Comfort. At least, there was some sense of it. Pawing around led her cool fingers to a tall backing of both smooth and ruched fabric that was punctuated with what felt like tiny buttons. A myriad of soft throw pillows hugged her aching neck and legs. As she shifted to bury her face in one of them, the familiar scent of wood-fire and handsome musk entered her welcoming nostrils. The sofa was not her own, nor was it that of the Potters. That much, she was certain of. There were no lumps, no sticky candy wrappers, and incontestably no loose Gobstones.
Then, it began. Waves of pain crashed against the insides her skull, whispering bittersweet nothings of wickedness as she recoiled in surrender. Stifling a sob, she pressed her palms against her forehead. Agony cut through every thought she tried to form, and it was not long before the only thing that she could remember was the twisted sneer of Bellatrix Lestrange. Had she endured the Cruciatus Curse again? It certainly felt like it. With a soft whimper, she pulled her knees to her chest and waited for the merciful end.
After what seemed like hours, a hand brushed against her cheek. The soft caress of her fiery skin seemed impossible, but with it, the pain subsided. The empathetic soul was gone as quickly as they came, but with them, went the anguish. Footsteps headed in the opposite direction and she wanted nothing more than to beg for the tender fingers to touch her again.
“…didn’t even try it yourself, did you?”
The voice was familiar, yet she could not place it. Her accent suggested that she was a noble of the Wizarding world—a pure-blood of the old ways.
“Bellatrix tortured her. She deserves to see it destroyed.”
That voice, she knew. The touch that she felt was unmistakably his.
“And so many others do too, Draco, but you cannot see past your…attachment. You have blinded yourself to the potential cost.”
“Some things are out of our control, Mother. It has taken me far too many years to realize as much.”
“What about the implications? The Ministry will think you’ve colluded with her. You may just see family heirlooms, my son, but they see something far more sinister.”
“She would never let me go to Azkaban.”
“And if there is an investigation?” Her tone was but a hiss. “They will search your memories, Draco. They will not stop until they find the answers they seek.”
“I’m an Occlumens. They will find nothing.”
“But is she?”
The Minister for Magic could have told him the answer. She most certainly was not. Of course, Draco knew that, but he decided against enlightening his mother.
“Don’t you understand? The laws she and Shacklebolt fashioned would exempt her from overseeing your hearing. You’d be left to the judgment of the Wizengamot—and the Wizengamot alone. As you know, they don’t take well to our kind. A trial before them will end only one way, and I cannot bear to see Scorpius lose his father because of your sheer senselessness.”
“Earlier you were fearful of her overseeing my trial. Now you fear the opposite. I must say, I’m struggling to keep up.”
“The circumstances have changed, Draco. Don’t be daft.”
There was a long pause.
“I saw the fire leave her eyes that day.” His octave was low, no more than a whisper. “What I know of dead eyes does not come from Astoria. It comes from that woman—from the look she gave me, begging me to do something. Anything to save her from that wretched animal you once called a sister. She haunts my dreams, my thoughts—day and night, I see her. Perhaps, that is the consequence of my inaction. That, I am willing to die with. But to know she never had her closure? To know that fire never sparked again? That feeling is worse than any curse I've ever endured, Unforgivable or not."
Hermione’s eyes slowly opened, her heart racing as she took in Draco Malfoy’s words. Every ounce of jealousy that she felt for Astoria had diminished. She was left only with a peculiar mix of gravity and joy.
“I know Bellatrix’s magic well. This isn’t just a fleeting romp.”
“No, it is not.”
Narcissa drew in a deep breath. “And how long have you felt this way?”
“Since school,” he murmured. “It’s been a long road.”
“A road that leads to my brokenhearted son and her making amends with the Weasley half-wit. You must know this is what the future brings. She is a politician and you are a Malfoy. She may care for you, Draco, but she will choose him.”
The words left a bad taste in Hermione’s mouth. Ronald Weasley felt like a distant mistake after the long weekend. Perhaps, it was because he was.
“Not this time.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I cannot explain it, but I know."
“And what of Scorpius?”
“We’ll deal with that as it comes.”
It was silent again. Blood pounded in Hermione’s ears as she waited for Narcissa’s snarky reply. To her surprise, she offered only the cautionary sentiments of a worrying grandmother.
“Put him first, Draco. He needs you.”
The Minister for Magic heard the shuffling of feet and she shut her eyes. The footfalls stopped. Hot breath washed over her as she felt an unfamiliar hand rest against her forehead. Her breathing hitched. She had been expecting Draco.
“I know you are awake, Minister.” Narcissa Malfoy’s tone fell somewhere between sugary sweet and bitterly venomous. “Whatever you do, please keep my son safe. It seems he has lost his mind.”
Murmurings of a goodbye took place moments later and she blinked to see Draco swooping back into the room, concern filling each one of his usually-subtle crow’s feet. She lifted her head stiffly, just enough for him to sit and coax it back into his lap.
“Do you remember anything?” he asked, combing his long, elegant fingers through her hair.
Pieces of the mysterious puzzle came together. The vase. The feeling of knives. Lady Malfoy’s worry for her grandson. The floor. Strong arms. Worried grey eyes. Back to black.
“Some of it.”
“You fainted,” he explained. “I’ve been pumping you full of potions for the last two hours.”
Suddenly, she was aware of the astringent flavor of healing potions. She crinkled her nose. “So I can taste.”
“You weren’t ready,” he whispered. “I didn’t know she was going to come here today. I should’ve—”
“I still want to do it.”
Incredulity replaced the look of concern. “You’re sure?”
“As an accomplished Horcrux hunter, I do believe I’m the most capable for the job.” A knowing smile tugged at her mouth.
Grey pools were calculating. “I must agree. But now, you should rest.”
Despite her stiff frame, she sat upright. “No, your mother is right. We have to get rid of it soon—before Harry’s department acts on it. This week would be best. Humphries has been quite the innovator when it comes to tracking Dark Magic. It wouldn’t surprise me if she has a full trace on every Malfoy address in existence.”
“Merlin, Granger. Take a week to relax. You just faced some of the most ominous magic in all of England.” He took her hand. “You need time to heal.”
She glared at him and pulled away. “I need you to stay out of Azkaban.”
There was no use arguing. “So you have a plan.”
“I think so,” she replied. “But I’ll need your help.”
After Draco pressed her to take one final healing potion, Hermione felt strong enough to take the Floo back to the Potters’. The svelte wizard was skeptical of her plan. His face contorted in confusion as she explained it to him, but before she left, he had agreed to it. Days of preparation were ahead of them.
“Fancy seeing you turn up.”
Hermione jumped. She was surprised to see her sister-in-law perched on the sofa, arms crossed and a violet shopping bag sitting neatly beside her. Irrefutable resentment masked her usually friendly, freckled face.
“Yes, felt a bit too tired to Apparate,” the brunette replied, brushing the ashes from her emerald business dress. It was not a lie.
“Ron stopped by.” Her cold tenor carried judgment.
“I’m glad I wasn’t here, then.”
Hermione crossed the room to retreat to the stairs, but Ginny looped the violet bag through her pinkie and blocked her path. With her brows knit together, the older witch tried to circle around her sister-in-law. It was to no avail. Ginny was once a Holyhead Harpy for a reason.
“He brought this for you.” The redhead lifted the bag level to Hermione's umber eyes. She reached out to accept it, but Ginny jerked it just out of her reach. “But then he said something interesting.”
Hermione was not in the mood to hear anything that came from her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s mouth. Draco’s freedom was on the line and she needed her rest to assure that they could carry out their plan by Wednesday afternoon. After wasting so many years on Ron, she owed her time to the only man that seemed to value her over all other things—especially when Phoebe Humphries could have him in Azkaban if he made one wrong move.
“You seem distracted,” Ginny pointed out, icily. “Don’t you want to know what my brother had to say?”
“Not really, no,” Hermione grumbled.
“Well, he seems to think he saw Katie Bell yesterday—not with you, but with some bloke. Any reason that might be?”
Hermione opened her mouth to lie, but to her relief, she didn’t have to.
“I fed Della, but she’ll need to go out—” Harry reached the bottom of the stairs and laid his eyes on his wife and his best friend. “What’s going on?”
“I was just telling Hermione that Ron brought her chocolates.” She enunciated each word heavily, hissing the “T” in the final word. Dangling the bag closer, she added, “Enjoy.”
Stomach roiling, Hermione snatched the bag and hurried upstairs, accidentally shouldering a perplexed Harry on her way past him. Only a few times had she endured a weekend as long and difficult, and while she hoped to have the Potters on her side, it seemed that she was burning that bridge much earlier than she intended.
Bloodshot eyes followed Madelyn MacBain as she trod towards the giant, jewel-encrusted desk. The tiny redhead waved an envelope bearing the silver seal of the Russian Ministry of Magic, hoping that Fyodor Sokolov brought news that may bring a smile to the Minister for Magic’s face. Gob Strothers would have burned the letter if he knew of it. Madelyn had half a mind to do the very same, but after seeing her boss’s fatigued stare, the woman seemed so much less threatening—a mere broken witch, searching for herself in the cracks.
“From Fyodor?” she confirmed, wistfully, turning the envelope in her hands. “How delightful.”
The words sounded distant. Cuffing her hands behind her back, Madelyn watched intently as her boss ripped into the envelope. Glumness seemed to wash away for a moment as her dark eyes ran across each line of writing.
“How kind of him to check in,” the Minister said, once finished.
“Did he say anything interesting?” Curiosity got the best of Madelyn after everything that Gob had told her.
To her surprise, the Minister handed her the letter with a shrug. “Assuring that all is well.”
A quick read confirmed what she had said. There was not a suspicious word written. “And is it?”
Hermione closed her eyes, desperately hoping that entrusting her assistant would not be a fatal misstep. “Madelyn, no one can know of the favor I’m about to ask you. If anyone is to ask, the documents you are requesting are for a friend of yours—a friend too nervous to come in and retrieve them himself. Say it back to me.”
“They’re for a friend of mine,” she repeated, entirely unsure what she was getting herself into. “He was too nervous to pick them up himself.”
Satisfied, the Minister nodded. “Very good. If they ask any questions, err on the side of ignorance.”
“Sure…” Growing increasingly skeptical, Madelyn finally asked the obvious question. “So what documents am I requesting?”
The brunette woman’s red eyes bore into hers. “Divorce papers.”
Fingers as fair as snow raked through hair that was, possibly, even fairer. Uncertain mercury eyes found earthen and for the first time in an eternity, they were filled with doubt.
“I haven’t seen you this nervous since we were in school,” a soft, feminine voice quipped.
The blond clenched his jaw. There was no denying that his nerves were getting the best of him. Years of practicing high-level enchantments should have prepared him for what he was about to do, but he had avoided the spell at hand for a reason. Unforgivable Curses were easy enough for a wizard of his skill. This, however, was magic he was not sure he could perform.
“Draco, you’re one of the most powerful wizards I know. This will be easy for you, I promise.”
A small smirk curled at the corner of his lips. “One of the most powerful wizards you know? You sure know how to appeal to the Slytherin in me, don’t you, Granger?”
“Well, it’s the truth. If I could learn this in my fifth year, I’m sure you can learn it now.”
The smirk disappeared. He had nearly forgotten that Potter had taught her and a number of others the charm when they were so young. When they shared their N.E.W.T. year together, the magic had impressed him, but now that they were so much older, he was simply embarrassed that he had never bothered to learn it himself.
“Okay, first thing’s first.” Her eyes were focused on his as she clasped onto his wand hand. “Think of the happiest memory you can.”
Draco took a shaky breath. It was this exact instruction that caused him to stray from ever learning the spell. Fishing through his formative years left him with few happy memories, none of them seeming strong enough to channel into the advanced magic. He moved onto recollections of school, wincing as he thought of Voldemort and his aunt. Finally, after so much darkness, he found her.
“I—I think I might have something.”
Hermione beamed at him. “Okay, good. Now close your eyes. Focus as hard as you can on that memory.”
No one particular memory stood out. Frowning, he leafed past the insults, the heartbreak, the hexes. A handful of joyous moments lay before him: their first kiss, exchanging their virginities, the first time she admitted her feelings for him.
She frowned. “Yes. Otherwise, you won’t have the focus you need.”
Choosing the latter, he found himself grinning from ear-to-ear. The youthful face of the woman he cared so deeply for was staring back at him, muttering things his teenage self had only dreamed could ever come from her pretty mouth. Angelic curls framed her narrow shoulders as she nervously handpicked each glasslike word. He was melting in her dark eyes. It was the perfect moment.
Then, suddenly, Ronald Weasley’s face appeared as a hideous interruption. His scowl replaced her beautiful monologue and the Daily Prophet headline featuring their marriage flashed before him. Jealousy consumed his very being, and he abandoned the memory.
“It’s okay. It’s normal to take awhile to pick one,” Hermione encouraged him, watching his expression alter with the change of mood. She squeezed his hand. “Just try again.”
So he did. The birth of his son came to mind. It was a strong memory, a memory that he was sure would work.
“Have you found it?”
He nodded. “I think so.”
“Perfect!” Hermione stood next to him and raised her wand. “Now, straight out. The movement is swift.”
Draco practiced the motion. Comprehending it well enough, he urged her to continue.
“Close your eyes, think of the memory. Think hard.” As she snapped her eyes shut, Draco could not help but wonder what memory she chose. “Then, the motion. Straight out.”
Without a word, her otter shot from the end of her wand. It circled Draco’s head, an unfamiliar phantom to a man whose advanced magic was so different from the peculiar Light spell. Entranced, he reached out to touch it.
“You can perform it nonverbally.”
Hermione nodded as the otter dissipated into the air. “Lots of practice. We used to send them out for the Order. It became clear to me that there may be a time I would need to cast it while I was mute.” She studied him for a moment. “You, however, should start with the spoken charm. Expecto Patronum!”
The otter burst forth again. Draco ogled at her, in awe of her ability to cast the charm two times in a row, especially after her run-in with Bellatrix’s malevolent vase just the day before. Many witches and wizards could never learn it, let alone have the power to perform the spell twice without flaw.
“Close your eyes. Think of the memory.”
He focused on his son’s birth. The crying. A fatigued Astoria grinning down at his pink face. The feeling that swelled in his chest when he first held him.
“I have it.”
“Good. Now, the motion, and the incantation.”
The swift motion was the easy part. As he prepared to utter the words, his mind was flooded with somber memoirs that followed the birth.
“The son of Voldemort.”
“A force of evil—just like all the Malfoys.”
“The boy is destined for darkness.”
Scrunching his face, he tried to come back to the good, but it was tainted. Ugly words poisoned the memory and even without experience with the spell, he knew that the Patronus would not emerge from his wand. Hermione’s wordless otter suddenly seemed even more remarkable.
He opened his eyes and tucked his wand into the pocket of his black trousers. “I can’t.”
After shooting him a sad glance, Hermione replied, “I want to show you something.”
Curious, Draco watched her as she summoned her dragon-skin purse. She reached inside and fished around for a moment before pulling out a thick stack of parchments that appeared to be charmed together. The raised seal of the Ministry of Magic was clear as day.
“Ministry paperwork? Is this your subtle way of asking me to be your new secretary?”
“No.” With a roll of her eyes, she proffered him the documents. “Just look.”
“Shame. I’d look good in a pencil skirt.” He reached out to accept them, skeptical as his eyes flitted downward to read the text. It only took the first few lines for him to know what the rest of the papers said. Heart thudding in his chest, he met her gaze. “You’re serious about this.”
“You didn’t believe me before?” Her voice was small.
“Sure,” he mumbled, “but I didn’t know when you’d actually do it. Took you long enough to accept all of this.” He gestured each of them.
The hurt was evident in her features. “There was no sense in putting it off. Maybe this is all far too late in life, and for what it’s worth, I’d go back and change things if I could. But we’ve learned the hard way that time isn’t meant to be played with. Ron hasn’t signed them yet, but I—”
Draco held up a hand to stop her. “I don’t care about Weasley. He won’t be a problem in the end.”
A watery smile was on her face. “The point is: I choose you, Draco. I always should have.” Tears streaked her cheeks. “I’ve wasted so much time, and for that, I can’t tell you how sorry I am. Just know that this—” She tapped the paperwork in his hands. “—will be official, consequences be damned.”
It was quiet for a moment as Draco drank in her words. Regrets ran deep between the both of them, but hearing hers only made him remember why he sought her out in the first place. He had lent an ear until it was safe to ask her for the thorny favor, and though he always knew that it would all be worth it, it had never felt more genuine than it did as her apology fell from her pink lips. The divorce was no longer just desperate words from a libidinous woman. It was real, and it was imminent. He had won.
“I think I’d like to try the charm again,” he said, setting aside the stack of parchments.
Hermione nodded, wiping her face with her sleeve. “Sure. Go on, then.”
The witch’s eyes were still brimming with tears as he pulled out his wand. With a thick breath, he shouted the incantation he had feared ever since he was only a teenager. “Expecto Patronum!”
A flash of blue light shot from the end of the wand and before Hermione knew it, an otter all too like her own was dancing around her.
Author's Note: Sorry for the delay on this one. I was doing some developmental edits on previous chapters. Thank you all for the wonderful reviews. I always love to read your feedback so I can do better.
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