Never Really Ended
The cold night air made Draco realise exactly what he was doing. He didn't really plan this. He was having a good time laughing and joking with everyone when he turned to see Hermione, smiling as she looked at him. He didn't know why he did it, but he asked her to talk with him outside. He blamed that smile. That blasted beautiful smile.
Hermione turned to him, waiting to hear what he had to say. "It's colder here than I thought." Draco said as he wrapped his scarf around her neck.
Hermione blushed despite the cold. "Thanks." She replied.
Draco looked around. "There are far too many people here." He said before taking hold of her arm and directing her towards the back of the pub.
"This place is beautiful." Hermione said as she looked at the small garden filled with flowers and white rose bushes. There was even a small fountain and a bench on the side. "They even have fairy lights wrapped around the trees." She grinned.
"I heard the owner talking about it earlier. She said the moon flowers were blooming beautifully tonight. She didn't mention the fairy lights though." Draco explained.
Hermione smiled as she focused her eyes on him. "So, what did you want to talk about." She asked hesitantly.
"I actually don't know." He laughed. "I guess I just turned to face you a while ago and went back to the times we used to just talk about whatever we thought of." He explained.
Hermione scrunched her nose. "And here I thought you wanted to talk about something serious." She teased as she sat down on the bench. "We can talk now if you want." She suggested as she patted the space beside her.
"I don't know what to say right now though." He confessed as he sat beside the witch.
"Twenty questions?" Hermione asked. When they were just getting to know each other, she and Draco used to play twenty questions everytime they had nothing to talk about. Although, they never actually get to finish it.
Draco chuckled. "Alright. You start."
Hermione smiled and looked around the garden as she waited for a question to pop up in her head. "I have an easy one." She grinned. "Since you love quidditch and we've just watched a game, what was your favourite part of the game earlier?"
Draco groaned internally. "Honestly? I don't remember much of what happened in the game." He sheepishly admitted.
"How is that possible? You love quidditch."
"Hey. One question at a time Granger." He teased. "And I believe it's my turn now. Hhmmm, let's see… What was your favourite part of the day?"
Hermione smiled. "That's easy. The best part was when I saw you, Harry, and Ron talking and drinking amicably at the same table."
Draco felt a surge of warmth envelop him as Hermione mentioned his name. He's in pretty deep.
"Now, back to my question. Specifically, why didn't you remember much of the game?" she asked.
"You're really not going to let that one go huh?" he asked and Hermione only smirked in response. Draco sighed. "Alright. If you must know, us spending time together got me thinking about how much the two us have changed since Hogwarts."
"Ohh…" was all Hermione replied.
"Don't worry. I also thought about how some things just don't change." He said as he took hold of one of her hands in an attempt to comfort her. Draco felt much better when he saw her smile again.
"Out of curiousity, what kind of changes did you notice?" she asked.
Draco looked at everywhere but her. "Well, I noticed that you laugh about a wider range of jokes now. You even laugh at the jokes that Blaise makes, which I have to say, can be quite crass and tasteless. I noticed that it's harder for us to talk freely around each other now. You also talk less now. Which is kind of odd since recently, I find myself talking more than you do."
He noticed that Hermione started biting her lower lip again so he tried to put her focus elsewhere. "Another thing I noticed is that you're more compromising about some of your beliefs now; especially about house elves." He said.
Hermione let out a small laugh. "What can I do? Sometimes, we have to realise that it's not about simply forcing people to free themselves from oppression. Sometimes, we just have to give them the choice. That means to give them enough rights and safeguards and options. Not tell them to completely change their whole lifestyle just because I believe that they deserve better." Hermione suddenly covered her mouth. "I'm rambling again aren't I?" she asked sheepishly.
Draco laughed. "No, it's okay. It really is comforting when you do that. You still have that same sparkle in your eyes." He noted fondly. "And you've already asked me two questions. So that means I get to ask two consecutive questions in return." He smirked.
Hermione laughed. "Alright. Ask me anything you want." She volunteered.
"This might be a bit personal." Draco warned. "I remember you saying that you've been working at St. Mungo's for around half a year. What were you doing before then?"
Hermione bit her lip again. Draco knew that his question would make her worried. But this was something he has wanted to know for a long time now and no one would tell him anything. Then again, he didn't want to make her uncomfortable. "It's okay if you don't want to answer that though." He added.
"No. It's okay. You'll learn about it eventually." Hermione sighed. "After the battle, everyone expected us to go out and enjoy ourselves. We were all over the news but we, well I, rarely made an appearance outside. The Prophet made it sound like those who didn't want to have their picture glorified on the news were just being humble. In my case, I just couldn't get up to face the day." She stared at the fairy lights on the trees as she explained. Never making eye-contact with the man who was sitting quietly beside her.
"I don't understand it myself." She laughed sarcastically. "One moment I was running around magical Britain while fighting off dark wizards for my life and the next I was trying and failing to face life itself. Maybe it was over exhaustion, I don't know. I slept during the day while night terrors prevented me from ever feeling rested. I don't remember everything that happened then. I didn't even realise how much time has past since then."
"I think it was only when McGonagall came by, levitated me to a seat, and practically forced me to have tea with her, that I started doing anything that had a semblance to living. She came by twice a week. Always at the same time. She talked to me like nothing was wrong. I don't know how but she's the reason why I'm up and about today. Probably the reason why you saw me at the gala. I can't really resist any favor that McGonagall asks of me." She said, trying to lighten the mood.
Draco laughed. "She practically blackmailed me to go to the gala too. Do you think that she was aware of our past?" he asked.
Hermione laughed too. "I wouldn't put it past her." She replied.
They were both quiet for a while. Both lost in her own thoughts. Draco stared at Hermione as she stared at everything else but him. She was fumbling with her sleeve which allowed him to catch a glimpse of the scar that was on her arm. "Did it hurt a lot?" he asked.
Hermione finally turned to him in confusion. Understanding dawned on her when she noticed where he was looking at. She smiled sadly at her arm. "This?" she asked as she rolled her sleeve up.
It was only then that Draco realised just what was carved up on her arm. He cursed his dead aunt. He was more glad about her death now than ever before. "Hermione…" he said her name quietly as he ran his finger against her scar. "I'm sorry." Was all he said.
"You don't need to apologise Draco. You don't have to apologise for what you didn't do." She said.
"I think that this is one of those moments when doing nothing is just as bad as doing something." He replied as his hand gripped the arm that bore the dark mark.
Hermione shook her head. She held Draco's arm and exposed the sickly dark mark that still branded him. She softly ran her thumb against it. "No it's not Draco. Don't blame yourself for this. Never blame yourself for what your aunt did to me. You were a spy and you had to stay that way."
Draco kept quiet. He knew that what she was saying was true. But for some reason, he couldn't make himself accept it. "Did it hurt a lot Hermione? What she did to you?" he repeated his question.
Hermione knew that there was no point in lying about it. "Yes Draco." She sighed. "You know how it feels, probably even more than I do. Bellatrix's crucios made me feel like I was already burning in the pits of hell… right down to my bones. Funny thing though, I can't really remember what hurt more. It felt like all the pain from the cruciatus mixed with all that carving that the mad woman did on my body. The scars she left on me, this word on my arm and that ugly pink line on my throat, they don't hurt much now. They just remind me of that moment when all I could wish for was to die…"
She was holding back her tears. Draco could tell. Slowly, he wrapped his arms around her small frame and kissed her forehead. "I'm so sorry Hermione." He whispered as tears ran down his cheeks. "I'm sorry that you had to go through that. I'm sorry that I couldn't stop it."
Hermione's tears fell around the same time Draco's did. It was the first time she told anyone about how it felt. Not even Harry. "I'm sorry you had to go through that too." She whispered as she wrapped her arms around Draco and hugged him tight.
Draco couldn't really understand what he felt when Hermione said that to him. It was the first time that someone apologised for the tortures he went through. It hadn't dawned on him that he didn't deserve the crucios that were given to him. No one did. Suddenly, he felt like he was both in pain and relieved at the same time.
It was there, inside the beautiful garden decorated by a diverse set of flowers and lit up by fairy lights in the night, that Draco and Hermione cried their hearts out. Draco cried because today was first time he acknowledged everything he had to do, everything he was made to do, and everything he had suffered through because of Voldemort, because of that bloody war, and worst of all, because of his own father.
And within his arms, Hermione cried for all the times that she had to fight for the right to be who she was, for the pain she refused to acknowledge, for finally admitting to herself that there was a time in her life that she wished to die, and for living despite all of that when so many others were subjected to an untimely death.
Sometimes, life just isn't fair.