Chapter 41 : Into the Sunrise
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The day was beautiful; under the cloudless sky, everything was bathed in a golden glow, tickled by the gentle spring breeze and surrounded by the luscious flora of the area. It was a most unusual day to have a funeral. And yet, they were all standing there, at the Beech Hill cemetery, surrounding a flat patch of land adorned with a headstone which simply read, “Here lies Eli Holmes. A friend like none other”.
Not much was said during the funeral itself and that seemed appropriate for a man like Eli who had, himself, been a man of few words yet infinite wisdom and knowledge. Though the last four week s had been spent missing him and questioning mortality and life, none of that was to be had at this funeral. This wasn’t a mourning for death, it was a celebration of life and Draco was determined to make sure that didn’t change.
He was the last of the group, after Ron, Hermione, Harry, Ginny, Pansy and his mother, to place a flower on over the patch of land and as he did so, he could imagine Eli’s humble response to all the attention he was getting. “Oh Master Mafloy, it’s far too much. It’s not necessary.”
He smiled sadly as he gently lay the iris over the grave and looked at the epitaph. “Goodbye, old friend,” he whispered solemnly.
He stood up and turned back to the on looking group, all decked out in black robes. After a few more moments of silence, Narcissa asked to excuse herself. Her recovery had been smooth but she was still weak and fatigued easily.
“I will just go back and lie down,” she said feebly. “A little rest will refresh me.”
“Would you like me to walk you back?” Draco offered, as he approached her. Pansy, Ron and Ginny were having a conversation while Harry and Hermione were talking to each other.
“No, no, I’ll be fine.” Narcissa insisted. She paused, checking to see if the others were out of earshot. Once satisfied, she gently squeezed Draco’s hand and leaned in, speaking in soft tones. “Did you have a chance to give Hermione the -?”
“Not yet,” Draco said, dropping his gaze and sneaking a look at Hermione through his peripheral vision. “We haven’t been alone all day.”
“Alright dear,” she said, rubbing her son’s hand soothingly as she smiled at him.
Draco looked at his mother quizzically and returned her smile. “Are you really okay with all of this?”
Narcissa paused to look at the ‘this’ Draco was talking about. Where there should have been death eaters, there were the golden trio from Hogwarts, where there should have been talk of the Dark Lord, there was talk of family, and where there should have been a constant, irrepressible fear, there was friendship. Two years in the most horrible place on earth could really change one’s priorities in life.
“Are you happy?” she asked.
“I am,” Draco assured her.
“Then how can I not be okay?” Narcissa replied. “You will talk to Hermione this afternoon, won’t you?”
She waited for Draco to nod, which he did. Seraphina, the small healing elf that took care of Narcissa, stood by her. Draco kissed his mother on the cheek gently before she slowly made her way to the Manor, walking beside her elf. Draco watched her go into the distance with a sense of relief, seeing her improvement day by day and feeling more at ease. As the two of them disappeared behind a stretch of woods along the path, he turned back to the people behind him and joined Hermione and Harry in their conversation.
“Is your mother alright?” Harry asked.
“Just tired,” Draco explained. “She’s walking back with Seraphina right now. It’s a huge improvement. So did you get any confirmation on the body yet?”
This caught Ron’s attention and he, along with Pansy and Ginny joined in the conversation. “Are we talking about the unidentified one they found by river yesterday? What about it?”
“Draco thinks that it might be Lestrange,” Hermione explained.
“It is,” Harry said. Everyone fell silent and turned to him, waiting for an explanation. “It’s impossible to identify it from the face alone well, because it’s really messed up. But they found an Azkaban marker on the left ankle. The high profile prisoners have their prison numbers tattooed onto them for identification purposes. “
“And the prison number matches Lestrange?” Pansy asked.
Harry nodded. The news settled itself into the air and everyone took a moment to absorb it. The gentle wind began to pick up pace as it blew through the cemetery and picked up stray leaves with it.
“Do you know if it was Cassius who did it?” Ron asked.
“It had to have been,” Hermione answered. “After everything, there’s just no way Cassius would have let him live.”
“We also matched time to death to a few hours after he left the Manor,” Harry added. “I’m guessing Cassius had him for no more than an hour or two.”
“Not to sound like a sicko,” Ron interjected, “but you’d think he would have kept him alive longer. You know? Tortured him or something?”
“Maybe he just couldn’t handle knowing what he did about what he lost,” Hermione suggested. She shared a knowing look with Draco before turning back to Ron. “Maybe he just couldn’t control himself.”
“Gosh that’s just depressing,” Ron muttered.
His offhand comment triggered a small smile in Hermione as she rolled her eyes. Pansy, too, let out a small laugh and Harry and Ginny grinned after exchanging looks. Even Draco managed to snicker at Ron’s complete lack of tact. The mirth became infectious, and soon, the smile had caught on to everyone and the bleak news of the past faded away slowly as talk of their bright futures took its place.
“So have you both decided on a wedding date?” Draco asked Ginny and Harry.
“We’re thinking a year from now,” Harry said, looking at Ginny. “About a year, right?”
“It’ll give Ron’s legs a chance to fully heal and let him get back to work,” Ginny agreed. “Mum and dad are still a little shaken about the whole thing and so I think a year will give them a chance to adjust. And Harry can have some time getting used to the promotion as well.”
“Well that and hopefully a year will be enough time for Pansy to do what she has to and come back for the wedding,” Harry joked.
Pansy shared a quick glance with Ron whose smile faltered for a few seconds. “Oh Merlin yeah,” Hermione remarked. “Isn’t your train back to the city leaving this afternoon?”
“In an hour,” Pansy remarked. “Draco gave me a carriage to take up to the train station so I can still hang around a little bit longer.”
“Are you guys hungry? I’m starved. We should get some lunch,” Ron suggested.
“Ron, how long until you go back to work?” Ginny teased. “I swear, any longer and you’ll eat every morsel of food in the city.”
The rest of them laughed as Ron turned slightly red and let out a smile. “Actually, you’ll be happy to know that I have been allotted the privilege by the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement himself,” Ron feigned a bow towards Harry sarcastically, “to return to my job and do menial paperwork for the rest of the year.”
“Hey!” Harry defended. “If you’d had it Hermione’s way, you wouldn’t be allowed within ten feet of the Ministry. At least, with my way you can still do something instead of eating half of England’s food supply.”
“I might actually be the first person to die from boredom at work,” Ron mused. “Well at least I’ll have someone to talk to since Draco will be around too.”
Hermione furrowed her brow at the news and turned to Draco, looking at him quizzically. “You didn’t tell them?” she asked.
“Tell us what?” Harry said.
“You can tell them,” Draco said to Hermione. “You seem more excited than I am.”
“Come on, spit it out already,” Ron urged.
Hermione squealed like a little girl and turned back to the group. “Draco got offered a job at the Department of International Magical Cooperation. They offered him a seat at the International Confederation of Wizards.”
“That’s amazing!” Pansy grinned, pulling Draco into a hug. There was a flurry of congratulations coming from everyone and Draco couldn’t help but smile.
“Well, it’s not a huge deal,” he said modestly. “I spoke with the Minister last week and I think if I start investing some money and assets in international magical development, there could really be a chance to make a difference with all of this Malfoy money lying around.”
“And you decided not to sell the Manor then?” Pansy confirmed.
Draco shook his head. He looked at Hermione who smiled at him. “We decided it would not be a good idea. I know the Malfoy name isn’t quite up to par with say, Weasley or Potter yet but that house has been in my family for generations. Maybe, one day, people won’t be as afraid of it.”
“Well I think that deserves a toast,” Hermione beamed. She took out her wand and waved it, producing thin champagne glasses in everyone’s hand that were filled with a sparkling ice wine.
“To Malfoy Manor,” Harry said, raising his glass.
“And to all the good people who lived there,” Hermione added, her glass tipped towards Eli’s tombstone and then to Draco.
“Cheers,” the rest of the group chimed in and they all drank.
Even though the occasion of a funeral was one of sadness and despair, there was a certain amount of hope that filled the air - the hope that with the demons of the past put to rest, there would be a chance at happiness, friendship, peace and love. All six of them – Harry, Ron, Draco, Ginny, Pansy and Hermione – had found their place in life after overcoming everything thrown their way, emerging stronger, wiser and happier than they had been before.
They stayed a little longer until Pansy checked her watch and realized she needed to leave. She gathered her coat and bag and said her goodbyes to Harry, Ginny and Hermione before turning to Draco with a smile on her face.
The two of them walked a little farther away from the group and stood under a large oak tree. Pansy leaned in and kissed Draco on his cheek. His hand instinctively reached for that cheek where the feeling still lingered.
“What was that for?” he asked.
“I’m very proud of you,” Pansy said. “We haven’t had a chance to talk but I want you to know that I have never been more honored to call you my friend. You managed to pull yourself out of the darkest imaginable trench and find real happiness again.”
“Well I don’t think I could’ve done it alone,” Draco replied, his eyes looking over at Hermione who was scolding Ron for putting too much pressure on his left foot. He smiled. “And I think you might’ve found your niche in the wizarding world yourself. Though admittedly, he does have red hair whereas I always pegged you for someone who went for blondes.”
A mischievous smile curved onto the edge of Draco’s lips as Pansy blushed slightly. “Thought I was ignorant, did you?” he asked.
“Bye Draco,” Pansy said, a sad smile on her face.
He leaned in to kiss Pansy on the cheek one last time as she turned back to the group. “I’ll walk you back to the Manor,” he offered.
Ron heard this and his voice immediately shot up. “I can! I mean, I’m heading that way anyways. I can walk Pansy. I don’t mind.”
“No, that’s alright,” Pansy interrupted. “I don’t need a chaperone. You guys have lunch and I will see you all very soon.”
After her final goodbyes with Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Draco, Pansy turned to Ron and pulled him into an embrace. Their hug lingered for a few seconds and Pansy felt her eyes welling up with tears, making it all the more impossible to let go.
But she had to.
She pulled away, placing a soft kiss on the side of Ron’s cheek. “Will you write to me?” Pansy asked.
“No,” Ron muttered dejectedly.
Pansy laughed sadly, a few tears spilling out. “I will miss you. You will write to me, won’t you?”
“Of course, I will. Come on, let me walk you to the carriage at least,” Ron offered but Pansy shook her head and pulled away.
“It’s hard enough as it is,” she insisted. “Any longer and I might never want to let go.”
She kissed Ron on the cheek one last time and made her way down the clearing to the path leading back towards the Manor. Ron watched her go for a few seconds before her body disappeared behind the trees and she was no longer in sight.
Harry watched with a twinge of sadness as his friend continued to stare at the empty pathway. He felt Ginny gently squeeze his shoulder and she gave him a nod, looking towards Ron. Harry agreed.
“Alright, let’s get some food into you,” Harry said loudly, a wide smile on his face. “I can’t think of the last time Ginny and I had a huge steak.”
“Are you buying?” Ron asked, to which Harry nodded. “Well, then count me in. And let’s get some dessert while we’re at it. And a whopping load of alcohol.”
Hermione and Draco laughed as Harry pat Ron on the back and they made their way towards Beech Hill village. “Aren’t you two coming?” Ginny called to Hermione and Draco.
Draco looked at Hermione and then back at Ginny. “We’ll meet you down there in a few minutes.”
They waited a couple of minutes as Ginny, Ron and Harry continued their walk down the stone pathway leading into the village. The afternoon sun was at its brightest and with no clouds in the sky filtering it, the entire cemetery was bathed in a golden hue.
Alone, Hermione felt Draco’s fingers wrap around her palm and she held onto him, a wave of satisfaction flowing through her as she, in this very moment, felt like everything was not only going to be alright but it was going to be good. The warm wind breezed past them, capering in their hair and gently touching their faces.
They started walking out of the cemetery and made their way to a small park right beside it, sitting down on a small wooden bench. Hermione leaned against Draco and placed her head on his shoulder while he put his arm around her and held her gently.
“Are you okay?” she asked. Draco’s grey eyes were focused over the hill in front of them where the only thing visible was the infinite horizon.
“I miss Eli,” Draco said, his eyes still focused on the endless stretch of earth.
“Me too,” Hermione replied.
“Do you think he had planned this from the beginning? His death, I mean.”
Hermione paused, and contemplated her answer. She looked up at Draco, and matched his grey eyes, shaking her head. “I think he felt the years catch up to him. And I think he figured out that he wasn’t going to be around much longer and so he did what he could do for you. You know, he reminded me so much of Dumbledore in his wisdom and charm and he did exactly what Dumbledore did. He didn’t let death conquer him; he chose when and where he would die and he made sure that good came from it.”
There was a brief silence before Draco spoke again. “What was it that Dumbledore said again? About death?”
“To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure,” Hermione answered.
Draco smiled. “Sounds exactly like something Eli would say, doesn’t it? And he wouldn’t have said it flippantly. He would have meant it.” Draco turned back to look at the bright sky. “Death is but the next great adventure,” he repeated.
Hermione placed her hands on Draco’s face and looked at him, her chocolate brown eyes gazing into his grey ones. She felt his hand rest on her waist as she leaned in and kissed him, softly and slowly. She tasted his lips, felt them against her own and when she finally pulled back, she brushed some of the hair away from his face. “Life can be a pretty good adventure too.”
“I’m beginning to see that,” Draco agreed. As he readjusted his weight, he felt the weight of the object in his pocket shift and he remembered he still had something to do. His turned his gaze to the long stretch of sky and observed the bright streaks of gold and orange that the afternoon sun had made against the pale canvas.
“What’s on your mind?” Hermione asked, observing Draco’s slightly pensive mood. “You’ve been like this ever since the morning.”
“Last night, they returned some of my father’s personal possessions from Azkaban,” Draco explained. Hermione put her hand on his and rubbed it tenderly. “It’s not that. He died months ago. I’m okay.”
“Then what is it?”
He took hold of Hermione’s hand and gently held it in front of him. She waited for him to say something but instead, his free hand reached into his pocket and produced something that he then placed in her palm. Confused, she turned to him and then to the object that was now in her possession. She waited for an explanation but Draco offered none, choosing instead to watch her as she looked at what he had given her.
It was a gold barrel key that dangled off a silver chain with an engraving on the bow. Hermione squinted as she held the object close to make out the faded words.
“It says ‘De pureté’,” Draco explained, speaking in a perfect French accent. “It means ‘Of purity’.”
“What is it?” Hermione asked.
“It’s the key to Malfoy Manor.” He observed Hermione’s look of confusion and elaborated. “When the Manor was first built, two keys were created; they were enchanted to recognize the true masters of Malfoy Manor. They’re traditionally passed down from grandfather to grandson. I got mine from my grandfather when I turned thirteen.”
Hermione was still bewildered. “I don’t understand.”
“My father died before I could give him a grandchild,” Draco explained with a tone of sadness. “And so, the key remained in a box in Azkaban as part of his possessions. I got it back yesterday.”
“It’s beautifully crafted,” Hermione noted.
Draco leaned in slightly, his lips barely meeting Hermione’s ears as he whispered into it. “It’s yours.”
She turned to look at him as though he had just announced he was leaving everything to become a tap dancer. Unable to believe what he had just said, Hermione let out an incredulous laugh. “What? Come on, Draco, stop joking around.”
“I’m not,” Draco replied, a small smile on his face. “The key can’t be left without an owner. Malfoy Manor needs a master, or shall I say, a mistress.”
“But-” she began, but Draco silenced her.
“I want you to have it,” he said. “I don’t want you to sleep over and then sneak out early to go back to your apartment to get ready for work. I don’t want to wake up alone.” The smile on his face has vanished and was instead replaced by a very sincere, deep look. He spoke in an almost pleading voice. “Stay with me.”
Hermione sat in silence, her eyes examining the object in front of her. It was remarkable how something as trifling as a key had the power to send her heart into a frenzy of pulses and beats. She didn’t think she could really muster up the strength to reply to Draco and stop herself from crying at the same time, so instead, she held the key in her palm and looked at it, and then at Draco, managing to nod weakly. A sigh of relief came from him as he smiled, his eyes communicating the genuine happiness within him.
“This is a pretty serious ordeal, you know,” Draco said warmly, trying to coax a smile out of Hermione who was, still, a little emotional. “This isn’t just any key. It is the key. You can’t just accept it – you have to make a few promises.”
Hermione smiled weakly. “You’re teasing me.”
“No, no, this is serious stuff,” Draco joked, trying to get a laugh out of Hermione. He placed his hand under her palm, which held the key. “Hermione Jean Granger, with this key, do you solemnly swear to treasure it and keep it close to you at all times, unlike fourteen year old Draco Malfoy who lost it in his incredibly messy dormitory and had to have his mother send over two house elves to come find it?”
Hermione grinned. “I do,” she replied.
“Do you promise to be a kind mistress to a Manor that has been, for so many years, plagued with misfortune and ill will?” Draco paused. “And not to hog the covers while we’re sleeping?”
This time, Hermione laughed and a few tears spilled out in the process. She nodded. “I do.”
“And do you promise never to forget that this key is, above everything else, an incredibly lacking way for a broken man to thank you for saving him because he can’t express his gratitude in any other manner?” Hermione waited, feeling Draco’s hand still under her own. “And that despite all the arrogant things he has ever said – and probably will say in the future - do you promise never to forget that he loves you?”
Hermione’s brown eyes met Draco’s grey ones and she felt his gaze for a brief second before he looked down at her hand and the key which it held. She placed her free hand on his cheek and paused, taking a deep breath to steady herself. More tears spilled down her cheek and were met with the warm breeze that tickled her face. “I do.”
She leaned her head against Draco’s, the sides of their faces gently meeting as she pressed her lips to his ear and kissed it gently. “I do,” she repeated, a soft whisper that sent a tremble down Draco’s spine. He closed his eyes, inhaling her sweet scent and, just like the hospital, trying to capture the sheer perfection of their moment together. The sun, the breeze, the smell, the sounds – it was all crafted, beautifully, to give them this perfect moment of utter bliss.
Draco drew his head back and smiled, a small laugh escaping his lips. “Well then, with the power vested in me -by me- I now pronounce you, Lady of Malfoy Manor.” The hand that he had placed under Hermione’s moved gently, curling her fingers over the key she held. “You may now kiss me.”
She didn’t hesitate. As their lips met, Draco moved in closer, tasting her sweet lips as he felt her eagerly respond. Her fingers wove through her hair while his hands rested, impatiently, against her body, wanting to do more than just sit there idly. He could feel her happiness, her love and he knew that this was where he belonged.
They pulled apart after a while as Draco examined, with a mixture of pride and embarrassment, the rosy tint that her lip salve had left on his lips. Hermione held the key in her hand and she looked at it one last time before placing it gingerly in the pocket of her robes, feeling the weight of the object. Hermione smiled as the two of them stood up and walked towards Beech Hill to join the rest for lunch. Draco held her hand, intertwining his fingers with hers, as they made their way down the stone path together, a satisfied smile on his face as he felt the warmth of her skin against his own.
a/n: Le fin.
Thank you to everyone who supported me through this story. All of you who read this story (reviewers and silent readers :P) are amazing and I can't thank you enough. It's been almost five years and honestly, I don't even really know how that happened.
I had agreed to myself that I wouldn't write more but over the last month or so, I realized that there are certain parts of this story that haven't been written and are still trapped in my head. Maybe you guys can help me decide by telling me what you'd rather read (if at all)? There's a prequel to the story involving the triangle between Draco, Natalie and Cassius (a short story), Harry and Ginny's wedding (a one-shot), a spinoff of Pansy involving her travels and of course, future with Ron (a short story). I don't really want to do a direct sequel with Draco and Hermione because I feel like their story wrapped up really nicely and I don't want to write a story for the sake of writing one.
much love (as always),