Together at Last
Hermione is walking with Harry and Ron along the bridge after the war is over. Harry already recalled how he defeated Voldemort. As soon as Nagini was slain Voldemort had nothing else keeping him alive, and he was distracted by the loss enough for Harry's spell to push forward. Not to mention, he's explaining now that the Elder Wand never would have hurt him. Hermione listens as he explains that he's been the true owner of the wand all along. She knew this, of course, because she made him disarm Malfoy earlier that evening. Ron didn't realize until the explanation what he'd been encouraging his friend to do.
"You knew Malfoy was an ally, Hermione. Can you tell us the story behind that now?" Harry asks somewhat abruptly. It is not necessarily unrelated to the conversation that was taking place prior to the statement but it is somewhat disjointed from the rest of what he's said.
"Can't we leave it at the fact that he just told me?" Hermione replies as defenselessly as possible. Her eyes subconsciously scan the horizon wondering if she can see him gathering the dead. He offered to help with the burials while his parents were taken into custody. Harry was able to talk the remaining officials of the Ministry into leaving Draco behind but not his mother, unfortunately. Draco’s alliance was clear whereas his mother's was harder to align. Even though she helped keep Harry alive and helped with the injured there was little other evidence to free her from trial.
"When did he tell you, then?" Ron whispers. Hermione senses the uncertainty in his voice; she sees his worry in the frown still hanging over his lips. Harry's brows wrinkle in the middle of his forehead at the sadness in his best friend's voice. Hermione knows immediately that he suspected something between her and Draco when she saved him. Although, the fact that she saved only Draco must have been a loud enough statement about her feelings by itself.
"In our fifth year." Hermione admits aloud. She and Ginny never spoke about the books and letters to one another, not after she explained the agreement between her and Draco. This was the first time since then that she was acknowledging that it happened at all. "Draco and I grew very close that year and he swore to me then that he would ensure that Voldemort did not win."
Ron's agony is all but vocalized when he rubs his hand nervously over his face, trying anxiously to wipe away grime, dirt, and jealousy from his features. Hermione feels herself blush more or less in terror than anything else. Harry turns so that he is facing her and only her. Ron uses this opportunity to walk a few feet away from the present conversation.
"I think you need to tell us the entire story, 'Mione. You've been keeping it secret for long enough." Harry doesn't speak maliciously. Hermione knows this. However, his irritation is apparent, as he understands that she did not trust her two closest friends enough to inform them of her alliance. She wonders if he has guessed now that she was attracted, is attracted still, to the Slytherin. He would have to suspect it, she decides, because why else would she not tell them about it?
So she starts from the beginning. Hermione tells them how out-of-place she felt at the time. How desperate she was to cling onto something from her past. She tells them that she left a Muggle book in the library and about the anonymous letters she received. There is so much happiness inside of her as she recounts the lovely story to them and how she developed an attraction to her reader. And then she reveals to them in an upfront fashion that elicits a sigh from both of her friends when she confirms that the reader had been Draco Malfoy all along.
It is Harry who speaks first, asking if anyone else knew about her companionship to Draco. Hermione admits that Ginny did find out on her own. This angers Ron who seems to be holding back tears. She hates to make his hurt after giving him hope for a romance, one that she had been craving as well – at the time. Harry puts a hand on Ron's shoulder before asking the next question.
"Is that why he lied at Malfoy Manor? He was trying to help us." Harry didn't really need to question her on the matter. It was without saying that he did exactly that. Draco did not want to admit who they actually were because he was trying to increase the odds of them being allowed free. Hermione knows that it was a hopeful goal but he had tried and she appreciates now as much as she had then.
"You already know the answer to that." Hermione succumbs to the humiliation of her actions. Harry is trying to point to out, she decides, that Draco's actions were selfish. And consequently, that her actions were as well. It is a terrible truth but it won the war. Hermione still justifies her decisions with that truth.
"Do you – do you love him?" Ron chimes in. Hermione is taken aback instantly. Her jaw falls open. She has said it dozens of times to herself that he is the man she loves. He is one of the men she loves. Hearing someone ask her to confirm those feelings aloud, though, brings reality to a boiling point in her chest. She must blink her eyes several times before she purses her lips together and looks her friend directly in his eyes.
Carefully she places her hands on his cheek, crying as she accepts his question as valid.
"Yes. And I love you, too. And I love Harry. I love your brothers. I love Ginny. I love all of you as my family. Then with Draco…" Her voice cracks. She knows that she is about to break Ron's heart. He lost a brother today to the war. He lost friends. And now he must lose a person he was very much in love with to someone he despised. Hermione recognizes that nothing could be more painful or insulting, but she also knows she must tell him if she is ever to feel at peace. "…There is something else. Something inexplicable and complicated – I am just simply drawn to him. I loved him before I ever knew it was him."
Ron pushes himself away and apparates somewhere else. It is just Harry and Hermione on the bridge. Harry does not look angry but he is surprised. There was no way to avoid that since for years Malfoy was considered an enemy. Hermione steps away from Harry to give him some space, as though this would help process the information he's just received. Much to her disbelief, he actually mimics her and even steps nearer.
Harry wraps his arms around Hermione unexpectedly. She accepts it and returns the gesture with passion. Their friendship is obviously still intact but Hermione wonders if she will ever be close to Ron again. There is only so much damage one can inflict before things become irreparable. Thankfully, Harry pulls back and smiles at her.
"You are my friend no matter who you love. Besides that, Draco proved himself a good man today. Ron will come around - he always does. I'll go after him but you – you should go after Draco." Hermione can't help but laugh with gratitude. She wasn't sure what she expected but it all ended on a good note. They walk down the bridge hand-in-hand with different destinations in mind but bonds too strong to break. Hermione is thankful with every step she takes to have a friend like Harry Potter, a hero in more ways than one.
Draco has just taken another body into the Great Hall to be identified and delivered to whatever location was appropriate. He actually just picked up Scabior, one of the Snatchers present when Hermione was brought to Malfoy Manor. He'd died when Neville Longbottom collapsed the bridge earlier in the evening. As he moves among the fallen witches and wizards he considers how the bad guys also had families that loved them, families that would feel the sting of their loss. Draco counted himself lucky that both of his parents were alive, imprisoned but alive nonetheless. Others were not as fortunate. His mother lost a sister today. Goyle died while his parents survived. Neville Longbottom's family, already torn apart by Death Eaters, was now missing a good man. Harry's parents were long lost when the war first lit a fire beneath the surface of the wizarding world. As he glances back over his shoulder people converged around Scabior, he too had parents and siblings somewhere. Draco had only heard them mentioned once when his father once inquired. "In hiding, sir, they are not as strong as I am," that is what he had said.
Draco headed back towards the broken bridge to see if anyone else had been lost there – and that’s when he catches sight of something gray and blue moving in the distance. He turns his head out of habit and curiosity only to find that it is Hermione Granger and Harry Potter walking back towards the broken school. His heart flutters at the sight of a disheveled Hermione. She is gorgeous regardless of what she is doing but he admits she was her most beautiful when she is saving him from what he thought was an inevitable death.
It seems that she has spotted him as well because within a few minutes she is jogging in his direction. Draco wants to look as calm and collected as possible so he starts kicking about rubble, bending down to inspect something that looks like a person more closely. He sees that it is another Snatcher. He doesn't recognize this one but he was also a werewolf, evidenced by his extremely hairy face and fangs. Hermione is behind him soon enough breathing heavily.
"Didn't you see me?" She breathes anxiously as she speaks to him, hands planting themselves on her hips forcefully. Draco straightens back to his full height and finds that he is significantly elevated. He just towers over Hermione by at least six or seven inches. Kicking rocks as he steps down he is able to clear up the Snatcher's body enough to pull him out whenever he finishes his conversation with Hermione.
"Of course I saw you. I was just trying to be impressive by acting disinterested." Draco cannot resist the grin tugging at the corners of his lips. Once a full blown smile is on his face he dares to look up at the woman who broke laws to travel back in time and save him, and bring an end to the war. Nothing could more flattering than that, nor more telling of one's feelings.
"I just saved your life and you are trying to be disinterested? Was it more humiliating to be saved by a Gryffindor or by a girl?" Hermione jokes so effortlessly in a very snarky fashion. It is very natural for her to behave cockily. The superiority may not be conscious but it is present and Draco adores that about her. He suspects that for once she doesn't have to filter herself when she is speaking to him.
"You have me to thank for your hero status, Granger. If I didn't put myself in danger then you would have had nobody to save." For a split second after he says it he knows that he has said something awful, since saving Neville became impossible when he showed up. He was just thinking about how Hermione does not need to beat around the bush with him when he should have considered paying more attention to what he was saying instead. Hermione doesn't seem to flinch too much, thankfully. In fact, she steps nearer to him and takes his hands in her own. Something inside of Draco melts away, a pain so deep rooted that he had forgotten what it was like to exist without it.
"Just thank me properly, won't you, Draco?" Whatever happens after this, he suspects, won't be easy. His father will need to adjust. Weasley will need to time to accept it. There will actually be very few people who would understand for a very long time. Regardless of those obstacles, which are now minor compared to everything that they'd just faced in the Battle of Hogwarts, Draco was fully prepared to commit himself to Hermione Granger properly. Openly!
So without further hesitation Draco Malfoy does thank her properly. By slowly pressing his lips to hers, whispering the most important words of his entire life between soft kisses, "I will always love you, Hermione Granger."