Author: Katie A.

Author E-mail: AmethystJackson@hotmail.com

Category: Romance/Comedy/Drama

Rating: PG

Spoilers: For all four books

Summary: Draco Malfoy falls for a girl he shouldn't and suffers the repercussions while dealing with conflicted morals and a decision that would change his life forever.

Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended. Some lines adapted from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Author's Note: Yes, yes, I know I'm supposed to be writing articles, but I'm posting one of my fics-in-progress instead. With Witch Weekly and HGYOA to work on, I haven't been able to finish this one. So, I'll be posting this in 3 parts at Witch Weekly then as an entire fic in the Misc Fics department. Do enjoy - you keep saying you want more Draco. Also, I have no clue when Draco's birthday is, so I made it up.

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The Line

By Katie Adams

Part I: Standing on the Line

He watched her from between the branches of a large, old willow. She was sitting at the trunk of a tree near the lake. Her spiraled chestnut hair fluttered behind her in the light breeze, her deep brown eyes focused on some point far away.

The better part of him wanted to talk to her, to be nice to her, to make her see that Harry Potter wasn't as great as he seemed. But the part was overpowered by the half of him that he was raised to be. Rude, sarcastic, never nice to Gryffindors or Muggle-borns. That was who Draco Malfoy was.

He ducked out, unnoticed, and skirted the edge of the forest, keeping one silvery-gray eye on her at all times. Maybe I will talk to her, he thought.

So he sauntered over to her, unhappily aware of how his hair was getting ruffled in the wind.

She noticed his presence the moment he arrived. Before she could speak, however, he got out a good, snide remark.

"Have your friends finally realized how disgusting Mudbloods are?"

"What do you want Malfoy? Because if you're just here to annoy me, you can forget it," she said snippily.

"No, I never forget to annoy you, Granger."

"So I've seen."

"So, where are Potty and the Weasel?"

"I have no idea where Ron is, but Harry is right over there," Hermione replied, pointing out a glob of black and green heading towards them.

Draco frowned at Harry's lack of taste in clothing. He was wearing black jeans and a green hand-knitted sweater, which painfully matched his features. Draco's outfit was, of course, the latest, most expensive fashion in the wizarding world (as well as very black).

"Oh, hello Malfoy. I do hope you've finished tormenting my girlfriend," Harry snapped.

"No, I was still going to whip out the extreme torture methods...railroad spikes…wooden stakes might work…"

"Bugger off," Harry said, pulling Hermione up, quite easily, with one hand grasping hers.

"Do I have a good reason to?"

"If you don't want your precious face horribly disfigured, you'll leave us alone."

"Hmm... Torture or my pretty face? I dunno, I'm getting fond of that torture," Draco replied coolly. "Then again…the ladies can't resist my face…"

"I could do without seeing it," Hermione quipped.

"C'mon, Herm, let's get away from this sodding bastard," Harry said, taking her by the hand.

Then they were gone. Draco was left alone to analyze all the ways he had not impressed Hermione.

He was ashamed of himself for those feelings for her. They had once been buried so deep inside him, but now they were slowly rising to the surface, making him ponder his own identity.

He was a Malfoy by blood. That made him a certified, stereotypical cold-blooded Slytherin with nothing in mind but personal gain. That made him the sort of person that discriminated against people of less than pure magical blood and those of other houses. That's who he had been taught to be; that's who he always thought he was supposed to be. That had always been his world, always been his natural high.

Now that was all conflicted because he cared for this girl, this girl who was not only a Gryffindor, but a Mudblood no less. She was everything he had ever learned to hate yet the only person he had ever grown to love.

He was faced with a decision. He could give up everything he had ever known - his ideals, beliefs, his family - or he could take the easy way out and throw away any notion of ever being with Hermione.

Was she worth it? Of course she was. Love was like that, Draco thought. But what did that matter when she was already in love with someone else, when she might never give up Harry if she saw how he really felt, when she might never accept him as anything but revolting?

Draco, resigned to feeling hopeless and sorry for himself, stared across the lake watching the tiny ripples in the breeze and the end of a huge tentacle that belonged to the giant squid. He both detested and appreciated this complicated new life. Sure, nothing was simple anymore, and he was rarely happy (which isn't saying much since he had never been), but it unleashed a new part of him, a better part of him. It was the part of him that didn't feel the need to insult Hermione, to curse Ron, though it certainly didn't make him want to hold back his animosity towards Harry. He wanted this part of him fueled. It was an odd feeling, being good, and he wanted to feel it even further.

When did my world turn upside down? He wondered. What am I thinking? My life's always been bloody hell, what with that effing bastard of a father I've got.

Draco wasn't in any mood to reconcile memories of his father and his childhood. That always led to thoughts of being beaten while chained in the Malfoy Manor dungeons and having new Dark Magic tested on him. His mother had always tried to get his father to stop, but she too ended up being tortured because of it.

He remembered what was expected of him next year. Upon graduating from Hogwarts and turning 18, he would be required to accept the Dark Mark and become a Death Eater or take the other option of death. He had once been excited about taking the mark – as a child he had longed to be a part of his father's work. Perhaps then he would have been able to escape the endless curses and physical violence that were so often inflicted upon him; perhaps he could even get some sort of revenge. Maybe he could have become as powerful as Voldemort.

Now he was dreading it. He found himself thinking at times that he might rather choose death. And he had so many new reasons. There was Hermione. If anyone in this world could help him, anyone at all, it would be her. She could help him escape; she could help him be a good person. Then there was the matter of her being happy, which was strangely important to him. If he were to be a Death Eater, his tasks would undoubtedly revolve around killing Harry. If anything were to happen to Harry, she would be devastated, and Draco wouldn't be able to stand that, nor would he be able to take the guilt.

If only Hermione could grow to accept him, if she could even take him as a friend, he could manage. Keyword if, Draco thought savagely.

He was just about to turn and go inside when he felt a cold hand on his shoulder.

"Draco, have you been out here all day?" Pansy asked, twirling around so that she was in front of him.

"Yes, I have," he said dully.

Draco had been given the great misfortune of fancying Pansy at one point (odd, since she had quite a puggish face), which had led to them dating for two years. She, apparently, had fallen for him, because even after he had broken things off with her, she still hung around, flirting and trying incessantly to get him to take her back.

He had tried (somewhat) to be nice about it and let her down easily each time, but it got to the point where he was forced to be rude and blunt with his responses.

"Are you hungry? Dinner starts in a few minutes," she said, unmistakably hinting that they could go together.

"No thanks, Pansy, I'm not hungry, and I'd rather be alone right now, if you don't mind," he replied snappily.

"Oh, okay then," she said quietly in a hurt tone so obvious that it sounded fake.

"Pansy," he said as she began to walk away, "Just give it up. I'm never going out with you again – you can stop trying."

She gave him a quick pained look, then skulked away. She was visibly upset and deflated, having officially lost all hope of winning him over. Draco couldn't help but feel a slight twinge of guilt in the pit of his stomach, but he pushed it away, ignored it, as he had so often done before.

Misery loves company, Draco told himself. Now you know how I feel, Pansy.

****

Draco slumped into the dimly lit Slytherin common room at eleven that evening. He had gone to dinner very late, and then he had gone back outside to enjoy the blackness of night at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. That had been only slightly less eerie than the common room itself, what with the chains hanging from the ceiling and the ghosts that seemed to haunt this room more heavily than other parts of the castle. Only a few people were still up – a small group of chattering fifth years and Pansy. He looked her over carefully. Her eyes were puffy and red, her face blotchy but still pale. Her quill was moving rapidly along a small, thick notebook, which Draco had learned was her journal.

Uh-oh, he thought, she must be writing about me.

He crept down to his dorm (unlike the other houses, Slytherin's dorms went farther below ground), intent on slipping in unnoticed. He succeeded in doing that, as the others were fast asleep and snoring like three-headed dogs. He crawled into bed without changing into his nightclothes and pulled the velvety green hangings to block himself from view.

He couldn't prevent his many thoughts from racing through his head. There were so many worries, so many things he had to deal with. He groaned abruptly when he remembered that he had a Quidditch match against Gryffindor the next day. Things would be so much better if he could just sleep forever…not have to live it all….

He fell asleep that night wishing that he wouldn't have to wake up.

****

Meanwhile…

Hermione was sitting with Harry in the Gryffindor common room on a couch by the fire. Harry had dozed off lying with his head on her lap.

Hermione loved to watch him while he slept. It set her mind at ease, seeing Harry so tranquil when she knew he would be safe and free from worry.

She loved Harry, with all her heart, and was almost sure he felt the same way. They complemented each other perfectly. They finished each other's sentences; they knew more about the other than they did themselves; they could hardly stand to be apart.

Hermione brushed back Harry's hair as she pondered this information. She had never worked up the nerve to tell Harry she loved him, and he hadn't either, but they both knew. In a way, they had always known. I suppose that's the way it is when you're with the one, Hermione thought.

Harry stirred, then opened his eyes slowly. "Mmm…er-my-nee," he mumbled groggily. Hermione smiled down at him, still absent-mindedly stroking his hair.

"How long was I asleep?" Harry asked, pushing up his glasses to rub his eyes.

"Only about a half an hour," Hermione replied.

"Feels like ages…well, we should get to bed then," Harry said, seeing that nobody else was left in the room.

"Yes, I suppose so," Hermione agreed softly, not wanting to move an inch.

"Unless you'd rather stay here," Harry added with a sly grin.

"Yes, let's."

"Okay," Harry started, sitting up, "let's just sit here together forever and ever. Except for tomorrow because there's a Quidditch match."

"Haha – yes, then we should get some sleep. You'd better kiss me goodnight, though."

"I couldn't sleep if I didn't. C'mere," he added, holding out his arms. Hermione snuggled into them happily. "Maybe we should just…stay here," he suggested, stopping in the middle to yawn.

"Let's just go to my room," Hermione muttered. As a reward for becoming Head Girl, Hermione had been given her own bedroom and adjacent bathroom.

"Your room, eh? Sounds…fun."

"Yeah, I know what you're thinking," she said. She stood up and grabbed Harry's hand to pull him along behind her. "But," she continued, "that's not really what I had in mind."

"That's a shame," Harry sighed with mock disappointment.

Eventually they reached Hermione's room (it was a little hard to find), and she dragged Harry inside, quickly shutting the door behind them, flipping on her lamp as soon as she could find it.

They both stood there in awkward silence for a second, Hermione wringing her hands nervously. She wasn't sure what to do – Harry had only come in her room once before, and that had just been to return a book.

"So," Harry breathed in an obvious attempt to get her to say or do something.

A small, strangled noise escaped from her throat, and she looked down at the floor to avoid his eyes.

Harry was staring at her with an amused expression, his eyes laughing.

"Don't make fun of me like that," Hermione said, daring to look up.

"I didn't say a word," Harry responded defensively.

"No, but that look on your face did. And your eyes were laughing at me."

"Come now, it is a bit funny that you're nervous around me," said Harry, smiling a smile at her that she had never seen before.

"I'm not nervous," Hermione lied.

"And that's why you can't seem to make any coherent sounds?"

"OK, maybe I am a bit nervous," Hermione admitted, blushing quite a lot.

"I have a confession to make – I get a tad nervous around you, too."

"Pray tell, why do we get nervous?"

"I have a feeling that it's because…" he paused as though searching for the right words, "we aren't completely open with each other, and that leaves room for uncertainty."

"That sounds about right."

She tilted her face up to his, searching his eyes for some sign of emotion. Indeed, she saw that emotion; she saw all of it. There, resting in his eyes, shining like polished emeralds behind his glasses, was every emotion that she had ever struggled to see, now so plain, so clear. And in his eyes was a bit more, a sort of hungry longing.

A moment later he leaned closer to her, tilting his head slightly to the side, and his lips touched hers.

A tidal wave of energy like a tsunami from his mouth hit her hard in the chest. She couldn't breathe; it was so strong, but she didn't dare break off this kiss. This kiss was so different than every kiss before. In it was every bit of passion that they had always made themselves hold back. Now they were both letting go completely, somehow knowing for sure that the other was truly in love.

They were clutching at each other desperately, their mouths clashing wildly, with bad aim, perhaps, but with more enthusiasm than they had ever done anything with.

Then they were stumbling backwards, and Harry fell back onto the bed, pulling her down with him.

He ceased kissing her for a moment. Hermione could do nothing but lie there, taking in sharp breaths while her gaze focused on his eyes.

"Hermione," he breathed, his face mirroring the uncertainty she had felt earlier, "I should have said this sooner, but…I love you, I really do."

Hermione could only smile insanely, her joy beyond any expression. "I love you too, Harry," she replied breathlessly, ready to burst into unprecedented giggles in her rapture.

Harry grinned and gave her one last long deep kiss that touched not just her lips but her soul.

"Mmm…OK, now we really ought to get some sleep," Hermione mumbled, feeling his lips on a particularly sensitive spot on her neck.

"Yes… that's not as fun…too bad I'll fall off my broom if I don't… I'm going to use your bathroom real quick. Then you can do your thing…"

"Mmmk," Hermione hummed, watching him go.

She went to her wardrobe and dug out tank top and flannel bottoms, wondering for the first time how they looked on her. Hermione smiled to herself – she was worried about looking good in front of Harry even when she was asleep. You'd have thought I would have gotten over looks by now.

The bathroom door opened creakily. Hermione glanced over, and her heart gave a slight lurch. Harry was standing there in his boxer shorts and a plain white T-shirt.

This wouldn't have been a big deal if Hermione didn't have this weird thing for legs. She couldn't have counted the number of times she surreptitiously watched Harry's legs from behind as he walked away from her. She found herself openly gawking at him now.

Harry smiled and chuckled at her expression. "I'm a major stud, aren't I?"

Hermione laughed and punched him playfully as she passed him to get into her bathroom. Once she was inside, she fell against the counter, inches away from breathlessness. Glancing at her reflection in the mirror, she saw that her face still held the traces of a dreamy expression.

Quickly she changed and looked at her reflection again. She fiddled with her hair and her wand a bit, trying to get it to be curly yet not frizzy, but it wasn't working.

Eventually Hermione opened the bathroom door and peeked briefly out at Harry. He was lying on his stomach, eyes closed. She walked out uncertainly. It just wasn't normal to be sleeping in the same bed with Harry.

Why on Earth am I nervous? It's Harry! Harry – the boy I met on the Hogwarts Express when I was eleven, the one who I've spent more time with than anybody else in my life, the one who has always said he loved the way my hair was always bushy no matter what I did. And I'm anxious about sleeping with him! Oh…that doesn't sound right…

Carefully and quietly she pulled down the blankets on her side of the bed, not wanting to wake Harry. But he wasn't asleep, and as she started to crawl into bed he rolled over, took one look at her, and smiled the strangest smile she had ever seen on his face.

"What's that look? I've never seen it before," Hermione inquired, cocking her head as she looked at him.

"I'd say…fondness, fanatical fondness," Harry replied.

Hermione grinned. "Good, then we're even."

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Part II: Crossing the Line

Draco awoke the next morning feeling, as he put it, well, his version is too explicit – settle for 'like hell,' will you? Today they were playing in a Quidditch match against Gryffindor, which was never good, but to compound matters, his father was coming to watch. That, of course, would ultimately lead to a great deal of vocal abuse when they lost (and they would lose as long as Harry was playing).

Grumpily he crawled out of bed, changed into his green and silver quidditch robes, and snatched his broom – a Firebolt that his father had gotten him in hopes that he would be able to win against Harry. That was a joke – Harry had beaten him to the Snitch even when he had a slower broom.

At breakfast he managed to live through Pansy's complaints about him (she was talking to her friends but the whole table could hear her) and everyone wishing him luck. Humph…luck. Ruddy rotten for me, I must say.

The one thing that helped him live through it was watching the Gryffindor table – staring at Hermione. She was eating her oatmeal contentedly and having a cheerful conversation with Harry, who seemed too preoccupied with her to be anxious at all about the game.

He wondered what it would have been like to be a Gryffindor, to live in a bright tower, to be on the winning side, to be friends with those kinds of people. Probably quite a bit better than living in a dark, dingy dungeon with unpleasant sons and daughters of dark witches and wizards.

Harry stood to lead his team out to the Quidditch field. The Gryffindor team was composed of Harry, the captain and Seeker, Seamus, the Keeper, a couple of third years who nobody knew where the Beaters, and Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were the Chasers.

Draco would have never suspected that Hermione could be a great Quidditch player, but she was. While he had watched her fail miserably at flying in general in their first year, she had grown very good at it over the years. Perhaps she had gotten some extra practice.

With Harry, probably.

Draco, the captain for Slytherin, led his own team out. He had appointed all seventh & sixth years – Crabbe and Goyle for Beaters, Millicent Bulstrode as Keeper, Pansy, Blaise, and a sixth year named Marielle Pipney were Chasers.

Everything was a blur until he walked to the center of the Quidditch pitch and found himself face-to-face with Harry, surrounded by a large, cheering crowd.

They shook hands very quickly, soon thereafter mounting their brooms. Madam Hooch blew her whistle. Subsequently, 14 witches and wizards on broomsticks rose into the air, beginning a rapid game of Quidditch.

Draco found it hard now to focus his attention on the entire game, which he was required to do as captain. It was even harder when Hermione kept zooming past him with the Quaffle in hand.

He scanned the field for the Snitch…it was nowhere in sight.

"TWENTY-ZERO GRRRYFFINDOR!" cried out the new commentator – Dean Thomas.

Damn it all, Draco thought savagely, haven't scored once! Then he saw Pansy wrench the Quaffle from Ginny's hands and take it all the way to the Gryffindor goal posts, only to have it intercepted by Seamus.

"Way to block 'em, Seamus! And now Chaser Granger has it again. She shoots, Bulstrode fails to block it, and SHE SCORES! THIRTY-ZERO GRYFFINDOR!"

Hermione soared a lap around the field in high victorious spirits. While she was away Ron scored, and a Bludger sent by one of the third years knocked Marielle Pipney off her broom. Hermione returned and scored yet again.

After he heard Dean holler, "FIFTY-ZERO GRYFFINDOR!" he called a time-out. Slytherin was being slaughtered, and though he didn't really care if they won the match, his father would. When his father cared, it meant something – something bad.

Draco called a hasty time-out, leading his team to the ground.

"Come on you dolts!" Draco shouted at them crankily, "you're just letting them fly all over you! Since when do we play a game of Quidditch without kicking their arses, eh?"

"Draco," Blaise said softly, "we've never managed to kick Gryffindor's arses."

The team let out quiet murmurs of agreement.

"If you're going to have that attitude, can you just try not to look like you're giving in?"

The team nodded and mounted their brooms once more. At the sound of a whistle the game resumed.

It went on the same way. Gryffindor scored five more times, giving them a one-hundred point lead before Slytherin managed to score twice.

I can still win, Draco thought, they're only eighty points ahead. If I catch the Snitch before they score seven more times, and before Potter, we'll win…

Then he saw it. Glittering over Hermione's head was the golden Snitch. But Hermione was all the way across the field, and Harry was already miles ahead of him, his face set with pure determination.

Of course Harry had seen it first. He had probably been watching Hermione for the entire match, just as he had for the whole day.

A tumultuous cheer from the crowd told him that Harry had caught it. The match was over; Slytherin had lost as they always did to Gryffindor.

He dropped somberly to the ground. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hermione giving Harry a rather deep kiss and couldn't bear to look at it. At the same time he wanted to see how she kissed, just for the sake of knowing.

And there was his father, looking grumpy and unpleasant as usual, striding over to him. Draco tried to ignore him, walk forward as though he didn't see him, but his father was too quick.

"Draco," he said coldly by way of greeting, "you lost yet again. Did I not tell you what would happen to you if you lost this match?"

Draco didn't even bother turning to look at him – he had enough people glaring at him incessantly already.

"Yes, you told me, but I don't give a bloody damn anymore. C'mon, we haven't won a match against Gryffindor since Harry joined the team! Why now, huh? Why do you even care? You don't go to Hogwarts anymore. You don't know the people. You don't even know me," he trailed off, unsure of where his rant was going. He always seemed to lose his knack with cool, composed speech when his father was around.

"What's this all about? Grown fond of the Gryffindors, have you?"

"You don't know them. They're nice people. They're not cynical and judgmental and never fucking evil like you. Get away from me, Father. I'd rather be alone right now," Draco snapped.

He stalked off, before his father could mutter some dark curse to hold him there. He headed for the castle, though he knew he would find no comfort there, but as he was walking he crashed right into –

"Hermione!" he cried, seeing whom he had knocked over. Harry wasn't with her.

She looked up at him, giving him a queer look.

"Hello, Malfoy. So nice of you to bowl me over."

"Sorry about that…I was trying to get away from my father," he muttered. It looked like he had another person who stole his way with words.

"You were running from him?"

"The faster I get away, the sooner his ugly face goes away."

"Why the change of heart?" Hermione asked, getting onto her feet nimbly and brushing off her scarlet Quidditch robes.

"What change? I've always hated the son-of-a-bitch; I just didn't have any reason to fight him…"

"And you have one now?"

"Yes, I do," Draco replied, matching her stare. Her dark eyes were watching him, softly twinkling under a curtain of curved black lashes.

"Hermione?" he heard Harry calling.

Hermione turned and Draco saw Harry standing behind her. He watched with envy as her face lit up and she smiled brightly at Harry.

Draco could have sworn that something broke inside of him, it hurt so badly, for he knew that she could never, even in a whole lifetime, look at him like that.

Stop that, he told himself instantly. You're not supposed to feel; you never have…not like that.

"Hi, Harry," she said, pecking him lightly on the cheek.

"Hey…" he responded, distractedly. Draco realized that Harry was watching him.

"I'll just be going, then," Draco announced coolly, and then he hurried into the castle, heading straight for his dormitory.

****

"What was that all about?" Harry asked.

"Er… We were just talking, then you showed up, and he sort of…I don't know, flipped. Why?"

"Why were you talking to him at all?"

"Well, he bumped into me and knocked me over, and I said something about it. He said he was trying to get away from his father…and then he told me how much he hated his dad…and then, and this is the oddest part, he said he had a reason to fight his dad now…"

"What was that?"

"Didn't get that far," Hermione replied, but she could guess what it was. She had seen the way Draco had looked at her, just for that one fleeting moment; it was the way Harry looked at her. But he couldn't be in love with her, could he? He didn't even know her.

"Well, there's a party going in the common room. I've been sent to raid the kitchens," Harry said. "Care to join me?"

"Sure. It's been awhile since we've seen the elves."

Harry offered his arm, and Hermione took it, forcing all thoughts of Draco from her mind.

****

Draco knew what he had to do. He had to talk to her again. For those few minutes he had spent speaking with Hermione, things had been clear like never before.

There was just the problem of how. She didn't trust him. And he wasn't sure that he was trustworthy.

C'mon, stop that. Think like a Slytherin. You're shrewd and underhanded. You can get her to talk to you.

Or can you? Hermione's bodyguards of sorts compounded the problem of how to talk to her. Either Harry or Ron was with her at all times. So, he decided, he would have to ambush her.

And he did just that. He followed her at a distance after Potions one Friday, and she left Harry and Ron to go down another corridor. He knew this corridor – it led to the Arithmancy classroom.

He slipped down it behind her, wondering if he could get her attention.

She walked purposefully down the corridor, hunched over from the weight of many books, some in her arms, other in her bag. A plan formed in his head, a rather Gryffindorish plan, he thought, but a plan.

"Hey," he said, catching up with her, "let me help you with those."

She whipped around, glaring at him. He hadn't really expected that reaction.

"Why are you following me around? Plotting another joke on the Muggle-born, are you?"

Draco glared at her. "Okay, ignore the niceties."

"What do you want?"

"To talk to you."

"Funny."

"I didn't think so."

Hermione looked preoccupied for a second, staring at him intently. Draco wished he could see what was going on in her head. "I'm going to ask you something," she said hesitantly, "and you're going to give me a straight answer."

"As long as it doesn't have to do with whipped cream."

Hermione made a face. "God, I hope not."

"Well?"

Hermione took a breath, and asked, "Are you in love with me?"

The suddenness of her question was shocking, but Draco had promised a straight answer, and he gave her one.

"Yes," he replied. "I don't want to be, but I am."

Hermione paled considerably. "Well, I –"

"What?"

"I had expected you to say no, or at least deny it, but…"

"I don't lie about this sort of thing," Draco said, barely holding his composure. Her stare gave him an involuntary fluttery feeling in his stomach, and he desperately hated the lack of control over his feelings.

Hermione sighed heavily. "What are we going to do?"

"Run off to Paris?"

"I'm serious, Malfoy!"

"So was I."

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"Who says we have to do anything?" Draco said. "You're obviously not going to leave Harry for me. I'll live."

But would he? Her lack of reaction was crushing him, though he hadn't expected anything more.

"We have to do something! I can't just go around, acting as normal, when I know you're in love with me. I know how badly it can hurt, Malfoy, and I wouldn't wish that upon anyone, even you."

"What can we do? You can't just make a person fall out of love, you know."

"Obviously. But… We should tell Harry. He'll know what to do," Hermione said, and although she looked calm, there was a note of panic in her voice.

"No, we can't tell Potter. He hates me too much to –"

"Don't say that. Harry's…Harry's kind, even to people who don't always deserve it. He would want to help."

Draco shook his head. "Do you know how long I've been watching you? I know Potter well enough by now, and when it comes to you, he's as shortsighted as Neville in a hallway at midnight with Mrs. Norris on his head."

"I'm telling Harry. I can't keep this from him."

"Can we just…I don't know, talk this through first?" He loved the girl, but she was wearing down on his patience.

Hermione glanced down the hall. "But – Arithmancy –"

"Really, when's the last time you missed a class?"

"And why should I skip class for you?"

"Because I'm dead sexy, and you just can't help yourself."

Hermione clucked at him. "Wishful thinking."

"Oh, come on. You've been in my position before, haven't you? I bet you had your fantasies about skipping class with Harry and ending up in a broom closet."

Hermione scowled at him. "I have not."

"Yeah, say that long enough and maybe someone will believe it."

"Malfoy."

"Please, just do this one thing for me?"

"Oh, all right. But if you try anything –"

"Wouldn't want to."

****

"So…how – er, how did this happen?"

"What, falling in love? Hell if I know. It might have been a love potion for all I know."

Hermione looked down at her hands, obviously uncomfortable.

"How long?" she asked quietly.

Draco shrugged. "A few months?"

"Oh."

"Let me ask you a question – if Potter weren't in the picture…do you think you could – do you think we –"

"I don't know," Hermione said. "If Harry weren't around, everything would be different. I wouldn't be the same person. You probably wouldn't have fallen in love with me…"

"What if you and Potter had just stayed friends? Never fallen in love?"

Hermione looked thoughtful. "I guess I could have been with you, then. It's pretty unlikely though, with the ass you've been for the past six years."

Draco nodded. "Yeah, I've been horrible, I know. I thought I was supposed to be like that."

"Can you say 'twisted morals'?"

"In several languages."

"Oh!" Hermione cried suddenly. "Oh, I'm sorry – I've got to go. Harry will be looking for me…"

"Please don't tell him," Draco said one last time, loathing the crack in his voice that gave him away. "He won't understand, I'm positive of it."

"I don't know," she hesitated. "I guess… oh, all right, I won't tell him. But don't –"

"I know, don't act like I love you. Got it."

************************************************************************

Part III: Blurring the Line

It was late when Hermione returned to the common room. The fire was the only source of light, its warmth flickering across her face.

Against her better judgment, she had taken Harry's Invisibility Cloak and gone to meet Draco, and she had no idea why. Why did she even count his words as plausible, when he had been nothing but dirty and underhanded to her before?

Maybe it was this non sequitor he seemed to be committing. He hadn't called her a Mudblood in at least a week, and he was even courteous. He had even managed to ignore Ron and Harry. Being a Slytherin, Draco had never been acquainted with chivalry, and it had Hermione completely puzzled.

And though she tried her hardest not to believe it, Hermione knew that Draco was honest. He loved her, and it wasn't some trick on her. The look in his eyes, the urgency in his voice, his words, his actions - they all said he was sincere.

With a heavy sigh she walked towards the fire. The stress of keeping such a large secret was nagging at her constantly, wearing her down.

Hermione gave a startled jump as she found Harry asleep on the couch by the fire. The sight of him filled her with both dread and delight, knowing he cared enough to wait up for her, and at the same time knowing she would have to lie to him again. Reluctantly fabricating a credible alibi in her head, she kneeled beside Harry, gently rousing him.

Harry's eyes fluttered open beneath crooked glasses, and he smiled. A sickening heaviness settled in Hermione's stomach as she forced a smile in return.

"Where've you been?" he asked groggily, adjusting his glasses as he sat up.

Hermione sat down next to him. "Restricted Section," she lied, holding up the Invisibility Cloak. "I borrowed it - I hope you don't mind," she added.

"The things you do for books," Harry chuckled.

Hermione gave him a half-smile and stared down at her hands. The guilt just wouldn't leave; instead it grew and grew, slowly overwhelming her.

"Are you feeling all right?" Harry questioned, peering at her. "You've been distant lately."

"I'm sorry - I've just got so much on my mind, what with the N.E.W.T.s coming up and all the classes I've got this year." And Draco, she added mentally. "I haven't been neglecting you, have I?"

"No, not at all," he said hurriedly. "I'm just worried about you."

Hermione smiled at his concern. "I'm okay. Just a little stressed. Nothing I can't handle."

"Okay, then. I'm going to head off to bed, now, if that's all right with you."

Hermione smiled again. "You go on - I've got some studying to do," she replied.

Harry leaned over and kissed her with heartbreaking tenderness. "Promise me you'll get some sleep tonight," he said, his eyes boring into hers. Hermione nodded and forced another smile. She watched him go, then stared pensively into the fire. Something had to change, and soon.

****

Earlier that evening…

Draco paced the corridor - the Forbidden Corridor from their first year. It was their appointed meeting place.

He never knew why the corridor had been forbidden, and he was currently using the question as a distraction. There was nothing in the room, save a harp and a trap door, and the floors and walls were cloaked in heavy white dust. It seemed that nobody had been in here for years.

The door opened, seemingly on its own. Hermione's head appeared, then the rest of her materialized, after the door shut. In her hand was a silvery Invisibility Cloak. Draco has a sudden flashback of Harry's head floating in the air in Hogsmeade, and he knew then from where she had obtained such a valuable item.

"Hello," Draco said to break the silence that filled the narrow, musty room.

"Hi," was her reply.

Another minute or so of silence followed before Draco dared to speak.

"What was in here, in our first year?"

"I thought the whole school knew by now," Hermione said, staring around the room with a melancholy expression. "It was a three-headed dog. Hagrid named him Fluffy."

Draco snorted. "Fluffy?"

"You know Hagrid's love for big nasty monsters."

"Firsthand," Draco mumbled. Hermione scowled. "So where do the harp and trap door come into the story?"

Hermione smiled. "Well, Fluffy guarded the trap door. And music made him fall asleep, so you could slip down."

"What was down there?"

To his surprise, she laughed. "You don't know the story? Well, I suppose the truth never really came around. It was all a bunch of make-believe about manticores and kappas. You see, the Sorcerer's Stone was hidden down there."

"I didn't know it really existed."

"It did. And You-Know-Who tried to steal it. So, Harry and Ron and I went to stop him. It was guarded by all these enchantments. There was the Devil's Snare." Hermione paused with an amused expression on her face. "Harry and Ron got caught in it, and I panicked. I remember Harry telling me to light a fire, and then me saying there wasn't any wood. I finally caught on - Ron yelled at me - and used magic. And then there was the key room - Harry had to catch a flying key to go on.

"Then we had to play our way across a transfigured chessboard. Ron sacrificed himself and got knocked out by the queen, so Harry and I went on alone."

"Stupid bloke," Draco muttered.

"What he did was a very brave thing!" Hermione exclaimed indignantly.

Draco smiled wryly. "We Slytherins don't know the meaning."

"You're telling me."

"Well? What happened then?" Draco prodded.

"Harry and I went on alone, like I said. There was another troll, which I didn't like at all, but it was already unconscious. Then came Snape's enchantment. Actually, it wasn't an enchantment at all. It was a test of logic. Seven bottles of potion - one took you forward, one let you back, two did nothing, and three were poison. There was only enough for one of us to go on, so Harry made me go back.

"I went hysterical - I thought he was going in to die. But he was persistent, and he wouldn't go back after all that. So, I went back, and I woke up Ron. Luckily, Dumbledore showed up. Impeccable timing. Harry almost died in there, but he would have taken Quirrell and You-Know-Who with him."

"Quirrell?" Draco repeated, puzzled.

"You-Know-Who was hiding under his turban. My God, for the son of a Death Eater, you sure don't know squat about what's happened to You-Know-Who."

"No one outside of the Inner Circle really knows anything," Draco told her. "But ew - that was the horrible smell?"

Hermione nodded soberly. "So, that's what happened."

"And I thought my life was hectic," Draco said with a sigh.

"Ha! That was just our first year. The second was even worse!"

"What did you do?"

Hermione opened her mouth to speak, then shut it abruptly. Turning slightly paler, she said, "We broke many rules, and the rest is all a secret."

"What did you do? Brew an illegal potion?"

"No, I don't think it's illegal."

"I don't even want to know," Draco said, rolling his eyes.

"And I don't want to tell you. But anyway, you wanted to see me?"

"Yeah…"

"Why?"

"Do I need a reason? I just…oh, I don't know. I just wanted to talk to you."

Hermione shook her head slowly. "I don't understand you."

"Neither do I," Draco responded.

"I can't do this much longer, Malfoy," Hermione said as she started to pace the corridor. "I can't keep lying to Harry like this. I keep having to make up stories, and the old, 'I'm going to the library' trick is exhausting itself."

Draco felt a surge of guilt. She was unhappy, and it was his fault.

"If you want to tell him, go ahead. I don't want you to hurt because of me."

Hermione's eyes clouded over with sympathy. "No. As much as I want to, I can't now."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. I can't explain it," she replied, but someday she would.

****

Draco –

The Dark Lord wishes to have your initiation right after your birthday in April. I've chosen to disregard your little outburst, and I trust it will not happen again. I'll have you sent home April twenty-third. Do not attempt to run away at the last minute. Someone will be watching you.

- Lucius

Draco dropped the letter and sat down heavily on his bed. This couldn't be happening.

****

Hermione slipped quietly into the third floor corridor, rejoicing Dumbledore's timing once more. He had asked Harry to meet with him at the same time Draco has requested to meet with her. She only hoped she could get back to the common room before anyone noticed her absence.

"Malfoy," she said, staring into the darkness, blinking as her eyes adjusted. "You know, I can't meet with you all the time. Harry's getting so suspicious."

Draco came into focus in front of her, and had she been able to see, she would have noticed his worried expression.

"I know," he said, "and I wouldn't ask if it weren't important."

"Argh," Hermione hissed at the darkness, pulling out her wand. "Lumos."

Dim light flooded the room, giving Draco a ghostly countenance. She saw a folded slip of parchment in his tightly clenched hand.

"What is it?"

"Read this," he demanded, handing over the paper.

Hermione unfolded the parchment and held her wand to it. Draco watched anxiously as her eyes flitted over the paper, growing wider with each sentence.

After what seemed like an eternity, she looked up, her mouth open in shock.

"It wasn't supposed to happen until after graduation," Draco said without preamble. "But I guess my father talked Voldemort out of it after I started yelling at him at the match. Bloody stupid thing to do."

Draco slumped against the wall, watching Hermione for some kind of reaction.

"W-when's your birthday?" she asked eventually, as though she could think of nothing better to say.

"The twenty-first of April," he answered.

"We don't have much time then," Hermione said, crumpling up the paper.

"Much time for what?" Draco questioned, puzzled.

"To stop this, of course," she told him, determination blazing in her chocolate-colored eyes. "You don't want to be a Death Eater, do you?"

"No, but – how do you expect to stop it?"

Hermione bit her lip. "Harry. I have to tell him."

"Hermione –"

"I'm telling him. It's one thing to leave something out of the conversation that doesn't concern him, but I'm not going to flat-out lie about something that does! Harry will help you, I'm certain of it. I can convince him to trust you, if you'll just be nice. You can curbs those impulses to insult him, can't you?"

"I'm quite capable of choosing appropriate words, thank you very much."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "I've got to go – Harry will be back anytime. Send me an owl or something if anything else happens."

Draco nodded and watched her go, feeling, for the first time, a glimmer of hope.

****

Hermione had just sat down by the fire in the common room when Harry walked in, a look of grim acceptance on his face.

"Hi," she said as cheerfully as possible as he sat down beside her.

"Hey, that's what I was going to say."

"What did Dumbledore have to say?" she asked.

"It was about Malfoy. Snape's been spying, you know, and he says they want to make him a Death Eater."

It was now or never, Hermione thought. Taking a deep breath, she replied, "I know."

"Eh?"

"I know about Malfoy."

"Er, how?"

Hermione sighed and stood, pacing as she thought out how to best phrase her experience with Draco. "I've been talking to him, Harry. We've…we've been meeting –"

"What? Why?"

Hermione stopped in her tracks. This would take a lot of explaining. "Because…he's in love with me. I know it's hard to believe. I didn't believe it at first either. But he's just so different when we're alone. He's…he's nice to me."

Harry didn't answer. Hermione, practically babbling now, plunged on.

"But, anyway, he got a letter from his father, saying they wanted to make him a Death Eater right after his birthday, on the twenty-third of April, and we have to help him, Harry. He doesn't want to be a Death Eater."

"And how can you be sure of that?" His face was flushed, and while he was staying cool, she could tell he was angry. Very angry.

"I trust him, Harry. It sounds odd, I know, but he gets this look in his eyes. He's sincere. I…I wish you could trust him too."

Harry stood and ran his fingers through his hair, tracing her pacing route. "I don't understand, Hermione. When did this all start? How-how can he be in love with you?"

"I don't know how he fell in love with me, or why, but… Remember after the Quidditch match? I was talking to him before you came, and he had this look." Hermione looked up at Harry, catching his eyes. "He looks at me the way you do.

"So, then, a few days later, he followed me to Arithmancy, and…I asked him if he was in love with me. And he said yes. At first I thought he was lying, just trying to play some trick on me. But he hasn't yet, and it's been a few weeks. I don't think he'd waste so much time if he was trying to get to me."

Harry glared at her. "Stupid. Who says he's doing it for himself? Did you ever consider that he knew he would become a Death Eater soon, and that he could lie to you, take you to Voldemort." His eyes softened, misting over slightly. "Don't you know that you're the best way to get to me?"

Hermione looked down at her hands, which she happened to be wringing nervously. "No," she whispered. "He's not using me for bloody Voldemort! Harry, honey, I know you're worried they'll do something to me, and they'll probably try. But not Malfoy. Nobody could lie that well. Not even him. I trust him, Harry, and I wish you would just try to believe him, to believe me."

"You've really got a soft spot for him, don't you?"

"I wouldn't call it that," Hermione responded with a small smile. "More like a spot that's just barely less hard than a rock."

Harry's mouth turned up in return, but that faded quickly as a new thought struck him. "What have you been doing during these meetings?"

"What do you think we've been doing? Snogging? Gees, Harry, so suspicious. Talking. Just talking."

"Oh, and what does he have to say?"

Hermione scowled. "You're being a real git about this, you know!"

"How am I supposed to be, Hermione? Tell me that much. Because I can't see a better way to react when you've been lying to me!"

"I only lied because I knew you'd react like this!"

Harry ran his hand through his hair again, mussing it up even more.

"Harry…"

He tensed upon hearing his name. "Just leave me alone, Hermione. I don't want to talk about this anymore."

Harry turned and walked up the stairs to the boys' dormitory. Lip quivering, Hermione turned and fled the common room.

****

Unable to sleep, Draco found himself sneaking his way back to the third floor corridor. The halls were quite empty tonight, luckily.

As he opened the door, he swore he heard something. Pausing to listen, his guess proved correct. What was that? Sniffling?

"Lumos," he muttered, peering into the dark corridor.

Hermione. She sat on the floor, head in her hands, crying.

Shutting the door silently, he rushed over to her, feeling the need to do something for her. But what did one do in this situation?

Hermione looked up at him, eyes filled with tears.

"You told him, didn't you?"

Hermione nodded, choking slightly on a sob. "He won't talk to me," she whispered, her voice strained.

Quite unexpectedly, Hermione launched herself onto him, nearly suffocating him with her arms wrapped tightly around his neck.

For lack of better reaction, Draco put his arms around her, wondering again what was to be done to comfort a person in this kind of distress. Were you supposed to tell them it would all be all right? Or were you supposed to stay silent? And how were you supposed to hold the person? Was it proper to pat them on the back, or did you stay still?

Unable to answer any of these questions, Draco simply hugged her to him, letting her sobs turn to hiccups, and her hiccups turn to shallow breaths.

Eventually, her breathing grew deeper, calmer, and Draco realized she had fallen asleep. With a sigh and a small smile, he leaned back against the wall, still holding Hermione, and fell asleep himself.

****

TO BE CONTINUED