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Chapter 18: Closing the Distance
The following week was a lot more survivable. Harry, Ron and I felt more open with each other after we learned about the Horcruxes and the many adventures leading up to their destruction. In fact, Harry gradually became more comfortable discussing the identity of the last potential Horcrux. I would find myself shooting various ideas, thrilled that I was being included, but he would stop me before I got too ahead of myself.
We had even gotten Ron to tell us more about Elle. I now could proudly state that she was in our year, was best friends with Cho Chang, and I had clearly neglected to pay attention to her when Cho was the topic of conversation. She wasn’t completely mental, but she wasn’t a genius either, which gave me a level of satisfaction that I kept to myself. Most of the information had been given to me from Ron was through Harry, which left me convinced that he still wasn’t comfortable talking about her around me. After mumbling that he was going to walk her to class, Ron scampered off towards the Ravenclaw dormitories leaving Harry and I alone on our way to potions.
“You’d think after all this time, he would get used to talking about her with you. I mean, you were gonna find out eventually,” he stated as he watched Ron turn the corner and disappear from sight.
“Wait a second, Harry,” I said to him as we walked from lunch to our next class, “you knew about Elle?”
Harry gave me a small smile. “Yeah, I did,” he admitted, “they’ve been er…hanging out for a while now.”
“Oh,” I responded, “I didn’t even notice…”
“Of course you didn’t notice, you’ve been so upset over…Malfoy leaving,” Harry responded rather uncomfortably, though he managed to give me the slightest of grins.
“Oh, um…it’s not-” I started, not really sure how to respond.
“No, it’s fine, really,” he assured me. “It’s okay,” he repeated, his smile becoming more sincere as we walked along. I smiled back at him, feeling in that moment that our relationship was back to the way it was before this year. Relief swelled through my body.
“Okay,” I said quietly, and I leaned against him momentarily in a gesture of friendship. I knew there was nothing more to be said. It was good to know that both Ron and Harry had found peace despite everything we had been through these past months. We walked to class in a wonderfully serene silence.
My homework had been piling up in the past weeks, which had been a good for me, and even though I had received such a wonderful letter from Draco, my heart still longed for him. Warnock’s potions class was rigorous yet interesting; he allowed us to experiment with many new ingredients found in the Forbidden Forest. With Harry, Ron and I completely back to normal, we all were successful making the potion, though as usual, mostly because of my help. We left with a load of homework, yet I was having too good of a day to let it bother me.
“Hermione, do you think you could-?” Ron started at me once we were in the corridor, but I stopped him.
“Of course I will help you with the assignment,” I responded with a smile. Harry and Ron laughed along with me. I gave him a wide grin in response to our banter that almost felt too good to be true.
“Ron!” called a girl from behind us.
We all seemed to turn in unison, only to see a rush of auburn hair tackle Ron’s side and give him a quick kiss on the cheek.
“Hi Elle,” Harry greeted her with a quick wave. Elle was holding Ron around his waist, cozying up to him as he wrapped his arm casually around her shoulders.
“Hey guys,” she said, waiving to Harry and I. I waved back, not really sure what to say to her. Harry sent me a look to let me know how awkwardly I was holding myself in front of them. After a sigh, I piped in.
“So, how are you, Elle?” I asked her with the sweetest of smiles. After my question, I knew the extent of my participation in the conversation required me to only nod my head at the right times and smile after a funny comment. Their talking carried on for a while and covered topics that I had no desire to listen to, and my mind wandered far from the conversation.
I watched Elle carefully, noting the way she would laugh at Ron’s every comment and stare up at him lovingly. Her eyes would squint when she flashed her perfectly straight teeth, and she composed herself with a grace that seemed to come naturally to her. I watched Ron carefully, too, but noticed a difference with him. He didn’t seem as emotionally invested in her as she was with him. His eyes didn’t light up the same way hers did…and when he smiled back at her, he wouldn’t show his teeth, which was very unlike him.
“…Hermione,” I heard Harry call, distracting me from my observations.
“Bloody hell,” I heard Ron mumble beside Harry.
“What?” I responded, focusing in on Harry. At first, I thought he was going to scold me for staring at Elle and Ron like I was. I wouldn’t blame him, I just didn’t think anyone would notice my scrutinizing. Instead of giving me a warning look, he was pointing off into the distance, arching his neck and looking at something behind me. I looked back only slightly before turning back to him and cocking my head in confusion.
“Look!” Ron said, pointing in the same direction as Harry.
“What?” I repeated exaggeratedly. Harry rolled his eyes and spun me around quickly. It didn’t take me long to notice the blonde haired boy who was walking the corridors and turning his head in every direction looking for something…looking for me. I gasped loudly and my eyes went wide; I almost didn’t believe what I was seeing.
Over the course of the month I spent alone, I thought of the many ways we could meet again. He surprises me during potions class. He spins me around and kisses me in front of everyone. He leaves me a note telling me where to find him. We run towards each other in the hallway. He somehow gets into my dormitory, and I wake up to find him smiling down on me. He finds me in our aisle in the library. The list goes on and on, and I wasn’t sure if I had been right about one of them. One of my dreams was happening right in front of my eyes. I stared in shock.
“Draco,” I mumbled, and it was barely audible. My voice sounded hoarse, as though I had just recovered from a cold.
My heart faltered when I saw him. I could barely breathe. It was really him. I was speechless, though all I wanted to do was scream his name. With a gaping mouth, I turned back to Harry and Ron momentarily, who were watching with crooked smiles on their faces; they seemed happy for me. I turned back towards Draco and took a step towards him, becoming frantic.
“Draco,” I said louder, but it still wasn’t enough for him to hear me over the buzz of the corridor in between classes. He still turned his head down corridors on his hunt for me. I saw him look around and then turn down the corridor on the left towards our Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. When he disappeared from view, panicked, I found my voice, not wanting him out of my sight ever again.
“Draco!” I yelled down the hallway, and I took a few steps towards the direction he was in. Tears were already welling in my eyes. After calling his name, many people had stopped to watch what was unfolding in the hallway, but I could care less. My eyes were only on one person. My mind was focused on one thing.
I saw him reappear in the corridor and look down both directions, and by the time his eyes fell on me, I was already running towards him. He paused only momentarily, and I could see the relief spread across his face as we closed the distance between each other. Tears were streaking down my face, but I could still see him running towards me though the wetness. Everything and everyone was rushing by me in bands of maroon, grey, blue, and green. All was silent except for the thud of my feet against the floor and the sharp breaths I took as I ran towards him.
When we finally reached each other, I cried out and grasped him around his neck. I felt his arms around my waist, pulling me so closely that I thought he would never let me go. Groups of people were now watching intently, but they were fading from my world as Draco took my cheeks in his hands, the widest of smiles I’d ever seen breaking on his face.
I was sobbing, smiling through my tears, so happy to see him I could barely keep still. I placed my own hands on top of his as they rested on my face, nuzzling up to his warm touch, closing my eyes momentarily to absorb it. I slid my hands up his neck and onto either side of his face, rememorizing every inch of his features and bright grey eyes, pulling his face closer to mine. I loved the way his hair messily flopped in front of his view when he looked down at me. I loved the sharp lines of his jaw and the way his lips pouted when he would stare at me. I loved the way he held my face in his hands as if I was the only other person with him.
“Hi,” I said through tears.
“Hi,” he responded softly as he continued to inch closer to me.
“Why are you crying? I promised you I would be back,” he said to me in the usual snarky tone that I had actually come to miss. When he sniffled while wiping my tears with his thumbs, I squinted my eyes, noticing the wetness that was lining the rims of his own eyes.
“What are you talking about?” I responded to him softly with a short laugh, and he furrowed his eyebrows at me. “You are crying, too!” I pointed out, laughing again when I realized he was trying to hide it.
“I guess I am,” he shrugged.
He smiled at me again for a few moments, and after a while, his smile faded and his expression became serious. His thumb fumbled over my trembling lower lip, making my smile quickly disappear from my own face. I could feel my heartbeat crescendo and begin to pound against my chest.
“Please don’t ever leave me again,” I mumbled to him, my voice cracking. He was so close to me that his warm breath was brushing my lips with every exhale.
“Never, never, never,” Draco responded in a whisper as he pressed our bodies closer. He stared at me deeply as he slid his hand to the back of my head and pulled our faces close together. I watched him until his lips were hovering over mine, and when we touched, my eyes fluttered shut, allowing sparks to erupt from inside of me. I kissed him back softly at first, but then with increasing passion. I wrapped my hands around his neck, the last of my tears still running down my cheeks as we kissed.
As we made up for lost time right in front of my best friends and my classmates, every negative thought was pushed out of my head. I had pondered what would happen after he became a Death Eater. I thought about the strain on our relationship when I knew he was siding with something so evil. But when I was in his arms kissing him, my heart fluttering and my knees so weak that I was sure he was the only thing keeping me from falling, nothing else in the world mattered. Even when he pulled away and pressed his forehead to mine in happiness and relief, I felt as though Draco and I could outlast anything. I felt like nothing could truly tear us apart.
We walked hand in hand to Defense Against the Dark Arts; I had done everything in my power to convince him out of going, but he was determined to return to his studies. Even though skipping classes was unlike me, all I wanted to do was go somewhere private and talk to him. Hell, I could barely keep my hands off of him. But he needed to go back to class, so I was sure to be there with him.
When we walked in, I could immediately tell that Professor Raglow was furious. She had her long hair pulled back so tightly that I thought her bun was going to pop off of the back of her head. I grasped Draco’s hand a little tighter when she locked eyes with me and stared at the two of us as we made our way to our seats. I didn’t dare look over at Draco, but from what I could tell, he had noticed the bizarre behavior. I let go of Draco’s hand once we sat down, wondering if it had anything to do with him. It only further confirmed my idea that her hatred of me was not only very real, but also increasing.
The worst part was that I had no idea what was causing her to hate me so much. After she began to focus on beginning our class, I looked over at Draco, who returned my confused look with one of equal puzzlement.
“She’s a nutter, that one,” Draco said under his breath as he reached for my hand again.
I watched him interlace his fingers in mine and smile at me. I sighed deeply and turned my attention to Raglow, who still had a frighteningly angry look on her face. Just as I began focusing on what she was assigning us for work, Professor Raglow turned in our direction and focused on Draco.
“Draco, could you please tell me the procedures one can practice to protect themselves against the Imperio curse?” Raglow asked, the ends of her lips curled down into a disgusted frown that left my entire body aching with worry. The whole class seemed to turn in our direction as she fired the question at him.
I raised my free hand slowly, already confident that I knew the answer to her question. I was furious that she was destroying my happy mood. She didn’t taker her eyes off of Draco. “Save it, Granger,” she snapped at me, making me retract my hand so quickly that I almost smashed my elbow on the table in front of me.
“I asked you, Mr. Malfoy,” she confirmed, lifting her head at him to prompt and answer from him. Draco and I exchanged glances momentarily.
I watched him in agonly as he struggled to form a response, opening his mouth and closing it a few times before Raglow tried again.
“You know Draco, you may have been able to answer my question if you had done the reading I assigned last night,” she started, now pacing back and forth slowly behind her desk. The anger inside me was spreading like wildfire.
“I haven’t been in school for weeks…” Draco mumbled in response. I turned from him back to Raglow, eager to hear her response. It was a very good reason to not know the answer, in my opinion. Her lack of sympathy towards the situation was frustrating. Why was she picking on him? Professor Raglow turned on her heel and forced a half smile through bared teeth, which looked incredibly white against her dark skin.
“Well maybe you shouldn’t have spent your first moments back in this school snogging your girlfriend in the corridor, and perhaps you should have gone to retrieve your school items,” she snapped back at him. My mouth gaped in response to her statement, my cheeks flaring in embarrassment. I heard the classes response range from laughter to shocked inhales to stunned silence. I could not fathom what had caused her to despise me so much. I couldn’t even look at Harry or Ron, who were staring up at me from their seats.
Before I knew what I was doing, I was out of my seat, addressing her directly. “Professor Raglow, you couldn’t possibly-”
“I thought I told you to save it, Granger,” she hissed at me. I shut my mouth quickly but remained standing, wanting to confront her about the absurd feelings she was harboring towards Draco and me. “Next time, Mr. Malfoy, you might want to consider the consequences of your actions,” she said, and then she finally made eye contact with me. “Sit. Now,” she said, raising her voice even louder than it already was.
I sunk to my chair, trying to fight the tears that were pressing at the back of my eyes. I was so embarrassed and upset that my throat was burning and my cheeks were red hot. I closed my eyes momentarily, trying to calm my nerves as Draco slid his hand onto my thigh and reached for my upturned palm. He grasped onto me, and was still doing so when I opened my eyes. I was grateful to see that the majority of the class had directed their attention back towards Professor Raglow, who was now waving her wand furiously at the board in front of her. Her words swirled in my mind. What consequences of his actions were there? I couldn’t understand what had made her attack the two of us, all I knew was that I wanted to get out of her class as soon as possible.
Once her class was over, I was thrilled to be out of her sight and able to spend some alone time with Draco, but my mood was completely shot. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t help but be upset by what Professor Raglow had said to us. We walked in silence, hand-in-hand, about the hallways without much direction. I felt like a zombie: my limbs weak and my expression solemn.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked me softly, his hands wrapping slowly around my waist.
“Anywhere,” I said halfheartedly. “I just want to be alone with you.”
“Okay,” he responded, kissing me gently on the temple. I let him lead me slowly towards the library, where I knew he was going to take me all along. We weaved through the many aisles and rows in silence until we reached an aisle where we could truly be alone. Our aisle. Draco immediately took out his wand and muttered an incantation, causing the small chair to enlarge into an oversized couch where the two of us could lay down comfortably. In fact, it had as much room as a small bed. It grew so large that it knocked against the surrounding shelves, causing some of the books to tumble to the ground.
I couldn’t help but laugh softly. “You should have just let me do it.” I bent over to pick up the books at my feet, fumbling with the pages when I found myself speechless.
“Of course I should have,” he admitted as he slid his wand into the pocket of his pants. We were silent after that, staring at each other with expressions of misery on our faces. Draco sighed deeply and smiled at me.
“Listen, I know that what she said was uncalled for, but I want us to just enjoy each other’s company right now…please?” he offered to me. I nodded my head as he reached for my hand and pulled me towards the gigantic couch.
He sat down first and leaned against the armrest, coaxing me slowly in between his legs until I was resting against his chest. He wrapped his strong arms around me and held me close; all I could hear was his breathing as I closed my eyes and took in his scent with deep inhales.
“I missed you,” I mumbled softly, my eyes still closed.
“I love you,” he responded. I tipped my head back and opened my eyes so that I could look at him.
“I love you, too,” I responded quietly.
When he inched towards me, I lifted my chin up to meet him halfway to the soft kiss that followed. When we pulled away from me slowly, I rested my head against his chest and focused my attention on the hands that were holding on to me. I lifted my own hands to place them on top of his strong arms, and I stroked them softly as he held me close to him. I knew what was resting on his left arm just beneath the thin fabric of his shirt.
“Are you okay?” I asked him quietly.
“I got through it,” he returned, making it very clear that his disappearance wasn’t easy. “The worst part of everything was that I couldn’t talk to anyone about what I was feeling, or how much I missed you.”
Of course he couldn’t tell his parents about us, I realized miserably I turned away from him and began to analyze the patterns on the ceiling above us. Even though I understood why, it still hurt me. “Your parents don’t know about us,” I whispered declaratively.
“I can’t risk telling them. I think my mother is catching on though,” he responded, with his face pressed against my hair. I turned back slowly to make eye contact with him again.
“Catching on? How?” I asked him. He repositioned himself a little bit before continuing.
“Well, a few weeks ago, my father and I traveled to our house to see my mother. When we were alone one night, she commented on the fact that in spite of everything I was going through, I seemed happier. She told me she felt like she couldn’t read me anymore…that I was a different person,” he explained to me, not taking his eyes off of me.
“Are you a different person?” I asked, curious for the response. I had always wondered if he had changed or if he had been like this all along, his anger just a mask that he put on for outsiders. I hoped that he did indeed change, especially after the previous year and everything that he went through with his parents and Dumbledore.
“I’m a different person when I’m with you,” he admitted happily, and I couldn’t help but lift my head up and peck him on the cheek in response.
We continued like that for a while; I sat in his arms and kissed him until I was sure we made up for all the time we had lost. Every time we would pause, I would open my mouth to say something, but he would steal kisses off of my lips before I could form any words, tearing my mind from any persisting thoughts that I was having.
I pulled away from him, my lips so close to him that when I finally had the chance to speak, they were brushing against his.
“So, can you tell me anything about your trip?” I asked him cautiously. He immediately sighed, and left his lips lingering over mine, as though he was deciding whether or not to avoid the subject and keep kissing me or address my question.
He leaned in to kiss me again, but I pulled away before he could. He paused over my lips again, as though tempted to defy me another time. “Draco, please tell me something,” I mumbled again, my lips centimeters from his. He sighed and surrendered, retracting his face and laying once again against the armrest of the couch.
“I had to prove my loyalty to the Dark Lord. All of that training…all of those injuries…was in preparation to become a Death Eater. He doesn’t just accept anyone. You have to prove yourself,” he said quietly, so that only I could hear.
“And proving yourself took over a month?” I responded. I could only imagine Harry’s dismay if he found me right that moment in the arms of a Death Eater. I didn’t think he could ever look at me again.
“It wasn’t all just proving myself…it was learning about how they…how we work together as a group. Meeting spots and such,” he trailed off after that, knowing that he couldn’t say much else.
“And you got the…” I said, resting my hand on his left arm, my actions saying enough.
He nodded a few times in response, and I could feel the friction of his cheek against my own.
He watched me closely as I slowly picked up his left arm and rolled up the sleeve of his shirt with my hands. First I only saw the red of the snake, and then the skull that was connected to it. Seeing it made it real. He was officially a Death Eater. Though I knew it was going to happen, I could barely handle it. I began to trace the Dark mark with the index finger of my right hand, unable to stop the silent tears that were now rolling off of my face. When one splashed against the red mark on his arm, Draco retracted his arm slowly in surprise.
“Hermione, don’t cry,” he said softly, his voice revealing hurt and sadness.
“How can you expect me not to?” I asked, my voice breaking. I took his free hand and lifted it to my head, slowly stroking my hair as he kissed me gently on the cheek.
“Please don’t,” he responded, pressing his face against mine as we both looked down on the dormant Dark Mark that was disrupting the perfect skin of his arm.
“Did it hurt?” I questioned after a few moments of silence.
“Excruciatingly,” he said with a sad laugh. I sniffled, the tears coming down rapidly.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled through the sobs. It was all I could offer him, and that made me feel as helpless and unhelpful as ever.
“I thought I told you never to apologize to me. I don’t want you to feel sorry for me, either,” he said to me.
“I know,” I answered, sniffling heavily. “I just don’t know…” I started, my mind drifting off for an answer. Anything, I finished in my head.
“We’ve talked about this before, Hermione. This mark doesn’t define me,” he said softly, his cheek still pressed against mine.
“I know it doesn’t.”
“Then why are you crying over it like it does?” he asked me. I was stumped by his question, unable to think of any good response. “It doesn’t define me. And it doesn’t define us,” he said. I felt so comforted by his soft touch and his warmth that I felt my entire body begin to calm as he pulled his sleeve back down and wrapped the arm back around me.
“You’re right,” I said, my crying stopping as he tilted my chin up so I would look at him.
“Look at me. I’m right here,” he said to me confidently, and with that, I smiled.
“I see you,” I responded softly, giving him the smallest of grins.
When he leaned in to kiss me, I let my eyes flutter shut again as his breath washed over my face. I held on to his arms as he kissed me deeply, the wetness from my leftover tears making me taste salt between our lips.
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