"If the defendant will please rise," Shacklebolt said.
Draco complied, heart pounding in his chest.
Now was the moment. After countless weeks of waiting, one botched trial, and the lengthy proceedings of today, he would finally know his fate. His mouth felt dry, and he couldn't bear to look anywhere but the wall.
"After careful deliberation, the Wizengamot rules that Mr. Draco Malfoy is guilty of one count of reckless endangerment, and not guilty of all other charges."
There was a mixture of joyful cries, gasps, and angry murmurs throughout the crowd. Shacklebolt continued.
"For his sentence, Draco Malfoy will receive ten years of probation, during which he will be forbidden from using specific spells. All use of his magic will be monitored. Should he complete his schooling and get a job, his probation will be reduced to five years."
Draco sank back into his chair in relief. He couldn't believe it. He'd been facing life and had gotten off with practically nothing. It was more than he deserved.
Amazed, he looked around the noisy room to see his mother crying tears of joy into a black handkerchief. Potter nodded at him, while Steven grinned. Luna Lovegood simply stared over his head dreamily.
Finally, he braved a look at Hermione and felt tears threaten his own eyes as she beamed back at him, hugging Ginny Weasley.
Shacklebolt quieted the room.
"Mr. Malfoy, you will be escorted back to Azkaban where proceedings will begin for your final release and the details of your probation will be discussed with you." He smiled sternly. "You've been given quite the second chance here; I trust you won't waste it."
"I won't, Minister." Draco nodded, somehow able to find his voice.
With that, Draco was led from the room to begin the first day of the rest of his life.
As Draco stepped into the summer sunshine, he squinted at the unfamiliar glare. He didn't think it was possible, but he was sure he'd somehow gotten paler during his time in Azkaban.
His mother was by his side, clutching the arm of his black shirt that he had been wearing when he arrived at Azkaban months ago.
"She did it," his mother murmured. "The Granger girl really did it."
Draco nodded. "Well, Steven Carmichael did a fantastic job too. Although, in some ways, Granger and he are frighteningly similar."
"Well, yes, of course, the trial." His mother waved her hand as if that was somehow old news. "But that's not what I meant."
He sighed, knowing his mother was once again speaking in riddles. "What are you talking about, Mother?"
"She saved you, Draco. All this time, she was the one that kept you from going over the edge . . . from becoming what your father wanted you to be. You can deny it all you want, but I know it's true."
"You love her, darling. Oh, I know it wasn't always love, but now . . . it certainly is."
"Mother." Draco groaned. "Please don't start. She's the brightest witch of our age, she isn't going to be interested in an ex-Death Eater on probation."
"Draco Lucius Malfoy, you heard what the Minister said, you've been given the chance of a lifetime. Don't you dare waste it!"
A day later, Hermione was making dinner when she was startled by a knock on her door.
Odd. Maybe it's a Muggle package I forgot I ordered . . .
"Coming!" she called as she wiped her hands on a dish towel and headed for the door. Her front door didn't get too much traffic these days as even her parents traveled to her place by Floo.
She opened the door to see a very free Draco Malfoy leaning against the doorframe, grinning at her.
"Draco! What are you doing here?"
He held up a large leather bag, straining under the weight of its contents. "I thought I should return these."
"Oh! Well, come in." She held the door open for him.
"Is it okay that I'm here?" he asked once inside. "I would have Flooed, but I'm assuming your Floo isn't connected to the Manor. And I was going to owl, but . . . I wanted to see you."
"I'm glad you came." She gave him a reassuring smile and motioned towards the couch, taking a seat herself.
"I wanted to thank you," Draco said, rubbing the back of his neck as he slid into place next to her. "For everything—being my Inquisitor even after the way I acted, for testifying for me." He took a deep breath. "But mostly for believing in me."
"Oh, Draco, I was happy to . . . really," she said, assessing him as he stared at his hands, flexing his fingers. She'd never seen him look as nervous as he did right now. "Besides, I felt terrible when I was removed from your case. I was afraid I'd cost you a fair trial. After what happened between us, I should have taken myself off the case. But I was scared you'd lose Harry's testimony. It was reckless of me and I'm sorry."
Draco shook his head. "It's not your fault." He cleared his throat and pulled books out of his bag, stacking them on the coffee table. "Anyway, here are your books back. In perfect condition, as promised."
"Good thing," she said and picked one up and placed it in her lap. "Or I'd have set Crookshanks on you."
She motioned her head towards the far corner of her room where a large, squashed-faced orange cat was looking offensively at him.
"Merlin, that's terrifying." He smirked and shook his head. "I knew there'd be a cat . . ."
"What?" Hermione looked up from the book she'd been flipping through.
"Nothing," Draco said quickly. "I think these books saved my mind, by the way. And I spoke with McGonagall. She's agreed to work with me once a week and let me take my N.E.W.T.s at the end of the year so I can graduate."
"That's great! So you don't have to attend Hogwarts, then? Thank goodness—the first years would be terrified of you."
Draco chuckled. "That's probably true."
"Well, if you need any help in between your meetings with McGonagall, let me know."
He flipped the book several chapters forward, then pointed to the page. "Actually, I did have a question about this spell."
"Ah, yes, the wrist motion isn't as circular as it indicates. Here, I'll show you."
Hermione pulled out her wand and demonstrated the spell, then guided Draco's wrist as he did the same. "Good! Anything else?" she asked after Draco demonstrated the spell a few more times.
"Well . . ." he reached for another book. "There was this one thing in Arithmancy."
Hermione laughed and stood up, heading into the kitchen. "Have you eaten?" she called behind her.
"Today?" Draco asked, absentmindedly turning pages.
"I meant dinner."
"Oh, not yet." He looked up and glanced at the clock. "I guess it is getting late. I won't keep you."
"Why don't you stay? I have enough for two. I mean, if you don't have any plans . . ."
"Okay . . ." he said uncertainly while Hermione nodded and smiled.
"This is nice," Draco said a few weeks later. Their study dates had become a regular occurrence. He and Hermione were sprawled out on her living room couch, textbooks spread out in front of them on the coffee table.
"What is?" Hermione gazed at him, bringing a spoonful of vanilla ice cream to her lips.
"This." Draco motioned with his hands. "Having someone to study with. I never had that at Hogwarts."
"It is nice." Hermione nodded, curling her legs underneath her as she settled deeper on the couch. "I would have loved this at Hogwarts too. Harry and Ron never sat down long enough to really study, and I always ended up doing half their assignments for them."
"Ha! I knew it," Draco said. "They wouldn't have lasted a day without you." He gazed at her appreciatively.
"Harry's actually pretty clever." Hermione smiled. "He just usually had other things to attend to."
"Ah, saving the world and all that." Draco leaned back against the couch, placing his hands behind his head, and turned toward her. He really looked forward to their meetings. Usually at the end of the night, they drifted away from the books and talked late into the evening.
"I wish we'd been friends then," Draco said.
"Me too." Hermione looked at him and tapped her spoon to her bottom lip. "You know, that's actually what I wished that day in Azkaban, after I healed you." She shook her head. "You probably don't remember . . ."
"I remember." Draco smiled, gazing at her. Her curly hair fell gracefully around her shoulders, and she looked particularly stunning in the soft blue cotton t-shirt she wore. He noticed a dab of ice cream on her upper lip. "You've got some ice cream there." He motioned to his own lip.
"Oh!" She furrowed her brow and rubbed her face, looking embarrassed. "Did I get it?"
"No." He smirked and leaned in, brushing the spot away with his thumb. When he was done, he let his fingers rest on her chin and stared into her brown eyes.
"How about now?" she asked quietly, gazing back at him with an intensity all her own.
"Not quite," he murmured, then gently brought his lips down on hers. She tasted like vanilla and smelled like new books.
While their first kiss had been intense and desperate, this one was sweet and soothing. Draco tentatively brought his hand to her shoulder and pulled her closer. After a few seconds, he pulled back and looked into her eyes.
"Is this okay?" he whispered, hoping it could be the start of something more but fearful it never would be.
She nodded. "Yes . . . it's more than okay."
He pulled her back and kissed her again, more surely now. She sighed and leaned into him, bringing her hands up to the back of his neck, gently running her fingers through his hair. Then she pulled away just slightly.
"It's perfect," she whispered.
"I want to take you out tomorrow," Draco said several minutes later. Hermione was nestled against his chest, wrapped in his arms, as she gazed down at their entwined fingers. His long and pale against hers, delicate and golden.
"Really?" She grinned.
"I'd like that." She laughed. "I guess Rita Skeeter better sharpen her quill."
"Ugh . . . why does she hate you so much, anyway?"
"I trapped her in a jar while she was turned into a beetle—her Animagus—at the end of fourth year, for printing lies about me and Harry." She elbowed him. "Surely you remember, since you put her up to it."
"Oh yeah." Draco laughed heartily, earning him a swift smack on his arm. "Ow! Sorry about that, by the way, but her readers are idiots for believing it. You're much too good for Potter."
She swatted him again, then turned serious. "Skeeter's not the only one," she said. "The press will go crazy seeing us together."
"I don't care," Draco said stubbornly. "I want to do this properly. You deserve it." He paused. "I mean, unless you don't want that . . . I don't really care what we do or where we are, as long as you're with me. I fell in love with you in Azkaban, for Merlin's sake. It's not like that's the epitome of a romantic—"
"You what?" Hermione turned to look at him, eyes wide.
Draco gaped at her, realizing what he'd just said. "I . . ." He took a deep breath. "I love you."
She smiled and squeezed his hand, then settled back against his chest. "I love you, too."
A/N: Hope you all enjoyed the outcome of the trial and seeing them together again. Do you think Draco's verdict was fair? Please do share your thoughts! I'm posting the Epilogue right away because I think it is best read with this chapter!
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