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Chapter 41: The Conclusion

Fear gripped her very soul. She cried aloud. She shivered all over, both from the cold and from fear. Though only a few minutes had past since the car careened and lurched into the river, Hermione felt as if she had been in the icy tomb forever. She willed herself to calm down. She closed her eyes, and with her wand tightly in her hand she tried to disapparate to the road, something she would have done right away, if she hadn't been beside herself with fear.

Nothing happened. Okay. Perhaps the same curse, (charm?) that made the windows unbreakable by magic kept her from disapparating. She tried to cast a warming charm next, figuring if that worked, then at least when the water got as high as her head, she would be able to use the bubblehead charm, and breathe for a while, or at least until she was rescued.

The warming charm failed. Now she was more than afraid. What word described life-threatening fear? Frightened. That didn't seem strong enough. Scared, terrified…they didn't grasp the full feeling either. Anxious was not nearly a strong enough word. Hermione found that the longer she searched for a synonym for "fear", the longer she remained calm. How odd. What other words described fear? Trepidation, apprehension, panic, alarm? Those all worked.

The water was now to her chest. She started to cry again. She reached for her phone, which she had placed on the dash, just as it started to slip. The car was leaning forward. This whole situation would be twice as bad if the car turned upside down.

"Draco, please, help me," she said through her tears and chattering teeth.

She wondered at that moment what Theo felt as his car went over the embankment, and down through the woods, and into the water. Even if his intention was to die, he must have felt afraid. Hermione felt sad for him. She thought she might feel sadder for him than she did for herself.

Draco began on foot, using a magical trace; tracing the path Hermione's car traveled. He began to run, reaching the end of her road quickly, and coming to an intersection marked, "Mulberry Road." He looked to his left and then to his right. Which way did she go? He pulled out his phone and dialed Hermione's number. He scrolled through the names, going past Arsehole (Potter) Ginger (Weasel) little boy (Timmons) to finally reach his 'phone' name for her. It was 'Love'. He pushed the green button, and willed her to answer. "Answer, Hermione!"

The water was to her chin. She was no longer crying, because she was rational enough to know that she needed to conserve oxygen. Her wand in her left hand, and her phone in her right, she held them both above the water, but it would only be a matter of time before they were covered, because soon she would be completely enveloped in the cold, dark, black depth of the rapid river. She should have told Draco goodbye. She should have told him that she loved him. Who in their right mind called someone and said, "I'm dying." That was stupid. She would drop her wand and dial her phone to call him, she decided, when her phone rang. She saw his name appear. She pushed the button with her thumb.

"Draco?" she pleaded.

"Which way did you turn down Mulberry Road?"

"Right, and then I traveled almost to the end of the road, toward the intersection. There was an accident at the intersection. Go there first. There might still be police and an ambulance there. Get help first. I don't know how far the current has taken me, but I'm traveling east. The river goes east to west. Oh, by the way, I love you and if I don't get to tell you, goodbye, then goodbye."

"Shut up and let me think," he said. He didn't mean that to be rude. He didn't really want her to 'shut up', but how dare she tell him goodbye. That was bloody bad form, in his opinion. He ran down the road, oblivious to the freezing snow and rain, and hidden by the oncoming cars due to the dark. He suddenly had an idea. He shouted into the phone, "Apparate out of there."

"I can't. I've tried. Someone put anti-apparition wards on the car. I can't get out of the seatbelt, I can't break the windows, and I can't even do magic. Can you imagine? The one thing that would have saved my life, and I can't do it," she said lightly. "Draco, hurry, the water's to my chin now. I'm really afraid."

He said, "Don't hang up the phone." He pointed his wand in the air and said, "Point me to Hermione." The wand pointed directly across from him. He ran across the two-lane road, toward the embankment. He could tell that this was where her car went over the embankment and into the river, by the tracks in the snow, and the broken tree limbs and damaged foliage. "Are you still there?"

"Yes," she said.

"I found where your car went off the road," he said as he slid down the embankment on his rear end.

"Did you get help?"

"I don't have time," he said.

"Draco," she pleaded again.

He said, "Fine, I have to call Potter."

"NO!" she said frantically, "Don't hang up on me! Please!"

"I'll call you right back."

"Please!" she said in a weak voice.

He had no choice. He pushed the red button, and then pushed the button for Harry.

"Where is she?" Harry asked, as he answered his phone. "I'm at her house."

"Apparate here. I'm on the bank of the river. I see where her car went in, but I don't see the car. The river's current is very fast."

"Send up sparks," Harry demanded, "or else I won't know where to apparate."

"What if Muggles see?" Draco retorted.

"Make them red and green and they'll think it's something for Christmas," Harry spat.

Draco sent up the sparks, and a few seconds later, Harry and Ron joined him, as well as three other Aurors.

"Why doesn't she use magic?" Ron asked.

"The car has wards on it," Draco explained.

Hermione was dying. She knew it. She lifted her head as far as it would go. If only she could have gotten out of the seatbelt, she could have at least had more time, because she could have gotten herself a bit higher in the car. She got her first mouthful of water and she coughed and sputtered.

Did it hurt to drown? She read somewhere that drowning wasn't painful, but that it was scary. How would people know it wasn't painful? How many people who drowned came back to tell the tale? She heard that it would feel like floating. She didn't want to die. Then again, who did? She knew her mother didn't want to die. Even her dad probably didn't want to die. She was convinced, for the first time that even Theo probably didn't want to die.

With her last remaining breath, she said, "I forgive you, Theo."

She was floating, but not in the water. She seemed to be floating in a black abyss. There was a profound nothingness all around her. She was still aware of everything, so either she was drowning, and the lack of oxygen was causing her to hallucinate, or she was already dead, and this was what death was like, although the latter made her angry if that was really the truth.

"Hermione?" she heard from behind her. She turned. She saw Theo.

"I'm dead, aren't I?" she asked.

"No, you're not," he said.

"Are you dead?" she asked.

"Yes, I am," he answered.

"Where am I?" she asked.

"That's not important right now. I want you to know that I heard you. I heard your words of forgiveness, and I want to thank you. With your forgiveness, I'm finally free. I'm sorry if I caused you pain."

"Did you really kill yourself?" While she was sinking earlier, the thought crossed her mind that perhaps the person who did this to her, she could only assume it was his mother, also did it to him.

"Yes, I did," he said, "My last great selfish act."

"Don't say that," she said back, even though she once thought the same thing.

"Why, it's true," he told her. "I was selfish at every turn. I knew for a long time, perhaps longer than you and Malfoy did, that you two were in love, and I discouraged it. I ran interference, and when Malfoy tried to tell me that he loved you, that summer so long ago, I told him that I loved you first, before he could say it."

"Oh," she said. She didn't know how else to respond.

"I did, though. I did love you. Very much," he explained. "I loved you both."

"I know, and we loved you," she answered.

"I did so many things wrong," he said.

"Stop that," she chastised. "Don't blame yourself ever again. I'm tired of it. It's over and done."

"My mother did this to you," he said.

"I thought so. Am I dead yet?" she asked.

He smiled and said, "No, not yet, and Malfoy and Potter are just about to save you. You are unconscious though, but I hope you remember this conversation. Tell Draco that I loved him and that I'm sorry I wasn't the friend I should have been. I love you, too."

"Wait," she said as she felt him slipping away. "Your father isn't dead."

"Yes, I know," he said. "He should be. Thanks again, for forgiving me. I'm ready to have some peace, finally. I think its time, don't you?"

"Yes. Rest in peace," she said, adding, "Does that sound weird?"

"Slightly, but it's appropriate. I love you."

He left her and she was alone.

Draco and Harry saw the car, almost totally submerged, at the exact same time. Harry used his wand to conjure chains, they bound the car with the chains, and using magic, they pulled it out of the river and up to the bank. Draco ran into the water before the car was pulled completely to shore.

All seven Aurors, including Draco, tried spell after spell to break the windows and open the doors. The water was starting to leak from the car, and Draco cupped his hands over his eyes, pressed his face to the window, and looked in the driver's side door. He saw Hermione floating lifeless in the water, her hair floating around her like a halo. He screamed a sound that was a foreign resonance, which reverberated throughout the dark, winter night. It was a sound of despair and longing.

Finally, Timmons arrived and said, "We found her! Mrs. Nott. She confessed to everything!" Then he pointed his wand at the car and said a spell and the passenger side door opened. Water rushed out. Draco ran to that side, falling in the snow once, and he climbed in the car, and unbuckled her seatbelt.

He pulled her to lie on the ground. He shook her and then looked up at Harry and said, "Help her, Harry."

He had never called him Harry before. Odd, but that was what struck Harry as the saddest thing about the scene he was witnessing.

Timmons pushed Draco to the side, and Harry held Draco's shoulder, as the younger wizard started mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. After a few tense minutes, he turned her to her side, and she began to vomit water. Draco came behind her and pulled her into his arms. He disapparated with her to St. Mungos, Harry by his side, as Ron and the other men took the car in for evidence, and Timmons and one other Auror cleaned up the scene.

Hours later, she woke to find that she was in a strange bed. She was cold. She saw Harry asleep in a chair beside her. She felt someone on the bed with her. She turned her head to the left, and saw Draco.

"Hello, love," Draco said, touching her cheek. He touched it gently, as if she might break or bend, and then he drew his hand back to his side.

"It doesn't hurt to drown," she said.

He gave her a frown that turned into a grin and said, "How would you know. You didn't drown. You only almost drowned. There's a difference. Maybe it does hurt to drown."

"No, I think you're wrong," she said softly, with a hoarse voice.

"I think you're wrong," he argued back with as a joke.

"Must we fight right now? I almost drowned," she said.

"Which proves my point, not yours, that you almost drowned," he said.

Hermione closed her eyes. She was tired, plus, if she went back to sleep, she wouldn't have to argue with him about who was right, him or her, especially when she realized that this time, he was the one that was right.

She wasn't sure how long she slept the second time, but when she awoke next, sunlight was bouncing off the gleaming white walls of the room from the small window to her right. This time Draco was in the chair, and he was sleeping.

"Hey, Draco, wake up there," she said.

He woke up and rushed to her side. "How are you?"

"Tired," she admitted. "I have to tell you something."

He crawled back into bed with her and placed his arms around her. "What?"

"I saw Theo, when I drowned," she said.

"Almost drowned," he corrected.

She would let that pass. She said, "Anyway, I saw him, don't ask me how. Maybe it was a hallucination, or my mind protecting me, or maybe it was really him, but I have a message for you. The last thing I said before I went under water was that I forgave him. That was when he appeared. He told me thank you for that, and he said that he was sorry for being selfish, and that he knew that we loved each other longer than we knew it, and that he should have been a better friend, but that he loved us very much. I told him that we loved him, too."

He believed her. Heaven help him, because it sounded as if she was a head case, but he believed her. Moreover, that one thought, that Theo forgave them, that he was sorry, and that he loved them, lifted a weight that had been on Draco's shoulders for years.

"Did he say anything else?" Draco asked.

"Well, just that his mother was responsible for my accident. I asked if she caused his, and he said that no, he really did kill himself, but that he was finally at peace."

"His mother was arrested by Timmons right before we found your mum's car," Draco explained. "He said she confessed right away. She blamed you for her husband's imprisonment and for her son's death. She cursed the car right after your Mum died, knowing you would use it eventually, and she charmed a suicide note to appear on my door the minute you started the car. If you hadn't called me, I would have thought that you killed yourself." He kissed her forehead.

"I wouldn't do that," she stated.

"I know, but the note, which Harry took into evidence, and I only read about an hour ago, sounded pretty convincing," Draco told her.

"That evil woman," Hermione said. "She ruined so many lives. Her son's, mine, my mother's, yours. Stupid bitch."

Draco laughed. "I've never heard you call another woman that word."

"It's not that bad of a word, yet it describes her, don't you agree?" Hermione said.

"I do, I do at that. And, by the way," Draco started, "Timmons saved you. He got the anti-curse from the old bitch after he arrested her, I don't know how he did it so fast, and then he did this kissing thing to you, which made you breathe again."

"Oh, he's so cute, it's a shame I don't remember him kissing me," she said with a slight smile.

"You'll never remember that, and you'll never get a repeat performance," he expounded. "Why did you leave the house tonight?" He wanted to ask that in the beginning, but he didn't want to be too harsh with her, after all, she almost drowned.

"I was going to get a key made, and give it to you, and invite you to live with me," she said.

"I wouldn't need a key," he said, confused.

"It's symbolic," she uttered.

"Of what?"

"Of my love and trust for you, and that I want to share a home with you, forever."

"But I could use my wand to get in the house. The wards would admit me," he said. "I could just apparate, too."

She sighed and said, "But the key would…oh, you know what, let's not argue. I don't care. I did what I did, and the reasons don't matter, what matters is whether or not you want to move in with me."

He smiled, laughed, and then brushed his hand down her face. He leaned over and kissed her lips. "I'm already moved in. I thought I would take advantage of your weakened state and move in before you could protest. If I knew you were going to invite me, I wouldn't have been in such a hurry."

"You moved in already?" she asked.

"I really did. Oh, by the way…" he began.

"Stop saying, by the way," she said. "There are other segue phrases. I had time to think about alternative words while I was in the car. I thought of a whole host of words that meant 'fear'. So, think of a different segue phrase besides, 'by the way', okay?"

He looked at her with a strange look, which she mistook for annoyance, but was actually borderline pride. He said, "I was saying, by the way…hell, now I don't know what I was going to say."

"Was it, I love you?"


"Do you love me?"

"Well, yes," he said with a grin. "Fine, I'll just say that right now. I love you, Hermione. I love you so much, and I want us to be together forever."

"Fine," she mocked. "Now, I have to get some sleep. I'm tired, because I drowned last night." She closed her eyes and she felt his lips brush hers. She opened her eyes back up and said, "By the way, Draco, I love you, too." She closed her eyes again.

He kissed her once more, on the lips, and corrected her by saying, "You almost drowned."

-The End -