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Chapter 14 : The Practice Kiss
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Fantastic chapter image by Caren at TDA *loves*
(A/N: I'm really sorry for taking so long to update this story. I've actucally wanted to make this chapter longer, but since I needed to post something...anything...here it is. LOL This chapter is sort of a transition to the next, before Dramione can begin.)
Beta'ed by Fallstar Thank you. :)
He was smiling, but not at anybody. Not like he usually did at one of those flirts who flocked around him. He could not be smiling at her, the one he loved to call the filthy Mudblood and to treat as such - his most hated enemy - Hermione Granger. His smile looked good on his pale, usually frowning face. And Hermione had to secretly admit to herself that he, standing this close to her, looked good. Whatever it was that made her think this way about Draco Malfoy, it had to stop soon.
Surely she was under stress due to Ron's attitude earlier in the common room and over the past few weeks, and that a simple smile at her in this moment meant the world to her. Ron's being overprotective, like she was not able to defend herself, and his unreasonable jealousy towards the guys she only talked to, was jarring on the nerves. But even if she was annoyed at Ron at the moment, it didn't give her the right to think Malfoy was attractive.
"Even if it means I have to act like I really love you."
Even if it means I have to act like I really love you.
It had caught her off-guard when he had said this. His voice, gentle and soft, was still echoing in her ears even later that night when she went to bed, while his intense gaze had burnt a picture in her mind that would even follow her to her dreams. She had learned to like the way he looked at her. Intensely. Forge-heatedly. Butter-meltingly.
"And you won't mind if your friends see us together?" Hermione asked, looking dryly at him.
Draco returned the same look and question, raising a brow. "Do you mind if your friends see me with you?"
Hesitantly, Hermione shook her head. Though she only answered that she didn't mind at all, and that her friends minded it, was as clear as crystal. But in that moment, which stood for her like an Eternal Now, she didn't care what they'd think.
"Do you believe it's a good idea?" He cocked his head to the side, stared at her, and waited for her to speak.
"Are you doubting your own idea, Malfoy?" Hermione was grateful she found her voice. It was hard looking away from those eyes. Even more catching was his smile.
"Of course not," Malfoy chuckled, "but I was asking your opinion."
"Since when have you cared about what I am thinking?" she huffed. Talking without looking at him was easier, Hermione figured.
"Why must you always make everything so bloody complicated, Granger?"
"Because nothing is ever easy with you," she snapped.
Neither of them said another word for the next few minutes, but it was Malfoy who broke the silence. "What's your theory on what Goldilocks wants from us?"
"Well, that's what we're going to figure out, right?" Hermione said, brushing a strand of hair out of her face. She looked down towards the lake, watching tiny figures assemble and another one coming from the castle, joining the group. "I have a feeling he's not alone." She shivered when she said her thought aloud.
"He has an accomplice in hooking us up?" Malfoy said with exaggerated drama, chuckling lightly.
"It's not funny," she said sharply, but couldn't resist to smile at him. "I'll lay odds on Hayden having a bet or something: That, if he managed to bring us together, he'd win the bet he made with the other person. The question is simply: who is that other person?" Hermione rubbed her lower arm and shivered but not only because of the cool wind. The sun just disappeared behind a giant cloud. "I've seen him a lot hanging around with Cho."
"Chang and Cupid-Boy? I don't believe it."
"With the others around, she acts like she hates and despises him; however, when they're alone together, they become all cosy, rosy and..." Hermione said distantly, remembering the one incident when she ran across the two love birds one evening near the dungeon staircase. "In my opinion that's just plain stupid. If she acts like she can't stand him but in fact she fancies him secretly... And she's only acting like that because of her friends."
Malfoy's face blanched. He dropped his gaze to his shoes and balled his fists to his sides. "What if she's not acting like she hates him because of her friends, but because she's afraid he might ditch her?"
For a moment it sounded like Malfoy wasn't talking about Cho Chang anymore.
"Why would Hayden ditch her?" Hermione said, unsure what exactly he meant.
Malfoy slowly lifted his head, and locked eyes with her for a moment. He whispered, "I dunno. Maybe you know."
Smiling sadly, she admitted, and for this answer she was sure she wasn't talking about Cho and Hayden, "Because he's afraid she might be only playing with his feelings."
Malfoy took a step towards her, leaned so close their noses almost touched, and said with a hoarse voice, "What if she proves to him she's not playing?" While he said this, his right hand moved closer to Hermione's left, his thumb brushed gently the back of her hand.
Hermione flinched at the contact. The sudden closeness, the sudden proximity became too intimidating; it caused her heart to skip a beat or two. She could feel his warm breath on her cheek. She closed her eyes. She could feel... She sighed, deep inside she was fighting the urge to lean towards him and do things that might indeed be considered base treachery against her friends. Thou shalt not covet thy enemy, she thought.
This was absolutely not happening. She opened her eyes again and craned her neck to meet his gaze, smiling uncertainly, "Are we already in the middle of our little game, Malfoy? Hayden's not around to see us like this."
He didn't back away, but he didn't come closer either. "I was thinking of practicing," he smirked playfully. "Just to see if you could handle my charm."
Hermione snorted and played along. "Do you really think I can't handle this?" She provocatively placed a hand on his warm one. His eyes widened for a second of surprise. Shock, more even... Luckily, what Malfoy couldn't see was the wild-throbbing heart inside her chest, pumping more adrenaline into her circulatory system.
He smirked. With his free hand, he tilted her chin up, dropped his robe he had around his arm on the ground, which was followed by a clunk that must have been his wand as that hit the ground. He held her face in place; it wasn't a tight grip, on the contrary, he'd never been this gentle with her. It sufficed to keep her unmoving, for she was moved.
Holding her breath, her eyes drifted shut, wondering what would happen next.
In similar circumstances, with someone...someone more ordinary...he'd just lean down and kiss her. But this was Draco Malfoy, the most prejudiced and conceited Pureblood she knew, who wouldn't even deign to look at her, a Mudblood, if he were his normal self. Adding to this, he was under strong suspicion of being a Death Eater, hence, he could be dangerous.
Of course, he wasn't about to kiss her. She might as well wish for the moon as for this absurdity. With this thought, she opened her eyes again, and watched how his face came closer to hers, slowly, until their lips met.
And that was that. It was only a small peck from his warm lips lasting but a second...but it was a kiss. He leaned away, bent down to get what that had fallen on the ground, and left her frozen on the spot.
Only when he disappeared in the stairway of the Astronomy Tower, did she release her breath. She felt slightly light-headed and told herself that was just the Oxygen that flooded her brain suddenly after holding her breath so long. And the reason for her to feel silly-happy was not because he had kissed her. No way. She shook her head to clear her mind.
"That was only practice," she said aloud, clutching her chest with surprising conviction. If being with Draco Malfoy evoked such feelings within her, forbidden feelings, then she would have to run away from him as far as she could in order not to get hurt, knowing that their lives were too complicated for them to be together.
However, they weren't together, and such thing as a happy ending for them together would never come. She would not risk falling in love with him, the favourite of the worst of the planet. She would not let him come that close again. She would never let him touch her like that again. And at last she vowed to keep an emotional distance from him.
Hayden looked dreamily towards the wide horizon, over the giant lake, to the sun that was bathing in it. For a moment he wanted to forget his parents and his mission of saving them, of fixing their broken relationship from the beginning. But when he thought about that he might have been the reason for destroying it at the first place, then he might as well just give it up.
He wondered how many times he had already travelled back in time to fix his parents' relationship with no success. How many times had he endured the horrible pain of losing his mother, and had watched his father falling into that black hole of despair soon thereafter?
He heard the distant snickering of girls: over-excited squeals, laughter, and gabbling. He turned his head around and remembered what which he came here. At least it had nothing to do with his parents, he thought.
Cho's small group of girlfriends was at the bottom of the hill, surrounding a bench that was facing the lake. Some of the girls squealed even more when Hayden turned around, giggling behind their hands. Only Cho didn't bother to look at him. She brushed the long, raven-black tendrils out of her face, her smile reaching her eyes, when she talked animatedly with her friends.
Why was Naomi demanding this of him? And why was he stupid enough to follow her commands?
A strawberry-haired girl joined the group, waving at the girls. She was wearing the same blue-bronze uniform of the Ravenclaws. She tossed her chin towards Hayden, and he knew that it was she now. Naomi had drunk the Polyjuice Potion and had taken the identity of Cho Chang's best friend, Marietta Edgecombe. What Naomi did to the real Marietta, Hayden didn't even want to imagine.
Five minutes. Naomi had instructed him earlier after leaving the abandoned bathroom to wait five minutes then approach the group.
The distance between himself and the far-away voices of the giggling girls caused a sudden inspiration in him. Hayden stooped down and took his wand, using it as a tool to illustrate his thoughts on the wet sand. Naomi wouldn't be fond of seeing him abusing his wand, but who cares now?
He drew a rectangle that was meant to represent his home, the manor. Wizarding people who knew the Malfoys still confused it with the original Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire where his grandparents, Narcissa and Lucius Malfoy, had lived. The distance between the manor to their gate, where he drew a single line, was about twenty and a half yards. He remembered how he used to play on the ground plot when he was a little, which took him almost five minutes to run across the ground down to the gate without any help of magic. No Muggle car, or any Muggle at all, could enter their property without authorisation.
Hayden made a cross inside the rectangle, intending to represent him. He made another mark in the place where he had been when his mother ran out of the manor the night of her death. Flashes of the scene came back to his mind: his parents fought; harsh words and hurtful ones were flung bodily from each spouse; the burning anger of her face turning to pain when she had slapped him; his blazing lie which flushed his face when he had told her he had never loved her. But this time Hayden didn't shake them away. He closed his eyes and heard the clear honking of the car that had hit his mother, as though he had been there himself –with her.
If Hayden had been inside the manor, and his mother hadn't used her wand to Disapparate—because if she had, wouldn't she just have Apparated somewhere else—then how could he, Hayden, hear her scream so clearly, since the lethal crash when her body had been hit shortly after she'd supposedly left the door of the manor? He was missing something important. Or something was just wrong with his memory.
Did you ever learn the identity of the driver?
He heard Naomi's voice again, asking him. When...they had met in an empty classroom a few days ago.
The Fortius Memory Charm, which will be invented in the year 2001, is, according to Naomi, still an incomplete prototype of the traditional memory charm. It helped protecting the identity of a person it was used upon. Hadn't Naomi used it on Hayden, to alter all the memories of the Hogwarts students, the staff, and House Elves to protect his identity?
Hadn't Hermione had false memories of Hayden when his identity was in jeopardy, as when she believed she had known him since first year and that they had common classes together?
What if the same charm was used on Hayden years ago, when his mum had died? Could Naomi have used it against him? But that was impossible, since Hayden and Naomi were the same age. It was ridiculous to think she had brewed the potion when she was eight, to protect the identity of the driver, to implant in Hayden false memories of his past. Which of them were true and which were already altered? If Naomi weren't the one who used the charm, then who was it? And why?
You want to know the truth, Hayden? Then face it! Deal with it! Why do you keep on running away from it? Naomi's voice echoed in his mind again.
Hayden looked down on his scratches in the sand, and his vision blurred. Once again, he heard the clear scream of his mother close to his ears; he saw a bright light; he heard, then, by the loud thud; then came the crash that turned to the sound of explosion. But there was no car at all, just a luminant light that blinded Hayden's eyes.
And then he saw it. What had really happened nine years ago was not a car accident. There was no driver, but there was a murderer. He saw this memory with crystal clarity, as it had never been before, like a veil had been lifted from his memory, revealing the truth.
With a sudden movement, his head turned towards the group of girls. He looked her directly into the eyes. Now he knew the truth.
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