A/N: Wow. That is all I have to say to the amount of response I received for the last chapter. I know I should be upset that so many of you are angry at me, but I'm not. The fact that a character I created touched so many people so much is really just an honor. After all, that is the goal of a writer, isn't it? To evoke emotion in our readers.
Thank you everyone for sticking with me through this incredibly long and emotional story. I still can't believe CaBW is over 400,000 words. "Inconceivable!" The amount of positive response I have received has been amazing.
But, alas, it is time for our journey to end …
Draco laid very still as soft music continued to play in his ears. While his hands remained firmly by his sides, he could not feel any floor. It was almost as if he was floating. A bright light shined behind his eyelids, forcing him to keep them closed. But then there was a click, followed by the familiar smell of cigarette smoke. Someone inhaled, then breathed out slowly. He was not alone.
Draco was slow to open his eyes, the bright light blinding him for a moment. He blinked several times, his hands clenching and suddenly grabbing sheets. Those had not been there before. Draco turned his head and saw a man sitting on a windowsill while his eyes gazed at something beyond the glass, but all Draco could see was a blinding white light. The man turned. He smiled.
"Rise and shine, mate."
"Bronson … where are we?"
Bronson shrugged. "Dunno exactly." He looked back out the window. "But it sure is bright."
"What happened?" asked Draco. "Where's Hermione?"
"Not here, thank Merlin," answered Bronson.
Suddenly, so many things were flashing through Draco's mind. The Dark Lord. A war. Potter. A spell. Hermione. And a pain. A horrible, horrible pain. Draco brought his hand up to his chest. Nothing. There was no pain, no wound.
"Bronson … where are we?" he asked again, tears filling his eyes as he looked desperately at his friend.
Bronson turned back around but he did not answer. Just took another drag of his cigarette.
"Where-are-we?" he demanded.
Bronson sighed. He motioned straight ahead. Draco looked, his tears spilling over as he saw it for the first time. There, right in front of him, was an archway covered by a tattered black veil. The Veil.
Draco leapt out of his bed and took several steps away from it.
"I … I've been here before," he suddenly remembered. "I saw my mother here. She said it was not my time. She promised it was not my time."
And then Draco stopped. Frozen. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths.
"Bronson … I remember why I'm here, but you … why are you here?"
He heard Bronson sigh deeply. "Because I died, mate."
Draco's throat felt like it had been stripped from the inside out. He gulped to try and release the tension, but it only made it worse. His heart ached as he stared at Bronson with wet eyes. "How?"
Bronson stood up from the windowsill. "Theo's father got me."
"But that's impossible. Hermione went to -"
"She didn't get there in time. She tried, and so did Theo and Quigley, but the man wanted me dead. S'alright though. Theo avenged me, and he looked damn sexy doing it." He smirked.
"It's not funny," said Draco. He drew his eyes down to Bronson's cigarette. "Where did you get that?"
Bronson looked down at it and shrugged. "I don't know. I just kind of thought about how nice it would be to have one and poof! There it was." He brought it up to his lips and took another drag. "Oh, sweet nicotine."
"How can you be all right with this?" asked Draco, suddenly feeling angry as he stood there watching Bronson smoke. "This wasn't supposed to happen. You were supposed to make it. You were supposed to be there for Hermione when I died! You were supposed to take care of her, you fucking bastard!"
Draco meant to lunge forward and hit him, but his knees felt weak and collapsed to them instead, cradling his arms around his body and crying hysterically as he thought of Hermione somewhere out there. Alone.
"Is that really your only concern? I tell you I'm dead and all you can think about is how I won't be there for someone that is alive."
Draco closed his eyes and slowly shook his head. "No, I … I'm sorry," he cried. "You were always there for me, Bronson. For years, you and Quigley were the only things keeping me sane. I never said it but you … you were my friend. Are my friend. I never wanted you to die. Whenever I envisioned my and Hermione's future, you were always in it. You're not supposed to be here. You're supposed to be with her. You're supposed to be happy."
Bronson sighed. He stepped forward and kneeled down beside him. "Draco, I'm fine. As pathetic as it may seem, those nights we spent in your flat; you, me, Hermione, Theo, Quigs … those were the happiest moments of my life. My father hated me. He abused me physically and mentally, and my mother did nothing about it. But the four of you … you were the closest I ever got to having a family, and I wouldn't trade that for anything."
Draco nodded. Tears were still falling heavily from his closed eyes. A gentle but firm hand touched his shoulder.
"Draco … listen. Tell me what you hear."
Keeping his eyes closed, Draco held back his sobs and opened his ears. At first, all he found was dead, cold silence. But then a soft, familiar voice entered his head.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Warm fingers entwined with his own.
"Come back to me, Draco."
And then there were lips, tender and delicate as they brushed against his.
Draco lifted his tingling hand and touched it to them. "What is this?"
And then he felt it. A horrible, throbbing pain burning in his chest. His wound. He could not see it but, somehow, he knew it was still there.
"Hermione, I … I can hear you. I can feel you. I'm … I'm alive." His eyes shot open. "I'm alive!"
Draco nearly fell back when he saw that someone new was crouched down in front of him. Someone so familiar and beautiful. She smiled.
"Yes, my son," said Narcissa as she reached out and stroked his cheek. "I promised you it was not your time yet. Not until you have lived your life properly with the one who makes you happy."
"Mother! But … how can I be alive? I didn't see the veil the last time I was here with you. I'm closer to it. I can feel it tugging at my soul. It wants me to go through."
"You are alive, Draco, but barely," said a deep, drawling voice.
Draco looked up to see his father standing behind his mother.
"Your heart is weak. They have done all they can in the land of the living. It is up to you to decide what happens next."
"I … I can go back? I can be with Hermione?"
"Of course you can," said Narcissa with a smile.
Draco leaned into her touch. His eyes closed again as he slowly began to shake his head. "No. I can't go back. I can't be selfish when it comes to her any longer. She deserves better than me. She -"
"Oh, stop with the whiny bullshit!"
Draco opened his eyes and looked over to see Bronson sitting on the windowsill again. He gulped. "I don't deserve her."
"Says who?" asked Bronson.
"No one has to say anything," answered Draco. "I've done horrible things in my life. Things I can never be forgiven for."
"Says who?" Bronson repeated.
Narcissa used her hand on Draco's cheek to make him look at her once more. "Draco, you were willing to give your life so that she and everyone else could have a better future. You're a hero. No one knows that more than her."
"No buts," Narcissa said sternly. "You have become a great man, Draco Malfoy. And you deserve a great future with the one you love."
Draco drew his eyes over to Bronson once more. He no longer had a cigarette in his hand, but was leaning forward with his elbows on his knees and his eyes on the floor. He looked up and met Draco's gaze.
"What about you? You were here waiting for me. You can go back and -"
Bronson smirked, but there was little joy behind it. "No, Draco, I can't. There is no coming back from the way I died. I was only waiting here to say goodbye."
Silent tears slipped down Draco's cheeks. "You keep calling me that. Draco. You've never called me that before."
Bronson smirked again. This time, his face shining with that light Draco had become so accustomed to. "Only because you forbade me and Quigs from ever using your given name the first time we met. Don't you remember?"
Draco frowned. "Vaguely."
Bronson chuckled. But then he stopped. His eyes drew over to the veil. They grew wet as he continued to gaze at it. "They're calling me back," he said. "My time is up here."
Narcissa continued to stroke Draco's cheek. "Ours is too."
She and Draco slowly stood.
"But … I don't want you to go." Draco's eyes fell on his father. "Any of you."
"We have to, my son," said Narcissa, crying as she pulled him into her arms. "But we will always be with you. And Hermione."
"I love you, Mother," said Draco, hugging her back.
"I love you too."
Narcissa forced herself to let go, moving out of the way so Lucius could step forward.
"We will all be together again, Draco. Someday. When it finally is your time, we will be here waiting for you."
Draco nodded, surprising even himself when he threw his arms around his father, hugging him for the first time in years. And he held on, not wanting to let him go.
"I am sorry I ever hurt you, Son."
"I know," said Draco. "And I forgive you, too."
Lucius sobbed into Draco's ear before slowly pulling away.
Draco looked over to see Bronson standing again, nervously gazing out the window. He walked over and stood beside him.
"They say when you wake up after dancing on the edge of the veil that you don't remember anything. Or, if you do, that it just feels like some distant dream." Bronson took a deep breath. "But, by the chance that you will remember this, even just a little, please tell Theo that …" He closed his eyes and sighed. "That I'm sorry we didn't get more time. To figure out what it was we had."
"I will try to remember."
Bronson nodded. He opened his eyes. "I have never fallen for anyone like that before. I really thought that he might be it." With a smile, he added, "Is it horrible that I almost hope he goes back to women? So he has no means for comparison."
Draco chuckled. "Not at all. If Hermione and I don't work out for any reason, I would much rather she went to women. Actually … I'd be fine with that either way."
Bronson cringed. "Ugh. Straight men." His hands tensed. He held them out in front of them, opening and closing them several times. "The pull is getting stronger." His eyes drifted over to the veil, and then fell back on Draco. "Look, Draco, I know you're angry with Quigley. He made a mistake, he knows he did. Please don't dismiss him so easily. He had one of those good families, the selfless and loving kind, and he lost all of them. We found his mother just after Death Eaters attacked his home. She was alive but barely, and he promised her that he would find Fiona and that he would protect her. I just … I don't want him to be alone."
Draco sighed deeply. "I will try."
Bronson nodded. His wet eyes looked beyond Draco to the veil once more. "I have to go. I know you probably don't want to hear it but … I love you, Draco."
Draco blinked his eyes and let a few more tears fall. He was surprised at how much he liked hearing that. "I love you too, Baldric."
Bronson smirked. "Fuck you."
He leaned forward and hugged Draco briefly before hurrying towards the veil. Narcissa and Lucius were already standing beside it.
Bronson turned around one last time and through his tears said, "Never forget me, all right?"
"And maybe you and Hermione could name one of your little rugrats after me? Since I'm never going to get the chance to be cool Unky Bronson."
Draco smiled softly. "You already know we will."
Bronson nodded. He turned quickly and stepped through the black veil, vanishing from Draco's sight forever.
"We promise we'll take care of him," said Narcissa. "And the others who fought by your side."
"Thank you," said Draco.
"We will meet again, Draco," said Lucius. "On the other side."
Draco's heart tensed in his chest as he watched his parents step through the veil, entering a place where he could no longer see them, no longer reach them. Once they were gone, Draco looked out the window. There was still the blinding white light but, this time, he could see three faint figures entering it, joining the others who were already there waiting. Ernie … Astoria … Goyle … they were all there and looked the most at peace he had ever seen them.
Ernie's glowing figure waved. Draco waved back. And then the white light consumed them, taking them all from his sight and to the beyond. It spread outwards, engulfing the room he stood in and vanishing the black veil completely.
Draco closed his eyes and let the white light wrap around him, pulling him out of the veil and into a darker world. Less blinding. And beautiful.
Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
Hermione … you are the light I will always fly to …
Draco's breathing grew heavier as his eyelids began to flutter. His head throbbed something fierce and there was this horrible pain in his chest, not to mention the heavy one pressing on it.
His eyes opened and the world slowly became clear. His heart jumped when he came face to face with a pair of yellow eyes on a squashed orange head.
Crookshanks purred as he kneaded his chest. Well, that explained the pressing pain. There was a squawking sound and Draco turned, more than a little surprised to see the phoenix, Fawkes, sitting on a perch by the window. Crookshanks hissed at the bird before licking Draco and claiming him as his own.
Draco lifted his hand and rubbed the cat's head. Then he looked to his other side. Theo was there, asleep in a chair and propped up with one hand while Hannah rested her head on his shoulder.
"Hey," called Draco, but his voice came out quiet and dry. He gulped and tried again. "Theo."
Theo stirred and let out a little yawn, but he did not wake up.
"Theo!" Draco said louder.
Theo mumbled something, letting a bit of drool fall out of the corner of his mouth.
Draco looked around. There was a little teddy bear on his nightstand next to some flowers. He picked it up and tossed it at his sleeping friend.
Theo popped awake with a scream, startling Hannah so much that she fell out of her chair and landed hard on the floor.
"Th'fuck?" said Theo, blinking a few times as he looked around the room.
"What is Mr. Platypus doing on the floor?" asked Hannah, picking up the teddy bear Draco had thrown.
Draco cocked an eyebrow. "Why the fuck would someone name a bear Mr. Platypus?"
Both Theo and Hannah jumped again. They turned their heads in Draco's direction and stared wide-eyed at him.
"You're … you're awake," muttered Theo.
Suddenly, Hannah shot up from the floor. "Theo, pour him some water!"
Theo stood and struggled with a pitcher on a table while Hannah ran over to the bed. She handed Draco the bear before pulling out her wand and moving Crookshanks to the floor so she could wave it over his chest. When she was finished, she sighed in relief.
"Everything seems okay."
Theo went around to the other side and handed Draco a glass of water. He sat up and chugged the whole thing down, momentarily relieving his horribly dry throat.
While Theo went to pour him some more water, Draco held up the bear to Hannah. "You didn't answer my question."
"Oh …" she said, looking down at Mr. Platypus.
"The kid named him," answered Theo. "Teddy. He and Andromeda brought Mr. Platypus by a few days ago."
"Days?" repeated Draco. "I've been here for days?"
Theo and Hannah looked at each other.
"Uhh … something like that," said Theo, walking over and handing Draco the new glass of water.
Draco took a deep breath. "How long, Theo?"
Theo did not answer.
"How long have I been here?"
Theo and Hannah looked at each other again. She just shrugged and shook her head.
"Do you mean here specifically or -"
"How long has it fucking been since that son of a bitch blasted my chest open?"
Only now did Draco really feel the extent of the pain inside of it. He looked down to see that he was bandaged, but he could still see little bits of the wound poking out the edges.
"Just over three weeks," Theo finally answered.
Draco's bottom lip dropped. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Shit. "Where are we?" he asked.
"St. Mungo's," answered Hannah. "London was the first city we took back after You-Know-Who's defeat."
Draco opened his eyes and looked at her. "The first?"
Hannah smiled. "Yes. The resistance has been going around, pushing Death Eaters and Snatchers out of towns all over the country. We almost have all of Britain back. Word of our victory is spreading and people all over the world are coming together to fight them off. We helped win back Paris just yesterday."
And, suddenly, the most important question fell from Draco's lips. He had been trying to hold off asking to get more information, but he could not wait any longer. He had to know. "Where is Hermione?"
Hannah's smile faded.
"Where is she?" Draco asked again.
"WHERE IS SHE?" Draco attempted to climb out of his bed, but Hannah and Theo pushed him back into place. He was too weak to fight them.
"Draco, calm down, mate!" said Theo. "She's not here. She's in Paris. Potter is supposed to make some uplifting speech there today and he convinced her to go with him. To take her mind off of … things." His eyes glanced briefly at Draco's bandaged chest.
"She's been here every day," said Hannah. "I can't even imagine how upset she's going to be when she finds out you woke up the one time she's gone."
Draco let out a breath of relief. "But she's all right?" he asked. "She hasn't been hurt or -?"
"Of course not," said Hannah. "She wanted to be here with you so she hasn't participated in any of the takeovers. Only organized them. Which is why we've been so successful."
Draco leaned back in his bed and smiled to himself. "Sounds about right."
Just then, Fawkes squawked. Draco glanced over at him. "What's his story?" he asked.
Theo and Hannah followed his gaze. They both smiled.
"He likes you," said Hannah.
"He's chosen you," corrected Theo. "The bird's stayed with you ever since he healed your chest, which has Patil absolutely delighted. There are too many injured people for the phoenix to go shedding a tear on everyone, but she's been using the ones he will give to make some powerful potions."
"The phoenix … healed me?" asked Draco.
"Yeah," said Theo. "You were pretty much gone when we saw him coming. And then you were gone, but Patil did some weird shocking spell on you that brought you back and he cried right onto your heart."
"It was beautiful," said Hannah. "But the tear only healed your heart. Your chest was still wide open. Hermione and Padma worked day and night to keep you alive. The first week was sketchy but, once the worst of it passed, we've all just been waiting for you to wake up."
Hannah glanced towards the door.
"Speaking of Padma, I should probably go get her. She will want to check on you herself to make sure everything's working properly. After all, I'm just a novice."
Hannah looked at Theo and rolled her eyes. He chuckled, obviously sharing in on some inside joke. She went to the door and left.
As soon as she was gone, Draco looked at Theo and lifted his eyebrows.
Theo's smile instantly faded. "What?"
Draco lifted his eyebrows higher.
"Don't give me that fucking look. She's just … Hannah's been really good to me these last few weeks, all right? I can talk to her. She's a lot like her grandmother. Even makes cottage pie the same."
His eyebrows stayed put.
"Stop it! It's not fucking like that! I'm not …" Theo suddenly began to cry. "I'm not even thinking about that sort of thing right now."
His eyes drifted over to something. Draco turned to see he was staring at a silver container decorated with an elaborate vine design that was set on the table. An urn. He gulped. Somehow, without even asking, he already knew who was inside. It was not just the heartbroken look on Theo's face, but also something in his gut. Like he had already been told.
Bronson was gone.
"When did it happen?" asked Draco, tears in his eyes and his damaged heart feeling heavy. Crookshanks jumped back onto the bed and rubbed against him.
"At Hogwarts," answered Theo. "My father … he did this."
"Why is he here?"
Theo wiped the tears out of his eyes, but that did not stop even more from forming. "I don't know. I didn't really know where else to put him so I brought him here to be with you. He wouldn't want to be buried with his family. He hated them."
"What about Quigley?"
Theo's face fell into a grimace. He bit his cheek.
"Theo … what about Quigley? Did he survive?"
"Yeah. He's fine." He paused. "Well, he's not fine, I guess. He's here. His leg was fucked up pretty bad, and he will never walk quite right again."
"And he hasn't said anything about Bronson's ashes?"
Theo grimaced again. "He might have mentioned something. Some lake Quigley's parents took them to every summer when they were kids. I guess one night when they were having a really dark conversation, Bronson mentioned that he wouldn't mind resting there forever."
"So then why haven't you -?"
"Because I don't want to give his ashes to fucking Quigley!" snapped Theo. "He betrayed us! Because of him Granger was almost -"
"But she wasn't," said Draco. "Theo … you can't hold his best friend's ashes hostage."
"I'm not! I let him come and see them."
Draco sighed. "I know you're hurting, but it has to be a hundred times worse for him."
Theo grunted. "So are you saying you forgive him?"
"Fuck no!" spat Draco. "But he betrayed me just yesterday. He betrayed you over three weeks ago. Get the fuck over it. Bronson would want you to."
"You don't know that."
"Did you never fucking meet the bastard?" asked Draco. "Most forgiving bloke I knew. If he could look past all the shit we did as Death Eaters then what do you think he'd do for his best friend?"
Theo took a deep breath. He wiped away a tear as it slid down his cheek, looked right into Draco's eyes, and said, "I'm not ready to give him up yet."
Before Draco could respond, the door opened and Padma ran in.
"Malfoy!" she cried. She took out her wand and started running a dozen tests on him. "How do you feel?"
"Well, my chest hurts a bit."
Padma narrowed her eyes at him. He smirked.
"I feel fine otherwise. Maybe a little thirsty."
Theo immediately went to get him more water.
"And I want to see Hermione. So if someone could just scurry on over to Paris -"
"She should be back soon," said Hannah as she moved Crookshanks out of the way again so Padma could work. "I'm sure she'll come straight here. She always does."
A high-pitched scream echoed into the room from the hallway. Padma and Hannah had not shut the door behind them. Pansy suddenly ran inside, limping horribly. She tossed Theo out of the way and practically jumped onto Draco.
Over her shoulder, Draco could see Ron standing in the doorway. Ron gave him a curt nod and he did the same.
"Parkinson, I said no running!" shouted Padma. "Does no one listen to my medical advice?"
"I'm sorry, I just … no one told me you were awake!" cried Pansy.
"It only just happened," said Padma, "so if you wouldn't mind getting off of him so I can continue checking -"
"Yeah, sorry." Pansy tried to step down but, before she could, Ron was magically there to scoop her up and put her down lightly on her good foot. "Thanks," she said, giving him a smile.
Draco watched the two of them with raised eyebrows. "Not in Paris, Weasel?" he asked.
"No, I just got back from there last night," he answered. "Harry ordered me to stay home for a few days."
"Is this home?"
"Might as well be …" muttered Theo.
Pansy turned towards the door in a panic. "Uh oh. Sounds like my father got out again."
Padma let out an exasperated sigh.
"Don't worry, Patil, I'll get him." She began limping towards the door.
"Stop walking on that leg, Parkinson!" snapped Padma.
Pansy stopped walking. She turned and motioned to Ron, who hurried over, crouching down and letting her jump on his back before carrying her out.
"I'm about ninety percent sure they're shagging," Theo said to Draco the moment they were gone.
"Really, Theo? Only ninety?" said Padma. "I caught the two of them sneaking out of a bloody broom closet the night before he left for the battle in Paris, and I don't think they were sweeping in there."
"Okay, okay," said Theo. "Ninety-five."
Everyone looked at him curiously.
"What? I'm trying to give Pansy the benefit of the doubt here. I mean, Weasel? Really?"
"Fucking gross," said Draco.
Something crashed in the hallway.
"Dad, put that down!"
Draco noticed the way Padma cringed. Taking his first good look at her since she arrived, he could now see how horrible she looked. There were dark circles under her eyes, her hair, which had always been so nicely kept, was dirty and sloppy, and her hands … she could just not seem to keep them steady.
"When was the last time you slept, Patil?"
Padma looked at him and frowned. "I don't have time to sleep. There's too much to do here."
"I can't imagine you'll be doing anyone any good if you're exhausting yourself."
"I need to keep busy." She pulled her wand away. "Everything looks all right, but I can't imagine you feel very great. I'll go get you a Healing Potion."
Padma tried to walk away but Draco grabbed her wrist. "Abbott, go and fetch the potion for me, will you?" he said. "And, Theo, I could really use some tea."
Hannah and Theo both nodded, and scurried out of the room.
"Take a seat, Patil," said Draco, patting an empty section of mattress. Padma sat down slowly. "How are you?"
"Fine," Padma said quickly. "Things have just been crazy here. A few more Healers have come forth, but we're still incredibly short-staffed for all of the people -"
"Stop blabbering, Patil, you know what I mean. Are you all right?"
Padma started to nod, but then she looked into Draco's eyes and, suddenly, she could not hold it in any longer. She burst into tears. "No. I … I'm not all right, Malfoy. I'm not going to be all right. I lost my sister in the first Battle of Hogwarts, I lost my parents shortly after, and, now, I've lost my boyfriend. I have no one left."
Draco sighed. "That's not true -"
"But it is! I've been working hard to keep it together, and I have tried to sleep, but every time I close my eyes I see Ernie staring back at me with those dead eyes. I can't get that damn image out of my mind."
On instinct, Draco reached out and grabbed her hand. He half expected her to fight him on it, but she did not. "I used to have the same problem. After I lost my mother."
Padma sniffled. "You did?"
"What did you do about it?"
"Never slept, overworked myself, and became one of the Dark Lord's top Death Eaters."
Padma chuckled, then sucked it back. "That sounds awful."
Draco shrugged. "As Hermione would tell you, I'm not very good at taking care of myself," he said. "But, eventually, the images did stop. It takes time, but you'll get there."
She nodded and looked down at her hands folded on her lap. "Sometimes, Ernie and I would lay awake at night and talk about our future. We'd have a house in the country, preferably by a lake where our four children could swim with our black Labrador, Otis. For some reason, he always wanted a black Labrador named Otis." She smiled. "When you and Hermione came around, he insisted that the two of you would come over every Sunday for dinner. He really wanted you to like him. I used to joke that he had a little man-crush on you."
Draco sighed deeply and said, "I did like him. I was even willing to look past the whole Hufflepuff thing." He smirked.
Padma burst out laughing, even as she continued to cry. "Well, I'm glad his desperate attempts to make you his friend weren't in vain."
A deep growl came from the floor behind them. They both turned to see Crookshanks standing below Fawkes' perch. The cat stretched up and clawed at the phoenix's tail feathers. Fawkes squawked loudly, causing the cat to go running.
"I suppose you've noticed you have a new friend," said Padma.
"Mr. Platypus," said Draco, holding up the stuffed teddy bear. "Yeah."
Padma laughed and took Mr. Platypus from him. "A teddy from Teddy," she said with a smile. "But I was actually talking about the phoenix. They're very stubborn creatures and difficult to domesticate. You should feel honored that he's chosen you."
"Why did he choose me?" asked Draco as he continued to gaze at Fawkes.
Padma shrugged. "I don't know. I guess he saw something in you that he liked. Either way, I think you and Hermione are going to have your hands full with two pets that are too intelligent for their own good."
Right on cue, Crookshanks jumped onto the bed and made himself comfortable on Draco's lap. He kept his eyes on Fawkes the entire time with what Draco could have sworn was a small smile tugging at his little cat mouth. The bloody animal was trying to claim his dominance. Not to mention Draco.
Giving in and letting the cat stay, Draco scooted over in the bed, then patted the spot next to him. "Come on, Patil. It's time for you to take a bloody nap."
Padma looked at the spot skeptically. "I can't imagine Hermione will be happy to find you in bed with another woman when she gets back."
"She'll understand," said Draco. "I'll even let you cuddle with Mr. Platypus."
Padma smiled and looked down at the bear she was still holding. "I can't sleep for long," she said.
"I'll wake you if you're needed."
With a small sigh, Padma kicked off her shoes and put her legs on the bed. She scooted back and made herself comfortable next to Draco. As she closed her eyes, she could not stop herself from asking, "Draco … did you see Ernie on the other side?"
Draco thought she was being delusional, but then he was suddenly overcome with a vision of a glowing figure with Ernie's face waving at him. He smiled. "You know, I think I did."
"And how did he look?"
"Happy … He looked happy."
Hermione walked into St. Mungo's with Harry and Ginny by her side. They had just arrived back from Paris and this was, of course, their first stop. And Hermione's last. She could not believe she had let Harry convince her to leave Draco's side for nearly half a day.
The hospital was bustling with activity. More and more people were volunteering to help each day, but the numbers of healthy people never quite matched the numbers of injured ones.
"Hermione, there you are!"
She looked over to see her mother, Emily, walking over with Andromeda and Teddy. Emily immediately gave her hug, as she always did since they were reunited almost two weeks earlier.
"Sorry," said Hermione, holding her mom for a few seconds extra today. Seeing all of those happy, crying people in Paris had really exhausted her. Everyone was so grateful. They had not gotten to the messy part where Muggles and wizards would surely clash over politics, but she knew once they had their world back it was bound to happen. For now, though, she was enjoying seeing hope return to so many faces. "We got a bit caught up over there. Have you been here long?"
"Not at all," said Andromeda. "We made a stop so Teddy could pick some more flowers for Draco."
Teddy smiled and held out the small, broken bouquet so Hermione could see.
"Very lovely, Teddy," said Hermione, crouching down and giving him a hug. "I am sure Draco will just love them."
"Dad, could you please just sit down?"
Hermione looked around at the sound of Pansy's voice. When she found her, she watched as Ron forced Stuart into a chair, handing him something that he immediately started fiddling with. Pansy was on Ron's back and, per her request, he lowered her into the chair next to him. Not realizing that anyone of interest was watching, Ron leaned down and kissed her.
"Gross!" Ginny shouted from across the reception area. "Get a broom closet!"
Ron whipped around and stared wide-eyed at his sister. Then he saw Hermione. He stepped forward.
Hermione went white. There was something very serious about the way he was looking at her. Too serious.
"Draco, he -"
Hermione did not give Ron the chance to finish before she was taking off running for the stairs. She did not care what the end of that sentence was. If it had to do with Draco then she needed to be by his side.
It did not take her long at all to get to the fourth floor. Then she was sprinting down the hall, skidding to a stop by his door and throwing it open.
Her heart stopped. All eyes in the room fell upon her. Fawkes on his perch, Hannah and Theo drinking tea with chairs pulled up by Draco's bed, Padma popping awake by his side, and Crookshanks on his lap. But Hermione cared about none of these eyes, because the only ones she saw were the two pools of liquid silver, wide open and looking right at her.
Hermione burst into tears as she sprinted across that room, accidentally squashing Crookshanks as she climbed across the bed to Draco. She fell into his arms and hugged him tightly, letting him pull her face back so they could kiss passionately.
"Draco! The one fucking day I leave!" she cried. "Are you all right? How is he?" She looked at Padma, who was busy readjusting herself after ungracefully rolling off the bed the moment they started to snog.
"Everything looks good," said Padma. "Of course, he'll still need to be here a while. Until his chest heals properly."
Hermione nodded very seriously. "You hear that, Draco? You have no excuse not to lay here and heal this time. You will remain in this bed until you are one-hundred percent. Understand?"
Draco smiled as tears filled his eyes. He could not stop gazing at her, his hand running through her hair as he took in how beautiful she looked. "Whatever you say, love." He leaned in and kissed her again, this time soft. Tender.
Hermione whimpered as she rubbed her cheek against his. "Never scare me like that again."
Draco and Hermione looked over to see Harry standing in the doorway. His mouth was slightly open as his hands clenched shut. He took several deep breaths before taking a few slow steps forward, then they quickened and, before long, he was by Draco's side, leaning in and hugging him.
"Ah!" Draco screamed. "What the fuck is happening?"
"You saved my life," cried Harry. "I don't know how I'll ever repay you."
"Just buy me some fucking chocolates or something, now get off!"
Harry pulled away and wiped his eyes. "Sorry. I just didn't know how else to say it."
A second later, Harry was shoved out of the way and Ginny was hugging Draco.
"Ah, much better," said Draco, hugging her back. "Breasts really do make all the difference."
Ginny smacked the back of his head but kept on hugging.
"Do I have bweasts?"
Still mid-hug, Draco looked over the side of the bed to see Teddy standing there. He was holding a small bouquet of broken purple flowers and smiling widely.
"No, but you are the exception to the rule, kid," said Draco.
Ginny pulled back and helped Teddy onto the bed. While he and Draco hugged, Hermione tried to climb off of it but Draco wrapped his arm around her waist and held on tight.
Teddy handed Draco the flowers, which he stuck in the center of the vase on his nightstand.
"Where's Mr. Pwatypus?" asked Teddy, looking all around.
It took Padma a moment to realize she was still holding the stuffed bear. She stepped forward and handed it to him. Teddy took it proudly.
"Me and my gwama brought him to take care of you while you slept. He woke you up like in the faiwytales."
Draco smiled fondly at Teddy and ruffled his hair. There was nothing more beautiful than the innocence of a child. Even though Teddy had been raised in such a horrible world, he was still so happy and optimistic. Draco would have to remember to take a page from his book.
With the mention of Teddy's grandmother, Draco looked towards the door. Sure enough, Andromeda was standing there next to some woman who looked vaguely familiar.
Andromeda was already crying, but she cried even harder when he smiled at her. She hurried over and took her turn hugging him, perhaps the only person who did it with such care so as not to agitate his wound.
While glancing over Andromeda's shoulder, Draco noticed as Hermione beckoned the familiar looking woman over. He still could not place her, not until she was by Hermione's side and watching him with two amber eyes. He gulped.
"Draco, I want you to meet someone," said Hermione as soon as Andromeda pulled away. She took the woman's hand in hers and smiled brightly. "This is my mom, Emily. Mom, this is Draco."
Draco wanted to say something nice to her, preferably clever and about what a great daughter she had, but all that came out was, "Hi," in a rather squeaky voice.
Emily smiled. "Hi, Draco. I really want to hug you but I don't want to overwhelm you with the growing crowd." She looked around at everyone in the room. Hermione, Andromeda, Teddy, Harry, Ginny, Padma, Theo, Hannah. Not to mention Fawkes and Crookshanks.
"It's all right," said Draco. "If bloody Potter hugged me then I can't really deny anyone else their right."
He was happy when she laughed. It was good that she understood his sense of humor. A lot of people really just did not appreciate it enough.
Hermione readjusted herself so her mother could lean over and hug him. The moment they touched, Emily burst into tears, holding him tighter than she ever meant to and repeatedly saying, "Thank you," into his ear. When she pulled away, she looked into his eyes and smiled. "You are part of our family now, even before you take the vows promised by that large ring on my daughter's finger. But that does not mean you do not have to follow through," she added with a wink. "Children with your eyes and Hermione's curly hair would be unstoppable!"
"Mom!" shouted Hermione, who had turned bright red.
"Would you call that curly?" asked Theo, pursing his eyebrows. "Huh, and all this time I've been comparing it to a bush."
Hermione snarled at him. Draco laughed but stopped quickly when it began to hurt his chest.
Shortly after that, Padma cleared everyone out so that Draco could get his rest. Only Hermione and Theo stayed behind. Theo did not even mind when all the other two did was lie on the bed snogging for a good hour. Just sitting there while they did that felt normal to him. Comforting even. Especially with Bronson sitting right there next to him. He could not look at that urn without tearing up.
"Did Blaise and Daphne make it out all right?" asked Draco once Hermione had settled in his arms.
"Yeah," answered Theo. "They're in America right now helping to start a rebellion over there with Wood and Chang."
"And Goyle … he didn't make it. Right?" While Draco had not seen it happen, he just had a feeling that he could not shake.
"No, he didn't," said Theo with a sigh. "Another victim of my father." He paused for a moment while wiping a few tears from his eyes. "I should have killed the fucking bastard sooner. I don't know why I didn't."
"Because he was your father, Theo," said Hermione. "No matter how much you hated him, he was still blood, and those bonds are the hardest to break."
"In the end, it wasn't." Theo could not stop himself from looking at Bronson's urn once again. More tears fell.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
"It's probably Hannah," said Theo. "She wanted to bring you something to eat once she got the okay from Padma."
"Come in!" Hermione called.
The door opened slowly and someone limped in on crutches, stopping when he saw all of their faces sink. "Hi," said Quigley in a dry voice.
"Hello," Draco said coldly.
Theo put his hand on the urn and pushed it as far away from the door as he could get it.
"Theo, stop doing that," snapped Draco. "I already told you that you can't hold Bronson hostage."
Theo grunted before moving the urn a little towards Quigley again. But only a little.
"What do you want, Quigley?" asked Draco, tightening his grip on Hermione.
"I heard you were awake," said Quigley. "Parkinson and I are in the same ward. Similar injuries, you know." He motioned down towards his bandaged leg. "She accidentally let it slip and I just …" He sighed. "I wanted to see that you were all right."
"He's fine, no thanks to you, you fucking -"
"Theo!" shouted Draco. "Bring the bloody hostility down a notch, will you?"
Theo crossed his arms and grumbled.
Quigley stared down at the floor and wiped at his eyes. "I never wanted any of you to get hurt."
"And what exactly did you think was going to happen when you turned us over to the Dark Lord?" asked Draco. "That he would show mercy?"
"No, I … I don't know what I thought. All I know is that I was given an ultimatum with no time to think. I just wanted to get Fiona out and then I was going to go back for you, even if it cost me my own life. But she wouldn't go and now she's dead because of it. My little sister … and Bronson, he - Oh, god, fucking Bronson!"
Quigley had to lean against the wall to keep himself and his crutches from toppling over as he sobbed uncontrollably into his hands.
Draco looked over at the urn as his own tears filled his eyes. Then something flashed in his mind. Bronson's face. And … a voice.
"I don't want him to be alone …"
Draco could not quite place the moment he heard those words. It seemed like a dream, but he had felt something similar when he had that memory of his mother. Her soul had spoken to him, and, now, he was sure that Bronson's had, too.
"Because of you I almost lost Hermione," he said. "They wanted to rape her and, if they had, you better fucking believe that I would not be saying what I am about to say."
Draco paused and took a deep breath. Quigley looked up at him hopefully.
"You betrayed me, Quigley. You were one of the few people in this world I trusted and you put the girl I love in danger, not to mention my aunt and Teddy. I can never forgive you for that." He took another deep breath. "But if you hadn't been so incredibly stupid the battle would not have happened and the Dark Lord would still be in power."
Quigley started to step forward.
"Stop," said Draco, holding out his hand. "I'm bloody fucking pissed at you right now. I want you to go and I don't want to see you in my room again."
Quigley already looked a bit sickly, but now his skin turned ashen.
"But when I am better, the four of us are going to take Bronson to that place you told Theo about," he looked at Theo, "and we're going to let him go."
Theo stared back at Draco with watery eyes for a moment, but moved them towards the floor as he began to cry.
Quigley looked at the urn and gulped. "Then what?"
Draco shrugged. "Then I don't know. I don't think our friendship can ever be what it was, but I'm willing to give it a shot. For no other reason than that's what Bronson would want. He loved you, and he wouldn't want you to be alone."
"I believe that," said Hermione, smiling softly at Draco as she entwined her hand with his. "If Draco is going to give it a shot then I will, too."
They all looked at Theo. His wet eyes were still on the floor. He slowly lifted them, looking at Draco and Hermione before finally looking at Quigley. He only had his eyes on him for a moment. Just long enough to give a small nod. Then he was looking back at the floor.
Quigley smiled a little as he continued to cry. "I will see you when you are better then."
He readjusted his crutches and opened the door, taking one last look back at them before wobbling out.
"I already talked to Ron and Parkinson," said Hermione as soon as he was gone. "They agreed to make sure he's not alone until we're ready."
Draco smirked. "Already planning to forgive him, were you?"
Hermione smirked back. "Like you said. It's what Bronson would have wanted."
Theo said nothing.
Later that night, Draco lay awake in his bed. He was trying to sleep but, after losing three weeks of his life, he could not bring himself to do it.
"Draco, I know you're awake."
Draco opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Hermione, who was sitting loyally in a chair beside his bed. She smiled and reached out, brushing a few stray hairs off of his forehead.
"How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Never better," he said with a smirk.
"I don't suppose you're up for a walk?"
Draco cocked an eyebrow.
"There is something I want to show you."
"A walk sounds just lovely," said Draco. He lifted the teddy bear he was still holding. "Could Mr. Platypus come, too?"
Hermione chuckled softly. "I think Mr. Platypus would be much happier here." She took him from Draco and placed him carefully on the nightstand.
Hermione stood and walked over to Theo, who was asleep in a chair with his head resting on the table, just beside the urn. He had not wanted to leave that night, and Draco was not about to force him.
"Theo," Hermione whispered. "I'm going to show him now. Could we borrow your cloak and shoes?"
Theo nodded without opening his eyes.
"Thank you." Hermione kissed his forehead.
He already had his shoes off and placed neatly under his chair. Hermione handed them to Draco and then went over to a small closet where she pulled out two cloaks. She helped Draco out of the bed before putting on his cloak, followed by her own.
Draco put his good arm around Hermione's shoulders. She helped him walk towards the door. They headed down the long hallway until they reached the stairs. Hermione got Draco onto the first one, then cast a spell to move all of the steps until they were at the top. Draco read the words on the door: ROOF ACCESS.
"Come on," said Hermione, gently urging him forward.
She waved her hand and the door opened. They slowly walked outside. Draco looked at the sky and saw that it was overcast. Normally, on nights like this in London, the city would be pitch black with nothing but a few twinkles from lampposts littering the foggy air, but not tonight. Even before they reached the edge, Draco could see the lights of a great city shining all around them.
They stopped walking once they reached the barrier. Draco put his hands on it and looked out at London. It was not quite as bright as it once was, several streets still as dark and dreary as when the Dark Lord ruled here, but it was better. So, so much better.
"Isn't it beautiful?" said Hermione as she smiled beside him. "People have been working day and night to bring it alive again. There is one man that spends all of his time going from building to building just changing light bulbs."
"What's a light bulb?" asked Draco.
Hermione chuckled. "Oh, right. You wouldn't know." She leaned against his shoulder. "It is what Muggles use to make light. Theo and I have been coming up here every night and watching them grow. It really makes what we've done seem real."
Draco grabbed her hand and entwined it with his on the barrier. He used his thumb to fiddle with the ring she wore. "How is Theo?" he asked.
Hermione sighed. "He's a lot better than he was. I think he was even more frightened that we were going to lose you than I was. After Bronson, I don't know if he would have been able to handle it. He just … feels so guilty." She paused. "I'm glad he's warmed to Hannah. I think it's good for him to spend time with someone who doesn't remind him of Bronson. I've already warned her not to get a crush on him." She smiled.
"Warning not heeded," said Draco.
"Yes, I've noticed. But she knows about Bronson, and that Theo's confused."
"It's a shame they never got the chance to figure out what it was they had." Draco closed his eyes. He knew the words were not his own; somewhere deep down.
Hermione sighed. "It really is."
The two of them stood there, staring out at the city for a long time.
"There is one more thing I wanted to show you," said Hermione after a while.
She pulled away from him and smiled coyly. "As it turns out, when your fiancé is in a coma, you find yourself with a lot of free time on your hands while you're waiting for him to wake up. Took you long enough, by the way."
"So I made a point to keep busy and I learned something. In record time according to McGonagall."
Draco's mouth fell open. He watched closely as Hermione took a few more steps back, keeping her eyes on him while grinning widely. Her face began to change before his very eyes. Her mouth became pointed, her eyes beady and soon she was completely covered in black feathers. Within moments, a small, black bird was flying up to him and landing on his shoulder. He looked at her and saw her amber eyes.
Draco smiled. "It looks like you've gotten your wings."
Hermione pecked his cheek with her beak before taking a lap around the roof, transfiguring back into her human form as she landed. "I know it's no falcon but, let's be honest, I was never going to be anything that fierce."
Draco took a few careful steps forward and cupped her face in his hands. He kissed her softly. "It's perfect," he breathed into her mouth.
Hermione smiled against his lips. "I actually think that we might have more control over what we become than originally thought. I sang that song to you every day, and then I became it."
"You sang to me?" asked Draco.
"Yes," said Hermione. "To try and bring you back to me. Before you …" She closed her eyes and gulped. "Before you died, you were singing it. Do you remember?"
Draco shook his head. "No. I remember hearing music, but I thought the words were only playing in my head."
"It was Fawkes' song. He was singing it as he came down upon you, and you sang with him. Then you died. Right there in my arms." Hermione got really quiet for a moment, her eyes sinking downward. "Padma zapped you back to life in a panic. Just long enough for Fawkes to shed his tear. I had never been so happy before, and I just … I started singing to you. Right then. I know it sounds sick, but it really was the most beautiful moment I have ever experienced."
Draco pressed his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. It was all there. Deep down. These memories. "I heard you," he whispered. "Singing to me."
Hermione smiled as tears fell between their cheeks. Whether they were his or hers did not matter. It was all the same. "Really?"
Draco nodded against her. "I think that's why I came back. To be with you." He pulled back a little, still cupping her face as he gazed into her sparkling eyes. "Hermione … do I deserve you yet?"
Hermione began to weep as she grabbed his cloak and pulled him until his lips met hers. Their kiss was hard yet soft, sweet yet passionate, and it felt just as perfect as it always did.
Through her tears and their entangled lips, Hermione whispered, "Yes, Draco, you deserve me and I deserve you. You saved my best friend and, with that, the world. You may not get the praise you deserve for what you did, but I will never forget how brave you were."
The two of them continued to kiss into the night. Eventually, they found their way to a wall and sat against it, watching the way the lights reflected in the dark, misty sky.
"I had them bury your father next to your mother," said Hermione as they wiggled their entwined hands. "I hope you don't mind, but I also had her put into a proper casket and placed a tombstone. I know you always wanted her to have one. I hope you're not angry I chose it without you."
Draco shook his head. "You did that for me?" he asked.
"Did you go there? To Malfoy Manor?"
Hermione took a deep breath and said, "I did, but not inside. I don't think I will ever be able to go inside. But I wanted to make sure they didn't half-ass the job because your father was a Death Eater. If it wasn't for him then we might never have gotten out of Hogwarts. He deserved a proper burial."
"I thought we could go and see them. Once you're better, that is."
He nodded again. "I would like that."
Just then, a loud string of thunder resonated through the sky. Hermione winced, squeezing Draco's hand tighter while burying her face in his chest. But she did not cry. Did not run. Instead, once it passed, she looked up at the sky and said, "Looks like rain."
Draco smiled. "Did you want to go inside?"
Hermione thought for a moment, but shook her head. "No. Let's stay just a little bit longer."
Draco lifted the arm he had around her waist and began stroking her hair. Hermione closed her eyes, looking so peaceful as the two of them sat outside in the open for the first time without any spell to shield them.
This was it. Draco and Hermione finally had the freedom they had desired for so long. The world was not perfect, and it was never going to be, but it was better. It would be years before it could be completely rebuilt and, even then, things would never be as they once were.
But Draco and Hermione were here. They were together. And they were free. Most importantly, they were free.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.
Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise.
Extra A/N: I know many of you probably wanted an epilogue, but I feel stories like this are best left open. I do have some ideas about their future, which definitely includes a child named Bronson Ernest Malfoy - Not Baldric or he would kill them. ;o)
I really loved writing this story. I have not been this inspired in a long time and I want to find a way to make it not fanfiction, but A LOT of changes would have to be made. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
I had every intention of leaving fanfiction for a while once this was finished. The only story I had in my head was a Lucius/Narcissa one, but it is also a bit dark and I really need to get out of that place.
But, of course, right when I decided to quit, a new Draco/Hermione story came into my head. Figures. It is not dark. More like a romantic dramedy, haha. My other stories all deal with our hero and heroine in their twenties, but this one would actually take place when they're in their forties. It shouldn't be that long and I think I'm going to make it my NaNoWriMo project. Of course, I thought CaBW was going to be only around 100,000 words and look how that turned out.
I forgot to mention this for the first chunk of people who read this chapter (sorry!) but since I have had so many requests for it, I am considering writing a few Theo/Bronson one-shots, mainly just filling in the gaps when they were alone (i.e. Christmas on the balcony and the night Theo finally went into Bronson's bedroom).
So yes, you will probably be hearing from me again very soon. Thanks again for reading and reviewing! You really know how to restore faith to a struggling writer. ;o)
The first two chapters of 'The Confusion of Theo Nott' a.k.a. the Theo and Bronson oneshots have been posted, so please go check them out!
Also, I now have a Tumblr. Please follow me for updates on all of my writing and all that jazz. lstoddardhancock . tumblr . com