OMG you guys. It is the last chapter EVER (unless I decide to write an epilogue). Get your reading glasses out - this one turned out to be a long one. Thank you so much for reading my story, I never expected it to take off like this and it really means a lot that you've chosen to share your opinions. Special thanks go to bluebook1496 and LovelyAshes for the reviews - they are always appreciated. All of this apart from my OCs belongs to JK Rowling (keep forgetting to say that) and I hope you enjoy the chapter!
Draco sat in the Slytherin Common Room, staring into the fireplace. It was completely empty; everyone else was at the end of term feast. He'd feigned a headache when the other seventh year boys had left, stayed up in the dorms until everyone had gone, and now he had the run of the place to himself. He stared around the green-lit room, at the dark wooden furniture and the green velvet armchairs, and a peculiar sadness started tugging at his stomach. This would be his last night in the Slytherin dorms.
He didn't want to go to the feast. It wasn't as if he wouldn't be welcome there. The news that he had run into the Forbidden Forest and dragged Hermione away from Greyback had been all over the school before he'd regained consciousness. By the time he'd actually woken up, he'd heard at least three conflicting versions: one that said he'd handed Hermione over to Greyback in the first place, one that said he'd been knocked unconscious and that Hermione had carried him, bridal style, all the way back up to the castle after kicking Greyback in the face, and another that said he'd fought his way through a herd of Acromantula to reach her before beating the werewolf in a wrestling match. The last one was his favourite, even though he knew he hadn't heard all the different versions yet.
The upshot of it all was that people were smiling at him again. Things were almost back to the way they were: he wasn't receiving any more letters (and Persephone Khong had been given weekly detentions for the entirety of her next academic year), the seventh year boys were speaking to him again and he no longer had to constantly check his bag to see if anything had been stolen. Just when he was about to leave, things were finally starting to become almost normal again.
But the strange thing was, he wasn't happy.
He hadn't spoken to Hermione since they'd left the Forest. He'd seen her; when he'd left the hospital wing, accompanied by his panic-stricken parents, they'd passed her at the doors. She'd been slumped on the chairs outside, fast asleep, and his father had sneered at her drooping head as he swept past her.
That was when Draco realised that nothing had changed. All the obstacles were still in place. All he had to look forward to now was an empty, dull life under the weight of the Malfoy reputation and the long train ride home tomorrow.
He smiled sadly into the fireplace. He remembered the feel of her hand in his as they crept through the forest, and the way she'd clung to him, and the sight of her sleeping on the chairs outside the hospital wing. She'd waited for him, and the thought made his smile widen.
He knew he'd never see her again, but at least his last memories of Hermione Granger would be good ones.
The next day dawned bright and early, and Draco was on the train before most of the school had finished breakfast. He'd barely had time for one last look back at the old place from the station platform before the castle doors had opened, the rest of the students poured out and he'd hurried onto the train to find a compartment for himself.
Now, the train was juddering along past huge, rolling forests, his luggage was spread across the seats around him and he was alone in his compartment, staring out the window.
The door slid open. Draco sighed. Probably another first year, come to ask about what it was like to fight a werewolf…
He turned around and his stomach flipped over.
It was Hermione.
She shut the door behind her with a snap and fixed him with a steely glare. "I've been looking for you," she said, her voice cold.
Draco fought to keep the blush crawling up his neck from showing on his face. "Well, you found me."
Hermione glared at him. "I've been looking for you ever since we left the forest. Why have you been avoiding me?"
"I haven't been –"
"Yes, you have!" she snapped. "Look, I want to talk to you and you're not getting off this train until you've listened to what I've had to say!"
Draco glared at her and folded his arms. "Well, you'd better get on and say it, hadn't you?"
She strode across the compartment, tipped his luggage off the seat and sat down across from him, still glaring at him.
"Well?" he snapped.
To his astonishment, all the anger flooded out of Hermione's face. Her cheeks turned bright pink, her fingers began twisting themselves together and she seemed to be finding it very difficult to look him in the face.
"Well," she began, her voice far higher than normal, "the thing is…we've spent a lot of time together this year, and it's been really great. You've done a lot of really nice things for me and…and I was wondering if you wanted to meet up in the summer."
He blinked at her. Her last words had left her lips in a tangled rush, and now she was staring at him, her brown eyes wide with hope and anxiety.
"What do you –"
"Oh, isn't it obvious?" she said, throwing her hands up in exasperation, "I love you, Draco!"
His mouth fell open. There was a split second of silence, and then Hermione's cheeks turned scarlet and she clapped her hand over her mouth looking horror-struck.
"Did you…did you mean to say that?"
"It…it wasn't what I had planned," she whispered.
Draco stared at her. Hermione Granger, with her tumbling brown curls and her gleaming eyes, was in love with him. She loved him, and the thought was swelling in his chest like a balloon…
But then he remembered. All the obstacles were still in place, and nothing Hermione said or did could change that. His parents would still hate her, he wouldn't be able to get a job to support her and she'd have to give up all her friends and family to be with him…no, he couldn't ask her to do that.
"Look, Hermione," he said, running a hand through his hair, "it'd never work between us. I'm not much better than a criminal, there's no way I could get a job after what I did. My family would never accept you and I don't think your friends would accept me. You'd have to turn your back on everything you have to be with me, and I don't want you to do that."
All the colour drained out of Hermione's face. She pressed her lips together, and Draco could see tears glistening in her eyes.
"You don't feel the same, then?"
"It's not that, it's not that at all! I've been falling for you since –"
"Then why does any of that matter?" she burst out, her voice cracking.
"Because I can't give you the things you want!" he snapped, "I don't want you to throw your life away because of me! You deserve someone…someone you don't have to give things up for."
She took a deep, shuddering breath and closed her eyes.
"Okay," she whispered.
Then, she got to her feet and left, closing the compartment door behind her.
The train groaned to a halt as it pulled into Platform Nine and Three Quarters, the brakes squealing loudly and the engine hissing. Draco scooped up his luggage and left the compartment, fighting his way through the crowd of students trying to get onto the platform. He staggered down off the train and saw his mother and father, waiting on the platform with an empty luggage trolley. He returned his father's brief, one-armed hug and turned to his mother, who was already holding out her arms. The moment she saw his face she stopped, her eyes wide with concern.
"Draco, darling, whatever is the matter?"
He smiled quickly, but he knew she wasn't convinced. "It's nothing, Mother," he said, stepping forward for another hug, "let's go home."
They wheeled the trolley towards the gateway into the Muggle world – Draco saw his father wrinkling his nose – and passed through it. The sanitised surfaces of the Muggle train station materialised into view, and Draco saw Hermione.
She looked pale, and even though he was at least a hundred yards away from her he could see that she'd been crying. A woman with grey-brown hair had her arm around Hermione's shoulders – her mother, Draco supposed – and the pair of them were heading towards the station doors.
Once she passed through them, he would never see her again.
The full force of the realisation slammed into him like an oncoming train. He would never see her again, never. After what he'd said she'd never come and find him again, even though she loved him. He'd never see her brown eyes shining up at him, or her long curls spilling over her arms as she slept, and the thought was making him feel sick.
"Draco? Are you all right?"
His mother's voice seemed to be coming from the other end of a very long tunnel. Slowly, he began to walk forward as if he was in a daze, his feet tripping over each other. He walked faster and faster, his eyes fixed on the back of Hermione's head and soon he was running after her, elbowing his way through the crowds of people.
It wasn't enough any more.
He couldn't just go back to his old life, not now. If he left her alone there was a chance that she'd forget him, move on and be happy, but not even her happiness could comfort him now. It wasn't enough that she would be happy – no, he wanted to be the one who made her happy… And even if it all went horribly wrong at least he would have had his chance, and that would be far better than letting her pass through that gate and leave him behind…
He hurtled past the Weasleys so fast they were barely more than a flame-red blur. He sprinted past Persephone Khong and darted around Charlie Jackson, whose heads turned to follow him as he passed. He ignored them all and kept running, weaving through the crowd, his legs moving so fast he could barely feel them any more.
She was feet from him.
She stopped as he skidded to a halt in front of her, almost crashing into her mother. He clutched onto her luggage trolley and gasped for breath, clutching a stitch in his side.
"Draco, what –"
Still gasping for air, he straightened up. Hermione's eyes were still red.
"Don't go," he whispered.
He reached out for her. Her fingers brushed against his. She was smiling now, her eyes wide from disbelief and joy, the last traces of her sadness gone. She was radiant, glowing, and as she settled into his arms it felt like a light had been switched on inside him. His hand fitted into hers like a glove, her body slotted into his embrace like she was born to be there and as she looked up at him, her eyes shining will tears and joy, he knew that he never wanted to let her go again.
Her lips were parted. She closed her eyes, and he bent down and kissed her.
He could hear the clicking of a camera from somewhere close by. The shocked voices of his parents were barely audible over the noise of the crowd, and wolf-whistles were ringing in on all sides, but Draco didn't care. He felt alive for the first time in months, and the crowd could scream its heart out for all he cared. He was kissing Hermione Granger, and her lips were the softest, sweetest things in the world, and he never wanted it to end.
They broke apart and she grinned up at him, her whole face alight. Out of the corner of his eyes Draco could see his parents' pale faces. Behind them, Potter was gawping at the pair of them while Weasley sniggered uncontrollably, and dancing his way through the crowd was a photographer from the Daily Prophet with Rita Skeeter in hot pursuit.
But none of that mattered.
He grinned guiltily down at Hermione and rubbed the back of his neck. "Sorry about that."
"Don't be," she laughed.
"Do you…do you want to go and get some coffee, or something?"
Hermione glanced quickly at her mother, who rolled her eyes and nodded, clearly fighting back a smile.
"Okay," she said.
She slipped her hand into his, and together, they left King's Cross station and stepped out into the bright summer afternoon.