Chapter Twenty: Epilogue

.

Well this is it. The end of a long journey! I hope you enjoyed this story, and that this last little snippet is a satisfying conclusion. Please let me know what you thought of this piece… even if you've been a casual weekly reader I'd love to know what you liked about it and what kept you reading until the end. If you're a regular reader, how does it rate against my other three stories? I'd be interested to know which has been your favourite.

As always, JKR has been the inspiration – Isn't it great that we were able to live through the Harry Potter era? So lucky.

….

….

….

So fair and foul a day he had not seen in many months. Draco stared glumly around at the dark clouds creeping in over the mountains and into their valley. It would surely be one fearsome thunderstorm. It looked like the sky would crack and open up in a matter of hours. Probably before nightfall.

Draco sighed. It didn't matter much either way to him. He was actually quite fond of a good rainfall, but he knew that Hermione had been dreaming about the perfect white Christmas all month. She would be devastated if the fluffy white slopes around them turned to sludge. Especially since she had gone to such a lot of effort to decorate the house beautifully and string up gold and silver fairy lights all around their little home. He decided not to mention it, choosing instead to lean his forehead against window and wait for her to finish getting herself ready. She was still upstairs adorning herself with the usual Weasley Christmas jumper and putting on shimmery little bells as earrings. Draco's looked down at his own woollen jumper with a slight frown. He wasn't sure how he felt about wearing it; but Mrs Weasley had made it especially for him and he knew that she was really trying to throw everything into Christmas this year. It was as though everyone needed a good old fashioned 'pick me up' and the joyful holiday season seemed to be re-invigorating them all. It had only been a few months since the final battle at Hogwarts but it felt like years had passed. The time had dragged on like a bad dream for most. So Hermione had insisted that everyone needed a good filling of Turkey and bonbons to finish the year on a bang.

And really, the jumper wasn't so bad. It was kind of cute actually. Molly had knitted it in a dark forest green colour, and a tiny silver dragon was emblazoned on the chest to suit his name. It was sort of her way of accepting him into their fold. Or maybe it was just her way of begging his forgiveness for doubting him. Draco had been rather blindsided by the rush of sheepish, disingenuous kindness directed towards him since the end of the war. There was still a lot of bitterness there on his part, but Hermione always made sure that the few select Order members who had been genuinely cruel to him never stepped inside their sphere of acquaintance. There were one or two notable exceptions who had not been invited to Christmas dinner.

But Molly was alright, he supposed. She had been cautious of him at first, and disappointed that Hermione was not dating her son, but that wariness had quickly given way to a sort of motherly affection. He figured that losing a son in the battle had changed her perspective on some things and she was eager to treasure the people close to her, such as the curly haired girl who had at some point become an unofficial member of the Weasley clan.

It was a small price to pay to be with Hermione, really.

Draco stepped away from the window and looked back into the living room to check the clock hanging over the fireplace. Their guests would be arriving soon. The room was absolutely resplendent, with tinsel and holly hanging all around and a beautiful tree in one corner. The smell of pine was thick and heavy in the air. And, just as she'd described all those months ago, he had really loved decorating it with her. She'd made hot chocolate and they'd worked together arranging things by hand, gentle music humming in the background while the fireplace crackled. It was like some kind of cheesy muggle postcard, he thought, remembering how she's described it at the time. But it was nice. And he'd been filled with a strange sort of masculine pride when she'd presented the glittering golden star to him with a beaming smile and had told him it was his job to place the ornament right at the top of the tree.

His musings were interrupted when Hermione practically skipped into the room, placing a bottle of mulled wine on the sideboard.

"I forgot that Molly gave me this a few days ago…" she was saying, mostly to herself, as she hurried around and checked that everything was perfect. Draco barely heard her. He was too busy admiring the beautiful green dress she was wearing, a soft cashmere material that was tied like a wrap around her waist. Her ears, wrist and fingers were adorned with glittering gold jewels. All of them were gifts from him from the past few weeks.

It had taken her a while to get used to accepting these kinds of gifts from him. At first she had stubbornly refused any gestures where he would try to spoil her rotten or spend large amounts of money on her. But he was starting to win that battle. Now it was fairly normal to present her with flowers or chocolates, perfume or clothes whenever he felt like it. She merely tutted and rolled her eyes at first, but then her blush would deepen and she usually left a tender kiss on his cheek, while he smiled proudly.

The only piece of jewellery that was conspicuously absent now was the old golden locket on its long chain, the one that had belonged to her grandmother. That was tucked safely under Draco's own knitted jumper, pressed warm and comforting against his sternum. He was truly humbled by its place next to his heart. Hermione had insisted he take it the moment they had arrived back here after things at Hogwarts had settled down.

"You should wear it. That way you'll always have a piece of me with you…"

He remembered her words now, the memory bringing a smile to his face as he watched her straighten a few Christmas cards and decorations. Feeling the mischief of the season take hold, he slipped up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, tugging her back to lean against his chest.

"Draco! What are you doing?"

She giggled as he placed a few lingering kisses on her neck, shivering when he touched a ticklish spot.

"I'm enjoying our last remaining minutes of peace…"

Hermione snorted.

"The party won't be that bad."

"I'm sure it will be wonderful," he agreed, "But I'd still rather have you all to myself."

"You've basically had me all to yourself for months. We've been terribly neglectful of our friends and family!"

"We see them once a week," he protested with a sulky pout, moving to kiss down and across her shoulder, "And anyway, I don't think I'll ever get used to sharing you."

The moment Draco nibbled down gently on the curve between her neck and her shoulder, he felt Hermione shudder and spin around in his arms. Then her mouth was on his and they were kissing like there was no tomorrow. He loved this about her; that she seemed to want him just as much as he clearly wanted her. And how eager she was to just get lost in their kisses. Draco groaned and deepened the kiss, his hands quickly running over the gentle arch of her back and slipping down to grab her arse, pulling her closer.

"Draco-mmh!" Hermione gave him one last firm kiss then pulled away, "Our guests are arriving at any moment!"

"So?" he asked with a devilish smirk.

"So…so I…we…" whatever she was going to say seemed to disappear from her thoughts, and with a little whimper of need she kissed him again. She started mewling into his mouth and attacking his lips until he felt his eyes roll back into his head. But just before things might have got carried away, a polite knock echoed in from the door.

"Noo…" he murmured against her lips, but she just smiled cheekily.

"Later," she promised, drawing away from his embrace as they heard the soft chattering of voices coming from outside. Hermione walked lightly over to the door and threw it open, welcoming their first guests in from the snow.

"Hello Andromeda, hello Ted!"

The two people she had just greeted cheerfully made their way into the living room. Draco pushed aside his frustration with having to end his little tryst with Hermione. He would definitely make up for it later, he thought ruefully.

"Aunt Andromeda!" Draco gave his aunt an affectionate kiss on the cheek. She smiled at him, looking him over with an approving eye. She was worse than Molly Weasley.

"How are you?" she asked him softly, her hands resting lightly on his shoulders.

"Exceptionally well, thank you," he replied with a self-satisfied grin. Andromeda rolled her eyes and gave him a rather dry stare.

"Yes, I imagine you are…"

Draco chuckled and then looked over her shoulder towards her husband Ted. The man was inspecting the room with an expression of delight. His warm blue eyes were lit up, and his moustache was twitching as he beamed. The two shook hands warmly. He had spent quite a bit of time getting to know his muggleborn uncle by marriage over the last few months. The man was just… well, there was no other word to describe it – nice. He was a truly good person through and through, always lending an ear to listen to his problems, or offering a helping hand with the house. The two had worked hard together one week fixing up the roof tiles, and they had become quite close during the long hours stuck up there in the summer heat.

"The place is looking splendid!" Ted exclaimed, eyes darting happily between Draco and Hermione, "Even better than the last time I stopped by. You've both worked absolute wonders on this old shack!"

"And the Christmas decorations are beautiful," Andromeda agreed with an approving nod.

"That was all Hermione," Draco explained, wrapping an arm around his girlfriend's waist and giving her a little squeeze.

"We're so grateful to you for letting us stay here a little while longer" Hermione told the couple in front of them, "so it was the least we could do. We're just happy you like it."

Andromeda and Ted exchanged a significant look between them, the kind that only an old married couple would understand. They were perfectly able to communicate without words. His aunt turned back to them with a slightly devious smile.

"Actually, on that topic, we wanted to arrive a little early tonight to give you your Christmas gift…"

"You didn't have to get us anything-" Draco started but Ted just laughed and clapped him on the back.

"It's Christmas, Draco my boy. Just accept it."

He bit his lip and they followed the older could over to the couch where they gestured for everyone to sit. Andromeda reached into the folds of her robe and, with a heartfelt smile, handed over a thick white envelope. Draco cocked his head to the side and accepted it, flicking a curious gaze up at his aunt and uncle. But their expressions still gave nothing away. With tentative fingers he pulled the envelope open and drew out the thin booklet of paper inside. Whatever it was, it looked like it had been printed from a muggle computer, something Hermione had been showing him lately. It was neat, perfectly ordered black text fixed with a staple in the top corner. Draco's eyes skimmed the words on the front page. His heart skipped and he read it a second time. Then a third. His mouth dropped open, and he heard Hermione gasp, reading it over his shoulder.

"It's…" he started, before swallowing and then continuing to speak in a croaky voice, "These are the deeds to the house. This house."

"Yes," Ted confirmed with a kindly wink.

"But… it's a notice of an official change of ownership."

"Yes," he repeated, smile widening.

"You're giving us the house?" he whispered hoarsely, his voice a bit strained from shock and awe.

"Merry Christmas, Draco."

Hermione's eyes were wide and a little bit watery, a look that surely mirrored his own.

"But…why?" he asked shakily. Andromeda chuckled and placed a comforting hand over his.

"Do I need a reason to spoil my favourite nephew?"

"I'm your only nephew," he reminded her in a dry voice.

"You question my generosity?" she asked him, her tone amused, "When you were the one who relinquished so much of your inheritance to me?"

"That's different," Draco protested weakly, "It was rightfully yours. This is… too much!"

"Nonsense," Ted laughed, "We don't need this place anymore. It's just sitting here gathering dust. And you two have worked so hard to make it a home. Your home. Consider a 'welcome to the family' gift from both of us."

Draco was truly humbled. He stared at the couple before him in disbelief. His mouth had gone dry and he wasn't sure what to say. His gratitude was so overwhelming that he wasn't sure how to put it into words. He floundered for a little while, before meeting Hermione's eye. She gave him an encouraging smile and a little nudge, a slight sniffle escaping her.

"Aunt…Uncle-" he began, using their family names as a sign of his respect and fondness, "I don't know how to thank you-"

"Just live a happy life here, that's enough for us," Andromeda assured him. He searched her face for some sign that she might be uncertain or expect something more from him. But her gaze was like an ocean, calm and deep. There was only sincerity in her eyes.

Our home… our family…

In response to her words, Draco did something he hadn't done in a very long time. There was something tiny but powerful inside him that compelled him forwards. A long forgotten urge that he had buried along with his mother. Leaning forwards the short distance between them, he wrapped his arms around his aunt and drew her in for a hug. His mind may have almost forgotten how to embrace someone like this, but his body hadn't, he realised as he melted against her. It wasn't like holding Hermione at all. With Hermione it was something more electric that filled him with a fierce surge of protectiveness and adoration. But this was the kind of simple hug that demanded nothing, it merely expressed a care and a tenderness that was comforting - it was safe. It felt like belonging.

"Merry Christmas, Andromeda," he murmured into her dark brown hair, and she felt her hands squeeze his back in response. A playful knock at the door surprised the small group sitting together on the couch, and Draco pulled back with a sheepish grin, wiping his eyes surreptitiously. Hermione looked almost as moved by the gesture as he was, if her milky eyes were any indication. Or maybe she was just happy for him. When a few long seconds had passed, the knock on the door sounded again, still playful but louder this time, more insistent. Hermione laughed.

"That will be Harry," she told them, obviously recognising the familiar rhythm. She rose to skip over to the front door again and before Draco could get a hold on his emotions once more, the scruffy haired boy was bursting into the room with a slightly breathless grin, followed by the much more grim, seriously unimpressed figure of their former Potions master. Draco laughed out loud in surprised joy.

Well I'll be damned…

Potter had actually done it! The boy had claimed that he would somehow find a way to drag Snape along to this Christmas gathering. He had insisted that the dour former spy should be surrounded by friends and family for the holiday. Draco had doubted he'd succeed. In fact, he'd just lost ten galleons, since he'd stupidly agreed to bet on the outcome. Potter looked around the room with excited green eyes, as if he'd never had a happier Christmas in his life. The scar on his forehead was faded now, barely visible except for the slight pink jagged line under his mop of hair. Snape scowled behind him while he clapped his hands together in glee.

"Let's get this party started, shall we?"

….

….

Chestnuts were roasted. Marshmallows were toasted. They sung carols at the tops of their voices (except Snape, who glowered at them from one corner of the room, sipping at his eggnog and trying to conceal how his foot tapped unconsciously along to the rhythm.) And they ate, made merry and told stories of Christmases from long, long ago…

….

….

….

When Hermione slipped into bed in the early hours of the morning, once all their guests had left, she was exhausted, totally stuffed full of food and extremely content. In the dim light of a candle on her nightstand, she peered across at Draco, noticing that he was lying rather still. His steely grey eyes were staring sightlessly up at the ceiling, clearly lost in thought. One hand was fiddling unconsciously with the locket around his neck that she had given him many months ago. Hermione shook her head and smiled.

"Where has Draco gone?" she wondered out loud in a gentle, teasing voice, pretending to search the bed for him. She watched as he blinked and turned to face her, his lips twitching into an amused smirk.

"Far far away," he sighed, shifting his body so that he was facing her. Although he had certainly seemed miles away, it wasn't long before his eyes sharpened and he was running his gaze over her neck and across her collarbone. He reached out and toyed with the thin strap of her nightgown with one finger.

"Dobby insisted that his bedroom was too big, so he made me shrink it," she told him, chuckling at the antics of the little house elf. Until tonight he had stayed stationed at Hogwarts helping with the on going clean up, but shortly after they had received the documents declaring that the ownership of the house had changed, the stubborn creature had shown up and insisted that he remain by Draco's side to keep house for him.

"He's always been a bit odd, even for a house elf," Draco told her with a gleam of humour in his eyes. Hermione snuggled closer, pulling the covers up and pressing her body against his to get warm.

"Your toes are like ice!" he told her, shivering at the feel of her wrapping her legs around his. But instead of withdrawing, he wriggled closer and proceeded to try and warm her up. But his methods were rather distracting as he used not only his toasty warm legs but also began placing a series of rather ardent kisses along the swell of her breasts peaking out from her nightie.

"Welcome home, Granger," he told her with a sly smile, peeking up at her and moving his hands to cup her bottom, pulling her against him so she could feel his body's reaction to her curves. She wondered how they could be built for such stamina, but he constantly surprised her with his unrelenting ardour.

"What were you thinking about just now?" she asked him, running a hand throw his soft blond hair as he spread kisses all across her chest, She reached down to touch her fingers to the chain of the locket he had been holding absentmindedly earlier. Draco grasped it in his hand and smiled up at her.

"I was thinking about how much my life has changed," he told her in a surprisingly solemn voice, "When I stole this locket in sixth year, it represented a distant, hopeless dream that I needed just to survive."

"And now?" she asked gently, nestling closer into the warmth of his body.

"Now it's real. It reminds me that I have you here with me. That I don't need to be afraid anymore. And that you love me."

Hermione felt an ache blossom in her chest, a feeling of tenderness so sharp that she actually lost her breath for a second as she drank him in. She moved her hand down to rest against his chest, pressing the locket into the skin where his heart was.

"I'll always love you," she whispered, blinking quickly to stem the tears that threatened to prickle and sting her eyes. A long moment passed between them, one that held so much emotion it seemed endless. But then Draco suddenly smiled, a wicked smile that made her whole body quiver instinctively.

"Now… is it time to open my gift?"

She laughed heartily, chocking back her tears and kissing him once fiercely on the lips.

"Oh please do…"

….

….

….

Well… Merry Christmas everyone. I hope you enjoyed this story. It is indeed finished. Please be absolutely lovely darling friends and leave me a review with your thoughts about this piece as a whole now that we've reached our end. And happy holidays.