Chapter 24 : I Love You
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When Draco arrived home, there were no Christmas decorations up and so Draco felt as though this wasn’t his childhood home any more. No one would ever have known that it was the festive period had it not been snowing outside.
His mother took him straight to his room, away from the death eaters downstairs.
“You probably know what I’m going to say to you, Draco.”
He shrugged. “No, I don’t.”
She sighed and sat beside him on his bed. “I tried my hardest to stop your father from reading the Daily Prophet last week.” Draco gulped and suddenly felt anxious. “I failed. And now even your Aunt Bellatrix has seen it and she’s not happy.”
“But, what about him? Has he -?”
“Not yet, so far as I’m aware. But I can’t guarantee that he will never know of it. Draco, how could you be so careless?”
“Me? I didn’t ask for this. Thank Pansy Parkinson.” His mother looked confused. “She took Hermione’s diary and put it in the paper because I rejected her on countless occasions.”
Narcissa still looked upset. “I still thought that you would have the sense to keep the relationship quiet. At first it just looked like a rambling girl’s desires, but when she mentioned that you had been together at night and that you kissed her -”
“It wasn’t supposed to be seen by anyone. Not even me. She’s embarrassed and I’m just gonna leave her alone for a while so that she can sort herself out.”
“I think it’s best that you leave her alone for good.”
Draco could not believe his ears. “How can you say that, Mother? You were the one encouraging me last year. I’m not going to stop now. You know I love her.”
“I thought you’d say that.” Narcissa gave her son a hug and kissed his forehead. “I’ll try to help you, Draco.”
“Why can’t we just leave?” he asked naively.
She smiled at him. “It’s not that simple. Your father -”
“Just me and you. We should go.”
“And Hermione? You’d leave her behind?” He looked down at his lap. “We will get away one day. But for now…”
He nodded and began to unpack.
Later that evening, Draco went into the kitchen to eat a meal the family house elf had made. He dragged his fork through it and ate slowly.
Behind him, he heard voices.
“…found this mudblood in Diagon Alley trying to warn people about you, my Lord. I thought it would be best to bring him here with me.”
Voldemort laughed as Draco crept to the door of the dining room. He pointed his wand and said, “Avada Kedavra,” softly.
The green light blinded Draco momentarily. Shaking, he rushed up to the bathroom by his room and threw up the contents of his meal.
That night, Harry had the dream that saved Mr Weasley’s life. At this specific moment in time, Harry, Hermione and Sirius were sitting in the dark kitchen.
Harry had been silent for a while. He kept staring at the fireplace, waiting to hear news from the Weasleys (some were at the Burrow, some at St Mungo’s).
“Tea, anyone?” Sirius asked.
No one answered so he placed cups of tea in front of them all anyway.
Harry stood up and walked out of the room. Hermione followed. She found him in the room where the Black family tree hung.
“Harry, none of this is your fault. You saved Mr Weasley.”
Harry said nothing. He hadn’t spoken since he told everyone what he saw.
“I was under the Imperius curse,” she told him at a whisper. He stared at her. “Trying to get into the Department of Mysteries and that’s where I think the weapon is.”
She explained her theory of someone within the Ministry who is a death eater having known about their visit and having cursed her . She knew that now she had failed, You-Know-Who would not be happy.
“Thanks for telling me,” Harry finally said.
She shrugged and stood by the family tree, locating Draco’s name on the edge of a swirling branch. She stroked it momentarily and then stared at the old wall clock behind her; it was just past midnight.
“Merry Christmas, Harry.”
The next few Educational Decrees enforced at Hogwarts turned out to be about a ban on secret organisations, as well as a ban on the closeness between the male and female students during and around lesson times.
Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were appalled at Umbridge when they returned to school after a troubling holiday. Mr Weasley was still in hospital and Harry still felt guilty. Hermione had finally told Ron how sorry she was about kissing him but it turned out that he apologised to her because he did it deliberately so that Draco could see them. Hermione wasn’t sure whether she should have been relieved.
On the way to a DA meeting two weeks into term, Harry was moaning - yet again - about his Occlumency lessons with Professor Snape.
“I actually have to go to Remedial Potions!”
“I thought no one took that class,” Ron said.
“Well this year he has one student.” He looked at Hermione. “Malfoy.”
“Don’t look at me like that, Harry Potter,” Hermione told him.
“So now, not only do I have to endure hours upon end with Snape in Occlumency, I have to do an hour of Remedial Potions beforehand so that nobody knows about our lessons, so no one is suspicious.”
“Well I think it will be good for you to improve your potions skills. You’re not exactly that good at Potions anyway.”
“Thanks for that, Hermione. I really feel better.”
That meeting seemed to go particularly fast as they all practiced the Impediment Jinx and the Reductor Curse. While Ginny practiced the Jinx on Harry, she smiled affectionately and said, “This is quite fun.”
She moved aside and Harry finally fell down onto a pile of silky cushions.
“What did you say?” Harry asked.
“I’m having a good time,” she said, smiling.
“That’s great Ginny. You’re getting really good.”
“I’ve always liked you, Harry.” At this, Hermione and Ron stopped using their wands and turned around, as did everybody else. Ginny’s whisper seemed to multiply and grow louder in the high echoing walls of the Room.
Harry gulped nervously. “Er, thanks, Ginny.”
She blushed. “Oh no, I’ve said the wrong thing, haven’t I?” Tears were filling her eyes and Hermione rushed to her side.
“No, you haven’t…” Harry tried to touch her shoulder but she leaned away and shrank into the corner of the room with Hermione where a small black tent had appeared.
They fell inside.
“That was so embarrassing. I don’t know why I said that,” Ginny quivered.
Hermione smiled. “If it felt like the right time, it probably was.”
Outside the tent, Harry looked at Ron.
“Did you know…?” Harry said to his best friend.
Ron shrugged. “News to me.” Of course this was a lie. Ron had known that Ginny loved Harry since she was ten years old.
Harry had thought that Ginny had given up on him since she started dating Michael Corner. Even after he nearly kissed her at the Quidditch World Cup, he assumed she did not like him any more.
Across the room, Parvati picked up her school bag and shoved her wand inside. She walked towards the door.
“Where are you going?” her sister asked sternly.
“What does it look like, Padma? I’m leaving.”
She ran over to Parvati. “Don’t be silly. Stay for a while longer. We’re nearly finished.”
“I can’t.” Ginny and Hermione re-emerged from the tent, which disappeared after they left it. “Not while she’s here.” Parvati pointed at Ginny.
Parvati opened the door, left and slammed it shut, leaving the rest of the people in the room stunned.
“What the bloody hell was that all about?” Ron asked.
Padma sighed. “She likes Harry too.”
“Congrats,” George said, shaking his hand. “Two girls in one day…”
“Amazing,” Fred finished. “Except we won’t let you anywhere near our sister of course…”
Harry had turned pink in the face and Ginny was the second person to storm out of the Room.
Remedial Potions was a complete bore. Harry was sitting quietly at a table in the corner of the potions dungeon pretending to read a textbook; his hidden face was nearly dropping to sleep. On the other side of the desk, Draco was doing almost the same thing; he was daydreaming, thinking - about Hermione. He needed to get her alone somewhere, but how? When? He and Blaise had not yet come up with a plausible plan and he was getting so desperate that he was even considering talking to her in front of everybody the next morning at breakfast.
He scratched his nose and then turned to Professor Snape, who had just reprimanded Harry for falling asleep.
“I wasn’t asleep,” Harry said.
“You were reading?” Snape muttered.
“So I assume you’ve finished the book?”
“Right, Potter. I shall get you another.” Snape strode from the classroom, no doubt to find the largest potions textbook he could get his hands on.
Harry put his head in his hands and then began speed-reading the book on his lap. His eyes hurt after three chapters and he looked up, blinking. He saw Draco with his chin resting on his hand, looking at the ceiling.
“What are you looking at?” Draco spat at him.
Harry marked his page in the book and put it down. “She’s okay now.”
Draco gave Harry a why-are-you-talking-to-me look and then carried on reading, while contemplating whether he was right. He thought he had given her enough time. It had been nearly a month!
Harry tried again. “Listen, I’m not trying to help you, I just think Hermione will be happier if you talk to her. She’s getting good at ignoring people’s sniggers after the article thing. She’s almost back to normal.”
Draco raised an eyebrow. “Almost?”
“Yeah. She’s never as happy as she was when you two were friends. And she’s always the unhappiest when you’re fighting or not speaking. You two are…very complicated.” Harry cleared his throat to get Draco’s attention; he had begun looking at the ceiling again. “I want you to be friends again, but I can’t say I’ll be happy if there’s anything more. Your family are trouble… So when are you going to talk to her?”
Draco sighed. “I don’t know, okay, Potter! And I don’t think your opinion on things will help much.”
“On the contrary, Malfoy, I think I can help. You need to get her alone somewhere?” Draco looked at him. “Well, just use the Room of Requirement.”
“What?” Draco asked lazily.
“The Room on the seventh floor. You ask it what you want it will be inside.”
“We already found that Room.”
Harry frowned, thinking. “Oh, that’s how Hermione knew about it…” He laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
Harry stopped. “Nothing. Listen, if I get her there tomorrow evening after the Hogsmeade trip, will you just do something? She’s driving me crazy. Always moody and moaning about something. Plus, she’s getting really enthusiastic about studying, trying to make us have homework sessions because she has nothing else to focus on.”
Draco smiled, thinking of his and Hermione’s study sessions in their first and second years. “Fine. Tomorrow evening. Around seven.”
The next morning, Hermione had awoken early for a number of reasons: to prepare for the Hogsmeade visit; Ginny had locked herself in her room to avoid Harry - and Parvati; to add finishing touches to the revision timetables she had made for their upcoming O.W.Ls and to fret about Harry and his miserable Occlumency lesson of the previous evening. He had come back last night unhappy and frankly tired after the mental beating he had received from his least favourite professor.
In her pyjamas, Hermione finished the timetables and then snuck into the boys dorm to leave them on their trunks. They were still asleep, so she left straight away and then ran into Ginny’s room. She was awake, as she knew she would be.
“You can’t stay in here forever,” Hermione whispered in the quiet dormitory.
“And why not?” Ginny was on the edge of her bed, quivering.
“I need you to come to Hogsmeade with me. I can’t have Harry and Ron for company for the whole day.”
“I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“This will be good for you too,” Hermione encouraged. “If you want to go out with Harry you’ll have to show him that you aren’t an emotional wreck. Plus, you’ll have to see him eventually. You’re in the same house, the DA…”
“I don’t want to be his girlfriend.”
Hermione smiled. She walked towards the door.
“Are you excited?” Ginny asked as she got out of her bed.
“Why would I be?”
“Draco will be in Hogsmeade, that’s why, Hermione.”
Hermione flushed pink.
Ginny stuck close to Hermione’s side as they made their way into the village after breakfast. Harry stood with Ron, Neville and Dean further back - this made Ginny on edge. She kept on asking whether she looked okay and whether Harry was looking at her. Hermione was beginning to regret getting Ginny up and about because she was becoming quite infuriating.
“Don’t think you haven’t been just as annoying,” Ginny muttered as they sat in the Three Broomsticks for a butterbeer.
“For weeks you’ve been so miserable because of him. Just find him, Hermione. It would give us all some peace of mind.”
They finished their butterbeers and trailed the village in search of Draco. But they did not find him. They looked in every shop and even near the Shrieking Shack and the Hog’s Head.
“I guess it wasn’t meant to be,” Hermione muttered solemnly.
“Oh, be quiet,” Ginny hissed.
As they took the path back the main village, they spotted two red-headed figures ahead of them. They approached quietly to see what Fred and George were talking about - or rather, arguing about.
“…just went ahead and asked her out after I told you -”
“Listen, I didn’t plan it, you know, George. It just happened.”
“You could have just told her that you didn’t want to betray your twin brother!”
“Betrayal? Don’t be so dramatic. This is only Angelina we’re talking about.”
“Only Angelina? You really don’t get it, do you, Fred? I love her.”
Fred’s mouth fell a little and they stood in silence.
George began storming away when Ginny ran out and said, “Hey! What’s up?” a little too cheerily.
“Go away, Ginny,” Fred told her.
The twins made their way back up to the castle, Fred at least a hundred metres behind his twin. Hermione joined Ginny and smiled consolingly.
“You see,” Ginny said sadly. “Love can tear people apart.” She took Hermione’s hand. “What you have with Draco is amazing, Hermione. So, you can’t let things get worse than they are. This is the last time you won’t be speaking with each other. You saw Fred and George. They never fight. And they just have - over a girl. George was mad because he thinks he can never have Angelina. But think, Hermione. You can have Draco. All you need to do is let him in.”
Later that day in the common room, Harry sat with Ron looking through their purchases from Hogsmeade. On the other side of the room, Hermione and Ginny were doing some Herbology work by the fireplace. Harry stared over at Hermione, wondering how he was going to get her out into the seventh floor corridor in an hour. His eye occasionally ran over Ginny’s slender body.
“Ginny’s not bad, you know,” Ron said.
Ron laughed. “You were staring at her.”
“No I wasn’t, I was -”
“No need to lie to me, mate. I’m your best friend. And she’s my sister.”
Harry gulped. Was Ron seriously going to try and lecture him?
“If you mess her about -”
“I’m sorry, what?” Harry interrupted.
“You’re going to ask her out, aren’t you?” Ron queried.
“Hadn’t thought about it really,” Harry said honestly.
“Oh…” Ron said. He turned slightly pink and then said, defiantly, “Don’t think that she’s not good enough for you, Harry. Because she’s just fine.”
“I know, it’s just that I seriously haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet.”
“Right.” Ron settled down a bit. “Unless you’d rather go out with Parvati…”
Harry stood up.
“Where are you going?” Ron asked.
Harry pointed towards Hermione and Ginny while Ron looked over anxiously.
“Hi,” he said.
“Harry, have you started your Astronomy work yet?” Hermione asked sternly. “You know we’ve got a test next lesson, don’t you?” His mouth gaped open. “It’s on your timetable! The one I gave you this morning?”
“Oh, that. Ron thought it was rubbish and threw them into the fireplace.”
Hermione gasped. “He knew fully well what they were.” She looked threateningly over at Ron.
“Hermione?” Harry asked nervously while Ginny tried to camouflage herself into the wall. “Could you take over my patrol tonight?” His idea was genius. He didn’t even have any prefect duties that night. “It’s at seven. It’s on this floor.”
“And why would I do that when I have three hours worth of work scheduled for tonight?”
“Only for a while. Just for ten minutes? I - er - want to practice some Occlumency.”
“You will? That’s great, Harry. I’ll do the patrol for fifteen minutes while you practice.”
Harry knew she would do it if he lied about practicing. She was very worried about him and his connection with Voldemort - especially since they knew he wants something in the Department of Mysteries.
“Hey, Ginny,” Harry said kindly.
“Hi,” she squeaked.
Harry walked away and went up to his dormitory and Ron followed him to interrogate him on what he had said.
Hermione tied her hair back, pulled on her uniform and trudged out of the common room with a smile on her face. She was glad that she could assist Harry with his Occlumency so she did not moan about how inconvenient a fifteen minute wonder around the seventh floor would be to her. She would have to stay up until well after midnight to complete the Arithmancy homework she received yesterday because of this…
The corridor was quite cool that spring evening and warm wind fluttered in through the open windows. There was no longer any trace of the particularly stormy winter just past; there was no more knee-high snow coating the grounds, only pink and white blossom growing fruitfully from the trees.
Hermione checked her watch; ten quiet minutes had passed as she continued around the seventh floor. On the next corner, she saw a sixth year Ravenclaw girl walking up and down.
They stared at each other.
Frowning, Hermione asked. “Are you sure you’re meant to be here?”
“Could ask you the same thing,” she said snottily.
“It’s just - I thought it was Harry Potter’s patrol here tonight.”
The Ravenclaw girl shook her head. “Not according to my schedule it isn’t.”
“Oh.” Hermione decided that it was time to go back to the Gryffindor common room.
While walking back toward the tower Hermione tried to fathom why Harry would lie to her. Only when she heard a distant “Psst!” did she forget her train of thought.
She turned around and saw Draco leaning against the wall to an adjoining corridor, evidently waiting for her. This was what Harry was up to…
Hermione walked over to him. “So this is what you’ve been doing. Conspiring with Harry behind my back? Well, if you think that’s going to work, you’re -” Draco pulled her into a hug. A long, tight, warm, loving hug which bathed Hermione in such tenderness that her heart skipped a beat. “ - you’re sorely mistaken,” she whispered breathlessly. “Draco, why do you do this to me?”
He laughed craftily. “Do what?”
“Make me hate you for making me so vulnerable?”
He brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it lightly. “Come with me.”
Draco pulled her along to the stretch of wall where the door into the Room of Requirement would appear. Hermione watched as he closed his eyes and paced.
Once again, the ugly brown door formed in the middle of the wall, the handle - so inviting - waiting to be pulled.
They stepped inside into what seemed like an empty Room. The dirty stone flooring and the solid walls were naked of any light or colour.
“It’s empty,” Hermione said, disappointed.
“That’s right,” Draco said, looking around. “It’s empty. I guess you noticed that I wasn’t in Hogsmeade today? Well, I was here, trying to prepare for tonight. And you were right, Potter put me onto this. Promised me that he would get you here tonight. And before you ask, he didn’t do this for me. It was for you. He noticed how unhappy you are without me. I know you’d like to deny it, but it’s true. You’re miserable without me, almost as must as I am without you.
“So I came here earlier with plans of how I’d like the room to look. Did I ask it for a cosy place for us to spend the night with a roaring fireplace? Did I ask it for a candlelit dinner? Did I ask it for a Room full of books, things you’d enjoy? I couldn’t decide. So I ask for all of them. The first time, I paced across the stretch of wall three times, asking, begging it to transform into a comfortable place for us maybe with deep armchairs and soft silken cushions. I opened the door and it was empty. I try again. I ask it for a candlelit Room. It failed. Then I asked for it to fill with all the things you would like, but it was still empty. I tried and tried again - all bloody day - to try and get it to work but nothing happened.” He sighed. “So the only thing I could figure, was that the Room was trying to tell me something. Hermione, we don’t need comfort, or candles, or mountains of books… All we need is each other. That was why the Room didn’t transform for me. I must have been thinking of you so much that it knew - somehow - that even if it was filled with the most beautiful and most precious things in the world, nothing would compare to you.”
Heart throttling in her chest, Hermione had to remind herself to breathe. She understood him. She understood one hundred percent what he was talking about, because she sure as hell thought the same thing. Her initial disappointment of the emptiness of the Room disappeared as she sat against the wall beside him.
“Hermione?” Draco asked anxiously.
“You don’t know how fast my heart is beating right now,” she whispered timidly.
“It couldn’t be as bad as mine.” Draco took her hand in his and placed it over his heart. The force of it hit Hermione’s hand terrifyingly, injecting in her the truth of his words, of the burning passion he had been storing for nearly five years. He closed his eyes. “Do you forgive me?”
A tear dripped down her trembling face. “Oh, Draco, why did you even ask? I could never be mad at you.”
“But, Hermione, I -”
“Did those things because you care about me. I understand. Even Cedric… I knew you were just jealous a-and…” Hermione’s tears were falling fast now. “…and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wish that I never even dated Cedric. If I knew how much it would h-hurt you, hurt us… I would have n-never… Draco, I never wanted us to be like this… I mean, all of the th-th-things that have separated us…”
“There’s nothing now,” Draco reassured, silent tears cascading down his own face. “There’s nothing between us now, Hermione. It’s just us. You and I. Hermione, I love -”
“No. No. Don’t you dare say it. Don’t ruin this.”
“Something will happen, I know it will. As soon as you admit that you love me, the Universe will find some way to tear us apart again - and I don’t want that to happen. It will only hurt more.”
“But I do,” he whispered. “I love you, Hermione Granger.”
After a sharp intake of breath and more tears, Hermione felt Draco’s soft fingers at the back of her neck, bringing her face closer to his. His kiss was soft yet firm, passionate yet patient, so much so that the whole of Hermione’s body was shaking with happiness.
“I love you too,” she said with closed eyes, salty tears leaking from the corners.
Draco squeezed her tight, another loving hug that reeked with desperation and longing. “The first time I met you, I knew.”
Hermione smiled. “Really?” They laid on the ground, hand in hand, happier than could be.
“Yes. Do you remember the first thing you said to me?”
She laughed. “Have you seen a toad?” she recalled reminiscently while wiping her eyes.
“Then when we started talking, I knew you were intelligent, exactly the kind of girl I like. The next morning confirmed it, when I saw you coming to breakfast. That was why I was so mad that you never told me about your parents - because I had already decided that I liked you.”
“I thought it wouldn’t matter.”
“You’re right. It doesn’t. And how were you to know that my family hated muggles?”
This tender topic rendered Draco speechless momentarily.
“For me it had to have been when you kissed my cheek in the carriage. Of course when I first met you, I thought you were very good-looking, but up until second year, I just saw you as my best friend. It was only after you hurt me that I realised how much I needed you. So when you kissed me…”
“Didn’t work so well in third year, though, did it?”
Hermione sighed. “I’m sorry. I just - wasn’t ready.”
He nodded. “Me neither, to be honest. I just couldn’t resist.”
“And now here we are…” Hermione completely surpassed speaking about their fourth year at Hogwarts, because that period of time was too painful to relive. “Oh no!” Hermione sat up quickly and ran her fingers through her hair. “Your father didn’t read the Prophet, did he?”
Draco sat up and said, “He did. But it’s fine.”
“How is it fine? What will he do to you?”
“Can’t be any worse than what he’s already done.” Hermione’s eyes were full of fright. Draco tried to smile. “He’s still ignoring me. Thanks to my mother, he and Aunt Bella haven’t shown him.”
“You mean, she’s read it too?!”
Draco nodded. “Don’t worry, Hermione. Nothing worse could happen to me.” He paused. “I’m going to tell you something that you probably won’t want to hear.”
“So don’t tell me,” Hermione said. She thought again. “Okay, tell me.”
He gulped. “You-Know-Who has been staying in my house.”
“WHAT?! Draco, you’ve got to get out of there! I don’t want anything bad to happen to you. Why didn’t you tell me this before?” She was crying again. Draco held her face in his hands and wiped her tears away as best he could with his thumbs.
“It’s hardly a slumber party,” he whispered. “He was there in this Christmas holiday. Let’s just say that now I can see thestrals.”
Hermione held her face in her hands as she wept. “Who…? Who was it?”
Draco shrugged. “I don’t know.” He looked away from her. “A muggleborn.”
Hermione felt as though she was going to throw up. “You can’t go back there.”
“I’ve got no choice. My mother -”
“Can’t you both just leave?”
Draco shook his head. “Even if we did, we’ve both got the Mark. He’ll find us one way or another. We have to stay. Just for a while.”
“No.” Hermione clutched his chest and held him tight. Draco stroked her hair.
“I’ll be okay, Hermione. I’ve got you, remember?”
She sniffed. “I suppose.”
“You’ll keep me sane.”
“But will that keep you alive?” she asked sceptically.
“It better.” Draco laughed, changing the subject. “Do you think your parents will be okay with this?”
“Are you kidding? My dad hates you.” Draco looked shocked, but he couldn't say that he was surprised. “But I’m sure he’ll get over it.”
Hermione reached up and kissed him, this time, with dry eyes. Discomfort must have been on both of their minds, as a double bed raised from beneath them, cushioning the pair with red and green blankets and pillows. They snuggled themselves in the bed and never once did they stop holding each other.
Fifty nine kisses and a long hug later, the sun rose on the other side of the castle walls.
A/N: Et Vóila. Finally. Stay tuned for more ;)
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