What do I care
Chapter 20 -Careful considerations about confessions of care-
There had been a noise from the corridor. She was convinced of it. Despite her unwillingness to face anyone's company right now that her mind was so preoccupied with her private issues, Hermione closed the book in her lap and placed it onto the table in front of her, determined to face whatever Head Girl duties might be considered.
With grim determination not to neglect her duties anymore than she already had, Hermione got up from the couch a little more quickly than might have been wise to do – and was immediately held up by the slight, already familiar feeling of dizziness that easily captured her whenever she rose too quickly these days. 'Private issues, indeed' she thought bitterly as she waited for the sensation to pass.
Smoothing down her hair and robes Hermione's hand lingered upon the yet unchanged shape of her waistline. Her Head Girl duties had not been the only responsibility she was neglecting so badly these days. It was high time to actually face the truth and act upon it. She just had to.
Desperate to escape the irrational but already too familiar wave of panic that used to capture her at exactly this point of consideration, Hermione focussed on the task at hand instead.
Her eyes set upon the door she was preparing for the knock to follow. Eager for any sort of distraction that might save her from her musings right now, she almost willed it to come – the trouble was just – it did not!
There were voices instead she noticed. Voices she knew well enough, entangling into what might be an argument or grim discussion – right in front of her door.
It was him, she realised with a flash of excitement. Him. And Ginny?
Without further hesitation Hermione opened the door to check upon whatever was going on out there. Knocking be damned.
After the brightness inside her room her eyes needed to adjust to the dim atmosphere of the corridor before she managed to sort out any detail.
One thing she could tell from the start, though: The tension around here was intense, almost palpable! A turmoil of conflicting emotion.
Within a couple of seconds Hermione took in all this without being noticed herself.
The wizard, whose platinum blond hair stood out against the shadows around, was anything but the sweet and compassionate boy she had come to know of late, though. This was Draco Malfoy the Slytherin prince at his best; bold, conceited and as arrogant as he had always been.
But while all of his vile comments, insults and threads had been parroted and therefore somewhat lacking their substance before, this was a different person to cross.
He was entirely calm and yet intimidating, a grim determination radiating from him that was almost palpable.
He was just plain frightening to be precise - a conclusion to which her redheaded friend seemed to have come as well.
"M-Malfoy?" she gasped, entirely thunderstruck.
"That's my name, yes," he drawled, stepping closer, valuing the evidence of her fear.
It might be wrong, narrow minded and childish, but Hermione felt an almost bizarre satisfaction at the other girl's discomfort. Unlike her as it might be – she just valued the sight of it.
Ginny had backed off, her huge brown eyes glancing up and down the corridor only to find it empty, abandoned…
Her already pale face drained of all its colour, causing her freckles to stand out all the more as she backed off until she felt the opposite wall stopping her.
"W-what… are you doing here?" she gasped licking her lips in a gesture of utter nervousness.
For a couple of seconds the blond Slytherin seemed to merely value the sight of her discomfort, not unlike a cat, savouring a mouse's frantic attempts to get away no matter how pointless they might possibly be.
"Funny you of all people might say that, Weaselette," he stated. "See, I was just about to ask you the same," he declared in mock surprise, before his eyes narrowed into small slits, his entire posture threatening her.
"Listen, red," he then drawled, apparently nerveless, yet with such an amount of emphasize it caught the very breath within Hermione's throat.
"If you won't stop pestering her, you will be sorry!" he added without the erstwhile mock cheerfulness in his voice, gesturing into the direction of her quarters.
"Her?" Ginny's gaze followed the movement and froze as she caught sight of her just that instant.
"Her- Hermione?" she stammered…
"Exactly," he declared entirely missing the fact she had not been addressing him at her last statement.
"Wha…what's it to you, Malfoy?" Ginny gasped, completely thunderstruck.
"Bet you and Mr. Bighead would like to know, wouldn't you, Weaselette?!" he drawled mockingly. "Guess what?" he sneered. "don't bother. You wouldn't like it anyway!"
"Ww-hat?!" Ginny gasped clearly horrified now. "Wouldn't like?" she echoed. "Why, Mal...Malfoy? Why wouldn't we like it? You're not planning to hurt her? Are you?!"
Hermnione noticed Draco flinching at the very question.
"Hurt?! Wha… I?" he choked out, entirely scandalised, before – finally – regaining his composure.
"There's hardly any need for that," he sneered, bitterly. "The two dunderheads of yours are perfectly capable of doing that yourself. More profoundly than I ever could, believe me…."
"W-what…?" Ginny stammered utterly confused at this turn of their conversation. I don't understand, Malfoy. What's it to you?! What do you want with her then?"
"Want?" he drawled, casually. "Oh- lots of things; none of which is your concern! Luckily, as I might add."
"Lots? Of things?" Ginny stammered still troubled.
"Anyone dropped an echo around here?" he scoffed instead of an answer, rolling his eyes in mock desperation.
"Yes, Weaslette. Lot's of things! And if you won't clear off now you might be sorry."
"Sorry?" he immediately mimicked in a high pitched singsong of a voice. "Yes, ohh so sorry! Once and for all; I'm not going to hurt your ever so precious friend whom you have cheated upon so soundly and gracelessly. And now clear off! Don't pretend you'd care…"
"I would. I…I do!" Ginny stammered stepping forward in a flash of bravery and for a moment Hermione almost felt guilty, but just barely. Her musings were cut short by the Slytherin's next words, whatsoever.
"To tell the truth, Weasley, I appreciate your courage and determination. It's impressive, considering what you've gone through and how frightened you must be, honestly. But you trying to ease your consciousness won't do her any good at the moment and her wellbeing and peace of mind are important to me! Think of me whatever you please – hate, despise or fear me all you like, but rest assured that I won't allow any harm or pain to befall Hermione if I can possibly help it. Not ever!"
The utter strangeness and seriousness of his confession left not only Hermione but also Ginny utterly speechless.
"If Hermione wants to speak to your traitorous little piece of ass she's more than capable of arranging that herself, I'm convinced of it. And if so, I won't threaten or harass you anymore. I might even end up to make proper conversation and act remotely civil towards you – for her sake…"
He sighed, apparently enervated.
"For now, I'm not under the impression she's entirely thrilled at the prospect, I'm afraid. So do yourself a favour and stop pestering her about it, Ginny Weasley. Be so smart."
"Because…." he drawled apparently carelessly. "I won't stand by and watch you – nor anyone else hurting her any more than you already did."
"What?!" she gasped, still utterly confused.
"How shall I put this?" he sighed in mock consideration. "Well, lets say, I'm capable of arranging it that you'll regret not to have stayed in the ever so cosy chamber of secrets where you had cuddly, kind Tommy Riddle for comfort," he drawled sarcastically.
With a startled gasp Ginny backed further off, staring at him in utter shock and disbelieve, before she retreated from the corridor.
Hermione supposed Draco had sensed her presence rather than heard her as he turned to look at her in spite of the fact that she had not moved at all.
She could not name what she read within his gaze, she simply could not, but this was not the beastly, cocksure 'Malfoy' she had contemplated only seconds before – this was simply and thoroughly 'Draco' and the impulse to just rush over to just burry her head into the crook of his shoulder became almost irresistible the longer she looked at him. It felt so good to see him! She was so utterly, definitely thrilled! Captivated…
Desperately fighting a laugh at the strangeness of the situation Hermione bit her lip.
"You're SO mean!" she addressed him instead of a greeting shaking her head in mild disapproval just as the firefly red curls of Ginny Weasley disappeared around the corner.
"…and proud of it!" he declared with a smug grin, nodding, nonchalantly.
Hermione merely rolled her eyes at that, breaking into a broad grin despite her better intention. 'The nerve of him!'
If he was surprised at seeing her around here he certainly did not show.
"What brings you here, Draco?" she asked with as much calm she could muster.
This was the question he had dreaded.
'I long to see you so badly it actually hurts, so I took the first opportunity as an excuse,' would not pass.
He could hardly go for: 'I can't stay away from you, no matter how hard I try to be sensible', either, he supposed.
Nonetheless an answer needed to be given. So, feeling cornered as he did his Slytherin instincts took over before he could think the better of it.
"See I have been thinking about what you had said. The other day… when we were talking about spending a day without using any magic… I think that's kind of fascinating… and I… I'd like to try. But - Hermione, I could use a little advice there…" he muttered, glad to have come up with an idea like that. But even when speaking he realised this was not so far from the truth than he might have imagined.
"What do you mean?" she asked with an air of confusion, stepping aside to invite him into the room. This was not what she had expected at all, he would bet.
With a smug grin back in place Draco stepped over the threshold – shielding himself with all the Malfoy appearance he could muster at the time being. He could just hope it was enough to keep her from realising how much of a mess he actually was.
In silent agreement they headed for one of the couches – the one he had placed her onto when he had carried her up here from the boy's bathroom the other day, he noted.
`Was it really no more than a mere week ago?' he mused.
It felt like a lifetime. But then, it had been an eventful week indeed that had turned his entire world upside down.
All of this might be only possible because of the slow burning tension between them that had been there all along, he assumed.
"How about telling me some more about your precious muggle-life? Would you mind?" he suggested with a half-smile and a playful note in his voice, hopefully strong enough to successfully cover up his excitement and self-consciousness.
Her whole face lit up at this. "Not at all! That's a brilliant idea!"
His excitement did not decrease at a sight like that; a heartfelt smile brightening her features - directed at him… Not one bit.
She looked so happy all of a sudden – so beautiful. So… incredible…unbelievable, utterly perfect! 'Oh Gods, how was he supposed to ever succeed to keep his whirlwind of emotion at bay, if she looked at him like that!?'
"I'd gladly do that, Draco, honestly. But…." she trailed off, hesitating, considering their options probably.
"Well, it will be almost impossible here at school. Just remember those staircases!" she rolled her eyes at him in mock desperation. "Not to mention classes…"
He did not pick up on her light tone this time.
With all the earnest he felt he said: "Then lets try on a weekend, Hermione," he suggested, his grey eyes burning into hers. But once again she merely shook her head.
"I don't think that's going to work either, Draco. I'm sorry," she murmured defensively.
With a flash of bravery he reached for her hand, interlacing her fingers with his. "Why not?!" he insisted with passion. "We could make it work, Hermione! We…could! I…I know we can!"
She looked at him. Brown eyes wide and stunned.
"Please," he whispered, pressing her hand ever so softly.
Her voice was raw, almost hoarse at her response. "And then? Going where, Draco? Hogsmeade? That's hardly an option either, I dread," she murmured, contemplating the sight of their entwined hands as she spoke.
"Then take me to the Muggle world," he suggested kind of excitedly, pressing her hand for emphasise once more.
"Take me wherever you wish, to - to show me what you do or where you go to when you're not here at Hogwarts! I'd like to know more about that!"
"About you," he added his voice barely more than a whisper but no less sincere.
"That would be my parents house – the Weasleys- or ummm the Order… ummm I'm not quite sure which would be less complicated."
"Because it's me?" he asked wistfully
"Well… yes… They… I'm sorry, Draco. But…They don't know what else you can be like. They wouldn't understand…neither of them…"
"For the Weasleys I can very well see that…" he admitted with a small grin. "But your parents? They wouldn't know me at all, would they?"
"I'm not suggesting that we should go there, just wondering," he added at her eyes widening.
"Well actually yes- they would…" Hermione admitted rather embarrassed all of a sudden. "In fact, they… They do."
Just as she had expected, Draco looked at her with utter curiosity now.
"You told them about me?" he asked with a mixture of surprise, delight and confusion.
"Oh umm, yes, umm o-occasionally …" she mumbled, intensely aware of the fact that they were still holding hands – fingers interlaced with one another.
"Occasionally?" Draco requested with an unmistakeable air of excitement. "Why, Hermione? Why did you tell them about me?"
"Well, while I have told them very little about the whole political dilemma they do have an idea of the things going on. I mean they know there are different tendencies in the wizzarding world and…"
"Different tendencies…hmm? I'm not sure whether either Potter or the Dark Lord would agree with the exact choice of words. 'Different tendencies' that's very diplomatic, Hermione. Honestly…" he couldn't help but grin. "Ever considered a career at the ministry? You'd certainly rock!"
She could not help but smile at this.
"But I still can't see why they would know anything about me?" he insisted.
"Because I emm, well, well because once I…" she stammered, before she got a grip on herself, finally. "I pointed you out to them at Flourish and Blots once. Besides that I occasionally complained about you when you had annoyed or harassed me…. So they do know who you are, Draco, I'm afraid," she completed in a rush, blushing furiously.
"Ohh-" he sighed. "I'm sorry! Believe me, Hermione, I really am."
"I know," she whispered back, pressing his hand reassuringly, which granted her a heartfelt, but slightly sad little smile.
Hastily she spoke on to escape the intensity of the moment: "And the Order… well… well…" she trailed off.
"I see…." he mumbled. "That would hardly be an option, either, wouldn't it? Besides that neither this, nor the Weasleys' might suit our purpose of the absence of magic, right?"
"No," she smiled back at him, entirely content now.
They were both musing over their options all there while their hands were playing with one another, resting atop his knee.
"And how about an evening?" he suggested almost tentatively, brushing his fingertips along the side of her little finger and across the sensitive skin of her palm in a feathery light caress, only to gently, but firmly press her hand the very next second, rubbing his thumb across the back of it.
"Would you mind spending time with me, Hermione," he asked rather shyly, "paying a visit to – say Muggle London?"
Hermione's heart started racing inside her chest. This was so meaningful and exciting! Almost like a date – a secret date – but neither of them did speak the words aloud.
'Muggle London', she mused, 'that could be possible…'
"But it's not just around the corner, remember," she contradicted, carefully. "How would we get there?"
"Well…. In that case a little help of magic on our 'magic free evening' might be appropriate," he smiled kind of mischievously and once again the sight of it simply caught the very breath within her throat. "I'll think of something," he promised, pressing her hand once more.
Hermione was so captivated, she had to clear her throat before she managed to speak again. "So will I," she agreed. "Tell me if you have an idea, Draco, will you?"
"Yes" he whispered, looking at her with so much fondness, she had to close her eyes to handle the intensity of her emotion. Her heart was hammering inside of her chest so intensely she could actually 'feel' it.
"I will," he confessed even more fondly.
"Hermione, I promise…"
AN: So, here we are once more. Thanks to everyone who is following this story! I know it has been a terrible delay once again. I have been mulling this story over and over within my mind on frequent occasions in the meantime and I definitely know where I want it to go and end upon. I've already written the Epilogue and I'm eager to share, since I'm fond of it, indeed. I just don't want to spoil what could be done by rushing through the plot just to get there.
Thank you so much for the patience and truthfulness to keep up - with this story – and others that still need to be finished...
Lots of thanks to SebastiansGleek for beta-reading!
Smiles joyfully, Serpent-Tina