As was always the case at Hogwarts, the days quickly grew into weeks. All the students were kept busy with school work, clubs and activities.
It was an overcast Saturday and Hermione found herself in the library, alone. The biggest Quidditch match of the season was going to be played today, Gryffindor verses Slytherin. All the students were gathering in the stands at the Quidditch field, jockeying for the best view of the match.
Hermione was engrossed in a book about the connection between Arithmancy and Astrology, when she heard the roar of the crowd. She looked at the clock on the wall. Uh oh, she thought. The match had started ten minutes ago. Ron, Harry and Ginny would be so disappointed if she missed it. She closed her book and hurried through the castle towards the Quidditch pitch.
Blaise was pacing through the castle, fuming. He had tried to talk to Malfoy about this strange obsession he had with that mudblood girl, but Malfoy wouldn't hear it. "That's our parents talking, Blaise. Open your eyes and grow up. Think for yourself for a change."
Hermione rushed down the hall headed out to the pitch when a voice from behind said her name. "Hey, Granger!" the voice yelled. She turned and saw Blaise Zabini walking towards her.
"Oh, hey Blaise" she said, apprehensively. Even having shared the eighth years dormitory with him, he had never seemed to warm to her. "On your way to the Quidditch match?" she asked him.
"No Granger, I'm not going to the Quidditch match" he replied, approaching her. "So, I hear tell that you have a thing for a certain Slytherin? Going to cheer him on?"
"I don't know what you are talking about" she said, shortly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm missing the match" and she turned to leave, but he grabbed her by the wrist.
"I'm talking about the way you and Malfoy have been mooning over each other all school year. It's making us all sick Granger. I know how to help you get it out of your system, though" he said, pulling her to him. "One pureblood Slytherin is as good as another, right? And we do have the whole school to ourselves, after all." She reached out to push him away from her and caught his face with her fingernails.
"Bitch!" he hissed and pulled back his fist and punched her. Her head snapped back and she saw bright spots in her vision. I'm going to faint, she thought, disjointedly. Blaise pushed her against a wall and shoved his wand under her chin and pressed her body against the wall with his. He began fumbling with the buttons on her shirt and she just stared over his shoulder, her mind refusing to believe that this was really happening. That was when she saw Draco's face appear over Blaise's shoulder, snarling with rage. Blaise's weight was pulled off of her and she fainted.
The heavy rain and lightning had caused the Quidditch game to be postponed, to the very vocal dismay of the whole school. Ron, Harry, and Draco were headed back to their dormitory when they came around the corner and saw Blaise. He had Hermione pinned against the wall with his wand shoved under her chin, and he looked like he was trying to undo her blouse. Draco sprung first, grabbing Blasie off Hermione and throwing him to the floor. He fell on top of him, pinning him to the floor and punching him. His lip split open and gushed blood, and Draco hit again. His nose broke with a very satisfying crunch and more blood flowed, and Draco hit again. He connected with Blaise's cheek, and tried to swing again.
Harry and Ron reacted just a split second after Draco. Harry got behind Draco and tried to pull him off Blaise, shouting his name, "Draco, DRACO! Let him up!"
Ron pulled his wand from inside his Quidditch robes and stood between Hermione and the battle, ready to protect her.
Harry finally had Draco up off of Blaise and relaxed his grip for one second. It was one second too much. Draco reached into his Quidditch robe, whipped out his wand and pointed it at Zabini.
He screamed, "AVADA-" but before he could get the second word out, Ron roared, "EXPELLIARMUS!" Draco's wand flew through the air and Harry caught it.
"GIVE IT TO ME" Draco screamed, "I'LL FUCKING KILL HIM!"
"What in the world is going on here?" asked Professor Hogarth, coming back from the Quidditch match.
"He attacked Hermione" Harry said gesturing at Blaise.
Professor Hogarth leaned over the form on the floor, studying the face that now resembled a pile of raw meat. "Mr. Zabini?" he asked.
Draco spit on Blaise and said, "Yeah, that's him."
Professor Hogarth said, "Mr. Weasley, you'd better get Miss Granger to the hospital wing." Ron picked Hermione's still unconscious form up and cradled her in his arms. Draco moved to follow them, but Professor Hogarth stopped him.
"Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Potter – would you please help me and escort Mr. Zabini to the headmistress' office? We'll summon the Aurors from there."
Draco and Harry each slung one of Blaine's arms over their shoulders and dragged him off.
Ron kicked open the door of the hospital wing and Madame Pomfrey came running from her office. "What's happened?" she asked as he lay her on the nearest bed.
"She was attacked" he told her.
"Were there any spells involved?" Madame Pomfrey asked.
"No, I don't think so. But he hit her, and I think she may have hit her head when she fainted."
Madame Pomfrey waved her wand over Hermione's swelling face and said, "Episkey"
Hermione gasped and sat up in the bed. "What happened?" she asked, looking around.
"Blaise," Ron began, but couldn't finish.
"Oh, right" Hermione said quietly. "My head hurts" she said, rubbing the back of her head.
"You fainted and I think you hit your head" Ron said.
"I think so too," Hermione said.
"You need to stay here overnight for observation" declared Madame Pomfrey.
"No way" balked Hermione. "I want to go back to the dorms. I feel fine. It's just a bump."
Madame Pomfrey did a quick but thorough examination of Hermione. "You may go back to your dorm, but Mr. Weasley" she turned to Ron, "I want you to watch her very carefully! If she complains of any nausea, dizziness, hearing or vision problems, headache, anything unusual, you bring her straight back here. Understand?"
Ron nodded and helped Hermione up off the bed. With his arm around her, they slowly made their way back to the eighth years common room. Hermione slumped on a couch and Ron sat beside her. "Are you really ok?" he asked.
She shook her head and a tear slipped down her cheek. "But it was nothing Madame Pomfrey could cure" she said.
Just then the portrait swung open and Draco came into the common room. He walked over to Hermione, knelt in front of her and took her hand. "He's gone. The Aurors took him. You are safe, I promise you." Another tear slid down her cheek. He brushed it away with his thumb, and gently caressed her soft skin.
"Draco, mate" Ron said quietly. "Give us a minute?" Draco nodded and headed back out the portrait door.
Ron looked at Hermione for a long minute. Then he said. "You love him." Not a question, a statement.
Hermione protested, "No, Ron. I love you."
"Not the way you love him. Not in a way that will make you happy. Hermione, we have been through so much together. We grew up together. I know I have a special place in your heart, but is it really love? I have seen the way you look at him, and the way he looks at you. I have watched him work so hard this year to prove that he is a better man than any of us ever gave him credit for. Do you know why he's done that?"
She shook her head, more tears forming in her eyes.
"He wants to deserve you Hermione. You make him want to be a better man. You should have seen him today. He was insane with worry for you. You remember when the Snatchers found us and took us to Malfoy Manor? He wouldn't identify Harry because he knew he would be killed? Or how he couldn't kill Dumbledore, even though his life and his families lives depended on it? Draco Malfoy is not a killer. But today, he was ready to kill Zabini, his friend, because he hurt you. He tried to use the Avada Kedavra on him. I had to disarm him to stop him."
Hermione was crying steadily now. "But Ron, you-" she began.
"I'll be fine, Hermione. I'll be even better knowing that you are happy" he said, holding her hands and looking into her eyes.
She leaned forward and kissed him, once, twice, on the lips. "You are a good man, Ron Weasley" she said.
"Too good" he said. "Now stop kissing me. Go find him and kiss him." Her smile lit up her whole face as she ran out the portrait door.
Harry was standing in front of the portrait of Lavender Brown, holding back a small crowd. They had all heard what had happened and wanted to see if Hermione was ok.
"Harry, which way did Draco go?" she asked desperately.
"Towards the main staircase. Hermione-" he called after her, but she sprinted in the direction of the stairs. She ran down them as fast as she could, but when she got to the main entrance hall, he was nowhere to be seen. She saw Neville Longbottom coming out from a side hallway.
"Neville! Did you see which way Draco went?"
"Yeah" he said, "The barmy git walked right out into the rain! I think he turned towards the lake."
"Thank you Neville!" Hermione shouted as she ran out the front door.
"Now she's running out into the rain" Neville exclaimed to the empty hall. "Has everyone gone mad?"
Hermione ran through the rain towards the lake. The rain hadn't let up, but the sun had broken through, turning the rain to showers of gold. She saw his figure standing by a tree near the lake.
"Draco" she shouted and he turned to look at her.
She was crying harder now, the rain mixing with the tears running down her face.
"I am so sorry!" she sobbed. "You tried to tell me all year, and I was too angry and proud and stupid to listen! You really meant it, didn't you? All of it! Draco, I am so sorry!" She grabbed his hands and tried to look into his face, but he was staring at the ground. I'm too late, she worried wildly.
"Draco, can you please forgive me? Give me another chance?"
He shook his head slightly and looked in her eyes.
"Hermione" he began slowly. "Do you remember what I said to you, that day at the Manor when they came with the spell to break your curse? You asked me if I would stay with you. Do you remember what I said?"
She looked into his eyes and slowly nodded her head. "Always" she whispered.
"That's right" he said, cupping her the uninjured side of her face, "Always, my love" and he pulled her to him and kissed her in the golden rain.