Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter. Duh
Hermione sat fidgeting with the watch on her wrist. It had been almost an hour since Maude left in search of Troy, Matthias, and Koslov and each moment that passed felt like an eternity. Twisting the watch around Hermione noticed a mark on her skin. Confused she removed the watch and looked at her arm where the back of the watch's face left an impression. It was the impression of a lion with a snake weaving its way through the lion's front paws. The mark slowly faded from her arm as the pressure from the watch wore off. Hermione looked at the back of the watch and saw the engraving there. She knew that it was a magical engraving meant to leave a temporary mark on her skin. Hermione briefly remembered the day in Hogsmeade when she had lost her watch, but Draco had mysteriously found it and it returned it after a long trip to the bathroom. She snapped her watch back into place swiping at a tear of worry and frustration as it trickled down her cheek.
Lucius watched Hermione's reserved emotional display with wonder. The girl mystified him like no other. Lucius was fully cognizant of how much she had suffered because of him and people like him yet there she sat, in his dining room, shedding a tear over his son. Lucius felt an overwhelming urge to reach out a hand to touch her and say something reassuring. Just as his hand hovered a few centimeters from her shoulder a loud crack broke the tense silence. He withdrew his hand grateful for the interruption and heavily relieved that Matthias and Troy were standing in front of him, both with bewildered expressions on their faces. Koslov's conspicuous absence did not surprise him.
"What's this all about?" shouted Troy gesturing furiously to the house-elf that was bowing to her master and leaving the room. "You could've owled us."
Maude ignored Troy's outburst and bowed deeply to her master. "Maude is sorry, Master, but Koslov got away, and Maude could not catch him and keeps a hold of the other two at the same time."
Maude looked contrite in her prostrate form refusing to meet her master's eye. Hermione feared she would jerk her face further down and bash her nose in the ground for punishment. To Hermione's immense surprise, Lucius dismissed her easily.
"You did well enough, Maude. I will call you if I need you to go out again. Now go." Lucius turned away from Maude releasing her with his words and a sharp wave of the hand. To Troy he said, "There was no time for that. Draco has gone missing and --," Lucius was interrupted by a great shining stag that stopped directly in front of Hermione and spoke in Harry Potter's voice.
"Hermione, I hope this finds you in a safe place. Ginny was kidnapped from King's Cross. I know who has her but no way to get to them, going to the Ministry soon. I need your location."
Hermione was standing facing the stag with her hand over her mouth, tears of fear threatening to spill once again. Narcissa was looking back and forth from the stag to Lucius, her own concern etched all over her elegant face.
Hermione lifted her wand and summoned all the happy memories she had with Draco before casting her own Patronus. The silvery otter gamboled about her happily as she instructed it to relay a message regarding Draco and to warn him that she was at the Malfoy's and to hurry with news.
"As you see, Troy, Draco has gone missing, and apparently Ginny Weasley as well. We know who has them and we know you know how to find them," Lucius stated gauging their reactions carefully. Troy looked a little surprised but not nearly as much so as Matthias.
"Did you know it was this weekend?" Lucius demanded angrily as he advanced on Troy his fists clenched and wandless at his sides.
Troy realized that he had the advantage since he possessed a wand, but Lucius Malfoy was still formidable in his own right. Fortunately for Troy, he didn't have to lie. "I really did not know and neither did Matthias. We had no idea it would be this weekend. As I told you before the Lestrange brothers trusted none of us with their plans. But they do have somebody working for them."
"Who?" Narcissa asked a little more shrilly than she had intended. "Koslov?"
Matthias shifted his feet before answering. He could sense Lucius' rising anger. "Two some ones then. It's someone from the Ministry. That's all we know."
Lucius backed a step from Troy but his face was still red with fury. He wished with all his being that he had a wand so that he could perform Legilimency on one or both of them to determine whether they were telling the truth or not. Apparently Hermione had the same idea because in that moment Troy was cursing at her with his wand raised.
"How dare you intrude my mind you bottom feeding Mudblood!" Troy shouted at her his wand raised.
Hermione held her wand aloft defensively as she was joined by Narcissa. "You will not speak to a guest in my home that way!"
"Don't worry, Mrs. Malfoy, he's going to have to get a lot more creative than that to insult me," Hermione said and then glancing quickly in Lucius' direction, "he is telling the truth. They don't know who it is and they didn't know it was this weekend. But he suspects its Umbridge and I am inclined to agree."
Lucius nodded at Hermione clearly impressed. She was not only shrewd enough to think of using Legilimency herself but she was also brave enough to actually do it, not to mention talented enough. As much as he hated to admit she was a good match for his son.
"Lower your wand, Xavrius," Lucius said calmly. A magical pull in his brain alerted him to the arrival of visitors on the property. "Potter and his clan are here. You're going to lead us to where you last saw the Lestranges. I would suggest you cooperate now because there are probably at least ten Aurors outside that would be happy to arrest you."
Troy withdrew his wand and nodded his acquiescence. He could care less who he helped as long as it kept him out of Azkaban. Hermione kept her wand trained on him as Lucius went to the door. In a few moments he returned with Harry, Dawlish, five other Aurors, and every surviving Weasley with the obvious of exception of Ginny. They made a motley group but each person had the same look of determination and worry etched all over their features. Molly had the same look of ragged exhaustion mingled with fury that she wore when she took down Bellatrix.
Harry gestured for two of the Aurors to arrest both Matthias and Troy.
Troy argued but he did not struggle. "We're going to help!"
"That remains to be seen. You will be going to the Ministry for awhile," said Harry directing the two Aurors to take them away. "Hermione, I am so glad to see you. It was Umbridge who impersonated you and me to lure Draco and Ginny. I will tell you all the details later because time is wasting. We are already wasting time collecting all of you before we go."
"I probably know what you know, then. You're timing couldn't have been more perfect, Harry." Hermione wasn't surprised in the slightest that Umbridge was behind this. The old toad was always up to no good and it was about time she got caught for something she couldn't worm her way out of.
"Where are they?" Narcissa asked loudly over the din in the room as all the Weasleys and the Aurors planned their attack.
"They are at the Black Knave. That was the last place Troy had seen them," Hermione said. "This means that we can't just go traipsing through Knockturn Alley as a group or all Apparate into the inn, that would cause too much attention and somebody would be bound to alert them."
"Don't worry. The Ministry has already discreetly pulled the wards protecting the inn. We will be able to Portkey as a group directly into the room they are in. Thanks to our dear friend Umbridge we know exactly where to go." Harry started organizing everyone in the room around a large hubcap that he had pulled from a pocket and resized. "Mr. Malfoy?" Harry gestured for Lucius to take the place on his right.
Mrs. Weasley who had been glaring daggers at Hermione, who in turn had been avoiding the gaze of all the Weasleys, switched her wrathful gaze to Lucius.
"Calm down, Molly. He has just as much at stake here as you and so does Hermione. You need to let your grudges go, they take too much energy," Harry said brusquely.
Hermione smiled at Harry and nodded her appreciation for his support.
"Mr. Malfoy, just stay near someone with a wand. Portus." Harry tapped his wand on the hubcap and it briefly glowed blue. Every person in the cramped room crowded even closer together to get a fingertip on the hubcap. Harry was impressed with how little everyone was saying considering the Weasleys were standing in the same house as the Malfoys and Hermione, but he was intensely grateful for it because they needed to hurry. "Okay everyone, we have two minutes before the Portkey will activate. We should be taken directly to the room Draco and Ginny are being held in. Don't do anything rash just take down anyone but them. If the only people there are the Lestranges then this should be easy, quick, and quiet. If anyone is willing to volunteer to stay behind now would be a good time, because this is way too many people."
"Not a chance, Harry," said George grimly. Harry had already tried to convince the Weasleys to stay behind with the exception of Ron but none of them would hear it. After Harry had used truth serum on Umbridge to find the location the only way he could have allowed all of them to come was to get rid of the wards around the Black Knave.
Just before the Portkey activated and the familiar pull tugged at Hermione's navel, she locked eyes with Ron who was across the circle looking at her sadly. She offered him an apologetic glance which he reciprocated just before they started to spin and they could no longer focus on each other.
Draco was practically panting with nervous anticipation as Rabastan unbound him. He slowly wiped at the spit and the blood on his face and stretched luxuriously. Every bone in his body seemed to crack as he lengthened his frame. He was trying to move as slowly as possible to put off the inevitable. Draco still didn't know how far he was going to have to go or what he was going to have to do to Ginny and he was trying to purchase time before he had to approach her. Ginny was looking at Draco with a mixture of fear and confusion in her eyes. The look of revulsion that she had given Rodolphus was not there which made Draco hopeful that she at least trusted him a little.
"Move it, Draco, or I'll give you some more," Rodolphus snarled, and then he shrugged and pointed his wand at Draco anyway. "Crucio."
Draco screamed as his knees hit the floor. He didn't know how much more of that curse he was going to be able to take. Every pulse of his nerves sent another wave of agony through his body even after the curse was lifted. He slowly struggled to his feet trying to focus his eyes. Ginny was yelling at them to stop and Draco wished she wouldn't because they would just get her next, and sure enough Rabastan turned on her and uttered the curse with relish.
Ginny wailed too as her knees and elbows bent involuntarily causing the bindings on her ankles and wrists to cut deep. Draco got up and stumbled to the bed. Once he was there he leaned on it for a moment to gain his strength while his uncles were distracted with Ginny's writhing body.
"Look she's squirming for you already, Draco," Rabastan said sarcastically laughing at his own joke, every one of his blackened teeth showed through his grinning lips.
Pig. Draco thought disgustedly. "Let her be. I'm ready for her." Draco was abhorred at how believable he could make his voice sound. He slowly approached Ginny pleading with his eyes to trust him. "Why don't you two sit back and enjoy the show."
Rodolphus and Rabastan both conjured a chair one on each side of the bed. Then, after a pause, Rabastan conjured a third chair and slipped out of the room. He returned after a moment and offered the chair to Koslov. "This shouldn't take long, and I thought you might like a short break."
Koslov chuckled and sat regaling in the chair Rabastan offered. He crossed his legs and leaned back as if he were about to witness a play rather than of the most torturous and degrading of human acts.
Draco fought back a growl of anger and slithered his body seductively up Ginny's until his face was directly next to hers. He reached a hand in between both of their bodies as if he was going to reach in her pants but instead he placed his body directly over it so that it was difficult to discern what he was doing. Moving his elbow as if appearing to feel her up he kept his hand firmly still on her stomach. Placing little kisses on her trembling throat he spoke into her ear barely louder than a breath. "I'm not going to hurt you, I have to touch you but I will not let it go far, I am just stalling…" He shifted to the other ear placing kisses on her jaw along the way and then pretending to nibble her other ear, "fight me, Ginny, so it looks real." This time Draco dove into her neck kissing it passionately. Playing along Ginny screamed at him and fought against her bindings.
Draco was cringing with each movement he made against Ginny. He was now groping her body with one hand while supporting himself with the other. He had one eye trained on Rabastan who was clearly starting to get bored because it was taking him so long. Images of Hermione kept flashing through his mind and guilt weighed on him like an anchor each time he ground his hips against Ginny. He wouldn't physically be able to do the deed so he had to find a way out of the situation.
"I can't do this, Ginny. We are going to get tortured or killed anyway so I am going to go for your bindings," Draco whispered as he pushed Ginny's shirt up her trembling body.
"Hurry up, Draco!" Rodolphus stood up and pointed his wand at Draco. "Or, I'll help you."
"Imperio!" Rodolphus shouted. Draco felt his mind go blissfully blank the only thoughts were of the girl writhing and screaming beneath him. He greedily tore at her shirt and ripped it open. As he fondled her breasts a very tiny and very distant voice told him that he didn't need to do this, but it was not strong enough to stop him from following Rodolphus' instructions. As Rodolphus forced his left hand further south and into her pants the voice became louder but was still just as difficult to fight. Draco had Ginny's pants open and was just about to pull her knickers off when a burst of noise and activity split the room.
"Stupefy! Incarcerous!" It sounded like a thousand voices shouting in the room as Rabastan and Rodolphus were stunned and bound, but Draco had only been hit by the binding hex.
Draco fell next to Ginny and was appalled at how far he had gotten under the Imperius Curse. He was never good at fighting it. Harry was advancing on him with his wand out and a look of fury burning in his eyes. Draco struggled against the ropes binding him, shame and panic warring for precedence in his brain. "Harry! I swear it's not what you think it is!"
Harry was joined by several Weasleys who all stood over Draco with menace in their eyes. Draco had never been so scared in his life. Not Bellatrix, Voldemort, or anyone had ever made him fear for his life the way he did at that moment. Maybe the difference was the person who was ready to do him in this time was someone he was beginning to see as a friend.
"Harry!" Ginny shouted, trying to be heard above the noise as she fought to pull her clothes back on, "He didn't hurt me. Rodolphus was making him! He was under the Imperius. He was trying to figure out a way to get out of doing it so he was taking too long, and Rodolphus cursed him. He actually saved my life."
Ginny was yanking on Harry's arm trying to get him to lower his wand. Harry looked in her eyes for a moment and saw truth in them. She looked terrible, but okay and Harry thought she had never looked more beautiful. Hermione pushed past both of them in order to kneel beside Draco, Lucius and Narcissa hot on her heels.
"Hermione, I swear I didn't want to touch her!"
"I believe you!" Hermione said crying as she kissed him. For a brief moment her heart had broken when she saw what was going on upon their arrival, but now it was over as quick as it all had started and he was all right.
"Draco, thank heavens you're alright," Narcissa said releasing him from the ropes holding him. Lucius and Narcissa both enveloped him in a tight embrace as Hermione looked around the room. Harry and the whole Weasley clan were gathered around Ginny and the other Aurors had already Apparated away with the Lestranges and Koslov. Hermione thought the moment was quite surreal. The rescue had been so quick and effortless that she was quite disoriented from it. Nothing in the war had been that simple but she wasn't about to wish it had been harder. Now she was ready to get out of there and find out everything that had happened.
Harry had broken away from the knot of redheads where Ginny was animatedly telling them everything that had happened to speak with Draco.
"I'm sorry, Draco. I jumped to conclusions but if you had seen what I saw you would have done the same thing," Harry said extending his hand.
Draco reached out and shook Harry's hand. "I completely understand. No offense to you or your girlfriend, but I didn't enjoy it a bit."
Hermione shoved Draco at his pathetic attempt at a joke but the playful shove sent him back on his knees gasping with pain. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to… Oh, Draco you're injured, we need to get you to the hospital."
"No, just home. It's nothing that a few pain potions and some rest won't cure. I want to hear about everything but I do need rest first. The Cruciatus can really take it out of a guy."
"Of course, Draco," Narcissa said. "We will take you back to the manor."
"Not without Hermione," Draco said looking at both of his parents. He had spent the last twenty-four hours fearing he would never see her again; it would take at least twenty-four more before he would be able to glance away from her again.
Lucius nodded at Draco. "Very well, son. Hermione, would you be as kind as to Apparate me home so that my wife can take Draco?"
"Uh, yeah, sure," Hermione said awkwardly.
Harry shook Draco's hand one last time. "Sorry mate, but we're going to have to bother you in a little while for questioning. I want to get Ginny home first though."
Draco just nodded his understanding as his mother Disapparated them away. Hermione extended her arm toward Lucius but was stopped by Molly Weasley.
"Hermione, can I speak with you for a moment?" she asked and before Hermione could argue Molly had her by the elbow and was pulling her away from the group.
"Hermione, I just want to, er, what I mean is…" she trailed off, clearly not used to apologizing.
Hermione folded her arms and waited for her to find the right words. She wanted an apology but now that she knew it was forthcoming she found it hard to be appreciative.
"I realize that was I was harsh towards you. I tend to become a little overprotective and I just assumed that you would be part of the family," Molly said quickly.
Hermione sighed deeply and looked to the side before responding. Lucius was watching her patiently but with a look of concern for her. He glanced at Mrs. Weasley and rolled his eyes ever so slightly but Hermione caught it. "You know Mrs. Weasley, I wanted to be a part of your family too, and a part of me still does just not as Ron's wife. I wasn't happy with him and I eventually would have made him miserable. I have to admit that I was disappointed that you reacted the way you did. I was expecting you to be angry, but I didn't think you would actually publicly shun me." And I thought it was immature, Hermione added mentally.
"Well, you are welcome anytime. Ron has convinced me that it is really okay and that you are both better off as friends."
Hermione was surprised that Ron had convinced her they were better off apart, but thoroughly annoyed that Mrs. Weasley needed to see him with someone else to understand that, because she had no doubt that Lavender had something to do with her change of heart. The thought of spending more time with Ron and Lavender together made her shudder. Hermione felt her timing was sort of awful as well, but the rescue was fairly anticlimactic and truthfully, Hermione did not believe she would have given Molly Weasley the time of day otherwise.
"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley," Hermione said with almost genuine sincerity as she walked back to Lucius. "I'll think about it. I do miss Ginny and George a lot. Right now I think we all just need to spend some time with our families, though. Tell Ginny I will visit her soon."
Hermione walked away from Mrs. Weasley. She wasn't quite ready to forgive her, but she definitely wanted to see Ginny soon, for now though she just wanted to be with her boyfriend. If someone had told her a year ago that she would have rejected the Weasleys for the Malfoys she would have laughed in their face, but now it was the only thing that felt right. Offering her arm to Lucius once again she Disapparated away, leaving a stunned Molly Weasley in her wake.
"Do you really think it's all over?" Ginny said to no one in particular. "I mean with the Lestrange brothers Kissed, and Matthias, Troy, and Koslov in Azkaban for at least the time being, do you think we can relax for awhile?"
It was the day before Christmas and Harry, Draco, Hermione, and Ginny had all gathered at Grimmauld Place for a short but private celebration. Hermione would be spending the actual holiday with the Malfoys in the morning and Grangers in the evening, and Harry with, of course, the Weasleys. A full week had passed since the Lestranges were caught and the whole event had been kept completely secret just as Shacklebolt wished.
Harry wrapped an arm around Ginny's shoulders and kissed the side of her head. "We have a long way to go, Gin, before this is really over. There are still plenty of Voldemort's supporters floating around. We all still have a lot of enemies. I am sure it won't be long before we are out hunting down some more leads."
"I don't know, Harry." Draco replied swirling around a glass of whiskey. "Since very few people know about Rodolphus and Rabastan getting the Dementor's Kiss it will take awhile for any of their friends to figure out they were missing. And to be honest with you I don't know if they had any friends left, besides Umbridge, and she won't see the bright side of Azkaban for another fifty years or more. I kind of get what you are saying though, like, what do we do now?"
Draco looked at Harry frowning slightly. Draco was absolutely right though. This moment felt more final than the Final Battle did. Harry had a sense of peace and calm that he didn't have then, but he still held doubts that everything was finally over.
"Harry," Hermione interjected, "I think I know what you are feeling too. This whole business was so muddled and covered up that it didn't really feel it like it happened at all. We are used to war being publicized and since this was a covert operation it felt different. Not to mention the fact that the rescue went off without a hitch and no one died. It probably doesn't feel over because we're all okay and there was no fanfare."
"I, for one, am glad it's over and would like to change the subject." Ginny was doing well since the kidnapping but she didn't like to talk about it. She was so close to being violated by those men that it still sort of scared her. Every time she thought about it she imagined what it would have been like if they had actually raped her. Ginny was a strong young woman but she preferred to live her life without dwelling on the past.
Harry smirked at Draco and Hermione. He had Ginny's Christmas gift with him and he wanted to give it to her that day instead of at the Burrow. Reaching into a pocket he pulled out a red envelope sealed with the symbol of the Holyhead Harpies pressed into the wax.
"Well, maybe this will cheer you up, Ginny," Harry said holding the envelope out to her. Ginny saw the seal and immediately made to yank it out of Harry's hand but he pulled it back just in time to capture her hand with his free one. Pulling her in close he kissed her deeply. After he broke the kiss, he whispered in her ear, "I love you, Ginny. I just want you to be happy."
Ginny broke away from him slightly misty eyed from his declaration. When Harry offered the envelope again this time he let her take it. She opened it quickly yanking out the parchment within. Hermione watched as Ginny's eyes passed over the page twice quickly and then slowly for a third time.
"It's a trial for the Harpies! Harry, you said they couldn't get any more on. Even they told me they weren't going to do anymore! How did you manage this?" Ginny squealed excitedly jumping up and down.
"I'm not proud of it, but I used my status as the Boy Who Lived to secure you a spot. Hope you're not angry." Harry said sheepishly.
Ginny wrapped Harry in a bone shattering hug. "Of course I'm not angry! I have no scruples whatsoever when it comes to Quidditch, you know that!"
Draco laughed. "Don't let go of that one, Potter."
"I don't intend to!" Harry said kissing Ginny again.
Hermione sighed audibly her head still on Draco's shoulder. "They are so right for each other."
"I like to think that we are right for each other too," Draco said quietly lacing his fingers through hers.
Hermione lifted her head to kiss him softly on the lips. "Definitely. Uh, Draco? I think we should probably get going now."
Draco looked down at Hermione and then followed her gaze to Harry and Ginny who were still kissing, but now Ginny was straddling him in the armchair that Harry was sitting in earlier. She already had the top three buttons of his shirt undone. Draco stood up and pulled Hermione off the couch laughing quietly. Harry opened one eye as Draco lightly patted him on the shoulder whispering a 'Happy Christmas' to let them know they were leaving. Harry lifted an eyebrow apologetically but then returned his full attention to his girlfriend.
"That's not a bad idea, you know," Hermione said suggestively as they exited the Floo into Draco's apartment.
Draco grabbed Hermione and whirled her around so that she was flush against him and kissed her slowly. He teased her mouth for a moment before finally prodding it open with his tongue to fully appreciate her flavor. Hermione reached out and ran her hands through his hair eventually trailing them down his back to rest on his bum. She gave it a playful squeeze and she could feel Draco smiling into her mouth. Backing up he looked into her eyes. His gunmetal eyes were full of love, desire, and mirth. Hermione would never tire of him looking at her that way.
"Ah, Brazen Hermione wants to play," Draco teased.
Hermione backed away from Draco and took off her coat. Then winking at him she started walking up the hallway toward the stairs leaving one of article of clothing at a time behind her as she went. She draped her shirt on the traveling room doorknob, her shoes at the bottom of the stairs; she left her jeans on the rail at the top. Draco followed her slowly his hearting beating wildly with love and desire for her. He had no idea she could be such a vixen. Hermione rounded the corner before he reached the top of the stairs and she threw bra around so that it smacked Draco right in the face. He sniffed it deeply before throwing it on the floor and hastily removing his clothes as he made his way to the bedroom. The door was shut, but Hermione's panties were hanging on the doorknob.
When Draco opened the door it was to see Hermione lying against the pillows completely naked her knees bent and her legs spread in what Draco could only think was the most welcoming gesture he had ever seen. Draco felt rather than heard the low rumble that escaped his throat at the sight of her. Her hair was sparkling golden highlights as the afternoon sun drifted in the window, and her eyes were a deep chocolate, darkened with lust. She was rubbing the bedspread on the empty space of the bed between her legs in a come hither gesture.
Draco slipped out of his boxers freeing his throbbing erection gratefully. He couldn't recall ever being that hard without having actually been touched down there before. When he climbed on the bed Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him in for a long kiss. "I want you," she whispered in his ear as her hands trailed over his body. She wasted no time in reaching down and grabbing his length in one warm palm and began stroking him. Draco groaned with pleasure. He wanted her too, and quickly. He covered the hand she had placed on his cock with his own and joined her in the ministrations. With the other he parted her warm wet folds.
Hermione arched her back and moaned appreciatively at his touch. She thought it was extremely erotic when he helped her stroke him.
"Hermione, I need you now," Draco grunted. He could feels his balls tightening and the tell tale sign of his release coming near, but he wanted to do that inside of her. Yanking her hand away from him he grabbed her hips and held her still as he dove into her to the hilt. Hermione nearly screamed with pleasure as he filled her completely. He continued to hold her still as he moved in and out slowly a few times trying to prolong his orgasm. Finally, he released Hermione who immediately starting bucking against him matching him stroke for stroke. In a matter of moments Draco felt the tingle all the way in his toes as it worked its way up his body.
Hermione started to move faster as her own orgasm was coursing through her. She could feel her vaginal walls tightening around Draco's cock and she could feel it pulsing as his own climax was reached. They rocked together in their ecstasy each calling out the other's name. Draco's body was still slightly shuddering as he pulled out and lay down next to Hermione, holding her close.
"It just gets better every time with you," he murmured into her hair.
Hermione just nodded her agreement, too wrapped up in the after effects of her orgasm and feeling too emotional to speak. She was only nineteen years old, but she was convinced that there would be nobody else for her in her lifetime. That was the beauty of being magical. When you opened your heart to it, it would give you all your answers. Draco was hers and her magic told her that he always would be. That was the difference she realized instantly. With Ron she let her logic rule and that was a disaster. With Draco it was her soul that took the lead.
"I am so in love with you, Draco," Hermione whispered. It was the first time she had told him that using that exact phrasing.
Draco pulled her closer to his body. He was desperately in love with her too. His mother had offered the ring awhile back and he had thought about it but not much. But now, he found himself wanting to run to the manor to get the ring so he could propose right away. He was terrified at the thought. He couldn't imagine spending one minute of his life without Hermione, but they were so young. Surely she would say no if he asked her to marry him already. He was going to have to talk to his parents about this one. Draco knew they were school sweethearts and they were still happily together.
"And I you, Hermione, more than you know," he sighed deeply.
Christmas at the Malfoy Manor was beautiful. There was a fresh blanket of snow covering the grounds and fairy lights were shining in all the windows. The albino peacocks were charmed so that their feathers flashed red and green as the strutted around the grounds. Inside, decorations were everywhere and the parlor had been converted into a room to house a large and lovely Christmas tree.
"This is really lovely, Mrs. Malfoy," Hermione commented appreciatively as she looked around.
"Thank you, dear. I must admit that I really outdid myself this year," she replied breezily as she offered Hermione a cup of eggnog. "Lucius pretends to act as if he doesn't really care about all the decorations but I caught him last night walking around taking them all in. He does that every year. I know he can be a hard man, but he really is sentimental underneath it all. He's changed so much."
Hermione watched Narcissa speak of her husband with awe. The man in question was standing across the room chatting quietly with Draco. He glanced over at his wife who was watching him with adoration. Lucius lifted his glass toward her gently and then turned back to Draco a small smile lifting the corners of his lips. Hermione shifted her gaze to Draco who was deep in conversation with his father. They looked so much alike yet they were so different. Lucius was broader than Draco, but not taller. The lines on Lucius' face combined with his long hair made him look like a seventeenth century nobleman, while Draco looked more like a modern aristocrat with his tailored suit and neatly trimmed hair. Their eyes were identical, although Draco's had less of the hard quality that Lucius' did. At the current moment, even Lucius' eyes were lacking some of their usual steel. Hermione was secretly glad knowing that Draco was going to grow into such a handsome older man. Lucius Malfoy was a lot of things Hermione didn't like but he was definitely easy on the eyes.
Draco caught Hermione looking at him out of the corner of his eyes. He turned slightly so that his back was facing her and looked at his father with concern.
"Father, when did you know that Mother was the one for you?"
Lucius frowned. He knew this conversation was coming, but he wasn't expecting it so soon. The old traditional Pureblood values were trying to take hold and force him to tell his son that he couldn't possibly be considering an alliance with a Muggleborn. His sentimental side, the part of him that wants only the best for his family was positively thrilled for his son. He had chosen a strong, independent, talented, brilliant, and beautiful witch and she was a good match.
"When I first laid eyes on her, Draco." Lucius smirked a little. He recalled all of the horrible things Draco had said about Hermione during their school years. Lucius suspected then that Draco liked her, but was battling his father's ideals and his own heart during that time. Back then the ideals had won the battle but it was Draco's heart that had finally won the war. "Son, I know you two have a rocky past but even a fool like me can see that you have a beautiful future. I know what you are asking me, and at the risk of sounding incredibly trite and cliché, love does not care how old its victims are. When the time is right I trust will you do what it feels best, even if that time is right now."
Draco didn't say anything; he just nodded in response and took a sip of his drink. Lucius nodded back and walked over to his wife and Hermione. That was the exact kind of response he would have hoped to hear from his Godfather. Severus had been very kind and understanding when he let slip his crush back in fourth year. Draco was immensely gratified that his father had learned something from Severus. Lucius wrapped an arm around Narcissa's waist and smiled down at Hermione.
"So how is S.P.E.W working for you right now?" Lucius asked, taking care to enunciate each letter separately. He also raised an eyebrow satirically. He would never be able to take her House-Elf liberation goals seriously.
Hermione sighed in defeat. "Actually, I am going to have to find a whole new approach. Instead of insisting on freeing all elves, although that is what I want, I want to push for wages and vacations to start. I have a lot to learn about the bonding ritual that takes place when an elf enslaves him to a family, but based on what I do know there is no logical reason to deny such an elf days off and pay. Most importantly, I want to stop the abuse of house elves. I heartily disagree with the way elves punish themselves and the way their owners endorse it and I believe it must come to an end."
Lucius was smiling openly by the end of the speech. He knew what was coming next. "And let me guess, Hermione, that you would like the elves in my house to be subject to your new standards?"
Hermione crossed her arms defiantly, but she was enjoying where this conversation was going. "Yes," she said plainly.
Lucius smirked and called out for his house elves. Maude and Pogo both appeared before him bowing deeply.
"There are going to be some changes around here. You two are going to receive five galleons a week each and two days off to do as you wish," Lucius said to the elves trying to suppress his laughter.
Immediately Maude and Pogo bent down again pleading with their master to not bestow such gifts upon them because it is unbecoming of a house elf to have such riches. He raised an eyebrow at Hermione as if to say 'see, I told you it wasn't that easy.'
"I insist. This is absolutely not a punishment. And speaking of punishments you are not allowed to punish yourselves anymore either. So, you will take the money and days off and you will not punish yourselves for it. That will be all." Lucius turned toward Hermione as the elves disappeared. "You see, the problem is that for all the elves that are already enslaved the owners will have to order them to take money and time off just as I did. That is rather counterintuitive to your purpose, is it not?"
Hermione bit her lip in frustration. Lucius was absolutely right and she hated him for having to show that to her to make his point. It was a lesson that nobody else would have been able to teach her and she was sure of that. She did know that he would keep his word on paying his elves because she would be checking, but it took all of her self-restraint not to stamp her foot in childish agitation.
"Well, at least you agreed to pay them," Hermione said somewhat huffily. Both Narcissa and Draco were stifling their laughter. Hermione was exactly the type of person Lucius needed in his life; someone fresh and challenging.
"Merry Christmas to you," Lucius said jokingly and then setting his face into a stern expression he spoke again, "Ms. Granger, I do have a proposal for you. Draco told me you are not happy in your position at the Ministry and I can only imagine why," He drawled out 'imagine' sarcastically. "However, I have not lost all my connections due to my past behavior, and one of them just happens to be a dean of admissions at London Wizarding University's Healing Programme. You could begin as early as next term."
Hermione was pleased and stunned that he would care enough to even talk to someone, even if she did not approve of him using contacts to get something she knew she could earn on her own merit. Being a war hero was another bonus in her favor that would have granted her admission whenever she wanted it as well. Since she was still stinging from the incident with the elves, Hermione could not let the opportunity to rub her own status in his face pass her by. "I appreciate that, Mr. Malfoy, but I assure you, my own status as Harry Potter's best friend, and the brightest in my year would probably go further than your recommendation."
Hermione stared a shocked Lucius down for a moment before breaking out into laughter. "You should see your face, that's the last time I will rub that in, I promise. You can owl your friend and let him know to expect my application."
Draco laced his fingers in Hermione's and leaned down to whisper in her ear. "You have completely won him over."
Later when Draco and Hermione were standing outside of Hermione's house Draco stuffed his cold hands inside his pockets and in the left one he felt a little box. He knew what was in that box and he also knew that it must have been his mother who slipped it in his pocket. Draco smiled down at Hermione as he fingered the ring box. Yes, they were young, but there was nothing wrong with a long engagement. They had a tangled history, their roots both very different but no less twisted. His father was right, regardless of what happened in the past, they had a beautiful future, and for Draco, there was no one else.
"I can't believe you got Hannah a broomstick. She's only two!" Hermione chastised her husband and father-in-law as they unpacked bags from the shopping trip they'd just returned from.
"It's only little, Hermione. Besides she needs to carry on the Malfoy seeker legacy," Draco said as he helped his daughter balance on the toy broom. Hermione just shook her head but she smiled as her daughter squealed excitedly. Hannah tossed her platinum curls and her chocolate brown eyes sparkled with joy as she flew right into her waiting grandfather's arms. Narcissa walked over to them and covered her granddaughter with kisses causing the little girl to squeal even louder.
Draco walked over to his wife and wrapped her in his arms, kissing her deeply. "Hello Hermione," he said sweetly. Hermione leaned into her husband and breathed in his scent. It had been four years since they got married and her affection for him had not diminished. She still got butterflies in her stomach when he smiled at her and her heart filled with a childlike glee when she saw him interact with their daughter. Hermione never imagined that she would be so happy being a part of the Malfoy family. Draco was right though, they may have been a lot of things bad, but when it came to family, they were all good.
Hermione settled down in her favorite chair to read the Evening Prophet. It had been a long week on her feet teaching at St. Mungos' spell damage ward. She was sixth months pregnant with her second child and tired easily. Draco placed himself on the ottoman and dutifully began rubbing her feet just as he did most evenings lately. Narcissa and Lucius settled themselves on the floor with Hannah to play with a new set of building blocks that were designed to stay stacked no matter how precarious the building design was.
"Anything interesting today?" Draco asked as he moved on to Hermione's calves.
Hermione sighed contentedly before answering. "No, not yet—oh wait. It says her that Delores Umbridge died in her cell last night. Good riddance, I say."
Lucius chuckled. "That isn't a very charitable thing to say. How unlike you to wish death on a person."
"Well, people can change, right? After all, there was a time when you wanted me dead. There is no love lost between Umbridge and me," Hermione retorted. It had taken a couple of years but Hermione and Lucius had finally worked through all their postwar issues. Hermione learned a lot of valuable lessons from him and she would even venture to say that he'd learned from her as well.
"Touché. I regret that now, I hope you know," Lucius said as he watched his granddaughter play and chat with Narcissa with affection.
Hermione put the paper down and got up out of her chair. She walked over to Lucius and bent down to give him a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek. "I do know that and I appreciate you saying so. I am going to make tea. Draco, will you help?"
"I wish you would let us give you one of our House-Elves, Hermione." Narcissa eyed Hermione with concern as the young woman rubbed her lower back and stretched. "You really need to rest more and since you can't cut back on work you could at least let us help with the housework."
"Never." Hermione smiled. "You know I won't budge on that. Earl Grey?"
Hermione reached for Draco's hand and walked to the kitchen grinning. It was a typical day in their life, but it was a beautiful day and it was only one of many, many, to come. They had truly risen from their twisted roots to form a beautiful new beginning.
Really The End
A/N: Well, it is over!!! Thanks to all for reading, a huge thanks to those who reviewed, and thank you for letting the last few chapters not be perfect. My new computer is set up in US English, so the language is kind of inconsistent, I have no idea how that happened or how to fix it. If anyone knows how to do that, send me a PM. Please send a review, I love your comments!