Chapter Thirty-Three: An Ending
Hermione arrived back at her flat with tired shoulders and wet eyes. She hadn't felt so utterly empty and defeated in a long while. She tossed her boots to the side and slumped onto her couch, staving off the urge to cry. She looked for Eleanor, who usually greeted her when she came home, but couldn't find the cat. She turned side to side, confused, and then saw the light was on in her kitchen.
"What…?" She stood abruptly and turned the corner into the kitchen, wand held up warily. There, at her dining table, she saw a stranger sitting. A stooped figure. A head of blond hair. A cup of tea. She dropped her wand.
It was neither a question nor an exclamation, rather a simple statement, spoken barely above a whisper. The head turned, and there he was: grey eyes and pale skin and hard lines that melted immediately.
He stood and she shook, taking a small step backwards. "What are you doing here…?"
"I came the moment I felt it burn." His eyes were dancing, his face brightening. He was a picture frozen in time; a year hadn't changed him much. It was the same face she saw on the back of her eyelids as she drifted to sleep every night, except now he was really there, standing in front of her, close enough to touch. "Hermione, I waited… I waited a year and I never felt it, and then just a few minutes ago I felt it burn and I came."
She frowned, and then—of course. At the cottage. She touched the locket at the cottage, just briefly, but it must have been enough to trigger his. And he came, he came straight to where she was. In fact, he somehow got right into her own kitchen, even made himself a cup of tea.
"You weren't here when I arrived," he continued. "So I waited. I wanted to be here when you came back."
"I was at the cottage," she blurted. He gave her a questioning frown and she rambled. "The cottage, in Rhode Island. It's hard to explain, I used the Prophesieve—I know I'm not supposed to touch it, but I did, I found it at Harry and Ginny's this afternoon so I used it—and I got the idea to go to the cottage. I thought you'd be there, but you weren't, and now… Now you're in my flat. How the hell did you get in my flat?"
"Determination," he said with a small smile. Hesitant.
She was drawn between wanting to kiss him and punch him in the jaw. Every fiber of her being was begging her to rush at him, touch him, trace the lines of his jaw, pull him close. But this was the man that left her for a year without a single letter. This was the man who made her love him only to tear her heart apart, and she didn't know how she was supposed to forgive him.
"Why didn't you write?" she asked, the tears welling up again. He moved towards her but she shook her head and backed into the wall. "Don't," she requested. "Please don't."
His shoulders drooped. "I'm sorry."
"Answer the question."
"I wanted to," he said, wringing his hands anxiously, the same way she used to. "Only a few weeks after I left, I knew it was a mistake. But I knew you would be so angry with me. You never contacted me, and I thought… Well, I waited for a sign that you wanted me. I waited for the necklace to burn."
She shook her head slowly, her lips parted slightly in sheer outrage. "You were waiting for me to contact you?" she said furiously.
"I thought you'd reach out to me if you wanted to hear from me…" he defended weakly.
She practically shook from nerves and anger. "Why, you… You selfish, arrogant, cowardly prick!" All the pain she felt from the first day he left came flooding back and she was releasing it upon him like a tidal wave. "You made me trust you, then care for you, and goddamnit, Draco Malfoy, you made me love you. Then you left claiming you don't deserve me, you broke my heart, you didn't write me, you didn't give me any indication that you even care about me, and now you come back and tell me you were waiting for me to send a sign? How—dare—you!"
She was screaming now, her cheeks pink and her hair flying wild. She punctuated her words with furious stomps of her feet and wild gestures of her hands. But unlike every other time they argued, Draco wasn't participating. He stood, frozen, eyebrows furrowed so deeply they almost touched.
"You loved me?" he asked quietly.
She squinted at him, shaking her head. "Well of course I bloody well loved you, wasn't that obvious, you pig-headed idiotic arsehole?"
He smiled the widest smile she'd ever seen grace his face, then took two long strides forward, closing the gap between them, and before she could open her mouth to argue he kissed her, hard. Hard enough to make up for the past year, hard enough to temporarily make her forget the past year even happened.
He didn't push his limits, didn't touch her anywhere but her arms. He broke the kiss after a few seconds and pushed his forehead against hers like he always did, his eyes mere inches away. "I love you," he said breathily. "I loved you, I loved you all this past year, I never stopped loving you."
She was fighting against every cell in her body that begged her to close the gap between them again. Instead she settled for lifting her finger to his jaw, committing to memory the soft feel of his skin, the firmness of the bone underneath. She'd forgotten what he felt like. She breathed a short sigh of defeat. "We need to talk about this," she said. "You don't get to just come back and kiss me. That's not how this works."
"You're in my kitchen. How the fuck did you get in my kitchen? You can't just appear like this and profess your love for me after being fucking absent for a year!" She felt herself growing hysterical again and Eleanor was pacing back and forth at her feet, sensing her owner's anxiety. "You owe me a million explanations."
"Then let's talk," said Draco firmly. "I have nothing but time to talk to you."
She poured herself a cup of tea and they talked. At first it was light small talk. They shared what they'd done the past year, what had changed, how Teddy and James and Ginny and Harry and Ron were, how Blaise and Goyle and Theo were, what was work at the Ministry like, what work at the shop was like, what they did over the holidays.
As they talked she drank him in with her eyes, realizing for the first time just how much she had missed him. The moment she laid eyes on him again, an aching beneath her ribs she hadn't known existed disappeared. He was familiar, he was security, he was home. The way he constantly ran his hand through his hair, mussing it up, how he cocked his head to the side when he was listening carefully, how his leg bounced up and down when he was sitting for too long. She wanted to reach under the table and ease it, but she wasn't ready to touch him yet.
She wanted to, though. God, she wanted to.
"I need to know," she asked slowly, finally reaching the question that loomed over them like a proverbial hippogriff in the room. "Why it was exactly that you left."
The tension returned between them and his leg stilled. He cast his eyes down at the table. "It was a mistake."
"That's not what I asked."
He sighed. "As much as things had changed after meeting you again, I still hadn't forgiven myself. There was this battle in my head between what I wanted and what I thought was right. All my life I turned my back on the 'right' choice, but finally I had a chance to be the noble one."
"But you didn't stop to consider what I thought the right decision was."
He looked sheepish. "It turns out that nobility requires a fair amount of arrogance."
She granted him a small smile. "As a Gryffindor, I can affirm that statement 100%."
"I knew quickly I had made the wrong choice, but I remembered what you told me: if I leave, I leave. You wanted someone who was sure, not someone who would leave and come back and leave and come back. I had to respect that."
"You're an idiot," she chided.
"You've mentioned that once or twice," he said dryly.
She paused, stirred her tea, then set down her spoon. "Today's exactly a year since you left."
He let out a surprised snort. "Of course. I've been practically counting the days."
"What a coincidence," she mused. "That I would find your briefcase today of all days."
Privately, Draco had a hunch it wasn't coincidence at all that she came across the Prophesieve on the anniversary of his abandonment. Divination worked in strange ways, but he knew Hermione didn't believe in that sort of thing and he didn't bring it up. He wanted desperately to know what she had seen when she used the Prophesieve and what she thought about it, but had been too nervous to ask. Swallowing this fear, he forced out the question.
"Granger, I have to ask…" he said. "What happened when you used the Prophesieve? What did you see?"
She leaned back in her seat and sighed, not quite ready to tell him all the details of the future she saw for them. "I saw us. You and me, together. We had a family. A life together."
His eyes were hopeful. "We did?"
She nodded. "I saw several scenes, and the last one was you and I meeting again at the cottage. I thought they might be glimpses of the future, so I followed what it told me to do. I went to the cottage."
"That's not exactly how it works," he said. "It's not a precise prophecy. It shows you fragments of what your life could be like, given the memory you inserted. It's impossible to see the exact future, of course. It only shows you what might be."
She felt relief and regret wash over her at the same time. She was relieved she wasn't bound to the future she saw, but all in all, it didn't seem like a horrible life to live. She was happy with Draco in that reality, truly, fully happy.
"Have you tried using it?" she asked.
He nodded grimly. "Just once. It was… Too much."
"What did you see?"
His face darkened and he looked down at his now-lukewarm cup of tea. "It wasn't the brightest future. I used a memory of us fighting, which is probably why." His lip twitched. "We couldn't make our relationship work because of all the gossip. I felt guilty and left you… Sort of like what really happened except I couldn't really stay away. You married someone else but we kept sleeping together."
She frowned, unable to believe she would cheat on her husband in any reality.
"You became pregnant, then lost the baby. It was too much for you and I, and we parted ways. You stayed with your husband, I had my own family. You became successful at the Ministry, I wrote a textbook. Then… Then you died."
Her heart panged at his words. The future he saw was so starkly different than hers. "When did you see all this?"
"I used it one of our last nights at the Potters'. I didn't tell you because I didn't want you to know what I saw."
Suddenly all the pieces were falling together. "And you believed that to be the most likely turn of events."
"Not exactly," he said. "I knew that it was just a possibility. A roll of the dice, a bad hand. But then everything happened with Percy and it only magnified every fear I had. I thought that by staying with you, I'd only make your life worse. I didn't want to taint you."
She wanted to smack him again, but held back. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
"It felt right at the time," he said. "Then once I left, I saw you were doing so well without me. I wanted you to find happiness with someone else, and I didn't want to become the other man like I had been in the Prophesieve."
"I would never have 'another man'," she said scornfully.
He smirked, and she longed again to touch him. She missed his smirk. "I suppose that's a flaw in the formula, then, because I can't see you being an adulteress, either."
She smiled sheepishly. "The life I saw was a happy one."
"Yes. When I saw it, I thought… Well, I thought I wouldn't mind living my life with you."
He tipped his head to the side curiously. "Would you… Would you tell me what you saw?"
She hesitated, but he looked up at her with the most pathetic puppy-dog stare and she gave in. "I saw a wedding at the Weasley house. I saw myself doubt you, I saw us fight, but I saw us make up again. I saw a little boy with your hair and my eyes. I saw a home by the water. I saw you with gray hair and a cane, but your eyes still…" she stopped, choking up a bit. "They still lit up the way they always do when I shout at you."
He laughed. "I have a mad infatuation with the way you yell at me."
"Only with you." His finger traced spirals on the table. "Granger?" he asked.
"I missed this."
She looked up at him sitting in her kitchen, drinking a cup of tea, and marveled at how easily they fell back into their old teasing. "I missed this, too."
"I don't want to ask you for forgiveness," he said slowly. "Because I know you can't give that to me now. I didn't come here with the intention of begging for you back, either, really. I came here only to finally reach the closure I desperately needed, to thank you for everything you did for me, and to apologize for leaving you like I did."
She bit the inside of her lip. He was so hopeful, so full of remorse and promise. "Did you find what you were looking for by leaving?" she asked. "Did you forgive yourself, or find the man who would deserve me, like you wanted?"
"Sort of," he said honestly. "I found peace. You were the light switch that I needed flipped in order to find the path to forgiveness. I realized that I could forgive myself and find peace without you. I don't want to, but I can. I found that I'm an idiot, and I found out that I should really always listen to you because you're rarely wrong, and I found that if you say you want me, then I should believe you."
"So you didn't come here to try and get me back?" she asked.
He bowed his head. "No."
She took a deep breath. She could tell this was one of those turning points—her choice of what to say in this moment would define the path her life would take moving forward. This was one of the moments that, in the Prophesieve-like vision of her real life, would be highlighted in bright hues. Here was where she could make a choice, and before she could let her logical side weigh her down, she clutched her Gryffindor courage tight to her chest and took the plunge. "But would you want me back?" she asked.
Draco blinked once, twice, three times, dumbly, like he hadn't considered this to be a possibility. "I… Of course… But what do you mean?"
Her heart thumped achingly but the warm tickle in her fingers and toes told her she was making the right choice. "I mean that… Well, we all make mistakes. Granted, your share of mistakes is larger than average, but I think under the right circumstances, given certain terms, I would be willing to let you back into my life."
"You mean a second chance?"
"A third or fourth, realistically speaking." She smirked but the humor was lost on Draco, who was still processing her offer.
"Hermione," he corrected. "I promise to you that's not what I came here for."
His wide gray eyes flitted about: from her eyes to her forehead, her cheeks, her nose, her neck, down to her hands, lingering on her lips, then back to her eyes. He opened his mouth but the only thing that escaped was a small strained noise. Then, after closing his eyes and shaking his head at himself, he lunged forward and grabbed her lips with his. It wasn't a confident, steadfast kiss like she remembered theirs always being, but rather a quivering release of nerves. When he pulled away she expected him to be shaking, but he seemed newly firm. "It would mean the world."
"So," said Hermione breathlessly, pulling away from him. "We could try again."
"But I have some terms, of course."
He scoffed playfully and she remembered their first day at the hotel, when they'd written out their terms of agreement for working together. How things had changed. "I would expect nothing else from you," he said.
"If we try this again, you have to be honest with me."
"Okay," he agreed, believing this to be an easy promise to make.
"No more hoarding all your feelings to yourself. You've got to talk to me."
This one he seemed more hesitant about, but he agreed nevertheless.
"And you have to promise to agree that I'm always right."
He sighed exasperatedly. "And I'm the manipulative Slytherin here?"
"I learned from the best," she said with a wink.
"Fine. I will agree that you're always right, even when you're wrong."
"I need you to be honest with me. You can't keep secrets or be all broody all the time. If we do this, we have to start really slow. We can… be friends. You can court me. I want to learn to trust you again."
"Court you," he mused, mulling the words over. "I suppose I could do that."
She looked around her kitchen. "I was actually going to go out for some food tonight. Maybe you could come with me? We could talk more, figure out things."
"It'll be different, though, being together in the real world outside of a cottage or Harry and Ginny's house. And you're sure you're ready to face that?"
Draco glanced back at the door to her flat, imagining the world that was waiting for him out there. Then he looked back at Hermione and found that he wasn't really frightened at all anymore. He smiled. "I'm sure." Then, with a shy smile, he asked her a question in a small voice that was utterly un-Malfoylike. "But before we go, can you say it one more time?"
He shuffled sheepishly in his seat. "That you loved me. I'm not sure I can believe it if the only time you said it was while yelling at me."
She rolled her eyes, but still grinned stupidly. "I love you. Well, I did, anyway. I'm not saying it again until we get this thing right."
"Of course," he said. "But can I still say it in the meantime?"
"What, just to irritate me?"
He smirked. "Yes."
"I love you, Granger."
In the end, neither of their Prophesieve journeys had been entirely accurate. In the end, there was a wedding, but after much objection on Draco's part, it took place at Hogwarts, not the Burrow. Hermione found out she was pregnant three months before the wedding date, and George and Ron liked to joke it was a shotgun wedding, even though they'd been engaged for a year before she became pregnant.
The engagement ring was presented to her in a hollowed-out copy of Hogwarts, A History. After crying and kissing him and shouting yes fourteen times, Hermione made sure to scold Draco for defacing a copy of one of her favorite books.
There was a fight, just as there were many fights, most of which ended with the pair in bed. There was a two-week span after a particularly nasty fight during which Draco slept on the couch at Grimmauld Place, but Hermione had been eight months pregnant at the time and wasn't in the best mood.
There was a son with Draco's hair and Hermione's eyes named Leo. But he came after his sister, who had Hermione's hair and Hermione's eyes, but Draco's chin, which he would often point out as his only proof of paternity. She was named Lyra.
Lyra was a Slytherin. Leo was a Ravenclaw. Both parents were proud.
There were many things in between. There was a miscarriage that tore them apart and then brought them together even stronger than before. There were countless birthday parties, anniversaries, and Christmases. There were Sunday dinners at the Burrow and twice-monthly playdates with Teddy and Andromeda. There were successful career milestones, book signings, press conferences, and lavish retirement parties.
And at the end of it all, there was a small cottage by the water in Rhode Island, where Hermione said the salty sea air helped with her aging lungs. Draco had a cane and, much to his dismay, receding silver hair. Whenever Hermione nagged him about leaving his dishes in the sink or forgetting to put away his laundry, his eyes still lit up with the same fire as when they were young and new.
And when Hermione sat by his side in a hospital bed, felt her necklace burn for the last time, and saw that fire in his eyes die for good, she knew with a full heart that there was no possible reality that could have made her more radiantly happy than the one she lived.
But before there was all of that, there was a second-first date on the grounds of Hogwarts, one week after Draco and Hermione had reunited and decided to give 'courting' another go.
It was winter break and the grounds were nearly empty. A light snowfall littered the grounds, speckling the rooftops like sifted sugar. Draco apparated them over without telling Hermione where they were going. When she opened her eyes, she frowned in confusion.
"Hogwarts?" she asked.
He nodded. "Follow me."
Hand-in-hand, he led her on a tour of the place where they once only knew one another as enemies. Nostalgia washed over her with every step. Their first stop was the edge of the Forbidden Forest near Hagrid's hut.
"This is where we had detention together our first year," Draco explained. "We got in trouble because I followed you and Potter and Weasley because you had a dragon—"
"You thought we had a dragon—"
"Come off of it, I know you had a dragon."
"Fine," she laughed. "We had a dragon."
"In this forest, I nearly got killed, and our story very well could have ended here," he said dramatically. "Lucky for you, I survived." She rolled her eyes.
Their next stop was the Quidditch pitch. They stood in the middle of the pitch, surrounding by empty snow-capped bleachers. "This is where I made one of the stupidest and most shameful mistakes of my youth," Draco said humorlessly. "This is where I first called you a Mudblood."
Hermione grimaced. "Ron was so angry that day… It was such a big deal that first time. And then you kept saying it to me, over and over, and eventually…"
"You didn't have the energy to care," he said, his voice heavy.
He pulled her close and sighed into her hair. "I'm sorry."
"You've mentioned that once or twice," she said, her voice muffled against his chest.
"Shut up, I'm trying to be sincere."
She knew exactly where he was taking her after this: the castle doors past Hagrid's hut. She smiled mischievously. "Could we stage a re-enactment?" she asked when they arrived at the spot.
"Please?" she asked.
"You're not slapping me again," he said. Then, with a smirk: "Unless it's in bed."
She pinched his arm. "You deserved that slap, you know."
"I know," he said. "You also hit really hard for a thirteen-year-old girl."
"I had three years' worth of pent-up anger in me. It was bound to hurt."
She wondered where they were going next; she couldn't remember anything significant happening their fourth year. He brought her to the Great Hall, which was lined with empty tables. She stared wistfully at the spot she used to occupy every morning for breakfast and imagined the light filtering in, warming her skin as she prepared her notes for that day's classes. "What happened here?" she asked.
"The Yule Ball," he said simply.
She frowned. "Were you even at the Yule Ball?"
"I was, thank you very much for noticing. You were too wrapped up in that Krum wanker to pay attention to anyone else."
She ignored his comment. "What's the significance of the Yule Ball?"
"It was the first time I thought you were beautiful. Even I couldn't come up with a single criticism for you that night."
She blushed and didn't say anything else, just kissed his cheek and let him lead her to the next location.
They went up the moving staircases and explored the winding halls until they reached the entrance to McGonagall's office. "The headmaster's office?" she asked.
"This is where Umbridge was our fifth year."
Hermione practically shuddered at mere sound of Umbridge's name. "Why would you bring up that foul witch?"
"This was where she held her Inquisitorial Squad meetings. I used to think I was so important, being a part of that group. I was looking for a way to feel like something more, do you know? I was so tired of you beating me in marks…"
She laughed softly and shook her head. "You have such a fragile ego."
"I still do."
She expected him to take her to a sixth spot, but instead he led her to the top of a staircase and sat down. She leaned her head against his shoulder and looked up at him. "Nothing for sixth year?"
He sighed heavily and folded his hands together. "The first five years were different. I can look back on those and know that what I did can be forgiven. But our sixth year was when I made mistakes with consequences that scarred permanently. Those were the types of choices that can't be forgiven so easily, but you have shown grace on a level that I hadn't thought possible. I'm so sorry for what I did that year and the year that followed."
She listened somberly to his apology and tilted his chin down to meet her gaze. "I'm sorry you made those mistakes, too."
"When I met you all over again that day in the Ministry, for the first time, someone fought for me. Someone told me I deserved to have a fighting chance, and I couldn't quite grasp that idea. I just wasn't ready to forgive myself, yet. I didn't think I deserved you." He reached over to intertwine his fingers with hers, the warmth of his words pulsating from his fingertips to hers. "When I left, I thought I could fix myself, and then I could deserve you. But I think now, coming back here with you, looking back on my mistakes and having you stay by my side as I recall them… I've realized I can't fix myself. But you have shown me something more, something better. With you, I finally was able to accept my brokenness and move forward, and for that, Hermione Granger, I am eternally grateful."
She looked down at their interlocked fingers, at his Mark surrounded by tattooed flowers, at his arms that always held her tight and made her feel safe, at his neck where his necklace hung, at his jaw, sharp and stern and proud, at his hair that flopped over his forehead, at his eyes, profound and newly warm. She nestled herself into his chest and breathed him in deep, smiling. "You're welcome," she whispered. "You're so very welcome."
A/N: That's it. I'm not crying, you're crying! I hope this wrapped everything up for you.
Feel free to story/author alert for possible future stuff. Might happen, might not. I'll be focusing more on my original work and won't have time this summer to update a fic anyway, as I'm working kinda crazy hours. Thank you all so much for your kind words over the past five-ish months. You all have been so fun to talk to and so supportive and kind!
If you haven't yet left a comment, please do so now! A last hurrah! I would love to know what you liked and what you would change. Even though this is not meant to be an example of my best writing, I'm always looking for ways to become a better writer.
Again, thank you so very much for your support. It means the world. Hearts for all of you!