Disclaimer:- I neither earn nor own anything from this story except my plot. Harry Potter and his world are the intellectual property of JK Rowling and her associates.
A/N:- Well, I guess this had to happen sooner or later; I'm dipping my toe into the Dramione pool. This will be fairy angsty, but not entirely so, and Ron will be an enormous dick in this story. Thank you to both Golden Asp and LadyWinterlight, for their beta work on this chapter. I know that I'm posting a lot of stories at the moment, but this one is pretty much all written. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter One – The Spark
The last time Hermione Granger had seen Draco Malfoy was the day of the final battle. However, two months later she had to say that he looked worse than he had that day. He was sitting in the back of the court room at his parents' trials and he looked a wreck. Hermione nudged Harry, and indicated Draco with a slight head movement. "I actually feel sorry for him," she whispered.
"Yeah, I've heard that he's an outcast. Even though he's free, he's not even allowed a wand."
"He's a pureblood so how's that supposed to work?" Hermione scoffed.
Harry shrugged, and the trial started. Narcissa Malfoy was first, and Harry rose as a character witness for her in light of how she had lied to Voldemort on his state of health the day of The Final Battle. There was a lot of nodding and discussion, but in the end Narcissa still received a sentence of one year in Azkaban.
Lucius' trial was longer, but that was mainly due to the amount of charges against him. It didn't take the court long and they had pronounced a fifty-year sentence on him. There was no appeal; the evidence spoke for itself, and he too was instantly transported back to Azkaban.
When the verdicts were final Hermione glanced around to see how Draco had reacted. He was walking out, and it was at that moment that she made her decision. "I'll catch you later, Harry," she whispered and took off out the door after him. I must be soft in the head, she thought. He's just going to sneer at me and say something offensive, but I can't let him walk away alone without saying anything. "Hey, Malfoy, wait up," she called. She watched him pause but then start walking again. "Draco," she tried. "Please stop, I want to talk to you."
He turned. "What?" He stared at her breathing heavily. "What could you possibly have to say, Granger?"
In that moment she could see that he was completely on the edge, everything he had ever known was gone. She had to say the right thing, no matter what he had done; he was a fellow human, and he was suffering greatly. "Would you like to talk?" He gave her a hard look, although his patent sneer was absent, so she continued, "I know we've never seen eye to eye, but maybe we could try again now this madness is finished. There's a café around that corner, and I'm a good listener." When he just stared at her, she added, "Its Muggle, so no one will see us."
"No, wouldn't want to be seen with a slimy Death Eater, would we, Granger?" he snapped, misunderstanding why she'd said it.
"That's not what I meant, Malfoy." She ventured a tentative touch on his forearm. "I was thinking of you being seen with me."
He snorted. "That's been proven to be complete bullshit, hasn't it?" he said, unable to keep the bitterness out of his voice.
Hermione had the feeling that he was fighting tears, and she couldn't understand why she cared, but there it was. He was not at all himself, and if she didn't miss her guess, he was suffering depression or maybe post-traumatic stress, or something like that. She'd seen it more than once in her peers since the battle, and she herself was struggling with it as well.
Draco had never had a chance, he had been indoctrinated with pureblood dogma since he'd been an infant, and a tiny part of her brain was saying that perhaps if he had a chink of doubt that she could change his mind about her.
Acting casual, she shrugged and appealed to the Slytherin in him, although her eyes glanced around for Harry or Ron, even though Ron had not come. "What have you got to lose? You get to be seen walking out of here with me, thereby ruffling some feathers and you'll get a free coffee, it's a win win for you." She watched him straighten slightly, nod and then to her delight she saw the first hints of his patented smirk returning.
"You're right," one pale eyebrow rose, "and it better be a good cup of coffee, Granger," he added.
She smiled; she actually smiled at Draco Malfoy. "Oh it will be, wizards are not the only ones who can make good coffee, you know."
"Prove it," he taunted, offering his arm.
"With pleasure," and she grinned shark-like at him, prodigiously pleased that she seemed to have pulled him—if only temporarily—from his doldrums, and she looped her hand through his elbow placing it on top of his forearm. She saw him do a double take, obviously wondering how she knew how to take a man's offered arm correctly. Hermione couldn't help it she laughed and said by way of explanation, "Malfoy, there are many things about me that you do not know."
"So it seems," he replied and they walked out of the ministry arm in arm.
In the hurly burly of modern living and all its plethora of take-away and instant food and beverages, some things remained unchanged, and this is how it was at Sabatini's. Hermione had been coming here with her parents since she was a little girl and she had always loved the place.
As she walked in, her arm still through Draco's, Enrico Sabatini, the owner—who almost always served behind his counter—raced forward with his arms open. "Hermione, it's a so good to see you." He was a portly man in his middle sixties, with olive-skin, dark eyes surrounded by long black lashes, and he had an unflappably cheerful disposition.
Hermione found herself being engulfed in a hug and fighting to remain composed. The last time she had been in here was the very afternoon that her parents had left for Australia. Clearing her throat and pushing away after a moment, her voice was shaky as she remembered her manners. "It's good to see you too, Signore Sabatini. May I introduce Draco Malfoy to you."
"Draco, I'm a very pleased to meet you," Enrico said, smiling and holding his hand out to Draco.
Hermione was relieved when Draco took the offered hand and shook it politely. She watched their host lead them to a table and seat them. "Your usual, Hermione?" he asked.
"Yes, thank you, Signore."
"And what for you, Draco?"
Draco Malfoy suddenly looked more lost than he had when he'd been sitting in that awful courtroom.
Signore Sabatini instinctively solved the young man's dilemma as any good host will. "How about I make something special for you, Draco?" he replied, patting the young man's arm.
Then before Draco could answer, a slightly out of breath Harry turned up. "I'm glad I caught you," he puffed. Then his eyes turned to Draco. "Hello, Malfoy."
"Potter," Draco replied, obviously uncertain about this development.
"Would you like to join us, Harry?" Hermione asked, also unsure as to why Harry had followed her. She hoped it wasn't some idea that she needed protection.
"Okay," the raven-haired wizard said, as Signor Sabatini returned with Hermione and Draco's coffee.
"Ah, I see you are very popular, Hermione," he commented with a chuckle.
Hermione giggled and smiled. "I wish," she laughed. "This is another friend, Harry Potter."
"Ah, Harry, I'm a very pleased to meet you," he said, smiling and holding his hand out to Harry in exactly the same way he had to Draco.
Draco took all of this in. He had been expecting the man to make a fuss of the great Harry Potter, but then he realised that they were in the muggle world; no one thought Harry was anything but a normal young man. This was very refreshing. "I think I could get used to this…" he raised a pale eyebrow, "err, anonymity," Draco commented, looking straight at Harry.
Harry scoffed. "Planning on turning muggle, just because I'm an ordinary bloke here, Malfoy?"
"The thought is an appealing one," but then he sighed. "I might as well be; they've taken everything away now."
Hermione found her hand coming forward to cover Draco's, but she didn't know what to say, she knew how it felt to lose your parents when you needed them most, even if one of them was a complete git.
Surprisingly it was Harry who found words. "I have to admit that your mother's sentence was a surprise. I always had the idea that she went along because she had no choice," he said quietly.
"Yeah, that was a shock. My father is an evil git, I was hoping it would be life, but mother, she's suffered so much already." When his eyes looked up again they were stricken with some kind of pain, and suddenly he whispered, "What if she doesn't survive?"
"You can't think like that," Hermione urged.
They paused as Harry's coffee turned up, and when Signore Sabatini had turned away, the subject changed. "Where are you living, Malfoy?"
The blond wizard snorted. "Aunt Andromeda has come out of the woodwork and claimed me." He saw Harry starting to bristle, and he quickly quantified his statement. "No, Potter. I appreciate her, I really do. It's just weird. I hadn't even met her until after the war ended and now she's my only family."
"Yes, most everything has changed," Hermione agreed, but her eyes looked hollow as she said it.
"You still got us," Harry told her seeing her pain surfacing.
"What's happened?" Draco asked.
Hermione sat gravely for a moment, but then sighed. "I sent my parents away at the end of our sixth year so they'd be safe. I miss them," she stated quietly.
"Oh… Oh, I'm sorry, Granger, but can't you get them back?"
"I wiped their memories of me, so they couldn't get caught. I was hoping that… Never mind…" and she shook her head. She had hoped that the spell she'd used would only be temporary, but she hadn't heard from them and it was almost two years now.
"Oh!" he gasped. "Then I truly am sorry for your loss."
No one had ever spontaneously told her how sorry they were like that before. Sure, Harry was sympathetic, but he didn't really understand; he'd never had parents. Ron, well he just didn't get it, and here was the person who had been her biggest bully giving her his condolences.
"T-Thank you, Malfoy," Hermione managed as emotion choked her, and she took a gulp of her coffee. This had not turned out as she expected it to. However, she was brought out of her reflection by Harry's voice.
"Oh, crap!" he said suddenly.
When Hermione looked at him she saw that he was grimacing and gulping his coffee. "What?" she questioned.
"The reason I followed you was that Ron turned up just as you'd left and I came to warn you that he's looking for you." He rose from the table. "I better go and see if he's still around."
"I didn't know he was back," Hermione commented, irritation passing over her face.
"Well, heads up. He came back early, and I don't think you want him seeing you sitting with Malfoy here." Harry turned to Draco and held up a hand. "No offence intended, Malfoy."
A small sneer arrived on Draco's face. "None taken, Potter," and he rose. "Thank you for the coffee, Granger. I'll see you when Hogwarts starts again, yeah?"
"Yes," she replied, and she found herself wanting to say more, but not knowing what to say. He sounded so dejected as he turned away, and Hermione realised that Harry had accidentally ruined things, but she was not certain she knew what he'd ruined. Whatever it was though, it was laying heavily on her heart, and this confused her.
She turned to Harry. "Well, I better go and find Ron," she said to cover her confusion, even as she knew she had no intention of finding him, and she scurried away. She needed time to think.
"But, Ron, I've always wanted to travel, and this is my perfect opportunity," Hermione said. "You're occupied with your Quidditch and I'm at a loose end."
"You could stay and do what Ginny's doing," Ron cajoled.
"Ron, I don't even fly. How am I going to play Quidditch?" Hermione replied, snorting.
"Well, you might at least try it!" he snapped back.
"That logic cuts both ways, Ron. You could come with me," she suggested.
"No I couldn't," he said sounding almost incredulous. "No, I've got to play Quidditch. I love Quidditch," Ron said.
"And travelling is something I've always thought I'd do a lot of, and now while I'm not busy before we complete our NEWTs is the perfect time for me to start... It's important to me."
Ron sighed. "Then I guess I'll see you then," he told her, turning to leave.
So, this was what he thought of it, and she watched him walking away as Harry sidled up beside her.
"He didn't take that very well, did he?"
Hermione snorted. "Well, he's got to learn that I'm not an appendix to him, I'm an independent person."
"I wish you luck with that, 'Mione," he chuckled. "Where are you going first?"
"France," she said with a grin.
"Well, bon voyage, love," he laughed.
"Oh, ha, ha."
"When will you be back?"
"I've got things planned out until right up to September one. How about I meet you guys on the platform. Will you tell Ron?"
"Sure," Harry agreed. "Oh, and Gin says all the best too."
Hermione shook her head. "You guys and your Quidditch."
"Yeah, I wish I could have gone with her, but there were no guys allowed," Harry lamented.
"Oh, I'm sure you'll survive. Bye."
Harry swept forward and pulled her into a hug. "You take care of you, right?"
She laughed. "I will," and she pulled away and picked up her bag. As she walked to the apparition point, she reflected that she'd knew that it was never going to sit well with Ron, but then she thought of Paris and the great libraries, galleries, and museums she'd already decided to visit, and she grinned as she apparated away.
While Hermione was away, Draco Malfoy earned his wand back after completing his assigned hours of community service, something that made him truly happy to achieve, and he hadn't been expecting that. He'd never thought about achievement before, he'd never had to, things had just happened for him as a member of the powerful Malfoy family.
With his wand, also came his estates and some of his family's fortune. He reasoned that his father would have used a major portion as bribe money to keep his sentence from being a life sentence, and he knew that a substantial portion of the family fortune had been confiscated by the ministry for war restitutions. However, he still had enough to get by on, and, having completed something so menial to earn something gave him such a good feeling.
He was just starting to feel good about things though when he was summoned by the patriarch of the Greengrass family and learned that the arrangement between him and their youngest daughter was still going to be enforced.
Marriage within pureblood circles was always arranged. The pacts were made when the participants were children, and it had been agreed just after Astoria had been born that the pair of them would make a magically powerful bound. The seer had spoken very favourably of it, and the two families had struck up a deal.
Draco's problem with the whole process was that his parent's marriage had been arranged, just as his grandparent's marriage had been, and so on. It had been the same on Astoria's side of the family. It was all they'd ever known and he was bound to go through with it, but none of the marriages had been happy ones, and he started to wonder if this was part of the problem.
However, they had been magically bound by their short-sighted parents and the union could only be terminated when an heir was produced, or if it could be proven that one party was acting fraudulently. Magic did not take into account something like a person's preferences, but all his life he had watched his mother suffer in her marriage, and he had wanted to have free will in his choice of a bride after seeing the damage his father had inflicted on his mother. Now he could see that he was just as trapped as his mother had been.
To tell the truth, Draco was very surprised that the Greengrass family still wanted him. He discussed the issue with his aunt. After all she'd skipped out on her allotted match before she'd married Ted Tonks, but he found out that her match had been unfortunately killed in a Quidditch accident when they'd been in sixth year, and that was the only thing that had allowed her the chance to escape tradition.
Draco realised in that admission that he did not have it in him to murder Astoria. What would it achieve anyway? Once he'd grown up enough to recognise the Lord Voldemort horror show for what it was, he realised that he was definitely a lover and not a fighter.
Therefore, he capitulated knowing he had no other option, and it was announced in The Daily Prophet that Draco Lucius Malfoy was to marry Astoria Cassiopeia Greengrass. Draco may have resigned himself to do it, but he'd always hoped that when he married it would be for an all-consuming passionate love and not a lukewarm comfort that promised a life of mediocrity.
This made him consider the thing that had been steadily growing in his heart for a certain curly-headed witch after the day of his parent's trials. He also noted, on spending some time with his intended, that she was a shallow and vain witch who was very much for blood purity, and he was having a lot of trouble even liking her. Both these things troubled him greatly.
He had not had a great deal to do with Astoria before, and he had hoped that they would like one another enough to go through with it, but he soon realised that he'd never have the comfort that Hermione Granger now represented in his heart, even when she should have been the last person to have offered him anything.
As it turned out, a lot could happen in three months, and as she sat on her trunk waiting for Ron to arrive on platform nine and three-quarters, Hermione reflected that three months had also not been enough time away from Draco for her to work out what had happened in Sabitini's the day she'd had coffee with him.
Of course, that was not her only concern. Now that she'd had a taste of freedom, she was reluctant to return and complete her final year as a Hogwarts student. She knew she had to, but she was used to being a self-sufficient adult now. The Gryffindor witch was uncertain that she would be able to fall back into the regimented life of a school student, especially in a place where the teacher's word was law, regardless of circumstances.
She had fallen foul of that mentality once too often during her previous time at the school to feel comfortable with falling back under that authority now she was an adult. Then there was another reason too. While she'd been absent she hadn't heard from Ron. She felt even more removed from him than she had before, and this made her wonder if accepting his ring before she'd left had been a wise move.
However, as she pondered this, she realised that she had not made herself available to him either, having spent the last three months abroad. Although, this did not account completely for his apparent lack of interest in her. At least she had written, but he had never answered.
She'd had only a little time to peruse her backlog of Daily Prophets now she'd returned, but even from the small amount she'd read she realised that Ron—and to a certain extent, Harry—had begun bathing in the adoration of the British wizarding public once she'd been gone. She really couldn't blame them for wanting their moment of glory after all the trouble, even if she wanted nothing to do with it, but she felt that they were going a little over-board.
Another issue that had immediately become apparent to her was the amount of galleons being spent on the so-called golden ones. There were far better things the ministry could spend its coffers on than celebrations of a pyrrhic victory.
She sighed, and glanced around once more. Hermione had hoped that she and Ron could catch the train together today, but they had left on rather uncertain terms. She trusted that Harry had delivered her message to Ron, and that Ron would do the right thing. Then, at five minutes to eleven a great ruckus at the other end of the platform pulled her from her thoughts. Harry and Ron had turned up, and had instantly become the centre of a media circus.
"The golden boy goes back to the scene of his great triumph to finish his schooling," she heard one reporter quoting to his companion as they marched passed her without even a flicker of recognition.
Hermione almost snorted out loud when she saw the theatrics as she stood. She knew she should move towards the train, but it was mesmerizing watching it all play out as an observer. However, that was when she noticed something; Ron and Lavender were holding hands.
Her shock made her even more immobile; she hadn't been expecting that. She managed to control her urge to stalk up the platform and biff him, and she started towards the open door of the train instead, but of course, this was when one of the reporters noticed her.
Hermione was not a creature of celebrity. Having been on the unpopular end of the wizarding media before meant that she knew they had a habit of making news out of anything they could, regardless of it being fact or fiction, flattering or defamatory. In her case it was usually the latter, and she stiffened remembering Skeeter's last revenge attempt.
Now if that mentality floated Ron's boat, and he was a post-adolescent male after all—even though that should make no difference—then she was happy to leave him to have her share as well.
However, being caught in thought was not a good thing in this case, and she didn't see the witch—who while younger than, bore a striking resemblance to Rita Skeeter—clicking towards her on her impossibly high stilettos. "Miss Granger," she sneered. "Tell me, why the female third of the Golden Trio is not with her friends? A lover's tiff perhaps?" she smoothed, as she arched a very sculptured eyebrow.
"What?" Hermione huffed, only just coming out of her thoughts, and berating herself for standing there watching. "Err… no. NO!" she gasped as the woman's question finally sunk in. She also registered hurt at the sarcastic tone, but it didn't show in her face. "I-I've been travelling," she answered absently.
"Well that doesn't explain why you're not with them now," the witch accused.
Hermione groaned to herself as she saw the other reporters heading her way like a pack of vultures. Then worse still the glowering glares from Ron and Lavender, and she couldn't think of anything to counter the accusation. She had no wish to share what had just been going through her head with the media—especially this media—and she floundered.
Without warning an arm went around her waist, and she registered a familiar presence beside her.
"Well, she's with us now," Harry said, and Hermione instantly relaxed.
"Hello, Harry, Gin," she said, as Harry continued to glower at the assembled press.
Then there was a shout of, "Oi, I thought you wanted pictures of me an Harry gettin' on the train. Harry, get back up here," Ron demanded.
"Nah, I think we'll get on here thanks, mate," Harry called back. Then he offered Hermione his other arm. "Ladies," he said. "Shall we?"
This had the photographers clicking madly, but the reporters didn't seem to know which way to run, and Hermione just wanted to laugh. However, she also wanted to cry at Ron's behaviour, and the scene in the Gryffindor common room in their sixth year came rushing back when Lavender suddenly snogged Ron for the cameras.
Harry and Ginny quickly ushered Hermione onto the train, and they rushed her into the first vacant compartment they came to.