A/N: Due to some technical issues, I've been forced to post what should be one unitary chapter in two parts. You'll want to read chapter 50 first. And if you're moved to leave a review after reading this, please leave it for chapter 50, because 51 is going to be added there as soon as the website stops being glitchy (so maybe never, but why take a chance?)
January 1, 2016
Ten minutes into the New Year, Draco decided to act on his resolution with regard to Granger, to be completely honest in his dealings with her, but her curly head was nowhere to be found.
"Are you looking for Mum?" Hadrian looked up from his game of Exploding Snap with Peter to ask.
"Yes, I am," Draco admitted, wishing he were not quite so obvious. Then again, Hadrian was an exceptionally bright boy. Sly, too.
"She's probably outside. The end of the year always makes her cry," his son offered. Hadrian and Peter began singing. "Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind . . . "
Draco winced at the din. Between their exaggerated Scottish brogues and tuneless butchering of the ballad, he had little doubt McGonagall would have had the two Slytherin boys serving weeks of detention for their rendition of her favorite song.
Gathering his courage, along two flutes of champagne, Draco stealthily let himself into the back garden. He did not see Hermione immediately, but as he walked further from the house, he heard soft, childlike laughter. He followed the sound to the furthest corner of the back garden, where he could barely make her out, seated on a bench.
As he got closer, he could see that Hermione had her wand out, controlling a flock of small grayish birds flying around her. She looked up at his approach. In the soft light that filtered out from the house, Draco saw tear tracks on her cheeks and realized the birds' calls, which sounded eerily like children laughing, had covered the sound of her crying.
"What are you doing, Granger?" Draco asked, immediately regretting the stupidity of his question and how harsh it sounded.
"Conjuring birds," she responded, her voice tight. "These are kookaburras. Small, carnivorous, and indigenous to Australia. You'll have to pardon my tears. I'm afraid I get a bit emotional around this time of the year."
"It's alright if you need to cry," Draco assured her. Personally, he was relieved to see her expressing some emotion. When they had lived together, Granger had been a passionate woman in every sense, and he had been disconcerted to see her acting with a coldness that rivaled his own.
"Did you know I once loosed a flock of canaries on Ronald Weasley?" Hermione asked conversationally, ignoring his comment. "He ran away screaming as they pecked at his face and arms."
"I'm sure the Weasel King deserved it," Draco said, hiding his unease. The kookaburras' sharp little beaks that would hurt like the devil if Granger decided to unleash them on him.
She shrugged. "He snogged Lavender Brown in the middle of the Gryffindor common room. I was seventeen and fancied myself in love with him. I thought we were going to get married and have two kids with curly red hair. It's funny how life works out."
With a wave of her wand, the birds disappeared. Cautiously, he took a step closer and set the glasses of champagne on the broad arm of the bench.
"Is that why you're crying? Because you had a child with me instead of a ginger litter with the Weasel?" Draco asked, taking refuge in sarcasm to hide his hurt.
"I have never regretted Hadrian, despite the circumstances of his conception," Granger said vehemently. "Once I made the decision to continue with my pregnancy, I was all in."
Draco remembered that phone call, twelve years ago on New Year's Eve. "I have never regretted Hadrian either, but I do very much regret the circumstances. I never should have manipulated your choices like that." He spoke carefully, choosing his words.
"Yes, so you've told me - repeatedly, I might add - but why should I believe you when you can't even look me in the eye?" Granger seethed. "You made a better showing right after Hadrian was born, even though I knew you were lying and didn't mean a word of it!"
Draco looked at her blankly, then down at the ground. "I don't know what you're talking about," he said, with utter sincerity. "But I can tell you why I have trouble looking you in the face."
He glanced back, to see that she was listening, then shut his eyes. "Every time I do, I see you lying pale and dead in a pool of your own blood. I see your eyes glazed over, with no life left in them. I know it's not real, because you're right here and you're safe and alive, but I can't get that image out of my head!" he cried.
He took a deep breath to regain his composure. "It's not so bad with Hadrian, because he looks nothing like what he did as a newborn, but you look almost the same. And I can't stand to see you like that, Hermione!"
"Oh, Godric!" she looked horrified. "I never took that false memory away, did I? Here, sit down," she ordered, making room for him on the bench.
Draco did as she said, closing his eyes again.
"This may make you feel dizzy for a few minutes," she warned.
"It's a small price to pay," he replied.
The tip of her wand brushed against his left temple. Draco felt a tingling inside his skull, and then a cool rush of relief. "Oh, thank Merlin!" he exclaimed, looking down to meet Granger's familiar eyes, without his mind superimposing the image of her corpse.
"I'm sorry," he said. "There's so much I regret that I'm not sure where to begin, but I know now I should have told you the truth as soon as you knew me well enough to believe it. There were so many times when I wanted to tell you about magic, or who I was, or confess everything I had done, but I never quite found the courage. I was terrified you'd leave me. And I never should have used magic against you when you didn't remember it." He stopped, frowning slightly at the continued tingling sensation in his head.
"That's it?" Hermione asked, soundly vaguely disappointed.
"I know it's not very eloquent," Draco shrugged helplessly. "All that I can say is that I am sorry, and that I spent years trying to make up for what I had done. I thought there was nothing I could do for you, but I did my best to help other Muggleborns in your memory."
She blinked, and the tingling sensation inside his skull abated. "I believe you, Malfoy," she said simply.
Draco hesitated, and then remembered his resolution to be honest with her. "When did you learn Legilimency, Granger?"
"I taught myself the summer after our sixth year," she answered. "I had to, you see, to safely Obliviate my parents. But I thought you were an Occlumens?" she asked, with a raised eyebrow.
"I am," he admitted, "but one who is trying to be honest with you. I didn't do anything to Occlude you just now."
"I know. I could tell," Granger said with just a touch of smugness. With the acceptance of his sincere if inartful apology, she already seemed more relaxed in his presence. "I wanted to thank you, by the way, for sending Hadrian over to me as it turned midnight. The New Year always makes me a bit maudlin, but he never fails to cheer me up."
"He suggested that I would find you out here," Draco volunteered.
"Is that why you came out, Malfoy?" she asked.
He shook his head. "I was already looking for you. I realized we've never rung in the New Year together," Draco observed, a bit sadly, "and I wanted to rectify that. What Katie said made sense to me." He handed over one of the glasses of champagne.
"Thank you," she said softly. "But I'm afraid it's too late. It's almost half-past," she said. She gave him a smirk, with the tiniest flirtatious edge. "You'll just have to wait 'til next year, Malfoy."
"It's not too late," Draco insisted, referring to more than the time of night.
"I'm just stating a fact. Midnight was twenty-seven minutes ago," she pointed out, consulting her watch.
"In London, perhaps. But it's still 2015 in other time zones. It won't be 2016 in the States for hours," he argued, taking his own glass and raising it for a toast. "Cheers, Granger. I wish only the best for you in the New Year."
"Same to you, Malfoy," she reciprocated, taking a sip.
They sat and drank champagne and engaged in a surprisingly easy conversation, catching up on the past eleven years almost as if they were old friends who had lost touch. Hermione happily answered all of his questions about Hadrian and her life in Brisbane, and he willingly told her about the changes he had made upon taking over Malfoy Enterprises, including the Muggle pharmaceutical division. Draco did not mention his parents, and she did not ask, but she did tell him that she had restored her parents' memories years ago. They were considering selling their dental practice and alternating between their home in Brisbane and a London flat during their retirement.
Hermione hesitated. "I haven't told Hadrian yet, in case it doesn't work out, but I'm staying in London a few extra days after he goes back to Hogwarts to interview at UCL for a professorship," she confided.
"They would be mental not to hire you," Draco said. "Brightest witch of our age, and you're pretty brilliant in the Muggle world, too."
"We'll see," she said noncommittally. "If not, I have a few other prospects in the United Kingdom, so I will be moving back sooner rather than later."
"That would be nice," Draco said, trying not to seem too enthusiastic at the prospect. He and Granger still had a long way to go before she would consider him a friend, let alone anything else. Still, she seemed committed to having a cordial relationship with him, even if only for Hadrian's sake.
"Would you like to grab a bite next week, after your interview? Or maybe just coffee?" he asked, hesitantly.
"Are you asking me on a date, Malfoy?"
He opened his mouth to deny it, but then reminded himself, once again, that honesty was the best policy. "Only if you want me to be. Otherwise, consider it me just trying to learn more about Hadrian."
"I'll call you," Hermione promised. "Or send you an owl, if you prefer."
"Mobile's better. My number hasn't changed." Draco drained the last of his champagne, feeling absurdly light.
"We probably should head back in, before Marcus and Katie send out a search party," he added reluctantly.
"What's the rush, Malfoy?" Hermione inquired. "Katie's more likely to lock us out of the house than to send Mark to find us. Why not have another?"
Draco chuckled at the truth of that. "I'm afraid I only brought the two glasses, so I can't offer you a refill," he apologized, nodding towards her empty glass.
"As it so happens, I brought an entire bottle." With a smirk, Hermione reached under the bench and pulled out a chilled champagne bottle.
At that, Draco laughed outright. "Drowning your sorrows, Granger?"
"I told you New Year's makes me maudlin. I try to be prepared," she said, sounding swotty and just the tiniest bit tipsy.
"Granger, I don't think you should drink any more champagne," Draco warned.
"Why ever not?" she asked, cocking her head to one side, puzzled. "I've only had a glass of wine and two glasses of champagne all evening. Hadrian's planning on staying over with Peter, and I'm not driving. I'll take a taxi back to my hotel."
"I had a dream," he admitted, knowing it made him sound like an arse, but adhering to his new policy of utter transparency in his dealings with Granger. "A really, really vivid dream. You were in it."
"Malfoy!" she interrupted reprovingly. "I have no desire to hear about your naughty fantasies."
"Liar," he laughed at her, hearing the huskiness in her voice. "But it wasn't that kind of dream, Granger. It was a prophetic dream."
"Oh, really?" Hermione raised a skeptical eyebrow. "I can't really imagine you as a Seer."
"Hush, you need to hear this, Granger," he plowed on. "In my dream, we had a daughter, named Clementina."
"Hmmm, after the Roman goddess of forgiveness and mercy," Hermione mused.
"It's also the name of an asteroid, discovered in 1885. I looked it up," Draco admitted.
"You have a very precise imagination, Malfoy, and an unusual obsession with naming your children after celestial bodies," Hermione teased.
Draco have her a quelling look and continued his story. "Anyways, Clem woke me up at some ungodly hour because it was Christmas morning and she wanted her presents."
"Sounds like a typical Malfoy," Hermione gibed.
"Granger, you're not taking this seriously! You were there in bed with me, snoring like a bear - "
"I do not snore!" she interrupted indignantly.
"When you're pregnant, you do," Draco insisted. "I had to cast Silencing Charms when you were in your last trimester with Hadrian in order to get even a wink of sleep. And you were pregnant in my dream, with another boy. I'd actually agreed to name him Leo."
Hermione laughed out loud at how his expression soured at that concession. "So we know it's just a dream. You'd never agree to that in real life."
"Granger, you would be shocked at the concessions you could wring from me," Draco admitted. "Especially if you asked nicely enough."
He winked and she shook her head at him.
"In this dream, I knew that Clem was conceived after we got smashed on champagne at New Year's, so smashed that we forgot to cast any Contraceptive Charms. So as much as I'm enjoying your company and Flint's champagne, and even though it was a very nice dream, I really think you shouldn't have any more," Draco concluded.
"As much as I appreciate your concern, Malfoy, I'm a grown woman and I think I can be trusted to know my own limits," Hermione said snippily. With a bit of wandless magic, she popped the cork on the champagne bottle. "Divination is a load of rubbish, anyways," she opined, refilling her glass and his.
Draco shook his head at the unceasing recklessness of his favorite Gryffindor, but accepted the champagne. At least he had tried.
"Happy New Year, Draco." She clinked her glass against his, the connection between the crystal flutes chiming out in the otherwise silent night.
Then Hermione stood on her tiptoes and brushed her lips against his. "To 2016, whatever it may bring."
A/N: Here's wishing all of you lovely readers a slightly belated Happy New Year! Thank you, as always, for your reviews and continued interest in this story.
I realize this story has been marked complete since September, but I was never entirely satisfied with the ending. Now, it really is done, other than fixing stray typos and the like. Please me know what you think, but I think it's a stronger story for having chapters 49 and 50. I leave it to your respective imaginations whether Draco's dream is just a dream, or whether it comes true in 2016 (or 2017, since Hadrian would be a prefect for at least two years, three if he's not eventually Head Boy.)
That means no sequel - sorry! But if you like my work, I do have a WIP in progress on this site. It's a darker premise, with Voldemort winning, but the Dramione relationship is lighter and much less manipulative than in this story. Also, over on Archive of Our Own, under the same username, I have two new fluffy pieces (Heyer, not HP) written for Yuletide 2015.
Finally, because this story gets a lot of views, I'd like to recommend two Dramione stories by other authors that - in my view - haven't gotten nearly enough attention: It is the cause, my soul, by DrSallySparrow and To Wear a Dragon's Skin, by creativelymundane. The former is post-war, with Draco, Hermione and Blaise (as sidekick, not triad) at uni together. It has romance, Oxford and Shakespeare - what more could one ask for? The latter is a war fic, with Draco, Bellatrix and Hermione(?) able to transform into fighting dragons. It's dark, and has a pretty serious trigger warning at the outset, but so far it's been nothing worse than Cho's story in BoF. Both are very well-written and each has a fairly unique plot, so check them out!