Epilogue: All the Difference in the World
There were still many things Hermione struggled with that sometimes, in the darkness, she couldn't come up with a logical reason of why anyone would even care about her, but Draco did—in his own way. He wasn't perfect by any meaning of the word, but he'd grown and changed exponentially since the night they'd burned everything away.
She smiled to herself.
He still hated mobiles, parties, and walnuts, but attended events with her and had a mobile because of her. He still couldn't be paid to eat a walnut and was sticking to his guns on that one. He was who he was, but he was also perceptive and generous. He still worked unnecessarily hard to keep his feelings private, but he'd shared so much of himself with her in the last three years—more than Hermione could have ever expected.
He refused to join her for Tuesday drinks with Harry and Ron, but when Ron invited her to dine with him and his girlfriend, Kate; Draco accompanied with little fuss, and spent days refusing to admit that he'd had a good time. And when Harry asked him if he could join them in celebrating what would have been Matthew's eighth birthday earlier that year, he hadn't rejected him. He still declined every invitation to Weasley' Sunday dinners, but he would turn up early to escort her home, and he was never rude and graciously accepted the plate Molly offered. Draco had pointed out that he made peace with everyone and didn't feel the need to form any kind of attachment with them.
And Hermione never argued because, well, that was his decision.
Draco wasn't as horrible as people thought – well, he wasn't horrible to her. He was still a prick to everyone else, but she understood that he was just being himself. It had taken them both a while to figure out that he wasn't much different without the mask than he was with it. Softer around the edges, vulnerable at times, and not so uncomfortable with the feelings he kept private.
But that was a side of him that she had only seen.
Hermione still struggled and tussled with the past, just like him, but they went through the dark days together. Sometimes the darkness was overwhelming that she wondered why he stayed. Septembers were hard and Februarys were harder; then it rolled into March when he'd get a bit morose around the middle of the month. There were times when Hermione believed that the only reason Draco had stayed was because he wanted to remind himself that there was someone in the world more fucked up than him. And it took time or Draco's form of brutal honesty for her to see the truth, but she always came to her senses.
He was there because he wanted to be.
And that was that.
Over four years ago, Hermione had wondered that if she screamed, would anyone actually hear?
Would they notice?
Would they even care?
She always thought the answer to all of those questions were no, which had been the reason she'd never tried. But now she knew that the answer was yes. She had screamed and a few people had heard…
Draco wasn't the only one in her life that knew just how much she struggled internally, how much she still hated herself, but he was the only person willing to not allow her to wallow. He wasn't the only one who knew that she was still in pain, but he refused to walk on eggshells around her. Draco wasn't the only person who told her that if she kept on going on her original path, she would never make it out alive, but he had been the person to drag her from the depths, both literally and metaphorically.
He told her the truth and made her see it, too.
The more that she talked and walked with him, the more that she sat and stayed with him, the more that she learned and understood him, the more that she held his hand and hugged him, the more she kissed and stayed awake with him when he had nightmares; Hermione realised that perhaps they had needed each other all along.
Sometimes, when the voices were too loud and the self-loathing was too much to stand, Hermione didn't think that she was worthy to have him or anyone in her life. But only God knew how thankful she was for everyone. Because without them, she would still be trapped in a world where she carried around regrets.
A world that tried to see and hear her but couldn't.
A world that didn't truly know the battles she waged against self-hatred every day.
A world that couldn't understand.
"Lost in thought, again, Miss Granger?"
Hermione blinked back into the present, smiling sheepishly at Miss Shepard. "I just drifted right off there, didn't I?" She crossed her legs. "Sorry. I've got a lot on my mind."
"Would you like to talk about it? We have time."
She exhaled. "Honestly, I just can't believe this is my last session."
"I can," Katherine told her truthfully. "You've come so far, Hermione. It would take most people a lifetime to pull themselves out of a hole as deep as yours, but you're doing it. I know you aren't completely out, but I think you're ready. The real question is: do you think you're ready?"
Hermione never hesitated. "I am."
And she really believed it.
At the top of the next hour, after a heartfelt goodbye and a promise to make an appointment any time she needed, Hermione closed the door to Miss Shepard's office. She shut her eyes, and exhaled with a smile.
It felt like she was closing the door to another part of her life and starting anew.
And as she took the first steps away from the door, Hermione was reminded of how many new beginnings one could experience throughout their lives.
To new trainees on their first day or whenever they messed up, she always said that every moment was a new beginning. However, it was only right then – when she was experiencing such a radical shift from being the person who needed therapy to the person she was today – that she recognised it for its profound truth.
Endings and beginnings were central to the human journey.
Some were more welcomed than others, but Hermione was finally in a place where she could see that every ending needed to be acknowledged, grieved, and even celebrated before a new beginning could truly start. And she planned on celebrating this one as soon as she could.
The lobby of the office building where Miss Shepard's office was located was filled with people coming and leaving in rapid succession, but not crowded. She always paid attention to the people around her, waved if they recognised her and spoke when they spoke to her; so, it was a wonder how she didn't hone in on the red hair the moment she spotted it. Maybe it had something to do with her racing thoughts or the feeling of anticipation, but it wasn't until the distracted redhead brushed shoulders with her and started to apologise with a, "I'm—" when she finally noticed who the redhead was.
"Sorry," the other woman finished, flushing like a cooked lobster.
Hermione hadn't seen her since she'd left her in Parvarti's office.
Ginny never came to the functions and Weasley dinners she attended, which was planned. It made sense and was the best way to minimize the awkwardness. Ginny looked the same; only slightly older and with shorter hair, but the hard edges of her face were smoother. "I didn't see you. Sorry. I was—" Ginny made an elaborate gesture with her hand. "On my own continent."
"I know the feeling." Hermione replied, and it wasn't as hard to speak to her again as she'd imagined.
And she had imagined it; late at night when she talked to Draco about it in whispers. She told him about what she'd say or what she'd do, and he'd listen until either she fell asleep or inserted his own opinion on the matter. Over the last three years, it had changed considerably. With the residual anger and resentment gone, there wasn't much left to say that she hadn't said already.
The only thing she could do was talk about something new.
And wasn't she just thinking about new beginnings and opened doors?
Ginny awkwardly looked around, tucking her hair behind her ears. "I'll just—sorry again."
Hermione was about to let her walk away and return to being just another familiar face in the crowd, but impulsively made a decision. The journal she held went from her right hand to the left before she asked. "How have you been?"
More than anything, she looked surprised by the question—so much that she blinked several times before carefully answering, "Fine."
And when Hermione said, "That's good," she was earnest.
It made Ginny open up just a bit more.
"I've been seeing a therapist. Miss Shepard—her office is just upstairs. Pansy Parkinson—or is it Zabini now? No matter, she referred me over two years ago."
Hermione hadn't known that. "It's Zabini now."
They married two months ago in a very small wedding at his grandmother's Italian estate with a handful of their friends and his Muggle cousins. Pansy looked stunning and Hermione stood by her side in blue; Draco at Blaise's in grey. Hermione caught the bouquet his cousins convinced Pansy to throw as some sort of tradition many of the wizards didn't understand. Hermione understood perfectly what her catch meant, and when she explained it to Draco, he didn't look alarmed by the possibility. He'd asked her if it was something she'd wanted and she'd surprised herself when she nodded.
"Miss Shepard is my therapist, too," Hermione explained. "I—"
"She is?" Ginny looked alarmed for a flash, then uncomfortable. "Oh, I can start seeing someone else if that makes you uncomfortable. I didn't know. I don't want you to think that I'm—"
"No, no," Hermione assured. "I just had my last session with her today." Ginny seemed to exhale. "And if I still were seeing her, I wouldn't even dream of suggesting something like that. Not if she's helping you."
Ginny tugged on the end of her shirt, looking a bit more at ease. "She is. Really. It's been hard, but she's forcing me to take a hard look at myself." The corners of her lips quirked slightly. "So much fun."
That made her snort. "Oh definitely. I've taken so many hard looks at myself, my actions, and who I am as a person that it's been a frustrating journey, but it's necessary to know the truth."
With a silent nod, Ginny agreed. "I definitely understand that." She might have said more had her watch not beeped. She cut the alarm off and flashed a sort of faint smile. "I should go. I'm going to be late."
"Yes, I should go, too." Hermione paused. "Seeing you, it's been…good." And maybe she wasn't ready to see Ginny at the Weasley family dinners just yet, but seeing her today had made her hopeful that she would in the future.
"It really has." Ginny extended her hand in what looked like an impulsive move…
And Hermione shook it before they parted ways.
Hermione tucked the journal under her arm as she started down the steps, preparing to join her fellow Londoners on the busy sidewalk. She was just about to blend into the crowd when a familiar flash of blond caught her eye.
She stopped abruptly, causing the man behind her to nearly walk into her. After muttering apologies, Hermione weaved her way through the hoard of people and found herself standing in front of Draco, who was lounging on a bench with flowers next to him and a book in hand. It was one of hers that she'd left at his flat months ago.
He sat up a little straighter when he saw her, but said nothing.
She was curious to the point of suspicion. "Are those for me?" She gestured to the bundle of Forget-me-nots with the ends in caps of water.
"They're for your family, you know that."
And she did. They went to the cemetery on the first sunny day of each month and he always came with three bundles of flowers. Sometimes, he left her with her family. Sometimes, he stayed by her side when she talked to them. And a few times, Hermione saw him kneeled in the grass, speaking to them in words that she couldn't hear while she laid flowers on the other forgotten graves.
It was times like that when her heart would swell despite its heaviness.
"What are you doing here?"
Draco closed the book and shrugged. It was probably supposed to be whimsical, but he just looked like he'd been caught doing something wrong. "I happen to be in the area."
Hermione stared at him dubiously, folding her arms across her chest. "The Ministry is across town."
"I'm taking a lunch break." He shot a challenging look.
She tried not to smile. "At nearly three-thirty?"
Then he smirked. "Precisely."
Hermione finally let herself smile. It wasn't like Draco to volunteer information or to explain his actions or behaviour, but she always seemed to know what he was doing, even when he didn't do anything at all. Even when he was just there. Like today. "That's your story?"
"Exactly," he said, but there was a hint of humour in his voice. His eyes quickly caught the journal tucked under her arms. "I thought you were giving that back today."
She shrugged and joined him on the bench, sitting close enough for their legs to touch. Draco draped an around her without so much as an afterthought and she leaned into his side. It was nice, almost normal, and she liked it. "Decided to keep it. If I'm going to chronicle my feelings, I think this would be a good point to start."
"And how do you feel now?"
"It's complicated, but overall, not bad. And you?"
"About the same."
Hermione nodded and they sat in silence. It was a nice day; the first sunny one in about a week, so it felt good to just be outside in the moderate heat that was tempered by a decent breeze. Draco went back to reading and she read with him until she snorted at something the protagonist said. He gave her a withering look that lacked the malice necessary to make her feel like he meant it. "You like the book?"
"It's fine, but a little academic for my tastes."
Draco flashed a smile that only presented itself when someone had really earned it.
Hermione quietly watched him, feeling warm and not from the summer heat.
Draco wasn't romantic in any sense or definition of the word; there were no roses, cards, trinkets, or anything that remotely breathed sappy—much to his mother's extreme annoyance. But in moments like this, when he truly looked happy to be in her presence, Hermione never minded. His actions had always spoken louder than his words and that was all she needed. Most times, when he looked at her, there was something that bubbled under the surface of him that looked a lot like love, felt like love, and sounded like love the one time he'd spoken the words when he thought she was asleep.
And he would repeat it again one day. She didn't need words to know how he felt.
Draco cast a side-long look in her direction. "What?"
He didn't relent. In fact, he sighed and shut the book again. "What Hermione?"
"Really. Nothing. It's been a good day. I spoke to Ginny."
Draco tensed slightly. If she didn't know him as well as she did, she never would have been able to tell. Hermione knew that if he had his way, she would never have the opportunity to even be in the same room as Ginny. Draco was irrationally protective like that when left to his own devices, but he was getting better. The first time they'd gone to Venice, he spent half the trip torn between watching her every move and trying not to look like he'd been watching her. She had to finally pull him aside and let him know that he could breathe; that she wouldn't fall apart.
Not even a little bit.
And she reminded him again. "It was fine. I'm okay."
He nodded, but the relaxed look he'd been wearing was gone. "I saw her, but she didn't see me."
"I bumped into her." Hermione informed. "We talked. That's all."
She made a thoughtful face. "And…that's it. It wasn't as hard as I thought it'd be. I know we aren't going to be friends, but I think we can be civil."
"Whatever works," which was his standard reply for anything he didn't fully agree with but didn't want to argue over. Hermione smiled up at him, which made him relax again. "Where do you want to go now?"
"I thought you were on lunch break."
He smirked. "I thought you knew I was lying."
"I did, but it's not like you to own up to anything."
Draco looked unapologetic.
Hermione remained pensive for a bit. "It's nice out. We could sit here for a little longer. I've literally been on the move all day. New trainees…pretty much the reason I was gone this morning before you woke up. Sorry about that, by the way, I had a meeting, then training employees who asked more questions about us than they did about protocol."
"That's fine," Draco moved the arm that was around her shoulder and took her hand. "I had some stuff to do, as well. Arcturus is in town for the day. He's invited us to have dinner tonight, but I expect that he'll chat more about how well the business is going than anything." He looked back at her before looking down at their now entwined hands. "I thought we should dine at a Muggle restaurant, for the sake of privacy."
"Sounds fine to me."
"But before that, we'll visit your family."
"I'd like that very much." Hermione smiled.
She had an inkling that he wanted to say more, and wasn't surprised when he changed the subject. "You know, you now have left a pair of socks at my flat; in addition to the pyjama pants, shirt, jumper—"
Her cheeks reddened a bit. "I'll just take it tonight after dinner."
"No need," Draco waved her off flippantly. "I, uhh, gave you a drawer."
She froze. A drawer? "Is this a—"
Draco gave her a pointed look. "I thought we agreed to let things progress quietly."
"But a drawer?" Hermione laughed. "Coming from you, that's almost like saying that you're giving up a bit of closet space, too. Next, you'll be asking me to move in."
He just looked at her and blinked.
She stared back at him until it dawned on her. "Seriously?"
Draco looked uncomfortable. "Well, you practically live with me already, Granger."
Hermione argued. "No, I don't."
He cocked a brow, "You stay over almost every night."
"Keyword: Almost. We spend the weekends at my house. I bought us a little rowboat to go fishing like the Muggles." Their first attempt at using it had been disastrous.
Much like many of their firsts.
Draco chuckled and shook his head. "I'll give you credit, but your toothbrush is in my bathroom."
"I think we both appreciate a clean mouth in the morning."
"Again, fair." He thought for a second. "Your stupid cat has spent so much time on my ottoman that he thinks that it's his personal space."
"Apollo is territorial. And you're the reason I have a cat in the first place."
"How's this? You fired my housekeeper."
"She wasn't needed."
"Are you even listening to yourself, Granger? You have your mail forwarded to my house."
"I just—" Hermione chewed on her lip. "Perhaps you might have a point."
"I know I do."
"So…you don't mind?"
"I wouldn't have cleared out drawer and closet space if I did. I wouldn't have asked if I did."
Hermione frowned. "But you didn't ask."
Draco sighed. "Do I have to?"
She preened, knowing it got on his nerves. "Yes."
He rolled his eyes and huffed a little more because if anything, he could still be a prat. "Granger, will you move in with me?"
She smiled. "Yes, but I'm not selling my house. I've just finished replacing and staining the wood on the pier." She also couldn't bear to part with it because so much, both good and bad, had happened inside those walls.
That seemed reasonable to him because he nodded. "We'll turn it into a weekend getaway and perhaps, when we need the extra space, we'll move there permanently." And he opened his book again and kept reading like he hadn't said what he said.
Hermione opened and closed her mouth like a fish. She knew what he meant by extra space and that was such a life-altering statement to make on a random bench in the middle of London. Ultimately, she didn't say anything further on the subject except: "I'd be willing, if you are."
And while her world tilted on its axis, Draco made a noise and flipped the page.
"You can stop pretending to read now." And he shut the book. Hermione chuckled. "You do realise that this is the first time you've ever said anything about our future, about us getting married and having c—"
He kissed her, probably to shut her up, but it worked well enough. At least until he was ready to say something. "Aren't you always telling me to not complicate things? Well, I'm telling you now. Don't complicate it. Everything else is complicated enough now that we're making plans, moving in together, and not to mention, we've finally gone public."
It wasn't a lie. "Do you wish we hadn't?"
It had been a miracle that they managed to stay out the gossip rags as long as they had. Hermione suspected it had something to do with everyone's fear that Draco would terrorise them for so much as hinting at their relationship. Or make them take an Unbreakable Vow of silence like Parvarti Patil. But on a random day three weeks ago, they'd issued a joint statement to The Quibbler, of all magazines, confirming the ever-present rumours.
The attention since had been relentless.
He shrugged in response. "Some things aren't supposed to be kept a secret forever."
She looked at him meaningfully. "Perhaps some things are."
"But that doesn't apply to us."
Whatever Hermione was about to say died on her lips when he kissed her again.
They were different with each other; considerate instead of critical, comfortable instead of tense, and balanced instead of insecure. They each were more inclined to listen, and less inclined to cast blame. They talked to each other and set guidelines that they stuck with. Dinner with Narcissa on Fridays, breakfast with Blaise and Pansy on Sundays, and one complete day that was set aside solely for them to be…well, them.
They weren't normal, but they tried.
They never had it easy, but knew nothing worthwhile was ever easy.
And they weren't even perfect; not even close, but they were a couple.
They fought and grew, pushed and pulled; they had jumped together and fallen. They didn't have a song or ridiculous pet names for each other, but they had an anniversary, plans for the future and to combine their two homes, and a story of how they came to be what they were now.
They were more than they had been, less than they could be, but they were actively working on changing that. Day by day, they worked to gain back all that they had lost, while piece-by-piece, their foundation grew stronger than it had ever been.
Disclaimer: I don't own it.
Author's Note: The epilogue...tweaked.