“My family,” he answers.
Hermione’s already interviewed over a hundred people for the Ministry records—somewhere, in the post-war mess, she’s been temporarily co-opted into a War Historian position. She can’t say she minds. The war—for all its hurts and horrors—gave her a purpose; without this she thinks she might be drowning in what-ifs.
It’s not that she’s been avoiding Malfoy, either. He’s not interviewee number one hundred and some because she couldn’t stand to be in the same room as him, but he’s been put through the wringer for other interviews and interrogations and he’s had to stand on trial for various war crimes. Harry’s kept her apprised, and she’s never quite had the heart to tell him she doesn’t want to know, so instead she knows how Harry spoke up for Malfoy and she knows that Malfoy is on probation and she knows that, in Harry’s words, he’ll be lucky to get a job anytime soon, because wizards have long memories.
What she doesn’t know, and what she hasn’t known, is why.
She wasn’t expecting this answer.
Family, she thinks almost bitterly.
Family is her parents who swear they forgive her but still flinch when she pulls out her wand, family is Ron telling her and Ginny telling Harry that they need to stay home for a while, family is what Luna offered them both and what Neville had gone home to and family is the apartment she and Harry share in muggle London because they can’t bear living at Grimmauld Place and they have nowhere left to go.
Family is Harry having nightmares and family is her mum calling every other day and neither of them knowing what to say when she answers. Family is what gathered at Hogwarts in memory of those that fell, and family is what crowded around at Fred’s funeral.
She knows family. She knows what family’s cost her, and what she’s lost and what she might not ever get back again, and he shouldn’t get to say family like it means anything to him, because it doesn’t. It can’t.
“Why?” she asks again, because Hermione is a girl-turned-woman that has always wanted answers, no matter the cost. His eyes skim the table between them and his breath hitches a little in his throat as he finally looks up.
“Voldemort was going to kill them,” he says, he-who-must-not-be-named’s name stumbling from his lips. “I couldn’t let that happen.”
It’s not his eyes that make her reconsider. She can’t quite look him in the eyes, not now, not after all of it. The set of his mouth is determined, though. Determined and desperate, as if he knows he can’t convince her but is bound to try anyway, and she knows something of hopeless causes. She’s lived one, after all.
When she was younger she’d never have believed how elastic time is, how easily it bends and curves. His face beneath her palm feels like only moments ago, and yet the last time they were in class together is too foggy to remember clearly. Maybe it’s not so hard to believe people can change, grow up, mature, grow into themselves.
“Hermione,” he says, and her name sounds odd on his lips. It takes them both aback, and they look up, startled into finally looking each other in the eyes.
After a long moment, he puts his hand out to her. His nails are dirty and his knuckles are dry and rough and she looks at his hand and then at his face. His eyes are too old, she thinks nonsensically, but it’s the same thought that’s kept her awake at night. She’s taken to not washing her face before bed if only to spare herself the inevitable circling thoughts.
She takes in a breath, lets it fill her lungs, and then slowly releases it. Maybe, she thinks, maybe we’re all just trying to figure out who we are now.
She takes his hand.
His skin is rough against hers, and she thinks of the way she lies with Harry on the couch, and the way Ron kissed her, and she thinks of her family in all of its parts.
The corner of his lips tug up almost wryly, and she thinks that, at long last, maybe she should have something just her own.