December’s full moon came and went. There were no further werewolf attacks. The wizarding world sighed in relief – Greyback and his pack had been well and truly eradicated. And, if someone of his ilk did come back, well – there was a cure, now. Lycanthropy was no longer the life-changing affliction that it used to be.
In the days and weeks that followed, normalcy returned to Draco and Granger’s lives. Granger moved back to her cottage – this despite Draco mentioning, with eminent casualness, that he didn’t mind if she stayed at the Manor longer. By which he clearly meant that he wanted to spend the rest of his life there with her, but she was obtuse about it.
Anyway, Granger moved back into her cottage. She returned to her good works at Muggle Cambridge, at her local surgery, and at St. Mungo’s A&E. The sound of a whip cracked over the St. Mungo’s Board of Directors.
Her advancements in magical immunology took wizarding academia by storm and rocketed her to scholarly superstardom. What seemed like every magical research institution in the world endeavoured to poach her from Cambridge. Oxford was particularly insistent and attempted to recruit her with promises of heading her own research institute – and budgets, staff, and resources beyond her wildest dreams. Cambridge scrambled to make a counter-offer to ensure that Granger would stay. The Sorbonne sent in a proposal that bordered on outrageous. Heavyweight American universities entered the fray with offers even more extravagant, which even Draco found rather tempting when Granger showed them to him.
Granger watched the one-upmanship unfurl with a raised eyebrow, said that it was all very flattering, and decided to remain at Cambridge. They gave her the entirety of King’s Hall’s third floor to expand her laboratory and funded a new facility for mass-production of her treatment.
She won an absurd amount of prizes to add to her mosaic. Meanwhile, Muggle universities found an unaccountable influx of interest in their immunology programmes by prospective students with strange and wonderful academic qualifications.
As for Draco, well – he was awarded an Order of Merlin, First Class, for Acts of Outstanding Bravery, for his diverse manifestations of idiocy on the battlefield. He was also given a letter of reprimand for Conduct Unbecoming of an Auror for inappropriate acts with his Principal. It was signed by Tonks, with a post-scriptum enquiring about when the wedding would be. He framed the letter and put it in pride of place on his cubicle wall, next to the Order of Merlin. Granger’s photograph from the original casefile was pinned next to it. She tutted at him when he came in late.
Draco returned to his usual assortment of missions. And, when he wasn’t dealing with naughty witches and wizards, he faffed about with a certain damaged ring. The words carved into it – purity will always conquer – meant something different, now. Purity had conquered, but it had been purity another kind – of purpose, of heart and mind.
As for the Something between Draco and Granger – they saw each other when their schedules permitted, perhaps every second or third day. As December drew to its end, Draco decided that, whatever it was, it wasn’t enough. He did not want to go back to Jotted notes, not when he could kiss meanings out onto her neck. He didn’t want to wake up in separate beds. He didn’t want scheduling. He wanted a Life Together.
It seemed a divine objective, and a terrifying one. He wanted to try this thing with Granger – this next adventure. It frightened him far more than any of the others. More than the Keepers, more than the nuns, more than Greyback’s mania – but it might make things Enough.
A life together with Granger – whatever form it took – wouldn’t be perfect, smooth sailing into a perpetual sunset. This, he knew. They would quarrel often. They’d want to murder each other through new and sensational means. They’d probably call it a mistake, some days. But they would come to understandings. And perhaps, eventually, she would agree to live at the Manor with him, and fill its lofty halls with warmth. Or, perhaps, he would move into her cottage, and do something about the mess of books in that front room. Perhaps, one day, they would have children, and those children would have childhoods free of pain and war. Or perhaps they would simply enjoy each other, and go wherever the wind – or Granger’s do-gooding – took them. Or perhaps they would become gentlemen thieves. Or adopt orphans and instill moral fibres in them.
But he was getting ahead of himself with these speculations. He had to ask her, first.
Draco had a conversation with his mother. He explained a great many things that had heretofore been kept secret – the rings, Granger living at the Manor, his unwise, not-allowed Feelings. He had expected, at the very least, annoyance, if not anger, at his temerity on all fronts. Instead, his mother grew teary, and asked a question.
“And you’re – happy, aren’t you?” she sniffed.
“Yes,” said Draco with unusual sincerity – and a wide, wide smile.
“Then so am I.”
She took him in her thin arms and hugged him.
“And,” said Narcissa into his shoulder, “I will gladly admit that I was wrong – she did exist, after all.”
“The perfect witch you were waiting for.”
A few days before Christmas, Draco invited Granger to the Manor for dinner.
Much to his annoyance, he was late getting home that evening, having been occupied with chasing after a lich in Grimsby. He stepped out of the Floo to find the Manor resplendent with Christmas decorations – tinsel of twinned silver and gold, white clusters of candles, and garlands wafting the scent of pine.
Tupey dusted him off. Henriette, a quill behind her ear and a scroll of parchment in her hand, interrogated Draco on a few items for the dinner menu. Draco had little interest in the matter – he had absolutely no appetite, given that his intestines were a knot of nerves.
“Is she here yet?” he asked.
“Colleague Healer Granger went for a walk,” said Tupey. “We told her that you would be late, sir.”
“Colleague Healer Granger,” repeated Draco.
Draco grasped at his pocket. “My hope is that – my hope is that she won’t be Colleague Healer Granger for much longer.”
Both house-elves turned to look at him with wide eyes. Tupey’s feather duster quivered.
“I hope she’ll become something else – if she’ll have me,” said Draco, feeling rather quivery himself.
Henriette dropped her parchment. Her small hands clasped at her heart.
The elves flung themselves at him. Each hugged one of his thighs.
“You must change, Monsieur,” said Henriette, stepping back and growing businesslike. “You smell like un cadavre.”
“Yes, well – the undead in Grimsby, you know–”
Ten minutes later, Draco had been whipped into the shower and whirled into fresh robes. He was then equipped with life advice from Henriette, such as the importance of being humble and sincere, et surtout! Surtout! not bungling this, Monsieur, or she would be cross.
In spite of her severe words, her eyes brimmed with tears as she helped him with his cloak.
Tupey sobbed into his feather duster.
Draco dearly hoped that he would be giving them a reason to smile soon – otherwise, he would be joining them in the crying.
He stepped outside and found Granger’s footprints in the snow. He followed them, feeling rather like a man on a mission. Possibly the most significant mission of his life. What a feeling – what a hideous, vulnerable, glorious feeling.
The air smelled of just-before snow.
As Draco walked, memories of their year together unwound before him in a soft chronology. The February day in Glastonbury, their quarrel at Ostara, banoffee pie scarfed down like barbarians. Beltane and its seas and smoke. Chocolate by a fountain. Solstice and sun-drenched Provence. Healing and inadvertent disclosures at St. Mungo’s. Lingering too long under wisteria. Lughnasadh’s gentle meander down memory lane. Laughing fits with mud in their mouths and the magic of Mabon. A stolen dance. Samhain and the night in Spain. Triumphs on the battlefield amongst fire and blood. A kiss under sanctified rain.
He felt a sweet sort of sadness that something was over – but there swelled in him, also, a hope that something new and wonderful was about to begin.
There was a strange loveliness to the evening sky. Snow clouds threatened, but the sun danced amongst them, sifting delicate gold here and there through the grey. It washed light and dark over the grounds in a pale, luminous impasto.
Granger’s footprints led to the rose garden’s snow-ivied walls.
Rose bushes, charmed to resist the cold, dripped with icicles that fixed the light into frozen glints. The roses themselves looked even more opulent than usual under their pelerines of snow. Heavy heads bent under the weight of it, glowing lustres of ruby or pink or crimson through the white.
There is something of a fairy tale about roses under snow – in the frosted leaves, in the bending stalks, in blossoms unscarred, touching petal to petal like the lips of lovers. Something of a love story, something of a happily ever after.
Draco picked a rose – a deep red one, the colour of romance, of heart-blood.
The stirring beauty of the rose garden was made more beautiful, still, by the woman walking through it.
She had paced out a circle of footprints around the fountain. Her nose and cheeks were nipped pink by the cold. She smiled as he approached.
In her hands, a sheaf of papers. In his hands, a rose.
“What are you up to?” she asked, when he approached her with it.
“Mischief, as usual,” said Draco. He slid the rose into her hair and stood back to contemplate the effect. “Gilding the lily, really – holding a lantern to the sun.”
Granger eyed him with amusement and suspicion, even as she blushed. She touched her fingertips to the petals. “Thank you. It’s lovely.”
“And what are you up to?” asked Draco.
“Reeling,” said Granger. She waved her papers at him. “I’ve just got back from the lab. We’ve received some preliminary results.”
“More than good – fantastic. Beyond what I could’ve hoped.”
She came to his side and showed him the results, the incomprehensible rows of data that made her so happy. She explained things in a rush of enthusiasm, how these and those numbers were so promising, that this and that anticipated side-effect had occurred only minimally, interspersed with exclamations of “Look!” and “Can you imagine?”
Draco nodded and pretended to understand and said that it was all bloody good news, well done, well fucking done.
Granger beamed. She clutched the results to her chest, spun upon her heel, took in a breath, and let it out in a warm mist.
With a new serenity, she folded her papers and pressed them into her coat. Now she looked at Draco with a soft, smiling delight. A great peace descended on her – the peace that follows years of effort and persistence, when those efforts have, at long last, borne fruit. She had accomplished the impossible. She had achieved a dream.
Draco felt that rush of admiration and affection that had grown terribly familiar, when Granger was around – the press at his heart, the headiness. Extraordinary witch. Incredible woman. Beloved, beloved, beloved.
The sun shone from behind clouds.
“It’s the winter solstice today,” said Granger, looking up at it. “Yule.”
“Is it? What – a Pagan holiday, and we haven’t some asterisky adventure to frolic off to?”
“Strange, isn’t it?”
“Shall we nip away to the Orkney Islands before dinner?”
Granger laughed. “It’s a fascinating astronomical event in its own right. Solstitium’s literal meaning is ‘the sun stands still’ – and it will. Quite soon, I think. And then the days will grow longer again. A time for new beginnings, according to the old ways.”
“New beginnings,” repeated Draco. “That is – rather convenient.”
Draco found himself, again, seized by that fool’s courage – as well as the squeeze of nerves.
“I – have something for you,” said Draco.
His voice verged, suddenly, on the shaky. His voice was never shaky. He had wanted to be suave. But this was Granger, ergo, no suave. Blast it all to hell.
Granger turned her attention from the sky to him. Her focus was curious, gentle.
With fingers that felt a bit trembly, Draco took out the ring. It sat in his palm, a simple silver band.
“You fixed it,” gasped Granger in delight. “Well done!”
“I did. I’d like you to – have it.”
She looked up at him. “To wear it again?”
“No. Well, yes. But I mean – have it.”
“Have it?” Granger searched his eyes. “But – these are your family rings.”
Right. He was botching this completely and he was going to have to spell it out for her, even as his heart was doing its utmost to block his throat.
“Yes – of course – you’re right. These are my family rings.” He paused, took a breath, and continued. “And I’d – what I’m trying to say – badly – is that I’d like you to be part of my family. Or – for me to be part of yours. Or for us to make a new one, together – or any iteration you’d like. What I’m trying to ask is – if you’d give it a go with me–”
His voice caught. Now she was beginning to understand. Her lips parted. A few snowflakes drifted down and caught in her hair, on the rose, and left melting kisses on her cheek.
“Potter and Weasley asked me what my – intentions were, with you,” continued Draco. “And I hadn’t an answer – didn’t know I had any. But I do. I want to be with you – in whatever capacity you'll have me.”
Now there were tears in her eyes.
He forged ahead – it was too late to turn back now. “I love you – I adore you – I want us to be together. Together-together. I, frankly, would like to spend the rest of my life with you, but we can do stupid dates first, or a proper courtship, or – an engagement (though I rather think that we got engaged in March, as much as you would deny it) – or anything you’d like.”
She gasped out a sob that was, somehow, also a sound of delight. “Are you asking me to marry you?”
“Yes – I am. If you want to – obviously – but I would also be happy simply being with you – whatever that might mean – whatever you’d like it to mean. I don’t bloody know – I’m rubbish at this. Something about you reduces me to a blithering fool. I realise asking for the rest of our lives is probably too much, too fast, so–”
“Yes,” said Granger.
“Yes?” repeated Draco. “You – want to?”
She approached. She held his cold hand in her warm ones, and drew it, ring and all, towards her heart. Tears mingled with the snow-melt on her cheek. “Yes, I want to – yes to everything. To whatever it might mean. Yes to stupid dates, yes to being together-together, yes to – to marrying you, to spending the rest of my life with you. Yes to every blithering word.”
“Are you – certain? I’m – the worst of blitherers – of men in general–”
She cut him off with a kiss and, in a voice choked with emotion, whispered, “I love you,” against his lips.
His head spun. His soul flew. He kissed her back, then his overfull heart surged out wants in a breathless sequence against her mouth. “I want more time with you – I want us to have the same bed. I want you to outwit me daily. I want to give you, gods, so many things. I want quickies in bathrooms – dances – photographs in lockets–”
Tears or snowflakes clung to her lashes. She gasped another yes against his lips.
“I’m the luckiest idiot who ever walked this earth,” said Draco, holding her face, pressing his forehead against hers.
“I can assure you that that title goes to me,” said Granger in a voice that shook.
“You’re Granger – contradiction in terms.”
She laughed amongst the tears. “How do you make me – so happy–”
“Shall we – shall we have one last, grand adventure together?”
She could speak no further. She nodded, then pressed her face into his chest.
She had said yes. She had kissed yeses into his mouth. He wanted to weep, he wanted to crush her, he wanted to drop onto one knee, he wanted everything, all of this stupid love thing, he wanted it rife with cliché, another kiss, another moment, forever and ever–
He felt the warmth of her breath through his cloak. She put her small, shaking grasp around him and made a serious attempt to squeeze the life out of him.
And – his long list notwithstanding – he didn’t want anything more than this. This witch in his arms, doing her utmost to crack his ribs.
He had, at last, found his enough.
The sun was setting. The stars glittered their lovely awakening.
As they had been in this very garden so many months ago, they were, once again, only a man and a woman amongst green boughs and a rustling breeze.
Only, this time, the violent polarities that had kept them apart drew them together. After all, fire loves her darkness. After all, the sinner loves his angel. Autumn, laughing, dances her leaves into the high skies of her winter. The moon spins in gyre after gyre, chasing his beloved sun.
Only, this time, the terrible incompatibilities had grown irrelevant – fallen away – mattered for naught. They were two souls who had come near enough to to feel the other’s glow, but now, at last, they met, touched, tangled.
He slipped the ring onto her finger. He had removed all of the thresholds. She would feel everything. The rings connected. He felt the surge of her heart and she, with a gasp, felt his.
He held her to him, lifted her, and spun her, laughing, amongst swirling nebulae of snowflakes catching the sun.
She was his and he was utterly hers.
In snow-felted twilight, under spilling skies and starshine and a sun standing still, they kissed, they promised, they loved. What cared they about universes colliding? Let them collide. Let their joined heartbeats cleave constellations and startle the eternal stars.