CHRPDisclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR. ::does a happy dance:: I am finally finished this story!!!

Chapter 15: Ashes to Ashes

The weather could not have been more appropriate. The sky was grey and full of ominous looking clouds. Thunder rolled in the distance and a cold wind began to blow…the kind of wind that could take one's breath away. The rain began almost immediately, pelting the ground in a constant downpour, causing umbrellas to pop up like strange, oversized flowers, providing a colourful backdrop to the somber surroundings.

Yes, the weather was quite odd…unseasonable for the time of year…but it was perfect for a funeral.

Harry stood apart with Ginny and Ron. Ginny's face was pale and tears were threatening to spill from her eyes…or perhaps it was the rain.

"It all seems so pointless," she whispered as she watched the group of adult wizards near the gravesite.

"Death has a way of putting things in perspective," Ron replied, holding his large umbrella over the three of them and glaring at the thundering heavens.

"To go through all that and end up here…just a ceremony and good-bye…as if you never were there in the first place. It's like you don't matter in a way," Harry caressed Ginny's hair as she began to sob and embraced him.

"Come on, Ginny…show some of that Gryffindor courage," Ron said in a very shaky voice.

"I hate funerals," she replied emphatically, although her voice was rather muffled by Harry's cloak.

"I don't blame her, Ron…I am ready to bolt," Harry continued to comfort the younger girl while Ron looked around at the mourners.

"I still don't believe it," Ron remarked.

"You had better believe it," Ginny snuffled.

"The whole school turned out," Ron commented.

"Why does that surprise you, Ron? Of course they would all come out," Harry responded.

"I suppose we had best give our condolences," Ginny said suddenly.

"Do you think that's a good idea, given the circumstances?" Harry asked.

"It's the Gryffindor thing to do," Ron sighed, giving his sister a quick peck on the cheek. "Thanks, Ginny."

Ginny smiled and, together with Harry and Ron, approached a large umbrella that stood alone by the still open grave. For a moment, the three of them watched as the rain pelted the coffin, running off the sides in small rivulets that streamed into the pit below. The coffin would not be lowered into the earth until everyone had left. They then turned to the two people underneath the other umbrella.

"Draco," Harry said, holding out his hand, "I'm sorry about what happened to your dad."

Draco stood beside Hermione, sharing the shelter of a sole umbrella. He had his arm around her shoulders and he shook Harry's hand heartily.

"Don't be, Harry. He got what he deserved and now he can become fodder for the worms," Draco replied.

"Malfoy…just wanted to say that I'm sorry about…well, everything. Maybe, when you're ready, we can play some three on three Quidditch practice," Ron suggested, holding out his hand to his former nemesis.

"You're not the only one who has regrets, Weasley. I think I will take you up on your offer…as long as you are not opposed to the idea of losing," Draco smiled.

Ron chuckled, "I won't be losing to you, Malfoy. Oh, and Mother asked if you would like to come by for a visit sometime after we finish the school year. She asked me to find out…felt a bit shy asking you herself."

Ron blushed slightly and Draco's smile widened.

"Hermione will be there too," Ginny said in a wheedling tone as she came forward to kiss Draco on the cheek.

"How can I refuse?" Draco asked and Hermione smiled as well this time.

"Hermione, are you all right?" Harry asked in concern.

Hermione turned to her friends and nodded. "It's been rather awful these past couple of days. The inquiry…the questions that the Ministry had about his death…"

Draco kissed her forehead softly. "We argued self-defense. Lucius was temporarily controlled by Voldemort, which caused him to attack us. I also was under the control of Voldemort himself but now am free of his curse…which is partly the truth, after all. The other Slytherins might be trouble but it isn't anything I cannot handle. We managed to save Lucius' reputation by blaming it all on the Dark Lord and that was important to me…I don't want my children to be branded as offspring of a Death Eater."

Harry quirked an eyebrow at Hermione who blushed furiously. "Honestly, Harry…he is talking about the future. We still have a war to fight. Voldemort is still out there…we have a lot of difficult times ahead of us."

"That is true, Miss Granger," a silky voice spoke from behind them. Turning around quickly, they saw Professor Snape. "However, if the actions of this present group are any indication, it is my opinion that the Dark Lord will not have a chance."

The group stood shocked at this unexpected praise.

"I am so glad that you were acquitted, Professor Snape," Hermione whispered gratefully.

"As am I although it was really Mister Weasley and the Marauders Map that saved all of us. He alerted the Headmaster who quickly sent Fawkes to help us. I don't think I have ever seen him fly so fast," Professor Snape replied, a slight smile softening his features.

"Thank you for your help in the inquiry, Professor Snape," Draco held out his hand to the older man who took it and shook it solemnly.

"No thanks are necessary. It was the least I could do for you…and for your mother. The thanks should go to Miss Granger and to Mister Potter and Mister Weasley as well for being their usual Gryffindor selves…and I mean that in the very best of ways," Professor Snape smirked as the students giggled somewhat.

"So, what happens now?" Ginny asked.

"I am using a part of my father's estate to set up a bursary for any wizard or witch who wants to pursue a career as an Auror, regardless of house. I would also like to donate my family mansion to the Ministry of Magic to be used as its headquarters for its secret operatives…the place is so full of hidden rooms and secret passageways and protective wards that it will serve their purpose well. I have no desire to return there," Draco replied with finality.

"Where will you go?" Ron asked, rather puzzled.

"I will probably buy a small house for myself but, after the school year is finished, I will be spending a bit of time in the muggle world," Draco replied, smiling at the look of utter amazement on Harry's face.

"Are you serious?" Ginny asked, rather impressed.

"It's something that came to me last night. Voldemort will undoubtedly be targeting muggles and I want to devote some time to determining where they might be the most vulnerable. Large urban centers. Financial institutions. That sort of thing. It's my way of trying to right things," Draco said, a bit embarrassed.

"But you have never been in the muggle world before…you have no idea what it's like," Ron sputtered.

Draco smiled. "I never said I would be alone." He pulled Hermione a little closer.

Professor Snape nodded his head in approval. "It is a worthwhile proposition which could save countless lives, Draco. When you have some preliminary findings, I hope you will return to Hogwarts to discuss them with myself and the Headmaster."

"He will, Professor," Hermione answered.

"We'd better be heading out…we have classes again tomorrow and there are some professors who won't accept a funeral as a valid excuse for tardy homework," Harry grumbled.

"Obviously you speak of professors who are dedicated to the instruction of their students," Professor Snape remarked wryly. "Draco, you know my door is always open to you. Miss…Hermione…thank you. I think I can safely say that your Potions mark will be the highest Hogwarts has seen since…well, since I was a student here."

Hermione practically beamed and, unexpectedly, hugged the Potions Master.

"10 points from Gryffindor," he said awkwardly as he tentatively touched her hair.

"Why?" Ron was aghast and Harry and Ginny looked confused.

"For making me eat the many harsh words I have said in the past about Gryffindors," Professor Snape replied as he released her. "I will see you all in class tomorrow. Good day."

The students watched as Professor Snape walked away with a slight limp. A witch they had never seen before came up to him, carrying a flowered umbrella, and began talking to him in the rain. She was rather petite with brown hair and a round face. She seemed to smile an awful lot. Then again, Professor Snape was smiling an awful lot as well.

"Who's that?" Ginny asked.

"Madam Pomfrey's apprentice…looked after Snape while he was in the infirmary," Harry strained his eyes and watched as the witch smiled at whatever it was the Potions Master was saying.

"Seems to me that they have hit it off," Ron quipped, obviously perturbed that anyone would take an interest in the overgrown bat.

"We'd better get going," Ginny nudged Harry and Ron as she saw Draco looking at Hermione with a faraway expression. Ginny suddenly felt very proud of what the two boys had done for the couple.

Harry took the hint immediately. "Yeah…we've still got a Potions essay to write and some Divination homework to do. We'll catch up with you tomorrow, Draco…maybe schedule that Quidditch practice."

"I look forward to it, Harry," Draco smiled as he shook the other boy's hand. Harry touched Hermione's hair softly. "You need anything at all, just ask." Hermione nodded wordlessly.

"Tomorrow, then," Ginny hugged Hermione hard and shook Draco's hand.

"Malfoy…you'd better take good care of her," Ron started as he shook Draco's hand and gave Hermione a small kiss on the cheek.

"I will," Draco answered, "I wouldn't want to raise the anger of the entire Weasley family…that's a force even Voldemort should be afraid of."

Ron grinned and nodded.

Hermione watched as her three friends walked away, struggling slightly as the wind threatened to take their umbrella away.

"You have good friends, Hermione," Draco commented.

"They are your friends now too, Draco," she replied, turning to face him and smiling.

"I can't even begin to thank you…" he began. Hermione stopped him from continuing by placing a finger to his lips.

"There is no need to thank me. I love you and the thought of losing you was more than I could bear."

He touched her chin softly, the warm gray eyes full of affection…no more coldness or hatred could be seen.

"I love you too, Hermione," he leaned down to kiss her. Her arms went around his neck and his arms went around her waist. At that moment, they only existed for each other and did not notice when the umbrella was ripped out of Draco's grip by the wind…they simply stood there, pelted by rain and wind and simply reveling in being alive and finally being free.

Free to live.

Free to love.


A/N: I will next be working on completing "Come To You By Moonlight" which is a Remus/Hermione story and then I will begin a brand new chaptered Severus/Hermione story.


Everyone who reviewed for making this story so much fun to write…especially those of you who took the time to email me…thank you so much!!! CS Lewis who gave me the idea of the chair in the first place (if you haven't read "The Chronicles of Narnia, why haven't you? The chair is found in "The Silver Chair") Tessie and Amy…for being great cyber-friends and fabulous beta-readers (love you both…chocolate truffles for you) Marek…who reads and reviews everything I write (it means a lot to me) Lynn…my Canadian counterpart…for listening to me vent and for being so supportive (and for all those lovely AR pictures…keep them coming!) Ashley/Jesse/Shelley/Holly/Michael…just because Carole…for being one of the most creative reviewers I know Hubby…because you always know how to banish the evil Writer's Block Boggart (love ya, hon!) My boys…my greatest creations whom I love dearly JP, EC, VV and NL for being such good friends in my time of need (vi voglio tanto bene, cari!) Giulia and Chiara…my Italian counterparts. Forza Azzurri!!! Everyone I have forgotten because my memory is seriously bad…love you all and thank you for your reviews!