Title: Virtus et Iudicium

Author: Anjali Malfoy

Rating: T

Disclaimer: I do not in any way, shape, or form, own Harry Potter or its characters.

A/N: Wow, I am so sorry this took so long to update – my quarter just swamped me with inorganic chemistry, biochemistry, physical chemistry, and then I was TA'ing organic chemistry! Had about 10 tests in 11 weeks and then grading for organic chemistry so you can imagine how just stressful that was!

This is the last chapter – I want to give a huge thanks to those who still stuck with this even though I unfortunately updated a couple months since the last chapter. I hope this chapter lives up to your expectations and that it was worth the long wait!

Chapter XIII: Verus Diligo

"Love teneo haud terminus ut suus patientia , haud terminus ut suus fides , haud pallor of suus spes ; is can barbaricus quisquam. Diligo etiam sto ut totus alius has fallen." -- "Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope; it can outlast anything. Love still stands when all else has fallen."

Hermione lay nestled in her bed, the satin sheets bunched around her curled body. Her chest fell and rose slightly with each shallow breath, the movement causing her sprawled curls to move like waves across the pillow. A sudden noise broke her sleep. Peering in the dark room, she saw a white owl tapping insistently at her window. Her initial annoyance at the disturbance to what had been her first good night of sleep in a very long time changed to apprehension and fear when she saw the signature crest emblazoned on the cover of the parchment.

Hermione ripped open the letter, not caring that she had torn part of the parchment in her haste. Her heart beating fast, she unfolded the letter, before closing her eyes and pressing it close to her heart. She felt nauseous; her stomach was churning as though she were just entering a N.E.W.T exam, knowing that the impact this one letter could have on her life. Her heart was racing, as though she had ingested an unhealthy amount of caffeine, making her head faint and her mind dizzy. Breathing deeply, she stared at the letter in front of her, as the sea of black ink slowly began to form coherent words and sentences.

"I spoke to Dumbledore. While part of me is aching to tell you the details of our arrangement, I prefer to err on the side of caution and will be more specific when we meet in case this gets intercepted."

Hermione laughed thickly, her laughter blending in with her tears. Trust Draco to always mix in his sarcastic humor with seriousness. He had spoken to Dumbledore…..he wouldn't have unless he was considering becoming a spy or an Auror for the Order….right? She hungrily read more, already feeling a feeling of euphoria rising in her stomach.

"Just know, that I have chosen you, your morals, and your path. Regardless of what decision you make, just remember…. I'll always love you."


Unable to control herself any longer, Hermione broke down, as she clutched his letter to her chest. He had chosen her. He had chosen the Order. She felt as though her smile would break her face, finally, finally at long last she could see some light at the end of the very long tunnel.

Still smiling she lay down on her bed, holding his letter to her heart, the parchment now wet with her tears. She would never let go of this letter; she would never throw it away.

Draco had fulfilled his end of the bargain. She knew she was needed to do. She was scared, worried of the possible ramifications of her actions, but all it took was a reminder of what Draco had sacrificed in the decision he had made to embolden her. If he became a spy, he would have contact with his family, though she knew Draco would be guilt-ridden the whole time, the feeling intensifying with each passing second. He knew his hands could possibly be tainted with the blood of his own parents. Regardless of the way they had raised him, they were his parents, and the feelings of disgust, betrayal, and guilt would scar him for the rest of his life.

It was time for her to do her part now.

. & .

Hermione wiped her hands nervously on the back of her robes as she paced nervously in front of the balcony of the Astronomy Tower. There had to be a dark mark on her robe, she felt as though she was practically swimming in a sea of regret and guilt. Her body and face felt hot, even as the chilly and harsh wind whipped and cut her clothes, face, and hair like a newly sharpened sword.

Two weeks. It had been two weeks since she had left Ron but he was still volatile – even the smallest thing could set him off. He was like a ticking time bomb, waiting for the slightest spark to detonate, resulting in havoc and chaos that couldn't be undone. Any wrong word, no any slight ambiguity in her words could be that spark -- she'd have to be firm and tight, yet considerate and tactful. But how could she possibly achieve that, was it even humanly possible, knowing just how firmly Ron stood on the issue of her dating Malfoy?

"She'll have to make a decision, and if she chooses that ruddy bastard, I want nothing to do with her. Tell her that."

His words still stung - the cut jagged like a thorn, the wound deep enough to draw blood, painful enough to cause a sliver of sorrow and a delicate flash of humiliation and longing at her every thought and action. Though they were said in a drunken stupor, those words held some truth.

But she couldn't give up hope. Not entirely. Not yet. Even now, something within her was compelling her to appeal to the romantic, humane side of Ron. Could it compensate for his stubborn, hotheaded side? No, she knew the chances were slim, yet she was here anyways.

She couldn't help but pray that those words were just said in anger, in the heat of the moment. After all, he had said those words just hours after she had left him. So there was a possibility that in these two weeks, he realized he didn't mean those. But she knew; she had always known just how deep the hatred between the Malfoy and Weasley families lay.

Maybe it would be enough just to say she was interested in someone else? Knowing her interests had changed wind so quickly would wreak a wave of pain and anger but knowing the offending person was Malfoy would bring yet another onslaught of hate and anger. In truth, after knowing that Draco had become one of the Order, he was now in graver danger than he had been in his whole life. He was following Snape's footsteps by becoming a spy for the Order, and each second he spent in the Slytherin dorms in the presence of his peers was a dangerous second for at any moment, his true loyalties could be exposed and his life in danger. But it was far too risky to move him to another part of the castle for his presence in the Slytherin common room would be suspicious and highly irregular.

So Hermione knew, it would not bode well for any soul barring that of Harry to know of the potential relationship between the two – though Ron meant well, he had a penchant for losing his temper and blurting out information that was better left unsaid. Revealing any liaison between the two would not only jeopardize Malfoy's role as a spy but more importantly, his life.

Their relationship would only come to life after the War was over, or until there was no lingering doubt that Ron would sabotage - albeit on accident - their relationship. But she remembered what Harry said – she had a game plan but these conversations were not ones that had a template, you had to go with the flow and hold your ground. Love - like war - was a balance between improvisation and preparation.

Hermione started as a noise behind her jerked her roughly out of her thoughts. Ron was climbing through the door, awkwardly, his hands fingering the edges of his cloak.

"Erm, hi," he stuttered, still standing next to the door. "Sorry I'm erm a little late…I was in detention…Snape made me stay a little after…you know how he is," he said in the same uneasy voice, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

"Oh that's alright," Hermione said quickly, waving her hand emphatically. She was practically suffocating from the sheer awkwardness that lay between them. Ron nodded, his eyes staring out into the night sky. Hermione bit her lip, rocking back and forth, her mind racking for something to break the tense silence.

"So, why did you owl me to meet you here?" Ron asked finally, moving a few steps forward, burying his hands in his pockets.

"I just needed to talk about something. I've been thinking over the past two weeks, about us, about everything that happened between us, and I figured it was time to set things straight."

Hermione snuck a peek at Ron's visage, hoping his expression might hint at the impact her words might have had on him – she was startled to see a small grin break across his face and his eyes soften. But it also emboldened her, sending her a small sliver of hope at the possible amicable resolution of this situation.

"Why do you look so –" Any question she lay unspoken as her voice faltered and recoiled back into her throat like a snake curling back after striking, when he took a couple more steps closer to her.

"I knew we would come to this," he interrupted, reaching out and grasping her hand from where it lay at her side, gently caressing her hand with his. "I knew you would come around and we would be alright. Just say the word Hermione, just say the word."

Hermione gaped at him confused at his sudden romantic and gentle gesture, then gasped internally as realization thudded painfully in the bottom of her gut. With a sudden, swift move, she took her hand back, leaving Ron's grasping for the wind, and took several steps back.

"I'm sorry," she choked out. Helplessness filled her gut as she realized just how optimistic her letter and her words must have made him. Ron looked down at her, confusion written all over his brown eyes. "I'm sorry Ron. I shouldn't have written and said what I did."

Turning her back to him, she buried her head in her hands. "Dammit, what I was I thinking," she berated herself,

"Hermione," said Ron, his strong arms yanking her from the balcony and holding her at arm's length. "What is going on? Why did you call me here if not to get back together with me?"

"Ron, I didn't want you to find out right now, so soon, but I thought it'd be…more appropriate if you found out from…me, instead of through other ways."

"Find what out," Ron asked exasperatedly, "Hermione, for Merlin's sake, will you stop beating around the bloody bush and say what's bothering you?"

Hermione opened her mouth but no words came out. "I've been," she started, licking her lips nervously, "I like someone." Yes, her confession wasn't entirely true, she had every intention of dating Draco but she wouldn't in any way mention or insinuate a possible liaison, due to the potential danger Draco could become embroiled in.

"Liking someone?" Ron abruptly let go of her shoulders as though they were made of burning coals, his arms dropping limply to his side, "Liking someoneromantically? " "No, I called you to the most secluded place in the castle to tell you I have a new friend." She bit back the sarcastic retort as she senses Ron's anger building up, emanating like waves from him, growing stronger with each passing second and automatically knew she was right in withholding Draco's name.

"I didn't try to," she said hastily placing her hand on his arm, "I didn't mean to, it just happened, Ron listen to me, ok, just hear me out ---"

"I don't want to hear anything you have to say!," he yelled, turning back at her, before whirling around and pointing a shaking finger in her face, "I can't see anything except that you left me just two weeks ago and you are interested in someone else. Two weeks Hermione. Do I mean that little to you? Was what we had that pathetic that you moved on so quickly? I know you Hermione, you wouldn't become involved with someone in two weeks. That's not like you, you always need more time….unless….."

Ron stopped, his eyes widening even larger, as he staggered back, his body hunched over as though a boulder had just been slammed into his abdomen."You started liking him while we were together." Hermione felt as though someone had dumped a bucket of ice water over her head at his words. She hadn't planned on this. "So that's why you'd began doubting what we had." Ron started pacing back and forth rubbing his hands together, "I can't believe how I didn't see until now…how could you Hermione? How could you lead me on like that? Was everything we had just as fake?" he snarled, stopping in his tracks and facing her.

"I told you, if I had a choice ---"

"Enough with the wordplay Hermione," snapped Ron, his bitter laughter echoing throughout the balcony, "I may be thick but I'm not stupid. Just give me the bloody answers; I'm not in the mood for your articulate crap. You began liking him while we were together didn't you?"

"I ---"

"Just give me a "yes" or a "no"", Ron roared, ripping his cloak off and throwing it behind him, "I'm not asking you for a 700 word essay answer. I just need a bloody "yes" or "no.""

"Yes, I did," Hermione said sharply, "And it was towards the end, not in the middle of our relationship."

Ron rolled his eyes as if to say that it didn't make a difference.

"Who is this bloke," he asked gruffly, blinking back the few tears that were blurring his vision. Sadness and rage were coursing through his body, but as usual, his anger was overpowering any sliver of humiliation, sadness, and helplessness that was poisoning his body. He could feel himself coming perilously close to throttling her, or himself, or someone just to relieve the feeling inside his body. It was through his insides were being ripped apart. He wanted to yell, to break something, rip something to shreds, shatter a perfect sheet of glass, ruin something that had at one point been perfect, just like his and Hermione's relationship, but at this point nothing could appease the storm that was inside him.

"That's not important right now Ron," Hermione said desperately, feeling as though she was coming perilously close to the cliff, that if she fell over, she could, in no way, appease Ron. "Can we please just talk about my liking another guy."

"Who is it Hermione?" he yelled, turning around.

"I am not telling you until we finish talking about what we started – I am not bringing in someone else until youcalm….down," she said sternly.

"Calm down? I've just found my girlfriend was interested in someone else while we were together and you want me to calm down? It's someone I hate isn't it?" he spat bitterly, his voice lowering a few notches from his yelling as he yanking his collar, which had become twisted in the whipping wind. "Otherwise you'd have no problems throwing his name in my face."

"That's not true and you know that Ron," Hermione said evenly. "I just want to talk about this."

"Fine," he said simply. Hermione blinked at him in surprise as he sat down on the ledge across from her but her surprise was transient, the hope of a peaceful chat erased as he continued, "Let's talk. Oh but about what? How you broke my bloody heart? Or how about my insufferable personality? Oh and then there's my personal favorite: my replace ability," he spat disgustedly, " and insignificance. Go ahead, pick one." He stared at her evenly, his eyes chips of ice, hard and glassy, yet glistening with defiance and pain, tinted with compassion though in the blink of an eye it was wiped clean.

" Actually you know what," Ron said abruptly, before Hermione could talk, "I've changed my mind. I don't care; nothing you could say could make me feel otherwise. Just tell me who this person is."

"I cannot tell you that Ron," Hermione said thrown off momentarily by his brusque demeanor, "I will give you the answers to any question you ask of me but not to that question."

"Why not?" he snapped, "There are only two reasons you wouldn't tell me: 1. I hate the bastard and is a mortal enemy or 2. He's my friend and there's someone very unbecoming about dating a friend's former girlfriend."

"And what about the fact that you have a penchant for humiliating and taking every advantage of cursing them?" she replied hotly, "I am very well acquainted with the tricks you employ. Ginny's ex boyfriends have been on the receiving end of some very unpleasant "practical jokes.""

"There is a difference between you and Ginny," Ron snapped, "Ginny is my sister."

"Do you really expect me to believe that you would spare him?" Hermione asked incredulously, crossing her arms over her chest, trying to make it sound like this was the sole reason for her reluctance to tell him.

"Trust me Hermione," Ron said, rolling his eyes again, sending a wave of anger mixed with sadness through her, "I would have done that before we began dating, but you've made it very, very clear that you don't like me anymore, and it'd make me look stupid and petty to do that. Besides," he said standing up and staring her directly into her eyes, "I will find out eventually won't I? And wasn't it you who said you'd rather tell me? What, did the brilliant Hermione Granger make a mistake? Not possible." His eyes were now mocking her, as though goading her to give in.

"Fine, I made a mistake," she shouted, "But I have my reasons for not telling his name. You have a temper Ron, and I know what you turn into when you get angry albeit accidentally –"

"What I turn into?" Ron hissed, his eyes narrowing, "What do I turn into? Is it worse than a backstabbing girlfriend?"

Hermione ignored his jab – she was determined to focus on the matter at hand. "You know very well what you turn into Ron," she hissed back stepping backward as he slowly advanced on her, listening to her word closely, "You reveal stuff that's better left unsaid when you're angry. And I cannot have you reveal the name of this boy because you will put him in danger, Ron, and that is something I cannot live with."

"Danger hmm..." Ron said, his eyes glinting maliciously, "Danger. " Hermione froze as it hit her just what she had divulged. "Tell me something Hermione," Ron continued, as he circled her like she was his prey, "Why would he be in danger if I mentioned you liked him?"

Hermione didn't say anything even as she felt Ron's eyes boring a hole in the back of her head.

"Who is it Hermione," he snarled, "You may be brilliant but you just utterly screwed up. If I really want to know who this is, I will find out. "

Hermione knew Ron would find out if he wanted to. After being a part of this group for seven years, she knew he would eventually find out.

"Why do you care so much?" she asked harshly, raw pain dripping from her voice as she turned around, feeling tears prick her eyes as she tried to put up a last front, "Why does it matter so much to you?

"Why won't you just tell me?" he asked simply, "Why are you making it into such a big deal…when it really shouldn't be." Ron laughed harshly, "Come on, if it wasn't someone so bad, it wouldn't have been such a big deal. It shouldn't be….but you made it one."

"Fine," Hermione said, her voice cracking, "You want to know? It's…" her voice faltered yet again, a single tear sliding down her cheek, "it's…." "Any day now," Ron said sarcastically. "Dammit Ron, it's Malfoy," Hermione screamed as she felt her front give away. She turned away from him, as she fell against the balcony, her shoulder shaking with sobs. She'd done it. She'd caved. She'd done told about him, and in the process may have written Draco's death certificate. He might not be able to be a spy anymore for the Order and it was all due to her. And from her side, she felt Ron move back, as the impact of her words hit him.

He must be dreaming. The anger he felt at that name was indescribable. It was as though he had gone blind, he had ceased to exist, all he could see was white pain, white throbbing dull pain swimming like an endless mirror in front of his eyes. Malfoy? Malfoy?

"Malfoy," he said simply, incredulously, praying that he had somehow heard the name wrong. "Draco Malfoy?"

"No," he said, backing away laughing almost wildly, the ugly noise echoing into the empty night sky "no no no no, you…you cannot be serious. This has got to be some kind of joke, some kind of dare…" He trailed off as he caught of Hermione's tearful face. He saw the look in her eyes, the same look she had once given him….and then Harry's words that night…..sending another wave of fury over him…slowly drowning him, making it harder and harder for him to breathe, each gulp of oxygen feeling like it might be his last…..

"She can't not date someone else ever again Ron. You can't realistically expect that – just like you'll date someone else later."

"I know. It just hurts, and I'll be fine. But that doesn't mean she can date just anyone and everyone."


"Malfoy. Malfoy is everything I've hated. No. If Hermione dated Malfoy, she would have to pick. Me or him. Simple as that. Malfoy cannot have the one person I have loved.

"You don't mean that. You're angry right now, you don't know what you're saying."

He had known. Harry had known. His best friend had known. They had all known. Except him.

Bile rose into his throat as he covered his throat, the fingers squeezing hard. He felt like such a fool, the humiliation beginning to suffocate him. He had been played, he had been set up, like a puppet, dancing and moving to the tunes of everyone else. "Oh god no, no" he said his feet giving way as he fell to the stone deck, his hands covered his ears, as though he couldn't bear to hear what he had just heard and seen. "Oh God no....."Hermione bent down and grabbed his hands with her and she sobbed onto his hands, her forehead coming to rest against his.

"Don't," Ron yelled recoiling from her very touch while simultaneously scrambling to his feet and staggering away from her, his hands groping behind him searching for someone to regain his balance as his fingers caught the railing, "Don't, don't, just….don't even try."

"Please…Ron," Hermione pleaded, still kneeling on the stone floor, "let me explain…"

"Stop saying you can explain things," Ron yelled, causing Hermione to jerk back, "Stop saying that! You cannot explain everything…..do you get that? What will you explain to me? Will you explain to me how you like my worst enemy? Can you say anything to stop me from hating you as much as I do right now?

"Why him?" Sheer raw pain was etched in his voice and face. "Why him Hermione, why him? Out of everyone here…..why him?"

Hermione gaped wordlessly at him at his question, finding that she couldn't answer. "I don't know Ron," she choked out, "He's stubborn, he's feisty, he's nonsensical, he angers me…he's possessive and irritating and there are time when all I want to do is wrap my fingers around his neck and strangle him." She paused for a brief moment, breathless, gasping for air, "But there's something about him, something there that just has me completely entranced, obsessed, addicted….."

Ron didn't say anything. He just stood there, motionless, the final blow coming when he saw the spark of happiness that exploded in her eyes like fireworks as her description of Malfoy. It was pure happiness, shining brightly like a lone candle in a dark room, before it was extinguished in the blink of an eye as she looked at him again. That look….a look she had never ever given him, not once in their relationship….

"I'm sorry Ron," Hermione sobbed as she finally hauled herself up from the floor, using the railing as a prop, coming up to lean heavily against it, "I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry too," he said, the remaining tears streaming down his face, "I am sorry Hermione because I thought I loved you unconditionally. As a friend, as a boyfriend….but I guess I didn't." A stab of pain flitted through his heart, getting lost in all the hatred he felt for her and for himself for hating her. "Because I can't find it in me to accept you as you are right now. I can't."

"Don't say that Ron," Hermione choked out, as it become exponentially harder to breathe, as his words slammed into her stomach, "Please don't say that Ron."

"What do you want me to say? Do you want me to say that I'm happy that the woman I love is with another man? Oh, and that the other man is my worst enemy. What do you want me to say Hermione? Do you want me to lie and say that I don't hate you right now?" he asked, his voice suddenly lowering and his eyes becoming cold like frosted shards of glass, "Do you want me to say that everything's going to be alright, that we'll go back to being how we were?"

She stayed silent as the full impact of his words hit her. And then she suddenly realized, that was exactly what she had been counting on. She had been counting on him to be unaffected by everything she had told him. She would come out of this scathed but not to the extent that he had.

"I can't do this Hermione. I can't go on, knowing that every time I look at you, you're now his. Don't talk to me Hermione. Don't owl me, don't write me. Pretend I don't exist….I don't know how long it'll take me to get over this, maybe it'll be a week, month, a year….or forever," he gulped, pushing back a wave of tears. "But I'm no longer a part of your life Hermione."

"Don't do this Ron," Hermione pleaded, "Don't do this….do anything, anything but this." She couldn't stop him; she had no place to stop him, no right to stop him, because she knew she was solely responsible for this. Yes, she could not have helped falling in love with Draco but she knew it was no basis for her to feel angry at the way Ron was acting.

"I can't." He swallowed hard before turning around and grabbing his cloak before walking shakily to the door.

"Ron –" Hermione choked out, sobs clogging her throat.

He paused at the door, his hand resting on the doorknob. He turned his head to the side; Hermione could see the trails of tears on his profile, praying that the brief pause meant that he would change his mind. But his next two words sent a dagger through her heart, her spirit shattered into a thousand pieces; she felt as though she had been robbed of her breath, the brusque tone of his voice indicating a finality and end to everything she had known.

"Goodbye Hermione."

With those words he was gone, almost as though he had simply gone through the door itself, quietly and smoothly like a ghost before she could say anything, it was as though he had never been there, like this moment had never existed…. like they had never existed.

Hermione still stood at the edge of the balcony, her feet rooted to the spot as though she had been cursed. The only sign of movement were the streams of tears that were still cascading down her cheeks. How could she have lost control so quickly? Of herself, of Ron, of the situation? How could things have gone from perfection to a mess that was now shattered beyond repair in just two weeks?

Just beneath her, at the bottom of the stairs, the Gryffindor occupying her mind staggered and helplessly fell against the banister as his façade finally crumbled. His shoulders shook as he buried his head in his hands, as the pain of losing her friendship, painfully and tantalizingly spreading throughout his blood like poison, the feeling of anger completely gone.

"I've lost. Is it possible to love someone so much but get nothing but hurt and pain how can I stand that she loves not me but someone else and I kept deceiving myself. I've won but lost everything. And he lost but he has won everything."

. & .

"Hi." Hermione looked up from the fire to see Harry leaning against the wall.

"Hey." Harry's stomach fell at her dull and short tone – he'd been silently watching her curled form from the corner for a few minutes. Her face was crunched up, lines creasing her smooth forehead – she was internally struggling with something and he had a very good idea about what that was after the "talk" he had had with Ron after their Quidditch meeting.

"That looks good," Harry commented on the mug of untouched hot chocolate that sat in front of Hermione on the wood table.

"Help yourself, I'm not hungry," Hermione said in the same dull tone, carefully pushing the mug toward him.

"Ron's upset with me," Harry said, sighing heavily and taking a seat next to her. Part of him didn't want to tell her – she didn't need another problem on her already full-plate, but she did need to know what was happening. And it was better for her to find out through him, not through the gossip queens around the castle.

Hermione also sighed. "I'm sorry Harry," she said, closing her eyes wearily. "I didn't tell him anything – he figured out that you had known all along. I didn't do as smooth a job as I wanted in telling him."

Harry wiped a smudge of chocolate from his upper lip. "I know, he told me everything,…"told" might be too mild a term for what happened."

"I royally messed up." Hermione looked at Harry for the first time that evening. "I mean, where do I even start the list of mistakes? Draco? Ruining mine and Ron's relationship? And if that wasn't bad enough," Hermione paused, choking back a sob, "I had to ruin your and Ron's friendship too."

"Hey, me and Ron will be just fine," he said strongly, almost as if he were trying to convince himself more than her. Hermione winced slightly as Harry placed a comforting hand on her shoulder – his behavior was only making her feel guiltier. "He's angry with me for knowing and not telling him, but he will come to understand." Even as he spoke them, the words felt hollow but as Hermione's shoulders relaxed, he knew the lies were worth it for now.

"You sound too sure for that," she said flatly. "It was my mistake for involving you in the first place – I made you choose between me and Ron. It would have been very different if I told you a secret that didn't involve Ron."

"It would have been unethical for me to tell him. And you needed me Hermione, you" Harry faltered, "You, you don't understand Hermione. I've watched you for seven years, you're a sister to me. You had never looked as broken as you did that week. Never. What was I supposed to do? Let youdrown?"

Hermione stared silently at Harry, silently stunned by the intensity in his green eyes. "I know. I know," she said softly, feeling an unexpected wave of calm overtake her, "But you were put in a really difficult position. But Harry," she said suddenly causing Harry to look at her, "did you not tell Ron just because I made you promise me to? Did you want to tell Ron?"

"I won't lie – I was unhappy that you made me keep the truth from Ron, but," Harry paused, rubbing a hand over his face, "it wasn't my story to tell. Yeah, I knew how hurt he was going to be," admitted Harry looking sheepishly at his hands, "but you had told me everything in confidence. I was either going to save him from the betrayal that I'm sure he's feeling right now or I was going to lose your trust. But no, I wouldn't have told him either way…..because I don't think it was my place."

" It's a very gray issue isn't it," Hermione said softly. Harry nodded silently. "Yes, it was." He averted his gaze from Hermione, feeling the same sensation of anger and bitterness rise up at the situation, at his involvement, and to his anger and dismay, at Malfoy though he knew deep down he was tilting on the brink of insanity just as he was.

"I thought you weren't going to tell him about Malfoy." Hermione winced at the slightly accusatory tone in Harry's voice. Harry felt a sharp stab of guilt at his inability to keep his unhappiness hidden for the first time all evening. He was angry, sad, and upset but for the sake of his best friend, he needed to be strong because the addition of his problems would shatter the already delicate and teetering balance between sanity and insanity.

The sadness and anger he felt at his damaged friendship with Ron was unbearable; it was like a pulsating fire, gaining strength with every passing second, each gulp of oxygen. He remembered the row he and Ron had managed to fight through during the Triwizard tournament – that fight was the first trial through fire for their friendship and that disagreement did not hold a candle to the fight they were currently embroiled in.

He'd never seen Ron look so angry as he did in that moment but he knew Ron well enough to see the raw pain and humiliation fueling the fire that was burning in his eyes – not anger. His reasoning and words might as well as been said to a deaf person, Ron had refused to hear anything he'd had to say. And Harry had a feeling that time wouldn't come anytime soon.

"I hadn't planned on it – in the heat of the moment…." Hermione was saying. She trailed off, pausing for a moment to gather her thoughts, "I let it slip that he would be in danger if Ron knew, and that led him to believe it was an enemy. He would have figured out either way Harry…" He didn't respond, just sat there staring into the fire.

"…Do you think I made a mistake in picking Draco over Ron?" she asked hesitantly, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.

Harry looked sharply at her when he heard her voice audibly tremble. His eyes bore into hers, and he then knew, that even now she wasn't entirely sure of her decision. Part of her still thought her decision was a mistake, a mistake that tormented each and every waking and sleeping moment. It loomed like an endless shadow, threatening to tip the already teetering scales of sanity causing everything came crashing down, shattering in a way that was so painfully irreparable.

"Do you love him?"

Whatever she had been expecting, that was mostly certainly not it. Harry felt her slightly recoil back at his question as though he had physically pushed her and her muscles tense and tighten up. His eyes met her widened ones, and he could see the confusion lying within.

"Take your time," he murmured comfortingly, patting her knee before staring into the fire. "Don't force it. It's a serious question."

Did she love Draco? How was she supposed to know if she ….loved Draco?

And then Ginny's words echoed in her head. "You just know, in the bottom of your stomach, after all the other relationships where something just felt wrong, that this feels right."

She had been thrown off last night when Draco had said he loved her but that confusion had been drowned amidst the flood of happiness and relief at his decision. But love was such a strong word…. how could he possibly love her after just months?

And then it hit her – love didn't equate to longevity. Just like Ginny had said.

She thought of how his eyes lit up when he saw her….she remembered the way her own body responded when she saw him. She thought of the unadulterated fear on his face the night he told her, he couldn't live with himself if she died…..just like she wouldn't be able to if he died. She thought of the sacrifices he had just made for her…..the same way she was making sacrifices for him.

"I'll just ask you another question," Harry said suddenly, his gaze still firmly planted in the flames, "It might help – would you have made the sacrifices you're making for everyone?"

Would she have made these sacrifices for everyone? No…she would have only made those sacrifices for someone she truly cared and loved….Would she have made those sacrifices if she didn't love Draco?

Harry would never know what impact that question had on her. For the first time in her life, she was rendered speechless. This whole month she had been acting without analyzing just what she was doing and just what it meant. She'd broken up with Ron, and now her friendship with him was virtually done. She was risking the alienation of her Gryffindor House if they came to know about Draco. Her reputation and life were on the line. And yet, she had done it all, in the name of Draco Malfoy.

And then she suddenly knew. She couldn't have done this for anyone but her closest friends and Draco hadn't been a very close friend for nearly as long before everything…..

I love Draco. I love Draco.

"Yes Harry," she said softly, the realization spreading over he body like a warm blanket, "Yes, I do. I love him." And unlike with Ron or any previous boyfriends, this felt right. It felt just right.

Her stomach dropped several notches when Harry didn't respond and just kept staring into the fire. She'd expected a slightly more animated response. "You don't look so happy about it," she said hesitantly and rather disappointed at his lack of enthusiasm.

"Oh," Harry started immediately, his voice lined with regret, "It's that I'm not happy." He paused, sighing, rubbing a hand over his face. "I don't like Malfoy, I don't fully trust him yet, it'll take a long time before I reach that stage." He paused, noticing Hermione's head drop just a little. "But," he said pausing as if to add emphasis, causing Hermione to look at him curiously, "you didn't make the wrong decision. He makes you happy and you deserve to find happiness in someone just like I have found it in Ginny. True love is very hard to find…and if you find it, you latch onto it, and you never let it go. Not for anything."

"Thanks Harry," she said quietly, a small smile, "I needed that."

"Sure," he said just as softly a smile also crossing his face.

"I think I'm going to get some rest now," Hermione said, suddenly feeling a strong urge to be alone with her thoughts and feelings.

"Alright. I'll be in my room if you need me." Harry said softly, not wishing to press the issue when it was so obvious she wanted her space at this moment.

. & .

Hermione stood on the Astronomy Tower for what felt like the thousandth time in the last week. The last couple days had passed slowly yet far too quickly for Hermione. It seemed as though Friday was so far yet so close. Part of her yearned to see Draco, hold and touch him while part of her was filled with trepidation and anxiety. She kept replaying the scene in the hallway where she had given him and hugged him endlessly. And each time she remembered it, a jolt of excitement and adrenaline shot through her veins like a shot of espresso.

She wasn't sure what to say to him – would they discuss everything in that moment or would they leave everything till later? She did need to warn him that Ron knew of their liaison for his own safety and knowledge. Her stomach felt as though it were in knots, like a rope that had been twisted and turned so many times the mess was too intricate to be untangled.

Draco looked cautiously around him, his gray eyes darting to each corner of the corridor swiftly and sharply, making sure that no one was nearby to catch him out of bounds or follow him. He then ran nimbly up the stairs even as he felt his heart beat faster. Despite himself, he couldn't help but be nervous – he hadn't received a response from Hermione to the letter he had sent, and not knowing how she thought or felt had been –understandably – been keeping him on edge.

As he neared the door, or more appropriately the door to his fate, he heard slight shuffling. She was there. She hadn't forgotten, she hadn't bailed, and that thought was enough to give him the courage to push the door open.

Just the sight of him standing there somehow calmed her. Her stomach relaxed and those knots which had been choking her just moments ago suddenly began unraveling and smoothing. That forsaken nervousness that had been paralyzing her body was being quickly and swiftly replaced by excitement and a rush of love and longing. She could feel the air being charged with tension, though that may have been due to the sudden rush of heat she was feeling.

Her feet began moving by themselves as she saw Draco move forward. She felt her legs go a little weak as they met in the middle of the balcony. The wind was whipping his silky locks across his forehead. Thoughts were screaming, rolling through her mind like headlines on the front page of the newspaper. What should she say?

"How are you?" The thoughts stopped abruptly as Draco's question reached her ears. She blanked for a split second before hastily responding, "I'm alright. How about yourself?" She could tell from his posture that he was just as confused as to how to start this conversation.

"I've been satisfactory." His voice was cool and dripping with ease as though this situation was having no such impact on him whatsoever but the look in his eyes was enough of a hint that he was feeling the same way she was.

"I got your letter," she said lightly, though she couldn't stop the smile that lit up her face. "I didn't want to respond because of the danger involved."

"I assumed so," Draco responded, stepping closer to Hermione, though a hint of a smile also crossed his face as her ovious delight.

"Draco," Hermione said quickly, causing Draco to look at her in surprise, "I do have to tell you – Ron knows about us. I didn't mean to – it was an accident," she said, her words beginning to slur together, she was trying to get this off her chest as fast as possible.

"Hermione. Stop. Just stop. Stop right there." Hermione looked up, shocked at the strict and forceful tone in Draco's voice. His eyes softened when he saw the shocked look on her face.

"Hermione, I couldn't care less about what mistakes you made. I couldn't care less if Weasel knows about us. If you're worried about my life, I'll become an Auror for the Order, not a spy," he said passionately. His gray eyes bore into Hermione's; she felt herself drowning in the intensity practically radiating from their depth. "Hermione, I don't care about any of the logistics right now. All I care about is knowing if you're with me. Other than that I don't care. This night is about us, about our future together…not about anyone else. Right now I just….I just want to hold you. "

"The issues won't vanish just because if I'm here," she said softly, still not breaking eye contact with him. His statement that he wanted to hold her had sent a shiver down her spine.

"I know," he said simply. "I know. But if I have you with me, I can overcome them."

"I think you overestimate my power," said Hermione, a small laugh escaping her mouth. Draco's lips turned upward, his eyes softening. He felt the same familiar jolt of electricity flit through his body as he saw her eyes fill with mirth albeit momentarily.

"No," he said softly, reaching out and placing his arms around her lower back, slowly pulling her closer to him, "I think you underestimate your power and strength."

Hermione felt herself melt into his touch, like a slab of butter placed under the wrath of the warm summer sun. She smiled shyly at his words, placing her hands against his chest, reveling in the touch of his body underneath her fingers.

"Well what does my being here tell you?" she asked, smirking up at him, suddenly feeling in a playful mood.

"Well Miss Granger," Draco responded saucily, an equally evil grin crossing his face as he clasped his hands behind her back and holding her even closer, "Your being here gives me the impression that I must be important."

Hermione laughed joyfully at the mischievous look on his face unaware of the almost listless and wistful expression on Draco's face. His smile dropped a little as he watched her face.

"I love you Hermione," he said suddenly.

Hermione looked up, the mirth quickly wiping off her face as well when she saw the more serious look on his face. She could almost feel the fun and lightheartedness being swept away by the win, ushering in a period of seriousness.

"I love you too Draco."

At her words, the most beautiful and genuine smile she had seen broke across Draco's face, such that she was momentarily stunned. She felt her breathe catch in her throat just as it did all the previous time when he held her head in his palm while coming closer.

"You have no idea how long I've waited to do this," he murmured against her cheek.

"You have no idea how long I've waited for you to do this," she breathed throatily, the feeling of his mouth on her cheek driving her insane with desire.

"And just how long was this?" he murmured again, this time his lips kissing her neck. Hermione gasped in shock, her body thrusting forward to crush into his, this time causing Draco to slightly groan. "Tell me," he whispered smirking evilly against her quivering throat.

Hermione groaned and somehow with a strength she didn't know she had, she grasped his neck with her hand and slid her lips over his. This kiss unlike the last one they had shared wasn't wanton or forbidding, enthralling or exhilarating. It was full of comfort, need, desire, and longing. It was the unsaid seal on their decision. Their decision to stand by each other, their decision that they were now together, their fates and lives now intertwined. It was a kiss of understanding, the acknowledgement of the pain that the other had gone through and the desperation to make the other realize that other's devotion and loyalty.

Breathing heavily, she broke the kiss and leaned back, smiling softly at him.

"I love you," she whispered again, this time leaning forward to kiss his deeply yet lightly on his lips.

Draco kissed the top of her head tenderly as she leaned forward and rested her forehead on his chest. At the back of her mind, the War and the danger their lives were now in lay delicately. But they had each other, and like he had said…..that was all they he crossed his arms over her back, she smiled and closed her eyes.

Above them as the dark clouds shifted slightly, the moon slowly crept out from underneath the oppressive blanket, illuminating the black marble castle in a sea of pristine white light.

A/N: And that's the end of it! I would like to thank each and every one of my reviewers. Without all of you, this story would not have been finished. Thanks for all your continued support and encouragement throughout the duration of this story.

Please tell me any thoughts in a review; I want to hear good, bad, wonderful and awful. If you haven't commented before – please, if you could, do it now. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

If time permits, I do plan on writing another story, though it may revolve around a Lily/James pairing, and not Hermione/Draco. But mostly likely it would be one of those two.

Before I say goodbye, I would like to wish all of you a belated Happy New Year's and a wonderful 2010! Until the next story, take care!


Started: June 27, 2009

Finished: December 31, 2009