Author's Note: Well, thank goodness Malfoy's back (yes, I missed him just as much as everyone else)! And thanks so much for all the great reviews--I am so impressed by how involved some of you are in this story!
And without further adieu...
Hermione belatedly realized that it was three o’clock and that Malfoy had arrived at the proposed destination, precisely on time to meet her. But he misinterpreted what he had seen and was looking positively murderous. “Draco,” Hermione began, “this isn’t what it looks like—”
“Save it, Granger,” he cut her off. “I’m through with listening to liars.”
Ron jumped to her defense. Considering the situation, it was the worst thing to do. “Don’t call Hermione a liar, you slimy little ferret!”
Malfoy turned his attention to Ron. “Well, if it isn’t His Majesty himself, the Weasel King,” he drawled viciously. Ron blushed profusely. “What’s the matter, got lost on the way to the goal posts? I wouldn’t be surprised.”
The situation had gone horribly wrong. Hermione backed up from Ron and turned towards Malfoy.
“Draco, please listen to me! We were just—“
“Granger, I think it’s pretty obvious what you were just doing. Spare me the details.”
“But it’s not at all what you think!” Hermione cried.
“Malfoy, will you stop being such a prat and listen to her, for Merlin’s sake?” Ron added from behind her.
Ron’s interference seemed to incense Malfoy even further. “I don’t need to listen to a low-class blood traitor or a filthy little m—”
“Don’t you dare say it!” Hermione blared. If he uttered the word now it would be absolutely unforgivable.
Malfoy seemed torn between rage and Hermione could also see the look of deep regret that had crossed his face the instant that last insult had come out of his mouth. He had stopped himself right before her outcry and had his eyes closed with a grimace of pain on his face, but Hermione was too overwrought to take notice. She had done nothing wrong and not only had Malfoy refused to give her his trust, there was obviously a part of him that still thought of her as a…mudblood.
They stared at each other as if frozen; they were at an impasse. Malfoy couldn’t speak—he had very nearly said too much, and Hermione was also silent—she had been rendered speechless. It was such a tense and precarious situation that the next words that were said could irrevocably tip the scales of fate.
After nearly a minute of excruciating silence, Hermione looked at Malfoy, overwhelmed with indignation and deep hurt. “How dare you,” she said in a near whisper. She turned away from him.
Ron reached out for her in sympathy. “Hermione,” he began, but she held up a hand to stop him.
“No, Ron; not now,” she said in a low voice. “I have to get out of here.” And with that, she hurried down the alleyway.
Hours later, Hermione lay in her bed glumly recounting the chain of events that had snowballed into the confrontation with Draco Malfoy. She felt like a colossal buffoon—after defending her position to Harry, Ron and Ginny and insisting how much the War had changed everything, Malfoy had proven her to be profoundly wrong with one vicious retort. Heartsick and frustrated, she had gone back to Hogwarts, directly to her dormitory, and climbed in bed pulling the covers over her head. She didn’t want to deal with any more problems or confrontations today—she didn’t think she had the strength to handle it. Luckily, no one else was in the dormitory; it seemed that everyone was still at Hogsmeade.
Almost everyone. The door opened and Ginny quietly entered the room. Hermione pulled the covers up more closely around her head and pretended she was sleeping. She didn’t want to have to explain once again why she and Malfoy…well, it was a moot point anyway. He wasn’t who she had thought he was. At that thought, she closed her eyes even more tightly in a futile effort to block out the pain.
Ginny gently sat down on the edge of the bed. “Hermione,” she said softly, “Hermione, I know you’re awake.” Hermione refused to answer. The day had turned out to be a total disaster and the last thing she wanted to do was discuss it in detail with Ginny.
Ginny must have realized that Hermione was not in a talkative mood because she continued speaking as if Hermione had answered her. “Ron told us about what happened outside The Three Broomsticks.” She stroked the comforter in a consolatory manner; it helped to soothe Hermione’s frayed nerves. “I’m so sorry,” she added, and her sympathetic tone caused the tears to begin to slip down Hermione’s cheeks.
“I’m such a fool,” Hermione choked out from beneath the comforter.
Ginny quickly leaned forward, pulled the comforter off of Hermione’s face and enveloped her in a hug. “No…no you’re not, Hermione.”
“You warned me about Malfoy,” Hermione sniffed in an unsuccessful attempt to stop crying.
Ginny wiped the tears from Hermione’s face. “I did,” she conceded, “but I think I may have misjudged him.”
Hermione looked at Ginny with an expression of disbelief. “How in Merlin’s name can you say that now?” she demanded.
Ginny sighed. “I know that this sounds crazy, but I can see that Malfoy seems to really care about you.” Hermione opened her mouth to retort, but Ginny quickly continued, “I doubt that he would have been so upset about seeing you with Ron if he didn’t have such strong feelings for you.”
Hermione looked down. “Strong feelings for a…mudblood, you mean,” she said in a downcast tone.
“But he didn’t say it, did he?” Ginny persisted.
“No. But he almost did, which means a part of him still thinks of me as a…” She looked away as her voice trailed off.
“Hermione, I don’t think he does. He wouldn’t be interested in you otherwise. But you do have to remember that he’s been conditioned his entire life to talk like that. Maybe seeing you with Ron made him so upset that…it just slipped out.”
Hermione was silent for a moment. Ginny continued, “Now, believe me, I still have my reservations about Draco Malfoy—I always thought he was the biggest prat at Hogwarts—but he has been less…obnoxious since he came back to school, and I don’t think that you would have been interested in him if he had absolutely no redeeming qualities….and I can see that he’s been good for you. When you were staying with us at the Burrow, you weren’t quite yourself, but since you’ve been here, even when you were complaining to the high heavens about Malfoy, you were more alive than I’ve seen you in a long time.”
“Ginny…I don’t know. Maybe it’s just not meant to be. Not only did he almost call me…that name, the whole reason he got so upset in the first place is because he didn’t trust me. I didn’t do anything wrong and he wouldn’t even give me a chance to explain.”
Ginny gave her arm a sympathetic pat. “I know. But you should at least talk to him.”
Hermione sighed. She wasn’t sure if that would make matters better or worse, but until she came up with a better idea, perhaps she would try it.
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