Chapter 15 : Epilogue
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Draco sat by his window, the manor cold and chilling in the clutch of the dark. It was November, over a year since that night of the Halloween Ball, when he had first kissed Hermione. He smiled painfully at the memory. It seemed like centuries ago.
The darkness stretched out before him, like a long and lonely road he would have to travel alone to his future. There were no stars tonight, no moon, no sign of warmth against the deep cold of the winter. The floor of the Malfoy gardens was frozen, the earth encrusted with frost, the grass dead and glinting silver, the flowers shrivelled and captured in an imprisonment of ice.
The wail of a baby pulled him back to reality. He turned to see Emstilla standing behind him, the small child cradled in her arms, his silver-blonde hair contrasting deeply with the deep blackness of his eyes.
“Sorry,” she whispered, smiling slightly as she began to edge slowly out of the room. “I didn’t realise you were in here . . .”
He scowled and looked down at the letter again. Hermione’s writing, certainly, despite the fact that it had been left unsigned. He stood up and brushed down his robes, straightening and crumpling the letter in his hand. He threw it into the fire, and watched as the flames leapt up to consume it. He sighed and started to make his way out of the room, into the hallway, down the stairs, into the Entrance Hall.
“Draco, where are you going?” His mother asked, and he turned to see her regarding him with a weak smile of concern.
“Just walking, mother. I shan’t be long. Tell Emstilla I’ll be back later.”
She nodded but did not move as her eyes followed him out of the door. He shut it fast behind him, shivering in the cold air. He didn’t care about the winter; it was good to actually feel something again for once, to drive away the pain of loss and emptiness.
He passed the fountain, dead with chill, and strode slowly down the bitter stone steps, drab and grey and cold, then up the gravel drive towards the forest. He knew she would be waiting for him. He didn’t know what to think, how to feel . . . he hadn’t seen her since that last night after the battle, when she had confronted him with a grim smile and told him that their love could no longer exist, it wasn’t fair on others. First there was Emstilla, pregnant with the child, alone and abandoned because of him. Then there was his mother, widowed now that her husband had been locked away permanently in Azkaban. Then what of Ron, of Harry, of her own parents? It was always ‘what about them?’, ‘but what about this?’ It could never be about what they wanted, what would make themselves happy.
He reached the edge of the trees, and he found her, sitting alone on the bench. She had changed since last he saw her; her face was etched with fatigue, her eyes tired, the lights gone out of them. She looked up when she noticed his approach, smiled nervously when she caught his eye. He didn’t return it. Didn’t know what to say.
She stood up, catching his hand in hers. She leaned forwards to hug him, but he remained still and unwilling, did not show any sign of recognition or warmth.
“Draco, this is the last time we can meet again.”
“You came all this way just to tell me that?” He asked her coolly.
“No, I came all this way to see you – find out how you were. And to say goodbye.”
He nodded. “Well, I’m fine. I’d better be going now.”
She caught his hand as he turned away, and he was forced to look at her, properly this time. She was still beautiful, still Hermione. Her hair curled over her shoulders, soft and brown and luscious, her face was lightly freckled, her brown eyes warm and kind. Her lips were peony and cherry-shaped; her neck fragile and ivory as it widened to her shoulders. As every remembered detail became stronger, so did his feelings for her, the ones that he had driven down and forced to the back of his mind. He should have known – it’s always in the back of your mind. When everything is dark, still something shines.
“Herm, I miss you so much,” he whispered, his voice swallowed with the agony of his longing.
She nodded, tears starting now. “The feeling’s mutual, Draco.” She swallowed hard, forcing away the painful lump in her throat. “But this is how it’s got to be. We both know that.”
“Why didn’t you visit me? Why didn’t you ever write?”
“What would be the point?” She wondered allowed, looking up to stare at him through honey-coloured eyes. “It would only make it harder.” She looked away again, the wind catching her hair and playing with it roughly. “There’s nothing we can do. I just . . . I just wanted you to know that I’m married now, I’ve got someone to take care of me. And as much as I want to have you, I can’t. You’re married too . . . and you’ve got a child.” He nodded. She was stating the facts. “I want you to know that whatever happens, I’ll always love you, and you’ll always have a place in my heart.”
He was crying now. He nodded to her words, and said softly, “To the bitter end.”
“Nothing, just thinking aloud.” He gathered her up in his arms, like he used to in the old days, and she looked up to kiss him softly. He drew away, unable to bare it, unable to go through all of this again. He smiled wryly. “I’m thinking about a brand new hope . . . one I’ve never known, and now I know it so much, I want it.”
“No.” She said firmly. “It’s got to be this way.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
He squeezed her hand, and she bowed her head, unable to look at him any longer, all that she could have had. Condemned from the start. The words echoed in their heads as they stood together for that one last time. Then Draco leant forward, smoothed the hair from her brow, and kissed her forehead, softly, gently, that one last touch the most recent they would reflect forever.
He watched her go, watched her walk away from his life. She disappeared beyond the trees, along the edge of the smudge of driveway to the barricading gates, slipping out and into the Muggle taxi that was growling as it waited for her. A flash of car lights, a revving of an engine, and she was gone.
He turned away, retracing his steps back up to the manor, feeling more lonely and empty than he had ever done before. Hermione Granger had been his light, been his sorrow, been his joy. No regrets were useless in his mind; she would always be in his head. That warm slice of solace caused him to pick up his stride a little, to draw at the smallest hint of a smile. He felt himself begin to relax, despite the rawness of his loss. He reflected all the smiles that were forever going to haunt him, the collision of her kiss, the love that was made so hard. Way down, it lived on inside him.
For all the lies that he ever told her, for all of the love that they ever shared, for all of the misery that was always going to scar him, he knew that hate was never going to catch him. Draco Malfoy was less than content. Hermione Granger had given him something in life he had never known he’d possessed: she’d given him a heart.
So he left behind the sway of the trees, the whisper of his past, forgetting her, but not the time.
Ron had the kettle boiling when she returned. The house was warm and cosy, their child asleep upstairs. She reflected the face of the child, now only a few weeks old, with her silver-blonde hair, her remarkable steely-grey eyes. She knew she would never tell Draco, because it wouldn’t be fair. She had told him to go with Emstilla because the poor girl was innocent in all of this; she had Draco’s child and Hermione wanted to make sure the pair raised it together.
Hermione had been given a second chance. When everything had failed, she had had someone to fall back on. Ron had never stopped loving her. He was kind and caring, and neither of them ever spoke about the father of the child.
Ron stepped forward to greet her. “All right?”
She nodded and raised her head to smile reassuringly at him. “I’m fine.”
He smiled. “I made us some tea. Sit down, you look exhausted.”
He would never have her whole heart, Ron knew that. But he had her care, and the warmth she shared for her family. There was stability there. He knew who had stolen her heart, and although it bothered him, he knew better than to question her about it. He had no right. The sacrifice she had made was cruel. Her love for Draco Malfoy still thrived strong. At night, when she thought he was asleep, he could hear her silent tears as they coursed down her cheeks. She would never be his; underneath the layers of her smiles, she would forever belong to Draco Malfoy.
Author's Note: So, we come to the end at last.
Can I just say thanks so much to all those gorgeous people who have been with me all the way in this fic? This includes: Snitchsista, dreamer, Forbidden LOVE, cliche but oh so true, xshadowrosesx, and last but not least - Malfoy's_Mistress. I love you all so much for all your support and feedback!! Yeah, you're rad and you rock!!
I've got many more stories to post up, so don't give up hope on me.
Thanks to all!!