A/N: Heeeeeeey guys. Remember that one time I went eight months between updates? I sure do. Sorry! On the plus side, I did manage to write and get most of the way through revisions on my first original manuscript! It's a paranormal romance and I'm going to be sending it out to Betas before the end of the month. Feel free to PM me if you're interested in that genre, and if I still have room for Beta's I'll add you to the list! You can also PM me if you're not interested in betaing but would like to know if it ever gets published. I'll keep a list for that, too.
Thank you to all of you who read and reviewed and stuck with this story. It meant the whole world to me. A special thanks to Shayalonnie and Oblivionbaby, and to Zetasgima, who left me the most PERFECT review and inspired me to finally get this chapter written. Now, without further ado, I present... the end.
24 December 1999
They didn't leave their house again for weeks, and by the time Harry and Hermione felt up for another outing, it was Christmas Eve and time for the annual Weasley party. Harry had been inclined to miss it, but Hermione understood that his reticence had more to do with taking Delphi outside of the safety of their heavily warded home than it did any desire to avoid their friends. In the end, she had been able to convince him to go by promising another week of reclusivity to follow.
The dinner was well attended, with all the usual guests around the table, as well as a couple of new faces. Oliver Wood sat next to Charlie, beaming in a way Hermione had never seen him beam before. His cheeks looked ruddy, as if he'd only just stepped off a broom, and their color deepened every time Charlie glanced in his direction, eyes smouldering.
On the other end of the table, to Andromeda's left, sat Narcissa. It had taken several invitations to make the woman believe she was actually wanted at the Burrow. In the end, the final invitation had been delivered not by owl, but in the hands of a determined Molly Weasley, who had brought with her an entire pie and a bottle of elvish wine. Narcissa had accepted the invitation a day later, on the condition that she not be expected to stay the entire evening. The woman's husband was, after all, still under house arrest, and she wouldn't feel comfortable leaving him completely alone the night before Christmas, not when their son was spending the holiday in Lancashire with his fianceé's family.
For her part, Hermione had chosen a trio of seats near the end of the long table, maneuvering Delphi and Harry until they stood directly beside Ginny, who looked up, startled.
Ginny stammered and Hermione settled Delphi onto the middle chair as Harry nodded at his former girlfriend and sank into the seat on their daughter's other side.
"Ginny," he acknowledged, and Hermione thought the smile on his face was far more genuine than she had expected. What a relief.
"I—I can go, if you want me to, I mean. I don't want to ruin your holiday."
Hermione sank down into her own chair and gave Ginny a confused look.
"Why on earth would you do that?"
"I just— I mean, I know it can't be comfortable for you with me here." She swallowed and glanced down at her hands. "After what I did."
"And what was that, exactly?" asked Harry. Hermione shot him a dirty look, but he wasn't paying attention to her. His gaze was riveted on Ginny, curious and expectant.
The poor girl nearly swallowed her tongue before managing to get her answer out.
"I let Theo into your life," she said, voice small. "I'm so, so sorry. I didn't know what he... And I never meant to hurt anyone."
"That bastard wasn't your fault." Harry's tone was firm, the sort of voice he used when he was forbidding Delphi to play on the stairs. "He fooled everyone, and knowing what he did to worm his way in…Well. I'm not sure I've ever wanted to beat a person so badly in my whole life."
"Try to curb your violent tendencies, Harry, it's Christmas." Hermione reached over and stroked his arm affectionately, allowing Ginny some time to collect herself before turning back to her as Harry diverted his attention to Neville, who sat on his other side.
"He means it, you know," she whispered, once Harry was engaged in conversation and she was confident he wouldn't hear.
Ginny looked startled. "I don't think—" she stumbled again, and the little affectation grew monumental in Hermione's eyes. What the hell had Theo done to her, that she'd gone from the confidant and self-assured quidditch champion, to this woman who could barely finish a thought without correcting herself? "I'm not sure why he's not more angry."
"Look," said Hermione. "I realize this probably isn't something you want to discuss, but Ron told us what he did."
Ginny's face blanched, her freckles growing stark against porcelain skin.
"And I only bring it up because I want you to understand that we could never blame you for what happened. No matter how you feel about it, Harry and I know who's really to blame, and right now there are hundreds of miles, a deadly sea, and enchanted bars between us and him." She patted Ginny's shoulder as the girl began to breathe again. "Now, help me to eat some of these potatoes before your mother starts force-feeding the both of us. I don't like the way she's eyeing me."
It took several more minutes before Ginny seemed to thaw beside her, and even then the conversation was stilted, the gaps between her words conspicuous.
Hermione thought Harry might have the right idea about turning Nott into pulp.
Ginny retired early for the night, and Neville watched her go, Hermione looking on. She hadn't realized the young man still carried a torch for the girl, but she hoped desperately that when the time came, and Ginny was doing better, she would give him a chance. She thought Neville might be just the sort of man Ginny could get along with after her ordeal. Someone kind, and good, and completely willing to wait.
"There's Narcissa leaving." Harry's voice was low in her ear and it sent a pleasant rumble through her. She followed his gaze to see the woman standing, arms at her sides and a ruffled look on her face as Molly wrapped her in hug. Andromeda stood and drew Molly's attention, saving her sister from further contact by handing over Teddy and asking Molly to mind him while she walked Narcissa out.
"I'll be just a minute," said Hermione, standing to follow them out. "I didn't get a chance to say more than hello to her."
"We'll be here." Harry smiled at her, and Delphi had a bite of pudding.
The night air was crisp and it sank right through her thin outfit to her bones, cold as a basilisk's heart and twice as biting. She followed the path the two other women had taken at a jaunt until she spotted them at the edge of the garden.
"Hang on," she called. "I wanted a word before you went."
Andromeda was the first to turn, and she smiled when she saw Hermione hurrying up the path.
"I'm not leaving just yet, dear."
"Oh, I know. I was talking to Mrs Malfoy, actually."
Narcissa turned, her brows arched delicately as her sister tried to hide her own look of surprise.
"Right, well, I'll be off then, won't I?" said Andromeda, leaning in to give Narcissa a brief hug and a barely there kiss on her cheek. "I'll see you for New Years, Cissy."
Narcissa murmured her ascent and watched as her sister retreated back into the house. Hermione took the opportunity to cast a warming charm over both she and Narcissa that took most of the bite out of the chill air.
Hermione nodded and smiled.
"I only wanted to give you this," she said, stowing her wand away and drawing a small package out of her pocket. She held it out toward the other woman.
For a moment, Narcissa looked absolutely shocked, but she quickly recovered her composure and reached out to take the little gift, her cool fingers skimming the tips of Hermione's as she did so.
"Thank you, Miss Granger." She said. "I'm afraid I didn't think to bring something in return."
"Oh, there's no need for that." She hesitated for a moment before speaking again. "Though, you could call me Hermione."
For the second time in as many minutes, the older woman's eyes widened in surprise. Hermione took a certain amount of satisfaction at the sight.
Narcissa looked back down at the parcel in her hands, as if she were trying to decide what to do with it.
"Oh, please open it." Hermione urged. "It's not much, but I do love seeing people open their gifts."
Narcissa nodded and gave her a tight little smile before drawing out her wand and vanishing the wrapping paper.
Hermione stared, agape.
"Takes a bit of the magic out of it, doesn't it?"
Narcissa looked confused and Hermione didn't elaborate, she just motioned for the woman to continue.
The small velvet box was open in another moment, and in the second after that, Hermione had the pleasure of seeing genuine surprise on Narcissa Malfoy's face for the third time that night.
"We found it in one of Harry's vaults. I recognized the crest from Nature's Nobility—horrible book, that—and we thought you might appreciate it more than we could. I'm sorry we didn't get to the shops for something new. I'm sure if this is a miss we can put it back and find something more—"
"This is my grandmother's ring."
Narcissa, always proper and polite, interrupted Hermione and stared at her in consternation.
"Is it? I hadn't realized. I knew it was a Black heirloom, of course, but I thought maybe farther back."
"Why are you doing this?"
Narcissa looked almost as confused as she did indignant.
"The gift. The ring. Why?"
"Umm." Hermione tucked her hands into her pockets. "It's Christmas?"
"I was under the impression you and your man didn't care for my family," Narcissa continued. "So why are you suddenly being… familiar?"
Hermione tried not to be offended at the accusation in the woman's question. She had to allow for the fact that society ladies like Mrs Narcissa Malfoy, especially ones with death eater husbands, were probably unlikely to have had many real friends in their life.
"We're grateful, is all. For what you did to help us find Delphi. I had hoped…" She looked around, checking the garden for any signs they weren't alone. Finding none, she continued. "I'd hoped that, as we're connected in some way, we could be friendly. We'd like to know you better. We'd like Delphi, to know you better."
"The Minister kept your secret," Narcissa dismissed. "Any connection is buried deep."
Hermione took a breath and nodded. "Yes, but as you said at the Ministry, secrets have a way of surfacing before we're prepared." She had known it was true the moment Narcissa had spoken the words, and she and Harry had discussed it at length. Kingsley might be willing to keep his mouth shut, but what if someone else discovered the truth? Anything could happen, and it made sense to prepare for the day.
"Besides," Hermione continued, "I'm used to liking difficult people. What's one more?"
And then, in a move that turned the tables completely and had Hermione looking surprised for once, Narcissa Malfoy laughed.
She giggled and chortled and clutched her side, and Hermione was fairly certain she heard a snort before the woman was able to contain herself. When she was done, she snapped the ring box closed and slipped it into the pocket of her fancy robes, beaming down at Hermione as she did so.
"Thank you," she said. "I shall cherish it."
Suddenly discomfited, Hermione nodded and smiled. "Our pleasure."
They stood in silence for several seconds more before Narcissa spoke again.
"Was there anything else?"
"No." Hermione shook her head and took a small step back. "Happy Christmas. Please give our best to your family, Mrs Malfoy."
"Narcissa," the other woman corrected. "If I'm to call you by your given name, it's hardly appropriate for you to do otherwise."
"Narcissa," Hermione agreed, grinning.
"Hermione." Narcissa gave her a look that was almost a smirk, and Hermione remembered for a moment punching a face that had worn an expression nearly identical to it.
And then Narcissa strode away, taking the ring box and the almost smirk with her and disappearing beyond the hedge.
4 Cerridwen Court, Godric's Hollow
24 December 1999
They were still wrapping presents at a quarter to midnight. Hermione had insisted on doing it the Muggle way, and though Harry was rubbish at wrapping things, he was an artisan with spellotape, and wielded it with all the fervor of a man out to stick things together. Hermione cut the paper and folded it in mysterious ways until the gifts looked pristine, and then Harry swooped in to tape them up and slap a bow on top. He was beginning to think that was an excellent metaphor for their entire friendship thus far.
"Just there, below my finger. Mind you don't crinkle it this time. I want a nice, smooth seal."
"I do know how to tape, Hermione."
"Yes. Excellent job. My you've gotten good at that."
He had a mind to take her into his arms and show her what else he'd gotten good at, but he thought she might hex him stupid if he didn't let her finish the last few gifts.
He sprang into action and affixed the thing to the top of the present before carrying it over to set under the tree. And by under the tree, he meant six feet away from the tree, which was as close as he could get it without setting it precariously on top of other gifts
"Do you think…" he let his voice trail off.
"What? What is it?" She sounded absent minded, as if all her focus and considerable concentration were taken up by her task.
"I just was wondering whether you thought we might have gone a bit… overboard. With the presents."
Hermione paused and blinked up at him before surveying the massive pile of red and green parcels.
"Looks right to me," she said. We do have presents for one another under there too. And the gifts for my mum and dad. And Molly and Andromeda sent their things along tonight as well.
"Right. Don't mind me then."
He could feel her eyes on him still, and he fidgeted.
"You don't have to worry about spoiling her, you know. She's not actually Duddly's. And besides, I don't think being a demanding git is genetic unless you're a Malfoy."
"I just want her to have everything she needs. Everything she wants, too, come to that."
"We'll strike a balance." Hermione went back to her wrapping and Harry watched as her fingers moved over the paper.
How did she manage to look so perfectly lovely at this time of night, in a thick old Weasley jumper and a pair of pajama bottoms that were dotted in miniature reindeer and about a hundred tiny sleighs? Her hair was piled on top of her head, her wand stuck through it and pining it all in place as a few curls escaped to trail down the back of her neck. On her finger, his ring glinted in the firelight.
"Don't suppose you want to take a break?"
She looked at him askance.
"I've only got four more, and it's almost midnight."
He moved back to sit beside her leaving his roll of spellotape across the room and reaching out to toy with one of her loose curls as she continued to fold and crease the paper.
"They'll keep," he said, and his voice was low… husky. He wanted to shag her, and he hoped she wanted the same.
She kept folding, but he felt the way her neck went all loose and it gave him hope.
"You know," she said, all casual like, "when I was growing up my parents had this tradition."
"Mhm. We opened a single present on Christmas Eve. It was always pajamas."
"That's nice." He ran a finger along the shell of her ear and felt the way she shivered.
"I'll let you open a present tonight too, if you like." Her voice was low and sultry and he hardened almost instantaneously.
Would he ever.
He leaned in to kiss her neck, but before he reached her, she spoke again.
"As soon as you let me finish wrapping these."
Hermione laughed, and the sound was music and seduction all at once. She reached back and tugged at the wand in her hair, letting the curls fall down in a coil before they sprang back into the somewhat manageable mass she'd learned how to semi-tame.
A flick of her wand had her gift spellotaped shut, and another had the other three gifts wrapping themselves in a matter of moments.
"There," she said once they were piled neatly with the rest. "All done."
She stood, and he followed, reaching round with one arm and pulling her back against him so that she could feel how very much he wanted her.
"Is it time for my present now?"
She hummed. "Now who's spoiled and demanding?"
He kissed the side of her neck, let the tip of his tongue sweep across it until he reached her earlobe and began to suck. She nestled back against him in response and gave a little whimper.
"Alright," she said at last, "Since you've been a very good boy this year."
He started unwrapping her immediately, eager to get at his gift.
Merlin, she was precious. One of the two best presents he'd ever received. He had no idea what he'd done to deserve someone like her.
He tugged at her jumper, turning her in his arms until they were facing each other. He didn't even bother to look as he tore it over her head and pushed her bottoms down, he was too eager to kiss her again… But Hermione put one of her small, warm hands on his chest, right over his heart, and waited.
His eyes fluttered open and the first thing he saw was her smile, genuine and gorgeous and enough to bring him to his knees.
"What do you think?" She asked.
"Of the pajamas."
And then he let his gaze wander, taking in the lace and the satin and the Gryffindor colors bold against her skin.
Holy God, was that a snitch between her breasts? Merlin's left bollock, it was. And there, just over the bow of her thong. Another one.
"Are going to be okay? You sound as if you're hyperventilating."
"Fucking hell," was all he could think to say before he had her pulled against him again, her body warm and flawless as her laughter chimed and Harry thought he might be the luckiest bastard in the world.
He was blessed beyond measure with a daughter and woman who was daft enough to want to marry him, and he knew that he could open a thousand gifts in the future, but none would come close to matching that.
A Further A/N: I am marking this story as complete. Originally in my plotting, I had planned to end here. Then, a few chapters into the story, I accidentally plotted another 65 or so chapters. I'm not sure I'll ever write those, but I hope to hell I do. The plot document calls for another two books, one short one with a slice of life chapter per year until Delphi reaches adulthood, and a longer one that explores that adulthood and replaces Cursed Child with my own world. However, despite this extensive plot document, the story of Harry and Hermione's romance and the formation of their little family ends here, so I feel comfortable calling this fiction complete. It can stand alone and I am quite proud of it. Still, I thought I ought to warn you, in case I come back to parts two and three, that the story may one day continue. Or it may not. If I were a sim one of my traits would probably be non-committal. I adore you all, and thank you again for sticking through to the end!