Would you look at that.

Finished before its two year anniversary, as promised.

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.

She never explained it to them.

As the days went by, and her silence increased, she didn't explain it to them. As they sent in others to try and coax the answer out of her, she didn't explain it to them. As they continued their search to the Vault and discovered an old Malfoy Crest which brought tears to her eyes, she didn't explain it to them. As she sat quietly as they decided to go to Hogwarts, she didn't explain it to them. As they fought in the final battle and she pushed Narcissa Malfoy out of the way of a curse, she didn't explain it to them. As she arrived home from his grave, she didn't explain it to them.

She never explained it to them.

Ron whined, complaining about it, whilst Harry begged, worried about her health. And each time they brought it up, she would turn away and shake her head slowly. On one afternoon, nearly a year after it happened, Ron finally broke. He demanded she explain why she was so quiet all the time. Why she visited his grave. And most importantly, why he was dead in the first place.

When she shook her head, Harry spoke up.

"Hermione, you never keep anything from us. Why are you keeping this?"

But that wasn't true, she thought quietly.

She hadn't told them why she was in the library almost every Tuesday night during their sixth year. She hadn't told them about her Christmas break while they had been at the Burrow. She hadn't told them why she hadn't been in front of Snape's office the night Dumbledore had died.

She had spent a long time not explaining things to them.

Maybe that was why his death hurt so much. With it, a secret had died. A secret of late nights in the Astronomy Tower, whispered words that haunted her to this day, of sweet kisses and Transfiguration textbooks. No one had known. Not a single person besides the two of them. Had it even happened? Had those moments even existed? All that remained were her memories.

And memories lied.

On the anniversary of his death, she sat alone in the Leaky Cauldron. In front of her were several empty Firewhiskey glasses. She was staring glassy-eyed at the clock behind the counter. The longest day of her year seemed to slow as she watched.

She choked back a few tears. Ginny was the only one who knew where she was today. The younger woman didn't know it all, but probably suspected. The new Mrs. Potter was smart.

Hermione had stayed over at Ginny's and Harry's the night before. The nightmares had gotten so bad that she couldn't be alone.

She had been alone for a year now.

Harry had raised an eyebrow as Hermione stumbled out the door, but Ginny had placed a hand on his arm, shaking her head gently. "Just let her go," she had whispered. "She needs this."

She had needed this. She had come to this bar for several reasons, none of which she could remember at this exact moment. She just wanted the day over, so she could sit quietly for another year, not explaining the nightmares that plagued her nights and the silence that plagued her days.

She was reaching for another glass when she felt a tap on her shoulder.

"Mind if I join you, Granger?"

She turned slowly. Blaise Zabini stood behind her, hands in his pockets. She hadn't seen him since the final battle. He had grown taller, slimmer. His face was as somber as hers.

She had wanted to be alone today, but something in his face made her pause. He looked as bad as she felt.

She nodded slowly.

He slid into the bar seat next to her and gestured for the bartender to get him a glass. He took a large swing from it. They sat in silence.

"Drowning your sorrows?" he asked, glancing at the three empty glasses on the bar counter.

She hiccoughed. He chuckled.

"Figures I would run into you, today of all days."

"Sorry?" she asked, muttering her first words since waking that morning. "What's that supposed to mean?"

He eyed her for a moment. "Well, come on, Granger. We both know you aren't sitting here waist deep in alcohol because you hate Thursdays."

Her head felt a little hazy. "I don't understand."

"It's the anniversary of Draco's death."

"I kn…" she started to say, but stopped herself. Taking a deep breath, she continued. "Why should I care about Dr..Malfoy's death?"

"Well, he did die protecting you from his psychotic aunt. But given your history, I wasn't that surprised."

Hermione felt like she had been slapped. "You….you know?"

He gave her a side-ways glance. "Of course I know. I was his best friend."

"He told you?"

"Not technically," Blaise said, his eyes suddenly very far away. "I had to coax it out of him. And come on, who didn't notice how happy he was those last few weeks of sixth year? I was just the only one who suspected the reason was the pretty girl who was tutoring him in Transfiguration."

"I hadn't…I thought no one knew. I never told anyone."

"Really?" Blaise said, surprised. "Even after his death? I doubt your sidekicks let that go un-explained."

"Oh, they didn't," she said, a chuckle escaping her mouth. The sound felt foreign to her. "At first they thought he had just been trying to make up for how shitty a person he had been. But then they saw how I reacted. How quiet and recluse I became. They figured I knew something they didn't. They've been trying to get it out of me all year."

"Why didn't you just tell them?"

"They wouldn't have understood," she whispered. "They would've hated me for consorting with a death eater. I mean, I knew about his task. I knew for months and I didn't…I didn't stop it. Harry would've never forgiven me."

Blaise eyed her. "Even after it was revealed that Dumbledore had orchestrated his own murder?"

She nodded, hiccoughing again. "Harry always hated Draco. Ron still hates him."

"And Potter doesn't? Still, I mean."

She shook her head. "Harry came to the realization that Draco's sacrifice is probably the only reason I'm sitting here today. That abated some of his hatred. But the fact that I knew about a plot to murder Dumbledore, all the while trying to convince Harry not to be suspicious of Draco, that's unforgivable."

"Do you forgive yourself?"

She turned to look at him. No one had ever asked her that before. No one had known enough to ask her in the first place. "Sometimes. Never. Always. I don't know. I was there that night, you know? The night Dumbledore died. I stopped Draco on his way up to the tower. We….we had a fight because he had promised not to….he had given me his word…."

She started breathing very heavily. Blaise put his hand on her back, rubbing comforting circles as she tried to calm down.

"He was kind of an asshole, wasn't he?"

She laughed, a full, booming laugh. Tears were streaming down her face regardless. "He really was. He was such an asshole. Just a generally shitty person."

"But we loved him anyway," Blaise said, lifting his glass in a toast. Hermione flinched at his words. He looked at her. "What…did you not?"

She lowered her eyes. "I don't know. I thought I did for a while. But then he went and betrayed us all. And I couldn't ever love someone like that, who murders without regard…."

"He lowered his wand," Blaise said suddenly. "He changed his mind at the very last second. I only saw him once after that before his death, and he just kept repeating those words. "Blaise, I lowered my wand. I made the right choice, not when it counted, but I lowered my wand." He wasn't going to do it."

"I know," she whispered. "Harry was on top of the tower, too. The day after Draco died, he walked into my room and just said "he lowered his wand, 'Mione. He lowered it," and then left."

"Do you love him, knowing that?"

"I still don't know," she answered quietly. "I wouldn't let myself love him in those months afterwards. It felt like he had died long before he jumped in front of Bellatrix's wand. My Draco died the moment he made the choice to do his task. But then, he came back. At the manor. He wouldn't identify us, even with the threat of Voldemort hanging over his head. And then he laid down his life to save mine. It was more than just distracting everyone long enough for Harry and Ron to break out of the dungeon. He…he cast a barrier between me and Bellatrix, like Harry's mum did for her. I went back to Hogwarts after the battle and asked Dumbledore's portrait about that kind of barrier. He told me it was only created out of unconditional love." She let out a quiet sob.

"He loved you more than he had loved anything in his life, Granger."

"I know," she sobbed. "Dammit, I hate to admit it, but I felt the same way. He bullied me mercilessly for years. Then he made me fall in love with him, then betrayed us all. Then he died for me, creating an impenetrable shield that is probably the only reason I survived that damn war. Playing with my feelings, even from the grave."

Blaise chuckled. "That's our boy. Never simple, that one."

"Merlin, I know," she laughed. Then she got quiet again. "He's been dead for a year now, Blaise. And every day hurts more than the day before. I thought I was going to be okay, at first. But then it just got harder and harder and it won't stop. The pain in my chest just gets worse every moment. I don't know how to move on."

"You'll fall in love again," he said. "He was your first love, not your last one."

"It's more than that." She tried to find the words to explain how she felt. "I feel…I feel robbed. I feel like he took a part of me with him when he died. He took away all these things. He took away my right to hate him. He took away my chance to get over him. How do you get over a secret relationship that ended in the other laying down his life for you? He took away my opportunity to not feel guilty. How could I not feel guilty seeing his dead body fall right in front of me? He just took away so much from me. Including my heart."

She sniffled, taking a sip from her glass. Blaise watched her, pensive.

"Hermione," he said, testing out her first name. She turned to look at him. "There was a day, late September of sixth year. Draco stormed into the common really late, and completely shook me off. He wouldn't tell me what happened. Can you think of what it might've been?"

She was quiet for a moment. "It was our first tutoring session. It had to have been. We talked about intermagnetic transfiguration, then we got into one of our fights, and then..." she stuttered off.

"And then?" Blaise coaxed, leaning forward.

She took a deep breath. "Then we talked about happiness." Her words were disjointed. "I told him how I let my happiness rely on Harry and no one else, and he gave me crap for it. He said he let his happiness rely on himself and no one else. He said I should too." She gave a small smile. "I remember asking if he meant I should let my happiness rely on him too. Stranger things had happened, he said. Who knew his joke would soon become my life?"

Blaise appraised her. "He was right, you know. Draco Malfoy was not right about a lot of things, but he was about this. You are the only one who can guarantee your happiness. You can't sit here, crying over his body, and lose your life on him. He wouldn't have wanted that. He didn't die to watch you slowly waste away from his spot in hell."

Hermione gave a watery chuckle. "Do you really think he's in hell?"

Blaise shrugged. "Could be. He wasn't exactly a saint, now was he? But that doesn't mean he was all bad. And that doesn't mean he wasn't worth loving."

Hermione was quiet. Blaise couldn't help rolling his eyes.

"You're better than this," he said.

Her eyes snapped to his. "How do you know?"

"Easy," he replied. "Draco wouldn't have fallen in love with anyone but the best."

There was silence again.

"I don't think I forgive him," she muttered. "How can I after the shit he pulled? But that doesn't mean I stopped loving him the moment he died. I just don't know how to handle this. I feel so many things. Hatred. Love. Anger. Sadness. I can't decide." Her voice trailed off.

"I never told him how I felt," she admitted, her voice smaller than ever. "I never even told him that I loved him."

Blaise looked at her for a moment.

"Then tell everyone else," he said. "You can't tell him now. But if you want to honour him, and respect him, and move on from him, you need to come clean. This secret is killing you. Anyone can see that. You don't need to burn yourself to the ground because you feel an obligation to either him or yourself to stay silent. You have so many emotions and feelings about this. You don't need to decide how you felt, but you can't keep it in. It'll burn you up from the inside out."

Blaise took her hand and held it. "So you loved a shitty bastard who wasn't always a shitty bastard. And sometimes you hated him. That doesn't change the fact that you are not responsible for his death. You are not responsible for Dumbledore's death. You are not responsible for Draco's shitty choices or his good ones. Draco lived his own life, and was so incredibly thankful to have you in it. But his choices were his own."

"Be honest, Hermione Granger. With yourself, with your friends, with everyone. You can't build a life on lies and expect to stand strong. He's gone and nothing you say can bring him back, whether you want that or not. You don't have to forget him or forgive him. You don't even need to love him or hate him. But you can't focus on him anymore."

Silence followed his proclamation. Neither of them said anything else. But, his words had ignited something. Just a little something. A little spark deep within her that resonated more than anything else ever had.

She looked at him, blinking slowly, like she was waking from a deep sleep and trying to adjust to the light.

"You…you're right," she whispered, the realization appearing across her face. She was blinking faster now. Her heart was pounding in her chest.

"I need to go," she said suddenly, standing up and stumbling a little bit. "You're right…and I…. thank you." She looked up and met his eyes. "Thank you so much."

Blaise gave her a little nod and watched her as she walked over to the floo.

With a rush of flame and dust, she fell out of Harry's fireplace. As she had expected, Ginny, Ron and Harry were all there, engaged in an ardent discussion. Most likely about her disappearance earlier that day.

"I need to talk to you all," she announced, trying to steady herself. The others looked up in alarm, not expecting her sudden appearance. She took a step forward and stumbled a bit.

"Are you drunk?" Harry asked, worriedly, standing up from the couch.

Hermione shook her head. "No. I was earlier, but not anymore. But that's not what I needed to say."

They all looked at each other, confused. But as Hermione stood there, refusing to move or back down, they conceded and sat down.

She took a moment to look them all in the eye. "I need to tell you about Draco Malfoy." At her announcement, shock appeared on all of their features. "I need to tell you why he died. And why he lived."

"How would you know why Malfoy did anything?" Ron asked, befuddled at the turn the conversation had taken.

"I know, Ronald, because…" she took a deep breath. It took her a few seconds to gain the bravery to speak.

She paused for a moment. Bravery. She had once told Draco about bravery. How you can do anything if you just had enough bravery. Anything. Even move on from what has passed and start towards what is coming.

It was time for her to take her own advice.

"It was all because of me. Because Draco Malfoy was in love with me, and me him. And that changed everything."

And telling the story changed everything again.

She told her friends that day. They sat quietly and listened. Afterwards, they held her while she cried. But she kept talking.

She talked about Transfiguration and arguments and cursed bracelets. She talked about choices and bravery and kissing on New Years. She talked about the Astronomy Tower and mistakes. She talked about Romeo and Benedict and the journey between the two. She talked and she talked. With each word, the weight she had been carrying lifted.

She landed on the front step of the Malfoys two days later. When Narcissa opened the door, Hermione walked into the place of her nightmares and told the truth. She kept talking, and explained to two parents why their boy had died. Instead of being angry, they thanked her for being there for him in his final years.

And still she kept talking.

Blaise was right; something she reminded him of on the many occasions when they saw each other afterwards. She didn't need to forgive Draco, and she didn't. Not completely, at least. She didn't need to understand why he had made some of the choices he had. She didn't need to love him forever, though she always held him in her heart. She didn't need to hate him either. She needed to be honest, especially with herself.

Draco Malfoy was not a good person, she admitted. He wasn't a bad person either. He wasn't that. And she had loved him. She had also hated him. She had wished him gone, and she had missed him. She always missed him, at least a little.

She always would.

Time moved forward and so did she. She moved forward with every day. She fell in love, many times over. Some loves were stronger, some were weaker, some better, and some worse. She took control of her own happiness and lived the way she knew he had wanted her to. All in, all the time.

Eventually, she fell in love for good, got married, had kids, and raised a family. She had a fantastic career and rose to the top of her field. Her name was known around the Wizarding World. She was happy. Merlin, she was happy.

But every year, on that fateful anniversary in March, she met with Blaise Zabini at the Leaky Cauldron. The two of them ordered Firewhiskey and toasted to the man they had both loved and who had changed them both.

She never forgot Draco Malfoy. Not even for a second. And she hoped one day to be able to tell him the words she had never said in life. One day, after she was gone, she would find him and she would tell him.

Until then, she lived.

And oh merlin, how she lived.

And that's the end, folks.

It took my much longer to write this story than I had originally intended. But yet, we all made it here together.

Thank you for sticking with me, or just recently joining me, on this journey.

I know it's not the traditional happy Dramione ending, but not all stories can end with smiles. That doesn't do justice to the world of the books or the world of real life. Hermione and Draco are not a easy couple, based on their characters alone. This is my take on how things would go if the happy ending wasn't that easy.

It was hard, but it was important.

I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did.

With love, I will see you at our next encounter.

And, finally, thank you. And review :)

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