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Chapter 4 : Keep It In The Shadows (Part 4)
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Keep It In The Shadows (Part 4)
“Hello, hello. What’s this?” Blaise grabbed the note off the edge of the desk before Draco could reach it, and read it aloud. “‘Might be late tonight – important meeting with Wilkes and Bainnes. Eight o’clock is better, is that alright? H.G.’ Well, well.” A wide smirk spread across Blaise’s face.
“I’ll have that back now, thanks,” Draco said calmly, holding out his hand.
“Not until I have the story, mate. Who, exactly, is this ‘H.G.’ person? And what, precisely, are you meeting for?” Draco kept his mouth shut; he knew speaking would only enhance Blaise’s enjoyment. “Well, I can guess at what your evening activities will consist of easily enough. The real question is – who else is on the guest list? …You might as well tell me, you know. I’ll figure it out eventually.” Draco just continued to glare at him. “No? Fine. Now let’s see… Wilkes and Bainnes would be Magical Creatures, right? So, H.G…. Well, I know it isn’t Herbert Gentries.” Blaise slanted a look at him. “Or is it?”
“Hardly,” Draco replied dryly, unable to stop one corner of his mouth from winging up. “The man is 90 if he’s a day.”
“Yes, well, he seemed pretty spry the last time I saw him.”
“You know, it’s amazing how much you seem to know about the people that work here, considering that you don’t.”
“It’s all about connections, mate. And don’t try to change the subject. Now, I’m guessing your companion for the evening is of the female persuasion. H.G., H.G. …” Blaise murmured to himself. Then he froze, a stunned look coming over his face. He turned to face Draco. “You’re having me on,” he said incredulously.
“What?” Draco asked innocently.
“You’re shagging Hermione Granger?”
Draco merely raised one eyebrow. “I’ll thank you to keep your voice down. The sound proofing spell for the walls is on the fritz.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“The walls malfunctioning? A couple of days – they’ll have it fixed soon enough.”
“You know what I meant,” Blaise snapped.
“Oh, Granger, you mean?” Draco shrugged nonchalantly. “About three months or so.”
“Three months?” Blaise hissed, all signs of teasing gone from his voice. “Have you lost your bloody mind?”
“This isn’t open for discussion, Blaise,” Draco said sharply, no longer even remotely amused. He had expected his friend’s shock, but not his censure. And he sure as hell didn’t appreciate it.
“Well, what do you expect me to say? Should I congratulate you?” he asked sarcastically, laying his hands on Draco’s desk. “Should I say ‘well done’?”
“You don’t have to say anything, as it’s really none of your concern.” He stood, grabbed the note from under Blaise’s hand, and tucked it in his pocket.
He isn’t bragging, Blaise realized. Normally, Draco would have smirked and been more than willing to boast over his conquest. The fact that he wasn’t, Blaise thought, was more worrying than anything else. “Sorry. I’m just… Look, I’m just trying to figure out what you’re thinking. This is Hermione Granger we’re talking about here – Gryffindor’s golden girl, best friend of one Harry Potter, you know, the big war hero. Hell, she’s a war hero.”
“I know who she is, Blaise.”
“Then you should think about what you’re doing.” Blaise shook his head in astonishment. He didn’t have to comment on Draco’s position – they were both well-aware what he and his family’s status had become post-war.
“I know what I’m doing.”
“I don’t think you do. Isn’t there someone other than her that you can get it off with?”
“Be careful, Blaise,” Draco said, his voice dangerously quiet. The tone of Draco’s voice and the look in his eyes unnerved Blaise more than he cared for.
“I just don’t want you to get in over your head, mate,” Blaise responded calmly, though he was worried that Draco was already farther in than he knew.
Draco sighed. He appreciated his friend’s concerns, but he was smarter than that – he had it under control. He knew what he was doing. “I’m not in over my head. Trust me.”
“Granger?” Draco came out of the kitchen, wiping his hands on a small white towel. His collar was undone, his sleeves were rolled up. He was barefoot. The look was purely domestic, and it sent a surprising tingle of lust sliding through her. It was a different tingle than she was used to. This was warmer, smoother. Gentler. It made Hermione uncomfortable, so she did what she always did when something about him made her uncomfortable that way – she dismissed it.
“Did you spill something?” she asked curiously, nodding at the towel in his hands. She put her work bag down just inside the door.
“Oh, er… no,” he said, flushing slightly and not quite meeting her eye. “I was, er… doing something.”
He’s embarrassed, Hermione thought to herself in amazement; she had never seen him embarrassed before. She’d seen him humiliated, she realized, remembering the ferret incident from their fourth year. But not embarrassed. “What were you doing?” she asked, her grin turning sly.
“Nothing. I, ah…” he rubbed the back of his neck and blew out a frustrated breath of air. “I was, er… I was washing the dishes, all right?”
“Without magic?” she asked in complete astonishment. She waited until he nodded self-consciously. “You? Washing dishes? Draco Malfoy was washing his own dishes without magic?”
“Our house elves always did it by hand,” he said defensively. “And they just don’t feel as clean when you use a spell. Besides, it’s a mindless chore – it’s good thinking time.”
“I’m sure it is,” she said, trying desperately to keep a straight face. She was barely able to keep herself from laughing.
“I’m so glad you find this so amusing,” he said sarcastically. “Now would you mind telling me why were shouting when you came in here?”
“Oh, right!” She put her hands on her hips and struck a triumphant pose. “You, sir, are looking at the new Assistant Head for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures!” she finished with a huge smile.
“Seriously?” he said, grinning widely at her.
“Wilkes and Bainnes just told me,” she confirmed. “That’s what the meeting was about. I’m the Assistant Head!”
Before he knew what he was doing, Draco had picked her up and wrapped his arms around her. Hermione’s stomach flipped over in the most incredible way, and without letting herself question it, she clung to him and pressed her face into his neck.
A hug – the most simple of embraces, and entirely uncharted territory.
When they finally broke apart, he said, “This is great. We have to celebrate.”
“Oh, I am way ahead of you there,” she said with a grin. She went over to her work bag and pulled out two bottles of Elvin champagne.
“Well, well, Granger. You certainly came prepared.”
She laughed and carried the bottles into the living room as he turned back to the kitchen to get glasses. When he came in, she had just managed to pop the cork. She poured for both of them, they clinked their glasses together, and Hermione tossed hers back triumphantly, reveling in the sensation of the bubbles bursting on her tongue.
“Jesus, Granger,” he said with a laugh. “It’s champagne, not Firewhiskey. You’re meant to savor it.”
“I am savoring it. Every single second of it. Oh, Draco,” she said, spinning away in an ecstatic circle. “I’m going to be able to approve laws. To speak for those who can’t. To form special committees and write legislation and… and… Merlin, a million other things that I’m too excited to even think of right now,” she said with a joyful laugh. She placed a hand on her heart. “I’m really, really going to make a difference now.”
Draco started at the use of his first name. She never used it unless they were in bed, and even then it was rare. It didn’t matter, he told himself. He took a sip to wet his suddenly dry throat. “I thought you already made a difference.”
“Well, yes,” she said, turning back to him. “But it will be more significant now, more… tangible.”
“Ah.” He took another sip of his champagne. She had chosen well, he thought to himself in approval. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” she answered slowly, narrowing her eyes slightly at his inquisitive tone.
“It’s not that I’m not enjoying myself, but why aren’t you celebrating with Potter and the Weasleys?”
“Well, there are a couple of reasons. First of all,” she said, holding out her glass for a refill. “What with Ginny in training and the boys’ case loads, it’s impossible to get us all together until this weekend, so I’ll just tell everyone at the Weasleys’ for dinner on Sunday.”
“Very efficient, Granger,” he said with a smirk as he handed her the glass.
She narrowed her eyes playfully, but otherwise ignored his comment. “And second of all, I just… I don’t know. I mean, you’re almost as ambitious and goal-oriented as I am,” she said, with a smirk of her own. “I just feel like you can really appreciate how big this is for me. I just wanted to tell you,” she finished quietly, frowning thoughtfully into her glass. She shook her head. “Besides, we already had plans – it would be rude to cancel at the last minute.”
“Well then,” Draco said, hating the warmth that rose up in his chest. “Let’s have a toast, shall we?”
“Yes, let’s,” she responded, smiling again. This wasn’t a day for questions and doubts, she told herself. She’d worry about it tomorrow. And she wouldn’t think about how often she told herself to ‘think about it tomorrow’ where Draco Malfoy was concerned.
He raised his glass. “Here’s to your extremely bright future.”
“Here’s to making a difference,” she said, raising hers as well.
A bottle and a half later, Hermione realized that she might very well be drunk. More drunk, in fact, than she had ever been in her life.
“You know,” she told Draco, “I’ve never had more than a few Butterbeers before.”
“Really?” he asked dryly as he refilled the glass she held out again. Perhaps he should have cut her off at some point, but he just hadn’t been able to think of a good enough reason to. It was her party, after all. And it was rather entertaining. “You could have fooled me, Granger.”
“No, really,” she said emphatically. “I had some wine at George and Angelina’s wedding, but it didn’t feel like this.” She tossed the whole glass back in one gulp.
“And how does it feel?”
“Wonderful,” she sighed. She spun in her seat and fell back to lie on the couch. “Oh. The room is spinning.”
“I’ll just bet it is,” he said with a smile.
Suddenly, Hermione felt herself being lifted into the air. “Where are we going?” she asked as Draco carried her out of the room.
“Oh, okay.” She placed a series of open kisses along his jaw.
“Hermione,” he said with a half-laugh. “You’re very drunk.”
“So what?” she whispered against his throat. She bit down on his earlobe.
He nearly groaned. “So… I’m starting to forget,” he muttered. He laid her down on the bed. “Do me a favor. Just lay here for a few minutes, all right?”
“Okay,” she agreed easily. She rolled over and promptly fell asleep.
She wasn’t going to feel “wonderful” when she woke up, that was for sure, he thought to himself. He was pretty sure he had a hangover remedy somewhere.
He undressed her quickly and tucked her under the blanket, then he sat down on the edge of the bed next to her.
Damn it, he thought as he brushed the hair off her face. Blaise had been right. He couldn’t just keep things simple, could he? He couldn’t just accept free sex and leave it at that.
No. He had to go and fall in love with her.
She was alone.
That should have been her first clue. There had been no chance of being alone that night – the castle had been teeming with people, all of them fighting. But the shadows of the dream were fatally seductive, and they quickly convinced her it was real.
She was alone, running down a hallway on the fourth floor with her wand at the ready. Even the portraits were empty. She could hear the battle, but she couldn’t see it. Nor could she find it. The thought of what was happening to the people she loved while she was away from them had her shaking so violently that she could barely hold her wand.
Absolute silence fell suddenly and she froze in her tracks, heart pounding in her ears. She stood, waiting… for what, she didn’t know. But dread was a cold ball in her stomach, and she couldn’t draw a full breath.
Then the blast hit.
She was covered in dust and blood. And she knew instantly that none of it was her own. Somehow, she hadn’t been hit, though rocks were scattered all around her, and the ground beneath her feet was still shaking from the explosion. Or maybe it was just her that was shaking.
She made herself step forward, but stopped immediately. Because lying before her feet was the body of Fred Weasley. Pain and denial crashed together in her heart, both swift and shocking. Not just because it was Fred, and he couldn’t be dead, but because, this time, he wasn’t alone.
George lay next to him, the mirror image of his twin in everyway, even down to the splatter of blood across their faces.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Tonks and Remus, Bill, Percy. Luna and Neville. Ginny. They all lay before her, like some hideous banquet of death. She shook her head in horror and stepped back, an automatic denial, only to stumble over something soft.
It was a hand, as she had known it would be. She turned and her eyes followed a trail from the hand up the arm to the face. It was Ron and next to him was Harry. They lay, broken and bloody, on either side of her, and their dead eyes bore into hers as if to say, “Why weren’t you there with us?”
She doubled over, tearing at her chest, as raw jagged pain pulsed through her. She couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think. But she could still see the faces of everyone she loved, all of them wearing a grim mask of death. And just beyond, there was a patch of hair so blond it was nearly white, crusted now with vibrantly crimson blood.
A cold, mirthful laugh reached her and she whipped her head around. Her wand fell to the floor with a clatter and her body began to shake so violently that she wondered how it didn’t simply shatter into a thousand pieces.
“Kiddies shouldn’t play with fire,” Bellatrix crooned in her sing-song voice as she danced joyfully around their bodies. “Blood, blood everywhere and not a drop to drink,” she continued to sing as she surveyed the broken bodies at her feet, her mad eyes rolling with evil glee.
“Still alive, are you?” she said suddenly, spotting Hermione crouched in the rumble. Her face contorted into an evil, delighted smile. “Well, we’ll have some quality time now, won’t we? Just us girls.”
As Bellatrix raised her wand, Hermione began to scream.
It was the shaking that woke him… or it may have been the whimpering. He wasn’t quite sure. But regardless, Hermione was the source of both.
She was curled into herself on the other side of the bed, as far from him as she possibly could be without falling off. That didn’t really surprise him; the vicious trembles that were wracking her frame and the pathetic mewls escaping her throat, on the other hand, had him more than a little shaken.
He reached for her, hoping to wake her up, or at the very least comfort her as she slept. But the moment his fingers touched her skin, she flinched away violently, almost throwing herself off the bed. “No, no,” she whimpered.
Draco didn’t think – he sat up, and moving as quickly as possible, lifted her off the bed and settled her into his lap. He pulled her body against his chest, only tightening his hold when she frantically tried to push him away. He ran his hands over her back soothingly, ignoring her struggles. “Wake up, Hermione,” he murmured gently into her ear. “It’s just a dream, love. Come on, baby, wake up.”
After a minute or two, her struggles stopped and he felt the first tears hit his chest. But rather than trying to pull away again as he would have expected, Hermione only burrowed deeper into him.
“I’m sorry,” she managed after a moment, her voice hitching in an obvious attempt to control herself. “I’ll be… fine in a m-minute.”
Draco only tucked her head under his chin and quietly said, “Tell me.” She began to shake her head and would have pulled away then, he knew, if she had had the energy to do so. “Just get it out, Hermione,” he said, continuing to stroke her back. “Trust me, it helps.”
It came out in a rush of words, almost against her will, after being held in for so long. “I was running down a hallway during the Final Battle. I couldn’t find anyone. And then the wall exploded and…” her voice started to hitch again, and Draco could feel the trembles returning. “Everyone was… I was covered in blood. They were all dead, all of you, staring at me. Their eyes… Then she came – she was dancing around your bodies. And she – she…” Hermione began shaking all the harder and she couldn’t go any further.
Draco’s blood ran like ice in his veins. He didn’t have to ask who she was – Bellatrix Lestrange. The woman that had tortured Hermione, in his family’s home, while he had hid in the other room trying not to hear her scream.
His aunt. His blood. His fault… all his fault in so many ways.
He started to let her go – he had no right to hold her now – but she clung to him like a lifeline.
“Don’t let go,” she begged so quietly that he almost didn’t hear her. Her voice was a fragile thread, held together by need. “Oh God, Draco, please don’t let me go.”
“I won’t,” he murmured, though he felt like he was staining her with his touch. He tightened his arms around her, stroked her hair softly, and continued, “I’m right here. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I won’t let you go, Hermione. I won’t let go…”
When Draco woke very early the next morning to the sound of his front door closing, he couldn’t say that he was all that surprised.
He didn’t like it, but he wasn’t surprised.
He reached over to the other side of the bed – it was still warm from her. The pillow next to him smelled like her hair. When he realized that he had turned his face into it just so he could continue to breathe her in, he shook himself angrily. He wasn’t acting like a Malfoy – he was acting like a love-sick Hufflepuff. And that was not to be borne. He sat up deliberately, sneering at himself and his own stupidity, only to notice the hastily scrawled note on the small table next to his bed.
The note simply read:
Had an early meeting. Didn’t want to wake you. I’ll owl you. –H.G.
He took a moment to reinterpret the message: “An early meeting” probably meant “before Ginny realizes I’m missing,” and “Didn’t want to wake you” likely meant “I couldn’t handle facing you.” She wouldn’t even write her full name.
He crumpled the note and threw it across the room.
He fell back onto the mattress, feeling like a fool, only jump back up as something scraped against the skin of his back. After a moment of searching, he found a tiny golden hoop earring. It was Hermione’s, obviously. Understated and feminine, just like her. He scowled at it and briefly considering chucking it to join the note on the other side of his room.
In the end, however, he tucked it into the drawer in his bedside table, calling himself an idiotic prat the whole time.
Draco woke a week later on the morning of July 5th with a vicious headache. Which was pretty much par for the course, he thought to himself. It would persist throughout the day, he knew, regardless of how many pain potions he might take.
He didn’t know if all Death Eaters experienced something similar on their own anniversaries of receiving the Mark, or if it was just a peculiarity of his own. Not that it particularly mattered, but it was something to wonder about. Blaise and Pansy had been fortunate enough to avoid it, and asking Father was out of the question. But again, he reminded himself, it hardly mattered if they did – he did, so he had to deal with it.
Doing his best to ignore the throbbing at the base of his skull, he went about getting ready for work as if it were any other day. He’d briefly considered skivving off – Flooing and saying he was ill – but it felt indulgent and weak. He already had plans to be indulgent and weak later that night; he didn’t need anything else added on. And if nothing else, work would provide something of a distraction. Not from the pain, which was rather impossible to be distracted from, but from the memories and thoughts that would be circling in his mind for the rest of the day.
And though he wasn’t blaming her by any means, Hermione’s ‘breakdown’ last week – and the fact that he hadn’t seen or heard from her since – wasn’t exactly helping matters.
The knock on the door came just as he threw back his first shot of Firewhiskey. He felt the slow burn in his chest mix with annoyance at the thought of being interrupted. He walked to the door with a scowl and a nasty remark ready on his lips, only to feel the blood drain from his face when he found Hermione on the other side.
“I’m sorry, I know we didn’t have plans, but I can’t find my earring and I thought it might be here?” she said in a hurried rush.
“Er…” was all he could manage. He just continued to stare at her, dumbfounded, as she walked past him into the room.
“Have you seen it?” she asked again. She started looking around the room – under tables, behind chairs – anywhere but at him.
“Um… Sorry, what?” Though he forced himself to close the door, the only thing he could think of was how to get her out again as quickly as possible. “Have I seen your…?”
“Your earring?” he said incredulously, watching her make her way towards his bedroom, still on the search.
“Yes, my earring. It was small and gold, and, ah… you know, I was looking for it,” she was starting to ramble, she knew she was, but she just couldn’t seem to stop, “and I couldn’t find it and I thought that it could be here. Because I’ve worn it, probably, when I’ve been here. And I looked around everywhere I could think of, and then I thought, well, maybe Malfoy has –”
“Granger…” he put a hand on her arm to stop her outside his bedroom door. He really didn’t want her to go in there. “Wouldn’t this have been easier to deal with by owl?”
“Er…” she faltered, still not quite looking him in the eye.
“What’s the emergency?”
“Well, I couldn’t find it and…” she looked up briefly before lowering her gaze to the floor again, but it was long enough for him to see the nerves dancing in her eyes. “Okay, it’s a ridiculous excuse, I know. But every time I tried to think of what to say, I… well, I couldn’t think of anything to say. So I thought that if I just came by that it would just be, you know… I don’t know what I thought, but I was obviously wrong, because it is awkward and –”
“No, let me say this.” She drew a deep breath before continuing. “I just… I want to say I’m sorry for –”
“Do not,” he said through his teeth, “apologize to me for what happened the last time you were here.” He pushed past her into his room, no longer caring what she saw – he was too full of self-loathing to be ashamed of the night’s planned activity.
She was surprised at the utter venom in his voice, and confused by the whiff of what she could have sworn was Fire Whiskey. “You have every right to be angry,” she began, blowing out a breath before following him into his room. “And I –”
“It’s not you I’m angry with you, Granger. Trust me,” he said with a sardonic twist of his lips. He tossed back his second shot of the night without looking at her.
She furrowed her brow in confusion. “Malfoy, are you drunk?”
“Not yet, but I’ll get there soon enough.”
“Funniest damn thing about scars,” Draco said, pouring himself another shot, “how they can seem to twinge years after you get them. Potter would know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you think? Of course, those were very different circumstances. His wasn’t self-inflicted, was it?”
“What are you talking about?” she said slowly, though she thought she could pinpoint where this was all headed.
“Do you have any scars, Granger? Do you remember exactly what choices led to them, the exact moment you got them? Did you know going in what would happen to you?” She said nothing – he didn’t expect her to – so he continued. “I got my first scar not quite a month after I turned 16.” He finally lifted the drink to his lips and sipped, appreciating a slower burn this time. “And I got my second less than a year later from Potter, though I can’t say I blame him.”
“Harry always regretted that,” Hermione finally said.
Draco shook his head. “He shouldn’t – I would have done the same to him that day if I could’ve moved quickly enough. But then, Potter always was just a little quicker than me that way. Not the point,” he said, finishing his drink. “That one is easy enough to live with – I hardly even notice it’s there anymore. But this one,” he said, patting his left arm with a sardonic smile before pouring another drink, “he doesn’t give you a chance to get used to him. Hard to get used to something that only pops up once a year. It’s light, but it’s there.”
For the first time, Hermione noticed what from a distance looked like a large, faint smudge on the inside of Draco’s left forearm. “I thought… They were supposed to disappear. After he died, they were supposed to be gone… I thought.”
“The first time it popped up after the War, I almost shit myself, I was so scared. But nothing happened, so I didn’t say anything. Then it happened the next year, and the next, and… well, I’m sure you can see the pattern.”
“The anniversary of when you got it,” she murmured.
“Ding-ding, got it in one,” he said, saluting her sarcastically with his glass before taking a sip.
She realized that he hadn’t looked her in the eye since he’d started talking. “Can I…” she trailed off, gesturing toward him.
“Of course, where are my manners?” he said. “Fancy a drink, Granger?”
“That’s not what I meant,” she said calmly. When he simply looked at her, she continued, “Let me see your arm, Draco.”
He tensed for a split second, and she saw the slightest bit of vulnerability, but then the hard mask was back up and he answered, “Sure, Granger. Why not? Have yourself a look.”
Held out his arm and she took it in her hands.
He was right, she realized as she looked at his arm. The Mark was there – the skull, the snake, all of it. It was the palest of shadows, barely visible, but definitely there. And somehow more sinister in its present state than it had been at deepest black.
She could also see, without even looking at his face, that he was waiting for her to judge him – to tell him he was vile and walk out without so much as a glance behind her. She could feel it in the tension of muscles under her fingers. Instead, she brushed her fingertips over the shaded skin, then pressed her lips to its center.
Draco drew in a sharp breath, utterly shocked by her. He could feel the walls he had thrown up to protect himself begin to crumble around him. “Hermione –”
“There’s a Muggle song,” she interrupted him, rubbing her thumb over the Mark as though to soothe an ache, “that I can’t remember the name of, but part of it goes ‘Black is the kiss, the touch of the serpent son / It ain’t the mark or the scar that makes you one’.” She looked back up into his eyes. “Sometimes Muggles can get it right, too.”
He looked into her eyes and saw no criticism, no condemnation, and no sympathy – which would have been even worse somehow – but rather an openness. So he was able to say aloud the thought that had been thrumming through him the entire day. “I hate myself for what I did,” he said in a quiet voice that wasn’t quite steady.
“You made a bad choice. You were a child –”
He shook his head vehemently. “No more than you and your friends were,” he said, trying to move away from her.
She moved with him and put a hand to his cheek. “We also didn’t have parents shoving pure blood supremacy and tales of the glory of being a Death Eater down our throats since infancy.”
“I could have left.”
“How?” she questioned. “Knowing what he would do to your family if you did?” She shook her head slowly. “I don’t think so.”
“Why don’t you hate me?” he asked before he thought better of it.
She just looked into his eyes for a moment, then answered softly, “That’s not who you are anymore.”
“You don’t know what I’ve done,” he said roughly, looking away from her.
“I know enough,” she said.
He gaze shot back to her. “What she did to you, I’m so –”
She pulled his face down to hers and silenced him in the best way she knew.
He tried to pull back. “Hermione, let me –”
“Draco,” she interrupted, framing his face in her hands and looking deeply into his eyes. “Stop talking.”
She kissed him again, and this time he let her. She lead him to his bed, and he let her. And when they were rolling together across his rumpled sheets, there was a tenderness and an understanding that hadn’t been there before.
They undressed each other slowly, taking the time they hadn’t bothered to before. He took notice of things he hadn’t before – the smatter of freckles on her left hip, the way her breath caught when he ran his fingertips over her rib cage.
And she gave in a way she hadn’t been able to before. She told herself that it was because he needed her to, but if she was being honest, she needed it as much as he did – he was giving her something that she hadn’t even realized she had needed. She let him take complete control, and – the hardest part – trusted him to lead her into territory she had never explored with anyone else.
Hermione’s surrender to him, willingly given, humbled him beyond words, and allowed him to wash away what was staining him from the inside out.
He was giving her the apology she refused to hear aloud. And she let him.
Hermione wandered aimlessly through the narrow aisles of the tiny antique shop that her mother had dragged her to, barely noticing the items stacked around her.
She had long since piled her hair on top of her head – which was no easy feat – and was forcing herself not to cringe at the feeling of sweat rolling down her back. The fan that was whirring feebly in the corner looked older than most of the merchandise and wasn’t doing much else than moving the stifling air around.
It was too hot to shop in her opinion, but apparently it was never too hot for her mother.
“Oh, look at this lovely chair!” her mother exclaimed from the end of the aisle. “The carving on the back is wonderful. Don’t you think so, dear?”
Hermione made her way over to where the chair was standing and looked. Seemed like a perfectly ordinary chair to her, and with a ripped seat cushion at that.
“With some new upholstery it will look brand new. Don’t you think Aunt Dot would love this? Her birthday is coming up in a few weeks, and this would be perfect for her sitting room.”
“Mum, you don’t have to spend a hundred pounds on a chair to make Aunt Dot happy – she’d be pleased as punch with a bottle full of broken glass.”
“It’s only ninety pounds. And it’s much more fun this way.”
“Oh, yes, it’s bloody delightful standing in this tiny shop and sweating like a pig. I see exactly what you mean,” Hermione retorted.
“Language, dear – sarcasm isn’t attractive,” her mother replied airily. “Now, keep an eye on this – I’m going to tell the man at the desk to bring it up front while we keep looking.”
Hermione bit the tip of her tongue to stop herself from snapping that she was a grown woman that could speak however she pleased, and reminded herself that it wasn’t her mother’s fault that she was in such a foul mood. She couldn’t even blame it on the heat.
It had been almost a month since it had happened – what Hermione liked to refer to as “The Moment”. The Moment since Draco Malfoy had gone from being nothing more than a good time that she could avoid worrying about to a something that she couldn’t stop worrying about.
They had both moved on from that night with an unspoken understanding that it wasn’t to be discussed. And they had carried on – or tried to – much as they had before. Meeting up a couple times a week, which was even easier to get away with now that Hermione had the excuse of her new job keeping her occupied.
It was different now, though. The sex was still as amazing as it always had been. But they weren’t simply having sex anymore; even Hermione had to admit that. They weren’t just scratching an itch or relieving tension, not anymore. Not since The Moment. There was something between them now that hadn’t been there before. Of course, there always had been something between them – a big fat past that neither could forget – but since they had both left it unacknowledged, it hadn’t been an issue.
But now that it had been acknowledged – oh, had it ever – it was lying between them every time they were together. And it was inexplicably drawing them even closer.
And it was driving her crazy.
She didn’t understand it, and Hermione absolutely hated when she didn’t understand things. She felt like she should do something… but what could she do that wouldn’t entirely change the dynamic between them?
She didn’t want anything between them to change any more than it already had. She felt like they were taking steps that she hadn’t signed up for. There had to be a way to get them back on an even keel. For her to feel like she had some sort of control over the situation. Because at the moment, she felt like she had no control whatsoever.
Maybe it was time to step back, she thought to herself. They had agreed, hadn’t they, that either one of them could end it whenever ever they chose. The fact that they even still felt the desire to keep doing what they were doing after so long a time was troublesome enough, and now that it was on a different level… But the thought of ending it made knots form in Hermione’s stomach. She didn’t want things to change, but even more than that, she didn’t want them to end.
Which, really, was just another reason why they probably should…
“There, that’s taken care of. Now, let’s have a bit of a look around and see if I can find something for the parlor.”
“What could you possibly need for the parlor, Mum?” Hermione asked as she followed her mother towards the back of the store. Dark, nondescript shelves lined the long back wall and were filled with just about anything and everything.
“Well, I don’t need anything, dear. But there’s no harm in looking, is there?”
There was no use arguing with logic like that – or lack thereof, Hermione thought to herself. So she simply followed behind her mother and gazed disinterestedly at the items in front of her, still stuck in her thoughts about Malfoy.
“So,” Jane said when they had made it halfway down the wall and her daughter was still silent. “Are you going to tell me what’s wrong, or will I have to guess?”
Hermione looked at her mother, slightly startled. Though her mother might seem a bit guileless, she also had a knack for seeing entirely too much. “It’s personal, Mum,” she answered vaguely.
“Oh,” Jane said, studying a small fairy statuette and briefly trying to envision it on the small end table in the corner of the parlor… No, she decided. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with your, ah… friend, would it?” she ventured.
Hermione barely resisted the impulse to roll her eyes, and instead answered in a slightly aggrieved tone that made her feel like an embarrassed teenager. “Mum…”
“What?” Jane said innocently, looking at her daughter with wide eyes. “I’m not allowed to ask questions now?”
“No, it’s just…” Hermione paused with sigh, trying to think of what to say. She couldn’t lie to her mother… but she didn’t have to tell her everything either. “Things just got slightly… complicated.”
“Well, of course they did,” Jane answered simply, returning her gaze to the shelves. “Did you really think they wouldn’t?”
“I was hoping…” Hermione mumble under her breath, but her mother heard.
“These things never go the way you think they will, and they always get complicated, dear. That’s just how it works. But really,” she fixed her gaze on her daughter. “Unless you’re interested in going backwards, which is rarely wise, worrying it over won’t do anything other than give you a headache. Try working with it, rather than against it, and see where it takes you.”
And that, Hermione understood, was the end of the conversation. So deep in thought was she over her mother’s advise – which was basically to ignore the situation and let it work itself out – that it took her a moment to realize that she was being spoken to.
“…wish I could think of a way to use it, but I don’t know where we would put it. We have one in every room as it is. It’s just so interesting, though. Have you ever seen one like this, dear?”
She glanced at what her mother was holding. “You’re obsessed with clocks, Mum,” she commented, though she moved closer to take a better look.
It was obviously meant to sit on a mantle… and it was also obviously very old, even she could see that. The wood was dark, shining as though it had just been polished. And it wasn’t battery operated, or kept running by any form of electricity that she could see – there was a little key in the back that had to be cranked daily. But the most interesting thing about the clock was its face. The hands were made of gold – real or fake, she couldn’t tell – and the background was dark blue and full of stars. A particular set of stars, in fact.
“Didn’t you take astronomy in school, dear? That is a constellation, isn’t it? It looks familiar.”
Hermione had recognized it instantly, and couldn’t decide whether to laugh or beat her head against the table in front of her. She opted for a quiet sigh. “It’s the Draconis constellation, Mum,” she answered after a minute. “The Dragon.”
“Oh!” her mother exclaimed, as though this particular bit of news was the most fascinating thing she had ever heard. “How interesting! A dragon clock! Didn’t you ride a dragon during the War?” her mother added in a conspiratorial whisper.
“Yeah,” Hermione answered briefly. And a few times since, she added silently to herself.
“I do wish I had some place to put this… I hate the thought of leaving it here. Do you know anyone that needs a clock?”
“No,” Hermione answered. “But I do know someone with a mantle…”
Hermione was sure she’d never been nervous about seeing Malfoy. She had been a bit apprehensive, perhaps, in the beginning. But nervous, especially this kind of nervous, was a completely different thing.
Not to mention how ridiculous she felt the second he opened the door.
Draco glanced down at the white box in Hermione’s hands and smirked. “Did you bring cake, Granger?” he asked, immediately thinking of things they could do with the frosting.
“No,” she answered as she walked in. She could feel the light flush staining her cheeks.
Damn, he thought to himself, closing the door. “So, what’s in the box, then?”
“Igotyousomething,” she muttered quickly, refusing to look at him.
He stared at her uncomprehendingly for a few moments, then simply said, “Huh?”
Pulling in a deep breath, and telling herself to man up and stop being an idiot, she repeated in a clearer tone, “I got you something.”
He continued to stare at her for another moment before repeating, “Huh?”
“I went antique shopping with my mum, and she found this, and it… it made me think… You had a birthday, didn’t you?” she huffed out.
“Yes… two months ago,” he said slowly. He couldn’t tell if she was embarrassed or annoyed. He thought it might be both.
“Well, then I guess this can be a belated birthday gift,” she said. “Here,” she added, thrusting the box at him roughly.
He merely raised an eyebrow at her and took the box. It was heavier than he expected, and his curiosity was peeked. He opened it, pushed aside the tissue paper, and then simply stared.
When he stayed silent, Hermione’s nerves got the better of her and she started to babble. “I just… you know, when I saw it, you popped into my head. Because of the constellation, obviously. It’s the –”
“Draconis constellation,” he finally said quietly. “I was –”
“Named for it. I guessed as much,” she added when he only stared at her. She bit her lip and looked down. “If you don’t like it, you don’t have to –”
“No, I do. Like it, I mean.” Draco gave himself a quick mental shake. He was acting like an idiot. He was touched, deeply, that she had thought of him. And here he was, making her think he didn’t appreciate it. But he didn’t know how to say it without scaring her off.
He grabbed her hand and pulled her toward him, lowering his mouth to hers in a soft kiss.
There it was again, she thought to herself as her knees got weak. That something that was just beyond lust. But she reminded herself of her decision to let it work itself without worrying about it. So she was smiling when he pulled back.
“Thank you,” he said with a smile. “It’s great, and very fitting.”
“I’m glad you like it,” she said, and he could hear the relief in her voice, though he doubted she did.
He set the box down on the table and said, “I suppose I should give you a proper thank you. Don’t you agree, Granger?”
Hermione’s smile a slightly feline grin as she allowed him to pull her close again. Now this was territory she as familiar with. “Well,” she said. “Just what would this thank you consist of?”
He shook his head. “I’m not going to give away the surprise.”
She quirked an eyebrow at him suggestively. “I hardly think you could surprise me at this point, Malfoy.”
His look became predatory and she shivered. “Wanna bet?” he growled as he pushed her against the nearest wall.
She would have lost.
There were times – such as right now, she thought to herself – that Hermione half-wished she didn’t have to get up and leave. Not that she wanted to sleep, literally sleep that is, with Malfoy. Of course not. That would be far too… cozy, she thought. But she was just so sated and sleepy. She reasoned that it wouldn’t kill either one of them if she lingered in the lovely haze for a few more minutes.
Then he kissed her shoulder. There were no teeth involved, no tongue. It wasn’t meant for arousal; it wasn’t sexual or even sensual. Just the gentle brush of his lips over her skin, a feather-light whisper of sincerity. It was delicate and intimate.
It scared the hell out of her.
“I have to get going,” she said suddenly, fairly jumping out of his bed.
He blinked after her in surprise, and then sat up with a sigh. He had thought they had been making progress in the past few weeks – first the clock, then she was staying longer after they were done, talking more, kissing him good-bye. Little things that from anyone else probably wouldn’t even have registered to him. But when they came from her – in that grudging way she had of accepting things between them – they meant more than they normally would.
And he had been prepared to wait for her to figure it out – she was supposed to be the smart one. But he realized that it was taking her too damn long on her own. How much longer was he going to let her walk away? How many more times would he have listen to his door close after her? How many more nights was he going to lay alone in his bed after she left? The fact of the matter was, he just couldn’t do it anymore. “No, you don’t.”
Her fingers fumbled for a moment on the clasp of her bra, but she steadied them quickly enough. “Of course I do,” she said, turning back to him with a puzzled half-smile before moving to get her shirt.
“Hermione.” He grabbed her hand to stop her as she passed. “Stay.”
She avoided looking at his face, nervous of what she would find there, and tugged her hand free. “I really can’t,” she said, grabbing the rest of her clothes off the floor. “What would I tell Ginny about why I didn’t come home?” It was more of a statement then it was a question, but he answered it nonetheless.
He took a deep breath. “You could tell her the truth.”
She froze in the act of buttoning her shirt. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea,” she managed after a moment of shock.
“Why not?” he asked irritably, standing up and pulling on his boxers.
She stared at him, completely dumbfounded. “Well, it would be a bit counter-productive to the whole ‘keeping-it-a-secret’ thing, wouldn’t it?”
“Why does it have to be a secret anymore?” he asked in frustration, tunneling his fingers through his hair. “Why do we need to sneak around like we’re committing a crime? What’s the point?”
“What’s the point?” she repeated in disbelief. “Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind?”
“It feels like it sometimes,” he muttered, pacing away from her.
She shook her head after him. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
He spun back to face her angrily. “What’s wrong with me? You want to know what’s wrong with me?” He grabbed her by the shoulders. “I’m in love with you – that’s what’s wrong with me.”
It was terror, swift and shocking, that shuddered through her now. “What?”
“You heard me,” he said, pushing her away roughly. He paced away again, unable to stand the shock in her widened eyes.
Hermione shook her head in a desperate denial. “No. No, you can’t be. You’re just over-romanticizing the situation,” she reasoned when he turned to face her again. “This is… clandestine, and therefore exciting, so you’re just –”
“Oh, sod it with that ridiculous bullshit for once, Hermione,” he snapped.
Her jaw dropped open. “That’s a hell of a thing to say to me.”
“Yeah, well, that’s a hell of a way to react when someone tells you they’re in love with you,” he snarled at her. He never should have said it aloud; hadn’t he told himself that she would react this way? “I’m not imagining it. I know how I feel about you and it isn’t the result of romantic idealism.”
She latched onto anger, because it was the only emotion that felt safe. “How dare you?”
“How dare I?” he responded incredulously. First he was imagining things, and now he had done it on purpose? Was she serious?
“Yes, how dare you. We agreed, remember? No strings. But you may as well knit a goddamn afghan now, there are so many strings.” She pulled on her pants and fastened them with a nervous flick; she was going to start shaking in a minute, she was sure of it.
“That’s very funny, but this isn’t a fucking joke, Hermione.”
“Believe me, none of this is remotely amusing to me.” She began hunting desperately for her shoes.
“Look,” he said, drawing a deep breath and trying to speak calmly. “I understand that you’re nervous, okay? I wasn’t exactly planning this either. But I’m tired of hiding. I don’t want to keep it in the shadows anymore. I want all of you. Not just bits and pieces in bed, Hermione, but everything. I love you,” he finished with a shrug, as to say it was just that simple. And just that complicated.
“How could you possibly feel that way?” She couldn’t even say the words. “You hardly know me. We hardly know each other. Where the hell are my shoes?”
“I do know you. Hermione,” he continued forcefully when she shook her head, “I do. You’re smart and beautiful and stubborn and funny and brave – under most circumstances. The only thing I don’t know is why you’re so afraid to let this happen.”
“I’m not afraid of anything.” Liar, liar, liar.
“Really? You’re not? Because you’re doing a damn good impression of it right now.” He shook his head and continued before she was able to think of a response. “You know what I think? I think you’re terrified.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I think you’re terrified,” he said again, ignoring her. “Of letting anyone in. Because than you wouldn’t be in control. You wouldn’t have your logic or your rules. And that terrifies you.”
“You’re wrong, Malfoy. Stop it.” She shook her head in a fierce denial.
“No, I won’t, because I’m right, aren’t I? It’s not like I’m asking you to marry me, or that we move in together. I’m not even asking you to feel the same way I do. But I am asking that this be something other than a heartless shag a couple times a week. It’ll be messy and hard and strange at first. But I want that, with you. A normal relationship, Hermione. Something real – is that so much to ask for?”
Was it? Hermione wondered. Yes, she answered herself immediately as panic began to creep its way up her throat. He had no idea what he was asking of her. She had no idea what he was asking of her. So she lashed out. “You want to hear something real, Malfoy? The real reason that I don’t want to be with you? I’m not afraid of it – I’d be ashamed of it.” She watched that arrow hit, the pain on his face, and told herself it was for the best. “You’re a former Death Eater, Malfoy. Your father just got out of Azkaban last year. Your entire family was in service to Voldemort. How I could ever feel something for someone like you?” she finished nastily, ensuring that her final words were dripping with disdain.
Even though her words hit him like an icy fist in the stomach, he told her, “I know what you’re trying to do, Hermione. It won’t work.”
“What do you think I’m trying to do? Be honest with you?”
“You’re being cruel.”
“I’m being realistic – join me, won’t you?”
“Fine. You want to be realistic and honest?” He held his arms out to his sides. “I’m in love with you, plain and simple, Hermione. That’s a fact that you’re going to have to deal with.”
“No, Malfoy. That’s a fact that you’re going to have to deal with,” she said, being deliberately cold. She picked up her wand, giving up on finding her shoes. “It’s none of my business, and frankly, I don’t care.”
She Disapparated with a loud crack! But not before she saw the look of shocked pain that covered his face.
A/N: Yes, yes, I know. I swear, I can practically feel your anger. But it had to happen. So anyway, despite your completely validated fury, what did you think? Please, please, please review! I beg of you! ~Meghan
P.S. – The lyric that Hermione quotes to Draco? It’s from the My Chemical Romance song called “Thank You For The Venom.” It seemed fitting… And don’t ask me how Hermione was supposed to have heard that song, she just did… you can go back to hating me now…
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