"And Gryffindor catches the snitch!"
As the Quidditch pitch erupted into an assortment of exclamations and exultations, Hermione rose to her feet amidst the sea of gold and scarlet surrounding her. She clapped, enthusiastic but perfunctory, and scanned the field ahead. The Gryffindor team circled the pitch in a victory lap―Butterbeers would be flowing later in the common room―whilst the green- and silver-clad Slytherin team spiralled towards the locker rooms. Hermione's gaze lingered on the latter, just a moment overlong.
To her right, Harry flashed her a grin, but she could see the effort behind it. She knew he missed Quidditch on game days, but the rest of the time he was glad for one less thing on his plate. Especially with the way the war still haunted him, ten months later―even more so than it did her.
As the crowd of Gryffindors continued to shout and holler, she curled a hand around Harry's shoulder with a gentle squeeze.
"That's my social commitment for the week," Hermione quipped as she shrugged the strap of her bag onto one shoulder, and though Harry rolled his eyes, the smile remained. "I'll see you tonight."
"Say hello to the library for me," he returned before she slipped from her seat and descended the stands. Narrowly avoiding a collision with a group of fifth years, Hermione made her way through the crowd and towards the school, enjoying the reprieve as the roar dulled to a distant hum.
Silence echoed within the corridors as she slipped through the vast doors into the library, and she basked in the well-worn and familiar comfort. She scanned the nearest bank of tables before taking up residence in a snug, private alcove off the main study hall. Tucking her feet beneath her on one corner of the cushioned bench, she checked her watch, drew a book from her satchel, and settled in.
Twenty-three minutes passed before the curtain leading into the alcove rustled, and instinctively, a smile tugged at her lips as she marked her page.
"You're late," she mused, glancing up. "Sulking, no doubt."
Her visitor leaned against the narrow patch of wall, folded his arms, and met her stare. A smirk curled his mouth. "I was not sulking, thanks. I just took a long shower."
The fresh scent of his body wash followed into the small space, and his shock of pale blond hair was still damp.
Hermione's smile widened. "Sulking in the shower."
Draco took a step closer, gazing down at her, and plucked the book from her hand. He peered at the cover and drawled, lips twitching, "Maybe just a little."
"You always forget," she breathed, "how well I know you." She reached up to coil a hand in his collar, and with a firm yank, drew him towards her.
Smooth and easy, well practised, his lips found hers. Instantly, her eyes fluttered shut at the feeling, at the way his fingers slipped into her curls around the back of her head. Meticulous, assertive―two things she had learned Draco Malfoy to be.
And the third―passionate.
As his tongue grazed hers, slipping between her lips; as he shifted her legs to accommodate him as he climbed onto the seat, straddling her lap. In the way one of his hands palmed her breast, drifting his fingertips along her cheekbone with the other.
He pulled back, a hint of a smile on his face and grey eyes sparkling with warmth in the dim lighting. "As always," he drawled, "an excellent consolation."
Hermione carded a hand through his hair, tangling in the damp locks, and smiled. "You flew well today. The loss wasn't on you."
Although he'd played seeker in earlier years, upon returning for their eighth year, he'd taken up a position as chaser.
"If anything," she went on, ignoring his scepticism, "you kept it close."
"You flatter me," Draco purred, biting down on his lower lip; her eyes darted to follow the movement. "But it's a team effort. Our seeker is green―too green."
Tugging him back in for another brief kiss, her veins still singing with awareness from the heat of his kisses, Hermione melted into his hands. "She'll get better," she murmured as they broke apart.
Draco exhaled a heavy breath, shifting to take up the seat beside her, leaning back against the alcove wall. "Do I get to see you tonight?"
"If I can sneak away from the common room. I'm sure there will be a victory party," she returned. When he simply pursed his lips and cocked a brow, she snickered. "I mean―I'll sneak away from the common room."
His mouth twitched. "That's better. Or you could ditch the party entirely and meet me after dinner."
Briefly, Hermione considered the merits of the alternative. She had to admit they were more plentiful than the original plan. But still, she sighed. "I should at least make an appearance. I told Harry I'd be there."
"Fine," Draco drawled, rummaging through her bag for a book, then snagged a sheet of parchment and self-inking quill. He slung an arm around her shoulders, drawing her closer, and she settled into his warmth. He brushed a kiss to her brow. "So long as I get to see you."
Her stomach rioted at the quiet affirmation, and Hermione re-opened her book. "You're seeing me right now."
"I want to see you tonight as well," he returned easily, turning the page of his book as he tugged at one of her curls.
Not for the first time, she briefly allowed herself to indulge the quiet, intrusive voice in the back of her mind. The voice that wondered how everything might be if they weren't forced to keep everything secret.
But after only a moment, she stowed it away. It never did to dwell on such things.
"Okay," she breathed at last. And as was their habit after a Quidditch game, they fell easily into quiet study.
When she returned to Hogwarts for her eighth year of study, Hermione felt lost in the sea of everything that had transpired. Weighed down by the past and blinded by her grief, she hadn't known what to make of the brave new world in which she suddenly existed. Her parents still lived in Australia, oblivious to her existence, and the closest friend that still stood by her side had more than enough of his own demons to face.
Her efforts to reset, to start over, felt hindered by the memories and nightmares that still haunted her.
And it wasn't until two months into the year that she began to feel like some version of herself again. Another month before she was willing and able to accept Draco Malfoy's private contrition. It had been a long road towards acceptance and then trust―but now she couldn't imagine her life without him in it.
They had stumbled into something akin to a relationship, and at the time, it felt imperative to keep matters between them. The strain of war still fresh, they didn't want to face the questions.
Now, with NEWTs and the close of their Hogwarts experience only a few months away, Hermione didn't know how to bring up the subject again. Despite the way things had begun to shift gradually after the war, they both had friends who wouldn't understand.
And while she wasn't bothered over the idea of people disapproving of their relationship, a part of Hermione feared that the bubble in which they'd ensconced themselves might pop with the intrusion of the outside world.
She cared about Draco―she even knew the word to put to her feelings―but she'd kept it close to her chest and locked away.
Because although she'd taken pride in her courage in years past, something within her had shattered during the war. Some of the certainty and confidence she'd carried―some of her strength.
Hermione feared that he might not feel the same. That he wanted to keep things private, like an implicit secret. That maybe... he didn't want anyone else to know.
So she allowed the circumstances between them to carry on as they had been months prior. It was good enough―and if there was one thing she'd learned whilst faced with war and terror and death, it was that sometimes good enough was all she could hope for.
A hand curled around her wrist and tugged.
Before she could make sense of the situation, Hermione found herself in a darkened storage closet, the door closed behind her. Through the dim lighting of a single lamp, she found heat flickering in a pair of grey eyes.
"Hi." Draco's mouth curled into a smirk as he ducked in, smoothing one hand up the small of her back, and brushed a kiss to her lips. "I missed you."
Hermione tilted her head to oblige his exploration as he grazed the line of her jaw with his teeth, his other hand sliding into her hair. A breath hitched in her throat. "I missed you, too."
In reality, she'd seen him in Potions that morning, across the room, but it wasn't the same. They hadn't spent time together in nearly a week. As far as she was concerned, it was too long.
His mouth drifted down the column of her throat, latching on to the sensitive skin as he dragged his hand from her back to the hem of her skirt, bunching it up around her arse. "Hogsmeade this weekend," he drawled into her neck between kisses, sucking at the curve just above her collarbone.
When he drifted his fingers towards her inner thigh, hitching her leg around his hip, she shifted towards his hand and bit her lip on a groan. "Yes."
"Am I going to see you?"
They couldn't attend the village together without being noticed, but it was the ideal time to see each other while everyone else was distracted.
"Yes. Harry's going with Luna," Hermione said, burying a hand into his hair as he nudged her knickers aside. "I have Herbology in fifteen minutes."
His fingers stilled their advance, and his eyes flashed as they snapped up to meet hers. Inwardly, she cursed herself for stopping him even though she would need time to get across the grounds and to class in time. But a wicked smirk dragged across his face―the one that always caused her heart to beat a little faster.
He breathed by her ear, "That sounds like a challenge."
A wave of desire for him flooded through her―for what she knew he was capable of―and she offered a slow smile in return. They both knew he could get her off with more than enough time to spare. But she tugged at his belt buckle, drawing him flush against her, and a low moan fell from his lips when her fingers grazed his erection.
"What about you?" she asked, pressing her lips back to his as she palmed the front of his trousers.
"Only if you insist." His smirk widened into a crooked grin, that good-natured side of him she hadn't even realised existed. Sometimes she thought maybe it hadn't until recently―until he actually had a chance to breathe again.
She heard the teasing note beneath the words. He never asked for anything, and always ensured she was interested before he touched her.
Another part of him that had ultimately surprised her and never failed to turn her on. But she never wanted to leave him unsatisfied, either.
Still, she smiled and returned a low, "I do."
Desire sparked in his eyes again, and she arched her back from the wall when he grazed the gusset of her knickers and slipped his fingers beneath the waistband. He dragged the fabric from her legs, Hermione shifting to oblige him, then fumbled with the closure of his trousers.
The low lighting cast deep shadows across the sharp lines of his face, but she could see plainly the desire for her when he slipped his fingers between her legs to find her wet and ready.
"You don't have to admit it," he breathed, pumping his fingers in and out of her, "but I think the idea that you could possibly be late for class gets you off."
Hermione scoffed, the effect falling flat when his fingers inside of her curled against her inner walls, drawing the sound into a moan. "I'm not admitting that," she whispered, though a smile curled her lips. She grasped his hard length as he hitched her up by her arse, and wound her legs around his hips.
He snickered, palming her arse, and slowly shifted his hips as he sank into her. A breath fell from her lips to mingle with his, the fullness of him inside her causing her eyelids to flutter.
"I thought you were up for the challenge," she breathed, raking a hand through his hair. His lips ghosted the curve of her jaw and she tilted her head to oblige him.
He rolled his hips against her, easing himself in again, then snapped them sharply, pressing her back into the wall and drawing a soft cry from her lips.
"I am," he murmured against her skin, setting a quick, driving pace, "but a part of me really just wants to see you late to class."
Clinging to him, Hermione felt an indulgent smile curl her lips at the easy familiarity combined with the searing fire that he always stoked within her. Releasing a breathy moan, she said, "Prat."
He captured her mouth in another deep kiss, hips crashing against hers with each thrust, and as orgasm swelled within her, that precipice blurring the back of her mind as she approached, she knew the bruises sure to form on her back would be worth it.
She broke around him, vision darkening with the sudden swell of pleasure. He swallowed her stifled moans, driving into her once more before stilling with a huffed curse. They shared another slow, lingering kiss before he withdrew and she dropped her legs to the floor, rummaging for her knickers.
Draco observed her for a moment, straightening some of her messy curls and adjusting her skirt back into place. Then he turned her towards the door, smacked her on the arse, and breathed, "You might want to run."
She rolled her eyes and slipped from the room, unable to fight back a smile.
"Unlike you to be late to class," Harry said, his tone easy and casual, but still Hermione tensed. His observant eyes skimmed over her, narrowing slightly. She knew her hair was a right disaster but there was no hope for it now. "Everything alright?"
"Of course." Hermione offered him her best smile. "Would you believe I accidentally packed two copies of Advanced Medicinal Herbs in my bag this morning and missed my copy of Magical Flora?"
Harry blinked at her several times, his face blank. "Why have you even got two copies of―you know what, never mind."
She wasn't willing to prolong the discussion, to venture further down that line of questioning, so Hermione busied herself by spreading her materials for class on the table before her.
Still, Harry's gaze remained locked on her for another extended moment more―enough to make her shift in her seat―before finally he flickered his brows and looked away.
They fell into the day's assignment shortly after. Grateful Harry didn't care to pry, Hermione pushed the conversation from her mind.
If she and Draco lasted as long as the end of Hogwarts―or beyond―they would have to have some of the discussions they'd put off. And at that point, she would tell Harry.
Despite the way she'd imagined countless outcomes, she had no idea how he would take it.
Before then, she was happy to leave it alone.
It wasn't until that afternoon, after the last of her classes, that she caught sight of her reflection in the loo mirror.
In disbelief, she stared at the love bites that marred her neck. Flushing, she glamoured the skin, embarrassment crawling through her.
Then she rushed to dinner, resolving not to bring it up.
Her favourite time was spent between the two of them, unhurried and unhindered.
So by the time Saturday arrived and the majority of students ventured to Hogsmeade, Hermione made her excuses to Harry and slipped away to the Room of Requirement instead.
After the disastrous incident with Fiendfyre in the Room of Hidden Things the previous spring, the castle's sentience had worked to restore the room over time, though she hadn't found it in her to check if that version of the Room even existed anymore. A part of her feared what she might find.
Hermione knew Draco was still haunted by that day―by the way he had lost a classmate and a friend in the blaze―but it wasn't something they ever dwelled on for too long.
He was already there when she arrived, and a slow smile spread across his face. When he wrapped his arms around her, drawing her tightly towards him, Hermione melted into his warmth.
"Hi," Draco murmured, pressing his lips to her brow. She peered up at him, locking her hands around his middle with a soft, answering smile.
"Hi. I'm glad to see you."
The tension he often carried sank away, as though able to relax in her presence, and Hermione felt a fluttering of anticipation. It was rare they were able to spend an entire day together without sneaking around between classes and coming up with excuses.
That quiet voice emerged in the back of her mind again. Maybe one day.
But when she caught his gaze, she couldn't help the way she felt just a little intimidated. Hermione knew how she felt about him, but it wasn't a topic they'd discussed in any depth. The last thing she wanted―and she didn't know how she could bear it―was to frighten him off.
Even so, her heart hammered an uneasy rhythm when a soft, genuine smile brightened his face and he drawled, "I am more than happy to see you." He tugged her towards the sofa and the pair of them sank into the plush cushions. For her part, Hermione didn't want to spend their limited time together studying. She reclined in his arms, eyes fluttering when he stroked his fingers through her curls.
The quietest time spent between them always spoke volumes, and she lost track of time in the gentle touches before drawing him in for a teasing, lingering kiss.
She knew, in these soft, stolen moments, that he was who she wanted.
"I seem to recall," she breathed, one hand slipping towards his belt buckle, "that we didn't have nearly enough time the other day."
Draco's eyes slid open to find hers, a smirk twitching at his mouth. He opened his mouth to speak, but when she palmed his stiffening cock, only a low groan fell free.
His mouth ghosted hers again, a quiet, reverent, "Hermione," as she slipped her hand beneath the fabric to take him in her hand.
"What do you want?" she asked, smoothing a hand over his hard length.
"You." Toying with the hem of her shirt, he tugged it over her head, drifting his fingers along her bare stomach. "Whatever part of you I can get, I want."
She laughed despite herself, despite the way her heart fluttered a little quicker in her chest at the words. Every so often, he said things that she couldn't even equate with the Draco Malfoy she had known growing up―that had initially caused her to question the way she felt and only affirmed it now.
Slipping out of her jeans and knickers as he removed his shirt, she basked in his deft touches. The brush and slide of his fingers as he nudged against her centre, brushing the bundle of nerves between her thighs. Arousal swelled within her, slick and urging her on as they drifted into a teasing kiss.
Hermione caught his eyes as she positioned herself on his lap, sheathing him fully within her. A breath chased from her lungs, the feel of him at once reassuring and overwhelming. Something danced in his grey irises―something she recognised but scarcely understood―and he tightened his hold on her, possessive and warm.
When his lips caught hers again, when she started to move―everything else faded away into the moment and the two of them, and Hermione allowed herself to believe the rest would work out as it was meant to.
She could feel Harry's stare on her as they lounged in the Gryffindor common room. Her eyes flicked up as she set down her quill. "Yes?"
"You've been quiet," he said, eyes tight with concentration. "Distant, almost. Is everything alright?"
A part of her was genuinely surprised he'd noticed, only because she knew how much of the war he still carried with him at all times. "Of course," she said brusquely, waving a dismissive hand towards her assignment. "NEWTs are approaching―you know how I am about studying."
But Harry only shook his head. "It isn't that. I've seen you worked up over schoolwork. This is... I don't know, but it's something different." He hesitated for a moment, earnest green eyes searching hers, and Hermione felt a stabbing of guilt. "You know you could talk to me if something was bothering you, right?"
"Of course I do, Harry." She forced herself to meet his gaze. "I don't know―I haven't been sleeping all that well."
"I'm not surprised," he muttered, "given the way you regularly sleep in the library."
Warmth flooded her cheeks and she finally averted her gaze. "It's a bad habit, I know―"
"Except I couldn't find you in the library last night. Not at any of your usual tables."
Hermione tensed, fingers curling around the quill where it laid on her parchment. "You must not have been looking in the right place. I was in one of the alcoves last night."
She wasn't―Draco had convinced her to stay with him in the Room of Requirement―but she didn't want to admit to any of that. She could only imagine Harry's reaction if he were to learn the truth.
But Harry released a distraught huff, dragging a hand through his already messy hair. "Look, Hermione. I know I haven't really... been present for a lot of this year. I know I haven't been here for you the way I should have been. But you can talk to me. If there's something bothering you, or if you're... I don't know, seeing someone―"
She froze, the words catching her off guard in a way she hadn't anticipated, and noted the way Harry's eyes widened just slightly.
"You are?" he asked. "You're seeing someone?"
The flush creeping into her cheeks deepened, and she said, "No, of course not," with a little more vehemence than necessary. When Harry only lifted a sceptical brow, she added, "If I were seeing someone, I'd tell you."
The lie felt bitter and ashy on her tongue, when Harry had been her best friend since they were children―when they'd faced more trials and challenges than most could ever imagine.
Harry only stared at her a moment longer, unconvinced. But then he released a sigh. "I can't force you to tell me everything, but I just want you to know―I'm here if you need me. Just because you and Ron didn't work out, it doesn't mean I'm not happy for you."
She hadn't even considered that side of it. If she was honest, she hadn't thought of Ron in that way since their ill-advised kiss during the war.
In the wake of Harry's patient consideration, the thoughtfulness he showed every so often, she nearly blurted out the truth. The words nearly fell from her lips: I fancy myself in love with Draco Malfoy, Harry, and I'm equal parts thrilled and terrified.
But she squashed it down with a nod, a soft smile, and a quiet, "Thanks, Harry. I appreciate that."
She could read the discomfort settling into his shoulders when he nodded, and when they both returned to their work, silence took over once more.
In the days and weeks that followed, Draco was quieter than usual. He'd been a little more subdued, a little too focused on his schoolwork. It didn't sit right, and Hermione couldn't ignore the alarm bells any longer.
"Is everything alright?" she asked, soft and tentative, breaking the not entirely comfortable silence between them. "You've been quiet."
"Fine," he murmured, turning the page of his book without looking up. "Just NEWTs. You know how it is."
She did know. And she also knew it was the same excuse she fed Harry when he asked her a similar question.
"I do," she allowed, releasing a sigh. "I just―if something is bothering you, you can talk to me."
At that, he finally looked up, a tight smile pulling at his lips that didn't strike her as remotely genuine. His grey eyes were cool as he planted a brief kiss on her lips. "Everything is fine."
Despite her own wariness, she nodded. It wasn't her place to pry.
But she'd felt the tension growing thicker as the end of the school year approached at a rapid pace.
"I received an owl this week," Draco said at last, though she couldn't tell if it was a new topic altogether or a connection back to the last one. "From one of the potions masters I reached out to a couple of months ago."
"Oh." Surprise darted through her and she lifted her brows. "That's great news!"
He hummed, nodding once. "Yeah." Silence descended again, then he clicked his tongue and added, "It's for an apprenticeship in France."
At once, her blood went cold.
"France," she repeated, clinging desperately to the overly bright smile plastered to her face. "That's exciting. Do you suppose you'll accept it?"
His response was careful, measured. "I'd be stupid not to."
"Right." Offering an emphatic nod, Hermione turned towards him. "I'm sure that will be a great opportunity."
She had no right―none whatsoever―to be upset if he decided to leave England after school. Not when they hadn't so much as discussed any possible future between them. Not when she'd blatantly avoided the subject to keep the waters smooth.
Her chest stung, face burning, pulse pounding behind her ears.
"Yeah." The word was robotic, and though he averted his gaze back to his work, Draco's eyes remained locked on one page of his book. "It should be good." Then, casually, "What are your plans? After school."
They'd had the conversation before, but only briefly. He wanted to take a mastery in potions; Hermione had a few potential ideas, most of which revolved around magical creatures.
"Nothing concrete yet." The words felt a little choked from her lips, her eyes burning with the effort to withhold tears. If he left for France after school, if she stayed behind in England, that would be the end of this. Whatever this even was.
"Right," he answered, the word low.
She needed to get away, to breathe some fresh air, to stay the rampant pulse of her heart. "I just remembered," she breathed, "I have to meet up with Harry tonight."
Scrambling to throw her things into a bag, she looked carefully away from the surprise―the hurt―on his face. With a quick kiss to his jaw, she rose, slinging the strap of her satchel over one shoulder.
"See you later."
Shame and cowardice thick in her chest, she fled just as the tears broke free.
Over a week passed before Hermione saw him up close again, though she could feel his stares on her in every class. Some part of her wasn't ready to admit the truth―that she was in way over her head when it came to him.
The rest of her, unfortunately, screamed all too loud. She knew she was pushing him away, a mediocre effort to keep her own heart from breaking, but ultimately it did more harm than good.
As she packed her books into her bag at the end of Transfiguration, attempting to slip from the room before he could catch up to her, Hermione found unimpressed grey eyes on her. Draco folded his arms, his jaw clenched as he leaned against the wall beside her work space.
"What are you doing?" he asked, the words cold. "Are you avoiding me?"
To her dismay, the rest of the room had already emptied. She must have been more caught up in her thoughts than she'd realised.
"I've been busy," she offered, suppressing the urge to wince at the pathetic excuse. "I haven't been avoiding you."
"Sure." She could tell by his cocked brow that he didn't believe her. Then he made an elaborate gesture towards the door. "Good thing we both have Charms next."
They rarely allowed themselves to be seen in the same vicinity by the general student body, and Hermione felt a frisson of nerves shoot through her as they ventured into the corridor. Draco jammed his hands into his pockets, keeping pace at her side.
"Say whatever you like," he said, after the silence grew awkward. He kept his gaze fixed ahead, jaw clenched into a hard line. "But you haven't spoken to me since I told you I was considering taking a mastery in France. Is that why you're upset?"
He was nothing if not observant, and she wasn't surprised that he'd seen through her. But to admit to such a thing would be equivalent to numerous other admissions, most of which she wasn't ready to make.
"You caught me off guard is all," she said at last, folding her arms across her front. "You're welcome to do whatever you like after school."
Draco released a sigh, shaking out some of the tension in his shoulders. "Hermione..." he said at last, the word low and searching. "I know we haven't really... you and I haven't talked about most of this. About after Hogwarts."
She almost stumbled over her feet, a sharp swell of panic rushing over her. "Right," she said at last. "We haven't." To her horror, moisture stung at the corners of her eyes and she furiously blinked it back.
His gaze slid sidelong to hers, and he drawled, "Should we?"
At that, she came to an abrupt halt, wide eyes snagging on his. With a huff, Draco pulled her by the elbow into an empty classroom, contrition in the lines of his face. "Look, Hermione. I haven't wanted to push because Merlin knows you and I don't exactly make sense. Not at Hogwarts, and most definitely not out in the real world." His voice softened, and he pulled her hand into his. "But that doesn't mean I haven't thought about it."
Hermione wasn't certain she was still breathing. "I have, too."
Draco wrenched a hand through his hair, uncertainty plain on his face. "In case it isn't obvious, I like you. A lot. And I like what we have."
"What we have," she whispered, "is a secret." A surge of shame darted through her once more, swelling with the nerves that quaked in her veins. "Because we didn't want anyone to know."
A long, drawn-out, convoluted secret.
"And is that still how you feel?"
For such a simple question, the words rocked her to her core.
"No," she said simply at last, forcing herself to meet his eyes with the scraps that remained of her courage. "I don't want to pretend."
A furrow knit the skin between his brows. "Neither do I." He scrunched his eyes shut, shaking his head before he met her stare again. "I don't care who knows about us. And I sure as hell don't want to walk away from this just because school is nearly over―not unless we have to."
The words rattled through her, jarring and discordant, and for several long moments, she only stared. "What are you saying?"
Reaching for her hand, he tugged it into his with surprising gentleness, then slipped his fingers between his. His eyes locked on hers, heavily laden with uncertainty. "I'm saying," he murmured, brushing a kiss to her temple with a sigh, "I want you to be my girlfriend. For real. If you want to, that is."
Her heart stuttered wildly in her chest before leaping into a sprint. A disbelieving smile curled her lips as she shook her head. "Of course I want to."
A slow, teasing smirk warmed his face. "I am very glad to hear that." He tugged on their joined hands, drawing her flush against him. A sparkle danced in his gaze. "Because my hints would have become increasingly obvious the closer we came to the end of the year."
Hermione gaped at him for a moment. "Hints? What hints?"
He chuckled, brushing his fingers against the curve of her throat. "Clearly not obvious enough."
Eyes shooting wide, she recalled the day she'd found love bites on her neck after a dalliance in a storage cupboard, and heat flared in her cheeks when she remembered the way Harry had stared.
"And for the record," he went on, sobering, "France is only one option. I'm still waiting to hear back from a few more. So there might be something... closer to home."
She swallowed, suddenly realising how serious he was. "You were excited about France."
"I'd be excited about anywhere," he mused, "if it meant I could take you out for a proper date and show you off without having to sneak around."
The words ran through her mind, falling into place and fitting into the spaces where she'd felt only empty and blank. "That sounds nice," she said, horrified when warmth stung at her eyes. "Really nice."
And she didn't know where she was going to end up after school, or what she would be doing. Maybe there were options for her in France, too―or wherever else they decided to go.
"But first," he went on, eyeing their joined hands. "Hogwarts. You know people won't understand this."
Their eyes locked. His voice dropped. "Your friends won't like it."
"I don't care." Her heart beat almost painfully quick, blood pulsing in the tips of her fingers against his. "They'll get used to it. They'll come to see you how I do."
At the look that crossed his face―warmth, humility, and a hint of sadness―she knew it would be worth it.
Stepping in closer, she said, a bit of a tremble in her voice, "And they'll see how I love you."
Draco froze, his stare hard on hers. Then he pursed his lips, reaching to tuck a curl behind her ear. He pressed a soft kiss to her mouth. "I don't know if I'll ever be worthy of you," he said quietly, "but all the love I have is yours." A furrow knit the skin between his brows. "You gave me a chance this year when few others were willing, Hermione. And I love you for it."
Tears broke from her eyes in earnest, blurring the lines of his face. As she dug deep within her for the words that could possibly put meaning to the way she felt, all that fell out was, "We're going to be late for Charms."
A huff of incredulous laughter, and a slow, brilliant smile spread across his face. "We shouldn't dare."
He planted a kiss to her knuckles, her hand still trapped in his, and as he pulled her into the busy corridor, she let herself surrender to whatever would come next.