Yay, I'm alive! Yes, I know it's been forever. I actually just graduated college, so you can imagine how busy that's been. But I've promised to finish this, and then keep on writing-I'm sticking to that! This chapter is the second to last, so I hope you like it! I don't know how well I like it, but I know that I love what I have so far for the ending chapter, so I hope you all will love it too!


Chapter XXII

Hermione was out-of-sorts the next morning. After pouring honey on her eggs and buttering her spoon, she gave up on any sort of eating and instead resorted to brooding over a glass of pumpkin juice. Those bloody feelings she'd so stubbornly tried to squelch the night previous had only grown, and when she wasn't playing with the ends of her hair, she was consciously trying not to look at the Slytherin table. This involved a lot of staring at her fingernails. Harry repeatedly asked her if she was too tired to walk with them as they had planned, and Ginny tried her best to sneak her a biscuit, but Hermione wouldn't have any of it.

"I'm fine, really," she assured Ginny as the girl pressed a jellied biscuit into her hand. "I'm just not hungry."

This fact was beyond the youngest Weasley, who had only ever seen her brothers eat their feelings. "You have to have something!" Then, in a quieter voice, she added, "This doesn't have to do with your field trip, does it?"

Poker was not Hermione's strong suit for a reason. Her face turned a shade of red startlingly similar to the raspberry jelly that was now dripping on her hand.

At first, the younger girl seemed confused by her reaction, but she wasn't dull in any sense of the word. It took all of two seconds for her to realize that Hermione had not lied last night — she'd actually dumbed down the truth. Ginny's smile became devious, and Hermione's face went from red to sheet white. "So, Malfoy was 'nice', was he?"

Desperate, Hermione glanced Harry's way to see if he was otherwise occupied, but luck was not on her side. He seemed just as interested, though not so sly. "He did do something to you, didn't he?"

"I'll bet he did!" Ginny not-so-subtly added.

Hermione rose abruptly. "I'm leaving."

"Oh no you're not!" The redhead yanked her back down in her seat. "Spill!"

Harry was beginning to look like he'd made a wrong turn down a dark alley. "Maybe she doesn't want to —"

"What's going on between you two? I've heard some rumours, but I didn't want to believe them. Does he really fancy you?"

"What?" Now Ron was in on the conversation. Fantastic. "Herm — that git, he — what?" Beside him, Harry was gaping like an owl.

"No, no! No, he . . . I . . . er, he has a girlfriend."

All three of her friends, who couldn't say enough moments ago, fell silent. Harry's jaw was slack, and Ron had forgotten about the sausage that was lifted halfway to his mouth. Ginny looked torn between rage and delight. It was then that Hermione wished more than ever that she could Disapparate on Hogwarts' grounds. That had been her defence? Pansy Parkinson? She would have been better off pointing out that she was muggle-born. Or even laughing in their faces.

"Er, I have to go." Hermione then, quite appropriately, turned and fled the room. She could hear Ron and Harry clamouring to come after her, so as soon as the doors to the Great Hall closed, she turned in the exact opposite direction that she would normally pursue: instead of heading for the library, she headed to the Divination tower.

Draco had watched the bushy-haired Gryffindor run out of the room like a dragon was nipping at her heels with mild interest. The obvious distress of her so-called mates only added to his curiosity. To be honest, their faces were rather comical as they scrambled to follow her. Weasley was strawberry-red at this point, and Potter was shaking enough to stir a potion. Idly, he wondered what could have caused such a commotion.

He toyed with the thought that it was over the field trip yesterday. After all, those bumbling oafs could be quite possessive of their homework pass at times, and missing her for almost an entire Saturday surely cost them an essay or so. Not to mention that she was with him for that time.

The thought brought back a tingling warm feeling in his stomach. He drank some pumpkin juice to calm it.


They had found her. She didn't know how, but they had.

(Ginny had known where she had gone all along. Of the three, she best understood Hermione's logic. To Hermione's chagrin, Ginny also happened to enjoy using her own logic against her at times.)

So instead of having time to think in the Divination tower, she had been intercepted on her way there by her two possessive best mates.

"He could be using you," Harry was saying.

Ron added, "He's probably plotting something right now!"

Hermione made a valiant effort to hide her eye-roll. "He's not really like that."

"How would you know?"

"How would you?" she amended. "Have either of you spoken to him recently? Owled him?" They were staring at her as if she were raving instead of politely pointing out the obvious. "I didn't just wake up one day and decide that he was a decent bloke. He's proven it."

"It's a trick!" Ron insisted. "It's a trick and I forbid you to fancy him!"

That did it. Hermione swelled with indignation, even while she was blushing furiously. She didn't care if Ron was one of her best mates in the entire world — she could handle herself, and she was sick of being told otherwise. "Ron," she started, trembling with pent-up anger and embarrassment, "sometimes you . . . you can be such an idiot!" Instead of slapping him, which is what she really wanted to do, she turned on her heel and stomped away.

Harry and Ron watched her go in silence. They then shared a look that said that they were too frightened of her fury to pursue her this time around. Instead, the two began to wander back to the Great Hall to finish breakfast.

"She doesn't really fancy him, right?" Ron asked, with more hope than necessary.

Harry shrugged. "I don't want to think about it," he admitted.

The redhead nodded thoughtfully. They were nearing the Great Hall, and their footsteps slowed. "I still can't believe she called me an idiot," Ron absently added.

"Well if the shoe fits, Weasel." They whirled. It was, of course, none other than Draco Malfoy, who was watching them with an oddly bemused quirk of his lips. He was also alone. Harry and Ron exchanged glances again. This particular look said, You pin his arms, and I'll punch.

"What has Granger fit to tie?" he said conversationally. "Has she finally figured out her two best mates have been using her for the past few years?"

Draco had expected many things from Potter and Weasley, one of which was getting his arms pinned behind his back while the other punched him in the gut. Hell, he wouldn't have been too terribly surprised if Scarhead caught a snitch while the Weasel dribbled on his chin. What he absolutely did not expect was the matching looks of horror the two gave him.

But there they were.

He felt dumb, but he had to ask. "What?"

"You . . . Hermione . . . no!"

It wasn't an answer by any means. Leave it to a Weasley. "Do you fancy me or something?" Draco asked as he raised a fine eyebrow.

"Oh, stuff it!" Weasley practically screamed, making as if he would tackle him, but Potter intervened even while the other continued to shout. "You know what I mean, Malfoy!"

"This may shock you, but I actually have no bloody idea what you're on about," he said, examining his fingernails nonchalantly.

It was then that Potter chimed in, demanding, "Leave Hermione alone, that's what!"

That caught Draco's attention, and his breath, too. So that spat earlier was about him? He hardly knew what to think. His mind had slowed down to a crawl, but thankfully, it was still much faster than theirs. "Leave her alone? I haven't done a thing." He said it smoothly and cautiously, the same way the groundskeeper might have talked to his monthly poor-excuse-of-a-pet.

"Liar!" Weasley shouted.

"You're the reason she left the Great Hall," Potter added. "You're . . . confusing her! Stop it!"

Seriously? The only confused people seemed to be the ones standing in front of him, fighting each other while staring him down. They still hadn't bothered to try and attack him, even though he was perfectly alone. And besides, when was Hermione Granger ever confused in the first pl . . . oh.

Oh.

He rather liked this.

"Let me get this straight," he started levelly, barely managing to contain his smile. "Your little dictionary fancies me?"

"No!" they both shouted vehemently.

"Then why confront me in the first place?"

This gave the others pause. Draco nearly rolled his eyes. "Never mind," he said. "I've better ways to spend my time than with you two idiots. When you figure out what you want to say, send me an owl." With that, he strode past them towards the dungeons.

But to Draco, he felt as if he were flying, head in the clouds, without a care in the world. He'd begun to hope like he'd never hoped before. If what she had said to them had inspired that little exchange with those two trolls, there must have been something to say about her regard for him. It was a risk, but Draco finally believed that the odds were in his favour. He smiled to himself, and that warmth sprung up again. Although he didn't have any pumpkin juice this time around to cool himself, he didn't mind. Draco didn't want this feeling to ever leave him again.

He only had one small obstacle.

It attached itself to his side as soon as he entered the common room, begging for his attention. "Draco! Will you help me with my potions essay? Please?"

Draco had never realized how much he disliked Pansy Parkinson until that very moment. He glanced over at her, all distraction, and couldn't help but wonder if he'd ever seen her. The real her. Her sleek hair was much too short, her nose upturned in constant disdain, and when she smiled, it never reached her eyes. What was the word?

Fake.

Funny, he'd never thought that it would have mattered before. But now everything she did was simply grating. And this the girl he was going to marry? She had no charms, no wit. And, if he was being completely honest, she was a bit . . . mean. It made him appreciate Hermione that much more.

In the recesses of his mind, he began to formulate his breakup with one Pansy Parkinson. It would have to be a clean break, with plenty of witnesses so that she wouldn't maim him. (He certainly knew her capable of it.) The thought kept him up all night, but whenever he felt himself to be too tired to continue, the mere thought of Hermione's behaviour on the field trip renewed his drive. He'd stopped questioning this a long time ago, and instead let himself be carried, higher and higher, until the warmth this time touched the roots of his hair.

His courage faltered at breakfast that Monday, but by lunch he had regained his bearings and could wait no longer. All it took was a deep breath, expelled through his mouth, teeth and lips, forming those words that crumpled her face almost immediately.

"Why?" she said.

I fancy someone else. Someone who doesn't purse her lips whenever I open my mouth. "I don't want to date you anymore," he said instead. It sounded fine in his head, but he saw anger flash in her eyes and immediately stepped back. "Sorry. You can find someone better." If you create my clone. When she began to cry, he took it as his cue to exit, and rather hastily at that.

"W-where are you going?" she demanded, so shocked by his impartiality that her tears momentarily halted.

Draco didn't even glance over his shoulder as he said, "I'm going to the library."

"Wait," she called, and he obliged her, impatiently crossing his arms.

"What?"

She didn't waste any more of his time. She took two steps forward and punched him square in the nose.


Hope you guys liked it! Next chapter is the last. Will they get together? (Yeah, like there's a question.) Anyways, please review!