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This book was automatically created by FLAG on July 7th, 2012, based on content retrieved from The content in this book is copyrighted by dmlainey or their authorised agent(s). All rights are reserved except where explicitly stated otherwise. This story was first published on August 23rd, 2010, and was last updated on March 6th, 2011. Any and all feedback is greatly appreciated - please email any bugs, problems, feature requests etc. to

Table of Contents
Summary 1. Prologue 2. Chapter 1 3. Chapter 2 4. Chapter 3 5. Chapter 4 6. Chapter 5 7. Chapter 6 8. Chapter 7 9. Chapter 8 10. Chapter 9 11. Chapter 10 12. Chapter 11 13. Chapter 12 14. Chapter 13 15. Chapter 14 16. Chapter 15 17. Chapter 16 18. Chapter 17 19. Chapter 18 20. Chapter 19 21. Chapter 20 22. Chapter 21 23. Chapter 22 24. Chapter 23 25. Chapter 24 26. Chapter 25 27. Chapter 26 28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28 30. Chapter 29 31. Chapter 30 32. Epilogue 33. Second Epilogue


Draco was about to close the door behind him when he heard Potter's voice. "You better tell Hermione that you love her, Malfoy, or I will." Draco Malfoy concluded that he liked being enemies with Harry Potter, meddler extraordinaire, better. COMPLETE.


Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns everything you recognize from the Harry Potter books.


She had always known that this was coming. She had always known that she would be at the receiving end of these kinds of questions and discussions the moment she reached her thirtieth year. When the twentieth interrogator (yes, she was counting!) started to chat her up, she had had enough. It was her birthday, for Merlin's sake! She counted to ten to make the annoyance she was feeling go away but alas, the tactless woman was not showing any signs of shutting up. Taking a swig of champagne from the cup in her hand, she put up her hand, signalling the redhead to stop. "Ginevra Molly Potter, will you please refrain from talking about that topic with me?" Hermione requested despite of the fact that she was quite sure Ginny would bug her to no end with it. And how right she was! Ginny just gave her the evil eye and continued. "Pray tell, Hermione-Granger-who-should-not-be-a-Granger-by-now, why should I not remind you that you are not getting any younger? You should be married by now. If I'm not mistaken, you are the only woman from your batch in Hogwarts who hasn't tied the knot yet." The brown-haired witch rolled her eyes. "Pansy Parkinson's still single, you know." Ginny bit her lower lip and fought the urge to scream. "She's engaged to Ron, 'Mione!" "They're still not married. So you were incorrect." "Ugh. I hate it when you twist my words and make them work against me. You've been spending too much time with that git." Hermione just smiled at her. "Anyway, I'm making it my mission to help you find your one true love. Consider it as my birthday gift."

"And here I was, expecting a nicely wrapped gift. I don't want your help, Ginny, no offense meant. I'm capable, thank you very much." "If you were, you'd be wearing a diamond ring on your finger. Despite being the brightest witch of our age and being one-third of the Golden Trio, I don't think you're well-versed in the art of dating." Hermione feigned a look of surprise. "There's an art of dating?" Exasperated, the wife of the beloved hero of the wizarding world shook her friend, making her spill some of the champagne from her cup into her dress. It was a good thing she was an expert in casting cleaning spells, having a slob for a flatmate. "Gads! You're fast becoming the person who annoys me the most, stealing the top spot from Draco Malfoy!" Bright brown eyes met brown eyes. "Listen, and listen well, Hermione Jean Granger. I'm gonna find you someone to tie the knot with, whether you like it or not. Don't say I didn't warn you." The look in Ginny's eyes made Hermione, the clever witch who helped defeat Voldemort, quake in her shoes.


Chapter 1
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling created the awesomeness that is Harry Potter, of course!

Chapter One

Draco Malfoy looked up from the book he was reading when he heard a small pop behind him, then put a huge smile on his face when he saw that it was his flatmate. "Happy birthday, Granger!" The look Hermione gave him was positively murderous. "What? I'm just wishing you a happy birthday. It isn't a crime, is it?" He had to acknowledge, he was terrified of getting on Hermione's bad side. He was well-known for his cowardice during his younger years after all, though in his opinion, he was just trying to preserve his life and live longer. To alleviate the Muggle-born witch's sour mood, Draco reached for the little box wrapped in silver and green from his pocket and handed it to Hermione who was sitting across him. Still not talking to him, his bushy-haired flatmate unwrapped and opened the box to reveal a ruby ring set in a gold band. Then, in a split second, all hell broke loose. Hermione threw the quite expensive ring at him and he would swear on his late father's grave that the woman growled. Seeing that he was not hurt by her measly attempt to distort his perfect face, she started to hurl the objects on top of their coffee table at him. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Granger?" the blond ex-Slytherin shouted when she managed to land a coaster on his forehead. "Shut up, Draco!" Oh well, at least she was talking to him now. "Bully for you, Granger, but I won't. You know why? It is because of the fact that you owe me an explanation as to why you suddenly had the urge to hurt me and disfigure this face that launched a thousand sighs." He pointed to the growing bump on his forehead to emphasize his point. His statement seemed to calm Hermione down because she stopped throwing things at him. Or maybe because there's nothing left on the table top to let her practice her newly-acquired skill in pitching (he would attest that her throw was quite like those of players from the Muggle sport called baseball that Potter was fond of). As if she was drained out of all her energy, she returned to her position before she decided to go wild on him. She was

gripping the arms of the single couch as if her life depended on it, a tell-tale sign that she was trying hard to control her anger. Something terrible must have happened to her because on ordinary days, in ordinary circumstance, Hermione Granger was an even-tempered and patient person. She was able to put up with him for the past five years and that was a solid proof of how patient and understanding she was. "What happened, Hermione?" he said, his voice offering her comfort. The witch sighed. "I'm sorry, Draco. That was immature of me. It's just that I'm having a bad night and I needed to vent out my anger. I'm really, really sorry." "What is it with you and your ambition to make a punching bag out of me?" He said dramatically, as if he was burdened with the task to rid the world of all its problems. For the first time that night, Hermione laughed. Ah, music to his ears. "I rather like hurting you, ferret boy." "I'd like to think that you still carry a grudge against me for what I've done to you when we were in Hogwarts. Do forgive me, Hermione. You should understand that my conduct during those years was appropriate, seeing how perfect, rich, intelligent and influential I was. Come to think of it, I still am." He chuckled, despite seeing that Hermione was getting irritated again. "Lucky me, lucky me." "I'm going to my room. Just call me if you're done with your self-glorifying litany, alright?" "Merlin, Hermione, it's your birthday! You're forbidden to be this grumpy. What the bloody hell did people do to you during your party at the Potters? I would've gone had I known that I will be suffering for their faults." "Well, they seem to think that my thirtieth birthday was a go signal for me to get married." Draco stared at her. He was expecting her to blurt out that Voldemort had risen once again given the temper she displayed earlier. "That's it?" "Did I tell you that everyone who was there saw to it that they asked me when I was tying the knot?" "No, you didn't." "Did I tell you that everyone gave me a little talk about how I'm not getting any

younger, how difficult it will be to carry a child at my age or how I was the only woman from our batch in Hogwarts who isn't married or engaged to be married at least?" She was shouting at him, for Merlin's sake! It wasn't his fault! "You most certainly did not," he said, now beginning to understand where Hermione's rotten mood stemmed from. "Did I tell you that Ginny threatened to find me someone to marry, whether I wanted it or not?" He chuckled once again. "I swear, I'm beginning to respect Potter. Red's quite a force to reckon with." Hermione glared at him. "So you can imagine how dreadful the past few hours were for me. Thus, I decided to go home to get away from those people because I was beginning to imagine hurling Avada Kedavras at each and every single one of them. Then you gave me that ring, which reminded me that I was forced to listen to people wanting me to remedy the lack of an engagement ring on my finger and I took that as a sign to snap." She stood up. "Anyway, I'm going to sleep Draco. It has been a long night for me." "Well, to inform you, Granger, that ring would have been your engagement ring, had you not thrown it back at me," he said, not wanting to pass the opportunity to annoy her. Hermione took out her wand from the purse she was carrying and pointed it at him. "You want me to perform a little crucio on you, Draco?" she asked sweetly, though the look in her eyes was the exact opposite. He should have known joking with her when she was aggravated was not good for his health. Hurriedly, he brushed the woman's wand aside before she decided to experiment on him. "I was just kidding, Hermione. You go to sleep already." Hermione put away her wand and started to walk towards her room. "By the way, find that ring will you? I rather liked it." "You find it. You're the one who threw it away in the first place." The look that Hermione gave him was menacing. He swore on Lucius Malfoy's grave - once again, just because he liked doing so - that Hermione has been spending a lot of time with Ginny Potter lately.
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Chapter 2
Disclaimer: Yes, I'm J.K. Rowling and I am a secret Dramione shipper that's why I'm here. Kidding, of course!

Chapter Two

Hermione was preparing her tea when Draco stumbled into the kitchen, still groggy from sleeping. The hair on the right side of his big head stuck out in all directions while those on the left side were flattened. He didn't look like the boy with the immaculate hair, he looked more like Harry. She knew it would piss him off if she told him that. She laughed when the blond spilled the marmalade he was spooning from the jar into his toast, the effects of sleep still wanting to claim him. " Fuck," he muttered under his breath, forgetting the table manners instilled in him by Narcissa Malfoy from childhood. "Draco!" she gasped, and gave him a reprimanding look. "Pardon, mother." "Whatever, Draco. You're such a bear on mornings." She cast a cleaning spell upon the marmalade on the white table cloth. "Would you want some tea?" "Please and thank you." She then proceeded to prepare his tea, wondering for the nth time how the hell she ended up living with the Draco Malfoy. And for the nth time, she answered her own query.

"Are you out of your mind, Harry? Please tell me you're kidding. You just didn't announce that Draco Malfoy is joining the Order of the Phoenix, did you?" Hermione was taken aback with what her best friend just said. Maybe the quest to defeat Voldemort was just too much and he has lost his sanity. "'Mione, Malfoy is indeed joining the Order," Harry said, affirming her worst nightmare. "But he could be a spy for other side, Harry! Did you ever think about that
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possibility?" Ron was screaming at The-Boy-Who-Lived. "I happen to know that he has a valid reason for joining us. Trust me, mate, he has turned good, however impossible that may seem to us who had been acquainted with his bad behavior for years. The other members had accepted him as well, after interrogating him, of course." Ever the cautious one, Hermione was still doubtful of Malfoy's intentions. "I don't know, Harry. He's Draco Malfoy, the pompous, bullying, boastful, and inconsiderate Slytherin who happens to loathe us. I'm not comfortable with the idea of fighting with him. For all I know, he may direct some curses at me while we're engaged in battle." Ron nodded enthusiastically; clearly, she had stated his fears, too. "Believe me, 'Mione, that will never happen." Harry gave her a small smile and she couldn't help but think that he knew something she didn't.

It took a long time for Hermione and Ron to accept the fact that they were now in league with Malfoy, unlike Harry who was acting like he and the blond git had been friends since their first year at Hogwarts. Hermione tried to pry more of Malfoy's reason for joining the order out of Harry and Remus Lupin but she was unsuccessful. They gave her the excuse that they had promised to keep it a secret. She started to give Malfoy the benefit of the doubt only when she saw him fighting a death eater in one of the many fights they managed to get themselves into during the course of the war. She then began to consider him as one of her friends after the war, when she was asked by the Order to find him because he had been incommunicado for a week. She found him in his father's study at the Malfoy Manor, silently sitting in one of his father's plush armchairs, on the edge of breaking down. For the first time, she saw the Malfoy heir's vulnerability and how very human he was. He told her his feelings about the war, the trials he faced, the wrong decisions he made, his sentiments on the death of his father and mother without reserve, sharing a part of him with her, shedding his mask of arrogance and coldness. She started to understand him then, why he did what he did, why he thought the way he thought and why he said the things he said. Since then, Hermione Jean Granger, a Muggle-born witch, became Draco Malfoy's best friend, to the shock of everyone who was aware of the tension between the two and to the delight of one Mr. Harry James Potter.

"Well? What do you think of my suggestion?" Draco asked Hermione while they
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were feasting on the latest ice cream flavor offered by Florean Fortescue. "You'd be a total dimwit if you're considering the idea of turning it down." Draco was convincing her to stay in his flat when the lease for her apartment ends next week. "Why, thank you for the compliment, Mr. Malfoy," Twenty-five year old Hermione said sarcastically. "Seriously, Hermione, leave that petty excuse for a flat of yours and shack up with me." Draco gave her a smirk as he said this, earning him a punch in his right arm from Hermione. "That said, I'm never moving in with you." "You know I was just joking. So, will you be my new flatmate?" "Why are you so keen on convincing me to share your apartment with you, anyway?" the witch asked doubtfully. "Don't tell me you're running low on funds so you need me to split the rent with you?" "You wish, Granger. For your information, I own that apartment. As if you didn't know. And let me tell you, the day that a Malfoy will be impoverished will be the day a Weasley learns some sociable manners." "That day is very near then, if it hasn't come yet." She grinned at him cheekily. "Ha-ha. You're so funny I'm dying of laughter, Hermione." Draco checked the time from the watch Hermione has given him for his twenty-third birthday. "Whoa. It's one-thirty already? I better get going." He stood up and reached for his wool jacket which was draped on the back of his seat. "So? Will I be expecting your charming presence in my flat next week?" "We'll see, Draco. Now, scram. It won't do for you to be late in another meeting for the hundredth time." He saluted her and with a faint pop, he disapparated. Hermione began to ponder on the pros and cons of moving in with Draco Malfoy. By the time she finished her ice cream, she had decided that it would be to her advantage if she agreed to Draco's suggestion.

"Graaaanger," Draco called out to Hermione, putting a stop to her reminiscing mode. She raised an eyebrow to the twenty-nine year old who was whining like he was five. She quickly poured some milk into the drink and carried the cup to Draco.
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"Here is your tea, your royal highness," she mockingly said, even giving him a curtsy. "Why, thank you, my lowly servant." Uncharacteristically, she stuck her tongue out at him and Draco burst out laughing. "Frankly, that look suits you, Hermione." "I'm glad to be a source of your entertainment, your royal highness. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to work. We will be receiving the books we ordered this morning." "You won't comb your hair? You look quite a fright, what with that bushy hair. You ought to cut it all off." Used to his constant insults about her untamed hair, Hermione just rolled her eyes at him and without saying goodbye to Draco, she apparated to her workplace, wishing that she won't bump into Ginny Potter, the queen of all things infuriating. Draco Malfoy was the king, of course.

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Chapter 3
Disclaimer: HP=JK Rowling=Lainey. Oh alright! Delete Lainey! Let me try that again. HP=JK Rowling=perfection!

Chapter Three

Hermione spent the morning transferring the latest shipment of books into shelves, working despite being the owner of Flourish and Blotts and they had an assistant. Seven years ago, Harry, who was busy spending the fortune he had locked up in Gringotts, convinced the owner of the said shop to sell him half of ownership rights to the store. Frankly, who in his right mind would refuse a request from a war hero? Well, no one. Thus, on her twenty-third birthday, Hermione became the proprietress of Flourish and Blotts, her second favorite place in the wizarding world (Hogwarts garnering the top honor). She didn't want it at first because it was a really extravagant gift but Harry was insistent. In the end, she relented, her refusal of the present was half-hearted anyway. She was having a discussion with one of the store assistants about future orders when Ginny arrived in the store, a wide smile plastered on her face and looking like she had something wicked cooked up for her. She greeted the redhead without much enthusiasm and led her to her small office near the storeroom. Ginny chose to sit at the chair in front of her desk and Hermione occupied the chair opposite her friend. "I've got great news for you, 'Mione!" In her opinion, anything great for Ginny equates to potential disaster for her. "When will I be crucified?" Ginny laughed, playfully pinching her arm. She really was in a fine mood. "Oh 'Mione, have I told you I absolutely adore your dry sense of humor?" The Muggle-born witch shrugged. "You'll have to thank Draco for that. I had to practice to keep up with him." "You've lost your marbles if you think it is possible that I will be thanking that ferret," she said, looking disgustedly at Hermione as if the latter just asked her to kiss Voldemort. Ginny and Draco do not get along well; they taunt and insult each other whenever given the opportunity. The playful banter between the two was at all
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times amusing, and Hermione knows that they keep trying to slit each other's throats not because of hate, but rather they enjoyed exchanging witty words with each other. "Let's not talk about that prat. I have something of utter importance to tell you." "Doubtful,"she told herself, wanting to tell it to Ginny's face but she's rather loving of her hair, however unkempt it was. "Let's hear it out. I've got work to do, you know." "Right." Ginny Potter beamed at her. "Thank your lucky stars. I already set up a date for you!" "More like I am going to find my lucky stars and explode them into tiny bits." She was amazed how Draco-ish she sounded. "Just what I expected you to say, Hermione." "You're going to leave me alone, then?" "No. We're going to have a little chitchat." Ginny reached for her hand and held it. "'Mione, it's time for you to move on." "Are we talking about that again, Gin?" she asked, referring to her and Ron's falling out seven years ago. It was Ginny's favorite topic, apparently. "I've told you lots of times already, I have moved on." "Why are you so keen on becoming an old maid then?" "Because I want to. Or maybe because I have not met any guy who interested me enough to give me the urge to get to know him better? It might also be because I want to piss you off, knowing that you're itching to get me married off." It was all of the above, actually. "I have my reasons, Ginny, but my break up with Ron isn't one of them. I wasn't that in love with him to be devastated after all." "You weren't in love? Ha! Stop deluding yourself, Hermione." Ginny's voice went up an octave. "You and Ron were together for four years." "And we have been apart for seven. It's enough time for me to reflect upon our relationship then and I have come to a conclusion that we only lasted that long because people were expecting us to get married. We don't even have a lot of common interests, Gin. Ron said I was the intellectual type and he cannot imagine himself keeping up with me and keeping me interested should we marry. We barely
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saw each other even when we were still together. We were bored, the sparks were gone. We felt like we've been together for a hundred years and we've said everything we had to say to each other." She sighed. The redhead can be such a bother. If she wasn't wrong, they already have discussed this. Maybe she could store this memory so that whenever the topic of 'the break up' comes up again, she'll simply drag Ginny to the pensieve. "He even acknowledged that I was the dominant one in our relationship, and he does not want that. I was hurt and cried buckets of tears when we ended our relationship, of course, but only for a few months. I wasn't going to ruin my life just because of Ron." "Prove it, Hermione." "Prove what?" she asked dumbly, already knowing what Ginny would say. "Prove that you have moved on. Go on a date." "No way, Ginny. I am a busy person." "Cowering, Hermione? Are you afraid of the possibility that you may fall in love again but have your heart broken in the end? I expected more from a former Gryffindor and a war heroine," Ginny challenged her. "I'm not falling for that." She stood up. "I have to get back to work, Gin." "You know I just want you to be happy, 'Mione," her friend said sadly. "I know. And believe me, I am happy." Shaking her head, Ginny stood up as well and looked straight into her eyes. "You aren't. You've resigned yourself to your boring life. I have not seen you look genuinely happy in a long time, 'Mione. If only you'd concede that something is missing in your pathetic existence. Go out, 'Mione. Meet other people. Maybe by doing so you'll find out what you want. It doesn't hurt to try, right? Ron is worried about you and he's feeling rather guilty because he's getting married to Pansy soon while you are left alone." "I am not alone. I have you, my parents, Harry, Ron and Draco." "You know what I mean, Hermione." She groaned. "Alright. Just one date?" Ginny shrieked and hugged her tight. "Easy, Ginny."
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"Yes! Not unless you want to follow it up." Ginny was clapping her hands in excitement, forgetting that she was twenty-eight and had three kids. "Thank you, 'Mione." She hugged Hermione again. "One date won't hurt, I guess." She did not like the fact that Ginny just succeeded in manipulating and outsmarting her.

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Chapter 4
Disclaimer: All hail J.K. Rowling, the genius who created the world of Harry Potter!

Chapter Four

Draco checked the time impatiently. It was nearly midnight yet Hermione was still out. He was furious because the witch hadn't bothered to notify him of her whereabouts. Earlier, when the clock struck nine in the evening, Draco flooed the Potters to ask if they knew where Hermione was. After throwing a few insults his way, Ginny told him that Hermione was out on a date. "Date?" he bellowed, causing Potter's wife to narrow her eyes at him. "Yes, Malfoy. You know, when two people spend time together with the intention of getting to know each other and see if they're suited," she said sarcastically. "I know, She-weasel. I've been in one. Or a thousand." Ginny crossed her arms and glared at him. "And how much did you pay your so-called dates? A thousand galleons each?" He smirked at her. "Why, Ginevra? Are you interested? Potter's not satisfying you? Or perhaps he cannot afford to pay for your numerous shopping trips? I'm sorry to tell you that I have my limitations. Strictly no married women, Red." "Prat!" Ginny hissed. "Thank you. Much as I want to return your kind words, I think I have to go. Give Potter my regards." With that, he ended their conversation. He decided to wait for Hermione to give her a proper scolding. He turned on the DVD player, a Muggle device Hermione brought with her when she moved in together with the television she set up magically, and settled for Planet of the Apes. He had to admit, Muggles have very brilliant inventions and he was quite tolerant with them. Maybe more than tolerant. It was one of the requirements for having Hermione Granger as your friend, after
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all. He sat on the couch and kept his eyes glued to the television screen, though all the time, he was imagining Hermione and his unknown date having fun.

Draco was in the middle of a James Bond movie when Hermione apparated home at exactly midnight. "Welcome home, Granger. Where have you been?" Draco did not waste a single second as he quickly started the Muggle-born witch's interrogation. "I had dinner with someone in a Muggle restaurant. Why? I didn't know you're my keeper now," she raised her eyebrows at him, making him feel like he was a primary school student being reprimanded by his teacher. 'You should have sent me an owl or even flooed me. I was worried about you, Granger. You might be at the mercy of some rapist or criminal while your god of a flatmate was at home, enjoying some muggle movies and unaware of your plight." Hermione shook her head. "You and your paranoia, Draco. I'm thirty and a war heroine, remember?" So much for the 'thank-you-for-worrying-about-me' speech he was expecting from her. "Had a great time with your lover boy?" To Draco's disappointment, Hermione laughed. "So you did." She walked to the couch and sat beside Draco. "Had someone told me just this morning that there was a guy more conceited than you are, I'd tell him to go kill himself. Now, I'd believe that person without any doubt." Draco wasn't sure if that was a compliment or not so he merely shrugged. "What's the name of the bloke who stole the title from me then?" "James Wright. He works under Harry. He joined the Auror Office a year after I left." "And will you tell me in detail how the bloody hell he managed to be more self-aggrandizing than I am?" "I'd rather not talk about it, Draco. It's just my luck when I have decided to go out with someone after a long time, I end up with a Draco Malfoy clone. As if living with you is not bad enough." She glanced at the TV screen. "James Bond again?" she
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asked, changing the topic before he was able to give a good retort to her slur to his person. "It's cool," he said defensively. The witch giggled when the actor playing the agent appeared on-screen. "Pierce Brosnan's heavenly, don't you think so?" "Goodness, how would I know? I'm a guy, Her-mee-own-nee!" "You have eyes. Tell me, if you were a girl, will you swoon upon the sight of him?" She was grinning, obviously taking delight in his discomfort. "Were you cursed by your date or something? How dare you imply that there is a possibility that I will appraise a human form not belonging to a woman! That's strike two for tonight. First you leave me here worrying about you then you question my masculinity." He was pissed enough that he was mentally cursing James Bond, James Wright and all the James in the world, both Muggle and wizarding. His angry words were answered by a smile from Hermione, and without a word, she moved closer to him and held out her arms, signaling that she wanted to cuddle up with him. Gads, she really was the brightest witch of their age. She knew going all sweet on him would make him forget the anger he was feeling. Unable to resist the offer from the witch and with a heavy sigh, he put his arms around her. Yawning, she laid her head on his chest. "I'm still angry with you, Granger." "Pierce Brosnan is a looker, alright, but really Draco, you are more handsome than him." He looked down and met her brown eyes, then gave her his famous smirk. "Someone's trying to trick me into forgiving her easily. Flattery will get you nowhere, Hermione. I've heard that great compliment countless of times already." He thought about their position once again and chuckled. "You know, this is absolutely awkward, Granger. Just think of it, a Slytherin and a Gryffindor getting a little cozy. Wait, let me rephrase that. It's sworn enemies Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger!" He was finding this amusing. He had never thought they'll reach the point when they'll be this comfortable with each other. Hell, he did not even imagine himself befriending Potter's gang when he was still at Hogwarts. Life certainly has it's wicked way of pulling it's cruel tricks on you. "Hmm," was her only reply. She was getting comfortable and was trying to sleep, apparently.
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"Do you wanna sleep, Hermione? I'll carry you to your room." After turning the television and DVD player off, he lifted her up, carried her in his arms and started to move in her room's direction. "Why would you carry me when you can simply levitate me? Why do I have this feeling that you just want to hold me in your arms a little bit longer?" Draco was unable to respond to that. Hermione looked at the blond and was positive that his face was a turning crimson. "Are you blushing, Draco?" "No, I'm not. Malfoys don't blush. It's just the effect of the strain of carrying your heavy weight." She pounded his chest when he said that. Draco laid her on the bed before removing her heeled shoes and the jacket she wore to work, putting them aside. He proceeded to cover her with the blanket and he brushed aside the unruly curls on her face. "Sleep tight, Hermione." "Good night, Draco." Hermione drifted off to dreamland after that. The blond smiled and laid his palm on the woman's cheek gently. "It's morning, Hermione."

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Chapter 5
Disclaimer: I still haven't convinced J.K. Rowling to hand me the rights to the Harry Potter series so it's still hers.

Chapter Five

Five days later, Hermione received an owl from Ginny regarding her second date while she and Draco were having dinner which she bought from a restaurant in Diagon Alley. The redhead was persistent, it was no wonder she was able to make Harry submit to her will. "What's that?" Draco asked when he saw the parchment in her hand. "It's from Ginny. She set me up with another wizard without even asking for my approval. I thought she would stop after I told her how much I disliked James." The blond took the letter from her hands and read it. Draco looked at her and smirked. "It says you'll be meeting Edward Green at The Leaky Cauldron tomorrow at one. I want to meet your date. Expect me. Much better if you take a table for three." She looked at him in disbelief. "Mind your own dates and I'll mind mine, thank you very much." "I just remembered than I'm meeting a certain Hermione Granger and Edward Green for lunch at The Leaky Cauldron. Yes, I do believe that's it." "I never thought you'd swing that way, Draco. How did you manage to hide in your closet for the past twenty-nine years ?" she said, quite sure that would get a rise out of him and she was right when his grey eyes threw daggers at her. "The same way as Weasley, I guess." Hermione pointed her dinner knife at him. " What? I was just answering your question. You asked for it!" "Making fun of Ron was unnecessary, Draco." Draco gave her a smirk. How she wanted to wipe it off his pale face. "I wasn't
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talking about Ron, Granger. I was referring to the one who works at the ministry. Percy, is it? Yes, it's Percy. Wait. You presumed I was talking about Ron. Does that mean you happen to think that he's a bit feminine?" "You're incorrigible! Thank your heavens we're eating, because if we weren't, I've got lots of curse words reserved for you."

Hermione groaned when she saw from where she was eating that Draco just entered The Leaky Cauldron's dining area. She groaned even louder when she saw the landlady, Hannah Longbottom, was leading the blond businessman to their table. "Is there something wrong, Hermione?" Edward Green asked her. His back was to the door thus, he did not see Draco enter. "We have company, Edward. I'm really, really sorry. I did not know he was serious when he said that he wanted to meet you." Just as she finished her statement, Draco arrived at their table and raised his brows at Hermione, an indication that he wanted an introduction. The dark-haired wizard opposite her was looking at Draco anxiously. "Edward, this is one of my best friends, Draco Malfoy." "It's nice meeting you, mate." Edward held out his right hand and Draco gripped it rather forcefully. "Why don't you sit with us? I presume you're about to have your lunch, too." "I intend to." Draco pulled a chair and sat himself comfortably. "Don't you have some blonde bimbo waiting for your appearance somewhere, Draco?" "Will I be here if there was?" His reply earned a glower from her. "Don't worry your pretty, though bushy, head about my presence, Granger. I'll be gone after I have interrogated your lover boy number two." He then turned his attention to her date. "Well, what do you have to say about yourself? We'd rather skip the twenty questions part, right, mate?" Edward tugged on his collar before talking to the wizard who would certainly be happy if he was told he could masticate the dark-haired wizard alive. "Um. I'm Edward Green, for starters." Edward chastised himself, he was an auror, for Merlin's sake. He should not be intimidated by Malfoy.
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"Go on," said Draco, not unlike the way he would tell his secretary to continue reading to him his appointments set for the day. "I work under Mr. Potter at the Auror Office. Have since 2006." "My condolences then." "I was in Slytherin. You were three years ahead of me." "Three years? How old are you, anyway? Twenty-six?" Draco was unable to hide the surprise in his voice. Edward looked at the Muggle-born witch, seeking for support. Hermione kicked the blond's foot under the table, causing him to yelp. She could not believe he was terrorizing her date! "Draco, that's enough. I do not appreciate your presence here and your paltry attempt of trying to scare Edward." She turned to her date. "I'm really sorry. Will you excuse us for a moment?" She dragged Draco outside the dining area, not minding the curious looks sent to them by The Leaky Cauldron's patrons.

She shoved him into a corner when they reached the bar and started yelling at him. "What is wrong with you, Draco? Why did you do what you just did?" Draco just looked at her for a few seconds and he smoothed the sleeve of his shirt which was crumpled when Hermione dragged him. Finally, after a torturous silence, he answered. "I just to know who you date, Hermione. I have to make sure you're in good hands." "I understand your concern for me but really Draco, do you honestly believe Ginny will set me up with someone evil?" "It doesn't hurt to make sure, Granger. Well, tell me, did you like that guy? I didn't know you were a cradle snatcher." "What's a three-year difference? Age doesn't matter when it comes to love." The wizard's eyes narrowed. "So, you like him?" "No, I do not. He's got a lot of growing up to do. But what we are talking about here is your protectiveness which has gone overboard. Stay out of my business,
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Draco. Otherwise, I'll hex your balls off." "And if I don't?" he challenged. "Don't you want me to find someone to marry, Draco? I'm beginning to understand Ginny's point now. I think I deserve the chance to settle down with a guy who loves me and one I would love to spend the rest of my life with." Just as the words left Hermione's mouth, she realized that was how she truly feels about the whole matter. She really does deserve to have someone who will do anything for her. She really does deserve another chance at happiness in another person's arms. She has been neglecting this aspect of her life for years and it was not too late to rectify that mistake. If she was destined to die an old maid, fine, but at least she tried one more time. Draco looked straight into her eyes. "You have me, Hermione. Surely I am enough for you. You don't need to date to find someone who will make you feel important." His grey orbs were backing up the sincerity of his words, words which were spoken softly that she barely heard them over the different sounds coming from the bar's customers. She gave him a small smile and gave him a gentle pat on his arm. "A best friend is different from a lover, ferret. You'll get married soon, anyway. The time will come that we will have to be separated. Your future wife would not want me to hang around your house, believe me. Besides, life is getting boring for me. This dating business will spice things up a bit." Yes, this whole dating experience will provide her an adventure, something she was not getting a lot of since the end of the second war, if nothing else. "Will you support me, Draco? Please?" He let out a heavy sigh. "Alright. I won't be bothering you. On one condition." "What?" "Let me be the one to set you up with dates. It will put my mind at ease. I do not trust Red's judgment." "You are definitely a lot worse than Harry and Ron when it comes to protecting me." Draco was adamant. "Promise, Granger." To end the conversation, she did. "Okay. I promise."
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Leaving her a smile, Draco disappeared into thin air as he disapparated while Hermione went back to Edward to finish their lunch. Hopefully, Draco would introduce her to a guy who can talk about many things, not just his experience as an auror.

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Chapter 6
Disclaimer: Argh! The Harry Potter series is not mine! Unless my name is JK Rowling, it's not mine!

Chapter Six

Potter, If you allow one of your pathetic aurors to date Hermione once again, Ginny will find herself a grieving widow at a very young age. D.M.

Malfoy, My co-workers' personal lives are none of my business, and let me tell you, their dating activities definitely fall under the 'personal lives' category. H. Potter

To the Boy-Who-Lived-Who-Will-Soon-Be-Dead-At-Last, Tell your wife to stop meddling with Hermione's love life then, if she wants your kids to grow up with their daddy beside them and not six feet below the ground. By the way, it is Hermione's wish to let me set her up with dates, so inform Red she can rest easy and leave everything to me. From the guy who will soon be known as, Potter's Killer

Don't take your anger out on me. It is not my fault you are such a coward, Malfoy.
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Angrily, Draco crumpled the last note delivered by his eagle owl Orion and threw it to the fireplace in the living room. Harry was right but he would rather die than admit it to his ex-rival. Still seething over Hermione's dating business, he decided to go to his room to look over his business' books. He settled in front of an antique oak desk he had transferred from the Manor and browsed through the thick pile of documents containing information about the Malfoy Incorporated's equity. An hour passed and Draco was stuck on the very detailed statement of the corporation's liabilities. This was all Ginny Potter's fault! She was the one who convinced Hermione to try her luck in dating once again. Right, it was the redhead's fault he's not able to concentrate on his task. She was undeniably born into the world with the sole purpose of making his life miserable. He was imagining himself using the bat bogey hex on Ginny when Hermione knocked and opened the door without waiting for his response. She was wearing pajamas in the same color as the dress she wore at the Yule Ball in their fourth year at Hogwarts. "Draco, I am looking for my copy of A History of Magic. Have you seen it?" "Why would I be interested in that boring book?" "I'm just asking if you've seen it and maybe tucked it away. There's no need for that attitude," she said. "Besides, I remember loaning it to you. Did you not read it to put you to sleep a few nights ago?" Suddenly, he remembered as well. "Right. Sorry I forgot about that. It's there somewhere." He pointed to his bed then tried to go back to examining the documents in front of him without success. He heard Hermione making harrumphing sounds and he grinned. It was quite easy to get a rise out of her. "It's here, alright," Hermione said when she found the book beneath one of Draco's pillows. "You should learn how to return things you have borrowed, you know." Draco was unable to tear his eyes away from Hermione when she positioned herself comfortably on his bed. She looked absolutely lovely surrounded by his green pillows and his equally green duvet. "What are you still doing here?" he asked instead, hoping Hermione did not notice. "I love your bed. It's much more comfortable than mine." She opened her book and started to read. "Don't mind me. Continue with what you're doing." He shrugged and tried to focus on his work again, glancing at the Muggle-born witch on his bed occasionally.
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"Oh. Don't forget. It's Sunday Night Karaoke tomorrow at the Potters." He groaned loudly. How could he forget about that stupid tradition? "No excuses, Draco."

Sunday Night Karaoke was a reminder for Draco of the reason why he used to despise all things Muggle. When Harry bought a karaoke machine two years ago, he imposed upon his friends to come over to 12 Grimmauld Place every Sunday for a whole night of singing Muggle songs. Unluckily, being already considered Harry's friend, Draco was forced to hear the savior of the wizarding word bellow the words to Bon Jovi songs every single Sunday night and with Ron as his partner at the microphone, things weren't getting better. He looked at Harry and Ron excitedly browsing through the song selections while he was lounging on yet another new sofa bought by Ginny. The women had gone to the kitchen to prepare the food. "Mate, I love this song! Let me at it." "I'm going first this time, Harry. I was absent last week, remember?" "I own the goddamn machine, Ron Weasley." Draco cleared his throat to get their attention. "Seriously, what are you? Kids?" "Knickers in a twist, Malfoy?" Ron sniggered. "I have a song just for you, Malfoy." Harry entered the numbers corresponding to the music he picked and turned on the microphone. "You're going to love this." When the title of the song flashed on the machine's screen, the redhead weasel hooted with laughter. "It's a girl? Why, an icky little girl got Draco Malfoy's knickers in a twist? Who could it be?" He looked questioningly at the four-eyed wizard. Harry just shrugged and focused on singing the song but just as he was getting to the chorus part of You Give Love A Bad Name, he yelled when he was suddenly being dangled upside-down by his ankle in mid-air. The Boy-Who-Lived-To-Defeat-Voldemort looked threateningly at Malfoy, who had a smirk upon his pale face and had his wand out, having just cast Levicorpus on him. "Put me down, Malfoy!" He turned to Ron and saw he was laughing. "You find this funny, Ron?" Ron took no notice of him and instead, the redhead picked up the microphone he dropped on the floor and continued where Harry left off. "Arsehole," he said under his breath.
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"Liberacorpus!" Harry dropped to the floor when Hermione uttered the counter-jinx to Levicorpus. The Muggle-born witch's eyes narrowed into slits when she looked at Draco. "That was very immature of you, Draco!" "They started it." He pointed to Harry who was shooting him daggers with his eyes and to Ron who was still hogging the microphone. The blond crossed his arms and sat comfortably on the chaise lounge he had vacated when he hexed Harry. "Passing blames now eh? Very mature, very mature." He rolled his eyes at the witch who apparently was applying to be his mother and accepted the firewhiskey Pansy handed to him while mouthing the words good job . Trust Pansy Parkinson to always take his side. Slytherins have to look out for each other when thrown into a den of lions after all. Hermione walked away then and went back to the kitchen to help Ginny, to his relief. Then, Pansy sat beside him. "You look quite relieved." He was. He thought Hermione was going to give him one of her famous sermons. "I am. You know Hermione tends to get carried away when she starts with her speeches regarding instilling me with right manners and conduct." "She's a good influence on you, believe me, just as Ron is to me." "Weasley's a good influence on you? Are you kidding me, Pans?" Pansy pinched his left arm lightly. "Careful. You're talking about my fiancee. You don't want to lose your only ally, do you?" Draco nodded at his ex-girlfriend. "You know, you've changed a lot, Drake." "Is that good or bad?" "It's good. I'm rather proud of the way you turned out." "You're doing very well for yourself also. Except for the part where you picked a Weasley to marry." This time, Pansy pinched his arm quite hard he was sure it was going to bruise. "I'm kidding, of course. Where's your sense of humor, Pans?" Pansy looked at Harry and Ron, who were starting one of their odious duets, fondly. "We wouldn't be this happy had we picked Voldemort's side during the war. I'm glad I made the right choice."
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"You and me both."

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Chapter 7
Disclaimer: Last time I checked, JK Rowling still owns the Harry Potter series.

Chapter Seven

Harry handed Ginny the letter from Draco, the one which says that he will be in charge of setting Hermione's dates from that moment onwards. At first, she was furious, wanting to punch the blond git's face for meddling with her business. She was about to apparate to Malfoy's residence to give Malfoy a piece of her mind when Harry stopped her. "Calm down, Gin." She screamed at him. "How could I possibly calm down? I've been trying to get Hermione hitched for years and now that I have her cooperation at last, that prat decides to ruin my plans!" Harry put an arm around her shoulder. "Malfoy has his own reasons, my dear wife. Please, calm down." "Yes, he does. He wants to piss me off, ruin my plans and prevent Hermione from marrying." "Don't overreact, Gin. What if I tell you that Malfoy has a valid reason? It's karaoke night tonight, why don't you find out what it is?" "How would I know? Are you suggesting that I beat the hell out of Malfoy? I'd be glad to, Harry," she grinned, the image of her beating up Malfoy was fantastic. "Now, now, Gin. I was talking about observing him. Malfoy won't admit to anything even if you threatened to kill him." Harry kissed her lightly on the lips. "I'm going to drop the kids off at the Burrow now. Will you be okay here?" "Yes, I will. Hermione will be here early to help me prepare the food. Be careful, Harry, and give Mum and Dad my regards."

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Heeding Harry's advise, Ginny sat on single couch opposite the one Draco has occupied and eyed him suspiciously. What was she looking for? It was frustrating, having no idea what she was supposed to do. Malfoy was not even moving, for Godric's sake. He just sat on one end of the red chaise lounge (the one she got for a bargain), taking on the bored aristocrat look on his face while watching Pansy and Ron belting out the notes to yet another Muggle tune. She was about to give up when she saw a change in Draco's expression. He was no longer looking bored, he was looking at something warmly. The redhead followed the direction of Draco's gaze, and she corrected herself. He was not looking at something, he was looking at someone. Ginny was unable to contain her smile as she looked at Hermione, who was giggling like a school girl at Ron and Pansy's antics. Was it possible? She had to make sure. She looked at Draco disbelievingly and it was just her luck that he saw her looking at him. "What are you looking at, Red?" he asked, sounding defensive. "You're in front of me. I was bound to look at you some time." She made a mental note to pat herself on the back for her good cover up. Draco was unconvinced. "You were looking at me as if you just thought of how to dispose of me." "I was not, Malfoy. Contrary to your belief, I don't waste every second of my existence trying to come up with ways to make this world a better place by sending you off to meet your maker." Well, that wasn't a lie.

Unknown to Ginny, her husband was watching her closely. He watched her agitation as she watched the blond without any clue about what she was looking for. Harry's smile rivaled Ginny's when he saw that she took notice of the change in Draco's look while he was looking at Hermione. He was certain Ginny would comprehend what was going on. Tired of being the only one who knows, he was letting Ginny in on the secret but without violating his promise to Draco.

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Chapter 8
Disclaimer: I wish I was the one who came up with Harry Potter in 1990, but really, that would mean I must have been a very brilliant one year-old. Anyways, JK Rowling owns the characters from Harry Potter, not me.

Chapter Eight

Hermione was impatiently waiting for the wizard Draco had set her up with. She glanced at the clock on the wall of her office at Flourish and Blotts, it was already twelve thirty and her date was already half an hour late. Then, she heard a knock on her door and her assistant Katherine poked her head in. "Miss Granger, there's one Andrew Phillips looking for you." "Finally," she muttered before picking up her purse and going out to meet her date. A plain-looking wizard was standing beside the shop's entrance. Hermione sauntered towards him. "Hello, you must be Andrew." She held out her right hand which the wizard shook rather enthusiastically. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Granger." "Call me Hermione as I've already called you Andrew without asking for your permission." She led him out the shop after telling Katherine she'll be back after an hour or two. "Where will we be having our lunch?" "I think Madam Puddifoot's will be great," he said, smiling at her. Hermione blanched at his statement but she recovered rather quickly. "See you there, then?" She nodded. Hesitantly, she took out her wand and apparated to Hogsmeade where the tea shop was located.

Andrew led Hermione inside the small tea shop and towards a table at a corner. He held out a chair for her and she graciously thanked him. While Andrew was ordering their lunch, she looked around the cramped shop, disgusted by the fact that it was as frilly as before. Why her date chose this place was beyond her. It was
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only popular among Hogwarts students who wanted to get all romantic on each other. On the other hand, that must be the reason why Andrew brought her here. "How do you know Draco?" she asked the wizard, trying to start a topic. "Didn't he tell you? I work for him." "Oh. Okay." Frankly, she had nothing else to say to her date. She was definitely socially inept. It seems like Andrew was, too. It was a good thing they were saved from the awkward situation when their order arrived. Moments later, she and her date were busy attending to their lunch. There was a pregnant silence between them until Hermione thought of something. "I was wondering, Andrew. How is Draco as a boss?" Andrew ran a hand through his blond hair which tend to fall over his eyes (much like his boss', Hermione noted) before he answered. For some reason unknown to her, he seemed slightly agitated. "He's good. He's definitely a genius when it comes to running his business." "Is he treating his employees well?" Hermione wasn't sure why she asked that because she was fairly sure Draco had stopped his bullying ways more than a decade ago. "Well, he has his ranting and shouting moments especially when he's in a bad mood. Nothing awful, though." Andrew grinned at her. "You're not telling on me, are you? I'm rather fond of my job, you know. Mr. Malfoy pays well." "No. I won't. I promise." "Thank you, Hermione. Mr. Malfoy really is lucky to have you for a best friend." She gave him a small smile. Speaking of Draco, she recalled the time they went to Madam Puddifoot's two years ago, on a Valentine's Day. The place was frillier than the usual during that special day and there were golden cherubs throwing pink confetti on the shop's clientele. While finishing her lunch, she recalled the events of that day to entertain herself because there was, once again, total silence between her and Andrew.

Hermione clapped her hands to her mouth when a golden cherub threw pink confetti at Draco when they entered Madam Puddifoot's. Unable to contain her
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mirth, she burst out into a series of giggles, earning her a gentle pinch on the arm from her blond companion. Draco was still glowering at the little winged creature when they found a table located in the middle of the tea shop, surrounded by couples who were all Hogwarts students. "Those stupid things will die if I blow them up, right?" Draco asked, looking positively murderous. He looked a lot like his father, though he was the good version. "Don't be such a killjoy Draco. You know those cherubs are the shop's main attraction." "I'll pay for the losses the shop will incur if they just get rid of those," he said, pointing at one of the cherubs. "Well, aren't we boastful? You'll never do away with that attitude of yours." Draco just shrugged and proceeded to order a pot of tea, a plate of scones and sandwiches. "Remind me why we're spending Valentine's Day in this appalling place." "To have a good laugh?" She beamed at him. "I love the way you think, Granger," he said before reaching for her right hand and holding it with his left hand. "Almost as much as I love you." Hermione felt her cheeks burn when she heard what Draco just said. She was confused for a few seconds then she realized what he was playing at. Embarrassed with her first reaction, she was glad Draco did not notice her blush. "You have such a glib tongue, sweetheart," Hermione replied, issuing a challenge to Draco with her brown eyes. "Here I am, declaring my love for you yet you doubt it? I'm hurt, love."He clutched at his left chest for effect. The sight of Draco made her laugh. "Who knew you could be a drama queen, Draco?" Certainly not her. She wasn't even aware during their student years that the egotistical Slytherin prince can smile. "Oh, Greg and Vince knew. Too bad we can't continue our little role-playing sessions since they decided to serve the Dark Lord and had managed to get themselves killed," he said bitterly.
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Hermione gripped Draco's hand tightly. "Hey, c'mon, it's Valentine's Day. This should be a happy day." She looked around and grimaced when she saw the couple on their right snogging. "Ack. Didn't need to see that." "Why? You're jealous?" "Of course not." "Wanna follow them, love?" Draco asked, his eyes gleaming with mischief. "Ew. What's wrong with you?" She tried to free her hand from his grasp but Draco refused to let go. "Has Valentine's Day finally triggered your insanity, ferret?" "It's just a kiss, Granger. What's wrong with it? People do it all the time." "Not best friends, Draco. Surely you know that." "Then we'll be the first snogging best friends." Hermione mentally chastised herself because she shivered when Draco gently caressed her cheek with his free hand. "What do you think, Hermione?" She was unable to respond, she was shocked not only by Draco's behavior but also by her reaction to his touch. Hermione started to blush again and this time she was sure her companion would notice it so she looked down on the table cloth. But the blond wizard lifted her face so that they were looking straight at each other and Hermione was simply lost in his piercing grey eyes. Draco's face was so near hers that she opted to close her eyes, resigned to the fact that they were indeed going to kiss and she wanted them to do so. Then, a few seconds later, Draco stopped stroking her cheek and pulled away his hand, ruining the moment. She opened her eyes and saw the blond trying hard to contain his laugh. Her eyes narrowed into slits. The bloody git was just toying with her! "You bastard," she spat at him. "I'm sorry! The opportunity to piss you off was just too good, I'd kill myself had I not taken it." Even then, he was still laughing. Hermione was really mortified. "Sod off, you wanker! Or better yet, go kill yourself!" She stood up and headed for the exit, leaving the blond behind. She apparated back to their flat and went directly to her bedroom. Hermione buried her head under a pillow, trying to pacify her anger and get rid of the urge to have Draco hanged, drawn and quartered. She had to admit some of the anger she felt was towards herself as well, for being stupid
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enough to fall for Draco's tricks, allowing him to make fun of her. She also had to admit, she was angry at herself because of her reactions earlier. What the hell was wrong with her? Why did she blush? Why did she shiver? Why did she lose her ability to speak? Why the bloody hell did she want to kiss Draco Malfoy?

Draco apologized for his behavior that afternoon and brought home the food he ordered from the tea shop as a peace offering. Not able to resist Draco's charm, especially when he was using it in full force, she agreed to forgive him, making him promise not to pull that joke on her again. But the events that transpired that afternoon have scared her so much, for some reason she was not keen on knowing about, that she declared that only in life and death situations will she set foot on Madam Puddifoot's again.

Hermione chuckled when she recalled her declaration. This date was neither a life nor death situation. "Is something the matter, Hermione?" Andrew asked her, looking confused. She shook her head. "No. I just remembered something." "Oh. Okay." After that another deafening silence ensued. She sighed discreetly. Their date was completely hopeless.

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Chapter 9
Disclaimer: I have to thank JK Rowling for creating the characters I am toying with in this story.

Chapter Nine

Hermione was frying eggs when Draco entered the kitchen. She was surprised to see that he was wide-awake, already dressed in a black long-sleeved button down shirt and khaki chinos. "Going to work earlier, Draco?" "No." He sat in a chair while watching her cook. "Then why are you up so early?" "It's my mother's death anniversary. I'm visiting Malfoy Manor before going to work," he said seriously. She could not believe she forgot what day it was. Every year since Narcissa's death, it has been a tradition for her and Draco to visit Narcissa's grave located at the Malfoy Manor. "Oh. I totally forgot about it. I have been so busy lately that I did not even know it is the first of October today had you not told me." She transferred a fried egg from the pan to a plate and laid it before Draco. "Will you wait for me? I'll accompany you. I'll just get ready." "There's no need, Hermione. I can manage." She vehemently shook her head. "I'm going with you, ferret. You're not allowed to refuse my company."

Half an hour later, they both apparated to Wiltshire where the Manor was located. The huge size of the dwelling was the only indication of how grand it used to be. The gardens were now untended, weeds were growing everywhere and the house itself resembled a haunted house. After the second wizarding war, Draco refused to live in
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his family's home, claiming staying there would only bring back bad memories. The house had fallen into disrepair as Draco had not bothered to spend for its maintenance. They went to Narcissa's grave which was situated near the once-magnificent fountain. Draco conjured a bouquet of white roses and laid it on his mother's epitaph while Hermione chose to remain silent and opted to clear the grave from weeds which have surrounded it for the past year. "It has been twelve years," Draco said silently, almost whispering. "I still remember that day as if it happened yesterday." Hermione held on to Draco's left arm. "It's alright to still mourn, you know. She was your mother, and she has been a good one to you." He looked at her and it was obvious that he was trying hard not to cry. Draco was an expert in hiding his emotions, but every year, at this very day, he lets down his defenses. It was only in front of Hermione that he allowed himself to take off the mask of coldness and self-assurance he put on every single day. This annual habit of theirs was a proof of how close they were to each other, a proof of how much Hermione understood who Draco Malfoy truly was, a proof of how vital one's presence is to the life of the other. Finally, a drop of tear fell even though he was trying hard to hold it back. Another one followed and then another, for he was still grieving for his mother, who lost her life by saving him twelve years ago.

"What the devil are you talking about, Draco?" Lucius Malfoy was shouting, his face was red with anger at something his only son had just suggested. "I'm joining the other side, Father. And I would want you and Mother to join me," the seventeen-year old said, holding on to his newly-acquired courage. "And what makes you think I would consider that preposterous idea of yours?" The vein in the older Malfoy's temple was protruding. Draco looked at his mother who was standing by the entrance to his room before he answered his father. "Let's pick the right side this time, Father. You know Voldemort will lose this war. You know it but you just won't admit it to yourself." "The Dark Lord's side is the right side, Draco!" Lucius took a step towards him. "Tell me you're sorry for even considering the idea of abandoning the Dark Lord! And tell me you're sorry that you're standing up to me, not doing what I want you to do!"
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"No. I'm not, Father. I have been aware of the error of our ways and beliefs for the longest time, and this time, I'm taking my stand. I've had enough of trying to please you and trying to follow in your footsteps and making myself believe that I conform to your ideals. I have been your puppet just as you have been Voldemort's puppet for years. I'm leaving, Father! And I am still hoping that you and Mother would want to come with me." Upon saying those words, Draco was amazed with himself. It was the first time he was able to voice out his thoughts and answer his father without any fear. It felt really good. Lucius drew his wand out and pointed it at him. "Leave, Draco, and I swear I'll kill you! No Malfoy will turn his back on the Dark Lord." Draco was unfazed, and even had the courage to draw out his wand as well and point it towards his father. "Your Dark Lord is a two-faced psycho, Father. He wants to purify the wizarding world by eliminating Muggle-borns? Ha! He is part-Muggle himself! We should be ashamed of ourselves for letting him toy with us all these years." Everything happened so fast after that. Draco heard his father utter the killing curse which was directed at him. Prepared to meet his end, he closed his eyes but instead of being hit with the curse, he heard his father shout once more. But this time, it was full of sorrow, and instead of Avada Kedavra, it sounded like "Narcissa!" Draco opened his eyes and was unable to move because of disbelief when he saw his mother lying on the carpeted floor, eyes wide open. It took a while for Draco to realize that Narcissa has been hit with the killing curse. Lucius Malfoy was crouched beside Narcissa's dead body and then he looked at Draco, hate for his only son filling his cold eyes. "This is all your fault, boy!" The older Malfoy then stood straight and was set to cast another unforgivable on Draco when his body hit the floor, stunned. Draco looked at the direction the spell came from and saw Severus Snape standing on the spot where his mother was standing earlier. "Go. I'll take care of your mother's body."

"I knew my mother loved me, but I also knew she was afraid of my father and Voldemort. When I tried to convince them to join the Order, I was sure Father would disagree with me but I was hoping I'll be able to make them see the light. If worse comes to worst, I would've have even wagered that Mother would pick Father over me. I never knew she loved me so much that she sacrificed her own life for mine." Hermione continued holding on to her best friend's arm, letting him know she was
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just there, ready to listen to what he had to say. "Mother's death has been a great motivation for me to do my best in helping the Order defeat Voldemort." "We have to thank Narcissa, then. You have been invaluable to the Order, Draco." She reached up to his face and gently wiped away his tears. "I'm thankful you entered my life, Draco. So much. No words can express my gratitude, really." It was the truth. Hermione could not even imagine life without Draco, without his witty retorts and without his annoying boastful statements. They had a special bond between them, something different from what she had and still has with Harry and Ron. She could almost swear life was not worth living without having Draco around. It almost seemed like he was her life. Her cheeks turned crimson because of the implication of what she just thought of but she quickly covered it up by joking. "Did you believe what I just said? I was just kidding. You are nothing but a pest, Draco Malfoy." He knew she was not serious thus, Draco gave her a little smile. "I seem to recall that were quite hesitant about my defection to your side." "Who wouldn't doubt you, Draco? You have been nothing but antagonistic to us since our first year at Hogwarts." "You forgot to mention the fact that I planned to murder Dumbledore and I was part of Voldemort's inner circle. The scar on my left forearm is a reminder of that." "How many times should I tell you that your scar is not a reminder of your past allegiance to Voldemort? It is a reminder of how brave and wise you are by finally standing up for yourself, acknowledging the mistakes you made and trying to make up for them." She caressed the sleeve which was covering the scar left by the Dark Mark on the former death eater's forearm. "You're just saying that to make me feel better." "No, I'm not! That's the truth." She looked him straight in the eyes; her brown eyes met his grey ones. "You are an insecure little boy, Draco, even if you usually look and sound like you're so sure of yourself." He gave her a smirk. "Are you comforting or insulting me?" "Both?" she grinned at him, delighted that he was already in a better mood. "Trust Hermione Jean Granger, the brightest witch of her age, to be able to manage that."
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"Glad to live up to the expectations, your highness." She sat on the edge of the moss-covered fountain and Draco followed suit. "It's a wonder you're still not married. You're quite a catch, Hermione. You're a war heroine, source of good genes, wife and mother rolled into one," he said, pulling the topic out of nowhere. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Mother?" "You have to admit you're a nagger, Hermione. And you're an accomplished lecturer." Hermione was amazed at Draco's ability to change from one mood to another. One moment, he was somber, the next, he was annoying her. "Hey! An idea just hit me!" "It better be good." "You won't like it, I think." "Come on! I hate not knowing something!" "Typical know-it-all attitude," the blond teased. "You promise you won't kill me if I told you?" "It depends on what your idea is." Draco stood up, trying to leave but Hermione was quick to hold on to his arm. "Tell me what it is, Draco! Or I'll make sure you say goodbye to your hopes of having children in the future!" "Forget it, Granger. I'm still not ready to die, so never mind. Can we just go?" She looked at her watch. It was already eight thirty; it was definitely time for them to go to work. But she wanted to know his idea as well. Maybe that could wait some other time. "Alright. But I'm going to pry it out of your mouth next time." "I've been warned."

A/N: This chapter is for my friend who wishes to remain anonymous, and to x-hermalfoy, who had given me encouragement and assurance that at least one person likes my fan fiction. :) Hope you do well on your future writing endeavors!

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Chapter 10
Disclaimer: I am not JK Rowling, okaaaaay?

Chapter Ten

It was a boring day at Flourish and Blotts. And without anything important to do, Hermione had occupied herself with the task of assisting the shop's customers. She was having a discussion with a buyer about which book on omens was preferable when she spotted a dark-haired and white-blond wizard pass by her shop. Her forehead creased. What were they doing together that had them so occupied that they did not even bother to stop by her shop? She fetched a good book on omens and handed it to the customer. Then she went outside to catch up with Harry and Draco. They seemed intent on discussing something, to the point that they had become oblivious to the activities of wizards and witches around them. They were certainly up to something. She walked briskly, thankful for the fact that she was female, which meant she was lighter on her feet compared to them.

"She'll kill you if she finds out," Harry warned when Draco informed him of the plan that the blond had already carried out. "I know." Draco said, already aware of what his green-eyed friend had pointed out. "Honestly, you come up with the most stupid ideas, Malfoy." Harry said offhandedly. Clearly, this was the wrong response. Draco gave him a murderous glare. "Do I? Then let's hear yours, Potter."

"Okay. Let me think. Oh wait. I have an idea. Why don't you just tell her the truth ?" Harry said, turning to Draco on the last four words. To which the blond rolled his eyes "Tell who the truth?" A voice interrupted, which was bossy enough for them to identify that it was Hermione without looking back. They both stopped on their tracks and looked at each other before facing Hermione. Draco crossed his arms and
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gave his companion a look that said; you-said-it-you-explain-but-you-better-not-mess-up. Harry smiled uneasily at the woman before them. "It's nothing, Hermione." The witch placed her hands on her waist, raising a brow and giving each a stern once-over. "Stop lying to me, Harry James Potter. I have known you for eighteen years. I know when you're lying or not." She looked and sounded like his mother-in-law, Molly Weasley - which made Harry wonder if all females, even those remotely close to the Weasley matriarch, made them sound like the said Weasley. "It's nothing important, Hermione. Really," Draco said, trying to help Harry, making Hermione that much more suspicious. "I am certain you're up to something. You didn't even bother to say hello earlier. You just passed by my shop. You never just pass by my shop!" She looked at each wizard accusingly, mocking betrayal. "We passed by Flourish and Blotts already?" Draco said, assuming an innocent look. "We didn't notice. But now that you're here, there's no need for us to go there, right Potter?" The blond nudged him and he nodded earnestly. "Nice try, Draco," Hermione said while shaking her index finger at him. She then turned to Harry, "Where are you two going?" "We were going to try a new flavor at Florean Fortescue's," he answered. Hermione blinked before reacting. "Oh! You two are going on a date." Hermione giggled. What was she trying to imply? Harry looked at Draco for clarification but the latter was already red in the face and did not waste a second to snarl at Hermione. "I have nothing against members of the third sex, Hermione, but will you please desist with your gay jokes? It's annoying!" Harry doubled over with laughter when he heard what Draco had said. Him and Draco? Hermione has a weird sense of humor, probably influenced by Draco himself. "This is your entire fault, Potter. She has been like that since your auror James Wright had dinner with her. Maybe he put in a potion in her food or something. Start an investigation on this matter." "Honestly, Draco! James is a nice guy, albeit a little full of himself." Hermione playfully slapped the blond's shoulder. "Well, aren't you inviting me to go with you? I'd love to have some ice cream, unless you two want some privacy?" She was
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grinning like a Cheshire cat. Draco was wearing a scowl. "Ha-ha, very funny, Hermione." "I just remembered Ginny asked me to buy something at the apothecary. Why don't you two run along?" Harry said, choosing to just leave now, having realized that a discussion with Draco was not possible with Hermione hanging around. Plus, Draco would thank him later for having the presence of mind to come up with an excuse to exit. "Enjoy yourselves. Maybe I'll try the new ice cream flavors next time, with Ginny." Nodding at the two, he then went to disapparate without another word. Draco turned to face Hermione. "Off to Florean Fortescue's then?" "Come on."

After refreshing themselves with large cups of ice cream, Draco apparated himself and Hermione to a beach located in a tropical island. It was nearing sunset and there were only a few people strolling the beach side, most of whom were couples. Draco quickly took off his shoes and socks and ran barefoot towards the water, leaving Hermione who was taking in the beauty of the place. The atmosphere was really romantic and it was awkward on Hermione's part. She was still being reminded of their almost kiss two years ago thanks to her recent trip to Madam Puddifoot's, not to mention her internal dialogue when she was talking to Draco in front of his mother's grave. She shook her head and berated herself. Why was she even thinking about these unimportant things? She must be tired because her mind was not functioning well. What else could explain the fact that she thought the atmosphere was awkward for her and Draco? It's Draco Malfoy, her best friend, for Merlin's sake! Or maybe one of her previous dates had slipped a potion on her food to make her think this way. In any case, Draco would surely laugh at her if he knew what was running in her head just as he had laughed at her when he pulled off that prank at Madam Puddifoot's. "Hermione!" Draco called out to her. He was rolling the legs of his pants up to prevent it from getting wet by the water, as if he wouldn't be able to mutter a quick drying spell later. "Let's go!" Grinning like a child, Draco looked magnificent from where she was standing. The sky was a mixture of blue, purple, orange and red as the sun was on its way to disappearing into the horizon, providing an amazing back drop for Draco's equally amazing features. His white-blond hair and face gave the
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impression of reflecting the red-orange light emitted by the setting sun, making Draco appear a little bit more mysterious. For the second time since they arrived at the beach, Hermione shook her head, trying to deny the fact that she was having the impulse to just stand there and stare at him. Heck, she was drawn to him like a moth was drawn towards a flame. "Hermione, what are you waiting for, the next decade?" "No," she said, "Just for a shark to eat you alive!" She heard his boisterous laughter while she was carefully removing her sandals. She put them under a coconut tree together with Draco's shoes and socks. He was really a consummate slob. She had placed her sandals side by side, while Draco had simply shoved his socks into either shoe and left it there. On impulse, she fixed that too. After performing her little task, she rolled up her own pants and ran towards where the blond was. She was still a few meters away from him when he splashed seawater at her, causing her to shriek. "You are a repulsive ferret! You are a shame to all ferrets in the world!" "Afraid of a little water, Granger? Come on! The sea's waiting for you!" He was already knee-deep in water. "I will go if you promise you won't splash water on me." She said, taking an apprehensive step back. He held up his right hand. "Alright, wizard's promise." But what she didn't see was the fingers on his left hand crossed behind him. Satisfied with his promise, she joined him. That was a grave mistake on her part. When she reached Draco's side, he scooped her up and threw her into the water. Hermione let out another yelp and shivered because she was suddenly drenched all over. "Y-you are g-going to p-pay f-f-for t-this, Malfoy!" The blond's only answer was an energetic laughter. "Y-you a-are dead! Y-you are s-s-sooo dead!" "I'm quaking with fear right now, Granger." He pulled her up and carried her in his arms as they headed for the shore. The warmth provided by the contact of their bodies was heaven for the trembling witch. Draco set her down once they reached the shore and they headed to the direction of the coconut tree where their things were placed. She saw Draco pulling out his wand but she hurriedly stopped him. "T-there are M-muggles around!" "Don't be such a goody-two-shoes, Hermione. They won't see us. They're quite occupied with their own affairs." Draco, as bull-headed as he was, pulled out his wand again. "Besides, you're freezing." She glared at him.
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"And i-it's y-your f-fault!" Her teeth were already chattering. "H-hurry." Draco uttered a drying spell and in a second, Hermione was already feeling a lot better. "There." He grinned boyishly at her, and then Hermione said, "How do you want to die?" "Much as I am tempted by your offer, I prefer to live, thank you very much." He replied. Draco sat on a spot beneath the tree and motioned for her to sit beside him. Instead, she went near him and smacked him hard at the back of his head. "What the fuck...?" was his automatic reply. He looked up at her, staring at her as if she were a demented creature of the night. "Apologize!" She ordered, placing either hand on either side of her hips. "I'm sorry! Gads, it was just for fun, Granger!" "Apologize like you mean it!" She was screaming at him at that point, and some of the Muggles were eyeing them curiously. Taking notice of this, Draco reached for her hand and pulled her so that she was seated beside him. She gave him another smack for his rough handling of her. "I'm sorry, okay? Will you please forgive me?" He pouted at her, and she was about to cave in when a thought struck her. "On one condition," said she smugly. The wizard looked at her guardedly. "What condition?" "Tell me about the idea you had when we visited your mum's grave." Ha! If he thought she would forget about that, he was absolutely mistaken. "Alright." He threw a glance at her direction and then directed his gaze to the sky which was now dark as the sun had set fully. He took a deep breath in, and when he exhaled, he said, "Have you ever thought about dating me?" "What?" She looked at him incredulously, searching his face for any sign that would indicate that he was pulling her leg. She didn't know how to feel when she saw there was none. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, Hermione. It was just an idea. I told you, you won't like it." He said in an I-told-you-so voice. But one of the perks of being his best
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friend was that she caught another emotion in his tone. She couldn't exactly pinpoint what it was, but it was there. "Why would you want to date me?" She asked, both shell-shocked and curious. "I told you, you are quite a good catch. You are a girlfriend and a mother rolled into one. I'm in desperate need of a girlfriend and I already lost my mother. You are the perfect candidate." Great, even though he looked serious, the last few sentences were proof that he was just kidding. She shook her head, disappointed. Of what, she was not sure. "Had someone ever told you that you come up with the most stupid ideas, Draco?" She asked, with her gaze locked on to the scenery before them - the sun having set moments ago, the sky and the sea looked as if it joined at the horizon, leading whoever got there to the starry night sky. He looked at her and grinned. "Yes. In fact, Potter just told me so before you insisted your presence upon us, ruining our supposed-to-be first date." She turned to him and rolled her eyes. But beamed at him nonetheless.

A/N: Many, many thanks to Njae, my totally awesome beta. She did a lot of improvements on this chapter as I did not have any time to do so as I was busy with some duties. She turned the crap a of chapter I sent her into something simply wonderful. So thank her, guys!

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Chapter 11
Disclaimer: All characters belong to JK Rowling

Chapter Eleven

"Miss Granger, Mrs. Potter is here to see you." Hermione took her attention away from the book that she was reading and looked up to her assistant. "What does she want this time?" she said a little harshly. Katherine gave her a questioning look. "Oh. Sorry. You weren't meant to hear that." Hermione grinned. "See her in. And don't tell her what I just blurted out." The assistant gave her a tight smile, nodded and left. A few moments later, Ginny rushed into her office, carrying a magazine of some sort. "Hello, Hermione. How's life?" "It was good until this afternoon." Ginny sat herself on the seat in front of her desk, appearing worried for her. "What happened this afternoon?" "You happened." She knew she was rather callous, but no one could blame her. Ginny could really be a pain in the arse. Once she had set her sights on something, there was no stopping her from obtaining it. This time, it's much worse. She seemed to view Hermione as a special project and she could not be simply shaken off. Ginny was on her case like a leech. The redhead gave her a look so sharp that it would have pierced her skin had it been tangible. "I ought to bite your head off, but since I'm in a good mood, I won't." Ginny handed her the magazine she was carrying. "Here. Look what I have for you." Hermione took the magazine and glanced at the cover. "Witch Weekly? Since when did you subscribe to that thing?" "Ever since I found this article." Ginny took the magazine back and opened it to a page somewhere in the middle then handed it to her again. "Read it," she said, pointing to a short article.
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"Signs That Your Best Friend Is In Love With You? What the..." Confused, she looked at redhead who was beaming at her. "Come on, just read it," she urged, giving her a hand gesture to carry on. Hermione narrowed her eyes at the witch sitting opposite her while shaking her head in disbelief. "What are you up to, Ginevra Potter?" "Well, I have observed something..." Ginny stood up and sauntered to her side eagerly, a spring was apparent in her steps, while dragging her chair with her. She really was excited about this. And that fact did not bode well for Hermione. "I don't like the direction this conversation is headed to, Ginny." In fact, she hated it. "Listen to me, Hermione." Ginny held her shoulders and turned her so that they were facing each other and they were eye to eye. "I have a feeling Malfoy is in love with you!" It took a while for Hermione to process what Ginny had said. In fact, for a few seconds, she was just staring at the redhead dumbly. Then she blinked. And then she blinked once again. Finally, when her usually quick mind finished processing Ginny's words, Hermione flinched. She took Ginny's hands away from her shoulders and turned her back on the witch who was eager for her reaction. "Argh!" She was screaming as she put her hands on her ears to mute whatever Ginny had to say. "I'm not listening to this load of shite!" She was so uncomfortable with the idea that she even used shite in a sentence. The idea that Draco was in love with her sent her heart racing and at the same time, scared her. Ginny forced Hermione to face her again. "He is! Believe me!" Hermione took deep breaths to calm herself down and stop her heart from beating itself out of her chest, but she was unsuccessful. "Are you crazy, Ginny? Do I need to send you to St. Mungo's?" Mrs. Harry Potter shook her head and reached for the magazine she abandoned above the desk. "Read that article and you'll be convinced that I'm telling the truth." Ginny looked her straight in the eyes, her voice was pleading. "Please, 'Mione." Heart still beating wildly, Hermione directed her eyes to the article, the culprit behind Ginny's insanity. "Signs That Your Best Friend Is In Love With You," Hermione read. "One, observe him/her. If he/she is looking at you a lot, that surely
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means something." She raised her eyes and looked at Ginny, who was smiling from ear to ear. "I did observe that!" "You did?" Hermione was all the more confused. It was all Ginny's fault that she was considering the idea that Draco was in love with her, his best mate. She wanted to send herself to Azkaban for considering that idea was a huge crime. "I saw how he looked at you during our last karaoke night. There was definitely something in the way he looks at you, 'Mione. It was so obvious that I wanted to bang my head into a wall because I have not noticed it earlier. Who knows, he might be in love with you for years already, we were just unobservant enough to take note of it." Obvious? If it was obvious, she should've noticed it, too. "It's either you have a problem with your vision or you read too much into simple, harmless actions." "No, Hermione," Ginny vehemently protested. "There was something there. I can feel it. And my gut feel is usually right." "You might as well label yourself a seer, what with your supposed perceptiveness," she laughed at her own joke. She looked at the visibly displeased redhead. Hermione decided to continue reading the article before Ginny's temper blows up. "Two, your friends start making comments about how good the two of you look together." "Come to think of it, you two do look good together. You two do look cute together." "Cute? What are we, some kids fresh off pre-school?" "Your sarcasm will get you nowhere, 'Mione. What I meant was you two look so comfortable with each other. You're used to touching, even hugging, each other." "Of course. We are best of friends, in case that fact escaped your notice." "Innocent for you, maybe. But not for Draco." "Thank you for putting malice into our innocent actions." And thanks to Ginny, Hermione was putting malice to their actions as well. Memories of their almost-kiss and the tender moments between them flooded her, and a shiver crept through her spine involuntarily. She might as well join Ginny in her confinement in St. Mungo's.
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Insanity was, apparently, contagious. She shook her head to clear her thoughts. 'Ginny's just bored and with nothing to do, has decided to mess with me.' She stuck her tongue out at the witch and continued reading the article. "Three, he/she worries about you a lot and takes time to be sweet when you are upset." "Well?" Ginny raised an eyebrow at her. "Draco does worry a lot for me. But that's just because he's paranoid. Harry worries for me as well, but he most definitely is not in love with me." Ginny shook her head in frustration. "Whatever, 'Mione. Go. Continue." "Four, he/she starts dropping comments about how good the two of you would be together, usually jokingly." She suddenly recalled what Draco asked her on the beachside. Was it possible that Draco was serious? She remembered feeling that he was holding something back during those moments. She mentally told herself once again that Ginny was just messing with her. However, she was unable to stop her traitorous tongue. "He did joke about it." The witch's eyes were as round as saucers, appearing more and more excited by the minute. "Really?" "Yes. Yesterday." "Tell me! Tell me!" She was enthusiastically shaking Hermione. "No way, as that would feed your overactive imagination. What number were we? Ah. Yes. Five, see how he/she acts around people of the opposite sex. I would, if I was entertaining the idea that Draco's in love with me. But obviously, I'm not." Yeah, right. How would she explain her thoughts, then? "Gimme that." Ginny snatched the magazine from her grasp and picked up where Hermione left off. "Six, ask him/her who he/she likes. If he/she doesn't tell you, then something is definitely up. And seven, he/she knows exactly everything that you like, and makes you feel special and well taken care of. " Hermione knew very well the answer to the last two signs but she kept her mouth shut about it. What witch in his or her right mind would think a Witch Weekly article was credible? It doesn't even merit any sort of response from her. "As I've said, that's a load of crap. One could know everything someone likes without being romantically interested with that someone."
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"And I'm saying that you're a scaredy cat!" Ginny's voice went up a scale higher. "I'm not." "You are." Ginny stood up and pointed her finger at Hermione. "Afraid that I'm telling the truth, eh? Where's your Gryffindor spirit, 'Mione? You were known as the Gryffindor lioness." She made a tsk-ing sound. "What a shame." "I'm not falling for that trick once more, Gin." "Let's do this, Hermione. Let's observe Draco. It'll be fun." It wouldn't be fun. It would be scary. The thought of observing Draco was scary enough for her. The thought of the possibility that Ginny's theory was correct was scaring her out of her wits. "It will be a waste of time. I've more important things to do than that. Besides, I happen to know Draco's not in love with me. Even a tiny bit." "How sure are you?" "A hundred percent sure." Of course she was a hundred percent sure. Had Draco been in love with her, she would notice, right? And he most definitely would not wait for so many years to make his move. "Not even if he's showing some of the signs listed in the magazine?" Hermione threw the magazine at the redhead, which the latter caught instinctively. "That magazine is for gushing school girls, Gin. Not for us. We're way too mature for that." Yes, she was mature enough to believe what the stupid article said. It wasn't trustworthy at all. "Not even when it's suspicious that he monitors your dates and is clearly jealous of them?" "Not even then." "Are you really, really sure Draco's not in love with you?" "I'm really, really sure." Hermione even crossed her arms and nodded to show how sure she was. Really, did someone pay Ginny to press upon this issue? To her surprise, Ginny clapped her hands. "Congratulations, Hermione. You have just earned yourself another title."
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"Huh?" "You're not just the Gryffindor lioness, war hero, one-third of the Golden Trio and the brightest witch of your age. You're also Hermione Granger, denial queen."

A/N: Sorry for the LATE update. Real life got in the way. Pardon for this chapter as well, I'm not quite happy with it and I have to admit I've lost inspiration. I have the outline for this story finished but words seem to fail me. I'll edit it one of these days but for now, I've decided to post it as I was aware quite a few readers were waiting for an update. Again, sorry. I'm done with Chapters 12 to 14 but I need the feedback for this chapter first. Argh. I hate it when my mind goes blank while writing something.

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Chapter 12
Disclaimer: JK Rowling wouldn't write something crappy like this story. Haha.

Chapter Twelve

"You're not just the Gryffindor lioness, war hero, one-third of the Golden Trio and the brightest witch of your age. You're also Hermione Granger, denial queen." Draco raised his eyebrows upon hearing the tart sentences from Ginny's mouth. He hesitated for a moment, unsure whether to knock on the door of Hermione's office or turn back and return later; then decided that he won't be able to obtain peace of mind if he did not know what brought about that declaration from Potter's wife. So, foregoing the knock required, he barged into the muggle-born witch's office. "Well, well, what do we have here?" He saw the shocked look on their faces when they realized that he was with them in the room. "Is Red bothering you, Hermione? I'll be glad to dispose of her for you." He leaned against the door lazily and crossed his arms, while sending a grin to Ginny. "How long have you been there?" Hermione shrilly asked. A look of panic was shared between the two witches. "What did you hear?" He was getting suspicious. "Are you hiding something from me?" "Are you hiding something from us?" It was Ginny, who walked beside him and copied his position. They were only a few inches apart and Ginny was looking at him, her eyes were issuing a silent challenge. Was it possible that Potter told his wife? No. He wouldn't. Maybe she was trying to cover up something by shifting the topic to him. "Well, Malfoy?" "I asked the question first, you meddlesome redhead," he bit off. "I don't care, you insufferable prat!" Ginny gave him a glare that would send him into hiding had he not grown immune to it as he was its frequent recipient for the past few years. "Let me rephrase that question. Are you hiding something from Hermione?" Draco froze. He stared at Ginny intently, trying to ascertain if she was indeed on
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to something. Ginny met his stare defiantly and then he saw it. There was a mischievous glint in the witch's eyes and Ginny mouthed the words I know to him. His stomach churned, threatening to spit out everything he consumed for lunch. He was dead. Knowing the fact that Ginny was aware of his secret was not great news. And that was not good news for Potter as well, since he would make sure the favorite wizard of the wizarding world will be ripped into pieces after Draco was done with him. He looked at Hermione to see if she had any idea what Ginny was implying. She seemed intent on knowing his answer as well; which meant she doesn't. Maybe she sensed his discomfort, and a true friend that she was, Hermione decided to intervene. "Stop it, Gin. Draco's not hiding something from me." "Yeah, right. Good luck convincing yourself, Hermione." Ginny said sarcastically. "As for you, Malfoy, be prepared." Then Ginny shoved him out of the way and without saying her goodbyes, Ginny went out of Hermione's office. Draco heaved a heavy sigh of relief, but he knew relief was only temporary. He would swear on Lucius' grave, Ginny was already making plans to make his life a living hell. "What was that? What were you two talking about?" He was not one to waste time. "Why did she call you denial queen, Hermione?" He sat at the still-warm seat he supposed the redheaded witch had abandoned. "It's nothing. Just some foolish idea Ginny was having." Hermione stood up and arranged the books lining her small shelf at the corner of the room. "You wouldn't want to know. She's gone bonkers, believe me." Something at the top of Hermione's desk caught his eye. When did she start reading Witch Weekly? He thought she was of the opinion that the magazine was only for giggling teenagers. He reached for it and opened it. Just then, Hermione saw that he was browsing through the magazine and hurriedly walked towards him and grabbed the said material. "Hey! I was reading, Granger!" "This magazine is for gushing school girls, Draco, and for crazy married women like Ginevra who, by the way, was the one who brought this here. Do not waste your time reading this." She locked the magazine inside her desk drawer and he marvelled at how Muggle her action was. As if he couldn't just use Alohamora to open the damned drawer. And he had every intention of doing so. Clearly, there was something in that magazine that Hermione did not want him to see and he couldn't abide with that. Draco grinned, he really was a genius. And sometimes, Hermione was prone to act like she was not the brightest witch of their age, which he was thankful for this time. "Why are you grinning, Draco?"
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"It's nothing, Hermione." He copied her words earlier. Then he remembered the reason behind his visit. "Look, your mother just owled, and the stupid owl she used brought the letter to our flat instead. I had nothing better to do so I decided to bring the letter to you here." He reached for the letter inside his pocket and gave it to the brunette. He had a feeling it was urgent as the Muggle dentists rarely owl their daughter. "What does it say?" Hermione took her time in reading the note and when she was finally done, a scowl was plastered on her face. "She's furious that I never celebrated my birthday with them." "If I were Helen, I'd be angry with you, too." "Thank you for the moral support, Draco," she said sarcastically. She turned away from him. She started pacing and biting her lip, a sign that she was deep in thought. A few moments later, her eyes lit up and she flashed a huge smile. "Come with me." She dragged him by his arm and without asking for his permission, he was being apparated side-along.

He found himself standing in the lawn of a quaint medium-sized house, the Grangers' residence. It had been months since he had been there. Hermione dragged him once again towards the door and she knocked. "Please, Granger, get your hands off of me. In case you haven't noticed, you have been dragging me to hell and back." Hermione grinned at him sheepishly. "Sorry." She released his arm. "By the way, about that question you asked yesterday..." "What question?" His hands were starting to feel clammy again. Great. 'You and your stupid mouth, Draco,' he mentally chastised himself. The witch was shifting uncomfortably as well, more interested of her shoes rather than looking at him. "The one which you asked me if I ever considered dating you." Draco let out a laugh, though a trace of nervousness was clearly audible. "I was kidding, Hermione." Hermione raised her head and looked straight into his eyes but he averted his gaze right away. "Are you, really?" She whispered. He was about to tell her it was just one of his stupid ideas when Helen Granger opened the front door.
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The older woman let out a tiny yelp of excitement and hugged Hermione tightly. "Mum, I can't breathe." "I've missed you so much, honey." Helen was fighting back tears as she gently stroked her grown child's hair. Then she turned her attention to Draco. "It's good to see you, Draco, dear." He bowed his head gallantly and smiled at Hermione's mother. "It's always a pleasure to see you, Helen." "You both will stay for dinner, won't you?" Much to his surprise, Hermione reached for his still-clammy hand. "Yes, Mum," she replied, all the while looking at him as if imploring him to explain about his hand. He simply shrugged. Let her figure that one out. "What are you standing there for, then? Come inside." The older Granger ushered them in, and both him and Hermione followed silently, side by side. "Draco," she whispered. "I want to answer that question." He stopped on his tracks and looked at the Muggle-born witch intently. "You don't have to." Hermione had stopped following Helen as well and called out to her mother. "Mum, Draco and I will be right behind you, okay?" Hermione's mother gave them a nod and proceeded to go to where her husband John was. When her mother was out of their sight, Hermione faced him. "I want to answer, Draco." "If you insist." "I have considered dating you, Draco. Just recently." "R-really?" Draco's jaw dropped to the floor as he stared at Hermione, clearly dumbfounded. He was expecting a resounding 'no' from his best friend. He was about to ask her why when Hermione reached up to touch his left cheek and she tapped it gently. "I'm kidding, of course!" She was smiling at him teasingly. Merlin help him, it took all his willpower to stop himself from throttling the Muggle-born witch.
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Chapter 13
Disclaimer: Harry Potter does belong to J.K. Rowling. What else is new?

Chapter Thirteen

Unknown to Draco, Hermione was observing his reactions the moment he stepped inside her office. She was disappointed with herself that she was doing so, as it feels as though she was betraying Draco's friendship. Then again, she was born more curious than others, and she had to know everything, solve every puzzle that presented itself. And what Ginny told her, whether true or not, was certainly a puzzle she wanted to figure out. She knew very well that she was an intelligent person, and she was confident that she was a good judge of people's actions. She saw the shocked look on Draco's face when Ginny asked him if he was hiding something from her. His discomfort was so obvious that she decided to free him from the burden of answering that question by interceding, but that didn't mean that she was letting him off the hook. He definitely was hiding something from her, and she did not like that. She had told Draco every single detail about her that it was unfair if he was withholding some information from her. Hermione brought up the idea of them dating again, just to poke fun at Draco, but that action of hers only served to support Ginny's outrageous presumption. His refusal to look at her directly in the eye, his nervous laugh and his clammy hand that she held were proof that he was terribly distressed with the topic. By that time, she was really thinking about the remote possibility that Ginny may be right. Draco's stammering reply when she told him that she was thinking of dating him, combined with the hopeful and astounded look on his face and the irritation that replaced it subsequently when she said that she was joking, made her think the redhead's theory had levelled up to being probable. The war heroine shook her head slowly, quite amazed with the fact that she had just decided to embark on the journey of ascertaining whether her best friend was secretly in love with her or not. Then, she felt someone's elbow on her arm, nudging her. That was when she realized she was still having dinner with her parents and the object of her thoughts.
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"What do you say, Hermione?" John was waiting eagerly for her answer to a question she most definitely did not hear. She looked at Draco, who was the one who nudged her, asking for some help. Draco was quick to come to her rescue. "I think she's amenable with it, John." Right. She had just agreed to something though she had no idea what that something is. Her mother clapped her hands in delight. "Oh, that's absolutely wonderful, dear." She bowed her head towards Draco's direction, thanking her lucky stars that her parents were seated opposite her at the rectangular table, and whispered to the blond. "What did I just agree to?" "You'll attend your cousin Ella's birthday next month." Hermione blanched. If she was asked who her most hated person was, Ella, her blonde cousin who was two years younger than her, would be at the top of her list. They have not gone along well since their childhood days as Ella was always competing with her. When they grew up, her cousin would always have some spiteful words reserved for her during family occasions. Hermione tried not to mind Ella, but it was hard to remain unaffected by her cousin's immature behavior. "You're dead, Draco," she quietly hissed at him. "You've told me that countless of times already, but hey, I'm still breathing, aren't I?" He whispered back. She turned to her steak and she imagined it was Draco. She mutilated the dish before consuming it all.

"Hermione, I need those ten galleons you borrowed." The brunette pretended to hear nothing and just continued reading Hogwarts: A History. At the corner of her eye, she saw Draco sit on the sofa she was lounging on. She rolled her eyes and raised her book higher. Then she counted to three. One, two "Hermione, I'm talking to you," he said, even poking her. Three. Putting on her angry face, she turned to Draco and slapped his fingers
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away. "Leave me alone, you ferret." "I said I need my ten galleons." "You don't need ten galleons, you just need an excuse to get my attention. Bugger off! I'm tired from work and I don't need your constant pestering." She closed her book, stood up and tried to leave but Draco held on to her skirt. "Let go. Or else, I'll hex you to kingdom come!" Her warning only served to make Draco tighten his grip on her skirt. "I won't let go until you start talking to me." "I'm talking to you right now!" "You're snarling at me! You have been ignoring me since we arrived from your parents' house. It has been two days, Hermione!" She was still sore at him for telling her parents that she would attend Ella's party. Draco knew very well that every year she had been weaselling out of her cousin's party. In fact, the last party of Ella's that she went to was six years ago. That was how good she was at making believable excuses. But the git named Draco Malfoy ruined that record-breaking streak. She didn't have to go, but she couldn't also bear to disappoint her parents who were delighted that she was going. They have been trying to bridge the gap between her and her cousin for years and years. She decided that she would give Draco the cold-treatment as punishment for what he had done. She knew very well that her silence was torture for him. And so far, she was enjoying the pained look on his face whenever she ignored him. She looked down at Draco's hand which was holding her skirt and she pinched it. He cried out and let go of her skirt automatically. She hurriedly walked towards her bedroom and slammed the door shut the moment she was in. She then read the letter from Ginny for the fifth time. Yesterday, Hermione had owled Ginny a note, asking for the redhead's opinion about her plan of action. Ginny had not responded right away, but the long letter she received from Harry's wife earlier that day would explain the reason behind the late reply.

"You are in trouble, Potter," Draco hissed at Harry the moment he entered the latter's office at the Ministry of Magic. He had been itching to get to the dark-haired wizard since that afternoon with Ginny and Hermione at the latter's office but he
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had pressing business manners to attend to. Potter should be grateful for the small problem that brewed within Malfoy Incorporated, as he had just extended his stay on the land of the living for three days. "You are in huge trouble." "Lost our manners, didn't we, Malfoy?" Harry leaned back on his chair comfortably, unfazed by the warning the blond just issued. Draco rushed towards the Head Auror and held him by the collar, surprising Harry. "You told your wife, didn't you?" "Told my wife what?" Harry struggled to free himself from Draco's grip. Draco let go, and Harry fell back on his chair. "You told Ginny about our secret. You promised me you won't tell anyone. I should have known better than to trust you." "I did not tell Ginny anything!" Harry even shook his head strongly, emphasizing his denial. He narrowed his eyes, totally unconvinced. "Then how did that intrusive wife of yours know?" "How sure are you that she knows?" Draco remembered the look in the redhead's eyes that afternoon in Hermione's office. He even shivered at the thought. "One menacing look from your wife and I knew she knew, Potter. And besides, she told me so!" "You might be wrong about that. Maybe she was just fishing around, trying to get you to admit to anything." "I am rarely wrong, Potter." He was convinced trouble was brewing for him as they speak. He did not trust Ginny Potter. Not even a tiny bit. And not after she had promised that she would make life miserable for him. "And I am clever enough to understand what your wife meant." "Whatever, Malfoy. Even if Ginny does know, I most certainly had not told her." That was not possible. He had not made his secret known to other people aside from Harry and the late Remus Lupin. "If you didn't, who did? You are the only person who knows about this matter."
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"My wife is perceptive. Maybe she figured it out." Harry stood up and pinned him with a hard gaze. "You have been successful at hiding it for years, but you must be aware of the possibility that someone else would discover the fact that you are in love with Hermione."

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Chapter 14
Disclaimer: Refer to previous chapter.

Chapter Fourteen

Twelve years ago... Draco Malfoy stayed on his seat and didn't even move an inch when Nymphadora Tonks barged inside the rented room at The Leaky Cauldron with the head of the poor-as-mice Weasley family. "Malfoy," His cousin said, a slight quiver in her voice betrayed the confident look she assumed. The witch was gripping her wand, prepared for an exchange of spells at any time. Draco acknowledged the presence of the newcomers with a single nod of his head, and then once again stared at his wand on the table before him. "What do you want, boy?" Arthur Weasley asked cautiously. "Why did you insist upon meeting Harry here?" He directed his gaze at the wizard. "I'm pleased you obliged to my request though I specifically asked for Potter, not you two." He gestured towards the empty seats on the rectangular table. "Take a seat. Rest assured I have nothing evil planned against you. You may take my wand." Tonks hurriedly snatched Draco's wand and tucked it away safely in her jacket pocket. Then she took a seat opposite the blond death eater while Arthur Weasley remained standing guard by the door. "This better be good, Malfoy." "It is and you know it, Nymphadora Tonks. Or else you wouldn't risk your neck by coming here." "You want to join the Order," Tonks said matter-of-factly. "Why, Malfoy? Voldemort's not treating you well? Or have you grown tired of your death eater games?" Draco bit his tongue to stop himself from answering back. He knew exchanging spiteful words with them would not do his mission good.
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"Nymphadora, that's uncalled for," Arthur admonished. "Sorry," she said. "Let's hear your reason, Malfoy. We'll administer some Veritaserum on you to ensure the truthfulness of your words." He shook his head. "It won't do, cousin," he said, emphasizing the last word, unable to resist the opportunity to goad her. "I am an accomplished occlumens. Our Aunt Bella taught me. Surely you know that only an antidote and Occlumency can resist the effects of Veritaserum." It was obvious that Tonks and Weasley had no idea that he knew Occlumency when they both looked at each other dumbly, for the lack of a more appropriate word. "But you have my word, for what it's worth, that I will be answering whatever you ask me honestly." "I know you'll understand me when I say that simply your promise to tell the truth does not inspire much confidence, Malfoy," Weasley said softly, as if he was sorry to tell Draco that he cannot be trusted. "At least hear me out. Then you be the judge." Tonks cleared her throat. "I don't think this is a good idea. Coming here was not a good idea. Let's relocate." Draco looked at both of them with a question in his eyes. "We're taking you to the Order, Malfoy. I know there's a huge possibility that your death eater friends are on their way here. We're taking you to the headquarters, where there are witches and wizards who would gladly cut your balls off once you make a single mistake. One wrong move and you're dead, Malfoy." "Don't frighten the boy, Nymphadora." "Just orienting him, Arthur." Tonks hauled Draco to his feet as if he was incapable of standing up by himself. "And for your information, cousin of mine, it's not Tonks. It's Lupin. I didn't invite you and other members of our tight little family to my wedding. I decided I don't want masked death eaters on my special day, after all."

Tonks (he just couldn't call her Lupin as he was imagining her werewolf husband) apparated with Draco in tow to 12 Grimmauld Place, the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix. Their arrival awakened the Black matriarch's portrait by the hallway, causing her to scream. "Walburga Black," Tonks muttered, the distaste in her voice and face was clear. "Shut up, you whiny old lady." She then dragged Draco to the staircase and up they
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went to the drawing room, where there were, by coincidence, Order members assembled. They all stood up and pointed their wands at him when they recognized who was with Tonks. The metamorphmagus snickered. "I told you, Malfoy, they're itching to cut your balls off." "What are you doing here?" a wizard said, his name unknown to Draco. "Why did you bring him here?" All eyes were trained on him and it made the young wizard tremble a little despite his newly-found courage. It took a lot of effort to get his voice out. "I want to join the Order." A series of statements of disbelief followed. "I know you're suspicious of me." "Hell yes!" It was one of the twins, Draco couldn't differentiate who. "I'm here to help you. I know a lot of information that could help you in your quest to defeat the Dark Lord." "Why the sudden change of heart, boy?" Remus Lupin asked. "I have seen the error of my ways." There was complete silence while the Order members pondered on what he had just said. For a minute or two, only their breathing could be heard inside the drawing room. It was Harry Potter who broke the silence. "I don't believe you." Draco strode towards The-Boy-Who-Lived and stopped when he was directly in front of Potter, only a few inches separated them. Every witch and wizard in the room was watching him closely, ready to blast him into smithereens the moment he did something to harm their savior. He looked into his rival's green eyes. "My mother got fucking killed yesterday when I tried to convince her and my father to switch sides. Now tell me that doesn't show how dead serious I am about this, Harry Potter." "Narcissa Malfoy's dead?" Molly Weasley squeaked. Draco answered the witch's question but he was still looking at Potter. "My loving father threw the killing curse at me, but Mother got in the way." He heard gasps and Potter stared at him, surprise visible in his eyes. "I want in, Potter. I have nowhere else to go. I'm sure my father is searching for me as we speak. I had the impression that he was quite eager to perform Avada Kedavra on me." Hate filled his heart upon the mention of his father. He still couldn't believe that Lucius Malfoy would try to
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kill him, his only son, his heir. All the respect he used to have for his father vanished the moment he raised his wand and muttered the killing curse. He used to believe that Lucius loved him in his own wicked way, but who the hell was he kidding? You don't Avada someone you love. "Why did you try to convince your parents to side with us?" Draco turned to the speaker, Remus Lupin. "Can I elaborate on it in private, perhaps? I'm not really comfortable with all these people hanging around." "You have the nerve to demand that! You're at our mercy, boy. We could kill you anytime." The blond wizard met Lupin's gaze defiantly. "Not if you want to hear the information I brought along with me." "We could torture you or use Veritaserum," Potter said. Arthur Weasley spoke for the first time since they entered the drawing room. "He's an occlumens, Harry." Draco gave Potter his infamous smirk. "A word in private with you, then?" When his rival didn't respond, he said, "Bring someone along. For Merlin's sake, I won't kill you, Potter! I don't even have my fucking wand!"

A/N: Are you familiar with McFly's song Memory Lane? If you are, sing with me! One week away, got back today! (I changed two years to one week, by the way. Ha-ha.) A few reminders for you, dear readers. This is not DH compliant, alright? And I definitely am no Harry Potter scholar. I've read the series only once. So don't call me out for a duel when you spot mistakes. You can just PM me and we'll correct it. Are we in agreement? Yes? And sorry I have to delay D/Hr fluffy moments. I just want to explain how Draco and Hermione (and the rest of the gang) became such good friends. I'll have you know that today marks the end of Friends and Lovers' first month in this site. A review would be a nice gift. Don't be harsh though. Monthsary, remember!
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'Til next time, folks, whenever that may be! P.S. The new Deathly Hallows trailer is EPIC. So little Draco, though. Oh well.

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Chapter 15
Disclaimer: HP's still not mine. I used lines from The Half-Blood Prince in this chapter, though. I'm sure you'll recognize which lines but I'll italicize them just the same. Yes, those lines, the characters and events you recognize from the book do belong to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter Fifteen

A lot of murmurs and grumbles were heard when Remus Lupin told the other Order members to go out. Potter was still looking at the blond wizard warily, still not convinced that Malfoy wasn't up to no good. Just as their former DADA professor was about to follow the other members out, Potter called out and asked him to stay. Draco smirked and seated himself in a couch which had seen better days. He crossed his arms and raised his left eyebrow. "What are you waiting for? Let's get this over and done with." Both Potter and Lupin stood in front of him, their stance indicating that they weren't letting their guards down. Seriously, it wasn't as if he was the most notorious killer - or in this case, death eater - in the world. He couldn't even bring himself to kill Dumbledore and his father, and he was given enough opportunity. Draco was flattered that he was able to make both wizards cagey. "Talk," said Potter. And Draco talked.

Draco had his share of cowardly moments but never had he felt more afraid than he was at that moment. He had Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore at wandpoint, yet he couldn't bring himself to mutter the words to the killing curse and carry out what the Dark Lord has instructed him to do. His wand hand was shaking, and he was trying back to hold back the tears that were threatening to spill brought about by the fear that he was experiencing. He was afraid to fail at his mission for that would equate to the Dark Lord's contempt and danger for his family. This was the opportunity for the Malfoy family to get in the Dark Lord's good graces once again but Draco could not summon the courage to kill the withered old man in front
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of him. His mission was going well, until that moment. It was then that he realized that he didn't have the stomach to end someone else's life, no matter how rotten he had been during his lifetime. "There is little time, one way or another," said Dumbledore, remaining calm despite the threat to his life. "So let us discuss your options, Draco." "My options!" he shouted. "I'm standing here with a wand - I'm about to kill you." He was having difficulty convincing himself. "My dear boy, let us have no more pretense about that. If you were going to kill me, you would have done it when you first disarmed me. You would have not stopped for this pleasant chat about ways and means." It took every ounce of Draco's will to keep himself from bawling like a baby for the headmaster's words had hit home. Instead, he said, "I haven't got any options! I've got to do it! He'll kill me! He'll kill my whole family!" Draco went whiter than usual upon saying those lines, finally admitting his fears to Dumbledore. "I appreciate the difficulty of your position. Why else do you think I have not confronted you?" Dumbledore said something about not attempting to talk to him because it was probable that the Dark Lord would use Legilimency on him but what etched into Draco's mind were the words, "I can help you, Draco." "No, you can't. Nobody can. He told me to do it or he'll kill me. I've got no choice." This time, the blond's hand was shaking so badly that he could not believe it was possible. "Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine. What is more, I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise. Your father is safe at the moment in Azkaban... when the time comes we can protect him, too... come over to the right side, Draco... you are not a killer..." Dumbledore's words made a lot of sense to him yet Draco still tried to make the old wizard and himself believe that he could kill. When the old wizard said that Draco was at his mercy and not the other way around, Draco did not speak. He kept his wand pointed at Dumbledore as he considered the old wizard's offer. Saying 'yes' could mean freedom from the Dark Lord's control while at the same time, he and his family would surely find themselves next to Harry Potter in the Dark Lord's hit list. It was a hard decision to make. It seemed like eternity had passed before he made his decision. He was about to drop his wand hand when he heard footsteps from
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behind him. Death eaters. Draco had never been more disappointed in his life. Everything was a blur to him as the death eaters exchanged words with the Headmaster. When someone commanded him to kill Dumbledore, he gripped his wand tightly and he was shaking so bad that he cannot aim even if his life depended on it. He couldn't kill Dumbledore. Then, Severus Snape arrived. "Severus..." Dumbledore said, backed against the wall and pleading. Snape walked towards the old wizard, pushing Draco aside in the process. "Severus... please..." What Dumbledore was pleading for, he didn't know. "Avada Kedavra!" Green light emitted from Snape's wand and just like that, the great and wise Headmaster of Hogwarts was dead. And Draco felt like his hope for salvation died with Albus Dumbledore.

A/N: I know most of you must have read this fic as it is a must for Dramione shippers but I'll promote it anyway. Read THE DRAGON'S BRIDE by Rizzle. This is my favorite among my favorites. If you haven't read it yet, go!

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Chapter 16
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling has given me the rights to the HP series. In my dreams.

Chapter Sixteen

Draco was in his room in the Malfoy Manor, silently sitting on the edge of his bed and trying to ignore the sounds from the hallway that indicated that the Dark Lord had made the Malfoy Manor his headquarters. He sighed heavily. He wasn't able to get a lot of sleep lately, as he was often visited by Dumbledore's memory in his dreams. 'You are not a killer... Come over to the right side, Draco... I can help you, Draco...' Draco sighed once again. It has been nearly four months since Dumbledore's death yet Draco was still plagued by what happened that day at the Astronomy Tower. He had nearly accepted the late headmaster's offer and he could not help but wonder what would've happened if the death eaters did not arrive when they did. 'Come over to the right side, Draco...' Seven words. Seven words that caused Draco sleepless nights for the past months. Those and the sight of the atrocities committed by his colleagues. Draco chuckled bitterly. Colleagues. Yeah right. He was definitely not in league with the Dark Lord's death eaters. After experiencing how difficult it was to kill somebody, Draco had concluded that only despicable people could end the life of another without batting an eyelash. Draco couldn't believe how his mission had changed him. Only a few months ago, he was brimming with pride upon being branded as one of the Dark Lord's death eaters but now, he would give anything to get rid of the ugly mark on his left forearm. His silent reverie was then interrupted by the sound of his door opening. He turned his head rapidly, and saw that it was Severus Snape who had just entered his room. Draco stood up and faced his godfather, who's known lately as Dumbledore's murderer. Needless to say, Draco hated him. "What do you want?" Draco snapped. "A word with you, Draco."
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"What if I don't want to talk to you?" Snape closed the door behind him and put up a silencing charm. "It does not matter if you want to talk to me or not, young Mr. Malfoy. We will talk, whether you like it or not." He advanced to where Draco was standing and looked at Draco in the eyes. "You will tell me what Dumbledore said to you at the Astronomy Tower." "I don't know what you're talking about." Draco averted his gaze, unable to look into the older wizards black orbs. "Dumbledore said something to you, Draco. I know. I've been observing you since that day at the Astronomy Tower and I have seen the changes in you. Did Dumbledore try to persuade you to switch to their side?" Draco turned his back to his godfather. "I still don't know what you're talking about." Snape gripped his shoulders tightly and turned Draco around to meet his eyes once again. "You're a lousy liar, Draco. I have known you for so long that I can read you like a book. The changes in you are so obvious that I'm willing to bet that the Dark Lord had noticed. You're lucky that you're adept at Occlumency, or else he'll be privy to your thoughts. Thoughts which I'm sure the Dark Lord won't like." "You have no fucking idea!" With all his strength, he extricated himself from Snape's grip and put a safe distance between them. He was shaking from combined fear and anger. "I don't? Then why is it that you're shaking so bad now, paler than usual and unable to meet my gaze? I am right about my theory, Draco. Admit it and tell me what happened at the Astronomy Tower." "Why the hell would I tell you? You're probably the Dark Lord's most trusted death eater and you killed Dumbledore!" "I want you to join the Order." It took a few seconds before he processed what Snape had said. "You're shitting me," he muttered, unable to form a more coherent response to Snape's statement. "I am not shitting you, whatever you meant by that." He whipped out his wand from his pocket and pointed it at the older wizard.
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"You're messing with my head. Did the Dark Lord put you up to this?" Snape did nothing to defend himself. Instead, he said, "I am here in my own volition. Tell me, do you still want to switch sides if given the opportunity?" Snape's question was answered by silence from the blond wizard. "I'll presume your silence means affirmative. Are you certain about your decision, Draco? The other side will not put up with blood purity, something you're so fond of." "I don't believe in that anymore," he said, then berated himself for confirming Snape's theory about him. The look his godfather gave him was encouraging him to continue. Sensing that he had lost, he heaved a sigh and continued. "When I was a young boy, maybe. But not since I have learned to think about matters on my own, especially during my later years at Hogwarts. I only continued spewing about that crap to put up a front for my father and the Dark Lord's sake." Snape nodded a little, and Draco would swear that he saw a trace of happiness in the Potions professor's eyes. "Then you know which path to take." Draco did know which path to take. But still, he was hesitant. "Why are you encouraging me? Shouldn't you be cursing me by now?" "There's a lot you don't know about me, Draco, but we're not talking about me. We're here to talk about you. Join the order." "I still can't understand why you're doing this." "Because you're not death eater material. You can't even kill weak, old Dumbledore." There was humor in Snape's eyes that told Draco that he was just fooling around, but somehow, it was also true. He wasn't meant for a life serving the Dark Lord and catering to his whims. He may be a known bully at Hogwarts, but that was it. He could never be a death eater. Just thinking about the deeds of the death eaters made him want to spit out what he had eaten for breakfast. For the nth time, he heard Dumbledore's words. 'Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine.' 'I can send members of the Order to your mother tonight to hide her likewise.' Maybe they can hide his father as well, seeing as he had broken out of Azkaban that summer. Draco put his wand back on his pocket. "I'm talking to my parents."
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"Are you sure about that? Narcissa may be amenable to your plan, but Lucius? He's as loyal to the Dark Lord as can be, Draco." With determination and courage in his voice, he looked at Snape and said, "It doesn't hurt to try."

Harry Potter and Remus Lupin were silent after Draco had narrated to them the events from the Battle of the Astronomy Tower to the day his mother got killed, obviously still dissecting what he told them. "Snape was the one who encouraged you to join the Order?" Lupin's brow creased as he put a lot of thought into what Draco had just told them. "Interesting." "And he was the one who stunned Lucius Malfoy when he was about to curse you," Potter added. Draco nodded at them. "I know Snape's actions have been suspicious but the fact still remains that he helped me. So, are you welcoming me to the Order or not?" "Not so fast, Malfoy," Potter said. "You have to explain about that blood purity bit. You said you don't believe in it anymore. Why?" Draco decided that only honesty can make them accept him to the Order. He had told them a lot about the events in his life that one more truth wouldn't hurt. "I want your word that this bit stays between the three of us. Not a word about it would be said once we finish this interrogation." Both Potter and Lupin looked at him questioningly and then nodded. Draco sighed before he said one word. "Granger."

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Chapter 17
Disclaimer: Everything you recognize from the books is J.K. Rowling's.

Chapter Seventeen

"What do you mean Granger?" Potter asked, looking terribly confused. Draco crossed his arms and looked at The-Boy-Who-Lived with a malicious grin on his lips. "It means exactly that, Potter. Granger." "Goading Harry won't help your cause, boy," Lupin remarked and though Draco was enjoying the confused look on Potter's face, he had to agree. "Fine," he muttered. Draco cleared his throat to prepare for further interrogation. He was not comfortable with talking about Granger and he wished he hadn't brought her up. He scolded himself mentally for being honest. "Okay," Lupin summoned two stools from a bar inside the room, positioned them in front of Draco and sat himself on one. Potter remained standing. "I'll interpret what your Granger means, if I may." Draco nodded; anything to avoid explaining it himself. "I'll presume it is because you have realized that there is nothing wrong about being a Muggle-born wizard or witch. I think you have seen that blood status does not really matter that much. Hermione proved that. She may not have ancestry that you have, but she definitely performs the same as, if not better, than purebloods and half-bloods." Lupin hit the bull's eye. He was spot on. Draco nodded again. He was thankful that Lupin had explained it well on his behalf. Not to mention it was really summarized as well. He was not keen on the details. However, Potter thought the contrary. "Why Hermione?" "Why not Granger? Her outstanding performance in every class just grabs attention. It's as if she's taunting me that she's just a Muggle-born yet she performs better than me. I admit I was bitter about it at first, I even constantly whined about the fact that Granger was topping all our classes but I have matured and had that realization about how stupid my bigotry was. You can also blame the slap I received
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from Granger during our third year. I suspect her slap rearranged my brain cells." Potter just raised an eyebrow and asked, "When did you stop believing in all that blood purity crap?" "Third year or the summer before fourth. I don't know. It happened gradually. It's not like I slept and woke up without all my prejudices, Potter." "I don't believe you!" Potter's voice was raised. "You continued taunting Hermione well after those years." "I was putting up a front! I don't want Father to discover that I did not agree with him and the Dark Lord!" Draco was already shouting, as he was frustrated about how thick Potter can get. "I'll give you proof that I got over that prejudice before we returned for our fourth year at Hogwarts." Both Lupin and Potter stared at him, waiting for his proof. "The Quidditch World Cup," he said. "The Quidditch World Cup?" Lupin asked while Potter was silent. "You were there, Potter. In the woods. I warned you and Weasley to hide Granger when the Death Eaters caused the entire ruckus. You seem to think you can face Death Eaters with your knowledge from three years at Hogwarts but you definitely couldn't defeat them then, Potter. I was afraid of being caught by Father, but I risked my neck just to warn you and tell you to keep Granger safe." Silence filled the room after Draco's statement. Draco uncrossed his arms and trailed his fingers on the arm rest of the couch. Lupin rested his elbows on his knees while thinking about Merlin-knows-what. Potter assumed Draco's previous position and tapped his foot, making the only sound in the room aside from their quiet breathing. It seemed like minutes had passed before Lupin broke the awkward silence. "I'll talk to the other Order members about you, Malfoy. But I think there's a great chance that they'll let you join. You know information that may be helpful to us, after all. Harry will keep an eye on you. But I do think you're telling us the truth." "Of course I am!" he said, a little insulted that they were still doubting him after what he told them. "I don't need Potter to baby-sit me." "I don't want to baby-sit you, either. Your choice of words is accurate, by the way." Draco was shocked to find a genuine smile glued to Potter's lips.
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"What are you smiling at?" It was creepy, the way Potter smiled at him. It was like they were the best of friends suddenly. Potter shrugged. "I just realized you're in love with Hermione." Draco stood up, enraged at what Potter just said. "I am not in love with Granger!" He couldn't even imagine being friends with her, let alone being in love with her. He couldn't even say her given name, for Merlin's sake! "We'll keep this matter among the three of us, Malfoy. That's a promise," Lupin said and Potter nodded. "Harry, you better bring him to one of the guest rooms and keep an eye on him until the other Order members have decided." Lupin stood up and started to walk towards the door. "I am not in love with Granger!" Draco shouted before Lupin disappeared from the room. Draco turned to Potter, who was still smiling. "Fuck off, scarhead." His insult had no effect whatsoever. "It's our secret, Malfoy. No worries." Potter's smile really was disturbing. Draco concluded that he liked being enemies with Harry Potter better.

At present... "You have been successful at hiding it for years, but you must be aware of the possibility that someone else would discover the fact that you are in love with Hermione," Harry said, standing up to meet Draco's gaze. "You have been in love with Hermione ever since we were at Hogwarts." "I wasn't in love with Hermione then. You and Lupin just presumed." Harry grinned at Draco cheekily. "We were correct, anyway. You did fall in love with Hermione. If you weren't in love with her when you joined the Order, you were most definitely crushing on her." Draco sat in the chair in front of Harry's desk. "Whatever, Potter. I won't win against you, anyway, as you suddenly became an expert on my feelings." He glared at Harry when he said so. "Back to the matter of your wife knowing my secret..." "I told you, I'm innocent. I didn't say a word to her. It's a huge possibility that she
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noticed you. Hermione might be oblivious to the fact that you love her - and I don't blame her because you are really good at hiding your feelings - but Ginny is perceptive to intrigue, gossip and the like." It was now Draco's turn to grin cheekily at Harry. "I'll tell your wife you implied that she is a gossip-monger." "I implied no such thing!" Harry exclaimed. "Stop trying to get the rise out of me, Malfoy. This is no time for your childish behavior." Harry arrested Draco's eyes with his own. "Tell Hermione you love her before Ginny does something that you wouldn't like. You already wasted seven years. Stop being a coward." "She'll kill me." "Of course she'll kill you. You have been secretly harboring feelings for her in the past decade and you didn't have the guts to tell her. Add the fact that you have been frightening her suitors lately. She'll eat you for breakfast." "Funny," the blond snapped. "Seriously, Malfoy. You've got nothing to lose." "I have something to lose. Our friendship." "She won't end your friendship just because you love her. She isn't that shallow." "It will put a strain in our friendship especially if she does not happen to love me in return. I don't want to lose Hermione's friendship, Potter. You know very well how important she is to me." Harry sighed. "You know what's wrong with you? You're playing safe. You'd rather stay being friends with her because you're afraid to risk your friendship in return for the chance to be Hermione's boyfriend." "Look at what happened to her and Weasley. You've seen how strained their friendship was after their break-up." "They fixed it later on, Malfoy." "I don't want to risk it when I don't have the assurance that we can fix it like she and Weasley did, Potter. Especially if I know that she'll be really angry at me for not telling her my feelings for the longest time."
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"I understand your fears." Harry sat and leaned back on his chair and looked at Draco intently. "But what if you wouldn't be risking your friendship by telling her? What if she returns your feelings? What if she's just waiting for you to admit it? What if, Malfoy?" Draco kept quiet for a minute or two as he contemplated what Harry said. "Malfoy?" "I also understand what you're trying to say, Potter." Draco stood up. "I'll think about it." He nodded at Potter and turned his back to exit the office. Draco was really grateful for the support the wizard was giving him. Next to Hermione, Potter was probably his closest friend. He gave Draco sane advices and he was one of the few people who defended him from the accusations of others who were doubtful of his intentions during the war. He was indeed appreciative of Potter's friendship. Draco was about to close the door behind him when he heard Potter's voice. "You better tell her, Malfoy, or I will." Maybe he spoke too soon about how grateful he was that he was Potter's friend. At that moment, he remembered what he concluded twelve years ago. He liked being Potter's enemy better.

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Chapter 18
Disclaimer: No, HP still ain't mine.

Chapter Eighteen

Draco was sitting stiffly behind a grand mahogany desk, sifting aimlessly through his company's financial reports when he caught an all-too-familiar glimpse of light brown bush pass by out of the corner of his eye. Through the building's large glass walls, he watched as the petite brunette witch headed in the direction of Malfoy Incorporated's Accounting Department. Which happened to be just across the hallway from his office, granting him a direct view of the woman he had spent countless hours trying and finally managing to get his mind off of. No thanks to the bloody Potter duo. He could still hear Harry's voice nagging him at the back of his mind. Thoroughly distracted, yet intrigued by Hermione's presence, the blond couldn't help but abandon the remaining documents on the flat wooden surface and follow his best friend. His secretary scrambled to her feet when she saw that he was coming out of his office. "Mr. Malfoy, sir, I want to..." Janice hastily began, only to be cut off mid-sentence by her boss issuing a firm, "Later." Without bothering to so much as glance in her direction, he strolled out of his office and into the department across the way. When he was but a few feet away from the closed door that read 'Accounting Department' in elegant, onyx black script, he could hear the noise each of his employees' were making on the other side. The blond wizard didn't even try to fight the smirk as it made its way onto his face. He would bet every Knut and Galleon in his Gringotts fortune that every single one of them would freeze once he made his presence known. Schooling his face into a calm facade, he pushed the door open and entered the overly large room. All chatter and motion quickly died away, replaced by an eerie silence that swept over the area, the din receding until a drop of a pin could be heard. His twenty or so employees quietly went back to work or in search of finding something to busy themselves with; a brave few even managed to mumble a strangled greeting to him. He watched in amusement as Hermione looked around curiously, turning her head to glance behind her, determined to find the cause of the sudden change in the
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room's demeanor. A frown forming on her full lips when she noticed Draco Malfoy standing to the side of the office's entrance. Her best friend just raised his brows in a humorous response to the witch and headed in the direction of Andrew Phillips' desk. "Good morning, Mr. Malfoy." The man greeted with a smile, jumping quickly to stand when he realized that his boss was fast approaching. The blond just nodded at him and focused his attention solely on the still-frowning Hermione. "You seem to have forgotten the direction to my office, Hermione. It's the one across from this one that says 'Draco Malfoy, CEO' in large, silver lettering on the door," he teased playfully, earning a piercing look that could freeze fire from the woman beside him. So, they still weren't friends. They were on the fourth day of their petty quarrel, petty being the operative word. Honestly, was he really considering asking this fire-tempered witch out? They could turn the simplest disagreements into fully-fledged battles. Draco cringed a bit when he realized that the answer to the question he posed was a resounding yes. He stared at his best friend intently as she continued to snub him. He had a very good idea that she would have similar actions and possibly treatments toward him when he finally confesses his feelings to her. He really couldn't decide on a future action, he was at a loss, either way she didn't want to be his friend at the moment. Mental images of the livid young witch in school flooded his mind, causing him to cringe some more. That was something he didn't care to be on the receiving end of. When Hermione finally gave in and spoke to him, figuring she knew him well enough to know he wouldn't leave her in any case, she coldly stated, "Be gone, Draco." "This is my office, Hermione. You have no right to order me to go away. Not while we're in my territory," he reminded the petite brunette. Andrew stepped back to remove his person from the war zone while Draco exchanged intense glares with Hermione, for a full two minutes. Then finally, the witch relented. "Fine," she snapped, her voice climbing a notch. Turning to face Andrew her scowl turned into a warm smile as she spoke directly to him. "Let's meet at The Leaky Cauldron on Sunday afternoon at six o'clock." Without bothering to hear either man's response, she left.
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Draco's jaw dropped to the floor. He looked at his visibly distressed employee. "What was that all about?" Draco demanded, his cold, calculating eyes trained on the poor wizard. Andrew bowed his head to escape his boss's sharp gaze. "Hermione just..." His employee's use of his best friend's given name did not escape the blond's notice. "Hermione? When did you start calling her Hermione?" He questioned curiously, watching Andrew's face intently for any sign of a lie. "She told me to call her Hermione, sir," he answered honestly, shifting his weight from left to right nervously. Draco struggled to keep his anger in check. It wouldn't do any good to lose his temper with, and in front of, his employees. "Carry on." "S-she asked me out on a date, Mr. Malfoy." The man tripped over his words, probably wishing for anything that would get his employer's accusing orbs off of him. Draco felt his resolve to stay calm slip away. Before it could vanish completely, he ordered Andrew to follow him. When they reached his office, Draco told his secretary to hold his calls and that the two of them were to be left uninterrupted. Taking precautions, he put up extra silencing charms just in case, to prevent someone from overhearing what he and Phillips were about to discuss. "You said Hermione asked you out on a date," Draco revised, somewhat disbelieving. It was not in Hermione's character to ask a bloke out. She had never once asked a guy out, in her entire life! He was quite sure of that. "Yes," Andrew mumbled apologetically. Draco sat on his chair, and massaged his temples to ease the tension building, suddenly developing a pounding headache. It was either Andrew confounded Hermione or Hermione liked Andrew, a lot. He was inclined to believe the latter. Things were not working in his favor at the moment. He spared a glance at the wizard standing in front of his desk, who was pulling on his collar in an almost desperate manner, an indication of how uncomfortable he was with the current situation. 'That makes the two of us,' the blond thought bitterly. "I would like to know if you still recall the conversation we had before I let you go out with Hermione the first time."
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Andrew looked a bit more cautious upon hearing his boss' voice and the menacing tone behind it, Draco was sure the wizard looked as if he were well on his way to wetting himself. "You told me to disinterest her. You told me to be late for the date and be boring as I can possibly be. You told me not to dare ask her for a follow-up date," the man answered mechanically as if the speech had been drilled into his mind. "Good, a reminder is unnecessary. Now, you would care to explain to me why it is that she is now asking you out?" Draco inquired, trying his best to repress the urge to scream at the bloke that she was his and that no one else was allowed to touch her. "I don't know, sir. I was extremely boring and I even took her to Madam Puddifoot's, just as you instructed me to. She didn't seem at all interested in dating me when we said our goodbyes at the end of the night. I was just as shocked as you were when she came into the office today," Andrew explained franticly. "Don't get mad at me, Mr. Malfoy. I carried out your plan just as you orchestrated it to be done." Draco took pity on his employee, when he noticed that the man had tears in his eyes. He was a grown man, on the verge of crying. The young CEO would have laughed if it weren't so pathetic. "Go back to your department, Phillips. And do not breathe a word to anyone about was discussed here, do I make myself clear?" Andrew nodded vigorously, a sigh of relief escaping from his lips. Not needing to be told twice, the wayward employee rushed out from the Malfoy heir's office. Actually, he all but ran out, leaving Draco alone once again. Failing to get much work done he opted to just sit in silence and wallow in his own misery. Unfortunately his poor secretary got to know what it felt like to be on the receiving end of one of Mr. Malfoy's bad mood, for the remainder of the day.

After a long, unproductive day at work, Draco apparated home to the flat he shared with the woman he loved, to find said witch folded up comfortably on the couch that was seated in the living room, reading yet another book. She didn't even bother to look up from the indescript text to greet him with the usual smile or pester him with her adorable and witty banter, like she had so many times before. The blond wizard's annoyance was heavily inclining by the minute, to make matters worse, it wasn't even the brunette's fault.

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Draco settled himself on the edge of the large divan right next to Hermione, effectively blocking her in between him and the side of the chair, hoping against hope that she would end her cold silent treatment that she was using to punish him and somehow allow him to alleviate a bit of his irritation in the process. He should have known it wouldn't be so easy. He watched as her nose twitched and the hold on the book tightened in a vicious manner. "Hermione, I'm sorry," he whispered quite gruffly, his bad mood evident. The petite witch pursed her lips and continued reading as if she didn't even know he was home. She's still not in a forgiving mood then. "I said I'm sorry," he tried once more, making sure he spoke loud enough for her to hear him. His annoyance slightly showing on his facial features as, yet again, he received no reply. The young wizard wasn't so easily deterred and tried again. "You have given me the cold shoulder for four days already. Don't you think it's time to forgive me?" His question was answered by the crisp sound of a page turning. Bloody hell! A surge of anger ripped through Draco's body and this time, he wasn't able to repress it. "Speak to me already, Hermione! It's not as if my mistake was grave! What the hell is your problem?" That seemed to do the trick. This time, Hermione turned to him, pinned him with a penetrating stare, raising her left eyebrow in an 'are you serious' kind of way. She locked eyes with the man in front of her for a few short seconds, just long enough for her best friend to see the displeasure in that laid within her usually brown orbs that were at the moment, an almost startling black. When she thought he got the message she was trying to portray, she returned her attention back to one of her many books. He sighed, letting his shoulders slump in defeat. That approach did not have the desired affects; maybe he was a little rough with his apology. He remained silent for a short while, seizing the opportunity to look over Hermione and appreciate her unique beauty. She was sitting Indian-style on the couch, her book propped up on a throw pillow she had placed on her lap, and her right hand was absentmindedly playing with her unruled curls, which she gathered into a tight ponytail. She was sporting a Muggle shirt, which had obviously seen better days, judging by the loose and worn out neckline. Draco sighed once again. How in Merlin's name did he fall in love with such a frumpy witch, he didn't know. Draco took notice of her left hand just a few inches from his right one. He slid his
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hand slowly across, closing the distance. He took hold of her left hand, causing Hermione fingers to flinch. He stared at their hands, filling the gap between each of the fingers of her small, soft hand as he weaved them with his own long, slender-fingered, slightly calloused one. At that exact moment, Draco was reminded of the reason why he loved the plain and unfashionable witch in front of him. He loved her because she was his home, no matter where she was. When their hands intertwined, he felt a weight lift off of him, his irritation with her disappearing. As clich as it sounded, and even if he once thought that he was insusceptible to it years ago, he felt that warm, fuzzy fluttering take over his stomach. Butterflies. Flexing his hand, he tightened his grip on her, causing her to gasp out loud from the unexpected gesture. Draco broke his gaze away from their hands and raised his head to find Hermione was staring at him. "I'm sorry," he said once again, apologizing for his roughness and for his error a few days ago. She beamed at him in return, causing his heart leap a few paces and his insides to melt. It was then that he realized that he had been longing to see her smile for four long days, he had missed it. It was as if he had been surrounded by darkness and she just came along and brightened his whole world, whether she meant to or not. "You're forgiven, ferret," she smiled brightly. "It might sound a little better without the ferret," he noted in a faux pout. "You have no right to demand that of me. You're lucky I let you off the hook easily," brunette reminded him haughtily. He flashed her a quick smirk, that was soon replaced by a contented smile tugging at the corners of his lips as Hermione covered their entwined hands with her right hand and laid her head on his shoulder. They held the same position for several minutes, basking in the peaceful silence between them. Draco glanced down at their hands again. Rubbing his thumb lazily back and forth across the silky skin on the back of Hermione's hand, he couldn't help but notice how perfectly they fit together. They say that the spaces between the fingers were made so that someday, someone who was made for you could come and fill up the gaps by holding your hand. Draco was pretty sure Hermione was that someone. He was sure as his hair was white blond that Hermione Granger was the woman meant for him. His heart knew it; she was the one for him. Even if they remained friends for the rest of their lives, he would never love another. How he wished he could be that someone for her as well. He couldn't tell what was going through the young witch's mind, but as his steely
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grey orbs met her warm brown ones, there was only one word that crossed Draco's mind. Home. Everything that had happened, that entire day, and his bad mood, were completely forgotten.

A/N: Noticed the vast improvement? You have to thank my beta, amplove09, for that. I swear she practically re-wrote the whole chapter. Not that I'm complaining. My work has never been this descriptive before. A round of applause for amplove09 please! She's supermegafoxyawesomegreat! Also thank you to Tinkerbell81, who gave me ideas for this. Thank you so much for your opinions on the chapter. :) I was going to add something to this chapter originally, as a sudden wave of inspiration hit me while she and I were exchanging messages. Unfortunately, I can't finish it. It's in the next chapter, though. :)

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Chapter 19
Disclaimer: The HP series is not yours, not mine, only JK Rowling's.

Chapter Nineteen

It was amazing, really; that something as simple as a smile or a touch from the person you love could make the whole world around you melt into an irrelevant puddle. It was like the events during the day just were minor distractions or an introduction to something much better to come, specifically, this moment with her. Draco grinned to himself. It was almost like the first time she had ever graced him with her kindness. He recalled how the pain and misery he felt one gloomy May day dissolved into nothingness when he was wrapped in Hermione's comforting embrace eleven years ago.

"Malfoy." Draco did not bother to answer. Instead, he pretended that he hadn't heard his name being called repeatedly, choosing not to acknowledge the person's arrival in his father's study. Rather, his study. Now that Lucius Malfoy was dead, it belonged to him, just like everything else in the large manor. Yes, Lucius Malfoy was dead. The father and son had met at the Final Battle at Hogwarts, which had been inevitable. It was Lucius who had hunted him down during the chaos and he was more than eager to kill the fruit of his loins. A pity really. The two wizards had duelled, and Draco had been victorious because of his quicker reflexes. With as much hate as he could muster, he reluctantly muttered the Killing Curse a millisecond earlier than Lucius did and ducked from the one his father sent his way. Draco won, yet he felt like he had lost as he had just killed his father. His mentor and idol since childhood had died at his hands. For him, the matter was definitely no cause for celebration, even though he was aware that the world was a much safer place with his father gone. He buried his face in his hands to shield the fact that his eyes were bloodshot due to irritation from all the crying he did since the day the war ended, a week ago to be exact. Yes. He had been crying, much as he loathed admitting it. He would never
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actually voice the fact that he had been emotional over losing his father and he would deny such feelings should anyone assume. He wasn't supposed to cry, for he believed that it was a sign of weakness, but he made an exception this time. Yet the fact remains that Malfoys weren't supposed to show any hint of vulnerability to other people. Thus, while the rest of the wizarding world, apart from Voldemort's minions, were celebrating their victory against the most evil wizard in history, Draco had locked himself up in Malfoy Manor to get away from prying eyes and wept to his heart's content. He cried for the loss of his father's life, he cried for his role in the man's death and he cried for Narcissa, who had shown him love for the first time in his pathetic life, only to meet her demise shortly thereafter. He cried for the unfairness of being born into such a dysfunctional family. He cried for the way he was raised, for what he had been taught to believe in and for the mistakes he had committed in the past. Above all, he cried for the cruel treatment life gave him. No one should ever have to live through any of the things he was subject to witness or participate in, not even his worst enemy. "Malfoy," the voice spoke again, not grasping the not-so-subtle hint that the blond wizard wanted to be left in solitude. Draco stood up from the armchair he occupied and turned to face the intruder. "Leave me alone, Granger!" he snarled at the Muggle-born witch. She appeared to be shocked when she took notice of the defeated slump of his shoulders and the way his voice seemed to waver, then crack. "You have been crying," she noted softly.

Of course he was! It wasn't as if it was normal for someone to kill his or her father. And they call her the brightest witch of their age? Stupid, bloody Granger. " And? Why should you mind? Why are you here, anyway? This is no place for you to be, Gr The witch took several steps, coming to stand directly in front of him and giving her a full view of his tear-stained cheeks, bloodstained eyes, and blotchy red skin. "The Order sent me. They're worried that they haven't heard a single word from you for a week." Bloody Order of the Phoenix. Of all the members, they had to send Granger to him. Draco sat on the chair once again, irritation visibly etched into his features. "Now that you've seen that I'm still alive and kicking, you may take your leave." Hermione shook her head defiantly. "No. You're not okay, Malfoy. Perhaps you'll
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feel better if you tell me what burdens you." The blond tried to give her his best sneer, but his effort fell short. "What? Why the fuck would I confide in you? Are we suddenly friends now? Is that what you think? I was under the impression that we were barely acquaintances at best. Fighting for the same cause does not mean we're suddenly friends, Granger." "We could be." Draco fell silent, his face void of emotion. Did he hear her right? Or was his sense of hearing playing tricks on him? "Pardon?" "We could be friends, Malfoy, but only if you'll take off that mask you're wearing and take down the walls you have built around you." "Coming from someone who spent the past months doubting my intentions towards your group, your statement is full of hypocrisy, Granger." Hermione gasped at his statement. "Sorry if I'm not inclined to do what you've just requested from me. Mask and walls? You're talking crap. Leave. Me. Alone." He spat between clenched teeth, a look of distrust shining through his eyes. "I'm not leaving you alone just so you could wallow in self-pity once more!" the witch shouted, trying her hardest not to slap the idiot in front of her. "And I'll have you know that I have been totally convinced that you have changed for the better the moment I saw you fight against another Death Eater!" Hermione sat on the armchair across from the one he occupied and looked at him intently, sympathy visible in her eyes. "Malfoy, we may not be friends and you may not want me for a friend, considering your low opinion of me but -" "I used to have a low opinion of you." Complete stillness reigned between them. Draco distracted himself by tracing what's left of the Dark Mark on his forearm while Hermione regarded him with curiosity swimming in her brown orbs. "For the last time," the blond said, breaking the awkward silence. "Leave me be." Hermione reached out to touch Draco's arm. He recoiled, as the contact of her skin with his sent jolts of electricity up his arm. "Listen, D-draco." Her voice quivered slightly, obviously hesitant to use his given name. First she touches him then uses his name. What was wrong with her? Had she finally lost it? Gone completely mental as they said she would due to the burden of being friends with Potter? "As I said, we may not be friends, but just this once, I'm offering you comfort. Please accept it. Talking to me would help you let go of whatever haunts you. You have my permission to obliviate me afterwards."
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He pondered on her suggestion for a while. "Talking won't help, Granger." "It won't hurt you to try, Draco." "Why are you being so damn persistent, Granger? Don't you understand? I don't want to talk to you!" Draco stood up abruptly, anger flashing dangerously in his steely grey eyes. "Fuck!" He roared, kicking the chair he had just vacated. The force he exerted sent the furniture flying towards the side table, causing the vase atop it to fall. He heard Hermione's tiny squeak as the vase connected with the hard floor. The loud crash indicated the shattering of the vase. He looked at the product of his recent action. He likened himself to the broken vase. Fallen and wrecked into minute, unidentifiable shards. Yet unlike the vase which could be repaired with a simple spell, Draco was damaged beyond repair. He was so broken and worn down, that he couldn't begin to piece himself back together. He didn't even know how and where to start. The young wizard realized, once more, how miserable he truly was. Rage flowed through his veins. He went to the left side of the room, where his mother's collection of large urns sat lined against the wall. He kicked one of the dozen or so pots, venting his frustration in the hopes of feeling better afterwards. Sharp ceramic pieces flew in every direction; one piece nicked him on his right cheek, a few centimeters shy of stabbing his eye. "Malfoy, stop that!" Hermione frantically shouted at him from a few feet away. He didn't bother to pay her any mind as he continued with what he was doing, thus, he didn't see her run in his direction. He felt her slender, well-toned arms surrounding him as she tried to calm him down and stop his movements. She succeeded. Draco froze on the spot. "Draco, please," Hermione pleaded tenderly. Within seconds, he felt something wet against the material on his back. He would bet on his life that it was her tears that soaked through the thin fabric of his shirt. What happened next would change Draco's life forever. He didn't know then, but as the years would pass, he would say so himself. Because one moment the wizard was hell-bent on ruining his mother's prized collection, angry at life for the shit hand it had dealt him, and the next moment, a strangled sob escaped from his throat while tears streamed down his pale cheeks, coating his face in sticky wetness. Draco Malfoy cried as Hermione Granger held him in her non-judging arms. Draco Malfoy cried as Hermione Granger, the witch he deemed his enemy so long ago, cried for him. Small parts of the wall that he had erected around himself began to crumble and deteriorate. Inexplicably, it all started when Hermione carelessly embraced him.
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Maybe it was because he was overwhelmed by the fact that someone did care for him. And maybe it was because that someone was Hermione Granger. "Tell me everything, Draco," Hermione murmured. He could feel the rise and fall of her chest against his back as she spoke. "I will help you. I promise." Just like the walls, Draco crumbled and told Hermione everything. Surprisingly, he did not obliviate the witch's mind after baring his soul to her. When they finished their long discussion, Draco realized that he had been wrong. He wasn't beyond repair, after all. Later on, Draco would tell everyone that the said moment started their friendship. Later on, he would admit to himself that it was the moment he started to fall in love with the annoyingly kind witch named Hermione Jean Granger.

They had been holding their position all throughout Draco's recollection of the past that Hermione nodded off, leaning on his shoulder. Draco smiled and deciding not to disturb her peaceful slumber. After some carefully thought out movements, he was carrying Hermione in the direction of her room. Depositing her gently on her sheets, he removed her slippers and covered her body with her light blue blanket. "Goodnight, Hermione," he quietly whispered to her, gazing at her longingly. The brunette stirred and opened her eyes. "Draco...," she murmured sleepily and reached out for his left hand. "Stay," the witch stated and moved to her left to make room for him in her small bed. Shaking his head, Draco obliged to her request. He removed his shoes, socks and the Muggle tie he was wearing and positioned himself beside Hermione. "Goodnight again," he said, facing her. "Night, Draco." With that, she closed her eyes and let sleep claim her once again. He was unable to sleep, though, just as he had in the past when he was in this situation. Instead of trying to doze off, he found himself staring at her innocent face. Smiling to himself, he watched the witch beside him, committing each of her freckles to memory. He observed the rise and fall of her chest and when he was certain that she was indeed asleep, he reached toward her and gently caressed the side of her cheek and her jawline. Draco was grateful for moments like this, for it was the only time that he could tell his best friend what he truly felt for her.
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"I love you, Hermione." The corners of his mouth formed into a sad smile as he whispered to the night.

A/N: Again, a heartfelt thank you to my very talented beta, amplove09. She made LOTS of improvement on the chapter I sent her despite being busy with her own activities. You rock, amplove09! :) She'll be publishing a Draco/Hermione fic this coming January entitled "Going Down". Let's check it out.

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Chapter 20
Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns the characters and ideas you recognize from the books.

Chapter Twenty

"Drakie-poo..." Draco groaned and sleepily covered his face with a pillow. Eyes still closed, he sniffed. He smelled roses. Roses? His pillows do not smell like roses. "Drakie-poo..." He knew that voice! Draco opened his eyes, only to be met by darkness as said flower-scented pillow still covered his face. His body was rendered immobile due to sheer horror. There was only one person who called him by that stupid pet name. Could it be that she had gone back to her old crazy self and started obsessing on him again? He felt a finger drifting up and down his arm. The fine hairs on his nape stood up. If he was dreaming, somebody wake him up now. The finger, which was previously on his arm, travelled to his left shoulder and reached his chest. "What the ..." Draco finally moved because he would not allow himself to be molested, and when he "Of course it's me," she chirped happily. "Who did you think I was? Pansy?" "No one would blame me. You sounded exactly like her!" She sounded eerily like Pansy that Draco was positive that the idea that Hermione was impersonating the former Slytherin witch frightened him more than the idea of Pansy fixing her sights on him again. "Gads, I thought I was having a nightmare." Hermione laughed heartily and punched his arm not-so-gently. "You're exaggerating. Pansy's a great lady." Draco covered up his face with a pillow once again. "You're not the one who spent countless of hours devising plans to avoid the clingy woman she used to be." "Right," he heard Hermione say. The bed dipped a little when Hermione sat beside him. "Anyway, you have to get up. You'll be late for work."
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"I'm thinking about not showing up today. Your bed is awfully comfortable. I don't want to leave it." His voice was muffled by the pillow but Hermione understood what he had said, nonetheless. "I'm sure lots of people are waiting for your arrival at the office." With all her might, she pushed him off the bed. Her action was unexpected, and he landed with a thud on the floor, taking the pillow and the sheets with him. His eyes threw daggers at the witch who was laughing at his expense. He saw her wipe away tears of joy from the corners of her eyes and seconds later, she beamed at him. She was glowing with so much happiness. "Good morning, Draco!" Despite being harassed while he was still half-asleep and falling on his arse from the bed, Draco forced himself into a sitting position and returned Hermione's sunny smile. "Good morning, love." The endearment just escaped Draco's lips, as if it seemed natural to call her so that morning. Upon realizing what he had just said, he turned his head away and faced the blue wall, where he wanted to bang his head into for the slip. Hermione's smiling face was replaced with a confused look. "W-what?" Draco stood up and picked up the things that had fallen with him. "I said good morning," he shrugged at her nonchalantly, not answering her properly despite knowing what she truly meant to ask with her question. "What's for breakfast?"

Draco leaned back on the couch, relaxed his tensed muscles and closed his eyes. "Ah, wonderful Sunday afternoon," he sighed contentedly. He was beginning to doze off when he heard footsteps coming towards his direction. He opened one eye and saw that Hermione was standing in front of him. She was carrying a bag with her left hand and another bag with her right. "I'm going to the Potters' home, Draco," she said and assumed a crouching position so that she would be level with him. "Would you like to come with me?" He closed his eye once again and frowned in disgust. "I'll be voluntarily subjecting myself to torture later. Why would I go there and experience hell earlier? I'd rather sleep." "You only say so but I know you enjoy Sunday Night Karaoke." "Your assumption is terribly wrong."
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"Whatever you say, Draco." She heard Hermione's sigh and felt a pat on his cheek. "I have to go. Ginny wants to start preparing for my dinner with Andrew at four. See you tonight?" How nice of her to remind him of her date with his employee. It's too bad that her effort wasn't appreciated as he had been trying to forget about said date for the past few days. "Make sure you go home early tonight, Hermione," he told her sternly. "I told you, you're not my keeper." He opened both of his eyes this time and looked at the brunette witch accusingly. "Why would you go through the trouble of prettying yourself up for your date with Phillips, anyway? You never bothered to during your first date." "I didn't want to impress him then," she replied. "Are you saying that you actually want to impress him now?" He pinned her with a hard stare. She better answer his question with a response that he would like. He bolted into a sitting position and gripped the edge of the seat until his knuckles were whiter than they normally are. His temper was getting the best of him. Hermione gave him a small smile as she sat beside him and offered him a cryptic answer. "Maybe." Draco crossed his arms and shook his head. She left him with no choice. "He's not really pleasing to look at." She looked at him, her eyebrows furrowed. "Looks don't matter." "He's short," the blond said with a smirk. "But not shorter than me. His height's passable." "He's socially awkward." His declaration earned him an unexpected slap at the back of his head, the force of which caused him to lurch forward. "Ouch! Why are you being violent all of a sudden?" Hermione had a stern expression on her face and her eyes were flashing dangerously, daring him to continue pointing out Andrew Phillips' bad points. "Why are you badmouthing Andrew? You're the one who set him up with me." Draco frowned as he met the witch's gaze. 'Because I thought you wouldn't like
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him,' mentally, he sulked. But he replied to her differently. "I just wanted you to know the not-so-wonderful facts about the boy. He can't provide well for you. He's receiving minimum wage for his work in my company." She sighed exasperatedly at him. "I'm not marrying him, Draco. We're just going on a date." "Great." He can't help but voice out his relief. Maybe she wasn't that serious with Phillips, after all. "I'm not ruling out the possibility of marriage, though. I'm already thirty and some would say I have to double time." She patted his cheek, stood up and with a faint pop, disappeared from sight, leaving the blond wizard whose jaw dropped open upon hearing her last statement.

Hermione stared her reflection in the mirror as she sat in front of the dresser inside the Potters' master bedroom while Ginny was performing a spell on her bushy hair to make it fall on her shoulders in shiny and wavy curls. The married witch had been fussing over Hermione for an hour already, making sure that she would look absolutely stunning in her date with Andrew. They had been chatting happily the whole time, up until the past minute. Hermione suddenly decided to keep her mouth tightly shut as she pondered on some thoughts that had been nagging her. Ginny took notice of her abrupt silence. "Why are you so quiet all of a sudden?" She let out a long sigh and caught the redhead's gaze in the mirror. "Something's been bothering me for the past few days." Ginny's eyes sparkled, not unlike the way they usually do when she gets eager about something. "Do tell. Do tell." "It's about Draco." Ginny grinned maliciously at the mention of her flatmate's name. "No, actually it's about something I heard." Her friend was practically jumping with enthusiasm as she urged her on. "Continue. The suspense is killing me!" "Well... you see," she deliberately stalled, just to annoy her friend a bit. "I think I heard Draco saying something to me last Wednesday night." "What did he say?"
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"I said I think. I'm not pretty sure if it was real or I was just dreaming." "What did he say?" Ginny tugged on her hair that she was in the process of brushing quite roughly, signifying that her patience was wearing thin. Hermione wailed. "Ow! Will you please be gentle with my hair? Goodness, calm down, Ginevra." She wouldn't be surprised if Ginny would suddenly explode on the spot as a result of her excitement. "Anyway, he told me he loves me." She looked down, embarrassed of what she had just said. The atmosphere was totally hushed for a minute or two. Intrigued by Ginny's silence, she raised her head and she saw from the mirror that the witch was gaping at her. "Let me emphasize for the third time that I'm not sure if it really happened or not." The redhead crossed her arms in front of her, an eyebrow was raised. "Why are you not sure?" "He tucked me in to sleep. And then after a short while, he caressed my cheek and said that he loves me. I'm inclined to believe that I just dreamt about it. There is no way Draco would tell me that." She left out the fact that when Draco caressed her cheek, she was almost sure that it felt like she was not dreaming at all. She also remembered the sound of Draco's voice when he said the three words to her. He sounded like he was undergoing inner turmoil that very moment. The way he told her I love you was heavily enveloped with longing and sorrow that she seriously considered opening her eyes and then comfort him. She recalled everything too clearly to be considered a dream. Yet, the memory was also too clear that she desperately wanted to make herself believe that she was just imagining it. "Unless he thought you're already asleep and he only had the courage to admit to his feelings while you're dead to the world. Knowing the coward that he is, this is what surely happened in this case. I don't believe the pathetic excuse you made up to render Malfoy's actions unreal when I know for a fact that you don't believe it yourself," Ginny declared with a smirk that would rival Draco's, seemingly so confident of what she said. "Gin..." "Yes?" She reached for a lipstick tube from the top of the dresser and applied it on Hermione's lips. Hermione smoothed her hair already smooth hair. It was one of her nervous habits. "I don't think I could go on with this."
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"The plan's going great, Hermione," the witch frowned at her while replacing the cap on the lipstick tube. "You just have to talk to Andrew tonight and tell him about the plan. Why are you pulling out of this now?" "I'm afraid." Ginny threw the tube inside the makeup kit forcefully, making Hermione cringe. "That you'll prove that he's totally in love with you?" "Yes." There. She admitted it. "You're Hermione Granger. You helped Harry defeat Voldemort. You're a war heroine. Something as simple as Malfoy's feelings should not frighten you." Ginny took hold of both of her shoulders and turned her around so that they were facing each other. "Draco's feelings are not simple, Ginny. Why should we make him say that he loves me when we both know that I do not feel the same way for him? Don't you think that's kind of cruel? And what if Draco's actually in love with me? What should I do then?" She could already envision that things between them would be really awkward, especially that she knew for a fact that she was not in love with her best friend. She would hate to lose Draco's friendship because of something as trivial as love. Ginny shrugged. "It's your call. But before you worry about that, we have to get him to admit to his feelings for you first. Then you two talk about it." She held Hermione's gaze. "Let me remind you that you're the one who owled me, Hermione, telling me that you wanted to find out about Malfoy's real feelings. You know you have to solve the mystery that is Draco Malfoy. Do you honestly believe that you'll be able to sleep soundly without knowing if he truly harbors romantic feelings for you or not? And you also know that Malfoy would never ever admit anything to you willingly. If he plans on telling you about his feelings, he should have done so years ago. Think about it, 'Mione." Ginny knew her very well for her to appeal to her curious nature. Ginevra Molly Potter was one merciless witch. Hermione was already regretting that she agreed to the witch's plan. She had a feeling she got herself into a potentially huge disaster. And what's worse, she went willingly.

A/N: This is not much of a chapter but I think it's really necessary. And by the way, it's unbeta-ed. To make up for this, I'll give you a preview for the next one!

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Chapter Twenty-One: Draco reached for Hermione's hand and gripped it tightly until they were on the dance floor. Holding hands with Andrew was okay. Whispering to him was okay. But kissing? Kissing? They have most definitely crossed the line this time. Draco felt like he wanted to murder someone, preferably someone named Andrew Phillips. I haven't asked for your reviews for the longest time but will you please review now? What do you think of this chapter? Or are you psyched for the next one? :)

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Chapter 21
Disclaimer: I'm just borrowing J.K. Rowling's characters, okay?

Chapter Twenty-One

"Merlin's beard! Ron, stop moving about!" Harry shouted at his redhead best friend exasperatedly. The wizard had been pacing the room's length for the past hour, nervously tugging at the neckline of the white collared button-down shirt that he wore under his equally white dress robes. Draco couldn't help but chuckle at the sight of the panicked Ron. Unfortunately for him, his chuckle caught Harry's attention. "Malfoy! This is no laughing matter. Help me calm him down," he scolded, demanding assistance. Draco stood gracefully and smoothed the creases from his expensive robes. "I'll check on Pansy. I'll make sure she hasn't fainted, banged her head and opened her eyes to the fact that she's making the biggest mistake of her life by marrying the weasel," the blond offered, not wanting any part of dealing with the overwhelmed groom. The jab served to further aggravate Ron. Unable to control his high-strung emotions, the youngest Weasley son attempted to punch his sometimes friend, sometimes tormentor in the face, but was thwarted at the last second by Harry, who grabbed a hold of the redhead instantly. Draco gave the duo a disdainful sneer before he disapparated out of the groom's quarters at The Burrow. He reappeared in front of what was usually the guest room - formerly Ginevra's room - located on the first floor. Currently, the tight space served as the area where the bride and her entourage were preparing for the ceremony. He rapped patently on the door thrice before someone finally responded. "Who is it?" A voice he recognized as Luna Lovegood's asked. "It's me, Draco." The door opened slowly and he spotted Hermione first. She was wearing her bridesmaid dress, a soft pink knee-length gown made of pure silk with a strapless bodice and asymmetrical draping to the waistline. Draco shuddered noticeably.
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Firstly, because the witch was absolutely breathtaking. To him, Hermione managed to turn her simple dress into something fit for a queen. Secondly, because he was horrified by the fact that he actually knew how to describe the design of her dress. "Draco!" Pansy greeted him enthusiastically. He snapped out of his trance and walked towards the bride who was radiant in her classic wedding dress. Note that he did not attempt to elaborate on Pansy's gown. "Why are you here?" He turned to the others in the room; Ginny, Luna, Daphne and Hermione and caught their attention. "Can I have a few moments with Pansy?" The wizard asked them. "Alone," Draco specified as he saw that Potter's wife was about to open her obnoxious mouth to probably say something annoying. He watched as Pansy nodded to the women, and all four complied. But not without grumbling on Ginny's part. "What's the matter, Drake?" Pansy inquired once the bridesmaids had left. What gave her the idea that he was being troubled by something? "Nothing," he shrugged nonchalantly. "I just came here to escape Weasley's constant bitching and to talk to you one last time, while you still have Parkinson as your family name." Pansy put the bouquet of flowers she had been holding on top of Ginny's old bed and patted Draco's shoulder. "I was your girlfriend for a couple of years and we have been known each other since we were in nappies. That means I know you enough to know that you're lying to me." "You should me know me well enough to be aware that I don't like it when people arrive into conclusions where I'm concerned, Pans," Draco chided, still facing his friend as he sat down on the bed. "I know Hermione gets the title of being your best friend nowadays, but you can still talk to me, Drake. You know I'll listen to what you have to say," she reminded him softly. He laughed. "You're being sentimental, Pans. I'm beginning to think that Weasel really rubbed off on you." "That's a poor attempt at changing the subject. You're losing your touch," Pansy huffed playfully.
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"And you're losing your mind," the blond retorted. "Why in hell would you willingly marry Ron Weasley?" "Because he cares for me, he brings out the best in me and he's not afraid of showing his emotions. Unlike someone I know. Particularly, you." "You've definitely gone off your rocker." He shook his head in disbelief at the raven-haired witch. "And you're still bitter about our past, Pans? Does Weasley know you haven't gotten over me yet?" Pansy gave him a tight smile. "Quit kidding around, Drake. I know you're only trying to avoid a discussion about your problem, but I will most definitely insist on one." He was about to protest that he did not have a problem when Pansy held up her left hand, effectively stopping him from saying anything at all. "Today is my day; you simply have to comply with my wishes. Now, answer me honestly, does your problem have anything to do with Hermione's date?" "W-what?" Draco sputtered indignantly. How the hell does she come up with her absurd ideas? He had not given anyone the slighest indication that he was royally pissed that Andrew Phillips was Hermione's date for the wedding. In fact, he had been cheerful - or as cheerful as he could possibly be, given that he's Draco Malfoy since the moment he woke up. "I don't have a problem, Pansy," he denied. The bride sneered at him knowingly. "So it's Hermione's date then? That Andrew fellow?" She really knew him well enough to be able to see right through him. How he wished she didn't. There was no use with arguing with her, it was a lost cause. The wizard sighed and regarded Pansy with a tired gaze. "Drop the subject, alright?" The witch smiled at him kindly and laid her palm across his left cheek. "I wish for your happiness, Drake. You deserve it, you know. Don't be afraid to grab it." "Shouldn't that be my line?" He smirked. "I certainly wish you happiness in Weasley's arms, though I'm not sure how you'll find happiness with that dolt." "I think you really like Ron." "You only think so. You don't know for sure," he announced confidently, earning him a glare from Pansy.

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Draco retrieved his wand from the pocket inside his robes and pointed it directly at Blaise Zabini's throat. It was good that Draco was seated in a dark corner of the marquee, erected for the wedding at the orchard behind The Burrow, or people might have been alarmed at his action. "Give it back, or else," he threatened, a deep scowl set on his face. Blaise, however, wasn't the least bit afraid of Draco and poured the contents of the goblet that he had snatched away from the blond's hands on the ground. "Lay off on the firewhiskey, Malfoy. You've consumed enough for a dozen wizards." His eyes narrowed into slits as he regarded his former housemate with disgust. They used to be good friends, but during the war, Blaise, together with some of their fellow Slytherins, opted to not choose any side. While Draco fought with the Order, Blaise and company had done their best to go unnoticed by anyone. When the war ended, they reconnected and remained friends, though they now move in different circles. "I only had three cups." "Three cups in the span of one minute. And you had another three cups the minute before that. Come on, man. Get up and socialize." Draco put his wand hand down and returned the wand on his pocket. "Socialize? Are you daft, Zabini?" The wizard laughed. "Right. Draco Malfoy does not socialize. Pardon me for my error." "Don't you have anyone else to bug? Why are you pestering me?" "Theo's currently preoccupied with Daphne. I don't have friends here aside from you, Pansy and the two. They might as well call this wedding a Gryffindor Ball." He was about to correct Blaise that there were a lot of former Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs in the reception when he caught a glimpse of Hermione and her date, the reason why he was drowning himself in firewhiskey pre-Blaise Zabini's arrival. Andrew was little too close to Hermione to suit Draco's taste. His fists clenched and unclenched at his sides on their own accord. How he desperately wanted - needed another goblet of firewhiskey! When he noticed that Andrew was holding Hermione's hand intimately and the witch did nothing to retrieve it, his temper fired up. The witch was obviously enjoying Andrew Phillips' attention. She hadn't even bothered to look for Draco, doubting that she noticed that he was sulking in the corner. They hadn't even spoken to each other during the duration of the wedding and the reception that followed it after. Draco stood up, Blaise's eyes following him
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curiously. His sights were trained so intensely on the two lovebirds that he was startled when he felt a sharp tug on his robe. He looked down and saw a grinning Teddy Lupin with Bill's eldest close behind him. "What?" he involuntarily snarled. "I-I'm sorry, Uncle Draco," the eleven-year old boy said meekly. Guilt coursed through Draco's body. Kneeling down, he patted Teddy's blue hair. "No. I'm sorry, Ted. I shouldn't take out my anger on you. What do you need?" "Could you pretty please dance with Victoire?" he questioned, straight to the point. He was shocked by the request, but hid it very well. He glanced at the shy little girl who was hiding behind the young metamorphmagus, a bright red tint crept up along her cheeks, blood rushing to her face as she noticed that Draco was looking at her. Blaise, also witnessing the girl's blush, couldn't contain himself as he howled loudly with laughter. Damn Blaise Zabini for laughing at the fact that the girl was crushing on him! He threw the dark-skinned wizard a warning look, reached for the girl's hand and led her to the dance floor. He held Victoire to his chest as he moved in time with the waltz that was playing in the background, every once in a while glancing at Hermione and Andrew who were whispering to each other, the sight of which made him sick to his stomach. "This is fun," the girl commented as Draco gracefully did a turn. "You're wonderful, Uncle Draco. I like you. You're like Prince Charming in Muggle fairy tales," she complimented, another blush staining her pale cheeks. He gave the girl a kind smile. "You have great taste, Vicky. Maybe you should tell your Aunt Hermione about how wonderful and princely I am." "Why should I? She already has her prince," the girl responded, referring to Andrew. "You think her companion is like a prince, young lady?" "Not like you, no!" Victoire Weasley shook her head so vigorously that Draco smirked. It seemed like he was going to like this Weasley, after all. When the music ended, he carried the young Weasley to her parents who were seated at a table right beside Hermione's. Then, he turned on his heels and took a few steps until coming to a stop directly in front of his best friend.
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"May I have the next dance?" He asked Hermione, feeling the need to break the two up before they attracted the attention of ants that were peacefully resting on their mounds and not paying any mind to the wizard sitting next to her. His eyes fell on the joined hands at the top of the table. "Unable to keep your hands to yourself, eh, Phillips?" Draco couldn't resist on commenting. Andrew withdrew his hand faster than lightning, causing Draco to sneer at the distressed wizard. He returned his sights on the witch and caught her eyes. "May I, Hermione?" "Of course," she answered softly, rising to her feet. He was about to take her hand and lead her to the dance floor when she turned to face her date and gave him a chaste kiss on his cheek. Draco Malfoy saw red. Better yet, he turned red. Yes, he was so sure that he turned into a red ant and he was about to bite Andrew's arse off. Again, he looked at his employee who was, coincidentally, looking at him as well. 'You're fucking dead,' Draco mouthed to the poor wizard. He tried his best to reign in his fiery temper. Quickly, Draco reached for Hermione's hand, gripping it tightly until they made it to the center of the overcrowded dance floor. Holding hands with Andrew was okay. Whispering to him was okay. But kissing? Kissing? Even if it was only on the cheek, they have most definitely crossed the line this time. Draco felt like he wanted to murder someone, preferably someone named Andrew Phillips. He breathed deeply in an attempt to make the rage that was once again consuming him go away but unluckily, it didn't. Still seething over his friend's actions, he faced Hermione and put his hands on both sides of her waist as the music started. He didn't know if he should consider himself lucky or not when the band hired for the wedding began playing the mellow notes to a slow dance.

A/N: Much thanks to my beta, amplove09, who's always ready to correct my grammatical errors and to add more adjectives to my usually straight to the point sentences. Seriously, how can I repay you? :) Preview for Chapter 22: This wasit. This was the perfect opportunity to tell her about his feelings. The opportunity that he had been waiting for since the day he realized that he had fallen in love with her and he was not about to pass it up. Before he reverted to his usual cowardly self, he murmured softly to her...
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Yes! The REVELATION scene is up next. Your thoughts?

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Chapter 22
Disclaimer: For the twenty-third time, I'm just borrowing J.K. Rowling's fantastic characters. The credit for the song used in this chapter goes to Introvoys.

Chapter Twenty-Two

"You don't seem glad that we're dancing together," Hermione voiced her observation aloud as she put her hands upon each side of his broad shoulders. Draco immediately shook his head, hastily denying the witch's statement. "Then quit frowning," she ordered, misunderstanding the distant look on his features. He did his best to put a reassuring smile on his lips for her yet his effort fell short. Instead, it resembled more of a forced grimace. The memory of Hermione kissing Andrew's cheek was still so fresh that Draco was in no mood to rejoice. The reminder instantly returned the frown on his lips. "What's gotten you in such a bad mood, Draco? You have been sulking ever since the reception started," Hermione inquired innocently. So she did notice him! He thought gleefully, the moment was fleeting before he remembered his somber situation. He would not be easily pleased this time. The fact of the matter still remained; she had been too preoccupied by Andrew to bother with seeking him out to speak with him about his apparent sour mood. He gazed at her, hoping that she would be able to read the message that he could not voice aloud in his stormy grey eyes. The people dancing around them, the party and the noise all seemed to disappear as Draco drowned himself in Hermione's dark brown questioning orbs. Look into my eyes And see the emptiness within. I'm looking at you like a prize, The kind I'd like to win
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Draco won their unspoken battle as Hermione withdrew her gaze, breaking eye contact to lay her head on the crook between his neck and his left shoulder. "Draco..." Hermione whispered, her breath hot against his skin, sending shivers down his spine. "You're angry with me." 'Am I?' he asked himself. It was more like he was angry with Andrew, for getting her attention and for acting intimately towards Hermione. He was angry with himself as well, for introducing the two, for sitting on the sidelines and not doing anything to stop him as he took the woman he loved away, right in front him. All because of his petty fear of losing her friendship, and he was starting to regret it. He was angry at a lot of events that had transpired recently, but never was he angry directly with Hermione. Maybe he was a little pissed that she was taking him for granted, but he could never bring himself to be mad at her. He shook his head again, unable to his objection to the witch's declaration. He opened his eyes reluctantly and gazed deep into the brown orbs of the witch who had been the center of his entire world for the past decade. There was an intense mixture of worry and curiosity written in her eyes, as well as a silent request for him to speak up. He cleared his throat and forced himself to find his voice. "No. I'm not mad at you," he clarified, his tone unreadable. Hermione looked up to him, the corners of her mouth lifting as she murmured a meek thank you to him. His breath caught at the sight of her small smile. No, he was definitely not mad at her. He felt all of his pent up rage leave his body at once, something only the annoying, know-it-all, bushy-haired, Muggle-born witch could do. In that moment, he heard what Pansy had said to him earlier that day. 'I wish for your happiness, Drake. You deserve it, you know. Don't be afraid to grab it.' As if it were a reflex, he wrapped his arms around his best friend's waist, effectively pulling her much closer to him. Embracing her, tightening his hold until she her tiny frame was pressed against his toned body. The action itself merited a soft sigh of utter contentment from the witch as she leaned into him. Her hands fell between them, resting peacefully on his chest, neither pushing him way, nor pulling him any closer. He adjusted their position so that he was able to rest his chin on top of Hermione's head. The blond closed his eyes, savoring the moment as he pondered on Pansy's words.
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Should he act now and endanger their friendship? Or should he do nothing and risk losing Hermione, forever regretting that he lost his chance to be with the woman he loved because he was afraid to rise above his fears? Either way, there were complications. Each action had a possibly devastating reaction. He only had to choose the lesser of the two evils. 'I wish for your happiness, Drake. You deserve it, you know. Don't be afraid to grab it,' Pansy's voice kept haunting him. Though it certainly took him years to make up his mind, there and then, Draco had made a decision. He heaved a rather heavy sigh and opened his eyes determinedly. Pansy was right. He deserved a chance at happiness. He deserved the chance to pursue Hermione. He deserved Hermione more than that Phillips bloke ever would. Damn all his worries to hell. He wasn't going to give Hermione up. He wasn't going to give his only source of life, along with his chance at happiness up. Not without a fight. And though you've never asked me Just what you mean to me, I have known you for so long My feelings can't be wrong. Bile rose in Draco's throat as he watched Hermione give a small wave of acknowledgment in Andrew's direction. Truthfully? There was no way in hell that Andrew was going to get her. He would beat the wizard into a bloody pulp before that could ever happen. Mentally, he was about to make up a list that he would call 101 Ways to Dispose of Andrew Phillips when he suddenly stiffened, finally recognizing the song that they were dancing to. He couldn't stop a loud groan from escaping his throat. The Fates had certainly been keeping tabs on his life and now of all times, they were deciding to make things easier for him.
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The blond gently squeezed the witch in his wrapped in his embrace as he laid his forehead against hers. With their faces only centimeters apart, he could feel her the steady rise and fall of her chest against his torso as her minty breath brush across his lips. This was it. This was the perfect opportunity to tell her about his hidden feelings. The opportunity that he had been patiently waiting for since the day he realized that he had fallen irrevocably in love with her, and he was not about to pass it up. Before he could have a chance to revert back to his usual cowardly self, he murmured softly to her. "Listen to the song, Hermione. Please." There was a sense of seriousness in his tone, a plea of sorts, mixed heavily with the desperation for her to understand. The moment the words left his mouth, Draco knew. There was no turning back. He would have to face the repercussions of his action, whether they were favorable to him or not. Confusion was written all over her face as she did what he had asked of her. Her hands moved to encircle his neck. Draco ignored the million tiny jolts of electricity that shot through the area on his naked skin when her arms came in contact with it. Instead, he focused on the beat of the music as they swayed gracefully to the rhythm of the song. More, more than a friend That's what you will always be to me. I will no longer pretend There's another side of me for you to see. Draco felt the moment she understood what he was trying to tell her through the song. She stilled, tensed and then broke all contact from his body instantly. She took a few steps back to put some distance between them, and she regarded him with a questioning glance, a glance that was also coated with fear. "What do you mean?" she asked evenly, ignoring the fact that the message had been quite clear. The witch wanted to hear the words from his mouth. So she was afraid of his feelings for her. He wouldn't blame her. He would bet his eyes were filled with the same emotion as well. The wizard's fists clenched at his sides involuntarily. "I'm insanely jealous of Phillips, Hermione," Draco announced, not pausing for breath in between words for fear that he would be losing courage if he did so.
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They both stood completely still in the middle of the dance floor, not aware that most of the couples were already staring at them curiously. After a few moments, Hermione began playing with a handful of her hair, a nervous habit that he was extremely aware of. Her eyes were trained to the ground as she shifted her weight from one foot to another. Draco gritted his teeth as the excruciating moment persisted, not another word was spoken, both speechless and not really knowing how to react to his revelation. The melody of the love song floated in the air, filling the dreadful silence between them. While everyone's asleep, I lie awake tonight. I wish I had your photograph Somewhere within my sight. I want you to be near me, Be the apple my eye. Remove this doubt that burdens me, Say there's no other guy. Draco had tried to picture out how the scene in which he reveals his feelings for Hermione would play out countless of times in the past, yet not once had he pictured that Hermione would just stand before him, nervous and not responding at all. The blond wiped away the sweat that was beginning to form on his brow. His hesitation for the past decade was not unfounded, after all. This was the most tension he had felt; equal to or even more than the time when he attempted to kill Dumbledore. 'Be a man, Draco, be a man,' he chanted in his head repeatedly to encourage himself. "H-hermione," he stuttered. He wanted to hit himself for stammering. His heart was pounding against his ribcage so furiously that he swore that he could hear every single heartbeat. He took in some air in an attempt to calm his nerves a bit. "Hermione," he tried again. There! That sounded much better. "I said I'm insanely
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jealous of Phillips," the young wizard repeated, hoping to gauge some sort of reaction. Anything would suffice at that moment, anything to dispel the vulnerable silence that surrounded them. At long last, the brunette raised her head to glance at him. She wrapped her arms around herself as if she was suddenly cold, which was impossible since a heating charm had been cast in the area. "Why?" she asked in a voice that was barely audible, he strained to hear it. He felt hot moisture prickle behind his eyes as fear, anticipation, desperation, nervousness and a host of other feelings coursed through his body, all at the same time. Draco hastily shut his lids, preventing the traitorous tears from betraying him. It was all he could do to stop the bothersome signifier of his emotions from falling freely on his cheeks, not allowing himself to be overcome by them. He took two steps towards her and gently seized her clammy left hand, clasping it with his equally clammy right hand. He took hold of her unusually cold hand like it was the source of all his strength. "Why do you think, Hermione?" he questioned, his eyes never straying from the petite witch in front of him. Instead of answering him, she turned her head away to her right, away from his intense stare. He lifted his free left hand to cup her face, feeling her soft skin against his calloused palm. "Look at me, please," he implored, his voice heavy tinted with his emotions. More, more than a friend That's what you will always be to me. I will no longer pretend There's another side of me for you to see. When Hermione finally relented and turned to face him. He seriously hesitated for a while, before recalling what Potter had said to him that day at the Ministry. Specifically, the What Ifs that his former rival had mentioned. Thus, when his stormy grey eyes locked with her soft brown eyes one more time, Draco summoned all the courage he had borrowed from all the firewhiskey he had consumed earlier and liberated himself from the words that were already long overdue. His thumb brushed the skin of her cheek gently, eleven years' worth of love and adoration displayed visibly in his darkened orbs when he finally said, "I'm in
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love with you, Hermione Jean Granger. I tried to fight it, tried my damnedest not to let it happen, but it did. It was too hard to ignore when you make falling in love with you so easy. Hermione... I love you. With all that I am." Draco felt temporary relief the moment he made his declaration, a rogue tear escaping from his eye no matter how much he tried to stop it. That was only when he realized just how heavy burden the burden he had been carrying with him for years really was. There was another awkward pause of silence as he waited for the response from Hermione's lips. Her next words would signify either the start of something wonderful between the two of them, or the beginning of the end of something Draco held so dear.

A/N: I don't know where to begin with my thanks to amplove09. This chapter would never be the same if I didn't have her as my beta. I have re-written this a million times and finally, I was able to come up with a satisfactory chapter, thanks to the tips that she had given me. This chapter had been such a pain! It had been passed back and forth between us for who knows how many times. So thank her in your reviews, please! The song used in this chapter is More Than a Friend by Introvoys. Preview for Chapter 23: His grey eyes caught hers and she saw understanding in them. "I'll hold you to your promise," he whispered as he removed his hand on her wrist. She nodded her head and turned her back on her best friend, her best friend who had just admitted that he was secretly in love with her.

P.S. Much thanks to all those who reviewed this story since the beginning, namely: Wainwright, ginsensu, glimpse, .Wannabe-Fantasy., Rosiebutterfly, hauntedpumpkins56, rtag, ZombieInk, auntieb, DaOnLeeSam, mimi faith, Lily Lewis, Jennybean08, Sueybird, x-hermalfoy, Kariann-chan, Dakota-Malfoy, nooy101, Princess Patterson, CheshireCat23, SugarArts, Catuhh, martshi3, Tinkerbell81, kerstin, nature love 95, Shyrazie, KraZiiePyrozhavemoreFun, ututchieluvchiinu, xandersgirl18, Spintherin, arlenebell75, unicorngirl14, morgs, IheartDracoandRon, Erica, Misti D, Loslote, alwaysthere2, Forevacullen, Sam, xslytherinx,
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ReadingisAWESOME, lenewest, dramionelova, Andrea, OBLuvr13, amplove09, LissaDragonmir, O.o, Phoenix feathers85, ChocolateIsLove, LoonyMoony1396, pirateKitten11893, hi, Chellesmere, The Black Vegetable, lumos, dreadfuldelights, Tishica, rictusEMpra.J, tin, Claudia, riya'sXramblings, Peace-bookluva, animepatty, deathdaisy N, bumble-beeoncrack and twilightnemo. Whew, that was tiring! I apologize for the long A/N. :) A reminder to all: I intend to finish this fic even though there will come a time that it might not seem like it (see my profile for details, just skip to the F&L part). 'Til next time!

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Chapter 23
Disclaimer: I own everything. Wait. That's a mistake. I own NOTHING except the plot. Maybe I don't even own the plot, clich as it is.

Chapter Twenty-Three

Hermione was inclined to believe that she knew a lot of things. In her three decades of breathing the already-polluted air of the planet called Earth, she could attest to the fact that she had learned a lot of lessons in her life in that amount of time, more than any average person her age. People call her a know-it-all, and somehow, they were right. She literally knew everything, could answer any question, could crack any code, and could handle any challenging situation that was thrown her away. But as she looked at the obviously distressed wizard who had just declared his not-so-platonic feelings for her, it dawned upon Hermione that there was one thing she hadn't learned in the past that she was only learning at that moment. There were some things that one would be better off not knowing. Not really sure how to react to Draco's revelation despite the fact that she had been suspecting it, Hermione did the first thing that came to her mind. She ran. She bumped into a lot of wizards and witches - who were obviously more interested in listening to the exchange between her and Draco - as she made her way towards the table that she had earlier occupied. The room filled with curious stares and quiet whispers as witches and wizards alike gossiped about snippets of conversation they had caught. The emotional scene had provided every member of the magical community present in the wedding with some much needed entertainment for the night, feeding off of other people's misery like it was some sort of soap opera. "Hermione!" she heard him call after her. She never glanced back, intent on reaching her destination, not minding one bit that they were again making a scene, much to the delight of the onlookers. She was on the edge of the dance floor when Draco finally caught up with her. He reached for her wrist and gripped it tightly in
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his hand, not allowing her to break free. "Hermione, don't run away from me," he pleaded in an anguished tone, his face failing to hide the hurt that passed through his silver orbs. "Let go of me," she begged him, her voice anxious. "Please, Draco." "Only if you promise to talk," the blond bargained. "I promise." Tears were now threatening to spill from her eyes. She had to go away. Far from Draco and the mess he had made of her emotions. "Now, please let go." His eyes caught hers and she saw understanding shining through them. She knew that he understood that she couldn't answer him, at least not until she had thought things over. He knew that she wouldn't be able to give him a response, especially in her present confused and overwhelmed state. "I'll hold you to your promise," he whispered as he gently removed his hand on her wrist. She nodded her head and turned her back on her best friend, her best friend who had just admitted that he was secretly in love with her. To calm her nerves, she took a deep breath. When she reached her table, she grabbed her purse and took her wand out, ignoring the questioning looks from both Andrew and Ginny. She closed her eyes as she apparated to Ginny's former quarters at The Burrow.

Draco watched as Hermione vanished into thin air after pulling out her wand from her purse and muttering the words to disapparate. He bowed his head low to block out the inquiring and excited looks that the guests who had nothing better to do and didn't seem to know how to mind their own businesses were giving him. At last, he reached the table that he previously occupied, planning to get himself drunk before going home. He picked the seat that faced the entrance. A few seconds later, he felt a tap on his left shoulder and he turned around to see Harry, who was standing side by side with Ron. "What happened out there, Malfoy?" Ron asked as well, worry was evident on his face. "Why was Hermione so upset?" He just gave them piercing looks as he turned his attention to Blaise, who was levitating cups of firewhiskey to where Draco was. "Mate, I figured you might need these after that scene you made."
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What a mate Blaise was, indeed. Draco nodded in thanks to his friend as he reached for a firewhiskey that the dark-skinned wizard had landed on his table. The three sat with him while they watched the blond as he attempted to break a world record on most cups of an alcoholic drink consumed in a span of a minute. Four emptied cups later, Ron cleared his throat to catch Draco's attention. "What happened, Malfoy?" He paused from drinking long enough to regard Harry with an accusing gaze and snarled, "It's your entire fault, Potter." Harry's eyebrows met in confusion. "What do you mean?" A panting Andrew chose that precise second to arrive, still catching his breath as he joined the conversation. "I heard you told Hermione that you're in love with her, Mr. Malfoy." Of all the times to develop a backbone to speak to his boss without being asked first, Andrew picked such a horrible time. Draco's temper fired up once again when he heard Andrew's voice. The damn wizard was responsible for all of the hurt, anger and frustration he was feeling right at that moment. If it wasn't for him, Draco would not have felt so threatened, leading him to finally decide to confess his feelings to Hermione. Due to a temporary lapse in good judgment, Draco stood up, pulled back his right arm and with all of the force that he could muster, he slammed his fist on Andrew Phillip's face. The sound of the wizard's nose breaking brought a huge smirk on Draco's lips. The violent action made him feel a little better. Just slightly. "I guess you did," Harry stated, looking surprised at his action, as he rose from his seat and kneeled down to check if the unfortunate Andrew was still conscious. He wasn't.

Hermione threw herself on Ginny's bed and buried her head in a pillow to hide her tear-stained face, even though no one was around to see her. She was not one to cry easily, but what had just occured prompted tears to cascade down her cheeks the second she had magically apparated inside the room.
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'I'm in love with you, Hermione Jean Granger.' Hermione closed her eyes as she was once again assaulted by a mixture of undistinguished emotions. 'I love you. With all that I am.' "Thank Merlin you're here," she heard a voice call out seconds after hearing a faint, but familiar, pop. "Hermione, what's wrong?" She felt the bed shift and dip a little as Ginny settled herself beside her, putting a hand on her left shoulder to offer comfort. "Shh... It'll be okay." "No, it will not be!" Her loud voice was smothered by the pillow over her face, so she turned around to look at her friend and repeated evenly, "It will not be, Gin. Draco's in love with me." The redhead actually had the gall to smile smugly. "I told you so. The plan worked! You should be proud of yourself." Hermione glared at Ginny through a thin layer of unshed tears, which she then wiped a little too forcefully. Their plan had been to make Draco jealous; driving him to admit that he was, in fact, in love with her. The true nature of Draco's feelings was a mystery, and it was a mystery that Hermione had to solve. It was a mystery that taunted her as Draco's day to day actions proved that it might be probable. She had considered that Draco might actually confess to her, and it was a scary thought because she knew that she didn't know how she would deal with him. But still, that small downside was not enough for her to back out of the plan. Not with Ginny's constant encouragement. Not without knowing the truth behind Ginny's theory. She made herself believe that she would be able to handle the outcome of their actions. It turned out that she couldn't. Sadly, her curiosity got the better of her. An old Muggle saying states that 'curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back'. In Hermione's case, it would be more appropriate to say that 'curiosity killed the cat, and satisfaction dug the grave'. She had definitely dug her grave this time. Hermione Granger, the witch who knew the answer to every question and who seemed to be incapable of doing anything wrong, committed a huge mistake. She started sobbing again when she finally realized how absolutely stupid she had been, causing Ginny to lie down beside her and envelope her in a consoling hug. "There, there, 'Mione. It's going to be okay. It's only Malfoy. You know how to handle him."
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"I don't know, Gin," she said in a weak and defeated voice. "I'm afraid of what he feels for me." "Why? The moment you agreed to the plan I proposed, you should have prepared yourself for the possibility that Malfoy is indeed in love with you." "I know. But when he confessed, it was really different, Gin. He was so intense that I tried my very best not to run away from him and hide the moment he started dropping hints about his true feelings. I was expecting it, but I was still shell-shocked." "Is fear the only reason why you're crying right now?" "I'm currently feeling a lot of emotions and I can't sort them out! All I can do is cry out of frustration. And I am not a person that can be brought to tears easily. Everything's so messed up!" Ginny patted Hermione's hair a few times in a soothing manner. "Listen, 'Mione. Why don't you just rest for a while? Surely, you'll be clearheaded when you wake up. That way we can discuss, evaluate and come up with a solution to your Malfoy problem more effectively." "I don't think I'll be able to sleep with a lot of things going on in my mind," she said, a hiccup following her statement. The redhead pulled away from their hug and got off the bed. "Pfft. That's nonsense. I'll go get some Sleeping Potion. Let's see if that doesn't knock you out." Hermione merely shrugged her shoulders and adjusted herself on the bed, trying to gain control of her emotions and make the tears stop. Ginny was already at the doorway when a thought occurred to her, stopping her in her tracks. She looked back at her miserable-looking friend. "Hermione," she voiced out quite hesitantly. "Yes?" "Is it likely that you also love Malfoy?" Hermione was silent for a minute or two as she pondered on Ginny's question. "'Mione?" "I honestly don't know, Gin," she answered with a sigh. "I've said that I don't but..."
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Ginny nodded her head sympathetically. "I understand. I'll be right back."

Twelve hours later, Hermione apparated to their flat, feeling more composed after a restful sleep and her talk with Ginny and Harry. She was more than ready to face Draco. She found said wizard sprawled on the couch, fast asleep and still donning his outfit from the day before. Her friend looked so peaceful in his slumber. Her friend? Was he still her friend? More importantly, did she want him to be? Eager to start their conversation while she still had the courage, Hermione shook him awake. "Hermione?" Draco questioned, still bleary-eyed and groggy from his fitful sleep. He tried to sit but a surge of pain shot straight to his head, the after-effect of the much loved firewhiskey he had consumed the previous night. "Yes, it's me. Who else were you expecting?" "No one. Gads, my head is killing me," he complained, rubbing his temples with his forefingers. She laughed at him, surprising herself that she could do so after the tension between them yesterday. "Here, let me help you," she offered, retrieving her wand from her purse. She cast a healing spell that effectively vanished Draco's headache. He moaned in relief the moment pain stopped torturing his brain and stated his thanks. She nodded, accepting his gratitude, and sat herself beside Draco. "So, can we talk now?" "N-now?" Hermione laughed again after hearing Draco's nervous squeak. "Yes, now. I really don't want to put this discussion off." "If that's what you want." "It's what I want," she assured him honestly, facing the blond to verify how determined she was. It was like ripping off a band aid; the quicker, the better.

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A/N: Thank you so much to amplove09, who did a huge improvement on this chapter. I'd grade the unbeta'd version of this chapter a D-! Haha. See how much she helped turn this into something readable and understandable? I'm ceaselessly grateful to her. Please thank her in your reviews. I'm so sorry for the late update, by the way. I took a short vacation as the last chapter drained all my energy and sucked my mind dry. After the break, I got sick, thus, further delay. Anyway, I'll try to post the next chapter ASAP. And promise, I'll try not to end the next chapters with a cliffhanger. :) I've a question for you, and I hope you'll answer: If I edit/replace my earlier chapters, will the site send e-mails to those who have put this story on alert?

P.S. Amplove09 and I would want to thank the reviewers from the previous chapter. Thank you to: LissaDragonmir, Princess Patterson, Chellesmere, dreadfuldelights, verra, nature love 95, hannah(dot)waiting4herprince, CheshireCat23, lenewest, riya'sXramblings, kerstin, IheartDracoandRon, Wainwright, Claudia, KraZiiePyrozHavemoreFun, DaOnLeeSam, xslytherinx, Tinkerbell81, bumble-beeoncrack, animepatty, Forevacullen, Spintherin, Shyrazie, deathdaisy N, Christinex91, ReadingisAWESOME, Lee Ann, Loslote, Dakota-Malfoy, tiffluvsCKD, edwardsoneandonlylove, Misti D and ZombieInk, 22aMNa22 and obsidianbutterfly20 . That's a total of 35, an all-time high for a chapter for me. Thank you again! Just so you know, I'm going to make it a habit to thank my reviewers every chapter. So if you don't want to be bothered my thank you portion, just skip the P.S. area.

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Chapter 24
Disclaimer: The characters are not mine, not mine, not mine.

Chapter Twenty-Four

Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione noticed that Draco swallowed nervously as he patiently waited for her to start the much-anticipated talk between the two of them. She couldn't blame him, she was a little nervous as well. To calm down, she reminded herself that she had planned out what to say to him. She even forced Ginny to help her practice, repeatedly reciting to the redhead what she needed to say to Draco and determining how she wanted to deliver her lines. Remembering that she was well-prepared, Hermione relaxed. After a couple of minutes of ear-splitting silence, Hermione finally found her voice. "Did you really mean what you said to me last night?" It was a stupid question, but one she wanted to ask anyway. It doesn't hurt to make sure. For all she knew, he could have been joking, but even as the thought formed on her mind, she seriously doubted it. "Of course I did, Hermione." The witch grinned sheepishly at him. "Just checking," she assured before continuing in a business-like fashion. "Anyway, let's go over this one issue at a time." Unlike her initial reaction, she was more in control of the situation, the way Hermione Granger ought to be. The brunette mentally congratulated herself for the composure that she had just displayed. Draco looked more than glad that she was taking the reins in this discussion, judging by the slightly audible sigh he released. She would also bet that he didn't really do much thinking last night, based on the observation that he smelled heavily of firewhiskey and had woken up with a pounding headache. He clearly wasn't expecting that they would be having the talk so soon. "So... you fancy me," she noted aloud, not unlike the way she would dish out facts that she had learned from books. Her statement was met with a vigorous shaking of Draco's head. "I don't just fancy
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you, Hermione," the blond insisted as he reached for her left hand and captured it in between both of his hands. He stared deep into her eyes, hoping that she would see the sincerity of his words in his silver eyes. "I'm in love with you," he declared without any struggle, as if he had been saying them for ages. The intensity in the wizard's declaration triggered a scarlet blush to appear on Hermione's cheeks. The brunette bowed her head low, to hide her reddened face and also to avoid meeting Draco's penetrating gaze. "Why?" she asked, no trace of fear could be heard in her voice, only curiosity. "Why not?" "There are women much more beautiful and well brought-up than I am, Draco. And what's more, they wouldn't hesitate to run to you at the snap of your fingers." She had been witness to the sight of countless women withering under the blond's gaze. She had been seen a number of well-bred ladies doing their utmost to catch the attention of the man behind the success of Malfoy Incorporated. He had it all; fame, looks and fortune. He could have anything and anyone he wanted. Without a doubt, Draco could have someone better than her. "Believe me, how I wanted to snap my fingers and choose someone among the women who would line up in front of me," he said, this time not attempting to conceal his sigh. "When I first started feeling something else aside from friendship for you, I was more than willing to transfer my attentions to anyone. Anyone, Hermione." Hermione found herself meeting Draco's eyes once again as he laid his right palm on her cheek, his thumb was caressing her skin tenderly, holding her face level with his. "That's how much the prospect of falling in love with you had scared me. But I couldn't. I just couldn't. It's you that I want. Only you and no one else." His passionate gaze bore right through Hermione, she wanted to close her eyes to shield herself, but she couldn't. She just couldn't look away. "You're the only one who could make me feel good about myself whenever I feel insecure," Draco continued in a way that was totally uncharacteristic of him. "You're the only one who could wipe away the anger that I feel towards life in general with just a simple touch. You make my life worth living, Hermione. You are my happiness and you are my life." His words were so heavily-tinted with his feelings that Hermione simply didn't know how to respond to them. She was flattered, but she was also scared that she had come to mean that much to her friend. She felt her heart being gripped so
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tightly that she had a hard time breathing for a second or two, causing her to take in a lungful of air. The only words she could assemble were, "I don't know to respond to that. I have never imagined that you would feel that way." Draco let out a soft laugh, removed his hold on her face and let go of her hand that he was still clutching. "You didn't? I've been dropping hints for the past few years." "What hints?" He went silent, trying to remember all of the instances in which he had attempted to tell Hermione how he felt about her. "Do you recall what I said to you during our last visit to the beach?" Of course she did. Quite vividly, actually, as if it only happened yesterday. She wasn't surprised in the least. "That I should consider being a couple with you?" "Yes. And do you also remember that time at Madam Puddifoot's? I really considered kissing you but I backed out at the last second. Every time I try to tell or show you how I felt, I end up passing each attempt off as a joke. I just wasn't brave enough to finally admit how in love I was with you, Hermione." So, he really was going to kiss her that time. She had reason to act the way she did, after all. She put her hands on her lap, biting her lip as she decided whether to tell Draco that she had been suspicious of his actions lately or not. She decided not to, because she didn't the discussion to arrive at the fact that she and Ginny had orchestrated a plan to make him confess to her. He would kill her, love or not. "Since when did you realize your feelings for me?" He leaned back on the couch and crossed his ankles, a pose that indicated that he was already lightening up. She was glad they were now both relaxing, as if they weren't talking about something possibly life-changing for them. "Since the day you broke up with Weasley. Do you remember the time when you came to me and bawled like a baby because of what happened?" He glanced at her, and she nodded. She definitely remembered. That had been the start of the closeness between the two of them. Before that, she and Draco were good friends, but not enough to make them the best of friends. The day she and Ron ended their romantic relationship, she wanted to go to someone who wouldn't try to
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make her fix things up with Ron. She ran to Draco, because she knew he was someone who just listened to her and respected her decisions. Not that Harry and Ginny didn't, but she figured that they would at least try to get her and Ron back together, staunch Ron/Hermione supporters that they were. And Draco definitely was not. She stopped reminiscing when Draco spoke up again. "I wanted to rip Weasel's body into pieces for making you cry like that. At the same time, I envied him because I saw how much you loved him. I found myself wishing that I was Ron Weasley. But unlike him, I would definitely take care of your heart, not smash it into bits like he did. That was when I realized that I was in love with you." He paused for a moment as he pondered on what to say next. "But upon retrospection, I would say I fell in love with you that day you found me at Malfoy Manor." Hermione looked at him inquiringly. "Why that day?" "Because that was the day I found a reason to still live, no matter how crappy my life was. That was the day that I realized that someone still cares for me, in spite of everything that I had done. You cared for me, even though I had been nothing but horrible to you in the past." For the second time, Hermione was rendered speechless by the depth of Draco's feelings for her. "Thank you." "What for?" "For loving me unconditionally." She still couldn't process the idea that someone as arrogant, selfish and unfeeling as Draco Malfoy had been in love with her all this time, without demanding that she should return it. It was unexpected of Draco, yet, it was true. "No, I should be the one thanking you." He reached for her right hand again. "Thank you for being there for me, Hermione. Thank you for changing me." "You're not blaming me for turning you into a softy?" she joked. Draco smirked at her. "I love who I am now, though I miss the bullying prat that I used to be sometimes," he griped. "Thank goodness for the presence of Red, Weasel and Potter. I get to practice on them sometimes." She chuckled in amusement and hit his arm with her free hand. "I talked to Ginny
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and Harry before I went back home, you know." Draco's left eyebrow rose curiously. "And?" "I couldn't believe Harry knew about your feelings for me." When she woke up that morning, Harry and Ginny had been waiting for her. They took a quick breakfast at The Burrow and apparated to the Potters', where they had their conversation. Harry confessed that he had always known about Draco's feelings and that lately, he had been convincing the latter to come clean with it to her. He also admitted that it had been his plan to drop hints to Ginny, making his wife urge Hermione to observe Draco because the blond was not doing anything about his feelings towards her. Hermione stared as Harry received a tongue-lashing from Ginny for hiding such a stirring piece of information from her. They were two peas in a pod, both meddlesome and manipulative. All Hermione could do was shake her head in disbelief and look at them, wide-eyed, as they exchanged words. The hero who defeated Voldemort was on the defensive side, cringing as the redhead spewed forth some colorful words. When things had calmed down, they proceeded to ask Hermione questions about how she was feeling about Draco's revelation. They helped her sort her feelings out and when they did, they talked about how to best proceed, given the situation. The talk did much help to Hermione, as she went home feeling only a bit nervous and knowing what she really wanted to happen between her and her best friend. It seemed like the couple knew a lot about the situation at hand. Hermione had a feeling they both knew more than she and Draco did. "He figured it out before I did," he said bitterly. "Harry said you're worried that I might get mad at you if you confessed." "I am worried." He looked at her, suddenly becoming uneasy. "Are you?" "Mad at you? No!" A wide smile formed on Draco's lips. "That's good to hear." "It's not entirely your fault. I'm partly to blame. I did make falling with love with me so easy after all."
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After sharing a few a moments of laughter, Draco cleared his throat and his grip on her hand became more unyielding. "Where do we go from here?" Here it was. The moment she had been anxious about, but one she had also prepared adequately for. "I'm overwhelmed by all of this. I was - and still am - so confused about our current situation. You know, I cried and cried last night. I was so terrified of the intensity of your feelings and the fact that things were going to change between the two of us abruptly. Like you, I really don't want to risk our friendship. And I absolutely don't want to go through what I had to go through the moment I ended things with Ron again. It was difficult to bring back the depth of our friendship. I have to admit that there's a little gap between Ron and I until now, no matter how much we try to bring our friendship back to what it used to be. And I hate it." There was understanding in Draco's eyes as he looked at her intently. "So I reached a decision," she declared. "I'll totally respect whatever it is." He righted his position on the couch as he waited for her verdict. "Do you promise that you will remain as my friend whatever happens?" The blond nodded enthusiastically. "Yes, I do. Would you give me your word that you'll do the same, too?" "I do promise as well." She covered their joined hands with her left hand as she initiated the contact between their eyes this time. "To be honest with you, Draco, I don't know if I return your feelings or not." "I understand," he muttered, though he visibly went rigid due to much anticipation. Hermione closed her eyes, her pulse quickening as she said, "I think it's only fair to give you a chance, Draco." "It is okay, Hermione," Draco assured her simultaneously, slumping on his seat and obviously expecting a rejection from her. When he realized that she sounded different, he cupped her face with both of his hands, forcing her to open her eyes. "What did you just say?" She laughed, enjoying the stunned look that crossed Draco's features. "I said I'm
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giving you a chance. I was willing to date complete strangers so why shouldn't I date someone I knew so well?" His joy manifested itself on his eyes and his hands were slightly trembling. "Are you certain?" "If you keep our agreement in mind, I'm certain. Let's see where fate takes us." She smiled at Draco's apparent happiness. "You have to express your gratitude to Ginny and Harry. They helped me reach this decision. " Draco immediately wrapped her in an embrace that threatened to cut the witch's blood circulation off. He let out a sigh of gratification and he planted a quick kiss on her temple afterwards. "I love you," he whispered softly to her. "Thank you," Hermione responded, unable to thwart a blush creeping to her cheeks as she laid her head on Draco's shoulder.

A/N: As always, thank you so much to amplove09 for beta-ing. :) I hope you liked the chapter, everyone! With a heavy heart, I would like to inform all of you that effective today, this story will be put on hold ( just on hold, I'll definitely finish this) for reasons stated in my profile (for those who didn't know yet). Will you be so kind as to send me off with a review? :)

P.S. Thank you to the following people who reviewed the previous chapter: Tinkerbell81, twilightnemo, xslytherinx, Lumos, Lee Ann, lenewest, Michelle, CheshireCat23, Jennybean08, Chellesmere, deathdaisy N, leakingpenholder, carly, riya'sXramblings, Becky, Shyrazie, waterflower20, kerstin, dreadfuldelights, KraZiiePyrozHavemoreFun, arlenebell75, frostykitten, IheartDracoandRon, Loslote, verra, ReadingisAWESOME, LissaDragonmir, Misti D, Wainwright, Claudia, callmeafreakforchanny, ash, nature love 95, Dakota-Malfoy, DemolitionSister, anna0728, edwardsoneandonlylove and ZombieInk. Also, much thanks to those who put this story (and even me!) in their faves and subscriptions list.

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Chapter 25
Disclaimer: No, HP still ain't mine.

Chapter Twenty-Five

"Does it bother you so much to put the lid back on something?" Hermione reprimanded Draco who was currently enjoying a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and who left the bottle of peanut butter open. "You are such a slob, Draco," she murmured while cleaning up the mess the blond had made. "And please, please remember not to put down the knife you used on the table again. The table cloth is white, for the love of Merlin! You take care of that stain!" Draco bit a mouthful of sandwich, chewing and swallowing it before responding to the witch. "Gads, Hermione, you are such a nagger." "If you don't want me nagging you, clean up after yourself. I am not a house-elf!" He was grumbling as he stood up from his seat and reached for his wand at his pocket. "It's not hard to cast a cleaning spell, you know," he said, then muttered the appropriate spell to vanish the stain from the table cloth. "I don't know why I loved someone as meticulous and irritating as you." She glared at him. "Then find somebody else to love. It's not as if I imposed myself on you." The blond pocketed his wand and sat again. "You're only saying that because you know I can't replace you with someone else." "No, I'm serious." She stood in front of him and crossed her arms. ""Find somebody else. And make sure she meets the job description of being your maid, alright?" "I know you're kidding, Hermione, my love," he said, grinning up at her. "You'll be absolutely unhappy without my charming presence." Fat-headed ferret, that's what he was. "Do I look like I'm happy in your company, Draco?" she asked, making sure a frown was gracing her lips. "How I wish I rejected
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you. You wouldn't be looking as smug as you do now if I did." This time, the blond's grin was gone. He quickly stood up and gave hear a bear hug. "You know I was just trying to annoy you." When Hermione didn't respond, Draco captured her face between his hands and forced her to look at him. "Hey." "Is this how you court a witch that has caught your interest? No wonder your love life's a total zero after you and Pansy broke up in sixth year." "I was kidding. Would you rather I go completely mushy and sweet on you?" "Is that too much to ask? You're courting me, after all." The blond looked horrified at her request, letting go of her face as if she had just electrocuted him. "You're not serious. Malfoy, sweet and mushy do not go together." Hermione raised her right eyebrow. "That wasn't the case when we were at the dance floor during Ron and Pansy's wedding, I recall." Draco simply stood still in front of her, unable to form any retort to Hermione's statement because she was right. He had been a little romantic during his revelation. Truthfully, more than a little. But in his defense, an avowal of undying love was always meant to be romantic. The witch noticed his discomfort, and after flashing a smirk that could rival Draco's, she proceeded to mimicking the blond's confession to her. "Hermione... I love you. With all that I am," she declared with much drama, and then broke into a series of giggles. "Wow, I never expected that you could be this mean," Draco intoned, sounding a little hurt that Hermione was making was mocking him. "It took all my guts to say that to you." Sensing that the wizard was already serious, Hermione stopped chuckling and patted Draco's shoulder. "I was kidding, too. Now we're quits." When he didn't respond, Hermione punched him lightly in the arm. "Lighten up, Malfoy. You know I am greatly appreciative of your feelings for me." "Right," he said in a way that convinced Hermione that he still felt bad about what she did. She shook her head, now feeling a little guilty. She realized that it had been insensitive of her to make fun of his confession.
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"Look, Draco. I'm sorry." He just pouted and attempted to turn his back on her. Hermione hastily caught his blue tie and pulled on it so he was facing her again. Unfortunately, she pulled too forcefully, tightening the tie that encircled the blond's neck and choking him. Horrified, Hermione let go of his tie immediately. "I'm sorry." Draco loosened his tie and took in a lungful of air, gently caressing his abused throat. He swiftly put up his hand when Hermione attempted to touch him again. "Apology accepted. Just don't go near me, please," he glared at her as if she was a walking health hazard. Hermione huffed, but stood where she was. "Are you alright?" "I'm fine," he announced as he turned to the table, reached for a glass of water and drank it like he had been water-deprived for the past decade. "I'm going." "Fine. Meet you for lunch later?" "Are you asking for a date with me?" There was a teasing smile on Draco's lips when he said it. "You don't want to?" she snapped at him. Draco gave her a chaste kiss on her left cheek. "It's a date then." He smiled at her gently and then disapparated. Hermione was left motionless, a hand rose to touch her left cheek. Looking at the spot where Draco stood a few seconds ago, she let out a sigh and whispered to herself, "It's a date." Had someone told her twelve years ago that she would be dating Draco, she would've given that person a terrifyingly long sermon for saying something as preposterous as a prediction that Voldemort was going to win the war. Now, dear Merlin, she was dating Draco Malfoy. Indeed, life has numerous twists and turns. But this was a twist Hermione was welcoming.

"Tell me, how are things going on between you and Malfoy?" Ginny asked while looking at the books at the new arrivals shelf. It was already eleven thirty in the morning, half an hour before Draco arrives to pick her up for lunch. Hermione fervently wished that Ginny goes home before the blond arrived. She was not in the mood for an exchange of insults from them.
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"We're okay, I guess," she shrugged. She was momentarily stopped by the arrival of a customer and when she saw that her other assistant, Melanie, was alert to assist said customer, she continued. "It's like we're still best friends, the only thing different now is that I know about his feelings for me." Moments with Draco had been enjoyable. There wasn't even a trace of awkwardness between them, something Hermione was thankful for. The talk helped a lot with their relationship. They were still the best of friends, but they were exploring the possibility of committing to each other romantically slowly but surely. "And how do you feel about him?" "It's too early to figure out. We've just been going out for three days." "You mean you're still confused whether you like him romantically or not?" "Yes. Don't you think it's too early to tell?" She had enjoyed Draco's company in the past three days but she was not about to proclaim that she already liked him romantically. Not too soon. It was not possible. "I admit, I really enjoy being with him. He's fun to be around with. It's not as if it's something new though. I always have fun whenever I'm with Draco." Ginny's eyes became round as saucers and she pointed at the brunette accusingly. "Why are you smiling? Why are your eyes sparkling? Oh my goodness. You like him!" Hermione was about to protest when Ginny held up a hand. "Wait right there. I have to puke." "You're overreacting, Gin," she slapped her friend's arm. "It's not hard to be attracted to Draco. He's pleasing to the eyes. Even I have noticed it way back." "Merlin forbid. You're crushing on him," the redhead took on a disgusted look. "No, I'm not," she objected, a bit loudly. "Yes, you are." Ginny smiled at her devilishly. "And I'm suspecting you have been crushing on him even before his revelation." "That's absurd," Hermione unintentionally whacked Ginny's arm with a book this time. Thankfully, the book that she had been holding was quite thin, though Hermione certainly wished that she was carrying a thicker one. "No, it's not," Ginny went silent for a while as she inspected a cook book. Hermione was anxiously waiting for what she had to say. When she finally raised her
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head, she said, "Remember Madam Puddifoot's? Wonder why you've been so upset? It's because you wanted the kiss to happen." She had told Ginny everything the morning of the wedding, not that she wanted to. She and Harry had really been adamant. They said that she had to pour all her thoughts out because it was necessary in order for them to help her out with her Draco dilemma. No one could say no the two of them, especially if they gang up on you. "The almost kiss, as you put it, has been bothering you for quite some time now. If that isn't a sign of sexual frustration, I don't know what is." Ginny's voice climbed several notches at the last sentence. Hermione's cheeks reddened in embarrassment as picked a rather thick book and connected it with Ginny's arm forcefully, causing the latter to shout in pain. "Ouch! Can't handle the truth much? You're sexually frustrated. How long has it been since the last, huh?" Scandalized, Hermione hit Ginny once again, eliciting another cry of pain from the redhead. "There's no need to shout the sexual frustration part and letting the world know about my sex life." She looked around. Luckily, no one was paying attention to them. "And there's without any doubt no need for you to whack me with a book. And what sex life are you talking about? You have none," Ginny replied acerbically. "Anyway, that random thought while you two were at the beach watching the sunset? Puh-lease. Breaking news, Hermione dear, you have been attracted to Malfoy for years, you just didn't recognize it. And they call you the brightest witch of your age?" It was Hermione's turn to go silent. Ginny really had a point. She couldn't come up with a counter statement to what her friend had just said. "If I am, what's it to you?" "I just want to help you, 'Mione. You know I want you to get married already," she seriously uttered, holding both of her hands. "I want to be Auntie Ginny to little Hermione and little Whoever-your-husband-will-be." Hermione grinned at Ginny, while raising an eyebrow. "Even if it's Draco?" Ginny looked around to see if someone was close enough to hear their conversation. She moved closer to Hermione as there was a wizard a few feet away from them, standing by the Arithmancy book shelf. "As much as I hate to admit it, I'm actually Team Malfoy," she whispered. Hermione smiled at Ginny's reluctant confession. "Otherwise I won't go into all the trouble of plotting how to make him
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confess to you," she said, voice lowered and sounding a bit awkward. "Just don't tell the git, okay? I'm sure he'll gloat about it." "I'll try not to." "Hermione Granger!" The brunette let out a boisterous laugh at Ginny's panicked look. "Alright, I won't, Gin. Calm down." The bell on the shop's door chimed, signalling a customer had arrived. She looked around and saw Draco. "Hey! I'm here," she called out to the blond wizard while waving her hand, catching his attention. He caught sight of Hermione and strode confidently towards them. "Going somewhere?" Ginny asked. "We have a date," Draco answered smugly. "Oooh," the redhead sarcastically said. Draco rolled his eyes and turned to Hermione. "What's she doing here?" he asked, referring to Ginny. "Last I checked, this is a bookshop and anyone can drop by," Ginny interjected. "Anyone who's human, She-weasel," he said, barely looking at the redhead. "I'll not take offense to that insult as I had just spent an hour convincing Hermione that you're not the right man for her," Ginny winked knowingly at Hermione. "I have to go. Enjoy your lunch. Rather, enjoy it as much as you could, given that you've got a ferret for company." Hermione shook her head in disbelief. Ginny was evil, pure evil. "Give my regards to Harry and the kids," Hermione said before Ginny went out of the shop. "Don't pick on the people you meet along the way, Red," Draco shouted after her. "Draco!" "What?"
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"You enjoy your banter with Ginny, don't you?" He grinned at her. "Yes, she's a nice alternative to you." "Thank goodness for that," she sighed. "Not that I can't handle you." "You couldn't," he corrected. "Anyway, was Red really besmirching my good name?" Hermione wasn't going to tell the conceited blond that his nemesis was actually rooting for him. His head would get bigger than it already was. So she picked the safest answer. "Maybe." "Well, I bet that our date would wipe her slanderous words out of your head." "You'd really hope so." "Before we go, let me tell you that you look great this morning." His appraising eyes went up and down her form. "That dress really suits you." "I always look great." "Doubtful," Draco muttered under his breath. Unluckily, Hermione heard him. She reached for the book she used on Ginny from the shelf and whacked Draco's head with it. "Ow! My brain just got displaced with that hit, Hermione." She appeared to look shocked. "You have a brain?" "I doubt it myself because there's no way in hell that I'd choose to love you if I had one." There he was again with his insults. He was lucky that she understood that he was just joking, otherwise he really had to shift his attentions to someone else. Hermione shook her head. What a way to court someone. "Well, I have a brain, Draco. And my brain tells me that if you continue with your whines about loving me, I would be better off dating another guy." "I'll be careful, Hermione." He smiled at her, a real smile. "The truth is I love loving a know-it-all bookworm like you, who also happens to have a violent streak. I enjoy each and every single one of your hits, love. If I'm given a chance to pick who to love again, I'd still pick you. I'll always pick you."
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"You're a masochist," she whispered, surprised that she was able to say anything, given that her heart was pounding wildly at her chest and her pulse was racing due to Draco's short speech. "And you're a sadist. See how well we suit each other?"

A/N: If you're expecting more angst and drama, I'm telling you, you'll be disappointed. The past chapters had been too dramatic for my taste so I decided to lighten things up from this chapter onwards. Yes, fluff, fluff and fluff. Leave me some good suggestions in a review, will ya? And to those who were wondering about what happened to Andrew, don't worry, you'll find out in the later chapters.

P.S. Maraming salamat to the following people who reviewed the previous chapter: Tinkerbell81, twilightnemo, mentarisenja, nature love 95, Forevacullen, waterflower20, LoVeDoNtHaTe, Chellesmere, ChesireCat23, lenewest, frostykitten, KraZiiePyrozHavemoreFun, leakingpenholder, edwardsoneandonlylove, Jennybean08, IheartDracoandRon, LissaDragonmir, anna0728, Wainwright, Loslote, Shyrazie, riya'sXramblings, LuckyStar1881, ReadingisAWESOME, ZombieInk, OBLuvr13, Misti D, Lee Ann, uniblue, Catuhh, SnowCharms, xslytherinx, zstardust, Christinex91, arlenebell75, Loufoca-Granger, Joy Johnson, DGreatGreatGreat, DemolitionSister and Joel McCale.

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Chapter 26
Disclaimer: Me do not own Harry Potter.

Chapter Twenty-Six

The pair was enjoying their lunch at The Leaky Cauldron when Hermione caught sight of Andrew who just went inside the dining area. She waved her hand and the wizard saw her, but instead of walking towards where she and Draco were seated, he took a step backwards. A horrified look was written on his face. Hermione's eyebrows furrowed and she wondered loudly what was wrong with him, prompting Draco to crane his neck to catch a glimpse of his employee who was, by that time, exiting the room. Draco did his best to stop chuckling but he failed immensely. Hermione transferred her attention to the blond and threw him an accusing glare. "What did you do?" "Nothing." "It does not look like nothing to me. What did you do to Andrew? Why did he dash out when he saw us?" "Ipunchedthedaylightsoutofhim," Draco said, without taking a breath in between the words. "You what?" Several pairs of eyes darted in their direction when Hermione's voice rose. She offered them an awkward smile and then mumbled a few I'm sorrys. "Did you just say that you punched Andrew or am I mistaken? Please tell me I misheard you." she continued, this time in a hushed tone. Draco sighed and put down the cutlery he was holding in his plate. "I punched him out of jealousy a few minutes after you left the wedding reception." She stilled in her seat and stared at the blond who was looking down on his plate. Judging by Andrew's reaction earlier, Draco must have terrorized him. Feeling guilty because she was, in a way, responsible for what happened, she made a mental note
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to send a letter to the poor guy the moment she got back to her shop. "Did you apologize to him?" "Me? Apologize? It was his fault in the first place. He shouldn't have gone anywhere near you," he ground out defensively, still bowing his head down. "I was the one who kept on contacting him. And it wasn't his fault. It's yours. If you hadn't set me up on a date with him, we never would've met. If only you had confessed to me years ago, you'll never have to hurt somebody else. I order you to apologize to him." Draco's head quickly raised, his silver eyes filling with pain as he asked her, "You like him that much?" He seemed so sad that Hermione felt something tug at her heart while looking at him. She reached out to him and patted his arm lightly. "Andrew's a great guy, Draco. Please don't be mean to him. He's my friend." "And my competition," he spat out with so much venom in his voice. "Play nice," Hermione said warningly. "All is fair in love and war," the blond countered. "Play nice or I'll stop going out on dates with you." "I'll be nice if you stop going out with Phillips." "I'm keeping my options open if I want to end up with Mr. Right." "I am Mr. Right, even if I don't want to associate myself with such a horrendous name." Hermione pinched Mr. Right's arm in frustration, causing him to scoot away from her. "You haven't proven that you're Mr. Right yet." "I'll prove it to you. Just get rid of Phillips. Or if you want, I'll get rid of him." Her eyes narrowed into tiny slits as she menacingly glared at him. "Just. Play. Nice." Draco held up his hands in defeat. "Fine!"
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She smiled sweetly and then they continued eating their lunch in companiable silence, which was sometimes disrupted by Draco's grumbles regarding Andrew. Hermione simply ignored them. When they finished their meal, the pair leisurely strolled along the streets of Diagon Alley, side by side. After walking a few meters, it started to drizzle. "Let's apparate to Flourish and Blotts?" Draco asked. Hermione looked up at sky and saw the dark clouds overhead. "Let's not," she replied. "It's going to rain hard." "I know. I dare you to get wet in the rain with me." Draco threw her a glance that said that she was mad yet no words left his mouth. He merely shrugged and without another word, they continued walking as they waited for the downpour. Minutes later, the heavens soaked them with its tears. Still, Hermione and Draco walked as if it wasn't raining. Other wizards and witches, all of whom had already scrambled to avoid getting wet, looked at the pair oddly. One of them was Blaise Zabini. "Malfoy! Granger! In case it has escaped your notice, you're soaking wet!" he shouted at the pair. "We know!" Draco shouted back, unable to hide his displeasure over his current situation. "Thank you for the concern, Blaise!" the brunette added. The dark-skinned wizard just shook his head. "Whatever makes you lovebirds happy!" Then he bid them both goodbye. "This feels great, doesn't it?" Hermione chirped when Blaise had left. Draco frowned. "No, it doesn't." Hermione laughed and punched the blond lightly. "Party pooper. Anyway, the last time I did this was before I came to study at Hogwarts. I used to sit by the window
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and wait for the rainfall so that I could play in it. My mother was not too pleased because that was a daily occurrence. Ah, to be a child again..." "I, personally, do not want to be a child again. The only memories of my childhood were that of my futile efforts to please my demanding father." The witch watched as Draco took a heavy breath and combed his fingers through his platinum blond hair which was now drenched with rainwater. For a second or two, he resembled a vulnerable child, soaking wet in the rain and separated from his parents. Hermione knew that his childhood had been not as good as hers, and that was an understatement. His childhood was filled with darkness, insecurities, prejudice, sadness and loneliness. It would always haunt him, and the only thing he could do was to accept his harsh past and get over it. And he had gotten over it. He had changed a lot, and he had changed for the better. He was much happier. He was well-loved by her and her friends (though Harry and the gang would not admit it) and he had said it himself; He was contented with his life. Still, there were instances like this one, instances in which he was reminded of what his life used to be. Hermione felt the need to hug him like she would hug a crying child. Instead, she reached for his hand and held it in hers. Draco glanced at her inquiringly. "Let's run," was her answer to his unspoken question. Without waiting for his affirmation, she broke into a sprint while still holding hands with Draco, dragging him with her. They ran past stores and people who followed them with looks that clearly stated that they thought the pair was demented. Draco kept telling Hermione to slow down, but none of his words of warning were heeded. They picked up speed, Hermione was laughing all the way, cleansing herself off of her inhibitions with the pouring rain while the poor blond was cursing Merlin for the witch's crazy stunt. Hermione finally skidded to a stop in front of Flourish and Blotts. Both were panting, out of breath due to all the running they did. She faced Draco and smiled at him widely. "It feels good, doesn't it?" "No, it still doesn't. And I won't feel good regardless of how many times you ask me that question." Hermione disregarded his answer. "It feels good to do something spontaneous once in a while."
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The blond stretched his arms and brushed away the loose strands of hair that splayed across her cheeks. "But I definitely feel good seeing you this happy." Gently, his index finger traced the straight line of her nose and proceeded to do the same with her lips. His finger lingered on her lips for a moment, memorizing each curve and its soft feel. He cupped her face with his hands and planted an affectionate kiss on her brow while fondly stroking both of her cheeks with his thumbs. Hermione let out a sigh when Draco broke away from her after the kiss. They stood across each other silently for quite a while, one assessing the other. Hermione made the first move, inching towards the blond and encircling her arms on his waist. Draco held her tightly to him; no space was left between their bodies. The witch looked up at her friend, catching his piercing grey eyes with her own. "I'd give anything to see you happy as well, Draco," she declared. "You do know you're not alone, don't you?" He gave her a small nod. "I do. I have you. I will always have you." "Good." Hermione reached up and ran her fingers on Draco's wet hair. She then wiped the drops of water from his face, a vain effort as more rainwater quickly replaced those she managed to remove. She let out a hearty laugh upon realizing her stupidity. Hesitating for only a moment, Hermione closed her eyes, tiptoed to be level with Draco's face and then gave him a soft kiss on his right cheek and buried her face on his chest, knowing that she was turning red from head to toe. The blond's chest vibrated with his chuckle and his hand affectionately caressed the small of her back. A shiver went up her spine and she was sure it was not caused by her being wet all over. Thankfully, her strangled whimper was not heard as a strong wind blew past them. It could not be denied by then. Ginny was right again. She was definitely attracted to the blond. Hermione embraced Draco once again, more tightly this time, ignoring the heavy downpour. Lightning flashed and a series of thunders followed, yet they were unmoved. She did not feel the need to seek shelter from the storm. In spite of being caught in the middle of a brewing storm, Hermione felt safe. Enveloped in Draco's arms, she felt safe. She was fortunate to have a great person like Draco Malfoy loving her. Yes, she really was. "Please be Mr. Right," she whispered. Her voice and the fervent wish it contained were rendered inaudible by the noise produced by the heavy rain. "Please be Mr.
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A/N: I watched Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One yesterday and it was totally awesome. So little screen time for our dear Draco, though. I wrote this for an hour or two while still feeling inspired, so pardon if this does not live up to whatever expectations you have. Haha. This will be my last update until whenever I'm not busy with burying my nose in my books. For real. I hope I get lots of reviews for this chapter. *hint, hint* I'm giving a case of virtual Red Vines to whoever catches the hidden(?) AVPM reference in this chapter. :) BTW, Friends and Lovers had been nominated for Best Romance at the Snakes and Lions Awards. I encourage you to nominate your favorite fanfics, because I did. Just go to Cat Valentine 1's profile and you'll find a link there. Then maybe you'll see which story I nominated for Best Romance. Ha-ha.

P.S. Thank you to the following reviewers: Shyrazie, edwardsoneandonlylove, CheshireCat23, Wainwright, Loufoca-Granger, x-hermalfoy, KraZiiePyrozHavemoreFun, OBLuvr13, dreadfuldelights, xslytherinx, riya'sXramblings, nature love 95, twilightnemo, IheartDracoandRon, Loslote, arlenebell75, lenewest, Dakuenjeru, DeathDaisy, ReadingisAWESOME, Tinkerbell81, LuckyStar1881, Misti D, Forevacullen, bumble-beeoncrack, DemolitionSister, SnowCharms, Lee Ann, Chellesmere and frostykitten. Reviews make me smile. Reviews inspire me to write more. What can I say? I'm addicted to reviews! So, will you please review? :)

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Chapter 27
Disclaimer: My one-month absence doesn't change the fact that I don't own the rights to the HP series.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Hermione was woken up by a sound coming from her bathroom. She hurriedly reached for her wand which was lying by her side table and got out from her bed with cat-like grace, a skill she had acquired during the war years. It was already morning, she deduced as she saw that there was light coming from the window. She slowly tiptoed towards her bathroom, wand at ready. She opened the door to her bathroom quickly and quite forcefully, causing the door to hit the wall with a loud bang. Upon sight of wide back of the trespasser, the witch shouted, "Incarcerous!" "What the fuck!" Draco exclaimed as magical ropes bound him, caught off-guard by Hermione's attack. The sudden attack threw him backwards, eliciting a hiss of pain from the blond as his side came in contact with the bathroom's tiled sink. Hermione let out a shriek of surprise when she realized who was raiding her bathroom. She quickly muttered a spell and released the blond. "What in Merlin's name did you do that for, Hermione?" he screamed at her, fury written all over his face as he clutched his abused side. "Well, what are you doing here? And don't you curse at me," she glared at him threateningly. He held up a bottle of gel that he was still holding. "I was going to ask some from you. I have nothing left. But I saw that you were peacefully asleep, so I helped myself. It never crossed my mind that rummaging for gel was a huge crime. Is there a new Ministry decree about that or something?" "I thought you were a thief or something." Draco smirked at her. "A thief? Seriously? You think a thief would rob a bathroom when there are more valuable things in your bedroom and in other areas of the flat?" Hermione mentally reprimanded herself for her stupidity. In her defense, she just
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woke up. Her mind was not functioning at full capacity. To cover up her embarrassment, she snatched the bottle of gel from Draco's hand. "Hey!" the wizard protested. "Go to work gel-less today, Malfoy. That's what you get for being a smart-ass." Just then, the effects of her adrenaline rush dissolved. That was only when he noticed that Draco was shirtless, his pale, well-toned chest was exposed. She had been living with him for years, but it was the first time she saw his bare chest. Hermione let out a rather audible gasp as she simultaneously brought her hands to her either cheek, feeling an eyebrow-raising warmth in them. She quickly turned around to stop looking at Draco and as fast as her feet could take her, rushed out of the bathroom. The blond's chuckle followed her escape. Heart still pounding (why it was beating itself out of her chest, she didn't want to elaborate on), Hermione got a scrunchie from her dresser, gathered her messy hair in a tight ponytail, went out of her room and headed towards the kitchen, leaving Draco alone in her room to avoid further embarrassing herself. She decided to cook their breakfast the Muggle way to distract herself as Draco's torso seemed to pop into her mind once in every few seconds. She considered it a bad thought, but as she poured oil into a pan, the image flashed before her once more. When did he start developing his muscles? She couldn't recall a memory in which Draco was working out. All he did was eat, go to his office, sit behind his desk all day, go home, eat and lastly, sleep. Yet what she saw earlier were well-defined muscles, very well-defined muscles... Hermione shuddered. The brunette was halfway done with frying hotdogs and was busy with her thoughts about a certain blond when she felt a warm breath on her nape. Draco's. "What's for breakfast?" She practically jumped and dropped the spatula that she was holding. She heard Draco's rather enthusiastic laughter from behind her. The git. She picked up the spatula and used it to beat up Draco's now covered (thankfully) chest. "Don't." Strike. "You." Strike. "Ever." Strike. "Frighten." Strike. "Me." Strike. "Like." Strike. "That." Strike. "Again." Each time the spatula came in contact with his chest, the wizard winced. When she was satisfied that the blond had learned his lesson, she focused her attention on cooking their breakfast again. Minutes later, she laid down a plate of containing a few pieces of hotdog, a sunny side up egg and a slightly burnt toast in front of the sulking blond who was rubbing
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the parts of his body that got a beating from Hermione. "Tuck in," she declared, happy at the sight of the pouting Draco. He was like a kid who just got told off by his mother. She sat herself on the chair beside him. He reached for a fork morosely and continued to eat his meal in silence. Hermione, against her own will, found herself studying Draco. With his silky white-blond hair falling to his eyes, which he irritatingly brushed aside with his fingers from time to time, he looked a lot younger than his age. In fact, it gave Draco a rakish aura, enhancing the mysterious and dangerous look he already sported. Absentmindedly, she stared and stared at the wizard, making a mental note not to ever let him apply gel to his hair once again. "Like what you see, Hermione?" Draco suddenly said, looking up from his plate to smirk at the brunette. She blushed at being caught. "I don't know what you're talking about," she denied. Draco laughed and poked her left upper arm lightly. "Don't tell me you're falling in love with me already?" "You wish," she huffed as she reddened more, if such was possible. Really, she was thirty years old! She wasn't supposed to blush like a fifteen year old teenager. She chastised herself once again because it reached her notice that she had been blushing a lot lately. Because of Draco, she had to add. The playful glint in Draco's eyes vanished as he responded to her. "I definitely wish you're falling in love with me already." Her pulse rate quickened, a manifestation of the fact that she was indeed attracted to her friend. "Stop," Hermione muttered, not knowing how to respond to the blond. "Stop what?" he asked while spearing a portion of the egg on his plate. "Stop what you're doing." His declarations always send her into a battle with herself. She knew she was flattered by his affections yet she knew she was afraid as well. Draco put down the fork that he was holding. "You want me to stop eating?" "You know what I meant." The idea that her best friend's the guy that she had been waiting for was thrilling, but somehow, it wasn't, too. See? She had just
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contradicted herself. She definitely wanted her best friend to be her Mr. Right, but there was something holding her back. Shrugging his shoulders, he popped the egg into his mouth and said, "If I knew, I wouldn't be asking you now." "Cease making references to your feelings for me, alright?" He grinned at her. Devillishly. "Why? Because I'm making you blush?" "I don't blush," the brunette protested, though she know full well that she frequently does. "Contrary to your belief, you do. Just admit it, will you? Don't make things complicated," Draco declared, sending her a knowing look. "I don't know what you're talking about." She wasn't going to admit to anything, unless she had everything sorted out. Unless she knew what she wanted. Unless she finally determined the extent of her affections for the man beside her. She was Hermione Granger, the brain of the Golden Trio, the war heroine, the one who knew almost everything. There was no room for the word uncertainty in her dictionary. There was no room for mistakes, too. "Coward," Draco teased. "And you aren't?" "Touche." He touched Hermione's nose as he said so, making the witch flinch. Draco raised an eyebrow at her reaction. "Say, Hermione, how about a date tonight?" She pretended to be horrified. "Again?" "You're complaining? I won't quit asking you out until you agree to be together with me." "Persistent git." "Ungrateful know-it-all." "Foul-mouthed tosser."
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"This tosser will take you to Mangiamo's tonight. Can't resist, eh, Granger? We're eating at your favorite restaurant where prices are jaw-dropping and it's my treat. So... what's the verdict?" He crossed his arms in front of him as he waited for her answer, though they both knew what it would be. She considered saying 'No, thank you' but really, who was she to refuse? Especially when her heart did a jig when it realized that Draco had impliedly proposed a romantic dinner?

A/N: I'm back! I figured I had to post something before Christmas but the problem is that I'm having a writer's block. Luckily, I already had this chapter typed up before I left. It's not much and it's unbeta-ed, but I hope you liked it. No choice, this is all I've got. I wasn't even planning on posting this bit. Anyway, advance happy Christmas! After cramming so many numbers into my head for the past month, I regret to inform you that I can't find the energy nor the creativity demanded from me by this story. Forgive me. My mind's in a far away place most of the time, happily computing taxes and solving financial problems with aliens dressed in calculators. I'm lucky I can even finish a sentence. This story will be finished, but it's highly probable that the next update will be next year. Don't forget to leave a review to tell me what you think or just to greet a merry Christmas back. :)

PS: Special thanks to the 43 people who reviewed the previous chapter: frostykitten, Tinkerbell81, Loslote, Shyrazie, twilightnemo, Pisces(dot)TJ, Jordali, SnowCharms, waterflower20, Chellesmere, CheshireCat23, lenewest, Wainwright, Loufoca-Granger, xslytherinx, Misti D, StaticEcho19, Forevacullen, xFlipJamsx, Lee Ann, LuckyStar1881, KraZiiePyrozHavemoreFun, IheartDracoandRon, anna0728, x-hermalfoy, edwardsoneandonlylove, softballpitcher, KuraOkami13, NeonToxicCyanide, (an unsigned review), XxRofLxX, FrozenBloom, Dakuenjeru, bumble-beeoncrack, ReadingisAWESOME, arlenebell75, PeaceLOVEHershey, Joy Johnson, verra, jentrem99, Miss Interpret, mayajane and Evil People's Underwear. Since nobody caught the hidden AVPM reference, I'm giving you all virtual Red Vines. Yey!

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Chapter 28
Disclaimer: All rights reserved to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

"Mione, is that you?" A shocked look adorned Harry's face the moment he took in his best friend's appearance. She was wearing a light green silk cocktail dress that hugged the witch's ample curves that were frequently hidden beneath her loose-fitting clothes. Unable to resist the compulsion, Harry tugged Hermione's hair which now fell on her shoulders in tame curls. The brunette immediately swatted his hand away. "Harry!" The raven-haired wizard grinned at her sheepishly. "Sorry." He gave her another assessing look and asked, "Are you going somewhere? And is that make-up smeared on your face?" "Yes, I'm wearing make-up, which your dear wife applied. That explains my presence in your house." Harry rubbed the inexistent beard on his chin and gave Hermione a knowing smile. "You and Draco have a date?" The witch blushed furiously, making him grin so wide. He did not bother to wait for her answer. "Have fun, 'Mione. By the way, you look absolutely smashing." She was. He distinctly remembered that she turned everyone's heads during the Yule Ball in their fourth year at Hogwarts. The woman - no, lady - standing before him now was much, much better-looking than the teenage girl she had been. When she dresses up, she really dresses up. "Thanks, Harry." She checked the time and her eyes turned as round as saucers. "I'm already half an hour late. Draco will kill me." "Though I'm fairly certain that it will not happen, you better go."
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He watched as his friend pulled out her wand from a long green purse that she had been carrying with her. Throwing him a timid smile, Hermione disappeared from sight. Harry shook his head and muttered under his breath. "Lovesick fools."

Appearing in front of the flat they shared, Hermione was trembling with eagerness to see Draco's reaction to her appearance. She pit in a lot of effort to make herself extra presentable that night, as it was their first formal date together. Hurrying, she turned the knob and forcefully opened the door, expecting that the blond would be sitting on the living room couch, waiting for her arrival. Instead, she heard a yelp of pain coming from the other side of the door. Stepping in, she saw Draco on his knees, in the act of getting up. "What happened?" she asked, offering her hand to help him stand up. "You happened!" Draco glared at her accusingly. "Why the hell did you open the door?" "It's a door, it's meant to be opened! What were you doing, anyway?" "I was leaning on it, expecting that you would appear somewhere in the living room, as you usually do." "You stumbled forward when I opened the door?" "No, I was checking the floor for dusts. Of course I stumbled!" "Why are you shouting?" "I'm not shouting. I'm explaining!" "You're explaining loudly. That amounts to shouting!" Not even half way through their date and they were already arguing. Nice. "Am not," he grumbled, turning away from her. He picked up his grey dinner jacket that lay on the couch and donned it over his pale yellow long-sleeved shirt. "Let's go. We're already late for our reservation."

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She frowned at him and crossed her arms in front of her. "You go by yourself! I don't want to spend my night with someone as grumpy as you!" Her mood was already ruined. He didn't even compliment her appearance and he was shouting at her. "You'll go with me or I'll resort to dragging you along?" Even better, he was threatening her. Hermione glared at the blond businessman. "You're despicable." A naughty grin was on Draco's lips when he addressed her. "I love annoying you, Hermione Granger. You look stunning when you're shouting at me." She took her time to beautify herself yet only a raised voice would make her lovely in his eyes? Great. Just great. She wondered if punching him would be a nice addition to all these jolly great happenings. She was contemplating on her next action when Draco grabbed her hand. "Let's go?" He was smiling charmingly at her that she found it impossible to turn down his request. She nodded. She pulled her hand away from his grasp and prepared to apparate. Hermione was about to mutter the spell when Draco called her. "Hermione." She looked at him, her brown eyes connected with his silver ones. "What?" He reached out for her hand again and squeezed it lightly. "I love green." "So?" Hermione asked, already knowing what his favorite color was. "You knew you'll take away my breath tonight, didn't you?" Draco raised her hand and planted a lingering kiss on her knuckles, still not breaking the contact between their eyes. "You look incomparably gorgeous." He then let go of her hand. "Will you apparate by yourself or side-along with me?"
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"Go ahead," she let out, barely audible. The blond gave her a small wave. "See you." Draco disapparated and Hermione was left to put a stop to the wild beating of her heart.

Hermione appeared in an alley a block away from Mangiamo's, an Italian restaurant which she and Draco patronized. Draco was waiting for her, greeting her with a smile as she appeared in front of him. He gallantly held out his hand, which she took graciously. "I hope you brought cash with you," Draco said. She turned to him, eyebrows raised. "I thought it's your treat?" "I changed my mind." Using her free hand, she pinched his arm, causing the blond to yelp in pain. "You do get your kicks when you inflict pain upon me." Hermione just shrugged and looked at the sky. At that precise moment, a meteor went shooting across the sky. "Look, a falling star," she informed Draco and stopped on her tracks. Hermione closed her eyes and made a wish. There was silence between them for a few moments as Draco shut his lids and made a wish as well. "What did you wish for?" Hermione asked her companion. "Won't tell. You told me I shouldn't reveal what I wished for, otherwise it won't come true." "You want to know what I asked for?" "Won't you be bothered if they don't come true?" She beamed at him. "Whether my wish will come true or not is in your hands, actually."
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Intrigued, Draco asked, "What was your wish?" "That you and I will have a great time tonight." Draco looked at her with what Hermione would swear was adoration in his eyes before she let go of her hand and bowed low in front of her. "Your wish is my command."

"I'm so full. I think I ate enough for three people," Hermione exclaimed when they arrived at their flat from Mangiamo's. Their date had been fun. They spent their time at the Muggle restaurant observing the diners, formulating stories about the lives of the occupants of each table and sharing stories that they presumed the other didn't know yet. The food was delicious, the ambiance was romantic and the company was great. For Hermione, it had been a perfect date. In fact, it was the best date that she had been to. And it was with Draco. Who knew? Certainly not her. Draco did grant her wish that night. Looking at Draco who was hanging his coat on the coat hanger, Hermione smiled to herself as she recalled the night's events. "Care to venture a guess about the story of those two?" Draco pointed to an old man and woman a few tables away from them. Hermione discreetly craned her neck to look at the couple. "Easy peasy. They've been married for decades and still are madly in love. See the way the old man acts around the old woman? One can tell how much he adores her," she answered, a bit dreamily as she was touched by old couple's display of a lasting love. Hermione was reminded of her parents, who never allow a day to pass by without them telling each other how much one loved the other. There were moments when she would grimace a little, as they tend to get a bit cheesy at times, but mostly, Hermione was happy to see how much in love her parents were. They made her wonder when she'll find a lasting love for herself as well. "I have to agree with you there. Great deduction, Granger. Much, much better than that time with the two men." Earlier, there had been an argument between them because Draco had insisted
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that the two guys on their right were dating each other. Hermione vehemently protested and each laid out their evidences, until they both saw the two men holding hands. The witch's jaw dropped, and Draco let out a soft chuckle. "They absolutely looked like they just had a meeting, Draco," she defended. "Well, it takes one to know one, I guess." She saw the blond turning red, a sign that he was getting angry. Before things got worse, Hermione directed her attention to the old couple again. "Aw... isn't that sweet..." Draco forgot about his anger and looked at the couple. It turned out that Grandpa gave Grandma a ring. "That's diamond, isn't it?" he wondered. She looked at him as if he had grown another head. "I said that the scene was sweet and you ask if it's a diamond ring or not?" "I suppose it was sweet," he muttered, sounding forced. "Suppose?" Hermione repeated, looking quite vicious. The corners of Draco's mouth rose as he leaned towards her. "It was sweet," he declared matter-of-factly. "But you know what's more romantic?" She leaned forward as well, not backing out from the challenge silently issued by the blond. With their faces only a few inches apart, Hermione asked, "What?" Draco's hand found her cheek, which he slowly caressed, each stroke sending jolts of electricity along her spine. "When it's me giving you a diamond ring." "Really?" she intoned distractedly. "Notice that it's a when, not an if." It was lucky that Draco's grey eyes were hypnotizing Hermione because if that wasn't the case, the witch would surely bite his head off. "You want to know what I wished for, Hermione?" She simply nodded, not trusting herself to say another word. "I wished for your happiness, because you certainly deserve it." The blond then leaned back on his chair, disappointing Hermione with their sudden change in position and the absence of the warmth provided by Draco's hand on her face. "And maybe I wished that you would come to a conclusion that I am your happiness." "Can't stop being selfish, can you, Draco?" she said, finally finding her voice.
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Draco grinned at her cheekily. "Never." "You did. I almost ran out of Muggle cash." The blond's deep voice shook her out of her reminiscing state. Hermione hit Draco's arm. "Why are you so violent?" "Are you complaining?" "No, because I'm a masochist." "Good answer." Hermione suddenly yawned. "Sleepy already?" "It's the food. I always feel sleepy after a good meal." She yawned again. She definitely needed to hit the sack. "I'm going to sleep." She held her arms open, hinting that she wanted a hug from the blond. He did not disappoint. Smiling widely, Draco hugged her tightly. "Good night, Draco. I had a great time. Thank you." "Sleep tight. And thank you as well. I wouldn't ask for a better date." Hermione attempted to break free from their embrace but Draco didn't let go of her yet. He moved a little and brought their faces inches from each other. He caught her brown eyes with own as he asked her, "Can I have a goodnight kiss?" Hermione was drowning in the passion she could clearly see in Draco's grey eyes and was thoroughly distracted by the heat provided by Draco's arms around her that all she was able to manage was a soft, "Kiss away then." She closed her eyes as Draco's face inched closer to hers. Her heart was pounding like crazy. In a few seconds, she and Draco were going to share their very first kiss. A few seconds later, she felt his lips making contact with her left cheek. Hermione's shoulders slumped, positively certain that she had never been more disappointed in her entire life.

No, she wasn't falling in love with Draco. Not only after more than two weeks of
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dating him. You don't need a long time to determine if you love him or not, Hermione. You only date a person to get to know him better before committing yourself to him. You need not date Draco for long. You've known him more than half of your life, a voice told her. Still, two weeks of going out was not enough. She didn't have any romantic feelings for him two weeks prior. So you tell yourself. Ginny would tell you otherwise. Okay, so she might have a tiny, little bit of a stupid crush on him. As she had told Ginny, who wouldn't? He's really good to look at. Just a crush? She told the voice to shut up and later on realized her stupidity. She was telling herself to shut up. Had she finally gone mental? She spent another hour debating with herself. When the clock struck eleven in the evening, she willed herself to go to sleep, but only after concluding that her confusing feelings and reactions towards Draco were also the result of having a crush on him. It was just a crush, no matter how silly it sounded given that she was already thirty and she should have been immune to it. She blamed the loud thumping of her heart whenever Draco was looking at her intensely to a crush. It was also because of her crush that she blushed at Draco's romantic declarations from time to time. It was definitely because of a crush that she felt shivers creeping up her spine whenever Draco's skin came in contact with hers, whenever she was wrapped in his embrace and whenever he held her hand in his. Yes, it was all just because of a crush. And yes, she knew that she was just deluding herself.
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A crush, ha!

Hermione held on to Draco's arm tightly while complaining to the wizard about how it was his fault that she was attending her cousin's birthday now. There was definitely no love lost between her and Ella, but here she was, in Ella's house, plastering a fake smile on her lips as she was being greeted left and right by people she didn't know. "I'll have your head for this," she whispered in Draco's ear as she maintained a smile on her lips for onlookers. "Fine," was Draco's only response, as he was already accustomed to Hermione's threats, which always remained as they were - threats. "Let's put this gift at the table right there. C'mon." They walked towards the table, a neatly-wrapped package in hand. She grudgingly bought her cousin a dress. "It's still not too late to put in a bunch of George's Ton-Tongue Toffees," he joked. "Can we?" she contemplated seriously. "Your parents will get mad at you." "They wouldn't know they're from me." "Really? What are the odds that you have another witch in the family?" Hermione pinched Draco really hard to shush him. Only her parents knew that she had magical abilities and no one else. "Sorry," he murmured. "Hermione!" a voice called out, its shrillness indicated that it belonged to the person she wanted to see the least. "Hermione, my dearest cousin. Everyone, it's Hermione!" The brunette made sure that she was wearing her fake smile and turned around to face her blond cousin. Ella brushed aside a few people who were on the way towards her. Hermione fought a frown from gracing her lips. What a scene-maker Ella was. And a great actress, too. If she didn't know better, she would say that her cousin was actually excited to see her. Fortunately, she knew better. Ella hugged her, and she knew it was her intention to cause her pain. Hermione gave Ella a light squeeze and extricated herself from the hug. "Oh, I'm so happy you came to my party, Hermy," she said, using the nickname Hermione detested. "Same here," Hermione replied without energy.
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Her cousin then turned her attention to Draco, who was doing his best to blend in the background. An impossible feat, that one, for his height and white-blond hair were really attention-seekers. "Draco!" Ella launched herself on the wizard, who was quick to catch her. "Oh! My party is so much better now that you're here." "Ella," Hermione called, as Draco was looking at her with pleading eyes, silently giving her a message to get Ella away from him. But her cousin was not to be disturbed in her quest to flirt with Draco. "Are you still single and unavailable, Drake? I am." Had she mentioned before that Ella was exactly like what Pansy Parkinson was when they were still at Hogwarts? Whenever possible, she attached herself to Draco like a leech and would stop at nothing to get Draco to pay attention to her. She had met the wizard when Hermione brought him home eight years ago to introduce him to her parents. At a bad stroke of luck, she picked a time when the Granger family had some sort of reunion at their house. Ella was there and she saw Draco. She had been obsessed with him since then. "I am still single," Draco answered, which made Hermione raise an eyebrow at him. "But there's an important woman in my life now." "Who?" When Draco looked at Hermione, Ella let out an insulting laugh and said, "I'll ignore the last part." She then took Draco's hand and whisked him away, leaving Hermione fuming with so much anger that she was positive that she would burst.

Hermione was nursing a margarita while sitting on the bar in the corner of the room, quietly observing and seething at the sight of Ella sitting on Draco's lap. They were sitting on the sofa in the entertainment room, surrounded by her friends. She saw him squirming to get away from her serpent-like cousin, but Ella simply positioned herself better, not allowing Draco to get away. Unless he pushed her off, which was not something the wizard would do. It had been an hour since Ella had taken him away, and she hadn't let him go yet. Not for lack of trying on Draco's part. Hermione saw him looking at her - pleading to her, actually. Normally, Hermione would report Ella's inappropriate behavior to her parents, but seeing that they weren't home because the party was only for young people, Hermione was left with no choice. She was going to get Draco out of the awkward situation he got himself into. She had had enough of Ella's improper conduct.
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She finished the contents of her margarita in one gulp, and she took a deep breath before heading towards where Draco was. She walked until she stood directly in front of the two blonds, completely surrounded by Ella's evil minions. But she wasn't afraid. After the Voldemort ordeal, she wasn't capable of fearing anything else. Well, except for discovering Draco's feelings for her but that was an entirely different story. "Can I please have my boyfriend back?" Her question was met with a disdainful sneer from her cousin and a wide-eyed gaze from Draco. She really didn't want to use the term boyfriend, but she recognized that if she used it, it would give her the right to steal Draco away from Ella. "Boyfriend? I didn't know Draco was your boyfriend," a brunette on Ella's right asked. "Well, right now, I'm informing you that he is my boyfriend," Hermione told her. Then she returned her gaze on her cousin. "Just release Draco so that we can go home already." Ella stuck her chin up, challenging her. "If you're his girlfriend, why did you allow him to stay with me all this time? And Draco himself said that he was single." "By single, I meant that I was unmarried. I wanted to be polite to you because you are my girlfriend's cousin," this came from Draco. "Now, will you please get off of me so that I can return to Hermione?" Draco attempted to unseat Ella again, but she wouldn't budge. Hermione's patience snapped. "You get off of Draco or I'll make you get off of him?" she asked menacingly. "Oooh! Cat fight! Cat fight!" One of her cousin's friends cheered. Another followed and soon, the room was filled with taunts and cheers. "Sounds like a cat fight to me," Ella grinned widely at her as she encouraged their audience to cheer more. Hermione clenched and unclenched her fists at her sides. She was already seeing red. She desperately wanted to hit someone. Preferably, someone named Ella Mae Granger.
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"Enough," Draco declared quite loudly when he saw that Hermione's eyes had already narrowed into slits. He pushed Ella off him without any warning, causing the blond woman to fall on her face on the floor. He quickly grabbed Hermione's arm and let her out of the house, not bothering to glance at the furious Ella that they left behind. When the coast was clear, Draco apparated them to their flat. Hermione was silent and was still clenching her fists, still ready to let out a punch when they arrived home. "You almost got into a fight there." "You think so?" Hermione said sarcastically to Draco. "How I want to rip that woman's fake blond hair off her pretty little head." She heard what seemed like a snigger from the blond. "What is it that you find so funny, Malfoy?" "It's so fun watching you get jealous, Hermione." "Me? Jealous? Pfft," she scoffed, crossing her arms in front of her. Draco laughed at her. "Alright, girlfriend. Whatever you say." To hide her embarrassment, she began punching the blond's arm, venting the anger she felt over the incident at Ella's house on her friend. "I hate you." "Too bad, because I love you." He then caught both of her fists and pulled her closer to him. Hermione gasped as her face came in contact with Draco's hard chest. Draco's arms snaked around her, enclosing her in an embrace that left no space between their bodies. Hermione's heart pounded wildly, just as Draco's did. The close proximity of the blond's chest from her ear made the thumping of his heart quite audible. As if they had a mind of their own, Hermione's arms wrapped themselves around Draco's waist. She looked up at him, and discovered that his grey eyes had become clouded with passion. When Draco moved to cup her face and bowed down his head to stop a couple of inches away from her own, there was no sound of protest that came from Hermione's lips. Instead, when Draco's eyes asked a silent permission from her, she nodded. Draco gently caressed the side of her face with his thumb and moved aside strands of hair that strayed across her face. He traced the outline of her lips,
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bringing tingling sensations all over Hermione's body. "I love you," he said, his warm breath fanning her face while still playing with the flesh of her lips. Then he used his forefinger to tip her chin up, and when his face started to inch towards her, Hermione closed her eyes shut. This was it. She and Draco were going to kiss. And she was looking forward to it. The moment their lips connected, Hermione took a sharp breath. Feeling unknown assailed her, and her knees gave out. Luckily, she was holding on to Draco's waist tightly or else she would've found herself slumped on the tiled floor. Their lips touched, gently lingering, their hesitation was manifesting itself on the kiss. Draco was taking his time, it was as though he was committing into his memory the moment their lips first touched. His kiss was agonizingly sweet and full of affection. Draco's left hand left her face and transferred itself on her back, tracing the line of her spine. Hermione's eyes abruptly opened, as tiny currents of electricity shocked her skin where Draco's hand had been. Her eyes were met by the hunger and intensity in Draco's gaze, causing Hermione to gasp out loud. Draco took the opportunity to deepen their kiss, and his tongue delved into her mouth again and again, seeking her own tongue out expertly. He explored her and he drank in her sweet taste. By that time, Hermione had decided to abandon all her hesitation and fears. Her arms left Draco's waist to encircle his neck and returned his kiss with equal fervor. Against her will, a moan escaped her throat as she was thoroughly consumed by Draco's kiss. The blond let out a barely audible groan. Incredibly encouraged by the sound that came from Hermione, he backed her up against the wall, knocking the vase off the top of a side table in the process, and pinned both her arms on either side of her head with his hands. The kiss became more demanding, more frantic and more passionate. She claimed him as hers as he claimed her as his. She rewarded a deep kiss with a deep kiss and gave pleasure for pleasure. She committed into memory each kiss, each bite, each swipe of his tongue and each gruff moan of pleasure Draco Malfoy made. She revelled in the glorious feeling of experiencing Draco's adoring kiss. The kiss that they shared was magical, and it was explosive. Hermione had never
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felt like this, not even once in her thirty years of existence. Nothing else comes close to the happiness that this moment brought her, surprisingly, not even that time when they finally defeated Voldemort. Unable to stop herself, tears poured out of Hermione's eyes and slid across her cheeks. Draco was the one to break fee from their kiss first, leaving Hermione wanting for more. Catching his breath, he laid his forehead on hers as he nibbled gently on her lower lip. He stopped when he felt something wet on Hermione's cheeks and was worried that he had offended her in some way. "Why are you crying, love?" he asked softly. "I don't know," Hermione whispered back, meeting Draco's worried look with a look of confusion. "I love you, Hermione," he said huskily. More tears spilled from her eyes at Draco's simple yet truly heartfelt declaration. She didn't know what to say, so instead, she gave him one last kiss and ran to her room, where she spent another sleepless night in.

A/N: This is my real Christmas gift to all of you, awesome readers. Remember, this is unbeta-ed so I'm already owning up to whatever mistakes you found out. We're nearing the end now. With the sudden burst of inspiration, I might finish this within the year. So yey! Aaaand... extra points to those who can guess which lines from the previous chapters were repeated in this one. Thank you so much to those who reviewed the preceding chapter, whose names I'll mention in the next chapter. Sorry, I'm in a hurry now. So... be nice to Lainey and review, puh-lease? And hey! It's Friends and Lovers' fourth monthsary, another reason for you to review. Ha-ha!

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Chapter 29
Disclaimer: This story is for entertainment purposes only. Absolutely no money is being made from this. All rights reserved to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Hermione rushed towards the Auror Office, cranky from lack of sleep, anxious and scatter-minded as she was all the more confused with what was going on between her and Draco after their kiss last night. Yes, it was a taste of heaven, but it was messing with her mind like the devil. Thus, here she was, eye bags and all, standing in front of Harry's office and taking a deep breath to calm her nerves. She pushed the door open and spotted The-Boy-Who-Lived-To-Defeat-Voldemort talking to one of his subordinates. "Harry!" She ran to him, not minding the curious stares of the people around her. "Harry, we need to talk." Sensing her panic, Harry dismissed his subordinate and pulled Hermione aside. "Calm down, Hermione." She could not calm down. She wanted to, but she could not. She was freaking out. "This is important," desperation was in her voice. "Let's go talk somewhere private." "Okay. Let's go." He led her out of the office and to the apparition point in the Ministry. They bumped into a tall redhead on their way there. "Ron!" Harry exclaimed in surprise. "You're back." Ron grinned at them wildly. "I just got back from the honeymoon. Hopefully, Pansy and I will be having a baby in nine months." "That's good to hear, mate," Harry said as he clapped his hand on his best friend's shoulder.
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Hermione did not have time for a small talk like this. She was freaking out and they were talking about honeymoon and babies? So what she did was she grabbed Ron's wrist and dragged him with them. "Come on, Ron. I guess you need to go with us." "Where are we going?" Confusion was in the redhead's face. Hermione looked at Harry, because she did not know where they were going to as well. It was really a strange sight to see Hermione lose her wits about something. The very sight seemed so un-Hermione. "I feel like going to a park," Harry shrugged. "Let's go to the park near my parents' house," the witch suggested. "Copy." Moments later, they found themselves in a public park, in front of three swings. Hermione sat herself on the middle one and the two wizards followed suit. "So, what's your dilemma, 'Mione?" Harry asked, occupying the swing on her right. Hermione took a deep breath before saying, "Draco." "You dragged me here so that we could talk about Malfoy?" Ron cried. "Seriously, Hermione, we came here just to discuss that twitchy ferret?" The witch did not give the redhead's outburst any mind and faced Harry. "We kissed yesterday." "Eww. Too much information, Hermione," Ron said, his face wrinkled in disgust as he covered his ears. She glared at him. "What are you, twelve? Stop reacting like a kid, Ronald." "Shut up, Ron," Harry admonished at the same time. Ron turned silent and sat still on his swing, sulking. She was right; he was a twelve year-old. Harry returned his attention to the brunette. "And you're troubled because?" "Do you think I'm in love with Draco, Harry?" she whispered. It was blatantly obvious that she didn't want to say it.
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Insensitive as it seemed, Harry laughed. "How on earth can I tell? It's your feelings, not mine." "All I know is that I'm physically attracted to Draco," she said, after deciding not to get angry that Harry laughed at her. She reached for the hem of her skirt and played with it, anything to keep herself busy. She really couldn't stay still. "But I don't know. Something's troubling me and I can't figure out what it is." "Did you like the kiss?" This came from Ron. Totally taken aback, Hermione swiftly turned her head to Ron. She was sure that she almost gave herself a whiplash. "Ron!" Harry shouted at him. Ron just shrugged his shoulders and didn't mind the threat in Harry's voice. "Just answer me, Hermione. Did you like the kiss?" "Yes," she answered in a voice that was barely audible that Ron made her say it again. "I said yes! But it is just because I have a crush on him," she shouted defensively this time. "Oh, wee Hermione has a crush on icky little Malfoy," Harry mocked in a kid's voice, not able to restrain himself. This earned him a slap behind the head from the glaring witch on his left. "Did you like Malfoy's kiss like you liked mine?" Ron asked. Hermione's cheeks reddened at Ron's question. She was put in an awkward situation. It was either she lies or she tells the truth and hurt the redhead's feelings. She didn't have to answer Ron, did she? No, she was not going to answer. "Comparing your kissing abilities now, eh?" Harry muttered under his breath while touching the back of his head, checking for injuries. Ron heard him, unfortunately. "It's nothing like that, Harry." He left his swing and stood directly in front of Hermione. "So, what's your response to my question, Hermione?" Recognizing that Ron would not stop bugging her for an answer, Hermione decided that honesty was the best policy. If her response would hurt his feelings, it was his fault. He asked for it.
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"I think so. More than I liked yours, frankly." "There you go," the redhead exclaimed, snapping his fingers. Instead of being offended, Ron was smiling at her. "You're in love with the amazing bouncing ferret." "WHAT?" "You can't say so just because of a kiss, Ron," Harry interjected. "No matter how great a kisser one person is, if there are no feelings involved, the result would not be totally satisfying. Believe me, I've been there," the redhead declared matter-of-factly, as if he had lots of first-hand experience on love when in fact, he had been part of only two relationships - with Hermione and Pansy. "Hermione's telling us that she liked Malfoy's kiss better than mine, and let me add the fact that she had been in love with me. Put two and two together. Go figure it out, Harry." The brunette just stared at Ron, weighing the merits of his logical explanation. She had to agree, the usually clueless Ron had a point. Was she really in love with Draco? What if Ron's theory was wrong? What if it boils down to the fact that Draco was just a much better kisser than him? Then she really wasn't in love with Draco, was she? She wasn't aware that she had already spaced out. "Hermione?" Harry called her. When she didn't respond, he clapped his hands in front of her face. "Hermione!" Surprised by the sound, Hermione straightened in her seat. "Oh, sorry. I was just thinking of something." Both wizards shook their heads, incapable of processing the idea that Hermione was actually distraught over such a simple thing as the true nature of her feelings for Malfoy. Ron laid a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "You know what your problem is?" "No," she replied right away. She truly had no idea what her problem was. "What?" "The only reason you're always confused by your feelings for Malfoy is because you won't allow yourself to have feelings for him. Does that make sense to you?" Hermione blinked, becoming aware of the oddness of the situation. She had
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become the one being given an advise instead of being the adviser. Add the fact that Ron was suddenly brimming with wisdom. If she wasn't so agitated, she would've laughed at what was happening presently. The witch threw a disbelieving glance at Harry and returned her attention to Ron, making a hand signal that urged him to continue. He got her interested. "You see, you're fighting your feelings for the arrogant prat." No, she wasn't. She just couldn't figure out whether she had feelings for him or not. "I'm not." "Yes, you are. Ginny's right about you. You're such a denial queen." "I'm not," she huffed. "You just denied something again, denial queen," Harry enlightened her, shaking his head. "Let me try something on you. Do you trust me?" Hermione looked cautiously at her friend, and not wanting to offend him, she replied, "I think so." The raven-haired wizard chuckled and patted her shoulder. "Trust me, okay?" All Hermione could do was nod. "Now, close your eyes." "What is this, Harry? You've become an expert in advices now? What can you not do?" "A lot of things. Like, I cannot kill you, though I certainly wish to do so." Ron glowered at him, which Harry ignored. "Now, just shut up. Ginny instructed me to do this," grinning, the wizard cracked his knuckles in preparation for what he was about to do. Hermione's left eyebrow rose. "Ginny?" "Are you going to punch Hermione, Harry?" Ron voiced out simultaneously. "There will be no punching," the wizard threw his friend a reprimanding look. "Regarding Ginny, she had anticipated this moment. I'm inclined to believe that my wife is a seer." "Or a gossip monger. Or a manipulator. Or all of the above," Ron bent down to
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whisper to Hermione, sneering. The witch looked at the redhead incredulously. "Could we please get on with whatever we're doing?" She could not wait to be done with all the drama. And with all the madness. "Right." Harry cleared his throat. "Close your eyes. Clear your mind. Forget all your worries, Hermione." Hermione followed his instructions. She closed her eyes and tried to loosen up with all her might. "Relax, Hermione," Ron said. She stared angrily at him. "I'm trying." "Well, try harder." Shaking his head, Harry followed Ron and stood in front of Hermione. "Forget the fact that you and Malfoy have been friends for more than decade. Forget the fact that you don't want to fall in love with him." She closed her eyes again. Determinedly, she lightened up. Okay, she was open to falling in love with Draco. She was amenable to the prospect of having more than friendly feelings for Draco. She repeated the lines to herself again and again. Hermione was caught off guard when she heard Ron say, "Forget your fear of falling in love with someone again, only to have your heart broken. Malfoy's not me, Hermione." For the second time, she opened her eyes, much to Harry's irritation. She directed her gaze to her friend, her ex. "Ron..." "I was a bastard for breaking your heart," he said, meeting her gaze. It was the first time that Ron had admitted that it was he who had done the hurting when they broke up. Tears threatened to escape her eyes, but she quickly put a stop to them. He kneeled and took her hand that was gripping the chain that held the swing up, and covered it with both of his large hands. "Remember, Malfoy and I are two entirely different people. He won't do what I did. I know that you would say that Malfoy is a bastard, but he is a bastard in a different way."
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Ron smiled at her. "What happened to us won't happen to the two of you. He won't let it happen, believe me." She nodded, suddenly enlightened. She had been holding back in the past few years when it comes to starting a romantic relationship with other men because she had been scared that they would end up breaking up like she and Ron did. She had agreed to the dates that Ginny had set her up with, but her heart was not into it, resulting to her lack of interest with whoever her date was. Ron was right. He and Draco were different. Just because she had a bad experience with the redhead does not mean that she would have a bad experience with Draco as well. Or any guy for that matter. Harry gestured for her to close her eyes again as Ron stood up and took his place beside him. "Picture this, Hermione: Malfoy's in the arms of another woman." Memories of the previous night presented themselves to Hermione. She recalled how angry she was at the sight of Ella and Draco together. She had wanted to rip her hair off her head, really. She had been ready for a fight. If it wasn't for Draco's intervention, who knew what Hermione would have done to her cousin. "Or worse, you have been a coward and didn't admit your feelings for him. He walks away, gives up on you and finds another woman." He would never walk away from her. Never. He had loved her so many years, why would he walk away from her? He had cultivated his love for her for almost a decade, why would he just abandon his feelings? "How do you feel about that?" "He would never!" she stated, brows furrowed and eyes still closed. "He might, Hermione. Everything has its limits." "I don't think Draco would stop loving me," the brunette declared confidently. "Tell me, Hermione, does it sound practical to you to wait for someone to love you back for ten years? Or even more than ten years?" She sighed, giving in. "Practical, no. Idealistic, yes." "Does Malfoy strike you as someone idealistic?"
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"No." Her heart sank, not feeling so confident anymore. "Malfoy's no long-suffering martyr, Hermione. So he's bound to get tired of you. If that happens, he will never be yours again. Not even if you beg him to go back to you." Harry took a step towards the witch and held her face. When Hermione opened her brown eyes, they connected with Harry's green ones. "Even if that's not the case, know what you want once and for all. Don't make him wait for nothing, 'Mione. Be fair to Malfoy." "This is so difficult, Harry," she complained. She hated making life-changing decisions. And this certainly was one. "Stop contradicting what your heart says with what your head tells you!" Harry rolled his eyes impatiently and heaved a sigh of frustration. "Alright, knucklehead. I have a question for you. But promise that you would stop playing safe. This discussion lasted long because you're afraid to commit mistakes. Newsflash, Hermione! You're only human. You're bound to make mistakes. " The reality of Harry's sharp words hit her. He was right. It was time to let go of her fears. It was time to take a leap towards uncertainty. Love - and life - is about taking risks, after all. Realizing these, she felt relieved. She felt young, she felt free and she felt happy. Surely, there would be no excitement when everything was predictable. "Do you promise?" Harry demanded. Hermione gave him a small smile. "I promise, Mr. Potter." "Can you take the sight of Malfoy being married to a witch who wasn't you? Yes or no?" She bowed her head, looked at her lap while the wizards in front of her waited for the next word that would come out of her mouth. She deliberated in light of her recent realizations because her answer would change her life forever. She took her time. She recalled each moment she shared with Draco. She reminisced each caring
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touch, each gentle hug, each heated argument and each affectionate peck on the cheek that she and the blond wizard shared. She was transported back in time as she vividly remembered their passionate kiss and the last words that she heard from him since last night. "I love you, Hermione." Unable to keep silent for long, Ron whined. "You're the brightest witch of our age. You should have figured these all out. C'mon." "You know what being in love is like, Ron. Even the most intelligent among us can't be spared," Harry said. Hermione raised her head, and a huge smile appeared on her lips. Yes, she's in love. Oh Merlin, she's in love. She's in love with Draco Malfoy, her once-sworn enemy, the Slytherin prince when they were still studying at Hogwarts, former Death Eater and a pureblood who had called her Mudblood countless of times in the past. She's in love with Draco Malfoy, her best friend. She's in love. She's in love. She's in love, and it felt good to finally come clean with it. "Hey, Malfoy might get Avada Kedavra'd!" Ron enthusiastically asserted. "Enough, Ron. I think Hermione sees our point," Harry said with a grin, noticing the change in Hermione's demeanor. Ron looked down on her and took notice of her smile as well. He grinned sheepishly. "Oh. I got a bit carried away, I guess." "How did you know so much about my feelings, you two?" "You've forgotten that we're the best of friends, Hermione. We know you like we
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know the lines at the back of our hands." "Don't you have an important appointment? With the CEO of Malfoy Incorporated, I believe," Ron intoned, crossing his arms over his chest. Hermione stood up and gathered the two other men of her life in a group hug. "Thank you, guys." There were tears in her eyes this time, unable to explain the extent of the gratitude she felt towards her best friends. "What are friends for, 'Mione?" Harry said, tightening his arms around Ron and Hermione. "Have I told you both that I love you?" "Lately, you haven't but we know you do." "But not like the way you love Malfoy, anyway," Ron grumbled. Laughter rang out from Hermione as she released the wizards from her hug. She wiped her tears away and retrieved her wand, preparing to disapparate. "By the way, Hermione, I don't think Malfoy's bound to get tired of you," the head auror added. Ron moved his head up and down in agreement. "He's a long-suffering idiot, after all. And he's going to pay me loads for this." With a smile and a loud crack, Hermione left Harry and Ron to pursue her heart's greatest desire. Harry looked at his friend beside him. "You were late, Ronald." "Whatever. I'm going home, boss. Those two gave me a headache."

A/N: Three chapters in a week, how's that for being productive? Haha! How about giving me a late Christmas gift by reviewing? I know I've been good this week. *wink* I'll have you know that there are only two chapters left. Ah, I can't wait to finish this story.
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PS: Thank you to all the reviewers, namely: Tishica, Al-Orange Ninja, arlenebell75, Forevacullen, SnowCharms, DeathDaisy, Lee Ann, LuckyStar1881, NeonToxicCyanide, Wainwright, lenewest, Loslote, Chellesmere, nature love 95, x-hermalfoy, softballpitcher, KraZiiePyrozHavemoreFun, Rose Walker-Hall, IheartDracoandRon, FrozenBloom, xslytherinx, Misti D, Tinkerbell81, frostykitten, Isabella120, Pisces(dot)TJ, Loufoca-Granger, PeaceLOVEHershey, bumble-beeoncrack, edwardsoneandonlylove, KilljoysMakeSomeNoise, Michell-11e, jentrem99, (an unsigned review), RozaBaksh, leakingpenholder and Evil People's Underwear. Special thank you to Tinkerbell81 for the vote of confidence! Oh, and this is unbeta-ed by the way.

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Chapter 30
Disclaimer: For the thirty-first time, all rights are reserved to J.K. Rowling.

Chapter Thirty

"Good morning, Miss Granger," Draco's secretary, Janice, greeted as she opened the sliding door to Draco's office. "How may I help you?" Seeing that Draco was not behind his desk, she asked. "Where's Draco?" "He has a meeting with the executives of Zabini Industries, Miss. I was about to bring these files to him," she showed Hermione the folders that she was clutching. "Would you like to give Mr. Malfoy a message?" Hermione would like to give the wizard a message alright. But it was the type of message that she should deliver herself. "Where's the meeting taking place?" "In the Board Room." She turned around to proceed to said room but Janice caught her by the wrist. "Mr. Malfoy instructed me not to let anyone disrupt his meeting, Miss Granger. It is of utmost importance. They're discussing the possibility of a merger of the two companies." The brunette tried to pry her hand from the secretary's grasp but Janice held on firmly. "Let me go, Janice!" "I'm sorry, Miss Granger." "I'm his best friend, for pity's sake! I'm exempted from those kinds of restrictions." "He said and I quote, 'No exceptions, Janice'." Hermione attempted to free her hand again to no avail. She sighed and breathed in and out in an effort to calm herself down. Merlin forbid, she was on the verge of hurting an overly zealous secretary! "Maybe you could wait for him in here, Miss Granger."
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"Or maybe you could tell him I'm here, Janice," she said sarcastically. "I'm sure I'm more important than that stupid merger." "I'll tell him, Miss. But please stay here." The witch rolled her eyes. "Fine," she huffed. Janice gave Hermione an assessing look before she let go of the brunette's hand. "I'll get back to you." The moment she was freed, Hermione stepped away from Janice and hurriedly went out of the office. "Miss Granger!" caught unaware, the poor secretary shouted after Hermione. "Sorry," she called back, running towards the direction of the Board Room and eager to tell Draco her latest discovery. She saw that Janice was running after her, prompting Hermione to run faster. A few turns later, she found herself in front of a large oak door, the door to the Board Room. Hermione smiled to herself and reached for the doorknob. The brunette tried to reach the knob, anyway. Because when her hand was inches away from the shiny brass handle, Janice launched herself at Hermione. "OOF!" Hermione made the sound as her back hit the floor with Janice landing on top of her. "Don't go inside, Miss Granger!" the secretary yelled, trying to restrain Hermione who was clawing at her. "Get off of me, you... you..." She was so livid that she was deciding which hex she would use on Janice once she's able to reach for her wand. "Promise you won't barge in, Miss! I don't want to risk losing my job!" "Get off, you overly competent witch!" Rather, an overly competent witch who forgot that she was a witch. Tackling her to the floor? That was a very Muggle thing to do. She would have preferred stupefy or other not-so-painful spells over being jostled by Janice anytime. "Don't interrupt the meeting, please!" "ALRIGHT! Alright!" With a mighty push, Hermione managed to dislodge Janice. She quickly returned to her feet and reached for her back. "Merlin, my back hurts!"
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"I apologize, Miss Granger, though it is your fault. You're being too insistent." She glared at Janice and put her hands of her either hips. "Well, pardon me, Janice. I just realized that I've inadvertently fallen in love with Draco! Pardon me for wanting to tell him right away! In person. Without his secretary badgering me every step of the way." A throat was cleared from behind her. Janice's eyes widened and Hermione let out a gasp. She looked at Janice for confirmation and when the secretary nodded, Hermione wanted to die of embarrassment. She found out that she was glued to the floor and not capable of moving her body. "Why don't you turn around?" an extremely familiar voice said. 'Bloody hell, this is humiliating,' Hermione couldn't help but think as she saw that some of Malfoy Incorporated's employees - those disturbed by the shrieks coming from the hallway - were starting to surround them, curious of the scene that was unfolding before their very eyes. She felt someone firmly gripped her shoulders and turned her around. She kept her eyes on the floor, trying to appreciate her flats and the manly black shoes nearby. "Look up," the voice said again. When Hermione refused, large hands cupped her face and forced her to look up. Determined to be obstinate, she shut her eyelids tight. She heard a chuckle - which elicited a collective intake of breaths from the onlookers - and a tsk-ing sound. "Gads, you're stubborn." Then she felt a chaste kiss being planted on her lips, encouraging more gasps from the employees. The brunette opened her eyes at that, and she was welcomed by a pair of steely grey eyes. "Message received, Hermione," Draco declared, grinning at her. What a way to reveal her feelings for him. Someone Avada her. Now.

She's in love with him.

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"I just realized that I've inadvertently fallen in love with Draco!" He didn't hear whatever Hermione said after that line. If this was a dream, Draco fervently hoped that he wouldn't wake up. Finally, his feelings were reciprocated, after all these years of secretly pining for her. Not aware of the crowd surrounding them, he reached for Hermione and turned her around to face him. He knew she was mortified because she wouldn't venture a look on him. She was looking at the floor instead, which made Draco wonder what was so interesting in the cold, black tiles. Were they better-looking than him? A tad incensed, he told her, "Look up." The blond resulted to forcing her but she simply closed her eyes, still refusing to look at him. What a determined witch she was! Draco couldn't help but laugh at her, he found her persistence endearing. Merlin above, he was doomed to love everything Hermione does. Well, not doomed, really. Destined was more like it. "Gads, you're stubborn." Then he kissed her, because... Because... Because he wanted to, damn it. There she was, inches away from him, eyes closed and brows creased in her determination to avoid looking at him. What more could he do? She was enchanting in her childishness and hey, she just declared that she loved him. So he kissed her. And that was when she opened her eyes. Her brown eyes were filled with embarrassment at their predicament, yet somehow, Draco could see her love for him in them, too. He grinned at her, and told her, "Message received, Hermione." He would give a million galleons to capture the look that crossed Hermione's features after he said his line. The wizard felt a tap on his right shoulder. He would give a million galleons just to banish the intruder to a far away land as
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well. "Mate, take it inside. You're attracting attention," Blaise Zabini informed him. Draco looked around and noticed the people surrounding them. How dare them. He wasn't paying them a small fortune to poke their noses in other people's business. "Enjoying the show?" looking over Hermione's head, the blond growled at the employees, who hurriedly dispersed and returned to their respective areas. Then he shifted his attention to Blaise. "Maybe we could continue the meeting some other time, yes?" A naughty smile appeared on the former Slytherin's lips as he nodded his head. "No problem, mate. I'll just bring my executives again tomorrow. You've got a more urgent matter in your hands now." Draco then guided Hermione towards the Board Room, locking the room behind him. She still hadn't said a word and Draco was inclined to believe that she had gone into a state of shock. He shook her. "Hermione." No response from her. He shook her harder. "HERMIONE." Still not herself, she muttered, "That was mortifying." Laughing loudly, he hugged her tightly. "That's quite enough, love. There's nothing mortifying about declaring your feelings for me." The witch pushed him away. "It was mortifying, Draco! Beyond mortifying!" "Are you telling me that you're not proud of the fact that you're in love with me?" he asked, eyes narrowed dangerously. "It's not that! I just don't like the way I revealed the fact. It's all Janice's fault. You have a very meddlesome secretary, do you know that?" "So you do love me?" He leaned against the long table and smirked at her.
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Hermione did not hear his question and proceeded with her rambling. "I've known Janice for six years and she had always been amiable towards me. Why was she so strict this morning? She should have known that I would not do anything to disrupt your meeting. Her unbending attitude prompted me to not follow her instructions. She challenged me." "Hermione..." "She's infuriating. Does she irritate you as well?" The brunette was already pacing the length of the room. Draco caught her when she passed by him, stopping her. "Hermione, are we going to talk about Janice the whole morning? Because if that is the case, I could still call Zabini back and we could resume our meeting." "This is all Janice's fault," she still muttered. "Okay, that's it! I'm calling Zabini back." Draco stood up to do as he said but Hermione held him by the shoulders and pinned him down. "Sorry." Draco just shook his head, removed Hermione's hands from his shoulders, and enclosed them between his own hands. "So you love me?" Hermione simply trained her eyes on their joined hands and nodded. "What made you realize it? The kiss we shared last night?" The witch nodded her head again. "I should have just kissed you years ago," he muttered under his breath, sounding excessively confident. "Wow, what a big head you have," she frowned at him. "If you must know, I had a talk with Harry and Ron. You should be thanking them." Complete silence reigned as Draco processed what she had said. They locked eyes, neither wanted to say the next word. Then the blond wizard sat on the table, his legs dangling over its edge. "Come here," he spoke softly as he pulled her to him until she was standing in
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between his legs, their faces level with each other. He placed his left hand behind her nape and without another word, connected their lips. He tasted her - sweet yet bold at the same time. Just like last night, he could go on and on and on kissing her. Screw their responsibilities; screw the meals they had to take. A kiss like this was enough to last him a lifetime. Hermione seemed to think so, too. She was clinging on to his collar like it was her life source. It was a kiss that only lovers shared. They were lovers now. Lovers - something Draco had only dared to dream of in the past. He wanted to shout the fact to the whole world, but that could wait. He was going to kiss her senseless first.

"I can't believe how blind I've been. Everybody knew how I feel about you yet I didn't. For a witch who prided herself for being intelligent, I have been so clueless," Hermione stated a couple of minutes later. "If it makes you feel better, you kept me on my toes as well." "Really?" "Yes. You were as unpredictable as the weather." "I have no idea where this relationship would take us and it scares me to death, Draco. Uncertainty scares me. I'm terrified of wearing my heart on my sleeve again, only to find said heart crushed in the end. I'm terrified of allowing myself to be vulnerable to heartaches once again." "Shhh. There's nothing to be afraid of, Hermione." The brunette hugged him and buried her head on the crook of his neck. "Promise me that you'll never ever break my heart." Draco heaved a sigh, and gently caressed Hermione's unruly crown of hair. "I could not guarantee that I won't make you cry, Hermione." She distanced herself from him, appearing aghast at his statement. She was so sure that he would promise her so. What was going on? "But -" He shook his finger and laid it on her lips, silencing her. "What I promise is that
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I'll do my absolute best to make you happy every single second we're together. I adore you, Hermione. I love you more than I love myself and frankly, that's saying a lot since Draco Malfoy loves himself so much." Hermione drowned in Draco's mercurial orbs. "I'll do anything for you, anything for your happiness. Take a chance on me, please. Take a leap and believe that I'll be catching you on your descent. To the best of my ability, I promise not to hurt you, Hermione. Why should I, when I feel all your hurts as well?" It was the most genuine declaration of love. Eyes brimming with tears, she launched herself towards Draco. "That's all I'm asking for, Draco. I could not ask for more." Indeed, she was taking a leap. And her heart knew that he would be there to cushion her fall. Even in the darkness, she was sure that there would always be a hand for her to hold on to. The blond wiped her tears away and whispered, "I love you, Hermione. I know I am not the best man a woman could wish for, and that I have a very questionable past, but believe me when I promise that I will try to be someone you can be proud of." "You're already someone I can be proud of, Draco. You know how much I admire the way you redeemed yourself from your past indiscretions. You know what?" "What?" Draco eyed her curiously, waiting for her next words. It took forever for her to say them, she was shaking, suddenly feeling nervous at the prospect of telling him three short words. It was a whole lot easier to shout them in front of strangers than tell them to the very man they were reserved for, she concluded. Hermione gathered her infamous Gryffindor courage, and breathed in and out to calm herself. When she finally said the magic words, they were most sincere. "I love you, too, Draco Malfoy." Draco held her close and she saw that he shut his eyes, a small smile adorning his lips. He was probably reeling in happiness and triumph as the moment he had long wished for had finally arrived.
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Merlin, she really loved him. "I love you, Draco. I truly love you, my dearest best friend." This was liberating. She felt all her burdens evaporate, leaving her feeling light, carefree and extraordinarily happy. She repeated the words again and again, loving how each word uttered contributed to her happiness. "I love you and I mean you. I love who you are as a person, Draco Malfoy. I love you." Laughing, he planted a lingering kiss on her right temple. "I love you more, Hermione." He held her tight for a minute or two. "We're finally a couple eh?" he uttered, a trace of disbelief at his good fortune could be heard in his voice. "Of course, you idiot." "You have such a mouth on you." She made a face, which made him laugh. "You love kissing me anyway." And kiss her, he did. "Are you sure you about this, Hermione?" "You want me to take back what I said?" "No way," he answered promptly. "There's no turning back, love. There is no way in hell you could end our relationship." She cocked an eyebrow. "Really?" "Really. You just signed up for a forever kind of love, Hermione Jean Granger," he informed her, smirking. "I can't - and won't - let you go. You're mine now." She tapped his left cheek gently. "Just to make it clear, you're mine as well. No other woman, and I mean no other woman, should lay a hand on you. Especially Ella." Draco traced the line of her nose as he grinned widely. "Ah. Possessive. Definitely a woman after my own heart." Then he swooped in for another passionate kiss.

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Hugs and kisses to the following reviewers: Tinkerbell81, waterflower20, KilljoysMakeSomeNoise, arlenebell75, LuckyStar1881, nature love 95, NeonToxicCyanide, frostykitten, DeathDaisy, HPAsherra, kcm, Maddielove4, Loufoca-Granger, Wainwright, Tenma94, x-hermalfoy, xslytherinx, FrozenBloom, ZombieInk, Isabella120, jentrem99, anna0728, S(dot)H(dot)Chevalier, Forevacullen, angelchoo, Loslote, SnowCharms, KraZiiePyrozHavemoreFun, dreadfuldelights, Lee Ann, Rain Kayheart, lenewest, Michell-11e, bumble-beeoncrack, kerstin, Spintherin, twilightnemo, Mimpy and complicatedgirl.

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Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter.


She had always known that this was coming. She had always known that she would be at the receiving end of these kinds of questions and discussions once Ginevra finds a way to corner her, and corner her, Ginny did. She should have heeded Draco's advice to stay away from Ginny for at least a few weeks. Yet it was New Year's Eve, and she felt compelled to celebrate it with her friends - as she had in the past years. She counted to ten to make the annoyance that she was feeling go away but alas, the tactless woman was not showing any signs of shutting up. Taking a swig of champagne from the cup in her hand, she put up her hand, signalling the redhead to stop. "Ginny, please. I've had had enough of your incessant chatter. Can we now please go outside so that we could celebrate with the others?" Her statement only served to make Ginny grip her shoulders firmly. "We are not going out of this room until you tell me how Malfoy proposed." Hermione glanced at the simple ruby ring on her finger. People were shocked that Draco had given her such an unconventional engagement ring but she couldn't care less. The simple ruby ring held much more significance than a gaudy diamond ring. "Couldn't it wait? It's ten minutes to midnight." "It. Could. Not." "Right." Knowing that Ginny would bug her to no end with it,she told her the story behind Draco's proposal.

A week ago, Christmas morning...

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Hermione woke up to Draco's gentle kisses on her neck. She snuggled closer to him and enjoyed the warmth provided by his body next to hers. "Happy Christmas, love," he said, still showering her with little kisses. "Happy Christmas," she replied, wrapping her arms around his waist. After a few minutes of just lying on their bed and taking pleasure in each other's presence, Draco moved away from her and reached for something from the drawer of his bedside table. Smiling lovingly, he handed a very small package to her. She opened it and found a ruby ring set in a gold band inside. She recalled that it was his gift to her on her birthday. She threw it back to his face because she was feeling lousy that night. "You found it," she whispered. "It wasn't that hard to find. I simply accio'd it." "Why didn't you give it back right away then?" Draco sat up and just shrugged his shoulders. "I was waiting for the right time to give you the ring again." She smiled at him and moved to lay her head on his lap. "Thank you." The blond was now playing with her unruly curls, twirling them in his fingers. "Don't you remember what I told you about the ring?" She found herself staring back at Draco as she tried to remember the events of the aforementioned night. "Anyway, I'm going to sleep Draco. It has been a long night for me." "Well, to inform you, Granger, that ring would have been your engagement ring, had you not thrown it back at me," he said, not wanting to pass the opportunity to annoy her. Hermione took out her wand from the purse she was carrying and pointed it at him. "You want me to perform a little crucio on you, Draco?" she asked sweetly, though the look in her eyes was the exact opposite. He should have known joking with her when she was aggravated was not good for his health. Hurriedly, he brushed the
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woman's wand aside before she decided to experiment on him. "Oh," was all she managed to say when she finally recalled what he told her that night. "Is that a good oh or a bad oh?" "I don't know." Then she let out a laugh. "Oh Draco. That engagement ring joke surely had me riled up." He stopped playing with her hair at that point. "Who told you it was a joke?" "I'm not dumb. I know how to identify a joke, thank you very much," Hermione bit off, eyes narrowed threateningly. "Well, what if I tell you that it's not a joke now?" She just stared at him, and when she realized what her boyfriend's question really meant, she felt her body stiffen. "Finally understood what I was trying to say all along eh?" Draco smirked at her while gently caressing her cheeks. "B-but... but Draco...," Hermione sputtered, at a loss for words. "But nothing, my dear girlfriend." Draco then moved to settle her on his lap and took the ring from her hand. He smoothed her curls away from her face and claimed her lips in an affectionate kiss. When the kiss ended, Draco looked deep into her eyes, love mirrored in each other's eyes. "Will you happily claim to be the woman who put an end to Draco Malfoy's bachelorhood, Hermione Jean Granger?" "Will I marry you?" she inquired rather ridiculously. All her wits left her. He was proposing, for pity's sake. He was proposing! Even she was entitled to a bout of stupidity in a situation like this. She heard Draco's low chuckle, his eyes filled with mirth. "Yes, Hermione. Will you marry me?" The brunette buried her face in the crook of Draco's neck, her eyes filling with
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tears of joy as she replied, "I'll marry you, Draco Malfoy. Eagerly and with so much happiness."

At present... Ginny let out an ear-splitting scream, prompting Hermione to cover the redhead's mouth immediately. "Hush, Ginny!" "Dear Merlin, it was soooo romantic, Hermione! It was so casual yet so heart-gripping at the same time." Hermione could not help but smile. "I know." Everything was like that with Draco. It was as if they were still just friends. Their relationship was built on casualness, companionship, extensive knowledge of each other's likes and dislikes and of course, love. Passionate, unbridled love. "I was going to chide Malfoy about the lack of a diamond engagement ring but never mind! Gads, now I understand why you both settled for that ring." She just shook her head at Ginny, checked the time and saw that it was a minute before year 2009 ends. "Gin, let's go outside. I bet they're already counting down." At Hermione's words, both witches hurried to join their family and friends outside Grimmauld Place, where they counted down to a new year with other Muggle families. Hermione searched for a shock of platinum blond hair while Ginny located Harry and their brood. People - wizards and Muggles alike - started to count. "Ten!" "Nine!" "Eight!" That was when she saw him, standing regally amidst the crowd. Hermione ran towards her fiance. Her fiance, she proudly repeated in her mind. She was smiling to herself as she
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ran towards her destiny, her love, her soul mate, her life and her happily-ever-after. She couldn't believe how blessed she was as she hurried towards the blond wizard. What had she done to deserve someone like him? "Seven!" "Six!" She passed by Ron and Pansy, who both greeted Hermione a hurried Happy New Year. "Five!" "Four!" "Three!" "Two!" Then she stopped running and slowly walked towards Draco Malfoy, her friend and her lover. He welcomed her with a hug and without a word being said between them, Draco bent down to kiss her on the lips. "One!" The fireworks display began and bathed the festive crowd and the kissing couple in different colors of light. "Happy New Year!" "Happy, happy New Year!" Hermione broke away from the kiss and wound her arms around Draco's neck. "Happy New Year, love!" Draco's arms encircled her waist. "Happy New Year, future Mrs. Hermione Malfoy." Mrs. Hermione Malfoy. Merlin above, she loved the sound of it.
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The End

A/N: Happy New Year, everyone! As a new year starts, this story ends. I feel a bit sad, but mostly I'm ecstatic that this story has finally come to a conclusion. I hope you liked this. Blame the cheesiness to the fireworks that served as my background music. I know most of you requested an epilogue with a marriage and children, but this felt really right for me. This was the way I planned the epilogue from the beginning and adding a ten years or fifteen years later scene seemed a bit, I dunno, awkward. But that's just my opinion. You're welcome to hate me. As to the sequel thing, this seemed like the end of the story for me. Sometime in the future, I will have this story edited for grammatical errors. When I have time, that is. But that's it. This is really the end of Friends and Lovers. If you rather liked this story, I have another work-in-process entitled Brick by Brick. The first chapter is already up and I would appreciate if you give it a try as well. Oh, and do review please! :) Thank you to those who reviewed the previous chapter: Peace-bookluva, Forevacullen, NeonToxicCyanide, CheshireCat23, Mimpy, edwardsoneandonlylove, Evil People's Underwear, SnowCharms, angelchoo, PeaceLOVEHershey, bumble-beeoncrack, PsychicWitch., softballpitcher, dreadfuldelights, DracoAndBellaxx, xslytherinx, FrozenBloom, Spintherin, Michell-11e, ZombieInk, Isabelle Francois, KraZiiePyrozHavemoreFun, Loslote, jentrem99, S(dot)H(dot)Chevalier, Chabela, PeaceAngel28, Maddielove4, Dragons in the Orchard, homicidalPEACH, Isabella120, , leakingpenholder, Chellesmere, LuckyStar1881, frostykitten, verra, DeathDaisy, HPAsherra, Wainwright, alicenotinwonderland, mayajane, Loufoca-Granger, nature love 95, Tinkerbell81, Lee Ann, K. Ly, LoVeDoNtHaTe, lenewest and KilljoysMakeSomeNoise. Thank you, everyone. The title of this story was borrowed from the Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson song, by the way, so thanks to them! Haha! It has been a great four months for me.

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Until next time!

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Second Epilogue
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. All rights reserved to J.K. Rowling.

A/N: I know I said the story would end with the epilogue, but well... I was bored and I kind of missed Friends and Lovers. So, I decided to write a Second Epilogue. Surprise, surprise! Read on, people. And please read my other note at the end. I need some recommendations.

Another Epilogue

Hermione was in the living room, sitting cross legged on their new leather couch and perusing the latest edition of Hogwarts, A History which came out a week ago. She was twirling strands of her curly hair around her finger, completely absorbed by the contents of the book that she let out a sharp intake of breath when someone took said book from her grasp. Looking up, she found Draco, who was beaming at her. "Give me my book," she said, frowning. Instead of handing her the item, he merely sat down beside her and quietly browsed through the pages. "Draco Malfoy, give me my book!" "You've read this cover to cover countless of times since Monday!" "So?" "Wouldn't you rather spend a lovely Sunday morning with your handsome husband who worships the ground you walk upon?" The blond gave her an imploring look and a winning smile. "I would, if he wasn't such an arse. Now, I'd prefer my book over him, thank you very much." Draco carelessly threw the hardbound book over his shoulder. Hermione let out a
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gasp. How dare he throw away one of her priceless treasures! The brunette's eyes narrowed into tiny snake-like slits. "Draco Malfoy, you are in big trouble." He simply shrugged his shoulders. "You got your knickers in a twist for what? That piece of garbage?" "Garbage?" She hit his shoulder hard. "GARBAGE?" Draco caught her hands to stop her from attacking him and pulled her closer. "That new edition of Hogwarts, A History is rubbish. There are at least three mistakes in there." "Three?" As far as she knew, there was none. "Yes, three." "Which are?" He didn't answer her. Instead, his fingers pushed aside the curls that spilled over Hermione's shoulder and his mouth busied itself with kissing his wife's now-exposed neck. The witch let out a barely audible sigh, but still managed to push Draco away. "What are the errors, Draco?" "Can't it wait?" said Draco before capturing Hermione's lips in his. She pushed him away the second time. "No." "Fine." He traced the line of her nose, her jaw and her cheeks. Ultimately, his slightly calloused fingers lingered on her lips. "The three times they mentioned your name, dear wife, they used Granger. Not Malfoy, Granger. The editor of that book will receive a howler, love, if he doesn't rectify his mistake right away. That said, I should send him a howler this very moment. Not only him, but the editor of the previous edition as well. Or are they the same person?" A smile adorned Hermione's lips as she looked at her pouting husband, who was too old to pout like he was a brat, by the way. Yet, she found him adorable. Yes, she just called him adorable, and he would surely throttle her if he knew that she used said adjective to describe him. Highly amused, she shook her head. Twenty years of marriage and nothing had changed. Despite the occasional white hair, unnecessary fats in some parts of their bodies, and wrinkles in their faces, their marriage was still like what it had been two decades ago, if not better. Draco would brag that she was his wife any chance he could get - though almost every witch and wizard
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already knew the fact. It was irritating at times, but then, it made her love him even more. He was still grumbling when Hermione wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close to plant a deep kiss on his lips. She smirked. That shut him up. Draco was fumbling for the buttons of her blouse when they heard a voice. "Eww... Mum! Dad! I didn't need to see the two of you making out. You're already past fifty!" Cassie, their nineteen year-old daughter, stood by the door. She was covering her eyes. "Just forty-five, sweetheart," Draco answered, winking conspiratorially at his wife while they scrambled to put themselves to rights, as Cassie had brought someone with her. And they were holding hands, Draco noted. "Yeah. Sure, Dad. Whatever you say," Cassie said disbelievingly. "Are you done?" "Yes, Cass," said Hermione, reaching for her husband's hand. She squeezed it lightly, a reminder that he should keep his cool. "Hello, Albus!" Harry and Ginny's youngest son waved at them. He was an exact replica of his father's younger self. "Hi, Aunt Hermione, Uncle Draco. How are you both doing?" "Fine before you barged in, actually," Draco spat out, still looking at Cassie and Albus' joined hands. She squeezed his hand again; this time, it served as a warning. "Don't mind your Uncle Draco, Albus. He's just joking." She ushered them in. "I've invited them for lunch, Draco. Cass has something to tell us." Draco was fuming with anger, and Hermione deemed it best to remove the children from his presence. She led them to the dining room, leaving Draco in the living room to grumble to himself. Draco looked at the entrance of the dining room pointedly, angry at the fact that he wasn't allowed to yell at Cassie or Albus. Hermione's squeeze earlier told him that they had the witch's protection, and he was wise enough not to contradict his wife. Hermione chatted with the lovers for a while and when she noticed that Draco had not followed them after a few minutes, she went back to the living room, only to find out that her husband was gone.
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She was unable resist the smile tugging at the corner of her lips. Merlin, Draco was so predictable. Her heart raced, and maybe swelled a little. Hermione figured that it was because she just fell in love with her husband a little bit more, if such was possible. Meanwhile... "Potter! How dare you! Your son has corrupted my daughter! Cassiopeia's just nineteen. I will not stand for this. I will not let your brat sully the Malfoy bloodline! I will not, you hear me? You have to kill me first! You should have taught your son better, Potter. I am very disappointed in your parenting skills!" Harry only shook his head at Draco, who had been ranting the same words for what seemed like hours. Hermione was right. Draco Malfoy wasn't going to take the news of the possibility of a Potter-Malfoy nuptials well. Yet she also assured him that it wasn't because Draco hated the Potters and Draco will eventually accept that his daughter was going to marry Harry's son. Harry had no doubt about that. After all, Draco had told him years ago that he already considered Harry as one of his best friends, albeit begrudgingly.

A/N: Well, how was the second epilogue? Leave a review, please. For the last time for this story. I wanna know who still waits for updates for Friends and Lovers. Also, I just want to repeat that I have another work-in-process entitled Brick by Brick. I have high hopes for the story and I actually think it will be better than Friends and Lovers. Two chapters are already up so how about you give it a go and review as well? Lastly, I'm desperate for some Harry/Pansy stories. Could you recommend some for me? I've only read two so far, luckei1's Bring Me to Life and somandalicious' Blame It on the Ahahahahalcohol.

And this, my friends, is THE END of Friends and Lovers... ...for real.

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