Knocking startled me, and I internally cursed myself for dozing off. I was only supposed to stay until I was sure Draco was asleep. I wanted to kick myself. It felt so good to fall asleep in his arms. Maybe, in another lifetime, it could have been possible to share a life with him A louder knock shook me out of my musings. I made a move to get up and call Dobby. Draco's arm tightened around me.
"Not yet…" He was sleep talking. I didn't want to wake him, but I wasn't left with much of a choice. Even asleep, his grip was tight as ever.
"Draco…Draco, wake up. There's someone at the door. I have to go!" It was a harsh whisper, but loud enough that his eyes snapped open. They immediately locked to mine.
"No." His gaze was warm, but there was a calculating look in them, like he was going over a million different scenarios in his mind. "They'll hear Dobby Apparating you. You need to hide." The knocks grew louder, this time accompanied by a voice.
"Oi! Malfoy, don't make me come and get you. If we're late the Dark Lord will have both our heads!" It was Blaise Zabini's voice. The knocking got louder. At the mention of him coming in, my heart went into panic mode. We immediately stood from the bed, Draco wincing as he stretched his wounds. I grabbed the cloak he'd given me as a gift, preparing to call Dobby as soon as I could.
"Be careful." I couldn't help expressing worry as he handed me his Invisibility Cloak.
"Don't worry about me. I've had worse. Just stand over there and hide." I took the cloak from him. "Hold the hell on, Zabini! I'm getting dressed!" As soon as he spoke the knocking stopped, and he moved to open the door. I stood frozen against the wall, watching as he led Zabini into the bedroom. While Draco finished dressing, the dark Slytherin sat on the bed, waiting for him.
I hated the idea of Zabini sitting where only moments ago I had been holding Hermione. To keep myself from turning around and shoving him off my bed, I shuffled through my clothes, finding a crisp white shirt.
"So why exactly are we meeting again so soon?"
"The Dark Lord is having dinner at the Manor. Seeing as it's the Malfoy Manor, you're expected to be there."
"The Dark Lord wants all the youngest Death Eaters there. Who knows why? It's probably another plan to weed out the traitor. I swear, if I ever find out who it is before he does, the Dark Lord won't have to worry about punishment…" It was hard not to flinch at the clear threat in his voice. He essentially just promised to kill me himself.
I was ready after a few minutes, and I told him to go ahead while I grabbed my cloak and mask. He left without another word, eager to save his own skin from the consequences of being late. I made sure he was gone before I spoke again.
"Hermione?" I walked towards the wall I told her to stand by. She removed the cloak. Worry was written all over her features. "That was a close call. Had it been anyone else, they wouldn't have hesitated to knock the door down. Zabini respects me a bit more." She nodded, seemingly unable to speak. I reached out to touch her cheek, making her close her eyes and lean into my palm.
"Please be careful, Draco…" She placed her hand over mine, holding it like she didn't want to let go.
"I will…After you leave, we go back to being only partners. We can't do this anymore. We can't even touch each other. Ok?" I had to keep myself from cringing at that prospect. Even though I was the one saying it, I'd give anything for that not to be the case. She kept her eyes closed.
"I know." Her voice was breathy, barely a whisper. I took a step closer to her, taking my free arm and putting it around her waist. I closed the distance between us, sealing her words with a final kiss, reminiscent of our first. My survival of this war was shakier than hers. I didn't want to entertain the possibility of her death, so I pushed the idea from my mind. If anyone was going to die, it would be me, and I would protect her until that day came.
Her lower lip quivered beneath mine, and I immediately knew she was crying. She pulled me closer, fingers running through my hair, hand pulling me by the neck. This was a good-bye. We would go back to keeping a distance between us. We couldn't even risk a simple touch, as we knew it would lead to so much more. This kiss was proof of it. I wanted her now more than ever, refused to let her go, but I forced myself, regardless. As I pulled away, I tried to ignore the whimper that escaped her lips, the way her eyes pleaded with mine. She was still holding me when she called Dobby's name, her eyes never leaving mine, even when he appeared.
"Take her back to headquarters, Dobby."
"Yes, sir." She didn't argue as she had in the broom cupboard. Before Dobby took her, I placed a feather light kiss on her lips.
"This isn't over. I promise." She disappeared a moment later, leaving the room emptier than it ever felt before, as the Invisibility Cloak fluttered to the floor.
I've cried over men before. More specifically, I've cried over a man before. As much as I cared for Ron, though, nothing could compare with the way my heart felt as I left. It was bittersweet, carrying the promise that perhaps we could be something. Thankfully, the room was empty this time. I suppose they thought I needed to sleep. It didn't matter. Whether there had been people in it or not, I don't think I would have been able to contain myself. Collapsing onto the bed, I curled up on my side, clutching his cloak, burying my face in it.
Silently, I cried into the material. I had to pull myself together. Who knew when I would have to see him again? And when I did, I couldn't let my pain show, just like I knew he wouldn't let any of his own feelings through. What were my feelings for him anyway? It was more than just liking him, that was certain. Of course there was lust involved, but was that it? This pain I felt in my chest couldn't be the product of simply caring and lusting after someone. Only one word came to mind, but I didn't want to acknowledge it.
If I lost him, the pain would be that much worse. For the time being, I was content to know what my feelings were, even if I wouldn't say it out loud. A knock shook me from my musings.
"Hermione? Molly made dinner." Tonks' voice seemed cheery, which could only mean the mission had been overall successful. I had been worried that my weakness may have cost someone their life. Sitting up, I wiped my tears away before responding.
"I'll be down in a bit." I stood up and folded his cloak, laying it on my pillow. I might not be able to have him hold me, but at least I had this much. After cleaning up and making sure I didn't look obviously terrible, I made my way downstairs. I walked into the kitchen and was welcomed by more people that usual. There were many faces I couldn't place, and I realized they had been prisoners in the dungeons. They were all older, and I assumed they were the ministry officials Draco had mentioned.
"Have a seat, dearie, you look famished." I smiled feebly at Mrs. Weasley, guilty at not having frequented the kitchen as much as I used to. As soon as I sat down, Harry called us all to attention.
"All right, now that we have the Ministry members present, we need to figure out a way to strike back at Voldemort." I couldn't help but argue.
"Harry we can't simply 'strike back' and hope it hits him where it hurts. We need a well developed plan to eliminate his contacts in the Ministry. Whatever we do next can't just be a simple counterattack."
"And what do you suggest, Hermione? Waiting until we have something foolproof? Voldemort doesn't wait!" He raised his voice, only serving to anger me further. Everyone watched our exchange, and even Ron tried to calm Harry down.
"Don't you think I know that? I've been fighting this with you since day one. I know full well that Voldemort won't wait, but I also know that his paranoia is getting worse. He isn't as calculating as he once was. His judgment will slip."
"How are you so sure? We haven't heard anything since we went to retrieve the hostages…" His eyes narrowed, and the look he gave me was one of pure anger.
"I just got back from talking to our informant, Harry. He was tortured! Voldemort doesn't have a clue he's the traitor, and he's torturing all the new recruits, trying to pry information from them. He's weakening his own forces." Even Ginny, whose expression mirrored the anger in Harry's, gave me a comforting look at the news of Draco being tortured. Harry didn't even flinch. He refused to speak. Ron spoke instead.
"So what do you suggest, Hermione? Harry's right in that Voldemort won't wait. His paranoia will only make that worse. He'll attack without caring about hurting his own. His next moved might be even worse."
"And we need to prepare. Don't go looking for him, because we know he'll come to us. Besides, whatever his plans are, we'll know ahead of time. Our informant will make sure of that." Suddenly, something darkened in Harry's eyes. I didn't like where this conversation was going.
"And you trust him? Zabini's ambush seemed a little too perfect." I wasn't sure what bothered me more, the fact that he was insulting Draco, or that he didn't trust my judgment.
"With my life. He's putting his life on the line more than any of us! He's sacrificing himself, constantly in enemy territory, going against what he was raised to believe, and you don't trust him?" Everyone looked at me like I overreacted. The Ministry members off to the side were mumbling amongst themselves. They didn't know who our informant was, but I could see the suspicion in their eyes. The only one to come to my defense was Tonks.
"Give it a rest, Harry. We're all on edge, but the important thing is that the mission was a success. No one was permanently injured, and everyone came back alive. We saved all the hostages, so what does it matter that we were ambushed? Maybe he was there as a precaution." She smiled at me reassuringly, placing a comforting hand on my arm.
I hadn't realize the level of silence that fell on us the moment I had my outburst. The only person still moving now was Mrs. Weasley. She set a plate down in front of me and I didn't hesitate to take it, grab a fork and knife, and leave the room.
"I'll be in the parlor if anyone needs me." The house was practically full to the brim, but it was also larger than it led on. We had enough space for all the hostages to stay, not comfortably, but it would be the safest thing for them, while we contacted families. I found my favorite spot by the fireplace that reminded me of the Gryffindor common room, and settled there.
Plate in my lap, I ate my food in silence, staring at the dancing flames. Harry was truly unreasonable sometimes. Of course Draco hadn't known about the ambush. If he had, he would have warned us. The way he held me was proof that he cared, proof that I could trust him. I wanted nothing more than to have him hold me again.
"Draco…" There was no way to fight the sigh that escaped me, the longing for him that clawed at my heart. Steeling myself against it, I did my best to stay in control.
"Umm…miss…?" I looked up at the sound of a small voice. It was the little girl I had sent back with Dobby. She had short, blonde hair with warm dark eyes. If it weren't for the eyes, I would have thought she was a Malfoy.
"Just call me Hermione." I did my best to smile at her, hoping it didn't come off as a grimace.
"Hermione. My name is Claire…I just wanted to thank you…for saving me. I wanted to thank the blonde man too, but I haven't seen him. I'm really happy. I don't know why those people like that snake-man." She smiled brightly, and I couldn't help the feeling of contentment at her thanks for Draco.
"That's ok, I'll be sure to pass on the message when I see him. He doesn't stay here like the rest of us."
"Ok…thank you!" Just then, Mrs. Weasley called all the children to dinner. It wasn't until later that I realized Claire had been wearing a Slytherin uniform. We'd always been wrong about our assumptions of Slytherin. It took falling for Draco and meeting Claire for me to finally realize it.