A little Holiday offering for my wonderful readers. I appreciate every one of you!
An enormous thank you goes out to Enigmaticrose4 for being my beta for this story. Being the mind reader that she is, she understood what I was trying to convey (which was not easy considering she had to decipher my unorthodox sentence structuring and unique subject/verb agreement – as well as listen to me complain about the number of Christmas presents I still had left to wrap!) and gave me wonderful points to consider. You are a good friend, especially since you only laughed a little bit! LOL (In all fairness, I know I laughed more)
If any mistakes remain, they are totally my fault.
On Christmas morning, Hermione woke up to the sounds of her parents moving around in the kitchen. Stretching her body, she lazily yawned as she listened to the familiar comforting sounds and smells. Her father's low voice; her mother responding in laughter to whatever he said. The rich smell of coffee brewing, the hum of the central heat warming their home. How many times had she experienced that kind of waking? And until the war, she never thought twice about it. But since then, Hermione had learned what a blessing these simple pleasures, simple times…normal life were. She yawned once more, then pushed the cover off her slim body. Best to get a move on, she thinks. There was still much for her to do if she wanted that particular Christmas to change the course of her life.
Hogwarts was lost in a flurry of snow when Draco woke up that Christmas morn. He looked out the window of his new dorm room to see the flakes skittering about on the wind as if they were playing their own version of catch-me-if-you-can. Turning over on his side he gazed out the window, but only a few moments were spent in watching the snow fall. Draco's mind went back to past Christmases; some pleasant, but others…no, he told himself, he would not do that today. He would not spend this day torturing himself with images of horrors past. Especially images of two years past. Sighing, he sat up in bed. He pulled out the drawer to his nightstand; the potion he had hidden there was fizzing just as it should be; it appeared to be at prime potency. Draco just hoped he would have the opportunity to put it to use. One way or another, that bubbling brew had the power to change his life.
"Hermione, will you be gone long?" Jean Granger asked after they had eaten their breakfast and opened their presents.
"It's hard to say," she replied. "If all goes well…"
Hermione's father watched her as she absently played with a ribbon from a package. "My girl, are you sure you want to do this? It's only been two years since the war ended. You may want to give yourself more time and…"
Hermione's mother cut in. "You can always change your mind."
Hermione looked at the worried expressions on her parent's faces. She knew they were only thinking of her; trying to protect her from any and all hurt, just like she'd done with them. Still, some things were worth the risk. "Don't worry," she said, trying to assuage their concern. "I will be fine."
"And if it doesn't go the way you think it will?" Steven Granger looked steadily in his daughter's eyes. "Are you prepared for that?"
Hermione swallowed. "Well, I…..I'll worry about that then."
Steven and Jean looked at each other. Unlike their daughter, they would worry about it now.
Draco made sure the hallway was clear before he left his room. Having planned ahead for today, he'd asked the house elves two days prior to leave a pot of hot tea and scones in his room for that morning to avoid any possible interaction with anyone that might be staying over for the holidays. He'd tried to enjoy his breakfast, but his stomach refused to relax. So after gulping down a cup of tea and crumbling most of his pastry, he'd taken a shower, dressed and was now making his way out of the castle. He'd made it as far as the courtyard without seeing anyone until his luck ran out. Just as he turned the corner in the breezeway he came across an indolent-looking Theo Nott.
"There you are," Theo drawled. "Wasn't sure if you'd decided to have a lie-in or if you'd already left."
"What do you want, Theodore?"
"Theodore? My, my…aren't we proper today...or is it just nerves showing?" Theo observed, laughing loudly.
"Dash it all, Theo! Would you pipe down? The whole castle will hear you!"
"Oh yes, all the ghosts are clamoring to hear the secrets of one Draco Malfoy, former Death Eater and now lov.."
"Stop. Don't jinx me with your words."
Theo stared incredulously at his childhood friend. "Since when have you become superstitious? Jinx? Really?"
"I just….I'm not taking any chances," Draco huffed.
Theo snorted. "This whole endeavor is a chance, idiot." Seeing Draco's obvious anxiety, he softened his next words. "I hope it all turns out just the way you want it, Mate."
Looking down at his feet, Draco swallowed and nodded. "But….what if…"
"Now, now. None of that. No wondering on worst-case scenarios. It's not going to happen," Theo said encouragingly. Under his breath he added, "Trust me…I know."
Draco reached the rendezvous point first. It was in a clearing within the Forbidden Forest next to Hogwarts. He wrapped his cloak more tightly around him as he waited. This year's Christmas was much colder than last, but he didn't mind. He looked about at the winter wonderland the snow had created; each evergreen was dressed in a white robe; the ground carpeted in a pristine white. It reminded him of himself. Everything that had been bare and ugly in his life had been covered by the purity that was Hermione. It had started when they came back for their last year of school three years later than it should have been; unfortunately, three years had not been enough time to keep Draco from being ostracized and ridiculed by nearly everyone there. Hermione, being who she was, decided to act. She had been his sole defendant. The professors, seeing her champion his plight, made her his study partner, mainly to keep Draco safe from further hexing. Their friendship had quickly blossomed. And since Halloween, they had been a couple. But Draco wasn't sure how Hermione viewed their relationship. Yes, she was affectionate…she genuinely seemed to care…..but how did she view their future? Did she even want a future with him? Was he just filler space to pass the time until she was through with school? Potter and Weasley had not come back for their last year; after the war, they had joined the Auror ranks at the Ministry. Would she want to rekindle a relationship with Weasley once she was out?
Draco knew how he viewed things. Malfoys always planned ahead. With his father in Azkaban and his mother dead, he could now decide for himself the type of future he wanted. He knew he wanted something more than what he had been raised to seek; he wanted a real home. A home full of children and laughter; of good times and travel and friends and joy. He wanted a wife who would be his lover, his partner and his best friend. He wanted… Hermione.
Hermione saw Draco before he noticed her. Good. She didn't want him to know she was coming from the heart of the forest. That would prompt him to ask too many questions before she was ready to answer. She paused as she looked at the young man waiting for her. She never would have guessed years ago that Draco Malfoy would be the wizard she would fall for. He stirred her emotions more than anyone ever had. She chuckled to herself. She should have seen it coming. He'd always been able to get under her skin. When they were young, he would make her blaze in anger. And now…..now when he would kiss her, a blaze of a different kind enveloped her being.
When she had been writhing on the wood floor of the manor being tortured by his maniac aunt, she never would have imagined the traumatized face Draco wore then would one day change to one that looked on her with such adoration….such devotion. She sighed. She hoped she wasn't wrong in that assessment.
Hermione accidentally stepping on a branch alerted Draco to her presence. Turning around, he saw his heart's desire. "There you are," he breathed in relief.
Hermione didn't answer back. Instead she moved over to where he stood and wrapped her arms around his waist. "Happy Christmas," she whispered in his ear.
"It is now," he replied as he buried his face in her abundant hair. After a few minutes, he cleared his throat and said, "Hermione…..I have a gift for you…"
"I have one for you as well," she interrupted.
"Shhh," he hushed her as he put a finger to her lips. There's more I need to say to you."
"For me as well, Draco."
That gave him pause. "What do you mean?"
For the first time ever, he saw her hesitate in answering a question. "My gift….well, I wasn't sure what you would think of it…..or if you would even want to accept it…"
He looked stunned. "Mine, too."
His response momentarily puzzled Hermione. "Sorry?"
Draco blushed. "I was uncertain as to whether you would accept my gift."
Hermione quickly surmised they were both dancing around the same issue. This would take forever if one of them didn't step up. She sighed. Sometimes it was hard being the Gryffindor in the relationship. "Well…..why don't you show me your gift, and then I'll show you mine."
She watched as Draco nodded, then slowly pulled something out of his pocket. His hands were shaking. In them was a small glass phial filled with a churning liquid. Draco carefully balanced it atop a fallen log beside where they stood.
"Even before we ever became…us….I wanted to do something to make up for me not helping you at the manor. "
"Draco….what could you have done? I never blamed you."
"I know. I blamed myself. Anyhow, like I was saying, I wanted to make it up to you." Draco looked into Hermione's eyes. "Of all wizardkind, you were the last person who deserved….that."
"No, let me finish," he said. "I was astonished when you consented to date me." Seeing her surprised face Draco added, "Astonished….and grateful. So, so grateful. And now….," he paused to fight off the strong emotion that was causing his voice to crack and bottom lip to tremble, "I now have the means to take the reminder of that day away….if you would accept it."
Hermione instinctively comforted Draco even while her brow furrowed in confusion. "I don't understand, love…..what are you saying….."
"Hermione, this potion will erase the mark on your arm," Draco hurriedly blurted out. "That is….if you will accept it."
"What? Really? Why would you think I wouldn't accept it?"
Draco now looked nervous. "I'm afraid there is a catch. You know my family…..I guess we're all selfish buggers. My ancestors created a potion to counteract the curse put on our family's blade, mainly as a safeguard if one member of the family ever used it against the other. But that's just it…it will only work on a Malfoy."
Draco watched as Hermione assimilated that bit of information. "So uh….so you're asking me if I would accept…."
"Me," he finished for her. "Would you accept me as your bonded mate? Will you have me as your husband?"
At first, Hermione just stared at Draco as if he'd grown another head; then she started bobbing her head which soon was accompanied by a mixture of weepy giggling.
"Hermione…," Draco said, alarmed he might have botched up his proposal, "Are you alright?"
She hazily waved her hand at him. "Oh…..you don't understand," she began as she tried to wipe the tears off her face. Draco used his cloak to get most of them off before they began to freeze on her cheeks. "Here's my gift," she pulled something out from inside her cloak. "It will explain it all."
Draco looked down at the costly item in her hands. It was an antique ouroboros, hand-engraved with a two-headed dragon biting its own tail.
"Blimey, Hermione," Draco gasped as he held the rare and expensive blade.
"You know the meaning of the depiction," she whispered. "The dragon biting its own tail… coming full circle. And see the two heads?" she asked as she pointed to the image. "Two heads…..but one body..."
Draco looked into her eyes. All he saw was love. "You planned to come here to offer…."
"Myself," she said as she gave him a watery smile. "We both wanted the same thing, it seems."
Hearing that, Draco slipped the blade into his robes and pulled her tightly into his arms. "I accept," he declared before he kissed her.
After a few heated moments, Hermione broke free to respond. "As do I."
She gazed in wonder at the blinding smile of joy that shined on Draco's face.
"Will you have me now?" he asked gently. When he saw Hermione timidly nod, he reached back inside his robes for the knife.
In a voice heavy with feeling, Draco began. "With this blade, I promise to stand beside you through all the challenges of this life, to support you, and defend you whenever you need me." Then he took the blade and made a small cut across the base of his palm.
Once finished, he gave the knife to Hermione who vowed, "With this blade, I promise to accept the love you pour upon me, and to return that love in kind." Then she made an identical cut on her palm. Placing their wounded palms together, they both said as they held their hands over the vial of bubbling potion, "With this blood I bind my life to yours."
The potion began to smoke and hiss and bubble even more furiously as their combined blood dropped into it. Then it calmed and became a clear, silver liquid. Draco reached for the vial and held it to Hermione's mouth. She parted her lips and before she drank of the elixir, she said, "I drink of our life together."
She drank all of it except for a few drops. With those, she dipped her finger in the vial and spread the remaining drops on Draco's mouth. He slowly licked the potion from his mouth while watching Hermione intently the whole time. His lips wet, he took her arm and kissed the ugly slur upon it. Immediately, the ugly mark began to smoke and fade. A few seconds later, the scar was gone.
Draco looked up to see Hermione looking at him with all the love in the world shimmering in her eyes. "We're...married," she whispered.
"We are," Draco assured her, caressing her face with his hands.
"You healed me," she breathed.
Draco looked at her solemnly. "You healed me first."
Hermione kissed him then, a kiss that promised a lifetime of love, of passion, of companionship…of belonging.
"When can I have you?" he groaned against her lips. "Please let it be soon."
Hermione giggled at Draco's urgency. "The Centaurs helped me make ready a place deep in the woods…...Draco, they have given us an honor. It is near the waterfall of their most sacred site."
"You mean...the Falls of Nuvor?"
She nodded. "But I have one more gift to give you before we go there." She pulled a little away from Draco and whistled. He heard a movement in the trees in front of them and soon he saw a unicorn slowly walk into the clearing.
"Remember what you told me about your Christmases as a child?" said Hermione. "That the best part of them was riding your horse, Firecat?"
Draco looked touched. "You thought of that?"
Hermione stroked Draco's cheek. "Of course, I did. I'm just so sorry that monster killed him."
Draco's eyes suddenly took on a glossy shine. "Voldemort did it to punish me...and he succeeded. Firecat…..he ….he was my guy."
"I know no one could ever replace him," Hermione said, "but I thought we could honor his memory by having a Christmas ride as man and wife.
Draco looked over at the most magical of creatures waiting patiently for them. "Do you know the significance of riding a unicorn after being blood bonded but before consummation?" he asked as he led Hermione to the gentle beast. "The pure spirit of the unicorn accepts the pure union of our bond. It ensures we will always be as one; in this life and in the one to come."
"Then that will be my greatest Christmas wish, my husband."
Draco smiled at his beautiful bride. "It will be mine, too."
After they rode away, oblivious to anything but each other, a lone wizard stepped out from his hiding place behind a thick spruce tree.
"Told Longbottom it was a sure thing. Easiest ten galleons I ever made," said Theo, grinning to himself before he apparated away to collect his bet.
AN: This little story is dedicated to two special people in my life: CJRed and Annamonk.
Crystal, if I could, I would make you a vial of healing potion. My greatest Christmas wish is for you to enjoy good health in 2017. I love you and pray for you always.
To the sister of my heart, Anna: I know you miss Firecat. In tribute to your loving memories of a beloved animal who was family, I included him in this one-shot so he could also live on in the minds of all who read this story. I love you.