Disclaimer: I own Harry Potter. In fact I own the universe. I own you. (jk. And by jk I mean JK Rowling. I'm JK Rowling.)
Author's note: Guys! It's the very last chapter! I'm really sorry for leaving you hanging. Maybe I shouldn't have written that cliffhanger. I got a lot of irritated reviews. But here's the resolution to your suspense. Without further ado: chapter 19.
"What's going on?"
"Is she all right?"
"Ginny, wake up!"
A cascade of voices made it impossible for Hermione to think. She stared at Ginny, whose closed eyes revealed she was still unconscious. Draco had lowered her to the bed, and Healer Canton was twirling his wand, muttering spells at breakneck pace.
"Hermione, diagnostics for brain injury, now," he instructed between spells. She felt her thoughts go back to work and raised her wand to begin the basic set of spells to assess brain function.
"Brain injury?" Harry repeated, his voice breaking. "What the hell did you guys do to her?"
"Dora," Draco snapped, gesturing toward Harry, Molly, and Arthur.
Dora would normally have something to say about being thus addressed, but this time she relented. She turned to Ginny's relatives. "You'll have to wait outside," she said firmly. Ignoring all protests, she guided the three non-medical personnel out of the room. Hermione vaguely heard her promise something about keeping them updated.
The brain injury spells came up negative, much to Hermione's relief. She moved on to other assessments at Canton's direction. Draco sat down in a corner with their paperwork and began looking for clues as to what had gone wrong. Dora alternated between helping with spells and going out to the hall to keep Harry, Molly, and Arthur updated on their progress. In the meantime, Ginny didn't seem to be getting worse, but neither did she show any signs of waking. Minutes passed, then half an hour, then an hour.
"Ah," Canton finally, flicking his wand experimentally. "Hermione, look at this." He gestured at the soft light that Ginny exuded in response to the diagnostic incantation. "I just performed aequilibriam revelio."
"It's a vestibular problem," Hermione said with a frown.
"Of what nature?" Draco asked, looking up from the parchments in his lap.
Hermione thought for a moment. "It must be the calcium from the eggshells in the antidote," she said slowly. "Perhaps coupled with the nettles in the cure? If the calcium built up in her inner ear, it could have caused balance problems, nausea, vertigo... Ginny wouldn't have noticed because of all the other potions and spells we used. Besides, she was in a sitting position, rather than standing. Vestibular problems can cause fainting and diminished consciousness in severe cases. Coupled with the stress she was under and the fatigue..." She trailed off, looking at Healer Canton to see if he agreed with her.
"Exactly," the healer said. "I should be able to remove some of the calcium, although there may be permanent damage. I expect she'll wake up once the pressure in her inner ears decreases."
Dora left to retrieve the appropriate potion from St Mungo's apothecary. Canton performed an additional spell to confirm his diagnosis, while Draco made a note of the side-effect.
Ginny awoke mere minutes after Canton had spelled the potion into her stomach. "What happened?" she said weakly when she saw Canton leaning over her, Hermione and Draco close behind. "For how long was I out?"
"You had some problems with your vestibular system. It's part of your inner ear that controls balance and can cause dizziness and fainting," Hermione said. "You've been unconscious for about an hour."
"Is it fixed?" Ginny mumbled as she sat up. Healer Canton supported her when she swayed slightly.
"Not entirely, and you're still weak," he said. "Mr Malfoy, bring the second dose of antidote." Draco complied, while Dora left the room again to inform the others of Ginny's recovery.
When Ginny had finished another glass of potion, she was instructed to lie down again. "You should get some rest," Canton told her. "In a few hours, we'll wake you for your final dose of antidote and we'll check your ears again."
She nodded, and within seconds her eyes fell closed.
What Ginny needed most was sleep and nourishment. She dozed throughout the day, waking only to drink her last dose of antidote and several glasses of Basic Nutrition Potion. Then she slept soundly from dinnertime until late the next morning. Her brothers and friends dropped by to peek in, all relieved that she was doing relatively well. Nobody was allowed to stay for long, however. Healer Canton was cautiously optimistic, but Ginny was not out of the woods yet. Her inner ear problem persisted, albeit more mildly, and there was no telling whether more side-effects would present themselves.
On Tuesday morning, Hermione had to go back to work. Her current internship was in the department for potions and plant poisoning, one floor above Ginny in the magical bugs and diseases department. She had a hard time concentrating on her work after being away for over a week. Whenever she had a few minutes of spare time, she quickly descended to the second floor to visit her friend. On her lunch break, she found both Harry and Healer Canton with Ginny. She was sitting up in bed, supported by pillows. Harry was holding her hand, once again looking almost as tired and worn-out as Ginny.
"Ah, Hermione," Canton said. "Do come in. I was about to discuss our current standings with Ginny and Harry. If they don't mind, you might as well join us."
Ginny gestured at a chair, and Hermione sat down. "How are you feeling?" she asked Ginny.
"Much better than before," Ginny said. "Everything seems so much clearer, like it was misty and now it's not. And the pain is gone. I feel like I could sleep for a month, and all of my muscles feel weak, but it's so great to not be in pain. Was that what it was like for you, when you were cured?"
Hermione nodded. "It was. I remember... just being so relieved. When you're in pain all the time, it becomes your new normal. Then when it's suddenly gone, you realise how good it is to live without pain."
"Exactly," Ginny said. She turned to Healer Canton. "So what's the news?"
Canton leaned forward a little. "Hermione's potion did what it was supposed to do," he started. "All of the mudblood disease's harmful effects are gone. However, your body is still quite weak. You've lost a lot of weight, and your muscle strength has gone down considerably due to your lack of movement over the past months. You may remember that Hermione was allowed to leave St Mungo's almost immediately and that her recovery time was less than two months. I can't give you the same results, unfortunately. You suffered from the disease for slightly longer. More importantly, the nature of your cure is rather different, and various ingredients in your potions will slow your recovery. I'll be keeping you here for another week at the very least, and it'll take you three to four months to regain your old energy levels. On top of that, it seems your cure has caused two major side effects."
Hermione looked at him attentively, trying to control her anxiety. She only knew of one side effect. Although she knew virtually every side effect was preferable to death, it was still her and Draco's creation that had cured Ginny, and they were the cause of any adverse effects that might occur. From the corner of her eye, she saw Harry lean forward attentively as Canton began speaking.
"First, it seems your magic may be temporarily affected," Healer Canton said. "It's an issue that should resolve itself in time, but you may have difficulty performing certain spells. It may take quite an effort to perform even a Lumos at first. Your magical core is depleted if your body is malnourished or otherwise weak, and the potions you've ingested have exacerbated the problem. However, as your body recovers, so should your magical abilities. I expect you should note improvement within weeks and regain normal use of magic over the span of several months."
Ginny looked worried at this idea, but she nodded in understanding. "What's the other side-effect?" she asked. "Is this the system with the difficult name that's in my ear?"
"The vestibular system," Hermione supplied.
"Indeed," Canton said. "Your inner ear was damaged by calcium build-up from a combination of ingredients in two of the potions. The inner ear controls balance and spatial orientation. Damage, as you've experienced, may lead to fainting, dizziness, nausea, and disorientation. I've been able to remove most of the calcium. Unfortunately, however, the inner ear is a sensitive organ. Some of the damage may not be reversible."
"What does that mean?" Harry asked, biting his lip in worry.
"It's difficult to tell," Healer Canton told him. He met Ginny's eyes again. "We can't predict the extent to which your vestibular system will heal. However, it is entirely possible that you will have permanent problems of balance or an increased tendency to faint. I expect you will be able to walk and run normally, but it could mean you have permanent trouble apparating. You may also need to stand up slowly out of sitting or lying positions." Canton paused for a moment, and then continued, "I am hesitant to make more predictions when there are so many uncertainties, but I must warn you that it is possible you'll have trouble flying."
"Flying," Ginny repeated in a whisper. "I won't be able to play quidditch."
"Fuck," Harry muttered. Hermione could see his fingers tighten around Ginny's.
"We don't know yet," she said quietly. "We won't be able to tell for a few more weeks."
"Right," Ginny muttered. "I know anything is better than mudblood disease," she continued, meeting Hermione's eyes. "So even if I couldn't get my magic back, even if I never fly again..." She bit her lip. "Even then, I'm so grateful to you and Draco. Remember that. And tell him, okay? Tell him he's a great friend." She sank down into the pillows surrounding her. Hermione stood up and walked over to the bed to squeeze her hand.
"I will," she said. "Now sleep some more, all right?"
Ginny nodded and closed her eyes. Healer Canton murmured a goodbye and left the room. Hermione met Harry's eyes across the bed.
"Quidditch," he mouthed, horror in his eyes.
"I know," she responded, moving her lips without making a sound so she wouldn't keep Ginny up. "I'm sorry."
Harry shook his head, but didn't reply. Hermione stayed for another minute until Ginny's breathing evened out. Then she, too, went back to work.
Draco was at work in the library when she came home. He had not yet returned to his studies, but was instead analysing their recipes for more information on Ginny's side effects.
"Hey," Hermione said, walking over to kiss him in greeting.
"How was work?" he asked.
She leaned against his desk. "It was alright. Difficult to get back in the swing of things."
Draco nodded sympathetically. "I can imagine. How's Ginny?"
"Tired and worn out. Poor girl, I remember how she feels," Hermione said. "It's far better than the pain of the disease, of course, but it's disappointing how long it takes for your body to recover."
He looked away, drumming his fingers on the desk. "And I made you work for me," he said quietly.
She put her hand on his shoulder. "Yes, you did, you idiot," she said fondly. "If it helps, I was glad to have something to do until Healer Canton allowed me to get back to my studies. Besides, it saved the Manor. You're not the only one who loves this place."
"I still shouldn't have demanded your help," he said with a frown.
"If you hadn't, I'd never have married you, remember?" Hermione said. "I wouldn't have believed you could propose to me without ulterior motives. I probably would've thought I was entering a life of slavery, or that you'd somehow back out of your promise, or that you were just messing with me."
He smiled and reached for her hand, lacing his fingers through hers. "In retrospect, then, bartering for your hand was clearly the best bargain of my life."
"Of course. What more could you wish for than me?" she said lightly.
Draco leaned over to kiss her and then changed the subject. "Did Ginny have any more side effects?" he asked.
Hermione nodded. "Canton expects she'll have temporarily weakened magic," she said. "She might not be able to perform some spells, or it'll take more effort."
Draco looked shocked, far more than Hermione had felt when she'd heard of it. "We turned her into a squib?" he demanded, aghast.
"Only temporarily," Hermione stressed. "It could be worse; she should be back to normal within a few months."
He was still frowning. "We should look into what caused it," he said. "How did Ginny react?"
"She was worried, but not unduly so," Hermione said. "It is only for a while, after all." She was a little puzzled by Draco's reaction. "It's only a mild side effect, really," she added.
He raised an eyebrow. "Loss of magic is never mild," he said. "What if it hadn't been temporary? If I were Ginny, I may have preferred mudblood disease."
Hermione looked at him in surprise. "Clearly you've never actually had mudblood disease," she muttered. "You'd rather die a painful death than lose your magic?"
"Probably," Draco said. "Wouldn't you?"
"No!" she retorted. "Of course not. Magic is important to me, and I'd hate to give up healing and apparition and being able to move objects and doing transfiguration. I'd be devastated, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't want to live anymore."
He thought for a moment. "I suppose it's different for you," he said. "You've lived in the muggle world, even if you were only a child back then. You know people who live without magic all the time. You know what kind of career you could have if you didn't have magic."
She nodded. "If I couldn't be a healer, I'd want to be a doctor. That's the muggle equivalent. I'd have to start learning all over again, though."
He snickered. "Like that would be a problem, Lady Bookworm. What about me? Muggles don't make potions, do they?"
Hermione shook her head. "They have medicine, though. You could go into chemistry, I suppose, but it would be quite different." She sighed. "Ginny may not lose her magic permanently, but she might still have to make a career change if the damage to her vestibular system is permanent."
Draco frowned. "Of course. It would impede flying. What did Canton say about it?"
"It's hard to make predictions," she responded, "but the prognosis isn't good. To fly professionally, even the slightest balance problem is an impediment."
He sighed unhappily. "I'd hate to have caused the end of her quidditch career."
Hermione nodded. "I know. Ginny said she's grateful, though. Even if she can't fly again. She wanted me to tell you you're a great friend."
A smile slowly spread across his face. "What a Gryffindor thing to say," he muttered, but Hermione knew he couldn't be more pleased.
Hermione was once again in a rush to catch up in her studies. With three months of potion-making behind her, she'd barely given thought to the fact that her last finals were coming up. In less than six weeks, she'd have one more set of exams and finally graduate from Healer Studies. She'd have to choose a specialisation and find a place to work at St Mungo's or a smaller clinic somewhere in the country.
Ginny gathered strength in St Mungo's, slowly regaining her magic but not her balance. Meanwhile, Hermione scrambled to get as much revision done as possible. Draco returned to his studies. He'd had to give up his hopes of taking his final exam before the end of the year. Instead, he'd given himself a one-year extension and planned to take his exams next December, eighteen months from now.
Nearly two weeks after taking her cure, Ginny was discharged from St Mungo's. She was still thin, pale, and weak, but she was on the road to recovery. On Saturday night, the day after she returned home, she and Harry threw a party to celebrate.
Draco had complained about having to attend, but he knew he couldn't escape this. In Harry's invitation, he'd specifically addressed them as the 'guests of honour'. Hermione felt a little sorry for her husband; she knew he'd be nervous in a room full of people who had spent much of their lives hating him.
"You'll be fine," she promised when they were standing at the fireplace. "Harry and Ginny and George will be there."
"Of course I'll be fine," he muttered. She smiled and stood on her tiptoes to kiss the tip of his nose. He smiled with one corner of his mouth. "Let's just go."
The moment they stepped into the Potter cottage, they were surrounded by Ginny's friends and family, all simultaneously trying to express their gratitude. Hermione was torn between laughter and pity when Draco was pulled to the side by Molly, who hugged him so fiercely that Hermione feared for his ability to breathe. Before she could make a rescue attempt, she found herself shaking hands with and being patted on the back by a cluster of red-headed Weasley brothers, interspersed with their wives and girlfriends.
"You 'ave saved someone who is a sister to me," Fleur told her, throwing her arms around Hermione. "You and 'im are 'eroes!" She gestured at Draco and leaned in to whisper in Hermione's ear, "'E must be part Veela like me, 'e is so blond and 'andsome!" Hermione giggled and hugged her back.
She smiled and nodded her way through the hugs and handshakes, until she found herself standing in front of Harry. She'd barely seen him since Ginny's healing on account of her revision and work.
He grabbed her hands and met her eyes. "I'll never be able to thank you enough," he said.
"There's no need, Harry, you know that," she responded, shaking her head.
He hugged her tightly. "If there's anything I can do, ever, for you or for Draco..." He trailed off, seeming lost for words.
She smiled, nodding. "I'll be sure to let you know."
She escaped to the couch after that, where Ginny, Luna, and one of Ginny's teammates were watching the chaos in front of them. Ginny had already thanked Hermione a thousand times at the hospital. The teammate, Rosianna, just nodded at her and said, "You rule, girl."
Luna smiled serenely. "I don't think Draco is enjoying himself very much," she said.
Hermione leaned back and watched her husband, who hadn't yet escaped the Weasleys. Those who had already spoken to her and Draco were now chatting amongst themselves, but Draco was close enough that the girls on the couch could still overhear his conversation when he came face to face with Ron.
The two men looked at each other awkwardly for a moment. Then Ron said, "I'm not gonna say I owe you or something, because I don't, but... I guess you don't owe me anymore, either."
After a beat, Draco nodded brusquely. "We're even, Weasley," he said, holding out his hand. Ron shook it, then almost immediately turned away.
Hermione and Ginny chuckled. "Those two," Ginny said, still grinning. "You do go for the headstrong guys, 'Mione."
She laughed. "What can I say? I'm quite happy with where that's brought me."
"You and Draco do seem quite suited to each other," Luna said.
Draco found a chair in a corner of the room and was soon engaged in a conversation with George.
"You thanked him for me, didn't you?" Ginny asked Hermione.
She nodded in response. "He said you were being very Gryffindor about it."
The other girls laughed. "Isn't it weird?" Rosianna asked. "I mean, even after the War, Gryffindor and Slytherin are barely cordial." Rosianna was two years younger than Ginny; she'd completed her final years at school after the Battle of Hogwarts. She continued, "Gryffindor/Slytherin couples aren't totally unheard of, I suppose, but it's still not common. And the rivalry was far worse during the war. Not to mention..." She trailed off, looking a little uncertain.
"Not to mention we were both involved in it," Hermione added, and Rosianna nodded in agreement. "It is a little tense sometimes. In the beginning, we literally had a rule about not mentioning the other's house. It's better now, but I don't think he'll ever stop being condescending about Gryffindors. And I can appreciate his Slytherin qualities sometimes, but I doubt I'll ever truly like Slytherins as a group."
"I don't blame you. They are a bit evil," Rosianna said with a chuckle.
Hermione shook her head. "But they're not, that's the thing. Being Slytherin doesn't mean being evil; it just means being ambitious and cunning and resourceful. It means doing everything you can to reach your goal."
"Isn't that a recipe for going too far, though?" Rosianna asked.
Hermione frowned in thought, but eventually shook her head. "I don't think so. It's easy to take ambition in the wrong direction, like Voldemort did, or Pansy Parkinson. Maybe it's easier for Slytherins to go wrong than for others, but that doesn't mean they have to. If someone's goal is to be the leader of a company, or to invent new charms, or to beat incurable diseases..."
"Then those diseases will no longer be incurable," Ginny cut in.
"Every house can mean good things or bad things," Luna said. "Ravenclaw can really help you to learn and to love learning, but many people in my house look down on the other houses because they believe we're the only ones who are making the most of their Hogwarts education."
Their conversation was cut short when Molly and Arthur came over to thank Hermione, to hug her, and to pretend they weren't crying. All the gratitude began to make Hermione feel a little awkward, and she started to feel more sympathetic towards Draco's reluctance to be here. She'd now talked to every person in the room, though, which meant most expressions of gratitude were behind her.
"How are your balance problems?" Luna asked Ginny when the Weasley parents had left the four girls alone again.
"Not much better," Ginny said with a small sigh. She made an effort to smile, but Hermione could tell the subject was a difficult one. "Healer Canton says he can't rule anything out for sure, but it's very unlikely I'll be able to keep playing quidditch."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Luna said quietly. "Are you feeling very sad about it?"
"A little," Ginny responded, looking down at her hands. "I really enjoyed being with the Holyhead Harpies. It was the best job. I always knew it wasn't a lifetime career, of course - sports never are. I just didn't expect it to end so soon."
Hermione bit her lip, trying not to feel guilty. Ginny saw and grabbed her hand. "Not your fault, remember? I'll be fine," she said. "I'm thinking about going into sports journalism. Or maybe coaching, though I suppose I'm a bit young for that."
"Just make sure you recover first," Rosianna said. "You're supposed to rest the whole summer, right?"
Ginny nodded. "I'm going to be bored out of my skull," she said.
"At least I had a court case to think about while I was recovering," Hermione said with a chuckle. Rosianna frowned in confusion, but didn't comment. "I'm sure you can find something to do. And you'll get closer to your old energy levels every day."
"I can't wait," Ginny said.
Luna got up to talk to Harry, and Bill took her place to ask Hermione how they'd found their solution to Ginny's disease. After that, she talked to Harry, George, and Draco, then to Ginny's other teammates Brandon and Anna. Before she knew it, the guests began leaving and the party drew to an end. Ginny was obviously exhausted, but her eyes were alight with pleasure after seeing so many of her friends.
"We should head home," Hermione told Draco when everyone but they and Ginny's parents had left. Draco had spent a while simply observing the party from his quiet corner but was now talking to Harry again.
He nodded and bid Molly and Arthur goodbye. Molly hugged him again and Arthur gave him a handshake that lasted just long enough to get slightly awkward.
"Thank you for the invitation," Draco said, turning to Ginny.
"Well, of course we invited you," Ginny said with a chuckle. "Thanks for being here. And for, you know, everything else."
"Yeah. Thanks," Harry said. He hugged Hermione, then turned to Draco, who held out his hand. Harry hesitated for a moment, then pulled Draco in for a hug as well. It was brief but left Draco thoroughly floored. He hid his surprise tolerably well, but Hermione could tell and had to bite her lip to keep from laughing.
"Let's go," she said, grabbing Draco's hand and turning to the fireplace.
Draco was muttering something about Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs when they arrived back at the Manor. Hermione laughed. "Looks like you're Harry's friend now. How many Galleons would you have bet against it ten years ago?" she asked.
"Half of the Malfoy fortune," he said as they walked to their bedroom. "Almost as much as I would've bet against you and me."
She shook her head. "See," she said teasingly. "You aren't right as often as you think. Not so smart after all, are you?"
"You insolent witch," he grumbled, moving over suddenly to pick her up and throw her over his shoulder. She narrowly avoided squealing in shock and laughed breathlessly while he carried her the rest of the way. He tossed her onto their bed and kicked off his shoes before hopping up as well to lean over her.
"Did you just throw your shoes on the floor?" she asked in mock outrage. "You're always so meticulous."
"Why else do we have house-elves?" he responded with a smirk.
She tried to glare convincingly through her laughter and pushed against his chest until he rolled over. Then she tried to take off her own shoes while he distracted her by poking her stomach.
"Draco Malfoy, you nuisance," she complained. "You're as immature as a preschooler sometimes."
He chuckled. "I just sat through four hours with a bunch of people who may or may not still hate me, some of whom I don't particularly appreciate," he said, "so I think I've earned the right to act out a little."
"It wasn't so bad, was it?" she asked, finally managing to take off her shoes and lying down next to him.
"It was fine," he admitted. "It was good to see George again."
"And you talked to Ron," she said.
"Yes. I could tell you were eavesdropping, you know," he said, twisting his neck to smirk at her.
"Friends with Harry, a civil conversation with Ron... Clearly today is a day of miracles."
"As long as you don't expect me to be friends with Weasley," he warned.
"I don't," she said. "You and Harry aren't really as different as you think, but you and Ron... You really have nothing to bond over. I'm just happy you're not arguing."
"Good," he said. He rolled over to face her and pulled her to him. Hermione closed her eyes and they fell silent. Eventually, they mustered the energy to change into pyjamas and moved from above to beneath the covers. He wrapped his arms around her, like he did on most nights, and she revelled in the feeling of safety and belonging that it gave her.
"What do you want to do on your birthday?" she asked after a while.
"You remembered," he mumbled, clearly already half asleep.
"Of course I did, you goose," she said.
"Dinner and opera, like last year?"
"Sure," she said. "I'll make the reservations."
"Thanks," he responded, briefly pressing his lips to her cheek.
"See, I do say yes to your birthday plans when you ask," she said quietly.
"I know," he said. "I just didn't know it then." He sighed; she could feel his breath on her cheek. "You've no idea how stressed I was about asking you to Les Chevaux," he said. His voice was still a little sleepy, and Hermione briefly wondered whether he'd be this forthcoming if he were fully awake. "You brewed with me all the time, and we had dinner together, but we'd never left the Manor. I thought if I just told you that we were going, you couldn't say no."
She chuckled. "You wouldn't have stopped me from saying no if I hadn't wanted to come."
"Obviously. I just didn't have a clue what I was doing."
"It made me sad, you know," she whispered.
"What?" he asked.
"That you didn't trust me. You didn't have enough faith in our friendship to believe I'd come with you if you just asked."
He sighed quietly, sounding more awake when he spoke again. "Did I hurt your feelings?"
"No, it wasn't that." She shook her head and struggled to find the words to explain herself. "I suppose I didn't take it personally. It's just... I've always trusted my friends. It occurred to me that maybe you'd never had that, or didn't have it anymore."
"I trust people," he said slowly, thoughtfully. "Just not as much or as fast as you. Besides, I didn't doubt your honesty or your intelligence or your motives. I only doubted your regard for me."
"You were insecure," she said.
"I suppose," he said reluctantly, and she guessed he didn't like to think of himself as anything other than self-assured.
"That's fine, you know," she said, reaching up to run her hand through his hair. "Everyone is insecure sometimes. Case in point: we spent months both convinced that the other didn't and couldn't have feelings for us."
She felt him chuckle. "Glad that issue was resolved," he mumbled.
They both fell silent. Eventually, she felt Draco relax further as he drifted off into sleep. She followed his example not long after.
Other than to celebrate Draco's birthday, Hermione worked virtually non-stop for the next six weeks. She was frantically revising for the largest exams she'd yet had. Draco, meanwhile, was attempting to catch up on his studies as well. To Hermione's surprise, he twice went to pay a visit to George. According to Draco, he was helping with some products for the shop as an 'interesting study-related project', but Hermione suspected he simply enjoyed George's company.
Her last internship ended midway through June. She told the nurses and healers goodbye and turned to revision full-time. Draco occasionally made attempts to distract her, going so far as to all but drag her to the swimming pool or the quidditch pitch. Mostly, however, she studied.
She was exhausted but triumphant when she put her self-inking quill down at noon on a Wednesday in July. "Done," she mouthed to herself. Just then, the examiner called everyone forward to hand in their scrolls. Hermione put her spare quills in her bag and followed her fellow fifth year healer students to the desk at the front of the room.
Their scrolls were sealed with a spell. "The results will be owled to you within three weeks," said the examiner. "Enjoy your holidays, everyone!"
"Question two was horrible," Clarissa moaned when she, Hermione, and Matthew had left the exam room. They began to walk toward the building's exit as Clarissa complained. "I swear I went over the intestinal healing spells at least seven times during revision, but I still didn't know the right sequence!"
Matthew nodded. "I hadn't expected that level of detail," he said with a sigh. "I think I got them right, but I did have to make a few guesses. Questions three and four were all right, though."
"Yes, I didn't have a problem with those," Clarissa agreed. "What about you, Hermione?"
"I think I did fairly well," she said, smiling at her friends. "The first question tripped me up until I remembered huso vivanti could be used to aid the potion. Then it went well from there."
"I've never heard you that positive after an exam," Clarissa said, laughing. "Now I know you'll have an Outstanding."
"Like we didn't know that already," Matthew said, grinning at her. "So Clarissa, did you make up your mind about what you're doing next year?"
"I have a traineeship with the Liverpool Clinic for two years," Clarissa said. "Liverpool doesn't have a very large Wizarding population, but there are enough magical folk in the area to support the clinic. It has three healers and one trainee position."
"That's great," Hermione said enthusiastically. "Are you staying in London? Liverpool is just close enough for a comfortable apparition jump."
"I think I'm staying. I love my apartment," Clarissa said. "But perhaps when I'm used to the Liverpool area, I'll move there. We'll see what happens. And you, Hermione?"
"I'm staying at St Mungo's," she said. "I'm doing a three-year traineeship in the spell damage ward. It focuses on diagnostics."
"I would've thought you'd go into potions, or into magical diseases," Matthew said. "What with your recent medical triumph." The news of Ginny's miraculous cure had of course made every news outlet known to the wizarding world.
Hermione shook her head. "Potions are interesting, and I love working on them with Draco, but diagnostics is more suited to my tastes," she said. They reached the exit just she was about to ask what Matthew was going to do. Before she could do so, however, he said, "Hey, that's Draco, right?"
He gestured to the other side of the street. Hermione followed his movement with her eyes, and sure enough, there was Draco. He was leaning against the wall of a dilapidated building opposite the School for Magical Healing. To Hermione's astonishment, he was wearing muggle clothes: a pair of jeans and a shirt. She didn't know whether he'd bought the clothing or transfigured it from his robes, but it looked surprisingly good on him. Some sort of basket stood by his feet.
"That's Draco, yeah," she said, frowning in confusion. Before she could begin to consider what Draco was doing in London, Matthew was already crossing the quiet street. Clarissa followed him, and Hermione hurried to catch up.
"Hey," she said when they reached Draco, leaning in to kiss him in greeting. She wasn't sure how he'd react to public displays of affection, but it wasn't as if their relationship was a secret. He didn't object, kissing her back and grabbing her hand. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"You just had your finals," he said with a shrug. "I decided some form of celebration was in order, so I took a day off studying."
"You did what now?" Hermione asked, staring at him in surprise.
Draco smirked at her but didn't repeat himself or explain. "Who are your friends?" he asked instead.
"Oh," she said, turning to the others. "Draco, Clarissa, Matthew," she continued, indicating each of them in turn.
"Nice to meet you," Draco said, although his glance to Matthew was not entirely friendly. Matthew either didn't notice or pretended not to.
"Likewise," Clarissa said, smiling widely at Draco. "Well, it looks like you have plans, Hermione. I'll see you around, yeah?"
"Of course. Are we still going to Fortescue's next week?" Hermione asked.
"Definitely. I'll send you an owl about it," she said. "Bye, Matt. It was good to see you, Draco." She looked around, saw that the street was devoid of muggles, and disapparated.
Matthew said his goodbyes soon after and disappeared like Clarissa. Hermione looked at Draco, then at the basket by his feet. "What's in there?" she asked.
"Food," he responded. "We're having a picnic."
"You're kidding," she said, and he laughed at her surprise.
"Certainly not," he said. "I'm quite serious. We're going to a park. You'll need to transfigure your robes." She grabbed her wand and changed her robes into muggle clothing. He nodded in approval, picked up the basket, and took her hand. "Let's go."
He asked her about her exams as they walked, and she told him some of the questions and answers. Before she knew it, they'd reached Green Park. Draco sought out a quiet corner on one of the well-kept lawns and set down his basket. To Hermione's amusement, he took out a red-and-white cloth and spread it out.
"You've come prepared," she pointed out as she sat down on it.
"Of course," he said, kneeling next to her and unpacking the basket. "I did have some help. Every time you think Nocky can't possibly be more enthusiastic, he reaches new heights." He handed her a glass of pumpkin juice.
Hermione giggled and took the glass. "It's cold," she said with a smile. "Thank Merlin for food preservation charms. I'm glad this picnic isn't completely muggle."
Draco unpacked sandwiches, miniature quiches, and fresh fruit. "This may be the cutest thing you've ever done," Hermione said. He pulled a face, and she laughed again. "Too Hufflepuff? All right, this is... it's the nicest secretive Slytherin thing you've ever done."
"Just eat your sandwich," Draco grumbled, but he was smiling as he sat down cross-legged on the cloth.
They watched the other park visitors as they ate, Draco commenting occasionally on the ridiculousness that was muggle summer clothing.
"Can I ask you something?" Hermione asked when they had moved on from the sandwiches and quiche to slices of watermelon.
Draco looked at her attentively. "Of course," he said, looking curious and the tiniest bit uncertain.
"When you proposed to me," she began, "in St Mungo's, you said you wanted me to give you heirs." She looked at her hands, unsure how to continue.
"That isn't a question," he pointed out after a moment.
She glared at him, but continued. "Well... do you still want heirs?"
He tapped his fingers against his knee. "Regardless of the promises you made back then, I would never force you to have children if you don't want to," he said after a moment.
"That isn't an answer," she said.
He chuckled. "Touché," he muttered. He met her eyes. "It's not about heirs, or bloodlines, or the family name," he said. "It wasn't about those things even back then. I just didn't want to tell you or Harry that I wanted children. Which, yes, is still something I want." He averted his eyes again.
Hermione nodded. "Okay," she said.
When she said nothing more, he looked at her in disbelief. "Surely you aren't leaving it at that," he said. She could tell he was nervous about her response and took pity on him.
"I want kids too," she said, and he sighed quietly in relief. She continued, "Probably not for a few more years, though."
"That's fine," he responded, smiling now. "I'm not finished with my studies for another eighteen months, and you have three years of traineeship ahead of you. Besides, we're only twenty-three."
She nodded and shifted closer so she could lean against him. "Exactly," she said. "It's good to know you still want it, though."
"It's good to know you want it," he said, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.
"You could have asked," she pointed out.
"I know," he said.
She sighed contentedly, and they fell silent, watching couples walk hand in hand and families play with Frisbees and balls.
"This is the perfect way to start the summer," she said after a while.
"Of course it is. I came up with it," he responded. She shoved his arm. "When does your traineeship start?"
"September," she said. "Six weeks of vacation. We should travel again."
"Pick a destination."
"Australia," she said without thinking. It was the first thing that came to her mind.
Draco leaned away from her a little to be able to see her better. "Your parents," he said.
She took a deep breath. "Yeah," she said after a moment. "My parents."
"Do you want to see them?" he asked quietly.
She bit her lip. "I don't know. It might just make me miss them more, but... I want to make sure they're all right."
He pulled her close to him again, and she felt him nod. "Let's do it," he said. "We'll go together. It'll be okay." He pressed a kiss to her forehead.
She smiled and moved closer to him. "Yes," she whispered. "It'll be okay."
Author's note: Oh man. It's the end! Woohoooo! What a journey this has been. A HUGE thanks to my betas/proofreaders for their continuous work on improving this story. And a huge thanks to all of you lovely readers for your support, your compliments, your questions. It's been incredibly rewarding to see all the positive reactions.
I've uploaded a one-shot from Draco's point of view. I have another one I'll upload later, and if I write more I'll also put those up. I realise I've also left myself open for a sequel, here at the end of the last chapter. So I might one day write about them going to Australia, but I can't make promises.