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Chapter 22 : Desirous
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Anyway, without further delay, here's chapter 22! :)
Chapter Twenty-Two: Desirous
Only one word could describe how Draco felt when he and his mother left Zabini Manor later that night, after everyone else had gone home, and that word was lucky. He felt like the luckiest person alive. He doubted that even Felix Felicis would have had the same effect.
Kissing Hermione had been one of the best moments of his life. Actually, it probably was the best moment of his life. He couldn’t remember a time when he felt so… free.
‘So?’ His mother asked when they arrived home.
Draco had to blink a few times before he realised that she was staring intently at him, waiting for something. ‘So, what?’ He asked.
She sighed. ‘So, did you tell her how you feel or not?’ She asked.
He was not a man who was easily given away by an expression, but he felt the blood rush to his cheeks, and knew he was blushing. ‘Yes,’ he admitted. ‘I did.’
‘And?’ His mother was beaming, hoping for good news. ‘What was her reaction?’
He didn’t answer. He was still replaying the moment in his head, remembering her face when he had said he loved her. She’d never said ‘I love you’ in return, but the answer had been clear in her expression. He could see it in her face. ‘Well, I kissed her,’ he said after a minute. ‘And she kissed me back.’
‘Did she say how she felt about you, or not?’ She asked.
He nodded. ‘Yes,’ he said, looking away. ‘She told me she loved me too.’
She looked like she might die of happiness. ‘I told you she loved you back, didn’t I? I told you,’ she said.
Draco rolled his eyes. ‘Mum, you’re embarrassing me. Can I please go up to bed? I’m exhausted,’ he said. ‘And I wanted to send her present.’
She nodded, still grinning ear to ear. She kissed him on the cheek. ‘You are going to be happy,’ she told him, and there was no denying that she was sure of her words. ‘You deserve her, you know.’
He couldn’t say anything, because he still didn’t think he did. Instead, he smiled, kissed his mother on the cheek, and went upstairs to bed.
After he mailed away Hermione’s Christmas present—he’d given Astoria hers at the Ball—, he got ready for bed, and turned over the events of the night in his head. It had gone better than he’d thought it would. He was ashamed to admit that he’d almost expected Hermione to slap him. She might have a long time ago. But she was not the girl he remembered in his head. Not the very brave, very stubborn third year that would have rather hexed him before she spent a minute alone with him. But Hermione was different now, and so was he. Although, she was responsible for his changing. He doubted that anyone else could have broken the ice that was around his heart, but she had. She was the only person who was stubborn enough to try. She was the only one brave enough to get close enough to change him.
And that was why he loved her. Not because of who she was, not because she was beautiful and caring and gentle, but because she was brave enough to get close enough to him without running away, because she was everything he wasn’t. She was strong enough not to turn away from his scars, brave enough not to be afraid of the danger, not to fear what other people thought, and she had enough compassion to heal the darkness that Lucius had left in him. She was his savior, and he couldn’t have changed if it were not for her.
There were things to think about now, though, and as he lie in his bed, staring up at the ceiling, they crept into his mind. He wasn’t sure what to do about Astoria, how to break up with her without hurting her. It was also dangerous, because she’d been under the wrong end of Nott’s wand once already, and she would be vulnerable without someone watching her. He was sure that he would be able to protect her, and Hermione, but he didn’t know how long he could keep it up. Sooner or later, Nott would find a way to get to Hermione again. Draco knew it was too much to hope that he would give up his ridiculous plan. He wouldn’t stop until he had destroyed them all.
Draco refused to let Hermione or Astoria be in harms way. In fact, if he could do anything about it, he would destroy Nott himself before he left him near them. Nott would never touch them. Even though he didn’t love Astoria the way she wanted, he wasn’t about to let anyone hurt her. And he’d kill anyone for even thinking about hurting Hermione.
But he knew, although he would do everything in his power to make sure that it would not happen, that Hermione would not be safe forever. And he dreaded the day when he would not be there to protect her.
On Christmas Morning, Hermione awoke with a smile on her lips. In her dream, she had been dancing in the Great Hall with Draco, and the enchanted sky was snowing. Draco had worn a white shirt that was nearly see-through, and she was wearing a white dress. A wedding dress, she’d noticed. It was a nice dream, the nicest she’d had in long time, and she didn’t want to wake up.
There was a knock on the door.
‘Mia?’ Blaise’s voice said. ‘Are you awake?’
She yawned, and crawled out of bed, grabbing the silk robe off the back of the chair. She pulled it on, and opened the door. ‘Happy Christmas,’ she said, smiling at him. He was dressed in his pajamas still, the silk red ones that looked rather fetching on him.
‘Happy Christmas,’ he replied, smiling back. ‘Want to open presents now, or after breakfast?’
‘Now, please,’ she said.
His smile grew, and they headed down to the formal room. ‘You’ve got quite the pile down there,’ Blaise informed her. ‘I think you got more gifts then I did, not that I was counting.’
She was pleased. Of course, she didn’t expect to receive anything from Draco, but she was anticipating opening her gifts. Christmas had always been her favorite holiday, even though she never expected anything. Every year, though, she always got a decent pile of gifts. It was nice to see that her friends cared enough to get her things.
‘It’s not a competition,’ she said. ‘Besides, it’s the thought that counts, right?’
He laughed. ‘Right,’ he agreed.
They reached the formal room, and she saw that someone—Penny or Rhea—had added a bright red couch in front of the Christmas tree, which had been moved to the center of the room, rather than the far corner. There was a huge pile of gifts underneath it, perfectly stacked.
‘Happy Christmas, Hermione,’ said Rhea, getting up from the couch.
She smiled, and accepted Rhea’s hug. ‘You, too,’ she said, trying not to cry as she remembered all the times her mother had hugged her on Christmas morning. Every year, after they got home from the Christmas Eve service, she and her mother would spend the rest of the night baking cookies and drinking hot chocolate. She remembered how she would still smell like cookies in the morning. Rhea smelled like cookies, too, and hugging her made her miss her mother more than ever.
Rhea was the one to break the hug. ‘Come on,’ she said with a grin that matched her son’s. ‘Let’s start opening presents.’
Hermione grinned, too, and she and Blaise went to sit on the couch. Rhea knelt in front of the tree, and started sorting out the gifts.
‘Give her mine first,’ Blaise told his mother. ‘It’s the red and gold one.’
She blushed. ‘You didn’t have to get me anything,’ she said. ‘Really. You’ve done enough just letting me stay here.’
‘Oh, stop that. Save the selflessness for another day and accept the gift, alright?’ He asked her.
Rhea laughed, and handed her a gold-and-red, rectangle shaped box. ‘Did you wrap it in Gryffindor colors on purpose?’ She asked, grinning at Blaise as she began to carefully pull the paper off. She’d never liked tearing open her gifts. She preferred to enjoy the moment.
‘Er… well, not really. I wasn’t really thinking about the wrapping paper,’ he said. ‘I was too caught up in trying to find the gift itself. You’re a very hard person to shop for, you know.’
She had finished opening the gift, and gasped when she saw the elegantly designed, wooden jewelry box inside. The pattern on the outside was intricate, perfect lines that connected to a single heart in the center.
‘Blaise,’ she breathed. ‘It’s beautiful.’ She turned, and kissed him on the cheek. Rhea looked away, a smile playing at her lips.
‘Open it,’ he told her.
She pretended that she didn’t notice the pink tint to his cheeks, and carefully lifted the lid to the box. She was almost afraid that she would break it.
When the top opened, a familiar melody began to play from it, and she could feel the tears starting to form in her eyes as she recognised it.
‘The Nutcracker,’ she whispered. ‘Oh, Blaise.’ She couldn’t help it—the tears dripped down her cheeks. He couldn’t have gotten her a more perfect gift. He had been paying attention to her, when he took her to see the play the other night. He must have, if he knew what it meant to her. He must have seen the way she’d been fighting back the tears as she watched, and known that it reminded her of her parents. Of course he had, or he wouldn’t have gotten her the box.
‘I didn’t mean to upset you,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry.’
She shook her head. ‘I’m not crying because I’m upset,’ she said. ‘It’s perfect, Blaise. Thank you.’ She quickly wiped her tears away with her sleeve, and tried to smile. No more crying, she told herself. Not today, at least.
‘Okay. Your turn, Blaise,’ Rhea said, tossing a gift at him.
He seemed to want to say something else, but he didn’t, and instead opened the gift. Like her, he didn’t tear off the paper right away. It was a photo album, full of pictures of him and his mother. She watched as he flipped through it, his face unreadable.
When he reached a picture of Draco and him as children, he lingered on the page, and she stared at it for a long moment. They were in an apple orchard, under a tree of green apples, and Blaise was in the middle of climbing the tree to get one. Draco stood underneath him, grinning. The younger Blaise looked different. He still had those gorgeous brown eyes, but he seemed much more innocent as he smiled widely and waved at the camera. Draco looked innocent, too, and younger. She noticed the way their faces were lit up, happy and carefree.
She only wished that they could’ve remained that way. ‘When was this taken?’ She asked him, still staring at it.
‘Blaise was nine in that photo,’ Rhea answered. ‘So was Draco. It was at the apple orchard in Malfoy Manor.’
Blaise smiled. ‘Didn’t I fall off after that picture was taken?’ He asked, and Rhea nodded, laughing.
‘Yes. You screamed like a banshee. I had to take you to St. Mungo’s, because you had landed on your arm funny. They had to fix it,’ she said. ‘But you were pleased, because you managed to get an apple from the taller branch before you fell. I still remember Narcissa scolding Draco when he asked you if you got it.’
Hermione laughed, but it died when she remembered an important detail. If they were nine, then that was the year before Lucius started using the Cruciatus Curse on Draco. The only time he’d been innocent was long before he started Hogwarts… this picture was her only proof that that Draco had once been happy.
‘Here,’ Blaise said, sliding the photo out. ‘You can have it.’
She was surprised. ‘Why?’ She asked. ‘It means more to you then it does to me. It’s your memory, not mine.’ And I can’t take it more memories from people I care about, she wanted to say.
‘It’s just a picture, Mia. I have more copies,’ he said. ‘Besides, this way I’ll always be sure you’ll remember me.’
How could I forget you? She wanted to ask him. How could I, when you’ve done so much for me, and I don’t even deserve it?
But she didn’t say anything. Instead, she smiled a little, and accepted the picture. The little Draco smiled up at her. ‘I’ll cherish it forever,’ she said, and Blaise smiled.
She tucked the photo in her music box, and they went back to opening presents.
The living room of his mother’s house was warm and toasty, much unlike the Manor had been. Christmas had always been a secret event in the Manor. Lucius didn’t like it when they were happy, even for a moment, and they were always happiest at Christmas. That’s why most of his Christmases were spent at Hogwarts. But when he was at home, his mother would sneak up to his room when Lucius was still asleep, and bring him the gifts that Dobby had hidden for her. In the wee hours of the morning, they would open presents in his private sitting room. Dobby even managed to sneak in a small tree once. It was the size of one of his small side tables, but it was still a tree. He’d loved that elf, but he was happy when Harry freed him. He was mad when Bellatrix killed him, and he’d cried later on.
But this Christmas was different than the ones he and his mother had always had, because this year, they were free. She’d gotten a tree, and decorated it with ornaments and lights, and they were allowed to sit in the living room in front of a fireplace, at a normal hour, rather than early in the morning, hiding from his father. They didn’t have to hide anymore.
‘Draco, you shouldn’t have!’ Narcissa exclaimed when she opened her coffee maker. ‘It’s wonderful, of course, and exactly what I wanted. But of course, you already knew that, didn’t you?’
He smiled, just a little. ‘I figured you would appreciate being able to make your own coffee, instead of going to a café,’ he said.
She smiled, and handed him a box. It was wrapped in blue paper, and there was a little note taped to the front.
To Draco, from Hermione, it read in her familiar, perfect writing.
His heart skipped. He hadn’t expected her to get him anything. She had already given him everything he could ask for.
‘Who’s it from?’ Narcissa asked.
He looked up at her, and saw that her eyes were twinkling. ‘Hermione,’ he said.
‘I take it you weren’t expecting it?’ She asked, and he nodded. ‘Well, come on then. Open it. Lets see.’
Holding his breath, he opened the package carefully, removed the gold tissue paper, and peered hesitantly inside.
His jaw dropped open.
‘Merlin, Hermione,’ he whispered.
She had gotten him tickets to the Quidditch World Cup, which would be happening the coming summer, and underneath that was a broomstick. It looked like the exact same one that his father had broken, although he hadn’t told her what make it was. Looking more closely, he saw the words Nimbus 1700 painted on the side.
The exact same one that he’d owned. She must have paid a fortune to get this…
‘What is it?’ Narcissa asked.
She didn’t wait for him to answer. She moved closer to him, and looked into the box. She knew, of course, what it meant to him, and she put her hand over her mouth, tears leaking silently down her cheeks. ‘There’s a note,’ she said, picking up the piece of paper that had fluttered to the floor.
Draco couldn’t speak. He took the note from his mother, and read it carefully, noticing that there were tearstains on the page.
Happy Christmas. I hope this gift doesn’t upset you too much. You see, when you told me what your father had done to you, I got permission from McGonagall to go to Diagon Alley. I know it won’t erase what happened, but I hoped that I would be able to give you a new, happy memory.
You’re probably wondering how I managed to get World Cup tickets, but Luna Lovegood gave them to me, so I didn’t pay a dime. She told me that she had won them, but didn’t intend on going to the World Cup, so she said I could have them. The broomstick was a bit trickier. You see, I figured that you would’ve had the most popular one at the time, and I did a little math to find out what was popular that year. The shopkeeper at Quality Quidditch Supplies ended up giving it to me for a really good price—he recognized who I was, ugh—and so I didn’t pay much.
I don’t expect anything in return. I don’t need anything. I just want you to be happy. I want you to remember good things, not bad. Make good memories, Draco, and hold onto them.
He was crying by the time he finished reading the letter, and his mother, who had been reading over his shoulder, hugged him.
‘You keep her close, Draco,’ she whispered in his ear. ‘Very close.’
Draco nodded. He wouldn’t have thought it possible to love Hermione anymore than he already did, but he did. He loved her even more now, reading her letter. His fingers brushed over the signature.
‘I will,’ he promised his mother. ‘Always.’
She was opening her last three gifts by the time it was ten o’clock. Ginny had gotten her a lovely little black handbag, hanging from a silver chain, and she had gotten her usual Weasley sweater and basket from Mrs. Weasley. That made her smile. Even though she was no longer with Ron, it was nice to know that she still though of her as a part of the family. She even got a basket of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes products from the store, which included a book of 100 ‘useful’ pranks. She’d laughed, and so had Blaise. She kept expecting to open a gift from her parents, but she knew she wouldn’t.
Rhea had given her an elegant looking red coat, to which she’d protested because it looked too expensive, but Rhea insisted—using her ‘I don’t have daughters of my own’ excuse—that she keep it.
‘This one is from Harry,’ Blaise said, handing her a gold gift bag.
She took it. ‘I hope he likes the gift I got him,’ she said.
‘What is it?’ Blaise asked. ‘That you got him, I mean.’
She smiled, remembering how thrilled she’d been when she found it. ‘Well, of course I got him the usual haul of treats. Chocolate from Honeydukes, that sort of thing, but I found a snow-globe with a broomstick flying around in it. I got it because the person riding it kind of looks like him,’ she said. ‘I thought it was awesome.’
‘It sounds awesome,’ Blaise agreed, grinning.
She grinned, too, and opened the gift. ‘Oh, my Godric,’ she whispered. ‘Wow.’
Harry had given her a necklace, with a tiny charm hanging from it. She was never going to be able to make up for this gift. The charm was an exact minature version of Hogwarts: A History. She had no idea how he’d even managed to find something like this. She was certain that it was one-of-a-kind. And it was hers.
‘Wow indeed,’ Blaise said from beside her, with a hint of jealousy in his tone. ‘Potter certainly knows you.’
She clasped the charm around her neck. ‘He’s only seen me read Hogwarts: A History a million times. He’d be really thick if he hadn’t realised that it was my favorite book of all time,’ she said.
Blaise didn’t say anything. His expression was sour as he handed the next gift—a small, rectangular box wrapped in silver—to her.
‘It’s from Draco,’ she said, surprised at the name on the To-And-From sticker. She couldn’t wait to see what it was, and tore off the paper quickly. The rectangle was a velvet black box, the ones bracelets and necklaces were sold in. She hesitated, held her breath, and opened it.
Inside was a silver bracelet with a link chain. A charm bracelet, she realized. And there were already two charms hanging from it. A small crown, and a heart.
Blaise nearly glared at the heart charm when she put the bracelet on her wrist, and she nearly rolled her eyes. He really had to get control of his jealousy.
‘It’s beautiful, Hermione,’ Rhea said, probably hoping to lighten the mood. ‘You should thank Draco when we see him on New Years.’
She was confused. ‘Why are we seeing him on New Years?’ She asked, praying that there wasn’t some sort of Ball going on again. She didn’t think she could handle another one so soon.
‘Oh, right, I forgot I haven’t told you,’ Rhea said. ‘There’s a New Years Party at Narcissa’s, and of course we’ve been invited.’
I’d rather take the Ball, she thought, there’s no way I’m going to Malfoy Manor. ‘Er, I don’t think I’m comfortable… attending a party at the Manor,’ she said slowly, looking down.
‘It’s not at the Manor,’ Rhea said. ‘Didn’t Draco tell you? His mother moved out of the Manor.’
She looked up. This was definitely news to her. ‘But I thought she liked living there,’ she said, confused. ‘Why would she move out?’
Rhea bit her lip, glancing at Blaise, who looked as dumbfounded as she felt. Obviously this wasn’t something Draco had thought to share with him, either. Of course, she was certain that Blaise wouldn’t keep it a secret from her if he had known. She was a little upset that Draco had, though, and that she was finding this out from someone else. Especially after their kiss…
‘I thought you knew,’ said Rhea quietly, interrupting her train of thought. ‘Lucius Malfoy has been released from Azkaban.’
It was the middle of the afternoon on Christmas Day when the huge, handsome-looking owl flew through the Burrow’s kitchen window. Harry, along with the others, was eating lunch at the kitchen table.
Mrs. Weasley was startled, and nearly dropped the spoon she was holding, which she was using to make some kind of pudding for dinner tonight.
‘Goodness gracious!’ She exclaimed, putting down said spoon. ‘I wonder who would be owling us at this time of the day. Especially on Christmas.’
The owl was perched on one of the counters, and it held a scroll in its beak, which was tied with a red ribbon.
‘Ooh, it’s an invitation,’ Ginny said happily. ‘Hurry up, Mum, open it.’
Mrs. Weasley gave her a look that said, very clearly, be quiet, walked over to the bird, pulled the scroll out of its mouth, and carefully unrolled it.
‘Weasley Family,’ she began reading out loud. ‘You have been cordially invited to attend Narcissa Malfoy’s annual New Years Eve Party.’
Several members of the family gasped, and Ron nearly choked on his sandwich. ‘You’re kidding?’ George demanded. ‘The Malfoys are actually inviting us to a party with all of their other pureblood friends, who, by the way, hate us?’
‘I’m not going,’ Ron said, his face bright red with anger. ‘I will not attend a party at Malfoy Manor. Absolutely not.’
Harry swallowed. He was with Ron on this one—he didn’t want to go to the place where they had listened to Hermione’s screams, unable to save her from Bellatrix’s clutches. Even if the party didn’t take place in the drawing room, he wouldn’t feel comfortable being there.
‘The address doesn’t say Malfoy Manor, Ronald,’ Mrs. Weasley said. ‘We’re going to be Flooing to ‘Narcissa Malfoy’s house’ according to the invitation.’
He was relieved, and Ron’s face went back to its normal color. ‘I wonder why they’re inviting us,’ Ginny said. ‘You think maybe Hermione asked Draco to add us in the guest list?’
‘Maybe,’ Harry said.
Ron looked annoyed by that idea. Because it was Christmas Break and Lavender wasn’t around—Molly had literally forbidden him to bring her—the Imperius was off for the time being, and Ron was his normal self again. Well, except for the fact that he was mumbling Hermione’s name in his sleep, and he had looked rather upset when Harry and Ginny had opened their gifts from her that morning.
‘There’s a P.S.,’ Molly said. ‘It says to wear fancy clothes—yes, a dress, Ginny—and that Harry is invited to come as well.’
He didn’t know whether to be surprised or not. He might be civil to Draco now, only because they were both trying to protect Hermione, but that didn’t mean they were anything close to friends. They were simply two people, once enemies, who shared the same goal. It was stranger still that they would invite the Weasley’s. But perhaps it was only Lucius who hated them. Maybe Narcissa and Draco were trying to make up for the past.
‘Well,’ said Ron. ‘This should be interesting.’
Molly gave him a stern look, and Ron squirmed under it. ‘You better behave yourself, Ronald Billius Weasley. You will not embarrass our family yet again,’ she said. ‘I don’t care how much you hate Draco Malfoy, you will be civil. If you can’t, then you will stay far away from him. Understand?’
‘Yes, Mum,’ Ron said. ‘And if Hermione’s there?’
Molly glared. ‘You’ll leave her alone too, if you know what’s good for you. That poor girl has had enough trouble from you. You don’t need to ruin her holiday,’ she said.
Harry felt guilty, knowing the reason that Ron had cheated Hermione her in the first place. Not because he’d wanted to—but because he had been forced. But he couldn’t exactly tell Molly that.
‘Alright,’ Ron said grumpily. As if he wanted to do everything other than leave Hermione alone.
This is definitely going to be interesting, Harry thought.
New Years Eve came rather quickly after that, and Draco spent most of the 30th helping his mother decorate for the New Years Party. His mother was in love with the little gray kitten that he’d given her for Christmas, and she’d named her Lyra. Lyra seemed content to follow him everywhere, playing with the tinsel and cotton bolls that fell out of the boxes. It was quite funny.
‘Draco! Draco, come quickly!’ His mother exclaimed from the kitchen, two hours before the party started.
He dropped the New Years banner, which he’d been trying to hang—unsuccessfully—without magic and ran into the kitchen to find his mother leaning over the sink, looking out the window.
‘What is it?’ He asked, walking over to her. Her face was fearful. Please, he thought desperately, don’t let it be another spider. He’d already killed four today, and he didn’t feel like killing another.
‘There’s someone watching us,’ she said.
His blood ran cold, and he followed her gaze to the back gate. The house backed onto a pretty muggle park, with lots of trees. Squinting, he could just make out a figure dressed in black, standing underneath a tree. When he blinked, it was gone.
‘No one can touch you, Mum. The house is warded,’ he reminded her gently. ‘You’re safe.’
She nodded once, slowly. ‘Right. It’s okay. We’re safe,’ she said, more to herself then him. Then she turned to face him, smiling. ‘Why don’t you go finish hanging the banner, and then you can come help me with the cookies?’
‘OK,’ he said.
Even though he tried, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling that whoever had been watching them wanted something from them. Something bad.
By the time the party started, Draco had completely forgotten about the mysterious figure, and he was absorbed in greeting the guests as they arrived. His mother had changed into a casual dark green cocktail dress, and had made him change into a pair of black trousers and a white dress shirt.
His mother had invited, as usual, a handful of people. The Parkinsons, who were of course the first to arrive, then Theodore and his father—he had to fight the urge to glare at him—and then the Greengrasses. Next came the Weasley’s.
‘Thank you so much for inviting us, Narcissa,’ said Molly Weasley, handing his mother a basket of cookies and other treats. ‘I hope you aren’t allergic to anything.’
Narcissa smiled. The faces of Mrs. Weasley’s husband and children were genuinely shocked. ‘No, but you really didn’t have to bring anything,’ she said. ‘I’m simply glad that you showed up at all.’
His mother, he knew, had been worried that they wouldn’t come, given their history. But even Arthur Weasley seemed more at ease. Probably it was because Lucius wasn’t around. It had always been his father that the elder Weasley hated the most.
‘Of course,’ said Molly.
Harry was, as he expected, standing next to Ginny, who was wearing a long-sleeved, white lace cocktail dress. Harry met his gaze, and gave a curt nod.
The women had finished their conversation, and the Weasley clan followed their mother into the living room, where they were met with shocked stares.
When Blaise, Rhea and Hermione finally came out of the fireplace, he couldn’t help staring. Hermione was simply stunning in a short black dress that barely reached her knees. The straps were white gems, which looked like diamonds, and they formed a V. The dress wasn’t something Hermione would normally wear, and he found himself staring at her for a long time. She was always beautiful, even though she hardly flaunted her beauty, but the dress made her look even more stunning than usual. Her hair was pinned on either side of her face in soft ringlets, and her lips were shimmering—she was wearing lip-gloss, he guessed—and although she wasn’t wearing eyeshadow, her eyes seemed rounder than usual. He couldn’t stop looking at her—she was absolutely magnificent.
Of course, he was snapped back to reality when Blaise led her into the living room, where everyone else was. Luckily, the Zabini’s were the last to arrive, so he didn’t have to stand in front of the fireplace any longer, and he and his mother joined the festivities.
Astoria got to him before he could even approach Hermione.
‘Did you get my Christmas present?’ She asked.
He had almost forgotten the watch she’d given him, even though he was wearing it. ‘I did,’ he said, showing her his wrist. ‘It’s lovely. Did you like the earrings?’
She nodded, beaming. He noticed that she was wearing them. He wondered if Hermione was wearing the bracelet… ‘I love them,’ Astoria said. ‘I hope they weren’t too expensive, though.’
What, did you think they were cheap? He wanted to ask her. Not that Astoria would care about the price. She was one of those girls who enjoyed receiving expensive things.
‘Ah, I can’t tell you that,’ he said. ‘As long as they make you happy, the price tag doesn’t matter.’
She grinned. It was, of course, the perfect thing to say. He was good at pretending, and making Astoria happy was easy enough. He knew, of course, that he would eventually have to drop the act.
The song suddenly switched, and he saw the recognition in Astoria’s eyes. ‘Oh,’ she said. ‘I love this song.’
He didn’t want to dance, but he knew she’d be offended if he didn’t ask her. So he held out his hand. ‘Dance with me?’ He said.
She nodded, and accepted his hand. As if moving on autopilot, he led Astoria to the center of the room, where Harry and Ginny were dancing together, along with Theodore and Pansy, and Mr and Mrs. Weasley. The Weasel-Face was sulking in a corner, watching Hermione as she talked with Blaise, smiling.
It was nice to know he wasn’t the only one that was jealous.
Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione watched. She watched Draco dancing with Astoria, just as he had danced with her in her dream. Even though she could tell, looking at him, that he clearly didn’t want to be dancing with Astoria, it hurt to watch them together. She was hardly paying attention to Blaise, forcing herself to smile. It was almost as horrible as watching Ron and Lavender.
Speaking of Ron, she could feel him staring at her, as if his eyes were burning holes in the back of her head. Part of her, the part that still loved him and missed having him in her life, longed to go talk to him, but she couldn’t. The part of her that hated him for betraying her was much stronger, and she knew that they would probably just start fighting again anyway, so it wasn’t worth it. She didn’t enjoy fighting with Ron—she never had.
She didn’t know why, but a memory suddenly occurred to her. She remembered the week before the Hogwarts letters arrived, sitting in the living room, reading Hogwarts: A History as she thought of how devastated she would be if she didn’t make Head Girl. She remembered putting the book down, remembered Ron asking her what was wrong. She’d confessed that she was worried she wouldn’t get the Head Girl position.
‘Hermione, of course you will,’ Ron had said, laughing. ‘No one else deserves it more than you. They don’t call you the Brightest Witch of Our Year for nothing, you know.’
Of course, she’d blushed, and told him to stop teasing her, but Ron, a week later, had grinned ear to ear when the letter arrived with her badge, saying ‘I told you so’ as she hugged him and wept with joy.
Now, sitting in Narcissa’s living room, she looked down at the necklace Harry had sent her. She recalled the devastating newspaper article, the image of Ron and Lavender in front of Flourish and Blotts. She received her badge only days after that article was printed. She hadn’t thought about it at the time, but it was strange that he would be in front of a bookstore, when school was still weeks away.
There was only one reason Ron would be visiting the bookstore when it wasn’t necessary, and it certainly wasn’t to cheat on her with Lavender Brown.
Could it be that Ron, because he was so confident that she would be Head Girl, had been buying her a gift to congratulate her? A simple shrinking charm would work to make the book small enough to be a charm, and it was easy enough to come by a necklace. Before, she would have dismissed it, because Ron couldn’t have done something like that, not for her. But now, she wasn’t so sure. She remembered how proud he had been of her when she received Head Girl. She didn’t think he wasn’t capable of being thoughtful, he was, it was just that she’d never thought he would do something so special for her. He never surprised her before. Maybe that was why she wouldn’t have considered it, but maybe that was exactly why he’d gone through all the trouble of creating a gift that he had to have known she would love. Because he’d wanted to prove to her that he really, truly loved her.
The thought alone nearly moved her to tears.
She blinked, realising that she’d completely forgotten about Blaise. She didn’t remember what they’d been talking about, and he was looking at her strangely.
‘I’m sorry, Blaise. I’m exhausted. What were you saying?’ She asked.
He sighed. ‘I was asking you if you wanted to dance?’ He said it like a question, one perfect eyebrow raised.
‘Oh,’ she said, biting her lip. ‘I don’t really feel like dancing right now. Actually, I have to use the washroom.’
He looked disappointed, but he nodded anyway. ‘Alright.’
She got up from the couch, and left the living room, not bothering to ask Narcissa where the washroom was. She could feel Ron watching her as she left, and half-wondered if he was going to follow her.
Stupid, she thought, heading through a door. Just because he might’ve made the necklace doesn’t mean he didn’t cheat on you. He still betrayed you.
Still, though, there was a part of her that didn’t believe that. Not really. If Ron had gone to the trouble to make her that necklace, he wouldn’t have cheated on her. Not with the very person he knew she hated the most. If she had thought through her anger at the time, then maybe she would have been more sensible about the situation. But then, there was that picture. She couldn’t deny the proof that had been right in front of her eyes.
But Lavender was the type of girl to push herself on a man, even if he was clearly with someone else. Ron wouldn’t have cheated on her willingly.
That left three options. Option one: Lavender had threatened Ron somehow, maybe threatened her—and she knew how protective Ron was; he wouldn’t want any danger to come to her—, to get back together. That didn’t seem likely, for some reason. Lavender knew exactly how Ron felt about her. She would go to extreme measures to get Ron back. Simply threatening the woman he loved wouldn’t be enough. Not for a girl like Lavender.
So that left Option Two, which seemed much more like Lavender. It was possible that she was giving Ron love potion. But even Lavender, as dimwitted as she was, would have to know that the effects of a love potion were not real. Ron wouldn’t really be in love with her—he would just be under a spell to think that he was. Besides, Ron didn’t really act like he was under a love potion.
Option Three, then, Hermione decided. It was the most likely of all three, and it made the most sense. She would’ve laughed, before, at the idea of Lavender doing such a thing, but she had no idea what the girl was capable of.
If Lavender wanted to control Ron completely, then the only way to do that was to use the Imperius Curse. It was dark magic, and if Hermione could prove it, Lavender would be thrown into Azkaban.
Looks like I’ll be keeping a close eye on Ron from now on, she thought to herself, almost smiling at the thought of throwing Lavender in prison.
Of course, Lucius Malfoy would be in the cell next to hers, if she had anything to do about it.
As the countdown to Midnight began, Draco found himself desperate to talk to Hermione. He wanted to find out why she’d disappeared earlier. But Astoria wasn’t about to let go of him. Every time he tried to go over to Hermione, she was there, dragging him away. It was beginning to get rather annoying.
Someone had, unfortunately, told Astoria what New Years Eve was really about, and she was very obviously looking forward to midnight. She refused to let him leave, in case he missed it.
‘Draco, stop fidgeting,’ she hissed in his ear. They were sitting on the couch. His mother was counting down the seconds to midnight.
‘I can’t,’ he whispered back. ‘I need to use the washroom.’
She sighed. ‘Can you wait? You’re going to miss it,’ she said.
He shook his head. ‘I need to go. Badly,’ he said. ‘I promise, I’ll be right back.’ He kissed her on the cheek, and she let go of his arm.
Quickly, he stood, and headed to the hallway. Hermione had left again, only a second ago—probably to escape kissing Blaise, who was anticipating the moment as clearly as Astoria was—and he wanted to find her.
‘Hermione?’ He whispered as he walked down the hall. The bathroom door was still open, so she wasn’t in there.
He heard his mother start counting down from ten, and he started faster down the hall. He was getting anxious now.
He reached the guest room, next to his bedroom, and twisted the doorknob. It was locked. That was odd.
There was someone in the bedroom, talking. It sounded like Hermione. And someone else, too. Was it Ginny? Or had Nott corned her?
He fumbled for his wand, heart racing. Three, his mother’s voice echoed down the hall. ‘Alohomora,’ he whispered, and the door swung open, revealing not Ginny or Nott, but Blaise.
And they—Blaise and Hermione—were snogging.
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