Hermione sat on her sofa feeling awful - so awful that she couldn't even cry! She was going to miss the result announcement but she just couldn't face returning to the field. She tried to push the look on the children's faces from her mind but it kept popping up again.
She tensed, knowing full well who this was going to be.
"Hermione?" Draco's voice came to her through the door.
She remained silent and ignored him.
"Hermione? I know you're in there...please let me in."
"Go away," she called, childishly.
"Please - you have to let me explain!"
Hermione shut her eyes and willed herself to ignore him. She felt angry at him but at the same time she really wanted to rush to the door, fling it open and hug him.
"Hermione?" Draco's voice sounded anxious.
"I just want to be alone," Hermione called back.
"I'm not leaving until you open the door!"
Hermione turned and stared at the door and then walked over, flinging it open.
"What do you want? I think you made your feelings and intentions very clear when you hexed my best friend, so I don't see what else there is to talk about." Hermione glared at him.
"I couldn't hex Pansy! It wouldn't matter if Ginny or me had done it, the first thing Pansy would have done was carried out her threat, there and then in the middle of the bloody competition! I was trying to keep her bloody happy!" Draco ran his hand through his hair. "But that doesn't matter now..."
"What do you mean it doesn't matter?" Hermione demanded. "What has she threatened you with now?"
"Nothing. What I mean is I'm past caring about Pansy or the competition," Draco said. "As soon as they announce the results I'm going to tell the children myself and do my best to explain. Once the results are in and I've talked to the children then Pansy has nothing to threaten me with..."
"You're going to tell the children the thing that Pansy was threatening to tell everyone?" Hermione asked.
"Yes - there's no other way around it," Draco looked worried but resolute. "You showed me that sometimes the best way to deal with thing is to face it full on."
"Does she know that's what you're going to do?" Hermione asked.
"No - she thinks I've come up here to tell you to leave her alone."
"And have you?"
"Don't be bloody ridiculous!" Draco sighed. "Do you think we can have this conversation inside your rooms?"
"Is it really that bad? This secret that Pansy knows?" Hermione frowned and then stepped closer to him. "I told you that I don't care what it is."
Draco sighed. "It's pretty bad and you might find you do care."
"And the children?"
"Yeh - I'm just hoping I can explain it to them so they can understand."
"I don't understand," Hermione pointed out. She folded her arms across her chest, feeling frustrated by this conversation, which seemed to be going around in circles. "Well, I'll tell you now, one dinner date isn't going to pacify her. She has your whole life planned out together."
"Exactly why I have to tell the children myself. I know what she has planned - just this one date tonight or she'll mark the children badly, then when I get there later, she'll inform me that unless I keep dating her, she'll tell everyone what she knows." Draco reached out and grabbed Hermione's shoulders. "You were right! You're always right! I should have told her to get stuffed the moment she opened her mouth!"
"Yes - you should!" Hermione agreed, readily.
Draco was pale, his eyes a deep grey, searching her face. Something about his expression made her catch her breath and she swallowed, trying to clear the dry feeling in her throat.
"Are you still angry at me?" he asked, softly.
"Yes." Hermione didn't hesitate with her answer. "And now your actions have made me upset the children."
"I'm so sorry - I'm going to make it right," Draco put his hand on her arm but she stepped away from him.
"You don't get it, do you?" Hermione shook her head. "I could have lived with whatever it is that Pansy knows and I would have helped you tell the children but I can't accept how you've let her manipulate you and how easily your principles have been compromised." She put her hand on the door, ready to close it again. "I really want to be left alone."
Draco put his hand on the door and stopped her closing it. "Hermione, please listen - just a week ago I sat in your office and told my daughter that her Grandfather was a Death Eater and that I was almost one too! I told her how I treated everyone at school, how I supported the Dark Lord..."
"And she accepted it - she supported you!"
"I know! That's what I mean! Do you think I really wanted to tell her something else bad about me? How can she accept another piece of news like that?"
"She will accept it because she loves you."
"And what about Scorpius? He's just a child! Now I'm going to have to talk to him about something that is very adult - something he shouldn't have to deal with...maybe I am a coward but I was trying to stop them having to know. It's not something I'm proud of but I did think it was over and done with."
Hermione stared at him and she could see he was being genuine. It didn't change how he'd acted, but she was beginning to understand. Who wouldn't want to protect their children from hearing bad things about them? Before she could consider this any further, Draco spoke again.
"And then, on top of all that, there's this woman..." Draco's eyes deepened and Hermione felt herself being dragged into them. "This bloody amazing woman, who's helped me like no-one else ever has, who's managed to make my little family happy again..." Draco stopped speaking and looked down for a moment, his voice breaking a little. He looked up again. "And now she's going to find out something terrible about me and I'm terrified she'll never speak to me again."
"Hermione I can't bear you being mad at me." Draco spoke quietly and his tone made Hermione's stomach do a small flip. "I don't care about what anyone else thinks of me. Just you and the children - that's all..."
He'd never spoken to her like this, so directly and it was making Hermione's heart pound in her chest. Draco's face was close to hers, his eyes intense and she felt the anger slipping away from her. How could she be angry at him when he was standing in her doorway, looking like this and seemingly begging her to forgive him? She had already forgiven him and she didn't care if she was giving in too easily.
"I suppose you'd better come in," she said and he gave her a devastatingly gorgeous smile that would have melted butter.
Once inside, Draco grabbed her arm and pulled her to sit on the sofa next to him. "Before I tell anyone else, I have to tell you," he said.
Hermione stared at him. "I understand if you want to speak to the children first...if it involves Astoria..."
"I don't know how to start..." Draco sighed again and she could tell how nervous he was about telling her. She watched him for a moment as he hesitated and then, not being able to stop herself, she reached out and took his hand. He looked up at her and she could see the emotions behind his eyes. His fingers gently laced with hers and Hermione willingly let him tighten his grip. "Everything I've told you about Astoria - about how she was - how I felt about her - our time at The Lodge...all that's true. She was everything to me, Hermione. Really."
"I know that already."
"But one thing I told you, wasn't true. I didn't meet Astoria by accident and fall in love with her," Draco sighed.
"You didn't meet her in the wand shop then?" Hermione asked. She was failing miserably to see where this might be leading. How Draco met Astoria didn't seem like something Pansy could use as blackmail.
"Yes, I did meet her in my shop but I'd already met Daphne and her Father...at a hotel, just by chance. We'd only just opened the wand shop and my other business were having to finance it. I wasn't lying about Astoria's love of anything to do with wands - she was fascinated by them, but it wasn't just her who had an interest. Her Father did as well - he had found out about my new venture and he approached me - introduced by Daphne. He wanted to buy in and become a partner which doesn't sound too horrific, I know, but I also knew that Daphne's father, Laurence was a business partner with his brother, Alcott. Alcott Greengrass has a reputation that everyone knew about. He is a ruthless businessman with very few principles. To put it bluntly - you'd be crazy to go into partnership with him. So, I tried to sidestep it and I thought, when I went home that night, that I wouldn't hear from him again.
But I was wrong - he contacted me the next day. He was quite insistent that I consider his offer and I was quite insistent that I couldn't. I used the excuse that it involved Erik and Chantelle as well - which it did. The Greengrass' don't take no for an answer, Hermione and he began to get more aggressive. Eventually, it ended in a fight and again I thought that was the end of it. He couldn't make me take his offer!
Then I heard from Alcott - he lived up to his reputation and actually turned up at the shop, asking to be shown around! He increased the brothers offer to be included and then started making suggestions about buying some more premises and expanding. I mean, we'd only just started and the idea of expanding was years away..."
"You took his offer?"
"No, no I didn't. Anyway, Alcott turns up again and tells me he's applied for a licence to open a wand shop - just a few doors away. I don't think they were used to people saying no to them and they could see that the best way forward was to get their money into my shop. When I wouldn't play ball, they decided to go into competition. We couldn't afford the competition, Hermione. I knew they'd just throw money at their shop and it was like signing a death warrant for ours. I have money but it isn't in endless supply.
So, I made a last ditch attempt at persuading Laurence, who was the far more reasonable of the two, to leave us alone and let us run our business. They could open a wand shop anywhere and it didn't make sense from their point of view to open it next to ours. Alcott was just doing it to prove a point. Laurence was more reasonable but still insisted that Alcott wouldn't drop it. He made me an offer to have Daphne as a partner instead of the brothers and then he started talking money. It was a huge offer, Hermione. It would have paid off everything I'd had to borrow from my other business and allowed us to really get the wand shop on it's feet. But I knew that Alcott and Laurence would be behind Daphne - they still wanted the Greengrass name over the door and they'd be included in all the decisions. So I said no, again."
"It sounds awful!" Hermione frowned.
"It was awful. They not only were trying to rush through the opening of their shop, they were actively attacking ours. They spread rumours of the wands being fake and that I was still working for some of Voldemort's followers and anyone buying from us was funding that. Then Daphne came to me as we were closing the shop one night. She made a suggestion that would get the brothers off my back. It was a ridiculous suggestion and even now it sounds ludicrous to me..." Draco stopped speaking and sighed. He blinked rapidly and Hermione squeezed his hand.
"Go on," she prompted him.
"She suggested that she introduce me to her sister, Astoria. She said that I could start a romance with her and if it worked out ..." Draco stopped again and rubbed his forehead.
"If it worked out, you'd marry her?" Hermione asked. Her voice betrayed her outrage at this. She felt a lump forming in her throat as what Draco was trying to tell her sank in. "You'd marry her and the Greengrass family would have a stake in the shop. Your stake!"
Draco nodded very slowly. "Yeh - that's about it, in a nutshell. I win Astoria over and ask her to marry me - her father and uncle are happy because they now have a family interest in the shop. I get to keep the shop with just Erik and Chantelle and, because it isn't a business transaction, I still have control over how much the brothers have to say in it all."
"Bloody hell!" Hermione felt slightly sick at what Draco was telling her.
"I thought that this was all just between Daphne and me. She brought Astoria into the shop, exactly as I told you and I did like her straight away. None of the things I've told you about how I felt about Astoria are untrue. I thought I was committing to a marriage of convenience but it was never like that. I really loved her.
When we married - and I know you probably won't believe me - but I asked her because I really did want to marry her, not to help with the shop, Laurence offered me a large sum of money again. I knew what it was - it would be me agreeing to them influencing our decisions and having some input, so I refused it. Once Astoria and I were married the brothers never mentioned the shop again, they never set up their own shop and they left us alone."
"And Pansy? What does she have to do with all this?"
"We were still together when this all happened...I mean on and off...it was always on and off."
"You dumped her for Astoria."
"You make it sound worse than it was," Draco was staring at Hermione anxiously, his face pale. "I can't coat this in sugar, Hermione. I agreed to something I should never have agreed to and the only defence I have is that, by the time I was expected to marry Astoria, I actually did want to. I fell for her - totally, utterly. She was the love of my life and I never thought I had a chance of feeling like that ever again." Draco stopped speaking and Hermione watched as he struggled with keeping control of himself. He squeezed his eyes together and bent his head, his breathing heavy. He still had hold of her hand and she looked down at their intertwined fingers.
If she was watching this as a third party, she would now be screaming at herself to jump up and kick him out. To call him a heartless, ruthless philanderer and to never speak to him again. What he had agreed to was terrible - it was awful and it made Hermione feel sick in her stomach. It was easy to judge him - his track record wasn't good and if anyone knew what Draco Malfoy could be like, it was Hermione. She could easily imagine someone like Draco marrying for convenience. Astoria had been a beautiful woman from a rich and influential family. He could have married her and carried on his single life behind her back. It was callous and unfeeling but wasn't that what the Malfoy family were good at?
All these thoughts were in contrast to the man she was sitting next to - the one who's hand she was holding - the one who was struggling not to breakdown in front of her again. She was in no doubt whatsoever that he had loved Astoria. It was obvious he'd loved her completely. Every fibre of his being had loved her. Her clothes still hanging in the closet at The Lodge until a few weeks ago proved that. So, he'd started off wrong but did that matter if he'd loved her in the end?
Hermione blinked rapidly, her quick mind running over everything. Now she knew, did she feel different about him? Did it make that feeling she had when he was next to her go away? Did it make her sorrow for all the bad things he'd been through less? Did she want her relationship with him, whatever that was, to be over?
She swallowed rapidly, the answers to all these questions immediately jumping into her head. No. No. No! He'd been an idiot - Merlin! he was still a bloody idiot, but she'd seen a side of him that she knew was real. He was kind and sweet and he truly cared about his children. He'd told her that she'd changed things for him but she knew she hadn't changed him. He wasn't different - this side of him had always been there and she was sure he must have been like this with Astoria. All Hermione had done was allow him to bring it out again and to stop hiding behind the facade he'd erected. He said he cared about her and she believed him without question because everything he did showed her that it was true.
She couldn't imagine anything that would make her not like him now. Somehow, inexplicably, he'd become the most important person in her life. This realisation just hit her now and she felt shocked by it.
He still hadn't spoken, his whole body language showing defeat. She gently squeezed his hand and he raised his eyes, questioningly, doubtfully.
"You're a bloody idiot, Malfoy!" Hermione said. Draco had lifted his head and his eyes were watching her cautiously. He moved his fingers against hers, squeezing their hands together. "I should be kicking you out right now..." Hermione continued. Her actions contradicted her words because she squeezed Draco's fingers right back. He was blinking rapidly, his face drawn, his eyes almost black.
"Why aren't you then?" he asked, his voice just a whisper. Hermione's stomach was turning somersaults. Draco, vulnerable, anxious and in need was making her melt. She reached out and took his other hand and now his eyes widened, obviously surprised at her gesture. "Hermione..." Her name left his lips, still just a whisper and she felt herself grow hot. The atmosphere was charged, both of their emotions racing. "What I've just told you...it's not who I am - not now."
"I know it's not," Hermione said, her own voice low. "I don't care about what you just told me."
Draco's whole face stretched. "How can you not care that I agreed to marry someone just to protect my business?"
"I just know that you wouldn't do it now."
"But I did it then!"
"I cheated on my groom with his best friend," Hermione reminded him and she gave a little smirk. "You'd forgotten about that, hadn't you?"
Draco's shoulders seemed to relax and he stared at Hermione. "You're not upset at me, are you?"
"I think you acted like a prat."
"I think you were bloody lucky that you fell for Astoria."
"I think that anyone with half a brain would be making sure they didn't let you within a mile of them."
"They would," Draco answered her and she knew that despite her harsh words, he knew that she was telling him that she was going to stay with him.
"I think... I'm going to kiss you," Hermione said, surprising herself as much as Draco who gaped at her. Without letting go of his hands she leant towards him and carefully placed her lips onto his. It was a chaste kiss, gentle, just a light touch. Their arms were down by their sides, their hands still linked. Just their lips were in contact, moving slightly together. It didn't matter, because Hermione's heart was exploding as if their kiss was hungry and passionate. A deep, warm, sweet sensation was spreading from where Draco's lips touched her own, stars dancing behind her eyelids. Draco's lips increased their pressure, his head moving to the side a little to move closer and Hermione willingly fell towards him. Their arms bent so they could move closer but their hands still gripped each other. It was like a link that they didn't want to break.
As they leaned away from each other, their lips parting, Hermione knew. She already knew but the feeling the kiss had created had made it real. She loved him - she loved Draco Malfoy, and she loved him with all of her heart.
Hope you liked it...x