Chapter 25: An End and a Beginning

December 5th, 2002

Dear Mum and Dad,

I'm sorry I haven't written in the past few months, my work at the Ministry has picked up considerably and I've been inundated with work. I'm writing to tell you that I've recently become engaged. I know this is something that I should probably be telling you in person – but as you've elected to move back to Australia without telling me, you've made it slightly difficult. However, that was not the reason I'm writing this letter, I wanted to invite you to my wedding to Lucius Malfoy.

Yes, the Malfoy that you may recall me having mentioned in the past, but (and I know this will not be adequate) he has changed since those years. As cliché as it will sound, I do love him and I would like for you to have a chance to know him. If you do decide to come, please give me a call and I'll have a Portkey made for you. If you decide to not respond, I will assume that you would prefer I leave you alone and shall not pursue any further correspondence.

Your daughter,

Hermione

P.S. Mum and Dad, I wish things could have been different – but you're alive, and if I hadn't done what I did, I don't think you would be. I miss you.

**

December 10th, 2002

Hermione,

We appreciate your attempt to include us in your current happiness. However, considering the fact that your happiness has come at the price of a man twice your age who once attempted to kill you, we do not feel the need to partake in it with you. We hope that you live a long and happy life – but seeing you grow in it is simply too hard.

We no longer know the woman you've become and while we appreciate what you did for us, we still cannot condone it. We will always love our little girl, but she left us a long time ago.

Yours,

Mum and Dad

P.S. We've attached our wedding gift with the letter.

**

Hermione spent the next day scrubbing down Andromeda's house, furtively glancing at a new photo on the mantle every few minutes. The photo featured a happy young couple standing behind an excited little girl, busy blowing out candles in the form of a "10."

**

December 15th, 2002

A swift tapping echoed through the hallway, alerting the young office assistant of an approaching visitor. She scanned the visitor list in confusion, noting that there were no expected visitors for that time. The tapping stopped outside the door and she lifted her head to see a tall, blonde and extremely well known wizard walk into the office. She gulped under the full extent of his gaze and fluttered her eyelashes unconsciously.

He smirked. Glancing around and then focusing back on her, he said, "I'm here to see Bill Weasley."

She stuttered under the force of that unholy smirk, "Oh .. oh, um yes, Sir!" She paused to look at the tablet, ascertaining whether Bill had someone in the office or not. "Mr. Weasley seems to be free at the moment if you would like to step into his office. It's the last office down the hall on the right."

The smirking Malfoy bowed his head towards her and she could feel her knees weaken slightly, oh that mouth! "Thank you Madame," was all he said as he took off down the hallway.

She jumped after a second and then tapped a square on her desk hurriedly, alerting Bill to an incoming visitor.

Bill jumped as the bell above the door rang softly. He cursed and looked at his agenda, unsure of who could be coming to meet with him. He stood and cleared some of the papers off his desk quickly. He heard a tapping sound outside his door and cursed once more in his head.

"Come in, Malfoy," Bill called out.

The door eased open and Lucius Malfoy stepped into the office. Bill marveled at how a man who had gone through as much as he had still managed to fill a room with as much presence as this one.

"Weasley," Lucius greeted.

The two men stood for a moment, looking each other in the eye, sizing up the other. Lucius nodded his head first, knowing that as it was Bill's office, he should acknowledge acceptance first. Bill motioned with a hand for Lucius to sit down at one of the leather chairs in front of the desk.

Once both men were seated, Bill spoke, "So what is it that you needed, Lucius?"

"Hermione and I plan to marry," Lucius spoke baldly, enjoying the shock apparent on the younger man's face.

"You WHAT?!" the redhead whispered squeakily.

Lucius smirked and spoke slowly, "I proposed and she accepted."

Bill waved a hand, "I gathered that. I meant … well I don't know what I meant, but jumping hippogriffs!"

Lucius sneered, "I assure Mr. Weasley, I am not forcing this upon her."

Bill glanced at him in shock, "Gods, no! I didn't mean that. Hermione's damn stubborn, so I don't doubt it – I guess I'm just surprised, is all."

Lucius quirked an eyebrow, "I assure you, we're both not the people we were three years ago. It's actually been a well-thought out process. However, I am not here to explain the details of my relationship."

This time it was Bill who raised an eyebrow while Lucius continued, "She was hoping that you and your wife would stand for me and Hermione for our bonding, on Christmas Eve." Lucius searched Bill's face for a reaction and added, "George will be standing as Hermione's male representative."

Bill felt his own eyebrows shoot up. "Wait, the only reason you would need … fucking fireballs, Malfoy you're doing a blood bond?!" Bill stood and began to pace while Lucius watched on amusedly, "That's the only reason you'd need a pureblood and a couple representing you … great Merlin – how'd you get her to agree to that?!" Bill turned to Lucius questioningly. "And why us?!"

"Skillful manipulation," was the answer given.

Bill grimaced, "I did notneed that imagery. Thank you."

Lucius sneered, "As to the latter part – it is rather difficult to find those one can trust these days, especially when most of one's former acquaintances are in Azkaban or dead."

Bill winced again, but another though permeated his mind and he blurted out, "Does she even know the implications of the blood bond?"

Lucius stared at Bill for a moment before Bill shook his head, "Of course, sorry. Hermione has probably known marriage bonds in and out since I got married."

"Actually, since the Triwizard tournament; apparently the young Mister Krum was quite ambitious in his affections."

Bill chuckled and shook his head. "Well Lucius, I've got a meeting in a few moments, but once I've talked it over with Fleur, I'll get back to you. As of right now, I don't foresee a problem."

Lucius nodded in thanks. He stood gracefully and swept out of the office, leaving Bill to bury his head in his hands. He massaged his forehead for a moment, murmuring, "Oh, Hermione. What've you gotten into now?"

**

Same day

The Leaky Cauldron

"Ron! How many ti-" Hermione huffed angrily at the redhead chewing an overlarge bite across from her.

"Hermione let him alone. If he hasn't gotten it by now, he won't." Harry sighed tiredly, dealing with his two peace-challenged friends was not what he had in mind for the afternoon.

"Fine!" Hermione sniffed and sipped her mulled wine.

Ron snorted and attempted to speak, "Hesh! I'wm nowt thaht bahd!" Unfortunately, in the attempt, various food particles managed to escape.

"Oh! Gross!" Hermione scooted back her chair and ran a napkin over her blouse.

"Guys!" Harry snapped.

Ron gulped and then smirked. "What's wrong with you, Harry? Ginny pushing for that ring again?"

Harry growled and Hermione stretched out her left hand on the table, aware that she would soon be gaining that ring that Ginny wanted so much from her own boyfriend.

"Yes, dammit. And, pardon this Ron, but its hell. The more she pushes, the more I want to drag my feet." Harry ran his hand through his black hair, making it stand straight as usual.

"You don't have to tell me, mate." Ron nodded sympathetically.

Hermione cleared her throat, "Speaking of rings …"

Both boys glanced at her, "Yeah, what do you think, Hermione? How should I handle Ginny?" questioned Harry.

Ron piped in, "And Lavender!"

Hermione sighed, "Well, tell them you aren't ready? I don't know. I don't see why you can't commit either. But if you aren't, you aren't."

Ron sighed, "But why are they so set on it? It's just a piece of gold and paper!"

Hermione shook her head, "If that's what you think, no wonder they're frustrated." She took a sip of wine and then continued. "It's much more than that. It's a symbol of your commitment to them."

Ron shook his head, "But if we've said we're committed, then they should trust us!"

Hermione raised an eyebrow, "Like I trusted you?"

Harry snorted and Ron blushed.

Hermione nodded, "Exactly. They've both seen firsthand what could happen. You just need to be honest – you'll know when the step is right."

Harry chuckled, "Thanks, Hermione. Lucky we have a girl around to help us."

Hermione snorted and murmured, "That, or I could be going through it myself."

Ron shook his head, "You're lucky, you don't have to deal with another person. Good ole Hermione."

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Ron, "And what makes you think I don't?"

Ron snorted, "For one, you've got Teddy. Two, you're going to the Christmas Ball with Malfoy."

Hermione frowned, "I don't see how those exclude having a partner?"

Harry grinned, "Well, you're never going to let a bloke get close to Teddy and if you did, he'd probably run once he heard you had a kid. And as for Malfoy, if you had a guy, you wouldn't go with him."

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but couldn't find the words in the face of such blatant disregard for her, instead opting for another tact to tell them about her nuptials. "So you're coming to the ball?"

Both men laughed, "Gods, no. You're joking, right? We always go to dinner with Mum Christmas Eve. Remember? Everyone's coming, 'cept Bill and them, I think – Fleur probably wants to visit her family," Ron offered.

Hermione fought to keep her face straight. "Oh, right." Ever since she and Ron had broken up, it was always awkward for her to join in the festivities with the Weasleys. She was still welcome, but when it came to family – she still theoretically had her own.

Harry nodded and then tilted his head, "Say Hermione, instead of just dropping off Teddy for dinner," she felt her hopes rise a little, "why don't you keep him with you? I bet he'd enjoy the ball!"

Hermione felt the last strings of belonging that she'd felt to the two men in front of her slowly slip away. When had they become so different? She nodded her head slowly and said, "Sure, Harry. I'm sure Teddy would love it."

She opened her mouth to finally tell them about the engagement, the three years of dating Lucius Malfoy … and realized she just couldn't. These two men were not ones who would understand that she was, in fact, ready for that kind of a commitment and with that man. She shook her head slightly, looked at Ron and Harry and said softly, "I've got to run, but I'll catch up with you later."

Within a few minutes, she was walking out the door into Diagon Alley and contemplating how her friendships had changed so much in the past few years. She had increasingly noticed that while she, Ron and Harry continued with their lunches, it felt more like an obligation than a respite from the daily norm. She sighed, straightened her shoulders and apparated to find Lucius and see if he'd convinced Bill to be present at the wedding.

**

December 24th, 2002

Malfoy Manor, Gloucestershire

Stepping into the bracing, cold air of one of Gloucestershire's winter evenings, Hermione let a little shiver overtake her frame. She brought her hands up to rub her exposed arms and stepped lightly towards the stone railing that lined the back porch. Reaching the railing, she took a deep breath and absorbed the power of the stars lighting up the sky. They are never as impressive as when there is no light and it's too cold to stay out long.

She sighed and shifted her ball gown to avoid brushing the moist stones of the railing and porch. The gown was a princess' dream: built with a full skirt of layers of white chiffon, and a fitted bodice, trimmed in small white seed pearls. A forest green velvet ribbon was tied around her waist around her ribcage – alluding to the Christmas season. Her red velvet cloak had long-since been discarded, it being too cumbersome when the dancing began.

The annual Malfoy Christmas Ball was, as usual, a hit. The various employees of the Ministry, friends of both Hermione and Lucius, as well as the social elite of their world were all in attendance. She was content with the turn out and pleased that not too many spectacles had occurred so far in the evening.

The ballroom was a vision of magically falling snowflakes, sparkling tinsel and glistening, snow-tipped evergreen trees. She felt inordinately proud of her decorating, knowing that it was up to the Malfoy standard. She smirked at how Narcissa might react to see the splendor of the ballroom without her meddling hand, now. Hermione sniffed a little at the reminder of her fiancée's first wife.

Scanning the dark horizon, she imagined she could see the distant Forest of Dean – an irony she contemplated often. Lucius had moved his Manor's location to Gloucestershire, near the Forest of Dean. When Hermione had moved in, she felt it some kind of poetic justice that she would find a sort of peace, this close to that forest once more.

She stiffened as she heard footsteps and stepped swiftly to the side of the porch, melting into the shadows quickly and silently.

"Why, Lucius this has been absolutely wonderful," a familiar voice attempted to purr. Hermione frowned and peered into the pooling light that had appeared with a short woman and larger masculine presence.

"Indeed, Madame, I've been pleased with the turnout. Now, what was it that you wanted to address with me?" Her lover's tone was businesslike and curt, Hermione was pleased to note.

The woman simpered and Hermione twitched, "Oh, Lucius, surely, you must know?" She stepped toward him.

He matched her step, taking one backwards warily. "Madame Smattery, I'm fairly sure we have very different ideas about why we're out here."

Madame Smattery stepped forward once more, "Oh, but Lucius, surely you see the possibilities between us!"

Lucius stood up straight, "Madame, I think you have deeply misinterpreted something."

Hermione by this time was smirking and spotting the bucket of ice near her - used to keep the air moist on the porch - she took out her wand and murmured a quiet "Wingardium Leviosa!"

The ice bucket lifted up into the air and floated over to the two figures. It stopped above their heads and Lucius, spotting the movement, moved back slowly, as not to alert Smattery to its presence. Hermione slowly tilted the ice bucket and the ice shifted quickly, spilling over the sides and pouring onto the unsuspecting older woman. Smattery shrieked and scrambled out of the way, slipping on the ice chips sliding over the floor. Still shrieking as the bucket followed her; she made her way slipping and sliding over to the double doors and ran through them quickly.

Hermione stopped the bucket as the poor woman went through the doors and fought down her chuckles.

Suddenly her hands had been manacled and she was pulled to a hard chest. Lucius wrapped her wrists together behind her back with one hand while pulling her chin up to face him with the other. "That was a rather nasty trick, my dear."

Hermione fought his hands for a moment, her eyes darkening with the instinctual desire to break free. "She deserved it."

He smirked darkly and whispered his thumb over her cheek. "And what were you doing out here all alone? A quiet assignation perhaps? Doubts?"

She shook her head as much as he would allow, "You know it wasn't. And I have no doubts unless you do. I'm ready for this, Lucius."

He sneered, "And yet you never told them."

She sighed and shifted her eyes. "I tried." His hands stiffened on her skin. "I did! You know I did. It wasn't right."

Lucius growled, "It wasn't right, or you're ashamed? Perhaps you should be honest, on this, your final night to be free."

Hermione's eyes shot back to his own and she glared, "How dare you say that. You know I am not ashamed. You know that if it weren't for you and your hatred of the press, that I would gladly marry you in the middle of the street." She paused and then took another breath. "It wasn't right, because they are no longer my closest friends."

**

Hermione fell into a mint green chaise lounge in one of the side parlors, relieved that the last guest had left. She put her hand over her eyes and shifted her silver-blue dancing slippers off her feet. Relaxing back she gave herself a moment to contemplate the event to follow, the consequences that were sure to follow and the meaning it would have upon the rest of her life.

She jolted when she heard the clock chime 11:30, and jumped up. She slipped on her shoes and set out to set up the observatory they'd chosen for the ceremony. George, Bill and Fleur were due around 11:45 and Hermione wanted to have it set up by then.

Lucius was busy with Teddy in the meantime, working to keep the young metamorphmagus awake. "Come on now, Ted. You've got to stay up for Mimi."

"O-o-otay, Uncle Luc," yawned Teddy. They sat in the sitting room off Teddy's bedroom, having just fit Teddy back into his tux after his short nap during the ball. Both Hermione and Lucius wanted to be sure the little boy would get enough sleep, despite the festivities.

Lucius smiled down at the sleepy boy, chuckling to himself at the boy's red and green hair. He and Hermione had given up on attempting to regulate the various hair colors – often appreciating the hints that the color gave.

He heard the sound of voices in the foyer, so picking up the drowsy boy; he carried him down to the ground floor to welcome George, Fleur and Bill. Hermione had told him to stay away from the observatory until the three had arrived, so he and Teddy had taken refuge upstairs. Arriving on the stairs, he gave a nod to the three upturned heads. "Good evening, Misters Weasley and Mrs. Weasley."

Fleur tilted her head, while Bill and George replied, "Malfoy."

Fleur watched the sleepy boy as Lucius descended the last stair and said softly, "He must be tired after the ball."

Lucius nodded stiffly, "He is indeed. Now, we must get to business. Mrs. Weasley and George, I believe Hermione is waiting for you in the second drawing room on the left. Bill, the binder needs to speak with you, so you follow me."

The four split up, Fleur and George finding an impatient Hermione in the drawing room. Fleur rushed to her and enveloped her in a tight hug. "Oh, my dear, how wonderful for you." Hermione let the older woman embrace her for a few moments, letting the compassion from the half-Veela envelope her. Despite it being by choice, the knowledge that not many knew or supported her marriage was quite disheartening.

George cleared his throat and Hermione stepped back sheepishly, holding out her arms to her best male friend. "Oh, George," she murmured. They hugged for another few moments, Hermione careful to not wrinkle or upset her dress.

Fleur clapped her hands after checking a clock and said softly, "Hermione we've got to go!" She placed the Galway-lace veil, which Hermione's mother had given her when she turned 15, on the crown of Hermione's head, making sure it aligned with her chignon. She lifted the lace over Hermione's face and murmured at the effect. Fleur stepped back and left the room to alert Lucius, Bill and Teddy.

Hermione took a deep breath, took the bouquet of orchids that George had grabbed from the table and stepped to the doorway. George stepped up beside her and looked down, "You sure you wanna marry this mutt?"

Hermione let out a choked laugh, "Yes! I think it's time I finally took my own path."

George nodded, "Well, let's go then. But don't think I won't kill him if he hurts you."

Hermione wrapped her arm through his and squeezed his hand, "I know. That's why I love you so much. Now let's go before he starts pouting."

**

Hermione and Lucius stood before their trusted witnesses, hands wrapped in white silken scarves, slightly stained where the cuts for the blood taken from their palms were. As the ageing, family minister of Lucius finished his slow binding of their hands, they felt a flash as the bonds tightened under the older man brought his wand over the binding and then a light permeated the observatory, before dimming and then disappearing with the white cloth.

The old man wheezed, "And so, with promises of love, fidelity, devotion, and faith - with the support of your witnesses and sponsors, I pronounce you Wizard and Witch, Husband and Wife, Lucius and Hermione Malfoy. He nodded at Lucius, "You may now present your wife with the outward sign of this binding."

Lucius bent towards Teddy and took one of the two rings the awed little boy carried.

Lucius smirked at the teary-eyed Hermione and slipped an elegant, marked by time, thick silver band onto her left ring finger, with only the simple decoration of the small family crest on the top of the ring.

The binder nodded and then looked to Hermione, "Now, you Madame, may present your husband with the outward sign of your binding."

Hermione took Lucius' left hand in her own and slipped a matching ancient ring, this one with a larger Malfoy crest.

The two clasped hands, magic thrumming along their arms, as though approving the match.

The man clasped his own hands together and said, finally, "The ceremony is over; you may now kiss the bride as I present you before your peers in our magical community and Magic itself. Live long and prosperous lives together."

And as the giant hall clock struck twelve, Lucius lowered his head to Hermione's and took her lips in a short but marking kiss. The company clapped and moved to embrace the newlyweds, as the binder slowly slipped out of the room. The five adults celebrated for a little while, until Hermione discovering the ever-so-sleepy Teddy asleep on the floor, moved to put the dear little boy to bed. Fleur, Bill and George said their goodbyes softly and left for their own homes.

After Hermione had finished changing and tucking Teddy into bed, she slipped out of the room, closing the door softly behind her. Turning around, she bumped into a firm chest, and looking up she saw steely eyes looking down at her.

She licked her lips, "Hello, Husband."

He smirked at her nervous reaction, "Hello, Wife. I believe we have some business to finish from the porch earlier."

Hermione shivered in anticipation.