This is it. D: It's been fun, everyone! And at times stressful, but mostly fun. I will miss this story... only not. It's so nice to finally be rid of it. Maybe I'll miss it later. XD
Thank you to everyone who's followed the story. What a ride, eh? Now if you don't hate the epilogue, you can tell all your friends that there's a new FINISHED Dramione in town. *hint*hint* Ok, self-pimping aside... let's get to the story.
Two years later.
"Wait! Hermione… wait, for fuck's sake!" Draco caught up with Hermione and grabbed her arm, only to have her violently tear it from his grasp. "Come on," he tried to placate her. "It wasn't that bad."
She pointed an angry trembling finger in his face. "I am never coming here again!" Then she turned and resumed her angry stalk through the garden of Malfoy Manor, no doubt aiming for the gate on the far side.
"You say that every time," he said, following her and grabbing her shoulders, this time refusing to let go. "I know Mother can be… a challenge, but…."
"A challenge? A challenge?" Hermione shoved ineffectively at Draco to get free. "I mean it this time! I'm through trying to appease that bitter old hag for your sake. If that's a deal breaker, then… well…." She looked away, letting the threat hang in the air between them.
He let go of her as if burned. "Why would you say that?"
"Oh, come on!" Hermione scoffed. "It's become more and more clear that the future of this relationship depends on how well I get along with your mother and I don't get along with her and I never will. I'm done with it, Draco. I'm not going to continue to come here and just sit there and take her poisonous little stabs at me. It would have been nice if you'd actually interfere on my behalf but no, that never happens, does it?"
He avoided her accusing glare. "Maybe if you didn't provoke her so badly…"
"Provoke her? That's just… that's just great." She turned and began walking again.
"No, wait!" He grabbed her hand and pulled her over to an ornate bench overlooking a small aesthetic lake. After he'd made her sit down, he more quietly said, "You know how wearing that bracelet in front of her makes her see red. When you insist on doing it anyway, you shouldn't be surprised at her reaction."
"It's only because she doesn't want to accept that now it's mine and that we're together," Hermione replied with a slight pout. "Besides, it's not like I let you wear the ring."
"More's the pity."
She scowled at him. "It's invasive! If you want to know how I feel, you can ask me!"
He didn't need to do that right now. He knew how she felt, and none of it was good news. Getting her to get along with his family wasn't just hard—sometimes it seemed downright impossible. It seemed like he was really the only one interested in making it work. He sighed.
Hermione echoed his sigh. "I don't actually see the fuss, Draco. I mean, it's not like—" She cut herself off.
"Not like what?"
"Not like I'm doing anything to pollute the bloodlines." Her voice was filled with bitterness.
Draco didn't really want to address that directly. Not yet. "No, not currently, but you are effectively stopping the line."
Hermione stared at him. "Me? All by myself? If that's how you feel, then why don't you owl Astoria Greengrass again?"
He groaned. "Don't start." They'd been over this a million times; why didn't she see how silly it all was?
"Why not? You're more than willing to defend her." Hermione's jaw clenched and she chose to stare out over the lake, rather than look at him.
"That was different! You know they were charging minors!"
"And she was guilty, so she should have been charged!" she bit out.
"She was coerced! They'd threatened to hurt her family and… you know why I couldn't just let them punish her. I knew how she felt. I thought you understood that."
"They didn't threaten her family; they threatened to hurt you, because she's in love with you. You should have left it to her family and friends and Magical Law to sort it out!"
Draco sighed. "I never thought you could be this petty."
"Petty?" Hermione's voice was rising. This was never a good sign. "So, when your mother abuses me it's because I'm provoking her, and when I have problems with you running to your ex's aid it's because I'm petty. Anything else you want to add to the list? Any other reason why we shouldn't be together?"
Again, there it was. The Threat. "Just why are you so anxious to get rid of me?" he asked, unable to keep his own voice from rising as the uneasiness was rapidly becoming panic. She couldn't leave him!
"I'm not! You're the one who keeps dismissing my feelings!"
Oh, so everything was his fault, was it? Of course! She couldn't possibly be overly defensive and unwilling to compromise! Draco felt his own fear turn into anger and his lips draw back in a snarl. "If that's how you feel, then why don't you go tell Theo about your feelings? I bet he'd appreciate that. Throw in some crying on his shoulder and you'll make his year, I'm sure!"
She blinked. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that it's convenient how you keep seeing him!"
She gave him one of those looks that usually made him feel like he was an idiot, but it didn't work today. Today he was too busy being right. "Theo is my friend," she calmly said. "I see my friends. I see Ron and Harry too."
He scowled at the mention of Weasley. Like being reminded of him and Potter was supposed to be any better! "Theo's still in love with you."
"He is not."
"He is too! When was the last time he had a girlfriend?"
"Theo isn't much for seeing people socially."
"Would you stop it? This is getting tiresome." She crossed her arms over her chest and scowled right back at him.
"He insisted on hexing me for upsetting you even though we got together in the end!" Draco pouted at that memory. That particular hex had not only been painful, it had also been embarrassing and made Draco unable to get physical with anyone for weeks. And it had been easy to tell from the smirk on Theo's face that it had been fully intentional.
Hermione smirked too at the memory. The witch had it in for him today. "You kind of deserved it. Theo was just looking out for me," she said.
But that was the point! "He has no right to look out for you! He's not your boyfriend!"
"Yet you insist you have the right to look out for Astoria? Are you her boyfriend, then?" She raised an eyebrow at him.
Draco flinched. He'd walked right into that one. "That's different."
"No… it's really not…" Hermione frowned and then said, "It's really not, is it?" as if only first realizing. Then she chewed her lip, looking thoughtful. It was an adorable look, but Draco dreaded that it meant he would have to accept her friendship with Theo if he wanted her to accept his friendship with Astoria. He really didn't like Theo. He especially didn't like Theo around Hermione.
"I just don't understand what happened! You've been this way ever since—" Draco cut himself off. "Oh." It seemed that maybe there was one particular conversation they had to have earlier than he'd thought. He wasn't too happy about that since he wasn't prepared, but if there was something he'd learned, it was that they needed to talk about things that bothered them.
"No, don't do that. Don't make this about something else!" she said when she recognized that he was onto something. "It's not really about some other thing. I promise you that your mother honestly is a pain in the—"
"It dates back even longer than I thought, doesn't it?" he quietly asked, ignoring her. "You weren't exactly happy at Blaise and Tracey's wedding."
"You were a git that day, if you'll remember correctly. You were so busy reassuring everyone that we weren't going down that road that it ended up a huge embarrassment to me. I was just fine when Harry and Ginny tied the knot. Remember?"
He shook his head. "How could I remember? You banned me from the event!"
"Exactly." She was looking far too smug. Ok, fine. He couldn't know how she'd dealt with that since he hadn't been there.
"You probably spent the whole evening dancing with Weasley," he muttered.
"I danced with him, yes. But I doubt his girlfriend at the time would have appreciated me doing so all night. By the way, Pansy looked quite lovely without her sneer. Too bad it didn't last."
Draco scowled. Never would he acknowledge that Pansy had ever given Ron Weasley the time of day! Even if it had been relatively short-lived and ended in an explosion that had literally sounded all over the wizarding world with an interesting Daily Prophet front page. He could only hope she'd learned her lesson about freckled losers and wasn't planning on repeating her mistake.
"And I never 'reassured everyone we weren't going down that road'," he argued, leading the conversation back to more relevant matters. "I just said we hadn't quite reached that point."
"Oh, please. 'Never' was heavily implied. Which is fine, it's what I always expected, but throwing it around at a wedding like that is bad form. Especially when everyone assumes I don't agree and sends me those pitying looks."
"That explains it even better," Draco said, glancing over at Hermione, who obviously was getting even more upset just remembering that day.
"Explains what?" she snapped.
He leaned back against the bench and tried to act casual, even though he really hated this recent turn of their relationship with all of his being. "Your moody attempts to get me to break up."
Hermione huffed. "That's absurd. If I wanted to break up with you, I'd just do it."
"Maybe you don't really want to and that's why you're trying to get me to do it?" he quietly suggested.
"You're making less and less sense."
Draco shook his head. "Even if you were fine with the weddings—which I still don't believe—you've certainly been temperamental and uncommunicative ever since Blaise and Tracey announced that they were having a baby."
Hermione's head whipped to the side and she stared at him. "You think I care about that?"
"Yes." And why wouldn't she? Most witches cared if they could have children. Hell, most wizards did too. It was only natural.
"I don't!" she announced. "It works for them. They're in love and they have not a care in the world these days. If they feel like they need a baby to make their lives perfect, then that's their prerogative."
"And one you don't feel you have."
"I don't want those things right now. Things are only just settling down at the Ministry, and there is so much to do. If I suddenly popped off to have a baby holiday, by the time I got back, who knows what would have happened? I would certainly have lost most of the influence I've been fighting to gain."
"You've thought about this a lot, haven't you?" he asked, somewhat surprised.
"I—" she seemed momentarily stumped "—no, it's just common sense, isn't it? My position at the Ministry is much too precarious. And then there's the financial side. I'm not at all sure I could support a child. But, of course, that would depend on who the father was and whether there would be any other family to help. For instance, the Weasleys have Molly to look after the children when—"
"I don't care what the Weasleys do!" Draco rudely interrupted, upset that it 'depended who the father was'. No! There would be no one but him! "I can't believe you'd actually consider Ron Weasley before me!" That was it. He would have to persuade Blaise to give him what was left of his mother's poisons so he could off the red-headed bastard. He'd off Theo too while he was at it. Just to be safe.
"D-don't be absurd," Hermione said, actually looking confused. "I know it couldn't happen with you. This is why it's hypothetical and won't ever happen. You know that Ron and I are just friends."
"Yet you seem to have thought about having babies with him," Draco grumbled, quite unwilling to let go.
Hermione threw up her hands. "For crying out loud! I admit that I've considered what it would be like to have a family and maybe even be part of an already existing loving family that isn't a part of another world, but isn't that natural when you give something up?"
"I thought you just said you didn't want it!"
She shook her head. "I don't want it now. But assuming that we aren't just together now, then… I have to make my peace with what won't happen ever, so that I don't suddenly in ten or twenty years realize that I missed out on something that I hadn't known I wanted. I'm just dealing with it."
Draco sighed heavily. "I thought I would have at least a couple more years before this became an issue."
"What do you mean? It's not an issue!" she insisted and then frowned. "And what do you mean 'a couple more years'? Did you not intend for us to stay together longer than that?"
"Of course I did! I do! But I had hoped to get my mother's approval first. A real one, I mean."
"You'll never get it," she said, her voice suddenly sad and quiet. "I'm sorry, Draco, but your parents won't accept a Muggleborn being with their son. They're not going to change their ways."
"You're not making it easier! Maybe if you'd be nicer to her—"
"Oh, back to that!" Hermione slowly stood. "It doesn't matter how I behave. Neither your mother nor father will ever ever welcome me into your family. And if you should ever consider marrying me: don't. They will withhold everything from their money to their love to stop it from happening, and you're too dependent on both to do without."
Draco stood as well. "You underestimate me."
She smiled a little sadly. "I know you would try if you were forced to. But you would be miserable. What kind of relationship would that make?"
"And you are miserable now," he pointed out. She was so stubborn! Didn't she understand that she didn't have to be the one to give everything up? There was nothing in this world he wanted more than her. Certainly not money.
"No, that's not true," she said, shaking her head. "I'm not miserable."
"Don't lie to me."
"It's really not that important to me."
"Liar." He stepped closer to her, so he deliberately could tower over her, and she was forced to look up into his eyes or seem weaker. His Hermione had never enjoyed looking weak.
She clenched her hands and glared into his eyes. "Fine, you want honesty? It stings a little, yes. But worse is the sting that I'll never mean enough to you to be worth the sacrifice. I try to understand why you love that hateful, bigoted bitch you call a mother more than me, I really do; and I try very hard to respect that she is your mother and should mean more—but it hurts to make all these sacrifices and be second in your life, only to be told that it's my own fault for provoking her."
Draco was shocked at the sudden tirade. "I don't love her more than you."
Hermione just huffed and began walking again.
He hurriedly cut her off before she'd taken more than a couple of steps. "I love her differently than you. She's my mother. She's my childhood. She gave me life and then sacrificed everything she had to save it. But… if she doesn't come around, I'll have to choose my future over her."
"That's not what she seems to think."
"She's just trying to scare you off. She should know my intentions. I've been… asking for things."
He shrugged a little awkwardly. He couldn't quite tell her. Not yet. He wasn't mentally prepared to do it today. "Just a couple of things that I would like to have. And I've been asking around about work. So far, all I've found is a Ministry internship in Muggle Artifacts—" he pulled a face "—and training with possible eventual employment at St. Mungo's. This is also why I was hoping for a few more years. I really don't want to accept either of these so-called offers…."
"Malfoys don't start with internships," Hermione carefully said.
"I know. But once my parents cut me off, I can't rely on my name anymore, can I? After all, I'm not the one with the money and the influence. My father is."
"Cut you off? So, you…." Realization seemed to hit her and for once she didn't seem to know what to say.
"Embarrassed, mostly." Her flaming cheeks and the way she avoided his eyes lent truth to her statement.
"I was never going to do this halfway," Draco quietly said. "I just… I wanted to preserve as much as I could. But if I'm going to lose you, it's not worth it. I honestly never would have started anything with you if I hadn't been prepared to take it all the way. That was why it took me so long to decide."
"Oh." Her cheeks turned an even deeper red.
"Is that all you have to say?"
"Well, you could have told me this before I went on a tirade, making me look like a complete bitch," she sheepishly muttered.
"Consider it revenge for you not being 'in the mood' for weeks now," he said, unable to hide a grin. He really did need to get her back for that.
"Oh, boohoo!" she said, rolling her eyes, a smile tugging at her lips as well. "I've had other things on my mind!"
"There was a time when you'd wake me up because you'd read about some position and wanted to see if it was physically possible."
"I remember that!" Hermione crinkled her brow. "I still call inconclusive."
"Hey, any time you want to try again, just let me know and I'll remember to stretch."
Hermione giggled a little and then looked down. "I'm sorry if my behavior has been very unreasonable."
"Oh, it has," he softly said, nodding. She should have talked to him about her worries, rather than just get defensive and push him away. What good would that ever do?
"Well," she muttered, snaking her arms around his neck. "If I'm ever unreasonable again, just slap me."
"Oh, sweetie…" he said in an exaggeratedly patronizing tone, while sliding his arms around her waist and then lightly smacking her bum. "You will be."
She grinned. "I love you too."
They were, after all, quite bored without each other.
Blame Maz for the fact that I kept the last line.
I get a lot of PMs asking me about the Silencio sequel since Bracelet is ending so I'll just say right here - I don't mean to string you along and I will write it (have I ever left you hanging yet?) and have in fact already parts of it written, but I have committed to fests and need to work where my inspiration lies plus I have RL responsibilities. As for where it'll be posted - Hawthorn & Vine plus probably Granger Enchanted and LiveJournal. But we're still talking months because I'm on a deadline with my Reverse Challenge fic (writing a story for a piece of art) and I wish I had the time to write more but I don't. :( I know I said after Bracelet but I didn't mean the very next day. I'm sorry if you interpreted it that way. All I meant was that I couldn't juggle two such HUMONGOUS projects in my head at the same time. If it's any consolation, I'm very much looking forward to writing it! It lives in me.
I suck at responding to PMs and gave up on responding to reviews altogether (scatterbrain with very little time) but I do read everything you say and it warms me. If you wrote a longer review and were never acknowledged, please don't feel like it was a waste. Chances are it made my day. I just didn't get around to telling you. =)