Chapter 16 : I'll Always Return
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“I’ll catch you later, Hermione,” Ron said awkwardly, before stalking off in the direction of the Great Hall.
“Oh, okay, see you later,” I responded, my reflexes delayed from a combination of lack of sleep and Draco’s appearance. He had already walked away quickly without hearing a word of it. I watched with a sigh as he disappeared down the corridor before I turned back to Draco.
“You look exhausted, are you all right?” he asked me, cocking his head to the side with raised eyebrows and a mildly concerned expression.
“I couldn’t sleep last night,” I sighed unhappily; I shrugged as Draco lifted his hand to my cheek, stroking it lightly as I blinked a few times to try to wake myself up.
“Any reason?” he asked me quietly. I shook my head, knowing that I couldn’t tell Draco about what Harry was up to at that very moment, no matter how badly I wanted to release the fear, anxiety and frustration that was building inside me by the second. He looked at me for a few moments before continuing on. We began to walk to the Great Hall hand-in-hand.
“Hermione, you have been acting really distanced lately, what’s really going on?” Draco said, his voice both cautious and worried.
“I’ve been stressed,” I said unconvincingly. It was the truth, but it wasn’t the whole truth. He eyed me suspiciously. “I’m worried about you,” I said, my voice shrinking to a mumble.
“You are?” he said, his expression softened. “Hermione, please don’t worry about me.”
“How could I possibly not worry about you?” I declared in shock.
“Because, I am going to be fine,” he said to me confidently. I furrowed my brows at him in confusion. Since when was he so self-assured?
“How do you know that?” I responded to him, not wanting to bring the subject of his potential injury- or worse - up, but I felt that I had no choice.
“Hermione…” he mumbled, rolling his eyes and drifting off.
“Seriously, Draco,” I said to him as we approached the entrance. “Do you have any idea what is next for you in this, this process?” I asked him forcefully, demanding answers. He seemed taken aback by my tone.
“No, but-” he started.
“But nothing!” I responded to him, my voice rising to compensate for the steadily rising chatter of the students around us. “You can’t tell me not to worry about you when I have to worry every day that you will here one second and then gone the next!”
As I drew in a long, staggered breath, I gave him a small window of opportunity to give his thoughts, but he didn’t take them. Instead, he stood there, watching me carefully. I couldn’t help but release so much of my anxiety on him, not that he hadn’t asked for it with his bloody ridiculous comment. When he made no signs of speaking, I continued.
I took a step closer to him and lowered my voice. “I want you to watch out for yourself. I want you to be careful. Just because nothing has happened to you in the past month doesn’t mean that you can stand there and pretend like you are confident about what may be coming in the future. I know you understand how bloody serious this is, so stop acting as though you can look me dead in the eyes and pretend not to care…or fear…what unknown things may be coming in the future. Don’t do that to me, because I am terrified. I am terrified that you are going to get hurt, or worse, without me ever being able to say goodbye to you! I am terrified of what is going to become of us after everything happens and the process is complete. If I am sure of anything it is that I am not letting another person just walk into danger like that. So get off of your fucking ego and take this as seriously as I am!” I finished my sentence with a swift nod.
I had spoken so fast that I was sure Draco’s head was spinning with all of the thoughts I had just thrown at him. I had moved so close to his face that he could have kissed me in that moment; in fact, he looked as though he wanted to, perhaps to stop me from talking in case I was planning on reciting him another speech. To his apparent relief, I retracted away from him. He smoothed his hair out by running his fingers slowly through his white-blonde mane. We stared at each other for a few moments, and I was impatiently waiting for his reply. I wanted to hear something from him. Something that would let me know that he understood my feelings. When he didn’t respond, my chest heated up in anger.
“I will see you in class,” I shot at him angrily before turning and stalking towards my seat across from Ron at our table. I didn’t look back once; I wasn’t sure how he was taking my rant to him, but I hoped that parts of it, at the very least, had gotten through to him. I sat down and said hello to Ron and quickly filled up my plate. I looked at me with raised eyebrows.
He looked at me seriously for a few moments, and then chuckled when I stared back at him. “What, did you just finish yelling at Draco or something?” he asked me.
I finished chewing my toast and placed the remainder of it back on the plate. “Why would you think that?” I asked him while leaning forward.
“Your face is all red,” he responded, gesturing at me with his fork before shoving it into his mouth, “and your lips are doing that twitchy thing they do when you are pissed off.” I tried not to smile as he continued to chuckle softly, refusing to give and telling him that he was right. I couldn’t be sure that he was laughing only at my flushed cheeks and not at the inevitability of Draco’s embarrassment. Nonetheless, I wasn’t going to bring it up; the two of us were truly getting along again. I shrugged, trying not to look affected, and picked up the toast off of my plate to continue eating.
“So, have you given any thought to what to do about Harry?” Ron asked me quietly, checking on either side of him to make sure nobody was listening in.
“I don’t understand, how is he getting away with missing so much of his classes? Do you think McGonagall is in on it?” I asked him.
He shrugged, “I dunno, Dumbledore had to have tipped her off, or else he would be getting into a lot of trouble,” he said.
“Yeah, must be…” I responded, drifting off. I thought about how serious it would be if anyone ever found out, especially Draco. It would cause a rift between us, and even though I was currently being pulled in two different directions, I was absolutely certain about what side I was on. I turned to Ron, saying, “One thing is certain, though. We can’t go around telling anyone.”
Ron paused in the middle of chewing, looking at me intently. He swallowed and took a deep breath. “We can’t go telling Draco, you mean,” he corrected me seriously. I raised my eyebrows at him.
“We can’t tell anyone,” I responded, angry that he was twisting my words. Then again, he wasn’t stupid, and he knew Draco’s family’s involvement in the Dark Arts. Maybe he had figured out that Draco was going to fulfill the family expectations after all.
“But specifically Draco, right?” Ron said harshly. I searched his face for some sort of answer as to what had made him so angry all of a sudden. Maybe I had spoken too soon to say that we were beginning to return to normal friendship again. I stared at him for a few moments longer.
“Ron…why are you turning this into an issue about Draco? This is supposed to be about Harry,” I returned to him with equal harshness.
“It’s about both of them. You don’t want him finding out just in case he is the prick he truly is who would run off and tell his Death Eater father. Right?”
“What the hell, Ronald?” I asked him.
“Even you don’t fully trust him!” he said with a full mouth, “or else you wouldn’t have just told me to keep my mouth shut. Who would I have possibly told? No one, that’s who!”
“I do to trust him!” I responded indignantly.
Ron continued to shake his head, making my hands begin to shake in anger and frustration. “No you don’t. You are afraid he is going to betray you like you betrayed Harry and I!”
I looked at him with an open mouth, there was nothing I could possibly say to him in response: it was hopeless. Ron was going to be stubborn, difficult and impossible to talk to no matter how many times I tried to reconcile with him. We couldn’t be friends until he one hundred percent accepted Draco and I. He, of course, was still extremely bitter about it.
“Why do you always have to fight with me?” I asked him quietly, unable to defend myself or Draco anymore.
He looked at me angrily. “Because every time I look at you, I see you with him,” he mumbled resentfully.
I gulped once before standing up and gathering my things. “Goodbye, Ronald,” I said nonchalantly before turning on my heel and walking. I sat down in my Charms classroom early and set out all of my supplies for the first class of the term. I was happy be back in such a setting, but I wished that I wasn’t in such a bad mood.
I used the silence to my advantage, closing my eyes and focusing on the resolution of all of the problems that were going on. Draco hopefully would agree with me after having time to think himself, but there was no hope with Ron, so I decided with a huff that I wouldn’t bother trying to make him understand anymore. When he was ready to become my friend again, we would both know. I was sick of wasting so much energy trying to have him forgive me when he truly hadn’t yet. It was better this way.
Classmates slowly filtered in, and when the classroom was nearly full, Professor Flitwick began classes. I filled out parchment rapidly with my quill as the professor outlined the term for us. Draco waltzed in about five minutes into class, placing his hand softly on my back as he slid into his seat. I wasn’t sure if I should look at him or not, but when I did, I was happy with my decision.
He smiled at me, with a mixture of happiness, sorrow and apology on his face. I knew that he had thought about what I said. “Look, I’m sorry,” he said to me.
Before I could open my mouth, I heard Flitwick’s voice to my right. “Mr. Malfoy, after showing up late to my class, I expect you to sit down quickly and pay attention, not distract others,” he chirped.
“Sorry, Professor,” Draco said after clearing his voice. He immediately began to sort out his parchment and quill and looked up at the professor intently. I watched him for a few moments, testing to see if he would break his concentration from the lesson, but he wouldn’t. We continued through the day, walking hand-in hand to all of our classes. We talked, and I even admitted to him the doubts and worries I would have when I thought about what would happen to him, and he admitted he was just as scared as I was. It was comforting and more terrifying than before knowing that he felt the same as I did.
When it was time for Potions, entered the classroom early and sat down in our usual seats. Professor Warnock came in right after us, and when I turned to greet him, I noticed that he was staring at our interlocked fingers.
“Mr. Malfoy, Miss Granger,” he said with a nod to the two of us.
“Hello Professor,” I responded to him with a small smile. We talked about our vacations for a few minutes until students began to enter the classroom. Warnock turned towards the students, looked around and then leaned into us.
“I am happy you two worked things out,” he said to us sincerely. His statement took me aback, but then I remembered that he had seen the two of us before we gave in to each other.
My mind wandered to the detention, where Draco and I had sat opposite one another in anger and confusion.
“Thank you professor,” Draco said with a crooked smile as I met eyes with him. I turned back to Professor Warnock, and he gave me a confident smile. I felt so much affection for him and was grateful for his kind-heartedness. I closed my eyes in response to the sweet kiss Draco placed right on my temple.
The next few days were better now that Draco and I had talked about the impending fear that the both of us were feeling overwhelmed by, but it in no way diminished the worries I was having. Harry returned after being absent for four days, and I was so happy when I saw him that I threw my arms and held on for much longer than what was considered socially acceptable. I decided to keep my mouth shut about the Horcruxes until he had settled in and finished catching up on the loads of homework he had to do.
Right after dinner, Harry and I returned to the common room and began working diligently on his Charms homework: twelve inches of parchment on the function of the Caterwauling Charm and the pros and cons of its use. He was clearly exhausted, which was only hindering his ability to function and write. He couldn’t even remember what the charm was, so I had to remind him that it causes anyone who enters the perimeter of an area to set off a high-pitched shrieking sound. I had already finished the essay, and it was not difficult at all, but a combination of mental and physical exhaustion had to put a toll on your ability to concentrate, so it explained Harry’s lack of abilities.
“Oh, Harry, you spelt Caterwauling wrong,” I said to him, trying to maintain my calm and not lose my temper with him. He crossed out the word furiously with a sigh and continued to write. After a few more minutes of his scribbling and my reading over his shoulder, he sat up in his chair, stretching out his back.
“All right, what’s next?” he asked me. I looked at the assignment rubric that I had copied off of Professor Flitwick’s board the day we were told about the essay.
“You have to describe real-life applications of the charm, and then you are done,” I said, and judging by the look on his face, I was almost as grateful as he was that he was nearing the end.
He wrote down an example the charm’s usefulness to avoid intruders, and when his quill stopped moving, he looked up at me. “Any other ideas for this section?” he asked me quietly after yawning. The circles under his eyes were so dark that I thought he was going to fall asleep right in front of me.
“Perhaps you can describe how it can protect certain items or properties, or maybe to keep others out of danger?” I responded to him, trying not to give the exact examples I used in my own essay.
He mumbled something incoherent before returning to his essay writing. I sat there in the silence, quite satisfied with his explanations that I read as he wrote them. I watched him carefully, and when he finally set down his quill, I nodded in approval of his essay.
“Thanks so much,” he said to me, stretching out his tired body, “and now I can finally go to sl-” he said, but he was cut off by Ron’s sudden entrance.
“Hermione!” Ron called from behind me. I stood up immediately and turned to face him; he was out of breath and was holding a crumpled piece of parchment paper in his hand.
“What is it?” I asked him when he didn’t say anything further; he was trying to catch his breath. The last time I had seen Ron was in the Great Hall when we were finishing dinner; he told Harry and I absentmindedly that he would be staying in the Great Hall, and when had I turned to leave, he had been talking animatedly to a strange girl with long hair and bright eyes. I tried not to have any emotions towards the seemingly harmless act, so I threw myself into conversation with Harry on our way back to the common room. I hadn’t thought about it since.
“This…is for you,” he said to me, holding out the piece of parchment. I stood for a few moments, staring at him in confusion and lack of understanding.
“Who is it from?” I asked him, slowly walking towards him.
“Its from…Draco,” he said, and as soon as the name slipped from his mouth, I no longer had any desire to ask how or when he had received the note. I walked towards him quickly and tore it from his hands, my mind racing as I fumbled to open it without ripping it. My eyes fell upon a much messier version of Draco’s writing, and I promptly concluded that he had been in a rush while writing it.
Come to the Slytherin common room as soon as possible, and try to get in unnoticed. If you are not here in five minutes, I will be outside to find you. I have to leave, so I will be packing in the boy’s dormitory at the top of the staircase on the left. Hurry. I love you.
P.S. Slytherins are supreme
I let out a whimper as I read, my fears confirmed and stumbled towards the door. It was all happening sooner than I thought; Draco was going to be leaving me again. I read the note over and over again, not understanding what the last part of the letter meant.
“Harry, can I please borrow your cloak?” I asked urgently. He said yes and hurried up the staircase without another word. I looked up at Ron. “When did you get this?”
“Only a few minutes ago. I was walking Elle back to her dormitory and Draco ran up to me and told me to find you quickly, so I ran here because this is where you told me you would be,” he explained, and I nodded in response. I didn’t know what I was going to do, or what tragic words Draco was going to say to me when I found him.
When Harry returned with the cloak, I thanked him sincerely and ran as quickly as possible down the quiet hallways towards the Slytherin dormitories. When I was sure the coast was clear, I threw the cloak on and walked towards the painting of the Slytherin Witch in the dungeon corridor.
I barely had any time to think, but I knew in my heart that Draco was leaving to complete the transformation to the Dark Arts. Everything about the future was foggy and frightening as I walked towards the witch.
She seemed to have noticed that someone was there, most likely due to my heavy breathing, and I looked around to see if there were any Slytherins that I could slip in behind, but the corridor was completely silent.
“Password?” she mumbled skeptically, staring as though she was looking through me, her thick, unruly eyebrows furrowing.
I unfolded the note and looked at it again, finally coming to realization about what the last part of the letter was referring to.
“Slytherins are supreme,” I whispered confidently, and although the woman jumped in shock, she allowed me to pass through.
As soon as I entered the Slytherin dormitories, I could hear my heart beating loudly. The Slytherin common rooms could hardly compare to the Gryffindor common room. The design of the room reminded me of that of a cathedral, except they employed snakes rather than gargoyles. All of the furniture was black leather and seemed extremely stiff. There were students everywhere, and I was awfully worried about running into someone or revealing myself accidentally. I located the left staircase and edged along the walls slowly, avoiding any passerby’s that I would otherwise collide with. I had to press myself to the wall on my way up the stairs as Crabbe waddled by my, grunting at a smaller Slytherin who was in his path.
When I finally reached the doorway, I wasn’t sure how to go about entering, knowing that it would be strange for a door to open without anyone coming in or going out. I decided to go for it despite its oddness to anyone inside, knowing that I had limited time to spend with Draco and find out where he was going. I entered the dormitory and laid my eyes on Draco, I wanted to jump out and grasp onto him, but the familiar voice of Goyle made me realize that we weren’t alone. The two of them turned towards the door and I watched both of them closely. Although Goyle looked dumbfounded, I knew that Draco knew it was me who had just entered.
“That’s weird,” Goyle said, getting up and shutting the door after checking to see if there was anyone outside. I seemed to have distracted him from asking Draco something, and when he was finished inspecting the door, he turned to him and continued. “So where is your father taking you?” he asked in his scruffy tone.
“He didn’t say, but something tells me it involves you-know-what,” Draco responded in a falsetto that only I could recognize.
I walked over to Draco slowly as they continued to talk, trying not to make the floorboards creak as I went along the edge of the room and wedged my way behind bedposts until I reached Draco’s; he had a small trunk on his bed, which he was filling with clothes and other loose items. I sat down slowly on the bed next to his trunk so that I was looking up at him as he stuffed more clothing into the small space. He looked over in my direction in response to the slight squeaking of the mattress as I sat on top of it. I studied his face from the comfort of my cloak. They continued to talk about Draco’s small break from school until Draco cut him off.
“Hey, I need to finish packing, why don’t you go downstairs?” Draco said with undertones of demand in his voice. Goyle blinked a few times out of surprise but the nodded and mumbled incoherently as he walked out and shut the door behind him. Draco pulled his wand out of his pocket as Goyle walked out, but I was already one step ahead of him.
“Colloportus,” I whispered quietly as I pointed my wand at the lock.
Draco turned towards me, startled from hearing my voice as he tucked his wand away.
“Hermione?” he mumbled, looking right through me. I was unable to form any words, certain that doing so would take him away from me sooner. If he couldn’t find me, he wouldn’t be willing to leave, right? My childish logic was all I could manage as I sat completely still in the overwhelming silence.
He took a step in my direction and began to feel around for the cloak that I was still hiding under. I watched his hand glide against the fabric of the deep green bedspread until he touched my knee. I saw a small, crooked smile spread on his face, and he kneeled before me, pressing both of his hands on my thighs. I watched his beautiful face, hoping it was not the last time I would see it, trying to stop the tears that were beginning to well in my eyes. It was a strange feeling, knowing that he couldn’t see me, and as he grabbed the fabric of the cloak and began to pull it off of me, I realized that I would finally have to face him, even though I had been watching him for the past few minutes. The cloak slipped off of my face and fell into my lap between Draco and I, revealing my flushed cheeks and watery eyes.
He looked at me with a woeful expression, and I couldn’t keep the tears from falling as I recognized the fear in his eyes. Draco slowly reached up and pushed strands of hair away from my face, his touch gentle and nervous. He held onto my hands, not once taking his eyes off of me. “It’s going to be okay.”
I pressed my lips together and looked away from him briefly, and then I shook my head. “No it isn’t,” I responded, my voice cracking, as Draco lifted his hands to my cheeks and tried to comfort me. He watched me closely, knowing there was nothing he could say to me to make it better. I held his face in my hands as he held mine, the tears streaming down my face. I pressed my forehead to his softly.
“This is it, isn’t it?” I asked him, my voice almost incoherent through the tears and quivering voice. Our faces were close, but my tears were blurring my vision so that his features were difficult to read. He didn’t answer me, and this only made it worse. My crying turned into full weeping, as his expression didn’t need words for him to tell me that he was going to become a Death Eater. I could tell he was trying to be strong, but I could see right through the wall he was putting up.
“Hermione, please,” he said to me, trying to maintain his calm. I continued to sob, covering my face with my hands, my fear for his life increasing by the second.
He slowly got off of his knees and slid onto the bed, pushing me gently onto my back. He was facing me, lying on his stomach beside me, his hands still holding my face. He brought his lips gently to mine, which were quivering violently as I wept. He sat and let me cry for a few moments, and when I calmed slightly, he tried to talk to me again. He rested his chin against my chest and slowly pulled my hands away from my face. I looked at the ceiling, unable to face him.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled to him through sniffles.
“No. Don’t apologize to me, ever. You are the one who deserves the apology. Look at what I’m doing to you,” he responded miserably. I didn’t say anything to him for a few moments as I wiped the wetness from my face.
“Where are you going?” I asked quietly, trying to maintain composure.
“I don’t know, I got a post from my father saying to be ready in an hour. That was it. But he could come here at any moment, so I need to keep packing,” he said, his eyes drifting towards his trunk. I almost lost it again.
“When are you going to come back?” I asked. He sighed softly.
“You know neither of us can answer that question,” he stated simply.
“Are you ever going to come back?” I asked miserably. The words escaping from my mouth before I had the chance to swallow the persisting thoughts in my head.
“I promise I will,” he said, staring into my eyes until I was sure he meant it with all of his heart. I sat up slightly by resting on my elbows.
“How do you know that?” I asked him, letting another tear slide down my cheek. He pressed his lips into a tight line as I said this, and I could see him following the path of the tear down my cheek with his eyes.
I knew it was paining him to watch me cry, but I couldn’t hide it. He became overwhelmed with a look of determination. He sat up until he was kneeling on the bed in front of me, and he slid his hands along the line of my jaw until he was gently grasping either side of my face. His presence was making quiver in anticipation more than crying had made me shake. He stared into my eyes.
“Because, I love you. And I will always come back for you. No matter where I go, I’ll always return,” he answered simply. I wanted to fight back. I wanted to tell him that there was no proof that loving me would make any difference in the face of Voldemort. But somehow in that moment, as he leaned in and kissed me passionately, I believed him.
I lay flat on my back as I wrapped my arm around his neck. His kisses were passionate, yet gentle, as if he was afraid of hurting me. When he slowed and pulled away, I knew I would have to return to reality. He was leaving, and I wanted him to come back, and I just had to have faith that I would see him again.
He pressed his forehead to mine, his eyes still closed and whispered to me. “I have to go.”
“Okay,” I fumbled out, before tilting my head up to press my lips to him again. I ran my fingers through his hair and brought them to the sides of his face as I pulled away. I took every moment I could to memorize the lines of his face, the depths of his grey eyes, and the way his lips pursed right after he pulled his lips away from mine. As he slowly got off of me and turned away, I felt like I was already forgetting what I had just tried to encode in my memory. I gathered the invisibility cloak in my hands and prepared to put it on as he closed the trunk on his bed and pulled it onto the floor. I stood next to him and took his hand.
“Come on, I’ll start to walk you back to your dormitory,” he said to me quietly. I nodded to him, and began to throw the cloak over myself.
“Wait,” he said quickly, grasping onto the cloak and taking a step closer to me. He held onto my face again, like he always did, but this time his eyes were tracing all over my face as if he was memorizing just like I was. The smallest of smiles broke across his face. “I can barely say goodbye to you, even though you were still going to be standing right beside me under that cloak,” he said in a desperately depressed tone. I couldn’t move as he gave me one last soft kiss on the lips; it was too depressing to move, speak, or function. Without him, I wasn’t whole.
He slowly let go of my face, and reached for the cloak, this time covering me with it himself. I didn’t break eye contact with him until the cloak was over my entire body and I knew that he could no longer see that the tears had welled up in my eyes again and were now silently falling down my face.
We walked out of the dormitories and down the steps towards the common room, where many people had now gathered. I walked carefully behind Draco, making sure to interfere with neither him nor the people around us. When we had enough room in the corridor, I took one of his hands and grasped it tightly as we walked in the direction I had come from. I cherished my moments with him, knowing that I could just be there and absorb his presence. My time was cut short by the curt voice of Lucius Malfoy.
“Draco?” he said in a harsh and cold tone.
“Yes father, I’m here,” he said, after turning around so quickly that I almost tripped. I grasped onto his hand tighter as my eyes fell upon the terrible man who had been the catalyst for so much of Draco’s stress.
“Well, what are you waiting for? Let’s go,” he said impatiently.
Draco lingered by my side for a few moments, and I grasped onto his hand in response to his ambivalence. He dared to look to my side for a few seconds. I tried not to gasp when I saw the fear in his eyes. I wanted to give him some sort of knowledge that I thought it would be okay. I lifted my head towards him and planted a soft kiss on the side of his cheek, and his immediate response to it informed me that he had felt it despite the barrier of the thick fabric.
He took my affection well, and slowly drew away from me and walked towards his father. When our hands separated, I wanted to run after him and grasp onto him, but my feet felt rooted at the spot.
When he was almost out of sight, he stole a quick glance in my direction. I didn’t know why he bothered, but a part of me wished that I could have stepped out from under the invisibility cloak and given him the proper goodbye he deserved.
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