Author's Note (11/16/17): I want to thank everyone who has supported me and had faith in this story over the years, even after the several year hiatus; your kind comments and encouragement have given me the strength needed to complete this. I'm happy to say that this is the last official chapter. If there are cries for an epilogue, I will gladly write one at a later date, but in the meantime, please enjoy. Thank you so much, everyone! And now, without further ado:
"We must not expect happiness. It is not something we deserve. When life goes well, it is a sudden gift; it cannot last forever..." ~ Memoirs of a Geisha, 2005
Chapter Forty-seven: Antidote
Hermione absently flipped through her copy of Sex for the Well-Informed Witch, her stiff wooden chair groaning as she leaned back. A mess of parchment, quills, and inkwells covered her desk.
She had been awake since the early morning, strategizing and putting her jumbled thoughts on paper, trying to organize them into a tactical plan. She had already determined which department she needed to hit next - the Daily Prophet needed to be cut off from the government completely - and had reached a bit of a wall.
The stress from the emotional rollercoaster of the last few days was nowhere close to ebbing; she knew that she was working herself too hard, but she had created a habit of doing exactly that since she had been back, so it wasn't foreign to her. With her new focus, she had simply needed to turn her attention to a different facet of the overall problem.
Luckily she had already done much research into wizarding law, which was helping immensely; for example, she had recently discovered how little attention was paid to the voting and electoral system and how easy it was to manipulate. She smirked without humor; she couldn't wait to surface that little gem...
Regardless, she had dried out a bit and needed a distraction, so she had picked up the last book around her desk that wasn't related to her Ministry plan.
It made her sad to look through all the advice in the book; she couldn't read a paragraph without thinking about how much she wished she could try these things with Draco. Physically, she'd never been closer to anyone in her life.
When she'd first started reading the book she couldn't help but be derisive and somewhat embarrassed by some of the topics covered, but now she read through the advice thoroughly, digesting the information as she would anything else.
Of course, she couldn't always fight it when her thoughts began to drift to what she wanted to do with Draco... but the heat she felt would quickly be replaced with sadness, and then she'd have to put the book down.
Towards the end of their journey it had stopped mattering so much that she was blind; he'd known exactly where to touch her, and she had gotten better at knowing what he was about to do. She had just gotten to a place of pure comfort with him when she had been taken by No Name.
She pushed these thoughts away and refocused on the paragraph she was trying to read.
There was suddenly a sharp knock at her door, but the person wasted no time to unlock it and step inside. She looked up as Harry stepped through the doorway.
"Hermione," he rushed, an unreadable expression on his face.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, lowering Sex for the Well-Informed Witch. "What's going on?" she questioned.
Harry scratched his scar briefly, trying to figure out what to say. "Hermione... I need you to come with me."
Fear prickled her heart. "What's going on?" she repeated.
"I'll tell you, but I need you to come with me." He fiddled with a small, wrapped bundle in his hands.
Hermione looked down just as he unwrapped the bundle, revealing a small, polished cat figurine.
After the portkey deposited them in a narrow alley next to a large stone building, Harry pulled her around the corner and through the doors, barely giving her enough time to recover from the landing.
"Harry!" she admonished as he pulled her through a marble lobby. She looked around trying to figure out where they were; between the tall ceilings, the rich gold, vermillion and black decor, and the few polished guests, she could tell they were in an incredibly nice hotel.
"I promise I'll explain in a second," he called back to her. He hit the gold lift button with his fist.
"Harry - "
The doors to the lift opened, and he pulled her inside, slapping the button for the top floor over and over until the doors finally closed.
He sighed heavily. "I'm sorry for the secrecy, Hermione," he breathed, dropping his hands and leaning against the mirrored wall. "It just wasn't safe to discuss this in your apartment."
"What are you talking about?"
Harry calmed his breathing and said, "Malfoy is here."
She stared at him, her heart fluttering. "What do you mean?"
He met her gaze steadily. "Malfoy is here, upstairs. I... I know how much you care about him and I know you wanted to see him before... before - "
The gears started to turn in Hermione's head as he talked; she couldn't really hear what he was saying, for her heartbeat was beating in her ears like a drum.
After a few moments she interrupted with, "He's here, right now?"
She attempted to form a rational thought. "For how long?"
"A little more than an hour."
She shook her head slowly, processing this information, not sure if she should believe it. "How?"
"It's better if you don't know," he answered. "If you're interested I can tell you later, but... just know, he's here."
Hermione tried to organize the mess of conflicting emotions and thoughts assaulting her; her concern over the legality of whatever was happening combined with her desire to push down her excitement were the feelings that were winning. She didn't want to be excited, not after she had spent so much energy being excited about seeing him previously only for it to backfire horribly.
Harry put his hands on her shoulders, trying to catch her falling gaze. He could see her confusion, her hesitance, and he knew that she was still hurting.
"Hermione, look at me."
She shook her head; warmth was trying to break through her resignation, but she was still too detached to give in.
"This isn't a trick. I promise."
She looked up and was struck with the compassion in his eyes, the softness there; Harry had always been the most gentle of her friends, even when he was telling her things she didn't want to hear, even when he was angry, even when he didn't want to deal with something. For a moment, through his eyes, she saw him as he had existed seven years ago - bright-eyed, soft-handed and kind, with a damaged heart just beneath the surface. From the look on his face, she understood something, something that she had known to be true then but had forgotten over the last few months:
Her friends would do anything for her.
"I said I'd fight for you," he murmured, almost to himself. "I meant it."
She tried to remember when he had said this, but it didn't matter; in his words she sensed a power that she knew bound her to him, bound her to all of the incredible people she had made her chosen family. Regardless of their history, regardless of the amount of pain and trouble Draco had caused for them since they were eleven, Harry had brushed that aside in order to cheer her up. He had put himself aside, for her.
She finally, tentatively, let the excitement in, her heart swelling... and embraced him.
"Harry... you amazing boy," she breathed against his cheek, her feelings rushing out as she shook. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."
He nodded, rubbing her back, just as the lift door opened to a straight, wide hallway. "Of course, Hermione. I... I want you to be happy."
Tears escaped over her cheeks as he held her; her heart felt strangely complete, especially after being broken for so long; she had assumed that she was losing her friends, and that with every step she took towards Draco she'd walked further away from them. But in reality, her friends really had cared, and had come around in their own way, in their own time.
And in doing so, they had been able to create a miracle for her.
As soon as Hermione had composed herself, Harry pulled her forward slowly, towards the door at the end of the hall. There was a man there who, despite his muggle suit, looked very much like a practitioner of magic. Hermione vaguely suspected he was an Auror.
Harry took a small key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He paused, his hand gripping the handle.
She nodded, trying to shake off all of the things she was feeling as her heart sped up again.
Harry pushed open the door and lead her inside.
The room seemed impossibly bright for a few seconds before her eyes adjusted; all the windows were open, the curtains billowing, illuminating the room and casting sharp, bright streaks over the furnishings. She squinted.
Sure enough, Draco was standing there, in the center of the room, though he looked nothing like what she could have envisioned.
He had very clearly just showered - his hair was damp, falling in carefree, golden strands across his forehead as he toweled it; his textured, dark button down was only half buttoned. His chest peeked deliciously from the gap in the fabric.
"Hi," he said, his eyes the size of golden snitches.
"I wasn't sure I was going to see you before I went away," he murmured, lowering the towel.
Hermione nodded absently, her heart still thudding, and tucked a curl behind her ear. "I... I wasn't sure either."
Harry looked between them for a moment before he lowered his head and said, "You have exactly one hour. The Auror at the door will come in then. And you'd better be here."
With that threat hanging in the air, he studied the pair, ensuring that they understood.
Draco nodded, actually smiling at Harry. "Thank you, Potter." His eyes were shining.
Harry ducked out of the room, now clearly uncomfortable, closing the door after him with a snap.
The silence was heavy as she studied him; this was the first time she had seem him in regular clothing since that dark night, months ago, when he had appeared, ready to kill, ready to protect her. The prison garb she had seen on him since had hung from him like rags over a clothes line; it was a harsh way to view the boy she had touched, the boy she had wanted.
In regular clothing, his chest and arms looked much stronger than she had expected; he had apparently gained some muscle from weeks of carrying her around. His structured shirt clung to him as he moved to towel his hair again.
She forced her gaze away. Merlin, she wanted him more than ever.
Hermione looked behind him at the lavishly decorated room, nervously seeking out a distraction. The desk was of a beautiful ashy wood, probably walnut, inlayed with silver in an art deco pattern. The wallpaper reflected the art deco theme majestically, as did the ornate satin pillows that sat like sea anemones on the plush couch, silver fringe trim ruffling out.
Where were they? Through the bright window she could make out the tops of compact, twisting buildings, fronted in beautiful relief sculptures and iron wrought pikes... somewhere in Italy? France?
"We're in Munich," Draco murmured, "at one of my favorite hotels."
"So far away," she commented, walking to the window. "How did Harry swing this?"
"Galleons... connections... wandwork... take your pick."
She turned, and her eyes flitted to his hands briefly; he had been careful to keep is Dark Mark covered during her visits, but now it was free, blotting his skin unnaturally. Thick red welts covered both wrists; the skin there was blistered and splotchy. She frowned; it looked painful, even without the heavy handcuffs.
"So... Harry said we have an hour."
He nodded, pursing his lips. "Yep."
Hermione sought out his eyes, pushing away the thoughts of his surprisingly beautiful body. Her initial lingering look at his form had been noticeable, however, and Draco started toward her tentatively, watching her expression.
She had never met his gaze for so long; something stirred deep within her. She felt as though she was looking right into his soul. He stared back, his eyes softening, and through them she could actually see his emotions, despite their minds not being connected.
As she watched the emotions playing out behind his eyes, she realized that she really could be with him.
While he was certainly the boy she knew, he was also a new boy entirely - one who cared about her deeply. And though it would be a rough road when he got out of Azkaban - between the criminal record, his inevitable mental illness afterward, and his deeply-rooted ideas about race - she was still willing to try. Even if it meant just friendship between them, she valued him; she loved him.
She could see a deep longing in his expression that she hadn't been prepared for; in that moment, she understood that he felt the same.
Hermione closed her eyes, and Draco already knew what she was about to do; he felt a flutter against his mind for the briefest of moments, but the witch didn't hesitate to push through the partition.
She could now feel his emotions, and she was staggered by the adoration and hopelessness he felt, and his quiet sorrow from the pain he had been in for the past month. His strong respect for her and all she had done for him bubbled to the surface of his mind, mingling with something that smelled like unworthiness.
She lessened the connection so she could open her eyes again.
She reached forward and touched his face, a face whose angles she had smoothed her hands over so many times... but now she could see how his skin reacted, see how it gave way to her fingers. This was the first time she'd really examined him this close; when she closed her eyes, he certainly felt like the person she loved, but up to now she'd been struggling to attach those memories to the boy in front of her. His physical form now seemed to match his soul so perfectly; she combined his feel, his look, and his soul to form a complete picture of him, the real Draco.
He threaded his free hand in her hair, drawing her closer.
She watched his eyes close as he kissed her, and despite her desire to concentrate on the feeling of his lips on hers, she never wanted to stop looking: she could see the way his eyebrows furrowed as he enjoyed the feel of her lips, see the details of his cheek, see his eyelashes flutter. The reality of this kiss - this wasn't some fantasy she had consoled herself with, alone in her flat - made it feel more physical, more grounded, than any they had shared before.
He sighed against her mouth and kissed her more deeply, his thumb rubbing her cheek, and Hermione was overwhelmed by all the sensual information - the details of his skin, his breath in her mouth, the smell of his body... even hearing his moans now seemed so much more intimate than they'd ever been without her eyesight -
The warm feeling she had been trying to push away for weeks came back suddenly, fresh, spiking through her.
Gasping, she knew she just had to share this sensation with him; she pushed back against the partition of Draco's mind again and crowded his space.
Her form was blazing with a raw heat, and through the connection he felt waves of her friendly love and compassion splash over him. There was something else as well, at the core of the heat - something he had recognized from her before but never with this much impatience -
Draco opened his eyes, and was startled by the fire behind her expression; her irises had almost returned to their original color, a deep, warm brown that reminded him strongly of the trees in the magic forests. She stepped into him slowly, her lips already parted.
"I've been thinking about you."
His heart jumped a little, and he absently released the towel he was still holding as she pressed against him. She was still present in that soul space, her emotions wafting through him; her volatile desire, with a hint of curiosity and a little confusion, was clouding his body like smoke.
Hermione leaned up and kissed him hungrily, and instantly Draco was consumed by her arousal; her blazing form blinded him, sending waves of pleasure through his mind and body. Her smell filled his nose; the softness of her lips melted his sadness and transformed it into euphoria; a desperate need burned in his skin, and for a moment, his senses were overwhelmed on every plane.
Why hadn't they done this before? He couldn't tell if the raw desire coursing through him was his or Hermione's. The combination of the extremely intimate connection, their souls completely bare and open; their physical chemistry, increasing as they touched each other; the warm sensation swirling through their bodies, amplifing as it seemed to flow between them...
"Wow," he whispered against her mouth.
"Yeah," she answered.
When he released her, exhaling shakily, she studied his mouth, the sharp lines of his collarbone, the hint of his chest visible through the opening of his crisp shirt.
Hermione trailed her hands down his chest, familiarizing herself with the contours of his torso, further connecting the body she had felt in the darkness to the human breathing against her. Draco sighed, leaning in to her touches; he had felt incredibly untouched for what seemed like forever, so her attention felt even more amazing.
When they had been together before, she'd had to wait for him to touch her, lead her; she had been so disoriented and out of her element, it had been necessary for him to take charge when they had fooled around.
But now that she could actually see what she had before only touched by accident, or chance, Hermione's hands were everywhere - smoothing over his chest, down his abdomen, over the front of his jeans -
Draco gasped, his head dropping against her collar, and he kissed her neck, his hands becoming tight on her waist. She exhaled sharply.
"I don't want to dream about this anymore," she breathed, ripping his shirt down and exposing his bare shoulders. "I want it, now."
When she met his gaze, his expression was strangely gentle - half lidded eyes, his cheeks pink, he looked positively captivated.
He briefly, vaguely, recalled his resolute declaration that he'd been glad that they hadn't had sex while in hiding; it had made sense to him at the time, but with her now breathing against him, undressing him, flooding his body with her desire... there was nothing he wanted more.
He grabbed her skin with a newfound intensity - gripping her waist, squeezing her hips and smoothing his hands up and down her breasts. She pulled his shirt down more, and he released her to pull the thing off his arms; by the time she put her hands on his naked chest, noticing the hair that trailed down to the waistband of his jeans, he had scooped her up.
She wrapped her legs around his middle and burrowed her face in his neck, inhaling his scent as he walked them slowly to the plush sofa.
He was kissing her already, his tongue dipping into her mouth deliciously as she sank into the cushions. Delirium settled over her as their minds flowed into and out of each other, emotions swirling through them like water.
She could feel everything - his desires, his fears, his memories with her - all colliding and burning with a clear radiance that thrilled her. His form was brighter than she'd ever seen it - still cool, but shimmering like sunlight on a lake.
Draco could see her memories, the fantasies she'd had about him; he was intent on replicating them. He popped open her shirt buttons one by one, and when he got the thing undone he pushed the silky fabric aside, bearing her chest to the slightly chilled air of the room for a moment before his hands were there. He trailed a finger along the scars in the center of her chest, marring her otherwise creamy skin, before he continued left, then right; she sighed at the sensation of his hands on her bare breasts, her head dropping back into the plush arm of the sofa. How had she ever felt uncomfortable with this?
With his mind flowing into her, swirling, she saw herself cringing and blushing in his memories, regardless of her clear interest in his attention. It was a shame, really; with the amount of time they'd had to relish in this feeling, to capitalize on their hormonal experimentation, they could have done so much more, really enjoyed each others bodies.
She was vaguely cognicent of Draco kissing his way down her stomach as she processed his memories; pushing aside their timid physical interactions, she could suddenly clearly see his desires, as they had existed back then. He'd wanted her desperately, and had been infinitely curious about the way her skin felt, the way her wet hair had trailed across his neck and what it would be like to run his fingers through it. Her breath caught at a vivid fantasy of her legs wrapped around his head, her own head dropping back into soft grass as his hands gripped her undulating waist.
By the time her eyes rolled back and her vision returned, her skirt had already been discarded and Draco's hands were smoothing up her bare legs.
Her heartbeat had long since descended, prompted by his raw fantasies, warmth flaring up and down her body. She felt oddly grounded, despite her growing nervousness with the direction their heated kisses were taking.
"You deserve everything good in this world," Draco murmured, pressing his face against the inside of her thigh and rubbing his cheek over the sensitive skin.
She reached down and pushed his hair back, studying his face, trying to memorize every detail of his expression - his lidded eyes, parted lips, looking so innocent in his pursuit of pleasure. She thought briefly back to her breakdown, when, with her wand tip pressed against her temple, she had almost rendered this moment impossible.
She wouldn't trade this for anything.
"This isn't the end, Draco. I'll be waiting for you."
He sighed, his breath pooling between her legs. Hermione's grip tightened in his hair.
"You don't have to."
"You can live your life. Focus on your goals, fall in love properly. Move on."
She shook her head, steadying her breathing as he pulled the last separating garment around her hips and down her legs. "Regardless of what the future holds, I'll still be there for you."
His heart surged at her words. Whether or not their romantic love faded over time remained to be seen, but no matter what, Hermione still loved him, even as a friend. She still cared about his life, his wants, his future. He settled between her limbs.
"Close your eyes," he murmured, his head dipping out of view.
Hermione smiled, tousling his hair, and replied, "Never again."