A/N: A brief note as to why will be explained at the end
Chapter 54: A Prequel and a Proper Ending, Finally (Ending on an Even Chapter)
Around a small square table outside on the patio of Malfoy Manor, in the middle of winter, with dead leaves twirling around the table legs, and the wind echoing a sad melody around them, four women sat huddled together against the cold. The oldest of the four took a sip of tea, her cup wobbling slightly in her hand. Her granddaughter gave her a poignant smile. She smiled back.
A man approached from a side door, holding a grey wool coat in his hand. He slipped it over his wife's shoulders, pulling her long, curly hair from the collar. He draped it over the wool, slid his hand from the crown of her head to her shoulders, and then kissed the top of her head. "I thought you could use my coat. Aren't you other ladies cold?" he asked the obvious.
"We'll be inside soon, Son," his mother reprimanded.
"Mother…" he began.
She gave him a disconcerting look and said, "You're still my son, no matter your age. You belong to me, so you should listen to me. Go back inside and leave us be."
"Well, these two belong to me," he pointed to his wife and to the blond woman who sat next to her, "and the other one belongs to my son, and it behooves me to tell them that they're going to freeze their pretty little arses off out here."
His wife frowned and said, "Don't be crude, and I belong to no one, Draco Malfoy."
He shook his head and sighed. "Just once, I would like to say something sweet without her getting all fired up about it." He turned around and walked away.
Hermione leaned forward and revealed, "He is a bit sweet, isn't he? Irritating to the end, but sweet."
"I think it's sweet how much you two are still in love, after all these years of marriage," her daughter-in-law revealed. "I hope Sam and I are still in love when we're your age."
"You will be," Narcissa said. "I still love my husband." She looked past the other women with a wistful look on her face, her cheek resting on her hand. Lily took her other hand and gave it a squeeze.
Lily turned back to Hermione and said, "When did you first realize it was love you felt for Draco? I mean, Dad said you hated him for so long, so I just wondered when hate turned to love."
Hermione smiled and bit her bottom lip. "I did hate him at one time. Oh, the good old days." The other women laughed. She leaned forward and said, "To be truthful, there was a brief moment, in fourth year that I had a slight crush on him. It lasted about a week. Besides that, I couldn't stand him in school. He was a spoiled brat. Arrogant, haughty, a right pampered little prince. Sorry, Narcissa."
Again, there was a round of laughter as the oldest lady at the table said, "No, no, you aren't saying anything that isn't true, still to this day, actually." Another round of laughter.
Alice asked, "So when did you discover that you loved him?"
"Oh, it was somewhere between the eight ball and the cue ball, I believe," she said as a joke. Lily and Narcissa looked confused. Alice hid her smile. She had heard this story before.
Lily said, "What do you mean?"
"I think I fell in love with him in the billiard room of Marcus Flint's home the night of a masquerade ball back when we were younger. He didn't know who I was. Being the intelligent person I was, I knew him immediately."
Alice barked out a laugh and told the other ladies, "In addition, Daddy didn't have a mask on, and Mummy did. Tell the story right, Mum."
Hermione gave Alice a reproachful look and said, "You tell it, if you're so smart."
"I will, and I am," she bragged. "Mummy was sad because she wanted me, but her first husband didn't want children, going so far as to have a Muggle vasectomy. Daddy was available and a fine specimen of a man, she seduced him, they had sex on a billiard table, somewhere along the line she fell in love with him, and I was the result. I might have some of the events in the wrong order, but you all get the gist."
Lily's face reddened. She knew a bit of this story, (the fact that Hermione was married to another man when she and Draco conceived Alice), but not the specifics of how Alice was conceived. Narcissa smiled. She too knew that Alice was conceived while Hermione was married to another man, but it didn't matter to her. All that mattered to her was that everything had worked out in the end.
Lily asked, "And you fell in love that night? While making love," she whispered the next part, though no one else was around, "on a pool table?"
Hermione grinned and said, "Truthfully, I wouldn't have been so brave that night, to have followed through if I hadn't thought we would end up together someday. I think I fell in love when he insisted on seeing my face. I kept my mask on, you see. He was so tender and kind, not at all like the little bastard I grew up with," she turned to Narcissa again and offered, "No offense, Narcissa."
"I assure you, none taken, he was a spoiled brat," she laughed.
Hermione continued, "But then I lost my courage, for the first time in my life, and I ran away before I revealed who I was, and stayed away for years. If it wasn't for Ingrid, we might never have reconnected, and none of us would be sitting here together, on this day."
Alice raised her glass of hot cocoa and said, "To Ingrid."
The other ladies repeated that sentiment.
Alice said, "Well, everyone knows I've loved James since I was four years old, but I have my own special little billiard room story that I've never told anyone."
The other ladies looked shocked.
"Details, please," her mother urged.
"Oh, it's not sordid like yours," she snapped.
"Sordid? I take offense at that, Alice," her mother said.
"I meant to say, romantic. It wasn't romantic like yours," Alice said, rolling her eyes. "It was the night we were going to consummate our relationship finally, but then, James thought, and I agreed, that we had waited that long, and we loved each other so much, that it would be sweeter if we waited to marry, and for us, it was the best decision ever. I was the proverbial virgin bride."
Lily looked down at the tea swirling in her china cup. She swallowed hard and said, "Alex was conceived on a billiard table, too, perhaps the same as Alice."
The other three women looked at her in shock, mouths open, with no words escaping. Lily finally looked up. She revealed, "Oh, it gets better."
"BETTER?" Alice shrieked. "You and My brother had sex on a billiard table, and conceived my beautiful little nephew, just like my mum and dad conceived me, and no one ever thought of telling me this?" She looked at her mother, slapped her arm, and said, "Did you know this?"
Hermione slapped Alice back and said, "Of course not and don't hit me!"
"Grandmother?" Alice demanded, "Did you?"
"Whose billiard's table did you say it was?" Narcissa asked Lily, ignoring Alice's question.
Lily let out a little laugh, continued to stare in her cup, and said, "Well, now, that's the weird part. It was Marcus Flint's, just like in Hermione's story." When she looked up the other three ladies looked beyond shocked and stunned.
"NO EFFING WAY!" Alice shouted.
"Seriously. Isn't that weird?" Lily said softly. "It was the night before my wedding to Marcus Flint's son, and Sam was in there, and one thing led to another, but our story didn't end very happy at first, either, sort of like Hermione and Draco's story, because Sam left me." She looked sad.
"But it worked out in the end," Alice said with a smile, her hand coming down on Lily's arm and giving it a pat.
"Yes, but, if Lucius hadn't faked his death two months ago, it wouldn't have," Lily said with a frown. She looked over at Narcissa.
The older woman was smiling. "I have a billiard room story, too. Does anyone want to hear it?"
Narcissa's heart did a somersault in her chest. Lucius just walked by and he looked at her again. It seemed he was always looking at her these days. He used to regard her as a child, but she knew, deep in her heart, that he now regarded her as a woman. Her heart stopped beating when he looked at her, and she found that she couldn't look away. He was handsome, elegant, fine and poised. She thought he was beautiful.
He walked over to her and as he approached his stare never left hers, not until the moment he stood in front of her. Only then did he turn to greet her sister first. "Andromeda, you look very beautiful tonight." He took her sister's hand and raised it to his lips. Andy smiled, but it was apparent she wasn't captivated by Lucius' charm.
He turned to Cissy. He took her hand in his. His thumb rubbed her palm as he spoke. "Narcissa, my goodness, you are no longer a girl. You are every bit as beautiful a woman as your sisters. I believe you're graduating from Hogwarts this year, correct?"
Her hand was still in his. She saw nothing but admiration and adoration in his eyes, and she wanted to swoon, but then she thought of how silly that was, so she stifled a grin and answered, "Yes, you know I do, Lucius."
Lifting her hand to his mouth, he smiled before it touched his lips. A swift kiss, brief, a mild brushing of lips against smooth skin, then he let her hand fall back down, but kept it in his.
Truly, he had never looked at her like this before. His eyes were brighter than she ever imagined. They held warmth and softness and a tenderness that she never thought possible. He drew her to the dance floor, neither seeking nor asking permission to dance with her. Drawing her into his embrace, he moved them in time to the music. He whispered in her ear, "Did you know that I planned to announce my betrothal tonight, Cissy? It's time that I marry, and I thought this would be the perfect time to announce it, since most of the pureblood families are here at this Christmas ball tonight."
Her breath caught in her throat. She wanted to run from his embrace. She wanted to cry. She looked toward the wall, toward her sister, who was watching them intently. Andy could tell that Cissy was alarmed. She started toward the dance floor, but Lucius turned her around so that she faced the opposite way. He said, "Did you hear me, Cissy? I said I was announcing my betrothal tonight. What do you say to that?" She looked up at him, longingly. He smiled down at her.
She finally found her voice and said, "Let me offer you my best wishes, Lucius. I hope you find happiness. To whom are you becoming engaged?"
"Oh, I'm not certain I should tell you before I tell everyone else. We should let it be a surprise, don't you think? You'll find out when I make the announcement later."
She wanted to flee from his embrace. He was marrying another. She loved him, and he was marrying another. She had never had a chance with him. He was older than she, was long out of school, and surely he had never even considered her as a prospective wife. Her heart felt as if it was shattering into hundreds of thousands of microscopic pieces and it would never be whole again.
She tried to leave his hold. He held her tighter. "Put your hand back on my shoulder, Cissy. The dance is not yet over," he ordered.
"Let me leave, Lucius. Please. I don't feel well suddenly." Truly, she was about to crumble. Still, he held her tightly. She looked up in his eyes. "Please," she asked again.
"Why?" he teased. "Do you have a pressing engagement to attend? If you do not, then you should finish this dance. When it is over, you can leave."
She looked away. She wanted to cry, but she wouldn't. She was stronger than that. This man didn't know that she loved him. He didn't know that she had loved him since she was a little girl. She wanted to tell him. She had planned on telling him tonight, at this Christmas ball, at her Grandparents' house. Now he would never know. No one would ever know.
"Let me leave, Lucius," she begged again.
He laughed, and asked her again, "Why? Are you not enjoying the dance? I am. I know that soon I'll be an old married man and I won't be able to enjoy dancing with young single women, so I need to get my fill now."
She no longer knew what to say or do. Her feelings were jumbled and melting away as surely as the ice sculptures that graced the buffet tables. That was what she felt like – she felt like ice – cold and melting, soon to fade away.
He asked her to look at him. He asked her something else as well, but she no longer heard him. All she heard was her own heart beating, out of sync, a rhythm that was foreign, that was a sign of an impending heartbreak. Finally, he took her chin in his hand, pulled her face back to his and just as she begged once again, "Let me go."
He said, "Look at me, Cissy."
She did, but he didn't.
She looked at his lips. She thought of kissing them. He had that strange effect on her. She always thought of kissing him, touching him, holding him. She was breathless with the thought of it. She desired him, and just once, she wished we could act upon it.
However, she was a good girl, and he was to marry another, and she would never get her kiss now.
And he was often seen as a cruel, bad man. Though her parents admired him, and wanted a connection with his family, and her eldest sister held him in high regard, there were many others who feared him. There were many who disliked him. There were many who questioned his philosophies and his lifestyle.
Her family hoped her sister Andy would marry him someday, but she never liked him. She warned Cissy against him. She told her that Lucius was cruel, and that he lacked the ability to love.
Narcissa felt Andromeda served Lucius with a disservice at the time. Now she wasn't so sure. The fact that he held her tightly against him, and wouldn't let her leave, even as he told her he was about to wed another – proved he was an unkind man.
He was mocking her, taunting her for no reason. He wasn't being noble. He lacked gallantry. He lacked nobility. She was seduced by his charms, looks, and future possibilities. She was bewitched by his blonde hair and silver eyes. All of these things clouded her mind, and she felt weak in the knees. She also felt ashamed that she didn't see him as he really was – a malicious, heartless man.
She wasn't even aware that the music had stopped and that he was escorting her off the dance floor. He took her out of the stuffy and jam-packed ballroom, down a crowded corridor, and into an abandoned billiard room. He closed and locked the door.
Suddenly, they were alone. His hands framed her face. "What is wrong with you, my dear? Truly, you look faint. Are you ill? Did someone say something unkind to you earlier? Was someone hurtful or forward with you? Tell me who it was. Tell me now."
The tone of his voice shocked her. What was the meaning of this? Did he really not know? HE was the one that hurt her, and was being unkind, and he didn't even know it. She looked up at him and she asked, "Who is your betrothed? You simply must tell me."
A shrewd look finally graced his face. He smiled, and his hands moved from her face, slowly, down her shoulders, to her arms. He held her hands. "Oh, Cissy, did I cause this distress? Do you really not know? I thought surely your parents told you about my plans. I was playing around with you, I promise. I can see what you feel for me. I would have to be blind not to know. I thought you knew how I felt, too."
"Well, I don't know, do I? You claim to know what I feel for you, yet I haven't a clue how you feel! How can you play around with my emotions like this? Fine, you know that I love you, and apparently, you love another!" she cried. She tried to remove her hands from his, but he wouldn't let go.
He laughed softly. He brought one hand up to his mouth and kissed it lightly. "Do you think, Cissy, that it is proper for engaged people to kiss?"
She continued to frown. "I don't know, and I don't care. Why, are you going to go kiss your intended now?" She pulled her hand from his and started to run toward the door. She reached it, pulled on the handle, and said, "I can't get this thing open."
He walked up behind her and pulled her from the door. She turned swiftly, her back to the wooden paneled doorway of the billiard room. He loomed over her and said, "If you loved a man, and consented to marry him, Narcissa, would you permit him to touch you, on your face, perhaps, like this?" He drew the back of his hand down her face.
"What?" she asked, still confused, bewildered, upset.
He said, "I really need to know these things, because I don't want to do anything to upset my dear love tonight. Will you help me, Cissy? Help me do everything right? Be my friend, and help me, please." He knew he should put her out of her misery, and tell her that SHE was the one he was planning to marry, but she was smart. She would understand soon enough.
She looked down and sighed. Finally, she said, "I suppose a touch on the cheek is acceptable, even if you aren't engaged."
"How about kisses?" he asked. He took her hand in his again. "Say, on the hand. Do you think that would be permitted?"
She nodded. "On the hand, yes, if you're engaged."
"Like this?" he asked, raising one of her hands to his lips. He kissed it softly, the top of it; turned it over, kissed her closed fingers, opened her fingers, and kissed her open palm. She shivered and shook.
"That last one might be a bit too much," she said, breathlessly. She felt like melting against the door. She realized that she had placed one of her hands on his sleeve, and was grasping it tightly. She wondered if she should let it go, or continue to hang on for dear life.
He pulled on her hand, pulling her toward the middle of the room. He sat against the billiard table, and she stood before him. He said, "Are kisses and embraces considered foolish, or justified, for engaged couples?"
He released her hand, only to place his arms around her. He pulled her between his legs. He kissed her right cheek, pulled away, watched her for a moment, and then pressed another kiss to her left cheek. "Well, Cissy? What do you think? Foolish or not? Yea or Nay?"
Someone outside the door laughed, and they heard the fall of footsteps as someone ran across the tile floor. The sound caused her to jump away from him, because she thought they were discovered, even though they were doing nothing wrong. She walked around to the other side of the table, picked up one of the round balls, and said, "If you love the woman, and you're engaged to be married, you can embrace and kiss."
He stood up, adjusted his robes, and faced her. "That's what I thought. I'm glad you agree." He picked up a ball and threw it in the air and caught it.
She wouldn't look at him. Her fingers went across the soft velvety felt on top of the table, back and forth. She asked, "When are you planning to marry?" Narcissa picked up another ball and held it tightly in her hand.
She let the ball drop gracefully from her fingers. She walked toward one of the closed windows. She thought the room felt hot and stuffy, even though it was the middle of winter. She opened the window by rolling the lever around in a circle, to let in some air.
"You're going to catch your death, its freezing. Come away from the window, please," he asked. He held out his hand to her.
She remained by the open window. The cold felt good. It reminded her that she was still alive, because for the briefest moments, when he told her he was marrying another, she thought she might die. She looked him straight in the eye and said, "Do you love this woman?"
"Very much," he answered.
She turned her gaze away from him and stared back out at the moon, stars and snow-covered land. There was little light in the room. As she held back the curtain, more light spilled in from the full moon outside. The trees were barren, so the light was unfiltered, and it washed her in a soft, white glow. He thought she was never more beautiful. He had never loved her more. He couldn't go on torturing her. In his mind, and in his heart, he vowed to never hurt her again.
"Cissy, look at me," he pleaded. She did. "Do you really not know? Do you not even suspect a little bit? Have I hidden my feelings so very well? I know I am often seen as a cold, calculating man, but I always feel differently when I'm with you. I feel like the real me. I thought you could see the real me, and what I was trying to say, but all I did was cause you pain. I vow to never do that again."
She looked confused. "What are you trying to say, Lucius?"
He lifted a hand again and touched her face. His fingertips glided down softly. "It's proper, remember, for an engaged man to touch his intended's cheek." His hand went from her cheek to her arm, down to her hand. He raised it again to his mouth. He placed a long, lingering kiss there upon. "And it's sacred and right for a man who is in love to kiss the hand of the woman he loves."
Her heart began to beat wild and free in her chest. Dare she hope? Could it be?
She closed her eyes when he placed his thumb under her chin and said, "And nothing and no one could ever stop me from kissing the lips of the woman who will someday be my wife, who will intimately call me husband, and will be the mother of my children."
His lips were warm and soft. She could taste elderberry wine on them. She smelled his expensive cologne. She loved that smell. His arms wrapped around her waist, holding her tight. She did what felt right and wrapped her arms around his neck. He lifted her slightly, so that she stood on her toes. Her whole body pressed against his.
The outside world disappeared. The laughter and music from the ballroom ceased. The cold wind from the window vanished while she was in the warmth of his embrace. The world might have stopped spinning for all she knew. The air around her stilled, and her heart missed a beat.
She wasn't frightened, because the man beside her made her feel safe. His body was warm, large, and all muscle. She forgot everything else, but him. His thighs were pressed against hers. Her breasts were pressed against his chest. His hands were moving around her body. Her hands were twined in his hair. He was a man, she was a woman, and they were sharing a kiss that proved their love. Could anything be more perfect than that?
He lifted his head and looked at her with a smile. She placed her cheek on his chest. "I was afraid you were going to marry someone else, and then you would never know how much I loved you," she revealed.
"I'm sorry to have teased you that way," he said, his hands stroking her hair and back. "I love you. I want to marry you. I want to be with you forever, if you want me as well." He cupped her face with his hand, forcing her to look back in his eyes. Then, he lowered his head, kissed her forehead, her cheeks, her chin, her nose, and then her mouth. "Will you marry me, Narcissa Black, and become a Malfoy?"
"What did you say, Grandmother?" Alice asked.
The other three women looked at Alice and laughed. "You're the smartest woman I know, Alice, but sometimes I question your sanity," Lily laughed. "Of course she said yes! You know they got married!"
Alice laughed as well. "Of course! What was I thinking?"
James walked outside, with Sam behind him. He kissed the top of his wife's head and asked, "What's so funny?"
"Nothing," Alice answered. "Is it time?"
James nodded. He took her hand and helped her from her seat. They walked toward a small stone structure at the edge of the property. Their children ran along beside them.
Sam held his son on his hip, and smiled at Lily, but then he blew out a breath and said, "I guess we should go, too, even though I would give my entire fortune not to go."
Lily stood up, kissed him softly, took their son from him, and led him toward the others.
Draco walked out of the house next. He said to Hermione, "Everyone else is heading down. Should we go, love?" He placed his hands on his wife's shoulders again, and leaned down to look in her eyes.
"You escort your mother, Draco. I'll walk down alone," she said.
"No," Narcissa replied. "It's only fitting that everyone walks with their spouses. I won't be alone. I'll go with Lucius. Go on."
The winter wind blew so hard that it shook the windows and doors of the little stone building where the Malfoy family stood, surrounding the casket of their beloved. A small white flower lay alone on top of the silver casket. It survived the summer, survived the fall, and now met winter with a piercing blow, yet it still survived. The small, white flower whispered to the living…a sweet, low, melody that each and every one of them strained to listen, and if they refused to listen, it would speak to them of other secrets. It would tell them things they would never know on their own.
Outside the small, stone fortress, battles raged on, fortunes were ruined, lives were lost, happiness was won, hearts would sing, and symphonies would play on with dignity. The greatest song of all would be the song that played in each and every heart of the people inside the small edifice. Each heart played a song that when played together, would make up a symphony of the life of the man who died.
The vivid, harsh wind shook the windows again, reminding everyone inside that soon winter would pass away, as lives pass away, and as winter died, it would make way for the vibrant colours of spring. Soon the sun would warm the earth with radiant beams of yellow and gold light. Flowers would bud with anticipation of the rebirth. The thoughts of the young and the young at heart would testify to the renewal of life. Soon, everything dead would live again, and be resurrected, just as the earth was always resurrected in the spring.
But not yet.
Now was the time for sorrow. It was the time for pain. It was the time to cherish the life of the man who lay before them. It was time for memories to come placidly, timidly treading on no one, causing no harm, in silent stillness, listening to each other reminisce of a life that was gone, but not forgotten.
It was a time to cherish a life that acted as a beacon for all the ones that came after it. It was time to cherish a life that was a haven, a refuge, for others when they were worn and weary. It wasn't time for afterthoughts, or remembering transgressions or regrets. It was a time to forgive.
With a strong voice, the man's wife said: "The first moment I saw him, I caught a glimpse of what my life would be like, and I knew it would be glorious. Now I'm alone, and in a way, he's alone. I don't want this kind of life." A tear fell from her eye.
"Someday I'll be able to sit back and reflect on things. I'll see my life as I expected it to be. Sometimes, being his wife, it felt as if I didn't have my own mind. When I was young, I did what my parents told me to do, and when I married, I did what he told me to do. Now I finally get to do what I want to do, and all I want to do is nothing at all. I want to lie down next to him and die. And I close my eyes, but I don't see us as old. I see us as young and effervescent as ever, and I also see that I was always in control of my own destiny.
"Things were never black and white. Things were many shades of grey, with reds and blues and greens thrown in to surprise us. Whenever I would cry at night, he always took my hand, and he always knew the answers. Whenever I was afraid, he was always by my side. Who will take my hand now? Who will dry my tears?
"I don't know where I belong if it's not by his side. The days that pass by me were numbered long before I was born, and they hardly signify. The only thing that matters is that I remember him, and that I love him. I will never forget him."
Her grandson touched her shoulder and said, "We'll all remember him always. It'll be fine. He made sure of that. He shaped all of our lives, in different ways, but he prepared us for this. We'll be fine." He wanted to believe that was true.
He held his wife's hand with his other hand and said, "I know he can't hear me, but still, I want to tell him thank-you. Thanks even for the sorrow and tears, because it means he taught us all how to feel. I remember him once telling me that when I was a baby he used to watch me while I slept. He said he was amazed that his son came from the love he shared with his wife, and that his grandson came from the love born from that love. He said that he could imagine a lifeline from him, to Dad, to me. He said that it felt as if each day that I grew older, it was as if another page from the book of his life was torn and fell away. I never knew what he meant until I had my own son. Now, sometimes I watch my son while he sleeps, and I feel the same way."
Someone stifled a sob.
His granddaughter, Alice, said, "He was always my anchor. With him gone, I feel like I'm set adrift in a lifeboat without an oar. Just as grandmother is my candle. She lights my way home. Mum and Dad are my right hand and my left. I can't function without them, and I need them both equally, and I love them both, equally. My husband is my heart. I wouldn't know love without him. My children are my reason for being. They are the reason I have a soul. They are my living legacy. I would cease to exist without them. What that means is that his life was my life, and my life was his life, and his life continues through me." She hung her head and cried. Her husband reached for her, pulled her to him, and held her.
She continued. "He used to tell me things about my childhood, and funny stories. I know he did many things he was ashamed of when he was a younger man, but the man I knew was an honourable, good man. The older I get, the less I see the bad, and the more I see the good."
Hermione laughed and said, "I still see the bad sometimes, and that makes me feel guilty, but if I had to describe the way I really feel, I would say that I feel as if I'm standing on a ledge. I'm starting to get nervous and afraid, because he's no longer there to pull me away from the edge."
"I'll always pull you away from the edge," her husband said with a twinkle in his eye. To demonstrate, he took her hand and pulled her into his embrace. "I know sometimes I make you want to jump, but really, I'll keep you from falling."
She asked, "Tell us what you feel."
"I feel like nothing will ever matter again," he said sadly. "I feel like my dreams aren't my own. Nothing's broken really, nothing's wrong. Everything has happened the way it was supposed to happen, and I have all of you around me, but I still feel so alone. I'm glad I came over here last month and told him how much I loved him. I'm glad I don't have that regret hanging over me."
"Maybe I'm broken; maybe I'm tattered and torn. Perhaps my cover's just blown, and now I'll have to show everyone what a fraud I am. I can't do this on my own. I can't be the head of the family. I don't even want to be. Maybe I lie too much, and too often. Maybe I cry too much, and too often. Maybe I'm too weak without him. Maybe nothing matters anymore."
A chill crept in the room, under the door, through the windows, bringing with it an awkward bitterness that usually comes from the winter air. The cold chilled all of them to the bone. The day was growing shorter, and soon blackness would envelope the earth. Daytime would soon turn to night, taking with it all of their sorrow, just as surely as the passing of his life took away his kindness and happiness, and made it fall away from grace.
His grandson's wife, Lily, said, "Does anyone have anything else to say before we go back?"
Hermione proclaimed, "Death is something that just happens. It isn't poetic. It isn't justified. It isn't melodramatic. When it happens, the living feel as if they can no longer go on living, while the dead feel nothing at all. No one opens their doors or windows to it, but yet it finds a way in, all the same. Loved ones struggle to understand it, find the meaning behind it, but mostly they're blind to the one final truth.
"Which is: Nothing stays old forever, and nothing lives forever. No one should live in pain, or with coldness and sadness. When death comes, we shouldn't grimace with fear, but rejoice that it's here, because it's the beginning, not the end.
"Death is so quiet, that even if it screamed we would strain to hear it. Love is the only comfort we know. Love is loud. Love is strong. Love beats out of time, to a song that no one knows, but everyone shares. Love is warmth and happiness, but still you have to strain to hear it sing if you have a closed heart. A heart that's afraid is like a life without grace – so everyone must take their chance at love before their hearts turn to stone. Once a heart turns to stone, it's a barren, empty home that cries with a song that is sung by someone unknown.
"As we cry gentle tears that fall from hidden smiles, crushing truths behind fates that know no mercy, we need to remember that a life that is about to fold away is as glorious a thing as a life that is about to start. Love is a looming presence that fills each heart with a memory of a special love. Even with the passing of a life, and a body that grows weaker from the fight, an inner light grows brighter and brighter, because he was truly loved in his life."
No one had anything to say after that. Everyone continued to mill around, children, grandchildren, husbands, and wives. When everyone had gone back up to the Manor but the man's wife, she sat down in a chair, alone, her hand on the smooth wood of the casket as it sat in the middle of the room. Finally, the woman stood, picked up the small, white flower that was on top, placed it next to her heart, and she joined her family back at the house.
Hermione and Draco waited for her by the patio doors. When they saw she had walked safely back into the house, they embraced. Draco kissed her, and Hermione held him.
"They loved each other so much. They had a marriage that was a testament to how all other marriages should always be measured," she announced. "Their marriage shows me that you and I have a wonderful marriage, Malfoy. Absolutely wonderful."
"You are truly loved, Hermione," he said with a wink.
She thought that was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to her. "Will you miss me that much when I die?" she asked with a sad smile.
He shrugged. "Since I intend to go first, I'll never know. Will you miss me that much when I die?" She acted as if she was thinking hard for an answer. He waited patiently. He finally pinched her. "Well, love? What's your answer? Will you miss me or not? I must know. I can't stand the suspense a moment longer."
"Without a doubt, I would miss you more than I ever want to imagine, Malfoy," she said, and she truly meant it.
"I thought so," he said with a smile. "I mean, I am pretty wonderful."
They laughed, walked inside, and closed the door to the cold, winter wind.
Because, I swear, it was the end.
(*Dedicated to RHM)
A/N: My two sisters and one of my brothers and myself went to my parents grave last weekend. It's been exactly four years since my father died and eighteen years (gasp…I lost my mother way to young) since my mother died. We all started talking and commiserating with each other, and I came back and wrote this. THIS chapter was written for me.
I had always wanted to write a story to show how Lucius and Narcissa fell in love, since I showed everyone else falling in love. Also, I really would rather end on an even number of chapters. Thank you!