Draco was released from the hospital the next day and after a few days of rest he was back to full fitness. His skill on the quidditch pitch had led to a change in the attitude of the his fellow Slytherins. While there were those who would always hate him, mainly Pansy, the rest seemed to have forgotten his past in exchange for a promising future of Quidditch Cup glory.
While Draco wanted to bask in the success of his placement in the team, he couldn't. The upcoming memorial service and the speech that he would have to give plagued his thoughts and dreams. He often woke up in a cold sweat as his dream world and reality coincided forcing Draco to relive his worst memories.
The memorial service was tomorrow and Draco sat in front of the fire with a blank piece of parchment in front of him. He had been sitting there for hours, his pen poised above his parchment, but the only thing that came were tears. They were tears that Draco had kept bottled up inside for a very long time. He had cried before but never were his tears filled with as much remorse as they were now. The memorial felt like his judgement day, where he would have to stand in front of everyone and show that he really was a changed person, that this wasn't just an act to escape Azkaban. But what could he possibly say? Their childhoods and been destroyed, families had been ripped apart and it was partly his fault. He didn't deserve their forgiveness but he had to make a speech, Professor McGonagall had been insistent.
So with a great effort, Draco finally touched his pen to the paper and he started to write. Suddenly he knew what he needed to say and with every word he wrote came a million tears that dotted his parchment and made the ink smudge. The words flowed with effortless ease and then they ran dry as did his tears. Draco picked up the long piece of parchment and rolled it up. He didn't want to edit it because that would remove what his raw emotions had produced. With a sigh, Draco sank down into the sofa as relief flooded over him.
Hermione made her way back to her common room after spending a rare evening with Harry and Ginny. She had been neglecting her friends of late and had rarely spent time with them outside of meals and classes. Ron was always around brooding silently to himself and Hermione was at a lot about how to deal with her now ex boyfriend. During those times when Ron was not around, Hermione felt like she was intruding on Harry's and Ginny's time together and as a consequence she had been spending more and more time with Draco.
It was amazing how easily they were getting along. Most of their time together was spent with homework or prefect duties but occasionally there were times when they would both share something about their past, not realising until after they had said it to whom they were talking. It was these moments that revealed the true depth of Draco's character behind the public image he tried so hard to maintain. It showed a boy who had constantly lived in his fathers shadow, who had always been told what to do and how to act, someone who was lonely and had always been seeking the acceptance of others because he was never good enough in his father's eyes.
Hermione whispered the password and entered the common room. Draco was sitting on the sofa and Hermione took a seat next to him.
“You look awful” Hermione observed, “Are you felling alright? You look like you're going to be sick.”
Draco's skin was pale, his eyes were red and blotchy and tear tracks marked his skin.
“I finished it” Draco responded with a halfhearted smile. “I just sat down here and then from nowhere the words came and I poured my heart and soul out onto that piece of parchment.” Draco broke down into sobs, holding his head in his hands and Hermione slide across the couch to place a comforting hand on his shoulder.
“Just let the tears flow Draco,” Hermione soothed, “Turn the lock and release everything that you have imprisoned inside yourself.” Hermione rubbed Draco's back as he continued to cry. His shoulders trembled with his gut wrenching sobs that pulled at Hermione's Heart. She hated to see people in this much pain, even if it was her former enemy. These tears though were as real as they could come, and stemmed from a place so deep within Draco that Hermione had only glimpsed the very surface of their abyssal depths. Hermione hoped that one day she could delve deeper and learn more about Draco, someone she now saw as a friend.
Draco was only just aware of a comforting arm around his shoulders as his body shock with his grief. The arm could only belong to one person and Draco was extremely grateful that Hermione was here with him right now. Remorse flooded his body as he thought of all the crimes he had committed and it was closely followed by hatred of those he had followed out of fear and stupidity. He could only suppress the memories for so long, there were far too many reminders everywhere he looked, and with the memories came the anguish and guilt.
The tears began to subside and Draco sat up and looked at Hermione. She reached out and wiped the tears off his cheek and Draco impulsively took her hand in his, and held it against his face. He looked deep within her chocolate brown eyes, losing himself in the warmth and compassion they held.
“I couldn't get through this without you Hermione. I will forever be in your debt for the kindness you have shown me,” Draco whispered as one last tear fell down his check. “I know you owe me nothing but can I ask one favour of you tomorrow?”
Hermione nodded, afraid that if she opened her mouth, she too would start to cry.
“Please stay with me tomorrow.” Draco asked. “I wont get through without you.”
“Of course I will” Hermione promised. “I”ll be there for you.”
* * *
The last Saturday of the month dawned bright and clear, and Hermione and Draco stood outside on the lawn beside the soon to be unveiled memorial that was currently hidden by a magical shield. Everything was set up and they were now waiting for the students to arrive.
“I can't do this” Draco uttered in panic as he looked at the podium where he would soon have to stand in front of the entire school. “What idiotic impulse made me return here? I'm going to be a sitting target up there in front of a whole bunch of kids with unpredictable magical abilities, not to mention in easy range for a centaurs arrow. I could just leave, no one would care I'll just...”
Draco stopped as Hermione took his hand and squeezed it gently. His eyes were wide in terror and his hand was trembling in hers. “I will care” Hermione said gently. “You wanted a second chance and this is your opportunity to take it. Don't run away from it. Show this school what you have shown me. Show them who you really are and take control of your destiny.”
Draco nodded slowly and gave a weak smile. She was right as always. There was nowhere he could run to, his emotions would follow him where ever he went. “I'm not going to run Hermione. I have nowhere left to go.”
Movement in the distance caught Draco's and Hermione's attention as the students started to arrive. Hermione gave Draco's hand one last squeeze. “It's time to begin. Come on Draco. This will be over before you know it.”
Draco nodded slowly and they dropped each others hand and took a seat on the podium beside the memorial as the students quietly filed into their seat.
* * *
“We gather here today to remember all those who fought and gave their lives for freedom,” Professor McGongall begun. “This school was rebuilt from the ruins, forever resilient against the forces of evil that tried to tear it down. Many people died in the war, most of them were past students of this school, but some of them...some of them were present students.” Professor McGonagall paused and took a breath, and Hermione could see tears starting to glisten in her eyes. “This service and this memorial is for all those people who died over the past years and months. Some were trying to fight the evil, others were simply caught in the cross fire, innocent victims of needless crime. Today, we honour those who are no longer with us. They may be gone from this world, but they would have touched us in some way throughout their lives, and that is what we will never forget.”
Professor McGonagall sat down and Casey, the fifth year Hufflepuff prefect who had so many ideas took to the podium. Draco watched as a tear rolled down her cheek. Her cousin had died in the war, he had only been nineteen. “It's hard to know exactly what to do to remember those who died,” Casey began nervously. “The patch of wall behind me does not hold much historical significance. It was destroyed in the war to become just a pile of rubble just like many other parts of the school. But with love, and care and time, it was slowly rebuilt; much like out lives.”
With a wave of her wand, the shield disappeared to reveal a patch of wall made of reflective onyx black stone. Etched into the wall in gold were hundreds of names in alphabetical order. Draco had to gulp back tears as he spotted Dumbledore's name, Remus Lupin's, Professor Snape's and so many others. Thin silver streams of water trickled slowly down the wall, either side of the names looking just like the tear tracks that were on so many peoples faces. The water was collected in a shallow pool at the base of the wall that reflected the names back up to the sky.
“They may not be here with us now, but they live on in our hearts” Casey sobbed as tears started to flow. “As we stand here, in front of this wall, we will see ourselves reflected back at us, after all, they gave their lives for us, they gave their lives so we could live on.”
Draco's heart went out to her as she rushed off the stage to her friends in the audience, all of them were crying and the sight made Draco's heart rip apart. But he couldn't lose his composure, now was his moment. A hand gently touched his shoulder and he turned to look into Hermione's eyes. They told him that he could do this so with a deep breath and wobbly legs, Draco stood up and took his place at the podium. His speech was held tight in his hands, but as he looked a the names once more, shining in the sunlight, he realised he didn't need it. Everything he wanted to say was in his heart, writing it out on parchment had just been a practice run for today, and now the time had come.
Draco glanced at Hermione and the small smile than shone through her tears gave him the strength to begin. “I stand before you today, not to ask for forgiveness or to gain your respect because I deserve neither. Last year we all stood on the precipice of war, unsure of what would befall us. It was a time of uncertainty where fear and survival instinct took over as we tried our hardest to stay alive. Not all followed the right path, I did not follow the right path. I let fear drive me to the wrong side and before I knew it I was in too deep and so I did all I could to survive, even when I knew that it was wrong.”
“There is no excuse for what I have done, and now I live with the memories that torment me day by day, minute by minute. Many of you think that I should be in Azkaban, paying for my crimes, and maybe you are right, but I can assure you all that I am paying for them with every moment. Everyday I walk down the corridors of Hogwarts and every time I see your faces, every time I see Professor McGonagall in the Head Masters chair, I am forced to face all the pain that my choices have caused, and it is worse than anything that Azkaban could bring.”
Tears flowed freely from Draco's eyes. He didn't try to wipe them away, he could do nothing to ebb their flow and they helped to blur his vision of the faces of everyone he had hurt. “I was afraid, and I was a coward. I couldn't stand up to my father and tell him what I really thought of his pure blooded elitist views. I simply followed in his footsteps, not wanting to accept the consequences if I defied him. Then things started to heat up, and before I knew it I was thrust into a world of life or death. My life and the life of my family hung in the balance and my mortality consumed my every thought and every action. The brave would have fought against it and accepted their death, but fear ruled my life, and so I agreed to do the most horrible thing I could ever imagine.”
Memories of that night at the top of the tower flashed through Draco's mind. He could feel his hands tremble just like they had been that night as he pointed his wand at Dumbledore. “But I couldn't do it” Draco chocked, “I could not take someone's life.”
“I wish I had seen the truth earlier, I wish I could have stood up to my father and told him no, that I was not buying his lies anymore, but wishing away the past will do nothing to change the future. It took a horrible war and so many innocent lives for me to finally wake up stand up for myself and for the truth; blood does not make the wizard, it is our choices that make us who we truly are. Do not be like me. Always fight for what you believe in do not shy away in the face of fear.”
Draco took a deep breath, wiped his eyes and scanned the crowd. He looked at the wall and then let his eyes come to rest of Hermione who was barely holding herself together. Seeing her brought a fresh wave of misery over Draco and he chocked on his tears as he said his final words. “These people who shine on the wall behind me are heroes, everyone of them, because they did not give in. Let us remember them, and what they fought for so we ensure that they did not die in vain.”
With his last ounce of composure he walked off the stage, collapsed into his chair and cried unashamedly. He was only just aware that another prefect had taken to the podium and was reading out the names of everyone on the wall, he could almost sense the presence of students as they walked up to place wreaths by the memorial, he could almost hear the silence that hushed the crowd as they paid their last respects. There was only one thing that he was fully conscious of as he sat with his head in his hands and his heart on his sleeve, and that was Hermione's arm around his shoulders and her hand holding his own. Then with a squeeze of his hand, she stood up and Draco watched her as she took to the podium.
Hermione reluctantly let go of Draco's warm hand and approached the podium, trying to control her breathing. The crowd was somber, all comforting each other and crying silently to themselves. It was now up to Hermione to remind everyone that life must continue and to bring the memorial service to an end. She took a deep breath, and then she begun.
“War teaches us many things, about ourselves, about others, but more importantly about the strength of the human spirit. We all endured a frightening time when we would open the papers and wonder who we knew who had died that day. We all lived in fear of our own survival and we worried about what the future would bring if they war didn't go our way.
“It was a senseless war waged by a few, but the time of blame is gone. The war is over and the stark reality of the aftermath is thick upon us. No one came out unscathed, everyone here knew of someone who died or was gravely injured due to the war. The time of conflict may be over, but the pain and the healing will go on for many years to come, and some wounds will never heal completely. The damage the war has inflicted on our community will linger beyond what we can conceive, always there beneath the shifting sands, a terrible memory from a horrible time.”
“We all saw things that we should never had to see, we all have memories that we would rather forget. But we should not ask ourselves how do we go on. We should tell ourselves that we will go on. The events will have a profound effect on the future of our world and we should not try to forget them, but rather embrace everything we have seen, every horror and every loss and use the memories to forge a new path, a better path, one which brings peace for the younger generations.”
“As we go on with our broken lives and our broken dreams, we continue to live while those who we put to rest in the sands of time live on ageless within our hearts and souls. Everybody inscribed on this wall fought valiantly to maintain freedom and they sacrificed their lives so we could have a better future. They paid the ultimate price to save us from treachery. Mourn them we must, but we must also take pride in what they did. They did not run away from evil, but stood strong and tall, and they bravely fought for peace. They are heroes, everyone of them. The pain we feel at their loss is only natural, but we should also take much pride that we knew them.”
“We all experienced different things during the war, the tales that we will tell will by unique to each of us, but we are united in on thing and that is in mourning the loss of our friends, our teachers, our family members. The pain we feel today will help to shape a better tomorrow. We know what war feels like and the terrible pain it inflicts. We will remember them always, but we must also continue to live our lives.”
“This memorial will remain long after we have left this earth. Let us hope that it remains the only memorial this school ever has to build.”
Hermione returned to her seat as Professor McGonagall brought an end to the memorial service and dismissed the students.
“That was beautiful” Draco said with a slight smile shining through his sorrowful eyes.
“Yours was too” Hermione replied.
“I need to spend a little time by myself Hermione” Draco sighed. “I need some time to think things through. If I'm not back later, don't worry about me, I'll be around.”
Hermione nodded in understanding. “I'm here if you need me.”
“I know you are, but right now, I need to be alone.” With one last sad smile, Hermione watched Draco walk away towards some unknown destination until he was out of sight. Looking around the now dispersed students, she spied Harry, Ginny and Ron walking slowly down to the lake. Hermione set off after them. It had been an emotional day, and she needed to be with the people that knew her the best.
A/N Thanks to everyone who has been reading this story and a super big thank you to everyone who has left me a review. This was quite an emotional chapter and quite crucial for Draco so please let me know what you think.
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