Disclaimer: I do not in any way, shape, or form lay claim to the Harry Potter world.
Note: Happy New Year! And thanks to my beta, eilonwy, for helping me with this!
Paris at Midnight
T minus 15 minutes
To anyone who saw him, he looked like a statue. He was standing outside on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, waiting for midnight. It was New Year's Eve, and he was ready to start fresh. He was leaning on the railing with both arms, holding something in his gloved hands, and staring over Paris, City of Light. His warmest cloak was wrapped tightly around him and a green and silver scarf warmed his neck. His grey eyes reflected the dancing lights of the city around him. A cold wind blew through his pale hair but he refused to shiver.
It wasn't just midnight he waited for, however. He was waiting for a girl, a very special girl. Her name was Hermione, and he was anxious to see her. Because it had been over a year since the last time.
October. The last time. He'd taken her to dinner at her favorite restaurant after work. She wore the blue dress he favored, and had her hair put up on her head. She was beautiful. He couldn't believe he had ever thought her otherwise. He smiled when he saw her, already seated, a glass of wine in her hand. She didn't smile back, only took a sip from the glass.
He went to her and kissed her on the forehead, then sat down. She didn't turn her lips to him.
"Hello, love," he said.
She glared at him. "Malfoy."
He frowned; she only used his family name when she was really, really angry. "Hermione. Is there something wrong?"
His frown deepened. "I don't."
"Don't lie to me, don't you dare lie to me," she hissed. Then she reached into her bag and pulled out a piece of paper. "These are your messages from just today. 'Draco, lunch tomorrow sounds lovely. Kimmie'; 'Drakey, darling, I'm free next weekend, owl me. Lana'; 'Hey love, last night was amazing, let's get together soon. Sarah'; 'My hot little – "
"Okay, okay, stop; I get it. But it's not what you think." His brain shot into overdrive as he tried to think if he knew anyone named Kimmie, or Lana, or Sarah. There was a Sarah at one of the places he worked, so maybe he knew a Lana and a Kimmie too…He frowned; still, what?
Hermione's eyes looked about to pop out of her head. "It's not what I think? What, pray tell, is it then, love. I can't wait for this." She crossed her arms and glared daggers at him. He knew if looks could kill, he probably wouldn't have even made it through the door. She was that angry. He knew it sounded bad, but there really was a perfectly good explanation for the messages. He just needed some time to think of it.
But she wouldn't give him that time. "I have been taking messages like this for a month, Draco. And I've been throwing them away. At first, I didn't think too much about it; after all, you swear you love me and always will. But guess what? After a while, it gets hard to ignore. And I'm done ignoring." She stood and collected her bag and shawl.
"Hermione, wait," he said, standing and catching her arm as she started past him.
She jerked her arm from his grip. "Don't talk to me. I don't want to see you ever again. And here." She handed him the list of messages. "I'm sure any of these lovely girls would be more than happy to comfort you tonight after your girlfriend of three years dumps you."
And she walked away.
He knew he'd messed up. Big. And a lot. He'd lied to her, he'd hidden things from her, he'd smarted off to her and had done his best to rile her whenever he could. He took her for granted, he knew he did; he was late for dates, he didn't Floo when he said he would, he deliberately angered her friends (it was so easy), and he left his stuff all over her place. He never put his dishes in the kitchen, he put his feet up on her furniture, and he wrote in her books. Just to annoy her.
But he'd never cheated on her. Ever. And he really loved her, more than anything. More than blood and money and nice clothes and the fastest broom and his pride. He told her so as often as he could, and he really thought she believed him. But she knew what all that stuff was about, didn't she? She had to know. He would never cheat on her. Why didn't she know that?T-minus 12 minutes
Oh, that's right. Because he had treated her like garbage, and had a nasty habit of lying to her. So why would she believe him if he told her he was always completely faithful to her? She'd called him out a few times and he'd given her no explanations. She trusted him, or at least appeared to. he had a feeling she called him out far less than she could have.
He remembered when he first realized he was in love with her. The War had been over for three months. He'd turned himself over to the Order after the Dark Lord had used him as bait to capture a menial Auror and he'd almost been killed. His parents were dead anyway, and every task he'd been given since leaving Hogwarts was a suicide mission, just like his first. Somehow, through luck and probably something else, he scraped through each mission alive. He didn't always succeed, but to Draco, being alive even if not accomplishing the mission was more of a success than dying but getting it done. It was a self-preservation thing.
There was a party, though he couldn't remember who threw it. He and Hermione had been an official pair since the day the War ended, but unofficially, it had been a year. Her friends were stunned, not only because she was with him, but because they'd kept it hidden for so long. Draco wasn't very surprised that they hadn't suspected anything; he'd never held their intelligence in much esteem.
So that party. It was the first time she'd worn that blue dress. He didn't arrive with her, because he was working late, and so saw her from across the room. She was laughing and talking with Pansy, her cheeks flushed and her eyes shining. Then she looked at him and smiled this absolutely brilliant smile and his whole body screamed that he loved her. He blinked a few times before returning the smile, and she cocked her head just a little in question, and made her way to him. He wasted no time in telling her how he felt. As soon as she was within arm's reach, he pulled her close and kissed her passionately. When they pulled apart, she asked what that was about, and he told her he loved her, and had just realized it, and couldn't wait another second to tell her. She'd been surprised, but thrilled too, and returned his sentiment. He kissed her again, and didn't leave her side the entire night.
Another chill wind blew and he gritted his teeth against its bite.T-minus 9 minutes
Their three years together had ended fourteen and a half months ago. Not a day passed that he didn't think about her, miss her, love her. Though their relationship had been rocky, he had never doubted how he felt about her, never doubted that he would go through hell and back for her, for them, if he had to. He would have done anything he had to do to keep her, but when she walked out that night, he'd been so shocked he didn't get up and follow her.
Draco saw her at work sometimes, in the halls, and she always avoided him. She would even turn around if they were walking toward each other; she ran out of rooms to get away from him. She certainly never replied to his letters, only sent them back unopened with the word 'unwanted' printed neatly on the outside. She never gave him a chance to explain.
The only problem was that there was no explanation. Honest. He didn't even know those girls who left those messages. He had never cheated on her. But how would that sound to her? If she'd been getting messages for months that he'd been unfaithful, or even hinting at it, from multiple girls, then there was no way she would believe him when he said he knew nothing about it. . And he wanted to pull his hair out – yes, his hair – because for once, he was really telling the truth.
During the last three months, Draco had tried to get Hermione out of his head. He made a list of every single thing wrong he had done to her. It had taken a week of evenings filled with spilled ink bottles, broken quills, and a cramped left hand, but he'd done it. Then he read the list and felt his lungs tighten. He refused to cry, but that's how he felt. Constricted. He really had been terrible to her, and he realized how much she must have loved him to stay with him as long as she had. Only the rumor of him cheating had made her walk away.
Draco thought about burning the list – but just in case, just in case she spoke to him, he kept it. He even brought it with him to Paris. If things didn't go as he dared hope, he would give it to her and specifically apologize for each and every infraction he'd committed. The least he could do was be honest with her, for once. He would even tell her… everything.
Her friends became unbearable after their split. They of course assumed the worst of him, as they had always done, and found no end of pleasure from tormenting him. Slowly. They would mention, in passing, who Hermione was seeing at the time, or that she was finally, really over him. At every opportunity, then 'accidentally' bumped him in the halls, or poked him with their wands. Even still, over a year later. He refused to retaliate, however. They were acting like children and he was not about to descend to their level. He'd get his revenge in his own way. Someday. Maybe.
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair.T-minus four minutes
Draco wasn't really expecting her to show. But he'd sent her an owl the week before asking her to meet him here, in Paris, on top of the Eiffel Tower, at midnight. It was the first letter that hadn't been returned to him, however, so he felt a little spark of hope. Of course, the owl might have been struck by lightening on its way to him and he'd never know the difference.
He missed her. He missed her telling him he wasn't rotten, even though he knew he was. She seemed to believe it, and he missed that.
Supposedly there were to be fireworks when the year switched over, but that wasn't why he'd chosen this location. Paris was where he'd always wanted to take Hermione sometime, on holiday, or something else that usually follows an aisle, white, and two little words. So he decided it was a good place to start over. He needed to move on.T-minus two minutes
Hermione had been watching him for eight minutes, but it was fruitless, as he hadn't done anything interesting. He had stayed almost motionless against the rail, only once moving to rumple his hair. She wasn't sure why she'd come. No, that wasn't true; she knew why, she just didn't understand why. But there she was, nonetheless, in Paris. Paris! The city she loved more than any other city in the world.
Standing on top of the Eiffel Tower, about to walk over to a man who'd broken her heart. It was insanely romantic, if she thought about it. He'd owled her and asked her to meet him in the most romantic spot in the most romantic city in the world. But she was terrified as to his reasons. This was Draco Malfoy – there could be a hundred different reasons why he'd asked her to meet him. She wouldn't even put it past him to toss her off the Tower.
While the man she watched could think only of all the horrible things he'd done to her, she thought about the good times they'd shared. They'd started liking each other during the War but had come up with all kinds of reasons not to be together. After four months, however, they gave that up and started a secret relationship.
She smiled as she remembered the stolen glances, the hot, quick kisses in dark corners of Grimmauld Place, secret meetings in obscure places, and hurried lunches in faraway cities. Draco was working for the Order, but he was required to keep a presence on the Dark side, so they had to be very careful. It made everything they did together exciting and special.
He treated her like gold, like she was the sole reason he breathed. It wasn't that he told her all the time; there wasn't time for that. He didn't lavish her with gifts and she knew that he knew she wouldn't appreciate them anyway. He couldn't show the world how much he cared, but he showed her. In meetings with the Order, he held open the door for her; he pulled out her chair; he handed her a fresh ink bottle when she needed one. Little things that for him were huge coming from him.
She knew he lied to her, but she always knew when he lied. Because he'd bite his lip in just a way, and he'd look in another direction, usually over her left shoulders, and he'd fidget with a certain button on his shirt. He couldn't really and truly lie to her, something she didn't let him know. Sometimes she'd call him on it, but usually there was a very good reason he lied, if such a thing could be.
He'd hidden a part of his life even from her, and she only found out the whole truth in the last few months quite by accident. After the War, he'd gone into a deep depression that had lasted a few months. He wouldn't see anyone or speak to anyone, her included. When he resurfaced one day, it was as if none of it had ever happened. He told her to trust him, and he was fine.
Hermione had run into Pansy, Draco's longtime friend, in October at the restaurant where she'd broken up with Draco the year before. She was crying and Pansy had just plopped herself down across from Hermione and started talking. She couldn't help but listen.
Pansy told her that while Draco had gone through that dark period after the War, he had done a lot of introspection, concluding that he owed a great debt to society for what he and his family had done. After much thought and debate, he decided to do everything he could to repay it, and so he started dozens of organizations to help not only people who'd been affected by the War, but anyone he could think of to help.
His business, the one he'd inherited from Lucius, would never fail; he would always have a steady source of income to apply to these organizations, so he formed as many as he could and gave away as much as he could. His only request was that no one ever know it was him. And when he lied to Hermione, it was because he had something or other to do for one of his charities, and Hermione was included in the no one.
Pansy knew because she happened to have been at one of the functions and saw him in a dark corner, smiling and nursing a pumpkin juice. She went to talk to him, and he froze and got really agitated before telling her why he was there and then he made her swear on penalty of death not to tell anyone. But she was telling Hermione now because she thought Hermione deserved to know.
Pansy also knew about the messages. When she asked Hermione about them, she'd turned red and confessed that it had been she. She'd always been in love with Draco and wanted him for herself, so she'd tried everything she could to break them up. Hermione hadn't know about her other schemes because they'd mostly involved trying to get to Draco, but when that hadn't worked, time after time, she'd decided to go for Hermione.
Hermione had never really fully gotten over Draco. He'd hurt her considerably, but she still loved him. She just refused to be the girl who put up with someone who hurt her, and cheating was completely unacceptable. When Pansy told her what all the lies were about, she felt strangely disconnected, as though she'd heard a really amazing story about a person she didn't even know, but she could feel a connection to nonetheless. And the messages from those women… Hermione had wanted to reach across the table and strangle Pansy, but she was too stunned to even move.
And the truth was, she was tired of putting so much effort into avoiding him. Maybe now they would finally talk, and get past everything, and move on. But Draco wasn't a talker; she knew that. He didn't talk about feelings, and emotions, and what made him tick. He was a doer. He did things to show how he felt. So the fact that he wanted to meet her here, tonight, told her that something important was involved and she needed to know what it was.T-minus 30 seconds
She started toward him.
"Hey," she said, leaning against the railing next to him.
He started and looked at her with a expression. Then he looked forward again. "Hey."
"Didn't think you'd come," he said.
"I'm full of surprises."
Happy New Year!
They silently watched fireworks go off all over the city. It was beautiful, really, and Draco couldn't help but smile as he watched Hermione's face light up with the show. And Draco kind of felt like a jerk. Hermione was here, with him, on New Year's Eve, instead of with people she cared about. She might care about him because he had once meant a great deal to her, but surely he would not have been her first choice for companionship.
When the last explosion of the grand finale was making light trails toward the earth, Hermione turned toward him, the excitement from the show gone from her face.
"So why am I here?"
This was it, then. In the future, he would look back on this moment and know that his life since was defined by it. Draco opened his hands to look at what he'd been holding and with a sigh, he held it out to her. She frowned at it, then at him. Then her eyes widened.
"What is that?" she asked, backing away a half step.
"Just open it," he said, placing it in her hand.
She nodded, and slowly she opened the small box, never taking her eyes from his. When she felt the box snap open the rest of the way, she took a deep breath and looked down. And gasped. Inside the box was a ring. Only not just any ring. It was more beautiful than anything she'd ever seen before.
A dark blue opal with gold specks sat in the middle flanked by two pearls. The band and setting were gold. It wasn't huge, it wasn't even big; it was perfect. For her. Tears sprang to her eyes.
"Draco, what is this?"
"I know that, but – what exactly does it mean?"
She wasn't looking at him, so he tilted her chin so she had to, and he looked straight into her eyes. "It means exactly what you're afraid it does."
She gasped and pulled out of his grasp. Frowning, Hermione looked at the ring in her hands. Whatever she imagined he wanted to meet with her about, this was not even close. Her emotions were spinning, all the good and bad memories flooding through her. But mostly, one strong feeling surged through her, and she trusted it.
"It's beautiful. I've never seen anything like it."
"So, what do you say?" he asked, his stomach a wad of nerves.
"Say about what?"
He indicated the box in her hands. "You know. The question that goes with a ring like that."
"What question?" she asked coyly.
He clenched his jaw. "I'm sure you know."
"Say it. I want to hear you say it."
He glared at her. "I don't need to."
"I want you to."
"Why?" he asked, his stomach in knots and feeling as if instead of asking her to marry him, he was about to tell her he'd accidentally killed her favorite puppy.
"Because it's what you're supposed to do."
"Fine," he growled. "Will. You. Marry. Me."
She cocked her head sideways, looking at him with a curious expression. Then she turned and chucked the box off the Tower, as hard as she could.
Draco blinked, not quite believing what he'd just seen. He watched until the box was out of sight and waited to hear it land, but they were too high up. He couldn't do anything but stare at the point where he'd lost sight of the box, his mind spinning and his stomach churning. It felt like he'd been punched in the gut. She'd just thrown the ring off the Eiffel Tower!
"Wow, that felt good," she said, smiling.
Amazed, he stared at her. Even through his shocked haze, he found himself noticing how her cheeks were pink from the cold and hated himself for it.
"I can't believe you just did that."
"Come on, Malfoy. It's not like you'll notice it's gone. And the ring isn't irreplaceable; I'm sure you can get another one as soon as you return home."
Draco was numb. It wasn't that the ring was gone, it wasn't that he couldn't ever get another one. Though actually, it was very nearly irreplaceable; he'd spent a great deal of time and effort on the ring. Rings in the Wizarding world were more than just rings. They were forged with magic, with the essence of the people involved, he and Hermione in this case, infused into the very structure of the metals. The stones were usually of ordinary origin, but enhanced with spells to afford the wearer certain protections. For this particular ring, he'd had a silversmith create the pattern on the band and then destroy the pattern once the ring was completed. But she didn't need to know all of these details; there was no point, now that the ring was gone.
Guess that's a no.
"Oh, you're right, of course," he said bitterly, looking away from her. "That one only took three months; I can get a new one in no time. We can meet back here when it's done and we can do all of this again." He refused to look at her; he might do something he would regret.
He'd expected the no; he wasn't stupid. But he expected her to return the ring once she'd said it. Not toss it off the building. It seemed so… unlike her.
"Why did you do that?" he asked with a hard edge to his voice.
"I don't know. I think maybe there was something in the butterbeer I drank before coming to meet you," she said lightly. "Or maybe it was in the firewhiskey. I can't say for sure." He glared at her from the corner of his eye. "I suppose, honestly, I did it because it felt right. After everything that happened between us, it seemed poetic."
Draco shifted his weight to the other leg and looked away from her.
"Why do you want to marry me, Draco?" she said softly. "I had no idea you felt so strongly."
He looked at her, puzzled "Really?"
"Yeah, I mean, you just – let me go."
His heart clenched. "What do you mean, I just "let you go"? You made it plainly obvious you wanted to leave."
She smiled sadly. "Every girl wants her bloke to run after her. Even though I was furious, I still wanted you to come after me."
He chuckled ruefully. "Too bad there isn't some kind of handbook on these things."
A few small firecrackers were set off across the city, providing an occasional burst of light below them.
"You haven't answered my question. Why do you want to marry me?"
He shrugged, still numb, still reeling with her very definitive refusal. "I just know I do."
"Give me three good reasons."
He sighed. "I love you, I'm sorry, and you're beautiful." He saw her pause, then turn away, so he continued. "That's never going to change. Ever. Once I realized that, I decided to marry you or die trying."
Hermione smiled, still looking ahead. He saw the side of her mouth curl and her eye glint. "Die trying?"
He nodded. "I made a list. Of all the things I did wrong to you. It's – long."
"I'm sure it's not that long."
"It's twelve feet. And you know my handwriting."
She looked at him then. "But how much of that is really something you did wrong and not just you thinking you did wrong?" He frowned. "Half the time," she went on, "you were just too sensitive. I wouldn't react the right way and you'd think you had done something. No, actually, it was more than half the time."
"But you – do know I lied to you. A lot."
"Yes," she said simply.
"Anyway, I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head. "For every single thing I wrote," He reached into his robe and pulled it out. It had been reduced in size, and now he returned it to its original. "You can have it."
Hermione took it from him and then, without even breaking the seal, lit it on fire.
Draco clenched his jaw. "Must you be so dramatic?"
She laughed. "Must you be so dramatic? Honestly, asking me to marry you atop the Eiffel Tower in Paris, with the most incredible ring I've ever seen and the most ridiculous speech, and then you give me a list of all the things you're sorry for? I didn't even think to prepare one of my own."
"You wouldn't need to do that."
"Right," she said sarcastically. "Because you were completely at fault, every single time, and I was always right."
"Er, well, no, I suppose."
"Nothing on that list caused us to split. You know that, right?"
He looked at her thoughtfully. "How would you know? You didn't even look at it."
Someone who worked for the city was walking around the observation area, handing out sparklers and he gave one to both Hermione and Draco. Hermione lit hers with her wand, then offered to light Draco's sparkler with hers. They both stared out over the city, sparklers in hand, waiting for them to fizzle out.
"How can you still love me?" Hermione asked. "It's been over a year."
"It feels like yesterday to me. I don't know; I just do. I don't think I'll ever stop; not really stop, anyway. There's this constant presence I feel, and it's you, and I don't want anything else to be there."
"What makes you think I might still love you?"
"Because I love you," he said, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. "And I know what I felt – what we felt – and I couldn't have been wrong about that. And I know you loved me then."
"And what makes you think I'd want to marry you now?"
"Obviously, now I know that you don't."
"What did you expect me to say?"
He scowled and looked away. He'd expected her to simply say no and leave. Not ask him all these insanely personal questions. "No."
"That's exactly right. You didn't bother to try and keep me. We'd fought before, but nothing – nothing – was as serious as why we broke up. One big… thing happened, and you didn't even try?"
"Well, I had no idea you wanted me to try. Sometimes things just – end."
She shook her head. "But you knew what we had, and you just let it end."
"I wasn't the only one to let it end, Hermione," he said quietly, with the smallest trace of bitterness. You never answered my letters. Sent them back unopened; 'Unwanted,' I believe you said. You ran out of rooms to get as far away from me as you possibly could." He paused, the disappointment and bitterness welling up.
"I… guess you're right," she said with a sad smile.
"But that doesn't matter now. I get what you're saying, so perhaps you would consider simply forgiving me for the list that's now floating in the air over Paris and we can both get out of this cold."
She rolled her eyes. "What do you think was behind all the symbolism of burning it? And besides, I wouldn't have come here if I hadn't already."
"Yes, you would've. Because you're curious. And I happen to know you never pass up opportunities to throw things off tall towers and the like."
She laughed and he could only shake his head. It hurt to hear her laugh. "True; but I do forgive you." Her smile faded and she looked at him intently, willing him to understand. "Draco."
He shrugged and turned around, his back to the view. "The thing is, I had to ask. You almost married Weasley and I couldn't sit back and watch you fall for someone else. Not without doing something about it first. And I couldn't just… ask you to dinner. It was all or nothing."
She turned around too, hands in her pockets. Her jacket was touching his robe. "I understand."
"I didn't cheat on you, you know."
He looked at her, surprised. "You do?"
"I'm not supposed to tell," she said evasively. "I – I just know. Now, anyway. For a long time, I had no idea. It turns out that all the women who sent you messages - that I received - belonged to some kind of fan club – for you – and they had made it their mission to break us up."
His jaw dropped. "You're kidding!"
She shook her head and a few of her curls brushed his cheek. "I am not."
He wanted to yell and shake sense into her. "How long have you known?"
"Only a few months; honest. I was speechless when I heard the full story."
"Who told you?"
"Like I said, I'm not supposed to tell you."
Draco frowned. He didn't like the idea that there had been people trying to keep them apart. And even more so that they'd been successful in their aim.
"I wanted to tell you," she said, fidgeting with her robe. "After I found out. But I had no way of knowing if you'd even want to see me again, so I didn't. Even right after it happened, when I still thought you– you'd cheated – I wanted you to come to me and persuade me that you were telling the truth. You never did, so I figured you didn't care to."
He closed his eyes tight. "That was not at all the case. I – I had no explanation, and knew that you wouldn't simply take my word. I had nothing to offer. I wish I had tried, at least."
She smiled sadly. "Too bad."
They stood there, looking at the inside of the Tower, neither wanting to leave, but neither completely comfortable. Finally Draco stood from leaning on the railing.
"Well, that's it then. I did what I came to do. So…erm… goodbye. And, good luck. I mean it, Hermione." He smiled slightly, resigned, and started toward the exit.
He turned around. She closed the distance between them and stood in front of him, grinning; he frowned.
"We didn't follow New Year's tradition, you know."
"It's Muggle, for the most part, so I'm not surprised you didn't know of it. You're supposed to kiss when the clock hits twelve."
He raised and eyebrow and felt all the blood rush out of his face, then right back into it. "Uh – oh," he stuttered.
"And I won't hold with breaking tradition."
"Uhm…" he started, but she cut him off. Hermione took his face in her hands and with a glittering smile, brought it down to meet hers.
And Draco finally came to his senses and put a hand behind her neck and the other at her waist and pulled her the rest of the way toward him. He would leave no room for air at all, if he could manage it.
It was one of those kisses where they both forgot where they were, what day it was, what their own names were. That sort of kiss. Draco's brain had shut down and put up vacancy signs. His most basic instincts kicked in: kiss her a lot; don't stop.
Hermione remembered what it felt like the instant their lips met. She loved the familiarity of kissing Draco, not to mention the fact that he was really good at it. But this kiss had something new about it – desperation and longing. He really and truly loved her, and she could tell by the way he held her so tightly she couldn't move. Tears welled in her eyes and she moved to run her left hand through his hair, and onto his neck and face.
After an unknown amount of time passed, Draco's brain woke up and tried to get his attention. Something about the feel of Hermione's hand on his skin. No, not the fire, not the shivers; something tangible. Her hand moved but it felt like a scrape. It even kind of hurt a bit.
He stopped the kiss abruptly and frowned, then grabbed the guilty hand and pulled it down so he could see just what, in all likelihood, had drawn his blood.
There on her hand, was the ring. It sat face up on her palm, the blue stone sparkling under the lights of the Tower. He frowned at it, holding her wrist and staring at the piece of jewelry as though at any moment it would either disappear or turn into a snake and bite him. He looked at Hermione, who was biting her lip and half-smiling, and then back to the ring, then to her again, then the ring again. Finally he understood.
"You only threw the box."
Her smile grew. "Yes."
He let out a relieved breath.
"I'm sorry I scratched you," she continued. "I didn't mean to."
Draco brought his hand to the stinging place on his neck. "It's okay, I don't think I'm bleeding." His heart was pounding.
She became serious. "I had to make sure, Draco. It's been so long since I've even seen you.
"Yeah, I know," he muttered. "You almost married someone else."
"True, but I didn't."
"Still. I got it."
"I didn't because I couldn't."
He looked at her. "What do you mean?"
"I couldn't because as wonderful as Ron Weasley is, he's not you."
Draco's eyes widened. "So – what are you saying?"
"Well, I never actually answered your question."
He started grinning and he knew he looked a little crazy. "That's true."
Hermione turned to him and looked him squarely in the eye. "Draco, I mean it. No more of your lies. Okay?" He nodded. "You tell me the truth, always."
He looked away. "I – about that… it's complicated. And I want to tell you, I really do, but I'm not sure if I should, or how, or – "
"I know, you know. A little bird told me."
He rounded on her, eyes blazing. "How – when – wha – you know what, exactly?"
"About where you went, what you did, every time you lied to me."
His eyes narrowed at something just beyond her. "Pansy."
Hermione smiled and put a calming hand on his arm. "Draco. You can trust me. And I'm insanely proud of you, but I won't tell a soul, you have to know that. Besides, you shouldn't have any secrets from your wife."
Instantly his anger was gone, replaced with elation. "Hermione, I give you my word." She quirked an eyebrow. "I didn't want anyone to know. Not even you. It was – too much. Too much risk of me being visible, and you know how I hate that."
"You should have trusted me."
Draco wrapped his arms around her. "I know; you're completely right. Just give me the chance to show you," he said. "And I'll deal with Pansy later."
Hermione chuckled. "Let Pansy be; I think she did it for you, anyway."
"Did she tell you about the messages too?"
"How would she know?"
Hermione bit her lip. "It doesn't matter."
"It matters to me," he said, looking intently into her eyes.
"I promised, though."
"I understand you don't want to tell me, but those messages, what those women did, very nearly ruined my life."
"Mine too," she said. "Ask her. I'm sure she'll tell you."
He huffed, but could see that she wasn't going to tell him. "Okay."
She smiled, a big, beautiful, smile, and said, "Let's take that chance – together."
He picked her up and spun her around once grinning, then set her down and kissed her. "I love you."
"I should hope so!" she said, her smile lighting up her features. "I love you – " Her words were suddenly swallowed in a breathtaking kiss that put the first to shame.
" – too."
A/N: Thank you for reading! And again, Happy New Year! May 2007 be your best year yet!