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Chapter 7: This Gift
A/N: Merry Christmas and Happy holidays! I hope you weren't scared I wouldn't update. In fact, I was a bit worried, but here it is... The closing chapter fresh from the presses. It's a nice one and I hope you enjoy it. You will also be happy to know that while I am in Hawaii I am going to try real hard to finish A Perfect Charade. By the new year, I should be starting a completely new project. Anyway, enjoy and I hope your holidays were wonderful and happy and that you got everything you wanted.
"I don't want the love any other girl. I want only thing in this whole wide world. Nothing else will do. All I want is you this Christmas..." -*NSYNC's "All I Want Is You (This Christmas)
The clock on the stairs tolled twelve and as Hermione lay in bed, wide-awake, she said aloud to herself. “It’s Christmas Eve day.”
Snow was blowing hard outside, swirling wildly so that one could not see out the other side of the window. Turning over and willing herself to sleep, she soon did.
A woman appeared by the side of her bed the moment Hermione had drifted off to sleep. In her dream, Hermione shockingly recognized her. It was the old woman who she had saved the week before.
“What are you doing here?” Hermione asked.
“To tell you the truth,” the old woman replied. “Whether you still feel about Draco the way you do, will remain to be seen after I tell you what I must.”
Hermione sat up in her bed in horror. “What are you talking about?”
“Draco has lied to you,” the old woman said, and before Hermione’s eyes transformed into the most beautiful woman that she had ever seen. “He is not being kind to you of his own accord but rather to save himself.”
Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I have no idea what you’re talking about…”
“Draco Malfoy is cursed to spend the rest of his Christmases alone,” the beautiful woman explained. “Unless… He can find someone to love and get loved in return. I know you are falling for him… But I just wanted you to know the truth so you don’t fall for a lie.”
“But… But…” Hermione trailed off. “So now what? He has to prove himself or something?”
“He does,” the woman replied… “Or else that magical mistletoe will die and his loneliness will come to the forefront.”
And with that, the beautiful woman disappeared, leaving Hermione feeling hurt and betrayed. So she had been right. How could Draco suddenly decide to be nice to her without some ulterior motive? With a start, Hermione awoke, hoping that what she had just seen had been a dream. Unfortunately, it felt pretty real.
The next morning, Draco rolled out of bed. It was Christmas Eve day and he had to know if Hermione loved him by tonight or the curse would be complete. He didn’t want to spend his Christmases alone and somehow, he couldn’t imagine life without Hermione. Even though she’d only been there for a week, the thought of her disappearing from out of his life saddened him deeply.
Once down in the kitchen, Draco whipped together a couple of omelets and set the table with his wand, humming a cheery Christmas tune under his breath as he did it. He didn’t think that he would have a problem with getting Hermione to fall for him. She was already well on her way there. And having enjoyed a few days in a row already of making love, well, Draco didn’t see himself doing anything wrong.
At that moment, Hermione walked into the room, looking as radiant as ever in a pair of tight jeans and a black sweater that settled seductively off the shoulders. Instead of feeding her, all he wanted to do was feast on her… In bed. Unfortunately, her expression wasn’t so agreeable with the idea.
“What’s up?” Draco asked as he laid her omelet on a plate. “You look kind of glum.”
She looked at the omelet thoughtfully before sitting down, sliding slowly into her chair in a pensive manner. “I had a weird dream last night.”
“This woman that I saved who was really old and ugly turned into a beautiful enchantress,” Hermione began and Draco started to feel lightheaded. Was the woman visiting Hermione now? What was she telling her? Hermione looked up into his face for answers, but Draco having an expert game face, revealed nothing.
“So what happened?”
“Well, then she was telling me about how she’d noticed that I’d started falling for you…”
“And are you?” Draco asked feeling quite intrigued about what the answer might be.
She paused, narrowing her eyes at him. “That’s besides the point. Anyway, she said that you’re under some curse… Or will be forevermore if you don’t find someone to love and be loved in return.”
“Well, yes,” Draco muttered. “Something along those lines.”
Hermione snapped to attention. “What did you say?”
“Nothing.” Draco cursed himself under his breath. How could he have let something like that slip? “Did she say anything else?”
“She said that if you are using me than you are and if you aren’t, then you’d find some way to prove it.”
Draco sat down across from her, his eyes averted to the omelet as if he were suddenly interested in it. As a matter of fact, he couldn’t have less interest in anything. He was beginning to feel less and less hungry and more and more sick to his stomach.
“So now I don’t know what to believe,” Hermione sighed, looking hopeless. “I spent this entire week with you seeing you in a way that I’ve never seen you before. I developed… Well, I was beginning to develop feelings for you… But, I just can’t be with you if you lied to me.”
Draco turned away and stifled taking a deep breath. What was he supposed to tell her? He hadn’t exactly lied to her he had just chose not to tell her certain things. But now he could see that perhaps this had been part of the Master Plan. Perhaps this was a test, to see if he really could love someone. And if he truly did love Hermione, than he would tell her the truth, no matter if it hurt him in the process. It would be easy to lie to her, to tell her that it had all been a silly dream, but then how could he really explain taking her in and sheltering her and being adamant about it?
And so, he took a deep breath and turned to face her. “What she said was true. The night of December 12th an ugly old woman who wanted shelter visited me. Wrongly, I turned her down. She cursed me then, saying that I would forever be lonely on Christmas unless, by this Christmas Eve I could give generously and love and be loved.”
Draco watched her face fall and felt horror go through him. She was disappointed with him and angry with him. For the first time in his life, he didn’t blame her. He would’ve been angry too in fact he probably wouldn’t have still been sitting there. He probably would’ve gone out and publicly stilted the perpetrator. And Hermione… Well, she would never do something like that. She’d probably simply hold her head up high… And never speak to him again.
“So you did lie to me.” It was a question, not a statement.
“Yes, Hermione,” Draco felt a note of panic enter his voice. “But I swear, if I could do it all over again, I would do it with open arms.”
“It was a trick,” She said, her voice flat. No emotion entered her comments and realizations. But it was the lack of emotion that scared him. It meant that underneath she was being cut open. And it was his fault. “You didn’t really fall for me. You just used me so that I could help you get over your curse.
“You really are selfish. You really don’t care for anyone else.”
The argument was interrupted by the arrival of a post owl, knocking on the window. Draco opened it up to let the sturdy grey owl fly into the window and stand on the table right in front of Hermione’s eggs to let the letter be untied. Draco deposited a couple knuts in the owl’s carrying case and sent the large bird on his way.
“It’s addressed to me,” Hermione opened up the thick white seal and looked at the letter, her facial expression becoming more and more concerned.
“What is it?” Draco asked, reading over her shoulder.
“My father is dying,” Hermione said, her voice shaking.
Without thinking, disregarding the conversation that they had just been having, Draco pulled her into his arms. She stiffened and then relaxed into his arms, shaking with the fear of impending loss, before she started to cry. Pulling back quickly, she wiped her eyes and turned away. “I have to go to Croatia immediately.”
“Of course,” Draco nodded.
She started to walk away and then turned around. “This- this isn’t over yet.”
Draco decided that that was something. But that wasn’t it… If he really wanted to win her back, then he would have to do something big. But the question was, did he?
Hermione came downstairs again, dragging a suitcase that would probably fit a week’s worth of clothing. She had changed into a pair of runners, and a heavy winter coat with matching gloves, hat and scarf. Without looking at him, she disappeared out the door and didn’t come back.
Collapsing at the table, Draco wondered if she ever would.
Hermione Disapparated to the high tech research hospital as quickly as she could. Obviously, it took longer to do because of the distance, but she managed, feeling only slightly sick to her stomach. She wasn’t sure if it was because of the long Disapparation, the knowledge that her father was dying, or because Draco had lied to her. Maybe it was a combination of it all. But why did she feel so bad about Draco’s betrayal? She didn’t really care about him, did she?
She was ushered upstairs to the ICU where she entered her father’s room quickly. Her mother was sitting by his side, looking haggard and exhausted. It seemed as if just over the last few months, the gray in her hair had tripled. Her father meanwhile was sleeping, an IV going into his nose. Connected to an oxygen pack and food supply, Hermione wondered how her father was still alive.
Her mother opened her eyes and smiled briefly at Hermione as if she had been expecting her all along. “Hello Darling.”
“Oh, Mum,” Hermione rushed to her mother who stood up and squeezed her tightly. She looked over her mother’s shoulder at her father and then pulled back, asking quietly. “How is he?”
“Not good, my darling,” Jane shook her head. “The doctors are saying that he only has a month or less to live. The cancer is eating him alive.”
Hermione choked back a sob. About five years ago, her father had been diagnosed with a serious case of liver cancer. Somehow, he had survived and the British doctors had assured them that it would not return. And then, just a few months before, he had had a severe case of jaundice. Worried, Hermione and Jane had rushed John to the Emergency Room at St. Thomas’ where he had been re-diagnosed with another and very likely fatal case of liver cancer. The cancer was back and stronger than ever. The doctors at St. Thomas’ suggested that he be shipped to KBC Zagreb, which was one of the best research hospitals in Europe. Since he’d been here, he had been stable, but not improvement had been made… until now, when his health was failing more than ever. And poor Jane had been there with him every day and most nights, falling asleep in a chair next to his bed instead of going back to the apartment that the hospital had kindly paid for.
Pulling up a chair, Hermione sat down next to her mother in silence and held her hand, praying all the while that whatever Christmas spirit was out there, would save her father’s life.
Christmas Eve came and went and as Christmas morning dawned, Draco once again found himself alone. Perhaps this was how he was meant to spend his days for the rest of his life… as a loner. Somehow, after losing Hermione, the idea didn’t sound so appealing. He had never wanted to take care of someone as much as he wanted to take care of Hermione. He hadn’t slept well the night before, instead lying in bed worrying about Hermione. He hoped she was okay and as he looked up at the mistletoe that was withering away above his head, he wondered if there was still time to salvage that.
It was at that moment that he realized that he didn’t just care for her but that he loved her. He loved Hermione Granger, the woman he had been sworn to hate. But he loved her anyway and wanted to make her happy for her, not for himself.
He loved her. He would’ve smiled at the thought if he didn’t know that she would never love him back anymore.
At that moment, the enchantress appeared before him. Though he was still impressed at how beautiful this woman was, she was nothing compared to Hermione.
“So… You surprised me,” the woman greeted him with no ‘happy Christmas.’
“Happy Christmas to you too,” Draco grumbled.
The enchantress briefed him with a smile before answering. “I see you managed to fall in love.”
Draco looked at her skeptically. “How’s that?”
“It’s pitifully obvious,” the woman said wryly. “You stayed up all night thinking about her and you told her the truth. I don’t know why you didn’t follow her in the first place.”
“She didn’t want me,” Draco sighed. “She was angry with me.”
“She loves you too, Draco,” the woman shook her head. “She felt betrayed and confused about why she felt like that. I think she knows it, you just have to make her see it as obvious.”
“How?” Draco asked hopelessly.
“I think you know how, Draco,” the woman replied. “You still have time left. It’s only Christmas morning.”
And as the woman disappeared, Draco suddenly knew what he had to do. Magicking some clothing over to him, he dressed quickly and then Disapparated.
It was around 2 PM on Christmas day when she saw him again. He was wearing a long black winter coat and a pair of black slacks and shoes. He was impeccably dressed as usual and looked amazing. All she wanted to do was run up to him and be held in his arms.
She loved him.
But she had been so hurt by his lies that she didn’t know if she would ever be able to love him. That hurt more than she could say.
“What are you doing here?” She asked.
“Happy Christmas,” he smiled and Hermione felt her heart pounding against her chest.
That smile was so small and shy that she could barely think.
“Happy Christmas,” she whispered back.
He reached her and without asking her if it was all right pulled her into his arms. That was when she realized that it was okay. She couldn’t fight him and she didn’t want to. It felt so good to be held after the last night she had just spent. The ICU doctor and staff had had to come in several times to readjust things because John Granger had slept fitfully and had been in a severe amount of pain.
“How are you doing?” He asked.
“Not well,” she swiped tear from her eyes. “Daddy is doing really badly. He’s going to die soon.”
“Not if I can help it,” Draco looked strong and confident and it almost strengthened Hermione.
He followed her into the hospital room without elaborating on what he was planning. Shaking hands with Jane, he looked down at John who was very frail and turned back to Hermione. “I want to speak to the doctor.”
Hermione and Jane exchanged looks but pressed the button that called the nearest doctor into the room. After only a moment’s wait, the doctor appeared. He was a tall, good looking older Croatian man with dark brown hair and slight stubble. Dr. Krvic shook Draco’s hand and talked to him in very quick Croatian. Hermione watched Draco in wonder. She had had no idea that he knew how to speak Croatian. Unfortunately, Hermione didn’t understand a word they were saying to each other and couldn’t divine what they could be talking about.
The doctor smiled and shook Draco’s hand.
“What was that all about?” Hermione asked as Dr. Krvic left the room.
“I’m moving your father to St. Mungo’s,” Draco smiled at her, squeezing her hand. “I already talked to Healer Zabini.”
“Which Zabini?” Hermione asked curiously. She only knew of one Zabini.
“Esmeralda,” Draco replied. “She’s Blaise’s mother and a good friend of mine.”
“And she’s going to help us?” Hermione asked, she felt tears sparking her eyes. “Why?”
“Because I told her to,” Draco replied. “Because I love you and I told you I would make it up to you. She’s the best there is and she will heal your father. All this stupid Muggle Chemo obviously doesn’t work.”
Hermione laughed and then turned back to her mother who didn’t look offended in the least. All though, then again, Chemo had not yet saved Jane's husband so Hermione could see how she would do anything to save his life.
“I still don’t know who you are, young man,” Jane held out her hand.
Jane turned to Hermione and said. “Isn’t that the same Draco Malfoy that….”
He smiled sheepishly. “Unfortunately, but everything’s different now.”
“How is that?” Jane asked.
Hermione knew her mother and knew that she loved a good love story. Her and Draco’s story, well, it was slightly epic. “He saved my life. Several times in fact. And it was a bit of Christmas magic too.”
“Well thank you, Mr. Malfoy,” Jane smiled, tears brimming her eyes. “I don’t know what I would do if I lost my whole family.”
Draco pulled her into a hug. “Well, we’ll see to it that you don’t lose anyone, Mrs. Granger. And please, call me Draco.”
“Then you must call me Jane,” Jane replied, laughing slightly.
“Let’s get going then, shall we?” Draco asked, pulling out his wand. He was about to ensure John enough oxygen and nutrients during the Disapparation. “Healer Zabini is waiting for us.”
“What about the doctors here?” Jane asked. “Do they know?”
“Dr. Krvic knows plenty of wizards,” Draco assured the two women. “He knows what’s up.”
And with that, Hermione grabbed hold of her mother as they all hung onto the hospital bed. A moment later, they had all disappeared.
St. Mungo’s was very hospitable to a Muggle, even though they told Draco and Hermione that they would have to wipe the two Grangers’ memories of the hospital after they had healed Mr. Granger. Hermione and Draco agreed with anything that was necessary as long as her father was cured.
A few days later, Hermione and Draco were sitting outside John’s room.
“I’m sorry, Hermione,” Draco replied. “I didn’t mean to lie to you.”
“I forgave you the minute you walked into that hospital in Croatia,” Hermione had tears in her eyes. “Mum talked to Healer Zabini today and Esmeralda said that it would take about a month in the hospital but that they would ensure that the cancer won’t come back. Dad is already looking better.”
“That’s great, Hermione,” Draco smiled at her, truly meaning what he said.
“And it’s all because of you,” Hermione began to cry and Draco pulled her up, wrapping his arms around her in the process. “I can’t believe you did all that.”
“I love you Hermione,” Draco whispered. “Of course I would do that for you.”
“Oh, Draco,” Hermione squeezed him and then said against his chest. “I love you too. Sorry I didn’t get you anything for Christmas.”
“I got you,” Draco emphasized. “That’s the greatest gift of all.”
“What about your curse?” Hermione asked. “Does it still hold?”
“Dear Merlin, I hope not,” Draco shuddered.
“I won’t leave you,” Hermione whispered and Draco almost had to cry hearing that promise from her mouth, in her voice.
Because he didn’t want to cry in the middle of a public hospital where he actually knew people, he distracted himself by pulling out a small wrapped box from his pocket. “I did get you something though.”
“Oh, you didn’t have to,” Hermione shook her head. “Now I want to go down and get you something.”
“Open it,” Draco ignored her.
With trembling fingers, Hermione unwrapped the box to find a single diamond ring. Small and pure gold the rather large diamond, surrounded by sapphires glimmered and smiled in the fluorescent light of the hospital. Draco took it as a cue to get down on his knee and slip the ring onto her finger.
“I know it’s a little sudden, but Hermione?” He asked. “Will you marry me?”
“Oh yes, yes!” Hermione smiled and threw her arms around him as he stood up.
“I’m planning on a long engagement,” Draco replied. “Just so we have a lot of time with each other. Not that I’m going to let you go far, mind you.”
Hermione suddenly looked worried. “But what about your family and your friends? They don’t even like me.”
Draco winked. “Well, they’ll have to then, won’t they? Because I’m going to marry you anyway, my future Mrs. Malfoy.”
Hermione laughed. “Wait til everyone hears. I certainly didn’t want to be a Malfoy in school with you, but now there’s nothing I want more.”
Draco grinned and then leaned down to kiss her. And it was with that kiss that the curse seemed to break. A sprig of mistletoe magically appeared above them, glimmering and sparkling. It broke in two then and disappeared, as the rest of the room seemed to emanate with the deepest and most powerful magic of all.
And as they broke apart, Draco smiled at the mirage of the enchantress over Hermione’s shoulder. She smiled at Draco and that was when he knew that he would never spend Christmas alone.
For the rest of his life, he would learn how to love the one woman he had sworn to hate. Somehow though, that didn’t seem like much of a punishment. Instead, he had gotten the greatest gift of all and would get to cherish it forever.