A/N: Thank you all for your support and enthusiasm for this story. You guys are awesome! I am absolutely blown away by all of you adding this to your story alert/ favorite stories list. It's such an honor. Yet, I would also love to hear why you are adding the story. So, please, (if you could find some time, or you feel so inclined) review. I love your suggestions, corrections, and comments. By telling me what you like (or don't like) I can only get better and can begin to mold my writing and the story to your liking. So please, help me out, so I can continue to keep you all happy :) Per your suggestions, things are going to start coming to a head in this chapter. Slowly but surely, I'm starting to wrap things up. But, don't worry . . . I have some other material brewing in my head and I'm excited to get it down on paper so you all can enjoy it.

Tighten your seatbelts . . . cause it might just get a little bumpy.

Chapter 9

Hermione flitted around her dorm room like she was floating on a cloud.

The last two weeks had flown by—the events of each day blurring together in an incoherent mess. The only events that were clear in Hermione's mind were her nights that were spent with Draco.

Her hectic schedule had begun once more. Yet this time,—because of the security of the Room of Requirement—being caught or getting back by curfew were now two nonexistent problems. And consequentially, Hermione's friends were pushed even further onto the backburner.

Looking through her closet, Hermione quickly selected a bright red sweater. It screamed holiday cheer, even in its simplicity. Dreamily, she slipped it over her head. The soft material felt good against her skin—and she couldn't help but think about what Draco's hands would feel like on her skin that night.

She also couldn't help but envision what the Room of Requirements would look like. Since their first night together in the Room—surrounded in brilliant white—the Room had manifested itself into a plethora of different settings. Every night, the atmosphere was something different. Some nights, it was dark and sultry—clad in deep velvets and musky smells. Other nights, it was light and airy—with satins and silks.

They made love depending on the mood of the Room; hard, fast, and lustful . . . or soft, slow, and gentle. Sometimes it was a mixture of the two. But, no matter what the tone, she came with him every night, and fell asleep in his arms.

The Room of Requirement wasn't the only thing that was changing. Hogwarts was slowly being transformed. Elaborate decorations were strung about. The Great Hall was festive and cheery. Large trees were brought in and adorned. The holiday season was quickly approaching, and excitement could be felt like electricity in the air.

Humming softly to herself, Hermione ran a brush through her hair. Fluffing up her roots with her fingers, she looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was pale, with a healthy glow in the cheeks. There was the slight hint of darkness just above her cheekbones,—a sign of her increasing lack of sleep—but her eyes shown brightly. The red sweater shone brilliantly against her fair skin, and she actually felt beautiful for the first time in her life.

She was so wrapped up in her preparation, that she didn't hear Ginny walk in.

Crossing her arms tightly across her chest, Ginny watched incredulously as Hermione dabbed on some light pink lip gloss. Hermione gently smoothed her fingers over her face, and Ginny cleared her throat lightly.

Hermione jumped at the noise—torn from her reverie. She turned from the mirror quickly, and was surprised to see her roommate leaning against the doorframe, looking irritated.

"Where you going?" Ginny's voice was cold.

At the sight of her, Hermione suddenly felt extremely guilty. She hadn't barely seen Ginny in the last few weeks, let alone actually talked to her. Normally, Hermione left to meet with Draco long before Ginny made it up to their room, and she usually snuck back in long after Ginny was asleep.

Quickly, she cleared her throat. "Nowhere."

Ginny sighed heavily, a heated look coming over her face. "Oh, c'mon Hermione . . . cut the crap. We're not stupid, you know. We all know that you've been sneaking off to be with some guy."

Hermione sputtered. "W-what?"

Ginny uncrossed her arms and gestured angrily. "Do you really think we're that dumb? You've changed and I don't even think you realize it. You're distant, distracted, impatient, and so flipping eager to leave us—if you even hang out with us at all." She counted the differences on her fingers.

"You've become obsessed with your appearance. I don't know when you've ever worn makeup . . . and now . . . ." Her voice trailed off and she gestured up and down Hermione's body.

"You're gone every night. You don't think I hear you sneak in past curfew? And on the weekends, you sometimes don't even come back at all."

Hermione opened her mouth, but Ginny cut her off with another infuriated sweep of her hand.

"You think that just because the whispering has stopped, nobody's talking about it? The Fat Lady's still clucking like a hen . . . the whole House knows. Hell, I'm sure most of the school knows!"

Hermione felt her face flush scarlet. "It's all a lie."

"You're a terrible liar, you know that?"

Ginny took a step toward her, her face and voice softening. "Why can't you just tell me who it is? I won't be mad . . . I swear."

Hermione sat down heavily on her bed. Yes, you will.

"I just . . . can't." Her voice was soft.

Frustration covered Ginny's face once more as she threw her hands up in the air. "Fine! I'll just follow you one night."

Hermione looked up in horror.

Ginny sighed loudly. "Jesus, Hermione . . . I'm kidding. But this sucks, you know? You're supposed to be my best friend, and I haven't even seen you in almost a month."

Hermione looked ashamedly down at her feet. "I know."

Ginny sighed again. "Could you at least tell me if he's in Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff? 'Cause seriously, we all know he's not in Slytherin."

Hermione's face paled as she stared at the ground and her pulse began to pound loudly in her ears.

Ginny froze, her eyes wide. "He's not in Slytherin . . . is he?"

Hermione looked up, tears in her pleading eyes. "Please . . . don't."

Ginny stared wide-eyed as the realization sunk in. "Slytherin?" The word slipped off of her tongue like Caster oil.

A single tear slipped from Hermione's eye and she bent her head to conceal it.

It didn't go unnoticed.

Taking a step forward, Ginny slowly sat beside her roommate and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. "Hey . . . don't cry . . . ." Her voice was soft—consoling. "Well, unless it's Crabbe. Then, you can cry all you want."

Hermione laughed. "No, it's not Crabbe." She sniffled loudly.

"Goyle?"

Hermione stuck her tongue out.

"Oh, thank God." Ginny laughed. "But, hey . . . now you can just tell me . . . 'cause if it's not Crabbe or Goyle, I really can't be mad."

Hermione looked down at her feet again.

"Hermione . . . you've already confirmed that it's not Crabbe or Goyle . . . and really, there's nobody worse. I just don't understa—" Her words trailed off.

Hermione wanted to sink into the floor.

"No."

Hermione bent her head as if she were a dog being scolded.

"No." Ginny repeated the word in a whisper.

"He's different." Hermione made the excuse to her shoe.

Ginny shook her head. "No . . . no. No! You're telling me that you've been blowing us all off for Draco Malfoy?"

Hermione looked up sharply, her eyes wet. "You can't tell anyone!"

Ginny stared at her, openmouthed. "You expect me to keep this to myself?"

Hermione looked at her pleadingly. "Yes."

Ginny shook her head. "No . . . not when it's Malfoy."

"You don't even know him."

"Yeah . . . for a reason! And I really have no intention of getting to know the sleaze ball."

"He's not like that." Hermione could feel anger beginning to swell in her chest.

"You know what? You've finally done it. You've lost your goddamned mind."

"You don't know what's going on in my mind."

"And I'm not sure I want to. You know . . . for someone who's so smart, you sure are thinking pretty dumb."

"Don't belittle my intelligence."

"It's Draco Malfoy . . . how is that intelligent?"

Hermione opened her mouth to retort, but Ginny waved an impatient hand. "No . . . consider this an intervention, Hermione. I now deem you completely incompetent to run your own love life."

Hermione glared at her friend, fire in her eyes. "You can't tell me what I'm allowed to feel for someone."

Ginny scoffed. "I can when it's Draco Malfoy."

"We have a connection."

"A connection?" Ginny repeated the phrase skeptically. "You're trying to tell me that this isn't just about sex? That you feel something deeper than a physical connection to him?"

Hermione blushed violently, but she held her gaze. "Yes."

"He's using you . . . ."

Hermione shook her head violently. "No . . . no, he's not like that."

Ginny laughed bitterly. "Not like that?" Draco Malfoy? That's what he does, Hermione. He uses people—sweet, innocent people like you—to get what he wants. He's a Malfoy." She put scornful emphasis on his last name.

Hermione dropped her gaze and her voice. "I already told you . . . he's different."

"Different how?" Ginny's voice was hard—cruel. "Please Hermione, paint me a picture so I can finally understand."

Hermione absentmindedly began to pick at her fingers. "I can't tell you that . . . but he just is."

Ginny ran a frustrated hand over her face. Thick silence filled the room as she stared intently at her friend's profile.

Hermione felt her face growing hot as she felt Ginny's eyes on her, but she refused to look up from her clenched hands.

After what seemed like an eternity, Ginny finally took a deep breath. Licking her lips, she struggled with her next question. "Does he make you happy?"

Hermione jerked her head up, surprised at the question and the softness of her roommate's voice. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she stared sincerely into Ginny's face. Slowly, she nodded. "Yes."

Ginny sighed and rolled her eyes up to the ceiling.

Hermione could see the wheels working deep inside of Ginny's head—the war that she was beginning to fight—and she couldn't stop a silent tear from falling down her cheek.

"What are you thinking?" Hermione's voice was small—hurt.

Ginny took a deep breath, thinking over her answer. Finally, she shook her head. "I don't know."

Hermione took Ginny's hands gently between hers. "Please Gin . . . I need you to understand. I wanted to tell you. Really, I did."

Hurt filled Ginny's eyes. Firmly, she pulled her hands from Hermione's grip and looked away. "I don't know if I can understand—if I can accept this. People like him don't change. He's going to hurt you."

"I don't believe he will."

Biting the inside of her cheek, Ginny angrily set her jaw. She felt hurt, betrayed, and slightly offended at Hermione's unbending attitude. She didn't know what to say anymore—her arguments weren't getting through—so she merely sat in silence.

Hermione felt the tension in the room building. Inhaling shakily, she quickly looked around the room. Her eyes landed on the glowing clock by her bed, and she was suddenly torn once more.

"I have to go." She spoke into the open room—her voice low.

Ginny released an angry breath. "Of course you do."

Hermione stood slowly. "You won't tell anyone, will you?"

Ginny refused to look at her.

"Please?"

Rolling her eyes to the ceiling once more, Ginny tried to stop the tears that were threatening to fall. "No."

Hermione felt relief wash over her. "Thank you." Slowly, she turned to leave.

"But I certainly hope that he's worth it . . . because I honestly don't see it."

Hermione felt as if a knife had been plunged through her heart. Spinning, she turned back to her roommate, but was only met with Ginny's back. She took a hesitant step forward, but suddenly decided against it. Pressing her lips together, she bit back the sob that threatened to rip from her throat.

With one final glance and a heavy heart, Hermione turned and quietly left the room.

"I was afraid that you'd forgotten about me."

Smiling, Draco pushed himself from where he had been seated on the floor. He took two quick steps toward Hermione and instantly his smile vanished. Alarm filled his face as he noted Hermione's red, wet eyes.

"What's wrong?"

She felt as if nothing could ever be wrong when she heard his voice.

Yet, at the memory of her recent conversation with Ginny, fresh tears welled in Hermione's eyes, and she shook her head—her lips pressed tightly together.

Reaching out, Draco gently grasped her upper arms. "Hermione . . . talk to me."

Her skin tingled under his touch. Closing her eyes, she felt her throat tighten.

"Did someone hurt you?" Draco stared intently into her face. "Because if they did . . . I'll kill 'em." His voice grew hard and cold.

Her eyes still closed, Hermione shook her head back and forth violently.

They didn't hurt me . . . I hurt them.

Painful silence filled the hallway.

He looked at her skeptically. "So, nothing's wrong?"

Forcing a smile on her face, Hermione opened her eyes and shook her head again.

Draco's face relaxed. Leaning in, he gently pressed his lips against hers.

At his contact, her lips began to shake and she bit back a sob. Trying to relax her mouth, she didn't kiss him back.

Draco pulled back, confused, but his hands still gripped her shoulders tightly. "Something's wrong."

She stood rigidly in his hands, her eyes shifted downward. Slowly, she shook her head as she fought back the uncontrollable urge to cry.

"Look me in the eye and tell me that nothing's wrong."

Breathing carefully, Hermione slowly turned her face to his. Her eyes glistened as she felt herself sink deeply into his silvery orbs. "Nothing is wr—"

A single tear fell from eye and she couldn't continue the lie. Immediately, she turned her eyes away once more.

Sighing, Draco released her arms. He ran his fingertips quickly over the bridge of his nose before looking at her again. "Sweetheart . . . I'm not a mind reader. You need to say something." His voice was quiet—gentle.

Slowly, Hermione lifted her eyes. As she looked into Draco's face, she felt her heart break. She knew that Ginny was right . . . that Draco Malfoy was not a good fit for her, but her heart was screaming that it didn't care.

Patiently, Draco searched her face. His eyes were the color of mercury—cool and calm.

Taking a deep breath, Hermione mustered enough courage to ask the question that she didn't need to hear an answer for.

"What is this?"

Draco face scrunched up in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Hermione felt her heart break even further. "We can't keep looking the other way. We need to think about this . . . ."

"Think about what?"

She didn't care if she ever heard the answer, but she knew deep down that she had to ask the question: "What are we doing?"

Draco recoiled slightly and a deep frown appeared on his face as he suddenly understood. "Are you not happy?"

"It's not that . . . ."

"Then, what?" He touched her face lightly. "What brought on this sudden attitude change?"

Hermione pulled from his touch and looked down at the ground, suddenly unable to look into his hurt-filled eyes. As she stared at her feet, Ginny's face materialized in her mind and a wave of guilt washed over her.

She didn't know how to answer his question, so she merely shrugged.

"Can I ask you a question?" Draco's voice was soft—pleading.

Hermione lifted her head and looked at him once more.

Draco took her gesture as a response. "Do you love me?"

She felt her breath catch in her throat.

The question threw her off and suddenly, she was at a loss for words. Repeating his inquiry in her mind, she felt her mouth dry out.

Did she?

Blankly, she stared at him—her heart pounding painfully in her chest.

"It's a simple question, Hermione . . . ."

Her mind racing, she swallowed thickly. "But it's not a simple answer."

Releasing his grip on her arms, Draco licked his lips and looked away.

Hermione took a step toward him and gently placed her face on his cheek. "I didn't mean to hurt you . . . I'm just being honest—because you deserve honesty."

"So . . . you don't . . . ." It was more a statement than a question. As he spoke, his voice sounded thick—strained.

"I never said that . . . I just said that it's not a simple answer."

Draco's eyes remained trained on the floor.

Hermione sighed and tried to explain. "It's not a simple answer, because I don't know if I do or not . . . . There are a lot of factors . . . and I need more time to find out. Does that make sense?"

Draco looked up slowly. Little by little, a corner of his mouth turned upward until his characteristic half-smile covered his face. Shrugging nonchalantly, he nodded.

All thoughts of her recent conversation with Ginny suddenly disappeared from Hermione's head as she reached out and gently grasped Draco's hand in hers. "But, I do know that I care about you . . . very much."

Draco smiled—genuine and true. With his free hand, he lightly tucked a stray piece of hair behind Hermione's ear.

Suddenly, his eyes lightened to the color of molten metal. "Spend the holidays with me."

Hermione froze—her eyes wide. "W-what? Where?"

"Here . . . at Hogwarts. I can blow my family off, easily. They probably won't even notice I'm missing . . . ." He pulled her into a tight embrace against his chest. Bending, he spoke softly into her ear.

"We can spend the whole break together. And with hardly anyone here, we can be free."

Hermione sighed against his chest at the thought. With her eyes closed, she thought of what it would be like. She would be free to be with him: Free to eat, and talk, and laugh. Free to go to sleep with him and wake in his arms. Free to just . . . well, to just be together.

Her heart pounded with excitement as she imagined what it would be like. She pulled herself closer to his chest, breathing in his scent.

"Stay with me." His voice was pleading.

It was the only thing that she wanted.

And suddenly, Ginny's face rushed into her mind again.

Her face fell. "I can't."

The luster in Draco's eyes dissipated. "Why?"

"I already promised to spend the holidays with my friends at the Burrow."

"Your friends?" Draco's eyes grew cold and he released her. "You mean those blood traitor Weasels and that Potter prick, don't you?"

His tone made her blood run cold, but anger lit a fire in her chest. "Don't call them that. No matter what you think of them, they are still my friends."

Draco ignored her. "And you want to spend the holidays with them?"

No.

Lifting her chin boldly, she looked him straight in the face. "I promised them."

"So, break your promise."

Her shoulders slumped slightly impairing her confidence. "It's not that simple."

Draco threw up his hands in frustration. "Why is nothing ever simple with you?!"

Hermione flinched at his reaction, but she felt the fire in her chest intensify.

"You know why nothing is simple with me? Because I'm not YOU! I don't just get things handed to me on a silver fucking platter!"

Surprised, Draco's eyes widened at her outburst.

Hermione could see a fire in his own chest ignite. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Oh step off it, Draco. We all know that that has to do with everything! Can we really keep up these pretenses?"

Draco shook his head, his jaw set. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"We're in two separate Worlds."

He stared at her blankly, his arms crossed tightly over his chest.

Hermione felt hot tears returning to her eyes. "Don't pretend that we're not . . . you come from a World with cooks and caviar. I come from a World with chores and cabbage. You come from the World of the privileged—where your parents are important, and your blood is Pure. I come from a World of dentists and mud."

Her voice broke as tears began to stream down her face.

"We're from two very different realities. Don't you see that?"

"But, why does it matter?"

She looked him intrepidly in the face again. "Because, it does."

"Are you saying that you don't want to be with me?"

She ignored his question. "Tell me . . . could you bring me home to meet your parents?"

"You don't want to meet my parents . . . ."

"That's not what I asked. Could you bring me home to meet your parents?" She enunciated each word clearly.

Draco refused to look her in the eye.

Scoffing, Hermione answered her own question. "Of course you couldn't. You could never bring home the Mudblood Gryffindor."

It was the first time that she had openly called herself a Mudblood, and she noticed Draco flinch at the term.

"So, it comes down to Houses, then?" His voice was cold.

"It's always been about Houses."

"Why?"

"Because, I'm. Not. Slytherin!"

He shook his head angrily. "That's a flawed argument. We don't get to pick what House we're in."

"It doesn't matter, because I could never be in Slytherin. I'm not a Pureblood."

"I don't care if you're Pure!"

"But, your name does. Why do you think we've done so much to keep this-" she gestured widely "a secret? Because a Malfoy cannot be seen with a Muggle Mudblood. Isn't that true?"

Ice formed in Draco's eyes, causing them to turn the color of slate. Coldly, he stared at her. "Well, maybe you don't belong in my World."

Hermione felt her heart break. She could see Draco quickly reconstructing the protective wall around his heart.

He narrowed his eyes until they were almost slits. Hurt and anger radiated from his every pore, and suddenly, he was the Malfoy that Hermione had once hated. "I'll tell you what . . . when you figure out what World you want to be in, just let me fucking know."

Heatedly, he spun on his heel and stormed away from her.

She watched him leave—tears streaming down her face. She had struck a nerve . . . and hurt him more deeply than she had ever imagined. Because she had turned him down.

It wasn't supposed to go this far.

It wasn't supposed to escalate to this.

She just wanted some questions answered.

Covering her hand with her mouth, Hermione began to sob as she wondered what she had just done.

The days leading up to the holiday break were unbearable.

After Draco had stranded her on the 4th floor corridor, Hermione had quickly retreated back to the safety of Gryffindor Tower. It wasn't nearly midnight and the Common Room was bustling with her peers.

Hiding her red eyes, Hermione had brushed past them without stopping and rushed up the stairs to her room.

Without even changing, she had fallen—crying—into bed.

She didn't know how long she had sobbed—her tears soaking her pillow. But, when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs and approaching the door, she had forced herself to stop.

She listened as the door slowly slid open, a sliver of light from the hallway appearing on the wall. Lying still, she listened intently as someone snuck quietly into the room.

"Hermione?"

Ginny's voice was a whisper.

Ignoring her, Hermione had concentrated on breathing evenly—her eyes closed tightly.

Ginny tiptoed closer to Hermione's bed. "Hermione?" Her whisper had been slightly louder.

Hermione still didn't answer her.

Quietly, Ginny had grabbed a blanket that was at the end of Hermione's bed and gently draped it over her roommate.

Hermione felt the slight pressure from the blanket and felt fresh tears pressing at her closed eyelids.

Silent tears began to run from her closed eyes, but she remained still.

Only after Ginny was in bed—her breathing even and regulated—was Hermione finally able to fall into a dreamless sleep.

And the next day wasn't any better.

Hermione had woken—tired and restless.

At breakfast, Draco had been absent from the Slytherin table.

He was also missing during their classes together.

By the time it was lunch, Hermione couldn't feel anything anymore. Slowly, she was slipping deeper and deeper into depression.

Her friends didn't even try to talk to her.

And Ginny felt the worst. Guilt-ridden, she had watched as Hermione slowly broke down. She didn't know any details,—of who had hurt whom—but she knew deep down that it was all her fault.

Staring at her plate, Hermione had recreated her fight with Draco over and over in her mind. The only thing that had broken her trance had been the sound of the mail owls approaching.

Her heart had pounded in anticipation as she watched owl after owl drop letters and packages around the Gryffindor table. Staring up toward the enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall, she had waited for a letter to be dropped in front of her.

A letter from him.

Yet, there was nothing.

That night—deep into the night—she wrote him a letter. She had cried as her quill moved over the parchment—her tear drops staining the page. Her hand shook as she expressed her feelings—her remorse and regret. Pouring her soul into the page, she had begged for his forgiveness.

The next day came and went—much like the first.

And still no reply.

She wrote letters to him every single day for a week . . . and with each day that passed without a reply, she felt a small piece of herself die.

Every day, her heart sunk lower and lower, until suddenly, it was the day before break began.

At lunch that day, Hermione didn't even look up when the owls appeared. She had accepted the fact that nothing was going to fall into her hands.

Which is exactly why she was so surprised when a plain white box—small and square—landed gently beside her plate.

With shaking hands, she picked it up and turned it gently between her fingers. Quickly, she glanced around the Hall. Her heart skipped a beat when she saw Draco's striking blond hair amongst the crowd, but as usual, he was ignoring her.

Before her friends could look up, she slipped the box under the table and onto her lap.

She didn't remember eating the rest of her food. Mechanically, she scooped the food into her mouth and chewed. When her plate was only half empty, she pushed it away from herself and stood from the table.

Her friends—used to her disconnection—didn't even look up.

She rushed up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower—her stomach in knots. When she reached her dorm, she slammed the door shut before pulling the small box from her robes.

Her fingers shook as she lifted the cover.

And immediately, her eyes filled with tears.

An elegant oval-shaped silver locket was positioned delicately on a piece of red velvet. In graceful and dainty script, the letters "H" and "G" were inscribed on the cover. It gleamed—polished and perfect—in the sunlight that streamed from Hermione's window.

Gently, she picked it up with her fingertips. The chain slid from beneath the velvet, and suddenly, a small piece of parchment dislodged and fell from the box to the floor.

Hermione placed the locket carefully on the stand beside her bed and bent to pick the parchment up. Slowly, she unfolded it and felt her breath catch in her throat as she saw Draco's flawless writing.

Sitting down heavily, her eyes began to move over the page.

Hermione,

I'm sorry that it took me so long to reply to you. I needed some time to sort out my thoughts. After much thought, I think that it's good that we are taking some time off from one another. Perhaps, over our holiday break, we can both figure out our thoughts and find some answers.

I do apologize for my behavior the last time we met. I let my anger get the best of me and I said some unnecessary things.

I hope that you enjoy your time with your friends. It is very important that you spend time with them, and I realize now how selfish I have been of you and your time. Please accept this locket as my sincerest apology. When I saw it, I knew that you must have it; although it pales in comparison to your beauty.

I wish you the happiest of holidays and perhaps, after our minds have cleared a bit, we can start afresh . . . if it's both what we desire.

-Draco-

A tear fell from Hermione's eye as she carefully refolded the letter. Placing the parchment on her nightstand, she once again picked up the necklace.

With nimble fingers, she fastened it around her neck. It hung—heavy and cold—against her collarbone. Tenderly, she picked it up and rubbed her fingers over it.

There was a sudden knock at the door, and Hermione quickly tucked the locket under the collar of her shirt. "Come in."

The door opened, and Ginny hesitantly stuck her head in. "Hi."

"Hi."

"Mind if I come in?"

Hermione shook her head.

Ginny stepped through the door and closed it gently behind her. "So . . . um . . . how are you?"

Hermione shrugged. "Fine, I guess."

Ginny's shoulders slumped. "Look, 'Mione . . . I need to apologize."

Hermione started to shake her head, but Ginny stopped her with a wave of her hand.

"No, seriously . . . I had no right to go off on you like that. You have the right to care for anyone you choose . . . even if it is Draco Malfoy . . . And, as a friend, I should be happy simply because you're happy. It was wrong of me to make you feel guilty and conflicted. And I'm sorry."

Hermione felt her eyes begin to glisten. "Thank you."

Abruptly, Ginny crossed the room and took Hermione into her arms. Hermione clung to her—relishing in the first human contact she had encountered in weeks.

"So, we're good?" Ginny's voice was against Hermione's hair.

Hermione pulled away and wiped hastily at her eyes. A smile crossed her face. "Yeah . . . we're good."

Ginny breathed a sigh of relief. "Good."

They sat in silence momentarily, until suddenly her face grew serious. "Hermione . . . what happened? I mean, after that night. What did he do?"

"You were wrong." Hermione picked at her fingers. "It wasn't him who hurt me . . . I hurt him."

"What do you mean?"

"I turned him down."

"How?"

Hermione's voice grew soft as the painful hole in her chest reopened. "He asked me if I loved him . . ."

Ginny's voice caught in her throat. "Do you?"

"I don't know." Another tear escaped Hermione's eye. "Oh, Ginny . . . I'm so confused. I don't know what to do."

Ginny wrapped her arms around her roommate again. "I wish I could tell you what to do . . . what to feel . . . but I can't. All I can tell you is I support you in any decision you make. Even if it is Malfoy . . . ."

Hermione laughed lightly against her friend's shoulder. "Thank you."

"You just need to remember that we can't choose who our heart loves . . . ."

"My head keeps getting in the way."

"Sometimes, you need to stop listening to your head and just listen to your heart."

Hermione sniffled loudly.

Suddenly, Ginny pulled away and looked Hermione in the face. "But, hey . . . no matter what you decide, know that I'll be here for you. And I'm going to make sure you have one kick ass holiday break—completely guilt free. Maybe it'll be good for you to just take some time from one another, and focus on other things, so your heart can speak up."

"You're a good friend, Ginny."

Ginny smiled widely. "Yeah . . . well, you should probably start to get packed. It'll be a long day tomorrow."

Hermione smiled and nodded. She was already beginning to feel better.

Standing, Ginny left the room.

Silence filled the space once more and instead of packing, Hermione slowly began to recount Ginny's words—flipping them over and over in her head. Still sitting on her bed, her fingers absentmindedly found the locket that lay solidly against her skin.

It was at that exact moment that she finally threw all of her inhibitions away.

She didn't need time.

And she didn't need something else to focus on.

With her friend's blessing, the one thing that she had secretly known all along rapidly became vibrantly and irrevocably clear:

She was in love with Draco Malfoy.