Chapter 26 : The Ultimate Decision
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The floor was crowded as all the seventh years jumped around to the roaring beats of The Angry Bowtruckles. It was a band that Hermione had never heard of but she danced around with everyone else, if you could really call it dancing that is. None the less, jumping up and down and moving your arms around was always enjoyable, and extremely exhausting. Even Ron who was not an avid dancer seemed to be doing all right in the few times he was on the floor.
And so the night passed. Dancing was interspersed with re-hydrating on the incredibly tasty fruit punch and talking with friends, but mostly, Hermione was on the dance floor with Ginny. Draco had been off somewhere for most of the night and she had hardly seen him since dinner. Starting to feel quite exhausted and incredibly hot after her latest round of dancing, Hermione motioned to the doors leading to the outside courtyard. Ginny nodded in understanding and the two girls made their way to the refreshingly cool air.
“Good call Hermione, it was getting really hot in there,” Ginny commented as she soaked up the breeze.
“For us it is,” Hermione replied, “but those boys have been suspiciously absent.”
“I noticed that too, but it doesn't really bother me,” Ginny said as she took a seat on the concrete block wall, “it means I can leave tonight with my toe nails still intact.”
“Harry still standing on your toes then?” Hermione asked with a cheeky grin, taking a seat beside her best friend.
“Stamping more like it. Sometimes I wonder if his foot is somehow magically attracted to mine,” Ginny mused which made Hermione chuckle. “I can't believe the year is over, I can't believe have much things have changed and I can't believe we actually got to the end of the year without having to fight for our lives in one way, shape or form.”
“It makes a nice change,” Hermione said, looking down at the paved ground as she mentally scanned through the previous seven years adventures. She had definitely seen enough war to last a lifetime. “I just can't believe how it all turned out in the end. I was dreading it when I found out that Draco was head boy. Who ever would have thought that we would become friends?”
“Who ever would have thought that he would grow a conscience?” Ginny added as she looked up and noticed a blond haired form standing in the doorway leading to the courtyard with an unsure look on his face. “Hey, I'm going to head back inside. I'll see you later.”
Hermione looked up at Ginny, confused at her sudden departure. Then she saw the figure in the doorway and totally understood. As Ginny left, Draco approached and took a seat beside her.
“Having a nice night?” Draco asked as he looked into her chocolate eyes, losing himself once more in their depths.
“Yes” Hermione answered as she gazed lovingly at the boy she once despised.
“Dance with me,” Draco requested, putting out his hand for Hermione. She did not hesitate and immediate placed her hand gently in his. Draco helped her to her feet then wrapped his arms around her tightly. Hermione relaxed into his warm hold and placed her head on his shoulder as they swayed to their own beat, ignoring the heavy sounds emanating for the Great Hall.
Hermione really did have to wonder how things turned out like they had. Why, on her graduation night she was slow dancing with Draco Malfoy and not Ron, the boy she had dreamed of marrying. But more baffling was why she was so able to let him go. What was stopping her from fighting for him to stay with her? She loved him, more than even she could comprehend, yet he was leaving tomorrow to who knew where. Could she go on without his constant companionship? She had grown so accustomed to his presence in her life that his absence was unmistakably heart wrenching. She had experienced it for a few days when he had been at St Mungo's and that had been bad enough. This time he was going to leave the country, she was going to start her magical law degree and they would be worlds apart. And her heart would be split in two.
Draco had been wondering what to do all night. One moment he wanted to stay and be with Hermione and say screw you to the public that despised him, the next, something would happen that would make him want to stick with his original plan. He had avoided Hermione for most of the dance as a way of avoiding the feelings of love and admiration that would consume him as he watched her face light up with joy. It was such a hard decision to make, stay with the one he loved or leave for freedom and anonymity. But did she love him?
They had never told each other their true feelings. He had been pretty sure for months that she felt the same for him, though all the signs were through body language and off handed comments. She didn't want him to leave, but did that mean she wanted him to stay for her or because she thought that staying was the best way to regain respect? Then there were all the times they were together on the couch. Their closeness seemed to go way beyond that of a normal friendship, but still, how could he be so sure.
So many questions but no answers. There was only one sure way and that was to ask her if she loved him, but then what would he do. If she said yes, he could hardly leave her, and if she said no it would shatter his heart. But was her love enough for him to stay? It should have been, but then came the complications that would invade her life. Could she deal with the dirt that would be flung at her if people realised that she, Hermione Granger, war hero, was dating Draco Malfoy, death eater. He didn't want to put her through that and subject her life to more misery at his hands. He had put her through enough pain. She had always known that he was leaving, maybe sticking to the original plan was best. It was going to hurt and he knew he was going to cry, but that's what he got for falling in love.
But then she took her head off his shoulder and looked into his eyes, and all his resolutions drifted away.
“I don't want this to be the end,” Hermione whispered softly, portraying everything to Draco in a single glance. It was love, unmistakable love. And he was undeniably as much under her spell as she was under his. She had tried so hard to convince him that there was a place for him and he didn't have to run, but it didn't seem to be working. Maybe it was time to fight for it. She had nothing to lose. If she failed, he would leave, but she would prefer him to leave knowing that she had fought for him than to know she never tried.
Slowly, as the stars twinkled overhead and the soft breeze ruffled their hair, the gap between Draco and Hermione began to close. Draco's mind was telling him not to but his heart would not be swayed. Gently their lips met and Draco lost himself in time and space as an explosion of emotions flooded through him. Everything felt so right, the way her body moulded to his, her sweet scent and her soft lips. This was the moment he wanted to have over and over again, a moment he wanted to be able to have forever.
Hermione didn't know what she was doing. She had been trying so desperately to end any thoughts of Draco staying, but here she was, held close in his arm, her lips locked with his. And she never wanted to let him go. For once she had followed her heart rather than her head and when his eyes had locked with hers, for the first time without an ounce of doubt, she knew that Draco loved her. Hermione didn't know how long she stayed there in a state of blissful serenity; the world and its surrounds had disappeared and all was consumed by Draco. He was her present and she wanted him to be her future.
Hermione felt Draco start to pull away, and reluctantly, she let their lips part. She suddenly returned to earth and the full realisation of what had just occurred hit her. She had just kissed Draco Malfoy, and she wanted to kiss him again. She looked up, her eyes full of love, but as her eyes meet his, all she saw was confusion.
“I'm so sorry Hermione, I have to go.”
Hermione stood in shock as Draco suddenly took off out of the courtyard and back into the Great Hall. Confusion swept through her as she wondered what had just happened. One minute she was kissing him, the next he was running away into the darkness. As the chill of the night wind bit into Hermione, her numb brain kicked back into action and she started to give chase.
“Wait, Draco, come back!” Hermione called desperately to the retreating figure as tears began to stream down her face. But he was already lost from view. Running as fast as her two inch heels would take her, Hermione flew through the doors of the Great Hall and straight into Ron. Reflexively, Hermione threw her arms out to break her fall as she sprawled across the ground. Her mind singularly focused on Draco, Hermione did not feel the pain that coursed through her limbs and she quickly picked herself up. But before she could continue her chase, a hand pulled her back, and Hermione was whipped around into the arms of Ron.
“Let him go Hermione, he's not worth it” Ron tried to console her as Hermione tried desperately to break away from his grasp.
“Let me go Ronald Weasley!” Hermione demanded as she continued to wiggle free of Ron's strong arms. “Only I can decide who is worth it and we all know of your very high opinion of him,” Hermione shot back, angry at Ron for once again meddling in her life.
“If he really cared for you, he wouldn't just run away into the night without a backwards glance.” Ron tried to reason, but it only incensed Hermione further.
“How dare you!” Hermione yelled furiously. A small crowd had gathered around them but Hermione didn't care. All she could think of was Draco, she had to get to him before he disappeared forever. “After everything you have done and said to me this year, what gives you the right to judge Draco? Now, I will say this one more time. Let. Me. Go!”
Hermione stared straight at Ron, her eyes full of anger and her mouth set in a straight line. After a tense moment, he released her wrists and Hermione bolted out of the Great Hall and up the staircase, running as fast as she could to her common room, praying that it wasn't too late.
* * *
As Draco broke from the kiss, he had opened his eyes to see Ron standing in the doorway, his arms crossed against his chest, his eyes full of judgment. It was in that split second glance before he met Hermione's eyes that he realised he couldn't jeopardise her future for a romance that may come to nothing. And so he made his final decision. He was not proud of himself, in fact he hated himself for kissing her and running, but the longer he stayed, the harder leaving would be.
Draco had planned to slip away in the middle of the night but now his plan went into fast forward. He sprinted to the common room without looking back and then ploughed straight into his room.
“Accio belongings” he shouted as the last few items he had left around the room for the night came whizzing towards him. With another flick of his wand, his belongings fell messily into his bag. This was not the time for neat packing. Draco flung the bag over his shoulder and made to leave the common room for the last time, but his path was held up by Hermione. Tears were streaked down her face and Draco knew that he had done the last thing he ever wanted to do. He had broken her heart.
“So you're just going to kiss me and leave?” Hermione asked as calmly as she could as her emotions threatened to unleash themselves in a torrent.
Draco looked at her, not knowing what to say. Nothing was going to make this better. All he could do was tell her the truth. “I see the looks people give us when we're together. The hatred of my family and of me might not be publicly displayed, but I can see it in their eyes. They despise me and it doesn't matter what I do, I will always be judged for what I've done. I care for you Hermione, more than anything, and it's because I care that I have to go. You should be with someone who is going to love you and give you a happy life which makes you forget the war. With me, it's going to follow you every day. People just won’t understand and I won’t let my judgment fall onto you too.”
“But I don't care what others think, and you can't be so quick to judge them either. Maybe they won’t understand right away, but they will, and I will happily stand at your side and prove them all wrong with every misconception they've ever held.” Hermione was practically pleading with Draco, trying so desperately to get him to understand that all she cared about was him. She would run away to the edge of the world with him if he asked her too, yet he seemed so determined to push her away. No argument, however logical, seemed to be able to sway him.
“It's easier to go on hating than it is to give someone a chance.” Draco reasoned, even though logic and confusion were wrecking havoc in his tormented mind. “And besides, you are so wonderful, so caring and forgiving. Why should I be the lucky one to have you after all the stupid mistakes I've made?”
“You have to stop punishing yourself for what has happened,” Hermione practically wailed. “You've made mistakes, you've made stupid choice; we know all this. But it doesn't mean that you have to compromise every day of your life because you think you're not worth it. You are. You've proven yourself.”
Draco looked at Hermione whose emotions were pouring out of her like a river in flood. He was on the verge of tears himself but he had to stay strong, he just had to. It was just like when he had walked out on his father, while his insides were in turmoil his exterior had to show calm determination and resolve. If he was to break, then there was no way he would be able to go.
“You've proven yourself to me.” Hermione continued softly, her voice wavering with emotion. “Please Draco don't go. Please....I love you.”
Those three words tore Draco apart. How many times had he wanted her to say them and how many times had he whispered them to her sleeping form. He wanted to cry out in agony, but more importantly he wanted to say them back. But he couldn't. He couldn't tell her he loved her and walk away; it just wasn't fair on either of them. And so he told her the one thing he had told her several times before, and even though she had rebuked him each time, for Draco it still seemed true. “I don't deserve you.”
“You don't get to make that choice. It is my choice and mine alone!” Hermione shouted, losing herself to her emotions. “I don't care what people think of me. I want to be with you and I know you feel the same.” Draco looked at her, once again on the verge of indecision. “How can you stay so calm? How can you just walk away? I know you love me, I've seen it in your eyes; I've felt it when we're together. Say it Draco. If you are so determined on leaving, at least tell me the truth, just once, please, tell me that you love me.”
Draco walked towards her, holding back his tears. Draco placed his finger under her chin and tilted her head up so he could look into her eyes. And with that look he showed her all that he was giving away. Maybe he was punishing himself and denying himself what his heart most desired, but he was also saving her from a life of misery in the shadow of a former death eater. “Your life will be better without me Hermione.” Gently, he kissed her on the forehead and with one last glance into her beautiful eyes that were swimming behind her tears, Draco let her go and left the common room for the last time. His decision made, and his heart forsaken to a life of misery.
The last sounds he heard were the painful sobs of Hermione as the portrait closed behind him. Pausing momentarily, he looked back towards where she stood, hidden behind the walls. “I love you” he whispered. Then he turned away and was lost into the night. He had defined his independence, now it was time to start living his life by his rules. He would go to the cottage tonight and say his good byes to his parents, and then he was gone. To where, he didn't know. It would depend on where the first flight out of London was heading.
* * *
Hermione started to drown in the tears that fell from her eyes as Draco walked away without a backwards glance. Hysterical with anguish, Hermione sat heavily onto the floor in front of the sofa. She curled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, gently rocking herself as the tears rolled down her checks unobstructed.
It was always going to end this way, with her heart being ripped apart and her tears flowing like a raging river. But yet she had still given her heart to him, willingly acknowledged her feelings and instead of squashing them, she had let them blossom. With accepting her feelings, she had also accepted that ultimately, she would not get her happy ending.
So was it worth it? Were the tears she now shed worth their moments together on the couch, worth the smiles and the hugs, worth the laughs and the friendship? It was an easy question to answer. Yes, it was all worth it. Hermione had tried so hard to get him to stay, but she had always been fighting a losing battle. She didn't blame him for wanting to run away from his past and make a new life for himself where no one knew his name. She accepted his decision, and while her head knew it was the best way, her heart wanted her to chase after him and join him where ever he was heading.
So she would cry for a few days, possibly cry on and off for a week or a month, but she would continue on. She would write and if he felt anything for her, he would write back. And while it hurt that he could just walk away after everything they had shared, walk away keeping his true feelings a closely guarded secret, Hermione was strong and she would pick herself back up. But for now she was going to be sad and she was going to cry.
Hermione looked up at the sound of a familiar female voice. Hermione nodded from her position on the floor and Ginny came and sat beside her, resting her head on her own knees and looking at Hermione.
“I saw you run after Draco, and then sometime later I saw him leave. The Prince and Princess let me in. It is the last night of school after all and they knew you needed a friend,” Ginny explained.
“He always said he was going to leave,” Hermione sobbed as they tears started to flow thickly once more. “I don't know why I thought I could get him to stay.”
“Because you care for him deeply Hermione, and when you care for someone that much, you will do anything to keep them,” Ginny said comfortingly.
“I thought he cared for me too, but maybe I was wrong,” Hermione said, starting to doubt her assessment on Draco's feelings. “If he really cared, he wouldn't just walk away and not tell me.”
“He probably didn't want to hurt you more than he already was” Ginny rationalised. “Draco has demons that we can't possibly understand. You have helped him so far Hermione, maybe the rest he has to do on his own.”
Hermione nodded. While Ginny was right, at this moment in time, waking up knowing Draco wouldn't be around was a saddening thought. But there was always that chance that one day they would be together again. The sands had been set in motion, her grain and his at that moment was tumbling down the dune in completely different paths. But if things were really meant to be, through the resulting avalanche, her sand grain and his would end up side by side at the bottom of the dune. All you can she could do for now was live her life and maybe one day, they would be reunited. But for now, they had to live their separate lives.
“I'm going to get my things” Hermione said, slowly getting back to her feet. “I'm not going to spend my last night at Hogwarts alone.”
Hermione retrieved her belongings from her room and she and Ginny made their way out of the portrait hole, but not before Hermione cast one backwards glance at the place where she and Draco had spent so much of their time together. Hermione had to smile as all the happy memories flooded her mind. On that first day of Hogwarts, so many years ago, who would have imagined that on her last night, she would be crying over Draco Malfoy.
A/N: I am so sorry, for ending it this way. Believe me, I really wanted a happy ending, but it just wasn't too be. But...I do have an epilogue which will be up very shortly called "Losing my Indepenence" so look out for it.
Also I have a meet the authors page on the forums so if anyone wants to ask me anything, about this story or my inspirations or even my favourite colour, please go ahead...it is rather under utilised at the moment.
Thanks so much to everyone who has read through to the end and a big extra special thank you to everyone who has left me a review. I'm relaly sad this story has come to an end, but so excited to get stuck into my next.