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Sorry for the long wait between chapters. I hope you like this one. I'm not overly happy with it, but I cannot think of what to do to change that. So here it is. Remember, we are near the end - only one chapter to go!



Breathing Through It.

Hermione lay on her back in her dorm, staring at the ceiling. She wondered if it was possible to actually die of a broken heart. She did not blame anyone but herself. She may as well have pushed Blaise straight into Marla’s arms. The gorgeous Slytherin girls’ words continued to haunt her thoughts, and Hermione sniffed back a fresh flow of tears. She knew she had to get out of bed, but could not summon the energy to pull her body upright. She did not need a mirror to know her face was white and she resembled a living, breathing corpse.

Ginny came to see her, her face worried and her lips pursed in what Hermione gathered was disapproval.

“It’s time to get up, Hermione,” Ginny stated, grabbing hold of the bed covers and pulling them down. “This is ridiculous. You’ve been in here for days. You’re not sick.”

“I am,” Hermione mumbled, trying to snatch the covers back.

Ginny’s eyes narrowed. “You’re hiding.”

“Wouldn’t you, Gin?” Hermione stated bluntly, as if daring Ginny to tell her she would not do the same thing. Ginny rolled her eyes.

“You’re feeling guilty, that’s all. Get up and let me help you. You need to talk about it.”

Hermione was silent, her eyes fixed stubbornly on the ceiling. Ginny sighed, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

“Harry and Ron wanted to come, but I convinced them to stay locked in their rooms. Whenever they go anywhere these days, they get themselves into trouble.”

“Why?” Hermione asked softly, looking at Ginny quickly.

“The whole school knows what happened now, Hermione. Marla Corson, it seems, could not wait to tell everyone what she said to you. The Slytherins are worse than before, Malfoy doesn’t talk to anyone, Blaise is walking around in a cloud of foulness, and Harry and Ron have been kept extremely busy defending your honour,” Ginny explained, smiling sadly at Hermione’s horror-struck expression.

“And you want me to get out of bed!” Hermione shrieked, her voice choking.

Ginny stared at her, a sly look in her eyes. “I heard Blaise is not very impressed with Marla. They aren’t together anymore, well, not that they really were in the first place. I also heard Pansy is not happy with Marla for what she said about Malfoy.”

“How do you know all this?” Hermione asked, wiping her eyes and slowly sitting up. Her heart had leapt at the mention of Blaise, accelerating madly when Ginny said he’d broken up with Marla. A fierce longing burnt through her chest. “I need to talk to Blaise,” Hermione muttered.

Ginny shook her head. “Not a good idea. Give him time, Hermione. You can’t think he’ll forgive that easily.”

“I’m not wanting him to take me back, Gin,” Hermione snapped, swinging her legs out of bed. “I want the chance to explain properly.”

“Not a good idea,” Ginny repeated in a low voice, but Hermione ignored her. Throwing on some clothes and shoes, she ran her fingers through her hair as she moved swiftly down the stairs, Ginny’s voice calling out behind her. She did not pause to acknowledge anyone in the Common Room, although she felt their curious eyes. The portrait swung open at her touch and she paused briefly. It was almost noon. Blaise was likely to be in the Slytherin dorms, outside in the courtyard, in the library or possibly, and Hermione shuddered at the thought of such an audience, in the Great Hall for lunch.

Sighing, she decided the try the courtyard first.

Passing the Great Hall, Hermione snuck a look inside. There were not many students at lunch yet; just a few sixth and seventh years with free periods. She sighed gratefully, relieved that the majority of the student body were still in classes. She did not let her mind linger on the ridiculous and rather scary amount of work she had to catch up on.

Bright sun lit the courtyard and Hermione felt her body tense, reminded forcibly of that morning with Blaise, sitting against the wall. They had shared their second kiss that morning, the taste of coffee on their lips. The memory hurt, so she pushed it away with a pang of regret. She had not lied to Ginny. Hermione did not expect Blaise to forgive and forget, or to take her back. She did not even expect him to talk to her, but she had to try. She only wanted him to listen.

A few Slytherin seventh year girls, Pansy Parkinson included, were lounging around the courtyard, seated beneath the large tree that dominated the center of the stone space. The branches of the great oak blocked the sun from their skin, shadowing their faces. Hermione heard their conversation cease as they caught sight of her, and quiet mocking laughter reached her ears. Taking a deep breath, she squared her shoulders and marched over to them. Pansy’s eyes widened in surprise.

“What do you want?” the brunette spat, her mouth tight and her face hard.

“I need to find Blaise, Pansy,” Hermione began, keeping her eyes on Pansy’s face as the girl next to her broke into peals of amused laughter. Pansy smirked.

“And you think I will tell you where he is?”

“Please.” Hermione bit her lip, forcing away her disgust at herself. She never thought she’d have to beg Pansy Parkinson for anything. The Slytherin girl narrowed her eyes, her head tilted to the left as she looked at Hermione critically.

“Why should I help you?”

“I just need to talk to him,” Hermione said softly. “Pansy, if you know where he is, please tell me.”

Pansy examined her fingernails, the other girls watching Hermione closely, like an animal might watch its prey. She suddenly felt that one false move would see her devoured, a mouse in the jaws of a serpent. She shuddered. Pansy sighed, looking up.

“Look, Granger. Why bother? He’s only going to tell you to get lost and call you names. It’s probably better if you don’t talk to him.”

Hermione frowned, thinking she had imagined the sympathetic note to Pansy’s voice. She shook her head, determined to see it through. “I know that, and I’m expecting it. But I need to explain.”

“I doubt he’s going to listen,” Pansy said simply, picking up her bag. She slung the leather strap over her shoulder and climbed to her feet, the other girls following her lead. “It’s your funeral, I guess.”

Hermione chewed her lip in desperation. Her eyes locked with Pansy’s. Without speaking, the brunette dismissed her friends, the last of them slinking off with a displeased look in Hermione’s direction.

“Blaise does not deserve this,” Pansy began softly. “Draco … well, he kind of does.”

“I don’t understand. I thought you wanted to be with Draco…”

Pansy laughed. “It’s not the most ideal situation, especially when he is still so caught up in you, but it’s true. I do want to be with him. Look, Granger, about what happened between the two of you … I don’t hold it against you. I know I should, but I also know how … persistent Draco can be when he wants something. You never really stood a chance.”

Hermione blinked in surprise. She shook her head, feeling the need to defend her ex boyfriend. “It wasn’t all his fault.”

“Perhaps not,” Pansy agreed quickly, a sad smile flashing across her face. Her eyes flickered towards the Quidditch pitch. “Blaise is outside the walls. I saw him go out there earlier. He may have gone. That’s all I can tell you.”

Hermione nodded, turning to leave. She paused, swinging back to look at Pansy curiously. “Why did you help me?”

Pansy shrugged. “Why not? It’s in my best interests.”

“What do you mean?” Hermione frowned. Pansy smiled.

“I thought you were supposed to be smart, Granger. If, by some miracle, Blaise does decide to forgive you and take you back, then that means Draco…” she trailed off, and Hermione nodded, understanding.

Pansy turned and left without another word, Hermione standing and staring after her. She ran the strange conversation through her head again at top speed, the words tumbling over one another until they became jumbled. She felt a strange surge of pity for Pansy, knowing how much Draco had hurt her last year. Through the whole thing, Hermione had never stopped to think about Pansy’s feeling. Guilt taunted her again and she sighed, her shoulders slumped.

Pulling a great gulp of fresh clean air into her lungs, Hermione turned back towards the pitch. Walking quickly, she ran over in her mind what she would say to Blaise, if he would listen. She steeled herself for whatever terrible thing he could say to her, knowing she deserved all of it. While she had been lying around feeling sorry for herself for two days, Hermione had thought of nothing else but Blaise, Draco and her own selfish behaviour. Even as she continued, throughout the last few months, too see both boys, she knew it had been wrong, and she had not stopped it. Her fear of hurting Draco’s feelings had left her weak and vulnerable, and in the end, all three of them had been hurt by what she allowed to happen.

As she approached the archway that led out onto the grass, Hermione slowed. She could hear voices, ones she thought she recognised. She stopped, leaning her back against the stone wall, focusing on the voice. They were low and angry and after a moment, she realised whom they belonged to – Blaise and Marla.

Hermione’s first instinct was to turn and walk away. Her second was to jump out and confront them, demanding the truth. She chose the third. Stay where she was and listen.

“It’s not for you to decide what I need, Marla,” Blaise said, his voice sharp and cutting.

“I only did it because I thought that was what you wanted.”

“I can fight my own battles, thank you.”

Hermione frowned, shaking her head. She had no idea what they were talking about. Behind the wall, Blaise sighed.

“Look, Marla, I appreciate that you were trying to help, but you shouldn’t have done that.”

Marla laughed. “I thought it would teach the silly little Mudblood a lesson.”

Hermione glowered, her fists clenching, and a dozen painful spells jumped to her lips as she remembered Marla’s horrid words to her in the library. She was certain that was what they were speaking about. Her anger turned to shock as she heard Blaise’s harsh reply.

“Don’t call her that.”

“Excuse me? Why should you care what I call her, Blaise?” Marla hissed, angry now.

“Don’t you get it,” Blaise said, his voice exasperated and tight. “I don’t hate her. I can’t. I don’t even hate Draco. They made a mistake, a big one, but a mistake nonetheless.”

“I don’t believe it,” Marla answered faintly after a pause. Hermione’s heart pounded painfully in her chest.

Blaise laughed. “Why? It’s not as if you or I are squeaky clean, are we?”

They paused again and Hermione held her breath, waiting.

“You don’t want to see me anymore, do you?” Marla asked in a small voice.

“Not really.” Blaise’s voice was kind and gentle, and Hermione smiled, recalling those soft tones whispered in her ear. They did not speak again, and she allowed herself to hope.


***


That night found Hermione in the library, at least a dozen books piled on the table in front of her. She had assignments for Potions, for Arthimacy, for Ancient Runes and for Defence Against the Dark Arts, all due the following week. She sat and stared at the tower of tomes with a sinking heart, before sighing and pulling the nearest book from the pile. Flicking it open, she chewed her lip and began to read a text on Potions.

“I’ve already done it. Want my notes?”

Hermione jumped, knocking her knee on the underside of the table. It throbbed painfully and she dropped her hand, rubbing the tender skin around her kneecap. A body slide into the seat beside her and she turned with a scowl.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” Draco replied, flicking a lock of Hermione’s hair casually. She shrugged away from him, her scowl deepening. Her lips still burnt from his unwelcome kiss outside the Potions room.

“Then can’t you go do nothing somewhere else?”

The blonde laughed, his mouth opening wide, showing his teeth. “I thought you liked my company?”

“I used to,” Hermione muttered, turning her eyes back to her parchment and the open text. She stared at the page, her eyes seeing nothing, her ears waiting for Draco’s retort. None came and he was so still and silent she began to think she had imagined his presence. The pain in her knee was the only reminder that the encounter was real.

Hermione heard the chair shift and she sighed, thinking he had gotten the message and left. She jumped again as his lips touched her ear, his breath warm and sticky against her skin. She spun around, finding his face mere centimetres from hers, his lips curled up at the corners.

“You really are mental, Draco,” she whispered, and his smile deepened. “Please, just go away. This isn’t what I want.”

“Are you sure?” he replied, bending his head to touch his lips to her neck. Heat flooded her body and Hermione closed her eyes, her breathing increasing as he placed wet open-mouthed kisses along her neck, coming closer to her jaw. She shook her head, pulling away from him.

“I’m sure,” she snapped, folding her arms over her chest. Draco’s eyes flashed and he scowled, the expression disappearing quickly, being replaced with an alluring smirk.

“Is this too in the open for you? I can find us a closet or something if you prefer…”

Hermione hissed, drew back her hand and slapped him sharply on the cheek. Draco swore, his hand lifting to rub at his stinging flesh. He eyed her critically.

“What the bloody hell did you do that for?”

Hermione sighed. “Draco, do you honestly think I will just start fooling around with you again? What we did was not right. We hurt Blaise terribly and I can’t forgive myself for that.”

Draco was silent, his eyes dropped to his lap. He sighed, reaching out and taking Hermione’s hand gently in his. “Nothing has changed, Hermione, not when it comes to how I feel about you. Can you say you don’t feel anything for me?”

Hermione shook her head slowly. “I can’t say that. I do still care for you; I always will, and I guess I love you in some way, but right now, Draco, we cannot be together! Please, understand that.”

“I’ll fight you every step of the way on this. Sometimes, you don’t know what is best for you, Granger,” he whispered, leaning close. Hermione opened her mouth to snap at him, but he kissed her, his lips moving hungrily, rendering her completely mute and powerless.

“It’s not the most ideal situation, especially when he is still so caught up in you, but it’s true. I do want to be with him. Look, Granger, about what happened between the two of you … I don’t hold it against you. I know I should, but I also know how … persistent Draco can be when he wants something. You never really stood a chance.”

Pansy’s words rung through her head and with a gasp, Hermione broke the kiss, her palms rising to rest against Draco’s chest. She pushed him away, standing up swiftly so he could not catch her in his arms again.

“No. I won’t do this again,” she said firmly, looking down at him. He peeked up at her, his face conflicted, and sighed, pulling his hand roughly through his hair.

Hermione collected her things and left him sitting there, stamping down on her feelings. It was for the best.

Breakfast the following morning was a nightmare. Hermione sat with Ginny, Harry and Ron and did her best to ignore the whispers, but in the end, it proved too difficult, and with tears blurring her vision, she pushed her seat back, racing from the Hall.

Hermione ran until she reached the steps to Gryffindor Tower, her lungs burning and her chest tight. There, she stopped, bent double, gasping for breath. Fresh tears leaked from her eyes and she cursed herself for being so pathetic. Ginny had told her that morning as they dressed not to let any of it get to her, and Hermione had promised she wouldn’t.

“You okay?”

Hermione froze. That voice. Slowly, she straightened up, pushing loose strands of hair from her face and wiping her eyes on her sleeve. She could not turn to face him, nodding her head and waving her arm out beside her body, trying to appear indifferent.

“Granger,” Blaise said softly. Hermione waited, but he said nothing more. She closed her eyes as he sighed. “Forget it.”

She heard his footsteps and spun around, taking a few stumbling steps forwards.

“Wait, Blaise, please,” she called. He paused, his back rigid and she took a deep breath, moving to his side. She stood away from him, looking at him sideways through her lashes, waiting. Slowly, he turned to face her, his eyes hard and his mouth sad. Swallowing, Hermione forced herself to hold his gaze.

“You wanted to say something?”

He shrugged, indifferent. “Forget it. It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters to me,” Hermione shot back, taking a step closer. Blaise shook his head. Hermione fidgeted, nervous in his presence. “Okay, if you don’t want to talk, that’s fine. But I need to explain…”

“What?” he snarled, moving closer to her. “How you ended up falling into bed with my best friend while we were together? How you repeatedly stabbed me in the back? How you made me look like an idiot? Or how about how you broke my heart?” He paused, his voice dropping to a whisper and Hermione looked at him sorrowfully, her eyes filling with tears. He stepped away from her, shaking his head.

“I don’t know why you did it, Hermione. I don’t think I can ever understand,” he said sadly.

“Blaise…” Hermione whispered, reaching out her hand. He shrugged away from her touch and she let her hand drop, her cheeks burning with shame. “I’m sorry.”

“Sure,” he snapped, folding his arms over his chest. His blue eyes drilled a hole in her face, burning her, and Hermione sniffed. He laughed hollowly. “You’re not going to cry are you, Granger? That’s a bit rich, isn’t it? Technically, I should be the one blubbering.”

“I guess you got over me, then,” Hermione snapped, suddenly angry. His words had cut her to the bone, peeling away her skin. She felt vulnerable and exposed, and began to wish someone would come looking for her, just so she could get away from his eyes and the hate in his voice. “I guess Marla was right. You do hate me. It’s nice to see you moved on so quickly, Blaise. I hope she made you happy, helped nurse your broken heart!”

The fire in his eyes made Hermione take a step backwards, suddenly fearful. His fists clenched by his sides and she immediately regretted her words. With a final glower, Blaise turned and stalked away, his angry footsteps echoing off the floor.

The morning passed in a haze of nothingness. Whispered words seemed to dog Hermione wherever she moved. Harry and Ron kept close to her side between classes and she was moved by their protectiveness. Usually, something like that would bother her, but she found the gesture incredibly comforting. She did not see Blaise again. He was absent from classes, an empty space three desks over in Ancient Runes. Although they had argued, Hermione was still stuck on the idea of trying to apologise, and trying to explain herself. She felt she owed him more than anything, and as the day continued to pass, her brain began working furiously, concocting conversations.

As the last class of the day drew to a close, Hermione mentally prepared herself for the next confrontation with Blaise.

Skipping dinner, she headed to the library, brushing off Harry and Ron’s invitations to join them. Hermione knew Blaise would be in the library – he liked to study and work while others were at dinner, always ducking off to the kitchens to steal some food after the Great Hall had emptied. The halls were dark, lit by candlelight. Hermione walked quickly, purposefully, her feet snapping against the floor.

A strong, angry voice rose out of the darkness and a thrill ran down Hermione’s spine. She gripped her wand, her feet stilling, her breathing coming fast. The voice spoke again, and she realised whoever it belonged to was just around the corner. Breathing steadily, Hermione slipped into the shadows along the wall, inching closer to the voice. Her breath hitched in her throat as she realised whom it belonged to.

“You’ve fucked the whole thing up, Marla,” Draco hissed, his voice bouncing off the walls. Hermione stopped breathing, her heart pounding painfully in her chest. What was Draco doing talking to Marla?

Hermione shook her head. They were both Slytherins. It could be anything.

“I did what you asked, Malfoy. Don’t get angry at me.”

“Keep your voice down,” Draco said harshly. “I paid you,” he added pointedly. “A lot. So get back in there and …”

“No,” Marla hissed in reply. Hermione frowned, her mouth dry. A dreadful feeling was spreading through her stomach.

“No?”

“You heard me,” the Slytherin girl snarled, her voice dropped to a menacing whisper. “I’m out.”

Hermione pulled herself closer to the wall as Marla’s sharp footsteps strode down the hall. She had stopped breathing, her chest restricted, but she dare not let out a breath with Draco still around the corner. She heard him swear, and storm off in the other direction.

Hermione stepped from the wall, dazed, her mind spinning. What was going on?

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