A/N: Fabulous beta - Glittergrrrl05 (she's the bestest!)
Draco nudged Hermione awake. "Sleeping Beauty, time to wake up."
"Umm. No. Just a few more minutes." Hermione muttered as she rubbed her face in her pillow and rolled over.
Draco knew just how to deal with her in this mood. He summoned a cup of her favorite tea and wafted it in front of her nose. "Come on, Hermione, we're house-hunting today. Just two more to go."
The aroma penetrated Hermione's sleep-hazed mind. She groggily sat up and brushed her unruly curls off her forehead. She accepted the cup and took her first sip, the warmth and caffeine immediately helping to clear her thoughts. "Umm…this is wonderful."
Draco sat down and waited for her to wake fully.
"How do you know about Sleeping Beauty?"
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Sleeping Beauty, Draco. How do you know about Sleeping Beauty? That's a Muggle fairy tale."
"It is? My mum told me that story. Said that Aurora was an ancestress of ours on the Black side."
Hermione blinked furiously. "You're joking."
"No. Why would I joke? Mum said she was our 8th or 9th great grandmother."
Hermione's eyes narrowed in thought. "But there were fairies."
"Magical creatures? Really, Hermione. Of course there are fairies."
"I know, but…I just never thought about Muggle fairy tales crossing over into the magical world."
Draco laughed, a real laugh, not the supercilious snicker he used to share with his friends at her expense.
"Are you laughing at me?" Hermione was indignant. "Why are you laughing at me?"
"It's just - " Draco calmed himself. "You're the smartest witch I know. I mean that literally. You are the single smartest witch I've ever met." Hermione blushed lightly under the compliment. "But you've never considered the juxtaposition of the Muggle world and the magical one before the Statute of Secrecy? Where did you think fairy tales actually came from? Especially after last year. You know they're often grounded in truth."
Hermione's brow furrowed and she pouted for a moment. "That still doesn't mean I was prepared to think of my husband as being descended from the object of one of those fairy tales."
Draco leaned over and gave her a brief kiss. "You'll get used to it. Come on, beautiful. Let's get ready to find our house."
The Aurors met them at the gates to the home and followed them through the wards. After a walk up the drive, Hermione stopped short and stared at the Gothic Revival facade with a grim sort of acceptance. "This is just your third or fourth home? Really, Draco?"
"Yeah. I don't think I've actually ever spent the night here." Draco strode toward the grand entrance. "But Mother sent out a few House Elves weeks ago to get it ready to be seen since we just said we'd visit over the holidays. So, it should be fine."
When he got to the doors, he turned to see his wife still several yards away, apparently rooted in spot. "Aren't you coming?"
Hermione shook her head. "I'm not sure there's a point. This – " her hand flitted up and around encompassing the entire place – "is entirely too grand for my tastes."
"Maybe, but you need to see it anyway, right? Come on in." Draco opened the doors and swept a bow. "After you, milady."
An hour and twenty-eight rooms later, Hermione refused to move a step more. "Draco, it's not our house. I can't even imagine spending a night here, much less raising a family in this pile."
"Fair enough." Draco took one last look around the second ballroom they had stumbled across. "I'm not so keen on this place either. It's getting close to lunch, though. What about Diagon Alley? Then we can go to Malfoy Place."
"That sounds perfect." Hermione had skipped breakfast that morning, so lunch sounded even better than normal. "Let's go."
They met the Aurors outside the front door and disapparated to Diagon Alley.
Again, Hermione stared at the facade of a massive pile; this time, the home was a Neo-Renaissance style French chateau in the English countryside with a huge tree in front.
"Draco, it's worse than the Hall! How many rooms are in this place?"
"Errr…I'm not sure. But it's fairly new - it was only built in the late 1800s - so I can find out. Do you want me to call one of the House Elves? They'll know."
"No, of course not. It's not that big of a deal. I just can't imagine living in a place of this size."
"Well, let's go look anyway. That way, we can say we considered them all." Draco placed his hand at the base of her back and led her to the door. "I actually like the Place. We used to spend time here during the summer. There's a lake on the property, and I had a tree house in one of the trees overlooking it. Want to see it?"
Hermione smiled at the thought of a young Draco playing a in treehouse by the lake. "I'd like that. We can go after we take a tour of this monstrosity."
Aurors following behind, they entered the house and started the tour. Two drawing rooms, a sitting room, three dining rooms, a ballroom, and fourteen bedrooms later, Draco stopped before a pair of double doors, eyes twinkling with mischief.
"I think you'll like this room, Hermione." He pushed the doors open with a grand gesture.
Hermione had just enough time to glimpse rows upon rows of books and a crackling fire in the fireplace before an unkempt man jumped from behind a chair, brandished his wand, and fired a non-verbal spell in their direction before ducking for cover.
Draco threw himself in front of the ray and collapsed almost immediately, blood already soaking his shirt. Hermione, instincts still honed by months of fighting for her life, had her wand out before he hit the floor with a dull thud.
"Reducto!" Her shout and the sound of the chair exploding alerted the Aurors in the hall, and Hermione heard their footsteps pound closer as the wizard scuttled sideways and whipped his wand forward. "Avada – "
"Petrificus totalus!" Hermione's wand blazed before he could finish the unforgivable curse.
Antonin Dolohov's eyes widened as his body pitched forward with nothing to break his fall. Blood rushed out onto the floor as the Aurors arrived.
Hermione didn't take time to smirk over his obviously broken nose. She knew that spell, nonverbal or not, and time was of the essence. She collapsed to her knees and gathered her motionless husband in her arms. "We need to get Draco to St. Mungo's. Now!"
St. Mungo's, London
Hermione nodded at the Healer's words with a grim acceptance. She knew the pain Draco would suffer for the next few weeks as she had been on the receiving end of Dolohov's signature curse herself at the end of fifth year in the Department of Mysteries.
Narcissa had arrived immediately after Hermione sent word of what happened at the Place. Kingsley met them both at St. Mungo's and cleared her for leaving Malfoy Manor. While she appeared completely composed, Hermione could see panic behind her eyes.
"Are you certain he'll recover?" Narcissa asked the Healer.
"Yes, Mrs. Malfoy, he will. But he will be on a potions regime for the next two weeks, and he won't be back to normal for some time. Quite frankly, he would have died without the quick response of young Mrs. Malfoy. Thankfully, she could tell us exactly what we were dealing with and it made all the difference."
"Excuse me, Healer Finnigan, when will we be able to see him?" Hermione was anxious to inspect Draco for herself.
"I think you can both go in now. But he's weak."
"Is there any estimated time for when he can be moved to Hogwarts? Can Madame Pomfrey see to him?" Hermione asked.
"When he's awake and able to sit up, I think he'll be fine there. So, maybe tomorrow evening?" Healer Finnigan was not unsympathetic, but she didn't want to risk any setbacks for her patient.
Narcissa set her jaw. "I'd prefer he be moved to the Manor. We can certainly have someone come in to help. There's no need for him to stay here or return to Hogwarts."
Hermione's eyebrows flew up. Suddenly, she realized what Narcissa had done. She broke house arrest and risked a prison sentence to be there. This is a mother who loves her son. "Certainly, that's an option. But why don't we let Draco decide?" This was not the time or the place to take a stand, and there wasn't any need to sow dissention with her mother-in-law.
Narcissa, no fool, recognized what Hermione was doing, but she could hardly argue with her son's wife in the middle of St. Mungo's over what was an imminently reasonable suggestion.
"But we -" Hermione gestured to her mother-in-law and herself - "can see him?" Hermione looked to the Healer for confirmation and caught the grateful look Narcissa sent her before they hurried off to Draco's bedside.
Lucius' normally pale complexion whitened further as he listened to Kingsley Shacklebolt.
Draco hit by Dolohov's signature curse. Currently in St. Mungo's. Prognosis uncertain. Mudblood alive and well. Dolohov captured.
He tuned back into what the Minister for Magic was saying. "Your son bargained for a shorter probation period for you, but that is off the table. Once he realized what you were doing, he called that off. Right now, Mr. Malfoy, you have a unique opportunity to avoid a life sentence with no possibility of release. If you are willing to confess your further crimes against your son and his wife, we will only extend your sentence by twenty years. Otherwise, you can expect to stay here for the rest of your natural life."
The slight flaring of Lucius's nostrils were the only indication of his concern.
"Mr. Malfoy, I don't need to tell you that I can make those years very difficult. The choice is yours. And the deal is off the table when I leave this room." Kingsley finished his speech and waited for a beat. "Very well, Mr. Malfoy. Prepare for a trial." He stood, straightened his robes and wheeled on his heel.
"Wait." Lucius caved as Kingsley laid his hand on the doorknob. "I'll tell you everything."
"Excellent choice, Mr. Malfoy, excellent choice."
"Am I right in saying that you want to live in the Rectory?" Draco grimaced as he finished his morning round of potions.
"Honestly, you knew I'd pick the Rectory before you ever showed me any of the other houses." Hermione smirked. "Why did you even bother taking me to them?"
"I wanted you to have a choice." Draco mimicked her look.
Her teasing expression faded when she recalled the news she'd received just hours before, and her eyes fell. "We received a letter this morning. From Kingsley."
"It's Lucius, isn't it?"
Hermione visibly straightened and shifted into a professional tone, trying to get through the recitation without crying. "In exchange for a 30 year total sentence, he cooperated fully and confessed to his part in the attempts on my life, which almost took yours." Her voice softened. "For what it's worth, Kingsley says he seemed upset that you were hurt and he believes that's why Lucius confessed. He actually felt guilty."
Draco's face smoothed into his emotionless mask. "I understand."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"No. No, I don't. If I ever want to talk about him, I'll let you know."
Hermione picked at the blanket covering him. "I was scared you'd want to go home to the Manor."
He lifted his hand and gently trailed his fingers down the side of her face. "My home is with you."
"I would have gone with you, you know. To the Manor."
"I know; that's why I came here. Because I needed to be with you, and I knew you'd be unhappy there." He shrugged. "So, I'll owl Mother every day. Maybe if you ask the Minister, she can come visit."
Hermione took his hand in hers. "I'll Floo call Kingsley. I know he'll be reasonable about this."
Draco glanced at their joined hands. "You don't mind? I know Mother can be difficult at times."
"Draco, I'd never want to keep you from your mother. She loves you." Hermione looked directly into his mercurial eyes. "Do you know what she did? She left the Manor without permission to rush to your side at St. Mungo's. She risked going back to Azkaban to be with you. I promise you, I'll never stand between the two of you. And I love you. That's why I would have followed you to the Manor if you'd chosen to go there."
Draco shook his head adamantly. "I want to be here."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course I'm sure. There's nowhere I'd rather be." Draco smiled at her. "Don't you get it yet, Granger? We belong to each other."
Final Author Note: A/N: Okay - so this is the final chapter unless I'm overwhelmed by requests for an epilogue. And questions that you want answered in said epilogue. Thank you for reading along with me, and for your kind words and reviews. They were, and continue to be, an inspiration.
I have some fantastic author friends, and if you haven't checked out their stories, well, you really should. Glittergrrl05, ShayaLonnie, Pagan Ianthe, Sweet Trufflepuff, Kiwi Ambrosia, Brightki, and G the Headmaster. And Fluffpanda - she's a kick butt beta with an imagination to match. So, check those folks out.