Aftershock: Part Nine
Draco sat at the Three Broomsticks feeling as if he were in a dream. Professor Dumbledore's letter had come through the Minister's office, leaving the Ministry with no choice but to let the last Malfoy into Hogsmeade. He could imagine the ire being directed towards him since then.
Surprisingly, he didn't care.
So now he sat, Harry Potter on one side of him, Hermione Granger on the other, and Ron Weasley sitting across from him, looking dubious. Dumbledore was throwing himself a birthday party, though nobody was quite sure which birthday it was, or even if it really was his birthday, but everyone was having too good a time to care.
Draco was determined not to draw attention to himself, and thereby spoil the evening. He wondered if this was what Harry had felt like, during the bad times at school. Draco smiled to himself, once again surprised at his empathy, still a new and strange experience.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Weasley start to say something to Hermione, then blue eyes met gray, and Weasley leaned away, no longer trying to get his friend's attention. Draco debated with himself for a moment, then touched Hermione's arm, to excuse himself as politely as he knew how. Her moving to let him out of his chair put her closer to Weasley, and Draco had to cover a smirk at the surprised look on the red-head's face.
Malfoy, being polite? Never! he narrated the expression as he dipped his head in a quick parting nod to Weasley, and walked towards the exit. The feeling of warm contentment followed him, and he was determined to enjoy it while he had it.
Hermione sighed as Ron started talking to her. All he wanted to know was about Draco. If he was evil, if he'd brainwashed Harry, if he had slipped something nasty into the drinks being served, on and on…
It took a great deal of self-control not to yell at her friend. Especially when he started speculating on stunts that George and Fred had been more likely to pull than Draco. Harry was sending her amused covert glances, and she was suddenly just so fed up with the both of them.
Grabbing a fresh butterbeer she plunked it down on the table in front of Ron, "Shut up and enjoy yourself already! Honestly, it's as if you didn't even know it was Dumbledore's party." She felt a wave of satisfaction when her friend's ears blushed. Sitting at the table, the old Trio together again, Hermione had an epiphany. Draco had left because he knew that Ron wouldn't talk to her if he had been sitting right there. Ron would have resented that, Ron resented Draco being here at all, and there would have been an argument later. She felt a tingle in her chest at the thought that Draco had moved so as to preserve whatever harmony was present tonight. It was a sweet, considerate, completely non-Malfoy thing to do. She felt a silly smile threaten to show itself, and raised her own butterbeer to cover the infant expression.
Harry was smiling at her in that annoying, knowing way again. She raised an eyebrow at him, and wondered how much he really did know, and how much he had guessed. She hadn't told anyone about her imaginary-Draco, feeling silly just thinking about it, so he couldn't know about her feelings for the new-and-improved Draco. Could he?
She decided that she'd had enough time alone with her thoughts, as a girl came up to the table and asked Harry to dance. He accepted, only stuttering a little, as Ron laughed and pointed out that their famous friend still had no finesse. It was probably something Ginny had said about Ron. "Finesse" was just the sort of word Ginny would use. Hermione left the table, butterbeer in hand, and went to go look at the stars for a moment, to collect herself before rejoining the festivities.
She also recalled Draco going in this direction when he left the table. He had been quieter and calmer looking since getting here, but she was still worried about him. This wasn't exactly a group he would be comfortable with, save Harry, Dumbledore and herself. At least, she hoped he was comfortable with her.
The air outside was cool, she enjoyed the feeling while she waited for her eyes to adjust to the dark. It was a nice night, and this back garden was walled off from the street, providing privacy and quiet to the guests.
As she looked around, her sight sharpening, she saw that Draco was the only other person present. He looked a little downcast, and a little hopeful as he leaned against the wall, looking strait up into the stars. He looked like a ghost, his coloring augmented by the half-light. The thought sent a shiver down her spine.
"Would you mind company?" She asked softly. For a second she thought that he hadn't heard her, then he looked at her and smiled softly. She felt her insides melt, just a little, at the expression. It looked…tender, but that may be just wishful thinking on her part.
"No, I wouldn't mind your company. There were people out here earlier, but…" his voice was soft, and he stopped just as a dark edge entered his tone. She didn't need him to finish the though, she could guess.
They were scared of you, and left as quickly as possible
"Their loss, my gain." Hermione replied briskly, and moved to stand next to him, trying to see what he had been looking at. "Any constellation of particular interest to you?" she asked, hoping that she wasn't intruding on his thoughts. His chuckle surprised her, sounding as if it started somewhere deep in his chest. It was a soft, intimate sound, and she felt another shiver go down her spine, for a completely different reason.
"No. I don't think I could pick out more than one or two constellations to begin with. I just like looking at the stars, because they're the one thing that is the same regardless of if I'm in the Muggle, or the Wizarding world. They're calming."
Hermione felt more than saw him relax into the wall, letting it support more of his weight. His arm brushed hers, and she felt tingles erupt along her skin. He didn't move away, she felt her heart beat faster and tried to keep her breathing normal. She searched for another safe topic to talk about, just to keep him out here and with her instead of going inside.
"Are you glad that you came to the party?" She nearly smacked her forehead, marveling at her stupidity. His ability to travel, and lack thereof, was not a safe topic.
"Yes, I'm glad. Harry says that you had a hand in Dumbledore inviting me." Draco's tone was amused and wondering at the same time. Hermione held her breath, hoping that he wasn't angry at her. "Thank you Hermione. You'll never know how grateful I am to see this place again."
She ducked her head, trying to hide her happy smile from him, knowing that it was a goofy, undignified expression. "You're very welcome, Draco." He was moving again, and something within Hermione wailed at the loss of contact. Thinking that the quiet moment was over, she prepared to go back into the party as well.
She was shocked when she felt his fingers brush her cheek, then lift her chin so that she was looking into his face. He was so close, but the light wasn't nearly enough for her to see his expression, other than the fact that he was smiling, clearly. She was holding her breath now, searching for clue as to what he was going to do next.
"You are an amazing woman, do you know that?" His voice was still soft and low, turning her insides to mush. From the wonder in his tone, she knew that he wasn't aware of the effect that he was having on her. She hoped that he wasn't aware of the effect that he was having on her.
"I'm just me." she protested, knowing that she sounded like the schoolgirl she used to be, only more uncertain. A frisson of anxiety washed through her as he chuckled again, but there was no mockery in the sound, only that same melting quality.
"Simply amazing," he breathed, his finders brushing her cheek again. His smile turned a little rueful, and before she knew what he was doing, he had leaned forward and brushed his lips along her cheek. The touch was softer than his fingertips, barely a whisper of sensation before he was pulling back again. Hermione thought she would have swallowed her tongue in shock if she hadn't caught the look of uncertainty and worry on his face before the light was at the wrong angle again, and he was masked from her. "Thank you for being amazing Hermione. I don't deserve it." His smile was back, and he was pulling away from her, really leaving this time.
Hermione knew that if he left now, this thing that she could feel building within her would never find expression. If she let this moment pass without doing something than her lonely life would never be anything but what it had always been.
Never let it be said that Hermione Granger let opportunity pass her by.
Draco couldn't believe he had just done that, said that. She was never going to speak to him again. He had overstepped the bounds, and now she had to know that what he was feeling wasn't just friendship, and she was probably disgusted…
Get back to the party. Pretend it never happened. You are a fool Draco Malfoy.He was moving to do just that, hoping that he could ponder his impending long life of solitude in peace among the masses, when Hermione's hand closed around his bicep, stopping him in mid-stride.
"You're going to tell me I'm amazing, and then leave? A comment like that deserves thoughtful reflection, and a little gratitude on my part, I think." Her tone was teasing, but he could hear…something…under the lightness. He paused, then turned to look at her. Her expression was intent, highlighted by the light from the windows. She was glowing from the light, the opposite of how he had been using it to hide his expression, to hide what he was unable to keep off of his face when he was looking at her. The opposite…how fitting he thought to himself.
"No gratitude required. I was simply stating a fact." She raised an eyebrow at him. It was an expression he remembered in equal parts from her and his own reflection during school. He had managed to be snotty and sarcastic with himself back then. No wonder nobody had liked him. Stop wandering away from the subject Malfoy a voice snapped in his head. It would seem that he could still be snotty to himself. Draco shrugged a shoulder in response to Hermione and waited for her to say something.
Her face was determined as she looked at him. It seemed that she was debating something within herself. Draco waited for the outcome, wondering what debate could possibly have anything to do with him. She searched his face, his eyes for something, and he had no idea what she was looking for, but hoping that whatever she found was to her satisfaction.
"I'm not amazing," she said suddenly, looking him in the eye, courage glinting out of her own. He didn't know where this was going, but he drew the courage to find out from her. He hoped, he prayed, that whatever she was leading up to meant that he would get to see her again, someday. She swallowed visibly, and Draco discovered that his heart was pounding, and he was holding his breath. "I'm not amazing," she repeated, "…but you make me think that I can be." It was a halting confession, and she looked surprised at it, as if that hadn't been what she meant to say. After a moment she tilted her head and smiled, still looking into his eyes. He felt like he couldn't breathe, something big was happening, and he had no control over it, though he knew it would change his life.
"I…I always wanted to change the world. You make me think that I can. Do you have any idea how wonderful that makes me feel?" He shook his head dumbly at her question, wondering how he could possibly have had any good effect on this woman's abilities. Her hand moved from his arm to touch his jaw, lightly, and he was lost. She became the world, nothing but her eyes, her voice, her touch existed. He could have happily drown in her.
"I imagined you, back in school," she was blushing, he could tell from her expression, could almost see the color, but she continued, "I imagined Draco Malfoy, my friend. I was trying to see if even my imagination could conceive of such a thing. It could, and did, and it was nearly painful to see you in classes after that. The good little Dark Wizard and the boy I had thought up were so different." There was actual pain in her voice, and he nearly reached up to stop her talking, to halt whatever it was that caused her pain. Her fingers moved over his skin lightly, freezing any motion he might have made, and she continued speaking in that soft, hushed tone.
"Yet here you are, Draco Malfoy my friend. Almost like I imagined you could be, all those years ago." Her fingers moved up to brush through his hair, pushing the strands away from his temple. His heart was exploding, with what emotion he wasn't sure, and he didn't think he could bear to hear the rest. "Almost like him... Your a much better person than the one I thought up. So much better, and that makes me happy. Because if you can be even better than the best I could think up in school, than anything is possible." He was hallucinating, he had to be. There was no other explanation as Hermione leaned closer to him, raising herself onto her toes to look him in the eye. Her hand on his shoulder, steadying her, was warm through the cloth of his robes. She paused, the courage in her eyes faltering as she looked into his, then she gathered herself, "Anything's possible, right?"
Her intent was clear as she leaned her lips towards his, and without thinking, without questioning, Draco met her half way. He threw himself into the kiss, wrapping every sensation into his mind, determined to keep everything in crystal-clear memory. She tasted like butterbeer, and smelled like spring flowers and old paper, and he would never be able to get enough. Standing next to her, holding her, forever still wouldn't be enough. So he drank in everything about the kiss, about her, greedily, to hold onto when she left, when whatever hallucinogenic drug he had inadvertently consumed had left him bereft, he would be able to hold onto these memories.
He pulled her against him as tightly as he dared, kissing her as if his life depended on it. He knew that his desperation, his despair were bleeding through into the kiss, but he found that he couldn't have stopped if he'd wanted to. And right now, his dignity wasn't even on the list of priorities.
Hermione's world had narrowed to just this man, holding her, kissing her as if he could pull her soul out of her and into himself. Yet, he was so gentle with her that she felt worshiped. Who knew that Draco had it in him?
But that had been her point, hadn't it? This Draco was so different from the one in school, and yet the same stubborn, prideful survivor that he had been in school. He tasted like joy and pain, hope and despair.
Hermione found herself clinging to him, lost in the combination of emotions she could feel him stirring up within her. She didn't know what she would do if he stopped, she knew that she didn't want him to. She felt strong arms around her, holding her to him, and cradling her at the same time. She had never felt so infinitely precious in her life.
Too soon and after an eternity, they had to breathe. Hermione refused to pull further back than it took her to focus on his eyes. His amazing, suddenly vulnerable gray eyes. Her lips and tongue were tingling, and she realized that, given a choice, she never wanted to be anywhere but where he was. The enormity of the emotion, the knowledge took her breath away again for a moment, and she simply looked at him, trying to convey everything she was feeling into her eyes, so that he could share it with her.
One of his hands left her waist and came up to her face. He hesitated, then touched her as if he were afraid she would vanish if he wasn't careful. She had to smile at that, it was such an endearing thing, to have this former bully touching her so softly. Maybe he was feeling something like she was. It was enough to hope for, but she couldn't find the words to ask him, and she realized that she was also afraid of the moment, this feeling, vanishing if she said or did the wrong thing.
So she returned his touch, gently placing her palm over his cheekbone, running her thumb over his skin. She discovered that she was trembling, that she wouldn't be able to stand if he let go of her. She never wanted him to let go of her. Maybe, hopefully, that was what he needed to hear. Maybe this didn't have to be some memory she would turn to in the years to come, when the wanderlust had dragged her to some desolate location and she was feeling alone in the world. Maybe…
"Let me stay with you" she barely recognized the voice as her own, amazed and terrified that the words had actually made it out of her mind and mouth and into the inch of air between Draco and her. He looked as surprised as she felt. "I don't want to let go now that I've got you." Hermione felt like she had been squeezed too hard as her own bold statement, admission of deeper feeling, made it to her ears. Draco's jaw dropped.
He's going to drop me. He's going to laugh and walk away. He's going to explain that there was something in the punch and this is just a joke. He's… Hermione closed her eyes against the rising tide of shame and pain as the silence stretched. She started sinking back onto the soles of her feet, pulling away from him, and the impending mockery, as she heard nothing but the sound of his breathing.
Then she was pulled tightly against his chest, his arms wrapped around her and her face pressed against his throat. He clung to her like a life-line, and all Hermione could think was that she had never been more relieved in her life. His voice was soft in her hair, and it took a breath or two to hear what he was saying.
"Stay, please stay. I don't want to let go either, don't make me. Stay." His voice, so soft and deep, repeating the words like a mantra against a nightmare. It spoke directly to Hermione's heart as she recalled the haunted, pained look in his eyes when he spoke of the years since his initiation. The absolute devastation in his expression after speaking to Molly. The joy and peace lighting his face from within when he spoke of helping the "good guys" during the terrible months.
Her heart ached with the force and scope of emotion. She loved him, she never wanted to leave him, she wanted to see every expression his face could produce. Even the snotty school bully expressions would be welcome to her heart. Hermione fought the urge to laugh at herself as she tightened her hold on him, trying to pull him closer to her than he was already, she wanted to give him all the force of the emotion that she was feeling. It was heady, frightening and she had never felt more alive. She spoke before she could talk herself out of the courage to do so.
"I'll stay if you want me. I love you Draco. I never want to leave where you are."
Draco stopped breathing. He was dead, and any second now someone was going to show up and tell him it had all been a big mistake. His reward would have to be taken back, and he'd never see, or feel, this dream come true ever again.
But she was there, really there. And he was still alive, his heart exploding and his lungs screaming for air. And she was holding him as tightly as he was holding her, and telling him that she loved him. All his strength, his barriers, his blasted Malfoy pride deserted him, and he knew that when they came to take her away from him, they would need to break his arms to get him to let go.
She pushed at him, but only moved away enough to look into his eyes, searching. And he had the words to answer her, but they were so hard to say. Battling with the ingrained lessons of the Malfoy lineage, he struggled. She saw, and smiled kindly at him, but the light in her eyes had dimmed. She didn't know what he was trying to say! She deserved better than this treatment, and he had never hated his ancestry more.
Quite the turnaround Mr. Malfoy He could hear her saying how different he was from the old days. He could hear her admitting that she hadn't thought it would be possible for him to be the way he was now. The question was, was he different enough?
He was. He was determined to be.
"I love you too Hermione." He thought he would black out for a second. He thought he could hear his parents wailing in rage all the way from hell. Then the joy in Hermione's eyes eclipsed everything else, and he felt his answering joy wash away all thought of anything beyond this amazing woman, and this situation, and he never wanted there to be anything else. "I love you too," he repeated as he leaned forward for another, calmer, more precious kiss.
Not even the Dementor's Kiss could get him away from her now.
Hermione woke to the sound of the Daily Prophet arriving. She reached into the coin cup beside the bed, and tossed the copper gnut to the owl.
"It can't be morning already," a sleep-husky voice came from beside her, and she smiled down at the love of her life fondly.
"You say that every morning," she teased, but ran a hand comfortingly over the skin of his side. Draco sighed, turned onto his back and looked up at her. It was a sight she never got tired of, his gray eyes bleary from sleep, his expression softened, his blond hair a complete mess. She leaned over to kiss him, the leisurely play of tongue and lips quickly turning to something heated.
"Good morning love," she whispered, pulling away to admire all his pale skin and the mischievous smile that was slowly oozing across his face. It used to be the expression he wore when the teachers sided with him in an argument, now it was reserved for …other things.
"Good morning. I really hope the paper can wait." His fingers ran down her leg, eyes teasing as he looked up at her.
"The paper can always wait." She leaned forward again, pulling the deep green comforter of Draco's bed along with her.