A/N: Man. Last chapters are always so hard Not only is there TONS of pressure to make it good and satisfying, it's hard to write well because if you're a lame little wussy girl like me, you get emotional as these things come to an end and it gets hard to concentrate.
This was my first attempt at a mystery type story and while I enjoy and am proud of most parts there are definitely areas where I think it is lacking in coherency and quality. But that is all a part of the learning process I suppose, and I thank ALL who took the time to read it and help with it and review it from the bottom of my heart. You guided me and helped keep me wanting to write and that is very special to me. You're the coolest strangers I've ever been associated with hehe. Thank you again, really.
Of course, as always, I have one more review I'd like you ask all of you for. Hopefully, now that the story is over you can tell me how you feel about it as a whole, looking back to the entire thing. Now that it's complete perhaps the strengths and weaknesses will be really easy to define, because I'd really like to know and learn from y'all. I do hope you like the ending. It is so hard to conclude 27 chapters of rolling momentum, but I tired my best.
Thank you and god bless!
… … …
Hermione was more fidgety and nervous than the first time she rode in a wizard's carriage to Malfoy Manor. Weeks had passed since the awards ceremony... After so many owls, finally she agreed to go see Sarah… and Draco, like Harry had begrudgingly requested.
Many had been made famous for their involvement in the infamous Dark Lord's final downfall, and surely publicity would be something that would follow them through the rest of their lives, as it had her scarred friend, but Hermione felt confident she wasn't alone in being glad the hysteria had died down a little since it had first happened.
Her friends believed her when she said she avoided going out much because of the crowds, but secretly she knew it was because she still didn't feel quite right with herself. A feeling that seemed only to intensify as Draco's mansion came into view.
Yet again, she was under a lot of stress. Being pessimistic and insecure had developed into a habit after having so many good reasons to be depressed, and like all habits this one was hard to break. She was very hasty to assume she and Draco were over. She was even quicker to assume that was what Draco would want.
There was the only explanation she could think of to what had happened, and it was the answer she'd cling to desperately.
'What happened between Draco and I was a result of traumatic events...' she told herself, 'It's human nature to turn to another in times of peril…' she continued, trying to sound convincing… 'I shouldn't be ashamed, I did nothing wrong. No one knows what it's like to be in that situation, their judgments should mean nothing to me!'
'But,' she inevitably went on, 'It's in the past. All of it. Me and Draco? How preposterous! Surely he'll agree, neither of us intend to try and continue things the way they were! It's…embarrassing…'
Honestly, how could she, they, ever be as they were? Their marriage was forced. That secret fact alone was their only saving grace. It had been so humiliating when they both found out; each completely mortified at the thought of the public imaging them coming together. To have people think she was infatuated with that smug, cocky, asshole. And she was certain he felt equally the same, plagued by having his reputation stained as much as his proud family history would have to be after dirtying it up with a muggle witch. Granted, he was now famous for his strong opposition against muggle genocide, but never was it ever conveyed that he supported mixing bloodlines!
Like the saving grace she already thought it was, she assumed they both considered themselves lucky to have their names cleared when Lucius's evil scheme was foiled and their marriage was exposed as the sham that it was.
The public wouldn't be able to handle them coming out as a "couple" again, if anything they'd over react and think it was another Voldemort rising to power scheme.
But who says they'd be so public about it again? There would be no Lucius to dangle them in front of reporters or photographers or drag them to events where they could be witnessed as together.
And since when did she EVER care what other people thought anyway?
"Hermione!' she thought quickly and firmly, 'enough if the "buts" and "since whens"!'
Typical to her analytical nature… this was not the 1st time she had contemplations such as these. She'd never admit it, but she had thought about Draco and their situation numerous times since they had parted ways…
She knew she had been through a great deal. So it only seemed wise to avoid more hardships. And she refused to leave herself open to rejection from the likes of Draco Malfoy. But it shouldn't even be an issue. She was utterly, utterly, convinced that she and Draco would no doubt be on the same page regarding all this business.
Which is why she had their divorce papers stored in her wand. Dumbledore had informed her that her marriage was completely legitimate. She had said "I do," after all. Unless they were going to stay legally married, she and Draco would both need to sign.
And yet while her decision was so final, she could not stifle some small pleading voice within her.
The carriage stopped. Hermione took a deep breath.
It was very strange indeed approaching the tall, grand front doors on her own free will.
Sarah answered the door and immediately wrapped her arms around her!
"I saw you at the ceremony!" she said, "Such a pity all were evacuated before we could speak! Your medal was absolutely stunning!"
Hermione smiled, "Oh thanks, and it's dreadfully heavy in real life though."
They stepped into the foyer.
"You'll have to excuse any mess you might see," said Sarah, beaming, "Dad and I are doing a bit of redecorating."
"You'll still be living here then?"
"Yes!" beamed Sarah, "Lucius's will passes it to his oldest living family member. We have the whole thing now!"
Hermione smiled broadly, terribly pleased that there was enough justice in the world that a servant girl robbed of her Father would eventually receive a beautiful place to live, together.
"I should warn you though," she went on, "Narcissa is back from St. Mungo's,"
Hermione nodded gravely, she had heard about Narcissa's breakdown.
"We're letting her stay though," said Sarah, "All she wants is one floor on the east wing."
"Really?" said Hermione, surprised.
"Yes well who are we to turn away family? Besides, we did it mostly for poor Draco."
Sarah saw Hermione's face change to discomfort.
"We can catch up later you know," said Sarah with quite a mysterious smirk.
Hermione looked at her with confusion.
"Dad says the house is ours only until he wants it, but he suspects that won't be for a long while. It was just by luck I saw him heading out to the grounds just a little bit ago. He is rarely here at all actually"
Hermione took this as an obvious sign to go and deal with him first. Sarah must have known Hermione's mind was otherwise consumed by their unfinished business, and it was pointless to try and catch up with her when her mind would be understandably no where near any present conversation Sarah might have to offer. Hermione nodded hesitantly but politely to Sarah and she moved back to allow her to go through the house and out the back.
… … …
Draco could hear the hooves a quarter mile away. Granted he did cheat a bit when Midnight and Noon both stopped dead in their duty of aimlessly running and sniffing to look over their shoulders.
He smirked when he saw the smoky grey stallion gracefully gallop up to the edge of the bluff and skid to a purposeful stop.
Hermione hopped down from off Mystery's back.
"Don't make it easy to find yourself do you?" she asked as she hesitantly approached him, being in that particular location again, mainly the edge, made her a bit shaky. He was looking out over the creek below, his back to her
"Looks like you did alright," he said as he turned, "…Merlin, you look like hell."
Hermione scowled and looked down at her feet. Slytherin prick. Of course he was going to make anything as difficult as possible.
She felt his index finger curl under her chin and lift her face to meet each other's eyes, "Your robes are in perfect and professional order of course, and you look pathetically well groomed," he added, playfully tugging at a lock of curl, "but even you can't hide the bags under your eyes."
She wanted his powerful stare to be full of concern, but she could not be sure that was what he was giving her. He really did have to make everything so difficult. "I haven't been sleeping well," she said.
Draco scoffed, "Of course you aren't, it's always something with you isn't it? Imprisoned, held hostage, a spy, severe insomniac…" he jested.
She laughed lightly, wanting his jokes to be sweet and just for her, but she couldn't tell if that was the case or if he was just an ass. She was beginning to shake, she hated all this uncertainty. "Harry told me to come," she told him.
"… Like I wouldn't anyway…"
Draco's heart fluttered.
"I want my CD's back."
Draco laughed, "Right then, to the house I suppose?"
The two walked down the long corridors in silence. Hermione just looked around. The house was truly beautiful… oddly enough she would miss it.
He opened the door for her. It was quite warm in the room, the fire was going, the elves had been in to tidy up and even the bed had been turned down with one of the blankets pulled back. Hermione was instantly reminded of their honeymoon suite and how they returned each night to a dramatically welcoming room, where one wanted to crawl right into the bed and not leave for three solid days.
Draco looked at her with an expression she would never recognize as hopeful.
'She's being so daft…' he thought miserably, never one good at sentiments. Giving her the Mountain Dew had been so awkward from him after all. He sighed as he gestured to the suitcase and trunk he had gotten out for her, letting her get down to her business.
He decided he would not be the gentleman and help her, instead he removed his robe, it was too hot for him, but he knew that ever since she had gotten out of her cold hard prison cell she much appreciated the roar of a fire.
"Have at it then," he said, trying to make his sneer subtle.
Hermione tried to smirk at him as efficiently as he could bloody smirk at her but she failed when she noticed the red skin poking out from beneath his collar.
After all her self-convincing that she didn't give half a bullocks about him she immediately made one exception… He was a national hero after all, and had played a role in the safe return of all her friends, surely it was ok to be somewhat concerned for his platonic wellbeing, "What's that?" she asked in slight horror.
Before he could stop her she had tugged aside the shoulder of his shirt to reveal a nasty burn.
Her brows furrowed in confusion.
"Taking out assholes has its drawbacks," he said.
Hermione looked up at him in surprise. But that soon transcended in to feeling very foolish. Of course Dumbledore would have a reserve of his very best wizards and of course Draco would be among them! The only ones with the power, the capability, the strength and Dumbledore's trust to be saved for such an important purpose. For no other reason would he allow an awards ceremony to go on without absolutely insisting Draco be invited. And Draco chose to protect those receiving an award over receiving an award himself…
But just the mere thought of Blaise and what he tried to do to her made her shake with anger. And the fact that he was so deep in Death Eating rubbish that he'd lead a crusade to avenge that monster didn't help soothe her nerves very much either. But something did calm her, and that was the fact that he was gone, that she was forever safe from the likes of men like Blaise. Blaise and Lucius and Lord Voldemort. And she was bestowed that protection from the man in front of her…
She reached out to gently stroke and sooth his wound.
"But it was definitely worth it," he whispered.
"You were invited then," she half asked.
"V.I.P." he bragged.
Hermione smiled weakly at him,
Self doubt rushed up on her. She half turned around to kneel at the trunk brought out for her, knowing she was expected to start loading her things into it, but she turned back slightly… Hermione couldn't take it anymore, was he being cute with her or not? But she dared not ask. The only thing she could decipher from Draco's eyes for sure was sadness. Why did he look so, so sad?
"Draco…" she began, "About your father…"
"Save it," he interrupted, "I don't need a death talk."
Hermione pursed her lips together tightly.
"Thanks," he went on coolly, almost apologetically for the snap, "But I'm fine."
Hermione blinked at him with an expression torn between intent listening and skepticism.
Draco inhaled and pressed on, "I'm not ashamed to say I'm kind of glad. Yeah sure I'll have issues later and blah blah blah, but c'mon, he should be dead. We all know that. I'm sure everyone is wondering how much being raised by him will fuck me up in the end and there's no doubt you have something really wise and comforting to say about the subject, but for now I'd just like to enjoy my relief if that's alright."
"But Draco…" Hermione attempted softly, "suicide can be very…"
"I'm glad it was suicide," he barked.
Hermione snapped her eyes up at him in surprise.
He was softly shaking his head, "It's best that way. I mean… I didn't want to kill him… And I didn't want anyone else to have to…"
Hermione half smiled, then she nodded softly. She was close to understand why he would feel that way.
Draco's insides clenched for her and her sympathy. He did not want her to go back to packing up everything that made her apart of him and leave with it.
"But…" he added awkwardly, "I mean… I'm sure there will come a day when I'll wake up in a cold sweat, screaming, crying, wondering what it all means and shit… you know, him, life, existence, everything, all that good stuff…"
His hand went out to her shoulder and he licked his lips nervously.
"I don't suppose it would be too awful to have you and your gigantic brain around to help analyze it…"
Draco could see her expression was turning to letting him down.
He laughed awkwardly, "I mean you've got a lot of crap here, if you wanted to take your time, a few days even, to pack it up, I mean, that'd be alright with me. No rush or anything…"
Draco stood in agonizing silence as Hermione gave away nothing of her feelings towards his offer.
And that was because she was trying so hard to hide them.
It came down to this: He wanted her, she could tell. But how much and how honorably? That she did not know. If that was his offer, if that's all he had to say towards wanting to be with her, just a nonchalant "No rush or anything"…
And with her face still hard and tell-less, she did not get angry at his vagueness. How could she when she was being so indecisive herself? It would be so hypocritical, she had no idea what she truly felt for him as well.
'Draco… Y-y-you love him!' rang Harry's voice in her ear.'
'Damn it!' she cursed herself; trying to keep her facial muscles relaxed, but her emotions over powered her.
Finally Hermione's expression changed and Draco had some insight as to what was going inside her head… but it did not reassure him. She looked terribly distraught, possibly even angry…
Harry was right. But she was a fool for loving him. He could destroy her if he wanted to, just like he could at Hogwart's. How would she ever know whether or not she could trust him? He was Draco Malfoy! He tormented her for years! And their only pleasant experiences together were based on a situation that no longer existed. And if he wanted her… surely he would know she needed much more than smooth talk and piercing looks.
After a small swallow and regaining her plain pleasant face, "I don't think that's a very good idea."
Draco was much better at hiding his feelings than she was. While all she saw a cold and somewhat smug demeanor… his insides secretly and silently caved in on themselves. His heart pained to beat and every muscle in his body surged with tense anguish. But she would have no idea.
He merely snuffed and smirked, "Very well," he said with a shrug and looked away.
Hermione returned to slowly adding her things into the trunk, letting them fall randomly, her CD cases landing nosily onto one another. She didn't care. She had no desire to be organized, what did a tidy suitcase matter?
She moved slower and slower as the items to be packed grew fewer and fewer… this was it. She'd never be back again after this.
She slowly tucked away the last of her paint supplies and cautiously closed the lid of the trunk, being very methodical in ensuring it locked. Stalling… but acting like she wasn't.
Finally she stood back up, sighed and brushed off her hands as she turned to look at him.
He was leaning against the bed post watching her.
"Well," she said, turning away from him and starting to collect the handle of the trunk, preparing to lug it down the hall, "I guess that's all…"
"You can't leave…" said Draco's voice to her back.
Hermione slowly let the handle back down and turned to look at him, her heart in her throat.
"Crookshanks would throw a fit," he said.
"Oh…" she gasped quietly.
She was utterly relieved that Draco left the room. It gave her time to wipe away the bloody tears that were forming in her eyes. She cursed herself for wavering back and forth so much… first insisting they not be together… then so desperately hoping he would demand they would be! She had to quit this mind changing, it was wrecking her.
But her heart was so broken at the thought of what they had being nothing, that there was no security behind it. That fate had made it so clear that a Malfoy couldn't marry a Mudblood. That they would go on living the rest of their lives, look back and remember that their love had been nothing…
She had barely pulled it together when Draco reentered the room. He held Crookshanks by supporting his bottom with the crook of his arm. Crookshanks had his front paws up on Draco's shoulder, making absolutely no fuss.
Hermione scowled with jealousy. Her favorite thing about Crookshanks was that he seemed to hate everyone but her. Many others had tried to hold him, but he would have none of it. There were raw scratch marks on many of her friends to prove it.
But there he was, purring contently and resting assured as Draco transported him.
Crookshanks was much too masculine and self righteous to be caught dead cuddling with another male, but when Draco gestured to release him onto the bed he hopped off with grace and confidence and turned to Draco with an undeniable look of respect. He then walked across the bed spread with a stride of nobility, as if he was in the company of someone as amazing as he. A stride Hermione hadn't seen since he had taken so well with Sirius Black.
"I never really cared much for cats myself," said Draco, watching Crookshanks arrogantly start to groom his paw, "But that one there is alright with me."
He paid no mind to Hermione's glaring as he went on to say that Crookshanks had kept him so warm at night.
"It must be because he is so big and fluffy," said Draco, "I've got to have one, what breed is he?"
Finally Hermione had something to feel triumphant about after Draco moved in on her special relationship with her cat, "A very rare one indeed actually, and I dare say you won't find anything remotely like Crookshanks, I suspect he is partly Kneaz…"
Hermione stopped short in her sentence. There she was talking about her cat who detected and despised shady characters just as she, with her own two eyes, witnessed Crookshanks playfully lick Draco's arm as he went in to stroke his back. Draco smiled and Crookshanks purred loudly. Then he immediately looked dashingly around the room to ensure no one saw him in a moment of sensitivity.
Draco was trustworthy. There was no getting around it; Crookshanks was a fire alarm when it came to these things.
Draco turned to look at her only because she had trailed off.
"Why are you staring at me?" he asked.
"Maybe," she tried to say confidently, "maybe," she tried again, desperate to get her voice above a whisper, "I could stay for a few more days…"
Lightning flashed in Draco's eyes and now it was Hermione left in a long silence of agonizing wonder.
"No," he said. He barked it quickly. His head whirled with what to say next, oblivious to Hermione's crumpling heart, "I think you were right, I don't think that's a very good idea after all."
Hermione closed her eyes tightly, trying to trap in the tears. But she knew perfectly well Draco would see them seep out.
"I mean what would the neighbor's think? Me letting you run me around like that, coming and going whenever you please. I will not be made a laughingstock. You're supposed to be my wife, damn it. Why, I should divorce you!"
Hermione looked up in surprise. He was joking around with her! At a time like this? There she was crying, obviously over him, and he still wanted to be flirty and charming!
"Well then why don't you?" she said back, the lack of humor in her voice was apparent, but Draco knew she was mocking a joke. She whipped out her wand and shot out the papers.
Draco took one look at them and his face grew serious, he thought he'd have at least one more time to be with her before they would think to go about the divorce, that he'd have one more time to try and convince her… or to at least otherwise make her doubt herself so much that she'd never actually be able to present the papers to him… but there was no avoiding it now. Of course Hermione would be on top of everything.
He might as well not play games; he might as well tell her exactly what he thought of those bloody papers and now, "Honestly Hermione? …Because I really don't want to."
"What?" she gasped.
"You heard me," he said, "I love you. I want to stay married to you. I don't want anyone else to ever have you and I want to impregnate you with lots of little Dracos and die with you holding my hand."
She didn't even bother holding back the tears in response to this. She was so terribly torn. Yes, he wanted her, but how could she stay with him?
"How?" she cried, "How could we be together? How would it ever work? I'm Hermione Granger! And you're Draco Malfoy, the Slytherin from Hogwarts. Snape's suck up, Umbridge's minion, Harry's enemy, a wanna-be Death Eater!
"WAS," shouted Draco.
Hermione took a step back in shock.
"I WAS in Slytherin, I WAS Snape's and Umbridge's favorite I USED to hate Harry and almost HAD to be a Death Eater. All I am now is me, Hermione."
Hermione sniffled, "That's quite a bit of change Draco. You expect me to believe, for you to even believe for that matter, that all that changed over night?"
Draco glared at her, "It didn't change over night," he barked, "It didn't even change of the course of you being here."
Hermione just stared desperately up at him, "When then?"
"When, after years and years of being asked, I finally had a good reason to help Dumbledore," said Draco firmly. "…When I had you."
He was right, he wasn't a wanna-be Death Eater. He was a hero in the final battle against Voldemort. He had helped Dumbledore when he needed him the most. He had changed. And if that could change then who knew what else could change. Because that's what happens when Malfoys marry Mudbloods, the whole world as everyone knows it comes undone, and everything changes.
She looked him in his icy eyes, watching them melt before her. He was melting with love and vulnerability and suspense… waiting desperately for any sign from her.
"Yes, we will fucking fight like cats and dogs," he said, "Yes, we will drive each other crazy, yes, we will cry and scream and throw things, but we'll laugh and play and kiss too. And we'll always end up together."
Hermione still said nothing. She was at a complete loss, learning that after all of Dumbledore's attempts, it was HER who finally inspired Draco enough to cut his horrible ties and fight against them. Voldemort's defeat… It was her that finally made it worth it him to risk EVERYTHING he had, even his life. It was her who motivated him to challenge his own Father, to fight against the destiny forced upon him since birth. Even knowing he could be saving the whole world, even when Dumbledore all but swore his guaranteed safety, he couldn't bring himself to act before.
But he finally did!
He did when it really counted, and it had all been because of her and for her.
She couldn't speak. But Draco stared deep into her hopeful honey eyes and saw that she knew he was right.
Like the beginning of their first time, lifetimes ago in their honeymoon suite, with Draco enraged and Hermione in nothing but a towel held to her chest, Hermione just let him come towards her. Once again she let him push her up against the wall as his mouth devoured hers. They kissed deeply and passionately as her arms wrapped around his neck and her legs his waist. She kissed him aggressively all over his face and then slid her tongue as deeply in his mouth as she could when his lips finally caught hers.
They broke apart to gasp for air, and Draco began to kiss a line up her neck, hold her body tightly into his where it felt like it fit so perfectly.
"Will you take me to be your lawfully wedded husband till death do we part?" he breathily asked, his tongue playing with her ear.
"I do," she whispered.
Draco looked at her face and their eyes locked tightly onto each others again. Without breaking eye contact he pulled Hermione's legs loose from his waist only to scoop her up into both his arms. She clung to his neck as he began to carry her.
No, not to her bed, their cat had just curled up to a nap there, but through the door to his room, over the threshold they never crossed on their other wedding night, and into his bedroom where he would lay her down and make love to his wife.
… … …
Draco and Hermione Malfoy would spend the rest of the recent future acclimating first their loved ones and then their friends to their now genuine marriage. They paid little mind to the public's response however. If they didn't like it, trust it, believe it, whatever- it didn't really matter to them.
In fact, Hermione was not the least bit bothered by it, as she had found a fantastic new reservoir of strength. She was finally sleeping soundly at night again. And it was an immersive relief! She was back to her old self again, and she felt as though she could take on anything.
She just could not believe that she never realized it before, but as it would turn out, the only conditions in which she could receive a proper night's sleep, with wonderfully pleasant dreams, was when her husband Draco Malfoy was laying quite warm and snuggly right next to her.