[A/N: Happy Saturday everyone! (i know im a day early!) Just wanted to pop in and say a huge thank you to everyone for all the follows, favorites and especially the reviews!
If you haven't already I also recommend you check out my one-shot, You First. It's a quick sweet read but be prepared for some smut (; Without further ado, please enjoy this chapter!]


Chapter Thirteen

Draco

Shit shit shit shit shit.

Draco stared at the witch on his floor, surrounded by pictures of herself from the Prophet. Her eyes were wide and her hands shook as she clutched two of the clippings tightly in her fingers. She snapped her head up as he peered down at her warily from over the end of the bed. Draco couldn't read the expression on her face.

"Hermione, I can explain."

"Why do you have a box of pictures of me under your bed?" Her voice shook and Draco flinched at the tone.

"I just-I-"

"Why, Draco?"

He felt his face burning in embarrassment and shame. Honestly, he had meant to get rid of those so long ago but could never bring himself to. "I just... liked to keep up to date on your accomplishments, that's all! There are articles about you in there too, you know." He mentally slapped himself, what the bloody hell kind of excuse was that?

Hermione pursed her lips together and narrowed her eyes, taking another glance at the clippings surrounding her. "Is this - Are you..." She took a deep breath, "Is this... some sort of obsession?"

"Merlin no!" Draco quickly stood from the bed and crouched next to her. He tried to reach out but she shied away from his touch and he dropped his hand, "It's just... you were with Weasley and-"

"Draco, there are clippings here from almost eight years ago! Explain yourself!"

Frustrated, Draco's voice rose and, before he could stop himself, he blurted out his best-kept secret. "I was in love with you, okay?!"

Shit.

Hermione stared wide-eyed at him and he clenched his jaw. He debated running from the room but secrets be damned, he needed her to understand. He stood up and looked out the window since he was unable to look her in the eyes.

"You and Weasley were together and I couldn't bloody have you. So yes, I kept some clippings of you." Draco dropped his voice to a whisper. "I never thought..."

Hermione's face paled and the pictures she was holding started to crumple in her tight grip. "So, what? You were just never going to tell me? Just go on saving pictures of me for the rest of your life?"

He let out a bitter chuckle, "Honestly, would you have believed me? Hey, Granger, I know you hate me but I'm in love with you. You would've hexed me on the spot."

A ghost of a smile graced her lips and she picked up a picture of her in a beautiful sparkling green gown that hugged her curves. She was speaking animatedly to Denis O'hare, the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. She looked like a mother disciplining her child as she waved a finger in his face. He wondered if she could tell that it was one of Draco's favourites since the edges had been worn down from how often it was handled.

She looked back to him with fire in her eyes, "How long?"

He tried to swallow the lump in his throat. He was not good at feelings, and he certainly never planned on having her to know about this. But he could tell if he didn't try to smooth things over now, he would lose her trust.

So, he swallowed his pride and told her the truth. "It started after the Yule Ball fourth year." He forced himself to look at her then. "I just took notice of you at first. How much you had changed and then... then when Bellatrix tortured you-" He rubbed his hands against his pants. "That's when my feelings clicked for me. I had to run from the room to vomit after seeing you like that. Right after that was when I cut my Mark. I didn't want it anymore, seeing what she was doing to you..."

Hermione's hands started to shake and Draco once again crouched down and gently reached out to take them. She let him pull her closer and he boldly cupped her face.

"I know it doesn't make sense and I don't really understand it myself but... I care for you. I've cared for you for a very long time."

"So... Is that why you offered your home to me?" He could see the gears in her head clicking as she tried to piece his feelings together.

"That's... Well, not exactly." He really did not want to be having this conversation. Ever. He hoped it would be a secret he'd take to the grave.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at him, "Tell me."

Draco sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Who was he kidding? He could never deny her anything. "It was Weasley. He was much smarter than I gave him credit for. When we all went back to school after the war, he must have noticed something. Somehow I must have slipped my mask for a moment because one day he cornered me and threatened to hex me if I ever so much as touched you."

He let out a dark chuckle at the memory. In truth, he had always been a little afraid of the red-head - not that Draco thought him a great wizard - only that he had a way of making spells go wrong. He definitely did not want to be at the end of a backwards Weasel hex.

Hermione frowned at him, "And how does that explain me living here?"

Draco grimaced, "Well... about a week before he died, he came to my office and told me he feared something was going on with the Death Eaters. I don't know why he decided to trust me, but he must have been convinced enough of my feelings for you. He admitted he felt... That he was worried about leaving you alone if anything happened. So he made me promise that if he was killed, I'd protect you."

Draco took a deep breath and braced for the next part. "We made an Unbreakable Vow."

Hermione blinked as she processed his words. Draco was sure how confused she must be to find out your late husband knew your childhood bully was in love with you. Not only that, but he also made an unbreakable vow with said bully to protect you and your unborn child should he come to harm. Draco felt his head spinning just thinking about it, he couldn't imagine the mental gymnastics Hermione's brain must be doing.

"My husband? Ronald Weasley, made an Unbreakable Vow with you?"

He knew how insane it seemed but thinking back, he was still surprised at how much Weasley had grown up since their school days. He had even seemed relatively mature when they made that vow.

"I'm sorry I never told you, Hermione."

She looked up to him and pulled her hands from his as she stood. "I just... I need time. I'm not angry but... It's a lot to process." She walked back to the bed and pulled back the sheets to lay down.

Draco stood and looked down at her, "You're-You're still staying?"

She gave him a tight smile. "I promised you I would. I'm a Gryffindor through and through, Draco. I don't break my promises."

Draco warily laid back down, careful not to touch Hermione. He felt like she was a skittish deer and if he moved too fast she'd bolt. She turned to her side to face him and placed a hand on his chest as she closed her eyes.

"Goodnight, Draco."

He gently placed a hand over hers and ran his thumb over the back of it. He knew he had damaged some of whatever was going on between them but her being the one to reach out made his heart swell.

"Goodnight, Hermione."

He fell asleep to the feel of her hand against his heart.


Draco woke to early morning light peeking through the curtain and he frowned as he turned to find the bed empty. He swung his legs out from under the sheets and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He walked to the bathroom to relieve himself and sighed at the empty firewhiskey bottles littering his floor.

He pulled out his wand and cast a vanishing spell at the bottles. Draco made a silent promise to himself to refrain from drinking from now on. Hermione finding him in the state he was in last night was... Mortifying. He never wanted her to find him like that ever again, especially when he was the one who was supposed to be protecting her.

He left his room in search of her and found her silently swaying in the rocking chair of Rose's new room. The sight was quite peaceful and for a moment, he envisioned this is what life with Hermione would be like. It was a life he desperately wanted, but knew he could never have or ever deserve. So just for this moment, he could at least pretend it was his.

He was pulled from his thoughts as Tivy apparated beside him with a letter clutched in her hands.

She looked up at him with a frown. "Is Master Draco feeling better?"

Draco gave her a gentle smile, "Yes, Tivy. I'm sorry if I worried you. What's that you have there?"

"A letter for you from Master Potter, Sir." She handed him the letter. "Tivy will make you a big breakfast."

She left and Draco chewed his lip as he opened the letter.

Malfoy,

I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but you need to pull yourself together.

We need you on this or else the plan fails and everything we've worked towards was for nothing.

I'll stop by later to make sure you're okay.

Harry

Draco scoffed at Potter's letter. Everything we've worked towards? He was the only one risking his neck on this. He debated on some choice words for a letter to send back but was stopped as Hermione called out to him.

"You know, you haven't held Rose yet."

She stood from the chair, cradling Rose in her arms and looked at him warily.

Draco walked to meet her in the middle of the room and looked down at the Weasley baby. If it were possible, her hair hand turned an even brighter shade of orange and her dark blue eyes started up at him as she made soft gurgling sounds.

He swallowed a lump in his throat, "I've um, I've never held a baby before."

She gave him an encouraging smile and gestured for him to sit in the rocker. She manoeuvred her arms and set Rose gently into his. He awkwardly held her, unsure of what to do. Her eyes met his and she smacked her lips together.

It was an odd feeling, holding someone else's baby - a dead man's baby no less. She made a small sound that turned into a toothless smile and in an instant, it was as if Rose held his heart in her tiny hands. It astonished him to think so, that something that couldn't even speak yet had him so drawn in. But, with one small movement, she did and Draco decided he didn't mind his heart belonging to another girl.

Draco tucked her in closer and relaxed back into the chair, offering his finger for the infant to grip. He glanced up to Hermione to find her grinning at them.

Draco sighed. "I have to leave soon... I need to go to France."

Her grin quickly dropped, "France?"

He looked back down to Rose and gently ran a hand down her cheek. "Did Potter tell you what I need to do tonight?" He glanced back up to her and she nodded.

"I need to speak to my mother, she's a smart woman. She navigated Voldemort and my insane aunt without ever having to take the mark. She's the only reason why Potter even vouched for us at our trials. I just... I need her advice."

Hermione frowned but nodded again and Draco gently handed Rose back to her so he could stand. Silently he left them and made his way back to his room to shower and dress.

Ten minutes later he stood in his room and clasped the last button on his shirt. He frowned into the mirror and pushed his hair out of his eyes to inspect himself. He looked worn down and defeated and he was afraid his mother would notice. Draco sighed and left the room, resolved to simply put it out of his mind.

He passed by an empty nursery and went downstairs to find Hermione in the library. She was curled up in the chaise lounge with a book and Rose rocked gently in a levitating bassinet beside her.

"Will you be alright by yourself?" He asked her as he stood at the doorway.

She looked up and nodded, "Ginny will be here soon with the boys, to help and keep me company."

He shoved his hands into his trouser pockets, "If Potter comes, tell him I'll be there tonight. I know what needs to be done." With that, he turned to leave and stepped into the Floo to Chateau Malfoy.

He stepped out of the chateau's marble fireplace and dusted off his shirt. The morning sun glinted through the expertly crafted windows and made the whole room sparkle. Draco had to squint his eyes against the bright rays as he searched the room for any sign of his mother.

First, he checked the sitting room, he didn't find her but discovered she had completely refurbished it with brand new starch white settees made with solid golden legs. He pressed his lips together and continued through the rest of the house. As he mounted the first step of the staircase, the pop of Apparation sounded behind him.

He turned to find his mother's house-elf, Joory, standing in the foyer. He still wore the robes of an enslaved elf, as he constantly refused Draco's offer of freedom. He was old, he had been in Malfoy family since his grandfather was a boy. Draco supposed he wouldn't know what to do with himself if he were freed and that was why he always refused.

Joory bowed to Draco before he spoke in a gravelly voice, "Master Draco, if you will please wait in the sitting room Mistress will be down shortly."

He crept back against the wall as Draco huffed and passed him to walk back to the sitting room. He opened the door and flopped down on one of the no doubt insanely expensive settees. He glanced around to find she had also replaced the dark green curtains he was familiar with, to a sheer cream set that let the sunlight peek through. He looked around again to find she changed many things about the room. Everything seemed... Brighter.

Draco stood as the door cracked open and his mother stepped through. She gave him a warm smile and a quick hug, pulling back to hold him out at arm's length.

"Draco, you look tired. Have you been sleeping well?" She sat on the settee across from him and Draco resumed his spot on his, though in a more gentlemanlike manner.

He sighed, "That's actually what I came to talk to you about. There've been some... stirrings back home."

She quirked an eyebrow, "Stirrings?"

Draco rubbed his hands on his pants and his mother clicked her tongue at him to stop. She had tried many times to break him of this habit but it had only gotten worse after Voldemort had risen to power. She had eventually given up… mostly.

He folded his hands in his lap and squeezed them together until his knuckles turned white. "The Death Eaters are reassembling. We don't know why but they are and I... I had to rejoin them."

His mother took a sharp gasp of breath and he couldn't stop himself from telling her everything that had happened the past few weeks. From Hermione moving in, to him becoming an Auror and part of the Order and by the end, she had moved to his settee to hold his hand like he was eleven again.

She smoothed back a piece of hair that had fallen onto his face. "Draco, I am so sorry you've had to suffer with all of this alone. I wish I could help you but... If I set foot in the United Kingdom I'll be sent to Azkaban instantly, they have a trace on me."

Draco took a shuddering breath, "I know I just... I needed to talk to you."

His mother wrapped her arm around his shoulders and tucked him against her. "You spoke of a potion that Professor Slughorn made you, that allowed you to tell when others were lying?"

He nodded and she continued, "I think you should go to Hogwarts and see him, ask him to make you more. If you're going to be around trained liars, you'll need any advantage you can get."

He nodded again and a sudden pain tore through his head. It pounded just behind his eyes and made him wince and abruptly retreated as quickly as it had come.

His mother clicked her tongue, "You haven't been keeping up with your Occlumency, I see."

Draco rubbed at his now throbbing temples and tried not to glare at her. She was right, he hadn't kept up with it and allowed his mental walls to disappear. It had been a small reprieve, to not always be concerned with someone invading his mind.

Now he realized how stupid that was.

He rebuilt the walls in his mind painstakingly slow and a bead of sweat dripped down his face at the effort. "Try again."

He felt a sharpness slide down the wall of his mind looking for an opening. It found none and the pain vacated his mind, letting Draco breathe a sigh of relief as the throbbing in his temples eased.

He willed his walls to stay up and his mother frowned at him.

"You need to practise, Draco. There's no telling who could be leading them or who has joined their ranks."

He nodded silently to her and the door opened to Joovy levitating in a silver tea tray. He poured them both a cup of tea and quickly left the room. His mother fixed his tea and then hers in turn.

They both sat in quiet for a moment as they sipped their drinks and Draco practised dropping and rebuilding his mental walls until it didn't cause him pain anymore. He was breathing heavily and his forehead broke out into a small sweat.

"What will you do until you're needed?"

Draco turned to his mother to find her studying him and he gave her a shrug. He couldn't go back to Hermione until tonight's mission was over. He felt that she could see how twisted his soul had become and he needed to forget about that for a while.

She set her teacup on the table next to her and turned to him with a feline grin.

"Than you're coming shopping with me."