Regrouping Part III
Harry nearly collided with Severus as he headed into the parlor to use the floo. "Sorry," Harry smirked at the grunt of surprise and frown of having been induced to grunt on his former professor's face.
"Are you heading out?" Severus asked.
"It's Sunday," Harry said. At Severus' nod of Ahh, he asked the older wizard, "Have you seen Luna today?"
"She told me earlier that she was going to spend some time at her house, but would return to sleep here tonight," he tilted his head. "She will be staying here for a time?"
"Yes, sir, I've been after her for most of the past year to stay here when her father travels," Harry told him. "She's easy to have around, and I thought it would be nice for her to have some company too. She finally agreed because of the kidnapping, I think."
"Hmmm," Severus said. Now he smirked at how completely obtuse Harry could be as the boy gave him a wave and disappeared into the green flames.
There was a lovely streak of sunlight keeping Hermione just comfortable enough to feel lazy, and she'd been lounging in the backyard with a book for over an hour when a tall, lean shadow cast itself over her. "Hello, Severus," she smiled up at him from the chaise longue she'd transfigured into more of a reclined bench. "Care to join me?"
Severus looked at the rather intimate, small space she was suggesting he share with her. "That will be quite cozy, you realize?" But he was already moving to take the proffered seat, and in a moment was sitting hip-to-hip beside her, with his arm around her shoulders.
"Quite cozy." Hermione chuckled softly and leaned into his side, which felt both familiar and exhilarating. And safe.
"How have you been, since the other night?" he asked quietly.
"I've been… struggling," she admitted.
"Hmmm, as have I," he told her. "That moment when each of you was pulled away from my reality induced several very different types of terror for me."
"I know exactly the terror you mean." She said shakily. "It's very unsettling. And unsettled is not a feeling I thought I'd be revisiting, at least not so soon after the Final Battle."
"I believe it is safe to say that with the extended coverage of our dramatic experience in the Prophet, the wizarding population will likely now know, without question, that each of the targets can take care of him- or her- self. In case there are preparations underway for more mayhem."
"Well, there's that," Hermione conceded with a tone of irony. "Although, I wasn't particularly concerned that such a message needed to be conveyed."
"Aside from my own near coronary arrest, I am under the impression that no one but Lucius suffered any real physical injury, although I'd feared that Narcissa had."
"She was upset because she'd let her fear paralyze her for a short time," Hermione explained. "Rabastan got rather lewd before her defenses kicked in. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how feisty she is at heart."
"You do not," Severus agreed, still feeling relieved to hear further confirmation that his longtime friend had not been defiled.
"When she and I realized we had been kidnapped, and were initially afraid for our lives, she got right down to business and told me that if I came through it alive, that I should waste no more time about - her words - laying my claim on you. She told me not to hesitate, that she knew you well enough to know you would reciprocate."
"Clearly she and Harry have the same agenda," Severus said with some amusement, and some tension, the good kind.
They sat in silence, but the close proximity was distracting.
Severus moved his arm down over hers and tugged her closer, and she turned into his side so that that strong arm would envelope her more fully. Hermione stretched her own arm across his chest and squeezed. She could hear the rapid response of his heartbeat to her touch, and realized she was losing the battle to restrain herself around him. "My inner monologue at the moment is on the subject of how short life is," she said. "And what's yet to be said between the two of us."
"Indeed," Severus murmured, and he was unable to stop his hand from cupping her face and tilting it upward so that he could duck his head down and kiss her deeply. The intense response that flared between them was both sweet and powerfully arousing, and they were each helplessly swept away. At some point, several minutes later, above the roar of his pounding heart and her gasps for breath, he realized she had somehow straddled his lap and was now framing his face with both of her hands, leaning in for a second kiss. He couldn't possibly have controlled his own hands from sliding up her thighs and cupping her hips, pulling her down so that he could fully feel her against him.
Hermione broke the kiss with a sharp gasp, and pulled far enough away so that they could really see each other. She was openly shocked at the ache he was inducing in her. After a few rasping attempts to catch her breath, she gave him crooked smile and said tremulously, "I think it's safe to say that we now know what we're missing while we wait for Harry to recover."
Severus took her hands and pressed them over his heart, trapping them beneath his, while he closed his eyes and attempted to reclaim his senses. It took several minutes, but he eventually succeeded, and opened them again to find hers oddly tearful and amused at the same time. "Hermione," he said roughly. "This is more than friendship to me."
"I know," she said softly. "For me too. It has been for a very long time." She smiled a very smoky smile for him. "I can wait to really begin with us, Severus. I've witnessed how transforming it has been for you and Harry to grow close. I see a wholeness in you, and I want you to have that, for just you, and with Harry. I've had my own version of it with him since I was twelve. I know how much it matters, and how special he is. He'll grow back to his proper age sooner than we think, knowing Harry. And then, just when you realize he's not a boy, but a man, and your heart starts to break a little bit-"
"You'll straddle me - exactly as you are doing now, and kiss me senseless," he finished for her.
The expression on his face made Hermione have a flash of insight of what it might feel like to swoon. Severus Snape wants me, she thought in amazement. "Yes," she promised. "Exactly like this." There was that ache again, the one that left her breathless and struggling to stay coherent, and it certainly wasn't going to subside while she maintained the intimate contact, so the next few moments were spent with Hermione reseating herself, this time sideways on Severus' lap and curling into his embrace. And just relaxing.
Harry returned to the infirmary Monday morning, and found Lucius pacing nervously. "What's wrong?" he asked in alarm.
Lucius stopped to consider Harry for a moment. "What do you imagine Draco's response will be to the news that Naomi was actually a distant male cousin?" he asked in a tense voice.
Harry gulped. "I imagine he'll have a really hard time with it. But we'll help him, alright?" He took in the ensemble that Lucius had on today: black jeans, fitted black turtleneck jumper and black boots. He'd already magically regrown his hair. Unable to suppress an odd combination of humor and awe, Harry shook his head and grinned at the floor.
"And what is amusing to you at a time like this, hmmm?"
"I think you know by now that you look downright cool in muggle clothes, Lucius," Harry smirked.
"Well, it's Narcissa's doing, thanks to you, I might add," he said in his usual reserved tone, but a smile was tugging at the corner of his mouth. "I'm glad you're here, Harry-"
"Well, Mr. Malfoy, now that you're sufficiently recovered and stylized, let's wake your son, shall we?" Madam Pomfrey cut him off in her usual brisk manner, scooting past Harry and Lucius, bustling right on into Draco's privately partitioned area.
Harry couldn't help but laugh as he followed Lucius, who'd indulged in one of his classic sneers of displeasure at having been interrupted before turning on his heel to follow the mediwitch.
Draco came out of the deep sleep as if he was still struggling to surface from the depths of the frigid lake, dragging in deep gulps of air, eyes bulging, and pallor turning blue.
"Easy, Mr. Malfoy," Madam Pomfrey coaxed. "You're safe. You've been asleep to replenish your magic."
Narcissa smoothed a hand over his hair, as Lucius said in a gravelly voice, "Welcome back, son."
Draco's eyes shot over to Harry's and there was no doubt he already knew about Naomi, and also realized that everyone else did too. "Ugh, why didn't you just let me drown?" he groaned.
"Draco!" both of his parents scolded, not impressed that the blond teen was already wallowing in self pity. "Be careful what you wish for, young man," Lucius warned sternly.
"Go ahead, Potter, say it," Draco said miserably, completely unperturbed by his father's chastising.
"Say what? I'm glad you're okay?" Harry asked. "Well, I am, so quit your grumbling, junior."
Madam Pomfrey had been casting diagnostic charms in the meantime. "You're quite well, Draco. Let's see how you do with a meal, and get you up and dressed. If you still show these readings in a couple of hours, I'll send you home with your parents." She bustled out, calling over her shoulder. "I'll have a tray sent up in about thirty minutes. That should give you time to assemble yourself."
"We'll leave you to your privacy," Narcissa said, and led Lucius out of the room. Both of them cast concerned looks at their son, but he was oblivious.
"Stay, Harry," Draco said softly. He pushed back his covers and got to his feet, looking around for his clothes. Harry tossed them over to him and plopped down on the nearby chair. "Will you cast a freshening charm or two on me?" Draco asked. "I'll wait to shower at home."
"Sure," Harry said, and used his wand to deliver the best charm alternative to a real shower on the other wizard several times. "I'm dying to know how in the world you survived in that lake, you know," he said.
Draco pulled on the jeans his mother had brought for him. "That's not what you want to know," Draco said bitterly. "And I completely deserve what's coming. That's the worst of this. It's total payback, and I've no one to blame but myself." He stopped his rant as a thought occurred to him. "What happened to her- er, him?"
Harry paled. He hadn't been expecting to be the one to tell Draco, but he wasn't going to lie to his friend. "Dead," he said softly. "He fought with Dean, and… lost." Draco's expression remained stoic. "When did you realize? about her- er, him?"
"I suspected she'd- bugger! -he'd been behind the attack from Blaise and Raj. There was just no other explanation," Draco told him. He'd finished dressing and sat on the bed with his pajamas balled on his lap. He cast his miserable eyes back on Harry. "When I was honest with myself, I knew something was really off about the whole relationship. And once, I thought I saw a glamour slip, but then it was back." He shook his head as he realized he'd played right into the whole deception. "I avoided seeing Naomi again until the memorial because I'd already invited her to come, but I was going to break it off. Next thing I know, I'm being portkeyed into cold liquid nothingness, and just before I was pulled away, I saw the glamour fall again."
Harry pinched up his face, as if the whole subject stank. "She was a bloody bloke," he confirmed. "No one guessed, Draco. We were all shocked, and all worried about how you would take it." At Draco's look of doubt, Harry glared at him. "You have better friends now. They're not the kind who would ridicule you when you're down. Everyone was worried that you'd not only had your heart broken, but that you'd be really upset about all of it. But no one thinks any less of you."
Draco sighed. "Everything is such a mess, still, and it's been a whole year." He was looking meaningfully at Harry. "Tell me honestly, Harry," he said, his voice breaking. "How can you have forgiven Father, and Severus, for all of the nasty things they did to you? I need to know, because I am trying really hard not to blame Father for this, but none of it would have ever happened if he'd been a different sort of wizard, when I needed him to be." His eyes filled and he pressed his lips together, ducking his head down.
"It's not entirely about forgiving," Harry admitted softly. "It's mostly about letting things go. And it's really hard at first. You have to tell him how you feel. He already knows it, Draco. He knows his choices made your life horrible. If you tell him, you'll be confirming his worst regrets, but at least it will be out in the open. After that, you have to make yourself hold onto the stuff that's really good about him. It gets much better, then."
"But you still hold grudges against Severus," Draco said after he'd gotten control of his voice again. "You won't do potions with him."
Harry clenched his jaw. "Like I said, it's really hard. But I'm trying, and it helps a lot that he's so bloody cool now. And so's your dad. I mean, did you see what he's wearing?" Draco rolled his eyes, unimpressed. Harry leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. "We're really lucky, Draco. Both of them have changed so dramatically that… well, this conversation would be pointless if they hadn't, right?"
"Yeah," Draco said.
Missives from the Ministry sailed through the floo at Number 12 Grimmauld Place on Tuesday morning, one for each of the four current residents. Harry caught them as he passed by to head down to the kitchen, and his stomach clenched. Why were they being called to a hearing for Draco? He read through his Request to Appear, and saw that the fine print said the hearing had been called to record group testimony on the events at the 1st Year Memorial, and was to begin within the hour. A sense of dejà-vous settled in as flashes of memories of being called a liar for claiming there had been dementors in Little Whinging came to mind. Just like fifth year, he thought.
The collection of assembled witnesses included everyone who'd participated in the rescue efforts after the kidnapping. Harry couldn't help the tension gathering in his shoulders as he looked around at all of his friends, and then at Draco, who was as white as a sheet. He automatically feared the worst. Even the squeeze to his shoulder from Severus didn't really help. Harry was seated between Luna and Hermione in the front row, along with Lucius, Narcissa, and Draco. Severus was directly behind him, along with all of the Weasley men, Neville, Dean, Lee, and the aurors.
"Call to order," a loud voice projected over the already silent room. The Wizengamut filed in and sat in their arena style places.
Madam Warlock of the High Counsel of the Wizengamut, Amelia Bones, went straight to the podium to begin the hearing. "Welcome to each of you, and thank you for making an effort to be here. I sincerely apologize for the last minute notice. We were waiting for confirmation from Magical Law Enforcement that Rabistan Lestrange had been liberated from his miniature dwelling." She paused to look over her glasses at Percy, who nodded agreement that the information was correct. "I would like to take this time to introduce the new Head of Magical Law Enforcement, Percival Weasley. He's the youngest and likely the brightest to hold the position, and has already demonstrated unfaltering competence in his leadership of this whole debacle you each experienced during our memorial." She cast her glance over the entire first row before raising her hand to gesture for Percy to stand up and they all clapped for him.
Harry had to smile, as he clapped for the middle Weasley brother. Maybe this wasn't going to be such a rotten day, after all.
"To continue, I have also deliberately named Draco Malfoy as a focus of this hearing because I intend to address some circumstances that are no longer appropriate. Mr. Draco Malfoy, will you please stand?"
Draco stood and squared his shoulders just enough to convey respect for the court without his usual haughtiness.
"Mr. Malfoy, will you please describe what you experienced from the moment you touched the champagne glass at the Memorial?"
"Yes, Madam Warlock. I was portkeyed to a destination that was deep underwater, in the middle of a massive lake. I swam to the surface only to find I was miles from land in all directions." Draco said. His voice was strong, but Harry could tell by the way he clamped his arms to his sides that he was terrified.
"You had your wand with you, did you not?" Madam Bones asked.
"Yes, Madame Warlock," Draco said.
"But the only spells you cast were warming charms, and one bubblehead charm, which our Deputy Minister is quite convinced is the reason you are still living," Madam Bones told him. "Why did you not use other spells?"
Draco clenched his jaw. "I'm on probation, and I didn't want to risk breaching my restrictions," he said, adding quickly. "I'm not complaining. I'm quite grateful to have been granted such a lenient sentence."
"And this was not the first time you refused to risk such a breach, even in the face of danger, is that correct?" she inquired.
Draco cast a frightened look at Harry, but returned his attention to the court as he nodded. "Yes, Madam Bones."
"Mr. Malfoy, it is quite clear that you understood your sentencing, and that the intention of the court when it was given to you was that you make dramatic changes in your behavior and in your life in general. You have demonstrated an admirable commitment to these terms, and as it was also the opinion of this court that you might not have engaged in some of the less admirable acts during Voldemort's reign of terror, had you not been put in such a position by virtue of your father's affiliations. It is the judgement of this court that as of now, you have served your sentence in its entirety, and your magical restriction is removed. You may now begin your adulthood, Mr. Malfoy. I believe you are well on your way to admirable ends."
Draco bowed to her. "Thank you, Madam Warlock."
"You are quite welcome, Mr. Malfoy," she told him. "Please be seated." Now she looked over at the senior Malfoys. "Mister and Madam Malfoy, will you please rise?"
Lucius and Narcissa stood with the exact same posture as Draco had, and waited to be addressed.
"I am seeking your response to the same question I asked your son," Madam Bones told them. "Mr. Malfoy, I am told you were taken to Hogwarts infirmary in a broken heap, your wand unused, and still holstered in your sleeve. Madam Malfoy, it is not yet clear where your wand resided during your misadventure, but it is quite clear to Magical Law Enforcement that you did not attempt to use it in self defense."
"Madam Bones, if I may," Lucius responded, "We are exactly as our son indicated: grateful to have been sentenced to probation, and allowed an extensive degree of freedom as a result. I am happy to restrict my magic in the event of my own self defense. I will admit that had I been in the company of my wife or son and witnessed either in peril, I would have acted to protect them, even at the cost of time spent in Azkaban."
"But did you not understand that an exception would be made in circumstances of self defense?" she asked.
"I do not consider my sentence to be anything but far lighter than I deserved, and as such, I am loathe to abuse or take advantage of any exception that might be made on my behalf." Lucius concluded.
"And you, Madam Malfoy?"
"I am of the same mind as my husband. My sentence ends in a matter of weeks-"
"Your sentence ends today," Madam Bones interrupted. "Pardon me, I did not mean to interrupt, Madam Malfoy, but your full magical privilege is restored as of now. Mister Malfoy, your sentence will be reduced by half. You will have your restrictions released in eighteen months time."
The remainder of the hearing included formal testimony by the Ministry officials (Kingsley, Arthur, and Percy) and each of the aurors who had engaged in the capture of the Lestranges and their cohorts. Harry heard a far more extensive tale of combat and containment than he'd actually witnessed. That whole event had required not only the entire team of deputees, but a dozen aurors, and several Ministry administration staff to manage the aftermath of interrogations, clean up, and paperwork. At the conclusion of the oral recap, each of the deputees was extended an invitation to train in the auror program. Lee and Dean exchanged grins and accepted their invitations. Harry had no hesitation when he graciously declined his, nor did any of his other close friends.
"It does sort of prompt me to realize I should start thinking about what I want to do when I look my age again," Harry commented to Neville and Draco as they walked through the long hallway toward the lifts that would take them to the Atrium.
"Neville and I are forming a rock band," Draco announced.
"What?" Harry demanded, laughing in disbelief.
"What do you mean, what?" Draco asked, speeding up a few paces, and turning to walk backwards so he could face them for the rest of the exchange. "Neville plays guitar, didn't you know?"
"No," Harry said. He shot a grin at Neville. "Can you?"
"A bit, yeah," Neville said, grinning back. "And Draco can sing a bit as well."
Harry gawked, he looked around to see who else was hearing this and saw that basically everyone was. "So when will you give a performance then?"
"Soon, Scarhead," Draco said with a smirk.
Harry was glad to see Draco in such light spirits, and he couldn't help but think he was witnessing something between Neville and Draco that wasn't exactly new, although when it could have started, he had no idea.