Eight and Eighth—Epilogue
Where do the children go, between the bright night and darkest day? Where do the children go? And who's that deadly piper who leads them away?
—"Where do the Children Go" by The Hooters (1986)
"Mum, Dad, I'm—" Hermione began.
"Off to visit your boyfriend," her father finished for her, not looking up from his newspaper. "Again."
"You know, dear," her mother said, giving her a pointed look, "you seem awfully serious about this boy. When are you going to invite him over, hmm?"
"Oh," Hermione said. "Well, I guess I could…. It's just…."
"Yes?" her mother prompted.
"It's complicated." She bit down on her lip.
"Complicated how, dear?" her father asked. He looked over to his wife. "Shall we wager a guess or so?"
Hermione sat down, resigned that her parents weren't going to drop the subject that easily, and waited for her mother's response.
"He lives in a magic hatbox, and though you automatically shrink when you go in to visit him, he doesn't get bigger again when he tries to leave the yard." Mrs. Granger said this, all with a straight face and a single finger on the center of her lips.
"No," Hermione said slowly.
"No? Well, then. Is he bigger than a breadbox?"
"Oh, good," her father replied, folding his newspaper. "My turn, then. He has an atrocious case of agoraphobia, and he can't go outside longer than a groundhog on a false spring, over in Canada and the States."
"No. He doesn't have any fears about open spaces that I'm aware of."
"Your turn, dearest," her father said, nodding to his wife.
"All right." Her mother sat for a moment, looking at her. "You're ashamed of something, and you don't want us to know."
Hermione had to frown. "I'm not ashamed. I'm just—I'm not sure what your reaction will be, that's all."
"Reaction to what?" her father asked.
She took a deep breath. Here went nothing. "He has a baby."
Well, that one certainly shut her parents up. "He what?" her mother asked.
"He has a baby. His last girlfriend died in childbirth," she added, gripping the arms of her chair. "He only found out she was even pregnant a week before the due date."
Her parents exchanged a look. "Hermione, are you sure you want to—I mean, getting attached, it's wonderful, but…" her father stuttered.
"I'm old enough to make my own decisions," she replied. "And I've already set my mind on this one." She paused for a moment. "I suppose I could invite them both over, if you'd like."
"Of course," her mother replied, still frowning. Hermione watched the "does this mean I'm a grandmum?" cogs turning in her mother's brain.
Hermione rose. "If that's all, then I'll be going."
"Actually," her father stopped her, "there was some post for you." He got up and shifted through a small pile of papers on the counter before returning with a familiar looking envelope and handing it to her with a smile. "I'm sure you did wonderfully."
She hadn't realized just how nervous she'd been over her NEWTs results until just this moment. They'd been on her mind, of course, but she had thought they'd only been there in a clinical sort of way, while she went on to think about more important things.
She'd thought she'd made some progress. Apparently, though, she was still the same results-obsessed Hermione Jean Granger that she'd always been. Her hands were shaking enough to make the letter shutter around in the envelope.
"Aren't you going to open it?" her mother asked.
"In awhile." A small spark of the old competition had been reawakened. She had to see what Draco had gotten and compare. She straightened, still shaking, and turned to walk out of the room. Her parents hated watching her Apparate.
Before his seventeenth birthday, Draco had dreaded that one mind-bendingly stupid aspect of summer that forbade him to use magic outside of school. Now, nineteenth birthday successfully acquired and eighth year completed, and he was allowed to use magic again, instead of vice versa.
Merlin, had he missed his bare wrist!
Being able to Accio the nappy bag wasn't bad either.
On the official last day of school at Hogwarts, a member of the Wizengamot had come to call, taken two metal rods and placed them on either side of his manacle, and done a sort of twist that automatically unclasped the restricting mock-bracelet forever.
His mother, unfortunately, still had about a year left with her manacle jingling about her frail wrist, and much as Draco felt inclined to fix that for her, he had a feeling that if he were caught, he'd probably never get the next manacle off, either by means of metal or by permission of the court.
Besides, Hermione would likely flay him.
There was a scraping sound of talon meeting glass upon the window-sill. He let X in, and the owl landed on his new mahogany perch. Draco had gone on a shopping spree the first day of summer, having gone into Gringotts and withdrawn two-hundred galleons from his account. Oh, how he'd missed the deadweight of gold, slapping against his thigh as he strode freely along Diagon Alley. He hadn't even minded the large yellow and blue bruise it created.
He took the letter from X's outstretched leg, turned it over, and was just about to open it when there was a sound of hurried footsteps from the hallway, at which point, Hermione came to a crashing halt in his doorway, breathing heavily. "Wait!"
"What?" he asked, letter frozen halfway into the air.
She waved an identical letter. "We should open them together, don't you think?"
He paused for a moment, furrowing his brow, and then nodded with a shrug. "All right. Quiet, though. Erm's having a kip."
On the count of three, at Hermione's insistence, they tore into their envelopes. Draco's eyes skimmed over the formalities on the first sheet before moving to the second, where a chart with all the different NEWTs he'd taken were placed alongside their respective results. O, O, O… E, O….
One E. That wasn't bad. Compared to his OWLs, that wasn't even slightly bad. The E was in Astronomy, anyway, and that was his class without Hermione, so he'd allowed himself some leeway.
Hermione hadn't looked up yet. He had to lean forward a little to make sure she wasn't still reading over the first page and had actually turned to her results.
"Well?" he prompted.
She looked up and mutely handed the page over to him. It took him a moment to figure out what he was looking at. "What does AR mean?"
"Awaiting results." She was wearing a pout. "There must have been some sort of delay. Or… you don't think there was a problem, do you? I mean, what if I took the wrong test? You don't think I might have skipped a page, or… or something?"
"In all of them? I don't think so." He frowned. "Maybe you did so well, they thought you cheated."
Hermione's eyes went wide. "Really?" She snatched the pages back, quickly reading over the first page. "It just says I should be contacted in another week." She sat down in a huff, her delightful lower lip jutting out in a tempting manner. "How did you do?" He handed her his own results, but her expression remained unchanged. "That's good."
Good? That was all? Good? Stupid E.
"I'm sure you did good, too."
"Whatever." He sat down next to her, reclining against his bed post. "Wanna snog?"
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Your sense of tact leaves something to be desired."
He shrugged. "Worth a shot."
Rather than actually getting closer to, perhaps, snog for a bit, she changed the subject. "We've been invited to Harry's birthday party, by the way."
Draco blanched. "We?"
"That's what I said. He said something about developing his 'Malfoy immunity' in small doses."
"Wonderful. I'm an inoculation."
"And his white blood cells will be beating you up any time now." She smiled at her own bad joke, which Draco wasn't even sure he understood.
"I suppose that might be tolerable," he said slowly, unable to hold back a grimace. "I don't have to get him a gift, do I?"
"You can sign your name and Erm's to mine." She glanced over to the bassinet with that look she'd been getting lately—like she wanted to snuggle his baby to death.
"She'll be awake sooner than I'd prefer. Best to let her at it than to wake her early, I say."
Draco yawned. "I could use a nap myself, truth be told. You and Mum help out plenty, but… Merlin would a nanny be nice in the evenings."
"Yes, but you'll probably need to have one almost fulltime once we're teaching, and wouldn't it be better for her to get to know her parents while she can?" Hermione had stood to look over the edge of the bassinet, and Draco watched her for a moment. Parents, plural. He wasn't even sure she realized she had said it.
The way their relationship was advancing was—weird, really. He had wanted to date her, but it still struck him as odd that she wanted to date him, especially once everything had gotten to be so serious so quickly. All he knew was that he didn't want to jinx it. She was here, wanting to be with him and his daughter, and that was enough.
"You want to take her at night, then?" he asked, half-joking.
She paused. "I guess I could. I mean, I'd be able to sound-proof my bedroom, so I'm sure my parents wouldn't mind." She bit her lip. "And by the way, they want to meet you," she said in a rush. "Both."
"Your parents?" he echoed. Her parents. Her Muggle parents wanted to meet him and his baby. That sounded… like a disaster, actually. "I… guess."
"Draco, you're blanching even more than usual."
He had, of course, met Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson before he could even talk, and so had saved himself from that particular experience. He'd never had any other girlfriends, really. They were more like on-the-side snogs. No need to meet the parents for that.
"Well, I'm sure it will be fine," she concluded, not looking entirely convinced herself.
"Hope so. Either that or it will go terribly and your parents will forbid you to ever see me again." He paused. "Your father doesn't own one of those rifle-things, does he?"
"A dentist drill, yes. A rifle—not so much."
There was a miniature mewling sound, indicating that Erm had woken up, and Draco went to her. She was just under three months old now. "Awake, are you?" he asked, picking her up. His nose curled up as he sniffed her nappy. "And you made me a gift, too. You shouldn't have." One Evanesco—he loved his wand so much—and that particular chore was over.
"You know," Hermione said delicately, "we could go now. Get it over with. I'm sure my parents wouldn't mind."
"Now?" he repeated, still in the process of pinning the clean nappy in place.
"Or not. I mean, sooner or later."
He smiled awkwardly. "Later, maybe?" Sweet Merlin, not yet. He smelled like someone who'd been covered in spit-up, and, come to think of it, so did Erm. Besides, some time to wrap his mind around meeting them would probably be best.
"All right. My results should come a week from today, how about then?"
His right eyebrow sprang up. "You sly, sly little Gryffindor."
She feigned confusion. "What?"
"You're pre-planning a mass-bragging. It makes me proud." He took a step toward her.
"No, I'm n—"
He kissed her. "Very proud."
Hermione had never been much of a fan of waiting, and sitting with her parents and staring first at the fireplace and then at the open window was not something she found particularly enjoyable. Her mother had made coffee (despite the damage it inflicted on enamel) and sugar-free biscuits, and her father was busy reading a dental journal, his feet propped up on the ottoman.
The owl came first, and she made a mad dash for the window, practically yanking the envelope from the owl's leg and barely sparing a moment to let the thing back out the window again.
"It looks thick," her mother commented, pointing at the envelope.
It was thick. There was definitely more in there than just two sheets of paper. What surprised her, though, was that her name was printed as Professor Hermione Granger instead of Miss Hermione Granger. That had to be a good sign.
No sooner had she started tracing the words with her finger than the floo lit up, and her parents hid their discomfort as their guests arrived in what they considered to be a very Father Christmas-like manner.
Draco was holding tight to Ermengarde, his hand over her nose and mouth to fend off soot. She could tell that he'd had trouble deciding what to wear. He had on a button down shirt and a pair of coal gray trousers, but he also had what looked like a rain poncho slung over his arm and a scally cap on his head. Erm was wearing a frilly green dress and looked puzzled by the whole situation.
"Did you find the place okay?" her father asked, though it looked like he regretted the question almost immediately. "Bob Granger," he added, sticking out his hand as soon as Draco had successfully shifted Erm to only his left arm.
"Nice to meet you," Draco replied, shaking with a bit of hesitancy and pulling his hand away just a bit too quickly. "I'm Draco Malfoy."
"And who's this?" her mother asked, standing to draw nearer to the baby.
"Mum," Hermione said, quick to intervene as much as possible, "this is Ermengarde, or Rose, if you'd prefer. That's her middle name."
Her mother shook her head. "No, no. I like the name Ermengarde. May I?" she asked. At Draco's nod—again a bit hesitant—Hermione's mother took the baby from him. "Amelia, by the way. Just don't call me Amelia Bedelia." This was her mother's standard joke when she introduced herself. Draco didn't get it, obviously.
"I won't," he replied, frowning.
"So," Hermione said, in a bit of a rush. "I just got my results. Shall I open them, then?"
"Go on," her father said, gesturing for everyone to sit. Draco held himself in, looking around warily.
Hermione's hands were literally shaking as she pried off the wax seal and pulled out the packet of parchment. There was a cover letter. "Dear Ms. Granger… had some confusion on our end… weren't sure how your results were even possible… attached are copies of your written exams along with copies of the grading rubrics… your final score is on the last page."
"Last page!" her mother prompted, beaming.
Hermione did as she was told, flipping the final page in the rather hefty stack, and her eyes promptly bulged.
"What, what is it?" Draco asked, looking about ready to rip it from her hands.
"I got eight NEWTs! All O's!" Hermione said. "They must have gotten those practice exams I sent them over the summer before last."
"Well, I didn't think I would get to complete my seventh year, so I went ahead and filled out their practice exams. It says they've given me the extra NEWTs honorarily because I did all of them by post, plus the ones I completed in person."
"Wait a minute," Draco said, seeming to have forgotten that her parents were even there. "You got outstandings in classes you never even took? Is that right?"
"Well, yes," Hermione replied, so exceedingly ecstatic that she wasn't sure how to regain control of her mouth muscles enough to stop smiling.
Draco—who had stood—sat down again in a huff. "I never had a chance. Not even slightly," he mumbled. "All that studying, no social life, my eyes were going to fall out—and not a chance."
Hermione's father looked amused, and he clapped a hand on Draco's shoulder. "Not to worry, my boy. That's just how it goes when it comes to we Grangers. I myself was at the top of my class throughout my schooling." He turned to Hermione. "Congratulations, my dear. You've done us proud."
"Thank you, Dad."
"That's wonderful, sweetheart," her mother said, reaching out a baby-free arm for a hug.
"Yeah," Draco echoed halfheartedly. "Great."
"We should celebrate," her father said. "How does sugar-free chocolate sound to you?" Hermione watched as Draco made a face, obviously thinking it would be unsweetened baking chocolate.
"That would be nice," she said, smiling. "Would you like some?" she asked Draco, who continued to look skeptical.
"I think I'll stick to the biscuits. Uh, thanks."
"So, Draco," Hermione's mother said, bouncing Erm on her knee. "Tell me a little about yourself. It sounds like you've studied very hard this year."
"I did," he confirmed, not elaborating.
"And," she continued, "I hear you've also been offered a professorship. Is that right? What subject?"
"That's correct. I'll be teaching Potions."
Hermione watched as her mother nodded, looking only marginally sure what that even entailed. She had once said it was a bit like chemistry, and her parents had found that explanation much more acceptable than, say, her explanation of what she did in transfiguration. "I'm sure it will be difficult, working and caring for your baby at the same time."
"It will," Draco conceded. "I'll have hired help, though, and Hermione, when she's available."
"How fortunate." She took a glance at Hermione. "And that's all right with you, dear?"
"Of course, Mum." To emphasize the point, Hermione reached over and plucked Erm into her lap. She was starting to get a little pudgy in the cheeks, and so far, there was no sign of Pansy's nose.
Hermione blinked. She didn't like thinking of Pansy, for all of the obvious reasons. She couldn't bring herself to resent the dead girl, either. What was past was past, and Pansy, despite some of her choices in life, had ultimately been a victim. It was the future that needed to be attended to now.
There was a call from the kitchen, and Hermione's mother went to help find the chocolate. Mr. Granger never had been good at remembering which cupboard was which.
"I'm having the hardest time believing that you're actually sitting in my living room," Hermione confessed, looking at Draco who was looking around the room a little warily.
"Are those photographs… frozen?" he asked, his nose scrunching up.
"It's kind of… surreal, I guess, being here," he admitted. "If my dad knew, he…." He cut himself off. "Your mum's taken a liking to Ermie, hasn't she?"
"Oh, it's not difficult." Hermione smoothed down some of the baby's hair, which stubbornly popped back up again.
"Granger," he said slowly, "er, Hermione?"
"What your mum asked… you're sure? I don't want you to feel like I'm forcing you into—"
"Malfoy, really," she said, bouncing Erm on her knee. "I know my options from my obligations. Why does everyone take my intellect for granted, anyway?"
"It's just," there was a peculiar look on his face that she'd never seen there before, "why are you still with me?" She wasn't sure if it was her imagination or not, but it sounded like his voice had cracked. "You said you're happy, but I can't even fathom why that is."
Hermione glanced toward the door, where it sounded like her parents were having some sort of technical difficulty.
"It's me, Granger," he prompted.
"And you chose me, which says quite a bit in and of itself, now doesn't it?" she teased. He responded with a grimace of a smile. She sighed slowly, reached over, and took his hand, giving it a squeeze. "Some things just can't be explained. But I know you, and I know the old you, and the two are just that: two. I'm with you, Draco, not the old you. Does that make even the slightest bit of sense?"
He shrugged. "Sort of."
"DAGNABBIT!" There was a clatter of pots and pans from the kitchen, and they both glanced at the door while Erm startled awake, looked around confusedly, and went right off to sleep again.
Hermione's mother came into the room, a harried look on her face and a set of car keys in her hand. "I think your father broke his toe—nice to meet you, Draco—bye!"
Draco paused, mouth half-open. "Couldn't you fix…?"
"Yes," Hermione groaned. "They always forget that. Excuse me." She stood, handing the baby back to Draco.
"Granger," he said, before she'd gotten across the room.
"Do you want some help?"
Hermione smiled slowly. And he wondered why she liked him. Pff.
A.N. I think this is officially the summer of writer's block. Sheesh! First off, special thanks to teaandlemonade for the marvelous illustrations! (FF net users, please see the link in my profile. Don't miss out!)
Second, I have a very important announcement. After nearly five years of writing Dramione, I'm retiring. I already knew this was going to happen before I started writing Eight and Eighth. I wanted one last huzzah, and here it is. Despite the, uh, peculiarity of the final plot twist, I'm ultimately pretty happy with this fic. It's very easily my favorite, and I'd like to thank everyone who's taken the time to read and support me throughout this and my previous writing endeavors. Without knowing I had so many people out there waiting for me to update, I don't know if I'd have been able to keep myself motivated, time and time again.
I, unlike Narcissa—apparently—don't know the future, so I might end up writing a few short pieces when the plot bunny strikes me, but I'm convinced that this is my final novel-length. I need to get back to work on my original fiction! I've procrastinated long enough.
With fondest farewells and thanks, your friend,