A/N: Sorry for the delayed update. My computer got a virus and I was unable to do anything. But, Dear Readers, here it is—just as promised . . . albeit a little late. And, it's the last chapter! We've made it! Thank you for your patience, support, and responses (and a very special thanks to those who have been devoted and reviewed since the beginning!). I've got some more ideas cooking in my head, so I'll try to get them up as soon as possible (suggestions are always welcome, as usual).

Thanks again and please review!

For one final time . . . onward.

Chapter 10

If the last day at Hogwarts was any indication as to how the holiday break was going to go, then Hermione wasn't the least bit surprised at how brutal it was.

Hermione woke naturally on the last day of classes. The sun was barely beginning to rise above the horizon, but she was already too awake to go back to sleep. She had slept fretfully. Her dreams had been vivid recreations of her fight with Draco, and she woke often, the hole in her chest gaping and raw.

She knew that she had to see him before she left for the holidays. Just see his face—his vibrant eyes. Just see him long enough that she could believe his letter . . . to know that things might get better after the break.

But, as usual, he was nowhere to be found. Throughout the day, the Hogwarts population was quickly dissipating, and when it was almost time for Hermione to catch the train, she had to finally accept the heart wrenching fact that Draco had already left.

Without saying goodbye.

Her core ached painfully as she lugged her trunk toward the awaiting train. Climbing aboard, she sat heavily in an empty compartment. Looking out the window, she saw the towers of Hogwarts sticking up in the distance.

The towers that usually made her heart race with excitement.

Except now, those same towers made her feel as if a piece of her soul had been ripped brutally from her chest.

She could feel the small silver locket weighing heavily against her chest and suddenly, hot tears stung the corners of her eyes.

She was confused, yet enlightened . . . hurt, yet content . . . and afflicted, yet blissful.

She was in love.

The door sliding gently open caused Hermione to quickly blink away the tears that threatened to spill over. Sniffling, she composed her face and turned toward the door.

Ginny smiled widely at her as she stepped into the room. Silently, she sat down beside Hermione and draped her arm over her friend's shoulder. Hermione tipped her head into Ginny's shoulder and a single tear escaped from her eye.

Ginny held her in silence, allowing the emotions to flow openly. Gently, she ran her hand up and down Hermione's arm.

Sniffling, Hermione sighed shakily.

"It's going to be okay . . . you know that, right?"

Hermione nodded against Ginny's shoulder.

"Good. And I meant what I said . . . you're going to have one kick ass break . . . and I'll be damned if you even have a minute to think about anything but having fun. I promise."

Hermione laughed lightly.

The two fell silent once more. Her head still on Ginny's shoulder, Hermione noiselessly looked out the window toward the towers again and waited patiently for the train to take her away from it all.

Ginny did all in her power to keep her promise: Hermione hardly had a minute to breathe—let alone think—she was kept so busy.

Every morning, Ginny roused her early and whisked her down to the kitchen where they helped Mrs. Weasley prepare breakfast. After breakfast, they shooed the boys outside and (easily ignoring Mrs. Weasley's protests) took on the large task of cleaning up. With the quickly approaching holidays, there was always something to clean or prepare.

Once the morning chores were done, Ginny and Hermione would then join the boys outside. With fresh snow and plenty of space, there was always something to do.

They had snowball fights and went sledding.

They played 3-on-3 Quidditch with Harry, Ron, Fred, and George (even though Hermione hated flying).

They took long, leisurely walks amongst gently drifting snow.

They even made a special trip to Diagon Alley for some last minute Christmas shopping.

They laughed.

They talked.

And things slowly began to feel . . . well . . . normal once more.

When the sun would finally begin to dip below the horizon, they would all come back inside—red-faced, smiling, and often out of breath—where they enjoyed a large, hot meal.

Then, they all migrated around the roaring, cozy fire. As a family, they sipped on warm pumpkin juice and butterbeer all the while recounting their days' adventures. They enjoyed each other's company until the fire dwindled to nothing more than dimly lit embers. Only then, did Mrs. Weasley drive them off to bed.

Yet, in their shared room, Hermione and Ginny still did not sleep. Instead, they took turns doing each others' hair and Ginny even showed Hermione some new makeup techniques as they talked late into the night.

They talked about everything and everyone. But they never spoke about him. Ginny made sure the subject never came up.

And Ginny was right. She was so busy that she didn't have time to think . . . .

To think about him.

That is, until after they had said their goodnights. Because once the lights were off and Ginny's breathing was heavy and even, only then was Hermione able to open her mind once more and remember.

Remember his eyes.

Remember his face.

Remember his scent and his touch.

Remember his lips against hers . . . against her hair . . . against her skin.

And it was only then that she would fall asleep and join him once again in her dreams.

She had no idea how the time passed so quickly.

One minute, they were in the Burrow preparing for the upcoming holidays. The next, the holidays were a thing of the past and they were on a train once more heading back to Hogwarts.

And Hermione had mixed feelings.

On one hand, she was sad to be leaving the Burrow: the familiarity and family—the normalcy.

But, on the other, she was excited to see Draco again. It felt like years since she had last spoken to him; that fateful night on the 4th floor corridor by the statue of Bartholomew Branding.

She wondered—with a heavy heart—if their break from one another had made him change his mind. Had he even thought of her? She hadn't received any letters from him . . . but maybe that was on purpose.

Why?

Was it because he wanted to keep their secret safe? Or, did he not want anything to do with her anymore?

Did he still feel for her? Or, had that feeling grown cold? Her chest ached at the thought.

Her stomach dropped to her feet as the train lurched to a stop. The towers once more loomed into her vision. Staring out the window, her palms suddenly began to sweat, her heart pounded loudly in her chest, and she felt slightly nauseous.

Ginny took one look at her friend's pale face. Reaching out, she gripped Hermione's fingers tightly with her own. "It'll be okay," she said with a reassuring squeeze.

Hermione smiled thinly. "Then why do I feel like I'm about to throw up?"

"Everything will work out . . . it just takes baby steps."

"Baby steps . . . ." Hermione echoed under her breath.

"Exactly." Tugging, Ginny pulled Hermione to her feet. Still gripping her hand tightly, she took a step toward the door. "Just one step at a time."

Taking a deep breath, Hermione willed her feet to move and took one step closer to the hallway.

One step closer to Hogwarts . . . .

And one step closer to Draco.

As soon as Hermione reached her dorm, she quickly unpacked her belongings and sat down to scribble a quick letter to Draco. Butterflies exploded in her stomach as she carefully raced across the snow covered grounds to the Owlery. Her fingers shook as she gently tied the note to an owl's leg. Then, looking out the window, she watched as the owl spread its wings and disappeared into the darkening sky.

For a long time she stood—silently watching the sunset change from yellow, to orange, to red, to pink, and finally to grey as it slowly dipped beneath the Western horizon. She stood until her nose and fingers and toes stung from the cold. Wrapping her arms tightly around herself, she clenched her jaw to stop it from shivering and watched the sky for just a few more seconds. Then, sighing, she finally turned and made her way back to her dormitory.

"There you are."

She had hardly made it through the large, heavy front doors before Ron ran up to her breathless.

Her cheeks were red from the cold and instantly began to prickle in the sudden heat. Looking at Ron in confusion, she slowly began to unwrap the scarf from around her neck. "Excuse me?"

"We've been looking everywhere for you," he stared at her flushed face. "Have you been outside?"

"Yes . . . and why have you been looking everywhere for me?"

"Well, for one thing, you've been gone for hours." A sudden thought came to him and he furrowed his eyebrows. "What were you doing outside? It's freezing out."

Hermione waved an absent minded hand. "Just sending a letter."

Ron looked at her skeptically.

Hermione quickly cleared her throat. "Um . . . and thinking . . . you know, while enjoying the sunset . . . ."

Ron lifted his eyebrows at her. "Riiiight . . . ." Suddenly, he looked uncomfortable. "Um, but yeah . . . for a second thing, it's time to eat."

As if on cue, Hermione's stomach rumbled embarrassingly loud and she blushed lightly. "Thank you."

Ron turned and began to make his way toward the Great Hall.

As she took a step behind him the serenity that she had felt in the Owlery quickly melted away and was replaced once more with nausea.

Draco would be in there.

What if it was awkward? What if things had changed?

Her heart began to beat wildly in her chest and she felt the color drain from her face.

Ron stopped suddenly and looked back at her. "'Mione? Are you okay? You've been acting weird lately."

Hermione swallowed thickly and forced a smile on her face. "I'm fine."

"Alright. Well, you coming?"

Hermione nodded wordlessly.

With one final concerned glance, Ron turned and disappeared through the doors of the Great Hall.

Hermione took a deep breath to calm her nerves before she followed quickly behind Ron.

As she stepped through the doors, she froze in the frame. Students bustled around the Great Hall—laughing and talking about their Holiday breaks.

Quickly, her eyes scanned the crowd until they fell on the Slytherin table. Lingering, she searched each face, looking for one in particular—or at least for his distinguishable hair.

"Hermione!"

Hermione tore her eyes from Slytherin's table at the sound of her name. Ginny stood at the Gryffindor table, waving wildly. A wide smile was stretched across her face.

Hermione forced a smile on her face and waved back before making her way over to the empty seat beside her roommate, across from Ron and Harry. Heavily, she sat down before glancing quickly over her shoulder toward the Slytherin table once more.

"What's wrong?" Ginny's voice was low.

Hermione turned back. "He's not here."

Pretending to stretch, Ginny looked briefly over her shoulder to survey the students at Slytherin's table. Turning back, she shrugged. "Maybe he's not back yet."

Hermione looked glumly at the plate of food in front of her. Picking up her fork, she poked distractedly at her potatoes. "Yeah . . . maybe."

But he was back.

And days quickly passed.

Days that he ignored her in classes—if he even showed up at all.

Days that he immersed himself with his Slytherin peers at meals—refusing to meet her lingering gaze.

Days without responses to her letters.

Every night—with her heart growing heavier—Hermione wrote another letter. Until, after a solid week without a response, she signed the last one. A solitary tear fell from her eye and stained the page as she wrote goodbye.

She was determined to move on with her life. To forget everything that had happened over the last term. And, for a few days, it was easy, even if her heart throbbed painfully every time she saw him.

But then, she began to think again.

She deserved an explanation—it was the least he could do. To offer an explanation as to why his feelings had changed . . . why he refused to answer her letters . . . and why he was now blatantly ignoring her.

She wanted to speak with him.

No, she needed to speak with him.

And she was going to.

A light knocking shattered her thoughts. Familiar raven black hair peeked from behind the door.

"Hungry?"

Hermione smiled widely at Harry. "Famished."

It was a lie, and she knew it . . . but she was hungry for one thing.

She was hungry for answers.

And she wasn't going to take "no" for an answer.

Standing, she quickly crossed the room and followed Harry. She felt confident as she descended the stairs to the Common Room and joined Ron and Ginny. But after they left the safety of Gryffindor Tower—and with each flight of stairs—her confidence began to switch to nerves and nausea.

What would she say to him?

What if he didn't want to talk to her?

What if she cried?

She already felt shameful at her last thought. Would she be able to stay strong? She wasn't able to answer that question, though, because before she knew it, the doors to the Great Hall loomed in front of her.

Immediately, her mouth went dry.

She could visualize the setting: students littering every square inch—laughing and talking. And directly in the middle of them all . . . the blonde-haired Prince of Slytherin.

Hermione's hands shook slightly as she pushed the doors open. Most of the students were already eating and black robes packed the space, their conversations creating a loud, incomprehensible murmur.

Quickly, Hermione's eyes began to scan the crowd. She needed to find him—and to keep her eye on him . . . to make sure that he didn't get away. But amidst everyone, she wasn't able to locate him.

She blocked the doorway, determined to pinpoint his location before she sat down.

"Move it, freaks."

Somebody shouldered past Hermione—hard.

Narrowing her eyes, she turned to glare, but immediately felt her heart plummet to her stomach as she took in the group of Slytherins that sauntered past her into the Great Hall.

The group of Slytherins that surrounded platinum hair.

Laughing and talking, they pushed past Hermione and her friends—their conversations melting together into an indistinguishable mess.

Enrapt by the sight of Draco, Hermione stared dazedly after them, unable to move. Until suddenly, a portion of their conversation floated above the rest and reached her ears:

". . . stupid bushy-haired know-it-all . . . ."

Hermione watched in horror as Draco's mouth formed the words. At first—as his minions laughed callously—her stomach twisted into a painful knot and her chest ached dully. But, as she watched the corners of Draco's mouth turn upward into a cruel smile, fire ignited in her chest.

She felt anger's heat spread through her veins like wildfire. Breathing heavily, she watched as Draco and his horde of Housemates took their places at the head of Slytherin's table.

Indisputable rage fueled her movements.

Immediately, Hermione began a heated beeline toward them.

"Whoa, 'Mione!" Harry's hand quickly reached out and gripped her arm. "Just let it go."

Wildly, Hermione spun and tore from his grasp. Her eyes almost emitted sparks as she thrust her finger in his face. "No . . . ."

At her tone, Harry dropped his hand back to his side and stared at her in shock, his mouth slightly agape.

Hermione's finger was shaking as she stared down each and every one of her friends. When nobody put up a fight, she curled her finger into her fist, turned—her robes swirling angrily—and began toward Draco again.

Wordlessly, her friends watched her retreating back.

Turning his head, Harry briefly looked at Ron and then Ginny in confusion before hastily stepping forward. Ron and Ginny quickly followed suit, and together—silently—they remained only a few steps behind their friend.

Conversations dimmed significantly as the group of Gryffindors made the long, pointed walk across the Great Hall.

Hermione was fully aware that all eyes were on her, but she didn't care. All she cared about were the icy grey eyes that glanced at her from under heavy eyelashes as their owner pretended not to take notice of her.

As she walked markedly forward, her vision tunneled around her target. With narrowed eyes, she stared at Draco's thin face . . . his pointy nose . . . his pale complexion . . . and her anger grew. She watched as he pretended to be immersed in a conversation with Goyle—who sat to his right. She watched as Crabbe—to his left—nudged him harshly with his elbow, his eyes wide as he stared at her. And she watched as Draco turned his face—ever so indifferently.

His cold eyes bore into her as she stopped directly across the table from him. Setting her jaw, she stood angrily, her hands on her hips.

"If you have something to say, you could at least have the audacity to say it to my face."

Draco scoffed and leaned back in his chair. "And what do you feel that I have to say to you?"

Hermione's eyes narrowed. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

Draco raised his eyebrows. "Maybe you should check your own audacity for coming over here and speaking to me." He threw the word back at her scornfully.

"Why are you doing this?" Hermione's voice dropped slightly.

"Doing what?" His voice was cold as he crossed his arms tightly across his chest.

"Why can't you just talk to me?"

"I don't speak to Mudbloods."

A collective gasp rose from the tables in the Great Hall.

Licking her lips, Hermione nodded slowly. "So, this is the way it's going to be now?"

Draco shrugged his thin shoulders. "I guess."

"And you're not even going to offer any sort of explanation? You at least owe me that."

Draco's eyes narrowed and his voice grew cold. "I owe you shit."

Around the Slytherin table, mouths fell open as a chorus of Ooohhs sounded.

Hermione felt hot tears sting the corners of her eyes. "You've changed." It was statement filled with hurt.

"Yeah . . . funny how space allows a mind to clear."

"I can't believe you . . ."

"Yeah, well, deal with it."

"I thought you were different."

"Welcome to the club. . . ." Uncrossing his arms, he leaned forward—his forearms resting on the table. "But you know . . . this little fascination with me? It's getting to be a bit much. Actually, I'd say it's borderline pathetic."

Hermione shook her head as she felt her face flush hot. Immediately, her mouth went dry . . . she didn't like where this conversation was going.

"But, it makes sense . . . a pathetic obsession for a pathetic Mudblood. It's fitting."

Hermione couldn't find words. Tears rimmed her eyes, threatening dangerously to fall.

Her friends stood behind her, their mouths agape. Silence overtook the Great Hall as students turned toward the ongoing altercation. A few Gryffindors stood at their table, anger covering their faces.

Draco stared harshly into Hermione's eyes, watching as the tears formed. Taunting, his voice dropped to a heartless whisper. "C'mon, cry . . . I've always wanted to see if your tears were made of mud."

Immediately, Neville, Seamus, and Dean pushed themselves from their seats and quickly crossed the short distance to stand guard behind Harry, Ron, and Ginny.

Hermione inhaled sharply, her anger rekindling. Refusing to cry, she swallowed thickly and finally found words:

"Fuck you, Malfoy."

Her words had a heated bite, and immediately, all remaining noise around the Great Hall died.

Setting his jaw, Draco suddenly grew very serious as ice glazed over his silver orbs. Smoothly, he pushed himself to his feet as he quietly clicked his tongue. "Oh, no . . . you already did that." A twisted smile contorted his features.

Mouths around the Great Hall dropped open and the whispering began again. Laughing, Crabbe and Goyle high-fived one another behind Draco.

Hermione felt the blood drain from her face.

Continuing, he dropped his voice sarcastically. "Or, don't you remember?"

The whispering vanished. It was painfully quiet as the Hogwarts students listened intently for her answer.

Hermione felt her heart drumming against her ribcage. She felt light-headed.

Leaning his hands on the table, he bent toward her. "Did you like when I made you cum?" He spoke in an exaggerated whisper, his words dripping with malice.

Hermione physically stepped back as if she had been slapped across the face.

"I'll kill you!"

The silence was shattered as Ron's voice boomed. It echoed eerily around the silent Hall.

He lunged forward.

Crabbe and Goyle were instantly on their feet, attempting to press themselves in front of Draco.

Quickly, Harry and Neville grabbed Ron by the arms and held him from launching over the table at Draco. Ron pulled at his restraints, his blue eyes glowing with fire. Seamus reached out and gripped him tightly around the chest.

Draco held out a composed arm and blocked Crabbe and Goyle. "You better put a leash on your Weasel."

Ron growled menacingly.

The tears that were rimming Hermione's eyes spilled over before she could stop them.

She stared at him, betrayal radiating off of her face. Slowly, she shook her head. "When did you get so cruel?" Her voice was hardly a whisper.

Draco straightened. "When did you think I wasn't?"

"Do I mean nothing to you?"

Draco shrugged nonchalantly. "Nothing more than a piece of ass."

Hermione gasped. "You don't mean that . . . ."

"Sure, I do . . . just a conquest . . . another notch in the bedpost. And to tell you the truth, you were a lousy lay."

Ron snarled loudly and tried to lunge at Draco once more.

Tears fell freely from Hermione's eyes. She felt the heat of watching eyes and suddenly, she felt trapped.

Draco stared at her—his eyes narrowed and scornful. Silently, he challenged her to retort.

She stared back at him—back at the face that she had fallen in love with. His once loving eyes were cold and emotionless. She searched them for any sign of love—of passion, but she saw none.

Traitorously her chin trembled. "I hate you, Draco Malfoy."

There was a flash in his eyes—briefly . . . only momentarily—but then it was gone, and his face once more was covered in his cruel mask.

Lightly, he snorted. "I'll add you to the list."

And with those words, Hermione finally realized something: He was his father . . . he was a Malfoy . . . and Ginny was right.

With trembling fingers, Hermione found the chain around her neck. With a violent tug, it snapped, and she threw it hatefully onto the table in front of Draco.

She didn't wait for his reaction. Instead, she turned,—tears blurring her vision—violently pushed her way through her friends, and ran from the Great Hall.

As she ran through the large doors, her peers watched her exit in stunned silence has they tried to figure out what had just happened.

"But, it's Draco Malfoy!" Ron protested loudly.

Hours had passed since the confrontation in the Great Hall and Ron was still fired up, even in front of the serene fire in the Gryffindor Common Room.

"Ron, I don't really care who it is . . . if he made Hermione happy—for whatever odd reason—then I can accept that." Harry's voice was soft, soothing.

"But, he didn't make her happy!" Ron was yelling now. "Look what he did to her today." He stood angrily and began to pace. "I'm going to kill him for that!"

"He may not have made her happy today, but think of how happy she's been lately. He was a part of that, because she saw something in him."

Ron was grumbling under his breath now. "I don't know what. He's nothing more than a slime ball and—"

He cut off quickly as Ginny descended the stairs from the girls' dormitories.

Harry stood as she entered the room. "How is she?"

"Sleeping,—thank God. I didn't know that any one person could cry that much."

". . . kill him . . ." Muttering under his breath, Ron angrily resumed his pacing.

Harry shook his head at his friend, but ignored him. "Did she say anything?"

Ginny sat down heavily. "Unless you count sobbing uncontrollably as 'saying something,' then . . . no."

"I can't believe she blew us off for Malfoy . . . ." Ron's grumbling was steadily growing.

"Hey!" Harry's voice was sharp. "We are not going to dwell on this anymore. I don't care about any reasoning . . . or motive . . . or whatever. I am here for Hermione now, and nothing else. And I suggest you do the same thing. You will not bring this up when she is around, so I suggest you start practicing now."

Ron stopped pacing. "But . . . ."

Harry waved an impatient hand. "No buts. Hermione needs us right now. She needs us more than ever. We need to be better friends—more supportive friends—than we were all last term. Can you do that?"

Ron sat down crossly. "Yeah . . . ."

"You promise?"

Ron nodded.

"And do you promise to forget about Malfoy, unless Hermione brings him up first?"

Ron nodded sulkily.

"That means no fights . . . no conversations . . . no nothing." Harry ticked them off on his fingers.

"I get it, alright!" Ron's voice rose slightly.

"Alright." Harry nodded, satisfied. "We're going to help her get through this . . . nobody leaves her side, agreed?"

Ron and Ginny nodded.

The term flew by, and her friends did not break their promise—not even once. They had become extremely protective of her, and never let her out of their sight. In fact, all of Gryffindor had. They quickly became her own personal shadows—her chaperons.

Even Ron kept his promise. Although heglared at Malfoy whenever he saw him, he refused the urge to fight, although ever fiber of his being screamed at him to.

It was extreme—and any sane person would have gone mad after only a few days. But, Hermione had changed: Her spirit was broken.

So—defeated—she allowed them to do it, although she thought it was pointless and stupid for them to waste all of their time by her side—not that there was much for them to stay by her side for. Her schedule now consisted of four things: Classes, meals, studying, and sleeping. And she spent the majority of her time accomplishing the latter of the four.

She still dreamt of him—yet as the term passed, they occurred more infrequently.

She still cried—but now the tears only came in the seclusion of her room.

She still hurt every single time she saw or thought of him—but she was slowly beginning to build a mask . . . a mask to cover the insufferable pain.

But all in all, she hid it, even though she was nothing more than an empty shell.

Because a piece of her had died.

And slowly, she tried to get her life back to normal: Even though deep down, she knew that she would never be normal again.

Each day passed like the last. With the help of her friends, she got used to living in a tunnel—a tunnel that protected her from anything that would remind her of him. And as the days blurred together, she recollected nothing but her studies.

So, it came to no surprise to her when the term came screeching to an end.

Normally, she would have felt sadness when it was time to leave Hogwart's grounds for the summer holiday, but as her belongings were once more packed away in her trunk, and as she stared out the window of the train at the distant towers, she actually felt some relief.

Perhaps, with space, she could finally put all of this behind her.

The train lurched forward, taking her away from the painful memories. Harry, Ron, and Ginny sat laughing, but she ignored them. Leaning her head against the seat, she watched as the towers slowly receded. When they had finally vanished, she took a deep breath and waited for the painful ache in her chest to go away.

But it didn't.

Her memories of Draco—the good and the bad—were now even more defined in her head. She could feel tears—tears that she thought she had no more of—stinging at her eyes.

Wordlessly, she stood and took a step toward the door of the compartment.

"Where are you going?" Harry's voice was soft.

"Out."

Ginny quickly stood. "I'll go with you."

Hermione held a hand up, pleading. "Please . . . I just need to be by myself for a second."

"But . . . ."

Hermione's eyes were glistening. "Please . . . ."

Silently, Ginny sat back down.

Hermione gave her half a smile before turning and walking out of the compartment.

The hallway of the train was filled with students milling around. Maneuvering through the bodies and trolleys filled with candies, Hermione aimlessly made her way toward the back of the train.

She was lost in emotions and memories, and simply let her feet take her somewhere.

Without realization, she found herself in the caboose at the door that opened to the outside platform. She had never been out there before, but some fresh air sounded good. Silently, she pushed the door open and stepped out onto the platform.

The cool air hit her face and she inhaled deeply, her eyes closed. Momentarily, she relished in the crispness and of the spring day before slowly opening her eyes.

And her stomach twisted painfully.

Black robes covered hunched shoulders.

The owner of those shoulders was leaning heavily on the railing and the head on those shoulders was bowed deeply toward the tracks—the head that was covered in platinum blonde hair.

Involuntarily, Hermione inhaled. Quickly, she tried to flee, but it was too late.

Draco's head snapped up toward her, and instantly, his face paled.

Moments passed as they merely stared at each other—each one a loss for words.

Finally, Hermione broke their gaze and turned to leave.

"Please stay . . . ."

She froze in place, a mix of emotions running through her veins. She was hurt, confused, angry, skeptical, and excited, all at the same time. Yet, even with all of those emotions, something more held her in place—something she quite couldn't put her finger on.

Carefully, she turned back toward him. Keeping the emotions from her face, she stared at him.

Draco looked pained. Quietly, he cleared his throat. "Look, I owe you an explanation . . . ."

"So now I deserve an explanation?" Hermione's voice was thick, but she kept it even.

Ashamedly, Draco looked down at the ground and when he spoke, his voice cracked with emotion. "Look, my dad found your letters, okay? He threatened to disown me. I had to break it off with you . . . there was no other way."

Suddenly, it all made sense . . . .

But anger's fire still burned in her chest. And everything she had been holding back—all of the emotion, all of the hurt, all of the questions—came rushing out.

"So, you had to do it like that? In front of the whole school?"

Draco looked trapped. "You caught me off guard."

"Why did you have to be so cruel? You didn't have to say those things."

"Yes, I did."

"Why?"

"I had to break your heart."

"What?!"

Draco lifted his head and looked her in the eyes. "You wouldn't have been able to leave if I didn't say those things. I needed you to hate me . . . so you could forget about me."

Hermione shook her head. "Yes, I could have. If you would have just explained it to me, I would have understood. I would have worked it out with you."

But even as she said the words, she knew he was right. He had to break her heart, because otherwise she would have fought for him. Fought for him like only a person in love would.

"Look, Hermione . . . you said it the best: We're from two very separate Worlds. I was blind to have said that it didn't matter. Or that I could give up my World for you . . . because when that became the only option, I wasn't able to."

Hermione's heart twisted painfully in her chest.

Draco reached out and laid his hand gently on her arm.

She pulled back as if she had been burned. "Don't touch me."

Draco recoiled. "I deserve that. And I deserve to be hated . . . but just know that I don't hate you. And in another world . . . another time . . . ."

Hermione looked away from him, disloyal tears brimming in her eyes. She wanted to believe him . . . and in a sense—for reasons unknown—she did.

They just lived in two very separate Worlds.

"If things ever change . . . ."

Hermione shook her head. "They won't."

Swallowing, Draco nodded slowly. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry for a lot of things. I'm sorry for what I said. I'm sorry that I can't change the situation. And I'm sorry for the pain you're feeling. But, I'm not sorry that I fell in love with you."

Hermione's chest tightened. Her eyes wet, she looked up and stared Draco in the face.

Carefully, he searched her face with his light orbs. They glistened brightly with unshed tears. "If there was any way . . . ."

Hermione nodded. "I know."

Slowly, he reached out and when Hermione didn't flinch, he gently cupped her cheek in his hand. Lightly, he ran his thumb over her jaw.

Hermione closed her eyes at his touch. "I love you too, Draco."

Draco's thumb ceased. Slowly, he leaned forward and placed his lips gently against Hermione's forehead. He lingered momentarily before pulling back.

Quietly, he dropped his hand to his side. "Goodbye, Hermione." His words were a whisper.

She opened her eyes and looked into his face. She was unable to say the words back.

Draco waited only a moment, before nodding once. In one fluid motion, he turned and left.

Hermione watched the black hem of his robes disappear through the door before whispering into the silence: "Goodbye."

THE END

A/N: There it is! We finally made it. I know that a lot of you were pulling for a happy ending, but after doing a lot of thinking (as well as rewriting), this way just developed easier. I think that it stayed more true to the characters (and the differences in their lives). But, don't worry, I promise to get some more stuff with happy endings! So please, keep your eyes open for that. Also, please review! Let me know what you think! I hope you liked it, and thank you all SO much for the patience, support, and encouragement. I hope you all have a wonderful (and SAFE) Holiday season! *~*JadedDraon4*~*