Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters mentioned below, so please don't sue me:)
Author's Note: Sorry I haven't updated in a really, really long time (yes, i do know how long it has been). It's the holidays now, and ironically, i dun have much time to update my stories. 'cos of part-time work and other mindless stuff. BUT finally today, i'm settling down today to finish at least one chapter of 'Hope Floats'. i've alr updated the latest chapter of 'The Price of Love', so pls go read it, ya? Oh by the way, i'm sorta recovering frm a recent wave of writer's block, so pls forgive me if the chapter's not satisfactory. However, i'm not going to use writer's block as an excuse and i'm still going to try my best to finish this chapter. Hope you enjoy:)
From the previous chapter...
Looking away, Hermione realized that nothing seems to have changed in the world outside of hers. But how come she was feeling so dizzy with the winds of change? She needed to grab hold of something fast before she drowned herself, and the first thought that emerged in her mind was Draco.
And the thoughts that she had afterwards didn't deviate much further from him either. Guilt arose again, if it had even settled down in her gut at all.
She took a deep breath and exhaled it out, forming a small cloud of condensation on the glass panes of the windows. Glancing at the clock, Hermione knew she would be whisked away, as like all fairytales, in a nice little carriage that took the form of a modern limousine, to the church, where the wedding bells and chimes could be heard and where the vows of forever could be made, all in two hours' time.
Hermione stopped herself from crying and quickly squeezed her eyes shut before any tear managed to escape further. After what seemed like forever, she felt the lump in her throat start to dissipate and her nose didn't feel that stinging sensation it had before one cried.
So she opened her eyes. Time stood still.
She then opened the oak doors and stepped outside.
Hermione had made her decision.
The church bells rang. The guests filed in one by one and took their seats at the wedding altar. Harry nervously adjusted his bow tie while at the side, Ron tried flattening a wild tuft of red hair. Harry was nervous and scared all at the same time. He was so afraid that Hermione would bail on him. Maybe he had watched too many muggle shows like 'Runaway Bride', but he mentally cursed Julia Roberts for instilling weird notions like running away at their weddings for young impressionable girls like Hermione.
He looked over at the corner, where the organ player - a young boy who also belonged to the church choir - sat. Harry wished he had the calmness the organ player possessed at the moment. He saw the priest who was about to marry Hermione and him give a slight nod to the organ player, who stretched his arms and fingers. It was a sign that the wedding began - they had rehearsed it all before.
Harry picked at his bow tie one last time before he turned around and faced the entire altar full of people. However, at that point of time, Harry was only focusing on the closed doors in front of him. Any moment now and they will open. Will Hermione appear?
Then, in that few minutes of solitary, his inner voice decided to appear and scare the daylights out of him.
This isn't right. You're not supposed to worry about your bride running away from you.
Oh shut up. You're not even invited to the wedding.
Just then, the doors opened ever so slowly with a slight creak - after all, the church was a very old one and their door hinges creaked due to lack of oil.
Hermione walked down the aisle with the veil concealing her face. She held the flower bouquet in her hands and looked up to see Harry smile. She didn't know that Harry sighed with relief the moment he saw her appear.
She had no one to give her away so Mr Weasley kindly did the honours. As she walked down the aisle, her inner voice decided to speak up, too.
This isn't right. You don't even belong here.
I don't know what you're talking about.
Oh yes, just ignore me once more. Just like you're ignoring your heart and poor Draco.
She took a deep breath and swallowed hard, hoping to swallow her heart which seemed to rise up in her throat, causing a huge lump to form.
No, no don't cry, Hermione. Be strong. Harry's always been there for you, and you bloody well know it.
Yes, that was right, she told herself. She owed almost everything she had to Harry, who picked her up when she was at her lowest during her parents' deaths. And throughout the years afterwards, Harry had never once declined her request for help and everytime she made a simple phone call - be it when she felt afraid sometimes when there was thunder - he always tried his best to be around her and to comfort her.
But gratitude isn't the same as love.
She knew that too, but it was all too late now. She had already made her choice and it was Harry.
Even though she'll always love Draco.
Without knowing it, she had already let go of Mr Weasley's hand and had moved to stand beside Harry as the both of them faced the priest in front of them. The priest briefly cleared his throat and began reciting the vows.
Hermione cast a sideway glance at Harry. He caught her looking and smiled at her. Hermione wanted to smile at him, but somehow she couldn't make it happen. And so she simply turned away and concentrated on looking at the priest.
Harry noticed that and his heart wrenched once more.
She doesn't love me.
It wasn't a sudden realization - somehow he had known that all along. And that just made it seem worse - Harry thought he was about to get a heart attack on the spot. But he concealed his difficulty in breathing from the world, so that only he knew how painful it was to be standing beside the woman he loved who didn't love him back. As a consolation throughout the years, Harry would sometimes think to himself that Hermione did love him, but somehow that love wasn't enough as compared to.. as compared to the love she had for Draco. Their marriage might have been a lost cause, but their love wasn't.
Harry didn't cry. To his utmost surprise, he didn't even feel like crying. But that didn't mean that he couldn't feel his heart being torn apart inside. Harry always hated Draco, because he thought he lost to him in more ways than one. Draco had a sorry excuse for a father, but Harry didn't even have one. Harry also thought he had lost to Draco in the aspect of love. But now he realized that he didn't lose to Draco in that aspect - he had lost to their love.
Hermione blinked. The priest had already finished reading the seemingly never-ending vows and was now waiting for Harry's response, for him to say the final words 'I Do'. Did Harry space out? The priest was patient enough, but Hermione gave Harry a slight nudge.
Harry was jolted out of his thoughts and he turned to face Hermione, who was looking very puzzled at the moment.
"Harry, what's wrong?" she whispered through the veil.
The priest, thinking that the groom didn't hear the vows, repeated the last part of it again. "Would you, Harold James Potter, take Hermione Granger here as your lawfully wedded wife, to care for her.."
Harry took Hermione's hands in his and Hermione's eyes widened. What was going on with Harry, she thought. He then interrupted the priest. "No."
"E-excuse me?" The priest thought his hearing difficulty due to old age was kicking in again.
"No, I won't."
Hermione blinked rapidly and stared at the man in front of her. The church seemed to come alive, as the witnesses started whispering to one another.
"Hermione," Harry began, ignoring the whispers which were getting louder and louder. "I'll forever care for you and love you, be it happy or sad times. You know that. But I won't be able to take you here as my wife."
"Because we both know that love can't be forced."
It was a simple answer, but the effects on Hermione were amplified when Harry lifted her veil, kissed her cheek and whispered in her ear, "Go find Draco. You have the most beautiful smile when you're with him."
Hermione reeled from the shock she was receiving. She had every intention to stay rooted at the spot when Harry gave a slight nudge on the back and smiled graciously at her.
"Thank you, Harry." A nod showed her that he understood.
She lifted the hem of her wedding dress off the carpeted ground and ignored the stares people around her were giving. She ran to the road and hailed a cab, which appeared - thankfully - in minutes.
The cab driver looked at her through his rearview mirror and smiled, showing a toothy grin. "Running away from true love, my dear?"
Hermione flashed a small smile as she replied, "No, running towards it."
She changed out of her wedding gown and packed a few clothes and necessities. Before she left the house, she stared at the wedding gown draped across the sofa. She felt apologetic towards it and not to mention Harry. He had given her up ever so graciously and had ignored his male pride for her, as she simply took off and ran from the altar. She knew that she was being cruel towards him, but she also knew that if she didn't do what she did, she'll probably regret it her whole life. And being married to someone you didn't love was not only punishment to yourself, but to your partner as well. Guilt arose in her, but so did her love for Draco. Each was fighting their way within her, trying to dominate each other.
Hermione heard the cab honk for her and she looked away from the gown and started for the front door. She wasn't sure how the battle in her would end, but somehow she knew that love would win.
At the airport, Hermione's emotions were pretty much controlled. As she watched planes take off and land from the windows that stretched from the ground all the way to the high ceilings, she thought about a lot of things. She thought about Draco, and wondered what he was doing. She thought about Harry, and wondered what he was doing. Probably being comforted by the people close to them like Ginny and Ron. And those same people were probably wondering what Hermione was doing, after running away at the altar and after Harry had let her go.
She hadn't bought the air tickets to Paris yet. She was so sure that that would be the first thing she'll do once she got to the airport. But something in her was protesting - it was the guilt. It wasn't fair to Harry, and she knew it. She loved Draco, yes. She wanted to run to Draco, yes. But Harry had let her go and the least she could do was at least slow down her own pace. She couldn't just run to Draco in the next instant. She couldn't. It isn't fair to Harry, she emphasized to herself once more.
After she watched another plane take off into the blue skies, she realized what she had to do before she flew to Paris to find the love of her life.
She had to find herself first.
ONE MONTH LATER
Draco wandered about the streets of Paris and marvled at the night scenery. France was such a beautiful place, he thought. Ever since he came here, he had never regretted it. He looked up at the night sky. Usually that time of the year, the sky would be filled with stars, but that night was a rare exception due to cloudy skies.
I wonder what Hermione's doing right now. I wonder how's married life for her.
He had repeated those thoughts to himself countless times, and every time those thoughts appeared, they evoked the same response from him. His heart would start to ache.
Hermione, Hermione, Hermione, he thought.
He didn't watch where he was going and he bumped into someone along the pavement.
Before he could apologize, he recognized immediately the person he bumped into.
"Ginny?" he called out in astonishment to the red head in front of him, who was currently rubbing her head.
"Yeah. I'm so sorry about that."
"Oh no it's all right." Ginny grinned as she looked at Draco, who was so much taller than her that he almost seemed to tower over her.
"What are you doing here?" they both asked each other at the same time.
Ginny's grin grew wider as she explained first. She was on holiday and her company had planned a trip for her and her colleagues to Paris and Rome. She listened as Draco told her he was working there.
"So how's everyone?"
Ginny turned to tell one of her colleagues to go on ahead first before turning back to face Draco again. "Everyone's doing fine. Well, everyone but Harry, I suppose. He's still a little in the dumps after what happened."
Draco's eyes narrowed. "What happened?"
"Didn't you read the papers? Didn't anyone mention it to you?" Ginny was surprised and not to mention shocked that Draco didn't know anything about it.
Draco shook his head. "Only the financial section." Truth was, he had been avoiding the society section of the papers so that he wouldn't see news of Harry and Hermione's wedding splattered all over the newspapers. He didn't think he was in the mood to see their happy faces smiling back at him.
"Oh. So you have no idea that the wedding fell through?"
Judging from Draco's shocked expression, Ginny got her answer even though he didn't say anything.
"The wedding didn't happen," she began explaining. "Just before the part where they both say 'I Do", Harry let Hermione go. Ron heard Harry tell Hermione that love couldn't be forced and that's why they couldn't get married."
Draco felt his soul leave his body. All this while he had imagined Harry and Hermione happily together - happily married together.
"T-then how's Hermione doing?"
Ginny looked at Draco and took in his tiredness. He hadn't been sleeping well for a long time, she decided, and that had to be an understatement. She knew that Hermione and Draco were together a very long time ago, but she also knew from Harry that the one Hermione truly loved was Draco, and that the love was mutual. So all along, Ginny had thought that Hermione had gone to find Draco. But right now, judging from his appearance, he too looked like a man out of love.
Just to confirm, Ginny asked, "Isn't Hermione with you?"
"W-with me? Why would she be with me?"
Ginny's suspicions were confirmed - he didn't even know. So where in the world was Hermione?
Half an hour later, Ginny left with her colleagues and Draco sat alone at a park bench. Hermione, why didn't you tell me? Where the hell are you?
He bolted upright. He had no time to lose nor waste. Now that he knew that Hermione wasn't with Harry, he had to find her. And fast.
Hermione smiled as she rubbed her hands together to keep them warm. She looked out of the windows at the medium height sakura trees. The trees had blossomed beautifully when she had just arrived in Japan, but now that it was mid-winter, Hermione was looking forward to something else: snow. On the day of the wedding, she had gone to the airport with every intention of going to Paris to find Draco, but instead - after thinking it through - she booked a one-way ticket to Japan instead. And ever since then, she stayed at an inn located near Mount Fuji. She did not quit her job because she really did love her job, despite the disgusting creep she had for a boss. But she needed some time off, and so she took a long and well-deserved break from work.
She had just finished a satisfying dinner with the rest of the people staying at the inn. She had realized when she first came to Japan and set foot at the inn that the people there were warm and welcome and that they shared every meal every day in a common dining area. She had never felt so welcome in her life. Needless to say, she was eating and sleeping well and the guilt that had gnawed its way through to her conscience slowly backed away into silence. Hermione could finally breathe freely without worrying whether she deserved that breath. But even so, there was a nagging thought at the back of her mind. She missed Draco. Terribly.
She kept telling herself that now wasn't the time to go looking for him, but she knew deep inside that she was afraid of his reaction. Maybe he had already given up on them the moment he had signed those darn papers and maybe he had already moved on and found himself a new girlfriend or maybe even wife, to Hermione's horror. Even if he did, it wouldn't be his fault and Hermione wouldn't be able to blame him either, since it has been a good one month since they've seen each other. She wondered if he had heard the wedding news and she thought about his reaction. The thought of Draco being with another woman almost killed her.
I'll go when it snows, Hermione decided. After all, she didn't want to miss the snow.
And with that, she went to seek temporary refuge under the warm covers of her bed.
The next morning she woke up, Hermione nearly bumped her head due to the table lamp that had somehow leaned further into the bed during the night. She yawned and after moving the lamp away from her face, she stretched her arms as she mentally prepared herself for a brand new day.
She looked out of the windows, just like she did every morning after she woke up and every night before she went to bed.
It was snowing.
Hermione stared for a moment at the snow accumulating slowly at the windowsill. And then a slow smile spread across her face.
It was fate, really.
Wait for me, Draco.
Draco hurriedly finished his work and rushed out of the office. He had already applied for leave and it had already been approved. He just needed to finish up some last minute work before he left to find Hermione. But where? That was the question. He didn't even know where to begin searching. According to Ginny the other night, Hermione wasn't in England anymore, since no one answered her doorbell ever since that day. Hermione didn't leave a message as to where she was going either. That worried Draco. Hermione never did know how to take care of herself well. He hoped that wherever Hermione was, she was somewhere with sunshine. She almost always fell sick whenever it was winter and no matter how many coats she had on, she'd get a cold.
Where in the world was Draco going to begin searching?
He hailed a cab from his apartment and on the way to the airport, he mentally checked all the places he was going to go to. He didn't care how long it took, be it days or months or years. He'd continue searching until he found Hermione.
Hermione struggled to put her luggage upright. One of the wheels was faulty and it refused to let Hermione win the battle. Hermione sneezed. Stupid luggage, she thought, as she gave it a slight kick. She was already at the International Airport in France and was waiting in line for a cup of hot cocoa at the airport cafe. She was not only battling against the luggage, but also her cold. Damn it, but she got a cold right before she left Japan. The only souvenir she had. Great, she thought, just great. I'm going to fall sneezing into Draco's arms. If she ever gets to fall in Draco's arms, that is. The thought of him getting another girlfriend still plagued her mind endlessly. It was mental torture.
Finally, she decided that the queue wasn't moving or if it was moving at all, it was at a snail's pace. She couldn't take the wait any longer, and so she turned abruptly and connected face to chest with a guy who was standing right behind her.
Hermione was already embarrassed enough, and the fact that her luggage - with a mind of its own - decided to fall on the guy's feet didn't help matters at all.
"I'm so, so sorry," she exclaimed as she hurried to put her luggage upright. She swore that she'd throw her luggage away the minute she gets a chance to buy a new one.
Draco was staring at the boards, wondering which flight to take. He watched as the signs flipped from 'Processing' to 'Departing' to 'Waiting'. He closed his eyes and relied on instinct. He'd go to Japan. After all, Hermione was always fascinated by the culture there. And she never gave up a chance to eat sushi. He almost smiled at the thought of her eyes lighting up every time she saw Japanese cuisine.
He was about to buy his ticket when he spotted a brunette not far from him. She turned slightly and Draco caught a glimpse of her side profile.
"Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod." It was Hermione. He was sure of it.
He rushed forward with every intention to grab her into his arms the minute he got close enough to her when suddenly, the crowd at the airport grew bigger. It seemed like some hotshot football player was arriving with his family for a holiday in France. Draco had read about it in the sports section of the papers a few days before; he just had no idea that the star was arriving today.
"Oh, shit." Ignoring the rude stare of the person beside him, he started running towards Hermione's direction, calling out her name with almost every step.
Hermione thought she heard someone call her name. But that was impossible; she didn't know anyone in France other than Draco and the few of his friends she had met at the bar that one night. She didn't think they'd remember her anyway, so that only left her with the option of Draco. But even that was impossible; after all, how could he have known that she was in France, let alone know that she had just arrived there?
She shrugged and began to walk towards the exit doors of the airport. She still heard someone shouting her name.
Draco saw Hermione moving away from him and panicked. The crowd and the cheers were getting louder and louder and sooner or later, she wouldn't even be able to hear him shout her name, even if he was right behind her.
He weaved his way through the crowd and tried not to get caught in the stampede. He didn't want to die now. Even if he did, he wanted to die in Hermione's arms.
Hermione got pushed way too many times. Feeling her irritation rise by more than a notch, she went over to the furthest pillar away from the crowd and almost threw her imbecile luggage on the ground. She crossed her arms at her chest and frowned. She wondered how long it would take for the crowd to clear. Then the cameras started flashing and microphones began emerging. The hotshot had arrived. Hermione figured it won't be long before she was free to move.
Draco couldn't find her anywhere. He couldn't see that head of wavy chestnut brown hair from where he was standing. He twisted and turned in every possible direction, but Hermione was nowhere to be seen. Please don't let her be gone, Draco pleaded to the heavens.
The crowd began to clear as they followed the football star whom Draco now hated with a vengeance out of the airport. He placed both hands on his knees, panting as he continued scanning the place for Hermione. Sighing, he leaned back against the pillar behind him and he felt like shouting. How could he have missed her? She was right there, in front of him. He was such a fool.
"Looking for someone?"
Draco spinned around and nearly lost his balance at the sound of Hermione's voice.
"Hermione!" Draco felt his heart and spirits soar as he took her in his arms for a tight embrace.
Hermione hugged him back fiercely. "Why're you here? I was just about to leave for your apartment."
Draco reluctantly broke apart from the embrace and from the sweet smell of Hermione and said, "I was about to go search for you."
"Where have you been?" He tried to look at her with an accusing glance, and failed miserably.
"Where were you going to start searching?" Hermione asked at the same time.
"Japan," they both answered in unison.
Smiling, Draco took her hand in his. "Do not ever do that again without telling me. You hear?"
Hermione nodded and Draco kissed her knuckles. Hermione sneezed.
Draco felt himself choke with overwhelming emotion. "Aw honey, you've got me worried sick."
"Sorry," Hermione provided a genuine apology. How could Draco stay angry when she apologized with that warm brown look in her eyes? "It's just that.. I wanted to take some time off to find myself first."
"Yes, to find the real Hermione once again. I don't want to lose her."
"Neither do I, sweetheart. So tell me," Draco kissed her on the forehead. "Did you come here to find the real you, too?"
Hermione nodded and looked into Draco's gray eyes, which she found she missed terribly in his absence. "And I found it."
She smiled and kissed Draco lightly and gently on the lips. "Here?" he whispered into her mouth.
"Yes," she whispered back, "With you."
A/N: The story's finished! Hope you guys liked it, 'cos I did! I took an awful long time for the ending, i know and i hope the ending's not too long - i didn't want to drag the ending for too long, so i ended it with a chapter. even though this is the last chapter, the rules still apply. read and review! and becos it's the last chapter, surprise me with a heapload of reviews, okie:) thanks people! love ya and i'll be back soon. definitely. pls stay tuned to my other story 'the price of love' which i promise will be good. so bye (for now) :)