A/N: Before I apologize repeatedly for the embarrassing lack of updates, let me tell you that I do have a pair of good excuses! One is the fact that I have been incredibly busy (I know, I know, lame excuse...); the other, that I have been very unsatisfied with this chapter, which used to be three. None of them really told the story the way I wanted to. The first one was too lengthy and descriptive and got us nowhere; the second was pointless, and the third was what is below, in a shorter version. I decided to merge them and have done so. I'm sure loads of you will be disappointed; I fully expect reproaches for how artificially wrapped up this may seem, but it is the product of merging pointless chapters, please remember that! I must say that I considered every possible way of making both shippers happy, but, as most of you know, realism is what I value most, and what I came up with wasn't realistic at all. However short this may be, I am ultimately pleased with it.
So here is my view of things. Some ends are left to your imagination. I hope you have enjoyed the story; I have enjoyed writing it, and have admittedly been surprised by the success of both instalments. For advertisement's sake (!) I am currently working on a new Dramione which I am very excited about - it is more the style of writing I like, with a bit more action and a little less romance.
So here is the end of the 'Life' series. Thank you all for reading and reviewing - my gratitude can hardly be expressed.
One Year Later
Hermione gave a sigh of exhaustion as she closed the door behind her. Today’s work had dragged on and on. No amount of coffee had seemed enough to wake her from her stupor. Even lunch with a jolly, newly-wed Michael Corner had been tedious.
The kitchen was flowing in this morning’s breakfast leftovers. A bowl of cereal was still standing, uninvited, on the dining room table. Hermione simply looked around herself, too tired to contemplate washing up. There had been no mail today, and the Daily Prophet was nowhere to be found.
A shower later, Hermione got into her most comfortable pyjamas. It was rare that she felt this way. She could not even define what this was. Her mother had always told her to make herself a cup of tea when she got these sorts of moods, and Hermione took her advice. There was something homely and comfortable about the steaming mug. Goodness knows that homely and comfortable were things that Hermione needed. She still had not got quite used to her new surroundings, even nine months after purchasing them. Apartments had always seemed so foreign to Hermione. This one was not very grand and fairly neutral. Admittedly, she had not done much to improve it – time seemed to escape her, or else she simply attempted to escape.
Selling her cottage had been the right thing to do. It fetched at a surprisingly high price, and she had, at first, been pleased, offering half to Ron as promised, though he refused to take it. Hugo had begged her to get something in London, and Hermione did, close enough to the Ministry. She found she disliked London. Working there was one thing; living, another. London was not meant for women like her. London was for students, for single businessmen, for elderly widows in search of husbands. Hermione liked the practicality of London, but little more.
But she had to be fair to Hugo. It was not really him who had convinced her. It was the chance of bumping into Rose. As ever, when her thoughts crossed her daughter, her heart clenched and a lump rose in her throat. In those terrible days close to a year ago, in the aftermath of her accident and all the drama surrounding it, Hermione had lived in a haze. There were things she did not even remember. A very painful conversation with Ron did stand out – him trying not to yell at her as he demanded to know the circumstances of the accident, him nearly launching himself at Scorpius when he found out that his daughter had been quarrelling with him before falling down the flight of stairs, and, even worse, him coming face to face with Draco. Hermione could not help trembling a little. She had never seen such wrath. Ron had usually been good at controlling himself, but in such a situation, who could blame him?
Draco had done little to defend himself. His fellow Healers had pulled Ron off him fairly quickly, but even then he had emerged with a bloody lip, a bruised cheek and a closed eye. He had done nothing but glance at Hermione, silent, and then leave. Hermione could not summon the strength to reprimand Ron; her worry for Rose had been absolute.
Hermione sipped her tea quietly, suddenly cold. Had she ever experienced more relief than when Draco informed her that Rose would be all right? Those moments had been such a whirlpool of emotion that it was no wonder that it had left Hermione drained and useless for weeks to come.
When Rose woke up, she refused to speak to anyone but Ron. Hermione was desperate to explain, to apologize, to assure her of her love and to receive Rose’s in return, but for days, Rose was silent and unresponsive. And then came the conversation. Rose had summoned her, actually summoned her. It had been a curious spectacle, theatre-like. Gestures were made towards the bedside chair, Rose looked respectfully sombre, but there was a seriousness over the whole situation that made Hermione realize that things would never be the same.
Hermione started as she heard the door swing open. The couch she was sitting on did not face the entrance, but she did not budge, knowing whom it was. She was indulging in memories, painful though it was, when she felt a hand on her shoulder. The hand clenched as its body bent over and a pair of lips brushed over Hermione’s ear.
Draco murmured, ‘You all right?’
Hermione brushed the tears away from her face and put the mug down. Turning around, she feigned a smile and caressed Draco’s face. Much as Hermione had aged over the past year – and all her friends agreed she had – Draco had remained the same, boy-ish looks vanquishing the outlines of a worn and tired man.
‘How was your day?’
Draco loosened his tie. He must have removed his Healer robes at St Mungo’s. The expression on his face was clenched.
‘Not good. We lost Mrs McMadden today.’
‘Oh, darling,’ Hermione whispered, sympathizing. Losing a patient was always difficult for Draco. She sat up on her knees, drawing him into a hug. He relaxed in her embrace, clearly needing her affection.
Her lips moved to his neck and she brushed them against it for a few luxurious moments, as he remained silent. When she drew back to face him, and finally met his lips with hers, he dropped his briefcase on the floor and let out a sound of gratitude.
Hermione suddenly remembered her first kiss. How strange it had seemed to her, to discover a completely different language where no words were needed. Words had always been her forte. She had struggled with this different action, where another person instinctively knew what she wanted without her making a sound. It had always been peculiar to her.
Draco and Hermione broke apart a few moments later. She pushed him in the nearest armchair and gave him her mug of tea. He smiled at her.
Oh, that smile. How much that smile had helped. How much that smile had carried her through. When Rose had announced to her that she no longer wanted Hermione in her life, that smile had encouraged her to keep living. When Rose moved in with her father, and then later in her own studio in London, that smile had shown her that she would be all right. When Hugo told Hermione the Hogwarts gossip – that Joel Zabini’s elder brother, Gabriel Zabini, had moved in with Rose, despite their rocky past, and despite the fact that Scorpius was still in love with her – that smile had barely quivered. And when Ron was later promoted in the Ministry, and interviewed because of it, when Ron told the world that his only true love was and would always be Hermione, Draco’s smile still did not vanish.
He was a rock. He was dependable. He was loyal. So when she fell apart when Rose refused to talk to her, it was him who took her out every day. He did not allow her to bury herself in work. He did all this as a friend, but naturally, there came the day when Hermione ceased to care or think about the obstacles and simply threw it all away – simply loved him.
That was their state of being. Accommodating Hugo on school holidays, guiding Scorpius as an intern in Hermione’s department at the Ministry, loving each other, smiling, crying, being. There was never talk of marriage. Marriage was for young people who deserved chances. Marriage was for the likes of Asteria Greengrass-Corner. Hermione was grasping on to what she had so tightly that she could not contemplate changing it. Her state of being was fixed.
Her previous life was previous.
‘I’ll do the dishes,’ Draco said, finishing the tea and standing up. He threw the tie on the table and kissed Hermione again. ‘I’m the serial cereal eater, after all.’
Hermione smiled at him. Draco smiled back.
A/N: Quick explanation of a few characters' fates, because I anticipate reviews asking me about this! I had no way of including all this in my final chapter, so here are the outlines I did not include, but wanted to:
Asteria Greengrass: As you have probably guessed, Asteria marries Michael Corner. I can see her wanting to get married very quickly to stop people gossiping about her and Draco's break-up; also, I think my Michael Corner (who I regrettably had to cut out a lot) is a better influence on her than Draco, being faithful and stable. I think she gradually falls in love with him, but never gets over the loss of Draco and her miscarriage.
Rose Weasley: Rose gets a job as a journalist alongside her Aunt Ginny, writing about wizarding politics. She goes back to Gabriel, who she, oddly enough, feels safer with, because she never lets him get close to her, and he is too scared of losing her to protest against this. Does she ever stop loving Scorpius? Was she ever in love with him? Up to you, my dear readers.
Scorpius Malfoy: Scorpius tries pursuing Rose for a while, but ultimately gives up. He moves into a flat with Lily when she graduates, but it is a strictly platonic relationship that reconciles, for good, the Potters and Draco.
Hermione & Draco: This one, my dear readers, is left up to you. Marriage? Children? I know what my vision is, but I don't want it to influence you; in any case I hope you can guess it!