Chapter Twenty-Five: Forgiven and Free
A month passed, and soon it was February. Only a month, but it felt like eternity. Every day without Hermione was like being tortured over and over again. In fact, he would rather take Lucius’s torture. It would almost hurt less than being away from her.
Finally, on Friday of the second week, Harry sent him a letter. A note, really, since it was only a sentence long.
I got the Floo. Be ready by dinner—H.
Draco almost smiled. He burned the note, and grabbed a piece of parchment off the table, and wrote a quick note to Hermione.
Room of Requirement 4 dinner. Meet me.
He didn’t sign it. He tucked it under her door, grabbed his bag, and left the dorm for his next class.
It felt like years had passed by the time the last class of the day finished and everyone started heading to the Great Hall for dinner. Draco raced to make it back to the dorm before Hermione got there. Since he would be finished faster, he’d be there before her. If it all worked out, that was.
When he got to the dorm, he changed into a plain, white button-down shirt and a pair of pants, and washed his hair in the bathroom sink. He heard Hermione getting ready in her bedroom, and briefly wondered what she would look like tonight. He didn’t think anything would ever compare to the dress she wore to the Halloween Ball.
When he was done washing his hair, he put on a bit of the cologne his mother had gotten him for Christmas—something called ‘Twilight Woods’—, checked his reflection in the mirror, and left the bathroom.
If this were a normal date, he would’ve knocked on the door to see if Hermione was almost ready, but because it wasn’t, he left the dorm, and headed to the Room of Requirement.
It wasn’t until he actually got there when his nerves started kicking in. He wasn’t the type to get jittery over a date, but this was different. This was Hermione. He had to make tonight perfect. It was his only chance.
Finally, at half-past six, Hermione started walking down the seventh floor corridor, and his breath caught.
Beautiful. That was the only word he could think of to describe her. But even that seemed like an understatement.
She was wearing a black lace dress that just barely reached her knees—it looked like a slip, more than anything—with a pair of leggings underneath, and there was a jacket draped over her arm. Her hair framed her face, the curls perfect and soft, and she wasn’t wearing makeup, except for a layer of lip-gloss that made him want to kiss her. She looked perfect, as she always did.
Of course, as he’d expected, she stopped dead in her tracks when she saw him standing there.
‘Draco?’ She gasped. ‘It was you? You asked me to meet you here?’
He swallowed, licking his lips. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Please, just hear me out. I only want to talk, and I worked really hard to set up this dinner in the Room of Requirement.’
She hesitated, and he wondered if she’d turn around and walk away. But she didn’t. ‘This better be worth it,’ she said.
‘It will be,’ he said, relieved.
He took her arm, and they stepped inside the Room of Requirement, which was empty except for a fireplace, and a stool that held a bowl of Floo powder.
‘This is dinner?’ She asked skeptically.
He shook his head, a nervous laugh escaping his lips. ‘No,’ he said. ‘We’re Flooing somewhere.’
‘A restaurant? I don’t want you wasting money on me,’ she said. ‘If you want me to hear you out, an expensive restaurant is not the way.’
‘You’re so stubborn,’ he said. ‘It’s not a restaurant. I suppose it’s more of a picnic, but I know you’ll like where we’re going.’
She sighed. ‘Fine,’ she said. ‘Let’s go, then.’
They walked to the fireplace, and he threw the Floo powder into the flames, whispering her address. Since they were together, she was on his arm.
A moment later, they stumbled out into a cozy looking living room. There was a white couch, a coffee table, and a little box thing in the corner with odd knobs and buttons with numbers on it. There was an archway leading into the kitchen.
He hadn’t been prepared for Hermione’s reaction. The second she recognised where they were, tears slipped down her cheeks, and she sank to her knees.
‘Hermione?’ He asked hesitantly. ‘Are you OK?’
Stupid, his mental voice scolded. Of course she’s not OK.
‘You brought me home,’ she whispered. ‘Draco… how did you even find out where I lived?’
‘Er… Well, I sort of went into your room. You have a diary—or I guess it’s more of a scrapbook—and your Hogwarts letter was in it. The first one you ever got, and the one when you got Head Girl,’ he said.
She stood up, and threw her arms around his neck. It was the last thing he expected her to do, but he returned the hug. The hole in his chest seemed to have disappeared in her presence, just as he knew it would.
‘Thank you,’ she breathed against his neck. ‘You have no idea how much this means to me.’
‘Actually, I think I have a fairly good idea,’ he said. ‘Now, let’s go see what’s for dinner.’
She held onto his arm, leaning against his shoulder, as they went into the kitchen. It was a normal looking kitchen, similar to the one in his mother’s safe house, and there was a dining table in the middle, spread with a red cloth and candles, silver dinnerware and wineglasses. There were even rose petals sprinkled on it. There was a bowl of mashed potatoes and a bowl of gravy, with roast chicken and beans next to it.
‘Oh,’ she said. ‘This is my favorite meal. My parents used to make it for dinner the night I came home for summer vacation.’
‘It looks delicious,’ he said, smiling at her. She grinned back.
Like the gentleman his mother taught him to be, he pulled the chair out for her, and she sat down blushing. Then he sat across from her.
‘How did you pull this off?’ She asked. ‘You were in class all day. And I don’t remember telling you that this was my favorite.’
‘Er…’ he hesitated. ‘I got help,’ he admitted.
She narrowed her eyes. ‘A house elf?’ Her tone was disapproving.
‘No,’ he said. ‘Not a house elf. Er… Harry sort of helped me set it up. He snuck out through the Room of Requirement, and got here the same way we did. I guess he knew what you liked, so he made it for you.’
She looked surprised, but she smiled a little. ‘Of course he would have,’ she said. ‘I’ll have to thank him later. Now, let’s eat. I’m starving.’
They piled food onto their plates, and started eating. Draco had never tasted anything so delicious. ‘This is amazing,’ he said. ‘Who would’ve guessed Potter would be a good cook.’
‘This is definitely a talent he kept hidden,’ she agreed.
He smirked. ‘Of course he can cook, though, right? Potter can do everything, right?’ He joked.
‘Ha-ha-ha,’ she said. ‘Don’t be mean, Draco. He didn’t have to do this for you, but he did anyway.’
‘He didn’t do it for me,’ he said. ‘He did it for you, because you were miserable.’
She looked away, taking a bite of her chicken. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, so quietly that it was barely audible. ‘I didn’t mean to kiss Blaise, you know. He kissed me.’
It was ridiculous that he should feel relief, but he did. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t give you the chance to explain,’ he said. ‘I was an idiot.’
‘That you were,’ she said, almost smiling, but not quite. ‘I left, after we got back to the manor. I went to the Weasley’s.’
‘You don’t have to explain yourself to me,’ he said. ‘I messed up. I should have let you explain. I don’t know what came over me. I guess… I guess I was just jealous.’ It was difficult to admit that, although he didn’t know why.
‘Well, you shouldn’t have been jealous. Not of Blaise, or anyone else,’ she said. ‘And you had every right be with Astoria—she’s your girlfriend. I don’t blame you for that, even though it was the hardest thing I ever had to watch.’
He flinched. He hated knowing that he’d caused her pain. ‘I needed to be distracted. I know it was wrong to use her like that, but I couldn’t think of another way,’ he said, looking away from her. He didn’t want to see her reaction.
‘You had every right,’ she repeated. ‘It’s none of my business.’
He met her eyes. ‘Isn’t it?’ He asked.
‘No,’ she said. ‘It isn’t. What you do with your life is none of my business. It doesn’t matter what I think.’
‘You’re wrong, you know,’ he said. ‘It does matter. It matters to me.’
She put down her fork. ‘I won’t come between you and Astoria,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t matter how I feel.’
He sighed. ‘Hermione,’ he said.
‘No, Draco,’ she said, and her tone was final. ‘Now, can we please stop talking about this?’
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘What do you want to talk about?’
She picked up her fork, taking a bite of her potatoes. ‘Why didn’t you tell me that Lucius had been released?’ She asked.
Draco almost choked. He had to take a long drink of water before he could answer. ‘H-how did you know about that?’ He asked.
‘Rhea told me,’ she said. ‘On the night we got the invitation for your mother’s party. I asked her why it wasn’t being held at Malfoy Manor, and she told me Lucius had been released. Why didn’t you tell me, Draco?’
‘I…’ he swallowed. ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know… I didn’t know how. I don’t like talking about him.’
‘You should have told me,’ she said quietly. ‘I know… I know what he did to you. He could go back to Azkaban, you know.’
He knew what she meant, and he wanted Lucius to rot in Azkaban for the rest of his life, but at the same time, he couldn’t tell. The last thing he needed was for the world to find out. ‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘I want to, but… I can’t. My mother would have that hanging over her head wherever she went. People would start talk. I can’t.’
‘I’ll find some other way,’ she promised. ‘Somehow, Lucius will go back to Azkaban, and he’ll rot there.’
‘I hope so,’ he said.
They didn’t speak for several minutes, eating their dinner. Both of them were lost in thought. ‘Why didn’t you tell me about your family? Potter told me you wiped their memories and sent them to Australia.’ He asked finally.
Hermione didn’t answer at first. ‘I didn’t want you to know,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want anyone to know. I still don’t.’
‘What happened, then? Why didn’t you return their memories?’ He asked.
She looked down at her plate, and he could see the tears that were threatening to spill down her cheeks. ‘They adopted a son,’ she said. ‘I know my parents. If I’d returned their memories, they wouldn’t have changed their names back, but they would know who they were. For Alexander’s sake, I left it the way it was. My parents would’ve lied to him his whole life otherwise.’
‘Let me get this straight,’ he said. ‘You gave up your parents, for a child you’ve never even met?’
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Because he would be my brother.’
He shook his head. He didn’t know how she was able to sacrifice so much for other people. She had nearly given up her life for Potter, and she gave up her family for the brother she didn’t know. He wouldn’t have been able to do it. ‘I don’t know how you do it,’ he said. ‘You’ve sacrificed so much for other people. You would walk away from me, just because of Astoria.’
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘I’m not a selfish person, Draco. And life, real life, requires sacrifice every now and then. I can’t have everything I want.’
‘Have you ever tried not being selfless?’ He asked.
She looked at him. ‘There are too many selfish people in the world already,’ she said.
He stared at her for a long moment. ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘What are you apologising for?’ She asked. ‘You did nothing wrong.’
He had no idea why he was apologising, either. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I guess I’m just sorry. Sorry for all the things I’ve said to you, all the times I called you… that word. I’m sorry that I didn’t try to save you from my horrible Aunt.’
She looked close to tears. Actually, it was a wonder that she wasn’t crying yet. ‘You can’t blame yourself for what happened with Bellatrix,’ she said. ‘And whatever you said to me back then, it was because of Lucius’s influence. You were young, Draco. You hadn’t known anything but what he taught you. He taught you to hate muggle-borns and muggles, so naturally, you did.’
He wanted to cry. He didn’t, though. Instead, he put his arm on the table, and pulled up the shirtsleeve so she could see the Dark Mark that was still tattooed there. ‘This,’ he said. ‘Is why you should blame me. I had a choice. I had a choice. I could have gone to the Order. I could’ve turned Lucius in. The Order would have protected my mother like they’re doing now. Or I could’ve gone undercover like Snape. But instead I gave in. I joined the Death Eaters, and I tortured… I hurt people.’
She stood up, and crossed the table, closing her hand around the Mark. ‘You joined the Death Eaters because Lucius threatened to kill your mother. You did what had to be done to protect her.’
‘I could’ve gone to the Order,’ he said. ‘Even after I had joined. I could’ve gone, and asked them to keep my mother safe.’
‘That would have been a mistake,’ she said quietly. ‘If you had, if you stayed with the Death Eaters and your mother suddenly disappeared, Lucius would have tortured you endlessly to find out where she was. He would’ve killed you, Draco. He’d have killed you, and he wouldn’t have even blinked.’
‘I know he would’ve,’ he said. He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of the shampoo coming from her hair. It smelled like raspberries. When he opened his eyes, she was watching him. She was as still as a statue, and her fingers were still closed around his wrist.
‘C’mon,’ she said, standing up. ‘I want to show you my room.’
He smiled, a real smile, and got up from the table. She led them around the corner, and up a set of stairs.
Her room was the third door on the right, with a large purple dream-catcher hanging in the center of it. She seemed to hesitate for a fraction of a second, and then she pushed open the door.
It was definitely not at all what he was expecting. When she’d said she wanted to show him her bedroom, he was expecting a huge bookshelf—or maybe two—and a simple, pretty room. Something that complimented her. But that was not even close to what he found.
Hermione’s room was painted a soft gold, with white curtains hanging over the windows, and she had a double bed in the center of the room, made up with purple and green pillows and a crimson duvet that looked like silk. There was a desk under the window, piled with notebooks, parchment paper, a pot of ink, and several multicolored quills. There were two huge bookshelf against the wall across from the desk, filled to the top with books. There was a display shelf above her bed where a dozen stuffed animals were sitting neatly in a row. In the corner was a door, which he figured was probably her closet.
‘Wow,’ he said, after a long minute.
She smiled, almost sadly. ‘I came here after I found out about Ron and Lavender,’ she said. ‘I slept in my parent’s bed and cried myself to sleep. It was the first time I’d been back here since I wiped their memories, right before the war.’
‘You haven’t slept in your own bed, then, in a year?’ He asked.
She shook her head. ‘I haven’t been in this room in a year. Everything’s exactly the same, though,’ she said.
‘Come on,’ he said, grabbing her by the hand. He led her over to her bed, and pulled her down with him. ‘We can afford to spend a little time here. Potter will cover for us if anyone asks.’
‘I’ve always wanted to do this,’ she said. ‘Sit on my bed, with a boy I liked. My Dad would have had a heart attack, if he saw us right now.’
‘With a boy you like, hmm?’ He asked, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. ‘And I presume that I have the honor of being that boy?’
‘You think rather highly of yourself, don’t you, Mr Malfoy?’ She teased, but she was smiling.
‘Thank you, Miss Hermione, and yes, I do think very highly of myself sometimes,’ he replied, smiling at her. He heard her breath catch when he smiled.
‘Miss Hermione. You sound like one of the House Elves,’ she said. ‘At least it wasn’t Granger.’
‘I think I’ve grown out of that habit,’ he said. He touched her cheek. ‘Why are you blushing?’
‘I don’t know,’ she said. ‘I guess I’m embarrassed, and maybe a little nervous. I’ve never been alone in my room with a boy before.’
He knew what she meant. ‘I would never do anything that you didn’t want me to do,’ he said.
‘And even if you did, I’m perfectly capable of defending myself. I memorized the whole book of defense charms and hexes,’ she said.
He laughed. ‘Why am I not surprised?’ He asked. ‘I’m glad. You’re capable of protecting yourself against people like Theodore Nott.’
She jerked away, as if he’d slapped her, and he realised what he’d said. Oops. She didn’t know that he knew about that.
‘Blaise told you,’ she said. It wasn’t a question. ‘When did he tell you? How much did he tell you?’
‘Shortly after it happened,’ he said. ‘And all of it, I think. That was when I staying with you, because you had nightmares.’
Tears were running down her cheeks, and she choked back a sob. ‘I was so scared,’ she whispered. ‘I kept dreaming that he was torturing you. And Harry, and Ron, the Weasley’s… and my parents. And then it changed and suddenly it was Lucius instead of Nott. The nightmares never stopped. But you… you kept them away. I felt safe when you were there.’
‘I wanted to kill him,’ he said. ‘When Blaise told me. But I didn’t.’
She sobbed again, and he pulled her into his arms. She leaned against him. ‘I wish you had,’ she whispered.
That was the last thing either of them said for a while. He held her while she cried, and when she was done, they just lay against the pillows together. Hermione was drawing circles in his palm, resting her head against his chest, and for a moment, he forgot about everything else.
‘Do you want to know a story?’ He asked her after a few minutes. ‘About two people who were like us, a muggle-born and a Pureblood, who were in love?’
‘I don’t know. Does it have a happy ending?’ She asked.
He smiled against her hair. ‘No,’ he said. ‘But it’s a good story all the same.’
‘OK, then,’ she said. ‘Let’s hear it.’
He took a deep breath, and began. ‘Once upon a time, there was a girl. The girl was a witch, and she came from a family of Purebloods…’
And so he told her, in a way that was not obvious at all, what his mother had told him.
When Draco finished his story, a tale that Hermione found beautiful and sad all at the same time, she took him on a tour of the house, showing him all her favorite place. In her father’s study, she sat at the desk, with her elbows resting on the side of the armchair, and told him of the countless times she’d come home from muggle school, plopped herself in a chair across the desk, and told him all about her day. She told Draco how her father would tell her stories, read to her from his books. She recounted all the times her mother had called them to dinner. Draco was fascinated with the subject of muggle-school and asked her to tell him more about it. So she did. She told him all about the school she’d gone to before Hogwarts, how she’d made one of her classmate’s hair explode after the girl and her friends had teased her endlessly. He laughed for a long time after she told him that story.
Finally, they left her father’s study, and headed to clean up the table.
‘I used to wish I’d been born into a muggle family,’ Draco said, using his wand to clean the plates. ‘When I was younger, I mean. Sometimes, when I got really scared, I would lie in bed and wonder what it would be like.’
‘It was… nice,’ she said. ‘Growing up not knowing that I was a witch. I got to have a normal childhood. Well, at least it was somewhat normal, other than the occasional accident with magic.’
He laughed again. ‘I almost ran away, once, when I was nine,’ he said. ‘But I thought of my Mum. I couldn’t leave her alone, knowing exactly what Lucius would do to her when he found out I was gone. So I stayed.’
‘Your Mum is strong. She would’ve survived,’ she said, using her wand to put the freshly washed dishes back in the cupboard. ‘She might have been proud of you, even, for being brave enough to run away.’
‘I suppose that’s probably true,’ he said. ‘But I still couldn’t have left her there. I would do anything for my Mum.’
‘I know,’ she said, kissing him lightly on the mouth. ‘And you did do anything, when you became a Death Eater to protect her. Not many people would have done that. It was a very brave thing you did.’
He gave her a half-smile. ‘You’re so forgiving,’ he said, his voice barely above a whisper. ‘Sometimes I look at you and wonder how you could possibly forgive me for all the horrible things I’ve done. I wonder how you can stand to be around me, to look at me, and not run away screaming.’
‘It doesn’t matter to me what you did in the past,’ she said, touching his cheek. ‘All that matters is that you’re different now. What matters is that you’ve changed how you treat people and things. You’ve changed on the inside, and that’s what counts. That’s the only thing that counts.’
He smiled. Truly, really smiled. It was so beautiful when Draco smiled. ‘I love you,’ he whispered. ‘Merlin, I love you.’
And he kissed her. She never wanted to stop kissing Draco. If she died right now, she would die happy. Very, very happy.
The kiss deepened, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, twining her fingers in his hair. She loved the way his hair felt in between her fingers. Like running her hands through silk.
He lifted her, and she wrapped her legs around his waist. They bumped against the counter.
‘Bedroom,’ Draco gasped, breaking away for air.
She nodded, pulling him back to her. She didn’t need air. He was the only thing she needed to breathe.
He carried her up the stairs, still kissing her—although it was definitely snogging now—and found his way blindly into a bedroom. She briefly recognised the wallpaper that belonged to the guest room.
When they made it to the bed, Hermione had made her decision. Draco pulled away, a question in his eyes, and she nodded.
‘I love you,’ she breathed.
And he was kissing her again, more gently this time, and Hermione let herself fall into her own personal heaven.
The spell had broken, and Ron Weasley felt as if he were waking up after an incredibly long sleep, in which a nightmare had occurred. Lavender’s Imperius had finally dropped, and he was himself again.
‘Thank Merlin,’ he whispered to his reflection, which grinned back at him. He was standing in a bathroom on the fourth floor. It was nearly curfew, but he couldn’t care less if he got caught. If he was in detention all the time, then Lavender wouldn’t be able to get near him, which meant she couldn’t use the Imperius on him anymore. He would finally be free of her.
Well, not entirely. He’d have to pretend for a little while that he was still under her influence, just to be on the safe side. He wasn’t stupid, after all. He’d sensed that Harry was hiding something, and he had a feeling there was danger in the air again. But he was just glad he wasn’t being controlled anymore.
There was just one tiny problem, though. Hermione believed that he had willingly cheated on her, even though the last thing he ever wanted to do was hurt her. And he had, even if it hadn’t really been him, he’d hurt her. Badly. The whole time she’d been yelling at him, he’d been trying to fight through Lavender’s spell, but it was impossible. And he’d ruined the relationship that he’d waited three years for. He’d never forgive himself for it.
The bathroom door opened, and Ron turned around just as Harry pulled off his invisibility cloak.
‘I got your message,’ said Harry, yawning. ‘What’s so important that it couldn’t wait ‘till morning?’
‘We have practise in the morning,’ Ron reminded him. ‘And anyway, I didn’t want to risk having someone overhear.’
‘Overhear what? What’s going on, Ron?’ Harry sighed. ‘I’m exhausted, you know, so you better make this quick.’
He hesitated a fraction of a second, and then took a deep breath. ‘The spell is gone,’ he said finally. ‘Lavender’s spell, I mean. It’s gone.’
‘What?’ Harry gasped. ‘You mean… she’s not controlling you anymore? When did it fade? How did it fade?’
‘Calm down, Harry,’ he sighed. ‘It faded just a little while ago, shortly before I sent you the message to meet me here. And I don’t know how. Maybe Lavender just lost control and couldn’t get it back. She has been really sick lately. All I know is I didn’t do anything.’
‘I don’t know what to say,’ Harry said, after a moment’s silence. ‘Now that you’re not under Lavender’s spell anymore, it’ll be obvious to everyone that you still have feelings for Hermione.’
‘I know,’ he said miserably. ‘I wish I could find some way to tell her… to explain what really happened. Maybe if I told her, she’d forgive me. I’ve only been back to myself for a few minutes, and I already miss her like crazy. But she’ll never even look at me, let alone talk to me. Not after what happened.’
‘She’s wearing your bracelet,’ Harry said. ‘The one I sent her for Christmas.’
He sighed. ‘That doesn’t mean anything. She thinks its from you,’ he said. ‘Seeing her with Zabini at that New Years party… I wanted to kill him every time he made her smile or laugh.’
‘Ron,’ Harry said. ‘Hermione’s not with Blaise. Not like that, I mean. They’re just friends.’
He looked up, hope surging through him. ‘Then… then maybe,’ he began slowly. ‘Maybe it’s not too late.’
A pained look crossed Harry’s face, and he bit his lip. ‘I wish I didn’t have to tell you this, Ron,’ Harry said quietly. ‘But I think… I think it is too late. She might forgive you, but she won’t get back together with you.’
The hope he’d just felt had shattered like glass. As quickly as it had arrived, it was gone, in an instant. ‘Why not?’ He demanded, but he had a horrible feeling that he already knew the answer. The look on Harry’s face was enough.
Blue eyes met green, and Ron stared at his friend. He was holding his breath, and his left hand was curled into a fist at his side. Finally, Harry took a deep breath.
‘Because she’s in love with Malfoy.’
Hello, readers! I sincerely apologize for the long wait! I hope you all enoyed this chapter. I apologize again for ending it on a cliff-hanger. Thanks for reading, and if you have a moment to spare, please leave a review. Your opinions mean a lot to me. Also, Happy Halloween!