The next morning, Hermione almost welcomed the nagging of her body. Last night had been so…well for want of a better word it had been blissful! However stupidly optimistic it was of her, she couldn’t help but feeling that this was some new kind of détente, and that it would lead to something more special.
There was always the nagging doubt, of course. She was pretty sure that she wasn’t going to be able to get through this without this horrid uncertainty plaguing her. However wonderful being with Draco was, it didn’t change the fact that they were only in this situation because of a botched spell. It didn’t exactly lend any sort of credibility to the situation. There had been no magical moment where their eyes met across a bubbling cauldron, or she had suddenly noticed him in the light of sparks from her wand. This was simply a situation where they had been forced together because of stupid pride and shoddy wand work, and she couldn’t help feeling that their reaction to this was either some kind of cabin fever, or an effect of the spell.
But…how did thinking like that help her? She had to be enthusiastic, to just take the things as they came. That was what Draco did, and he was doing well enough on it. So she would do it, and it would be great, and everything would work out for the best. Casting one last glance at her slightly anxious reflection she told herself that optimism was fine, and she could handle anything that this situation could throw at her.
As soon as she walked into the hall, and realised that Draco wasn’t there, that cautious optimism evaporated into nothing. Without thinking that they both attended the same boarding school and there weren’t really that many ways that Draco would be able to avoid her, Hermione plunged into a whirling maelstrom of confusion. He was always here before her. He was just as dependable as her in that respect. She flicked a quick glance over at the Slytherin table and was greeted with six different glares from six very different, very angry Slytherin girls. Looking ahead again, she realised that she had stopped moving. Harry, Ron and Ginny had noticed her, and were beckoning her fairly frantically. She knew that she needed to move forward and sit with them, but the yearning tug in the pit of her stomach was as insistent as any portkey, and she wanted to obey it more than anything.
She could pretend she had forgotten a textbook, she thought frantically. Ignoring the fact that she was already holding three huge texts close to her chest, she turned promptly on her heel and began hurrying towards the exit. She was so wrapped up in the need to escape the claustrophobic atmosphere of the huge hall crammed with people, none of whom were the one she desperately needed to see, that she barely noticed the abnormally quick rate at which the pulsating tension that ran through her body was decreasing. She pushed through the door quickly with one hand and slammed straight into Draco.
His hands went to her shoulders, and steadied her. Her books lay across the floor, catapulted from her hands by the force with which she had flown into him. Draco took a minute to compose himself, wondering what the precise etiquette was for a situation like this. That minute stretched out into what he recognised as a fairly gormless silence, as he wondered what he was meant to call her. Granger would be the obvious solution, but holding her last night had made him think that Hermione would probably be more appropriate. Although, however much he wanted to do that, there was still the matter of a public image…
Hermione took three deep breaths in, hoping to calm herself, but only succeeded in dragging his smell deep into her. This had the precise opposite of the intended effect, leaving her with the intense urge to hurl herself into his chest again, and this time, to hold on. “You probably ought to let go of my shoulders,” she whispered, conscious that her dramatic exit would have drawn the attention of the Gryffindor and Slytherin tables, and continued contact between the pair of them would do nothing except exacerbate the fraught situation.
Draco looked at his hands in mild confusion. He didn’t really remember putting them there, but they felt very good there. He didn’t actually want to let go of her shoulders. Noticing Hermione glancing over her shoulder quickly, he looked up and saw Potter and Weasley staring at them with the comically furrowed brows of the terminally confused and easily offended. Smirking, he tightened his grasp on Hermione’s shoulders and dragged her out of the entrance to the hall, out of the sight of the gawping students.
Startled out of her bewildered haze by the sudden movement, Hermione pulled herself out of her hands with the usual pang. “What did you do that for? And why are you smirking?”
“Do you want to ask me stupid questions like that now, or do you want to wait for the Wonder Twins to come and ask the questions themselves?” Draco asked,
“You did that to irritate Harry and Ron? Oh for Merlin’s sake Draco…so much for you not teasing me and being nice to me.” The moment the words were out of her mouth, she wanted to kick herself. That was something that should have been a sarky comment from her internal monologue, not something that she actually said. That had just sounded pathetically needy.
“I’m not teasing you. I’m going to be teasing Potter and Weasley.” Draco directed his smirk at her, his silver eyes flashing in the early morning light streaming in through the high set windows.
Hermione thumped his arm as hard as she could, trying to ignore the thrill of temporary contact. “Is that how you spend your spare time? Thinking up provisos to promises?” Turning her back on him, she set about picking her books up off the floor before anyone leaving the hall trampled them.
Draco rubbed his arm. “You just hit me.”
“Yes.” She hugged her books to her chest again, as though he would be able to see straight through her if she didn’t. “You clearly just ignore me whenever I tell you something important or you think of a way to turn it into a joke. So I’m not going to bother arguing with you.”
“And yet you aren’t storming back into the hall, with your dignity held intact and your sense of moral superiority restored.” Draco folded his arms and stared down at her. “And since when did my promises become so important to you?”
Hermione stepped forward and snarled at him, frustrated beyond belief. “In case it had escaped your notice, I am finding it fairly difficult to adapt to this situation, as I am not used to having to spend any amount of time with someone as intolerable as you! I am confused by this spell, and I am having to spend every day living with a mistake that you caused! I was, stupidly as it turns out, clinging to whatever hint of stability I could find.”
“If I’m the mistake that you’re having to live with,” Draco hissed, his eyes sparking, “then why the hell are you taking promises from me?”
“Because it’s all I’ve got, you moron! No one else knows what we’re going through, and I’m not really in the mood to listen to bland promises about how the spell will break, when we don’t actually know that it will, and you are the only person who knows what we are both going through and I thought that that would be enough to make you summon some common decency!” She inhaled furiously, and narrowed her eyes at him.
Draco opened his mouth to respond angrily, but was interrupted by Harry and Ron storming out into the hall. “Hermione, are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m fine,” she snapped. Draco couldn’t resist smirking at the fact that it wasn’t just him that she was shouting at. Noticing it, she shot him a ferocious glare.
“We just saw him drag you to one side.” Thrown off balance by Hermione’s aggression, Harry and Ron were slightly more hesitant in their supposed rescue attempt than they had been a minute before.
“No, he didn’t. We bumped into each other by mistake. If we touch, the charm makes it difficult for us to let go. He just moved me to one side so that we wouldn’t be seen grappling in front of the whole hall.” Hermione lied smoothly. Draco’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor. He had never seen her improvise that smoothly. He was almost impressed. Almost.
But it was more in his interest if he didn’t let the brilliant lie stand, but rather toppled down the fragile house of cards that she had been building. “Well, that’s an interesting interpretation of it Granger. I would say that I’m in perfect control of my faculties at all times, and I was perfectly capable of letting go of you. I just chose to move you to one side.”
Harry and Ron both opened their mouth to shout at him, but Hermione grabbed their arms. “Just let it go, won’t you? He’s obviously trying to rile you up, and he’s really not worth it. Come on, I want to have something to eat before Potions.” Not allowing her guard to slip for a minute, Hermione pushed Harry and Ron in front of her and into the hall, turning to shoot Draco one last furious glower before entering herself. Draco was sure that, mentally at least, she was drawing a finger across her throat menacingly.
Smiling to himself, he went into the hall after them and sat down at his usual place, kicking Goyle’s bag away to clear more space for his feet. Pansy was on him instantly. “What the hell was that about?”
“Nothing that concerns you, that’s what it was about.” Draco snatched up an apple from the bowl in front of him, and bit crisply into it.
“Draco, if Granger is making life hard for you, we ought to do something. We can’t have that jumped up little Mudblood thinking she’s better than us. We’re Purebloods for Merlin’s sake!”
“Let it go Parkinson, I told you it doesn’t concern you.” Draco yawned and turned his attention towards the Gryffindor table. Harry was watching him, while Hermione had resolutely turned her back on him. Grinning, he bit into the apple again, and watched as Potter flinched, almost imperceptibly. He knew exactly why Potter was flinching: he thought that Draco was going to destroy Hermione in exactly the same way that he was tearing into the apple.
Well, fine, if that’s what he wanted to think. That served Draco’s purpose, and that was the important thing. But truthfully, he was fairly confused by what had just happened. Waking up late, he had allowed himself the indulgence of a few minutes reliving what had happened the night before. He had known that Hermione was vulnerable to a certain extent – only the Slytherins, who were experts at concealing every single truthful emotion were never truly vulnerable – but even when she was clinging to him desperately, there was still a spark in her that made him think that he wouldn’t be able to fuck her over. He wasn’t even really sure that he wanted to. And he was fairly sure that using Hermione, and then throwing her to one side once he was done with her, counted as fucking her over. So, as he scrubbed the sleep from his eyes, and straightened his tie, he had decided that maybe it wasn’t in his best interests to do that. That might upset Hermione, and that would, on some level at least, upset him, and he didn’t like being upset.
And then, to have her flying straight into his arms as he went into the dining hall? It felt like some kind of fate intervening, pushing him in a certain way, and telling him that he had set himself on the right path. He had been blown away by how right it felt, confused by how peaceful he felt, even in all the turmoil that was clearly surrounding Hermione. Harry and Ron were clearly the barrier to him attaining that peace. There was no way that he wanted to be friends with them, or that he would even consider some sort of negotiation with them that would enable him to carry on achieving the same kind of peace that he found with Hermione. He would just have to get rid of them in some way. And they were clearly worried about him, which put them at a disadvantage.
He threw the half finished apple to one side, and stood up, ignoring Pansy’s shrill demands to know where he was going. Striding out of the hall, he went to Transfiguration, plotting his next move.
Coming out of Potions, Hermione finally thought that she had calmed down enough to face going into the dining hall where she might have to face Draco’s smirking face. Her body gave a little jump, as she dared to acknowledge the thought that she might be able to relax a little bit in his presence, just to relieve the constant tension that played along every part of her body. Harry and Ron had pushed ahead and were arguing with Seamus about some manoeuvre that Harry was planning for Quidditch practice, and Hermione let them do so, content to walk behind and half listen to the conversation.
Daydreaming, she felt a sudden slackening on the tension in her shoulder, and heard the clatter of books and quills dropping to the stone floor. Sighing in exasperation, she knelt down to collect everything, examining the split seam along the bottom of her bag as she did so. Waving at Harry and Ron to go on ahead, she crawled across the floor to retrieve her favourite quill. Sitting back on her heels to gather everything into a pile, she noticed that the tension in her shoulder was not the only thing that had lessened. The gnawing in the pit of her stomach had dropped to a near imperceptible level, and the throbbing of her joints was gentle now. Just as she had registered what that must mean, Draco stepped out from the shadows of one of the seldom used corridors.
Scrambling to her feet, Hermione put her hands on her hips and stared coldly at him. “I believe we’ve already had the conversation about stalking being a criminal offence.”
“Well, I was under the impression that you weren’t going to be released from the clutches of your friends if I was around. And I wanted to talk to you.” Draco twirled his wand idly, and fixed the bag that he had just broken.
“Harry and Ron aren’t my jailors, they don’t have to release me.”
“Excellent. Then you’ll be ok to stay here and talk to me.” Draco raised an eyebrow, and watched as Hermione crossed her arms.
“I don’t see what you could possibly have to say that I would want to listen to.”
“Well you can explain where that outburst from this morning came from. I refuse to believe that my insulting Potter and Weasley would rile you so much. I’ve hardly made a secret of my animosity.”
Hermione sighed and bent down to pick up her things, and began slotting them into the repaired bag. “I don’t know why I did that. Maybe I’ve just had enough of you being horrible all the time.”
“What?” Hermione’s head snapped upright.
“Well, it’s this new thing I’ve got. Whenever someone is shamelessly lying, I’ve decided to start calling him or her on it by saying ‘liar’. So what are you lying for?” Draco had stopped even smirking. He knew she was lying; she had begun flushing as soon as she’d begun talking. Gryffindors might be brave, but they had absolutely no skill in concealing the truth.
Hermione’s thoughts began whirling again. How did he do this to her? She had none of his cool calculation: she had prepared the lie that she had told to Harry and Ron ages ago, just in case she and Draco were caught, and even that hadn’t stopped her blushing. There was no way she could tell him the truth; that she had begun panicking when he wasn’t in the dining hall, and she had been so freakishly relieved to see him, that it had thrown her off balance, made her cross with herself for being so sickeningly dependent on him. She hadn’t had a choice but to shout at him, to try and even that playing field.
But he was here, with her now. They were alone, there was no way anyone would be coming along that corridor. She couldn’t bear to tell him, she couldn’t bear to be away from him. Her body was conspiring with these errant thoughts, prompting her to move one foot forward. Before she knew it, she was taking one hesitant step towards him. Another one brought them within five feet of each other. Draco watched her, unwilling to make another compromise. He had had to push her for every kiss, every hard won embrace. Now, before he involved himself more deeply in something that he wasn’t even sure about, some part of him wanted to see the same unerring commitment in her, even in the face of something that neither of them quite dared to confront for what it was.
Coming even closer, so close that he could feel her trembling breath whispering against his own lips, she tiptoed, sliding her hands around his neck, so that she could gently tug his face down to her own. Tentatively, scared that she was the only one making a move, she edged closer to him until her lips just brushed his.
It was a tiny movement, almost imperceptible, a butterfly kiss that ghosted across his lips as gently as the brush of the breeze against a rose petal. But it was all it took. Slipping his arms firmly around her waist, he pulled her closer to him, feeling her soothe the ragged ache that raged through him when she was gone. She moulded to him and tipped her head back, feeling his mouth paint vivid technicolour kisses across her face.
There was no question of anger, no question of pulling back. However much confusion there was, this was the only thing that made sense, the only possible answer, and she couldn’t bear to let it slip away.
AN: Hi everyone…so it’s been an incredibly long time since I updated. I want to apologise to all of you, it was never my intention to go this long without continuing my stories, and I just want to thank all of you that have reviewed in my absence, or asked me to carry on writing. I know that quite a few of you have had your reviews unacknowledged, which I am desperately sorry about because I am truly grateful to every single person who reviews. In explanation for my unplanned hiatus, a number of things have slowed me down: finishing my law degree took up a lot of time, and there was a family bereavement, a cheating boyfriend which led to a broken heart, issues with friends and a diagnosis of clinical depression (the last of which is extremely mild, but still necessitated some rather frantic moments). But I have everything back under control now (thank whichever deity you believe in, I’m far too much of a control freak not to be!), and will continue updating as regularly as I can. On a more positive note – thank you for reading, I truly hope that you enjoyed this chapter, and as always – reviews are enormously appreciated (and I promise to respond to every single one). Lots of love…petitesorciere xxx
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