Chapter Eighteen


Dear Hermione,

As I write this, you could already be dead. If you are, I know it will be by my hand. I might not be the one to do it, but I was the one that made it possible. I pray that your friends make it to you in time, and that you live on. If I'm lucky, and you survive this war, I need you to know one thing: I wasn't lying. When I kissed you, it was real. When I made love to you, it was real. I wasn't pretending, or using you as a pawn in one of the dark lord's plans. I didn't seek you out just so that I could deliver you into the hands of my father and his master; I truly loved you.

I had a dream, after Potter and the Weasleys left me. At least, I think it was a dream. You had forgiven me for everything, and the dark lord was dead. You were still alive, and we were together. Maybe it was a vision of the future. We've got two children in the future, Hermione. Rosie's the spitting image of you, and Scorpius looks just like me. They're terrors; they ruined the best rug in the house; but we love them. We love them more than anything else in the world, because they're the living proof of our love for each other. I can't help but think it was just a dream. I know I don't deserve a happy ending.

I also wanted to thank you. I spent sixteen years in a fog, walking through the world and barely touching anything in it. And then I saw you in the corner of that bar, and my life changed forever. How could I have known, at the time, how much better my life would be just for having you in it? For the first time, I can hear the birds sing. I can smell freshly-cut grass. I can even feel my magic more clearly. That's all you. You opened my eyes to the potential of the world, and now I can't get rid of it. But I wouldn't want to switch it off now, even if I could. Even the pain I'm feeling right now is worth something, because it makes the love shine all that much brighter.

Oh God, I hope you're not in pain right now. I hope Potter's found you, and rescued you. That's what he does, isn't it? I never understood that before. I always thought that in the end, if it comes down to your own life or someone else's, you save yourself. No-one else will bother, after all. Except I think I understand now. You would have come to my rescue, even if you were in danger. You did come to my rescue, when I was drowning in rhetoric and bullshit. I would come to your aid right now if I could, but I don't think I could bear it if I got to the Manor and you were already dead.

I've just re-read that last sentence. Even now, I'm being selfish and putting myself first. If you're already dead, then I deserve to suffer. I deserve to see your body. Your friends won't ever forget it; why should I be spared that pain? I'm a coward, Hermione. Each time I try to put down my pen and leave, something keeps me back. It's the same thing that made me run from you instead of towards you at the Manor. I'm a snivelling little coward, and I always have been.

If I close my eyes, I can still smell your hair. You used coconut shampoo. I can feel your soft skin pressed against mine. I can see you tossing your hair back and laughing at something across the Great Hall. Your eyes were so bright when you laughed. They were bright when you were angry as well. You were never ashamed of your emotions; you displayed them proudly for all to see. I think I knew you were in love with me before you did. You can call me arrogant, but I think you loved me even before that stupid duel we had when I almost killed you.

And now I've succeeded where I failed before, haven't I?

You're dead.

You must be dead, by now. The dark lord gets bored easily.

But Ginny said 'they' were on their way. I don't know who she meant, but she mentioned Dumbledore's name. I know everyone thinks highly of him, so maybe there's hope for you yet. And pretty much all of Gryffindor tower went as well. It must be fun at my house right now. It's a party, and everyone's invited – dark and light together. But there's hope, so you have to hold on. I told you that my life wasn't worth living if you weren't in it. I've changed my mind. I can cope without you in my life; but I have to know that you're alive somewhere in the world, even if it's not with me. So long as I know that somewhere, Hermione Jane Granger is breathing and laughing and telling everyone off for not working hard enough, I'll be able to survive. It won't be a pleasant existence, but I'll get by. If you die, Hermione, I won't be able to go on living. My heart will break.

Is this what you fight for? Is this why you constantly go to battles that you know you can't win? Because the alternative is knowing that people you care about have died because you didn't even try. How can I live my life knowing that I might have been able to do something to save you?

You're a good person, Hermione. You're the best I've ever known.

I think I understand it now. You're not fighting because you've been told to. You're not fighting for glory. You're fighting for all the people around you, because there's just a small chance that you'll be able to save them. You're fighting for the sound of water trickling in a brook, which is what your laugh sounds like to me. You're fighting for the flash of a grin that flits across someone's face when they've seen the one person they were looking for. You're fighting for roses and rain and all those other things that passed me by before I found you. You're fighting for Scorpius and Rosie. You're fighting for life.

You're fighting for life.

Because life is worth fighting for.

I understand now, Hermione. I'm coming. I hope you're able to read this when the battle is over. I hope that you find someone who can give you everything you deserve. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, one day.

With love,

Draco Malfoy.

Hermione Jane Wallace brushed the tears from her cheeks she folded up the torn and battered parchment. It had been waiting for her in her dorm when she got back from the battle. Draco's elegant owl had hooted dolefully when she went in, as though it knew he was never coming back. Over the years, Hermione had read it often, whenever she was in need of comfort and hope.

Her door was pushed open a crack, and a woman with bushy brown hair poked her head round. "How are you feeling?" the woman asked in a whisper.

Hermione smiled and beckoned the woman into the room. "Come here, Rosie," she said in a weak voice. "Let me look at you properly."

The woman perched on the edge of the bed and gently brushed the wispy hair out of Hermione's face. "Are you feeling any better today, mum?"

"Stop talking nonsense," Hermione said. "I'm in my prime, you know." She chuckled to herself, but the laughter gave way to a coughing fit that seemed to tear her insides apart. She wheezed and huffed, while her daughter looked on anxiously.

"Should I get the healer?"

Hermione shook her head. "I think it's time," she said softly.

Tears sprang into Rosie's eyes. "Mum, no. Don't be silly. You've got years left in you, yet."

"I think we both know that's not true," Hermione said with a rueful smile. "I'm not sad about it. In fact, I feel lucky. All those years fighting; it could have been me any one of those times. Charlie, Hannah, Cedric, they all went before their time. But I've had a long life, a beautiful daughter, the love of a good-hearted man, and three adorable grandchildren. I can't argue with my maker if he thinks I've finally played my hand. To go in a comfortable bed surrounded by people who love you; I can think of worse ways to die."

Rosie was valiantly fighting back her tears. "I don't want you to go. I'm not ready to get by without you."

"Oh, but you won't," Hermione said in surprise. "I'll always be with you." Rosie stared at her, confusion clear in her expression. Hermione smiled softly and stroked her daughter's hair. "Did I ever tell you about Draco Malfoy?" Rosie shook her head. "He was one-of-a-kind, that one. He fought on the wrong side of the war right up until the end, and then he sacrificed himself to save me."

Rosie nodded, struggling to see where this was going. "I think I remember learning about him in history," she said vaguely.

Hermione smiled and nodded. "Yes, you would have done. He loved me very much, and I loved him. This was before I met your father, you understand. I was heart-broken when he was killed. I raged for a long time about how unfair it was that he died just when he finally saw the error of his ways. I grieved for him for ever so long. But at last I understood that he never really left me. I always kept a place in my heart for him, even when I fell in love with Jack. That's the wonderful thing about love; there's always a little bit more there when you need it. And that's what you'll do with me. You'll keep me in your heart, and whenever you miss me you just close your eyes and I'll be there with you. No-one ever really dies, Rosie. Not when people love them and remember them."

"I know," Rosie whispered.

"Besides, your father's waiting for me. I don't want to keep him," she said with a smile.

Laughing through her tears, Rosie raised an eyebrow at her mother. "What about Draco Malfoy?" she asked.

Hermione chuckled. "I don't think jealousy exists beyond the veil," she said. "But if it does, I'll tell them both to stop being so silly and to become friends. I'm sure they'll listen to me. People usually do."

Rosie laughed again, and Hermione reached up to stroke her face with weakened, frail hands. Understanding, Rosie leaned down and allowed her mother to kiss her goodbye.

Hermione closed her eyes. All at once, flashes of memory passed through her mind, and the bad things didn't seem important anymore. She remembered the wind whipping through her hair and glancing over at Draco as he smiled at her. She remembered being introduced to Jack Wallace for the first time and going weak at the knees. She remembered Rosie being born, and she remembered naming her in memory of her first love's dream. She remembered snow, and dancing, and, as the light dimmed and she started to drift away, she remembered just a hint of Ogden's best tingling on her tongue.