Next to You

Confessions

Chapter 11 – Confessions

The common room was empty when she sneaked in late last night. There was no one there waiting for her, and if any of the girls in her dormitory was awake they didn't let her know. She had been worried that Ginny would have questions regarding where she was, but they all probably just thought that she was studying again. This morning she made sure to get up in time, and was first down in the common room as usual. At breakfast she drank her coffee with shaking hands. No Draco in sight. Did he oversleep this time? Once she forced down some breakfast and started to leave he finally entered, Parkinson in tow.

Suddenly, she was really nervous, what if he had changed his mind about yesterday? But she could see him scanning the table for her, and when he found her he lit up in a big smile. No, he hadn't changed his mind. Parkinson at the other hand was not her usual chatty self. She was sitting glumly next to Draco, pushing her food around her plate. It was a pretty good guess that Draco had told her about them. For a second Hermione almost felt bad for her. Almost.

"Is everyone ready to go?" Ginny looked at her Seventh year friends. When she got affirmative answers she stood up, the rest of them following.

On the way out from the table Hermione went over to her friend. "Harry, can I talk to you for a second?"

"Yeah, of course, what is it?"

"Actually, I wanted to talk more later. Do you have time?" She tried hard not to look nervous.

"After lunch? I need to meet with Professor Flitwick, but it'll be fast. We can meet outside his classroom?"

"That sounds fine."

"Then it's decided." His face got worried. "Has anything happened?"

"Yes." With a lot of willpower she managed to stay neutral, and not start jumping up and down, smiling like an idiot.

"Is it anything I will like?"

"...Probably not."

He sighed, running a hand down his face. "Hermione... You're a trouble magnet, do you know that?"

They fell silent, both walking to their classes. At lunch they were sitting in different groups, and didn't talk. She saw him leave the table, and knew that he would be heading to Professor Flitwick's office. She was done with lunch too, so she soon followed him. The corridors were more or less empty since almost everyone still was at lunch. But when she closed in on the Charms classroom she met someone else. Parkinson. Both girls pretended not to see the other, but just when they met Hermione couldn't help but smiling. Before she knew what was happening Parkinson had gripped her arm and pulled her around until they were facing each other.

"And what are you walking around smiling at?" The girl spat out the words.

She couldn't help herself, but put on her sweetest smile. "What's wrong, Parkinson? You seem upset."

The answer was a quickly drawn wand that pointed at her throat. Suddenly she got a bit worried. This was the girl who wanted to sell out The Chosen One to Voldemort in front of the whole school after all. Who knew what she was capable of.

"Shut up. I know what to do with people like you."

"Can't we just —"

"I told you to shut up!" The wand jabbed her in the throat. "You think you're something special, don't you? Golden-girl Granger, the perfect, prissy princess! All the years I've been waiting, and then he picks you! But this will never last, because —"

"Expelliarmus!" The wand flew out of Parkinson's hand. Both girls turned their heads to see Harry as the new arrival. He was standing down the corridor, his face cold and a voice filled with anger. Slowly he walked closer to them, the wand still pointing at the Slytherin girl. "Just give me a reason," he dared, "Don't believe for a second that I'll play nice just because we're on school property."

Parkinson looked like a rabbit caught in the headlight as he closed in on them, still holding out his wand.

"Step away from her," he warned again.

Suddenly Parkinson unfroze, realising she's without her wand, cornered by two Gryfindors, and took a couple of steps back.

"Hermione, are you hurt?" Harry slowly put down his wand.

"No, I'm fine."

"Of course you're fine!" Parkinson found her tongue. "You're always fine! You think you're so nice and perfect, but I know what you are. You're just a filthy little Mudblood, and nothing can change that, nothing!"

Harry's wand was targeting Parkinson again, his face cold and angry, "Watch. Your. Mouth."

The Slytherin girl pressed her lips together and shoot a look filled with hate at Hermione. After that she turned and started to run down the corridor. She stopped momentary and picked up her wand, and then she disappeared around a corner.

"Trouble magnet, what did I say?" He walked over to her with a worried face. "Are you OK?"

"Yes, she didn't hurt me."

"Liar. I saw your face when she yelled at you, and don't tell me it didn't hurt you."

"They're just words." Of course it was a lie. Parkinson knew exactly where to hit for it to hurt the most. She was a Mudblood, and nothing could change that. That was true. And how long would it take before Draco realised that he needed a pure-blood at his side and not someone like her?

"Bad words." There was a deep sigh. "Forget about her, she's not worth the energy. You wanted to talk with me?"

"We can go to the office, it should be empty now." She started to lead the way.

"You mean that I'm going to see the famous mentors' office for real?" The amusement in his voice was easy to hear.

"Yes, it's really about time that you'll see my second home here at Hogwarts." Forcefully she pushed away Parkinson's words, and tried to focus on Harry instead. She hadn't decided what to say yet, she planned on improvising. It was probably a bad idea, but there seemed to be a limited numbers of alternatives of what to say when you were in some kind of relationship with a Death-Eater and your best friend was Harry Potter.

When they came to the classroom it was empty, and they went through it to get to the office. The office was empty too, so they sat down on the closest chairs. Harry looked around at the plain furnishings, and Hermione laughed at his expression.

"What, isn't this the luxurious retreat you imagined?"

"No, not really. But then I'm a bit stressed too."

"Why?"

He gave her a long look. "You take me away from everyone who can hear, to tell me something that I'm not going to like. I am a bit stressed over what you're going to say, yes."

"I see."

"So why not start? Just get it over with. Do I need to put away my wand first?"

"I don't know... Hopefully not."

"Get out with it, I'm not stupid, you know. I know this is eating you"

With a worried face she took a deep breath. "Well. I wasn't in the library the whole night yesterday, I was here."

"And you weren't alone." He filled in.

"No. I was here with Draco."

"You mean the bastard who hurt you so bad that you almost couldn't stand up without support?"

"Mm... This is not going so well so far, I can hear that." She scratched her cheek and looked at him with a worried expression.

"You can't be serious, Hermione, don't tell me that you have forgiven that easy?"

"Well, it was a big misunderstanding, and when we started to talk it turned out to be pretty stupid. It really just comes down to if I trust him or not, and... I do."

"No. No, no. How can you trust him? Hasn't he proved over and over that he's not trustworthy? What do I have to say to make you understand?"

"But he is. You don't know him."

"And you do? Are you sure of that?"

"Yes." Her face turned calm and relaxed. "I know him enough to know that I can trust him. You see, that was my mistake. I knew that he would never do anything to harm me, but I lost faith and stopped believing in it. Because it really looked like he was trying to hurt me."

"He did hurt you, remember?"

"We can stay at this forever I believe, so I'm just going to put a stop to it. Draco is a dear friend, and nothing you can say will change that."

He sighed deeply. "Hermione. What should I do with you? Lock you up? Malfoy is a git, and nothing you can say will change that."

"You have to give him a chance."

"I do?" Harry scoffed. "Why do I have to do that? It's not like he's deserves it."

"No, but it's the right thing to do. Show some generosity and have some faith in humankind. I did it. McGonagall did it. None of us were disappointed."

"What did McGonagall do? Let him come back to school?"

"Well, not only that. Don't you think it was a risk when she put someone like Draco as a teacher? But she took that risk, because she believed that Draco was worth it. And it turned out fine. Well, almost..."

"He couldn't do it after all? What happened?"

"It's not Draco's fault. We can talk about that some other time." A hint of hopelessness crossed her face.

"Fine, let's talk about you now. And the fact that you're insane. Am I supposed to be covering for you when you're with him now again?"

"No, I'm not going to hide my friendship with Draco." She lifted her chin slightly. Yeah, friendship. Totally, Hermione.

"You're going to tell the others?"

"If needed, yes. I plan to actually spend some time with him outside the office too, and I suppose that people will notice." Her voice was very matter-of-fact, not showing any of that anxiety it made her feel.

"You realise that Ron and Gin will be mad? They probably won't talk to you for a long time."

"If they're childish like that, it's their problem." Her lips were tightly pressed together.

"You can't see why they're acting like that? A year ago you hated him too. Can't you empathise with them?"

"Yes, I do understand. If you told me this on the train this autumn I would have declared you totally insane. But no one forces them to socialise with him, and I should be allowed to have other friends than you three."

He sighed again and shook his head. "And I'm afraid that this will be too much for Ron, he has started to move on with his life after you, and... What are you giggling at?"

She really shouldn't be laughing, but she couldn't help imagine Ron's face if she and Draco kissed in front of him. "I'm sorry, I was just thinking about something... amusing."

"Why do I have a sinking feeling that you're gonna take after Malfoy now?"

"That doesn't have to be a bad thing."

"I don't like his kind of humour. And I didn't think you did either. I didn't see you laugh at Parkinson earlier."

"He's not like that any more." There was something impatient on her face.

"So you're saying, he might not call you ugly names to your face any more, but he's still the kind of person who amuses himself at other people's expense."

Thinking about it she remembered some of the things he had said about Ron, slightly mean but always hitting the mark. She had laughed at them, with him. Suddenly she felt a little ashamed of herself.

"Yeah, I can see that I'm right." He covered his face with a hand for a couple of seconds before looking at her again. "You can get better friends, way better friends. So why did you pick someone like him?"

"I think we got picked together. We both needed each other. I need him. He can give me things that no one else can." Now she was dangerously close to telling it all. Maybe it was time to tell it now? Soon? She felt her courage ebb away again.

"Well, there's one interesting question left. You're planning to be open with your friendship, right? Let everyone see? Why did you feel the need to tell me before you go public? What do you want from me?"

OK, this was it. "Because I haven't told you everything."

He looked devastated. "There's more?"

"I and Draco... we are like... We're in a relationship. We haven't talked so much about definitions, but I believe that you can say that I'm his... girlfriend," she hesitated over the word.

There was a long silence. "The worst part is that I don't believe that you're kidding." He shook his head. "I shouldn't be surprised, I've been pretty sure of your feelings for him for a while, but I never thought..."

"This, on the other hand, are we not planning to go public with. We're taking one step at a time."

"Then why are you telling me? What made you think that I wanted to know?"

"I... I don't know. I just felt that I wanted you to know. Partly because it feels good to have a friend that know you, but partly because I don't want to lie to you."

"Well now I know." Slowly a wry smile downed on his face. "And so does Parkinson, am I right?"

"I think so. And I don't think she likes it."

"You don't say?" The smile stayed but he shook his head. "I am a bit worried about what had happened if I didn't come by when I did."

"I'm too, honestly. I must admit that she scares me a bit."

"You'll have to do something about it you know. You can't run around looking over your shoulder all the time." A worried line appeared on his forehead.

"Yeah, I guess I'll have to talk to Draco about it. He can probably make her behave."

"You're sure about that? One day he's with her, then he ditches her and now he's with you. I'm not sure that she will listen to him."

"No, he was never with her, it was just Parkinson inventing things she wanted to be true." A sting of compassion went through her.

"That's what he says. And you just buy it."

"Yes, I do, because I trust him. But if it makes you feel better I can tell you that Parkinson confirmed it earlier. She said that she had waited in so many years for him and then he chose me instead."

They looked at each other for a couple of seconds, until Harry said what they both were thinking. "If it was someone else I believe I would feel bad for her."

"Yes. But if she wanted me to feel sorry for her she shouldn't have attacked me in the first place."

"True that." He looked at her somewhere between rejection and reluctant amusement. "And now you're in a relationship with him?

"I guess I am."

"And you're happy?"

"Extremely." Her smile was dazzling.

"This is not happening..." With a sigh he hid his face in his hands. Another sigh and then he looked up at her. "I guess there's no chance of talking you out of it?"

"Nope, not a chance. I've made my decisions. There's nothing to talk about."

"But still..." His eyes got very serious and he straightened up a bit. "This is a Death Eater we're talking about, there's no getting away from that. Do you really want to get involved with that part of the war?"

"He hates his Mark, and he never wished to be part of Voldemort's movement anyway. Even I don't know half of the horrible things that happened to him Sixth Year."

"Of course he hates his Mark, I believe it's very inconvenient for him now. But think about it. Lucius Malfoy, Bartemius Crouch Jr., Amycus Carrow. They were all the same. He's one of them."

"He's nothing like them. They were in the fight because they wanted to, he wasn't."

"We've had a long time growing up together. I believe I heard him utter a thing or two that clearly put him on their side." He looked tired and a bit annoyed.

"He was a kid, for crying out loud! As you said, we've all grown a bit since then."

"It doesn't take away the fact that he's dangerous. This is someone who has used the Cruciatus curse on other human beings."

"So did you!"

The silence was intense, and Harry looked as if she had slapped him across the face. She wished immediately that she could take it back, press rewind and make it unsaid in some way. The haunted look in his eyes was clear now, and all traces of smiles and amusement was gone. Slowly she reached out a hand, while silently cursing herself with every bad word she could find.

"Harry, I didn't mean..."

He rose from the chair and walked over to the window.

"We both know that you never..."

"No." His voice was shaking and his face was ashen. "You're right. He was a Death Eater, and he did it only because he was forced, because Voldemort was amusing himself. I know, I saw it. He was on the Dark side, and he did it against his will, to save the life of himself and those he loved." A shudder rippled through his body. "And I… I did it because I wanted to, and because I enjoyed it." The self-loathing in his eyes was painful to watch. "Who am I to judge him?"

"Harry, don't do this to yourself."

"They celebrate me, think I'm some kind of saint. And when it comes to the real story, I'm darker than him. I should tell everyone, letting them know what kind of person I really am."

"We've talked about this, nothing will get better if you tell the whole world about the bad things you believe that you've done, it will all just be worse. You were living under high levels of stress, and you had to take extreme measures to save the world. We all did." Suddenly she felt tears threaten behind her eyelids. "Harry, I'm sorry for saying something like that, it was very insensitive of me."

"But true."

"Let's talk about me and Draco instead. We were here yesterday, standing in that very spot..." She pointed to an invented spot somewhere between them. "...and kissing like idiots!"

It worked. Harry's eyes grew big, but the haunted expression subsided.

"Oversharing, thank you."

"You're welcome." Her grin was big and relieved. "Come and sit down."

Suspiciously he made a detour around the spot Hermione had pointed out on the way back to his chair. "Where were we? I believe that we disagreed about your boyfriend. I think the only thinkable way is to ditch him and then run for your life, you are in love and refuse to see reason. That's about it, right?" His voice was easy-going, but a bit forced.

'Your boyfriend.' The sound of those words made her stomach tickle. That meant Draco. Suddenly she longed for him so much that it hurt. Just to see those eyes, hear his voice, knowing that he was close and everything was going to be all right.

"Yeah, I can see on that smile that you're a lost cause. For the record I'd like to state that I really don't like Draco Malfoy. But I suppose it could be worse."

She started to laugh. "Honestly, how could it be worse?"

"Well, you could be pregnant."

"Harry!"

"Just saying." His expression turned worried, and he leaned in, like he's sharing a secret. "You're not, are you?"

"No!"

"That's good at least. In that case I really might have had to kill him."

"You're not going to give him trouble about this are you?"

"Well... I'm not sure yet. I might have to make him aware what awaits him if he hurts you again. Just so we all are clear about that."

"It wasn't him who hurt me, it was really Parkinson. And I think he is vividly aware of you anyway." She tilted her head and got an impish smile. "But feel free to make Parkinson a bit more... aware, that was fun."

"You want to see me brutally threaten a fellow student, use spells against her and bully her until she runs away? Because it's fun? You've been spending too much time with Malfoy."

"Don't be like that, you liked it too. Admit it, it felt good to return some of what that cow has done to us back to her."

"I don't know. It felt good to be able to defend you, but the rest of the time I was mostly pissed off."

"Hm. Next time, give her a taste of what you're capable of. That way she might leave me alone." In the same moment she looked at Harry she regretted her choice of words.

"What, you think I should use a Crucio on her?" His face was back to his haunted state.

"No, of course not!" She desperately tried to find something to say.

"I wonder..." There was a glimmer in his eyes. "Do you think your boyfriend would use that spell to protect you?"

"As a first alternative, never. If he had no other choice, without a doubt." Thoughtfully she met his eyes. "I might have to regret saying this, but you're not so different after all."

"Please don't compare me with that lowlife." His voice was still tired, but his expression had lightened up a bit. "I don't appreciate being mixed up with someone with his past."

"Well, he's going to pay for it. Dearly, if he's unlucky."

"What do you mean?"

"He's been summoned to a new trial. Some of the students have complained, and it's made its way all the way back to the Ministry."

"What will happen to him?"

"We're not sure." The fear she felt must be visible. "If he's lucky, nothing. If he's not that lucky, Azkaban. Or somewhere in between."

"I see. Well, it's none of my business anyway."

"We're going to check earlier cases, and try to make it more positive for him, getting testimonials and stuff. We hope that McGonagall will write something about how well he has worked as a mentor this year."

"Don't look at me. He's a Death Eater, I have nothing good to say about him."

She bit her lip in indecision, but made up her mind. "Maybe you can do something else?"

"And what would that be?"

"It would look very good if Professor Slughorn wrote something about what a good student he is, but he doesn't like Death Eaters..."

"Neither do I. What do you want me to do about it?"

"Well, if you asked Slughorn to do it..." The look on his face said everything. "Or maybe not."

"I'm sorry Hermione, I get that you're excited about this guy, but... I don't like Malfoy. Really don't like him. And I hate to use my fame to get things." His expression was honest, and a bit regretting.

"But you saved him from the Room of Requirement."

"Do I want him to die? No. But do I want him to have the consequences he deserves? Yes, and I have to believe that this trial will give him that."

"I see. Well, it was worth a try. I'd have to go there with Draco then, maybe he gets more willing to do it if I'm present."

"I'm sorry that your boyfriend is threatened with being shipped off to Azkaban, but he is a Death Eater, shouldn't he already be there? Maybe you should prepare yourself for that outcome." Seeing her face he started to protest. "I'm not trying to be mean or insensitive here, I'm just trying to be practical. You haven't picked the most convenient man."

"I didn't pick him to be convenient, and I'm sure not going to let him slip away. I'm going to fight for this, and it will end good, it just has to."

Suddenly he smiled wryly. "If anyone can keep Malfoy out of Azkaban it's you."

"You think I can?"

"Yes, I think. The way you look when you're talking about him... I get a feeling that you will move mountains" His smile turned soft. "He doesn't know how lucky he is." Then he got thoughtful. "Just between you and me, you've been interested in him for a long time, haven't you?"

"I don't know. I didn't realise I was until recently, but I guess it had been on its way for some time, yes."

"Promise me one thing." He got very serious. "Don't tell Ron that. No matter how much you are fighting, don't tell him he was substituted with Malfoy while you still were together. It will break him. And he will kill Malfoy."

"You make it sound like I had some shady business together with Draco back then, I didn't. And don't you think he will figure it out by himself?"

"We'll hope not. Sorry to say, but it's Ron we're talking about. It's a possibility that he won't even think about it."

"I guess you're right." There was a big sigh. "So. You're OK with me and Draco being friends again. You're forcefully against our relationship, but you seem to handle it OK anyway. You are not going to kill Draco. Am I right?"

"More or less about the two first at least." He muttered something to himself.

"Oh, come on, you can't—"

The door opened and the person in question entered. He stopped inside the door, looking a bit uncomfortable when he saw Harry, but then nodded to both of them.

"Sorry for interrupting, I'm just going to get a book. But you do know that class starts in fifteen minutes?" With a forced calmness he walked over the room and towards one of the bookshelves. When he turned around to leave Harry had risen and now stood blocking his way.

"We have to talk, Malfoy." His face was hard.

"Harry, don't..." Hermione sounded tired but also a bit worried.

"I'm sorry, but there are some things we have to straighten out." He turned to Draco. "I hear that you two are a little more than just friends?"

"Yes." The nervousness was obvious.

"Well, some time ago a very sad Hermione appeared in our common room. She was terribly hurt because someone had mistreated her. Do you know who that was?"

"Harry, listen, you know that—" She was cut off by Harry.

"This is between me and Malfoy." With a grim face he turned his attention back to the Slytherin. "Do you know who it was who hurt her so bad?"

"It was me." His voice was almost inaudible.

"But now she seems pretty content, don't you think?"

"Yes."

"And I would say that it is in both our interest that it stays that way. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes."

"Good. Because if I get to hear that you have hurt her again you'll regret it, I promise."

"OK, now that's enough." Hermione stood up and placed herself between the boys. "You've made your point Harry, we all understand." Discreetly she backed up until she was standing next to Draco.

"Hm. I guess I've done my part here today, I better leave. You have ten and some minutes until class start, I suggest that you don't be late." Then he turned and walked out the door, closing it gently behind him.

o O o

No one really cared when the two mentors slunk in at the last minute, but some heads turned when they realised that they were sitting together and not with their houses as usual. It felt nice to sit next to him, feel him move and smell the specifically pleasant scent that was typical for him, she couldn't figure out what it was, though. She wondered absent-mindedly what a cauldron of Amortentia would smell like now. After the class they went back to their classroom, it was time for a mentors' class. If the students who came early thought something about how their earlier so stiff mentors were suddenly talking and joking in low voices, they didn't say anything. The class was uneventful, and soon the students were passing through the doorway again. The two mentors stayed behind as usual to clean up.

"You really meant it when you said that you're not going to hide our friendship any more." Draco looked at her with a warm smile while collecting some books.

"Yes. It's about time that someone stands up for you, and I guess it will have to be me. It feels really good." She moved a desk back in its former position. "If I could choose I would be with you all the time, but that's not really possible..."

"No, but we have tonight. If you can come?" They went for the door, but before they reached it he lifted a hand and stroke her cheek, finishing with pressing a finger on her lips for a moment.

"Yes, but I don't know when." Her smile was warm and a bit longing. "I thought I should tell Ron and Ginny about our friendship, better that they hear it from me than through rumours. So it depends on how long time that takes. It can be very quick. I tell them, they say 'We hate you', they walk out, end. In that case I might be there before you." She winked at him, but still there was some seriousness underneath.

"Your friends are a bit difficult."

"Yeah, look who's talking." With an amused smile she rolled her eyes.

Draco looked bewildered. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing. Just that we should talk about Parkinson when an opportunity arises."

"If you say so..." His face was still confused. "We should go. See you tonight."

"Yes, if I'm not in house arrest by then. See you."

She walked towards Gryffindor Tower in deep thoughts. It was so much to juggle at once. Her feelings for Draco, her friends reaction to their friendship, the trial, Parkinson, Harry and his protectiveness, and then school on top of that. She wasn't really sure of when she should get the time to figure it all out. After reaching the door she climbed in through the door and looked down on a filled common room. Now she just needed to find—

"Hermione!" Ron really had a loud voice. "Get over here this instant!"

Slowly she went towards the back of the room, where Ron and Harry was sitting. She could feel many eyes on her when she passed. Somewhere to her left she could see Ginny leaving her friends to join them. It looked like there would be a full trial. She sat down in the armchair opposite Ron.

"We thought that maybe you could explain a thing to us." Ron still looked upset, but at least he wasn't yelling.

"I can try to. What is it you want me to explain?"

"Oh, don't play innocent." There was an irritated noise from Ginny. "We're not stupid."

"You're seeing bloody Malfoy again!" Her brother sat up straight in the chair.

"Yes." What else was there to say?

The irritation was clear with the other girl. "We got to hear it from one of the girls from your class. She said that you sat together all lesson, and then left smiling and talking. You made us believe that you had broken with him, and then it turns out that you're friendly with him anyway."

"It's recent, and I was going to tell you today, right now, actually."

"What do you mean recent?"

"It's all new. We talked about our problems, and realised that we didn't have any, and... well... we're back to friends." She didn't like that she wasn't being straight to her friends, but at least she wasn't lying.

"Unbelievable." Ron stared at her in disgust. "You actually chose to go back to that creep and try to puzzle the whole sodding thing back together. You have strange ways of choosing your friends." There was a warning in the last words.

His sister looked at her in disbelief. "So, you bump into each other on the lunch break, say 'Hi, want to be friends', and then you're all chums and everything is fine?"The anger was tainted with disappointment.

"It wasn't really like that."

"Then by all means, enlighten us."

"No, just... I went to the office to study yesterday, I haven't been there for a long time. And then he was there too, we started to talk, and things worked themselves out."

"Can you understand that we feel betrayed?" It was obvious that Ginny tried to keep her temper.

Hermione was quiet for a couple of seconds. "Yes, I suppose. But it is so unnecessary. This is just another friend of mine, you don't have to socialise with him, why can't it just be like that? I don't like you less just because I like Draco. Why can't you see that?"

"Because he's a bloody Death Eater!" Ron's voice had no problem reaching the furthest parts of the common room. Quite a few heads turned.

"Please don't yell, we can use our normal voices." Hermione tried not to look irritated. "He has no wishes to be a Death Eater, and all he wants is for people to understand that. That was in his past."

"But you can't deny one thing. Whatever you or he says, he still has his Mark. It's there for a reason." For once, Harry was speaking up.

"I know, I've seen it. It's not much to talk about, really."

"You've seen it? What, he's undressing for you now?" Ron's temper was on the boiling point.

She couldn't help it, a small amused smile played on her lips. "No, he's definitely not." It took great effort not to look up at Harry, but she was pretty sure that the expression on his face would make her start laughing.

"You think this is funny, do you?

"No, I don't." Her smile disappeared and she sighed. "What do you want me to say?"

"It's pretty simple. We just want you to say that you choose us before him." Ginny's face was like stone.

"And I'm saying that I'm not going to choose. There's no reason that I can't be friends with all of you at once. I don't know where you've got that silly idea from."

"We're the silly ones here?" Ron grit his teeth together to keep his temper down.

"No, I'm just saying..." She looked at Harry with a helpless expression.

"Don't look at me, you have to handle this on your own. You know where I stand."

Pushing himself up from the chair Ron had a look of tightly restrained anger. "This is stupid. I'm not taking any part in this any more. You have chosen and I'm sorry to see that you didn't choose us."

"Can't we stop with this choosing business? It's insane that I can't have my own friends. My best friends don't allow me to have other friends. Am I supposed to ask you for permission before I do things?" Suddenly she felt anger rise. "What makes you believe that you can dictate what choices I make?"

There was silence, then Ron was the one to start speak. "This is not about what you're allowed to, it's about what kind of person you are. And you are obviously that kind of girl who find joy in the company of Draco Malfoy. And that kind of people is not the kind I prefer to spend time with." He turned and headed for a table a bit away where some of the other seventh year students sat.

Hermione turned and looked at Ginny.

"Well, pretty much what he said. If you're so adored by Malfoy you are obviously not the kind of girl I thought you were." She pressed her lips together for some seconds, suddenly looking slightly unsure. "It's a good thing you're not pure-blood, in that case I would really had been concerned." Forcing a smile she turned to Harry. "I'm going to bed, see you tomorrow." Quickly she pressed a kiss on his cheek, and then she disappeared up the stairs.

"It could have been worse." It was hard to read Harry's face.

"Could it? They both just left after stating how I am an unwanted person. An unwanted friend."

"Well, it could of course have been a lot better too, but I don't think you were anticipating that. Were you?"

"No, but... I hoped they should be angry and then realise how much our friendship meant and that we'll have to find a way to live with it." There was a big sigh and she looked very tired.

"Ginny will come around. You heard her in the end, she still haven't given up on you."

"You think?"

"Yes. She likes you, and even though she mistrusts Malfoy, she still trusts you. I'm perfectly confident that the two of you will figure it out, just give her some time to cool off."

"I do hope you're right." she sighed, "Ron, on the other hand..."

"Yeah, that might be a bit tricky. I did try to warn you about his reaction."

"But how could I defend myself from that? It's true, all of it. Draco is, by definition of his Dark Mark, a Death Eater. I do find joy in his company. Maybe Ginny is right, maybe I'm not the girl I used to be." She looked down on her lap with a troubled face.

"In some ways you have changed, in others you are still good old Hermione. But you have been talking about getting yourself a new life, and if you really want that, of course things have to change."

"Nice to see that I haven't been talking to deaf ears." A small smile showed itself on her lips. "I didn't want to change away my friends though."

"Ginny will come back. And I will talk to Ron and see what I can do. I must say that I do understand him, but he is taking it a step too far."

With a sigh she flung her arms about. "I just wish I could make you see Draco as I do. Then we wouldn't have this discussion. He's warm and funny, he's smart and he smells so good, he's Draco in a special way that is just him, and..." The blush couldn't be stopped.

"Yes, thank you, that's quite enough." He cleared his throat and looked around. "That's a way I really don't want to think about Malfoy."

"Sorry, I got a bit carried away." A mischievous smile flashed up. "And I believe that I'm going to study some Potions now. Both Ron and Ginny have fled, so I guess I'm allowed to leave too."

"Hermione, before you leave." Harry leaned forward and looked her in the eyes with a very serious expression. "Are you fully and totally convinced that it is this you want? Because I really don't want you to get harmed in any way. And I'm sorry, but you still haven't convinced me that Malfoy isn't harmful."

"Yes, I am." Her smile was light and satisfied. "This is exactly what I want."