For the first time since moving to California, Hermione felt lighthearted. It was as if she was finally accepting that she could be content with the lot she had drawn in life. The road to her destiny had been long and difficult and didn’t lead to the destination that she had envisioned, but all the same, she was willing to accept her fate. Having Michelle, Shane and Russell in her life made it bearable and she actually looked forward to the future now.
They had invited her to join them for their end-of-summer camping trip. They were going to Pismo Beach with a small group of friends for the long Labor Day weekend. Labor Day weekend marks the end of summer for Americans and is generally a time to sit around with loved ones and moan about the impending change of weather or the return to school. This was going to be her first chance to experience the holiday since she moved here. They were leaving the following morning for the campgrounds.
Hermione and Michelle sat in Giovanni’s in Morro Bay eating the best fish and chips in town. The two friends had decided to spend the day walking along Embarcadero Street enjoying the tourist shops and having ‘girl time’ away from Shane and Russell. After their trip to the beach several weeks earlier, the girls had become fast friends who needed no excuse to get together for lunch, shopping or whatever else they could think of. Shane and Russell had gotten used to Hermione stopping by with a new book for Russell or an invitation for all three of them to go to her house for dinner. They thought nothing of her being at their house for lunch. She had truly become part of their family.
It was a gorgeous August afternoon in sunny California. The morning chill had worn off and now they sat by a window overlooking a calm sea. The chairs next to them were occupied by the many packages they had accumulated on their morning shopping spree. Bags with useless treasures such as a puka shell necklace for Ginny, braided leather bracelets for George and Harry, and the ghastliest seashell clock for Hermione’s living room. Michelle had fared a bit better, she had found Russell a new body suit and Shane some wax for his board at the local surf shop. She had also bought a ‘California Surfer’ logo tee for herself and an ‘I Suck at Surfing’ tank top for Hermione.
“You would not believe the look on Shane’s face when he heard that you were thinking of asking him for surfing lessons,” Michelle giggled, her eyes twinkling with mirth. “I thought he was going to choke on his sandwich.”
Hermione covered her mouth as she tried to contain her laughter until she’d swallowed her food. “I guess he’s seen me trying to ride Russell’s skateboard.” she sputtered.
“Yeah, but he still tried to be all polite about it. He was all ‘you know babe, maybe she should try boogie boarding first’. It was hysterical!” Michelle couldn’t stop smiling as she thought about her husband trying to get out of giving her new friend lessons.
“I hope you finally told him you were joking,” scolded Hermione. “I don’t want that lovely man trying to avoid me every time I go to your house.”
Reaching out to place her hand on Hermione’s, Michelle was still laughing, “No, I told him. I had to. I felt sorry for him; he was starting to hyperventilate at the thought that he might be responsible for the demise of the Hermione Granger. What would Harry Potter and Ron Weasley…” with a small gasp she stopped laughing and stared wide-eyed at Hermione. “I am so sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to…”
“No. Stop. It’s perfectly alright.” Hermione rushed to assure her. “I know that a lot of witches and wizards still associate us as a trio. It is absolutely fine.” Giving Michelle’s hand a reassuring squeeze, she continued, “Listen, you don’t have to walk on pins and needles around me. I’m not made of glass.”
“I know you’re not.” Michelle said. “It’s just that you seem a bit happier and I don’t want to do anything to make you…”
“Stop it!” Hermione admonished her. “Michelle, I am much better now,” she said in a softer voice. “And it is due, in a large part, to you and your family. You’ve accepted me, no questions asked, and helped me forget that I’m oceans away from home.”
“There have been times when I have wanted to ask questions but I figured that you would open up when you were ready,” admitted Michelle with a smile.
“I appreciate your patience with me. I only want you to know that I am not as fragile as I would appear.” Hermione was getting a bit nervous. “The thing is…the reason I’m even here, is that someone I love greatly decided that I was too weak or breakable or whatever, to face the reality of our life and I was forced out of his life, for my own good,” she explained.
She was quiet for a few minutes before saying, “Two months ago I would’ve never thought that I would spend a whole afternoon shopping and having lunch with a girlfriend. I would never have thought I would have someone to talk to.” Looking Michelle in the eyes she confessed that two months ago she had been ready to give up, ready to look for another place to move to because Camarillo reminded her too much of home.
“I guess you’ve really missed having Ginny to talk to.”
“Actually,” Hermione said, “I miss George more than anything.” She paused then continued, “After Ron and I broke up, George became my best friend. There was nothing in the world that I couldn’t tell him.” Her voice drifted off as she thought about the friend she had left behind. “He was the only one that could understand how empty I felt when I lost the one person I thought would be with me forever.”
“I can understand how being here, the weather, the ocean, how they would remind you home,” Michelle was eyeing the witch closely, “but what I haven’t been able to understand is why the thought of home is so painful for you.”
“I know. I can understand how that would be confusing, especially to someone who doesn’t know the whole story, but it’s been too difficult to think about that part of my life, much less talk about it.” She couldn’t keep the sadness out of her voice.
“Listen, Hermione, you don’t have to go into it with me if you’re not ready.” Michelle was suddenly terrified that she had pushed her too far and reaching across the table she desperately tried to reassure her friend.
For a while the two women simply sat in silence, each lost in thought. It was a few minutes before Hermione could make herself begin to tell her story. She let her gaze scan the majestic sea, her fingers twisting her napkin as she allowed herself to be infused by the past. It seemed as if she were falling into a pensieve, surrounded by memories she had spent so long trying to forget. For a moment it was as if she was all alone, everyone else in the restaurant faded away as she was battered by images of the life she had left behind. When she began to speak, it seemed as if she would not be able to recount the events that had brought her to this place in her life, but soon, just as steam rushes out of a kettle, unable to be contained any longer, the words were rushing out of her.
She talked about the end of the war, losing dear friends during the final battle, and her job. She described the small flat her and Ron had leased and the fun she’d had decorating it. Then, she talked of Ron’s inability to cope with stress of her duties, and their eventual breakup. She spoke of the helplessness she had felt when he walked away from their dream.
Looking at Michelle, Hermione had to smile at the slight tensing of her friends jaw, a strong indication that Ron was lucky not to be in the same room as them. She quickly explained how George was there to help pick up the pieces of her life.
“I’d wake up in the middle of the night, after a bad dream, apparate to his flat and he’d spend all night sitting on the couch with his arms around me, reminding me what a git his brother was.”
“Didn’t his girlfriend ever get jealous?”
“I think Angelina knew that the time we spent together was helping George heal as well as myself. The more he told me that I could get through it, to take it a day at a time, the more he began to apply those beliefs to his own way of dealing with the loss of Fred.” It was impossible for Hermione not to smile as she thought of companionship she had shared with George. “I know for a fact that George and Angelina’s relationship is a hundred percent better because of his ability to get through the grieving process and I like to think that I had a little to do with that.”
“Do you talk to him at all now that you live out here?”
“I actually get to talk to him quite often, in fact, last week he informed me that he popped the question to the lovely Angelina and she has accepted,” she announced with a huge grin on her face.
“How do you British say it? Oh I know, ‘that’s bloody fabulous’,” Michelle’s accent left much to be desired but it did succeed in making Hermione laugh.
“Too right, it is bloody fabulous,” she concurred, “but I will have to go back for the wedding and that is positively terrifying for me Michelle.” Hermione had significantly sobered at the thought of having to go back to England.
“Hermione,” began Michelle, “what happened after Ron left? I know he hurt you, but something else damn near broke you. Why is going home such an ordeal for you?”
A sharp pain sliced through Hermione’s chest as she thought back to him. Her hand immediately went to the tattoo on her chest and her voice was barely audible to Michelle as she began to tell her of the countless times she had been less than careful at her job, how she deliberately placed herself in danger just to spite Ron and how that resulted in her being paired with one partner after another until Harry had to go looking outside of their department for someone to work with her.
When Hermione began telling about the day she was partnered with Draco Malfoy, a man who had made her life a living hell while she was at Hogwarts, Michelle sat back and listened intently as her friend looked out over the ocean, her eyes alight at the memory of her lost love. Every syllable she spoke was laced with love and pain. It was clear that something happened to destroy them, and she merely sat and waited for Hermione to tell her.
During that very long lunch, in which both women switched from diet Cokes to Mojitos, Hermione was able to recount how she fell hopelessly in love with the world’s most stubborn, but also most loyal of wizards. Michelle felt her heart break as she saw the conflicting emotions flit across her friend’s face. She could read the happiness Hermione had experienced when he proposed, the surprise she’d felt at his parent’s acceptance of her, the shock at the sudden reappearance of Ron and her disappointment at his inability to understand her relationship. She could physically feel the shudder of horror that shook the young woman sitting across from her as she spoke of the kidnapping and torture she had endured.
“All of that,” Hermione whispered as she wrapped her arms around herself, “is preferable the abyss I fell into when I was told that I had lost our baby, a baby we didn’t even know existed, and that Draco was incarcerated for the murders of the women who’d kidnapped me, all in the same day.” Her smile did not reach her eyes, “Yes, that was a quite a day indeed.”
Before she was even done speaking, Michelle was sitting in the chair next to her, wrapping her up in an encompassing embrace. Not only was Michelle trying to comfort Hermione, she was doing the only thing she could think of to hold herself together as well.
“I didn’t know,” she cooed to Hermione. “Sweetie I didn’t know. I am so sorry.” She was having a tough time holding back her own tears as she tried to smooth away Hermione’s pain.
After several moments in which they merely held each other, Hermione let out a shaky breath and straightened her back, “It’s alright Michelle. I’d promised myself that I would stop being so morbid about the whole thing,” she said as she wiped her eyes with her napkin.
“You’re not being morbid Hermione, for goodness sake! Don’t you realize that you’ve dealt with more shit in the past ten years than most people deal with in all their lives,” Michelle said incredulously.
“I know, I know,” replied Hermione, “but the truth is…yes I have seen terrible things, I have experienced my fair share of suffering, but I have also known more love than most people. Think about it, some people go their whole lives and never find their true love and I was fortunate enough to find love twice.” At Michelle’s questioning look, she continued, “Yes, Ron loved me. His inability to cope takes nothing away from the fact that he did love me and I was happy with him. To a certain extent, I thank heaven that things went the way they did. If he hadn’t left, I would never have fallen in love with Draco.”
“If he hadn’t left, you would not be as lonely as you are.”
Looking her friend in the eyes, she softly said, “I can never regret being with Draco, loving him…not ever.”
Later that night, as she settled down for the night, Hermione began to think back on the day that Draco was taken from her forever. After her talk with Michelle earlier that evening, she knew the memories would not let her sleep. Sliding on her slippers, she pulled on her terry robe and stepped out the French doors to the chilly night. She allowed herself to be submersed in the recollections of that day.
Walking out of the fireplace at the Ministry of Magic on that day she had been totally unprepared for the chaos she encountered. Harry and George were waiting for her, but even they couldn’t completely shield her from the crowd of people waiting for the biggest trial since the end of the war. Journalists were pushing and crowding to get to her, to shout questions or accusations at her. George put an arm around her and guided her to the lift as Harry held the mob back with a raised wand and a glare.
As they entered the court room, she noticed that Lucius and Narcissa were already there. His face could have been carved of marble, his lips set into a thin hard line, and the only sign of his apprehension was the crease between his eyes. Narcissa’s pale face was impossibly whiter. She made no attempt to conceal her concern. After all that Lucius’ misguided devotion to Voldemort had put them through, all that he had put Hermione through, it was mind boggling that they had both accepted her into their lives with open arms. They were certainly flawed, but for a fleeting moment Hermione was filled with pride when she looked at these two beautiful people, hoping that they would be the grandparents of any child she would have in the future. She acknowledged the two attorneys Marcus and James Noble with a nod of her head.
They all sat together in the front row, the Malfoys, Harry, George and Hermione. The Noble’s were sitting at a table set up in the center of the courtroom. There was an empty chair at the table which was where Draco would sit. The court had allowed the trial to be open to the public so the room was quickly filling with witches and wizards. Somewhere in the back, she knew, sat her parents, Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys. Hermione uneasily twisted a handkerchief in her hands until George reached over and placed his hand over hers, stilling her nervous movements.
The entire court room was silenced by the entrance of the members of the Wizengamot. One by one they walked in and took their seats in the chamber. Enrobed, some in rich scarlet, some in midnight black robes, they marched in. The full knowledge that they and they alone held the fate of Draco in their hands and by default, the fate of her own, had made Hermione very anxious. She had attempted to will them to look at her so she could convey his justification, but they had moved regally by without as glance in her direction. The last one to enter had been Kingsley. He had looked over at Hermione and, clearing his throat, gave orders to have the prisoner brought in.
Time seemed to stand still. Then, suddenly he was there. He was wearing new robes with the Malfoy crest; he looked every bit the noble. He walked in with an air of confidence that spoke volumes. Quickly scanning the room, his eyes found hers and Hermione felt as if the room was devoid of oxygen. She fought the urge to run to him, doubting for a moment if she would be able to restrain herself. It was only the gentle pressure of George’s hand on hers that kept her from doing something that would have ended in her being banned from the proceedings.
Draco’s eyes told her that he was fine, not to worry and above all, to remember her promise to him. With a last look at her, he turned, stood behind his chair and faced the members of the Wizengamot.
Just as the proceedings were about to begin, there was a commotion from the corridor. Harry jumped out of his seat and rushed out, followed by George and out of the corner of her eyes, Hermione caught a glimpse of another red haired wizard exit the door behind Harry. There had been some cursing and shouting, some banging and scuffling, and after a few minutes, the three men returned. Hermione realized the third man had been Ron. All three of them walked in readjusting their robes, running their fingers through their hair, trying to pull themselves together.
At her questioning look, George took his seat next to her and whispered that there had been some young members of the Coates and Anglis family outside attempting to make trouble for Draco. He had assured her that they had been taken into custody where they would remain until their parents could come get them.
Turning back to the front, she saw that Draco was being told what had just happened. He turned to her and gave her a wink and his signature smirk before giving his attention back to the front of the courtroom. That man was absolutely insane sometimes, but she loved him with all her being.
The Anglis family was demanding the Wizengamot find Draco guilty and put him to death. They were adamant about not wanting him to serve prison time; they wanted his life in return for the life of Gloria. The family had been quoted in The Daily Prophet doubting whether Shacklebolt and the rest of the Wizengamot would be impartial. They had attempted to play to the sympathies of the public by stating that it would be completely unjust if Draco did not receive the Dementor’s Kiss.
The thing that bothered Hermione the most was the fact that both the Actis family and the Anglis family had relatives in the Wizengamot. Ignacious Actis and Horatio Angis had been publicly neutral during the war, but it was a common belief that they had secretly supported Voldemort.
Kingsley Shacklebolt brought his gavel down and began the trial.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the Wizengamot, the accused is here, let us begin.”
With those words the trial was under way. The friends and family of the murdered women came forward and spoke with poetic eloquence of the magnificent people the women had been, they cried convincingly over the loss of their lives and refused to believe that their loved one were capable of the atrocities that the defense had listed as the cause of the massacre. Hermione noticed more than one witch on the Wizengamot dabbing at their eyes with handkerchiefs.
Marcus Nobel requested that Hermione be allowed to speak and Kingsley immediately gave permission for her to approach and be questioned. Never in her life had she felt as terrified as she climbed up to the witness stand. She had been shaking like a leaf until she looked over and locked eyes with Draco. For him she would walk on fire, she could do this.
James Nobel faced the members of the Wizengamot as he spoke to Hermione. “Miss Granger, can you please tell the court of the events of the afternoon of August twenty first, two thousand and one?”
Without looking away from Draco she began her tale. She told them about going to the restaurant to meet with Ginny, how she had met with Ron instead. Holding nothing back, she spoke of the argument she had had with Ron. She bowed her head as she talked about not feeling well and excusing herself to go to the loo.
For a few moments it seemed as if she wouldn’t continue, but after a deep breath, “I remember entering the ladies room. I was feeling a bit lightheaded so I splashed cold water on my face. I heard someone come in and when I looked up, I recognized Gloria Anglis.”
“Did Mrs. Anglis speak to you at all,” asked James.
Looking back at Draco, Hermione answered, “Yes, she said something about having been waiting for me for a while.” Turning back to James she continued, “The next thing I remember is waking up in a windowless room…” she stared at a wall, seeing something no one else in the room could see. “I couldn’t move and the stench,” she said in a dead voice, “the stench made me sick, I think I vomited, I know my head was spinning.”
Turning to face the members of the Wizengamot, she described the nightmare she had woken up to.
“When I finally felt the binding curse lift, I was surrounded by cloaked witches.” She was afraid to look over to Draco, afraid that this was hurting him more than it was hurting her, but it was as if he was willing her to look his way. Meeting his eyes again, she continued, “Someone backhanded me and the rest began to beat me, but Gloria tired of their games and ordered everyone back.”
Draco’s jaw was ominously tensing and Hermione rushed on to keep him from doing something that would jeopardize his case. “Gloria shouted Sectumsempra and all I remember is an excruciating pain, then nothing but darkness.”
Brown eyes met silver, hers screaming at his to please keep calm. The entire room went absolutely silent.
After what seems like a million years. James Nobel cleared his throat and continued, "Miss Granger, do you recognize any of the women who are pictured here?” He was standing before a large monitor with the faces of the women who had haunted her dreams lately.
Pulling her gaze away from Draco, she said, “Yes, they were all there, in that room. The first one is Mrs. Angis, but the rest of them were all there.”
“How long were you unconscious?”
“I don’t know. I only remember waking up and somehow making my way to a long corridor.”
“Did you see anyone while you were in that corridor?”
“No. I only heard voices, angry voices, coming from a room at the end. There was a man there and he was upset at someone.”
“Did you have any idea who it was that was in that room?”
“I did not. I was in a significant amount of pain and I could see that I was losing a lot blood. I do know that I was terrified of being found.”
“Did they find you?”
“No. I remember that there was a commotion, shouting and flashes of light. I remember seeing Draco and Ron. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.”
“Yeah! While you were napping, that cold-hearted bastard was massacring them, you fucking Mudblood!”
Hermione had no idea who had shouted out those hate-filled words, but the court room was immediately thrown into chaos.
She froze and looked over to Draco. In horror she saw him stand and with a roar, lunge toward a tall, dark haired wizard sitting with the families of the dead women. He was quickly grabbed around his waist by both his attorneys and wrestled back to his seat. The other wizard was being restrained by members of his family. Everyone was shouting at once. The pounding of Kingsley’s gavel was completely muted by the noise.
“Order in this court!” Shacklebolt demanded, magically amplifying his voice. “Order in this court! Everyone will return to their seats or be subject to arrest!” Even with the threat, it took several minutes before order was restored.
“There will be no further outbursts of any nature,” Kingsley shouted. “The next person to speak out of turn will be immediately arrested. Is that understood?” Turning to James he asked “Mr. Nobel, do you have any further questions for the witness?”
“No further questions for now Minister, but I reserve the right to call her back onto the witness stand if need be.”
“Members of the Wizengamot do any of you have any questions for the witness,” asked Shacklebolt, turning specifically look at Ignacious and Horatio. The two wizards had looked at each other and with a nod to Ignacious, Horatio stood.
“I have a couple of questions I’d like Miss Granger to answer,” he said in a deep baritone voice.
Kingsley had nodded his head, giving Horatio permission to proceed.
“Miss Granger, you say that you were having lunch with Mr. Weasley at the time of your alleged abduction, is that correct?”
“Is it true that you and Mr. Weasley were involved in an argument at that meeting?”
“No. It was a disagreement, nothing more.”
“A disagreement,” repeated Horatio. “You call it a ‘disagreement’ when your boyfriend confronts you about an affair you are having with another man?”
A murmur had begun to rumble through the room at Horatio’s statement, but at Kingsley’s glare, it soon quieted.
“Ron Weasley is my ex-boyfriend and Draco Malfoy is not another man, he is my fiancée.” She could not believe his gall.
“And didn’t you say that you were not feeling well that day? Feeling a bit light-headed,” he had probed. “Could it be that you were a bit confused and maybe didn’t even see who you thought you’d seen in the loo?”
Before she could answer Shacklebolt interrupted, “ Horatio, is there a point to your questions? This doesn’t seem to be relevant to this case.”
“Kingsley, I’m merely trying to ascertain that Miss Granger could have been a bit confused about the events and the order in which they transpired.”
“I know what I saw that day,” Hermione was quickly losing her control. “I saw Gloria Angis and she hexed me, took me to that grimy room and along with those other witches, tortured me,” she shouted. “I only know I came to bleeding and in pain. And I know that Draco saved me. I don’t know what went on in that house after I was found, but I do know that every one of the aurors there were in danger because those women were all insane and didn’t care who they hurt.”
The reaction to her words had been instantaneous. The courtroom had exploded with shouting and accusations. The room was thrown into chaos, with witches and wizards all trying to talk at once. Kingsley Shacklebolt finally regained control by using the Sonorous and having some of the fallen witches’ family members removed from the courtroom.
“Horatio, are you finished with your questions?” pleaded Shacklebolt.
“Not quite. Miss Granger, are you trying to imply that the murdered women were killed in self-defence rather than as an act of revenge on the part of Draco Malfoy?” Horatio Angis asked in disbelief.
Holding her head high, eyes on Draco, Hermione gave a one word answer. “Absolutely.”
“Well forgive me for not holding the same belief,” answered Angis. “I believe that the aurors there could have safely disabled the women and taken them into custody,” he continued. “I further believe that the attack on the women by Mr. Malfoy was motivated by his attachment to you and,” he turned and looked Draco in the eyes, “to your unborn child.”
The silence in the room had been stifling. Draco’s sneer had quickly turned to a look of disbelief as he jerked his eyes away from the wizard in front of him and searched Hermione’s face for a confirmation that he had just heard a lie. When all he saw was the crushing sadness in her face, he had attempted to lunge at Horatio.
Hermione remembered the next moments as if it all happened in slow motion. Draco being hauled away as he tried to simultaneously injure Actis and reach her, Lucius trying to jump over the barrier to get to Draco, Narcissa calling out for Lucius and Harry rushing to her side. She seemed to lose her sense of hearing. Her entire being was focused on the deranged man being dragged away and when he was out of sight, she had given in to a dark abyss that allowed her to escape the pain she had seen in his eyes.
After all this time, they still had never been able to find out who had told Horatio Angis about her and Draco’s baby. The Nobles had questioned Ron and the other aurors that had been in the house on that fateful day. They had been able to convey the condition of the room in which she had been held and the corridor she was found in. The Wizengamot was moved by Ron’s account of the nightmare that he and Draco had walked into when they first came across Hermione’s bloodied body in the hallway, because of this accounting, Draco was spared the death penalty and was given a sentence of life in Azkaban.
Draco had refused to talk to his parents or Hermione. The last time she had seen him was when they were pulling him out of the courtroom. He had refused all her correspondence. His only message to her had come from Harry, a one line missive.
Remember your promise.
A/N No excuses. I hope you forgive me. I am committed to finishing this so I hope you will stick with it as well.
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