Note: Incredible thanks to eilonwy, my beta, for making me make this story so much better. Chapter title is from a song of the same title by the Smashing Pumpkins.
Chapter 35 – By Starlight
By starlight I know you
As lovely as a wish granted true
My life has been empty, my life has been untrue
And does she really know, who I really am?
Does she really know me at last
Smashing Pumpkins, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Draco couldn't sleep. For one, he wasn't adjusted to the time change, and his body still thought it was five in the afternoon, instead of midnight. His mind was also running a mile a minute about Hermione. He replayed everything that had happened that day, trying to find some reason to think she might forgive him. But she'd been guarded, and closed. He couldn't find much of…anything. Nothing bad, but nothing good, either.
He decided to take a dip in the ocean to clear his boiling mind. He pulled off his shirt and pants and put on swim shorts. Then he slipped out the open window and ran full speed straight for the water, diving in. The cold water shocked his system and he felt invigorated.
When he surfaced, he continued swimming against the tide for as long as he had the strength. When his aching arms refused to take another stroke, Draco rolled onto his back and floated, looking up at the stars. He tried not to think about the events of the day, though they inevitably made appearances in his train of thought.
When the cold water eventually became painful, Draco summoned his broom, hoping it wouldn't wake anyone. He climbed onto it when it reached him and dried himself, then flew around lazily, just above the surface of the water for a while before Transfiguring it into a float. Then he lay on the float and continued watching the stars turn, letting his fingers skim the surface of the water.
Hermione had been…very calm, all through his telling and after. Even though she'd assured him she wasn't going to curse him, he was still waiting for something, like she'd said. There was…something else to say, he knew it. He just wished he knew what it was. But things were in her control, so to speak. He'd given everything over to her—the truth, his truth, her parents. And she had to know how he felt about her, though he wasn't sure that was even a fair consideration at this point. She'd need time to deal with everything else first; then he could think about the other.
Only…he wasn't even sure what he wanted. Sure, he loved her, and wanted her to love him back, but beyond that, he had no idea what he was doing. The idea of a relationship… He shivered at the thought as a cool breeze blew around him. Now that his life, his future, was open before him—now that he could be and do and was finally free, he was forced to think of Hermione in a completely new way. She wasn't the woman he didn't want to want; she wasn't the one he worked beside toward a common, scary goal. She wasn't even the woman he tucked in every night. She was a woman. And it was scary.
Because now…could he be the man she needed? He hadn't the slightest idea at all. Would she even want that?
He wondered what she talked about with her parents. He hoped they reassured her, and made her feel better the way they had for him so many times.
Finally, Draco felt tired. He sighed and rolled off the float into the water. Then he returned the float to its original state and slowly made his way toward the island. He wasn't really thinking anymore, or paying attention to what was going on around him, in part because he didn't really expect anything to be going on.
So as he neared the beach, he was surprised to see the outline of a figure wearing pajamas sitting near the water's edge, her bare feet just being ticked by receding waves. He sped his flight and when he was over the sand, he dismounted and slowly walked toward the figure.
Hermione had been unable to sleep as well, when Draco's broom had flown out of the house and out over the water. Hermione knew Draco must be awake too, and finding that she needed to see him, she got up from her chair and went to wait for him.
Draco sat down beside her, a few feet between them, the silver moon making his pale skin glow. He didn't say anything, and he wondered if she really wanted him there at all or just wanted him to leave. After a few minutes, he decided to go, but just then she spoke.
"Hi," he replied.
"I couldn't sleep."
"I saw your broom fly out of the house."
"I hope it didn't wake you up."
She shook her head. "I was awake."
They sat in comfortable silence, the moon nearly set.
"I cannot believe how amazing it is here at night," said Hermione, looking up at the clear night sky. "The stars are like diamonds, and the moon is so beautiful reflected in constant motion on the water." She lay down on the beach, better able to look up at the sky. "I think if I lived here I would sleep during the day and stay awake all night."
Draco hesitated, then lay down as well, looking again at the stars he'd been watching while over the water. Draco's heart was heavy. He wanted desperately to say the right thing, the perfect thing. But nothing he thought of seemed adequate.
"Draco?" she said.
He turned his head to look at her. She looked beautiful beyond anything he'd ever seen, her hair surrounding her face. She was smiling sweetly, but he also saw a tear snaking its way down her cheek to fall on the sand. "For what?"
"Not killing them."
Draco turned back to the sky. There was nothing he could say; nothing would be enough to say.
They lay beside each other, watching the stars. After maybe fifteen minutes, during which he tried desperately to think of something to say but only succeeded in thinking of all the things not to say, Draco looked at Hermione again. Her eyes were closed and she looked as though she'd fallen asleep.
He started to get up, but Hermione quickly reached her hand out and grabbed his. "Wait, don't go," she said softly. Draco reclined beside her again, and he noticed she still held onto his hand.
"So where are your stars?" she asked.
"Granger, I know I'm rich, but I don't actually own any stars," he said playfully.
"Oh stop it," she said, smiling. "You know what I mean. Draco—the dragon. It's a constellation." She frowned. "Do you think we can see it here? Come to think of it, I don't really know where 'here' is."
"We're on the Pacific Ocean. There's nothing around for hundreds of miles."
"So can we see it?"
"I'm not sure," he said, looking around the night sky as if expecting it to show itself to them.
"We'll have to look it up," said Hermione. Then she interlaced her fingers with his, sending sparks through his body and his insides into a frenzy. It was the smallest touch, so simple and innocent, yet it made him feel like the luckiest man on the planet.
"Okay," he managed to say. After a few minutes of silence, during which his nerves grew increasingly raw, he turned to look at her. "Hermione?"
"Yes?" she said, meeting his gaze.
"Are you okay? I mean, really okay?"
She smiled at him warmly. "Yes, Draco, I am." She looked away from him. "I mean, today was insane. I tried to figure out what all your secrets were. I mean, I never went snooping, or anything, but I thought about them a lot. I would never in a million years have imagined that—this—is what you were keeping from me. My parents are alive. You didn't actually kill them. Then there's also the news that I had a stalker for nearly two years—"
"I was NOT a stalker!"
"—and now I'm lying on the beach of a private tropical island in the early hours of morning staring at the stars." With you, she added to herself. "I'm very okay."
"I was not a stalker."
Hermione laughed. It was such a melodious sound, full of joy and life; it made him smile. "You had some stalker-like attributes."
He scowled. "Do stalkers follow their targets around to make sure they stay safe? No."
"But I can't help noticing similarities. I mean, you took a flat across the street from mine. That's total stalker activity," she said, and Draco could hear the laughter in her voice.
He said nothing, but continued scowling, trying to think of something to say.
"Okay, so maybe you weren't a stalker. More of a guardian angel."
"Hardly an angel. Probably the farthest thing from it, really. A guardian demon, maybe."
"Don't be so dramatic. Let's just say you were a guardian."
"Fine." They were silent for a few moments more. "I was afraid you would hate me."
She laughed again. "Not likely."
"So, you forgive me then?"
"Draco, I forgave you for killing them; of course I forgive you for not killing them. There is, however, the matter of the pain you put me through, but really…" she trailed off and looked away from him. Then after a moment she took a deep breath and looked back at him, her voice stronger. "But really, what is life without pain? You've also given me the greatest happiness at having them back, so it all balances out. Life is worth it."
He chuckled at her words and the absolute truth he found in them.
Hermione's stomach clenched. She was about to ask him what she'd been longing and dreading to ask since the end of Voldemort. She knew that two kisses and holding hands meant nothing in the long show of things, and Draco Malfoy was so complicated and mysterious and barricaded that one might never get through the barbed gates.
She tried to say it nonchalantly, as if it were a passing thought. "So, what now?"
"What now, what?" he said, not understanding the question.
"What happens now? With us?"
Draco's throat went dry, as if he'd just swallowed a mouthful of the sand he was lying on. He felt her hand move, as if not sure what it should do. Us. Such a small word. A small, terrifying word. "Uhm, I've never been in an 'us' before."
"You are nearly twenty-two, Malfoy. I'd say it's about time, wouldn't you?" Her heart was nearly pounding itself out of her chest; she could barely hear her own voice it was so loud. She sounded so calm, but inside she was raging with anticipation and anxiety.
Draco couldn't really think clearly. This was the last conversation he imagined he would be having with her after the what he'd put her through.
"Say something," she said.
"I'm really messed up."
"I know," she said with a smile.
"Thanks," he said, shutting his eyes tight.
"I don't care, you know?"
"But I'm really messed up. More than anyone you probably know."
"Maybe. But who isn't really messed up? In some way, I mean. No one's got it completely together."
He paused to think. "Everyone has something, you're right. But – you know, I have lots of big things. Like trust, and emotions, and distorted views of how things should be. I'm not a good person, Hermione, and you deserve someone who is."
"Why aren't you a good person?" she asked, propping herself on her elbow and looking down at him.
"Do I really need to give you a list of reasons?" She didn't say anything, just looked at him expectantly. He shut his eyes tight and sighed. "Okay, here goes. I grew up hating anything and everything that wasn't 'pure'. I—"
"You don't now, though."
"No, but I'm not exactly Mr. Friendly-with-Mudbloods, either."
"You're nice to me."
"Sometimes," he said, smiling.
"Okay, I treated you, Harry and Ron horribly in school for six years."
"That's in the past. Harry and I have moved past it, and Ron has started to. He'll be just as okay with you as Harry and me once he gets to know you better."
His heart constricted at the idea that these people wanted him in their lives now. That wasn't something he'd anticipated when he started all of this. He'd just wanted to get out from under the death sentence he'd readily accepted and move on with what little life he could salvage. Now he had people – friends? – who wanted him to stick around.
"I joined the Death Eaters at sixteen."
"Well, now that was just plain stupid."
He laughed. "Agreed. But it proves I'm not a good person."
"No, it proves that at sixteen, you were stupid."
"I tried to kill Dumbledore, almost killing Ron and Katie Bell in the process."
"You weren't successful in any of those attempts."
Draco sat up again, wrapping his arms around his legs. "I wanted to get out that night. Dumbledore offered me a way. I would've taken it but the Death Eaters I'd let into the school interrupted."
"See? Even then you wanted better for yourself."
"But I didn't take it. I could've left Snape, gone somewhere else after that night, but I didn't. I went straight to him." Draco paused, his throat suddenly constricted. This was the thing that still haunted his dreams, even after all the other monsters had been quashed. "And—and then he made me kill Severus, right there in front of everyone. For doing my job."
He took a deep breath, feeling the beginnings of renewal once again. He'd never even told the Grangers about Snape. "I—If I hadn't, he would've killed me, and I couldn't leave my mother alone without me or my father. Severus…he just stood there and stared at me. He couldn't speak, but I think he tried to get into my head. He—he said…"
Hermione hesitantly reached for his hand, pulling it away from him and slowly, softly rubbing his palm.
"He told me it was okay. And then…I looked him in the eye and…did as I was told." His voice cracked and he stopped, blinking furiously and clenching his jaw repeatedly to avoid letting his emotions overtake him.
Hermione was silent. Draco had never shared any of this with her. They had never talked about the past, what had happened with him; how he'd started down the road leading to death.
"So that was my first. Severus Snape. My favorite teacher, the only person I actually admired. I know he wasn't your favorite person, I admit he was quite awful to you, but he watched out for me, talked to me like a person and he gave me advice, like a father. My father certainly never wasted his breath on me," he said bitterly. "Snape really tried to keep me away from that life, but I was young and stubborn and didn't want to listen to him tell me what I didn't want to hear."
Hermione stared at their hands, still joined. She absently ran her fingers through his and gave them a small squeeze.
He looked at her. "Do I need to continue?"
"That's all in the past," she reminded him quietly. "Though I don't want to downplay its significance in your life. But what about the last two years? You've been plotting Voldemort's demise! You did a wonderful thing for the whole world."
"Just because I didn't kill again after faking your parents' deaths doesn't mean I didn't do horrible things. I still served him loyally, never giving him any reason to doubt me."
"Okay," she said, determined to get him to see what she'd come to see. "But you had to do those things, you had to keep up the illusion that you were still completely working for Voldemort."
He looked at her sharply. "You're making excuses for me."
"No. You did what you had to. Look where you are now, what you've accomplished! For the last eight months I have seen for myself that you are a good person."
"I did good things," he said, increasingly frustrated that she wouldn't simply let it go. In addition, it was difficult to bring up the list of his many sins, to discuss them, describe them for her to see. Of all people, she shouldn't have to hear what he'd done. He wanted to protect her from the world, from all the bad things. Himself included. "Maybe you could call it that, but my heart is still black. Everything I did was for selfish reasons, for me, for making my life better in the end. Not for the good of the many."
She felt the weight of all he'd done resting on her shoulders. It was so heavy; she felt as though she was at the bottom of the ocean and the weight of all the water above her was slowly crushing her lungs. This was what he'd lived with for so long. She wanted to take his hurt, take his pain and Vanish all of it, to be the one to show him how amazing a life unburdened could be. "What about all the good things you did for me? Keeping me safe, watching over me."
"I told you. Selfish."
"No, I don't believe it. Every night when you made sure I was sleeping safely and I was warm and comfortable, you did that for me. Not for you." She had to make him see!
He peered into her swirling eyes, looking for something he knew was there, and then he saw it; a small flicker of hope. Hope. He could crush her hope with a mere word if he wanted. But he didn't want to. She believed there was something in him worth fighting for, something that had been buried and smothered and gasping for breath for as long as he could remember. And he found he didn't want to let her down. He wanted to try and be that person she thought he could be; as he'd promised her before, he wanted to live for her. He knew it would be hard, harder than anything he'd ever done his whole life, but he knew that it was more than worth it.
"Maybe," was all he could give her right then.
"I know it."
If he was going to do this, he had to make sure she was sure. "Hermione, you still deserve someone better. Someone who knows how to make you feel special, like you're the most important thing in his life."
"You do make me feel special, Draco. You're endlessly romantic in your own way, you know." She smiled at him shyly.
He raised an eye at her. "Romantic? Are you daft?"
"I mean it."
He shook his head. "No way. I wouldn't even know what that looked like if it weren't for your silly movie."
She hit his chest playfully. "It's not silly."
"Is too. Magic. That's ridiculous."
She rolled her eyes and looked out at the water.
"I'm messed up, Hermione. And I will only mess this up. I'm certain of that."
"I will too, though," she said earnestly. "It's what these things are all about. You'll mess up, I'll mess up, but it works when we both decide that we want to mess up again, together."
"Why would you—anyone—do that?"
She looked at him pointedly. "Because you know that you're better together than apart."
He shook his head. "I still cannot believe this is the conversation we're having."
"What else is there? Everything else has been discussed. I'm afraid you're going to disappear, ride off into the sunset on a shining black horse, or fly into the sun or all the way to the moon. And leave…me, without a second thought." She couldn't look at him, her heart was too near breaking at the thought.
"I could never leave you without a second thought," he said quietly.
Hermione sat up fully now, pulling her knees to her chest and holding them there with her arms. Draco missed her hand in his, and he watched her face as emotions flickered across it like flames of a fire, dancing across the walls.
"But you could leave."
"Of course. It's who I am."
She closed her eyes tightly.
"But I never said I wanted to, I just could. If I wanted. Which I don't." He toward her. "I don't want to leave you. Okay?"
She nodded, still not looking at him.
He sighed. "I just can't give you what you deserve."
"I don't need all that. I mean, I don't deserve you, ever think of that?"
No, he honestly hadn't, nor would the thought have ever crossed his mind. "And how do you figure that?"
"You treat me like no one ever has. You stand up to me; you don't just give in and let me do or have what I want, like Harry and Ron. You're smarter than me, and you challenge me. You always put me first, even when it means making me as angry as a blast-ended skrewt. And you don't back down when I'm being impossible. I respect that."
Draco was amazed at how much she got out of his small actions toward her. And he was stunned to find that her impressions were accurate. He did have a habit of thinking about her before himself, he just never thought it was because he cared about her. There was always some other reason to assign to his actions. Like protecting her, or protecting his plan, or Harry, or their work, or something.
"You're still way better than me," he insisted.
"I'm not perfect, and I never will be, Draco. And I don't expect you to be."
"Good," he said, grinning. "Then you won't be disappointed."
"Is there anything else you want to say?" she asked, her eyes sparkling. "Though there's nothing you can say that will make me change my mind about this. Or about you.
He thought hard. Were there any objections his mind could raise? "One thing. And I've wanted to say this, officially, for a long time, but I wasn't even sure it needed saying. But I think maybe it does. For the record, you have to know that the blood thing isn't an issue. It hasn't been a concern for me for a long time."
"Good. But I already figured that."
He thought hard again. "What if I end up hurting you? Which I'm fairly certain is how this will turn out. I have no idea what I'm doing, I've never done this before, and I'm quite sure I will be horrible at it."
"You're a Malfoy. I thought you were good at everything you did."
He smiled and looked at her; she was grinning at him. He reached out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. Then another. And then he found that there were too many strands and too few ears.
"It's a hopeless cause," she said.
"Yes, I'm a Malfoy. Doesn't that bother you? At all?"
"Why should it? I know all about what you've done, what you've been through. At least, I know intellectually. And if you want to share more with me, then fine; if not, fine. I still want to see where this goes."
"In spite of me."
"Because of you."
"But I will hurt you."
"You already have, plenty! And you will again, as I will you. That's what makes it so wonderful. Because even though you'll hurt me, I will forgive you. And you will forgive me when I hurt you. And we'll move on."
He couldn't think of any more objections; she'd answered every one he'd offered, making him happy and terrified at the same time.
"Hermione, I – "
"Draco, I am not asking for a confession of undying devotion. All I want to know is if you want to take this chance with me. Because that's all life is anyway, taking chances."
A slow grin spread across his heart, then his mind, and finally his face. "Yes. I do. With you."
She smiled back at him. "Right answer, Malfoy."
He looked at her hard, still not sure she really knew what she was getting into, but then she was too stubborn for her own good sometimes. And he'd heard somewhere once that if you don't know something isn't supposed to work, you just might make it happen. He kissed her then, and when she kissed him back, he felt complete. It was soft, hesitant, shy—as though they were finally getting to really know each other. And though it was very different from the previous two, which had been full of desperation, fear, and intense desire, it still sent his insides catapulting in a hundred directions.
After a few minutes, she pulled back, slightly breathless. "I thought you removed that spell from between us."
"I did," he said, equally enthralled with her. "It must be that magic stuff you've been going on about."
"It must be," she said, completely content. Draco kissed her forehead and then drew her close to him, wrapping his arms around her. She put her head on his shoulder and he didn't think he'd ever be able to let her go.
He sighed. "I'm going to mess this up, you know," he said.
"So…you're okay with that."
"We've been over this already…"
"But I'm just—"
Hermione tipped his chin toward her. "No—More—Talking," she said, punctuating each word with a soft kiss.
Just as she was about to pull back, Draco reached up and stopped her. He held her face a few inches from his own and peered into her eyes. They were smiling and radiant, and suddenly he wanted nothing more than to drown in them. Slowly, never taking his eyes from hers, he pulled her closer until there was only a hairsbreadth between them and paused. He could feel her breath on his lips before he kissed her. It was like the sunrise, or fireworks, or a flower bursting into bloom; it was like flying and falling and forgetting that you were two people and knowing that life was better that way.
All that mattered was that she wanted to try this thing with him. He'd promised her once through a kiss that he would live for her. Now he would keep his promise.
A/N: And so, my dear reviewers, the story ends…or does it:)
Surprise! I could not leave my two favorite characters on a dessert island, suspended in "what happens" land. There will be an epilogue, and let me tell you, it is long. It likely will not be ready for posting next Friday, so I do apologize for that, but certainly the Friday after.
And then, of course, I'll post the deleted scenes, but they'll be in a new story. So you'll have to keep checking for them. But don't start yet, I won't start posting those until after the epilogue. I will certainly keep you posted on my profile page.
What an amazing ride this has been! Each and every one of you have made it a blast. I cannot thank you enough. I wish I could thank all of you individually, but that would take up a lot of room here. Suffice it to say, you have made this journey complete for me. There are simply no words to adequately express how very much you have all come to mean to me, especially those of you who review constantly. I feel as though I know some of you and I certainly count some of you as friends.
Thank you, merci, grazie, gracias, danke, doh je. Oh, and I do hope you liked the ending. Stay tuned for more!