Author's Note: To my lovely readers…
What a journey this has been. I began this series in 2015 when I fell in love with Loki and Hermione only to realize there weren't many stories about them. NaNoWriMo 2015 was the start of a series that was never meant to be a series. With 425k+ and seven stories (at the moment), it's hard to believe we're still telling the story of Hermione and her journey toward happiness. I hope that I have accomplished that.
I'm not going to ramble too much here because I know after such a long wait, you are eager to read the last installment of Hermione and Loki's tale. Once you're finished with their goodbyes, make sure to read the end notes for mine. (No, I'm not done writing… I just mean this story.) There are a lot of people to thank (all of you included), so I promise to at least do that justice!
Now, go on and read. Enjoy!
Thank you SquarePeg72 for the alpha read and starrnobella and GaeilgeRua for beta reading! You three are always so amazing at making sense of my nonsense. Much love, xxDustNight
Disclaimer: All non-original characters, plot points, and information belongs to those at Marvel Studios, Warner Brothers, or J.K. Rowling. The title, "Empire" comes from the song of the same title by the fantastic Of Monsters and Men. The story plot and dialogue belongs to me. I do not write for profit.
Song Recommendations: "Don't Deserve You" by Plumb, "You Say" by Lauren Daigle, "Out of the Dark" by Dia Frampton, "New Dawns" by Gaia, "Find My Way Back" by Eric Arjes, "Nobody Knows" by The Lumineers, "You're Still The One" by The Maine, and "Empire" by Of Monsters and Men
"Every person has the power to change their fate if they are brave
enough to fight for what they desire more than anything."
― Stephanie Garber
Part XX: Onward
Despite the fall of Hela, Loki, Hermione, Gwyneira, and Thor did not immediately rush back to Midgard and their friends. Thor and Hermione had sustained injuries that needed mending, and Gwyneira had worn herself into a deep, deep sleep. Loki's Joutnheim palace had not attained much destruction, aside from the Throne Room. While it was being repaired, he spent his time with his family in their chambers.
Thor felt lost, pacing the halls of the upper floors as he wondered what to do next with the people of Asgard. Luckily, Lady Sif had been able to save most of their population by having them board a spaceship. This ship was now on its way to Midgard, but no one knew as of yet where they would end up. Once fully healed, Thor would return to Midgard and help Lady Sif and Heimdall find a safe space for them all.
The situation was a little different for Loki and Hermione. It was apparent that Loki had to remain on Jotunheim to rule now that he'd taken over as its rightful king. That meant Hermione would have to make a choice; either she would return to Midgard with their daughter and raise her there, or they would remain here with Loki. Loki knew which he preferred, but Hermione had not yet expressed her true wishes.
It was early morning, two days after Hela had been destroyed when Hermione finally spoke up about what she wanted. She and Loki laid together in the semidarkness, naked and intertwined. Quietly, Hermione whispered, "I don't want to go back… I… This is where I belong."
"Are you certain?" Loki had asked, his fingers coming up to trace lazy circles on her back. "I only want for you to be happy."
"I've hurt a lot of people on Earth, Loki. I've done a lot of… damage." Her breath hitched on the last word, and Loki felt the cool drops of her tears on his chest. "Some of it is irreparable. I don't want to hurt anyone anymore. I want my friends and family to not have to worry about me like they have always done."
"You would be sacrificing much by choosing a life here on Jotunheim instead of one on Midgard," Loki pointed out, closing his eyes as he internally hid his feelings from Hermione. He did not want her to make a choice based on what his heart desired.
"It's time," Hermione said with a sigh. "I'm going to live far longer than all of them thanks to the Rime Diamonds and our bond, and I don't want to have to watch them fade away."
"What of Eira?" Loki asked, his hand pressing into the small of Hermione's back. "Do you wish to keep her from her heritage?"
"Absolutely not," Hermione said without pause. "When she is old enough, I want her to go to school as I did, and then she will be allowed to choose her own path. I would never hold her back from anything."
"Someday, she will become Queen of Jotunheim and take my place as the ruler here," Loki explained, smirking at the thought.
"If that is what she wants," Hermione mused, smiling a bit to herself now. "We do not know what the future holds."
Sighing, Loki kissed the top of Hermione's head. "This is true. Now, get some rest. You are still healing and need to sleep." Loki said nothing else, and neither did Hermione, but he did remain awake for just a while longer before eventually allowing sleep to take him as well.
"We have to go back eventually," Loki told Hermione that night as he watched her rock Eira to sleep. When lost brown eyes lifted to acknowledge him, he sighed heavily and conceded. "At least to say goodbye. We have to go back for you to say goodbye, if nothing else."
"I don't know how to say goodbye," Hermione admitted, brushing her daughter's curls away from her forehead before placing a kiss there. "We've been through so much over the years… And I- I've always just sort of disappeared or left a note when I wanted to go away and be left alone."
Loki wandered over to the doorway as he thought this over for the moment. In his heart, he knew that Hermione had suffered more than anyone he knew aside from himself. It would be hard for her to leave everything behind if she were to go back and glimpse what she had there. All the friends and family that she adored so much… All those people that she knew before he had come into her life and caused chaos.
"I know what you're thinking, Loki," Hermione said with a sad smile. She stood up from the rocking chair and placed Gwyneira into the crib. Turning back around, she gave a short sigh. "I'm not going to change my mind. I want to be here with you. I don't belong there anymore."
Loki glanced over his shoulder. "You could, you know?"
Shaking her head, Hermione said, "Maybe, but I don't think so… Like I said this morning, I'm going to outlive them all. It will wear on me more than I can explain. It'll be easier if I'm hardly ever there."
"You can go back anytime that you desire," Loki told her, pushing away from the doorway to take her into his arms.
Trembling, Hermione clung to Loki. She would never admit it aloud, but she was afraid of severing the ties she had on Earth. Even though she knew in her heart it was the right thing to do, it was going to hurt, and Hermione had always struggled with pain.
"How long do you think you will need to say your goodbyes and end your life on Midgard?" Loki asked, holding onto her hands. He could feel the trembling there, but slowly it faded away and then she took a deep breath.
"Seven days," Hermione said with finality. "All I need is seven days."
Seven Days Remaining on Earth
Arriving on Earth, Hermione held Gwyneira tightly against her chest and looked around the yard. The lab seemed dark and deserted this evening, and Hermione gave Loki a worried glance. "Where do you think everyone is? I thought Thor would have told everyone we were coming soon."
"Perhaps something horrible happened here," Loki said and then put an arm around Hermione's shoulder's when he felt a flash of fear through their connection. "Do not fret. Heimdall or Thor would have notified us if something horrific happened. I'm sure they are having a gathering like your friends so often do."
Biting her lip, Hermione struggled to believe Loki's words. Then again, when she used to disappear and travel for her research all those years ago, their lives continued on without her easily enough. They might have assumed she would return when the feeling struck her and carried on with their lives.
As she was about to voice this thought to Loki, a swirling, golden circle appeared in the yard. The man Hermione knew to be Doctor Strange stepped from its glittering and obviously magical centre and then made a hand gesture to seal it. The mystical man stared at Hermione and Loki before heaving a great sigh.
"As hard as it is for me to admit this," he began, meeting first Hermione's gaze before sliding it toward Loki, "you have done the universe a favour in ridding it of Hela and the hell she could bring."
Hermione gently wiggled her daughter. "It was actually our daughter who managed to stop Hela. She was about to kill me…" Remembering her near-death experience made Hermione pause as a shiver of fear travelled down her spine.
"Then it is Gwyneira Lokisdottir that we owe a great favour," Doctor Strange said, smiling as he reached out to gently ruffle the infant's dark curls. Turning to Loki, he added, "I suppose I am going to have to get used to your presence on this planet, then?"
Loki's eyes narrowed for the briefest of seconds as he contemplated how to respond. "We will come and go as we please if that is what you are referring to. Hermione is from this realm and will wish to visit with family."
"There's no use asking you to refrain from joining her?" Doctor Strange smirked the tiniest bit, and when Loki's stare turned to a glare, he laughed. "Very well then. Just know that I will be keeping a keen eye on you and your powerful daughter also." Strange turned to Hermione. "Your friend Pansy went into labour not long after your departure to Jotunheim. Everyone is gathered at the Burrow and are anticipating your arrival."
"Thank you, Doctor," Hermione replied with a nod of gratitude.
"You are welcome." Reopening his portal with a twirl of his hand, Doctor Strange said, "Until we meet again." Then he vanished as quickly as he'd arrived, leaving Hermione and Loki alone in the empty yard.
"We should go and see Pansy, Weasley, and the baby," Loki commented, eyeing Hermione carefully.
"Yes… I feel horrible that I missed the baby being born." Hermione ran a hand through her curls. "Pansy and Ron have done so much for me…."
"Fret not, my love," Loki said, dropping a kiss to the top of her head. "I believe they will be thrilled to see you so much that they will forget you ever left. All will be forgiven."
"Are you able to get us through the Spectral Plane to the Burrow?" Hermione asked, her mind still whirling with worry.
Loki merely scoffed, a playful smirk on his lips as he quickly opened the void and ushered his love and daughter through. Within moments they were safely in the yard outside the towering homestead of the Weasley family. Thankful, Hermione pecked Loki on the cheek before hurrying to the door. Loki stood back a bit, waiting for the door to open.
"Hermione!" Ginny gasped as she opened the door. Without a second thought, the redhead threw her arms around her friend, baby and all, and gave her a tight squeeze. "Good Godric, we thought we bloody lost you!"
As they separated and Ginny stole Eira from her arms, Hermione said, "Somehow, we made it through without too many injuries. Didn't Thor fill everyone in on the details?"
Kissing Eira, Ginny said, "He was vague. I'm just glad you survived, and you too." The last part was directed towards Loki, who was still standing a bit ways from the door. "Now, come in here and have some food. My mother made enough to feed everyone at Hogwarts and then some."
"I'm dying to see the new baby," Hermione whispered, waving for Loki to follow them inside.
Ginny's eyes flashed with mischief. "Oh, you just wait until you meet the dear. You're going to absolutely fall over yourself."
Hermione was going to ask what her friend meant, but her words were lost as she stood staring into the living room. There on the couch sat Pansy and Ron with their new baby. That wasn't the shocker, though. No, it was their baby that genuinely made one's head turn.
"Hermione," Pansy said, a smile breaking across her features in relief. "I'm so glad that you're here…."
Ron stood and hurried to Hermione's side, clearly eager to make sure she'd survived all in one piece. Hermione still stood in disbelief at the baby in Pansy's arms. Blinking once and then twice, she took in Ron's familiar freckled face and red hair before glancing back at Pansy and smiling. "Well, well, well…" she said, trailing off and crossing her arms. "Isn't this something for the record books?"
Laughing, Pansy waved Hermione over to sit beside her. "Come and meet Violet properly," she said, offering up her daughter as Hermione settled onto the couch cushion next to her.
Carefully, Hermione took little Violet into her arms and snuggled her close. Brown eyes roamed over the infant's face, skin so fair that it made her dark tuft of hair stand out even more. "I do believe this is a Weasley first. No red hair." Glancing up at Ron with her eyes shining with mirth, "How in the name of Godric Gryffindor did that happen?"
"It's a mystery if I ever saw one," Ron said, crossing his arms and staring at his daughter in wonder. "Then again, a Weasley marrying a Slytherin was unheard of until I fell in love with Pansy too."
"She's absolutely stunning," Hermione replied, relaxing on the couch and enjoying the sleeping baby. "I'm so happy for the both of you."
"And we're happy for you too," Pansy said, leaning her head onto Hermione's shoulder. She shared a smile with Ron, who wiped a tear from the corner of his eye.
Sometime later, after the food was eaten and babies were put down for the night, Loki found Hermione standing alone in the backyard of the Burrow. Quietly, he shut the door behind him and walked through the damp grass where Hermione stood staring at the moon.
"I was wondering when you would come and find me," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Chuckling, Loki too tipped his head to stare at the moon. "I felt you leave but wanted to give you space. Is all well?"
"I have a lot of goodbyes to get through," Hermione admitted, turning and wrapping her arms around Loki's middle and laying her head on his chest. She could hear his heart beating and tried to draw strength from him. "Being here tonight made it all the more real."
Arms coming up to wrap around his lover and the mother of his daughter, Loki gently said, "If you are uncertain about leaving behind all that you love, we can stay. I will find someone to rule Jotunheim in my absence."
Surprised, Hermione startled and then leaned back to peer up into Loki's emerald eyes. "You would do that? For me?"
"I would do anything to be with the woman I love," Loki said without hesitation.
Everything slotted into place for Hermione then, her past no longer mattering. She was a difficult woman to love so much that she'd believed that this right here would never happen for her. Loki had proved all of that wrong. Were they perfect? No, far from it, but what they had was real. The Rime Diamonds had only exemplified what was already there, after all.
Once upon a time, Hermione had given nearly all of herself only to find herself still alone. Now, Loki was offering to give up his dreams and empire for the sake of making her happy. After a lifetime of trials and tribulations, Hermione knew what was right and what she had to do. It was time to push aside fear and the wolves without teeth that threatened her all her life.
Reaching upward, Hermione took hold of Loki's face and stared deep into his eyes. "I love you, Loki, and that is why I'm more than ready to say my goodbyes and start our life together on Jotunheim with our daughter."
When she felt Loki relax with relief and felt more love than ever before radiate through their bond, Hermione kissed him. They stood there in the moonlight for some time before eventually returning to the party inside the Burrow. Tomorrow would begin the start of the goodbyes, but tonight they would celebrate the fact that they were alive and well.
Six Days Remaining on Earth
"Oh!" exclaimed Jean Granger as she opened the door of the house she shared with her husband, David. "This is a lovely surprise! What on earth are you doing in Sydney?"
"Hi, mum," Hermione mumbled, biting her lip. "I, uh, wanted to bring Gwyneira here to visit, and I have someone else for you to meet."
"Come inside," Jean said, ushering her daughter inside. She paused as a tall, dark-haired figure stepped up behind Hermione, holding Gwyneira. Swallowing back any nervousness, she said, "And you must be Loki. Please, come on in and make yourselves at home."
"Thank you," Loki said a bit stiffly, throwing Hermione a glance. He adjusted Eira on his hip as they were led inside the house. Using their telepathy, he said to Hermione, "I thought you were going to tell them I was coming too."
"I wanted it to be a surprise."
Loki merely rolled his eyes at that response and allowed Jean to show them into the living room. A grey-haired man was sitting in an oversized chair where he was reading the newspaper. Loki immediately recognized Hermione in his features. This must be her father, and when their eyes met, he could see the uncertainty there. Hopefully, he would alleviate any trepidations the man had about him being with his daughter.
"Dad," Hermione began as she tugged Loki to her side. "This is Loki, the father of Gwyneira."
The former dentist rose from the chair and made his way over to Loki. Giving him the once over, he smiled, alleviating any worries Hermione had about him kicking her lover out of the house. Holding out his hand, he said, "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Loki. I've heard, well, I've heard much about you."
Loki smirked but took the man's hand and shook it. "I won't try and deny my past, but I can tell you that I am no longer the Jotun I once was."
"I'm not quite sure what that means," David said as they dropped hands, "but I'm glad to know I don't have to worry about the wellbeing of Hermione and my granddaughter."
"David, can you go put on a pot of tea?" Jean asked as she took Gwyneira into her arms after Loki was finished greeting her husband. "I'll be in shortly to scrounge up some sandwiches and biscuits."
"Sure thing," he told his wife before heading toward the kitchen.
"I'll go help," Hermione said before rushing after her father. Loki gave her a desperate look at being left alone with Jean, but she just smiled and let him be. Her mother was fierce but harmless.
Entering the kitchen, Hermione leaned against the island and watched quietly as her father filled the kettle and put it on the stove to heat. This was her opportunity to talk to him about what was to come, but something was holding her back. Thankfully, as if sensing her hesitation, David turned and faced her, a grim expression on his elderly face.
"Come here," he said gently, gesturing for Hermione to come to him. Quickly, Hermione moved forward and allowed her father to embrace her in a comforting hug. David breathed deep the smell of his only child, laying his cheek on the top of her curls. Closing his eyes, he asked, "You are going away with him, aren't you?"
A strangled sob bubbled up from inside of Hermione, and she nodded. "I'm going to return to Jotunheim and rule at his side. We're going to raise our daughter there."
Sighing, David held tighter to his daughter. "I hate that you have to go, but I know that this is what you want. What you have always wanted."
Hermione shifted and lifted her head so she could stare up at her father. "You're not upset?"
"Of course I'm upset, pumpkin," David said with affection, "but I understand that we all have to do what is best for our families. If that means moving light-years away to rule some bizarre alien race, then so be it." David paused. "You will come back, though?"
Nodding, Hermione brushed away unshed tears. "Yes, of course. I already told Loki that I want Heimdall to keep an eye on you, and I plan to bring Eira back from time to time to visit everyone. She and Violet are destined to be best friends, I'm sure."
"Despite many hardships, you have always done well for yourself," David told Hermione as he held her at arm's length. "I know that wherever you go, and whatever you do, you are going to be great. Just promise to be safe."
"I promise," Hermione told her dad before throwing her arms around him again. As they separated, she added, "When I come home next, I hope it's New Year's Eve so we can celebrate properly just like we used to."
"That sounds lovely," Jean said as she entered the kitchen. It was apparent she had overheard everything from the tear stains on her cheeks. She did an excellent job of hiding it, though. Taking hold of Hermione and her husband's hands, she squeezed. "We've missed a few over the years, but from here on out, we spend every New Year together."
David and Hermione met each other's gaze. When Hermione nodded, David smiled and said, "Sounds like a perfect plan to me. I'd hate for us to miss out on Eira's birthdays."
Hermione knew Loki and Eira were waiting in the other room to leave and return to London, but she wasn't yet ready to part with her parents. Even with promises of future celebrations, one never knew what tomorrow could bring. An understanding washed through her, and Hermione knew that Loki was giving her all the time she needed. London could wait until tomorrow…
Today she would enjoy this time with her parents.
Five Days Remaining on Earth
"So this is goodbye then?"
Hermione smiled sadly at Darcy as she came out of the lab. Jane and Thor were still inside packing. "It's not forever," she replied, biting her lip.
"Come on," Darcy said, placing both hands on her hips. "We both know this universe is crazy, and we very well might never see each other again after this."
"Look, I'm not saying you're right, but we will definitely see each other again. Now, I have something for you," Hermione said, digging into her pocket. When she found what she wanted, she pulled it out and handed it over to her friend. "This is for you and Jane."
Taking the item, Darcy held it in her palm. "Keys? What are these for?"
"When he passed away, Draco bequeathed me his flat in New York City," Hermione explained with a nostalgic smile. "I spent a lot of time there in the early 2000s. I thought that after you and Jane get done in South Africa, you might like someplace to call home back in the States."
"What?" Darcy stared at the keys and then back at Hermione, her mouth hanging open. "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure," Hermione replied, frowning. She glanced over at the For Sale sign in the yard. "This place will be gone before you or I ever come back this way again, so you're going to need someplace to stay. Besides, I won't have use of the flat. When Loki and I visit with Eira, we'll just stay with friends or family."
Tucking the keys into the pocket of her jeans, Darcy hated that this was goodbye. "Where is Loki?"
"He's watching Eira and packing up my flat, so I can say goodbye," Hermione replied, feeling her stomach lurch. "He sends his regards, of course."
Darcy laughed and shook her head. "Sounds about right. I hope to run into him again someday. Be sure to tell him goodbye for me too."
"I promise to let him know." The two women lapsed into silence, both not quite sure what to say next. Goodbyes were hard, and this one was proving no different. Clearing her throat, Hermione said, "I am going to miss you, Darcy. You always knew just how to cheer me up when I was feeling down about something."
"You're just going to miss my rendition of Shake Ya Tail Feather," Darcy quipped, starting to dance right there in the yard.
Laughing so hard she felt tears spring to her eyes, Hermione conceded. "That's exactly it. I'll never forget that one."
"What have I missed?" Jane asked as she and Thor joined them in the yard. "Oh, you're not doing goodbyes without us, are you?"
"Darcy was just giving an encore of her Shake Ya Tailfeather dance from Asgard." As Hermione explained this, Darcy grabbed hold of Jane and tried to get her to join in as well.
The scientist tugged away but laughed all the same. "How could we ever forget that?" Still chuckling, she ran a hand through her hair. "My mom said some people are coming to look at the house tomorrow. It looks like Darcy and I are officially out of here as of tonight."
"The end of an era," Darcy mused, her smile falling slightly.
"It's going to be okay, though," Jane said, clearly choked up with emotion. "We've got an exciting new adventure to dive into, and so do Hermione and Thor."
"That's true," Hermione replied quietly. She met Thor's eyes, and they shared a private smile. She was going away to Jotunheim, where she would quite possibly never see Darcy and Jane ever again. Thor would be staying on Earth, but he had the remaining Asgardians to take care of in New Asgard.
"Jane," Thor said, staring down into her eyes and breaking the silence. "I wish you all the best, and I hope our paths cross again someday."
Blushing, Jane nodded. "I hope so too. Be careful out there, you know? Doctor Strange said he can still fix Mjolnir if you want, but who knows where he's gone off to now."
"I will seek him out if needed," Thor replied and then dropped a kiss to her cheek and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I will be safe in New Asgard for the time being." Turning to Darcy, he smiled. "Do not get into too much trouble."
"Who, me?" Darcy teased, waving away his words. "Never." More seriously, she said, "I'll miss you too, Big Guy. Make sure to come and find us in South Africa if you get bored of Norway."
"We shall see what happens. For now, I must visit with my brother," Thor said, letting go of Jane's shoulder and nodding at Darcy. "Then, I will return to New Asgard. Hermione, I will see you soon."
"Okay," the witch told Thor as he made his way to their usual teleportation point. "Be safe and tell Heimdall, Bruce, and Lady Sif I said hello."
Thor nodded, gave Jane one more meaningful look, and then he was whisked away in an explosion of colour. When it was quiet once more, Hermione turned back to her two friends, knowing the moment of their departure was at hand.
"I'll never forget you, Hermione Granger," Jane said, shaking her head slowly. "That day, you waltzed right up to our table in the coffee shop and all but demanded to be my intern. Maybe if you ever pop back to Earth, you can come to research astrophysics with me some more."
"Yeah," Darcy chimed in, throwing an arm around Hermione's shoulders. "You can put that fancy degree of yours to good use."
"That's always a thought," Hermione said before tugging Jane over so the three of them could all hug one another together. "I don't know what the future holds, but having you two as friends has made these past two years some of the best of my life."
"Even though we almost died like ten times?" Darcy asked, tilting her head at Hermione.
"Yes," Hermione said with a laugh. "Even though we almost died 'like ten times.' I will miss our girls' nights."
"Me too," Jane and Darcy reciprocated before they all slowly dropped their arms. It was certainly telling that none of them quite knew what to say or do next.
"Well," Darcy began rubbing the back of her neck, "I guess we ought to go and find a flight out of here. Everything is ready to be sent to storage, right?"
"Everything is all set," Jane answered, glancing back at the house. "We just have our suitcases and other miscellaneous items to take with us. How many more days before you leave, Hermione?"
"Five," she replied. "Just a few more things to wrap up before we leave for good."
"I hope it goes well," Jane said and then started to back away. "Be safe too."
"You also," Hermione said, watching as Jane and Darcy prepared to move on with their lives. "And Darcy, make sure she has fun every once in a while."
"You got it," Darcy said, fake saluting as Jane rolled her eyes. "Now, go on before I tackle you and keep you here forever. Check-in from time to time!"
"I'll do my best," Hermione said, moving toward the apparation point. "I'll miss you! Bye!"
"Bye!" Darcy and Jane shouted before disappearing into the house for the last time.
Hermione watched them go, her heart aching more than ever. As she apparated back to her flat, Hermione thought of what she had to do tomorrow. Her next goodbye would be the hardest one yet.
Four Days Remaining on Earth
Twilight was falling as Hermione wandered up the cobblestone pathway. It felt like a decade had passed since she last stepped foot on these grounds. In reality, it was barely over a year since Draco's funeral. So much had changed since then, Hermione included. Hermione saw the little family graveyard ahead as the pathway turned, and she steadied herself for arrival.
Outside the gate, she paused, unsure if she could bear to step inside to say goodbye. She needed to do something, but it felt like something was holding her back still. The love she had for Loki was overwhelming, and she wouldn't give it up for anything, but there was always that inkling of what if in the back of her mind when it came to Draco. Now was no different, except that the point was moot. Draco was dead.
Finding her Gryffindor courage within, Hermione moved forward, making her way toward Draco's final resting place. When she stood in front of his grave, she placed the single red rose in the vase that was there. A rose that held so many memories of a time long ago… The scent of rose petals and the taste of Pepper Imps rose to Hermione's senses, and she was forced to close her eyes. Recalling those happy memories gave her the strength she needed, and she opened her eyes.
"Once upon a time, I thought that you and I were going to be together forever," Hermione said to Draco's grave. She laughed then, briefly. "Oh, how naive I was back then. We were so young despite everything we'd been through. The war may have hardened us for working at the Ministry, but it did nothing to prepare us for this kind of heartbreak."
Wrapping her arms around her middle, Hermione tried to protect herself from the onslaught of feelings. "I know that you said you were ready for death, but I wasn't ready, Draco." She had come to Malfoy Manor alone, leaving Eira with Loki as she came to say a final goodbye to Draco. At first, she hadn't even thought it was a good idea to go here, but Loki insisted. Draco was a large part of her past and the person she was today.
"I came here for many reasons, but most of all, I came to say goodbye. I'm not ready for that yet…" Hugging herself tighter, Hermione willed the tears not to come, but they were already forming. "That last time we saw one another, you asked me to forgive you… I know you heard me, but I need to repeat it. I forgive you. I forgive you for staying with Astoria and for never coming to me. You did the right thing even though it broke both of our hearts."
"We were far from perfect," Hermione continued, now dropping to her knees in front of the grave. Placing both hands on the cool stone, she bowed her head and let the tears fall freely. "But I loved you, Draco. I loved you with all of my heart. You were my reason for living and fighting for what I believed in during those dark times. All the teardrops I cried and teacups I collected were like bricks and mortar for the life I built for myself and so many others who couldn't be with the one they loved."
The early spring breeze blew through the small graveyard, drying the tears on Hermione's cheeks. It was almost as if Draco was there, wiping them away for her. It gave her some strength to imagine him there. Ultimately, Hermione could sit here talking to Draco all night, but she had packing to do and plans to finalize. Her life was waiting for her, and she couldn't put it on hold any longer.
"I have to go now," she told the grave, renewed tears streaming down her cheeks. "But I need you to know one thing… You were not a coward… I have never thought that of you, and I never will. You sacrificed your life for mine and so many others. For that and many other reasons, I will always love you, Draco. Always." Lifting her head, she said, "Goodbye."
Hermione wiped at her tear-stained cheeks and pushed to her feet. With a final glance at the grave, she turned and began the long walk from the grounds. She was sure that Astoria watched from one of the upper windows, as probably did Narcissa, but that didn't matter. She hadn't come here to make amends with either of them; she had come to say goodbye to one of the most significant, most influential people in her life.
There were three days remaining of her time here on Earth, and despite what the tears on her cheeks indicated, the hardest goodbyes were yet to come.
Three Days Remaining on Earth
Ginny was washing the dinner dishes when she saw Hermione appear in the backyard. Drying her hands on a towel, she shouted through to the living room where she knew Harry was reading. "Harry! Hermione is here." Then, she met Hermione at the backdoor, pulling her inside and wrapping her in an enormous hug.
"Geeze, Gin," Hermione mumbled into her friend's hair. She would miss these breathtaking hugs. "You're going to suffocate me."
The redheaded witch laughed but eased her hold on the brunette. "Stop being so dramatic. Come inside and have some tea."
"Tea sounds lovely," Hermione replied as she moved into the kitchen, shutting the door behind her.
"I take it you're here to say goodbye and all that," Ginny said as she set about making tea.
Settling down at the kitchen table, Hermione asked, "How did you know?"
Ginny set aside the kettle, waved her wand so the tea would make itself, and came over to sit with her friend. Reaching across the table, she took Hermione's hand in hers and squeezed. "I may never have been one of your best friends, but you have always been one of mine. I know you better than you think, and I can see that sad look in your eye that you used to get back during your research days. You're ready to flee, but at least this time, you're making rounds instead of disappearing altogether."
Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath. There were tears in her eyes when she again looked at Ginny. "I think a part of me was always jealous of you, Gin. Maybe that is why I never let myself get as close to you as I did with Ron and Harry."
"Jealous?" Ginny cocked her head in confusion. "What did I have that made you feel that way?"
"A family," Hermione said, feeling ashamed. "I wanted so badly to be able to have children, and you were able to. I regret it now, but I stayed away a lot when the kids were little because I was so envious. I could have been a better aunt and godmother, but I always chose my feelings over them."
"I wish I had known," Ginny said quietly, glancing away from Hermione as she thought. Her heart felt heavy in her chest, but when she lifted her gaze again, she tried to smile. "I do… I would have tried harder to be a better friend."
"Ginny," Hermione said, smiling now. "You were and are one of my very dear friends. Despite the past, you have been here for me just as much as the others. I'll never be able to thank you enough for keeping my hospital stays out of the papers."
"You knew about that?" Ginny asked, eyes wide but a smile playing at her lips.
Hermione laughed. "Of course I knew. Otherwise, the papers would have had a field day with me and my meltdowns. I'm so grateful to you."
"Well," Ginny said, slightly embarrassed at being found out. "I wanted to make sure you were happy in any way that I could. Those gits at the papers didn't need to know about your issues. It was private." Taking a deep breath, she added, "You're going to come back now and then, right?"
"Yeah," Hermione answered even though she knew it might be less than she was letting Ginny believe. "I couldn't leave you all behind forever."
"Okay good, because I don't think Harry and Ron will be able to survive without you here," Ginny said, finally pulling her hand away from Hermione. "They act all tough, but they love you more than they say. Plus, you were always the brain. If you go away for too long, they might go and do something stupid."
"I guess that's true," Hermione agreed, knowing fully well that Harry and Ron did fine without her also. They were both intelligent in their own regards. "I'm going to miss you. I'm going to miss this… Coming over for dinners and having tea. I won't know anyone on Jotunheim."
"I'll miss you too." Ginny looked to the ceiling, blinking rapidly. "You'll make some new friends, I'm sure Jotunheim will be great, and Eira will get to be with her father."
"I'm not too sure the Frost Giants are friendly, but I am hoping to help Loki keep peace with the other realms," Hermione said, pulling a face. "A new adventure for us both."
"Whatever you get up to, Hermione Granger," Ginny said thoughtfully, "you will do an excellent job at it. I have no doubts about that."
Smiling at her friend, Hermione hoped that Ginny was right. Moving so far away was going to be difficult, and the new roles she would have to take on would certainly keep her busy. There was also the whole issue of raising her magical, half-Jotun daughter and making sure she grew up happy and safe. Thankfully, Hermione had years and years of watching Ginny to take inspiration from.
"Hey, 'Mione." Both Ginny and Hermione glanced toward the doorway to find Harry standing there watching. He nodded his head toward the door. "Do you want to go for a walk?"
Suddenly, Hermione felt like she was going to burst into tears. Ginny patted her hand and got up from the table to tend to the tea that none of them would ever drink. Sending Harry a nod, she said, "Sure," before standing and joining Harry at the door. Turning to Ginny, she said, "I'll see you around."
"You too," Ginny said, her eyes glossy. "See you later."
Nodding again, Hermione let Harry lead her outside and down the side path. A moment later, they emerged onto the main street of Godric's Hollow; it was a path they had walked together many times over the years. The first time was when they were barely more than children trying to stop a mad wizard. Thinking of that fateful Christmas, Hermione felt teary-eyed once more, knowing this was the last time in a long time that she would walk with her friend.
"I'm sorry that I wasn't always there for you," Harry said quietly after they were a good ways from the house.
Hermione's head whipped around so she could stare at her friend. "What? You've always been there for me." Pausing in front of the local church, she added, "What about the countless times you covered for me at the Ministry? You lived with me in New York City… You-"
"I was not there nearly as often as Ron," Harry pointed out, awkwardly rubbing at the back of his head. He hated to cut her off, but he had to talk, or he would surely cry instead. "I could have done more, to be honest."
"You were starting your family, Harry," Hermione said sternly, reaching out to grab his hand. "You had your own life to worry about, not mine."
"You are a part of my life, Hermione," Harry told her, dropping her hand and continuing their walk. Resolutely, he stared forward as if the sight of Hermione would break him. They had reached the small cemetery where his parents were buried. Standing at the fence, Harry continued, "I feel like it was only these past few years where I've finally been someone solid for you to lean on during difficult times."
"Was Ron there to rescue me more often than you? Yes, probably, but you were just as pivotal a person in my life." Standing at Harry's side, she stared at the gravestones instead of her friend. "The difference between you and Ron is that he was there to bring me back from whatever bender I'd gone off on at the time. You, though, you were always my voice of reason."
"Your voice of reason?" Harry asked, looking sceptical as he twisted to stare at his longtime friend.
"It was always you telling me to get my shit together," she admitted with a grin. "You and Ron are two sides of the same coin, and I can't have one without the other."
Staring back out at where his parents were buried, Harry sighed and bowed his head. "I'm going to miss you. You've been with me since we were kids."
"You're not losing me, Harry," Hermione said, her voice barely above a whisper as she edged closer and let her head rest on Harry's shoulder. "I'm just going away for a little while to finally raise my own family. I'll be back, and when I do return, it will be like we never parted."
"Do you promise?" Harry asked without moving, too afraid to see the lie in Hermione's eyes.
Two Days Remaining on Earth
When Hermione and Loki arrived at Nott Manor, they found Blaise and Theo relaxing in the study. Blaise was making a fresh drink at the sideboard while Theo read lazily in front of the fireplace. Loki gently prodded Hermione to go forward first so they would know they had arrived. Both wizards smiled brightly at seeing the pair in the doorway.
"Hermione!" the dark-skinned man exclaimed, rushing over to wrap his friend in a warm embrace. "I was so worried about you. And you too," he told Loki with a wink.
"I take it that things went well on Jotunheim," Theo said, standing from his chair by the fire to greet his guests. "We heard from Pansy that you were back but wondered when we would get to see you, if at all."
"We had to make sure to see you before we returned to Jotunheim," Hermione told her friends.
"So it's true then," Blaise said with a frown. "You're leaving."
"I am," she admitted, "but it won't be forever."
"I'm glad you stopped by then," Theo told her, taking hold of Blaise's hand. "We both are."
Biting her lip, Hermione hesitated. She'd come here for a myriad of reasons, but Loki had also come to return something he had taken from Theo. "We wanted to say goodbye, but there were a few other things we needed to talk about too." She poked Loki in the side to get him to talk.
"This belongs to you," Loki said as he slid one hand into his slacks while giving Hermione a look for the poke in his side. When he retracted it and held his palm up for Theo to see, there was the Time-Turner that had caused so much chaos a few short months ago.
Eyeing the trinket warily, Theo reached out to take it, hesitating only slightly. "I wondered if you still had this thing," he mused, as his hands enclosed the Time-Turner. "I thought maybe you'd destroyed it after the hell we went through."
Shrugging one shoulder, Loki said, "It does not belong to me, and I fear having it in Jotunheim may only bring destruction." He took a few steps backwards and wrapped an arm around Hermione's shoulders. "I will have enough to worry about with this one living there with me."
"Hey now," Hermione teased, playfully elbowing her lover. "I'll be busy with Gwyneira while you're sitting on your big fancy throne telling everyone else what to do."
Loki simply hummed in reply, but there was a bit of a smirk playing on his lips. To Theo, he asked, "What will you do with it now?"
Throwing a quick glance in Blaise's direction, he shrugged. The Time-Turner had saved his husband from death, but it had nearly destroyed not only his relationship but Hermione's as well. Messing with time was not something that he wanted to do ever again, and he felt that maybe no one else should either.
Without a word, he closed his hand into a fist and squeezed tight. The Time-Turner crunched, effectively shattering and rendering it useless. When he slowly opened his hand, the sand that had been contained in the hourglass whispered to the floor. Then, he turned over this hand and let the broken pieces follow along with it.
No one said a word as Theo used his wand to vanish the mess and eliminated anyone from ever using the Time-Turner to alter the past or future ever again. Blaise smiled and kissed Theo's cheek while Loki smirked in a most satisfied manner. Hermione was the only one who seemed stunned by Theo's actions, but she said not a word. The Time-Turner belonged to Theo, so it was his decision of what to do with it, after all.
When the silence had gone on long enough, Loki kissed the top of Hermione's head and dropped his arm from around her shoulders. "I am going to go outside for some air, but I hope to see you two again in the future. Perhaps, you will have a child by then as well."
Blaise chuckled. "Maybe he or she will grow up and marry Eira, and then they can kick you off of Jotunheim's throne."
"Indeed," Loki replied before nodding and taking his leave from the room. "What an interesting thought."
Sighing, Hermione just shook her head as she turned back around toward Blaise and Theo. "Time for the hard part, right? Before we say goodbye, though, I have a bit of a proposal for you."
Blaise barked out a laugh, running a hand over his shaved head. "It's always prophecies and proposals with you, isn't it?"
"What can I say," Hermione replied with a laugh. "I like to keep you guessing."
"Okay," Theo began, sitting down on the edge of the chair he'd vacated earlier. "I'm ready. Spring it on me."
"You know that I am leaving, and I am stepping down as Minister," Hermione began slowly, meeting Theo's gaze. "Well, I've talked with the Wizengamot, and they all believe that you have done a brilliant job at holding the position while I was in the hospital and then in Jotunheim. They want you to remain as Minister."
Theo blinked once, then twice before blowing all the air out of his lungs. Shaking his head, he said, "I- I can't do that."
"Sure you can," Blaise interrupted before his husband could say anything further. He placed a comforting hand on his shoulder as well. "You've been kicking ass in the Department of Mysteries for years, and this is the perfect opportunity for you to have a more stable position. No more running off to Egypt. Maybe we'll actually be able to settle down and have that family we've dreamed about all these years."
Still, seemingly in shock, Theo thought about what Blaise had said. Being Minister would allow him to stop travelling as much, aside from the occasional meeting here and there. "Why can't you stay?" He laughed, shaking his head. "This would be so much easier if you would just stay here."
"Even if I wasn't going to Jotunheim, I can't keep pretending I'm a good Minister," Hermione explained, wrapping her arms around her middle. "I have too many issues of my own to deal with and heal from. If things had turned out differently, maybe, but not now… Not as I am, and I'm okay with that. Who knows if I'll ever be fit for a position of power."
"Not even as Queen of Jotunheim?" Blaise asked, his dark eyes glinting.
"Maybe someday," she replied with a shrug. "If Loki and I ever decide to have a proper wedding or bonding ceremony. I'm not really sure how those sorts of things work in the other realms." To Theo, she said, "So what do you say?"
"If I say yes, will you promise to visit at least once a year?" Theo asked, raising both eyebrows. "It's a stipulation that I won't let go."
Playfully rolling her eyes, Hermione said, "Sure. Once a year sounds reasonable. Hell, we could even make it twice. I'll miss your faces too much."
Theo stood again and extended his hand. "You have a deal." Beside him, Blaise cheered, pumping his fist into the air before wrapping him in a brief hug.
Hermione took the offered hand and shook. "Congratulations, Minister. I wish you the best of luck. Now, come here." Taking both their hands, she said, "You two helped show me how to love again when I thought that I never could. We may not have worked out, but you were everything to me, despite what happened in our past."
"We love you too," Blaise said softly, biting back emotion. "You helped me live my dream and saved my life. I will forever be grateful to you for that."
"Yeah," Theo said, coughing. "I know there is a lot of bad blood, but that's all forgotten now. I only wish you the best."
"Merlin, I love you guys," Hermione muttered before letting Theo and Blaise tug her in for one final and proper hug and goodbye.
One Day Remaining on Earth
Tip-toeing into Pansy and Ron's townhouse, Hermione glanced around, wondering where her friends might be. She didn't want to call out for fear of waking little Violet or even Pansy, who may be trying to sleep. She knew now that it was essential to sleep when the baby slept, and she would be good about that once she, Loki, and Eira returned to Jotunheim.
Peeking into the living room, Hermione found Pansy just finishing up nursing. She smiled and whispered, "Hey, Pansy. I wanted to come and see you. Are you busy?"
"Hermione," Pansy greeted, unable to keep from smiling as well. "It's a good time for you to come. Violet will be going down for a nap shortly." She gently held Violet up to her shoulder and went through the process of burping her. When that was settled and Hermione had sat down on the other end of the sofa, Pansy handed the baby over to her friend.
After watching Violet settle into a light sleep, Hermione sighed heavily and decided to broach the topic of her visit. "Pansy… I- I wanted to come and say goodbye before Loki, and I leave for Jotunheim tomorrow."
"Is it selfish of me to wish you would reconsider and stay?" Pansy asked, tucked a piece of dark hair behind one ear. "It would be nice to have another fairly new mom to bounce ideas off of and vent to."
"Believe me," Hermione admitted, frowning, "I wish I could stay, but Loki has an empire to rule, and I don't want our family to be apart any longer. The time we spent separated… It was hell, to put it lightly. I don't think we could survive that again- I don't think I could survive it again."
A solemn nod was all Pansy did in reaction. She'd taken care of Hermione and Gwyneira during the time Loki had been away on Asgard. It was a time she hoped never to revisit if given a chance. The witches sat there in silence for a long moment, both thinking of their long history. Neither quite wanted to be the one to break the silence, but eventually, the dark-haired witch did so.
"I hate goodbyes," Pansy said, blinking back wholly unexpected tears.
Laughing lightly, Hermione agreed. "I do too…."
"By the way, I hope you don't mind if we keep your cat," Pansy said, eyes sparkling with mischief. "She likes sleeping with Violet at night."
"It's far too cold on Jotunheim for a cat. I think Raven will be happier here anyway." As if knowing she was being talked about, the cat appeared at the doorway and said her own meow as a farewell before wandering off to sleep. Pansy and Hermione shared a chuckle at the cat's antics even though the latter was a bit sad to have to leave the cat behind.
They sat in silence for another moment until the baby began to get a bit fussy in her sleep. "I wanted to talk to Ron too," Hermione said as she handed Violet back to her mother. "Is he here?"
Pansy shook her head as she adjusted Violet in her arms. "You know how Ron is… He hates goodbyes more than anyone. He left right before you got here. Somehow he must have known what was coming..."
"Where did he go?" Hermione asked, her heart falling at the thought of not being able to say goodbye to one of her dearest friends.
Smiling sadly, Pansy said, "You know where he went." A slight smirk was playing on her lips.
"The flat," Hermione whispered, glancing away. She stood and made her way to the fireplace, grabbing some floo powder off the mantle. She'd arrived on foot but would leave by floo, not knowing if she could stand the goodbye that faced her.
"Before you go, Hermione," Pansy said, stopping the bushy-haired witch before she stepped through the floo. "I just want you to know that whatever happens, our bygones will always be forgotten, and the benevolent vows Ron and I gave you will stand as long as we live." She wiped away a stray tear, slightly smearing her black mascara. "I love you as a friend, and I can't wait to see our daughters become lifelong friends as well."
Hermione was overwhelmed with emotion and could find no words to speak. She simply swallowed and nodded, a tearful smile gracing her lips. She and Pansy had an understanding that would forever be there. They both loved Ron, albeit in different ways. It was a bond that would keep them in each other's lives no matter what. After another second, Hermione finally stepped into the floo and returned to her flat for the last time.
When Hermione emerged from the fireplace in a whirl of green flames, she took a moment to get her bearings. Placing a heavy hand upon the mantle, sadness continued to creep through her chest. It was strange to recall the floo calls made through the grate and the earnest regrets that were felt by family and friends over the years.
Shivering, Hermione shrugged off the memories and instead turned to face the living room properly. With bated breath, she waited patiently as Ron's footsteps were heard coming down the hallway from the back bedrooms. As he emerged, her heart leapt, and tears sprang to her eyes. It was like being transported back in time to the first day they'd stepped foot in this flat when they were barely out of the war.
Mere children who had no idea what the world was about to throw at them.
Wiping her eyes, Hermione laughed nervously. "I was afraid I wouldn't get to see you before I left." She hated how emotional she sounded.
Running a hand through his hair, Ron sighed heavily. "I wasn't sure I wanted to see you…" Shaking his head, he added, "That came out wrong. I wanted to see you, of course, I do. I'm just scared that this goodbye will be forever."
"It won't be forever, Ron," Hermione explained, choking on a sob. When she had regained composure, she said, "I'll always need my friends… My family." It was difficult at that moment to push aside the thought that someday her goodbye would be forever, but it would be because they were gone, and she lived on.
"This flat really has seen it all, hasn't it?" Ron asked, taking another look around the living room. He knew not the thoughts that lingered in his friend's mind. "All of our promotions and life's unexpected surprises can be traced back to this flat."
Joy bubbled in Hermione's chest at Ron's words. "Despite all the bad, this place was always magical. I'm thankful to have spent a large part of my life here with you."
"I'm sorry," Ron blurted suddenly, his cheeks red. "For leaving you all those years ago."
The briefest jolt of grief shot through Hermione at the memory of their lost child and breakup. "I forgave you a long time ago, Ron. I don't think I ever really even blamed you for leaving." Walking forward, Hermione took Ron's hands in her own and squeezed. "You always loved me, even when we were apart."
"I still love you," Ron whispered, eyes overflowing. "I'm sorry it wasn't the kind of love that you needed."
"It's different for us," she told him, letting go of his hands to gently wipe away his tears. "You and I were always meant to be friends, and the love you have for me is special, but you and Pansy are perfect for each other. Your friendship is what I needed, and I've always had that."
Ron pulled her into him then, and they shared a fierce hug as they cried for the time they would now have to be apart. Heartache and triumph filled their past and possibly their future, but whatever happened, their friendship would remain the same. From fighting trolls to watching their own children grow up, Hermione and Ron would be friends forever.
Their embrace came to a natural end, both wiping at their eyes while grinning at one another for being silly. Hermione cleared her throat and said, "I guess it's time, huh?"
"I suppose so… I was also afraid that Loki would be here," Ron said, glancing around the near-empty flat. "I didn't want to do this in front of him."
Biting her lip, Hermione said, "He took Gwyneira to the park down the road. He's tired of helping me pack up the flat." She had to chuckle at the last part, but her heart hurt, all the same, knowing that Loki probably just wanted to give her a chance to say a proper goodbye to her friend.
Still standing close, Ron stared down at Hermione and said, "Please, don't be a stranger, 'Mione. I'll miss you more than you can imagine."
"I'm going to miss you too, Ron," Hermione murmured, trying to remember this moment so it would forever remain in her mind.
Ron placed a kiss upon Hermione's forehead before dropping his hold and walking out the front door. When she was alone, Hermione took a final glance around the flat where she'd essentially grown into the witch she was today. Despite the time that she'd spent travelling for research, this was always her home, and it was going to be hard to let it go. The flat would become someone else's special place, and the memories of Hermione and the time she spent there would be forgotten.
A few boxes were remaining, but those would be put into storage for when Gwyneira was old enough to use them at Hogwarts. Thankfully, Harry and Ginny had plenty of space in their basement. Other than that, the flat was ready to leave. Twirling in a slow circle, Hermione said her final goodbye to her home and then apparated to the park. From there, they would depart for Jotunheim.
Clothed in her warm cloak, Hermione stood staring out at the icy expanse that was her new home. Jotunheim was beautiful, if not a bit colder than she'd initially anticipated. Thankfully, her magic was able to keep her warm when fires and cloaks failed. Eira was part Frost Giant, and the cold never bothered her.
Deciding it was time to move back inside, Hermione returned to their chambers, shutting the balcony door behind her. Only a few days had passed since they'd made Jotunheim their home, but already Hermione had put away many of her belongings. All that remained were a handful of boxes that Loki helped her bring from her former flat on Earth.
Entering the room that would serve as her private study, Hermione had to smile at the number of shelves that wrapped around three of the four walls. Her very own library space, which she'd never been able to have and desperately needed. Already most of her books were in place, but there was plenty of room still to fill, and she couldn't wait to do so.
Hermione smiled to herself as she bent over the one remaining box left to be sorted in this room. Flipping back the cardboard flaps, Hermione discovered it full of the books, journals, and trinkets that had been in her bedroom. She sighed heavily, remembering that not all of her journals were there, even if it was for a good reason. Loki had helped her burn the travel logs and unsent letters that connected her to a past that only held her back.
It was necessary at the time, but a part of her would miss the words she'd penned all those years ago. Tears burned her eyes as she also recalled the loss of the teacup collection she'd curated during her time spent relearning how to love herself. They'd shattered the day her mind broke, and Hermione had never thought once to ask where the mess had gone. Now it was probably too late, but that didn't matter. She needed to move forward with her life.
Wiping at her silly tears, Hermione turned to see Loki standing in the doorway. He was holding a box in his arms that she'd not seen yet. "Where did you find that box?" she asked, confusion clouding her face.
Loki carried it forward and placed it on the grand desk. "Potter gave it to me for you. He said it was important that you receive it after we arrived." Frowning, Loki gestured at her tears. "Is everything well?"
"I was just reminiscing a bit," Hermione said, wiping the last of her tears away for the moment. "Should I open this?"
"I imagine it would be better to open the box than to be left wondering what's inside forever," Loki teased, unable to keep the smirk from his features. "Go on and open it. I am curious to see what could be inside as well."
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Hermione carefully opened the box. Again she flipped back the cardboard flaps, but this time hope rose in her chest instead of melancholy nostalgia. The floodgates reopened, and tears cascaded down her cheeks at the myriad of colour and delicate china that filled the box. Instead of broken shards, though, each and every fragile piece was intact...
Harry, presumably, had managed to repair Hermione's shattered teacup collection, and it was one of the most thoughtful gifts she'd ever received. Reaching inside, Hermione picked up a teacup that was painted with the Australian flag and smiled at Loki, who looked somewhat confused.
"This was the start of my collection," she explained softly, unable to stem the flow of tears. "I thought they were lost forever."
Sensing his lover needed comfort despite the smile on her face, Loki reached out and tugged her close. He wrapped her securely in his arms and let her cry until she was through. When all was quiet, he kissed her head and then picked up the box. Carrying it over to the empty shelves behind her desk, he waited for her to join him.
"Let's place the teacups on these shelves. You can tell me all about each one as we do so," he told Hermione, feeling her joy through their connection.
Hermione kissed his cheek and replied with a simple, "Thank you," before beginning to tell the story of each and every single teacup. Including the one from Draco.
Later that evening, Hermione stood again on the balcony of their chambers, gently rocking Gwyeneria to sleep. The day had been an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. At the same time, the tears and talk of her past had been cathartic in more ways than one. Opening up about pieces of her life had also forced Loki to share more of his past with her.
They both had issues to get through, but that could be done together now. As Eira slipped into a light sleep, Loki joined her on the balcony and wrapped his arm around her waist. Thankful for the added warmth, Hermione relaxed into the hold and laid her head on the side of his arm. There was one last discussion she wished to have before they retired for the night.
"Loki?" she asked, trying not to send her nervousness through their connection.
"Yes, love," he replied quietly so he wouldn't wake their daughter.
"I know we talked about destroying the Rime Diamonds, but I think we should keep them safe instead," she said carefully, glancing up to try and gauge his reaction.
Loki hummed in thought before a smile spread across his lips. "I think that would be a wise decision," he replied, looking down at her. "What made you change your mind?"
"Our daughter?" Loki reached out and brushed Eira's dark curls lovingly.
"Yes," Hermione went on to elaborate. "If we keep them safely locked away, I don't see the harm in keeping them. The diamonds brought us together and are meant to be used by the soulmates that they connect."
"Gwyneira was created when we used them to harness the Star Magic to stop Fenrir," Loki said as he thought aloud. "They may help her harness her magic when she is old enough to use it properly."
"Exactly," Hermione said, grinning. "So we are in agreement?"
"We'll lock them away in the Jotunheim vaults and not tell a soul where they are until it's time for Eira to go to Hogwarts." When Hermione went to pull away, he held her in place. "We can take care of that tomorrow. Tonight I want to be with my daughter and my future Queen."
Startled, Hermione said, "You want me to be Queen of Jotunheim?"
"I would have no one else by my side," Loki replied reverently. Brushing the curls from her cheek with his free hand, he added, "I have built an empire for you; an empire for our daughter and the two of us."
"I love you," Hermione said, turning so that they could share a kiss.
As the snow began to fall around them, Loki said, "And I love you."
Together, they returned to their former position to watch as the snow fell and night descended on the icy terrain of Jotunheim. With Loki's arm wrapped securely around her waist and Gwyneira snuggled in her arms, Hermione had everything she ever wanted. Her friends were safe, and she had both someone to love and a family to take care of. Their past was tumultuous, and the future was unknown, but none of that mattered so long as they had each other.
This was their empire, and they would rule it together.
Endnotes: That's a wrap, loves! I hope that you've enjoyed this story. I cannot thank all of you enough for sticking around with me through everything. Whether you've been reading this series since it began in 2015, joined when Empire began in 2017, or stumbled into this world somewhere else along the way, I cannot thank you enough for being a part of this. Thank you everyone for all the reviews and comments, faves and kudos, follows and bookmarks I've received over the years. Despite everything, you've helped encourage me to keep going even on the hardest of chapters until this epic was completed. I love you all so much!
I absolutely cannot forget to thank the many people who made this possible. My teams of fantastic beta and alpha readers I owe so much to… GaeilgeRua not only spent countless hours scouring my chapters for errors, but she also allows me to use her Grammarly subscription to help ease the way. Thank you so much for bearing with me and my crazy grammatical errors I fail to catch! Starrnobella, she is always a rockstar beta/alpha. Thank you for cheering me on and dropping plunnies for side stories and pieces that would make my plot solid. To SquarePeg72, thank you for being my alpha and listening to me literally outline the entire story and then reading and commenting on every chapter so I knew I hadn't lost my mind.
There are some other people that have helped along the way too that while we do not talk often or at all anymore, you still helped me with this series. You know who you are and you are amazing in your own way. Thanks for being there when you were because you truly aided in this series being one of my proudest accomplishments. I wish you well, and hope that life treats you kindly.
Finally, you will see more of this series. This is not the end-end, even if it is the end. Sometime in the future I will be writing and posting Ravens & Snow Promises which will be a one-shot that takes place ten years after the end of this story. I also intent to write Wicked Dreams which is meant to be the erotic dreams shared by Hemrione and Loki in Wolves without Teeth. Additionally, the third and final installment of the Teardrops & Teacups series, titled Floo Calls & Earnest Regrets, has been started and will hopefully be posted this summer if all goes well. So, do not fret! There's so much more to look forward to.
Okay, with that said, this is my final thank you. I hope that you continue to follow me and my work. I'm always writing and posting so there's always something fun to look forward to. As always, happy reading and much love!