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Return After The War by fromtheashes248
Chapter 12 : Silent No More
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7

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A/N: Chapter 12 is here! Hooray! I know: finally, right? At least it’s really long; the longest yet, in fact. If you are at all interested in hearing my apology, see at the A/N at the end of the chapter. For now, just let me tell you a few quick things before we get started here. I tried to throw some canon in, as far as DH goes, but obviously nothing that could contradict Draco’s story line in reference to this story; just little bits and pieces. And just so you know, five centimeters is roughly equal to two inches… it’s not really all that important, I just thought I’d mention that for all my fellow Americans that forgot their high school science classes the way I did, haha. Oh, and by the way, ‘insouciance’ is a word; it means ‘indifference, lack of concern’ etc. ‘Vituperative’ is also a word; it means insulting. Yeah, I was having too much fun with the Thesaurus when I was writing Madam Pince. Anyway, coming up: Dumbledore has an idea for holiday fun, issues arise with Hermione’s recovery, fights are had, Hermione says the “F” word (!!!) and, as promised, someone gets a punch in the face! It should be good fun. Read, enjoy, REVIEW!

Chapter 12: Silent No More 

Draco pulled back from Hermione’s face with a smile, using his thumbs to wipe away her tears. He didn’t look around as Ginny ran to get Madam Pomfrey. He couldn’t look away from Hermione’s eyes – they were half-closed and brimming with yet to be shed tears, but they were alive and aware, the most beautiful thing he had seen since she fell. He couldn’t stop touching her – her hair, her cheek, her hand – and the feel of her hand on his face was as close to heaven as he believed he would ever get. “What do you mean, you missed me?” he said quizzically. “You were… asleep.” It was the gentlest word he could find to describe it.

Hermione let her eyes drift closed once again; it was surprising how much effort it was to keep them open. She gave a small shake of her head, afraid to move too much. “I could hear you,” she whispered weakly.

Draco’s smile faded away into astonishment. But before he could reply, Ginny returned with Madam Pomfrey on her heels. “So you are awake, then. About time, too,” she said sternly, but her relieved smile belied her vexation.

Hermione opened her eyes again when the nurse leaned over her, conjuring pillows behind Hermione’s back so that she was half-sitting. Draco reluctantly moved to the side and watched nervously as the older woman began examining Hermione with her wand. Occasionally, she threw a question at Ginny that was decidedly medical in nature, as though Madam Pomfrey was quizzing her, and the girl answered confidently. Hermione wondered at that, but her mind was incredibly foggy, and it really wasn’t worth the effort to puzzle it out at that moment.

“Well, Miss Granger, how do you feel? Any pain?” Madam Pomfrey asked when she was finished, looking pointedly into Hermione’s eyes to detect any lie. Gryffindors, in the nurse’s experience, had a habit of lying about how much pain they were in, and she would be having none of it now.

“I’m tired,” Hermione answered hoarsely, trying to extend her voice as far as it would go. “I’m stiff, achy… everything is hazy.”

Madam Pomfrey nodded as Hermione spoke. She walked to a nearby cupboard and pulled something out. “Drink this,” the nurse ordered, holding out a cup full of potion.

Hermione shook her head, refusing to accept the cup. “What happened?” she asked, her voice thick with exhaustion. “How long have I… how long?”

“Not yet, Miss Granger,” Madam Pomfrey said firmly, pushing the potion into her hands. “All of that can wait. Right now, I want you to sleep.”

Sleep sounded wonderful, Hermione realized. She was aching with fatigue. Ridiculous, really, she told herself, as she hadn’t been doing much of anything. But she didn’t want to sleep again. She needed to know what had happened… everything was misted together… lights and fear… Zabini… something hit her… She struggled to ignore her relentlessly drooping eyelids and said, “Tell me what hap–”

“Hermione.” It was Ron’s voice to her right; he had replaced the nurse at her side, and Harry was right behind him, a huge smile lighting his features. Ron wasn’t smiling, as she would have expected him to be. He looked very serious, more serious than she had seen him in a long time. Since the Final Battle, she realized. “I swear we’ll tell you everything later, but just take the potion for now, okay?”

His anxiety unnerved her. Just how long had she been out? Had badly could she have been hurt? She lifted the cup in her hands and scanned the contents warily; in her experience, most healing potions were less than pleasurable to swallow. It was a deep blue and seemed to be quite thick. Tilting her head back, she drank it as quickly as possible. It had no flavor whatsoever – thank Merlin for small favors – and slid silkily down her throat, feeling almost hot. The effect was immediate – she could feel each individual muscle in her body loosen and smooth out, and this time she wasn’t able to stop her eyelids from closing.

Draco put his hand to her cheek again, and she felt herself floating. She hardly noticed when he slid the pillows out from behind her. “We’ll be here when you wake up,” he assured her with a heavy whisper. Or at least it sounded heavy to her; she was mostly asleep.

She murmured something that sounded like, “You’d better be,” before drifting into unconsciousness again.

“Well?” Draco asked the nurse as soon as Hermione was asleep. “Is she all right? I mean, will she –”

“She’ll be just fine, Mr. Malfoy. She’ll need a lot of rest, and she’ll tire pretty easily for a bit, but she’ll be as good as new before long. That potion will have her asleep for quite a while, at least until dinner. I have to notify the Headmaster that Miss Granger has finally rejoined us. Excuse me.” She bustled away before any of them could ask anymore questions.

Ron turned to his sister, but before he could speak, Ginny said, “There isn’t anything that I can add to what Madam Pomfrey already told you. Now that she’s awake, and we know there isn’t any brain damage, she’s basically fine.”

“How can she be fine, just like that?” Ron said, sounding slightly frustrated. “It doesn’t make sense, Gin. She’s been in a coma for over a week!”

“A week and a day,” Draco murmured quietly, still holding Hermione’s hand and watching her face as she slept. He was even more afraid to let her out of his sight now that she was out of the coma, terrified that it was simply a temporary glitch and that he would lose her again before he even had her back.

Ron flicked a glance in Draco’s direction, and had to make a deliberate effort to relax his jaw. “Exactly,” he growled. “So how is she just fine?”

Ginny shrugged, her wide grin still in place. “Every so often it happens like that. I told you last week, Ron, sometimes a coma is just the brain’s way of taking time to recuperate after a traumatic experience. Hermione must be done healing.”

“I don’t care how it happened,” Harry said fervently. He could see the frustration on Ron’s face, and understood its source quite well; Ron wanted answers, something tangible that would make everything make sense. But if Harry had learned one thing during the War, it was that sometimes there wasn’t any logical explanation to be had, sometimes it didn’t make sense, and it didn’t have to. There was a bigger picture here; Ron just had to step back to be able to see it. Harry made sure that he looked directly at his friend when he said, “As long as she’s all right now, it doesn’t really matter, does it?”

“Well, I wouldn’t say that Hermione is entirely better quite yet,” Ginny said slowly.

Draco’s head whipped around at lightning speed. “What do you mean? I thought Pomfrey said –”

“She will be fine, Draco,” Ginny answered, moving to lay her hand on his shoulder reassuringly. “But you heard Madam Pomfrey just as well as I did. She said that Hermione is going to be weak for a while, and that she’s going to get tired pretty quickly. We just have to make sure that we do everything we can to make this whole thing easier for her, don’t we? We make sure she’s not stressed out, we help her if she needs it, we don’t let her over exert herself – things like that. We just have to keep her environment as comfortable as possible.”

Harry nodded slowly, and Ron made a noise of agreement. Hermione always made it her first priority to take care of everyone else, so they would simply return the favor. Especially Draco; he swore to himself that he would be everything that Hermione needed him to be, he would take care of her and protect her the way that he should have done during Zabini’s attack on them. Draco still believed that it was his fault that Hermione was in her current position, so he would do everything in his power to make it as painless and as easy as was humanly possible. 

She could feel her entire body trembling, shaking with the force of her fear. She saw, could practically feel, the utter violence in Zabini’s eyes as he shouted a spell she didn’t hear clearly. The jet of angry red was zooming towards Draco, and he hadn’t taken the time to protect himself. All she could think was ‘no, no, no, no, no –’

“NO!” she shouted aloud, hurtling out of sleep with sudden force. She flew up off the bed, her eyes wild, her chest heaving, and was immediately caught up in Draco’s hands.

“Hermione,” he said with deliberate calm as he ran his hands up and down her arms soothingly, trying to move her back into a lying position. “What is it, what’s wrong? Are you hurt? Take a breath, love, calm down.”

But she couldn’t calm down, not until she was sure. Her hands flew to his face, and her eyes bored into his, terrified. “You’re alright,” she gasped, her breath still ragged. “You’re okay. I thought…” she threw her arms around his neck tightly, bringing him as close to her as was possible. “Oh thank God,” she whispered hoarsely, sounding near tears. She pressed her cheek against his and just breathed him in. “Thank God.” 

“Of course I’m alright,” he said gently, trying to untangle her arms from around him. No matter how good it felt to have her in his arms again, she had to lie down. Hadn’t Ginny just told them that morning how important it was for Hermione not to get over-excited?

“Hermione, you were having a dream,” Ginny said softly, and Hermione’s eyes flicked toward the other girl’s voice. She hadn’t even noticed that Ginny, Ron, and Harry were all standing around her bed.

It took her a moment to realize what was going on. She wasn’t in the stairwell above the Entrance Hall, and no one was attacking them. She was lying in the Hospital Wing, and she was slowly becoming aware of a dull throbbing at the back of her head. Not a dream at all, but a memory, she realized. She lifted one hand off Draco’s shoulder and touched the back of her head gingerly with a wince. There was no lump, but it was tender and softer, she thought, than it should have been.

“Zabini attacked us,” she murmured. It wasn’t a question, Draco realized, and he suddenly understood what she had been dreaming about. She stared at him expectantly, clearly waiting for him to explain, and sighed heavily when he stayed silent. “Draco, tell me what happened,” she pleaded.

He tried, again without success, to make her lie flat. “You need to rest right now, not worry about –”

‘No,” she snapped, her voice more sharp than she had intended it. She took a deep breath before continuing. “I don’t want to lie down, and I don’t want to bloody rest. I want – I deserve – to know what happened. I don’t even know how long I’ve been asleep, for Merlin’s sake!”

“She’s right, Draco,” Ginny said when she saw the refusal on Draco’s face. She conjured pillow’s behind Hermione’s back, and the older girl leaned into them gratefully. “It’s only fair.”

Draco turned to Ginny with annoyance on his face. “You said we should make sure she doesn’t get upset. You said she –”

“I know,” Ginny cut him off. “But we have to tell her sometime. You can’t keep it a secret.”

“Could you two please stop talking about me like I’m not here and just get to it?” Hermione growled, crossing her arms in frustration. She watched as Ginny folded her lips to conceal her grin, but Hermione failed to find the humor. She saw Draco give a small, albeit reluctant, nod out of the corner of her eye. She wasted no time in asking, “Now, how long have I been asleep? Not counting the potion that Madam Pomfrey gave me.”

Ginny drew a deep breath and answered quickly. “Eight days.”

Hermione felt her eyes widen and her jaw go slack. She sagged back against the pillows supporting her and her hand searched blindly for Draco’s; he caught it immediately, seeming to need the contact as much as she did. Her brain felt as though it had been packed in cotton.

She had been thinking in terms of hours, not days. Maybe one day at the most, but eight… Not just knocked unconscious, no. Eight days, that was more than a week; that was a coma. Understanding came swiftly now. The last time she had been in the Hospital Wing that long, she had been part cat; at least then she had been conscious. No wonder they had all stared at her in shock and awe when she woke up, no wonder Ron had begged her to take the sleeping potion, no wonder Draco had been so reluctant to tell her what had happened.

She had thought the voices she had heard had been a dream, crazy and tilted, a reaction to whatever spell she had been hit with. Hermione hadn’t lied when she told Draco that she had missed him; not being able to get to him when she heard his voice had made her ache terribly. She had thought it was a figment of a nightmare, but that longing was real. His words, all of their words, started to make more sense. They had been calling her back, or trying to anyway, for more than a week.

She felt a cool hand on her arm and pulled herself back to the present to see Ron’s freckled fingers rubbing gently against her frighteningly pale skin. Harry and Ginny were staring at her with matching looks of worry etched onto their faces. Hermione forced herself to speak, and her voice was weak with shock. “What spell –?”

“It wasn’t the spell, Hermione,” Draco said gently, drawing her gaze. He was searching her face, trying to judge her reaction. “That was just a very strong Stunning Spell. It was… it was the fall.”

“Fall?” Hermione repeated hoarsely, her voice a nervous quaver. She sounded nothing like herself, she realized. She sounded vulnerable, and it sickened her. She closed her eyes and drew a deep breath to calm her voice before she continued. When she opened her eyes again, they were steady and clear. “What fall?”

Draco drew in a heavy breath and looked down at their joined hands for a long moment before he answered. “When Zabini shot that last spell at me, you…”

“I pushed you,” she finished quietly when his voice trailed away, suddenly remembering the feeling of his shirt under her fingers and seeing the red light zooming toward her. Draco’s eyes whipped back to hers, searching her expression for any hint of the resentment or blame that she had every right to feel. But he found none, so he continued.

“Yes, you pushed me out of the way and it hit you. You were right up against the railing and the force of the spell… it knocked you over the edge.” At this point Draco had to stop and draw a steadying breath. He had been forcing himself not to think about those long seconds that he had watched her fall. But now there were two images in his head: Hermione then, her face terrifyingly blank as she fell away from him, and Hermione now, staring at him with dark circles under her fear-widened eyes. But it was too late to stop now, so he made himself continue. “Your head hit the floor pretty hard and it… well…” He turned to the others for help, a frustrated look marking his features; he didn’t know how to explain the medical part of it correctly.

Ginny came to Hermione’s side and started her explanation. “Your skull fractured along the back, and it continued for just under five centimeters from the point of impact,” she said, indicating the area with a feather-light touch her fingers to the back of Hermione’s head. Ginny’s voice was strangely confident to Hermione’s ears. It momentarily distracted her and made her wonder. Where had Ginny learned all of this? When had she learned it? “Unfortunately, it was a basilar fracture, so –”

“Ginny,” Hermione cut in, “just what the hell is a basilar fracture?”

“Oh, right, sorry. Well, unlike a linear fracture, in which there’s no shifting of the bone, with a basilar fracture the bone does shift. It’s a more unstable sort of break. And like I was saying, because of that, your brain endured some bruising and a little bleeding. And that’s what led to the coma.” At Hermione’s horrified look, Ginny rushed on. “Madam Pomfrey fixed all that, though! Completely. She repaired the bone perfectly, took the pressure off your brain, and there is absolutely no brain damage whatsoever. But since your brain did get beat up a bit, it needed some healing time. Hence, coma.”

“You didn’t tell us all this before,” Ron said disapprovingly. “All you said was that her brain got ‘knocked around a bit’.”

“Well, I didn’t want to scare you, did I?” she shot back, annoyed that he was criticizing her. “And I wasn’t lying; it did get knocked around.”

“What else, Gin?” Hermione asked before Ron could reply. “I doubt my head was the only thing that didn’t agree with slamming into a stone floor.”

“You also, um… well, you did sustain some other injuries when you fell. Your arm, your left, was broken. But that took less than a second to repair. And a couple of your ribs snapped as well. One of them punctured you’re right lung, and that caused some internal bleeding.”

“I’m not… I’m not still bleeding though, right?” Hermione asked nervously before Ginny could go any further. Aside from being extremely tired and a bit achy, she felt well enough. Shouldn’t she be able to feel it if her lungs were bleeding inside her body? “Madam Pomfrey fixed all that too, right?”

“Er…” Ginny trailed off, suddenly nervous. No one knew what she was about to say and she wasn’t sure if she wanted them to. “Actually, she didn’t, no. I did.”

Everyone was staring at her now, faces full of shock. There was astonished silence for a full minute – Ron’s mouth was literally hanging open – and she hastened to fill it before someone started yelling. “Well, I had to, you know. Madam Pomfrey was dealing with your head, trying to assess the damage, and she needed me to stop the bleeding. Neither issue could wait for other to be dealt with, so I –”

She was cut off when Hermione suddenly grabbed her in an unexpectedly fierce hug. When she pulled back a moment later, Ginny managed, “I guess that means you’re not angry, then.”

“Of course I’m not! What’s wrong with you? But… how? I mean, how did you know what to do?”

It unnerved her a bit, knowing how intently everyone was listening, but Ginny figured that it was better to get the whole story out in one shot. So she took a deep breath and plunged in. “I think Mum starting realizing how dangerous it was getting for everyone after… when you three left. So she asked Madam Pomfrey to teach her some things. She’s always been good with the basics, but she wanted to know more advanced Healing. And since I was there, Mum figured it wouldn’t hurt for me to know a few things, just in case, you know. And I was pretty good at it, surprisingly enough. So Madam Pomfrey started teaching me stuff that was more and more advanced. Which made Mum happy; she thought I wouldn’t be able to fight if I was busy helping Madam Pomfrey. But I managed to do both,” she finished with a satisfied smile, as though she was still proud of herself for getting around her mother’s over-protectiveness.

Ron, surprisingly enough, was the first to recover. “That’s brilliant, Gin. Just… wicked.”

“Er… thanks,” she muttered with a tiny smile. Harry’s eyes had yet to leave her face, and she was making a point of not looking directly at him; she wasn’t sure she wanted to know what emotion was currently residing there. Draco didn’t look dumb-struck any longer either. But the deep gratitude in his smile was starting to embarrass her.

“Ginny, you saved my life,” Hermione murmured. “I don’t know how to begin thanking you.”

Ginny flushed a deep scarlet and looked anywhere but at Hermione’s grateful face. “Oh, well, er… How about we just stop talking about this, eh? That’s thanks enough.”

“Alright,” Hermione agreed easily, but Ginny was in no way fooled that it was the end of Hermione’s inquiry. Hermione exhaled heavily, suddenly feeling incredibly tired again. It wasn’t fair; she hadn’t been awake that long, and she still had more questions. But before she could ask them, Madam Pomfrey bustled back in.

“And might I ask why no one thought it necessary to inform me that Miss Granger was awake? Hmm? It isn’t story time, for goodness sake; she needs rest.”

“Oh please, Madam, not another sleeping potion,” Hermione begged as she watched Madam Pomfrey take one out of the cabinet. “I’m sure I won’t have any trouble falling asleep on my own.”

“It’s more to help you with the pain than to help you sleep, Miss Granger,” the older woman said, sounding as though any attempt to negotiate with her was completely futile.

Hermione had figured as much, but she had to try. “I’m not in any pain,” she began, but under Madam Pomfrey’s stern gaze, she had to give in a bit. “Maybe I’m a little sore, but there’s no pain. Not really.”

“Be that as it may, you’re drinking it.”

“Wait,” Hermione pleaded, turning again to Draco and squeezing the hand that still held hers. “Zabini?” she asked, and he knew what she was asking.

“Alive,” he answered gruffly, obviously wishing it were otherwise. And wishing he could be the one to end the bastard’s pathetic life. He had half hoped that when the son-of-a-bitch’s head had slammed against the wall that the force would have killed him. But apparently, he had nothing more than a large lump on the back of his head. Undeserving bastard. “In Azkaban, waiting for a trial.”

“That’s enough,” Madam Pomfrey said briskly, leaving no room for argument. She shoved the potion into Hermione’s hand and glared at her until she swallowed it.

Hermione felt her eyes begin to close of their own volition within seconds. “Stay,” she whispered to Draco as she slipped into oblivion.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he answered, but she was already unconscious.

“You will be in about an hour, Mr. Malfoy,” Madam Pomfrey said, checking her watch. She sounded almost reluctant to tell him.

“But –”

“I don’t want to see you in here tonight, Mr. Malfoy.” Something about the way she had said that made Draco feel like she knew about him sneaking in on other nights. “Do I make myself clear?”

“He understands, Madam,” Harry said unexpectedly. “You won’t see him.”

She nodded, clearly satisfied, and walked swiftly back to her office. As soon as the door shut, Draco turned to Harry angrily. “What the hell was –” he began hotly, but Harry cut him off with a grin.

“Calm down. She said she didn’t want to see you. And she won’t.”

Ron’s eyes narrowed, but Harry avoided his gaze. He was focused, without meaning to be, on the soft smile that had slipped over Ginny’s lips when she understood what Harry was suggesting.

Draco was definitely still confused. He opened his mouth to ask what the hell Harry was talking about, but Harry shook his head as if to say, “Not now.”

So Draco was stayed impatiently silent until Madam Pomfrey kicked them all out at half-past eight. They were walking through little-known shortcuts, and Draco assumed they were heading toward Gryffindor Tower. “Well?” he demanded as soon as they were out of earshot.

“‘Well’ what?” Harry asked innocently.

“Well, I assume you didn’t just sell me out to Pomfrey for no reason, Potter. Tell me you have some sort of plan. I mean, you of all people should know how to sneak undetected into the Hospital Wing at night.”

“I don’t know if I should be insulted by that statement or not,” he said languidly. Draco made a noise that sounded a lot like growling. “And it isn’t really so much a plan as it is a… helper of sorts,” Harry admitted.

“And what sort of helper might that be?” Draco snarled, tired of all the vague hints.

“It’s a bit hard to explain,” Harry said, studiously ignoring the tense glares that Ron was throwing at him from his other side.

“Try,” Draco suggested, unwillingly intrigued.

“I have my dad’s old Invisibility Cloak.”

“Harry,” Draco said slowly, fighting the urge to sigh in annoyance. “It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, but I highly doubt an Invisibility Cloak that belonged to your dad is really going to, er… conceal me… What are you grinning at?” Harry looked as though he found what Draco was saying to be highly amusing. “I’ve seen Cloaks that old, Potter. They wear out, you know.”

“Yeah, well, that’s the thing, mate. Mine’s a bit more durable than most.”

“It’s not your run of the mill Invisibility Cloak, Draco,” Ginny interjected, grinning.

Since Draco still looked suspicious, more than a little confused, and bordering on frustrated, Harry stopped walking and turned to him. They were on the seventh floor, in the corridor that led to the Fat Lady’s portrait. “Look, let me go get it, right? You’ll understand when you see it. We’ll be right back.”

Draco leaned his back against the nearest wall, crossed his arms and sighed. “Yeah, alright.”

They left Draco standing alongside the wall and made their way to the Fat Lady’s portrait. “Password?”

“Manticore,” Ron growled, an angry edge to his voice that Harry wasn’t looking forward to dealing with.

They clambered through the hole, and as the Fat Lady’s portrait swung shut behind them, Ron could back himself back no longer. The Common Room was packed. They stayed near the door and Ron thankfully had the sense to keep his voice at a level that no one would be able to hear over the din. “I really, really don’t like this.”

“Ron, listen –”

“No, Harry,” he said heatedly. “You’re giving Malfoy your dad’s cloak? It’s just wrong. I mean, it’s Malfoy, for Christ’s sake!” He couldn’t seem to get past that point.

“I know who it is,” Harry said calmly, trying not to get angry himself. “He’s a friend of mine, and he’s important to Hermione. She asked for him; I’m doing this more for her, anyway.” Which isn’t completely a lie, Harry thought.

Ron’s ears were turning red. “But –”

“Jesus, Ron,” Ginny cut in, thoroughly fed up with his attitude. “Hermione finally wakes up, and all you can think about is that Draco wants to stay with her through the night? Get it through your thick head! He. Loves. Her. He loves her, Ron, and that isn’t going to change any time soon. You need to accept it and move on.”

Ron was so angry he couldn’t answer her. His hands had curled into tense fists, the muscles in his arms were shaking, and his jaw was clenched so tightly that Harry was surprised his teeth weren’t cracking from the pressure. Without another word, he turned his back on Harry and Ginny, and marched up the spiral staircase to their dormitory.

“That was a bit harsh, Gin,” Harry said quietly, not looking at her. Though he knew that she was right – at least in that Ron needed to move on – he couldn’t completely blame Ron for the way he felt; Harry knew what it felt like to have the person you loved choose someone else over you. “It wasn’t really fair to –”

“Oh, shut up,” she snapped, and the viciousness in her voice had him spinning toward her. Her face was flushed with anger and she was standing aggressively, one hand on her hip and the other was pointing at him accusingly. “You are the last person that has any right to rule on what is and isn’t fair.”

And she was completely right, he realized. From where she was standing, he had no right to judge anything she did. “Ginny…” he began quietly, but she shook her head, warning him off.

“I’m going to bed,” she said with a sigh, all of the fight going out of her at the look in his eyes. “It’s been a long day and I… I’m going to bed.” And she slipped up the girls’ staircase before he could say another word.

Harry rubbed his hands over his face wearily, and didn’t see the speculative eyes of Dean Thomas watching him. With a sigh, he decided that Ron had had enough time to enclose himself behind his bed curtains and he headed up to the dorm to collect the Cloak.

Draco, meanwhile, was pacing back and forth in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait. What was taking so long? Finally, Harry appeared, holding something under his robes.

“Over here,” he said quietly, gesturing Draco down a nearby – and completely deserted – corridor.

“Where’s Ginny and Ron?” Draco asked, more to fill the silence than anything else. But when Harry answered, the forced casual tone of his voice had Draco’s brow winging up.

“They were, uh… tired. They went to bed.” Once they were hidden from view, Harry pulled out the Cloak with a flourish.

“Bloody hell,” Draco whispered, all thoughts of Ron’s and Ginny’s whereabouts flying from his mind. He reached out to touch and the Cloak slid across the skin of his fingers like thick, exceptionally firm water. He had never seen anything that was even close to what Harry had been hiding in his trunk. “Where did your dad get this?”

“It’s sort of a family heirloom. My father got it from his father, and from his father, and so on and so forth. Not really sure how old it is,” he added as Draco continued to examine it in an almost reverent fashion. “Several hundred years, at least.”

That got Draco’s attention. “You’re kidding,” he said, staring at Harry in awe. “Even the best made cloaks don’t last nearly that long.”

“This is sort of the original,” he said, feeling a slightly smug smile creep across his face when Draco’s mouth dropped open in shock. Having grown up in a pureblood home, he would have heard all the common Wizard children’s stories. Including the story of the Three Brothers and the incredible items given to them by Death. Though Harry thought Dumbledore had the right of it; it was more likely that they had simply created them.

“Well,” Draco managed eventually, sliding his hands back to his pockets and trying to look less flabbergasted than he felt, “this definitely explains how you three have been able to… wait. Third year, by the Shrieking Shack. I knew I wasn’t seeing things, I knew you were there!”

Harry nodded with a grin. “Sorry about that, by the way. But don’t let it get around, yeah? About the cloak, I mean.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“So, think this’ll manage to ‘conceal’ you?” Harry challenged.

Draco’s smirk was back in place, and for the first time in his life, Harry was happy to see it. “Definitely.” Draco slipped into the Cloak and looked down at his body. 

"Bit weird, isn’t it?” said Harry, laughing at the confounded look on Draco’s face.

“‘Weird’ doesn’t even begin to describe it, mate.”

Draco stayed with Hermione through the night as she slept fitfully, abandoning all caution by slipping into the bed next to her when she murmured his name. After that, she was still and peaceful. When Madam Pomfrey started bustling around at five, he managed to slip past her, unseen and silent.

He knew there was no way that Harry would be awake yet, but he decided to try and return the Cloak nonetheless. Maybe he could just sneak into the dorm and drop it on Harry’s bed. But when he gave the Fat Lady the password and climbed through the portrait hole, he was surprised to see someone sitting in an armchair next to the fire. It wasn’t Harry, but he still didn’t bother to hide the Cloak from view.

Ginny was staring pensively into the fire’s dying embers; she had yet to notice that anyone had entered the room. Not wanting to scare her, Draco made sure his next steps were loud, and her head snapped up when she heard him.

“Draco?” she questioned, completely puzzled. “What are you doing here? It’s not even…” she looked at her watch, “half-past five yet. And how did you get in anyway?”

“Madam Pomfrey was making her rounds, so I left. I was just bringing Harry his Cloak back.” He noticed her face darken when he mentioned Harry’s name, but decided not to say anything. “And I’m Head Boy; I know how to get into every Common Room. Couldn’t sleep?” he asked.

“No,” she said, turning her eyes back to the fire. When she didn’t speak again, Draco knew better than to press the matter.

“Seventh year boys are at the top, yeah?”

“I think so,” she responded absently.

Draco ran up to the top of the tower and opened the door silently. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he searched out Harry’s trunk and made his way over quietly. Before he got a chance to try and open the trunk, however, the curtains on Harry’s bed ripped open and Draco found himself with a wand in his face.

He held up his free hand innocently and said, “I’m not stealing anything, just returning it. Do you always sleep with your wand under your pillow?”

“I do, yes. Bloody hell, Draco,” Harry said quietly in an exhausted voice. He rubbed a hand over his face. “I almost hexed you. What the hell are you doing, sneaking around?”

“I was trying to return your Cloak. I didn’t think you’d be awake this early. Or armed, for that matter.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” he muttered as he stowed his wand back under his pillow. “I have a lot on my mind.”

“That seems to be going around,” Draco said as he handed over the Cloak.

“What?” Harry questioned, looking up. “Was Hermione awake?”

“No, that potion put her out completely. I meant that I saw Ginny down in your Common Room.” When he saw the uncertainty cross Harry’s face, he added, “She looked miserable.”

“Damn it,” Harry grumbled, rubbing his hands over his face again. He knew it had been a mistake to cling to Ginny when Hermione had gotten hurt, but she had seemed to need it just as much as he had. And now look at what he had done. She had a boyfriend, she had moved on; he had no right to make her feel guilty. He had no right to make her feel anything.

Draco thought it would be prudent to change the subject; he wasn’t used to getting involved in his friends’ love lives and he figured it would be better for all concerned if he steered clear of this. “Anyway, thanks for the Cloak, Harry.”

“Yeah,” he nodded, just as lost in thought as Ginny had appeared. Pulling himself back, he continued, “Anytime. If you need it again tonight, just ask.”

“Thanks mate. I’ll see you later.”

“Try and get some sleep,” Harry said softly as Draco was walking away.

“You too.”

He heard Harry scoff as he was closing the door. “Not bloody likely,” Harry muttered.

Wednesday and Thursday were very much the same as Tuesday; Hermione was only awake for a few minutes at a time before Madam Pomfrey made her drink another sleeping potion. She hated it, and not only because she got to see so little of Draco and her friends. She had odd dreams that she now realized weren’t really dreams – they were memories, and all of them were bad.

The only thing that was different happened on Wednesday in the form of a visit from the Headmaster when she woke up in the afternoon. She was acutely aware of the fact that she was wearing only a thin hospital gown, but forgot about that rather quickly when Dumbledore told her the reason for his visit.

They had a lot to be thankful for this year – the War was over and all that – and he thought it was high time for another Yule Ball. He was aware, however, that since it was the first Christmas after the War, most families would want to be together – or rather, most parents would want their children with them. Dumbledore figured that to split the difference, it would be best to have the Ball the day before Christmas Eve and have all the students take the train the next morning. He said he would need her and Draco’s help with the supervision of the students and decorations and things of that sort; Dumbledore would handle the larger details. After asking their opinion on a few simple things, the Headmaster left and Hermione was forced back to sleep.

Neither she nor Madam Pomfrey was aware that Draco snuck in with Harry’s Invisibility Cloak again. But he was there to comfort her while she dreamed.

When Hermione woke up on Friday morning, she was determined not to go back to sleep. Or to spend another night in the Hospital Wing, for that matter. As far as she was concerned, she had wasted enough time sleeping, especially considering it wasn’t even her bed, and the only way she was going to drink anymore of that potion was if Madam Pomfrey literally forced it down her throat. When she said as much to the matron, Madam Pomfrey did no more than smile, saying sweetly, “Very well, Miss Granger. But if you refuse regular pain potion, I will force that sleeping potion down your throat. Understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she agreed quickly. She had a sneaking suspicion that the potion had something to do with all the dreams she had been having; perhaps it had some kind of brain stimulant in it. But she didn’t mention her notions to the nurse; she didn’t want to press her luck, and she had no doubt that Madam Pomfrey would be good to her word.

“Good. I’ll go get something for the pain.”

“Madam, honestly, there isn’t any pain. I’m going to take the potion, I promise,” she added hastily when the older woman glared at her threateningly. “I’m just, er… letting you know.”

“You said you were achy, yes? And sore? Stiff?” Madam Pomfrey asked lightly as she went to her cupboard.

“Well… yes, but –”

“That, Miss Granger, is a form of pain. And unless you want it to escalate into something much more unpleasant, I suggest you drink this without complaint.”

“Yes, ma’am,” she murmured as she accepted the cupful of thin, green potion. She swallowed it quickly, the taste burning the inside of her mouth like acid. Almost immediately, she felt her muscles in her back and neck loosen and relax. The constant throbbing ache in her head also dimmed considerably. “How soon do you think I can leave?” she choked out as soon as she was able.

Hermione had expected an argument, but she watched in astonishment as the nurse seriously considered her question. “Well… I suppose you might be able to leave this afternoon, but let’s see how the morning goes first, shall we? We don’t want any relapses, Miss Granger. And you’ll need to take some potions with you when you go, and no over-taxing yourself, of course.”

“I’ll do whatever you want me to do, Madam, as long as I can sleep in my own bed again.” And next to Draco, she added to herself, but decided that the nurse didn’t need to hear that part. “And… do you think it would be all right if I went to classes on Monday?”

“Let’s see how you are at the end of the weekend, but it shouldn’t be a problem. Perhaps your friends could carry your books for you?”

“Oh, I’m sure I can carry my own – I mean, yes, of course, I’m sure they wouldn’t have a problem with that,” she amended hastily when she saw the look on Madam Pomfrey’s face. Though she thought it was hardly necessary. She had always been a fast healer – when she was actually given the chance to heal, that is, rather than being forced to sleep for twenty-three hours out of every day. She was sure that by Monday she would be fine.

Hermione would be the first to admit that the walk from the Hospital Wing to her dormitory was rather taxing. After all, she hadn’t walked in nearly two weeks. But there was a satisfying sense of accomplishment in knowing that she was able to make it by herself, despite Draco’s constant offers to carry her.

Accomplished feeling aside, she was dreadfully tired when she got back to her room. She collapsed onto her bed – finally, her bed – and pulled Draco down next to her. She tried to ignore the fact that he hesitated before putting his arm around her, or that he didn’t press a kiss to her hair the way he usually did when they would simply lie together. Before long, however, she was sleeping, more peaceful than she had been in days, and thankfully, it was dreamless.

Draco didn’t sleep. He watched Hermione while she slept, and resisted the urge to hold her close, crush her against him and feel the beat of her heart against his. She was so terrifyingly breakable.

The next two days passed in a blur for her. Draco waited on her hand and foot, and it was sweet – for the first couple of hours, anyway. He was being so gentle with her, making sure everything was taken care of before she had to even think about it, despite her assurances that it wasn’t necessary; she could get her own glass of water, for Merlin’s sake. She tried to spend as much time out of bed as was possible, though it wasn’t easy. Not because she was too weak to be out of her bed, but more because it was rather hard to concentrate on reading her Transfiguration book when Draco was constantly hovering over her on the couch, jumping every time she shifted into a more comfortable position.

She knew he was just trying to take care of her, but it was getting a bit wearing by Sunday night. Several times, Hermione had to remind herself not to snap at him. She wasn’t used to being taken care of, that was all. But when Madam Pomfrey announced that she was fine to go back to classes, Hermione was more relieved than she should have been; Draco didn’t share most of her classes.

However, it turned out that Draco was not the only one infected with a need to take care of her. Ginny filled her plate for her at breakfast, apparently under the impression that she was incapable of reaching across the table for a piece of toast. Neither Ron nor Harry would allow her to carry her own books from class to class, and Ron even went so far as to take her arm every time they had to take a staircase, as though he was trying to help her walk. She could walk, for Christ’s sake.

Hermione told herself not to get mad, she told herself that they were simply worried for her. It was natural enough, wasn’t it? Hadn’t she felt the same whenever Harry had horrendously injured himself in some way or another? Though, of course, Harry was so prone to serious injury that she had gotten pretty used to it. They loved her, so they worried about her. It was endearing, really… if she forced herself to look at it from that angle.

But when Tuesday and Wednesday followed the same pattern, it was quickly falling out of endearing and straight into annoying. Talking to Luna during break on Wednesday afternoon was, surprisingly, the most enjoyable conversation she had had in days. She loved Luna, of course, but no one could deny that a discussion with Luna could be more than a little confusing. This one was no different (something about a new, weird, lettuce-like plant that her father had discovered; apparently, it was the vegetable equivalent of a zombie, brain eating included), but at least Luna wasn’t acting as though Hermione were on her deathbed. She had an odd theory about a Nargle playing a role in Hermione’s extended stay in the Hospital Wing, but other than that, they didn’t even talk about it.

When Hermione reached for Draco that night, wanting the reassurance of his touch, he silently refused her, stilling her seeking hands. He merely pressed his lips to her cheek in the same manner that one might kiss a child goodnight, and rested his arm over her so lightly that she could barely feel its weight. She wanted to feel the weight of his arm, of his body on hers. He had barely touched her in days. But his refusal hurt more than she cared to admit, and she stayed silent. When Hermione woke up the next morning to find herself alone in the bed – she could hear the water running in the shower – she had taken it as an affirmation of his disinterest.

By Thursday evening, Hermione was very close to fuming. The way her friends spoke to her; you’d think that she was brain damaged. They were always saying things like, “Why don’t you sit down?” or “I’ll take care of it, you just relax” or “You should put your feet up.” It was infuriating. She was no longer able to tell herself that Harry’s insistence to carry her books was helpful, or that Ginny’s offer to butter her toast for her was considerate, or that Ron’s ‘assistance’ up and down every goddamn staircase was thoughtful – it was, all of it, completely insulting.

One of the things that Hermione had been most concerned about was getting caught up in all her classes. Harry and Ron had insisted on going with her to the library that evening, though she had told them repeatedly (and as patiently as she was able) that is wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t that she was opposed to the company, but rather the reason behind it. If not for the fact that Draco had patrol that night, she knew he would have been there as well. Not that he was supposed to have patrol tonight; it was supposed to be her patrol, damn it. But he had rearranged the schedule without letting her know beforehand. Apparently, he thought she wasn’t quite up to it yet. The git.

Ginny was also in the library, but she was at a separate table with Dean. She and Harry were throwing glances at each other without even seeming to realize they were doing it, and Hermione was using this to distract herself from thinking about everything else. And she knew she wasn’t the only one that had noticed; Dean seemed to have realized what was going on as well.

Something must have happened while I was in the Hospital, she reasoned. Harry and Ginny had been incredibly different around each other in the past few days. Not so much in the way they acted; they were still polite in a deliberate sort of way, they still spoke around each other rather than to each other. But it was more than that. There was this static between them now that Hermione was sure hadn’t been there before, as though each of them was waiting for something to happen… or regretting something that already had.

Perhaps it was time that she stepped in. Hermione had thought that they would have had it sorted out by now. Why hadn’t Harry opened his mouth yet? Maybe he thought he was being noble by stepping to the side and giving Ginny the chance to be with someone else if that’s what she wanted. But didn’t he realize that by stepping away from her, he was making Ginny think that he didn’t want her anymore? And if he honestly thought that Ginny didn’t want him anymore, then he had obviously lost his mind. Idiot boys, she thought to herself.

Not that it was all Harry’s fault, of course. How was he to know what Ginny felt unless she told him? It wasn’t a secret that Harry was a bit stupid about girls; subtlety didn’t work with him. Ginny should have known better than to have believed he didn’t feel for her anymore, she should have known that he would need it spelled out for him, to let him know that he was still welcome in her life after leaving her the way he had. Hermione didn’t think that Ginny was aware, not having been there all those long months afterward, how much it had killed Harry to leave her.

Both of them were being stupid and stubborn and… fearful. In any other circumstance, Hermione would have said that Harry or Ginny letting fear override their decisions was laughable. But in this, it was the only logical explanation. They were both simply too afraid to get hurt again. And she knew that Harry was afraid of hurting Ginny again. Though she hadn’t really thought about it before, she had to admit that her best friend had a guilt complex.

She let out a tired sigh and looked back down at her Potions essay, trying not to let it bother her that Ron jumped at every sound she made. She rifled through the books in front of her, noticed that she needed something else, and stood.

“What’s wrong?” Ron said before she was even fully straight. He stood as well.

She clenched her teeth. “Nothing’s wrong, Ron. I just need another book. And I might as well put a couple of these back as well,” she added, eying the extras that were littering the table’s surface. It would be good to get away from everyone for a few minutes, get a breath in the stacks without the intense scrutiny of her friends. She gathered a few into her arms quickly.

“I’ll do that for you, Hermione,” Harry said quickly, standing and reaching for the books. He sent Hermione what she considered to be a rather condescending smile when she pulled them out of his reach. It clearly said “I know what’s best for you,” and that pissed her off to no end.

It was a struggle to keep the annoyance she felt so sharply out of her voice, but she managed it… barely. “No, Harry, I’m fine. I can –”

“Here, Hermione, why don’t I put the books away,” Ron was saying as he tried to tug them out of her arms with an indulgent sort of smile; she pulled back even harder and refused to let go. “And Harry can go get whatever book you need. You should sit and relax –”

“Goddamn it, Ronald, I do NOT need to bloody relax!” she finally shouted, wrenching the books out of his suddenly lax grip. He was clearly shocked; Hermione rarely cursed, and never like that, with so much venom. She could see his surprise at her sudden outburst clear on his face, and a part of her reveled in it. She knew it was a childish reaction, she knew it was an over-reaction, she knew she should just take a deep breath and explain herself rationally. In her head, Hermione knew all of these things. But at that moment, she saw red.

The gentle rustling of parchment and the quiet whisper of surrounding students – all the sounds that usually filled the air in the library – were gone. It was dead silent. Hermione hardly noticed. She had a point to make, and she made it loudly. “I don’t need you to put my books away for me, or to get them for me! I can do that all on my own! I also don’t need to be walked up the stairs like a bloody cripple, and I can carry my own backpack! I don’t need to be spoken to as though I have the mental capacity of a five year old, or…” she gestured wildly, looking for the right words, “or as though I can’t make my own decisions! I don’t need to be treated as though I’m an invalid! I’m fine! Knock it the hell off!

“And you,” she growled, spinning to face Ginny’s table and pointing an accusing finger. Ginny hadn’t been that bad of an offender, but Hermione was on a roll. And really, it was the principal of the thing. “If you ever try to butter my toast for me again –”

Ginny had her hands raised in surrender, and stopped Hermione before she could finish out her threat. “I swear I will never assist you with any condiment of any kind ever again,” she said in a mock-serious tone, hoping to break the tension in some way. “Just don’t hurt me.”

Hermione’s lips quirked slightly, but she refused to smile. Ginny let out a relieved sigh when Harry started speaking; at least Hermione’s wrath wasn’t focused on her anymore.

“Okay,” Harry said in his most calming voice, and in his precise fashion, cut straight to the heart of the matter. “I’ll admit we may have gotten a bit carried away, but… we were just worried about you.”

“You almost died,” Ron said in an undertone, and the bulk of Hermione’s anger disappeared. The motivation behind their actions was the very reason that it had taken Hermione so long to bite at the hand that was trying so gently to feed her. She almost backed down… almost.

“I know,” she sighed, her voice much calmer than it had been. She rested her hands on the table in front of her, suddenly tired; emotional outbursts always drained her a bit. “I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for you. But I didn’t die; I woke up. And I’m fine now, I’m okay. Treating me like I’m not isn’t helping anything. I appreciate what you were trying to do, and I understand, really, why you were doing it, but it needs to stop. Now. Because I can’t –”

But Hermione’s next words were cut short by the appearance of Madam Pince. Why it had taken her so long to get there, no one was sure, but it could have had something to do with why her hair was mussed and her prim shirt not quite tucked into her equally demure skirt.

“Who is imbruing the hollowed halls of this library with their profane shouting?” she demanded. The guilty look on Hermione’s face gave her away instantly. The shock on the librarian’s face was no small thing. “Miss Granger! I’m surprised at you! I would have thought that you of all people would have more respect for this institution then to treat it with such insouciance and such severe language.”

“I’m sorry, Madam Pince,” she murmured quietly, feeling well and truly chastised. And the seeds of embarrassment were starting to grow in her stomach; everyone was still staring at her.

The librarian carried on her tirade, barely aware that Hermione had spoken, caught up as she was with the passion of her own words. She actually shook her finger at Hermione in righteous indignation. “As Head Girl, you should know better! To act in such a vituperative manner is below you! Trust that I will be speaking to your Head of House about this outburst. Or perhaps I should speak with your fellow Head about your behavior; perhaps Mr. Malfoy will be able to instruct you on how to act in a –”

“Draco,” Hermione growled, suddenly remembering the part he had played in all of this. Any calm that had been restored to her was gone; the fact was, she was angrier now than she had been before.

Hermione shoved her unfinished essay, Potions book, and quill into her bag unceremoniously and hefted it over her shoulder, immensely pleased when no one even offered to assist her. It seemed she had gotten her point across. Turning toward Madam Pince again, she tried for a repentant smile, knowing it was full of more venom than apology. “You’re completely right, Madam, my behavior is incredibly out of line. I don’t know what came over me. I think it would be best if I left for the rest of the night.”

“Yes… yes, that’s probably for the, er… best, of course,” Madam Pince stammered out, more than a little wary of the girl in front of her. In all the years the librarian had known her, she had never seen Hermione Granger look quite so… dangerous.

“And you needn’t worry about talking to Draco Malfoy.” Hermione’s voice cracked like a whip around his name – angry and full of promised violence. “I’ll tell him myself. He’ll be hearing from me about quite a few things in the near future,” she added in an almost frightening tone. “And don’t you go running off to warn him!” she threw over her shoulder at Harry as she stalked out.

“Yeah, right, like I’d put myself in the line of fire by doing that,” Harry muttered, more to himself than to anyone else. Madam Pince wandered away into the stacks with a slightly gobsmacked look on her face, as though she wasn’t quite sure how to process everything that had just happened.

Harry noted that Ron looked more pleased than was necessary at the idea of Hermione and Draco fighting, but his ill-hidden grin disappeared as the two fifth year Ravenclaw boys at the next table started talking.

“Someone’s going to get a spanking.”

“Yeah, if he’s lucky.” They sniggered.

“OI!” Ron yelled. He and Harry both got to their feet, though Harry was more concerned with holding Ron back if the need arose than with threatening some idiotic Ravenclaws. “Shut your mouth or I’ll shut it for you!”

“Ron,” Harry murmured, laying his hand on Ron’s shoulder in a preventive measure. The Ravenclaws in question looked decidedly frightened, and Harry couldn’t blame them; Ron was a pretty big guy and they were rather scrawny. Probably came from spending so much time in the library, he thought.

“Who is shouting now?” Madam Pince demanded, emerging from the stacks again.

“I –”

“Out! Out now! There will be no more shouting in my library!” She was livid, red in the face. It was quite obvious that she had reached the end of her tether. Ron was smart enough to keep his mouth shut and left without another word.

Harry opted to stay on the pretense that he needed to finish his homework for Charms. But he found it very difficult to focus on the parchment in front of him when the lamps were casting fiery shadows in Ginny’s hair.

Hermione was fuming. She was so angry, in fact, that she hardly noticed when she almost plowed into Filch on her way out of the library. She barely registered that he didn’t shout at her or threaten her, as was his usual way. He was more disheveled looking than normal, his greasy hair sticking up in places that it certainly shouldn’t have been, and he was whistling. Had she been less focused on giving Draco a piece of her mind, she might have paid more attention to Filch’s abnormal behavior. But such as it was, she gave him little more than a passing glance before continuing her righteous march to the Heads’ dormitory.

By the time she reached Sarah’s portrait, her teeth were bared in a scarcely contained snarl.

“Miss Granger, are you alright?” Sarah asked, more than a little surprised at the uncharacteristically angry contortion of Hermione’s features.

Hermione drew a breath, trying to relax her jaw to allow her to speak. “I’m fine, Miss.”

“My dear, you look positively terrifying.”

“Good. Forgiveness.”

Sarah merely cocked her brow before swinging open, wondering just what the hell was going on now. Much as she enjoyed her post, there were times when it was rather tiring trying to sift through all the commotion.

“Draco Malfoy!” Hermione shouted before the door was fully shut behind her. There was no answer; the dorm was obviously empty.

She glanced around and noticed the potion she was supposed to take every night sitting out on the table. As if she wouldn’t have been able to find it on her own. Did he really believe her so inept that she needed to have things placed out for her as if she were a child? Well, that was just one more thing to throw at him. If he ever got back, that is. And just where the bloody hell was he? Oh, that’s right. He had rearranged the patrol schedule so that she wouldn’t have to go. He didn’t think she was quite up to the challenge of walking around the building. Well, bollocks to that. Presumptuous bastard.

It was all starting to pile up in her head, every little thing that Draco had done in the past week. How dare he? Setting out her medicine for her was one thing, taking her patrol from her was quite another.

She was about two steps away from leaving the dorm to go find him when she realized how utterly ridiculous that would be. First of all, she had no idea where he was, and she was in no mood to wander around the castle all night. Second, aside from making an absolute fool out of herself in front of one of the prefects (definitely not the example she should be setting), it was doubtful that Draco would take her seriously if she came out of nowhere to shout at him. And third, with the way she was feeling right now, it would be best for all parties involved if there were no witnesses. Just in case.

She needed to do something until he got back. She was too flustered to give her homework the concentration that it deserved, and there was no way that she could read right now. There was only one thing that calmed her down when she felt as… tumultuous as she did right now. It had always helped her think through her anger or nervousness or hurt.

And if it all went to hell, at least there would be chocolate cake around.

Hermione could feel the positive effects as soon as she started to gather the ingredients together. It was better, really, that he hadn’t been there when she walked in. She could think through what she wanted to say to him, be rational about the whole thing. As her mind began to clear, she tried to figure out why she was so much angrier with Draco than she had been with everyone else.

It wasn’t so much the actions themselves. After all, she had just had this discussion with Harry and Ron… well, okay, it hadn’t been so much a discussion as it had been her shouting at them, but still. She understood, really, why they had been acting the way they had been acting – they were worried for her. And they were her friends; worrying was part of the job description. Especially for them.

But the dynamic was different with Draco. How could it not be? With the boys and Ginny, it had been annoying over-protectiveness. Aside from their being overly helpful, their relationship was the same.

With Draco, it was hurtful; their entire relationship was changed. She could understand why he was being over-protective, but she couldn’t understand everything else. It was almost as though he was keeping himself as distant as possible from her while trying to take care of her. It felt as if he was there, doing what he was doing, out of a sense of duty rather than a sense of love. He slept next to her every night, but he wasn’t there with her. He hadn’t touched her other than to help her with something, and he hadn’t kissed her other than the occasional peck.

And he hadn’t said he loved her. Not once since she had woken up had he spoken those words. He was the one that had said it first; she remembered that moment so clearly it made her ache. Now it seemed that he couldn’t even bring himself to say it. And the part of it that frightened her the most was that… perhaps the reason he hadn’t said it was because he no longer felt it. She didn’t know, not really, how her accident had affected him, or what he had gone through while she was in a coma. And maybe whatever had happened had changed his feelings.

It hurt. And that was where the anger was really coming from. Part of her anger with Draco came from the same place as it had for her friends, an I-can-handle-it-so-stop-trying-to-do-it-for-me sort of thing. But the majority… well, it was easier to be angry than it was to be hurt.

Hermione shook her head viciously against the tears, letting the familiar, repetitive motion of chopping the chocolate soothe her thoughts. She couldn’t think about being hurt. If she did that, it wouldn’t take long for her to start brooding, and once that happened, nothing would get resolved. And it needed to, desperately. Even if her worse fears were confirmed, it needed to be dealt with. She couldn’t take another day wondering and doubting, and worst of all her, holding herself at blame for it.

It bothered her immensely that logical wasn’t helping her in this case. This was just something that she couldn’t reason out. She couldn’t say that he was uncaring, and she couldn’t argue that he was being unkind. He was just so distant, so… separate. What had she done that made him turn away from her the way he was? Before she got hurt, he hadn’t been able to go more than a couple hours without touching her in some way, even if it was as simple as holding her hand or running his fingers down her arm.

As she poured her finished batter into the pan, Hermione thought about the way he had touched her that last night they had been together. Draco had made her feel so beautiful – but then, he was always able to do that. It had been different this time, though; more intense somehow. Now he made her feel unnecessary, dismissible. And she hated it. When he got back, she was going to confront him; whatever happened would happen. 

A/N: Okay, here's the thing. I wanted to give you guys all 16,000 words of this chapter in one go, but apparently it's too long, so I can't. This chapter will have to be submitted in two parts. The last part - sadly, where all the really good stuff happens - will be in the queue the second that this one validates. Oh well... Anyway, let me take a moment, if you don’t mind, to wax apologetic. I feel hideous about how long it took me to get this chapter to you all. The semester was entering the final stretch, and I had finals coming up and several papers due – you know what I mean – life was a bit hectic for a while there. And the bane of my existence – the dreaded Writer’s Block – was only too happy to set up residence in my head for about a month and a half straight. I’ve given him (yes, him; his name is Chuck and he’s a complete jerk) a firm talking to, and told him to find somewhere else to live, and hopefully the words will start flowing more easily now; he’s backed off considerably, though I wouldn’t be surprised with the occasional, spontaneous pop-in. He’s rather inconsiderate that way. I’m going to do everything in my power to never let it take this long again. Bad, Chuck, bad. Well, enough of that. If I can be shamelessly self-promoting for a moment. If any of you guys have been by my Author page of late, you may have noticed that I have the first chapter of a new story up. I know, you might be thinking that I shouldn’t have started another story while I’m writing this one, but I only work on it when I’m stuck with this one. It really helps to step into a different story line for a little while. Anyway, I’m really satisfied with how the first chapter turned out, which is rare for me, so if you’re at all interested, check it out. It’s another Dramione (surprise, surprise), but it’s post-war, completely DH compliant except for the prologue. And enough of that as well. If you aren’t too disgusted with me and the retched wait I made you suffer through, I’d really appreciate a review. Some parts of this chapter were very hard to write and I’d really like to know what you all think about it. That last bit with Draco and Hermione especially; that really gave me some trouble. I had “Run” by Snow Patrol on repeat while I wrote it; I think I’ve literally listened to that song about a hundred timed by now, haha. Of course, Chuck was no help whatsoever in that department, but I digress. Thanks so much for reading! I really hope that you all enjoyed it!!! Oh, and for anyone that’s interested, we’re going to find out more about Zabini’s punishment in the next chapter. And Madam Pince and Filch were both acting decidedly out of character around the same time… I wonder why that might be… I’ll just let you think about that. Again, review please!!! ~Meghan

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