((A.N. I really will miss writing this story and getting reviews . . . I'm thinking about trying for Schnoogle with my next story, what do you think? Well, without further adieu, here is the last chapter of 'A Desperate Love.'))

Disclaimer: I am forever in gratitude to J.K. Rowling for giving me this chance to grow as a writer, and since this is 'fan fiction,' I do not, unfortunately, own the characters or settings in my work.

Narcissa was there, her wand leveled at the place where Lemanus had stood.

"Mother?!" Draco said, a note of disbelief in his voice.

"Narcissa!" Hermione cried, also shocked at the woman's presence, but for a different reason. Then Draco was on his feet, and ran to Hermione. He threw his arms around her, tightly, as if he never wanted to let go. For one moment Hermione was reminded of Lemanus's possessive embrace, but she felt the warmth radiating from Draco and knew that the two couldn't be more different. For the first time in a while, she felt completely safe.

"Hermione," he whispered into her hair, cradling her tightly. Finally he realized how cold her skin was, and unfastened the cloak Pansy had given him. He carefully wrapped it around her and clasped it, all the while never letting go of her.

"I'm so sorry," Draco said breathlessly, drawing back a moment to look into her eyes. "The guards put the Imperius on me, and then I was locked in my room, and if it hadn't been for Zabini here, I don't know what would've happened, and . . . I'm just glad you're okay!"

Hermione smiled at his rambling, noting how out of place he sounded saying those words. She was delighted at how his cheeks were tinged pink, and his hair was sweptback from running. His eyes seemed to be searching hers for something, and she spoke as she realized what it was.

"I am okay, Draco. Though Lemanus and I had the most fascinating conversation about power and glory."

Draco smirked at the thought of her having a civil conversation with Lemanus, but seemed relieved all the same.

They were distracted by a sudden scream from Narcissa. "No!" she yelled, and they turned to see Blaise with his wand leveled at Lemanus, shaking with rage. Draco realized suddenly that Blaise intended to kill Lemanus right then and there. Surely he can't manage the killing curse, Draco thought wildly. Only the most powerful of wizards can. . .

But he remembered back to one of Moody's lectures, and knew that if there was enough emotion coursing through a person, the Killing Curse was quite possible.

"Zabini, no!" Draco shouted, realizing that everything would be ruined if Lemanus died. There was a small part of Draco, though, that wanted to stand aside and let Blaise kill him.

It was Hermione who intervened, because she could see in Blaise's eyes that he would not listen to words. Once again, she leapt between the attacker and his target.

Blaise's murderous gaze softened only a little, and he said, "Get out of my way, Granger. I'll kill you too if I have to."

It occurred to Draco that Blaise was possibly insane, and he whipped out his own wand.

"Put that down, Zabini. I don't want to have to stun you."

They were at a stand still, it seemed. Hermione stood between Lemanus and Blaise, who hand his wand leveled at both of them. Draco's wand was pointed at Blaise's head, ready to stun at the slightest movement.

"Stop it, all of you!" Narcissa cried suddenly. "Lucius could come back at any moment, and you're all about to kill each other!" She looked at them all reprovingly. "With any luck, we're all on the same side, remember?"

Draco sighed, realizing the truth in her words, and lowered his wand. "I know you want to kill him, Zabini," Draco said in that sardonic drawl. "So do I . . . believe me, so do I. But if he just randomly disappears, my father will put two and two together and we'll all be good as dead. We just have to wait for the right time."

Blaise lowered his wand and turned to Draco. "You don't get it, do you, Malfoy? I don't care what the consequences are. I want him dead."

Draco and Blaise glared at each other before Hermione cut in. "Here's what I say we do. We put a powerful memory charm on him, then use a memory modification hex to change what he thinks has happened. That way, he won't remember anything we don't want him to, and no one has to know about this."

Draco's mind began whirring at her words. He couldn't think of anything wrong with it, right off the bat.

"Granger! Do you really expect me to walk away from the perfect chance to avenge my father? Do you really think I'm going to let Gilroy get away again without even . . ."

"Zabini," Draco said once more, in a warning tone. "Are you a Slytherin, or not? We can't go around bravely avenging our fathers like a bunch of heroic Gryffindors! You have to be sneaky and sly about it, and you can't just throw caution to the winds. Did you Sorting Hat put you in the wrong house or something?"

The boy's dark eyes flashed at the insult, but he looked at Draco more calmly.

"Fine, Malfoy," he spat after a moment. "Guess I didn't expect you to change from the stubborn asshole you've always been just for some girl. But Granger? Hermione Granger? Honestly, Malfoy . . ."

"You better shut your mouth if you want to keep all of your . . . anatomy intact, Zabini," Draco growled, but Hermione saw a flash of humor in his breath-taking eyes.

"I take it that you can handle a simple memory charm by yourselves, then?" Hermione said cuttingly. "I don't happen to have my wand."

"The memory charm, sure," said Blaise casually, "but the modification hex? I don't know one."

"I do," said Hermione and Narcissa at the same time.

"I have your wand here, Hermione," Narcissa continued, smiling as she pulled it out of her robes. "Stole it from Lucius's chambers. I should've known he'd keep it in there." She tossed Hermione her wand, and all of the sudden Hermione felt powerful beyond belief.

"Let me do the hexes," Narcissa suggested. "You three would most likely get warnings from the school if you tried magic.

Blaise's murderous gaze on Lemanus did not escape Draco's attention in the least; Blaise would kill Lemanus, when the time was right. Narcissa stepped up to Lemanus's body. She raised her wand and said, "Obliviate!"

A jet of purple light flew out, followed by a puff of smoke around Lemanus's still form. Immediately, Narcissa cried, "Crio memoriosus!"

Narcissa seemed to be concentrating acutely. But after a while a golden thread snaked out of her wand and attached itself to Lemanus. She took a deep breath.

"Draco is coming along exactly as you and Lucius see fit. He responds to all orders that his father gives him without question. Yes, he will be a good pawn in your hands. He and Hermione Granger, along with Blaise Zabini, all went through the initiation without problems. You trust Blaise completely now; how could he have possibly remember the murder of his father? You are a genius, and your plan is working perfectly. Oh, and that Granger girl? What would you want with a ā€“ excuse me, Hermione ā€“ bushy haired, buck toothed mudblood except to use her as a political pawn in this game you are playing? You are a genius, and you are manipulating everyone around you with perfect ease. Compleo memoriosus!"

The golden string wrapped itself around Lemanus before disappearing with a shimmering light. Narcissa sagged, half from exhaustion and half from relief. "He'll wake up tomorrow morning and believe everything I just said," Narcissa murmured.

"Wow!' Hermione breathed, impressed. "That's a difficult spell to perform at the best of times!"

Draco looked at his mother with a new sense of respect. Suddenly he realized that she could have been a wonderful ally to him throughout the years, but instead he had taken on his father's view of Narcissa. Nothing more than weak, unimportant, and disposable. Now he regretted that decision more than almost anything in his life. He mother had loved him, and he had never returned that love. Draco wasn't sure of damage like that could ever be repaired.

Draco took a deep breath. "Thanks . . . mum. We would've been in quite a predicament if you hadn't shown up."

Narcissa smiled, her eyes aglow. Draco had never called her mum before, always 'mother.' It wasn't much, but it was a start.

Next Draco turned to Hermione. " I can't let you stay here anymore," Draco said quietly. "We . . . we have to get you out of here, Hermione."

She looked up at Draco and saw the pain in his eyes. He doesn't want me to leave, Hermione realized. And I don't want to leave him.

"But, Draco, the curse! If Lucius knows I've escaped, all he has to do is command me to come back, and if I don't . . ." she trailed off, remembering the pain she had felt once before.

Draco looked into her sweet amber eyes, noticed how they danced in the dim light, and suddenly everything came together so clearly in his mind that he could've kicked himself for not realizing it before.

"Hermione! Remember when I told you that every curse had a counter-curse?"

She nodded, noticing the odd light in his eyes, and she replied, "And I said that the counter curse to this particular curse must be nearly impossible to perform."

Draco added the pieces up in his mind, and the more he thought about it, the clearer it became. He took her hands in his excitedly.

"I tried to tell you this in the dining hall, but I never had a chance to finish! All my life, I've had this dream . . . this nightmare. It always starts with me walking through a rose garden, searching for something, though I don't know what. I get frustrated until I see a golden light out of the corner of my eye. As I get closer, I see a golden rose, more beautiful than all of the others, and more pure. Finally, I realize that this is what I've searching for all along. Then a faceless man leaps forward and slashes down the rose with a sword. Though he doesn't hit me, I suddenly feel like I'm dying . . . that's when I wake up."

Draco paused and looked at her. She could tell from all of his stuttering that he wasn't used to saying things like this.

"And, well . . . I finally realized that you're the golden rose, Hermione. You're the one I've been searching for all of my life."

He paused again. This was the part that he was most reluctant to say aloud, because he'd only just realized it himself. He was terrified of what she would say, but looking into her eyes steadied him.

"I should've said this a long time ago, Hermione . . . but I love you, and I mean that with all of my heart."

Hermione looked into his eyes and knew instantly that it was true. Draco let out a soft breath. Silence. He'd done his part, and now he only hoped that Hermione would do hers.


"Draco," Hermione breathed, tilting her face towards him. "I love you too. So much." She could hardly believe that she was saying it, but it was true. Then her lips met his, and all the feelings she'd been holding inside were released in one tumultuous moment. Hermione felt a wonderful tingling from head to toe, and all she cared about were his soft lips against hers, his strong arms around her waist.

To any onlooker, it would seem that a great shimmering light encompassed them both, golden as the rising sun. It would also seem that they were raised off of the ground for one blinding moment, though it was hard to be sure, for in the next instant, all signs of magic had disappeared as if seen in a dream.

When, after a nameless amount of time, they released each other, it was as if the world made perfect sense for one blinding moment.

Narcissa and Blaise found themselves quite unable to move, and they were completely clueless as to what had just occurred.

"The curse," Draco whispered between breaths. "It's broken."

Hermione looked up at him, not daring to hope. "How?"

"It's the one thing that Salazzar Slytherin didn't count on when conjuring this curse. True love. It's the one thing that he couldn't manipulate, control, or combat. Besides, he didn't believe Malfoys to be even capable of possessing it," Draco said softly. He realized that he'd just defied every rule, every law, and every code of honor his family had ever laid down. And I don't care, he thought.

"So . . . the bond is useless now, because I am bonded to you in a much stronger way."

"Exactly," Draco said, his eyes sparkling.

"Does that mean . . . I'm free to go? I can escape and your father won't be able to track me?"

"Yes," Draco said simply.

Hermione stopped for a moment and took in the irony of the entire situation. All she had wanted, ever since she had come to the Malfoy Manor, was freedom. And now that she possessed it, the last thing she wanted to do was leave. At least, not without Draco. She felt that she would not be safer in the company of Dumbledore and the entire Hogwarts faculty than she would be right there in Draco's arms.

But Hermione knew that if she stayed both him and her would face death, or worse. There was still the matter of the Dark Mark on her left forearm, and she knew that she would never be able to escape that.

"Draco, Iā€“ I don't know where to go. I don't know what to do. I want to stay here, with you."

Draco lungs burned painfully as he looked at her. "Anywhere is safer than here for you, Hermione. When Lucius finds out about this," he beckoned to Lemanus and Blaise, "and he will, eventually, you can't be here to face his wrath. He might have some mercy for his own son . . . but not for you. Take the floo system to Potter or Weasely . . . there's some powder on the mantle."

Hermione couldn't help but hear the bitterness in his voice as he said her two best friend's names. The last thing he wanted to do was send her to Harry or Ron, but much as he hated to admit, she would be safest with one of them. So he gently unclasped his hands from her waist, every moment of it killing him, and guided her towards the floo powder.

She took a handful of powder and tossed it into the fireplace, still with no coherent thought of where she would go. Harry, was the name that came to her. He would understand, at least better than Ron would. She couldn't floo to his house, though, because she couldn't be sure that he was there.

She looked back at Draco, only looked, because she knew that if she touched him again she would never be able to let go. There was a chance that she would never see him again. So many things could go wrong before term started that she couldn't count them all. She was leaving him in a lion's den, and she hated herself for it.

"I love you," she said instead, and stepped into the emerald flames. Draco didn't hear the name she shouted, because his ears were roaring. He would've reached out and grabbed her if it wasn't for a bracing hand on his shoulder. He looked back to see his mother standing behind him, tears in her eyes also.

"If it's any comfort at all, you did the right thing," she said softly. "That's more than I could do, or your father." Blaise made a neutral sound in his throat, apparently to announce that he was leaving. Draco and Narcissa stood alone, watching the flames die down to their normal consistency.

It wasn't any comfort to Draco, knowing he did the right thing. His heart already ached with longing for her, and he'd held her only moments ago.

That night, Draco had a dream.

He was walking through a rose garden, full of beautiful, crimson red roses. He walked purposefully toward the beautiful golden rose in the center of the garden. When he saw it, the rose took his breath away with it's beauty and depth. It seemed to pierce the night and light the day, to hypnotize and lead astray. Suddenly a man appeared. This man had many faces. First the man was Lemanus, then his father, next Voldemort, and he pulled out a sword, raising it to slash down the rose.

But this time, Draco was ready. He unsheathed a sword of his own, and the two blades met in a clang of opposition. He fought the man off with all his might, and the man disappeared soundlessly into the mist.

He turned back to look at his rose. It still grew, unharmed and beautiful as ever.

Draco woke up, for the first time in his life, without a feeling of dread at the pit of his stomach, without that familiar aching feeling in his chest. He felt strangely peaceful.

Although he couldn't remember what had happened in the dream, Draco Malfoy knew one thing for certain. As long he lived, no one would ever harm his Hermione.

His golden rose.