Pansy had now resigned herself to counting the stepping stones in the garden. She had lost track of time but she had come to realize that in losing time, she lost her problems too. She could have been sitting here for twenty minutes or two hours and she didn’t know the difference. She was unaware of the rest of the world and therefore, the rest of the world didn’t exist – to her. Ron wasn’t going to die. Draco wasn’t unconscious.
“Twelve, thirteen…” she said, her dark eyes intently focused on making sure she didn’t count the same stone twice. “Fourteen…”
“You know, around here, if you talk to yourself, they’ll lock you up.”
Pansy turned around. It took her a few seconds to recognize the extraordinarily tall figure standing beside her and by the time she did, he had laid down his two walking aids and sat down by her side. Pansy tried to open her mouth to say something but she couldn’t bring herself to make a sound. So instead, she clasped her hands around her mouth and let her eyes well up silently.
“Don’t be fooled by the walking aids,” Ron assured her. “I’m okay. I got us some chicken pot pie and I wasn’t sure what kind of drink you liked so I got pumpkin, apple and boysenberry juice.”
He drew his wand out and conjured up a table in front of them, removing the food and drinks from a large white bag that had the St. Mungo’s Cafeteria logo on it.
“You’re hungry, aren’t you?” he asked, watching as Pansy removed her hands from her mouth and nodded silently.
Ron unwrapped the large slices of chicken pot pie and placed them in front of Pansy and himself. He reached into the bottom of the bag and tried to find the forks he knew he’d asked for and when he did, he gingerly laid them down by each slice.
“You shouldn’t have been worried about me,” he said. “I’m a Weasley. It takes a lot to get rid of us. We’re very persistent people.”
He smiled at Pansy and saw that she still had silent tears running down the sides of her face. He let out a small chuckle and put his arm around Pansy’s tiny shoulders. “Come on. There’s no need to cry – I’m not dead. We should be happy. We should be eating chicken pot pie.”
That made Pansy smile and she let out a small choked up laugh as she leaned into Ron and buried her face on his shoulder. He rubbed her back with his hand gently and moved in closer so that Pansy’s head was resting between his head and his chest. With his other hand, he reached into the white lunch bag and pulled out a napkin.
“Here,” he said. He wiped Pansy’s cheeks lightly and she eventually sat up straight, taking the napkin from his hand and cleaning her face completely.
“I’m sorry,” she muttered amidst a sniffle. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m crying so much. It seems inhuman how much I’ve cried today. I just feel like so much more has changed in the past day than I had thought, than I had planned.”
Pansy picked up a flask of pumpkin juice and drained it fairly quickly as Ron dug into his chicken pot pie. The warm spring breeze was gentle as it danced around them and Pansy began to appreciate the beauty of the nature she had been sitting in for the last hour.
“So what are you going to do now?” Pansy asked Ron.
“I don’t really know,” he said honestly. “I can’t work for a few months and even if I wanted to, Harry and Hermione would probably strap me down a chair and tie me up to stop me. I don’t know. Harry and Ginny are getting married so maybe I’ll help plan the wedding.”
Pansy laughed. “I can imagine it now: a chudley cannon themed wedding with bright orange banners and ice in the shape of snitches. I hope, for everyone’s sake, you stay away from the wedding.”
“Well alright,” Ron agreed, a wide grin on his face. “Maybe wedding planning isn’t in my future. But I still have the wedding to look forward to – we could go together.”
Before Ron really had time to complete his thought, Pansy leaned in and pressed her lips to his. Ron didn’t hesitate to respond, dropping his fork on the table and leaning his free hand against her cheek. She pressed her body into his, deepening the kiss. Ron could taste the salty tears on her lips, smell the fragrant coconut in her hair and feel the warmth of her skin against his.
“What was that for?” he asked as she pulled away.
Pansy turned back to her food and started to prod it with her fork. “It was my way of thanking you for being the sweetest man I have ever met. I can’t even remember the last time someone asked me out on a proper date.” She paused as her heart skipped a beat watching Ron blush. “You’re a very good kisser.”
She flashed Ron a mesmerizing smile and though his cheeks were now a bright red, he returned it with a small laugh. Pansy continued, “It’s also my way of leaving on a very happy note.”
Ron’s smile faded and a confused look took over his brown eyes. He furrowed his brow. “Leaving?”
“Ron, I’m not Weasley-quality quite yet.” She put her fingers to Ron’s lips as he opened his mouth to protest. “I have a lot of soul searching to do. After what happened last night with Hector and more importantly, with you, I started to realize that once I leave that poisonous environment, I can face my demons and my past. Last night was the most personal and passionate human contact I’ve had in a long while and it made me realize that whatever we had… whatever we have, I don’t want to mess it up. I want to become a better person, if only to deserve having you.”
“Pansy, you don’t-”
“I was mentally abused for years by my parents. I have been physically abused by so many men and I was raped by two of the most disgusting human beings on the planet. All of that doesn’t just go away in one night. But last night was a start, a huge start.”
“You can’t get rid of your entire history.”
“I know, but I can learn to accept it. I look at myself sometimes and hate what I see. I used to be so ashamed of what I had let myself become that I used to clench my fists to control the tears from spilling out. I used to clench them so tightly that I once opened my palms and found nail marks embedded in my skin and blood all over my hands.”
Pansy held up her palm to Ron and in the light, he could see the faded nail marks still embedded within her skin. He looked back at her determined dark eyes and he saw a different woman, a stronger woman.
Ron’s desire to protest had faded. He knew that whatever had happened between him and Pansy had been something special. He wanted to be with her, to hold her like he had last night but he couldn’t make her decisions for her. Over 20 years of damage couldn’t be repaired in one night and he faced that fact with grimness. It would take time and energy and a lot of personal investment and if she wanted to do that by herself, then he had no right to stop her.
“So what now?” Ron asked.
“I don’t know,” she muttered. “Maybe I’ll finally get an apartment. I’ve literally spent my entire adult life living in hotels and inns while travelling for Witch Weekly. They offered me a less nomadic job last year and I turned it down but I think I’ll accept it. My family has some bits of land all over Europe that I could go and see. Maybe I’ll sell them or come up with some sort of use for it all. I’m babbling, aren’t I? I don’t really have a concrete plan.”
“Maybe that’s a good thing.”
Pansy rolled her eyes and lightly punched Ron’s arm. “Why are you being so understanding?”
Ron smiled. “I’m making you feel guilty for deciding to reject me,” he replied sarcastically. “No, the honest truth is that I know you’re doing the right thing. Part of me – albeit a very small part – was hoping you’d say no to me. You deserve to spend time with yourself and figure it all out. And then, one day when you’ve found what you’re looking for, we can give this – us - another shot.”
Pansy nodded. “Yeah.”
They continued their meal in silence, occasionally interrupting with talk of the future. For the most part though, Pansy watched with melancholic amusement as Ron finished his food and then whatever was left of hers, as he described his love for the chudley cannons and as he marveled at all the quidditch celebrities she had met while working.
When they finished their food and decided to head back up, Pansy leaned in again and kissed him. Her hands wove through Ron’s red hair and she could feel the urge to hold on to him, to hold on to the warmth he brought to her. Her eyes were closed and as Ron’s hands moved up her waist and cupped her face, she felt the same urgency in him.
When they finally broke apart, Ron looked at Pansy and asked her, “What was that one for?”
“One for the road,” she explained.
He gently squeezed her hand and smiled. “One for the road,” he agreed.
“Ginny?” Harry called, as he entered 12 Grimmauld Place. “Ginny?”
There was silence, filled only by the creaking sounds made as Harry stepped on the old floors. He shut the door behind him and directed his head up the stairs. “Ginny, it’s me. Is everything alright?”
He heard some thumping from upstairs and a few seconds later, Ginny appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked as though she had just finished running a marathon; she was out of breath, her face was pale and sweaty and her hands were trembling.
“Oh Harry,” she said frantically. “You have no idea how happy I am to see you. I’ve been running around like a mad woman. I didn’t know where to go and I sent you three owls but I had no idea where you were!”
Any happiness that Harry had been experiencing after their successful night dissipated in a moment. He ran up the stairs and put his arms around Ginny, gently rubbing her back to calm her down. “What’s wrong?” he asked. “Ginny, it’s ok. What’s wrong? Is it Teddy?”
She shook her head. “No, no, he’s fine. He’s playing in the backyard.” She paused. “It’s Narcissa Malfoy.”
Harry was extremely confused. “What? What about her? Where’s Eli?”
“That’s just it,” she muttered. “I don’t know. It was late last night and I went to give him his potion and it wasn’t him. Narcissa Malfoy was lying in the bed and she was unconscious and really, really thin and weak. I tried to talk to her but kept falling in and out of consciousness. And I couldn’t go to St. Mungo’s because she’s supposed to be in Azkaban and with Draco being here, I wasn’t sure if he…” Ginny trailed off.
Harry couldn’t really process this unusual information and so he walked past Ginny, towards the bedroom where they had left Eli. As he passed one of the windows in the hallway, he spotted Teddy pulling out grass in the bright yard and tossing it around, as though it were confetti. Whatever was happening probably involved some form of illegal activity and he didn’t want Teddy or Ginny to be a part of that.
He entered the room, with Ginny following closely behind him and sure enough, on the bed, there lay a frail, old woman with gaunt features, sunken into her face. Her long blonde hair was straw-like, and framed her thin face, making her look almost emaciated. Harry leaned down and pressed his fingers to her wrist, checking for a pulse.
“She’s alive,” Ginny assured him. “I’ve been checking every half hour.”
“What else did you do?” Harry asked.
“I’ve been giving her water,” Ginny explained. “I tried to get her to eat but she’s barely awake. She’s been really quiet, hasn’t said much. What’s going on, Harry?”
“I don’t know,” Harry said, shaking his head. “I got news that Narcissa Malfoy died last night in Azkaban. It makes no sense. And why would Eli just leave?”
Harry froze at that thought and suddenly looked at what Narcissa was currently wearing. She was covered in a blue sheet but underneath it, Harry could make out a white shirt and black vest, atop dark pants that were far too big for her. “These are Eli’s clothes,” Harry muttered. Suddenly, he had a horrifying thought. “Where is that potion you were supposed to be giving Eli?”
Ginny bit her lip and slowly pointed to the floor where a congealed grey liquid was starting to dry up, amidst pieces of glass. “I dropped the vial when I first saw her. The potion spilled all over the floor.”
Harry didn’t even need to look at it twice to recognize it. “It’s polyjuice potion,” he said, looking back at Narcissa. “It was never Eli in the bed. Were you late to give it to her last night?”
“Yes!” Ginny exclaimed, suddenly realizing. “Yes, I was. I was putting Teddy to bed and I couldn’t have been more than five minutes late. Wait, so if Eli was never here and it was Narcissa Malfoy all along, then who-”
“Eli,” Harry said, somberly. “Eli was the one who died in Azkaban last night.”
He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hands as he leaned against the bed. The fight may have ended but the aftermath had brought its own caliber of disaster. The escape was exactly the same as Barty Crouch Sr. had executed to release his son from Azkaban, replacing him with his dying wife. The dementors were unable to detect the difference between the two and so to them, nothing was wrong.
A small, stifled cough escaped Narcissa’s lips and she gasped for air. The sound lasted only a second and as she fell back towards the bed, she seemed to be even more withered than before.
“We’ve got to get her to the hospital, Harry,” Ginny insisted.
“It’s not that easy,” Harry explained. “St. Mungo’s isn’t going to very well treat a convicted criminal who was supposed to have died last night. Alright, help me get her up. I’ll try to figure something out.”
Hermione lay on the bed, her head resting on the pillow as she watched Draco button his shirt beside her. They had been lying there, just the two of them, for what seemed like a minute but what actually turned out to be a half hour. But, as the clock struck three o’clock and the chimes resounded through the grounds, they realized that their fairytale would have to come to an end – or at least, be put on hold until real life sorted itself out.
It seemed natural that after the moment they had shared – finally declaring their love for each other – that they stop there and not take their relationship any further for now. Admitting love was, after all, a huge step and Hermione felt like she needed some time to really let it sink in, to realize that it was all real. Part of her did, admittedly, want to see if their physical connection was as strong as their emotional one but judging by the way his kiss sent little pulses of shock through her body, she had little doubt that it was. Hermione knew that she was in this for the long run and there would be lots of time to do whatever they wanted. And if the last few months had taught them anything, it was that patience wasn’t a problem.
“What’s that smile on your face?” Hermione asked, propping her herself up on her elbow as Draco got off the bed.
“I just imagined telling my eleven year old self that he would one day make out with Hermione Granger in a hospital room.”
Hermione laughed. “Little Hermione probably wouldn’t be too thrilled about it either.”
As Draco leaned in to kiss Hermione, there was a knock on the door that startled them both. Hermione got off the bed and adjusted her blouse while Draco went over and unlocked the wooden door with a spell, opening it to reveal a lanky man with red hair.
“Oh,” Sean Clavell said, taken aback at seeing Draco instead of Hermione.
“Hi Sean,” Hermione said, quickly making her way to the door. Draco looked at the two of them, confused.
“I have the-” Sean began, clearly unnerved about having intruded something.
“Can you leave it in my office?” she asked. She shot a quick look to Draco who had now determined that this was some unrelated healer discussion and was now occupied with the bruises on his hand.
“Yeah, sure,” Sean muttered, looking at Draco with great confusion. He held up the white folder in his hand. “There wasn’t much.”
Hermione nodded. “Thanks.”
She shut the door quickly but before she could completely close it, someone else pushed it open and came in. “Harry!” Hermione exclaimed, surprised and worried at the speed at which he entered the room and closed the door behind him.
She looked at Draco who shrugged, indicating that he didn’t know what was going on either. “What’s wrong?” Draco asked.
“Did you break your mother out of Azkaban?” Harry asked, bluntly.
Draco looked abashed. “What?”
Harry could tell by the stunned expressions on both Draco and Hermione that they knew nothing about what had been going on. “You better come with me.” He turned to Hermione. “You too, Hermione; we need a healer there.”
Draco didn’t even pause to ask what was going on. He rushed out the door, following Harry as he turned down a second hallway and went deeper into the Malfoy Wing. Hermione trailed behind and the three of them ended up at a white door.
Before Harry could reach for the door, it opened and a little woman in lime green robes came out, holding a large folder. She was startled by the presence of Draco and Hermione but once she caught Harry’s eye, her demeanor relaxed and she smiled. “Will that be all, Mr. Potter?” she asked. “She’s in bed right now.”
“Yes, thank you,” he replied.
“Are you sure we can’t do anything else for you? I understand that-”
“This is an incredibly sensitive matter,” Harry said. He tried to avoid Draco and Hermione’s confused gazes. “She is a material witness in a confidential investigation with the Ministry and right now, we’d just like to make sure she’s healthy. I have arranged for a private healer. I hope I can count on your discretion in the matter.”
“Absolutely, sir.” The nurse smiled and then pointed back to the room. “All the supplies are inside, like you asked.”
Harry nodded and as the witch left, ushered Hermione and Draco inside.
The scene in front of him was a surreal experience.
Draco couldn’t really believe that the frail creature lying between the sheets was the same strong woman who had raised him. He didn’t get to see much of her face since he was quietly standing at the doorway while Hermione tended to Narcissa, ordering Harry and Ginny to get certain potion ingredients, but from what he could see, it seemed like she was resting peacefully, as though she was taking a short nap. Every ten minutes or so, Hermione would loudly assert that she could still feel a pulse – and she would do this more for Draco than herself – so he knew she was alive.
“Here’s the snapper’s root,” Harry said, placing a grey plant in Hermione’s hand.
Hermione crushed it with her fingers and pressed whatever was left in her hand against Narcissa’s forehead. She waited for a few seconds, felt for a pulse and then stood up, wiping her hands on a towel. “She should wake up soon.” She looked at Draco with a worried expression but his face was as unexpressive as it had ever been. She turned to Ginny and spoke. “Do you think you could go get some chocolate? I don’t know how much damage the dementors have done over two years but chocolate’s the only thing that can help.”
“Right,” Ginny agreed. “I’ll go and do that.”
She paused to see if Harry would come with her but he gave her a look that confirmed to her that he would be staying here. She nodded to him once and left the room.
“For Merlin’s sake, Draco,” Hermione said anxiously. “Please say something.”
Draco maintained his poker face. “Check her left knee.”
Hermione looked at Harry and then back at Draco. She knew what he was saying and she knew it was absurd but she did as she was told. She moved aside the blue sheets covering Narcissa’s body and rolled up the oversized pants of Eli’s that she had been wearing, revealing the pale, bony leg underneath. She drew the thick fabric over her left knee.
“Is there a scar behind the knee?” he asked. His voice trembled slightly.
“It’s her, Draco,” Hermione assured him. “She hasn’t had polyjuice potion in hours. You and I both recognize her.”
“Is there a scar behind the knee?” he repeated. His voice was louder this time, but it still trembled. “Just check it.”
Hermione knelt down beside the bed and turned Narcissa’s leg to reveal its underside. Draco and Harry were on the other side of the bed and so the back of the knee was only visible to her. Under her knee cap, dead center, Hermione saw a large, jagged scar that appeared to have been there for years now.
“It’s her,” Hermione repeated. She waited for Draco to say something but he just dropped his gaze to Narcissa and knelt down beside her. Hermione stood up, shooting a brief glance at Harry who gave her a reassuring nod. It would all be ok, he seemed to be saying. They both left the room.
Draco took Narcissa’s hand into his own and closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of her skin on his own flesh. He wanted to make sure it was real, that he wasn’t hallucinating all over again. He felt her pulse under his fingers, he saw the color appearing in her cheeks and when he squeezed her hand, she stirred.
“Mother,” he said, very softly. Narcissa remained unresponsive. “Mother.”
Every ounce of hope in him seemed to be resting on these few moments. He waited while she stirred a little more and then he tried again. “Mum.”
Narcissa opened her eyes this time, revealing the icy blue irises beneath her lids. She was dazed, barely breathing but her gaze was fixated on Draco, recognizing him for the first time in a very long time. Her lips quivered slightly and for a moment, Draco thought she was trying to say something, but they curved into a weak smile and he felt gently squeeze his own hand.
“I’ve missed you,” he said quietly, kissing her hand. “I’ve felt like an orphan these last few years.”
“Draco…” That was all Narcissa was able to say and the word came out more like a sigh but he heard it and he felt like a parched man being offered a sip of water. Tears began to appear in her eyes and a few of them slipped out, sliding down her hollow cheeks.
“I won’t ever leave you again,” he promised her.
He drew a set of sheets over Narcissa to keep her warm, as Ginny walked back into the room with chocolate, followed by Harry and Hermione. She placed the tray of chocolate by the bedside and the three of them watched as Narcissa’s barely open eyes began to close and she drifted off into a dreamless sleep.
“It’s going to be like that for a while,” Hermione explained. “She’s very weak.”
“There’s no way she managed to get out of Azkaban by herself. She could barely move her hands.” Draco said. He looked at Harry. “You said you think that Eli did the same thing as Barty Crouch Sr?”
“That’s the theory,” Harry said. “He was the one who-”
Harry’s words were interrupted when the door opened and Ron and Pansy walked in, looking equally confused. Ron first looked at Ginny and his first instinct was one of relief, seeing that she was safe. But that feeling lasted only a moment as his eyes darted over to the limp body lying on the bed in the hospital room. All the color drained from his face.
“The healer said you were in here,” Pansy explained. She, oblivious to Ron’s sudden change, was genuinely confused and unaware of what was happening. “What’s going on?”
Harry tried to start explaining what had happened while Hermione and Ginny listened themselves, hoping to understand the full story. Draco, however, had focused his attention on Ron who was now a ghostly pale white. And then, almost instantaneously, it made sense to him.
“Weasley,” Draco said.
Ron looked up at him momentarily but his eyes fell back onto Narcissa. “She’s not dead, is she?” he asked.
“No,” Hermione answered. “Ron, are you okay?”
“This was you,” Draco said to Ron. He waited for Ron to protest but the red head showed no inclination of saying anything for the time being. “There was no way my mother could have walked out of Azkaban alone, even if Eli had made the switch himself. You were the one who gave me the vial containing the polyjuice potion. You were the one who brought her home.”
“Ron…?” Harry said, his voice trailing off as though he expected Ron to jump in and correct this silly misunderstanding. But Ron remained silent. “You mean to say that you knew all along that it was Narcissa Malfoy? Why wouldn’t you say something?”
Pansy had a terrified look in her eyes as she, along with everyone else, looked at Ron. “Eli told me not to,” Ron finally said. “I swear, I just thought we were going to the Ministry to finish up the paperwork on Lestrange. I fell asleep in the carriage and the next thing I knew, I woke up and we were at Azkaban. Eli was sick, he was coughing and he could barely breathe. He said he was dying.”
“And you didn’t think that was worth mentioning?” Draco jumped in. Hermione put her hand on his chest to keep him back as she turned to Ron, waiting for him to continue his story.
“He said he needed me to get him access to your mother. He knew how Barty Crouch had gotten his son out and he wanted to get her out the same way. I think he knew how much it would mean for you to have her free. I argued with him and told him that we’d be able to get her out as soon as we took care of things with Lestrange but he wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. He told me he was going to die in a few hours, and if his death could give an innocent woman life, then it would not be in vain.”
Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes with her sleeve and looked at Draco who seemed to be unable to process it all. He was angry that Ron had lied to him, grateful that his mother was alive, horrified that his loyal friend had died saving her life and confused, as to how to feel about it all.
“We made the switch and Eli told me that it was probably better if she got enough polyjuice potion to keep her disguised for a day or two. I think he wanted to make sure that you weren’t distracted while you were fighting with Lestrange. I’m sorry about it all.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Hermione said slowly.
“You helped save Narcissa’s life,” Pansy agreed, wiping away the moisture on her cheeks.
Ron, however, seemed unfazed by the words of comfort. He looked to Draco who seemed to finally be reacting to the overwhelming information he had just received. He waited for Draco to say something but he seemed to prefer remaining silent, taking everything in and saying nothing in return. Harry, sensing the temperature of the room, suggested that he and Ginny go back to the Burrow to check in with the rest of the Weasleys. Pansy and Hermione took the hint and agreed that they should get a little rest after the long night.
After the four of them departed, only Ron and Draco remained in the room and the silence deepened until Ron finally spoke. “He wanted me to tell you that you were like a son to him.”
“He shouldn’t have died,” Draco said, his voice low.
“He was going to die, regardless of whether it was in Azkaban or at Grimmauld Place. I think it meant a lot to him that he was serving your family. He wanted you to be happy.”
“He was my family,” Draco replied. “For the last two years, he was the only family I had and I don’t think he ever knew how much I needed him. What’s there to be happy about?”
“He was a pretty wise chap,” Ron defended. “He knew a lot more than any of us give him credit for. I never really got to know him and that’s my loss. But you didn’t just know him, you were his friend. That’s something to be happy about. It’s something to celebrate.”
Draco nodded. That part was true. There was a certain amount of privilege in knowing who Eli Holmes was, in growing up beside him, in calling him a friend. The world may not have known him and Ron was right, it was their loss. He had had the honor of sharing the same roof with a man as wise, loyal and humble as Eli. And that honor only grew with his death because only Eli could take something as unpleasant as death and use it to give life to another. He pressed his hand to Narcissa’s wrist where he felt her beating pulse, the feeling of blood rushing through her veins and arteries, giving her life. Eli would always live on in Narcissa’s life and in Draco’s memories.
Ron waited for Draco to say something but he realized that he had wandered off into his own thoughts and after a few minutes of waiting, Ron, too, left.
While Pansy had gone back to their room to rest, Hermione had insisted on heading to the cafeteria to get some food. In reality, she had taken a sharp right and descended one floor until she reached an orange hallway that hosted offices for healers.
Four doors down, she saw an oak door labeled ‘Hermione Granger’ on the front. She opened it quickly and entered her own office with swiftness, worried that someone might recognize her. She could feel the guilt coursing through her veins as she looked over at her large wooden desk, at the center of which rested the papers that Sean Clavell had found for her.
But she wasn’t lying. She just hadn’t told Draco the full truth. She had explained to him that Cassius had traded his horcrux for Lestrange but she had omitted the part about the true contents of the memory that had been left for him. She never told him about the fact that the memory Natalie had left for him didn’t only show Natalie’s death but the hour before it, and that she suspected she knew what Natalie had confided in Narcissa.
She rushed over to the large desk and looked at the file. It appeared that Sean had actually found two files, one which read ‘Natalie Malfoy’ and the other which read ‘Natalie Baudelaire’. Hermione guessed that Natalie had used her maiden name so that her medical records wouldn’t be traced back to the Malfoy name.
She tossed aside the Malfoy file and opened the Baudelaire one, looking through the first set of papers. They were dated almost three years ago and were records of a positive pregnancy test. Hermione flipped through the pages, reading about the progression of the pregnancy. There were prescriptions for prenatal potions, various examinations done to make sure the baby was alright and finally, she came upon the document she had been looking for.
It was dated two years ago and was a blue sheet of parchment. Hermione looked at it and almost instantly, she found what she had been looking for.
Hermione caught her breath and turned around sharply, turning to see who had entered her office. As she did, she drew the papers in her hand behind her back.
“Draco,” she said, stunned as he entered the room with a perplexed look on his face. “Are… are you okay?”
“Yeah, I think so,” Draco answered. “I wanted to see if you –”
However, his words trailed off as his eyes looked at the file that Hermione had tossed aside, labeled ‘Natalie Malfoy’. He looked back up at her face and this time, the guilt seeped through every pore in her skin and he could feel it radiating from her. At first, Draco was confused. He didn’t understand why Hermione would be looking at Natalie’s medical records but as tragedy often illuminates even the most hidden subtleties, the answer popped into Draco’s mind.
“She knew who the father was, didn’t she?” he asked.
Hermione thought about what to say but she didn’t want to lie to Draco. She bit her lip and nodded, slowly, analyzing the reaction on Draco’s face.
“And?” he asked.
He walked towards Hermione as she held out the paper behind her back. At first, she was worried that he would be angry at her but instead, as he reached for the paper with his right hand, his left encircled her other hand and he gently held on to it. They would do this together and not because Draco couldn’t do it himself but because he didn’t want to. They were stronger together, better individuals together and he needed her.
“She had a paternity spell done the day before she died,” Hermione explained. He held the blue sheet out and read the two sentences on the page. “I’m sorry, Draco.”
Paternity test results BAUDELAIRE, N 2634
Two separate paternity spells on the patient confirm that the father of BG2634 is Cassius L.
“Are you alright?” Hermione asked.
At first Draco didn’t respond, still examining the sheet. But he turned to her, his grey eyes filled with wisdom that he hadn’t had two years ago and he nodded slowly. “She wanted it to be Cassius,” he said. “And he never had any doubts that it was his child.”
“I know you loved her,” Hermione sympathized.
“Not like he did. Never like he did.” He felt her gently press her palm against his and he smiled weakly at her. “Not like I love you.”
Hermione leaned in and kissed him, a wave of relief sweeping over her body as Draco took the news with a newfound sense of maturity and acumen. His kiss deepened and Hermione gladly responded, leaning against the wall as his hands swept over her body and rested right beneath her face, cupping it gently. He pulled back and allowed her some air.
She swept some of the stray hairs from her face, observing Draco and as she did so, she felt like she owed it to him to fill in the missing gaps from last night’s story. “Natalie told your mother about the baby,” she explained. “She left you the news in a letter that Cassius took last night. He probably knows by now.”
The notion didn’t trouble Draco as much as she thought it would. “Of the three of us, he was the one with no doubts that it was his child. I doubt the information would faze him too much.”
“I don’t know about that,” Hermione argued. “To see it in front of him like that, I think it would affect him. And I don’t think he knew everything that was written in that letter, especially if he didn’t see Natalie between the time she left St. Mungo’s and the time she died.”
Draco furrowed his brow as Hermione picked up the blue sheet of parchment from her desk and showed it to him. “Look at this,” she said, pointing to the second line. “BG2634.”
“What does that mean?” Draco asked.
“2634 is Natalie’s patient number,” Hermione explained.
“And BG?” Draco asked.
Hermione paused before answering, her chocolate brown eyes giving Draco a knowing look. “Baby Girl.”
Cassius could see all of Malfoy Manor from the lookout point atop the mountain. The houses in the little neighboring village looked like miniature doll houses from his view, the street lights like little fireflies and the clouds like little balls of cotton. He felt the rough texture of the parchment against his fingers which, still bloodstained from the events of an hour ago, had tainted the letter with red smudges.
To my dearest Draco, I had asked that this letter be sent upon my death in Azkaban and so I hope it receives you in better health than me. You are my son and I love you and with everything that has happened to you and to our family, I think I owe it to you to share something Natalie shared with me the day she died.
The child she was carrying was Cassius’ child – his daughter. Natalie went to St. Mungo’s the day before her passing and the healers told her that she was having a baby girl and that is belonged to Cassius. I’m sorry. I know how much that baby meant to you and how much Natalie meant to you and I wouldn’t have told you this unless I felt it was absolutely necessary for you to know. I gave her my blessing that day when she told me and I think, in time, you would have agreed to do so as well. I used to worry that you would fall into your father’s shadow and blame Natalie – just like he did, until he died. But somehow, you managed to escape that and I know that in due time, you will forgive her and you will forgive me for keeping this from you.
I think everyone in life deserves a second chance – Natalie did, which is why I gave her my blessing that day and so do you. I will always love you.
Cassius read the words over again.
Cassius’ child - his daughter.
A few hours ago, he had felt Hermione destroy his only horcrux. A wave of pain had seared through his skin and pierced his head but it disappeared shortly after and Cassius was left feeling as though he had just lost half of himself. That feeling of loss and pain was nothing compared to the feeling of having his heart ripped out of his chest that he was experiencing right now.
They were having a baby, a baby girl. Cassius had never really considered the baby itself – the struggle had always been between him and Draco and never had he stopped to think that if Natalie had survived, within a few months, there would have been a little baby girl in this world.
Not a son, like his ancestors had always strived for - a daughter, a little Natalie who would have inherited her mother’s beautiful blonde hair or maybe Cassius’ dark hair. She would have had light eyes though and fair skin, maybe chubby cheeks because both Cassius and Natalie had been chubby babies. She would have inherited every wonderful thing from her mother, her enigmatic smile, flawless grace and her unlimited ability to give love and compassion. She would have been the epitome of pureness, just like her mother who would have dissolved any and all the horrible genes Cassius possessed.
She would have been perfect.
It took Cassius a few seconds to realize that moisture was running down his cheeks. He couldn’t remember shedding a single tear since the day Natalie died but then again – he thought, as he held the parchment in his hands – this was like losing Natalie all over again.
He had thought that killing Lestrange would have given him some sort of satisfaction, filled the emptiness within him. Initially, he hadn’t planned on killing Lestrange at all. He had wanted to torture him, make him suffer slowly just as he had, just as Natalie had. But when he had brought Lestrange to an empty hollow after escaping from the Manor, all the patience within him faded. All his calculated plans dissolved and he was overtaken by a carnal rage. He had screamed, cried, cursed and brought out the darkest part of his soul as he killed the man who had destroyed the two people he loved in his life. He had sprayed blood all over the walls, all over himself and bathed himself in the red substance that had once given life to his surrogate father.
That had been an hour ago.
All the hate for Lestrange, it was all gone. After killing Lestrange, Cassius felt like he had lost some of the monster from within himself and restored whatever humanity he might have had left. All that evil he had conjured up from within himself vaporized into thin air. There was nothing left within him except an empty void. There was a gaping hole which sucked in every thought, feeling and emotion that wasn’t about Natalie and destroyed it, leaving him nothing more than a hollow container of memories of the past. And with every second that passed, the void grew bigger, threatening to implode and destroy the very vessel which contained it.
He felt like a human being again, and it hurt more than any pain he had ever experienced in his lifetime.
A couple of things:
1) A shout out to ‘Roz in Colorado’ who guessed correctly about the Eli and Narcissa switch
2) I will be replying to all the reviews for this chapter and the epilogue since it’s the closest I can come to personally thanking each and every one of you for reading my story
3) Since this isn't really an 'end', the next chapter will be a mixture of an epilogue and final chapter. And it will be the end of Lady Malfoy. It will go up before August.
hope you enjoyed it and let me know what you thought (as always!)
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