Chapter 14: Acceptance
“Would you like to attend the Halloween Ball with me?”
Hermione stopped walking and turned to stare at him. Draco turned slightly pink like he was embarrassed or uncomfortable.
“Are you serious? You want me to go to the Halloween Ball with you? Like a date, with the whole school?” Her incredulous tone made Draco freeze. It sounded to him like she was mocking him; Laughing at him for trying to expand their relationship.
“I’m very serious, but if the idea is that ridiculous to you-”
“Of course I’ll go with you!” She smiled, “Draco, that’s so sweet of you to ask me! I never thought that you’d want to make our relationship public knowledge though, are you sure you want to take me to the Ball anyway? I’ll understand if you don’t want to.”
At this, he could not resist kissing the tip of her nose.
”I wouldn’t want to take anyone else.” They resumed walking to the Trophy Room, and when they got there, instead of Mr. Filch and Mrs. Norris, they discovered Peeves.
He was going from each of the empty-headed suits of armor and clanging the visors shut, loudly. It caused each suit, in turn, to grapple with the air in front of them, trying to catch Peeves and stop the ringing noise that now echoed through the hall.
“Impedimenta!” Draco had his wand out in an instant, and his spell caught Peeves mid-clang. Hermione was impressed by his quick reflexes, and pulled out her own wand, silencing the rings and clanks of the suits of armor. They stilled and seemed to stand in a relieved posture if indeed armor could feel relief.
Harry walked in, whispering furiously to Ginny, and saw the two others straightening things up while Peeves was held suspended in the air by Draco’s jinx.
“What’s going on here?” Filch came in through the opposite side of the room. He glared at Peeves, but settled his malice on Hermione who was trying to make one suit stand up straight in between two others it was determined to lean on.
“We came in and found Peeves knocking about the suits of armor.” Draco tried to explain, but was cut off by Professor McGonagall sweeping in and staring at the mess around her. Pieces of armor had been flung at Peeves in the mayhem, trying to stop him from clanging shut any more visors on their poor wearer’s heads. The pieces had hit several of the display cases, smashing the glass, and breaking other trophies and awards along the way.
Hermione was struggling under the weight of the suit she was trying to convince, but the armor was too much and all three toppled down on her. Draco and Harry rushed to pull her free, as Ron entered the room himself. He had a slightly dazed look on his face, which vanished as he took in the scene before him.
Professor McGonagall looked disapprovingly at Filch as he wandered around the Trophy Room, and poked at the still suspended Peeves. Harry dug the armor away from Hermione, and Draco helped pull her to her feet. She was unsteady, and he pulled her into an embrace of the warmest affection that nobody could miss the emotion between them. Harry was disgusted and began to stalk off when Hermione reached out a hand to him and hugged him in thanks for helping to free her from her metal confinement. He gave her a loose return and moved to stand beside Ginny and Ron, far away from the Slytherin he was trying very hard to despise.
Professor McGonagall cleared her throat, recalling the attention, and then instructed them to clean up the mess.
“After you have restored the glass, and repaired the awards, I believe I will leave the removal of the suits of armor to Mr. Filch. Peeves, I will take with me to the Headmaster’s Office, as I’m sure Professor Dumbledore will want to hear about this mishap. There will be no need for any of you to return for the rest of your detentions. It would appear that you have worked out your differences for the time being, and that, I daresay, is punishment enough for some of you.” She looked pointedly at Harry who was still glaring thoughtfully at Draco, who was holding Hermione’s hand.
“Mobilicorpus.” As she swept from the room, she conveyed the impeded Peeves along with her, and Mr. Filch appeared as if he had swallowed Neville’s toad, Trevor.
The four began to “reparo” with fervor, and it was not long before things had been set to rights, and they were free to resume their own lives. Ron was having a very difficult time understanding what McGonagall had said about ‘punishment enough’ and Harry was remaining stoic and silent. Ginny, however, was trying to break the ice, and chattered on about “what good luck it was that they no longer have to serve detention.”
Hermione was enduring mixed emotions. She was grateful that Draco and Harry had come to her aid, but she was very afraid that Harry had not yet forgiven Draco and would not be very pleased when she told him that she and Draco were an item. She was bruised from head to foot, and felt tender and sore, aside from her own emotional struggle. Draco seemed to sense that she was in pain because he began to supplicate her in a quiet tone to allow him to walk her up to the Hospital Wing.
“Madame Pomfrey can patch you up in an instant, and then you won’t be in so much pain. Come on, Hermione, it’s no farther a walk than it is to your bedroom, and I would feel better knowing that you were well tonight.”
Hermione had a thought. She needed the opportunity to talk to Harry and perhaps reason with him on the subject of Draco. She was in no shape to be chasing him all over the castle though, and she did have to agree with Draco on that point. She would much rather be given a pain-killing draught, and be done with it. Yet she wouldn’t allow Draco to accompany her, if it meant that she would have a reason to talk to Harry, especially in such a situation as this, where his own honor would not allow him to walk away from her.
“Draco, I think I’d like to have Harry take me.” She whispered to him, and the look he gave her was full of surprise and a little hurt.
“Why him? I’m more than happy to take you there myself, and I’m not sure that he would even want to go with us.”
“No, Draco, you don’t understand. I need to talk to Harry. I need to make him understand our relationship. I won’t let one of my best friends continue to hate the person I am with romantically. It puts everyone in such an awkward frame of mind, and we can scarcely speak about anything anymore. He was fine with me seeing someone, he was at least fine with me seeing Viktor Krum, but he has real reservations about you. I need to make him see that you are not the bad guy that he is thinking you are. That you’ve grown up enough and matured enough to know that all that animosity in the past was foolish and childish.”
Her words seemed to sear into him. She was losing a friendship because of him, and she was trying to repair it while there was something to repair. The fact that she thought so highly of him struck him. He hadn’t thought of it that way, but he knew that this summer had changed him greatly. He felt more like the man that she thought he was, but not enough to warrant such a high opinion. He felt inwardly pleased, however, that her regard was of such a nature. He kissed her cheek gently, and gave her hand a delicate squeeze, before letting it go, and walking a few paces quicker to catch up with Harry.
“Potter, do us both a favor, and please take Hermione up to the Hospital Wing, will you? She’s got to be in a great deal of pain, after having three suits of armor jump on her like that. I’m a touch surprised that you didn’t think of it yourself!”
Hermione was astonished to see Harry turn with a look of surprise at Draco. He didn’t appear too angry that Draco had addressed him in such a manner, nor did he look like he was going to hex her boyfriend into tomorrow. Harry stopped walking, which put a halt to all of their progress and looked Hermione over. She was standing next to Ginny, and Ron was just as shocked as she was when Harry responded to Draco in a low voice.
“Yeah, Malfoy, I should have thought of that. Hermione, come on, let’s get you up to Madame Pomfrey.”
Ron opened his mouth to offer to accompany them, but caught Ginny’s eye, and closed it again. He patted Hermione lightly on the shoulder as she walked past him, in his own awkward way of offering her support. She gave him a grateful smile, understanding that his own pain could not allow him to wish her luck properly. Draco stopped them as Harry led the way to the hospital wing.
“Hermione, there’s still one more thing I wanted to discuss with you. Will you meet me before breakfast tomorrow?”
Harry narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Draco.
“Anything you have to say to her, Malfoy, you can say to her in front of the rest of us.” Draco shrugged.
“You can play bodyguard if you want, Potter, it makes no difference to me. Just know that what I have to say has nothing to do with you, and I want to know what Hermione’s feelings are on it, not yours.”
Harry simply grabbed Hermione by the hand and pulled her away. As she was being dragged off, she glanced over her shoulder and sent a hopeful smile winging toward her friends still standing silently in the corridor.
Harry slowed down when they were out of earshot from them.
“I can’t believe it, Hermione! I used to think you were the smartest witch of your day! But now you’re getting tangled up with him?”
“Harry, please. You have to understand. I’m not ‘getting tangled up’; I’m going out with Draco.”
Harry flinched slightly when she said his name. She blustered on, not caring if her intimacy with her boyfriend’s first name made him uncomfortable. Goodness knows he’d made her feel rather uncomfortable quite a bit over the past few days. It was only fair that he knew how that felt.
“You are determined to hate him. But this is stupid! It’s absolutely ridiculous for you to continue despising him, especially since you know what it would mean to me for you to put that behind you.”
“And I suppose that Draco has told you that he’s moved on?” He sneered.
“He doesn’t have to. Look at how he’s been acting ever since we all came back to school. He hasn’t picked a fight with you, and he’s not making fun of anyone anymore. He’s had countless times to make a fool of me, and goodness knows I’ve made a fool of myself enough over the past week to give him fodder enough. Yet he hasn’t mocked me, he hasn’t teased me, he hasn’t scalded me with his painful remarks. He has grown up and matured!”
Harry looked thoughtful for a moment, then whipped around to face her.
“Do you think I’ve been an ass about this?”
Hermione laughed quietly, but quite humorlessly.
“Do you want an honest answer to that?”
Harry smiled a little, then took Hermione’s hand again and started walking once more.
“’Mione, I just don’t want to see you hurt, and I don’t trust Malfoy.”
“I know you don’t,” Hermione sighed, glad that he was at least open to talking, “But I do, and I really like him, Harry.”
“But does he like you?” He asked, almost as if he feared the answer.
“Yes,” she smiled faintly, “Yes, he does. As hard as it was for me to comprehend, Draco actually likes me. He cares about me, Harry!” She laughed then, the thought hitting her and filling her with giddy pleasure. Her own private burst of happiness seemed to temporarily erase the pain from her concentration. She pulled her hand free as she twirled in front of Harry, walking backward to face him. Harry looked oddly at her behavior.
“I don’t know what it is about him either! He’s such an enigma. I just look at him, and I see this mysterious person. I mean there are times when I can look at him, and know precisely what he is feeling, but then there are other times when it’s almost as if he’s hiding half of himself in shadows and can’t see out into the light. But he’s not bad like you think. He’s just lost, and I think he’s worried about life. I’m sure it can’t be easy for his family, having his father in Azkaban, and his mother in fear. You can tell that he’s just trying to figure out where to go from here.”
“And when do you suppose he’ll figure it out? When Voldemort is at the castle door?”
Hermione looked reproachfully at him.
“Harry James Potter! Draco Malfoy is not a Death Eater! He’s just a lost and confused young man who doesn’t know where to begin. I would think that you of all people would understand that feeling! He’s just lost his father, and he might be losing his mother as well for all we know. You know what that feels like; the least you could do is have the decency to allow him his faults and mistakes. You’re certainly no saint.”
Harry flushed a little, but held his tongue because she had reminded him that he knew exactly what it felt like to have a parent taken from you. He felt that pang of remorse that always accompanied the thought of Sirius’ death.
“Now, don’t start feeling guilty again, Harry. You didn’t make him go, and you didn’t kill him. You couldn’t have known he would die. I’m sorry I brought it up again, but I wanted you to see that it was sort of the same. You felt so lost after Sirius died, well, imagine how Draco is feeling, having known his father his entire life, and knowing that he might never see him again.”
“It’s not the same thing, ‘Mione.” Harry conjectured.
“No, it’s not. In some ways, it’s worse. He has that small semblance of hope still. You know that Sirius is gone and that he’s not going to come back, but Draco… Draco still holds out hope for his father to come back, and that makes the separation that much worse!”
Now Harry did feel guilty. Not for Sirius for a change, but that he had been so hard on Draco at the end of the term last year. He knew what that felt like. To have someone torn from you so completely, and then to have a person pour salt on the wound. He couldn’t believe that Draco had changed his entire personality so, but a summer could do a lot to soften one’s disposition. Such events like they had both suffered could also do a lot to a person’s demeanor, and it would seem that Hermione had struck him with enough empathy to stop him from thinking ill of Draco.
Hermione looked at him pensively, trying to discern his reaction to her words. He seemed to be lost in thought, so she let him think, and turned around to walk properly. It was not long before they reached the Hospital Wing, and Hermione quickly explained what was wrong to Madame Pomfrey. She received a draught for the pain and could feel, even as she sipped it, how the bruises that had covered her arms and legs were shrinking and disappearing.
Harry did not say anything again until they had reached the Fat Lady’s Portrait and were about to return to the Gryffindor Common Room. Then, when he did, he grasped her by the shoulders to keep her facing him. In a very serious voice, he told her,
“Hermione, I love you like I would love a sister. I don’t want you to get hurt, but I don’t want to stand in the way of your happiness. If Malfoy makes you happy, and he’d better, then I will not put up a fuss. But, if he ever makes you cry, or if he hurts you in any way, then you’d better believe that I will hurt him!”
Hermione smiled at him and threw herself into hugging him. He was a little taken aback by her generous reaction, but he hugged her back, squeezing tightly. When he released her, she grinned up at him.
“So how many bruises did you incur from Ginny in the process?”
He laughed but it was strained. They gave the Fat Lady the password and climbed into the Common Room. There weren’t many students there, and Ginny and Ron were sitting by the fire, doing homework. As they joined their friends, Ginny looked up from the couch and shifted over so Harry could sit.
“Everything okay?” Ron asked Hermione cautiously as she sat in the armchair next to his. It was obvious that he was asking about her and Harry, but he was smart enough not to say it outright.
“Perfectly fine.” Hermione gave him a keen look, and he smiled slightly, understanding her meaning. They all settled into a comfortable silence, as Hermione picked up a book and began to read, and Harry put his arm along the back of the couch and stared into the fire contemplatively.