At one point in time Number 12, Grimmauld Place had been a safe haven. But that was before the Order had been destroyed. Before Zacharias Smith had been captured, tortured, and given away its location. Zacharias Smith had been an annoying and self-serving prat but even he didn't deserve what they did to him. Only bits of him were ever found.
The irony made Hermione Granger want to laugh as she entered the ruins of the house.
She clutched the letter Harry had sent her with her instructions. She had to hand it to him; it was very clever to hide a graveyard where the Order of the Phoenix had once been housed.
She muttered the Disillusionment Charm Harry had given her and all at once the ruins of the house dissolved away to reveal a small graveyard surrounded by a wrought iron gate. In an almost dreamlike state she opened the gate and stepped inside.
It was small, with only six headstones lightly dusted with snow. She read them from left to right. Alastor Moody. Remus Lupin. Minerva McGonagall. Hannah Abbott. Fred Weasley. Then the one she came to see.
At the sight of his gravestone Hermione fell to her knees in shock. When Harry had finally written to her in her self-imposed exile in France, she'd cried for days before she was able to make the trip back to Britain. Seeing the grave was like a physical blow. She fumbled around in her coat pocket and pulled out a small diamond ring. Although she'd ceased wearing it months ago, she hadn't been able to throw it away. Wiping a tear from her eye, she placed it at the foot of his grave.
"How pathetically sweet." A voice behind her sneered.
Hermione was instantly on her feet, wand out. Draco Malfoy stood at the entrance to the graveyard.
It infuriated her to see how refined and well-groomed he looked, like he had never suffered a day in his life. He was wearing expensive black robes. He'd let his hair grow long and it currently almost came down to his shoulders. And he looked…
Well-fed wasn't the correct term. Content. Satisfied. She wanted to scratch his eyes out in pure hatred. "You are the last person I want to see right now." She growled.
He smirked at her and rolled up the sleeves of his robe. "Careful. All I have to do is press this Mark and you'll be surrounded by Death Eaters before you can say 'Quidditch'."
She froze. "Why are you here?"
"What?" He pretended to look confused. "Is this not the time for a loving reunion? I haven't seen you in six months and I thought we could make up for lost time."
"Can't you even let me mourn my husband in peace?" She asked bitterly.
"Husband?" Draco sneered. "The only reason you married Weasley was because that's what everyone expected you to do. It was supposed to be me and you, and you know it."
"Marriage changed nothing. You did everything you could do to make sure that nobody ever found out. The best friend of the Boy Who Just Won't Die can't be involved with a Malfoy, can she? There can't be any divided loyalties…"
"My loyalty is here." She said through clenched teeth, gesturing at the row of graves. "With all of the people you killed."
He cocked his head. "Now, that isn't exactly fair. I never laid a hand on McGonagall or Abbott. As for the little Weasel, well nobody knows for sure what spell did him in, he got hit with so many. He seemed to think that he could take on half of the Death Eaters by himself."
She didn't scream at him. She was quiet, biting, which hinted at rage that ran much deeper than she was capable of expressing. Draco took a step toward her and reached for her. "Come with me. You don't have anyone else to turn to. Other than Potter, I can't think of anyone Voldemort wants more right now."
She looked at his outstretched hand in disgust. Six months ago, she might have been frightened. "I'm not going with you."
Draco was immediately angry. "Why the hell not? You're dead if you don't, and you know it."
"What does it matter?" She snapped back. "There's nothing left. You and I…we could never be. Do you really think I could sit idly by knowing what you've done and what you plan to do? I already…I practically killed Ron myself."
"Hermione, what happened? The last time I saw you, we were going to leave Britain." He asked her, becoming more gentle.
"I ran into Ron." She said through clenched teeth. "I wasn't going to tell him but…all of a sudden, I couldn't just leave him. He had to understand…"
"You told him? Are you mad?"
Hermione glanced at the gravestone. "He told me to get out. He called me a traitor, he said I was worse than Wormtail. I didn't even argue. I just left."
"Hermione, why didn't you come to me?" Draco asked. "You could have…"
"I could have what?" Hermione cried. "I lost everything, Draco. I thought I could pay the price, but…"
"Anything would have been better than vanishing off the face of the Earth!" Draco yelled. "You still had me! Did you ever once think about me?"
For a moment silence filled the clearing. Then Hermione took a deep breath. "Every day."
Draco absently kicked at the iron fence surrounding the graveyard and ran his fingers through his hair. "Look Hermione. I'm pretty screwed up…I think we both know that. I know that you blame me for everything and you're so stubborn that you'll probably never get over it. But you can deny it all you want, I know you care about me."
She opened her mouth to argue but he cut her off. "Did you ever considered that I never, not even once, lied to you? You knew the moment I became a Death Eater. You know who I've killed. You've always known, and you still came to me. And do you know what else? I've been going crazy for the last six months because you haven't been here. I'm sorry that Ron died, if I could have prevented it I would have! But did you ever stop to think that maybe you and I have a chance now? Neither of us are perfect…but I know that there's nothing I wouldn't do for you. That might be enough."
He straightened his collar. "Maybe we weren't ready six months ago, but I can't bear to lose you again. Harry Potter might be a worthless prat, but he did forgive you for what you did to Ron, you know. And it took a lot of convincing, but he knows I’m not about to hand you over to Voldemort. So here's the deal: Harry's just as big of a forgiving sap as Dumbledore was, and he's told Bill and Fleur to expect us at Shell Cottage tonight. We get there together, and we figure out the next step from there. They will keep us safe from Voldemort until we figure something out."
As the gravity of his words set in, Hermione shook herself to make sure she was awake. "What, just like that you're not going to be a Death Eater anymore? And Harry believes that?"
"Yeah, he does. I guess Snape being in love with his mother softened his heart towards Death Eaters with a weak spot for Muggle borns."
"And what makes you think I'm going to go with you now, if I wouldn't go six months ago?"
"Because however bad things got, the one thing that I always knew was that you would be there. Right now things are about as bad as they can get, but I still know that."
With a loud crack, he Disapparated.
Hermione was left in the graveyard alone. She shivered as the snow picked up, and although she wrapped her cloak tightly around her shoulders, she still felt chilled to the bone. She closed her eyes and inhaled slowly.
In France she'd tried to convince herself that the only reason she got involved with Draco Malfoy was because it was her way to handle the war. It was something to do, an escape if you will. And he was surprisingly sweet. He'd never forced her to do anything she didn't want to do. He'd never done more than kiss her.
But somehow, those kisses and caresses had turned sour. In school it was sweet and daring. Hermione Granger was secretly seeing a Death Eater. It was as though Hogwarts protected them from the reality of the outside world. But it was hard to keep the secret because they were in such tight quarters. Once they left it became much easier.
It also ceased to be the romantic fairy-tale Hermione had initially envisioned.
They saw each other sporadically. Most often they'd find each other after they'd been dueling on opposite sides in a battle. The worst had been at a Muggle school the night that Fred Weasley died…
"Go! Get out! Now!" She could hear Harry yelling in the background.
But Hermione's brain wasn't working properly. She saw the flames, she saw the Dark Mark, she definitely saw Fred Weasley lying on the ground in front of her, but she couldn't feel anything. Her movements were slow and clunky, like she was moving through a vat of syrup, and a loud roar filled her ears.
She tried to run away but as she turned her foot caught on something and she fell with a thud. Her wand skittered to the ground and fell five feet away in front of her.
Frantically she scrambled for her wand. Once she grabbed it she stood up ready to Disapparate when a lone figure caught her eye, standing at the other end of the burned out building.
What are you doing? Her brain screamed. Disapparate! Now!
But she still couldn't move. She stared into the gray eyes that had been haunting her nightmares for months and she felt frozen. Unable to move, unable to defend herself, unable to call for help.
He crossed over to her in a matter of seconds.
For a moment, all they did was stare at each other. Then, Draco gestured to Fred. "Dead?" He asked in a low voice.
Hermione nodded mutely.
"Nott too." The pain and horror emanated from his face. "Hermione..." He said uncertainly as he took a tentative step forward.
Her wand clattered to the ground as he buried her in his arms.
Whatever she'd thought about Malfoy growing up, all those thoughts went out the door when the war began. It wasn't exactly a relationship, but it was a dependence on each other. It was knowledge that no matter what happened, they would always be there for each other. And he did have his moments. That night that Fred died, he'd stayed with her and held her all night in the hollowed out school. He saw that she got back to her house in Surrey the next morning and he even found half of Fred's wand for her to give to Molly.
Hermione had never loved Ron in the way she loved Draco. There was never the passion and contentment that there was with Draco. It had been a safe move, a marriage of convenience. But he was still her best friend. And her betrayal tore him apart.
So she ran. She never even told Draco goodbye. She hadn't expected to see him again. She hadn't wanted to. He represented all of the bad decisions she'd ever made in her life. But at the same time what she wanted was to tell him that she missed him. That he'd been in her thoughts the whole time she was gone. That she loved him. But she just couldn't.
When her eyes opened, Ron's name was still scrawled across the gravestone. The snow still fell. She had still run away. And when she thought about what she wanted most, Draco's face still visualized in her mind's eye.
She Disapparated with a loud crack. And when the smoke cleared and the world stopped spinning, she saw Draco Malfoy extend his hand to her.This time, she took it.