Hello everyone :)
I'm ever so sorry these updates are so slow! :( All I can say in my defence is work, Christmas stuff and personal life have all been seriously encroaching on valuable writing time these last few weeks, and I'm sure you're all as sick of it as I am. I am therefore pleased to announce that I am going home from uni today and will be at home for two weeks, so I will have lots of time to catch up on this story!
Big big thanks to everyone who reviewed the last chapter: reecse42, Fluticorns, Tearrer, DracoSly, madhatter8271, buttercup88, Dancing-Souls, LunarPotion and Naralanis. Also thanks to the lovely people who have favourited and followed this story, and to all of you lurkers: I can still see you in my traffic graphs and I appreciate you too! :D
I would like to take a moment to apologise for the tragedy in the previous chapter. I honestly intended for Draco to get his reunion with his parents, but the chapter just didn't want to go that way. I hope the rest of the story can make up for any disappointment :)
Hermione leaned closer, not breaking the kiss as she put her own arms around his neck, their chess game completely forgotten.
Neither of them heard the door open. Neither of them noticed the figure standing in the doorway, until a voice spoke loudly and made them both jump.
"...What the fuck, Hermione?"
"Ron, please!" Hermione begged as she followed him down the stairs towards the kitchen. "Please, just let me explain-"
"Explain what, Hermione?" Ron replied bitingly. "Explain how you were kissing a Death Eater? How you were kissing Malfoy, of all people?" His voice had risen to a shout by the time he finished the question. Reaching the kitchen, he walked through the doorway and stopped in the centre of the room, turning to face her. "Can you explain that?"
She hesitated, then sighed. "It wasn't meant to happen, Ron. He's so different now, it's hard to see him as the boy we hated at school-"
"He's a fucking Death Eater, Hermione!" Ron roared. "He's killed people, good people! In case you'd forgotten, he helped kill Dumbledore!"
Hermione opened her mouth to reply, then stopped, unsure of what to say. Ron wasn't wrong; Draco had been a major part of the Death Eaters' plan to infiltrate Hogwarts, ultimately leading to Dumbledore's death. If he hadn't played his part, the plot would have fallen apart. However, Draco had not been the one wielding the wand that had ended Dumbledore's life - that dubious honour fell to Severus Snape, a fact that Ron knew full well and was doing his best to ignore. Eventually she took a deep breath and said, "He's not that person anymore, Ron. He doesn't remember being that person, doing those things."
"That's not the point, though, is it?" Ron spat. "The point is that he did them. He did those things, things which resulted in people being killed. How can you be alright with that?"
"I'm not alright with it-" Hermione tried to protest but Ron spoke over her.
"Not to mention, all of the awful things his family has done! His aunt tortured you for weeks! And his father-" Ron stopped. Lucius had saved his life; did that mean he felt differently about the man? He wasn't sure. He was sure how he felt about Malfoy junior, though.
Hermione raised her eyebrows. "So that's what we do now, is it? Judging people by their blood? I thought you were better than that, Ronald."
"Don't!" Ron shouted. "Stop it, Hermione! Stop defending him!"
"Why?" she challenged. "I'm not defending what he's done, I'm defending who he is now! Ever since he got here - no, before that - he's been trying to make me happy! Which is more than can be said for you!"
"He's using you," Ron said slowly, as if she were being dense. "He wants something from you and I think it's pretty clear what-"
Hermione's eyes flashed and she slapped him hard in the face. "How dare you insinuate that I-"
"I'm just going by what I saw," Ron retorted, one hand held to his smarting cheek.
She stared at him in disbelief for several long seconds. "I don't even know who you are anymore, Ronald Weasley. Seven years we've been friends, and not once did you truly question my advice when it mattered. How is this different?"
"I could say the same to you," Ron replied. "Besides, you were tortured for weeks! How could anyone expect you to be in your right mind after something like that?"
"Don't patronise me, Ronald!" Hermione snarled. "Sirius was in Azkaban for twelve years, and that's as good as torture! Yet as soon as he rejoined the Order everyone was very happy to take his advice! His word was trusted! Why can't you trust me?"
"Sirius wasn't kissing a Death Eater in an upstairs bedroom," Ron snapped.
"Oh, so it's perfectly alright for a Death Eater to take care of me and rescue me from certain death," Hermione said with scathing sarcasm, "but as soon as I'm making the choices it's not alright anymore. Is that how it works?"
"Theo was different. He obviously never really wanted to take the Mark; that's why he made all that effort to save you. Can't you see that?" Ron ran a hand through his hair in exasperation, before an idea struck. He hated being dishonest to Hermione but desperate times called for desperate measures. "He asked me to take care of you, you know. To make sure you stayed on track. I bet he knew how messed up you'd be after what happened."
Hermione paled at the mention of Theo's name. She'd done her best not to think of him over the past few weeks, as every time led to rumination and endless floods of tears. Then the cold knot of grief unravelled and became a hot roiling pool of rage as she realised what Ron was trying to do. Her hands shook with suppressed fury as she took a deep shuddering breath. "I never thought you could stoop so low, Ronald Weasley. How dare you use Theo's memory like that!"
A jar of marmalade standing on a shelf burst with a tinkle of shattered glass, but Hermione ignored it. "Theo would have wanted me to be happy, Ron! Can't you see that?" Another jar exploded from the top shelf of the sideboard, only a few feet from them. The room filled with the sharp smell of spilled vinegar. "Just because I'm not making the choices you want me to make, doesn't mean I'm choosing wrong!"
Her vision blurred and she realised she was crying. Wiping her eyes hard with the back of her hand, she glared up at Ron as he held up his hands in a pacifying gesture.
"Hermione, please calm down," he said weakly, eyeing the rows of large glass jars on the mantelpiece with apprehension.
"Don't tell me to calm down!" she screamed, making him jump back and raise his hands higher. More jars shattered, sending pickled olives, eggs and onions cascading to the floor in a splash of oil and vinegar. "You were supposed to be my friend! You were supposed to support me and help me and-" She choked on a sob. "Why don't you want me to be happy?"
"He won't make you happy, Hermione," Ron said stubbornly, in a tone that heavily implied he would fit the role better.
Hermione wanted to hit him again. "He does make me happy!" she cried, dropping her head into her hands and sobbing openly. She didn't know how else to say it. Ron clearly couldn't or wouldn't understand what he had seen and what she was trying to tell him. Footsteps splashed through the growing puddle of spilled pickles and Hermione looked up, suddenly finding Ron standing much too close.
"We were happy once too, remember?" Ron said softly. Then, before she could move or speak, he closed the space between them and crushed his lips to hers, wrapping his arms around her. She shoved against his chest, then kicked him hard in the shin when he didn't let go. He stumbled back, cursing and pressing his hands to the offended limb.
"What the hell, Ron?" Hermione shrieked, wiping her mouth hard with the back of her hand.
"Let me guess: not as good as Malfoy." Hurt and resentment was clear in Ron's eyes as he stepped back. "I just thought I'd never get the chance, otherwise."
"And with good reason! I pity Lavender, if that's the way you treated her!" Hermione wrapped her arms around herself, only then realising she was shaking. The last time she had been involuntarily approached like that had been Greyback; though there were obvious differences between that situation and this, her body had automatically switched to fight-or-flight mode. The tears had never stopped flowing and now redoubled their efforts as she stood before him, filled with a horrible mixture of fear and rage. "Just stop this, Ron! You had your chance and you blew it when you stopped trusting me. If you c-can't accept my choices, there's nothing more to say."
"So you'd rather have a murderer than your best friend." The words were spoken with no inflection at all.
Hermione bit the inside of her lip to stop herself from punching him. Another jar exploded on the mantel, cracking the two on either side of it. "Get out."
A frown crossed his face. "This is my house too," he protested.
"Get out!" As Hermione screamed the words, every jar in the kitchen shattered, showering them with broken glass. She felt the sharp sting as something sliced down her cheek, then another on her arm, but ignored them. She could feel her heart breaking as one of her closest friends tore himself out of her life. Ron was bleeding too, his forehead, ear and neck badly scratched from the nearest explosion. He stared at her for one fleeting second, then turned and ran out the back door. Before it could swing shut behind, however, he poked his head back round and called out harshly, "We won and Harry's still alive, by the way. Thought you might like to know." Then he was gone.
Hermione didn't know what to think. The rage, fear and grief battling within her now had a new opponent to contend with: the intense relief and joy flooding through her at those last words. The complex mix of negative and positive emotions made her head pound and her vision started to blur. She dropped to her knees, ignoring the sharp pain as she landed among the pieces of broken glass and ceramic. A 'crack' from somewhere above her barely penetrated the storm of emotions clouding her vision and screaming in her ears.
Ginny froze in the doorway, taking in the scene of destruction with wide, shocked eyes. Then she spotted Hermione kneeling in the centre of the carnage, bleeding from multiple cuts that must have been caused by the flying shards of every breakable item in the room. Hermione was crying but, to Ginny's surprise, it was anger she saw on the brunette's face, not the sorrow or grief she had expected.
A sharp 'crack' made her look up and she realised in horror that the brackets holding the heavy dresser against the wall had come loose and the whole lot was starting to fall. Right towards Hermione. That much heavy wood, glassware and china would crush Hermione like a grape.
She opened her mouth and started forwards, drawing her wand but her mind had gone blank. She didn't know what spell would prevent the heavy load of crockery from falling and killing Hermione. She wasn't going to make it in time. She couldn't save her.
Then someone was there, shielding Hermione with their body. A flash of blonde hair made Ginny's eyes widen even further, as she watched Draco curl himself protectively around the girl, his hands braced against the floor. His face was tight with fear and anger, as if he knew he was only delaying the inevitable and killing them both. There was no way his body would be enough to prevent that much weight from landing on Hermione too. There was no time...
Ginny opened her eyes, self-loathing flooding through her as she realised she had flung up an arm to shield her eyes from the sight of her beloved friend lying crushed under a pile of-
Not lying crushed under a pile of shattered crockery. Instead, Malfoy was still braced over her, holding himself up on his arms, while broken glass and pottery tinkled down around them from the outside of an invisible dome. It was as if he had somehow cast a shield charm over the two of them, just before the dresser had fallen. Shards of glass slid down the sides of the invisible shield as Malfoy slowly pushed himself up until he was kneeling beside her. Her eyes slowly grew wider as she thought about what this meant.
"Are you alright?" she heard Draco say urgently. "Hermione?"
She raised her head, but Ginny couldn't see her face. Then Hermione looked upwards and Ginny heard her gasp. "Draco!"
The blonde looked up, his eyes widening in sudden shock. "What the..."
The last few tiny shards of broken crockery dropped to the floor as the shield apparently dissipated. Ginny opened her mouth to speak, then thought better of it and silently left the room. She needed to think about what she had just seen. Most of her mind was concerned with what had happened to leave Hermione in a storm of broken glass and ceramic, looking like her world had been torn in two (although she was fairly certain her idiot brother had something to do with that); the rest of it was horrified by what she had just seen Draco do. Should she tell Harry?
They'll only lock him up again.
They'll lock him up anyway. The war is over and he has the Dark Mark.
She winced, leaning against the wall in the dining room. She could hear the small tinkling sounds of someone clearing up the mess in the kitchen, along with hushed voices. Then a shout rang out.
"He said what?"
Hermione's voice rose as well. "It's his problem, Draco. I...I shouldn't have broken everything, I overreacted-"
"Overreacted? I'd say he got off lightly!"
Ginny heard a note of protective outrage in Draco's voice and smiled, despite herself. He sounded just like Harry sometimes, though she'd never tell him that. The overheard conversation had confirmed who had been the root cause of this event, however, and Ginny planned on having a serious talk with her brother before too long. And if he came away a little bruised: well, as Draco had said, he'd be getting off lightly.
The room was filled with silence, the air thick with a tension you could have cut with a knife. The redhead sat on the side of the bed, staring at the opposite wall, while the brunette sat curled at the head of the bed, her arms wrapped around her knees.
Eventually, though, the tension became too much.
"Ron. Ron." Lucy took a deep breath. "Ron, please. You're scaring me. What's happened? I thought you won, that everything was f-fine..." She trailed off at the look on his face.
"Oh, we won. We won alright. But nothing is fine." His tone was flat and devoid of all emotion, his expression even worse. He looked like his soul had died but his body hadn't caught up yet.
"Ron, please tell me what's going on. Did someone...Is everyone alright?" She hesitated. "Is it Herm-"
His sharp rebuke caught her completely off-guard and her eyes prickled with shocked tears. "R-Ron, I just-"
"Shut up! You don't know anything about it!" He rounded on her, his face reddening in his anger. "You don't know anything about how I feel!"
He'd gone too far. "Don't I?" she snapped, pushing herself up on the bed so that she was at eye level with him. "I have no idea of the pain you're going through, do I? You have no fucking idea what I've been through!"
Ron stared at her, his anger evaporating in the wake of utter shock and amazement as Lucy went on.
"I'm pregnant, Ron! I was raped by Death Eaters and one of them left me pregnant! The only person to be truly kind to me since this nightmare started is dead. He's dead and I didn't get to thank him for saving my life. I was afraid for my life every second of every day since this started and I still wake up thinking I'm about to be killed, or...or..." She broke down in shuddering sobs and her next words were choked by a flood of tears.
Ron didn't know what to do. He opened his mouth to say something - anything - but Lucy wasn't finished.
"And you!" she shrieked, stabbing a finger in his direction, "you come to me, over and over again, to tell me how hurt you are that Hermione doesn't want you anymore! When it's your own bloody fault she's not interested in you! If you were half as kind and understanding of her as Draco has been-"
"Please," he said, desperately. "I-I can't-"
"Oh, stop." She glared at him scornfully. "He's not the same boy he was at school. You know that, you've just been ignoring it because it suits you."
"Why are you so upset by this?" Ron demanded, some residual anger still remaining.
She blinked at him. "Ron, if you spent half as much time taking notice of other people as you do thinking about yourself, you'd know the answer to that. Why do you think I've put up with your nonsense for so long?"
He took a deep breath, frowning. "I don't..." he trailed off and her smile widened as she watched his confusion turn into understanding. "So... Do you...like me?" he asked finally, his voice hesitant as he hoped she wouldn't laugh at his awkward question.
She didn't laugh at him. Instead, she gave him a small smile, raised her eyebrows and nodded as if it were obvious. "Now that this ridiculousness is out of the way, at least for now, will you please tell me what happened? You can't just Apparate in here looking like a storm cloud, yell at me and then not tell me why."
When she put it like that, he found it hard to argue.
Yes, Ron is still an idiot. On the plus side, Hermione finally got to speak her mind and Ron got the kicking-out he royally deserved! What do you guys think of that situation?
As I said, I will be heading home from uni today so after a couple of days settling in, I should have plenty of free time to catch up on my writing. Therefore, more chapters for you! :D Thank you so much for being patient with me up to now; I hope I can do you lovely people justice in return.
Thanks for reading, please leave me your thoughts in a review!