Hello! I am a bit behind on posting over here as my last 3 pieces were for fests on AO3.

So this story was for an art collaboration fest. The lovely AnnaVek was tasked with creating an original art image that would then be my prompt. She provided a sweet holiday moment, pregnant Hermione with Draco in the snow, a fairy presenting a diamond ring. Darling, right? So of course I had to turn it on its head a bit and ended up with this angsty piece lol. To see the image you can visit my profile over on Archive of Our Own.

Thanks as always to In Dreams, LightofEvolution, and Mcal for being my people. Also appreciation to AnnaVek for her art and LadyKenz for hosting that fest

Draco has been hiding, huddled against a wall in a forgotten classroom on the second floor of Hogwarts, for what feels like weeks. In actual fact, it has likely been no more than a couple of days, but he has no way of knowing for certain. The wards and locking charms he had cast on entry no longer answer to him, and so he is waiting, for good or ill, to be found.

The battle, he assumes, must be over by now. He had wanted to be brave, to find Potter and drag him by his ever-tousled hair to throw him at the Dark Lord's feet. To be revered and lauded and never have to be afraid again.


Or, he had wanted to take up arms, hurl curses at Greyback, and Rowle, and his dear cunt of an Aunt Bella. He wanted to be a hero, a champion. He wanted to save everyone before stupid Potter ever could and for the world to know he was better by choice and by design.

Truly, what he wanted was for it to be over. He wanted to "win,", whatever that means. He wanted to be alive and cling to his mother in the quiet of their private suite.

And he had wanted Hermione Granger to be safe, but he believes he had less control over that than anything else.

Once upon a time, Draco had met a frizzy haired girl on a gleaming red train and had fallen immediately, hopelessly in love. It only took five minutes for a precocious Granger to show him curiosity and brilliance and warm dark eyes, and at eleven he believed she would be his everything. He imagined her a Veela in that brief meeting, or perhaps a red string tying her to him, her fate twined around his heart. He has never known, then to now, what made him so sure, but he knew in that moment he loved her endlessly.

It hasn't worked the way he had imagined, of course. Far too soon, she'd eagerly revealed her Muggle heritage to him, excited to share herself with her new friend and hungry for the knowledge only a pureblooded wizard could provide. He had stiffened, terrified and so very disappointed, before informing her she would need to find another compartment and not to mention to anyone that they had met.

He had been deathly afraid for weeks that his father would catch wind of their brief meeting...

But he never did.

Draco postured after that, sneered at her, belittled her. He was cruel, and he hated how many times he was effective, watching her skulk off to pout or yell or cry. In second year, when he said loudly and often he hoped she would die, he would hide behind the curtains of his bed each night and slice a line into his arm, spilling drops of his precious blood. He wasn't sure then if he was atoning for the horrible things he said or punishing himself for not being worthy of his birthright.

Then it was war, and his terror morphed into something unimaginable. No longer concerned he might disappoint his father or let down his lineage, he now had the very real fear that the Dark Lord would peer inside his head only to see lingering images of her perfect wide smile, her hair pinned up in curls and a periwinkle dress, her arms thrown around Potter's shoulders and the feeling of anguish in his gut it would never be him beside her...

But He never did.

No, even now Draco doesn't want to throw Potter at his master's feet. Not really. Not with everything that would mean for the war and the world, not even what it would mean for Potter. He never liked the wizard much, but has trouble drumming up the type of hate it takes to wish for death. The only wizard that ever really inspired that level of deep hatred was the Dark Lord to which Draco is bound.

Draco, in reality, had just wanted to be brave. To be proud. To take his future into his own hands... but much like his father, he never did. He always wanted to be like Lucius as a boy. Sniffling and scraping at a madman's feet, he finally realized that goal, at least. Like father, like son...

So, instead, Draco is cowering, listening to first, the sounds of battle, and now, the silence of aftermath. Is it finished? Which side claimed victory? Which fell in defeat? He fears it doesn't matter. His future is bleak either way.

Drifting to sleep once again, Draco has very little else to which he can devote his time.

Draco knows hunger for the first time. He had thought he knew what it was before: That hollow ache when he had skipped meals to avoid the "guests" polluting his home, the gnawing need when he had spent a day flying over the grounds rather than face his father's wrath. But this… He is desperate now, hours ticking by in this empty room.

At some point, he removed his robes, balling them up as a pillow beneath his head during the day, using them as a blanket as the chill of evening seeps into the stone of the castle. His wand casts weak spells, Warming Charms barely effective. It's not his, this piece of elm. Gifted from his mother after Potter had taken his own, it was useful enough in less dire circumstances, but now he feels crippled, paralyzed and broken. The door will not shatter under his pitiful Bombarda, water is only a trickle when he screams Aguamenti with everything he has. He laps at what little it gives, afraid it might not be enough in the end.

He will die here. After everything, Draco Malfoy, last scion of two noble houses, will be found curled in on himself under war tattered robes, emaciated; a dry husk encasing his bones. He begs to the Gods for a time. Bargains. Yells.

If he is grieving, spanning the stages as he regrets himself and his short life, he arrests at sorrow, acceptance far out of reach. He sobs and he continues to beg and he reflects on the choices that brought him to this place.

Perhaps, thinking into the shallows of his past, it would have been better to die in the war. Or further back, as conflict loomed dark over his head. He thinks if Dumbledore had any true mercy, he would have ended Draco's life at the top of a dark tower cast in green light. Further still, he could have been a different man from the beginning. He could have told Hermione Granger she was smarter than any witch he'd ever known and asked her to stay, to share his compartment to Hogwarts and tell him about her Muggle life.

Would he have fought at her side during the battle? When they'd all tumbled from the Room of Hidden Things, falling from singed brooms, would he have clutched her to his chest to know she was safe, rather than sobbing pathetically for a boy he hardly even liked?

Draco Malfoy is a coward and a villain, and now he will die before he could be anything else. He barely registers when the silence of the room begins to change, swelling from the buzz of quiet into a chorus of what might be laughter, or could be the tinkle of a thousand bells.

He sits up, pulling his knees in protectively, eyes darting around the darkness of the room, dim moonlight from nearly opaque glass overhead trickles in.

"Lumos." Like everything from his mismatched wand, his spell is a fraction of what it should be, a low amber point of light emitted from the tip of it.

There, emerging slowly from beneath the door, squirming its way through the cracks, Draco spies a creature wriggling itself through. A pixie, perhaps. A bowtruckle? Brownie? It's movements are ataxic and wrong. As it emerges, he notices one leg is dragging behind the rest, though its wings seem to function once it is fully inside the room. Tiny thing that it is, he can't make out the finer points of its face at this distance, yet somehow he knows it is looking at him.

The fairy (of whatever sort it might be) lifts itself with its wings, useless leg hanging unnaturally as it hovers, and flits toward his makeshift bed. Draco pulls his robes up to his neck, unsure if the creature means him harm.

It approaches quickly, then slows to a crawl just out of reach, floating in a half circle, inspecting him with its black eyes, slightly too large for its delicate, pointed face. It's body is wrapped in a rag, torn fabric in periwinkle blue, and the color ignites him into action, memories flooding him with hope and an unquenchable desire to know if the witch he loves has survived.

"Please. You have magic… Can you do anything for me?" It stares at him with those soulless black eyes, continuing to circle until he feels like prey. "My wand doesn't work as it should. I can't open the door… Please. I'm starving… I have to get out."

Regarding him, the creature cocks its head, and then it's tiny hands begin to glow. It cups its palms, forming a sphere of open air between them, and there a tiny grain of matter is standing suspended in the circle. The fairy twists its hands around that space, slowly expanding and growing the negative space, the grain swelling to fill in the gap between. Eventually, it is too large for the fairy to encompass within its wingspan. The morsel, now obvious to be some sort of bread, is as large as the creature and then -DROP- hits the stone floor as the glow of the fairy's hands fades into darkness.

He only hesitates a moment before Draco scrambles for the piece, grateful and desperate. "Thank you," he murmurs, barely able to form the words even as he is stuffing the bread into his mouth. His cheeks are wet but he doesn't even realize he is sobbing until he tastes the salt on his lips. "Thank you," he says again, trying to hold the creature's eye. It circles and hovers, one leg hanging limp and dead even still.

He pauses, looking down at his hands. Tearing off a bite nearly the side of the fairy's head but hardly a mouthful to himself, he offers it gently forward. "You should eat. Do you eat bread? You need to heal, after all," he says in his most assured voice possible. He's no healer, and Care of Magical Creatures was, for many reasons, not a class he took very seriously, but the thing offered him food so he should at least try to be kind in turn. Not knowing how long he will be here, if he wants to live, he is now indebted to and also reliant on this being to keep him alive.

He gestures again, lifting the bread forward, but the fairy doesn't break its path, arcing around him in that strange orbit, eyes never leaving his face. He takes another bite from the main piece, relief still eclipsing any other concerns.

He will not starve today.

Eventually, he finishes all but the torn off bite, and the fairy lands a few feet away, extending its bad leg and settling onto the ground. Draco lays the bite of bread between them, almost out of his own reach. Perhaps it is afraid of him?

He's tired now, a moderately full stomach making him more comfortable than he has been since he arrived. Draco lays down, head pillowed on his arm and robes pulled over his body. Sleep comes easy for the first time since he entered this room, a gentle caress of night rather than the fitful drag of exhaustion. His eyes blink open once… twice… More time between each flutter of his lids, and each time the fairy is watching him, those disconcerting black eyes reflecting back his own face.

The Manor grounds are always stunning in the snow. Looking down from the windows of his suite, he can just see the pink light of dawn capping over the eastern hills. He looks back to his bed, the green canopy of his youth replaced with an heirloom four poster adorned in deep blue bed clothes. Beneath the mound of fine silk and down, his witch is sleeping, peaceful and deep. He smiles and makes his way across the room, feet slightly chilled on the dark polished wood of his floor.

Draco slides beneath the sheets on his side and inches over, throwing an arm around her waist and nuzzling the back of her neck with his nose.

"...feet are cold," she mutters, and he smiles against her skin.

"It's snowing," he replies, pressing his lips against her shoulder.

She hums in acknowledgment before answering with a quip, "So you thought you'd traipse around barefoot in it? Torture me with your frigid feet?"

Draco chuckles, and, feeling she is more awake now, gently turns her onto her back. He brushes a lock of mahogany curl from her face as she blinks herself awake. "Good morning."

"Morning," she answers with a soft smile. "What time is it?"

"Barely sunrise." He studies her a moment then asks, "How do you feel?" He's concerned and now idly wonders how he could have forgotten. She's carrying his child. Their baby. She has been sick most days for five months, but the baby is healthy, and the mediwitches all say they can expect the child in the spring.

She answers that she's feeling better today, less of the usual morning sickness to greet her, but Draco is distracted and nearly misses her response. Reaching up, Hermions cups his jaw with her small hand. "What about you? You don't seem yourself?"

"A dream," he returns, eyes squinting as he chases the remnants. "I had a strange dream: I was trapped in a room and… and you weren't with me. I was alone, and...I think maybe I was dying? I don't know." He shakes his head as if it might dislodge the pieces of his memory.

Looking down into her worried face, he smiles once again. "Like I said, strange. Come on, let's see about breakfast."

She complies without protest which doesn't feel right at all. Draco feels as though she should ask more questions, inquisitive witch that she is. She's quiet, and then she's not there at all, but only because he is no longer in his room. He's dressed now, feet stuffed into dragonhide boots, rife with charms to keep him warm. It doesn't seem right; his feet were so cold. He's shivering, but then, he is walking the grounds as the snow comes down around him.

He pans the scene before him, the trees coated in the soft powder of fresh snowfall and the path untouched save the prints left in his wake. When did he come outside? Why, for that matter? He feels alone, but then he realizes Hermione is here, that she's been here all along. She walks with grace, one hand laid on the swell of her stomach and the other linked through his arm, her dainty hand poised on his sleeve.

She wears red, a joke between them. "You can take the witch out of Gryffindor tower, but you can't take the Gryffindor out of the witch." When had she said that? Their first official outing, he remembers. A warm weekend they had spent picnicking on the grounds their second year. He had been so afraid for her, the basilisk (though he didn't know what the beast was at the time) stalking the insides of the walls and attacking wizards and witches like her… The entire year had left him terrified he would lose her. It was that year he told his father he refused to follow the teachings of a dead wizard who lost the war he tried to start. Lucius hadn't spoken to him for six months after that.

"Where are you?"

He looks down to find Hermione studying his face, eyes darting between his. Draco smiles and answers truthfully, "Second year. I was remembering our first date. Seeing you in red always reminds me how sassy you are."

She laughs then, that joyful, honest sound that he associates with hushed conversations in the back of the Hogwarts library or rolling around in silk sheets. She only laughs like that with him, and it makes him proud every time he hears it pass her lips.

"Look, the snidgets are back."

Draco follows her gaze to a nearby wisteria, bare of its blossoms and heavy layered in snow. There, a small golden bird flits about. They come back every year, Draco remembers. In his mind, he recalls them chased away by darkness, the blue wisteria withered and dead, but that can't be true. He sees only the grandeur of his familial home, the beauty around them a living thing.

Sliding to stand behind her, Draco puts his arms around his wife… his wife? Had he forgotten that as well? His hand is large laid on the bump where their child grows. He lays his fingers, splayed across the swell and hopes to feel movement, any reassurance of the life he knows to be there. He knows it… yet he knows many things that cannot be true. He's not dying, alone and afraid. He is here, with her, starting their lives together, completing the perfection of their story with a family.

He feels it then, a jump beneath her skin, and she gasps a little. "Oh, she's quite awake."

"He," Draco argues playfully. They don't know for certain yet, but he likes to pretend he's sure.

She laughs again, waving off his comment. "You have no idea, Draco Malfoy; don't pretend to be so prophetic."

He laughs with her, more than he probably should. It's not that funny, their banter, this repetitive joke they share, but he's just so full of joy that he laughs endlessly, Hermione joining him as he wraps his arms around her.

"I love you," he breathes into her hair, happier than he has ever been. He is sure he must have been this happy the day she married him, though he can't remember clearly. He must have also been this pleased the first time they kissed, or made love… When had that been?

He's holding out his hand and the snidget is fluttering just above his palm, shining gold and hovering like a hummingbird. But then, it's not a bird, and it has a little periwinkle dress, this creature with hollow black eyes. In its tiny hands, it holds a ring. Hermione's wedding band, the one Narcissa let him have from the vaults.

Because his mother had approved, despite everything. Because she fought for him when his father protested, but now even Lucius has fallen a little bit in love with Hermione Granger.

But the ring belongs on her hand, not clutched by a sprite in a dress that has become rags. It belongs on Hermione's slender fingers that hold his hand with reassurance and support when he is weak, those soft delicate fingers that caress him so lovingly in the dark. He's cold, and the Warming Charms on his boots aren't working anymore. The fairy continues to stare as it holds the ring like it could take it all away, everything he's worked so hard to earn and be worthy of having.

He's cold, and the fairy isn't over his palm any longer, and Hermione's hand is no longer laying across his own, searching for the soft bucks of movement of their baby.

He's cold, and his back aches, legs stiff and skin dry. Draco's eyes are heavy, and it takes so much effort to pry them open, the bright sun having vanished into an oppressive and endless dark.

So fucking cold, and the black eyes stare back, unblinking, a piece of torn bread between them.

Draco sits up slowly, his body protesting yet another night of sleeping on stone. For a moment, he isn't sure which is the dream, but it's a fantasy into and of itself that this is anything but his real life. He looks at the bit of bread on the floor and curses himself a fool. Never eat fae food. He knows this, but hunger made him careless.

He turns away, squeezing his eyes closed to block out the endless blackness of the dark around him and the eyes that watch him even now. Even now, he isn't sure if the fairy meant him harm; if it was a hex, preying on his secret desires, or if the gift of bread had been a kindness, to keep him alive and show him a life that could be.

Looking down again, the creature has crawled forward toward the bread, still dragging its leg on the stone. Reaching down, Draco nudges the bread closer. Why it hadn't flown as before, he isn't sure.

Once the bread is in its hands, it lifts it above its head as if to give to him once again. Draco shakes his head. "I think I've seen enough. That's hardly enough to keep me from starving anyway. You should have it."

Insistent, it stretches further to give him the morsel, the tinkling of bells returning, but he no longer thinks it sounds like laughter. "If I eat it," he whispers, a secret between them in the moonlight, "will it be real this time?"

Eyes still empty, it makes no answer. Draco knows that's not how the magic works, but he eats it anyway. This time, when he wakes at his manor, his arm circled possessively around the concave midsection of his wife, he knows it isn't real. Settling deeper into the mattress, he cries into the curve of Hermione's back savoring the scent of her, the warmth of her skin.

It's been almost a week since the battle, and Hermione is tired. The first day was full of celebration and mourning, twined together in an inseparable plait. The joy of Harry's survival was tarnished by the death of Fred Weasley; of Professor Lupin and Tonks; of Colin Creevey, fighting bravely for a chance at a world he will never see.

After that, the work had to begin. There was rubble to clear, bodies to collect, and Death Eaters to find. The easiest had been those with children at the school. Lucius Malfoy, Thoros Nott, Alexander Parkinson… All had come forward willingly, begging for news of their children. Theodore and Pansy had been easy enough to deliver, both locked in the dungeons as they were, but no one knew where Draco Malfoy had disappeared to. Last Hermione had seen, he was coughing on smoke and screaming for Vincent Crabbe.

She had left him there, choking and sobbing, and it haunts her now. She'd never seen him so humanized as he was in his grief, and she ached for him in spite of all that he had done. Moments flashed, falling like rain and spinning, a kaleidoscope of "You'll be next, Mudblood" to unsure grey eyes staring at Harry and shaking his head. "I can't be sure," Draco had said to his father, their fate held in his hands, and Hermione knew it to be a lie.

Lucius was taken to Azkaban to await trial, and his wife was warded into their ancestral home. Harry says she lied for him, so she might make it out alright.

The second floor was hit particularly hard. Hermione has been moving rubble and picking through classrooms for days. She salvages books when she can and sees to the remains of unlucky creatures caught in the crossfire. A House Elf in the Arithmancy classroom, a colony of pixies near the staircase… Ron can't understand why she needs to do this, and she can't understand how he can drink and play Quidditch and celebrate. He needs to unwind, he says, but she needs to heal.

Just one more reason they are ill suited. She would do well to remember that next time he leans in to press his lips to hers, no matter that she's already told him the first kiss would be their last.

After three days on this particular floor, she has nearly completed as much as she can without a larger crew and more wands when she notices a door firmly shut. She's passed it by once or twice, mainly due to its remarkably untouched exterior. Why waste time allotted to restoration on a pristine space? But now that her work is nearly done, perhaps she should at least sweep the room.

She tries the handle and it doesn't turn. Alohomora is similarly ineffective. She tries a light Bombarda at the hinge, and good ol' Muggle brute force in desperation. It only leaves her with a sore shoulder and a curse at the tip of her tongue.

Hermione looks around, staring up and down the corridor and studying the outline of the door. The frame is old, and the door is not quite flush, a gap showing at the bottom and a trickle of light seeping in the crack down the side. She drops to her knees and peers beneath, heart skipping. She squints into the darkness, sure she is seeing the dark form of a prone body on the ground.

Frantic now, Hermione tries reverse wards, remembering the basic incantations and runes she used during the hunt for Horcruxes. She corrupts the symbols and wand movements for protection, safety, and health, trying the door again and again as she does. Hair stuck to her forehead with sweat, she is agitated, frustrated and eager, desperate to reach the figure within and begging the fates for a survivor. Bombarda, again. Alohomora for the fifth time. She repeats the spells and chants, drawing runes for strength and power with a drop of her blood onto the door.

Finally, she hears a click, and the door creaks open into a dim room.

She rushes forward, wreckless as is her nature, and drops to her knees beside a form with black robes draped over his body. He doesn't rouse at her approach, and she gently shakes his shoulder. She knows who it is, even with the lack of light. Unmistakable hair peeks from beneath the robe, and she moves the fabric aside to reveal Draco's face. Dark circles line his eyes and his lips are chapped, skin cracked and raw.

Hermione looks around, finding nothing at all in the room until her eyes land on a fairy that is draped over Draco's hand, it's small body wrapped in blue rags that remind her of her yule dress.

She lifts the creature off his fingers gently to find it limp, black eyes unmoving and head lolled to the side. Hermione nearly chokes, a powerful sob overtaking her. For some reason she can't name, she thinks this death is the one that is too far, the death too many for her to bear.

Laying the creature back onto the stone floor, Hermione wraps her arms around her knees and cries, tears soaking her denims and shoulders heaving in great quakes of sorrow. She's crying for all of them now: Fred and Tonks and even Lavender bloody Brown. She doesn't think the tears will end, that she is just made of rain and salt forever, and if her tears run dry, it will be because she is nothing left. She can't breathe, gasping, and then she is reaching for anything real and grabs the cold, stiff hand of Draco Malfoy who languished here alone for days, starving and afraid.

Finally, the sobs taper into something manageable, something that doesn't make her feel like she is dying as her body rejects the oxygen she tries to give it, expelling the air faster than she can take it in. She is sniffling and laying on her side, facing the body of Draco and holding his hand above their heads, eyes closed and trying to imagine what it was like on the rare occasions when he smiled, trying to remember what he looked like flying on a broom or strutting across the Great Hall.


She starts, gasping and scrambling from her position on the floor. Beside her, Draco Malfoy's corpse is blinking up at her, and she's terrified and confused until she realizes he's alive.

"You're alive!"

"Am I dreaming again?" he asks, and she shakes her head at him.

"No dream. You're alive. Come on. I need to get you to Pomfrey. You're malnourished and who knows what else. Dehydrated for certain."

He rolls carefully onto his back, wincing at the movement. Hermione curses under her breath.

"I'm so stupid. I didn't even think… Are you hurt? Don't move too much. If you've broken anything, you have to lie still."

"Not hurt. Just been lying on the stone floor for a long time. I just need to stand up."

"Oh! Let me help you."

And then she's there, lifting his arm over her shoulder and hiking his body up with her own slight frame. "You're heavier than you look," she mutters, and is surprised when he chuckles.

"Lighter than I was, I'd wager." Then he jolts a little, head moving as he surveys the room. "Wait, where's the fairy?"

Hermione imagines the light in her eyes must dim. Malfoy looks at her, expectant and hopeful, and she can't stop the tears from coming again. "She didn't make it. Looked like her leg was broken. Fae creatures are so powerful, but their bodies are weak. Once she was broken, she probably didn't have much of a chance."

Inexplicably, Draco's eyes fill with tears as well, and they are both silent as Hermione helps him hobble from the room.

Later, she returns to put the fairy to rest.

Draco doesn't see anyone except Madame Pomfrey for two full days. He is kept curtained off, and no one visits. He isn't sure if no one is allowed to visit or if there is no one who even wants to see him. His parents are alive, he is told, which is a small comfort, but their fate is so uncertain, he can hardly even be grateful for that.

On the third day, he's told he can leave and that he has been pardoned. A statement by Harry Potter to the Wizengamot on his "heroic attempts to protect Harry and his friends" is plastered across The Daily Prophet that morning and is apparently the reason for his unconditional freedom and forgiveness.

He doesn't feel like a hero. He feels like he's lost everything, even the little fairy that gave the last of what it had to feed him. Would it have survived if it had used its magic for itself? Granger had hinted that it was probably doomed from the start, but he feels responsible nonetheless.

Draco steps into the corridor outside the Hospital Wing for the first time and stops in his tracks when he sees Hermione Granger leaning against the wall, seemingly waiting for him.

"I wanted to see how you were," she says, and she's so earnest, so fucking honest, he hates himself all the more. It might have been a dream, but he now knows what her skin tastes like and how her hair glistens as flakes of snow melt into her tresses. He knows how she looks when she smiles at a lover and how her hair smells in crisp morning air. Even if none of it was real, he has never been more sure that it was exactly correct regardless.

"Better," he says, voice a bit raspy. He's hardly spoken in days, and his body is a little weak, but carefully portioned food and a bit of magic have him feeling fairly strong.

"I wanted to thank you."

"Thank me?" He scoffs in disbelief. "What the fuck for? Nearly getting you killed in the Room? Poisoning your boyfriend last year?"

She flinches, and Draco hates himself just a little more; one more tile laid in the mosaic of his self-loathing. "For the Manor," she says. "I know you probably don't realize, but there was not a high probability of us making it out of there alive. Every variable had to fall into place. Your hesitation gave us the time we needed for Dobby to reach us. So… thank you."

Draco thinks to say a lot of things in response to that, not the least being cruel denials, that he hadn't done it for her, but what possible reason could he have now to be that destructive? His life as he has known it has already ended. He is lucky to be free, to be alive, but his name is ruined, his vaults likely ransacked by an overzealous new order at the Ministry. His father may never be free again, might even get the Kiss. Why shouldn't Draco at least be honest about this?

He licks his lips and tells her the truth for possibly the first time. "I wished I could do more," he says, eyes lowering to the ground by her feet. "I wanted to do more. I wanted… for you to be safe."

His eyes lift to watch her face, and she has her head tilted to the side, puzzling him out. "Why would you want us to be safe? We were fighting against your family."

"You, Granger. I wanted you to be safe. I've always wanted you to be safe. Since the day I met you, even if I had to pretend I hated you."

Draco takes a breath, waiting for a reaction, for recognition. Does she understand how profound this is for him, this moment of honesty? Has he been clear enough?

He tries again, her confusion still evident on her open face. She's always been so clear with her emotions, so easy to read. It made it no challenge at all to push her away, to push the right buttons. Draco follows her cues, hoping he is as effective at sincerity as he has been at falsehoods.

"I think sometimes, how different things might have been if I had been brave back then... When you said your mother had been afraid that first time you used magic. I could imagine it so clearly: a little girl holding a shattered bit of china and not understanding how it had floated by itself. I should have asked you to stay. I wanted to know so much about you, but I was afraid of my father and of Muggles and that if I talked to you more, I might not turn out as who I was supposed to be. This," he holds up his arm, showing the Dark Mark, visibly though faded on his skin, "this is the worst mistake of my life, but sending you away was the worst until then."

She's still staring, and Draco wants to beg her to say something, but the silence is so frail, the air around them so fragile, he's afraid if he speaks she might shatter like glass, this moment irreparable and their civility drowned in the animosity he helped breed between them.

Finally, she clears her throat a little. "You remember that day? When we talked on the train? I just… assumed you'd forgotten it…"

"I haven't," he says with a shake of his head, punctuating his denial. Suddenly he feels hopeless. What is he even doing? Does he imagine this changes anything? All the vitriol and cruelty?

With a sigh, Draco's shoulders drop, his body deflating, all the hope and stolen memories the only thing keeping him upright. He rolls his head to the side, unable to look at her anymore, and mutters, "Nevermind. Just… Sorry, alright? I'm sorry. And, I'm glad you're safe."

"Oh." Her voice is small, and he can't muster the courage to look at her face. There is a pause, a silence, and he can feel her stare.

He hears the shuffle of her Muggle trainers on the pavers and grimaces at the sound of her walking away.

Draco's eyes are squeezed shut, ears pounding with the slow cadence of her footsteps on the stone. Is this really all he wanted to say? Is he content to let it end here? To take the chance of life ever bringing them together…

The next year is uncertain, a void in his mind as he tries to imagine what happens from here. Will he ever see her again? He breathes deep through his nose, imagining the scent of her hair and feeling the press of her body against his. His hand twitches, aching to splay once again over her rounded form, whispering to her quietly in the dark.

"Draco," she had whispered in his dream, "why are you so sure it's a boy?"

He'd thought for a long time, and she had waited with uncharacteristic patience.

"I think the fates owe me a chance, an opportunity for the Malfoy name to mean something. My father… he almost led me astray. When we have a son," he'd said, so low she likely could hardly hear, "he will carry my name but he will be half you. And I know you'll make sure he's the man I'm still trying to be. My second chance."

She had turned in his hold and cupped his cheek with her hand. It was only when she rubbed her thumb under his eye that he realized he had been crying. "I love the man you are," she had countered, assured, comforting, and he had cried harder, holding her tight and feeling the kicks of a dream child between them.

He opens his eyes now and stares at the empty corridor, realizing fully the gift the fairy had given him. Not just a dream, far more than what could have been, but a hope for what might still be.

"Granger!" He sprints down the hall and turns the corner just to see her about to disappear up the stairs. "Hey, Granger! Wait!"

She stops, and he runs to meet her, flushed and agitated. He stands there for a moment, just catching his breath and looking at her. She stares back with searching eyes, confusion evident.

"You wanted to thank me," he finally says, hope swirling, coalescing, into a bravery and confidence he doesn't deserve.

"I did," she says, cautious, and he favours her with a winning smile.

"I think I'd like to collect on that, then. Let's go to Hogsmeade."

"I… what? I said 'thank you,' not that I owe you something." Her caution is morphing into distrust, and he can hardly stand it. But this is how he plays the game, and if they have any chance at a future, she may as well get used to it.

His smile curls into that devastating sideways grin that his mother says will break hearts, but he never intends to use it to hurt her. "You don't want to be indebted, do you? Come on, Granger, a drink and some conversation. All it will cost you is time."

"And the drink."

He's perplexed, and looks back in question.

"The drink. If I'm to pay for the drink, that will cost me something. Not that I can't afford it, of course, but that's hardly the point. If the idea is that it isn't to cost me anything-"

"My treat," he interrupts. "Just… have a drink with me."

Still studying him, she squints her eyes in thought. "You're… asking me out. For a drink."

"It seems that way," he agrees playfully.

"Like a date?"

Draco shrugs. "Call it what you will. Will you come?"

She ponders, suspicion starting to morph into an amused expression. "And you're paying?"

"Of course. Narcissa Malfoy would have my head if I forgot how to treat a lady."

She laughs a little, tension breaking. "I doubt your mother would refer to me as a lady, but alright, let's have a drink. My thank you for your daring lack of selling us out."

"Excellent." He smiles down at her and offers his arm. She takes it, laying her hand daintily on his sleeve, and he's struck by how familiar it is. He leads her down the staircase to leave Hogwarts, idle small talk passing the short time. The castle is sparsely populated at best, but the few witches and wizards that notice them do a double take at Hermione Granger on his arm.

Get used to it, he thinks at them. I'm never letting her go.

"You realize," he ventures as they exit the large doors to the grounds, "that since I'm paying, you will once again be in my debt?"

She chuckles. "Oh, yes? And how will I repay that one?"

Pretending to think, Draco hums and waffles, finally answering, "I suppose you will just have to accompany me to dinner. Share a bit more of your time with me in exchange."

"And will you pay for that dinner?" she asks, a little distracted as she steps cautiously over rubble in the courtyard.

"Of course I will," he scoffs. "Narcissa, remember?"

"So I will owe you once again after that," she clarifies, and Draco looks down at her, grinning at the cheeky expression on her face.

"You catch on quick. It seems this might go on for some time, Miss Granger," he teases with faux regret. "If that's not too terrible a prospect?"

She just smiles wider and faces front once again, pulling herself closer with their linked arms. "No actually, I don't think that sounds terrible at all."

Thanks for reading!