Well, here we are. I cannot quite believe this is it. I have so much I want to say to all of you who have stuck with this story over 56 chapters. It has been a privilege for me to discover such beauty in so many lovely, talented and generous people. This was my first foray into fanfic, and the thing I have enjoyed about it more than anything has been the dialogue between the readers and me. I know many of you are veterans (albeit quite young ones) of all this, so sorry if I gush, but I do want to express how life-enhancing it has been to know that I am sharing this with people from all around the world.
Please stay in touch - I am only at the end of a PM and feel free to request, ask or comment on anything you wish. I will always respect the privacy and anonymity that such a site as this provides.
Finally, I'd like to thank JKR for producing these wonderful characters, who, even after all this, still belong to her! And I couldn't end without mentioning the delectable JI - my perpetual muse!
Well, I hope this chapter lives up to expectations. I wrote it swiftly and relatively easily - it was one of the chapters that truly flowed out. I had always known that this is how it would end - it just took a while to get there!
OK - bye for now, all you wonderful people. Please leave a final review - last time!
Love, LL xxx
Fifty Six - Fruition
Seven years later.
Hermione sat on the terrace of Malfoy Manor. She had been trying to finish a paper she had been writing on the pros and cons of using charms or potions to heal and protect against side-effects of curses and malicious spells. It sounded simple, but in reality was a complex and detailed issue. The paper was to be presented at the next session of the Wizengamot for consideration with regard to potential changes to the fundamental statutes of Wizarding Law.
The summer sun beat down on Hermione, but was tempered by a gentle breeze which caressed her skin and brought the heady scent of the rose garden wafting towards her. She closed her eyes and raised her face to the heavens, allowing her senses to take over from her mind. There would be time to finish the paper at the Ministry later. It was not due for a while.
She heard the doorbell ring in the distance. Hermione could not remember initially who was due this afternoon, but she vaguely recalled somebody was supposed to be coming. Visitors came frequently to the Manor now, be it family, friends or work associates. The house welcomed and warmed to the life which throbbed through it.
Tibby appeared at her side. "Mr Dulcimore to see Master Lucius, Miss."
Hermione turned to greet the man who stepped onto the terrace. She at last remembered the appointment Lucius had told her about earlier. The visitor was the new director of St. Mungo's, a well-respected wizard in his early sixties. Hermione had never met him before and rose to shake his hand.
"Mr Dulcimore. Thank you so much for coming this afternoon. It is such a pleasure to meet you at last."
The wizard smiled warmly at the radiant witch in front of him, taking her hand warmly.
Hermione smiled broadly, indicating for him to sit down. "Please, call me Hermione."
The wizard continued. "It is truly a pleasure to finally make your acquaintance. I have heard so much about you. Lucius speaks of you endlessly."
Hermione flushed slightly, and sat too.
"My husband won't be a moment. I think they've gone down to the lake to see if they can catch some minnows. Let me get you some tea. Or would you prefer butterbeer ... firewhisky?"
"Tea would be delightful. Although, I have to say I never thought I'd have such an archetypal Muggle beverage at Malfoy Manor!"
"Oh, Malfoy Manor is full of surprises, Mr Dulcimore, as I have been told and discovered for myself many times!"
They sat for a while waiting for Lucius. Dulcimore told her of his impressive plans for the hospital and how they had been made possible by Lucius' financial support and influence. She could not help glowing with pride.
At length she heard noises wafting their way up the path. She knew the voices instantly. One was the low, smooth tones of her husband, the other high and tinkling, like a silver bell ringing through the garden.
She got up and turned towards the path, her face breaking into an ecstatic open-mouthed smile when the owner of the high voice came running into view.
At first Hermione could only see the blonde curls cascading over the small head. They bounced and sprang as the small person beneath them danced up the path, a wooden bucket held in the tiny fist.
"Mummy! Mummy! I caught ten! I caught ten! Daddy just got five!"
Aurora Granger Malfoy lifted her little legs remarkably agilely up the big stone steps to her home and flung herself into her mother's open arms.
The little girl was exquisitely beautiful and a complete blend of her mother and father. She had her father's colouring, cool, translucent skin and deep grey eyes, but behind them burned her mother's fierce intelligence. And the blonde locks on top of her hair were curled as tight and unruly as her mother's ever were.
Hermione encircled her daughter into her and held her tight, her hands curling in the untamed blonde tresses. "Ten! And Daddy only got five? Wow! You're the best fishergirl in the world! Let me see!" She took the bucket from her child, and glanced down with intense interest into it, seeing the tiny fish darting around. "Are you going to put them in your pond?"
The little girl nodded vigorously, then turned to the tall blond wizard who had followed her up the steps. She grabbed his hand and pulled. "Daddy, put them in the pond now. Come on!"
Lucius Malfoy knelt down and grabbed his daughter into a sudden embrace, tickling her ribs. The little girl squealed in delight. He raised himself up, lifting her with him. Planting a kiss on her rosy cheek, he said, "We've had lots of fun this afternoon, haven't we? But Daddy has to sit down and talk to this terribly important man drinking tea with your Mummy!" Aurora giggled at his exaggeration. "You go and put them in the pond with Mummy or Tibby. Anyway, I'm too sad to do it because you caught more than me." He lowered his mouth into a pout and the child's laugh rang through the warm summer air again.
Hermione came over to join them, encircling her arms round them both. "Hey, you know what, 'Rora? If your little fishes can wait a bit longer to go into their pond, someone else will be here to help you." She raised her eyebrows to draw out a guess from her daughter.
The little girl's face lit up. "Is Draco coming and having supper with us?"
Hermione smiled and nodded happily.
"Yay!" Aurora wriggled out of her father's arms and danced around the terrace. She skipped back to her parents. "And Sophie?"
"I'm not sure. She may do."
"Will we see dresses again?"
Hermione smiled. "Perhaps. Now, why don't you go inside and finish that drawing? I'll be in in a moment to see how you're getting on. Stay in the drawing room, so I can see you from here."
"It's funny. Drawing in the drawing room!" Aurora giggled again.
Hermione tilted her head, laughing too. "That's right, but not many people do drawings in drawing rooms these days."
"Yes, but our drawing room's really happy because it has the best drawer in the whole world to draw in it!"
The little girl giggled delightfully again and started to skip off. Hermione called after her. "And 'Rora. Do it properly this time. No cheating. You know you're not allowed to. Mummy will be in trouble if you let your magic sparkles escape again."
The little girl turned back, a forlorn look on her face. "Mummy! It's not my fault! My fingers went all tingly and then my drawing went – sparkle sparkle – wow!" Aurora wiggled her fingers in the air as she tried to explain how her last drawing had magically transformed itself under her unwitting power into a true work of art.
Her parents smiled to themselves. Lucius called to his daughter. "We know, my sweet, just try not to do it again."
"Okay!" with that her face lit up again and she went off to finish her drawing the traditional way.
Lucius came over to Hermione, and entwined her fingers in his. They walked over to Dulcimore and he extended his right hand. "Marius. Sorry to keep you waiting. I see my wife has offered you some tea. May I get you something to eat?"
"I have no need of it, Lucius, although I won't say no. Thank you for seeing me today. I am sorry to disturb your family time."
Lucius sighed exaggeratedly. "That is quite alright. I could do with a rest. I am exhausted." He slumped down in a chair.
Dulcimore laughed. "She is a delightful child. How old now?"
"She will be four on the twenty first of October," Lucius answered immediately.
"Very bright. And already showing magical ability I see?"
Lucius raised his eyebrows with mild concern. "Yes," he drawled. "We noticed her ability shortly after she was born. She started to levitate objects while in her cot when only three months old. All the magic she has displayed so far has been inadvertent, and she is still young enough to get away with it, but it is difficult to have such power at your very fingertips and not have the understanding and control to know how to deal with it."
"It is hardly surprising she is going to be highly skilled with you two as parents!"
Lucius merely smiled. "We are obviously very proud, but, it does make things complicated. We worry ... don't we?" He turned to Hermione who nodded slightly. "Sometimes I wish ..." His voice trailed off. Dulcimore did not understand what he meant. Hermione squeezed his hand gently.
Dulcimore decided to change the subject. "And congratulations are in order regarding your son, I understand?"
Lucius turned to him swiftly, snapping out of his reverie. "Yes. The wedding's next month. Hence my daughter's excitement about dresses! Draco has been with Sophie for a few years now. It's about time. Poor girl – he's certainly kept her waiting. She makes him very happy. I never thought he'd find someone who'd live up to his exacting intellectual standards and make him laugh. Once again, we have Hermione to thank for that." He kissed her hand.
"Yes –a friend of yours I understand? And a ... Muggle."
"That's right," Hermione replied firmly. "A rather brilliant one."
Dulcimore nodded, but she could tell he was amazed at Draco's choice of bride. Lucius glanced at her and smiled.
Tibby brought some cakes and sandwiches. Lucius and Dulcimore started to talk shop. Hermione listened for a while, impressed by her husband's business acumen, but at length, she leaned over, kissing him unobtrusively on the cheek while he continued his discourse and rose to go to Aurora.
It had been seven years since that fateful day in Flourish and Blotts. They had just marked the anniversary a few weeks before. In a way it mattered more to them than their wedding anniversary, although that was special in a warmer, gentler way. They had been married for five years now.
One night, Hermione had been sitting with Lucius, both reading quietly in the drawing room. He had said quite suddenly and calmly, "Marry me."
Hermione had lifted her head from her book, unsure if she had heard right. He was looking at her peacefully, simply waiting for her response. There was hardly a need for her to answer, there could only ever be one reply. It was the most natural thing in the world, although strangely, she was so content, that she had not been expecting him to ask.
"Of course," she had replied, equally calmly.
He had smiled a little more fully, then returned to his book. She had done the same.
It was only when they disappeared into their bodies that night, that the intensity of the moment became apparent. As she came sublimely, she was sure they had somehow truly blended into each other.
The wedding had not been a huge affair, although Lucius acknowledged Hermione's need to make it special, particularly for her. He had helped her parents (who had insisted on paying for nearly everything) with the cost of an exquisite designer dress – her one indulgence for the occasion. It was close fitting and subtle, but beautifully embroidered with beads and silk. On her hip, unobtrusively woven into the brocade, was a tiny swan.
They had had two ceremonies, one in her parents' church and one in the wedding chamber at the Ministry, a place reserved only for the most important wizards. They had invited only the people most important to them; Harry, Ginny, Draco, Sophie, Hermione's parents, Luna. There had been a small but joyous party afterwards at the Manor with a few more guests, including Shacklebolt and Professor McGonagall. Some of Hermione's more distant Muggle relatives were also there. They had not been told of the true nature of their favourite cousin and her new husband, but picked up on enough extraordinary things to pass the evening in a state of wondrous bemusement.
The next day, completely unexpectedly, she had woken up in Venice. Lucius had apparated them both there while she slept as a surprise. It had taken a lot out of him, and he had had to spend the first day in bed, recuperating, while Hermione ministered to him in ever more inventive, fervent ways. It wasn't until late on the second day that they had even ventured out of their hotel room, so completely engrossed had they been in each other.
A few months after marrying, as they lay in each other's arms one night, he had spoken down to her.
"I recall a conversation we had early on. You were concerned about getting pregnant. There had been a rumour in the Quibbler that you were with child."
She had to furrow her brow to bring it to mind. When at last she did, she was surprised he remembered it so well – he had seemed completely disinterested at the time.
"Yes, I remember," she had replied, quietly curious.
He stroked her arm. "Are you still concerned?"
She had raised herself up, amazed at what she was hearing. "How do you mean?"
"I mean – do you want to have children?"
She had exhaled a confused laugh. "Well ... yes ... at some point. Desperately. But ..."
"I wasn't sure if ... you did."
There was silence for a while.
"Why would I not?"
"Because ... you have already had a child ... a long time ago and ... you are ..."
"Old and decrepit?" he had drawled sardonically.
She giggled with embarrassment. "No! Far from it. But children require a different approach ... I thought you had moved far beyond that now."
"With you I am able to approach anything. To create a child with you would be the most sublime thing in the world."
She looked up at him, tears filling her eyes. "How can I not want to have your baby?"
He had smiled, stroking her face tenderly, and spoke with a gentle urgency.
"I am ready now, but I understand if you wish to wait a while. Your career is clearly thriving."
She sat bolt upright and scoffed, suddenly her mind clear.
"Stuff that! They adore me so much that they'll bend over backwards to accommodate my requests and have me back when I'm ready. Of that I'm sure." She fixed him with her eyes, more sure than of anything ever before. "I too am ready."
"So be it." He leant down and gently captured her lips in his own.
He had almost immediately reached for his wand and, holding it over her smooth belly, had invoked a counter charm, removing the contraceptive spell which had held her for several years. With it he also eradicated the effects of the Muggle pill she had taken to supplement her precautions. She stopped taking it the next day.
And immediately after his spell had released her womanhood, he had moved down her body, holding her tight, pressing his mouth hard against her skin. She felt him rock-hard between her thighs and fell open for him. "Let us not waste time then." With that he thrust into her fully. He had not wasted a second.
Over the next few weeks they had continued to waste not a second. It seemed to Hermione that if they were alone in private their bodies were perpetually joined. Knowing that it may lead to a child brought such a profound significance to their love-making that their coupling was more intense and pleasurable than ever, if that was possible. When he came within her, his seed pulsing up into her, seeking out the essence of her being, she knew that that was what she was made for, what he was made for, that they were destined to be together.
Despite the fact that it had not been the right time to get pregnant before, Hermione had always felt a little piece of her heart break, as women so often do, when his seed burst into her, only to be deprived of its purpose. As she let his thick fluid leak out of her afterwards and washed it away in the bathroom, she had always done so with a pang of regret.
She had no such feelings now.
A few weeks later one night, while lying in bed, Lucius rested his head on her belly. She stroked the top of his head while her body recovered from the intense pleasure it had just received. He lay very still on her, his ear pressed into her, the palm of his hand resting next to it, fingers splayed, gently pushing against her skin. He seemed to be concentrating hard on something. She was in such a state of bliss she did not let it bother her.
Then suddenly he had raised his head, drawing himself up towards her head. She had looked at him blearily, an expression of mild curiosity crossing her face. He had smiled broadly but secretively at her.
He had simply remained gazing into her eyes, not speaking.
She raised herself up on her elbows, a more insistent curiosity starting to take hold. "What is it, Lucius?"
"Can you not feel it?"
She shook her head slightly, but an awareness was taking hold of her. Her skin tingled.
"Feel what?" She wanted to hear it from him.
He said nothing, almost as if considering whether it should be coming from him.
She was certain. "I want you to tell me," she said firmly.
He looked down at her belly again, his large, warm hand still held there. Then his eyes came back up to hers.
"You have new life within you."
She gasped a broad smile. His face melted into happiness and he came up, embracing her and pressing his head against her breast.
She held him to her and they stayed quiet for a while, Hermione connecting with her new body. At length she questioned him.
"How can you tell? I haven't even missed a period yet. I'm not due for another week."
"It has not been long, but there is a change within you, a surge of energy. Your powers will become very strong now."
She could hardly speak, her eyes wet. "Lucius," she breathed out, running her fingers over his face. He reached over and kissed her, linking his energy to hers.
Hermione's pregnancy had been relatively straightforward. She had had some morning sickness, but the witch midwife had prescribed her a potion which alleviated the symptoms. She remembered from her childhood her Muggle aunt going through dreadful nausea when she had been pregnant, and felt a twinge of guilt at the easy life she led within the wizarding world.
Lucius had been right about her powers increasing. She had never felt so in tune with her magic and found herself able to perform complicated spells and charms simply and instinctively.
He had been the perfect husband. He was interested in every change and detail of her evolving body, but seemed also to sense when she needed her space and often left her alone with her thoughts. Once her belly had swelled and she could feel the baby within, they had often lain for hours, his hand on her rounded stomach, feeling the child move and kick inside her. Never had she known Lucius to be so absorbed in anything. She briefly wondered if he had been like this with Draco. She thought probably not, if only because she doubted Narcissa would have been so easy about allowing her pregnant body to be on show.
As they had lain like that one day, she had asked, "Do you know what it is?"
He had looked up at her, an expression of mild amusement on his face. "Well, it's not a hippogriff if that's what you mean."
She laughed and tapped his nose in admonishment. "You know what I mean! ... Boy or girl?"
"I do not know, because I have not let our child tell me. I could if we wanted. Is that what you wish?"
"I ... don't think so. How do you feel?"
He had thought for a while. "No. I wish to wait."
"Then that is what we shall do."
They both knew that whatever sex their child was, it would be one of the most adored children in the world.
Hermione had given birth at the Manor. Lucius was not expecting to be present, but once Hermione had made it abundantly clear that she certainly wanted him there, he became more excited at the prospect than anyone.
It was a long labour and Hermione was in considerable pain. There were some spells to lessen the cramps and discomfort, but wizarding ethics did not permit a complete removal of the sensation of pain. It was a deep tradition stretching back over the centuries. The agony experienced by the mother was said to improve the child's potential magical ability. Lucius later chose not to remind Hermione that during a particularly strong contraction, she had screamed at the top of her voice, "Get me to a Muggle hospital! I want a f***ing epidural NOW!"
When the child had been born, the midwife had handed it to Lucius. After showing the perfect little girl to Hermione, who collapsed back onto the bed, ecstatic but exhausted, he had walked over to the window with her and simply held her for an age, his back turned to the others. No-one could see what passed between father and daughter.
They called her Aurora, new dawn, and a reminder of the lights which danced in the sky at the ends of the earth. Wizards knew the magic that was contained in them. It was Hermione's initial suggestion, and it was only after they were both agreed, that Lucius revealed that it had also been his mother's name.
She was an easy baby, as babies go. There were broken nights, crying and lots of nappies, but it was hardly noticed. Hermione settled into her motherhood naturally and Lucius was quietly helpful and attentive, often giving her time off and taking the child on a long walk or playing with her downstairs. He never seemed to tire of staring at and communing with his new love.
And so she had grown, and time had passed, unobtrusively and perfectly happily.
Hermione took two years off work to be with Aurora. Then she had returned to work part-time, and even then managed to do a lot of her tasks from home. She was surprised that Lucius had been willing to give up some of his commitments to care for his daughter while Hermione worked. He could not always be present, but at those times, Tibby was a willing and caring alternative.
Bridges had continued to be rebuilt. Harry and Ginny had even come over to the Manor, and as their visits increased, Lucius found himself retreating less and less to his study or going for a swim when they were around. It amused Hermione to note that Harry and Lucius got on quite well, but it had taken a long time for them to be able to admit to it.
Ron had a new girlfriend. This one seemed to be lasting. Hermione knew little about her, except that she wrote for a Quidditch magazine and sometimes commentated on matches. They seemed to be very happy together. It was a relief as much as anything to Hermione.
And Draco and Sophie were getting married. To Hermione, that sometimes seemed to be the most remarkable thing of all. Draco Malfoy was marrying a Muggle. She still had to pinch herself when she heard it. But as she thought about her old enemy, who she was now very close to, she realised that it was the only way he could really move forward, banish the horror which had beset his youth.
His experiences of magic at its deepest and worst would leave scars that only a person completely untouched and pure from it could heal. Only by walking fully away from his past could he hope to move on. Sophie had gone a long way to healing the scars already, and Hermione and Lucius were confident that she would continue to do so. Her friend had accepted and easily adapted to his revelations about his wizarding nature, and was fully aware that any children they had, may well be magical too. She embraced the life with a maturity and sense that Hermione admired and respected.
Aurora adored her big brother, and he doted on her. He was often around on his own when Lucius was away and would spend hours playing with her. She was to be a bridesmaid at the wedding, and had already spent many hours looking at dresses and flowers with Sophie.
That evening, after Dulcimore had left, Draco arrived for some supper, which they all enjoyed on the terrace again. He could not stay long, and had mainly come to get something of his, but he was able to spend a happy time with Aurora before her bedtime. He was only too pleased to help her put her fish in the pond, and it made the little girl's day.
He had left just before her bedtime and as Hermione and Lucius started to nudge her up the stairs, she had turned to her father, a pleading look on her face. "Daddy. You said you'd play for me. Yes, yes, yes! Play for me."
It was getting late, but Lucius could never refuse such a request and, scooping his daughter up in his arms, he carried her into the drawing room and put her down. She clapped her hands excitedly. He went to the corner and took out his cello from its case. Hermione followed them into the room and sat down on the sofa. She beamed at Aurora's radiant face.
Lucius brought a chair over and sat down, placing the instrument between his legs, tuning it, then hovering the bow over the strings, teasing his daughter with anticipation.
She couldn't bear the wait, and giggled with wild emotion. "Go on, Daddy. Play! I don't like to wait!"
Lucius cocked his eyebrow to Hermione. She was certainly a Malfoy.
With that he lowered the bow and the rich sounds filled the room. Aurora immediately started to dance, twirling and jumping in an endearingly ungainly childlike way. Hermione threw her head back with delight. Lucius continued to play for a while, the Strad moving effortlessly from a slow piece, to a lively jig.
When Aurora had taken a final bow, her mother clapping madly, her father tapping his bow on the strings, he had finally stood. "There we are. More very soon." He replaced the instrument in its case and came over to his daughter. She enclosed her little arms around his legs and he knelt down to her.
"Thank you, Daddy. I love it when you play."
Her simple statement made his eyes dampen and he held her close, shutting his lids tightly, and whispering to her, "And I love it when you do anything. I love you."
With that he carried her up to bed, and after a story, they kissed her goodnight, watching while slumber gently took her. They stood for a while, holding each other, gazing down at the sleeping child before them. There was nothing so perfect.
They undressed each other slowly that night and lay entwined as usual in each other's arms, trying to melt into the other.
"Draco was happy tonight," she noted.
"Yes. He invariably is these days."
"'Rora's so excited about the wedding."
He chuckled. "I know. It is understandable."
She ran her fingers over his torso. Despite his advancing years, it was still as smooth and toned as when she had first felt it. The fire in her belly, the fire which had been present for over seven years now, ignited once again within, and her hand quested further down. She raised her head. He smirked down at her, leaning down to kiss, opening her mouth and exploring her warm wetness with his tongue. His passion, his stamina remained as undiminished as ever. She moved apart from him briefly, her expression firm.
"I love you."
He was taken aback by her sudden seriousness, but smiled and could only respond with his own truth. "I love you ... with all that I am."
"Thank you ... for ... you. It has been a remarkable journey, Lucius."
"Yes ... And there's still a long way to go."
He lowered his head again, capturing her lips momentarily before moving ever downwards to her throat and then beyond. Before her mind clouded with pleasure, she was just able to register the familiar, haughty silken drawl purring its way up to her.
"Now ... where were we?"