Disclaimer: Everything belongs to J.K. Rowling and associates. No money is being made from this fanfiction; it is purely for entertainment.
A/N: This fits in as a continuation of my other fics, Reaction and Because She Was Granger. They can be read together to make better sense, although each can stand alone as a one-shot.
Too Late the Hero
Draco Malfoy was not a hero. He didn't have Potter's obnoxious penchant for stepping in to save the day or a hero complex that had him chasing down danger. In fact, for the most part, he was quite content to be a Malfoy and all that entailed—comfort, security, wealth.
At this moment, he wished he was a hero.
Greyback was leaning over Granger in the drawing room of Malfoy Manor, practically panting out what he wanted to do with her. Draco resisted the urge to curse him into oblivion for even thinking such vulgar things, for laying his filthy hands all over her. His lip curled up in distaste and he looked away at the fireplace, as much to avoid looking at Greyback and Granger as to hide the emotions that were flitting across his features.
This wasn't exactly how he'd hoped to see her again. He'd hoped she'd make it out of the war unscathed, that Potter and Weasley would have somehow managed to protect her. Stupid, useless Potter. What happened to his idiotic hero complex? Didn't it extend to his best friends? He would never have let this happen. And now it was too late. The Dark Lord would kill her and she'd be gone forever. His stomach was twisting in knots. He would never…
He chose a really inopportune moment to finally realise it.
He loved her.
And it wasn't going to go away. He didn't want a quick shag or a snog. He wanted her, all of her, every day, in his arms and on his lips, and at his side. He'd been fighting it for a long time, had tried to convince himself that what he really felt for her was disgust and hatred, that his sympathy for her was just because she was a girl, because she didn't deserve what they would do to her.
But there was the truth of it.
He had fallen in love.
With Hermione Granger.
And she was about to die.
His world was crashing down around him.
His father pulled him forward. "This is the Granger girl, isn't it?"
He couldn't give her away. They'd find out, he knew they would, but he couldn't give her away. "I don't know," he muttered, refusing to look at her. "Could be." He hoped they wouldn't discover her. Or maybe they'd just pass over her in favour of getting Potter? He hoped…
They discovered her—them—anyway. Potter and Weasley were taken to the cellar, but Granger was kept to be tortured for information. He wanted to be sick. He wanted to run to his bathroom and vomit his insides until there was nothing, until she was out of him and he couldn't feel her anymore. But he couldn't turn away.
She screamed as Bellatrix cast the Cruciatus curse at her. He had to drive his nails into his palms to stop himself from reacting. Her screams cut into him like a thousand knives, driving a wedge into his soul, and he knew he would never forget this night, could never forget.
And then Potter burst into the room. Potter the Hero, Potter who would rescue her the way she was meant to be rescued. Potter who would be the hero that he wasn't.
It was over in minutes, Potter wrestling his wand from him, Weasley running towards Hermione as the chandelier dropped on her, and then the three of them disapparating away.
He thought in that moment that she was gone from his life forever.
That he had missed his chance.
That it was too late for him to be the hero.
It was five years later, almost to the date of the Battle of Hogwarts, that he saw her again. She was sitting on a park bench, beneath a cherry tree in full bloom, an open book on her lap, reading in the late afternoon light. He stopped to savour the moment. He wanted to remember her like this; peaceful, whole, beautiful. He wanted a memory to supplant the one that had been burned into his brain; the night his Aunt Bella had tortured her with the Cruciatus curse. He would take his fill of her and walk away. That was his plan. But when she looked up, dark eyes catching sight of him, he knew it was his undoing.
"Malfoy?" He barely heard the whispered words.
She looked uncertain; she was trying to think of what to say. "I… you… um… how are you?"
He laughed at her attempt at civility. The last time they'd seen each other hadn't been on good terms. What did someone say to an enemy they hadn't seen in five years? He could tell her mind was reeling over whether she should treat him like an old classmate or a Death Eater they had fought against in the war.
No such uncertainty plagued him — she was the woman he loved. He'd come to peace with that thought a long time ago.
"I'm good, Granger, real good." He took a surreptitious glance at her left hand. No ring. Was it too much to hope that she'd kicked Weasley to the curb? Quietly, he slipped his own left hand with his wedding band into his pocket. She was smiling at him now, a sincere smile, full of hope that they'd moved past their childhood rivalries.
She was always too willing to forgive and forget.
"Sit," she said, shifting down on the bench to make room for him. Ready to welcome him with open arms into her circle of friends. He hated her for it.
Draco sat down next to her and knew it was a mistake; he could feel the heat of her body next to him, even with the several inches between them, could catch the slight scent of her perfume on the light May breeze.
She asked about his family, how they were doing, how they had made out after the war. It was a painful topic for him, but somehow she pulled out the words, as if she had a direct line to his soul. They talked about other things, about the classmates they still knew of, of their jobs, of their hopes for the futures, of their fears in the past.
He thought with relish that this was the longest conversation he had ever had with Hermione Granger; which was ironic, considering that he had known her for seven years in school. How had he missed out on all this? But here he was now, sitting beneath a cherry tree on a spring day, talking to Granger as if they were old friends, leaning towards each other as if they were lovers and there was a string between them that pulled them together.
He knew the afternoon was wearing away, and dusk had begun to set in. She had started to shiver in the cooling spring air as night neared, and yet she didn't move to leave, just leaned forward to continue talking to him, to laugh at his joke about how he had narrowly avoided being fired from his first job and how he had gotten into the situation in the first place. He slapped his knee as he laughed out loud.
"Did you get married?" she asked suddenly.
"Oh…" he said, realising she had noticed his wedding ring. "Yeah, to Astoria Greengrass," he admitted. There was no point in trying to hide it now. She had probably seen the announcement in the Daily Prophet, anyway.
"Congratulations. That's wonderful!" She was beaming at him. Bitch.
"Are you… ?"
"Oh, not yet." She looked slightly embarrassed as she said it. "Still waiting for Ron to ask. He will," she insisted. "He's just waiting for the right time."
Stupid Weasley. Never knew what he had.
"You're too good for him," he muttered, looking up at the white petals that were falling from the tree.
She frowned. "Don't say that. Ron loves me." This was absolutely not what he wanted to talk about.
Luckily, she changed the topic. "Malfoy, I wanted to say thank you," she began slowly. "For that day at your house when… Anyway, I know you tried to help us. That was really brave of you."
"I didn't do it for them." There— he'd said it. It was out in the open now. She was smart enough to know what he meant, to catch the tone in which he said it, to understand the look in his eyes.
Her brow furrowed. "Malfoy, don't—"
"Don't what?" he snapped. "I finally decide to be honest with you and you want me to stop?"
"You have a wife."
"That has nothing to do with this."
She looked scandalized. "How can you say that? You must have loved her when you—"
"I didn't. Because there wasn't any room for her. Because I was already in love with you." It hurt to say it. It hurt because he knew she'd reject him, she had to. They weren't going to be, couldn't be, not ever, because it was too late.
Because it had always been too late. It had been too late when his father had decided to serve the Dark Lord before he was even born, it had been too late when he was sorted into Slytherin and she into Gryffindor, it had been too late when he called her a Mudblood, too late when he'd taken the Dark Mark, too late when he'd tried to kill Dumbledore, too late when he'd started trying to hurt her because she hurt him.
It was just too late for him to be the hero.
"I can't listen to this." She rose to leave and he went after her.
"Hermione, wait!" He reached out to grab her, and she whirled, slapping his hand away.
"Don't call me that! You have no right!"
"I have every right! It's your bloody face that's tormented me for the last five years!"
"You are not in love with me, Malfoy! You don't even know me!"
"Do you think I wanted to be? Merlin, I've tried to stop! I've tried to get you out of my head! I've tried to stop thinking about you when I'm fucking my wife! I've tried—"
"Stop it!" she shrieked, drawing her wand and pointing it in his face. He didn't move, just stood there breathing heavily in the night air, desperation written on his face.
"Just let me tell you. Just listen to me." He kept walking forward, until her wand was pressed into the hollow of his throat.
"Back off, Malfoy. I'll hex you. You know I will."
"I don't care," he murmured. He grabbed her wand and slowly pushed it aside. He was standing over her, taking her in, her eyes that were tearing a hole inside him, her lips, so pink and warm and moist, breaking his resolve. "Please," he whispered. "Please." He was begging for acknowledgement, for pity, for acceptance, for…
And then he had gathered her in his arms, his nose pressed against her hair, breathing in the scent of it, feeling the curly strands tickle his face, pressing her face against his chest, feeling her shoulders, her back beneath his hands. She felt so right there. How could anything that felt so right be wrong?
"Say my name. Please, just say it."
He didn't think she would, but in the next moment he heard, "Draco," whispered like a passing breeze on the night air. He lost himself in the moment, in the possibility of what could have been, if he hadn't been who he was and if she hadn't been who she was, if this could have been their reality, her in his arms, his name on her lips.
Draco let out a shuddering breath. And then he moved, drew his lips down the side of her head, over her hair until they touched her temple. She flinched when they did so, trying to draw back, leaning away from him. He bumped her forehead as his lips poised above hers, trembling with anticipation.
"Please," he whispered. "Just once. I won't ask anymore from you."
"I can't. I love Ron."
Her words pierced his heart like a spear. "I know," he said through gritted teeth. "Just give me tonight."
Her voice saying his name drove him over the edge and he pressed his lips onto hers, savouring the taste of her. She froze under his touch, not responding, but not pushing him away. He could feel her hands on his chest, curled into tight fists, her body trembling against him. Her head was leaning back away from him, and he lifted his hand to tangle in her hair at the back of her head, gripping a tight handful to keep her in place. She murmured against him and he slipped his tongue inside her mouth, plunging deep, exploring every inch of it. He kissed her like he would never kiss her again, taking in every sensation, every taste, every movement of her mouth against his, the scent of her perfume, the feel of her hair in his hands, the feel of her body in his arms, and savouring it like the finest wine he had ever tasted.
He would always remember her like this—his and his alone for that one moment in which the rest of the world didn't exist.
He would never kiss her again. Tonight would have to be enough.
Somehow, he knew it wouldn't be. He knew he'd lie in bed beside his wife tonight, look down on her fair head, and wish it was Hermione Granger beside him.
He hoped she'd remember this kiss.
He hoped when she was lying next to Weasley, she'd think of him.
He hoped when she made love, she'd imagine it was him thrusting into her, and she'd find her release in his image.
He hoped on her wedding day, she'd wish it was him standing next to her and not Weasley.
He hoped she'd remember there was someone out there who loved her more than Weasley ever could, loved her because he couldn't help it, loved her because she was an anchor in his soul that could never be moved.
He hoped she would know what it was like to be him.
He knew it was selfish. He knew he shouldn't have kissed her.
But it was too late for him to be the hero.
A/N: I'm having so much fun writing these two, there may be another little fic in the future. Please review if you liked it (or even if you didn't). You would honestly make my day. :)