Pervigilo: latin; to lie awake all night.
For morning breakfast, they were greeted with a shower of enveloped invitations. Hermione had heard Dumbledore mention a thing or two about it, so she wasn't too surprised when she opened hers to read about the event. Ron, however, had something to say about it –as always.
"Merlin's skidmark shorts," groaned Ron as his wrist fell with a clatter, sending his fork shooting into the air, which then landed in Dean's porridge. Dean shouted at Ron but Ron ignored him, shaking his head, his eyes at the letter while tearing into a muffin. "Honestly. Another ball? This has just gone out of hand."
"What," said Hermione, "could you possibly be talking about, Ron?"
"I'm talking about this stupid ball, Hermione," he said to her. "Didn't we just have one?"
"That was four months ago, Ron."
"Honestly, it's like they don't even have any consideration for the poor souls out there who are only embarrassed by these things." Ron crumpled up the letter and threw it behind him. "Whatever. Harry and I aren't going."
"What?" said Harry, who had been busy reading the Daily Prophet.
"I said," repeated Ron, his mouth full, "we're not going. You and I. To this dumb ball."
"I never said I wasn't going," Harry said. Hermione, Ginny, Dean and Seamus began to laugh.
"That's right, Ron," said Ginny. "Just because you hate balls doesn't mean everybody else does."
"Why do you hate them, anyway?" asked Hermione. "Besides the fact that it can be horribly humiliating to ask a girl." She smiled to herself, remembering his incident with Fleur during their Fourth Year. "Or to dance with one."
"Yeah, if your name's Ron Weasley," quipped Seamus.
"It's a stupid tradition," Ron emphasized, spitting crumbs at everyone. They all ducked, covering their faces, groaning in disgust. "What real man likes to dance? You lot deserved that, by the sodding way," he said, watching them wiping the crumbs from their clothes. "Girls like to dance. I think it's horribly unfair we're forced to ask them to dance. Boys aren't meant to dance. They're meant to. . . to—do manly things, like burp, and wrestle, and play Quidditch."
"Don't worry, Ron," said Ginny, buttering her toast with an amused smile. "I'm sure someone will ask you."
"Shut up, Ginny."
She left lunch early – Ron's mere complaint had evolved into an all out rant – to head to the library, which wasn't too out of the ordinary for her. There were just a few students there, a few First Years studying for a Potions exam. She couldn't help but smile to herself when she saw that most of them were Gryffindors, obviously getting whipped the hardest by Snape. Some things would never change.
She was in the back section of the library, looking for a few books for an upcoming essay and a bit of light reading, when she noticed it. Through the gaps in the shelves she saw him. She didn't see his face – then again, she would never need to.
She wanted to ignore him because she knew it would only tickle his obscenely large fancy to acknowledge his presence. But as she edged the end of the shelf, she found herself face to face with him – him and his pale, eternally smirking face.
"Nose in a book again?"
He was too close to her, and she knew this was his intent. He wanted to make her nervous. She told herself she wasn't. She wasn't nervous at all. That loudening noise in her heart – there was just a bit of wind, that was all. In the library. Which was a closed space.
"I wish," she scoffed. "Because then I'd be looking at glorious block of ancient text and not your awfully sallow face." She passed him, keeping her hands fisted by her side, forcing her eyes to continue searching for the book.
"What a quip, Granger! 50 points from Gryffindor for such poisonous sass!" She rolled her eyes at his dripping sarcasm, before she heard the silence. Which was odd. Draco Malfoy never employed silence for intimidation; he just wasn't the silent type.
That was when she heard him.
"Go to the ball with me, Granger."
One part of her wanted to topple over in surprise but the other part laughed very, very loudly. Fortunately, for all aspects of her dignity, the amused part of her won out.
From the tone of his voice, she could tell she had annoyed him. "Something funny?"
She grabbed the book from the shelves before whipping around to face him, her face very unfunny and serious. "No. I'm not going to the ball with you."
She managed to catch his scowl before she walked further into the shelves. She could feel him right on her heel. She could smell him, too. Musky and strong, unmistakably French, unmistakably expensive. Unmistakably Malfoy.
"And why not?" she heard him snarl.
"For one," she said, "you didn't ask me. All gentlemen ask, but I guess you didn't get the memo, seeing as how you were too busy paying diligent attention at the Prat convention. And second, I don't want to go with you. I'd rather gnaw off my own leg, in fact, and listen to Parvati sing Cindi Lauper songs all day in the dormitory than go to the ball with you."
She meant all of this, of course. She couldn't have meant anything more.
Except her heart was beating so fast she was convinced it was medically possible for her to pass out.
He must have heard it, that erratic beating of her heart, because soon she found herself cornered and very seriously pressed up against the shelf. Though he was very slender, he knew how to use his body well. She surmised this was from Quidditch training.
The spines from the old books were digging into her back. This was okay. Books weren't meant to be put on a shelf to be cornered into, so she knew that it couldn't have occurred to the people who bound the books to make their spines more pillow-like.
"Get off of me," she hissed. Her mind prepared to overheat at the notion of somebody coming back here and finding them like this.
"Who are you planning to take, then, Granger?" he asked her. "Weasley, perhaps? Have him step all over your toes and rip your dress? Or are you going to call over your friend Viktor again, and have him roll around the dance floor like the boulder that he is?"
"I know plenty of nice boys," she said through her teeth, quite upset at what he'd said about her friend and her former date, despite the fact that they were both slightly true.
"Oh, but Granger," he said lowly, smirking, "we both know you don't like nice boys."
Her breath caught in her throat for a minute as she looked at him, wide-eyed. A wildfire ate up her face and most of her living, working body. She didn't know if she was flustered or just very pissed off, but her body felt so frozen a stampede could have come running right at her and she couldn't have moved a single tendon.
She wanted to slap him, in all honesty. But she also wanted to kiss him.
"I," she said through her teeth, pushing him off of her and managing to get her legs to walk a few wobbly steps away from him, "happen to like nice boys very much. Nice boys that ask me to balls and tell me I look pretty from time to time and also not put me in very uncomfortable, compromising positions in the library!"
He rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Granger. It's just a ball."
"I am not," she seethed, "going with you."
"What, suddenly you want me to be nice?" he said, particularly irked. "You haven't had a single problem with—"
"You could never be nice," she said to him, "even if your life depended on it."
And then, with her book, she stormed out of the library.
"I take it you don't like him."
Hermione didn't realize someone was talking to her until seconds later, when Luna's large eyes were in front of her face.
She looked down at their school newspaper, the Hogwarts Harmonium, and saw that she had stabbed through Malfoy's face with her quill several times. "No, I guess I don't," she said weakly, aware that she looked a little barmy. She folded the paper and tucked it away.
"Well, I honestly feel a little sorry for him," Luna went on dreamily. "Being betrothed. It's not all that common anymore but some ancient families still believe in it. It's quite tragic, really."
Ginny joined in. "I know he's a foul person but still, it's such a shame. He's good-looking."
"I wouldn't mind being betrothed to him," said Parvati. "A slight attitude adjustment, and he could be quite a catch."
"Anyway, I heard Pansy was pissed. I thought it was supposed to be her, if anybody, since the Malfoys are so close to the Parkinsons. But they chose that French girl instead."
"She's quite pretty. Thin," scrutinized Parvati. "Maybe too thin."
"Maybe she found out she was getting married to Malfoy and she stopped eating," giggled Lavender. Hermione offered a polite chuckle, trying to push what had happened earlier to the back of her mind.
Ginny offered a thought. "I wonder if she was allowed to say no."
"They'd probably put her in the dungeon, locked away for the rest of her life if she did."
"I heard," said Lavender, "that she hadn't really wanted it. She was already in love with some French bloke. Wonder if Malfoy could also be secretly in love," she giggled.
"Tough," said Ginny, who then shot Hermione a look. Hermione pretended she hadn't seen it, instead choosing that moment to make an excuse about going to the loo. Ginny followed after her.
Hermione went into one of the stalls while Ginny looked around to make sure the rest of the loo was vacant. Hermione watched her feet from where she was. She was tapping them against the shoddy tiles.
"You don't have to pretend to use the loo, Hermione," said Ginny dryly, fixing her hair in the mirror. "I know you don't have to."
"Actually," snapped Hermione, "I do."
Ginny rolled her eyes, waiting for Hermione to do her business. When she came out, Hermione didn't look all too pleased to see her still waiting there. Ginny waited as she washed her hands.
"How do you like that he's betrothed?" she asked.
Hermione didn't want to watch her face give her away in the mirror, so she watched her hands instead. "I pity the girl. Other than that, I find that I don't really give much of a rat's ass. I wish the pair of them a long and happy pureblood life."
"Oh, give it up," said Ginny. "I know all about you and your secret boyfriend."
"He is not," said Hermione, slowly and ever so firmly, "my boyfriend."
"Fine. Your secret partner," Ginny said. "Whatever. You're not fooling me. Harry and Ron may be too oblivious to see it, but I know all about you and Malfoy." She watched Hermione try to wash her hands for the fourth time. Ginny sighed and turned off the sink, handing her a paper towel. "Your hands are clean enough, Hermione. Now tell me, are you two serious?"
She didn't know what to say to this. He had asked her to the ball, where she was sure everybody in the school and every important member of the wizarding society would see them together. And she had said no. Because he wasn't nice.
"No," said Hermione.
Ginny observed her friend closely. "You know, your face is quite transparent without a book in front of it. You really ought to work on that." She paused for a thoughtful moment, her face softening. "His is, too, if you know when to look."
Unfortunately, Ginny's last words stuck. Hermione found herself lingering on it, her mind picking it apart to impossible pieces, all the while also trying to resist it. She'd been so swept up in it that when she'd finally looked up, Ginny was long gone.
She'd found out from the papers that he was betrothed. Witch Weekly had a small column reserved for the occasional arranged engagements, but when Malfoy's was announced they had extended it to a full page. A detailed article and color pictures, to add. She hadn't wanted to read it but she had somehow convinced herself that it didn't mean a thing to her, so she'd read it.
She was a little sore with him, which she could now admit had something in part to do with the fact that he hadn't even bothered to tell her about the special ceremony that would be happening three months from now, right when school ended. She knew that it shouldn't have mattered, because no, they weren't serious – but it still would have been nice to know. Getting married was a big deal, wasn't it?
Unless it wasn't. Not to Malfoy.
Maybe he wasn't nice, but he wasn't exactly stupid, which was why she assumed he ended up in front of her door. Ernie MacMillan, who was Head Boy, was a good secret keeper and let him in every now and then. Plus Malfoy had gotten his girlfriend some perfume from Paris as a personal favor to get in his good graces.
"It's because I'm getting married to that French girl, isn't it?" he said when she opened her door.
"I couldn't care less who you get married off to," she said.
"Excellent," said Malfoy, hearing the door shut behind him. "Then go to the ball with me."
She watched him from the foot of her bed. Dinner had just ended and his tie was a little unruly, yet every blond strand of his hair still impeccably combed in place. She thought about what his fiancée wouldn't like about him – maybe the fact that he was prettier than most men should ever allowed to be, or the fact that he doesn't like it when women wear black, or that he had a tendency to hog the sheets when he slept. There were a million other things very unsavory about Malfoy – like his arrogance and insufferableness and his venomous logic. Then again, there were things to like about him as well. He had nice hands. He was protective, and determined; once he set his mind on something, he didn't stop until he got it. A Malfoy trait, she knew.
Which could be a bad or a good thing.
"I am not," she said again, "going to the ball with you."
"And why the hell not?"
"Because I don't want to," she said firmly.
That was when he just stood there and looked at her. He was different when they were alone, but not really – still, different was different, in her book. It made her uncomfortable, the way he was looking at her, so she looked at her feet. Then she changed her mind, telling herself it was weak, so she willed herself to meet his eyes anyway. Which was an utter mistake. Looking him in the eyes was always a total fucking mistake.
For God's sake, pull yourself together. You don't want to go to the ball with him, she thought to herself. You don't want him.
"Why do you even want to go with me?" she found herself asking.
He chuckled, running a hand through his hair. He did that very well. "Is that what you want, Granger? Validity? I thought we were above this."
"Well, I guess I'm not," she said, her tone a little harsher than she expected. She hated it when he did this – when he implied she was being childish, that they were above this, because in reality they weren't above anything. They were in hiding. He was engaged, and had probably known it all this time, and hadn't told her. Maybe, in the dark corners of his mind, she was his last conquest. Maybe he needed her – but not in the way she wanted to be needed by someone, or even needed to be needed.
"Look, maybe this is all fine for you – and if it is, then that's great. Maybe I'm just some last hurrah before you're forced into holy matrimony with some girl, and if so," she said, fuming just a little bit, "I don't want this anymore." In the back of her mind she was aware this was something she hadn't planned, but knew that it was the right thing. Hermione Granger and the Right Thing. It had been very long overdue. "I don't think we should see each other anymore."
He let out a breath, and it sounded like it was partly a laugh and partly forced. She looked at him and she hoped she looked as intense as she felt, and that she was as convincing as she hoped to be. Funny how sometimes, in the face of these situations, she was rarely ever what she hoped to be.
His face was serious and she didn't know what he'd say – if anything. He surprised her sometimes by doing something completely uncharacteristic, like walking away. Usually he came back with something witty or biting to say and a completely convincing point, and if all else failed, he kissed her, and to every part of her shame, it usually worked.
"If that's what you want," he simply said. He turned around and started for the door and she watched him, a little confused and also a little bit relieved, but also – admittedly – a little disappointed. But then he turned to look at her, for just a second.
"You're wrong, you know."
And then he was gone.
Sometimes he needed just twenty minutes to cool down. Sometimes an hour. Then he'd be back.
She read a book but nothing got through to her. She finished sentences and paragraphs and had not even a single fleeting idea what they were about. She paced and fancied herself into thinking she heard knocking.
She fell asleep waiting – but not really waiting – but waiting just the same.
And when she woke up in the morning, she felt settling. Finality. She'd gotten what she wanted, what she thought she wanted, at least – what she should have, within every right and sane synapse in her mind, wanted all along: her life completely void of Malfoy.
Their lives were separate again, and she was glad.
"Hermione," Lavender said, waving a banana at her, "earth to Hermione!"
"I'm sorry, Lavender," Hermione said, shaking it off. She'd had the paper in front of her but she couldn't exactly recall what she had been reading before she'd dazed off. "What were you saying?"
"Who are you taking to the ball?" she asked. "It's only a week away."
Hermione laughed, a little embarrassed. "Well, I haven't really—"
"Merlin's shorts, don't even finish your sentence!" she gasped. "You don't have a date?"
"I wonder why," Ginny whispered from beside her. Hermione sent her a look while Lavender went on with her theatrics.
"Why would you do that to yourself? All good fellows have already gone!"
"The ball is really the last thing on my mind right now, Lavender," she said, ignoring the scandalized look on her friend's face.
"If you're worried about graduating," said Ginny, casting a spell on her orange to peel itself, "you're being stupid. Everyone knows you're graduating. We took our exams weeks ago."
"Thanks, Ginny," said Hermione, though not really meaning it. From across the hall she had a clear view of Malfoy at the Slytherin table, sitting in between Crabbe and Goyle, lazily eating an apple and reading the paper. What a boringly normal scene, yet it ate away at her.
"Where are Harry and Ron?" she finally asked. Usually one of them took the seat in front of her and blocked the view that turned her stomach to knots.
"Early Quidditch practice. They grabbed their breakfast and went," Dean said. "Unlike Ginny here."
"Sod off, Dean," winked Ginny. "I've got cramps."
"Oh." If she had been a better friend she would have known that, because she would have been listening last week when they'd been complaining about their very last match with Slytherin.
"I'm excited to see a very blond Slytherin Seeker get knocked on his ass," said Ginny, looking at her. "Aren't you?"
"Yeah," Hermione answered. "Of course."
The last Quidditch game of the year was always a frenzy, and it always somehow came down to a match between Slytherin and Gryffindor, so it was foolish to think it wouldn't draw the largest crowd.
She came with Dean and Luna, taking a seat in the stands. The players weren't out yet, but the stadium was already starting to fill up. As she looked up in the sky, noticing the heavy gray clouds, she knew there was going to be rain.
Dean saw where she was looking. "Going to be a vicious one today," he commented.
"It always is," she nodded.
As the players began to fly out on their brooms and the teams were introduced, the cheering and applause in the crowds became boisterous. Hermione felt goosebumps. She wasn't the biggest Quidditch fan but she'd be a liar if she said it didn't get her heart pumping.
She knew it wasn't right, but she found herself looking for him. She could spot him easily, of course. The bright blond hair wasn't hard to find, plus the fact that he was almost as vicious of a Seeker as Harry. Malfoy usually sent a few players to the hospital wing every time his House played, even though he was just the Seeker. At first Hermione figured it was to show off, and then she knew better: Malfoy didn't have to show off to anybody.
Dean was yelling beside her. "All right, Gryffindor! Time to show some inter-House brutality!"
And then the last Quidditch match of the season began.
"Merlin! How on earth did Slytherin manage to win that one? That was foul play, that was!"
Her shoes were too slick to be running well in the hallways, and she was absolutely soaked from head to toe. The wet rubber from her shoes squeaked against the tiles and she slid a little when she dodged the corner as she passed a few angry fans. She could hear her pulse thundering in her ears and rioting everywhere in her body. All she saw was his body fall off his broom and then she couldn't remember the rest because she'd launched herself towards the entrance back to the school.
When she got to the infirmary she saw two colors segregating the otherwise very bland room: crimson and emerald. Madam Pomfrey was in a huff over all of the muddy tracks all over her floor, trying to shoo out the players. She felt a stone in her throat as the group of Slytherins scowled at her, catching a glance of the blond head on the bed, but hurried to Harry's before she could see how badly he'd been banged up. She bit her lip from the resistance to see how he was doing. After all, they weren't seeing each other anymore but she couldn't deny the fact that she still cared about him.
However, she came for Harry. He'd been injured and he was her best friend, so she'd come as soon as she possibly could to see if he was okay.
Apparently, she hadn't been the only one.
"Oh good," Madam Pomfrey said when she saw Hermione walk in, also dripping from head to toe. She rolled her eyes in exasperation. "Another one."
"Quidditch players, out!" the Medi-Witch then exclaimed, obviously fed up over all the fuss. "I can't tend to them while you're all huddling over them like little boys over a dead pigeon! Out, out, out!"
Some of the players protested, but when met with a very serious glare from Pomfrey, exited with a few grumbles and glares, along with the Slytherins. Hermione was allowed to stay, as Madam Pomfrey knew her not to be a big fuss, and she found herself swallowing a bit nervous when the barricade of green Quidditch cloaks disappeared from the corner of her eye. Vaguely, she could see him lying there on the bed, his head turned away from her direction. Vaguely, just vaguely, yet that was all it took.
She did her best to focus on Harry, who looked both whipped and beaten from the storm and the match. "Hi, Harry," she said softly, grabbing his hand. "How are you feeling?"
"Pretty horrible, Hermione," he said. "We lost, and I crashed into a wall."
"It's not your fault, Harry. It was a close match."
"It would've been less humiliating if we'd been fifty points behind," he said, looking at her. His glasses were cracked, and she smiled, remembering the countless times she had fixed them for him over the years. She took out her wand, whispered the charm, and watched as his glasses suddenly looked as new as it had ever been.
"Don't worry about it," she reassured him. "It was fantastic game. You played wonderfully."
Harry laughed, looking up at the ceiling. "Good. That's good to hear, then. Hopefully worth falling on my ass for."
That was when Madam Pomfrey came and told Hermione that she had to let him rest, so Hermione politely obliged. However, she felt her heart began to speed up again as she got up and prepared herself to leave. Her hands became sweaty so she closed them into fists in case he might notice. As she passed by she could feel his eyes on her, and she felt so uneasy under his gaze, and knew it would be a mistake, a complete fucking mistake, to look his way – yet she did, anyway.
But only for a second.
Because that was when Harry called out after her.
"And Hermione? I forgot to ask you something."
"Yes, Harry?" she said.
His arm was in a cast and his muddy boots stained the white sheets. He had a nice little cut on his forehead but other than that, he didn't look as horrible as she feared he would have. His eyes were icy and his hair was still damp from the rain, and she felt something terrible and pulsating tighten around her sad little heart. Something like – if not horribly close to – longing.
"Will you go to the ball with me?"
It took her a moment to register what had just been asked of her, and who had done the asking. The moment she answered, however, with secret hesitation and feigned confidence, she saw what had flickered in his eyes. Just because his eyes were the color of solid rock didn't mean he was.
Ginny's voice echoed in her head. 'You know, your face is quite transparent without a book in front of it. You really ought to work on that. His is, too, if you know when to look.'
And then he closed his eyes.
"Yes," she answered, and then she exited the infirmary.
Their classes passed in a blur. With the Quidditch match out of the way, everyone in the school seemed to be particularly excited about the ball. Even Hermione had thrown herself into it a little, trying to forget about the more trivial things weighing on her mind, going along with Ginny and the other girls to go shopping for a dress.
She was glad to have been asked by Harry. She wouldn't have minded going alone, but she was pretty sure Malfoy had secured a date (from what she'd heard around the halls) and her ego would have been bruised going to the ball to see him with his date, while she had gone alone. Plus, Harry was a decent dancer and she was guaranteed a good time with him. He was safe.
And Hermione Granger liked safe.
Hermione was surprised to see Ernie just coming out of his room when she came in.
"Oh, hello Ernie," she said.
"I see you've got your dress," he said, grinning, pointing to the bag she had tucked under her arm. "I'm about to go pick up my robes as well. Say, you're not going to the ball with Malfoy, are you?"
She felt herself pale at his question and suddenly very uneasy, but she tried to answer as blankly as she could. "No, Ernie, I'm afraid I'm not."
"Oh, I was just curious, that's all. Sorry to offend."
She reassured him that he hadn't, but unfortunately had to tell herself the same.
"Hermione, you look gorgeous!" the girls trilled when she stepped into the Gryffindor dormitories.
She smiled and mumbled a thanks, taking a seat and waiting for Harry. She'd always felt a little silly getting dressed up. She preferred her school jumpers much better, even though they could get a little itchy sometimes.
Within a few minutes, the boys began to step out of their own dormitories, looking nervous in their best dress robes. Ron and Harry were in the middle, talking, with Ron in a slight panic as usual (he'd asked a Ravenclaw who was just as nervous as he was).
"Hermione!" Harry said, shocked when he saw her sitting down on one of the chairs. "I thought I was supposed to come get you from your room."
"I thought I'd save you the trip," she said. "And it isn't like we're strangers, Harry Potter. It's really fine."
"If you say so." He offered her his arm and she took it. "You look beautiful, by the way."
"And you look quite dashing yourself," she complimented with a smile.
As they left for the Great Hall with a few other couples, they busied themselves with small talk. Hermione found that it was very hard not to join in on the excitement, so she, too, found herself getting a little enthusiastic – although nothing could untangle the hopeless snarls in her stomach. Her hands began to sweat at the thought of seeing him.
He was getting married in a month.
She dreaded it, but also eagerly looked forward to it. Once he was married, she could forget about him. She wouldn't have to find herself looking for him in every room she stepped into, let alone allow herself to hope that he was, only to hate herself for it later. He made her a mess, and what she wouldn't do to be mopped up again, to be Hermione Granger inside and out, with no secrets, and no wanton desires.
Malfoy getting married was just the rescue she needed.
The Great Hall, as always, was stunning. It looked nothing like the place they walked into about four times a day to eat or study – nothing like it at all, and looked every bit as grandeur as they had intended this ball to be. The floor was cleared out, of course, and made room for a large dance floor right in the middle. Towards the front she could see Dumbledore in his own gold dress robes, mingling with some of the guests. Some authorities had been invited – from the Ministry and even Witch Weekly.
They took a table and chattered amongst themselves until the hall was filled. Everywhere she looked she saw shiny, sparkling girls and their flushed, nervous partners.
"Look, there's Ron," Harry said, softly nudging her.
Hermione looked in the direction his gaze was pointed and saw their friend. He was with his date, a pretty brunette Ravenclaw dressed in a long silver dress. When she saw his face she couldn't help but laugh.
"Look at his face!" Harry laughed. Ron was as bright as his hair, and positively sweating out of each one of his pores.
"But she looks like she fancies him," she said. "I'm sure everything will be all right."
"It'd be nice to give Ron a reason to like balls," he said. "Every single one he's been to has a disaster."
"Maybe he's just a disaster at balls," she joked. That was when she saw him. He had just entered and was just a few feet behind Ron, and she found a significant weight in the middle of her chest quickly plummet to her stomach.
She had always wondered who he'd gotten as his date, and now at least she didn't have to leave much wonder for that any longer.
She was, of course, stunning. French women always were, with their flawless skin and beautiful fine features. She was wearing a black dress that accentuated her dark eyes. As she watched them she saw how closely they walked beside each other, how regal of a couple they seemed, how perfectly they matched even though she had no idea how she could have known that.
From a table over, she caught Ginny's look. She had also seen the couple that had just walked in, and while Hermione would usually put in a large amount of energy to seem unperturbed, she found that it was just best to try to distract herself. She simply turned around and tried to engage herself in the conversation around her table.
At the refreshment table, Ginny caught up to her.
"How are you feeling?"
"Great," she said. "Can't wait to dance."
"Ginny, please," Hermione said, a little abruptly. She held her glass in one hand and Harry's refill in the other. "I don't want to talk about it. It's over, and he's getting married in a month."
"No," she said firmly. "I couldn't. I'll see you later, okay? Have fun."
Harry wasn't the best dancer, but he'd certainly improved. They danced a couple fast songs, and a few slow ones, though they did trade off with Dean and Ginny once. She got her thoughts to calm down a bit by resisting the urge to look around the room, and soon enough it was almost easy to forget.
She'd just stepped out for a minute to catch her breath. It was getting a bit hot and musky in the great hall, so she left Harry for a bit to compose herself. She went to use the loo to freshen up.
She hadn't noticed someone else step in, but she noticed her right away when she stepped out of the stall. Right away, Hermione felt herself unable to move, but coaxed her muscles into working again, heading to the sink to wash her hands.
She was just in the sink beside hers, checking her make-up. Hermione frozenly kept her eyes on her own hands, scrubbing vigorously and wanting to leave as quickly as possible.
"You're the girl, aren't you?"
It took her an insufferably long minute, amidst her own frantic voice in her mind, to realize that she was speaking to her.
She looked up, surprised. "Excuse me?"
She smiled. When she spoke, she revealed a slight accent. "You're the girl."
Hermione blinked, confused. "I'm sorry, I don't think—"
"It's all right," she said. "I see the way he looks at you. It wasn't as if he wasn't allowed, you know. We hadn't known until a few months ago. I was madly in love with a boy as well, but a duty is a duty." She looked at her, putting her hands down beside her waist. "He hasn't told me a thing about you, but we women know these things." She sighed. "I think maybe it's too painful for him. Très mal."
She said goodbye and left after that, heading back to the great hall. Hermione chose to stay inside the loo a little bit more, overwhelmed with the unexpected information his fiancé had just indulged to her. As she looked at herself in the mirror, pale and horribly transparent to the conflict going on inside her, she was, for once in her whole life, at a loss for what to do.
She silently argued with herself. There was nothing to do. He was getting married, and he needed to – his parents were forcing him. He had no choice. Neither did his French fiancé. It didn't matter what they felt; they had to do what they had to do.
What had been the most unclear thing became so obvious now. Malfoy had asked her to the ball because it was his last chance to do something he genuinely wanted, with someone he genuinely wanted to be with.
She ran to the great hall.
They'd been paired up as partners for a Transfiguration project. It was going to be worth a fourth of their entire grade, and obviously McGonagall hadn't considered how their utmost hatred for each other could affect their progress on their project.
"Mr. Malfoy, Miss Granger, you two are my brightest students in this class. I trust you two will be able to put aside your differences and, with your combined maturity, be able to complete this project with flying colors," was all she said. That was it. She gave them both her most pointed look, as far as pointed looks go, and moved on.
They were nearing the completion of their project, as well as the ends of their sanity, when he came in late to the library for one of their sessions. She had been waiting for him an entire hour and had been ready to explode at him once she saw his big fat blond head come around the corner, and had already started to do so, nearly throwing her ink bottle at him – when he stepped right up to her, grabbed her face, and kissed her squarely on the lips without a single word of warning.
When he moved away he was frenzied and flushed. She herself felt as if her head was floating somewhere miles above her body. As she stared at him, not able to comprehend what had just happened and for whatever reason for, she also wondered how her knees could still be working so well at keeping her upright when her entire body felt like gelatin.
"I've wanted to do that for a very, very long time," was all he said.
They got an A.
She tried her best to plan what she was about to do, as she had always been a little bit better than most folks at planning, but she found that whatever distant notion of planning she might have had would have been useless once she found him exiting the great hall.
He was alone, which made her curious, but she also thanked the fates for it.
She was sure he could hear her heart, even though he was standing entirely too far from her. She walked a little closer, and as she did, her heart grew louder and even more incessant.
She remembered her mother had told her once that the heart always spoke loudly when it was close to something it wanted, and downright screamed when it was close to the one thing it wanted more than anything else in the world.
When he saw her, he looked unfazed. "Granger."
She laughed, though not wholeheartedly. "My name is Hermione."
He stood still and let her come closer, but she stopped after a few steps. She knew she needed the distance to keep her composure, because if she came any closer, everything would go to hell and she wouldn't be capable of anything more than a few incomprehensible sounds.
"She's pretty," she found herself saying. Her throat was so dry she didn't recognize her voice when she spoke. "Your fiancé."
Draco scoffed softly. "She wore black."
"Maybe you should have told her. I'm sure she wouldn't have if she'd known."
He looked her in the eye, and for one of the few times in her life, she saw something real, and true. "It wouldn't have mattered any less if she'd worn any other color, Hermione," he said lowly. Then his voice grew harsh, and so did his eyes. "What do you want?"
"You could have told me," she said, feeling the frustration and bitterness swell up in her throat. It swelled up into something she could never even have a hope of swallowing down, even if she tried for the rest of her life. "You could have told me, so that I wouldn't have had to find out and have felt stupid and used."
"I wasn't using you," he said.
"Well, it would have been nice to hear," she said. Her mouth was on fire, and it was quickly spreading to every other part of her.
"What?" he snarled. "What would have been nice to hear, Granger? That in a few months I'll be married and I'm sorry to have wasted your time? That I'm going to be married off to some girl I have never even met, and oh, by the way, don't be too sad – you get to marry whoever you want, whatever lucky bastard that has enough wits about him to be nice to you!" He was yelling at her now, his pale face livid and absolutely terrifying. They'd fought before but he had never been this furious.
"Didn't you even think, for a second," he fumed, "that I didn't tell you because I was looking for a way out of it? That maybe I wouldn't have even had to tell you, because it didn't have to happen?"
"I suppose it wouldn't have made a difference, then, would it?" she said, her voice cracking, on the verge of tears. "You're getting married anyway. There was no way out of it, was there?"
He came closer to her and she could feel how angry he was. His honest words stung her more than any hex or biting quip could have.
"Not all of us run away from the things we're scared of," he lowly said to her. "I've accepted my fate now, and I've accepted that it's not going to include you."
She looked up at him, furious. "I bet it's easy for you, isn't it? Going along with what Daddy tells you to do. Make your parents proud, Draco. Be a good son. Marry a rich pureblood girl. Go into the family business." She angrily wiped the tears from her face, ashamed to be crying in front of him. She swore it was one thing she'd never, ever do. "Well, I'm happy for you. Whatever helps you sleep at night, Malfoy."
This time, she walked away. She didn't go back to the great hall. Trying to hold in her tears, she went up to her room. She'd been used to him ruining her days, but for a time she'd also been used to the opposite. For that she called herself stupid.
"Malfoy's leaving tomorrow."
The closer the arranged nuptials were, the more Lavender and Parvati found themselves unable to talk about it.
"She was so much more gorgeous in person. I would kill to have skin like hers!" said Parvati.
"She left awfully early, though. They'd barely danced and then I saw him escort her out. I didn't see him come back in, either. From the look on their faces, they didn't look to be too thrilled to be engaged."
"I think I'm going to return a few books before classes start," Hermione told her friends, eager to have any excuse to escape the chatter. She didn't bother looking at Ginny before she left the great hall, not able to stomach much of breakfast with Parvati and Lavender reminding her about the one thing she wanted to forget.
She didn't want to turn around, because she knew exactly who she'd see. She also knew that she would immediately regret it.
She did it, anyway. It was pure agony and self-inflicting torture but he was leaving tomorrow, and after that the chances of randomly running into him would significantly lower to. . . hopefully, never. She figured that amount of time would be enough to heal.
"Malfoy," she said, coolly. "I see you're returning books."
She didn't know which was more painful: pretending he didn't exist when every single part of her body begged to differ, or pretending to be civil and blasé when every single part of her wanted to tell him not to go.
She placed her books in the slot and turned to go. Classes were going to start soon and she didn't want to be late. Now that things were closing up professors were doing their end-of-term lectures and she had always thought those to be the most exciting.
But then she found herself turning around.
"Malfoy," she said, cordially.
She held her hand out to be shaken and watched his eyes carefully study hers, before looking at her hand. He looked so different from that night out in the hall. She couldn't see a trace of his anger, and now looked collected and as cool as a cucumber.
She would have thought that she had all but dreamt it if she hadn't woken up with her dress ruined from tears and with Harry frantically banging on her door in, asking if she was all right.
He shook it. "Hermione."
She looked down at this, retrieving her hand. It sent her nerves haywire when they touched, and also when he said her name. She put on her best smile and told him, "Congratulations."
She hoped she never saw him again.
She never did get to class early.
She'd locked herself in the loo, crying. And she let herself cry as much as she wanted, because this would be the last time. The absolute last time, so she was just going to let herself cry it out.
That night she found herself being woken up by a furious banging on her door. She got out of bed, slightly confused, thinking that maybe she was reliving the night of the ball.
And then she opened the door, and found that it wasn't a frantic Harry coming to see if she was okay.
He was flushed and had obviously run here. He was still in his school uniform but it had been mussed, all wrinkled from hurry. At his feet she saw his school trunk.
"Draco? What the hell are you doing here?"
"I'm running away," he told her. "I thought there wasn't a way out, but there is. I could run away. Or, at least, I could try."
She took a moment to register this, looking at him, here, at her door. He was supposed to be leaving tomorrow and he was running away tonight. She didn't know what to think, except that anything was better than him getting married off.
She should have known better, but she was a little afraid. And then he looked at her with his desperate and eager eyes and she thought she saw something real, and true: hope.
"Come with me."
She knew he hadn't asked, and that he wasn't the nicest boy. But he was nice when it counted, and she knew better than anyone now that sometimes asking was just an unnecessary gesture reserved for strangers.
And they had been enemies right from the beginning. They had never had the time to be strangers.
She didn't know she had been holding her breath until she answered.
"Okay," she breathed.