A/N: Welcome, friends, to the big finale! The usual disclaimers apply, of course. I hope you've enjoyed reading this at least as much as I've enjoyed writing it! You'll notice I made some changes to the transformation scene...it's a combination of the movie and the original fairy tale. Oh, and I changed Molly's name a bit; Molly is often a nickname for women named Margaret (I had an aunt named Margaret whom we called Molly), and I thought Margaret sounded a bit more royal.
With a horrific scream of pain, the Beast reared up, clutching at his chest. He lost his balance and toppled through the window, smashing the glass and landing with a thud on the battlements outside. Draco, smiling with great satisfaction, leaped through the hole after him and began attacking the limp and bleeding figure.
"Get up!" he shouted, kicking the Beast, who rolled away from him. "What's the matter, Beast? Too soft to fight back?" He laughed loudly as the Beast sighed in resignation. Again Draco kicked him, and he tumbled off the battlement, onto the level below. Draco pulled out his knife and jumped down after him.
This section of the roof was adorned with several gargoyles, and in the darkness Draco could not discern the living creature among those made of stone. He found a heavy piece of stone, which had evidently broken off of one of the gargoyles when the Beast had landed on it, and he swung it mightily at a figure to his right. It was only another gargoyle, however, and he roared in frustration.
"Come out and fight!" he shouted at the Beast, who was lurking in the shadows, unseen. Draco began to stalk the length of the balustrade, clutching his stone weapon.
"Were you in love with her, Beast?" he called tauntingly. "Did you really think she might want you, when she already had someone like me?"
This was apparently more than the Beast was willing to take, and he lunged out of his shadowy retreat at Draco. He caught the hunter by surprise, and they grappled on the ledge for a moment. But the Beast, mortally wounded as he was, soon collapsed onto the rooftop and ceased to fight back. Draco advanced on him, wielding the stone and grinning viciously. The Beast stared up at him, feeling grateful that the end had come. In his heart, he was dead the moment Hermione left the castle.
From below in the courtyard, a voice echoed up to them.
The Beast turned, and looked down. Hermione and her brother sat on their horse, and she was staring, horror-struck, up at the scene unfolding on the roof. "Draco, don't!" she screamed.
That was all the Beast needed to hear. Above him, Draco lifted the stone above his head and swung it down to the Beast's head. In the crucial split-second before impact, the Beast caught the stone, freezing it mid-arc, and struggled to stand on his hind legs again. His eyes no longer mirrored sorrow, but tremendous fury; life was flowing in him once more. He snapped at Draco with his powerful jaws, and the frightened man stumbled backward.
Down below, Hermione left the horse and Harry and dashed into the castle. Blindly she tore up the staircase, anxiously searching for the room which led out onto the balcony just above the fighting. He had to know...she had to show the Beast that she was here for him.
They had reached the edge, and the Beast seized Draco by his throat. He swung him about in midair, threatening to drop him off the side of the castle into a ravine. "Don't hurt me!" Draco pleaded, his pale eyes almost white with terror. "Please! Please, I'll do anything!"
His eyes narrowed in hatred, the Beast stared at the pathetic, groveling creature he clutched in one paw. Then, slowly, his expression relaxed into a kind of calm wonder. He didn't really want to kill this man. Looking thoughtful, he pulled Draco back to the safety of the rooftop and forced him to his knees. "Get out," he whispered fiercely, and thrust him aside.
The Beast turned, gazing upward, and a smile lit his features. "Hermione?"
She was standing on the balcony, which she'd finally located, and held out a hand to him. Ignoring the pain in his chest, he climbed across the rooftop to take her slim hand in his great hairy paw. "Hermione -- you came back!" He lifted the other paw to her face, which was radiant with relief. She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling the softness of his fur against her cheek.
Her eyes flew open again as the Beast shrieked with pain. Unnoticed by either of them, Draco had slithered up the roof, and plunged his hunting dagger into the Beast's side. He pulled it out, ready to make another strike, but the Beast threw out one arm as he writhed with agony, and it knocked Draco off balance. Arms flailing, he tried and failed to remain on the ledge, and, screaming, he plunged down into the depths of the ravine. There was silence.
The Beast too might have fallen, but Hermione, terrified, had siezed the front of his shirt and pulled him forward. She guided him over the railing and onto the balcony, where he slumped to the floor, his breathing shallow. She crouched at his side, tears beginning to form.
"You...came back," he said breathlessly.
"Of course I came back," she said. "I couldn't let him...oh, this is all my fault." She wrapped her arms around him briefly. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry!"
"Maybe it's better...this way..."
"Don't say that!" she cried. "You're going to be all right! We're together now and everything will be fine, just wait and see." A lump was growing in her throat and the tears blurred her vision.
He shook his head gently. "At least...I got to see you...one more time," he said softly, lifting his paw to her hair. She took the paw in both of her hands, letting the tears flow from closed eyes. His paw slid from her grasp, and she opened them again. The last thing he saw, before his own eyes closed in death, was her tear-streaked face.
"No!" she wailed. "Please," she begged, "please, Beast, don't leave me, please!" She buried her face in his chest, sobbing. "I love you."
In a chamber on the third floor, where no one could see it, the last petal fell from the enchanted rose.
Still weeping, Hermione again had no idea how much time passed. She wasn't immediately aware of the changes in her surroundings, and only began to notice what was happening when she felt the Beast's body move beneath her. She pulled away and stared, the tears stopping almost at once, as his body was pulled away from her. Everything around them was growing brighter and brighter, until at last she couldn't see anything at all.
Where am I? she wondered. Where's the Beast? What's going on?
There was a brilliant flash of light, and suddenly she could see again. The castle was still standing, but it had attained a bright sort of newness. Hermione realized she was still wearing her periwinkle dress, but it felt different...she was clean again. The Beast was nowhere to be found, and she gazed around in profound sadness and bewilderment. From the corner of her eye she sensed movement in the room which led out to the balcony, and she went inside, feeling hopeful.
It was not the Beast she found in there, however, but a young man, perhaps her own age. He was taller than she and thin, with red hair and freckles. He looked vaguely familiar, and Hermione was startled and a bit alarmed to realize that she found him really rather attractive. He was dressed in blue velvet, almost identical to what the Beast had been wearing, and he stared at her across the room in wild astonishment.
"You did it," he said softly. His voice rang in her ears in such a way that she thought she was supposed to recognize it. "I can't believe it...you really did it. So this means..." His voice trailed off, and his face turned very red.
"Who are you?" she asked finally. "Where is -- where is my Beast?"
He blinked. "Hermione...it's me!"
Her confusion and shock rooted her to the spot for a moment, and he took the opportunity to cross the room. In a few long strides he was standing beside her, awkwardly taking her hand in his. She looked up into his sapphire gaze, and in those eyes she saw a suffusion of love and longing she'd only known from one other. A radiant smile slowly crossed her features.
"It is you!" she cried joyfully. He smiled down at her, tenderly trailing his fingers through her soft hair, and finally lowered his lips to cover her own.
Quite a bit of noise suddenly filtered in to them from the hallway. They parted to a hand's length, and a moment later, a short, elegantly dressed woman with red hair rushed into the room.
"Mother!" cried the young man. Sobbing, she hurried to his side and threw her arms around his neck. Smiling with a bit of embarrassment, he hugged her with his free arm until she pulled away.
"Mother, this is Hermione...Hermione, this is my mother, Queen Margaret." His face was still reddish.
"Oh, you darling girl, how can I ever thank you for saving my son?" The Queen moved to Hermione, whose turn it was to receive a teary embrace. Several more red-haired people began to enter the room, each hugging the young man in turn as they laughed and cried. Over the commotion, he introduced them all to Hermione -- his father, King Arthur; his brothers, the princes William, Charles, Percival, Frederick, and George; and his younger sister, Princess Virginia.
Soon Harry found his way into the room, demanding to see his sister. He was startled to see so many people in a formerly vacant castle, and it fell to the plump, motherly queen to explain everything to him. "So, my dear," she concluded, "will you give your consent for your sister to marry my son? They love each other, so all that we still need is for you to agree."
Harry glanced at Hermione, and she nodded. "How can I say no?" he asked, and everyone cheered.
They all began to file out of the room then, and go downstairs to greet the now-visible servants. Hermione and her prince waited until all the others had left ahead of them. "I just want to know one thing before I agree to marry you," she told him.
He looked at her nervously. "What's that?"
She smiled. "What's your name?"
At that he laughed. "It's Ronald," he said, blushing slightly again, "but I'd really rather you call me Ron."
"Ron," she repeated thoughtfully. She liked the sound of it.
He was watching her fondly. "I love you, Hermione," he said softly. "Will you marry me?"
Still smiling, she took his arm. "Yes...Ron."
It hardly needs to be added that they were married the very next day, and that from then on, Prince Ronald and his Princess Hermione lived as happily as it is possible to do. Of course Harry came and lived in the castle, too, and it's entirely possible that he eventually married Princess Virginia...but that's another story, for another storyteller.
(Now please review!)