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 Parchment was stacked to the ceiling in Hermione Granger’s office. She chewed thoughtfully on her quill as she carefully reviewed each individual motion; as per usual, some requests were less reasonable than others. The Ministry of Magic was sending her more paperwork than she had expected, but she was determined to finish before the end of the day. She had a reputation to uphold.


 She scrawled her name across an appeal for custody of a Thestral named Angelo. It was not the most bizarre request that she had ever agreed to. Once, a goblin had appealed for goblin silver to be recognized as the only legitimate currency in the United Kingdom.


 “Minister?” a small voice called, knocking at her door.


 Hermione sighed, desperately wishing that she could tell the visitor to leave her alone so she could focus. Ironically, she had little say regarding her priorities ever since she became the Minister for Magic. 


 “Yes?” she replied, exasperated. She waved her wand and the heavy, bronze door swung open.


 Madelyn, her petite assistant, was red in the face. Guilt overwhelmed her when she interrupted the Minister’s important work, especially when she was not able to bring good news. She scratched the back of her neck, accidentally catching a few hairs from her tight red bun.


 “H-hi, Minister,” she stammered, trying to smooth her fly-away hairs. She was trembling, unsure how to hand the Minister the newspaper that was under her arm.


 “Madelyn.” Hermione craned her neck. She could see the rolled-up paper that her assistant was trying to conceal. “What do you have there?”


 With a terrified gulp, Madelyn stammered, “M-m-ma’am, I-I’m s-sorry. Please d-don't be upset.”


 A curious expression made its way onto Hermione’s face. She held her hand out. “Well, let’s have it then.”


 Madelyn sighed and approached Hermione’s gargantuan, jewel-encrusted desk. (It was too ostentatious for the Minister’s taste, but she did not have the heart to change anything. Kingsley Shacklebolt had loved the gaudy décor and it reminded her of him.) The portraits’ eyes followed Madelyn as she placed the copy of the Daily Prophet onto the marble surface, chewing on her lip.


 Hermione took a deep breath and slowly picked it up. The headline read, “MINISTER FOR MAGIC STORMS OUT OF LEAKY CAULDRON—BUREAUCRACY GONE WRONG?” in tall, bold letters. She expected the article after the reporter took her photograph while she was on her way home from the inn. Though she knew the Prophet almost always presented ill-informed news, she was surprised that they printed a story without even the smallest bit of merit.


 Minister for Magic, Hermione Granger, was seen storming out of the Leaky Cauldron on the 30th of November. The Minister was expected to meet with the Japanese Minister for Magic this week. Sources claim that her departure from the Leaky Cauldron was, indeed, in correlation to international relations.


 Granger has a long history of walking out of work-related events. On the 14th of April, reports showed that she and her husband, Ronald Weasley, left a gala meant to welcome Ukrainian ambassadors. Before that, on the 31st of December, the Minister was seen stumbling out of the Three Broomsticks, again with her husband, when she was scheduled to attend a New Year’s Eve event with members of the Wizengamot.


 Despite her inability to perform basic job requirements, the Minister currently has a 79% approval rating—higher than any other Minister for Magic has ever scored.


 The Prophet often stretched the truth, and the article was no exception. She had left the gala because Ron was too drunk to socialize with her colleagues. She had left the Three Broomsticks because, again, Ron was too drunk to socialize with her colleagues. Unfortunately, she was unable to defend herself without making it public information that her husband was an alcoholic.


 “Oh, this is just silly,” Hermione scoffed. “I’d like to meet their ‘sources’ they mention.” She made air quotes with her fingers.


 “I-I’m sorry, Minister,” Madelyn said in a small voice, wringing her hands. “Should I contact them and ask them?”


 Hermione laughed and shook her head. “No, Madelyn.”


 “What if they reach out to us for comment?” she asked, her voice going up an octave.


 Hermione thought for a moment. She knew that she couldn’t tell the Prophet that she was having lunch with a Malfoy. Her less open-minded supporters would accuse her of being a Death Eater sympathizer. Then, the Prophet would have an article that was actually worth writing.


 “Tell them I was meeting an old friend,” Hermione replied, thoughtfully. “If they want more information, arrange a press conference. You can excuse yourself, now. I have some work to do.”


 Madelyn nodded and hurried out the door, closing it behind her. Relief washed over her. The Minister had taken the news better than she thought she would.


 Hermione leaned back in her chair, her wand in her hand. She looked at the stack of parchment looming over her and groaned. The Daily Prophet article had robbed her of her mood to work.


 The previous day had been draining. Not only had she met with a recently widowed Draco Malfoy, but she and Ron had had an argument as soon as she arrived home. Arguing with Ron was nothing new. Seeing Draco Malfoy, however, was not a regular part of her schedule.


 She and Draco had a long, complicated history. He spent years bullying her, calling her the most offensive word that he could, spitting her surname with disgust, standing by as people he knew tormented her. There was even a day that Hermione had slapped him. If she had asked her thirteen-year-old self, she would have said that he was the foulest, most evil boy that she had ever known.


 Then, the war ended. Harry and Ron never came back to Hogwarts and Hermione returned to finish her N.E.W.T. year. People from both sides were downtrodden, bereaving from losing their loved ones either to death or Azkaban. Everyone that had fought in the final battle was at their most vulnerable, Hermione and Draco included.


 While Ginny spent most evenings scribbling letters to Harry, Hermione retreated to the library. Occasionally, Luna and Neville would stop by the school to check on her, but Hermione refused to upset them any more than they already were. Instead, she swallowed her emotions and studied, pretending that nothing was wrong.


 As the year’s events unfolded, she found herself spending more and more time with a rather unexpected individual.


 Memories of her N.E.W.T. year were bittersweet. Secretly, she yearned to go back.


 The Quidditch pitch was frosted with several inches of snow and as Hermione sat alone in the stands, snowflakes fell onto her pale nose. Her breath was cold smoke as she stared at the grey, afternoon sky.


 She closed her eyes and images of the war came back to her—her friends, mangled and dead, the perverse face of Voldemort, the terror in Harry’s eyes. She saw the visions when she slept, when she closed her eyes, when she looked in the mirror—no matter where she went, she could not escape her own hell. It was ceaseless. 


 A tear ran down her rosy cheek. The single teardrop was the start of uncontrollable, wracking sobs. She put her face in her hands and bawled, the frigid air biting at her ears.


 Suddenly, she heard the sound of shoes crunching in the snow. She wiped the tears away and seized her wand, her eyes darting back and forth. The intruder was near.


 “Going to hex me, Granger?” a sly voice asked.


 Hermione instinctively pointed her wand towards the voice. Draco Malfoy’s hands were in his pockets, but he was not reaching for his wand. He stepped onto the Quidditch pitch, empty tracks trailing behind him. His silvery blond hair danced in the wind as he walked up the creaking, wooden stairs of the stands.


 “You startled me,” she growled, lowering her wand. “Why are you down here, anyway?”


 He sat beside her and shivered. “I could ask you the same thing. It’s bloody freezing.”


 Hermione did not respond.


 “Have it your way, then,” Draco sighed, leaning forward. He laced his fingers together and hung his head.


 Her teeth chattered and she rubbed her forearms, aching for warmth. Draco looked at her from the corner of his eye.


 “Just as stubborn as always.” He removed his jacket and draped it around her shoulders.


 She stared at him, questioningly. “Why did you do that?”


 He flared his nostrils. “I’d rather hand you my jacket than carry you to the Hospital Wing for frostbite. Merlin knows they’d think I cursed you.”


 A small smirk made its way onto her pink lips while she wrapped herself tightly in the jet black pea coat. It was cozy, smelling of musk and Fraser fir. Draco studied her as she basked in its masculine comfort.


 They sat in silence for a long while, neither of them sure if the other was grateful for the company. The snow melted into their hair and ran in arctic streams down their pale faces.




 “Yes?” he answered, not turning his head towards her.


 “Thank you,” she whispered, tugging on the front of the black pea coat, “for the jacket.”


 Draco looked at her, his gaze calculating. After what seemed like an eternity, he nodded and muttered, “Any time.”


 Quiet blanketed the two of them until she sighed. “I still see it.”


 “Me too, Granger.”


 Nervously, she scooted closer towards him. He watched her, inquisitively. They were so close together that she could feel him against her right side, and to her surprise, his warmth was soothing.


 “Come here,” he murmured, wrapping his arm around her bony frame. 


 Apprehensively, she leaned into him, laying her head on his shoulder. Her wild hair flew into his face, but he only pulled her closer.


 Silence fell between them again. It was not uncomfortable that time. They needed one another in that moment, just like they had needed each other since the beginning of the term. It was the first time that they were able to accept it.


 Tears fell down Hermione’s cheek once more. She cried into his shoulder and he kept his arm around her, firmly. In a way, it felt like he was protecting her.


 “Do you think it’ll ever stop?” she whispered in between soft sobs.


 He appeared to be deep in thought for a moment. Hermione waited, patiently.


 Finally, he looked down at her and softly said, “No.”


 She frowned. “That’s hardly comforting.”


 “But it’s the truth,” he whispered. “It won’t go away. It may get better, though. I can’t say for sure.”


 Hermione curled her fingers around the front of his robes. Her tears stopped. “Why did you come out here?”


 “I imagine for the same reason that you did.”


 She chewed on her lip. “Did you know I was out here?”


 Draco shook his head. “I didn’t.”


 She nodded. No more words were spoken between them. They sat together, holding tightly to one another, the snow falling around them in twinkling resolve.


 A tear fell down Hermione’s cheek as she recalled the memory. Draco had not lied to her. The images of the war never faded, but over time, she grew to accept them.


 Her heart was in her throat, choking her as reality swallowed her whole. She knew on the Quidditch pitch that day that Draco was meant to be an imperative part of her life. He knew it too, and they both knew that was why he sat with her. Before then, he would have spat venom and stormed away, refusing to sit anywhere near a Muggle-born. He had changed. They had changed.


 She rubbed her temples, clawing for the reasons that she married Ron. She desperately wanted to feel grateful for him. Draco had lost his wife to a curse she never earned. He was alone. Even when they had marital problems, he stayed with her until the end for her sake. She would be selfish not to value what she had with her husband. Alas, she felt only confusion as she found herself reflecting on what Draco had said.


 "Honestly, before the illness really set in, we weren't doing very well. I wanted a divorce."


 Before her N.E.W.T. year, she had been enamored by Ron. The gangly redhead was blind to her advances for far too long, leaving her to cry herself to sleep for more nights than she could count. When they finally kissed during the final battle, it felt like a victory. She had finally won what she had been fighting for. Her tear-stained pillows had all been worth it.


 They grew apart during her N.E.W.T. year. He rarely answered her letters. He never acknowledged their kisses or wandering hands. She felt sick for weeks, wondering if she had hallucinated his lips on hers.


 Then one day, she woke up and it had stopped hurting. All the time she spent crying over him seemed trivial. She didn’t find a private corner in the library to mope. Instead, she giddily met her friends at Hogsmeade and enjoyed the same libations that everyone else did. She did not think about Ron even once during the trip. Suddenly, he just wasn’t important anymore.


 Still, he returned to her after her N.E.W.T. year. He never apologized. She never forgave him. That did not keep them from pursuing one another in adulthood, eager to prove what they both suspected since their fourth year.


 Ron had proposed to her. It was not the fairytale proposal that she dreamed of as a young girl, but it was better than she could have expected from someone like him. He took her to dinner. They ate pasta and he paid for wine. With his mouth full, he had asked, “Hermione, you reckon we should get married?”


 She wasn’t sure what to make of it. Nevertheless, she agreed to marry him. Her mind was scrambled.


 “Do you think I’m insane?” Hermione murmured, staring at her ring. “I mean—ugh. Harry, we fight so much, lately.”


 Harry shrugged. “You and Ron have been going at it for years. You always make up.”


 “That isn’t what I asked.”


 He sighed. “Well, I don’t think I’m the right person to ask, Hermione. I can’t exactly tell you to break off your engagement to my best friend.”


 “But I’m your best friend too,” Hermione pointed out. “You can’t pick sides here, Harry.”


 He took his glasses off. “We ought to get to bed, Hermione. Mrs. Weasley likes to start early.”


 Hermione frowned. “I gave him an ultimatum, you know. I told him I’d leave him if he didn’t propose by Christmas.”


 Harry narrowed his eyes. Without his spectacles, Hermione was only a blur. “Do you really think that’s the best way to get someone to commit?”


 She was silent.


 That was when the truth struck. She couldn’t remember why she fell in love with him again. Perhaps, it was because she never really did.

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