NOTE TO READERS: I am sorry to say, but this is the last chapter to The Tongue of the Serpent. Thank you so much for reading this story all the way through to the end. It was a joy to write it, and I hope it was a joy for you to read. Thank you again.
NOTE TO REVIEWERS: Thank you so much for all of your reviews! I really appreciate you not only taking the time to this story of mine, but to also take the time to tell me what you think of it. That means a lot to me. Thank you again.
Hermione stood with Draco's arm protectively wrapped around her. The two stood in a dark corner of the room while Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall, Cornelius Fudge, and a couple of aurors questioned the Boy Who Lived. They had tied him up and tried to get him to answer their questions willingly, but they were forced to give him the veritaserum Hermione had secretly prepared. The students were ordered to leave the room by Snape, the aurors, and the Minister, but Dumbledore had convinced them to let the couple stay as long as they were out of the way. So, Draco and Hermione hid in the shadows.
They had spent the first half hour of questioning trying to remove Potter's Christmas gift from around Hermione's neck. Apparently, he had somehow charmed it so it could not be removed, and they could not figure out how or why he did it. So, Hermione was now forced to wear a remembrance of the person who had ruined her life for the past year. She was to be constantly reminded of the treatment she had received from the man she thought loved her. Maybe he had at one point, but it was obvious he no longer did.
The witch glared at the silhouette seated in front of the fire. She had no regrets; she just wished she could've gotten him there sooner.
"We did the right thing," Draco whispered to her.
"I know. I have no doubt."
Draco was taken aback by the venom in her voice. He hesitated briefly before commenting, "When people find out you were involved, you're probably going to be their favorite person to hate."
"I don't care. There are few people who don't already."
"They only hate you now because they want to be you."
"It doesn't matter the reason. They'll believe what they want to." She then silently left the room.
Draco followed. "I am forever in your debt, you know," he called to her in the Great Hall.
She stopped to face him. "For getting you to your 'destiny,' your rightful place by Voldemort?"
Draco ignored the shaking in her voice. "For teaching me. You taught me there's more to life than power and control. You've shown me I really can have anything I want, even love."
"Stop it. Just stop it! I'm tired of it!" Hermione shouted. "I'm tired of being confused! I've gone six years hating you, Draco. Six years! Now, in three months, I have suddenly acquired feelings that I shouldn't have. I shouldn't like you. I shouldn't care about you. I shouldn't love you. But I do, or at least, that's what my heart says. But my head—my head reminds me how you've treated me for the past six years. My head reminds me what you're going to be doing when you leave here. My head reminds me why you've been with me for the past three months. My head makes more sense than my heart. So, stop doing and saying things that convince my heart that it's right. Because it isn't! My head is right. My head has to be right. It's always right!"
Draco stood on the dais and watched the girl in the center of the Great Hall cry. His heart was breaking inside. He knew exactly what she was going through: His heart and head were also fighting. But he knew his heart was right. He knew he loved her, and he knew he always will. He also knew what he had to do. He had to hurt her, and he found himself hearing the words Potter had spoken to him less than a month ago: "Love hurts, Malfoy." He had to hurt her because he loved her.
He slowly stepped down from the dais, walked to her, and took Hermione into his arms.
"I can't love you, Draco," she sobbed into his shoulder.
"Yes, you can. You have to because you do. You can't stop it," he said softly as he allowed her to cry.
"If you promise to always treat me the way you have been, I can love you."
"I can't do that, and you know it."
Hermione pulled away. "We can run away; we can hide."
Draco sadly shook his head. "I would do that if I didn't really love you. But I do love you, 'Mione. I love you so much, that I'm leaving you to protect you."
"That's not protecting me."
"Yes. It is. If the Dark Lord found out about us, he would kill you, and he'd probably make me watch. I wouldn't be able to live with that."
Hermione began to cry harder. She couldn't protest, and she couldn't fight: She knew he was right.
Draco merely took hold of the charm around her neck. "It's hideous, isn't it?"
She couldn't respond.
Draco pulled out his wand and whispered some carefully selected words.
Hermione watched in amazement as the crown disappeared and one of the silver snakes turned into a golden lion, the symbol of Gryffindor. She stopped crying and looked up into Draco's eyes.
He smirked and said with a shrug, "A little trick I've picked up."
She returned her gaze to the beautiful necklace she now did not mind being forced to wear.
Draco leaned over and whispered in her ear, "Now we'll always be together, Granger."
This time, and for the last time, Malfoy left the girl he loved.