Disclaimer: Everything except the plot belongs to J.K. Rowling, and not to me.

Fifteen reviews overnight - and my first flame! A criticism on my character pairing. I'm just amazed that you read all fourteen chapters if you didn't like it…

Here it is, the fifteenth and final part of the story. If you have any questions about why I wrote this the way I did, or anything else, leave them in the reviews and I'll post the answers in a few days.



(Part 15)

"Hermione! Hermione?" Sarah burst in through the portrait hole. "Hermione?" Hermione, putting the finishing touches to her Arithmancy homework, looked up from the table where she was working.

"What is it?"

"You've got to come down to the Great Hall now! You have to stop them!"

"What's happening?" Hermione laid her quill neatly next to her roll of parchment and stood up.

"It's Ron and Draco. They're playing chess again. But it's different, it's all tense and horrible. They won't stop!"

Hermione sighed and followed the younger girl out of the common room.

*****

"Hey, Malfoy!"

"Weasel."

"You leave Hermione alone. She doesn't need you hanging around her."

"What are you talking about?" The familiar bored drawl.

"I saw you looking at her after the match today. You stay away from her."

"I think Hermione can make her own mind up, Weasley."

They were circling one another in the gap between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables. Other students were gathering around, waiting to see if there would be a fight.

"What would you want with Mudblood Granger anyway, Draco?" Millicent Bulstrode, sticking her nose in.

"He just wants to upset Weasley." Pansy Parkinson, unable to resist stirring.

"She'd never go out with you, Malfoy. She's got taste." Ginny Weasley, sticking up for her house. She'd missed the glances between Hermione and Draco after the Quidditch match.

"Do you really think you could just say 'hey, Hermione, be my girl,' and she'd say yes? Your ego is too big even for a Slytherin, Malfoy." Neville Longbottom, in an uncharacteristic moment of bravado.

"Why don't we just ask Hermione?" Everybody ignored Sarah.

"Let's finish this the way it started." Harry was surprised to hear his own voice joining the debate. "Get your chess sets." He realised that he was probably the only person here who knew the truth. Hermione wouldn't mind if Malfoy won, because she was going out with him anyway. Malfoy had won all the games so far, so Harry thought that this way might be for the best.

Ron and Draco both found their chess pieces, and set up the game.

"So, if I win, Hermione will be my girlfriend."

"And if I win…?"

Draco produced a bulging bag of golden coins.

"Two hundred Galleons." There was a collective gasp from the gathering students.

"That's a lot of money to have at school, Malfoy." Draco shrugged.

"Do you want to play or not?"

"I'll play."

*****

"What's going on?" Hermione waited in the doorway of the Great Hall, reluctant to walk in. Harry detached himself from the crowd and went over to her.

"Ron and Malfoy are playing chess again."

"I can see that. What's the bet?"

"Two hundred Galleons if Ron wins," Hermione couldn't help her gasp at the amount of money, "Or you as his girlfriend if Malfoy wins."

"How dare they?"

"I thought that you wanted to go out with Malfoy?"

"That's not the point!" Hermione's eyes flashed with anger. "They're treating me like property. After that first time, you'd think that Ron would know better!" She pushed past Harry and took a few steps into the Great Hall. Draco glanced up from the chess board as Ron contemplated his next move. His calm grey eyes met Hermione's, and she stopped.

"Never mind." Her shoulders sagged slightly, and she turned back to Harry.

"Are you okay?" She shrugged.

"I'm not going to stop them."

"Are you going back to the common room? Do you want me to come with you?" Harry glanced past her, keeping an eye on the chess match.

"No, it's okay…" She wandered past him, heading for Gryffindor Tower.

*****

The silence in the common room was almost unbearable. She couldn't concentrate on reading, she couldn't think about anything except the chess match being played downstairs. She wanted to be with Draco, but not as a prize, not as a school joke. She was angry with both boys for treating her like an object. There had been several chess match bets for her now, but all except the first one had been made with her permission. She didn't know whether or not this last match was partly her fault for allowing them to bet her before.

"They should still have asked me." She muttered.

She realised that she was talking to herself, and decided that she couldn't sit on her own waiting any more. Picking up the book that she'd been trying and failing to read, she marched back to the Great Hall.

*****

The tension in the Great Hall was almost tangible. Nobody noticed Hermione slipping in and settling herself in a corner. She opened her book as camouflage and refused to look at the chess match, which was in any case hidden by the students crowding around.

She didn't know who was winning, and her only information on the game's progress came from the gasps, the cheering, the booing and the shouted advice from the students who weren't playing. Occasionally Ron or Draco's voice would get through to her, directing a piece to a new square. The words on the paper in front of her swam, and she turned pages from time to time without having read them.

"Check." She didn't know who had said it. Somebody had noticed her, and a certain amount of pointing and whispering had begun. She ignored it, and turned another page.

"Checkmate!" Even if she hadn't recognised the voice this time, she would have known who the winner was by the cheers and yells around the chessboard.

Ron.

Clutching Draco's bag of coins, Ron was swept up in a crowd of Gryffindors, shouting and yelling with the exuberance left over from their Quidditch victory. Hermione closed her book and stood up slowly. Leaving the book on the table, she walked towards Ron, who stopped short when he saw her.

"Hermione!" He was too excited to be properly nervous, but she noticed a certain wariness in his eyes.

"Well done." She hugged him, and let him hug her back. The whole situation felt vaguely unreal, as if she was watching it all on film. Ron let her go after a moment, and started yelling to Ginny and Harry. Hermione didn't hear what he said as she walked through the crowd, which parted to let her pass.

Draco was packing his chess pieces away. A few Slytherins were stood nearby, but nobody was talking to him.

"Malfoy." Her voice was deliberately cool. He looked up.

"Hermione."

"So. You lost then?" He nodded. "Ron's got his money?" He nodded again. "What do you get out of it, Malfoy?"

He shrugged. "Nothing, it seems. That's what losing's about."

"And what about… us?"

"I had to win to get you." The Malfoy mask had slipped, and he looked unhappy.

"I can still make my own decisions, you know." The last knight was packed into the box, and Draco put the lid on before he looked up again, his face once again expressionless.

"Meaning?" She took a step forwards, so that she was standing right next to him.

"Meaning…" She put her hand on his shoulder and twisted him to face her. "That I can still do this if I want to."

Then she kissed him, right in front of the whole school. When she broke away, he was standing totally still, looking completely surprised. Somebody started to clap. Draco laughed and pulled her towards him again.

They were no longer aware that the entire school was staring at them.

They didn't know that Ron was spluttering as he gazed at them, or that Ginny had to grab the bag of gold to stop him dropping it.

They didn't see Harry grinning, or little Sarah jumping up and down and clapping her hands.

They forgot the chess game, the differences between them and the difficulties that opposed them.

Nothing mattered any more, except that they were together, for no other reason than because they wanted to be.