***I went through once more and found a BUNCH of mistakes that I definitely fixed on one of my run-thoroughs... which must mean I forgot to save at some point! Sorry guys! Krum, Fred, and various misspellings have been fixed.***
This is the end! I hope you all enjoyed the story! I think it's never possible to please everyone with endings, and I really, REALLY hate writing them. I tried to tie up loose ends and still leave things a little bit "aww." Honestly, I probably went a little overboard, since this is as long as a regular chapter, anyways! Longer, even! XD
A few things to clear up from reviewers.
As far as the baby goes, I never imagined it was an actual ghost. They were both just manifestations of the horcrux meant to catch Hermione's attention. The horcrux wanted to be found so it could try and kill Narcissa. It was a much less covert-I wanna-live-forever kind of horcrux. Living forever is very nice if you're as powerful as Voldemort, but if you're stuck in Azkaban with a bunch of dementors for decades it's not very nice, is it?
Which brings me to another thing pointed out to me: That Voldemort's body was destroyed, and so if Fortune died her body would still be gone, but the Horcrux would act as a second part of her. For this story, we're operating on the premise that as long as the Horcrux survives, her body cannot die. At least, not by the dementors in Azkaban. I feel like horcruxes can work in unique, (timey wimey?) ways, and for this story dementors just can't kill her as long as the Horcrux lives.
"Whoa," Ginny said, reaching up and pulling a card down from the wall without bothering to ask. Draco managed to hide his twinge of annoyance- he shouldn't be annoyed or surprised at the red-head's rudeness at this point... especially since he didn't really want the cards up on the wall in the first place.
It had been Hermione's idea, and while he really couldn't comprehend why she found such joy in displaying each holiday card carefully on the wall above the sofa, he knew better than to try and stop her. If it made her happy, he'd suffer all the holiday cheer and tacky decorations she could muster. As it was, their house already looked like a freaking gingerbread house- green and red décor filling the place both inside and out. She'd even charmed the wallpaper to display little reindeer, the images flying around at super-slow speeds back and forth on a cheery candy-floss colored backdrop.
When the first Christmas card had been delivered- by a postman, mind you, not by a proper owl- his overly-festive wife had absolutely squealed with delight. It was like she had never seen a Christmas greeting before in her life, and she had turned to him with eyes twinkling like a Grindylow spying dinner.
"Look!" she had exclaimed, hopping from foot to foot. "Look at what it says, Draco!"
It said, "Merry Christmas." Not very surprising. It also had a short message from her parents, whom they would be visiting Christmas morning. Christmas evening was reserved for a party at Malfoy Manor, which was probably going to be very grand... and very boring. Draco hoped his father and Hermione would stay at opposite ends of the room, since he doubted the cheerful holiday spirit had exactly infected his stubborn father.
No, the reason Hermione was so damn excited was that the card had been addressed to them both. Just their first names, but used in succession.
The next card, a rather formal-looking thing from Pansy, had listed their last names. Well, being the properly-raised witch that she was, Pansy had addressed it "To Mr. and Mrs. Draco Malfoy," which Draco thought would irritate his modern-thinking wife but instead just seemed to encourage her holiday spirit. She had stuck it on the wall right next to the one from her parents, looking rather proud.
It had only grown from there.
And now, on Christmas Eve, Draco sat in a room that was filled with assorted Gryffindors. And it was only going to get worse- Hermione had invited quite a few stragglers to her little Christmas Eve party, much to Draco's chagrin. He would have preferred a night alone with Hermione.
Ginny was the first to notice Hermione's little card-shrine, and the first thing she saw was the card from Pansy.
"Parkinson had her baby!" Ginny said, pointing out the obvious. The Christmas Card from Pansy had the simplicity and formality of an obligatory holiday greeting, complete with a straight-backed family photo of Pansy, Pietro, and their newborn daughter. The girl was barely two weeks old, and Pansy had already stuffed her in designer robes, the maker's label clearly visible as a symbol on the hem. Pansy herself looked much improved- her move overseas had apparently done a lot to relax her nerves, and it was no doubt nice being able to leave her house without worrying about running into her parents.
"Her name is Cassiopeia!" Hermione said, smiling wide as she came in from the kitchen carrying a tray loaded with Christmas cookies. On top of decorating, she had been baking a lot lately too. A lot a lot. The muggle way.
"Of course it is," Ginny said, rolling her eyes.
Draco might have found it nice having a house that smelled perpetually like cookies, if his wife's enthusiasm for the holiday wasn't eating up all her free time lately. He liked brewing potions with her, and cooking might be something similar to that...but Draco Malfoy was not a... kitchen person. House elves belonged in kitchens. Though, of course, when he had said this to Hermione it had started a rather messy argument that he did not want to revisit.
She had been trying to turn his mind about house elves lately, too, which he knew was inevitable since he started this relationship with her. She was a crazy, house-elf-loving, muggle-baking, card-keeping pack rat... and he loved her.
He loved her brand of crazy, and even though he complained he really couldn't get enough of it.
"Merlin- Hermione, did you actually make these cookies?" Ron asked, adopting an expression that was a little too close to alarm as he bit the head off a gingerbread man.
"Yes, I did, Ron. Why do you look so surprised?" Hermione's smile looked a little forced, like she knew exactly what her stupid friend was going to say. Draco almost pitied the Weasel for being dumb enough to actually answer her truthfully.
"Well, you never were much of a cook before, you know. Your cooking nearly killed us when we were living out in the woods..."
"You unbelievable git! We didn't have any food to cook!"
Harry started laughing, throwing Draco a strangely conspiratorial grin. "I think Hermione will never let us forget that we made her do all the cooking that year, Ron. She took out her wrath on us for the same reason when we visited Draco's villa."
"Ungrateful... boys!" Hermione huffed, hands on her hips despite the amused smirk on her face. As she stepped back towards the kitchen, she passed a little closer to Ron than was necessary, giving him a good smack to the back of his head as she went.
Ginny, apparently ignoring the conversation, suddenly burst into laughter. She was still holding Pansy's card, reading the contents with glee. She looked up at Draco, pointing at the card. "Is she serious?"
Draco nodded, rolling his eyes. "Pansy's always serious," he answered, the corner of his mouth curling up as he recalled the contents of the card. "She just has a very... colorful way of expressing herself."
"My Dear Fellow Blood-Traitor Friend, Draco..." Ginny began, and Ron jumped a little, looking a bit shocked at Parkinson's bluntness. Harry didn't seem surprised- he actually looked a little amused. "Since we're both likely off our respective family's Christmas Card list, I decided to take pity on you and send this. I suppose we could say this card is for your annoying Gryffindor-virgin wife, too, if we must." Ginny took the time to snort, and it seemed that it was a struggle for her to continue reading past her giggles. "This is my daughter, Cassiopeia. No nicknames will be acceptable. I've decided you're her godfather, since I don't exactly have a lot of alternative options. All the best, your best friend, Pans."
Though this was Hermione's party, she had actually invited Pansy, too. However, Draco's friend had declined the invitation- she just lived too far away, now. It was too much trouble to come, especially after just having a baby. Draco suspected visits from Pansy to England would be rare... too much risk of seeing her parents. Still too much pain, there.
And so, Draco was stuck with Harry, Ginny, and Ron while they waited for other guests to arrive. Ron's wife had left for a seminar in California- Draco had the sneaking suspicion that things weren't going too well in the ginger boy's marriage. Not that he cared.
The Marriage Law had been dissolved months ago, a resounding failure of the Ministry. They still never found half of the missing persons- Terry Boot and Daphne Greengrass were still gone. Daphne had never seemed like the violent sort to Draco, so he wondered if she was also in some kind of trouble, or if the two had simply ran away together. It was nice to imagine a happy ending instead... the alternative.
The lack of a Law forcing Hermione's friend into his marriage with the Hufflepuff seemed to have put a strain on them both. Ron had been back in the country for all of December, and Hermione had noted that she hadn't once seen the girl. Draco, who had made a steadfast effort to avoid hanging around Hermione's annoying friends, had no real opinion on the matter. He only knew that his wife was worried about the moron, so Draco was trying his best to play nice at the party.
It didn't help that the first thing the Weasel had said to him when he arrived was, "Oh, you're still here?" as if expecting to find Hermione had suddenly had a change of heart and kicked him out. He decided to take it as a joke, though he really would have rather pulled his wand and turned the git's head into a pumpkin.
"She's a sweet girl," Hermione remarked flatly, obviously able to hear Ginny read Pansy's card from the next room. She came back in, carrying a tray of hot cocoa like some kind of house elf. Draco knew better than to comment on the way his wife was flitting about, making sure the party was perfect for their guests. Hermione had made it quite clear that this was their first Christmas together, and their first Christmas in their own home, so she wanted everything to be perfect. Draco hadn't realize how easily she could apply her academic-preparedness to party planning.
"So it's true then?" Ron asked, looking back and forth between Ginny and Hermione. "What she said in the letter? Malfoy's family cut him off?"
Draco bit his tongue in an effort to cut off the retort he had in mind on being completely ignored by Hermione's friend. Ginny, at least, had the decency to look a bit irate, frowning at her brother. "Draco's could answer that himself, Ron. You could just ask him. He's the bloke sitting across from you? The obvious scowling blond Slytherin?"
Ron turned a little red, his eyes flashing back towards Draco. It seemed he was doing his best to pretend Draco wasn't in the room, which seemed like a very Weasley way of handling the situation. No, that wasn't fair. He rather liked Ginny by this point, so he couldn't actually attribute the rudeness to Weasley's in general.
"I only meant... well, fine. Draco, then. Is it true?" Ron asked, this time addressing Draco directly... though he seemed very uncomfortable doing so. And why not? The only other interaction they had had since he became Hermione's boyfriend was Ginny's birthday party. Draco could now tolerate two- and only two- of Hermione's friends. It would be a while before the Weasel could join that list. Especially if he continued to pretend Draco didn't exist.
"No, for your information, it is not true," Draco answered, a touch more biting than he intended. Hermione handed him a cup of hot chocolate wordlessly, but the look she gave him was somehow both apologetic and reprimanding. He was reminded of the time when they had all met in the Room of Requirement to discuss the problem of Theodore Nott. Hermione didn't seem particularly pleased with their bickering back then, and she wasn't pleased now. Draco sighed. "Not that it's really your business, Ron," he began, the name still feeling foreign on his tongue, "but my Gringott's key was returned to me. I'm not... my situation is different from Pansy's."
He still wasn't sure why or how, but it was. By some miracle, his father had sent him his key shortly after the events at Malfoy Manor- after Draco had declared his independence as concisely as possible. There had been a card attached, which had simply said, "For your use only."
The implication was to not use the money on Hermione, though surely his father knew that was an empty and meaningless demand to make. Lucius had no power over how he spent the money, only whether he had it or not. This was the closest thing he might ever get to a reconciliation with his father, but he would take what he could get.
It was the main reason he had agreed to go to the Christmas Ball tomorrow night. His mother had assured him that his father had forgiven him, though he was fairly certain she was bending the truth a little. How could Draco be forgiven for something he didn't need forgiveness for? Draco wasn't sorry, and his father wasn't either. They were of opposing opinions when it came to Hermione, and they always would be.
But it was still good to know that his father cared about him. Lucius had tracked him down when his mother had been worried about the Horcrux. He had given back his key so Draco could live comfortably. He had agreed to be in the same room as Draco and Hermione during a Christmas Ball tomorrow night. Maybe there was hope.
"We're even going to a Christmas Ball at the Manor tomorrow," Hermione informed them, her voice still forcefully cheerful despite the underlying tension between her husband and friend.
"And Lucius will be there?" Harry asked, sounding shocked. Draco was surprised Hermione hadn't told all of her friends about the Ball beforehand- it seemed like the kind of thing she and Ginny would gossip about.
Hermione sat down next to Draco, flashing him a curious look. "I... think so."
"Of course," Draco answered, frowning at his wife. "My father couldn't very well sit out a party in his own home, now could he? Mother would throw a fit."
Hermione, to Draco's surprise, grinned in response. "Narcissa does seem to have a way of controlling the situation to her advantage, huh?" Hermione turned to Ginny. "She even sent me new dress robes for the ball as a "Christmas present." Like I can't dress myself."
"I think she's actually trying to be nice," Draco muttered, and Hermione nodded, albeit a little hesitantly.
"In a way, I suppose she is."
There was a knock at the front door, and Hermione popped up off the couch in an instant, running to open it. Draco knew everyone she had invited, but his stomach rolled a little when he heard a rather bumbling voice saying, "Hermione! Oh, I thought I had the wrong address. I did at first, you see... er, but I found the place!"
He was followed by a softer, lilting voice. "I found Neville here wandering in the snow up the street. I suspect this location is overrun by Mulots, which can make apparating accurately a struggle."
Longbottom. Draco hadn't even been aware that she was close with the boy. She had called it "something of a DA reunion," which should have clued Draco in on her guest-list from the early stages of party planning.
Draco did recall that Longbottom had been the one to kill the Dark Lord's snake, which Hermione had recently informed him was very fortunate indeed- Nagini had been a Horcrux. One of seven, in fact, which still floored Draco since they had had such trouble with just one. However, the honorable act didn't make Longbottom less of a... Longbottom, as far as Draco was concerned. He rolled his eyes at the witch's comment about apparating difficulties- a feeble excuse.
He assumed the witch in question was the blond girl from the DA, and when the two were ushered into the room by Hermione he found that his assumption was correct. Loony Lovegood. In his home. What a strange world this was.
"Hello Harry. Hello Ron. Hello Draco. Hello Ginny," the flighty, soft-voiced girl said as she seemed to drift into the room, gazing at the ornaments on the tree dreamily before finally taking a seat on the floor next to it instead of all the empty seats in the room.
Draco was a little off-put that she had included him in her little greeting- and used his given name to boot. He wasn't aware of ever having spoken more than two words to her in his whole time at Hogwarts. Hermione certainly had strange and varied tastes in friends.
To that note, Longbottom was looking around the room awkwardly, greeting his Gryffindor friends and finally, awkwardly, nodding towards Draco. That was more the reaction he expected.
Lovegood gestured for Longbottom to sit next to her her, patting the carpet. He compromised by taking a seat at one of the dining room chairs near the tree that Hermione had moved into the room for the occasion.
"So, tell me," Ginny began, grinning from ear to ear after they all said their greetings, "how was your trip? What did you see? I heard you were looking for Crumple-Horned Snorkacks in Sweden... or was it Umbungular Slashkilters in Uganda?"
Draco wasn't certain the conversation was being held in English, anymore.
Lovegood smiled her usual, tiny half-focused smile and answered, "Both actually. I traveled to many places."
"I went to Egypt!" Ron blurted excitedly.
"That's nice Ron," Lovegood answered with a tilt of her head.
"But not to escape the Marriage Law... that's what you did, right?"
Lovegood nodded, at the same time that Hermione shook her head.
"Ron," Hermione admonished, and Draco recognized her know-it-all voice. It might have annoyed him before, but now it just made him smirk at the poor boy it was directed towards, "Luna told us before that the Law didn't affect her. She's not pure-blood! You're one of the people I would assume knew that!"
Ron shrugged, looked unaffected. "My listening skills aside, why did you travel, then?"
Luna looked up at Hermione serenely, shaking her head. "I did escape the Law, in a way, Hermione." Then, inexplicably, she turned her cloudy-blue eyes to Draco and smiled. It unnerved him, and he sat up a little straighter. "We can't all have been so lucky, to be matched with our soul-mates. Some of us had to watch them be with someone else." She looked down to the carpet, and for the first time there was a small downward turn of her thin lips. "And some of us couldn't."
Despite his adamant convictions about only "barely tolerating" Hermione's friends, he found himself a little bit curious. Who had Lovegood lost, thanks to the fumbling Ministry? And did she seriously just use the word "soul-mates" to describe him and Hermione? She was so hopelessly weird, but oddly Draco decided he could understand why Hermione liked her.
They didn't ask about their friend Neville. Hermione had already told Draco that Longbottom had married a muggle-born girl a few years older than them, and they had promptly divorced after the Law was dissolved. It was a touchy subject, and Draco was told not to talk to Longbottom about it. Like he would.
The next round of guests included a few Weasleys (Draco couldn't reasonably be expected to keep them all straight), and... Viktor Krum?
Viktor Krum, the Bulgarian Quidditch Star?
Viktor Krum, the guy who took Hermione to the Yule Ball?
Across the room, Ron's eyes bugged out a little at the big dark-haired man's entrance. Then the ginger boy turned to Draco, flashing him a very disconcerting smug little smirk. Draco felt his eyebrow twitch, but otherwise tried to wipe away any surprise from his face. Hermione must have told him Crumb was coming, and he hadn't listened. That'll teach him to tune her out.
"Look, everybody! Viktor was in the country, so he was able to make it afterall!" She sounded a little forced, leading him into the room with everyone, her Christmas-cheer-veneer cracking just a bit. She shot Ron a sharp look Draco didn't understand, and sat Krum near Longbottom.
One of the Weasleys, George, had brought butterbeer and joke-shop Christmas crackers, to which everyone cheered. As the mildly-alcoholic drink was passed around, it seemed to have an almost psychological calming effect. Everyone appeared much more at ease, and the party began in earnest. Everyone started chattering away about one thing or another, and a couple people started pulling crackers from the joke shop.
At some point in the party, Hermione's enormous cat came poking around, pawing at the gifts under the tree as if it just liked the crinkling sound they produced. Luna pulled the creature into her lap, an action which usually ended in angry cat-violence... but Crookshanks tolerated her, lying down and purring. Lovegood must be good with animals. It would explain why she had spent two seasons out looking for... what were the creatures called again? Were they made up? He was never good at Care of Magical Creatures or Defense class, so maybe he just didn't remember them.
Draco was not a big fan of parties. Especially parties where people where packed like sardines in a small living room, where everyone were great friends and he was just kind of... there.
Hermione finally sat down, nudging him with her shoulder. "Hey, stop pouting."
"I... I am not pouting! I don't pout!"
"Well... then what are you thinking about?" she asked, smoothing down the fabric of her robes on her lap and chewing at her bottom lip.
Draco blinked. "I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be fine? I'm just wondering how long Longbottom can last talking about Quidditch with the big guy next to him. He's looking more confused by the minute. Never struck me as the athletic sort, that Longbottom."
Hermione rolled her eyes, then shot Draco her first legitimate smile of the evening. She had been playing at cheerful, but really she'd been stressing out about her party all evening. She leaned against him, and Draco felt his heart give a funny little skip. He liked when only he could make her smile like that.
"I have to admit," she began, speaking in a very low voice only he could hear, "I was a little worried. We have Ron, Krumb, and you in a room together. I half-expected a childish argument to break out by now." Her shoulders shook in a brief chuckle, "That's usually how these things go."
Draco snorted. "Please. I'm not insecure enough to pick a fight with these losers. I'm the one who's rich with a hot wife, here."
Hermione laughed out loud that time, her loud burst bringing the attention of the room straight to them. Ginny smirked. "Care to share the joke?"
"Why? It might be at your lot's expense, you know," Draco answered quickly.
"Impossible," Mrs. Potter replied smoothly, "We are a room of absolute gems, here. Not a flaw to be found."
Harry affixed his wife with an incredulous look. "Well, except for the bad jokes, repressed childhood trauma, scars, tattoos, and joblessness." As he said the last, he shot Draco a smile that only some would recognize for what it was- a challenge. The last was definitely a dig at him.
"See," he said to Hermione, but obviously speaking to the room at large, "the real snottiness comes out when people are jealous of my vast wealth."
Hermione hit his shoulder, still shaking with the efforts to suppress her laughter.
Harry made to cough into his hand, but it wasn't hard to hear the badly-disguised insult, "Lazy."
"Damn straight!" Draco answered with a smirk. "I'm entitled to be. I'm more of a "trophy-husband," as you can clearly see, anyways."
Now almost everyone laughed, and Draco was reminded that he was not in a room with just his wife and the Potters. He had gotten used to being himself around the other couple, probably due to the fact that he and Ginny had oddly similar senses of humor. However, remembering the awkward newcomers to the party, he instantly deflated, the grin wiping from his face. He didn't need to make these other people laugh, especially at his expense.
He added a scowl for good measure as he looked towards Ron. The boy's face was twisted strangely, like he wasn't sure if he should laugh or not.
"In all seriousness," Hermione added, speaking to Harry, "Draco's waiting to hear back from a couple of positions with the Ministry."
He was fairly certain he wouldn't get either of them. He had quit his internship, and while his reputation had reached a fairly "neutral" stage as far as prophet articles and his family name went, he didn't have the experience to get the positions he applied for. He didn't want to let on how much it still bothered him, Hermione working her tail off all day while he, essentially, just waited for her to come home. He had been talked into doing a little cleaning now and then, since Hermione refused to keep house elves in their home, but he made sure to grumble about it as often as possible.
He needed a job. Not for the money... just for his own pride.
"Hey, if you need a famous hero's recommendation," Harry said, clearly half kidding.
Draco rolled his eyes. "I would rather eat Ashwinder eggs, but thanks bunches, Harry."
"There are people who would pay to see that!" George called from the other side of the room. "You could go into carnival work, Malfoy!"
Draco sneered. "Only if Weasleys were part of the freak show."
Ginny laughed loudly, which was good, because the two jibes hadn't been 100% playful. Draco felt a little tense, being casually insulted by the joke shop owner. He was particularly defensive against this one particular Weasley, probably because he had been forced to accept his charity for a good two months before Hermione and he had moved out of the apartment. They had paid next to nothing in rent, and he was certain that was because of Hermione.
She said that since they paid rent, it wasn't charity. Both Draco and George, however, seemed to understand that that was bunk.
On the first of December, Hermione and Draco had bought and moved into their modest little house in a village near enough to London that the commute to Diagon Alley was short for Hermione. Well, relatively speaking, for a witch. It wasn't some hovel like the Burrow, but it wasn't exactly what you could call a Manor, either. Hermione had declared it "cozy" when they first saw it advertised in the Prophet, and he could hear the fondness in her voice for the place. She had dragged him in to look around, pointing to certain places where she could imagine certain events or items being placed. The house had two floors, a decent sized sitting area, a large kitchen (which Draco couldn't imagine them needing. He couldn't even remembering being in a kitchen before marrying Hermione), three bathrooms, and several bedrooms... for guests.
Though, she had hesitated when she said "guests." It was an odd kind of hesitation, and Draco wasn't sure what to make of it.
"I wouldn't have a problem, you know, if you wanted to have guests over. Even if they were annoying hero-types." Draco had said as a way of fishing.
Hermione had shook her head. "No, I didn't mean to imply... I just meant, maybe... well, one day it could be good to have extra rooms for our family, you know. One day. In the future."
Her meaning sunk in pretty quick, and his heart thumped in a very funny, heavy way. She meant if their family... grew, in the future. She meant children. So she wasn't opposed to children in general, then, some day.
He bought the house immediately.
"So," began a voice Draco had not yet heard that evening, "I had heard your marriage vas most unfortunate Hermionini. I am happy it was not true. I was tempted to find you and bring you back to Bulgaria when I first heard the news," the professional Quidditch play stated bluntly. Draco wondered, briefly, if Hermione would have taken him up on his offer. She might have, if it wasn't for her constant vigilance in her studies. The only reason she didn't run away was because she valued her magical education so much. And the reason Draco didn't run away was... what?
Why had he stayed during the advent of the Marriage Law? Was it to save face for his family? Or maybe, really, he wanted to follow through and protect the know-it-all muggle born who he had never liked. If he hadn't stayed, they never would have discovered their feelings for each other. And if he hadn't stayed, she might have been forced to pick Nott from her short list of suitors. The thought put Draco in a rather dark mood.
Hermione smiled, but it looked a little awkward. "I thought of leaving the country myself, but there was just too much for me to lose. Plus," she added, tilting her head towards Draco, "I wasn't scared of this punk. I figured I could take him if it came down to it."
Draco snorted, grinning down at his wife. "Yeah, because you cheat."
"I won that duel, Draco."
"You asking for a rematch?"
"No, ma'am." Though honestly, if they were alone he might have taken her up on that. There was nothing sexier than Hermione when she was concentrating on her magic. She didn't like dueling, but she looked damn good doing it.
"So... this is alvight, thin?" Krum continued, looking between them a little worriedly. Apparently the stony-gazed man didn't know playful banter when he heard it.
"Yes, Viktor. Everything's just fine." Hermione said placatingly, then suddenly stood up as a loud "ding!" rang through the room. "Oh! That would be the snickerdoodles!"
"Hermione, there are more cookies here than even Ron could eat!" Harry said, to the indignant "Hey!" from his friend.
Ron was halfway through one cookie, another in his fist as he cried out. Looking down at his hand, he added sheepishly, "Okay, fair point, and yeah what's up with all the cookies Hermione?"
"I don't have to justify my hobbies to you two! I have to get them out before they burn!" And with that, she once again ran out of the room.
"Hobbies? She has a baking hobby now?" Ginny asked Draco.
"They say potion making started in the kitchen." Lovegood cut in, grabbing another sugar cookie off the table and just appraising the thing instead of eating it like it was a damn bauble.
Draco rolled his eyes. "She's been trying to prove why we don't need house elves, I think, cooking all the time. Plus she's lost her mind over Christmas. I'll be back." He stood, following his wife out of the sitting room and into their modest-sized, spotless kitchen.
Hermione was rushing to shove her hands into two large, oversized gloves, which to Draco just looked ridiculous. Why not just cast a heat-repellent charm? Not only was his wife insistent on cooking, she often did so in a mind-bogglingly muggle way. Which wasn't a bad thing... just a little curious.
"Shit!" she exclaimed, her uncharacteristic swearing bringing Draco's focus to her face. He smirked, her annoyance oddly appealing, and came up behind her. She turned towards him, throwing her cookie tray down on the counter with a clatter. "Now I'll have to hear more jokes about my cooking from Ron- I burned them."
Draco leaned over, placing his hands on the linoleum counter on either side of Hermione, effectively trapping her. "Or, you could just blame me. Say I distracted you. We need to add some credibility to the story though- how about we stay here in the kitchen and snog a while?"
Hermione rolled her eyes, putting her gloved-hands on his chest in an effort to push him gently away- but he wasn't going to make it that easy.
"Hey," he said suddenly, "I think I could use this holiday obsession of yours to my advantage."
"Oh, how so?" she asked, completely rising to his bait.
He smirked, and he judged it must have looked a little wicked based on the suspicious narrowing of Hermione's eyes. "Mistletoe," he said, pointing upward. Before Hermione could even look up he lunged, claiming her lips as one of his hands rose to plunge into her hair. It was growing out, slowly yet surely, and looked less wild these days. She had spent a lot of time smoothing it out for the party, and he had the nearly uncontrollable urge to mess it up again.
Their kiss was short lived, despite Draco trying to coax her into making it last. She cocked an eyebrow when she pulled away, pointing one slender finger to the ceiling after removing her gloves. "Now, I know I didn't put mistletoe in the kitchen."
"I moved it to a more covert location."
"I see." She leaned forward, arms wrapping around his neck as she placed a chaste kiss on his cheek. "If you play nice for the rest of the evening, I promise I'll fall for all your tricks tonight, okay?"
He smirked once again, keeping her close with his hands firmly pressed into the skin of her hips, slightly under her ridiculous reindeer sweater. "I'm going to hold you to that, you know."
She slipped away, despite Draco's clever entrapment with his arms, and began working over the cookies with her wand. Draco couldn't believe that she actually knew a spell to unburn cookies, but apparently she did. When did she become such a home-maker witch? Then again, she was naturally good at anything she applied herself to, so why not. She grinned in triumph, displaying the cookie tray for Draco.
"It's something muggles say after a magic trick. You're expected to "Oooh" and "Ahhh" now."
Draco rolled his eyes, and Hermione didn't wait for an answer before bringing the tray of perfect-looking cookies out to her guests.
"Holy crap- warm cookies!" he could hear emanating from the living room. It sounded like Ginny, and was quickly followed by the sound of gagging. Draco poked his head in the room to see what brought on such a fit and had to forcibly contain his laughter at the sight of Ginny's face, the green a very clear contrast to her bright red hair. "This," she started, using a napkin to stealthily eradicate any trace of cookie from her tongue, "tastes very, er, pleasantly of anchovies, Hermione."
Apparently the un-burning charm was a work in progress.
They were finally leaving. Gifts had been exchanged, the plethora of shiny parcels Hermione had piled under the tree divied up and opened. Even Draco had received gifts- a horrible green sweater from Ginny and Harry, which he suspected was some kind of joke. It even had a large "D" on the front, and Ginny explained that she had been learning how to knit from her mother. One sleeve was longer than the other, and while Draco vowed he would never actually wear the thing he did appreciate the sentiment and thanked them both gruffly.
Hermione had bought him a very rare edition of "Potions and Notions: Greatest Minds of the Fifth Century." He knew she meant well- it seemed she had bought books for everyone, and his book was much bigger and rarer than the others. He managed to sound surprised and grateful, even though he was a little worried she would test him on the material inside in the coming months, and he was not a big fan of history novels.
Harry and Ginny were the last to leave, the night cold and pitch black beyond the glass of the front door. They lived in a rather rural area, away from street lamps or even the electric one's muggles employed. Obviously, Draco had demanded they place protective spells around their property, despite the fact that they shouldn't have any more enemies trying to kill them. Safety first. Hence, all of their guests had to leave the house to apparate away.
Harry paused after hugging Hermione and saying his goodbye, turning towards Draco. For a brief, uncomfortable moment, Draco suspected the boy meant to hug him, too. Harry had an oddly hesitant look on his face that seem to suggest he was working up what exactly to say, and Draco rolled his eyes.
"You want to shake hands goodbye, Potter?" Sometimes he still liked to use the hero's surname- just to keep him on his toes.
"Er, no, that's not it. It's just, uh..."
"Go ahead and fork it over, Harry!" Ginny muttered, elbowing her husband in the ribs playfully as she adjusted her winter cloak. She sighed heavily, flashing both Draco and Hermione uninterpretable looks.
Harry produced a rolled newspaper from his pocket- a pocket that seemed much too small to be holding the cumbersome Daily Prophet. The bespeckled boy sighed, holding it out for Draco. "Apparently," he started, adjusting his glasses with a finger to his nose, "I can, under the jurisdiction of the Aurors, now pull rank on the Prophet and demand early copies. You know, if the story relates to a... a case."
"A case?" Hermione queried, looking over at the circled article Draco was pouring over.
It said, "Longest Living Resident of Azkaban Prison Dies Suddenly."
Obviously, it didn't make the front page. It was a blurb, really, the paper folded back so Harry could show them it clearly. No one cared about a prisoner that wasn't a Death Eater.
The photo, however, was clearly Franny Fortune's, taken at the time of her incarceration. Her Horcrux was gone, and there was nothing tethering her to life in this world. The Dementors had finally worn her down to nothing, and she was gone.
"Well," said Hermione with a little sigh, "that's cheery."
"Yeah, we didn't want to spoil the party, but we thought you'd both want to know," Ginny said, looping her arm around her husbands.
Draco nodded. It was good to know, and at the same time, it didn't really matter much. He expected it would give his mother some closure, though he certainly hoped she wouldn't read the article until after the Manor Christmas Ball tomorrow. "When does it come out?"
"It's the morning paper," Harry muttered, "So I guess I didn't really give you much of a heads-up."
"No, it was thoughtful of you to let us know." Hermione said, "We should be extra delicate around Narcissa tomorrow, I think. She might be angry, or sad, or... well, who knows how she'll take the news?" She was looking at Draco now, but he really didn't know either. To him, it certainly felt like "The End" of that terrible history, which really was a rather nice Christmas present.
Not cheery. But necessary.
They said their goodbyes one more time to their last guests, and Harry really did shake Draco's hand this time. When they left, Hermione pulled the Prophet out of Draco's hands, reading the article multiple times as she usually did. Call it a compulsion, but she liked to be sure she got all the facts straight.
They both made their way to the living room, Hermione not even looking up from the paper as she plopped back down on the sofa.
"Ah-hem?" Draco tried, grabbing the top edge of the newspaper and drooping it down. He had crouched down in front of her, but the newspaper had to be removed for her to see his face.
Hermione blinked, her eyes focusing on his beyond the top edge of the paper. "What... what are you doing, Draco?"
"You said you'd fall for my tricks tonight- play along."
Her jaw dropped. She set the paper down on her lap, her eyes growing wide.
"There, see? Was it so hard to look surprised?"
"I am surprised."
"Oh. Good. I didn't think I'd be able to get anything past you, and I've been hiding this box for weeks, and I was so sure you had found it last Thursday..."
"Ruining the moment, just a little bit."
Draco was indeed planted in front of her as she sat on the sofa, but he was also holding out a small blue box, a neat little ring glittering in clear view. It wasn't too big or extravagant- he must have guessed she wouldn't want to wear something like that. It was very simple, a gold band with a princess-cut diamond at the center. It was perfect, a million times better than the bland Ministry-distributed things they were still wearing. They had used the remover weeks ago on them to counteract the less savory magical binding aspects of the things, but had continued to wear them because... well, they were their wedding rings. It was an unspoken agreement between them that eventually they would get proper rings, but Hermione hadn't expected Draco to surprise her with one like this.
"In the interest of saving the moment, then, and maybe being a little bit romantic, I'm going to try this again." Draco said, clearing his throat. "Hermione?"
"Yes?" She said, fighting the urge to grin, or laugh, or cry, or a million other strange things running thorugh her mind.
"Will you marry me? Again?"
She had both expected this and... not expected this. "Marry you again?"
"That was the question."
He wanted to... to do it again? To do it right. She finally settled on a wide smile that seemed to make her eyes crunch up and tears leak out. She hadn't even known that that was exactly what she wanted, too, until he said it.
"Yes I will, Draco Malfoy. I'll marry you, and this time I won't even have thoughts of jumping out the window to escape."
"And I promise I won't hire that same old idiot to officiate."
"And this time Ginny can be there! She'll be so happy!"
Draco sighed theatrically as he slipped off her grey ring and replaced it with the delicate piece he had bought. "I suppose if I'm marrying you proper, your friends are part of the bargain."
She leaned down, kissing him softly. Their lips lingered, barely touching for a few seconds afterward as he added, "I really do love you Hermione..."
She nodded, not even realizing how close to the edge of the couch she was until she felt herself sliding off it and into Draco's arms. He held her, the ring box still clutched in his hand against her back. She was worried she might start crying in earnest, so she could only answer by nodding.
"... and I want everyone to know it."