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Out of Ashes

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All I ask is, can beauty come out of ashes?


Pompei in Campania; The Louvre in Paris; The Parthenon of Athens.

The tri-fold paper brochure listed each location in detail – eight highlights, each in a new country, for eight weeks.

The exuberant tone of the colourful itinerary she'd been given for the next two months was a direct and startling contrast to the melancholy that had settled in Hermione's soul, in the tension of her nerves.

While the historical tour sounded interesting in itself, the whole event felt like an effort to brush recent events under the rug, which didn't sit particularly well with her, given the way the last ten months had gone. But in a fit of desperation the week prior, Hermione had found herself signing up regardless, in little more than an effort to escape London.

She refused to call it anything so simple as running.

Although, there was a certain appeal to tucking tail and licking her wounds abroad, especially with the way she'd so spectacularly bollocksed things up with Ron after the final battle. It wasn't that she wasn't interested – or maybe it was. Despite a shared kiss in the heat of battle, adrenaline racing in their veins with the thought that it might have been the end, Hermione had come to realize she just didn't see Ron in that way anymore. Maybe it was because he'd abandoned her and Harry when they had needed to stick together the most – or maybe it was a superficial childhood crush that had merely dissipated.

Either way, Ron hadn't taken the news well, strictly, and Hermione had found herself unwelcome at the Burrow for the foreseeable future.

Despite her best efforts to convince herself that she had more important things to worry about – like the newfound permanence of the memory charm she'd cast on her parents – she couldn't help but let the whole situation dig, just a little.

Worrying her bottom lip, Hermione waited, fingers clutched around the thin strap of her beaded bag, which contained all of the belongings that she could possibly need – and more. Living on the run had given her a deep-seated paranoia of going without.

The tour director was a bespectacled, moustachioed man with a rotund stomach to match the glossy sheen of his round, balding head. As he carried on about accommodations, Hermione peered around the circle of people that would be her travel companions for the next two months. A breath of relief chased from her lungs when she didn't recognise a single one.

The thought was short-lived, however, when a blonde girl in torn jeans and a knit jumper shifted her way into the small crowd with more fanfare than Hermione thought strictly necessary. She wore a Muggle baseball cap atop twin plaits, and before Hermione could return to her own idle musings, her eyes widened in recognition as she realized who the girl was.

Huffing a quiet sigh of simultaneous disappointment and irritation, Hermione looked away.

Of all people to join a historical tour, Daphne Greengrass didn't strike her as a person she might have put even near a list.

But the girl was introducing herself to their tour leader, smiling at the people on either side of her, and although Hermione attempted to veer out of her line of sight, Greengrass looked her way. Green eyes widened with surprise as they met hers, and Daphne's head fell into a thoughtful tilt, lips curving into a hint of a smile.

Swallowing a thick feeling of unease, Hermione scowled at the cobbled ground, hoping Greengrass would take the hint that she had no interest in speaking with the Slytherin girl.

Part of the novelty of the tour – Hermione had snorted at the wording in the brochure – was the fact that they would be alternating between Muggle and magical methods of transportation. And as Hermione filed onto the bus that awaited them outside of Diagon Alley to carry them to the continent, she sent a silent wish into the universe that Greengrass would keep her distance.

But two months was a long time – and it wasn't even five minutes before her wish dropped into the void on flat celestial ears because Daphne slid into the seat beside her, snapping a large bubble with her chewing gum.

Stowing her purse beneath the seat in front of her with significant effort, Daphne turned to Hermione with a hesitant smile, and Hermione couldn't be certain whether it was genuine until the girl mused, "Looks like we'll be travelling together!"

Pressing her lips into a grimace, Hermione offered a tight nod before rolling her face towards the window.

"Noted," Daphne huffed under her breath, "small talk is not a thing."

Feeling a flare of irritation, Hermione clenched her hands together and turned to face the front with a dull, "Hullo, Greengrass."

It occurred to her that she knew very little about the girl beyond her blood status and her Hogwarts house, and everything within a range of those two subjects had left Hermione feeling on edge since the war. Maybe it was unfair of her to assume Daphne Greengrass was a carbon copy of any of the other Slytherin girls – Pansy Parkinson, for one – given Hermione was the antithesis of Lavender Brown or Parvati Patil.

Deciding to make an effort at being more charitable, she gazed at the ceiling of the bus with a crinkle to her nose and asked, "How are you?"

"Fine." Picking at an invisible spot on her jumper, Daphne rolled her eyes. "Not that this is exactly where I'd like to be right now, but it was better than the alternatives."

Nodding, Hermione replied with a casual, "Mmm," before turning to peer out the window again.

But Greengrass went on. "Tour around looking at history for two months or deal with my father." With a dismissive snort, the girl turned towards Hermione wearing a look on her face that suggested the decision was an obvious one. "Sometimes it's bollocks being from an old family, you know?"

Hermione's eyes tightened as she stared at the girl. "I wouldn't know, actually."

"Right." Hermione thought she saw a flush of embarrassment grace the girl's cheeks as she shook her head. "Sorry – I didn't think." Releasing a sigh, Daphne dropped back into her seat, shoulders slumping. "Father's got it in his head I ought to marry off. To Marcus Flint, of all people."

Hermione offered her best attempt at a commiserating grimace. "Seems a bit young, if you ask me."

Pulling on one of her platinum braids, Daphne nodded. "Agreed. I'd at least like to finish my education first. And it would even be fine to get married so young if it was someone I wanted to marry."

It was strange, to think they'd never openly conversed and the girl was spilling her life story. Nodding, she mused, "That makes sense. I'm sorry your father is trying to control you."

A bitter twist pulled at her stomach at the thought of her own father.

Shaking her head, Daphne blew a large bubble, and it popped with a loud smack. "I just don't think anyone has the right to tell anyone else who they ought to be with. It's archaic, and outdated, and – there aren't all that many free decisions left in life, you know?"

"Yeah," Hermione breathed, turning to really look at Daphne for the first time. "You're right."

Frowning, Daphne gave a bit of a shrug. "And you? War hero and all – what are you running from?"

Denial hovered on the tip of her tongue, a knee-jerk, defensive reaction, but Hermione slumped in her seat instead. Maybe she wouldn't be entirely amiss to accept Daphne's olive branch. With a wry, humourless chuckle, she asked, "What am I not running from?"

The blonde released a bright, genuine laugh, and Hermione felt the corners of her lips quirk into a long-forgotten ghost of a smile.

The ruins of Pompei felt oddly symbolic, as if taunting Hermione with the shattered, disorganised remains of her own life. Pain and anxiety tore at her chest as she stared at a ruined house, gaze unseeing and mind churning. Life, mortality, an unexpected and sudden end in a collapse of ash and fire. She wondered whether the people of Pompei had time to fear for their lives. Whether some of them escaped far enough in time.

Whether their loved ones were by their sides, or if they died alone and afraid.

She could feel the urgent cadence of her heart, and Hermione pressed her eyes shut, hands clenched tightly around the pamphlet she'd been given on Pompei, the glossy paper bending and twisting in her grip.

"Here's the thing about this place," Daphne mused, coming up alongside her in a swirl of dust. Eyes snapping open, Hermione peered at the girl from the corner of her eye, fighting the urge to scowl. "Are you alright, Hermione?"

There was a knowing furrow in Daphne's brow, and it drew Hermione back, the girl's green eyes grounding her. Offering a brief nod, she felt her hands relax, flexing and falling to her sides. Squinting in the brightness of the sun, she asked, "You were saying?"

"Okay." Daphne's voice dropped, her lips curling with a smile. "I know it's terrible and tragic and everything – but honestly? I would not have built my house this close to a volcano."

Huffing a grateful laugh, Hermione shook her head.

On their last night in Italy, as dusk settled around them over the canals of Venice, Hermione confided in Daphne about what had happened with Ron, during and after the final battle. Almost instantly, shame swept through her, and she expected scorn or malice in return, but Daphne only offered a smile, leaning on the rails of one of the ubiquitous bridges that dotted the city.

"There's no shame in doing what's best for you, Hermione," Daphne mused, her voice soft and wistful. "Us girls have to look out for ourselves – because who else is going to?"

With a wry smile, Hermione dropped down to lean on the rail beside the girl. "You're right."

Shrugging, Daphne kept her gaze forward. "I dated Blaise Zabini most of fifth and sixth year. It was tough when we broke up, but it was for the best, you know?" With a quiet laugh, she shook her head. "Then of course, Father caught Pansy and I together, and… well, why do you think he wants me to marry Flint so badly?"

"Parkinson?" Gaping, Hermione turned to Daphne with wide eyes.

"The same." Shaking her head, Daphne turned against the rail and leaned back. "But Pansy never really knew what she wanted. She was always after the boys' attention – I think it was all just a game to her."

Musing, Hermione breathed, "But not to you?"

A noncommittal grimace.

The pair of them fell silent, and Hermione's brain twisted with a recollection of how things had gone with Ron, trying to make sense of it all. Maybe she hadn't known what she wanted – or maybe he hadn't. Her gaze flickered to Daphne, and the other girl was already watching her.

"Don't give me that look." Daphne tittered. "I've only checked out your arse once since we left London."

A surprised laugh bubbled up from her chest at Daphne's brazenness, shattering the tension between them, and Hermione grinned. "Good to know." Catching her bottom lip between her teeth, she asked, "How long did you know?"

"That I like girls?" At Hermione's nod, she shrugged. "Since I was fourteen or so. I like boys, too. It's about what's inside a person, you know?"

Turning to stare up at the sky, a boldness chased through her. "Which do you prefer?"

"I don't have a preference. The softness of a woman's curves or the hard lines of a man – I'll take either." Lips pressed into a reassuring smile, her shoulder nudged against Hermione's. "You'll figure out where it went wrong; I have faith. Personally, without knowing either of you well at Hogwarts, I just think Weasley wasn't the right person for you. And there's nothing wrong with that. Better to know now, right?"

"Right." Releasing a tight breath lingering in her chest, Hermione whispered, "Thanks, Daph." Something twisted in the pit of her stomach, and she offered a belated smile.

In France, they spent a week immersed in Muggle culture. The Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre in Paris; the Palace of Versailles. They studied the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte. Up and down the countryside, they stopped at countless museums, observed hundreds of famous paintings, and critiqued more nude statues than even Hermione could keep track of.

Daphne had traipsed along at her side, and by the end of the week, her boredom was apparent as she failed to stifle a wide yawn. Hermione couldn't blame her, as even she was looking forward to visiting Spain, where they would spend less time studying culture and more time relaxing.

Under the blazing Spanish sun, they'd been given a free day to do as they wished, and without any deliberation, Hermione and Daphne had decided to spend it at the beach.

Something warm tightened below Hermione's navel as Daphne's gaze briefly flickered to her without lingering as Hermione stripped to her two piece swimsuit and settled onto her beach towel.

Adjusting her platinum braids, Daphne secured the baseball cap she'd been wearing the first day when they left London. A gift from her older brother, Hermione had learned, who had moved to New York to work for MACUSA after Hogwarts. His name was Milo, and he was Daphne's favourite person.

She had a younger sister, too, and Hermione couldn't recall ever seeing her at Hogwarts. But she'd scarcely even noticed Daphne.

Stretching out on her towel, Daphne rolled onto her side to face Hermione, a wry smile playing at her lips. "Don't get me wrong – I love classical artwork as much as the next person –"

"Less," Hermione interrupted idly, with a titter. "Less than the next person."

With a snort, Daphne finished, "But that was too much."

"I like classical artwork more than the next person, and it was too much."

They shared a grin.

Rolling onto her back, Daphne affixed a pair of dark glasses to her face with a loud sigh of relaxation. "This is more like what I had in mind for the summer."

"Come on," Hermione breathed, nudging the girl's shoulder, "you would have missed out on spending all this time with me."

Biting down on her lower lip, Daphne gave Hermione a look – a facetious and teasing flicker of blonde brows that settled somewhere below her stomach. Uncertain, Hermione swallowed and glanced away.

"Here's what I think," Daphne mused quietly, waving a hand, "and I know you didn't ask, but bear with me. You've been through all this absolute bloody rubbish, and now they want you to what, sit your NEWTs so you can become an Auror or Ministry worker or some nonsense – and when do you actually get to live your life?"

Hermione kept silent, her heart rate escalating and skin prickling as she sat in her seat on the bus en route to Berlin. Daphne's green eyes met hers, hesitant. Nodding, Hermione indicated she carry on.

"Realistically, you've been friends with Harry Potter since first year and saved his life Merlin knows how many times, and it doesn't surprise me in the least," Daphne's voice dropped, cautious and apologetic, "that you're struggling."

Despair pulled at her brow, anxiety racing in her chest, and Hermione found her hands clenched.

"And I can't even help you." Mouth twisted to the side, Daphne leaned back in her seat to observe Hermione. "Because I don't know what you've gone through, and even if you told me, I still wouldn't know how it all felt."

Releasing a long breath, Hermione focused on steadying her thoughts, her blurring vision. Daphne's hand caught hers, giving it a quick squeeze, and Hermione held tight.

"A lot of it was awful," she finally breathed, gaze fixed tight on the empty seat in front of her. "It wasn't all bad. But some parts… some of it I wish I could block out entirely."

Shifting to press her forehead against Hermione's temple, Daphne's sorrowful green eyes sparkled in her periphery. "I know. I can see it in you, and Hermione, I wish I could tell you it'll get better."

"It helps," Hermione choked, clutching Daphne's hand like a lifeline, "to have someone to talk to."

Daphne's fingers entwined with hers. "Then I hope you know you can talk to me."

Nodding, Hermione blew out a breath. "Thanks, Daph."

On their third day in Germany, Daphne received an owl. She'd read the letter with increasingly narrowed eyes before crumpling the lengthy sheet of parchment into a ball and setting it on fire with her wand. The rest of the day had been quiet and precarious – Hermione didn't know whether it was her place and didn't want to press.

But if Daphne was struggling, she wanted to be there for her friend.

So when the girl suggested they go out that night, Hermione had readily agreed.

Under black lights and a thumping beat, Daphne was almost back to herself, helped along by a half a dozen gin and tonics. Hermione felt tipsy herself, tossing her head back as she danced to an electronic track with an anxious beat. Stumbling over her own feet, Daphne giggled, dropping her face into Hermione's shoulder. Tears sprung free of her own eyes as she laughed as well, slinging a supportive arm around Daphne's waist.

Once they'd both settled, green eyes fluttered shut, and she slumped in Hermione's hold. "Can we go back to the hotel?"

Instantly Hermione nodded, leading Daphne away from the chaos of the dance floor. Making a quick calculation of how many drinks she'd had, Hermione deemed it safe to Apparate, and they returned to the hotel room they were sharing for the week.

Collapsing on her bed still in her dress and heels, Daphne huffed in irritation. "Father owled me today."

"I figured," Hermione mused, with an apologetic smile. "Do you want to talk about it?"

Toeing off her heels, Daphne scowled at the ceiling. "Bloody fucking – he's drafted the fucking contract with Flint, Hermione."

Slipping off her own shoes, Hermione climbed onto Daphne's bed to sit against the headboard, folding her legs beneath her. "I'm sorry, Daph. But he can't honestly expect you to go along with this."

"He does," she snorted. Voice breaking, she whispered, "For Merlin's sake, I'm barely eighteen."

Conviction burning, Hermione growled, "He can't make you." It was then she noticed moisture at the corners of Daphne's eyes, and she pulled her friend closer, looping her arms around the blonde. "Be strong, Daph. You're here with me until we go back to school, yeah?"

"Yeah," Daphne muttered, sinking in Hermione's hold. "Fuck him. I just won't go back home."

"What will happen?"

Sniffing, Daphne buried her face in Hermione's neck, and nerves danced in her stomach, pulsing in her chest. "He could disown me. I don't know that Mum would let him, but he could try."

"Purebloods," Hermione scoffed, lips twitching.

Daphne barked a watery laugh, swiping at her eyes as she sat up against the headboard once more. "Archaic, isn't it? I'll just go live with Milo in New York," she grumbled, folding her arms. "Then I can marry whoever the hell I want, when I want, on my own terms." With a huff of a laugh, she added, "Because you know Father would lose it if I ever decided I wanted to marry a woman."

Indignation surged up within her on her friend's behalf, and Hermione glared at the comforter. "That is absolutely up to you."

"He is just miserably old-fashioned, Hermione." Despair lingered in Daphne's voice, and Hermione pulled her closer again, pressing her lips to her temple.

Shaking her head, Hermione affirmed, "You said so yourself; we are the ones who get to make those decisions."

With a long, steadying breath, Daphne nodded. "You're right. Fuck him, and fuck Flint. Of all bloody wizards, he couldn't at least have picked an attractive one?"

Chuckling, Hermione swiped the tears from Daphne's cheeks, fingertips lingering on her face. Green eyes found hers, and Hermione swallowed, feeling her heart stutter and begin to race in her chest.

Daphne lifted a hand, catching Hermione's fingers within her own, pulling them down into her lap. "Hermione," she whispered, pressing her lips together with a thick swallow. "I'm so glad I've come to know you."

Nodding, Hermione offered a tight smile. "So am I, Daph. That first day, on the bus… I judged you. And I'm sorry."

"I would have judged me too." Voice dropping to a whisper, Daphne gave her an impossibly sad smile. "Just look at how you were treated by my housemates all those years. Berated for something you couldn't control."

Her hand was still trapped in Daphne's lap, and Hermione flexed her fingers, nudging against the girl's leg. Jaw clenched, Daphne's chin dipped lower as her fingers tangled with Hermione's.

"Thanks, Daph." The words were tense and quiet within the tightness that had become her chest, and Hermione found she couldn't quite look away.

Tears clung to Daphne's long blonde lashes, and Hermione noticed she didn't darken them with mascara like most girls did. Wide eyes peered at her, lips parting with a breath as she gave Hermione's hand a squeeze.

But with a start, Daphne looked away, releasing Hermione's hand as she shifted, folding her legs up against her chest. "Thanks, Hermione. For looking after me tonight."

Adrenaline raced through her veins, and Hermione didn't quite know what to make of what had just happened. Looking away, she blinked rapidly several times with a murmured, "Of course."

Clambering to her feet, Hermione ducked into the loo to prepare for sleep, heart racing in her chest as she blinked numbly at herself in the mirror.

Daphne was beautiful, and Hermione had realized that years ago – but she was a genuinely good person, and something about that pulled at Hermione's chest in a way that was wholly unexpected.

But she wasn't certain it was unwelcome.

When she emerged from the loo, Daphne was waiting on the other side, her toiletries bag in one hand. The blonde pressed her lips into a tight smile, brandishing the bag.

"Good night, Hermione."

"Night, Daph." Wrapping an arm around her friend's back, Hermione found herself drawing Daphne closer into an embrace, fingers grazing the bare skin of her back. Warm breath tingled against her cheek, and Daphne's soft curves pressed into her own, setting alight a warmth in her core that both frightened and intrigued her.

Daphne's hands lingered on her shoulders, dragging down her arms before the girl drew away, her expression unreadable. With a curious hint of a smile, she dipped into the loo.

Dropping into her own bed, Hermione drifted to sleep before Daphne re-emerged.

When she awoke the next morning, Daphne was on the balcony, sipping from a ceramic mug.

Hermione settled into the seat beside her, clutching a book, and eyed her friend. "Are you alright?"

With a sigh, Daphne nodded, her voice meek as she replied, "I'm okay. I'll owl Father back in a few days once I've had some time to think." Sweeping her long hair back, she shook her head. "Maybe my mother will be able to talk some sense into him."

Making a face, Hermione murmured, "Forget Flint. He isn't good enough for you."

A soft smile broke across the blonde's face. "Thanks." As Hermione settled into the seat beside Daphne, propping her book open, she felt eyes lingering on her. "What are you reading?"

Using a finger to mark her page, Hermione shifted the cover so Daphne could see.

"Animagus transformations. Why am I not surprised?"

Shrugging, Hermione returned to her page. "It's always something I've wanted to learn but never had the time before. Professor McGonagall said she would be able to help me when we return for eighth year."

Gazing out as the sun lifted above the horizon, Daphne mused, "Do you know what you should turn into?" Before Hermione could respond, she went on, "A phoenix."

"You don't get to choose," Hermione said with a chuckle, "but that would be interesting."

"I know," Daphne scoffed, her lips twitching with amusement, "just humour me. There's the whole Order of the Phoenix thing, of course."

"Of course."

"But…" Her voice dropped off, a wistful tone to it, and she shook her head. "You're the phoenix, Hermione. Because whatever the world throws at you, no matter the fire and brimstone… you'll always rise from the ashes. And you'll be better for it."

Her heart jolted in her chest, and tears stung her eyes, a heavy knit to her brow. A harsh breath chased from her lungs as her hand found Daphne's, and with a soft squeeze, she managed a tight, "Thank you."

She couldn't quite settle the racing of her heart when doleful green eyes met her own.

The lush, verdant abundance of the Irish countryside sang to Hermione's soul as they toured Blarney Castle and the Rock of Cashel. Some of the castles and fortresses of Ireland reminded Hermione of Hogwarts, bringing with them the harsh reminder that their tour of some of Europe's finest history was more than half over.

And their return for a final year at Hogwarts was looming.

As if feeling the same way, Daphne was quiet as she walked alongside Hermione, her shoulders low and expression pensive.

Uncertain how to broach the subject, Hermione jammed her hands into her pockets, gaze fixed forward. "Are you looking forward to going back to Hogwarts?"

Daphne gave a nervous titter. "I'm not sure. I think I am, to have a normal year. But… everything's going to be different, isn't it?"

"Yes." With a nod, they fell silent until Hermione spoke again. "Last I heard before we left London, Harry and Ron were trying to persuade the Auror's office to let them into training, but I think they're going to need to complete their necessary NEWTs. It'll be strange, all of us back in school and pretending we didn't fight in a war."

A tight, almost forced smile sat on Daphne's lips. "I can't imagine Potter and Weasley will be very excited that you and I are friends."

With a tense chuckle, Hermione mused, "I guess I thought the same about your Slytherin friends."

The pair of them climbed to the top of a hill, tall grasses tickling their ankles. Daphne settled down in the grass, gazing out upon the first golden hints of sunset. As Hermione dropped down beside her, folding her ankles beneath her, Daphne said, "I'll understand, I think. If you need to keep your distance." Hesitating, she added, "But I don't think my housemates will have much room to talk, given how everything played out in May. And maybe some of them aren't as bad as you believe they are."

Hermione wasn't certain whether she wanted to unpack that last sentiment, but she frowned all the same. "I don't want to keep my distance. You and I are friends now, and honestly – if we all learned anything from the war, I would hope it to be tolerance and acceptance, even of those who are different from us."

A soft vulnerability to her voice, Daphne breathed, "I would hope the same." Then a smirk curved her lips, and she added, "And if not, fuck them all."

In Prague, the group spent the day hiking the Old Town and the Castle District, exploring the castle grounds and watching the changing of the guard.

By the time they reached Old Town Square in the late afternoon, Hermione wasn't certain she could still walk for the fatigue in her muscles.

"Please tell me," Daphne implored, clutching a stitch in her side, "we can take the metro back to the hostel."

With a grimace, Hermione glanced towards their tour guide. He seemed as energized as he had when they started the day. "I think we'll be walking."

Daphne's eyes widened with terror. "I can't feel my feet."

"You didn't cushion your shoes?" Hermione asked, lifting her brows with amusement. "That seems an amateur error."

Eyes tightening with feigned annoyance, Daphne huffed a breath. "I did, but it was too late."

Clicking her tongue, Hermione returned her gaze to the famous Prague Astronomical Clock in the square. "Did you know it's the oldest one still operating?"

"I did," Daphne returned, her tone facetious. "Built in 1410, it has dials and mechanisms that can display astronomical information, such as the positioning of the sun, moon, constellations, and sometimes planets." Her lips twitched with amusement as she turned to face Hermione, nudging her in the side. "See? I was paying attention."

A smile pulled at her lips as Hermione breathed, "Swot."

She received a smack to the arm.

Hermione awoke to wide, startled green eyes staring at her face, her chest heaving with the racing of her heart. A cold sweat lingered on her temples, and she swallowed thickly, staring up at the concern on Daphne's face.

"What?" she managed, wincing.

"What?" Daphne echoed, her voice oddly high pitched. "You were screaming is what. Scared the bleeding shite out of me."

It was then Hermione noticed one of Daphne's hands lingering on her arm, and she had thrown the sheets and blankets from herself in what must have been a fitful nightmare. Feeling a flare of embarrassment as she glanced away, she whispered, "Sorry."

But Daphne perched on the edge of the bed, her fingers absently drifting along Hermione's skin. There was something in her expression Hermione didn't know how to unpack, something cautious and broken.

"Don't apologize, Merlin," the girl breathed after a long beat. She shook her head, swiping at the corner of one eye before dropping her other hand to land on Hermione's stomach. "I wish I could take away all the pain you're in."

Heart stuttering in her chest, Hermione could only stare. Even now, the shattered remnants of the dream were shifting and dissolving from her brain, but there were only a few main nightmares that still recurred.

Godric's Hollow. Malfoy Manor. Fiendfyre.

The silence between them prolonged to the point where Hermione looked away, an anxious flush creeping up her throat. She wished Daphne hadn't bore witness at all and didn't know what to say in the aftermath.

Breaking the silence, Daphne's meek voice asked, "Are you okay?"

Forcing a nod out of habit, Hermione could focus only on the feel of Daphne's fingers on her arm and her other hand splayed across her stomach.

She had worn only a thin tank top and sleep shorts to bed, and despite the lack of sheets, Daphne's touch left her feeling warm in a way that wasn't entirely unfamiliar.

The hand on her stomach flexed, and Daphne's pinky finger just barely grazed the underside of Hermione's breast, shooting a jolt through her to settle in her core. Startled, her eyes lifted to meet Daphne's. Their gazes held, and Daphne's lips parted as if to speak but pressed shut once more as she swallowed.

Uncertainty chased through Hermione's veins, leaving a warm pulse in her heart as she shifted in bed, curiosity sweeping across every nerve.

Daphne's pinky and ring finger grazed once more, with intention. The colour in Hermione's cheeks deepened as the warmth beneath the surface of her skin twisted to desire.

As Hermione lifted a hand, indecision warring within her, Daphne visibly tensed until Hermione caught the wrist of the hand on her stomach, keeping her from drawing back. A soft inhale escaped Daphne's lips as Hermione coiled her fingers tight.

Swallowing, the blonde caught her stare and held it as she allowed Hermione to maneuver her hand upwards; when Daphne's fingers grazed the peak of her nipple through the thin fabric of her shirt, desire and longing swept through Hermione once more, settling as a tightness below her belly.

"Hermione," Daphne murmured, her voice low and uncertain.

With a hint of a stuttering nod, Hermione withdrew her hand from Daphne's wrist, leaving the other girl's hand suspended above her breast. Surprise flickered on Daphne's face, even as her fingers gently toyed with Hermione's taut peak before softly palming the breast.

Hermione's eyes fluttered shut and snapped open again; her mouth felt dry.

With another thick swallow, Daphne whispered, "May I touch you?"

Hovering on a precipice she couldn't quite fathom, Hermione could only nod as she propped up her pillow and shifted to lean back against the headboard. As Daphne's eyes darkened, fingers tracing the line of her cleavage, arousal swept through her once more and a soft whimper escaped her lips.

Emboldened, Daphne's other hand shifted to Hermione's chest, thumbs sweeping her hardened nipples.

Feeling the need to clarify something she couldn't possibly explain, Hermione whispered, "I don't know –"

"It's okay," Daphne said, a hint of a smile on her face. "If it makes you uncomfortable, I'll stop."

Nodding, Hermione dragged her lower lip between her teeth; she stifled a groan as Daphne's hold tightened, fingers tweaking her nipples, before one hand dragged down along Hermione's stomach to graze the skin below the hem of her shirt.

"Daph," Hermione choked, as the girl's fingers grazed the top of her shorts, before sweeping back up beneath her shirt. When cautious green eyes found hers again, a breath chased from her lungs. A furrow in her brow, Hermione lifted a hand to rest on Daphne's hip.

A breath hitching in her throat, Daphne nodded. "Go ahead."

Curiosity in her mind and arousal cresting in her senses, Hermione swept her hand up along Daphne's side, weighing a breast in her hand before sweeping her thumb across the nipple the way Daphne had done.

Green eyes squeezed shut. Daphne whispered, so quietly Hermione might have imagined it, "I want to kiss you."

Nerves chasing through her at the declaration, Hermione swallowed, dipping her fingers between Daphne's breasts. Shifting her wrist to catch Daphne's nipple between her fingers, Hermione marvelled at the girl's responsiveness as she released a soft groan.

She whispered, "Okay."

One hand still toying with Hermione's breasts, Daphne swept her long blonde hair back and leaned in. Her lips were soft as they ghosted across Hermione's. Freezing, Hermione allowed the sensation to linger on the skin of her lips before pressing back in return.

Daphne's hand rested below the messy bun atop Hermione's head, digging into the loose strands at her nape, as they drew closer, lips meeting again. A hand swept to the curve of Hermione's shoulder, and when her tongue grazed Daphne's, Hermione pitched forward, finding herself lost in the kiss.

A whimper crept from her throat as Daphne's hands swept down Hermione's sides once more, slipping beneath Hermione's shirt to push the fabric up, taking her bare breasts in her hands.

"Tell me to stop," Daphne murmured, pleaded, against her mouth, but a groan escaped Hermione instead, heat flaring across her skin as she pressed herself fully into Daphne's hands, snagging the girl's bottom lip between her teeth.

She could only manage a tense, stuttered, "Don't stop."

Drawing away, Daphne shifted so she was straddling Hermione's lap; her green eyes were glazed, lips swollen and curved with a smile. The feel of Daphne's bare legs against hers below their shorts intensified the arousal throbbing in her core. Ducking in, she pressed a series of kisses to Hermione's jaw and throat, before sucking her earlobe between her lips. A shudder chased Hermione's spine as Daphne breathed, "What do you want?"

Groaning, Hermione grabbed a fistful of Daphne's curves, only able to shake her head with a murmured, "I don't know."

Dragging her top aside, Daphne leaned down, allowing the warmth of her breath to linger on the tight peaks of Hermione's nipples before taking one in her hands and laving the other with the flat of her tongue.

Desperately seeking friction, Hermione found herself grinding against Daphne as the girl sucked and tugged at her nipples, shooting desire through her until she wasn't sure she could stand it.

Exhaling a ragged breath, Daphne's ground her hips against hers in such a way that silenced the questioning voices in the back of Hermione's mind, and she tugged at Daphne's top.

Daphne's fingers stilled the motion, and when Hermione drew back, the blonde was gazing at her, their chests heaving with the effort of drawing breath.

"Hermione." The word was whispered between them, hovering in the air, and Hermione fell still, blinking in silence at the shift. Releasing a long breath, Daphne dropped her face into Hermione's shoulder. "I don't want you to do anything you're going to regret."

Feeling a sting of something like rejection, Hermione looked away until she felt Daphne's lips press a kiss to the side of her jaw. The racing adrenaline in her veins subsided, and the throbbing between her thighs settled.

An awkwardness hung between them until Daphne shifted so they sat alongside one another, their sides pressing together. Daphne said, "I want this, Hermione – but I know you aren't sure, and I don't want to take that choice from you." Hands wrapped around hers, fingers entwining. "Think about it."

Looking up, Hermione met Daphne's eyes with a soft nod. In truth, she wasn't sure – the stirrings she'd been feeling for Daphne had crept up on her, and she had barely managed to wrap her head around them in the weeks since they had left London.

Daphne went on, looking away. "If you're just curious and want to mess around, that's fine; just be honest with me about it." Swallowing, her voice dropped to a whisper as she said, "But please, Hermione, don't let me believe this is more than it is."

The words clanging around her skull, Hermione could only nod again with a squeeze to Daphne's hand. Her voice was soft and sounded oddly disconnected as she breathed, "I won't."

Shifting back into bed, her fingers were warm in Daphne's hold, and Hermione found herself staring at the large analog numbers on the bedside clock as they flashed three in the morning. Before Daphne could reclaim her hand and return to her own bed, the girl was fast asleep.

Their arrival in Denmark signified just two weeks remaining of the summer – two weeks before Hermione would return to Hogwarts. The thought of it felt wholly surreal, and she wasn't entirely certain what to make of the situation.

She didn't have the money to keep travelling – as it was, the trip had nearly drained her savings – but whenever she thought of returning to school, she couldn't quite pin down her feelings on the topic.

In Copenhagen, they visited the King's Garden at Rosenborg Castle on one of the most temperate, beautifully picturesque days Hermione could remember. She lingered in the shade of one of the prevalent monuments in the park, away from the rest of the group or any other tourists.

Hermione jumped, startled, as Daphne came up alongside her, trailing fingers along her ribcage. With a soft smile, she mused, "Hi, Daph."

"Hi." Daphne dropped her chin to Hermione's shoulder, pressing a brief kiss to her jaw. "Did you know I have Danish ancestry?"

There was no one in the immediate area, and feeling bold, she turned, meeting Daphne's lips with a soft, lingering kiss. "I didn't."

Daphne's green eyes lit up with the brightness of the sun above. "Well now you do!" Arms snaked around Hermione's waist, and she sunk back into the girl, eyes fluttering with the feel of Daphne's fingers tracing idle patterns beneath the hem of her top.

Releasing a sigh, Hermione mused, "Can we stay like this forever? Just… seeing the world. Away from everything that's happened."

"Together," Daphne added, dragging her earlobe between her teeth; a frisson chased Hermione's spine. She dropped a hand back to land on Daphne's thigh, fingers curling in the fabric of her jeans.

Lips trailed the column of her throat, and desire shot through her as Hermione shifted back into Daphne's chest with a breathed, "Yes. Together."

"Unfortunately," Daph whispered, slipping a hand beneath Hermione's shirt to give one of her breasts a cheeky squeeze, "we don't have that luxury. The travelling the world part."

"But the together part," Hermione hedged, meeting Daphne's lips once more, "that part we have."

The brightness in Daphne's eyes lit her from within.

They were in Athens – it was the final week of the tour – and the group was set to catch a set of Portkeys to the Parthenon in ten minutes.

But Daphne's lips were on her neck, and a whimper was wrenched from Hermione's throat as the girl's fingers grazed the waistband of her knickers. "We need to go," she gasped, clutching Daphne's covered breasts.

They had been dressing, preparing for the day when green eyes had found hers across the room, casting a lazy, heated inspection of her underwear.

And now… Hermione wasn't entirely sure of anything other than the fact that she wasn't in a rush to leave the room. Daphne's tongue was assertive against her own, her hold tight as she maneuvered Hermione against the wall, dipping two fingers into her knickers.

"Daph," Hermione panted, dropping her face into the girl's neck.

Slow and cautious, Daphne's fingers grazed Hermione's clit, pulling a quiet cry forth. Two fingers slid back, finding the wetness between her legs. Groaning, she muttered, "You're soaked, Hermione."

The girl's breath was warm and tantalizing on the side of her face; Hermione allowed her eyes to flutter shut as Daphne's fingers found the warmth of her core, thumb brushing once more over her clit.

"We slept in," Hermione breathed, clutching Daph closer as she fumbled for the girl's knickers, "we'll Apparate."

"Thank Merlin."

The distinctive cubiform whitewashed houses of Santorini painted a picture Hermione wanted to sear into her memory. Beside her, Daphne leaned back on her forearms, basking in the last vestiges of the day's sun, the sky shifting and flowing towards sunset.

It was bittersweet.

Scarcely could she believe the two months had passed, and the tour would be returning to London in the morning, only for Hermione and Daphne to turn around and board the Hogwarts Express a few days later. She had grown so accustomed to the blonde at her side, she wasn't certain how things would change when they were surrounded once more by their classmates – many of whom still harboured a mutual hatred of one another.

Sitting up, Daphne laid her head on Hermione's shoulders, both of them slow and languid for their last night abroad. Stifling a yawn, Daph murmured, "I'd ask what you're thinking about, but I'm sure I know."

Ducking her chin in a nod, Hermione cast a sidelong glance at her – girlfriend? Friend? The latter wasn't appropriate anymore, and the former… well, they hadn't discussed things to that extent.

Trapped in a bubble as they'd been, just the two of them, it had become easy to dismiss the logistics of the situation. But Hermione wasn't entirely sure of the situation beyond the fact that she had come to care for the blonde.

Daphne's words from Venice kept returning – that it matters most what's inside a person. And maybe it was really that simple.

All she knew with any degree of certainty was that Daphne was one of the most vibrant, thoughtful, and beautiful people she knew. And to think she would have missed out on the chance to get to know the girl based on an old prejudice.

"So?" Daphne's soft voice interrupted her thoughts, dropping to a whisper. "Is tomorrow our last day together?"

The girl's Slytherin tendencies were deeply hidden, Hermione was sure, because she was brazen as a Gryffindor. Throat dry, she forced a swallow.

"I don't know." She hadn't wanted to assume, and they hadn't worked out any details yet. Squinting into the setting sun, she added, "I like you, Daph."

Daphne's platinum hair tickled her cheek as she shifted. "And I like you. But… like I told you before, Hermione, I won't force you into anything if it makes you uncomfortable. I know it's been easy out here."

Releasing a laugh, Hermione shook her head. "I've never done things because they're easy."

"Right," Daphne drawled, dragging the word out. "The hero thing." Lifting her head up again, the blonde swivelled green eyes her direction with a challenge in her stare. "Then what? We just carry on how things are, and maybe we can sneak time –"

Her words dropped off as Hermione pressed a kiss to her lips. Startled, Daph blinked at her when she drew back. "If we're doing this, Daphne Greengrass," she whispered, "there will be no sneaking around."

Fingers curled around her own, and the depths of emotion in Daphne's stare set her heart racing. "So you want to be together."

Adrenaline raced through her, coursing in her veins and pounding in her skull, as Hermione dragged her lower lip between her teeth. "You're the one who's been here for me, Daph, through some of the toughest times I've known. However it looks… I choose you."

"People won't understand." Daphne's hand gave hers a squeeze. "Our classmates, the rest of the school… my father. Hermione, you don't know my father –"

"I fought in a war, Daph," Hermione said with a clenched jaw. "We can deal with your father together."

Tears swelled at the corners of Daphne's eyes as she released a tight breath, managing a nod, before a brilliant smile spread across her face. "In that case," she whispered, fingertips grazing Hermione's cheekbone, "I choose you, too, Hermione Granger."

When their lips met, Hermione could feel Daphne's tears on her own cheeks; as her own watery lashes fluttered shut, she couldn't help but drag the other girl closer.

She didn't know what the future would hold.

But through the ruins, the wreckage, and the ashes of her life… maybe there was still beauty to be found in the world after all.