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Chapter 17 : Christmas
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A round halo of condensation blossomed across the train carriage’s large glass window as Hermione Granger gazed steadily out at the passing landscape. Her lips tingled with peppermint balm and her cheeks pinked from the warmth of the crowded train. A muted bubble seemed to engulf her; she showed no sign of acknowledgement to her surroundings. “If you don’t mind, I was thinking we should do more of this from now on…”
“What?” she said quickly, startled from her reverie and turning to face the rest of the compartment.
“You looked like you’d gone ga-ga for a moment there,” said Ginny, her freckly brow knitted in consternation. “You okay?”
“Err, yes, of course, I’m fine.” She straightened up and smoothed her sweater, her fingertips lingering over her stomach, flat and unsuspicious.
Harry and Ron were partaking in the customary train ride’s chess tournament. Ginny was sitting cross-legged, reading Witch Weekly. Crookshanks was peering deviously from underneath the lid of his whicker basket. And Hermione was caught in a terrific frenzy of emotion as she reviewed, detail by detail, the happenings of the previous night.
I… we… we kissed. Draco Malfoy and I kissed.
She closed her eyes. Her thoughts were an absolute heap of endless tangents and incomplete ideas and emotions. What did she think? She hardly knew herself.
Somehow, over the course of this rather bizarre school year, Draco Malfoy and I have become friends. And… I suppose before either of us realized even that, we became more than friends. Dear god.
The kiss the night before had been…oh who was she to deny it? Breathtaking. The kiss had been absolutely breathtakingly wonderful.
So… if I will admit to that, why the hell did I run?
And it was true, she had run. Standing there on the dock atop the frozen lake, kissing the handsome Draco Malfoy, something very promptly snapped inside of her. She pulled away, she took a good long look at him, and she turned swiftly and walked away. She didn’t even look back.
Now she was on the train, heading to the Burrow for a long Christmas holiday and Draco Malfoy was nowhere in sight.
“Erm, I need to use the loo and stretch my legs for a bit,” she said swiftly, standing up rather unexpectedly.
“Okay thanks for the update,” Ginny replied, smirking into her magazine. The boys paid no mind.
Hermione nodded and squeezed her way around the chessboard to the sliding compartment door. The passing hall of the Hogwarts Express was, as usual, filled with giggly students leaning out of their compartments and chatting animatedly about the upcoming holiday. Hermione squeezed between them with some effort, and thanked Merlin she had floo-ed to Dumbledore’s office that morning to ask for her concealment charm. He had seemed curious at first as to why Malfoy hadn’t performed it for her, but she wrote it off as an excuse to say goodbye to the Headmaster before the holidays. He seemed to have bought it.
Walking as quickly as space would allow, Hermione worked her way up the train in search of an empty compartment. She needed to be alone. Finally, practically to the conductor’s station, she found an unoccupied room and hurried inside. She rushed quickly over to push open the window and take great gulps of winter air.
“Well. Fancy seeing you here.”
Hermione spun rapidly around to see the one person she had been avoiding all morning sitting in the corner of her empty carriage.
“Draco,” she said in surprise, under her breath.
“Right, I’ll just be going,” he said quietly, mouth set in a rigid line, eyes not making contact with her.
“No, Draco, wait!” she stuttered, surprising even herself with her initiative. She placed her body in front of the door.
He sighed, looking away as she made her attempt to block him, “Hermione, come on…”
“No. You…you shouldn’t leave,” she said feebly. “Please. Don’t leave.”
For the first time, he looked up into her eyes, testing her resolution. She stared him down.
“And why shouldn’t I leave?” he asked patiently. “You, after all, always leave on your own accord, it seems.”
“I – I’m sorry,” she said, her voice cracking a little. “Draco, I… I don’t know why I ran.”
“You don’t know why?” he said, giving an unconvincing laugh and running his hands through his hair. “Really? Because it seemed quite obvious to me.”
Her eyebrows crumpled in confusion as she watched him pace around the small compartment. “I really don’t–”
“Come on, Granger. Don’t try to let me down gently.”
“Don’t call me ‘Granger,’ Draco!” she retorted, suddenly very confused. “And what do you mean ‘let you down gently’? What are you talking about?”
“Why else would you have run?” he said, looking at her incredulously. “You realized you don’t fancy me quite the same way and you went running back to the party to dance with Krum or Potter or Merlin knows who!” His cheeks were reddening and he spun to look out the window, turning his back on her and resting his forehead against the cool glass.
Hermione stood dumbfounded in the doorway, her mouth slightly open in shock. He thinks I don’t like him… he thinks I rejected him.
She took a few tentative, quiet steps forward until she was standing beside him, looking at his hard profile.
“I didn’t run because I don’t like you,” she whispered, watching his face for a reaction to her words. “In fact, it was quite the opposite.”
His eyebrows furrowed ever so slightly and his jaw muscles tightened.
“Draco?” she began when he made no response.
He turned quite quickly to face her. “Are you sure you’re not just saying that?”
She looked up at him in surprise and blushed before saying, “Yes, I’m quite sure I’m not ‘just saying that.’”
A shadow of a smile flickered across his face and it was her turn to look out the window in embarrassment.
“I have no idea why you would think such a thing in the first place,” she began very quickly, her voice growing in nervous frustration. “I made it obvious that I liked you! Kissing you like that. I don’t know what I was thinking. That was the problem. I practically threw myself on you–”
“Hermione?” Draco asked, patiently smiling at her side.
“Like a wanton hussy! That’s why I ran. Because I was freaking out! You were being all… you and then I was just me, but then we were kissing. And it didn’t make sense! You kissing me. That just doesn’t make sense–”
“Hermione?” Draco asked again, his grin growing broader as he listened to her rambling.
“I mean, why would YOU want to kiss ME? Tell me that, wise guy! It makes perfect sense that I ran! And then you thinking I didn’t LIKE you? You really must be crazy if you couldn’t tell that I liked you… I made it painfully, embarrassingly obvious all throughout the night. What with the dancing, and the toasting, and your bloody amazing aftershave! God I was practically holding a sign screaming ‘Draco Malfoy I fancy you!’”
“HERMIONE!” Draco bellowed, turning her by the shoulders to face him, smiling brilliantly at her.
He put his hand gently under her chin and leaned down to kiss her softly again. She stood frozen, arms stiff at her side.
“That got you to shut up…” he mused, grinning at her.
She glowered at him for a moment, but this glower soon turned into a smile, and before either of them knew it, they were collapsed on the seats in unstoppable peals of laughter. Every time they looked at each other more laughter burst forth until they were panting, clutching their sides, and leaning against one another weakly.
“Draco…” she said, her voice tired.
“I really, really like you.”
He grinned. “I really, really like you too, Hermione.”
As they drove up the winding, snowplowed path Hermione couldn’t help but think the Burrow belonged inside a snowglobe. Grey smoke curled out of its many chimneystacks, snow frosted the rooftop, and light glowed invitingly from within its many windows.
Mr. Weasley pulled the car around to the front porch and, with a shriek preceding her arrival, Mrs. Weasley came tottering out the front door in her snow boots to greet them all.
“Oh welcome home!” she cried, pulling Ron and Ginny into an enveloping hug and then Harry and Hermione. “I’m so glad you made it. Arthur! I trust you drove very carefully through this weather?”
Mr. Weasley had indeed driven carefully – but not precisely without any magical aide.
“Arthur… Are those wheels HOVERING?”
Harry and Hermione exchanged looks and headed quickly indoors.
“’Ermione!” came a throaty voice from the stairs. Hermione turned just in time to see an enormous woman with silvery blonde hair heading at her with arms open.
“Fleur!” she said in surprise. “Wow you look amazing! How much longer till you’re due?”
“He is due in six weeks,” said Flour, smiling serenely as she put a hand on her stomach. “Bill and I are so excited.”
“I’m sure,” said Hermione, smiling weakly in return. “A little boy. Wow.”
“I ‘eard you were ‘aving the concealment charm – but eet is still so strange seeing you like this! You are nearly six months, no?”
“Six months today, actually,” she replied. She hadn’t thought about it before, but it was odd being concealed. Especially now that she was back at the Burrow. She laid a hand on her flattened stomach, but it felt unnatural setting it there and she quickly removed it.
“Ah well tomorrow the charm will be gone and we can see what you really look like!” she cried with a glittering smile, before ushering them from the crowded entry into the sitting room.
The Burrow was the same as ever. Crowded, noisy, and absolutely wonderful. After yelling her share at Mr. Weasley, Mrs. Weasley had stormed into the kitchen and cooked up a delicious meal of roast beef, boiled potatoes and rhubarb crumble for dessert. They sat around the long, scrubbed wood table late into the evening, talking, laughing and playing cards. Hermione said her goodnights just before midnight, and made the slow journey up to Ginny’s bedroom on the first floor.
She sighed as she closed the door, leaning up against it and closing her eyes. Without opening them, she felt for the pop of her stomach revealing itself, and smiled as she placed her hands on her rounded belly.
Opening her eyes, she noticed at once that she was not alone in the small bedroom. On the windowsill sat a tall, bronze eagle owl, a square envelope clasped in its beak. She approached it slowly and it blinked its large amber eyes at her. Close enough to read her name on the envelope, she immediately recognized Draco’s hand, and hurried to open it.
It’s weird not having your right across the corridor from me. I miss you. What have you done to me?
Hermione read the brief lines through what felt like a thousand times. He missed her. She smiled and pressed the note to her chest and then pulled some loose parchment out of her bag and scrawled her reply.
It’s weird thinking you won’t be banging through my bedroom door any moment… I wish you would.
Just as she had finally tied the note to the owl’s left foot and nudged him out the window, Ginny tip-toed into the room.
“Oh you’re still awake!” she cried, “I thought for sure you’d already be in bed.”
“Nope, still up!” said Hermione quickly, hoping she didn’t look too suspicious standing at the open window.
Ginny gave her a funny look. “Any particular reason you’re staring wistfully out the open window?”
“Nope. Nope,” Hermione replied awkwardly, snapping the window shut and bustling about to get her things ready for bed.
Ginny continued to watch her curiously. “Did you just get an owl?”
“What? No! What would make you think that?”
“Well now I know for sure you did,” Ginny laughed. “Hermione, WHAT is going on? You haven’t been telling me anything lately…”
“Nothing,” Hermione said weakly, finally looking her friend in the eye.
Ginny raised her eyebrows. Hermione caved.
“Fine. There may have been an owl,” she admitted sheepishly.
“From who?” asked Ginny, feigning ignorance.
Hermione pinched her lips. “I… I don’t know if I want to tell you that.”
Ginny turned sharply around and started unpacking her things.
“Ginny,” Hermione pleaded. “Come on.”
“No, Hermione. Don’t start that with me. All I do is show my undying support for you, even when you don’t ask for it. All I ask is that you share with me any small facet of your life, of what you’re thinking. But, no, you shut me out.”
The girls got ready for bed silently. Hermione feeling absolutely crestfallen that she had hurt Ginny in such a way, and yet still uncertain if she wanted to let her know about Malfoy. She lay down in the small cot next to Ginny’s bed, staring up at the ceiling in contemplation. Ginny had turned to face the wall, her back to Hermione.
“Malfoy kissed me,” she said quietly.
Ginny quickly turned on her back and stared up at the ceiling, “Yeah?”
“Yeah. And I kissed him back. And… Ginny?”
“I really like him.”
Ginny smiled, “I know.”
“Yeah, I’ve known for a while.”
“But I didn’t even know!” she said, turning on her side to face Ginny’s profile.
“Oh, I know. But it was so obvious,” said Ginny, turning on her side too.
“Do you…” Hermione began hesitantly, “Do you think it’s stupid of me to like him?”
Ginny wrinkled her brows, “No. Hermione, you of all people know he’s different now.”
“I know. I couldn’t tell if anyone else could see it.”
“Well, Harry and Ron can’t – and probably won’t for a long time,” said Ginny matter-of-factly.
“I really don’t want to have to hide this from them… but I don’t want to tell them either.”
“I know. Well, there’s no need to tell them now, is there? There’s no harm in waiting a while. Till we’re back at school at least.”
“I’m just glad you finally told me,” said Ginny smiling. “I was getting sick of having to pretend I didn’t know anything was going on!”
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you right away, Gin,” Hermione said earnestly. “I should’ve known you would be brilliant about it all.”
“Yes, you should have!” she said sternly before breaking out in giggles. “Hey, you didn’t tell me what he wrote?”
“Mmm?” asked Hermione, feeling pleasantly sleepy again now that she had resolved things with Ginny. “Oh, the owl. He said that he… missed me.”
Ginny smiled up at the ceiling. “Hermione, I have a good feeling about this.”
“Me too,” agreed Hermione quietly. And with that, both of the girls snuggled up in their covers and drifted off to sleep.
Hermione wrinkled her brows and hugged her pillow to her.
“Ginny,” she whispered, still half-asleep. A snore from the next bed told her Ginny was not awake.
She squinted open her eyes and looked about the small, dark bedroom.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
She rolled over and noticed a shadow in the window. Suddenly she was wide-awake. Wrapping her covers around her, she slipped out of bed and tip-toed over to the window. Grabbing her wand from Ginny’s desk, she carefully grabbed a portion of the drapes and then, pulling them back swiftly, pointed her wand out at…
She clapped a hand to her mouth to keep herself from screaming in surprise. Hovering on a broomstick outside Ginny’s bedroom window was Draco Malfoy.
Hermione dropped her blanket and fumbled quickly with the window latch.
“You came,” she said quietly, mouth open in shock.
“This is what you said you wanted,” he said, looking sheepishly at her. Draco wasn’t used to such grand gestures. Especially for a girl. He had never felt inclined to do something like this for someone, and yet, when he had read Hermione’s note, he couldn’t stop himself.
The corners of Hermione’s mouth slowly turned up into a huge smile, and he felt his face growing quite hot, especially for the wintry air surrounding him.
“Oh, aren’t you freezing out there?” she asked suddenly, getting over the shock of seeing him and moving onto worrying about practical matters like the weather.
“Warming spell,” replied Draco with a smirk, and, urging his broom closer to the window ledge, he held his hand out for her to join him.
“Oh, Merlin, I can’t get on that thing, I’m huge!” she said, panic tingeing her voice as she looked at the 30 foot drop down to the ground.
“Hermione, would I really let you fall?” he asked, looking at her with eyebrows raised.
She bit her lip, her mind furiously debating her desire to go with Draco and her desire to never, ever ride on a broomstick ever again.
“Alright,” she said hesitantly, “just let me go get my coat.”
“Coats aren’t necessary,” he said with a mischievous smirk. “Plus, I like you in what you’re wearing now.”
Hermione’s eyes widened and her cheeks burned scarlet as she looked down at her small, white nightgown. “Draco Malfoy!” she scolded in a whisper.
His grin widened and he reached his arm out to her again.
Checking to see if Ginny was still fast asleep, Hermione hesitantly climbed onto the window seat and then, firmly holding Draco’s hand, mounted the broom behind him.
“Wooooah!” said Draco, causing the broom to drop a few feet.
“Not funny!” she cried, desperately clinging to his waist.
Smiling back at her and putting a hand on top of her hands, he zoomed off, carrying them over the Weasley’s snow-topped orchard and through the frosty hills of Ottery St. Catchpole. Hermione expected bitter winter winds to be blowing her hair and chapping her lips, but Draco’s warming charm surround them in a bubble of hot air.
Hermione held tighter to Draco and willed herself to forget her fear of heights and simply take in the sight of snow-covered English village from her place 100 feet in the air.
They glided noiselessly over the sleepy town centre, looped around the church’s bell tower, darted between chimneys and lampposts, and circled the town’s towering Christmas tree. Moving towards the outskirts, Hermione admired the winding snow-laden lanes, the squat little cottages nestled into the hillside, and the great, white expanses of blanketed pastures.
After twenty minutes in the air, she began to wonder where Draco was taking her. Leaning forward so that her chin rested on his shoulder, she tickled her lips across his earlobe and whispered, “Are we there yet?”
Draco squeezed her hands as they lay on his stomach and said back, “Be patient, we’re almost there!”
And as he said it, they began to swoop lower, approaching a hilltop and a large, towering evergreen. Draco flew them right underneath its lowest branches, landing softly on the protected ground. He dismounted smoothly, Hermione clamoring off quickly while his back was turned. He pulled out his wand from his jacket pocket and, with a few silent flicks, conjured up a blanket and pulled her onto it.
Hermione lay down next to him, huddling up to his warmth. As much as she tried, she couldn’t get quite as to near to him as she would like – her stomach sat stubbornly in the way.
“I can’t believe you came,” she whispered, searching his cool grey eyes.
“I can’t believe you actually woke up,” he joked. “I was tapping on that window for ten minutes before you came to.”
“Ten minutes! I’m surprised you didn’t wake the whole house.”
“Well, good thing I picked the right window,” he said with a smile.
She looked up at him again, and was surprised to see him staring at her. She blushed. “I can’t believe you made me leave without my coat…”
“Are you cold?” he asked immediately, reaching for his wand.
“ No, no! I’m fine,” she amended quickly, “I just… look ridiculous.”
“Oh, fishing for compliments now are we, Granger?”
“What! No!” she said, looking up at him horrified.
“Too bad,” he said with a grin. “Because I’ve never seen you look so good…”
Hermione buried her face in his shoulder. “You’re full of it,” she muttered.
“Oh most definitely not,” he continued, smiling at her reaction. “Whenever I see you in your school uniform from now on I’m afraid I won’t be able to get the image of this lovely little thing out of my head. How it clings to –”
“OKAY!” she cried, slapping a hand across his mouth. “That’s enough!”
He kissed her palm. She laughed and poked him in the side. He fended her off and began tickling her mercilessly. She squirmed and kicked and wrestled for freedom and, finally, pinned him to the ground, straddling his stomach and holding his wrists. He smiled up at her.
“Going to have your way with me now, are you?”
“Oh you wish,” she said, tossing her hair over to one side and leaning down so her lips just barely brushed his.
“I do wish,” he replied, closing his eyes and waiting for her to kiss him.
Hermione smiled gloatingly as she watched him waiting to be kissed. “Hmm, maybe later, not really in the mood – ” she began in feigned indifference, but, before she could finish her sentence, Draco’s eyes snapped open and he easily rolled her over and regained the position of power.
“You were saying?” he asked as she stared up at him, gobsmacked.
Without hearing another word, he put his hands in her hair and pulled her into a kiss. They kissed passionately, deeply, his hands cradling her neck and her lower back, holding her to him. Her heartbeat thrummed in excitement, her arms wrapped around him instinctively. Quite suddenly, a flurry of small kicks came from her abdomen, rippling across the surface. Draco smiled into her lips and pulled back slightly to look at her.
“Seems as if someone’s awake,” he said fondly, moving his hand to rest on top of her belly.
“It must have been my heartbeat,” she said, slightly out of breath. “It’s racing.”
Draco lowered his ear to her chest and then looked up at her in surprise. “Merlin! I didn’t realize I got you that excited!”
“Oh shush!” she said, playfully hitting him.
“Well, that’s enough kissing – I don’t want to overexcite the baby,” he said matter-of-factly, sitting up.
“Humph. Again, no fair,” grumbled Hermione, turning over on her side and rubbing a hand across her belly.
Draco watched her intently, smiling when he noticed she wouldn’t make eye contact with him. “Hermione…”
“What?” she mumbled, still not looking at him.
“Nothing!” she snapped. “Absolutely nothing. I understand you don’t want to touch me. I get it. I spend most of my time with my stomach concealed and now that it’s out, you are reminded that I actually am pregnant and don’t find me desirable anymore. That’s fine!”
“That’s absolutely not fine!” he said, suppressing laughter at her hasty conclusions. “Why would you be fine with that?”
“Because I understand. I look disgusting. Fat and disgusting.”
“Oh Hermione,” he said, shaking his head.
She rolled over to hide her face from him.
“Hey! Don’t you turn away.” He scooted next to her and lay down, putting his arm protectively around her belly and his mouth near her ear. “I’ll have you know that I find your sexiness almost maddening. Seeing you each morning has definitely exercised my control, but, quite honestly, some mornings I’ve found it nearly impossible to not ravage you right then and there on my bedroom floor. No one has ever managed to get this response from me. All day long my mind is plagued with thoughts of you and your exquisite curves, your breasts, your perfectly round bum… Don’t ever think I don’t desire you.”
Hermione’s face went tomato red as she listened to Draco whisper in her ear. As he began kissing her neck, right below her earlobe, she turned onto her back and looked up at him.
“Really?” she asked quietly.
“Really,” he replied emphatically. “And god when you blush it just makes it all the worse.”
Hermione raised her hands to her cheeks in embarrassment. “I just… I can’t believe you think that. And you’ve thought that for how long?”
Draco smiled and looked up in thought, “Well, I noticed something different from the very first night we were at Hogwarts – when you beat me mercilessly and we toppled over the couch together. You were such a charming creature!”
“You deserved it!”
“Maybe so,” he conceded with a grin, “But then, I would say it really took form on the night of your birthday.”
Hermione smiled softly in remembrance, “Really? I was ever-so embarrassed about that night.”
“Because of the crying?”
“Yes!” she said, putting a hand to her forehead, “and because you ignored me for a week after!”
“Ah, I’m sorry about that,” he said contemplatively. “You had been absolutely lovely that night, and that was the problem. That’s the only reason I avoided you.”
“I thought I had scared you,” she said quietly, “And I thought you were laughing about it with all your Slytherin lackeys!”
Draco stared at her, shocked and amused. “Granger, Granger! And they say you’re the smartest witch in our year!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she snapped.
“I made a promise to you, and to Dumbledore, that I wouldn’t reveal your pregnancy! How would I be able to tell that particular story to the Slytherins without doing so?”
“I don’t know… At the time I thought you were above such promises.”
“Well, in that case, I’m offended!” he said.
Hermione smiled and kissed him on the nose, “Forgive me?”
“You make it impossible not to,” he sighed.
She smiled to herself and let her fingers wander through his silky hair as she thought back to her birthday and the weeks that followed it. She recalled following him to the library that one day after potions. Where he proceeded to check out nearly every book available on Phasma Eturnus… she thought wistfully. Draco still didn’t know she knew about those and she didn’t feel like now was quite the time to broach the subject. They had done their patrol in Hogsmeade that same day – the patrol that led to him tailing her into the lingerie shop. She blushed at the memory of it and didn’t dare bring it up – she didn’t want to give Draco another excuse to talk about her. He’s full of rubbish as it is. The next notable thing to happen had been the Halloween party and there quasi-date. Had that really been his intention?
“Mmm?” he responded lazily, his eyes closed as she played with his hair.
“When you insisted we go to Parvati and Lavender’s Halloween party, were you asking me on a date?”
He opened his eyes and smiled cunningly to himself. “Maybe.”
“You were weren’t you?” she cried. “Dammit, Ginny was right.”
“The Weaselette knew?” he asked, laughing. “Goodness, you really must be daft in you didn’t pick up on it then.”
“Shush!” she cried, hitting his arm. “You were ever-so casual about it! How was I supposed to know?”
“Well, there was the whole fact that I asked you to go with me. Made pains to establish that we would be going together.”
“You certainly did not ask me to go with you! You told me I was going, and, as far as I could tell, we would just be going at the same time not necessarily ‘together’.”
Draco rolled his eyes, “You just like to make any excuse to not see what’s right in front of you.”
“Can you blame me?” she asked, pulling his face down to look at her, “Did you ever presume this would happen?”
“No,” he conceded with a smile, “but I obviously didn’t write it off as an impossibility.”
“Well, I did,” she admitted, staring up into the great firs’ web of branches. “The last thing I expected going into this year and knowing that I was pregnant was finding… a romantic interest. And you of all people!”
“What about me?” he asked with feigned incredulity.
“Oh, don’t give me that,” she responded, giving him a warning look as he tried to look innocently at her. “I mean, my healer told me some men find pregnancy attractive… It’s animal instinct, I suppose, but I never expected that of you.”
Draco was silent a moment. “You don’t honestly believe the only reason I am pursuing you as ardently as I am is because I’m experiencing an animalistic surge of protectiveness for you and your impending young?”
“Well, no, not entirely…”
Draco rolled her over and pinned her to the ground again.
“Hermione Granger,” he said in an authoritative voice. “My liking you is separate from and unrelated to your pregnancy. I like you, because Merlin we’ve been living practically on top of each other these last few months and, through it all, I’ve learned you are more than just a Gryffindor, a third of the Golden Trio and a goody-two-shoes. You’re this girl who puts me in place, who challenges me, who makes me laugh. You’re this…this person I never allowed myself to see before.”
Hermione stared up at him, at once incredibly touched by his words and incredibly worried. The fact of the matter was her baby was not just a hypothetical, separate from reality. Her baby was an actuality that they would both have to face. Had Draco considered that? Considered the fact that Hermione was not just one person anymore? She would never really be only one person ever again. She was now, intrinsically, linked to the baby growing inside of her.
“Why do you look so worried?” asked Draco, smoothing a hand over Hermione’s wrinkled brow and kissing her lips softly.
“I… I can’t ask you to do this…” she stuttered, pushing lightly against his chest so she could sit up.
“Do what?” he asked, confused.
Hermione stood up and walked over to the trunk of the tree, her arms crossed against her chest and her hand pressing to her forehead.
“This, Draco,” she said quietly, still facing away from him.
“I don’t understand…”
“This!” she cried weakly, turning around to face him and gesturing to her stomach. Her eyes were damp. “I can’t ask you to do this. I can’t. You’re only eighteen…”
“And what does that make you?” he asked softly.
“That doesn’t matter,” she said swiftly, shaking her head, “this isn’t a choice for me, but it is for you. I can’t let you do it.”
He stood up and ran an absent-minded hand through his hair before pressing his thumb and forefinger firmly against his brow.
“And that’s all for you to determine?” he asked, his voice noticeably harsher than before. “I don’t get any say in this? Is that right?”
“Hermione, do you realize what my life has been up until this year?”
She stared at him silently.
“It’s been black,” he said, his jaw clenching. “It’s been hate-filled and prejudiced and… empty.”
For once his face looked open, and the emotion she saw within it felt unbearable.
“I choose not to live that way ever again, Hermione. You helped me realize that, and, for that, I will never be the same. Do not tell me this is wrong. This is perhaps the only thing in my life that has ever been right.”
He looked at her determinedly as he spoke, half fearful that she would still reject him. Her face was contorted in thought, creases marring her forehead and brown eyes desperately searching gray ones.
She stepped forward tentatively, and reached for his hands.
“I don’t know if I feel right just jumping into this,” she said quietly, entwining her fingers in his. “Could we maybe try… dating first?”
He smiled as she looked up at him in earnest worry.
“I would like nothing better than the opportunity to court you, Hermione Granger,” he said with a grin. “I’ll prove it to you… It will be fun.”
A/N: Hi, guys =) Hope you enjoyed this latest installment after an admittedly long (long, long, long) break. Tell me what you think in the reviews! I'm ever-so-grateful to all of you! You make it such a pleasure to write.
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