I think it has been close to six months since any signs of life around this story. But this is it, the end. To any new readers, or any old ones out there who may still be around, read, review, and the like. I'm excited for this to come to a close.
I have to say that this probably would never have been finished if it hadn't been for my lovely, wonderful friend Sil, for her kind words of inspiration. I offer you the gift of Blaise. ;)
Please enjoy. :)
"Hermione, you have got to calm down," Blaise murmured, shaking his head. The ex-Gryffindor shot him a harsh look.
"I can't, Blaise, and quite frankly, I don't know how you are so calm either," she retorted. Flipped furiously through some pages of notes spread across the kitchen table of Blaise's new flat.
"I'm worked up over it, too, but I don't see what more we can do. The trial's tomorrow," he reasoned, leaning forward.
Hermione sighed, organizing her papers, and walked over to sit with Blaise.
"You're right, his lawyer's got almost everything worked out already. I'm just worried something will go wrong." She leaned her head against Blaise's shoulder as he wrapped an arm around her.
Draco was to be tried for Death Eater activity the next day, and while there was not much denying the fact, the defense's angle was to counter the negative with positive in how he had given information to the Order regarding the Death Eater attack at Hogwarts.
Unfortunately, Tonks was still in St. Mungo's recovering from a severe attack, and she was the one with undisputable proof that Draco had been acting as an agent for the Order. The rest of the Order had been clueless, and many refused to believe he had been the Death Eaters' leak.
The prosecutor had eyewitnesses seeing him in Death Eater clothing, a number of other Death Eaters had spoken of his involvement in their trials, and even though Harry's letter had done the trick to secure Draco a trial, both Hermione and Blaise doubted it would be considered entirely fair.
They had visited him in Azkaban twice after school had ended, the second time only three days earlier. The difference in his demeanor and appearance were shocking.
Azkaban, though no longer guarded by Dementors, was still no picnic. In fact, Hermione couldn't imagine it to be worse. Since the removal of the Dementors, more prisoners had gone mad than had with the soul-feasting guards.
He had begun to lose hope, though he had denied having ever had hope to begin with. Even when Hermione had told him what had been developed on his case. She hadn't yet told him that she had witnessed his conversation with Tonks, and hoped the trial would go well without it. Of course, if necessary, she would speak.
Hermione had owled Lavender, as a favour to the overworked lawyer Narcissa Malfoy had paid a large sum of galleons for, requesting she testify at Draco's trial as a character witness, and she had readily agreed. Hermione had hoped she would, after what Draco had told her about their recent companionship the night she had first seen his Mark.
Beyond that, they had left most of the work to the lawyer, though Blaise had been forced to pull Hermione away on more than one occasion.
"Are you staying here tonight?" Blaise asked softly after a pause, breaking the silence.
"I think so, my parents are at a convention, tonight and tomorrow night." Hermione snuck a sideways look at Blaise. His expression gave nothing away.
"Good. You might as well get some sleep, tomorrow will be a big day," he murmured, making to stand up. Hesitantly, she followed. She found her pyjamas which were technically Blaise's, changed and prepared herself for sleep.
But when she found herself in Blaise's bed, his arms around her and bare chest to her back, Hermione found herself wide awake. Her body was singing with awareness of the contact, and she found herself thinking about the reason why.
For a while she had been dwelling on Draco's words about Blaise's needs, and had spent a long time thinking that he was bound to act on those needs. But he never had, at least not with her. She was starting to think that maybe he didn't want to force her into anything. She didn't think she would have minded, really.
But as it was, she didn't know how best to bring it up, and feared making the first move in case he turned her away. Knowing herself, she would probably make it awkward somehow.
It wasn't like Blaise never kissed her, but he would always stop himself before anything else happened. And recently Hermione had been thinking about the way he had made her feel the night of Draco's party. That, if nothing else, was enough to make her want to progress with the relationship.
But she did want to have sex with him, for other reasons. He was amazing and treated her like gold. And she loved him.
Feeling a sudden surge of courage, Hermione rolled in Blaise's arms, finding herself looking at his sleeping face. She watched him for a moment, a faint smile coming across her lips. Then she entwined a hand in his hair and pressed her lips to his.
He awoke abruptly and pulled away, blinking wildly. Then his eyes came into focus and he saw her looking sheepish and grinned.
"What are you doing still awake?" he asked, voice thick with sleep.
"Thinking about you," Hermione admitted, flushing light pink.
"Ah. Well I was dreaming about you, but the real thing is always better," he replied, before leaning in to kiss her.
The action had Hermione's body rearing to life once more, and she pulled herself to him, kissing back with intensity and fervour.
Blaise pulled away, eyebrows raised, smirking at her.
"What's up with you? Am I going off to a war I didn't know about?" he smiled but Hermione bit her lip uncertainly.
"Oh, I just thought that maybe, you'd want to... you know," she trailed off, unable to meet his gaze. She could feel her face burning.
Blaise's eyebrows shot up again and he froze, staring slack-jawed at her, before pulling himself together.
"What, now?" He questioned, rubbing one of his eyes.
"We don't have to," Hermione quickly said, backpedaling. "It doesn't even matter."
Blaise sighed, staring at her a moment longer before he looked away.
"Hermione," he murmured, running a hand down her side, lingering at her hip. Her flesh tingled. "We have to be up in five hours."
Her heart plummeted and her stomach tossed in shame.
"I know," she whispered, rolling back over so he couldn't see her face. "Forget I mentioned it." Her whole being stung with rejection.
"I love you," Blaise whispered into her ear, tightening his arms around her again. Hermione could only nod, tears biting at her eyes, wondering how his words and actions could be so completely contradictory.
She finally succumbed to a rough sleep, long after she'd heard Blaise's breathing fall back to a rhythmic pattern once more.
The trial was going less smoothly than they had hoped. The opposing side was at least as prepared, if not more than theirs was. Draco had sat silently and dispassionately throughout the entire thing, not even acknowledging Hermione's attempt at a wave early on.
She thought he looked more pale than ever, and rather as if he were about to vomit. She was now wringing her hands nervously, watching Blaise give testimony under a small dosage of Veritaserum.
"And you claim you knew that Mr. Malfoy was no longer loyal to the Death Eater cause? How long had this been so?" The prosecutor, a young blonde woman by the name of Natalia Ricardo, was asking, looking down at Blaise with narrowed eyes.
"I believe that Draco never truly was loyal from before the time he was given the Dark Mark," Blaise responded easily, "though I think the first time he passed information to his cousin was around January or early February."
"And his cousin would be Nymphadora Tonks, is this correct?" the woman asked, staring curiously at Blaise.
"That is correct," he responded, leaning back in his seat.
"And what, if any, of this information was even remotely useful?" Ricardo questioned.
"I cannot say with certainty that it was all of value, as Draco did not reveal what he informed her of. However, I do know that on the day of the final battle, Draco fed her information that allowed the entirety of the Order of the Phoenix to be present at Hogwarts before outside communications were lost, greatly contributing to the success of the light side over the dark." Blaise met her eyes defiantly.
"Mhm," Ricardo said absently. "And you were a member of Slytherin House at Hogwarts with Mr. Malfoy, were you not?"
"Yes, I was," Blaise said through clenched teeth. Hermione froze, recognizing what was coming.
"And how long have you known the defendant?" Ricardo drilled on.
"We have been best mates since we were three," Blaise responded, head held high. Hermione saw him shoot a look toward Draco. From her position in the seats, she could see the blond clenching a tight fist.
"So it would probably be safe to say that you would do or say anything for him," Ricardo commented.
"Objection!" Draco's lawyer cried furiously, jumping to his feet. "I order that last statement be stricken."
"Sustained," murmured the head of the Wizengamot, presiding over the trial.
"No further questions," Natalia Ricardo stated, smiling demurely at Blaise as he walked back to his seat. Then they took a break.
As Blaise walked to Hermione and brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear, she could have sworn Ricardo's eyes flickered over in interest. The blonde woman shot her a dark look before turning back to her team.
As they walked out of the room for some air, the defense lawyer caught up with them, and Hermione noticed Draco a short distance back, head up, chained by an invisible tether to keep him within a certain distance of the room. She didn't think she was imagining the people skirting widely around him as they walked past.
The lawyer was a dark-haired, middle-aged man by the name of Sebastian Langerak, well known for his ability to nail a case. Not to mention his smile.
"Hermione, I may need to use you," he murmured quietly so no one else could hear. "I know I said I probably wouldn't, but you've seen Ricardo. The jury are much more inclined to hate the name of Malfoy than to trust it."
"That will be fine," Hermione replied, swallowing heavily.
"Thanks, Granger," Langerak muttered, turning on his heel and walking back toward Draco, instantly speaking rapidly in a hushed tone.
As the break came to an end, Hermione felt nerves taking over her mind and heart.
"You'll be fine," Blaise said, leaning in to speak close to her ear. Then he kissed her, reaching to pull her closer, but was interrupted as Ricardo walked by, crashing rather hard into Hermione and knocking her off balance.
"Oh, sorry," she called over her shoulder. Hermione raised an eyebrow, wanting to laugh were she not so rattled.
"Don't worry about it," Hermione called back, kissing Blaise deeply again. He gave her a confused look as she drew back, but she just shook her head, taking her seat once more as the trial began back up.
Things continued to go downhill, and Hermione could see Langerak become stressed as the witnesses began turning the jury further from Draco's side. Finally he spun around and locked eyes with her. She swallowed, reached into a pocket for reassurance. Then Langerak called her to the witness stand.
She drank the required vial of Veritaserum, waited a moment, then took a seat. Obediently she answered all of Langerak's questions, before finally he asked for what she still held in her left hand. She handed him the small bottle, and he extracted it, placing it under a charm that would allow the entire room to see the memory she had withdrawn, just in case.
And then she watched, along with the rest of the room, the scene she had witnessed down in the kitchens the night of the battle. It was exactly as she remembered it. For the first time, Draco looked at her, his expression incredulous, his eyes with a dull sparkle that hadn't been there earlier.
As the memory ended, and she clarified some details for Langerak and the room, the jury began to converse among themselves.
Ricardo wasn't able to push her far into the dirt, as Hermione had never exactly been friends with Malfoy until after he was no longer a Death Eater at heart, and had no greater motivation to defend him than the truth.
A concrete memory was a strong thing at the point in the trial, and though Tonks was unable to attend the trial, she had written a short note during a rare period of lucidity explaining the same things which the memory had shown.
Eventually the trial was over, well into the evening. Hermione had wanted to stay and wait for the verdict, but Blaise assured her it could take a long time, and Draco wouldn't be able to see them anyway. So they went back to Blaise's flat, anxious but feeling that the second half of the trial had gone better than the first.
It was nearly eleven when Langerak's owl flew into the flat, and both Hermione and Blaise froze, before finally Blaise walked over and took the sheet of parchment clenched in its talons. He read the parchment, glanced at the floor, then handed it to Hermione. Her heart jolted in terror as she looked down.
Acquitted – All Charges.
Can't thank you two enough.
Then her heart began again in earnest. Blaise grabbed her hand and apparated them both to the Ministry, where they were just in time to see Draco walk free for the first time in weeks.
He saw the pair of them, muttered a few words to Langerak, who looked over and nodded. Draco was shaking his head in disbelief as he grabbed Blaise into an embrace – one of the first real expressions of emotion Hermione had ever seen him exhibit. Then he turned to Hermione.
"Granger," he murmured, shooting her a sideways grin. Suddenly she burst into tears, throwing her arms around his neck. Hesitantly he placed his arms around her back, rolling his eyes conspiratorially at Blaise, who laughed. Then he leaned closer and Hermione could feel his breath.
"I don't know what the hell you were doing down there, but if it weren't for that memory, I have no doubt I'd be setting up camp in a permanent cell right now. I owe you everything, Hermione." When he pulled away, Hermione's eyes were watery for a whole different reason. She beamed at Draco, took Blaise's hand one more, and let herself exist without the huge weight that had been placed on her for years.
The three went to Blaise's flat, celebratory Firewhiskey flowing, and when Draco finally left several hours later, Hermione collapsed happily against Blaise on his bed.
As she groaned, forcing herself to get back up to change, Blaise grabbed her wrist, tugging her back.
"Hermione, I apologize," he murmured, meeting her eyes. "For a bred pureblood, I've got awful manners. I'm sorry about last night."
Hermione swallowed as she realized what he was referring to, keeping her distance.
"You caught me off guard," he went on, rolling onto his back to stare at the ceiling. "And I didn't know if you were serious or acting out of some misguided fear or nerves."
"I – I'm not sure," she replied, feeling her face flush with embarrassment. "But it doesn't matter, really, it's fine. It's not as if it was important."
"Quit babbling," Blaise muttered. He turned to face her again, grinning. "It does matter, and it is important."
Hermione didn't reply, biting her lip and attempting to keep her expression neutral. Blaise shook his head in amusement, moving over so he could kiss her. Hermione found herself responding to the familiar feel of his lips on hers, despite the fact that she still felt significantly mortified.
Blaise pulled back, rolling his eyes at her.
"Hermione, if you want to have sex, I'm more than willing." The way his dark eyes smouldered into hers made her feel positively indecent. And the way he spoke so plainly of the topic made her stomach flop all over again.
"Well, I don't know. I've never... well, done that before, and I don't really know... it might be disappointing, is all." She refused to meet his eyes. He stared at her, his mouth open slightly, before he broke into laughter.
"Is that honestly what worries you? It won't be disappointing, you silly girl. How else do you expect to learn?" His eyes flashed with humour. "Don't say through a book."
"I wasn't going to," she murmured, but he laughed anyway.
"Good," he went on. "And besides, you have no idea what you're doing to me just speaking about this as it is."
If Hermione thought she had been blushing before, it was nothing compared to now. She steeled her resolve, turning back to him.
"Fine, Blaise, teach me then." She met his gaze, finally, a wry smile passing her lips. Blaise grinned back, running a hand over her hip, beneath her shirt to touch her bare skin. Her flesh burned.
"Stop thinking, start feeling, Granger. I've got a lot of transfiguration tutoring sessions to pay you back for." He kissed her, slid a hand beneath her skirt, his fingers tracing her thigh. As Hermione felt her heart rate rise erratically, her mind rapidly losing focus as she kissed him back, she felt right.
When Blaise pulled away to lift her shirt over her head, he muttered, "I won't hurt you," and then his voice dropped low, growling, "unless I intend to, of course."
Hermione snorted, tugging him back down on top of her, and for just a fleeting moment she realized she felt completely alive. It was a good feeling.
From the very next morning onward, things felt different. They felt better.
Harry and Ron were due to begin their Auror training right away. Hermione, though she felt she would always have a strong kinship with the things they had done in their school years, had no strong desire to continue the trend of near death experiences throughout the rest of her career.
She had enrolled in a course for introductory healing, which was also set to begin the following week. Whether or not she enjoyed it would determine if she would pursue further education in healing. But she was excited.
Blaise, like Hermione, had been receiving daily owls carrying job offers, but he hadn't yet accepted any. The part Hermione found to be the most ironic was that the ministry job Blaise had been seeking when he requested her aid in transfiguration was at the bottom of his stack. When she had asked him about it, he had simply shrugged and said "things change."
He was taking his time in selecting employment. Draco, however, hadn't been actively searching. He had left for France a few days after his freedom had been secured, with almost no warning and no explanation. Following Blaise's example, Hermione didn't question his behaviour.
Then Hermione had come across Parvati one day in Diagon Alley, who informed her that Lavender had moved to France after school was over to visit her mother's family. She had informed Blaise with a knowing smile. He had winked back, as if he had already known.
It was bizarre, to think that Malfoy would be showing legitimate interest in a Gryffindor. In a good way.
Hermione was jolted from her thoughts as Blaise grabbed her hand, leaning in close enough so that she could feel his breath on her ear. She shivered.
"Let's go somewhere," he murmured. Hermione turned to meet his dark eyes, his face lit up in a smile. He was gorgeous.
"Where to?" she asked, smiling back. Blaise shrugged, leaning back against the couch.
"I was thinking I haven't been to Italy in too long," he said, smirking when her jaw dropped. "Have you ever seen Venice?"
"No," she choked out. "Are you serious? I start my course in five days."
"We can be back in five days," he replied, quite seriously.
"I've barely unpacked," she volleyed back, hiding a smile. This much was true; Hermione had moved most of her belongings to Blaise's flat that morning, after he insisted she move in with him.
"All the better, no need to unpack yet," he replied. "Anything else?"
"I don't think so..." she trailed off, looking thoughtful.
"Good, let's go," he announced, jumping up. "Maybe we can even make a quick stop in France."
"Wouldn't that be a surprise," she murmured, smiling. "You want to go right now?"
"Yes, why not?" Blaise met her eyes, his sparkling with anticipation. "I'm dying to show you my home country."
"Then I can't wait to see it," she said, softly, biting her lip.
He stared down at her for an extended moment, then pulled her face to his for a searing kiss. When he pulled back, leaving Hermione in a daze, she let the truth sink in. She had meant it, she couldn't wait. For any of it. The weight was finally off her shoulders, and now was the time to start living.
Blaise hadn't looked away. She caught his gaze once more. Definitely, she couldn't wait.