.

Definitely Gryffindor, then.

And then he saw her.

Covered in grime and debris, Hermione Granger stood mere feet away from him after months of separation. Tattered clothes covered her body, and something about her demeanor and the way she held herself was… off. Her eyes shone with fear, and when she spotted him, her whole body went rigid.

He wanted nothing more than to curse everyone else in this goddamn room, grab her, and run, but that option would never be in the cards. Not now. With his eyes, he tried to convey his thoughts to her. That he was sorry. That he wanted to keep her safe. That he would try to do something.

That he missed her.

That he loved her.

Though he was certain he kept the rest of his features trained, he allowed the floodgate of emotion in his eyes to open for just half a second, praying she was watching – really watching.

Though he could see confusion and questions creep into her eyes, the overwhelming response in her expression was terror. Her whole body shook as they drew closer. His mother called him to the center of the room so he could get a good look at Potter to ascertain if was really him. Of course, he didn’t need to get a closer look. That was Potter, all right. Surely, Hermione wouldn’t have been so frightened if all three of them hadn’t been found by Snatchers. Surely, she would put up a fight and show off her Gryffindorish tendency to be bold as brass even in the face of evil.

But it was his family that currently held all the cards, not them. And she knew it. Never before had he seen her so small, so terrified. It was almost as though she was curling in on herself. What had happened to her in the past seven months that made her react to intimidation like this? Was this really his Hermione?

Doubts began to creep into his mind.

“Well, boy?” asked Lucius, his voice practically trembling with excitement as Draco got a good look at the supposed-Potter’s face.

“I can’t – I can’t be sure.” Much as his father had trained him, he chose his words carefully.

“But look at him carefully, look! Come closer!” His father seemed almost manic at this point.

As his parents and Greyback began to argue about whose job it was to tell the Dark Lord, Draco kept his distance purposely. Though he had had his doubts for half a moment, that was clearly Potter beneath the stinging jinx. Years of attending classes together, flying beside him, and following him in corridors to taunt the idiot had allowed him ample opportunity to learn the subtleties of Potter’s physicality, even if it had been subconscious.

Yes, indeed. This was Harry Potter beneath the swollen flesh. There was no question.

And that meant that this was actually Weaslebee and Hermione at his side.

Shit.

“Draco, come here, look properly! What do you think?”

He moved beside his father and pretended to examine more closely; he squinted his eyes a bit, trying hard hide any trace of emotion on his face. He couldn’t let them know… couldn’t let them see…

“I don’t know.”

His voice had come out cold that time, and he quickly turned on his heel and retreated to stand by his mother.

“What about the Mudblood, then?” Greyback snarled. Everyone’s attention shifted to Hermione. The witch had her arms pinned to her side, her eyes wide with terror. She kept looking down, and then back up again, occasionally flicking over to him.

Look away. He beseeched her mentally. Look anywhere but at me. If they suspected… if they had any idea… Draco shuddered as her chocolate eyes found his again. Please… he begged.

“Wait,” said his mother suddenly. “Yes – yes, she was in Madam Malkin’s with Potter. I saw her picture in the Prophet. Look, Draco, isn’t it the Granger girl?”

He felt his chest turn to ice as his breath froze in his throat. He had to say something. Had to respond. Had to choose his words carefully. He couldn’t be too enthusiastic with any answer he gave.

“I… maybe...I really don’t know.”

Self-hatred filled his whole body as the last words slipped from him. He could see Hermione’s expression crumble into confusion for a moment. For some strange reason, her hand moved in front of her at an odd angle for a moment. After only half a second, her eyes went wide, and her hand snapped back to her side, her face filled with terror once more.

What a bastard he was. Truly. Once a Slytherin, always a Slytherin, he supposed. Self-preserving to the very end.

But he had hesitated, hadn’t he? There was no way his parents could be more confident than him…

And then the very worst person possible walked through the drawing room door: his dear Aunt Bellatrix. As she drew up her sleeve to call the Dark Lord, Draco’s mind began to race. He had to get Hermione out of there somehow. Potter and Weasley too, if he had to. Aunt Bella wouldn’t hesitate to summon her beloved master. She, who sat at his righthand side, wouldn’t hesitate to cast everyone else aside if it meant presenting Potter to the Dark Lord.

If the Dark Lord arrived, surely, Hermione wouldn’t make it out alive. Aunt Bella… she might torture Hermione. She might… play… with her a bit. But she wouldn’t go for the kill. Not immediately. And as much as Draco hated to weigh the options in his mind, he would choose Aunt Bella over the Dark Lord.

Torture was hell. There was no excuse for it. But if not done in gratuity, its victims survived to see another day.

Victims that saw the business end of a killing curse did not.

Perhaps, he thought, as the arguing continued, if the Dark Lord was not summoned immediately, they would be placed in the cellar. Maybe then – just maybe – he could find a way to get them out.

It sounded like the most Gryffindor plan of action he could muster. It was stupid, yes, but it could save Hermione. And that meant that it was probably the right thing to do.

Draco wanted to scream at the injustice of it all. He was not supposed to have to choose his preference for something as horrific as torture.

As Aunt Bellatrix and several Snatchers fought over some sword, Draco kept his eyes trained on the ground, only allowing himself to sneak glances at Hermione every thirty seconds or so. She continued to shake, and her pallor had gone sheet white. He could swear that something about her was different, but he just couldn’t place his finger on it. He knew he had bigger things to worry about, but he just couldn’t help but notice. Somehow, she seemed more… vulnerable? Was that it?

“Draco, move this scum outside. If you haven’t got the guts to finish them, then leave them in the courtyard.” His aunt indicated the pile of four unconscious Snatchers she had just disposed of. He hesitated, his feet remaining planted to the floor. He couldn’t go. He needed to keep an eye on Hermione. He had to stay wherever she was.

“Don’t you dare speak to Draco like–”

“Be quiet! The situation is graver than you can possibly imagine, Cissy! We have a very serious problem!” Draco watched as his aunt examined the sword they had previously been arguing about with a critical eye. “If it is indeed Potter, he must not be harmed. The Dark Lord wishes to dispose of Potter himself ... but if he finds out ... I must ... I must know ...”

Aunt Bella was mumbling – to herself, it seemed. Draco cursed inwardly. When his aunt got this quiet, it usually meant that something was about to burst. He wanted to brace himself but found that Hermione’s presence kept him from retreating. He had to stay there. He had to protect her. Somehow.

“The prisoners must be placed in the cellar, while I think what to do!”

“This is my house, Bella, you don’t give orders in my –”

“Do it! You have no idea of the danger we are in!” Draco had been right. His aunt had reached such a frantic state that a small amount of fire had erupted from her wand, burning a hole in the carpet.

His mother hesitated before turning.

“Take these prisoners down to the cellar, Greyback.”

Draco breathed a short sigh of relief. The cellar. Exactly what he wanted. Perhaps, he could find a way to get them out. There had to be a way… there just had to.

“Wait,” his aunt said suddenly. “All except... except for the Mudblood.”

Draco’s stomach dropped to his feet. No. No. No!

Please , he thought, please let her just go to the cellar with the others.

“No!” Weasley shouted, his voice cracking. “You can have me, keep me!”

Draco couldn’t help the pang of jealousy that sprang across his chest in that moment. Oh, how he wanted to be the one to scream those words, himself. His whole body hurt just watching the alarm in Hermione’s face rise with each passing second, her breathing becoming ragged. Yet, she still kept her hands pinned to her sides as though they were bound with a sticking charm.

Draco watched in horror as Aunt Bella took a silver knife and cut Hermione free before dragging her to the middle of the room by her hair. Though she didn’t make a sound, he could see her mouth open in a silent cry of pain. Her eyes met his for just a moment, and again, he tried to convey some sort of hopeful message to her – his love and strength, somehow.

From down the corridor, Draco could hear Weasley fighting tooth and nail as he was being dragged away.

There was an eerie moment of silence before he heard Greyback speak. “Reckon she’ll let me have a bit of the girl when she’s finished with her? I’d say I’ll get a bite or two, wouldn’t you, Ginger?”  

The words carried back to the Drawing Room, and as they reached Draco’s ears, his blood boiled. He practically saw red as it became apparent that Hermione had heard these words, too. She closed her eyes, scrunching her brow.

At first, Draco perceived that she was trying not to cry. She was shaking so badly that it had to be the answer. But then, out of the blue, she stopped. Her whole body went stock-still.

And then she opened her eyes. Draco was shocked at what he saw. Though the fear ran through her eyes as an undercurrent, an odd determination now filled them. She had clearly steeled herself for whatever was to come.

It seemed Bellatrix had noticed the change as well.

A flick of her wand and the words flew from her mouth like poison. “Crucio!”

With a bloodcurdling scream, Hermione dropped to the ground in an instant, her body contorting with pain. Draco felt his heart rip in two. It was almost as though his own body had begun writhing internally from the moment the torture began. He was with Weasley. Take him. Leave her. Anyone but her.

The screams subsided after a moment. Bellatrix towered over Hermione, wand pointed directly at her heart. Hermione drew into herself as she lay on her right side, her legs curled up part way.

“Where did you get this sword?” Bellatrix hissed. “Tell me or there will be plenty more where that came from.”

“We found it,” Hermione croaked, her eyes focused on something unseen.

“What a pity you’re lying.” Aunt Bella’s tone turned poisonous as he began to yell. “Now, I’m going to ask you again! Where did you get this sword? Where?”

“We found it – we found it–” Bellatrix raised her wand again. “Please!”

“Crucio!”

Draco watched in horror as Hermione screamed again. As she writhed on the floor, Draco wracked his brain for something he could do to help. He wanted to say something – do something, anything – but one toe out of line, and he’d be on the floor as well. Then they’d both be sunk for good. No, he had to find the right way to help her. It had to be subtle.

The screams subsided again, and this time, he noticed, Hermione’s jeans had soaked through with urine. She had lost control of her bladder muscles under duress of the curse.

“Disgusting!” Aunt Bella spit on her, but Hermione somehow managed not to flinch as it landed on her cheek.

Draco felt rage bubble in his stomach. He had to act. Now. With all the subtlety he could muster, he did the only thing he could think of. Taking a deep breath, he whispered a quiet spell. “Legillimens.”

He wasn’t sure if it would be possible, but he wanted to help her find something to focus on – something to get her through this. He could figure something better out later, but for now, this would have to suffice.

As Aunt Bella continued to scream at Hermione and taunt her, Draco searched the thoughts that came to the forefront of her mind. The two of them eating ice cream sitting on the sidewalk. Her parents. Potter. Weasley. A little jar of blue flames. A stack of books. A small telly with a black and white picture.

Though each of these images was a little fuzzy, Draco could feel Hermione’s emotions clearly as each image flashed past her. When the image with the telly came to the forefront of her mind, Draco felt an odd burst of determination fill her. Though he didn’t understand it, clearly, this was a powerful, positive memory. He lingered here, digging his heels in as his Aunt yelled again.

“You are lying, filthy Mudblood, and I know it! You have been inside my vault. Tell the truth, tell the truth!”

Hermione screamed again.

The sound tore at his very soul, but he held on, trying to keep Hermione mentally focused on that happy memory. The longer he immersed himself in the memory, the odder it seemed. It faded in and out, sometimes coming into sharp focus and other times seeming like nothing but a blur. In the clearer moments, he could make out that the black and white picture on the telly was moving in an odd sort of way. Nothing else on the periphery of the memory came into focus much, but whatever was on that telly seemed to continue helping her to fight.

“What else did you take? What else have you got? Tell me the truth, or, I swear, I shall run you through with this knife!”

Bellatrix brandished the silver dagger in her hand. When Hermione didn’t respond, she knelt beside the girl.

Hermione was spasming in the aftermath of three bouts of the Cruciatus curse. Though she appeared weak on the outside, Draco could still feel strength radiating from her mind. She wasn’t going to break. She couldn’t. He wouldn’t allow it.

Aunt Bellatrix leaned right beside Hermione’s ear and began whispering things. Though Draco couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, Hermione’s face contorted with fear, and she gave a whimper of pain as the blade of the dagger cut into her forearm.

The image in Hermione’s mind had shifted. No longer filled with hope and determination, experiencing this memory brought her worry. This memory was fuzzy at first, like the others. He tried to help her focus on it, directing all his energy into his legillimancy.

Clearly, this tactic hadn’t had nearly the results as her previous one. “What else did you take, what else? ANSWER ME! CRUCIO!

Hermione screamed louder than she had ever before. The sound echoed in Draco’s brain. It reverberated through the drawing room and made his skin writhe and all the air empty out of his lungs.

Aunt Bella remained drawn right beside Hermione throughout the duration of the curse, their faces nearly touching. She was so concentrated on intimidating and breaking the girl before her, that she wasn’t paying attention to the rest of her body.

But Draco was. Draco saw. At least he thought he did.

For a split second, Hermione’s appearance shifted. It was as though she grew… had actually gained weight instead of appearing emaciated. But just as he saw it, it was gone – returned to its previous state. Was she under a glamour charm? Draco knew Hermione to be incredibly proficient at them. But why would Hermione need to glamour her appearance now? Was she hiding something?

This train of thought carried him just far enough away that his concentration broke and his mind detached from Hermione’s.

Unfortunately, dear Aunt Bella chose that moment to cast another Cruciatus curse.

Hermione screamed worse than before.

Panic was beginning to well up in Draco’s chest. He needed to get back into her mind now… had to do something to help…

Taking a deep breath, he cast the spell again and entered her mind. He wanted to find that happy memory again. He had to. But the memory that swam to the front of her mind was different this time. It was definitely happy, though. Possibly even happier than the telly memory.

There was nothing complicated about this memory – nothing Draco didn’t immediately seem to understand. In the memory, Hermione sat on a bed of some sort. She was gazing down and rubbing her stomach. Was she hungry?

That would be an odd choice for a happy memory.

But then, as the memory came into sharper focus, he noticed something about Hermione’s stomach. It wasn’t flat, as he had seen it all those months ago – as he knew it to be. Instead, it was large and rounded and hardly contained by the shirt she was wearing. As she rubbed the globed stomach, Hermione felt content. Calm. Peaceful. Full of joy.

Draco felt confusion.

In the memory, Hermione hummed to herself as she gazed at her stomach with… affection?

All the air left his lungs in an instant.

No. It couldn’t be. No. Oh, Gods, no. Nononononono. No.

Fuck.

“Crucio!”

Hermione shrieked and twisted on the ground, her back arching. Tears began spilling from her face as she gave a heartbreaking sob. Again, for that half second, the glamours faded before snapping into place.

Draco gave the tiniest of gasps. Just as in the memory, Hermione’s stomach was large and rounded.

She was pregnant. Very, very pregnant.

“How did you get into my vault? Did that goblin in the cellar help you?”

“We only met him tonight!” Hermione cried, her eyes scrunched closed. “We’ve never been inside your vault… it isn’t the real sword! It’s a copy, just a copy!”

“A copy? Oh, a likely story!”

Draco continued to reach out with legillimancy, but he forced himself to stretch his mind in two directions; there was too much going on for him to invest all his mental energy in one place. While he helped Hermione to focus on her stomach, he was trying to figure out as much of the puzzle as he could under duress.

Her memories told him that she was pregnant, and the flickering stomach beneath the glamour seemed to confirm it. Hermione was a powerful witch. This he knew. Any glamour she conjured was likely to be tenacious. To have it waver like that meant that Hermione’s concentration was on the brink of being broken.

And if he had noticed her stomach, someone else may have. His parents? Or worse, Greyback?

If she was going to get out, it needed to happen soon.

He vaguely heard his father give directions to fetch the goblin. Knowing he could not disobey a direct order – not yet, anyway – he felt himself walking in a daze toward the cellar and down the steps. It pained him to leave Hermione, but if he managed to be quick about it, hopefully, he would be back to help her before his aunt could torture her more.

“Stand back. Line up against the back wall,” he ordered through the door before unlocking it.

When the door swung open, he found the prisoners in position as ordered; Ollivander, the goblin, Lovegood, and Thomas, the Manor regulars, stood with their backs against the wall in the very rear of the cellar. Having been made intimately familiar with this place, he felt tremendously for these four. Especially Luna. He had managed to sneak down to the cellar a handful of times to bring food and a bit of conversation, and she had always seemed delighted to see him.

Even now, she gave him a dreamy smile as he entered.

“Why hello, Draco,” Luna said, waving from across the room.

The two boys on her lefthand side looked at him and then back to Luna as though she had gone mad.

Potter and Weasley.

“I need the goblin,” he stated coolly, trying to keep up appearances. If the Dark Lord saw this memory somehow, he couldn’t be obvious. As Draco approached the line-up, though his body headed straight for Griphook, his eyes stayed glued to Hermione’s travel companions.

He wasn’t sure how to convey everything he wanted into just one look, but he sure as hell was going to try. As he stared at them, they stared back. Their own faces, much like Hermione’s were gaunt and disheveled. Potter looked like a wild man and Weasley looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks.

Did they know about Hermione’s pregnancy? They had to. Keeping a up a glamour that immense and detailed was draining. Surely she hadn’t been doing it for… how many months pregnant was Hermione?

Draco mentally shook himself. He didn’t have time to dwell on the details. He could process this later. He had to focus on getting her out. Getting them all out, if he could.

But try as he might to focus on the task at hand, as he continued to stare at Potter and Weasley, a cruel, twisted thought floated through his mind: what if it wasn’t his?

Hermione had been traveling around for months with her two male best friends. In winter. They had to have been lonely. Been cold. Craved connection and warmth. Draco could feel his heart break at the mere thought.

The two of them looked back at him with wary expressions, though Potter had an odd sort of gleam in his eye.

“Malf–” Potter started, but Draco cut him off with a hiss and a violent shake of his head.

Now wasn’t the time to get caught up in the minutia of his own personal concerns. Whether or not the child growing in Hermione’s stomach was his, he had bigger things to deal with. He had to get back to her side. Immediately. Every second he lingered down here was more time he couldn’t protect her.

Turning away, he grabbed Griphook by the arm and dragged him back upstairs. Upon his reentry into the drawing room, he found his aunt kneeling beside Hermione, the dagger drawn once again. Practically dumping the goblin on the floor, he watched as Bellatrix ran the flat edge of the blade up and down her forearm, whispering something likely sinister in her ear.

Hermione’s eyes were no longer shut, but rather open, her face defiant as she stared his aunt down.

His heart plummeted. Why couldn’t she just look away and be compliant? Gods, she really was a goddamn Gryffindor, wasn’t she? Staring down his aunt? Utter madness. He just wanted to scoop her up and run away.

He would never have the guts to do such a thing.

But there was one thing he could do, even as a coward. Taking a deep breath, he reached out with Legillimancy once more. He had to get her to focus on what was important. Not on defiance. Not on some ideal. She had to survive. She and the… the baby had to survive. He sifted through blurs of memory, looking for something for her to hold onto…

In that moment, Bellatrix brought the knife down onto her skin and began to carve.

Hermione screamed, tears leaking freely from her face as she thrashed the rest of her body.

Panicking, he kept searching for something – anything to keep her mind focused – keep it safe. But nothing – nothing seemed happy enough. Draco felt his own mental state start to crumble as Hermione’s wailing pierced his heart. Panic began welling in his chest as the glamour flickered again.

It was then that Draco noticed a tiny trail of blood on her jean leg.

His whole body shook. No. No no no no no no. Gods no.

Think. He had to think of something. Anything. But his brain seemed to have stopped working. All he could see now was the life begin to drain out of the girl he loved and the child she carried.

And then, without warning, Bellatrix stood and moved over to Griphook, her focus shifting onto his interrogation.

Draco was left with a direct view of Hermione. His eyes darted back and forth, looking for any sort of signal that could tell him if she would be all right.

He was met with stillness.

Already soaked with urine, her trousers were beginning to darken with blood. If he was going to do something, it had to be quick.

Then he saw it: carved in her forearm, raw, bleeding, and vile, the word that had poisoned his tongue for far too long.

Mudblood.

He wanted to vomit.

Before he had time to even think what to do next, Bellatrix pushed her sleeve back and touched her finger to the Dark Mark.

Oh fuck. Oh no. Oh shite.

This was it. It was the moment. It was now or never.

His eyes focused on Hermione has his mind raced. Perhaps, if he claimed her, he could take her back to his quarters. Heal her. Yes, that would have to work. He would have to speak up now.

“And I think,” he heard Bellatix say, “we can dispose of the Mudblood. Greyback, take her if you want her.”

Draco opened his mouth to interject, when a cry of, “Nooooo!” reverberated from a corner of the drawing room.

Time seemed to slow down as Draco watched Weasley run forward and cast a disarming charm on Bellatrix. It was a bold act that he hadn’t had the guts to even consider.

So that was why Weasley was in Gryffindor.

Potter flew into the room just after and Stupefied his father. In the confusion, Draco took just one second too long to process the chaos around him, and by the time he whipped around, Aunt Bellatrix had Hermione in her grasp.

Hermione was still unconscious and still, miraculously, holding her glamour.

Bellatrix held a dagger to her throat.

Draco froze, his heartbeat hammering in his chest so loud it echoed in his ears. Tremors had now taken hold of his hands, and they shook uncontrollably as his aunt’s terrible voice filled the room.

“Stop or she dies!”

Weasley and Potter peeked out from their hiding places.

“Drop your wands,” Bellatrix whispered in a dangerous hiss. “Drop them, or we’ll see exactly how filthy her blood is!”

She repeated the order moments later, the dagger pressing into Hermione’s throat. Draco’s panic reached absolute maximum as he saw blood begin to appear there as the metal broke the surface of her skin.

Two wands clattered to the floor.

“Good! Draco, pick them up! The Dark Lord is coming, Harry Potter! Your death approaches!”

Draco stiffened, recognizing a direct order when he heard one.

But his aunt was wandless. The other Death Eaters were fools, his father was unconscious, and his mother wouldn’t dare…

This was it.

Draco crept over to the spot where Potter and Weasley had dropped the wands; he bent to pick them up, but as he rose again, he met Potter’s gaze.

“Help me,” he breathed.

Potter’s eyes grew wide, though he schooled his expression quickly.

To his shock, the man actually gave the tiniest of nods in return.

Wands in hand, he overheard his aunt and mother making conversation. To his horror, his mother was nodding along in agreement. “Cissy, I think we ought to tie these little heroes up again, while Greyback takes care of Miss Mudblood. I am sure the Dark Lord will not begrudge you the girl, Greyback, after what you have done tonight.”

Draco gripped the wands in his hands with a vice grip, hot anger such as he had never felt before filling his whole body. His mother? No…

And then, from above, an odd sound.

The chandelier came crashing down. Draco hardly had time to dive out of the way; though he avoided the better part of it, glass sprayed everywhere, cutting his face. Adrenaline pounding in his veins, he felt no pain. Instead, he fixated on his aunt, who had dropped Hermione when she moved out of the way, herself.

Instead, the chandelier had fallen directly on top of the goblin and Hermione.

Draco had been about to scream when he saw Potter hurtling toward him. Weasley had flung himself at Hermione in a clear rescue attempt.

Let the Dark Lord come. If Weasley could get her out of here, it mattered not what happened to him.

Please get Hermione out. Please.

Potter practically slammed into him, taking all three wands into his hands and yanking them away. Draco felt the thin pieces of wood slip from his fingers, though he found that it didn’t matter.

Get Hermione out. Get her and the baby out.

Draco’s heart twisted. If the Dark Lord came took out his wrath on those left behind, the likelihood that he would meet this baby was close to none.

He would die here tonight.

Just please, please get them out.

At once, a hand encircled his wrist, dragging him out of the chaos and… away from his aunt? Draco’s head snapped up to see Potter pulling him to the opposite side of the room, where Ron was headed. Hermione was already there in Weasley’s arms, still unconscious and bleeding.

The glamour had faded entirely now, her distended stomach solid and plain as day.

He was coming to her. He was so close.

As Dobby disarmed his own mother and declared himself a free elf, he heard Harry shout for Ron to go.

Yes. Good. Get her out of here.

Potter bent to retrieve the goblin and grabbed hold of Dobby’s hand. Praying he knew what was about to happen, Draco clung to the Boy Who Lived for dear life.

As Draco began to fill the familiar tug of apparition, he got one last look at the drawing room of his family home.

Dark. Cold. Violent.

In the blur of these final images, he saw the silver of Bellatrix’s blade as it hurled toward them. He heard his mother screaming as it flew.

“Nooooo!”

And then it was gone.

As they flew toward some destination unknown to him, the image of Hermione’s bloody pregnant stomach remained glued to the inside of his eyelids.

He only hoped that when they arrived to wherever they were going, it wouldn’t be too late.

To save them both.

Chapter Text

All at once, the world came rushing back in a whirl of grey sky and soft sand. Salty air filled his lungs and stung his torn-up face and hands. His arms were still wrapped around Potter’s bicep, squeezing tight enough that he was likely cutting off the other man’s circulation. Draco released Potter and fell backwards onto the sand, knocking the wind out of him when he hit the ground.

Where were they? Blinking carefully, the world came into focus through the darkness of early morning as he took in his surroundings. They had landed by the sea, that much was clear. He could hear the crash of waves nearby. If he squinted, he could see that just beyond the beach sat a cottage. They were safe.

Draco couldn’t believe they had made it out of the Manor alive. He and Potter and… oh Merlin.

Hermione. The baby.

Ignoring the pain from the glass shards embedded in his skin, Draco jumped up and whipped around. Where exactly had they landed? Where was Hermione? Why couldn’t he see her? Had she been taken elsewhere? The salty air got caught in his throat as he tried to breathe, and he spluttered and coughed.

Fighting through the spasms, he cried out, falling onto all fours. He would crawl to her if he had to. “Hermione!” he called, his voice raspy. “Hermione!”

Draco turned back around to interrogate Potter, but the sodding fool was clutching the elf to his chest and… was he crying? Looking a little closer, he saw that Dobby had a dagger sticking out of his chest… the very same dagger that Bellatrix had used to carve up Hermione’s wrist.

Draco’s stomach lurched at the thought, and he fell to his knees and vomited in a patch of beach grass. Afraid to wipe his mouth for fear of cutting himself further, he fell backwards into a sitting position, keeping his hands suspended in front of him.

If Potter was incapacitated with grief for the house elf, he would need to find someone. Was Hermione even here? Perhaps she was in the cottage. He could only pray…

And then, as though those prayers had been answers, figures emerged from the front door of the house: two redheads. Weasleys. Draco breathed a sigh of relief and tried to pull himself to his feet.

When the Weasley brothers got closer to the water’s edge, they split off – the younger brother sought out Potter while Bill walked in his direction. He began speaking as he approached.

“Come on, Draco. Let’s get you clea–”

“Where’s Hermione?” Draco demanded. He hardly recognized his own voice, which had become thick with emotion.

Bill’s face softened considerably at his words.

“She’s inside. Fleur and Luna are tending to her.”

“How is she? Is she all right? Is the… is it…?” The words came tumbling out of his mouth, though he wasn’t quite sure how to ask all the questions that were flying around his head. Though his lungs had begun adjusting to the salty seaside air, neither his mind nor his heart had slowed down. Both were still operating as though he was in a room filled with Death Eaters, his girlfriend writhing in pain on the ground.

His pregnant girlfriend.

Draco fought the urge to vomit again.

“I want…” he gulped, trying to force the nausea to pass, “I want to see her.”

“Of course you do, mate. But like I said, she’s being tended to at the moment. Fleur needs to concentrate, as the damage was quite… extensive.”

All the color drained from his face as he lost the battle with his stomach again. When he had emptied its contents once more, he stayed kneeling in the sand, the bitter taste of bile coating the inside of his mouth. But that wasn’t all he tasted. No. He also tasted salt.

Though he hadn’t realized it, he had begun to cry. Tears were free falling down his cheeks as his breathing became more and more erratic. They stung the cuts on his face, though he scarcely cared. He also didn’t care that he was crying out in the open. It did not matter that Potter and Weasley could see him, red-faced and covered in vomit-laced spittle and tears of desperation; it did not matter that they might perceive him as a weak fool. None of that mattered.

There had been a child. A child. And it was likely gone… it could be gone… and he had done nothing about it. Nothing at all. Grief rose in his chest anew.

“Hermione!” he rasped. “What have I done? What have I done?

From the fog of his panic attack, a voice cut through. It called his name.

“Draco – Draco! Let’s not panic just yet. Come on, mate. Let’s get you up.” He felt a set of strong arms lift him onto his feet and support his torso. “There’s a good lad. Oi, Ron! Help me out!”

After a moment, Draco felt another set of arms support him toward some destination. Likely the cottage. After several steps on soft sand, he felt the terrain change to more solid ground, and then to a wooden floor. Though the moonless night still hung oppressively over them, the inside of the cottage was bathed in soft candlelight, a driftwood fire burning in the grate. He strained his ears for any sign of Hermione, but all he could make out were muffled voices coming from the floor above.

It had to be Hermione. He made to turn toward the stairs the moment he saw them, but an arm pulled him back – he wasn’t sure whose.

“I want to see–” he began.

“We know,” said Bill. “And you will. But first we’ve got to heal you up. Besides, they’ll need more time. Like I said, Fleur needs to concentrate, and you’ll just be a nuisance if you barge in right now.”

Draco sniffed. The tears were coming slower now; some had begun to dry on his cheeks, leaving them cold and clammy. The pain he had been doing his best to ignore returned in a tidal wave, and his face and hands stung something horrible.

Someone set him down on a stool and began to draw out the glass with a wand – likely Bill. The other had begun to dab him with Murtlap essence – that one had to be the younger brother… Ron. The name sounded funny in his head, but he didn’t try to switch back to ‘Weasley.’

“Who brought her in?” Draco managed to ask once the stinging had subsided a bit.

“I did,” responded Ron as he dabbed the Murtlap essence-soaked cloth on his chin.

“What do you know? How is she?”

Ron paused, taking a deep breath. For the first time, Draco noticed that his eyes were red rimmed. Had he been crying as well? The idea made his chest feel as though it was filled with lead.

“She’s not good. She was… she was bleeding. Down there.”

“I saw that. How… did you know about…?” Draco looked at Ron for a moment before closing his eyes in frustration. “What am I asking? Of course you knew. How could you not? You were only bloody alone with her and Potter for months…” his tone grew bitter as he looked into Weasley’s dumb freckled face.

Was the child Hermione now carried destined to have those freckles? His stomach burned in anger.

As though he could read minds, Weasley reached out and grasped his newly healed arm, locking eyes.

“The baby’s yours, Malfoy. Completely and wholly yours and hers.”

Draco searched his eyes for some sort of deception or trick, but there was none to be found. Yes, there was a hit of anger and bitterness. But there was also honesty. He didn’t need to use Legilimancy to confirm.

The anger fell away, only to be replaced by a more existential dread and sadness. His eyes glassed over and he leaned back on the wall. He wasn’t sure how to process this news. Should he be happy? His child was growing inside Hermione, and the implications of that were far too complex to process right now; his mind was too overwhelmed by the memories of Hermione’s screams.

“Oi! Malfoy. Don’t go disappearing on us. We need you here. When Hermione wakes up, you better step the fuck up and stay by her side. Baby…” Ron grimaced and swallowed hard… “or no baby.”

All the blood drained from Draco’s face. The tightness in his chest returned, his heart rate speeding up once more.

A noise from above stopped everything – footsteps. Hurried footsteps. Draco’s breath hitched in his throat as a solemn-faced Luna stuck her head around the corner of the staircase.

“Bill? Fleur wants you.”

Bill nodded and stood, tucking his wand into his holster as he walked toward the stairs.

Draco stood as well, his eyes following Bill as he turned the corner and disappeared to the second story. His footsteps could be heard down the hallway, a door opening and then shutting.

“You… erm… all right, Malfoy?”

Draco scowled at him. “Do I bloody look like I’m all right?”

“Well… no.”

“Then why the hell are you asking?”

“Because… well… because it’s what Hermione would want, isn’t it? She loves you, Malfoy. She told me. And just to put all our cards on the table, I… I love her.” He paused for a moment.

In another time, Draco might have hit Weasley for saying that. He would have hit any bloke who expressed interest in his girlfriend. But he didn’t have the will to fight with Weasley. Not now, anyway.

Weasley continued, “I love her, and that means protecting her and being there for her when she needs it, even if she won’t ever love me back. I’ve come to terms with that, Malfoy, but only if it means you’re ready to be there for her. She’s been through so much these past few months – and not just what you saw tonight.”

As though he wasn’t already beating himself up enough…

“What’s your point, Weasley?”

“My point is–” he paused and took a breath. “My point is that the only way Hermione is going to pull through this is if you’re by her side. No chickening out. No running away. If the baby doesn’t make it, she’s going to need you to lift her up again. And if it does? You’re going to be a dad, man. It’s like I just said, you’ll need to step the fuck up. She needs you either way.”

A dad. Fuck.

He wasn’t sure why, but he felt somewhat comforted by Ron Weasley’s words. He was right, of course. He had to pull himself together before he barged into her room. The last image he had in his mind of her – bleeding, broken, held up with a dagger to her throat – needed to be tucked aside to process later. Right now he needed to be fully present and ready to meet her needs.

“Yeah,” he mumbled, leaning forward and placing his elbows on his thighs. “You’re right. I need to pull myself together. You three were the last people I expected to see at the Manor, and I think I’m still trying to catch up mentally.”

Ron’s eyebrows furrowed, his tone growing suspicious. “Yeah, why were you at Malfoy Manor? We left you at the Burrow with my family. We were actually on our way back there when we got caught – Hermione was going to sit down and talk to you about the baby. Why the hell would you go back there? I swear,” Ron’s voice turned dark, his eyes blazing, “if you did something to betray my family’s or Hermione’s trust I’ll–”

“It’s nothing like that. I never wanted to be back there. I just… made a stupid decision.”

Ron snorted and Draco snarled at him.

“I was worried about Hermione, all right? Christmas Day I got a really bad feeling and it wouldn’t leave me alone. I had been sitting on my arse for months doing nothing and the guilt was eating me alive.”

He hadn’t admitted this out loud to anyone before, and the words that had been playing in his mind over and over again came spilling out. “I wrote your family a note and left with the intention of trying to find you lot. Which, in retrospect was stupid, as no one could find you. So how could I have? In any case, I ran into snatchers not even five minutes after leaving and they brought me back to the Manor. I had to lie to the Dark Lord to avoid being killed, but I was thrown in the cellar and tortured anyway.”

“But you weren’t in the cellar anymore when we got there,” Ron pointed out, the suspicion still clearly present in his voice.

“No, I wasn’t. As it turns out, I was able use Occlumency thoroughly enough that the Dark Lord miraculously believed my lie and allowed me to return to his ranks instead of killing me. A small mercy, truly.” Draco sneered at this.

“You… you kept working for him?” Weasley looked disgusted at the notion.

“Yes, well, I was safer alive and in one spot than on the run and labeled a traitor, wasn’t I?”

Ron swallowed. “Did you… did you have to–?”

“I didn’t kill anyone if that’s what you’re asking.”

Ron paused. “Did you…?” He licked his lips, his eyes flicking toward the ceiling, where Hermione lay, damaged, potentially beyond repair.

Draco’s stomach tied in knots. He knew what Weasley was asking and hated himself from the moment the words exited his lips.

“I had to keep my cover, otherwise I would have been killed. So yes, I did torture. And I hate myself for it. If it makes you feel better, I can picture all their faces every time I try to sleep.” He reached for his wand, normally in his pocket, and found it to be absent.

That’s right. Potter had taken it from him.

Good. He’d rather forget about that wand and get a new one without a history of torture and attempted murder.

“But why’d you do it, Malfoy? If you hated every second, why stay?”

Draco felt his jaw tense with anger. “Didn’t I tell you that he would have killed me?”

“Is that why you just stood there and did nothing while Hermione was being fucking tortured?”

Ron had gone dangerously quiet as he asked the one question Draco dreaded to answer.

“Bellatrix and the Dark Lord would have killed us all. I had no choice.”

“Bullshit.”

Draco felt his heart pounding in his ears. Didn’t this red-headed fucker know how much he already hated himself for not doing more? Didn’t he realize that he had done all he could in the moment? That they would have all been dead if he had so much as tilted his head the wrong way?

He lowered his tone to a near growl. “You think I don’t know how tonight would have unfolded if I had charged ahead? Do you have any idea how many people I’ve seen tortured and killed in that very room? Do you know what happened to the ones who tried to fight back? To those who tried to escape?”

“But at least they died fighting for what was right!” Weasley interrupted.

“They still died, didn’t they? We wouldn’t be here – Hermione wouldn’t be here if I had charged ahead like a fool instead of using Legilimency.”

“Instead of–? What?”

“Legilimency. You heard me, Weasley. It was all I could think of in the moment. Get inside her head. Find something – anything good to focus on.”

Draco could practically see the cogs turning in Weasley’s head as he tried to process what he had just said. When Weasley continued to furrow his brow, his eyes darting back and forth in confusion, Draco plowed on.

“I’ve already said it. If I charged ahead with some sort of heroic rescue, Bellatrix would have stupefied or even killed me. There’s no doubt about that. What you did, running in there, was absolutely the right thing to do. But I know Bellatrix. I know how she works. She likes to… play.” Draco grimaced at his own word choice. “Torture with her is always drawn out. Her victims often go mad before she stops.”

He saw a flash of some sort of recognition in Weasley’s eyes. Finally, progress. He continued.

“I couldn’t be obvious about helping, but if I was careful enough, I could help without her realizing. I could keep Hermione from losing herself. So I dug into her memories and found her something happy to concentrate on. And it fucking worked. When I came back from fetching that goblin, she had the stupidest, bravest, most Gryffindorish look on her face you can possibly imagine. Looked my aunt right in the eye like it was a dare. A fucking dare.”

Wealsey let out a breath, shaking his head. “What memory did you find?”

“The baby. She thought of a lot of things, but the happiest memory I found was the baby. That’s how I…how I…” Draco trailed off.

“That’s how you found out, isn’t it?”

“That and the glamour. It held on for a long time.”

“Glamour?” Ron tilted his head.

“On her stomach.” Draco explained. “She didn’t look pregnant when you arrived.”

Ron’s eyes lit up. “Oh yeah. Brilliant bit of magic. Four spells layered on top of one another. Shield, disillusionment, notice-me-not, and weightlessness.”

Draco’s eyebrows shot up as scenes from early that night replayed in his head. Her convulsing. Her screaming. His heart rate increased as the sound echoed in his head. When he spoke again, it was in a whisper, mostly to himself. “She managed to hold all four charms for that long?”

“Eh?” Weasley leaned forward.

“Hermione, she… she kept those charms up almost the entire time she was tortured. They only flickered twice as it was happening and faded completely when the chandelier fell.”

Draco knew what that meant, and so it seemed, did Weasley.

“You mean she willed the charms to stay cast that long? Her mental state… she must have…” Weasley paused, his voice dying out for a moment before returning in a whisper. “…must have stayed focused. Malfoy…”

“It wasn’t much. But it was enough, apparently,” Draco mumbled. Relief poured into his soul. He had done something at the Manor – something that mattered. Though he couldn’t be sure it had been enough to save the child, he had kept Hermione’s mental faculties in place until the very end. And that wasn’t nothing. Finding his voice, he spoke to Weasley.

“The Dark Lord is not my master – hasn’t been for a long time. When I was trapped – yes, trapped at Malfoy Manor – I thought about how I abandoned your family every day and what a big mistake it all was. Yes, it would have been far nobler to send myself on a suicide mission by standing by the moral high ground from the beginning, but guess what? I’m not a bloody Gryffindor; that’s not who I am. I’m in Slytherin, and I do whatever it takes to make it through. That’s exactly what I did. I made it through. I had to make it through.”

As the words spilled from him, his voice began to waver as even more tears threatened to spill from his face. He thought he must have been cried out by now, but apparently not. “I had to make it through for Hermione. She’s all I could think about. Day and night, I imagined ways to get back to her. But what use would I be to her if I was dead? And now, to think that she was pregnant?” His voice hitched as a sob bubbled up. For the second time in an hour, he was crying in front of Ron fucking Weasley, and he didn’t give a damn.

The Weasel just stared back at him, mouth slack-jawed.

“And you know what? I would do it all over again just to be here in this moment when she needs me, baby or no baby.” He paused once more, trying to collect himself. “I think that’s enough questions for now, Weasley. You know how I stand. I won’t repeat myself again. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to wait for Hermione upstairs. I want to be there when she wakes up.”

Draco marched away from the kitchen. He needed to be closer in case he could see her. Up the stairs, he found a small collection of rooms, all of which had their doors closed. No noise came from the doors, with the exception of one. Muted voices came from behind the second to last door at the end of the hallway. He heard Bill’s voice as well as Luna’s, and a third voice – female. That must have been Fleur. His feet carried him to the end of the hallway, where he sank down onto the floor across from the closed door.

He would wait here as long as it took.

Minutes ticked by slowly. Draco kept himself sane by watching shadows pass under the crack at the bottom of the door. Though he had no idea what was happening on the other side, he supposed he took comfort that the footsteps and voices inside never seemed urgent.

After a while, Potter and Weasley joined him upstairs, sinking to the floor to sit on his left side. No one said a word – there was no need to, really. He guessed that Weasley had filled Potter in on their earlier conversation, as the boy wonder didn’t attempt to interrogate him or even throw him dirty looks.

The three young men sat together in heavy silence for almost an hour before the door handle jiggled and turned. As soon as they heard the sound, all three jumped to their feet, nervous anticipation on their faces.

Bill and Luna emerged moments later, though to Draco’s dismay, they didn’t open the door all the way; rather, they only opened it enough to slip through sideways, closing it once they were both out.

When the door clicked shut once again, Draco spoke immediately. “Well?” he asked in a half-whisper. “What’s going on?”

Only after spoke was he able to take in the expressions on Luna’s and Bill’s faces. Both looked exhausted – especially Luna. It was understandable. She had, after all, been a prisoner until just hours ago.

They looked completely beat, but not grim. Not sad. Not defeated. Draco’s heart gave a small stutter as Bill took a deep breath and gave a half smile.

“She’ll be all right.”

All three boys sighed collectively.

“And the baby?” Potter asked, fear soaked in his voice.

Luna piped up this time. “The baby was in a bit of a precarious situation, but we were able to treat Hermione quickly enough that it’ll be fine.”

“So… so the baby will live?” Draco asked in a whisper, his voice trembling.

Bill took two steps forward and set his hands on Draco’s shoulders, leaning forward until they were eye-to-eye. His steady grip had a calming effect, his eyes warm and confident.

“Yes, Draco. The baby will live.”

Those were the only words he needed to hear before he broke down, falling to his knees and sobbing again.

The baby would live.

It wouldn’t die.

His child’s blood wouldn’t be on his hands.

Tears of relief spilled onto the floor. To his surprise, he heard other sniffling sounds; when he looked up, he saw that both Potter and Weasley were crying as well, though not as intensely.

“There you go, lad,” Bill reached down and hoisted Draco up by the arms. “Have a good cry. Get it out.” The eldest Weasley brother pulled him into a hug, and he was reminded strongly of Mrs. Weasley. After a minute or so, his sobs turned to shuddering hiccups, and he was able to pull himself together.

“So what now?” he managed to ask as he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand, sniffing.

“When Fleur is finished cleaning up, you can go in.”

“Is she awake?” Potter asked, wiping his own eyes.

“No, not yet,” Luna answered. “But she should within a few hours. Fleur gave her a bit of a sedative to help her sleep.”

Draco nodded along. Should he be asking more questions? He wasn’t sure. A short silence followed before Weasley asked another question.

“Is that safe for her, a sedative potion? I mean, well, is it safe for the baby?”

Draco raised his eyebrows. That was a good question. He needed to take initiative and ask questions like that…

Bill reassured them that everything was safe, and that Hermione was on the mend. Before anyone had a chance to ask any more questions, Fleur popped her head through the door.

“You may come in now if you wish,” she spoke softly. Though she wore a gentle smile, she also radiated stress and exhaustion.

Draco expected one of her friends to lead the charge inside, but when he looked at them, they seemed to be waiting for him. Potter jerked his head slightly, indicating that he should go first.

“Go on, then,” the younger Weasley said.

Nodding, Draco felt his stomach flip as he took several steps forward and crossed the threshold into the bedroom. Nothing about its crisp, clean state gave away the severity of the medical emergency that had just taken place. Nothing, that was, except a large, dark red blotch on the front of Fleur’s robes. Draco’s eyes gravitated toward it, the only splash of color in this otherwise light, neutral space. His stomach clenched at the sight of it, but he managed to control his nausea.

He forced himself to look away from the blood stain.

Draco turned to his left toward the bed, bracing himself as he did. There, tucked peacefully beneath white sheets and a blue afghan, sleeping on her side, was Hermione.

His Hermione.

Her face looked peaceful as she slept, her curls fanned out behind her on the pillow. Upon closer inspection, her face was rather too pallid for his liking. The last time he had seen her, her skin was still sunkissed from a summer of riding bikes and talking walks out in the sunshine. He could see now that winter had not been kind to her. It hadn’t been kind to him either, of course, but it was her happiness he wished for.

From behind, Weasley and Potter joined him at Hermione’s bedside. In a clear moment of intimacy, Potter reached forward and tucked an errant curl behind her ear.

“I’m so sorry, ‘Mione,” Draco heard him whisper.

He felt his heart twist unexpectedly at these words and at Potter’s gentle care. As much as he hated to admit it, Hermione was truly lucky to have such good friends to take care of her when he could not.

Hermione grunted in her sleep and turned onto her back. As she rolled over, a large bump appeared as the afghan fell away. It was globed and roughly the size of a Quaffle.

The baby. The baby they had made.

He had only gotten glimpses at the Manor when her spellwork wore off, but seeing the bump, solid and right in front of him made the situation far more real. Weasley had reassured him that the baby was his, and he had no reason to doubt that statement. If there was any belief that this baby belonged to Weasley, the redhead surely would have loudly and obnoxiously staked his claim.

Instead, for the first time, Weasley was… bearable?

No, the child in Hermione Granger’s stomach was undoubtedly his. It had to be.

Draco held his hand out, brushing his fingertips lightly against her cheek. He was incredibly aware of Weasley’s and Potter’s eyes watching him as he did this, but he found he was too far gone to care. Breathing gently through his nose, he traced Hermione’s face with his hands, making his way down her arms.

As his fingers grew closer to her stomach, he drew his hand away. His whole body shook as he stared at Hermione’s rounded belly. This was it.

Somehow, he felt as though his whole life had been leading to this moment. He wasn’t sure he was ready.

With his hand still hovering inches away from her stomach, Draco’s breathing grew shallow, and he felt the same panicked fog start to creep into the edges of his brain. He must have been obvious, because seconds later, he felt a hand on each of his shoulders. Looking both ways, he saw Potter and Weasel. They had reached out to steady him.

“It’s all right,” Weasley said, his tone encouraging. “Go on.”

His fingers inched closer, trembling more than before. The more he stared, the tighter his chest felt. Closing his eyes, he took a jagged breath with his hand milimetres away.

“I… I can’t do it,” he mumbled, his whole body burning with shame at his cowardice.

From beside him, he felt movement; opening his eyes, he saw Potter had stepped forward and placed his own hand on Hermione’s stomach, an affectionate look on his face. When he turned his head back, he offered a small smile.

“Of course you can. Just reach out. I promise, it’s magic.”

Draco raised his eyebrows at Potter’s choice of words.

It’s magic.

Steeling himself, he closed the gap, his palm pressing gently to the apex of Hermione’s stomach. Nothing happened for several moments, and they all stood in silence, all eyes on him.

And then he felt it: a tiny push on his hand.

His breath caught in his throat.

Magic.

Even though he was sure he was cried out, he felt his eyes sting with fresh tears. He licked his lips, searching for any words that could do this moment justice. As much as he wracked his brain, only one came to mind.

“Magic,” he whispered into the air.

Weasley gave his shoulder a squeeze.

“Come on, you lot,” Draco heard Bill say from somewhere behind him. “Let’s give them some time.”

Everyone else filed out of the room, and after a few moments, Draco found himself alone with Hermione for the first time in almost seven months.

Grabbing a chair from over by the window, he carried it to her bedside and sat, one hand cupping her face, the other placed gently on her stomach. He leaned down and brushed a light kiss on her cheek.

“Hello love,” he murmured. “I’m here. I’m here now.”

He stayed like this for a long while, soaking in her presence. As he sat vigil, the sun began to rise, sending soft light trickling in from behind lace curtains. This had, by far, been the longest night of his life. His emotions had been through a Wronski Feint, and the aftermath left him feeling more tired than he had been in months. Comforted by Hermione’s soft breathing on his cheek, Draco closed his eyes, allowing his consciousness to drift.

When he woke again, he discovered that someone had transfigured his chair into a camp bed and his robes into soft, grey pyjamas. Despite clearly having been moved, it seemed that his hand had found Hermione’s stomach again; his palm was splayed over her slightly-protruding belly button.

Inhaling deeply through his nose, Draco stretched. How long had he been asleep? Sunshine now shone bright through the window. It had to have been at least an hour, if not more. He blinked, sitting up. Beside him, Hermione slept on, her chest moving up and down in a calming rhythm.

When was the last time he slept beside his girlfriend? Had it really been July? He had missed so much in these months. Of course, he had known Hermione was keeping secrets from him. She had to. Frankly he still had no idea what she, Potter, and Weasley had been up to these past few months. He had come to accept that as reality – he would not be privy to the top-secret, all-important mission left to those three. That’s the way it was meant to be.

Yes, he understood that.

But when Hermione had found out she was pregnant…. had that changed anything for her? When had she found out? Why had she continued on her mission instead of retreating to some place safer? Why hadn’t she written and told him? This was what weighed on him most. Was he even meant to find out about his child? Or would she have given birth in hopes that they both survived the war? He shuddered at the thought of discovering he had some unknown child out in the world.

He then remembered Weasley’s words – they had been on their way to the Burrow when they had been caught, unaware that he no longer lived there.

But she still had waited so long. What in the world had she been thinking? Draco stared at his girlfriend’s sleeping face, trying to piece together her logic. Hermione was no idiot, and she hardly made poorly-thought-out decisions. No, there had to have been a reason she didn’t tell him.

He thought that perhaps he should be angry.

Not only did she willingly put herself in danger, but she was also clearly incredibly pregnant. He didn’t know much about pregnancy, but surely, based on her size, she had known for quite some time. Yet, looking back on her letters, it was hardly obvious. She had mentioned feeling ill at one point. That could have been about any kind of illness he thought as he continued to study her face.

Had she actually attempted to tell him in a more subtle manner? Draco thought hard to every letter he could remember. He had read and re-read her messages so many times that he practically knew most of them by heart at this point…

And then he knew. He had read that letter for comfort so many times in the days following his return to Malfoy Manor.

When this is all over, I’ll have so much to tell you – to show you. I wish I could divulge more details, but we’ve got too much riding on our shoulders to reveal much of anything. Know that I constantly think of you. It’s as though you’re always with me, really. I can feel a part of you lingering and even growing within me, and it gives me strength. Our love has given me the greatest gift, Draco.

He had paid particular attention to the way she wrote her g’s.

He hadn’t paid attention to the message – the real message.

Our love has given me the greatest gift.

Draco sighed and stroked Hermione’s face, lowering his forehead to touch hers. How could he possibly be angry? He was upset, yes; overwhelmed, definitely; confused, absolutely. But he was not angry.

Just then, Hermione made a slight moaning noise in her sleep. Draco jumped and stroked her cheek with slightly more pressure.

“It’s all right, love. I’m here. I’ve got you.”

She moaned again, her drawing a long breath followed by a yawn. Her eyes scrunched together as she shifted her body, reaching a hand down to rub large circles on her stomach. Draco watched in fascination as a sleepy smile grew on her face. She drew in one more breath and held it for just a moment.

Without warning, her eyes flew open, and she snapped to a sitting position, her breaths coming in short pants. The other hand flew to her abdomen, eyes still unfocused – searching. Her motions were frantic as she pressed her hands to her stomach in multiple spots, waiting several seconds between touches.

What was she doing? Had she even noticed him?

It seemed not. She only had eyes for her stomach. Though he tried to get her attention, she could not be distracted.

So he focused on her stomach too.

And then he saw what she was waiting for: a kick, visible even through her nightgown.

Immediately, her whole body slumped back, relief evident on her face.

“Harry, what happened?” she mumbled, her voice thick as though she struggled to move her tongue. Draco raised his eyebrows at her comment. Had she really not seen him at all?

“It’s, erm… it’s not Harry.”

Hermione blinked several times, her brow furrowed in confusion. Slowly, she turned her head to face him.

Immediately, her eyes went wide and her breath caught in her throat.

“D…Draco? How? Y-y-you were at Malfoy Manor. I saw…” Hermione tried and struggled to form words. Draco shifted from his camp bed to her side, sitting on the edge of her mattress. Grabbing her hand, he began to recount the past several months beginning around Christmas, keeping the heavy details to a minimum for now. He didn’t want to overwhelm her. For being in a distressed state, she was an excellent listener. Her eyes stayed trained on her stomach as he talked; though she didn’t look at him as he spoke, she nodded along, her expression clearly changing along with the story.

I didn’t want to believe what I was seeing,” Hermione admitted when he was finished. “At the… at the Manor. When I saw you standing there, I wanted so much to believe that it wasn’t you, that my mind was making it all up. In that moment, I… I doubted you, Draco. I was so angry and scared. I felt betrayed. I thought you betrayed us all.” Hermione had stopped rubbing her stomach and now stared down, not moving a muscle.

“Completely understandable.” Draco cut in. “How could you have known?”

“But it didn’t take me long to see the truth.”

Draco furrowed his eyebrows. “What do you mean?”

Hermione took her eyes off her stomach and turned his way. Soft pools of chocolate greeted him, and he felt truly at ease for the first time in months. How had he lived without those eyes in his life, looking at him this way?

“I felt you in my mind, Draco. When I was… when I was being tortured, I felt you searching for my happy memories. You used Legilimency, right? You found my happiest thoughts. It’s because of you that I could focus and get through it all.”

Draco gulped, remembering the black and white telly with the moving picture.

“What exactly was that memory with the telly?” he asked, licking his lips again.

Hermione kept her eyes on him, reaching forward to lace her fingers in his. It was his turn to blink in confusion. Slowly, she moved his hand within her own, gently tugging it until both their hands rested on her stomach.

The look in Hermione’s eyes was so intense and filled with some emotion he couldn’t quite put his finger on. Nevertheless, she didn’t look away, even after her palm pressed his into her belly. Draco felt a tiny movement from within.

“It was the first time I saw her.”

Her? Who…?

Draco’s eyes grew wide.

“Her…” he breathed.

“It was the first time I saw our daughter.”

Draco looked between Hermione’s sincere face and her stomach, a new feeling of fullness he couldn’t identify welling inside.

Somehow, he thought that feeling might be the same one that filled Hermione’s eyes.

A daughter. He and Hermione had made a daughter – a daughter who somehow, miraculously continued to kick his hand even now.

Without warning, he knew fully and completely that he would face a hundred Death Eaters just to keep her safe.

He also knew what that full feeling in his chest was.

Love.

Chapter Text

Hermione spent much of the next few days in bed resting, her body propped up with pillows. Given his past experience with her vim and vigor, Draco rather thought she would put up a fight when she was given her marching orders, but to his surprise, she complied without question. He found it rather odd – it was as though all the fight had gone out of her.

But when he took a moment to think about it, Draco supposed that was hardly surprising, given what she had been through. Weasley had hinted that there had been many more hardships than he knew about; he shuddered to think all she had endured while they had been separated, especially with the stress of her pregnancy added on.

Though Hermione slept for most of those first few days, when she was lucid, they shared short conversations filled with affection and recollections of their summer together: remembering the telly programs they watched; the funny things her father had said to him; his confusion and indignation that some foods were actually meant to be eaten with one’s hands. When she wasn’t talking with him, he watched her talk to her stomach with fascination.

But she was tired, mostly. After months of separation, Draco had so much he wanted to say to her, and it was difficult holding back. For her sake and for the baby’s, though, he was patient. He sat vigil at her bedside through all those days as she recovered. Difficult conversations could wait.

While his girlfriend slept – and he felt guilty about this – he occasionally allowed his eyes to wander over her changed body. Gone was any impression that she was a mere girl. No, Hermione Granger was fully a woman. There was no question about that. Though he had only seen her nude twice, those memories were burned into his mind as if by fiendfyre. Visions of her lovely body had danced behind his eyelids so many nights, as if to torture him. He had memorized her completely, but the body she now possessed was new. The image he had treasured for so long was no longer real. Her body was now foreign to him. It was fuller – not just in her stomach, of course, but in her breasts and her hips. These new curves sent an embarrassing amount of blood rushing to his groin at the most inconvenient times.

Draco wondered if it was normal to be so attracted to a pregnant woman. After so many months apart, he wanted so badly to reach out and run his hands over every new inch of her womanly body; he wanted to offer her comfort not just with his words and with what she called his healing presence. He wanted to kiss every inch of her soft skin and bring as close to him as possible, never to let go again.

The thoughts in the recesses of his head were not so lovely and wholesome. Staring at her breasts as she slept, he wondered how different they would feel if he squeezed them, and how heavenly it would feel to hold them as he buried himself inside of her.

Yes, it seemed that he definitely wanted to fuck his injured, very pregnant girlfriend into the mattress.

What was wrong with him? Was he even allowed to have thoughts like that? She could hardly keep her eyes open after being fucking tortured, and he was thinking about sex?

Something was definitely wrong with him.

Draco thought distracting himself from his attraction would be difficult, but it turned out that there was plenty to keep him occupied. Though Fleur had done the majority of the first round of healing work, the thought of anyone other than himself taking care of Hermione left an uneasy feeling in his stomach. He had cornered Fleur on the fourth morning after their arrival to insist he be included in Hermione’s medical affairs, though he hardly had to beg. The young Mrs. Weasley was more than happy to show him everything she had done.

And it had been a lot. Multitudes of balms, potions, and spells had gone into treating Hermione. Draco’s head spun at the list of treatments she had undertaken since her arrival at Shell Cottage.

Fleur further cautioned Draco about the biggest ongoing issue. It turned out that Hermione had a minor placental abruption. That’s what Fleur had called it, anyway. After a brief verbal description, Draco had poured over Hermione’s various books on pregnancy that she kept stowed away in that clever bag of hers. Searching the indexes for placental abruption proved useful. It turned out that the trauma from the torture had caused her placenta to slightly detach from her uterine wall; that had been the bleeding. Looking back, Draco realized there hadn’t been as much blood as he had originally perceived. Panic had made it all seem worse than it actually had been.

Still, the baby was lucky to be as well as she was.

Draco marveled at that luck every hour of every day.

In the days following their arrival at Shell Cottage, March rolled into April, and Hermione’s vibrancy began to return, much to Draco’s relief. Hours upon hours of sleep had turned into two short naps a day. Instead of sitting vigil, Draco felt as though he was now keeping her very-frustrated-self company.

As time began to pass and he began to get used to seeing Hermione with a distended belly, a new sense of reality had begun to set in. All the things he had given importance to in the past seemed trivial. Quidditch? House points? Pleasing his father? Trying to restore honor to the name Malfoy?

It was all nothing compared to Hermione and their child… their daughter.

Those two were his family now – his future.

Draco refused to dwell on his own blood relations. Though they had occupied much of his thoughts for months, he couldn’t shake from his mind the way they treated Hermione – the way they almost brought on her death, and the death of his child.

That his own mother had agreed to give Hermione to Greyback… the thought made him ill.

Hermione, of course, insisted that there was no way his mother could have known… that she may have thought differently had she been privy to the details.

Hermione was too kind, really.

 

He was not.

No, until there was definitive proof that his parents could be trusted and believed to be good, he was not going to speak of them. He was not going to think of them. He was not going to dwell on the likelihood that they were tortured upon the Dark Lord’s arrival to Malfoy Manor when he discovered that Potter had escaped his clutches once more, a defected Malfoy heir in tow.

Instead, he pushed all distractions aside to focus all his energy into his new family.

Hermione needed to take multiple potions a day, and after getting thorough instructions, Draco insisted on taking over her healing schedule completely from Fleur. The regimen was simple enough, and the responsibility made him feel as though he was contributing something to her pregnancy. After having been absent for so much of it, he wanted to make up for lost time. He wanted to prove to his girlfriend that he was committed to her and to the baby – that involving him was not a mistake.

In their many quiet hours together, Hermione had explained her side of the story. She insisted that she wanted desperately to tell him, but had worried that he would insist she discontinue her journey with Potter and Weasley or worse, that he would reject her and their child.

That, Draco could understand. Teenage boys were not typically eager to become parents. And to top it off, he was from a famous Pureblood family that had a history of discriminating against Muggleborns and even half-bloods. Why should he be any different than the rest of his family?

He certainly had no interest in rejecting them, and had expressed this to Hermione over and over again. Granted, he was still coming to terms with his impending fatherhood. Almost eighteen was not the age he had intended to welcome his first child into the world. But he was not a monster. If there was one thing that Hermione had gotten through to him since they began spending time together, it was that message. If there was a child with his blood, he would love it and care for it.

Had someone informed him a year ago, while he was in the throes of fixing that blasted cabinet, that one year in the future he would become a father, he would have cursed them for telling lies. Fatherhood had not been in the plans. It had not even been in the cards for him at all, or so he had thought. He was supposed to kill Dumbledore or die trying. The die trying part had been the likely path – almost the inevitable one.

But none of that mattered now. That was not reality.

The reality was that in a matter of weeks, there would be a little person who would depend on him to survive. This little girl would look up to him. She would idolize him, whether he deserved it or not.

Draco was determined not to bollocks up fatherhood.

That idea in itself was enough to drive any distractions from his mind.

After she had begun to recover, he and Hermione spent many afternoons side by side, reading the handful of volumes she had purchased concerning pregnancy and babies. In a short amount of time, Draco knew more about the details of childbirth than he ever thought he would care to know. Many years ago, his father had described to him the day of his birth: he had gone out for drinks with several other friends – all Death Eaters – while his mother had labored for twenty-one hours. Only after receiving an owl informing him of his son’s birth did he return home. His father seemed to have been content not to be present.

“Nasty business, giving birth,” his father had commented, “There’s nothing worse than a screaming woman. No, best not to get involved. Remember that, Draco. When it comes time for your future wife to deliver your heir.”  

Draco wanted to be everything his father was not, and if that meant reading up on things like the bag of waters or the afterbirth, then so be it.

To his own surprise, he found the whole thing fascinating.

“It’s more proof you’ll make a fine healer someday,” Hermione said to him one afternoon as they cuddled into each other. She pushed several strands of hair out of his face. Draco’s heart clenched at her touch. “Unless, that is, you’re having more thoughts to pursue cooking?” She winked at him, and he grinned back.

Gods, it felt good to smile again.

“It’s hard to say,” he responded, setting his current title, Childbirth Without Fear down on his lap. “On the one hand, I’ll get to help thousands of people in a lifetime. On the other hand, I’ll always be able to feed you and junior.”

Hermione grinned at him, pulling a different book from the nightstand.

“You know I’d be happy whatever you pursue, right?” she asked, rubbing her hand on his knee in a reassuring sort of way. Draco relished her small acts of affection like this.

“I know,” he answered, placing his hand on top of hers and squeezing. “So what book do you have? I think I need a break from this one.” He indicated the volume on his lap. “It’s a bit… much.”

Hermione peered at the book he indicated. “Ah, yes. That one. Quite descriptive, wouldn’t you say?” Draco snorted. “I’ve got the baby name book here.” She lifted the book to show him the cover. “Sixty-thousand names, and we’ve got to choose just one. I don’t know how we’ll manage.”

“Aren’t half of the names for males?” Draco posited. “That eliminates a lot.”

Hermione sighed. “Well, yes. I suppose. But still… I’m just glad you’re here. The idea of naming her alone was really depressing. I wanted your input more than anything.”

Draco swallowed. “Yeah?”

“Of course. Do you have any ideas or immediate thoughts? Otherwise, I’m inclined to just go through the book name-by-name.”

He paused for a moment, fishing for names that came to mind.

“Well,” he began. “Black family names are typically celestial names.”

“Is that… something that’s important to you? Something you want to make sure we do?”

Draco stared open-mouthed at his girlfriend. Even after the hell his family had put her through, was she actually open to following these Pureblood traditions? Her open heart never ceased to amaze him.

He cleared his throat. “I’m… not sure, honestly.”

Hermione nodded, running her fingers up and down the spine of the baby name book. “Think on it, then.” They sat in silence for a moment. Since their reunion, there had been a lot of these silences. For Draco, it was a reminder of last summer, when they had spent so much time in each other’s company without talking. The two of them needed these quiet times. Especially when everything around them was made of chaos, these peaceful moments gave them reassurance.

“I want to pick something with meaning,” said Hermione after a while. “I don’t just want to give her a name because it’s cute or because we feel an obligation to name her something. I want it to come from us.”

“So no constellation names?” Draco asked, smirking.

“I didn’t say that,” she protested. “I just mean that no matter what name we choose, it has to be an authentic choice. It has to speak to us.”

Draco nodded along. “Can I see the name book?” he asked, holding out his hands. He opened to the girl names and flipped to through the volume and random. It appeared as though each name had a meaning listed beside it. That was convenient. But what sort of meaning would be best? Something strong? Something auspicious? Something indicative of great beauty?

What sort of name suggestions did muggles give, he wondered? He looked closely at the page he had turned to.

Jane, Janelle, Janet, Janice, Janie…

And that was only a handful of names from one page.

Oh Merlin. Were they going to have to go through this whole bloody book? It would be far easier to just pick a constellation with a nice meaning and be done with it. Knowing Hermione and her entirely thorough nature, he wouldn’t be surprised if they actually went page by page. Was she that bored on bedrest?

“You’re right. I have no idea how we’ll manage.” He shook his head and held up the name book and Childbirth Without Fear . “ Both of these books are way too much. I vote we just name her Hermione Junior and call it a day.”

Draco grinned at his girlfriend. She slapped his shoulder in return, a smile on her lips.

“Come on, Draco. Take this ser – oooooh.” Hermione’s words were interrupted by a painful moan. She placed a hand on her abdomen and rubbed.

Draco jumped onto his knees, the books falling onto the floor, forgotten. He looked from Hermione’s face to her stomach, his heartbeat increasing with every passing second.

“What’s wrong? Are you all right?” he implored, eyes wide.

Hermione was taking deep breaths through her nose, her eyes closed. “Don’t worry. Those were just Braxton Hicks…” Draco tilted his head in confusion. “Practice contractions. I’m getting them more often these days now that baby’s coming in seven weeks.”

Draco felt all the blood drain from his face. Seven weeks? Was it really that soon?

The panic must have showed on his face, because Hermione reached over and cupped his jaw in her palm. “It’s going to be all right, Draco. People have been having babies for thousands of years, and almost everyone figures it out.”

Almost everyone. That statistic didn’t exactly inspire his confidence. What if he was the part of the other group?

There was a knock at the door. Potter stuck his head in. “Is now a good time?”

“Of course.” Hermione licked her lips and looked at him expectantly. “Draco, can you give us a minute to talk?”

This had been happening periodically since they had arrived at Shell Cottage – the three Gryffindors would huddle together and whisper, leaving him in the dark with a closed door between them. It didn’t particularly bother him that they had secrets in their little group. After all, he still had no idea what they had been doing for all those months.

No, what bothered him was that they were clearly planning something.

Draco shot a frown at his girlfriend as he traded places with… Ron and Harry. She had been insisting that they refer to one another on a first name basis. He still felt funny about the whole thing.

The last thing he saw as the door was shut behind him was Pott– Harry reaching out to pat Hermione’s stomach. It was all he could do to stop himself from barging back in and putting a stop to whatever they were about to talk about.

 


Because Shell Cottage was under the Fidelius Charm, all its inhabitants were encouraged to stay nearby. Since their abrupt arrival two weeks previously, no one had gone beyond the little fence on the edge of the property. Yet, Hermione knew she needed to see a doctor at least one more time before the baby came, just to make sure everything was all right. Fleur, it seemed, had done a very good job healing her after the incident at Malfoy Manor. She was, after all, feeling much better. The cuts on her forearm, while still ugly, had scabbed over and faded a bit.

There was still the residual pain in her joints from excessive use of the Cruciatus curse. Draco assured her this was normal. She wasn’t sure she had the courage to know all the details behind this knowledge.

Most importantly, baby girl had continued to be her little, active self. It seemed, at least, that the minor placental abruption hadn’t affected her, and for that, Hermione was eternally thankful. Everything seemed to be miraculously on the mend. Still, in her opinion, it didn’t hurt to get a second opinion.

It had taken a lot of convincing, but Hermione had finally managed to get Bill to give her and Draco directions to the nearest town. After spending the past two weeks straight in bed, she was eager to get out and stretch her legs. Fleur made her promise to walk slowly. Ron offered to go with them as extra support, but Draco had practically growled at him in response.

She had offered to let Draco do the glamour charms before they left, but he had declined. In fact – and this was so very odd – he had turned down any opportunity to do magic or use his wand.

“You need a wand, don’t you, Pott – Harry?” he had asked several nights previously. “Keep mine. I don’t want it. I’ll take any other wand.”

Harry claimed that the wand seemed to be relatively compatible with his magic and had thanked Draco profusely before taking him up on his offer.

Though Draco was still a bit wary, Bill believed that he couldn’t go without. He insisted that Draco borrow a stolen snatcher’s wand when he went into town at the very least.

As they walked over cliffs toward the small cluster of buildings nearby, the landscape newly-green and ready to burst with Spring, Hermione took Draco’s hand. How long had it been since they had simply held hands? She couldn’t remember. Just being near him was like a balm. She often wondered as they cuddled together, his hand on her stomach and his grey eyes focused on her brown ones, if he still wanted her like he had before. Did he still find her attractive? She had missed him so very much, and her attraction to him flared to an absurd degree when he had his arms wrapped around her.

Surely, he would prefer another, less pregnant woman. Physically, at least.

But no matter. That could wait.

His reaction to her pregnancy had gone far better than he could have ever imagined. Not only had Draco been accepting, but he had really been trying to step up as well. When she had suggested a visit to a muggle doctor, he had been a bit confused and ill-informed, but overall, was more than willing to go.

Hermione had done her best to fill him in on what to expect, though she wasn’t sure verbal descriptions could ever do justice to seeing the baby’s picture flicker up on the screen for the first time. She hoped, at least, that Draco would find the experience meaningful and informative.

This clinic was, understandably, much smaller than the previous ones she had attended in Manchester and York. It was a standalone clinic located in a charming-looking cottage at the edge of the village. Crocuses and tulip buds poked through freshly-mulched flower beds out front, and Hermione relished the signs of Spring.

When she stopped to admire the flowers, she caught Draco watching her with a loving expression on his face. Her heart clenched.

He was here with her. He was going to see their little girl.

She thought back to those nervous taxi rides she had taken before – alone the first time, with Harry the second. Through both those appointments, she wanted nothing more than to share in the joy of seeing her child – their child – with him.

And now that he was here with her, she couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.

“What’s got you so happy?” Draco teased as he helped her up the steps.

“Oh, nothing much,” she smiled in return. “Just the beautiful flowers.”

Draco asked questions about every single thing he saw at the clinic, from the instruments in the exam room to the magazines in the waiting room. She answered as much as she could, though she honestly couldn’t say who the divorced singer on the front of the muggle magazine was. His curiosity was so oddly insatiable that Hermione practically had to restrain him once the doctor, another woman this time, began her appointment.

Thank Merlin she would be Confunding and Obliviating the staff afterward.

She managed to keep Draco in check as they discussed what she had been experiencing in her third trimester, including the situation with her placenta. Further bedrest was advised, though it was not to her surprise. Hermione nodded her head in agreement to stay calm and relaxed, but her stomach twisted as she spoke.

She was telling a lie, of course. Breaking into Gringotts wasn’t exactly on the list of approved activities for women in their third trimester. But the doctor didn’t need to know that she planned to rob a bank before her pregnancy was through.

Draco didn’t need to know either. He couldn’t know. Not yet, anyway. Not when Ron and Harry needed her so badly. She would help with this one last mission and only then, once they had another Horcrux in their possession, would she willingly step aside for a few months to take care of the child.

When the doctor pulled out the familiar ultrasound equipment, Hermione’s worries about Gringotts fell away. Draco looked at the machine with confusion.

“Have I…? Have I seen one of those before?” Draco asked as it whirred to life at the push of a button.

Anxiety returned to Hermione’s stomach. Draco had, in fact seen an ultrasound machine before. Not in person, of course, but in her memory. It was one of the happy memories Draco had found to keep her focused as his aunt cursed her and carved up her arm…

No. She wouldn’t dwell on that right now.

Taking a deep breath, she gave a little nod.

“In my memory.”

The furrow in Draco’s brow increased for several long moments until the doctor placed the wand on her stomach and the screen came to life with what was clearly a foot moving back and forth.

From beside her, she heard Draco gasp.

“Is that…?” he breathed, pointing at the image.

“That’s her.” Hermione wasn’t sure what she enjoyed watching more: her daughter wiggle about on the machine, or her boyfriend stare, mouth agape.

“Wha… is that…is that her face?” he asked, squinting.

Hermione confirmed, relaying the story of how their daughter had been sucking her thumb at the last appointment.

Though Hermione had known Draco for years, before last summer, she was only familiar with a handful of his facial expressions. She had seen him angry and sad. She had seen him excited and joyful. She had even seen affection in his face. But this… this was different.

His face showed love. Pure, unconditional love.

His mouth fell slightly open, the corners twitching in the beginnings of a wide smile; his eyes were swimming with unshed tears and shining with wonder. How many nights had she held her stomach, dreaming of Draco wearing this exact expression? It was as though a part of her heart she had been missing now bloomed like the flowers outside the clinic.

“No wonder this was your happy memory,” Draco whispered as the doctor finished the scan and dismissed himself for a few minutes. “I don’t think I’ve felt this happy in ages.”

Hermione smiled lovingly at him as she pulled her shirt down over her belly, though it hardly fit well any more. As she was quickly discovering, there was only so much an extension charm could do for clothing. Slightly self-conscious, she continued to tug the shirt over her stomach even after she rolled into a sitting position. She found Draco standing over by the machine, the printout of their scan in his hand.

“Why… why isn’t it moving? Is she all right?” he asked, worry painting his tone.

Hermione wasn’t sure whether to laugh at his naïveté concerning muggle technology or cry at the genuine concern in his voice. Pushing herself off the table, she made her way over to him and gently plucked the picture from his hands.

“Oh, Draco. This is a muggle photograph. It’s meant to be still. She’s fine. You saw her moving just moments ago, right?”

Though she’s sure her words were reassuring, Draco gave a great sniff and held out his hand to accept the photographs again. Hermione set them in his palm and he drew them close to his face once more.

“Am I going to be a good dad, Hermione?”

She felt her stomach drop to her toes.

“Because I’m not so sure. My father was shite. His father was shite. I’m sure all the other fathers in my family before them were shite. What if I’m the same?”

When she wrapped her arms around Draco, it was as if the last several months fell away, and they were just two grieving teenagers supporting each other the best they could. Though the feeling had been far from simple or even pleasant, it had been comforting. And over the course of the autumn and winter, though Harry and Ron and done their best to offer her that same comfort, nothing felt quite the same as having Draco by her side.

“You won’t be the same, Draco. I feel it.”

He sniffed again, his eyes never leaving the photograph. “Yes, you feel it. But how do you know ?”

“How do I know? Merlin, Draco. You read all my pregnancy and infancy books in a matter of days. So I know you’re invested. But what makes you different from the men in your family? How do I know that you’ll be a good dad? Because I see it in your eyes every time we talk about the baby.” Hermione reached over to Draco and placed a finger under his chin. His face turned toward hers, his eyes shining. “You’re going to be a good dad because you care.”

He offered her a watery smile. “Being stupid,” he mumbled as he handed her the photograph.

“You’re not being stupid, Draco. Now come on. The doctor is waiting for us in her office.”

As Hermione grabbed her beaded bag off the counter in the medical exam room, she felt an odd warmth in her pocket. Placing her hand inside, her fingers found a familiar smooth texture fill her palm.

The pebble.

“I love you.”

Draco stood by the door, holding out his hand for her, a smile dancing on the lips that had proclaimed those three words.


Over the next few days, Draco started to come down from the high of seeing his daughter for the first time, even if it was only in a moving picture. Now that Hermione was more mobile, she was free to move about the house, though she still needed help with the stairs. She had stopped using charms to disguise her stomach, and that was what drove most of her mobility issues.  Harry and Ron – he was still adjusting to using their given names – helped her with moving around, though he was still fully in charge of her potions. She protested a bit, insisting that she was perfectly capable of dosing herself, but he didn’t budge. She pouted during each round of morning and evening potions, and the sweet look on her face made him grin. This was how he knew she was returning to the Hermione he knew and loved.

Still, more mobility meant that there were more closed doors behind which she could hold secret meetings. And she certainly talked behind many closed doors. Harry and Ron’s. The goblin’s. Their own. It was starting to grate on his nerves.

What were they planning? They were definitely planning something. That much was obvious. The determined look on Harry’s face. Ron’s doubt. Hermione’s guilt. It was incredibly clear that they were getting ready to set something in motion and that he was not privy to whatever it was.

If it involved putting Hermione or the baby in danger again, he had the right to know.

An odd sort of anger had taken to simmering in his stomach whenever he saw the three friends sitting and whispering together. Did Hermione not care about the safety of her child? Didn’t she understand that keeping secrets from each other had been a bad idea? For days on end, this indignation stewed inside, eating away at his good mood until even the feeling of his daughter kicking at his stomach wasn’t enough to drive away the nasty feeling inside.

It all bubbled to the surface after a tense evening for everyone at Shell Cottage. Bill had seen Ollivander off to another location; in his place, he left the rest of the occupants of the house to pick at their suppers while they anxiously awaited his return. Though normally a voracious eater these days, Hermione merely pushed her food around her plate.

He wasn’t sure why he suddenly felt so angry, watching her refuse to eat, but it seemed to be the straw that broke the thestral’s back.

“Hermione,” he said through gritted teeth, standing up. “May I have a word with you?”

Several confused and concerned faces turned toward him as he spoke, and though he felt his face heat up, he didn’t break eye contact. He watched Hermione swallow, a nervous look about her.

“Draco, I want to be here when Bill returns,” she began, setting down the spoon she had yet to actually raise to her lips. “Can’t we talk after supper?”

“No,” he insisted. “I want to talk now.”

“Oi, Malfoy. Let Hermione eat. She needs her strength.” Ron spoke with indignation, and Malfoy scowled. It was as though Ron was speaking down to him – like he hadn’t known Hermione was growing another person inside of her.

“For what, exactly, does she need her strength? Planning another mission, are you?” Draco raised his eyebrows and looked among the three Gryffindor friends.

Harry and Ron had the good sense to look sheepish, but Hermione frowned at him.

“And what if we are?”

Draco balked. “You’re going to have a baby in just over a month, Hermione! Don’t pretend like that’s not nothing. You’re tired so often these days. You’ve told me how much pain you’re in. Hell, you’re supposed to be on bedrest. What do you think you’re doing planning something?”

“Draco, I–”

“I won’t stand for you running off and getting stuck somewhere. Where are you planning on having this baby? In another fucking tent? I won’t stand for it. This is my baby, too, and I–”

“Draco! Will you listen?” Hermione yelled from her chair, her eyes searching for his.

He saw pain and hurt as they looked at each other, and a little shame crept in. He had not meant to confront Hermione in front of everyone – it was supposed to have been a private moment. Steadying himself on the back of a chair, he took several deep breaths, his eyes closed.

“I’m sorry I exploded like that. I just… I see you three talking. I know you’re planning something and I don’t want you to be in harm’s way again.”

The rest of the table looked back and forth between to the two of them. Hermione inhaled as she prepared to speak.

“Draco, I… I can’t talk about what the three of us have been doing. You know that. But I don’t plan on having this baby in a tent. I’m not running away.”

A beat.

“You’re… you’re not?”

“No. I hope to have the baby here at Shell Cottage. I just spoke to Fleur about it yesterday. I didn’t want to bring it up with you until I had permission to stay longer.”

“It’s true,” Fleur piped up. Draco whipped around to face her, his face burning. “Hermione and I just discussed it. She wants to have the baby here and stay until other suitable arrangements can be made.”

He felt like all the air had been knocked out of him.

“Draco. Let’s go and talk like you wanted. In private this time.” She moved to get up and stopped after a half-hearted attempt. “Can someone please help me?”

By the time Draco made it over to Hermione from where he had been sitting across from her, Harry and Fleur had each wrapped an arm around her middle and hoisted her onto her feet. He shot them a grateful look before reaching for Hermione’s hand, praying she would still take it.

She did.

Once they were out of earshot of the table, Hermione rounded on him, though Draco noted that she didn’t let go of his hand.

“Do you not trust me?” she asked, fire in her eyes.

“I – what?” Draco spluttered, blinking fast. “ Of course I trust you. It’s the three of you together I don’t trust.” Draco licked his lips as she searched for the right words. He really didn’t want to say the wrong thing. “Can’t you tell me anything? I want to help. Whatever it is you’re doing… wherever you’re going…”

Hermione sighed and shook her head.

“I’m sorry, Draco. But you just can’t. It’s too complicated – too involved. This is something that I have to do with just them.”

Draco opened his mouth to protest, but Hermione pushed on. “I need you to trust me. I’ve been working on strengthening the protective charms around my stomach. We have a plan. And the second it’s done I am coming back here to have this baby and raise her with you.” She brought their hands, still clasped together, to her stomach, and pressed down. He felt his daughter shift from within. “You just need to trust me. Can you do that?”

The look on her face was so earnest. Draco felt his heart stutter. He took a deep breath and responded.

“Yes. Of course.” He looked from Hermione’s face to his hand, where his daughter was almost fully-formed. “I just… I thought I lost you at the Manor. Both of you. I can’t lose you again.”

Draco moved his free hand up to the back of Hermione’s head, drawing their faces close together. Through half-lidded eyes, he gazed down at this beautiful, courageous, reckless, completely good woman who was about to become the mother to his child. Her lips appeared soft and oh-so-kissable and her eyes were molten as she looked back up at him.

“It’s like I keep telling you, Hermione. I love you.”

With a soft chuckle, Hermione placed her free hand on his chest. The feel of her small palms on his body still made him a little weak in the knees. How long had it been since she had touched him – really touched him?

And then, in her eyes, a cloud of doubt appeared. “Are you sure?” she whispered. “Are you sure this is what you want? I’m not going to be the same – I’m not ever going to look the same as I did before. Surely, when this war is over, you’ll want to be with someone less… attached. Someone without all of this.”

To both Draco’s horror and amusement, she gestured to her entire body.

Oh, no. That simply wouldn’t do.

As if to prove his point, he pressed his body into hers. His arms snaked around her waist until he cupped her arse and squeezed. Hermione squeaked at the contact, her eyes growing wide. Making sure to give his sexiest smirk, he leaned down to whisper in her ear.

Except, he couldn’t.

Hermione’s stomach was too big – he only got a few inches before he was essentially stuck. The surprise must have showed on his face, because Hermione managed a small giggle. The sound of her happiness and the feel of her curves pressed against his made his arousal swell. With a growl that wiped the grin right off her face, he leaned as close as he could.

“Hermione Granger, I will always want you. Skinny or fat, old or young, carrying my child or not.” He wasn’t sure where these words were coming from, but they somehow felt right. They rendered Hermione speechless. As he leaned back slightly to see the look on her face, she floundered for a moment, her mouth opening and closing several times. Drawing breath to reply, Hermione looked as though she was about to smile when Weasley… Ron poked his head around the corner.

“Oi! Bill’s back. Come and finish… oh.”

Draco turned to see Ron’s face turn a shade of purple that clashed particularly horribly with his hair.

Hermione cleared her throat. “That’s wonderful, Ron. Come on, Draco. Let’s go finish supper.”

Lacing their fingers together once again, Hermione led him back to the table, where much of the tension had now subsided. The two sat next to each other now. Draco was just thankful that the table would cover up his still-burgeoning arousal. Everyone chatted jovially about the rest of the Weasleys and their relocation to this new safe location where Ollivander had been taken.

“Mum and Dad say hello,” Bill mentioned to his wife as he settled back into his chair. Fleur smiled in response before dismissing herself to the kitchen. Draco doubted whether anyone noticed his change in expression when Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came up. His heart churned with regrets when he thought about his treatment of them in the end. Not wanting anyone to suspect even a little, he looked down at his potatoes.

Suddenly, there was a bang at the front door and everyone turned immediately to face it. Most everyone immediately stood and pointed their wands at the door. Draco’s first thought was to move in front of Hermione.

“Who is it?” asked Bill through the door.

“It is I, Remus John Lupin!” called a voice from outside.

The atmosphere in the room changed at once. Though wands were not gripped as tightly now, the fear in everyone’s face seemed to grow exponentially. “I am a werewolf, married to Nymphadora Tonks, and you, the Secret Keeper of Shell Cottage, told me the address and bade me come in an emergency!”

Draco saw Bill mutter something before running to the door and opening it to reveal Professor Lupin, windswept and drenched in rain, yet happier than Draco had ever seen him. There was a momentary pause and then –

“It’s a boy! We’ve named him Ted, after Dora’s father!”

Hermione shrieked with delight, right in his ear.

“Wha–? Tonks – Tonks has had the baby?” she cried, clapping her hands together.

“Yes, yes, she’s had the baby!” Lupin shouted as his eyes swept the room. He paused as he and Draco saw each other clearly. Then his eyes fell to Hermione. Draco watched his old professor’s eyes dart down and bulge slightly.

But it seemed that Remus Lupin knew when to pick his battles.

“Congratulations!” squealed both Hermione and Fleur, grins on their faces.

“Blimey, another baby,” said Ron in wonderment. “I almost forgot. That means that these two will just be a month apart or so.” He looked down at Hermione’s stomach with fondness. “They’ll go to Hogwarts together.”

Lupin cleared his throat. “Yes – yes – it’s a boy.” Draco watched as the new father stumbled about in a slight daze, a deliriously happy grin plastered on his face. Was this what it looked like to have baby? Would he look like this in a little over a month? It seemed a bit over-the-top, but who was he to judge? Of all the men in this room, though he was the second youngest and twenty years younger than Lupin, he was next in line to become a father. The thought terrified him down to his bones.

After a round of pats on the back and a short, teary-eyed conversation with Harry, Lupin made his way over to the side of the table where he and Hermione stood.

“Hermione,” he began, placing a hand on her shoulder. Draco could see the reluctance in her expression. Professor Lupin was one of the people in the world she admired most, and he could tell that this man’s acceptance of her pregnancy meant a great deal to her. She trembled slightly as Lupin’s face broke out into an even bigger, stupider grin. “Congratulations, you two.”

To Draco’s surprise, the man looked up at him as well.

“How did you–?” he began, staring at his old professor in disbelief.

“I saw the way you were looking at her. It wasn’t hard to figure out.”

Draco blinked. The next words he spoke tumbled from his lips before he could begin to consider them.

“What was it like, sir, your wife having a baby?”

Lupin glanced back at Hermione, and Draco observed him taking in her rounded stomach.

“Terrifying and wonderful at the same time. I thought it would be Dora that would need comforting, but in the end, she was the one who brought comfort to me. Something came over her as she birthed our little Teddy. It was as though this inner strength came pouring out of her. I’ve never been so in awe of anyone or anything in my life. My wife is everything. I just thought it before. Now, I know it.”

Draco blinked and nodded. It was a lot to take in.  

“Somehow – and I don’t know how it’s possible – I love Dora infinitely more than I did before. And you will too. You’ll see, Draco.”

Lupin winked at him as Bill handed both of them a goblet full of wine. Hermione filled hers with pumpkin juice. They all raised them high.

“To Teddy Remus Lupin,” the man cried, a smile still dancing on his face. “A great wizard in the making!”

Draco gulped down the wine, and its warmth filled his belly with courage. As Lupin finished up another glass or two, describing in loving detail all about Teddy’s metamorphmagus abilities, his own eyes fell to Hermione.

Gods, she looked lovely.

She listened with rapt attention to Lupin, one hand gripped around her goblet, the other rubbing small circles on her belly. Their time for excitement would come soon enough. Hermione would go do what needed to get done and then she would return safely, as promised, to deliver their little girl right here in this very house. Then it would be his turn to raise a goblet and announce his daughter’s name with pride.

He had never loved his girlfriend so much as when he pictured the kind of mother she would be. She was already a woman who emanated strength with every breath she took. He could only imagine the force of nature she would become once their child made an entrance.

Draco admired every inch of her. Somehow, in this exact moment, seeing her stomach filled with his child, her breasts full, and her expression painted with affection, made him want to take her right now. On this table if he had to.

But no. That wasn’t right. He had to control himself. He had to get them alone. Draco forced himself to take deep breaths as Hermione turned to look at him, a sweet, inquisitive look on her face. Thankfully, it seemed, the evening was winding down. With a few short goodbyes and promises of photographs, Lupin swept out into the night. Moments later, Bill cornered Harry for some sort of talk, leaving only a handful of people left at the table.

When Draco spared a glimpse at Hermione, any blood that had been flowing elsewhere in his body immediately rushed to his groin.

She was staring at him openly; her eyes had the same molten look in them from before. He knew that look.

It set him afire.

“I think I’m going to head to bed,” Hermione smiled around at everyone. “My back is aching a bit and I should rest my feet.” She turned toward the stairs momentarily before calling out. “Come on, Draco. I’m not allowed to dose myself, remember?”

She shot him an expectant look over her shoulder.

He didn’t need to be told twice.

Everyone mumbled their goodnights as Draco helped Hermione waddle up the stairs. All the while as they moved, he kept a steady hand on her lower back, the other grasping hold of her shoulder, his thumb rubbing light circles there.

He could hear Hermione’s breath – could smell the lovely scent of her hair. His senses were overwhelmed by her. They needed to be back in the guest bedroom now.

Somehow, they managed to close the door and sit on the bed together without more physical contact than those light touches. Draco was convinced that Hermione was just as aroused as he was, given the flush of her cheeks and the heat coming off her body in waves.

“You said earlier,” Hermione began, trailing a finger up his arm, “that you would always want me. Even if I look like a whale.”

“I did. But you don’t look like a whale.”

“No?”

“Not at all. You look gorgeous. I have honestly never felt more turned on than I am right now.”

He watched Hermione swallow, her chest heaving a bit. Her breath hitched.

“Are you sure?”

Draco chuckled as he moved to place himself directly behind Hermione. He had learned his lesson from earlier, when their bodies couldn’t quite touch in the way he wanted them to.

“More than sure. The way that Lupin described Tonks? That’s exactly how I see you. Strong. Capable. Damn sexy.”

Hermione laughed. “When did you hear that? He did not say that Tonks was sexy!”

“Oh no? I sure heard it. I just read between the lines.”

With a sweep of his hand, Draco moved Hermione’s curtain of curls to the side, revealing her slender neck; she shivered at the sudden exposure of her skin. As he leaned in to press open-mouthed kisses to the spot where her neck met her shoulder, he felt her erupt in goosepimples. A shiver traveled up her spine.

“You are incredible, Hermione. I just want to love you for as long as I can. Will you let me do that?”

He felt her head bob up and down as she nodded, a breathy, “ Yes,” exiting her mouth.  

That was all he needed. Moving his body once again, he sat beside Hermione, twisting his body to meet hers in a searing kiss. Though they had shared soft and chaste pecks since their return from death’s door, they had not snogged like this since the day they had made their daughter. It was like muscle memory – like riding a bike (a Muggle phrase Hermione had taught him months ago); it seemed he had not forgotten the feel of her lips on his nor had he forgotten the taste of her.

Their lips grew more and more frenzied as their hands reached out to caress and grab any bit of body they could find. His hands found her hair and tangled in it; hers ran up and down his jumper-clad arms. They stayed in this arrangement for several minutes, just enjoying the feeling of each other’s lips.

And then her hands moved south. The moment her fingers brushed his erection, he knew he was a goner. An involuntary moan sprang from his mouth as she stroked him through his trousers.

Damn this witch of his.

She broke the kiss for a moment, grasping for her wand. It seemed she still had the brain capacity to throw up silencing and locking charms. Immediately, she turned back to him and grasped the hem of his jumper to tug it over his head.

It got stuck.

“Damn your big head,” she muttered as she pulled, all the while attempting to grind into him. The latter proved especially difficult, as her stomach kept getting in the way.

“Are you sure that this is… safe?” Draco wondered aloud the moment his head was free from his jumper neckline.

Hermione laughed.

“Did you read the books or not?”

Draco paused. “Well, yes.”

“Then you’ll know it’s perfectly safe. The doctor even said at our appointment that it’s normal and healthy for us to have sex up until the baby is born. Because of my placenta, we just can’t be too enthusiastic. ” Hermione explained this to him, her voice all the while becoming more and more high-pitched and frantic.

“Are you all right, love?” he asked when Hermione began to swear after her attempts at grinding into his groin failed again.

“Yes,” she growled. “I just really, really want to fuck you. Right now.”

If he had been drinking anything, surely he would have spit it out.

“H–Hermione?”

“What?” she answered, her eyes wild.

“You seem a little…desperate.”

She sighed, moving off of him. “It only really just hit me how much I’ve missed you… physically… in the last few months. I’ve been so preoccupied with the baby and everything else that I haven’t had much opportunity to consider my other wants.”

“Your needs,” Draco corrected.

“Excuse me?”

“Your needs. You didn’t have much opportunity to consider your other needs . You need my body just as much as I need yours. I thought about you and your gorgeous quim every opportunity I got. You have no idea how often I wanked to the memory of that bathtub in Princetown.”

Hermione blushed at his words, though he could see a bit of a wicked smile spreading on her face.

This woman was going to be the end of him.

Draco carefully extracted himself from under her, leaving open-mouthed kisses along her jaw as he did. He didn’t want to cause her undue frustration, so he rid himself of his trousers and boxers without her assistance, his lips never parting from her skin.

Once he was done with his own clothes, he knelt down to rid Hermione of hers. Thankfully, her pregnancy wardrobe didn’t contain too many buttons. Instead, he pulled her soft green shirt over her head and tugged her jeans from her legs, throwing them both in a pile. Hermione managed to undo her own bra while he made quick work of her knickers. All the while, he continued to kiss her, his mouth becoming more and more frenetic the fewer clothes she wore.

Only when they were both completely exposed did he pull away. He wanted Hermione’s eyes on him – wanted to see her need for him pulsating in her body.

He got his wish.

Hermione looked entirely fuckable as he gazed down at her. As he had surmised, her breasts had grown larger and rounder. They sat perfectly atop her rounded stomach. The only unexpected change were her nipples. In his memories, they were rather small and light pink. Hermione’s nipples had been completely transformed by her pregnancy; they were now darker, larger, and protruded up off her chest.

Draco was struck with the sudden urge to lick them. He never knew until this moment how attractive a woman who looked like this could be.

“Is something wrong?” Hermione asked, seemingly out of the blue. She moved her hands to try and cover herself up.

“Don’t you dare,” Draco murmured, taking her wrists in his hands and pinning them to the mattress. “Didn’t I say I wanted you?”

“I feel swollen everywhere. And not just my stomach. My breasts, my feet… all over. I’ve got these awful stretch marks on my–”

Draco reached forward and covered her mouth with his, only for a moment. When he pulled away, she licked her lips slowly, eyes trained on him.

“All I see is the woman I love looking completely gorgeous.” Draco began to crawl over her body, trailing kisses up as he went. “I don’t know if you’ll believe me, but I think this is the most beautiful you’ve ever been. Just thinking of you like this – growing my child – you have no idea what it does to me.”

As if to prove a point, he rutted his erection against the apex of her thighs. She gave a soft whimper. His fingers ghosted over her slit and found her already completely drenched. Yes, Hermione definitely wanted him. Perhaps he needed to change strategies to help her loosen her self consciousness a bit.

“My, my. You are ready, aren’t you?” he purred, stroking her up and down. Her hips bucked slightly at his touch, though this now involved a much larger movement. Encouraged by her response, he plunged a finger into her and was rewarded immediately by a wanton moan.

“Draco, I don’t think I can wait. I can’t wait any more. I just want you. I want you now .”

He didn’t need to be told twice.

Draco pulled Hermione gently to the edge of the bed and spread her legs. By now, his erection was painfully hard, and he prepared to line himself up with anticipation. All except…

“Erm, Hermione?” he whispered, his stomach bubbling with embarrassment.

“What?” she growled, bolstering herself up on her elbows, an impatient scowl on her face.

“Your… your stomach is covering…” he stumbled over his words, unsure whether to laugh or cover his face. “That is… I can’t find your…”

“Oh for Godric’s sake!”

And with surprising strength for a woman who was in her thirty-fifth week of pregnancy, Hermione sat up, grabbed him by the shoulders, flipped him, and pushed him onto the bed. Before he could really process what was happening, she crawled on top of him and sank onto his member, taking him to the hilt.

It was instant euphoria.

His eyes rolled upward as the world around him came crashing down. This was the feeling he had been missing all these months. This was what it felt like to be alive. He wanted to stay buried in her like this forever.

And then she began to move. Draco swore he saw stars as she undulated her hips in just the right way. From this angle, he could see her tits from up close, and they were nothing short of spectacular. He reached up and tweaked her nipples. When she began panting and riding him with more intensity, he tugged them again.

Surely this was heaven.

After a few minutes of agonizingly slow fucking, Hermione’s hips came to a stop, a smile pulling at her lips. He had been so close to falling over the edge that waiting here in this position was hell.

“I’m sorry, I just can’t anymore. My stomach is just too heavy.” She leaned down to kiss him, panting slightly, but it became immediately clear that her belly was in the way. Draco watched as the small grin on her face turned into a burst of giggles.

“What’s so funny, Granger?” he asked, moving his hands behind his head, a smile growing on his own face.

“I want you so badly right now, but it’s like my body is out to get me. This position doesn’t even feel very good for me.” She chuckled and moved her hips half-heartedly over his member. “We can’t win, it seems.”

“Oh ye of little faith.”

Draco quirked an eyebrow at Hermione, shooting her his signature smirk. He was determined to get both of them to finish tonight if it was the last thing he did.

“Want to try something new?” he asked, a devious tone to his voice. “Your stomach won’t get in the way and I can help you feel good.”

Hermione groaned. “Anything, Draco. Please.”

Very carefully, he lifted his girlfriend from off his erection and set her on the bed.

“On your hands and knees,” he commanded. “By the edge of the bed.”

She obeyed, a hungry look in her eyes. Draco, who was still lying on the bed, rolled over and kissed her languidly. After a moment, their lips grew frantic once more. He needed to be inside her right now. Immediately, he moved off the bed and brought his jutting erection to her entrance. From this angle, he had full range of motion. All Hermione had to do was receive pleasure, and that was exactly what he intended to give her.

“Please, Draco,” she whined.

Without hesitating, he plunged into her. His pleasure was cresting hard and fast, and it was clear that this angle felt incredible for her as well. Draco reached between her thighs and stroked her. He wasn’t sure if his fingers were exactly in the right place until Hermione moaned without inhibition, throwing her head back in ecstasy.

She clearly wasn’t covering herself up or worrying about her appearance now. Pride swelled in his chest as he continued to pound into her. The sound of skin slapping on skin filled the room and Hermione gave short breathy moans with each thrust.

This was the tightest Hermione had been by far, and Draco was sure he had died and gone on to the afterlife. Actually fucking her into a mattress was far better than anything he could possibly have imagined. He watched himself disappear inside of her again and again, pleasure mounting inside of him each time.

As much as he wanted to keep going, the tightness in his balls told him that he would finish sooner rather than later. He increased the intensity of their fucking as he felt the end drawing near. Hermione was now grunting freely. She seemed to be beyond words, but then again, nothing coming out of his mouth was particularly coherent, either.

The waves of pleasure inside him crested, and he came with a shout, slack-jawed and eyes closed. Draco gave three final thrusts before collapsing onto Hermione’s back, peppering the skin there with kisses.

“Love you so much,” he mumbled into her spine.

She hummed in appreciation before he pulled out of her. Immediately, a sense of loss seemed to take over his body. How had he gone without Hermione for so long? Without her by his side, loving him? He pondered this as he fetched a towel and cleaned her up with care.

Hermione had turned over by this point, collapsed onto the pillows. He crawled up the mattress and cuddled into her side, but not before kissing her belly.

“It’s mutual, you know,” she mumbled into his hair.

“What is?” Draco yawned. He couldn’t remember the last time he was this sleepy.

“Loving you,” she paused to yawn as well. “Always wanting you no matter what.”

He turned into her chest, placing feather-light kisses along her breasts.

For the first time in months, he fell asleep with a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

The days spent at Shell Cottage were the happiest Draco had known in such a long while that he actually had moments when he forgot that the rest of the world was at war. It seemed that the other residents of the house had decided to give the couple a bit of space, and Draco felt nothing but grateful.

It was because of this purposeful space that he and Hermione had spent long, quiet hours together discussing nothing and everything all at once. Ever since the night of Teddy Lupin’s birth, sex had become a regular part of their days together, and Draco was especially grateful for that. He thought he finally fully understood what people said when they said that sex could bring people closer, not just physically, but emotionally as well. He felt more connected to Hermione than he ever had before. He learned that she was figuring out how to come to terms with fact that her parents may never know their granddaughter; he learned that her strongest pregnancy craving had been sour things – and that she had satisfied her taste buds with green apples, his favorite.

He also learned that he could drive her especially wild if he used his mouth and his fingers on her at the same time.

That particular discovery, he was very proud of.

He had certainly put it to good use in their bed, on the beach during a lovely warm afternoon, and in the bathtub during the most delightfully sensual experience of his life, to name a few places.

It was safe to say that Draco Malfoy was largely content.

With every day that passed, not only did he feel more confident in his relationship with his girlfriend, he also felt the nerves about his impending fatherhood really set in. Hermione had been getting Braxton Hicks contractions more and more often, and each time she informed him they were happening, it was as though his heart jolted awake.

Other than the times they had sex, Hermione had followed orders to the letter, and hadn’t strained herself. Even when Draco buried himself to the hilt inside her, he made sure that she wasn’t pushed too hard. If she even implied discomfort – which she had multiple times – they stopped immediately to change positions or just to call it quits.

There was no way to ignore the impending arrival of the baby girl into their lives. Fleur had taken them shopping in the little town, glamoured as usual, to purchase some of the necessities. The corner of their room was now home to stacks of clothing, a new rocking chair, and a box containing the baby girl’s new cot. Fleur had insisted on purchasing their pram which they had shrunk and stored in a kitchen cabinet for the time being.

According to Hermione’s doctor, they had a little less than a month until the due date, but babies were known to arrive when they wanted. Draco knew from his reading that babies became full term at thirty-seven weeks, and they would need minimal assistance if born at that time. Hermione had just crossed into her thirty-sixth week and seemed to be growing exponentially. She could now comfortably eat her supper from a plate placed on her belly.

She had found it funny.

He had called her lazy.

“You try growing a baby inside you and see if you don’t feel a little lazy?” she had retorted, sticking her tongue out at him.

She had proved just now not-lazy she was when she made him come later that night using only her talented mouth.

Yes, Hermione was feisty as ever. Though he had jokingly called her lazy, she was anything but.

No time was this more apparent than when she spent hours behind closed doors with Harry, Ron, and oddly enough, the goblin. Lately, Griphook had joined them in their meetings, and Draco couldn’t quite pinpoint why the trio wanted to suddenly invite this particular fourth member along. They always met for long periods of time with silencing charms thrown up, so he had no way of knowing what they were planning.

Of course, he had agreed to let Hermione do what needed to be done in order to get one step closer to defeating the Dark Lord, but having no idea what sort of danger Hermione wanted to put herself in was driving him spare. Obviously, he knew danger was involved. In the middle of a war, danger was inevitable, no matter the mission.

Draco had his suspicions, though. During the Manor incident, his aunt had spoken at length about a sword. It had been the reason he had been forced to fetch Griphook and tear himself away from Hermione. Why had his aunt been concerned about some sword? Had Hermione actually told the truth about it? Why had Griphook been needed? Surely, there had been some sort of clue from that night that he could glean information from. But when he strained his memory, he realized his focus had been entirely on Hermione, and everything else seemed blurred.

On one particular evening at the tail-end of April, Hermione returned to their room looking slightly agitated. Draco looked up from the baby name book to see her brow was furrowed and she bit her lip as she walked through the door.

“Braxton Hicks?” he asked casually as he flipped passed the ‘P’ names.

Hermione made a noncommittal noise.

“Well then, what is it?” he set the book on the bed side table and turned to face her as she sat beside him and swung her feet onto the mattress. Draco scooted over to the end of the bed and took a foot in his lap for a massage. Though she smiled slightly when his thumb began to press into the arch, it didn’t quite reach her eyes.

“I have to tell you something,” she said after a moment, looking right at him.

Draco released the pressure on her foot and took a deep breath. Her tone made his stomach bubble with nerves, and he had the odd feeling that she was about to tell him something he didn’t want to hear.

“I’m all ears.”

She cleared her throat. “We’re leaving tomorrow.”

Draco nodded his head, fighting internally to stay calm. “Any idea when you’ll be back?”

“Harry and Ron won’t. I will. As soon as possible, I promise. The same day, hopefully.” Her tone was light, as though she was trying to convince herself as well as him.

He let her words sink in before responding.

“Is there… is there any way you can tell me what’s going on or where you’ll be?”

Hermione sighed and shook her head.

“Sorry,” she whispered. “I just… I can’t. If anyone knows, it could be a risk.”

Draco leaned his head onto her shoulder and placed a left hand over her stomach, patting it lightly. He braced himself for the next words that came out of his mouth.

“I know.”

When they got lost in each other that night, it seemed that Hermione paid exquisite attention to every inch of his body. Everywhere she could reach, at least. The softness of her lips left little sparks everywhere they touched, and by the time she had kissed him from head to toe, he was a livewire ready to explode. As they brought each other to the pinnacle of pleasure together that night, Draco felt a familiar sort of niggling in the back of his mind, but he pushed it away, wanting to concentrate fully on the beautiful witch who was on top of him.

A little while later, as they laid together in bed, Hermione snuggled into the pillows he had multiplied for her, Draco realized with a heavy heart exactly what that familiar niggling feeling had been. The way that she took her time and paid special attention to him… it reminded him of one other particularly momentous time they had had sex.

Princetown.

That had been the night that changed everything: they had conceived their daughter; he had realized how irrevocably in love he was; she had left.

Draco kissed Hermione’s bare back, moving her curls off her shoulder. A slight breeze from the open window blew in, and Draco cuddled into her more, relishing the feeling of his skin touching hers.

Even though Hermione hadn’t Disapparated abruptly this time, he couldn’t shake the feeling that she had been saying goodbye. Draco fell into an uneasy sleep, hoping his instincts were wrong.

She was gone by the time he woke.


 

Breakfast that morning seemed much quieter than normal, for obvious reasons. Draco sipped his coffee, soaking in the silence that hung like a suffocating blanket around the kitchen table. Even Luna nibbled a slice of toast without speaking. The absence of three Gryffindors and the goblin was notable, but Draco just tried to tell himself over and over again in his head that Hermione had promised to return as soon as possible. She had said there was even a possibility that she could return later that day.

She had promised.

There was nothing to do but wait, so it seemed. Fighting through his anxiety-induced nausea, Draco cleared his barely-touched plate, shoved his hands in his pockets, and headed back to his – their – bedroom. No one said a word as he left.

The bedroom seemed far too empty for his liking. He knew that if he dwelled too long on the vacant space, he would go mad. He had to keep busy – had to find things to occupy his mind until Hermione returned safe and sound. Draco tapped his foot on the floor as he looked around for something – anything – to do.

When his eyes fell on the box containing the cot, he felt his lungs unclench. Something to do.

Yes, this was a good idea.

He could set up the baby’s things as a surprise for Hermione. She would likely come home exhausted. What a relief it would be for her to find everything ready. Rolling up his sleeves, Draco got to work assembling the cot.

It became apparent very quickly, however, that it was a task he was ill-prepared to do. The directions were convoluted, and it took him three tries before he identified the correct type of screws. No doubt, all the other occupants of Shell Cottage could hear him swearing up a storm. By the time everything was sorted out and ready to be assembled with magic, he was covered in sweat, ready to lash out at anyone who might have poked their head in to check on him.

In the two-minute break he took before waving his wand, his mind inadvertently wandered to Hermione. Where was she right now? What was she doing? Was she safe? The same anxiety that he had felt earlier that morning began to creep in as he stood, arms folded, in the empty bedroom. It made the hair on his arms stand on end.

Distraction. That was what he needed.  

Shaking his head, he waved the snatcher’s wand and watched as the various pieces of the cot assembled in the air. In a matter of seconds, the little bed began to take shape before his eyes. Wooden and white, it matched the light, airy atmosphere of the cottage. This cot was certainly a far cry from his mahogany childhood bed, austere and traditional. He ran his fingers over the bars. In a matter of weeks, there would be a baby occupying this cot…

Draco’s eyes scanned the rest of the room, taking in all the items they had yet to unpack and prepare. A vague sense of unpreparedness washed over him, and he dove into the fray with continued hope that this was the distraction he needed.

As he began to rip the tag out of little green pyjamas, there was a knock at the door. After a moment, Fleur stepped through the threshold, her expression melting to a smile when her eyes landed on the small mountain of baby clothes.

“Do you need help?” she asked, a reluctant smile on her face. “I heard you screaming from downstairs and thought I would check on you.”

“Oh.” Draco felt his face flush a bit. “That was just the cot. There were a lot of little pieces, but I figured it out.”

“Ah.” Fleur paused and licked her lips, looking around the room. “…Is there anything else I can help you with?”

Draco’s eyes flew to the pile of unwashed, unfolded, unsorted clothes. It would take him hours if he did it alone…

“The clothes,” he blurted. “I could use some help getting them ready.”

“But of course.” Fleur beamed and grabbed a pair of grey pyjamas. She aimed her wand at the garment, clearly about to cast Scourgify , when Draco stopped her. “What’s wrong?” she asked, tilting her head in confusion.

“I just…” Draco frowned, trying to figure out how to explain his thinking. “In all of Hermione’s baby books, it says that baby clothes need to be washed carefully. Is Scourgify enough? Would it be better to use soap and water?”

He might have expected the French woman to scoff or dismiss him, but she laughed instead.

“Oh, Draco. You are going to be a good father.”

He raised an eyebrow. “I am?”

“You already worry so much. Scourgify should be fine, but if it would make you feel better, I can pull out that home-potion book Bill’s mother gifted me and see if there is an infant-safe soap I can brew. Would you like that?”

Draco grimaced. “I don’t want to be a bother…”

“Nonsense! What else am I doing? Come, let me find that book.”

Draco kept Fleur company as she brewed the simple concoction of a gentle sterilizing potion in a small cauldron in the kitchen, and he was grateful for the distraction and the company. When the potion was complete, Draco levitated the pile of clothes downstairs, and they set to work washing and drying each piece.

“Hermione will be so pleased that you do the washing so well,” Fleur commented as she finished drying a tiny pink jumper with her wand. “And willingly too,” she added, shooting a grin at the back of Bill’s head as he read a book in the other room.

“I resent that!” the redhead responded, not looking up.

“That actually reminds me,” said Draco, folding a purple layette, “Hermione would be pleased. Ron and Harry are apparently terrible at doing their washing. She had to keep extra clothes for them back at Hogwarts just in case.”

Fleur chuckled, shaking her head. “My, my. Your Hermione certainly takes charge, doesn’t she?”

Smiling to himself, he nodded, and then paused.

Oh.

He had forgotten not to think about Hermione.

“Sometimes I think she may take charge too much,” he mumbled.

“This is about the war, no? I often think the same of Bill.” Fleur didn’t look at him as she spoke, but focused on washing more clothes, instead. “It is very difficult to allow the people we love to get involved in something so dangerous.”

Draco nodded again, taking a deep breath.

“I don’t know why I agreed to let her go,” he whispered. “She’s in so much danger. One wrong move, and I might never see her again. I might never need all these.” He gestured to the neat stacks now forming on the counter.

“Nonsense.”

Draco felt Fleur take his hand. He looked up to see she was looking at him, a fierce look in her eyes.

“What do you–?”

“I said it’s nonsense. Hermione knows what she is doing. She mentioned that she would return immediately following today’s task, did she not?”

“Well, yes,” Draco began.

Fleur continued to talk over him.

“Then she will be fine. She is determined to come back to you. Nothing can stop a woman like that.”

“But what if–?”

“No, Draco. Do not assume the worst. Do not dwell on a ‘what if’. You did the right thing, letting her go this last time.”

Draco stared fondly at pair of pink pyjamas with an owl stitched over the bum. “You really think so?”

“It will be fine in the end. You’ll see.”

As they continued to wash the clothes, Draco did his best convince himself that Fleur was right.

Hermione did not return that afternoon, and by evening, Bill relayed a disturbing rumor over the supper table.

Harry, Hermione, and Ron had broken into Gringotts and escaped on a dragon.

The image of Hermione, pregnant and vulnerable, clinging to the scaly back of a dragon for dear life flashed in his mind, and a wave of panic immediately settled over him.

“Bloody amazing,” Dean Thomas said to no one in particular after hearing the story.

Draco scowled at the Gryffindor. It was not bloody amazing. It was bloody dangerous. Hermione was supposed to be on bedrest, and she was riding on the back of a fucking dragon?

He wanted to be so, so angry at her, but to his annoyance, he felt an odd flare of pride in his chest. This was a story he would need to hear from beginning to end. Surely, if Hermione could hold her protective enchantments through torture, she could sustain them through a dragon ride.

Right?

As the conversation about this rumored dragon ride continued, Draco felt an odd sensation in his pocket. Warmth bloomed there, spreading across the side of his thigh.

The pebble.  

Hermione. She was thinking of him – was okay.

Wasn’t she?

Perhaps something was wrong and she was trying to get his attention.

Draco cursed mentally as his thoughts turned to the journal still buried in the depths of his trunk with his Weasley jumper back at the Manor. If only he had it with him, he could write to Hermione to figure out what had happened.

He wanted it to be the first reason so badly. He wanted her to be okay.

These were the thoughts that he repeated mentally all through the rest of supper.

Hermione is strong. She’s clever. She’ll be back soon.

Again and again these words played in his mind as he prepared to sleep in an empty bed for the first time in weeks. Despite the coming of Spring, it felt oddly cold. As he settled between the sheets, he strained his ears for any sign of a door opening or muffled voices coming from below.

She had promised.

Draco couldn’t escape the bitter feeling in his mouth as he drifted off.


 

“Wake up!”

Draco’s eyes flew open. Someone was shaking him rather violently. Bleary-eyed and dazed, he felt his brain churn into motion.

Bill Weasley hovered over him; he held up his lit wand, illuminating the gravely serious expression on his face. It was still pitch-black outside, indicating that Draco hadn’t been asleep long.

“Wha’ time izzit?” he slurred, yawning.

“Almost ten,” Bill answered. “I need you to get up now, Draco.”

Something about Bill’s tone drove his eyes open immediately.

“Is it Hermione? Is she here? Is she safe?” he asked, the fog leaving his brain immediately.

“No,” he answered. There was no hint of his normal jovial nature in the way he spoke. “Get dressed and meet me downstairs. Grab your wand.”

Without saying another word, Bill swept from the room, leaving Draco dumbstruck and confused in his bed. Not wanting to disobey, he jumped from under the covers and pulled on a pair of denims and the first shirt he could find before tearing down the stairs. Bill and Fleur were sitting in armchairs by the fire, stiff and silent. They looked up when his foot landed on a squeaky step on the staircase.

“What’s going on?” he asked as soon as they saw him.

“We’ve been called to Hogwarts,” Bill explained. “Harry, Ron, and Hermione are there, and the Order has been summoned.”

Draco’s breath caught in his throat and his stomach turned sour. If the Order had been summoned, that could only mean…

“There’s a fight coming, isn’t there?” he asked quietly.

“More like a battle,” Bill responded, his own voice breathy.

“And Hermione–?”

“She’s there,” Fleur answered, grabbing the Floo Powder pouch. “She is preparing to fight, it seems.”

A shiver went down his spine as he took a pinch of powder and braced himself to fling it into the fire.

“To the Hogshead Inn,” Bill informed him before stepping into the green flames, speaking their destination, and disappearing. Draco followed immediately, leaving Fleur in the queue behind him. He spun past grates, mind focused on his destination, but an odd feeling in his stomach.

For the first time in almost a year, he would be going back to Hogwarts. The last time he had set foot in the castle, he had set terrible things in motion; he had been chased through the castle, captured by McGonagall, and sentenced to be the ward of one Hermione Granger.

It was not a place he was eager to return to.

After a few moments, his feet hit solid ground as he tumbled into a dirty old pub. Bill was already dusting off his trousers, standing by an old man with startlingly blue eyes…

Draco’s jaw dropped. No. It was impossible.

“P-p-profess–”

“For Circe’s sake, I’m not Albus!” the old man groused. “Head on through. Follow the passage into the castle.” Draco’s eyes flew to the large hole in the wall behind the portrait of a young girl. “And don’t dally,” the Dumbledore lookalike continued gruffly as Fleur came through. “I expect I’ll have more people arriving by the minute at this rate.”

The three of them followed orders and made their way down the dark tunnel, wands out in front of them. With each step he took, Draco tried to focus on making it back to Hermione. That’s all he needed to do. If there really was a battle coming, he needed to get Hermione somewhere safe. There was no question about that.

When they finally emerged into a well-lit room filled with hammocks, Draco squinted, his eyes adjusting to the light. Blinking, he looked around the groups of people gathered around the jumbled room. It was odd, he had never seen this room at Hogwarts before.

He pushed the thought away. This was not the time to ponder the intricacies of the ancient magic of this school. Instead, he began to scan the crowds for a familiar bushy, brown head. After only a minute, he saw her. She was tucked in a corner, talking to Ron with an intense look on her face. To his relief, she didn’t seem to be in pain. The enchantments were clearly still holding: her stomach looked flat and her back didn’t seem as strained as it normally was in her condition.

At once, Draco began to walk forward, his mind one-track. Hermione. She was here. She was safe! He pushed people aside to get to her, his breathing becoming shallower with each step he took.

When he got close enough to get a good look at her, he took in her full appearance. Her hair was wilder than usual, her cheeks flushed and her eyes ablaze. She looked… windswept. There was no other way to put it.

That’s right. She rode a bloody dragon today.

Instead of greeting her with a hug or a pat on the shoulder, Draco launched forward, an odd sense of fury overtaking him. He stomped over to her, his heart pounding and his jaw clenched.

“A fucking dragon, Granger? You left bedrest to ride a goddamn dragon?”

Hermione looked up from her discussion with Ron, her eyes wide. Several emotions passed through her eyes at once, and Draco didn’t time to comprehend them all before–

“Draco Malfoy!”

The woman’s voice cut through the din, sending shockwaves down his entire body. He knew that voice.

He knew it and wasn’t sure if he should be delighted or terrified.

Mrs. Weasley came barreling toward him, determination etched in her face. Before he realized exactly what was happening, she pulled him into the tightest hug of his life, his head landing on her chest as she squeezed him so hard he swore he heard his bones crack. The next moment, she held him at arm’s length and had begun to yell.

“Gone! Just a note! No reason, no warning – and on Christmas! Do you have any idea how worried Arthur and I were? We searched for you for hours and hours! And, oh, Draco, you’re safe!”

She pulled him in for another hug. From over her shoulder, he saw Fred and George smirking at him.

Back at arm’s length again, Draco saw Mrs. Weasley wipe a small tear from her eye. “I’m so glad you’re all right. I miss my cooking partner, you know.”

She patted Draco’s cheek before moving over to speak with Ginny.

“I suppose that makes you a real Weasley,” Fred piped up as he walked over. “Welcome to the family, mate.”

“A jumper is one thing, but getting yelled at like that? Oh, you’re basically our brother, now.” George clapped him on the back.

Turning his head, Draco intended to extract himself and get back to Hermione, but when he looked to the spot where she had been talking with Ron, he found her to be gone.

“Hermione?” he called, looking around. “HERMIONE!”

She had disappeared again. So, it seemed, had Ron.

Fuck.

Before he had time to begin his search, or even to process the anger coursing through his veins, Harry and Luna reappeared at the door, confusion painted on their faces. Various members of the Order began pressing in on the two of them, questioning them about the state of the rest of the castle. The dull roar of voices quieted down if only for a moment, to hear Harry speak.

“They’re evacuating the younger kids and everyone’s meeting in the Great Hall to get organized. We’re fighting.”

The rest of the room cheered.

Draco wanted to cry.

Somewhere in the depths of this labyrinth of a castle, his very-pregnant girlfriend was off doing who-knew-what on the precipice of a battle. He needed to speak to someone about where she might have gone off to, but everyone seemed to be focused on the swot Weasley’s return. What was his name? Peter? Pevensie?

Never mind that.

As the rest of the crowd hurried toward the exit, Draco surged forward and pulled Harry aside.

“Where’s Hermione and Ron? Where did they go?” He tried to keep the panic in his voice pushed down, but he was sure his heart was beating out of his chest. Furrowing his brow, Harry looked around, as if only realizing now that his two best friends were missing. Instead of giving an answer, he repeated the question to the Weasleys, who were now leaving.

“They must have gone up to the Great Hall already,” Mr. Weasley replied.

“I didn’t see them pass me,” Harry looked around as if they might be hiding. Draco gripped his shoulder harder. Was this man an idiot? Hadn’t he just implied that they had gone somewhere?

“They said something about a bathroom not long after you left,” answered Ginny.

“A bathroom?” Draco implored. “Why? Which bathroom?”

Before he could give an answer, Harry doubled over, clutching his scar. Ginny rushed forward to help, moving Draco aside.

They had gone to a bathroom?

That was information he could work with.

As the rest of the crowd rushed to the Great Hall, Draco began a search of each corridor bathroom, beginning on the seventh floor. He sprinted from bathroom to bathroom, not stopping even when his lungs began to sting or when he twisted his ankle going down the stairs to the fourth floor. He had to find Hermione – had to stop her from getting involved in the madness. As he poked his head into bathroom after bathroom only to be met by silence each time, Draco felt bile begin to rise in his throat. What if he couldn’t get to her in time? What if fighting broke out before he could find her? What if something happened to her? To the baby?

These thoughts grew louder and louder as his feet made heavy contact in the entrance hall. It was only this floor and the dungeons to go. Four more bathrooms. Four more chances.

When he entered the first floor girl’s bathroom, something felt immediately different. Of course, he had his own history with this room. Just stepping inside the place where Harry had almost killed him brought a chill down his spine and sent phantom pains across the scars that littered his torso.

But, no. That wasn’t it. Something else was off about this bathroom.

And then he saw it.

One of the taps had fallen away, revealing a gaping hole in the floor. This had to be it.

Draco took deep breaths, preparing to careen himself into the darkness when a familiar, cold, cruel voice filled the air. It didn’t seem to be coming from one place in particular, but from everywhere . It was as though he was surrounded by the Dark Lord’s voice. He dropped to his knees immediately, his breath coming in erratic gasps.  

"I know that you are preparing to fight. Your efforts are futile. You cannot fight me. I do not want to kill you. I have great respect for the teachers of Hogwarts. I do not want to spill magical blood. Give me Harry Potter and they shall not be harmed. Give me Harry Potter and I shall leave the school untouched. Give me Harry Potter and you shall be rewarded. You have until midnight.”  

The Dark Lord wanted Harry, plain and simple. Last year, giving up the Boy-Who-Lived would have been the straightforward answer. But he wasn’t the same person he was a year ago. He wasn’t the foolish boy who let Death Eaters into Hogwarts any more.

No, he was certainly no longer a fool.

This time, he would leave the fighting to others. He didn’t want to be part of any battle. Draco’s self-preservation instincts were beginning to kick in, and that involved grabbing Hermione and getting the fuck out of there before curses started flying.

A movement from below brought Draco’s thoughts back to the present. From the gaping darkness, two figures emerged on brooms: one redheaded weasel and a bushy-haired beauty.

Hermione’s eyes widened upon landing on the bathroom floor, her face turning to meet his. Draco looked her over from head to toe. Nothing appeared to be wrong. She was carrying an armful of what looked like long, curved teeth in one arm. So was Weasley.

Questions could come later.

Draco rushed to Hermione’s side and pulled her into a fierce hug, bringing his lips to hers. Whatever she was holding in her arms clattered to the floor. He needed to feel her – to confirm that she was alive and right by his side. She returned the kiss briefly, but pulled away when Ron cleared his throat. The moment there was distance between them and Draco looked into her eyes, he practically exploded.

“What the hell are you thinking, Hermione? Riding on a dragon? Disappearing into some gaping hole to get – what the fuck are these things? Teeth?”

“Basilisk fangs,” she corrected as Ron bent down to retrieve them.

Draco drew back. “Fucking basilisk fangs? Are you saying there’s a basilisk in the castle? And what the hell is that?” he indicated the hole where they had emerged.

“It’s the Chamber of Secrets.”

Draco’s jaw dropped. How could Hermione give an answer like that like she was telling him it was time for tea? He spluttered, trying to grope for a response. When none came, he blinked several times, eyes falling back onto her stomach, flat and well-enchanted.

“I don’t give a damn what was in the bloody Chamber of Secrets or whatever! You’re thirty-six weeks pregnant, woman! You can’t just go running about extracting basilisk fangs and breaking into banks – I’m over here losing my mind!”

He expected to see remorse in Hermione’s eyes, but instead, he saw fire.

“I feel fine , Draco! I know I said I would finish after our task today, but one thing led to another, and I don’t think I could leave right now if I wanted to. Please don’t make me leave. Not now. Not when we’re so close.”

Draco sighed. Hermione really was the most stubborn woman he knew.

“Fine. But I’m coming with you, wherever you’re going tonight. No more secret missions or conversations. Got it?”

Hermione nodded. “All right then. Want to carry some fangs? We need to go find Harry.”

Draco accepted a small armful of the large, venomous teeth from Ron. “We’ll need to head back to the Great Hall. That’s where Potter was headed, last I heard.”

As the three of them stepped out of the bathroom and into the corridor, they were meet with a great boom . The whole castle seemed to shake, leaving the air full of dust, and bursts of light could be seen just outside the castle windows.

The battle had begun in earnest, then.

Draco fought to stay in the present. The debris and the flashes of spells were all too reminiscent of that June night almost eleven months ago. If he didn’t put one foot in front of the other and force himself to focus, he was afraid he would get caught up in bad memories.

There had been a bloody handprint on the wall…

Running into Harry had been pure luck, and it had snapped him out of his bad memories. Draco could hardly follow along with the conversation they were having – something about stabbing horcruxes , whatever those were – but the Room of Hidden Things appeared to be their destination. The three of them made their way back to the seventh floor corridor only to find Tonks, Ginny, and Longbottom’s grandmother still inside the room.

The elderly woman took her leave first.

Tonks, who Draco only just remembered had given birth merely two weeks previously, seemed ready to join the battle. After inquiring about her husband, she took off as well.

“Ginny, I’m sorry, but we need you to leave too. Just for a bit. Then you can come back in.” Harry directed Ginny toward the exit, too, and the redhead left with a grin on her face. Harry seemed distraught at her eager face. “And then you can come back in! You’ve got to come back in!”

A beat.

“Hang on a moment!” declared Ron. “We’ve forgotten someone!”

“Who?” asked Hermione?”

“The house-elves, they’ll all be down in the kitchen, won’t they?”

“You mean we ought to get them fighting?” asked Harry.

 

“No,” retorted Ron. “I mean we should tell them to get out. We don’t want any more Dobbies, do we? We can’t order them to die for us!”

“Oh, Ron!” Hermione beamed at him, tears in her eyes.

“Come on, then, you lot. There’s a war on and we’ve got to find this diadem.” Harry corralled them back out into the corridor. The moment Draco set foot back into the main castle, he knew that the battle had truly commenced. A handful of windows were missing panes, and both Ginny and Tonks were positioned by them shooting jinxes out into the night.

A wave of terror crested inside of him. He wanted to run and hide with Hermione and not look back even for a moment.

But one look at Hermione, and he knew that would never be an option. She was steeling herself, clearly ready to take on whatever was waiting for them when they reentered the Room of Hidden Things.

Just as he, himself, had done all those months ago, Harry began to pace back and forth in front of the blank wall, muttering to himself. The door reappeared after only a moment. When they entered this time, the hammocks had all vanished. Instead, Draco was greeted with a familiar sight.

He wanted to vomit.

He was back in the one place he never wanted to see again.

Taking deep breaths, he held Hermione’s hand as they began to navigate through the labyrinth of items. Hermione had briefly explained that they were looking for Ravenclaw’s Lost Diadem, though frankly, Draco had no idea what that would look like. Instead, he kept the snatcher’s wand held tightly in his fist. Just in case.

They split up. Draco insisted that he accompany Hermione.

The room was eerily silent. The quiet felt especially oppressive, given the knowledge that a battle was raging just outside the walls. The two of them walked up and down several aisles, eyes searching for anything sparkly that might be a tiara. Hermione kept her hand in his. After a few minutes, Draco realized that she was squeezing his hand.

“Everything all right?” he whispered as they turned a corner past a suit of armor that was missing both its arms.

“Braxton Hicks,” she hissed back, her face contorted.

Draco shot a glance at her stomach. The charms were still well in place.

“As soon as we find this diadem thing, we are getting out of here. Got it?”

Wincing, Hermione nodded in agreement. “Fine. Let’s find the damn thing, then.”

They rounded another corner, and Draco heard a new voice coming from the other side. A familiar voice. He threw his arm out in front of Hermione, bringing his finger to his lips. Standing there, facing Harry, were Crabbe and Goyle.

His heart fell to his feet. No. Not now. Not them. Not when they were about to get out of there.

“So how come you two aren’t with Voldemort?” he heard Harry ask.

“We’re gonna be rewarded,” Goyle replied. “We ‘ung back, Potter. We decided not to go. Decided to bring you to ‘im.”

“Good plan.”

Draco watched as Harry’s eyes darted to a bust sitting on a table. There, on top of its head, sat a dusty, old tiara.

The diadem.

Shite.

They were so close, and bloody Crabbe and Goyle were in their way? The idiots. Draco watched as Harry began to move ever so slightly, never breaking eye contact, making his way slowly toward the table with the diadem.

Clever Potter.

“So how did you get in here?” he asked.

“Watched Draco do it all last year. S’not hard,” Crabbe boasted.

“We was hiding in the corridor outside,” continued Goyle. “We can do Diss-lusion Charms now! And then you turned up right in front of us and said you was looking for a die-dum! What’s a diedum?”

Draco thanked Merlin silently that his former friends were so dumb.

Out of nowhere, Ron’s voice sounded from several feet behind him, hidden behind the wall of objects. “Harry? Are you talking to someone?”

Draco barely had time to register that Crabbe had turned toward the unseen voice and pointed his wand, before the wall concealing Hermione, Ron, and himself came toppling over. Acting on instinct, he wrapped his body around Hermione’s and shoved them out of the way moments before an old desk smashed right where they had been standing.

He must have hit his head. For a moment, everything was spinning. Sitting up, Draco placed his palm on his forehead to steady himself. He definitely had not been hit by any falling objects. Looking to his left, he found Hermione to be unscathed as well.

Breath returned to his lungs immediately as his vision leveled once more.

From across the room, he heard more objects falling and smashing. Crabbe was such an idiot. Didn’t he realize that any physical spellwork in here would have a ripple effect? It was too crowded not to.

Hermione was breathing heavily, her eyes closed. For what felt like the first time since he had seen her back at Hogwarts, he got a decent look at her.

She was covered in dust and exhaustion painted her face. And on her wrists and hands… were those burns ? But they didn’t have the luxury of time for him to inquire in depth about her injuries.

“Are you all right, love?” he whispered, ducking down to remain concealed.

“More Braxton Hicks. I’m all right.” Through clenched teeth, she managed to sit up. “Where’s Harry?”

“He’s just around the corner. I think he might have found your diadem thing.”

Hermione raised her eyebrows slightly.

Finite! ” they heart a male voice cry from around the corner. Harry. At once, the rumble of falling objects ceased. Draco watched the mountain above them cease its swaying and stand stock still once more.

“Draco? Oi, Draco! Is that you?”

Shite. Goyle.

His platinum hair must have stood out amongst the dark debris littering the floor.

“Well, well,” chuckled Crabbe, a cold look in his eyes that Draco had never quite seen before. He’d have called it calculating if the bloke were any smarter. “Look who we found. Ooh, the Dark Lord will be so ‘appy with us. Not only did we find Potter, but we found the Blood Traitor Malfoy too.”

Ignoring Hermione’s tug on his jumper, Draco scrambled to his feet, wand in hand and pointed at his former best friend. Though his heart beat erratically beneath his skin, he managed to school his features.

“Come now, Crabbe. Be reasonable. How do you think tonight will end? Stop this foolishness and get out while you can.”

Draco raised one threatening eyebrow at Crabbe, praying that he would fall in line as he always had in the past. It seems that was not meant to be. Instead of lowering his wand, Crabbe sneered, his thick facial features contorted into something unrecognizable.

“Who cares what you think, Blood Traitor? I don’t take your orders no more, Draco. You an’ your dad are finished.”

Draco’s stomach bottomed out at the mention of his family before Ron called out again.

The idiot.

“Harry? What’s going on?”

Crabbe had begun to mock Ron. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement. Harry . The Boy-Who-Lived dove for the tiara. Whipping around, Crabbe yelled, “ Crucio!

Hermione screamed beside him as the curse exploded the bust, sending the tiara flying into the darkness, likely into the mountain of stuff standing nearby. From behind him, he sensed movement. Hermione had emerged, determination etched on her face. Before Draco could stop her, she took off at a run, sending a Stunning Spell at Crabbe as Harry dodged a jet of red light.

“It’s that mudblood! Avada Kedavra!”

The world all around him froze as the green light flew through the air straight at Hermione. He watched in horror as she threw herself out of the way with great effort.

This action seemed to kick Harry’s instincts into high gear, because he let out a roar of fury and doubled his efforts to stun Crabbe and Goyle. The two returned their aim to Harry, and Draco used the opportunity to crawl toward Hermione, now lying on the ground somewhere nearby, out of sight.

From just in front of him he heard Harry yell, “Expelliarmus!”

Draco looked up just in time to see Goyle’s wand fly into the darkness. The poor sod started jumping up, trying to locate it. Just as he was about to reach her, Hermione leapt to her feet in front of him. At the same time, Ron whipped around a corner, shooting a body-bind curse at Crabbe. It missed, but only just.

Crabbe shot another killing curse at Ron, chasing after him as the redhead ran for cover.

This situation was getting far too dangerous. Diadem or whatever be damned, he had to get Hermione out of there. It didn’t matter that Neville’s grandmother had sealed off the only escape. They would find a secluded corner of the castle. Wait the battle out. Enough was enough.

But when Draco turned his attention back to the spot where Hermione had been lying, he found her gone. Instead, she had pulled herself to her feet. Though she showed signs of fatigue, the charms around her stomach were still miraculously in place. Panting and angrier than he had ever seen her, she shot another stunner at Goyle. This time, it hit him squarely in the chest.

Atta girl, Hermione.

As Hermione dug her heels into the stone floor, widening her stance to be ready for another curse, Draco’s mind flashed back to just over a month ago, when he had seen the same girl broken and bleeding on the floor, but with fire still in her eyes.

It was the same fire in her eyes now.

If she’s not giving up, then neither am I .

Draco jumped to his feet and joined Hermione at her side, reading to grasp her free hand.

She squeezed back.

They ran over to Harry, who was gesticulating to a large pile of junk. “It’s somewhere here! Look for it while I go find R–”

“HARRY!”

Hermione screamed her friend’s name as she caught sight of something horrible.

Ron and Crabbe were sprinting up a side aisle toward them. Panic filled Ron’s eyes; in Crabbe’s, triumph.

“Like it hot, scum?” his former friend shouted.

Great flames the size of trolls barreled toward them, moving at an unnatural pace. The fire consumed everything in its path, crumbling the generations of junk into ash in its wake.

Draco knew what this was. They had to run. They had to run now .

“Aguamenti!” Harry cried, pointing his wand into the inferno. Draco grabbed Hermione’s hand as the water evaporated instantly, leaving Harry distraught and confused.

“No use for that, Potter! Run !”

Crabbe had gotten ahead of them all, a terrified look on his face. Clearly, he had learned the spell, but could not control it. Once an idiot, always an idiot.  

Draco pulled Hermione along with Ron and Harry falling just behind them. They ran through aisles and aisles of stuff, the cursed fire chasing them with what felt like purposeful fury. Draco could feel the heat lick his ankles as it closed in on them.

This is not how he wanted it to end… it couldn’t end this way.

Hermione… the baby… they had a life to live.

He could feel the fire closing in on them, great flame beasts with a hunger for their flesh sniffing them out like bloodhounds. There had to be something they could do – anything.

“What can we do?” Hermione shrieked over the roar of the approaching fire, “What can we do?” She held her invisible stomach with one hand, the other squeezing Draco’s hand with a firm grip.

Draco saw the cogs turning in Harry’s head as he looked around for a half second, sudden inspiration striking in his eyes.

“Here!” he called, grabbing a pair of old, beat up broomsticks from a pile of junk that was yet unburnt. Harry tossed one to him. “Get out of here.”

Draco didn’t need to be told twice. As Harry and Ron mounted the other broom, Draco swung his leg over the one in his hands, leaving space for Hermione in front of him. He wanted to leave room for her disillusioned belly. The moment they kicked off, flames poured over the ground like waves, consuming the spot where they had just stood. The two brooms sped toward the exit, a tiny rectangular patch on the far wall. It was so hard to make out, the smoke was so thick. Draco moved his shirt to cover his nose and mouth. He heard Hermione cough and yelled at her to do the same. They soared high over the Room of Hidden Things – the place he had so hated last year – and watched it burn.

Crabbe and Goyle were still down there, somewhere, likely dead.

Even after years of friendship, at this moment at least, he couldn’t bring himself to care.

When they were nearly halfway there, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Harry and Ron’s broom do a nosedive straight into the flames.

“What are they doing?” Hermione shrieked, her voice shaking with panic.

“I dunno, but we can’t wait around for them,” Draco shouted in her ear over the roaring, monstrous flames. “I wouldn’t worry too much. Youngest Seeker in a century, right?”

Even as he spoke these reassuring words, he wasn’t sure he believed them.

The smoke grew thicker as they flew, the door growing larger and larger. They were so close…

Clean, cool air filled their lungs in great gasps as they made their great exit. With the greatest concentration he could muster, Draco pulled the broom up severely; it came to screeching halt three feet above the ground, and he and Hermione slid off onto the floor, panting.

Moments later, Harry and Ron came careening through the door, the flames licking their heels. Unlike Draco, Harry did not slow down. With a smack , the two collided with the wall and fell to the floor, coughing.  

Draco blinked and the door disappeared.

Crabbe and Goyle had not made it out.

His chest tightened for a moment. Was he allowed to grieve for them? Should he? He gulped in the night air, trying to find some sort of equilibrium. Though the details differed greatly, tonight was far too similar to the night Dumbledore had died. All the blood… all the panic… all the death.

He highly doubted Professor McGonagall would swoop into save him this time.

No, he had to save himself.

To his left, Hermione was taking deep, rasping breaths. Her face was blackened with soot, and her eyes were closed her arms wrapped protectively around her stomach.

“Are you all right?” he managed to gasp.

Hermione nodded, her brow furrowed. “Uh-huh,” she managed.

A series of ghosts charged through the corridor, and Draco immediately became more aware of the chaos surrounding them.

“Where’s Ginny?” he heard Harry cry. “She was here. She was supposed to be going back into the Room of Requirement.”

“Blimey, d’you reckon it’ll still work after that fire?” Ron inquired, pulling himself to his feet. Taking the queue, Draco stood, holding a hand out for Hermione, who still seemed to be catching her breath. “Should we split up and look–?”

“No,” said Hermione, her voice clearly returned. “Let’s stick together. I say we go – Harry, what’s that on your arm?”

Draco turned to look at Harry’s wrist.

“What? Oh yeah–”

There, in Harry’s hand, was a blackened tiara. That must have been what they were looking for. Harry squinted at it for a moment, before flexing his fingers. A dark liquid seemed to be seeping from it. Draco watched as it began to hum ever so slightly before falling to pieces in Potter’s hands. He could have sworn he heard a scream of sorts coming, not from the battle surrounding them, but from the thing itself.

How very odd…

“It must have been Fiendfyre,” Hermione cried, her eyes wide with concern.

“Yeah it was,” confirmed Draco.

“Sorry?” Harry looked incredibly confused, his hands still held out in front of him with the burnt bits of tiara hanging from his fingers.

“Fiendfyre – cursed fire – it’s one of the substances that destroy Horcruxes, but I would never, ever have dared to use it.”

“I’ve heard about it, but never seen it,” Draco piped up. “Not even in the Dark Lord’s inner circle.”

“It’s so dangerous – how did Crabbe know how to–?” Hermione wondered, wincing slightly.

“Must’ve learned from the Carrows,” said Harry.

“Shame he wasn’t concentrating when they mentioned how to stop it, really.” Ron swiped his hand over the top of his head, now singed from the fire. Draco suspected they all must look similarly. “If he hadn’t tried to kill us all, I’d be quite sorry he was dead.”

Draco almost felt a flare of anger at Ron for the dab at his recently-deceased friend, but decided to ignore it.

“But don’t you realize?” Hermione whispered, her eyes wide with some sort of new comprehension. “This means, if we can just get the snake–”

Hermione’s words were drowned out by the sounds of shouts coming from nearby. They heard spells and curses cutting through the air.

Death Eaters in the castle. Death Eaters inside the walls at Hogwarts. It truly was like reliving that awful night. Draco tried to steady himself with deep breaths as two red-headed Weasleys came into view, both dueling Death Eaters.

Immediately, the dire nature of their situation hit him. Hermione was in no condition to fight in a battle. She had destroyed this… thing. Now it was time for them to go. They had to find somewhere to hide. His incredibly pregnant girlfriend had seen enough fighting to last a lifetime. Yet, even when he reached out to take her hand, she hurtled forward.

Damnit, Hermione!

“You’re joking, Perce!” he heard one of the Weasley twins shout as both of the Death Eaters fell to the ground. “You actually are joking, Perce… I don’t think I’ve heard you joke since you were–”

BOOM.

All at once, the world was fire and ash and sound. Draco found himself flying backward through the air, propelled by some sort of unforeseen explosion. He heard screams and the dull thuds of bodies hitting stone… stones hitting bodies…

For the second time that night, Draco fought through dizziness and pain; though his head swam and his ears were ringing, one thought managed to penetrate the haze.

Hermione.

The world came back into focus as cool night air hit his face. Had the castle fallen apart? Draco staggered to his feet, willingly ignoring the gashes on his arm and cheek, both of which were freely bleeding.

Hermione. Where was she?

And then he heard it. A gut-wrenching sob.

All other thoughts were abandoned as he hurried as fast as he could, still dizzy, to the group of redheads now huddle on the ground. The closer he got, the louder the cries of pure agony ripped into his heart.

No, no… it couldn’t be…

Movement to his left made him whip around.

Hermione was struggling to her feet, grasping onto large chunks of rubble for support. The charm had worn off, and her distended belly now showed fully, covered in debris. He grabbed Hermione’s hand and helped her to her feet.

If it wasn’t Hermione who had induced such a terrible cry, then who…?

“No! Fred! No!”

Ron was on his knees, crying. The other Weasley brother was shaking the twin, whose still face still carried the hints of a laugh. Draco watched as Harry’s and Hermione’s faces fell in horror. For them, the world seemed to stop. He could see it in their eyes. Harry, completely numb. Hermione, tears in her eyes. The Weasleys, frozen with grief.

And then the moment was gone, and curses began to fly everywhere once more.

“Get down!” he and Harry had shouted together, pulling Hermione and Ron to the ground, respectively.

He had to get Hermione out. He had to get her out now.

While Harry shouted at the Weasley brothers to move, Draco grabbed Hermione as she began to scream. Giant spiders began to crawl into the castle through the hole in the wall. Following his instincts, he curled his body over hers as Harry and Ron shot Stunning Spells at the spider, knocking it back over the side of the castle.

The slight victory lasted only seconds until more curses came flying over their heads.

“Let’s move, NOW!” he heard Harry yell.

Draco grabbed Hermione with one hand, Ron with the other, and pulled. When the two of them were safely ahead of him, he turned and followed just behind. They needed a place out of sight… just for a moment…

He had to gather his thoughts. Think of a plan.

No longer concealed under and assisted with enchantments, Hermione’s gait had slowed to a persistent waddle. He needed to find a way to help her. There was no way she could fight like this now. As they rounded a corner, Draco spied a tall tapestry that spanned floor to ceiling.

“Over there,” he indicated to Ron and Hermione. Weasley sped up. Draco placed his hand on the small of Hermione’s back to help her move a bit faster. The moment they were all hidden behind the great, ancient fabric, breath seemed to return to all three of them. Hermione leaned against the wall and Draco placed his hands on his knees, filling his lungs slowly and deliberately.

Ron, on the other hand, had begun to breathe harshly; Draco could hear the forceful rush of air in his flaring nose, and when he looked up, he saw pure hatred in his eyes.

“Easy, Ron…” he cautioned. “Just breathe.”

“I’m gonna kill them. I’m gonna kill them all.”

His hands curled into fists as his expression grew angrier and angrier with each inhale.

“Ron, you can’t. Not yet. Think how close we are! If we just get the snake…” Hermione’s voice was urgent, despite the fact that she was still leaning against the wall, eyes closed.

Ron paused for a moment, seeming to consider their words. Draco saw his jaw tense with anger and unshed tears.

“Fuck it,” Weasley whispered, taking the tapestry in hand, clearly preparing to make a run for it.

“No! Ron! Listen to me – ahhhh!”

Draco’s head whipped around as Hermione gave a cry of pain. Her hands had moved to her stomach; she clutched it with ferocity, her fingers trembling.

Every inch of her was trembling.

It seemed this had gotten Ron’s attention, because he turned right around, anxiety in every inch of his already grief-stricken face. The two of them huddled over Hermione as she slid down the wall, whimpering.

“Braxton Hicks, love?” he whispered, kneeling beside her.

She shook her head. When she spoke, her voice shook. “This is different. Something’s… something’s not right.”

Draco’s entire body turned cold. Had he waited too long to get her out? Had his hesitation doomed their child? Dark thoughts swirled in his mind for a half second before he shook himself mentally. Now was not the time for a break down. It was time for action

“Ron!” Draco turned to Weasley. “Go to the other edge of the tapestry and keep an eye out for Harry.”

“But–”

“We’ve got to step the fuck up, Weasley.”

Draco watched recognition flare in Ron’s eyes as he quoted the man’s words back at him.

Ron nodded and did as instructed.

He turned back to Hermione, whose whimpers had turned to full-blown cries.

“It’s going to be all right, love. You’ll see. It’ll be–”

Blood.

Lots of blood.

Flowing down from below Hermione’s stomach down her jean leg.

Panic welled in his chest as his own hands began to shake.

What the hell was he supposed to do?

From his right hand side, he heard Ron call out, “Harry, over here!”

He had to find a way to fix this. There had to be a way.

Draco leaned forward and touched his forehead to Hermione’s.

“It’s going to be all right, love.”

He only hoped he wasn’t lying.

Chapter Text

Draco felt an inch away from full-blown panic. The world was closing in on him. This wasn’t how anything was supposed to happen. Hermione was supposed to be fine. She was supposed to have come back to Shell Cottage. They were supposed to deliver a healthy baby three weeks from now. They were supposed to be a family.

Still hidden behind the tapestry, all he could see was blood. Red. Warm. Everywhere. All other sounds became muffled as his girlfriend began to moan. His breath came in short pants that couldn’t quite seem to fill his lungs properly. The edges of his vision blurred and he swayed on the spot. It was just too much…

But no.

This was not how it was going to end. He refused to believe that this was how Hermione or his child would leave this world. Draco closed his eyes five seconds and focused on his breath. He had to stay calm. He had to keep it together. In through his nose. Out through his mouth. Nice and slow.

Oxygen flowed to his brain anew. The panic ebbed slightly as the logical side of him grasped hold once more. In his mind, he saw the next necessary steps with perfect clarity.

A path forward.

“Oh my god. Hermione .” Potter had just slipped behind the tapestry and had clearly spotted the rapidly-expanding blood stain on the inseam of Hermione’s jeans. “What’s happening?” He looked down at Draco, still kneeling by his girlfriend. Her face was growing paler by the minute.

“Her placenta likely detached again. That’s what this blood is.” He turned back to Hermione, stroking her hand with his thumb.

“Is it serious?” Harry pressed.

“Yeah,” Draco answered curtly. “It’s damn serious.”

He chanced a brief glance at Hermione’s two best friends. Harry ran a hand through his hair, his own breathing shallow and his eyes wandering and blinking. Ron, meanwhile, had both his hands atop his head, eyes wide and unseeing, as if lost in thought.

“What can we do? Is there anything–?” Harry tried to string words together.

Draco took steadying breaths. He could feel the panic rise in him again. He had to try and keep himself calm. Before he could lower his heart rate enough to give any sort of answer, he heard Hermione’s voice from below him, faint, but determined.

“N-no, Harry.”

Immediately, her friends knelt at her side, leaving her surrounded.

“’Mione? Why? I want to help you.”

She swallowed and grimaced in pain. “You… you have a job to do, Harry, Ron. Find the snake. Kill it.” Hermione winced again, giving a small cry of pain. Draco felt his heart stutter. “End this. Please .”

“But what about you?” piped up Ron, tears in his eyes. “I can’t lose you, too . I can’t .”

Hermione pulled her hand up and stretched it out to cup Ron’s face. “You won’t. I have Draco. He’s meant to be a healer, you know. We’ll be okay.”

Draco felt both men’s eyes on him for a brief moment before they returned to the object of their concern.

“Go,” she whispered, closing her eyes.

The atmosphere in the small space behind the tapestry changed almost immediately. Ron and Harry stood, and Draco could feel an air of purpose and conviction in the way they held themselves.

“We’ll see you soon. We promise,” Ron said before stepping out into the corridor.

Harry swooped down briefly to kiss Hermione’s cheek. “Definitely. Stay strong, Hermione.”

She gave the faintest of nods.

On his way out from behind the tapestry, Harry placed a hand on Draco’s shoulder.

“Keep her safe.”

A significant look passed between the two young men. So much was left unsaid in those green eyes, but Draco saw it all. For the first time, in that moment, Draco felt Harry Potter’s complete trust.

“I will.”

Without another word, the Boy-Who-Lived swept from their hiding spot and back into battle.

Immediately, Draco returned his attention to Hermione.

“We can’t stay here,” he murmured. “We’ve got to find somewhere safe. Can you walk?”

Hermione’s head inclined slightly once more. He didn’t hesitate. Shifting himself, Draco supported most of her weight by holding her up by her underarms. He heaved upward. Hermione gave a sharp cry of pain, and Draco instantly froze. She leaned heavily on him, her breaths sharp and rattling now.

“I… I don’t know if I can move,” she rasped.

From just outside the tapestry, Draco heard screams and other sounds of battle growing closer. The panic in his chest drew closer. He forced himself to push it down.

“You have to move, Hermione. There’s fighting coming this way. I think we can make it to a classroom nearby. Let’s lock the door and I’ll see if I can help you.”

He really wasn’t sure where this bravado had come from, but he was grateful it seemed to be taking over his words and actions. With painstaking care, Draco helped Hermione shuffle step-by-step, inch-by-inch toward an empty room. The door hung wide open. Poking his head inside, Draco breathed a sigh of relief. The classroom appeared to be yet untouched by the battle other than the dust hanging in the air. Desks and chairs stood in their usual straight, orderly rows. Was this even a scene that still belonged in Hogwarts? It seemed so out of place now.

They moved inside as fast as they could, and Draco quickly turned around and sealed the door shut. The silence was immediate and overwhelming. He felt his heart slow at their relative safety; after only a moment, though, it sped back up again when he saw a drop of blood fall to the floor as Hermione propped herself up on a desk, her head arched back in pain.

“Augh, Draco. It hurts!” she cried through clenched teeth.

He had to do something, and quickly. But what? Fleur had spoken to him briefly about the procedure done to Hermione after the Manor incident, but he had not even witnessed the spellwork, let alone performed it.

But still, if he did nothing, then he was guaranteed to lose the woman he loved and their child.

He had to focus. He had to take action.

Doing the first thing that came to mind, Draco grabbed Hermione’s beaded bag, which had been tucked away in her sock.

It was a wild idea… it was absolutely mad. But perhaps…

It might be their only chance. He had no experience doing this kind of healing, but with the right visualization…

He pointed the snatcher’s wand inside the bag and yelled, “ Accio pregnancy books!”

Several volumes came flying at him, and he managed to catch a couple, the others landing with a thud on the stone floor. Glancing through the titles, he found one in particular that caught his eye. This one, as he remembered, had incredibly detailed diagrams of the female reproductive system while pregnant. He studied the images by wandlight for three or four minutes, keenly aware of the time ticking by. Each second he took to prepare was another second that could affect Hermione’s condition. He had to be quick, but careful.

“Hermione, I need to lower your trousers a bit and move your shirt up. Is that all right?” he asked.

She nodded, seemingly unable to speak.

Much of Hermione’s jeans were now soaked in blood. With great care, he peeled away the waistband and flipped the cotton of her shirt away to reveal her great, swollen stomach.

Draco’s stomach gave a jerk of nausea at the sight of blood smears on her lower pelvis, but took deep, gulping breaths to keep himself under control.

He had to step the fuck up, like Weasley said.

“All right, Hermione. Can you hear me? I need you to stay with me.”

Hermione peeled her eyelids open, her irises glazed over with pain. He plowed on. “I am going to attempt to re-attach the placenta temporarily. It’s not a long-term solution, but it will buy us a few hours so we can get you to safety and deliver the baby. Okay?”

Hermione nodded again.

“Good.” Draco heard his voice even out, despite the thudding of his heart. It seemed that having something to do – having a purpose in all this – kept his nerves at bay. “It may hurt. I’m not sure. But I need you to take deep breaths for me. Yes. Good girl.”

He watched Hermione’s chest move up and down and got to work. The wand movements would have to be exact. He had seen Mrs. Weasley and a handful of other Order members perform spells that re-attached various types of tissue and repaired veins before and had been thoroughly warned that it was tricky business.

Never mind that, now. There was no need to trip himself up mentally. This was a situation that called for boldness and action.

Draco reached down and gently pressed his hand into Hermione’s right hand side – that was where the muggle doctor had said the placenta had been attached. With several touches, he was able to give a basic estimation of where her uterus began and ended.

It was now or never.

Draco took a great breath in and pointed the wand at Hermine’s abdomen. His hand held steady, Draco began to whisper the incantation he had heard Mrs. Weasley say back at the Burrow all those months ago.

Exsarcio.

Hermione gave loud moans of distress as he moved his wand slowly up the right side of her stomach. He wanted so badly to comfort her. But there was nothing he could do for her.

Or was there?

Perhaps… just perhaps…

Draco reached out to Hermione with Legillimancy, much as he had all those weeks ago. As before, he rifled through her memories, searching for something happy to concentrate on.

Thoughts of the baby. Thoughts of early, sleepy mornings in the Great Hall. Thoughts of a happy childhood with her parents.

And then…

Draco saw himself riding a bike down a dark path. In the distance, the soft glow of lights indicated a town. He saw the two of them dancing together in that little Irish pub, great smiles on their faces, not a care in the world.

Yes, this was the one.

He carried on with the procedure, his mind re-focusing on repairing Hermione’s placenta. Thankfully, Hermione’s whimpers began to recede. When he reached the top of her abdomen, Draco pulled away for a moment, his eyes flicking from Hermione’s stomach to her face and then down to the area between her legs.

Where blood had been seeping before, it now stopped.

Draco let out his breath.

“Hermione? Are you all right, love?

It seemed, not for the first time, his skills as a Legillimens had served him well.

Hermione opened her eyes, the ghost of pain still in her eyes.

“I… I think so.”

“Do you have any Blood Replenishing Potion in your bag?”

When she nodded, Draco summoned a small vial of the stuff and scooted forward to help tip the contents down her throat. Hermione spluttered and gave a great sigh, her eyes closing in relief. Though her skin was far paler than he would have preferred, other signs of life seemed to be coming back to her.

For safe measure, Draco cast a heart rate charm at Hermione’s stomach.

“One-hundred fifteen. Not great, but not bad,” Draco commented, swiping the numbers away with his wand.

“My healer,” Hermione whispered with a smile from the ground. She was still lying on her back, her knees raised and her legs spread. “I think you read those books in more detail than I did.”

He gave a half smirk.

“Come on, Hermione. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Now that his panic had passed, Draco could hear the sounds of the battle rage on just outside. As he cast Scourgify on Hermione’s jeans, the whole castle shook with another explosion, sending dust flying everywhere.

“Thank Merlin that didn’t happen while you were working,” Hermione commented, grunting as Draco helped her sit up.

“Definitely,” he replied. Hermione winced as he sat down beside her, rubbing circles on her back. “How’s your pain level?”

“Not great, but manageable.”

Draco nodded. He had to think of what to do next. They couldn’t just wait out the rest of the battle here, could they? Surely, this place was only safe temporarily. He had been wracking his brain for a minute or two when he felt Hermione move beside him. She was holding onto a desk, struggling to pull herself to her feet.

“What are you doing, woman? Sit down!”

“We’re just sitting ducks,” she responded, standing upright. “I refuse to just stay here. I can’t. I told Harry and Ron to go and fight, and now I feel ridiculous hanging back and letting everyone else fight while I just–”

“While you recover from nearly dying.”

Draco looked Hermione in the eye, unblinking. She stared back, fire in her eyes. Gods, this woman was so stubborn.

“Hermione,” he began, standing beside her. “I can’t in good conscience let you leave. I mean, you’re in labour, for Circe’s sake! You need to come to grips with reality.”

Her jaw tensed, her lips turning downward. “And that is?”

Draco sighed, reaching for her hand. “And that is this: you’re done here. No more fighting. You need to take a step back for your sake and for the baby’s. You think that going to fight is selfless, but it’s not, Hermione. It’s selfish .”

He spoke these last words, emotion in his eyes.

Just as Hermione opened her mouth to respond, a crash sounded from just outside the door. Spells ricocheted against the walls. The two of them went silent as stone, the air caught in their throat. Draco blinked back tears as a green light radiated through the gap between the door and the floor. Hermione sucked in her breath as a contraction hit her.

Shite.

They waited, silent and still for something – anything to happen.

After a couple minutes, the sounds of fighting died away, traveling down the corridor.

The castle shook again.

“I hate being stuck here,” Hermione whispered, burying her head in his shoulder. “I can’t do anything to help. I have no idea what’s going on.”

“How do you think I felt for all those months I was at the Burrow?” Draco joked, planting a kiss in her hair. “But I learned my lesson the hard way. Sometimes it’s better to lie low rather than make a rash decision.”

It seemed Hermione didn’t have a response.

They sat in mutual silence for several minutes. Hermione had another contraction.

“Any idea how far apart they are?” Draco asked. Perhaps if he acted as a healer, it would distract them.

“I’m not sure. Maybe every eight or nine minutes? But that’s just a guess.”

Draco hummed. “And is the baby moving?”

“She’s currently kicking my kidneys, I think.”

They shared a smile.

“She’s really coming, isn’t she?” Hermione whispered, patting her belly.

“I think so. Impeccable timing, really.”

Somehow, that managed to make Hermione chuckle. But as soon as she started, she stopped, her face falling.

“I can’t laugh, Draco. Not now. Not when Fred–” Her breath hitched.

Hermione’s voice was suddenly cut off by the same cold, cruel voice. It emanated from everywhere and nowhere at once, the sound seeping into his bones. Draco felt his hair stand on end, as though the Dark Lord, himself, were standing beside him, his terrible red eyes filled with death.

“You have fought valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery. Yet you have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste. Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat immediately. You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured.”

Could it be? Would the Dark Lord really stick to his word and give them this time? It seemed too generous… too empathetic for a monster like that. Turning to Hermione, he saw she was shaking like a leaf, her face sheet white despite the blood replenisher he had watched her swallow.

“I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour.”

Draco felt his ears ringing in the deafening silence that followed the Dark Lord’s announcement. No matter how many times he heard that terrible voice, it would always strike fear in him, it seemed. His mind briefly jumped back to all those times he stood in that damned drawing room, stone-faced but trembling. He could feel himself slipping, spiraling into the dark place he spent so many months of his life in…

Hermione squeezed his hand, a pained look on her face. Though it clearly took effort, she spoke clearly. “Don’t you dare go disappearing on me, Draco. Focus. Focus on me. Focus on her.”

Hermione reached out and placed his hands on her stomach. It had hardened during the contraction. The pressure against his palm seemed to ground him, bringing him back to the chaotic present. He blinked, words returning to his tongue.

“We have to get you to Madam Pomfrey. Did you hear? We have an hour. If there’s a way to get you to St. Mungo’s or anywhere else, we have to take that chance.”

Hermione grimaced, though her eyes glinted. “Draco Malfoy, infamous Slytherin, wanting to take a chance? This situation really must be dire.”

Though he wasn’t sure how he had the energy to smile, he managed a small chuckle. Pulling himself to his feet, Draco helped Hermione up, supporting her weight.

“Can you walk?”

“I’ll manage. Just go slowly.” Hermione re-cast the protective enchantments over her stomach before they slipped out into the corridor.

The path past classrooms and staircases was littered with broken stones that had fallen away from the ceiling and walls. Even as they descended past several floors, the castle remained eerily silent and still, as though the building itself was holding its breath. Their movements were slow and purposeful, and the two of them stopped frequently, Hermione to catch her breath, Draco to check for bleeding. What a relief to see that his spellwork had been – at least temporarily – successful. When they reached the second floor, they found a handful of people shuffling around in the shadows. Their figures seemed slumped over and sluggish, but it wasn’t until they drew closer that Draco realized the true reason for their movements.  

They were carrying the dead.

Draco tried to breathe through the tightness growing in his chest.

“Do you see Ron or Harry?” Hermione asked as they made their way to the Great Hall. In his brief scan of the chaos, he saw a gaggle of redheaded people clustered in the distance, but none of them were distinctly gangly like Ron.

“Don’t think so. Come on. Let’s find Madam Pomfrey.”

The entrance to the Great Hall passed overhead, and almost immediately, Draco felt inundated with the sorrow of others and the heavy presence of death. Along the floor were a series of bodies, lined up and quite still. His stomach lurched as he looked from face to face, and he knew Hermione was doing the same. Though not many of the dead were among his acquaintances, he heard several small gasps from beside him. Yes, Hermione would certainly know more of these people than he...

But then again, Crabbe and Goyle’s bodies would likely never be recovered – never laid out in a terrible line like this for loved ones to cry over.

Another whimper from Hermione, and he coaxed her forward with a hand on the small of her back. She didn’t budge. Furrowing his brow, he turned back only to find her looking at two more bodies lying limp before them. Her shoulders shook with grief. Clearly, she knew these people. Draco looked down too.

Tonks. Lupin.

Dead.

Hadn’t it been just a few days ago that they had announced the birth of their little boy? They were supposed new parents, ready to embrace a new life with their son; they weren’t supposed to be dead.

“Oh, Draco,” Hermione buried her head in his shoulder, muffling a sob into his already disgusting, dust-and-ash-covered shirt. “They just had the baby.” He felt her body stiffen with both emotion and another contraction, and though he searched himself, he couldn’t find a single word to say in comfort.

Instead, he gently led her to a bench to sit. Conjuring some water for her to sip, he began to speak, though he wasn’t sure who his words were intended to comfort.

“It’ll be all right. Teddy’s got lots of people who love him.”

Hermione gulped down air as she tried to calm down, but when she started to respond, her voice began to grow hysterical. “We can’t let that happen to us. We can’t d-d-die. Not with the baby coming.”

She was panicking. He could see it in her eyes. Wide and manic, they searched his own with such desperation as he had never seen before. No, that couldn’t happen. He couldn’t let her succumb. They would make it through this. They had to make it. Draco grabbed her hands and leaned forward, touching his forehead to hers.

“I won’t let that happen,” he whispered. “We’re going to see her grow up. I’ll do whatever it takes.”

“We need to live,” she whispered back.

“We need to live. For her.”

As Hermione nodded, Draco saw two familiar faces wander into the Great Hall. He nudged the crying woman before him and pointed in their direction. While Ron staggered forward to join his family in grief, Harry stood, stock-still in the door, his expression mad with grief.

It seemed that Hermione had spotted it, too.

“Harry!” she called out through the crowd.

Even if he heard her, Harry didn’t respond. Instead, he turned on his heels and fled.

Draco’s heart sank. What was the bloody Boy-Who-Lived thinking, running away like that? Where was he going? Didn’t he realize how much they all needed him? Wasn’t he supposed to be The Chosen One or some rubbish like that?

Watching the scene unfold before them, Draco felt as though he was watching from outside of his own body. Had all these people really died while they flew through the Room of Hidden Things and hid out in a classroom?

Somehow, it didn’t feel right to be so alive when so many were dead.

He spotted Oliver Wood carrying a tiny body over his shoulder. Was that person really old enough to be fighting? Wasn’t everyone who stayed to fight supposed to be of age?

Death hung in the air all around them, and he could feel it looming over their shoulders, waiting, watching…

No, they had to leave while they could.

“I’m going to find Madam Pomfrey, all right?” he said, rubbing her shoulder in reassurance. Hermione nodded, but didn’t say a word. As he went to search the crowds for the Matron of the Hospital Wing, he passed Ron. His eyes looked glassy and haunted.

“Oi, Weasley,” Draco called. “Go sit with Hermione. I’m going to find a healer.”

Ron’s head immediately snapped up. “Hermione? Is she all right? Is she still here?”

“She is, but I think she’s going into labour. I’m going to find Madam Pomfrey and see if we can get her out.”

Ron nodded. “All right. But don’t take too long, all right? It’s already been forty minutes.”

Searching through the throng of people in the Great Hall proved to be easy, but capturing the attention of Madam Pomfrey was another obstacle entirely. The witch was completely engrossed in the care of Lavender Brown. From where he stood over ten feet away, he could see great chunks of her flesh missing and blood trickling from her collar.

“Erm, Madam Pomfrey,” he called urgently but quietly, not wanting to disturb the girl who was so clearly in pain. “We need you over–”

“Not now. I am needed in a great many places.”

The mediwitch didn’t even look up from her patient’s mangled body.

“But–!”

“I will tend to you when I have seen to Miss Brown and a handful of others.” Madam Pomfrey’s voice shook as she spoke, though it was the only indication that she was anything but steady.

Draco swore under his breath. He didn’t have time to fight for attention. Pushing his way back over to Hermione, he collapsed beside her, taking her hand as she leaned into his shoulder.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get you out,” he admitted truthfully.

Hermione nodded, a knowing look on her face. “We’ll just have to do the best we can, then. Perhaps in a dormitory or the Prefect’s Bath. Those places might be relatively safer.”

Draco’s eyes lit up. Of course. The Prefect’s Bath. It had a strong locking charm on the door already. If only they could reach the fifth floor in time… the Dark Lord had only guaranteed an hour.

From beside him, Hermione winced once more, a small moan escaping her lips. “I just… ooh. I just wish I knew where Harry was.” She sighed as he stood, holding out a hand.

“Come on. We’ve got to get going if–”

“OI! SOMETHING’S MOVING OUT THERE!” Someone shrieked from the entrance hall.

The entire room froze.

Then, like a slow trickle, people began walking over to the windows and doors to get a peek outside.

“Stay here,” Draco ordered Hermione as he and Ron stood. She protested, folding her arms, but didn’t budge. The two young men pushed their way through the converging crowd, trying to get even a glimpse of what was coming toward them on the grounds.

“Blimey, is that–?”

“Oh, no…”

“Wands at the ready, everyone. Don’t be afraid.”

The Dark Lord was coming. And he wasn’t alone. Surrounded on all sides by his supporters, the monster who had made Draco’s life… all their lives into a veritable hell these past few years approached. He had to go… had to get Hermione to the Prefect’s Bathroom, away from all this. Maybe, just maybe, they would have a chance…

And then he saw something through the darkness. Something… off.

Just behind the Dark Lord stood a tall, familiar figure. If he squinted, he could identify a wild beard.

Hagrid.

And, was he carrying something?

Draco felt a soft pressure on his shoulder. When he turned his head, he saw Hermione just beside him, panting, her eyes narrowed as she peered into the darkness.

“Hermione, what are you doing out here? Get back in–”

“NO!”

They whipped around to face the source of the shout. Professor McGonagall stood near the front of the crowd, a look of pure anguish on her face. Everyone’s gaze followed hers, and landed on the thing in Hagrid’s arms.

Not a thing.

Harry.

“No!”

“No!”

“Harry! HARRY!”

All around him, people began to scream, including Hermione, her voice filled with such agony as he had never heard. That wasn’t just the savior of the wizarding world lying dead before them. It was her best friend.

In death, Harry Potter seemed so small. Had he always been so thin? So ragged? Flashes of the four-eyed idiot through their years at Hogwarts passed through his brain. No… Harry had always been a force to be reckoned with. An idiot, yes, but a strong one. It was only in death that he seemed insignificant.

Draco felt a stab to his gut. He had been angry at Harry for running away, but the fool went and got himself killed, instead.

And for what? What would happen to them now? To their child?

He reached for Hermione’s hand.

The screams and yells around them grew louder until the Dark Lord silenced them with his terrible voice. Beside him, Hermione continued to pant, clearly hurting. How was she still standing?

“Come on,” he whispered. “Let’s slip away. This could be our last chance.”

“No,” she hissed back, her voice thick with unshed tears. “I can’t. I just… Harry–”

“Harry would want this baby to live and you know it, Hermione.”

In front of them, a voice called out, ripping them from their private conversation.

“I’ll join you when hell freezes over. Dumbledore’s Army!”

It was Longbottom. Draco gawked at Neville, his face caked with blood and a fire in his eyes. Yet another realization, far too late, that he truly was meant to be a Gryffindor. He turned back to Hermione to find her face set. It seemed Neville’s words had encouraged her.

Draco watched in horror as the Dark Lord set the Sorting Hat on a body-bound Neville’s head before lighting it up with flames. His screams rent the air for mere seconds before the world bust into chaos once more. Giants began to tumble around them curses flying once more. The yells of those around him overwhelmed his ears. What had happened to their plan?  

“Hermione, let’s go!” Draco cried as the giants’ presence drove everyone inside.

“HARRY! WHERE’S HARRY?” someone yelled from the distance. Hagrid.

He saw the blood drain from Hermione’s face at these words. Had something happened to Potter’s body? In an instant, he saw her demeanor change. The same fire that had lit up Longbottom’s eyes now burned in hers. Though she was still clearly in pain, determination filled every inch of her body. Before he could say a single word to her, she re-cast the Shield Charm on her already-hidden stomach and took off into the pandemonium.

Damnit, Granger.

There was no way in hell he was going to just stand by. This was it. He could feel it. He was sure Hermione felt it, too.

Not only had students and Order members joined the fight – the centaurs of the Forbidden Forest burst into the school. A horde of house elves carrying all manner of sharp and heavy kitchen tools swarmed the battle, stabbing and beating anything in reach.

As he ran after Hermione through the battle in the Great Hall, the true horror of war surrounded him. Duels between people he knew, Death Eaters, students, professors… it was all coming to a head before his eyes. He wanted to run away and not look back, but it seemed that wasn’t an option any longer. Somewhere in this room, his brave Hermione was fighting to the last, and if he wasn’t by her side through it all, what did that make him?

Draco pushed his way through the room to get to the bushy head he saw in the distance. He was twenty feet away. Fifteen feet. Ten feet–

“Draco!” Two figures crashed into him, holding his arms in such a vice grip that he was sure it would bruise. It took a moment to process who these people were. But the hair, silvery-blonde, seemed to give it away.

“Father!”

Lucius Malfoy’s eyes were wide with fear, and his mother’s were much the same.

“Come, Draco. We must leave at once.” His mother took his hand and began to pull him away.

“No, Mother. I’m staying. I have to stay!”

“This is not a request, Draco.” His father hissed, hands shaking.

Ripping his arm away, Draco backed away, shaking his head. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”

He took off running.

Hermione stood beside Ginny and Luna, the three of them fighting his aunt. She was so concentrated on the fight in front of her that her face gave no indication that she was in labour whatsoever. Draco was caught between terror and admiration. That Hermione could face the woman who tortured her and battle her head-on was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

But when a killing curse missed Ginny by inches, everything but terror evaporated instantly. Draco steeled himself to step in, but before he could even say a word, Mrs. Weasley dashed forward, pushing him out of the way.

“NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!”

Draco grabbed Hermione’s arm and yanked her out of the way of the incoming battle. Her breath was shallow now, and it seemed the effort of distracting herself from labour was taking a toll on her. Sweat poured from her face as Mrs. Weasley dueled his aunt.

And then, many things happened all at once.

Mrs. Weasley’s curse flew through the air, striking Bellatrix square in the chest.

The Dark Lord screamed and pointed his wand directly at the Weasley matriarch.  

From out of nowhere, Harry Potter materialized, a Shield Charm erupting from his wand.

Hermione collapsed in pain.

Draco couldn’t process it all – couldn’t bring himself to believe that Harry hadn’t died at all, but rather, had somehow survived. Instead, as the battle came to a head all around him, all he could see – all he could focus on was the girl in front of him, very much in danger, and very much about to deliver a child. It seemed his luck had run out with the healing work he had done in the empty classroom. Though she wasn’t bleeding, her labour had come on strong.

He half paid attention as Harry and the Dark Lord circled each other, talking. Hermione grunted beside him, clearly trying to listen as well. With all eyes focused on the impending showdown, no one seemed to notice Hermione Granger on the floor, her face red, breathing erratic.

It was just as well, Draco supposed.

Harry was now speaking – having an actual fucking conversation with the Dark Lord. Truly, he was crazy.

Hermione’s breath hitched beside him as she fought through a contraction. “Breathe, love,” he whispered, rubbing her back. Was there a way for them to get out? Even just to another room? They might be able to slip out, unnoticed…

But then, an odd thing happened. Draco heard his own name.

“The true master of the Elder Wand was Draco Malfoy.”

Hermione looked up at him, shock painted on her face. Whatever Harry had just said clearly struck a chord within her. The Elder Wand? But wasn’t that some myth?

“But you’re too late,” he heard Harry say. “You’ve missed your chance. I got there first. I overpowered Draco weeks ago. I took this wand from him.”

In that moment, he saw Harry in his mind’s eye, the hawthorn wand he had received in Diagon Alley held tightly in his fingers. What was Harry trying to imply?

Suddenly, two voices cried at once.

“Avada Kedavra!” The Dark Lord screamed.

Harry yelled, “Expelliarmus!”

Draco’s heart stuttered to a stop as he watched the spells hit each other, the red overpowering the green. It was almost an out-of-body experience, watching the Dark Lord’s wand fly from his hand as his body collapsed onto the ground.

He was dead.

It was over. It was done.

The sun began to rise on this new day, spilling light and warmth into the room.

Chapter Text

With Voldemort’s corpse still warm on the flagstone floor, cheering exploded with a roar. The whole room seemed to converge on Harry, leaving he and Hermione alone on near the wall in each other’s arms.

“He did it,” Hermione murmured between shallow pants. “Harry did it. Is he really gone?”

Draco nodded as tears flowed down Hermione’s cheeks, her breath coming in hiccups now. Their quiet moment was interrupted when Hermione gave a sharp cry of pain.

“Ugh, Draco. I feel can feel her. She’s so low. There’s… pressure.”

His eyes went wide. Reality came crashing back all at once. Right. The baby. There would be time to celebrate the Dark Lord’s demise later.

With a wave of her wand, Hermione removed the protective enchantments on her stomach. Her huge belly reemerged immediately, safe and sound.

With the reappearance of the weight in her stomach, Hermione shifted onto her hands and knees, rocking back and forth.

“Ma – Madam Pomfrey. Get Madam Pomfrey!” was all she was able to choke out.

Victory wiped from his mind, Draco stood immediately, his face solemn, his mind focused on one single goal. Find the Hogwarts Matron to deliver this baby safely. He pushed into the crowd of people clapping one another on the back and smiling, blissfully unaware that there was anyone in pain at this moment. Not caring what kind of attention he would draw on himself, he began to yell.

“Madam Pomfrey!” he cried, shoving people aside in an effort to find her more quickly. His eyes searched the crowd, overlooking the heads of so many familiar faces, his own parents included. Blood pounded in his ears, perhaps faster than it had even in the throes of battle.

After a few frantic minutes, he found her. She was sitting on a bench, tending to a couple Hufflepuffs with burns on their arms.

“Madam Pomfrey!” he yelled, running right up to her. “We need you.”

“I will tend to everyone in turn, Mr. Malfoy. There are many injuries that still–”

“It’s Hermione! She–”

“I will not hear another word from you, Mr. Mal–”

“No!” he cried, his voice cracking in desperation. “Hermione – she’s pregnant. Thirty-six weeks. She went into early labor during the battle.”

The words came tumbling out of his mouth in a single breath.

Madam Pomfrey sat frozen for a half a second, eyes wide as Quaffles. Draco could practically see her trying to process his words. But it seemed her healer’s reflexes were quick. Within moments, she stood, her eyes set.

“Where is she now?”

“Over by the wall. I don’t know if she can move.”

The mediwitch took off at a brisk pace, Draco on her toes. Like him, she pushed through the crowd with fierce determination.

“I stopped a placental abruption earlier,” he said as they walked.

She shot him a sharp glance.

“And you managed to heal it?”

“Yes, ma’am. Temporarily, at least.”

“Did you not think to come and find me for help earlier, Mr. Malfoy?”

Draco scowled. “I tried . You were busy with Lavender Brown.”

Madam Pomfrey paled a bit but nodded, and the two of them neared the part of the wall where he had left Hermione. Sure enough, she was right where he left her, panting and scrunching her red face. Draco kneeled down immediately.

“How are you, love? Is she coming?”

Hermione managed a nod.

“Can you move?” Madam Pomfrey inquired. “I want to take you back to my office for privacy.”

Another nod.

“Very good. Mr. Malfoy, help me, please. Up you get, dearie.” Supporting Hermione with all the strength he could muster, Draco wrapped an arm around Hermione’s middle. He could feel her trembling.

They walked through the crowd one step at a time. Now that the charms had been removed, Hermione’s ballooned stomach stood out as they made their way toward the Hospital Wing. The three of them were met with stares, open mouths, and even gasps. Several people, including Neville Longbottom and Parvati Patil tried to question her, but Draco only snarled at them to move.

As they finally emerged into the Entrance Hall, two familiar figures came running toward them.

“Let us help,” Ron offered, stretching arms out to support his best friend in place of the Matron. She nodded, relinquishing her spot to the lanky redhead.

“Very well. I will run ahead to prepare a bed.”  Madam Pomfrey bustled along the corridor toward the Hospital Wing.

Harry walked beside them. Though covered in dirt and other grime – much like everyone else – Potter showed no sign that he had come close to death just a short while ago.

He must be running on adrenaline.

“Are you all right, Hermione?” asked the Boy-Who-Lived.

From beside him, he felt Hermione’s abdomen contract slightly as she tried to speak. “Oh, Harry. I should ask you that,” she rasped.

“Don’t be silly, ‘Mione. I’m all right. Besides, I’m not the one about to have a baby.”

Hermione gave a sharp cry as another contraction seemed to rip through her. The group paused as she gathered herself.

“No, you’re not.” She spoke with clarity. “But I am grateful you’re here.” She smiled at Harry and then at Ron. “I love you both. So very much.” They both reached forward and grasped one of her hands each.

“Blimey, Hermione. You’re gonna be a mum.” Ron grinned at her, a disbelieving look on his face.

Hermione beamed, if only for a moment.

They continued on.

“When we get to the Hospital Wing,” she began, clearly out of breath, “I want you to leave me with Draco. He can fetch you when the baby’s here.”

“But–”

“No buts!”

“’Mione–”

“He is the father. And I love him.” She looked up at him, adoration in her eyes. For a moment, Draco’s breath caught in his throat. “We deserve to do this as a family.”

Draco felt his heart soar. A family.

It seemed that these were the words Harry and Ron needed to hear, because they nodded their heads. After another minute of shuffling forward, the group rounded a corner and the Hospital Wing came into view.

Almost immediately, Hermione came to a halt and leaned forward, crying out.

“Draco! I feel the baby. She’s… she’s so close. I don’t know how much further I can make it.” She looked wildly up at him, tears streaming down her dirt-smudged face as she began to sink down toward the floor.

Even though he had just fought through the night, a surge of strength from some unknown source flooded his whole body.

He was about to be a dad, and he would be damned if he would begin that role in a decrepit, half-destroyed corridor. For what felt like the hundredth time this month, Weasley’s words filled his head.

It was time to step the fuck up.

It was time to prove to himself that he was ready to be a good father. Swatting Ron’s arms away, he dipped down and scooped Hermione into his arms.

“Hold on just a couple more minutes, love. We’re almost there,” he whispered, striding forward. “Harry! Ron! Wait here. I’ve got this, okay?” Draco called these words over his shoulder.

He didn’t look back as he forged ahead toward the hospital wing, but he imagined Hermione’s friends to be standing open-mouthed, looking a bit like codfish. He almost chuckled at the thought, but Hermione began moaning at that exact moment – the moment they crossed the threshold into the Hospital Wing.

“Right over here, Mr. Malfoy.” Madam Pomfrey guided them to a screened-off bed in the far corner. As gently as he could, Draco placed Hermione on the bed. She continued to grunt.

“I assume you are the father?” the mediwitch asked as she arranged as she closed the screen behind them.

Draco nodded.

“Very well. I need you to help me get her trousers and underwear off if you can, please.” The matron gave her orders as she began to fuss over the top of Hermione’s body, casting various diagnostic spells.

Draco nodded and did as he was told. Hermione seemed to be past the point of caring about modesty, and both garments came off easily. Not wanting to remain down below for too long, he popped back up by her head, stroking her hair and reaching out to grab her hand.

“Mr. Malfoy, you said you stopped a placental abruption some time ago. Is that correct?” Madam Pomfrey hadn’t looked up from her spellwork, despite addressing him directly.

“Yes. During the battle. She had a very minor abruption several weeks ago that was healed by Fleur Delacour and then it became worse a few hours ago. I managed to heal it temporarily.”

Madam Pomfrey tutted – in approval, it seemed.

“It seems, Mr. Malfoy, that you saved Miss Granger’s life as well as the child’s. The baby is under minor distress, but it’s nothing that can’t be solved with a swift birth.” Madam Pomfrey ducked down to peer between Hermione’s legs. “And it seems as though that is exactly what we’ll get. You know, you really shouldn’t have come here at all tonight, Miss Granger. What were you thinking? You’re lucky Mr. Malfoy here has a steady wand and a quick mind, or you might very well be lying in the Great Hall with the rest of the fallen.”

Shame flooded Hermione’s face. Although he couldn’t help but agree with Madam Pomfrey’s words, he rather thought this was not the time for a lecture. There would be plenty of time to talk once the baby was born.

“What matters now is the baby, love. You’re both all right. Focus on her. Focus on our family.” He squeezed Hermione’s hand as she closed her eyes to concentrate.

Draco thought once more of his father’s words of wisdom about birth. In another life, he might have been disgusted by the idea of watching the birth of his child. All the blood and emotion… it was not something he had ever thought he would be prepared for. But standing in the Hogwarts Hospital Wing at the tender age of nearly-eighteen, his heart ached for the woman before him and for their child.

Their child who was about to arrive a month early.

He held tighter to Hermione’s hand; he would do just about anything if it meant his daughter arrived safely.

Madam Pomfrey elevated Hermione’s torso and propped up her legs.

“All right, Miss Granger. Can you still listen even if you can’t respond?”

A nod.

“You have dilated nearly all the way. Merlin knows how you managed to fight in this state. You are too far along for me to dose you with any kind of pain potion. And even if you weren’t, all my pain potion stores have been used. That means you’ll have to give it your all, dear. I know you’re tired, but your baby truly is so close.”

“How close?” Draco gulped.

“I’d say you’ll be parents before the hour’s up.”

Hermione squeezed his hand. He squeezed back, offering a weak smile.

After the nonstop, adrenaline-inducing pace of the battle, waiting in the nearly-silent Hospital Wing seemed a nearly impossible task. Time dragged on, seconds feeling like hours and minutes, like decades. Draco found himself matching Hermione’s breathing. In and out. In and out. The steady flow of oxygen calmed his overworked brain and allowed him to focus on one singular thought with his whole self.

He was going to be a dad.

When Madam Pomfrey checked on Hermione after about twenty minutes, she looked up at the two of them, a determined expression on her face, and declared Hermione fully ready to deliver.

“You’re going to push in sync with your contractions, all right, Miss Granger?”

Hermione grunted an affirmative. She seemed to be beyond words.

“And Mr. Malfoy, she’s going to need your support. Got it? Yes? Okay. Another contraction is coming. And… push!”

The mediwitch began to count backwards from ten, and Hermione howled. Draco felt his hand being crushed, but honestly, it didn’t matter. He wished he could do more.

“Mr. Malfoy! Grab her leg and pull it toward you.”

He did as he was told, reaching down. As he did, he briefly glanced down below. What he saw took his breath away. There, between Hermione's legs, was the top of a head.

A head with a mop of chestnut-coloured hair.

Emotion flooded him and pulled back to Hermione’s side. He placed his forehead to her temple. Her skin was slick with sweat, but he paid it no heed.

“I see her, love. I see our baby. She’s got your hair colour.”

The ghost of a smile floated across Hermione’s face before Madame Pomfrey coached her through another big push. Draco marveled at her strength. She had not only been awake for nearly twenty-four hours; during that time, she had broken into a bank, ridden a dragon, broken into the Chamber of Secrets, and dueled Death Eaters. But it wasn’t only that. Hermione had been carrying this child in love and secrecy and danger for months, and she still had the strength to give it her all here at the very end.

Merlin, he loved this woman.

Five more scream-inducing pushes and the tiny body slid into Madam Pomfrey’s waiting hands.

She was tiny.

Perfect.

Blue.

Silent.

Draco’s heart began to beat erratically as Madam Pomfrey gave the baby a thump on the back. Then another. And another. She rubbed the child vigorously, whispering. “Come on, little one. Come on!

The wave of joy that had crested inside fell with a crash as tears of panic began welling in his eyes. What was wrong with her? Why wasn’t she breathing?

Come on! Breathe! Breathe!

Draco chanced a glance at Hermione. She was openly sobbing, repeatedly muttering something through her tears. When he strained his ears, he was able to make out three words that made his heart shatter:

“All my fault. All my fault. All my fault .”

Draco’s world began to spin out of control. He gripped the side of the bed for support. This wasn’t fair. They had both been through so much to get to this moment. Was the battle too much stress for their daughter? They should have run to the Prefect’s bathroom when they had the chance. They should have just stayed at Shell Cottage where it was safe. Hermione shouldn’t have gone on that bloody mission and ridden a dragon.

His fists tightened around the bedsheets. Damn her and damn this bloody war!

Draco wanted to be mad at Hermione… he needed someone to blame for the blue baby in Madam Pomfrey’s arms. But when he gave himself the chance to look up at her, he saw nothing short of utter despair in her eyes.

Draco mentally kicked himself. What was he thinking? Why was he trying to talk himself into blaming Hermione? She was just as aggrieved as he was, if not more. The guilt she must have been feeling… it was unimaginable.

No, this was their burden to shoulder. Together.

Draco watched a Madam Pomfrey continued to rub the baby firmly with her palm, coaxing her to breathe. Each second that ticked by, he felt his heart sink deeper into his body. They couldn’t lose the baby. They couldn’t.

He closed his eyes, praying to some unknown something out in the universe. Save her. Please help. Please.

And then…

The baby took a great gulp of air and screamed. At once, Draco’s eyes flew open to see his daughter’s chest move up and down, life pouring into her with such richness and fullness that the whole world seemed to shift. Her skin turned a rich pink, and her bright red mouth was open and letting out such a cry as he had never heard before.

Draco joined Hermione and sobbed. He cried for his daughter’s life. He cried for their own safety. He cried for all the moments in his life, both good and horrific that led to this exact moment. It took thirty seconds of heavy weeping before either of them got it together enough to open their arms to their daughter.

With great emotion in her own eyes, Madam Pomfrey placed the newborn on her mother’s chest. The little creature squalled. Draco was sure he had never heard a more heavenly sound.

The mediwitch encouraged Draco to rub the baby’s back. The tiny girl was coated in vernix – he had read all about that. She was slimy and bloody and the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

He never wanted to move his hand.

Hermione seemed to be in shock.

“Oh my god,” she whispered, staring at the baby in her arms. “Oh my god.”

Neither of them spoke for a long while. Instead, they simply watched the little purple thing squirming and whimpering on her mother’s chest. Madam Pomfrey allowed Draco to sever the cord with his wand.

After several minutes, Hermione seemed to come back to herself; she cuddled the tiny body closer, a look of pure adoration in her eyes. “Our little girl,” she cooed, moving her finger gently over the child’s cheek.

Draco glanced briefly at Madam Pomfrey, who was massaging Hermione’s abdomen. He recalled somewhere in the recesses of his mind reading something about methods of extracting the afterbirth. Though she must still be in pain, Hermione certainly didn’t show it. She was so in awe of their daughter that it seemed her afterbirth would be delivered without a second thought.

“Oh, Draco. She’s perfect.”

He wasn’t so sure his tongue worked any longer, so he settled for dropping a kiss on both the baby’s and Hermione’s temples. How had he ever lived before this moment? How had he had a life before this woman and this tiny girl?

Though he was certainly still full of regret, he finally felt an odd sort of peace with the hellish existence he had lived for the past two years. If everything he had been through led him to this exact moment, it was all worth it.

Madam Pomfrey returned to their side after a few more minutes. Leaving a fresh pair of pyjamas, she explained that she needed to check the baby, but would return momentarily. With great reluctance, it seemed, Hermione relinquished the baby to the Hogwarts Matron’s care. The moment the child was out of her arms, Hermione slumped back onto the pillows.

“You did so well. I’m so proud of you,” he murmured in her ear.

“I’m sorry I was so foolish,” she admitted, looking away. “She… she almost died because of me. We should have run while we could. I should have never gone to Gringotts in the first place. A dragon! What was I thinking? It was… it was my idea to ride it.” Hermione turned her head further downward, refusing to look at him. “I don’t know how you can even stand look at me right now. I wouldn’t be able to look at me.”

Draco sighed. He reached out and held Hermione’s hand, stroking it with his thumb.

“I’m not going to lie and say that you didn’t scare the shite out of me when you did all those things. I was so mad at you when you were planning everything. And when Bill told us the rumour that you had ridden a dragon? I was furious.”

When he looked up and saw that Hermione was on the verge of tears again, his heart sank. “Did you know that Dean Thomas had the gall to say that your escape was ‘cool’? I wanted to strangle him right then and there.”

Hermione chanced a glance at him.

“But if you hadn’t gone… if you hadn’t come tonight… I don’t think the Dark Lord would be lying dead right now. You didn’t deal any of the final blows, but you helped make it possibl-”

“I almost killed her, Draco! I almost killed our daughter because I wouldn’t listen to you. You kept telling me that it was time to go, but I didn’t listen!”

Hermione had both eyes on him now. He didn’t waste his chance. Grabbing her on her upper arms, he shook her slightly, his own eyes boring into hers. He had to get through to her - had to make her see...

“Our daughter is alive, Hermione! You’re alive! I’m alive! You didn’t kill her. Yes, you were reckless, but what matters now is that our daughter is over there with the healer, very much alive.”

“She’s alive,” Hermione whispered.

“She’s alive,” he confirmed, his expression softening. “And what’s done is done. Just as long as you promise to never be that reckless again - carrying our children or not - then let’s be done with this kind of talk.”

Hermione sniffed and wiped the tears from her face like a child, herself.

“Children? You want to go through all this again?” Her eyebrows raised, the hint of disbelief in her face.

Draco chuckled. “Maybe not all of it. I could leave out the war if there’s a next time. Let’s see how good we are with the one over there before we rush into anything.”

Hermione tilted her head toward his, and he planted a soft kiss on her lips. Having calmed down now, Draco turned to the task presented to him by Madam Pomfrey. With great care, he gingerly removed her shirt and bra, now stained with amniotic fluid. He conjured a basin of water, warmed it, and gave his girlfriend a careful sponge bath. All manner of grime came off: dirt, dust, blood…

The sheets on the bed were still stained bright red near the apex of her thighs. He avoided cleaning that area in case there was special care involved.

She didn’t say anything as he tended to her, choosing instead to close her eyes and lean into him. There was a lovely sort of simplicity to this quiet moment. When he finished, he helped her into a soft blue nightgown. Just as he was doing up the buttons by her collarbone, the mediwitch returned with the baby. Now swaddled and sleeping, her little face peeked out from a soft white blanket.

To his surprise, she was placed in his own arms.

His first thought was that he had never seen anything so tiny in his entire life. It was almost impossible to imagine that this little being had been created from a single act of love and desperation all those months ago. But here she was, safe and sound. They were all safe. Draco soaked in her button nose, rosy lips, and wrinkly still-closed eyes. Though she hadn’t opened them yet, he hoped they would be the same chocolate brown as Hermione’s.

Hermione.

He looked up from his daughter to find the mother of his child watching him, tears in her eyes. But these weren’t the same angry tears she had cried just minutes before. These were tears of joy.

“We made it, love. She’s here and she’s all ours.”

“All ours,” he breathed.

Hermione leaned back on her pillows and sniffed. “We get to live now, don’t we?”

He nodded and found he was quite unable to wipe the smile from his face. “She’s perfect. Aren’t you? You’re so perfect.” He had never pictured himself to be the cooing type, but he couldn’t stop the high-pitched voice as it bubbled out of him.

This was utter bliss.

And then, without warning, Hermione lurched forward, clutching her stomach and letting out a hollow scream.

“Oh God, Draco. It hurts!” she shrieked, her eyes scrunched in pain. Horrified, Draco’s eyes traveled from her stomach downward. The crimson stain between her legs was growing exponentially at an alarming rate.

Eyes shooting back up, he saw Hermione had gone as white as a ghost and he knew he had to act.

“M-Madam Pomfrey! Come quickly!”

He felt the words spill from his cotton-dry mouth in a panic. He clutched the baby to his chest.

His voice must have sounded urgent, because Madam Pomfrey came tearing past the curtains. She gasped when she saw the puddle of blood gathering between Hermione’s legs.

“What happened?”

“She was fine! I swear, she was just fine! And then she started bleeding and said she was in pain! What do we do?”

The mediwitch’s demeanor switched immediately as she drew her wand to the ready position.

“Mr. Malfoy. Miss Granger’s condition is critical. It would be for the best if you leave me to sort her out.”

Draco blanched. “I’m not going anywhere. Hermione… she needs me.”

“What she needs,” Madam Pomfrey interrupted, “is professional medical intervention. You need to care for your daughter.”

Draco looked between Hermione and the baby before turning his gaze back to the matron. He could feel his breath coming in sharp pants.

“Go, Draco,” Hermione whispered from the bed. Her voice barely carried, but he heard her wishes loud and clear.

As Madam Pomfrey dove into work, Draco ducked through the hospital curtains with his daughter clutched tightly in his arms. The panic that had seemed to ebb and flow as freely as the tides that night returned in full force as his girlfriend slipped out of sight. Though his mind was clouded, his feet seemed to know where to take him. Somehow, he managed to put one foot in front of the other until he exited the through the Hospital Wing doors and found himself in the debris-ridden corridor.

He had to lean on the broken stone wall for support.

Immediately, Harry and Ron gravitated toward him, jumping up from where they had been sitting on the floor.

Draco just wished they would leave him alone.

“Blimey,” Ron said, a grin on his stupid face.

“Is Hermione all right?” asked Harry, meeting his eyes.

When he didn’t respond, Harry pressed. “Malfoy, is Hermione okay?”

Something about the way he asked - perhaps it was his earnest expression - broke some sort of dam within him. He was so tired of crying - of having reasons to cry. But that didn’t seem to stop his body from reacting.

Great sobs wracked his chest and he squeezed his eyes shut, but without sight, all he could see in his mind’s eye was blood.

Oh gods, the blood.

He couldn't lose Hermione. He couldn’t be left alone with his daughter. He just couldn’t. Today was supposed to mark a new beginning - not an end.

Harry reached out with gentle hands and shifted the baby into his own arms, cradling her as Draco continued to sob.

After a minute or so, the tears waned. Perhaps he was all cried out. He longed for his mind to lose focus - to go blank. He longed to forget that Hermione was fighting for her life on the other side of the Hospital Wing doors. Draco stared ahead without really seeing.

“What’s wrong with Hermione?” Ron asked, the tone of his voice low.

Draco took two deep breaths. Her best friends deserved to know what was happening.

“I’m not sure,” he answered; Draco didn’t recognize his own voice. It was so hollow. “She was just fine when the baby was born. Gods, she was amazing . But then she started bleeding and she was in so much pain…”

Draco took in both young men’s expressions as fear spread to their eyes.

“What if she…?” He heard the beginning of the question exit his mouth, unable to form the last word growing like a poison in his mind. “I can’t lose her. I just can’t .” More tears threatened to appear, but none fell. A melancholy stoicism settled into Draco instead.

He had seen too much… experienced too much…

If only he could stop feeling so damn much.

Harry, who still held the baby, reached out a hand and grasped his shoulder firmly. Ron followed suit. No words were exchanged, but Draco preferred that way. The silence left him room to think. But even though he had felt lost moments before, the hands of his… Merlin, were they his friends, now? The hands of his friends somehow grounded him in a way that surprised him. Even after defeating the Dark Lord and losing a brother, these two were willing to offer him comfort.

Now he truly felt like shite for assuming the worst of them for years. What else had he missed out on because of assumptions?

If there was one thing he knew for certain, it was that he was going to teach his daughter to be open to experiences and people of all kinds. He wanted her to be like Hermione.

Even if he had to instill that by himself.

Sniffing, his newborn daughter swam back into focus. Her tiny face poked out from behind Harry’s arm’s and the blankets. She seemed to be sleeping.

Hadn’t he sworn he would face one hundred Death Eaters for her? Done anything for her?

He needed to step the fuck up.

“I’ll take her back,” said Draco, reaching forward. He needed to be brave. He needed to put one foot in front of the other for himself and for his daughter.

Harry transferred the infant back into his arms, and the weight of the baby felt immediately comforting. Her tiny, warm body leaned against him, her face turning slightly toward his chest. When he touched her cheek with his forefinger, her mouth began to move as though she were sucking away at a meal.

It was a meal that her mother might never be able to provide.

Though Draco’s throat hitched again, he did not cry. He could not cry.

As though able to sense his emotions, the baby began to whimper in his arms. Her whole face crinkled up, and her gummy mouth opened wide as she began to scream.

“Shh, little one. It’s all right. I’ve got you. Daddy’s got you.”

He rocked the baby back and forth for several minutes as Harry and Ron looked on, the door to the Hospital Wing remaining still. The baby quieted after a bit, settling into a slumber once more.

After a few moments of absolute silence, the double doors swung open, revealing an exhausted Madam Pomfrey. All three young men stood at attention immediately, eyes unblinking. Draco was sure his heart stood still.

She smiled.

“Miss Granger is going to be all right.”

Draco let out a great sigh of relief, all the tension leaving his body at once. “Do you hear that, little girl? Your mummy is going to be just fine.” He cuddled her cheek to his own. “We both love you so very much.”

The mediwitch held the door open for all three young men. Draco strode in first, his eyes trained on the curtains where he knew Hermione was concealed.

There she was, leaning on her pillows looking pale and drained. Though she was clearly half-asleep, she glowed like a star when she caught his eye. Draco didn’t hesitate when he arrived at her bedside. He perched himself on the edge of the bed, the baby between them, and peppered her face with featherlight kisses.

“I thought I lost you,” he murmured into her hair.

“I’m still here, love,” she whispered back.

Draco knew that Madam Pomfrey, Harry, and Ron were probably watching this all unfold, but he didn’t give a damn. Hermione was alive. The war was over and they had made it out alive with a new baby in their arms.

“May I?” Hermione held her arms out to the bundle in his arms.

Draco couldn’t help the laugh that bubbled up. “You don’t have to ask. She’s your daughter.”

“I know-” Hermione replied. “I just-” she glanced over at Madam Pomfrey.

“You can hold the baby, dear. Just as long as you keep her off your abdomen for now. Keep using pillows for support.”

The Hogwarts Matron had tears in her eyes as she spoke. Draco smiled gratefully and turned back to Hermione, gently placing the baby in her arms. Her expression softened, eyes sparkling as she took in the infant, as though for the first time.

“She’s ours, isn’t she?” Hermione whispered, stroking the baby’s chestnut hair.

“All ours,” he replied, sliding onto the bed beside her. He wrapped an arm around Hermione’s shoulders and together they simply stared at their daughter.

At some point, the others must have slipped off, though they hardly noticed.

All that mattered in this brand new world laid asleep in their arms.  

Chapter Text

Though the rest of the world was left to pick up the pieces of a war, within the walls of the Hogwarts Hospital Wing, a quiet sense of peace settled over its occupants. Even the air itself didn’t stir as the newly-created family slept for a few hours in the aftermath of the previous night.

Hermione was the first to wake. As she floated into awareness, she felt the comforting presence of a warm body beside her own in the hospital bed.

Draco. She snuggled closer into him, and he didn’t stir at all. He must have been exhausted.

The light streaming in through the window told Hermione that it was likely midday. If she moved her head slightly, she could see a blue sky from behind the wispy curtains, where a light May breeze was blowing into the room. Truly, it was a lovely day.

What a lovely day to have a baby.

Hermione turned to her left, where Madam Pomfrey had transfigured a wooden box into a proper wicker Moses Basket. Her daughter was fast asleep inside, innocent to all the painful experiences the world had to offer. Her tiny pink body was swaddled in a soft blanket, her pin-straight chestnut hair hidden beneath a little cap with a bow on it. Her eyes had yet to stay open for more than a handful of moments, so no one had quite ascertained their colour yet.

To Hermione, she was absolutely perfect.

While she was sure all new mothers felt this way about their babies, she felt that there truly was something special about this one. This sweet babe had vicariously experienced so many horrible things even before she had taken her first breath, but she held on through it all. She was a tough little thing, that was for certain.

Looking at her now, Hermione promised herself that this little girl would never need to be that tough again.

The baby’s mouth twitched in her sleep and Hermione’s heart melted all over again.

Hermione could stare at her for hours.

After some unknown amount of time, Madam Pomfrey poked her head through the curtains. It seemed she had been able to get some sleep. After healing Hermione in the early hours of the morning, the mediwitch had excused herself to take a quick nap before heading back into the Great Hall to deal with all others who might need medical assistance.

“Hello, dearie,” she whispered, tiptoeing over. “It’s good to see you’re awake. How are you feeling?”

Hermione smiled, leaning back on the pillows that propped her up. “I’m feeling quite well, thanks to you. I’m tender, obviously, but there’s no major discomfort.”

“Thank Merlin for that.” Madam Pomfrey eyed the other figure in the hospital bed. “I see Mister Malfoy is still quite asleep.”

“Yes, well, he doesn’t have sore breasts to wake him up, does he?”

The two women chuckled.

“No, he definitely does not. Have you had a chance to feed the little one yet?”

Hermione shook her head. “Not yet. Is that bad?”

“Oh, no. I fed her some formula a couple hours ago while you were sleeping. But chances are she’ll be hungry soon.”

As if on cue, the baby began to whimper, her eyes scrunching up a bit.

“And there you have it. Shall we give breastfeeding a go?”

Madam Pomfrey scooped up the baby as Hermione unbuttoned her nightgown to expose her breast. It looked and felt entirely foreign as she gazed down at it – engorged and sore.

Draco would be so upset that they were off limits for now.

The baby was placed against her breast, and she guided her nipple into its little mouth. It took a bit of finagling, but after a few botched attempts, the little girl began to suck away. Hermione’s breath hitched at the sensation. Was it supposed to be painful like this?

As her daughter filled her belly, Hermione felt a stirring from beside her. Draco inhaled through his nose and yawned, running a hand through his sleep-tousled hair. After a minute or so, he sat up, bleary-eyed. He stared at her for a few moments, blinking, before his eyes widened properly. It seemed that the sight of his daughter attached to his girlfriend’s breast was enough of a stimulant to properly wake him up.

“How’s the baby?” he asked through another yawn.

“Good,” Hermione replied, wincing. “Trying to eat. It hurts more than I thought.”

“Oh, that’s nothing to worry about, Miss Granger,” Madam Pomfrey reassured her, patting her shoulder. “This process will likely hurt for a week or so, but the pain doesn’t last.”

Hermione vaguely thought she remembered reading that in one of her stolen books. Her brain seemed so fuzzy.

“I Flooed St. Mungo’s just a bit ago to ask for a pediatric healer to come and visit. They said they would send him over later this afternoon and you can ask all the questions you like. He’ll check on the baby and make sure everything looks good.” Madam Pomfrey paused for a moment, and Hermione saw her expression shift; her lips pursed and her eyebrows knitted together in concern. “Now, Miss Granger, since you are awake, I must express my utter shock to find you in this position.”

Hermione felt her cheeks heat up. She opened her mouth to respond, but shame kept her from doing anything other than stuttering.

“Well… erm… you see…” She groaned in frustration as she searched for the right words. “Draco and I… it just…”

Madam Pomfrey shook her head. “You misunderstand me, Miss Granger. While, yes, I was mildly surprised to see a young woman of ambition such as yourself pregnant at eighteen, you are far from the first young woman in your position. I was speaking to the condition of your reproductive system after our conversation two years ago.”

Hermione’s eyes widened in comprehension. Looking up, she saw a similar expression on Draco’s face.

“How you managed to conceive and carry a child nearly to term is beyond me,” the mediwitch continued. “And the added stress of fighting in a war… you’re an extraordinary witch, Miss Granger.”

“I don’t feel extraordinary,” replied Hermione, looking down at her daughter. “I feel stupid for ever putting her in harm’s way.”

“Yes, well… it’s a near miracle that things turned out as well as they did. You can thank Merlin for that and do your best to learn from it.”

“Do you have any guess as to what happened?” Draco asked, his eyes flicking back and forth between the baby and the healer.

“Your placenta was off to one side, was it not?”

Hermione nodded.

“Well, that side was the opposite side as your curse scar, Miss Granger. It is my guess – and I may be wrong – that one side of your uterus contains more scarring than the other. It seems this one–” she indicated the baby, “–landed on the correct side.”

The baby let go of Hermione’s breast and began to fuss. She paused and blinked downward at the squalling child. She had read about infant care, but having a crying baby in her arms was completely different.

“I think we’re supposed to wind her now. Is that right?” she asked.

Draco held out his arms. “May I?”

Hermione watched in fascination as Draco took the newborn in his arms with utmost care and held her up to his shoulder. With only a couple rubs, the baby let out the smallest of burps and immediately settled into the crook of her father’s neck for a nap.

Draco closed his eyes in what appeared to be utter bliss.

“Shall I leave you two for a while? I’m sure you’d like to rest and talk together before the pediatric healer arrives. I’ve got other matters to attend to.”

Hermione briefly thought to inquire about the happenings outside the walls of the Hospital Wing, but before she could even begin to formulate a question, Madam Pomfrey bid them goodbye and disappeared through the curtains. Her shoes clicked against the flagstone floor as she made her way back toward the corridor.

“I like the look. You should keep it.”

Hermione turned to see Draco looking at her, baby asleep in his arms, one eye open, and a smirk on his otherwise peaceful face.

“Wha–? Oh!” Hermione pulled her nightgown closed and buttoned it back up. Even though she was perfectly comfortable being naked around him, there was something particularly vulnerable about leaving her breast by itself out in the open.

Draco gave a soft laugh. “Damn. And here I was hoping for a show.”

If he hadn’t been holding the baby, she would have swatted at him. Instead, she settled for sticking her tongue out. It felt nice to flirt with Draco – to just be around him and feel light hearted because of it.

“So,” he said, speaking in low tones. “Now what?”

“Honestly, I have no clue.” Hermione leaned into her pillows and watched Draco cuddle their daughter. “What are we supposed to do while the baby sleeps? Watch her? Because that’s all I want to do.”

“Same.”

“Do you want to put her down? You look uncomfortable in that position.”

He shook his head, his loving gaze fixed on their daughter. “No. I think I’ll hold her a bit longer.”

After a few minutes of doing just that, Draco spoke again.

“You know, we’re going to have to pick a name for her sooner rather than later.”

Hermione sighed. “I suppose we can’t just call her baby .”

“Think of how much she’d be ridiculed as a First Year when her name is called by the Sorting Hat.” Draco snorted. “No, we’d better pick something else.”

Hermione reached for a wand – still Bellatrix’s, unfortunately – and summoned the one book she had perused more than all the others combined.

Draco shifted the baby so she laid horizontally in his arms and leaned back onto the pillows beside her on the hospital bed; he nuzzled her bushy hair, planting a kiss on her temple. “So, what should we name her, then?”

Hermione paused, considering her words carefully. “I want to name her something special – something with meaning. But nothing trite like ‘Hope.’ It just doesn’t seem… enough. Do you know what I mean?”

Draco nodded as he looked down at the baby. “There’s always the Black family tradition I mentioned. A celestial name would be easy enough. They’re pretty limited and have interesting histories. And heavenly bodies are significant in meaning.”

Hermione’s heart clenched a bit, Bellatrix’s wand gripped a little too tightly in her hand. Frankly, she had come in contact with that member of the Black family enough to last a lifetime. And naming her sweet, innocent daughter with a Black family tradition just didn’t sit right, somehow. She wanted to be open, though – wanted to make Draco happy. “Did you decide whether that’s an important tradition for you to fulfill?” she asked. She held her breath as he answered. 

“Well,” Draco began, his grey eyes searching her face, “I guess it doesn’t matter to me. Not really. It’s not as though it’s a Malfoy tradition, per se.”

“I think it’s a lovely tradition,” said Hermione, brushing a strand of hair from her eyes. “But…” her voice tapered off.

“But?” Draco raised an eyebrow, rearranging the baby slightly. She made a little noise, and he began to rock back and forth a bit.

Hermione took a breath. “I want this little girl to know with every fibre of her being how loved and wanted she has always been. And a Black family name — a constellation name is lovely, but it just doesn’t seem to fit.”

The two looked down at their daughter. She was fast asleep in her father’s arms, swaddled like a gift, just for them. She even had a little bow on top of her sweet head.

“She looks like a little birthday present, wrapped up like that, doesn’t she?” Hermione reached forward and caressed her little cheek, cooing at their daughter. “You’re a perfect birthday present, darling.”

Suddenly, Draco went slightly stiff. “Hermione, can you take her? I want to see the name book.”

After Draco transferred the baby over to her, she looked on with curiosity as he flipped through the dogeared book they had poured over at Shell Cottage. He seemed oddly determined, his eyes narrowed in focus as he turned page after page. Occasionally, he stopped to consider something before folding the corner of a page and moving on.

“Right,” said Draco after a while. “I’ve got some ideas and I want to hear what you think.”

Hermione looked up from the baby, who was still in the midst of her milk-induced sleep.

“The way I see our daughter… it’s like you said. She’s a gift, isn’t she? She’s a gift we didn’t ask for, but one that we needed. I think… I think something in this awful world knew what it was doing when McGonagall left me under your watch. And I think it knew when I came running to your aid you all those months ago.”

His eyes never left hers as he spoke, and her heart leapt at the earnest tone in his voice. Was he even the same Draco Malfoy she had agreed to take on as a ward nearly a year ago? Had his eyes always possessed the ability to be filled with such kindness? His voice with such a gentle lilt?

“It’s like you said, I want her to know that we loved her before we even knew her. That we wanted her, even though we’re young..”

Hermione felt tears prickle in her eyes.

“So… I went through and found every name that means ‘gift.’ I think I got them all. What do you think?” He smiled tentatively, and she nodded through her tears.

“It’s a perfect idea.”

Draco grinned. “Okay. Let me know what you think of these.” He cleared his throat. “Donatella.”

Hermione blanched and shook her head vigorously. “Absolutely not.”

“Dorothy?”

“Better, but I just think of Oz.”

“Oz? What’s that?”

“It’s a place in a famous muggle book. Dorothy is the main character.”

“Ah.” Draco’s eyes traveled down the page.

“Eudora? Pandora?”

Hermione shook her head again. “No… not those. They’re too… archaic sounding. Besides, they’re too similar to… to Nymphadora .” Hermione took a deep breath as she spoke Tonks’s name aloud.

Silence settled between them for a minute. It was clear what was on both of their minds.

It was Draco who broke that silence.

“How about Shiloh?”

Hermione whispered the name to herself, feeling the sounds roll off her tongue. The name had a sweet quality to it without being banal. Gazing down at the little girl in her arms, the name floated across her mind again. Shiloh.

“And a middle name?” she asked, not looking up.

Draco paused, sifting between the pages of the book, seemingly without much thought. “We want a name with meaning, right? Well, what kind of gift is she?”

In the end, they chose for their daughter to be a gift of joy for a world that sorely needed it.

Their little Shiloh Beatrice Malfoy.


The next day after the pediatric healer had confirmed Shiloh's health, Draco and Hermione finally decided – with Madam Pomfrey’s permission, of course – to allow for visitors on the ward. Though they had only been confined for a little more than twenty-four hours, so much had changed during that time. She knew it was time to come to grips with the reality outside of the little bubble they had created, but a good part of her wanted to remain in this quiet world forever, just the three of them.

That being said, she wanted more than anything to see Harry and Ron. Her memories after Shiloh’s birth were a bit hazy, especially after all the blood loss. Had they come to visit? She couldn’t really recall.

What Hermione did know was this: she had yet to properly grieve, and knew that process couldn’t begin properly until she had given them hugs and spoken to them.

It was just after lunchtime when Hermione heard the Hospital Wing doors swing open, followed by the sounds of two pairs of feet crossing the floor to their little curtained-off safe haven. Draco was dozing in an armchair he had conjured, his mouth hanging open in his sleep. Shiloh was lying in her lap, alert and looking around with her dark eyes, the rest of her body snuggly swaddled. Hearing the footsteps brought an instant smile to her face.

“’Mione?” Harry called out softly from behind the curtain.

“Come in,” she answered, looking up from her daughter.

Her two best friends rounded the corner, sheepish grins on their faces. Both had clearly showered and slept since she saw them last. On the outside, they actually looked perfectly normal. But nearly seven years of friendship let her see otherwise.

Harry looked relieved and relaxed, yes, but he also looked remarkably sad.

Ron, although he had clearly slept, still had bags under his eyes. What was keeping him from sleeping well?

Yet, here they were, pushing aside their grief to visit her during what was supposed to be a blissful time in her life. Hermione felt her heart soar as her friends beamed at her for a moment before their eyes traveled to the little creature in her lap.

“Blimey, Hermione. You’re a mum.”

Hermione shook her head, a laugh escaping her lips. “Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“And you’re all right?” Harry asked, tilting his head, his green eyes glued to her.

“The healers say I’ll make a full recovery. I’ll be up and moving in another day or so. Oh, don’t look so worried, Harry. I’m fine .”

“And the baby?” Ron piped up. He was completely entranced, it seemed, his eyes never leaving her daughter.

“Perfectly healthy,” came a drawling voice beside the bed. Draco had woken up. “Four pounds and six ounces. Seventeen and three-quarters inches long. She’s small, but perfect.”

Her boyfriend stood and stretched, clapping both Harry and Ron on the shoulder before walking over toward the bed.

Hermione furrowed her eyebrows. Since when had the three of them been such friendly terms?

Draco reached out and lifted Shiloh from her lap, taking care to support her head in his palm. Though the little girl fussed a bit, she settled into her father’s arms with relative ease. Hermione’s heart stuttered a bit as Draco leaned down to kiss her and then their daughter. Then, his chest puffed out with pride, he turned to Harry and Ron.

“I’d like to officially introduce you to our daughter. Meet Shiloh Beatrice Malfoy.” Draco twisted so both young men could get a good look at the baby.

“She’s so tiny,” Ron whispered, reaching out a hand.

“Want to hold her?” Draco posited.

Ron’s eyes went wide for a moment, the shadow of fear crossing his face.

“Erm… I dunno. What if I drop her?”

“You would never drop your goddaughter, would you?” Hermione suggested, smiling over at her redheaded best friend.

Ron gaped at her. “W-what? G-g-godfather? Me?”

“Yes, Weasley. You .” Draco stepped forward and placed the baby in Ron’s arms.

The newly-appointed godfather stared down at the baby in his arms. His whole body had gone stiff as a board.

“Am… am I doing it right?” His voice cracked, panic in his face.

The tightness that had lived in Hermione’s chest for the past year began to relax as she watched Draco Malfoy teach Ron how to hold her daughter while Harry looked on, amused.

This is what they had made all those sacrifices for. This is why she had Obliviated her parents. This is why she had camped in the woods for all those months and escaped from Gringotts on the back of a dragon.

It was all for a moment just like this, when the world finally seemed right again.

Shiloh ended up remaining asleep in Ron’s arms for some time as Harry recounted the story of what had happened to him before Hagrid had carried him back to the castle, supposedly dead. Hermione marveled at her best friend’s courage. Not only had he actually died and returned to life, but he had somehow found the strength to support her immediately after Voldemort’s downfall, waiting to sleep until both she and Shiloh were safe.

What an amazing best friend she had.

“But none of it would have happened without your mum, Draco,” Harry explained as he sat on the foot of her hospital bed.

Draco looked up as Harry spoke his name. “Without my mother?” His eyes narrowed.

“She lied to Voldemort. Told him I was dead.”

Draco winced at the name before she saw a myriad of emotions flash across his face. “Why would she do something like that?”

“She asked about you. Asked if you were alive. I think she just wanted to find you and get out, honestly.”

Draco licked his lips and blinked rapidly. “I saw both my parents right at the end. I was trying to get to Hermione, and they wanted me to run away with them. But I couldn’t, not when I’ve seen them do the things they’ve done.”

There was a heavy silence for several moments before Draco spoke again.

“Where are they now?”

Harry cleared his throat.

“Both of them were taken in for questioning. Your father has been detained, but your mother was released. She’s back at home, if I heard correctly.”

Another stretch of silence settled around the curtained-off area. Hermione watched as her boyfriend battled with himself, trying to come to grips with this new information. His eyes, so full of life and wonder when he looked at Shiloh, seemed dull.

“That’s probably for the best, then,” he grunted.

A squalling noise broke the tension after a few seconds. Hermione shifted her attention from Draco over to Ron, who had finally settled comfortably into the conjured armchair. Shiloh had woken up and had begun to cry, her tiny face scrunched up.

Ron looked as though he was seeing a thestral for the first time.

“What did I do? I swear, I didn’t mean to!” He was so alarmed it was almost comical.

“You didn’t do anything, Ron.” Hermione laughed as she spoke. “She’s probably just hungry. Give her here.”

Ron stood and transferred the infant back over into the crook of her left arm while she began to unbutton her nightgown with her right.

Before she had hardly exposed any skin, both Harry and Ron managed to turn purple.

“I think,” croaked Harry, “it’s time we go. We’ll see you again soon, all right? We’ll let you know about… erm… about funerals.”

Hermione paused as she fiddled with the second button. Her mouth went dry, but she managed to nod before Harry and Ron left, leaving her free to get Shiloh into a good position.

Over the course of the next couple days, they had several other visitors. Ginny, Luna, Neville, and a handful of other friends stopped by to visit and express varying degrees of shock about her pregnancy. Luna, of course, had known, and brought a sort of talisman to ward off unlucky creatures. Ginny questioned the two of them thoroughly as she paced around the Hospital Wing, hands on her hips. Neville sheepishly asked to hold Shiloh.

Professor McGonagall had stopped by as well. She congratulated them and even admired the baby for a bit. Then, to Hermione’s great surprise, the new headmistress expressed full support for both her and Draco to return to school come September to complete their NEWTs, baby and all.

“Of course, we can discuss specifics later,” Professor McGonagall said, a wistful smile on her face. “But know that you two have my full support. Had I known that placing Mr. Malfoy in your care would lead to this…” She actually managed a chuckle. “Well, nevermind that now. I look forward to seeing all three of you on September the first.”

Lying in bed that night, Draco expressed to her worry that Mrs. Weasley had not come to visit them in the Hospital Wing. Funerals would begin tomorrow, and they were going to be released in the morning in order to attend.

“She must be out of her mind with grief right now, Draco. Give her time.”

Hermione cupped his cheek with her hand, and he closed his eyes, sighing. “Yeah, I guess. Still… I just wanted someone motherly to know. I’m not ready to talk to my own mother yet. And your parents…” Draco paused, his eyes fluttering open. “Sorry.”

Hermione gave a sad smile. “It’s all right. I still don’t regret my decision to Obliviate them. They’re safe.”

Draco took her hand and laced their fingers together. The touch kept her grounded.

The two of them fell asleep holding hands, only to wake an hour later to the cries of their daughter.


 

Hermione insisted on attending a number of funerals, and Draco didn’t have the energy or the will to beg off any of them. The two of them often sat somewhere near the back in case Shiloh got fussy. Each funeral seemed to be more solemn than the next; it was as though their grief compounded with each one. Though he didn’t know most of the names and faces whose funerals he sat through, he couldn’t help but feel gratitude that they gave their lives so that the survivors could live theirs.

He wasn’t sure if he was truly deserving of this fate, but he planned to use the rest of his own days to their fullest.

The first funeral that Draco found particularly difficult was the joint one for Professor Lupin and his cousin, Tonks. He woke that morning to find Hermione feeding Shiloh in her rocking chair, tears in her eyes.

They had returned to Shell Cottage a few days previously at Bill and Fleur’s insistence; he was grateful that he had taken the time to put the nursery together all those days ago, because now all he wanted to do was stare at his daughter. Seeing his girlfriend’s distress, Draco padded downstairs to fetch her a cup of water; she was likely going to cry a lot today, and the pediatric healer said she needed to keep up her fluids to feed the baby. When he returned, Hermione took tentative sips, her eyes still red-rimmed.

“Tonks was supposed to have early-morning feedings like this,” she said wistfully as she leaned back into the rocking chair.

Draco didn’t have a meaningful response. Instead, he rubbed her knee in what he hoped was a comforting way.

When they had dressed in their black robes, they Apparated to the quiet cottage where the Tonks family had made their home. He, Hermione, and Shiloh arrived thirty minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin, though they were hardly the first ones there. Already present were a handful of Weasleys, Harry, and a few Order members.

Draco cradled Shiloh in one arm, reaching for Hermione’s hand with the other. Together, they rounded the corner to the garden where the caskets were sitting in front of a cluster of chairs. He found it rather odd. The flowers were budding, the tips of their bright petals exposed to the warm air. It seemed that a garden still grew, even in sadness. Pushing down his grief, Draco led Hermione over to a pair of open seats. But before they got far, Draco felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning, he blinked in surprise.

“M-mother?”

Narcissa Malfoy stood before him, draped in black, her face softer than he had seen it in years.

“Draco,” she began, reaching out a hand toward his face.

He drew away on instinct, but felt his stomach twinge with regret when he saw the sting of rejection in his mother’s eyes. When she spoke, it was not with the haughty voice he had come to associate with her, but rather, it was with a tentative tone.

“How are you?”

“I’m getting by, mother.” Draco made sure his responses were like ice. He wasn’t ready to forgive his mother. Not quite yet.

Narcissa smiled sadly at him for a moment before her eyes traveled down, only the faintest surprise on her face.

“So the rumours are true, then. There is a baby.” Her voice was thick with emotion.

Clearly, she had spotted Shiloh, her tiny face tucked into the crook of his arm.

“Yes. Hermione and I had a child.”

“Hermione? You mean Miss Granger?” Draco watched as his mother’s eyes flicked toward his girlfriend, who stood just behind him. The woman’s face turned slightly green. Clearly, she had just made some sort of connection. What had she realized that made her nearly sick? That the mother of his child had been tortured on her drawing room floor? Or that she was a Muggleborn?

“Yes, mother. And I love her very much.” There was no question in his voice. Hermione squeezed his hand.

His mother nodded slightly, her eyes wide. “I see.” She cleared her throat. It was odd, seeing her so flustered. He had always known her to be fairly stoic, yet now, she faltered.  “May I hold the baby?”

Draco paused for a moment at the request. He glanced at Hermione. Though he shouldn’t have been surprised, he saw a small, encouraging smile and slight bob of her head.

“Go on,” she whispered.

With stiff steps, he moved forward and transferred the baby to his mother’s arms. She stared down with a look he had hardly ever seen on her face. Her eyes were soft and her lips, upturned. It was a look full of love.

“My grandson…”

“Actually,” Hermione touted, “ she’s your grand daughter .”

His mother’s head snapped up. “ She? You mean…? But that’s impossible. Going back centuries…!”

“Yes, mother,” Draco said as he tried to hold back a smile. “It’s a girl.”

Draco Malfoy had never seen his mother cry before. Not really. He had seen her upset on occasion, but never before had he seen tears gather in her eyes like they did now. A single tear trickled down her cheeks as she looked down at her grandchild. Between her little sniffs, she spoke a few small words that made his heart ache.

“I’m so sorry, my little dragon.”

Draco felt an odd sort of hitch in his chest. When was the last time she had used that name? He must have been ten or eleven at most. Just thinking about those simpler times made him want to be the one crying.

His mother returned Shiloh to his arms and handed Hermione a small leather volume with a small smile. “I found it under your pillow after you left, Draco. I can’t see what’s in it, but somehow I figure you aren’t sleeping with your potions notes.”

Draco looked over at the book in Hermione’s hands and felt a smile instantly grow on his face. The journal.

His heart stuttered with gratitude, but before he had the chance to say anything, Narcissa Malfoy strode away toward the Apparition point. Clearly, that had been enough of an emotional display for his mother.

This particular funeral more than any other yet made Draco feel grateful to be alive. He and Hermione elected to sit closer to the front this time. A grieving aunt Andromeda had relinquished Teddy to his godfather’s care temporarily, and it seemed the infant was a welcome distraction for a distraught-looking Harry.

When the first few handfuls of dirt had been cast onto the graves, they all headed back to the house for a luncheon. Hermione kissed him and left to speak with some members of the Order.  Draco, still on baby duty, sidled over toward Harry, who clearly looked uncomfortable caring for Teddy.

“Arm asleep?” he asked jokingly.

Harry sighed. “Has been for over thirty minutes, but I don’t want to move him.”

For the first time, Draco got a good look at his new cousin. As Lupin had described with pride, the little boy was clearly a metamorphmagus. His hair was a brilliant turquoise at only a few weeks old.

“He’s so big,” Draco marveled.

“Yeah, well he’s technically supposed to be six weeks older than Shiloh. He was on time and she was very early.”

He found it rather odd, standing next to Harry Potter comparing babies. Hadn’t they just been fighting a war? Hadn’t they just been fighting with each other in school? Draco wondered if he would ever get used to being friends with the Boy-Who-Lived.

But even if he didn’t get used to it, there was one friendship he was willing to kindle.

“Shiloh, meet your new best friend, Teddy.”

Draco held his daughter’s face close to Teddy’s. Both babies were asleep and didn’t notice a thing.


The hardest funeral was Fred’s.

Mrs. Weasley remained practically inconsolable. According to Ginny, she had been shut up in her room for days, not taking food or speaking to anyone. The youngest Weasley sibling had massive bags under her own eyes – so different from the ferocious eyes Draco had seen this past summer when they had flown together. Yet, she managed the ghost of a smile when she saw Shiloh.

“Hello, little girl,” she cooed, planting a kiss on her little head.

This time, at Ginny’s insistence, he and Hermione sat in the second row, just behind the Weasley family. The funeral proceeded with a kind of heavy melancholy that somehow didn’t seem right for Fred Weasley. He should have gone out with a bang; there should have been some sort of practical joke played on the attendees. Whoopie cushions on the chairs. Cursing flowers. Something like that would have been fitting.

Instead, all Draco could hear was the solemn sound of silence between speakers.

Lee Jordan. Angelina Johnson. Bill Weasley. They all stood before the grieving crowd and spoke of fond memories all centered around Fred. Through it all, George hardly looked up from his shoes.

To everyone’s surprise, Mrs. Weasley stood to speak as well.

Draco felt his heart break as he watched her stand beside her son’s casket. This was the woman who had taken him in and treated him as a son without question; she had taught him to cook with patience and had nearly broken his ribs each time she hugged him. This was the woman who had held him like a proper mum as he cried.

Just a few words into her speech, Shiloh began to fuss in his arms. Her little newborn squalls grew louder, even after he tried to shush her gently.

People were starting to stare.

Shooting an apologetic look at Hermione, he placed a single hand on her thigh before standing. He wanted to duck out before he really drew attention away from the funeral. As he began to walk swiftly away, Shiloh started screaming. Three-quarters up the aisle, Draco froze in panic. What if his movement had hurt her? What if she was in pain?

Every eye was on him now.

Including, it seemed, Mrs. Weasley.

The family matriarch had stopped speaking altogether, and was looking at him as though she was seeing him for the first time. Giving the casket a short glance, a smile slowly spread across her face as her gaze returned to Draco.

“You know,” she began again, dabbing at her eyes. “Fred was always my fussiest baby. Oddly enough, it was the only way he was the opposite of his brother. He cried constantly, and Arthur and I couldn’t for the life of us find a way to calm him. That’s how we actually learned to tell the two of them apart. If the baby was asleep, that was Georgie. If he was crying, it was likely Freddie. Of course, that stopped once they learned to make each other laugh.”

She sniffed once more, leaving her spot at the front, and began to walk toward Draco. He was still frozen with Shiloh crying in his arms. Mrs. Weasley drew near, and heads followed her every movement. Just inches away, she stopped and reached out a hand to stroke the baby’s head.

“Hello, little one. I don’t believe we’ve met.” Mrs. Weasley smiled down at Shiloh for a moment before looking right at Draco, though she continued to speak to everyone.

“After many failed attempts, I only ever found one method to get Fred to settle.”

Mrs. Weasley gently maneuvered his arms so Shiloh shifted to her side with his entire forearm supporting her little body. She then began to help Draco sway back and forth. After a few moments, her cries turned to whimpers, and then her whimpers turned to quiet breathing, her eyes drooping.

“Just like that. Very good, love,” she murmured, her eyes trained on him. In those few moments, Draco swore he saw a little light return to her face. “I loved my Fred so very much. Even if I didn’t always admit it, he made me laugh. Love your little girl, Draco. I hope she’ll make you laugh one day, too.”

Mrs. Weasley patted his face gently before returning to her seat.

As his daughter’s slept on, Draco looked just beyond Fred’s casket at the edge of the orchard.

The flowers were in full bloom.


When they returned to Shell Cottage in the late afternoon, both new parents collapsed onto the bed after setting Shiloh down in her cot. Draco felt bad for even thinking about it, but he was officially funeral-ed out.

“Well I don’t know about you,” said Hermione from his left side. “But I am ready to enjoy a nice quiet time for a while.”

Draco chuckled. “Do you think it’s possible?”

“I think so. She’ll keep us grounded.” Hermione gestured toward their sleeping daughter before curling into his side.

He felt his heart jump a bit as his girlfriend hugged him, one leg slung over his hips, her nose nuzzled into his shoulder. Even though the evidence was right in front of him, Draco still wanted to pinch himself occasionally.

This was now his life. A girlfriend. A daughter. A future.

Just the thought of it all was enough to fill his heart with enough joy to last ages.

He felt his eyelids getting heavy, and he snuggled into Hermione’s side.

And then, to his right, came a loud squishing sound.

Hermione gave a sleepy chuckle. “I got the last one. You’re on nappy duty this time, Draco.”

With a groan, he stood and padded three steps over to the cot.

He made a face. “Ugh. It’s everywhere.”

Hermione busted out laughing.

 

That evening, at Hermione’s suggestion, they walked into town to get some fresh air and to let Bill and Fleur have some time alone. Shiloh was strapped to his chest in a contraption Hermione had insisted they buy. Her little head was cradled next to his heart.

Beside him, his girlfriend held his hand as they strolled down the green path. The sound of waves rolling onto the shore created a nice rhythm for this new life. Neither of them spoke of anything important as they walked – just tidbits about the weather and about what classes they might like to take this coming Fall.

The residents of the nearby town seemed to have no real inkling that anything momentous had happened in the last several days. They continued to go about their daily lives, uninterrupted by anything as horrific as war.

Draco found the normalcy of it all jarring and comforting all at once.

Down several cobblestone streets they wandered, stopping occasionally to check on Shiloh or peer in a shop window. As the sun began to sink low in the sky, Draco’s ears perked up when he heard a familiar tinkling sound in the distance.

He turned to face Hermione, raising his eyebrows in a smirk.

“Fancy some ice cream?”

They sat on a bench and ate their Magnum bars. Draco had to eat extra carefully to avoid dripping ice cream on his daughter.

Hermione finished hers first, crumpling the wrapper in her hand. When she looked up, it was clear she was holding back a giggle.

Draco liked it when she laughed. He missed watching the way her nose crinkled.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, a smile growing automatically on his lips.

“It’s your face.”

Draco furrowed his eyebrows, reaching up with his free hand to pat his cheeks. “Why? What’s wrong with my face?”

“You’ve got chocolate on your chin, love.”

He wiped the spot with his thumb, but instead of finding a napkin, he reached over and ran the finger over Hermione’s lips.

“Draco, what are you–?”

He kissed her, long and slow, savoring the feeling and taste of her mouth. There would be many kisses like this in the time to come. Perhaps hundreds or even thousands. Draco vowed to savor each one.

Hermione grinned at him when he pulled away.

“I love you, you know,” she said, clearly in a daze.

“I know.”

They smiled at each other for a minute before Shiloh began to squirm. Hermione offered to take over holding her.

“We should get back,” she suggested. “The sun’ll be setting soon.”

She stood and held out her hand, and he took it.

As they wandered back, Draco sighed.

“Sickle for your thoughts?” Hermione asked, tilting her head.

“I’m just thinking about what comes next.”

“Yeah? What do you want?”

Draco paused, considering his answer. He looked down at his sweet daughter – his little gift.

A pause.

“To live.”