Chapter Forty Three
July 15, 2006
Antonin woke up only a few short hours after he was finally able to fall asleep. The guest bedroom in the cottage was all right as far as bedrooms went. There was only one glaring problem with it: it was the wrong bedroom. His thoughts kept wandering down the stairs, across the living room, through the kitchen and into the bedroom he hadn't stepped foot in since the morning Hermione was kidnapped by Cormac McLaggen. He wondered if she was having as much difficulty sleeping as he was.
Living in the heart of a big city for over five years meant that he found the stillness of the cottage a bit unnerving. He was used to hearing traffic at all hours of the night passing by on the street below his flat. His neighbors were not known for being quiet either. The sounds of the waves were soothing sounds that he had grown used to not hearing. It would likely take some time before he found the once-customary sounds comforting again. Longer than he was likely to be allowed to remain in the cottage, he thought bitterly.
A clock on the nightstand showed the time to be just after two. Knowing that he would not be falling asleep any time soon, Antonin threw the covers off. He pulled a robe over his bare chest. Ordinarily he wouldn't bother, but out of respect for his hostess he didn't want to make her uncomfortable if she was having trouble sleeping too.
Antonin was disappointed that he didn't see her on his way into the kitchen. He was hoping that she might be awake and they could run into each other. One thing might lead to another and then she would be shuddering around him, screaming his name and begging him to move back in. A man can dream anyway.
Years earlier when he was forced to play host to three wizards with nowhere else to go, he used to grow frustrated with Thorfinn always stealing his best fire whiskey. The younger wizard had a serious drinking problem in those days. Antonin knew the signs all too well. Remembering his witch's remarkable beaded bag with the undetectable extension charm, Antonin snuck into his kitchen when everyone else in the cottage was asleep one night to make some adjustments to one of the cabinets. He was pleased to find the same cabinet was still there. Pulling open the door, he carefully moved the empty bowls that were in the way without making a sound.
He'd warded the hidden compartment to his own magical signature. One touch of his hand on the back wall opened a small door. Antonin reached into the darkness and found an unopened bottle of Ogden's Finest twenty year aged fire whiskey. The glasses were still in the same cabinet they were years earlier. He took his hidden treasure with him through the front door. A short walk around the back of the cottage put him in the perfect spot to view the ocean.
Years earlier he used to slip out of the cottage to spend hours simply staring off into the distance at the crashing waves. He set the bottle and the glass on top of the short stone wall that circled the perimeter of the property. Two glasses were filled and emptied before he heard a rustle in the grass behind him. Antonin's first instinct was to spin around at top speed and curse whatever was making the noise. His hand was halfway to his wand when the intoxicating scent of lavender reached his nose.
"I love to come out here when I can't sleep to watch the ocean," Hermione said, her voice a whisper that still managed to carry to his waiting ears.
Antonin slowly turned around to face the woman. She was wrapped in a robe, barefoot in the grass. Her hair was wild either from a few hours of deep sleep or a few hours of tossing and turning. He was fairly certain it was the latter. With each step she took closer to him, he found breathing to be more and more difficult. She was so beautiful standing in the moonlight that he was half-convinced he was dead and in paradise.
"It's peaceful," he agreed. "I'd almost forgotten how much so."
"Where on Earth did you find that?" she asked, laughing at the bottle still sitting on the fence.
"A wizard cannot reveal all of his secrets, daragaya."
A brief awkward silence fell between them after the term of endearment fell from his lips. Antonin cleared his throat. Hermione moved to sit in one of the chairs only a few feet away. When he felt confident that the uncomfortable moment was passed, he picked up both the bottle and glass to sit in the chair next to hers. Hermione summoned an empty glass from inside the cottage. He didn't waste any time filling her glass up with the magical liquid he knew often loosened her tongue. If it also had the added benefit of lowering her inhibitions, well, he wasn't going to worry about that just yet.
"There is a hidden compartment behind the bowls in the kitchen," he explained. "I created it when Thorfinn kept stealing all of my best whiskey."
Her soft laughter made his entire body erupt into goosebumps. He had already heard the incredible sound multiple times in the less than twenty four hours he'd been back in the country, but he was certain that the more he heard it, the better it sounded. How could he possibly have forgotten that melodic sound in his exile?
"I should've known you had your own hidden stash," she replied, a bright smile still on her face. "Are there any others in the cottage I should know about?"
"No, that's the only one. I considered putting one in the cellar near the potions station for volatile ingredients. I used to think that would be necessary if there were ever any children in the house."
His admission caused Hermione to drop her eyes immediately to the glass in her hands. She swallowed a couple of large drinks of the whiskey before speaking.
"There is a locked room in the cellar that Greg and I put in when we were redoing the cottage. It is warded so it can only be opened by three people: you, me and Rod in case anything happened to both of us. Everything you left behind is in there. I didn't get rid of anything."
"Thank you. That was very kind of you."
She snorted into her glass.
"Don't think too kindly of me until you see what's down there. I'm not ashamed to admit in the middle of some of my worst fits of temper, I may have broken a few things."
He chuckled at her admission. Part of him assumed that once it was clear he was not coming back that the young woman would've burnt or destroyed all of his possessions. He was pleased that she hadn't. There had been quite a few items that belonged to his parents that meant a great deal to him.
"Still, it was thoughtful of you to keep them."
"That was something Thorfinn never understood," she admitted. "Some of the largest rows we ever had were about this cottage and its contents. That's why the door can only be opened by the three of us. I suspected that if given half a chance, he would've destroyed everything. I even have special enchantments on the cottage to make it essentially fireproof. He has a nasty history of burning down houses."
There was a touch of bitterness in her tone that she was unable to hide. Antonin knew there was a great deal more to the story, but he didn't want to push her. Too much might scare her off.
"More than once he threatened to burn the cottage to the ground," she continued, surprising her guest with her candor. "He wanted us to move out of the cottage and find a home that was specifically ours. Something 'untainted with the ghosts of your past' I believe he said. He can be fairly poetic when he wants to be."
She picked the bottle of whiskey off of the table it was rested on. Once her glass was filled almost to the brim, she topped off Antonin's. Maybe this was going to be the moment she spoke of earlier in the evening. Maybe she was trying to imbibe enough alcohol to answer his question of why she never married. Antonin happily gulped down more. It was settling into his stomach with a pleasing warmth.
"Maybe it wasn't the healthiest decision to remain here considering the history, but I love this cottage. Nowhere else feels like home to me anymore. I tried to compromise with Thorfinn. That's why Greg and I redid the kitchen. That's why we added rooms upstairs. Thorfinn repeatedly said that this house wasn't large enough to raise a family in. I tried to make it large enough, but it didn't help."
"Hermione, you don't have to tell me all of this."
Her eyes snapped up to meet his. A hint of the fire he remembered was present in her watery eyes.
"I want to tell you, Antonin."
She finished off her second glass of whiskey and immediately poured a third. Antonin thought that maybe in the past six years he wasn't the only who had picked up a nasty drinking habit. Maybe she had been drowning her sorrows every bit as often as he had.
"Thorfinn and I were a ridiculous idea. It was so obvious once I could step back from the relationship and view it without a cloud of intense emotions. We make wonderful friends. Even today, despite all of our problems in the past and our failed engagement, I would absolutely consider him my best friend. It's taken us years to get back to this point, but I can't imagine my life without him in it. Nor can I imagine not having Charlotte as a friend which most people would find absolutely bizarre."
Antonin couldn't help but agree with her statement. He had heard of the mystical friendships that could continue once the participants ended a romantic relationship although he had certainly never seen one. He had all but given them up as being false legends with little basis in reality. Hermione took a deep breath before continuing.
"After you left, I was broken. I don't know, maybe I still am in some ways. It wasn't all your fault, either. My parents were pretty upsetting to me and I had a number of friends who wanted nothing to do with me. Neville told me that he would never speak to me again after he learned about my adoption. So far he's been able to keep his promise. It was a really shit time. One night Thorfinn and I had too much to drink and well, you can imagine."
"Yes, I'm afraid I can."
"It was stupid. We tried to make it work because neither one of us wanted to admit the truth to ourselves."
She knocked back the rest of her glass. Yes, Antonin was more than a little convinced that in his absence his former witch had become well acquainted with the temptation of fire whiskey. He couldn't blame her for the habit. Hadn't he spent the past six and a half years trying to forget her by crawling to the bottom of bottles? When her glass was empty she stared him straight in the face.
"The truth was that despite the fact that Thorfinn and I loved each other very much, we were still in love with other people."
"I'm sorry that I was responsible for causing you so much pain even after you tried to move on."
She actually laughed out loud at his last statement. Antonin tried not to be offended, but he couldn't help it. Why was so being so flippant about something that was obviously painful?
"Don't flatter yourself, Antonin. I was perfectly capable of fucking up my own relationship without your help."
Hermione reached across the small side table to pat his left forearm gently. A quick wink from the young woman helped temper his injured pride.
"When did you and Thorfinn finally decide it wasn't going to work?"
"We tried to make it work for a long time. Too long. We used to have these arguments that would last for days. Forget never going to bed angry. We were always miserable. He began to blame this cottage. Said that I wasn't letting you go and moving on with my life. He used to accuse me of not actually wanting to marry him. If it had been up to him, we would've run off and gotten married immediately after we got engaged, but I was the holdout. I was the one who refused to set a date.
"So I hired Greg to remodel the cottage and I started planning a fancy, high society, Pureblood wedding. The rows didn't end, of course. They just became disagreements about where we were going to honeymoon or if we would have a buffet or a sit-down meal at the reception. Which kind of binding vows we were going to use. Would we have a traditional cake or not. Ridiculous rows.
"Then one day he came home with a sick expression on his face. Said that he needed to talk to me about something very serious. I assumed he was about to break off the engagement and a giant part of me felt nothing but relief. When he told me that he not only had cheated on me with Charlotte but that she was pregnant, I actually burst out laughing. No doubt he thought I was going round the bend. He told me that he wanted to do right by Charlotte. They still loved each other and wanted to get married."
She refilled her glass and took a sip.
"And do you know what I said to him when he asked to break off our engagement so he could marry Charlotte?"
He could only imagine. It must have been a devastating moment.
"I laughed and said, 'Thank god!'. He was a little insulted by my response, but it wasn't as if he wasn't relieved as well. It's not been an easy road. Charlotte and I have had our problems, but now, I think we're all okay. She knows that I will always love Thorfinn and is accepting. I want nothing but happiness for them both. I'm certain she had issues when he wanted to name me as Maggie's godmother. That could not have been an easy conversation."
"No, I imagine not."
"And now they have little Hallie too," she continued. "He's named after Thorfinn's grandfather. His name is actually Haldor."
She pulled a face that made Antonin almost choke on his fire whiskey. It was apparent that Hermione did not approve of the baby's name.
"It is unique," he agreed.
"It's bloody awful!"
They both laughed. It felt all at once surreal and wonderful to be laughing with the remarkable woman once more. Antonin didn't want the night to end. He was afraid in the clear morning hours she might change her mind about how to behave around him again. She might be afraid of him once more.
"Maggie's name is worse, if you can believe it. She's named after his great-grandmother who Thorfinn apparently adored. Magnhild."
He did manage to choke on his fire whiskey at that pronouncement. Both of them chortled until they were red in the face and gasping for air. When he could finally take a full breath without chuckling again, he put a grave expression on his face and turned to face Hermione.
"It seems to me that you dodged an Avada. Your children could have bloody awful names."
"Oh, I know! And did you know that Maggie was almost eleven pounds when she was born? Holy fuck! I didn't know babies could get that big. I don't even want to imagine what that must have felt like."
She shuddered at the thought. Antonin smirked at the action. He wondered if she knew how adorable she could be when she wasn't even trying. His eyes travelled down to where her robe was no longer covering the creamy skin on one of her thighs. Even in the darkness he could see how gorgeous her legs still were. Briefly he fantasized about kneeling in front of her and biting the inside of that exposed thigh. Thinking about the delicious noises he knew she would make caused parts of his body to stir. He was certain his flushed cheeks would give away what he was thinking. Against his wishes, he forced his eyes away from her bare leg.
"I really am glad that you came, Antonin."
"Thank you, Hermione. I'm glad I came too."
"I imagine you talked yourself out of coming a thousand times."
"At least that many."
Their eyes met and they both smiled. He was feeling his self-control begin to slip. It could have been the alcohol or the intoxicating scent of her hair or just the fact that he never could think straight in her presence. Antonin reached across the space between them to tuck an errant curl behind her ear. Hermione closed her eyes and leaned her cheek into his hand. A single tear dropped out from underneath her eyelid to splash onto his palm. He used his thumb to wipe another away.
"I have missed you so much," she whispered.
"I have missed you too, daragaya. So very much."
Hermione stood up abruptly from the chair.
"Then why did you stay away so long?"
Her tone wasn't angry, more intensely pained. She rushed towards the door leading straight into her bedroom before he could even answer the question. Part of him longed to follow her, but even if it had been over six years since he was last alone in her presence, he knew that she didn't want him to at that moment. Antonin remained in the chair staring at the ocean for at least another hour before he finally dragged himself back to bed.
The sun shining straight onto his face the next morning finally woke Antonin up. It had been years since he had lived in a bedroom that didn't have the heaviest blackout curtains available. Usually he had no idea what time of day it actually was until he cast a Tempus spell. Waking up with sun shining on his face was disconcerting. Remembering where he was waking up was even more so.
He took his time taking a long, hot shower in the guest bathroom. Memories of the end of his drunken conversation with Hermione kept coming back at intervals to make his stomach clench. How was she going to receive him when he finally walked downstairs? Would she ask him to find somewhere else to stay for the duration of his visit? Or would she pretend that nothing untoward happened at all? Maybe she wouldn't even remember how she cried when his hand cupped her cheek. She had been knocking the fire whiskey back in disturbing amounts.
When he could delay his descent down to the ground floor of the cottage no longer, he hesitantly took each step at a time. The cottage was surprisingly devoid of any sounds. Maybe Hermione hadn't even gotten out of bed yet. It wasn't quite noon yet. Remembering that the wedding of her adoptive father was going to begin that evening at six, he decided it was more likely that she was already at the manor helping with last minute preparations. A cheerful note sitting underneath the teapot in the kitchen confirmed his suspicions.
I've gone ahead to the manor to help with the wedding. Please help yourself to anything you find in the cupboards. Don't worry! I didn't cook any of the meals. Rosie makes certain that I have plenty of prepared meals each week. You won't die of poisoning!
I will see you at the wedding. Save me a dance!
There was a false cheeriness to the note that set his teeth on edge. Ignoring his concerns about what she was feeling after the previous night, he began searching for the cupboard full of food. When his stomach was adequately filled and his mild hangover temporarily sated, Antonin's curiosity got the better of him. He knew he shouldn't have been so bold, but he couldn't help it. She did leave him alone in the cottage after all. The door that led to their old bedroom loomed ahead of him. Each step he made closer to the former sanctuary made his heart beat just a little faster. He wasn't sure what he was expecting to find when he crossed into the space.
Everything looked exactly as he remembered it. Even the bedding appeared to be what they once used. He ran his hands over the comforter to test his theory. Sure enough it even felt the same. The curtains were the same. The furniture was all still in the same place. It even smelled exactly the same. He could close his eyes and almost imagine that no time had passed at all. How could she live in the same room after all of these years without making any changes?
He hated himself immediately for intruding on her privacy. It was none of his business. She had made enough changes to the rest of the house they once shared that the bedroom didn't make any difference. He knew from his own flat in San Francisco that he rarely spent any time in his bedroom beyond the hours he spent sleeping in it. Maybe she simply didn't think it important to change if she was only ever in there to sleep.
Antonin left the bedroom soon after entering. Remembering what she had told him the night before about the locked room in the cellar, he directed his steps to the lower region of the house. The cellar was filled with more books than he had ever had. The potions station was still in the same place, but it wasn't as organized or clean as it was when he was living there. Perhaps she didn't brew very often. In fact, he could only remember her ever brewing two potions while they lived together: contraceptive potion and polyjuice potion. Perhaps she had had no use for either one in quite some time.
The locked door was easy to pry open. He was able to simply use an alohomora spell and it opened immediately. The room was larger than he expected. Somehow he couldn't remember ever owning that many possessions. Shelves lined all of the walls. All of his possessions were neatly ordered and labeled. His clothes were neatly hanging in the corner. He found the dark blue dress robes she always loved within moments of searching through the garments. They were still in excellent condition. Perhaps the room had some kind of stasis charm that prevented everything in it from growing old. Or maybe she had just simply charmed the room rid of moths.
He was surprised to find that she even kept all of his soaps and even his shaving kit. She really hadn't been lying when she said she threw nothing away. He unscrewed the lid to the shaving cream that smelled strongly of almonds and lime. Every time he used to use it she would snuggle up to him and take a deep whiff of his face. Once she admitted that the smell was as calming to her as smelling her lavender scented curls was to him. He ran a hand across the beard that he'd been wearing for several years. Maybe it was time to do something about it. Antonin spent the rest of the afternoon digging through his boxes of belongings searching for some family heirlooms that he had been unable to find in his vault the previous day. When the time for the wedding to begin grew closer, he carried his navy blue robes and his shaving kit back up the stairs to the guest bedroom to get ready.
Guests were already arriving when he Apparated back to the manor. The ceremony wasn't set to begin for almost another hour, but he couldn't bear to wander around the empty cottage any longer. He had always hated arriving late to events. His mother taught him it was bad manners and even at fifty-four years old, his mama's words still carried a lot of weight.
He was greeted at the gates by a nervous, but obviously happy groom and his miniature best man. Rodolphus pulled Rhys' hand away from his starched collar in a move almost identical to the boy's mother the night before. Both wizards smiled brightly at Antonin's arrival. Rhys rattled off a number of questions at top speed that Antonin found highly amusing. He would never be one to discourage a thirst for knowledge in the young. When he explained to Rhys how ancient runes were helpful in disarming the protective enchantments on an ancient burial tomb, Rodolphus forbid the boy from asking him anymore questions for the rest of the day. Reluctantly the boy agreed.
"Hermione is inside helping the bride get ready," Rodolphus explained without Antonin even having to ask.
"I assumed so."
"There are some refreshment tables set up in the gardens where the ceremony will be held. Please perform as little magic as possible. Many of Lizzie's relatives are Muggles."
Antonin shook the groom's hand and then shook his best man's hand. He felt a twinge of sympathy for the twelve year old boy. No doubt he would rather be just about anywhere else than receiving guests in the heat of the summer dressed in heavy robes. He crossed the expansive grounds at a leisurely pace. There was no reason to get in too much of a rush with plenty of time still left before the ceremony was set to begin.
He was surprised to see a number of guests already seated. A quick scan showed a heavily pregnant Reina Malfoy seated alone underneath a tree fanning herself with the wedding program. Antonin approached the large refreshments table to pick up two glasses of chilled pumpkin juice. Before he could get two steps away from the table, a woman he did not recognize stepped in front of him. Her eyes examined him from the top of his head to his feet.
"I would ask if you were here for the bride or the groom, but I can tell you are one of them."
Her tone wasn't malicious, only curious. Antonin felt suspiciously like a helpless fly being pulled into a spider's web. The stranger was an attractive woman in her early forties if he had to hazard a guess. Once upon a time he would've welcomed the attention. In that moment, however, he began to have disturbing flashbacks of Alecto Carrow.
"I'm Susan Fletcher, Liz's older sister," she declared. "Her older, more experienced, single sister."
The feral grin that crossed her unnaturally red lips unnerved Antonin greatly. Maybe he should not have shaved his beard off before he came. It usually served to keep him hidden.
"Pleasure to meet you, Miss Fletcher. Antonin Dolohov."
"Oh, so formal, Mr. Dolohov," she teased. "How do you know the happy couple?"
"I've known Rod most of my life." He didn't want to speak to the woman any longer. She was a predator if he'd ever known one. "Actually, I very much hope that one day he will be my father-in-law."
The woman's face fell at his last statement.
"The plain little child with the ridiculous hair?" She laughed. "You could do so much better. You look like the kind of man who could appreciate a little experience."
"Madam, in your case, I doubt I would be getting a woman with a little bit of experience."
She at least had the decency to look offended at his statement. He was glad. That was exactly how he meant it. How dare she insult his witch? She would never be a quarter of the woman Hermione was.
"You, sir, are no gentleman."
"And you, madam, are no lady."
The woman stormed away from him immediately. He hoped he hadn't caused a potential problem for later, but in that moment he was simply glad to be away from her. His eyes met a smiling Reina and he quickened his steps in her direction. He offered a glass of juice to the grateful witch.
"I thought that was you," she said gesturing to the empty chair next to hers. "When I saw that woman's angry expression, I just knew it was."
Antonin didn't even try to stifle his laughter at her remark. Reina smirked and leaned over as far as her extended belly would allow to kiss his cheek.
"We've all missed you, Antonin."
"Certainly you haven't all."
"What in Helga's name did you say to Liz's awful sister?" Reina asked, choosing to ignore his petulant remark.
"She insulted Hermione. I didn't care for what she had to say."
"I'm surprised you didn't curse her."
He shrugged his shoulders.
"Rod asked me not to use magic around his in laws."
Reina's loud laughter put a smile back on Antonin's face. He had always thought the former Miss Rowle was beautiful, but somehow happiness and impending motherhood only served to increase her beauty. He hated thinking charitable thoughts about Lucius even after so many years had passed, but he could not deny he was a very lucky man.
"She was over here earlier asking me all kinds of impertinent questions. She asked me if I was a witch and when I told her I was, she asked me if I knew the father of my baby or did I get pregnant in some kind of magical orgy around a bonfire to ensure a fertile harvest?"
"I no longer feel the tiniest bit guilty about implying she was a slag."
"Antonin, you didn't!"
Her laughter grew loud enough to attract glances from a few of the other early wedding guests. Antonin joined in when the woman in question glared in their direction.
"I told her that the father was my wonderful husband of almost five years. She demanded I point him out as if I was lying. When I pointed to Lucius standing over there talking to the Minister and Ryan Sloane, she huffed and said it was no wonder why women her age couldn't find a husband when all of the handsome men her age were marrying little girls just out of the nursery. Then she stormed off to accost you."
"I'm certain her personality has more to do with her being unable to find a husband. Pity she is related to Elizabeth. She seems so different."
"Oh, she certainly is. Liz is wonderful, but all families have those members that just don't fit in. It's not always negative though. Take Ophelia Nott. She is incredibly sweet and lovely, but nothing like the rest of her family. Charlotte and their parents are all so gregarious and confident. Felia turns bright red at any attention sent her way and I would keel over dead if I ever heard her raise her voice."
Antonin bit his tongue to prevent pointing out that Reina herself was an oddity in her own family. More than once she'd been accused of being a fairy changeling.
"Ophelia told me earlier how they all but forced you to stay in your old cottage last night."
"They were rather insistent. I tried to tell Hermione I would get a hotel room, but she refused."
"Everyone means well. We all want Hermione to be happy. Some of the ladies can get a little aggressive in their matchmaking."
"Hermione took it all in stride. Almost as if it didn't bother her."
"Don't let this hard exterior she's created fool you, Antonin. It bothers her, but she's trying to pretend like it doesn't."
He didn't want to ask his next question, but he knew he had to and he knew Reina wouldn't lie to him.
"How is she, really?"
Reina sighed. She didn't seem anxious to answer. His mind travelled to all kinds of disturbing places. He knew how difficult life had been for him since he ran away. He could only imagine how she was affected.
"She's different, Antonin. Part of it is because of a broken heart she hasn't been quite able to heal completely. Part of it is because so many were vehemently against her adoption. She lost a lot of friends. It changed her. My brother didn't help matters either. She claims he didn't hurt her and that she was relieved when he left her, but I'm not an idiot.
"Their relationship was extremely unhealthy, Antonin. Extremely. Toxic, even. It's wonderful that they are friends now, but there was seriously a time when I wouldn't have been surprised at all to find out they exchanged deadly curses and one or both of them were dead."
"She drinks too much. She tries to hide it, but she's not very good at keeping secrets. At least not from me anyway. Maybe I'm too nosy or maybe we're too close. I fear she spends too much time alone. Before I got pregnant this time, I made it a point to spend as much time with her as she would allow."
She placed her hand on her swollen belly.
"Because of my history, getting pregnant and staying pregnant has not been easy. This pregnancy is extremely high risk. I shouldn't even be out of bed, but my healer said it would be all right to attend the ceremony if I stayed seated and in the shade the entire time. My priorities of the last several months have had to be with this baby. I'm afraid I haven't been a very good friend to Hermione lately."
Antonin placed his hand on top of hers and gently squeezed it for reassurance. A stray tear or two slipped out of the witch's eyes. He handed her a clean handkerchief.
"It sounds to me as if you've been a wonderful friend, Reina. I'm exceedingly grateful that you've been here for Hermione. I'm only sorry for my part in all of this. I should never have left."
"No, you absolutely shouldn't," she admonished. "How long are you staying?"
"If she said the word, I would never leave again."
"Then let us hope she says the right word. You have been missed, Antonin."
Their conversation ended soon after when Lucius returned to his lovely wife because the ceremony was due to begin any moment. Antonin shook Lucius' hand like they were old friends. Just for Reina's sake he would be polite that day. As the music grew louder and more and more guests were seated, Antonin could feel his heart begin to pound. Would he always feel this way when he knew he was going to see her? Would he always remind himself he needed to breathe at just the thought of being in the same room with her?
Rodolphus and Rhys took their places at the front with the official bonder. Antonin's old friend was positively radiant with joy. He was both extremely happy and profoundly envious of the man. Elizabeth was incorporating a number of Muggle traditions into the ceremony that Antonin found fascinating. Little Maddie walked down the aisle with an equally serious Alison Nott. Maggie Rowle held tightly to her little cousin Lucy's hand while dumping fistfuls of flowers petals onto the carpeted aisle. Lucy Nott was too awed by her surroundings to remember she was supposed to be dropping petals too. A laugh passed through all of the guests when an exuberant Jake sniffed his way down the aisle with his ring bearer's pillow charmed securely to his furry back.
Antonin's chest constricted at the sight of Hermione in her bright yellow maid of honor robes. It was perhaps not the most flattering of colors with her complexion, but he couldn't help but marvel at how beautiful she looked. That horrible woman was insane. There was nothing plain about his witch. His eyes remained on Hermione long after the bride walked to the end of the aisle to meet her lovestruck groom.
Somewhere in the middle of the exchange of vows Hermione met his eyes across the assembled guests. He couldn't help but smile when he saw her cheeks flush slightly. She returned his smile with a small one of her own before turning her attention back to the ceremony. None of this exchange went unnoticed by Reina who flashed a knowing grin to her husband. Lucius smirked.
The ceremony was beautiful. Rodolphus and Elizabeth made a handsome couple. Antonin said his sincere goodbyes to the Malfoys once the guests were directed to the large white tent erected not far from the hedge maze for the reception. He spent the next few hours alternating between catching up with old acquaintances and sitting at a table in the dark corner just observing the action. Most of his observations were of Hermione to be sure. She was taking her dual roles of maid of honor and daughter of the groom very seriously. He wondered if she had stopped moving for longer than a few seconds since that day began. She greeted him once when he was engaged in a discussion about the number of times sixth year Hufflepuff prefect Elizabeth Fletcher caught first year Hufflepuff Ryan Sloane out of bed at Hogwarts, but she'd lingered only long enough to brush her hand against his elbow before running off to check on the cake.
Some time after the dancing began Antonin began to feel a bit antsy. He grabbed a fresh glass of whiskey and headed towards the hedge maze. A rather pleasant, if a bit frustrating, memory of an evening spent racing Hermione through the maze popped into his mind. He smirked to himself as he tried to remember how to navigate through the hedges. The closer he got to the center of the maze, the louder a quiet snuffling sound became. It was clear that someone was trying to stop crying and failing miserably. Ordinarily, he would turn to go in the opposite direction when faced with an upset female. Usually he didn't know how to help them. His instinct this time, however, was to keep walking towards the sound.
Hermione's yellow dress robes were bright in the enchanted lights within the center of the maze. She was seated on a bench with her back facing him. It tore at his heart to hear her crying again. He never wanted to hear that sound again. Hell, he never wanted her to even have a reason to cry. Hadn't she already suffered enough in her twenty-six years?
He remembered his mother's advice from long ago to always carry at least two clean handkerchiefs with him at all times because he might meet a young lady who needed one. Smiling at the thought, he removed his backup clean handkerchief from his pocket. His feet didn't make a single noise on the short walk to her bench. When he offered her the handkerchief over her shoulder, she gasped and spun around. Her shoulders sagged when she realized it was him.
"Thank you," she mumbled, removing the fabric from his hand.
"Are you all right, daragaya?"
Another sob stuck in her throat. Antonin rushed to sit next to her on the stone bench. Maybe if he'd given his actions more thought he wouldn't have wrapped his arm around the distraught witch to pull her to his chest. He had a nasty habit of always overthinking. That's how he let his remarkable witch go after all. Hermione sank into the embrace. He wrapped his other arm around her back to hold her closer. He couldn't resist nuzzling her curls with his cheek and his nose as he had done a thousand times before. The simple, familiar gesture only served to make her cry harder. He crooned to her in quiet Russian to help calm her.
Neither of them could be sure how long they remained seated on the bench in each other's arms. Long after her sobs ended certainly. When she finally pushed herself out of the embrace it was he could do to keep from pulling her back.
"I'm sorry," she whispered.
"You need never apologize to me for that, Hermione."
"You know, I thought I was doing all right. It's been six and a half years. I even managed to convince myself that I was over our past, but then you had to show back up here again and prove to me I wasn't."
So his suspicions about being the reason for her tears were accurate. He sighed. Would there ever come a day when he wouldn't continue to hurt the woman he loved?
"You just had to come back and put on my favorite robes and smell bloody fantastic and remind me that no matter how hard I try to forget you and move on with my life, I'm still not over you. It's fucking infuriating and I wish…"
He broke off her ramblings by covering her lips with his. The initial contact surprised them both, but the shock was over moment later when her lips began to move over his. She was the one to take the dominant role by invading his mouth. He literally groaned into her open mouth when their tongues touched. Somehow he'd forgotten how passionate a simple kiss could be. Her hands ran through his hair and his hands cupped her perfect arse as they snogged each other with six and a half years of pent up feelings. He was the one to finally break the embrace when his mind kept returning to the night they were both naked in the maze. If he didn't stop in that moment he was afraid he would lost all self-control. He never could think clearly around her.
"Wow," she said, carefully sliding off of his lap.
"My thoughts exactly, daragaya."
"At least we know we still have chemistry."
He laughed a loud, booming laugh at her statement.
"Of that there is no doubt," he agreed.
She rose to her feet, a slight blush across her cheeks.
"I should head back. Rod and Liz are probably leaving soon. They're going away for a couple of days. They will go on their proper honeymoon when Rhys is back at Hogwarts."
He watched her disappear back through the maze. After giving his body a few minutes to come back under control, he stood up, adjusted his robes and followed her same path to the outside. The reception was winding down. Many guests were already leaving. He shook Theo's hand on his way out. The littlest flower girl was fast asleep in her father's arms. Ryan wished him a good evening and Minister Shacklebolt was even magnanimous enough to shake his hand. The Rowles had already left some time when he was alone with Hermione in the maze. Only the Lestranges were left of people present he actually cared about.
Antonin plucked another glass of whiskey off a floating tray. His eyes searched the area for his witch. A short scan found her speaking in quiet tones with Rodolphus. He had concern etched all over his face and Antonin didn't even have to imagine the topic of their discussion. Rodolphus pulled his adopted daughter into his arms and kissed the top of her head. Within moments both were smiling and laughing.
"I know I don't know you very well, Antonin," Elizabeth said quietly at his side. "But it's easy to tell that you still love her."
"Yes, I do. Very much."
"She still loves you even if she tries to deny it even to herself. I love her as one of my own, so I fear I have to warn you that if you ever hurt her again, this mum will be your worst nightmare."
Elizabeth leaned up to kiss his cheek. They were joined moments later by Rodolphus and Hermione.
"I can't find Jake. Would it be all right if I left him here tonight?" Hermione asked.
"Of course," Elizabeth answered for her new husband. "We have a garden gnome infestation in the south corner of the estate. I imagine he's having fun there right now."
The newlyweds left their reception only minutes later. Antonin stood next to Hermione to watch them go. As soon as they were through the gates, Hermione yawned. She tried to hide it with her hand, but the damage was done.
"What time did you leave the cottage this morning?" he asked.
"A little after six," she mumbled.
"That's what I assumed. You must take better care of yourself, daragaya."
He grasped her hand in his and headed for the gates. She attempted to resist at first, but he was determined. Once they reached the gates, he wrapped an arm around her waist and Apparated them both back to the cottage.
"Now, you are going to take a long, hot bath and then you are going to bed."
She smiled at his authoritative tone. It was one she hadn't heard in years.
"And what if I don't want to do as you say?" she teased.
"Then I might have to follow you in there to make sure you do as I told you."
"Be careful." Her voice was low with just a hint of sultry. "I would probably enjoy that. I seem to remember quite a few enjoyable baths we took together."
"As undeniably tempting as that offer is, we should not rush into anything we might regret."
Antonin kissed the top of her head. He carefully turned her body away from his until she was facing the front door. With a light tap on her arse, he pushed her towards the entrance. Once they were both inside their former shared home, Hermione went straight to her bedroom with a sulking expression on her face. Antonin removed his outer robes and his heavy boots before lying down on the long sofa.
He must have dozed off because the sound of the master bedroom door opening jarred him awake. His hand was halfway to his wand when a vision in a plain, white bathrobe stepped in front of him. Antonin felt his stomach (and other parts further south) lurch the moment Hermione began untying the flimsy belt holding the garment together.
"I just spent a lot of time thinking in the bathtub just now."
She untied the belt. The garment swung open revealing she had nothing on underneath. Her hands reached up to tug the garment off of her shoulders. The robe pooled at her feet completely exposing herself to the man lying on the couch in danger of having a heart attack.
"I would be more likely to regret letting you go back to that cold, empty bed upstairs than I would regret inviting you into mine."
July 16, 2006
Antonin woke abruptly to the feeling that he was being smothered. Panicked at first, it only took him a few moments to realize he had inadvertently inhaled a great deal of Hermione's hair in his sleep. It was a hazard of sharing a bed with her that he'd forgotten over the years. With a contented smile stretched across his handsome features, he repositioned his arms to be full of warm, sleeping, naked witch.
The previous night still felt like a dream even if he was aching in muscles he hadn't used properly in years. In his wildest fantasies, he never imagined a night as full of passion as the night before. They were still awake when the sun began to peek over the horizon. He would have been content to lie in the exact same position for days.
Some time in the afternoon they were both awake and staring at each other. A bit of the magic from the night before had worn off. They were facing the harsh reality of their actions.
"What happens now?" she finally asked to break the silence.
"I really don't know, lyubimaya. What do you want to happen now?"
"I know that I still love you, Antonin. Very much. But I don't know where we go from here. Do we start over? Do we behave as if the last almost seven years never happened? What do you want?"
"Honestly? I could spend the rest of my life in bed with you and die a very, happy man."
"You hurt me, Antonin, and I'm afraid to trust you with my heart again."
He crossed the small distance between them to gently kiss her lips.
"I understand and I would never want to force you to do something you weren't sure about."
He ran his hand through her curls.
"Let's just enjoy this lazy Sunday," he suggested. "We won't think or talk about anything too serious. In the morning I will go back to San Francisco. You take an entire month to think over what you want. Do some research. Make some color coded charts."
"Then at the end of the month you tell me if you want a future with me."
"What if I don't?"
He kissed her softly once more.
"Then we will deal with that when it happens."
They spent the rest of that day ignoring the outside world and forgetting the past.
August 16, 2006
The month since leaving his old cottage in Cornwall was without a single doubt, the longest month of Antonin's life. Part of him wished that he'd forced Hermione to make her decision that blissful day they spent entirely in bed. He had zero doubts anymore about what he wanted. He wanted to marry Hermione, plain and simple, and raise a family in their beloved seaside cottage.
He was spending a rare day inside the bank itself on the last day of their month. Despite his best efforts not to, he was extremely distracted. More than once he had to start his diagnostic charms over again because his mind was elsewhere. Finally, when a large international owl burst into the bank, he almost succeeded in cursing one of his wizard coworkers with an extra pair of ears. The man thought it best at that point to assist another coworker with his mind on his work.
Antonin ripped the small piece of parchment from the owl's leg without delay. Offended by his abrupt behavior, the owl cuffed Antonin in the bead with his massive wing before flying off to find his own meal. His hands were shaking when he unrolled the parchment.
Please come home.
Three little words had never looked sweeter. He ignored his startled coworkers as he rushed towards the head goblin's office. Few had ever seen Cursebreaker Dolohov crack a smile before, let alone laugh out loud with an almost manic grin on his face. One knock on the door was all it took before Alguff bellowed for him to enter.
"Yes, Dolohov?" Alguff was always a goblin of few words.
"I wish to tender my resignation immediately."
Alguff raised a single bushy eyebrow.
"Have you found employment elsewhere?"
"No, I'm moving back to England today."
"Do you have another job waiting for you there?"
"Don't be foolish. There's a position open in the London branch. I was recently asked if it might be something you would be interested in, but I told them 'no'. Until today you've shown no interest in returning and the position involves almost no travelling. You would be working at least ninety percent of the time in the London branch during regular banking hours. I assumed you would not be interested."
A bright smile crossed Antonin's face. It would be perfect. Alguff narrowed his eyes to reevaluate his subordinate of five years.
"Should I floo London and tell them you will be there Monday morning?"
Antonin shook the goblin's outstretched hand and thanked him profusely. He hadn't even considered what he would do once he returned to his home. A part of him knew he wouldn't be happy living off of his wife's money, but he assumed he wouldn't have a choice in the beginning. Everything was fitting into place.
Only a few boxes needed to be packed from his flat. Very little of his belongings accumulated in California would be going home with him. He shrunk the boxes to fit in the pocket of his trousers and headed directly to the International Portkey office of the American Department of Magic. After a few forms were filled out and a few galleons handed over, he was hurtling through the atmosphere to his home.
Four hours maximum had passed before he stood in front of his front door again. He knocked once and pushed it open. The time was after midnight. He wouldn't have been surprised to catch her asleep.
He was only three steps inside before a tiny witch threw herself into his arms. They wasted no time in removing their clothes and recreating the moment they first came together on the floor of their living room. It was when he picked up his little witch to carry her to their bedroom that he noticed a slight green tinge to her complexion and a worried expression on her countenance. Immediately he feared the worst.
"I have something to tell you, but I don't know if you will want to hear it or not."
Surely she couldn't have been having second thoughts already? They had just had some of the most passionate sex they had ever had right there in the same spot they once had. Only this time there wasn't a senior Ministry official tied up in the cellar. He carefully set her back down on her feet.
"Hermione, what's wrong?"
She covered her face with her hands and burst into loud tears. If she was speaking English through her tears, he couldn't understand a word. Whatever was wrong was serious. He carefully pried her hands off of her face. Placing two fingers under her chin, he tenderly forced her eyes up to meet his.
"I hadn't been with anyone in so long that I didn't even think about taking a potion and remember everything happened so fast that night that neither of us even thought about casting a charm. And then the next day my mind was mostly focused on whether we should be together and fuck, I'd forgotten what you could do with your tongue when properly motivated."
Her babbling rarely failed to elicit a smile from him. She was so bloody adorable and he usually got to kiss her when she was in that form. Slowly pieces of what she was attempting to tell him began to fall into place. He could hardly breathe. If she was trying to tell him what he thought she was trying to tell him, then this would easily be the best day of his entire life.
"Lyubimaya, what are you trying to tell me?"
"This morning, after I sent you the message to come home, I got sick. I didn't think too much of it, but I've been feeling a bit queasy all day. I was scared that I was getting the flu or something and I didn't want you to get sick when you came home, so I went to St. Mungo's. A healer ran some spells and…"
She paused. He could hardly stand the suspense. Did she not understand what she was doing to his nerves? This was better than having to wait for Christmas morning as a child.
"And she confirmed that I'm pregnant."
He burst out laughing at the announcement. When she realized that his reaction was one of intense joy, she had a small smile of her own. Antonin pulled her body up against his and kissed her soundly.
"I didn't want you to think that I was trapping you or that I did this on purpose."
"Marry me, Hermione."
"Marry me! Right now. We can go straight to the Ministry and get married."
"Antonin, it's the middle of the night. And we're naked!"
The logistics of why they would need to wait made sense. He picked his little witch up and carried her to their bedroom with more care than he had ever carried anything in his life. They spent most the night alternating between making love and planning for their future.
They were married the next day in the Ministry of Magic with the bride's father and stepmother as the overjoyed witnesses.
April 13, 2007
Mikhail Harry Dolohov was born in the early morning hours on the thirteenth of April. Named for his two uncles that he would unfortunately never have the pleasure to meet, he was the spitting image of his father with only his nose proving he belonged to his mother. A large, extended family waited patiently for the arrival of little Misha. His doting grandfather and his enamored papa were reluctant to hand him over when anyone else wanted to hold him.
He was joined in fairly quick succession over the next few years by a sister that looked just like their mother, a little brother that looked just like him and a baby sister that resembled his Russian grandmother that none of them would ever get to meet. The unfinished rooms upstairs in their cottage were opened and no longer empty.
September 1, 2018
Antonin had been both looking forward to and dreading this day since the moment Misha was born. While he was anxious for his eldest to learn how to be a wizard, he was not ready to send him off to school. It had been a difficult week leading up to the day. His wife had cried in the privacy of their bedroom more than once.
Because the first day of September fell on a Saturday that year, there had been no problem ensuring that the entire family would be available to see him off. His grandparents had already promised to meet them on the platform that morning. Liz's daughter Madeline left Hogwarts the year before, but the Rowles, the Malfoys and the Notts all had children young enough to still be heading off to school with him. Antonin reminded his emotional wife of that fact repeatedly. Theo's son was even going to be in the same year. They were already close friends. It would make the separation from their parents easier.
When he finished dressing for the day, he exited the bedroom straight into the kitchen. Rosie was standing at the stove cooking up a feast for the entire family. He had come to an understanding with the ancient elf over the years. She wouldn't order him about in his own home and she was welcome to visit 'her babies' whenever she wanted. Hermione stood at the counter next to her favorite elf fixing a pot of tea. Even after twelve years of marriage his stomach filled with butterflies whenever he saw her. Especially when she stared up at him with a bright smile on her face.
He kissed her straight on the mouth to the general giggles and disgust of the children seated at the kitchen table. Antonin followed to kiss the curly head of his eldest daughter Livvie, then his younger son William's head and then finally his eldest. Misha was at that age when he felt that he was too old for affection from his parents. He was a young man after all at age eleven. Antonin ruffled his hair when the younger version of himself tried to flinch away from the kiss.
"Where's Mira?" he asked, noticing the littlest of the group was nowhere to be found.
"Your daughter is missing," Hermione answered with a smile. Their youngest was the child that was always in the most trouble. His wife teased him for being a bad influence. "Said that she was going to run away."
Antonin had a suspicion that he knew exactly where to find the five year old girl who reminded him so much of his mother at times it was almost eerie. There were times that she would look at him with an expression that was so similar to his mama's that he was almost convinced she was the first Mira Dolohov reincarnated. He stepped out into the back garden through the door that had been added in the kitchen years earlier.
He heard a rustling in his potions ingredients garden at the call of her name. Only a few strides of his long legs brought him to where the baby of the family was attempting to hide behind a tall plant. Antonin was familiar with her theatrics. He sat down on the bench on the edge of the garden facing her hiding place.
"Come out, kotyonok. We're all very worried about you."
A tiny, black haired head popped up amongst the plants. Carefully stepping around her papa's plants, Mira Dolohov slowly approached her father. Antonin reached out for the littlest member of his family the moment she was within arm's reach. Once she was settled on his lap, he dropped a kiss to the top of her head.
"Why are you running away, kotyonok?"
"I don't want Misha to leave."
Antonin snuggled his little girl tighter at his confession. He'd been so concerned over the past few weeks about how his wife and his son was dealing with his impending departure to boarding school, that he hadn't even thought about how it would affect his younger siblings. He was remiss in that, of course.
"Now that's not very nice of you, Mira," he gently admonished the girl.
Her dark brown eyes widened and shot up to stare into his almost identical ones. She didn't seem to understand how she wasn't being nice.
"Don't you want Misha to grow up to be a powerful wizard like your papa?"
She nodded her head.
"Then he has to go to school. That's where he will learn it all. One day when you are bigger you will go there too."
Mira laid her head on his chest and sighed. Antonin couldn't suppress his smile.
"I'm going to miss him, papa."
"I'm going to miss him too, kotyonok," he whispered. "But he will be home soon for Christmas. Think about all the stories he will have to tell you when he gets back. And you will have stories to tell him too."
She sighed again. Antonin kissed her head one more time before setting her back on her feet.
"Now, please go get whatever you hid over there in the garden."
Her eyes widened again. She still hadn't learned how it was that her papa seemed to know everything. Mira returned to her hiding spot. She had her hands held behind her back when she approached her father again. Reluctantly she showed him the stolen wand she had in her hand. It was one of those moments as a parent that he struggled to keep a stern expression on his countenance. He desperately wanted to laugh.
"Mira, you know that you are never supposed to touch someone else's wand."
"Yes, papa," she mumbled.
"Now come on inside. Rosie made breakfast and you need to return Misha's wand."
He remained in the garden for a few minutes longer to laugh at his youngest child's antics. In moments like that, he could hardly believe how different his life used to be. How had he spent so many years alone? It was encouraging for him to remember that he would never have to rediscover what that was like again. Wiping the laughter off of his face, he stepped back into this kitchen to enjoy the last family breakfast they would all have together for several months.
July 1, 2020
Reina Malfoy's prediction years earlier that it wouldn't be until the grandchildren of the Resistance members and the grandchildren of the repentant Death Eaters were born that the two groups would ever reconcile their differences turned out to be false. No one believed that the two groups would ever mingle while the original fighters in the war were still alive.
Not until Maggie Rowle disappeared for an entire week after she left Hogwarts at the end of her seventh year. Her family, especially her overprotective father, was worried about her. None of them knew where she could have possibly disappeared to. The worst was feared. Up and down the country, they searched for their missing daughter.
When she suddenly reappeared on her parents' front door with her new husband, a wizard named Frank Aberforth Longbottom, Britain's wizarding society witnessed a miracle. The two children of longstanding rivals fell in love while attending Hogwarts together. Neville's son left Hogwarts a few years before Maggie. They would sneak off to Hogsmeade without any of their parents' knowledge.
Charlotte Rowle and Hannah Longbottom understood that they would have to put their differences aside for their children's happiness. The two women formed a fast friendship, hoping their husbands might follow their example. Thorfinn and Neville could barely stand to be in the same room together. Insults were often hurled in each other's directions. More than once a family meal had been interrupted with flying curses from the recalcitrant fathers.
They managed to create a tentative truce two years later when their first grandchild was born. By their third grandchild less than ten years later, the two men were able to sit over a glass of fire whiskey without insulting the other. When their first grandchild left Hogwarts, they were finally on friendly terms. It had only taken forty years.
August 23, 2031
"Are you absolutely sure about this, milaya moya? We can turn around right now."
"You don't have to go through with this. You can come back and live with your mum and me."
"Are you sure he's good enough for you?"
Antonin smirked to his eldest daughter Livvie. She was glaring daggers at him. Even with her sour, annoyed expression he was certain that she had never looked more beautiful. They were standing at the end of the aisle waiting for the processional music to begin.
"You're only twenty-three, zhizn moya. Are you certain you've met all of the eligible wizards?"
"Papa, please. If you haven't talked me out of this in the past six months, you won't be able to now."
Livvie was every bit as stubborn as her mother. And just like her mother, she had also decided to fall in love with a man her parents did not approve of. Or at least her father did not approve of. Her mother thought Finn Malfoy was the sweetest wizard she'd ever met. It didn't hurt that he was the only child of her best friend Reina. Hermione had been overjoyed when they had announced their engagement. Antonin could only see every birthday and holiday for the rest of his life being spent in Lucius' company.
Truthfully, he liked Finn. He was the right match for his headstrong daughter. They would be excellent partners. He simply enjoyed teasing his daughter especially considering he couldn't believe she was old enough to be a bride.
Later that night when he was dancing with his wife to celebrate the second of their children to marry, he struggled to keep his emotions under control. Hermione understood all too well the moments he had infrequently. They were lingering effects of too many years spent having all happiness and joy sucked out of him from dementors. He struggled believing that his life was not a figment of his demented mind at times. Once he had a fear that he was still stuck in the freezing cell and his beautiful wife and children were not real, but simply something he constructed in his mind to keep the dementors at bay.
Hermione placed both of her slim hands on each of his cheeks. She forced his eyes to meet hers. Even with streaks of gray nestled amongst her wild curls, he had yet to see a more beautiful woman. With soft whispers of assurances, he slowly came back to himself. These moments usually only happened when he was experiencing intense joy. The first time it happened was only days after they brought Misha home from St. Mungo's. He stood over his crib and sobbed, fearing that he was losing his mind. Hermione had somehow understood exactly what he needed.
"I'm sorry, lyubimaya," he whispered, allowing her to wipe the tears from his cheeks. "I forgot there for a moment."
She leaned up on her tiptoes to kiss her wizard. He wrapped his arms around her slightly plumper figure. She was his anchor.
"You need never apologize to me for that, my love," she replied.
"It was a nice ceremony," he said, desperate to move their attention to something, anything else.
"Yes, it was. Our daughter is the prettiest bride I've ever seen even with the last minute adjustments we had to make on her dress."
He recognized her smirk as the one she had when she knew a particularly juicy secret.
"What do you know, my darling?"
"I know that by Easter you are going to be a grandfather."
So it was already too late to turn around when they were standing at the end of the aisle. At least three months late if his quick calculations were correct.
"I assumed Misha would give us our first grandchild."
"It's not a competition, Antonin. Babies come when they come."
"You're not about to spring some revelation on me about Mira next, are you? I'm not sure my almost eighty year old heart can take it."
Hermione giggled like the schoolgirl she hadn't been in almost thirty five years. She deftly maneuvered his form so he could see where their eighteen year old daughter, fresh out of Hogwarts, was dancing a little too closely to Hal Rowle. They were entirely too close, if Antonin had anything to say about it.
"He's at least twelve years older than her!"
"Twelve is a lot less than twenty-eight," his wife kindly reminded him.
"But he's a Rowle! I know Thorfinn is one of your best friends…"
"But is it not bad enough that Livvie just became a Malfoy? At least Misha married one of the Yaxley girls and Will is still dating Gregory's youngest daughter. I can support those relationships, but Mira Rowle? I don't like it."
Hermione leaned up to kiss her husband once more. Twenty-five years of marriage later and she could still silence all of his worries with a single kiss. He would fret about his daughters' abysmal taste in young wizards later. In that moment, he had the most gorgeous woman in his arms. He was going to focus on nothing else.
Author's Note: It is so bittersweet to finish a story I've been working on for months. It almost makes me want to cry. Hopefully, all of your expectations were met. I've loved this story immensely.
There are several stories I have in the works. Parolee and His Princess will be the story I focus the most on next. I'm already a little besotted with that one. I have a Hermione/Kingsley story outlined and ready to start soon. It is called The Minister's Secret. (I know, I know, it sounds a little strange. Just imagine Kingsley is Idris Elba. That helps me. Yummy!) Add me to your Author Alerts if you are interested in that or any of the about a dozen (literally) stories I have bouncing around in my head.
Thank you so much to everyone who has stuck with this story! Your reviews, favorites and follows have meant more to me than I can express!