"How right it is to love flowers and the greenery of pines and ivy and hawthorn hedges; they have been with us from the very beginning." ― Vincent van Gogh
Draco sipped on his drink as he watched from his bedroom balcony the witches and wizards that were attending the garden gala his parents were hosting. He was surprised to see so many there. It had only been one year since the defeat of Voldemort, and Draco knew from experience that one year was hardly enough time for people to forget on which side of the war his family had been. He'd seen it everyday when he'd gone back to Hogwarts as an eighth year student. He'd been mocked, hexed….but most of all shunned. Even by his own house. Draco had felt like a leper; he felt he'd needed a bell to wear to warn others of his presence or shout "Unclean!" whenever he'd come upon a group of students. His sixth year had been horrible; he'd often been alone. But eighth year was when he really learned the definition of lonely.
Days turned into weeks; weeks, months. And in that time with nothing else to do, Draco learned how to watch. He learned how to observe.
He learned how to see.
He saw quite a lot. He saw how Harry Potter had never sought the spotlight and didn't want it now. He saw his former archenemy shun society, especially when his romance with Ginny Weasley blew up in his face. He saw him sometimes with the saddest expression Draco had ever seen on a person's face. He saw that Harry, in a different way, was just as lonely as he was. Draco saw how one could be adored, nearly worshipped and still feel a stranger.
Conversely, he saw how love of attention could turn a prat into an even greater prat. Ron Weasley, unlike his friend, loved all the trappings of celebrity. He loved his name in the Daily Prophet; he loved the galleons that poured in whenever he lent his image to a product. He particularly loved it when Rita Skeeter would gossip about him, especially when she would pair him up with the wizarding model du jour. Weasley loved it; but most of all, he loved himself; it was apparent to the silent Slytherin who now saw so keenly.
But the one he ended up watching more than any other was Hermione Granger. He'd discovered he'd never known her. Had never understood her. He saw her attention to detail, her meticulous, careful nature that, looking back, was probably the main reason the three of them survived the war. He saw her innate class when she didn't stoop to retaliate against her former boyfriend when he'd let the details slip of their previous relationship in one of the many gossip rags. She'd held her head up high when some of the students poked fun at her at what Ron had said in the article; he'd called her 'the eternal virgin" and had indicated her prudishness had been the main reason for their split. She'd not responded in kind when Ginny teased her about it in class. The only time Draco had seen that proud head of hers bow was when she'd found out Harry's standing up for her had caused his break-up with Ginny. Draco had wanted to comfort her after that; she'd been heartbroken that Harry had been hurt. But it had been Harry himself who got that honor. Draco thought it just as well; at least they had each other. The two of them were well to be rid of the Weasleys. Hermione was so far above Ron it was laughable. That was something else Draco saw. Pureblood, halfblood, mudblood….none of it mattered. None of it determined worth. What mattered was a person's heart. Hermione Granger taught him that.
In their shared classes, she'd been the only one who had spoken to him. Who had shown him kindness. Draco would watch her as she stirred her cauldron in their St. Mungo's apprenticeship level potions class and he wondered why he'd never before seen how beautiful she was. Her graceful movements reminded him of his mother. The way she'd peel the bark off a birch limb as if she was carefully combing the hair of a toddler; the fluid lines of her legs when she would cross or uncross her ankles. The small, half-smile on her face, as if she was suddenly remembering a pleasant memory. The shine of her hair, the rose of her cheeks, the curve of her womanly form. She was exquisite to Draco's searching eyes. His former blindness was now astounding to him. The few times they'd had occasion to talk in class, he'd found her to be exceptionally well-spoken, something he'd never known, as in the past he'd only ever traded insults with her. Her eyes showed more than a genius intellect; they showed humor. And surprisingly for him, they showed interest. Hermione Granger was curious about the world around her. Was she equally curious about him?
One day, they had stayed behind after class to document their findings on how modifying the Draught of Death with three drops of Felix Felicis caused it instead to become the perfect anesthesia for magical surgeries.
"This is incredible…...I wonder why it's not been used before," Draco had enthused before catching himself. It was about the longest sentence he had said thus far that year. He looked at Hermione, embarrassed. Just because she had been kinder than others didn't mean she wanted to chat with a former death eater. He was about to apologize when Hermione snorted and said, "I wish someone had given it to me right after Ron and I broke up. Then I could have slept through his bragging." Draco remembered that Weasley had made a big production to anyone who would listen of going on to bigger and better things. What a pompous git.
"I'm sorry. I promise you, he'll look back on it one day and admit it was the biggest mistake of his life."
Hermione's eyes widened in surprise at Draco's defense. Then she recovered and said, "He did me a favor. Staying with him would have been the biggest mistake of my life."
Now it was Draco's turn to look startled. "I….I just thought…..you know. That it had been rather serious."
Hermione shook her head. "I always knew Ron wasn't the one for me. Er,….." she paused as if she realized she'd said too much, "...anyway, I tried to make a go of it with him in spite of it. I should have known better."
"Why did you waste your time with him? Why not be with the right one?"
Hermione blushed and looked away. "The right one wasn't available."
Draco was now all sorts of confused. Then a thought hit him.
"Is it Potter?" he asked.
"The bloke for you."
Hermione looked at him in surprise. "Harry?"
"Well….yeah. Is he the one you want?"
Hermione scrunched her face up in disgust. "Don't get me wrong….I love Harry dearly," she began before she made another face. "But Harry is my brother."
"Okay, don't get mad, it was just a question."
"I'm not mad, Draco."
For a moment silence reigned. But Draco had to know. "Do…..do you know who the one is for you?"
Hermione's red stained cheeks gave Draco his answer.
Draco felt a sudden jealousy. Lucky Man, he thought enviously.
After that conversation, Draco and Hermione's tentative friendship, if you could call it that, took root and began to grow. Mostly in conversations around a shared cauldron in class but sometimes they would sit together in the library in the evenings after most of the students had gone back to their common rooms. During those late-night talks, Draco saw something else in Hermione; a comfortable compatibility. He found in her a kindred soul. Both of them an only child, both of them driven to succeed by successful and proud parents, both of them ambitious in their own way. But that was where the similarities ended. Through those conversations, Hermione's soul touched Draco's heart and he saw her as the compassionate, crusading angel that she was. She wanted to influence their world for good. Unlike him, she never had any ambitions to rule, but to serve. To make things better for everyone.
Draco now knew what true greatness was, for he had seen it in a muggleborn girl.
This went on until one day, Draco saw something further. This time, it was something about himself. He saw that he had, without realizing it, fallen wand over broom in love with the witch. He knew her now. He knew that she was, that she'd always been….everything he'd ever dreamed of or wanted in a wife.
And now that evening, he continued to watch from above as she talked to Kingsley Shacklebolt, the new Minister of Magic. She was wearing a soft white Renaissance-styled gown with sheer sleeves that floated down from the elbow to almost touch the ground. Her hair was mostly loose, just one side of it was pinned back with a jeweled dragon clip. Her perfect skin needed no makeup; all she had done was add a little kohl to her upper and lower lids to showcase her dazzling brown eyes. Draco's heart started to race. She was so beautiful….so brilliant…..so above him. He ached to go talk to her, but he couldn't. Not in front of all these people. True, it was his home, and true, everyone would expect him to be there, but still, he couldn't. He wouldn't shame her with his tainted presence.
Then he saw her leave the new minister and walk toward the fountain to where his mother stood talking to her formerly estranged sister, Andromeda. After the war, his aunt had come to visit his mother while she'd been under house arrest, awaiting her trial. During that time, the two had patched up their long-lost relationship and were in the process of becoming once again close sisters. His father had, of course, protested, but his mother shot him down. It was one of the few things that gave Draco pleasure; seeing his arrogant father, who had been forced to give up his magic for the next five years, having to kowtow to his mother, who had been allowed to keep hers. It was endlessly amusing to Draco, and a fitting retribution for the man who had put his family through so much by his allegiance to Voldemort.
Draco's breath caught when he saw Hermione stop in front of his mother. What was she doing? He saw her pointing towards the back area of their property. Andromeda was listening and nodding her head. Then most shocking of all, he saw his mother startle; she looked at Hermione queerly; then she put one of her hands to her heart. His aunt was grinning wildly at whatever caused his mother such a shock. Then to Draco's surprise, he saw his reserved mother take Hermione into a tight embrace. Draco's heart clenched seeing his mother with tears in her eyes saying something to the witch of his heart. He watched as Hermione gave his mother a shy kiss on the cheek. In return, his mother gave her another hug.
What was going on?
Had his mother apologized for all that had happened to Hermione at the Manor?
It was a day Draco would never forget, though he would have given much to have it erased from his mind. The day the golden trio was brought to the manor. The day Draco pretended not to know who they were, though he knew. Of course he did. The day he felt, for the first and last time, pity for Ron Weasley. The day he wished Harry would win and save them all.
The day he thought Hermione would die.
He remembered his insane aunt had pinned her magically to the floor, like a bug pinned to cardboard. His mother had taken him to the far side of the room, not that it helped any. Hermione's screams would have been heard anywhere in the manor. He refused to watch the torture; instead, he gazed out the window to the gardens and beyond them, to the ancient wood that had always grown on Malfoy land. The day had been dark, oppressive. Just like the room they were in. A moment later he heard the first screamed crucio from his aunt. Hermione's shrieks followed it, bouncing off the walls. He felt a shiver go down his spine. Then his eyes caught movement. He peered out the window to see the great oak that guarded the southeast corner of the wood sway as if caught in a gale. As the torture session intensified, more trees shook and writhed as more crucios were hurled against the girl on their floor. It was if the black magic in the room had set itself loose from the manor and entered the forest. Then it stopped. Draco turned around to see Bellatrix had moved. Hermione lay still on the floor, her blood trickling out of a horrible series of scars on the inside of her arm. When Draco realized what he was seeing, he turned back around to the window, sickened in body and soul. Something inside of him began to scream. Something wailed with incalculable pain. At that same moment, a massive branch fell from the oak to land across the gated entrance to their most sacred grove…...as if to bar entrance. After the war, the branch was removed, but no matter what spell they used, they never were able to open the gate again. If Draco wanted to go into the grove, he had to enter by a more circuitous route.
Draco pulled out of his worst memory when he saw Hermione take her leave of his mother and head out toward the same oak tree of his thoughts. Draco decided to follow her. He didn't want to appear as if he was stalking Hermione, but his curiosity had gotten the better of him.
Why was she going toward their forest? His breath caught when he saw the gated entrance swing open of its own accord for Hermione.
How did she do that?
Ever since that day at the manor, the wood had felt hostile, alien to Draco. He'd felt like the trees were judging him. Condemning him. All but one little tree, his favorite since childhood.
A lone hawthorn tree grew deep in the wood, next to the stream near a group of rowan trees. Draco had discovered it one day when, as a young boy, he had gone exploring in the wood. His mother had told him to be careful; to not disrespect the trees. He had cocked his head when she'd said that; what did his mother mean? A tree was just a tree; it didn't have feelings. He'd said as much to her. She surprised him when she said, "Never is anything just what you see it to be," in a tone he never forgot. His mother was advising him of something; but what?
After that, Draco had escaped often to the wood to visit his favorite tree. He had thought of carving his initials in it as a way of declaring ownership; he tried once. But after producing the knife, the hawthorn beside him began to shed its petals, revealing the cruel thorns beneath its flowers. Draco felt it a subtle warning; do not hurt me. And he'd already found out how sharp those thorns were. He'd tried once to gather the beautiful blooms to give to his mother, only to have his hands pricked by the spikey needle-like thorns hidden underneath. The blooms themselves had also changed; from the wonderful fragrance they'd first emitted from seeing Draco, they'd turned into a smell of decay….of death. It had taught him a valuable lesson; never take before you ask. After that, he would bring the extra rich loam from his mother's flower beds to pat around the little tree's base. Then he'd take the empty pail and kneel down by the stream to bring up water to pour on the soil, making it sink down among the roots of the tree. Often, the hawthorn would cast off its flowers to fall onto Draco's lap. He'd hug the trunk of the tree, then run off to give them to his mother. When he was older, Draco would sit under the tree and feel the quiet around him. His troubled mind would be soothed as the whispering wind would create a music blowing through the hawthorn's branches.
Draco hadn't been back to check on the tree since that awful day at the manor. And now, the object of that horrible day had walked into the heart of his wood and was inspecting his pet tree. No longer content to be unobserved, he finally spoke. "What are you doing?"
Hermione whirled around, surprised to hear a voice behind her. "Draco! I didn't know you were here," she said.
Draco noticed she didn't answer his question. Walking up to her, he pointed to the hawthorn tree in front of them and said, "This tree is special to me."
"It….it is?" Hermione's cheeks blushed scarlet. "Really?"
He nodded. "I found it when I was a kid. I'd come here often just to sit beneath it. It comforted me somehow." Draco couldn't figure out why that would cause Hermione embarrassment, but her blush deepened.
"So when my wand turned out to be made of Hawthorn wood, I wasn't surprised."
Hermione nodded. "I knew that."
Now it was Draco's turn to blush. "You knew what my wand was made of?"
"I figured it out. Your wand was too friendly to Harry to be anything other than Hawthorn."
That statement didn't make any sense to Draco. "I don't know what you mean."
Hermione tenderly touched his arm and said, "The woods here mean a great deal to me….especially this hawthorn tree."
Had they just changed the subject? Hadn't they been discussing his wand? Hermione's answer didn't make sense; was she trying to talk in riddles? As to the hawthorn in front of them, Draco didn't know how Hermione knew his tree even existed, but as he covered her small hand with one of his larger ones, he pushed that puzzle to the side. He knew this was the perfect moment to finally speak of what had filled his heart so completely.
"Hermione…..you have to know. This past year, I've developed a...regard for you. You're so beautiful…..so brave. I was so wrong about you. And I'm so very sorry for all the cruel things I ever said to you."
"Draco, I forgave you a long time ago," she said, cupping his cheek.
"I've fallen in love with you," he blurted out.
Hermione's face at first showed shock. For a small space of time, she froze, reminding Draco of the statues in his mother's garden. Then she surprised him by throwing herself into his arms, clinging to him as if her life depended on it.
"Draco….Draco…..Draco," she sobbed brokenly, repeating his name over and over like a prayer.
Draco wrapped his strong arms around her and held her close. Resting his face on the crown of her head, he could smell the scent he always associated with Hermione. It was the same smell of the hawthorn when it blessed its flowers with the pleasing smell of approval; a floral bouquet of jasmine, lily-of-the-valley and hyacinth. Except on Hermione, the fragrance was magnified to a degree so captivating, so alluring, it was not quite…..chaste. Draco's mind immediately shut off; he became intoxicated by the aroma of his witch. He buried his nose in her curls. Then he couldn't help himself. He tilted her face up so he could capture her soft lips with his. Finally, he was able to explore the sweetness of her mouth. Hermione tasted of wild mint and honeyed apples and the fresh green grass of spring. Draco moaned, feeling her kissing him back eagerly…..passionately. She molded herself even more tightly against him. Any closer he thought and she would be inside him. But Draco wasn't complaining. Far from it. The feeling was indescribable. Heaven couldn't be better than this.
A few moments later, she pulled back to see his face. "Draco," she said, her eyes dark with desire, "do you remember the first time we saw each other?"
He looked at her as she caressed his cheek with her fingers. "Do you mean on the Hogwart's train?"
She nodded. "I had come into the compartment you were in and asked if you had seen Neville's toad."
"Well," she paused, "That was when I knew."
Draco frowned. "Knew what, love?"
Hermione closed her eyes, savoring Draco's endearment. "That you were the one," she whispered, her eyes still shut. When she opened them back, she saw his look of amazement. "I knew the first time I saw your face…...you were my destined mate."
"Your….your mate?" A memory suddenly surfaced in Draco's mind; a conversation they'd had when he'd asked Hermione if she knew who was the one for her. Had it been him all along?
His gobsmacked expression brought out her giggles. "You never guessed, did you? Believe me, I understand. In the beginning, I thought I was mental."
"Wait….wait a minute," he said, trying to get it all straight in his head. "Muggles have mates?"
Hermione gave him a very pointed look. "No. But magical creatures do."
Now Draco was really confused. "I….I don't understand."
Hermione stood up on her tiptoes to give him another sinfully slow kiss. He returned it hungrily.
"Hermione," he breathed against her mouth. This amazing woman was in his arms. She was returning his affections….had called him her mate. He didn't understand why she'd said it, but wasn't about to question his incredibly good fortune.
"Draco….listen," she murmured while peppering the sides of his mouth with barely-there kisses. "I have to tell you something."
He forced himself to quit nuzzling her nose with his and looked in her eyes. But Draco knew if she didn't want another snogging, she'd better start talking soon.
"I'm not a muggleborn," she confessed. Seeing his quizzical expression, she went on hurriedly, "I thought I was…..I never had cause to think I wasn't. But after I returned my parent's memories to them, I found I had returned all my parent's memories. Including the ones I had never known about. I discovered that my parents were in fact, magical. My father was a half-blood squib, but my mother…..my mother was descended from dryads. Tree spirits."
Draco's eyes rounded with surprise and wonder. "Tree….spirits?"
Hermione, watching his face closely, nodded. "This little tree here…...is my counterpart. My other half. Draco…...she's me."
Draco didn't say anything. He didn't know what to say. Taking his silence as doubt, Hermione added, "I promise…...I'm not crazy and I'm not making it up. I came back here because I was called. Then when I saw this hawthorn, I knew." Reaching for his hand, she said, "Come here….let me show you something." Hermione led Draco to the other side of the tree. There, she pointed to something on one of the branches. Getting up closer to inspect, Draco saw that something had been crudely hacked into the bark.
It was all now starting to making terrible sense. Facts and events started crashing in his mind with lightning speed.
His favorite tree...this hawthorn.
His wand...hawthorn, too.
The little tree teaching him a lesson in respect, letting him feel the sting of its thorns and its displeasure in its fragrance.
Hermione teaching him a lesson in respect by punching him in the face after he'd disrespected and disregarded the plight of a magical creature.
Hermione's wild, nymph-like hair.
The wooded brown of her eyes.
The strength of her magic.
The wood shivering with shared pain the day Hermione was tortured.
The grove afterward being hostile toward the Malfoys for allowing Hermione's torture.
And now this. His little tree showing the same scars on it that Hermione had.
"Draco, never is anything just what you see it to be."
His little tree. Hermione.
She was his.
Reaching for her, he hugged her as tightly as he could. Draco began to shake, overwhelmed with the truth.
Hermione continued to talk, her fingers combing through the shorter hair above his ears.
"I should have realized it sooner. I mean, looking back, it's so obvious now. Ron mocked me for always having a soft spot for you, but I couldn't help it. Harry didn't understand, either. And…...I guess that's why I was also drawn to camping…...to being in the woods. Why I would always apparate us to a forest when we were on the run," she said, referring to her, Harry and Ron's time while they searched for horcruxes. 'I told Harry one time that we should just stay in the woods and grow old there. But now I know I couldn't have done that. Not that wood, anyway." Pulling away a bit so she could see Draco's face, she said, "Those weren't my woods. My tree wasn't there. This grove is my home. It's where I belong."
The next words that popped out of Draco's mouth caused Hermione to laugh, "Uh….so…..what do dryads do all day?"
"We heal the land." Giving him a knowing look, she said, "I imagine there will be quite a bit of work for me to do here….don't you think?"
Draco nodded, ashamed. Voldemort's dark magic had stripped the ley lines running through their property of much of their magical energy.
"I suppose you can start here?" he asked as he pointed to a vine that had twisted itself around the base of the hawthorn's trunk.
"Oh, no. Leave that," Hermione hastened to say.
"Why? That vine is a parasite. It will choke the life out of your tree."
"Our tree, darling. I belong to you, as you do to me. And that vine is not squeezing the tree. It's supporting it."
Draco frowned. "How do you know that?"
Grinning, Hermione pulled her wand out of a side pocket of her gown. "Vine wood. 10 ¾ inches. Dragon heartstring."
Draco looked at her. Then he started grinning, too. "A thousand pardons. I stand corrected."
"Not at all. We'll learn as we go."
'Well, then…..what's left?"
Hermione looked at Draco steadily. "For me to claim my mate….the Lord of my Wood."
Draco swallowed. He now understood how Hermione had had the courage to come back to the manor. Why she had worn that white gown. What she must have said to his mother. But all he said was, "Please don't keep your lord waiting."
She didn't. Pushing Draco downward to the soft mossy floor, she followed afterward, letting Draco's body be her bed until he rolled them over to have her underneath him. And in that position they stayed for the better part of the night, first incanting the ancient words of the bonding, then claiming each other again and again and again. Hermione released to the wounded land the energy of their coupling, making the grounds come alive that night with the strongest of light magic, the magic of love. The wards over the Malfoy properties pulsed in glad abandon, breaking its constraints, freeing the lands to thank their mistress and the wizard she would now call her husband. Lucky Man.
No one at the party remarked on their absence; none but a few observed when a series of stars shot across the expanse of the evening sky or when the ground below them rumbled, resonating in primal joy at the consummation of the union of the rightful Lord and Lady of the Wood. The ancient oak that had remained twisted since the night of Hermione's torture rose up in celebration of the restoring of all things. Blooms seemed to float down to crown Narcissa wherever she walked that evening, but if anyone noticed when roots suddenly turned up to trip Lucius throughout the night, no one but the trees in the wood laughed at the sight of it.
AN: This story was inspired by two fanfiction stories:
Fated, by Hanako A and Happy Christmas, Draco by somuchcloser.
I fell in love with the concept of Hermione being a dryad. Hanako's vivid description of it really sparked my imagination! And I adored the redeemed, humble Draco that somuchcloser portrayed in her lovely one-shot.