PLEASE NOTE - I POSTED THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER A FEW HOURS AGO. THIS IS MY SECOND POST OF THE DAY. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE READ CHAPTER 26 BEFORE THIS.
So, the very last post for this story. I am posting this now, rather than tomorrow, as I feel it is perhaps needed. I hope this epilogue provides a little clarity and warmth, and brings closure, for want of a better word. I know the ending of this story has been hard for some of you. I value and appreciate all your reviews and opinions. I am hurting an awful lot at the moment, for a variety of reasons, not least because of Lucius, whom, believe me, I adore with all I am. How could I write so much for him otherwise? But ... I still believe very firmly in this story as it stands, and I hope, for those of you who saw it turn out differently to how you might have hoped, that you will revisit it in its entirety and at some point feel the same way. I have adored living with, and writing, this story for you all and for myself and for L and H over the last (gulp) three years. Thank you for keeping us company. LL x
Hermione did not attend Lucius' funeral. It was held in private in the grounds of the Manor. Draco invited her and told her of a secluded, private place where she could stand discreetly, but she declined. The entire wizarding world knew of her relationship with the former Death Eater now. It had been too difficult to keep the circumstances of his death a secret. Attending the funeral would have thrown too much at her at a time when she desired merely to grieve. Their relationship had been so intensely private that she wished to maintain the memory of it in the same way.
Narcissa had been oddly taciturn. It seemed her own series of infidelities had robbed her of scorn and vitriol, even when it could be directed at a Muggle-born. She played the grieving Pureblood widow well, but later publicly acknowledged that her marriage had existed in name only for some time. After the funeral, she left the running of the Manor entirely to Draco and retired to a quiet but affluent life in Provence with her lover. She was rarely seen in Britain again.
Draco allowed Hermione to visit the tomb as often as she wished. She did occasionally, but it was, to her, simply stone. Lucius existed to her in brilliant memory, not in the pale marble of his ancestors' graves.
The news of her relationship with Lucius provided the wizarding world with a great swirling bowl of gossip for many months, but, eventually, the wagging tongues fell silent, moving onto the next distraction.
Ron only moved out of the family home into a nearby two bedroom flat when the children were settled and accepting of the new situation.
He and Hermione came to an arrangement which seemed to work well for them all. Rose and Hugo stayed with him every other weekend and on Wednesdays. The children settled into their new routine remarkably easily. Work kept Hermione busy and childcare became complicated, but the nursery and school were good, and Ron was there for the children. She couldn't fault him in that respect.
A few weeks after the funeral, Draco came to see her at the Ministry. He had some news.
His father's will contained a bequest for Hermione.
Lucius had left her the house in St James' Gardens and all its contents, including the Turner. She was now the possessor of a fortune.
At first she tried to protest, to decline it. But that was how it was. She asked how Narcissa had taken the news. Disdainful resignation, Draco had replied with a smirk.
She had thought Draco would want to contest it, but he didn't. He told her that it was an indication of how much his father had loved her. And, besides, there were other properties and assets elsewhere, as well as the Manor. Draco and his mother were more than well provided for.
Hermione asked when Lucius' will had last been amended, expecting it to be only a short time before his death. It wasn't. The last amendment had been many months earlier, shortly after their Wednesdays became regular, about the time she had first declared her love to him.
Ron was hardly euphoric at his wife's ex-lover's generosity and expression of his love for her, but he could scarcely grumble; the children would of course reap the benefits at some point.
Hermione considered moving into St James' Gardens with the children, but the memories were too raw. The house was an embodiment of all she and Lucius had shared. And although she visited it frequently, she could not live there. She had it converted into three flats which she rented out to discerning clients, whom she trusted to treat it with the respect it required and deserved.
Her relationship with Ron continued with surprising grace. He treated her coolly, but was polite and content enough, especially when the children were around. They never let the situation interfere with the happiness and well-being of Rose and Hugo.
They didn't initiate formal divorce proceedings. He never asked for it and she never suggested it. She knew he wasn't seeing anybody else. They were separated, but financially they remained on good enough terms to sort things out sensibly. Neither was sure why divorce never occurred; it simply didn't.
Throughout it all she missed Lucius. She missed him so desperately that at times she was not sure she would survive. Nights were the worst. Thick, black hours of deepest despair and longing she could never assuage.
But the day would always arrive and with it the need to get on, to continue.
She did survive. And the children kept her going, just as they said they would.
Time passed. It became easier. Harry and Ginny had been ridiculously understanding and accepting of the situation; she almost regretted not confiding in them earlier. They remained good friends both to her and Ron. She decided, eventually and slowly, to release the stranglehold grief had on her, and started to go out with friends again and entertain at home. But Lucius had spoiled her for any other lover. She didn't go on a single date with a man. Work was good, work was busy. It was even predicted that she would be the next Minister for Magic.
She still saw a lot of Ron, through domestic necessity if nothing else. And as the years ticked by, she thought a lot about him and talked a lot to him. There had been a time when he was the right person for her. Had he ever stopped being the right person for her? Perhaps for a while. But she had loved him. She didn't think she had ever really stopped loving him. She had simply loved somebody else as well, in a very different way.
Rose and Hugo were growing up. She and Ron, for the sake of the children, started to go on holidays together again. They shared Christmases. She sensed his forgiveness, slowly, gradually, but she never expected it or asked for it.
It was a surprise to her when he suggested he move back in. And it surprised her more when she realised that his suggestion made her happy.
Once again, it seemed they were the right people for each other. And so, just before Rose started at Hogwarts, Ron moved back in and they lived as a family once more.
Hermione continued to rent out the house in St James' Gardens.
On one occasion, during the changeover of the ground floor flat from one tenant to another, she went over for an inspection.
The previous tenant had been a middle-aged professor of economics who had appreciated the house and maintained it respectfully. She stood in the kitchen and inhaled. It was still Lucius' house. It was still their house.
She closed her eyes and remembered, swaying on her feet and recalling that time years ago when she had stumbled against him right here when apparating from Diagon Alley. How strong and sensual he had been. How perfect for her at that moment. She smiled and walked through the house, noting each room. Stopping in the living room, she glanced at the sofa. It was almost too much. Too many memories, too much pain and too much pleasure.
Their love had been one of contradictions, of pleasure and pain, of clarity and confusion, sometimes so right and at others too wrong. She knew she would never have that intense joy again, that love which burned so ferociously it could not be controlled. But the memory of it, pure and unbridled, would feed her forever; for that she was glad. And she did not regret.
Hermione turned and crossed to a cabinet, checking the tenant had removed all his possessions. There was one drawer which was locked, it always had been, although she knew where the key was; it was kept on top. She reached up, feeling for the key. There it was. She took it down and placed it in the little keyhole before turning it and feeling the lock shift back with a click.
Her heart beat fast with anticipation, although for all she knew the drawer was empty.
She pulled it open. Inside was a book. She recognised it immediately.
It was Bede's Principles on Sorcery and Bewitchment, the book Lucius had loaned her, and which she had returned in her confusion, all those years ago.
Hermione took it out carefully and turned the pages with as much wonder as she had that first time. Inside the cover was the beautiful script she now knew so well as Lucius' handwriting.
'LM first read this book in 1975.'
And, since that last time she had seen it, something else had been written in the same handwriting:
'When HG borrowed this book her cheeks bloomed and her eyes danced.'
Beneath this were inscribed the letters LM and HG, intertwined and interweaving, barely distinguishable from each other, written with the most exquisite calligraphic detail.
And caught on the same page she found the curl of a dark hair, exactly the same colour as hers. And beside it was another hair, this one white blond, long and lustrous. She picked up the blond hair and coiled it around her finger. And, even now, across time, her soul and her body pranced. The strand caught the light and shone.
She brought the hair up to her nose and inhaled. There, so faintly, was the smell of him, still here, still now.
For her and with her. Always with her.
My love … thank you … my love.