Lake of Mirrors

Hermione stared at the envelope. The seal on it was prominently displayed; the raised 'M' was unmistakable.

An invitation? she wondered. For me?

She'd never gotten one before. But she'd seen them often. They were as prized as a vial of felix felicis. An invitation to the grand and ancestral home of the Malfoy's was considered as prestigious as being invited to Buckingham Palace. They were a feather in the cap to all the department heads. Even the Minister enjoyed receiving the vellum requests for his presence. Hermione thought it quite ironic that the home where Voldemort had lived and where she had been tortured had been so quickly whitewashed in the minds of the public, but she had to hand it to Narcissa Malfoy. If there was one thing that witch knew how to do, it was public relations. Her husband's magic having been bound for the past three years helped make it easier. No longer relegated to damage control over Lucius' muck ups, Narcissa quickly took over the reins. The first thing she did was give their home a massive makeover. Then she became a driving force in the various charities of the wizarding world. She made her husband toe the line. She sent her son off on various projects throughout the world, while giving the Daily Prophet tantalizing interviews of Draco's philanthropic work among the underprivileged. Before long, the name Malfoy began to rise as one of the most influential in the community. Their association with the Dark Lord was all but forgotten, buried beneath the massive PR campaign of Narcissa's. Witches who had shunned Draco right after the war began to throw themselves at him whenever he was back in the country. As he was now.

Hermione had seen the back of him a week ago. He'd been leaving the ministry after meeting with one of the departments there. Hermione had observed the gobsmacked faces of the secretaries as he'd passed by them. They'd looked completely smitten. She probably would have, too, Hermione thought morosely, had she seen his face. She sighed. Her unexplainable crush on the Slytherin bad boy had been a surprise. It had come out of the blue, at the worst possible time.

She had been on the floor at Malfoy Manor, writhing in indescribable pain. The Cruciatus curse sending aftershocks to her already inflamed nerve endings. Her butchered arm a bloodied mess. Hermione believed she would die that night. Perhaps that's what had made her throw caution to the winds. She'd not cared what Draco thought as she looked into his eyes in a way she'd never done before. All her guards were down. She released the essence of her magic to flow out to her former classmate. She allowed him access to her soul, to be able to really see her, if he chose. And he had. One despairing face had looked into the other, and on that night, Draco and Hermione had bonded. For the space of a few heartbeats, they had known one another. Accepted one another. Cared for one another. Somehow, she knew in those moments Draco minded what happened to her. She could almost see his thoughts racing, trying to think of a way to save her. But then, Bellatrix decided she was tired of torturing the uncooperative mudblood and had called for the goblin instead. The connection that had united the two terrified teens broke.

And that had been the end of that.

Or so she'd thought.

Afterwards, there were moments when Hermione's heart jumped at the thought of Draco. It had happened at his trial when she spoke in his defense. While reading the Daily Prophet's reports of his latest endeavors. But the connection, or whatever it was she'd experienced with him returned with a vengeance when she began to have nightly dreams of the blonde wizard; dreams that always ended with the most horrible longing she'd ever felt.

They started about a year after Draco's trial. They were always the same. She and Draco would be flying. While they flew, they talked about anything and everything. No topic was off-limits. He told her about his childhood; she told him about her parents. They laughed and shared secrets. He admitted to an irrational fear of fog; Hermione confessed a craving for blood pops, especially at certain times during the month. Draco smirked and told her her body was merely trying to replenish what it had lost. She tried to pinch him, but he flew away from her. She became scared at being left alone. Hermione cried out, frightened. Draco immediately flew back.

"Don't ever leave me again," she begged.

His face softened at her plea. Taking her hand, he gently vowed, "I won't. I promise."

After that, he always held her hand when they flew.

One night they ran into a group of rogue dementors. Hermione fired off her otter patronus, but it had not been enough to stop them. Seeing she had failed, she curled her body around Draco and hung on for dear life. Soon, the icy cold that had initially grabbed her heart vanished. She lifted her tear-stained face to look at Draco.

"You….you got rid of them?" she asked in wonder.

He shook his head. "That was all you, Love."

It was the first time he'd called her an endearment. The joy of hearing it made Hermione cling all the more tightly to him.

"How could I have?" she muttered against his neck. "My patronus wasn't strong enough."

His strong arms squeezed her lovingly. "Patronuses don't work on that kind of dementor."

Draco's answer confused Hermione. She thought dementors were all the same. "What type were they?"

Draco reached up to tuck a curl behind her ear. "Your doubts."

Oh. Out loud, she asked, "So how did I get rid of them?"

"You made a choice," he murmured. Kissing her forehead, he leaned back to smile at her. "Thank you for deciding on me."

From then on, he carried her in his arms on their nightly adventures. They would always end up hovering above the trees, kissing. Hermione's toes curled just thinking about how Draco kissed. She didn't know if he was as good of a kisser in real life as he was in her dreams, but she suspected he must be. There had to be some reason why she dreamed it; perhaps a gossip rag had speculated on his prowess. But whether it was based on fact or fancy, Hermione believed his skill set to be positively sinful. Every night, after they had made each other breathless with their kissing, they would take up their flying again until they reached their destination. It was always the same place; a remote area hidden by the tallest mountains Hermione had ever seen. The view always gave her heart a queer little ache. For some reason, it made her think of the mythical land of Shangri-la. Rocky, snow capped mountains stood as sentries for the green valleys that were juxtaposed against aqua glaciers rising out of bright tourmaline waters.

She and Draco would always touch down beside the prettiest lake she'd ever seen. Tucked away on the side of one of the mountains, it was small and perfectly round. Her intuition told her the pristine lake was forbidden to all but those it called. However, she instinctively felt she and Draco were welcome there. The lake recognized them as magical. Kindred. They would rest beside its banks. Lying next to Draco on the velvety grass was bliss. Often they would take up where they'd left off in their aerial snogging. A few times it became quite amorous. One time especially. Hermione had gone past the point of thinking rationally. All she could comprehend was a fervent desire for more. Before she could realize what had happened, Draco had moved away.

"Wha...what's wrong?" Please come back! she thought desperately.

She heard him chuckle in spite of his obvious need. "One day soon we're going to finish this."

"But not now?" It was all Hermione could do not to stick her lip out and pout.

Draco laughed at the expression on her face and stood up. Then he pulled her to her feet. "Soon, love. If I have my way, very soon. But as always, it will be up to you."

Hermione huffed. She'd not liked that answer.

Seeing her disappointment, he leaned down and brushed a kiss across her lips. "I just want our first time to be real," he explained.

Then he took her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm. Taking a deep breath, he said, "I think I'm ready to dive in," pointing to the water's edge. "Care to join me?"

She looked down at the water. She had an irresistible urge to jump in with him. But fear gripped her and she hesitated. "I don't know how to swim."

Now it was Draco's turn to look disappointed. However, all he said was, "I understand. Tell me when you're ready."

That morning was the first of many, many mornings where she would wake up feeling guilty.

What had she done? She didn't know. All she knew was that an emptiness pulled at her heartstrings.

Every night she flew with Draco. Every night he asked her to take the plunge. And every time she answered the same…..I don't know how to swim.

Until last night, when she dreamt again. This time, when Draco asked her the same question, she let go of her fears. She'd grown in her trust; she knew Draco wouldn't let her drown. This time, when he asked her if she would care to join him, she answered with a saucy, "Don't mind if I do."

When he heard her response, Draco threw back his head and laughed, a great big laugh of unparalleled rapture. Then he took her by the waist and twirled her around.

"Draco! You're going to make me dizzy!" she squealed.

He calmed then and pulled her tightly against him.

"I'm going to love you so good," he whispered against her ear, too delirious in his joy to worry about whether his grammar was correct or not.

Before she had time to get nervous, Draco jumped into the lake with her wrapped in his arms. Down, down, down they plunged into the icy depths of the water. But Hermione didn't feel the cold. All she could feel now was the slow unraveling of their garments, the touch of Draco's skin against hers, the beat of his heart against her own. She knew then. The waters had somehow revealed it to her. At that moment, she was experiencing the future…..her future. Her fate was tied to the man in her arms. As if he knew what she was finally comprehending, Draco kissed her, long and hard and deep. Their hearts began to pump faster and faster. Hermione not only felt their hearts beating; she began to hear them, too. A loud constant staccato that drummed in her ears.

Beep….beep…..beep….

It was throbbing. It was relentless. It was…

…..her alarm clock bringing her back to consciousness.

Blast…..not now!

Groaning, she reached over to her bed stand to grab her wand. With an angry flick, she obliterated her clock; it sprayed outward into a million pieces. Then she flopped her head back on the pillow.

Why couldn't that have been real?

Still. Things were different. She could sense it. That morning she'd awakened with an anticipation coiling in her belly. The intense longing, the ache for something unreachable was gone. So was the guilt and emptiness. She felt she was on the cusp of something wondrous. Life-changing.

That was the morning she'd received the letter.

Hermione took one more look at the gold embossed seal. With shaking hands she opened the envelope and read the contents. It was indeed an invitation to one of the many parties hosted by the Malfoy's. But within it was also a handwritten note requesting her presence at high tea before the gala. At the bottom of the note were two initials. D. M.

Should she accept? Hermione knew what she wanted to do; unfortunately, she also knew what Harry and Ron would say. But an irresistible curiosity began to gnaw at her mind. Was Draco Malfoy really a changed wizard? Or was this just the Malfoy political machine at play? Had their connection been real? Or were her dreams merely the product of a lonely heart? Hermione realized she'd never have any peace until she found out.

Taking a quill, she wrote back her acceptance.

Then she bit her lip, wondering if she'd done the right thing.


000

On the afternoon of the day of the gala, Hermione flooed into Malfoy Manor. Waiting for her was none other than her childhood nemesis.

Draco took one look at her and gulped. Then he unconsciously wiped his hands against the sides of his thighs. "It's good to see you again," he said quietly.

She paused. "It...it is?"

Hermione eyed him cautiously. The papers hadn't lied; he'd become a regular Adonis. But she wasn't about to let herself get gooey-eyed. For all she knew, he might be a philandering playboy. True, there had been no rumors matching his name with any witch; there had been no gossip of any dalliances; but the papers didn't know everything. For all they knew, he might have a witch in every country he'd visited. Still, Hermione couldn't help but take in his appearance. He'd recently come back from one of his many trips abroad. She couldn't help but admire his broad shoulders, his shining blonde hair, longer now, the well-kept scruff on his face. His blue-grey eyes looked startlingly beautiful against his lightly tanned skin. She sighed internally. He looked just like her dream Draco.

Steady now, she thought to herself. Don't lose your head.

The handsome wizard gazing at her actually blushed. "I've wanted to see you for quite some time now."

Okay. Well. That was…..unexpected. Draco seemed earnest. But first impressions could be deceiving. Hermione swallowed hard.

Draco ushered her into a room with french doors. "Do you mind taking our tea on the terrace? It's such a pleasant day."

She followed him as he led her to the gardens outside. The view was breathtaking.

"How beautiful," she enthused as she looked around.

"Yes," he agreed. But he was not looking at the landscape.

Now it was Hermione's turn to blush prettily. Draco smiled but didn't comment on the rose hue staining her cheeks; instead, he pulled out a wrought-iron chair for her and took one for himself.

Hermione looked at the lovely tea that had been prepared for them. Taking the cosy off the pot, she began to pour as Draco filled their plates. Conversation was stilted at first, but when Draco started sharing his adventures of a recent trip to the Amazon, Hermione began to pepper him with questions. When he described to her his first experience with a muggle sleeping bag, she began to laugh. Finally the conversation waned. Toying with her now empty teacup, Hermione ventured to ask, "Why did you invite me to tea, Malf….er, Draco? We never were friends. I thought you always despised me."

"You know better than that."

Hermione squirmed, suddenly uncomfortable. "Do I?"

Draco gave her a level stare. Then he let out a long-suffering sigh. "I never hated you."

Her brows rose. "Could have fooled me."

"That was the intent."

Hermione tilted her head, puzzled. "You tried to fool me. Why?"

"It would have been too dangerous had I shown any friendliness toward you."

"Danger? For me…..or you?"

He ran his fingers through his hair, clearly agitated. "For both of us, I imagine. Look….do we have to dissect this again? I can't change how it all played out. But what I can do is affect the future." He looked into her eyes. "That is, if you'll let me."

Hermione's brain short-circuited. Had she really heard Draco Malfoy say all that? Or had that been her imagination? And what did he mean by again? Had they ever discussed this before? Unbidden, a bit of a dream came back to her where they did do just that.

No…..that's not possible.

She held onto the last thing her mind processed. "You don't….hate me?"

Draco shook his head. "No. I don't hate you. Never did. I….I don't know what I felt when I was younger. Anger, maybe? Jealousy? But it wasn't hate."

Hermione intuitively felt there was more to his response than that, so she kept quiet while he sorted through his thoughts. Finally, he looked up.

"I… I thought you would have already figured this out. I didn't just want to have tea with you."

Hermione nodded but stayed silent. She didn't want to interrupt whatever it was that Draco was going to say.

"It started about two years ago when I was in the Patagonia region of Chile. While I was there, I came across an ancient-looking wizard the locals referred to as "the Old One." He was originally from India but had come to live out his final days by the edge of the Torres del Paine. He took one look at me and told me I was late in coming. I didn't know what he meant. He said my destiny was in jeopardy."

Hermione couldn't help but be riveted to Draco's story. "Your...destiny?"

She wondered how one's fate could ever be at risk; after all, wasn't it fate? But all she asked was, "Did he tell you what it was? Your destiny, I mean."

Draco gave her an enigmatic look.

Hermione blushed again. "Er...you don't have to answer that. My insatiable desire to know everything gets the better of me sometimes. Harry always called it my 'nose' problem."

Draco waved her apology aside. "It's quite alright. I know you….you're naturally curious."

You know me?

"I asked him the same thing, you know. What is my destiny? He told me the Lake of Mirrors would reveal it to me…..if I was worthy."

"Lake of Mirrors...that doesn't sound familiar." Hermione had never heard of it before. At least, she didn't think she had. Right now, she wasn't too sure of anything.

Draco nodded. " I reckon it wouldn't to you. It's one of the sacred sites of the Tehuelche tribe. Anyhow, according to their legends, this magical lake is hidden between the mountains. It only reveals itself to an initiate."

"An initiate of what?" Hermione felt like a parrot, repeating Draco's words back to him, but she didn't understand.

"Their inner circle. A type of mystic order. According to their religion, an initiate could always be identified; they would bear a mark on the left arm. It's said that the mark…..would have always been unsought...unwanted."

Hermione's breath caught, and she shivered. She knew the mark Draco was referring to for himself….his dark mark. She unconsciously clutched her left arm. She guessed she qualified as an initiate, too.

Draco continued. "Supposedly, when one who was called came to view their fortune, it was said the water would mirror back their future."

Hermione coughed. She suddenly felt nervous. This was all too familiar. "And this lake...did you feel it calling you? Did you see….?"

Draco nodded. "I went the next morning at daybreak. I followed the path the Old One showed me. Soon, I found it. It was a small lake, perfectly round."

Perfectly round...Oh, dear Merlin. Hermione was beginning to find it hard to breathe.

"Mist was rising from the waters. When it cleared, I saw an image on the surface."

"An...an image? What was it?"

He gently shook his head as he reached for her hand. "Not what, Hermione. Who. I saw you, Love."

"Me?" she squeaked.

Draco nodded solemnly. "You. You're my destiny. The lake confirmed what I already knew. I've known it since…..that night."

Hermione didn't have to ask him which night he meant. She knew.

"Draco," she whispered.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a little black box. Hermione gasped. Surely that wasn't….that couldn't be….

He opened it to show an antique aquamarine stone surrounded by a band of diamonds. "The lake is this same color."

Hermione immediately recognized that hue. Her eyes went from the ring back to Draco's face. "You're giving me….a ring?"

Draco gave her a small smile. "I was actually offering more than just jewelry. I come with it. Hermione…..will you marry me?"

"Ma….marry you? You don't even know me!"

He wasn't swayed by her panic. "I think I know you quite well." He lifted her hand to his lips and gently kissed her fingers. "For instance, I know your parents always wanted a big family, but when they had you, they were so content, they stopped there. I know you wore your hair in a pixie cut until you were ten because you hated your curls." He brushed one of them off her shoulder. "I love them by the way."

Hermione blushed madly.

"I also know your fondness for blood pops," he grinned.

By this time, tears were streaming down Hermione's cheeks. "My dreams…..you were there in them, too? It wasn't just me dreaming all that?"

Draco leaned over the table and kissed her wet cheek. "Of course, I was there. In every single dream."

"Am I dreaming now? I must be. This seems too good to be true."

Draco's face lit up with hopefulness at her response. He chuckled. "You have the same effect on me."

"Well, despite that…..are you sure you want this? We haven't even dated!"

Draco gave her a look that warmed her heart. "Love, I've been dating you for two years….unconventionally, I'll grant you…..but still. How long are you going to make me wait?"

Hermione knew Draco was referring to their nocturnal excursions.

So that's what those dreams were all about. He was courting me.

"Why that way of dating me? Why didn't you just ask me out?"

Draco fidgeted at that and scratched the back of his neck. "I've always been a coward….you know that. I couldn't bear the thought of approaching you and being rejected, so I came in through the back door, so to speak, by seeking you while you slept. I thought I had a better chance that way."

Hermione thought of something else. "The lake I saw in the dreams…. that's the Lake of Mirrors, isn't it?"

"It is. I'll carry you there if you ever want to see it." Then Draco reached over and cradled her face with his hand. His thumb caressing her cheek, he said, "I love you, Hermione. You've known that for quite some time. Please say you'll be my wife."

Hermione couldn't think. She could barely breathe. But for once in her life, everything felt right.

She looked into the eyes of the one who had secretly won her heart. She recalled the future the lake had shown her. She knew what she wanted. There wasn't any point in resisting.

"I'll be your wife."

Draco wasted no time after hearing that. Jumping up from his chair, he reached over and pulled Hermione to himself. With one hand fisting her curls and the other possessively holding her hip, he lowered his head and claimed her mouth with his. Hermione moaned. His kissing abilities were much better in the flesh.

"Draco," she groaned when he finally let her come up for air.

Giving the tip of her nose a soft peck, Draco took the ring from its box and slid it onto her left ring finger. He placed a kiss where it rested, then murmured in her ear, "Mine. Finally."

Hermione chuckled. The joy she felt was indescribable.

Draco gave her one more bruising kiss, then said, "We should go ahead and go back inside to get refreshed before the guests begin to arrive, since this gala is being given for us."

"Huh?"

Draco laughed and pulled Hermione even closer. "Were you not curious when your invitation didn't state the reason for the ball?"

Come to think of it, that had caught her attention. But she'd been so nervous at the thought of seeing Draco, it had slipped her mind.

He smiled lovingly at the witch in his arms. "It's our engagement party, Love."

Hermione's brows rose. So caught up in the miracle of their love finally being free to express itself, she hadn't considered anything else. At first she was amused.

Well, aren't you Mr. Confident. Pretty sure of my answer, were you?

But then the thought they would be facing an opinionated, gossipy crowd hit her hard. She froze.

Draco looked at her worriedly. "Hermione? Love? What's wrong?"

"No one will understand. They won't know about the dreams. Or about what happened to us when I was tortured. Draco…..they're going to think awful things about the two of us. They'll say you're just using me. Or they'll claim I'm a gold digger. People won't believe we're in love."

"They can just bugger off then," he huffed. "I don't care what they think. Do you?"

He looked at her, his heart in his eyes. Seeing his expression, Hermione calmed. She realized the only one with the power to hurt Draco was herself. And she wasn't going to let that happen.

Taking a deep breath, she gave him a reassuring smile and squeezed his hand. "No, I guess not. Not as long as you're beside me."

He smiled then, a big smile that radiated happiness. And relief. "Where else do you think I'd be?" he asked playfully. "I made you a promise, didn't I? I intend to keep it."

"Draco," Hermione said with so much love in her voice, it made his eyes swim with tears. "I love you….more than anything. I never want to part from you."

A tiny drop splashed on Draco's cheek. He moved to wipe it from his face, but Hermione beat him to it by kissing the offending tear off.

He sighed and rested his cheek against her soft hair. "I'll never leave you…..I promise," he reminded her.

For a moment, the two lovers stood together, wrapped in each other's arms. Finally, Draco felt he had his emotions under control again. He placed Hermione's hand in the crook of his arm. Giving her a cheeky wink, he said, "I think I'm ready to dive in. Care to join me?"

Hermione's breath caught. How many times had she heard him ask her that? But like that pivotal night when she'd changed her answer, she now knew she could never part from her destiny. She was ready to swim in its depths.

Giving him a heartfelt kiss, she answered.

"Don't mind if I do."