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Chapter 17: Dragon Tamer
"Draco you've got to stop this."
The man in question looked up angrily, his silky blond hair was disheveled and his necktie was askew. He looked as though he had not seen his bed in days. "I told you, I've made up my mind, and nothing you say is going to change it!"
A shadow fell across his face, and Blaise sighed and sat down next to Draco on the leather ottoman in the darkened room.
"Why am I in the middle of this?" Blaise muttered to himself.
He breathed deeply and turned to him again, even as Draco swirled his firewhiskey with the same dogged determination as when he had tried to find a way to murder Dumbledore.
"Are you sure you're doing the right thing?"
Draco clenched his jaw in frustration and Blaise put up one hand, "Wait, let me continue. I'm saying this not just as your friend, but Pansy's too. I don't want you to string her along for the rest of your life. If you don't love her, now's the time to do something about it."
Draco scoffed loudly, "Does it really matter? Love is not everything."
"Why are you always doing this!" Blaise burst out so explosively that even Draco leaned back slightly in fear.
His stern dark face loomed ominously in the fire-lit room. "Don't lie to me Draco. You can lie to everyone else, to yourself even, but don't lie to me. Don't repeat the same mistakes you've made your entire life."
"And yes, love is everything. Don't – don't argue with me!" he said, as Draco started to speak again. "Your parents love you! They love you more than life itself. And you love them, and, oddly enough, they love each other. How can you say love isn't everything? How can you want to be with someone you don't love?"
A log fell in the fireplace and crackled as orange sparks flew in the air. Both men stared at each other, daring the other to break down. It was Draco who finally capitulated, as he had always done.
"Because the person I love deceived me! I trusted him! Her, whatever. I told her everything, and she lied to me! Kept lying to me!"
"You know that she didn't do that to hurt you! Didn't even Pansy tell you she only pretended to be a man so she could be a dragon tamer?"
"Well yes she did but so what? I can't…I don't want to see her, I don't want to talk to her!"
"Blimey Malfoy, and I thought you weren't a coward!"
Draco stood up immediately, snatched up his wand, and pointed it shakily at Blaise. A vein in his forehead jumped. "Did you just call me a coward?"
Blaise laughed derisively. "Yes, I did. And no I'm not taking that back. The truth hurts, doesn't it? This has got to be the most cowardly thing you've ever done. It's so obvious I don't know why I didn't realise it sooner. You're afraid that she had been pretending to like you all this while. You're afraid that everything she had said and done in Bulgaria was a lie. You think she doesn't love you, can never love you. And so you're running away and hiding."
Draco gave a tired groan and slammed down his drink. "Merlin be damned Blaise! You're…you're right, okay? I really can't deal with this! I can't think, I can't sleep. Pansy's going crazy and so am I! I'm tired of all this, I really am, so can you just leave me alone!"
"Harry said that she loved you," Blaise said simply, ignoring his rant.
Draco turned to look at him so quickly he knocked his glass of firewhiskey over. Cursing as the golden liquid dripped onto the carpet, he performed a quick scourgifying spell even as he avoided looking at his friend.
Finally, he sat back down into the gilt sofa, put his head in his hands and sighed.
"Does she?" he asked softly.
"Well she did, before she got hurt by the dragon. Recently this bloke Rhys has been sniffing around the house, so I don't know whether she still feels the same anymore."
Draco gave a weak chuckle. "I knew that man was up to no good."
Blaise sat as still as a statue. He had done all he could, and now it was up to Draco and Hermione to sort out their problems.
"What should I do, Blaise?" Draco whispered. "Tell me what should I do?"
To say that Blaise's news was an unwelcome shock was an understatement. Yes, she knew they were engaged, and yes, theoretically that wedding would come sooner or later, but hearing an actual date, one that seem to approach with the speed of a bullet train brought a leaden weight into her stomach, one that didn't seem to go away no matter what she did.
Every day she would look at her muggle calendar, as if counting down the days to when the inevitable would arrive. Draco and Pansy would get married. They would have blond, beautiful pureblood children, and she would pine after him for the rest of her life.
What was she thinking? She berated herself ever so often. She had known this would happen! Known it from the moment she admitted her love for him. She knew how he would react, and he hadn't disappointed. Of course he had been horrified, and of course she deserved whatever recriminations he broached on her.
Ron had been of the opinion that she forget all about Draco. "Let the two marry! They deserve each other after all!" he had said carelessly when he found out the news.
Harry's reaction had been more circumspect. While he personally thought Hermione would be better off without Malfoy, he knew the depth of her feeling for him, and so was torn between slagging off Blaise for revealing the news, and wanting to support Hermione in whatever she planned to do.
And all the while, Hermione just wanted to scream at herself for not saying anything to Draco sooner. Perhaps if she had shored up her courage and gone to Malfoy Manor to explain…But no, what use would that have been? He wouldn't have wanted to see her, or he would have laughed at her for daring to think that he could actually love or forgive her. And so the following week was spent in constant, agonising circular contemplation, with Hermione seesawing between wanting to meet with him, and wanting to forget everything that had occurred.
It was close to three am on Saturday morning when, unable to sleep, she trooped out to the kitchen for a mug of warm milk. Bleary eyed, she sat down in her woolen night robe, not thinking about anything in particular.
A voice in the darkness made her jump in her seat.
"It's not too late."
"Sorry?" she said, as she jerked her head up to look at Harry.
"I mean…if you really do love him. It's not too late. It never is."
Something about Harry always brought out her maternal instinct, and this time she could not help but melt against him. "Oh Harry," she said as he hugged her back fiercely. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
He walked silently into the darkened oak-paneled room, guilty and sorrowful about what he was about to do. Outside, it had begun to rain heavily, and the darkened sky reflected the oppressive mood at the Manor.
"Yes, dear?" she asked quietly as she looked out the rain-stained window. For a moment he was nonplussed. He had never seen her so subdued.
He stopped in his tracks. He was about to do the unforgivable to someone who, while he no longer loved in a romantic way, still loved as a good friend or even a sister. Merlin knew they had grown up with each other, spent all the significant milestones of their young adult lives together, and now that she was ready to take that next step together, he found himself unable to move.
"I'm so sorry," he said, as he shook his head and tried not to cry. "I can't do it. I'm so sorry."
She turned around and looked at him, resplendent in her fairy-tale white wedding dress, hair and skin gleaming. She had never looked more beautiful.
Instead of flying at him in a rage however, Pansy only sighed in resignation. "Well, I'm not that surprised. You've always loved her."
He replied without thinking. "What do you mean I've always loved her? I've always hated her!"
She smiled at him gently, and reached over to tuck a stray hair behind his ear, for the last time.
"There's a fine line, my dear, between love and hate."
It's not too late.
Those were the words Hermione kept repeating over and over in her head as she ran towards the Manor.
It's not too late.
She had thought to apparate closer but by Merlin's bloody socks, the Malfoys had erected an anti-apparition charm a mile radius around the Manor for security. Invited guests (like Blaise) arrived directly into the warm entrance by portkey. Drenched like a sewer rat, she ran for all she was worth while cursing under her breath.
It's not too late.
But it was cold, and she was wet, and miserable. So what if she turned up? She kept asking herself. What could she do anyway? Do her best impression of a weak prey in a nest full of snakes? Her hair was matted flat against her skull and her clothes dragged with rainwater. Each step forward felt like hell.
It's not too late.
And she felt horrible too. She was a terrible person. How could she even think of doing this to Pansy? She knew how dependent she was on Draco. She knew how this would devastate her. She was a woman too, and had had her fair share of heartbreak. How could she inflict this on someone else?
She stopped and bent to put her hands on her thighs to catch her breath. The rain continued to fall, and so did her tears.
She should stop and turn back. No one wanted her at Malfoy Manor. It was to be a happy event and she had no right to ruin it. She had her chance, and it was her fault for not taking it.
But for some reason she could not move. She could not go forward, but neither could she bear to turn back. She stood in the pouring rain as thunder resounded and lightning cracked.
"Hugh – Granger!" said a voice. "What…what are you doing here?" Firm hands shook her, and she looked up half in fright and half in curiosity.
Oh…it was him. Her mouth opened in an "O" of surprise. After all that agonizing over what to do, here he was in front of her. For a moment she did not know what to say. What should she say? "Run away with me"? "Leave your fiancée, and come with me, a mudblood who's best friends with Harry Potter"?
"Granger, say something!"
"I…I…" she wanted to say that she loved him. But the thought of saying, "I love you" to Draco Malfoy was so absurd she didn't know where to begin.
She did her best impression of a goldfish as her mouth opened and closed several times.
Draco finally growled in frustration. "You…you ridiculous woman!"
"Excuse me?" she asked sharply, looking him in the eye for the first time. His insult had raised her ire, as it usually did.
"So you finally say something, after standing in the rain like you've lost your mind? Do you have any idea how crazy you've made me? How crazy you've made me all these years?"
"Wha -?" she spluttered, dumbstruck.
"I obsessed about all of you for years. Years! I was so jealous of you, of your success. I detested your intelligence, your popularity, your beauty…I wanted you to…I wanted you to notice me. I wanted all of you to notice me." He laughed brokenly. "You all seemed to have so much fun. And you, your skin…" He chuckled to himself, a slightly deranged laugh that caused Hermione to stare at him in concern. "But how could I? You were everything I had been taught to hate."
She opened her mouth to speak, but he interrupted her brusquely. "I'm not done Granger!"
He breathed heavily, and continued softly. "And then I fell in love with you all over again, in Bulgaria. Of course, at the time, I hadn't known who you were. It drove me mad all this time, thinking I was gay."
"I never wanted this," he said, shaking his head, "I don't know which was worse, thinking I was gay, or finding out I was in love with Hermione Granger!"
"Which was worst?" she said dangerously, all sympathy and mirth for his confusion over his sexuality gone. "You thought you were going mad? Did you have any idea how I felt? I fell in love with my enemy! And I did that, knowingly!"
"And I hate this," she said, as her face screwed up and she started to cry, salty tears mixing with the rain water as it streamed down her face. "I hate that I love you so much. I hate that I'm willing to overlook everything else that is repugnant about you. Your past, your distaste for muggles, your family, your hatred of my friends; why can't I love someone more suitable?"
"Oh sod it!" he growled finally, and created an invisible shield above their heads, which stopped the rain's descent on them.
They stared at each other, chests heaving with anger and frustration. And then slowly, unstoppably, he held her face in his hands gently, and then he kissed her.
The kiss was not tender, and the two of them fought constantly for dominance, kissing each other hard, fast, and bruisingly. She tangled her hands in his hair, and he moved his hands slowly, deliberately down her body to cup her bottom, moaning her name, Hermione, over and over again like a prayer as he did so.
They suddenly broke apart and stared at each other cautiously, as if the other were a deer they would frighten away at any moment. Then they smiled. They knew it would not be easy, would not be simple, and might not even last. Everyday would be a challenge the likes of which they had never encountered. But it didn't matter. For she had him, and he had her, and they would fight for this, and they would not be separated so easily.
There was an unspoken promise in both their eyes. They would give as good as they got, and there would be no turning back.
Hermione and Draco didn't live "happy-ever-after". Not really. There were fights, arguments on how to bring up their son, frequent bust-ups on 'who did what at the war', and unequivocal parental disapproval. But they were happy. And never looked back for the rest of their lives.
After the whole fiasco, Pansy took a sabbatical in sunny Greece, where she found more than enough handsome men, both muggle and wizard, willing to take over Draco's place. She learned to be independent and secure in whom she was, and eventually married a rich and gracious Italian gentleman, who she easily twirled around her little finger.
Harry finally went out of the closet, shocking the entire Wizarding World, and breaking many a witch's heart. Blaise moved into 12, Grimmauld Place, and they lived a happy and contented life together. They adopted two children, and with Blaise's guidance, avoided the kind of clichéd names Harry would normally have thought of. They are often seen strolling down Diagon Alley with their children hand in hand, a rolled-up newspaper tucked under Harry's arm.
Ron never got back his full powers. He eventually married Barbie, and was finally promoted to full-partner at Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes. He never got around to telling his wife about the Wizarding World however, and to this day, she still thinks he is mentally impaired.
As do we all.
A/N: I hope all of you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. It took a long while, and it was because of your encouragements and praise that kept me going. I am really grateful that you decided to read this fic, thank you for following it these past three years!