"THEN YOU COULD PAY FOR THIS PARTY, COULDN'T YOU!?" I shout harshly at my father, my voice cracking. My heart is racing with emotion. We both stand there in silence, both of us shocked by my explosion. I have never talked to him like that before. I don't dare speak another word until he reacts first. I prepare myself for the worst. Normally I wouldn't have shot back at him so furiously, but these are not normal circumstances. I would be a fool to ignore the truth: That kiss changed everything. My father sighs heavily, his tense features relaxing.
"Draco, listen to me," Father says calmly. "You misunderstand me. I may have been quick to be upset. I overreacted, but it's not what you think. The beliefs I was referring to were not blood related. I must admit I've been a bit jealous lately. It seems like everyone knows what's going on in your life before I do. I know that I haven't really earned that place in your life, but that doesn't mean I don't want to be a part of it. When Astoria cheated on you, you told your mother but not me. When you pretended to date Cat, you told Blaise but not me. Now you're in love and you didn't tell me."
"I didn't even know I was in love with her until two seconds before you came out here!" I defend myself. Although I'm unable to defend myself on the other counts made. I step closer to him. "Look, Dad, I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I didn't tell you. I struggle with being able to tell you things. I want to please you so badly, but I can't. So I'm afraid that when something bad happens to me, you're going to say, 'I told you so.' And when something good happens to me... I'm worried that you're going to make me feel bad about it. I didn't know that it mattered to you. I didn't know that it would hurt you. I'm sorry. But this goes both ways, you know. If you want to be a part of my life, you have to swallow your pride and learn how to feel something."
He seems to process what I said to him, watching me with sad eyes. I'm relieved to finally admit that to him though. I've always been too afraid of how he would react to tell him before. He raises his arm slightly as if he's going to reach out to touch me, but rethinks it and lets his arm drop back down to his side once more. "Listen, Draco, I've never told you this before, but... you are the best part of me. Do you know why? Because you are not me. You're better. You're so much better. And maybe it took me far too long to swallow my pride and see that, but I see it now. I see you, Draco. And I am so proud of you."
"Proud of me for what? I couldn't do it. I couldn't do any of the things he told me to do. I'm a coward... everybody thinks so."
"A coward? Is that what you think? You think a coward would do what you did? Do you think a coward would put himself in danger in order to protect someone else? You could have gotten out. You had an opportunity to get away from that life and the dangers involved, but you stayed to be here for your mother. A coward wouldn't have done that. You're stronger than you think you are."
I suddenly realize that I have been holding my breath. My father reaches out and wipes away a stray tear that escaped. I feel like a loser for crying, but he's never openly expressed any sort of positive feeling toward me before. We stand there watching each other closely... closer than ever before. He's looking at me as if this is the first time he has ever seen me. Mum used to tell me stories about how Father would play with me when I was a baby. I wish I could remember stuff from that long ago. She said that he used to be so unashamed to show how much he adored me. At the time I thought she was just trying to make me feel better. But now, seeing that look on his face, I'm not so sure.
"I can't really explain why," Father beings, "but if Severus were here, he would tell me that it's not worth it. All of those beliefs and expectations aren't worth it. He would tell you not to let this girl slip through your fingers."
"How do you know?" I ask.
"Let's just say he had a secret of his own. Go after her, Draco."
I hesitate for a moment, as if I'm expecting him to tell me he was joking, then run inside. I shove through all the party guests, but I don't see her anywhere. When I notice Potter nearby, I make my way over to him, forcing my way through all of the people. I grab Potter's arm, "Hey, Potter! Where's Granger?"
"Uh, she just went upstairs a minute or two ago," Potter answers. Without any response, I run up the stairs and look through the rooms. She's not here. I start to doubt myself until I hear voices. I can't make out what they are saying. I follow the sound until it brings me to the source.
"What's the rush?" an unfamiliar male voice says in a hushed tone. I sneak closer and take a glance at the source of the voices. My eyes fall upon Hermione Granger and some random guy kissing. My heart sinks, seeming to fall right through me to the floor. I immediately turn around and go back downstairs. I feel like I'm going to be sick. I mean, she was just kissing me not too long ago, right? I didn't just imagine that, didn't I? So who the fuck is this bloke she moved on to so quickly!? Maybe she only kissed me back because she was trying to mess with my head. Some sort of revenge for how I treated her in school. I wouldn't have thought she would be the type of person to do that, but I don't seem to know anything anymore. I shove through the party once more and burst out of the front door. Where am I supposed to go? I don't have anything else outside this house. I collapse against the front gate and let myself slide down to the ground. I bury my face in my hands, trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do now. I feel something brush against me, causing me to look up. My father sits down on my left and my mother on my right. My mother wraps her arms around me, making me feel slightly better. To my surprise, my father reaches over and grabs my hand.
"Dad?" I force out in a croak. "You said that Snape had a secret. A secret that meant he would have wanted me to fight for her. What was it?"
Father sighs next to me. "After Severus died, I had to sort through a lot of his things. I found all of these letters that he used to write, but never sent. He was in love with a muggle-born Gryffindor... just like you are. She, too, was probably the brightest witch of her age from what I remember of her."
"But he never got her?"
"No. She married someone else... his enemy even."
"What happened to her?" I wait for my answer as he sits in utter silence. It's strange to try to imagine Snape being in love. He was like an uncle to me and I had no idea. Maybe that's why he always gave Granger such a hard time... because she reminded him of the woman he loved. I wonder why I never heard about this woman until now. If he was so in love with her, why did he never talk about her?
"Lily Potter is dead."
My stomach lurches at my father's words. Snape was in love with Harry Potter's mother!? The entire day has been more than I can handle. Everything I've heard... everything I've seen... it just doesn't seem real. I wish I could return to this morning and do this whole day differently.
"What happened, Draco?" Father's voice is warm.
"She's with some guy I've never seen before... thought it was really hard to see his face when it was on hers like that." I sigh as I replay the moment in the garden. "I'm so confused. I mean, I was so sure. I thought that she- What am I supposed to do now?"
"Fight for her," Mum tells me immediately.
"I don't want to fight for her. I don't want to win her. I want her to choose me because she wants me, not because I'm her second choice."
"Everything's going to be alright."
"How do you know?"
"I don't. I'm your mother... it's just what I say." She brushes my hair away from my forehead gently. "But you know what your father and I will always be here... through thick and thin."
"Well, today is thick. Or thin. Thick? Wait, which one is bad?" I say, confused. They both simply laugh and hug me, squeezing me tightly between them. At least one good thing happened today: I got my father back. I may not have gotten what I intended out of today, but I got something I've always wanted. I just sit there between them. As long as I'm between them, I'll always be safe. At least that's what Mum used to tell me if I had a nightmare when I was little. I wish I could just stay out here. The last thing I feel like doing is hosting that party. I wonder if she's still upstairs with that guy. To my dismay, my parents each release me. Without their force field, the pit in my stomach and the ache in my heart return as quickly as they were inspired.
"So, Draco," Mum starts, "what do you want to do? Do you want to go back in? Or we can go somewhere else. Today is all about you."
"Which is not much different from yesterday, or the day before that, or the day before that, or the day bef-" Father mumbles jokingly.
"DAD!" I shout, pushing him over. I grab on to the gate to help pull myself up off the ground. My parents stand up along with me. I take a deep breath, deciding to just suck it up and move on with the day. We walk back inside and rejoin the party. Unfortunately, people noticed that we were gone. Mum makes an excuse for our absence and announces it to the room. I see Cat frantically waving me over to her in the other room. As I make my way over to Cat, I force myself to ignore Granger when I pass by her. The mystery man of hers is not with her. Once I'm within arm's length of Cat, she grabs me and drags me off. We hide in a room away from the party and all its noise. The second the door closes, I explode in a rant, telling Cat what I saw upstairs.
"I don't understand why she would do something like that!" Cat says once I finish my rant.
"Well, she's a very complex person."
"So are you. You act like you don't care about anything, but you do. You hide your true feelings by being arrogant and cruel, but you have a good heart."
"As long as I act like I don't have a heart, I won't get it broken again."
"Again? W-who broke it before?"
"I was dating this girl. Her name was Astoria Greengrass. Her parents were practically planning a wedding and calling me son by the time I found out that she had been cheating on me for quite a while. It doesn't matter though. All that relationship stuff is a waste of time. I don't miss it."
"Just because you don't miss something, Draco, doesn't mean it isn't missing."
"I need to be in my own head space. Tell my parents I'm going to lie down for an hour or two." I kiss her cheek softly before exiting the room. I drag my heavy body up the stairs toward my bedroom. Oncce there, I collapse on my bed. I rest on my pillow, hoping that if I sleep, the entire day will disappear like a dream. I can still hear Cat's words in my mind: Just because you don't miss something, Draco, doesn't mean it isn't missing. I try to clear my mind, but I can't stop thinking about Granger. I still don't understand. I felt what she felt for me when we kissed. I know that it wasn't nothing to her. So why would she kiss that other guy? Who is he anyway? If she was dating him, I should have seen him around here before. Why would she kiss me back if she was already dating someone else? Ugh, my head hurts. My eyelids are heavy and my body is relaxed. If only my mind was so prepared for sleep. Despite my mental restlessness, I manage to fall asleep.
As I walk through my dream, I find myself walking through the empty corridors of Hogwarts in the middle of the night. The air is ice. My body shakes and shivers. My heart speeds up as I realize where I'm headed. I push open the door and climb the stairs to the Astronomy Tower. As I stand in the tower, a large flash of green light engulfs the whole area. I blink repeatedly, trying to get my eyes to adjust once the green light fades away. I'm startled by the sight of a dark figure cowering in the corner with its back to me. I take a few steps toward it. The moonlight is shining on it, but I can't tell what it is. It seems to be a person wearing a large, black cloak. Voldemort? Snape? I narrow my eyes at the figure.
"Hello, Draco," the figure says in a familiar voice.
"Granger?" I breath, staring in disbelief at the figure.
"I've been waiting for you." She stands up from her crouched position and turns around to face me. Her beauty can only be described in one word: Perfect. As she steps away from the corner, I realize she's not wearing a cloak. Massive black wings unfurl behind her. What the-!? My breath catches in my throat in a mixture of confusion and amazement. Her voice... her presence... is seductive, yet terrifying. She walks toward me, holding her arms out to me. I can't bring myself to move. There is something about her that frightens me. She wraps her arms around my waist as her wings fold around me, pulling me closer to her. Her wings are soft and her skin is warm, constrast to the cold night's air.
"What do you want?"
"I want you, Draco." Her voice is like a chilling hiss. My name on her lips is like electricity coursing through my body. She reaches up and caresses the side of my face with her hand. Her hand slides slowly from my cheek down the side of my neck and rests on my chest. I pull her in for a kiss. The kiss feels different from real life in the garden. I pull away to look at her, however, the person I'm looking at is no longer Hermione Granger. I choke on my words, unable to find my voice, as Astoria Greengrass stares up at me. She takes a step back, not removing her hand from my chest.
"She doesn't love you, Draco," Astoria says in a low, angry tone. She walks toward me, forcing me to back away from her. "No one will ever love you. You're going to be alone, Draco... forever."
Her hand on my chest pushes me backward. I feel my body flip over the railing. I watch the moon in the sky above me as I fall from the Astronomy Tower. The cold air whips around me, smacking against my skin painfully. Astoria is rapidly shrinking away in the distance. Finally my body's movements mimic the feeling I've been experiencing for years. Finally I'm falling. It feels as though the ground... the end... will never come. I'm going to be falling forever. Falling alone. Forever. I look around me as I continue to fall. The castle is on fire as it was during the final battle. I force myself to look below. The ground is coming up fast.
"Get up! Get up!" Cat's voice calls, beckoning me and bringing me back to the reality of my bedroom. When I open my eyes, I see Cat standing over me. "Come on, you're missing it!"
"Is it sleep, because you'd be right," I mumble. I want to keep falling. The ground was so close. What would it feel like to finally stop falling?
"No! The cake! Come on! You have to at least blow out the candles!" She grabs my arm and forces me up out of bed. I reluctantly follow her back downstairs. The whole room is waiting for me. I walk over to the cake resembling a giant golden snitch with twenty two candle lit on top of it. I refuse to look around the room. I don't think that I could handle accidently making eye contact with her. My mother wraps her arms around me in a tight hug, clearing my mind of all negativity until she lets go.
"Make a wish," Mum insists, taking my hand in hers. I lean over the cake slightly, preparing to make a wish. I wish that I didn't have to be alone anymore. I close my eyes, squeezing my mother's hand, and blow out the twenty two candles. Unfortunately, even in the wizarding world, simply wishing for something over candles doesn't mean anything. It's nothing more than a tradition that people enjoy because they feel as though it gives them just a little more hope than they had before. There's nothing wrong with hope, I guess... as long as you're prepared to be disappointed.
I'm relieved to finally have the party over with and the guests gone. It was actually a nice time though. I danced with my mother like I do at every party. And the rest of the night I spent dancing with Cat and Blaise. While we were all dancing together, I realized something. I don't need a wish and a bunch of birthday candles. I'm not alone. I have my parents. I have Blaise. And now I have Cat. I was a fool to think that I was alone in the world. Maybe I do miss the relationship thing. But it's not like my life depends on it. Why am I in such a hurry, anyway? I'm young. I have plenty of time to worry about love. And my life is already full of so much love that I overlooked before. The future could have more in store for me. As for right now, I have a very strong gut feeling telling me that I need to be in my sitting room. I have learned to trust these feelings. They always lead me to something life changing or important. I rush to my sitting room, unsure what to expect. I walk through the doorway and stop. I laugh silently to myself. I should've known.
"We meet again," I say, announcing my presence as I move to sit on the couch.
"So we do," Potter replies. He is sitting on the opposite end of the couch to my left, shuffling through a large stack of old issues of the Daily Prophet. One article catches my eye. I reach over and snatch it from the pile. A picture of me and my mother looking quite grim frowns up at me. My father's Azkaban photo is printed just above it. I stare down at the three faces as if they are deceased friends of mine that I used to know a long time ago. Potter notices the photographs. "Oh, sorry. I thought I'd gotten rid of that one."
"Remember when you said that people like to keep their darkest secrets hidden? Their deepest regrets buried? Their most painful memories invisible?"
I toss the paper into the fireplace in front of me. "Mine's out there for the entire wizarding world to see."
"I know the feeling."
"Ever since the war people look at me differently. Like I'm either an evil bastard who betrayed everyone or like a poor, pathetic child who is about to break."
"The people who think you're evil don't know the whole story. They have no idea what it would feel like to actually be in your place, faced with those choices. What they think doesn't matter. And the others probably just feel bad. They know you've been through a lot. Maybe they just want to help."
"They're not helping me. They're reminding me over and over again of the most painful moments of my life. What I lost. What I almost lost. How would that make you feel, Harry?" I ask, forcing myself to use his first name. It must have sounded as strange to him as it did to me. He looks at me, slightly shocked. Then he allows himself to focus on my question. I can tell that his thoughts are with his parents now.
"Like I wish I could do anything to change what happened."
"Sometimes I feel like all I'm ever going to be is that pathetic, heartless coward who betrayed everything and everyone and became a Death Eater." I choke on the words, as if saying them out loud is the equivalent to punching through my chest and ripping my own heart out. Sometimes I wish I could go back and change everything. But I know that as long as my mother was at risk, I wouldn't have done any of it any differently.
"I don't see you that way, Draco." Potter's gaze is somehow comforting. I can tell that he's sincere.
"I know you don't, Potter. You're the only one who doesn't." And in that moment, everything between us seemed to change. He doesn't look like my old school enemy anymore. He looks like someone who understands my situation. Someone who understands how I'm feeling. Someone who seems to actually believe in me. And to have that means everything.
"Do you want to hear something crazy?"
"Because all the talk up til now has been so normal?"
"I actually consider you my friend." He simply blinks at me innocently. Harry Potter considers me his friend!? Just when I thought the insanity of my day had died down. Honestly, I'm really glad to be considered his friend. Though I'm not sure how I feel about letting him know that. And what exactly does being his friend mean? Am I going to have to buddy up with Weasley and Granger, too? Oh, kill me. I don't think I could take that.
"You're right, that is crazy. You seriously think we're friends?"
"I don't know if a term exists for what we are, but I'm sure it is distantly related to friends and could possibly become friends at some point."
"Well, if we're going to be distantly related to friends... I should probably warn you... don't use your shampoo tomorrow morning. It's, uh, it's not shampoo."
"What did you do?"
"I'm going to shield you from that one."
"Perhaps you're going to need a shield when I find out what you did."
"Awh, you made a joke. That's nice." I sit there silently while he sorts through the rest of the newspapers on his lap. I watch as the photograph of my father burns away slowly in the fireplace. I try not to think about everything that's happened and how much has changed since. I lay down on my left side on the couch, resting my head on a few of the newspapers Potter was sorting through. My head is only a few inches from his arm as he continues shuffling through the stack. I watch the newspaper in the fireplace. I remember how the flames grew when I was in here with Cat. I stare intently at the flames until they begin to grow and shift. I force the flames to fully engulf the newspaper until there is nothing left but ashes. I wish it was always that simple. I wish that I could burn away my past until there was nothing left but the ashes.
"Draco?" Potter's voice interrupts my thoughts. "What happened between you and Hermione today?"
"I don't want to talk about her," I respond roughly, not looking away from the fireplace as if my eyes are being held captive my the flames.
"I just don't! I don't want to talk about her or that guy, so just let it go, okay!" I try not to let myself get angry with him for asking. It's not like he knows anything about it or he wouldn't have needed to ask. I'm sure that she'll tell him all about it later anyway. I still can't get over the haunting idea that she was just trying to mess with my head in the garden. If that's true, it worked. Definitely worked. I can't stop thinking about it all. I can still feel her lips on mine. But I can still see her kissing that other guy in my mind. I knew that I shouldn't have tried to make the first move. I knew that it would be a mistake. Now I feel cursed by her. She has infected my mind. I was so sure. I thought she might truly love me. My dream flashes back into my mind. Maybe she doesn't. Maybe she never will. Am I supposed to forget all about her or fight for her? How long am I supposed to let myself fall?
"Hey, Harry!" Weasley's voice calls from the doorway. He doesn't seem to notice me laying here, so I don't sit up or make a sound.
"Hey, Ron," Potter returns. "How's the family?"
"Great. Glad I went. The party okay?"
"Yeah, it was fun."
"I'm turnin' in. You stayin' up?"
"Yeah. We'll talk in the morning."
Weasley's footsteps fade and end with the sound of his bedroom door closing. He didn't even see me laying here. I suppose I should be relieved. I'm not exactly up for the fight that no doubt would have occured if he had seen me. Maybe one day we will be able to be in a room together without fighting... but I doubt it. I close my eyes and listen to the shuffling of newspapers and the crackling of flames as my mind begins to drift off to sleep again.