Upon waking, Hermione noticed that she was lying in an unfamiliar bed and that she was feeling quite weak and sore. Though she had not yet formulated any concrete thoughts, she knew that she should feel rested, not exhausted like this. As she struggled toward wakefulness, her memories of the recent past began to surface, and she realised that she was lucky to be alive at all. She remembered hearing Nagini around the corner of the orphanage, remembered saying farewells to Ron and Harry, and remembered leaving them to confront the gigantic creature… and it was muddy after that. All she knew for certain right now was that she ached, not with any localised pain but a general feeling of excessive wear and tear.
Her eyes fluttered open and then widened in surprise. Near her sat a man, lounging gracefully and reading a book. He was pale and blond and… She blinked and recognised the figure, slimmer and younger than the one she had first thought he was. At the sound of her small movements, he turned his head to regard her with a bored expression. He returned his attention to his book long enough to mark his place and set it aside before rising and coming to stand next to her.
"Finally," he said in what was almost a hostile tone, "someone's showing a little life around here."
She smiled, recalling that tone well from their days at school, but even that small effort taxed her. "It's good to see you too, Draco." During the course of her irregular visits to his little cottage in Finland, she had slowly become accustomed to addressing him by his first name, and in any case, it would have been awkward to go on calling him 'Malfoy'. She was married to a Malfoy. For his part, Draco seemed to go to great lengths to avoid calling her anything at all.
Draco had been sitting in a central spot in the room, but other sections were partitioned off by long, white curtains. A slew of questions rose to her lips, beginning with who else, if anyone, was in the room. And what was Draco doing here, here being (she presumed) St. Mungo's? Most importantly, what had happened to Lord Voldemort?
He grunted and dropped his eyes. "At least you're looking a little more alive. When I first saw you, you looked half dead."
She tried to sit up, but her dully aching muscles screamed in protest. "Ow."
Underneath his detached expression, Hermione saw a flicker of interest, perhaps even concern when he met her eyes again. "What did you do? The Healers were in a panic when you were brought in. I could hear them running in and out and shouting to each other all the way down the hall."
As to that, she was not exactly sure. She knew that she had tried to kill Nagini, and judging by her presence here, she assumed that she had won. She tried once more to cast her mind back to her most recent memories, but all she could remember was seeing that great beast approach her. It had spoken to her. She thought back a little further and then remembered venturing into the Malfoy stock of potions. Gradually, her plan came back to her, though she still could not recall carrying it out. She hoped that would return in time; she thought ruefully that it was probably a very exciting story.
"I destroyed the final Horcrux," she said after some thought. "Ron and Harry… we got separated. Are they…" She swallowed and stiffened her courage. "Are they all right?"
Draco nodded at the curtains. "They're over there. They're not dead, and the Healers calmed down after the first few hours." He shrugged. "They look like they're sleeping, but you're the first person to move since they found you. I don't know who… I was with my father when you three were brought here."
His casual tone was too forced at that last to be convincing, and his flickered too quickly to hers. Since he was here with her, for what reason she could not fathom, and since he was his usual laconic self, she assumed that Lucius was… was not in any mortal danger, at least. She remembered that Harry had claimed only to have Stunned him (only!), but that the Ennervate spell had not worked to awaken him.
It occurred to her at that moment that she had been poisoned and so was probably in the appropriate ward… although come to think of it, she might have been bitten, too. Had Harry and Ron and Lucius also suffered potions or magical creature misfortunes or were they gathered together for a different reason? Add it to the ever-growing list of questions, she thought wryly.
"He's… is he… how is he?" Her mouth was suddenly dry.
Draco eyed her searchingly for a moment and then shrugged. He looked unhappy and like he was trying to appear nonchalant. "He's fine. He's talking to someone about leaving… he would have left earlier, you know, if not for you."
She blinked and wondered if he meant what she thought he meant. Unsure of how to phrase a response to that, she contented herself with a noncommittal, "Oh."
"I just thought I'd… I had nothing else to do while he spoke with the Healers and… ," he trailed off for a moment and continued shortly. "He'd like to know if you woke up before we left." He paused. "I should go tell someone that you're awake." Before he turned to leave, he looked at her for a silent moment, and then reached out and briefly squeezed her hand, lying atop the duvet. She stared at him, but he turned away before she could make out his expression.
Curiouser and curiouser.
"No need to hurry," a voice said from just beyond the door, and Hermione's heart tried to leap into her throat. Draco stopped in his tracks, and a moment later, Lucius appeared in the doorway. He was beautiful. Hermione felt her eyes welling with tears and felt ridiculous. She should be worrying about a hundred other things right now, but all she could think about was the touch of those hands and her relief that they were both alive and now in the same room.
She couldn't help comparing father and son in that moment, men with similar build and colouring who even carried themselves similarly. Draco had filled out a little since she had first seen him in Finland years ago, thanks to a very sweet young lady who had taken a keen interest in the young man's welfare. Somehow he even had a bit of colour in his fair cheeks, something which seemed very odd after spending so much time in a Scandinavian country. It must be love, she had thought the first time she noticed. What he was going to do about… Mikaela, she thought her name was… if Voldemort really was gone?
Lucius was leaner than his son, and harder. Whether because of his recent injury or the toll life had taken on him, he was pale except for smudges under his eyes. Even his hair looked a bit tired, a bit limp, and yet she preferred his appearance to his son's youthful glow. He still held himself with absolute assurance, whereas Draco strutted like a bantam rooster. Lucius wore his navy blue robes embroidered with thread-of-silver with an aristocratic elegance Draco simply could not pull off.
'Aristocratic elegance'? She was waxing silly and poetic in her injury. All this went through her mind while Lucius and Draco spoke quietly, too quietly for her to hear. Draco gestured to her, nodded, and left. As Lucius came toward her, she saw that he held something that had been blocked for her sight until now. He smiled at her, and she felt a thrill of warmth rush through her. Her lips curved into an answering smile of their own accord.
"Basilisk venom?" he asked with a touch of laughter in his voice. "My lady, whatever possessed you to poison yourself?" She saw now that he held a pale blue vase with several sprigs of what looked like lilac. A light floral scent drifted toward her, and she felt a very soft tingle beginning in her lungs and spreading through her body with every breath. She wiggled her toes and was pleasantly surprised to note that the effort did not tire her.
"It was all I think of," she said simply.
He set the vase on a table near her bed and came to stand near her. When he spoke again, his voice was a little too light. "Am I to understand that you sacked my potion stock to carry out your mad scheme?"
She grinned. "Legally speaking, our potion stock… and yes, I did. Harry and Ron may very well owe us their lives if they used the phoenix tears." He rolled his eyes. She lifted her hand and gestured at the bed. "You… you can sit, if you like."
He did so and took her hand to kiss it. Hermione blinked furiously, only to see him looking a little misty-eyed himself. She thought she was hallucinating.
"I'm sorry to say it," he said, "but I, and my son, and countless others are indebted to the three of you here."
"Then it worked?"
He nodded. "It did. When you leave here, you will be the toast of the wizarding world."
She wondered what he must be thinking now that Voldemort was dead. He did not seem anxious to say more on that subject, and she couldn't blame him. Now that he was back in the world, or so it seemed, what would become of him, widely known to be one of Voldemort's closest associates?
A silence fell between them, and Hermione shivered. She was suddenly afraid and did not know why. "And you?"
Lucius leaned forward and brushed a strand of tangled her behind her ear. "The powers that be have determined that I have not yet paid my debt to society in full." She could feel the heat from his body at this proximity. "They have allowed me a few hours to tend to some affairs, and then I will leave for Azkaban."
She inhaled sharply and grasped his hand. He did not resist her grip. The Dementors did not guard the prisoners any longer, but she had visited the wizarding prison a few times for psychological research, and it remained a grey, cheerless place. Tears pooled in her eyes again, and this time she did not try to stop them. "Haven't you worked for the Ministry long enough? What more do they want from you?"
A faint smile crossed his lips. "My dear, I believe you are forgetting the severity of the charges levelled against me." But the smile did not reach his eyes and soon faded altogether. "There will be no trial, and they have decided that my time in Ministry employment will count as time served toward my sentence, which they have commuted in light of my service."
A Healer appeared at the door, flanked by a uniformed Auror. "Mr. Malfoy," the former said softly, "you should be on your way." The Auror at his side said nothing but glared as if she would have liked to add something much stronger.
He brushed his lips across hers and stood, gently loosening her grip on his hand. His eyes were bright. He looked as though he wanted to say something but just smiled at her again. And then, "Thank you."
"How long!" she cried, but he did not answer. The Auror strode forward to take his arm, but he stepped through the door of his own accord. The other two trailed after him, looking like nothing else so much as two mismatched bodyguards for their prince.
As the only two other people in the room were unconscious, Hermione felt it was safe to break down weeping the moment she thought no one could hear her.
Life as she saw it at that moment was a lilac-scented prison, haunted by the ghosts of her silent friends and deserted by a man she'd found and then lost for four years… and then found, only to lose again to an infinity stretching out before her like desert with shimmering, insubstantial horizons.
Her time at St. Mungo's passed in infuriating fits and starts. When a Healer came by sooner after Lucius's departure, she had graciously not commented on Hermione's red-streaked face. She could not wait for the woman to be gone, so impatient was she to regain silence where she could examine her painful thoughts in peace. But when the Healer left, time seemed to stretch endlessly before her, and what good could come of going round and round in circles in her head anyway? Thinking was not going to get Lucius out of prison.
What was more, it was a little eerie in that room. Sometimes she could hear a hitch in Ron's or Harry's breathing, but for over a day, nothing came of it. A Healer brought her a few worn medical tomes, better than nothing, but her mind's eye kept whisking away the page in front of her and presenting her with the image of Lucius staring down at her and whispering his gratitude. For what? Why hadn't he answered her question? His words about a commuted sentence and time served did little to reassure her; the sentence had originally been life in prison. It could have been commuted to twenty years, with four off for time served.
When she felt the tears welling up again, she carefully set the book aside. Sixteen years. She could not imagine what her life would be like in sixteen years, what she or Lucius would have grown into by that time. He had not asked her to wait, and she knew that he would not wish her to do so. He had a decidedly skewed perspective on things sometimes, but in this way he was much like every honourable man she had ever know. She hated him for it, and she thought she might have loved him for it, too. Did he… could he feel the same way? It was impossible to say.
Ron was the next to awaken and rambled to himself for a good five minutes before Hermione could suppress her laughter no more and announced her presence. She was barely strong enough to push herself out of bed and hobble her way over to her friend's bedside. She made up her mind to leave it up to him to discuss the details of his and Harry's final battle with Voldemort, but he did not show the slightest inclination to talk about it.
Instead, he asked if there had been any visitors, to which Hermione replied in the affirmative. Mrs. Weasley had stopped by with Tonks and Remus the same day Hermione had regained consciousness, and for a little while Hermione was able to set aside her depressing musings. She was not sure if she should mention Draco and Lucius and ultimately decided against it. This was not the time, she thought. Later, perhaps, when everyone's comfortably reassured that we really are alive and well and safe.
Harry did not wake until the next day, and when he did, Hermione discovered why the three of them had been assigned the same floor, along with Lucius Malfoy. All of the survivors of that battle with the Death Eaters had been placed here for their privacy and protection, and to the loud disgust of the Healer who came to check up on the three of them that day, the Ministry had insisted upon posting guards at all the entrances to this floor.
He was no more keen to talk about what had happened with Voldemort than Ron was, so Hermione resigned herself to speculation, at least until someone else wrung it out of him. They talked about a lot of things – Auror training, new Order members, people they knew, and people they remembered – and the conversation remained peaceful until Harry noticed the flowers at Hermione's side and asked who had brought them. She had no reason to lie about it, and Harry had sounded sincere when he asked her forgiveness before they had parted ways…
So she told him. He replied with a kind of grunt, and an awkward silence fell between the three of them. It was better than shouting, she supposed, but it didn't look like she would ever be able to confide in either one of them her concerns for Lucius's future. Twenty years, she thought despairingly. Who could she confide in? But one of them broke the silence, and after a little while, they had more visitors, and the shadow disappeared from the room.
The Healers wanted them to stay longer, but Harry was determined to leave as soon as he was physically able to leave his bed, and he took his friends with him. Hermione was delighted to leave that hospital room and return to her own house, though the idea of popping by the Malfoy castle did breeze through her mind. She wondered if Draco was staying there, or if he would return to Finland. It was so strange to think that everything had changed overnight and stranger still when she left the hospital and ventured into the real world. She had spent the past few days stuck between four walls, and while the Healers were cheery, and Mrs. Weasley cried a little every time she saw them, nothing had really felt different.
When she left the hospital, though, she found herself stepping into the spotlight, and she absolutely hated it. It had been bad enough, those couple of weeks when her marriage to Lucius had made front page news, but this was a hundred times worse. She was a hero. Harry and Ron were heroes. Lucius was barely mentioned, but even then there was a kind of grudging admiration for the man who had been wounded fighting with the Order at the final skirmish with the Death Eaters. There was nothing at all about his prison sentence.
She should have been happier, she knew, and she could not complain of unhappiness. One night soon after her release, she had been walking through wizarding London after visiting some friends, and it had hit her that for once, she was not looking in the dark shadows for Death Eaters. It was such a wonderful, liberating feeling that she had laughed aloud and bounced a little on her toes. With the fall of their lord and master, enough of the Death Eaters the Ministry had managed to round up were more than happy to divulge the locations of their associates and generally ingratiate themselves as much as possible.
She found herself visiting Draco again, who had gone back to Finland but only long enough to tie up some loose ends before returning to Britain. He laughed at her when she complained about her worse-than-ever fame and suggested with one raised eyebrow that she was more than welcome to his house here if she liked. She swatted him the way she might have swatted Ron for teasing her, and his eyes had popped in surprise. She quickly drew her hand back, but it was too late. That had been a distinctly friendly gesture. Since she had visited him a few times a year, she would have considered them to be friends if asked about it, but this was different.
"You're lucky Mikaela wasn't around to see that," he said after a stunned moment. "She's tear you to pieces for abusing the town's orphan bird." There was that forced quality to his nonchalance again. She wondered if he knew how little convincing he was at times like these.
"Are you going to see her again?" she asked, tired of dancing around the subject.
He shrugged and continued zipping things around the room with evident joy at being allowed to use magic again. "I don't know… we've talked a little about her visiting me, but she doesn't know… you know. She promised to write, but I didn't know what a Muggle address looked like."
Which brought up another question she had wanted to ask and had been oddly hesitant to bring up. "Where will you be living?"
He looked at her in surprise again, but this time there was amusement there too, as if she had asked something uncharacteristically dense. "At home," he said. "Where else would I live?" And then he dropped his eyes and was looking anywhere else but at her.
"Right," she said faintly. She was sure he was thinking along the same lines she was – that in a sense it was as much her home as it was his. "I'm sure Mikaela would love it… to visit, I mean," she finished hastily. She wanted to add something else, that it was a lovely home, but she couldn't quite bring herself to say it.
He nodded. "It'll be nice to be home. It'll be strange, though… with no one else there." He shot her a quick look and then returned his attention to his packing.
She wanted to smile but did not dare. That was as good as an invitation to continue her sporadic visits. It was a large house for one person to share with only a house elf or two. She did not think about how it would feel for two people. She took him up on his offer once, for tea, but she felt far too awkward to return after that. It was impossible not to look around the lavish dining room and not feel that it should have been hers, or at least as much hers as Draco's. She should have sat at the head of the table, should have been the one to serve tea and things to her friends. The next time she came, she suggested they patronise one of the fashionable London cafés, and Draco was too eager to agree.
It was a sign of how much things had changed that their appearance barely generated one mention in the social column of The Daily Prophet and another in Witch's Weekly. Of course, they were both a little stiff at being seen in public together and avoiding any contact that could possibly be construed as… overly friendly. All of her friends were careful not to mention it, either because they knew too much about that awkward situation or they knew too little.
Life was going on, and what was more, it was going on more cheerfully than she had expected, amid friends and family so genuinely proud of her and so glad to welcome her back into the world and a people that barely stopped short of throwing palms at her feet.
Summer faded into fall as fruit ripened on the vines and leaves burst into colour. For reasons she could not quite articulate, Hermione took a deep breath one morning and Apparated just outside the doorstep of a stately castle in southern France. Nifti was astonished to see her again and effusive in her delight. Marius grunted when he saw her, and she saw that any friend of Lucius would be under permanent suspicion from the man. She could hardly blame him for that. Edouard, on the other hand, was almost as happy to see her as the house elf and ordered her to tell him everything that had happened while he was away over endless cups of tea, except, he added with a wink, the naughty bits which might prove too much for his old heart.
After recounting their stay at the mansion from their hurried arrival to their equally hurried departure, leaving out the naughty bits as requested and re-telling the wedding episode four or five times, Hermione remembered something Draco had told her and asked Edouard how on earth he had got ahold of the wedding ring Lucius had left behind in Paris. At this, Edouard had smiled mysteriously and changed the subject.
She had thought it would be painful to talk about Lucius so frankly, but it was actually a relief. Edouard knew everything Lucius had been accused of, in the early days and more recently, and still he retained steadfast loyalty. He was the only person Hermione knew, including Lucius's own son, who would not have died of shock if she had confessed that she thought she might love her husband. And as she was invited more and more often, she did confess, and as predicted, he did not die of shock. He did not seem surprised at all but promised with a mischievous grin to keep her secret.
That first conversation had led to change in Hermione's routine that almost no one knew about, save Edouard, who had inspired the change and Draco, who casually mentioned the matter and then refused to let her dissemble in her reply. She took to wearing Lucius's ring on a long chain around her neck, a thing made of tiny silver links which flowed like liquid over her skin. It was barely visible under her robes, a glint of silver when they shifted, and if anyone else noticed, they did not ask. She felt a little closer to him when she wore it, this object that had lain against his skin for so many years, especially since Draco had insisted that his father would have hated for her to visit him in prison. Normally she would not have let the opinion of Draco Malfoy, of all people, stop her from doing anything, but she was uncertain enough as it was about Lucius's feelings for her.
Somehow, Edouard had noticed, and he was elated when she told him what it was she was wearing under her robes. To Hermione's very great surprise, that conversation had morphed into a invitation for her to stay at Edouard's little pied-à-terre, a little flat he kept in Paris and used but rarely. And that was how she had come to be in Paris now, a little more than a year after the final triumph over Voldemort and Lucius's disappearance. She had discovered a long time ago that, when the parks were closed at night, the several bridging arcing over the Seine offered a pleasant area to stroll and look over the sparkling lights of the city.
She had gone in search of a particular ice cream stand and found it just minutes away from closing. After ordering the last ice cream cone they would serve that day, she ambled here, to a wide bridge adorned by an angel dressed in flowing raiment. As she recalled that this bridge was one of her favourites, she had a sudden attack of déjà vu. This scene before her was so familiar… standing here on a warm summer night, leaning on the railing with her elbows, staring over the expanse of black water glinting with reflected light. She almost expected to hear a voice behind her saying… no, the moment passed just as quickly as it had come.
She was nearly finished savouring the best ice cream in the world when a hand descended on her waist and an achingly familiar voice whispered in her ear, "Beautiful young women should not place themselves in such precarious positions." She shivered and giggled as his warm breath tickled her ear and neck.
"If you're not careful," she replied, "one of those young women is going to respond badly to your… advances, and you'll find yourself hard on the deck sans wand and a little bit of your pride." She reached her empty hand around her middle to twine her fingers through his and then turned around to face him with a silly smile on her face.
"You're here," she said, feeling ridiculous for stating the obvious but unable to think of anything else to say.
"I might say the same for you, my darling." Her heart skipped a beat, and if she had any lingering doubts about his feelings for her, they died when she heard the way his voice caressed that term of endearment and saw the smile he was wearing.
They stood like that for a while, staring at one another and smiling, not in the least bit awkward amid the passing crowds. For her part, Hermione was drinking in the sight of him, soaking in his presence like a sponge. She thought she could have stood there for a year, happy to trace the planes of his face with her gaze and watch distant lights sparkle in his eyes. The only point of physical contact between them was their clasped hands; her other hand still held an ice cream cone slowly becoming soggy as the ice cream melted.
Lucius broke the still moment to look at her other hand and nod at her ice cream cone. "I implore you, do not let me keep you from enjoying… is that Berthillon?"
"Only the best."
He chuckled as he raised his free hand to rest on the back of her neck, idly drawing circles on her jaw with his thumb. "You have your refreshment, but I am a weary traveller in need of something a bit stronger. Tell me, is there somewhere you could recommend for a glass of something red?"
She knew what he was asking, but she had plans of her own. "I think I know of a place." As she finished her ice cream, she led him over the bridge and down a wide tree-lined boulevard, full of life even at this hour.
"One day," he said as they strolled hand-in-hand, "I shall have to introduce you to wizarding Paris. The Muggles do a… tolerable job here, but our section of Paris is breathtaking."
Speaking of Muggles, Lucius was dressed once more as one of those peoples he claimed to hold in such contempt. This time he looked much more casual, dressed in snug, dark jeans that hugged him very nicely. No one would believe her, she thought, if she claimed to have seen Lucius Malfoy wearing jeans, but there it was. In his defence, they were probably just as expensive as everything else he owned. His hair was a little longer, tied back in a short queue, and in the changeful light from the street lanterns that dotted the boulevard, he looked much as he always had.
She looked up at him and grinned. "Be still, my beating heart," she quipped, "did I hear you correctly?" He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Did you just make a future plan? A very nebulous plan at an indefinite point in time, but a plan nonetheless."
He stopped walking then, and his amused smile faded a little. "You did. With your permission, I would like to make more future plans with you, Hermione. I realise that though we are married, we never had a proper courtship."
Though he was obviously very serious on this point, Hermione could not quite suppress her good humour. "Lucius Malfoy… are you asking me out?"
His grin returned at that. "If you must put it like that… yes, I am."
She wanted to say something cheeky, but her wit failed her. Her smile widened as she turned back to continue on their way. "Then let's get going."
They crossed into a smaller street and then to a quiet courtyard, and Hermione was sure she could feel Lucius wanting to ask where they were going but restraining himself. She led him through a gate, fished in her pocket for a key, and then brought him inside an old stone building.
"I believe you'll find quite an eclectic offering here; I daresay something will catch your fancy," she said as they climbed a flight of narrow spiral stairs.
He glanced at her curiously, but she only gave him a mysterious smile in return. "We're almost there."
She stopped in front of one of the doors that opened directly to the staircase, found another key, and opened the door. "I hope you don't think this is too forward of me, but as you'll recall, I had to wait four years before this marriage was consummated. I'm not inclined to wait another four."
He did not think it was too forward at all. There in the doorway he leaned in for a long kiss and then, to her shock, he bent down and swept her into his arms. She laughed aloud and just managed to turn on a light so he would see where he was going. To no one's surprise, he strode past the kitchen without a second glance and carried her straight into the master bedroom, from whence neither of them emerged for a very long time afterward.
Life was by no means settled and by no means idyllic, and Hermione was not the sort of woman who needed a man to make her life complete… but life was looking especially beautiful in one Parisian flat that night.
A/N: Thank you for the ride, my friends! I could not have imagined I would get such an overwhelming, positive response to my humble tale. I always say this every time I finished a story, but this is probably my favorite (fine, favourite) fic I've written yet. I'm glad so many of you have enjoyed it!
Self promotion: about a week ago, I wrote an angsty little Lucius/Hermione one-shot, not much like this at all. If you'd like to check it out, it's called Later. Did I mention that it's angsty? Also, it came to my attention that there were some discrepancies in this story, and I think I've got those all fixed.
I know this ending left a lot of unanswered questions; I hate writing endings, and they always turn out very ambiguous. I'll leave you to fill in the details of their mad, wonderful life together after they finally emerge from that bedroom, and I'll leave it up to you to determine just how Harry and Ron managed to defeat Voldemort… because I have no idea. If you think of something good, leave me a note or drop me an e-mail; I love hearing from you folks!
Thanks again! I had a marvellous time, and maybe one of these days another story will hatch in my brain. I'm gonna miss writing this during class and after class and in frenzied hurries at midnight and weekend mornings through afternoon. You've been lovely!