Author's Note: Well, here it is! Chapter 12! I finally got it! And this thing is freakin' LONG, so you people better not be complaining about length! I'm gonna be honest, I don't know when my next update will be, but I definitely still want to finish this!
Disclaimer: Not mine. 'Nuff said.
"Aww!!! Look at the happy couple!" Seamus exclaimed as Harry and Hermione returned to the group hand in hand.
"It's so beautiful! I think I might cry!" Dean joined in as he wiped a stray imaginary tear from his eye.
"OK, OK. We get it. I did something right for once. Can we stop with the teasing now?" Harry pleaded as more of the boys ribbed him.
"Oh, Harry, you know we could never-" Ron suddenly stopped mid-sentence. He was staring at something and turning a lovely shade of mauve.
"Ron?" Harry asked. "Is something wrong?"
Hermione turned in the direction Ron was staring. Her face became indecipherable. "Uh, oh." she murmured and pointed. Harry turned around too. Just visible through the sea of gyrating bodies was Ginny… sucking Malfoy's face.
*** Two weeks and five days earlier…
"That was stupid. That was stupid. That was really really stupid." Draco Malfoy repeated these thoughts over and over like a mantra in his head as he paced about the Slytherin Common Room. It was one thing when he made his own mistakes (i.e. the ferret incident. *shudder* Not good), but when his choice to make his own mistakes was taken from him? That wasn't cool at all.
Draco Malfoy was packing his trunk in his room as he prepared to once again to The Hell-Hole (a.k.a. Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry). He placed folded cloaks and books neatly in his trunk while a servant folded more clothes across the room. He couldn't believe his father had lost that idiot house-elf Dobby. If it had been there, he wouldn't have to do this servant stuff.
As he put some shoes into his trunk with particular venom, he felt a presence behind him. He spun around to find his father. "Father… I-I didn't know you were back." Had he heard his less than complimentary thoughts?
"Well, Draco, as you know, the Dark Lord always rewards his most loyal followers, and I am, in fact, rather loyal to him." Lucius smiled a cool grimace. He glanced at the servant, who jumped and then scuttled quickly out of the room.
There was an awkward silence as Draco tried to not divert his eyes from his father's stony blue gaze. A sure sign of a liar is no eye contact, and yet, with Lucius Malfoy, eye contact was one of the worst things you could do.
"Draco, the Dark Lord has a job for you." Lucius broke the silence abruptly. "I told him once he could make use of any of the resources available to me, and so far he has kept me to my word." Draco swallowed thickly. It was no secret (to him at least) that his father was housing Lord Voldemort and his followers.
"Now," Lucius continued, "he has asked me for one more favor. Anything for my master, you know." A short silence followed this statement. "He has requested that you attack one of Potter's girls. A Miss… Granger, is it? while on the train and traveling to Hogwarts. That idiot Headmaster won't be there, and there would be no witnesses."
"But Father! I'm not even a Death Eater! I don't have the Dark Mark!" Draco interrupted.
Lucius' eyes snapped. "You will not take that tone with me, and even if you are not worthy of the Mark yet, you will receive it someday, and this little job will prepare you for what lies ahead."
"Father, no, you can't make me do this! Please, anything else than attacking a girl!"
"Attacking innocents is part of the job description, Draco. It is how we instill fear in the hearts of the masses." Draco stared back into his father's glare as resolutely as he could. A little teasing and tormenting he could handle, but attacking and torture? He hadn't signed up for this.
Lucius allowed the silence to resonate for a moment and then sighed sadly. He actually seemed to be showing emotion. "Well, Draco, I had hoped it wouldn't come to this."
"What are you talking about, Father?" Draco's eyes started scanning the room for a weapon. His wand was in another part of his chambers.
"The Dark Lord has asked rather… persuasively for your assistance, and if you won't give it willingly…" Draco's face turned form fearful to horrified.
"Father! You wouldn't! I'm your son! One of your two children! Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Well, of course, Draco, but the Dark Lord is, in the end, my master, and a servant must always obey his master." Draco's eyes widened and he spun around to sprint for his wand. It was in the adjoining room. He was almost at the door.
"Imperio!" Lucius cried. The spell hit Draco full in the back and he fell to the floor.
"You will attack Hermione Granger and harm her in any way possible… Destroy her dignity." Draco struggled to lift his head slightly as the compulsion to follow the order overwhelmed him, and then all went black…
Draco shuddered as he remembered his father's cold gaze. How could a man be so uncaring for his children? Now Draco continued to pace. The Headmaster had been able to arrive on the train with greater ease than anticipated, so Draco had been caught red-handed. Or red-faced… he thought as he remembered Hermione hitting him. Ouch…
The problem Draco was facing seemed rather insurmountable. He had tried to rape and terminally disgusted Hermione Granger, and therefore her opinion had been passed on to all of her closest friends. Including… Ginny.
Ginny Weasley was different. Draco at first had thought her rather annoying and grating, but his opinion of her had slowly changed. He couldn't pinpoint the exact moment when he had fallen for the youngest Weasley, but it probably had something to do with the fact that she didn't seem quite as biased against him as the others. Sure, she still treated him like dirt or something rather disgusting she had found on the bottom of her shoe, but she hadn't started hating him until she actually had a reason to.
In Flourish & Blott's, when she had stood up for Harry, Draco had been impressed not only by her bravery, but also by the fact that she was standing up to him angrily because he was threatening a friend. She hadn't immediately been suspicious of him when she first saw him in the store as the others had been, and for this he was truly grateful. Sure, he had royally mucked things up, but his father had been standing right there. He couldn't just let such a prime target as Potter walk by.
Draco wasn't really into the whole rape-and-pillage-and-exterminate-the-Muggles shite that Voldemort was spouting. He would actually rather try and mend the Wizarding World than tear it asunder all over again. He could never show this side of himself, though, because he was always being watched. Snape was at school and followed him like an overlarge bat. Draco wasn't entirely certain he would report him, but he didn't want to take his chances. Crabbe and Goyle were dunces through and through, but these dunces also wrote home once a week and might accidentally let something slip about Draco acting like a Muggle-lover. Draco couldn't help wondering if maybe his father detected something of his true character and that was how he was somehow always supervised.
These problems all weighed heavily on Draco's heart, but the heaviest at the moment was his unrequited love for Ginny. If she hadn't completely hated him by then, she certainly hated him now. He had tried to at least treat her with some respect whenever he saw her, but he had the feeling she couldn't see his true self through the sleaze. Draco cursed his father and his poor timing.
How could he possibly make Ginny see that he hadn't been himself on the train? And all the years before? He needed advice, but there was no one Draco could really go to for girl advice. Instead, he thought of all of the cheesy romantic movies his mother had made him suffer through. He had a considerable repertoire. Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride, You've Got Mail… A proverbial light bulb appeared above his head. You've Got Mail! It was perfect! He could write a letter to Ginny and mail it to her through the post (not using his owl, of course) and he could convince her to meet an anonymous, blond, roguishly attractive, totally talented, and completely modest Slytherin at the ball in two weeks (well, almost three)! But how would she not be able to figure out it was him? Not very many Slytherins matched that laundry list of excellent qualities…
As his mind pondered this, Draco sat down at a vacant desk in the corner to compose his letter. It had to be delivered to her the next day if it was going to work.
Ginny Weasley sat down morosely to breakfast. Seeing Harry happy and with Hermione was taking a greater toll on her than she had thought. She had to get cheerful, though.. They were going to go shopping that weekend, and she didn't want things to be awkward with Hermione. She was too dear of a friend to lose.
As Ginny began to eat her marmalade and toast, a rather shabby owl glided to a graceful landing in front of her. She gave the owl a bit of bacon and relieved it of its letter. Instead of taking off, however, it waited beside her. The writer must be expecting a reply. She thought as the tore the seal on the envelope. A tiny square of paper fell out of the letter and into her lap, but she paid it no mind. Probably just a scrap of parchment. She then proceeded to read the letter.
My dearest Ginny,
Do not be alarmed by receiving this letter, but I must unburden my thoughts to you in all of your loveliness. I have done some terrible things in my life that I am not too proud of, and I fear that I may have permanently damaged my reputation in your eyes. I can't tell you who I am, but I must convey to you that I love you with all my heart, and though you may not be able to tell, I am sickened by what I see around me. Do not let my house allegiances fool you. I still try to be a decent person, and I feel that I am trapped in this place. All I ask is that you give me a chance and meet me behind the stands five minutes after the beginning of the ball two weeks from Saturday. If you will, you will make the happiest man on this planet.
Please, consider my request,
An Unrequited Lover
"OK, creepy." Ginny muttered to herself as she started to fold the letter and put it back in the envelope. Before she could hide it from sight, though, she saw some extra lettering on the back of the parchment.
P.S. Look in your lap
Thoroughly creeped out, Ginny glanced down at her lap. The small square of parchment that had been there moments before was gone, transfigured into a beautiful red rose. Ginny's eyes widened in awe as she removed the flower from her lap and smelled it. Another piece of paper was attached to it. One word was written on it.
"Well, this guy may be a total creeper, but I can at least scope this situation out first." she muttered to herself. She then proceeded to fish a piece of parchment out of her bag and wrote a quick response.
Dear… (Creeper? She thought. Nah, too offensive) Friend,
I don't know if I will meet you yet, but maybe if you tell me a bit more about yourself I can give you an answer. Also, if we do meet, we'll have to meet in a different place (as well as one more public) than behind the stands.
After pronouncing her response adequate, Ginny attached her letter to the owl and watched it fly out the window. She returned to her breakfast and didn't see the owl come back in through a different window and make a beeline for Draco Malfoy. She also didn't see him glance at her with hope shining in his eyes.
Over the next few days, the pair exchanged several letters. Draco described himself as "a blond Slytherin." Nothing to give himself away. Blond seemed to be the new black in Slytherin-World. None of the letters from Ginny indicated whether she would accept his advances or not. He was happy to simply be conversing with her. And then Saturday happened.
Just as Draco sat down to his Saturday breakfast, an owl flew to him with a letter. He recognized Ginny's writing across the front and snatched the letter as he gave the owl a treat. He tore off the seal to greedily read its contents.
I suppose I will go with you to the ball… Even if you are a bit of a creeper, Slytherin.
Draco whooped with joy, ignoring the glances from several of his classmates as he danced rather obscenely in the middle of the Hall. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" He shouted as he danced out of the room and to the doors in order to go to Hogsmeade. Ginny, fortunately, wasn't in the room, so she didn't see his enthusiastic reaction. She was already getting ready to go to Hogsmeade to buy her dress for her date with her "blond Slytherin."
*Two weeks later*
Draco waited nervously in the small garden near Greenhouse #3. The roses near him were in full bloom, and he had another Everlasting Rose that he had bought especially for the occasion in his hands. His fingers drummed an irregular beat on the stem as he watched the flood of people traipsing their way across the grounds to the Quidditch Pitch. He couldn't make out Ginny's group of friends, but he knew they were there. Somewhere, at any rate. He heard the music start, along with the dance and glanced at his watch. He only had five minutes until the greatest moment or greatest rejection of his life.
Just when he thought he wouldn't be able to take the pressure any longer, he heard a twig snap to his left. He spun around to find Ginny meandering toward him. The light was behind him, so he could see her clearly while she couldn't make out his face at all. She looked absolutely stunning in her brilliant green dress, and he couldn't wait to tell her so.
Ginny slowly walked closer, and he felt his breathing hitch. She walked right up to him and stood about three feet away. "Are you…" she started and didn't seem to know how to finish.
"Your friend?" he supplied. She nodded. "Yes, I am." He glanced down at the flower in his hands, it was now or never. "This is for you," he said as he offered her the aforementioned flower and stepped closer to her at the same time. She could make out his face now.
Her face turned white with horror. "You!" she spat venomously. "What are you doing here, and why do you think you have any right to talk to me?"
He flinched at her tone and she turned her back to him. "I…" he swallowed past the lump in his throat and tried again, "I-I'm here to take you to the dance." He sputtered lamely. This wasn't going as well as he had hoped.
"No you're not." she growled. "Are you going to try to take advantage of me too?" She surprisingly hadn't walked away yet. Maybe he still had a chance to redeem himself.
"I can explain that." he whispered as we walked towards her. "I was under the Imperius curse. My father cast it on me before I left so that I wouldn't be able to refute the Dark Lord's orders."
"Why do I feel like I can't believe that?" she asked sardonically. "Oh wait, maybe because your father used that same lame excuse after the war so that he wouldn't go to jail. Save it for someone stupid enough to actually believe you." She started to stomp away.
"Ginny, wait!" She stopped. He didn't know why. Maybe she could hear the heartbreak in his voice. "I… I can prove it to you. I'll show you memories. Anything. Just tell me what I have to do to convince you to believe me." He walked over to her again. He reached out a hand to touch her and then thought better of it. It dropped limply to his side as he pleaded with her again. "Please, Ginny, you have to believe me."
He gazed at her back, looking for some sign in the line of her shoulders that he might be getting through to her. He could find nothing. He was about to give himself up to despair when she slowly turned around. She stared him in the eyes for a moment. "Alright," she said quietly after a pause, "I believe you, Draco." He closed his eyes as he was overrun with emotion.
"Say it again," he pleaded gently.
"No, not that." he interrupted gently. "Say my name again. Please." He'd never pleaded with somewhat so much in his life as he had with this woman.
She smiled slightly. "Draco." she murmured. He found himself walking even closer to her.
"Draco," she whispered. He was so close now. Gently he wrapped one arm around her waist while the other caressed the back of her neck.
"Again." He buried his face into her neck, relishing her scent. Her fingers wound through his hair.
"Draco," she whispered into his ear, sending shivers down his spine. He inhaled deeply and felt her have some shivers of her own. He smiled into her neck, his lips pressed to her wonderful skin.
He would be content to stay just as he was for all time. However, he had a date to keep. He took a step back. She had a wounded look in her eyes, but it quickly dissipated as he gallantly offered his arm to her. She looked at it then his eyes. "I did promise you a dance, didn't I?" he asked with a smile. She couldn't help noticing he looked much more pleasant when he smiled.
Ginny gazed adoringly into Draco's soft gray eyes as they danced together. They had returned just in time for her to be able to see Harry's absolutely adorable display. He still couldn't top Draco, though. She sighed contentedly as she rested her head on Draco's lean chest. He was so gentle and considerate. She hadn't really thought about what he might actually be like before. In fact, she had never even thought that his whole demeanor being an act was possible. He had related his reasons for his behavior to her as they walked to the Pitch, and she had to admit they made sense, though his approach was rather cowardly.
She raised her head to glance up at his face to see him staring at her again. At first, she had found his stares rather disconcerting, but after catching him a few times she found it to be a little sweet.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked and tilted her head slightly. He smiled and leaned down to her ear.
"I'm thinking about those beautiful lips of yours and how much I like to see you smile." he kissed the sensitive skin just below her ear and she repressed a shudder as she blushed brilliantly and he pulled away.
"What are you gonna do about it?" she asked with a smile of her own. He made her feel so happy.
In response, he leaned down and gently pressed his lips against hers. She stiffened for a moment but then kissed him back hesitantly. The kiss started growing more passionate as she wove her fingers through his hair and pulled him even closer to her. His arms twined around her waist as he pressed her to him. Just when he was about to stop the kiss so that he could breath (Oxygen is a rather important resource, you know), he felt some force ram into his face and knock him to the floor.
Before Draco could do anything to defend himself, he was being punched and kicked from every direction. He could faintly hear someone, a girl, shouting, but he couldn't tell what the voice was saying. He was a little preoccupied at the moment. He opened his one good eye long enough to see a shock of red hair. Ah, the second youngest Weasley he thought grimly as he restrained the instinct to fight back. He couldn't hurt Ginny, though he doubted she would take her brother's overprotective behavior very well.
Suddenly, Ron was being hauled off of Draco's body. Draco caught a glimpse of burning green eyes and black hair. Potter. Oh, bollocks he thought. Now I'm in for it. He prepared himself for more blows, but they never came. As he opened his eyes and uncovered his face, he saw that Harry was glaring at him but was making no move to attack him. Draco wondered why and then saw that Ginny was kneeling beside him.
He thought this wouldn't stop the two boys from attacking him, but then he saw Hermione. She was standing in front of him in a protective stance. OK now I'm confused. Why would Granger be protecting him? Shouldn't she be mad? And how did she manage to somehow look threatening in a dress? His questions were about to be answered.
His hearing, which had been oddly dysfunctional had suddenly come back in a rush, and he could hear Hermione talking.
"-give him a chance." Hermione finished with a meaningful look at Harry.
"Hermione, this thing," Harry glared menacing in Draco's direction, "tried to…" he struggled for words, "t-take advantage of you."
"I realize that, Harry, but there has to be a reason for all of this, and I think Malfoy should be allowed to explain." Harry glared at Draco, but he decided to listen to Hermione.
"Alright." he said, "But not here. Let's go somewhere else."
"I know where we can go," Ginny murmured quietly and started to help Draco to his feet. "Follow me," she said once she got him standing. The momentary lull in the music and dancing ended and everyone returned to what they had been doing as the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws followed one of their own and a Slytherin.
Ginny walked ahead of the group as she led them to where she and Draco had met before the dance. The little garden was secluded enough that no unwanted visitors would drop in on this conversation.
"Are you alright?" Ginny murmured to Draco as they struggled up a hill.
"I'm fine. Just a flesh wound. Are you alright? Do you think they'll listen to me?" He scanned her face for any kind of hope.
"I don't know," she admitted. "But you have Hermione making them listen to you, so that might help your case a little bit."
"I really am sorry for what my father tried to make me do." He sighed. "I should have been stronger and fought the curse."
"Draco, practically no one can beat that curse." She gave him an admonishing look. "And you shouldn't feel guilty because you couldn't disobey a curse designed to make you obey."
"Potter can fight it."
"Oh, Draco, please don't start on yourself because you can't do everything that Harry can do. He's a rather important guy and a very powerful wizard. Just because he's more stubborn and willful than you doesn't make him a better person."
"I am a bad person, Gin. I can't ever say no to my father, and I always worry about my reputation and pleasing my father rather than about my morals and having the courage to make my own decisions."
"Draco, you have a chance to right a wrong here. Stop berating yourself and try and convince these people that you're innocent of the intent to attack Hermione."
He looked her in the eyes. "Alright." he sighed. "But for you, not for me."
***A Smack of Jellyfish***
The whole troupe arrived at Draco's and Ginny's secret spot. Harry suddenly rounded on Draco. "Alright, Malfoy, now tell me why you dragged us up here."
"Harry," Hermione chided. "Don't be so violent. Let a man talk." Harry glanced in her direction.
"'Mione, how can you possibly listen to this guy after all that he's tried to do to you?" She met his gaze.
"Because I believe in Ginny's choices in men, and I know that she wouldn't make out with any old slimeball. Especially Malfoy."
"Slimeball?" Draco put in, "That hurts, Hermione. Deeply."
Harry growled at Malfoy and took a step toward him. "Don't you dare talk to her like you're a friend, Malfoy."
"While this is all very riveting and all, could we please just get on with the story so we can go back to the ball? It's cold, and I want to dance some more." Luna interrupted dreamily as she leaned against Ron. The night was rather chilly, and the Pitch had been artificially heated just for the occasion.
All of the Gryffindors and two Ravenclaws stared at Draco expectantly. He swallowed thickly.
"Well, I didn't exactly want to do what I tried to do to Hermione. I mean, don't get me wrong, Potter, she's hot and all, but she's not exactly my type." Harry pinched the bridge of his nose.
"Malfoy," he ground out, annoyed, "you're not making any sense, and I'm just dying to hit you." After a reassuring look from Ginny, Draco launched into his story about his father Imperius-ing him.
After he had related this series of events, he was met by a stunned silence as the group processed the story. "Well," Seamus started. "You have a pretty screwed up home life, mate."
"Tell me about it," Draco replied morosely as he sat down on a nearby bench. The others had conjured chairs (read: Hermione) to sit on. Hermione was on Harry's lap in part to be close to him and in part to restrain him.
"But if you were forced to attack me," Hermione started, "how does that explain your behavior over the years?"
"It doesn't," Draco sighed. "You see, I have this image. Well, and an overbearing psychotic father. I feel like he constantly has me under his eye to make sure that I act like a Death Eater. I'm always either at home or at school, and when I'm at school Crabbe and Goyle follow me everywhere and Snape watches me like a hawk."
"Draco, you really need to start showing who you really are," Padma said to him seriously. "You can't keep pretending to be someone you're not, or else you may forget who you really are."
"Like Howl in Howl's Moving Castle!" Seamus exclaimed, "DUDE!" The entire group looked at him. "Sorry. Inappropriate timing."
The attention focused back on Draco. "Ma-Draco," Harry said. Boy, that name felt weird. "We'll help you every step of the way. We can all protect you." Draco looked around the group to see them all nodding. All except one.
"I don't like it," Ron said. "How do we know that he's not just trying to trick us?" The redhead sent him an accusatory glance. "It seems pretty suspicious that Malfoy just happened to be under the Imperius curse when he attacked Hermione."
"I swear on my own soul, Weasley, that every word I have said has been the truth." They stared at each other for a moment.
"Well," Lavender broke in before the boys could fight anymore, "Now that that's settled, I vote we all return to the ball and dance the night away!" She smiled cheerfully, and eventually the rest of the group joined in.
"Alright," Hermione said. "We can always discuss this more tomorrow." She and Harry glanced at each other, and she felt her face heat up. Thank God it's dark she thought gratefully.
The whole group walked hurriedly to the ball. They may have given the Slytherin among them a bit more room than necessary, but he was slowly being accepted into the fold.
Harry and Hermione walked hand in hand back to Gryffindor Tower. "All in all, I think that was a very successful evening," Hermione sighed as she squeezed his hand.
Harry smiled wryly at her. "And how do you figure that?" he asked as they rounded a corner.
"Well, everything worked out splendidly for you. I don't think you have anything to complain about. But if I must make a list for you, I will. You got the girl, made a friend out of an enemy, and managed to look right sexy doing it."
"Oh, sexy?" Harry asked lowly as he spun her around by the hand and pressed her against the wall. "How is that, exactly?" He ran a finger up and down her sides and started nuzzling her hair.
"Y-you have this… power that emanates from you when you're angry. Did you know that? Of course, I've always noticed that, but I've also noticed that people don't really seem to notice things about themselves, you know what I mean? I mean, once I had this cousin who-"
Harry laid a hand over her mouth, cutting her sentence off short. "'Mione, you were babbling again." He paused as he stared at her intently. "Now, if I take my hand off your mouth, will you be able to control yourself?" She quirked an eyebrow. "I'll take that as a yes." He gently removed his hand and returned to nuzzling her but nuzzled her neck instead.
"Harry," Hermione sighed as he brushed a particularly sensitive part of her neck.
"Hmm?" he replied as he continued his ministrations.
"Stop. I want to go to sleep." Harry leaned back and raised his eyes to hers. Her eyes glowed with an inner fire that burned him but completed him at the same time.
He sighed gustily. "Fiiiiiiine," he said with an accompanying eye roll. She knew he was just kidding.
They continued the rest of their walk in silence and found themselves back at the Pink Lady. They supplied the password and entered through the portrait hole. No one was in the Common Room. They were all either still in bed or at the ball. They stared at each other. The silence in the room was palpable.
"Well, goodnight, Harry." Hermione kissed him at the corner of his mouth. She started to turn around, but instead Harry grabbed her wrist and pulled her back around. Her lips met his in a searing kiss as his hand ran gently up and down her spine. She gasped slightly as he pulled her against him fiercely and started to nibble on her lip. The kiss continued in this fashion for several minutes, and her knees grew steadily weaker. Finally, he pulled back and stared at her with half-lidded eyes.
"Goodnight, Hermione," he whispered and dropped a kiss on her forehead. He then went up the stairs, leaving behind a rather stunned Hermione.