Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
--"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold
Sheets of rain battered the nearly-deserted street. Flashes of lightening preceded the rolling thunder as the wind howled around buildings and through alleys. A lone figure was struggling down the deserted sidewalks clutching her umbrella with both hands as her hair and cloak whipped about.
Hermione Granger mentally cursed her decision to walk home rather than Apparate. By the time she'd completed her work at the tiny Muggle bookstore (it conveniently didn't have a Floo connection) which served as a cover for the continuing covert Order operations, she'd been completely exhausted, and unsure of her own ability to Apparate. Better to be wet than splinched. Or so she'd thought.
She wrapped her cloak more tightly around her body and bent her head against the driving rain. Her umbrella snapped inside-outside and she let it go. It hadn't been doing much good anyway. The walk from the Corner Bookshop to her flat was only six blocks and usually a pleasant journey, but tonight she wished she lived closer. Already her clothes were soaked through and through, and she still had two more blocks to go.
By the time Hermione finally reached the double doors of the apartment building where she resided, she was shaking with cold and her knees were threatening to give out. "Alright there, miss?" the doorman asked concernedly as he let her in. "That's right nasty weather, that is."
She nodded wearily. "I'm fine, thank you."
The lift ride to the ninth floor seemed to take forever, but at last the doors opened and she trudged to her apartment and fumbled with the keys. After a long moment, she lost her patience and slipped her wand out of her sleeve after making sure there were no observers. "Alohomora."
The door swung open and Hermione gratefully slipped inside and shrugged off her dripping coat. A flick of the wand lit up the living room of her cozy apartment. It looked as if Ginny hadn't arrived yet; perhaps she'd have enough time for a hot shower.
Hermione hung up the article of clothing on the coat rack and carefully stepped out of her soggy shoes. She worked so hard to keep her blue carpet clean; there were some stains even spells couldn't get out. Practical brown sofas were tastefully arranged around a walnut coffee table and a paneled fireplace. Across the room, the kitchen was directly connected, featuring earthy-coloured Formica, steel sinks, and a small round table with four chairs covered in a blue tablecloth.
She paused by the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that lined the remaining wall and thoughtfully looked through her books, at last pulling a slim volume from a higher shelf. After her much-needed shower, a hot cup of tea would be perfect; then she could curl up in front of the fireplace and re-read a book until Ginny arrived.
Twelfth Night, the title read, by William Shakespeare.
With a sad smile, Hermione set the book on the coffee table and headed to the one bathroom in the apartment. Quickly stripping down, she stepped at last into the steamy water, relishing the feeling of the hot liquid pouring down on her weary body. Slowly, the tense muscles relaxed as she worked the shampoo and soap into her hair and skin.
When at last Hermione has finished, she turned the water off and pulled on a warm robe. She took her time working the tangles out of her hair before applying a drying charm and venturing to the kitchen to heat some water for the tea. A flick of her wand turned the radio on--a Muggle station was playing oldies. The soft music seemed to blend with the roaring weather outside, she though as she checked the temperature of the water with her wand before letting the raspberry tea bag sink to the bottom of her favorite chipped teacup.
And then, almost as if the lull in the storm was over, there came a knock on her door.
She glanced up sharply. It wasn't even eight yet, but who would be calling at this hour? Ginny was using the Floo.
Cautiously making her way to the door, she looked through the peephole and could see the distorted figure of a tall man wearing an apparently soaked coat. His head was turned away and his face was shielded by a fedora-like hat. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets. There as something about the way he stood that was familiar…
Making sure her hand was firmly on the wand in her pocket, Hermione slowly undid the bolt lock and turned the handle.
As the door swung open, the stranger turned, pulling off his hat, and she caught her breath as time froze. Tall, fair-haired, a defined jaw line and silver eyes…designer coat, charcoal gray pants, muddy shoes--it was none other than Draco Malfoy.
When she had woken up that sunny Saturday morning, she'd been in his arms, and it was the most amazing feeling in the world. For the longest time, she just lay there, listening to him breathe, relishing the warm sunbeams playing on her face, wishing that she could always wake up like this—next to him.
Finally he had shifted a little in his sleep, and she'd propped herself up on the pillow so she could watch him wake up. When at last his eyes fluttered open, a slow smile had spread across his face as he looked at her.
"Morning," said Hermione, smiling at him before flopping comfortably back onto his shoulder and nestling herself deeper in his embrace.
"Mmmm, it is, isn't it?"
She sighed contentedly. "It was the best I've slept in ages."
There was a long pause as she breathed in his scent, then exhaled. "Thank you."
Draco paused. "Shouldn't I be the one saying that?"
She giggled softly. "In all technicality, I suppose the answer's yes, but…"
She could practically feel his smirk radiating in the room. "But?"
"But last night was…" She searched for the right word. "Mind-blowing."
"Glad you think so. So, if I asked, would you walk into the Great Hall, stand up on the table, and announce to the whole school that I am in fact the sex god they talk about?"
Hermione snorted. "Draco!"
She raised her fist to punch his shoulder, then realised that he was laughing softly. "Prat," she accused.
"Anything for you, my dear."
She smiled into his arm, and he pulled her yet closer to him, his fingers feather light as they rubbed small circles into her bare shoulder.
"You gave me the world's most incredible gift last night, you know," he said suddenly, his voice deep with emotion.
"You gave me the same gift back," she reminded him. "That's why I was thanking you."
"I love you," he murmured.
"I know," she whispered. "I love you too."
Hermione wondered if they could just lay like this the rest of the day. Hell, just skip the Quidditch game and stay like this all weekend. She just wanted to lay here in his arms and forget that there was a world outside full of pain and separation and injustice.
But unfortunately, her body had different plans. Her stomach suddenly growled, and Draco started laughing. "Breakfast for milady?"
"I'm not hungry," Hermione protested, but once again her stomach voiced its opinion, making Draco laugh even harder.
"It's not funny," she protested, raising up on her elbow and fixing him with a trademark glare. "You don't know what it's like to be a girl and have such a high metabolism."
"Oh, such a trial, I'm sure," he said, smirking at her as he too propped himself up on his elbow. "I suppose breakfast is in order. It's probably time to get up anyway."
"What time is it?"
He glanced at the clock on the wall behind her. "Nearly eleven."
She gaped at him; she never slept in this late. "How is that even possible? I can't sleep past eight, usually!"
"It must have been the incredible bed partner," he said arrogantly, and she aimed a good-natured punch at his shoulder before sitting up all the way and stretching.
He was still watching her, and she suddenly realised she wasn't wearing any clothes, but though that fact would have mortified her twenty-four hours earlier, now clothing seemed to be of little importance for some reason. She slowly climbed out of bed and wrapped herself loosely in the emerald bathrobe draped over a nearby chair then turned back to him. "I'm going for a shower. Breakfast in twenty?"
Draco slowly slid out of the bed and reluctantly pulled his boxers on before meeting her at the end of the bed. "I'll see you there," he said softly, pulling her into a tender embrace and lightly kissing her forehead. She smiled shyly before slipping out of the room.
She stared. It was all she really could do at the moment. Her thoughts seemed to have frozen in the split second. Draco Malfoy at her door. Tonight, of all nights.
It didn't even occur to her that she was dressed in a bathrobe.
"Draco," she managed, her voice higher pitched than normal.
There was a long, drawn out silence. Then he said, "Can I come in?" and she jumped back to swing the door wide, numbly leading the way into her small apartment.
It seemed surreal. He was here. For years she'd dreamed of this day, and now that it had finally come, she felt numb, as if it wasn't really happening. What was he here for anyway? A part of her had given up hope on the day of his marriage.
Draco stood awkwardly on the outskirts of the kitchen, watching her with an unreadable expression.
"Tea?" asked Hermione, for lack of something better to say.
"Yes, thank you."
He didn't need to tell her what type he preferred or how he liked it--she already knew. "You can sit, if you'd like," Hermione invited.
Draco inclined his head, but didn't move toward the chair. Hermione busied herself preparing the tea as the awkward silence stretched on and on. Finally she handed him a cup of peppermint tea with exactly one teaspoon of sugar.
"Thank you," he said, and took the tea, but didn't sip it.
Hermione took a long breath. "Well, this is awkward," she said, staring at the floor as she drew circles with her big toe in the carpet.
"I was rather hoping for a 'Good to see you, Draco,'" he said emotionlessly.
"I am glad to see you," she said in a rush. "Don't get me wrong. It's just a shock…it's been so long…"
"I came as soon as I could."
"The war has been over for nearly a year," said Hermione woodenly, staring at the floor. A little of her anger was coming back now.
His face was anguished. "Just give me a chance to explain. Please, Hermione…I can explain…"
And she turned her head away, not sure if she could bring herself to forgive him after all these years, knowing she was being unreasonable, but still not able to push away the overwhelming emotions of hope and fear and anger, all at once…
After that night, their lives had gone on as usual. It wasn't normal, though. Hermione knew it; she knew that Draco realised it too. Things would never be the exactly same again.
Since the bight, he hadn't stepped a toe out of line or made an inappropriate move; they'd scarcely even talked of it, but not a day passed that it wasn't on their minds. She still found him staring at her when he thought she wasn't looking, an intense look in his penetratingly silver eyes. The few touches they could share--the way their hands brushed as he handed her a book, the time their shoulders connected as they passed each other in the Common Room, the gentle touch of his hand on her arm when she was particularly stressed or upset--sent jolts of electricity through her body. Each look made her melt inside. Every time Pansy latched onto his arm, Hermione seethed inside. Every time she climbed into her cold, lonely bed, she remembered what it was like to have him lying next to her.
But they had agreed that it would only be a one night encounter. Even one more kiss, and Hermione was afraid she'd be caught on a downward spiral. One more night with him, and she might not be able to let him go when the semester ended. They both knew the high chances that Pansy was sleeping around—a lot—but it didn't matter. He was engaged, and they were both above the likes of Pansy Parkinson.
Halfway through their final semester at Hogwarts, Pansy mysteriously stopped pestering Draco and trying to spend every waking moment with him, something both Hermione and Draco were immensely grateful for, if not a little puzzled by her actions.
As graduation neared, she felt as if she was running out of time. Every day brought her nearer to the point when she would have no assurance that she would ever see him again. Every moment she spent with him was precious. They did everything together--they studied for N.E.W.T.'s; they did their homework; they had their meals brought to their tower so they could eat together; they patrolled together, relishing the long conversations held in dark, empty corridors after hours. Sometimes, Hermione and Draco took walks together on the grounds, taking care to keep well out of sight of other students. Hogsmeade was not an option, of course, but even when she ventured there with Harry, Ron, and Ginny, he was never far away, always close enough for her to sneak glances when her friends weren't looking.
It wasn't till the night after graduation that they finally caved. She had only spent a few minutes at the celebrations before excusing herself to finish packing. Draco was in the armchair, staring into the fire when Hermione entered their Common Room. "What, no partying?" she asked lightly.
"Feels more like a funeral," he said in a low voice, and she immediately went to him and stood by his chair, placing her hand on his shoulder. She wished she had something to say, some word of comfort, but nothing would ease the ache of painful goodbyes to come.
"When are you leaving?"
Draco didn't reply, and instantly she knew the answer; still, she couldn't withhold the tiny gasp that escaped her lips. "Tonight? But why?"
"Evidently my mother and father are anxious to see me," he said bitterly.
"When?" she whispered.
"My Portkey leaves in an hour."
"Oh." She swallowed hard and willed herself not to break down now. "Have you packed?"
"I'll help you," said Hermione decidedly.
In silence, she helped him load his books and belongings into the ornately carved trunk. Somehow, it was symbolic in a way, and she wanted to make it long as long as possible. She folded the scattered clothes by hand rather than using her wand. But at last, his things were stacked at the door, she looked at the empty room sadly. How she would miss their cozy Common Room and bedrooms. She'd felt more at home here than in all of her six years in the Gryffindor dorm.
Hermione turned to find him standing very close behind her, close enough for her to see every eyelash and every contour of his defined jawline, close enough to notice how the light reflected off his silver grey eyes.
She felt her throat constrict. Minutes. I have mere minutes left before…before…
Slowly, Draco's fingers brushed her cheek, leaving a tingling sensation that quickly traveled throughout her body.
"One more kiss," he said suddenly, pleadingly. "Just one more time. Please."
She didn't need to reply. She knew he could see the answer in her eyes as she slowly brought her hands up to rest on his shoulders and tilted her chin upwards. And just as slowly, he bent his head and just brushed his lips against hers. The kiss was nothing like the passionate ones they'd shared on their first night, but it was passionate, just in a different way. This time his kiss was soft and searching as he gently explored her mouth, melting her very core and weakening her knees.
A tear trickled down Hermione's cheek as they broke apart at last, and Draco brushed it away with his thumb. Then, she slipped her arms around his chest and hugged him fiercely. "I love you," she said into his shirt.
"I love you too," he whispered. "Always."
They stood there in silence, just holding each other. Hermione relished the feeling of his strong arms around her, as if holding on to her for dear life; and suddenly, the words bubbled up in her throat, words she'd wanted to tell him for months, words she'd wished he'd heard on their first night together.
"I'll wait for you."
Draco released her and leaned back so he could look searchingly into her face. "Hermione," he began slowly, his expression unreadable. "I can't ask you to do that."
"You don't have to."
"It'll be years, though… I don't know when I'll finally be free, when it will be safe…"
Gods, how she loved hearing him say her name. Gently, Hermione brushed his jaw line with her fingertips. "Will I have something worth waiting for?"
Something changed in his eyes; it was almost as if a candle of hope had been lighted. Slowly, he smiled, and pulled her into a gentle embrace. "If I'm enough."
It was at that moment that a tiny bell above her fireplace rang indicating that someone was about to Floo in. Hermione jumped and her tea sloshed onto her countertop. Draco took a few quick steps backwards, almost as if fearful of who it would be.
There was a puff of green smoke, and then Ginny Weasley's voice rang through the room. "Oh, good, you're here, Hermione…I was afraid you'd still be at work. Cassie had a good day, didn't you sweetheart? She ate all her food at dinner, though heaven knows what George put into it, don't be surprised if she starts burping bubbles or slugs or something. She played a lot today, but Harry wasn't too pleased when he came home to find that she'd pulled all of his books off the shelves and looked at all of them, but what can I say? She's definitely your child, but now she's tired and ready to go to bed, aren't you?"
The tiny blond girl clinging to Ginny's hand nodded and all of her curls bounced.
Hermione didn't move.
Ginny frowned. "Is everything alright, Hermione? You look pale…"
It was then that she noticed Draco. "Oh," she said, her face turning so white that every freckle seemed to stick out. "Oh."
Another long pause. No one moved, save for the five-year-old, who looked curiously from one adult to another, then promptly stuck her thumb in her mouth.
Oh no, oh no, oh god, now he knows about Cassie …oh my god, why did Ginny have to come now? A million thoughts were racing through Hermione's mind—she couldn't move, she couldn't breathe, and she definitely couldn't look at him…
But yet she did, and her heart sank to see Draco standing there, completely still as he stared at the girl with an unreadable expression.
Ginny suddenly seemed to snap together. "Come on, Cassie, how about you come spend a night at my house with Zack and Zoe? Would you like that?"
Cassie nodded enthusiastically. "Sleepov'r," she echoed with a smile.
"Go say goodbye to your mum."
The tiny girl ran across the room, and numbly, Hermione scooped up her daughter and kissed her cheek. "I love you. Promise to obey Aunt Ginny?" she whispered.
Nodding, the child wiggled out of her arms and ran to Ginny. With one more meaningful glance at Hermione, the red-headed witch threw a handful of Floo powder into the fire, said in a somewhat shaky voice, "Potter Manor," and disappeared.
The silence was deafening. She could hear every tick of the clock on the mantle, every raindrop pattering against her windows, the note of the song droning on the radio…
"Draco, I…" began Hermione, but he silenced her with a look.
The silence droned on and on as Draco's fingers clenched tighter and tighter; she could feel her throat constricting so tight that she could hardly breathe…how angry was he? Angry enough to walk out? To hit her? To tear her limb from limb?
"I should have known," he said in a low voice, his eyes burning. He laughed harshly. "I can't believe I was stupid enough to think that you actually meant it when you said you'd wait…"
She gaped at him. What exactly did he think? That she was married? That she'd gotten pregnant by some random man at a bar? That Cassie was really the child of some other bloke from Hogwarts? That she'd been sneaking around behind his back?
"You're just like all the rest," he shouted. "How could I have been so blind?"
"I don't see you apologizing for your child!" Hermione shouted, finally loosing it. All the anger and hurt of the last five years was pouring out of her like a broken dam. Draco stared uncomprehendingly at her. "That's right, I know," she whispered bitterly. "I have my connections, Draco. I know that Pansy is pregnant. Well, congratulations. You'll finally have your Malfoy heir."
"Is that really what you think?" he said, looking incredulous, and though Hermione still glared at him, she suddenly felt a wave of uncertainty rush over her. She said nothing, hugging herself tightly as he paced back and forth.
He finally stopped in front of her. "Tomorrow morning, the Daily Prophet will run the biggest scandal story wince someone leaked the fact that Cornelius Fudge was gay. 'Draco Malfoy Divorces Pregnant Wife of Five Years, Pansy Parkinson.' By tomorrow afternoon, half of the Wizarding population will know that I never loved her." He paused. "And she never loved me."
Hermione felt as if a bucket of ice water had been splashed in her face. "What?" She stopped, paused, then said, "But she… I mean…" She swallowed. "I thought…"
He closed his eyes briefly, and suddenly, he looked much older than his twenty-three years. "So did I." Draco took a deep breath and briefly rubbed his hand across his eyes. "You remember that she stopped hanging on me several months before graduation? It seemed she fell in love with someone else. I didn't find out until our wedding night when…" Hermione squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to imagine Draco with Pansy on their wedding night… "…when she started to unzip her dress and I told her coldly not to bother, that I'd fallen in love with someone else."
Her eyes flew open. He…he'd…what? Had she heard right?
"I told her that I wanted nothing to do with her physically, and basically gave her permission to find her gratification elsewhere, as long as she didn't tell me of her escapades."
"You gave her permission to cheat."
"She was relieved. She told me she'd fallen for a Ravenclaw, a seventh year. Kevin Entwhistle."
Hermione vaguely remembered a shy, dark haired boy with a sense of humour and a thing for Slytherin girls. "So," she said, trying to put the pieces together, trying to make sense of what he'd just told her. "So…"
"Whatever you might believe, Pansy is not pregnant with my child," said Draco, his voice frigid. "Another reason why the Daily Prophet is going to have a field day when she announces her marriage plans next week."
She suddenly realised what he must have gone through; trekking through the rain to her doorstep late one evening only to discover that she had a child; in one second, all of his dreams and hopes had been smashed apart in one fatal blow.
No, not fatal. Not yet.
"Obviously, all the trouble I went to was in vain," he said quietly, shifting toward the door. "I'll leave now."
"No!" she nearly shouted, and his head jerked up. "No, no, no, it's not what it looks. I swear."
He looked skeptical, and Hermione crossed the distance between them in two quick steps and laid her hand on his arm. "Draco, Pansy's child might not be yours…but Cassie is."
A blue 'positive' result on her diagnostic spell had nearly shattered her carefully constructed world.
Hermione hadn't realised that she was pregnant for nearly two months after their night together. And after that, she'd kept it a secret all the way till midsummer, wearing charmed slimming robes to keep her bulging stomach from the public view, brewing her own anti-Morning Sickness potions in the privacy of her room when Draco was out, magically lightening all her book bags and calling in sick whenever they were scheduled to practice spells or brew potions that would be dangerous for her unborn daughter.
She had known the baby would be a girl from the start. Call it a motherly instinct.
In any matter, Draco hadn't found out, and she had known he'd be the hardest one to keep her secret from. She hadn't started showing until soon after Graduation, so he hadn't guessed anything when he'd kissed her that last time. If he had known, she had no doubt that he would have canceled his plans to marry, thus endangering both himself and her and her child. She didn't want him to be in that sort of situation.
It wasn't until halfway through the summer at Grimmauld Place that Ginny had caught her taking potions and guessed. The youngest Weasley had convinced her friend that she needed to tell the Order, and finally, reluctantly, Hermione trouped downstairs and revealed to her friends that she was five months pregnant.
"The father doesn't want anything to do with the baby," she'd lied. "He's out of the picture, anyway." At least that much was true.
Only Ginny had known the real truth, but loyal friend as she was, she hadn't said a word, even under the scrutinizing interrogation of both Ron and Harry who were determined to figure out which bloke had banged their best friend up and head directly off to beat him to smithereens.
Their anger had been short lived, though. Everyone had more important things to worry about—the ongoing war, of course. Severus Snape had brought news that the Death Eater force was growing every day; quite a few graduated Slytherins had already been initiated, including Draco Malfoy.
And when Hermione had heard the news, her heart has broken into a thousand pieces.
But there was no time to brood. The Death Eater attacks were becoming more and more frequent and bloody as Voldemort grew stronger. Several of the Order members were killed in home attacks, and some suspected that they had a traitor among their midst. Snape was no longer as high in the ranks as he'd once been, and many times he wasn't able to learn of Death Eater attacks beforehand and inform the Order.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been invested into the Order right after graduation, and while Ron and Harry had begun combative training with Moody, Tonks, and Lupin, Hermione had taken a quieter path, researching and developing spells for Order use. Quietly, she kept her ears open for news of Draco; she'd kept every newspaper article about him, even the clipping of his wedding—the Wedding of the Century, the Prophet had called it—to Pansy. When Snape reported to the Order that the Dark Lord had a new favourite, the son of Lucius Malfoy, Hermione wondered if she had lost him forever.
But then, strange things began to happen. They began receiving anonymous tips as to where the Death Eaters would strike next. At first, Dumbledore had been skeptical as to the accuracy of the predictions, but after the undisclosed spy was right time and time again, the Order at last started to rely heavily on the tips. Hundreds of lives were spared. Snape reported that Voldemort was furious at not knowing who the inner spy was, but Snape could tell him nothing, as the Order itself didn't know the identity of their helper.
Hermione had her suspicions. But ever practical, she didn't dare allow herself even to hope.
In November, Hermione gave birth to a beautiful six pound seven ounce girl, and promptly named Ginny the godmother. She was surrounded by her friends and family, but the one person she really needed couldn't be there. He didn't even know.
"What are you going to name her, Hermione?" Ron had asked. "Name her Jane, like your middle name."
"Jane's so boring," Harry protested.
"And 'Harry' isn't?" Hermione retorted. "Besides, I already have a name picked out."
Her announcement was met by a chorus of "What's?" and "Tell us's!"
Hermione smiled fondly down at the red-faced baby in her arms. "Cassiopeia."
Ron's face scrunched up. "Like the constellation? What kind of name is that?"
"I like it," Ginny jumped in. "We can nickname her Cassie."
"Cassie," echoed Hermione, still staring at her daughter. "My beautiful baby Cassie."
And the name had stuck. No one had gotten the deeper symbolism of Hermione's chosen name, but to Hermione, it was important that her daughter be named after a star, just like Draco had been, and his relatives…
It wasn't long before Hermione had been hidden away in a secure safe house with her daughter to continue her work for the Order. The Wizarding society was beginning to implement a number of unfair and unnecessary laws in regard to Muggleborns, and many were leaving the country or going into hiding in an effort to avoid the coming disaster. She didn't mind—she only wished she could be out fighting by Harry and Ron's sides in the battles, and she finally determined that she was doing more good where she was, and she now had someone other than herself to think about. When the final battle came, she would fight, for sure, but for now, she would have to content herself to her given lot in life.
It was amazing, though, seeing Cassie grow—hearing her first words, watching her take her first steps. Hermione found that her daughter was intensely curious about everything, and highly intelligent for her age. She wasn't surprised. She and Draco had always competed for the highest grades at Hogwarts—it was only natural that their daughter would demonstrate the same type of brilliance.
The war progressed. Slowly, but surely, as the losses stacked up, the Order became more and more desperate. There were good times as well, but these were few and far apart. Harry and Ginny married, as well as Fred and Angelina, and Fleur announced her own pregnancy.
The situation was becoming steadily worse, though. Harry, of course, had the greatest weight of all to bear, and Hermione could hardly stand to see him brood, sometimes spending hours alone as he rejected the reaches of even his closest friends. She rarely tried to talk to him when he got into these moods, though Mrs. Weasley would Floo over begging Hermione to do something. Hermione knew, though, that they each had their own personal battles to fight—Harry's was just more of a weight than her own. He needed to come to terms with his role on his own time, not theirs.
But time was running out. Harry was finally as prepared as he'd ever be to face Voldemort, and when the final battle arrived, Hermione and Ron were by his side all the way to the very end, fighting their way through dozens of Death Eaters, werewolves, and other dark creatures Voldemort had enlisted in his service. Many lives were lost in the battle; many Order members dropped to the ground, their blood seeping into the ground. But the final battle was also filled with unexpected surprises. Snape had at the very beginning declared his true loyalty by turning on his own and killing Dolohov. But it wasn't until the first wave of Death Eater spells began to really fly that the real surprise came. In the midst of flying curses, a tall, slender Death Eater had leaped forward, thrown off his mask and began shooting deadly spells into his own ranks. Three Death Eaters had fallen before Voldemort had finally realised what he'd missed all along—Draco Malfoy was the traitor. Furious, he had leapt forward to slaughter the man in cold blood, but by then the Order had recognized its helper and immediately jumped forward to refute the attack.
It had been the first time Hermione had seen him in over four years, and she wasn't even sure he'd seen her. He'd been so involved in defending the people he had once called blood traitors; she didn't have time to feel the overwhelming rush of relief and hope, though, for the battle was closing in on all sides.
In the end, the Dark Lord attempted to send a killing curse at Ginny Weasley who was fighting alongside her brothers, and Harry simply exploded. Raw power surged through the air, throwing everyone in proximity to the ground. And Voldemort had screamed a horrible cry as the power crashed into him. There was a struggle; and then, at last, the Dark Lord was finally dead.
She really didn't remember what had happened after the battle, only that she'd looked for Draco but he'd been nowhere to be seen. Most of the Death Eaters were dead, though some had fled after their Marks had burned and vanished; there was still work to be done—a Wizarding society to protect.
So she went back home to Cassie who had been left in the care of her mother. And then, she'd gone back to work—back to the bookstore, back to her life of waiting and watching for the man who she feared would never come.
"What?" whispered Draco hoarsely, staring at her as if he'd never seen her before.
"She's yours," said Hermione again, smiling faintly. "You remembered everything on that night we had together—except that. I blame myself," she jumped in quickly. "I didn't know a spell, and then I just forgot when I arrived, and…well, you know the rest."
"She's mine…" he said, looking dazed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Hermione bit her lip, looking away. "I knew you'd do something you would have regretted."
"I would have immediately called off the wedding!" he said, his voice raising a little. "You were pregnant!"
"You would have acted rashly, and you might have gotten both of us killed for it," she reminded him. "Can you imagine what your father would have done had he known that you'd gotten me pregnant and planned to marry me? He wouldn't have stopped until both of us were dead, and you know it."
He closed his eyes and took a long breath. "You still should have told me," he grated out, jaw clenched.
Hermione watched him nervously. "I know you have every right to be furious," she began quickly, unconsciously wringing her hands, "but I didn't know what else to do…I'm really, really sorry for keeping something this colossal a secret…"
Draco stopped her. "Hermione," he said softly, and she shivered at the way her name rolled off his tongue. She had the overwhelming desire to be in his arms again, safe from anything the world could throw at her, but would they ever be together again? Was it even possible? "Hermione," he said again. "I'm not angry."
"You're not?" she said in a tiny voice.
"No; no, I'm glad." He inched closer, and she didn't back away.
"Glad? But I lied to you."
"Well, I'm may not be too happy about that part, but I think I'll get over it eventually," said Draco, smiling wryly.
"So you are upset."
"No, not upset," he corrected. "Surprised. Shocked, even. But glad."
Hermione thought maybe she didn't look convinced enough, because he moved just a little closer and gently reached out to brush her cheek with his fingertips. "How could I be angry? Not only do I get you, but a beautiful five-year-old to go with the package." His voice faltered a little and he seemed to withdraw. "The only question left is, do I get you back?"
He wants me. With that thought, her heart, which had seemed for so long to be shattered beyond repair, magically began to knit itself back together.
"I was always yours," she said, and closed the distance between them.
Gently, he folded his arms around her, one hand traveling up to stroke her hair as she buried her face into his chest. I'm home , at last.
"Don't ever leave again."
"I won't," said Draco, and she smiled contentedly.
Then his body stiffened and he pulled back again. "Hermione, I'm not the same person I was at Hogwarts. You need to know that I've done things—horrible things, that I wish I could erase…"
She shuddered, thinking of all the times she'd sent out brave Order members to fights, and how many of those people had never come back. She thought of all the deadly spells she'd developed, dabbling in dark magic more than she had ever wanted. And she thought of the men and women who had fallen at her hand at the last battle. "You're not the only one who's different, Draco."
"But the people I've killed. . ."
"None of that matters anymore. It doesn't matter what you've become—the same person I fell in love with is still in there somewhere."
And suddenly, he was kissing her, with a passionate desperation that seemed to flow through her body like a current of electricity—Hermione's empty teacup slipped from her fingers and crashed noisily on the floor as Draco began to push her backwards. Finally finding a wall, she braced herself with both hands as he ravished her mouth.
It was like heaven.
She eagerly kissed him back, enthusiastically pulling his head down as his lips crashed against hers. She couldn't get enough of him, but the deep-boned tiredness from the long day and shock of his arrival were incapacitating her as well.
Reluctantly he pulled away at last, and she smiled up at him, lightheaded. Then her knees gave way.
"Careful!" warned Draco as he caught her gently. "Are you alright?"
"Just my knees," admitted Hermione. "I blame it on you, really."
"More than that—it's your eyes, your lips, your hands…"
He smirked at her, and she laughed. "Here I am, blowing your already inflated head up even more…"
"Anything else you want to add?"
"Your voice," decided Hermione. "Definitely your voice. When it rumbles I get chills."
"Like this," he asked, his voice low and sexy as he lingered, only a fraction of inch away from her lips. She could feel the electricity racing through her nerves.
"Exactly like that," she breathed before he brushed her lips in a searching kiss.
Finally he broke away and pulled her to his chest, encircling her in his strong arms.
There was a long silence. "I love you," Draco suddenly stated, smiling as the words left his lips.
"I love you too," she said, meaning it. She wanted to be able to tell him that every day for the rest of their lives.
"You look tired," he said softly, stroking her cheek, his fingers tracing the dark pockets under her eyes. "You need some rest."
"You're probably right," said Hermione reluctantly, not wanting to see him leave.
"I should probably go," Draco said hesitantly.
And in an instant, Hermione knew that if he left now, she would die. Literally. "Don't leave," she whispered urgently. "Stay with me tonight."
Draco sounded relieved. "Anything for you, my love."
He lingered near her side as she put the cups in the sink, turned off the stove, and switched off the living room lights. Once in her room, he began removing his shirt and shoes as Hermione pulled pajamas from her dresser and headed to the bathroom to brush her teeth and change. She paused for a moment to survey herself in the mirror, and suddenly felt embarrassed. Her pajamas were old and plain—a simple ribbed tank top with a pair of stripped pajama pants. Her hair was frizzy, though dry after her shower. Her face was drawn and tired, and new lines had appeared since the last time he'd really seen her.
Draco had stripped down to only his charcoal gray trousers when she entered the room again. "The loo is around the corner," said Hermione, feeling very self conscious and beginning to wonder if having him stay over was a good idea. Draco merely nodded, though, and headed for the bathroom.
Hermione immediately flipped off the main lights, leaving the side table lamp on his side on before slipping under the well-worn covers of the queen sized bed and laying her head back on the pillow. Dear god, it felt so good to be relaxing for once. Just having him there made her feel so much safer.
Her eyes fluttered open when she heard the door click open once again. Hermione sleepily watched as he quickly took off his pants and laid them over the back of the chair, climbing in bed wearing only his boxers.
The light clicked off, and for an awkward moment, Hermione stared at the black ceiling, wondering whether she should stay where she was, or whether she should scoot closer . . . but a second later, Draco made up the decision for her when he slid over to her side and took her in his arms.
Her body reacted immediately. She still hadn't forgotten exactly how to position her head on his shoulder so she could hear his heart beating as he held her close.
A second later, she felt his lips pressing a soft kiss to her forehead. "Do you have any idea how long I've dreamed of this moment?" Draco murmured into her hair.
She didn't say anything for a long time. Then the question that was still pressing urgently in her mind could not be held back any longer. "Why did it take you so long to come?"
Draco let out his breath in a long whoosh. "I wanted to find you the second the battle was over," he admitted.
She squeezed her eyes closed. "Then why didn't you?"
He was quiet for a moment. "I had to be sure my father was behind bars."
Lucius Malfoy had been captured along with the few remaining Death Eaters after the final battle, and suddenly Hermione remembered the headline of that day's paper—DEATH EATERS TRANSPORTED TO AZKABAN FOR LIFE SENTENCES. She hadn't connected the headline with his unexpected visit, but now it made sense.
"He can't hurt you anymore," she said.
"No, he can't hurt you."
"Is that the only reason?" she whispered.
He sighed. "No, and you're going to be angry when I tell you the other reason, but just give me the chance to explain."
She didn't say anything, and he rushed on. "I had to secure my inheritance—but not because of the money, I swear. If it was only money, I would have come for you the minute Madame Pomfrey let me out of the infirmary, but I had to see my father all the way through to Azkaban before the inheritance would be at last be transferred to me. It wasn't really for me, though. Pansy's dowry became my father's when we were married, and I waited for the money so I could give it back to her. She needed something to live on, to support herself and the child if ever she has a fallout with Kevin."
Everything was falling into place; now she understood, not just his reasons for his long delay, but also the pain he must have gone thorough, the horrible anticipation, the fears and doubts…
"I'm so sorry, love." His voice was anxious.
"No, don't be!" said Hermione quickly. She wanted him to know that she didn't blame him, that she thought it was amazingly self-sacrificing that he'd waited so long, just to make sure Pansy would be alright even though he disliked her so much… "It's OK," she said, finding his hand and interlacing her fingers in his. "I understand."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I am," Hermione said softly.
She snuggled closer to him and as her eyelids got heavy and sleep crept closer, she heard his voice, rather felt his voice, the soft vibration of his chest as he said quietly, "I love you."
Then sleep overtook her.
When Hermione's eyes suddenly fluttered open, for a moment she was unsure of where she was. But no, the room was hers—what had happened? Then she turned her head and her world brightened when she saw Draco Malfoy stretched out next to her, his head propped up on his arm as he watched her wake up. A slow smile spread over his face as their eyes met. "Morning, beautiful."
A laugh escaped her lips. "Beautiful? With my hair going all over the place and my pajamas all messed up?"
"All the prettier."
"On the contrary," said Draco, "I've never seen more clearly in my life." Slowly, he leaned closer and planted a gentle, lingering kiss on her lips. Then he announced, "I like kissing you."
Hermione grinned. "I like it when you kiss me," she said, laughing at the joy and wonder she felt just being able to say those words aloud without fear of Pansy or Harry or Ron or anyone else hearing.
Now the whole world could know.
"In fact, I think I'm going to kiss you again," said Draco, pinning her down on the bed and grinning seductively.
But suddenly Hermione remembered that she'd just woken up; she didn't want to imagine how she looked at the moment. "You can kiss me later, when I've cleaned up a bit," she announced, pushing him off. He pretended to sulk a little. "Oh, come off it! I just need to wash my face and clean my teeth, and I'll feel a lot better about you shoving your tongue down my throat."
Draco brightened considerably at the possibility. "Do I get to do that after you finish?"
Hermione slid off the edge of the bed and reached for her bathrobe, knotting it around her waist. Then she turned and gave him her sternest look. "We'll see."
The cold water felt marvelous on her face and a few charms calmed her hair before she slipped into a pair of jeans and a simple t-shirt. "Loo's all yours—" she began as she stepped out, but the bedroom was empty, though the bed had been made. It must have been him—he knew how OCD she was about making her bed first thing in the morning. "Draco?"
Curious, Hermione stepped out of the bedroom and into the living room, where she stopped as her breath caught in her throat. Glasses brimming with orange juice stood proudly on the humble table, surrounded by spreads of fruit and bagels.
"You kept busy," said Hermione, raising one eyebrow.
"I figured you were most likely hungry," said Draco, shrugging. "You always eat like a baby elephant…"
"Not true!" she screeched playfully, pummeling her fist at his arm, but he dodged easily.
"Kidding!" Draco backtracked, grinning. "I'm just kidding! Actually, I'm planning on eating all this by myself…"
"I didn't say I wasn't hungry," Hermione quickly, sliding into the chair and crossing her arms.
Draco merely smirked. "Butter?"
The food tasted marvelous. In fact, Hermione suddenly remembered that she hadn't had a proper meal since the prior morning, and even then, it'd been a few bites of toaster waffle as she rushed around getting Cassie ready to go with Ginny before she headed off to work. At the book shop, she'd finished off the rest of a bag of tortilla chips for lunch, and of course, she'd been too preoccupied to even think about eating anything for dinner.
The bagels were steaming hot, the orange juice was freshly squeezed, and the coffee was the best she'd ever tasted. He even remembered exactly how she liked it—moccachino, not too hot, with lots of whipped cream. She had always been a sucker for sweets, despite the fact that her parents were dentists.
As she polished off one last muffin, she savored the sweet banana-nut taste. "This is delicious," she admitted to the still-smirking Draco who was watching her eat. She stretched. "What time is it anyway? I have to…"
And then Hermione caught sight of the clock on the wall.
"Ten-thirty," she shrieked, jumping up and nearly knocking over her chair in the process. "I've got to open the shop, and only Merlin knows what Ginny will think…"
A pair of arms snaked around her waist. "Relax," Draco said, very close to her ear. "It's taken care of."
Hermione spun around and glared at him. "What do you mean?"
He shrugged. "Your assistant called while you were in the shower, and I told her that you wouldn't be in. I also sent an owl to Ginny telling her not to expect us until later today."
Hermione's face reddened. "You told Ginny that? Oh, god, who knows what she's going to think?"
"Probably that we're shagging like bunnies," said Draco bluntly. "Which," he continued, with a sly smile as he slowly traced a line from her jaw down to her throat, "sounds like a very good idea to me."
Hermione couldn't help it. She gulped, and instantly her heart began to beat wildly. All thoughts fled as her mind registered one thing—it was ten-thirty in the morning; she had just stuffed herself with breakfast; she looked only a little better than she would if she had just climbed out of bed; and he wanted to do that?
"Of course, it would mean that I got to kiss you again, and you did promise thatI could later . . ." he reminded her.
"OK," she said quickly, breathlessly, before she could even stop to think about it.
Draco didn't hesitate. In a mere fraction of a second, he pressed his lips to hers, and instantly Hermione's lightheadedness increased. She responded eagerly, slipping her arms around his neck as the strong hands on the small of her back pressed her closer, tilting her head to allow him more access to her mouth. She forgot to breathe when he demanded entrance to her mouth, and she granted it; he had a way of sending chills and tingles down her back and stabs of desire into the pit of her stomach that left her breathless and longing for more.
Something was growing her chest, a feeling so strong, a desire so powerful that the last shred of reason flew away as Draco's hands began working their way up her back—underneath her shirt… This kiss was nothing like their first one on that night so long ago—that time had been sweet, but just a little awkward and extremely frightening if Hermione was completely honest to herself. But this time, there was nothing awkward about the way he ravished her mouth; there was nothing frightening about the hands that were getting closer to her breasts with every stroke; and there was nothing timid about the way she kissed him back, first raking her hands through his hair, and then pulling them down to dance across the defined muscles hidden behind his button-up shirt.
She hadn't even realized they were moving backwards until she slammed up against the kitchen wall. Draco removed one of his hands from her waist and braced himself against the wall as he deepened the kisses, then moved his mouth to her neck, sucking and biting and nipping at the sensitive skin under her ear.
Hermione couldn't help it; she moaned as her eyes fluttered closed. Pulling him closer by the front of his shirt, she mentally begged him to continue—it felt like heaven, and left her with aching with desire.
When he pulled away to move his mouth to the other side, suddenly just kissing him wasn't enough; she needed to touch him too. Hermione tried to concentrate on his shirt buttons, but it was difficult with his mouth doing marvelous things to the exposed skin of her neck and jaw line. She only managed to get about half the buttons undone before she grew too impatient and finally just ripped the shirt open. Draco drew away as he helped her quickly push the shirt off. "That was…an expensive shirt…" he managed to say, trying to look angry, but failing miserably when he immediately dipped his head again to kiss her neck.
She clutched at him. "I think I'm worth it," she managed to say before gasping when he lowered his mouth a little to her collar bone. Sliding her hands up his well-defined chest, she noted offhandedly that being a Death Eater/spy had done marvels for his body tone…but now was not the time to be thinking about the past…
Her own shirt was getting in the way now, and Draco groaned in frustration as he tugged at the neckline. Hermione giggled slightly. "It comes off the other way," she said, feeling a little sense returning as she grinned up at him.
In response, he pulled out his wand and tapped it to her shirt, which immediately vanished. Looking very pleased with himself, he immediately slid his hands up her sides.
"You cheated," accused Hermione. "You didn't say we could use magic to—Oh!"
His thumbs were skimming lightly over the cups of her bra, sparking a blossoming fire in the pit of her stomach. She blushed a little—the bra was plain, and a little worn like the rest of her clothes, but Draco didn't seem to care. He gazed at her like she was a goddess, and Hermione suddenly felt as if she was the most beautiful girl in the entire world.
Draco cupped her breasts through the bra cups, caressing and massaging the skin, and Hermione moaned in delirious agony. She arched against him, and Draco made a pleased noise in the back of his throat, a soft rumble that was so completely sexy…
Quickly, Hermione pushed him away a little. "Unless you're planning on shagging me up against the wall, I'd suggest that we try the bed," she said breathlessly, raising her eyebrows at him and slowly gliding toward the bedroom door.
Draco trailed after her like a dog on an invisible leash as she slipped in to the bedroom and stopped at the foot of the bed. Instantly, his arms locked around her waist again as his lips crashed passionately against hers; his hands slid lower as the kiss intensified, dipping a little into the waistband of her jeans. She whimpered, her own hands fighting to keep up the pace, to touch every inch of his skin, to feel the heat radiating from his body, to force him to make the same noises he was extracting from her…
"Take them off," she said raggedly, and Draco stepped away, knowing what she meant. He fumbled with his belt for a second before he finally loosed it and kicked the unwanted article away. He groaned in relief, and Hermione couldn't help the soft laugh that escaped her lips as she thanked her lucky stars once again she had been born a girl…
And then he was pushing her backwards; her knees buckled as she hit the edge of the bed and she fell back onto the mattress. He scrambled up on the bed and leaned over her, kissing her gently at first, then more intensely as he rolled on top of her.
She was in heaven, for sure. The feeling of his skin on hers, the intensity of his kisses on her lips, her neck, her shoulders, the weight of his body, the heat of his skin…
This time, the bulge pressing into her stomach didn't scare her. This time the darkness of passion in his eyes only made her more and more eager to have all the clothes gone between them, to have him inside of her, to have his hands running over her entire body…
What Lavender and Parvati had always said was true—the second time was definitely better than the first.
Draco groaned a little, and Hermione took the cue to go a step further. "Take it off," she whispered again, and he knew exactly to what she was referring. He didn't hesitate as he slipped his hand under her back to unhook her bra.
"God," breathed Draco as he pulled back to look at her, a look of pure awe in his eyes. He pulled his gaze back up to her eyes and paused to gently trace his fingers down her jaw line. She shivered under the light touch. "What you do to me," he whispered fervently, locking into her eyes as he skimmed his fingers down her neck and around the curve of her breasts.
She shivered in anticipation, but his words had lodged deep in her soul. What you do to me.
"I love you," she breathed, meaning it with her entire being.
He responded by kissing his way down her neck, not stopping at her collarbone. Hermione arched and moaned as his mouth descended on her, intensifying the aching need blossoming in the pit of her abdomen.
When he finally caught her mouth again, she responded enthusiastically, her hands working their way down his torso, skimming around the taught skin at his waist, teasing the sparse hairs of his lower abdomen. Draco groaned again, his own fingers lingering longingly at the waistband of her jeans.
"Do it," Hermione commanded softly, locking eyes with him.
"Oh, thank god," exclaimed Draco, and she couldn't help the grin that emerged, only to be washed away with a gasp a moment later as he took his time unbuttoning her jeans, massaging the areas beneath, sliding them down, planting kisses on both legs as he exposed more of her body. At last, she helped him by kicking the jeans off, impatient to feel his mouth on her skin again…
She was not disappointed. His fingers skimmed over her slightly rounded abdomen, tracing the edges of her knickers, pausing to tickle the most sensitive areas… "God, Draco, take it off!" she gasped, unable to wait any longer, bucking her hips a little in desperation to have his hands on her once again, and with a low chuckle, Draco slid the last scrap of clothing off and added it to the pile of hastily discarded garments on the floor, then positioned himself next to her on the bed.
He was making it very hard for her to get anywhere close to him with her mouth—his hands were everywhere, roaming everywhere, exciting feelings unlike anything she'd ever felt before, and his mouth—and Merlin, his mouth was doing wonders to her chest as she writhed and squirmed under his attentions.
His rough hands felt like velvet as he prodded and explored, tickling, rubbing, and massaging—a hundred times, she felt as if she would die from the raw delight and ecstasy she felt. She had never guessed it could feel this way—the first time had been amazing, but this was better, much better…
When she could think again, she reached up and pulled his head to hers. His lips moved urgently against hers before she finally broke the kiss and raised up a little, tugging impatiently at the waistband of his boxers. "Please, Draco," she whimpered, and he understood.
His eyes said it all. He helped her pull off his boxers before rolling back on top of her. There wasn't a scrap of clothing between them; nothing but hot, sweaty skin as he pressed open-mouthed kisses to her neck. She knew they both couldn't wait much longer, but she wanted to see how far she could push the infamous Draco Malfoy before he lost control.
Slowly, tantalizingly, she reached down and traced her fingers along his length.
He jerked as if he'd been struck. "Oh, god, Hermione," groaned Draco, closing his eyes tightly as she did it again, then squeezed, tracing her thumb in slow circles. The sight of Draco Malfoy completely at her power was incredible, and so totally arousing that she suddenly felt that she had to have him inside of her right then…
Draco seemed to sense it, because he immediately rolled back and positioned himself back over her as he parted her thighs with one knee.
There was no pain the second time he entered her, but he paused anyway. "OK?" he said raggedly, watching her with such raw, honest love that it nearly brought tears to her eyes.
In reply, Hermione tightened her inner walls, shifting a little underneath him, and Draco let out a deep, guttural moan before starting to move. She quickly caught the pace, and each surge brought her closer and closer to the peak as the pleasure escalated, evoking feelings she hardly knew how to deal with and words even her closest friends would be appalled to hear coming from her mouth…
Her blood was on fire. They were moving faster and faster, speeding toward the point of no return, toward the edge. She hadn't known that anything could feel this wonderful, this amazing, but she felt her eyes rolling back in her head in pure bliss as Draco moved deeper inside of her. They were close, now, she could tell, and he gasped those same three words, "I love you," to her before they fell in unison, their cries echoing about the room.
When at last she was breathing normally again, Hermione turned to look at Draco. He was smiling broadly. "I think you might have enjoyed that a little too much," she grumbled playfully.
Draco rolled over, propped up on his elbow and lightly traced a single finger up her arm and across her collarbone. "If I didn't know better, I'd have thought you enjoyed that, but obviously I was wrong…" His finger paused.
Without meaning to, she shivered, and Draco smirked at her. "I don't suppose you want to have another go?" he asked hopefully.
Hermione rolled her eyes, trying to ignore the steady progress of his hand but failing miserably… "You're completely incorrigible."
It was nearly two in the afternoon before they were finally ready to Floo over to the Burrow. Hermione had remarked wryly that now the words "shagged senseless" had taken on a whole new meaning, something Draco had found funny. After the fourth time, she had suggested that they get cleaned up, leading to an unplanned shag in the shower. Afterwards, he had insisted that she eat something before they departed, and had watched her possessively as she fixed her hair and ate a simple lunch. In the end, she had fixed his torn shirt with a few mending charms, but only after he'd threatened not to bring back her Vanished shirt. At last, they were ready.
Draco took a deep breath. He hadn't felt this nervous since that first night with Hermione back in their seventh year, but this time was much worse—not only was he about to officially meet the daughter he'd only learned about yesterday, but he'd also be introduced to the entire Weasley clan and Potter, who would most likely crucify him for leaving Hermione and then burn him at the stake for coming back after all these years.
He felt a small hand tuck itself into his and turned to see Hermione at his side. She smiled radiantly, and he was amazed to see that some of the lines that had been present in her face the night before had disappeared. "Don't worry," she said. "It'll be fine."
Draco couldn't help but believe her. Not when she said it like that, her voice so sure, so full of hope and certainty. So instead of trying to contradict her and let her know exactly what her precious friends would do to him once they found out that he was the father of their best friend's child, he simply muttered the two most important words for any bloke in a relationship to know as he leaned down to kiss her softly: "Yes, dear."
Hermione laughed, a bright, silver bells-like laugh. "You make me sound old when you say that," she reprimanded.
"You are old," said Draco, grinning. "Older than me, anyway."
"Don't remind me," she scowled.
Taking a pinch of Floo powder from the vase next to the fireplace, he waited for her to go first, but she shook her head. "No way. For that comment, you're going first."
Draco jumped back, horrified. "And face Weasel and Potter alone? No way!"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous. Off you go."
"There won't be anything of me left when you get there!" Draco argued. "You'll just find little cubes of flesh scattered all over the place, or maybe my head will be stuck up on the end of Potter's wand…"
"Now that's just disgusting," said Hermione, looking revolted. "Just stop being a baby, and go."
Draco started to protest again, but she gave him a shove that sent him stumbling right toward the fireplace…to avoid being burned by the bright red flames, Draco quickly tossed the Floo powder in before tumbling in himself and yelling, "The Burrow. . ."
He was wildly spinning and coughing and choking on the horrid green smoke all at once; he was certain he was going to lose the contents of his stomach at any time how . . . and then suddenly it was all over as he flew out of a fireplace and sprawled onto a hard linoleum floor. For a second, the only coherent thought he had was, Ow. Ow, ow, OW!
And then, someone snorted.
Draco painfully picked himself up of the floor; Ginny Weasley—scratch that, she was a Potter now, wasn't she?—was standing by the sink, trying to hide her chuckles behind her hand. When their eyes met, she quickly cleared his throat. "So she made you come first, did she? I figured she would—Harry and I even had a bet going. He thought she'd be nicer than that."
It took Draco a few seconds to register what she'd said. "Wait…Potter knows about us? Are you serious?"
Just then the fireplace glowed green, and Hermione stepped out. How was it that she had managed to make the whole trip without getting a speck of soot on her clothes? She stopped abruptly, surveying him up and down, and her eyes danced merrily.
"You told Potter?" Draco immediately demanded.
Her brow furrowed. "I…what? No!"
They both turned to Ginny. She shrugged. "Well, you know how Harry can be a bit thick most of the time, but there are days when he can just look at me and know exactly what's going on. This morning he walked in, took one glance at your owl perched on the window, looked over the Daily Prophet, and groaned. 'Oh, that's who!' he said, then called himself a dozen names for not figuring it out earlier."
"And he's not mad?" Hermione asked incredulously, unconsciously slipping her hand into Draco's. He took it gladly and squeezed it reassuringly.
Ginny grinned. "Oh, come off it, Hermione. Everyone knows Draco's a war hero."
"Harry's gotten over quite a bit of his prejudice, and I did explain exactly why Draco couldn't be with you after graduation, and why you kept Cassie a secret from him."
At Cassie's name, Draco felt himself stiffening a little. "Where is she?" he asked, carefully keeping his face neutral.
"She's in the living room with Zack, Zoe, Rhys, Danielle, Miles, and Melinda."
"Good Merlin, you've got a houseful today!" said Hermione conversationally.
Ginny shrugged. "It was my day to babysit." Seeing Draco's confused expression, she explained: "That's why I'm here at the Burrow, anyway—there's more room here for the children to play. Mum's just out shopping right now, but when she gets back, I'm going home to do some housework…"
Draco felt a tug on his hand; Hermione was pulling him toward the hallway impatiently. "Wait," he said quickly to Ginny, wanting to clarify something. "Are they all yours?"
"Heavens, no!" exclaimed Ginny, looking horrified. "No, only Zack and Zoe are mine. They're twins. Rhys is Percy's oldest, and Miles and Melinda are Fred and Angelina's twins, Danielle is Bill and Fleur's, and…wait, did I get them all?"
"I think so," said Draco, his head spinning as Hermione gave his hand another tug.
Ginny followed them to the living room door, but at a distance; when Draco entered the, he instantly felt the child-safe wards surrounding a wide play area filled with toys and redheads. Well, they were all redheads except for one—and he picked her out of the crowd at once.
Most of the children looked to be toddlers, save for the blonde girl and an older, redheaded girl who's hair was sleek and shiny—that one must be Bill and Fleur's, Draco decided. She looked as if she had Veela blood in her. But his attention was focused completely on the tiny blonde girl who was staring at him with incredibly large brown eyes—Cassie.
Her full name was Casseopia, Hermione had informed him over breakfast. Draco had listened to her talk glowingly of her daughter; she was smart, she was pretty, and of course, Hermione was convinced that Cassie was exactly like him in so many ways…
Except the eyes, Draco realized, staring down at the child who would change his life in so many ways. Time seemed to stand still as he stared into those luminous brown eyes that were exactly like Hermione's…
Of course, it was Ginny to the rescue. Brushing past Hermione, she clapped her hands. "Everyone to the kitchen," she called. "Time for a snack. Who wants popsicles?"
"Me! Me!" six childish voices filled the room loudly as the redheaded kids scrambled to their feet and ran at Ginny, who reached over and scooped up the youngest two who could barely toddle toward the door—Draco noticed that they both had green eyes that looked suspiciously like Potter's and decided that those two must be Zack and Zoe. He had known that Potter had married, but he hadn't guessed that they'd been married long enough to have children, much less two-year-old twins—but of course, circumstances had prevented him from keeping good tabs on Hermione, much less her friends… Ginny and Harry must have married and conceived within a year or two after Ginny's graduation from Hogwarts, even in the midst of the war. Well, he didn't blame them—he and Hermione hadn't been able to wait that long, after all.
A light touch on his arm from Hermione brought him back to the present, where the only thing in the world that mattered was the tiny girl still standing in the middle of the living room. She hadn't moved when Ginny called the others for a snack, and Draco suspected that there was a maturity there that no five-year-old should have—but already, she had lived through a war; not even the most protective mother could keep a child completely sheltered in the middle of a war like the one that had just passed.
"Cassie, honey," began Hermione hesitantly as the girl watched both of them, but Cassie cut her off.
"Is that my dad?" she said bluntly, pointing her finger straight at Draco.
Looking flustered, Hermione nodded.
Cassie marched over, and Draco quickly dropped to his knees to get down on her level. Primly, she held out her hand and Draco took it, a little taken aback. "It's nice to meet you," he said solemnly.
Cassie's serious face broke into smiles. "I'm Cassie," she announced. "Who're you?"
"Draco Malfoy," he told her. "You are very pretty."
"I know," Cassie said without blinking an eye, and Draco had to fight the urge not to laugh.
"Yes, and everyone around here will soon know where the arrogance came from," muttered Hermione, looking red. "Cassie, that's not polite."
Looking properly reprimanded, Cassie hung her head. "Sorry."
Draco couldn't help himself. He reached out to lightly touch her blonde curls, then looked back at Hermione, who smiled affectionately, before pulling Draco up and leading both of them over to the couch. "Cassie, this man is going to come live with us," Hermione told her daughter—their daughter, Draco corrected himself—after they were situated on the loveseat, the girl perched on Hermione's lap.
"Is he going to have to sleep in the couch?" the child asked, her forehead crinkling up in worry. "He can have my bed…"
They both laughed. "That's very generous, sweetheart," said Hermione quickly. "But not necessary. Draco—Daddy…" She paused, quickly, looking over at Draco for permission before continuing, "Daddy will be staying in my room."
"And soon," cut in Draco, "we'll all move to a big house in the country, and you and your mum can pick out where you want it to be, and how many rooms, and what colors . . ."
"Really?" whispered Hermione, looking at him over the top of Cassie's head, her eyes brimming with tears. Draco smiled lovingly at her.
"Really," he promised, before turning seriously to Cassie. "But I've got a question for you first."
"Me?" Cassie said frowning a little.
"All for you. Think carefully before you answer."
Cassie thought for a second before bobbing her head up and down. All of her curls bounced.
Hermione was shooting messages at him with her eyes over Cassie's head, but Draco ignored her, focusing his attention entirely on Cassie. "Will you give me permission to ask your mum to marry me?"
There was a sharp gasp from Hermione, but Draco remained focused on Cassie. The girl looked at him sternly. "D'you love her?" she asked, crossing her arms.
"Very much," said Draco honestly.
For a long moment, Cassie seemed to be thinking, and they both waited in anticipation, hardly daring to breathe…until at last, she smiled, and said, "OK."
Draco turned determinedly to Hermione. "Will you marry me?" he said quietly, and Hermione gave a little sob before saying the magic word that would change his life . . . forever.
"Yes!" she exclaimed, seeming to forget all about Cassie as she leaned over and threw her free arm around his neck, kissing him enthusiastically.
"Ew! Ew, ew, ew," Cassie shrieked, sliding off Hermione's lap, but neither paid her any attention as she backed away toward the door, where a crowd of onlookers was gathering.
"That's disgusting," said Danielle primly as the younger kids laughed and pointed.
At last Ginny arrived. "What seems to be the prob—Oh."
"They're snogging!" exclaimed Cassie, wrinkling her face in disgust.
"I can see that," said Ginny dryly before raising her voice. "Listen, you two… Hey! Break it up!"
Hermione and Draco jumped apart, Hermione's face blushing red. Draco didn't care. He merely put his arm around her possessively and smirked at Weaselette. "Yes?"
Ginny crossed her arms. "I gave you all morning, and you have to go at it in front of the kids? We're trying to protect their young, innocent minds…"
"Hermione's agreed to marry me," announced Draco, interrupting her and not caring a bit.
Ginny's eyes widened and she threw both of her hands over her mouth in a shriek of delight before dashing at the two to envelope them in a large embrace. The next few minutes were complete chaos. Mrs. Weasley appeared halfway through, and of course she demanded to know what had happened, so the entire story had to be explained, and in the process Fred, George, and Angelina had appeared as well as Fleur, who was coming early to pick up Danielle. Then came Percy and Penelope, then Bill, and finally Mr. Weasley, stumbling in from work at the Ministry with his glasses perched haphazardly on the end of his nose. Hermione and Draco told and retold the story, and Cassie looked on, beaming delightedly the entire time. The Weasleys were first furious, then confused, then amazed as the story unfolded, and the confusion grew proportionately. At last, someone shouted, "Everyone, quiet!"
Draco turned quickly, not releasing his hold on Hermione, to face the tall, dark-haired figure standing in the doorway. Hermione gulped a little, but Draco met Harry Potter's gaze evenly as the Boy Who Lived stalked determinedly toward the couple.
Harry stopped in front of them, first giving Draco a long look, and then surveying Hermione. Then his face broke into a smile as he held out his hand. "Welcome to the family."
It felt as if a wave of relief cascaded over Draco as he reached out and gripped Harry's hand sincerely.
"You're just lucky that Ron is gone on a Chudley Cannons tour," said Harry, leaning closer and lowering his voice as the conversation around them began to buzz around them. "Or you really wouldn't be leaving this place alive…"
Much later, when Draco was once again situated on the sofa, Cassie in his lap and Hermione's head leaning comfortably on his shoulder as he held her close, he wondered if he could even feel any more happiness and bliss than he did at this moment in time.
Finally, he had everything he could ever want. A beautiful fiancé, a darling daughter, and an accepting family…but it was more than that.
He had a future.
One month later...
A scream echoed from the bathroom in the ufpstairs floor of the newly-built country home. Draco, who had been working in his study jumped to his feet. "Hermione? Hermione!"
There was no answer. Cautiously he made his way upstairs. "Hermione? Are you alright?"
He found her at last, standing in one of the spacious bathrooms, holding her wand and glaring at something behind her. "Hermione, what's the matter?"
She spun around, and Draco felt his stomach drop as he took note of the furious look in her eye. "I can't believe you," she growled in a dangerously low voice. "You. Forgot. Again."
Draco blinked. "I what?"
"You forgot. AGAIN!"
And he gulped as she stepped aside to reveal a large, baby blue plus sign hanging ominously in the air . . .