Gawain Robards forewarned Harry and Ron that “two visitors” would arrive the following morning. Hermione and Draco spent a full day recuperating at the Burrow, though neither of them managed to eat much or sleep for long periods of time. They remained wrapped in each other’s arms, savouring the warmth of the other and thanking God for sparing both their lives. They didn’t speak much, for there was nothing to be said. They both were aware of the choices they’d have to make soon, but they wished to forestall the inevitable.
When they finally arrived at the Ministry the next morning (both abnormally subdued), they met Harry and Ron in the same room the trio had been confined to. They stopped a few feet from Hermione’s best friends, and all four awkwardly regarded each other. Ron looked down and rocked back on his heels, but Harry managed to keep Draco’s eye.
Harry cleared his throat self-consciously. “Err…thank you, Draco. Thank you for protecting all of us and minding Hermione. We owe you loads.”
Draco smiled a little uneasily. “Don’t bother, Potter. I didn’t do it for you.”
Hermione cast him an appalled look, but Draco chuckled.
Ron tried not to glare too forcefully. “So if you only did it for Hermione, does that mean Harry and I aren’t in your debt? ‘Cause I can see you holding that over our heads for the next few decades.”
Hermione pursed her lips and shook her head at Ron, but Draco’s smile widened. He turned to Hermione and said, “You should have known long ago, Hermione, that nothing can repair our long-lasting detestation for each other. Though perhaps we can keep it at a lesser, non-violent dislike? Regardless, no, Weasley, you aren’t indebted to me. Though if there’s ever an opportunity for you to save my arse, I’d appreciate at least an attempt from the two of you.”
Harry nodded slowly. “I guess you deserve that.”
Hermione sighed. “This isn’t going to be easy, is it?”
Draco wrapped an arm around her despite Ron’s glowers. “I’ll try to make our meetings as infrequent as possible, for all our sakes.”
“I’m curious,” Harry spoke up. Hermione was grateful that he tried to make his voice appear pleasant. “Who were the people you…persuaded to assist in your plot?”
Draco narrowed his eyes. “If you’re suspecting I used the Imperius Curse on them, you’re to be disappointed. They were volunteers, Potter, from Azkaban.”
Harry blinked. “Azkaban?”
“That’s right. Quite a few are mates of my father’s, one of whom cared for me as a child.” Draco sniggered darkly. “Three blokes named Tyson, Evan, and Bronwen gladly surrendered themselves for the cause. I don’t know what landed them in Azkaban, but it didn’t matter because I knew they’d obey any order. And seeing as there aren’t any more dementors guarding the prison, their minds were still intact. They were willing to do anything if they had the opportunity to fight, even if that fighting risked their lives. Hermione and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them.”
“How did you manage to sneak them out of Azkaban?” Ron asked doubtfully. “Even without dementors, that place is heavily guarded.”
“Certain people favourable to my father work there,” Draco replied, raising his chin slightly. “When I told them I needed a few prisoners for my father’s work, they let us through without questions asked. It’s amazing how daft some wizards can be.”
“So you took four?” Ron questioned, trying to find some flaw in Draco’s careful work. “Three for us and one for you?”
“If you can count, I only stated three names,” Draco drawled, pursing his lips. “I took on someone’s identity so I could see first-hand what went on.”
Hermione knew Ron couldn’t hold back the question. “Who were you, then?”
Draco raised his eyes to the ceiling and groaned. “Is that really necessary?”
Ron glanced from Draco to Harry and suddenly grinned. “You were Harry, weren’t you? You wanted to be the Chosen One in the battle to feel important! How bloody strange! Who knew you’d even want to be in Harry’s body?”
“Stop it, Ron!” Hermione snapped. “It’s not something to laugh at! He did what he had to do.”
Harry remained silent, though his lips were pressed together tightly.
“For the record,” Draco said, surveying Harry’s face carefully. “You’ve got nice abs, Potter. I never knew how fit you were.”
Although the compliment was obviously forced, Harry’s face softened and he nodded. “Thanks.”
To avoid another uncomfortable silence, Hermione changed the subject. “I’ve offered for Draco to stay at the Burrow for a few days, if that’s alright. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go, you see…”
This time, even Ron looked sympathetic as the facts sunk into all their minds. “We heard what happened there,” Harry said quietly. “We’re sorry for…what took place. You’ve honestly decided to keep your fate a secret? To have no one know you live?” Hermione knew he directly avoided saying “I’m sorry your father died,” because the truth was that none of them were sorry. Perhaps even Draco wasn’t grieving much, although she’d probably never know how Lucius’ death was affecting him. He kept silent on even the smallest mention of it.
Draco nodded. “There wasn’t a decision to make; I knew it had to be this way. Now I can completely remove myself from society and make a new life for myself elsewhere where no one will know me. Then I can create a new reputation.”
Harry and Ron instantly eyed Hermione. “What about Hermione?” Ron inquired, softer than previous. “Is she going with you?”
Hermione swallowed hard at the pain in his voice. She opened her mouth to respond, but Draco cut her off.
“No. Not yet. I have to build a home for myself first and make sure the Death Eaters have dispersed and lost control here in England. When the time is right, I’ll write to her and ask what she wishes to do. I’m not forcing myself upon her in any way, and I promise you I never will. If she decides to stay with you, she’ll never see me again.”
Hermione’s heart ached at the very thought of that reality. She promised herself that, no matter how long it took him to build a new life, and no matter how forcefully Harry and Ron pressured her to stay, she’d follow him wherever she needed to.
Harry and Ron must have seen this conclusion on her face, for they both looked despairingly resolved. She gazed down and avoided looking at them altogether.
“I’m going to leave now.”
Hermione’s heart jumped as she glanced up at him. “Draco, wait! Not yet; I thought we had at least another day…”
“Hermione, the longer I stay in England the more possibilities there are that someone will see me. Please don’t cry; I promise you I won’t be away too long. A month at the most. I’ll write to you by owl and then you can decide what you want. But please promise me you’ll consider staying here.”
Hermione didn’t hesitate. “Of course not! How absurd…”
Draco held a finger to her lips. “You have the think about the future, love. If you stay with me, there’s the possibility of us having to relocate several times, depending on how well I can conceal my identity. We’d also have to move far from England to a place where I’m certain no one knows my family. I don’t want you to sacrifice all you have here just for me.”
Hermione made to speak, but he hushed her again. “Not now. Just think about it, please? Then, when you hear from me again, you’ll be able to make the right choice for you. Now I must go. Potter?”
Harry (who had been pretending he wasn’t watching their passionate exchange), looked up.
“Did Robards explain to you what he plans to do with the information you disclosed to him?”
“A little,” Harry said. “He’s already in the process of speaking with the Minister. He promised that, if the information does leak out – which is inevitable with the deaths – the Ministry will support the story that both you and your father died in battle whilst the three of us survived. I told him there’d be harsh penalties if word got out you were still alive.”
Draco smiled. “Thank you. I really do appreciate all you both are doing for my safety.”
Ron grunted, but Harry returned the smile. “It’s the least we can do for what you sacrificed for us. You’re damn lucky you’re still alive, Malfoy. You were the Chosen One, after all.”
Draco chuckled humourlessly. “You’re right about that. I rather did myself in for becoming such a national figure.”
He turned and kissed Hermione softly on the lips before heading for the door.
He turned back.
Another tear slipped from her eye. “Please be safe.”
He inclined his head toward her. “For you, I will; as long as you promise to do the same. My life is worth nothing if you’re not alive.”
She nodded and smiled, though inside she was being torn apart. She hadn’t expected a parting so soon after what they had gone through. However, knowing he was alive and safe made this kind of parting easier. A parting because of death would’ve destroyed her.
When he had gone, Harry approached her and took her into his arms, where she released the last of her tears.
“You’ve got some guy there,” he told her sincerely.
Hermione smiled against his chest. “I know. I’m so blessed, but I’m most thankful for my two best friends in the world. Thank you for not deserting me when you discovered the truth.”
Harry kissed the top of her head. “Rubbish, Hermione. Even if we’re not thrilled with your beau of choice, we just want you to be happy. You know we could never stay away from you after all we’ve gone through. So it looks like you’ll have pesky mates trailing after you if you leave the country with him.”
“Yeah, we’ll live next door,” Ron chimed in. “We’ll try to keep you pests from snogging all day.”
Hermione laughed. “God, I don’t deserve you both. But I’m glad you think I do.”
Three Weeks Later
“Hell, Ginny; you’re getting big!”
Ginny Potter smiled and rubbed her swollen belly. “I’m only twenty weeks, Ron. Just wait until I’m thirty-eight! You’ll have to dislodge me from small doorways.”
“And you’ll name him after your favourite brother, right?”
Ginny smiled and sipped her lemonade. She gazed out at the sinking sun, watching a splash of pink and blue colour the darkening sky. “Well, I’d like to, but I’m not overly fond of the name George.”
Ron glowered, and Ginny nudged him playfully with a laugh.
Hermione watched them with contentment as she leaned against one side of the Burrow. All four of them – she, Harry, Ginny and Ron – had remained at the Burrow despite them already having separate homes. Thankfully, Mr and Mrs Weasley were fully accommodating and told them they could live at the Burrow for as long as they wished.
“What if it’s a girl?” Harry massaged his wife’s back, much to Ginny’s relief.
“Do you want a girl, Harry?” Ron asked. “I thought you were more of a boy type.”
Harry snickered. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You know what I mean! You want to play Quidditch in the yard with a young lad more than play Barbies using silly voices.”
“I dunno; I thought Harry was rather fond of make-believe play,” Hermione taunted. “He can do Barbie’s voice amazingly well.”
Harry cast her a look. “Thanks, love.”
She smiled sweetly. “Any time.”
“Hermione, look!” Ginny pointed toward the clear-blue sky, making all follow her finger.
Hermione grew attentive as her new tawny owl, Peregrine, swooped down from the sky and landed on her outstretched arm. He flapped a grey envelope in her face.
“It’s like this every day,” Ron muttered. “Who’s to say this letter will be the one?”
Harry kicked him with his foot, and Ron grumbled.
Hermione gasped when she read the return address. “It’s from Russia!”
“Russia?” Ron and Harry questioned in unison. They cast each other dubious looks, but Hermione ignored them.
She ripped open the envelope and scanned the parchment until she found the signature. She frowned when she discovered it wasn’t signed, but she recognized the handwriting. “Yes, it’s from him!”
No one uttered a word as she read each word carefully, her heart pounding as if his very handwriting could summon him in person.
I’m sorry for the long delay in correspondence, but it hasn’t been as easy as I figured to secure a place of residence. I’ve now settled in a flat rented to me by a kind older couple with no children. They’ve given me a low rate which will save me hassle in the long run.
Unfortunately, I must be vague in case this letter is intercepted. You’ll see by the postmark where I’m at, but I cannot tell you any more. I did search awhile for somewhere closer to home, but this country has been the only one I feel most comfortable with. I know no extended family or friends who live here, and the size of the country is a comfort in case I need to change regions. This is one of those moments I am thankful for magic – there’s no need for a single language lesson! Now locals think I’m from here, which also helps my cover.
Dear love, I miss you more than I can say. I wish I could write to you forever, but I find comfort in the knowledge that I’ll be seeing you soon. Only a few days, I reckon. Apparition does make for easy cross-continental travel!
I hope you have thought long and hard about your decision. I stand by what I said before: I will love you no matter what you choose. So don’t destroy your life for my sake.
I hope you’re keeping well. All my love to you.
Harry, Ron and Ginny stared at her expectantly, and Hermione felt obligated to let them read his letter. Harry and Ginny expressed their sincere wishes for the best, but Ron found Draco’s letter rather comical.
“He writes like he’s from the nineteenth century!” he chuckled. “Who’s he trying to fool with such eloquence?”
Hermione took his taunting in stride, for nothing could dampen her spirits now that she knew Draco was safe and coming back for her. And despite what he had said about “thinking long and hard” about her decision, there hadn’t been a need for her to question her choice at all. Even though she’d always think of England as home and wish to visit often, she couldn’t imagine a life without Draco now that it was irrefutable he loved her.
“Now don’t sit outside for days watching for him,” Harry said. “He sounds occupied.”
“I wonder what kind of job he’s taken,” Ron mused. “What could be on his résumé? ‘Official head of underground cult following ex-Dark Lord,’ or ‘I possess excellent manipulation skills, and I know a variety of torture methods.’”
“Ron, must this go on?” Ginny shook her head sadly.
Ron looked affronted. “Hey, I’m just being realistic! What kind of life could he make for himself when he has no experience in the Muggle world?”
“Maybe he found a wizarding lot who took him in?” Harry considered.
“I’d like to see Malfoy working at a Muggle butcher shop,” Ron continued without limit. “Can you imagine him as a cashier? ‘Yes, what would you like today? Okay, a pound of beef and one calf’s hoof...’ I’d have to go and take a photo!”
Hermione deserted them as Ron led the intense speculation of Draco’s future career. Although Harry had joked about it, she wanted nothing else than to live outside so she’d spot him the second he approached the Burrow. Would he have changed? Would he look at her differently?
Rubbish, Hermione! He’s only been gone a little more than a fortnight. If he really didn’t want to be with you, he’d never have written at all!
Despite what she told herself, Hermione couldn’t completely smother the doubt and fear burning in her heart.
“So when are you going back to work, Hermione? Or did you go on an extended holiday because of ‘Draco-itis’?”
Hermione smiled at Ginny over her dinner. “Being involved in that battle – at least hypothetically – has granted me a few weeks off. I’m squeezing all I can out of it, but I’m dreading quitting when Draco comes back. I really enjoy that job.”
“Isn’t there a Russian Ministry of Magic?” Harry asked as he poured himself milk. “I thought there was a Ministry in every country, or at least in every continent.”
“I never thought that over,” Hermione admitted. “It depends on where the witches and wizards are distributed around the world. Since magical talent is hereditary, I’m sure there are more magical communities in some countries than in others. But that’s speculation, really.”
“I’d like to say my best friend is in the Russian Ministry,” Ginny said. “You can bring different viewpoints to the table as a talented witch abroad.”
“I’ll definitely let you know what happens,” Hermione told them. “If he comes, that is.”
“Come off it, Hermione!” Harry chastised. “He’ll come; I have no doubt.”
“Absolutely no doubt?” Hermione raised her eyebrows. “What makes you so confident?”
Harry shrugged, studying something outside the kitchen window. “Oh, nothing much. Only that he’s walking this way right now.”
Ginny slapped his arm. “That’s nothing to tease about, Harry! You’ll start making her hyperventilate.”
Despite herself, Hermione followed Harry’s gaze until she glimpsed the small figure far off among the trees. She squinted and noticed how quickly it approached the house. She remained still until she made out its slim figure and bright hair.
She dropped her glass of milk onto the table, sending a flow of liquid across the tablecloth. Ginny quickly floated the milk back into the glass with her wand. Hermione clutched a hand to her heart and tried to remember to breathe. “Oh my god, it’s him!”
Harry grinned, and Ginny pushed her toward the door. “Then go to him, girl!”
A wide grin spread across her face as she ran through the front door and out onto the freshly mowed grass. The breeze carried the fresh, late summer scents of blossoming flowers, pollen, and fertilizer, which rejuvenated her and increased her pace. A smile flashed on Draco’s face, and Hermione stopped a few feet in front of him to take him all in.
Draco laughed at her entranced expression. “What’s the matter? Were you expecting someone else?”
She laughed with him and flew into his arms, the force of her momentum throwing Draco backwards until they both hit the ground with a thud. They didn’t stop to readjust themselves before Draco latched his mouth onto hers and kissed her longingly.
They broke apart to breathe, and Draco laughed again, his blissful voice like wedding bells on the wind. “What happened to the dignified Granger I once knew?”
Hermione gave him several quick pecks on the lips. “You bring out the worst in me, Malfoy. So what took you long?”
He stroked her face delicately, studying every part of it like he had never seen anything so striking. “I had to confirm a few things first.” His face fell unexpectedly. “So I assume you’ve made your decision? Remember this can’t be based solely on me. Being with me doesn’t entail a stable life. There’ll always be risk and danger as long as we live.”
Hermione placed her hands on either side of his face. “Do you really think I’d greet you like this if I had any doubts about being with you?”
Draco didn’t seem convinced. “I’d be accountable if something happened to you. I would never forgive myself if you had to sacrifice all that’s good and right here just to be with me. I don’t deserve you, Hermione.”
Hermione shook her head with a furrowed brow. “That’s rubbish, love, and you know it. I don’t deserve how good you’ve been to me, but I won’t allow us to stay apart just because of our foolish thoughts. And if you’ve forgotten, I’ve been Harry Potter’s best friend for about a decade. I’m no stranger to threats. I’ve also always been stubborn, so believe me when I say that I’m going to follow you wherever you go. If you’ll have me, that is.”
Draco kissed her delicately, and Hermione didn’t want him to stop. When he pulled back, Hermione noticed a glistening in his eyes. Her heart jumped – never once had she seen tears in Draco Malfoy’s eyes.
“Hermione Granger,” he whispered, taking her hand in his. “You may be an irritating know-it-all and a stubborn bookworm, but I want no one else but you. You brought out the good in me, and I’ll forever be in your debt for saving me from a corrupted life.”
Her eyes stung in response, and she nestled up closer to him, relaxing under his beating heart.
They remained together under the shade of the trees for the rest of the night, and when the stars came out, they fell asleep under Heaven’s glow.
** THE END **
Wow, what an adventure all this has been! After working on this story for so long, I can't believe I finished it. I'd like to thank all of you for all the support and great reviews you've given me since chapter one. Writing fan fiction is 100x more fun and worthwhile with dedicated fans! Thank you so much for reading! ~magic mania~
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