AN: This is the final chapter. It was always headed for this ending so I hope you all like it. Thanks so much for all the support for this fic. I've honestly been stunned by how much attention it's received.
Hermione had never been so mortified. Not only had Malfoy maybe, probably seen the tattoo that meant she maybe, probably had feelings for him, but she'd run. What kind of Gryffindor ran from anything?
She spent the rest of the day in her room, ignoring her friends when they knocked and stroking Crookshanks' belly. Late that night she snuck out and returned to her office, intent on doing the rest of the clean up all on her own. It would be easier with Malfoy's help of course, but after that afternoon she didn't want to see him unless she absolutely had to.
She flicked on the light and froze in her tracks. Not a single pile of papers could be seen anywhere. She stepped slowly around the desk as if worried the stacks were still there, only rendered invisible somehow. At the wall of filing cabinets she walked all the way to the end, bending down a bit to see that 1998 was now the final date listed.
Malfoy had finished everything.
Hermione slumped in her desk chair, not quite knowing or caring how she'd gotten to it. Dimly she thought he really would do well working for Mr. Weasley if he was industrious enough to get all this done on his own in so short a time. He'd even, she realized with a mirthless chuckle that never made it quite past a smile, had to forge her signature. When had Slytherin sneakiness become endearing?
She stared at the surface of the desk. He just kept confusing her and doing nice things. She needed something to remind her that he was a terrible, horrible prat. Her gaze moved slowly to his desk and she suddenly remembered the letter. She couldn't help her grin. His letter to the next Head Boy! He'd said himself it was threatening and it would probably be just the insight she needed into Malfoy's head to get him out of hers.
She raced around the desks and pulled the top drawer open. The letter was still on top and she snatched it quickly while settling into Malfoy's seat. The seal had a magical element to it but she was certain she could mimic it easily. If he discovered her invasion of his privacy she'd just remind him that he'd forged her signature and call them even.
A simple spell opened the letter without breaking the physical seal and she settled in to read.
Dear Head Boy of 1998-1999,
As you can imagine this letter has been left for you by your predecessor. I am not going to coddle you and tell you how to do your job. If you can't handle it, you should never have been appointed.
This letter is only to remind you of the trust which has been invested in you. I'm not talking about the trust of the student body or the professors, you've heard enough of that rot tonight, but about the trust of one student in particular.
No doubt your head of house has by now informed you of a certain student's condition and the role you will play in managing it. Know that if, in the coming year, harm befalls this student or the truth behind his frequent absences if brought to light I will hold you personally responsible and make it my mission in life to repay you for such a breach of conduct. My name alone should be more than enough evidence of my ability to do just that.
Good luck in your final year,
Hermione stared at the letter. He was protecting Harrow. After all she'd done to convince herself that he was self-serving, that his good behavior was only for his own benefit, he went out of his way to protect little Timothy Harrow.
Hermione avoided Malfoy like the plague. If they had class together she sat as far from him as possible. She spent her free time outside, surrounded by her fellow Gryffindors, or in the common room. In the Great Hall she sat with her back to Slytherin's side of the room and pretended she couldn't feel him watching her.
There was nothing to be said that wouldn't be awkward and uncomfortable and confirm what she already knew. He didn't have feelings for her, not like she had for him at any rate. She just wasn't about to subject herself to that kind of embarrassment when she didn't have to. Except …
Tomorrow was the match and the day after they'd part company, perhaps forever. There was one thing they could still share, silly as it was, and she planned on making the most of it.
"Malfoy!" Hermione called and instantly winced at the sound of her own voice echoing in the entrance hall.
She waited while he said some parting words to Zabini and crossed the hall to join her.
"Found your Gryffindor bravery, did you?" he asked, smiling cheekily.
She held up a hand and glanced around. Breakfast was nearly over and most students were well on their way to class but she still wasn't chancing being overheard. She waved him to the side of the hall where a pillar would muffle their conversation and hide them from view.
"A full year of being Heads and now you decide to be ashamed of me?"
"Shut up," she snapped. "This isn't funny. And no, we are not talking about it. I'm just here about the bet."
He crossed his arms over his chest and she assumed that was all the response she would get.
"Last time I was in the office you still hadn't cleaned out your personal effects."
"So? There's still another day and then all the time after the match."
"If we lose I'll clean it. I'll box up everything, nice and neat. Neater than you'd do."
He considered this for a moment. "And if, by some miracle, Gryffindor wins?"
She lifted her chin, tapping into some of that Gryffindor courage he'd mentioned. "I want a kiss."
Malfoy's eyes widened.
Hermione held out her hand to shake on it before he could find his voice to comment. "Deal?"
He nodded slowly. "Deal."
It was the worst bet Hermione had ever made. She spent the first three hours of Friday's game on pins and needles. She didn't know how to feel whether Ron missed the Quaffle or Dean made a goal.
Luna clutched her hand tightly while Crabbe shot a Bludger at Harry. Harry rolled quickly out of the way and then zoomed off across the pitch. The crowd gasped, only to relax a moment later when it was clear Harry was just trying to get away from the Slytherin Beaters and hadn't seen the Snitch at all.
Hermione let her gaze drift up to where Malfoy was hovering in lazy circles over the field, watching for the Snitch. Harry joined him and Hermione almost thought she saw them laugh about something together before they went their separate ways.
"You're really into the match," Luna said. "That's not like you."
"Oh," Hermione said, fiddling with her hands in her lap. "I- I just -" She was saved answering when Gryffindor scored, bringing them even with Slytherin once more at 70 points.
She should say she really wanted Gryffindor to win one last game but she didn't know if that was true. She'd thought before that one kiss would be better than nothing at all or, if she was very, very lucky, that it would be dull and awkward and do absolutely nothing for her. But what if it was good? What if it only made her want him more? That would be worse than no kiss at all.
She didn't allow herself to think that maybe he might enjoy the kiss. That was a fantasy in which she could not allow herself to indulge.
Hermione tried to put thoughts of Malfoy out of her mind as she watched the game. He helped by staying high above the main action and she could almost pretend this was a normal match, just like any other. When it became too hard to ignore her butterflies she let her gaze drift towards the teachers' box. Fred and George had come to visit and were celebrating every goal with a small fireworks display.
"Look!" Luna cried.
Hermione looked up to see Malfoy and Harry in steep dives. They each headed for the Hufflepuff stands where Hermione saw a flash of gold hovering. She lost sight of it a moment later and the boys veered to the left, nearly touching as they neared their target. The Snitch seemed to be circling the field. Students leapt to their feet, yelling encouragements as the Seekers soared over them, arms outstretched. Just before they reached the Gryffindor section both boys spun out in different directions.
Malfoy regained control in front of the Gryffindor stands and met Hermione's gaze before opening his fist just far enough that the two golden wings could unfurl. Slytherin had won.
It was just as well, Hermione thought as she trudged back towards Gryffindor Tower with the depressed mob. The look Malfoy had given her when he revealed the Snitch made it perfectly clear that he'd won not just for House pride but so he wouldn't have to give her her prize.
"Ginny," Hermione said, catching her friend's arm and stopping on the stairs.
Disgruntled third and fourth years muttered under their breath at having to go around but no one was about to speak out against the Head Girl or an unhappy Beater still in full gear.
"I know we should all stick together and cheer each other up right now but-"
"Please go do whatever secret thing you have to," Ginny said. "With any luck it'll turn into one last adventure and save us all."
Hermione laughed. "I doubt it. I just have to pay up to Malfoy."
Ginny wrinkled her nose in disgust. "What'd you bet?"
"I have to clean his half of the office. With how messy he is it'll probably take all night."
"Do you want any help?" Ginny asked, looking almost hopeful.
Hermione shook her head. "No, I can manage." She ignored Ginny's forlorn expression and the guilty feeling in her gut and turned to go. Much as she'd like to help her friend escape the pity party that was sure to be the Gryffindor common room, she really just wanted to be alone for a little while.
She didn't waste any time getting to the office. She needed to focus on this or she'd end up staying up half the night mooning over every little thing Malfoy had ever so much as touched while feeling sorry for herself and that wasn't an option. This was no different than when she helped Harry or Ron organize their things. She would be in and out in no time at all and then she could go back to the common room. By then Fred and George should have suitably lifted everyone's spirits. It would be a real end of year party and Hermione would be able to forget her troubles.
Hopes of an emotional respite ahead of her, Hermione nearly ran into the office.
Malfoy was sitting in his chair.
Hermione's breath caught in her throat and she couldn't seem to remember how to move. She faintly heard the door swing shut behind her.
Malfoy stood slowly. He was still in his Quidditch gear though he'd begun removing the pads and had tossed them on the desktop. His hair was windswept and he was filthy from sweat but he still somehow managed to look regal.
"I'm just here to pay up," she said quickly, looking away from him.
"Good," he said.
Hermione blinked, trying not to let his succinct dismissal cut her.
He crossed the room in two quick strides. "I've decided to change the terms of the bet. I doubt you'll mind."
Her eyes flashed up at him. "You can't change a bet after you've won, Malfoy!" She may be pathetically in love with him but she wasn't about to let him get away with being a prat.
He smirked down at her. "You wanted to kiss me yesterday."
Her eyes widened and she felt her cheeks flaring crimson. So that was it. She looked away again, down at the floor by his chair. She was not about to let him pity her or give him something to lord over her. A deal was a deal and that was final.
"That is neither here nor there. The bet was that if Slytherin won, I cleaned your half of the office and you've won so-"
Out of the corner of her eye she saw him jerk up the long sleeve of his jersey before thrusting his arm into her field of vision. Wrapped around his wrist was a twisting tattoo of an otter.
Hermione gasped and looked up at him questioningly.
He shrugged. "Thought I'd try them out since all you Gryffindors were. Imagine my surprise," he chuckled and lifted her chin to kiss her.
It was as good as she'd feared and she was soon swept up in the moment, not caring about tattoos or what tomorrow might bring. Suddenly he was gone, stepping away from her so fast that she almost fell. The door opened behind her and she heard Goyle's voice.
"There you are, Draco! Pansy says we can't have a party until the guest of honor arrives and she's holding the Butterbeer hostage."
Hermione was grateful she still had her back to the door. She doubted even Gregory Goyle could overlook the cause for her blush.
"I'm a bit busy, Greg," Malfoy said firmly. "Tell Pansy to quit-"
"Don't be silly," Hermione said. "We're just about done here. You go on, Malfoy. Have fun."
He studied her, something akin to rage in his eyes. She couldn't blame him. They were in the middle of something important and now she was telling him it could wait.
"Are you sure?" he asked, his usually smooth voice stilted. "I'd hate to leave you alone with all of this."
She shook her head. "I'd rather be. It's a lot to get a handle on."
His expression softened and she saw something self-deprecating flash in his eyes. "You'll update me at the feast?" he asked. He pulled his sleeve back down carefully and she watched one knuckle caress the otter's back before the tattoo disappeared entirely from view.
"Yes," she managed to say. He smirked at the effect he had on her and stepped around her.
"See you then," he whispered in her ear and he was gone.
Hermione left the office soon after, deciding to clear her head by wandering the halls. They were far from empty. The Slytherins were all down in the dungeons celebrating and most of the Gryffindors seemed to be hiding their heads in shame but the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs were out enjoying their final day at Hogwarts before the summer holidays.
Hermione couldn't believe it. All that time she'd spent wallowing like a lovestruck idiot and it turned out Malfoy liked her. She almost skipped. Some small corner of her brain reminded her of every time she'd tried to say that the tattoos weren't necessarily accurate and she very politely told that corner to shut up! He wouldn't have kissed her like that if he didn't like her at least a little.
Unless … This was Malfoy. He wasn't necessarily above pranking her. No! No. He'd been at least decent to her all year and even if it was all an act to lull her into complacency there was no way he could have known he'd be presented with this kind of an opportunity. Plus, more shocking than anything, she just didn't believe him capable anymore. He'd written a letter to protect Harrow, for Merlin's sake!
So that was that. She liked him. He liked her. Nothing could be more simple or complex and she was free to enjoy the happy butterflies in her stomach until the feast.
Or she would have been had her feet not taken her towards Ravenclaw Tower. Halfway there she found Padma and Parvati sitting on the stairs.
"What's happened?" she asked, seeing Padma's stricken expression. There were tears in her eyes that she was refusing to let fall.
"I hate him. I do!"
Hermione lifted an eyebrow and looked to Parvati. "Ernie?" she mouthed.
Parvati nodded sadly and Hermione joined them, rubbing Padma's back comfortingly.
"He told me he hoped it would work out!" Padma nearly yelled. "With Harry! I don't even like Harry! But all Ernie will say is how he thinks we'd be great together and Harry couldn't do any better! I could have hexed him!"
"Want us to?" Parvati asked.
Hermione sent her a sharp look but mentally she was already planning on running down to the Hufflepuff dorms and giving Ernie a tongue-lashing.
"What's this then?"
The three girls looked up the stairs to see Fred and George descending.
"What are Hogwarts three loveliest ladies doing moping around in this dark, dank stairwell?" George asked. Hermione noticed what looked suspiciously like the Marauder's Map sticking out of his pocket.
"Nothing," Padma said, schooling her features into mild indifference.
"Good," Fred said, hauling Padma to her feet while George did the same to Hermione and Parvati. "Then you're free to come with us. We just came from Gryffindor Tower. It is dead up there."
"And we know just how to liven things up," George said.
The girls exchanged looks. When the twins were this excited about something there was a very thin line between lively and deadly.
"Come on, Harry," George said, pushing him onto one of the desks. Fred and George had gathered up all of the seventh year Gryffindors along with their sister and dragged them into an empty classroom. "This is just the thing to cheer you up."
"I don't need cheering up!" Harry insisted. "It was a good game! Malfoy won fair and square."
There were a few scoffs around the room. Malfoy and fair play weren't often found in close proximity.
Ginny put her hand on Harry's shoulder and he sagged into his seat. The twins stepped to the front of the room with identical smiles on their faces.
"You are probably all wondering why we asked you specifically to come," Fred said.
"You mean why you dragged us here?" Ron snapped. His brothers glared at him but quickly resumed smiling.
"How did you all like our True Love Tattoos?" George asked innocently.
There was a great deal of muttering and none of the excitement Hermione remembered from just a few days ago.
"Good," Fred said cheerily. "That's exactly what we thought."
"What are you talking about?" Ginny asked, rising slowly from her seat.
The twins actually seemed to balk a bit at her tone. Harry and Ron dragged her back down.
"The tattoos don't work at all," Fred said happily.
"Define 'at all,'" Hermione nearly croaked into the silence that followed Fred's admission.
"They don't work," George said. "Each needle holds a magical image of an animal that we put there. What you get is just random."
"Well, usually random," Fred pointed out and George shrugged his agreement. "We chose the animals in the needles you got just for all of you."
"We knew all your Patronuses from back in the DA."
"And we knew it'd be the perfect way to mess with you lot."
Ginny was the first to react. She leapt from her seat and charged at her brothers, beating them fiercely.
"Hey! Hey! It says right on the box!" George yelled, holding up his arms to defend himself.
"We make no claims as to the accuracy of True Love Tattoos!" Fred yelled.
Ginny finally stopped. "You two are evil. You should have been Slytherins!"
"Come on, Gin, it's not so bad," Harry said. "You got a stag."
Ginny paled and her brothers let out soft oo's. She slapped at them but they dodged away.
"Actually," she admitted slowly, "I got a fox."
Harry's eyes widened and Seamus stepped behind Dean just to be safe. Then Harry burst out laughing.
"N-no offense, Seamus," he gasped out between guffaws, "but- Seamus!"
Seamus seemed torn for a moment then shrugged it off. "At least he's not challenging me to a duel."
That broke the ice for everyone else and they began exchanging stories of their own tattoo troubles. Neville, having gotten an otter, was so happy he wasn't secretly in love with Hermione that he kissed her on the cheek before going red as a beet. Lavender was just glad to find the swan on her ankle was not a sign she was meant to end up with Cho Chang. Hermione thought Ron looked a bit disappointed but if he was, he was also too smart to let his brothers see and quickly covered it up.
Hermione tried to smile with Padma but just couldn't hold it for long. Barely an hour before she'd told herself that the veracity of the tattoos didn't matter but now she wasn't so sure. Malfoy wouldn't even have looked at her twice if he hadn't gotten that stupid otter.
"Why were there two otters?" Hermione muttered.
"Funny you should ask," Fred said, popping up over her shoulder and making her jump.
"Because we had a similar question for you," George said from her other side.
They maneuvered her far enough away from the others that they wouldn't be overheard but not so far as to attract attention.
"There was no cat," Fred said. It was an accusation.
"None at all," George said.
"Good idea though."
"Make someone think they were in love with McGonagall."
"We should've thought of it."
George nodded in agreement.
Hermione folded her arms and stared them down.
"Fine," George said. "There was only one otter. The second one-"
"We'd like to know who got that, by the way."
George nodded. "Definitely. But the second needle was probably exposed to a magical projection of an otter."
"Such as your Patronus," Fred said knowingly.
Hermione felt her stomach drop out. Her Patronus had touched each of the boxes Malfoy confiscated from the Ravenclaws, including the one he'd probably used.
"Oh no," she breathed.
The twins exchanged a worried look.
"Come on, it can't be that bad," Fred said, resting a hand on her shoulder.
George grinned. "No worse than the tattoo you got, I'd wager."
"What makes you say that?" Hermione asked warily.
"Well, we thought it'd be great fun to really mess with you all."
"And what better way to do that than to make one of you think that they were in love with none other than Draco Malfoy?"
"The dragon," Hermione breathed.
The twins' grins grew so wide Hermione thought they'd pull identical muscles. They began hopping up and down in excitement.
"Oh, Merlin, Hermione! That is just too good!"
"How did you stand it?"
"How did she not figure it out?"
"We were sure if anyone with half a brain got the dragon they'd figure the tattoos were fake right away."
"You must have been traumatized. The only way you wouldn't have realized is if-" Fred cut off, his face paling. George's did the same and they both turned to look at her.
Hermione shook her finger at both of them. "Not. One. Word."
They nodded slowly.
"No one ever hears about this. And I mean ever. Even if I am long dead and the two of you are on your matching deathbeds and you want to get one last really funny story in before you go, this will not be it. Got it? Because I will torture you both from beyond the grave if I have to. You know I'd manage it."
They nodded again.
"Good. Now go have fun at someone else's expense."
They scurried off, leaving Hermione with her whirling thoughts.
She would have to tell him, that much was obvious. He could do whatever he wanted with the information after that. If he said it didn't matter, she'd be ecstatic. If he decided he'd never really liked her at all, well, she'd deal with that when and if it came.
She snatched the Marauder's Map out of George's pocket without so much as a "by your leave" and left for the next empty classroom over, not wanting to explain to her friends just what she was up to.
Hermione scoured the dungeons twice before deciding he really wasn't there and searching the rest of the school. She finally found him in their office and rushed up there, not allowing herself to pause and wonder what he was doing there instead of the party down in Slytherin.
She burst into the room with much more force than she would have liked and he turned to grin at her. He was packing his things.
"Done thinking already? Good."
She shook her head as he advanced on her and held up a hand to ward him off. "I have to tell you something."
He frowned and leant against the edge of his desk with arms and legs crossed. "This sounds serious," he said curiously.
She bit her lip and nodded. "It is. I swear I didn't find out until just now or I never would have let any of this happen."
"Any of what happen?"
She searched for the best way to explain. "You were right."
His eyes widened in surprise. "Those are the last three words I ever expected to hear from you."
She was too distraught to scowl at him. "About the tattoos," she explained, wringing her hands. "When you said they sounded dodgy, that there was no way to prove they were accurate. They're not. Not even a little. The twins just told us. Yours was only an otter because it had been exposed to my Patronus."
His expression had slowly closed off while she spoke and his words were cold. "And the dragon?" he asked, raising his eyebrows at her middle as if he could see right through her.
"They knew all our Patronuses and made sure to send one of each to Colin. The dragon they added because-" she gestured vaguely at him- "because it's you," she said quietly.
"Of course." He was dignified and she could feel him pulling away from her. She couldn't stand the idea that she was losing all of him because of this.
"I'm sorry. I didn't know. I know we haven't always gotten along but this year has meant a lot to me. I'd hate to think this mess meant we could no longer be-"
"Friends?" he asked, his smile cruel. "We have never been friends, Granger."
She nodded. "I understand." She turned to go but paused with the door half open. "Since you're going to be working for Mr. Weasley, can we at least agree that if we ever meet again we'll be civil?" She was thinking of random meetings at Weasley Sunday dinners. Before, when it had been something to dream of, it had seemed impossible. Now it seemed sure to happen and she didn't want all of this to make the Weasleys uncomfortable.
He didn't answer. His eyes were firmly fixed on the ground. His hands were white-knuckled, gripping the edge of the desk. She took in the way his hair fell, the stormy color of his eyes, and firm set of his jaw. This wouldn't be the last time she saw him but it might be the last time she had a chance to memorize him.
Feeling she'd stared long enough and that he'd probably bark at her if she stayed much longer, she stepped into the hall.
"Granger!" Malfoy called.
She turned and he was standing in the doorway, wand in hand. She certainly didn't deserve a hexing for what she'd done and reached for her own.
"This has been a banner day," he said. "You admitted that I was right. Well now let me tell you something even more stunning. You were wrong."
She'd thought that much was obvious and opened her mouth to say so.
He spoke over her. "You allowed the opinions of others to form your own and because of that you are making a complete fool of yourself now."
She looked away. "I made a mistake, Malfoy, and I'm sorry for that. But you believed the stupid things too! So don't you start acting all high and mighty!"
"I'm not talking about the tattoos," he said and lifted his wand. "Expecto patronum."
White light fell from Malfoy's wand, coalescing into a ball on the floor. It slowly unwound itself and stared up at her. It was clearer than during class, the face and limbs more defined.
"I spent weeks," he said, stepping around it to reach her, "after that extra credit session trying to figure out just why this was my Patronus."
She kept her eyes on the glowing creature. It had begun spinning lazy circles in the air behind Malfoy. She swallowed, trying to remember everything she'd learned while researching the animals. "They're clever and industrious and-"
"Please stop talking like a textbook, Granger. We both know exactly why. You said it yourself the other day. Apparently my picture of happiness - is your happiness."
She turned to look up at him and he kissed her. When she brought her arms up around his neck light flared through her closed eyelids and she felt the faint brush of the ethereal otter swooping joyfully around them.