(A/N): I'm torn between being relieved and heartbroken as I post this...
"Are you sure about this? You don't have to leave."
Hermione rubbed her eyes. "I know I don't have to, Draco. I want to."
The blonde haired wizard cocked his head to the side as he studied her. "So you're running away, is that it?"
She pursed her lips. "Don't be a brat. You know that's not it."
He ignored her. "And what about the others, eh? What am I supposed to tell them?"
Giving a sigh, Hermione absently rubbed at her wrist. "Just tell them I've gone abroad."
He snorted derisively. "That won't work and you know it. They'll come running after you before I could even finish spouting that dung."
Merlin, how she wished he'd shut up and stop making so much sense. Between Harry and Ron pestering her with their constant concern, Lucius watching her with knowing eyes, Hermione was starting to find it hard to even breathe without someone asking her if she was alright. It'd been two weeks – of course, she wasn't alright.
She'd been so busy worry about the horcruxes, Thomas, Harry, and the battle that she never once considered what she'd do when the fighting was done, never once gave thought to how it would all end for her. And now, with the dust still settling around them, Hermione felt claustrophobic. It felt like she was suffocating from her friends, the memory of Thomas's last moments, and the weight of responsibility she felt for those who had fallen.
Tears pricked her eyes. Percy, Colin, Cho, Kingsley... Remus. Her heart stuttered. She carried the names of the fallen tattooed across her heart, their faces haunting behind her closed eyes. Severus had been close, too. When he'd been revealed as a double agent, the Death Eaters had been furious and he'd been hit with a deadly combination of hexes that had left him bed ridden in St. Mungo's. He was still there, snarking at the mediwitches and insisting he was fine even though he was only conscious for three maybe four hours a day.
"Please Malfoy," she whispered. "I can't stay here any longer."
Draco sighed. "I'll think of something," he said softly. "I'll stop them from chasing you."
The relief she felt was immense and instantaneous. "Thank you," she said, her voice vibrating with feeling. Already she felt lighter, knowing that Draco would help her escape.
"Will you come back?" he asked.
There was a moment of silence.
"Eventually," she said.
She found herself in an abandoned shack on the outskirts of Little Hangleton. The walls were barely standing and the stench of dust and mold tickled her nose and eyes. She knew it to be the once home of Tom's mother and her family, knew it to be the place where he'd killed them.
But it was also a place no one knew about, a place Harry wouldn't to think to look for her at. She'd thought about going to the house Tom had bought her long ago, but with it being a recent location of Death Eater meetings and with few of the dark wizards still on the run, she decided it was best not to risk it. Perhaps once they were apprehended she could visit the house Thomas had intended them to make a home of.
Cleaning and repairing the shack was a simple thing even though it was a bit time consuming. It was the right amount of monotonous work and concentration that she needed. She spent the entire day using her wand to repair, clean, and heal the one room shack. It reminded her of the shrieking shack, but the instant she made that connection, her heart throbbed as she remembered Remus and she forced her thoughts away and back to the task at hand.
When she settled into the small bed, Hermione felt anticipation and weariness cover her. Slowly, her eyes began to droop and right as sleep claimed her, she felt a soft caress over her throbbing wrist.
Hermione turned and faced him. He was leaning against a wall of the shack, his casual pose just that, a pose.
"I'm surprised you came here," he said. She couldn't tell if he was angry or not. His face and voice were annoyingly impassive.
"No one will think to search for me here. I can be alone."
"Alone with me," he pointed out with a smirk.
"True enough," she conceded.
The first night he appeared in her dreams after the Final Battle, Hermione'd been certain it was owing to stress and grief. But Tom had been quick to dissuade her and with the throbbing of her wrist she knew it was the nightscape he'd cast on her – had refused to take off her – that brought him to her even in his death.
"Have you turned me into a horcrux?" she asked abruptly.
"Don't be absurd," he said.
"No, Hermione, I haven't," he sighed.
"Then how is this possible – you're dead. The nightscape should've lifted, right? Are you haunting me?"
He sighed again, moving away from the wall until he stopped in front of her. His hands dropped lightly to her shoulders and moved down her arms, rubbing soothingly. "A part of me lives in you," he admitted. "But it's not like a horcrux. I'm quite dead, you rest assured."
"Why did you cast it, then? If it's not to bring you back somehow? Is this like your diary?"
"Use your head, Hermione. Why do you think I cast it?"
She thought. He'd cast the nightscape relatively soon after she'd come back from the past, but other than bending her to his will, she couldn't think of why he'd use such a curse on her.
"Hermione," he murmured lowly, breaking her circling thoughts. She looked up at him and the glint in his eyes was soft as he considered her. "I waited over fifty years for us to be reunited. I died for you. I took every precaution to ensure our paths would cross again, and used all the magic within my means to make sure we'd never be parted again. As you well know, that is no small feat."
"But, but you were so sure you'd win. You were power drunk and mad – you were insane, Thomas!"
"Quite," he agreed, his fingers sifting through her hair. "But I locked away the sanest part of me in you. I sealed myself, my memory, to you. I'd never risk us being parted again."
"But – you hit me," she cried out.
"I'm not without remorse."
She snorted. So like him to find a way to apologize without saying it.
"Hermione," he said, his hand tightened in her hair and tilted her face up to his. Lowering his lips to hers, she could feel them teasing her as he spoke again. "I'm dead. I'll always be dead. But I will always be within you. I promised I would never leave you – and you'd never leave me. I keep my promises."
He kissed her and she kissed him back.
"I love you," he breathed against her skin. "Always."
"Thomas," her heart thrummed in her chest. "You know I've always loved you," she admitted, kissing him again.
And there was no more talking that night.
When she woke, she could feel the ghost of his weight against her, the warmth of his body over her. The light trailed across the room and even though she was still broken and she was alone, Hermione slowly found herself smiling.
For the first time in what seemed like years, she felt content.
Her wrist gave a gentle ache, and the smile grew.
(A/N): *Sigh* A bittersweet day for me... Please, let me know what you thought. I know many felt horrible when Tom died, but I'd always planned for that - indeed, it felt wrong to end it any other way. As much as I wanted the happily ever after, ride off into the sunset ending, it wasn't right - wasn't believable. I'm sure most of you feel the same way, even if we all hoped otherwise...
So I say goodbye now - thank you all for reading - for your patience and encouragement. I implore you again to review, as this is the end and would love to hear your thoughts. Please put me on author alert as I find myself tempted to create outtakes and maybe future-takes...