Final Additional Scene has been posted if you haven't read it yet. I highly recommend you read that before you get any further with this chapter. It will hopefully answer some questions that might have arisen in the last chapter.
Author's Note: THIS IS THE FINAL CHAPTER! Can you believe it?! I can't. Thank you all so much for sticking with this story for so long. The encouragement has been so necessary and valued. This has definitely not been an easy journey and I'll admit that I almost quit half a dozen times when life got a bit stressful, inside the fandom and out. This has been a labor of love, and though it was cathartic, it wasn't easy. I hope you all enjoy the ending and that it meets up with your expectations.
Just a quick announcement - I will be taking a MUCH needed writing sabbatical after this. Definitely won't be posting for a while as I recover. But, don't let that worry you! My current WIPs on hiatus will be finished. I have lots of stories coming. Even an extremely ambitious story that I'll begin posting on January 1st. If you like quick updates and dark stories, you won't want to miss that one. Add me to your Followed Authors or Follow me on Tumblr if you want to keep up with what's coming. As always, I spend an embarrassing amount of time in the FB group The Death Eater Express. You can always find announcements and previews there.
December 25, 1998
Christmas Cheer flooded every single one of Hermione's veins, filling her with a happiness and warmth that she hadn't even realized she'd forgotten. Or, perhaps more likely, it was just the mass amounts of champagne moving through her bloodstream that was making her warm. There had been more reasons to celebrate with toasts that year than there had been for many years before. She would hardly empty her glass before it was filled again. Everyone gathered around Marjorie's magically elongated dining table was in good spirits. Not only was it the first Christmas since the final defeat of Lord Voldemort and the end of the war, two of their long-lost loved ones were back in their midst.
She had to frequently stop and remind herself to take a breath. As her eyes moved from person she loved to person she loved, she struggled with the worry and concern that something terrible was about to happen. One couldn't be too lucky, could they? She loved every single person in that room. Even Kingsley's cousin Sada. Despite her questionable taste in wizards and in best friends, she had the same piercing wit that all of the Shafiqs possessed. Except for sweet, simple Masud, of course. Katie's little brother had a lot of admirable qualities, but that certainly wasn't one of them. Not that it mattered to Hermione. She gleefully kissed both of his cheeks and tried to keep her uncharitable comments about the unrealistic toupee he was 'trying out' to herself.
Watching Rodolphus be completely in love with his small family threatened to burst Hermione's heart. She couldn't wait for next year when their little one would be present. That child would be loved and adored by so many people. Selfishly hoping it was a little girl, she looked forward to the new life, the fresh start the child represented. After so many decades of death and destruction, waiting for a new baby was a welcome change.
Her hand kept slipping under the table to grasp her wizard. Whether his hand or his thigh or even just the edges of his robes, she didn't care. All she wanted was constant reassurance that he was still right there with her. He'd been behaving the same way since her return. Neither one of them could get enough of the other. More than just toe-curling, mind-numbing, amazing sex, they just needed to know they weren't dreaming. Far from being annoyed by the near-constant touching, Kingsley ate as much as he could with his non-dominant hand just so he could keep his fingers intertwined with hers. It might be years before they could truly relax. Or, there might always remain that horrible bit of fear that the one they loved was only seconds from being ripped away from them entirely.
"Tommy wants to share a bottle of fire whiskey with us tonight, Little Witch."
Kingsley's whispered announcement surprised Hermione. She felt her eyes widen at the unsettling thought that he wished to continue their old tradition in the very place it began. After learning that Greyback had been squatting in the structure, she was tempted to burn it down.
"Not in the Shrieking Shack, I hope?"
"Of course not. I offered our living room. He doesn't want to be alone tonight."
"Ordinarily, I would say he was out of luck because I have some rather debauched plans for you, but I suppose we should make an exception."
He smirked and lifted a single eyebrow.
"What kind of debauched plans?"
"Never you mind, Kingsie. Your brother needs us. This will be his first Christmas without his wife and son. That can't be easy."
"Let's teach him the valuable lesson of self-reliance."
She slapped his arm with her linen napkin. It wasn't hard enough to hurt, but it did make him laugh. Several around the table watched their exchange with warm smiles. After so much loss in their world, it was refreshing just to see a couple in love. Hermione leaned over to whisper in her wizard's ear.
"Maybe I could show you a little of what I had in mind this afternoon. You know, so you're not completely out of luck."
Kingsley rose to his feet in seconds, pulling her up by the hand. She bit her bottom lip to keep from bursting out in loud laughter. He could be so simple at times. Highly respected Minister for Magic he was, but he was also a man. A man, who by his own admission, hadn't let another witch in his bed for three years at least. Truthfully, it was impressive that he had the stamina he did. As much as she liked to tease him about being an old man now, he certainly didn't act like it when they were alone.
"Hermione is very tired. I'm going to take her home."
"Tired?" Aberforth asked. "Are you all right, lass?"
Before she could even formulate a response to her dad, Kingsley made the excuse that she was still recovering from the time travel. Very few were convinced if the knowing smiles around the table were any indication.
"Tired from the time travel?" Andromeda raised an eyebrow and grinned. "And I thought you'd already had plenty of time in bed to recover over the last few days."
No one seated at the table misunderstood her innuendo. Not even sixteen year old Jack even if he did seem a little uncomfortable at laughing with his mother seated next to him. Hermione didn't care. Let them think what they wanted. She had Kingsley again and there wasn't a constant threat of being murdered by Lord Voldemort hanging over their heads. Greyback was still out there, but she didn't worry too much about him. He no longer loomed so terrifyingly in her nightmares. She'd been able to defeat him with a brick, after all. Next time, if there was a next time, she would be better prepared.
"Before you go, come with me, girl."
Hermione learned a long time ago to never argue when Marjorie Shafiq told her to do something. It was a waste of time. No matter what one might argue, she would have her way in the end. It was much easier to just comply with her from the start. With a small smile to Kingsley, she followed his elderly grandmother out of the room.
She was led down the corridor to the room that once belonged to Kingsley's grandfather. Masud Shafiq, the elder, enjoyed surrounding himself with thick, heavy books and curious artifacts. All of the stories she'd heard about him over the years made her believe that he was a fascinating man. He would have had to have been at least a little interesting to keep a witch like Marjorie enthralled.
"I'm glad you're back."
"Thank you, Margie. I'm glad I'm back too."
The two women had been in the same room several times since she returned to the present, but they hadn't yet had the opportunity to speak alone. Whatever she longed to discuss, it was clearly very important. Hermione worried just a bit what it could be. Was she going to berate her for all of her secrets? Was she going to try to guilt her with stories of how miserable Kingsley had been for so many years without her? She wouldn't have even been able to argue with the woman. Hermione knew. Each time she looked up to meet Kingsley's worried eyes seeking her out or found him staring at her when he thought she was sleeping, she knew. It would take time before they could even hope to get back to something of a normal routine. Maybe normal was an impossibility. They may have to just create a new kind of normal and hope that they remained happy.
"Of all of our family members, Kingsie is the most like me. He's brave and courageous to the point of stupidity at times." A wistful smile crossed her weathered features. "Oh, I could tell you some stories about my youth, child. Honestly, it's a bit of a miracle I survived long enough even to marry my husband and have my children. Your father would know all about that. He was usually the one who was egging me on."
Aberforth had been candid only a few times about what sort of hijinks he used to get up to with his oldest friend. It always warmed Hermione's heart to know that in a life that hadn't always been very kind to him, there had remained one constant: his friendship with Marjorie. They hadn't always been on speaking terms. Both of them were far too obstinate and stubborn to admit when they were wrong, but they each knew that when it really counted, when the other really needed them, they would be there without a moment's hesitation.
"I'm hardest on him because he does remind me so much of myself. Maybe that's not fair, I'd never claim it was, but it's the truth. He's also my favorite. Now don't go telling him I said so. The boy's got a big enough head as it is. Mr. Minister for Magic could do with a bit of humbling, if you ask me."
As Marjorie was speaking, she opened a drawer in the massive desk that took up much of the center of the room. She kept up her verbosity while she dug through what appeared to be mountains of unorganized chaos. Her true purpose for asking for a minute alone with Hermione was unclear. She pulled out a long, thin wooden box.
"Masud had an extensive collection. Of what, I'm not sure. He was always bringing home bits and pieces that looked like complete rubbish to me. Claimed this once belonged to Merlin or that once was touched by Rowena Ravenclaw. I suspect the peddlers just knew how to spin a convincing lie. He was always so trusting."
The wistful smile from earlier returned. There had been no question in anyone's mind that Kingsley's grandparents had been deeply in love. They had been fortunate to possess what so few others did. Almost as if remembering what she was doing, she removed the smile and shook her head. She opened the wooden box to reveal a remarkable dagger.
"This is one of the few items in his ridiculous collection that I think has actual value and worth. Now don't ask me what it's made of or what enchantments it has on it. I'm certain Masud told me all of that a long time ago and I nodded and pretended to be appropriately impressed, but I wasn't actually listening. He could blather on so when he was fascinated. All I know is that it was designed to cut through anything. And I do mean, anything, my girl."
Marjorie turned the shiny, polished dagger handle-first towards Hermione. Refusal of a gift was not only rude but absolutely not tolerated by the tiny, wizened witch. If she wanted someone to have something, they took it whether they understood the reasoning behind it or not. Hermione couldn't even begin to imagine why she would give her an enchanted weapon. What did Marjorie expect her to face when she walked outside?
"I want you to keep that with you at all times. Is that understood?"
All she could do was nod in the affirmative. It might have been an unusual Christmas present, but Hermione couldn't deny that it could have its uses.
"Neither one of us may be a Seer, but we don't have to be to know you're still in danger."
Hermione imagined running that blade through Greyback's flesh. The thought excited her more than it probably should have. Looking up from the dagger, she discovered Marjorie watching her with a curious expression. Before she could stop herself, the whole story of Greyback's attack and obsession came pouring out of her mouth. She wasn't sure why she felt the need to unburden herself after carrying it for so long. When she was done explaining how she'd gotten away from Greyback in London by hitting him in the head with a brick, Marjorie's thin arms were around her and they were both in tears.
"I always knew that whoever the fiend was that harmed you was dangerous, but I had no idea, child. As much as I hate to say that you were right in keeping silent about who hurt you, I know that your father and I would've been out there hunting him the very moment we knew. We might have been successful in killing him, but I don't like to think of our chances."
Keeping Marjorie's advice in mind, she slipped the dagger in the same pocket as her wand. Rethinking her choice, before she stepped out of the library, she moved it to the other. It didn't make much sense to keep all of one's weapons in the same place. With a final hug, she promised to do what she could to keep her grandson out of trouble.
Both Shacklebolt boys were waiting for her at the front door. None of them were in a fit state to Apparate and it was such a beautiful day that they made the decision to walk to the pub to use the floo. Thomas made the suggestion of picking up a bottle or two of Ogden's Finest from the cellar she couldn't argue with. Her dad wouldn't mind, especially if it meant keeping them at home away from danger.
"It'll probably take some time to repair that friendship. Assuming, of course, that Tony even wants to continue, but…"
The rest of Thomas' sentence was cut off by all three of them catching a glimpse of the single purple thistle charmed on the pub's front door. Greyback had never strayed far from his own special calling card. It was how he taunted her for years. There would be no reason for anyone else to even think about putting the same flower in a prominent place where she was sure to see. Hermione grabbed on to Kingsley's robes, terrified that their happy peace of the last few days was about to be cruelly ripped away. When the howling began, she felt her stomach drop and she was afraid she was going to faint.
"Tommy, you keep her in your sights at all times!"
Kingsley ran off towards the horrible sounds. Hermione tried to scream after him to stop, but nothing came out of her mouth. She didn't want him to leave her sight for even a second. Weren't they all stronger if they stayed together? What good would running off alone do? He really could be a reckless Gryffindor at times. They stood a better chance if they remained as a single unit. What sort of nonsense did Moody teach him in auror training?
Thomas was every bit as worried about his younger brother as Hermione was. He wasn't about to disobey the very direct order he had been given, but based on his fidgeting and how he moved from foot to foot, she could tell he desired nothing more. She knew that if she ran off into the woods she would be nothing but a hindrance, a distraction. Kingsley would focus more on her safety than he would fighting the werewolf. It could get him killed.
"Go after him, Tommy! I'll go inside and lock the door."
It was obvious that Thomas was hesitant to run into the woods no matter how much he wanted to. He'd already promised his brother that he wouldn't let Hermione get out of his line of sight. She had to repeat herself before he would finally listen. Watching him disappear through the trees was one of the most helpless feelings she had ever experienced. She longed to run off to battle with them, not sit at home safe inside. It was unfair that she couldn't fight. Sitting and waiting had never been her strength.
Realizing that she was alone and vulnerable, Hermione shook herself out of the daze she was in. Kingsley and Thomas could easily be running into a trap. She had to get somewhere safe until help arrived or they returned. Unfortunately, it was too late. Her hesitation left her feet rooted to the ground. When she tried to lift one, she realized they were frozen.
Only one person she knew of liked to freeze her feet to the ground. How many times had he done so over the years just so she wouldn't run away from him when he was screaming in her face? Antonin's temper hadn't improved with age. It had grown worse. After years in Azkaban, she knew that he would never again be the same person he was long ago when they were young. There used to be such hope for him. He could've made good choices and lived a completely different life. Maybe even been married with a family. His was a wasted life.
She tried to turn her head over her shoulder to get a look at her ex-boyfriend. Before she could see anything, a large being pressed their body against her back. A hand slipped over her mouth.
"Rules of the game have changed now that I can touch you."
Grasping at once that it wasn't Antonin holding her from behind, the spell was no longer necessary to keep her stuck in the same place. Fear ran through her veins, freezing her blood as it went. Why did no one realize they were running into a trap? They should have remained together.
"If you so much as breathe too loudly, I will kill any fool who tries to save you. Is that understood?"
Arguing with a madman was a fruitless endeavor. She knew he was serious. Telling her not to make a noise wasn't necessary, however. She wasn't certain she would be able to get her tongue moving if she could. Never, not even in the night he ripped her dress and forced himself upon her, had she ever felt so frightened and helpless. There were only so many times a person could be rescued in their lifetime. Had she finally met her quota? As she nodded her head in a promise to remain silent, the werewolf reached his hand into her pocket to remove her wand. Only when it was thrown away from them as hard as his supernatural strength could manage did he let her mouth go.
Greyback stalked around her stiff body to get a better look at her from the front. The same feral grin she could see when she closed her eyes at night graced his mouth as he hungrily eyed every centimeter of her frame. It was impossible not to see the bulge in the front of his trousers proving that he was finding the predicament she was in very exciting indeed. Bile rose up the back of her throat. Even if her father happened to come home right then or if the Shacklebolts came back out of the woods, it would be too late. He wasn't going to give up his prey. He finally had her right where he wanted.
The weight of Masud's dagger in her other pocket calmed her slightly. It was lucky that the beast didn't even think to paw at her to find any hidden weapons. At least with the dagger she had a chance. Without it, she was completely at his mercy. She longed to reach in her pocket to hold it when Greyback sniffed the air deeply, but she knew he would relieve her of it if he even suspected it was there.
"I do so love the way you smell when you're afraid."
"I'm not afraid of you, Greyback."
His amused chuckles unsettled her even further. How could a sound that was supposed to be a positive expression be so frightening? Bad things happened when Greyback was happy. The warped and delusional mind he possessed only enjoyed the truly heinous.
"You are not as clever a liar as you think you are, little girl."
Greyback reached into his own pocket. Her first fear was that he was bringing out a knife or some other weapon to make the next few minutes even more painful for her than they were already going to be. It didn't seem like him to want to use anything other than his claws or his teeth, but she couldn't be sure how warped he'd become in his recent isolation. Instead, he pulled out a filthy handkerchief that looked as if it had been trampled in the mud.
"I can always smell when you're afraid. You used to do a good show of hiding it, but I know. Intoxicating, really. I look forward to smelling it every day."
She feared even more that she was going to throw up the contents of her stomach. It had been a lovely, rich meal at Marjorie's and the champagne had been flowing freely. No longer the least bit tipsy, Hermione was sure she'd never been more sober in her entire life. He continued to stare at the foul rag in his hand with an amused smile. An involuntary gasp escaped her mouth when he held up a familiar silver chain. Using the handkerchief to keep from touching the silver, the beautiful locket Igor gave her once upon a time dangled in the air. When she had the presence of mind to ask Kingsley what happened to the locket, he told her that it seemed only right to give it back to Igor. Mesmerized by the manner it swung like a pendulum, she feared the reason why Greyback held such a memento.
"Did you know that the sentimental fool carried it with him at all times? I enjoyed killing him."
No one shared the details of how Igor's broken body came to be found in that horrible shack in the frozen northern lands. Nor did they seem to know who it was that actually killed him. She suspected that she was being spared from the worst of the details due to her past relationship with him. It saddened her to learn how he died, running like the coward she always knew he was. Like Antonin, he had every opportunity to make better choices in his youth. Perhaps he would've still been alive if he had.
Greyback enjoyed torturing her with the reminder of Igor's fate. He spoke in great detail of how he tracked the wizard down in some far off tundra. Because his older sister Sveta provided him with her own heart's blood to keep him protected from the murderous werewolf, she had to be dispatched long before he could hope to harm his target.
"Interesting woman, she was. Did you know there are actually women out there who want to know what it's like to be with a werewolf? They don't hide from us. They don't declare us diseased monsters. They actually seek us out, long to feel us between their thighs, beg us to fill them with our seed."
Igor's older sister had always had a dangerous fascination with monsters. It was sad, but not surprising to know that she held a great deal of interest in the carnal activities of the very beings she spent her life studying. Greyback described how he tracked her down, seduced her with hardly any effort, fucked her without mercy, and sliced her throat open with his sharp teeth while still buried inside her willing and compliant body.
"It was fun to taunt him about his sister. He was about as green in the face as you are right now. I told him everything, how she felt, how she screamed, first in ecstasy and then in pain, how her blood tasted. Fool was sobbing by the end. You've always had poor taste in wizards. They're all too weak, too emotional. I made his death painful. Painful and... long."
Tears streamed down Hermione's face, but she made no noise. She would always love Igor even if he had made some truly terrible decisions. They were not each other's futures, and yet, she would've done anything to save him from his fate. Time travel was cruel. To be a witness and be unable to do anything was agony. Igor deserved to have a better life than the one he ended up choosing. She would mourn him until she died.
All thoughts about Igor ceased when the monster pulled her against his body. His intentions were clear. She could feel how much he longed to complete what he attempted to so many years before. With no Ted Tonks to walk in on them and no villagers out to stumble upon them, she worried that he might finally get what he had desired for so long. Greyback took a deep sniff of her hair and ran his tongue down the shell of her ear.
"I checked for bricks this time. There aren't any around."
The monster ran his hands all over her body, touching where he pleased, squeezing what he liked. She stood in place completely frozen from fear. He slid his hands roughly through her hair, breathing it in as he went. Ripping at the collar of her cloak, he tore the fabric to reveal the bare flesh at the base of her neck. She gasped when she felt his teeth lightly brush over the sensitive skin. Replacing his teeth with his tongue, Greyback lavished the part of her body she knew he was longing to bite into. If he bit her, she wouldn't turn into a werewolf. Not only was it not the nighttime while he was transformed, it wasn't even the right moon phase for over a week. Was his final plan just to take her somewhere safe to wait until the Full Moon? She didn't like any of her options.
"You made me wait too long, little girl. I should've marked you that night I fucked you on the floor of the pub. I would have if it hadn't been for your little mate."
Greyback ran his tongue up her neck and over her ear. When his mouth was lightly pressed against the outside of her head, he continued his hateful whispers.
"I enjoyed killing him too. His bones broke so easily. His blood was bitter though. There's nothing better than the taste of a young bitch's blood. I look forward to tasting yours. And then, after you're marked, I'm going to taste the rest of you."
The disgust she felt swirling in her stomach at his promises renewed some of her vigor. Maybe she wouldn't be rescued from this, maybe she would be injured and possibly killed, but she would not just lay down and let him do what he wished. She would not submit. Not even if it took the very last breath out of her body.
"You'll never mark me, Greyback. I will fight you."
"And you will lose."
"But so will you. You will have to kill me first."
He tightened his grip on her body, pulled her harder against his chest. The low growl in the back of his throat should've terrified her, but she was drawing on a well of courage she didn't know she possessed. Greyback was so intent on touching her in a desperate assertion of dominance that he didn't even notice her hand slip inside the pocket she'd stashed Masud's dagger. All she needed was a single moment of inattention or overconfidence and she'd put the weapon to the test.
She got her moment only seconds later. Greyback turned his head towards the woods where the shouts emanated. Hermione put her fears that something awful was happening to the two men she loved aside. If she hesitated, she might not ever get another opportunity.
The dagger slid into the werewolf's belly like it was nothing more substantial than softened butter. Warm blood instantly flowed over the handle, coating her hand in the sickly coppery scented substance. She feared she would drop it. Only sheer determination kept her hold on it tight.
Greyback growled louder and more ferocious than she had ever heard him before. It took every last ounce of strength she had to not fall completely to pieces in her terror. He grabbed her and threw her to the ground. The sudden shift in position caused the dagger to slide out of his ruined belly. She held on to it knowing that to lose it would be to lose everything.
His sharp teeth clenched on to the flesh of her shoulder. She hissed in pain. The werewolf tried to subdue her with his bite and grab the dagger from her hands. If she lost it, she would be resigned to a fate worse than death. Greyback would consume her, body and soul. He reached for the weapon and before he could rip it from her, Hermione closed her eyes and pressed it into his chest. Fearing at first that the thickness of his ribcage would prevent the blade from making much of an impact, she almost sighed when the enchanted dagger pierced his flesh once more.
The unnatural scream that was ripped from her body when he tore great big chunks from her shoulder and neck in his last bit of rage sounded harsh to her own ears. She held on, holding the blade, pushing it further and further into the beast. The moment she hit his heart, she watched the fury and the fear drain out of his eyes. Afraid to let go for even a moment, she gripped the handle until her knuckles burned. With the last remaining bit of her dwindling strength, she pushed the dagger in until his lifeless body collapsed on top of hers.
She didn't have the strength to push him off or to move at all. Her eyes grew heavy as her head became light.
She thought she heard Kingsley call out her name as her eyes drifted shut and the thick darkness surrounded her, but she couldn't be sure. The sound was so faint, so far away. Even if she wanted to respond, her tongue was too heavy to move, her mouth too cumbersome to open.
Just as quickly as the darkness overcame her, it receded. All weights holding her firmly to the ground disappeared. She thought it all very strange. Hadn't Greyback just been sprawled on top of her, coating her with his cursed life's blood? She opened her eyes, afraid of what she would see.
When the Final Battle was over and she had a few minutes alone with Harry to hear his account of what happened to him in the Forbidden Forest, she remembered being fascinated by his visit with her Uncle Albus at King's Cross Station. The manner in which he described how bright and pure everything had been startled her. Was it possible? Did Harry truly have an experience with a loved one in a Heaven-like place moments after he died? It all seemed too fantastical to believe.
Until she realized she was lying in the pristine grass of the formal Lestrange Gardens. Except… except she wasn't exactly. No matter how hard he tried, her Uncle Regnault had never been able to sculpt his beloved gardens into such perfection. If she could have crawled inside Regnault's brain to see his desire and vision for his grounds, he wouldn't have been able to imagine such beauty.
Carefully sitting up, she discovered the searing, debilitating pain she'd felt where Greyback's mouth ripped flesh and blood was gone. She brushed her fingers against the area. There was no mark of his brutality. She pulled up her sleeve. Bellatrix's reminder of her lack of purity was gone. A quick look down the collar of her robes proved Antonin's scar was gone as well. As far as she could tell, her body carried no physical reminders of the pain she endured in her lifetime. How could that be?
An outstretched hand appeared in her direct vision. She thought she was alone. There hadn't been any sounds or indication that she wasn't. Afraid to take the hand at first, Hermione looked up straight into the smiling, handsome face of Regnault Lestrange. Much like her body no longer carried the marks of her life, neither did his face. He looked almost as young as Rodolphus was the day they first met.
She felt tears of a different sort from earlier in the day burn in her eyes and threaten to roll down her cheeks. Without hesitation, she gripped her uncle's hand and allowed him to lift her to her feet. Her arms were around his middle in moments. He wrapped his around her back, squeezing her tightly.
"My darling girl!"
Neither of them said a word for longer than a minute or two. Somehow, though, she got the impression that time didn't mean as much where they were as it did where she came from. Maybe an entire lifetime could take place in the span of single breath. Or maybe generations would come and go before anyone noticed she was missing. She was afraid to speak, afraid to break the enchantments of the peaceful place they stood. But, as was always the case when she was alive, her curiosity got the better of her.
"Am I dead, Uncle Regnault?"
"Not quite, but you will be very soon."
She thought for a moment that she heard her name shouted again. The noise was faint, just barely audible really.
Fearing that she wouldn't have much time, she poured out the concerns of her heart that had been a constant burden for her since she arrived in the past. As she confessed and begged his forgiveness for lying to him about who she was, Regnault only squeezed her tighter. His lips brushed the top of her head. He hadn't been so affectionate when he was alive. She mourned for the loss of the man he could've been without the social constraints he imposed upon himself. Maybe their home would've been filled with more laughter, more children, more joy. It seemed a pity that one didn't learn what was truly important until it was too late.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, my girl. I could not love you anymore than if you did have Lestrange blood in your veins. Blood, as you taught me, means absolutely nothing. Oh, Hermione, I missed you so much."
Sobs tore through her chest at her uncle's vulnerability. She wished she had known this man. They could've taught each other so much more.
"I never wanted to leave you, Uncle."
"Shh, my darling. Of course you didn't. I confess I went a bit mad when I couldn't find you and that blasted tapestry couldn't tell me if you were alive or dead."
"I'm so sorry you were alone."
Regnault hugged her tighter as if he never wanted to let her go. Part of her didn't want him to. Wherever they were was peaceful, quiet. In the background she continued to hear her name being shouted, but it was grower fainter and fainter.
"Is this a good place?"
Her uncle pushed her carefully back from his chest with a bright smile. He nodded and began to tell her about all of the people they knew and loved that were there too. Sollie and little Elanor. His sister Roesia. His little daughter. So many.
"Do I have to stay?"
"You will find peace here. No one would blame you for wishing to stay. You've been through so much, my girl."
The shouting of her name began to grow louder. It sounded more and more like Kingsley. Was he there with her too? If he wasn't, she didn't want to leave him again. He had already suffered so much.
"I promised Kingsley I wouldn't leave him."
"He will grieve, but he will understand."
"Hermione! Hermione, please!"
She shook her head. It wasn't fair. He'd been so lonely. She couldn't bear to be the reason why he slept in an empty bed again.
"No, I can't do that to him. He's been through too much."
Regnault smiled. As he kissed each of her cheeks, he promised her that they would all be waiting for her when she was ready. He hoped that she had a long and happy life. Hermione hugged her uncle. When she closed her eyes, the heaviness and the pain returned.
With the last bit of her remaining strength, she opened her eyes to see Kingsley sobbing. No longer shouting out her name, he'd given up hope. Somehow, she summoned up enough to lightly touch his cheek. He immediately stopped and stared at her with wide, unblinking eyes.
"Kingsie, it hurts so much."
She closed her eyes, afraid that she was going to faint from the unbearable pain coursing through her entire body. Kingsley's voice barked out orders. She heard other voices nearby. Someone made her drink a potion and the world turned black again.
December 28, 1998
A strong hand clamped down on Kingsley's shoulder in a show of support. Startled, unaware even that there was anyone else in the room, he looked up to meet the concerned, twinkling blue eyes of Aberforth Dumbledore.
"Son, you can't keep doing this to yourself. You need sleep."
It was an argument eerily reminiscent of the last time he kept a faithful vigil by the side of his witch's hospital bed. He sighed, unable to summon up enough fight in him to argue. He was exhausted. If he was completely honest with himself, he'd been afraid to sleep even before Hermione was brutally attacked and almost killed by Greyback. He kept fearing he would discover everything had been one horrible nightmare interspersed with too few moments of bliss.
"What if she wakes up and I'm not here?"
Aberforth squeezed his shoulder again. The wizard had been such a constant support through the entire miserable ordeal that Kingsley genuinely did not know what he would have done without him. He'd been the first person after him to arrive on the bloody scene. An unsettling in his gut made him leave Kingsley's granny's house earlier than planned. As the Minister was threatening to fall completely apart, Aberforth took control. Though he had to have been just as afraid that they were going to lose their girl, he'd called on his seemingly endless reserves to be a comfort. From the moment she was rushed to St. Mungo's, Aberforth hadn't been far.
"Do you think any of us are going to let that precious girl be alone for even a second? If you're not here, I will be or Rodolphus or Margie or half a dozen others who love her. Go home."
Hermione's team of world-class Healers, no expense spared for a member of both the Dumbledore and Lestrange family, of course, promised Kingsley that Hermione was going to be all right, but he was afraid to trust them. He wanted to be where he could always see her with his own two eyes. Aberforth would not take 'no' as a suitable answer. He reminded Kingsley that Hermione was healing. The last thing she needed was to wake up and start worrying about his health.
With a final kiss to her forehead, Kingsley reluctantly left the hospital room that had been the entirety of his world since Christmas Day. Before he left to get some sleep, he made the decision to travel down the corridor first. Only steps away from Hermione's door he could hear loud laughter and an animated speech. He stopped to stand in the doorway, unable to fight the smile that appeared.
Tommy was entertaining his son and his partner with some ridiculous story from his younger days. When no one was sure that his older brother's battered body would survive the curse he took on his younger brother's behalf, Big Dean had gone straight to Ireland to tell Little Dean about his father's unexpected return and possible departure. Kingsley decided for the dozenth time or so that their family was going to have to think up a better method of distinguishing the two. Little Dean was every bit as tall as Big Dean and could possibly have another growth spurt left in him.
Little Dean didn't hesitate to come back when he heard the news. He'd been by his father's side all along. Seamus had been close by too. He often wandered between rooms to give Tommy and Dean time alone. Kingsley found him to be a great comfort. He liked him immensely. Even his granny had taken to him. She loved to point out with a laugh that the Gryffindors were finally outnumbering the Ravenclaws in their family.
As he finished up his tale, Tommy caught sight of his little brother and invited him inside with a wave of his hand. When he asked about Hermione's condition, both Dean and Seamus excused themselves from the room to give them some privacy. Kingsley's chest tightened when he saw Little Dean lean over the bed to hug his father. He knew they still had a long way to go, but their progress was encouraging.
Tommy watched the young wizards leave the room with a pleased grin. He hadn't been able to stop smiling since he woke up in the hospital with his son seated next to the bed. Seamus had been an added bonus. To know that his son was so loved and cared for warmed his heart. Still looking out in the corridor, Tommy perked up.
"Kingsie, look out there."
Curious to know what had his brother suddenly so interested, Kingsley turned to see his father standing in the middle of the corridor speaking with his main Healer. If emotions hadn't been so high when his girlfriend and brother were both brought into St. Mungo's barely clinging to life minutes apart, it might have been awkward to discover that his ex-girlfriend Roxanne Johnson's mother was in charge of Tommy's care. Healer Johnson was a well-respected Healer in her mid to late sixties.
"She's pretty, isn't she? Old girl's still got it after all of these years."
Kingsley felt his brow wrinkle up. He couldn't begin to understand what Tommy was getting at.
"She's a little old for you, don't you think?"
"Not for me, you eejit. For Dad. He's been alone too long. Mum wouldn't be happy."
Their granny chose that exact moment to reenter the hospital room.
"No, she wouldn't. I've been telling Dean that for fifteen years! Katie would hex him if she knew he'd been moping about so long."
Tommy gestured to the two standing in the corridor with his hand.
"What do you think of her, Granny?"
She stared for several moments before nodding her head once. Each of her grandsons knew her well enough to know when she was pleased.
"I think I should invite her over for dinner to thank her for taking such good care of you."
Kingsley rolled his eyes when he saw the conspiratorial grin on each of their faces. Neither one of them even stopped to consider the ramifications of their actions. What if they were successful? Would he have to welcome his old girlfriend into the family as his new sister? When he brought up that valid point, they both told him that there were more important things than his comfort. Knowing that they wouldn't give up an idea once they had their minds firmly set on it, he rolled his eyes a second time and made his excuses. They continued their scheming without him.
If he was truthful, he liked the idea of his dad being with someone again. Being alone was difficult. He had more than enough of it and it wasn't even as though he was as faithful to Hermione's memory as his dad was to his mum's. His dad deserved some happiness again. Deserved the attention of a woman who cared about him. If his brother and granny's scheme was successful, he would learn to live with Roxanne being an unconventional part of his life once more. Besides, there were other wizarding families with much more convoluted family trees than theirs.
The closer he got to the main reception area on the ground floor, the more his fatigue threatened to overcome his body. For days he hadn't even allowed himself the thought of walking away, but now that he had, he was longing for his sofa. Sleeping, even for a couple of hours, alone in the bed he shared with Hermione was out of the question until she was lying next to him again. A few hours of rest was all he needed to keep going.
Only a few meters from the main entrance to the hospital, Kingsley was surprised to see Silas and Hestia enter. His other ex-girlfriend smiled the moment she saw him and rushed across the room to hug him. She told him how happy she was to hear that Hermione was back in his life. It couldn't have been easy for her to say such words, he knew. It must have hurt her just a little. He hadn't exactly been easy to live with.
Seeing Silas with her again made Kingsley happy. Neither of them were ever far from the other even when they were in the midst of one of their infamous rows. Kingsley shook his hand and asked if all was forgiven again. Before he had a chance to respond, Hestia rolled her eyes and smiled.
"I'm still a little annoyed he lied to me all of these years, but I suppose I can understand why he did." She ran her fingers through Silas' hair. "He does look better with black hair, doesn't he?"
"We wanted to check on Goldie and Tommy," Silas said with a pleased smirk.
"And we wanted to make sure you weren't neglecting yourself, silly man."
The Minister assured his old friends that he was all right and on his way home to take a much needed nap. Silas took Hestia's hand and they walked towards the lifts. He wondered if now that Silas had something to offer her, a good family, his real name, if he might finally marry her. Everyone could see how crazy about each other they'd always been. But, he knew that marriage wasn't everything. Two people could still share their lives and be in love without being married. He slipped his hand into the pocket of his robes. Of course, he thought marriage would be nice.
Outside the building, the fresh air revived him slightly. Knowing that he needed to check on a few matters before he could completely relax, Kingsley Apparated to the Ministry. Even though it was mid-morning on a Monday, the building was largely quiet. Many Ministry officials were still enjoying their holiday with their family. If he hadn't been unable to think about anything beyond what was happening in the bed inches away from him where his entire life rested for the past few days, he might have been one of them too.
His assistant Gemma was surprised to see him enter. She was friendly, but certainly not as friendly as she had been in the past. The papers were filled with numerous accounts of Hermione's return. She now finally understood that she had no chance with the Minister. He thanked her for the promise of tea before shutting himself up in the office to review what he'd missed in his absence.
News that the Minister for Magic was on the premises must have spread quickly amongst those poor sods consigned to duty that day. He was nowhere close to making even a dent in the official reports laid across his desk when Auror Iain Proudfoot entered the office. Even if he hadn't been carrying news that personally affected Kingsley and his family, he would've always been welcome to sit across his desk for a friendly chinwag.
Iain brought updates of everything that had happened while his boss was worried that he was going to lose both his brother and the love of his life… again. Because he was already an escaped fugitive from his time between the wars, there had been no need to have a trial for Dolohov, but it was agreed that it would be best to get official statements from everyone involved. Just in case some soft-hearted official got it inside their mind sometime in the future to begin pardoning convicted Death Eaters. Antonin Dolohov's crimes were far worse than the most ordinary of the followers of the Dark Lord. It was imperative that a record be kept.
"I'll come by your office tomorrow to give mine. Tommy is awake and talking. Quite a lot actually." He chuckled thinking back on how determined his loved ones had been to meddle in romantic affairs that were not their own. "He won't be released for several days."
Iain promised to drop by St. Mungo's to interview him.
"How is Hermione?"
Kingsley sighed. His old friend was far from the only person who'd asked him that very question over the previous few nightmarish days. At least he was pleased to report that she was mostly all right. The bite caused a great deal of blood loss, but that was easily fixed with several doses of blood replenishing potions and lots of rest. Because the bite happened when Greyback was not transformed and it was not a Full Moon, she wouldn't have to worry about becoming a werewolf. Much like Bill Weasley, she likely would have a change in her steak preferences and perhaps a few other quirks that she would discover as time went on. The scar on her shoulder and the base of her neck was every bit as painful looking and hideous as the scratches on Tommy's face. They would both have to simply learn to live with them. To Kingsley, the marring of her flesh was a small price to pay for her life. She would wake up.
"Her statement can wait. When she's better, give me the word, Kings."
He nodded in agreement. There was no sense in dredging up unnecessary trauma before she was ready. Iain gave a further report of his activities of the days leading up to and after Christmas. Convinced that Dolohov was somehow connected with Greyback, he'd attempted to track the werewolf by watching the Death Eater's movements. Despite there having been a Ministry investigation of his late father's home and there being no evidence that he had been anywhere near the structure at any time since before his first arrest, Christmas morning he'd made an unexpected visit. He continued on with the details that he'd discovered in his private investigation that led them both to believe that Greyback and Dolohov had been partners in their crimes.
Dolohov hadn't been well since his arrest. Convinced that he'd killed his best friend, he had slipped even further into the madness that had already taken over his entire being years earlier. There was nothing left of the wizard he'd once been in another lifetime. Locked up inside the brokenness of his mind, no one had been in a rush to relieve him of the guilt. When Iain asked Kingsley if it was all right to tell him that Tommy was going to survive, he reluctantly gave his permission. As much as he loathed and despised the man, he couldn't in good conscience let him continue to believe he'd murdered the only person who ever truly loved him in spite of all of his sins. The guards at Azkaban had been forced to keep him separate from the other prisoners out of fear for his safety and for theirs. Iain didn't expect the man to be a problem for much longer.
Just as he was finishing up his report, Gemma walked into the office with an urgent message for the Minister. She smiled at Iain, but he hardly noticed her existence. The entire exchange was witnessed by the exasperated Minister. He started to open the message and stopped himself to be rather blunt with his friend.
"Iain, mate, it's time that you moved on. Dorie was a special woman and we all loved her, but you can't spend the rest of your life pining after a ghost. Trust me. I should know. Ask Gemma out."
"I don't know, Kings."
"No, it's an order. Ask. Her. Out."
Kingsley ripped open the note. It was from Aberforth. There was no time for a nap. Hermione was awake.
December 31, 1998
Nothing that Kingsley said would convince Hermione that they should stay home. Absolutely nothing. It didn't matter that she had only just been released from St. Mungo's the day before with strict instructions that she not overexert herself. Nor did it matter that everyone in the village was going to be badgering her for details of not only her travels through time, but of how she singlehandedly murdered the fearsome werewolf with her bare hands. Or, rather, a dagger in her bare hands. She wasn't going to miss Margie's Hogmanay party for anything. If ever there was a time to celebrate the dawning of a new year and the promises of a better world with it, it was then.
Kingsley threatened to tie her up just to keep her home, but they both knew he didn't actually mean it. He would've pulled the moon down out of the sky if she desired to possess it. Although she was well aware that his overly compliant mood wouldn't last forever, or likely beyond the next Tuesday, Hermione was going to take advantage of it while she could.
Everyone who lived in Hogsmeade and countless others who didn't were already crammed inside Margie's house when the couple arrived. Kingsley had only agreed under the condition that they show up late so as not to overtire the recent patient. In the crush of guests celebrating the first year in many, many years when the threat of Voldemort no longer hung over their heads, they spotted Thomas in the middle. He'd checked himself out of the hospital against Healer's orders… again, and Hermione didn't waste a moment calling him a stubborn fool.
"I told my Healer that I haven't missed a single Hogmanay party at my granny's my entire life."
"And she let you go?" Hermione was skeptical.
"Oh, no, she's still quite furious with me, but I did get her to agree to come tonight. You know, keep an eye on me."
He winked and gestured across the room to where his Healer was standing with his father laughing. Hermione had been on board with the plan to set Big Dean up from the moment she heard of its existence. It didn't even bother her that her path might have cross Kingsley's old girlfriend's on a regular basis if it succeeded. Small price to pay for Dean's happiness. No one should be forced to spend the rest of their life in an empty bed.
Their conversation turned to the topic of Gracie. Thomas was ill at ease from the start, but he knew Hermione well enough to know that she wouldn't leave him alone until she had the details. She loved him and was worried about him.
"It was all very bizarre, Hermione. I don't even know how to adequately describe it."
Dean brought his mother to St. Mungo's a few days after his arrival. There had been a lot to discuss and yet, no way to truly explain what happened. Witches and wizards struggled to understand the concept of time travel. What hope did a Muggle have? And, to add in the fact that Thomas had willingly and knowingly abandoned his family, there had been a great deal to apologize for. By the end of their conversation, he and Gracie had been friendly, but he absolutely wouldn't blame her for not wanting anything to do with him in the future. She was happy with her husband and the life she'd created with him. Thomas was only a complication.
To lighten up what had become a depressing and serious cloud over their corner of the festive party, Hermione slyly pointed out the front door where a couple of new arrivals had just entered. Xenophilius and Luna Lovegood wore matching robes of a garish purple that somehow only endeared them further to Hermione. She might never understand either of them, but she liked them. Her time in the past had given her a new appreciation for interesting people. Thomas was surprised and by the looks of his bright smile, pleased.
"I might have suggested to Margie that she send them an invitation. She's still entirely too young for you, you know."
"I'm aware. I'm only interested in a friendship. If in a few years when she's older and I'm hopefully ready to move on from Gracie, we will see what happens."
The rest of the evening was enjoyable, if it was also a bit exhausting. Everyone had been kind to Hermione and extremely curious. No matter how many times she brushed off someone's inquiries about how she'd defeated the werewolf, the questions kept coming. It angered her by the end. Could she not have a few days to process what had happened? Would her name always be linked to the monster's? Would she never have peace?
Just before midnight, she was grateful for Kingsley's hand slipping into hers. With a quick kiss to her lips, he led her out the front door to the snow-covered garden. Thomas and Andromeda were already waiting for them with glasses of champagne and tiny pieces of parchment. When she realized her best friends were wanting to recreate the New Year's tradition they always shared with Antonin, her first instinct was to leave. But, even Kingsley had to finally agree that it was an interesting custom and perhaps it wouldn't be a terrible idea to try to remember some of the joy she once had with the man who no longer existed. She kissed him, once again surprised by how mature her Kingsie had become in her absence.
As they waited for the hour to strike and the new year to begin, Hermione looked around at all of her loved ones gathered near. Andromeda reached for Thomas' hand to hold during the countdown. Though their personal situations were very different, they were both spending their first New Year's alone without their spouses. Perhaps they could be a small comfort to each other in those few seconds when the world seemed so full of promise and excitement for those in love. Having a good friend meant never having to go through the hard moments alone.
Rodolphus and Mafalda had eyes for no one else in the entire world but each other. Hardly able to keep their hands off of each other, Hermione adored seeing them so happy. They both deserved a happily ever after. She caught Aberforth's eye when she looked away from her cousin. He stood next to a smiling Pomona Sprout, his hand resting on her waist. She adored her adoptive father and hoped that he too was on his way to finding the joy he should've had his entire life.
Margie somehow managed to push her son-in-law into a dark corner with Healer Johnson. If the couple was even aware of the blatant manipulation, they didn't appear to mind. Hermione had to laugh when the tiny, smirking witch pointed to the sprig of mistletoe she'd enchanted to hang over their heads. Perhaps her trick would work just as well on them as it had with Kingsley and Hermione.
When midnight came, Hermione's chest felt tight with an overpowering influx of emotion. Joy raged with sorrow. Fear mixed with hope. Love fought hate. She wasn't sure what was happening. Not wanting to lose any semblance of control in front of such a large crowed, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was the last one of the quartet to drink her champagne laced with ashes of her wish for the upcoming year. The taste was still heavy on her tongue when her wizard kissed her again.
"What did you wish for, Little Witch?"
She wasn't sure that she even believed in the Muggle superstition that telling someone a wish would make it impossible to come true. Tempted to remain silent, she was helpless when a curious Kingsley kissed her a second and a third time. There wasn't much she wouldn't do for him, including risking the loss of her wish.
"I wished for nothing more than a quiet life with you in it with me."
"That's exactly what I wished for too, Little Witch."
"A life with no more secrets, no more lies."
He kissed her again with assurances that that was what he wanted, as well. Besides, he explained, it turned out that he wasn't very good at keeping secrets anyway. She laughed that it was his Hufflepuff traits that made it impossible to be convincing. With the festivities in no hurry of winding down, Hermione began to feel the exhaustion that her Healers advised her would plague her for a few weeks more. Her eyes felt heavy and she longed for nothing more than her bed.
"Will you take me home, Kingsie?"
They stood at the threshold of their home only minutes later. Hermione expressed her concern that it might be bad luck for Kingsley to be his own First Footer. She didn't understand all of the traditions or superstitions. He put her mind to ease with another kiss.
"It doesn't matter. After the year we've just had, I feel confident that we can make it through anything."
She had just enough energy to make it up the stairs and get ready for bed. Once she was dressed in one of her wizard's old Quidditch jerseys that hadn't fallen to threads simply because of magic, she crawled under the covers. Moments later, she sighed when the bed dipped down behind her and Kingsley's arms wrapped around her body.
"I'm sorry that I'm not up to trying to recreate any of our past New Years."
A kiss to the top of her head was his response. She knew without him even needing to say the words that simply being together was the best they could hope for. As they often did while they lay in bed at night, they began to talk over the events of the day. A weight of guilt hung around Hermione's neck that she longed to get rid of. Sometimes just talking to him helped.
"Did you see how Harry and Ron wouldn't even talk to me tonight at the party?"
She couldn't exactly blame them. Since her return to the present, she hadn't been terribly friendly. It was wrong of her, she knew, but it was easier to simply avoid them. How could she even begin to tell them all that she had gone through when she was in the past? Ron was already quite angry with her that she didn't simply fall back into his arms like nothing had happened. He'd always expected her to adjust to meet his needs. Even when they were just friends. Thinking about going back into any kind of friendship with someone who, while he certainly had his good qualities, too often felt like nothing but a drain on her energy just felt wearisome.
And Harry. How could she explain to him that she'd been the one who gave Voldemort his father's name the first time? How could she explain that she willingly gave up the names of just about every single Order member he knew to keep herself safe? Or how she'd actually been.. how Voldemort had… how the curse made her… She couldn't even look him in his eyes. Maybe one day he would understand her actions. She couldn't be angry with him if he never did though. Some of her actions had been simply unforgivable.
"You've been back less than two weeks, Hermione. And, those haven't exactly been filled with boring and uneventful days. Give yourself a break. It will take some time to rebuild your friendships. If they love and care about you as much as I know they do, you will all get there. It just takes time."
She sighed. He was right. He usually was. Trying to force the three of them into the same friendship that once existed was impossible. None of them were even the same people. She promised herself that she would try harder once she had some time to truly relax and heal.
"No one at the party even knew what to call me. It was easy enough for those who know me well enough to call me Hermione, but the villagers were confused. Those who knew me from the past kept calling me Miss Dumbledore and then correcting themselves to call me Miss Granger. Then those who knew me as Granger wanted to know if I went by Dumbledore now and honestly, I don't even know what my own name is."
Her wizard calmed her down with a simple kiss in her curls. When he spoke in his deep whisper, she relaxed even further. He always knew what she needed.
"Would you like to make it easy? Make it so no one, including you, is confused?"
"Of course, but how?"
Kingsley reached for her left hand. In a single confident and determined motion, he slid the diamond ring she found in his robes so many Christmases ago down on her finger.
"Become Mrs. Shacklebolt."
She snuggled backwards further into his warm embrace.
"I thought you'd never ask."