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Here it is, loves. The very last chapter...
The black stone with its jagged central crack lay flat in Draco's palm, seeming for all the world a benign object. He closed his eyes for a moment, his head and his heart still sore from his experience with the dragon-constellation.
He knew the Stone had worked before he'd even opened his eyes again. The brambles that had been freed from the surrounding hawthorns by the dragon's great wingbeats, crackled ominously only a few paces ahead of him like they were being trod by frail feet. He suddenly didn't feel so brave as he had a moment ago.
The opening of his eyes revealed the fulfillment of both his greatest wish and his greatest fear. Before him stood his parents… almost as they had been in life.
Lucius stood tall, nearly the same height as Draco himself, with his trademark platinum hair pulled back with a black, satin ribbon. His eyes were austere as they'd always been – but they seemed to hold a new emotion they'd certainly never displayed in life. Draco couldn't place it, as it was partially concealed by the emotional mask his father had always worn.
Thin and willowy, Narcissa exhibited the same graceful posture and easy elegance she'd always been known for prior to the Dark Lord's second rise. Her hair was almost as long as her husband's, and almost as blonde. Her blue eyes were clear as they gazed at her son hungrily, sparkling in an unfamiliar manner.
They seemed to be neither spectre nor flesh, halfway between insubstantial and solid. A moment's silence ensconced the three of them, until Narcissa reached out a pale hand toward her son and murmured lovingly, "Draco…"
He went to her then, as he had as a child, but instead of coming to rest in her embrace, he passed through her as though she were a ghost.
So this was what Potter meant, Draco realized with grim understanding. It is a shadow that returns.
Straightening, he seemed to remember himself then: he was a grown man of twenty-two and no longer a child… and she was dead. They both were. He stared at the sight of them for a moment longer, drinking them in. In a voice that betrayed none of the emotional wavering he felt in his chest, he thanked them, "I appreciate you coming to speak with me."
"Of course," Narcissa answered fondly.
The longer Draco looked, the more he could tell these were spirits instead of actual bodies. It was little things that gave them away: Narcissa's prominent collarbones usually rose and caved with each breath but she remained eerily still, and when a slight breeze swum past and bristled Draco's hair, it did not ruffle his father's.
Lucius remained silent, his calculating eyes focused completely on his son.
"Is it better? Death?" He cringed at the way his voice sounded small when he asked.
"Certainly less painful than life," Lucius responded bluntly, speaking for the first time.
Pressing his eyes shut, Draco tried to collect this thoughts. He had prepared questions, but they seemed just beyond his reach now. "My life has become a collection of horrors, with both of your fates… and with Astoria's. They were my fault."
"Astoria is at peace," Narcissa assured him. "She doesn't blame you in the slightest."
"She was forced to surrender her bodily virtue against her own actions," Draco grimaced. "Despite that it wasn't her own will, Helena Greengrass has given me a substantial sum in what she deems a retribution… to atone. The idea of spending a single knut makes me want to be ill."
"A donation to something worthy, then," Lucius suggested mildly. It was odd, hearing him speak so flippantly about money; he'd always been very careful with where he'd bestowed it while living. The Malfoys had never been stingy by any stretch of the imagination, but any donations made were given with a means to achieve something.
"Perhaps something Astoria herself would have approved," Narcissa agreed.
Draco nodded, then found himself explaining candidly, "It was Nott. Theo used the Imperius to compel Perseus Lestrange to murder you, Mother. Then he Imperiused Lestrange and his son to kill Astoria. Deimos, he… he raped her before Perseus finished her off."
Narcissa's eyes were wide as they took in her son's pain, etched onto his face. She seemed unsure what to say. Lucius watched him carefully, his expression like a hawk deciding if it wanted to eat something that was already dying.
Draco found he couldn't stop, "Lestrange was arrested, but Deimos went on the run. He murdered Hermione's parents under the Imperius – again by Theo's command – but then arranged for Dementors to steal her soul so he could rape her in front of me. To prove some kind of point…"
"Hermione Granger?" Lucius queried, intrigued.
They'd arrived at one of the subjects Draco desperately wanted to discuss with them, though the words still stuck in his throat a little. "The same. Theo tried to dispose of her to get at me. He… wanted to marry me. That was why he killed so many people. Why he killed you." In little more than a whisper, he clenched a fist and added, "I can still feel the stain of his decisions on me. Some days, it's overwhelming."
"You are not to blame for your Mother's death, nor mine," Lucius assured his son, "as they did not occur by your hand. Theodore Nott will have his comeuppance."
There was a long silence that stretched between them following this declaration. Draco continued to struggle with his next words, trying to best determine how to tell his parents he planned on discontinuing the Malfoy practice of marrying only purebloods.
No matter how many times he had tried to word it in his head, he found himself imagining the theoretical reactions of his parents' living counterparts when he told them. His Father would rage and threaten to cut him off financially, while his Mother might sob and attempt to guilt trip him out of it. At least... that's what they did in his worst imaginings of how things might transpire. He quickly reminded himself that it wouldn't matter if they hated him, because they were dead and he was keeping Hermione regardless.
Narcissa's eyes widened as if she were privy to his struggles. "The Granger girl… you love her, don't you?"
Well, he couldn't ask for a better opening than that. "Yes."
Lucius's eyebrows raised higher than Draco had ever seen them go, and he watched as his parents shared a look. He knew the spectre really was Narcissa when her answer was kind but somewhat guarded, saturated with the kind of perceptiveness only a mother can have for her child's emotions. "I don't really understand it… but I can see in your eyes that you would be miserable without this woman. She brings a light into your life that you flourish in."
"You're not angry? Disappointed?"
"Oh my love," she lilted sadly, looking like the thing she wished most to do was to pull him into a tight embrace. "All I have ever truly desired is your happiness."
Turning to his Father with some trepidation, Draco tested, "And you?"
Lucius's jaw visibly tightened and he remained silent.
"Your Father and I always tried to do what we thought was best for you, Draco," Narcissa told him earnestly, turning the attention away from her husband. "I can see you consider some of our methods to be… unsavory, now."
Latching onto this, because it was another thing he really wanted to discuss, Draco pressed, "Where did the blood superiority belief arise from exactly?"
"Of some traditions, there is no way to trace their inception."
"But what about all the things you pounded into my brain? The blood supremacy… the Dark Lord's agenda… the arranged marriage…?"
His Father's grim mouth twitched and he seemed to answer for them both when he responded, "It is remarkable how little such things matter, in death. I'm proud of you, Draco, as I was in life. My death and your choices have not altered that fact."
"I wish you could understand about Hermione," he fretted. "My life was full of so much darkness, so many horrors. She has singlehandedly made everything so much more bearable. She carries light with her wherever she goes; I won't ever be able to give that up. I'm too selfish."
Though Lucius's response was vague, it made Draco soar with reassurance, "Your true mate is someone that marks a before and after in your life." He gazed fondly at Narcissa, and though the look was slight, she seemed pleased. "It is not someone that comes into your life peacefully: they make you question things and change your reality."
"As she has done," Draco reiterated.
"Then," Lucius deemed, "so it will be."
Narcissa smiled at her husband, then at her son. Draco recognized what amounted to his Father's blessing and though it might have seemed cold to an outsider, he cherished it. "I have done as you bade me in our last worldly interview. The prophecy is complete."
Lucius inclined his head, surveying his son with interest. "You've done well then. I knew you would."
It all came spilling out, uninhibited – the way Theo's role in the devastation of the Malfoy line had.
"The line of Malfoy shall guard in secret for fifteen generations," Draco paraphrased, "a divination ensuring their own continuation and amaranthine eminence by virtue of one of their own. It meant that I had an opportunity to live forever amongst the stars… to continue on in everlasting nobility, sustained by Deep Magic."
"Yet here you stand," Lucius remarked.
Nodding, Draco added, "My Patronus summoned the dragon. 'Heretofore the dragon sleeps…' It was a manifestation of my soul, summoning what it recognized to be its celestial match." Draco recalled Theo's radical experimentations with a sneer. "There is stardust in my blood from a star within the dragon constellation. Did you know? When you named me?"
Narcissa shook her head, "Your name came to us both separately, seemingly at once. It was… inexplicable."
So, his parents had both come to the simultaneous decision on his name before they knew about his connection with the stars… it was just as unlikely as his painting, now displayed at Terrazza Mosaico, done years before his impending encounter with the sky-dragon.
Perhaps there's a touch of Seer in my blood, after all. But in the back of his mind, he recalled: Memory Alone Binds Us.
Chewing on that thought for a moment, Draco snapped back to the present. There would be plenty of time for reflection later, and he wasn't sure how much longer he had with his parents. The stars were disappearing and the hint of an imminent sunrise was tingeing the sky.
"'An upheaval of what once was sacred…'" he continued, inferring, "that was, I think, the dissolution of the Sacred Twenty-Eight into the Sacred Fifteen. 'A reckoning of the connection betwixt two souls,' both victims of hate and prejudice…"
"Perhaps," Narcissa suggested, interrupting his thought, "the Sacred Twenty-Eight was less important than you assume." At her son's questioning look, she explained, "True friendship forms its own bonds within the soul; this was reckoned with when you were betrayed by Theodore Nott."
Sucking in a breath, Draco could feel the validity of her words. Perhaps she was correct.
"The otter?" Lucius pressed. He seemed impassive, but the prompt indicated he was seriously invested in revealing the pieces of the prophecy he'd painstakingly combed over for many years of his life.
"It's Hermione's Patronus," Draco explained. "When Deimos sent the Dementors to Kiss her she fought them off with it, thus keeping her soul – and mine – stainless. If she'd been Kissed, I would have killed Lestrange when I found out it was him that had orchestrated them."
"Your soul is something within you that is thousands and thousands of years old," Narcissa reminded him. "You would do well to protect it. Do not ever let it be destroyed."
"You told me that once," Draco recalled, "I didn't understand it then. I do now. My soul is tied to Hermione's; she has stardust in her blood, too. We're the… 'star-crossed' part."
Lucius considered him in a new way, his eyes narrowing slightly, "Do you resent your upbringing?"
"I'm not sure," Draco shrugged truthfully. "Parts of it, I suppose. I almost lost the most important person in my life because of my blood prejudice. It was a very real struggle to overcome, but doing so has made us stronger."
It was with great care that Lucius spoke his next words: "Even the mightiest tree in the forest requires both rain and sunlight to become truly great. Without both, it will not suffice."
Draco bowed his head a moment to this wisdom. He considered it and decided it was less barbed than many of the other things his Father could have said. "Thank you."
The sun began to peek over the horizon now, tendrils of light spurring upward into the lightening skyscape. It was a resplendent beginning to a new day, but it rendered the frail outlines of the vague bodies even less solid. Draco could feel that his time with his parents was rapidly coming to a close.
"Will you stay with me? Just for a bit longer?"
"We're always with you. Even if you can't see us," Narcissa answered. Her fingers were insubstantial and he couldn't feel them, but he shivered nonetheless as she ran them down his cheek. "My handsome son…"
Hermione awoke gently before she deigned to open her eyes, basking instead in the residual warmth of the bed. An instinctual reaction, she snuggled up against the form she assumed was Draco beside her. Unusually, the warm body next to her seemed to be resting on the outside of the sheets...
Peeking through her eyelids, she noted it was not Draco in bed with her, as she'd assumed, but a collection of fur that turned out to be both Aries and Crookshanks. The greyhound lifted his head as she stirred, blinking at her with liquidy black eyes. Crookshanks yawned luxuriously and stretched, one paw regally branching over the greyhound's back in a lazy display of dominance.
Odd, Hermione thought, sitting up and rubbing the sleep from her face. The sun was fully risen by now and seemed to be determined to display its full glory.
She sent out searching fingers of her essence to find Draco, but came up with nothing in the immediate vicinity.
He hadn't mentioned he was going anywhere, especially so early. Hermione resisted the urge to panic, recognizing that it would be silly to do so. Still, for someone who was so adamantly Slytherin, Draco did seem to have the occasional Gryffindor-ish tendency of rushing headfirst into something reckless…
Finally, there he was, his presence flying outward with a new touch of… something. Something oddly light and bordering carefree in a way that she couldn't remember his essence ever being before. She bristled, annoyed that he could feel that way when she'd been worrying about him.
Where have you been? she demanded, trying not to sound too miffed.
He didn't respond in words but in a feeling, like he was too full of things to form a coherent sentence. A moment later, she glanced out the window and saw him approaching the house from the forest, his pale hair shining in the morning sunlight.
She went as composedly as she could toward the front door and threw it open. All seven dogs plus Crookshanks spilled out of the opening and barreled forward. Some of the dogs ran immediately to their master, while Crookshanks sauntered over to the nearest tree and began sharpening his claws.
"You didn't even leave a note!" Hermione complained, feeling defensive about her worrying.
Without even a word, Draco went to her and lifted her up, kissing her through a rather uncharacteristic grin. She couldn't help melting into him.
Where were you?
He set her down, parting their lips with some regret. It's quite a tale. I hope you have the time. Perhaps tea? I'm starving, too.
Hermione stared incredulously as he smirked and raced toward the house, yelling for the dogs to follow. Tongues lolling, barks booming, and hair flying, all seven faithfully did. Crookshanks stared up at his mistress with yellow eyes and meowed, as if to question the pack's collective sanity.
Once they were settled comfortably into the solarium with a full tea tray, Draco began his tale, beginning with his final visit to Lucius the previous fall when his father had told him of the prophecy.
"You kept all this from me, all this time?" Hermione queried, hurt. "We could have tried to solve it together… not that I hold too much stock in divination. It's a highly faulty art, often tainted with artifice."
"I told you, it was only ever known by Malfoys – that was made perfectly clear to me. You've got to let me continue before you draw any conclusions."
Hermione fell silent again, allowing him to continue on. She asked him to repeat the prophecy three times when they came to the part of its discovery. Draco could hear her mind buzzing over it, trying to put it together before he could inform her of its solution.
When he came to the bit of the tale where Theo admitted his adoration for Draco, hence the reason he'd committed all the murders – including of Hermione's own parents – she bristled, but didn't seem shocked like he'd expected her to be. "Well, I thought perhaps that might be it," she revealed, matter-of-factly sipping her tea while Crookshanks curled himself into a round, ginger wheel on her lap. "It seemed one of the logical answers, considering the vehemence with which he perpetuated his hatred toward anyone that got close to you. That, and your reluctance to talk about it."
Draco's cup remained frozen halfway to his lips as he stared at her, floored. She was stroking under Crookshanks' chin and the cat was clearly enjoying the attention as he basked in the sunspot that shone in through the glass walls of the solarium.
"Are you going to stare at me, or are you going to go on?" Hermione prompted saucily.
"Minx," he muttered fondly under his breath. Nevertheless, he continued, "My Mother believed Theo's betrayal was the reckoning of two souls…"
"…'Victims of hate and prejudice,'" she murmured, finishing that particular phrase for him. "Yes, that makes sense. You were the victim of hate, because of the actions of your family during the War. Theo was the victim of prejudice because he was raised to have it and couldn't see past it. He couldn't stand to see you with someone he thought was inferior to himself."
Draco hadn't considered this angle before. He'd always written this particular part of the prophecy off as the dissolving of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, until his Mother had changed his mind. It suddenly made more sense this way, considering what the dragon-constellation had said about stars not caring for the 'so-called nobility' of humans.
"But what do you mean your Mother believed it was Nott? She died years before you discovered his guilt…"
"I'm getting there, I promise," he assured her.
When he told her about the dragon appearing in the grove following his first successful Patronus-casting, Hermione gasped. "It's the Draco constellation! That's the answer! It's circumpolar, always visible in the northern hemisphere, and never setting below the horizon!"
"You swot, you ruin every story…"
"Sorry," she apologized, used to this criticism from Harry and Ron. "Go on."
He told her about how the dragon-constellation came before him to reveal the truths of his existence through the use of memory. "Memories of the past, of the future… to allow me the choice to accompany it back to a state of complete serenity."
Hermione grew quiet for a moment and stared at her lap, twisting her fingers nervously. "You're still here, though…"
"I am," he agreed, setting his empty cup down on the tray. Legend, who was sprawled ungracefully at his feet, lifted his head at the tink-ing sound.
"These visions of the future," she prompted nervously. "Did any of them include me?"
Draco chuckled, unable to stop himself. She glanced up at him, her dark eyes full of questions. Under the table, Draco took her hands in his to stop her from wringing them. "You and I have decades together, Hermione… if you'll allow it to be so, of course."
Blushing deeply, Hermione held his intense gaze as long as she dared before her face dropped to her lap again, a smile pulling at her lips. "I'd… I'd like that."
"After all, we are star-crossed," he joked, a smirk pulling the corner of his mouth upward in a half-mirror of hers.
"It's funny," she breathed, "Andromeda was the first one to mention that particular term to me, the night of Harry and Ginny's wedding. I went home and looked it up. It's old-world speak for 'soul mates.'"
She seemed to blush even deeper at this admission, a juxtaposition of being both pleased and embarrassed by it. Her logical brain dismissed the idea that something so frivolous was possible, while her heart sang that it was the honest truth.
"That makes sense," Draco murmured, drawing small circles on her hand with his thumb. After a pause, he pressed, "Potter told me once that it was the culmination of many little things that lead up to the Dark Lord's fall. That there were so many little pieces – small as they were – that if they hadn't happened, He would probably still be in power."
"Yes," Hermione nodded quietly.
"Well, it's like that with us, too, isn't it? I mean, there were so many little things that had to happen just so, to lead us to one another."
"Draco," Hermione sniffed, visibly moved, "I do believe you're being romantic…"
"It has been known to happen," he teased, leaning across the table for a swift kiss. "Don't get used to it."
She giggled, then sighed contentedly. They sat for a few moments longer in a glow of happy silence before Draco suggested they ditch the tea things and he finish his story elsewhere.
They ended up in the garden, which was still overgrown from decades of neglect. At their approach, a few gnomes popped their heads up to see what was going on, but disappeared quickly back into their holes once the dogs caught sight of them and began to sniff around in earnest.
Draco picked up his tale where he'd left off, until he came to a snag in his confessional. He'd made an agreement with Potter not to inform Hermione about the Resurrection Stone. Still, Draco was not a Slytherin for nothing. After all, Harry had not stipulated that he couldn't hint, and Hermione was a master at shrewd guessing.
It took her only a few minutes to understand what he was getting at. Narrowing her eyes from her seat on the stone bench beside him, she commented suspiciously, "Harry once spoke to his parents like that, too."
Pleased that it had proven so easy to make her understand, Draco confirmed, "He did."
"Am I to understand you might have used… similar methods?"
"I adore that brain of yours."
"Am I to also understand that Harry implored you to make a promise that you wouldn't tell me about certain things?"
She sat back, looking annoyed at her friend. "He's such an idiot sometimes."
It didn't take long for Draco to complete his story. Once finished, he suggested, "You should use it, Hermione. You should have the chance to speak to your parents, too… if you want."
"Oh, no," she shuddered. "My parents… I love them very much, don't get me wrong. We had such a wonderful relationship, even despite that I Obliviated them during the War. I am unencumbered by lack of closure. I'm afraid if I tried to see them again, that it would be worse. It's so painful as it is. Thank you, but… no. It's better this way, for my own mental health."
Draco nodded his acquiescence and allowed her a moment to recover from the agitating suggestion. Finally, once it seemed like she had come to terms with it again, he told her earnestly, "I know what's important to me now."
"In a little over a year, I will be released from the hiatus I have on courting. I know I want you. I knew it without the prophecy. I knew it before I spoke with my parents. I knew it a long time ago, even if I tried to pretend I didn't. Maybe I knew it when you showed up in my office after my Father's sentence and I invited you to Terrazza Mosaico, I don't know. It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment I knew, but it's for sure. I like what we are now… but I want more, someday. Once I'm not bound by custom, I want to marry you."
Her breath hitched a little, but her voice remained even when she pointed out, "I'm not a pureblood. We aren't bound by those customs."
"I know. But some things are ingrained so deeply in me that I can't let them go. Parts of my upbringing are like that, you are like that: somehow I have to make those two things work together. Even if you were pureblood, I don't think I'd want us to draw up a Sanctus Pur agreement. It's all about property and you are so much more than that to me." He paused, pretending not to notice that she'd gone a bit misty-eyed. "There's another type of binding…"
"Pura Consors," she supplied. At his incredulous look that she would know about such a thing, she explained, "I read about it in one of the books I took from the Manor."
"Of course you did," he laughed. Hermione recalled a time when she thought he couldn't laugh; she was glad to be wrong. "I don't think one of those has been cast in over a hundred years, but I don't care. It's what I want." He glanced at her hastily and took her hand again, "If you're willing to wait, of course. If you're willing to have me."
Leaning forward to peck him on the lips, she answered, "You're worth the wait."
Humming with elation, Draco's eyes caught the trail of beauty marks that always so easily captured his attention. They began in a cluster of four around her collarbone, curving gently upward, then gracefully bending against the curve of her breast. He traced the line with his finger, doing so from memory where it disappeared below her shirt. When he reached the tail, he stopped abruptly as realization hit him. "Here is proof that you're mine forever."
"What are you on about now?" Hermione scoffed playfully, enjoying the feel of his fingers brushing her skin.
"You have a constellation," he showed her, tracing the line once more, "here."
She glanced down at it, her head titled with curiosity. Seeing him trace it once more, his finger stopping for a split second where each of the fifteen freckles trailed, she gasped, her eyes growing wide, "You're right. I have the constellation Draco. How on earth have I never noticed?"
"Star-crossed indeed," he remarked. He grinned at her in smug triumph as she gazed at him in complete incredulity.
It was the perfect opportunity to kiss her.
Author's Note: Well... it's over. I'm a bit shocked I managed it in less than 4 months, to be honest.
To everyone who read this story, thank you for taking the time to do so. For those who reviewed, thank you for taking the additional time to leave me your thoughts! Here is the part where I shamelessly suggest that if you enjoyed this fic, you should check out my other (Dramione) work in progress, The Eagle's Nest. Keep in touch!
As always, your opinions, suggestions, and love are so, so appreciated...