A/N: I had a lot of fun with this story, and would like to thank all of you readers who kept up with it. I know that sometimes it was pretty rough when I didn't post for months on end, and I apologize for that. This is the end of this story, but as mentioned in…chapter 28, I believe, I have another one all ready to be put up (if not already up). So please, keep an eye out for that.
Draco sipped at his coffee and stared out over the lush grounds surrounding Malfoy Manor. After his mother had died in the war, his father had given the manor over to Draco and moved out to the cottage where Voldemort had formerly been in residence. He visited often, as would be expected, and would occasionally ask about Hermione.
But this morning Draco had other visitors. "I just wanted to thank you again for coming to our wedding," Ginny told him while she poured herself a cup of tea.
"It meant a lot," Orlando agreed. He served himself some eggs and sat back in the chair.
Draco smirked at them over his coffee. "Someone had to make sure Ron didn't do something stupid, you know how the twins like to taunt him about his vision, and since Hermione couldn't be there…"
They all fell into silence. Draco picked up a piece of toast and slathered honey on it, then covered it with scrambled eggs. Ginny looked at him with a wrinkled nose, and he remembered Hermione's reaction to the breakfast. He gave himself a quiet smile and ate it in four bites, leaving the redhead gaping at him.
"Draco, maybe it's time to…" Orlando began, but then was cut off by his wife.
"Orlando!" Ginny gasped in shock. "You shouldn't be so blunt about things like…"
But Draco just laughed. Once he'd started, he found he couldn't stop. "Draco, are you okay?" Ginny asked, putting a calming hand on his shoulder.
In truth, he wasn't okay. Over the last week he'd dreamt of Hermione every night, and in all of them she was either saying goodbye or dying. He had been so sure that she would come back to him, but it had been two, almost three, years and there hadn't been any sign of her. Not even a note. Last night he hadn't slept at all, both because he was incredibly restless and because he didn't want to see her again.
Once Draco managed to stop laughing he sat back and drank his coffee, then looked down at the bottom of the cup in consternation. "Orlando, I'm not giving up on her. She'll come back to me, and with this house…" he waved his arm to indicate the whole manor. "She knows where to find me."
"But Draco," Ginny began gently.
He turned and looked her full in the face. Her blue eyes noted his lack of sleep, the thinness of his face, even his hair, which wasn't untidy but had lost its luster. "She will come back," he told the redhead firmly and stifled his own doubts. She would.
"Okay, Draco," she said, and he thought she may actually have believed him. That made one of them.
"So, Draco, going to the Quidditch World Cup this year?" Orlando said, tactfully changing the topic.
"Probably. Isn't your brother going to be playing?"
"Yep!" Orlando said proudly. "Can't believe it, my own little brother playing in the World Cup. He always was a good keeper, you know."
Draco smiled and nodded at him, but didn't hear the rest of the conversation. He was thinking of Hermione and that sorrowful look in her eyes when she'd walked away. She will come back. Just be patient, Draco, he told himself.
Ginny and Orlando left after lunch, warning him not to be too reclusive. Not much chance of that. For every week that she was gone, he had bought another book and read it, both to distract himself from her absence and to increase the size of his library for her return. He hadn't managed to finish his book for the week yet and this was his last day to do so.
After they left, Draco lit a small fire in the study and picked up the book. It was thick, and he didn't find it particularly appealing but was sure Hermione would be fascinated with it. It talked all about spell theory and described in great detail how some of the more uncommon spells had been made. It had its interesting moments, to be sure, but mostly he found it dull.
Draco finished the book and then went to the library to place it carefully on the shelf. Then he walked around his house, to remind himself of her. He did this almost every night, to remember how wonderful she was and all their good times. Draco refused to forget. He had a feeling that if he forgot then she would never come back.
First stop was the kitchens, where she'd made a face at his coffee. Fenens had complimented her, he remembered. Smiling, he traveled through to the ballroom. The first time he'd seen her as more than the mudblood was here. She had looked so confident walking in, with her bright dress and snappy eyes. Up on the second floor he paused where she had wobbled in front of a portrait, looking for more than layers of paint. He traveled through the study, the library, into her room. He touched the dresses in her closet. They still smelled like her. Everything she had left behind at Hogwarts was now in the room, waiting for her just as he had.
With a final, satisfied sigh Draco traveled back to his room in the tower. The only place that he never visited for a Hermione memory was the dungeons. There were too many bad memories there. Draco looked over the edge of his window, just to see the minute, three-inch ledge where he'd left Hermione so he could snip a few roses from the garden.
The garden… Draco had an urge to go down there. He had never managed to show it to Hermione, though he'd wanted to since the first ball. There would be no memories for him there. Frowning, he decided to go down there anyway. It would be better to sit back in his garden and look at his plants than dream of her face. Or not dream at all, if he was as restless as he had been last night. In truth, he didn't know which was worse.
He padded through his halls barefoot and entered the garden through the drawing room. Torched by moonlight, the flowers fairly glowed. Draco smiled quietly. His garden always radiated peacefulness, something he desperately needed now. The gravel path hurt his feet but he really didn't care. He paused to smell some of his roses.
When he looked up, there she was. Draco didn't know if she'd been sitting there this whole time or if she had just ghosted in now, silent as a breeze, but when she saw him looking at her she stood from the stone bench. His black roses behind her looked silver in the moonlight. "Hermione," he breathed; he didn't say it any louder for fear she might dissolve before his eyes. "I must be dreaming."
Hermione simply stood and looked him up and down. She was wearing jeans and a tank top beneath a worn, too-long cloak. Against his will, Draco's eyes filled with tears. "Don't tell me goodbye again," he croaked.
Her brown gaze met his and she stepped toward him carefully. He closed his eyes, unable to bear it. "There now, Draco," she said quietly, wiping his tears from his cheeks. "It's all right. I'm…back."
He reached out blindly and grabbed her body, clasping her close to him. She was just how he remembered, even her tears hot on his neck. "I'm back," she repeated.
"I waited for you," he sobbed into her shoulder, but now he didn't know if he was crying because he was happy or because he was scared she would just say goodbye.
"I know, love, I know. I'm sorry for making you wait so long."
Draco forced himself back under control, and when he was finally able to breathe normally he said, "Don't ever leave me. Please."
"Of course not, love. Of course not." Her voice was soothing and he finally looked up from her shoulder. She smiled sweetly at him, sadly, brushing her thumbs across his cheeks to get rid of the tears. He kissed her tenderly, still not sure that she was real.
Hermione yawned and stretched. She hadn't slept well since she'd made the decision to come back to what she'd left, but last night she'd slept deeply. Draco stirred next to her and she stopped moving to let him sleep. His body was warm against hers as he pulled her closer. "I love you, Hermione," he mumbled.
"Oh, Draco," she whispered gently. He opened an eye to look at her and she rolled onto her side so they were lying nose-to-nose. With a worried expression he opened his other eye and stared at her. "I love you too," she said when she was sure she had his full attention.
He pulled her close and kissed her, then rolled away and picked up a small square box from the nightstand. "This isn't exactly how I imagined giving this to you," he told her. "I mean, in most of my imaginings we were both clothed and whatnot…" Draco paused, giving her a particularly devilish look. She giggled. "Well, and me actually kneeling as is traditional. However…" He sat up in bed, leaving her reclined against the pillows, and popped open the box. "Hermione, will you marry me?"
She smiled at him and closed her eyes for a second, savoring the moment. Eyes still closed, she nodded against the pillow. "Yes, Draco. I'll marry you." She opened her eyes at last and sat up to look in the box. Inside was a beautiful gold ring, with several small diamonds perched in the middle of it in the shape of a heart. "But this—"
Draco smirked wide. "I knew you would go through the whole box. Did you actually read the papers in it?" She shook her head no. "Ah, well, your loss. Yes, this is the ring Lucius gave my mother for their engagement. They passed it on to me to give to the woman I would marry." His eyes locked with hers as he pulled out the ring and placed it on her finger.
"Don't worry, Draco, I won't leave again," she reassured him, laying back down against the pillows and admiring the ring.
"I know, Hermione." He fidgeted and crossed his legs under him. "I'm just so worried about losing you. Last time…you only stayed one night," he whispered, pained. "One night. Narcissa was killed in the war, Hermione. I never got to tell you, because the first time I saw you, it was so you could tell me goodbye." Tears were filling his eyes again, and he was furious about that. "So if you're going to leave me again, keep that bloody ring on your finger and promise me you'll come back in less than three years."
The tears fell, and he hated that he was crying so much the first time she saw him in almost three years. "Draco, Draco," Hermione was saying, but all he could do was hold his head in his hands and let his shoulders shake.
Hermione put a hand on his shoulder and pulled his away from his face with the other. She dried his tears with her hands, as she had last night. "Draco," she said again, more softly. He closed his eyes and would not look at her. "Draco, look at me." He did. "I…Damn it, Draco, the only thing more terrifying than telling you goodbye was deciding to come back. I'm sorry to have left you waiting. I'm so sorry, sorrier than words could ever convey. And you have a right to be mad at me. I'd be mad too."
He closed his eyes on her again and she sat up and wrapped her body around his. "But you held on, Draco. You held on to me, and waited for me, and here I am, even though I thought I'd never come back to this. And I love you. Last night you asked me not to leave you, and I said that I wouldn't and I meant it. I meant it," she told him forcefully. He opened his eyes and she saw the hurt in them. "I won't be leaving you again, Draco."
"No more goodbyes?" he asked hoarsely.
He sounded so much like a child in that question that Hermione nearly cried. Instead she smiled broadly at him and shook her head. "No more goodbyes, Draco. I promise."
To seal her promise, she kissed him. He kissed her back ardently, pushing her back onto the bed…
Draco's eyes fluttered closed despite himself. Hermione's voice continued with the story. It was pleasantly warm in the library where they sat, Hermione stretched out before the fire, and Draco curled up on a loveseat. She's here for good this time, he reminded himself. Since she'd arrived he'd had a hard time keeping his eyes off of her, and when she read to him like this he hardly ever stood up the opportunity to stare at her. Hermione was beautiful in any lighting, but especially so in firelight, he had decided.
Her voice changed with another character, and Draco smiled at her. She always got really into her reading, and after living with her for over a month he still loved to hear it.
There was an abrupt pop as a house elf came in. In Hermione's absence he had freed all of the elves except five, who had loved him enough to take the despised monthly wages. They were hard pressed to clean the whole house, and Draco was seriously considering talking to McGonagall about getting back Dobby. Even thinking about the look of gratitude and love Hermione had given him when he told her about the reduced—and payed—house elf staff made him feel warm.
"Miss Hermione, Miss," Fenens said excitedly. "Miss Ginny and Mister Orlando are here with Mister Ron and Mister Harry. They wait for the lovely miss in the parlor."
"Oh! Thanks for the message, Fenens. It would be wonderful if you could prepare tea and cakes and bring them out to us."
"Fenens will be making tea and bringing cakes right away, Miss!" he said, vanishing with another pop.
Hermione marked her page in the book and dropped it on the table. "Did you hear that, Harry and Ron are here!" she said excitedly before sweeping out of the room. She had been back for over a month, but her two best friends had been busy (looking for her), and only recently had anyone managed to get a hold of them.
"Hermione, you dropped…" She was already gone, and didn't hear him. Draco bent to pick up the piece of parchment she had dropped. He stared at it, fascinated. Their Compassion Binding was gone for good, but he could almost tangibly feel her emotions about this paper. He held it, feeling her anguish and misery and hope and love and… There was something else, something he couldn't place.
It was wrong to read what was on it, he knew. But by then he was already turning over the paper. Looking around furtively, he read the letter.
My dear Hermione,
If you are reading this then I am dead, most likely by your hand. If ever you find yourself in trouble for that, I have enclosed a letter describing my consent of the matter, and hopefully it will get you out of any problems that may occur.
That is not why I am writing.
Hermione, anything that has happened this year is not your fault. When this whole war is over, I understand that it may feel like it is, but I assure you it's not. If you can sit and think for a minute, I'm sure you will realize that you made more happy memories this year than bad ones. You found love, and friendship, and realized more about yourself than I could know or put down on paper.
Murder is an awful thing, Hermione, and killing someone you love is painful. I know you are a wonderful person, and brave. You'll be able to hold out until the end of the war, I know it. If, however, my death comes to haunt you someday, then I want to tell you a few things. I chose this death, and I have been prepared for it since I was a child. Once, when I was a boy, I went to a small little town and had my fortune told. The only thing that the man would tell me was that I would die by the hand of someone I loved. Simply for being at my school, I have loved you, and through your brilliance, I have grown to love you as if you were my own child, even if I did not personally associate with you much.
You have given me time to arrange my affairs and my mind. This death is the most peaceful one I could ever dream of for myself, and for that I would like to say thank you, Hermione Granger. If ever you think awful things about this act, then remember that I am giving you my thanks over it.
I watched the sun rise the other morning. I'm far too old to be pulling all-nighters, but I did that night, and though I was exhausted and busy beyond all reason I stopped to watch the sun come up.
Thank you for the sunrise, Hermione.
The sunrise was unlike any that I had ever seen before. It was more beautiful than it had any right to be. The sun never rises in the same way, Hermione. It's different every single time, making each day different. Remember that. Each day you can make new decisions.
You're a strong young woman, Hermione. You can heal from this, I know you can.
I know that you were hurting over the summer due to your father, but I would ask you to not be so hard on him. I understand that you were in pain, but you must imagine how he felt about all of it. A long talk with him would probably be very good for the both of you.
That's all I have to say, in the best way I can say it.
My love and my thanks,
P.S. It's hard to face it, but it is possible to go back.
And then Draco understood what that last feeling was. It was healing. He didn't understand how he knew what healing felt like, but that was what Hermione felt in that letter. Carefully, he refolded the letter and placed it between the pages of the book Hermione had been reading to him.
Thank you, Dumbledore, he said silently. Thank you for bringing her back.
"Draco?" Hermione asked, poking her head in. "Are you coming or not? Harry and Ron have been asking about you, and I want you to be there so we can tell them of our engagement."
"Okay, Hermione," he said, giving her a crooked grin.
She gave him a brilliant smile, and as Draco stood to go to her, he remembered Dumbledore's words. "...more beautiful than it had any right to be." Perhaps he had truly meant them about the sunrise, but looking at Hermione now, he thought that such words could only ever be applied to her.
But the nights brought sparks and the sparks brought flames,
And you had to be sure this wasn't one of those games.
But I'm going to show you if you could just give me tonight.
Though it was a while ago
I still can recall
That moment, so ready
And waiting to fall
Can you take me back in time
You captured my heart
Over and over again
—Mae, "Ready And Waiting To Fall"