Disclaimer: Do I look like Shakespeare to you? Or J.K.Rowling?
Thanks for 1795 reviews still goes to everyone who's been waiting patiently for so long.
A/N: Sorry this took so long - the site was having problems uploading documents. But here is is: this is officially The End. My thanks go to everyone who made this fic possible: to the production of Macbeth in Stratford-upon-Avon which inspired this whole enterprise; to Shakespeare and J.K.Rowling, obviously; to all my friends who stepped in to read things over for me when I needed a bit of extra betaing or advice; to Hannah, for keeping me laughing with her fantastically sarcastic betaing; and especially to Lou, for betaing, endless plot discussions, putting up with my rambling and generally going beyond the call of friendship.
Most of all, my thanks go to all of you. I can't begin to thank all of you enough for all the encouragement, support and suggestions you've given me over the course of this fic. I've read and treasured every one of the reviews you've given me; they've made me smile, made me laugh, made me think, and helped keep me going when I really needed it. I started writing for the pleasure of it, but without all the feedback I've received – not just on Macbeth, but on everything I've ever written – I'd certainly never be planning to go on to do Creative Writing at university now. It's your support that helped give me the confidence to go for it – and that's confidence that'll change the course of my life. And for that, thank you so much to everyone. I couldn't have done it without you.
Looking to the future, and I know a lot of you have been asking about Fallen. I'd love to give you the news you want, but I'm afraid I'm not going to be continuing it soon. My summer's going to be crammed full – I have more holidays away this year than I think I ever have, and I'm going to have lots of lessons in how to survive university without starving, contracting plague or wearing really creased clothes. And then of course I'll have plenty of work to occupy me at university. I don't want to pick up a project the size of Fallen when I know I'm not going to have enough time to do it justice. I will keep on writing, however, and I'll keep you all updated on my profile if any of you are interested.
I think I've said enough. With my final thanks, and a round of applause to you all, here's on to the epilogue. Enjoy.
It was raining, the kind of endless, ceaseless rain that battered against windows as though trying to break them, simply for the sport of doing so. The kind of rain that planned to carry on in exactly the same way for the whole afternoon.
Not that she could go outside, of course. As soon as the play had ended, they'd gone to Dumbledore: she, Harry and an unresisting Draco. 'He knows I betrayed him,' he'd said simply, blank and eerily passive. 'He's going to come after me whatever I do.'
They had met with Dumbledore, explained everything that had happened: Draco's unwilling status as a Death Eater; the guilt, the way he'd gone mad and only Hermione had found out; then Voldemort's plan, their potions and how they'd stopped him. Afterwards, the grounds had been searched. They'd found a body; a Death Eater who'd been too far inside the wards when Draco had drunk the potion, who hadn't been able to escape when the protection in his blood suddenly wore off. He had been minutes away from the school, and there must have been others advancing with him.
They'd kept the body out of sight, of course, so Hermione knew no more about it than what had been hinted at in the Daily Prophet, and wished she didn't even know that much. Draco could have died in exactly the same way.
The school had been closed early for the holidays; students confined to their Houses in a state of near-panic while the professors hurriedly made the arrangements. Rumours had abounded, twisting the story of what had really happened so much that she could hardly recognise it. She'd stayed in the dormitory most of the time, only venturing out for the few mealtimes there'd been before the coaches had arrived and they'd been packed off to the train. Even then she'd hurried back to the dorm pretty quickly. The sheer number of people crowding round her, asking questions, had been smothering. Harry had been hiding most of the time too.
Of course, this meant that as soon as they'd reached the Order – Dumbledore had insisted they couldn't stay at the school, not so shortly after a near-attack – Ron had dragged her off with Harry, demanding to hear her version of events. He hadn't been pleased, to say the least, at the fact that she seemed to be getting closer to Draco. But, after everything that had happened, Ron seemed the least of her worries.
That was why she'd spent most of the time since the play in her room reading, or studying, or simply relaxing; the weight of the play and all that it entailed was lifted from her shoulders, gone with such amazing suddenness that she could hardly believe it was really over. And, finally, she had the chance to relax a little.
She'd asked, while they were still at school, to see Draco, but had been told that was impossible. Draco had left straight after their meeting with Professor Dumbledore; taken away somewhere – she hadn't been told where – for all the things she supposed were necessary when someone in a war sought protection with the other side. Questioning to make sure it wasn't some elaborate hoax – as if it could be – and questioning about details of the Death Eaters, gathering all the information they could about Voldemort and his plans, his followers.
Dumbledore had assured her they would be kind to him. They'd do what he could to make sure he was okay; they'd try what they could to help him with the guilt and the insanity. Hermione had a feeling that Draco's madness would lift, now that the play was over and he was no longer a Death Eater. The guilt, she knew, would not.
But Dumbledore had also said he wouldn't be kept long; and so it was a few days into the holidays proper, with the rain battering at the windows, that Draco arrived at the Order's house in Grimmauld Place.
Hermione was reading, and didn't notice him stepping into the room over the sound of the rain; it was only when he said her name that she looked up in surprise.
'Draco!' she said, scrambling to her feet before pausing, suddenly uncertain; her impulse was to hug him, but she didn't know if she could. He was standing just inside the doorway; chin raised slightly, hair neatly combed as always. Nothing had changed about him that she could see, but there was something different in the way he held himself, some subtle tweak of body language that made all the difference. The play was over, now, and with it things had changed. He wasn't the guilty, bloody Death Eater; she wasn't the only one who could help him, and she didn't know quite how to act. 'You're here,' she found herself saying, rather lamely. 'I didn't know you were coming.'
'I didn't either,' he said, casting a glance around the room. Hermione wondered how it must look, to his aristocratic pureblood eyes; it had been part of the Black family home, true, but the Order's occupation had transformed this room; comfy, well-worn sofas lent to them from someone who'd been throwing them out; some cheerful pictures hung on the walls by Mrs Weasley; a clean coat of paint on the walls.
'How was it?' she asked. 'Wherever they took you. I mean, are you…'
'No, they don't interrogate prisoners under the Cruciatus curse,' Draco said sarcastically. 'Much more polite than the Dark Lord, I must say. If it were a war of manners the good side would win hands down.'
Her lips twitched. He was being defensive, she realised; it was still amusing.
'I'll take that as an 'I'm fine, Hermione, how are you?' then,' she replied. 'Since we're being polite.
There was a pause. 'Well?' Draco asked.
'She frowned. 'Well what?'
'How are you?' His lips quirked in what was almost a smile; he wandered further into the room.
'I'm fine,' she replied, suddenly aware of how odd this conversation was. 'I haven't been doing much, other than homework and a bit of reading.'
He picked up her book, one finger marking her place as he read the back. 'Interesting?' he asked.
'I think so,' she replied, watching him. 'It's a Muggle book. One my mother bought me a while ago.'
He shrugged, flicking to the first page and skimming through it. 'I suppose it would be Muggle, if your mother bought it.'
Hermione paused, watching him read; there was a question implied, there, one she was wondering if she even wanted to ask him. The answer could be far too painful.
'Do you still think… do you still think Muggles aren't human?' she found herself asking, her tone of voice perfectly casual; as though she were asking about his opinions of literature. 'I mean…'
Slowly, he closed the book, tucking her bookmark neatly back inside; carefully, he set it down on the table beside her chair, then faced her. 'I don't know,' he admitted simply, and all the off-hand careless tone in his voice couldn't hide the sudden worry, the sudden insecurity, that crossed his face. There was something very familiar in the way he looked at her, then.
'I was wondering,' he said, glancing briefly away from her and back, 'if you could help me find the answer.'
And she smiled, because while it hadn't been the definite response that she'd wanted and known would never happen, his answer hinted at so, so much more. It suggested the possibility of a future, a future in which the insanity could pass away, a future in which he could start to put his guilt aside, a future in which he could change his prejudices And a future in which, perhaps…
'I think I could manage that,' she said with a smile, and reached out her hand to him. He took it.