The battles keep getting bigger, the losses more profound. When the ultimate loss happens, everything changes. Everyone changes. Harry and Ginny now find themselves dealing with an old friend - and a new enemy. But how do you defend yourself against someone who knows everything about you? Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.
Hermione reminisces. Harry has mental arguments. Ginny just has issues.
Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies, blah blah blah, I don't own anything or anyone you recognize. Unless, of course, you recognize something or someone I do. No lawsuits or paperwork, please.
Chapter Ten: The Sort-of Revelation of The Major Plot Turns
"A business deal," he repeated slowly. He blinked. "What kind of business are we talking about here?"
The look on her face gave him a pretty good idea, even as she said quietly, "What else?"
He regarded her for a long, quiet moment then sighed heavily. "Look, I don't know what I can do for you, Hermione. You know I've been trying to avoid that life for some time now."
"But you must miss it," she countered. "At least a small part of you does. Why else would you have agreed to meet with me after all this time?"
A flash of emotion crossed his face, but immediately his face reverted to the calm, cool Draco Malfoy expression of nonchalance. "You may be right," he acknowledged with a small chuckle. "You usually are, after all. But…" he trailed off, then shrugged uncertainly, shaking his head. "I'm sorry, Hermione.""I'm sorry…" Those two little words brought her spiraling back into her past, where, she noted with some chagrin, her mind had seemed determined to dwell lately.
For a while, she had wondered what he was apologizing for. Then she realized he was offering his condolences, and she had found himself staring at his retreating back, briefly contemplating the curiosity that was Draco Malfoy. After a while, she conceded that she could no longer concentrate on her books; an odd feeling was starting to build up inside her, and she gathered her things before heading to the Gryffindor common room, where she found who she was looking for: Ron, Harry and Ginny.
Ron had looked up at her and given her that smile of his, the one that spoke volumes without him ever saying anything at all. It was tempered with his worry and sadness for her, but it was still pure, unadulterated love and friendship. That odd sensation inside her had grown stronger. She had sat down next to him, let him drape his arm over her, let him wrap her in a warm, comforting embrace.
He had kissed her temple gently, then said into her ear, softly, "Hey, love."
She had never felt love from anyone besides her family before. A familiar stir of anger threatened to overcome her, but was interrupted by a sudden flood of all sorts of emotions, and a stream of tears down her face.
That odd sensation was fading, slipping out through each sob that wracked her body, escaping through the wet trails down her face.
Her parents had loved her, and she had loved them. But now they were gone, and it just seemed to rip a hole right through to her core, tearing past her anger and disbelief. They were gone. For a while, all the love she had had with her parents threatened to turn into unmeasured hatred for Voldemort, threatened to consume her with a burning desire for nothing else but cold, bloody revenge. But Ron held her tight, and his gesture seemed to quell her fury. Ron was still there. And Harry, and Ginny…and they loved her. She knew they did. They were her best friends, and they loved her. And most importantly, Ron loved her. Who knew if it was the same way she loved him, all it mattered was that Ron, the boy she felt so much for, was there, and he loved her.
All it mattered was that he was there, stroking her hair tenderly, drawing her close to him, whispering soothing words into her ear. "It's alright, Hermione… Just let it out… I'm here for you, love."
"They're gone…I don't know how to…I don't want…I…they're gone…he…" Her words were punctuated with sobbing hiccups as she buried her face in his soft, warm robes, inhaling his scent, feeling his strong arms wrapped tight around her.
"Shh…it's okay, love…I'm here for you…"
A hand slipped into hers, and she sniffed as she looked at Harry, who squeezed her hand firmly and gave her a wan smile. She tried to smile through her tears, but Harry said softly, "Its okay. I understand."
Ginny's piercing blue eyes softened as they met hers and she felt gentle hands making light circles on the small of her back, helping to calm her a little. "We're all here for you, Hermione. We love you."
Her words sparked off another great heave of cries, but it felt a bit better, this time. Each sob peeled away the layers of hurt and pain, slicing at her grief and sorrow. So she let it all out, Ron becoming the vessel for her release, holding her as the minutes, then hours, went by.
God, she missed Ron…
She was suddenly very aware of Draco staring at her, studying her intently.
"You miss him, don't you." It was more a statement than anything else, said with Draco's usual tone of coolness and precision, and Hermione could only nod. His voice softened, as realization dawned on him. "And that's why you do what you're doing." He paused and regarded her, and when he spoke again, his tone was heavy. "I can't say I approve, but I do understand. I don't understand, however, why you want me to help."
"Because," she said quietly, "You're the only one who can."
"I'm not sure if that was a compliment or not, but I'll take it as one."
Hermione merely gave him the smallest of smiles and a cough into her hand that sounded remarkably like "arrogance". Draco gave her a mock-scowl, and she chuckled before explaining herself. "You are neutral."
"Which is precisely why I'm confused that you seek my assistance. It's a well-known fact that I am against the Dark, but I do not necessarily support the Light. Everyone respects that and no one has tried to recruit me – well, they've tried, but usually once is more than enough for them."
"Exactly." Hermione seemed satisfied. Draco blinked, and gave her a look that expressed he thought she was crazy. "You see, Draco, that's what makes you perfect -"
"No, actually, its my dashing looks -"
He was cut off by Hermione as she continued, pointedly ignoring him. "For what I'm asking you to do. Firstly, the task I have in mind requires someone in your position. I need someone respected by both sides, and reputable for remaining neutral. Secondly, it will completely throw everyone off track. Third, you're one of the few people powerful, talented and sneaky enough to handle what I'm asking for."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, usually. But Hermione…" Draco sighed. "I'd like to help you, really. But I'm not quite ready to re-enter that life. I left it for a reason."
She looked like she was about to respond, but he held up his hand. "However, I count you among my very dear friends, and I promise you I'll think further about it. But you have to give me some time, and meanwhile, you can answer all my burning questions to give me more information to consider. Is that agreeable to you?"
She nodded, and waited for further comment, as he seemed to scrutinize her thoroughly. Satisfied that she was indeed of stable mind while discussing this, he leaned back into his chair.
"Well, here's something I'm wondering. I understand fair enough, why you don't want to ally yourself with Harry and company any longer -"
"If I were to hazard a guess at part of the reason, I'd say you think it's too much of a risk to be around him. Either that, or you want to destroy Voldemort by yourself."
She gave him a wry smile. "You're way too observant for your own good, Draco. Much too perceptive, as well."
"It's a gift," he told her with a grin of sorts, before continuing. "So, you see, I have a fair idea of some of the reasons why you are choosing to undertake this by yourself. There are probably more than what meets the eye, but I suppose that is not of particular significance, and I get that. What I don't get, however, is why you are choosing to oppose people who are fighting the same fight you are."
Hermione fell silent, not meeting his eyes, causing the blonde to eye her curiously. "Hermione?"
"I can't help it." She whispered hoarsely.
"You can't help what?" Draco tried to speak as gently as he could, leaning in to hear Hermione better. There was another long pause, then she looked up at him with red-rimmed, but oddly hardened eyes.
"Well, you should've done it back in first year, would have saved me a lot of effort," Draco couldn't help teasing her, and was rewarded a wan smile. "I mean, you had to wait eight years before you learnt to hate him? Maybe you aren't as smart as you think you are."
"I don't hate him." She gave Draco a sardonic look. "And didn't you become friends with him?"
"Well, yes, but I hated him at the beginning, with the burning passion of a thousand fiery suns." Draco replied, rather blithely.
Hermione frowned. "I don't hate Harry, Draco." She sighed. "I don't hate him. I cant. We've been through so much together, too much…I can't hate him. But…I cant not… It's his fault. I can't help but blame him for what happened."
"You blame him for…that?" Draco tried to keep the surprise out of his voice.
"Yes," Hermione said, a flush of anger rising to her cheeks.
"He didn't deal the last…it wasn't his…" Draco hesitated, debating the wisdom of trying to reason with an irate Hermione. In the end he simply asked, "Why?"
Hermione took in a deep breath. "Because…because…" She shook with pent up emotion. "Because he stood there, and held me back, and didn't do a damn thing about it!"
"He couldn't have, Hermione. You know it better than I do." Draco said, each word measured very carefully. He knew exactly how volatile the woman in front of him was. Sure enough, she suddenly burst.
"But it's not fair! Why did it have to happen? Why him? Why Ron?"
AN: Er, is this considered a cliffhanger too? Whoops. Well, extra cookies to all of you, to make up for it. And slices of my birthday cake when I get it. Yes, I'm not-so-subtly pointing out the fact that its my birthday tomorrow. (grin) Be nice to me and review?
And sorry for the long waits, life's been crazy and my muse is overworked - five WIPs! I do try to write as fast as possible, so please be patient with me! :) I do post statuses of my fics on my LJ, and I will accept threats and nudges to write over there as well. Feel free to mosey over and yell at me.
Lifetimes of happiness and the HP character of your choice, giftwrapped, (just shh and dont tell JKR!) go to:
actionmaster - Thank you!; brilliant-author16 - Yes, despite what this chapter might indicate, dont fret!Ron will come into the story, I promise; PettigrewWillPay - I havent forgotten this fic, RL's just been crazy lately. Hope you like this chapter, and here's an extra cookie to replace the stolen one :); and Electra - Thank you so much! I'm so happy that you like all my stories (really, I actually went "squee!", which is really embarassing), and thank you for the kudos bar and milk and cookies!