I don't own Harry Potter.
Summer break should have been enough to clear his mind. It wasn't. He made his decision, not that he had much choice. Can he cope with what he has to do now? Can he cope with what he did then? What happens when it all threatens to tear him apart, starting in his mind? And what about her, why can't he stop thinking about her? What does she have to do with it? He has the Mark on his arm, but all he wants is forgiveness. Is it too late for him?
This is the story of the redemption of a Pureblood young man who never thought he would ever want it, the Muggleborn witch who changed everything, and the new and terrifying romance that sparked amidst the infancy of war.
(This is gonna be dark, but ultimately is about forgiveness and redemption. Expect angst. A little romance too, later on. Expect a slow burn. I don't know how long this one will be. Probably longer than PAC.)
"It is good to see you, Miss Granger," the Headmaster said, shaking Hermione's hand.
"It's good to see you, too, Professor," she said, smiling. Harry and Ron burst through the door on the other end of the room, and nearly turned her into paste with the weight of their joined hug. She laughed and stumbled, as they'd thrown her off balance.
Dumbledore chuckled behind them.
She had just arrived at Grimmauld Place and Fred and George had just gone to take her trunk to the second floor, to the room she'd share with Ginny for the rest of the summer. Mrs. Weasley had greeted her warmly and then bustled back off to the kitchen to watch the soup. Ginny, too, had flung herself with arms wide open around Hermione and was in the process of inviting her up to her room when Mrs. Weasley called back for her to come help in the kitchen.
"Er, hello Professor," Ron said as he and Harry stepped away. "We didn't see you there."
"I won't stand in the way of a reunion among friends," Dumbledore said, smiling. "It is rather heartwarming to see."
"Has something happened at Hogwarts?" Harry asked.
"There is no reason to worry," Dumbledore replied. "I am here for tonight's assembly, although I am tempted to stay for dinner. I could recognize Molly's French-onion soup anywhere."
"Do stay," Mrs. Weasley said, beaming as she entered the room again. "We've always got a place here for you, Albus. Now that I mention it, Bill's got a question for you about something he found in Egypt."
"I'd be happy to hear it," Dumbledore said, bowing his head. "Is he here now?"
"No, he's due in an hour."
"Well in that case, I shall stay."
Molly beamed again, then looked at Ron.
"Dear, I need you to clean your bedroom," she told him. "You've got to make some room for Harry."
Harry looked down at himself.
"There's enough room!" Ron protested. "It's not that big a mess, mum."
"You are allowed to keep your room as big a mess as you like whenever we don't have guests," Molly said pointedly, and Ron sighed.
"I don't mind it," Harry said quickly. "Really."
Mrs. Weasley frowned. "Well, I suppose I could have you degnome the garden again," she said to Ron. "It's really getting out of hand."
Ron's smile fell.
"Yes," she said, "I think that'll do. Would you please?"
Ron looked like he might argue, but seemed to remember Dumbledore was there in the nick of time. He shrugged his shoulders and said, "fine," in a voice that suggested it was anything but.
"Thank you, dear," she said, and left.
"I'll help," Harry said.
"Me, too," Hermione added.
"Ah," Dumbledore said suddenly, "I was hoping I could speak to you first, Miss Granger. I'm afraid it's urgent."
"Oh—" she looked at Harry and Ron, wondering if they knew what this was about. Had he talked to them, too? "Alright."
"I won't steal too much of your time," Dumbledore said. "There is only an important matter we must discuss, and I think it best if we do it privately."
Harry nudged Ron.
"We'll be upstairs, Hermione," he said. Hermione nodded, and they went up the stairs.
Dumbledore gestured for her to walk alongside him, and nervously, Hermione did so, wondering if she was in trouble. The narrow walls of Grimmauld Place loomed tall over them, and a couple portraits eyed Hermione disdainfully as she passed by. At the end of the corridor he turned to the left and opened the door to a small study crammed with moldy books that they had yet to clear out. They both entered it and the Headmaster closed the door behind them.
"Would you like to sit down?" he asked, his tone light. "Myself, I prefer standing, these days. My knees aren't as strong as they once were. It grows tiresome to sit for too long a period. That being said," he added as he sat down, "I had quite a long walk through the nearby park here. I do love sightseeing in Muggle neighborhoods, especially in the summertime."
"Is there a problem, Professor?" Hermione asked, taking the seat he offered before the desk in the dingy office. "You implied this was about a serious matter."
"And so it is," he said, nodding. "As you know, I was hardly present last year, unfortunately, and Dolores Umbridge took control of the school."
Hermione nodded. The scars on the back of her hand itched.
"I was far removed from the school and with little hope for frequent contact, but I did suspect the experience would be unpleasant." He paused. "I didn't imagine it would grow so severe. I learned too late of the mistreatment and abuse you suffered at the hands of Draco Malfoy, and I would like to apologize for the fact that nothing has been done over it."
"I appreciate it, Professor," she said. "I was disappointed as well, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. Professor McGonagall did her best to see him expelled but Umbridge overruled it." She paused. "I did take matters into my own hands to make sure he wouldn't try again, though."
Dumbledore smiled. "I would love to hear about it, but I am afraid it would put me in a position where I would have to discipline you as well, if it turns out what you did was too severe."
"If I may be honest, Professor, it was much less violent than I would have preferred," she admitted.
"Very good," he said. "I do not condone or accept violence between my students. What he did was atrocious and I was grieved to learn it happened." He paused again. "His parents have made many efforts over the past month to contact me and plead for him to be allowed back into Hogwarts. I had messaged them at the end of last term that I had no intention of admitting him again. They did not take to it kindly."
"I can imagine," Hermione said drily.
Dumbledore brought a letter out from his robes and handed it to her.
"Lucius has written me as one last attempt to plead his sons' case. He assures me that his son is contrite and has been punished for what he has done, though he doesn't provide particulars. He says Draco has promised to be on his best behavior should he be allowed back, and that he will take extra measures to check his temper and make sure there will be no repeats of what happened last term. He even asked me to speak to you and assure you that he will compensate you for your injuries, if you so wish."
Hermione scanned the letter, frowning.
"I don't want anything from them," she said, looking back up. "It's insincere. They're trying to buy my silence."
"It does seem that way," Dumbledore agreed. "But we cannot be sure if we are not face-to-face. I agreed to speak with Draco on the first day of term to see if he means to keep his promise. Of course, I would not accept him back without your word on the matter. I want to my students to feel safe in Hogwarts, and if you think you will not feel comfortable having him back in the castle, he will not be admitted back, regardless of his sincerity."
Touched by the gesture, Hermione handed the letter back.
"I'm sure he won't approach me again," she said. "I don't mind if he comes back, Professor. I doubt that he's sincere but as long as he keeps a distance, I can manage. Thank you for asking me."
"I admire your fortitude," he said, smiling. "Please remember, if I make the final decision of readmitting him to Hogwarts, and he breaks his word, I will not hesitate to take action."
"Thank you, Professor." She stood from her chair. "Is that all?"
"For now," he said, smiling. "I'm sure Harry and Ron are waiting eagerly for your return." He stood and they exited the study.
[a few weeks later.]
The great scarlet locomotive hissed; the smoke it emitted hung in the air with no current to drive it away. The scene was hot and bleak, the air still and heavy with the promise of rain. The humidity of the air made his pressed, clean clothing feel limp and dirty; he shrugged his shoulders uncomfortably, trying to separate the damp fabrics from his skin. It felt good to be standing, the long voyage always left him yearning for a good stretch and a long walk, but now that he was on the platform he wished he were back on the train.
The platform was almost empty-he'd purposely waited until most everyone had stepped off so he could have a carriage all to himself. In the past years he'd always ridden with Pansy, but she'd been one of the first to leave. He supposed it was all for the better. What was there to say to each other?
The very last carriage waited for him-he unbuttoned his robes and walked to the front of it, where the patient thestral waited for its cue to move. The sickly gray hue of its coat was dotted with rain, he could see its ribs protruding, the great black orbs it had for eyes looked straight ahead, indifferent to his presence. Draco stroked its bony head softly, and its ear twitched.
The ride to the castle was long and winded. Everyone had had an earlier start and were most likely already inside the castle for the start of the welcoming feast. As if aware of this, the thestral moved along at a quick clip but he'd already decided to skip the food and go straight to bed. What little he'd eaten on the train had been enough for the day and the thought of having anything else filled him with distaste. He didn't want to sit there anyhow and see everyone's smiling faces, or even listen to the Headmaster's opening speech. What he wanted was rest, and above all he wanted quiet. Perspiration ran down his back underneath his robes. A shower wouldn't be frowned on, either.
Rain began to fall more heavily, and the roof of the carriage ascended over him, forming a cozy box complete with windows and a door. The static wash of sound was welcome to his ears, it drowned out the restless parade of thoughts that trampled through his mind. A look out the window revealed there were no other carriages in sight-he could see the gates of the castle through the mass of trees. Good. That meant everyone had already assembled at the feast and he would be free to slip into the dorms unnoticed, unless Filch was skulking about.
The carriage stopped at the gate and he was forced to exit. The thestral whickered behind softly and resumed its route behind him, the creaky little carriage followed, swaying with movement. It was a long walk to the entrance doors and by the time he actually passed the gate he was soaked through. It didn't strike him until then that he could have used a water repelling charm to spare himself this fate but in the end, didn't care. The rain was cold and hit him with force; invisible fingers tapping him over and over again, never ceasing. Reminder after reminder. The weight of the water in his clothes felt like little hands pulling down, his lashes were heavy with rain and no amount of blinking eased it-it simply kept falling. His hair was disheveled and dripping into his eyes so he pushed it back, walked up the steps and came to a halt.
Draco stepped past him. ""Professor."
The Potions professor followed him silently. He took in Draco's rumpled state with some distaste.
"You'll dry yourself before joining the rest, surely."
Draco walked faster, his mood rapidly becoming more sour. "I'm not hungry."
"Then kindly rid yourself of that foul temperament and get going before Argus finds you." With that, Snape strode off, robes fluttering behind him.
Draco continued to slog his way down to the dungeons, but at the midway point he finally dried himself up so Filch would have no way of tracking him to the common room. Either the spell didn't work as well as he remembered it to or he'd done it wrong-his clothes and hair had stopped dripping but were still most definitely wet. He ran a hand through his hair and descended a staircase, jaw clenched tight.
After a quick shower and a fresh change of clothes he was in bed, trying to sleep but found himself not quite able to. It came as no surprise, he'd been waiting for it. He found himself slightly nervous and couldn't figure out why. Classes started the next day and while he was glad to have those familiar distractions back again, he knew they wouldn't be enough to be the answers to his problem.
He thought back to the previous months, frowning. Summers for him were usually a bore. There wasn't ever much to do around the Manor so he'd spend his time flying around the grounds, practicing with a Golden Snitch or reading in the library. Often there'd be visitors and parties, sometimes Pansy would come over and they'd go to Diagon Alley together and meet up with other friends, but not this time. Whenever she went on holiday abroad, they'd send letters back and forth-his always short, hers shorter, but it was was their own form of communication and it was comforting. Now, however, there hadn't been a single letter, not even a note. He'd sat himself down at his desk, intent on penning her a note of apology too many times to count, but the parchment always ended up crumpled in a ball and tossed into a bin. He was still angry and not sure of anything anymore. Words, which used to come so easily to him, guttered and died before they could hope to formulate what he meant. He missed her terribly, but felt that he could not change what had been done. If she truly was friends with Granger then she would want no part of his society, so he ignored his quills thereafter and spent most of his time alone doing almost nothing.
Not to say there hadn't been any activity at all in the Manor in those previous months. The skull and serpent on his arm was proof enough. He pressed his lips into a tight line, blocked out what was trying to resurface. His temples were aching.
He remembered that other night instead, when a battle had occurred at the Ministry while he and so many others were oblivious in the castle. Pansy's news, his reaction after.
There'd been the absence of shock-it had never been a secret to him what his father did, even as a child. No one had ever attempted to hide from him the dealings his family was tied into, who they were loyal to. When they spoke of it they said it with pride, they filled him with their opinions and he'd grown to mirror them, came to accept them as his own. They were powerful and they were in the right, and so he'd grown with that mindset, although the thought remained that a day would come when their luck with the investigations would run out. Not everyone could be bought, and there were always those who had suspected them from the start. The searches of the manor were infrequent and fairly unsuccessful, but each time the authorities grew more unfriendly in their treatment towards his family.
Still, he'd never once entertained the thought it would be Potter of all people who would manage it at last. There hadn't been any triumph on Potter's face when he'd seen him last, no malicious glee. Just exhaustion and a raw sort of edge in his eyes, as if wanting to attack something. He'd never seen Potter with that look before, and was both intrigued and apprehensive of it.
When he'd boarded the train this morning he'd seen him sitting next to Granger in their compartment. Silent and still, but comfortable with each other. Her hand was the only part of her he'd seen, recognizing it at once by the scars he'd chosen for her, and it was resting on Potter's arm. Not for the first time, he wondered how he'd ever been driven to kiss her. His face had gone warm with the memory.
He closed his eyes. He was dry now. Why could he still feel the water on him?
Draco saw her eyes again, stunned but furious after his kiss. Her lips, darkened by his blood.
It had happened so long ago, he felt, and still sometimes he could still feel how his own lips had felt after kissing her. Warm. Tender. Bleeding and sore from the vicious bite she'd given it. Aching with the desire to do it again, before her anger invoked his and chased that want away.
How many months had it been since it had happened? Shouldn't he have moved past it by now?
He willed the memory away, shaking his head.
A momentary lapse of judgment, that's what it had been, and he'd learned his lesson. His last words to Granger hadn't been a lie-the moment his lips had touched hers he'd realized he had to get as far away from her as possible-she'd burned him with her rage, her lips, left him among the ashes. What he'd found in that kiss was all he needed to know he had to keep his distance. Her blackmail was a strange relief-now he had to stay away from her or incite further ruin upon himself. It didn't matter to him if she came through with it, but if the Dark Lord found out somehow the punishment would be severe, if not fatal.
She knew too much, had strong ammunition. While he'd been under her spell she'd taken down his guard and crawled into his veins without any welcome. He stared at the ink on his arm-here was the price he'd paid to cast her out.
Only, it wasn't just because of her. It was expected of him. He could not say no when the time had come. The Dark Lord would have taken resistance or any hesitation as contempt or betrayal. Besides, this was what he'd wanted since he was a boy. To be alongside his father fighting for the cause. To take back what belonged to them.
Except now his father was in prison. And he wasn't a boy anymore.
As quickly as that last thought had come, he pretended it had never come at all. These thoughts were dangerous. He could not listen to them. Doubt was deadly. The Dark Lord did not tolerate doubt within his followers. Draco had known this from the start, but still the niggling thoughts crept up and through the cracks of the wall he'd built. Every night he dreamed of red. Every night, ever since that green flash of light had emitted from the end of his wand, since that curse had left his lips.
He remembered the applause after. And then they'd branded him.
He shut his eyes again, forced himself to think of something bright and colorful. Anything but green or red.
An image popped up briefly-the way her hair had looked in the fierce glow of the sun, burning like gold. He ignored it.
This was what you wanted, he told himself. A chance for revenge. Power. You did what was required.
Yes, he thought, but was it worth it? What's more-has it actually worked?
There was no telling, mostly due to the fact that nothing had been done yet to complete that special task, the one he was so desperate not to think about.
As for Granger. He felt nothing. He would feel nothing. She'd been right-crushes were involuntary and could not be helped. It would go no farther than this.
Before his thoughts continued on this treacherous path Draco forced himself to think of something else. Anything. There were a thousand and one thoughts spinning round and round like tops in his mind, some faltering and some rolling on their edges but they all moved, growing faster, and it was impossible to focus on one specific thing without being hyper aware of the others still spinning, the oddly maddening whirring noise that came from them and his focus leapt from one to another, too confused to settle. It was the same every night, but he still hadn't found a way past it, and now he knew what came next. Blindly, he tried grasping at one as a last resort and failed.
A quick succession of images-blonde hair turned dark with blood. A hand lying limp, half submerged in water. The Dark Lord's voice like gnashing teeth, directly into his ear. Horror filling him from within, toxic and preventing him from breathing properly. The Mark stirred on his arm, he watched it with a repulsed sort of fascination as the snake flicked its tongue. Another couple of flashes. Fire. Blood. His hands, coated in it.
Draco forced himself to keep absolutely still but his face gave him away. His eyebrows lowered and his mouth shifted into a grimace. He tried to take a deep breath, compose himself. The tops still spun, faster and faster until they were only blurs of color.
He could not afford to think like this. He could not let these thoughts take form, half completed as they were. Not now. He struggled to push them away. His neck seized, his breathing became shallow but in the end he managed it and he sank back into the mattress, breathing heavily. The images were gone in a blink, but not by his power. He ran his hand over his face.
Sometime throughout this people had begun coming back from the feast-he heard them distantly, moving about, preparing their things and was glad the curtains around his bed were closed and warded off.
His heart had just begun beating normally again by the time everything stilled. He closed his eyes and longed for sleep, but it never came.