A/N: *breathes deeply* okay, this is it. The final chapter. I don't know if you like it. I don't know if you hate it. All I can say is that this story is special for me. And I like to thank you for supporting me by reading, reviewing, and following it.
Biggest thank you - as always - goes to MrBenzedrine, my beta and friend. Cheese ;)!
For the following two days, Hermione only concentrates on the same thoughts: the bluebell flame, something that qualifies as marriage proposal of convenience, and a feeling that resembles hope if one squints really hard.
Though, both she and Draco keep on trying to come up with a solid alternative.
Only there is none.
Just when their discussion comes back to the start again, and they border on screaming at each other in frustration, they hear someone approaching their cells.
A second later, the door of Hermione's cell opens, and the pudgy ward from the last interrogation steps in. This has never happened before, and so she jumps to her feet when he walks towards her. Praying the brick covers the hole, she presses her back to the wall, eyes firmly on the Azkaban guard. His eyes openly gaze over her form, making her want to shove him away. Though, she helplessly has to tolerate that he rests one hand on the wall, his proximity too small to be decent. When he speaks to her, his breath ghosts hotly over her skin, not comparing to the warmth of Draco's skin.
"Tomorrow, Prisoner 24. Tomorrow we will get you and await your answer. Have you thought about it? Have you thought about finally doing the right thing?"
Cold fury surges through her. "I have."
He steps even closer, his nose almost touching her hair. "I sincerely hope I'm going to like it, Hermione."
Hermione has to bite her defiance down - a defiance she no longer thought she had. But now isn't the time to ponder where it came from. "Why?" she brings forth.
"Because I can't wait to persuade you to being 'matched'." He's trailing his finger down her brown shirt as he says that, stopping only when he has reached the curve of her breast. Then, he seems to decide he has left enough of an impression. Leaving Hermione trembling, he turns around and closes the door with a final, sounding slam.
The second the ward is out of sight, her knees give way and she crumbles. Knowing Draco probably listened to every word, she whispers into the empty space, "I can't…" She swallows and tries again. "I made my decision." A pause follows, and she thinks she can hear him hesitating.
"Are you sure?"
"Draco...even if I pledge my allegiance to their ideals, it won't change anything. And who knows which bastards are coming for me, one way or another." Her tone leaves room for interpretation, but she's certain he has the same terrifying ideas playing in his head.
"Better the devil you know?" Draco says, entirely without bitterness.
"It's not-" she begins.
"I know. I was just trying to lighten the atmosphere."
"You're doing an awful job."
"If this works, you have a lifetime to teach me." The severity of their decision hits her hard then. But it also contains a flicker of positivity. "We don't have much time."
"No, not when they're coming after me tomorrow." Then, she gasps, realising something. "I need to practise," Hermione splutters. Draco answers with a giggle. An actual giggle. For a moment she ponders the insanity behind that and their entire fucked up situation. Then she starts giggling along, giving in to the madness. And not practising.
The nights in Azkaban have never brought relaxation, and twisting and turning doesn't exactly help either, so the next morning has Hermione exhausted, but on edge.
Draco doesn't seem to hold himself much better, for he explains what feels like the tenth time, "Don't forget: the bond won't give you extraordinary strength. It will only solidify and enrich the talents you already have. In your case: the wandless magic."
"Yes, I know. But it's the only chance we have," she repeats, sensing the anxiety behind his words.
She decides they have talked enough, so she reaches through the wall. Holding Draco's hand in hers, she listens to his heartbeat for a minute, letting it ground her. Then, without pondering any longer, she pulls at her magic, easily cutting the skin over his wrist open.
"Crosswise, not lengthwise, darling," he comments drily.
"Brightest Witch of Our Age, have you forgotten?"
A lengthwise cut, a bit too deep, could potentially have them bleeding out - not exactly purposeful.
Draco proves again how much he uses sarcasm as a way to cope as he drawls, "No. That's why I know it would be in the realm of possible if you 'accidentally' killed me only to avoid signing documents with 'Hermione Malfoy' in the future."
She stops before she continues cutting herself, realising that, for once, Draco is ahead of her in some things. "Are you sure...what we're about to do is legally binding?"
"Now you're insulting my intelligence. I've been researching for holes in the marriage law for some time - it's waterproof. But they didn't put the ancient laws out of order - hardly anyone uses them these days."
She hums in understanding. She'd indeed be married and stay it if they could break themselves out. Not a thing she has considered for the next years.
Though, does she have a choice now? Not really. It would be small price to pay to get bonded to a man if that preserved her freedom. Even if this ironically meant the escape from the marriage law in the end.
But her protest against it has never been about her personally; it has been about the regime taking away everyone's free choice. Hermione, on the other side, now chooses to cultivate her freedom by force. Literally.
Clearing her thoughts willingly as far as it is possible with a shake of her head, she says, "So it's been your nefarious plan all the time. Waiting for the right occasion to strike for a helpless prey." There's an ounce of sincerity in her dark humour.
"Hermione, you just have to say stop and we-"
"It's apparently too early to make Slytherin jokes. Though, you should prepare to hear them a lot."
He makes a noise that suspiciously sounds like a lion's roar. Despite their attempts at levity, the severity of the situation weighs it down again.
"You have to lead me through it, Draco…" she reminds him.
"Right." He inhales and presses his wound on hers, his fingers anchoring his grip on her forearm. She mirrors his actions, not even appalled at the feeling of wetness now spreading over her skin generously. "Repeat after me: You are blood of my blood, and bone of my bone. I give you my body that we two might be one. I give you my magic that I shall receive yours. I give you my spirit until our life shall be done. You are blood from my blood, and blood of my bone."
She listens to his suddenly calm words ardently, trying to memorize them. Vaguely, she remembers to have read them somewhere, but her mind and magic are focused on repeating after Draco. And she does, without stumbling; when she finishes, they wait.
Knowing the Sacred Twenty-Eighths' penance for pompous self-presentation, Hermione expects something spectacular to happen. A bright, blinding white light. Wind blowing. That kind of magical display. Instead, she feels a gentle hum spreading from the place where they are connected, a change settling into her being. Soft. Careful. And yet with a promise of power. When something Draco pushes against her magic, she gives a quiet gasp of surprise.
And - for for the lack of a better description - she lets go, opens the connection.
But somehow, it feels right, feeling his magic running through her veins along her own - warm, strangely familiar, soothing and provoking at the same time. She has heard the call of power from Slytherin's locket so long ago, but this feels different, yet more dangerous somehow.
With the horcrux, her darkest fears had been laid bare and nurtured. The ethereal presence had always been there, manipulating. With the bond now, she is alone in her own head, but instinctively she knows Draco's presence would always there, but not pressuring. She has the feeling she could reach out for him any moment. And she would have to do that, undoubtedly.
Where the locket had been the darkest moment of the night, this is waking up to the first rays of sunshine.
"Thank you," she whispers, not knowing exactly what for.
"You're very much welcome," he says, slightly out of breath.
The time to listen to her inner goings is short, and Hermione is alerted of her reality when the door screeches open again and the male ward steps in. She scrambles up, dizziness distracting her for a second.
"Eager, are we?" the wizard asks, not even wand in hand.
A fool, underestimating this witch.
"Are you ready to do the right thing, Prisoner?"
"Am I ever." She smirks at the man, and something in her face must unsettle him, for his gaze wanders over her, inspecting. When he sees the blood on her arm, his hand reaches for his wand. Though, unbeknownst to the guard, she tugs at Draco's magic carefully, centers it along with her own surprisingly easily, and-
"Stupefy!" Hermione yells, and her heart leaps in joy when the wizard indeed widens his eyes in shock - and collapses on the ground. Not hesitating a split second, the witch runs out, stepping over the man in disgust without even taking his wand, and opens Draco's door with a forceful, "Alohomora!"
Asked later, neither she nor Draco would exactly remember how they managed their next steps. There are focus points, though she isn't certain if her brain fills in some gaps to make sense from that insanity.
One thing Hermione will remember clearly is how Draco stares at her when she opens his door, his emotions somewhere between awe and surprise. For a moment, she assesses his appearance: he's tall, taller than she remembered, and a dark blond shadow on his chin and cheeks tell her he hasn't shaved for days. He takes her hand in the next moment, and the familiar connection gives them both strength as they start to run. They planned this part roughly, knowing they would have to tear a hole into an outer wall in order to Apparate.
At some point, they encounter two guards. Hermione feels Draco tugging at her magic for the first time, and she gladly shares her energy. She doesn't know and doesn't ask if he uses Confundus or Imperius, but in the end, he gets one of the men to petrify the other and knocks out the remaining one with a blow of his fist.
She takes away the wands from the men and hands Draco one. "It feels unaccustomed, but it will have to do." He nods gravely. The sound when they blast a hole into one of the outer walls together should alert the guards in the entire building, but it opens them an opportunity to Apparate away. They throw the stolen wands into the water, aware that they are probably traced.
They step into the wind, tears immediately obscuring their sight. But Hermione still sees eyebrows raise in question when he holds his arm out to her.
"Where are we going?"
"Ireland," she says firmly and without a pause. He nods and doesn't ask why because he knows. They would need a safe place to go to, and searching for Harry and the Weasleys would be a good start. Pulling her close, she feels him reaching for her magic in what she believes is for assurance. Hermione, burying her head in the crook of his shoulder and relishing in the sudden closeness, grants him access to her core. Surprisingly, she trusts him. Shortly after, they're rushed through the sensation of Apparition.
When she opens her eyes again, she's surrounded by wind and brightness and the scent of freedom.
"Where are we?" She squints, her eyes adjusting to the sudden light.
"My mother used to have a hideout at the Irish coast not even my father knew about. She went here after the First War, but said it was too windy here. I thought it would be a good place to start. Especially since the wards are keyed to Black blood, and she always hid some money there."
"Good thinking!" she praises and means it. She hasn't even paid a second thought as how to deal with their future, fully believing she had none.
"You are aware we're married now? How does it feel to be Missus Draco Malfoy?" He raises his eyebrows suggestively as he speaks, but there's a certain shyness in them that makes her smile.
"Like Hell so far," she teases and adds, "Though, fate robbed me of something I'm going to claim now." In a move that surprises them both equally and she blames on the bond, she leans towards him and presses her lips to his in an innocent kiss. Their lips are rough, and she shivers in the wind of the Irish coast after spending so much time inside prison. But he smiles into the kiss and reprocriates, his lips roaming freely against hers. That kiss would be ingrained in her mind for the rest of her life. Not because it is passionate or arousing, but because it shifts something in her. And, despite the bond encouraging it, it happens from free will, from the longing to express their freedom.
Breaking their lip contact, Draco pulls her into a tight hug Hermione recognizes as one of pure relief, of assurance to himself and her that their escape was no dream.
She knows their fight isn't over yet, and they will have many obstacles to overcome. They aren't safe by far, but she is no longer alone. She has Draco now. And he has her.
"We've shared Hell. Maybe there's hope so we can share Heaven one day, too," he says quietly. And Hermione believes him.
A/N: Yes, the handfasting vow is shamelessly copied (and a bit altered) from Outlander. I don't own that either nor do I make money from this. But I've been a fan of the books for years.