Author's Note: I know I haven't titled any previous chapters, but this title is simply perfect. It's taken from an episode of Lost.
Beta Credits: A writer could not ask for a better team of betas. Endless thanks to manda, drcjsnider, and Buzzy.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to JK Rowling. I write to learn. No money is being made.
Chapter 9 – All Cowboys Have Daddy Issues
The day after James was born, Draco went to the Ministry in order to inquire about visiting his father. He went to the Department of Law Enforcement and was asked to wait for someone to speak with him.
"Mr. Malfoy?" said a short, balding wizard. "I was told you are inquiring about someone in Azkaban?"
"I would like to visit a prisoner, yes," he replied.
The older man gave a strained smile. "I see. Very good. Here are the forms you must fill out before your request can be granted."
Draco frowned, staring at the pieces of parchment being handed to him. "Forms? I can't just … go to the prison? It's just my father."
"Oh, no, sir. I'm afraid not." He waved the forms at Draco. "First things first."
Grumbling, Draco filled out the required paperwork and left, feeling both relieved that he didn't have to see his father that day and discouraged that his attempt had been thwarted.
He received a letter from the Ministry four days later informing him that his request to see Lucius Malfoy had been received, processed, and approved. His appointment, however, was not for almost three weeks. As he stared at the letter in frustration, all his plans temporarily halted, a pang of loneliness clutched his chest and Draco realized he missed Hermione. A mere five days had passed since he last saw her, and it felt like far too long. The letter was a good excuse to visit her, and it would also show her that he was taking action, as he had said he would. After glancing at a clock, Draco decided to do something he had never done before: visit Hermione at work.
Draco knocked on the door of her office in the Department of Education, where Hermione was Assistant Director in charge of a new program providing pre-Hogwarts training for Muggle-borns. The transition from life as a Muggle into the magical world could be overwhelming, and Hermione wanted to help children and their families make a smoother entry than even her own.
After he had knocked, however, he got nervous. She wasn't expecting him; what if she was in a meeting? What if she was busy? What if—
Draco swallowed, took a deep breath, and entered the office. "Hey," he said.
Hermione's eyes were wide, but she also seemed delighted to see him. "Hi!" she said, starting out of her seat, but then changing her mind and sitting down again. "This is a surprise. Would you like to sit?" She indicated the chair opposite hers.
He nodded, slightly uncomfortable with the way she was looking at him, as though he had just promised her the moon and stars. "I thought you might want to see this," he said, handing her the letter from the Ministry.
She took it and quickly read it. "I had no idea the wait time for seeing prisoners was so long," she remarked, returning the letter.
"They said something about lack of adequate staffing and scheduling limitations. Plus, he's a high-security prisoner." Draco now glanced around the small space, surprised to find it slightly messy.
After a few almost-awkward moments, Hermione spoke. "I'm glad you got that appointment. It's just too bad that you have to wait a few weeks."
He nodded. "I know."
"Do you have any idea what you're going to say to him?" she asked.
"I've thought about it," he replied. "When I first went there, I had no idea, but now … I have a basic idea what I want to ask and say."
She smiled. "That's great."
"Say, Hermione …" He trailed off, unsure of himself. He had accomplished what he had set out to do, but now that he was there, with her, he found that he was in no hurry to leave. "Do you, um, get breaks?"
She blinked, for a moment taken aback. "Oh! Well, we get lunch, but I usually work through it. I'm sure it would be all right if I took a short break."
Draco smiled. "It's past lunch, so how does Fortescue's sound?" Ice cream had always been one of Hermione's favorite treats, one they had frequently indulged in during the period where they had seen a lot of each other.
Ten minutes later, they were sitting outside the ice cream parlour, Hermione eating caramel on a waffle cone and he his usual chocolate chunk with syrup and sprinkles in a cup.
"Trying something new?" he asked as he watched her lick at a drop that had run down the cone.
"Yes," she said simply. "But butterscotch will always be my favorite."
"That's good to know." He gave her a crooked smile. "Wouldn't want things to change too much."
"Some things will never change." She cast him a pointed look as she said it, then took another bite. "Oh!" she said suddenly, her eyes bright with excitement. "Did you get yours? I've been meaning to ask."
"Get my … what?" he said, confused. He wanted to believe she meant her feelings would never change.
"Your invitation." She emphasized the latter word.
"Ah. Of course," he replied. "Yes, I got it."
Hermione shook her head. "I can't believe Ron is really getting married."
Draco chuckled. "Likewise about Pansy. I had almost given up hope that she would find someone who would treat her the way she deserves."
"They're an interesting match," Hermione remarked. "But I think they're very good together. Ron needs someone who will look out for him, and Pansy is just the woman to do it."
"She needs a man who can be strong when she needs him to be. I'm happy to say that Ron is that man." Draco took his last bite of ice cream.
"I've already RSVP'd," Hermione said, focusing on collecting the most enjoyable bite she could.
"Do we even need to?" Draco asked. "We are in the wedding party; it seems frivolous to tell them what they already know."
"Common courtesy, I think. It would hardly kill you to do it, you know. It was a very simple process."
He leaned back in his seat, knowing it was true. He only had to touch his wand to the response card, think 'one,' and the card would absorb the number and his magical signature, alerting whomever was keeping track of the count. "You're right. I suppose I could do it, if it's helpful."
"I believe they need to know the number of guests in order to prepare enough food," Hermione said. "Will your RSVP be the same, then?" She only lifted her eyes to look at him.
Draco frowned, understanding taking a moment to sink in. "Don't be ridiculous," he quipped. As if he would secure a date for the wedding that wasn't her.
"Then who will you dance with?" she asked, her eyes smiling.
"I don't dance," he muttered.
Hermione raised an eyebrow and polished off her last bite. "You danced at Pansy's Christmas party," she reminded him. "It's a wedding. Everyone should dance at a wedding. Besides, do you think Pansy would let it go?"
Draco chuckled. "If you think Pansy's opinion on the matter will change anything, you don't know me very well."
"I never said it would," Hermione stated. "I mentioned it to prepare you for an entire evening of her pulling the 'It's my wedding day!' card until you cave. If you don't, then it will be all night."
"You're right," Draco mused. "It's so much better this way, having three weeks to come up with reasons why I won't dance, rather than trying to think of them in the moment."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Or you could dance, Draco. Save yourself the time and energy."
"I would only consider dancing with you," he said matter-of-factly, fidgeting with the napkin that had accompanied his ice cream and not meeting her eyes. "What do you say? Help me keep Pansy from targeting me with her incessant nagging?"
"Well, I've had dozens of requests already," she said playfully. "But I suppose I could fit you in."
"You're really doing Pansy a favor. Ron too, since he won't have to hear her complain all night," Draco added. "You know, because on her wedding day, I'm sure she'll have nothing better to do than worry about what I'm doing."
Hermione chuckled lightly and an awkward silence ensued.
Draco was just about to order another scoop when she spoke.
"I should get going. The ice cream was delicious."
"Thank you for joining me." He smiled.
"When will I see you again?" she asked, her tone impassive despite the burning curiosity in her eyes.
"I'm not sure," he admitted. "I have a full two weeks ahead of me, and I would like to visit James." He paused. The thought of going even one week without seeing her seemed unbearable. "I will see you."
She smiled bravely and gathered her things. "Well, you know where to find me."
The very first free hour he could find, Draco went to visit Ginny and James. She was in the living room, holding a sleeping James on her chest, half-asleep herself. She smiled when she saw him. "Draco. Hello."
"Hi, Ginny." He went directly to her side and leaned over so he could watch James' face. He couldn't believe how much he'd changed in just a few days. After watching the infant breathe a few times, Draco straightened. "How is he?"
"He's perfect, Draco," she replied serenely.
"I brought you some soup I made. It's frozen from a few weeks ago."
"Oh, thank you! Everyone brings gifts for the baby – it was sweet of you to think of Harry and me." James twitched then and made a fussy noise, and Ginny rubbed his back. "Want him?" she asked.
"Yes," he said without hesitation.
James' head bobbled as Ginny handed him to Draco, who steadied it with his hand as he brought the boy to his chest. He sat awkwardly on the sofa, feeling as though he was doing something wrong. His arms would tire in no time from holding James the way he was.
Ginny chuckled. "Here, put this on your lap." She tucked a pillow under his arms, allowing him to relax. "I'm going to freshen up a bit and put the soup away. Would you like something to drink?"
He declined. While she was gone, Draco allowed himself to picture Hermione returning to the room instead of Ginny. They would be in his house, and he would be holding his child. It amazed him how easily the thoughts of a life with her came now, where once he had refused to even consider the possibility that she fancied him.
He was still afraid, and he suspected it had something to do with why he hadn't gone near the cliff in months. The two were linked, somehow: the cliff and Hermione. He had to just shut his eyes and take that leap, but he didn't know which one had to happen first. The most logical course seemed to be Hermione, which would, in turn, give him the courage to finally jump off the cliff the way he wanted to: no broom.
When Ginny returned, James was again fast asleep. She pulled her legs up beneath her and sipped from a cup of tea. Then she fixed a steady gaze on him. "Well?"
Draco blinked. "Well … what?"
"When is someone going to tell me what's going on with you and Hermione?" she complained, her exasperation apparent. "Harry won't budge, I can't bribe Ron with food … Pansy won't even look me in the eye because she knows she'll tell. Why am I being left out?" Her last question had fallen to a pout.
Draco smiled and shook his head. "I just assumed you knew," he said.
"Well, I don't," she huffed.
"Have you asked Hermione?" he inquired.
"Why didn't I think of that?" she scoffed sarcastically. "Yes, I've asked. All she does is smile like she's got a fantastic secret, hum a bit, and say 'nothing.' I'm out of patience, and I'm out of sources. Don't make me beg, Malfoy!"
"Wouldn't dream of it," he said, unable to take his eyes off the sleeping infant. "Hermione was technically telling the truth. Nothing is officially going on."
"Unofficial then?" Ginny asked.
"About time! Merlin, she's been sending you wayward looks for years!"
Draco frowned. "Years?"
"Don't tell me you didn't notice," Ginny scolded.
He shook his head. "I didn't know she fancied me until she kissed me."
Ginny's jaw dropped. "No! She kissed you?"
"Yes." He smirked.
"When? Where? I-I can't believe she didn't tell me!"
"Two months, nine days, four hours, give or take. Not that I'm keeping track." He smirked.
She rolled her eyes. "Right. I can't believe you were so oblivious! How could you not have noticed that she was interested?" Ginny demanded. "During the war? When you lived at Grimmauld Place?"
"I'm afraid my thoughts were elsewhere during that time," Draco explained.
Ginny just shook her head with a chuckle. "Everybody suspected. Well, except you, it would appear."
"That's right, I had no idea," he said, feeling slightly dazed at what he was hearing. "I was transitioning from one life to another, dealing with the knowledge that I had abandoned my family, worrying about my mother, and putting up with Harry and Ron's—not to mention most of the Order's—initial distrust of me. Romantic concerns weren't even in my sphere of thinking at that time. Short of throwing herself at me, nothing would have made me consider that she felt anything for me."
"Oh," said Ginny, somewhat deflated. "I can see that."
Draco rolled his eyes.
"But what about after the war?" she pressed. "Surely then…"
He shook his head. "I was still too inwardly focused, worried about the things in my life I needed to set right. Plus there was taking over the family business, learning it, moving into my house…"
"You were busy," Ginny remarked.
"So what's different now?" she asked.
"A lot of things," he said vaguely.
"I remember when she first told me," Ginny said wistfully. "She thought I would be angry with her, but who am I to judge Cupid? He strikes where he sees fit, and there's nothing anyone can do about it." She chuckled. "Hermione was so nervous that you still disliked her, or worse, that you wouldn't even notice her."
"I noticed her," Draco admitted. After the conversation with my mother.
"She also didn't think she was good enough for you."
It was Draco's turn to gape. "You're joking!"
"I'm not. Your past was obviously far behind you, and she saw—we all saw—a different Draco Malfoy. You were quiet and sullen, but also determined, and nothing could stand in your way. It's not exactly an unattractive quality."
"Still! I … I was also a Death Eater and I'm ashamed to admit, a murderer. The spawn of evil itself, I think your other half once said."
"You were. Then you chose not to be. Hermione saw what you were and always would be, outside of labels and tattoos. You're richer than should be legal, and getting richer every moment. You've always had an air about you of confidence, even at your lowest moments, that is intimidating. You're smart, well-read, eloquent – usually. Apparently, you've decided to become some kind of philanthropist. You're the desire of single witches everywhere, and you're incredibly good-looking. I only say that because I know it isn't possible for your ego to get any bigger. So, from her perspective, what does she have to offer someone like that – like you?"
"I'm hopelessly flawed, Ginny. She deserves better. All I can do is try."
"And if she wants to be with you, she'll do the same. As long as you both want to keep trying, you'll make it work."
He looked at her skeptically.
"I know you don't see how she could worry about being good enough for you, but that's because you've got such a negative attitude about yourself." Ginny set her teacup down and crossed her arms.
"Perhaps," he admitted reluctantly. "I suppose I see your point."
"Good," she said firmly. "Now tell me what's going on!"
Draco shrugged. "I love her. There's nothing more or less I can say."
After what felt like an eternity of anticipation, the date arrived for Draco to visit his father. The appointment was in the afternoon, so Draco went straight from work to the Ministry, where he presented the required paperwork and was shuttled off to the wizarding prison.
Too soon, Draco was ushered into a bare, stone room, where he waited for his father. He almost threw up when they escorted him in. Even in simple prison garb and with his hair shorn, Draco still found him intimidating. Regardless of the circumstances, Lucius still had a superior, aristocratic, fearsome look in his eyes.
"Draco." Lucius' voice was hard as steel and his eyes as cold as ice.
Lucius sat across from Draco, who motioned for the guards to leave. They stared at each other, a battle of wills so to speak, for minutes. Draco finally looked away, unable to stare into the eyes that were so like his own, fear that he would fail Hermione settling into the pit of his stomach.
"What are you doing here?" Lucius asked with a superior drawl
Draco said nothing, still looking away.
"Really, son." The word was spoken as though it was painful to admit. "Why did you come all the way here and interrupt my day, if not to chat?"
The caustic tone of his father's voice did not have its intended effect. Instead of inciting terror, it only reassured Draco that he was, in fact, a very different man than his father, and that he was doing the right thing. He slowly turned back to his father, his eyes hard. "Tell me how my mother died."
Lucius' eyes flashed dangerously. "I believe you already received that information."
Draco scoffed. "You toldme a lie. I know for a fact that she wasn't upset in the least about me turning. She told me she was proud of me. And people don't die because their children turn out differently than they expect."
Lucius leaned forward. "When did you decide I had lied to you?"
"As soon as I finished your letter. Father."
"I had to write something, didn't I?" Lucius shrugged. "My mail was being intercepted. The Dark Lord was not pleased with your defection."
"I couldn't care less," Draco said.
Lucius leaned back and frowned. Then he started picking at his nails. "So. Draco. Rumor has it you've become someone now. Usually it takes months to set up these … meetings and for far less important Death Eaters than me. Imagine my surprise when they told me who had requested a visit."
Draco sneered. He hated letting his emotions show so easily, but where his father was concerned, anger bubbled menacingly just beneath the surface of his control. "It might rankle to know that I've got more pull now than you ever had. Father."
"Of course, of course," Lucius said, his tone deceptively breezy. "It helps to have friends in high places, you know."
"In case you missed the news, father, I had a bit to do with the fall of the Dark Lord myself. And since I inherited everything after your imprisonment, I think it's safe to say I am in a high place."
Lucius smirked. "You're still a traitor, son. And you'll always have that to live with. I may be in here, but I know that my loyalties have always been constant."
He glared at his father. "If you were as loyal as you claim, you would've been in here for my entire life." Lucius started to speak. "No. I don't want to have this argument. I am here about Mother. Tell me how she died."
"What gives you the right to come here and demand things of me?" Lucius challenged. "I am still your father, even from here. You owe me respect."
"She was my mother; that gives me the right to demand to know what happened to her. As for my respect, you lost that a long time ago."
Lucius regarded him coldly. "She was killed."
Draco inhaled sharply. He had always assumed she'd been murdered, but actually hearing the truth of it stung. "I figured that much. By whom?"
"What are you going to do?" Lucius sneered, learning on the table that sat between them. "Hunt him down? Kill him? Lock him up?" He laughed evilly. "Maybe you'd like to take a pitiful traitor's revenge?"
Draco considered the question. Now that he was here, speaking with his father … his reasoning didn't seem so clear. He had unwittingly given his father a lot of power over his future. He had arranged this interview with the understanding that Lucius' answer to dictate his next move.
However, if his suspicions were confirmed … Would he really be able to walk away from Hermione, from the future he wanted with her? The thought of going a week without seeing her had seemed unbearable; could he really accept that the rest of his life would be bereft of her company?
The answer was a resounding no. He had come too far, fallen too deeply to let one word from his father make any difference. It wouldn't change how he felt, so why should he let it change how he acted?
Still, Draco was concerned. If Lucius had killed his mother, then he would be fearful of one day hurting Hermione irreparably. He would simply have to work extra hard to ensure that didn't happen.
"No. I am not like you."
Lucius studied his son carefully. "No, I suppose you're right. I never would have turned my back on my beliefs, my family, the way you did."
"Who killed her?" Draco demanded through clenched teeth. His father's words hit too close to home. "I can easily delve into your mind, or ask that Veritaserum be administered. It would be easier if you just told me, but either way, I'm not leaving without the answer." He sneered. "Did you even love her, Father? Or was she just a pawn in your sick Pure Blood game?"
Lucius' eyes flashed angrily. "I always loved her, from the moment we met. How dare you question my affections?"
"Then how could you choose him over her?" Draco shouted. "Over your family? How could you possibly swear to love Mum forever, and then turn your back on her to serve that psychotic megalomaniac?" He hadn't meant to raise his voice, but the anger had resurfaced and he didn't even try to hold it in.
Lucius' eyes narrowed.
"Whatever you try to tell me, whatever lies you're concocting in your sick mind, just forget it. I heard your fights as a kid! Voldemort drove a wedge between you that eventually led to her death! She died because of you!"
"There is something I want you to understand," Lucius articulated. "It's very important. I loved your mother more than anything. She and I chose him together; I didn't drag her along on a fool's quest for power. She fully supported me. Only later in life, when she saw the effects our decision had on you, did she reconsider her choice and finally come to regret it."
His father's words gave Draco pause. His mother had never discussed her relationship with his father, nor the circumstances that led to their involvement with the Dark Lord.
"Still, you did nothing to support her. You continued working for him."
Lucius sighed. "You should know that one does not simply quit serving the Dark Lord. Your mother wrote to me of the Dark Lord's expectations for you, saying she was terrified. It was difficult to do much of anything from inside these walls, but I was able to send her a letter. I told her to go to Severus for help in protecting you, which she did."
"After you were released from prison," Draco pushed, "you still didn't show any signs of wanting to change."
"I had to protect her!" Lucius countered. "The best way to do that was to stay close. If the Dark Lord had found out about her wavering convictions, she would have been immediately killed. I had only been out of Azkaban for eight months when you turned traitor and she fell ill." At Draco's shocked expression, Lucius smirked. "Yes, she became sick—with worry for you."
Lucius studied Draco thoughtfully and then sighed. "The night before her death, your mother came to me to tell me she was leaving. She said she was going to find you. She asked me to come with her but I refused, promising to conceal her disappearance for as long as possible. I wanted to ensure that she reach you safely; however, she was unsuccessful. One of our Lord's faithful found her and killed her." Lucius paused, and Draco saw barely checked fury in his eyes.
His father anticipated his next accusation. "Even you must know that eventually I had to tell him. Had he found out from anyone else, he would have killed me. As it was, he was furious that I'd promised her time to find you."
"You called me a coward in your letter, but you chose to let Mother die so that you would live." Draco couldn't remember ever being so angry. "I may be mistaken, but I believe that makes you the coward. Father."
Lucius scowled. "I had been under the impression that she was going directly to you. I knew about the meeting you had with her; I thought you had sorted out the details at that time. I couldn't discuss this with her, as the Dark Lord would have been able to discover her answers through Legilimancy. I honestly had no idea you were so well hidden, or I would have given her more time."
Draco shut his eyes tight and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I didn't even know she wanted to find me. If I had, I would have made sure she found me. That day … she didn't tell me she was thinking of leaving, just the opposite. She told me she would never leave you."
"Yet she did," Lucius quipped. "There is no need for you to worry about finding the fool who did it. I tracked him down and killed him." He sat up straight, his expression almost proud. "He was one of the Dark Lord's favorites, however, and I was set up." He held up his hands. "And now I sit before you."
"You didn't kill her?" Draco asked, amazed.
Lucius arched an eyebrow. "You thought I had done it? No, Draco. I never would have killed Narcissa. I was truly grieved when I learned of her death."
"So who was it?" Draco asked, not bothering to mask his anger and grief.
Lucius sneered. "Your uncle."
Draco was completely stunned. He had fully expected to learn that his father his killed his mother. It had never entered his mind to consider another possibility. To learn the truth, that Lucius had killed the man who'd murdered Narcissa and was sent to Azkaban by the Dark Lord as his punishment, was a complete shock. He'd always assumed his parents never really loved each other, and now his father had provided evidence to the contrary.
"Would you do it differently? If you could?" Draco asked.
Lucius shook his head. "No. Not one moment do I regret. Except, of course, telling the Dark Lord of Narcissa's turn. I had believed she would find you. She was killed for my mistake. And I miss her. Nothing could change my fate; I would still be here, in Azkaban, because the Dark Lord was defeated. But I would still have her."
Draco ran a hand through his hair and saw his father's jaw twitch, his eyes dart to Draco's full head of hair. He was jealous! For reasons unknown, it made Draco happy. Never had he imagined his father could be jealous of anyone, let alone his own son.
He smiled wickedly. "You're a horrible father."
Lucius' eyes narrowed.
"But you are the only one I've got." Draco sighed and buried his head in his hands. "There's this … woman."
Lucius laughed. The sound startled Draco; it was a real, good-natured laugh, not like the cruel, heartless ones he had heard growing up. "You came to see me about a woman."
"And Mum," he muttered.
"Draco," said Lucius pointedly. "You are my son. You should have no trouble attracting the attentions of the finer sex."
He looked at his father's proud smirk and he wanted to dash it to pieces by telling him who. "I'm in love with one."
Lucius stopped and stared. "Ah, I see. That's different. Who is she?"
Draco shook his head. "It doesn't matter who, Father. I love her."
"Of course it matters, Draco. There are things to be settled, you know. Is it Pansy? Oh dear, I hope not. She was always so whiny and clingy. Someone I don't know, perhaps?"
"Pansy's marrying Ron Weasley," Draco said pleasantly. "In a little over a week. I surmise that rumor hadn't reached you."
"At least he's a pureblood." his father said.
Draco glared at the older man. "Blood traitor is the term I believe you're looking for. I have always been under the impression such people were almost as low as Muggle-borns."
Lucius returned the nasty look, his eyes narrowed. "Honestly, son. Do get on with it. I have better things to do than sit here and listen to you regurgitate my words."
Draco was quiet for a few minutes, thinking. The reason he had not sought the truth about his mother before was because he believed he knew already knew it. He had come today, expecting a confirmation straight from his father's mouth, to hear him confess to killing the woman he had once claimed to love. And yet, an entirely different truth had been revealed, one that had Draco considering the possibility that he was, indeed, more like his father than he had once thought. Lucius had put his family—his wife, at least—before the Dark Lord, when he was required to make that choice.
The truth … the truth was like flying, like jumping off a cliff. He felt light and invincible, free from the chains of his past and his family. An enormous burden had been lifted from his soul, and he felt indescribably free. Free to do anything, be anything … be with the one he loved.
"She's a Muggle-born, Father." Draco spoke lightly, as though he could have been discussing the weather. His father's reaction now would likely render the chasm between them impassable. Though he was proud to be like his father in one respect, this matter was not something they could ever agree on.
Lucius' bored expression twisted into a snarl. "A Mudblood?"
"Muggle-born," Draco repeated.
"You're in love with a Mudblood," said Lucius, his fierce eyes boring into Draco's.
"A Muggle-born. Yes."
Lucius didn't speak; he could only glare at Draco.
"Speechless, father? My, that was easy. If I'd known that was all it took, I would've told you ages ago."
"And what are you intentions with this witch?"
"Marry her, if she'll have me." Tomorrow, if he could manage it.
"You do realize, I'm sure, that you'll be ending generations of pureblood lines," Lucius spat. "Even the Blacks … your mother's family … will end with you."
"No, father, just the pure blood will end. I will always be a Malfoy. You've made certain of that."
"And yet, you don't care about the consequences of this decision."
"No, I do not," Draco admitted. "Not one bit."
The two men stared at each other coldly. Then Lucius' eyes softened. "It is a sobering thing when a father's greatest wish and greatest fear come true."
"And what is that?" Draco asked.
"His son learns to think for himself."
"Your mother warned me something like this might happen." Lucius sighed heavily, as though resigning himself to a fate worse than death.
Draco shut his eyes tight. What was it with her? Not for the first time, Draco wondered if she had been born with Seer blood and magic.
"I have had a lot of time to think about this. There is only one Muggle-born witch who even comes close to receiving my approval. Your mother spoke well of her. Not that it matters, not that you need or are asking for my approval. So tell me. Who is she?"
Draco looked into his father's eyes to discover them sincere; he was telling the truth. Draco mumbled her name under his breath quickly, preparing himself for the inevitable.
"What was that?" said Lucius with a smirk.
"Ah, I see."
"Is she by any chance the only one who comes close?"
"Of course," Lucius said with a nod.
"And you would never accept her."
"Why? Because you're closed-minded and small?"
"I still hold to the ancient traditions, Draco. I believe certain people do not deserve the magic which is bestowed upon them. Despite the Mudblood's magical prowess, she is still vastly inferior to you in all respects."
"That's not true," Draco growled. "She is brilliant, not just with magic, and she is kind and fair. She thinks better of people than they deserve, and she wants to make the world a better place. She's amazing, she works hard at a meaningful job. If anyone is superior, it's her, and I am happy to be counted her equal."
Lucius frowned. "It sounds to me as though she is too good for you."
Draco laughed. He laughed hard and it wasn't funny. "I know," he said, when he pulled himself together. "Merlin, she is, I know. But she still wants me."
"Don't screw up, Draco."
He glared at his father. "You always think me a failure."
"So prove me wrong."
The sun was bright and unforgiving as it beat down on Draco's back. He stood on the edge of the cliff, broom in one hand, feeling strangely calm. When he returned from Azkaban, he had felt that familiar surge inside him, only this time it was all-consuming. It was time.
Draco thought about his mother, of the seemingly innocuous statement she had made those years ago on her birthday.
Who knows? Maybe she'll be a Muggle-born? Never say never…
For so long, he had wanted to know what she'd meant, understand her words, and learning that she had said expressed a similar sentiment to his father only solidified his belief that she knew something.
Perhaps she simply knew her son better than he'd believed possible, and knew that he could never settle for others' expectations—especially his parents'. Once he learned to speak and think for himself, if he couldn't reconcile what he'd been taught to think and believe with his own observations of the world, he wouldn't have mindlessly followed. Narcissa had seen this, and had been forced to come to terms with the knowledge that her son might fall in love with a woman 'below his station.' In the end, the notion hadn't been as awful as she'd thought.
The wind whipped through Draco's cloak, and he set the broom on the ground in order to remove it. Nature was too quick for him, however, and the breeze caught the garment, ripping it out of his hands and sending it floating above the sea. He watched it twist and spin on its way down, down to the rocks and crashing waves, and it reminded Draco of the first time he'd encountered this cliff, right after the war had ended. He had been terrified then, but also mesmerized, and that had started his twenty-month quest to jump off the cliff.
What would his mother think of his decision to be with Hermione? He didn't think she'd be upset by it, considering her words the last day he'd seen her, but the truth was, he would never know. Lucius had seemed almost … proud. Not that he had chosen a Muggle-born, chosen to go against generations of pureblood rhetoric; he was still Lucius Malfoy. Instead, he seemed proud that Draco had made a hard choice and stuck by it.
Which brought Draco back to the present. He hadn't followed through with his decision yet, but he had every intention of doing so. Finally letting Hermione into his life, all the way in, with no walls and no defenses, would be exactly like jumping off the cliff. Letting go of himself.
A fresh gust of wind blew, and Draco's heart starting pounding. His broom was still on the ground, and he positioned it just so, ready for him to Summon it.
When he stood again, his back straight and his head held high, he briefly wondered what would happen if he failed. Hermione would probably resurrect him just so she could hex him for doing something so stupid and leaving her.
That thought steeled him. He wouldn't fail, because there was nothing that could keep him from her. It was as simple as that.
Gripping his wand, Draco took a deep breath. As he prepared to jump, a thousand things—images, people, conversations—flashed through his mind.
Then he did it.
One second he was bombarded with sensations, the next—nothing. He was falling freely, propelled toward the surface of the earth by the force of gravity, and it was incredible. It was more exhilarating than flying because there was no guarantee he wouldn't plummet to his death.
The sight of the rocks growing closer and closer was terrifying, but he held his cool, and Summoned his broom at the precise moment he had calculated. Once he righted himself those crucial inches from the rocks, their razor sharp edges defeated, he realized what it was all about, why he had become so obsessed with the cliff. It wasn't about coming close to death, as he'd thought. Instead, it was about finally knowing what it meant to be alive. To make that decision, to choose a path and walk it, regardless of the obstacles that might arise.
Draco didn't linger over the water as he had in the past. He flew to the cliff, his heart still pounding from the thrill and his thoughts focused on Hermione. No, it was time to start living, and he didn't want to waste a second. He finally gave himself permission to live, and forgave himself for everything he'd done.
Knock, knock, knock.
He waited. The door opened.
"Draco!" A surprised Molly Weasley greeted him wearing an apron. She had flour on her hands and face.
"Molly, how are you?" he asked pleasantly.
"Well, I'm just fine," she said, ushering him into the Burrow. "I've just been baking with Little Arthur and Suzette—you remember Bill and Fleur's children—and they're having a great time, but making quite the mess. How are you?"
"Pretty good, actually," he said, glancing around the room. "How are the wedding preparations?"
Molly shook her head and continued to the kitchen. "Oh, you know how it is. It's an absolute zoo around here! Pansy's parents will be here for dinner tomorrow night, and the last minute details are all-consuming." She paused and looked at him significantly. "When it's your turn, my only hope is that your bride-to-be isn't dead-set on replicating this perfect image she's had in her head since she was old enough to play with dolls."
Draco grinned. He didn't think he was going to have that particular problem. "Is Ron here, by any chance?"
"Oh, yes, he is. He's with Pansy on the back porch."
He hesitated; he had hoped he would be able to speak with Ron privately.
"Would you like me to let him know you're here?" Molly asked.
Draco chuckled. The woman was truly amazing, and he often wondered if she could hear people's thoughts. "That would be great, thank you, Molly."
She nodded. "Sure thing, dear. Have a seat on the front stoop, and I'll send him around."
Draco did as instructed and soon Ron appeared.
"Hey, mate," he said, taking an empty chair. "Everything okay?"
Draco grinned again and felt a little ridiculous for it. But he didn't care. "Everything's great, Ron. I'm keeping my word."
Ron frowned. "Your word? What do you mean?"
"I told you that you'd be the first person I told."
He frowned deeper, then his eyes lit up. "Is this about Hermione? Are you going to tell her? Because she's—"
"No, Ron. This isn't about her." He waved his hand dismissively. "Come on, Weasley. You can get this."
Ron's brow furrowed deeper with thought. Then something dawned on him. "You jumped."
"Wow, when?" Ron's voice was full of awe.
"Just now," Draco replied.
"I … Wow!" Ron clapped him on the shoulder. "Mate, that's incredible! You did the whole thing, yeah?"
"Sure did." The grin simply wouldn't leave Draco's face.
"You really told me first?"
"Of course! Said I would, didn't I?"
"I'm honored." Then Ron smirked. "Harry doesn't even know, does he?"
"No, he doesn't," said Draco. "And I would like to tell him, if that's not too much to ask."
"Oh, sure, I keep quiet." Ron shook his head. "Merlin, when did you first tell us you were going to do this? It's been at least a year."
Draco nodded. "A year and a half, actually."
"Well, that's something, isn't it? We should go for a drink to celebrate. You, me, and Harry. Toast the cliff." At Draco's skeptical look, Ron grinned sheepishly. "Okay, maybe not. I don't know. Hermione usually takes care of these things."
"There's no need to take care of anything," Draco assured him. The last thing he wanted was for anyone to make a big deal out of this.
"So, what was it like?" Ron asked.
"Unlike anything," he said. "Indescribable."
"Excellent!" said Ron. "I bet it's a rush. When can I see?"
Draco frowned. "See what?"
Ron rolled his eyes. "When can I watch you jump? I bet Harry would want to watch, too."
"What?" Draco cried. "No, no one can watch. I don't plan on doing it again, anyway."
"Why not?" Ron asked, incredulous.
Draco sighed. "I didn't do it so that I could show people. It was … I needed to see something, to prove something to myself. To understand something about myself. It's not a circus act."
"But … well, fine." He paused, his expression turning mischievous. "Since you won't show us, can Harry and I come try?"
Draco laughed. "Not today. Today is my day."
Ron nodded enthusiastically. "Sure, yeah. But seriously, mate. We should go out. Drinks, at least. Pansy's spending time with her friends tonight, so you, me and Harry can go out."
He was waffling. It had been too long since he had done anything with his friends, and the idea of a relaxing night at the pub sounded really good. "Yeah, okay, sure."
"Excellent!" said Ron.
At that moment, Pansy came through the front door. "Oh, Ron, there you are," she started, but then saw Draco. Her eyes widened, she smiled and then flung her arms around him. "Draco!"
"Hi, Pansy," he said, gently prying her off. "You're exceptionally exuberant today."
She grinned. "I'm getting married in a week, and I'm simply too excited to sit still."
"No kidding," muttered Ron, before quickly kissing Pansy's cheek. "We're going out for drinks later," he told her.
"Good," she said. "Don't forget, Hermione asked you to bring her a cup of tea when you're finished."
"I know, I know," Ron said, "I've already got the water going."
Draco frowned. "Hermione's here?"
Pansy raised an eyebrow. "Yes …"
"Where is she?" His heart was pounding more than it had just before he had jumped earlier that day.
"On the back porch," Pansy said impatiently. "She is my friend, you know, and we're going out tonight, so … Hey!"
Draco hadn't heard anything after 'porch.' He left Pansy and Ron and walked quickly to the back of the house. He almost lost his nerve when he saw that Hermione was not alone, but was instead with Fred, George, Harry, Ginny, Fleur, and a few other people he couldn't immediately place.
Harry called his name, but he barely acknowledged it. His eyes were fixed on Hermione, and he tried not to be too annoyed that she was leaning against the railing beside Fred. Draco wasn't thinking; he was going on feelings. All he knew was that when he heard Hermione was nearby, he had to see her and nothing would keep him away.
Draco stopped in front of her and waited just long enough to inhale before he snaked one arm around her waist and the other up her back to lightly grasp the back of her neck. A look of surprise registered on her face before he angled her face toward his and kissed her.
Hermione hesitated for a second out of surprise, but then brought her hands up to his neck, pulled his head closer, and pressed her body flush against him.
Vaguely, Draco's brain registered the sounds of whooping and hollering from those around him, plus the slamming of a door, which he guessed was Fred.
It wasn't too long, however, before everyone and everything disappeared, leaving just the two of them. It was like one of those movies she'd dragged him to, where they're kissing in a crowded room, and the camera spins, and soon there's no one there but just them, and the camera still spins.
She allowed him to deepen the kiss, responding with equal passion and fervor, one hand pulling at his robes and the other fisted at the base of his neck. Merlin, he could kiss her forever and not get tired of it.
Again, his brain registered a sound, this time of someone clearing his throat. A few snickers followed, and then finally someone whispered that perhaps they should all leave. He sensed when they were truly alone, and he nibbled on her bottom lip, causing her to sigh agreeably.
Much too soon, Draco realized he would have to make a decision before things went too far and it was made for him. He wanted to continue kissing her, but he also knew she deserved a few things from him. Reluctantly, he slowly, unwillingly, softened the kiss, and pulled away.
Their eyes met and he leaned forward so their foreheads were touching. "You're so beautiful."
She opened her mouth to speak but he pulled away and gently placed a finger on her lips to silence her.
"Hermione," he began, his heart still racing. Her eyes were shining, the traces of a smile gracing their corners. "I love you."
Her eyes widened now, but still he kept his finger pressed to her mouth. "I know my actions haven't made a lot of sense, and I know that I've hurt you. I'm so sorry; it wasn't intentional. I—I'm ready now, ready to give myself to you. Be with me. I don't want to waste another moment of my life without you in it."
Draco slowly removed his hand and waited. She stared at him for a few seconds and then launched herself at him, throwing her arms around him. "Oh, Draco," she cried against his chest.
He squeezed her tighter and rested his cheek on her head, breathing in the scent of her hair. When she moved, he released her.
"I love you too," she said.
Draco was overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and fear, but he quickly banished them, remembering what Ginny had said. Not taking his eyes from Hermione's, he lightly placed his hand on her cheek. She immediately leaned into his touch, and then he cupped her face and kissed her. This time it was slow and deliberate, taking the time to explore and discover and memorize. Too quickly, his pulse was racing again, and he broke the kiss. There was a time and place for more, and this was neither. Instead of speaking, he took her hand and kissed the inside of her wrist.
"I also agree with you."
"About what?" He entwined his fingers with hers and let their hands hang loosely between them.
"Not wanting to waste another moment without you." With her free hand, she traced the line of his jaw, sending intense waves of pleasure through him. "I've always wanted to do this," she mused, almost to herself more than to him. "There are so many things I've wanted to do with you, to you, but I always held back, not knowing how you would react. I don't want to have to censor my actions anymore."
"Nor do I," he said. Keeping his eyes locked with hers, he turned his head into her hand and kissed her palm.
She only smiled, continuing to trace the lines of his face.
"So we're agreed. No more wasted time," he forced through a thick haze that was beginning to seep into his brain. Hermione didn't respond, but continued exploring his face with her hand. "You'll be with me." She nodded. "Forever."
That made her pause. She withdrew her hand and quirked an eyebrow. "We haven't even had our first date yet," she observed playfully.
Draco smiled at her. "We've been dating for over a year. It just hasn't carried that title."
"I hardly think the sporadic nature of our relationship thus far—not talking for months at a time—qualifies as a courtship."
He pulled her in for another kiss and buried his hands in her hair. "Then why am I already certain that I want to spend my life with you?"
Hermione's breath hitched, and her expression was serious when she peered into his eyes. "You mean it?"
"Completely and irreversibly," he replied without hesitation.
Slowly, she smiled, until her entire face was lit with joy. "Okay."
"Okay?" he repeated.
"Yeah. Okay. When do we start?"
That night, after announcements were made and drinks consumed, Draco held a sleeping Hermione as he stared at the painting she had given him. It still shimmered just as it had the day he'd received it, but he thought it seemed brighter now, the twinkling more brilliant. Perhaps it was merely a reflection of his mood, of finally having the woman he loved beside him, where she had promised to stay.
He hadn't been able to guarantee Hermione perfection, or that he would always be nice, or that his behavior would always make sense. He told her he would be moody and troubled at times, and anxious and hurting at other times, and he would expect her to know—unfairly, he admitted—which was which, and how best to deal with him. He couldn't promise her everything her heart desired, but he had promised to be hers forever, which she said was close enough.
- FIN -
The line "I'm hopelessly flawed" borrowed from "Little Women." Title of the chapter comes from an episode of Lost by the same name. The line "you're so beautiful" borrowed from Alias. This story was inspired by the song "The Absence of Fear" by Jewel.
there is this hunger, this restlessness inside of me
and it knows that you're no stranger, you're my gravity
Well, this story is now complete. There will NOT be an epilogue, unless some incredible plot bunny strikes. To recap:
October 6, 2006 – Started typing this story from hand-written pages. Originally called "Black Edge," it was supposed to be four ridiculously long chapters.
January, 2007 – Sent chapter 1 to Z for a beta. Chapter 1 (now the prologue through chapter 2), was then 20 pages, 12,185 words. (Now 42 pages, 18, 523 words)
April 2007 – Showed the story to Eilonwy, who suggested that maybe it needed a lot of work. Did some editing of specific things, but it's not enough.
June 2007 – Consider either deleting the whole story, or trying to do the massive rewrite suggested by eilonwy. Simply didn't know if the story was worth all that work. Posted on my LJ, got great response and an additional beta: Buzzy! She encouraged me to continue the story, that it was worth the effort. So, the massive reworking began.
July 2007 – Posted chapter 1!
Then chapters posted in August, September, 2 in December of 2007, then February, March, May, and finally today.
Only 9 chapters, you wouldn't think it would take so long, but this has been an amazing process. I've learned a lot about writing, putting together a story, a scene, a paragraph, a sentence. I owe it all to an incredible team of betas. Whether you've been there for part or all of this journey, I cannot thank you enough!
Z, eilonwy, kazfeist, buzzy, drcjsnider, and M:
I could take up a lot of space with thank-yous, but I won't. Hopefully, I've told you all throughout this fic just how much I appreciate you and your efforts on this story. The way you've cared for it and truly want it to be good means more to me than anything else.