title: if you're still breathing (you're the lucky ones)

chapter title: i've been walking through a world gone dark

summary: no one walks out of a war with clean hands. hermione, draco and the 8th year fic literally no one asked for.

dedication: HP, first love always. going to spend my whole life searching for another story i will love as much as i did this one.

if you're still breathing (you're the lucky ones)

She has imagined this moment a hundred thousand times since the moment she walked out of her childhood home forever. The Australian sun is baking overhead and Hermione can practically see the waves of heat rising from the tarmac roads, can smell the burning tires of the taxi cab. Her hair is frazzling in the sun, the way it always does. Reaching in her handbag for a scrunchie, she shoves it up in a knot on top of her head, ignoring the press of her wand against her wrist where it is hidden up her sleeve.

It is the first time in over a year that she has been alone.

They're safe, she tells herself. They're safe, they're fine, there is nothing to fear anymore.

It is a mantra Hermione has been repeating to herself for weeks now and yet, while her mind is rational her body cannot accept what she knows to be true, what she has seen with her own eyes (the dull thunk of Voldemort's body hitting the floor, Death Eaters fleeing, Harry alive alive alive -)

"Y'all right, love?"

She uncurls herself and places her hands flat on the sticky, pleather seats. "Fine. It's just been a long flight. A long day."

A long year.

"Come a long way?" he asks.

"From London," Hermione replies, mouth dry. The cab is slowing now and the line of quayside houses are becoming more and more distinct.

"That's thirty, sweetheart."

She hands him the cash – and how strange it is, after a year on the run, a year of not paying for anything at all – and stands on the pavement on an unfamiliar street, in an unknown city, her hands shaking and her heart in her throat.

She has imagined it a hundred thousand times, standing on the threshold – how the door will open wide and her parents will sweep her up in their arms, overwhelmed, joyful. It is a childish daydream from dark, dire days, a pretty lie to keep herself going in the awful, quiet moments when it felt like there was no going on at all.

This, she knows, is how it will really turn out; Hermione pushes open the white picket gate and walks across the short yard, ascends the steps and knocks quietly on the front door of Wendell and Monica Wilkes.

Her father opens the door and he looks at her without knowing her. There is no recognition in his brown eyes, the eyes he passed on to her and it is the millionth tiny papercut in this entire year of hurts. She has imagined this moment but never been able to prepare herself for how it will feel to have a parent look at her like she is a stranger.

"May I help you?" her father asks politely.

Down the street, children are playing football in the road. The smell of the sea is ripe on the air, salty-sharp and so, so unfamiliar. Home is not an Australian shore; home is the three-bed in Hertfordshire with yellow roses in the front garden and diamond paned windows.

Hermione breathes and lets her wand slip into her hand.

"Remember," she whispers.

He does.

"Pack up your things," Lucius hisses, his hair – always so impeccably groomed – a wild tangle of white blond down his back. "We're leaving. Now."

It is dark outside, but darker in the drawing room, in Draco's childhood home where for a year a monster has lived. He doesn't feel safe in the Manor anymore. None of them do, but it is a legacy and there is nothing more important to the Malfoy's than what they have inherited and what they themselves will leave behind.

Draco does not move.

"Narcissa," his father snaps.

She hesitates, her hand flexing on his shoulder and he is filled with a dread too pronounced to name – that this is it, the end of everything, that she will leave him.

"No," his mother says quietly.

"The Ministry is coming," Lucius says, as though they cannot comprehend the magnitude of the situation.

"Yes," she agrees. "We knew they would."

In the weeks since the Battle of Hogwarts the Ministry has been scrambling to reassemble itself, to weed out the Death Eaters and the spies and the informants. It has taken some time to elect a temporary leader, to reshuffle and reorganise, but the hunt has begun in earnest now.

"Then what are you standing around for? We must leave immediately. Tonight – this very moment! Narcissa."

"And go where? If we run we will be exiles forever, Lucius."

"Better exiled than in Azkaban. This will all blow over in a matter of years. The Malfoy name –"

The Malfoy name, Draco thinks, the beginning of – of resentment beginning to curl beneath his rib cage, hard and angry. It has always been about the Malfoy name; the expectations, the legacy, the blood that makes them and their small corner or the world so much better than the rest of it.

You told me we were the better breed of wizard, he almost says. Look what we've done to the world we thought belonged to us alone.

"Go, father," he says, speaking for the first time. The fire in the grate is flickering low, but he can still see the shadows under Lucius's eyes, the unshaven face, the bloodless skin. They still have the same pointed face, the same pale, glittering eyes. "I will not stop you."

"Come with me, Draco. Both of you, come with me."

It is uncomfortable to see his once-proud father beg, but it is a sight Draco has grown used to these past two years. His all-powerful father is nothing but a man, after all; and not, it turns out, a very good one.

"Draco!" Lucius hisses, one final time as the pops of apparition travel from outside and he cannot, he cannot step forward, cannot take his father's hand.

The Aurors – what is left of them – burst into the house mere seconds after Lucius Malfoy, scion of that old house, Death Eater, murder, coward apparates to merlin-knows-where, leaving wife and only son behind.

Narcissa's hand is trembling on his shoulder, but she does not move. Instead she pressed her lips very softly to the back of his hair, light as the first snowflake in a winter storm.

"Be strong, my son," she whispers close to his ear, as the Aurors flood in. "Be brave."

There is crying and shouting – her father weeps and her mother rages – but at the end of it all there is tea in the kitchen.

"How could you?" Jean Granger asks, for the hundredth time. Hermione thinks it is not so much incomprehension as it is a stubborn disbelief. "How could you, Hermione?"

"I had to keep you safe."

Calmly, she runs through her list of justifications and ignores the chamomile tea steaming gently in front of her. It is simple, she explains. I was a target and so were you.

Her parents are logical people and in the end they accept her explanations. They claim to accept her apologies. In the silent moments, though – at dinner when the conversation hitches, pauses, runs out; in that startled moment after she enters a room unexpectedly; when they think she is out of the house and cannot hear them – in the silent moments, Hermione watches and listens and begins to understand the real cost of what she has done, the real price she has paid to both protect her mother and father and keep her best friend alive.

"You didn't even ask," her father said, when the first explanation came out.

"You wouldn't have agreed," Hermione had replied. "I had to protect you. It was the only way."

"And if you'd been hurt – if you'd – if you'd," he cannot say the words, struggles to articulate the primal fear that lives in every parents bone marrow. "What then? It'd have been like you never existed."

She looks down at her hands, vaguely ashamed. At the time it had been her masterstroke – only she could break the spell she had cast, a memory charm all of her own invention. Not even torture could've broken it. Not even her death.

"I thought," Hermione tries, stumbles over the words, "it would be – kinder. If I died. You wouldn't have to – it wouldn't hurt you."

"That, darling," he tells her gently, so gently it hurts worse than her mother's screaming, "was not your decision to make."

Now, she swallows around the lump in her throat, face pressed against her knees, feet bare in the sand. Was it the right decision? It felt like it was the only decision at the time, the only one she could make. Maybe her parents will forgive her for it in time, but trust will never come easily between them again.

There are trials and trials and trials. There are endless lists of the dead. Draco didn't choose Voldemort, not really, not for true – his father made the choice for him years and years ago when he first took the Dark Mark onto his skin and into his soul and failed, over and over, to be a perfect servant, but still. But still.

Everyone loves a scapegoat.

He's spent too many years at school swaggering about the place, tormenting Potter, backing Umbridge, looking down his nose at the other kids and calling them words that will be unforgiveable in this brave new post-Voldemort world.

He scrapes through his own trial – helped by his youth, his unconfirmed kill count, Potter's testimony.

"Malfoy," Potter says, "is a bully and a coward but not a killer, as far as I can tell. He doesn't have the heart for it."

A few years ago, he would have taken that as a grave insult. A Malfoy could not afford to show weakness, not to anyone – his father has drummed that into him over and over for as long as Draco can remember. But Potter looks at him not with contempt but something undefinable in those bottle-green eyes Draco has hated so much these past seven years.

Boy-Who-Lived, they whispered in the halls of Hogwarts. Triwizard Champion. Chosen One.

Draco has been losing to him ever since they stepped on the Hogwarts Express all those years ago, ever since he extended his hand and got a scorned I think I can tell the wrong sort for myself, thanks in return.

He thought Potter was turning his nose up, snubbing him – no one with class or sense would overlook a Malfoy for a Weasley, or a Granger, he'd thought. No one would choose a blood traitor and a mudblood over a Malfoy.

Now he lies in his bed – under house arrest rather than being thrown into a prison cell – staring at the dark ceiling and Draco remembers those first words. The wrong sort, Potter had called him, eleven-years-old and so skinny it was surprising.

The Dark Mark on his arm has gone quiet, dormant, but it still feels like a brand upon his skin. It is nothing to be proud of. It is not how he wants to be remembered.


notes: i have not written hp in like ten years but this has been sitting in my drafts for ages

notes2: they are talking to me again and it's wonderful

notes3: let's hope this lightning strike continues, i'm quite excited for what i could do with this early otp now i've grown up

notes4: hp i missed you so much