A Concerted Effort to Disagree
fine and convoluted line
"They're not going to like you much after this," Draco commented as they picked their way down one of the many staircases to the Great Hall.
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "They don't like me much to begin with. It's not as if it'll make much difference."
He reached out to tangle his fingers in hers. "I meant, your bloody Gryffindors. The Slytherins are going to act all chipper as part of their little game." He cringed. "But your House is going to have no idea what's going on, they're just going to think you've gone off the deep end. That you've betrayed them. This isn't going to be easy."
She shrugged, and moved a little closer to his side. He put his arm around her shoulders, turning just slightly to inhale the scent of her hair. It fell, loose and curly, around her shoulders, a little bit wet still at the ends. She would look—at least, they had speculated as much—as though she had just taken a shower with him, since his own platinum locks were still damp at the tips. Well, if she looked that way, it was because it was the truth. The shadow of a smirk turned his lips as he recalled the particular way she said his name while he had her up against the cold tile wall.
"The only ones who really matter are Harry and Ron and Ginny, and they've all come round," she answered him quietly. "I'm hoping that their approval will be enough to shield me from the worst of the torment, but if it isn't, I'm sure the worst they'll do is ignore me. It's what they've done to Harry every time he earns their disapproval. I'm less well-known; I'm sure my…inclinations…will come as less of a blow."
They were nearly to the Great Hall, and, by increasing the pressure around her shoulders, he forced her to come to a stop. He turned her to face him, his hands clasped loosely around her upper arms.
"I can still call it off," he told her, looking down into her golden-brown eyes.
She shook her head. "You don't have enough sway anymore. You know that. Pansy will get the others to eat you alive. She'll realize you're just protecting me, and that will make it so much worse." Her eyes danced. "Besides, we'd have to go public sometime. We might as well do it in the hopes of keeping us both safe."
He lifted a hand to brush a thumb lightly over her lips. "Gryffindor through and through," he said finally, unable to say what he really meant, but she seemed to understand. She leaned up to kiss his cheek, her lips brushing tenderly across his skin, and then folded her hand into his own.
"Ready?" she murmured. When he nodded, she pulled him gently toward the Great Hall.
For a moment, they stood in the entrance, their eyes seeking out Pansy's black hair and Blaise's dark skin, dawdling just long enough for people to notice their joined hands, the intimate way Draco leaned down to whisper in her ear. The talk in the Hall grew just slightly louder; out of the corner of his eye, Draco noticed the hard set of Snape's jaw as he watched them, and the way McGonagall's eyebrows were about to disappear into her hairline. With a tug, he pulled Hermione forward with him, toward Pansy and Blaise, as the talk in the Hall swelled.
To his credit, Blaise looked suitably surprised, though flashed a smirk at Draco when Hermione was busying herself with the marmalade. "Morning, Granger," he drawled.
She nodded back to him, only a faint smile at the corner of her mouth. "Morning."
"Lovely to have you here again," Pansy directed at her. "I must say, we all knew it was just…a matter of time."
Hermione's expression of polite incredulity was well-done, Draco thought. "A matter of time?" she questioned.
"Oh, you know." Pansy waved a hand between Hermione and Draco. "Ever since Halloween, it's been like a ticking time bomb. He's obviously quite…smitten with you." She smirked at Draco.
"I don't think smitten is quite within my range," Draco replied, cocking an eyebrow at the pair of them. Blaise laughed, but Draco saw Pansy covertly examining the barely-visible mark he'd left on Hermione's throat during the night. Hermione, noticing the scrutiny, blushed and immediately adjusted her blouse, better arranging the collar to hide the bruise. She was a good actress, given the chance, Draco thought with amusement as Hermione allowed her fingertips to brush the sore skin, and her teeth bit into her lower lip to stop a smile. She was doing well to act the part of the besotted, lovesick fool—with good subtlety, even.
"Oh, dear…your Gryffindors aren't happy with you, Granger," Pansy crowed, leaning to the side to see past Hermione.
"I'm sure they aren't," Hermione answered dismissively. "It's my choice, not theirs. Marmalade?"
Pansy accepted, her eyes still on the Gryffindor table. "Is the one with red hair one of your friends?" she asked, and to his complete horror, Draco saw a faint light of interest dawning in Pansy's dark green eyes.
Before Hermione could answer, Blaise cut in dismissively. "It's Weasley. Unless you're talking about the girl, in which case, it's Weaselette. Not interested, are you, Pans?"
Both Draco and Blaise roared in laughter at this comment, but the former could tell that, beneath her surface sneer, Pansy was shocked by this information. Perhaps she hadn't been keeping as close an eye on the Gryffindor trio as he had all these years; perhaps she hadn't recognized him straight off as the Boy Wonder's best friend.
"As if," she snorted disdainfully, but catching the dangerous look in Hermione's eye, she hastened to add, "of course, I'm sure he's lovely and all, it's just…I'm not partial to red hair."
It was a fine and convoluted line to walk, Draco thought. They had to act as if they accepted Hermione on most levels; they had to act as if Draco would tear the mickey out of them if they upset her. And all the while, they were inwardly having a good laugh, believing that Draco would laugh along with them when they got the chance to talk about it behind her back. He hid the flicker of annoyance in his eyes by ducking his head and pulling a plate of fried eggs toward him.
It was going to be a long few months.
She had avoided her House all weekend, but there was nothing for it when Monday morning rolled around. They had a rough time of finding a fourth member for their group during Herbology that day. None of the Gryffindors appeared to want to talk to Hermione at all, and the Hufflepuffs were just as badly tempered. Eventually, however, Neville sidled over to the three of them.
"Mind if I join you?" he asked.
"Sure, Neville," Harry replied, gathering around the cropping of Chinese Chomping Cabbages they needed to tend to. "We're in sore need of a fourth, as everyone seems to have suddenly developed an aversion to Hermione."
Neville glanced at her in discomfort. "He isn't blackmailing you, is he?" he asked her in a worried voice.
She let out a laugh that earned her a glare from everyone nearby. "No, Neville," she said gently. "He's just sort of grown on me. I promise, I'm fine. Mentally stable and all that." She pulled on her dragon hide gloves. "You'll see."
Neville didn't look quite convinced, but knelt down beside her nonetheless. "You know, he hasn't really tormented me all term," he muttered thoughtfully. "I just reckoned he'd gotten bored of it, or something, but…"
"He's different," Hermione agreed, gently disentangling weeds from around the bases of her cabbage. It stirred and attempted a playful bite at her fingers, which she snatched quickly out of reach. "I wouldn't be with him if he wasn't. There's only so much braid-pulling a girl can take before it isn't fun anymore, you know."
Ron cast her a slightly bemused look, as though the analogy had gone over his head. "What was Parkinson staring at Saturday morning, anyway?" he asked, disentangling the weeds from his own cabbage none too gently; it snapped angrily at him. "The way she was looking at us…"
Hermione stifled a giggle. Ron frowned at her.
"What? What's so funny?"
"It's…oh, I shouldn't laugh," she said, before another burst of giggles seized her. "I think she might be interested in you, Ron."
He stared at her as though he hadn't heard her.
"She didn't say so, of course," Hermione added, now gingerly adding manure around the cabbage. It snuggled itself closer to the earth in response. "But she was leaning around me, looking at our table and how everyone was looking just furious about me and Draco, and she asked who the one with the red hair was with this look, you know, like she liked what she saw."
The strained, dumbfounded silence was broken by Harry's chuckle of laughter. He tried to subdue it beneath the guise of a cough. Ron turned to glare at him.
"It isn't funny."
Harry coughed again. "No, not at all," he chuckled. "Next thing you know you're all going to be going out with Slytherins."
"I hope you're including yourself in this," Ron shot back at him.
Harry shrugged. "Nah, I've got Ginny. I don't reckon even the likes of Pansy Parkinson could tear me away." Failing to hide his grin, he turned back to his cabbage, ignoring a fuming Ron.
Hermione, fighting down a smile, turned back to her own Chinese Chomping Cabbage. Neville patted her on the shoulder. "If it makes you happy," he said, giving her a smile, "I reckon you know him better than we do, now."
She smiled back at him. "Thanks, Neville."
Draco was waiting for her at the castle steps when the period had ended to walk with her to Arithmancy. He exchanged pleasant, if overly polite, greetings with Harry and Ron—all of them acknowledging one another with surnames only—and then turned to Hermione. "The torture killing you yet?" he asked, a smirk playing on his lips.
She shrugged, slipping her hand into his. "They're just ignoring me. It isn't so bad. And Neville's even come round. Imagine that."
"Longbottom?" He raised his eyebrows. "I thought he'd be the last to do so, since I've tormented him directly…"
"Well, Hermione reckons you've changed," Neville's voice emerged from the throng, and he stepped out of the students who were still filing up the castle steps, his hands in his pockets. "And I trust her judgment, as she's rarely led us astray before."
A flicker of surprise crossed Draco's features before he nodded. "Thanks, Longbottom. I'm sure she appreciates that."
Neville nodded back and went on up the steps. "I'll tell you what, he can have his shot at Aunt Bella," Draco muttered, watching him go. "She's a nutter, big as they come, and I'm sure it would give him some satisfaction."
Hermione shot him a startled look.
"What, you thought I didn't know?" He cringed as they mounted the steps and moved off toward Arithmancy. "She makes everyone but Mum uncomfortable, anyway, you know, and that's just because they're sisters—blood is blood. It's always…creeped me out, a little, the way she did the things she did. She told me I was weak because I didn't have the stomach for the Unforgiveables…but I reckon you have to be a little less human, you know, to really get the hang of them."
Hermione slid her arm through his and rested her cheek against his shoulder despite the shocked and revolted looks this drew from the students around them, except those who were too young to appreciate the taboo.
"What?" he asked her, amused.
She glanced up at him with a smile. "It's just good to know that you're really all human."
He snickered and rumpled her hair in retribution.
She could get used to this, she thought, as a passing Gryffindor muttered a derisive comment under his breath, and Draco pulled her a bit closer, seemingly content to walk at her side.
"It could have been worse, don't you think?" Hermione asked quietly as she flicked yet another piece of crumpled-up parchment into the fire. The flames licked it up with greed. The little bits had started to accumulate in her hair, on her clothes, and in her bag after lunch, as the students united in their campaign to show her just how much they disapproved of her choices.
"I suppose they could have drawn and quartered us by now," Draco agreed, yawning and stretching before abandoning his homework at his desk and coming to sit beside her. Forgetting the bits of parchment, she slipped under his arm, resting her cheek against his shoulder and letting the combined warmth of the fire and his body wash over her.
"I'm still curious, you know," she said quietly, glancing up at him.
"About what?" he answered lazily, having taken up the task of throwing the rumpled-up pieces of paper into the flames.
"About why you joined the Order." He stiffened immediately, and made as though to pull away from her. "Relax," she soothed, tugging on his arm to pull him back to her. "I'm not trying to start a fight. I'm just curious. Is it really just because you feel indebted to them for protecting you and your mother? That's all?"
"You forgot the bit where I mentioned you might be uncomfortable shagging a Death Eater," he returned irritably, but he had relaxed some, at least; he tugged her to her feet and then sat down in his armchair, pulling her down to get comfortable on his lap.
"Yes, there's that, but..." She hesitated. She didn't want him angry at her again, but the longing to know his motivations was gnawing at her. "It was just the way you reacted. 'Isn't it obvious?'" she quoted, and tucked her head into the crook of his neck and shoulder, watching the fire. "It had to have meant something."
She felt him swallow—a gulp, almost. "It did," he said quietly, and then fell silent once more, his fingers toying with her hair; if she wasn't absolutely mistaken, his pulse had increased; she could feel it just beneath her cheek.
"And?" she prompted, her voice soft. She glanced up at him to find him already looking down at her with wariness.
His fingers knotted in her hair, and he gently pulled her head back to give him access to her mouth; he kissed her deeply, tenderly, the way he had kissed her after coming back from patrolling with Pansy, the way he had kissed her the night before she had set off for the cave with Harry and Ron. It was passionate, heady, eliciting a sudden spike in her pulse, a rushing in her ears that could only be her rising blood pressure.
When he pulled back from her, he traced the outline of her lips, swollen from his ministrations, his eyes on her. "You must have some idea," he murmured, dipping his head to press his lips to her neck—the sensitive spot, just below her jaw, the one that made her feel faint when his tongue touched it.
Something stirred in the back of her mind, a thought, a hope, that was immediately dashed. "I despise guessing games," she grumbled, failing to sound unhappy when her breath hitched in the midst of her sentence; his teeth were pressing lightly at the juncture of her neck and shoulder.
He lifted his head to look at her again, his eyes silver, uncertain, and vulnerable. "I'm not sure I can tell you," he said softly, pressing a kiss to her forehead.
She tried to grin. "Is it that horrible?"
"Yes," he answered seriously. "I mean, it could be."
She shifted so that she could better face him; straddling his lap, she sat back on his legs, her own folded to either side of her. Lifting a hand, she swept his platinum hair off his forehead. Her fingers explored the outline of his jaw, her eyes following the path her fingertips made. He closed his eyes, a sigh escaping his lips. She realized, with a jolt, how utterly receptive he'd been to her affections today, how affectionate he'd been in return; she'd once thought this sort of thing would be impossible, but now…
"I promise I won't laugh," she whispered, leaning in a bit closer to him. "Or tell anyone," she added as an afterthought.
His eyes had opened and were looking into hers with amusement. "It wouldn't matter. They wouldn't believe you."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Oh? If they can believe that you're willing to date me, I'm sure they can believe a great many things—"
"I love you."
She was certain that she hadn't heard correctly. He'd spoken so quietly, after all, that she had barely heard anything above the reeling tangle of her own words, interrupted by his soft pronouncement. He looked at her quite steadily, all traces of amusement gone, a dark seriousness in his silver eyes.
"I mean—" He shook his head, as though annoyed with himself. "I meant to say it like this."
He leaned in, and his words whispered across her lips. "I love you," he said, and then kissed her.
It deepened, strengthened, grew; her pulse was singing in her ears as she rose up to her knees, and his hands wrapped tenderly around her hips, and her fingers ran through his hair, tipping his face up to hers. It was a moment before she pulled back, realizing she was nearly gasping for air.
"You…" she whispered, staring down into his eyes.
He firmly but gently pushed her back, putting her feet on the floor, and followed her up, wrapping an arm around her waist. His hand lifted to cup her cheek. "I love you," he murmured, confirming, his eyes searching hers.
A smile was blooming across her swollen lips; she could feel it tugging at the muscles in her face, as though she'd never smiled quite so properly before. "You love me?" she whispered, wrapping her arms around his neck.
"I wasn't sure, at first," he said quietly. "It was so—unfamiliar…" He hesitated. "I just felt protective. I liked making you laugh. I liked making you happy…I didn't like spending time away from you. Eventually—obviously—I wanted to shag you. It was…consuming me. And just having you like that wasn't enough. I suppose that's what love is, isn't it? Being so…obsessed…with the desire for someone's flesh, and even having had them like that, you want more. You need more." He paused again, looking down at her. "Well?" he murmured. "Curiosity satisfied?"
The words fell from her mouth, not an answer, but simple truth.
"I love you, Draco."
His breath hitched in shock, but she didn't give him time to freeze with it; she pulled him down to the couch with her, and his body half-draped over hers, as she pulled his lips to hers for a kiss.
After a moment, though, he pulled back. "You…" he began, and for once, he sounded quite wrong-footed.
"I love you," she repeated, her voice shaking with her sincerity. "I have since…didn't you know? You were the reason I couldn't just accept Ron, why Pansy upset me so much that night—I thought you would have seen it, in my mind—"
"I did," he interrupted, looking quite gobsmacked, "I just—I didn't quite believe it. I thought you liked me a lot, sure, but—"
"No," she cut across him. "I was obsessed. I was distraught. It was like all I could think of was you, and how you would never care for me like that, or really see me as me, rather than a Gryffindor, a Mudblood—"
He silenced her with his lips, pressing urgently to hers as one hand tangled in her hair, the other stroking along the curve of her hip. "I see you as you," he whispered, when he had moved to her neck, and his lips moving against her sensitive skin made her squirm with desire. His fingertips loosened the buttons of her blouse, exposing her skin an inch at a time. "Just Hermione. Brave, stubborn, smart, bit of a temper—accepting, unfailingly kind, even when I didn't deserve it…when I still don't…"
She sat up enough to allow him to pull her shirt over her head, and then pulled him back to her, gazing up into his face as she undid the buttons of his shirt in turn. "You always made up for it," she said quietly. "Everyone deserves kindness, Draco."
He didn't argue with her as she tossed his shirt to the side; he allowed her to remove the rest of his clothing, and reached for hers with an urgency that was gentle and yet desperate all at once. There was quiet as his body overlapped hers, as his hand held her hip and the other lost itself in her mane of chestnut-brown hair. And then, as the tension built, he murmured the words into her flesh, over and over again; she said them back, first in a whisper, then in a murmur, and then in a breathless moan as tears pricked her eyes and she arched into him, her hands grasping at the couch as her body pressed up against his, and with a last, broken whisper of her name, he collapsed against her, spent.
For a moment, they lay in silence, breathing becoming less laboured. He rolled from on top of her, giving her room to breathe, and pulled her instead to rest her head against his chest, keeping her body pressed to his side. She fought the sudden upsurge of emotion at this simple gesture, but couldn't suppress the sniff that gave her away.
He turned onto his side to face her, getting a better view. "What's wrong?" he asked, running his thumb beneath her eyes to wipe away the tears.
She shook her head. "Nothing." When he looked unconvinced, she sighed. "I know it doesn't make sense, but I'm happy. I just…" Another wave of emotion hit her, and she buried her face against his chest. "I wasn't sure you'd ever feel the same, let alone tell me," she whispered, hoping he could still hear her.
He gave a bemused chuckle. "I'll never understand women. You laugh when you're furious and cry when you're happy. It makes no sense."
She sniffed. "Don't bother trying to understand it. It's no use. I don't get it, either."
His arms tightened around her as she felt a yawn stretch through him. "That was hardly the most acrobatic thing we've ever done," he said dryly, "but I'm exhausted."
She yawned too, and glanced up from his chest. "Me too."
With a groan of reluctance, he got to his feet, and then leaned down to pick her up; she squealed as he lifted her into his arms and carried her toward the stairs. "Relax," he said, with a grin that was more genuine than many she had seen on his features. "I won't drop you."
He did throw her, however, once they'd reached his bed, and she laughed as she bounced on the sheets. He threw himself down after her, pulled her against his chest, and yanked the blankets up over them with another yawn before kissing her on the cheek. His arm draped over her waist, securing her against him. "Good night, Hermione," he murmured.
She stretched against him with a smile. "Good night, Draco," she whispered back, feeling his body relax into sleep, and, closing her eyes, she followed him.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Well, there you have it, the big moment! This is going to be my last update until finals are finished next week, so savor it, people. I also reckon this story doesn't have much to go, another ten chapters, perhaps. And it's about time, as I've been working on it for over a year. Review for me, lovelies. :D And, on another note, thank you so much to all the unregistered people who've left me such lovely reviews! I'm sorry I can't reply to you all personally, but know that your words really encourage me to keep writing!
However, I would like to leave this one reply to the reviewers who have disagreed with/agreed with/discussed Narcissa's behavior back in one of the earlier chapters: Hermione has proven that she develops a great weakness in her Gryffindor bravado whenever she falls in love (case in point: the mess she was in over Ron during their sixth year). She's still a teenager, she's still confused, and it's entirely plausible (in my mind, anyway) that she wouldn't react too strongly to Narcissa, hoping not to offend the woman who one day could be her mother-in-law. And as for Narcissa's behavior, and her question to Hermione, I think Draco has made it unfortunately obvious-despite his hope at subtlety-in his letters to his mother that he has developed some sort of soft spot for Hermione, and Narcissa simply assumes that Hermione returns the sentiment. Through their little arguments at dinner, I hoped to convey that, though their love is unconventional, it's still there-in its own unusual way. They arouse a passion in each other that, especially on Draco's end, is not expressed otherwise.