A/N: Final chapter! Please review if you've been following along. Even if this work was already complete when you stumbled on it, I appreciate your comments and feedback. Thank you so much for reading!
29. Into the Unknown
Nine Months Later
"And the first prize in the Muggle Modifications category goes to Maurice Renoir for his magic-friendly adjustments to the television!"
A large round of applause greeted Maurice as he stepped onto the platform in the square. Kingsley Shacklebolt, the newly elected Minister of Magic, pinned the blue ribbon onto the man and shook his hand. "Sonorus!" the Minister cried.
"Well, Maurice," Kingsley said, "I'll give you your chance to make a speech in just a moment"—he waggled the wand at the man, and the audience laughed— "but first I want to say a few words myself. I hope you don't mind."
"Not at all."
"Excellent. First of all, congratulations to Maurice and the staff at Renoir Technologies. I know they've been working on this invention for several months now, and I'm pleased to see it finally come to fruition; the magic-friendly television is quite the device. And I would know, as I've had one in my living room for the last month. Can't say I've been as productive at home the last four weeks."
The audience laughed again.
"But in all seriousness, Maurice's endeavor is the very reason that, as Minister, I wanted to establish a formal venue in which to recognize the recent contributions of inventors across the country. Maurice has taught us several things—but I'll focus on just two. First, that Muggles can coexist peacefully with witches and wizards and even adapt to our world, and second that they can teach us so many things. By blending Muggle technology, his love of understanding the world from a scientific perspective, and the laws of our magical universe, Maurice has bridged our two worlds in a way that many never dreamed possible—through electronic entertainment. And while I may not have been as productive at home in the last four weeks, I've certainly learned a lot by watching Muggle programs and cinema. I've learned that even I had biases and prejudices about Muggles, but their brand of entertainment shows how intelligent, creative, and innovative they truly can be.
"So, as we wrap up the awards for the Muggle Modifications category of this first annual Innovation Conference of London, I applaud Maurice for opening all our eyes to the meaning of innovation, and thus, the true meaning of magic."
The Minister began clapping, and everyone else joined in, including Belle, who stood in the audience next to Harry and Ginny. Just in front of her stood Hermione, who had returned for the occasion, even though she had been living in France full-time for several months now. Adam stood next to her, an arm around her shoulders. She smoothed her hand over his, and the intricately designed silver band on her right ring finger glinted in the sun as she did so.
Maurice took the stage, and the Minister tapped his throat, making Maurice's voice boom and carry throughout the venue just as his had done.
"Citizens of Wizarding England, thank you. Zis is such an honor."
The audience cheered and clapped again.
"When my daughter and I arrived in Wizarding England two years ago, albeit several weeks apart, we were blessed to experience the generosity and 'ospitality of 'Arry Potter, 'oo welcomed us into his life and his home. 'E was not thrilled when I spent money for a security deposit on a television"—more laughter—"but 'e was supportive nonetheless. And everyone in Wizarding England has treated my daughter and me with equal respect, and zat has been so appreciated, so admired.
"'Zo I know about your recent 'istory with zis Voldemort, based on my interactions with witches and wizards in ze past two years, I could not tell zat you had such a dark chapter only four years ago. You have all been kind and accepting, and my daughter and I have appreciated zat so much. So, zank you."
Maurice gave a little bow, and the audience erupted into cheers, catcalls, and clapping. Kingsley shook Maurice's hand, and then Maurice tottered away and left the platform. As Belle waited for her father to walk down towards her, a hand landed on the small of her back.
"Sorry I'm late," Draco whispered. "I had an issue with a student. And being Head of House and all, I had to tend to it. Can't wait until semester is over."
Belle turned around, and her eyes widened. She lifted herself onto her toes and kissed him. "I'm just glad zat you're 'ere!" she said. "It's wonderful zat you could come at all."
As they broke the embrace, Belle heard a cough to the side of them. "Don't mind me," said Maurice in fluid French. "Draco, good to see you."
"And you, monsieur."
"Boy, how many times do I have to tell you? Call me Maurice." He winked.
"All right then," Draco said. "Maurice."
Maurice chuckled, and the regally dressed couple in front of them turned partway to look at the newcomer.
"Hello, Malfoy," Hermione said smoothly in English. "Congrats on teaching Potions."
Draco's gaze turned cool. "Hello, Granger. If that's even your last name anymore."
"Draco, you can retract your claws," Belle murmured. "We wouldn't be together if it wasn't for 'Ermione being willing to stay in France. And my father wouldn't be 'ere either."
A few deep breaths later, he smiled at Hermione, though it looked a bit forced, or at the very least, awkward.
"But to Draco's question… are you married now?"
Hermione lifted her right hand and wiggled her ring finger where the silver band lay. "Oui," she said, and the conversation transitioned fluidly to French again.
"We finally had our ceremony at the palace last week, and it was a quiet affair," she added. "Harry and Ginny were both there, though. There was some talk in the nearby town about me, so we decided to make it official. That means that I'm a princess consort now, as odd as that is to say, and as weird as it sounds." She scrunched her nose and shook her head. Adam chuckled.
"Being royalty is far from the cakewalk it might look like here on your Muggle television," he said. "There's a lot of unnecessary pomp, glamour, and meetings. And a lot of annoying paperwork."
Hermione rolled her eyes and stage whispered to Belle, "He'd have far more paperwork to do if it wasn't for me helping him with domestic and foreign policy."
Belle giggled. Adam looked affronted.
"I do plenty of my own paperwork," he muttered, crossing his arms.
"Sure, love," Hermione said, as she pecked him on the cheek.
"When do you head back?" Belle asked.
"Tonight," said Hermione. "Once we do, we're going to Paris for our honeymoon. We'll be going to the opera and the ballet while we're there."
"That will be great!" Belle exclaimed, still speaking in French. "Oh, I do hope you enjoy it. Draco took me to a ballet production over the summer, and it was wonderful."
Adam wrapped his arm around Hermione's waist, and she leaned into him and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm sure it will be lovely, and I can't wait."
Later that night, at Grimmauld Place, Belle and Draco sat in front of the fireplace on the main level. Belle had her legs draped over Draco as they sat on the sofa, and in a rare gesture, he was massaging her feet.
"You know I'm only doing this because you were bloody well standing on your feet for almost eight hours today, right?" he said. "Don't expect this every night."
"I know, mon petit amie," Belle said with a sigh. "And zat is okay. I accept zat. I accept zat you are not ze fuzzy feeling type. Zay you will only make zis effort if zair is a special circumstance."
After he finished massaging her feet, he moved her legs off him. Belle yawned and stretched. "Are you returning to ze castle tonight?" she asked.
He nodded. "I wish you would come with me."
"I can't… you know zat. Zey have anti-Muggle spells all over ze place. Even here at Grimmauld Place, I only know about it because I entered through ze mirror, which caused me to come from ze inside really. I could not go to Hogwarts with ze current set-up, Draco. You and I both acknowledge this. We've discussed zis twice just zis week."
He looked at her. "Marry me then," he said.
"Draco," Belle said, laughing. "Please be serious."
"I am serious," he replied coolly. "I've been thinking about this since I started working at Hogwarts."
She looked at him, and his steel eyes softened under her gaze. "You have?"
He nodded. "I love you, Belle. I felt that way a year ago, and I still feel it now. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Will you marry me?" he asked.
Belle smiled. "Of course, Draco," she said. "I wouldn't 'ave it any other way."
And as she grabbed his hand, she felt a jolt of electricity jump through her. For now, Draco was more than a partner, someone she was dating. Really, he had been for quite awhile, and now there was something special, something deeper about their connection and commitment. And it made Belle's stomach flutter with excitement.
He leaned over and kissed her, soft at first and then gradually increasing in intensity. At last, Belle pulled away, breathless.
"You 'ave to go back to ze castle. Your Portkey leaves soon," she murmured.
"Next year will be my last year," Draco said firmly. "I'll let McGonagall know first thing tomorrow so they can begin looking for my replacement and the—"
Belle shook her head. "You love zat job. And zis is your first year as a full professor. What if I moved to 'Ogsmeade?"
"No, Belle. Mr. Tinley is priming you to take over the shop in a few years, and you have a couple employees that work for you now. I can't ask you to give it up."
"I wouldn't give it up. I can still take ze Floo to my job. Ze 'eadmistress isn't going to want you to live outside 'Ogwarts or 'Ogsmeade. She told you as much when you first interviewed, Draco. Ze 'eadmistress also said zat ze logistics could easily be arranged."
He gave her a long look, his grey eyes steely. "I'll still have to be at the castle in the evenings during the week most likely."
"You do zat now," Belle said, shrugging. "Just talk with Professor McGonagall and see what she says. She may surprise you."
Draco raised an eyebrow. "Are you proposing we live together before we're married?"
"We're engaged now," Belle pointed out. "And it will only be on ze weekends. Starting in September. And if you want to spend more time with me, zen we can have zat discussion, and you can speak with McGonagall about it. I sink it would be a great transition period for us both."
"I concede you have a point." The corners of Draco's mouth turned up, and he massaged Belle's shoulder for a few seconds. "I should get back to the castle," he said. "McGonagall will be expecting me."
Belle nodded and kissed him on the lips. They lingered in the kiss, then rested their foreheads against each other. Soon, they would be able to do this every night.
Meanwhile, the Prince Regent and the Princess Consort were traveling to Paris for their honeymoon. Hermione was snuggled next to Adam, smiling. This would be joyful. Fun. No work, no royal responsibilities… at least for a few days. Just the two of them.
"Hermione dear, I have something to tell you."
She looked up into her husband's face. Husband. She liked the sound of that. "What is it?" she asked.
He looked away from her, a little guiltily. "I received a notice from the King of France."
"Yes," he said. "Since we'll be in Paris, he'd like us to stop at Versailles and join us in celebrating our marriage. He also wants my opinion on a couple matters of domestic policy."
Hermione's body tensed. "That's not all, is it," she said flatly.
A pause. "He'd like us to stay with them for a week after our three days in Paris. I wrote back and said we would."
Hermione leaned away from her husband and against the carriage wall, as far from him now as she could be in the small space, and exhaled noisily. Her eyes were glinting. "Adam, we discussed this. Just because you're Prince Regent doesn't mean you get to speak for both of us. This is something we discuss together. Before you respond."
Adam looked sheepish. "I know."
"Well, then why did you do it?"
"I was really flattered that he wanted my—our—opinion on domestic policy, and I was afraid that if I asked you about it, you wouldn't want me—us—to go."
She crossed her arms. "You were right. You know I detest the pomp and circumstance of it all, and if we're around the King of France, the pomp and circumstance is sure to be more prominent than it is when we're entertaining dignitaries at the castle with Lumiere and Cogsworth."
Hermione sighed. "Look, Adam, just promise me you'll come to me first next time, before you make a decision that affects the both of us—that affects our entire family."
"Okay." She still looked at him cautiously, but scooted closer to him. "Do we at least have suitable clothing for spending time with them?"
"I had Mrs. Potts pack extra gowns for you and extra regalia for me. As well as a few tiaras and ruffs."
Hermione nodded absently. "And we still have the opera and the ballet tomorrow."
She sank back into Adam's side, but as he wrapped his arm around her and they continued on to the inn for the night, her ring felt cold against her skin, and her heart seemed to sink a couple inches in her chest.
When they reached Paris the next morning, Hermione and Adam were moving almost nonstop. First, it was to go to their lodgings while the footmen and porters unloaded their trunks, and then it was to dress for the opera. Hermione still felt upset and couldn't quite place what was going on, but she knew that—as soon as they returned to their suite—she was going to have a conversation with Adam. The joy that she felt when they stood across from each other, holding hands as they wed, seemed hollow and empty somehow.
"Wasn't that gay!" Adam exclaimed once they reached their Parisian apartments later that evening. "Wasn't that marvelous, ma cherie?"
"Mmm," Hermione hummed noncommittally. "Adam, we need to talk."
"You know what."
"Is this still about yesterday?"
Hermione unlaced her boots and kicked them off. Her maidservant unbuttoned her gown, unlaced her corset and then left the apartments. Hermione shrugged off the gown and laid it over the chaise. "Yes, this is still about yesterday."
"You're right. It went to my head. I honestly don't know why I didn't consult you first."
Sighing, Hermione undressed and put on her robe. She began undoing her hair in front of the mirror. Adam came around behind her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Hermione tensed. He let go.
"What can I do to make it up to you?" he asked quietly. "I know neither of us wants to spend our honeymoon this way."
"Show me that I'm still more important to you than Louis," Hermione said. "When we go to Versailles, make time for me. For us. We'll let Louis know that we're still on our honeymoon, more or less. And we'll take quiet time and go for walks in the gardens like we love and maybe even dance in the ballroom together. Just you and me."
Adam looked at her. "You know I can't promise that, Hermione."
Her gut wrenched. She looked down at the floor. "I know."
"All I can say is that I'll do my best. That's what I will promise. I will always do my best."
"And you'll talk to me before deciding something that involves both of us."
He smiled. "I'll do my best."
The rest of their honeymoon went more smoothly than it started, and even their time at Versailles was enjoyable. True to his word, Adam did his best, and when he asked that they have some spaciousness in their daily schedule to tour the gardens and library alone, Louis chuckled.
"But of course!" he said. "Lovebirds. Take an hour before dinner, and an hour after dessert each day. I can spare you at least that, if not more."
Over the week, Adam was the perfect gentleman, opening doors, giving her roses, carrying her across thresholds, kissing her unexpectedly, and yet… something was missing. Hermione couldn't name it, exactly, and she knew something was off. It was almost like he was trying too hard. Or maybe it was the conversation. For months now, they had been speaking as equals, colleagues, about matters of domestic policy and foreign policy, and the puzzles had been stimulating to Hermione. But now, they weren't talking about matters of state.
"Adam," Hermione finally asked when they were alone together in the gardens, "what have you been discussing with Louis about our province? Have you discussed any of the food shortages about which our citizens began telling us? Has the king agreed to send extra grain to our castle so that we can distribute it?"
He had been absent-mindedly rubbing Hermione's shoulder and arm with his fingers, and he stopped. "No, it hasn't come up."
"Tomorrow's our last day here," she said pointedly.
"It is, but it hasn't come up," he repeated. He began rubbing her arm once more. She pulled away.
"Adam, what's going on between you and Louis? We haven't talked about it all this last week. It's only been a few weeks since we wed, and I feel like everything's changed between us. Had I known it would feel like this to be princess—well, I might have thought longer about it."
He looked at her for a moment. "I'm sorry."
"Just tell me what's going on."
Adam met her gaze, before speaking softly. "I did bring up the plight of our subjects the second day we were here. The king brushed it off. I brought it up the next day. Nothing. We're on our own, Hermione."
She sat in silence for a moment before shifting her weight even closer to the edge of the bed.
"I refuse to believe that," she said finally. She stood up, picked up her skirts, began walking out of the room. Adam stood up and began walking briskly to catch up to her.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"I'm going to have a conversation with the King of France."
"Hermione—no." Adam grabbed her arm. "Think sensibly."
"I am thinking sensibly, Adam," she snapped, her eyes flashing. She wrenched her arm out of his grasp. "This is not a game of politics. This is our subjects' lives. We have some food that we can distribute, and we can ration out what's in the coffers back home, and I can sell the bloody evening gowns, but, Dear Merlin, Adam, we need support and help."
"But the king said—"
"I don't care what the king did or didn't say," Hermione said, picking up her skirts once more and striding forward. "I refuse to let our subjects starve."
Adam grabbed both her arms tightly. "Hermione, stop."
"Let me go, Adam. This is important." She slapped at him, but he wouldn't let her go. "Merlin, don't make me hex you, Adam."
"Hermione, listen to me. The king won't listen."
"No, you listen to me, Adam. You're treating me like a child. I am an adult. I am a powerful, clever witch who spent nine months on the run from the most powerful Dark wizards who wanted to kill me and my best friend. I had countless people treat me as inferior because of my blood status. I advocate for people like me—those that aren't nobility and treated as first-class citizens because I'm one of them. You married a Muggle-born and a commoner.
"I will speak with the king, and yes, things may get heated. Because I'm willing tofight when necessary. I know how to handle myself, and I've proven over the past several months to be indispensable when it comes to domestic and foreign policy. I've been in countless negotiations with you. I know how this kingdom works. You are my husband. You are supposed to back me up and support me. I am only here because I love you so deeply. Because I want to spend my life with you. I am sacrificing my career, my friends, and my family to be here. And if this is how you will continue to treat me, I will move back to England. For good."
Adam looked at her for a moment and then released her. "Hermione, your actions affect others," he said tightly.
"And so do yours," she snapped. "Or have you forgotten what caused you to be cursed in the first place?"
Surprise overtook his face, and a brief flash of hurt, too. He took a deep breath, took a step back. "Hermione, this is not the twenty-first century of England. Times are different. The role of women is different."
"Queen Elizabeth I ruled in England two hundred and fifty years ago, Adam."
"That was England. This is France. It's unprecedented. Hermione, let's go back to our chambers and discuss this—"
"Adam, you lied to me! You said you didn't speak with the king about this. Instead of coming to me when he said he wouldn't support our subjects, you withheld that from me and gave up. How can I trust you to be willing to address this with the king now? How can I trust you to see me as an equal in our relationship and marriage moving forward?"
"I made a mistake," he said. "I'm sorry. And you're right—it's not the first time. I'm going to make plenty of other mistakes. That's why I'm grateful you stand up for what you believe in. I'm grateful you're passionate about the issues that are important to you. But there's a time and a place and a way to have these conversations, especially now—the king is receiving requests for grain from all the provinces. There are some food shortages here, too, in Paris.
"You are clever. And I know that you and I can resolve the situation in our province together. We'll make the decisions together, as a team. And I understand that you have a certain amount of distrust of me right now—that's understandable. I appreciate the sacrifices you've made to be here with me—as my wife, as my partner, as my queen. Well, as good as.
"There may be times where we have challenges and where we get angry with each other, and we can both have tempers. And we both can be stubborn. And we both love each other and are doing our best. I know you're doing your best, and I'm doing my best."
She softened, but there was still some tension in her body. Looking down at the ground, she sniffed. When she looked back up at Adam, tears stained her cheeks and her eyes were red.
"I love you, Hermione. I'm sorry that I didn't keep my word to you. Moving forward, we do this together. We do this all together."
Sniffing again, Hermione wiped at her eyes, looking more like a young twenty-something than she had since Adam had known her. She reached out and wrapped her arms around him, pulling herself in toward him. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in tighter.
"Let's go home," she said quietly.
Adam nodded. For what seemed like the first time this entire trip, they were in complete agreement.
When they returned home, Hermione excused herself to her chambers almost immediately. Even though she and Adam spent most nights together in the same bed, she still had her own spot in the castle that was her own. It's where she often practiced charms, transfiguration, and arithmancy, and also where she brewed potions to support herself and the castle staff.
Bending down, Hermione withdrew an all-too-familiar rucksack from beneath the bed. She placed her hand within the sack and pulled out a mirror. The mirror. The one that could take her back to England.
Though she and Adam had not discussed it, Hermione knew that she wouldn't be returning to England anytime soon. Not that she couldn't, but she was here in France. For a while. Perhaps for good.
But after this week, Hermione knew she needed to have an out. Just in case. Aside from her magic, aside from glamours, aside from apparition. She wanted to be able to go back to England, still have a link, still have an out. In case she ever needed it.
As much as she didn't want to admit it, Hermione realized that she was venturing into unknown territory with Adam. Even having confronted Bellatrix Lestrange and Voldemort during the Second Wizarding War, she was stepping into the unknown by staying in France as a princess consort. As the wife of Adam.
After a moment, she removed a pillow from the bed and transfigured it into a simple wooden box with a lock. Setting the box beside her, she then pointed her wand at the mirror. "Reducio," she murmured.
The mirror shrank—instead of the size of a book, it was now the size of a pocket square. Something that could easily fit inside the box she had just transfigured. Hermione placed the mirror inside the box, closed it, and locked it with magic.
Then, setting the box on the nightstand, she set wards around room, including a Muggle-repelling spell. With a shiver of white light, the spells locked into place. Hermione tucked her wand back into her modified dress pocket and shivered herself.
After a moment of silence, she stood up and walked out of the room, slowly, heavily. She began to make her way toward the library, her steps echoing on the marble floors. No matter what happened, at least she always had her books.