A/N: Hello readers! Sorry for the delay, I actually meant to have this to you only a few days after chapter 11, but that obviously didn't happen...
As an apology for taking so long to update, I've included the short epilogue at the end of this chapter instead of making you wait for that last little bit. Also, thanks to everyone who reviewed, and special thanks to those of you who have been reviewing since the beginning!
Hermione pushed away the people tending to her injuries and whipped around to face the source of the ominous thump, praying it hadn't been Draco's body that had fallen after that green flash. She didn't want to even think about what she would do if he were dead. Everyone in the ballroom seemed to be rooted to the spot, staring in horror.
Later, she would find out that the woman who had screamed upon witnessing the death had fainted after her screech and was only just caught by the gentleman that had been at her side. Even while she was jealous that the woman was innocent enough to be so disturbed by a death, Hermione was scornful to hear about such a cowardly reaction in a grown woman when Hermione herself had been facing death with more poise since she was but a child. None of this was in Hermione's mind as she frantically searched for that familiar head of blond hair, needing him to be okay.
To her immense relief, Draco was still standing. It was Zabini that was sprawled on the floor, unmoving. Had the crumpled body been Draco, Hermione would have gone the same way as the fainting woman and just allowed herself to crumple to the floor. At least in unconsciousness she wouldn't have been haunted by the knowledge that she was never going to see Draco again.
Draco looked around at the people staring at him, completely cool and unruffled, if a little out of breath from the strain of the duel. He voice was steady when he announced, "You all saw it, his wand backfired and he hit himself with the killing curse meant for me."
People were nodding along with him, either in agreement or because they were too scared to go against what he had just said. Almost giddy from relief, Hermione had the strangest urge to giggle at the terrified looks on many faces in the room. Very few people were brave enough to go against what Draco had just announced, especially when Zabini's body was on the floor at his feet and the wand that had put him there was still half-raised, waiting for another opponent to step forward and challenge Draco's statement.
Encouraged by the crowd's lack of resistance, Draco continued. "Take note of this incident, anyone who comes after Hermione will suffer a similar accident. I love her, which makes her as good as a Malfoy, and you all know what happens when you threaten a member of the Malfoy family. Is that clear?"
The nodding continued, slightly more frantic as the audience noticed the intensity of Draco's stare. Just to be certain that no one was going to hex him or Hermione once his back was turned, Draco's icy eyes ran over the crowd one last time. Some of the people he lingered on in warning actually shivered under his arctic stare. Anyone in the group who was not already on his side was thoroughly cowed.
Finally satisfied that he had the situation well in hand, Draco made his way over to Hermione. She had been hanging back and watching him intimidate the room while she tried to keep her traitorous knees from collapsing under the weight of her relief. Those same weak knees didn't have any problem throwing herself into Draco's waiting arms once he was close enough. For a second, she'd thought had had been dead, and it had terrified her more than anything she'd experienced before.
"Never scare me like that again," she ordered, the threat implied by her voice somewhat lessened because he face was pressed tightly against Draco's shoulder.
He squeezed her a little tighter and kissed her hair. "The same goes for you."
There were a few murmurs in the crowd as the pair's audience started to recover from their shock at Zabini's death and the familiarity between such a well known Pureblood and Muggleborn. Hermione ignored them. She wasn't worried about keeping their relationship a secret anymore; that ship had kind of sailed for them.
Draco returned the sentiment for a moment, but free from danger and moments of strong emotion, he was slightly uncomfortable showing such kindness in front of so many of his peers. He'd spent so long carefully cultivating a facade of hardness that it was strange to drop it when in the presence of so many Purebloods. Besides, his earlier threats would be rendered completely impotent should it get out that he was actually a kind, loving person.
Taking hold of Hermione's shoulders, Draco herded her back to where the Healers and his mother were waiting. "Make sure the baby's okay while you're checking her over," he ordered.
All of those within hearing distance had forgotten about propriety and were standing there, gape-jawed at Draco's apparently careless announcement. It wasn't every day that the heir to the Malfoy fortune admitted the existence of his half-blood bastard. Had it been anyone else, they would have immediately been tittering about how far the Malfoy name had fallen, but they remained silent.
Glancing around defiantly at their audience, Draco handed Hermione his wand so she could remove the charm concealing her stomach. The truth was out, so there was no point concealing what everyone knew to be there for any longer.
Hermione understood what he wanted and obligingly removed the charm. She was slightly nervous about exposing something she'd spent so long hiding, it made her feel a little like she was naked in front of all of those people. Subtly, she took Draco's hand when she returned his wand and held it, wanting the extra comfort.
Narcissa gasped. "Draco!" she scolded, "By the looks of her, you've had more than enough time to get a ring on her finger before she started showing, and yet her left hand remains completely bare. I know I taught you better than that."
"I was busy making it safe for her to be seen in public with me, mother," he said through clenched teeth.
The disapproving looks had intensified when those people watching realized just how pregnant Hermione was. It was one this to claim she was carrying a half-blood Malfoy heir, but it was another thing entirely to see the evidence for themselves. It made the whole thing more immediate and real. Hermione supposed that they may be able to accept that even though her parents were Muggles, she was still a person. She suspected that they were going to have more trouble with the fact that she was going to have a baby before she was married.
"He's only just learned of the baby, he's been spending rather a lot of his time abroad," Hermione said in Draco's defence.
Narcissa was having none of that. "I expect this to be remedied by the next time I see you. Now go take the poor girl home." Draco cringed slightly under the wrath of his mother. No one liked to be scolded like a preteen in front of a large group of people, and Draco was no exception. Narcissa glanced at the Healers to make sure that Hermione was stable enough to leave, they nodded their approval. "Take her home and see to it that she gets rest."
With a nod to his mother, Draco took Hermione's elbow and led to her to the nearest fireplace, ignoring the people who were staring after them. Let them stare; he had more important things to worry about at the moment.
"You're just going to leave a dead body in the middle of the floor like that?" Hermione asked, trying to look over her shoulder as she walked, but only managing to stumble. Draco's grip on her arm kept her from falling. Her head was really starting to pound and her shoulders were aching from the impact with the wall, so she wanted nothing more than to curl up in bed, but – not for the first time – her curiosity wouldn't let her rest.
"Aurors will turn up eventually and Mother can set them straight about what happened," Draco said dismissively.
"We can't go back to my flat," Hermione said quietly as he reached for the Floo powder, "My bedroom is door-less, full of shrapnel from said door, and Pansy Parkinson is tied up in there."
Draco visibly shook off his questions in favour of more important things. He needed to get Hermione situated somewhere safe before he started asking for answers.
"We'll just go to mine then," he said simply.
They stepped into the fire together, reappearing in Draco's home moments later.
"Go sit on the couch while I draw you a bath," Draco ordered.
Normally, Hermione probably would have bristled at the tone, but her head just hurt so much. She just wanted to sleep, but knew that Draco was right in thinking that her muscles would feel better after a soothing bath and that the matted blood should be rinsed from her hair before she went to sleep.
She was just drifting off to sleep on the sofa when the fireplace flared emerald, making her jolt from her dreamy state. It would take a while for her to calm down enough to fully relax again without getting startled easily while half-asleep.
"Harry? What're you doing here?" she asked groggily, her pounding heart only making her head hurt worse. She was having difficulty thinking straight with her poor brain hurting so badly.
There was a flash of relief in her friend's eyes before he switched to anger at her for making him worry. "There's a murdered Auror and a bound Parkinson at your flat, a dead body at the Manor, and you're nowhere to be found!"
"She's had a stressful night, Potter," Draco said, having been summoned back into the room by the shouting, "and on top of that, she's injured. Leave her alone." He moved to stand between Hermione and Harry, daring the other man to cause further stress to the woman carrying his child.
Hermione pushed impatiently at Draco until he relented and stepped aside. She knew Harry wasn't going to hurt her and her head pained her too much to sit there while they had a pissing match.
"How did you know something was wrong?" she asked her friend to distract him from the glare he'd been levelling at Draco.
"Someone went to relieve the Auror posted outside your door, but they found the body," Harry said. "You have no idea how worried I was when I saw what a disaster your room was."
She could imagine. "I'm perfectly fine, Harry."
Hermione did a slightly wobbly spin so that Harry could see nothing major was injured. Unless he looked too closely at her head and noticed that a part of her hair was matted with blood... then she would have a more difficult time explaining to him that nothing was wrong.
Surviving as long as he had without Voldemort killing him wasn't something an unobservant person could do. Harry noticed the blood and was just working himself up to a good tirade – a particular skill of his – when Draco intervened.
"That's enough," he said. "She's fine, Potter. Now let her have her bath and then sleep. You can interrogate her when she's feeling herself again."
Harry actually nodded his agreement. "I'll let you rest tonight, but I'm going to need to question you about this whole thing tomorrow."
Tiredly, Hermione nodded. She was perfectly content with allowing Draco to herd her friend out of the house, just this once.
Harry left and Draco, just as Hermione had guessed he would, ushered her into the bathtub. With a gentleness he rarely exhibited, Draco washed the blood from her hair and then helped her scrub her back, rubbing at the tense muscles along her shoulders and neck in an effort to ease her headache.
Hermione probably would have felt awkward with Draco perched on the edge of the tub while she bathed, but she was slightly groggy and completely exhausted. The help was necessary; she probably would have fallen asleep and drowned in the deep tub without him there supervising.
He helped her stand and then dried her mass of soggy hair with a quick spell before wrapping an arm around her waist and tucking her into his bed like she was a young child. The image was helped along by the fact that his bed was larger than normal and it dwarfed her.
"Are you all right?" Hermione asked him tiredly as he climbed into bed beside her.
Draco stared at her in disbelief for a moment to make sure she wasn't kidding. He shook his head fondly when he saw that she was indeed serious. "You were kidnapped, bumped over the head, bumped over the head again and then outed to Pureblood society as not only dating me, but pregnant with my child. It's me who should be asking you that question."
"You've killed not one but two people you considered friends because of me. Are you sure this is what you want?"
Draco tightened his arms around her, holding her as if he was afraid that she was going to get up and leave him. "Don't you dare talk like that again. I'm in this for the long run," he said very sternly. To prove his point, he released Hermione, stood from the bed, and stalked over to his bureau where he rifled through what appeared to be his sock drawer.
"What are you doing?" Hermione asked, her eyes alight with curiosity despite her exhaustion. The pain was less than before, which was wonderful. The spells the Healers had cast on her must just be starting to have an effect, or perhaps it was the wonderful shoulder massage Draco had given her while bathing her. She didn't really care what had finally eased her pain, she only cared that the throbbing on her skull had begun to ease marginally.
"Something I've wanted to do for a very long time," he answered, his back still facing her as he rifled through the drawer. Whatever he was searching for must have been buried pretty deeply for him to have to spend so long searching for it.
She waited while he palmed something and stalked back over to the side of the bed, where he perched, watching her very intently. Knowing that Draco was going to get around to his point if she only gave him some time to get to it, Hermione forced her curiosity aside and waited some more.
"Mother was right when she said I've waited too long," he said, opening his hand to show her the small box in his hand.
It looked suspiciously like a ring box.
Wide-eyed, Hermione blinked at him in disbelief. "You did not just start what I assume to be a proposal by saying that your mother was right when she ordered you to marry me."
A slight flush pinkened Draco's pale cheeks. "This has nothing to do with Mother's insistence, I was just using it as a segue into the proposal – a proposal you've just interrupted. Now stop talking for five seconds and let me do this right."
Hermione huffed at him irritably, but remained silent while he continued.
"Despite how infuriating you are, I love you. This ring," he opened the box to reveal a beautiful diamond ring resting in there, "Has been sitting in my drawer since well before I knew you were pregnant. So it's not my mother's urging that's finally made me propose. I've been waiting until it was safe for you to marry me before I asked." He let out his breath and waited for her answer.
"You haven't asked me anything yet," Hermione urged.
Draco rolled his eyes, but the gesture was entirely affectionate. "Hermione Granger, you infuriating woman, will you marry me?"
For all of ten seconds she pretended to contemplate it. He'd made her wait for months for him to come back, she wasn't going to let him off so easily now that she had him waiting on edge.
"On one condition," she finally said.
He raised his eyebrows, instantly suspicious. "What?"
She tilted her head to the side. "No, wait. Two conditions."
Draco gestured impatiently for her to get on with listing them.
"One: you never leave me and our baby again."
"I can do that," Draco said gravely, taking her hand and stroking his thumb over her knuckles. He wasn't sure he'd ever forgive himself for leaving her, he couldn't exactly expect her to.
"Two: you don't invite your friends to the wedding. You have the worst taste in friends," Hermione muttered.
Draco kissed her temple. "But the best taste in future wives. Done, for both conditions."
As Hermione looked at her new ring, she smiled and snickered slightly, the only way she could express her amusement without making her head hurt worse. Her strange behaviour earned her a confused expression from Draco.
"A shotgun wedding like that and people are going to think you've knocked me up or something," Hermione teased.
He bent to kiss her very large stomach. "I don't see why anyone would think that, but no, that's not why I want to marry you. I've known since I was sixteen that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with you, it's just taken us a while to get here."
The courtroom was completely packed. Hermione had been on edge ever since they'd announced the court date for Pansy Parkinson. Since all the other players in the game that had nearly killed Hermione were dead, Parkinson was the only one left to stand trial.
At first, Hermione had thought she would have wanted nothing more than to see Parkinson face justice, but now, much later in the trial, Hermione just wanted it to be over. Sitting in the courtroom was only bringing back bad memories from the Death Eater trials after the war and putting her on edge.
Seeing her nervous fidgeting, Draco reached over and took her hand. Their entwined fingers rested on top of Hermione's ridiculously large stomach, calming her.
Remarkably, Draco didn't have any charges to face for his involvement in the murder of Nott or Zabini. Much to Harry's irritation, Draco had been too good at hiding his tracks; there was nothing Harry could charge him with.
When Harry had discovered that not one person who had been present in the ballroom for Zabini's death was willing to testify against Draco, he'd practically started pulling out his hair in frustration. Letting injustice go unpunished - even when it benefitted the father of his best friend's child – went against Harry's nature.
Leaning over, Draco brushed his lips against the shell of Hermione's ear. "They're about to give the verdict, love. You may want to pay attention to this part," he whispered.
Blushing slightly at having been caught staring off into space, Hermione turned her attention back to the trial.
Pansy, looking tired and scared, was sitting in a chair and facing the entire Wizengamot. Gone was the confident bully, this woman was thoroughly cowed.
Hermione had been surprised that they would assemble the whole Wizengamot, but Draco hadn't. Apparently, when a member of the Golden Trio is nearly killed, the entire Magical world takes offense. It had helped that Draco and his vast funds had been determined to put Pansy away for a long, long time.
"Pansy Parkinson, for your involvement in the kidnapping and attempted murder of Hermione Granger, you are sentenced to twenty years in Azkaban," the leader of the Wizengamot proclaimed in a thunderous voice that made the huddled form of Parkinson shrink further into herself. Hermione just couldn't seem to muster up the energy to feel sorry for the woman.
As Hermione watched, two guards escorted Parkinson from the room in shackles. It was finally over. She put a hand to her stomach; she would have thought the strange stirrings of vague dread that she'd been experiencing since that morning would have faded once the trial was over, but they only seemed to be worsening.
"How does it feel to finally be safe?" Draco asked.
Hermione leaned against his shoulder. "I'm always safe as long as you're at my side."
Wrinkling his nose, Draco turned in his seat to face her fully. "If you keep talking about me like that in public, people are going to think I'm going soft."
Instead of laughing, Hermione looked down and went pale. Apparently she'd been misinterpreting her vague feeling of dread.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
Her large, worried eyes turned up to meet his concerned stare. "I think my water just broke."
Hermione and Ginny reclined in the sun, both of them basking in the warm rays. A gentle breeze blew just strong enough to make their hair languidly sway around their faces.
"Would you ever have thought you'd be here?" Ginny asked, looking around the backyard of the house Hermione and Draco had bought shortly after the birth of their son. Draco was just out of hearing distance, pushing little Scorpius on the swings while the toddler screamed with laughter. He was such a happy little baby.
"No," said Hermione simply, knowing Ginny didn't need her to elaborate.
"I certainly didn't have Draco in mind when I cast the spell," Ginny said. She tilted her head to the side and sighed, lost in the past. "Now that you're all settled down and the excitement is gone, I kind of miss it."
Hermione looked over at her friend incredulously. "Are you kidding? With those two around, there's never a dull moment."
"They are adorable to watch together," Ginny observed.
The brunette nodded. "They are, but that's not what I meant. Watch this," Hermione said, an evil glint in her eyes. Clearing her throat, she raised her voice, "I can't wait for the thirteenth. You should see the present I bought Draco, I just know he's going to love it. I had to find the perfect present for such an important day."
Across the yard, Hermione and Ginny watched as what little colour Draco had drained from his face and he froze midway through giving Scorpius a little push on the swing.
"He's going to be frantic for a few hours now, thinking he missed an anniversary," Hermione said, giggling.
Trying to look casual, Draco scooped up Scorpius and approached the two women. "Could you watch Scorpius for a while? I have to go... do something."
Hermione accepted the giggling toddler with a smile and tilted her head so Draco could kiss her cheek before he left.
"You're a horrible, evil woman," Ginny said once Draco was out of hearing distance.
"Perhaps," answered Hermione, bouncing her son on her knee and making him giggle some more, "But he deserves it. Last week, I came home early and Draco had conjured a baby seat for the back of his broom and was flying around with Scorpius on that death-stick of his!"
Ginny looked like she wanted to tell Hermione that those seats were perfectly safe, but she knew better than to try and persuade her acrophobic friend that brooms were fully reliable when operated by a competent flyer, something she knew Draco to be.
"You're happy though, right?" Ginny suddenly asked.
Hermione looked up from the kisses she'd been bestowing on Scorpius' grinning cheeks. "Happier than I ever would have thought possible, why?"
"Just making sure. This whole thing was my fault and I'd hate to be responsible for making you miserable, but since you're so happy, I'm glad to take credit for that." She grinned smugly. "I think we're going to have to agree that I know best."
Hermione certainly was infinitely happier than she had been when Ginny had interrupted her reading time with her insistence that Hermione stop waiting for her Prince Charming. As it turned out, she'd had her Prince Charming all along. Something that had started out as two scared sixteen-year-olds seeking comfort in each other had somehow changed into a happy little family.
Every day Hermione was more thankful that Ginny hadn't been able to mind her own business. Without the redhead's meddlesome ways, Hermione would have still been reading sappy romance novels and sighing instead of holding her newborn son with the love of her life.
Hermione had a feeling that this was only going to make Ginny's smugness worse. She just wouldn't tell her...