Chapter 22: Catch-22
Have you thought of an ending? - Samwise Gamgee, Lord of the Rings
You'd think it'd be easy to buy a birthday present for Hermione Granger. She was a woman of simple tastes and pleasures. She preferred rundown neighbourhood haunts to haute cuisine establishments. Her idea of a good beach holiday involved renting a cheap apartment on a Sicilian island and biking to deserted beaches, where she would settle down with a battered book while she sunned herself.
Yes, a book would be enough to make her happy. Very happy. Or a quill, some parchment, and a flat surface.
But nooooo. Being the smartarse that Draco Malfoy was, he went ahead and got her diamonds. Worse, he got her the most expensive diamond necklace at the store.
He had already been pushing the envelope with a pricey dinner, taking her out to Le Garçon in Muggle London, the restaurant his company had finally taken over. He did warn her that he was going to spoil her for that one night, and she had accepted without complaint.
"You look very comfortable with that truffle, Granger," he had teased, a bit too self-assuredly in hindsight. "If you're not careful you might get used to it."
She'd just cocked her head to one side and gave him a sly look from underneath her eyelashes. "Don't worry, Malfoy, you can't corrupt me that easily."
Well, he definitely learnt that the hard way.
They'd Floo'd back to her flat after the dinner, as they did about three out of seven nights now. He was standing behind her, his arms around her waist and his lips on the side of her neck as she attempted to change out of the little black dress she wore for the special occasion.
"No, don't take the dress off yet," he coaxed, redoing the zip at the back. "I want you to try something on first."
She huffed. "But the dress is so tight! And what do you want me to try on? Can't I try it on in my jammies?"
Draco chuckled at the image of Granger in her giraffe print pajamas with a million-Galleon necklace on. If anyone could pull that look off, it would be her.
Pivoting her around, he pushed her down gently to sit on the edge of the bed, and summoned the flat, velvet box he'd hidden in her bookshelf before they left for dinner.
He noted happily at the widening of her eyes. A bit smugly, in fact. Well, he was rather outstanding at picking presents for his love interests.
He opened the box with a flourish, and waited for the gushing and the ooh-ing and the ahh-ing...
... which never came.
In fact, it didn't register in his head that Granger was yelling at him until a few long moments later.
"Are you insane, Malfoy?" she shrieked. "What makes you think I want jewellery?"
He blinked. "But - you're a woman."
Draco should've had that long feminist rant coming, though he was not certain he deserved it.
His eyes glazed over as Granger went off on a tangent, flinging her hands about as if she were public speaking, pacing back and forth the length of the silly, fuzzy carpet framing her bed.
So there you have it. You're dead wrong if you thought buying Hermione Granger a birthday present would be a piece of cake. Even if you did agonise over it, she'd throw it right back at your face and yell at you. Or threaten to take it back to the store for a refund so she could donate the money to the village women who made organic cloth in Indonesia.
After approximately ten minutes of rapid verbal fire, Granger abruptly planted her bottom on the bed, looking a bit pink and out of breath. She glared at the necklace, which sat proudly in the still open box in Draco's hands.
He cleared his throat, and then slowly closed the velvet lid. "So, you don't like it."
He didn't exactly mean for it to come out in such a hurt puppy kind of way, but goddamnit, it did.
Granger sighed heavily. "No, I'm sorry. I can't take it."
Straightening his back awkwardly, he reached into a pocket inside his jacket and pulled out an envelope. "Well, that's okay. Here's the receipt for the refund. If you really don't want it."
Chewing on her bottom lip and with her brow creased, she said gently. "Draco, it was really... sweet, but it's not me."
He nodded, and handed her the envelope. "No, Granger, it's fine. In fact, why don't you check what time the store opens tomorrow morning, I could go get the refund with you before work."
There was a quiet ruffle of paper as she opened the envelope.
Frowning, she asked, "What is this?"
"What?" replied Draco benignly, slipping his hands into his trouser pockets.
"Certificate of loan?" read Granger out loud. Her hazel eyes darted up to meet his in confusion.
He shrugged nonchalantly. "Well, if you were paying attention, you'd have realised that I said try it on, I never said you could keep it."
A small smile unfurled itself on her face, and she said slowly, "You devious, little prat."
He grinned. "The element of surprise has always been a forte of mine. And there's something else in the envelope."
She studied the other piece of parchment, and a laugh escaped her. "A cheque for F.A.B.R.I.C.?"
"You do remember that, right?" asked Draco with a lopsided smile. "I believe I came up with it - the Federation Against Berserk Ruining of Indonesian Cloth. Right before you assaulted me with a roll of said fabric."
Granger grinned at the memory. "That's not a real thing."
Stepping towards the bed, Draco reached out for her hand and pressed his lips against the back of her fingers affectionately. "Well, being as smart as you are, I'm sure you can make up another acronym for whatever your next charitable cause is."
"Like Friends And Backers for the Rights of Indonesian Clothmakers?" she shot back smartly, pulling his face towards her by his tie.
He chuckled. "Exactly what I had in mind. Happy birthday, Hermione."
She kissed him warmly, fingers tangling in his hair before pulling back. "Thank you, Draco."
Reaching for her zipper, he slowly slid it down her back and murmured by her ear. "Now, if you could put on your sexy giraffe jammies, I'd like to give you the other half of your present."
Hermione stormed through the grand lobby of Malfoy International Corporation. She felt all eyes on her, probably because she was physically buzzing from the five coffees she'd already consumed that day. Or that she literally had steam coming out of her ears.
She marched straight into the lift that would take her to Malfoy's office, then past Lindsay's desk, and flung open the unnecessarily heavy oak doors.
Standing at the threshold, with Malfoy staring coolly back at her, Hermione realised how this felt exactly like the early days of working for him. Well, she thankfully wasn't his employee any more.
"How many times do I need to tell you, Malfoy?"
Primly capping his stupid, expensive fountain pen, he blinked innocently. "Tell me what exactly, Granger?"
Suddenly aware of the fact that Lindsay probably did not want to be caught in the inevitable crossfire of words, Hermione closed the doors with a flick of her wand.
"I do not need your help," she said through gritted teeth once the doors thudded close.
Malfoy's eyebrows went up in mock incredulity. "I beg your pardon, are you accusing me of being helpful?"
"Don't play the dumb blond with me, mister," she snapped, holding up a letter from the Events Manager at the London Dorchester Hotel. "I know you've been poking your sharp, little nose in my show!"
He sniffed. "Dumb blond, how original. And I like to think of my nose as aesthetically proportionate, and certainly not 'sharp' or 'little'."
She nearly gave into the temptation of stamping her foot in frustration. "I'm serious, Malfoy! I don't need you to help me find a place for my fashion show!"
Malfoy finally frowned. "Connections are there to be used, Granger, what's the big deal if I pulled some strings for you?"
She felt her nostrils flare. "Do you know what they call me in the papers?"
"Most probably by your name," answered Malfoy sarcastically.
"They still call me 'the designer of that Malfoy fashion line'."
He nodded slowly as that sank in. "Right. Well, that sounds correct enough to me."
Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose. "Don't you get it, Malfoy? I don't want to be that designer for your line because I'm not anymore. I'm my own designer. Nothing is going to change if you insist on running my business!"
"I don't insist on running your business - I resent that!" he protested, standing up and squaring his shoulders as if in self-defence.
"Then stop trying to find a venue for my show, I can handle it!" she shot back, crossing her arms.
He snorted. "Alright, in that case, excuse me for trying to help you. I thought that's what you're supposed to do when you love someone!"
She must have looked somewhat stunned, because Malfoy went on to roll his eyes none too nicely. "Don't look so bloody pleased, you daft cow. If I didn't love you I'd have upped and gone months ago!"
Putting her hands on her hips, she failed desperately at keeping a fast-blooming smile at bay. "Don't call me a daft cow, you ferr-!"
She nearly jumped a foot in the air when, without preamble, the office doors were all but blown off their hinges.
"WE ARE PREGNANT!" bellowed Blaise as he ripped into the office and scooped Hermione clean off her feet. "PANSY IS PREGNANT! WE ARE HAVING A BABY!"
Meanwhile, Malfoy had leapt out of his chair and all but pushed Hermione out of the way to hug his best friend. "Holy shit. Holy shit! Now you've done it, Zabini!"
She laughed along with them, her head buzzing with a little too much information at the moment. Malfoy's cheeks were flushed and his grin so wide that the corners of his eyes crinkled most endearingly. Reaching out, he pulled her into his arms, with her back to his front while Blaise literally bounced around the office in utter ecstasy.
"I'm going to be a godfather," Malfoy murmured to himself.
She twisted around to kiss his cheek. "Yes, and you will be the absolutely baddest godfather."
He considered that, then grinned. "I could live with that."
Blaise barreled over to them and declared, "We have to go! We have to go home and celebrate!"
"It's quarter-past three in the afternoon on a work day, Zabini."
"I don't give a shit, Malfoy! Off we go now, let's go, come on, hurry! Lindsay, you have the rest of the day off!"
In the midst of being shepherded into the elevator by the father-to-be, Hermione found the time to slip her hand into Malfoy's, and to stand on her tippy toes to whisper, at long last, "I love you, too" in his ear.
Witches' Wear Daily
10th November, 2004
Critics' Review: Hermione Granger RTW Debut
Effortless. It was the first word that sprang to mind when watching Hermione Granger debut her environmentally-friendly Ready-to-Wear line at the charming Square des Batignolles in Paris yesterday. Free of animal products, Granger cleverly infuses Muggle and magical elements to create innovative fabrics that give the clothes a unique, effortlessly cool twist...
Draco was eating a sandwich at his desk (not any ordinary sandwich, obviously, but a gourmet bap with lobster and rocket leaves tossed in truffle-infused oil), flipping through his daily reads when something caught his eyes.
He smiled with pride.
13th December, 2004
British Fashion Awards 2004
One designer to watch is the winner of the Emerging Talent Award, Hermione Granger. A first-class graduate from Central St. Martins, Granger infuses good intentions with extraordinary taste to create her 100% natural line of classic-cut dresses, cigarette trousers and accessories...
She was so absorbed in her sketch that she didn't notice him sneak up behind her.
The magazine landed on her work desk with a loud slap, startling her into squealing indignantly.
"Malfoy! Don't do that!" she chided as she gripped the sides of her stool tightly.
Turning to leave, he smiled enigmatically and nodded towards the open pages on her desk. "Congratulations, Miss Granger."
"Maybe it's time we got together, Weasley."
Ron rubbed his eyes and braced himself for the worst. "And why is that, Nott?"
Knocking back a big mouthful of his pre-dinner sherry, Theo said, "I don't know about you, but I'm fucking sick of being the seventh wheel in this boring group of babymakers."
"Language, Theo!" said Pansy sharply as set the table for eight. "As if Draco isn't a bad enough influence on Genevieve. Oh, the glasses are on the top shelf, Ginny dear."
Draco scoffed. "Pardon me, Parkinson? I am a brilliant ray of light in your daughter's otherwise incredibly dull life. She loves me more than she loves Blaise."
As if proving his point, the Zabini baby wriggled vigorously in her father's arms, her fat little fingers pointing at Draco who was sitting across the room as she squealed.
"So hurt," deadpanned Blaise. Tickling his daughter's sides until she laughed, he cooed, "Who's a heartbreaker, my little darling, hmmm?"
Friday night dinners at the Zabini's had expanded quite exponentially in scale. Theo moved back to England for good shortly before Genevieve Louise Zabini was born, and he lived right around the corner from the Zabini's in Notting Hill. As insensitive as he liked to pretend to be, he was always there to babysit whenever the newly minted parents needed a break.
Ron and Theo had struck up an unlikely friendship when, by chance, the latter had taken a date to Chez Weasley. Being the romantic that he was, Head Chef Weasley had sent an endless parade of amuse bouches, champagne and strawberries to the table, which went down very well as expected. Needless to say, Theo had taken all his subsequent dates to Ron's establishment, and Theo in turn had taken Ron to the Zabini's Friday night dinners ever since.
Mrs Harry Potter, who was now six months along, had met Mrs Blaise Zabini at a yoga class for expectant mothers in Muggle London on late Friday afternoons. It was only natural that they had dinner together as well afterwards with their husbands.
"Can someone get Harry? He's been down at the cellars for like fifteen minutes, he's probably lost," piped up Ginny as she laid out the wine glasses.
"Why don't you go, Malfoy, since you've done nothing but sit on your arse since you got here?" suggested Hermione. To be honest, she hadn't been doing much more than that either.
"I run a multi-million Galleon corporation, I am allowed to sit on my fine arse for as long as I please on a Friday evning," he replied haughtily. Then his hand sneakily slid down her thigh and squeezed. "Unless you come with me and we can finally cross the cellar off our bucket list."
Hermione flushed bright red as a chorus of mortified groans rang out and Blaise hastily covered Genevieve's ears. "You animals! A bucket list, really? Where else have you been in my house?!"
"What a lad!" chuckled Theo. "That's the Malfoy I know -"
Pansy shrieked. "Did I really need to know that? You're not allowed into the cellars ever, Draco!"
At the sudden burst of noise, Genevieve squawked happily, clapping her hands together.
With his hand in the air, Ron sprang up, yelling, "Seriously, shut up, everyone! Fucking hell, I'll go, I'll go!"
And at that inopportune moment, the Boy Who Lived rounded the corner into the living room, a bottle of red wine in each hand and eyes wide at the racket. "What the hell did I just miss?"
The Daily Prophet
4th March, 2006
Breaking News: Is Draco Malfoy Having an Affair?
Hogwarts sweethearts Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger will be celebrating their two-year anniversary in a few short months - or will they?
An insider source has tipped us off that Mr Malfoy has been spotted visiting a nondescript address in an upmarket neighbourhood in Paris three nights in a row, and leaving at first light looking disheveled. Meanwhile, back in London, Miss Granger has been preparing for the upcoming fashion show for her successful eponymous label...
Draco made the Floo curfew in the nick of time. He stumbled inelegantly from the fireplace as the green flames all but spat him out, and he choked hard on the dust.
Granger's living room was quiet in the darkness, and everything was as it was. From the shoes lining the wall to the cushions on the sofa - it was tidy and uncluttered. Except for the newspaper sprawled over her work desk, which was not folded away in the newspaper rack. Wiping sweat from his hairline, he frowned and his spine stiffened when he saw the headlines.
Shit. She had meant for him to see it.
He thought he'd been discreet. Well, as discreet as he could've been - it wasn't easy to find conflict-free precious stones and metals mined in completely ethical ways.
Heart beating heavily, he folded the papers with shaking hands, despite his attempts to keep them steady. Toeing off his shoes, he took a deep breath and padded towards the bedroom.
He opened the door a couple of inches and peered into the darkness, which felt stifling. He tugged hard on his tie - it felt like it was hard to breathe.
Granger's back was to him, and she was on her side of the bed as usual, wearing an oversized t-shirt that actually belonged to him. He stood there, probably for a whole five minutes before she suddenly breathed out and shifted, making the mattress groan.
His feet felt like they were glued to the floor. Clenching his jaw, he resisted the urge to bang his head against the door frame. Grow some balls, Malfoy.
He hated the damned floorboards in this building, did they have to be so fucking loud? Draco was sure that she was awake, there was no way she could have slept through this orchestra of wooden creaks.
Sitting down on the edge of the bed, he heaved a sigh. Unsticking his tongue from the roof of his mouth, he said, voice slightly cracking. "I'm sorry you had to find out that way, Granger."
He watched her back stiffen, and he heard the hitch in her breathing.
"I didn't mean for you to find out," he pressed on, reaching inside his jacket. "I really didn't mean to hurt you. But it's been almost two years, and..."
He stopped when she suddenly pushed herself off the bed, eyes flashing, teeth bared, not unlike him when he was angry. She'd picked up a lot of him, he supposed. He saw the shine of tears in her eyes, before they alighted on the inconspicuous green velvet box in his hands.
Draco opened the box and with a luxurious, muted click of velvet, the lid popped into place at an angle of precisely 45 degrees.
The stone caught the street light outside the window brilliantly.
And right then, with Granger kneeling on the bed and her tshirt sliding off one bare shoulder, and Draco badly needing a shower after three days of slave-driving diamond cutters and gold wielders, he slowly got down on one knee.
"Granger, will you marry me?"
"Who do you think will fall in love tonight?"
Draco rolled his eyes. "I told you, Granger, just because we did doesn't mean it happens at every wedding."
She gave him a withering look. "Well, Theo and Ron did at Bill and Fleur's wedding. Not with each other, obviously."
"It didn't happen at Mrs Zabini's wedding," he pointed out in rebuttal.
"That's because she was trying to get with you!" she huffed.
"Still jealous, I see," he said with an quirk of his eyebrow.
"Look, look, Draco! Cormac is making eyes at Lindsay! We have to go give him a nudge - Malfoy!" she squealed as she hastily grabbed onto her white dress, which he sneakily loosened with wandless magic. "What do you think you're doing?"
Brushing his nose against hers, he took an appreciative ogle down the front of her dress. "Getting you to pay attention to us instead of busying yourself with matchmaking duties."
"Fix the dress, Malfoy, I'm warning you!" she gasped as the dress slid even lower. "What in the name of Merlin?!"
He grinned insolently. "You didn't specify what you meant by 'fixing' it."
Shaking her head exasperatedly, but still smiling, she warned, "I'm going to kick your arse, Malfoy."
He chuckled, lacing his fingers in her left hand, and kissed the rose gold wedding band set with sapphires that sat on top of her diamond engagement ring. "Is that a promise, Mrs Malfoy?"
"Damn right it is. And I promise it will hurt, too."
"Alright, you have my permission to kick my arse if that makes you happy," he conceded with an exaggerated sigh. He then flashed her a brilliant grin and held her eyes with his. "But only after I take off my expensive trousers - I am wearing Prada, after all."
A/N: It. Is. DONE.
I can't begin to tell you how happy to say that this story is finally complete, more than 6.5 years after I started it on a whim. I honestly thought I'd never finish it, but here we are! I also rewrote Chapter 5, which I accidentally erased a while ago.
I hope everyone is happy with the ending, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it is the happy ending I wanted for our favourite pairing. And apologies for the vaguely pointless and irrelevant name of this chapter, but how can I resist when this story ends on chapter 22?
Before I bid you adieu for the last time, I want to thank every single one of you who have read and reviewed the story. Never in my wildest dream did I think I would write a story that would be viewed more than 140,000+ times, be on 500+ favourites lists and have 800+ of you on alert. It makes me one happy writer!
And for my amazing reviewers, thank you for your encouragement, I love hearing from you! In particular, I want to thank these reviewers whose messages I always look forward to: websterdevil, ga-4-ever, SlytherinGurrl, vickifay, linux-Ginny, Margo Alaska, waterflower20, FairoozT, BookSweetHeart, Dobz, Ataum, BlueBerrySourStraps, TheShiningStar, Iromena, hoshiakari7 - this list is by no means exhaustable, but you lovely reviewers are always there for the story, and I feel so lucky to have such devoted readers :)
As I said in the previous chapters, I do have a couple more story ideas floating in the expanse of (mostly) emptiness which I call my brain. But as you can tell by the delay in me putting this last chapter up, I'm very busy at the moment looking for a job and freelancing, so it might be a while before I start a new story, if I do at all! When or if that happens, I'll be sure to give you guys a heads up.
So that's it, before this A/N runs longer than the chapter itself! It's been incredibly fun and incredibly difficult at the same time finishing this story, but I absolutely loved it. Hopefully see you all soon!
P.S. I removed the A/N that used to be Chapter 14 so now the chapters are buggered - if you reviewed Chapter 21 last time (used to be 22), then you'll have to sign out and leave one as a guest for the last chapter! If you put down your username, I can still send you a reply through PM :)