Part One: The end
"That's it! I can't take all this bloody moping anymore!" Ginny spins me around to face her, bracing both hands on my shoulders. "You were doing so well when we got here, Hermione, what happened?"
"I don't mope, Ginny, I brood." I dispute adamantly. She judges me contemptuously. "For the most part," I correct, looking away.
She pulls my eyes back to hers, a determined gleam present in them. "I want you to repeat after me," Ginny orders, intently looking into my eyes, "My name is Hermione Granger."
Exhaling dramatically, I roll my eyes and whine, "For the love of—"
She clicks her tongue, aggravated, "My name is Hermione Granger," she prompts again
"My name is Hermione Granger." I mumble.
I know full well that wallowing in self-pity like a pampered, ill-tempered child isn't going to work with my almost-annoyingly headstrong best friend, Ginny Weasley.
"Good, that's a start," Ginny encourages, "Now say, 'I'm the smartest woman alive and men want me'."
My mouth drops open to protest.
Ginny raises an eyebrow at me.
I clamp my objection and follow instructions. "I'm the smartest witch alive and men want me."
She smirked. "Now say it all together."
I fold my arms. "My name is Hermione Granger. I'm the smartest witch alive and men want me."
Ginny nods with conviction and drops her hands. "Now, smile like you mean it." And she flashes one bright grin of her own.
I smile widely at her. Begrudgingly, I feel a lot better. Tonight isn't going to be horrible and it's not going to be like pulling teeth. It's going to be fine because I have my incorrigible best friend here with me. Tonight is an important night for me. It's the last night of my life. No, I don't mean that literally, but figuratively.
Tonight I'm giving up.
Yes, relentless, obstinate, determined Hermione Granger, patron saint of all underdogs...is a quitter.
And it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do.
I'm saying goodbye to everything, discarding my old life along with the person I've been for the last three years. All of it must go in order for me to move on: my job, my apartment, him. I'm starting over. This is the hardest and the most mature decision I've ever made in my twenty-one years of life. One that I'm taking it in stride, even though I don't want to-even though it's hard as hell.
"Are you going to come back in or stare past me for another ten minutes?" Ginny asks, breaking into the thoughts running rampant in my head, hands on her hips.
She's out to do some serious head-turning tonight for sure because she looks wonderful in her short, form-fitted black dress robes. She has dangly earrings, heels, and her red hair pinned up with curled tendrils falling.
"I'll be in there really soon." I offer an assuring smile.
That she doesn't return because she knows me inside and out. "Hermione, I know tonight—I know this giving up thing is really hard for you, I understand, but you need to have some fun tonight, dance a little, drink a little, and get your mind off him. You probably won't even see him tonight. He hates parties-even though he throws them all the time."
I heave a great sigh. "I know, I know." And I take a deep breath because I do know everything she's talking about. I paste a smile on my face. It doesn't reach my eyes, but that's all I can muster. "You go on in, I'll be right behind you, okay?"
Ginny smiles as best as she can in return. "All right, but stop thinking about him."
There are at least four million thoughts running around in the crevices of my mind hours after saying goodbye to my co-workers and employees for the last time at the conclusion of this goodbye party my boss threw for me-well technically, it's a goodbye/birthday/housewarming party all in one. How he makes it work, I'll never know.
Everyone is having a wonderful time and it works.
"So," a nameless girl begins her story, interrupting my thoughts again. "Beth dared me to get my belly button pierced the Muggle way…and I did it."
"Oh, let me see!" some other nameless girl shrieks in a voice that reminds me of nails on a chalkboard. I wince.
"You can't! Let me tell you what happened. Apparently, I'm allergic to certain metals so within an hour, the bloody thing swelled up and turned colors. I looked like I had a disease. My mum took me to a Muggle hospital where they stuck a needle in me with some medicine. It was ridiculous. I'm never doing anything like that again."
"Wow, that's crazy, Leila."
"Has anyone seen Draco Malfoy?"
"Not since they sang happy birthday to him. He blew out the candles, grabbed a piece of cake, and left. I would love to catch him alone so I can make it a really happy birthday for him."
They finally drift out of earshot and I can't thank the stars more. The very thought of someone making this a "really happy birthday" for Draco makes me sick to my—no. I'm not going to think about him tonight. No, I'm not going to torture myself like that. Oh, who am I kidding? I think about him all the time. I can't remember a time when I didn't.
Even with the distracting voices, my mind is running a thousand miles a minute with all sorts of random thoughts.
It starts with the mental note to remind Ginny to leave her key with the landlord, whether I remembered to clean out the candy wrappers from my bottom desk drawer, whether my last check was deposited, whether I remembered to give Pansy back her favorite shoes, and it goes on from there. Did I not remember to leave him my new address like he wanted so he can't connect to my new flat by floo?
Do I have everything? Will I be a good healer? Will I be okay?
Will I miss him?
How do I look? Did we clean everything well enough? Will I miss my job?
Am I replaceable?
And so it goes on for about fifteen more minutes as I stand in the foyer of his massive newly built home; the silhouette of the full moon filtering through massive windows, meshing with my tinier shadow. From my vantage spot at the top of the stairs, I notice a few stragglers make their way into the house, giggling and handing their purses and gifts to the paid house elf standing at the door. I watch them walk through the picturesque foyer. A few guests stop and take in the classic beauty of this room; to me, it looks like heaven.
Magical portraits, classic and very expensive muggle paintings on the walls, stone sculptures, an enormous gold and crystal chandeliers, shiny white marble floors with gold flecks that lead to the classic white marble double staircases. With the lights on, it's bright, convivial, and relaxing; nothing like the dungeon it used to be. He spared no expense in building this house; I know because I was there with him through the entire designing and building process, giving and denying approval. This is the first time I've seen Malfoy Manor since the builders completed it last month, more than four years after they tore it down following his parents' death.
Once the guests finish awing over the foyer, they typically disappear into the enormous room dubbed as the "party wing."
When more people arrive, I look at my watch, shocked to see that it's almost midnight; the invitation owls surely said the festivities started at nine. Shaking my head, I heave another sigh and promenade in the direction of the thumping music, knowing full well that inside those double doors will be the last place I'll bump into the reclusive birthday boy. It's in the minutes it takes me to find the party, when everything stops, people leave me alone, and all the focus is off me that I really can think clearly.
It's at this moment that I can't help but wonder just how I got here.
"Hermione!" Ginny calls my name over the music.
I don't even know how I hear her, I can't see her. It's so dark and crowded.
The birthday/housewarming party is in full swing by the time I come back to reality. There has to be a few hundred people in here. Music is playing thanks to the DJ, Blaise Zabini, people are literally dry humping on the dance floor, couples are freely making out the couches in the corner of the room, lights flash in the dark room with the beat of the music, lots of chatty people off and away from the dance floor, caddy witches sneering at anyone who looks better, free drinks of your choice at seven different bars with seven different themes, free food from all over the world.
There's a quiet place people can go to talk. The back door is open to anyone who wants to take the party outside into the extensive gardens.
In about an hour, everyone will be outside for the magical fireworks display.
He really knows how to throw a party…it's an amazing sight to behold. Really.
It takes a minute to spot Ginny in the crowd of gyrating bodies on the dance floor and I approach her with caution because she's taking shots of something that looks like petrol and dancing with two extremely attractive men. Ron would pass out if he saw her right now and Harry…Harry would hex the guys into a new year.
She's flushed from dancing. "Isn't this great?"
"Yeah, simply amazing!" I holler my response back, moving my hips to look like I'm dancing and having fun.
For someone who is "taking a break" from Harry so he can "find himself" before he makes a decision on whether or not he wants to settle down (a.k.a.: he wants to have sex with other women to see if the grass really is greener on the other side), she's having a better time than I am. I think it's because she's nineteen, just finished her first season as a professional Quidditch player, and she's "finding herself" too.
The one of the men slithers up to me, grinding his hips against me so seductively that I blush and shake my head, clearly showing no interest in dancing.
It's not like I really can anyway.
He shrugs and goes back to grinding against my best friend's arse and I go on a quest for a drink.
The Firewhisky burns more than usual tonight and all plans to get trashed fly right out the window.
Instead, I sit at the bar, detached from everyone, and think.
I think and wonder just when was the moment my life became so outrageous, so crazy that I'm driven to the decision I've just made. I've completed my training as a Healer and quit my extremely high-paying job to take a new one that doesn't pay so great at St. Mungo's. I put in notice to move to a new flat closer to the hospital and abruptly ended something that can't be classified into a specific group other than, "a giant mistake."
"This next song goes out to the birthday boy, Draco Malfoy, wherever he is."
I signal to the barmaid for another Firewhisky, better make it a double.
Part Two: Crush
That's exactly how long I've had a crush on Draco Malfoy;
Exactly how long I've been occasionally sleeping with him;
And exactly how long I've been planning my escape.
Crushes are supposed to be innocent, exquisite, and supposed to make you feel fantastic, but this crush comes with some of the worst anguish I've ever felt in my life. It makes me want to wrench my eyes out with a spade saturated in poison. This crush makes me want to kick and scream in frustration until I can no longer breathe. This crush is exactly what the name implies: a crush and it's crushing the life out of me.
And I can't let it, not anymore.
Being around someone who doesn't share your feelings is maddening.
Getting fed mixed signals by someone who you care about is about as awful as it is confusing.
Being forced to keep distance is some of the worst torture I've ever subjected myself to.
Occasionally having sex with someone and having to pretend each encounter means nothing is painful.
Watching countless women openly flirt with, giggle over, and try to seduce someone you want is just agonising.
Everyday I spend in his presence, everytime he tortures me by sitting in my office for most of the day, everytime he stands in my office doorway stoic and bearing lunch for the two of us, everyday this crush goes unrequited, everytime he tells me about each of his horrendous dates and his equally appalling five-month relationship with Astoria Greengrass that started right after our first time together, everytime-it's like a tiny piece of me is sloughed off.
So I'm leaving before it's too late. I'm leaving before there's nothing left of me to hold on to. I'm leaving before I'm unable to recognise my reflection in the mirror. I'm leaving because I want my life back. I'm leaving. I can't take any of this shit anymore. I can't stand this.
And even though I'm leaving, the sad truth is, the truth that breaks my heart is…I still want him to want me.
I want to mean something to Draco. Something extraordinary. I want to be more than just that Gryffindor Granger and more than Harry Potter's bushy-haired best friend and Ronald Weasley's ex-girlfriend. I want to be more than the brightest witch of my day and more than his senior financial analyst. Something more than the person who helped him uncorrupt the lending company he inherited after his father's death.
I want my name to evoke something deep in him and I want my name to tug at his heart. For once, I want to be prevalent in Draco's thoughts. I want to matter to him. Whether this is an upshot of my need for vengeance for this unrequited crush, I don't know, but more than anything, I want him to want me. I want to be the one he owls when he thinks of something that he needs to share with someone. Merlin, this is funny to me, because I'm that person for a lot of people, but even now, I want to be that person for him.
I want to be vital. Even more than that, I want him to find me endearing rather than annoying. I want to be beautiful to him instead of cute. I want him to display some kind of emotion towards me and not just shag me. I want to be intelligent to him instead of a know-it-all. I want him to be captivated with my idiosyncrasies, mesmerized by my bad habits, and I want him to adore all the wonderful things about me that make me…me.
I want him to realise all the minor details about me and appreciate them. I want him to occasionally glance from his work and wonder what I'm doing at that exact moment. I want him to seek me out before I write an owl to him. And because none of this has happened, because none of this will probably ever happen, I'm leaving.
Whenever he's around, whenever someone flirts with him, whenever someone coos about how cute he is-I feel like becoming a horrible, petulant, needy child that I never want to be and I hate it. I hate him for making me feel this way. I hate him.
And that's another reason why I'm leaving.
"Pretty girl like you shouldn't be sitting all alone."
I look up and over to see Theodore Nott sitting on the barstool next to me. He's smoking a cigarette and drinking a glass of Firewhisky and I don't think he knows who I am because if he did, he wouldn't have complimented me. I haven't seen him since his father received the Dementor's kiss after the war; punishment for crimes committed as a Death Eater. Pansy told me he left the Wizarding World with his mother, so to see him here tonight piques my interest, mildly.
"How are you enjoying the party, Nott?"
Instantly, he recognises my voice. "Granger?" He looks at me with wide eyes, "Hermione Granger?"
Slowly, with a touch of humor, I reply, "The one and only."
His face scrunches like he's eaten a bad lemon. "You look…different."
I know I do. I managed to tame the hair, my robes fit better, and I've recently dived into the world of light makeup.
Pansy's idea, not mine, of course.
"Umm…thanks, you look…the same." I honestly can barely remember him from school. I remember seeing him in the library a few times. He was in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes with me, but I don't recall him being in any of my other classes, not even the ones we had with Slytherin. Maybe I wasn't paying attention.
The next few minutes are filled with bullshit conversation. How are you? Are you enjoying the party? What have you been doing since school? Where do you work? Do you still keep up with anyone? It's the rubbish you have to get out the way before you decide whether you really want to keep talking to this person. I can tell immediately he is not.
Theodore Nott, I can tell, still thinks little of me because of my blood status. He may be civil, poised, and too mature to sneer and call me a Mudblood, but he still thinks of me as one. He tells me he left London and moved to America with his mother to get away from everything and now he's back, working in the London branch of the Department of International Magical Cooperation. He's not really close with anyone, but then again, he never was.
Pansy invited him to the party, but he deduces that she only did it to be polite. Knowing her, he's right.
He asks nothing about me; it's almost as if he's not interested and doesn't care. He's boring and his underlying jabs against me that he doesn't realise I understand are much unappreciated. Still, I'm too tired to curse him out so I just listen politely and nod, letting my mind drift.
Part Three: Chills
Theodore leaves me alone after the fireworks and I find myself wandering down the corridors, lost in my pursuit of nothing, completely unaware of anything.
"You really shouldn't be walking around here alone, Granger, you don't know what or who is lurking about."
Surprised, I spin on my heels and gasp, finding myself facing the austere and reclusive birthday boy, dressed in crisp, black robes that make him appear to be paler than he actually is. When his face coils into a smirk, I rapidly come to the realisation that the only danger lurking about in these halls is standing right in front of me.
He is the worst danger of them all.
Moments later I find my voice, but it's not nearly as confident as it should be. "The party's out there, why are you here?"
His smirk is evident even in the dimly lit hall as he backs me against the wall, his body pressed against mine. "I'm pretty certain the party is about to be right here."
Draco's eyes never leave mine, not for a moment, while his hand search his tailored robes briefly for his wand. He mutters an incantation that makes the wall open into a room I have no choice but to go into. With a wave of his wand, the lights come on, dim, and I find myself in awe of this small, immaculate private library with painted walls and rich, wooden floors. Rows of perfectly organised books on cherry wood hand-carved bookshelves, a matching desk and chair, a few chairs, and an emerald green couch complete the room.
In front of the desk is a great fireplace that strangely reminds me of the fireplace in the Gryffindor tower.
"You can come in, Granger."
Oh, I know I can, I just don't want to.
I stand in the doorway.
"Alright then, since you plan on being difficult tonight…" Draco places his wand neatly on his desk. He loosens his tie, removes the jacket to his dress robes, and calmly approaches me; the sole of his dragon-hide shoes echo through the room with each step he makes towards me.
When he speaks next, his voice is hushed and I feel it against my neck, just below my ear, "Are you enjoying the party? Is it to your satisfaction?"
To my satisfaction? Since when does he care about my satisfaction?
"It's certainly grand," I curse myself internally for such a stupid answer.
"Wonderful." His lips are centimetres from my neck and all my sense zero in on the sensation. The smell of his cologne is mixed with something that oddly smells like cake and Firewhisky. It's all so consuming, so volatile. He touches my shoulders with tense hands. I imagine I look like his hands feel at this very moment, the only difference being the tears that threaten to hinder my vision.
Still, I refuse to cry. I will never give him the satisfaction of knowing he can sprout such intense emotions in me.
As his hands travel down my arms, move in and down the contours of my body, I want to run. I want to walk away. I want to tell him no, but I can't even move, much less speak. I hate he is the only man who can do this to me; the only man I want to do this to me. I wish he would just get it over with, get his itch scratched, so I can walk away forever and not look back. I wish he would just do it because right now I want him to. I want my thirst quenched, too.
The door closes behind me and I know what's about to happen…and I let it.
Because this is the last time this will ever happen, I've made up my mind.
With a small, low groan Draco's lips touch my neck and sometimes I wish his lips were touching mine, but they never have. As he sucks on the flesh on my neck, I come to the realisation that maybe it's a good thing we've never kissed. Kissing is far more intimate, far more passionate than sex. Kissing someone is a raw and personal connection that's based on trust and emotion. You can shag anyone; it's just the movement of your bodies. But kissing-you don't kiss just anyone. You don't let just anyone invade something so personal like your mouth.
If I ever kiss Draco, it'll be disastrous for me because it'll wake the sleeping dragon inside me; one that needs to lay dormant for as long as possible.
Draco stands there, running his hands up and down my body, each time moving just a little lower. He moves down to my breasts, just below them, cupping them over my thin robes, lifting them. I strain up into his hands as my body betrays me, wanting more. He moves to my waist, hips, everywhere. I open my eyes, looking at the ceiling through lidded eyes. I manage to lose the tears just when he traces his hands over my breasts again, meeting at my collarbone, forcing me to look into eyes.
One by one, he begins to undo the tow of tiny black buttons that grace the back of my dress, patiently. As the sleeves of my dress begin to loosen, revealing more skin, he tugs my dress and it falls in a heap around my ankles, leaving me exposed in front of him. I should be cold, but his body keeps me warm.
Draco bends and kisses each inch of exposed flesh as he smoothly works his way out of his own clothes.
He is a master at soft kisses. He showers them over every inch of me until I don't think I can stand it a moment longer, and then he starts all over again, feeding gently on my neck while his hands fondle and pet me. There's something about the air in this room, the warmth of his body, the proximity of him, something about this all makes me hazy and slow, and something about this that calms me and makes me want him not to hurry up any longer.
The couch is adjacent to the door and the next thing I know I'm being lifted off the floor and placed on the couch.
When he spreads my legs and slips a finger inside me, my skin hums as my hips move in rhythm with the pace he's set. His fingers touching deep inside me, thumb teasing my clit. My mind is overwhelmed with sensations, my lips are moaning uncontrollably; I'm trying desperately to forget all these new feelings because tonight is all about making a clean break from Draco Malfoy.
It doesn't take long before I feel the familiar tightening and know what's to come; I throw my head back, lost in this wild abandon, waiting for the waves created by the movement of his fingers to crash over me. I'm right on the edge, I feel it, the release is palpable. I reach to grab it, but suddenly his fingers withdraw, and it leaves my body, humming, wanting, and very unfulfilled.
I shut my eyes tightly and curse him silently.
"Patience is a virtue," he mutters huskily. He always says that to me when in actuality Draco is the most impatient person I know.
Trust me, patience is a virtue I have in abundance; it's the reason I've stayed so long. I'm sick of having patience.
Lifting me slightly, my hands reach for the back of the couch. I stabilise myself just as he enters without warning, filling me deeply and fully. All thoughts about patience and staying and reasons fly from my mind. Gasping, I clench to him tightly, panting and breathing unevenly. No one else has ever filled me like this, no one else has ever had me on such an edge, trust me, I've had enough experience to know Draco's body is a perfect fit. It's like a glove the way he fits me. He stills himself for what seems like an eternity, allowing himself and my body to become accustomed.
The dim lights are his spotlight and my eyes are on him.
He is quite a sight to behold. His eyes would tell many stories if he didn't block everyone out. For a moment, I want to strain to see those windows, wanting to know what secrets I can find out now while he's in the throws of passion, but I don't. I can't. Because he starts this perfect cadence that makes me strain against him. My eyes flutter shut and I feel more than I see him move, holding my body in place as he sets the tempo. My legs are weak, arms that grip his waist are weak like butter; I need his support because I'm lost in every ounce of sensations coursing through my body.
I hear him moaning, feel him shaking, and when he stops, I don't know what he's doing. I just know that he's stopped what my body longs for him to keep going. Suddenly, he releases me; the connection of our body severs. "Open your eyes."
So I let him and he fills me once again, this time he moves within me with quick strokes. The expensive couch creaks, stirred by his actions. Those fingers of his splay across my stomach and drift lower, capturing my clit with his thumb, teasing it mercilessly as he moves against me.
My body is suspended in a feeling I don't want to describe. My muscles are tense, but I feel relaxed. My breathing has ceased but I don't need air. Something deep inside me is building it starts as a small flicker of warmth and grows into an inferno. I can't control the sounds spilling from my lips, the moans, his names, words I've not muttered until this night. My lips are pressed tightly together as the tremors turn to quaking, the build up inside me approaching its peak and I grip his arms, wrap my legs around his. He's moving faster, eyes shut now as if he's having a peaceful dream.
"Granger," he whispers, not breaking the rhythm, "What do you want?"
I don't have to tell him, I think my moans tell him enough, but still he already knows what I want, and he obliges to my silent demand, plunging harder. Each thrust I feel a tightening deep within me. With each thrust, muscles tense more. With each thrust, knuckles turn white as I dig nails in his skin. All I hear is our rapid, shallow breathing, our moans echoing off the walls, pure sensations. I feel him become more frantic, hear his moans increase, feel him start to shake. It's a certain moan he gives off when he's about to orgasm. It's almost like a deep groan, like he's taken a bite into something that's really superb.
When I hear that moan, I lose it…and he does too.
Part Four: Break Away
We lay there in silence for several minutes, our bodies still as one. It's only when our breathing returns to normal that he gets up. Veracity is returning, and I never really want it to. You see, in a perfect world we would lay like this all night, but sadly this is reality, and in reality we are nothing but an occasional fling.
As we dress, I'm more determined than ever to sever this destructive-whatever this is.
"So," his voice startles me from my thoughts. "Why are you leaving? And be honest, Granger. Don't give me any bullshit about your passion to become a Healer either," Draco frowns. "You may feed everyone that lie, but I know its complete bollocks, all of it. You didn't even want to be a bloody Healer until after we started sleeping together."
Fixing the last button, I turn to face him. My head is held high as I reply as cold as he sounds, "What I want to know is why you care, Draco? It's very unlike you to give a damn about anyone other than yourself."
"Touché, Granger, touché."
"I am not selfish, you are! Go bugger yourself."
"You already did that," he smirks boastfully.
"I hate you." I speak aloud, unintentionally, but secretly content that he's heard those words.
Draco's entire demeanor changes into something I don't recognise. It's a face I've never seen before. Disbelief is the only word that comes to mind. This is definitely new for him. Women don't hate Draco Malfoy; they love him, they aspire to shag him, they aim to marry him, they don't hate him.
Quickly, he regains his composure. "You do? Well, life goes on."
Of course, he succeeds in adding insult to injury.
Congratulations, Draco, would you like to rip me apart some more?
My voice raises to the point where I'm almost screaming at him. "Fuck you. I don't care. Leaving is my choice," I taste defiance in my mouth. "I gave you my letter of resignation months ago, and you never even bothered to ask. You never said a word, so why bother to ask me now, Draco?"
"I don't have to answer that."
"And I don't have to answer you. I'm sure you already have some theory conspiracy worked up anyway."
"As a matter of fact—"
"Save your breath, I don't give a shit. Chalk it up to whatever you want, I don't care. I'm leaving." And I start for the door.
Draco grabs my arm. "Where are you going?"
I throw his arm off me, seething with dignified rage. "Get away from me, Draco."
What little color is left in his face is rapidly leaving. "You don't mean that."
I laugh. It's bitter and void of feeling, even though I'm nothing but feelings, especially for him. I stand my ground, as hard as it may be. "Don't you get it? This, whatever the hell this is, it's done. We're done, Draco. I hope you enjoyed tonight because you'll never have the opportunity to touch me again. So go find another whore to start shagging, find as many whores as you want because I'm not going to be your standby anymore."
He stands stoic, staring at me with narrowed eyes, but his voice is oddly vulnerable. "You can't just walk away."
"Oh, I can't?" I chuckle ruefully, "Just watch me."
Disclaimer: I own nothing. J.K. Rowling does.
Author's Note: This is a story about the highs and lows of a relationship, and the unbreakable bonds of friendship, misunderstandings, and complications. I hope you all like it. Constructive criticism is always welcome. Read and review, as always. Peace!
4/24/08 Note: So I finally decided to start the mass editing process. It's slow, but it's in progress.
Thanks to MusicalCatharsis for her beta work on this chapter.