Ambition's End: Epilogue
Disclaimer: Only the plot is mine. The characters, setting, and everything else belong to JKR.
Malfoy Manor was all decked out for the holidays. The grand ballroom was packed with people, with decorations, and with food. Hermione smiled at her husband from across the room. He was still engaged in a fierce argument with Ron over something about Quidditch. She didn't know what exactly they were debating, but it warmed her heart to see her husband getting along so well with her friends. It would be impossible to catch Draco's attention for some time, and so she decided to roam about the ballroom, mingling with their guests the way a good hostess should.
Usually Narcissa planned a gala for Christmas Eve but only hosted a few close friends for New Year's, claiming it was too exhausting to throw two balls in such quick succession. However, shortly after her son's wedding, the blonde witch had informed her new daughter-in-law that she would be in charge of planning their New Year's Eve party. Hermione could recall with perfect clarity the superior tone the older witch took when saddling her with that duty.
"And I was thinking whether or not we should coordinate our outfits for the Christmas Ball," Narcissa continued, "but I decided that would be too…." She made a dismissive gesture with her hands. "But do check in with me about your outfit nonetheless. I don't want our outfits to clash either. I wouldn't be able to show my face for weeks, and that simply wouldn't do as I have to attend your New Year's Eve gala the week after."
Hermione blinked. "What gala?" she asked.
"The one you're planning of course! Didn't Draco tell you?" The look Narcissa gave her was nothing short of condescending. Hermione sighed. While she sort of had a truce with her mother-in-law, she still found that dealing with the old witch anything but pleasant. She expected that Narcissa felt pretty much the same.
"No, he didn't," she said. "He probably intended to during the honeymoon, but trust me, he had other things on his mind." She smirked lasciviously and was gratified to see a faint blush cover Narcissa's cheeks.
However the other witch soon regained her composure. "Yes, well, be that as it may, we don't discuss that in public, dear. It's absolutely vulgar, you know," she said. "But since Draco hasn't told you, it appears that duty falls upon me. For years, I've been in charge of planning both our Christmas and New Year's parties. For New Year's, I hosted simpler events, usually just a few of our closest friends. That was out of necessity for having to host two galas in the space of a week…." She shuddered. "It's simply too much work."
"But now that you're part of the family," she went on, "you can take over that duty for me. Think of it as practice for the day you'll be responsible for our Christmas bash. It doesn't have to be all that large. I understand it's your first time, and you don't have much notice. But even then, do try not to embarrass us, darling."
Of course, Hermione hadn't taken the easy way out. She wasn't about to fall behind in her rivalry with the elder Mrs Malfoy so early into her marriage. Hermione had tossed herself wholeheartedly in to the task of planning a New Year's Eve party to rival the Christmas Ball Narcissa planned each year. She allowed herself a smug smile as she surveyed the room, silently congratulating herself on her success.
Hermione had gone with an Asian theme, knowing that the New Year was a bigger deal in the east than in the west. The decorations and food matched the theme accordingly. There were several noodle dishes for luck and longevity. Red and gold lanterns were strung about the entire ballroom, and all the plants were decked out with festive red ribbon. Hermione smiled as she thought of the special surprise she had planned for later in the evening. She had blatantly stolen the idea of a ceiling enchanted to look like the sky from Hogwarts. As midnight approached, the false sky would be filled with elaborate Chinese fireworks. All in all, Hermione thought she did a very good job.
The only area in which her party paled in comparison to Narcissa's was in the size of the guest list; hers was only half as long as the one for the Christmas Ball. That was partly by design, for Hermione thought the Manor had been too crowded during Christmas. However, the fact of the matter was that Hermione simply didn't know as many people as Narcissa did in the Wizarding World. As a result, her guest list was smaller.
Someone tapped her shoulder from behind, interrupting her thoughts. Hermione spun around and found herself face to face with Pansy Parkinson. Her face immediately lit up with a smile. "Hello Pansy," she said cheerfully. Then she did a double take. "Where's Justin? I thought you were coming together."
"We did," the other witch replied with an arch look, "but I sent him off to fetch some refreshments for me as I'm feeling thirsty."
"And you couldn't just summon a drink over?" Hermione asked.
"Why exert myself? That's what's Justin is for!" Pansy declared. Hermione grinned at the other witch's words. It was hard to believe that a little over a month ago she would have thought Pansy was being nasty rather than just teasing. Her opinion of the Slytherin witch had changed so much since Draco first brought her in to help Hermione plan this party.
Hermione looked up from her desk in the library as she heard her husband enter. "Oh good, you're here," she said. "I need you to go over the—"
Draco held up a hand to interrupt her. "I'd be useless, Hermione," he said. "I know just about as much as you when it comes to planning a gala like this. You'll probably say it's medieval, but that's a skill set taught to daughters, not to sons."
He was right. She didn't like that. Hermione bristled at his admission. "Be that as it may, I'd still appreciate your help. Does that mean you intend to abandon me in my time of need?"
"Not at all," he said. "I just thought Pansy would be able to help you better, and so I brought her here." He stepped to one side, revealing that the Slytherin witch had been behind him all along.
Hermione sized up the other witch, quietly wondering why Pansy would volunteer to help. Probably she was colluding with Narcissa to sabotage the party, Hermione decided. "I'll be fine, thanks," she said tightly.
Draco rolled his eyes. "If I can put up with your friends, then you can put up with mine. Especially since Pansy's so graciously offered to share what she knows about unwritten Wizarding customs with you."
That sounded too good to be true. Hermione switched her glare to Pansy and addressed her directly, "Sounds good, but what's in it for you?"
"Hermione!" Draco protested. Hermione could feel his annoyance through their bond
Pansy raised a hand to silence the wizard. "No, no. It's a fair question, Draco. I'll answer it," she said. "What's in it for me? Introductions."
"Introductions?" Hermione echoed.
"Yes, introductions. Seeing how I can't marry a pure-blood wizards, it behooves me to meet half-blood and Muggle-born wizards as I do intend to get married some day." The Slytherin witch glared at Draco from the corner of her eyes. "Someone was supposed to mention all that to you before this," she added acerbically.
"And I meant to. I just kept…getting distracted," said Draco. "Hermione's a very distracting witch."
"Ah yes. You were always single-minded like that," Pansy noted.
"You have no idea," Hermione muttered.
"Actually I do. You never had to stay up nights listening to him rant about how he was going to beat Gryffindor next year no matter what." Pansy glanced up and met Hermione's eyes, and just like that, a friendship was born.
Pansy's advice had been invaluable when it came to planning the party, and she had prevented Hermione from making any faux pas for Narcissa to point out. Their friendship blossomed, and Pansy became a frequent guest at their home. During one dinner party, Hermione had introduced Pansy to Justin Finch-Fletchley. The two had hit it off, finding that their upbringing had been similar in many ways, and they had been together since then.
"So have you seen your mother-in-law yet?" asked Pansy. "It's obvious she's not at all pleased that this party is turning out so well." She shuddered delicately. "Honestly that was one of the reasons why I never wanted to marry Draco, even though it was the match my parents were hoping for. Draco's difficult to deal with himself as he is so spoiled. To have to put up with a vindictive mother-in-law like Narcissa…I think I would have gone mad."
"I think I would go mad if it weren't for Draco," said Hermione. "He's really put his foot down when it comes to her being at open war with me. So now she can only hope that I fail rather than work actively towards making me fail."
"And that's probably why she hates you so much," Pansy noted.
"I can live with that," Hermione replied. "Speaking of in-laws, have you met Justin's parents yet?"
"No, we're not that serious yet." Pansy pulled a face. "Part of me wants to put that off as long as possible. It'll be an absolute disaster, I'm sure."
"What will be a disaster?" asked Justin from behind them.
"Gah!" Pansy jumped up from surprise. "Don't do that!" she cried, swatting at the wizard's arm. "How many times have I told you not to sneak up on me like that?"
"Countless," he replied. He looked over at Hermione and said in a stage whisper, "But I find I can't help myself. She's adorable when startled."
"Justin!" Pansy ground her heel into his foot. "How many times do I have to tell you? I'm sexy, seductive, gorgeous—but not ever adorable!"
"You should add impossible to that list," he said with a wince. Hermione took that as her signal to leave. She knew that once the couple tended to ignore everyone else once they got started like that. True to form, neither of them even spared her a glance as she said good bye.
Hermione drifted away from her friends and started mingling in earnest. Several times she ran into acquaintances she had not seen in ages, and so she stopped to ask how they were and if there was anything new going on in their lives. She received a surprising amount of good news. Dennis was now working part time at George's shop, and the two got along smashingly well. Neville's teaching at Hogwarts had improved so much that he would be taking over the instruction of the first and second years completely next term. And last but not least, there was Katie.
"Katie!" Hermione rushed through the opening in the crowd to reach her friend. Impulsively she hugged the other witch. "I haven't seen you since…well it's been so long that it seems like an eternity."
"I know, I know. It has been forever," the other witch said. She took a step back and examined her friend. "You look well. Married life agrees with you," she pronounced.
"That it does. So business is booming for you, I hear," said Hermione. Her friend had been in high demand as a wedding planner ever since Hermione's own wedding. Pure-blood witches marrying Muggle-borns were desperate for help when it came to dealing with their prospective Muggle relatives. As such when Katie had put out her first advert for her services as a wedding planner, the response had been tremendous. Hermione was very happy for her friend, but she did miss spending time with her.
Katie nodded her head. "That it is. Can you believe that I got another client just this morning? That's why I keep blowing you off. I simply don't have time for any sort of a social life any more."
"Oh I understand." And Hermione did. Keeping herself busy was a way for Katie to deal with the pain of losing the wizard she loved. It wasn't the healthiest thing to do, and Hermione vowed to keep a closer eye on her. Hopefully with time, the heartache would grow less for Katie and she would be able to find a wizard of her own. Hermione sighed.
"Are you all right?" Katie asked.
"Oh yes, I'm fine. I was just thinking that"—Hermione mentally cast about for an excuse—"I was thinking how it's good that both Ginny's business and yours are both doing so well right now. I'm glad for both of you."
Katie raised an eyebrow. "I didn't think you'd say that."
"Why? Because of Harry?" said Hermione. "Oh no. Their break up was very much mutual. And I should know seeing how I was the first one they told and all."
Hermione looked at the couple across the table from her. Both of them were doing a remarkable job of not meeting her eyes. She sighed to herself. She had received owls from both Harry and Ginny earlier today, asking her to stop by Grimmauld Place this evening so that they could talk to her about something. However, now that she was here, they were doing anything but talking.
It was most strange. The owls had indicated that her friends had something big to tell her, and to Hermione's mind, that must mean that they were getting married. It was odd though. She thought they would have been bursting at the seams to tell her the good news as soon she had arrived, but instead they remained quiet.
Hermione sighed again. While she liked spending time with the young couple, she didn't want to be here all night. So she decided to prod them. "So you both said you have something to tell me?"
Two heads slowly nodded yes.
Hermione stifled a groan. She made another attempt. "Care to enlighten me?" she asked. "Actually no, scratch that. Go on and spit it out before I die from the suspense."
"We're breaking up," they both blurted out at once.
Hermione blinked. That was quite the opposite of what she had been expecting them to say. Indeed she had never seen this coming; she had always thought that Harry would eventually marry Ginny. "You're breaking up? But why?" she asked. "The two of you always seem so happy together."
"Well yes," Ginny said. "And it's not like I'm unhappy, it's just that…." She fell silent at a lost for words.
"We never have time for each other any more. Or maybe I should say that we never make time for each other any more," said Harry. "Ginny's busy with her shop and trying to keep up with the orders. And I'm busy as an Auror, trying to get rid of the dodgy types while training new recruits."
"And it's not that I don't love Harry. I think I always will," Ginny said, throwing a wistful glance at the wizard by her side.
"And I think a part of me will always love her," stated Harry. "Maybe it's better to call this a break rather than a break up. I don't know. But everyone's always expected us to get married. Molly's been asking us every weekend if we have any news to share with the family. And well I'm not ready yet and neither is Ginny."
"There's nothing wrong with that," said Hermione, "but surely you don't have to break up simply because you're not ready for marriage yet."
"No," said Ginny. "But I want to be able to throw myself wholeheartedly into expanding my shop. And I can't do that if I'm tied down."
"Is that so?" Hermione's first instinct was to swat the girl for being so insensitive, but she quickly realized that Harry hadn't taken offense at Ginny's words. She tilted her head and looked over at her best friend. "Do you feel the same way, Harry?" she asked him gently.
"More or less. I think our paths in lives are diverging right now. It would take a lot of energy for us to stay together and…well since we both want to direct that energy elsewhere we might as well call it off."
"And who knows?" he continued. "Maybe this will be just a break and we'll get back together at a later date. But for now what we both want is the freedom to pursue our dreams without the burden of everyone's expectations about us."
"Yes I know they say that their break up was mutual," Katie's voice broke through Hermione's reverie. "But I also know that not everyone believes that."
"Well I believe them, and so does Ron. That has to count for something," said Hermione. "Harry and Ginny…they just got so busy with their work that they grew apart. It's kind of sad to think that my wedding—"
Katie interrupted her before she could finish that thought. "No, Hermione," she said shaking her head. "Your wedding wasn't the ultimate cause for their split. The cracks were there before that. You said it yourself plenty of times—that you didn't see what Harry saw in Ginny since they wanted such different things out of life."
"I did, didn't I? I guess I was proven right in the end," she said. "And while I haven't seen much of Ginny, Harry seems to be happy. He's had his hands full, you know, with the Aurors being in a state of disarray." The two witches' conversation turned to lighter subjects before Katie was pulled away by one of her clients, leaving Hermione alone again.
She wasn't alone for long. "I'm surprise Malfoy's letting you wander about on your own," a smooth drawl sounded from the wall behind her.
"Hello to you too, Zabini," she replied without batting an eye. "And here I thought you'd be working tonight."
The dark wizard detached his lanky form from the wall so that he stood beside her. "I am working tonight. It seems that I spend at least half of my time doing PR for Kingsley at various events."
"I see," she said. The last couple of months hadn't been kind to Kingsley or his government. After the initial euphoria over Givens being caught had passed, the press had soon turned upon Kingsley, fueled no doubt the rage of those families who had lost sons to the madman. The fact that Kingsley had hired the man in the first place had some people calling on him to step down. Hermione had done her best to counteract such influence for she knew it would help her future plans to have her ally remain in power.
Words were not enough, however. Action had to be taken. At Hermione's urging, Kingsley had taken direct charge of the Aurors and was in the middle of weeding out any remaining bad seeds. Additionally he had created an internal affairs division of the Aurors that would report directly to him even after a new head Auror was appointed. Two of the founding members of the internal affairs team were Harry and Zabini.
"So how is Harry these days?" she asked the Slytherin wizard. "I imagine you're seeing more of him than me."
"I can attest to that," he replied smoothly. "Potter's the same as ever. Still trying to save the world, one soul at a time. Trying to talk to him once he's convinced of something is like talking to a brick wall."
Hermione rolled her eyes. She knew exactly what Zabini was talking about. "Stubborn does not begin to describe Harry," she agreed. "And I might add that I'd rather talk to a brick wall than Harry when he gets in one of his moods. At least I can blow up the wall to alleviate my frustration."
Zabini raised up one eyebrow at that remark. "I find that there are other, more pleasant ways of relieving frustration," he noted urbanely.
Just then an arm slid around Hermione's waist, drawing her up against a very masculine chest. She looked up and into her husband's stormy, grey eyes. "Trying to steal my witch, Zabini?" he asked flatly.
"I wouldn't dream of it," the other wizard replied. "I was merely trying to entertain her while you were off arguing with Weasley like a fool."
Draco gave a half growl of sorts. "You'll have to excuse us," he said roughly, "for Hermione has promised me this dance." He tugged at Hermione's arm and led her to the dance floor.
"You know you have nothing to worry about," she told him, her tone clearly amused. "He was just trying to tease you, that's all."
"It was more than that," he snapped back. "Didn't you hear him? He was all but accusing me of not taking care of you."
She sighed softly, then leaned her head against his shoulder. "That sounds like a guilty conscience talking. I don't think that's what Zabini was trying to do at all; it's not as though he knows. Besides he's well aware that I can take care of myself." She looked up at him and smiled. "You should know that too by now."
"I suppose I do," he said. His anger faded away as they waltzed together. It felt very natural for her to let him lead. Sometimes Hermione still marveled at all the changes she had been through in the last few months. When she had originally laid out her plans, Draco had merely been a tool for her to use. Now he was her partner in every sense of the word. She couldn't imagine living without him.
The song ended. Draco guided her off the floor as the band switched to something with a more upbeat tempo. She yawned suddenly, and he regarded her with a critical eye. "Are you all right?" he asked. "If you're tired, we can leave for the evening. Mother will smooth everything over for us and make sure no one misses us."
"I'm sure she would," said Hermione with some aspersion. Even now, she didn't trust the older witch. "And I'm fine. Don't worry about me so much."
"Can't help it love," he said with a cheeky grin. His silver eyes glinted with unspoken glee, and she was taken back to a conversation they had a little over a week ago.
"Hermione!" Draco called out from the bedroom. "If you don't go now, then you'll be late for your meeting with Mother."
Hermione stifled a groan. "I know that," she said through gritted teeth. She rested one hand on her stomach and closed her eyes, trying to clear her mind and calm her nerves. Her breathing slowed, and the nausea she had been suffering from since she woke started to ease. She thought she might feel well enough to stand in a couple of minutes.
Unfortunately for her, her husband decided just then and there to interrupt her peace and quiet. "Come on, darling. I know my mother is hard to deal with and all, but she won't be any more pleasant if you keep her waiting at the breakfast table." Cursing Draco's choice of words as her nausea flared to life once more, Hermione knelt forward to retch once more. She was vaguely aware of the bathroom door opening behind her and her husband stepping in.
"Hermione! Are you feeling all right?" he asked. His voice laced with concern as he approached her.
"Quite," she replied with all the irony she could muster. "Don't you know this is how I start every day?"
She could feel him frowning at her though she couldn't see him. "That's enough, dear. I'll owl Mother and let her know that you're not feeling well. I am positive that she can manage to finalize the seating arrangements without your input. After that, I'll be taking you to see the mediwizard." There was a layer of steel beneath his tone, hinting at the fact that he wouldn't take no for an answer.
"It's all right. I saw the doctor yesterday," she told him. "No need to go again today. I'm fine."
"Well he mustn't have been very good. You're obviously not fine. I know you've been trying to hide it, not wanting to ruin the holidays and all, but I know that you've been sick these last few days. Got a spot of the flu, don't you?" He shook his head. "And of course, you don't slow down. Any witch with a modicum of sense would stay in bed and try to get better, but not you. No, you press forward, full speed ahead and all that. I do wish you would take better care of yourself."
Draco continued to nag her. Her nausea was fading away but at the expense of a headache forming. She sighed. This was not the way she wanted to tell him. She was enough of a girl to want to make it a bit romantic, and so Hermione had been planning to tell him on Christmas Eve. But that was not to be. She took a deep breath and then interrupted his tirade.
"I'm pregnant," she told him and was rewarded with the sounds of blessed silence as he rocked back on his heels, totally taken by surprise by her revelation.
Hermione smiled to herself as she remembered his reaction after that. Or rather his over reaction. He had insisted on carrying her back to bed, ignoring her protests that bed rest wasn't all that it was chalked up to be. It had taken some time for her to drill the idea that she was not about to fall apart through his thick skull.
Even now, he was sometimes over attentive towards her, but she let that slide so long as he didn't try to unduly limit her activities. He only acted that way because he loved her after all. That was enough to make her forgive him for almost anything. So far, they hadn't told anyone else the happy news. They had decided it was best to wait to tell everyone after she was safely past the first trimester.
"Are you certain you're all right?" Draco asked her again. "Like I said—"
"Trust me, you'll be the first one to know if I need to go home," she reassured him. She patted his arm comfortingly. "I would like to stick around till midnight, seeing how it's not that far off, but I shan't if I'm not feeling well."
They were interrupted by the doors to the ballroom opening. Both of Hermione's eyebrows shot up as she wondered just who was showing so late, as it was past eleven. To her surprise, Padma walked in with Anthony by her side. Hermione tugged at Draco's arm, wanting to welcome her friends to the party while seeing what had kept them so long. However, Padma was happy to answer that question before Hermione ever asked it.
"Oh Hermione!" Padma said, rushing forward to stand in front of the other witch. "I'm so glad we made it in time. We meant to be here ages ago, you see, but the entire department is in an uproar seeing how Merlose just woke up at St. Mungo's."
Hermione's gasp was hidden amongst the fireworks that started to go off in the enchanted ceiling above them, and the butterflies in her stomach had nothing to do with her condition and everything to do with such an inauspicious start to the New Year.
Author's note: Thank you so much for reading this fic of mine. I hope you've enjoyed the ride; I know I have. Reviews of any shape and size are very much appreciated. And if there's something you think I could improve, please let me know as I probably will eventually go back to revise parts of this fic.
Finally my thanks to everyone who took the time to review the last chapter: waffenmac, oscarg, spannieren, MamaJMarie, caseyjarryn, Kae-Lae, smaginn, starrlightt, mkhtl, OokamiMomo, gitgit, Dixiecharmer, crimsoneyes44, Reshmi solaris, mlui, aureliasilver, Ceralyn, ebbe04, LeaFairy124, alina290, Creative Pixie, lrmorena, and kazfeist.