Chapter inspired by Sarah McLachlan's breathtaking song (and my personal favorite), "I Will Remember You."
She'd woken up the very second that Draco had slipped out of her room, his cape fluttering behind him as he closed the door. She sat up with a small gasp, the sheet she'd been covered with falling into her lap as her eyes darted around the room, completely unaware of her surroundings for a brief moment.
When had she fallen asleep? She'd fought so hard to stay awake – to lie close to him and listen to every intake of his breath, every rise and fall of his chest. She knew he'd wanted her to fall asleep – he couldn't stay any longer, no matter how much she tried to prolong the moment. But he hadn't said anything. Simply let her have her time with him, her legs tangled into his in complete disarray before exhaustion had finally taken its toll on her.
She sighed weakly, unsure of what to do next. Spotting her pajamas now laying in a rumpled mess of discarded clothes on the floor, she reached down and put it back on, buttoning the top part carefully, with movements that seemed almost too slow. Too uncaring. Her eyes shifted around the room again, only pausing when she spotted a letter with her name on it on her nightstand. A letter that hadn't been there earlier.
She reached for it and crossed her legs as she examined the envelope with utmost care. The paper was wrinkled and slightly torn, as if someone had tossed and turned it over and over again in their hands. She ran her fingers over her name, her heartbeat increasing as she noticed the careful penmanship.
She'd recognize his handwriting anywhere.
"Bloody nerve of that pompous wanker," Ginny mumbled testily as she stalked back and forth across the living room, shooting daggers at the closed front door every five seconds. "How can anyone bring themselves to like that ferret? I swear, if it wasn't for the fact that I have to be supportive, I'd wring his little-"
She paused mid-sentence when a loud sob curled through the house, the horrible sound coming from Hermione's bedroom. Ginny only took a second to stand in shock before she ran towards her destination and opened her best friend's door swiftly.
"What? What's wrong?"
Hermione had her head buried in her hands, her curls swirling around her head in a tangled mess as she cried, her entire body shaking from the effort. She looked up when her friend entered the room, only to break out in another round of hysterics. "I-I was w-wrong, Ginny," she stuttered between sobs. "I thought he … b-but I was wrong. Oh God. Why didn't he tell me?"
I'll do whatever it takes to make you let me go. I'll lie if I have to.
"Honey," Ginny tried weakly, still in a bit of a shock over her friend's sudden behavior. "Calm down for a second. I can barely understand what you're saying."
But what if I told you that the only reason I have is that I'm scared?
"I have to find him," Hermione hiccupped and practically jumped from the bed. "I have to … t-talk to him." She brushed past the younger girl without a second glance and stopped in the living room for a moment, scanning her surroundings as if she was in a daze.
"What?" Ginny asked again, now staring at an empty bedroom. She blinked. What just happened? She turned around and saw Hermione already grabbing her cape from the coat rack beside the door. "Are you insane? It's freezing outside. Where are you go-"
"I can't talk right now," Hermione interrupted as she hurriedly threw a scarf around her neck. "Did you see which way he went, Ginny?" She turned to her friend, desperately trying to wipe away the current line of tears running down her cheeks. "You have to tell me. Please." Her voice cracked at the last word and she swiped angrily at her wet face again.
"I…" Ginny began, wringing her hands nervously. "I didn't…"
"Never mind," Hermione cut her off again and opened the door to the freezing cold outside. She hesitated for a moment, then turned around again. "Please don't worry. I just … I know I'm acting crazy, but … I need to talk to him, okay? That's all it is."
"Are you sure?" Ginny asked quietly, taking a hesitant step forward.
"Yeah," Hermione replied, nodding briefly. "Don't wait up." With that, she closed the door behind her and started running as fast as her legs could carry her.
You're my life. And you will be the death of me. With just one word, you can crush me. Just one look and I'll do whatever you ask of me. You opened my eyes, my love. And without you, they will close again.
The letter was still clutched tightly in her hand as she ran into the street, looking both ways with a surge of panic rushing through her like she'd never felt before. It was still night, almost dawn, and the town seemed almost desolate at this hour. He couldn't have gone far. Another sob escaped her throat as she took a few steps in the left direction, all the while looking around with frantic movements. He couldn't have gone that far.
"Draco," she whispered brokenly, squeezing the letter so tight she feared it might tear up in its already fragile state. She turned around again and froze immediately. She saw something. In the far end of the street, just before the road turned, was a lone figure walking further and further away from her. "Draco," she said again as she picked up her pace, hope suddenly taking over. "Draco!" she cried.
He stopped dead in his tracks. She ran even faster, pushing herself to the limit to get to him as fast as she could. Her chest ached from the effort and her now slightly lessened crying, but she refused to let it slow her down. Only when she was about a hundred feet from him did he turn around, his movements slow, his expression cold as ice.
She slowed down and finally stopped in front of him, momentarily taken back by his sudden yet visible change. "Granger," he acknowledged tersely, his voice devoid of any emotion. "What are you doing? Thought the goodbyes were over and done with."
She almost reeled back in shock, her eyes widening slightly upon his question. "What's this?" she answered with one of her own, her voice wavering slightly as she held up the letter.
He eyed the parchment in her hand with little enthusiasm, although she was sure she saw his eyes flicker if only for a second. "Do I really need to explain what constitutes a letter to you, Granger?" he asked, quirking one eyebrow. "Honestly. Either you're letting yourself go or we've all been overestimating you for the past seven years."
"Stop it," she snapped harshly, anger suddenly rising up in her. "You don't get it, do you?" She shoved the letter in his chest with all the force she could muster. "This is you, Malfoy," she sneered, enunciating his surname like it was venom on her tongue. "This, what you're doing right now, is not. So stop it." They stared at each other for a long moment, both too out of it to speak. Hermione kneeled down and reached for the discarded letter again, carefully brushing the settled snow off its surface. "Why didn't you tell me any of this?" she asked, her voice softer this time as she stood up and met his gaze.
"I did tell you," he chastised flatly, fighting her every step of the way. "It's all in there, isn't it?"
"You know perfectly well what I mean," she cried, a small gasp following as her chest seemed to tighten. Why has he being like this? Why did he give her that letter if he didn't want her to come to him, to make him understand that he didn't have to be scared? "You can't do this to me. Say something, please! Something that matters."
He bit his lower lip hard as he watched her crumble before him, struggling to maintain whatever self-control he was hanging onto. She wanted him to say something? Fine. He could say plenty. "Not here," he sneered, looking around for a more private place for them to have this discussion. The town may have been pretty much asleep, but he didn't want to risk getting interrupted just the same. Spotting an abandoned alley just a little further up the street, he pointed a fixed glance at her and started walking, trusting her to follow.
Once they were inside the alley, he closed the gate that surrounded the area and muttered a barely audible "silencio" to make sure that they would indeed be alienated from the outside world. Only then did he turn to face her, anger boiling inside him that he had never learned to control.
"What do you want from me?!" he exclaimed harshly, making her flinch in her position a few feet from him. He advanced on her faster than a predator moving in on its prey. "I gave you everything I had tonight! And now you want more? I don't have anything else, Hermione!"
Although backing away from his decisively larger form, her fixed gaze on him had never been more determined. "I just want the truth!" she yelled back, holding up the letter again. "Was it all a lie? That stuff about you being engaged. That was just to get me off your back, wasn't it? Some easy way out for you?"
He laughed humorlessly. "What do you want me to say? Yes, all right? You wouldn't give up and I had to say something to…"
"You're a bloody coward, Draco!" she screamed off the top of her lungs, pushing him as hard as she could. "I can't believe you would stoop that low and make me feel so dirty just for being with you-"
All of a sudden, he had her pinned against the side of the building, using his strength as an advantage to cease her struggling to a minimum. "But you did it anyway, didn't you?" he remarked slyly, a small smirk creeping up on his face. "You knew and you did it anyway. Does it ease your conscience to know that there's no fiancé, Granger? You didn't know that when you were in your room with me."
Her eyes narrowed with anger as she fought against his hold. "Bastard…"
"What does it matter anyway?" he asked harshly, pressing her further against the cold brick wall. "I might not know her name yet, or even what she looks like … but don't you think my father's already found a wife for me?" He shook his head. "And even if he hasn't, no matter what we do or say … hell, we might even stop me from getting married altogether, but no matter what we do to change his mind, I can never marry you."
She stopped her struggling and stared at him as those last words passed his lips.
He looked back at her, his gaze steady and his body shaking slightly from the cold. "I can't marry you," he said, the words barely above a whisper. "I can't. Not ever. And I can't be with you any longer."
"Why?" she whispered, her voice suddenly stuck in her throat.
His temper faltered temporarily as he watched her frail and resigned form under him. He loosened his grip on her before speaking. "Because my father knows about us. He gave me tonight to say goodbye."
She closed her eyes and sighed in defeat. "We could run away," she attempted weakly, already knowing what his answer would be.
He smirked bitterly and ran his thumbs over her palms, repeating the motion over and over again. "Where would we go? Do you think we could just go somewhere and start a whole new life?"
She opened her eyes again and glared at him in spite. "I could."
He shook his head, his smirk turning into a small smile. "No, you couldn't. You seem to think we're living some kind of fairy tale, Hermione. Either we have to ride into the sunset together or I have to give up my entire life for you. Or I have to die for you – hell, even die with you. Sorry to break it to you, my Juliet, but life doesn't work that way."
"I know that," she hissed, her wrists once again twisting and turning in his grip to break lose. "In case you haven't noticed, you're the one who seems to think that the entire world will shun us without even having given it a try."
"And you don't?" he asked. "Tell me something. What exactly do you think your parents would say if you showed up on their doorstep with me tagging along one day? Do you think they'd invite me in and let me sit at their table so I could talk about how wonderful you are and how happy you make me? Do you think your father would just throw an arm around my shoulders and declare me the perfect son in law?" His head drew nearer and his voice dropped to a low whisper. "Do you think he would do that?"
She could almost swear there was a tinge of hope somewhere in that question. "No," she croaked quietly, watching as another smirk settled on his lips.
"Didn't think so."
"All right, Malfoy," she snapped, his attitude once again fueling her anger. "Just tell me that I've wasted my time on you and that you never had any intention of-"
"Stop," he interrupted sternly. "Stop talking. Damn it, you always twist and turn my words around. When I have said that we've been a waste of time? When have I ever even thought that?" He let go of her so suddenly that she had to brace herself against the brick wall to keep from falling, and he stepped back, his chest falling and rising unevenly from his earlier outburst. "You don't think that I've turned this over in my head so many times that I've become almost obsessed with it?" he asked angrily. "There's no way that this can ever work, Hermione. I can't…" He left his sentence hang mid-air and sighed, running his fingers through his blonde hair.
"You can't what?" she prodded, suddenly feeling her upper hand return as she walked closer to him.
He waved her off. "Nothing. It was nothing."
"No. Tell me." She reached him and lifted his chin so he couldn't look anywhere else but at her. "This is the problem, Draco. All that other stuff – what everyone else thinks – you've never cared about that. You're scared of us. Of what it does to you. I've always known you've never been comfortable with this kind of closeness, but I didn't think it was-"
"You don't know me," he remarked coldly, his gaze boring into her and unwilling to let go.
She shook her head and reached up to cup his face in her hands, standing on her toes so she was at level with him. "Where do you get that ludicrous idea from? Of course I know you." He was about to protest, but she began talking before he could get a word in edgewise. "I know you like to study people and their behavior, because you wonder how they can show their emotions so freely. I know you hate it when people are better than you, because you know that'll disappoint your father yet again and you can't stand to disappoint that man. You have to win at everything, no matter what, or you'll feel like the whole world just crashed down on your shoulders."
He grabbed her by the arms and held on tight as each observation she made swirled around in his head. Suddenly, he couldn't think. "Stop," he whispered, closing his eyes tight.
She stroked his hair gently and kissed his forehead. "I know you love chocolate chip cookies and staying in bed for as long as possible. You like to hum when you shave and you always hold me so close when you think I'm asleep at night." Her voice was beginning to shake, and she pressed her forehead to his, listening to his uneven breathing. "I know you're scared of so many things that you won't share with me. You're scared of the Dark Mark – that maybe one day, your father will actually convince you to get it. I know you're scared of intimacy, but you need it just the same. I know I can make you laugh, but I can't make you cry."
He opened his eyes again and looked at her, his body now shaking from more than just the cold. "Stop."
"I know you love me, Draco, even though you don't want to," she whispered as her eyes clouded over, and she offered him a trembling smile. "It goes against everything you were brought up to believe in, but you don't seem to care anymore. And I know that if we go our separate ways now, we'll never see each other again and I can't … I can't bear the thought of-"
A strangled sound erupted from his throat and the next moment his lips were on hers, slamming their bodies into the brick wall again and pressing himself closer against her, to the point where it was almost painful. She gasped in shock and he took the opportunity while her lips were parted to deepen the kiss, his hands now roaming her body in a furious pace. He kissed her ferociously, like she was the water he had been craving after spending months in the dry desert, and she collapsed against him, completely surrendered to his will.
His hands found hers and their fingers entwined within an instant. Never letting go. Not until his lungs were burning from lack of oxygen did he pull away from her, his breathing erratic and his head dizzy. He moved so his lips were right next to her ear, his warm breath on her cold skin making her shiver. "We could keep doing this for years on end, couldn't we?" he asked, his voice low and filled with tremor. "Take turns to nearly drive the other one insane. We're excellent at that, aren't we?"
"Draco," she whispered, holding on to him as if he would run away at first given chance. It was as if fear hovered around him – as if it engulfed him at that very moment. He couldn't express it, but he could let her feel it, let her feel every inch of what he was going through. She almost whimpered as the overwhelming sense of panic coming from him rushed through her.
"What do you want me to say?" he demanded roughly, moving so he could look at her again, his eyes wild and frightened. "Yes, damn it, being with you turns me into this … this thing I can't recognize. Damn it, I don't want to be without you, but when I'm around you I feel so bloody vulnerable and I can't stand that, Hermione! I can't give you that kind of power over me."
She shook her head wildly, trying to object but unable to find the words. "I would never try to abuse what we have, you know that. I hurt when you hurt. And it-it's okay if you're scared or you feel vulnerable, because it always goes both ways. You're never alone in this."
Everything seemed to slow down all at once. He looked at her for what seemed like an eternity without speaking. The sky was starting to grow brighter and life was slowly starting to recommence in the streets, but they were closed off from the world, stuck in a silencing spell that let nothing penetrate its walls.
After a moment of silence, he pressed his forehead to hers and closed his eyes, feeling her breath roll over his face, heating his cold skin. "Why didn't you stay at home?" he whispered, all strength from the previous moment gone again. "I was already far away. We'd said goodbye, Hermione."
"Because you wanted me to find you," she said hoarsely. "You wouldn't have left me that letter if you didn't want me to come reassure you. Not that I blame you. It's what I do, after all." She smiled lightly, doing her best to try and lighten the mood a little.
He offered her a vague smile as his thumbs gently ran over her cheeks, brushing away any remnants of tears that might've been left. "Look at you," he scolded mildly, finally noticing the thin layer of clothes she had on. "Silly girl. You'll catch a cold. Come here." He opened his cape and pulled her close to him, extending the thick fabric around her. She sighed gratefully as his arms came around her and she buried her head in his chest, relishing in the warmth that emitted from him.
"Thank you," she whispered.
They stood like that for a while, neither of them speaking nor moving. Her heartbeat was returning to normal again, she mused. So was his. Her head was so perfectly nestled in his sweater and his fingers drew lazy circles on her back. She could easily fall asleep this way.
He nuzzled his nose in her hair and let his fingers weave into her bushy curls. "I do love you."
She smiled silently and held him a little tighter. "I know."
Another moment passed before he spoke. "I'm tired, Hermione."
"No." He pushed her chin up and she met his gaze questioningly. "I'm tired of this. This little dance we do. I think I need to stop trying to run away from you, 'cause it's obviously not working."
She smiled again and moved up to brush her lips lightly over his, her heart soaring when she heard him sigh into the kiss. "Then let's just try, Draco," she offered softly. "I'm not asking for promises, but I need you to trust me. I won't hurt you, love. I just want to be with you. The rest of the world can wait a little while longer. Please."
He opened his eyes to find her inches from him, so close that he couldn't see anything else. But he welcomed it.
His hand once again came to rest on her cheek, stroking it lightly and watching as she turned her head to kiss his palm. He shivered. Tightening his hold around her, he leaned in till they were forehead to forehead again and his eyes fell closed as the love of his life overtook his senses.
A long moment later, he gave her his answer.