Chapter 16: Fools in Love
November was cold and quick, and before anyone else could tell what had happened, it was December. Hermione was to be found in very high spirits. She and Draco had come to understand and appreciate one another so well. She loved him dearly, although she had not yet informed him of this. It was obvious to anyone who might see them together though, so much so that even Lavender and Parvati could not tease her too long on the subject. Indeed they were teasing very few people these days, and Hermione hoped that it was due to her “lesson” the night of the Halloween Ball.
Ginny, however, could not claim the same degree of good cheer. In spite of the progress that had appeared to be made that night, the whole of November had passed by sadly remiss of Harry’s attention. Though Ginny could not bring herself to confront him with her feelings, she made no secret of her frustration with Hermione, and on one occasion, Draco as well. Though, by all accounts, this last was purely by accident.
She and Hermione had been sitting in the library, looking over several copies of the text, trying to make sense of Ginny’s Astronomy homework. Since she was eager to do well on her OWLs she had employed Hermione’s expertise on the subject to help her study, and Hermione had only been too happy to oblige her friend. Tossing down her quill, Ginny growled quietly, causing Hermione to look up from the essay she had been reviewing.
“Is there something on your mind, Ginny?” Hermione asked, trying not to smile, having already guessed what could possibly be troubling her young friend.
“You know very well there is! Hermione, what am I going to do?” Ginny’s exasperation was evident, and she began the same conversation that she and Hermione had had several times over the past several weeks.
“I have no clue how much more I need in order to get it through Harry’s thick skull that I love him!”
“Have you told him that yet?” came a drawling reply from behind the shelves right behind them, and Draco strolled out from the shadows, his bookbag slung over one shoulder nonchalantly. He leaned in and gave Hermione a quick peck on the cheek in greeting, then settled himself down at their table. Ginny was so embarrassed that she couldn’t find words to tell Draco it was none of his business.
“Gin, there’s no need to be shy around Draco. It’s not as if he doesn’t already know.”
At this Ginny’s outrage was obvious, and she practically screamed,
“You told him?”
“Miss Weasley!” Madame Pince was on them in a second, and with all the bearing of a highly agitated librarian, asked them to remove themselves promptly if they were going to continue in such a loud manner. They quickly and quietly apologized and promised to keep their voices down to a reasonable level for walking among the headstones in a graveyard.
“Hermione didn’t have to tell me anything, Ginny; a blind man could see it,” Draco whispered laughingly.
“Which makes Harry blind as well as thick,” Ginny muttered, and it made Hermione chuckle quietly.
“Well, if you want a man’s opinion on it,” Draco drawled, settling back in his chair and draping an arm behind Hermione.
“I don’t think it could hurt,” Ginny interjected. Draco smirked.
“If someone loved me, I’d want them to just come right out and tell me. Subtleties are lost on us guys.” With this, he shot Hermione a glance, and then quickly looked back at Ginny, who was staring at him like he’d grown a second head.
“Are you suggesting I just tell Harry how I feel?”
“Yep, as you said, there’s not much else you can do to make him notice it.” Ginny looked down at her parchment, apparently lost in thought. Draco’s attention was caught by movement of Hermione’s head and followed her eyes to see what she was looking at. There, in the shadows, was Harry himself. It appeared he had been on the other side of the shelf when he had heard his name.
Trust Potter to listen in on someone else’s conversations. Although maybe this will be good for him, to see what’s in front of his bloody nose!
Hermione looked like she was about to stop her friend from saying anything more on the subject since their subject was standing right behind her, but Draco covertly tapped her shoulder under the cover of her hair. She turned to look at him, and he gave his head a tiny shake to let her know not to say anything. Hermione frowned and opened her mouth to speak, so Draco did the first thing he could think of to keep her from blowing his plan. He kissed her.
At first, she resisted, but he coaxed her into it, and it only took a couple of seconds before Ginny was clearing her throat at them to get their attention. Hermione pulled away and blushed, staring down at her hands in her lap. Draco glanced at the shadows and saw Harry still there, but looking the other direction.
So Potter still can’t stand to see me with Hermione… Draco thought to himself, slightly amused by the situation. He couldn’t watch Draco kissing Hermione, and he couldn’t tell that Ginny was mad about him. It would seem there was a lot that Harry didn’t know about.
“What should I say to him?” Ginny’s soft question brought him away from his musings and back to the present conversation. Hermione looked worriedly at Draco, and he wrapped her hand in one of his before answering.
“Tell him exactly what you want him to know.” Another quick glance, to prove to himself that Harry was still there, and still listening intently. “Pretend I’m him, what would you say to me?”
Ginny took a deep breath and squared her shoulders. She looked Draco directly in the eye and said,
“Harry Potter, I love you. You may have been too thick to notice it, but I do, and even though I’ve tried to forget it, I can’t. You are the only one for me.”
There was a thump, like the sound of several books falling to the floor, and Hermione bit her lip, looking over Ginny’s shoulder. Harry was scrambling to gather up his papers when Ginny turned to see what had happened. She turned red, redder than her trademark Weasley hair, and looked with wide, frightened eyes at Draco. Draco merely smiled but grabbed her arm when she would have dashed off.
“Was he there the entire time?” Ginny asked, tears of embarrassment standing out in her eyes. Hermione jumped to her feet and moved around the other side of the table. Harry was back on his feet now and staring at Ginny with wonder. Ginny, however, refused to meet his gaze but glared at Draco instead. Hermione gave Draco a look, then turned her friend’s attention away, saying,
“At least he knows now, right?” Hermione looked at Harry, who was still staring and hadn’t said a word. When he realized that she was watching him, he swallowed then cleared his throat.
“Gin, is it true?” His voice was low and hoarse like he was trying to push back emotions. Now Ginny met his gaze, determination shining in her face. She’d come too far to turn back, and it’s not like she could deny it now that she’d said it all to Draco.
“Yes,” Her whisper was so soft it was almost a strain to hear her, and when Harry solemnly extended a hand to her, she gave him her own trembling one. Forgetting about their books, or their homework, they walked from the library without a word. Hermione watched pensively as they left, hoping that it would spark conversation when they were able to speak freely. Hermione turned to glare at her boyfriend.
“That was a very dirty trick, Draco.” She came back to her chair but didn’t sit, keeping it between them. Draco merely gave her that maddening smirk that Hermione equally loved and hated.
“You could have done irreparable damage just now.” Hermione was upset, although she couldn’t be too upset, since she wasn’t shaking, and her eyes danced with suppressed happiness for her friends. Draco thought she looked very pretty trying to be angry with his interference, and couldn’t help but pull her down into her chair. He couldn’t get enough of her nearness.
“I could have, but I doubt it. She’s too in love with him, and he’s just as crazy about her. It would have worked itself out. Besides, you said it yourself; she’s not shy about anything but him. Now that that barrier has been knocked down, nothing should hold them back.” Draco kissed the back of Hermione’s hand, holding it to his heart when he was done. He looked into her intelligent brown eyes and could have lost himself in their chocolately depths if she had not diverted her gaze, some undefinable emotion cloaking them with uncertainty.
“Draco, did you mean what you said to Ginny earlier?”
“What do you mean?” He was worried and tried to think back to what he had told Ginny. Something about wanting a man’s opinion, and then-
“Would you really want to know if someone loved you?”
His heart beat fast, and he suddenly felt very warm. What was she getting at? Was she going to tell him that she loved him? It was what he had wanted to hear all along, to be sure, but now that the moment was upon him, he was nervous to hear the words from her own lips. But she was not meeting his gaze, and now he had another worry. What if she didn’t love him at all? What if what she had to tell him was to the opposite effect, and she wanted to break up? He felt his blood run cold at the thought. He didn’t want to lose Hermione. She meant too much to him. No, he wouldn’t allow her to break up with him!
While Draco was suffering from his own thoughts, Hermione was reeling from her own. Was she seriously considering telling him that she loved him? But Ginny had the courage to face Harry after she had spilled her guts to Draco, so Hermione should be able to say this to her own boyfriend, right?
With this in mind, she finally had the courage to meet his gaze. She was startled by the fierce look in his eyes. What had he been thinking while she made up her mind that would give him such a ferocious quality? Stunned by it, she cleared her throat, trying to recall precisely what she wanted to say.
“Hermione, I won’t let you do this.” He burst out hotly. She stared at him in confusion. “I know what you’re going to say, and I don’t want to hear it.” Now her confusion turned to hurt that was followed closely by outrage.
How dare he? She was willing to bare her heart to him, and he didn’t want to hear it? The indignation rose quickly in her chest, and she got to her feet quickly. She whipped her wand out, using it to swirl all her books and papers into her bag, then threw the bag over her shoulder and turned to glare at Draco.
“Draco Malfoy, if you don’t want to hear what is in my heart, then so be it. But perhaps you shouldn’t be so quick to judge the thoughts of those who love you!” Then, before he could do more than stutter a small sound of surprise, she ran from the library.
The tears that were trying to form in her eyes were tamped down by her anger, and it wasn’t until she burst out into the cold December sunshine that she allowed them to sting her cheeks. It was only then that she realized how quickly she had moved, and that she had not thought to grab her coat from the back of her chair in the library. That meant she would have to go back and retrieve it at some point, but she wasn’t going to attempt until she was quite certain that that boy was gone from there.
She threw her bag down by the tree next to the lake and began to pace along the frozen edge furiously. What right did he have to tell her didn’t want to hear what she had to say? It wasn’t like she was going to force her feelings on him, but hadn’t it been he who had said he’d want to know if someone loved him? Wasn’t he the one to say that he’d want to hear it for himself? Hermione was muttering under breath, tiny little incantations for producing warmth, but she didn’t realize how much her anger had spread her magic, because it was a few moments before she realized she had been striding about in a veritable pond of melted snow.
She stopped and looked down at where her feet were standing in the slush and puddles.
What am I doing? She thought Storming around and melting things, just because I’m angry. This isn’t like me at all. I’ve got to get a grip on myself.
She took a deep breath of composure. I will have to face him at some point, but I don’t know what I will say to him. We had been going along so well, and then this happened. Was this how love was? Maddening and confusing as hell? Would it ever get easier? It’s not like I can just pick up a book and learn all about it. The only books that talk about love are either torrid novels or about potions. I need to know the psychology behind love. The ‘why’ of the human heart!
“’Mione?” A small voice ventured, startling her from her reverie and her heart was beating faster than it ought when she put a hand to it to steady herself. Draco was standing there, looking a little confused by her standing in a puddle, and holding something in his hand. She realized with another start that it was her coat. He had brought her coat out to her? Even though she wanted nothing to do with him at that moment, she couldn’t deny the gallantry of his gesture.
“I figured you might get cold out here.” He said, carefully stepping into the pond that her anger had created. She narrowed her gaze at him.
“How did you know I was out here at all?”
“Man’s intuition?” He offered a small smile, trying to coax one from her. She didn’t even flutter a lash in his direction. Just because he was being a gentleman now didn’t mean she was done being angry with him. He seemed to realize it and looked down at the coat he still held out to her. “I saw you coming in this direction, and when I passed Ginny and Potter in the Entrance Hall, they said you had gone running outside.” He gave her a rueful look,
“I would have been out here earlier, but I had to convince your watchdogs that I wasn’t trying to hurt you in any way. That Weasley girl has got some right hook.” He rubbed his arm tenderly. Hermione didn’t soften one bit, and Draco was starting to wonder if she had been out here too long, and frozen as cold as the ground.
“Hermione, I owe you an apology.” His throat caught when he realized there was a tear in her eye. Had he made her cry? Was this small sign of emotion because of his carelessly spoken words before? It must be, and Draco felt terrible at the fact. He never wanted to see her cry, but it tore at him to know that he had caused it this time. He took a deep breath and a sharply exhaled when he came to the conclusion he had earlier. She had run from the library, and it had only taken him a second to realize that she had implied that she loved him. The thought struck him, and it only took a few more seconds to gather himself, and her coat, and take off after her.
“I was an idiot. I had thought something and it scared me to think you might be as well. I didn’t want you to say anything because I thought…well, I thought you were going to break up with me!” His words poured forth, and his last outburst seemed to shake her out of her ice princess pose.
“Why would I break up with you, Draco? I love you, why would I want to separate us?” Her tone was confused, and it took his breath away to hear her say the words.
“I don’t know why you would want to break up with. I was scared and stupid, I should have thought rationally. But I was terrified for some reason that you were done being my girlfriend. I didn’t want to lose you, Hermione…” He had to swallow past the lump in his throat. “You mean too much to me.”
“You were being stupid, Draco…” she replied quietly, giving him a small half-smile, “But I suppose I shouldn’t have run off and gotten so angry. I could have saved myself a lot of anger and wet feet,” they both looked down at her wet shoes, and how the cold outdoors had caused some of the ice to start reforming, “If I had just stopped long enough to think and talk to you. I could have explained away your fears, and not gotten so upset.” Draco shook his head.
“No, Hermione, this is my fault. If I had stopped to listen to my heart instead of my insecurities I would have been able to keep a cool head long enough to hear you out. I am so sorry.” He wasn’t sure he’d ever apologized to anyone so completely, but this was important to him. She was important to him, and he needed to know that they were back on even footing before he could go any further.
“I think we’re both a bit to blame. Your fears and my temper were both too close to the surface for either one of us to be rational.” She drew a deep sigh and gave a little shiver, and Draco realized that he was still holding her jacket. He stepped around behind her and helped her to slide into it. Then he turned her to face him and looked down into her face.
“Are we okay?” Her answer was a gentle kiss on his lower lip and a smile. He returned her smile, then asked her with a teasing lilt,
“Well then, care to tell me what you were going to say earlier?” She blushed slightly, though it might have been from the cold wind that had picked up and was sweeping little snow flurries along the Grounds. The sounds from the school were closed away behind the thick front doors, and any sounds of nature were washed down by the soft whoosh of the wind. The snow was crystalline, and shone in the midday sun, so bright it seemed to sparkle all around them. Hermione was reminded of a winter wonderland, and the most wonderful part of it all was that she was here with the man that she loved.
“Draco, I was going to tell you that…” She had to clear her throat before she could continue, “I was going to tell you that I love you.”
“Say it again.” His voice was low, almost a whisper, and there seemed to be some catch in his breathing. She smiled up at him.
“I love you, Draco.” He pulled her closer to him, and she felt the shudder go through his frame.
“I love you too, Hermione. You have no idea how much I love you.” Then he pressed an ardent kiss to her lips and felt her wrap her arms around his neck. He placed a hand at her waist, and dragged her even closer, wanting to keep her near, always.