By the time Draco and Hermione returned to earth, the aperitifs were being served, champagne was being poured, and the festivities were getting well underway. The party, for them, sped by in a swirl of lights and music and color, smiling faces and hugs and well-wishes, and the tinkling of spoons against glasses, signaling them to kiss. Hermione danced with her father, followed by Harry, who, she noticed, seemed happier and more at peace than she'd seen him in months. She questioned him about it, but he just smiled and mentioned what lovely occasions weddings were, and how nice it was to run into old friends at them. (He would tell her the rest in due time, but had decided that the dance floor at her wedding reception was neither the place nor the time to stun her with revelations about Ron. He felt strongly that Ron agreed with this- though the redhead had faded from Harry's sight not long after their initial conversation, he could still definitely sense his presence. It was a feeling of incredible well-being, that sense that on this happy day, both his best mates were close at hand.)
Hermione, watching Harry move off toward the refreshment table with a puzzled smile on her face, was not given the opportunity to wonder long about the change in her dearest friend- a moment later she was swept into her new husband's arms for yet another dance.
She danced with Sirius, and with Dumbledore as well, which was rather like dancing with her grandfather- then with Snape, which was just rather… odd. While Draco danced with her mother, who was astounded by his skill ("Good gracious, I thought ballroom dancing was a lost art among your generation!") Hermione found herself once again partnering Neville Longbottom, who was just as bumbling and wrong-footed and endearingly flustered as he had been so long ago, the night of Draco's Resorting and the victory ball. He seemed unable to believe his luck at scoring a dance with the bride; blushing, unable to meet her eyes, treating her more like a celebrity than the girl he'd shared classes, meals, and a common room with for seven years. Hermione's smile never faltered as she quickly whispered the words of a shielding spell to protect her bare toes from the sweetly bumbling boy's oversized feet.
There was a sit-down dinner served by a team of smartly-clad, paid house elves, who were headed by Dobby and Hanni, of course. Guests ate in the huge white silk tent, which was festooned all over with darting, twinkling fairy lights. Draco and Hermione shared a candlelit table for two at the far end, with a view out over the nighttime lake, to the sparkling lights of Hogsmeade Village and their own home. At the nearest table to them were Hermione's parents, along with Snape, McGonagall, Dumbledore, and Arthur and Molly Weasley. It had been uncertain up until almost the last minute whether the Weasleys would actually attend, and had been a source of immense joy to Hermione when she'd arrived at the ceremony site to find the whole clan there, taking up nearly an entire row. Their meeting, after the ceremony, was a bittersweet one, as all future meetings between the remaining members of the "Gryffindor Four" and the bereaved Weasley family were destined to be- but under such joyful circumstances, it could hardly help but be light on the bitter; heavy on the sweet.
Just a little further off sat Harry, along with Neville and the entire younger generation of the Weasleys. Neither Hermione, nor Draco, nor Harry himself had seen any of them since graduation day some five months ago, and it was readily apparent to the newly married couple, who kept sneaking looks at that particular table and then elbowing each other and sharing furtive grins of sheer delight, that Harry was looking at Ginny though entirely new eyes.
And deservedly so. Ginny, who was currently in her seventh year and Hogwarts' Head Girl, looked every inch a woman- and a lovely one at that, in flowing midnight blue robes with her fiery hair twined into an elegant knot at the nape of her neck. Harry couldn't keep his eyes off her- it was patently obvious to Hermione and Draco, and no less so to Ginny herself, who was deep in conversation with him, positively glowing with pleasure at the attention, yet conducting herself with a very adult- and very appealing- air of serenity and confidence.
Hermione leaned in toward Draco to comment on this, but Fred and George chose that exact moment to initiate yet another spoons-on-glasses uproar… and the newlyweds were obliged to respond with a kiss. Not, of course, that they minded very much. There would be plenty of time for discussing their friends' love lives- perhaps even for some strategic match-making- later. This time, this place, these few short magical hours, were all about them.
There was a cake-cutting, the cake being shaped, as Hermione had stipulated all those months ago, like a stack of books; slightly asymmetrical, and expertly decorated, with the titles of her favorite reads piped delicately onto the spines in chocolate icing. This last was a detail Draco had overseen himself, as a surprise to his bride. The largest book, at the bottom of the stack, was of course none other than "Hogwarts, A History". It was this book that they cut into, in order to feed each other bite-sized pieces with their fingers as Fred and George hollered, "Smash it! Smash it in his face!"
Predictably, Hermione ignored this request. Also predictably, Molly Weasley accosted her wayward sons from behind, pushing through the crowd and managing to grab each twin by an ear before they even realized she was there, so caught up were they in their own antics. She dragged them bodily away from the cake table, scolding them like children for all that they were now grown men- and very successful entrepreneurs. Hermione could hear Molly berating them, going on about their behavior in public, asserting that they didn't even deserve any cake after an exhibition like that. Her angry tirade was counter-pointed now and again by two nearly identical voices whining exaggeratedly- "but, mu-u-um!"
Hermione clunked her forehead against Draco's shoulder, stifling her laughter into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. Someone nearby grabbed a spoon and a glass, and soon enough, they were obliged to kiss again; this time, Draco dipped her backward, almost to the floor.
The cake-related festivities were followed shortly by the bouquet and garter toss- both of which were largely Muggle traditions that Draco was unfamiliar with, and which Hermione had forgotten to clue him into during their discussion round the table the previous night. She had to do so quickly now, leaning in and whispering instructions into his ear, while his pale eyes first widened almost comically, then narrowed as the beginnings of a wicked grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. It was clear that he found the idea of diving under her skirts, for the prize of a lacy garter set well up on her thigh, quite appealing- but still, he had misgivings. "Are you serious?" he muttered when she drew away. "Right here in front of everyone? In front of Creevey?"
"Don't be silly, no one will see a thing," she admonished him, "that's partly why Muggle women favor such enormous dresses, I think. All Colin or anyone else will see is layer upon layer of fabric."
Now it was Draco's turn to lean in and whisper. "What if I miss the garter?" he breathed into her ear. "How will I know if I've gone… too high?"
"Draco-!" Hermione's voice took on a distinctly Molly Weasley-ish tone of warning, that even caused the twins to turn their heads from halfway across the tent. They looked from Draco, who was still grinning evilly, to Hermione, a pretty flush now rising to her cheeks, to each other- and, much to the real Molly's dismay, broke out into loud whoops and cries of "yeah, mate!"
Hermione was caught between the urge to sigh and roll her eyes, and the equally strong urge to bury her flushed face in her husband's chest again, hiding it from view. Unable to choose which course of action to take, she did all of the above in rapid succession. Then her head shot up as a thought occurred to her. "Oh," said to Draco, "I almost forgot- the man who catches the garter and the woman who catches the bouquet share a dance! It's the custom. And I think…" pulling his head down, she murmured the rest too softly for anyone else to hear.
"Yes," Draco smiled a moment later, "I think that can be arranged."
With just the smallest bit of help from a couple of expertly cast guidance spells, Ginny caught the bouquet and Harry the garter.
He flew her home by broomstick across the moonlit lake.
By the time the newlyweds left the reception, only their family and close friends remained. The lingerers gathered at the cliff's edge to see them off; Harry, and the one or two other Muggleborns present, laughing at Draco's confused expression as he took in the streamers and tin cans they had surreptitiously tied to the tail of his absurdly expensive broom. Another odd Muggle tradition he didn't quite know what to make of. Hermione's parents were being put up at Hogwarts for the night; Dumbledore had offered them the lavish guest quarters that were usually reserved for visiting Ministry officials, members of the school's board of governors, and assorted foreign dignitaries. Harry had accepted an offer to spend the night at the Weasleys' house. At one o'clock in the afternoon, some twelve hours from this moment, this same small, intimate group of friends would convene upon the Hogsmeade residence of the new Malfoy family for lunch and leftover wedding cake, and to watch the young couple open their gifts. Until then, Draco and Hermione would have their house all to themselves.
Which is an important thing, on a wedding night.
Hermione rode "side saddle" on the broom, unwilling to straddle the wooden shaft in her gown. She sat in front of Draco, angled back toward him so that she was very nearly facing backwards- both of her arms wrapped around his neck, and her cheek pressed to his chest. They arrived home to find that Hanni must have slipped back unnoticed at some point during the reception, because the house was flooded with warmth and light, and, they discovered as Draco carried Hermione over the threshold, the foyer was now an inch deep in rose petals just as the center aisle at their ceremony had been- only these were red instead of white. The plush carpet of crimson petals continued down the hall all the way to their bedroom at the end, and when they opened that door, it was to find a roaring fire in the grate, a bottle of champagne chilling on the bedside table, and the bed itself absolutely drowned in petals; red, pink and white.
Draco crossed purposefully to the bed and laid Hermione gently on it- he'd been carrying her all this while. Then he stepped back, shrugged out of his cloak, and the jacket of his Muggle wedding suit, and began wrestling with his tie- but stopped a second later, arrested by the site before him. Hermione, lying on her elbows in the middle of the bed, all white silk and glorious dark hair against a riot of rose petals; her face flushed and her breath coming quicker now, in anticipation of what was to happen next.
He stared at her for a long moment, not even breathing. She literally took his breath away. He might have stayed that way forever, just drinking her in with his eyes, savoring this vision of perfection on his- their- bed… but then her brow crinkled in puzzlement. "Draco-?" she asked, and extended her arms toward him, beckoning him to join her.
He forgot about his tie.
Giving his head a small shake to clear it, he raised both hands abruptly and ran them through his hair. He suddenly felt a bit dizzy, and with good reason- all blood that was non-essential to survival had just abandoned his head for lower regions. "Merlin, Hermione," he said, in a voice that was hoarse with emotion, "you're the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." And then he was lowering himself over her, catching her face in both his hands, sliding them into her hair, claiming her lips with his.
It took them a very long time to come up for breath. When they did, Draco spoke against her, his lips moving on hers, which were sensuously swollen from hours of repeated kisses. "I love you," he murmured, "so much- so goddamned much, Hermione-" he began to move against her, his fingers stroking, caressing, going to the laces of her gown; feeling the incredible softness of the silk; her skin. He moved his mouth too, dropping kisses in various places to punctuate his words. "You are everything that matters to me-" (he kissed the corner of her mouth) "my heart-" (the tip of her nose) "my soul-" (her temple) "my future-" (her earlobe) "my reason for being, for breathing-" (the sensitive place where her neck joined her shoulder, making her shiver beneath him) "my wife. When the nightmares come, we'll ride them out together, and I will never-" (back up to her forehead) "ever-" (down to her collarbone) "let anything hurt you again. I will kill anyone that tries. I swear to you, Hermione- I swear to God- you're safe-" (and he was dragging his lips now, back down her neck) "and loved-" (pushing down the loosened bodice of her gown) "always-" (dropping a kiss between her breasts, now almost fully exposed, rising and falling rapidly with her panting, aroused little breaths) "-always."
They made love countless times that night as the fire died away to embers, at first almost fully dressed in their wedding attire, but shedding more and more clothing as the hours passed, until they were both completely naked, sticky from exertion; crushed rose petals clinging to their limbs as they moved, filling the room with fragrance as they finally fell asleep in one another's arms, fused so closely together that he was still inside of her and they truly seemed one being rather than two.
It was a fantastic beginning. The promise of a fantastic life.
And things were good.
Things were deliriously good.
For a while.
EPILOGUE – Five Years Later
The young mother sat on a checkered cloth spread on the grass, her long legs folded gracefully beneath her. Before her spread acres of lush green grounds; behind her sat the impressive mansion that she called her home. There had been a while there when things had most definitely not been going her way; a time when she had almost given up. She had been destitute; penniless and friendless, alone in all the world.
Well… not entirely alone. There had been the life she'd carried within her. The life that was now her son, playing a little way farther down the lawn. It looked as though he were stalking bugs. He raised his head and waved to her; she smiled and waved back. Her son. Her world. Her redemption.
She really wasn't so very young, when one got right down to it. But she looked twenty years younger than was actually the case; she looked twenty-five years old, and so far as her husband knew, she was. He was a good deal older than twenty-five, of course; older than her real age; older than her first husband would have been, had he been alive today. And oh, this new husband, was he wealthy. And oh, was he powerful. She had a real knack for attracting wealth and power; she always had. He had lifted her up out of the ashes of her former life; like a phoenix, she had been reborn. And she did feel a certain affection for him; as much as she possibly could for an inferior life form, at any rate. And she was grateful- grateful for the things he shared so readily with her; the wealth, the power, the privilege- things she'd taken for granted years ago, before they'd all been stripped away from her in the course of a single, disastrous night. She'd been lucky to escape with her life.
She never discussed any of this with her husband, of course. He had no idea she'd ever been married before. He'd scooped her out of desperate poverty when her son had still been an infant, seeing only a beautiful, and obviously aristocratic, young woman who'd fallen from grace by getting pregnant out of wedlock. He thought she'd been disowned by her family. She didn't disabuse him of this notion. In a way she had been.
Aside from the child she now watched playing, she had only one family member left alive- and he was family by blood only. Once he had been as full of promise as the little boy frolicking on the lawn of this Muggle mansion, the only home he'd ever known. Now, that family member thought her dead, but should he ever find out otherwise he would doubtless hunt her down and kill her himself. He had other priorities in his life these days- (she had her sources, to tell her what he was up to; oh, yes. Her new husband's copious amounts of money bought her all the information she needed)- a wife. A child. A second on the way. People he loved. She allowed herself a sneer at the thought. A mudblood wife and filthy half-breed spawn. Disgusting. She wasn't bothered in the least by the hypocrisy of thinking this way when she herself had married a Muggle; it was an entirely different thing. She had done what she'd had to do in order to survive, and give herself, and even more importantly, her young child, the benefits of wealth, security, and power. She hadn't fallen in love. She'd only ever loved one man; only ever considered one man to be her equal; only ever borne one man's children. And that man had been pure. And her child, playing here in the Spring sunshine, was pure.
But back to the other- the renegade. He had people he loved now, and that meant he had liabilities. He would be afraid for them if he ever found out that she was alive and well and biding her time. He would be afraid for them, and with good reason. He had killed her mate. She more than intended to return the favor.
But all in good time. She would let the years pass. She would let his interest grow. She hoped he would have a big family, so that when the time came, he could watch one after another after another suffer and die, until he begged her to put him out of his misery.
It would be quite some time, though, before her secret weapon was ready. A weapon he would, as soft as he'd become, have little defense against, for all that his magic was now, she'd heard it rumored, more powerful than any other wizard's in an age. No, he wouldn't be able to defend himself against this weapon because he'd be first too shocked by its existence, and then too busy trying to redeem it. He wouldn't be able to destroy it, because when he looked at it, he would see himself. Same hair. Same eyes. Same blood running through its veins.
The weapon was her most perfect and cherished creation.
She loved it. It loved her. And the other, the renegade, would never be able to break that bond. But when the time came, rather than seeking to destroy the weapon, he would try. And he would fail. And he would die screaming.
The weapon was approaching her now, running sturdily on chubby little legs, grinning from ear to ear, both hands clutching bunches of daisies he'd picked for her. She watched him come, smiling at his shining silver-white hair, his ice-blue eyes. So new. So pure. Such limitless potential.
"Hello, my love," she smiled as he reached her and dumped his gift of flowers into her sundress-clad lap.
"For you, mummy," said the weapon.
With a few murmured words and a wave of her hand, she transfigured the lot of them into two delicate daisy chains. She slipped one over his head- he bent his neck to receive it- and then allowed him to decorate her in the same fashion. With that done, she reached out and caught his little face gently between her hands. "Luke, darling," she said solemnly, "can step-daddy Tom ever know about mummy's magic?"
"No, mummy," replied the weapon with equal gravity, "never."
"Good boy. You make mummy so proud. Do you remember the name of your real daddy?"
"Lucius. His name was like mine!"
"Yes, and there's a reason for that. Tell mummy what the reason is."
The weapon smiled; this was familiar territory; he knew exactly what to say. "Because I'm going to be just like him someday."
"And when you're a big grown man with magic of your own, what are you going to do, Luke?"
This answer too, he knew by heart. "I'm going to find the man who killed my daddy and hurt my mummy, and I'm going to kill him!"
"And everything he loves."
"Because he's a bad man. And bad men only love bad things."
She nodded in satisfaction. "And how will you know this bad man when you've found him, my darling?"
"He will look like me, and his name is Draco Malfoy."
She pulled him close. "You are my brave, smart boy."
His wide, pale eyes, so full of love and trust and devotion, sought hers. Mimicking her earlier gesture, he lifted both his arms and pressed his chubby little hands to her cheeks, an endearing attempt to cradle her face as she had done his. "For you, mummy," he said again. "I will kill the bad man for you."
Narcissa smiled and kissed his forehead.
(A/N: Wow. Wow. Another fic complete. 197 pages long in 10-point font in my Microsoft Word file, I don't mind telling you. Hope you enjoyed! As you may have noticed, I left it just a leeeetle bit open for continuation. I always envisioned this storyline as a trilogy. Work has not begun on the third story, however. I'm not sure when it will begin. Perhaps in weeks, or months, or a year. Perhaps never. It all depends on grad school, on my time and motivation. Anyway, thank you, thank you for reading this story! It was a real labor of love. I would have written it even if no one had been reading, but it means the world to me that people were! And that those same readers were so patient with me, through delay after delay. You guys are awesome- D/Hr fandom rocks! So… um… I guess… peace out.)