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One Second Can Be A Lifetime by charlottetrips
Chapter 6 : Absolution
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 9


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Absolution

He had just killed someone. His eyes slid away from the Head Auror’s whose initial shock had been covered by an opaque mask, hiding the man’s thoughts of what had just occurred. Draco’s attention shifted to his hands and wand from which the Killing Curse had been issued. He had done it. A tendril of guilt wound its way into the center of his chest. He didn’t know why he was feeling this way now. He had had complete justification in taking the bastard out. And though he ran through all the reasons in his mind, the pressure in his chest and eyes increased to an almost unbearable point. His eyes determinedly avoided the still and lifeless form against the wall.

A woman’s high wailing cut through the silence and Draco’s attention was diverted. His mother was still refusing to let Ron near her, fighting him with whatever energy she had left, screaming and crying. Draco pushed through his sudden inertia and moved to her. Ron stepped aside as he approached. Narcissa recognizing Draco, threw her arms around him and quieted but wouldn’t stop crying. As she sobbed against him, Draco found himself in the position of bringing comfort to the woman who had been sparing in the only kindness and love he had known in his childhood.

After a few moments where only Narcissa’s sobs could be heard, he saw Hermione regain consciousness and sit up in Harry’s arms. She was leaning against his shoulder, her eyes closed, exhausted and in shock. Draco looked away, his throat contracting. He was a killer. What would she think? The pressure around his head was back and his arms tightened on his mother, as if that would be enough to counteract the horror that had become his life.

“We should get going. I’ve got a team here cleaning up the mess we left outside and they’ll come in here to…wrap everything up,” Harry put delicately. “I want everyone to get looked over at St. Mungo’s especially you and your mother, Draco,” he indicated the white-blond family, “then to the Ministry as I will need to report up on this tonight, unfortunately.” Draco looked at Harry’s face, unreadable except for the hint of compassion that seemed to always be present with the Savior of the Wizarding World. He nodded tiredly in agreement and stood up, picking his mother up bodily and cradling her birdlike weight carefully. Draco couldn’t help sending a concerned glance at Hermione who had her long curls covering her face as she leaned against Harry who had an arm around her waist, supporting her as they stood up.

The group Disapparated to St. Mungo’s, entering from the wizarding side and were swept up by the Healers who immediately jumped into action upon realizing it was Harry Potter and the rest of the Golden Trio and the Malfoys who had entered their domain. Narcissa wouldn’t let go of Draco so he went with her and one of the Healers into a room in the Emergency Ward as the others were latched onto by other Healers.

The Healer’s soothing voice and quiet motions were effective in getting Narcissa to tentatively drop her guard and allow the Healer to look her over. The skinny Healer took in how little weight the fragile woman had, the lank hair, the dark circles under her eyes, the minor tremors running through the thin pale hands. She turned away from the cot and Draco saw the troubled look in her eyes which cleared as she paused next to Draco on her way out. “She just needs lots of rest, nutrition and peace. I’m getting a potion right now to help her healing process and allow her to sleep.” She put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “She will be all right,” the woman assured him in a soft calm tone.

After more than a year of imprisonment, under stress and constant anxiety over his and his parents’ lives, losing his father and nearly losing everything he held dear, this one kind reassurance from a complete stranger was enough to bring that burning feeling of tears to the back of his eyes. Keeping himself in check, he gave her a small strained smile of thanks. She pretended not to notice his watery eyes, which Draco was grateful for, and patted his shoulder before moving out to get the potion.

His mother was lying on the cot, arms folded across her stomach, eyes closed, her expression still restless. He stood by the bed, looking down on her, just wanting to let her know that he was near. The Healer came back and got Narcissa to take the drink. His mother’s face visibly eased and she was able to go to sleep.

The Healer’s stern gaze moved over Draco and she directed him to the bed next to his mother’s, pulling a private curtain around Narcissa’s bed so she would be undisturbed. He sat on the indicated bed and the Healer looked at him with a critical eye, noting his own thin frame and the harsher angles to his features. “Thank Merlin, you’re young,” the Healer exclaimed, “else I’d be checking you in. Here, take this.” She handed him a cup that seemed to contain the same potion she’d given his mother. “You need to rest as well.”

Draco reached for the cup, wanting a bit of oblivion when Harry’s voice broke in. “I’m sorry, Healer, but I can’t have Draco knocked out quite this moment.” At the sound of his voice, the woman had jerked the cup back and her eyes had taken a bit of an awestruck sheen and she nodded with much deference. “If you could give us a moment?” The Healer stammered out an affirmative before moving out of the room past him.

Draco was slightly amused by this exchange and had a small smile on his face as he watched Harry move a chair to his bed so he could sit facing him. The smile faded as Harry looked at him with a serious expression. He stiffened, anticipating a pronouncement of charges against him for the death of his captor.

“We need to talk about you killing Dolohov,” Harry started in the direct manner he was known for. “I’ve just been with the Minister, giving him the basic gist of what happened today, minus all the details of where you and Narcissa have been as I barely know anything.

“Now, per general Wizengamot law I would take you into custody now and you would wait at Azkaban to be called before a trial to be held accountable for the death of another Wizard.” Harry stood up and Draco automatically flinched back, willing to take responsibility for his actions but not very willing to go to a place which used Dementors to hold the population in line.

Harry gave a humorless snort though there was a gleam of mischief in his eyes, as he turned to pace in front of Draco. “Draco, I’m not going to arrest you. While I may not know what happened to your family in the past year, I only have to look at you and your mother to know that you weren’t on vacation.” Draco relaxed. Slightly. “Shacklebolt and I found a loophole: ‘In cases where a Wizard kills a Dark Wizard in self defense as witnessed by a government agent, said Wizard need only be held accountable for his actions as determined by the Minister of Magic or a Head of a Ministerial Department as deputized by the Minister.’”

Draco didn’t know what to say, what to think. He wasn’t sure he understood Harry correctly. “What does that mean? I’m not going to be punished? Even though I took someone’s life?” That pressure on his chest was back again and he unconsciously brought a hand up to rub at it, ease it somehow. Harry’s gaze was compassionate as he took a seat again.

“Believe me, Draco, I understand what you are going through right now. I was very young when I defeated Voldemort and I still live with that every day.” His eyes had taken on a far away look. “There was a saying I heard when I still thought myself alone in the world and knew nothing of who I actually was: ‘There is a time for everything.’ It’s something I’ve kept in mind. And while these are just words I am giving you, I’m still going to say it, in case you can find some help from them. It will heal, Draco,” Harry leaned forward, intent on imparting his next statement. “But only if you do something with your life to make sure that people like Dolohov and situations like yours don’t happen again. I’ve already gone over it with the Minister and he thinks it is a good idea. I think you should become an Auror.”

He wasn’t sure he had heard Harry correctly. He certainly hadn’t expected that. “Is that my sentence? If I don’t become an Auror, will you drag me to Azkaban?”

Harry was vehement in his response. “No, of course not! Stop being so Slytherin about it and take a more objective look. You’ve got the instincts and somewhere along the line, Merlin knows how, you’ve developed the heart for it. And while tonight’s fight did not end how I would have it, your obvious torment over it shows me that you at least aren’t a cold-blooded killer.” Harry had gotten up to pace and now turned to face Draco directly. “Draco, give it some thought. I think you would find a sense of purpose in the work, a way to clear some dark spots in your life.”

He met the bright green eyes of his childhood enemy and considered it. Harry himself took a moment to look at the man who had changed so much from the bully he had known, and he appreciated the changes that experience wrought on a person. After a few moments, Draco took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay, I’ll do it.”


*

It was a couple hours after the Manor incident when they all met up at Harry’s office in the Auror Department. Narcissa had been left behind at St. Mungo’s and Harry and Draco had Disapparated to the Ministry to meet up with Ron and Hermione. Draco hadn’t seen Hermione since she was briefly with the healers and then brought to Harry’s office to rest. Then he walked into Harry’s office and saw her. She was on the small couch near the fireplace, her head on Ron’s shoulder who was holding her close with one arm. Her face was at rest, eyes shut to get some sleep. Draco noted that Ron had one of her hands clasped with his on his lap.

Bloody hell, that hurt. Physically, emotionally and spiritually—though he showed no reaction to the sight as he moved to the opposite end of the office, near the window magicked with a view of the London evening traffic. Ron gently nudged Hermione awake and she sat up, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as Harry moved to lean against his desk.

“I’ll fill you in on what happened on our end at the Manor, Draco, and then I’d like to hear your story,” Harry said. Draco nodded, his eyes remaining on the scenes playing before him in the window, his profile to Harry, his back to Hermione and Ron. He couldn’t look at them.

Harry informed Draco of how he, Ron and Hermione had gotten separated at the Manor. There had been an ambush of Death Eaters waiting for them when they appeared, with Rowle grabbing Hermione from behind. He and Ron had managed to put out of commission all five of the rest but they still only arrived just in time to where Dolohov and Draco had been. After the confrontation, Harry had called his Aurors to gather the dark wizards up before they regained consciousness.

Draco had slowly turned away from the window though he was still not actually looking at the two on the couch, just seeing them in his peripheral vision. Harry looked at Draco steadily once he’d finished his explanation. “If you could start from the moment you disappeared from Hermione’s life.”

Draco saw Hermione flinch, her golden brown eyes darkening with pain. He watched as Ron brought his other hand to cover their already clasped hands, an automatic comforting gesture. He saw how she relaxed at Ron’s touch. Draco felt something break inside as he realized that she had moved on from him and the best thing for him to do would be to let her go. She had been nearly killed because of who he was, what he was. Her life and her happiness were more important to him.

And so, he relayed his whole story, the abuses that his family had suffered, the endless days of nothing, his father’s death and their escape; he did not mention one word of the one reason he had endured such atrocities, the one hope that had kept him alive during that time. He stamped down on any gesture or statement that would betray his agony and grief over losing her.

Yet, the two other men in the room, the ones who had been there when she had suffered over Draco’s disappearance, who had been the ones to comfort and help her through that horrible time, read between the lines of what Draco was saying, could hear what he was trying to hold back and they took note of it and empathized. One because his compassion for others had only grown deeper in his work for the Ministry; the other—the man who would have called her his wife after today—because his own love for the same woman was something that had grown and matured with the years. This fiery-haired man understood love and suffering and he was humbled, not by what he heard, but what he perceived in the pale-haired man’s depth of feeling as he shared his story, standing stiffly in front of Harry.

Once the telling of the tale was finished, there was silence in the room. And in that quiet, Hermione felt something heal inside herself. That rift that had been torn open when he had disappeared from her life came together once more. Although the explanation of his disappearance was a terrible and horrifying thing, just knowing it wasn’t necessarily of his own free will that he had left her gave her a sense of peace.

“Thank you, Draco,” Harry said, his voice holding a new thread of respect. “I think we should get ourselves some sleep. I’ll put together the report for the Minister. Please come back at ten tomorrow morning as we will still have more ends to fully tie up.”

Draco, Hermione and Ron nodded in agreement with Harry and exited the office as Harry moved around his desk to take a seat. The three paused in the outer office, the secretarial desk vacated for the day. Draco stood just out of reach of the young woman, not bearing being apart from her when she was finally so close, but also knowing she was not his to touch or to be with any longer. With an unreadable look at her and a short nod to Ron, he strode to the outer door and stepped out without another word.

Author’s Note: Readers, please note that I have not marked this story as complete.

If you haven't already, please check out "The Longest Walk of Her Life."


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