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Hermione woke up later and barely trusted her senses. The last I knew, I was huddled on a freezing stone floor, with no light and blood on my face. She could tell that she was in a light room, even with her eyes closed. Quilts were bundled thickly about her and pillows were heaped underneath her head. Tentatively, she raised her hand to her face, keeping her eyes shut, and couldn’t help smiling slightly as she felt that the blood had been sponged off her face. Opening her eyes, she saw that she was in her room in Hogwarts. Oh! It wasn’t a dream! I’m really back here! 


All drowsiness forgotten, she sprang out of the bed and almost danced across the room. The sun was shining, she wasn’t dead or being tortured, she was back at Hogwarts. Catching sight of herself in the mirror, she laughed out loud. The black outfit that she had thrown on so casually was rumpled and covered in feathers from her bed, and her eye make up was smudged everywhere. A shower may be in order before I go downstairs. Washing herself as thoroughly as she could to rid herself of all traces of her ordeal, she dressed in a pale blue wrap over top and a fitted pale grey skirt and brushed her hair, leaving it glossy and curled. Her feet bare, she pattered down the stairs into the sitting room and almost burst out laughing again. It was the most bizarre thing she had ever seen.


Harry, Ron and Draco, three boys who had hated each other since their very first day at Hogwarts, were curled up around each other. They looked like they had all been sitting on the sofa in strict order, with Draco and Ron at opposite ends with Harry in between them, but now they were all sprawled over each other, all deep in sleep. I guess I know who my rescuers were, Hermione thought, and moved through to the kitchenette and started brewing coffee, after picking up the cups from the night before. 


With a response worthy of Pavlov, the boys began to stir as the smell of coffee wafted into the room. Hermione began pouring it into mugs, making sure that each had the right amount of milk and sugar, letting the boys wake themselves up, sure that they would be embarrassed enough without her sitting there and staring at them. Sure enough, it was only a minute until she heard:


‘’Oh Merlin! Who’s got their feet in my face? Get off!’’ followed by a thump. Within a few seconds, all of the boys were standing up red-faced. Each of them opened their mouth, as though seeking an explanation for what had happened, so Hermione took the opportunity to clear her throat quietly. Three heads spun fast enough to give their owners whiplash. ‘’Hermione!’’


Ron and Harry ran forward straight away and hugged her tightly. ‘’Don’t you ever, ever, ever do that to us again!’’


‘’Fine, next time I’ll tell Voldemort that I have to clear it with my friends first before he kidnaps me.’’ Hermione’s voice was muffled between the two strong chests.


‘’Well, as long as you know now, I’m sure you won't do it again.’’ Ron kissed the top of her head and let her go. Harry patted her back and then stepped back as well. 


Hermione wiped her eyes discreetly, not wanting to burst into tears, just happy that she was back. 


‘’I don’t think you have any idea how demeaning it is to have to tiptoe when I hug you now.’’ She said, trying to assert some control on the situation.


‘’But you love us anyway.’’ Ron was already in the kitchen, poking around the cups. Harry looked at Draco and saw him staring at Hermione as though he was starving and she was a particularly nutritious and delicious meal. Going into the kitchen, he shoved Ron, ‘’That one’s mine you idiot’’, and drained the cup as quickly as he could, gasping as it burnt him. ‘’Come on, finish it, we need to go back to our dormitory.’’ Ron looked at him with his eyebrows raised and then realised. ‘’Oh, yeah.’’


He swallowed it, kissed Hermione on the cheek and then walked towards the door, waving casually at Draco. ‘’S’later.’’


‘’Hey, wait a minute! You don’t just get to walk out on me now! I want to know what happened!’’ Hermione shouted, and Ron just stuck his head around the door.


‘’Draco will tell you everything.’’


‘’Draco? You call him Draco now?’’ Hermione’s voice was incredulous, but Draco had observed the slight note of pleasure that had crept in.


Now it was Harry’s tone to stick his head around the door. ‘’Yeah, turns out he might not be the phenomenal wanker that we thought he was.’’


Hermione raised her voice to protest again, but the door had already been shut on her. She turned around and looked at Draco. ‘’You need to explain, because I don’t know how much more fake-casual statements I can take.’’ She looked at him standing in front of her, and felt her heart beat faster. He was so utterly gorgeous.


‘’I owe you an explanation anyway.’’ He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her gently into an armchair.


‘’You owe me more than that.’’ Her voice wasn’t angry though, just sad.


‘’I know. But I’ll end with that bit, so you know exactly what I’m apologising for.’’ He pulled an armchair up in front of hers and sat in it so that their eyes could meet. ‘’When I found out that I was expected back at Hogwarts for another year, it was a major cause for celebration in my family. Not because it meant that I could finish my education but because Voldemort had been plotting away, and this development made it considerably easier for him. He wanted you on his side and I was to get close to you, so that you could be pulled over to his side, or so that I could drug you and get you onto his side. I didn’t have any doubts about doing it. I knew I didn’t want to be a Deatheater, but I couldn’t see anyway out of doing it, and at least this time, I wasn’t being asked to kill someone.’’


‘’Just tear someone’s life apart!’’ Hermione’s voice rose.


‘’I know! But, at that time, my number priority was me. If I got to stay alive, fine. If I wasn’t going to be tortured, fine. So, I began to make friends with you. I drugged you on that first night that we stayed up talking. I didn’t even think about long term effects, I thought that I would get you into the Deatheaters and then drop you. And I knew you fancied me.’’


‘’You did not!’’ Hermione’s voice was scornful.


‘’I did. You might not have meant to when you walked into the room, but you’d been shooting these little glances at me all evening. And then I gave you the potion, and you reacted to me underneath it. Melange subtil only exaggerates normal responses, and I swear I didn’t try to make you think that you fancied me.’’


‘’How can I believe that? After everything you put me through?’’


‘’Because I swear I’m telling the truth. I’ve never made that promise before. Give me Veritaserum and I’ll say exactly the same thing.’’


‘’Fine.’’ Hermione’s voice was flat, and Draco’s heart ached. 


‘’I just thought that if you fancied me, it would be a hell of a lot easier to get you to drink with me every evening. You know how melange subtil works don’t you? How you need a dose every day?’’ The expression on her face told him everything that he needed to know. ‘’Of course you do. Sorry. So anyway, I kissed you, just thinking you might trust me a bit more – I’d been told to do anything to get you where Voldemort wanted you – and I was completely thrown. You were just Granger – you were pretty but not meant to be anything even remotely sexual. But that kiss was amazing. And it went from there, every evening that we talked, every evening that we kissed, the more time we spent together, I fancied you more and more. 


‘’I didn’t stop drugging you, because I was worried about two things. First, I was worried that you would stop seeing me – tell yourself that Harry and Ron were more important, and that was one thing that I couldn’t bear. The second was that I’d begun having dreams about you, dreams where Voldemort stole you from me. I thought that you would never be safe, and I wouldn’t be able to have anything to do with you. My reasoning was that I’d get you to be a Deatheater, you’d do a few things for Voldemort and then the pair of us could just fade into the background. You would have been safe because you were in his group, and not with Harry, and it just got easier and easier to persuade myself that this was the right thing to do.’’


‘’You were worried that I’d be a proper Deatheater.’’


‘’Yeah, about that.’’ Draco’s cheeks flushed slightly. ‘’I read your diary last night.’’


‘’What!’’


‘’I found it by mistake and then I read it – I didn’t think I’d ever see you again! That’s how I knew I could go to Harry and Ron for help.’’ Draco placated her madly, only stopping talking when her nostrils weren’t flared and she was breathing normally. ‘’I saw that you knew about my dreams, and yeah, I was terrified that you would lose the person that you are. But, if I didn’t bring you, you would have been killed on the spot, and that would have been even worse. So, when you said that you wanted to go to Voldemort, I thought that we were on the way to getting one horrible thing out of the way of a happy time. And when he tortured you, I could have killed him, but any attempt would have resulted in both of us dying.’’ Draco paused and thought for a second. ‘’And I’m afraid of him. I hate him, but I’m afraid of him. But after that, we didn’t see him for ages. I thought that you were still drugged, and I hated myself for it. I told you that I adored you, and I do, I absolutely adore you.’’


Hermione sniffed slightly, and nodded so that he could carry on.


‘’Last night, I realised I had to stand up for you, regardless of what happened, because I didn’t want you on those terms any more. I didn’t want you when you were drugged. But then, you were knocked out and gone by the time that I had pulled myself up from the Cruciatus curse. So I came back here, I went slightly mad on the furniture and then I found your diary. I realised that you had known all along. And you can pretend what you want Hermione, because I’ve been atrocious to you, but I know that you had feelings for me, even when you weren’t under the potion. You didn’t want to have to hand me in, you were willing to risk your life for the people that you loved, even when it meant walking a fine line between the Order and the Deatheaters. And that’s when I realised something.’’


‘’What?’’


‘’I love you. You were willing to take a risk, and I needed to do exactly the same thing, so I went and got a spine, and spoke to Harry and Ron. They gave me hell about it, and I’ve told them a far less emotional version of what I’ve just told you, and I did it under Veritaserum. So you can check with them that I’m telling you the same thing. And they trusted me enough to come with me, and we rescued you.’’ He shrugged, as though it had been nothing. ‘’And we destroyed a Horcrux.’’ Hermione’s eyes widened but before she could say anything, he carried on nonchalantly. ‘’And I’m joining the Order of the Phoenix. If they’ll have me.’’


Finally, Hermione’s mouth moved into a small smile. ‘’I should be giving you hell about this. I shouldn’t even be smiling.’’


‘’But you aren’t going to give me hell?’’ Draco asked hopefully. Hermione stood up for an answer, and watched as Draco did exactly the same. He looked at her, standing prettily beneath him and was wondering if he could kiss when her small hand swung up and slapped him hard across the face. 


‘’Of course I’m going to give you hell you idiot! How dare you drug me? How dare you assume that you knew what was best for me? How dare you try and turn me against my friends?’’


‘’Hermione, I…’’


‘’You what? I can’t believe that you would do that to me. You played me for a complete idiot.’’


Draco’s face fell. ‘’I was expecting you to say that. And…I understand. If I was in your position, I would feel the same.’’


‘’It isn’t nice when someone that you love drugs you, and tricks you, makes you think that you love them. In fact, to say it isn’t nice is putting it mildly.’’


‘’I drugged you, and believe me, I can’t possibly regret that any more, but I love you Hermione. I think it’s quite possible that I have since you told me that you’d take pity on my awful pun and have a drink with me, I just haven’t been able to realise it.’’


‘’You love me?’’


‘’Yes, Mione. I really love you, and I know that you’re probably going to throw that back in my face and laugh, but I really do.’’


‘’Think over what I’ve said. Think over the last thing I said to you about trust.’’


‘’I know, you can’t trust me.’’ Draco’s voice was becoming more and more desperate.


‘’No, you idiot, think about the words I used. I said ‘’it isn’t nice when someone you…’’ she tailed off and let Draco work it out.


‘’When someone you love drugs you and tricks you…’’ Draco’s voice tailed off as he realised what he had said. ‘’You love me?’’


‘’I’m sorry I tricked you, but you had it coming.’’ Hermione looked entirely unrepentant. 


‘’You love me?’’ A kind of laugh had entered Draco’s voice, and Hermione smiled.


‘’For my sins. Yes, I love you. I love you even though you drugged me. I love you even though you tried to get me to be a Deatheater. I love you even though you tried to turn me against my friends.’’


‘’But I…’’


Hermione held up an imperious hand. ‘’And I love you for explaining why you did it. I love you because you were misguided enough to think that you were doing that you were doing the right thing. I love you because you tried to stick up for me. I love you because you made it up with your enemies. I love you because you rescued me. I love you because you stood here and explained it to me. I love you because you want to join the Order. I love you because you’re the one person who’s ever seen past the obvious in me. I love you because you’re utterly gorgeous. I love you because you pull that cute face when you’re concentrating. I love you because you know that my hands and feet get cold easily and you bring me a pair of socks and blow on my hands until they get warm. I love you because you know me, and you love me.’’ Her eyes were shining with tears.


‘’So, you love me?’’ Draco smoothed back a strand of her from her face. ‘’Hermione, I adore you, I love you, I want to make you safe, I want to make you happy.’’


‘’I…’’


‘’I’m not proposing marriage or anything, but…’’


‘’Merlin, no! I wouldn’t marry you or anything like that. I’d prefer to marry Devil’s Snare.’’ But she was smiling.


‘’Yeah, I’d rather be celibate.’’ He joked.


‘’That bad huh?’’ She smiled at him again, and raised an eyebrow.


‘’But I’d like to go out with you. Properly. And I promise never to drug you, or hurt you again.’’


‘’That sounds like a pretty good deal.’’ Hermione stepped a little closer to him, so his arms could go around her easily. ‘’I left quite a mark on you there, didn’t I?’’ she reached up and rubbed his cheek gently, where her handprint was only just disappearing.


‘’I deserved it.’’


‘’Too damn right you deserved it. However, you also deserve this.’’ She rose onto her tiptoes and pressed her lips to his mouth, their mouths moving silently together in a pact of agreement and mutual love. He slid his hand under the smooth masses of hair and massaged the back of her neck gently. He tipped her head back and deepened the kiss, pushing her onto the sofa and lying on top of her.


She could feel the length of him pressed against her, his arms tight around her as she twisted his soft hair in her fingers. Gradually their clothes fell to the floor and they joined together, fitting so perfectly that it felt like they should never separate again.


 


Of course, that kind of position isn’t practical to maintain for enormous amounts of time, and they sleepily pulled themselves off of the sofa. Draco pulled on his robes much more quickly than Hermione and turned round to see her trying to find her clothes. Smiling, he located them and made her stand still as he dressed her, pulling up zips and ruffling her hair as he pulled her top over her head. Rewarding him with a kiss and a dazzling smile, she moved to the window and looked out on the sunny grounds. 


‘’We should go and talk to Harry and Ron.’’


He moved behind her, enfolding her in his arms and resting his chin on the top of her head. ‘’I never thought I’d hear myself agreeing to that. Come on.’’ He grabbed her hand and pulled her out of the room. It was Sunday morning, and students were standing around in their groups, chatting. Hermione fully expected Draco to drop her hand as soon as they were in the more public areas, but to her surprise he just pulled her closer and swung his arm around her shoulders. The whispers grew louder as they walked down the corridor.


‘’Is that Hermione Granger with Draco Malfoy?’’


‘’Can’t be they’re like, worst enemies.’’


‘’It is, look it is!’’


‘’What the hell is he thinking?’’ This latest one came from Pansy Parkinson. She strutted forward and stared at the pair of them. Hermione looked at her hard, pug-like face and dreaded what was coming. Ok, I don’t care about anything that she has to say, but I don’t want a scene, and Oh Sweet Merlin, a huge crowd is gathering. Is that some kind of telepathy? ‘’Drakie? What the hell has she done to you?’’


‘’I haven’t done anything!’’ Hermione’s angry and indignant voice rang out clearly over the muttering.


‘’Whatever.’’ Parkinson’s scornful voice told her exactly what she thought of that idea, and Draco stepped forward. 


‘’She hasn’t done anything to me. Anything except being a hell of a lot more attractive, more intelligent, kinder and sweeter than you have ever been.’’


‘’Ok, now I know that she’s drugged you!’’ 


Hermione looked at Draco and couldn’t help herself. The pair of them burst out laughing, and Draco pulled her close again, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. ‘’Thanks for that Parkinson.’’ He said. ‘’You’ve honestly made my day just that little bit funnier.’’


Together, they pushed past her, leaving her standing there with her mouth open. Hermione spun around with a mischievous smile on her face. ‘’And Pansy?’’


‘’What?’’


‘’Your village called. They want their idiot back.’’


‘’I am nobody’s idiot!”


‘’Don’t worry, maybe someone will adopt you. Or you could freelance!’’


Smiling sweetly, she snuggled back into Draco’s embrace and the pair of them continued up to Gryffindor Tower. Draco waited a little way down the corridor as she spoke the password, ran in, grabbed her friends and ran out again. ‘’Here they are.’’


‘’Hey.’’ Draco smiled at them. Do I raise a hand as well, or is that going to make me look like a pompous twat? Merlin, it’s difficult having friends. Suddenly he realised that he’d never actually had friends before. There was Zabini, but that was more an acquaintance than a friend. And Crabbe and Goyle? Well, I suppose I can tolerate them, but more in the way that you tolerate a pair of smelly old dogs that keep following you home even though you don’t leave any scraps outside for them.


Ron and Harry nodded shyly at him, and Hermione giggled. They looked at her accusingly. ‘’What?’’


‘’I’m sorry, it’s so sweet. You’re all so nervous around each other, it’s almost like you’re children at nursery school and you aren’t quite sure if the other wants to play with you.’’


Draco smiled. ‘’I don’t blame them.’’


‘’Self deprecation really doesn’t suit you, drop it.’’ Ron told him sternly. ‘’It was much easier without you here Mione.’’


‘’Yeah, we were able to talk about rescuing you and swear at each other in a manly way.’’ Harry joined in.


‘’Maybe I should leave then!’’ Hermione teased, shaking her head so that her fringe fell in front of her honey coloured eyes. ‘’I never thought I’d be dumped for my best friends!’’


‘’Nooo!’’ Draco mock-wailed, wrapping his arms around her. Ron and Harry looked at each other and shrugged. They began to walk, heading towards the Room of Requirement, ignoring the bewildered looks from passers-by. Several ran to see if the sky was falling down and the end of the world was coming. 


Eventually, they were flopped down without curious glances from their peers, and Hermione was filled in on what had happened with the Horcruxes.


‘’Didn’t your father realise that it was Helga Hufflepuff’s cup?’’


‘’He doesn’t really care about antiques, just dark stuff. Obviously he couldn’t get rid of it because Voldemort gave it to him, but it wouldn’t get the same kind of attention as, say, a poisoned necklace would.’’


‘’Suits our purpose, I suppose.’’ Ron muttered. ‘’Well, we’ve only got Voldemort and the snake left to kill then, and they’ll be in the same place at the same time.’’


‘’Maybe we could leave that to the Order.’’ Hermione suggested. ‘’We’ve been through so much, and we’ve managed to destroy three horcruxes without coming into tons and tons of danger. I hate to think of you putting yourself in Voldemort’s hands Harry. I hate to think of any of us doing it.’’


‘’But the prophecy…I have to kill him or he’ll kill me.’’


‘’Well, if we at least go with some kind of support, hopefully it won't be that bad. It doesn’t make any sense to walk in on your own.’’ Draco said, lounging on the floor at Hermione’s feet. ‘’Did you get time to send that letter to the Order?’’


‘’Yeah, Hedwig should be back soon hopefully.’’


‘’So, you really do want to join the Order?’’ Ron asked.


‘’I said it under Veritaserum, didn’t I?’’


‘’You could have changed your mind.’’


‘’No, I still want to join the Order. The sooner the better.’’


‘’Good.’’ Hermione said firmly. ‘’We can tell the Order what he’s done. Although they’ll probably give us all Veritaserum.’’ 


‘’Fine. But I want to get this thing off my arm.’’ Draco rolled his sleeve up and showed them the skull with the snake coiling out of its mouth. ‘’Any ideas?’’


Hermione took his arm gently and ran her finger around the outline of the Mark, her nose wrinkled in distaste. ‘’We could go to the library and see if we can get a book on tattoos. Because that’s all it is, a magical one but still just a tattoo.’’


‘’Mione, we don’t need to go to the library.’’ Ron pointed at the far wall, where a shelf full of books had appeared, all about the art of magical body modification. Skipping through the titles until he found ‘’Tattoos for Trolls’’, Harry passed the book over and let Hermione leaf through it. Finally, she smiled in triumph and looked up. ‘’Tell me how brilliant I am.’’


‘’You’re utterly brilliant.’’ Draco rolled his eyes slightly and smiled at her. 


‘’Give me your arm.’’


‘’You promise not to remove it? I kinda like it there!’’


‘’Do you trust me at all?’’ She held out one hand impatiently, her wand at the ready. Without another word, Draco pushed his forearm at her, waiting for the spell that would free him from all obligations to Voldemort. She paused. ‘’You know that this is going to remove our last chance to know when the Deatheaters are meeting. Sure you don’t want to keep it?’’


‘’Mione, we’ll find him another way. Just take this thing off me.’’ 


Harry and Ron nodded at her, and she murmured ‘’Disparaitre tatouage.’’ A pale blue shimmering light descended from the tip of her wand and landed on Draco’s skin. It began to move up and down the Mark, cleaning it away effortlessly. Draco flinched. ‘’It hurts.’’


‘’I thought it might. Think of it as purifying. Anyway, look, it’s nearly finished.’’ And with that, the light disappeared, leaving Draco’s skin pale and unblemished. He held it up to the light and couldn’t see the faintest stain, or trace of the Dark Mark. He grabbed Hermione and kissed her. ‘’Thank you!’’


Hermione blushed slightly and shot a look at Harry and Ron. They didn’t look completely pissed off – just a little embarrassed. ‘’You’re welcome.’’


The awkward moment was broken slightly as Hedwig tapped at the window. 


‘’Fantastic!’’ Harry leapt up and let her in, snatching the leg off her shoulder. She circled the room once and then landed on Harry’s shoulder, nibbling at his ear affectionately while he read the letter. He turned to Draco with a smile. ‘’It’s from Kingsley Shacklebolt. They want to meet you. In fact, they’d be highly interested to hear from you.’’


AN: So that was chapter Nine my lovely readers. Only four left to go - getting close to the end now! Obviously, you know what I'm going to ask - please review! I love reading them, I will write you a response, and your feedback is invaluable! Obviously, I appreciate all my wonderful readers and people who regularly review so much, and I'm sure you want to add yourself to that list (unless you're already part of that!). So anyway, hopefully be hearing from you soon...petitesorciere.


 

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