AUTHOR'S NAME:  Campy Capybara

AUTHOR'S EMAIL:  campy_capybara@yahoo.com

RATING:  G

TITLE:  The Curse-Breaker

SUMMARY:  15 years after the Phoenix War, will a curse cast by a dying Lucius Malfoy ever be lifted?

AUTHOR'S NOTE:  Notes will be found at the end of the fic.

DISCLAIMER:  This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

The Curse-Breaker

The wizard poured three tiny cups of sweet wine to the floor as an offering before the ancestral altar.  As the sweet-sharp fragrance of the spilt wine wafted up, the wizard gestured with his ebony wand, casting the Translato spell, followed quickly by the Revelato.

A complex ward pattern glowed in angry Chinese brushstrokes over the altar, which the Curse-Breaker quickly read by way of the Translato.  The only change on the wizard's impassive face was a slight triumphal gleam in his unusual granite eyes, as he knew that the steps he had taken to prepare for breaking the curse was being brought to fruition.  Knowing that the next step was crucial, he readied himself to cast the most powerful Chinese love blessing he knew – the agreement of love through the written character 'ai' or love.

His ebony wand with the Chinese Fireball Dragon heartstring core was quickly transfigured into a Chinese calligraphy brush.  As he wrote, he reflected that the centre of the character for 'ai' was 'xin' or the heart; above and below 'xin' was the character for 'breath' and 'graceful movement'.

And therein, the Chinese succinctly defined love in a written icon:  'xin' in the centre, denoting that love was an emotion of the heart, in its heated passions, in its confessions of tian chang di jiu, and in its volatile and irrational feelings.  But love was not merely an emotion originating from the heart to the Chinese; it was the very breath that gives life to the heart, and its effects was clearly seen in loving actions, bringing grace.  'Ai', as it was defined by ideogram, had a life-giving vitality that transcended beyond mere emotion.

The loss of love, therefore, was a living death.

o*O*o

And it was the lack of that life-giving vitality in her lost love that propelled Sun Lingzhu to cast the curse that bound the descendants of the Sun to a lifetime of heartbreak and unrequited love for a thousand generation.  Her husband, Sun Minzhong was a high-ranking wizard in His Majesty's court, and a much-favoured advisor.  As a reward for his service to the Emperor, Xu Lingzhu, a daughter of another high-ranking wizarding family was bestowed him as wife – a rare honour, for Lingzhu was a distant relation of the Emperor, and beautiful, even as she was both magically and politically powerful.

It was a well-matched marriage – Minzhong and Lingzhu shared similar ideals and views that made them excellent companions.  For years, they lived companionably, and Lingzhu was happy.  But if Lingzhu was pressed, she would confessed there were times she felt that Minzhong's heart was never as attentive to her as she was to him.  The truth of the matter came to light 12 years later, when Lingzhu's son brought home his best friend from the Wizarding School in the Capitol City.  The friend, whose mother was a muggle, was welcomed at first, but Lingzhu later found out that the two boys shared the same father – Sun Minzhong.

In a time where it was expected of men of Minzhong's standing to practice polygamy and have mistresses, Lingzhu would not accept that the man she married, respected and grew to love would truly spurn her love – for had she not done all was expected of her in her duties as wife?  She confronted Minzhong, only to hear him confess that while he appreciated her and loved her, he had never felt the kind of passion he had in his love for the muggle woman.  Angered, betrayed and heartsick, forgetting all the companionship he'd offered her, his attention to her, his doting on their children, Lingzhu lashed out in grief and cursed the descendants of Minzhong's illegitimate son that they would never find true love.

o*O*o

After the word was written, the Curse-Breaker was left the final step to lift Sun Lingzhu's curse.  He knew that attempting the powerful love blessing was risky – thus far those that had attempted to break the curse had failed, and they had also taken on the Sun curse upon themselves.  Also, this love blessing he was attempting was a modification of the usual love blessing, itself based on a long forgotten ancient Chinese marriage rite.

Checking the position of the full moon, he turned to the Chinese man who had hired him for the job.  With a curt nod, the man lifted a Chinese brush and began writing the same character in air, leaving glowing tracks of Chinese brushstrokes in its path.  The Curse-Breaker idly reflected that during the Cultural Revolution, the character for 'ai' was simplified, with the heart and grace character was taken out and replaced with 'you', or the character for friendship.  Love was now rooted in deep abiding friendship, in companionship, and in not being alone – which is not as independent from the former as one might think, he mused.

Standing on opposite ends of the altar, the Curse-Breaker directed the other man, who sent his completed 'ai' to superimpose on the Curse-Breaker's 'ai', which was suspended over the Sun altar, holding the rows upon rows of ancestral tablets.

The men waited with baited breath.

Would it be enough?  Would the love blessing cast by friends, cast on this day of days over the Sun descendants be enough to break a millennia old curse?

At exactly when the moon hit its zenith, the moonlight was reflected off the ba-gua mirror, striking the suspended twin ideogram, causing it to glow brighter and brighter to the extent that the white light filled the entire chamber… and then it was gone in a flash.

The two men were breathing heavily now, having exerted a great deal of Magical energy in casting the blessing along with the Yuan Xiao moonlight.  Turning to the Curse-Breaker, the man spoke in Mandarin, "Jin Long, have we succeeded in—"

The man was interrupted by an old woman's voice, resounding through the air:

"Regret!  Regret!  Regret!

My love now hates me!

Would it that I can lift my curse!

Then he would forgive and return to me –

Return to the times we shared

In quiet companionship

Regret!  Regret!  Regret!

Would you lift the curse?

Would you take away the unseeing rage of a broken heart?

Do this, and a blessing will follow you!

Break this curse, and this promise will be true:

You will find the love I lacked,

You will find the companionship I lost,

You will be fruitful in your love – your children will be abounding;

And joy and peace will follow you.

Lift this curse and this blessing will follow you

All your days,

Unto even a thousand generation!"

At that, another light engulfed the two men and just as suddenly as it manifested, it was gone.

The man turned to the Curse-Breaker with hope-filled eyes.  "Could it be true, Jin Long?  Have we truly broken this curse?  Is this blessing for real?"

The Curse-Breaker ran his hand through his short platinum blonde hair and spoke in perfect Mandarin, "It's highly probable, Wei Yang.  In my research, Sun Lingzhu regretted casting the curse, which Sun Minzhong never forgave her for.  He left her for the muggle, despite angering the Emperor, who stripped him of his rank.  It was noted that Sun Lingzhu would drink herself into a stupor every Yuan Xiao Jie, hoping that her husband would return to celebrate the day with the family, but he never did.  That was why I calculated that tonight would be the best time to break the curse."

Sun Wei Yang slowly broke into grin, and he began laughing.  He stretched out his arm and embraced the taller man in joy, whooping, laughing, and being totally ecstatic.  "Do you know what this means, Jin Long?  I'll finally be able to win her!  This curse will no longer hang over me!  It's worth giving up the efforts of the past 49 days to confirm my success with her.  Jin Long, how am I ever going to repay my debt to you?"

The Curse-breaker caught the infectious joy from his companion and grinned back at him.  "Oh, I think I'm more than repaid – not only by the terms we have set, but seeing the Taiwanese Minister of Magical Affairs in a rare display of emotions is a bonus indeed."  Seeing that Wei Yang was anxious to leave the chamber to test the effectiveness of his ancestor's blessings, Jin Long added, "For now, I think we should leave.  It's past midnight, but with the Yuan Xiao celebrations lasting all night in Taipei, you might still be able to see her tonight."  The Minister grinned foolishly in answer.  "As for me," the Curse-Breaker continued with a devilish smirk, "I have an appointment with a beautiful witch that cannot be put off."

With another grateful thanks from one party and a polite farewell from the other, both men Apparated away from the musty chamber in an unplottable corner of Beijing.

o*O*o

By the time he got to Wiltshire, it was five in the evening.  He had to detour to his Singapore home to change out of his Curse-Breaking gear; a deep green Mandarin-collared Chinese silk robe, which added greatly to his mystique as Asia's premier Curse-Breaker.

Striding through the door, the current Head of the Malfoy family greeted the bowed Head House Elf with an uplifted eyebrow, and proceeded quickly to the parlour to meet the Malfoy Matriarch.

"Mother, you look lovely as usual," he smiled, kissing the older woman on her cheeks before languidly sitting beside her and pouring himself a cup of fine Earl Grey.

"Flatterer!" she chided her son good-naturedly, "You're late.  I was just about to send the House Elves to check up on you."

"I was working," he shrugged.  "Besides, have I ever missed a single visit with you?"

"Draco," she sighed, ignoring his rhetorical question, "a Malfoy doesn't need to work.  And even if a Malfoy works for leisure, people will just have to wait for you, until you are good and ready for them."

"Mother," he rolled his eyes, "I'm a Curse-Breaker.  I break curses.  And curses have their own time schedule.  You know very well what my job is like."

Not placated by her son's answer, Narcissa gave a moue of displeasure and attacked her favourite topic, "Yes, I know very well what your work is like, and I do not like it.  Not one bit!"

"Mother—"

"Your job is dangerous—" she ticked off her ring-encrusted fingers "—you're unplottable and owls can't reach you—"

"That's because Curse-Breaking is intense, Mother!  I can't have owls popping in and breaking my concentration."

"—And you live so far away!"

"Singapore, Mother.  I'm based in Singapore.  Not the end of the world."

"It might very well be!"

Draco heaved a great sigh.  This was not the first time Narcissa voiced her disapproval of his lifestyle.

"Mother," he tried again, gentling his voice to cajole her.

"It's not that I dislike Singapore or anything – you've lived there for the past 10 years."

Draco nodded, awaiting the clincher that he knew Narcissa would sprout, having been nagged about it each time he had tea with her.

"It's just that you're all by yourself, and have no one to take care of you.  I worry, you know."

"Yes, Mother," he agreed, grasping hold of her hand and gently squeezing it.

"And at a time where most of my friends are playing with grandchildren—"

Draco leaned his head back against the sofa and expelled an exasperated huff.  "Mother," he warned.

Narcissa pouted, looking away.  Turning back to her son, she looked at him intently, took a bracing breath, and asked, "Are… are you… are you… gay?"  Quietly, she added, "I won't mind meeting him at all, you know."

"Wha— what?" Draco sat up, disbelieving.  "Whatever gave you that idea?" he almost shouted.

Narcissa had the grace to blush.  "I was having tea with Mrs. Parkinson and Mrs. Crabbe after our St. Mungo's Fund-raising meeting, when we got to talking about our children," she said, taking a sip from her teacup, avoiding her son's eyes.  "We discussed you and they suggested that…"

"That I'm gay?"  He stood up, arms crossed, glaring at his mother.

"Draco, you mustn't blame them… or me," she put her teacup down hastily, and laid a placating hand on his arm.  "Darling boy, you're never home, you've never attended any of our wizarding balls, and you've never even brought a girl back home to meet me – what am I suppose to think?  What are the rest of us suppose to think?  You're a grown man – you're 34 years old, and you're hiding in some tiny island all the way in Asia!  If you have a muggle lover over there, I can understand your apprehension in bringing her to meet me, but you've always denied that there was a woman keeping you tied to Singapore."  Narcissa looked at her son and pulled him to sit beside her on the sofa.  Gently, she asked, "What am I suppose to think?"

"That I'm focused in my work.  That I'm happy where I am," Draco returned gruffly.

"Are you?  Really?"

Draco closed his eyes.  How does one tell his mother that there was freedom walking unknown in Asia?  How does one tell his mother that the reputation and identity he built up in Asia was his very own?  A reputation untainted by his father's, nor coloured by his ancestors', or even of his own folly and regrets, but a reputation as a result of his own doing, his own success in his career.

He was lonely at times – he admitted it.  But success came with sacrifice, didn't it?  He had a group of both expatriate and local wizarding friends he hung out with in various parts of Asia, but they did not understand him.  At least, not in the way his British friends, who had undergone the Phoenix War, would.

After the war where his father had lost his life to Voldemort's cause, Draco left Narcissa in-charge of the Malfoy estate to travel.  He had a great deal of residual guilt at his father's loss to work through, especially since he had been the one to stop Lucius Malfoy attacking Potter and his friends as they faced Voldemort.

That first year travelling through the Continent left him greatly dissatisfied, mainly because everywhere he went, he was reminded of his father.  The Malfoys had houses in almost all the European capitols and a few houses in the major Middle East countries, and Draco's summer holidays from Hogwarts were always spent travelling with his parents.  Crossing over from Turkey, Draco made his way towards the vast continent of Asia, and finally found freedom.  For two years, he travelled where his whim led, for money was no object, and his wand was more than enough protection against muggle weapons.  His exposure to various cultures in his travels – both wizarding and muggle, taught him to appreciate the diversity offered by them, which he had not learnt from his father's narrow view of the world.

Finally, after a few years of itinerant travelling, he ended up on a beach in Bali, where he befriended an American wizard gone native.  The wizard sought Draco's help to break a curse in the house he lived in, and that success was to launch his career in Curse-Breaking.  The curse he broke was of a Balinese design that had baffled many skilled Curse-Breakers for years.  Draco's success meant that soon, his skills were highly sought after all over Asia.  Curse-Breaking suited the young man with no direction or family life to speak of; his foundational training in the Dark Arts from his father, his natural Magical prowess, and his love of reading and research combined to make him a natural at his work.

He was a success – and not because he was a Malfoy.  But at the back of his mind was always the reminder that he had committed patricide.  That and the knowledge that if and when he returned to Britain, his Malfoy heritage would taint all the good work he had done; played a factor in his reluctance to return home.

Thus, for more than a decade, Draco lived and work in Asia, slowly cutting off ties to his friends and acquaintances from home, and conceding to visiting his mother from once every 4 months in the first few years, to once every 3 months, to bimonthly, and then monthly visits about 2 years ago. 

So was he happy?

He was… content.  Lonely, but that was how his life was now – an endless cycle of work, research, fishing with his friends, a few drinks at the bar, a few one night stands… it was enough.  For now.

"I am, Mother," he nodded his head, with his eyes closed.

"That's good to hear," Narcissa replied, looking at her only child, noting his tiredness and seeing through his lie.  "Because, my happy boy, you're going to attend Vincent Crabbe's engagement party tonight with me, and I won't have my son looking morose."

Before Draco could protest, Narcissa forestalled him.  "Mrs Crabbe is my good friend, and I won't offend her by not attending.  And I gave my word to Vinny that you would come.  They've been sending their owls to invite you, but because you're unplottable—" she looked accusingly at him "—they've sent me the invitation to pass along to you.  That was just after your visit last month."

"You could have Apparated to Si—"

"No, I could not.  I'm not your owl, Draco," his mother admonished him.  "Anyway, seeing that the party was slated for tonight, and knowing that you'd be here today, I've simply accepted the invitation on your behalf," she gave him a sly smile.  "Your dress robes have been laid out for you in your room.  A vial of Pepper Up is also there to help you adjust to the time difference.  And I'll be expecting you ready to leave with me by 7.30pm," she concluded, standing up and sweeping from the parlour before Draco could utter another word.

o*O*o

"Vincent Crabbe's engagement party," he said to himself, after Narcissa left him sitting in the parlour.  'Crabbe's getting married?  Who'd marry that oaf?' he thought to himself with a not unkindly smile of amusement.

Vincent was one of his oldest and closest friends while growing up.  It had been about 15 years since Draco had last seen him, although they had exchanged letters during his travels.  However, like most owl correspondence, by the by, he had lost touch with the friend who was almost like a brother to him.  Draco, Vincent and Gregory Goyle were close friends from even before Hogwarts.  Draco, the extrovert and the more charismatic, usually led the other two more introverted boys.  At Hogwarts, Draco had advised Vin and Greg to show more assertiveness, in order not to be bullied by the older Slytherins.  He recalled their days at Hogwarts, taunting the Gryffindors who strutted around school as if they owned it, taking them down a peg or two.  He idly wondered how all his peers fared, and wondered who Vinny had chosen as his bride.  He turned thoughtful, missing his old friend – the friend who had, in their seventh year, confessed to him that he won't be joining his father as a Death Eater, and had finally showed that assertiveness which eluded him for 17 years.

Vincent Crabbe was the one that convinced Draco Malfoy of the futility of following the lead of a madman, and to spark in the younger Malfoy to think beyond himself and his family, to the wider wizarding circles.  If it were not for Vincent Crabbe… Draco shuddered to think of where he would end up now.  Probably Azkaban, if he were lucky.

So yes, he wanted to see how ol' Vinny was.  And yes, he was dying to know the lady who was able to see beyond Vinny's gruff exterior to know the true heart of the man inside.  Whoever she was, she would be a remarkable woman.

o*O*o

Despite Draco being ready at 7.30pm, he still had to wait for his mother to make an entrance.  ("A lady always makes the man wait, Draco."  "Yes, Mother," he rolled his eyes.)  Therefore, by the time they Apparated to the engagement party, they were fashionably late and made an entrance as only the Malfoys could.

Whispers began almost as soon as the striking pair was sighted – it was fifteen years since the Malfoy Head was last seen in Britain, and he had left so suddenly and so completely that his appearance at the engagement party was undoubtedly commented upon.  Catching snatches of conversations as he escorted his mother towards the happy couple, he projected his usual nonchalant grace and bearing, despite feeling the beginnings of this being A Very Bad Idea.

"—who is that man with Narcissa?—"

"—I can't believe it, it's Draco Malfoy—"

"—still a Mummy's Boy, I see—"

"—I heard that he's in cahoots with the Yakuza—"

"—illegal activities, but no one can pin it to hi—"

"—so scrumptious!  I could eat him all up!  I wonder if he has a gir—"

"—killed his father.  I swear, it's true!—"

"—working for a secret organisa—"

"—still so debonair!  Is he still single?—"

"Dray?  Draco?"

He turned to the large man with happy eyes and broke into a mirroring grin.  "Vincent!"

The men greeted each other with a warm hug and a strong handshake.

"Congrats, Vinny.  Never figured you for the marrying kind," he smiled.  "It's good to see you again."

The larger man grinned, stepping aside to pull a short redheaded woman to his side.  "My fiancée, Ginny Weasley," he introduced to Draco, waiting to see Draco's reaction.

For a moment, the tension was thick – Vincent's expectation that Draco would be surprised was spot on, but Draco's upbringing had taught him nothing if he didn't know how to contain his emotions in public.  The silence stretched, and then Draco's face lit up in a slow grin.

"She-weasel," he teased, the bite in his name-calling lost to the years of maturity, "I should have known, it'd be you."

"Ferret," she retorted just as quickly, extending her hand for Draco to kiss.  "I'm really glad you were able to make it," she said with genuine warmth, "It means a lot to Vinny."

Vincent gave Ginny a squeeze on her shoulder.  "She made me a very happy man when she said yes, Dray."

"I'm sure it did, Vin.  I'm sure it did… especially since you've had a crush on her since our sixth year," he smirked.

Vincent blushed, while Ginny looked in surprise at the man twice her size.  "Oh, Vinny, you never told me."

"I'll tell you about it later," her fiancé whispered into her ears.

"Congratulations!  Vinny—" kiss "—Ginny—" kiss "—you make such a lovely couple!" Narcissa raved as she moved from Mrs Weasley and Mrs Crabbe's side to the pair.  After more pleasantries and compliments were exchanged, the Malfoys moved deeper into the ballroom at Greystones, the ancestral seat of the Crabbes.

Escorting his mother to a group of her friends holding court near the fireplace, he complimented Mrs Parkinson on her choice of peacock blue robes for the event, Mrs Nage on her hair, and Mrs Keyes on her heirloom gems.  The older ladies simpered at the charm of the dashing young man, as they invited his mother to join their tête-à-tête.

With his mother comfortably ensconced with the older ladies, Draco was left to mingle with the other guests – a task he was not looking forward to carrying out.  He strode to the drinks table and lifted a flute of champagne, taking his time to survey the room.  He felt a little out of place, especially seeing many of his peers with family in tow – babies, toddlers, and some even with young children running around.  He supposed that the absence of teenagers at the party was due to them being at Hogwarts.

He noticed that many of the guests present were avoiding eye contact with him.  The few who were staring pointedly at him gave him suspicious looks.  Amazingly, he was still able to identify some of his Hogwarts peers, although many of their escorts were unidentifiable, seeing as how long it had been since he last stepped into a British social gathering on his homeland soil.

Rancorous laughter drew his attention to a large redheaded group on one side of the ballroom.  Weasleys in their trademark red.  He'd noticed that the large clan was represented in full force – their wives and children in tow.

And right in the centre of the red tide, was Potter.

'Ah yes,' he mused, sipping the bubbly champagne, 'All Hail the The Triumphant Hero.'

He hadn't seen hide or hair of the Gyffindor Trio since that day on the battlefield, and had heard years later that they had all settled down.  In fact, Potter's marriage made international wizarding news, and he had heard about it when he was just passing through a tiny Samye village in Tibet, the few short years after the war.  He had always figured that Potter and Ginny Weasley would have ended up together – especially since the youngest Weasley's crush on the Great Pothead was so obvious, but apparently, he was wrong.  The only other witch constantly in Potter's sphere was Granger – he must have woken up one day and realised that Granger was female and had married her, he thought snidely.

The tall redhead standing next to Potter caused Draco to stifle a snicker.  Ron Weasley looked as if he had seen better days.  Sporting a slight paunch and thinning red hair, Ron was struggling with trying to placate a pair of tawny-haired toddling twin terrors who wanted to try climbing his towering frame.  Draco was surprised to see the lady helping Ron with the kids, though.  He had not expected that Ron would have it in him to marry the very beautiful blonde by his side, although he had heard rumours in his seventh year that one of the Weasley brothers had married Fleur Decalour, the Beaubaxton Champion in his fourth year at Hogwarts.  Perhaps there was more than one Decalour alliance in that family, he speculated wryly.

Shaking his head at the scene (one of the twin was bawling for 'Dada' to carry him now) he contemplated going over to the Gryffindor Trio sans the Know-It-All, with a snarky comment or two for old times' sake, when he caught the sight of Pansy Parkinson, who did not look a day older than eighteen, with an Adonis-like escort, gossiping with a group of Slytherin peers he recognised.

Deciding to reacquaint himself with his Housemates before the pleasure of reacquainting himself with his old adversaries, Draco sauntered over to the Snakes, only to overhear, "—trust Crabbe to host his engagement party on Valentine's Day, otherwise Demetrius and I would be in a cosy little restaurant, enjoying a romantic candlelight dinner," she grumbled to a witch, whom Draco recognised as Millicent Bulstrode.

'Looks like Pansy not only hasn't aged much, her maturity must have stopped at eighteen.  Her trademark whine will really go well with stale cheese,' he thought nastily.  Then he noticed the tiny and faint triangular tattoo etched on both Pansy and Demetrius' right earlobes.  'My my my…the Vietnamese Glamour charm – very well cast, indeed.  Not many would be able to notice its signs.  Then again, few Brits would know what to look for,' he smirked, 'Must have cost them a fortune to get it done, though – the charm's not only obscure, the enhancing potion would need some very rare ingredients to brew.'

It was Millicent who noticed the approaching wizard first.  "Draco?  Draco Malfoy?  Is that really you?"

"Of course, Milly," he sneered, "Were you expecting someone else?"

At that the entire group focused their attention on Draco, much to Pansy's chagrin.  She was so sure that her discovery of an effective 'fountain of youth' would keep the other Slytherins and their spouses' attention on her.  Nevertheless, she was also interested to play 'catch-up interrogation' with the missing Malfoy.  It would guarantee her a fresh supply of gossip regarding the elusive Draco, ensuring that she'd be the centre of attention of more than a few tea parties in the following week.

The group traded information and current gossips – who had married whom, how many kids they had, who was seeing whom, and scandals of the last 15 years condensed into a Cliff's Notes version.  Although Draco had expected to divulge a few careless points about his current life and lifestyle, he still found himself withholding more personal information than he gave.

"A Curse-Breaker, eh?" Blaise Zabini asked suspiciously, "Is that what you're calling it these days?"

Draco knew that it was inevitable someone would call his career into question.  A Malfoy could not possibly hold an honest job.  There must be something sinister hidden behind what he did, even if it were as innocuous as paper-pushing at the Ministry of Magic.  Ah well, it wasn't as if Zabini really needed to know the truth.

Draco answered the loaded question with an enigmatic smirk.  Turning his head to survey the room once more, his eye caught sight of a dark haired figure in resplendent periwinkle blue robes and he froze.

Granger.

Cradling a black haired babe in her arms.

o*O*o

"Step aside boy," the menacing tones brook no argument.

"No, Father," Draco stood firm, wand at the ready, the only barrier between Lucius Malfoy and the Gryffindors battling fiercely with the Dark Lord.

"You dare call me 'Father'?  You blood traitor!  Step aside!  I'm not telling you again."

"No.  I will not!"

Lucius narrowed his eyes and shifted his stance to stand casually.  Draco was not fooled for an instant and remained at the ready.

"I know what this is about, son.  I was young once – I recognise all the signs."

Draco remained silent.

"It's about her, isn't it?  It's the Mudblood," Lucius grinned in satisfaction at the flush colouring the son's pale face. 

"No, Father.  This has nothing to do with her," Draco responded quickly – perhaps a little too quickly.

Lucius eyed his son.  "Really, Draco?  I know after you left Hogwarts you spent a great deal of time in their company… or should I say her company," he sneered.

"That's insane, Father!"

"You've always been obsessed with her – even in your first year you were constantly going on about her."

"No Father.  We were school rivals then—"

"But not anymore, right Draco?" Lucius sneered.  "You're on the same side now, aren't you?  You're giving up your heritage for the likes of her!  Tell me, then," he leered, "was the shagging worth giving up everything for?  Was she really that good in bed?"

At Draco's narrowed eyes and angry flush, Lucius looked surprise.  "She doesn't even know, does she?  You've never told her, did you?" he accused.  "I'll bet anything you've never even gone so far as kissed her!  Coward!" he scorned.

"Father, please put down your wand.  I promise you I'll be lenient," Draco gritted out, teeth clenched.

"You dare defy your own father for that worthless mudblood whore?"

"Stop twisting this around, Father!" Draco lashed out.  "This is not about her!  This was never about her!  Unlike you, Father, I do not wish to be nothing more than a House Elf to a madman—"

Lucius' eyes burned in rage at Draco's implication.  "That's enough!  That Mudblood has turned you against me!"  Lucius made a sudden turn and aimed his wand true at Hermione's back.  "Avada Ka—"

"Petrificus Totalis!" shouted Draco.  He should have just hexed his father and avoided engaging him in a war of words – that snake of his father had distracted him enough to attempt an attack on the warring Gryffindors.

Lucius' outstretched arm snapped to his side, causing his wand to fall out, spearing the soft ground.  His legs sprang together and he teetered to fall face forward, stiff as a board.

Draco took a cautious look around at the surroundings to make sure that there were no other Death Eaters lurking to disrupt the battle that went on behind him.  Ascertaining that his post was safe, he allowed himself to close his eyes and expel a grim sigh.  He approached the prone man, saying, "I'm sorry to have to do this to you, Father," as he knelt beside the man and flipped him over.

Horror filled his heart when he saw his father's wand pierced into his chest, blood soaking through his expensive robes.  He had not meant to harm his father – he loved his father, respected his father, thought the world of his father, but he had not wanted to follow his father in servitude to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Tears began to fill his eyes, even as his mouth went dry.  Numbed, Draco ran his hand over his father's chest, vaguely aware of his father's warm blood coating his hand.  The blood was still seeping out – the wand must have speared an artery – and the full body bind did not help stem the blood flow.  It suddenly occurred to Draco to lift the hex.  "Finite Incantatem," he whispered.

"Father… Father, I'm so sorry – I never meant to hurt you… Dad," he reverted to calling his father in the terms of his childhood.  "Dad… Daddy, please… please get up… I love you, Daddy… please… I'm sorry…"

Lucius was now slumped in his son's arms.  With great effort, he struggled to turn his head towards his beloved son.  "Draco," he choked out, a thin gurgle followed, and then a small trickle of blood ran out the corner of his mouth.

Draco quietened his sobs, moved closer to his father's mouth to hear his last words.

"I don't… blame you… You are… my… beloved… son… It's the… Mudblood—"

Draco shook his head fervently, his grief showing in the tears running freely down his cheeks, "No Daddy.  Daddy, it's not—"

"—she stole… she stole… your heart… from me…" Lucius was quickly fading, and with his dying breath, he suddenly grabbed the protruding wand and pronounced: "I banish your heart from her clutches!  She… will… not… have—"

"No!  Daddy!  No!  No!" the wizard cried over the unseeing eyes of his father – whether the denial on his lips was for the dead man's final words or for the loss of his father, the anguish of the young man drained him so much so, he had to be sedated at St. Mungo's for two whole days before he was allowed to be sent home to Wiltshire to be cared for by his widowed mother.

o*O*o

Making his excuse to Blaise and the others, Draco detoured to the buffet table before approaching the unsuspecting Hermione.  He took in the confident way she held the baby, and noted that she had probably worked out to maintain her figure.  Unlike Pansy's Glamour charm, Hermione took her maturity in her stride, and looked more attractive in her thirties than she had when he last saw her in her late teens.  He drank in her upswept hair-style, studded with pearls, and the periwinkle robe that flattered her figure.  As he neared her, he heard her cooing to the baby she held; "—shh, my darling.  Hush, my little darling boy, you know I love you—"

Then, she turned around, and saw him.

o*O*o

Hermione Granger could sense a pair of eyes staring at her, and on turning around, saw a ghost of her past.

Malfoy.

Draco Malfoy.

The last time she saw him conscious was just after the last duel with Voldemort.  Draco was a member of her team, to provide backup and cover for her in the final battle with the Dark Lord.  Draco was assigned as the final ring of defence, stopping the Death Eaters who managed to break through the earlier defence rings to give aid to their Dark Lord.  When the final battle was over, and after Harry, Ron and herself had made sure that Voldemort would never resurrect in any form for all eternity, she had gone in search of the members of her team, just as Ron and Harry had for theirs.

The first of her eight-member team she spotted was Draco, an insensible crying mess, draped over Lucius Malfoy's corpse.

He had killed his father.

That image of the usually proud, smirking Slytherin, broken down, devastated, had seared her mind.

She remembered moving towards the grieving young man to see if she could help him.  But before she was even halfway there, two Aurors and a Medi-wizard had Portkeyed the man and his father way.  Her attention was then quickly diverted to the other members of her team, where she found out of the others that Gregory Goyle and Susan Bones lost their lives to the Death Eaters.

The next time she saw Draco Malfoy was at St. Mungo's.

He had been sedated with the Dreamless Sleep potion and had slept for 48 hours straight.  As team leader, she had visited all the surviving members of her team and made sure that they were on the road to recovery.  Draco was the only member of her team unconscious, and she had sat by him, keeping vigil for above an hour, until the Matron shooed her back into her own ward, where she was suppose to be under observation, just as Harry and Ron were.

During that one hour with the unresponsive Slytherin, whose tears continued unabated even in sleep, Hermione had a strange niggling feeling that something was not right.  All she could describe of the feeling she had was that it felt like there was an empty space where Draco Malfoy was concerned.  For a highly empathetic person like Hermione, it was something very difficult for her to reconcile, especially when the person in question was Draco Malfoy – the one person who'd always get an emotional response out of her, be it Frustration, Anger, Hate, Cynicism, Disgust, Intrigue, Curiosity, and for the past two years, a genuine Admiration that he would forsake the easier route in following in his father's map for his life, to tread the unknown path promising him familial rejection and suspicion from his peers.

But never had she felt this nothingness for the broken creature on the hospital bed – not even pity or sympathy – just simply nothing.  She put it down to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome as a result of the war, believing that she would recover whatever it was that she lost that day.

When she next looked for Draco in his ward, she'd discovered that he was discharged and had gone home.  She'd tried to look him up, but he had sent a very detailed report on the work he had done that the other team members had collaborated, so that she didn't have a reason to meet up with him at all.  The inquiries and interviews she had to undergo as team leader meant that she was kept busy so long, that by the time she had time to think about her missing team member, and paid him a visit at Malfoy Manor to see how well he'd recovered, Narcissa had told her that Draco had left Britain indefinitely to travel.

That was almost 15 years ago.

Oh, she had heard all the wild rumours about the elusive Draco Malfoy, but no matter how interesting or how wild the rumours were (There was a rumour five years ago that Draco was made the King of a Polynesian Island that supplied rare potion ingredients to Headmaster Snape's personal potion ingredient stock.), she just could not feel any emotion regarding the elusive man.  It was as if she did not know him at all, despite their close working relationship on the team.  While the rumours were many, Hermione knew from her reliable sources that her former teammate had since become a successful Curse-Breaker in Asia, and went by the moniker Golden Dragon.

Still, each time she heard about Draco Malfoy, that sense of nothingness, that void would be there, hanging over her.

Except that tonight, something felt different.

o*O*o

Hermione stood there, hands holding the baby upright, soothing the fussy child.  She broke into a tentative smile.  "Ace?  How are you?  What have you been up to?" she asked in greeting.

Draco cocked an eyebrow at the use of his fieldname.  "Obviously not as much as you have, Wildcat," he replied with a smirk, nodding to the baby who was wriggling in Hermione's arms.

"Oh," Hermione blushed at Draco's use of her nickname on her.  Draco had predictably protested that field operatives had to use a codename, except for the Gryffindor Trio.  Early during one of their team training, he had kept calling Hermione 'Kitty' on account of Crookshanks' kittens that she kept at the Headquarters, until Hermione got so angry she hexed the Slytherin.  Needless to say, Dumbledore was not happy about the skirmished they got involved in.  After that, he had kept calling her 'Wildcat' until the name got stuck.

Lifting up the 9-month-old boy, Hermione declared, "Isn't he just the sweetest?  Draco Malfoy, meet Joshua Potter, the latest addition to the Potter clan.  James, the oldest, is now a second year at Hogwarts, and I swear, he's just mad about finally having a brother."

Draco's eyes dulled with disappointment – 'She did marry Potter after all.' – but he kept his face neutral.

"Large brood?" he asked.

Hermione rolled her smiling eyes, shaking her head to send the free curls framing her face flying.  "Like you wouldn't believe!  Two boys and three girls.  Harry's always wanted a large family."

"I'm glad to hear he has what he'd always wanted," Draco found himself saying sincerely, despite the ice he felt in his chest.  He pursed his lips and looked away, and saw to his surprise, his mother staring intently at their direction.  He gave Narcissa a frown and the older lady quickly went back to gossiping with Mrs. Nage.

Blinking his eyes, wondering what that was all about; he turned back to his conversation with Hermione – only to find the witch battling unsuccessfully with the squirming youngest Potter, who had taken a great interest in the pearl pins in her hair.

"Ow, Josh… no… oh," she hissed painfully, when the boy tugged at her hair.  "Let go, baby.  Ow… please, be a… ouch… darling, and let go."

"Here, let me help you," Draco offered gallantly, lifting the baby off Hermione and cradling him securely in the crook of his arm.  He murmured with a flick of his wand and conjured a light bubble that tinkled softly when touched and he gave it to the boy, who promptly tried to taste it.

"Thanks, Draco," she sighed, attempting to put her hair up again.  "Josh can really be a handful at times."

Hermione tried to get her hair up, but the lock was out of the braid and she couldn't tuck it back in.

Draco leaned over her ears and advised, "Why don't you let your hair down, Hermione?  I'll be much easier than to put it up here."

She replied with a wry smile, and started removing the remaining pins, releasing her unruly mane.

"I've always liked your hair down, anyway," Draco smiled, then flushed, realising that he had inadvertently said that aloud.

Hermione blushed and rolled her eyes, "Oh, I'm sure you do."

Hermione couldn't explain it.  For a woman in her thirties, who had a strange sense to feel nothing where Draco Malfoy was concern, she was suddenly feeling a great deal of embarrassment, bashfulness and attraction to the wizard talking to her.

And what was there not to be attracted by?  Draco's short blond hair flattered his features and drew attention to his intense grey eyes.  He obviously kept fit for his job as a Curse-Breaker, and the expensive robes he wore to the party only emphasised his virility.  He had always been handsome, even while at Hogwarts, but now in his prime, his boyish good looks had a more rugged, masculine quality that was missing in his late teens.

As Hermione ran her hand in her curls, loosening the braid, she surreptitiously snuck a look at Draco handling Joshua and she was impressed.  Most men she met or gone out with did not like children and considered them tolerable at a distance.  "Where'd you learn that nifty spell?" she asked Draco, who was chatting to Joshua in Motherese, as she pointed to the light bubble.

"A few years ago, I was hired to break an infant mortality curse for a Sudanese village.  Part of my research required me to spend a few weeks at their preschool observing the children and babies.  Naturally, with kids—" he tugged Joshua's hands away from the gemstone at his robe's collar, "—you can't merely observe them.  They suck you right in and engage you in whatever – no Joshua—" he diverted the boy's attention back to the light bubble which now glowed pink, "—they engage you in whatever they're doing."

"And the curse?"  Hermione tried not to laugh at Joshua wiping the now drool-drenched light bubble on Draco's sleeve.

"Naturally, with the children as such strong motivators, I managed to break it with the Life spell."

"Ibrahim's or Yaccob's?"

"Both, actually.  I had to try a combination – the wand work was Yaccob's, of course; the strokes required more force, but that only ensured the casting was strengthened.  Ibrahim's incantation was older, and that rooted out the curse's stronghold over the area.  I followed up with an old Iban blessing, though, just to make sure that the children thrive."

"Did it occur to you to try the Javanese Life spell?"

"I did, but frankly, I worried that the spell would not be powerful enough, nor would it be compatible, and I dared not risk the lives of the children."

Hermione nodded in understanding.

Glad to be able to talk shop instead of the usual 'Are-you-seeing-anyone?' he usually had to deal with, he asked with interest, "How did you know so much about Curse-Breaking?"

Hermione smiled enigmatically, but before she could answer, Harry Potter's voice interrupted with a surprised tone, "Ace?"

Turning to include the bespectacled wizard, Draco smirked and gave a curt nod to acknowledge in affirmative.  "I believe this is yours?" Draco lifted the boy back into his father's arm.

Harry kissed the boy's forehead and returned his focus on the Slytherin, "Thanks for entertaining my boy, Ace.  Josh obviously likes you," Harry grinned.  "He's not usually so chummy with strangers."

The blond shrugged elegantly with a smirk, "Well, that's hardly surprising—" he cut his eyes to Hermione, "—I'm hard to resist," he ended with a roguish grin.

The adults shared a good-natured chuckle at Draco's wit, but no one noticed Hermione's flush.

"Harry?" a lilting, accented voice floated to the trio, and they turned to see a vision in a pale peach robe approaching.  It occurred to Draco that she was the lady helping Ron Weasley with the tow-haired twins earlier.  "Shall I try getting Joshua to sleep?" she asked.

Harry bestowed the blonde newcomer with a brilliant smile, which she returned.  "Later, 'Elle.  I'd like to introduce you to someone.  'Elle, this is Draco Malfoy.  Draco, this is Gabrielle Potter, my wife."

Draco kissed Gabrielle's outstretched hand, in the traditional pureblood wizard greeting, "I'm at your service, madam, and am very pleased to meet you."

Gabrielle answered with a formal curtsey, "The pleasure is mine."  She straightened up and continued, "Harry's told me much about you."

Draco's sudden surge in pleasure in meeting Harry's wife was very difficult to contain.  After exchanging a few more words with the Potters about their other children, and catching up about a few of their peers, they were interrupted by the Master of Ceremony announcing the first dance of the evening.

At that, Draco turned to the witch in blue, who had been listening to their exchange quietly and asked, "Well Wildcat, would you do me the honour of this dance?"

o*O*o

When Harry interrupted her reply to Draco, she was not at all surprised at his civility to Harry.  The two of them had, after all, buried their hatchet after their graduation, where to the astonishment of the Order, the very charismatic Draco Malfoy had led and vouched for more than half of the Slytherins to join the fight against Voldemort.  Whilst their animosity was tempered because of serving similar goals, the two men were still very competitive – 'Boys,' she sighed mentally in exasperation – and she knew, without a doubt, that each took a boyish delight in trouncing the other in whatever they were competing at.

But strangely, Draco's pleasure at seeing Gabrielle was very difficult for her to fathom.  Was he interested in her?  It would be very difficult not to – the part-Veela was after all, the younger sister of Fleur Decalour, who had sent almost all the boys at Hogwarts on a tailspin when she was representing Beaubaxton Academy as its Champion in Hermione's fourth year.  Gabrielle was merely a child then, when Harry had saved her from the merpeople living at the bottom of Hogwarts' Lake.

Draco wasn't attempting to flirt with Gabrielle, was he?  Hermione listened passively to Draco conversing with the Potters about their children and about Ron and Luna's Twin Terror.  Idly, she noted the shine in Draco's eyes and the slight flush on his cheeks that told her that he was excited, even though he kept his face neutral.

Since when was she able to read the man so easily?  And since when was she able to feel anything towards or about him?

And was this jealousy she felt?

Hermione shook her head imperceptively.  No, she decided.  It was impossible – it was ridiculous!  Not even when her best friend had decided to marry Gabrielle Decalour two years after the Phoenix War did she even feel a tiny bit jealous about the beautiful part-Veela.  'Elle has since become one of her closest friends, and she knew the wife of Harry was a lovely soul.

Then what was this proprietary feeling she held regarding the man standing by her side?  Why was she feeling this… this… unnameable thing regarding this enigmatic man?

And then when said enigmatic man turned and asked her for a dance, why did her heart suddenly beat triple time?

This was Draco Malfoy, for goodness' sake – a wizard she'd not seen or felt anything for the last 15 years!

What had changed?  What was going on?

And why now?

o*O*o

Leading the witch to the dance floor, he sensed that half the room was watching him with curiosity, while the other half was watching Hermione just as intently, even though the engaged couple was suppose to be the centre of attention.  Draco saw Narcissa staring acutely at them again.  There was something going on there, but before Draco could dwell much on it, the waltz struck up and the couple began to glide according to the beat of the music.

After dancing a few bars of music silently, Draco commented wryly, "I believe this is the first time we're dancing together."

To which the witch agreed, eyes sparkling.  "Yes, although I remember Dumbledore making you teach Terry Boot ballroom dancing in time for the Graduation Ball.  A task I did not envy you at all," she smiled cheekily.

"No, I didn't think you would, although truthfully, I was under the impression that I'd be teaching you," he grinned.  "Imagine what torture that would be for you then, Gryffindor.  Dumbledore was wily enough to ask me if I would teach a Head Pupil, and I just assumed it was you, forgetting that you acquitted yourself rather well at the Yule Ball in our fourth year.  Imagine my surprise to see that it was Terry that needed the lessons."

"I think it was a shock on both sides.  Terry was terrified of you.  You were a terrible taskmaster!" she laughed, "But thanks to you, Terry danced perfectly during that first dance," she recalled, eyes sparkling in memory.  "I couldn't believe it myself if I didn't know that he had training from you.  He owes you, you know," she teased, "he now dances beautifully."

The couple smiled at each other and danced in silence for a while, enjoying the rhythm of them moving gracefully in synchronicity.

"I have a confession to make," the wizard began, with a shy smile gracing his lips, "I was hoping that after the war, I could have at least one dance with you at the Victory Ball."

Hermione blushed, "I would have liked that."

The couple fell into silent steps again, this time their minds pondering a whole slew of 'what ifs'.

"So what's it like living in Asia?" the witch broke the silence this time.

"Asia?  It's wonderfully vibrant – the colours, the sights and sounds, the many cultures, languages, people… oh, and the food!" he smiled, "I think you'd love the food – I recall you always did enjoy a bit of spice in your food, don't you?"

She nodded, amazed that he'd remember something so mundane about her.

"Well, you'll enjoy living in Asia then – or at least in Singapore, where I live.  I think the hardest thing to adapt to while living there is not so much the weather, which is undoubtedly hot and humid, but adapting to the food.  But once you learn to appreciate the tastes of Asia, you'll never settle for something as mundane as steak and kidney pie," he winked.

"So food was the thing that kept you from returning home?" she raised an eyebrow to ask.

At that, Draco's grey eyes fell to meet his dance partner's enquiring brown ones.  "No," his voice fell, his eyes grew intense, "I was searching for something, and until I found what I'd lost, I wasn't able to return home."

Hermione felt a sudden chill.  This was not at all what she expected.

"Draco," she bit her lips, "I… I have something to tell you, but not here.  Do you think… um," she hesitated, looking around the ballroom for a quiet corner, "Do you think we could take a breather?"

Draco acquiesced by leading her to a balcony hidden behind a tapestry.  He had spent many summers at Greystones with Crabbe and Goyle that he knew the layout of its rooms like the back of his hand.  The hidden balcony was a favourite hiding place of his whenever he stayed with the Crabbes, and wanted a little quiet time to his own for a bit of sitting and thinking and daydreaming.

Surreptitiously casting a Silencio and a warming spell, he led Hermione to sit at the stone bench, and he sat down beside her.  Together, they looked up at the bright full moon.

"It's Yuan Xiao still," the wizard mused in wonder.  "I'd forgotten about the time zones."

Hermione did not answer, but kept her eyes on the moon.

"Chuang qian ming yue guang

Yi shi di shang shuang

Ju tou wang ming yue

Di tou si gu xiang."

The wizard recited Li Bai's Ye Si, in perfect diction, rendered all the more melancholy by his warm, low tones and the quiet ambience.

"That's so beautiful," Hermione whispered, "and so very sad.  I didn't know you could speak Chinese.  What does it mean?"

"It's Li Bai's Night Reflection," he turned his eyes to face Hermione, whose face was glowing blue in the pale moonlight.  "He sees the moon, and he's reminded of home.  It's winter and he's homesick."

"Oh," Hermione replied softly, sensing a touch of that wistful longing echoing in Draco.

Draco sighed, and confessed, "I think that like Li Bai, I do miss home."  He looked up at the moon, running his hand through his hair, "I do come home regularly, you know, just to check up on Mother and to see that she's well.  It's just that—" he hesitated, and stood up to lean against the balcony rail to face the seated witch, "—It's just that I haven't the heart to see anyone else.  If mother didn't force me to come tonight, and if I…" he trailed off, biting his lips.

"If you?" Hermione prompted.

"If I," he ran his hand through his hair again, expelling a sigh, "if I did not have hope in a certain blessing…" Draco looked at Hermione speculatively.

Hermione lifted her eyebrow to encourage the wizard to continue.

"I lifted the Sun's Unrequited Curse tonight," he explained in one breath, turning to look out at the dark woods below them.

Hermione stood up in surprise and approached his side.  "You did?" she gasped, "That's… that's impossible!  To break that curse you'd have to be ready to forsake love!  The Curse-Breakers who'd dared attempt to break Sun Lingzhu's curse all became partakers of the curse as well.  And of course, you'd need a Sun descendant willing to undergo the 49 days of purification rites.  And the daily preparation for the potions for that alone—" she shook her head, "—and then there's the timing… of course!  Yuan Xiao during the year of the Wood Horse – which would be perfect timing—"

"Wait a minute," Draco interrupted her, touching her arms lightly.  "How'd you know so much about Sun's curse?"

"Umm," she hedged, "I read about it, of course!"  Hermione gave a suspiciously fake chuckle.  "I mean, I've got this photographic memory and you know how it is," she shrugged, trying to brush the question off.

Draco did not look convinced.  "And how did you know about the Life spell?"

Hermione rolled her eyes, "Like I said – I probably read it about it once and when you brought the topic up, I remembered."

"You never did say what you did professionally," Draco advanced on Hermione, eyes gleaming.

She took a step back, "You never asked."

"I'm asking now," he stepped forward again.

Side-stepping him and returning to her seat, she replied, "I'm… I'm what you might call a… a 'Witch for Hire'."

Draco looked amused and lifted his eyebrows.

"Oh, not like that, you prat," she admonished him good-naturedly. "Get your mind out of the gutter!"  She smoothed her robes as she explained, not looking at the wizard staring at her, "People come to me with their needs and I research obscure texts to see if I could help them in anyway.  If their requests are within reason, I set a price for my services."

Draco folded his arms, looking very impressed.  "Intriguing.  Let me guess – Pansy's Vietnamese Glamour charm?"

Hermione smirked.

"Now I'm impressed.  How much did it cost her?" he sat beside the smug witch.

"Well, seeing as it wasn't life or death, and the alternative for Pansy was to tinker with either messy muggle plastic surgery, or her less than perfect temporary Glamour charm—" a wicked look crossed Hermione's face,"—let's just say that I've got to thank both Mr and Mrs Annapolis for my Madagascan villa."

Draco whistled.  "I'd never thought you had it in you.  But Madagascar?"

"Long story – I was in need of fresh rare potions ingredients, so it seemed a good idea at the time.  Nowadays, it serves as one of my homes away from home."

He nodded with a smile, and the conversation thread dropped a while, leaving the couple sitting in companionable silence, staring at the moon.

"Ever broke any curses?" Draco asked.

"A few.  Although I'm very choosy – reputation's everything in my line of work.  I take on the simpler ones, but I do consult with Bill Weasley from time to time – he's Gringott's Egypt-based Curse-Breaker."

"I know.  I had the pleasure of seeing him at work once when Gringotts India needed him for consultation."

"Indeed?" she turned to look at his profile.

"Yes.  But that was quite some time ago."

"So Asia, huh?"

He nodded at her with a wry grin.

"How did you cope with the languages?"

"Not difficult really.  Singapore's obviously not a problem as English is used everywhere.  I have become proficient in Mandarin, Malay, Thai, Korean and Japanese though.  And where it gets a bit difficult, there's always Translato—"

Hermione nodded her head in agreement.

"—although, the tricky bit was to learn to read.  Listening and speaking was not that difficult, but Translato doesn't really work well with the older written forms, especially Chinese.  I had to learn to read Chinese.  Fortunately, the Rememberall potions were helpful in this respect."

"You can read Chinese?"

He nodded, "Research required reading the tomes from the Forbidden City's Shen Fa Library—" to which Hermione nodded in pure understanding "—and since Chinese was one of the earliest written languages in Asia, most ancient wizarding texts were written in Chinese.  The Chinese-based spells and wand control are based on their written form.  You do know that the Chinese wands are modified to look like calligraphy brushes?"

She nodded, answering, "Yes.  Which was why the Chinese Wizarding community was so well integrated with their muggle counterparts early in their history.  Like Sun Minzhong, wizards made up a large part of the literate Scholar community governing the country."

"Yes," he smiled, thinking at how easy it was to talk to someone of her intellect, and not having to explain himself all the time, "well, that means that I needed to learn to write Chinese as well."

"Is it difficult to learn?"

"No, not at all.  In fact, I think you'd enjoy the mental exercise," he smiled at her, taking out his wand and whispering a transfiguration spell to change it into a brush.

"Isn't Chinese ideographic?  I'm terrible at drawing," the witch confessed.

"Ah, but these are simple words.  Come on, take out your wand."

Reluctantly, Hermione took out her wand.  She still hadn't told Draco what she'd dragged him out here to tell him, and she was stalling for time.  'At this rate,' she scolded herself, 'the party would be over before I'm able to tell him.'

Draco had transfigured Hermione's wand into a similar brush.  "We'll start with simple words first."  He drew a horizontal line.  "This is 'yi'.  It's the number one."

"That's it?  That simple?" Hermione asked incredulously.  At Draco's nod, she took her wand and copied it faithfully.

"Now, we'll try 'er' – two."

He drew what looked like an equal sign and Hermione grinned.  "This is simple.  Next you'll be telling me three looks like three horizontal lines."

Draco mirrored her engaging enthusiasm with a grin of his own.  "Well, Hermione, three looks like three horizontal lines," he smirked.  "This is 'san'."

The witch laughed out at his wit and said haughtily, as she traced 'san' carefully, "Well, these are concrete concepts – the lines represent the number, but what about abstract concepts?"

"Such as?" Draco asked, enjoying the playful mood Hermione seemed to be in.

"Well, what about concepts such as emotions?" she asked cheekily,  "What about words such as joy or love?"

Draco considered her question, looking intensely at her face, seeming to look for something.  Silently, he picked up his wand-brush and wrote a multi-stoke character that Hermione found hypnotically graceful.

"'Ai'," he whispered, making the word sound like a sigh.  "Love.  This—" he pointed to the middle of the word "—the centre, is the character for the heart.  The lines at the top denote breath and the ones at the bottom, graceful actions.  Basically 'ai' is—" he breathed, moving closer to Hermione, whose eyelids were now lulled, half-closed, '—a breath that gives life to the heart, actions that brings grace to the body."

Hermione found herself mesmerised by the intensity of the wizard before her.  She was finding it hard to breathe.  Draco's voice was like a warm blanket surrounding her.  She felt as if fifteen years' worth of not feeling anything for Draco was suddenly culminating in a tide of emotion so great that her heart would burst.

Remembering the mission she was supposed to undertake, she got up suddenly, breaking the spell Draco had inadvertently cast over her.

She traced Draco's 'ai' with her wand, creating a second set of the character hovering over the first, all the while feeling aware of the man who had stood up after her, and was now warming her back.  When she completed the character, she took a fortifying breath and turned to face Draco.  "There's something I need to tell you, Draco."

Draco schooled his face to remain neutral.  He didn't like the ominous tone Hermione had used.

"Your mother… she came to me last month… she hired me—" she braced herself, "—she hired me to break a curse over you."

Draco frowned, not comprehending.

"She believed that when Lucius died, he had placed a curse on you," she tried explaining again.

Draco started shaking his head.

"No," he whispered, running his hand through his hair.  "No, that's not what happened.  Don't bring father into this."

"But he's why you left Britain, wasn't he?" she insisted in a soft voice, coming to stand before him.  "Narcissa believes he cast a banishing curse on you.  We did a priori on his wand and that was the last spell he did.  He's why you can't return."

"No," he denied, and looked up into her face.  "You were."

Hermione was stunned motionless.

"My father did cast a banishing spell.  And he was part of the reason I left," he hesitated, looking for a way to say this without hurting the pale witch before him.  "But you were the reason for my self-imposed exile."

Hermione blinked and followed Draco to the balcony rail, looking at the wizard looking out at the tree line in the distance. 

"My father's last curse was to banish my heart from you with his dying breath," he explained, catching Hermione's eyes before looking away again.  "It was made all the more unbreakable since it was cast with a blood sacrifice – his own."  Draco paused, grim with the knowledge that his father knew the permanence of his powerful curse.

Draco expelled what sounded like a breathy chuckle, shaking his head in irony, as he continued, "My father knew me better than I knew myself.  He saw that bit by bit, little by little, you've claimed my heart as yours, even when I wasn't even aware of it happening."  He tried gauging Hermione's reaction to his confession, but she was listening impassively.

"After the initial shock of my father's death passed, I realised that he was right – my heart was no longer my own.  And I knew that it would kill me to see you everyday, but not have any feelings for me; not being able to have any feelings for me—" he ran his hand through his hair "—so I stayed away."

Hermione bit her lips and shook her head, feeling Draco's intense grief echoing through her.

"But I needed to leave – I was weighed down by guilt, and I had to get away from his memory.  I was left with nothing to look forward to after the Phoenix War.  I needed to rebuild what was left of me.  It was years later before I was reconciled to what had had to happen to my father, and my part in it…" he trailed off, recalling those dark days spent wrestling with his personal demons alone.  "I tried to forget you whilst in Asia.  I tried finding someone else to settle down with.  I really tried—" he snorted, "—but when father banished my heart, it must have slipped his mind to return it back to me.  My heart was lost in some Magical ether.  And I wasn't able to give it to anyone at all," he shrugged, fixing his eyes on Hermione, who was tearing silently.

"Until tonight, I dare not hope that I could get my heart back."

"The Sun curse."

Hermione looked up to see Draco smile wryly.  He knew Hermione would make the connection.

He nodded in answer, "You've broken curses before – you ought to know that at the heart of Curse-Breaking is casting a more powerful blessing to overcome the curse.  We overcome Death curses with Life spells; Hate curses with Love and Forgiveness.  But you already knew that.  So what have I to lose in trying to break the Sun curse?  Nothing," he shook his head.  "It was easy to convince Sun Wei Yang that hiring me would guarantee that the curse would be broken successfully.  He had nothing to lose either.  But if the curse broke, we both had everything to gain.  I had done the research and knew that lifting Sun's curse would bring about a powerful blessing, perhaps one powerful enough to overcome the banishing curse my father cast."

Hermione looked at the hopeful grey eyes staring back at her.  "And your mother hiring me?"

"My mother hiring you is a purely serendipitous occurrence," he tucked a stray strand of Hermione's curls behind her ear, a look of wonder on his face.  "So is my attending this party – if Mother had not ensured my attendance, I wouldn't even be here tonight.  I had hoped… I had planned that once the Sun curse was lifted… I had planned to take some time off work to see how you were and what you were doing before coming back to see if I had any chance with you.  Fifteen years is a long time… and I confess, I thought that Potter had finally grown a brain and realised what a treasure he had in you and had married you.  At least, that was what crossed my mind when I saw you carrying Joshua back there," he lifted a corner of his mouth.

Hermione mirrored his smile.

"And if I were still single?" she asked.

"Are you?"

Her eyes twinkled gently, ignoring his question, "Fifteen years is a long time.  I'm no longer the Wildcat, you knew."

"No, I don't expect you to remain as you were, but then again, I'm no longer that teenage Slytherin brat I was… at least I hope I'm not," his smile grew.

Hermione chuckled at that.  "I happen to like that Slytherin brat, you know," her eyes shone with what look like a unshed tears, which she quickly blinked away.  "He had a certain intriguing flair of his own."

"Oh, I'm sure he's also in here somewhere," Draco whispered, taking her hand and placing it over his heart.  "Only he was lost, and now he wants to come home."

"Draco," Hermione sighed, eyes closed and leaning forward to touch her forehead to his.  He had kept her hand on his chest, not letting it go, whilst his other hand held her lightly at her side.  They stood silent for a while, Draco waiting patiently, knowing that Hermione was trying to make sense of all he had revealed.

"Draco," Hermione murmured, "The past fifteen years—" she began, trailed off and tried again.  "I've lived the past fifteen years unable to find peace.  I have had everything going for me, but at the back of my mind was a constant feeling that something was lost… something was missing."  Hermione broke her connection to Draco to lose herself in his warm grey eyes.  "I had lost a part of myself that I couldn't explain… and I knew that it had something to do with my strange inability to feel anything for you – I had not even one iota of anger, concern, hate or joy when it come to you.  And then tonight… when I saw you standing there—" she inhale a deep breath of his exotic scent "—I was… I was… suddenly I could feel.  And these feelings have been building up all night… these feelings because of you," she breathed heavily, fighting to remain upright.  Hermione closed her eyes, sensing within her, awkwardly trying to articulate what she wanted to say, "Dray… do you think… Is it possible… Draco, is it possible that I'm still in possession of your heart?" she looked into his eyes, inches away from her own.

"It's entirely possible, my heart," Draco whispered, leaning down to kiss the lips that had haunted him all his life.

At that exact moment, the moon reached its peak and its light was reflected off a window at Greystones, striking the ideogram that Draco and Hermione had written, superimposed one on the other.  The ideogram began to glow and its light flooded the entire balcony, immersing the couple in its glow.

The Chinese wizarding love vows binding man and woman made under the Yuan Xiao moon was cast by magic so strong, so powerful, that the entire building trembled.

o*O*o

"Dra—" Narcissa paused at the tapestry, knowing that her son would have escaped to his usual hiding place at Greystones when she saw that he was missing during the magical aftershock.  What she didn't know and didn't expect was to see was Draco with his arms around Hermione, and the two of them kissing each other tenderly, silhouetted in the light of the bright full moon.

Narcissa smiled in satisfaction.

The Curse-Breaker was successful after all.

The End

Apologies for a very long A/N:

I grew up watching a great deal of wuxia movies and serials.  The magic that Draco practises at the start of this story is fully made up and merged with the Hogwarts lore.  I figured that calligraphy paint brushes would work as Chinese versions of wands, and that writing the Chinese characters would be one way to cast spells.

Glossary:

ai – love (character analysis taken from The Spirit of the Chinese Character, Chronicle Books, available on Amazon. com)

xin – heart

you – friend

tian chang di jiu – literally: heaven length, Earth long.  Or love lasting/spanning the length of heaven, and lasting as long as Earth.

ba-gua mirror – an octagonal mirror used by the Chinese to ward off evil spirits.

Jin Long – literally: Gold Dragon.  Year 2000 was the Chinese Year of the Golden Dragon.  Draco hit Bali/SE Asia in the year 2000 and found the celebration for the Lunar New Year fascinating – notably because the year was that of his namesake.  The Chinese considers the year of the Dragon the most auspicious of the zodiac animals, and it being a Golden Dragon year (an occurrence once every 60 years) made it even more so.  Draco thought that the choice of Golden Dragon was appropriate as his Chinese moniker because of his colourings and the idea that the Golden Dragon was the most auspicious – and we know how Malfoys are when it comes to the best things in life. *grins*

Yuan Xiao – held on the 15th day of the Lunar 1st month, it marks the last day of the Chinese Lunar New Year.  It is a time where families gather for a special dinner, as well as a time that is customarily a Chinese version of Valentine's Day.

Yuan Xiao JieYuan Xiao Festival

Shen Wu – literally: Heaven Arts.  Chinese mythology has gods and goddesses performing magic with magical relics like fans, swords, cudgels and horsetail swatters.  I figured an ancient school of magic would naturally be named Heavenly Arts, rather than the more modern term 'mo shu' for magic.

Li Bai's Ye Si:

Literal translation:

Bed before bright moon shine
Think be ground on frost
Raise head view bright moon
Lower head think home

Paraphrased translation:

Before my bed, the moon is shining bright,
I think that it is frost upon the ground.
I raise my head and look at the bright moon,
I lower my head and think of home.

In 2014, Valentine's Day coincides with Yuan Xiao, the Chinese version of a day set aside for love.  I thought that it would be an interesting juxtaposition, seeing as how one of the parties needed to have spent a length of time in Asia.  I tried to lighten the story with as much humour as I could, to balance the more weighty tone that the story unravelled.  And try as I could in fulfilling the 'no deaths of any kind', I think Lucius' death could easily been part of that 'Death Eaters are a history' bit.  *grins*

To the person who'd requested this fic, I hope I've acquitted myself well.  I enjoyed spending the long hours dreaming this story, hearing the conversations in my head and researching all I could about the Chinese written form, Chinese poetry and Chinese culture.  It was an enlightening experience – thank you!  *smiles*

FIC GIFT REQUEST  #26

RATING(S) OF THE FIC REQUESTED:  G to PG-13

3-5 Things to Include in the Fic:
1. Someone, either Hermione or Draco, must have spent sometime in any Asian country (Ex. China, Japan...etc.).
2. Hermione and Draco must meet in an engagement party of the most unlikely couple (in the books) that Draco will comment on. And of course it's on February 14. What happens in the rest of the story is the author's job! (g'luck)
3. Humor!! (part of it or most of it.)
4. Post Hogwarts and post war. Voldemort's dead and Death Eaters are history.

What Not to Include in the Fic:
Darkfic, deaths of any kind, really mushy and fluffy stuff, cliches