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Chapter 12: Draco’s Victory
 
 
The seventh year Slytherin dorm was more crowded than usual. Aside from the standard group of sixth years that congregated there from time to time, the mix now included several fifth and fourth years as well. These youngsters would normally have been thrown out, but the older boys were in high spirits, due to their spectacular entrance into the Great Hall.
 
“Did you see everyone’s face when we walked in?” said Terry. “Every mouth on the Gryffindor table dropped. Everything went according to plan, right Malfoy?”
 
Draco observed him from his bed. He knew everyone expected him to contribute to the conversation, considering he masterminded the event. But he placed his hands behind his head and remained quiet.
 
Unfazed by the silent treatment the other boy was giving him, Terry pulled from his bag a bottle of whisky he had stolen from Snape’s office, and held it out to Draco. When Draco shook his head, Terry took a long sip, before passing it on to the next boy.
 
The younger students tried their best not to spit out the strong liqueur, lest the older boys see them as weak. When a fourth year named Liam nearly downed half of the bottle, he received heavy applause from the others.
 
Draco watched the commotion for another moment, before looking away. He drowned himself in his own thoughts until Terry stumbled to his bed with another bottle in his hand.
 
“Are you sure you don’t want a sip?” Terry asked him.
 
Draco made a face and pushed the bottle away; he clearly had no interest in drinking from where the others had placed their mouths.
 
Terry brought the bottle back to his lips. He began to sway back and forth while he guzzled down the remaining drops. Crabbe and Goyle looked at one another. They knew it would be their responsibility to carry the boy to his dorm when he passed out.
 
And just as Terry stumbled backwards into the dresser, Blaise burst into the room. “Malfoy, look what your girlfriend’s friends did to me,” he declared
 
Draco’s gaze flittered to the blood stained tissues protruding from Blaise’s nostrils. “Pansy’s friends did that to you?”
 
“No, your other girlfriend. Her two friends attacked me when I was in the hall.” Blaise searched the crowd until he found the two boys who had abandoned him; they avoided his stare and looked down at their hands. “That damn Weasley,” Blaise said. “When I see him again, I’ll—“
 
“Take another beating from him?” remarked Draco.
 
When the room burst into laughter, Blaise quickly stated, “I got in some good punches. I’m pretty sure I can handle him again.”
 
“Yeah right,” Draco muttered under his breath. A quick look at Blaise hands showed that his knuckles were not bruised, proving he had not landed any punches. But as much as Draco would have liked to ignore him, that Blaise had had an encounter with Harry and Ron piqued his interest. He sat up and asked, “Where did you encounter Potter and Weasley?”
 
“Up near the owlery.” Blaise gingerly took the tissues from his nostrils and threw them into the bin. He sat on his bed, and placed his finger under his nose to ensure the bleeding had stopped. “I went looking for you when you left dinner early,” he said. “And that’s when I ran into Granger.”
 
At the mention of the Gryffindor, the other boys in the room stopped talking and turned towards Blaise.
 
“She was walking by herself,” said Blaise. “And I thought I’d start a conversation with her.”
 
Several boys in the room began to chuckle. All of them, including Draco, were well aware that Blaise had not approach Hermione to initiate a discussion, but to ridicule her. This, unfortunately, was the treatment the Slytherin boys gave to all girls who’ve had liaisons with a member of their house.
 
“Seeing that she’s already acquainted with someone in this room,” Blaise continued, “I didn’t think she’d have any problems with me talking to her. But she didn’t feel like talking, and even gave me a lot of attitude.” He then kept his eyes steady on Draco.
 
Draco lay back on his pillows, and kept his face relaxed. He knew Blaise was trying to get a reaction from him, and he was determined not to give the other boy the satisfaction of rattling his nerves. Besides, Hermione was now fare game to the other boys’ abuse.
 
After causally looking down at his nails, Draco asked, “When during the conversation did you get beat up?”
 
“Weasley took me by surprise,” Blaise said over the crowd’s snickering. “And it was an unfair fight because it was two against one.”
 
“Didn’t you fight Weasley?” Terry asked Draco.
 
“Yeah,” responded a fourth year. “I remember everyone talking about it. They said it took eight people to pull you guys apart.”
 
“And from what I could remember,” Terry continued, “Draco got him good. And afterwards, he didn’t wine about being hurt.” He raised his voice as he added, “Like some other people.”
 
Blaise ignored Terry’s taunting and took a seat on the floor next to several fourth years, who seemed very impressed with his injury. Now that he had an attentive audience, Blaise went into detail about his interaction with Hermione.
 
Draco listened to the conversation until Blaise mentioned rubbing up against Hermione. He closed his eyes. Why did I leave dinner early, he asked himself. In the back of his mind, he knew that Blaise would follow him. But the loud banter at the Slytherin table and Pansy’s excessive clinginess had forced him to leave the Great Hall prematurely.

When the talking had died down and some of the younger boys had gone back to their dorms, Draco took the letter he received earlier that night from his pocket and glanced at it.
 
Blaise stopped talking when he caught a glimpse of Draco’s actions from the corner of his eye. As his heart thumped heavily against his chest, he craned his neck to better view the parchment. But his excitement quickly disappeared when he noticed the shortness of the letter. It must clearly be from someone else, he thought. Although filled with disappointment, he went back to his conversation.
 
~*~*~
 
Hermione stood in the entryway of Professor McGonagall’s first floor office. She glanced over her shoulder at Ron and Harry, who were waiting in the hall, and waved them away. It would not be fair if she caused them to miss breakfast, she thought.
 
Ron and Harry stood motionless for a moment, but they eventually departed for the Great Hall. Besides, Hermione would tell them all the details of her talk with McGonagall later on.
 
“Close the door behind you and have a seat,” McGonagall stated. She sat behind her mahogany desk with her head lowered. In front of her were several sheets of parchment. As she dipped her quill in the inkpot, she said, “I’m sorry to have to call you in here. I’m sure you were looking forward to breakfast. I hear they are serving Spotted Dick this morning.”
 
Thinking she was expected to respond at the mention of the pudding, Hermione muttered, “Wow.” If truth were told, she didn’t miss not going to breakfast. Although she was mentally prepared to face the other students, she was relieved that that moment would be delayed.
 
This joy, however, did not stem from cowardliness on her part; in fact, it would have delighted her to prove to others that the scandal would not force her to hide – not anymore, that is. Plus, she wanted to see if these gossip mongers were brave enough to make disparaging comments to her face. The true origin of her relief stemmed from not having to face the one person who truly disappointed her.
 
She touched her fingers to her head, as the throbbing grew more intense. I must stop dwelling on him, she thought. But this was difficult to do when he had consumed her thoughts for the past two days.
 
Hermione continued to look down, when a hand bushed against her arm. She lifted her head and found a plate of bacon and eggs before her. And next to the plate lay a bowl of Spotted Dick.
 
“There’s no reason why you should go to class hungry,” McGonagall said. She glanced at Hermione over the rim of her glasses, before returning to her writing. When she finally finished, McGonagall folded the parchments and placed them in a pile in front of her. “You’re probably wondering why I called you in here.”
 
She waited until Hermione pushed her plate away, before continuing. “It’s gotten back to me that some of my students have been missing their classes or showing up late. Professor Snape was particularly angry that Potter and Weasley missed all but fifteen minutes of their Potions lesson two days ago. He gave them a lot of detention, deservedly so. They shouldn’t have done that.”
 
McGonagall took off her glasses and inspected them for dust. “I hear that you didn’t show up to any of your classes that day either, although you were seen in the halls before Potions began. And yesterday…” She placed her glasses on her desk and sighed loudly.
 
Although Hermione sat up straighter in her chair, she remained quiet. There was no defense for her actions. And even if she could think of one, she was too drained to utter any words.
 
“I talked to some of your professors,” McGonagall went on, “and they all informed me that you didn’t miss any work. Professor Monroe was especially concerned about your absence. She hopes your illness will not prevent you from turning in your report. I hear it’s due during tomorrow’s lecture.”
 
“My illness?” Hermione asked.
 
“Well, yes. I informed her you weren’t feeling well.” She got up from her chair. “I believe a virus has been spreading through the school. I know for a fact that several Slytherins have been sent to Madam Pomprey. So I don’t think Professor Snape should blame you too much if you failed to show up. After all, it all stems from his house. But just in case, I’ve written you a letter. I also wrote one for your Mythology course. As for the other teachers, you need not worry about them. We have an understanding.”
 
 
~*~*~ 
 
After taking a deep breath, Hermione entered Potions class. Being one of the last people to be seated, she received a fair share of attention from the other students. Widened eyes and opened mouths greeted her as she pulled back her chair and took a seat between Ron and Harry.
 
This stunned reaction from the rest of the class wasn’t unwarranted, however. Considering she had spent two entire days in her dorm, many were surprised to see her out in public. Her absence had caused some to predict she would never make another appearance in class. But they clearly underestimated her will and drive.
 
The reception she received from those in her own house was decidedly split between gender lines. While the boys greeted her with approving nods, the girls merely glared at her.
 
After giving Hermione a long look, Parvati turned around in her seat and huffed loudly. “I don’t know why they’re all treating her like she’s so great,” she said to those sitting nearby. “All she’s done was give us girls a bad name. Now the Slytherins think we’re all easy.”
 
Motioning for the other girls to move closer to her, Parvati lowered her voice and said, “I heard Professor McGonagall had a talk with her this morning. I bet you Hermione got scolded for missing two days of classes.”
 
Those on the Slytherin side of the room watched Hermione with just as much, if not more, interest. Blaise leaned forward in his seat and tapped Draco’s shoulder. “Your girlfriend just arrived.” He then turned to Pansy and said, “I mean his other girlfriend.”
 
Pansy glared at Blaise as he began to laugh. But she soon projected all her anger towards Hermione.
 
Draco did not react to Blaise’s comment, and remained focused on his note taking. After several moments of trying to ignore those around him, he finally glanced towards the back of the room. Making it appear as though it was by accident, he rested his eyes on Hermione. She did not return his gaze. Ron, however, made full eye contact with Draco and flicked him an obscene gesture.
 
A smile creased onto Draco’s lips, as he folded his arms in front of him. But when he faced the blackboard once more, his expression hardened.
 
“Can you believe the spectacle she’s making?” Pansy whispered into his ear. It was normally Goyle who sat in the seat next to Draco, but on that day, Pansy had insisted on being by his side. She moved her hand up and down Draco’s back, while her stare remained steady on Hermione. “I bet she deliberately skipped her classes just so her appearance today would have more of an impact.”
 
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” remarked Draco.
 
Professor Snape glanced up from his desk when the whispering became more noticeable. He made a noise in his throat when his eyes rested on Hermione. After bestowing her with a glare, he tapped his wand on his desk. “I would advise everyone to copy down the instructions written on the board. I will be erasing them in a few minutes.”
 
Looking down at his hands, Snape added, “It seems to me that some people feel they can come to class whenever it suits them. But they will eventually learn that this is not the case.” He lifted his head and looked directly at Harry and Ron; their detention was to begin that night. He then sat back in his chair and focused his attention on Hermione once more.
 
And as if on cue, Hermione got up from her seat and approached the front of the class. The other students stopped writing – or pretending to – and watched as she walked by Draco without saying a word. She took a rolled piece of parchment from her pocket and placed it on Snape’s desk.
 
While making her way back to her seat, Hermione’s gaze lowered and met with Draco’s. Most in the class held their breath and leaned forward in their seats to get a clear view of their interaction. But everyone’s hope for a fiery exchange was quickly bashed.
 
Draco disappointed those in his house by not making a biting comment on Hermione’s chastity, one that would surely incite Harry and Ron to action. And Hermione’s gaze, although brief, lacked the intensity of a woman scorned.
 
Snape lifted the letter, allowing a loud huff to escape his lips as he read Professor McGonagall’s writing. After a long silence, he crumpled the parchment into a ball and placed it into the pocket of his robes.
 
Seeing that all eyes were on him, instead of the blackboard, Snape barked, “I thought I told you all to copy down the instructions?”
 
After he had copied all that was written on the board, Harry pushed his parchment aside and leaned towards Hermione. “You’re lucky Professor McGonagall excused your absence. But why didn’t she do the same for us?”
 
Hermione continued to stare down at lap. But after Harry nudged her side, she said, “She didn’t say. We never discussed you guys.”
 
When Potions had ended, Ron and Harry stayed close to Hermione’s side while she made her way to her next class. But considering the thrashing Blaise received for his actions, the trio was greeted with no more than glares from the Slytherins. Until they passed Draco’s group, that is.
 
“Slag,” Pansy shouted towards the trio. The comment caused the crowded hallway to grow quiet.
 
Although Harry and Ron turned to look at Pansy, Hermione continued to stare straight ahead of her. She reached over and grabbed both of the boys’ robes before either one of them could say or do anything to Pansy.
 
Grabbing Pansy’s arm, Draco pulled her away from the group. He placed his mouth close to her ear and asked, “What do you think you’re doing?”
 
“Nothing. I was merely addressing your mistress.”
 
Draco tightened his grip around her hand. Although, he would have liked to say more to her - especially to erase the smile on her face – Draco decided that engaging in an argument would be pointless. Besides, their private conversation was drawing too many curious looks from those around them.
 
He released Pansy’s hand and headed to his Mythology class. While walking down the fifth floor corridor that led to his lecture, Draco paused momentarily when he saw Ron and Harry strolling towards him. After making eye contact with both boys, he continued on his way.
 
Ron and Harry stopped walking and stood in the middle of the hall. When Draco reached them, they did not budge. “Off to harass Hermione some more?” asked Ron. “Think you can continue what your girlfriend started?”
 
“What Parkinson says and does is out of my control,” said Draco.
 
“Like hell it is,” shouted Ron. He then pushed hard on Draco’s chest, causing him to fall to the floor. “I bet you told her to say that to Hermione.”
 
Draco got back on his feet. “Don’t start with me Weasley. I saw what you did to Zabini and I’m not impressed. You’re forgetting that I fought you once, and I’m not afraid to do it again.”
 
“What about me?” Harry asked. “Can you take me on as well?” He took a step forward and pushed Draco down.
 
The shove was more violent than Ron’s, and forced Draco to remain on the floor for a longer period of time. Draco flicked the hair out of eyes and looked up at Harry. “I never knew you had it in you. Don’t you usually hide behind your friend?”
 
“Do you see me hiding behind anyone?” asked Harry. “Just because I don’t go around trying to start fights with everyone doesn’t mean I don’t have it in me. And considering what you’ve done to Hermione, I think you deserve to get yours.”
 
Draco stood up and began to brush the dirt off his robes. “You two are completely ignorant about what’s going on between me and Granger. So, you might as well save your anger for someone else.”
 
Ron looked at Harry and asked, “Can you believe this guy? He starts this whole mess by telling everyone in his dorm he slept with Hermione. He even gets his friend to attack her in the halls. But now that he’s not with his gang, he has the nerve to deny any wrongdoing.”
 
“I didn’t know Zabini was going to do that to her,” said Draco.
 
“Sure, you didn’t.”
 
Draco didn’t respond, and allowed his book bag to slide off his shoulder and land on the floor. “Will you two get on with it already? If you’re going to give me the beating of my life, please do it quickly so I can still make my class.” He closed his eyes and opened his arms, as though inviting the first blow.
 
But before any pummeling commenced, Professor Dorian opened her classroom door and peered at them. The sound of voices and that her star pupil’s chair was empty had led her to the hallway. “Malfoy,” she called out, “what are you doing out here? Class is about to start. And you two,” she said pointing and Harry and Ron, “get to your lessons before I inform the head of your house.”
  
Draco pushed past the two boys, bumping shoulders with Ron in the process. Just as he walked into the classroom, he waved at Ron and Harry from over his shoulder.
 
Hermione leaned over in her chair to get a better view of the hallway. When her gaze landed on her two friends, she quickly sat back in her chair and lowered her head. It was a mistake, she thought, to have them escort her to Mythology. Especially considering who was in her class.
 
After taking several deep breaths, Hermione refocused her attention back on her class notes. Her eyes remained on them even when Draco passed her desk.
 
She continued to keep her mind on anything other than Draco when class ended. But his presence was harder to ignore when he followed her to the water fountain. Refusing to look over her shoulder, she bent over in front of the fountain to take a drink. She remained in that position until Draco’s shoes came into view.
 
A wave of uneasiness overcame her when she finally faced him. Looking down the far end of the hall, she saw the last of her classmates heading towards the staircase. And the door to Mythology class was closed; Professor Dorian had retired to her study.

She and Draco were alone together.

Hermione hid the panic developing in her stomach as she said, “I don’t want to hear what you have to say. I want you to leave me alone.” When he did not move, she stated, “Will you and the rest of your Slytherin brood stop harassing me? You’re just making yourselves look stupid.”
 
“Unlike my encounter with your two friends earlier,” replied Draco, “what I’m doing right now is not harassment.”
 
“Well, I hope your visit with Harry and Ron went a lot better than my run-in with Zabini.” Hermione lowered the collar of her shirt to reveal the bruised area still on her neck.
 
Draco impulsively reached out his hand to finger the purplish skin, but thought better of it and drew his hand back. “He told me about meeting you in the hall. He just left out the part about hurting you. Had I known, I would have—“
 
“Save your breath. You would have done the same thing you’ve been doing all this time: absolutely nothing. Oh, and I especially liked your reaction when your girlfriend—I mean, your fiancée called me that disgusting word.”
 
“Who said she’s my fiancée?”
 
“I only had to look at the ring on her finger to know you two were engaged.” A look of disgust spread on her face as she glared at him from the corner of her eye. “You’re pathetic,” she muttered under her breath.
 
The coldness in Hermione’s voice and that she had knowledge of the ring rendered Draco speechless. But he didn’t expect Pansy to keep something of that magnitude to herself, he thought. Especially from someone who was now her direct rival.

Everyone in the Slytherin dorm already knew about the gift. Several girls even made it the main topic of their nightly fireplace chats. But never had Draco heard anyone utter the words ‘fiancée’ or ‘engaged.’

“We’re not engaged,” said Draco. “The ring was merely a present.”
 
“I really don’t care. And if you ask me, the two of you deserve one another. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to get to my next class.”
 
“But your note said you wanted to talk to me.”

Although her silence gave Draco the impression she was considering his question, in actuality, Hermione had already made up her mind the day before. “We have nothing to discuss,” she said. “Your actions have told me all I need to know.”

“And what could that be?” When his question only garnered a harsh glare from her, Draco added, “I didn’t start the rumors, if that’s what you’re thinking. It was Arthur that did it. You and I were sitting underneath his friend’s portrait when we were talking about you coming over. And they naturally couldn’t wait to tell everyone when we came back to school. I didn’t make any big announcement in the dorms, either. In fact, I didn’t say anything when they asked me about it.”
 
Hermione said nothing for long while, as she gazed up at him. “Do you think I’m a fool?” she finally asked. “News about us breaks out, and instead of writing me to let me know what’s going on, you wait two days. And now, you expect me to believe you had nothing to do with it?”

“Yeah, I do. And is it my fault I couldn’t get in touch with you? You locked yourself in your dorm. And I couldn’t just walk in there to hand deliver a letter, now could I? And another thing, how dare you talk about my actions? What about your own actions?”

“My actions?” she asked. “What did I do?”

“You made things worse for us by hiding away. And why did you have to run off before Potions class? The whole Slytherin House was talking about it. If you had just stuck it out, things wouldn’t have gotten this bad.”

Hermione perched her hands on her hips. Although her body was still tense, she was able say in a controlled voice, “What’s this ‘us’ that you’re referring to? I don’t remember anyone calling you names or glaring at you when you walk down the hall. In fact, everyone’s been treating you like a hero. It must really be great to be you right now. As for me, things are little different.”

The anger gradually disappeared from Hermione’s voice, and her arms fell back to her side. “I’m sorry I inconvenienced you by staying in Gryffindor Tower,” she continued. “But I guess I wasn’t thinking of the hard time you would have trying to communicate with me. I should have been more considerate.”

She brought her hand to her neck; but the necklace that once calmed her was now buried under a mound of parchment in her nightstand drawer. She couldn’t bring herself to dispose of it. But what good could it be to her anyway, she asked herself, when all it represented were Draco’s lies.

An underlining feeling of sadness soon crept over her as she dropped her gaze. “It wasn’t impossible to get in touch with me,” she said in a soft voice. “You could have sent an owl to my dorm window…like last time.”

Draco slid his hands into his pockets. He then looked down at the water fountain.

Hermione clutched the strap of her bag and buried her nails into the leather material. “You know what?” she said after giving him a long stare. “I don’t know why I’m even having this conversation with you. Nothing you say matters to me anymore.”

And just as she tried to walk away from him, Draco grabbed her arm. “Don’t touch me,” Hermione said, as she hit his arm with a closed fist. When Draco released her arm, she finally made her way to the staircase.  
  
 
~*~*~
 
Balancing herself on the tips of her toes, Hermione reached for a book on the uppermost shelf. Although McGonagall had assured her she did not miss any work from her classes, she wanted to be fully prepared for the next day’s lessons. As her fingers curled around the bind of the book, a pair of arms encircled her waist from behind.
 
“I need to talk to you,” he whispered into her ear.
 
Hermione turned around, but before she could say anything, Draco placed his hand over her mouth. He then looked over at the table of Hufflepuff girls sitting nearby. With his fingers still pressed against her lips, he moved Hermione to a more private area in the library.
 
Finding safety behind a shelf of autobiographies, Draco pinned Hermione against the wall. Before he would remove his hand from her mouth, he said, “I don’t want you to say anything. I just want you to listen to what I have to say.” After waiting a short moment, he slowly lifted his hand.

“Didn’t I tell you to stop harassing me?” Hermione said in a loud voice.

“If you yell again like that, you’ll attract the attention of everyone in here.”

Hermione crossed her arms tightly against her chest. “After everything that’s happened to me, do you really think I care anymore?”

“I guess not.” Draco soon grew quiet as he fingered his chin. “I didn’t come here to argue with you,” he said. “I wanted to know if you would meet with me tomorrow night. So we can discuss everything.”

“Didn’t we already do that today in the hall? And if I remember correctly, you said that one of the portraits started the rumor, and you let everyone in your dorm think it was true by not denying it. And you didn’t get in touch with me because it was too much of a hassle. Now, am I right?”

She stared up at him for several moments, but before he could answer, Hermione said, “I don’t even know why you’re bothering with this charade. Shouldn’t you be off celebrating your victory with your friends?”

“My victory?”

“Yes. You won. You were able to fool me into thinking…” It pained her to continue the rest of the sentence. “Anyway,” she said after a long pause, “you got what you wanted. You can now go off and start working on a new unsuspecting girl.”

She turned around to leave, but was immediately stopped. “Let go of me,” Hermione shouted when Draco grabbed her waist. “I don’t ever want you to touch me again—“

Draco muffled her words with his hand when he thought he heard the squeaking of Madam Pince’s book cart. But his fears were calmed when he heard the librarian berating several students at the front of the room. He waited until Hermione stopped trying to get away, before bringing his arm back to his side.

“I can understand how you would think this is a charade,” he said. “Knowing my history, most people would probably think it was. But let me assure you that I was not using you.”

Hermione turned her head away.

“If I was in fact using you,” he went on, “then why would I still try to talk to you? Or risk getting hit by you?” He leaned towards her and said in a low voice, “I meant everything I said to you at the guesthouse. Everything we shared was genuine.”

Hermione rested her back against the shelf as she listened to his words. He spoke in the same tone he always used when they were alone together. It was soothing, and nothing like the accusatory manner he had spoken to her earlier that day. For a brief moment, she let down her defenses, and allowed him to move closer to her. His breath now fanned across her cheek. And when he took hold of her hand, she did not resist.

“I know you’re angry at me right now,” said Draco, “but you and I both know that we need to have this discussion. There are a lot of things we need to clear up. That’s why I need you to meet me tomorrow night in our room. Same time we usually meet.”

Draco brushed his fingers across her cheek as he looked down at her. He then lowered his head. But Hermione moved away before his lips touched her face. A bitter smile creased onto his lips, and then disappeared just as swiftly. “Just meet me tomorrow, all right?”

As he made his exit from the library, Draco glanced over his shoulder to see Hermione staring back at him.


  ~*~*~
 
Harry and Hermione remained in the common room long after Ron had retired to bed. Now that their homework was completed, they sat in front of the fire and watched the flames. With his chin resting on the arm of his seat, Harry muttered, “You should have heard him, Hermione. He tried to pretend he did nothing wrong.”
 
Hermione brought her hot chocolate to her lips and took a sip. Suddenly growing tired of the drink, she placed the mug on a table. “I wish you and Ron hadn’t done that,” she said. “You’re now acting like Slytherins.”
 
“Why shouldn’t we have confronted him? He created all of this, so he should face the consequences.” He sat up and stared at the fire. “The thought of him standing there with that smug smile on his face while his girlfriend called you a slag makes me—“
 
“Please don’t start,” said Hermione. “All this talk about today is just…” She lowered her head and placed her hands on her forehead.
 
Harry waited for several moments for her to talk, but when she remained quiet, he knelt down on the floor before her. “I didn’t mean to upset you.” He reached over and placed his hand on her leg.
 
Hermione’s hands soon fell down to her lap. She sat back in her seat and looked down at Harry. “I just want this whole mess to go away. I don’t want to hear about the Slytherins anymore. And I definitely don’t want to hear about you and Ron fighting Malfoy.”
 
“We didn’t fight him. We just…” Harry stopped talking and looked down at the rug.
 
“Well, I’m glad nothing happened,” said Hermione. “You guys could have gotten hurt. I hear Malfoy’s a good fighter.”
 
“Ron tells me otherwise. Anyway, I’m not afraid of getting hurt, if it means defending you.”
 
Hermione turned her head away as a deep look of displeasure creased onto her face. “I don’t want you talking like that. You and Ron need to promise that you won’t try to get back at Malfoy. Just leave him alone.”
 
“Leave him alone?” Harry gently squeezed Hermione’s arm, causing her to look down at him. “He started a vicious lie about you and spread it around school. He had one of his friends attack you in the halls—by the way, did you tell McGonagall about that?” He stared up at her for several moments, before saying, “Please say you told McGonagall. The bruises on your neck are still there.”
 
“I didn’t see a point in saying anything,” Hermione muttered. “Ron already gave Zabini his punishment. So, I don’t think he’ll be messing with me for a long time. But punishing him wasn’t goal. I just want to get on with my life.” She paused to reorganize her thoughts, but deciding she said enough, she remained quiet.
 
Harry lay on the floor and gazed up at the ceiling. “I guess it was stupid of us to do what we did, but…” His eyes drifted around the room, before he said, “I’m just glad your project with Malfoy is over. Now, you don’t have to deal with him anymore. In a few more months, we’ll never have to see him again.”
 
Hermione moved uncomfortably in her chair while Harry continued to describe Draco in the worst ways. She never uttered a word to contradict his statement, and allowed Harry to vent his frustrations. But when he finally stopped talking, she said, “You really shouldn’t blame him for all of this. I helped create this mess.”
 
Harry lifted his head from the floor and gave her a hard look. “You didn’t do anything,” he said. “You were merely doing a class project. It’s not your fault he’s like that.”
 
Hermione brought her finger to her mouth and bit down on a nail. She then looked down at her hand. “I have something to tell you,” she said. “I should have told you from the very beginning, but I didn’t know how.”
 
Harry got up and moved to his previous spot next to her chair.
 
“Something did happen,” Hermione began, “when I went to his house. It wasn’t planned or anything—“
 
“Did he hurt you? If he did anything to you, I swear to God—“
 
Hermione held up hand. “He didn’t hurt me.”

She looked passed Harry’s shoulder and into the fire. It was then that she realized how similar the tile patterns of the fireplace was to that in Draco’s room. Her mind soon began to wander back to those intimate late night moments she shared with him. But unlike earlier, there was no bitterness associated with these memories.

“When I first started this project with Malfoy,” Hermione began again, “my sole purpose was to get information from him. I’d heard some of the Slytherins talking about an event that was supposed to take place at his house in December. I just assumed it had to do with You-Know-Who.”
 
She fell back into her seat and rested her eyes on Harry. “At first, I found Malfoy to be very difficult. He postponed meeting with me for several days. And during our first session, he was really arrogant. But things began to change after several meetings. I don’t know what it was, but I started to become comfortable around him. I think we both let down our guard, once we got to know each other. After a while, I got used to his company. I started to forget how much I once detested him. I began seeing him in a new light.”

“You mentioned that the other night,” said Harry. “But what’s this ‘new light’ that I obviously can’t see?”

“I don’t know how to describe it. I know you don’t believe me,” and at that moment Harry made a face that proved this point, “but let me assure you that he’s not a one dimensional person. There’s a lot more to him than what you see in class or in the halls. And I began to see that side.”

A smile now curled onto Hermione’s lips. “I started enjoying being around him. We started to hang out with one another outside of class. He knows a secret room, so we’d go there sometimes to talk. It was then that I stopped seeing him as an evil guy. He showed me a side of him that I really liked.”

Harry seemed unimpressed by her words and continued to wear a critical expression on his face. “Do you know,” he began, “how many girls have said those same things about him? He knows exactly what to do and say to seduce someone. He was pretending, Hermione. After dealing with him for all these years, I can definitely tell you that he doesn’t have a different side to him. What you see is what you get. He was just pretending to be nice, so he could get you to come to his house.”

Resting against the arm of Hermione’s chair, Harry shook his head and laughed bitterly. “You’d think he’d have matured by now. But I guess not. I can just imagine what kind of man he’s going to be.” He lowered his head as he thought of the idea of dealing with an older and more manipulative Draco in the far-off future.

He turned around when he noticed how quiet Hermione had gotten. “Don’t be mad at yourself,” he said. “You’re not the only smart girl who’s fallen for his nonsense. From what I’ve heard, he’s gotten half of the girls in Ravenclaw. But unlike them, you were able to get out of this mess, before things got really serious and you started sleeping—“ He stopped talking, and looked away. “I’m just glad you got out when you did.”

Hermione rubbed her hands together for a considerable time, before finally saying, “I’m not as lucky as you think.” She looked down and stared at her lap when Harry turned towards her. “When I went to his house,” her voice then dropped to a low whisper, “something did happen between us. But it was something that I wanted, as well.”

Harry didn’t say anything as he sat up on his heels and stared at Hermione. But then, he brought his hand to his mouth and muttered, “Malfoy was telling the truth?” When Hermione did not answer him, Harry closed his eyes.

He took a seat on the hearth of the fireplace and bowed his head. After taking several nervous looks at Hermione, he finally mustered the courage to ask, “Did you sleep with him?” When he witnessed the expression on Hermione’s face, he looked down once more. “You don’t need to answer,” he said. “That’s your personal business.”

A long and awkward silence soon enveloped the room. Hermione nestled her face against the pillow of her chair as a wave of emotion overtook her. To have a true friend be disappointed with her actions was the greatest pain she had experienced thus far. And just when she thought he, too, would abandon her, a warm hand glided slowly across her face.

“You must think I’m a complete idiot,” Hermione said. “I should have known better. Considering what we’ve gone through with him, I should have known better.”

“Of course I don’t think that way about you. You’re anything but that, and don’t let the Slytherins or anyone else make you feel foolish.” Harry got up on his knees and pulled her into a hug. “You’re a smart and wonderful person,” he whispered into her ear, “and you’ll always be that way to me.”

“Thanks,” Hermione muttered.

Harry held her for several moments. He sat back down on the floor and brought his knees to his chest. “Don’t worry about him or his friends anymore,” he said. “All they want from you is a reaction. And the more you ignore them, the better. I think you’ve handled yourself well, so far. Pretty soon, everyone will forget about this and go on to the next scandal.”
  
Hermione stayed quiet as she stared calmly at the fire. “He approached me,” she finally said. “He said he never told anyone about us. He also said his feelings for me are genuine. He wants me to meet with him tomorrow so we can talk.”
 
“Are you going?”
 
Hermione’s eyes danced around the room, before she nodded.
 
“Hermione. He’s just going to tell you more lies. He’s going to suck you back into his world, only to humiliate you again.”
 
“I just want everything to be resolved,” said Hermione. “If I don’t go, I’ll be thinking about it for God knows how long.”

When Harry opened his mouth to say something, Hermione quickly added, “I thought about it yesterday. I guess you have a lot of time to think when you’re sitting in an empty dorm. When I didn’t hear from him, I decided that I would just move on. He got the better of me, but I would just go on with my life. That’s the only way I would be able to deal with seeing him and everyone else. But when I saw him today and talked to him, I realized I wasn’t over him. I just can’t push everything aside and pretend it never happened. I actually want to hear what he has to say.”

“Do you believe his story?” Harry looked up to see Hermione shrug her shoulders. “Do you have feelings for him?”

Hermione slid down from her chair and sat on the floor next to him. She reached for her neglected mug of chocolate. It was now cold. After staring down at the liquid, she finally said, “Yes.”

Harry rested his chin against his knees. “And what if he tries to get back with you? Will you go back with him?” He then waited for her answer. But none ever came.

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