The first time Hermione saw Draco after the war was at the trials, surrounded by his family and looking as grim and defeated as the last day she’d seen him. The Malfoy family wasn’t being tried for anything, she knew, their desperate defection at the end of the Battle of Hogwarts saving them from the most serious persecution, but the Ministry was still requiring that the Malfoys pay indemnities for their war crimes.
They passed each other in the dim hall, neither looking at the other. Draco’s eyes were fixed on the floor, Hermione’s straight in front of her. She didn’t miss the tilt of Lucius’s head, the proud cloak of the Malfoy name still thrown over him.
But they were broken. Hermione could see it in Lucius’s hand clenched on Draco’s shoulder and Narcissa’s tight grip on her husband’s arm. In their doubtful gait and the glances thrown around, waiting for condemnation.
Before she stepped into her elevator Hermione turned, watching the dark figures of the Malfoy family walk the gangplank into a world they didn’t control.
The doors shut in front of her, and Hermione descended into the depths of the Ministry to right the wrongs of the war and justify the deaths of her friends in fines and six-by-six cells.
Hermione didn’t hear anything about Draco for years.
She had always thought that fighting the war would be the hardest part. Hermione knew now that facing the aftermath was a far more difficult thing. Wars had purposes, objectives; she was fighting for a cause she could define. Her life now seemed an endless stream of dead ends and false starts.
She’d gone back to Hogwarts and that had been fine, for a time.
Ron hadn’t returned, instead joining Harry at an Auror training camp. Three months of a summer romance and stilted letters every few days had spelled the death of their relationship, and Hermione ended it with the same numbness that seemed to accompany every action.
Ron hadn’t challenged her, accepting the deadness in her eyes and the flat tone of her voice. “We’re done,” he had repeated, and it hadn’t been a question.
She’d nodded yes, given him a hug, and walked away as he stood tall and broad in the Entrance Hall.
She hadn’t looked back.
Hermione hadn’t known what to do after she had received her NEWTs, so she decided to leave, explore, lose herself in somewhere, anywhere. She walked gravel paths into sleepy villages with walls crumbling from age and not war, towns with no Daily Prophet and the quiet of a people who had learned to forgo the city. The change in perspective was refreshing and revealing and she lost herself in little port towns with cool breezes and blue seas and no ghosts. Every few weeks she would point her finger at a map and find herself an ocean or a world away.
She hadn’t found herself, and Hermione thought that perhaps she wasn’t ready to. She was learning to accept parts of herself and hoping that one day she would reach a whole.
One evening in Greece had been sweltering humid, the kind of slow rolling heat that seemed to melt you into a puddle and left the rubber of your shoes steaming on the pavement. Hermione had propped herself up in a chair outside of the inn’s patio, watching the easy ebb and flow of the people passing by and worrying the ends of her sleeves. The sweat was rolling down the back of her neck and along her sides, gathering in the creases of her knees and elbows and she could feel herself sticking to the chair.
The stare of the landlady was on her for several minutes before she heard the squeak of the door and felt a shadow over her shoulder, and the lady was looking at the deep stains under her arms and saying, “It’s too hot here for long sleeves, you know.”
Hermione had nodded and said, “I know.”
She spent the rest of the evening in the chair, in the heat, in her sweat, before finally padding up to her room as the twilight turned everything turquoise and cicadas began to buzz. Hermione sat in the bath for hours, letting her skin grow wrinkly and the water run cold as she rubbed at the scar with rough, raw soap.
Mudblood, stark and shining scar-silver on her forearm, her very own Dark Mark.
A nightmare woke her that night, as they often did. Phantom pains re-carved the reminder into her flesh, it itched and tingled and a breeze blew by and suddenly Bellatrix was breathing hot and terrible into her ear once more. Her skin was sore and red from the scrubbing as she traced the raised letters one at a time, looking down only to close her eyes.
She cried herself to sleep, and as she let the tears fall wetly onto her arm she was reminded of the brilliant red phoenix she had known so long ago.
When Hermione woke up the next morning, she put on a short-sleeved shirt.
The next month found her in a small village in the heart of southern France, where the lavender ran for miles and the scent of it seemed a part of the air, moving with the breeze and sitting heavy atop heat-shimmering roads.
The cottage she was staying in was small and old, and she reveled in the crisp white sheets and solid porcelain tub, the creak of the old bed and the squeak of doors on original hinges. It was tucked away against a small forest with extensive walking paths, and she felt like a character in one of her mum’s cheesy romance novels when she set out every afternoon.
One evening she was sitting in one of the soft armchairs in the lounge reading a book when the cottage hostess tapped on her shoulder, saying with a smile as Hermione turned, “Would you mind helping me, dear? There’s a man come who could use some help with his things. A bad leg, it seems.”
Standing to follow the woman Hermione walked through the doorway into the reception, coming to a full stop as she caught sight of familiar white-blond hair. It was longer than she last remembered it, stylishly tousled and hanging around his ears, but it belonged to the same angular face and steel grey eyes.
It was Draco Malfoy, standing tall and slightly stooped in the hall, surrounded by his bags as he stared back at her with widened eyes.
“Granger,” he let out, and his voice was deeper.
“Malfoy,” she returned, looking at the many suitcases that surrounded him. “On holiday?”
“Something like that,” he said, a slight furrow forming between his brows. She imagined he was as confused as she was to be standing making small talk with the gulf of their history rushing between them.
“You two know each other?” The hostess spoke up from over Hermione’s shoulder, shuffling around her to begin picking Malfoy’s belongings.
“You could say that,” Hermione said, meeting Malfoy’s eyes.
“Oh? In what way?”
“We were at school together,” replied Malfoy.
Hermione laughed, shaking her head. “No. The opposite, in fact.” She saw Malfoy look down out of the corner of her eye, shuffling his feet as he clasped his hands behind his back.
“Well,” the woman tutted, “surely it was nothing that can’t be fixed by a week in the countryside?”
Hermione sent Malfoy a small, bitter smile. “I’m not sure that what’s happened between us could ever be fixed.”
“If you say so,” the woman said skeptically. “I still believe the best cure for a broken spirit is fresh air and open spaces. The second best thing is another broken spirit.”
“I think that would be an incredible thing,” Hermione said honestly.
The lady only smiled. “We’ll see.”
She didn’t ask about his leg as she carried his things up the stairs. It was clear that it had been severely damaged somehow, by his ambling gait and the soft thump THUMP his boot made against the floor. His posture was thrown off; he no longer stood the tall and proud Malfoy she had once known. There was something different about him, a reservation that made him hold his tongue as his eyes swept around the rooms, taking everything in. It was an odd thing, and Hermione found that she often looked to him to see what his reactions to things would be.
Hermione hadn’t said anything when she dropped the last of his suitcases in front of his fireplace, but a quiet, “Thank you,” followed her as the door swung shut.
When his screams woke her in the night, she sat listening on her bed and wondered if this was how he had felt listening to her scream.
The next few days were spent in the careful balance between observation and avoidance. The whole situation seemed to provide nothing but endless amusement to the hostess, who often sat in her chair during breakfast trying to hide her smile behind both tea and toast. More often than not she spent the entire meal with her face covered by bread and china.
Hermione and Malfoy’s interactions were made up of nothing more than side glances and short phrases; “Butter, please,” and “Tea, if you could.”
She was on her daily walk, sunlight filtering down from the thick canopy of leaves to settle prettily on the flowers when a shadow fell over her shoulder. Hermione didn’t say anything, didn’t look back, but slowed her pace to accommodate his stilted shuffle.
There were no words, for a time, and when they came they were soft, intent.
“I don’t know where to begin.” Malfoy seemed to throw them to the trees; a boomerang that would return with the right answer.
“I don’t know where to begin, but I think it should be with an apology.”
He paused to look at her and she nodded, indicating he should go on.
“I never apologize. My father always taught me it made you appear weak, that it was something unfit for a Malfoy. But I think I’m a bigger man than that now, and I am sorry. I am so deeply, profoundly sorry, Granger.”
She looked up at him, surprised to see the earnest expression on his face. “You’re not the same.”
“No,” Malfoy shrugged, “and neither are you. None of us are. None of us will ever be the same. That’s what war does to you.”
Hermione gestured down towards his leg. “What happened, if you don’t mind my asking?”
Malfoy smiled lightly, only slightly bitter around the edges. When he spoke, his voice held a careful nonchalance. “I lost the use of it a few months ago. Broom accident. When I went in to St. Mungo’s, the bone that wasn’t sticking through the skin was completely shattered. There’s no Skele-Grow in the world that could fix something like that.”
His voice hardened in the way that happens when people care too much about something. “I think what I’m most angry about is that it didn’t even come from the war. I wasn’t hit with a rogue hex or get an infection from an old injury. It was just an accident. A fucking accident.” He shook his head. “You could call it karma, I suppose, though I’ve never really believed in that. I guess you don’t have to.”
“Malfoy, bad things happen to good people every day.”
His eyes held a curious expression as he looked over at her from under his hair. “You think I’m a good person?”
“I think everyone has goodness inside of them. What happened to your leg was a casualty of chance, not of karma. We all had our debts to pay, and we paid them off long before the war was over.” She met his eyes for the first time. “I know that your family was in danger, Malfoy. I know that you had no choice.”
She reached out a tentative hand, and when she slid it up to his shoulder he closed his eyes and looked away roughly.
“It’s not over for people in Britain. It’s been years, and Slytherins are still being attacked in the streets for no thought other than their house alliance.”
“I left Britain for a reason,” Hermione said. “We’re not in Britain right now, are we, Malfoy?”
“No, we’re not,” he said carefully.
“We’re not in Britain, and we’re not the same people we were before the war.”
Malfoy looked at her for a moment before holding out his hand. “If we’re not the same people as before the war, then I’m Draco and you’re Hermione. Let’s start over, have a true beginning. It’s nice to meet you. My name is Draco Malfoy.”
Without thinking Hermione put her hand into his, surprised at the roughness and the warmth and the jolt she felt as their fingers slid together. His large hand enveloped hers, and as she looked into his eyes, she felt something shift, move into place.
“Hermione,” she said, and she smiled.
It was the beginning.
The next months were spent in lazy happiness, building trust and learning each other in a way that hatred had prevented before.
Afternoons were spent walking along the trails, conversation light and teasing as Hermione wove herself a crown of flowers and Draco a crown of thorns, and they sat together on warm sun-lit rocks and talked about their families, their interests; mothers and fathers and books and potions.
Evenings were filled with the gentle light and white noise of the fire in the lounge, Draco reading from one of his books as she laid back, warmth and sleep and contentment crashing over her in waves. One night she had fallen asleep listening to his voice, and woken up as he brought a blanket up around her shoulders and pressed a soft kiss to her forehead.
Hermione knew she was in trouble when her stomach began to flip at the sight of Draco’s crooked half-smile and the flush that would paint his cheeks when she caught him looking at her. When he touched her, her heart made the journey down to her stomach to beat with the butterflies.
When they looked at each other, she knew they were waiting for a moment they could pin-point, define, say, “We began here.”
It happened one night, when they were sitting in the garden watching the sun set. The sky was a scarlet streaked with pink, orange clouds weaving through as the sun lowered itself down to sleep, and Hermione brought up something that had been on her mind.
“You saved us, you know,” she started quietly. “You saved everyone. When you refused to identify Harry to the Snatchers, to Bellatrix, you kept the world from a much worse fate. You held the weight of the war in your hands, in that moment, and you didn’t let it fall.”
She snuck her hand down between them to grasp his hand, tangling their fingers together.
“So thank you,” she whispered, “for saving me.”
Draco moved so quickly she almost didn’t have time to process it before she was pressed up against the back of the bench they were sharing, Draco’s hand snaring her waist and pulling her closer to him.
Hermione felt her breath catch in her throat, frozen in place by his stare. It was warm, and piercing, and heat and want and need and everything she’d been dreaming to see in his eyes since that day so long ago when she realized that Draco Malfoy was a person.
His hand came up to cup her cheek, tilting her head back so he could look into her eyes. Draco’s voice was soft and a little rough when he spoke. “You’ve kept me honest. You’ve made me a whole person. I owe you everything, and you owe me nothing.”
Hermione brought her hands up to wrap around his neck, snaking into his hair as she gave herself over to the delicious ache in her chest, the warmth coursing through her veins and the scent of Draco surrounding her.
She closed her eyes as his lips met her forehead, moving to kiss her eyelids, the tip of her nose, her cheeks, each side of her mouth, teasing her with a ghosting touch.
“You only owe me one thing,” Hermione murmured.
“And what’s that?” He asked, pressing their foreheads together.
As his lips brushed hers, he whispered, “You’ve got it.”