Note: This chapter is a bit different with respect to the timelines. The first section is present, the next is past, then present again, then future, and finally about a year after section 3. That's confusing. LOL.
Please remember the goal of this story: To redeem Draco from his fate in Deathly Hallows. I turned it into a Draco/Hermione story as well, but that was simply icing on the cake.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to JK Rowling. I write to learn. No money is being made.
'Exactly so,' said Alice.
'Then you should say what you mean,' the March Hare went on.
'I do,' Alice hastily replied; 'at least — at least I mean what I say — that's the same thing, you know.'
'Not the same thing a bit!' said the Hatter. 'You might just as well say that "I see what I eat" is the same thing as "I eat what I see"!'
Chapter 7 – Mean What You Say
Hermione received a letter from Draco the day after his trial, asking her to dinner that Friday evening. She waited a full hour, during which she made a list of pros and cons, before responding with an affirmative. Her list had ended in a draw, but her heart insisted that she accept Draco's invitation.
That settled, Hermione waited two days before attempting to speak with Ron again. She found him in Diagon Alley, at Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, restocking shelves with George.
"Hi George, Ron," she said upon entering.
They both looked up from their task. George gave her a pained grin, while Ron merely scowled.
"What brings you by?" George asked, leaving the shelves and going to the counter.
"I was hoping to catch Ron," she said.
"Ah, well, you're in luck; he's here." George nodded in Ron's direction and set about straightening the wares on the wall behind the counter.
Hermione went to where Ron was still working. "Hi," she said.
"Hello," he replied distantly.
"Can we talk?" she asked, kneeling beside him.
He shrugged. "Reckon I can't stop you."
"Somewhere a little more private, perhaps?" she said.
"Go on," called George. "I've got things under control here."
Ron didn't look as though he was happy to hear this and made a big show of standing up, putting the un-stocked products away and leaving the shop.
They walked halfway down the alley without speaking a word to each other. Hermione hated the distance between them, the painful silence. "Ron, talk to me."
"About what?" he asked, shuffling his feet and kicking a pebble.
"What else?" she says. "It's only been three days, and I can't stand that we're not friends right now."
Ron turns toward her, a fresh dose of anger and pain in his eyes. "Yeah? Well, you should have thought of that before you decided to go and snog the enemy." He kicked a stone so hard it bounced ahead of them a few feet before hitting a stray cat on the side.
"I've done no such thing, Ron," Hermione insisted. "And he's not the enemy, remember?"
"He's as good as," Ron mumbled. Then, frustrated, he said, "I don't understand you, Hermione. Just three weeks ago you kissed me, and now you want to go out with Malfoy? How did that happen, anyway? No," he added quickly, moving to the side to put more space between them. "Never mind, I don't think I want to know."
"I can't explain it," Hermione answered him anyway. "I thought it would always be you, but those feelings … they faded. I didn't mean for it to happen, I didn't want it to, but it did, and there's nothing I can do about it."
"How did he earn them?" Ron sneered. "What could he have done to earn your affections, Hermione?"
"Other than saving my life?" she retorted. "That didn't make me fancy him, but it certainly altered the way I thought about him. How could it not have?"
Ron scowled. "He's still a slimy, prejudiced git. It'll take a lot more than saving your life to convince me otherwise."
Hermione sighed impatiently. "Fine, just—fine. You can be so stubborn sometimes, you know that?"
"Me?" he said incredulously. "Oh, that's rich, coming from you. You're too stubborn to see that Malfoy might be anything other than a complete saint!"
"That's not true!" she cried. "I know he's not perfect, but I can't help the way I feel."
Ron recoiled as though struck. Then he scoffed. "Oh, I keep forgetting. You fancy the rodent. That's fine, Hermione. But you can't have it both ways."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she demanded.
"You made a choice the day you picked him over me and Harry. We won't forget where we stand in your eyes, so don't come crying to us when Malfoy breaks your heart and stomps all over the pieces!"
They had reached the end of the Alley nearest the Leaky Cauldron and stopped beside the fence.
"I never picked him over you and Harry," Hermione said through gritted teeth. "Never."
"You picked him over me," Ron said angrily.
"I certainly did not!" she protested. "I can't force myself to have feelings for you, just as much as I can't force my feelings for him to go away!"
"But you don't have to go out with him!" Ron shouted.
Hermione was thankful the street was mostly empty of the usual shoppers. "I am not asking you to accept this, Ron," she said, no longer yelling. "I want to know … I need to know that this won't end our friendship. I know that I've hurt you, and I'm so sorry, sorrier than you can imagine. I'm not asking you to forgive me right now … I just can't lose you completely."
He watched her, disbelief evident on his face.
"I need to know, Ron, because I can't make that choice. You've been my friend for my whole life—the part that really matters—and I won't risk losing you." She held her head high and looked him in the eye. "So tell me. If I go out with him, will our friendship be irrevocably damaged?"
Ron frowned but didn't answer right away. Then he scowled and looked away, kicking at pebbles again. When he met her eyes again, his expression was resigned.
"I don't like him," he said. "I'm eternally grateful to him for saving your life, but I can't stand him. That said …" He sighed heavily. "What kind of friend would I be if I kept you from him?"
Hermione's eyes widened. "You mean it?"
He paused; hope that she would change her mind in his eyes. "Yeah, I do. But that doesn't mean I'm not upset at you. Nothing changes. I don't know when I'll want to see you again."
She nodded, biting her lip. "But we will be friends again, right?"
"Course," he muttered. "Soon as you ditch the blond creep, let me know."
One corner of her mouth turned up in a slight smile. "Thanks, Ron."
"Yeah, whatever," he said, mussing his hair. "I need to get back to George. I don't like leaving him alone for too long."
"Is he okay?" she asked.
"He will be," Ron replied. "We all will be. Someday."
Draco didn't want to be anywhere near the Great Hall, where most of the fighting was taking place. For one thing, no one knew which side he was really on, and Granger's side would curse him without question if they saw him. He was still Disillusioned as he surveyed the scene in the Entrance Hall.
Then the Dark Lord shouted a command directed toward his father. Draco's hair stood on end. His mother was here, somewhere, fighting. He had to find her, get her out of the melee, get her safe! While he was at it, he could check on Granger, even though she was probably with Weasley. Draco scowled and entered the Great Hall.
It was bedlam. Curses were flying everywhere, people were running and shouting, and Draco had to take extreme care not to be on the receiving end of a stray curse.
As he was looking for his mother's signature bright blonde hair, Draco heard a sound that made him shiver: his Aunt's cackle. He turned toward the sound and saw Granger, Loony Lovegood, and the Weasley girl dueling her. Though they seemed to be holding her off, it was only a matter of time before Bellatrix gained the upper hand. She was too skilled to be taken down by even three adept but underage witches.
Suddenly, the Weasley mother came barreling toward Bellatrix, her face twisted in fury and her wand firing spells almost at will. The entire room paused to watch the showdown, and Draco found himself silently cheering for the red-headed witch.
When Bellatrix went down, the Dark Lord's anger erupted. Then Potter showed up out of nowhere, and Draco knew he was about to witness the end. Never in his life had he wanted Potter to succeed more.
The scene was truly fascinating. Neither struck; they merely circled, like carrion birds above a dying creature far below. They exchanged words that blended together, as Draco's attention was focused on finding his mother in the crowd.
His attention was soon drawn to the tête-à-tête, however, with the Dark Lord's words.
"I killed Severus Snape three hours ago, and …"
That was all Draco heard as his heart was suddenly pounding and his blood was rushing in his ears. Snape was … dead? The Dark Lord had killed him? That meant … Draco sank to the ground. That meant his only hope, the only one who knew the truth about him, could no longer vouch for him. Suddenly, his efforts over the last year meant nothing, and all that remained to speak of him was his failed attempt to kill Dumbledore.
Vaguely, Draco thought he heard his name being called, and then there was a bright light. Both Potter and the Dark Lord shouted and then it was over, really and truly, finally over. Potter had won.
He perked up, knowing his mother's voice. She called again, and he stood, realizing that the Disillusionment Spell had been lifted, somehow.
"Mother!" he called.
"Draco!" She seemed to be moving closer, and the relief was evident in her voice.
He searched frantically until the crowd parted slightly, revealing his parents, safe and unharmed. Narcissa rushed to him and threw her arms around him, weeping with relief.
Lucius, too, embraced his family, for once unconcerned with how others might perceive it.
"Oh, my boy, my boy," Narcissa repeated, clinging to Draco and rubbing her hands through his hair.
"I … I couldn't find you," Draco said, his words muffled against his mother's neck. "I didn't see you fighting."
"We weren't," Lucius replied. "We were looking for you."
Draco smiled tentatively at his father over his mother's shoulder, and then he pulled away to smile at her. In that moment, the world was perfect.
Hermione waited anxiously in her parents' home for seven o'clock to arrive. Draco had insisted on picking her up in a car he had obtained for the evening. At ten minutes until the hour, she still wasn't sure what she would say to him. Even though Ron had assured her that dating Draco wouldn't affect their friendship for good, he still didn't want to see or speak to her.
She knew he needed time to get over her, but knowing that she was interested in someone else would only make things harder. Ron would never accept Draco, and if things progressed with him, Hermione didn't know what she would do.
When the doorbell rang at three minutes before seven, Hermione jumped, startled. She laughed at herself, and then opened the door.
Draco was there, dressed in dark black robes, a smile on his face. Parked in the driveway was a car that looked a lot like the ones that had ferried her, Harry, and the Weasleys to King's Cross Station on two occasions.
"Hey," he said. "Let's get these formalities over with, shall we? You look incredible. The car is my parents', I can't drive, but we've got a driver." Draco pointed over his shoulder. "Our reservation is in half an hour. You really do look beautiful. Ready to go?"
Hermione's eyes widened and a smile stole across her face as he spoke. "Hi," was all she could say. Was she really about to go on a date with Draco Malfoy?
"Hi," he repeated. "So … are you ready?"
"I … I'm not sure, to be honest …" She trailed off, kicking herself for what she was saying.
A flicker of pain flashed through his eyes, but he quickly masked it. "Second thoughts? I wondered if that might happen. What do I need to do? Talk to Potter and Weasley?"
"It's not second thoughts exactly," she said, genuinely touched that he was willing to speak to her friends if it meant he could spend time with her.
"What then?" he asked.
"Well … It occurred to me that I don't really know you that well," she said.
"Right … That's what dating is for, if I'm not mistaken."
He was still smiling, but she could tell he was … worried? Upset? Frustrated? "Want to come inside for a minute?" she asked.
Draco sighed. "Sure. Shouldn't stand outside in these robes, anyway."
Hermione led him to the living room, where he sat in the seat Harry had occupied a few days earlier.
"Where are your parents?" he asked, glancing around the house.
"Australia," she replied.
"Australia?" His look was incredulous. "Why?"
"It's a long story," she replied.
"What's on your mind?" Draco asked.
"Oh, a lot of things," she said, avoiding his eyes. "The biggest thing right now is you." She sat stiffly beside him. "And Ron."
The last trace of Draco's smile faded. "I see."
"It's not what you think," she rushed out. "But it is … complicated. I used to like him, very much. I know he liked me too, but he never did anything about it. My feelings for him started to weaken over the last year."
Draco perked up at this.
"Then I went and did something stupid," she confessed, her shoulder slumping. "I … I kissed him. It wasn't that long ago, either. About three weeks."
"I know," he said curtly.
She spun to face him. "You know? How?"
"I saw you," Draco said, his jaw tight. "When Crabbe, Goyle, and I followed you into the Room of Requirement. We were there when … you kissed him."
"Oh," she said quietly, returning her gaze to her lap. "I didn't know."
Draco let out his breath. "So, you kissed him. You just said it was stupid. Why?"
"Because," she began, "my feelings for him weren't what they had once been, but the kiss … well; you could say I tried to see if those feelings could be resurrected. It didn't happen. In fact, the kiss finally put an end to my fretting on the matter. However, Ron took it to mean that I fancied him, that I wanted to be more than friends."
"It certainly looked that way to me," Draco muttered, scowling slightly.
"It was hard to tell him that I didn't want the same thing he did. Our friendship was already strained, and then I told him about you. It hurt me immensely to cause him pain, especially right after his brother died, and it was you of all people."
"What's that supposed to mean?" he interjected.
"Only that Ron despises you more than anyone. Face it, you were horrible to him in school, you made fun of his family, his clothes, his financial status—"
"I know," Draco growled. "I haven't got a problem with my memory."
"Then you can understand why it would be especially hard for him to hear that I want to spend time with you," she insisted.
"Do you want me to apologize?" Draco asked, despite looking like he'd rather do anything else.
"I … Well, that would certainly be nice. I'm telling you this so you'll understand."
"I'm trying," he said.
"I spoke with Ron yesterday, and after arguing a bit, he told me he wouldn't stand in the way if I wanted to be with you." Hermione hopped off the couch and went to the fireplace.
"Then … what's the problem?" Draco asked, not unkindly.
"He's still angry with me, still hurt. I understand that. I expect it. But it got me thinking about the future." She chuckled and turned back to him. "I know it's silly to think such things, but I can't help it. Seeing you is different than seeing … I don't know, Dean Thomas. I can't accept this lightly; it requires more thought, more weighing of the consequences, more—"
Hermione hadn't even heard him stand, much less walk across the room. One moment she was talking, the next, Draco's lips were pressed against hers. She was so surprised that, at first, she didn't even move. But he was persistent, and soon she melted into his arms, returning the kiss and completely forgetting about everything around her. All she could focus on was the feel of Draco's body against hers and his scent: cedarwood.
Draco slowed the kiss before their breathing became impaired, and when he pulled away, his eyes were bright and filled with desire. His gaze was so intense that Hermione had to lean against the wall or risk her knees giving way.
They stared at each other for a few moments before Hermione broke the silence. "Why did you do that?"
"You were talking too much," he said, "about thinking and consequences … I don't think it should be that way. Don't analyze, just go with what you feel."
"Yeah?" she said, her gaze falling to his lips.
Draco smirked. "Yeah. Tomorrow you can worry about tomorrow. But today …" He glanced at the wall over the fireplace. "We've got reservations in ten minutes. What do you say?"
Hermione looked at him skeptically. "What if I say no?" When he opened his mouth to protest, she continued. "What if I say … I want to be a little late for our reservation?"
He frowned. "Why—"
This time, she silenced him with a kiss.
Draco paused, pulling her closer. She nestled her head on his chest just below his chin and smiled, humming softly to herself.
"What did you mean … that night?" he asked, kissing the top of her head.
"What night? We've shared so many. Do you mean the night of our first date? Or the one when you punched Ron for insinuating that you and I were sleeping together when he was drunk? He respected you after that. Of course, we were, but he doesn't need to know that."
"Nope, neither of those nights." He chuckled. "I've wanted to slug him for most of my life. I was thankful for the excuse."
Hermione lazily drew lines on his chest with her fingers. "Was it the night you told me you love me?" she asked softly. "That was one of my favorite nights."
"No, love. I mean the first night. At Hogwarts. When I saved your life from Zabini."
"Oh," she said, then frowned, her hand pausing in place. "What did I say?"
"'I hope we both get to see the other side of this.' Do you remember that?" he asked, hoping she did.
"Yes," she replied. "I can't believe you do."
Draco moved so that he could face her. "I thought about it all the time my seventh year. I've always wanted to ask you about it."
"Why haven't you?" Hermione propped herself on her elbow and pulled the sheet up to cover herself.
"I'm not entirely sure. I probably didn't want to hear that you had forgotten it, or that it didn't really mean anything." He shrugged.
"I meant a few things by it," she began. "I hoped we would both live through the war. I hoped we would both live to see the end of prejudice against those of 'lesser blood.' At least, to see that Muggleborns and magical creatures were fully accepted into the wizarding world."
"You've done a lot to bring that about," Draco said, smiling proudly.
"I'm not finished yet, as you know," she stated. "There's still a fair bridge to gap between wizards and goblins."
"I know, love," he said, leaning over to kiss her forehead. "You'll win them all yet."
"I also meant it personally," Hermione continued. "I had hoped that you would overcome your superiority complex and realize that people like me are just people like you."
"You're two for two, so far," he said. Then he smirked and grabbed her, pulling her flush against him again. "But you've got to cut me some slack. It's hard not to feel superior when—"
"When you are smarter, richer, and better looking than everyone else," she finished, jabbing him playfully in the chest. "I have your little spiel memorized by now."
"I love it when you say it," he mumbled into her hair. "Much sexier."
Hermione rolled her eyes but indulged him in a heated kiss.
"Wait," he said, before things progressed beyond coherent thought. "Was that all?"
"Basically. You could add that I hoped we'd see a time when we could be friends and not have to fear retribution for that relationship." She smiled. "Or maybe, just maybe, my heart already knew what the rest of me would later learn: that you were meant to love me."
"You've got that right," he drawled, capturing her mouth and giving himself up to incoherency.
It pleases me greatly to see that you were released from prison. I followed the trial as best I could, and I know that Miss Granger played a critical role in your discharge. The article on the trial was well-written, and it answered a few questions of mine.
My memories were found, as I had hoped they would be, by Miss Granger. That the letters were discovered was a stroke of luck. Had Remus lived, I have no doubt that he would have given them to Miss Granger, but I couldn't be sure that he would keep them. That's why one of the memories I left behind included me writing a letter. Remus could testify that he had, indeed, received a number of letters from you over the course of about nine months. I am grateful to Andromeda for bringing them forward.
A rumor has reached my ear that you and Miss Granger are seeing each other. I am glad you took my advice to heart and didn't let the circumstance of her birth interfere with your chance for happiness. I still wish to know what secret you kept from me all those months, though something tells me I already know. This puzzle has been on my mind more than I care to admit.
As you have probably discerned by this point, I am not, as the world believes, dead. I think I'll enjoy a few years of peaceful retirement before announcing my continued existence to the world. After all, one can't live in isolation for ever; no man is an island, Draco. You would do well to remember that. I'm plotting something grand for my return to England; I'll keep you apprised.
Keep this between us, although if your relationship with Miss Granger should reach … say, three months, I would not be opposed to you telling her. In addition, if you expect to undergo any significant rites of passage, do send me an invitation. I will be there.
I am grateful for the time we spent getting to know one another better, Draco. I am immensely proud of all that you have accomplished, and I know to expect great things from you in the future.
Good luck with everything, and if you see Minerva, tell her that May always comes before July. She will understand.
Final Notes: Anyone care to venture a guess about what Snape said to McGonagall? It's very, very obscure, and I'm probably the only one who would find it even remotely interesting.
EDIT: Okay, I've had SO many reviews about the "May before July" thing. It's time to talk about it. It's so lame, I hope you haven't gotten your hopes up! May's birthstone is Emerald, September is Ruby. Green = Slytherin, Red = Gryffindor. LAME, I know. Sorry to disappoint!
Well, that's the end! Endless thanks to my excellent betas on this story, pokeystar and sshg316. I really appreciate your thoughts and help!
As a couple of reviewers pointed out after the last chapter, with the end of this story, I will have no WIPs posted. It might be the first time since I started "We Learned the Sea" in September of 2006. I'm not really sure what to make of it! I have a few things brewing and one long story that's about 2/3 of the way done, but I won't begin to speculate about when that will be complete. So, I thank you for sticking with this story, and hope to see you around for the next one!