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    I have no intention of breaking my father’s pact with Pietro Zabini. Those words echoed in her mind as she stood there staring at him. She had not expected those words to come from his lips, nor had she wanted to hear them. It just made her more upset and angry.

    “You’re joking,” Astoria said, “Draco, tell me you’re joking.”

    From the time she had first started having feeling for him, she had pictured herself with him. She had actually believed that they would end up married. Well, she wasn’t going to let this slide, no, she was going to get some answers. Was she not good enough for him? How could he be more interested in that bookworm of a twit?

    Draco looked at her, straight faced. And shook his head. Astoria furrowed her brow and stared at him. “Why?”

    He sighed and ran his hands over his face before answering, “Because, Astoria; I don’t love you, I never have. Besides, are going really well with Hermione.”

    “Who cares?!” Astoria exclaimed.

    “I care! I’ve fallen in love with her, Astoria, and I’m going to ask her to marry me.”

    Her blue eyes narrowed angrily as she folded her arms over her chest. “You’re going to what?”

    “Don’t act so surprised,” Draco said, standing and walking over to his desk, “You’ve known for months that this was a possibility.”

    She could not… would not… accept his reasoning. She was everything he needed and she refused to believe otherwise. There had to be some other reason as to why he was doing this to her… some spell, or something that the goody-goody was doing to him. A look of desperation crossed her features.

    Astoria went to him and put her hands on his cheeks. “You’re tired. You’re tired and you’re overworked; you’re not thinking clearly.”

    Draco removed her hands from his face and put some distance between them. “I’m fine. In fact; I’ve never felt better.”

    “She’s bewitched you. You’ve unknowingly drank some Love Potion,” Astoria tried, “You wouldn’t be acting like this if…”

    “I haven’t been bewitched and I haven’t drank a Love Potion!” Draco snapped, “I am genuinely in love, Astoria, with Hermione.”

    “No! No, I don’t accept that!”

    “Well, you’re going to have to accept it, because it’s the truth.”

    “No. I accepted it when you told me you needed to cool things with me so that you could focus on the task The Dark Lord gave you. I accepted it when you told me that things had to end between us… I accepted those things because I knew, KNEW, that you would eventually come back to me, but I refuse to accept this, Draco, no!”

    He was getting angry. She was so unlike the previous girls he’d dated; unlike the girl he thought he knew, actually. She had become more than clingy and, as of late, possessive, unpredictable, and moody beyond belief; also forceful at times. He was beginning to see her true colors, and he couldn’t say that he liked them very much. “I need to go see about Blaise,” he said, “I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you, but I’m following my heart.”

    He turned to leave and was nearly hit with a desk lamp as it sailed past his head. “What the…?” He turned and ducked as something else came whizzing toward him. “Astoria!”

    “You arse!” Astoria shouted, pointing her wand at another object and making it fly across the room.

    “Astoria, calm down!”

    “Over a year and a half I stand by you, and for what? You string me along for months, MONTHS, and you tell me to calm down?!”

    Draco whipped out his wand and blocked himself from getting hit by a flying book. “I didn’t string…”

    “Don’t try to talk your way out of this, Draco Malfoy!” she shrieked, “You led me to believe that you’d drop all of this betrothal nonsense with her and marry me!”

    “Expelliarmus!” Draco shouted.

    Astoria’s wand flew out of her hand and Draco caught it. He stood to his full height and strode toward her, eyes blazing. “I never once promised you a wedding to me, Astoria, never! I said from the beginning that I would be marrying Hermione. Arranged marriages are a tradition in the Malfoy family and I’ve never been one to turn away from my familial duties!” he told her angrily, “I never intended to fall in love with Hermione; I didn’t think it would be possible… but I did, and there’s nothing either of us can do about it! I love Hermione and I’m going to marry her.”

    “That witch slipped you a…”

    “Hermione didn’t slip me anything!” Draco snapped, “I fell in love with her. I don’t know when, or how, it happened, but there it is. Now, I’ve tried to be nice about this but I just can’t anymore.”

    He tossed her wand at her and pointed toward the portrait hole. “Get out.”

    Astoria blinked. “You’re kicking me out?” she questioned, shock evident in her voice, “Me, Astoria Greengrass, star of the Ravenclaw House?”

    Draco nodded, unfazed. “Yes; you’re in my living quarters and I don’t want you here any longer. Get out!”

    For a moment, he didn’t think she was going to move and that he would have to physically remove her from the Head’s Tower. Luckily, for her, she broke her statue-like stance and stormed out through the portrait hole. He followed after her as far as the corridor then turned toward the hospital wing. He wanted to check up on Blaise and make sure that Hermione was all right.

    If he’d learned anything about her in the past few months, it was that Hermione was excellent at working herself into a state of panic. He was getting pretty good at helping to fend them off, especially since Blaise was pretty good at the whole panic thing, but Hermione sometimes couldn’t hear past her own frenzied ramblings.

    When he felt he was a good distance from Astoria, he took a deep breath. Using what had just happened as a precursor, he was pretty certain that she was going to cause some problems.

    Astoria was strong-willed and ferociously determined when she wanted something. It just so happened that what she wanted this time, was him. He had known that for a while now but he had ignored it thinking she would just move on if he told her he wasn’t interested. He had underestimated just how strongly she felt for him, though. How I managed that one, I’ll never know, he thought. Then again, I’ve been so focused on Hermione that I just wasn’t paying attention to much else.

    He honestly didn’t have time to deal with her just then, either. He entered the hospital wing and found Hermione sleeping in a chair next to Blaise’s bed. A book lay open in her lap and was dangerously close to falling, so he quietly walked over and took the book before it could fall. He then kissed the top of her head and pulled a chair up next to hers. She must be exhausted, he mused when she didn’t even stir.

    He looked at the book in his hands and chuckled when he saw the title. Probably trying to keep herself from thinking too much. He opened the book and began to read what Hermione had once told him were Muggle fairy tales.

 

 




 

 

Four days later…

 

    Blaise sat bolt upright and gasped loudly, taking in a deep gulp of air. Hermione nearly jumped out of her skin at the sudden movement and noise. She looked around briefly to get her bearings and when she saw Blaise sitting up, she gasped. “Blaise!” she said, getting up and moving to him as fast as she could, books falling to the floor in the process.

    Blaise didn’t respond. He was sitting as stiff as a board and breathing raggedly, his eyes unfocused. “Blaise, talk to me!” Hermione said, grabbing his arm and squeezing it tightly.

    When she squeezed his arm, Hermione felt a jolt of energy go through her. At first, she was surprised by the feeling, but then she realized that she could feel his presence. It was faint, but this excited her.

    She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She had been practicing the meditation technique Firenze had taught her since she had first shown it to her and she felt that she might be able to reach him. Her mind had never been as clear at it was at that moment.

    She felt Blaise’s presence growing stronger the longer she held on, but he still felt far off. She looked at Blaise curiously for a moment and then found her vision going blurry. When it cleared, there was a dark room around her. What the…?

    There was a whimpering sound to her left. She turned her head and saw a young girl with dark red hair huddled in the corner. The girl looked like she had been through the wringer and back. Bruises covered her fair skin and she looked like she had been unconscious.

    Hermione walked over to the girl and knelt down beside her. She knew that the girl wouldn’t be able to hear or see her, but she leaned close to her anyway. “Don’t worry,” she said, “everything’s going to be all right.”

    The girl jumped slightly and looked around. “Wha… Who’s there?” she whimpered.

    Hermione blinked as she stared at the girl. “You… You can hear me?” she asked.

    “Yes,” she replied, “Who, who are you?”

    Something in Hermione’s heart was telling her that she shouldn’t give the girl her real name; not because she felt the girl wasn’t trustworthy, but because she felt the girl would be in even more danger if she knew her real name. “My name is Jean,” she said softly, “What’s yours?”

    “Lillian.”

    “Do you know where you are, Lillian?”

    “N… not really,” she replied, “It’s some place old.”

    Hermione smiled. “That’s good, it narrows things down a bit,” she said softly, “Is there anything else you can tell me about where you are?”

    Lillian bit her bottom lip in thought before saying, “I hear a lot of voices above me sometimes. I can’t tell what they’re saying, but they sound angry.”

    Hermione could feel her vision starting to blur again just then so she quickly said, “Listen, Lillian, I have to go but I promise that everything’s going to be all right, okay?”

    Lillian’s eyes widened in fear. “Please don’t leave me,” she begged, “I’m scared.”

    “I’ll come back, I promise,” Hermione told her.

    Lillian became more and more blurred as Hermione felt herself going back to the hospital wing of Hogwarts where she was still holding onto Blaise’s arm. When her vision became clear again, Blaise was looking at her with wide blue eyes that were filled with fright. “Whoa,” he breathed hoarsely.

    Hermione furrowed her brow at him as she let go of him and sat back slightly. “Did… did you see all of that?”

    Blaise nodded. “I’ve been seeing it for the past… how long was I out?” he asked quietly.

    “Eight days.”

    “What exactly happened?”

    Hermione shook her head. “I’m not sure exactly,” she told him as she leaned forward again, “We were at the Three Broom Sticks and you went ridged… and then you fainted. You’ve been out since then.”

    “Hermione, we’ve got to talk to Dumbledore,” he said with urgency, “None of what I saw has happened yet, but it will; I feel it.”

    She could sense Blaise’s anxiety and gave him a calming smile. “We’ll talk to him later, Blaise,” she assured him, “Right now; you need to concentrate on getting well.”

    “But I feel fine,” Blaise argued.

    “Regardless of that, you’ve been unconscious for eight days; you need to rest.”

    “Damn it, Hermione, you saw that girl,” Blaise said quickly, “We can’t let that happen!”

    “Okay, okay, Blaise, calm down,” Hermione said as she smoothed his hair back and pushed him gently back down to his pillow, “I’ll go and see if I can find him; you rest.”

    “What’s all this… Oh my; Mr. Zabini, you’re awake!”

    Blaise and Hermione looked up at Madame Pomfrey as she walked through the curtain that surrounded Blaise’s bed. Madame Pomfrey immediately began bustling around, administering potions to Blaise so that she could be certain that he would stay conscious and well. “Miss Zabini, the Headmaster is out at the moment; Would you please send an owl letting him know that your brother is awake?” she asked, “I’m sure he’ll want to speak with him.”

    Hermione stood up and kissed Blaise on the forehead briefly before sweeping from the room. As she made her way through the castle to send an owl as Madame Pomfrey had asked, Hermione bumped into Draco. She grinned widely and hugged him tightly as they reached each other. “Well, that’s a nice ‘hello’,” Draco said with a chuckle, “I was just on my way to visit Blaise; would you like to join me?”

    “Oh, I’ve just come from the hospital wing;” Hermione told him cheerily, “Blaise woke up about ten minutes ago.”

    Draco’s eyes widened as he allowed a smile to spread across his face. “That’s great! Were you coming to tell me, or…?”

    “I’m actually headed to send an owl off to Professor Dumbledore for Madame Pomfrey.”

    “Oh, okay, would you like me to join you?”

    Hermione bit her lip in thought and finally shook her head. “I’d rather you sat with Blaise,” she told him, “He was having a vision which is why he passed out; he’s really upset by it.”

    Concern immediately washed over Draco’s face at those words. “All right, I’ll see you when you get back there, okay?”

    Hermione nodded and kissed his cheek lightly before heading off again. Draco watched for a moment as Hermione disappeared around the corner and sighed softly. He then turned and made his way to the hospital wing. When he walked into the hospital wing, he noticed that the curtain around Blaise’s bed was completely open and he was sitting up, propped against his pillow.

    Blaise looked over when he caught sight of Draco in his peripheral vision and smiled. “Draco, come to visit?”

    “Well, you didn’t think I’d be kept away when my best mate is in the hospital did you?” Draco questioned, “Your parents were here the other day; they’re real worried about you.”

    “Yeah, Madame Pomfrey said that they wanted me moved to St. Mungo's but Dumbledore wouldn’t allow it.”

    Draco chuckled as he sat down. “Yeah, they weren’t too happy about that, but they trust Dumbledore so they left you here under the excellent care of Madame Pomfrey,” he said, “They’ve come to visit every day since Dumbledore told them what had happened.”

    “I think they want me to get cavities because they’ve left me a mountain of sweets,” Blaise said, pointing to a fairly large pile of candies and chocolates sitting on the table at the end of his bed.

    “Well, I’ll be happy to help you eat it all,” Draco told him.

    Blaise grinned. “I bet.”

    Draco cleared his throat and leaned forward. “Blaise, I ran into Hermione on my way here; she said that you’d had a vision and that’s why you… um… fainted.”

    “Did she tell you what she saw?”

    “No, she just said you’d had a vision and that Madame Pomfrey had asked her to send an owl to Dumbledore,” Draco replied, “What happened?”

    Blaise furrowed his brow and pursed his lips in thought. “Well, I remember we were sitting in the Three Broom Sticks chatting, and then suddenly, my mind went blank,” he said, remembering, “Everything was dark and I could hear voices over my head, like they were coming through the ceiling.”

    Draco listened intently as Blaise continued his account of what had happened. He was astounded that Blaise had such ability as to see the future. He’d known Blaise practically his entire life and not once had he ever shown that he had such an ability.

    “And then I heard Hermione’s voice in the darkness, but I couldn’t see her,” Blaise was now saying, “I tried talking to her but I couldn’t; I was trapped inside the girl’s body… Lillian.”

    “So, let me get this straight; when you have a vision, you become the person whose future you’re seeing?”

    “I’m not really sure,” Blaise confessed, “When I first started having these visions, I just thought they were dreams; but then I realized that they seemed too real to be dreams.”

    “I have theory about that.”

    Draco and Blaise each whipped their head around to face Albus Dumbledore. He had just walked into the room and was being followed by Hermione. “Before I divulge my theory, however,” he said, focusing his gaze on Blaise, “How are you feeling?”

    “I feel fine, sir,” he replied.

    Dumbledore scrutinized him carefully before brandishing his wand and drawing the curtains around the bed. He then drew two extra chairs; one for Hermione and one for himself. He gestured for Hermione to sit before sitting himself and pressed his fingertips together in thought. “Blaise, would you mind telling me everything that happened from the time you went into your coma to the time you woke from it?”

    Blaise quickly launched into the details of what he had seen and heard while he’d been in a coma. When he came to the part where he’d heard Hermione’s voice, Dumbledore stopped him. “Hermione, can you tell me what you saw?” he asked.

    “I honestly didn’t really see much,” Hermione began, “As Blaise said; it was very dark, but there was enough light in the room for me to see once my eyes adjusted a bit.”

    Blaise furrowed his brow. “That’s funny; I couldn’t see a thing.”

    Dumbledore silenced him with a glance and turned his attention back to Hermione. “What did you see once your eyes had become adjusted?” he prompted.

    “Well, I heard first; a whimper,” Hermione said, “It came from the far corner of the room and when I turned to see what it was, I saw a girl. She was very frightened and it looked like she had been tortured.”

    “She was tortured,” Blaise interjected, “I felt every second of it.”

    “Yes,” Dumbledore said, “You mentioned that her abductors wanted information about a friend of hers?”

    “Yes, sir; someone named Aeryn.”

    Dumbledore tilted his head forward and looked at Hermione over the top of his spectacles. “Hermione, please continue.”

    Hermione cleared her throat. “I walked over and knelt down next to her. I didn’t think that she would be able to hear me, but when I told her that everything was going to be okay, she looked around and asked who was there.”

    “Was she able to tell you anything about where she was being held?”

    “Only that it was some place old,” Hermione replied.

    Dumbledore furrowed his brow curiously. “How is it that you came to be in Blaise’s vision?”

    “I… I don’t really know, sir. I was sitting where Draco is now when Blaise suddenly sat up gasping for air. I thought he’d completely woken but he was ridged and he was unfocused so I got up and went to him. I touched his arm and then my vision blurred like it does when I’m having a vision.”

    Dumbledore nodded. “Hmm, it is as I suspected.”

    “Sir?” Blaise said.

    “Hermione, would you mind telling me more about the visions you have?”

    “I’m not sure I understand what you mean, sir.”

    “Do your visions feel as though they are going to happen, or that they are happening when you see them?” Dumbledore clarified.

    “I can’t be certain, but it feels as if they’re happening at the time I’m seeing them.”

    Draco cleared his throat. “I can confirm that, sir,” he said softly.

    Dumbledore stared at him silently for a moment. Draco understood his look to mean that he wanted an explanation. “You see, I sent an owl to my mum after Hermione told me that she had seen my father talking to my Aunt Bellatrix,” he explained, “I asked if Bellatrix had been by to visit and my mum said that she had; the exact night that Hermione saw my father talking to her.”

    Hermione looked puzzled. “But, if what I saw when I touched Blaise hasn’t happened yet, then how…?”

    “It is my theory that when you came into direct, physical contact with Blaise while he was having a vision, you saw what he was seeing at the time,” Dumbledore interrupted, “I think the same would happen to Blaise if he were to come into contact with you while you were having a vision.”

    “But, sir, how do we know that what Blaise saw isn’t happening right now?” Draco questioned.

    Dumbledore turned his gaze to Blaise. “Was this the first time you had seen this girl, Blaise?”

    Blaise shook his head. “I’ve never actually seen her,” he stated, “I become her.”

    “And when did you first become this young woman?”

    “Over the summer holiday; not long after our birthday,” he said, inclining his head toward Hermione.

    “Can you describe this young woman, Hermione?”

    Hermione closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them again once she had a clear picture of Lillian in her mind. “I couldn’t really tell what her face looked like, she was too bruised up, but she looked to be around our age; maybe a little younger, with dark red hair,” she recalled, “Sir, she was wearing a Hogwarts uniform.”

    “We have no red-headed students by the name of Lillian at this school at present,” Dumbledore assured her, “Which leads me to believe that there is no significant need to worry about her just now.”

    “But…”

    “Blaise, please do not take that statement to mean that we will not worry about Lillian at all; we will. I would like you to keep me informed of any and all visions you have involving this young lady.”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Sir, you haven’t finished telling us your theory,” Hermione said.

    “Oh yes,” Dumbledore said with a soft chuckle, “It is my belief that the two of you are connected by more than just your blood.”

    “Sir, we’ve established that,” Draco said.

    Dumbledore nodded. “Yes, we have; however we have not established the ways in which they are connected.”

    “Their powers, sir.”

    “That is quite right, Draco, but to what extent do those powers connect them?” Dumbledore questioned, “Is it merely the fact that they are twins that causes their powers to act as they do; or is it something deeper, more powerful?”

    “We’ve searched through hundreds of books, sir but nothing has been helpful,” Draco said.

    Dumbledore smiled. “Perhaps you have not been looking in the right book,” he said, “Might I suggest looking a little closer to home?”

    With that, Dumbledore stood and parted the curtain, leaving the three of them behind in complete confusion.

 

 




 

 

Later that day…

 

    Since Madame Pomfrey had to run some tests on Blaise, now that he was awake, she had kicked everyone out of the hospital wing. Hermione, upon Blaise’s insistence, had gone to class and then to the library to work on some of her assignments. Madame Pomfrey had been crystal clear that no one was to return to see Blaise until classes were finished for the day.

    Hermione wasn’t exactly happy about that, but she was managing to get a lot done. Not only had she completed a couple of her assignments that weren’t due until the following week, she had also penned some letters that she intended to send off with Callidora during her next free period. In all the excitement that morning, she had neglected to let her parents know that Blaise had woken, as well as Beatrice.

    Hermione hadn’t thought to send word to Beatrice until a letter from her had shown up for Blaise in the hospital wing. As soon as she had seen that, Hermione had immediately written her a letter explaining everything and apologizing for not having sent word sooner. To her surprise, Beatrice had been very nice about it all.

    “Um, Hermione?”

    Hermione looked up from her Arithmancy essay and smiled kindly at Astoria. “Hi, Astoria.”

    “Hi. I was just wondering if I could borrow your Charms notes? I kind of spaced out for a little while and I want to make sure I got all the information needed for next lesson.”

    Hermione blinked. She didn’t know Astoria very well, but she did know that the Ravenclaw rarely missed anything in classes. “Oh, um… Sure,” she said, reaching into her bag and searching for her notes.

    When she found them, she handed them to Astoria and said, “If you could get them back to me as soon as possible, I’d really appreciate it.”

    Astoria nodded. “Of course, I’ll have them back to you by the end of the day. Thank you.”

    “Not a problem.”

    Astoria put the notes into her bag and walked away quickly, a deviant smirk on her face. As she exited the library, a hand grabbed her arm and yanked her to the side. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Draco asked.

    She pulled her arm from his grasp and leaned against the wall sexily. “I was simply asking your fiancée for her Charms notes,” she replied with a smirk, “She really is a dear for allowing me to borrow them.”

    “You shouldn’t be asking her for anything, Astoria,” Draco snapped in a whispered voice.

    “It’s just notes, Draco. I didn’t catch all of our Charms lesson today because I was thinking about something else so I simply found a way to rectify the situation.”

    “By asking Hermione?”

    “Yes.”

    “Out of all the students that take seventh year Charms, you had to ask her?”

    Astoria gave him an innocent smile. “She’s the only one that takes notes up to my standards.”

    Draco narrowed his eyes. “I find that hard to believe. Don’t forget; I know you, Astoria. I know how you think, I know how you work. You’re trying to get to me through Hermione and it ends now!”

    “Draco, darling, you’re paranoid.”

    He stared at her, scrutinizing her expression. “Perhaps, but that doesn’t change anything,” he stated, “You’re going to stop whatever it is that you’re trying to do, and you’re going to leave Hermione alone; do you understand me?”

    She smiled at him innocently, but her words were far from innocent. “No, you understand me. This whole engagement nonsense with that no-good, know-it-all, is a joke and I am not going to stop butting in, or putting myself between the two of you until you come to your senses and come back to me; where you belong!”

    Draco leaned down until he was practically nose to nose with her. “Don’t you dare threaten me, Astoria. I’m going to tell you like I’ve told Pansy, I’m not a prize to be won,” he sneered, “I’m not a trophy. I make my own decisions and I’ve chosen Hermione so you can either accept it and leave us the hell alone; or you can keep making a fool of yourself and get run over in the process. It’s your choice.”

    The notes Hermione had lent her were sticking out of her bag a little so he snatched them up and put them in his own bag. “I think you can find someone else to borrow notes from, if you really need them,” he said as he turned and began walking away. “Have a nice day.”

 

 




 

 

    The next day, Blaise was released from the hospital wing. Before he was released however, he had to take a sees of potions. He groaned and whined the entire time because he hated being babied. Draco, of course, laughed at him a bit.

    Blaise glared at him causing Draco to laugh even harder. “You’re such a baby,” Draco said.

    “Those potions are disgusting,” Blaise countered.

    “You’re to drink every last bit of these potions, Mister Zabini, or it’ll be another night here for you,” Madame Pomfrey said, “Understood.”

    He rolled his eyes before looking at the nurse and nodding. “Yes, yes, I understand.”

    She eyed him for a moment before walking away. Blaise swallowed down another vial and made a face. Draco chuckled and Blaise glared at him. “I’d like to see how you’d fare if you had to drink those awful things.”

    “I’d fare a lot better than you, I can tell you that.”

    “Will you two stop your bickering?” Hermione said in exasperation, “I’m trying to read.”

    Blaise and Draco turned to look at her with sheepish smiles. “Sorry,” they said in unison.

    Hermione smirked as she looked back down at her book. “Honestly, you two are worse than a toddler that’s just gotten its favorite toy taken away.”

    Draco walked over to her and peeked over her shoulder at the book she was reading. He raised an eyebrow as she looked up at him with pink cheeks. “Reading huh?”

    “Your mum sent it for me to look at,” Hermione said in mild defiance as she shut the book.

    Blaise picked the book up and looked at the cover. “Bridal Dresses Through the Ages, huh? Aren’t you getting a little ahead of yourself? I mean; you two haven’t even decided if you’re going to get married.”

    “Well, I certainly didn’t see any harm in looking through it,” Hermione answered, leaning forward and taking the book back, “but that doesn’t mean that…”

    “Hermione, don’t try to lie; you’re rubbish at it,” Draco said with a smirk.

    “There’s nothing wrong with wanting something,” Hermione whispered.

    Draco smiled softly and knelt down next to Hermione’s chair. “Are you saying that you want to marry me?”

    Blaise swallowed down the last vial of potions Madame Pomfrey had left for him and cleared his throat. “Well, I need something to get the taste of those disgusting things out of my mouth, and, hey, look at that; it’s near dinner time,” he said, “I’ll, um… I’ll be going now.”

    He scooted from the room as quickly as he could, leaving Draco and Hermione behind. Hermione giggled as she watched him leave. “You’d think he’d never tasted food the way he…” she looked back at Draco and noticed the serious look on his face, “Um… I should probably, um… send and owl to my parents. You know, let them know Blaise has been released and can rejoined the school population.”

    Draco cleared his throat and snapped out of his stare. “Right. Informing your parents… That’s, um… Right,” he stammered.

    As Hermione stood and packed up her school bag, she glanced at him. “Are you all right? You don’t usually stutter.”

    “Ahem, yeah, I’m fine,” he replied, standing, “Um… May I join you?”

    She put her bag over her shoulder and smiled at him. “If you like,” she agreed, “It shouldn’t take too long, and then we can head down to dinner.”

    Though he seemed to be trying to hide it, Hermione could tell that something was slightly off. He was acting strange, not that it was a bad sort of strange… It was just different from how he usually acted. Since Blaise had just been released from the hospital, she figured that he was just happy and looking forward to making up for lost time with him.

    Draco nodded and held out his hand. Hermione gladly took it and the two walked out of the hospital wing. As they made their way through the corridors, Draco was uncharacteristically silent. He simply held Hermione’s hand, gently rubbing it with his thumb. He felt so at peace just walking along beside her, like he didn’t have a care in the world. He liked that feeling. He liked it so much, in fact, that he never wanted to let that feeling go. He wanted to hold onto it forever… He wanted to hold onto her forever.

    He laughed to himself. Things were sure different. He was different. He had once been attracted to Astoria, but he had never loved her, he had never really felt anything for her. He supposed he had always known who she was deep down, but now he was actually seeing it. It was as if being with Hermione had caused him to really open his eyes and take a good look at everything around him. The difference was like night and day and there was no doubt in his mind that he had made the better choice.

    Before he’d said anything about asking Hermione to marry him to Astoria, he hadn’t realized that he’d felt that way. But, now that he’d said it, he wanted it more than he had ever wanted anything in his life. The only thing standing in his way was…

    “Hermione?”

    She looked up at him. “Yes?”

    The second her green eyes locked on him, he lost his nerve. “Um… nevermind.”

    They reached the owlery then and Hermione set about sending off a note to her parents, and another to Beatrice. It wasn’t but a couple of minutes before she was finished and Callidora was flying off, the notes clutched tightly in her beak.

    Just as Hermione came back to Draco’s side, he spoke. “Um, Hermione, that book my mother sent you… The bridal dresses one? Um… what exactly made you want to… I mean; why were you…?”

    “Why was I looking through it?” Hermione questioned, correctly guessing what he was getting at.

    “Yes. I mean; logically speaking, if a woman’s looking at wedding dresses it means that they’re getting married, or that they want to get married.”

    Hermione blushed and looked down at her feet for a moment. “Well, I can’t say I haven’t thought about it,” she admitted, “While my parents were visiting a few days ago, my mother asked about us, and when I told her things were going well, she asked why I wasn’t wearing my engagement ring.”

    “And what did you say?”

    She took his hand and rubbed his arm with her free one as she led him away from the owlery and in the direction of the Great Hall. “That we’re still figuring things out and…”

    Draco stopped and turned them so that they were facing each other. He cupped her face with his free hand and looked into her eyes as he took a deep breath. He needed to know and he couldn’t let himself chicken out, not this time. “Hermione, what do you feel for me?”

    Hermione blinked and took a step back to give herself some room to breathe. “Heavens, you really just asked that, didn’t you?”

    “I did,” Draco confirmed, “and I think I deserve an answer. I mean; we’ve been doing this dance for months now and I don’t know exactly when, or how, it happened, but somewhere along the way I… I fell in love with you and I…”

    He realized that he still had hold of her hand so he pulled her back to him. “I just need to know if there’s any chance that you feel anything close to resembling that for me, or if there’s any possibility that you could one day feel that way. I just need to…” Draco took her face in both hands and brought his lips down to hers for the first time.

    Hermione was initially too shocked to react to the kiss, but Draco’s lips pushed and pulled at hers so tenderly that she quickly found herself kissing him back. She could feel the love he had for her flowing between them and she couldn’t deny that she had feelings for him as well. Then, just as quickly as the kiss started, it ended.

    The second their lips made contact, Draco felt a surge of electricity jolt him. He had never felt anything so powerful in his life. He had imagined what kissing Hermione would be like, but nothing could have prepared him for that. It was the most special, most amazing kiss he had ever experienced… and he had experienced quite a few. If he had thought he was hooked on her before, he was addicted now.

    Draco pulled his lips away and rested his forehead against hers. “I just need to know.”

    She took a breath and shyly pressed her lips to his for a brief moment. “Draco, I care about you very much and…”

    He moved away, not wanting to hear what was beginning to sound like a rejection. “You… you just let me kiss you, Hermione,” he said.

    “Yes, I did and…”

    “And it was a really good kiss. I mean; really good and you shouldn’t have let me do that if you don’t feel anyth…”

    “Draco, shut up!” Hermione exclaimed sternly, realizing that he was rambling because he was nervous about her answer.

    Draco was quite shocked by her outburst so he remained quiet and allowed her to speak. She looked at him sheepishly. “I’m sorry for yelling,” she said softly, “but you weren’t letting me say anything and I’m trying to explain.”

    “No, no… Please, go on,” he said, preparing himself for the worst.

    Hermione pulled him over to a window and sat down on the wide sill. She waited for Draco to sit before continuing. “Draco, I care about you, very much, I just… This has all just been a lot for me, you know? I mean; I’m still adjusting to the fact that I have a brother, that I’m a Zabini,” she gestured to him, “that I’m betrothed. I’ve got this strange power that I’m struggling to control… I kind of feel like I’m losing my mind at times.”

    Draco touched her cheek gently. “No one’s asking you to cope with all of that in a short amount of time, love,” he told her, “You can take all the time you need to come to terms with everything. But that doesn’t answer my question.”

    “Do I have feelings for you? Yes, I do.”

    “Okay, and you were looking through that bridal book because…?”

    “Because somewhere along the way, I fell in love with you, too and lately I’ve been wondering what it would be like, marrying you,” Hermione admitted, “And honestly, who wouldn’t? You’re smart, funny, caring… You’re so much more than I ever gave you credit for.”

    He chuckled a bit. “Well, thanks for that.”

    “I mean it, Draco,” she said, taking hold of his hand and fidgeting with his fingers, “You’ve been amazing; especially this last week while Blaise was in the hospital.”

    “He’s my best mate, I would’ve been there anyway.”

    “Now that I’ve gotten to know you, I realize that, but I didn’t really know you before July.”

    Draco squeezed her hand. “This is true.”

    Hermione continued toying with his fingers. “So… now that we’ve admitted our feelings for each other… I guess we have a decision to make.”

    Standing, Draco reached into his pocket and pulled out the engagement ring he’d been holding onto since her first night at Zabini Mansion. Since he had realized his feelings for her, however, he had secretly been carrying the ring with him just in case the right moment happened to come along. “I’ve already made my decision,” he said, kneeling in front of her and taking her left hand.

    “Draco, what are you…?”

    He kissed her hand. “Hermione, we’ve had… well, we’ve had what I guess most people would call a “rocky start”. We’ve got a rough history, to say the least. We’ve been through so much in these last months, literally thrown together like, I don’t know exactly what, but thrown together in any case. Somehow we pushed it all aside and we found ourselves falling for the person least expected.”

    A tear slid down Hermione’s cheek and she sniffled. “Draco,” she said softly.

    He held a finger to his lips. “I fell in love with the most… amazing creature ever to walk this Earth. Your never ending kindness and willingness to take a chance on a “loathsome little cockroach” like me has made me a better person. You complete me. I was hollow before you, unable to be myself. Until you came into my life, I wasn’t capable of sharing my true feelings with anyone… There was a hole within me and you’ve filled it.”

    Hermione giggled at the reference to what she had called him before punching him in their third year. “I never thought I was capable of loving, or being loved, but then you came along and changed my mind,” Draco chuckled, “You just couldn’t leave well enough alone. That’s why I love you… That’s why I want to spend the rest of my life with you. So, with that, I ask you this; Hermione Zabini, do you want to spend the rest of your life with me?”

    She wiped her eyes with her free hand as she nodded. “Yes,” she said with a tearful smile, “Yes.”

    Draco smiled as he slid the ring on her finger and kissed her hand. He then moved so that he was sitting on the window sill again. “It’s a good thing we’re not far from the owlery,” he said, “We’ve got more letters to send out.”

    “We can do that later,” Hermione told him, looking at the ring on her finger, “Let’s tell people here first.”

    He nodded, noticing the curious expression on her face. “Okay, we can do that,” he agreed, “Um, is everything all right, love?”

    “It’s a little big,” Hermione said.

    As the words came out of her mouth, she felt the band of the ring tighten around her finger until it was a perfect fit. She stared down at her hand in shock. Draco chuckled. “You were saying?”

    “H… how did that happen?”

    “When I made it, I put a Fitting Charm on it so that when it was on your finger it would fit perfectly.”

    Hermione looked at him in amazement. “That’s a tricky bit of magic, Draco.”

    “Well, I’m not a dunce, you know,” he said with a laugh.

    Hermione touched his cheek and kissed his lips gently. “I never said you were,” she whispered, “I only meant that I was impressed; I’ve never done the Fitting Charm and I never actually understood how it was supposed to be performed.”

    Draco chuckled softly as he traced her bottom lip with his thumb. “You’re the top of our year and you didn’t understand a little spell like the Fitting Charm? I find that hard to believe.”

    “All right, well, I understand it, but I’ve never tried it before,” Hermione admitted with a smirk.

    “Yeah, that’s what I thought.”

    Hermione slapped him playfully on the shoulder. “Well, we’d better get down to the Great Hall, find our friends,” she said, “Let them know.”

    “Right, and then it’s nice long letters home to share the good news. I can just see the excitement on my mother’s and father’s faces.”

    “Oh yes, I can just see them jumping for joy,” Hermione said with a slight roll of her eyes.

    Draco chuckled. “And so the hating of the dreaded in-laws begins.”

    “I’m sorry, Draco, but I just don’t trust them,” Hermione told him, “Your father anyway… The jury’s still out on your mother.”

    A sudden thought came to her then. “Do you reckon our mothers will allow me any say in the planning?” she asked hopefully, “I mean, if we decide to go through with this that is?”

    “Of course.”

    “Good because I have a particular view on a few things,” she said matter-of-factly.

    Curiosity poured through Draco like tea being poured from a kettle. “Such as?”

    Hermione glanced at him and blushed slightly. “Well I can’t very well tell you now can I? You’re going to be the bridegroom.”

    “Yes, well, we’re going to be married, and I’m just going to find out what these ‘views’ are eventually anyway, so why not just tell me now?”

    “Well because I’d rather not just yet,” Hermione stated, “A bride can’t let her groom in on all her secrets.”

    Draco nodded in understanding. “Well, if you’ll allow it, there’s one small request that I’d like to make for our wedding day; should it take place,” he said.

    Now it was Hermione’s turn to be washed in curiosity. “And what’s that?”

    “Answer me this first; does your vision of a wedding dress include a veil?”

    Hermione nodded.

    “With a tiara?”

    Again, Hermione nodded.

    “Then my request is simple; let me make the tiara.”

    Hermione thought for a moment. “Not that I don’t fancy the jewelry you’ve made for me already, but please, no snakes on the tiara.”

    “Done,” Draco agreed with a small smile.

 

 




 

 

    “Ginny!” Hermione called when she saw her flame-haired friend sitting about halfway down the Gryffindor table.

    Ginny smiled as Hermione hurried up to her and sat down. “You look like you’ve just found out you’ve gotten the highest grade on your Potions exam or something,” she said, “What’s up?”

    “Draco and I have come to a decision about our betrothal,” Hermione said, beaming.

    “Oh?”

    Hermione smiled even wider and held up her left hand for Ginny to see. “We’ve decided to go through with it.”

    Ginny smiled brightly and hugged her. “That’s wonderful, Hermione,” she said, “Let me get a good look at this ring of yours.”

    Ginny took Hermione’s hand and held it closer to her face so that she could properly inspect the ring on her finger. “Oh my, that’s got to be the most splendid ring I’ve ever seen in my life,” she breathed, “Where did Malfoy get it?”

    “He made it.”

    Ginny’s eyes widened in shock. “You’re kidding.”

    “No, I’ve seen him make jewelry right in front of me; he’s remarkable at it.”

    “Wow, who would’ve known?”

    “What’s up with you two? You look like you’ve just take a dose of a giddy potion or something.”

    Ginny looked up at Ron. “Hermione and Malfoy are going through with their betrothal,” she answered, “Look at this ring!”

    Ron glanced at the ring and shrugged. “It’s nice I guess.” He slumped in his seat as he mumbled something under his breath and began pulling food toward him. Draco and Hermione being together obviously still bothered him.

    “Ron, quit being such an arse,” Harry snapped as he came up and sat across from Ginny. He then looked at Hermione’s ring and said, “Malfoy’s been good for Hermione and he’s actually done a lot of good lately, so back off, mate. It’s beautiful, Hermione; congratulations.”

    Hermione scrutinized him for a moment and found that he was being genuine. “Thank you, Harry.” She appreciated the smile he was giving her and felt a little hurt that Ron was scowling over his food.

    “So, have you decided on a date?”

    Hermione shook her head. “No, we’ve only just decided to go through with the betrothal. We’ve been getting on pretty well over the past few months and neither of us could find a reason not to get married so… there it is.”

    “Do you love him, Hermione?” Ron questioned.

    Hermione thought that that was a fair question. “I never expected to, but, yes, I love him.”

    Ron took a breath and nodded. “Well, all right, then.” He was still sour over the situation, but he figured there was nothing he could do about it, so he decided it was best to be supportive.

    Suddenly a pair of arms wrapped around her shoulders from behind. “Congratulations!” Blaise said in her ear, “Draco’s just told me.”

    He took her hand and looked at the ring. “Oh yeah, that has Draco’s style all over it. I would’ve gone with a diamond, myself, but…”

    “Hey, don’t knock my ring,” Hermione told him.

    Blaise kissed her cheek. “I’m just teasing. When it comes to jewelry, Draco knows what the wearer will like. Well, would you look at that… It matches your eyes.”

    “By the way, Blaise, it’s really good to see you up and about,” said Ginny.

    “Yeah,” Harry agreed, “You gave us all quite a scare with the seizing and the coma.”

    “Well, it wasn’t all that fun from where I sat, either. The homework that’s piled up is going to be a nightmare! And those potions! Talk about disgusting.”

    Harry nodded in agreement. “At least you didn’t have to drink Skele-Grow,” he said, “I nearly threw up drinking that stuff.”

    “Gross!” Blaise exclaimed and the two boys laughed.

    “Blaise, I’ve told you I’ll help you with your homework.”

    “I know, Hermione, and I’m grateful, but there’s only so much studying a guy can take in one day and you’re, like, the queen of never ending study time.”

    Harry and Ron laughed. “Finally someone else feels our pain!” Harry teased.

    Hermione picked up a piece of broccoli and threw it at him in retaliation. “See if I help you with homework anymore,” she retorted.

    “Well, looks like you’re all having a good time.”

    The five of them looked and saw Astoria. Blaise narrowed his eyes and folded his arms over his chest. “What’s it to you?” he questioned rudely.

    Astoria ignored him, her eyes flashing to Hermione’s hand as she tucked some hair behind her ear. “That’s a beautiful ring, Hermione,” she said, her voice tight.

    “Thank you.”

    “Ahem, so you and Draco are…?”

    “They’re officially engaged,” Blaise said, “So, why don’t you say your congratulations and be on your way?”

    “Blaise!” Hermione exclaimed, surprised at the hostility her brother was showing the Ravenclaw.

    He blinked and looked at her. “Forgive me, I’m not quite myself today,” he said, shooting a warning glance at Astoria, “Excuse me.”

    He turned and walked back over to the Slytherin table. He slid himself in across from Draco and leaned forward. “Oi, so I assume that since you gave Hermione the engagement ring, you’ve made a choice and ended things with Astoria, yeah?”

    “Yeah, why?”

    Blaise jerked his head in the direction he’d just come from. “Seems to me like someone didn’t get the message.”

    Draco’s gray eyes narrowed as they locked on the Ravenclaw. He could see the daggers she was directing at Hermione with her eyes and he didn’t like it. If Pansy had been the one giving that look, he wouldn’t be worried, but Astoria wasn’t Pansy. She was actually dangerous. He wasn’t exactly sure how far she would take things, and he didn’t want to find out. He needed to do something.

    “You’re damn right you need to do something.”

    “Blaise, were you just…? Did you just read my mind?” Draco asked, shocked.

    “More like I read your face,” Blaise replied, “I know your expressions like I know my own, and that one you had a minute ago; that was your ‘I need to do something’ face.”

    “Hm… Well, you’re not wrong.”

    “I know I’m not… So, what are you going to do?”

    Draco shook his head and took a long drink of his orange juice. “I don’t know yet,” he answered.

    Just then, Astoria looked up and saw him staring at her. She licked her lips and kissed the air before smirking seductively at him. That didn’t worry him so much, it was the glint in her eyes that set off the alarm bells in his head. He gave her a hard look. “But I’ll figure something out.”

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