Next to You

A long night in the office

Chapter 10 – A long night in the office

After getting the letter, she had searched her belongings for the white quill she bought in Diagon Alley. No one had seen it, since she had been using the brown one she got from Draco. It felt fitting to replace it now. If anyone asked she could show the quill and tell that this was what the owl had brought her. And quite right, Ginny gave her that suspicious look and asked what she had bought. She showed the quill and it let them admire it, and Ginny seemed satisfied. And for once, Harry seemed to buy it too.

She hadn't been able to concentrate on the studies after that. All that kept going round in her head was the big question; should she go to the meeting or not. She wanted to, all of her wanted to. She wanted to forgive him, just to pretend that everything was all right. But she also knew that if he had hurt her once in a way like that, it was very likely that he would do it again. And honestly, what kind of person went behind the back of his girlfriend like that? She excused herself and went to bed early, although it was a long time before she fell asleep.

The day was extremely long, and when she had to be at the same place as Draco she just ignored him. But when the classes were over she came to a decision. He did not deserve her help, he couldn't expect her to do his bidding like that, just because suddenly there was something he needed. She took her books and sat down in the common room with Harry and Ron. Soon they were immersed in their books, but she kept having an unpleasant feeling in the pit of her stomach. Suddenly a wave of anguish washed over her. She couldn't just let him down like that. What was she thinking? She stood up and started to pack her things.

"Already done for tonight?" Harry looked surprised and a bit amused.

"No, it's just so... noisy in here. I'll go to the library instead. No curfew you know, I can stay whole night if I want to." With the use of some willpower she managed a calm smile.

"Oh, yeah, maybe it is. I'll offer to join you, but I do have a curfew."

"It's OK. See you tomorrow, if not earlier. Sleep tight both of you." She forced herself to walk slowly to the door, but her inside was seriously stressed out. What if he had left? What if he wasn't waiting for her any longer? When she had left the corridor outside Gryffindor Tower she sped up and hurried for the office. Passing through the silent classroom she was having second thoughts though. Was this really a good idea? But she calmed herself with the fact that this wasn't a promise of any kind. Just talking couldn't hurt, could it? With a sigh she opened the door to the office and went inside.

Draco looked up from a book, his face closed and his eyes tired. They looked at each other for a long time, no one saying anything until he broke the silence.

"You came." It wasn't hard to hear the hope he tried to conceal.

"I don't know why yet. I don't know why I'm lying to my friends and wasting my precious study time on you."

"I'm really grateful that you are. Maybe there's still some feelings left between us." He was composed and talked with a serious voice. For some reason it irritated her highly. How dared he talk about her feelings like that?

"What do you care about that?"

He looked confused. "Because... I want help from you, and that would be much easier if you had some feelings of friendship left? I understand that this is hard for you, but it would be very good if we could forget about... things for some time."

"You want me to just forget about it, is that it? One sob-story and I'm supposed to pretend it never happened?" With trembling lips she felt the anger rise inside her.

For the first time some annoyance could be seen on his face. "Honestly, is it really that bad? Don't you think you're making a mountain out of a molehill? Can't we just forget about it?"

The anger filled her. "It may be a mere trifle to you, but to me your behaviour is disgusting!" She turned to leave. "And no, we can't just forget about it! I don't know why I came here in the first place." With a jerk she opened the door.

Once again he looked tired. "Hermione, just one thing."

"What?" She stopped with her hand on the handle.

"I'm sorry. Just let me say that. I shouldn't have kissed you."

"No, you shouldn't."

"I don't know what I was thinking."

"Well, me neither. And I'll be leaving now." She took a step towards the open door. "You should just be happy I didn't tell Parkinson. I should, you know."

"Pansy? What does she have to do with anything?" The confusion came back.

"Seeing as she is your girlfriend she might be interested in your activities with other girls, or what do you say?"

"Whoa, my what?" His eyes grew big. "Why would you think that?"

The anger slowly gave place to doubt. "Well, she told me about it?"

"So you believe that I was in a relationship with Pansy when I was kissing you. Is... is that why you're so upset?"

"Why shouldn't I believe that?"

"Because it's as sure as hell not true. She's never been my girlfriend and will definitely never be."

"I don't understand." Slowly she closed the door again and put her bag on the floor. "Then why did she say so?"

"I don't know. Maybe she wants it to be true? I try to stay away from that subject with her as much as I can." His bewilderment was still evident. "Did she just walk up to you and said so? It must have been jealousy, in that case."

"No, we met and, well, she teased me for not having a boyfriend, so I teased her for not having a boyfriend, and..."

"...she suddenly got one." He shook his head, a line forming between his eyebrows. "I can't believe that she have the nerve to say something like that." With a sigh he looked intently at Hermione. "Which leaves me with a very hard task."

This was all so confusing, she didn't understand what was happening. "What is that?"

"In some way I need to re-earn your trust, and to do that I must get you to understand that I'm not lying to you. That Pansy is the one not telling the truth."

"Oh." Slightly dazed she walked over to the desk, draw out the other chair and sat down on it. "So, what you're saying... Parkinson is not your girlfriend?"

"No."

"And she has never been?"

"No. We were dating in fifth year, but it never got serious. And nothing since then."

"Oh."

"But you believed she was." There was a tiny hope in his face.

"Yes."

"And... that's why you are angry?"

"I don't know about that angry part."

He sighed and there was a glimpse of a smile. "Will you please just answer the question? This time at least."

"I'm angry partly because you're a disgusting excuse for a human being, who kisses other girls behind your girlfriend's back. Or at least I was. Now I don't know any more."

"I assure you that I'm not doing any of that sort. I don't have a girlfriend." The expression turned serious again.

"If I asked her again she might be lying. And if I asked her while you were there she might say no because you've told her to. And if I ask your friends, they might... You see? No use trying to get the truth."

"You just have to trust me."

"I know."

"Do you trust me?"

Hermione bit her lip and stood up, then slowly walked over to the window. With a worried face she turned around and looked at him. Did she? She had to admit that his story seemed very plausible, but what did she know, he might just be a very good liar. Without taking her eyes off him she thought about the Draco she grew up with. All the deceit and foul play that was his everyday life. Then she started to think about the Draco she had gotten to know. Diagon Alley, all the studying together, the night walk, was it all fake? She didn't really need to think about it, deep down she knew. As she had done all the time.

"Yes. I do." A sad smile followed her words. "You told me once that I was an idiot for trusting you, the least trustworthy person in the castle. So I guess it's true. I'm an idiot. Naïve. Totally insane. But I believe that I know you a bit by know, and I do trust you."

He stared at her with something close to reverence. "Maybe I have a chance in that trial after all."

"Oh! The trial!" Quickly she went back to the chair and sat down with a determined face. "We need to do something." She couldn't believe that she had thought she should leave him alone with this. What was she thinking, this was Draco, after all.

There was a soft laughter coming from Draco. "Not that I'm complaining about your enthusiasm, but I'm having a hard time keeping up with your mood-swings."

"I'm sorry." She bit her lip, a small smile threatening to break loose in the corner of her mouth. "But we have enough time to handle the emotional drama later, this is important."

"As you wish." Looking at her like he couldn't really believe that she was sitting there, he still gave her a small smile. "Well, where do we start?"

"Wait." She jumped down from the chair and fetched her bag, taking out parchment and writing materials, and returned to the desk. Then she picked up her white quill and hovered over the parchment. "Now, what can we do?"

"I don't know. I honestly don't know." Instantly he sobered up, and there was an air of dejection around him.

"We can start with looking at other trials and see if there's something we can use."

"I have checked a little, but there are usually not so positive verdicts when it comes to Death Eaters."

"Have you checked judgements concerning victims of Death Eaters? You are a victim here too." For a couple of seconds the only thing sounding in the room was the rasping of the quill. "Maybe we can find something about extenuating circumstances. Like death threats."

"I guess we can do a little more checking on other cases. I'm just having a hard time seeing anything that might help. It feels so hopeless, so many of them won't see further then the Dark Mark on my arm, and... I don't know."

"Well, we can go to McGonagall and ask her to write a testimonial about how well you have managed your role as mentor." Refusing to acknowledge the despondent mood she added another dot to her list. "Of course, I can offer to testify the same thing too, in person or at paper."

"You really think she'll do that?" There was a lot of doubt in his voice.

"She believed enough in you to give you this chance, I doubt she has changed her mind. And I will talk to her too, verifying how well you have worked with me."

"What did I do right to get to meet you?" A smile started to show itself.

She smiled weakly at him before continuing with the list. "Slughorn is head of Slytherin, right? Ask him to write something about how brilliant you handle your studies, and that you're a good example for your house."

"He will never do it. He's deadly afraid to be mixed up with Death Eaters." His face got bitter.

"Oh. There is one solution, but I don't know..."

"Let me hear."

"Well, we could ask Harry to talk to him, he likes the whole "boy-who-lived" thing."

There was a mirthless, snorting laughter. "If you haven't noticed, Harry isn't a big fan of mine either. Last time we met he slammed me into a wall and threatened me with his wand. I very much doubt that he would like to do me any favours." The dejected posture came back. "I bet he'll be happy to have me shipped off to Azkaban."

"What about your mother?" She ignored the last sentence and went on with the list. "Is there anything she can do to help? Maybe she can testify about how you were forced into doing things you didn't choose yourself?"

"She did that on my first trial, pretty exhaustive."

"Good! Then we can refer to that." A smile tugged at the corner of her mouth. "I guess your father won't have anything to add?"

"Plenty, probably," he snorted, "but nothing that I want to bring to the judges of the trial."

"You don't have any other prestigious friends to the family who can vouch for you? Someone who's not a Death Eater, I might add."

"Very funny. No, my father didn't have great taste in friends." He fell in thoughts for a moment. "Well, there is the Greengrass family. I used to play with the sisters when we were kids. They're proud pure-bloods, but they never took any active role in the war. But I don't know why they would want to help me. They were on the Dark Lord's side, even if they didn't do much, and I'm a turncoat."

"I don't know... If they sympathised with Voldemort it might be better to leave them out of it. We don't want to make any connections to his side, but to show how far you have chosen to come from it."

"I honestly don't know where they stand now, but as you say, I know where they stood back then. Maybe it's better to leave them out."

"Unfortunately, yes. But we will find more things. We have a couple of weeks after all, right?"

"Yes, the trial is Thursday in two weeks."

"We can solve this, I promise."

"Don't promise what you can't keep." His smile was tired.

"We'll find a way, I have to believe that."

He reached out and fastened an escaped strand of hair behind her ear. "I can't say how happy I am that you decided to come here tonight."

"Yeah..." Suddenly she felt how a smile grew on her face, she couldn't help it. "I have to admit that I agree."

There was silence for some time, and they just looked at each other until Draco spoke up. "Hermione?"

"Yes?"

His expression had turned serious, and he seemed to choose his words carefully. "When we talked about Pansy earlier... You said that you were partly angry because you thought I was the unfaithful kind. What was the other reason you were angry?"

"Oh." Now this was something she hadn't anticipated, to have to declare her feelings. She didn't know if she wanted to, she was still afraid to get hurt. Yes, she trusted him, but he didn't have to be evil to hurt her. All that was needed was that he didn't have the same feelings, and after all, what did a silly kiss mean?

"I don't want any more misunderstandings between us, and you've been pretty upset. I really don't want to wake up tomorrow and find that you're not talking to me again." He saw her hesitant expression, and his face fell. "If you don't have to keep up appearances in front of your friends of course."

"No, I don't... I just..." With a pained expression she hid her face in her hands. She could feel him observing her through the silence, and eventually she looked up. "It's just that I finally have gotten back with my friends again. Even Ron is starting to soften up. And now..."

"So what do you propose? That we meet in secret to prepare for the trial? That we don't meet at all, going back to the non-speaking way?"

"No! I don't want you out of my life again."

There was a short silence again.

"You never answered my question." His eyes were unreadable. "You're good at that, I've noticed."

This was it. She couldn't dodge this question any more. "I didn't avoid you because I was angry. I avoided you because I was hurt."

"Why?" There was these intense eyes again.

Helplessness was written all over her. "Because..." A deep breath. "Because I thought that you were just toying with me. That it didn't mean anything to you." Her voice faltered. "Of course, if it didn't mean anything to you, that's perfectly..."

"Don't." He reached out a hand and tilted her head back up until she looked at him. "I told you earlier that I was sorry for kissing you. I'm not now."

"Wait a minute." With a frown she tilted her head. "You never knew about Parkinson?"

"No."

"But... You thought that I... that I was so mad at you for... you thought all my extreme behaviour was about the... kiss?"

"Yes. I must admit that a part of me was surprised that you reacted that strongly, but then I remembered who I am, and well, Potter was right. You are way out of my league." With a really tired expression he shook his head. "You have no idea how much I've been hating myself for destroying our friendship like that."

"At least it's not irreparable." She smiled and reached out her hand, pressed his, and then withdrew it. "And I know that I'm done hiding. I guess I eventually will have to notify Ron and Ginny about how you and I are on friendly basis again. And I'm not going to deny it if anyone else asks."

"But you are going to tell Potter as soon as possible."

"Yes, I am. He needs to know. I need him to know."

"He will kill me this time, you know that?"

"Don't be so melodramatic. Of course he won't. He will understand." With a face filled of amused disbelief she looked away for a second, and then turned back to Draco. "OK, scratch the last part, he won't understand. But he won't pick a fight with you either." The amusement stayed in her face. "He wanted to kill you when he got to know about Parkinson and stuff, but I told him that it was a bad idea, so he didn't. So I don't believe you have to worry this time either."

"Well, thank you, now it feels much better." The sarcasm in his words were mixed up with a small amount of fear. "You don't understand that Harry Potter actually is a pretty scary guy?"

"Harry? No, not really. Why?"

"For starters, there are those rumours about his duelling skills. I have seen him in action, I know how good he is. And I won't forget what he did to me in our sixth year any time soon." A shudder went through his body. "Then let's not forget that he defeated the Dark Lord several times, and then finally killed him, which is no small deed. Only an idiot would duel him." The smile was very weak. "And I'm a Death Eater. Everyone knows that The Chosen One eats Death Eaters for breakfast." He shook his head. "If only a fraction of what they say about him is true it still makes him to a very scary dude. Is it true that he has been using Unforgivables?"

"OK, if you ever let Harry hear you talk like this he might actually kill you. If you want to get on his better side you have to treat him like some random person and forget about his fame. He hates it."

"I will keep that in mind if we ever go for a chat." He rolled his eyes.

"Don't be so silly."

"Can you honestly say that he would never hurt me?"

There was a silence. "Can you honestly say that you would never do anything to deserve it?"

"What's worrying me is that Potter and I might have a different view of what that is. Maybe if you could get me a list?"

She smiled, but suddenly got serious. "To return to what we talked about before, my friends and their knowledge about us." Picking up the quill she started to doodle on the parchment. "I need your help with a thing. A maybe somehow unpleasant thing."

"Hopefully I can help you, what is it?"

"I want you to lie for me."

"Let me get this clear, you want me to lie?"

"Yes." She tossed the quill on the desk. "I'm going to be open to my friends about us, but I have lied to them this far, and they will be very upset if they get to know that. So I thought that we should get our stories straight."

"Sounds fine with me. What is your story?"

"Well, first it is the letter. I suggest that you never sent it. To my friends I said it was an owl order." Distractedly she pushed her hair out of her face. "Second is about tonight. They believe that I'm at the library, studying right now. My suggestion is that I went to the library, but then went to the office instead because I missed it, I met you here and we started to talk. What do you think?"

"I think that it should be easy enough to keep in mind. It's no big difference."

She picked up the quill and continued her doodling. "What about your friends, what do they know?"

"Well, they know that we're not talking any more, but they don't know what happened between us. Theo doesn't really care, never really did." With a gesture he indicated the room. "I was still coming here all the time for studies. Partly for getting peace and quiet, partly because I hoped that you would turn up and I would be able to talk to you." He smiled sadly at her. "Pansy on the other hand... Maybe she has suspected something, she's been asking a lot. I might have to have a serious talk with that girl."

"And what do you think they will say now? If you're going to tell them, that is."

"Theo will say 'I really thought you had gotten a grip of yourself.' or something like that, and he will give me that disapproving look he has. And Pansy... I believe she might be angry, if my suspicions are correct."

"Suspicions?"

There was a deep sigh. "Yes, I think I might have a problem. Something that I should have seen before, but I've been so busy with being miserable that I didn't see it." His eyes went to the window. "I believe that Pansy more than gladly would like to actually be my girlfriend. There has been all those small things, how she always is there, and always a little closer than necessary. A lot of closeness actually. How come I didn't see this coming?"

"Even I saw it. But I thought she actually was your girlfriend, so to me it was normal."

"You might just have gotten yourself a new enemy." The smile contained a slight warning.

"I can take Parkinson." She tossed her head. "And if she doesn't behave I'll just set Harry on her."

"That is a scary threat, you don't understand how lucky you are. But I will remind her of that."

None of them said anything, and the silence stretched out between them. Hermione wished that she wasn't such a coward, he was so very close now. All she had to do was to reach out a hand. But she was still afraid. He did say that she shouldn't be, but it was all very unclear. If she only knew that he wanted for her to take his hand, touch him... But she didn't know, and yes, she was a coward. Instead she sat there and just observed him. He was looking out the window, his face calm, not as worried as it had been lately. Was he nervous too? Or did he just not want her? She decided that she was going to go insane here, and if she didn't dare to show her feelings in some way she should just leave. With a small shake of her head she jumped down from the chair and started to pack down her things.

"Are you leaving?" He turned back from the window.

"Yes, I thought I should get back to the dormitory in time. Not getting as late as last time." Last time. Why did she have to remind him of that right now?

"I see. Yeah, maybe it's a good time to go. Your friends might ask after all." Slowly he stood up and lifted up his bag and walked over to the door too.

"Yes, they might." They stood at the door, but no one reached out to open it.

"Hermione, wait a moment." Those eyes were so grey and so intense that it was hard to keep focus.

"Mhm." With pounding heart she looked up at him, he was so close now. A little closer than he needed to be, wasn't he?

"Don't go yet." Very carefully he reached out and put an arm around her waist, pulling her even closer.

Was this happening, for real? She could feel his arm around her, the warmth from his body close to her. And those eyes, she just wasn't able to look away. Slowly she lifted an arm and rested her hand on his shoulder. She could feel him tighten his grip and leaning in closer. And finally, there was those lips again, and she never wanted to let go. She lifted her other arm too and put them around his neck, pulling him closer. It was perfect.

A good amount of time later they hesitantly pulled apart.

"I hope you weren't in a hurry." Draco smiled at her, still with something blissful in his eyes.

"No, I wasn't." She started to giggle. "Imagine if Mandy and Lisa had come in..."

"Then this would be out all over school tomorrow." His face turned a little bit serious. "What do you want Brocklehurst and Turpin to know? And the rest of the school for that matter."

"That depends on what there is to know."

"'Granger and Malfoy were kissing in the mentors' office'?"

A smile couldn't be stopped. "Yes, well, I would say that honestly that's nobody's business. But..." She looked hesitant.

"But what?" Slowly he pushed some of the hair out of her face and placed it behind her ear, letting his hand stroke her cheek in the same movement.

"I was just thinking." Biting her lip she took a deep breath. "Is there all it is to it?"

He pulled her close again and hid his face in her hair. "Not to me."

"I like that." Standing so close to him was almost intoxicating.

With his face still in her hair he pulled her even closer. "It's still the question of what others should know about it."

"I don't know." In his arms everything felt right, but she knew somewhere that it wouldn't be like that outside. And she would probably be in a world of trouble when this got out. "What do you think?"

Tentatively he leaned back a bit so he could look her in the eyes. "I think that when it comes to you we should keep this very quiet. It won't be nice for you when the word spreads." He pressed a quick kiss to her lips. "As for me, I would shout it from the top of the Astronomy Tower if I could. Maybe even brag a bit." There was another kiss. "But I don't think that's a good idea. I'm all for keeping it quiet." With a slightly sad smile he leaned in and kissed her again, a bit more intensely this time.

"What about our friends?" Reaching out, she traced his jaw bone with a finger.

"What about them?" He was obviously distracted. "Oh, you mean telling Potter."

"No, I didn't mean that, but yes."

"No, but yes?" The laughter was low and filled with feelings.

"You understand what I mean." With an undefined sound she hid deeper into his embrace.

"I don't know if our friends need to know, words have a way of spreading. But it's up to you, if you want to tell Potter, then so be it. I fear that he will try to kill me this time though." The sigh wasn't really sad. "And I guess it would be good, for obvious reasons, if Pansy knew."

"Maybe I should start worrying about her coming to kill me?"

"Oh, but you will be twice protected now."

A light frown appeared on her face. "Protected? I don't understand."

"I've told you before, no one messes with Potter, and you're his best friend. Now, if Pansy goes up against you, she doesn't just have to face him, she has to face this terrible Death Eater too. Not even Pansy is that stupid."

She moved uncomfortably in his arms. "The thought that your Mark is protecting me is a bit unpleasant."

"Hermione, know one thing." With a firm hand he lifted her chin until their eyes met. "When you get me, you get all of me. Including the Dark Mark on my arm, and all that come with it. If you can't handle that, you better leave now."

"Don't be silly. Of course I'm aware of what you carry with you, and I'm willing to handle that. That doesn't mean that there aren't things from your past that will affect me negatively."

"I wonder..." Slowly he let go of her and started to push up his left sleeve. "Maybe you should see this now, it might defuse the situation somewhat."

The Mark wasn't as vivid as she had imagined, it was a pale, slightly faded tattoo, nothing more. It still made her shudder though, that mark stood for so much of what she despised. It meant torture and death for people like her. To see it like this was almost unreal. She reached out a hesitant hand.

"Can I touch it?"

"Of course." There was a snort. "What are you afraid of, accidentally summoning the Dark Lord?" His voice was sarcastic and his face was hard.

She mumbled something inaudible and placed her fingers on the Mark. Maybe she was anticipating some strange sensation, but there was only Draco's skin. Slowly she trailed her fingers over the Mark, and it was like he had said. It didn't felt as dramatic as before, this was just Draco, nothing that could hurt her. With a pensive expression she withdrew her hand and looked up at him. He looked back at her with a searching gaze, obviously watching for signs of displeasure.

"Thank you." The hand reached out again, this time to stroke his cheek. "Don't worry, I still feel the same for you. That ugly picture can't change that."

With a jerky motion he covered his arm again, and then he stepped in close to her and kissed her forcefully. When he let go of her again the laughter was back in his eyes.

"I do really hope that you just made an excuse to get out of here earlier, and didn't actually care about getting out of here in time."

"Well, when I didn't have the courage to kiss you I thought that I may as well leave." There was a slight blush on her cheeks.

"Aren't you supposed to be the courageous Gryffindor here?"

She laughed and patted his cheek. "First you outshine Harry in good moral behaviour, and now you outshine me in courage. We can still make a Gryffindor out of you, I can see that."

"Thanks, but no thanks. I prefer my own house. Sorry to break it to you, but I'm a good and loyal Slytherin. Wasn't that what you wanted Slughorn to say anyway? That I was some kind of role model for my house?"

"I'm just saying that you obviously have an inner Gryffindor somewhere. Just as I probably have an inner Slytherin."

The satisfied expression on his face could not be mistaken. "Now that I like. Hermione the Slytherin."

"I bet you do. As if Slytherin ever would let someone with my dirty blood in." There was a hint of bitterness in her words.

"Oh yeah, I keep forgetting about that. It doesn't seem important any more."

"Good for you. I'll always remember, my time in school and people like you have made sure I'll never forget it." The words were harsh, but there appeared a small smile on her lips. "You have gotten a long way since then, haven't you?"

"Haven't you inherited any beliefs from your parents? Values that are a natural part of your life? It takes some time to question those things."

"Some time and a maniac with a taste for torture and murder."

"Maybe that." He gave her a curious look. "Why don't you hate me?"

"Well, that's a good question." Her smile was a bit amused. "Maybe because a war is a terrible thing, and it changes people. Sometimes it breaks people, sometimes it cleanses them. And I believe that you have changed. Not all the way, I don't expect you to be a perfect Gryffindor, and I honestly don't want you to be either. But enough, when it comes to the important values. And only time will tell if I'm right."

"I can't do more than agree. I'd like to believe that I have changed too. There are a lot of things I don't want to stand for any more. I just want..."

"...a new life."

"Yes. I wish there was a way for me to start over with a clean slate. But I will always have my past to struggle with."

"McGonagall gave you a new chance. She believed in you even though she knew about the Mark on your arm, and she gave you an opportunity to a fresh start." The smile she gave him was encouraging. "There are probably more people out there who are prepared to do the same. Like me."

"You've been next to me this year, always by my side. I don't know what I would have done without you."

"I don't know about that. I wish I really had been with you, standing up for you. I promise you that that day will come, I just... don't know when. Merlin, I'm such a detestable being." She looked uncomfortable.

"Don't worry. I know what I have done and who I am. I don't blame you the slightest."

"Someday I will get that Gryffindor courage together, and then you will see. But for now, let's just take one step at a time, OK? It will just be so... messy."

He reached out and pulled her close to him. "You know, there is very little I won't do for you. As long as I can protect you from harm, may it be physical or social, I'm perfectly content."

"I'd like to think that I'm usually pretty good at protecting myself."

"I just said that I wanted to protect you, not that you're not able to. If I should be honest I would think twice before entering a duel with you."

"Really?" The smile was pleased.

"You might not have duelled the Dark Lord, but you did defeat a lot of Death Eaters during the war. Including me."

"It's probably a lot of rumours here too."

"You're courageous as few when it comes to saving the world, but turns to a coward when it comes to a kiss." He laughed softly at her.

"Very funny."

"Hey it could be worse, it could be the opposite. As with me." A cloud crossed his face, but then he smiled again. "Too good that we are one of each, or we would never have gotten to where we are today."

"Yeah. I could stay here all night."

"Don't tempt me. You need some sleep, and your friends would probably alert the authorities when they found your bed empty," he chuckled.

"Well, personally I believe that sleep is overrated, but last time we were up late I overslept and missed my breakfast."

"I wondered where you were that morning." There was a twitch in the corner of his mouth.

"And what's worse, when I came back to the Tower I had the inquisition waiting for me." She shook her head.

"What do you mean?"

"Ron saw me leave to meet you, and decided to wait up until I was back. He wasn't in a good mood when I came in, wanting to know who I had been with. Or more specifically if I had been with you."

"What did you say?"

"'I've had a romantic stroll with Draco and ended up kissing him.'."

Draco jerked back, "Really? surprised I'm not dead."

"No, I didn't," she smiled. "Ron would've had a heart attack."

He laughed. "I'm afraid you need to leave then, we don't want a Weasley in cardiac arrest. If you told him, he'd probably join Potter in the crusade for my head in that case."

"A bit paranoid, are we?"

His face got tired. "You don't think there are people out there who wishes me dead?"

"If there are, they're not Harry and Ron at least."

"Wait until they see me kissing you, and I shouldn't bet on it."

The laughter was filled with kindness. "Lucky you will have me to protect you then."

"Yes. I'd be dead already, I know. Now take your bag and get going. " He pushed her away, towards her bag.

Picking up the bag she gave him an impish smile. "It's just one thing left then."

"Oh, what?"

She walked over to him and threw her arms around his neck. "We need to say goodnight."

With a blissful smile, she pulled him down and kissed him.