Hermione watches with sharp eyes as the attendees of the wedding file in. As Ginny's maid of honor, it's her duty to make certain everything goes smoothly.
When another crisis emerges-- this time involving the cake-- she rushes off to help, but not before she sees a flash of familiar white-blond hair out of the corner of her eye.
Draco isn't sure what he's doing here. To say he had been surprised to receive an invitation to this particular wedding would be a massive understatement. And as for why he decided to attend... well, pouring salt in open wounds happened to be his specialty (even if they were his own; especially if they were his own).
He takes a shaky breath and smooths down his suit. White and tailored perfectly to his figure, Draco attempts to use the suit's finery to distract himself. Failing that, he runs his hands through his hair in agitation and then fiddles with his dragon cufflinks. They are cold to the touch and beautiful: they remind him of his parents.
He tries to take a deep breath, in through his nose and out through his mouth. Tries, and fails. Still shaky.
Draco closes his eyes this time, and tries again. His breathing pattern steadies, and he keeps his eyes closed and breathes in and out for a couple of minutes. His inclement panic attack retreats.
He's still not sure why he's here.
Hermione takes her place at the altar and smiles at Ron, his own smile mirroring hers as they both reminisce over their own wedding, a few years ago now.
Her smile fades when the wedding march starts. Harry only has eyes for Ginny, but hers catch on a slim figure in a shadowy corner. When he tilts his head back, she can see the anguished, silent tears streaming down his angled face. He can't keep his eyes off of Harry, though, and his hair falls back across his eyes as his grey gaze returns to the messy-haired man with the emerald eyes and scar on his forehead with the inevitability of a compass pointing due north.
Hermione's heart pangs in her chest with sympathy.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Draco can't keep his eyes off of Harry, even when the tears cloud his eyes and overflow. He's never been able to take his eyes off of Harry, from the very first time they met at Madam Malkin's to now, as he watches the man who could have been his for forever and always vow a lifetime commitment up by the altar to Ginny Weasley where he, by all rights, should be instead.
Harry, his face bright with love for the woman who's about to become his wife and joyful in the presence of his friends and family, is the most beautiful thing he's ever seen. And when he's honest with himself (today out of all the possible days) Harry James Potter is the most beautiful thing he will ever see.
Even the unwelcome sensation of someone staring at him can't force his eyes away from the man he's been in love with for what feels like his entire life.
He didn't know it was love at first. How could he? What eleven-year-old could recognize their soulmate so quickly? All he'd known was that this abnormally skinny black-haired boy was fascinating, and he wanted to be his friend more than he'd ever wanted anything before in his short, relatively spoiled life. When he'd been summarily rejected, and for a Weasley, no less (that would be twice, now), he'd been hurt beyond belief. Draco lashed out in retaliation and thus kickstarted a good seven years of emotional turmoil and a rivalry that became infamous for its charged intensity and collateral damage.
Draco was fourteen when he realized that he was impossibly, totally, and completely in love with Harry Potter.
He was twenty when he realized he'd never have him because Ginevra Weasley got there first.
It's been well over a decade now, but their performances on the Hogwarts stage haunt him still. Teasing and hexes, Quidditch and detentions, Sectumsempra in a bathroom inhabited by a lonely ghost, and vicious Fiendfyre in the Room of Hidden Things.
The most alive Draco has ever felt was when he was clutching onto Harry for dear life, zigzagging through malevolent flames.
He'd never wanted to let go.
Unbidden and unnoticed, clear tears stream harder down his face.
Up at the altar, Hermione starts tearing up. She lets the tears flow freely, assuming (and rightly so) that anyone watching would think they were tears of joy, since two of her best friends are getting married today.
They don't know that these are tears of sorrow and commiseration, because Hermione Granger-Weasley can't let Draco Malfoy grieve alone when he's watching the love of his life marry someone else.
When the couple says their "I do's" at last and they kiss, Draco can't bear it any longer. The applause and congratulations are loud, but he knows that his sobs would overwhelm the glad tidings.
He slips out through a back door and arches against the bricks behind his back, one hand forming a fist and going inside his mouth as he screams and screams and the other scrabbling desperately at the wall, attempting to find some kind of anchor, anything at all.
He's sobbing, he can't breathe, and he thinks he's dying. His heart has shattered, and all of the sharp pieces are piercing his other organs and bleeding him dry from the inside out.
He wants to die.
He's never regretted the choices he's made more than at this precise moment in time.
His white suit is stained with red dust and he's howling, letting out all of his rage and grief and overwhelming heartbreak into the world. Every window in the alley explodes, and he's standing in his own personal maelstrom of devastation.
Harry Potter can't be the one who got away, because he never had him at all.
Hermione watches Draco leave, sure he's going somewhere private to break in peace. She slips out a few minutes after him and walks into a storm.
She throws up an instinctive shield and makes her way carefully to the eye of the storm, where she can see flashes of platinum hair and the pain and longing radiate so strongly she can taste them.
She can't believe that she ever wished she was powerful enough to vanish all of the atoms that made up Draco Malfoy from existence.
He was so human.
And so very, very fragile.
Slowly, very slowly, Draco becomes aware of... something.
Something... wrapped around him tightly. Something warm. Something kind. Something with bushy, brown hair, shaking and crying over the front of his suit.
Or is he the one shaking?
All of the orbiting glass splinters drop.
Hermione doesn't correct him. What she does is draw slightly away from him, takes his right hand, the one that had been scrabbling at the brick and is now bleeding copiously as a result, and casts a wandless healing spell that heals the many cuts and bruises.
Draco stares at her blankly. He has no idea what to do. But the tears aren't stopping.
He's not sure if they ever will.
She places a finger over his trembling lips and shakes her head.
"I know. I know, Draco."
"He loved you too," she whispers, hand dropping back to her side and new tears sliding down her face.
"No, he didn't," Draco replied softly. He's shivering like a leaf in a tornado. "Or he would have chosen me."
Hermione stops short. Does he really not know?
"Draco... he didn't think you could be a choice."
"And now-- now, it's too late. There's nothing to be done."
Draco gulps. He feels like he's splitting apart at the seams.
He has to do something. Anything.
"Do you have a quill and parchment, by any chance?"
"Why would you just assume--"
He gives her a Look.
"Fine! Yes, I have them. Here," and she hands them over.
Draco tears off a small piece of parchment, inks the quill, and scribbles a few lines. Then he takes out his wand and charms the parchment, sending it flying into the air.
"You're very welcome. Did that help?"
Hermione looks him up and down. He looks awful, like an angel fallen from grace. He looks like he doesn't have a reason to live. He looks like he's been Kissed.
That worries her.
That worries her a lot, and not just for herself, or for Draco. If something happened to Draco, Harry would fall to pieces.
"Malfoy-- Draco... don't-- don't do anything stupid. Please."
"I can't promise that, Hermione," he says quietly. And then he bends down, kisses her on the cheek, and Disapparates without another word.
Hermione slides to the ground and puts her head in her hands. She's crying again, but that doesn't matter. Someone will find her soon.
Draco lands in his flat and just breathes for a minute.
He can still do that.
And then he goes and cleans himself up, puts on his best Malfoy mask, and firecalls his mother.
"Mother? I was wondering if that betrothal with Astoria Greengrass was still an option."
"Yes, darling, it is, but why?"
"I think we could be good together."
A little over a year later, Harry is sipping his coffee and reading The Daily Prophet when a little blurb catches his eye.
"Draco Malfoy and Astoria Greengrass to be married within the month! The wedding will be the event of the season, and..."
His coffee mug falls to the floor and shatters.
Then, wandlessly, wordlessly, the newspaper incinerates. Ash floats around him and he is very, very still.
His chest rising quickly up and down and the tears falling down his cheeks are the only signs that his blood is still pumping through his veins and his lungs are still functioning.
Otherwise, he's frozen.
Hermione goes on a walk with Harry later that day. She knows he's read the newspaper. He still hasn't said a word.
While they're walking along the path, a piece of parchment flutters down near Harry, and in the first real sign of life she's seen from him all day, he snatches it.
Her eyes widen when he opens it.
No, it can't be.
"Harry? What does it say?"
He hands it to her with quivering hands and shoves them back in his pockets. There's a little color back in his face, and his eyes have regained some of their fire.
The note reads, in familiar handwriting:
Not together in this life, no (thanks to both you and me); but maybe in the next, and always in the ones after that.
"Harry?" she whispers. "What does this mean?"
His eyes are shining now with unshed tears.
"It's a promise."