— CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: EPILOGUE —
New Year's Resolutions
31 December 2003
'Draco, come quick!'
Hermione flipped the newspaper backward so that she could peer over the crease. She heard clattering from the kitchen – Draco was in the middle of preparing dinner. The sound died away, however, as the blond walked into the living room moments later, accompanied by Crookshanks, grazing his legs.
'What's up?' he asked, and Hermione pointed at The New York Ghost she held in her hands.
'Listen to this,' she said happily, unfolding the paper again. '"Following the events in Britain one and a half years ago, the many Dementors utilised by the Faceless have been put into the so-called Dementor Repository located in the Canadian tundra. Dementors only thrive where they find souls to leech on, which is why the Federation of Allied Wizarding Nations, FAWN, chose an isolated location to set up the facility …" Yeah, we know all that … here it is: "Every other month, MACUSA officials have checked upon the repository in order to count the Dementors. They were excited to tell the Ghost that the last time they went there, no Dementor could be seen – the entire facility was desolate."'
Hermione beamed, looking up at Draco, who mirrored her expression.
'That's fantastic news!' he said before sitting down on the edge of the sofa. His hand shot up to stroke her face, making Hermione's skin crawl. The effect this man had on her did not seem to ever wane. She held his hand with hers, guiding it towards her lips and planting soft kisses onto his palm.
'Yeah, it is,' she breathed against Draco's skin. 'And there's more …'
Hermione let go of him, pointing at a tiny article beneath the one she had just cited from.
'"Disgraced journalist faces trial,"' he read, squinting. 'Could it be …?'
'Yep,' confirmed Hermione, cracking a gloating smile. 'She keeps getting into trouble ever since she left Britain, but this is the icing on the cake! I'm so happy someone finally sued her – for "trespassing private property". I bet she was snooping around, desperate to get her filthy hands on some scandalous piece of information.'
'Give me that,' said Draco, snagging The New York Ghost out of her hands and holding the paper at arm's length, trying to gauge the perfect distance while tipping his head back.
'Why don't you make an appointment with the optometrist already?' Hermione sighed, at this point tired from having to address the issue for what felt the hundredth time. Draco levelled his gaze with hers and she continued. 'My mother gave you the recommendation weeks ago! I'm serious, Draco, you need reading glasses! Your job literally is to read and write! Besides, you keep complaining about headaches, so do something about it!'
His shoulders drooped, as did the hand which held the newspaper.
'Ugh, I know,' he conceded. 'I'll go first thing tomorrow.'
'Shops are closed tomorrow, you dolt.' Hermione tried to stifle a smirk, failing miserably.
'What did you just call me?' Despite his eyebrow arching dangerously, Hermione knew he wasn't actually cross.
'I called you a dolt,' she clarified, chin raised. 'You know, an idiot. A blockhead. A nitw–'
Draco's lips cut her off rather effectively, Hermione's eyes fluttering shut as their foreheads touched.
'You're a nitwit,' she breathed against his lips, a dry chuckle escaping Draco in response. 'For not getting reading glasses, which, by the way, would make you look terribly handsome.'
'Are you saying I'm not terribly handsome already?'
Without waiting for an answer to his completely superfluous question, he pulled back an inch, kissing Hermione's brow and getting up. She couldn't help but follow his movements, wishing they weren't expecting guests soon; wishing they had some more time to themselves …
'You struck a beautiful chord with me, you know that?' said Draco, pulling her out of her momentary trance. Try as she might, Hermione couldn't keep a straight face confronted with that soppy a statement.
'Waxing poetic now, are we, Malfoy?' she jibed, the corners of her mouth tipping into a mischievous grin.
Draco held up his palms as if to prove a point.
'Um, excuse me? Writer?'
'Not for much longer, if you put off buying those glasses!'
Draco groaned exasperatedly, turning on the spot.
'Alright, alright, the day after tomorrow it is!' he called as he walked away, the Half-Kneazel on his heels.
Hermione sunk back into the cushions, pleased with herself and closing her eyes for a moment – a short-lived moment, until Draco's voice carried over from the kitchen.
'Are you going to help me with the pudding or not?'
She chuckled to herself while wagging her head and pushing herself up – oh how much she loved this man.
x x x
Over the course of the afternoon, Draco and Hermione's guests arrived in dribs and drabs. They had only recently moved in together and were both very happy about the decision to rent a quaint little home in wizarding York.
'I absolutely adore York,' Hannah later commented over tea and toast. 'It's so much nicer than London. Fewer people, way more peaceful … that's why you moved here, isn't it?'
Hermione, in the midst of nursing her cuppa, nodded affirmatively. Draco was lounging in his armchair, watching the scene play out. He felt like it was her time to chat with her family and friends, and it was much more comfortable just to sit back and relax.
'It's quiet alright,' said Neville, 'but the entrance is kind of hard to find.'
Wizarding York could be reached from Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, a seemingly tiny street on the Muggle side, which extended gravely upon entry.
'Oh, who cares if it's hard to find?' Robert Granger butted in; Neville and Hannah had picked Hermione's parents up from the station. 'Watching the street change like that … it was utterly amazing! Don't you agree, honey?'
His wife did, as indicated by her approving hum.
'But really, I love what you did with this place,' said Helen as she scanned the living room. 'It's perfect for you two. I wish commuting was as easy in our world as it is in yours … both of you still work in London, right?'
'Right,' said Hermione, treating herself to another piece of toast. 'Although Draco travels around a lot, being wherever is necessary for him to collect news first-hand. He's on holiday leave at the moment though.'
'I take it your business is going well then?' Robert directed the question at him, all eyes suddenly darting towards Draco. He leaned forward to give the answer.
'Oh yeah. We're growing steadily. Remember how I told you before that I'd be careful as to pick only trustworthy employees because I simply cannot risk another Skeeter situation in this country? It seems to work out; our newspaper subscriptions are going through the roof, and even the alchemy journal is selling well – which says a lot for a specialist magazine.'
'Oh, most definitely,' Neville chimed in. 'Most of the Hogwarts staff get the Echo Britannica in the morning now. And the new Potions professor is eager to adjust the curriculum in light of your work. Although I'd wager she also fancies you, so …'
Hogwarts's new Herbology teacher flashed Draco a grin. It was curious how they had actually become friends – true friends – over the past one and a half years. However, Draco suspected that Narcissa's condition played a significant part in the matter.
As soon as the others had once again taken up the conversation, Draco beckoned Neville over.
'What's up?' the latter asked while pulling up a chair to sit down next to him. 'Sorry about that comment about Professor Fraser – I was only joking. I am sure she focuses on the content, not the author.'
'That's not it.' Draco wagged his head ever so slightly, resuming in a whisper. 'I was just wondering … you went to St Mungo's earlier, didn't you?'
'Yeah …' The former Auror let out a heavy sigh. 'She wasn't well … hasn't spoken all day, but Hannah couldn't tell whether she won't or can't.'
Draco felt his heart sink. The Dementors hadn't managed to take Narcissa's soul entirely, that he had made sure of. But their presence combined with the "chaos concoction," as the Healers had later coined the poison administered by the Faceless, had been utterly destructible. While the bezoar had saved her life, the poison had already done its work, sucking the energy out of her body and mind.
There were good days, and there were bad days. On good days, she would speak in minor sentences; allow Draco to read to her; graze his hand and say his name; sometimes even tell him that she loved him. On bad days, however …
'Did she leave her bed?' Draco asked, already knowing the answer.
'No … sorry, mate.' Neville shot him a pitying look. He and Hermione were the only people who could look at him like that without churning him even more; upon meeting Alice and Frank Longbottom for the first time, Draco had developed a deep respect for the ex-Auror.
'Draco?' Hannah ripped him out of his thoughts. 'D'you mind if I join you?'
She sat down on Neville's lap.
'Your mother didn't have a good day, that is true. But – and this I only tell you because I am sure – she is showing improvement! It was her first very bad day in what – three months?'
Draco perked up. 'Really?'
'Really. I didn't want to tell you before, you know – didn't want to give you false hope. But we monitor her condition every day, and it's getting better, even when you're not around. The other day, she even asked me to "replace those hideous curtains."'
Draco couldn't help but snort. 'She really said that? That sounds just like my mother.'
Hannah smiled softly at him. 'Exactly. If she keeps that rate up, we might even be able to discharge her eventually. And that's saying something, considering that we thought she'd stay with us forever.'
Draco let out a breath, looking at his hands and then back up to Hannah and Neville. 'Thank you for telling me this. I didn't know I needed that today. And I'm definitely going to visit her tomorrow.'
'I'm sure she'll be happy to see you,' said Hannah, and for the first time in a long time, Draco actually believed she would.
As the afternoon went by, more and more guests popped in. Draco was familiar with the bunch by now; where friendships hadn't been forged, at least mutual respect took its place. Nevertheless, he, Theo, and Tracey preferred to stick to themselves for the better part of the night, leaving the Weasleys as well as Hermione's other friends to their own devices. Old habits did indeed die hard.
'So … did you hear about the Dementors?' Draco asked his friends.
'Yep,' answered Theo. 'It's definitely a relief. But I have to admit, I wasn't as excited as when Parkinson and my father got that lifelong sentence in Azkaban; or when the Ministry announced they had caught a few Faceless hiding in some cave in Chile. They're doing what they should have done with the Death Eaters back then … would have saved us a lot of trouble.'
'Too right,' Tracey agreed. 'It would have been shameful had they made the same mistakes for the third time. Didn't they also inflict harsher punishments on the, let's say, less important Faceless?'
'Oh yeah,' said Draco. 'The Faceless were given much less leniency, compared to the Death Eater trials after each of the wars. I mean … I'd be a hypocrite for saying I didn't benefit from the lacklustre jurisdiction back then, but I'm still glad they're taking the right measures this time around. And I can't believe I'm saying this, but I truly hope that Pansy will grow as a person now that she and her mother have moved abroad …'
The sudden clink of cutlery against porcelain made their heads spin around simultaneously. Harry, who held a spoon and tea cup in his hands, cleared his throat before speaking.
'Thank you! Now that everyone's here, Ginny and I wanted to use the opportunity to tell you something.'
The newlyweds exchanged a quick, loving glance before Ginny added, 'I'm pregnant.'
Her words induced a collective "Aw" among their friends, the affectionate rendering soon turning into cheers. Draco noticed that while Harry seemed over the moon, Ginny's expression spoke of merely tentative delight; it was clear to him that she felt ambiguous about the matter.
'Hey, do you have a minute?' Draco asked her as soon as he'd congratulated both of them. Ginny complied, walking some metres away from the others.
'I couldn't help but notice that you don't seem to be as excited as Harry,' said Draco.
'Of course I'm not,' Ginny said irritably. 'Don't get me wrong, I'm happy. I want to have a family with him – it's just that I didn't think it'd happen so soon. Still, I'm keeping it. I want to. But with a baby on the way, I won't be able to play Quidditch! I can take a break, of course, but who knows if I'll ever get back into the shape I'm in now?'
'If you don't … and if you're interested, there might be something else you could do,' said Draco.
Ginny only shot him a confused look, so he continued, 'I've been looking for a good sports correspondent for a while now, and now that you won't be actively playing – until further notice, at least – you could do the job. Apart from going to the fixtures, you can work from home and only come into the office if need be, or if you feel like it. What do you think?'
Ginny's face lit up.
'Are you being serious? That'd be amazing!'
'Of course I am,' said Draco contentedly. 'Just pop by my office next week, and we'll figure everything out.'
'Thank you.' Ginny gave him a gentle smile. 'Really. You know, even if I won't be able to play, I don't want to turn my back on Quidditch. I just love it too much. So why not give sports journalism a try?'
'And later on, if you don't want to return as a player, you can always become a coach or referee,' suggested Draco.
'Exactly. Again, thank you.'
'You're welcome. So … what do you think? Ready to make some mischief?'
Ginny's smile turned into a wicked grin.
x x x
Hermione was lounging on the sofa; Teddy Lupin cuddled against her, fast asleep. She absentmindedly let her fingers rake through his purple tresses, feeling thoroughly at peace. They were all slouching about, full from their wonderful meal – all but Draco and Ginny, who entered the living room in the exact moment that Teddy stirred, yawning and stretching and sleepily blinking.
'It's almost midnight!' announced Ginny happily. She and Draco had their wands out, numerous champagne flutes levitating in front of them.
'Come on, let's gather by the fire,' said Draco. He made each of the glasses float into the hands of a guest, explaining, 'The blue ones are for the kids and Ginny.'
Hermione got up, walking over to Draco, who gave her a peck on the cheek.
'You've got pillow wrinkles all over your face,' he whispered lovingly. 'You look beautiful.'
She answered with a kiss back.
As soon as everyone was equipped with a drink, Draco raised his for the toast.
'Thank you all for coming,' he said, looking around. 'I suppose I can speak for Hermione as well as myself that we're delighted to have you here tonight. We couldn't have imagined a better house-warming.'
'Speaking on my behalf now, are you?' interposed Hermione, smirking. 'I never said I was delighted about entertaining this lot.'
A chuckle went through their guests as she gestured at them.
'No, but really,' she rectified. 'You've all made this night very special for us. The entire year has been special, actually, and I'm looking forward to the next.'
'Hear, hear,' everyone cheered, raising their glasses.
'Let's count down together,' said Hermione's mother, peering at her watch. 'Ten, nine …'
As the numbers dropped, Hermione shot Draco an endearing look. He seemed very happy indeed as he finished, '… one. Happy New Year!'
'Happy New Year!' Hermione fell in with the others, kissing Draco before lifting her glass to her lips and tasting the champagne. As soon as she swallowed the bubbly wine, however, her ears began to tickle.
'What in the –'
She looked around, her free hand shooting up to cover her mouth as she gasped; Hermione couldn't help but roar with laughter a second later. Everyone was suddenly sporting a different pair of animal ears. She spotted a horse, a fox, and ears that looked like they belonged to a giraffe. Big brown bear ears poked out from underneath Hagrid's messy hair, the gamekeeper chortling heartily, and Teddy looked especially adorable with his grey wolf ones.
'Not again!' wailed Harry as he reached upwards to feel his elephant ears.
'Good one!' George said, his eyes twinkling with delight. 'What am I?' he wanted to know as he groped his ear. 'No wait, don't tell me! Am I … a battle-scarred … lynx?'
Everyone laughed, nodding.
'This is absolutely brilliant,' he added, looking at Draco. 'We must start selling these, right Ronald?'
'Absolutely,' said Ron, whose floppy bunny ears bounced with each chuckle.
'Are those lion ears?' Hermione asked Draco softly, stroking the furry accessory he was now wearing.
'Yeah,' he replied. 'I couldn't resist. And yours look good on you, too, lioness.'
The kiss he gave her then spoke of sheer joy; the same joy which filled her every cell to the brim. 2004 had begun with friends, laughter, and love – Hermione couldn't have hoped for a better way to chime in the new year. And she knew it was going to be a good one.
A/N: This is it! It's over! Took me two years all in all, and let me tell you, it was a wonderful ride. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Lots of love to you all.