The Snake's Tenacity, the Lion's Devotion

Chapter 2: Falling in Love

Draco Malfoy realized he loved Hermione Granger the day she punched him in the face.

Whether or not he deserved it didn't matter. The minute her flesh connected with his, he knew he would love her forever.

He wondered vaguely if this meant he was a masochist, that he somehow enjoyed physical pain. He didn't think so. During his teenage years, he would endure enough suffering to last him the rest of his life. It was deeper than that, went beyond the punch itself.

He had insulted Hagrid, and before he knew what was happening, she had smacked him in front of an awed crowd. The lioness of Gryffindor had reared her head. He had insulted one of her pack, and she was poised to defend. He had heard that Potter and Weasley were feuding with her, but she was still faithful to them, still protected them. The Slytherin girls he knew weren't like that. They were petty, gossipy, and two-faced. It spoke of her unfailing loyalty, her strength and confidence, her fearlessness. Everything that he didn't have; everything he was not.

Draco longed to be closer to her, to bask in her presence, absorb her strength into himself. He knew that she could make him a better person. If she would extend her friendship to him, show him what it was like to have someone care about him, defend him, then maybe he could do the same. He could be good, if someone would only be good to him.

So it was, one cold spring afternoon, that Hermione stole Draco's heart, when she almost broke his nose.

Hermione perhaps began to realize she had feelings other than loathing for Draco Malfoy in sixth year, when she noticed how ill he looked. He was paler than usual, the dark circles under his eyes looked like bruises on his porcelain skin, his face was drawn and tired. His normally tidy blond hair was messy, tumbling into his troubled grey eyes.

She had an inexpressible urge to walk over to the Slytherin table and wrap her arms around him. An urge she managed to suppress, and tried her hardest to forget completely.

Except Harry made forgetting difficult.

His insatiable obsession that Malfoy was planning something devious brought Draco ever into their discussions, into her thoughts. While she dismissed Harry's claims as unreasonable and irrational, she became increasingly worried about Draco's odd behaviour and what could cause him to appear so distraught. He had ceased in his routine bullying of the trio, and he disappeared for long periods at a time. Instead of rejoicing in this respite, she felt the absence acutely, as though she had lost an important piece of herself.

Unexpectedly, something had changed. New feelings had crept up on Hermione without warning, and she longed to talk to the young Death Eater, to hold him in her arms and comfort him. She jealously wished it had been she, and not Harry or Moaning Myrtle, who had discovered Draco crying in the bathroom.

Harry had almost killed Draco – and, worse yet, he still refused to surrender the Half-Blood Prince's Potions book. No matter what she said, he kept defending the "Prince," Ron and Ginny both taking his side. She was so disgusted with them she could hardly stand it. How could they be so apathetic and dismissive of this? Didn't they care that Draco had almost died? Did they think he deserved this pain, somehow justifying it because of all the trouble he had caused them?

But, she thought, Draco really isn't that horrible, is he?

The next day, when the rest of the school headed down to the Quidditch pitch, Hermione sneaked into the hospital wing. Madam Pomfrey seemed to be engaged in her office, where she was arguing with someone. This was a stroke of good fortune, as the matron was often displeased with visitors, and she had no explanation for why she was there.

Other than Pansy, Draco had had no visitors. Crabbe and Goyle avoided the infirmary, as though just by entering its doors they would contract some malady or be jinxed. Draco was lying in the bed closest to the high windows. The afternoon sun filtered through the panes and illuminated his sleeping figure. The sunlight glinted in his blond hair, and gave him the appearance of being made of gold.

Cautiously, Hermione pulled a chair up next to his bed. She didn't know what she was doing. What had she expected when she had decided to come up here? What had she wanted to happen? She could discern the scars on his face that were slowly healing. Harry's curse must have been deep and caused significant damage if there were still scars a day later. Hermione knew Madam Promfrey would be able to heal Malfoy's skin, but she doubted whether she could do anything for Draco's spirit.

Without really understanding what she was doing, Hermione leaned in and whispered in Draco's ear, "Please get better. I need you to get better." Softly, she brushed her lips against his cheek. Then she left as quietly as she had entered.

That was the last she saw of Malfoy for almost a year. While she was busy searching for any traces of the Half-Blood Prince in the library, Draco would fix the Vanishing Cabinet and help the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. He would disappear into the night; months later, she vanished into thin air with Harry and Ron.

But he was there, during one of the worst nights of her life. Of all the places the Snatchers could have taken them, they ended up at Malfoy Manor. She could see the reluctance on Draco's face when he was called upon to identify them. And as Bellatrix tortured her, she watched his face contort in sorrow and rage, but she knew he couldn't stop his aunt. But just seeing him was enough. His face seemed to keep her sane, give her hope. She could endure whatever Bellatrix did to her. She would survive, the way he had.

Hermione realized she loved Draco when it was almost too late – in those crucial moments, when she had believed Harry was dead and Voldemort had won. Voldemort stood on the hallowed Hogwarts ground, and offered them a chance to change allegiances. The Malfoys had called to their son, and she had watched him. She could read the reluctance on his face. She wanted to scream his name, keep him there on their side.

But she didn't.

No one else called to him. No one pleaded with him to stay. No one wanted him. No one but her.

She should have called his name.

Draco moved towards the Death Eaters, to join his parents. She watched him as he and Narcissa walked away hand in hand, disapparating at the end of the destroyed bridge. How could he have just walked away, taking her heart with him? Where had he gone? How would he know to come back again? She would stand in that spot for hours, after Voldemort had died and the sun dawned on a new day. Ron and Harry returned to the castle, to tend to the living and the dead, but she stood there. Waiting. For him. For him to return.

"Hermione," Luna put a hand on her shoulder. "Why don't you come inside? I think you've given it enough time."

"Just a few more minutes, Luna."

The girl nodded knowingly. "Love makes watchers of us all."

Hermione smiled weakly. "I don't think –" But then she heard it, the unmistakeable crack. And he was there, striding towards the building alone. Before she could stop herself, Hermione was running towards him, hurtling herself through space and rubble. She threw herself into his arms. He buried his face in her neck, and held her close to him.

"Hermione, I –"

"I know. Just don't leave again."

"I won't."

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