By: Provocative Envy
Three Weeks Later
"—he hasn't said a word to her, though! In weeks! I don't care what the Prophet says—there's nothing going on between them, not anymore."
"But the way he stares at her—it's like he wants to…you know. It's indecent!"
The fourth-year Hufflepuffs seated in front of me giggled before trying to hush one another.
"I don't think it counts as indecent if staring's all he's doing."
The smaller girl sighed wistfully.
"Well, I think that it's sad that it isn't true…they were so perfect! The Slytherin Prince and the Gryffindor Princess, together forever despite the overwhelming odds—it would have been such a romantic story!"
I choked on my pumpkin juice.
It had been three weeks since Harry had defeated Voldemort. Three weeks since Pansy Parkinson and her parents had been sentenced to a lifetime in Azkaban, and Blaise Zabini had been proclaimed a hero. Three weeks since I'd been hit with the Cruciatus curse and woken up in Draco Malfoy's bed.
Three weeks since he'd last spoken to me.
I'd thought, at first, that he was simply embarrassed by his breakdown the morning after the battle. I'd thought he needed some space—it had been so intense, everything about our relationship had been so incredibly fucking intense, that I could understand the desire for distance.
Room to think, room to breathe.
And so I hadn't pushed him. I hadn't gone to the Astronomy Tower in the middle of the night, hoping to find him. I hadn't sent him any letters or bothered to follow him out the door after breakfast. I'd waited, even when the Daily Prophet ran a silly story about our alleged affair—Harry Potter's Sidekick Finds Love with Reformed Death Eater. I had scoffed at the headline, diligently ignoring the twittering whispers that had erupted in the Great Hall.
But that had been two weeks ago.
And Draco been watching me ever since.
His gaze was penetrating in a way that should have been discomfiting—a prickly sense of awareness would wash over me when I felt him staring, his expression ferocious, unrelenting, unreadable. But I would find, when I turned to study him, that I couldn't look away, not even for a second—and then there would be panic, waves of it, because I felt caught, captured, as if my eyes were utterly incapable of focusing on anything but him, and there was no escaping it, no escaping him.
But still, still he didn't speak to me.
"Don't be stupid, Victoria," the bigger of the two girls was saying in a patronizing tone. "It's hardly romantic if he's ignoring her."
Abruptly, I got to my feet, my appetite vanishing.
How had this happened? I'd been so sure—so certain. What had changed? What had gone wrong? Why didn't he want me anymore?
I speedily exited the castle, noting with some irritation that it was a perfectly stunning spring day—the sky was blue and the grass was green and there was a serene sort of warmth permeating the crisp, clean air. I stalked towards the lake, plopping unceremoniously on a large grey rock, and began to remove my shoes. After ripping my tights off and watching them flutter to the ground, I leaned backwards, letting my head hit the stone, and stretched my legs out in front of me, my toes pointed inward.
This was nice.
This was pleasant.
This was normal.
This was comfortable.
But then I heard footsteps approach me from behind and inwardly grumbled. Why couldn't anyone just leave me alone?
"Hermione? What are you doing out here? Why aren't you at lunch?"
I slowly maneuvered myself back into a sitting position. Ron. Of course it would be Ron.
"Hufflepuffs," I answered tiredly, unwilling to expend the energy to explain myself.
He made a face.
I waved vaguely.
He scratched his nose.
"Do I only get one word at a time?"
I didn't bother with a verbal response.
"Look, 'Mione, I know we aren't…I know we didn't really ever clear the air or anything like that, but—I can't help but notice that lately you've looked, well, peaky—so, I just thought I'd ask—are you okay?"
I sighed, long and loud.
"I'm fine, Ronald."
He kicked at the grass.
"No, you're not. Harry says you've barely been eating."
I pursed my lips.
"Why is Harry always sending people out here to so helpfully inquire about my wellbeing?" I demanded. "First Parvati, now you…if he's so bloody fucking worried, he should talk to me himself!"
"Harry didn't send me," Ron replied, bristling. "I just—I saw you rushing out here, and you appeared distressed, so I thought I'd—you know what, never mind. It doesn't matter."
I let out a frustrated groan.
"Oh, Ronald—stop it," I snapped. "I'm sorry. Your concern is—thoughtful. And appreciated. Really. I'm just…I'm annoyed."
"People won't stop talking about it. About me," I confessed awkwardly.
His eyes softened.
"I know. And I am sorry about that, 'Mione, but I can't say that I'm not glad you didn't come to your senses, even if—"
"Come to my—what?" I interrupted.
"You broke up with Malfoy." He stopped, confused. "Didn't you?"
I stared at him, incredulous.
"No," I said slowly. "I didn't. Who told you that?"
"No one, I just assumed, since you weren't talking—"
"Well, that isn't what happened," I retorted, brushing my hands over my thighs.
"Oh," he said dumbly. "What did happen, then?"
I picked at my cuticles for a long moment.
"Honestly? I don't really know. I thought things were going to be finally work. I thought it would be okay. I thought…" I trailed off.
"You wanted things to work out with him?"
I tapped my fingers against my leg.
"Obviously. Why is that so hard to believe?"
He gaped at me.
"Because—because he's brainwashed you, 'Mione!" he sputtered.
"Come up with that all on your own?" I asked sarcastically.
"I'm serious! It's—it's fucking Malfoy you've gone mental over! You don't find that the tiniest bit strange?" he demanded.
"Not really," I replied, shrugging. "He's actually rather wonderful."
"He's an inbred little rodent!"
"I'm not having this conversation with you again. My relationship with Draco has nothing to do with you."
"What relationship? Last I heard, he wasn't even talking to you."
"It's more complicated than that."
"No, 'Mione, it isn't. He's a git. A slimy, useless, disgusting Slytherin git. That isn't complicated at all."
I sniffed, clenching my jaw.
"I think you should go back to the castle now, Ron," I suggested icily. "Before you say something you regret."
He shook his head.
"You deserve better," he insisted stubbornly.
"Don't you have anything better to do? Like chase after Lavender?"
He narrowed his eyes.
"I'm just trying to be a friend, Hermione," he countered, turning away from me. "I thought that's what you wanted."
"If you really want to be my friend then you'll fucking drop it! You're acting as if I—as if I fucking planned this, like I did it to get back at you or something—which is just so—so stupid!"
He hitched his bag higher up on his shoulder, his eyes flashing.
"Kind of a moot point, now, isn't it? It isn't as if he wants anything to do with you."
Before I could say anything—and really, what was there for me to say?—a new voice emerged from behind the trees.
"Why don't you take the hint and go fuck yourself, Weasley?"
But, oh, how I'd missed that drawl—deep and sensuous and arrogant, so quintessentially him—and as I listened to him talk, finally, I felt my lips curve upwards, all on their own; helplessly, as if they were recognizing something my brain hadn't quite registered yet.
"Eavesdropping, Malfoy?" Ron snarled, trying in vain to mask his surprise.
"You're bothering her," Draco informed him. "Fuck off."
"You're not even talking to her! Why the hell do you care?"
Draco walked slowly towards him, his eyes narrowed; I held my breath, entranced.
"I care, Weasley, because you're upsetting her," he replied dangerously.
Ron stumbled slightly, his ears red.
"I was just talking to her, mate, you don't have to have a fucking coronary."
Draco took another invasive step towards Ron, his gaze unwavering.
"Maybe not. But you should probably fucking leave."
Ron straightened his shoulders, cracking his knuckles.
"Sure you want to do this, Malfoy? Didn't end so well for you last time, did it?"
Draco's lips twitched.
"I let you win, Weasley," he snorted.
"No, you didn't!"
Draco's eyes flickered to me.
"Yes, I fucking did. And Granger took extra good care of me, too, in case you were wondering. I had so many bruises, you understand—in unspeakable places, really—"
"You smarmy rat bastard—" Ron roared, lunging forward.
"Oh, for the love of—stop it, both of you!" I shouted, moving to stand between them.
They both turned to scowl at me.
"He started it," Ron muttered.
"And you should have already left," I replied rudely.
"What? You can't possibly want to be alone with him, not after what he just—"
"I do," I ground out, glaring. "Want to be alone with him. Which means you should leave, Ronald."
His cheeks flushed angrily.
"Fine! Have a wonderful bloody life with Malfoy, Hermione," he spat, shoving past me and stalking towards the castle. "Live happily ever after and have a dozen ugly blond babies and forget all about your real friends!"
He left a stunned silence in his wake.
"A dozen?" Draco suddenly blurted out, his face pink. "I know he's a Weasley, but…a dozen? Does he know how many that is, or can he not count?"
I grimaced, ignoring him.
"So—are you done hiding from me?" I asked flatly.
He thrust his hands in his pockets, glancing down and away before meeting my eyes.
"I wasn't hiding."
"Yes, you were," I scolded. "You know you were."
He squinted at the grass.
"Did you miss me?"
"What if I did?"
He smiled sadly.
"Any particular reason?"
He grimaced and rolled up his sleeves.
"Take a look," he said softly, showing me his left forearm. I was surprised to see a Mark, still fiercely black, etched into his skin.
"It's still there!" I exclaimed, reaching forward to touch it. "Why, I wonder?"
"Everyone's are. It seems that they're…permanent."
"Really? How curious."
He yanked his arm back.
"Curious?" he repeated. "I'm branded a fucking traitor for the rest of my fucking life, and you find it curious?"
I eyed him warily.
"You weren't a traitor, though," I pointed out. "Everyone saw. Your father was pardoned, and the Prophet even wrote that story about you—"
"Yes, I know," he snapped irritably. "I saved Hermione Granger's life because I'm in love with her, and it was all hugely fucking romantic, and now I'm a hero. I know."
I reared back.
"Why are you so angry? Is this why you've been avoiding me? Because—because people know about us? Are you embarrassed?"
"Hermione—no. No, of course not," he argued quietly. "It's just—I thought it would go away. I thought it would disappear. And it's not. It isn't."
I chewed the inside of my mouth, mulling over what he'd said.
"And you think that I care," I said slowly. "You think that seeing—that—will bother me."
"One of them almost fucking killed you," he said, his voice low.
"Oh, honestly—not this again," I burst out, irritated. "You know I don't care about that, Draco. I'm not going to look at your fucking arm and immediately want to run away from you. It doesn't work like that."
"What doesn't work like that?"
"Love. Love doesn't work like that," I said shortly.
"You need to know some things, Hermione."
I crossed my arms over my chest, arching a brow.
"Trying to convince me you're not worth the trouble again, Malfoy?"
He cocked his head to the side; my heartbeat stuttered.
"I'm almost certainly not worth the fucking trouble, Granger."
"Shouldn't that be up to me?"
"You're right. It should. Where would you like me to start?" he asked.
"I told you. You need to know some things. Where should I start?" he said again.
He kicked at the ground, his posture stiff.
"You need to know that I'm not going to be a good boyfriend. I'm selfish. I won't listen to you. I won't remember your birthday, or our anniversary—not that we really have one, since I don't think shagging you on a windowsill counts as a date. I'm not going to roll over in bed and wake you up with a kiss—morning breath is a thing, in case you didn't know, and it's fucking disgusting."
He paused, waiting for me to speak. When I didn't, he continued.
"I lie about insignificant things. I cheat at board games. I don't like to share blankets. I will hurt your feelings, sometimes on purpose, just to make a point. If you don't look pretty, I'm not going to pretend that you do. I don't change my sheets that often. I get hot when I sleep. I don't like to cuddle."
"Draco—" I started to say; he cut me off.
"Let me finish, Granger," he said sharply. "I pick fights. I like to argue—and more importantly, I like to win. I'm used to getting what I want. I'm not particularly good at any one thing, except, possibly, being a prick. I don't like to read. I can't—"
He broke off, his eyelids fluttering shut.
"I can't promise that I'll always love you. I can't promise that it won't be hard. I can't promise forever."
I felt my heart stop; his eyes snapped open.
"But when I apologize, I'll mean it. And when I tell you that you're beautiful, I'll mean it. I'll mean it when I kiss you, and I'll mean it when we make love, and I'll—I'll fucking mean it when I say I love you. Always. Every goddamn time. You won't ever have to wonder. You won't ever have to ask."
Silence settled between us, hazy and thick, and I was startled by the sudden surge of electricity that pulsed through the air—something important was going on, something that mattered, and I was afraid to blink, afraid to miss it, because I knew, in that bizarre, inexplicable way that absolute truths seemed to always present themselves, that whatever happened next was permanent, just like his Mark.
Neither of us could take it back.
"I jump to conclusions," I finally said, my voice strained. "I don't listen. I'm bad at being wrong. If you say something stupid, I won't be able to stop myself from correcting you. I'm mean when I'm angry. I'm insecure. I get jealous. I don't like your mum."
He studied me intently.
"I'm not good at saying sorry. I don't like being interrupted." I stopped, taking a deep breath. "I'm annoying. I talk too much. I laugh at my own jokes, even the bad ones. Especially the bad ones. I ask a lot of questions. I can be condescending without realizing it, and I have a tendency to assume that I'm the smartest person in the room. I'm—"
"You're difficult," he finished for me.
The space around us seemed to shrink—the quiet was suffocating, rushed, the kind that that doesn't whisper, doesn't creep up on you, doesn't bother with platitudes; no, it was bold, assertive, a mute but vibrant scream that rendered us shocked, speechless, immobile. And the atmosphere felt oppressive, the wind bristling with all the things we'd already said, all the things that left us weak and exposed and vulnerable—because it was obvious, what we were doing, obvious in a way that made my heart want to break.
We could walk away.
We had every excuse. We had every reason to.
His previous urge to possess, to dominate, to make absolutely sure that there was no going back—it had no place in this conversation.
I was already his.
I'd made my choice.
But he was here, standing in front of me, giving me a way out.
And did I want it? Did I want something less intense? Something less aggressive? Something that didn't leave me feeling like I was having a migraine and an orgasm, all at the same time?
"I'm difficult," I echoed, turning towards the water.
He approached me slowly, his footsteps hesitant.
"You really fucking are, actually."
I bit my lip.
"What do you want, Draco? Really."
He didn't immediately answer, and I took the opportunity to gaze at the lake—it was calm, almost uncomfortably still, like an oversized mirror reflecting back the sharp, clear blue of the sky. I wondered if the water was still cold, like it had been the night I'd gone swimming, when I'd been furious with Draco, so hurt and scared, acting on nothing but instinct.
"We haven't had very good luck down here, have we? Together, I mean," I said delicately.
"Thinking we should take it up to the Astronomy Tower, are you?" he drawled.
"Things do seem to end better up there," I responded shyly.
He didn't say anything again; I noticed a muscle working in his jaw.
"Did you mean it?" he asked abruptly.
I wrinkled my nose.
"Did I mean what? Honestly, Draco, you really need to stop being so vague."
"What you said, the morning after the battle," he clarified.
I tipped my head back, basking in the warmth of the sun.
"Of course I meant it."
I heard him swallow.
"If you were to say it now…" he trailed off, taking a step closer. "Would you still mean it?"
I turned towards him, opening my mouth to respond.
But then I stopped.
Because he was staring at me, a strangely familiar expression on his face—he'd looked at me the same way, dozens and dozens of times, and I hadn't bothered to think about what it was, what it meant—I'd called it inscrutable, indecipherable, but it wasn't, not really.
Not at all.
It was perfect.
A heady mixture of softness and longing and confusion—how often had he accused me of not understanding what I meant to him? How often had he insisted that I couldn't know, didn't know, had no concept of the depth of what he felt—
And maybe I didn't.
Maybe I never had, not until now, and—
I'd been shrugging off logic for the entirety of our relationship. I'd rationalized that love didn't have to play by the rules, didn't require any sort of explanation—but what if, right now, I needed it to? What if I was making a mistake?
What if I hurt him, without meaning to, without wanting to?
I thought about what he'd said, about everything that was wrong with him and me and us—and then I thought about that day in Hogsmeade, in that decrepit old house, and how we'd made love on a dusty, rickety bench—how afterwards he'd stared at me, breathless, dazed, and whispered, "I love you," and how I thought my heart would burst right and then there, because he'd meant it, because it didn't have to make sense—and then I thought about our first real kiss, how easy and gentle and fleeting it had been, and how it had changed everything, absolutely fucking everything—and then there was his smile, my bottom lip between those perfectly straight white teeth, fierce gray eyes locked on me, only me, broad, smooth, naked shoulders dwarfing my own and his hands on my hips, yanking me closer, pushing deeper, a scream rolling over my tongue—
I reached for his hand.
I laced my fingers through his.
"I'm yours, Draco," I said simply. "I'll always mean that."
He hadn't changed.
He was never going to.
But as he brushed my hair back from my face, smirking—of course he was fucking smirking—I realized that I didn't want him to.
"Aren't you going to kiss me?" I asked.
He didn't look away.
"People are watching," he replied quietly. "From the courtyard. They can see us."
"You kissed me before," I reminded him. "Just like this, in fact. With everyone watching."
"That was fucking different."
"What was different about it?"
He brushed his thumb over my chin.
"There's no going back after this, Granger."
I didn't bother to ask what he meant.
"I know that."
I wrapped my arms around his shoulders.
"What are you waiting for?" I whispered.
"For you to wake up and hex me, honestly."
I pulled him closer.
"And if I don't want to?"
He traced my lips with his fingertips.
"You always want to hex me."
"I used to always want to hex you," I corrected.
"So now it's only sometimes?" he teased.
I grinned, running my hands down the back of his neck.
"Only sometimes," I confirmed.
He leaned into me, his forehead touching mine, his breath swirling hot and moist against my cheek.
"No one's seen us speaking for weeks," he murmured. "This is going to be really fucking scandalous."
"As long as Snape doesn't catch me in my knickers again, I imagine we'll survive."
He chuckled, the sound rich and deep and mesmerizing.
"I'd prefer you without knickers altogether, to be honest."
I pressed close, closer, as close as I could possibly get, until there was no space between us, not anymore, not even an inch, and I vaguely registered that someone nearby had gasped, but it didn't matter, of course it didn't matter—
"Well, that's convenient," I whispered into his mouth. "Because I'm not wearing any."
He laughed, loudly, before kissing me—swiftly, quickly, without hesitation. There was a brief, strangled cry of outrage from the courtyard.
He pulled back.
And then he smiled.
He smiled, and there was nothing left to say.