Shades of Grey
By: Destiny's Darkness

Disclaimer: Not mine in so many ways. Original ideas, however, are.

In the last chapter:

"I'm guessing that your Aunt Elizabeth is leaving you her title." He drew the comment out slowly, still figuring things out.

She winced. "Sort of… um…"

"Christ, Belle, can you not tell anything yourself?" Dani drew herself up to her full height. "'Aunt Elizabeth' is more commonly referred to as the queen. She's going to name Hermione as one of her official heirs, just after her own descendants."

Chapter Nine

"Excuse me?" Ron stated, unnaturally somber, pale against the contrast of his vivid hair.

"My aunt, Elizabeth, is the Queen of England." Hermione struggled, rather desperately, to guess what he was thinking, but his expressionless eyes gave nothing away. From the corner of her eyes, she could see Draco shaking his head as though the motion could make him right or erase the nightmare of his mudblood being born royalty. And she couldn't find the courage to even glance at Harry. Dani squeezed her hand encouragingly. "Both my parents were descendants of the royal bloodline and, with their arranged marriage, produced a child also worthy of the throne."

"And they were, what, murdered?" Again Ron's voice held no clue to what could be going through his mind.

"No! No. They died in a particularly gruesome car accident, on their way to a particularly unpleasant conference." She let out a bitter huff. "Some conspiracy buffs still claim it was intentional."

"You should have told us, Hermione, right from the beginning."

She jerked at Harry's enraged tone, looking up from the carpet with astonished eyes. "Told you! To what end, Harry? To be treated like glass? Or maybe to have people bowing as I walk through the hallways?" She shoved herself from the sofa, knocking Ron to the side. "You think you've got it bad, Harry? Just because people may look at you funny, every once in a while? Try dealing with press conferences because you were caused a minor car crash, barely a fender-bender, when you were learning how to drive. Or having your clothing analyzed by news anchors and seedy reporters. Or being scorned for standing up for something that popular opinion's against." She turned, brown curls flying, and jammed her finger in Harry's chest. "So there were things I didn't tell you. Deal with it. I'm allowed to keep secrets. Or would you rather I tell you every time I have my monthly visitor!"

"God, no!" Ron burst out.

Dani smirked, even as some of the tension in the room eased. "Come on, Weasley, don't hold back. Tell us how you feel."

"Look, I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner. It's just nice to get away from all that, you know?" She shrugged. "It's nice to get away from it." Her voice trailed off. She stared into some imaginary distance before turning on her heel and disappearing into Harry's room.

Dani cocked an eyebrow and stared down the three boys. "I'm not going to be the one comforting her this time."

Draco stood. "I'll do it." From the nearly concealed expression on his face, there were only two ways he could be planning to break her out of her miserable mood swing.

"I don't think so." Harry had already made his way to his door. "Maybe next time." Turning the knob, he cast up a quick prayer to the heavens and walked in. The door clicked quietly behind him. "Hermione?"

It took his eyes a moment to adjust from the bright, sunny lighting of the living room to the dark of his bedroom with the lights off and curtains drawn. When they did, he found the brunette curled up in his bed, his pillow clutched desperately to her chest. She looked up blankly at his approach, and his heart wretched at her unshed tears. "I'm sorry, Harry. I should have told you, I just –"

The shear desolation in her voice chilled his heart. "Don't worry about it," he murmured, dropping to the bed beside her trembling form. "You had your reasons, I'm sure. It's just a lot—"

He was cut off when Hermione flung herself across his lap and buried her face in his chest. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry…" Her quick, desperate words gradually blurred more and more together until she was murmuring mindlessly, her mouth moving against his collarbone. He patted her back a little helplessly, vastly uncomfortable with this girl falling apart when it was she that had always kept him together. It was different with Cho, who could be counted on to fall apart and need comforting every month, as good as clockwork. Not that he really had to make an effort in comforting her. She just held onto him a while, soaking up his customary blathering until she was suddenly right as rain once again. It would be harder with Hermione; she wouldn't want meaningless words or easily forgotten vows. He knew in his heart, strangely enough, that careless mutterings would hurt the girl cowering in his arms more than they could ever help. So he simply held her, allowing her to feel safe and protected as she sobbed like her very heart was breaking. The intermittent gasps grew so violent that they felt as though they could knock her off his bed, and his arms wrapped tighter around her in response, as a precaution.

Gradually she ran out of steam, until finally she was somewhat still and silent. "Is that any better?" he whispered, as her breathing continued to slow somewhat.

She didn't answer. He leaned back and lifted her chin with a finger to see if she'd worn herself out and fallen asleep, but she just gazed up at him. "Hi."

His green eyes flashed with wicked amusement at her childlike greeting. "Hi." As he grinned down at her, her hand lifted to trace his mouth, controlled by something deeper than her conscious thoughts.

Something changed in the air between them.

He lowered his head a half-inch, and green eyes traced the movements of her tongue as she wet her lips nervously. Her breath could be felt, ever so lightly, breezing across his cheek and down to his gut. "Harry?"

"Shhh. Just once, Hermione, don't think."

"But—"

"Just this once."

Brown eyes locked on green, and she swallowed nervously as his head began its descent and hers instinctively countered the movement. They paused again only fractions of centimeters apart, breath mingling, heartbeats speeding up. The skin of his lips began to brush hers and the door behind them flew open.

The light flooded in around the figure in the doorway. They sat there frozen for a minute, and Harry became conscious of how obvious it was what they were doing. Or they were about to do. At the very least, what he was trying to do. "Ron?" he asked, squinting into the glare.

"Yeah, that'll do," Malfoy's voice answered in his customary drawl. "I was sent to check and make sure you two hadn't killed each other or something similar. And… obviously you're not… I mean, I'll just… go."

As the door shut again, Harry cursed Dani in his head. Thanks to her earlier comment about the possibility of a romance between Hermione and Draco, Harry almost thought he heard some trace of pain in the blond's voice. Whether it was pain at seeing the two of them so close or some other unknowable source didn't matter. It still messed with his head. Staring at the closed door another moment, he felt the woman in his lap begin to hoist herself off of the bed. Harry quickly put an end to that idea, tightening his arms around her.

"Harry, let go."

"Hmmm… I don't think so." Somehow drawing her closer, he dropped his head into her curls and allowed her scent to wash over him. "Do you know what you do to me?"

Her snort at the clichéd line came from the bushy-haired bookworm, not the sleek heir to the throne he was rapidly becoming accustomed to. "I make you study and pay attention to your schoolwork. That's what I do to you."

He chuckled in response, but his arms still didn't relax their hold.

"Are you mad at me?" She whispered, her lips brushing just barely on the side of his neck just below the sensitive spot beneath his ear. "Because I didn't tell you my parents were nobility?"

"Yes."

Had he not been holding her so tightly, she would have undoubtedly jerked back away from him at his matter-of-fact tone. Instead she craned her head back in an attempt to look him deep in the eyes. But the disgust she expected wasn't there, only an amused sort of affection. "Yes?"

"Yes," he repeated. "I'm mad that you couldn't trust me enough to let me in on this aspect of your life. I'm mad that you've spent all this time pretending to be two separate people. I'm mad that I wasn't a better friend, so that you could tell me everything much the way you tell Dani. I'm mad that I can't treat you the same way that I can treat Ron."

She blushed, burrowing back into his chest and privately reveling in the feel of his arms encompassing her. "You're such a good friend, Harry," she muttered, purposefully ignoring his last statement. "I just needed a life separate from that one. Where people judged me on my actions rather than my bloodline." Squirming a little in his lap, she considered the events of the day. Of the past week.

He grimaced, trying to ignore the way his body was reacting to her movements and praying she wouldn't notice. "Don't be obtuse, Hermione—"

"Oooh. Big word. Well, big-ish. Two points nonetheless."

"Two points? What are you… never mind. Doesn't it ever bother you that we can't have that kind of relationship? Don't you even think about it? Don't you want that purely platonic relationship sometimes?"

Immediately he knew he'd something wrong. Her spine had stiffened, snapping her back straight. Her expression had clouded, and the tension he'd almost coaxed from her flooded back full force.

"Hermione?"

"How long have you known?"

"Known?"

She must have seen the confusion in his eyes because her lips tightened almost imperceptibly before she explained. "How long have you known that I'm in love with you?"

Something in the pit of his stomach joined the rest of the world in plummeting through the floor. He felt his arms tighten, though no particular intention of his own, clasping around her as he heard the proverbial angels sing. She loved him? A girl like Hermione Granger, a bookworm with a secret night-life love, could love him? She was waiting for a response, but he couldn't seem to control his mouth. "Love? How could you… I mean… "

"How could I love you? How could I love you! I don't know, Harry. Maybe it's the way you always try to do the right thing, even when it sucks. Maybe its the way when you play quidditch, there's nothing in the world but you, your broom, and the Snitch. Or it could be how you'll join a house-elf-liberation group for me, even if you don't think house-elves particularly want to be liberated. Or maybe it's just the way that you'll hate Snape to your dying day, even if he saved thousands of innocent children!"

He smirked at the idea without thinking, not the greatest reaction when holding angry female.

"Oh, fine. Laugh. Just laugh. Laugh at the idea that I could think myself good enough to love you. Laugh away." Her words hanging in the air, she shoved free from Harry's arms and fled into the hallway.

Or, at least, she tried to shove free from Harry's arms and flee into the hallway. Instead she found herself being whipped back by his unrelenting grip on her waist, slamming back into him and knocking them both back on the bed. Harry knew better than to trust that would stop her escape attempts, so he flipped her over onto her back and pinned her down with his own body. Laying across her, feeling her angry breath rustling his hair, he could almost be content to lay there forever. Providing, of course, that she stopped trying to knee him in the groin. "Hey! What are you doing?"

"I was trying to make an impressive exit. But that's sort of ruined when you bloody won't let me leave!"

He chuckled again, unable to stop himself.

"You know, I'm getting mighty tired of you laughing at me, Harry."

"I'm sorry, baby," he murmured as he buried his face in her hair once more, ignoring the way her body stiffened, though he wasn't sure if it was in response to his movement or the endearment. "I don't mean to laugh, but I don't… I mean, I didn't know you were… how you… I didn't know you felt that way about me. It never occurred to me."

She snorted, glaring at the side of his head. "Sure you didn't. What was it you and Ron were saying? How glad you were that it seemed like I had finally gotten over you?"

That made his head jerk up. "What! When did we say that?"

"That first night we were here, when the two of you were heading out to go clubbing and – you know what? It doesn't matter. What matters is that my feelings were obviously not wanted until I suddenly became attractive. Once I was pretty enough to be seen in public with the great Harry Potter, all of a sudden you started acting like a caveman. It doesn't exactly require a great stretch of the imagination or vast intelligence to make that particular connection."

"Hermione!"

"Oh, you can't deny it."

"Yes, I bloody well can!"

The crack of flesh hitting flesh overwhelmed the sudden silence. Harry stared at her in an odd mix of horror and shock as she stepped backward, his hand pressed to the ache in his cheek. She'd slapped him. Suddenly, horrifyingly, he felt a vague connection to Malfoy. To be on the other side, to see that rage and fury directed at him. She was breathtaking, flawless. No Amazonian queen could ever hope to compare. His Amazoness stared at him, no longer crying but enraged, pinning him in his place before turning and making her way out of the room. It was all he could do to stare after her without succumbing to the devastation, caused by his gut instinct that he'd ruined things forever.

To be continued...

Author's Note: Erm… hi? Sorry about the wait? This is the point where I'd offer my excuse if, you know, I actually had one. Blame the lack of inspiration and, more importantly, the lack of will-power to force myself to work on this chapter. I know that this pathetic little excuse for a chapter doesn't make up for it either, no matter how much I enjoyed particular bits and pieces (the almost kiss, for example). Anyway, the next chapter'll possibly be the last. That is, if I finish with the Harry-Hermione pairing. A good number of people are pushing for Draco and Hermione, though, so we'll have to see...

Additionally, I was considering having the group head back to Hogwarts, but no one seemed at all interested in that idea. The main reason I thought about it was an entertaining little scene with Hermione coming up against boys drinking in the library and her unusual method of dealing with them, but that'll work as a one-shot I suppose. I'm not sure if I'm actually going to include the ball, or just mention it, but let me know what you all would like. If you do want me to send them back to Hogwarts, please review and let me know. I'm indecisive. Tell me what you want to see!

Again, sorry about the wait between chapters.

Destiny's Darkness
4/25/2006