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Chapter 17: Baby Steps
Okay guys, this is it. the final chapter! i can't believe i have finished another novel length fic. Wow.
I want to thank each and every person who reviewed this fic, whether you reviewed every chapter or just one. I had no idea this fic would be so popular, and I thank you all for your support, your advice and your awesome words!!
Some of you may hate me for the end of this chapter. I know many of you think you know what the final pairing is, so hopefully, you will be pleased. The ones who supported the other ship...sorry xD
I have seriously loved writing my little soap opera. Never have i been so glad my life is nothing like my (JK's) characters!
This chapter has been written since the start, so I have not changed my mind anywhere along the way. This is the pairing I think best represents things for the characters. Also, keep an eye out for my new one-shot - a light hearted Blaise/Hermione! A change for me...
So without further ado, here is the final chapter! I hope you enjoy and please, leave me tonnes of reviews!
She did not go looking for Blaise.
Head spinning, Hermione trudged off to bed, only to lie awake, beyond exhaustion, staring at the ceiling all night. Ginny had come and tried to talk to her, but Hermione had managed to convince her everything was fine.
She was still staring at the deep red ceiling when the sun rose, tickling her cheek with its light and warmth. Hermione chewed her lip. She had gone over every possible scenario she could think of, spending hours mulling over the angry conversation she had heard between Draco and Marla. There was something there, in the words and the tone Draco had used, that had her worried that she was missing a huge part of the puzzle.
Hermione spent the remainder of Saturday in her dorm, catching up on schoolwork, trying to keep her mind occupied. She pushed all thoughts of Blaise, Draco and Marla from her head, concentrating on the six uses and properties of moonstone for her Potions assigment.
By Sunday morning, Hermione could avoid the library no longer. She was missing the final property for her Potions report, as well as the information she needed to complete her Ancient Runes assigment. Skipping breakfast and ignoring Harry and Ron, who waved at her from the Great Hall, Hermione disappeared into the library.
She had been studying for an hour, curled up with a book open on her knee and a piece of parchment balanced in her lap, in one of the soft squishy chairs between two rows of books. The library was peaceful, allowing her time to loose herself in her work.
A shadow fell across her page and with a sigh, Hermione glanced up. She was not in the mood for her friend’s questions.
Her breath caught in her throat and she forgot how to breathe. She stared, swallowing dryly, not sure what to say, or if she should say anything at all.
“Read any good books lately, Granger?” Blaise drawled casually, leaning against the bookshelf. His pale skin shone in contrast to his dark shirt and jeans, and his hair hung in his face, still damp. He smiled a sad smile. “Looks like we’ve come full circle. Do you remember these shelves, Hermione?”
She did. She nodded. It was where he had first kissed her. She had not realised that when she was burrowing down into the soft lounge.
Blaise tilted his head, studying her, puzzling over her silence. “Aren’t you going to even try to explain it to me again?”
“Are you going to listen this time?” Hermione asked softly. She folded her parchment and set her quill to one side. Schoolwork was totally forgotten.
“Are you going to tell me the truth this time? About why you were angry with me? It should be the other way around,” Blaise mused. Hermione scowled, waving her hand idly.
“That was all about your little Slytherin girlfriend. Marla,” she said, surprised at her calmness. “She told me she was with you.”
“I don’t see why that would bother you, unless …” he paused, chuckling to himself. Hermione felt herself frown at the thought of them being together. She could only imagine her own moments with Blaise, superimposing Marla’s face over her own in her head. It made the idea more painfully real than before. She took a deep breath.
“It doesn’t bother me, Blaise. You can do what you want,” she said quietly, dropping her eyes. Inside, she was screaming.
“You were jealous. Wow. I didn’t think you would be, considering.”
Hermione snorted, flashing him a glance. “I wasn’t.”
“I can see it in your eyes.”
Blaise was smirking, looking down at her. Annoyed, Hermione stood up, sliding her book back into the shelf and tucking her parchment into her pocket. She twirled the quill around between her fingers, trying to present an air of indifference. She did not want him to know how much his relationship with Marla had hurt, even if she did deserve it. She had already shown him she was a hypocrite, and it was an image she wanted to dispell.
“Think what you like, Zabini.”
His eyebrows lifted.
“Granger, Marla Corson is not, and never has been, my girlfriend,” he answered firmly, looking into her eyes. “It was never like that.”
Hermione felt hot as he stared at her, her breath catching in her chest, her head swimming with confusion and memory. She gulped, her mouth dry, the indifference melting away at his words.
“But I saw…I saw you two together… I heard …she said you …” she stammered, flustered, and Blaise’s brow wound together in confusion.
“What exactly did you hear?”
Hermione swallowed. “You were talking to her about Draco and me, and how you didn’t hate either of us, and that we had made a mistake. Marla did not believe you, and you laughed and said you and her were not squeaky clean.” The words tumbled out quickly, Hermione feeling her cheeks grow red.
“Ahh see that is the problem with eavesdropping, Hermione,” Blaise said softly. “You can’t be certain of what you hear. I take it you took that statement the wrong way. You assumed Marla and I had done something behind your back?”
Blaise stared at her pointedly, his eyes boring into hers. Hermione felt the blood drain from her face. Something clicked painfully into place. “So you never… when we were together…not at all…”
Blaise’s eyes grew hard. “No,” he snarled, folding his arms over his chest. “I never cheated on you, Hermione. I said I wouldn’t. I never slept with her, not even after I found out about … she wanted to, but I turned her down. We hung out a bit, but that’s as far as it went.” He sighed, pulling at his hair. “I don’t know why I’m explaining any of this to you.”
“Oh god,” Hermione whispered, her hand leaping to her mouth. She stared at him. She raked his face with her eyes, cursing herself for being so moronic. If only she had of asked him, she could have been spared everything. He could have been spared. Never before had she felt so low, and she dropped her eyes, preparing to walk away. Blaise stuck his arm out, preventing her escape. Slowly, she lifted her head. His face was fierce.
“I did not lie to you, Hermione, not once. I would never hurt you intentionally,” he said softly, firmly. Hermione closed her eyes, shutting out his words. They hurt more than she ever believed possible. Blaise had warned her, Harry and Ron had warned her, but she had ignored them all. She took a deep breath, looking up, straight into Blaise’s brilliant blue eyes. They stared at one another intently, searching each other’s faces, the world grounding to a halt around them.
“I would never lie to you,” Blaise whispered and Hermione’s eyes filled instantly with tears at the sincerity in his tone. A teardrop rolled down her cheek and she blinked, trying to force it away, but suddenly found she could not stop crying.
“I’m so sorry,” she choked, stepping away from him. He frowned, reaching for her, his expression torn, but she batted his hands away gently. “Blaise…the things I have done… Draco…I’m so sorry.”
Blaise stiffened, his eyes narrowing in disgust. “It all comes back to him, doesn’t it?” he snapped, staring at her angrily. He dropped his arm, giving her a way out.
Hermione shook her head, protests forming on her lips. She paused, titling her head to the side, Blaise frowning at her.
“I’m going to kill him,” she whispered.
All the pieces quickly fell into place like a well-constructed jigsaw and Hermione felt a fire building inside her. With a final look at Blaise, she tore from the library, throwing the heavy wooden doors open with strength she did not know she had. She took the stairs two at a time, running as fast as she could without stumbling. Draco’s words echoed in her ears and she cursed herself for failing to notice how subtly he had been manipulating her.
He had managed to convince her Blaise had cheated on her, and he had managed to convince her not to ask, and by the time she had, the damage had been done.
He had played her as skilfully as the finest musician, and she had not tried to stop it, allowing herself to become his instrument.
Hermione shook her head, taking a deep breath, not sure if she was more enraged with Draco Malfoy or herself. She closed her eyes a moment, deciding she had already paid the price for her folly. Now it was his turn.
She glanced at her watch, wondering where she would find him at that moment. At the bottom of the stairs she paused, trying to calm her racing heart. Hermione headed towards the Entrance Hall, not sure whether to head into the Great Hall or down to the Slytherin dungeons. She stamped her foot, pulling out her wand and practically screaming in frustration.
Footsteps echoed in her mind, and she glanced up sharply, her blood boiling. Draco, with a pleased but wary looking Pansy on his arm, stopped in his tracks when he saw her. He raised his eyebrows and folded his arms cockily over his chest, the action making Hermione angrier than she already was. Swearing under her breath, she stormed across the Hall, her feet breaking into a run. She caught a look of Draco’s shocked face before she threw herself and her rage at him, knocking him to the ground.
Pansy shrieked in shock, but Hermione ignored her, focusing on Draco. Pansy stopped shouting, and Hermione heard her receding footsteps as she raced off to find a teacher. Draco struggled beneath her but she held him, not sure how she was able to do it. She was so adrenalised she felt stronger than ever.
“Granger!” the blonde by protested as she sat on him. “What the hell are you doing? Get off me!”
Hermione snarled at him, drawing back her fist and punching him in the nose. Her knuckles stung, but she pulled back her arm and hit him again, not giving him a chance to recover from the first blow. Draco cursed loudly, grabbing her around the arms, flipping them over suddenly so he was on top of her, pinning her to the ground. He stared at her, a mixture of anger and disbelief on his face, sniffing rapidly. Blood trickled from his nose and he lifted a hand, wiping it away, releasing one of Hermione’s arms as he did so. She slapped him, hard, on the side of the face, pushing him off her and climbing to her feet. Draco pulled himself upright, staring at her in shock. His hand lifted to rub at his cheek and he scowled, wiping his nose on the back of his sleeve again.
“Like I said before, Granger, you can’t keep your hands off me,” he smirked as Hermione glowered at him. She took a shaky step forward, her wand in her hand again.
“Shut up, Malfoy, you selfish bastard!” she seethed, and Draco’s smirk fell. “I can’t believe you, I really can’t. How dare you! You set me up!”
“What are you talking about now?” Draco replied in a bored tone, although his voice shook and his face paled slightly.
“Marla Corson. What did you promise her, Draco? How much money? How much of … whatever. I don’t really want to know. It’s not as if Slytherin’s need bribing to be nasty. It’s in your nature. You can’t help it,” Hermione said fiercely.
“That’s a nice thing to say about your boyfriend, Granger,” Draco snapped, walking towards her.
“Blaise is worth a hundred of you,” Hermione shouted, stepping closer to him in her rage. “You are pathetic, Draco. I can’t believe you did this to me!”
Draco stared at her, anger and pain on his face, before he threw his hands in the air and sighed defeatedly.
“Alright, so I paid her to make it look like she was with Blaise, and to plant a few untruths around the place. I knew you would overhear them, that night. I’d seen you leave the library. I asked her to keep him busy, to mess with his head. Blaise was never one to resist a pretty face,” Draco’s voice dropped away. Hermione blinked at him. She had hoped she was mistaken, that her suspicions were merely suspicions and nowhere near the truth.
“Why would you do that to me?” she whispered. “Why would you deliberately try and hurt me like that? Why would you hurt Blaise like that?”
Draco laughed humourlessly, pulling his hand through his hair. “It’s obvious, isn’t it? I didn’t want him to have you.”
“Who I was with was never your choice to make! I’m not your property,” Hermione snapped. She took a deep breath. “He never cheated on me.”
“It didn’t matter in the end, did it?” the blonde asked softly. “You came to me anyways.”
Hermione glared, knowing he was right. “I despise you for this!”
“Hermione, please try to understand. I love you. I wanted us to be together again. I was miserable without you,” Draco mumbled, staring into her eyes.
“I can’t believe this,” Hermione muttered, shaking her head. “You broke up with me, Malfoy! How many times do we have to go over this?”
“I made a mistake, a huge mistake,” he replied swiftly, taking a step closer to her. Hermione hugged herself, feeling her knees begin to tremble.
“That doesn’t mean I had to pay for it,” she said simply, sniffing back the angry tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks. “I was happy with Blaise, Draco. Why couldn’t you just let me be happy? I don’t understand why you did this! You knew how I felt about him.”
Draco said nothing. He held her gaze, his eyes piercing her face. Hermione shook her head.
“And you also knew exactly what to do to get under my skin. To make me doubt him and myself. You played on my insecurities, Draco. I would never have thought you’d be so cruel, even if you are a mean, self-obsessed, calculating Slytherin bastard!”
Draco’s eyes narrowed and hardened, and he folded his arms. “It’s not like you’re innocent in all this, Granger. You used me for your own selfish needs, just as I used you, I suppose. Our motives were entirely different though. Besides, you had plenty of opportunities to back out of …”
“You manipulated me!” Hermione hissed angrily, clenching her fists, her whole body on fire. “You tricked me, Draco!”
“You wanted this to happen, Granger. You let this happen because you want to be with me,” Draco bellowed suddenly, his anger and the strength of his emotion taking her by surprise. His fists were clenched by his side, and he was breathing heavily, his face flushed, tinged with pink from both his blush and the lurid handprint on his pale cheek. “It was so easy, because you want to be with me. I didn’t have to manipulate you, Hermione. I don’t regret a single thing we did, even if you do. I wanted to be with you, nothing more. I didn’t want Blaise to get hurt. I thought, honestly, that you’d break up with him and we’d be together. I never expected ... ”
Hermione stared at him. Everything she had been through in the past six months came flooding back, the gates opening and drowning her in guilt. She shook her head, taking a deep breath as Draco came closer to her. She stood still as he reached up and laid a hand on her cheek.
“You want to be with me,” he repeated, his voice low and insistent, staring into her eyes.
“Not anymore,” Hermione heard herself whisper, the words coming from somewhere deep within. “I’m sorry, Draco, for what happened, but we’re done, for real this time. We can’t be together.”
Draco’s hand slowly dropped from her face and she held her breath, waiting and watching as a storm slowly rolled through his silver eyes, the colour growing darker and deeper. She watched his features harden as he took a deep breath, his chest rising as his lungs filled with air. He stared at her, his eyes tracing the outline of her face slowly, eating her with his gaze, and as much as she felt vulnerable and stripped bare beneath his strong, steady eyes, she lifted her chin, forcing herself to look at his face.
The faintest of smiles tugged at the corners of his lips.
“I do love you,” Draco said softly, his voice low and full of conflict.
Hermione sighed, her anger dissolving as she looked at his face. “I cannot be what you want me to be, but I won’t apologise for it anymore. You just have to accept my choice, because there is nothing you can do about it,” she answered firmly but gently. Swallowing her pain, Hermione reached out and cupped his face, stepping closer to him. Their lips met, softly and sweetly, Draco leaving his arms hanging by his sides as she kissed him goodbye. Releasing his face, Hermione gave him a weak smile, her fingers lingering on his warm cheek. She turned and walked away, closing her ears to his whispered sentiment, just as Pansy raced around the corner, Professor Snape on her heels.
She found him standing outside the castle, staring out at the Lake. Afternoon sunlight kissed his body, bathing him in soft golden light, and she sucked in a breath, both at the sight of his majestic profile and from fear. Hermione shivered, certain he was going to tell her to leave him alone, but she knew she had to go through with it, even if this was the last conversation they ever had.
“Blaise?” she called tentatively, watching his back stiffen at the sound of her voice. He turned slowly, so slowly she felt the world had stopped spinning, immediately catching her in his piercing blue eyes. Hermione gulped, stepping a little closer, making sure to keep a respectable distance between them. Her vision wavered at the hurt and anger in the strong lines of his face and she closed her eyes a moment, pushing the tears back. She opened her mouth to speak, but he beat her too it, frowning at her and folding his arms across his chest, leaning back against the trunk of the tree.
“You slept with him, Hermione,” he stated bluntly and she felt a spear of pain and guilt shoot through her heart. “You cheated on me.”
“Yes,” she whispered.
Blaise shook his head. “Why?” he asked sorrowfully. “Why did you do that? If you thought I was seeing someone behind your back, why didn’t you just ask?”
“I did, remember?” Hermione whispered, Blaise narrowing his eyes at her. “But that was after Draco and I had already … I should have asked you the moment I suspected, but I…”
“Did you really think I would do that to you?” he asked, his voice filled with disbelief and pain. Hermione shook her head sadly.
“Blaise, I’m so terribly sorry,” she whispered. “I don’t know why I stayed silent, I really don’t. I was afraid, of the answer I suppose. If you said no, and you weren’t telling the truth, and I believed you, then I was a fool. But if you said yes, then I was a bigger fool for trusting you and …”
“Was there ever anything in your mind that told you you might have got it wrong, Hermione? Or was it just easier to not trust me because I’m a Slytherin and think the worst?” he replied dejectedly, turning away from her to look out over the lake. Hermione hung her head.
He sighed. “Maybe I made some mistakes too. I don’t know. I did love you, and I don’t know why it was so hard to say it. I was just scared, I guess, that you didn’t love me back, even though you had said it. I wasn’t sure you were being truthful with yourself.”
“What do you mean?” Hermione whispered.
Blaise shrugged. “I knew there was still … stuff… left over from Draco and, well, I wasn’t sure if you were telling me you loved me because you did, or because you wanted to convince yourself you didn’t love him anymore.”
“I…” Hermione began, and then paused, wondering if he was right. It only took a moment to find the answer. She took a deep breath and looked at him, at his face and his eyes and shook her head.
“I loved you, Blaise.”
He smiled sadly, turning his face away. “Maybe if I had actually said it back to you when I realised how I felt, then none of this would have happened.”
“No,” Hermione said firmly, and he turned to look at her briefly, before his eyes swung back to the lake. Hermione took a deep breath, forcing herself to continue. “I should never have pressured you. I just … was being insecure, I guess. After Draco … I mean, it was strange enough that you wanted me, and I suppose it was hard to believe that you might have loved me. I don’t know why I thought you didn’t, I really don’t. I shouldn’t have doubted you, Blaise. I’m sorry.”
They stood in silence; Blaise not turning around and Hermione stared at his back with a sinking feeling in her heart. She bit her lip, stepping towards him awkwardly, reaching out to touch him. At the last minute she withdrew her hand, and he twisted around to face her.
“Well, not that it matters anymore, but I take it you’re here to tell me what you’ve decided,” he replied simply, staring at her face. Hermione swallowed, staying silent, too afraid to tell him what was in her heart, to afraid to tell him how much he meant to her, how much she needed him, and how much she loved him. He sighed. “Well, it was fun while it lasted, Granger.”
“Us. I had fun, well; it was interesting, let us say that. I learnt a few things. But, I understand you have to do what feels right to you.”
“Blaise, it’s you,” Hermione replied, smiling at him, hoping he could see what he meant to her. “It’s always been you. Through this whole messed up disaster, it was you. I was just too blind, too stupid and too caught up in the past, to see it.”
His expression did not change, and Hermione felt her heart drop into her stomach. She took a deep breath, inching closer to him, watching him watch her.
“And Draco?” he asked, his voice low and calm. “He manipulated you, Hermione, as only he could. I figured it out, after you left me in the library. Plus, I heard Pansy screeching something in the halls. Can you be certain you won’t fall for it again?”
“I think Draco has the message this time,” she said meekly, holding out her throbbing hand. Blaise cocked an eyebrow at her and she shrugged, tucking her hand away.
“Can I trust you, Hermione? Will I be a making a fool of myself if I admit I still care?” Blaise asked softly, never taking his eyes from her face. “There is no one else. No Marla, no one. Just you,” he added seriously.
“You can trust me,” she replied, her feet carrying her forward, until they were standing a mere foot apart. His blue eyes travelled over her body, from her feet to her head, resting again on her face, scanning her features, searching for a hint of the lies he had grown used to seeing there. Slowly, very slowly, he reached out and touched her face, his fingers brushing against her skin, causing her eyes to fill with tears. He withdrew his hand almost immediately.
“I can’t promise you I’ll forgive you, but I can promise you I’ll try.”
Hermione nodded. “That’s more than I deserve.”
“How do you feel about me?” he asked gruffly. She swallowed, and he sighed. “I need to know.”
“I still love you,” Hermione whispered, so soft she was not sure he heard it. His eyes closed and his head dropped a little. She held her breath, waiting, her heart clenched so tightly in her chest she thought she would have a heart attack. He moved so quickly she squealed, finding herself caught up in his arms. Her head fell forward to rest against his chest, and she sighed, feeling utterly contented and comfortable, her whole body relaxing into his, melting against him.
“I don’t want to rush anything this time. This is going to have to be very slow, day by day, Hermione. I don’t want to get hurt again. I want to enjoy being with you, and talking with you,” Blaise whispered, his hand moving in a slow and gentle caress along her spine. His fingers walked into her hair, stroking her scalp lightly. Hermione nodded against his chest. He pulled back, studying her. “I think we should be friends first, okay? And see what happens from there.”
“I think that is a good idea. After this year…I need time,” Hermione answered softly. He searched her face for a long time, looking for lies amongst the truth. Eventually he smiled, releasing her and stepping back a fraction. She nodded, understanding.
“One day at a time,” she promised.