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Hello dear readers! This chapter was a little difficult for me to write, which might explain why it took so long. o_0 I think it came out all right in the end, so enjoy! Oh, and I’m a day late but HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Chapter 22: The Love Boat

About three hours later Hermione was back from her shopping expedition and standing in her room in front of the mirror. She was wearing a glamorous, pale-gold sleeveless gown. It was something she would normally never have the nerve to try on, which was why she was staring at herself in disbelief.

"Ginny, I cannot believe I let you talk me into buying this," she said loudly.

Ginny rolled her eyes. "You look fabulous, Hermione, and you know it."

"I look like an Oscar statuette," Hermione complained.

"A what?" said Ginny, confused.

"You know," said Hermione, trying to explain. "One of those little gold statues that they give to Academy Award winners…oh, never mind."

"Well, whatever you're talking about, I'm sure they look fabulous too."

"Uh, actually--" Hermione tried to say, but Ginny cut her off.

"I know, I know," she said, eyeing Hermione critically. "You look a lot better. That's what you're thinking, right? You're thinking that you look amazing, which I must say is true."

"Merlin's beard, Ginny. I'm not as vain as you," said Hermione, sticking out her tongue childishly.

Ginny pretended to look hurt. "True. But I have reason to be vain." She tossed her red hair over her shoulder and batted her eyelashes outrageously.

Hermione burst out laughing. "Right. Whatever, Ginny. Can I take this thing off now?"

"No!" said Ginny. "I'm not done fixing you up yet." And she whipped her makeup case out of thin air.

"What are you doing?" said Hermione, alarmed. "My date's not until six 'o clock and--and--" She glanced at her watch. It was half past five. "Oh," she said feebly.

"Yeah," said Ginny seriously, "I know. You have barely any time left before you meet with the bachelor. Now will you cooperate?"

"Fine," Hermione huffed. She strode into her bathroom and sat down on a little stool before the mirror. Ginny followed her

"Good," said the redhead, satisfied. She unlocked her makeup case with the tap of her wand and surveyed her arsenal with a glint in her eyes.

"Keep it simple, Ginny," Hermione pleaded. "I don't need to look like…like a total glam goddess. Really, I don't."

Ginny grinned at her wickedly. "Oh, yes you do. You're in my hands now, Hermione," she said with an evil laugh.

Hermione stared at her, exasperated, and the redhead sobered up.

"Okay," said Ginny, selecting a fluffy brush and tapping it against her hand. "Close your eyes and no peeking."

"Go for it," said Hermione bravely.

"Gladly," said Ginny.

Fifteen minutes later Hermione finally had the guts to peek at her reflection. As a result, she was nearly stabbed in the eye with a mascara brush.

"Ow!" she whined indignantly.

"I told you not to peek!" Ginny scolded.

"Sorry," said Hermione. But then she peeked again. And she almost fell off her chair.

"Holy hippogriffs," she managed to choke out.

Ginny was looking immensely pleased with herself. "I've said it before, and I'm going to say it again," she said smugly. "I am a genius. Draco is going to either pass out or have a heart attack when he sees you…in a good way, of course."

"Thanks, Ginny. Thanks a lot. I mean it."

"You're very welcome, of course. Merlin's pants! Would you look at the time--you're going to be late!"

And with that, the redhead pushed Hermione out of the bathroom and, after a final once-over, out of the room. "Have fun on your date!" she shouted. "You don't mind if I just crash here, do you?"

Hermione forced Ginny to stop pushing her in case she went a little too far and toppled down the stairs and said, "Why don't you go home and tell Harry exactly how many of his hard-earned Galleons you spent today?"

Ginny snorted. "Now why in Merlin's beard would I do that? Don't be ridiculous, Hermione."

Hermione rolled her eyes, but she was grinning. "Fine. I'm leaving. Don't make a mess."

"I won't," said Ginny cheerfully. "Don't fall overboard."

Hermione stopped short. "What d'you mean?"

"Your date is taking place on a fancy boat, right?"

"Oh, right. The yacht…oh, I get it."

"Yeah." Now it was Ginny's turn to roll her eyes. "Enough idle chit-chat. Go woo your man!"

"Ginny!" Hermione protested. "You don't have to say it like that."

"Then hurry up, before he ditches you!" said the redhead, practically fuming with impatience. "You're officially ten minutes late!"

Hermione swore, which made Ginny laugh uproariously. "Bye Ginny!" And then she miraculously dashed down the stairs without twisting her ankle.

When the foyer was within her sight, she slowed down and made sure everything was in order before gracefully descending down the last few steps. Draco was waiting for her at the bottom of the spiral staircase. He looked incredibly handsome in his crisp black tuxedo, but Hermione was focused on the transfixed look on his face. He was staring at her like he had never seen her before.

"Hello," she said, after realizing that he was currently incapable of speech.

He was still gazing at her in total and utter shock. Hermione dearly wished she had a camera at that moment, because she was sure that he would never make that face again.

"Er, you look quite dashing," she said when he still hadn't said a word.

The compliment seemed to shake him back to his senses. "Hello, Hermione," he said, a little dazed. "You look absolutely beautiful tonight."

She couldn't help but blush. "Thank you." They stood there for a moment or two, an awkward silence filling the space. Hermione suddenly wished that she were going on a date where she could wear jeans and sneakers instead.

"I'm sorry," he said suddenly, "for acting like a complete moron." She laughed out loud at that. He took her hand and led her to the door. "After you, Miss Granger."

A sleek black limousine was waiting for them. Hermione slid into the cool interior, followed closely by Draco. He signaled to the chauffeur and the limousine glided out onto the streets.

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but then the limousine glided to a halt once more. Draco looked out the windows expectantly. "Oh look, we're here," he said pleasantly.

"What?" Hermione mumbled. Barely a second had passed. The chauffeur opened the door and she could taste a salty sea air. As she left the limousine, the chauffeur winked at her.

"Magical transportation services," he said to her in an undertone. "It's like Apparating or Disapparating, only in the comfort of this Muggle contraption."

"Oh," said Hermione, relaxing. "Thank you."

"No problem," he said, giving her a toothy grin. "Have fun on your date, miss."

Hermione smiled at him and then took the hand of the waiting bachelor. They were standing on a pier. Cobalt blue waves rolled in the distance, under a darkening gray sky. Some would say that the view was gloomy, but Hermione thought it was gorgeous.

Towering right next to them was a glistening white yacht. Painted in flowing black script was the name of the boat: Sweet Dreams.

"Ah," said Draco, staring at the boat in wonder. "I have finally figured out what a yacht is." Only, he pronounced the word yacht like yakked.

A smile played around Hermione's lips. "I assume you're talking about that yacht."

"Right," said Draco, "isn't that what I said?"

"Sure," Hermione humored him.

"Is that thing safe?" he said doubtfully. "How does it not sink?"

Hermione rolled her eyes and then led him up the gangplank. "It's perfectly fine, Draco. You've got to give Muggles some credit every now and then."

Draco whistled as he strolled up to the yacht. "That's one beautiful boat," he said. He looked over at Hermione and thought that the night could not be any more perfect.

Hermione was already inside. A steward in a white uniform stood at the door to welcome them.

"Good evening sir," the steward said when Draco passed him. The steward, who turned out to be the captain of the boat, was quite old, with a white moustache. His eyes were twinkling. "That's one special girl you've got there," he said knowingly.

Draco, who had fully intended on walking by with his passive face of carved ice, suddenly gave a fleeting smile. "Yes, that's right," he said. "A very special girl indeed."

"Anything I can do for you, just let the crew know," the captain offered.

"Thanks," said Draco. A few years ago he would have wondered whether the crew were Muggles or wizards, but now he found that he frankly didn't care.

"Draco?" came Hermione's voice from within the depths of the yacht.

The captain inclined his head slightly. "Go on. She's waiting for you."

"I've just thought of a request," said Draco suddenly. "Would it be terribly difficult to keep the cameras away?"

"I'll see what I can do," said the captain. One more knowing smile and then he had vanished.

Satisfied, Draco strode into the yacht and was pleasantly surprised by the elegant décor. Rich, dark velvet covered the walls and the ceiling, which was studded with diamonds made to look like stars. The floor was covered in plush white carpeting. The furniture was all mahogany. Old-fashioned light fixtures provided ambiance. Overall, it looked like something his mother would have decorated--and his mother had excellent taste.

He ventured further in and found that the room opened up to reveal the deck of the yacht. Hermione was standing near the railing, watching the rolling waves with a serene expression on her face. He drew in a sharp breath. With her hair flying in the wind and her gold dress shimmering in the sunlight, she looked beyond beautiful.

In the distance, the pier seemed to be moving away but then Draco realized that it was actually the yacht that was moving. They were going out to sea. He came to stand behind Hermione, wrapping his arms around her. She leaned into his embrace, tipping her head back onto his shoulder.

"I love the ocean," she commented contentedly.

"I--" Draco almost choked on the two words he was about to say next. "Me too," he ended up saying lamely. What was wrong with him? His mind was completely muddled up today, ever since he caught that first glimpse of her on the stairs.

Hermione turned to smile at him angelically, reaching up to kiss him on the cheek. He turned his face and caught the kiss with his mouth. He could feel her smiling as her eyes fluttered closed. Deepening the kiss, he pressed her firmly against him, as closely to him as possible. But it wasn't close enough.

"Draco," she gasped, taking in a shaky breath. He groaned audibly. Neither of them wanted to stop, but they both broke away, albeit unwillingly.

He held her to him as he tried to control his raging emotions. This was madness. Never had he felt so strongly about anyone before. "Hermione, I--" he tried to say.

At that moment, a band struck up a tune. He hastily shut his mouth, quelling his frustration, and then opened it again, only to say something else. "May I have this dance?" he inquired, summoning all the charm he had in him.

Hermione hid the fact that she was still trying to calm her racing heartbeat. She smiled and curtsied before taking his hand. "Yes, you may."

He spun her to him and then they twirled around the deck under the starry sky, dancing, smiling, and laughing, never taking their eyes off of each other. The music was upbeat, keeping time with the tempo of their hearts. Hermione had never thought herself to be a talented dancer, but now, dancing in his arms, she realized she could never dance like this with another man. And then the music slowed, and their dancing slowed, but their hearts still raced. This was the perfect moment.

"I love you," he murmured into her ear, so quietly that for a second he was afraid she hadn't heard him.

But then she smiled, so perfectly, so beautifully. "I love you too," she said.

It had started to rain.

Originally, they were supposed to eat dinner on the deck of the yacht, under the open sky, but with the weather having other ideas they decided to move the dinner inside. It was still a lovely dinner, even with the storm rocking the boat. The dinner was prepared by a world class French chef. Draco had picked out the wine himself, and now they toasted and drank to each other.

"To love," said Draco, not caring how cheesy that sounded.

"To us," Hermione agreed, her glass clinking against his.

When dinner was finished, Hermione found that she was pleasantly drowsy. They settled onto a leather chaise, close together, and listened to the rain drum overhead.

"My mother used to take me to the sea when I was young," he said, after a lengthy but comfortable silence. "It was the only time we could truly be free."

Hermione smiled, a little sadly. "Whenever my parents would take me to the beach when I was little, I would build a magnificent sandcastle, only to watch the waves crash upon the shore and take it down."

He chuckled. He could just imagine a young Hermione watching indignantly as all her hard work was destroyed in an instant. He knew the feeling.

"I think my father loved my mother once," he said suddenly. He wasn't sure why, but he felt like he just had to let that out.

"I think he did," said Hermione quietly, leaning against him.

"He bought her a little chateau by the sea in France," he continued. "I wonder if it's still there. It hasn't been visited in ages."

"A chateau by the sea," Hermione mused. "It sounds so poetic." Her hand was now intertwined with his.

"It was a beautiful, secluded place," he said, a little wistfully. "I wonder why my mother hasn't gone back."

"Perhaps it reminds her of a time she would rather forget," said Hermione, the words coming seemingly from nowhere.

"But those were happier times…" said Draco, his voice trailing off as he pondered.

"Maybe she's afraid to let herself be happy," said Hermione. She suddenly wondered if she had ever felt that way, or if she ever would.

"There are times I'd like to forget," said Draco. "My Hogwarts days…the war…"

"Don't," said Hermione. "We're not supposed to dwell on the past, remember?"

"You're right," he said, letting out a breath.

Hermione closed her eyes, just for a minute. The yacht seemed to be lulling her to sleep. She struggled to stay awake.

Draco seemed to be having the same problem. He was so comfortable at the moment, lounging on the couch with Hermione nestled at his side, he could fall asleep right then and there. Then he remembered that there was something he meant to do. With great effort, he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small, rectangular package. It was wrapped in gold. He had planned on wrapping it in silver, but then decided that gold would be a better match for Hermione, being in Gryffindor and everything. It turned out he had been right about that.

"Hermione," he said.

"Hmm?" she said drowsily. Her eyes widened at the sight of the wrapped package.

"This is for you," he said. There was an earnest, hopeful expression on his face, an expression that was rarely used. He handed the package to her.

"A present?" she said, surprised.

"I feel like I owe it to you," he said. She looked up at him questioningly. "Go on, open it."

Hermione carefully undid the ribbons and tape. It was small and rectangular, thick and compact. It was a book.

The wrapping paper fell away. It was a book bound in scarlet with faded gold letters.

Pride and Prejudice. 

She was speechless. She held the book in her hands and thumbed through the pages. Familiar passages jumped out at her like old friends. This was her favorite book, the one she had lost way back in second year. She had almost forgotten how she had lost it, until now. She couldn't believe she had gotten it back.

She tore her eyes away from the book and met his intense, yearning gaze. She couldn't speak, but he knew what she was thinking.

"Thank you," she said at last.

"It was always yours," he said.

She looked down at the book once more. "You read it, didn't you?"

"Most definitely," he said, giving her a small smile. "More than once too."

"It's a good book," she said, feeling the soft cover under her fingertips.

"A very good book," he agreed.

She smiled at him. "Indeed."

The yacht glided through the dark waters, into the night. The boat was rocking Hermione to sleep again, and she couldn't help but close her eyes, still holding her precious book.

"Good night," Draco told her, but she was already in a dreamland.

That was a ton of romantic fluffiness, wasn't it? :P I couldn't think of a better name for the boat, so if anyone has suggestions let me know in a review. :) 
Yours till the Erumpent horn explodes,
Queen Luna

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