AN: I'm sorry it is taking me so long to update. This period of the year is never kind for my health and makes writing difficult. Normally I just spend my days working and sleeping in spring...I hope my energy and muse returns quickly.
Now this chapter I have re-written seven times and I'm still not really happy with it. Once you have read it I'm sure you understand why I had difficulty writing this part of the story.

AN2: don't forget to review and let me know what you thought of it.

Hermione woke up with a jolt of fear and panic. While during the day light and the warmth of the Christmas decorations she had been able to forget about where she was. During her dreams however, she relived the nightmares she had faced in this house.

Even though, she was wrapped in thick blankets she felt cold and sweaty. Draco was sleeping in his own room because they decided it was better that his mother did not know about them sharing a bed. Draco feared that she would demand them to marry immediately. His mother was apparently a little old-fashioned in that aspect.

Now, however she missed the comfort Draco gave her. She needed his arms around her and his soft whispering to calm her down.

Unable to even close her eyes as the horrors would make themselves known behind her eyelids she got up and wrapped herself in warm robes Narcissa gave her. Perhaps a cup of hot chocolate or a large tub of ice-cream would take the panic away. Doing normal things usually helps.

She slowly made her way done to the kitchens. However, before she reached it she noticed the hall down that side of the manor. Maybe it was morbid obsession or maybe it was the need to find closure but soon Hermione found her wander down the dark and cold hallway.

The light of her wand left an eerie glow on the walls and the dark wooden doors. It was clear that the warmth that could be found in the rest of the manor never reached here. Everything was cold and dark. Even the soft hum of the magic felt dark.

She stopped at the metal gate that indicated the entrance of the dungeons. She looked down and notice a smooth concrete floor where there used to be steps. She wondered if Narcissa was planning on rebuilding this whole side or just leave it be. Clearly this was Lucius's side of the manor and perhaps Narcissa still held hope he would come back alive.

Taking a steadying breath she continued towards the room where they had tortured her. She remembered how it felt to being dragged through the door. She remembered the steps up to where the family was seated.

As she opened the door the steps were still there. A layer of dust covered them. The carpet was still there, the stains of blood still visible. There was a lot of blood actually. Much more than she had left there. It was clear that many were tortured after her.

She stepped into the room and coughed a little as the dust whirled around her head. Her feet took her to the place where her own blood stained the carpet. It was only when her knees hit the floor that she noticed she was shaking and crying. She lost the power in her legs and her wand fell to the floor. Only the moonlight lit up the room as she placed her head in her hands and crying out in agony. The pain of what she had lost her racked through her body.

Draco woke up with a jolt and looked around him. It took him a moment to realize that he was home and that the war was long over before he glanced out the window. The moon was still high and the skies dark. With a sigh he turned around to get more sleep. It was nowhere near the time to get up. The day would be long and he wanted to be well rested.

He tossed and turned a few times but couldn't find his sleep again. Something was nagging him, like there was something wrong. The feeling grew the longer he was awake. Worried, he got up and dressed himself in his winter robes. He figured that he was feeling such an unease because of being back at the manor and Hermione being here. The memories of her torture still lay heavily on his shoulders. He would check on Hermione just to ease the feeling away.

When he opened the door to her room Draco noticed that her bed was empty. Her robes and wand were gone. He took a quick look in the bathroom to ensure that she wasn't there but that was empty too. He wrung his hands as worry settled in the pit of his stomach.

Taking two deep breaths before turning around. Perhaps she was in the kitchen. Hermione had often confessed the need for hot chocolate or ice-cream when she couldn't sleep. She explained that it calmed her down and made her drowsy.

Draco's hurried steps echoed through the empty halls of the manor. His mother had thrown out all carpets and redecorated with light wood. It looked stunning but at nights like these he missed the silence of the thick fabrics. Every two steps he glanced behind him just to make sure nobody was there. After the seventh time he shook his head and let out a loud breath. Clearly, he wasn't there just yet.

When a few minutes later he arrived at the kitchen, Draco decided that when he and Hermione would get married he didn't want to live in a large house. Not even the Malfoy Manor. Perhaps Harry and Daphne would want it, after all it had been called Black Manor once. Or maybe one of his future kids. All he wanted was a small cottage somewhere in Scotland, something with a wide-open view and lots of lands for animals and potions ingredients to grow.

He slowly opened the door to the kitchen. Somehow he expected to see Hermione sitting there with a bucket of ice-cream happily talking to the elves. So it was a slap in the face to find the kitchen completely empty.

"Hermione?" He called. Perhaps she was in the pantry.

A small elf, Tissle, he remembered appeared, she looked very sleepy.

"How can Tissle serve master Draco?" The elf asked softly.

"I have been looking for Hermione, do you know where she is?"

"She is not in the kitchen, master Draco." The elf stated the apparent. "I has not seen miss Hermy since dinner."

Draco sighed and ran his hand through his hair. The more time passed the more worried he got.

"Can you locate her?" He asked and the elf nodded. At any other moment it would have been cute how the elf looked when she concentrated but now he just wanted to get to Hermione.

"Miss Hermy is in the master's wing, in the drawing room."

"What?" More panicked than before Draco wondered what had Hermione there in the middle of the night. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, Master Draco."

Draco nodded and ran out of the kitchen. He didn't even think about the fact that he would be entering a part of the manor that he swore he would never enter at night. He just ran along the cold dark corridor with only worry and panic on his mind.

A few minutes later he reached the door to the drawing room, this had been his father's room. The old bastard had always used it to entertain guests and show off his dark artefacts. It was a good thing his mother was a Black and knew more about the dark arts than even the Dark Lord knew, clearing out this part of the house had been hazardous, especially this room.

He stepped forward with fear and anticipation as the memories of this room wracked his mind. As he pushed the door open he let out a scream.

"Hermione!" He screamed.

There at the same spot, just like that afternoon, just like in his nightmares, just like he remembered he saw Hermione laying on the floor. Her body was shaking but she gave no sign that she heard his scream or was capable to react.

"Hermione!" He yelled again. This time she let out a sob but nothing more.

It took some time for his brain to get caught up with the situation. Once he did, his feet allowed him to rush to his girl.

"Hermione." He breathed as he pulled her in his arms.


"Yes, it's me."

At this she broke down and cried loudly. Draco sat down on the floor and pulled her onto his lap. He held her while she cried and cried and cried. Sometimes she would say something but he couldn't make any sense of her words. The times he did understood her words, he wished he had never heard them.

At one point she spoke about how she had wanted to die every time she looked at the scars on her arm. She screamed and cried about how dirty she felt for carrying a brand like that. She fought with him on how she couldn't understand why he would love somebody so spoiled.

Draco cried many tears as he tried to talk to her. His heart broke for the girl he had loved since he had been thirteen years old. His soul felt tortured as he only now realized how much pain Hermione had been in all this time. All her fears, her worries and her insecurities, they had eaten away at her soul and nearly destroyed the girl he loved.

When after an hour Hermione didn't show any signs in calming down, Draco started to realize that he was in over his head. She was so far into her despair that only talking wouldn't get her out of it. She needed more.

"Tissle!" He called. Hermione let out a scream as the elf arrived with a pop but quickly apologized with loud sobs and frustrated groans.

"Yes, master Draco."

"Can you get me a calming draught and a dreamless sleep potion."

"Of course"

The elf returned a few seconds later with two small phials of potions. He took the calming draught from her and carefully opened the potion.

"Hermione." He called out and she managed to look him in the eye. "Drink this for me."

She looked at him for a while, he realized that she was assessing the situation and if the potion was safe.

"I brewed this myself."

"What is it?" She whispered hoarsely. Draco let out a tiny sigh to see that even without the potions a little of the witch returned to the surface.

"A calming draught." He whispered. "Please take it."

It took another minutes of sobs before she accepted the potion and drank it. It was like a candle being blown out by the wind, suddenly all fight, all panic and all despair left her body and she slumped against him.

She was still crying but now it was soft and sad. Draco wasn't sure what had been worse, the screaming and fight Hermione or this broken girl. Again he couldn't help the tears that ran down his face.

"Oh Hermione." He whispered and pulled her even closer. "Oh, my girl."

He slowly rocked her back and forth to sooth her and himself. Down the hall he heard footsteps echoing towards them. When Hermione heard them too she stiffened and started to panic again.

"It's my mother." Draco said. "Tissle went to get her."

Hermione slumped back against him and groaned.

"I'm so sorry, Draco." She whispered. "So, so sorry. I shouldn't have gone here."

"It's alright." He whispered.

"No it isn't. I didn't even realize where my feet were taking me. It was like a nightmare. And this spot. Everything I lost here… everything we lost…" Hermione sobbed. "I'm so so so sorry."

"Nobody blames you, Mia." Draco said and looked up to see his mother entering the room. She looked younger and older all in one. Due to her long blonde hair, hanging loosely around her face she looked a lot younger but the worry and fear aged her rapidly.

Narcissa slowly walked towards them. She held her hands in front of her not to scare off Hermione.

"Darling, I'm so sorry for what happened to you here." She whispered. "I cannot begin to understand the pain you are suffering from it but please know that I will do anything to make you be free of the pain."

Draco kept his silence as he watched Hermione think about the words his mother had said. He knew that what had happened in this room has scarred Hermione in many ways, he also knew that his mother would always be associated with those scars as she always had been the perfect lady Malfoy to Hermione. An afternoon of Christmas merriment would not be enough to erase all negative thoughts Hermione held associated with all things Malfoy.

Deep down he always feared that he himself was included in those thoughts. It was one of his biggest fears.

After a tense few minutes Hermione turned to Narcissa fully and wrapped her arms around the kneeling woman.

"Thank you, Narcissa." Hermione whispered with a sob. Draco smiled as his mother returned the hug. She winked at him and held out one hand to him. When he took it he noticed there was something in it. She dropped a small box in his hand and winked again before returning her complete attention to the girl in her arms.

A little confused Draco glanced down. He opened his hand and saw a familiar small box. Though, while he recognized the box, he was very confused as to how his mother had gotten it and what he was supposed to be doing with it now. He had other plans, more special ones.

"Hermione, darling." Narcissa started to talk softly. "I couldn't help but over hear your break down. These rooms are charmed so as the mistress of the house I can always hear what is happening when somebody is in trouble."

Draco's head shot up and looked at the tired face of his mother. 'This room was charmed as well?' he wondered. He knew about his rooms and his mother's part of the manor but not these, surely not these. Not with all that had happened here…

Hermione seemed to be more concerned with feeling ashamed of her break down. She blushed deep red and looked down at her hands.

"There is no shame in your break down, Hermione." Narcissa said. "We all have them every now and then. War does strange things to our souls and hearts, we can't let all the pain it causes boil inside us. It will only destroy what ever good is left."

Hermione let out a soft sob again and Draco took her in his arms again. Narcissa sat down on the dusty floor next to them. It was the first time Draco had seen his mother sitting on a floor but he couldn't linger on it, his first priority now was to calm Hermione again.

"Hermione, I need you to understand that in no way those scars are diminishing your worth. Even those foul words Bella carved into you do not hold any value over your heart and soul. If anything, they show that you are stronger than anyone could ever imagine." Narcissa said softly.

"She is right, Mia." Draco whispered. "You are the most beautiful woman in the world, mind, body and soul. The scars you see as a brand only show how strong and pure you really are. After what Bellatrix did to you, after what my father did to you, you could have easily hated me for it all. Hell, you could have ensured both mother and I rot in Azkaban if you wanted too. Instead, you let yourself love me and accept my mother. It makes you so, so very strong."

Hermione sobbed against his chest, he felt fresh hot tears running from her face onto his skin.

"But I'm a mudblood, Draco! I'm everything you were raised to hate. Even my own body shows the truth. I will never be good enough or pure enough to stand next to you." She sobbed. "You should marry Astoria, she can be the perfect pure-blood princess. You do not deserve such a spoiled mudblood."

"Listen to yourself Hermione!" Draco sighed in frustration. "You were the one who explained to me why our world needs muggleborns, you were the one arguing endlessly about how blood didn't matter, that it was all red liquid. What happened to the girl stood up against our world's most foul pure-bloods with nothing but truthful words?"

Hermione didn't answer, she continued to sob and shake her head. Draco wasn't sure what to do with her. Normally Hermione would see reason after a while but somehow he feared that this break down brought forth every ounce of insecurity Hermione had ever held hidden inside.

He looked down at the girl he loved and wondered if she ever truly believed herself worthy of being happy. He remembered that from the start Hermione had always seemed to be working towards something else than her own happiness. It was either being there for him or helping Potter and the Weasel. He couldn't for the life of him remember her ever doing something that made only herself happy.

When another sob wracked through her body he vowed that he would do anything to make her truly happy, even if it was only for a few minutes a day. Tightening his hand around the small box he made his decision.

"Mia?" He whispered softly. "Look at me."

She shook her head again.

"Hermione, please." He begged and slowly lifted her face up so that she would meet his eye.

"I planned on doing this on Christmas eve but it appears you need to know how I truly feel about you." Draco whispered. He felt sick inside when Hermione paled a little. "I love you, Hermione. I have loved you from the moment you broke my nose. It took me a while to realize but the more I watched you the more I fell in love with you.

I hated myself for loving you at first, you were a muggleborn and I the pure-blood prince. You were everything I was told to stay away from but as we continued to meet and talk I started to question everything my father had taught me and found that you were right. Blood doesn't matter. Heritage doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the love I started to feel for you.

If I had been a Gryffindor I would have been brave enough to stand up to the dark lord and my father. I like to think that had I been brave enough I would have been able to kill Bellatrix for what she did to you. Sadly I wasn't, I will have to live my life remembering what has happened in this room.

However, I do not want to live the rest of my days without you. I want to grow old with you. I want to marry you, have as many children as you want with you, I want to live in a small cottage in the country with you and be happy. I want to spend every single moment of my life with you, trying to make you as happy as you deserve to be."

Draco moved a little so he could have some idea that he was kneeling in front of her. With one hand he opened the small box and revealed a ring. It was made of gold, there were two stones, one green, one red, which were surrounded by small diamonds.

"Hermione, please marry me. Please give me the chance to show you that you are worth every second of my life."

Draco counted the seconds as they passed in silence. He knew he had taken a huge gamble. Hermione in any state would analyse and re-analyse anything he would say or do. Something as major as this would be broken down in minute detail and analysed till it was as dry as parchment. Springing something like this on her in this state could go many ways and not all of them were as desired.

When he reached twenty-five Hermione blinked away more tears.

"Are you sure, Draco?" She whispered. Her free hand running over the scar on her wrist.

"Yes." He simply answered.

Hermione looked at him for a long time, she was searching for any sign of deceit. Apparently she didn't find anything because suddenly he was toppling backwards with his arms full of a woman's body and his face full of curly hair.

His lips were suddenly claimed roughly as Hermione kissed him with so much passion and adoration.

"Yes, Dray." She whispered after a few minutes of snogging. "Yes, I want that future as well."

Suddenly around them people cheered and clapped their hands. A little shocked, Draco broke away from Hermione to see Harry and Daphne standing next to his mother. The three of them were smiling widely.

Draco shook his head and returned his attention to Hermione. Her face was blotchy from crying and wet with tears but below it he saw a smile that he would forever remember.

He smiled at her and held out the ring. Shakingly she held out her hand and allowed him to place it on her finger. Once he let go of it there was a small glow of magic and the ring settled snugly on her finger.

"Now, only you can take it off." Draco whispered.

"Thank you, Draco."