Disclaimer: For the last time (and it really is the last!) I don't own it.
A/N: Happy Halloween!
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Update – The sequel is definitely going ahead! The address is at the end of the chapter.
I'd also like to note that nothing happens in this chapter other than what is clearly described *strews unicorns around* Ahem…
As I near the end of this story, I feel like being reflective. I've received an overwhelming response to this story, mostly positive (and as to the negative comments, well no one's perfect! And I can improve.) Thank you to all the wonderful reviewers who have given me their comments and open support! Possibly the best praise I can get is along the lines of 'You've helped convert me to a D/Hr fan!'
Hermione's first reaction to the Slytherin boys' dormitories was that they were almost devoid of light. There were windows, but the moon was behind a cloud, and any light that found it's way into the room was weak and pale. It cast a dull monochrome, turning everything into black-grey shadows. It quite suited the password – Tenebrae. Latin for shadows. She remembered Draco whispering it into her ear yesterday – a yesterday that seemed an eternity ago. She remembered the sound of his voice, lips almost touching her ear.
Carefully, she picked her way along the rows of beds. There was Crabbe, looking a lot less menacing in sleep then in real life. Good – she was in the right room. She crept past as silently as she could, praying there were no creaky floorboards, and pulling the borrowed Invisibility Cloak closer around her.
She felt strangely calm. She was nervous, yes, but it was not a panicky nervousness. It was a nervousness that seemed to say; This might be hard, but I can do it. It was as though this was just another Charms exam. Just another test that she knew she could pass.
Which bed was Draco's? Well there was Crabbe, and Goyle, and another boy whose name she didn't know… The rest of the beds had their curtains drawn. Frowning, she moved uncertainly towards the one nearest Crabbe and Goyle, and pulled aside its emerald hangings.
Her heart jumped into her throat. The blankets were pulled up past his chin, and his face was hidden in shadow, but the silver hair was a telltale sign. She paused, her breathing almost silent. He was so different asleep. When awake, he had a wide range of expression – from false innocence to a cunning grin, a teasing smirk or an angry glare or any number of others. But she had never seen him look quite like this. His face was relaxed now, and he wore a small smile. It wasn't a happy smile, but neither was it sad – it was almost a weary smile, the smile of someone who has seen both miracles and terrors, and to whom sleep is a welcome escape from reality at the end of an overlong day.
She carefully closed the hangings behind her, making a minimum of noise, and pulled the cloak off her head. She turned back the bed, folding the cloak – and was faced with Draco, his eyes open and almost gleaming in the semi-darkness. She gasped in surprise.
'Draco!' she exclaimed, barely managing to keep her voice to a whisper. 'I thought you were asleep.'
'I was.' he said in his normal tone of voice, making Hermione quite afraid that someone would wake up. 'You woke me when you shut the curtains. Oh, and don't bother whispering. I put spells on the hangings in first year – no one can hear anything from inside them.'
'You must have ears like a bat.' Hermione said, shaking her head. 'And why do you have silence spells?'
He shrugged, evading the question. 'I might as well ask you why you're here. Come for your midnight liaison with Crabbe?' He grinned wickedly, turning over to face her properly.
She rolled her eyes, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. It felt amazingly soft, almost like you imagine the clouds to be when you're a child, before you find out that all they are is water vapour. She recalled that the beds in Hogwarts were enchanted to be the perfect softness for whoever slept on them. Thinking about Draco's upbringing, in the luxurious rooms of Malfoy Manor, she wasn't surprised his bed was so soft.
'Don't be stupid.' she replied. She glanced down at him, where he watched her with calm eyes. 'Well I guess… the reason I'm here is that…'
She took a deep breath, and wondered how to phrase the earth-shattering knowledge that Harry had told her minutes before. 'Harry… Harry told me that… He told me what the cure for the Glacios curse was.' She finished in a rush, her stomach suddenly spinning.
She didn't dare look at him. She kept her eyes fixed on the hangings.
Draco's voice, when he spoke, was weary. 'Just forget about it Hermione. It doesn't matter.'
She turned towards him, but he had rolled over to face away from her, the blankets pulled defensively round him. 'No, Draco, it does matter, I…'
'It doesn't.' His voice was rough now, with feeling he tried to hide but could not. 'Look, I know what you think. You could never love me back and I know that, and I was stupid to ever think you could. Forget about it. It doesn't matter.'
Hermione stared at his back, unprepared and unsure what to do. 'Draco, you don't understand…' she whispered. 'Draco, I…' A lump rose in her throat. This wasn't the way it was meant to go. She reached out to his shoulder, pulling him back to face her. 'Look, Draco, just listen…'
She broke off as she caught sight of his eyes. They were more full of emotion than she had ever seen before. A love, finally unmasked and in the open, and above that the most terrible sadness, the pain of never being able to have that which you longed for… It was almost heartbreaking.
She could have cried. She could have, but didn't. Instead, she leant down, and kissed him gently on the lips.
She hadn't quite known what to expect, and even if she'd had any idea, she wouldn't have thought it to be like this. He was gentle, hesitant almost. Startled at first, he gradually started to kiss her back, encircling her lightly with his arms. It was not the kind of kiss that made fireworks go off behind your eyes, or intoxicated you with desire. It was a kiss, pure and simple. It was 'I love you', said without words, because she couldn't have found words to speak. And some things are so beautiful, so important, that they should not be dirtied with common words.
When Hermione awoke the next morning, the first thing she was aware of was warmth. The second, third and fourth things she was aware of were that the source of the warmth was Draco, that she was still in the Slytherin dormitories and that it was morning.
She felt a small smile play about her lips. What would people think! Hermione Granger, perfect student, abider by all rules… She kept her eyes tightly shut, savouring the warmth of the moment.
'Morning.' said a voice by her ear, sounding faintly amused. 'Sleep well?'
She opened her eyes, glancing into Draco's grey ones. They had a mischievous sparkle in them. 'Of course.' she replied.
They stayed that way for a few minutes, neither speaking, for there was nothing that needed to be said. All that existed, all that mattered, was this one perfect moment.
'You'd better go.' Draco said reluctantly.
'Would you rather wait here until one of the Slytherins finds us?'
'No.' Hermione sighed. 'You're right, I should go.'
She sat up, taking the Invisibility Cloak from the space beside the pillow where she had left it last night.
'I'll see you in Potions then.' she said, standing up and throwing the cloak around her shoulders, leaving her head floating in midair. Draco didn't bat an eyelid.
It felt a little flat and awkward, leaving like this. Like there was something left undone or unsaid… Hermione pulled the Cloak over her head to disappear completely, and opened the hangings in front of her. About to take a step into the now brightly-lit room, she paused.
Taking a deep breath, she half-whispered, 'I love you.'
Feeling thankful that the Invisibility Cloak hid her blush, she turned her head towards Draco. He smiled, a smile of nothing but simple happiness.
'I love you too.' he replied, sounding as if he had never said the words before. A sudden rush of warmth flowed through Hermione. Spontaneously and almost without thought, she bent over and planted an invisible kiss on his cheek, before reluctantly leaving for Gryffindor Tower.
The sunlight streamed through the east-facing windows, reminding anyone there to witness it that summer was almost here. It shone off the walls of the tower, making even their rough surfaces seem benevolent and welcoming.
Hermione walked through the corridors in a sort of daze, hardly noticing the sunlight that shone around her except as a reflection of her mood. She paused only to take off the Invisibility Cloak just before she reached the Fat Lady.
'Ignis' she muttered, and was allowed in. She climbed the staircase slowly, pushing open the door to her dormitory with a feeling of welcome familiarity. Her thoughts were still in a mad whirl, like startled sparrows refusing to settle down.
'Hermione!' shouted Lavender upon seeing her friend enter the room. 'Where were you?'
Parvati ran up to her, still in her sky blue pyjamas. 'We were so worried! We thought you'd been kidnapped again, but when we asked Harry he said that he knew where you were and you were perfectly fine, but he wouldn't tell us any more however much we asked him, and we were really worried and Harry told us not to get so worked up about it.'
Hermione had to concentrate quite hard to catch all of this, as Parvati had a habit of gabbling long run-on sentences when excited or nervous.
'So where were you?' Lavender prompted again.
Hermione waved a vague hand at them, trying to figure out how best to phrase it. 'Oh, just…'
'Wait, don't tell me. It's the look in your eyes, you look all distracted and dreamy.' Lavender said.
'You don't think?' asked Parvati dubiously. 'I never thought her much the type… she's more of a book person, no offence Hermione, but you are.'
'Would you please explain what you're referring to?'
'Boys.' the two of them said together. Hermione felt herself blush. Was it so easy for them to read her expressions?
'Well, as a matter of fact…' she began, but was interrupted by the two girls, who could only be said to be squealing.
'Oh wow! Hermione!' Lavender practically launched herself at her neck in her impression of a hug. Hermione felt like she was being strangled.
'Who's the lucky guy then?' Parvati wanted to know. Hermione felt herself go redder. How would they react?
'Well…' she looked at the two girls expectant faces and mentally sighed. 'It's Draco.'
'Draco!' screamed the girls, sounding like a rather hyperactive echo.
'You can't be serious! Draco Malfoy?'
Hermione nodded mutely.
'Oh my goodness!' Parvati say down on the nearest bed, looking quite shocked. Hermione swallowed. Would they condemn her for loving a Slytherin?
'You are without doubt,' began Lavender, 'the luckiest girl in the whole of Hogwarts!'
'I mean just look at him!'
'That silver hair!'
'His eyes are gorgeous!'
Hermione stopped feeling relieved and began to feel slightly annoyed. After all, it was her new boyfriend they were talking about.
'So, Hermione.' Parvati said, putting an arm around her shoulders. 'The eternal question - is he a good kisser?'
The midday sun was high over the lake, fulfilling its promise of a warm early summer day. The trees around it were proud in their fresh new foliage, which already provided shade for the various animals – both magical and non-magical – that made their home in the Hogwarts grounds.
Draco, too, was glad of the shade. He sat by the edge of the lake, on a rocky bank that was nicely in-between two copses of trees. The trees offered both protection from the sun and a screen to hide him from the school. If you looked hard through the trees, the topmost turret of the Astronomy Tower was just visible, no more.
Such things had happened in the past two days, things he would never have thought possible. The Death Eater attack, then Hermione. When she had told him what she knew, an icy hand had gripped his heart, as though the Glacios curse had returned with a vengeance. He had thought she could never love him, had thought she had come to tell him – kindly, for that was always Hermione's way – that she didn't love him. But she hadn't. She loved him.
The news spread like the plague, and everyone had followed them with curious eyes and hushed rumours. But, surprisingly, no one was angry. The Slytherins, naturally, were curious about a Malfoy and a muggle-born together, but he had muttered some vague things about secret plans and world domination, and they left it alone. It was a tactic that always worked with Slytherins. He could burn the school down, and they'd still leave him alone if he made a vague reference to some plan they were no part of.
Most of the Gryffindors had taken it well, as had the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. He had a feeling Weasley – Ron – wasn't all too happy. Hermione had said that Ron was against the idea, but together she and Harry had talked him round.
He forced his thoughts back to the decision he had come here to make. In one hand Draco weighed the Malus Orbis thoughtfully. Yes, it offered protection. But was this object – a Dark object, after all, - the right way to go about getting it?
The lies of his childhood were gone, and for the first time Draco could listen to his sense of right and wrong. Maybe it would be better to keep the Orb. Maybe it could save his life. But would it be right? He had coveted it from the first moment he had learned its power. To avoid all but the most deadly of curses! Protection.
It was a Dark object, and he wanted nothing more to do with the Dark, with his father, with Voldemort. It was protection, yes, but at the price of his newfound morality. The merpeople, if they found it, would not let it get into the wrong hands. It would be safe.
Getting to his feet, Draco twisted the ball open. The single hair nestled inside it. He tipped the orb upside down, letting the hair float away in the gentle wind. Then, sealing it back together, he threw it as hard as he could into the lake.
It landed with a loud smack, scaring the birds from the trees, and for a moment Draco felt regretful. The peace of the place would always be underscored with the evil that lurked under the water. But then, wasn't life like that? There was always some evil waiting for you, something lurking. You just had to wait and watch.
Draco watched the ripples, as they spread out in rings. He watched them until they reached the shore he stood upon, then turned and went back to the castle.
A/N: I think that's the first time I've ever written 'THE END'. And that is indeed what it is, for now. What did you think of the last chapter? Review!
To read 'Darkness and Light', the sequel, please go to: http://www.fanfiction.net/read.php?storyid=1064041