After the war, it hurts even to shrug. Something cold and jagged has settled in Draco's chest, and, he thinks, made itself comfortable there.
He takes care crawling out of bed in the mornings—when he rises quickly, his shoulders hunch, constricting his chest, and he knows by now it’s not a pleasant experience. Sometimes, when he wakes early before Quidditch, he lies counting the hanging threads in his drapes and pictures what might be growing inside him. A single rose thorn, perhaps. Or an infected wound healing poorly—cruel, yellow-white teeth forming at its edges. Then the pain comes in waves, and he imagines instead a sharp-beaked bird trapped inside his ribs, pecking with rhythmic desperation at each shift of its cage. Don't hurt me, he wants to tell it. It's not my fault. But he knows it wouldn't help. He knows what it's like, feeling caged.
Is it strange, then, to miss the war? Not when he's at home—never at home. Still, walking fast over muddied snow in Diagon Alley, coat collar upturned, blond hair capped, he recalls the hushed streets and untouched snows of last year. Even at Hogwarts he sometimes misses the war: the quiet common room, the orderly hallways. No unseemly packs of people milling about, collecting in amorphous groups that must be walked around, face averted to avoid attention. No pointed glares, no whispering first-years, no sneering strangers. Then, it seemed, no one truly disliked him—anyone fortunate enough to walk freely down Diagon Alley had done what they had to: survive.
Now his family's sins weigh more heavily in the public's eyes. Death Eater—that's what he is. Everyone else? War survivor.
He hasn't told his mum about the pain. One afternoon, when Bellatrix was still with them, Narcissa came to his room with one long, gray hair wound round her finger. Look at this, Draco. She didn't show Lucius—she wouldn't have. But she did show Bella. Bella, who said, "Fourteen years I suffered Azkaban! Fourteen years, Cissy, and when I walked free, I could hardly believe, looking at you, that we’ve only four years between us. But now, now our Lord and Master returns, and now you have worries? If you weren't my sister, Narcissa!"
He remembers his mother unwinding the hair from her finger and holding it, fingers pinched, by one end. "It's not the first one, of course," she said, calmly, as though the offending hair really wasn't a novelty. "But it isn't easy, even so, knowing one's age."
Bella shuddered, then waved a careless hand in Narcissa's direction—the hair burst into flames. "I do so hate anything that makes you anxious,” she explained.
His mother unpinched her fingers. The hair fell, alight, curling, and surprisingly pungent. With the pointed toe of her shoe, Narcissa snuffed out the last of the flame against the floor, spreading ash against polished stone.
"Thank you, sister," she said.
Later, standing at the window and watching Death Eaters trudge up their drive, his mother would say, Look at this—look who's come for a visit. And now that's all done, she still says it: look at this. His father surrendering his wand under the dome of their entry foyer. Look at this, Draco. Yet another inflammatory Skeeter-led "investigative" report on the Malfoys on the Prophet's front page. Look at this, Draco. Refusal of legal counsel for his parents. Look, Draco. The official notice of her house arrest. Why, look, Draco. Look what we have here.
He imagines cutting three sides of a flap into his chest, folding it backwards, and calling over his mother: look at this.
In front of Draco is a familiar sight: black cloaks, and atop them, three heads of hair—one black and unkempt, one straight and red, one brown and frizzy. Potter, Weasley, and Granger. They’ve gone their separate ways this year, with Potter and Weasley opting for Auror training while Granger's come back to Hogwarts, but it seems old habits remain. Here they are, victorious, and here they are, still plotting, heads pressed together in quiet conference, oblivious to the rest of Diagon Alley.
Without quite meaning to, he follows them, a little helplessly, the picture too familiar to allow an easy escape from his sight.
“—think Molly would mind if we stayed out for lunch?” the leftmost head is saying. “The Burrow'll be crawling with visitors who knows the buzz of Muffliato when they hear it.”
“Mum won’t be happy but she’ll manage,” replies the middle head with a chortle. “Not much she can do now, is there?”
“Right, well, I talked to Luna yesterday and she says she does want to testify at Luciu—“
“Harry, wait!” The third member of the party pulls the other two forward, and Draco has to quicken his step to keep up. In a low voice, she says, “Malfoy’s not far behind us. Saw him when we left Florean’s.”
“Really? You mean—the one in gray?”
“No, don’t look!”
“But—Hermione, he couldn’t be. He wasn’t—strutting.”
“He hasn’t always strutted. Remember fifth year, after—”
“Hermione,” interrupts the other boy, “that can’t have been him. Did you see his robes?”
“And I suppose you’ve been at school with him too, Ron! He’s—no, Harry, don’t! Hominum Locomotor!”
“Finite Incantatem!—What!—Hermione, take it off me! I need to talk to him.”
“Then write him! Harry, I know you. You'll be at each other's throats, and you can’t afford that! You're a Ministry employee now!”
Draco stops and examines, through a shop window, a conveniently placed mirror. In its small, tilted face, he can see Potter, Weasley, and Granger hissing at each other. Granger, looking exasperated, throws up her hands. He closes his eyes and concentrates on her voice: “—really don't see why you can't just send him an owl instead!”
“Look, Hermione, it’s not as easy as you think! They’re watching his mail.”
“What? Why? How could Kingsley—”
“It’s not the Ministry, it’s the Wizengamot! They’d rather there wasn’t a trial at all, don’t you see?”
“I—well—if that's the case, Harry, more reason not to talk here. Come on, let’s go.”
“Hermione,” says Weasley, resisting her tug on his arm, "Malfoy's here, and there’s no one watching. If it's the three of us—“
“Yes, the three of us—that’ll go well!”
“I’ll be fast, I promise,” says Potter. “Just a few words."
"Then let me, Harry. Trust me. It won't be fast. You haven't been at Hogwarts, alright? I have."
"Malfoy—he's—" Granger cuts off suddenly, and he gets a feeling she knows he's watching them. She shakes her head, frowning, then takes a deep breath. "He's not what you remember. The Slytherins… well, it hasn’t been easy.”
“It’s not easy for any of us.”
“Yes, Ron! But you’re not—your family’s not—frozen in the past! And his mum's—”
Whatever Weasley says in response to this, he can't hear it, but all three of the trio burst into laughter.
His hand's on his wand before he knows it, but then he thinks to himself, dully: what's the difference anyways? He locks his jaw, and walks away, far away enough that he can't hear them talking.
He raises his wand and thinks of home, home at Christmas: a feeling of fullness and a stack of sticky forks and plates, both things the happy result of too much toffee cake.
The feeling expands in his chest, and then Diagon Alley, blessedly, shifts out of view.
Moments later, the Manor materializes before him, looming, austere, and dismally decorated. The front door, wreathless, swings open, revealing the unlit foyer behind it. Home sweet home, he thinks.
He steps in, winding his way towards the back staircase and rubbing his hands together for warmth. Somehow, it's even colder inside, a wind from god knows where blowing down the narrow back corridors.
"Lucius," calls his mother from the White Parlor as he walks past, "tell me, where—"
"It's me," he replies.
"Oh." There is a long pause. He leans against the door frame and watches as she places her teacup down and studies first the table, then each of her artfully placed plants in succession. "Yes, of course. And how was your shopping, Draco? Did the robes fit?"
"Well, shall we take a look?" She gestures loosely. "I find you've caught me at a good time. Go and change. I'll wait for you here."
"That won't be necessary, thank you."
"Of course. As long as you look your best."
"I will," he assures her.
"Very good." She returns her gaze to the table, turning her face away from him. Taking up her fork, she cuts the slice of beautifully iced carrot cake before her into uneven pieces. Then she slides the cake away from her, picks up her teacup with trembling hands, and sips at it.
Knowing that to be a dismissal, he turns and pads up the stairs.
In his room, he peels off his gloves and thinks: yes, we are frozen, but not in the past.
The next night he examines himself in the mirror: hair neatly combed back, sharp black robes. Yes, he does look his best. That much, at least, he will have accomplished tonight.
He times his arrival carefully—better to be late than to be publicly and excruciatingly alone. He’s glad to see, when he arrives, that he hasn’t missed much. The Atrium has been done up, but never with so little attention to detail. The Ministry’s short-staffed after all, and there is more than a little Muggle influence in the claustrophobic arrangement of round tables. Metal signs culminating in abstractly rendered numbers stick up from them, like long, heat-denatured claws, and he eyes them until he finds his table: No. 63.
Here is the company the Ministry has seen fit to assign him: Garrick Ollivander, still looking frail; Theo, standing in for his family; Mundungus Fletcher, face cracking open with a wide, knowing smile at the sight of Draco; a grinning, sandy-haired man who sticks his hand out and says, incredibly, “Stan Shunpike at your service, sir,”; and—he can hardly believe it—Hermione Granger. Beside this last are three empty seats.
Draco takes the seat beside her, but immediately rises again. “Do you have guests?” he asks Granger.
“No, please. Please sit. It’s just me tonight.” She smiles, wanly, and he thinks she looks a little pained. The empty seats must be for her parents—perhaps there's been a family emergency of some sort.
“Me too," he says lightly, sitting. "So why aren’t you with…” He jerks his head towards a table by the stage. Even from here, Potter’s black hair and the former Beauxbatons Champion’s shimmering blonde stand out in the sea of red.
“Percy was having trouble with the seating,” explains Granger. “I told him that if it was easier, he could seat us—well, wherever it was convenient. It's not as if my—my family has as much to give as the others.”
“I thought all this was in your honour?”
“In the Order’s, yes, but I’m not—who it’s aimed at.”
No, she's not, he thinks, and it's likely not diplomatic to rub a Muggle-born, even one so well-regarded in the donors' faces. The Ministry's need for funds is too dire for that. Potter and the Weasleys go over much better: the hero himself, and the pure-bloods who did right by him. In a low voice, he says, “So it’s not Potter that sent you here?”
Granger, for some reason, laughs. “I knew you were listening. But no, this was arranged ages ago. However… I would like to talk to you...”
“Alright,” he says, before he quite realizes what he’s agreed to. He blinks. “Yes, alright, let me know.”
He’s always liked people-watching, and after the many long speeches, he lulls in his chair in a desultory fashion. There isn’t much point in making rounds, as no one will talk to him, so he might as well relax. Besides, it’s nice to watch and not be watched, for once.
Fortunately, the drama has come to him: it doesn’t get much better than watching Theo handle Rita Skeeter with that charming ease he can put on when he likes. Before long, Skeeter is smiling, and not in a calculated way. Watching her jangling earrings move in time to her animated questions, Draco suddenly remembers cupping a green-and-yellow beetle in his hands, whispering to it, and feeling absurdly clever.
“And, you, young Mr. Malfoy.” Skeeter flashes Draco a predatory smile. “Are you having a good night, too?”
Her quill pauses suggestively mid-air. He wonders what lies about him she’s already scribbled down tonight. Stupid young fool, he wants to tell his fourth-year self—dealing with her was always a mistake. “Yes,” he says, curtly.
“Oh, surly, aren’t you! Talk to me, dear. How was the war? It can’t have been easy. You had so many guests at the family estate... You-Know-Who, your aunt, and—”
He thinks of Bella, and her careless little gesture, and how he’d like to do the same with just a shrug—and suddenly there’s a horrible screeching noise. The pen, which is emitting the sound, has pierced through the parchment, and it’s jerking in short, abrupt movements that rip the parchment to shreds.
“Sorry,” says Draco. “I just realized: I have to leave.”
"I can see you're upset," says Skeeter. "Don't be. An interview with me is not an interrogation—it's a chance to tell the truth of your situation. You want that, don't you?"
He snorts, folding up his napkin and throwing it on the table. “Not with you. I don’t believe you have any regard for the truth.”
Skeeter sticks an arm out, blocking him in just as he attempts to rise, eyes glinting. “Tell me," she says, voice raised, "how much are you planning to pay for your father’s freedom? Three hundred, five hundred thousand? It's not enough. Your father donated two million Galleons—”
He’s on his feet, wand out, chair toppled behind him, before he knows it.
Everyone stares at him. Theo, never one for attention, melts away. The next nearest person is Granger, who eyes him warily. Her right hand is up her left sleeve, no doubt already clenched around the wand hidden there.
“I’m fine,” Draco announces. He is fine—he feels fine. The anger has left him, and he feels strangely rational now: a glass of mint water left in the shade.
Granger gives him an incredulous look.
Draco ignores her, ignores Skeeter, ignores everyone, and strides towards the Floo exits, head held high. When he's about to pass the Minister, he pauses and offers a hand. "Thank you, Minister. Please write to me about your projects. The Malfoy familiy is eager, as ever, to further the work for the Ministry."
"Mister Malfoy," replies Shacklebolt.
It's a cool reception, but what can he do? He keeps gives Shacklebolt a sharp nod and keeps going. It could be worse, right?
When he reaches the nearest Floo, he steps in and articulates: Malfoy Manor.
Then he's clambering out of the fireplace at home. He brushes off the soot, grimacing, and heads down the mirrored corridor which leads to the Evening Parlor. His hair, he notes, is still perfectly combed. Well, at least he can tell his mother that he looked his best.
But she isn’t there. The house-elves tell him she’s asleep—surprising but fine by him. He runs a bath and, breathing in steam, hooks one leg over the side of the claw-footed tub. His chest protests, again. Sinking into water so hot it prickles against his skin, he thinks, it’s not a bird or a rose thorn. No, it’s simpler than that. When’s the last time before tonight that he was angry, truly angry? His chest is freezing over with all the things he doesn’t feel, not anymore.
When he finally summons the energy to clamber out again, the water is cold.
If his mother knows her letters are being watched, you could never tell from what she writes. Her tone is the same as always: light, cool, restrained.
He folds over his reply. The castle is refreshingly empty at this hour, and, as he winds his way upwards, he takes in the glittering white of the snowed-over grounds, the sun peeking out from behind turrets. Mirrored in the uncertain, meandering shape of the crystalline lake are the expanse of the forest spreading over the hills and the blue, blue winter sky. He's always liked Sundays at Hogwarts—something to miss when he's gone.
Near the top of the tower, there's a halo that he suddenly realizes is the sun reflecting off someone’s hair: Granger’s. She’s hugging herself while pacing—a mistake with these winds—and sure enough the next big gust pushes her back into a snowbank. He starts up the last flight, taking them three at a time. From above him comes the sound of stumbling and a muffled whimper of pain.
“I’m fine,” she says when he comes to the top. She’s leaning back against the giant mound of snow, rubbing with her fingers the reddened palm of her hand.
“Yes—no. Well…” Granger gives a breathy laugh. “Sorry, it's just... I was just thinking that... my mum always loved snow.”
He blinks, then casts about for an innocuous statement. "Oh? Fond of winter, is she?”
Granger shakes her head. "God, no. My parents hate bad weather, actually, especially... cold weather. They—they always wanted to move to—Australia. But... snow, canyons, anything that grows bit by bit…. she always liked them. Something about slow and steady wins the race."
“She likes hard work.”
“Yes—yes!” Granger’s voice cracks. “She really did.”
It suddenly clicks. The empty seats at the Ministry. Past tense. Oh, but she's kept it quiet, hasn't she? Even the Muggle parents of a war heroine interest the public now.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he says quietly.
Granger jumps. “What?” she says. “Oh. Oh—it’s not. Well—thank you.” She presses her hands against her cheeks, breathing out. “In any case, we said we would talk...”
“Yes,” he says, glancing down the zig-zag stairs he’s just climbed. There’s no one there. He strides into the Owlery, hoping she'll follow. “Well?”
“How much are they telling you about your father’s trial?”
Granger resolutely avoids his eyes and directs her gaze out one of the open archways instead. “The Ministry’s decided to offer your father a plea bargain. Do you know… what that is?”
He frowns. “Muggle term,” he says. “For saving everyone a lot of work, they give you a lighter sentence.”
“Essentially, yes. If he takes it, they’ll grant him weekly visitations.”
“We”—Granger hesitates—“we want your father not to take it.”
Draco snorts. “He won’t get better.”
“Well, not necessarily, but—“
“Oh, you think he will? By what—protesting his innocence? And what—Potter will support him in court? Lovegood too?”
“Well—yes, Harry will testify, if your father refuses the bargain.”
“Why should he? Of course he'd take the bargain. You want a trial so Potter can properly parade his crimes in front of the world, is that it?”
“No! Malfoy, listen.”
He can feel his lip curling. “What choice do I have?”
“The Ministry didn’t fall on its own. And… the bad apples… the Dolores Umbridges, the Albert Runcorns … they were implicitly sanctioned by the Wizengamot. Not all the Wizengamot was Imperius’d, you see? So that’s why we need… the truth.”
What is it with truth, he thinks irritably. “So ask my father for names.”
“No! Look—it needs to be done publicly. He needs to testify.”
Granger breathes out a white puff of air. “It’s—it’s justice." Seeing Draco's expression, she rushes on. "Ron says... Ron says most pure-blood families have ways of coding messages. They’re still letting you write him, aren’t they? Write to him. Tell him that he could have daily visitations.”
“Yes, daily visitations."
“So this..." says Draco, "this is what you call justice.”
An ugly look appears on Granger's face. “What? What, Malfoy? What do you think he deserves? Another slap on the wrist?”
Draco laughs—or tries to. His throat hurts. “Who came up with this, you, the Order, or Potter?”
“It was you, wasn’t it, Granger?”
She locks her jaw, glaring at him. “You don’t know me.”
A tacit admission. Of course, Granger loves rules. She just doesn't like to play by them: she likes to win. Potter, however...
“What are Potter’s reasons?” he demands.
Granger looks away. “Harry... Harry was tried by the Wizengamot once. They almost expelled him. Dumbledore showed up at the last minute, saved him... I suppose he... remembers that.”
“Harry Potter, The Boy Who Cared,” he says acidly. But he knows it’s the truth. It feels real, right even. “Well," he says, "it won’t work, anyway. Father always did what he liked.”
“But he left Voldemort”—she raises her chin when he starts at the name—“yes, Voldemort. He left Voldemort for you.”
“My father loves me, if that’s what you mean,” he replies evenly. “That’s just another reason he would never agree. It may be what serves you, Granger, but what I need is for everyone to forget.”
“They’ll never forget."
“They will, if my father takes the bargain. The Wizengamot would want the terms kept quiet, you understand? What my father did or didn't do... no one will know for sure. Mum and I will act well, and in forty years they'll release him. He’ll still be in his prime. Wizards, as you know, live a long time.”
“I can’t believe this,” says Granger. “You’re making a mistake.”
“Well…” Granger shrugs. She wraps her arms around herself and heads towards the exit. The she turns, her face in shadow, her hair limned with light, the red of her sweater glinting against the ice hanging above. She says, voice low, “You can always change your mind.”
He watches her go, then finds his owl and ties his letter to its foot. Absentmindedly, he brushes off the accumulated snow on its perch. It sticks to him, warming under his touch, and a drop of water runs down his palm towards his wrist, towards his elbow.
Then, another. Drip, he thinks.
He brings his free hand to chest and presses his fingers into the grooves between his ribs.
Yes—jagged, sore, and brittle: icicles growing, drop by drop, in the caverns of his heart.
Six years later
Another year, another Winter Gala. Granger's at his table this year, and not because of Percy Weasley. She's with the MLE now, and it's likely her boss called in a favor to get her seated here. She is a former classmate, after all, and Malfoys have the deepest pockets.
He runs his fingers over his speech. When it's his turn, he speaks easily of his mistaken ideas growing up. He describes watching his father testify at his trial and realizing that he, too, had to try to make amends. And then he concludes his speech, saying, in not so few words, I’m sorry. The crowd applauds, and he thinks, as he always does now: drip.
“Nice speech,” says Granger when he returns to his seat.
Draco examines her face. “You didn’t like it.”
“No, it was a very nice speech.”
“What should I change?”
Granger swirls her glass and frowns at the bubbles dissipating in her champagne. He watches the furrow in her brows and thinks, preemptively, drip. He knows the attack which will come: six years on, what have you really done for wizarding England?
But Granger is silent. She tilts her glass, watching the champagne swell against one side.
“Well,” he says, “are you traveling for the holidays?”
Granger sets her glass down with a heavy clink. “Why did you change your mind?”
“Your father’s trial. You said you didn’t want it. What changed?”
It takes him a moment to realize what she’s talking about. He considers a flippant answer, but what slips out instead is: “I don’t know.”
“You weren’t—trying to make amends? ”
“Ah," he says, unsurprised, "you must think I wasn’t being sincere.”
“No…" Granger regards the podium. "I don’t know that you weren’t.”
He thinks back to his father's face at the details and reasoning of Granger's offer. “I didn’t really mean to ask him," he says quietly. "It just... happened."
She fixes her eyes on him, silent.
Somehow, her focus inspires him to keep talking. “I thought it'd all be nothing. But then my father sent Se—” He cuts off.
“Who?” Granger leans forward, the look on her face like that of a hound who has caught the scent of prey.
He coughs. “A man came to me, said he was my father's friend. I agreed to let him smuggle me into Azkaban and there I—I saw my father. He told me he was going to take the bargain, and I just—it just—slipped out of me." He pauses, remembering how alive he felt at that moment, saying the words and not knowing how his father might react. "I—I suppose I thought he might as well know. I didn’t think he would take it.”
“Why did he?”
“My father is not so brave as he pretends," says Draco. "Thirty, forty years, with only weekly visits...”
“And you had nothing to do with it."
“He made his own decision.”
Granger has a hard little smile on her face. “But you approved.”
“Well, I—“ He forces himself to look her in the eye. “I knew he would be revered by the public for it, after a fashion. He might never be free again, but it would make my path, or my life, as it were, easier.”
“And now you act the good, repentant Malfoy.”
He feels suddenly glad at this odd conversation. With Granger, of all people, he doesn’t have to pretend. He says: “Yes.”
Two days later, Granger lines up behind him at Flourish and Blotts, a stack of books half her height floating beside her.
“Hello, Malfoy,“ she says, in that blunt way he's come to think of as hers. “A little last-minute holiday shopping?”
“Not really," he replies. “It’s—for me.”
“Oh? What are you reading?”
He feels a little embarrassed, but he holds the title out for examination.
“The Impurities of English Blood by Warrick Wilkes,” she reads out loud.
There's a long pause, during which Draco almost explains himself—multiple times.
Granger flicks her eyes down his person. “Did you know,” she says, “that the Selwyn family is not extinct?”
“I'm not reading it for fun," he finds himself explaining. "The Wilkeses were known as blood traitors once because of Warrick Wilkes's investigations." He holds up the book, as if it can save him from her judgment. "It was only later they became hardliners.”
“Your father has a friend,” Granger continues, as if he hasn't spoken. “His name is Verelius Selwyn. Most of us know him as Mundungus Fletcher.” She pauses, eyeing him. "“Not going to cover for him?”
“It’d only get me in trouble.”
“In this for yourself, aren’t you?”
“You already know that.”
“So why are you reading Wilkes?”
“You should know, there isn’t enough to prosecute. You could always claim you’d only suspected his identity.”
“I… yes, I only suspected. I never knew for certain.”
“So you don’t know why you’re reading Wilkes.”
“No, I do!” he says, loudly, unnerved by the way she keeps switching subjects. “I simply want to!”
She points at the counter. “You’re next.”
"Hermione!" says the man there, looking past Draco. "Don't bother—just owl me the list, and I'll send the bill to Gringotts."
"Thank you, Thomas." Granger gives them both a brisk nod and hastens away, her new books floating behind her.
When he steps outside with his new book, fingering the worn leather of the spine, Granger is there, standing next to a dark man with an Afro who looks exactly like her. Beside them is a pale, serious-looking woman in tweed who says, “It’s always your job—the galas, the speeches. Every year, Hermione, every year it’s the same. It’s the St Mungo’s Children’s Ward Dinner, and the Ministry's Winter Gala, and—”
"Because it's important!” says Granger. "This is how—"
“It’s just money, Hermione! If these wizards really cared—"
“Yes, just money. Just money we need!"
He can't help himself—he studies the woman in tweed, wondering who she is. Granger's tone, at once pleading, aggrieved, and familiar, suggests a close, complicated relationship, the type normally reserved for parents. But he knows her mum's dead. The woman must be a Muggle relation of some sort, one who doesn't understand just how important Granger is to the wizarding community. He likes the idea of an aunt—her mum’s sister, perhaps.
“Alright, Hermione, please!” exclaims the man, likely Granger’s father. “We’re attracting a crowd.”
“Sorry,” says Draco. “I was just—“
“Watching us fight? I don't blame you.” Granger steps forward. Despite her words, she looks, he thinks, a little relieved. “Mum, Dad, this is Draco Malfoy. Malfoy, my parents.”
He pauses, surprised, then offers his hand.
“Draco Malfoy,” says the woman, ignoring it.
“A pleasure,” returns Draco lightly, dropping his arm. “Your daughter and I were classmates at Hogwarts.”
“Oh, I know.” She glances at Granger and smiles. It’s not, Draco thinks, a smile meant kindly. “Well, dear, we'll be in the bookstore.” With that, she takes her husband's arm and allows herself to be led into the store.
When they're gone, Granger turns to him. "I'm sorry."
"No," he says, thinking of the wince on Mr. Granger's face at his last name. "I... suppose I deserved that." He pauses, and then, unable to resist, adds, "She's your mum, isn't she? Your actual, biological mother."
“Yes, of course.” Granger frowns, looking thoughtful. Then she starts laughing, really laughing. “Oh no, I didn’t ever correct you, did I?”
“No, you didn't. And they’re never at—the events.”
“No, they’re not," she agrees, head turning. He can see her eyes searching out her parents through the windows. "She's like me, isn't she?"
"I..." He rather thinks she is, but doesn't know if Granger would really like to hear so.
“Do you know," says Granger, ignoring his lack of a response, "I Obliviated them—without asking. I thought it’d be safer that way.... No one would think to track down two childless Muggles who moved to Australia."
"Australia," he repeats. They always wanted to move to Australia, she had said atop the tower, her voice catching.
And I was right," continues Granger, raising her chin. "I was right! If they'd stayed—if they hadn't changed their names—who knows what might have—" She takes a deep breath. "Anyways, as you might imagine, they don't—see it that way."
He thinks back to her wan smile and her quiet invitation to sit: It’s just me tonight. And suddenly, he thinks he understands too well.
“I’m not sorry,” declares Granger. “I'm not."
She glances at him sharply. “Oh?”
He feels suddenly exposed. “What’s the use?" he says, a little defensively. She frowns, and he has to look away from her to keep talking. "It only makes it worse. So you had a choice, and you—you chose poorly. You did something wrong, sure, but maybe it feels like you... didn't really have a choice. Either way, it doesn't matter, because you can never truly make amends. What you did... it’ll just be there... forever. And besides"—he spreads his hands—"I don't believe that... you could really have done differently.”
“So you don't think you could have... done differently?”
Granger shakes her head. "You could have, Malfoy—and so could I. But I didn't, you see, because it was easier this way. It was easier not to tell them. That's the truth.”
"You want the truth?" he says. "You want it? Alright, Granger, here it is. The truth is, sometimes I’m not sorry. Who knows if Potter would have won, otherwise? Who knows what might have happened? Maybe he'd never have mastered the Elder Wand. What then? You think I'm not glad the Dark Lord's gone? My father lost any good will the Dark Lord might have borne him. We would've fared far worse under him than anything the Wizengamot can impose now. So I wouldn't change anything, not even—trapping Albus Dumbledore or telling Aunt Bella it was you and Weasley. I wouldn't change any of it, you understand? Not a single bit!"
Granger's eyes are wide, and they rove over his face. "But you..." She drifts off, her gaze focused inwards.
"But it's only sometimes you're not sorry."
He breathes in sharply, her words ringing in his head. The air today is cold and a little wet, and it's making his throat tight. "Yes," he croaks. He clears his throat. "Yes, it's only sometimes."
“I—“ Granger clutches her shoulders, wipes a hand across her face. She takes a large, shuddering breath. “Me too.” Her face pinches in the center, and suddenly she is crying.
Watching her cry, he feels a visceral sort of release. Everything he just said, every word, seems to dissipate through his pores, like air. He says, after moment, "You know, my mother’s not sorry. She’ll never be. I still love her.”
"I know that." Granger laughs unsteadily. "I know—I know it’s not really about me at all, I know the only thing I can do is... be the daughter they wanted and hope they will forgive me, in time. I just...”
“I’m sure you’re the daughter they wanted. You’re Hermione Granger.”
“Not to them." She sniffs, pressing a sleeve against her wet cheek. "But you're right. I am still their daughter, and they do still love me, and I... when I think about it, I know they’re trying.”
Her mother, and the hard line of her mouth at his name, rise up in his mind. "Yes, it does seem so."
"It is so," insists Granger. "They are forgiving me, or learning how to, and..." Granger swallows. "I'm learning, too, however slowly. I'm learning to be... better, you see?"
He does, or he thinks he does, and immediately he wishes, acutely, that he didn't. In some ways, he thinks, learning to be better is what Granger's been doing all her life, and she's succeeding. Standing next to her, he feels a little awed, cowed even. He has nothing to add to that—nothing fits.
But suddenly he says, “Bit by bit.”
Granger makes a surprised sound, and stares at him. Her mouth slowly curves open in a wide smile. “Like snow."
Like snow, he thinks. Yes: like snow.
For a moment, his vision narrows. All he can see is the woman before him and her radiant expression. Then her parents, each carrying a precarious armful of books, move into his line of sight.
“I’ll get out of your way,” says Draco. But he sticks out his hand. “Thank you, Granger. Happy Christmas.”
She takes it. Her hand is warm, and her grip is firm. “You too,” she says.
When she lets go, he feels cold. But he collects himself and nods at her parents. Setting one foot in front of the other—and again—he leads himself away. Slowly, he thinks. Yes, slowly.
Then he smiles. Because that’s how ice melts, right? One drop at a time—and then more.