'This is the Hour of Lead-
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow-
First - Chill - then Stupor - then the letting go-' –
Emily Dickenson, After Great Pain, a Formal Feeling Comes

I told you this was not the place to come for happy endings.

Perhaps I lied. After all, isn't this a happy ending? The heroine and the boy she loves have survived, and the villains of the story are dead.

This is not a real ending. The loose ends haven't been tied up in a nice bow. The loose ends stare back at Hermione in the mirror. They are the eyes that have seen too much. They are the scars that cross over her wrists. And they are the other scars that never healed – the odd one Lucius missed, on her back, on her lower legs, and on the inner flesh of her arm.

The loose ends are the nightmares in garish colours of red and black that cause her to wake up screaming and clawing the bed sheets. They are the gnawing, black depressions that often keep her in bed for days at a time. They are the days she turns, frantically, upon seeing a white blonde head in the crowd. They are her complete inability to ever hear the word 'mudblood' again.

And then we come to the biggest loose end of all.

'Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made…'

When she first walked – or stumbled, rather – with Ron into the Order's headquarters, she thought life truly impossible. She fell to the floor, and passed out.

Darkness took over her world. She slept. For weeks, months, she lay in bed with the curtains drawn. Didn't move. Didn't speak. Ate only when necessary.

But Ron stayed with her, with a patience reserved for saints. Always there, waiting for the day when the girl he loved would speak again. For when she would return from the dark place Lucius Malfoy had sent her.

And so, after a while, she began to talk. And Ron listened. Ron – the only person who might understand.

They never married. They posed as a couple upon their escape, and he held her hand as she gave birth to Lucius' son.

'He said to the woman, 'Did God really say, you must not eat from the tree in the garden?''

It was only after the birth of her son that she became ready to allow Ron to become more than a friend to her. But eventually, time took its course. How could it not? She loved Ron. Loves him. More than she will ever begin to articulate.

And it's not hard for her to love him. Which for her is a wonderful thing.

He brings her son up as his own. He plays quidditch with him, and reads to him, and tucks him up in bed at night. He loves him as best as he can, considering how much he hates the boy's real father.

It would be a lot easier for Ron if the boy resembled Hermione.

'The woman said to the serpent, 'We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden…''

Fortunately for Hermione, her oldest son doesn't have Lucius' eyes. It's hard enough for her that he so resembles his father, but if she had to face Lucius' eyes everyday she would probably lose her sanity.

People gossip, of course. They were bound to. During her captivity, Harry had spread the word that Lucius Malfoy was keeping Hermione prisoner for Voldemort, so that anyone who might have found Lucius would know that Hermione wasn't far away.

When Hermione moved in with Ron so soon after their escape, and then a few months later gave birth, people chuckled slyly and said that Ron worked fast.

The laughter grows quiet as the boy grows older, and people can see no resemblance between the red-haired, freckled Ron, and the blonde, pale boy he calls his son.

Poor girl, people whisper.

'…but God did say, you must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden…'

It is one of the more unpleasant aspects of human nature that as a species we take a certain pleasure in the misery of others. Therefore, the speculation about what must have happened to Hermione during her captivity goes on for years, long after the war ends.

People wouldn't have thought it of Lucius Malfoy. Lucius Malfoy came from a family that had upheld the pureblood supremist mentality for decades. He saw Mudbloods as sub-human.

'…and you must not touch it…'

As Hermione's son grows older, people whisper that Lucius Malfoy's so called all-important ideals didn't seem to be much of an obstacle for him. Not when he saw fit to do that to a teenage muggle-born.

'…or you will die.'

Hermione never says anything. She lets people whisper, and she kindly but firmly rebuffs any attempts made to talk to her about it. After all he's done for her, she will not hurt Ron by telling people that she loved Lucius Malfoy, and that he fought against his feelings for her kicking and screaming, because he didn't want to believe that the ideals he'd based his whole life on could mean so little to him.

So brave, they whisper as she passes them in the street. It must be awful to have a rapist's kid. To watch it grow. And for it to look so much like it's father.

Hermione bites her lip, and gets on with her life as best she can, one day at a time.

'You will not surely die, the serpent said to the woman…'

She has two more children, both of them with Ron. A boy and a girl. Thankfully, they resemble their father.

Lucius and Hermione's son doesn't know the truth about his parentage. He hears some of the whispers as he gets older, of course. But he ignores them, for his mother's sake as well as his own. In his opinion, it's nothing more than gossip.

You can't blame him for not wanting to believe that his father was a rapist Death-Eater.

'…'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened…'

Can you imagine Lucius and Hermione being together in the outside world? Buying a house together, having children, and getting a dog? Lucius making Hermione breakfast in bed? Arguing about the mortgage and sitting in the garden drinking tea?

It would never have worked.

'…and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'

She can't let him go. He's always there, at the back of everything, always. As it ever was. When she wakes up in the morning, when she cooks breakfast for her children, when she goes to work, he's always there, like a shadow.

It's particularly strong when she looks at her son. Her blonde elder son, who has all the bearing and the stance of the aristocrat he will never be.

She wants to die, and that is the sad fact of the matter. Every day she thinks about it, toys with the idea. But she knows that she owes it to herself to survive. Survival, once a tenuous thing she couldn't hold on to, has become her duty. She looked death in the eyes when she was little more than a child, and so now she knows she has a responsibility to live.

And so she keeps Lucius a secret. Her dark secret. For the rest of her life, she keeps him walled up inside her soul. She talks about him with nobody, not even Ron. She keeps him within herself. Deep down, hidden, where no-one can see.

She wakes up in the morning. She sends her children to school. She eats breakfast and reads books and avoids the neighbours and goes to work and comes home to eat the dinner Ron prepares for her and the kids. She goes to bed. Sometimes she sleeps. Often she doesn't.

She waits.

There is no alternative for her.

'The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They hand in hand with
wandering steps and slow,
Eden took their solitary way.' – John Milton, Paradise Lost