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The Ties That Bind

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Malfoy Manor — Wiltshire, England

A soft, persistent drizzle coated the windows as Narcissa looked out from the dining room into the garden. She sighed and poured herself a cup of tea as she tried to reorganize her day around this inconvenience.

She had hoped that the weather might clear up before afternoon, but it showed no signs of stopping. It would be a terrible day to walk, certainly to work outside. In her heart, she longed for winter when this frigid, dismal rain would turn to snow and lend some beauty to the landscape instead of merely gloom.

The sound of hurried footfalls and the creaking of the door roused Narcissa from her thoughts, and she turned to face her son. He looked rushed and tired as he checked his hair in the nearest mirror and straightened his already pristine robes.

“Good morning, darling,” she greeted with a tepid smile.

“Good morning, Mother,” he said, kissing her cheek with formal obligation as he passed. He poured himself a cup of tea and began to drink it hastily, making no move to sit down.

She furrowed her brows. “Aren’t you even going to eat breakfast before you go?”

“I’d love to, but I simply can’t. Mr. Rosewood positively throws a fit if I’m not in exactly at eight. He seems to think the place would fall apart without me.” He spoke with the air of a performer handling a crowd, shrugging with practiced nonchalance.

Narcissa offered another smile, this one perhaps even weaker than the first.

“And I won’t be home until late tonight, so don’t hold dinner for me,” Draco continued.

“Oh? Any exciting plans?” she asked, knowing he was unlikely to tell her.

He chuckled and shook his head, never meeting her eyes. “I just expect work to run late tonight. So if that rates as excitement, then yes.”

She nodded and sipped her tea. She assumed this was untrue—generally a safe assumption where the men in her life were concerned.

As Draco put his teacup back on the table, readying to leave, Narcissa reached out and grasped his arm gently. “Don’t work yourself too hard, darling.”

For a moment she thought she saw something flicker in his eyes at her touch, something genuine, something she recognized as her son. But it was quickly replaced by that hollow smile he so often wore these days. “Don’t worry about me, Mother. It’s nothing I can’t handle.”

He strode out of the room, leaving her to sigh into her teacup.

It pained her to see how like his father he had become after all. Oh, not the cruelty—thankfully those tendencies had disappeared in the face of the war. Certainly the obsession with a lowly Ministry job could never be attributed to Lucius, who, had he lived, never would have borne his heir doing something so dreadfully middle-class. But he was the image of his father in so many other, more subtle ways. He had the same easy way with words, the incessant dancing around the truth, the almost compulsive vanity and desire to make an impression and charm the world into believing him glorious.

It all seemed so firmly rooted in Draco now that there would be no way to cleanse him of it. Perhaps if she had tried harder when he was young… but it had all seemed so inoffensive back then. And most importantly, it had never been directed at her. With her, there had always been some kind of honesty, some kind of trust that surpassed the desire to be viewed as faultless and superior.

Now, however, he had all these ways of handling her. When her conversation proved inconvenient, he would simply ignore her, tell her lies, omit details. He kept her out, spinning a web of words so thick that she could barely make out his features beyond it.

It wasn’t that she didn’t understand this distance, this lack of trust, but perhaps understanding made it worse, because she couldn’t for the life of her think how she could make it better.

 


 

A tiny flat— Diagon Alley, London, England

A ray of light splashed across Hermione’s face and she groaned, squinting against the oncoming morning. She wasn’t ready for Monday, for another week to start. She squirmed until her face was turned away from the crack between the curtains, which was traitorously betraying the hour. She knew that she had to get up, knew that she had to get to work, but some foolish part of her was convinced that as long as she didn’t open her eyes, her weekend slumber could remain intact.

There was a sudden clanking of pans from the kitchen. Hermione’s eyes shot open, and reflexively she reached for her wand as she tried to make sense of the commotion. Her mind was foggy, but the slight throb behind her temples became a clear and painful reminder of last night—Ginny was here. Her friend had been too drunk to apparate home and had slept on the couch as an equally drunk Hermione had toddled off to her room to crash into bed. Merlin, why had that seemed like a good idea on a Sunday night?

Hermione sighed. She loved her friend, but right now, Ginny’s presence was just another reason she needed to rouse herself from the comfort of her sheets. Begrudgingly, she did so, sliding her legs over the edge of the mattress and grimacing at her bedraggled reflection before making her way to the kitchen.

“Good morning,” Hermione said, her voice no more than a hoarse croak.

Ginny laughed at Hermione’s morning disarray. “Good morning to you too, sleepyhead,” she said in a voice that Hermione found unbecomingly chipper for the early hour. “I made breakfast. Sit.”

“You didn’t have to do that...”

“I don’t mind.” She forced Hermione into a chair and began to dole out eggs and bacon onto two plates.

Hermione smiled, thinking how much Ginny grew to be like her mother every day. Wisely, she kept that observation to herself.

They ate in silence for a minute before Hermione felt an uncomfortable sheen of sweat beginning to form on her brow. “Merlin, it’s hot in here,” she grouched, rising to poke at the charms on the radiator.

“Yeah, I kept trying to turn it down, but it didn’t seem to do any good.”

“This thing is always busted,” Hermione murmured. The charms were so old that it was a wonder the godforsaken thing worked at all. She would have attempted fixing the mangled spells herself, but it was strictly against her lease to tamper with them, and she really couldn’t afford to lose her security deposit.

Just then, a small owl fluttered to her window and landed on the sill with a large letter tied firmly to its leg.

Hermione rushed to let it in, but found that the window was jammed. Of course it was. She grumbled to herself as she grabbed her wand to charm it free for what had to be the hundredth time this month. The owl looked unamused at the delay, but Ginny chuckled at Hermione’s quiet curses.

“You really need to look for a new place, Hermione,” Ginny said, looking over the admittedly tiny and ramshackle flat.

Hermione untied the letter from the owl and gave it a treat for its trouble before turning back to Ginny with a grimace. “As if I could afford anything better right now. If you think working part time at The Prophet is the way to get rich, I’m afraid you’re sorely mistaken.”

“You know they’d let you go full-time in a heartbeat if you asked,” Ginny offered, sipping her tea innocently as if this topic hadn’t been broached before in varying forms over every floundering month since Hermione had taken the job.

“I don’t know. It’s not like they’re so thrilled with my take on things most days.”

“True, but you’re still Hermione Granger; everyone wants the Golden Girl on their team,” Ginny said with a teasing smile. 

Yeah, just as long as I keep my mouth shut , Hermione thought bitterly but did not say.

Ginny opened her mouth as if to say something further, but seemed to decide against it and let her lips settle into a passive smile.

Hermione was grateful for the silence. She knew Ginny was trying to help—everyone was always trying to help—but none of them seemed to understand that every poke and prod only made her feel worse.

Ginny was right, of course. The Prophet would let her go full-time; they would probably even give her a promotion if she asked. Only Hermione wasn’t about to ask for more of a job she barely tolerated as it was. In her mind, it was only a temporary gig to make ends meet while she pursued her side projects—mainly creature rights activism, and writing about further social reform, the likes of which she could only get published by the Quibbler under a pseudonym. That was what she considered to be her real job. However, if working at the Prophet could barely buy her a shoebox of an apartment, the Quibbler couldn’t buy her a shoebox.

Hermione cleared her throat and turned towards the letter, relieved at any distraction from discussing her life choices again, questionable though they were by everyone’s standards but her own.

With one glance at the letterhead, she could see that it was from the healer she had visited the week before. Her heart began pounding in her chest.

Miss Granger, although my team has run every possible test on the sample taken from your wound, it would seem that there’s no trace of any known hex or curse that would prevent its healing in this way. I regret to inform you that there’s nothing more we can do to treat your ailment. I do however know of a specialist in Wales that might be able to look further into your case. I have attached his information in case you wish to make inquiries.

Suppressing the scream that was rattling in her chest, Hermione crumpled the note in her hand without bothering to read the name of this other so-called specialist. 

Ginny stared at her with raised eyebrows. “Everything all right?” she asked. 

Hermione smiled unconvincingly with a telling twitch of mania in her eyes. “Yes, fine, just work stuff is all. It doesn’t matter,” she lied. She got up so abruptly from the table that Ginny flinched in her seat. “Well, I should get ready. I have to cover a conference at the Ministry today, and I desperately need to shower first.”

Ginny made as if to get up from the table as well, but Hermione held up her hand.

“No, take your time. If I leave before you, just be sure to lock up, all right?”

Hermione offered Ginny a tense nod in lieu of a goodbye, or a thanks for the meal, and bolted from the room as slowly as she could make herself.

Fifteen minutes later and after the quickest shower of her life, Hermione latched the door behind her and turned into the frigid morning. She did not in fact have to leave as early as she just had, but she wanted to be on her own.

It was early November and the leaves were at their brightest; they littered the ground with reds and yellows almost too vibrant to be real, but Hermione hardly noticed. The lines of the healer’s note rang in her ears, blurring her senses into a panicky haze.

She had no right to be this upset. It’s not as if she couldn’t have predicted what the letter would say. It was foolish to get her hopes up again, but this healer was supposedly the best in the country. Nonetheless, his response was a verbatim repeat of every note she had received from healers for the past three years: there was no curse, there was no magic, and by all accounts, the wound should be healing normally. It would be wonderful news if only it were true.

Yet time kept passing, days turning into years, and her scar—her wound, really—was the same as it ever was. It was lines of red, angry skin barely knitting over the gashes left by Bellatrix’s knife. Mudblood it said, like a hateful echo, reminding her of everything she wanted desperately to forget.

She tugged at her sleeve self-consciously, making sure it was pulled to her wrist.

“Ah, Ms. Granger!” said a friendly voice from beside her. “Heading to the Ministry today, I see?”

Hermione turned to see a middle-aged wizard beside her, whom she vaguely recognized as an employee from the Department of International Magical Cooperation.

A perfunctory smile rose to her lips as her anxieties were forced back into their cages. “Yes, I am, for the conference this morning. Updates to Class D dangerous plants regulations, you know.”

“Ah, yes,” the man said, nodding sagely, although Hermione was sure he hadn’t been listening. “I’m sure it’ll be a good one.” He patted her familiarly on the upper arm and took his place in the queue, thankfully allowing Hermione to drop back behind two other chattering witches.

This was exactly why she hated coming to the Ministry. It was always full of self-important hypocrites just like that. It was why she had only lasted for a single calendar year in its employment rather than becoming the youngest department head, the youngest Minister, the youngest everything as everyone had hoped. Then, it had been the only time she had ever been a disappointment—now it was merely the first of many…

But it didn’t matter now. She couldn’t let this morning get the better of her. Not only did she have a conference to cover, but this morning’s letter had added a new task to her schedule.

Hermione had promised herself that if she received another hopeless reply, she would have to resort to more desperate measures, starting with a conversation with an old enemy, one who was currently residing within the Ministry walls.

 


 

During the press conference, Hermione diligently took notes and asked all the proper questions. She might not like covering Ministry events, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to be good at it. All the while, however, Hermione was biding her time, waiting to talk to the man in the back row who kept glancing away from the speaker distractedly, like he too found little to hold his interest in his superior’s words.

The minute the clock struck eleven, the speaker was shuffled away from the podium, ending the speech with a shake of his hand and a series of thank-you-for-being-here’s directed at the crowd as reporters continued to pelt questions at his back.

The crowd began to disperse and it was then that Hermione made her move towards the young man she’d been watching closely for the better part of an hour.

“Malfoy, could I speak to you for a moment, privately?” she asked.

“Granger,” Draco said, his eyebrows rising in surprise. “Of course. Anything for you.” He flashed her a faux-flirtatious smirk and led her away from the remnants of the crowd that still lingered in the atrium.

Hermione groaned inwardly at his attitude and tried to resist rolling her eyes. Once they were largely out of ear-shot, she cleared her throat, willing herself to perform her now overly practiced speech.

“Malfoy, I need to ask you for a favor,” she began, practically choking on the words. She and Draco may have developed a sort of camaraderie after the war ended, but it mainly manifested in continual teasing that they agreed not to find too offensive. Anything more serious still felt wildly out of place.

Draco apparently thought so too, since he let out a surprised chuckle. “Oh, imagine that. It’s not every day that Hermione Granger comes down from her moral high horse to ask a favor from the likes of me.”

Hermione stared at him for a moment, unblinking. Pomposity was practically dripping from his gleaming white smile, and it made her stomach turn.

“You know what, forget it,” she said. She turned abruptly on her heel to leave, but Draco grabbed her arm.

“Hold up there, Granger. I’m only joking. I’ll be good, I promise. However could I be of service?”

Hermione swallowed hard, hating how much her plan had already gone off the rails.

“It’s about your mother,” she said. “I need to speak with her.”

Draco’s posture noticeably stiffened, that playful charm of his abruptly slipping away. 

“What could you possibly have to speak to my mother about?” he asked.

Hermione could hear the defensiveness in his voice, and the return of the cool, biting undertone with which she was so familiar from her school days.

“It’s…” Hermione paused. “I’d really rather not discuss it with anyone but her. I promise it’s just a conversation, Draco; it won’t do her any harm.”

Draco considered her for a moment in silence before shaking his head. “Well, I’m sorry but as I’m sure you’ve heard, my mother no longer accepts visitors, and I don’t see any reason why she’d make an exception for you.” Draco turned to leave, but this time it was Hermione seizing his arm and pulling him back.

“Please Draco, it’s important,” she hissed quietly. A few wandering eyes of passing Ministry officials rested on their conspicuous conversation, and she could practically see them straining closer to listen in.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” he said. “If you want me to consider this, you’re going to have to tell me what it is you need to speak to her about.” 

The protectiveness in his voice struck Hermione deeply. He had always been so close with his mother; it only figured that his father’s death in Azkaban—not to mention his mother’s own short stay there—would only have intensified that bond.

Hermione heaved a sigh and pulled Draco into a more deserted hallway. She pulled up her sleeve, revealing the nasty mess beneath.

“It won’t heal, Draco. It’s been years, and it won’t heal. No one can make head or tail of it, and believe me when I tell you I’ve tried everyone. Bellatrix’s knife was obviously cursed, or… something, but no one can figure out how and,” she inhaled sharply. “I’m desperate.”

Draco’s haughty expression softened slightly into a pitying look. Perhaps the sympathy ought to have been comforting, but it made Hermione want to roll down her sleeve and obliviate him until he no longer remembered this horrible display of weakness.

“And you think my mother might know how to fix it?” he asked.

“She was the only person who was close to Bellatrix. After she died, I assume all of her possessions must have passed to your mother. I thought she might still have the knife and allow it to be examined, or at least know something about the kind of magic her sister might have used. Please Draco, she’s my only shot,” Hermione begged. Despite her flickering pride, she continued looking into his eyes, trying to move whatever ounce of human compassion he might allow himself to possess.

“Well, I suppose I could probably convince my mother to see you,” he admitted.

“Oh, Draco, thank you!” Hermione exclaimed, and a wide smile broke out over her face. The display of gratitude seemed to be a bit much for Draco, and he shifted into a more aloof posture.

“Hold up there, Granger. I said that I could do it, not that I would… at least not without one condition being met.”

Hermione’s smile faltered on her lips. Bloody Slytherins, of course there was a condition. She nodded, inviting him to continue.

“If I help you on this little quest of yours, I want you to help me with a project of my own.”

Hermione eyed him skeptically. “What project?” she asked. Draco may be a respectable enough member of the community now, but it was still hard to imagine any project of his with which she’d wish to be associated.

“You don’t have to get your bloody broom in a twist; it’s nothing dark and nefarious,” Draco said with a snide smile. “As it so happens, it’s also about my mother.” He paused for a moment, his countenance growing grim. “As you know, she spent about a year in Azkaban herself. Although it was a very light sentence thanks to Potter’s testimony, she hasn’t been the same since. It’s the dementors, I think; she was weak going in, and they drained her of everything that she had left. They preyed on her until she became very cold, distant… she’s become very reclusive. I thought that it would wear off with time after her release, but nothing has changed. Their effects linger in her.”

Hermione furrowed her brows. Given that cold and distant were two of the first words she would have used to describe Narcissa Malfoy at the best of times, she wondered how Draco could tell the difference. However, she figured that saying so wouldn’t win her any points.

“Dementors' effects don’t leave a person. I’ve seen it happen. My father never was his former self after he went in the first time, and his second stint killed him. Aunt Bella…”

Hermione flinched involuntarily at the name.

Draco saw the reaction and hurried to go on. “Distance from them isn’t enough. I’m trying to find a way to reverse their effects so they are not everlasting.”

“And you want me to help you… find a cure for a dementor’s long-term psychological effects?” Hermione asked hesitantly. 

“Yes,” he said. “I haven’t gotten anywhere with it. I fear that I could really use that unnaturally large brain of yours.”

Hermione considered her options. On the one hand, she despised the use of dementors in Azkaban, and since the practice wasn’t about to be stopped any time soon, such a treatment could be the next best thing. On the other hand, she wasn’t sure such an invention was even feasible. She knew very little about dementors or their effects aside from the most obvious information. She would truly be starting from nothing. Besides, would she really feel comfortable being Draco Malfoy’s research assistant? Her life plans might be shaky, but that would certainly seem to be a step in a strange direction.

Hermione had gotten so lost in her internal debate that she realized she hadn’t spoken in far too long. Draco was looking at her expectantly.

“I don’t know, Draco. That sounds like a very difficult task. Are you saying that my talking to your mother would be dependent on my ability to find her some kind of cure?” Hermione asked. 

“Not at all, only precluded on your word that you will assist me in my work finding one. If you make me that promise, you can speak to her as soon as she’s willing,” Draco said.

“To restore mental stability, to augment depression” Hermione pondered out loud. “It could take years, or who knows how long, if it’s even possible. It could be a full-time job, and I have a job, and rent to pay and…”

“I’d pay you for your time of course. And you’d be more than welcome to stay in the Manor if it would make things easier,” he said, spreading his arms in a haughty gesture. “The house is enormous and most days it’s just me and Mother rattling around in it.”

Hermione stared at him, mouth agape. Draco truly must be desperate to make an offer such as that. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” she said quickly, still watching him suspiciously, struggling to believe that he was serious. “I need to think things over, Malfoy. I’ll owl you when I’ve made up my mind.”

“Of course, take all the time you need,” Draco said. With a nod, he turned and walked down the hallway towards his office.

Hermione watched him disappear, still shaken by the conversation. Well, that hadn’t gone to plan in the least.

By the time Hermione arrived at The Leaky Cauldron that night, she knew her friends would already be there, waiting. The only downside to convenient travel was there were so few excuses one could make about being late when it would be obvious that you only left your flat a moment before arriving.

Weaving through the familiar rows of witches and wizards, Hermione searched for her friends among the loud, laughing crowd. Merlin, this place got rowdy these days; you could barely hear yourself think. Although, perhaps that wasn’t always a bad thing.

“Hermione!” Ron exclaimed when he saw her narrowly avoiding some swaying witch. “We thought you weren’t coming.”

“Sorry I’m late, I just got caught up in something,” Hermione said. She wasn’t sure she was ready to share her dilemma with her friends just yet. “What did I miss?”

“Quite a lot actually,” Ron said, tipping his beer towards his sister.

Hermione turned to Ginny in confusion.

“I’ve been offered a full-fledged Chaser position on a Quidditch team,” Ginny said. She was trying to play it cool, but a proud smile kept sneaking back onto her lips.

“A real one this time—she claims that this one is even going to pay her,” Ron said.

“Ron!” Ginny said, laughing in mock-exasperation.

“That’s wonderful! What team?”

“The Kenmare Kestrals—I know, I know, they haven’t had the best season this year, but it’s something.”

Hermione rolled her eyes at her friend’s modesty—as if she knew what kind of season The Kestrals had had this year; Ginny could have said they were best in the league and Hermione would have believed her. “Congratulations, Ginny, honestly, that’s incredible! So are you going to be—”

“Moving to Ireland, yeah,” Ginny supplied. “I’ll still be around all the time though, Mum wouldn’t have it any other way. Just not every day. You know how exhausting international apparition can be.”

“We’re going to miss you, but still, that’s so exciting,” Hermione wrapped her arms around her friend in a tight hug and accepted the Butterbear the waiter had brought her without her even having to ask.

Ginny and Ron settled into Quidditch conversation that Hermione couldn’t really follow. She thought that despite Ron’s teasing about the Kestrals and their “bloody awful defense,” he was positively beaming with pride at his sister.

On her other side, Harry seemed awfully quiet. He even mentioned leaving early because he was tired from work, which Hermione doubted. She wondered if he was less keen on Ginny moving out of the country. Not that they were a couple—they had never gotten back together after the war—but Hermione had always expected them to find their way back to each other some time, which was definitely harder to do with a sea between you.

The chatter turned into a dull buzzing in Hermione’s ear, and she went back to the topic she’d been brooding on all day—Draco’s double-edged sword of an offer.

“You seem distracted, Hermione. Everything all right?” Harry asked, startling her out of her thoughts after who knew how long.

“Oh, yeah. I’m just thinking about… well, work stuff really.” She supposed that wasn’t truly a lie if she was going to take Draco up on his offer.

“Yeah? What do they have you working on over there at The Prophet these days?”

“Are you telling me that you didn’t read my piece on the Ministry’s new regulations of Class D dangerous plants?” Hermione asked sarcastically.

“Oh, of course we did. I, myself, sleep with it under my pillow. We just wanted to hear it from you in person,” Harry said with a chuckle. 

She kicked him under the table and thought that with a little bit of alcohol in her veins, perhaps she could broach this topic with her friends after all. “I wasn’t thinking about work at The Prophet, actually,” she began. “I was thinking about one of my side projects… prospective side-projects, really.”

Ron softly snorted in laughter. “How you stand it over there at the Quibbler, I’ll never know. Every day, I expect to open the Prophet and hear that Luna or her father mentioned Nargles one too many times, you killed them both and are now on the lam.”

“Ron,” Ginny warned.

“I’m serious, Ginny. I mean, I like Luna, I do, but c’mon don’t tell me it doesn’t get to you sometimes, Hermione,” Ron said.

“Of course it does. But at least Luna and her father are willing to push for change. At least they’re willing to listen to perspectives that aren’t just touting the status quo. I respect them a lot more than I do the Ministry or The Prophet right now, Nargles and all,” Hermione said.

Immediately, she regretted her tone and the way the very air seemed to cool around her at her words. She didn’t want to ruin the evening, but honestly, why did they have to bait her like that? Hermione’s distaste for the Ministry’s post-war trajectory was always a sticky subject with Harry and Ron, who were both loyal Aurors. Not to mention, all three of her friends remained predictably less interested in social reform than Hermione, just like in school years ago.

“But it’s not about the Quibbler, either,” Hermione continued with a distinct note of bitterness in her voice. “In fact, I might have to cut down on my time there for a little while.”

“Oh yeah, why?” Harry asked.

“See, I told you it was getting to her,” Ron said.

“I might be taking another job part time. I’ve been offered a position as a… research assistant of sorts on someone’s personal project,” Hermione said, testing the waters as slowly as she could.

“Spending your day in the library. Well that sounds a lot more like our Hermione,” Ron said. “Who are you helping?”

“Draco Malfoy,” Hermione said plainly and waited for a reaction. 

Both Harry and Ron almost choked on their butterbeer. Ginny’s eyebrows raised up so high that they nearly disappeared into her hairline.

“Draco Malfoy?” Ginny asked.

“What?” Ron said. “You’re thinking of helping Malfoy, that slimy git? Why?”

Harry just stared at her with an odd worried expression on his face. It was even more disturbing that he, of all of them, should be silent.

“It’s… it’s a long story, ok?” Hermione said, somewhat sheepishly.

They stared at her expectantly, all seeming to think that they had the time.

“He’s trying to learn about the long-term effects of being exposed to dementors. The depression, the emptiness that people can never seem to shake once they’re released… like his Mother, apparently. Really, it’s a very worthy cause.”

“I don’t know. If Narcissa Malfoy is whacked after the war, then I’d say it’s what she deserves. She brought it upon herself,” Ron said. His tone was more flippant than cruel, like he was expecting a laugh in response.

Ginny nodded her head, and Harry remained motionless, brow furrowed, and looking extremely concerned.

“I don’t know. It was Lucius who was the Death Eater, not her. Besides, she saved Harry’s life after all. Doesn’t a life sentence of misery seem a bit harsh?” Hermione said.

“Why? These are the people who watched you get carved up in the first place,” Ron said.

“But that’s why I’m doing it! I need to talk to Narcissa. I’ve gone to healer after healer, looking for a solution to my scar and come up empty handed. It’s time I move from investigating the symptom to investigating the cause.”

“The Malfoys,” Ron supplied.

“Bellatrix’s knife,” Hermione corrected. 

“You think she might have it?” Ginny asked. 

“I don’t know. But when I asked Draco about it, he offered me this deal—he’d convince her to talk to me if I help him.”

“Merlin, he’s such a prick!” Ron exclaimed. “He can’t just help you, he has to get something in return.”

“How do you know she’ll help you even if she does know something about it?” Ginny asked, sounding more concerned than angry, unlike her brother.

“Well I don’t. I just…” Hermione didn’t know what to say. Truth be told, she didn’t know if Narcissa would have any interest in helping her. There was a decent chance that she would turn her away, whether she knew anything or not. But there was an equal chance that whatever humanity had allowed her to save Harry’s life in the forest that day could be stirred one more time, and Hermione held onto those chances as if her very life depended on it.

When Hermione didn’t elaborate, Ginny pursed her lips with sympathy growing in her eyes. “Just be careful over there, Hermione, ok?” she said.

Hermione looked to Harry and almost asked him what he thought, but he had such a strange, frantic look in his eyes that she didn’t dare prod him and break whatever restraint he was clearly exerting over himself.

“Look, like I said, I haven’t even decided yet. I’m just considering it,” Hermione said with a tired sigh. She had thought discussing the matter with her friends would be helpful, but this was muddling her brain worse than ever.

They were all eyeing her with different levels of apprehension, different shades of pity. And once more, Hermione felt like a disappointment. Ron and Harry had their promising Ministry careers, Ginny was going to Ireland, and what did Hermione have? One part-time job she hated, and two others that everyone thought her mad for even taking.

Everyone besides her seemed to have moved on so well and adjusted to this post-war world with ease. She didn’t know why she couldn’t do the same and find her place amongst the survivors instead of feeling trapped amidst the rubble.

She looked over her friends, trying to find the common thread of resilience that she seemed to lack. There was Harry who carried tragedies in his bones since childhood, now grown somehow accustomed to the unimaginable weight. Ron, who had settled too easily back into his comfortable life, spoiled by love and comfort that he would never truly appreciate. Ginny, who had managed to stay away from the worst of it until the very end, traumatized mostly by worry and loss that were easily shifted into energy and anger like so many others in the world.

And then, there was Hermione, left somewhere in between them all, out of sorts, out of the way, with a clawing desperation for something she couldn’t even name—some brighter future, some change in society that would make it all seem worthwhile, a feeling of belonging that she seemed to have lost.

Perhaps her friends would have wished that this sense of being an outcast would dissuade her from hopping into bed with the Malfoys, however, it had the opposite effect. She needed to get rid of this scar. She had this sense that she couldn’t move on with anything until she did, and there in that crowded bar, she resolved to do whatever she must to make that happen.

The next day, as soon as the sun was high enough that it wouldn’t seem downright inappropriate to do so, Hermione marched into the Ministry again and headed for Draco’s office. 

She burst into the small room preceded by only the slightest of knocks to announce herself. Draco looked up at her, affronted by the intrusion, but Hermione was too busy charging into her acceptance to interrupt herself with an apology.

“I’ll do it,” she said.