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Epilogue:

A Final Place

All throughout the night, Hermione tried to make all her wrongs right again by putting them in their proper places, if only in her mind. There was a place for everything and before the morning came, she would find that single place for everything that haunted her still. Everything crooked would be made straight. Everything wrong would be made right. Everything tired would be put to rest. Everything that had once seemed impossible to overcome was obtainable – at least in theory. Once everything was in its proper place, she could finally find happiness.

First thing in the morning, she would open up the rest of this house. She would take all of the books and dishes and pictures out of storage. She would try to make it a house again. It wouldn't be a home without Draco, but perhaps it could be a house. Then, if she was lucky, she might be able to go see her parents. She missed them like mad. Just thinking of them made her cry.

She knew she wouldn't be able to go back to work at the Ministry. She might not ever be able to face Percy again. She didn't care. There were all sorts of things she could do with her life…she always wanted to write, or perhaps she would take up gardening, although it was winter. Perhaps she would repaint every single room in the house. Draco had intended to do that after their honeymoon.

They had planned to go to Greece. Maybe she could still go there.

She cried harder.

The thought of facing everything alone terrified her. She truly despised herself for feeling that last little indignity. Loneliness should be outlawed, but if it were the last feeling that needed a place, she would consider herself lucky. The last year had been hell, and the only thing that had gotten her through it was her rage and hatred at Draco's killer. Draco's killer was dead. Lucius killed him. What did she have now?

Last night had been dreadful. If she counted dreadful ordeals on both hands, starting with her right, last night would probably go either on the last finger of her right hand or the first finger of her left hand.

She thought she would feel happier after avenging Draco's death. Without a doubt, she didn't. She wanted to continue to blame someone, and Lucius was a convenient target, but truthfully, he had done so many worst things in his life than to have one of his son's schoolmates send him notes reminding him of his duty to blood purity. Lucius never meant for it to go beyond that. He never knew it became an obsession with Theo. He trusted the man. He was supposedly one of Draco's best friends. He had worked for Lucius for years.

It wasn't Lucius' fault. She started crying harder. She rocked herself back and forth and said, "It's not his fault. I won't hate him, because it's not his fault." There was no place in her life for blame or hate. She needed room for bigger and better emotions than those.

Lucius knew the only way he had a remote chance for happiness in his life was if he went back to her, begged for her forgiveness, and then moved along with some normalcy. However, he never begged. He never would. Still, they could have some measure of contentment if only he would go to her. It was that simple.

Before Harry finish securing her house he allowed Lucius entrée to the wards. Lucius let himself back in before dawn. He walked slowly up the stairs, started across the landing to the room that he knew she had once shared with his son, but then he heard her crying from another part of the house. He turned the other direction, walked down the hall, and went to a doorway. He stood outside the open door and watched her for only a moment, and then he slipped inside.

She wasn't in bed. He would have thought that she would have been. She was sitting in a chair, which was tilted toward a window. The drapes were closed, besides which, it was pitch black outside, but still she was facing the window. Still she cried.

Her tears made him angry. He wasn't angry at her. He wasn't angry at himself. He was angry at the world. Yes…that was the cause of his anger…the world.

She had on a long flannel nightgown trimmed with lace. Her hair was down and long, shining in the mostly dark room. All he could think was that he wanted her. He wanted to make love to her. He wanted her to stay with him. He wanted her to forgive him. He wanted to comfort her. He wanted her to comfort him…he wanted, he wanted, he wanted.

Why was everything so easy for him and so hard for her? She undoubtedly felt guilty. He was the one that should feel guilty, yet he found it hard to feel such a useless emotion. Guilt was merely a culmination of many other emotions, piled upon horrors felt and reciprocated. He felt HER. He felt love. Still, he didn't feel guilt.

Odd.

She felt as well, because he knew she finally felt his presence in the room. She didn't turn to face him. She didn't stop crying. Nevertheless, he knew she was aware he was there. He said her name. "Hermione?"

She turned her face away from him.

"Is that how it's to end? Is this how the story will conclude. Is this the place where we say goodbye, and never see each other again?" He walked closer, sat on the bed, and heaved his shoulders in a sigh.

He waited. Was she going to respond to him? Was she going to call him names, blame him for everything? Was she going to tell him it was over before it had even begun? Did she assume that he missed his son any less than she did, just because he wasn't crying, or blaming someone.

Blaming her.

Blaming himself.

"I won't feel guilty," he snapped, highly aware that she hadn't blamed him for anything. He stood up and paced behind her chair. He could tell that she tensed slightly. He continued to walk back and form, his feet digging a trench in the carpet. "I know you blame me, as well you should. You blame me for so many things, what's one more? But I refuse to feel guilty. I refuse to say I'm sorry. We found Draco's killer. It's not my fault. I had no clue he was the killer. If I had known, I would have stopped him long ago. I would never have trusted him with you!"

Lucius' voice was rising and he stopped right behind her chair. Still, she stared toward the window. He took a hold of the back of the chair and continued, "If I had known that bastard was tormenting my son all through school I would have strung him up by his balls and made him pay! If I had known he was tormenting you, and was endangering your and Draco's happiness, I would have killed him myself! If I had known…" He stopped, swallowed hard, and clenched his teeth.

He stroked her hair, and then held her shoulder. Then, without tenderness he pulled her from the chair, forced her to face him, stood her in front of him and said, "I am not responsible for my son's death so stop blaming me!"

She continued to cry.

"STOP IT!" he shouted.

She cried harder.

He pushed her back into the chair. He turned away from her, sunk to his knees, and said, "I was such a fool. I didn't figure it out. Why? I could have stopped it. I don't want to feel like this." His hand clutched his robes in front of his heart. He struggled for a breath, for words, for meaning. He was embarrassed. He was ashamed. HE WAS FULL OF GUILT AND SHAME.

She reached for his arm. "Lucius, there's not a place for guilt or blame, so please don't feel like this."

He stood quickly, stumbled slightly and said, "Don't you dare pity me!"

She didn't. She wouldn't. "You need to let go of your rage, Lucius. I finally have. That's why I'm crying. I'm not crying because I hate you, or because I blame you, or because I feel guilty, or even because I think you should feel guilty. I would never pity you. I'm crying because I'm finally free."

He swiveled toward her slowly. "Yes, I feel rage, deep inside, Hermione, and I'm ashamed to say that I feel as if it's killing me."

He ran his palm down her sleeve and back up again. Then he lowered his head and placed his mouth upon hers. Her lips trembled under his. He slid his arms around her waist, drew her to him, and kissed her freely, and perhaps for the first time, he kissed her without guilt. Fine, so he had felt guilt. He had felt it for a long time. But no more.

"I still need to hear you say you forgive me, whether or not you think I'm guilty," he admitted.

"Fine, if it will help you, to place blame at your feet, and to place the act of forgiveness at mine, then I forgive you, Lucius, if you forgive me," she said in a whisper.

They backed up toward the bed. They continued to kiss gently, his lips moving over hers like a warm caress, hers moving over his with a gentle urgency. He licked her top lip lightly with his tongue. When she opened her mouth and moaned, he placed his tongue inside and licked the soft, moist flesh her found there.

Her hands moved around to the front of his robes and parted them, removing them from his shoulders. He kissed all around her face, her temples, her chin, her jaw, and her neck and throat. He kissed down to the lace trim of her proper little nightgown and then he pulled it apart and kissed her bare breasts, cupping one with his large hand, as he kissed and paid reverence to the other.

Her hands moved around his neck, then to his hard chest, down the planes and slopes of his back and ribs. He murmured things to her like, "My beautiful, Hermione," and "I love you."

She had sorted through so many things in her mind last night and this morning, but never once did she think about where Lucius would fit in her now nice tidy little life. Where did he belong? Where was his place in her life? He had made a place for her in his, but she hadn't truly done the same for him. Yet he had just told her that he loved her. She knew that he did. She loved him, too. She had even told Theo that Lucius was the love of her life. Perhaps that was his place. Of course, she knew Lucius had already snuck back into the room when she said it. She said it for his sake, not for Theo's.

Still, he had a right to hear it again.

He stroked her breasts with his tongue, took the peaks in his mouth, and touched her stomach, her hips, and her thighs. He was inside her. Hermione held onto him tightly. They were weaving an ancient tapestry together, up and down, around, in and out. He was memorizing everything about her. He wanted her to be his. He wanted to grow old with her. He wanted to have another child with her. He wanted to hear…

"I love you," she said right before she climaxed.

"It's about time you said it," he said. Then he added, "You're mine." He didn't care how old fashioned it sounded. She was truly his and she would have to deal with the consequences. He slid his hands under her hips, gasped aloud, remained on the brink, the edge, and when he fell over the top, he felt safe and secure knowing that she wasn't leaving him. He wasn't leaving her. There was nothing left to keep them apart.

No fear of her going back to jail.

No threat to her life.

No discoveries left as to who killed their beloved Draco.

Now, there were only each other. He felt overpowered by emotions again. If he was a different man, he might have cried. However, he was Lucius Malfoy. It took a lot to admit that he felt guilt earlier. He wouldn't admit, not even to her, how much he needed her, or how deeply he would bleed if she left him. He would barely admit it to himself. He knew what he felt. That was enough.

Her body grew soft and relaxed. He rolled off her, lifted his weight to his elbow, and he studied her in the darkness. Her eyes were closed, her skin glistened. Her hair was in tangles around her on the pillow. Her mouth was slightly open. He leaned forward and kissed her lips again, and then pulled her into his arms.

"Tell me what you were contemplating when I first came upon you, Hermione. Why were you crying?" he asked. He knew she was still awake, so he knew she would answer.

"I was merely trying to sort through everything that had happened," she admitted. "I was trying to put everything in its proper place in my mind, so that I could pick up the pieces and continue to live."

"How can I help you?" he inquired. He brushed a lazy hand up and down her arm. "If I can help you put just one thing in its proper place, what would it be?" He looked down at her with a slight smirk on his face. He said it with a teasing tone, but she looked up at him so earnestly, so honestly, that he stopped smiling and said, "Truly, what one thing can I give you, to help you put everything back in its place? If you want my love, you have it. If you want my home, it's yours. My heart belongs to you already, so I cannot give you that. Tell me, Hermione."

She waited for a moment then said, "You've already given me everything that I've needed and wanted, and I thank you for it. You helped me put everything in its place from the start. In the beginning, I merely wanted a place to start over again. I wanted to sooth the rage within me, and I wanted to find Draco's killer. I didn't know how to begin doing any of that, so yes, in the beginning I just wanted a place to start anew. You gave that to me, so thank you." She drew on his chest with her index finger.

"Is there anything else that you want?" he asked.

She looked up at him and answered, "Well, I wanted a place to stay, where I could feel safe. You gave that to me, too, so again, thank you."

"You're welcome. That's not quite what I mean, but if that's what you needed, I'm glad I gave it to you. Was there anything else you want?"

"As I said, you've already given me everything that I needed. I needed some time to rest, so I could remember, and so I could learn to love again. I needed to work through all the deceit and muck, I needed to know the truth, and then most of all I needed it all to end. I needed to discover what I would do after it was all over, and now I just need a conclusion to all of this. I need you to promise to love me forever. You're the love of my life."

He laughed slightly and said, "You're so delightful. So full of flowery phrases. When I asked you that question, I merely thought you would say that you needed a place to put a diamond ring or something simple like that. I thought a finger would do."

She slapped his chest, hard, and he winced. She looked up at him and smiled. He smiled in return. "Fine…I'm happy I was able to give you a place for all of that. But if you do decide you want a diamond ring, a carat or two, to put on this finger right here," he held up her hand and kissed her fourth finger, "just let me know and I'll oblige."

"Talk about sentimental rubbish," she said with a yawn.

"I'm a sentimental old man, what can I say?"

"You're not sentimental," she said, closing her eyes.

He frowned. He poked her on the chest. She opened her eyes. "You were supposed to say that I wasn't old."

"Well now, I'm the truthful one of us two. I can't be deceitful like that, Lucius." She laughed and then cuddled next to his chest before she closed her eyes.

Lucius smiled and held her tight. She put him in his place, didn't she?

A place to say…The End