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FORGIVE AN D FORGET B Y AT A L A N T A 8 4

Summary: When Draco and Hermione return to Hogwarts after


Voldemort's defeat, a spark is kindled between them, and it refuses
to fade with time...but can they forget their tempestuous past long
enough to realize that they were meant to be together? (Epilogue
compliant, but still D/Hr in the end!)
Categories: Fiction Characters: Ast(e/o)ria Greengrass, Draco
Malfoy, Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Ron
Weasley
Draco: Broody, Redeemed, Snarky

Genres: Angst, Romance

Hermione: Bossy, Know-It-All

Mod Tags: dramione_awards: Round 6 Winner

Side Pairings: Draco/Ast(e/o)ria, Harry/Ginny, Hermione/Ron

Themes: Breakup, Divorce/Marital Problems, Forbidden


Relationship, Friendship, Love Triangle

Timeline: Compliancy: DH with Epilogue, Post-Hogwarts, Year 6,


Year 7, Year 8

Warnings: Explicit Sexual Situations, Implicit Sexual Situations,


Mild Profanity, Unresolved Sexual Tension, Yew List: Torture
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 20 Completed: No Word
count: 122,085 Read: 52,110 Published: 27th February
2010 Updated: 3rd October 2011
Story Notes:
Disclaimer: In its use of intellectual property and characters
belonging to JK Rowling, Warner Bros, Bloomsbury Publishing, et
cetera, this work of fiction is intended to be transformative
commentary on the original. No profit is being made from this work.
Beta Readers: Amethyst18 and Dina
Banner by Krazeea at TDA

This story will be DH compliant, including epilogue (i.e. not EWE),


but it will be D/Hr, even in the end! In other words, this is an
epilogue-compliant fic designed for Dramione fans. Think it's
impossible? Read on and find out! Rating is for later chapters.

Note: I have edited the first 18 chapters a bit, so that they're more
polished than their original versions. However, you probably won't
notice any of the changes I made, since they were all small things
like word choice and phrasing.

1. Chapter 1: A Deal with the Devil by atalanta84


2. Chapter 2: All Alone by atalanta84
3. Chapter 3: Trapped by atalanta84
4. Chapter 4: The Seventh Year That Should Have Been by
atalanta84
5. Chapter 5: Lessons in Transfiguration by atalanta84
6. Chapter 6: Good Friends by atalanta84
7. Chapter 7: Roses and Patronuses by atalanta84
8. Chapter 8: Secrets and Surprises by atalanta84
9. Chapter 9: Elemental Magic by atalanta84
10. Chapter 10: Wind and Fire by atalanta84
11. Chapter 11: The Eye of the Storm by atalanta84
12. Chapter 12: Open But Ever Unbroken by atalanta84
13. Chapter 13: Fear of Heights by atalanta84
14. Chapter 14: Defying Gravity by atalanta84
15. Chapter 15: A Bittersweet Escape by atalanta84
16. Chapter 16: Give and Take by atalanta84
17. Chapter 17: Breaking All the Rules by atalanta84
18. Chapter 18: Checkmate by atalanta84
19. Chapter 19: At a Crossroads (Part 1) by atalanta84
20. Chapter 20: At a Crossroads (Part 2) by atalanta84
Chapter 1: A Deal with the Devil by atalanta84
The irresponsive silence of the land,
The irresponsive sounding of the sea,
Speak both one message of one sense to me:--
Aloof, aloof, we stand aloof, so stand
Thou too aloof bound with the flawless band
Of inner solitude; we bind not thee;
But who from thy self-chain shall set thee free?
What heart shall touch thy heart? what hand thy hand?--
And I am sometimes proud and sometimes meek,
And sometimes I remember days of old
When fellowship seemed not so far to seek
And all the world and I seemed much less cold,
And at the rainbow's foot lay surely gold,
And hope felt strong and life itself not weak.

~ From "The Thread of Life" by Christina Rossetti

Draco stormed from the Room of Requirement, not bothering to


watch as the door disappeared into the wall behind him. After
looking both ways to make sure no one had seen him emerge, he
tore off down the seventh floor corridor, moving as quickly and
quietly as a shadow. Internally, he was raging.

The Vanishing Cabinet was still broken. He had been working on it


for a good portion of the school year, and he still could not get it to
work properly. He ran one hand through his platinum blond hair in
frustration. It just wasn’t fair. Everyone else at Hogwarts had normal
things to worry about, things that, any other school year, he himself
would have been worried about – avoiding cauldron explosions in
Potions class, trying not to be eaten by Hagrid’s latest pet in Care of
Magical Creatures, scheming up new ways to make life miserable
for Harry Potter and his vapid Gryffindor sidekicks….But no, this
year, his sixth year at Hogwarts, Draco Malfoy had far more
important matters to deal with.

He whipped around a corner in the hallway and nearly tripped over


two second year Ravenclaws. They stared up in horror at the
glowering Slytherin, and he promptly deducted ten points from their
house for being in his way. Being a school Prefect still had its
advantages.

As he continued blustering down the halls, his anger began to ebb


away. It was replaced by a new emotion that had been surfacing
more and more often these days – fear. What if he couldn’t fix the
Vanishing Cabinet in time? What if he failed? The incident with the
cursed necklace had already been a complete disaster; it had
ended up putting that stupid Gryffindor, Katie Bell, in St. Mungo’s
rather than reaching its intended recipient – Dumbledore.

When he had been given the all-important task of killing Professor


Dumbledore, Draco had felt proud – elated, even. After all, he had
never been a fan of the crazy old coot, and if he succeeded in this
task, he could regain his family’s good standing in Voldemort’s
ranks. But if he failed….He shuddered, feeling as if a dozen
snitches had been let loose in his chest. If he failed, he was done
for, and his parents were as good as dead.

Suddenly, unable to walk any further, he collapsed against the


nearest wall, hiding behind a suit of armor to avoid the questioning
eyes of passers-by. He had never felt so lost in his entire life. He
was so used to having everything handed to him on a silver platter
– usually by a house-elf. He was Draco Malfoy, the all-powerful
Slytherin, the biggest bully in Hogwarts, and yet here he was,
cowering in a corner like a first-year Hufflepuff.

He debated about where to go next, knowing he was too shaken to


return to the Slytherin dorm room at the moment. Pansy would just
assault him with more of her stupid questions about where he was
all day and what he had been up to. It was bad enough that Snape
was constantly nagging him about his whereabouts, and even
Potter was getting suspicious. Draco’s lip curled in disgust at the
thought of The Boy Who Lived to Be the World’s Most Annoying
Four-Eyed Vigilante.

A voice coming from the other end of the corridor made him pause
and draw back further into the shadows behind the suit of armor. He
would recognize that annoying voice anywhere. Weasley. No doubt
Potter had sent his freckly little side-kick to spy on him.

Draco reached into his pocket and pulled out his wand, grasping it
in his hand so that he would be ready to throw a hex in Weasley’s
direction. Just as he was about to burst out from his hiding place,
he heard another voice – a female voice that was vaguely familiar
to him, but that he couldn’t quite place. He remained very still,
listening closely as the pair came around the corner and into the
corridor that he was hiding in.

“Oh, Won-Won! You’re such a good kisser.”

This was followed by a high-pitched giggle that made the hairs on


the back of Draco’s neck stand on end, and an unmistakable wet,
sucking sound. Draco felt a sly grin spread across his face as he
realized what was going on. Ron Weasley was snogging a girl in
the hallway, not far from where Draco now stood. He bit his lip to
keep from laughing out loud, and then peeked around the suit of
armor to see what girl could possibly be daft enough to lock lips
with the Weasel King.

Well that explains it, he thought to himself once he recognized the


girl who was wrapped around Weasley like a Giant Squid.

It was Lavender Brown. She had even fewer brain cells than the
average Gryffindor – though she was well endowed in the chest
area, Draco had to admit. Perhaps Weasel King wasn’t such a
complete moron after all. He tried to remember if she was otherwise
decent-looking, but couldn’t get a good look at her face from this
angle. Regardless, it didn’t appear as if there would be much left of
it once Weasley was finished with her, since he seemed to be in the
process of sucking it off. It was enough to make Draco’s stomach
turn, though he was not the least bit surprised at the redhead’s lack
of kissing skills.

Before Draco could decide how best to use this latest discovery to
his advantage, his thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a door
opening. Peeking around the suit of armor once more, he saw that
Weasley and Lavender were about to disappear into one of the
empty classrooms. He watched as with an uttered, “Oops!”,
Lavender backed out again, giggling. The classroom door shut with
Weasley still inside, and Draco thought he could hear at least two
voices conversing in the room.

Apparently the room had already been occupied – Draco hoped it


was by another pair of lip-locked Gryffindors, as that would only
make the story more interesting in the retelling. Lavender stood
stupidly outside the closed door, waiting for her snogging partner to
re-emerge.

Draco looked on as the door opened once more, but instead of


Weasley, it was someone else who stepped out of the classroom.
Her slender body was stiff with rage, and it seemed as if every hair
on her bushy head was crackling with electricity. Granger.

While Draco watched, unseen from his hiding place, Hermione


whirled around and directed her wand into the classroom with a
shrieked, “Oppugno!” Then leaving a shouting Weasley behind her,
she slammed the classroom door, brushed past a stunned
Lavender, and bolted away down the corridor, sobbing brokenly.
However, she did not go very far, and the hallway echoed with the
sound of a second door slamming, as she closed herself inside
another empty classroom.

Draco thought this was just too bloody fantastic, as all of his
previous worries about Voldemort and Vanishing Cabinets
disappeared in the face of the delightful drama playing out before
him. He could barely contain his glee. He had always thought those
Gryffindors were good for nothing but target practice for hexes, but
he had to admit, they put on a pretty good show. His attention
returned to the scene in front of him as Weasley, and now Potter
emerged from the classroom that Hermione had just left in high
dungeon.

“She’s lost her bloody mind, I tell you!” Weasley was huffing, waving
his arms wildly in the air. “Sicking a bunch of her stupid birds on me
like that!”

Potter said nothing, but gave him a look that seemed to imply ‘Well,
what did you expect?’. Lavender stepped forward to wrap her arms
soothingly around Weasley, as if he had just survived a harrowing
encounter with ten Death Eaters, rather than one scorned
Mudblood.

“I – I wonder if someone should go talk to her?” Lavender said


tentatively, though it was clear she was not volunteering for the job.

Draco decided that maybe the girl was not as stupid as she looked
– even she realized that for her to go after Hermione right now was
about as smart as trying to tango with a venomous tentacula.
Weasley just threw his hands up in front of him in a ‘No way!’
gesture. Potter, the only one of the three who could probably still
speak to Hermione and survive the encounter, hesitated and gazed
at the door that his friend had just disappeared behind. Then he
shook his head.

“No, I think we should just give her some time by herself to cool
down,” he said. “Let’s go back to the common room.”

Draco rolled his eyes. And they say Gryffindors are supposed to be
brave.

He watched as the threesome disappeared around the corner,


heading back to their common room. He was left alone in the
corridor, still crouching behind the suit of armor. In his mind, he was
already trying to memorize every last word and gesture of the
drama, preparing to share the story later that night with his fellow
Slytherins. It would give them enough fodder to fuel at least a
month’s worth of taunts against their Gryffindor enemies. It had also
managed to divert his thoughts – even if only temporarily – from the
fact that he and his family’s lives were in mortal peril.

Draco stayed there for a few moments, wondering what to do next.

Why should the fun stop here?, he thought to himself.

He didn’t feel like returning to his dormitory just yet, and he knew
that Granger was still holed up in that empty classroom, sobbing
her eyes out over Weasley. Could he resist the chance to torment
her when it was being dangled in front of him like that? How could
he call himself a Slytherin if he did not take advantage of a golden
opportunity like this?

Having made his decision, Draco emerged from his hiding place
and strode down the hall to the classroom he had seen Granger
disappear into. Wand in hand, he flung open the door and stepped
inside.

She was sitting on top of a desk not far from the classroom door,
and he could see that she had conjured more of those stupid yellow
birds. Draco really had to wonder about the purpose of teaching
that spell in Transfiguration. Did McGonagall think that she was
preparing her students to succeed on the Wizarding world because
they could conjure a small flock of canaries? His gaze fell from the
circling birds overhead to take in the sight of Granger, sitting with
her head bowed, and fat tears dripping down into her lap.

Merlin, she’s a mess, Draco thought to himself, rolling his eyes and
letting the classroom door slam shut behind him.

Granger’s head snapped up at the sound. Her eyes narrowed in


fury, her wand raised, and Draco had the impression that she was
expecting her visitor to be Weasley. When she recognized it was
Draco, she lowered her wand slightly, her expression slipping from
one of rage to one of weariness.

“Oh, it’s you,” was all she said.

“Nice to see you too, Granger,” Draco drawled. “Were you hoping I
was someone else? Weasley, perhaps?”

Instantly the look of rage sprang back to her face.

“How did you know –”

“Oh, news travels fast around Hogwarts. I don’t need to read the
Daily Prophet to know about your little Gryffindor dramas. Though I
really have to wonder about your taste in men, Granger. The
Weasel King? Come on, even for a Mudblood like you…”
“Oppugno!” she shouted the moment he uttered the offensive word,
turning her flock of canaries on Draco in the exact same way she
had attacked Ron. But Draco was ready for her. With a casual flick
of his wand, he conjured a counter spell that made the birds
disappear with a small poof. All that remained were a few yellow
feathers floating lazily to the floor.

“You’ll have to do better than that, Granger. Unlike Weasley, I won’t


be incapacitated by a bloody bird attack.”

She just sat there staring at him, her jaw quivering with rage. Draco
had to admit that it was a much better look on her than the look of
tearful dejection her face had carried a few moments before. She
still looked terrible, of course, her nose red and her eyes puffed up
and watery. But now, with her temper riled, her brown eyes seemed
to snap with a hot, internal glow of anger. He found his eyes drifting
slightly south of her face to where her ample chest was rising and
falling with rage. It had been some time since Draco had really
gotten a close look at her, and he had to admit, the bushy-haired
little Gryffindor had matured into a reasonably attractive young
woman.

At the thought of finding Granger attractive, Draco nearly choked on


his own saliva. Bloody hell! Obviously, the strain of Voldemort’s
assignment was starting to bear heavily on his mental faculties if he
found that buck-toothed Potter groupie attractive. Even though now,
upon close examination, she did not appear to be that buck-toothed
anymore….

“Well, Malfoy, are you going to torment me like you clearly came in
here to do, or are you just going to keep staring at me like I have
miniature hippogriffs sprouting out of my ears?”

Her voice snapped Draco out of his reverie, and he shook his head
once to clear it.

“That’s quite an interesting picture you’ve painted, Granger. Though


I think a few hippogriffs coming out of your ears would only serve to
improve your appearance.”
He winced, realizing that this insult was sub-par according to his
usual Malfoy standards of evilness. He really was getting out of
practice with this sort of thing. He had been so busy trying to fix that
damn Vanishing Cabinet, he had lost his touch when it came to
tormenting his fellow classmates.

Hermione gave him a strange look.

“What’s happened to you?” she asked. “You don’t make nasty


comments about Harry, Ron, and I nearly as much as you used to.”

“Missed it, have you?” Draco replied sneeringly.

“Of course not. It’s just that…I was just wondering what’s happened
to you, that’s all. Why the change?”

Hermione gave a shrug, trying to make this seem like a casual


enquiry, and not the weighted question that it really was. Draco’s
eyes narrowed in suspicion.

“Did Potter put you up to this?” he asked. “Is he trying to use you as
a spy to find out what I’ve been doing?”

“So you have been doing something?”

Shit.

“Piss off, Granger,” he snapped. “Keep your nose out of other


people’s business and focus on your own problems - like your
sordidly disappointing love life, for example.”

He braced himself, waiting for her to start screaming at him or


hurling some other, more creative hexes in his direction. Instead, all
the fight seemed to go out of her as she let out a tired groan and
sank her head into her hands. Then she just sat there, completely
silent.

Draco was disappointed. Tormenting Granger was turning out to be


much less fun than he had planned for it to be. Granted, of the
Golden Trio, her reactions to his taunts had always been the least
exciting of the three. Weasley’s reactions were the most enjoyable,
since they usually involved his face changing into a variety of funny
colors. Potter was entertaining as well, because Draco had to
admit, albeit grudgingly, that the Gryffindor was pretty quick with a
wand and could produce some interesting hexes when provoked.
But Granger was always a little more low-key than her two friends,
and thus it was less rewarding to torment her.

“Look, Granger, I’m sure you find this hard to believe, but there are
other guys out there who are just as good as Weasley. I could hook
you up with the Bloody Baron. His temperament is similar to Weasel
King’s. I hear Filch is single, and he has roughly the same amount
of sex appeal as Weasley does…”

Draco smirked in triumph when Hermione finally raised her head to


glare at him again.

“Shut up, Malfoy!” she snapped. “Ron may be a prat sometimes but
he is nowhere near as awful as Filch! He’s – he’s – “

“He’s what, Granger? Clueless? Moronic? The shittiest Quidditch


Keeper in the history of Hogwarts?”

“No!” she said, her voice rising a few decibels as she leapt to her
feet. “Ron is – is kind and brave and – and he’s a....he’s a
good….boy.”

She uttered the last word so softly that Draco had to strain to hear
it. Then she stood there stupidly, cheeks flushed at the realization
of what she had just proclaimed.

“He’s a ‘good boy’? Is that actually what you just said? A ‘good
boy’? What are you – his friend or his mother?”

Draco let out a cruel laugh, enjoying the fact that Hermione’s
cheeks were now flaming so brightly, that she appeared almost as
red as Weasley himself did when he got into a tizzy.

“Well there’s your first mistake, Granger, going after a little boy like
Weasley. No wonder you’re so disappointed with him. Grow up and
find yourself a man instead of a stupid little twat like him.”

“What would you know about being a man, Malfoy?” Hermione


railed back at him. “To you, being a man probably means torturing
innocent people, running around with Death Eaters, coming up with
– with some sort of plot to help Voldemort….”

She trailed off as Draco’s laughter instantly died on his lips. He had
flinched involuntarily when she spoke his master’s name, but only
for a second, and then his he hid his expression behind a mask of
indifference. But Hermione did not miss his reaction, though she
mistook its significance.

“It’s true then, isn’t it?” she whispered. “You’re one of them, now.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, Granger,” said Draco,
his voice low and menacing. She did not seem intimidated,
however.

“I know you’re not exactly the nicest person in the world, Malfoy, but
I can’t believe that you would actually take the Dark Mark – “

“Shut up, Granger.”

“I mean, I know you’re capable of doing bad things, but to stoop so


low – “

“Shut up, Granger!”

“– to stoop so low as to become a Death Eater. Of all the most vile,


repugnant –“

“I said SHUT UP!” Draco bellowed, kicking a desk aside and


brandishing his wand so that it was mere inches from her face. She
finally fell silent, her eyes wide. For the first time, Draco saw fear on
her face as she stared back at him, and he wondered why he did
not find this entirely appealing. For several moments they continued
standing face to face, chests heaving, until slowly, her fear faded
into a look of disgust.
“Thank you, Malfoy,” she said quietly. Draco stared at her, confused
by her response. Had he, in his rage, accidentally hit her with a
Confundus charm?

“Thank you?” he repeated in a stunned voice. She nodded.

“Yes. Thank you for reminding me that there are bigger prats in the
world than Ron Weasley. He may be childish at times, but I’d rather
have a ‘good boy’ like him than a nasty little Death Eater like you
any day.”

As she spoke, she moved slowly around him, walking towards the
door. Draco pivoted in order to keep his wand trained on her with
every step she took, and she never once removed her eyes from
him. He could not explain the emotions that roiled inside his chest
at her words, at the reasons why she would prefer Weasley to him.
Why should her opinion mean anything to him? It was ridiculous.

As Hermione’s hand rested on the door knob, he lowered his wand.

“He’ll be over her within a week, you know,” Draco said, the words
slipping from his mouth before he could stop them.

“What?” she asked, turning to face him once more. Draco rolled his
eyes.

“Weasley. He’ll be over Lavender Brown within a week – a month,


tops.”

It was her turn to stare at him as if he had hippogriffs coming out of


his ears.

“How – how do you know?” she sputtered.

“I’m a bloke, Granger. I know. Weasley’s only going after her


because she has nice cauldrons.” When Hermione continued to
look at him blankly, Draco motioned with both hands in front of his
chest. “Breasts, Granger. Lavender Brown has nice breasts. That’s
the only thing Weasley’s interested in.”
Hermione turned beet red, her mouth forming an “O” of
comprehension. Draco rolled his eyes again. For Merlin’s sake, she
was such a prude. Here they were, sixteen years old, and she
couldn’t even have a conversation about breasts without looking
like she was going to pass out from embarrassment. Wait a minute
– he was having a conversation about breasts…with Hermione
Granger? What was he thinking? But before he could stop himself,
he was saying more….

“Anyway,” he continued, “I’m sure that after a few weeks he’ll get
sick of her. Girls like Lavender Brown are only good for one thing.”

“Snogging,” Hermione filled in, nodding as if she understood.

“Uh – yeah, sure. Snogging.”

Draco figured that probably was the worst that could happen
between the couple. After all, Lavender may be stupid enough to
snog the Weasel King, but in order for her to actually get under the
bed sheets with him, she would have to be stupider than he
imagined possible.

“So, the only reason Ron’s dating Lavender is to snog her,”


Hermione mused.

“Right. Like I said, I give it a few weeks and then he’ll ditch her. So
you two will still have your happily ever after and start popping out
more baby Weasels than you can possibly afford.”

Hermione scowled somewhat when Draco hinted at Ron’s financial


situation, but then a small smile crawled across her lips.

“Thanks, Malfoy. It was nice of you to tell me all this.”

“Bloody hell, Granger! I am not being ‘nice’ to you!” He pointed his


wand in her direction again and watched as the smile disappeared
from her face. “Don’t you dare accuse me of being nice. I’m not
above using Unforgiveables, you know.”
“I don’t doubt it. But what you just did …” she pointed one finger
from him to her, “…was being nice.”

Was he? He almost groaned out loud when he realized that in a


way, he was. He had just consoled her about Weasley’s escapades
with Lavender Brown, which, in some sick, twisted way, could be
construed as being ‘nice’. Oh Merlin, he was going to have to
Obliviate her to make sure this didn’t get out. Hell, he was going to
have to Obliviate himself to make sure he didn’t have to think about
it ever again.

“Look, Malfoy,” she said. “How about I promise not to tell a single
soul that you were nice to me if you promise not to go off and tell
your Slytherin friends about what you saw happening between me
and Ron?”

Malfoy thought about this for a few moments. He was reluctant to


give up the opportunity to spread such wonderful slander around
the school, but on the other hand, if word got out that he had been
‘nice’ to Hermione Granger, he was done for.

“Making a deal with the devil, Granger?” he asked, smirking. She


raised her chin haughtily and glared at him.

“If I have to.”

“The consummate Gryffindor,” he said with a sneer. “Brave and


stupid at the same time. Fine. We have a deal. I won’t talk if you
won’t talk.”

“Deal,” she said, holding out her right hand to seal the pact. Draco
stepped back, eyeing her hand as if it was a flobberworm.

“Put that away, Granger. I don’t want any of your Mudblood germs.”

Her color rose again, and she withdrew her hand as if she had been
slapped.

“Fine!” she snapped. “Just make sure you hold up your end of the
deal, Malfoy. I may not use Unforgiveables, but I know a few hexes
that you could call ‘Unforgettables’ - one or two of which would
leave you begging to be turned into a ferret again instead.”

She stomped back towards the door and swung it open. But before
she could leave, Draco found himself once more speaking before
thinking.

“I haven’t taken the Dark Mark,” he said.

He didn’t know why it mattered to him that she knew this. He only
knew that it did. She paused for a second, as if absorbing what he
had just said, and then she left, letting the door slam shut behind
her, so that Draco was left all alone in the classroom.

He stood there for a few moments, processing the bizarre turn the
night had taken. He had been having something remotely
resembling a conversation with Hermione Granger – about her love
life, no less – and his attempts to torment her about Weasley
hadinstead evolved into something akin to comforting her about the
whole situation. Wow, he really was losing his touch. That or all the
stress from Voldemort’s assignment had finally gotten him mentally
unglued.

He groaned in dismay when he realized that Granger had taken off


before he could ask her to Obliviate the entire occurrence from his
memories. He wouldn’t have been particularly comfortable with
letting her wave her wand in his direction, but he trusted her to be
too much of a goody two-shoes to try casting anything nasty on him
instead. Plus, he grudgingly acknowledged that she was a whiz with
a wand and could probably have Obliviated him without doing any
long-term damage. He certainly couldn’t trust anyone else do it,
especially since doing so would mean divulging everything that had
occurred in this classroom tonight. That would not only violate the
deal he had made with Granger, but also irreversibly ruin his
reputation. No, he would just have to do it himself.

With a sigh, he lifted his hawthorn wand and pressed the tip of it
against his temple. But he hesitated to cast the spell. He had very
little experience with memory charms, and had never cast one on
himself before. He didn’t want to muck it up, erase all his memories,
and end up in a padded cell at St. Mungo’s like that buffoon,
Gilderoy Lockhart. Plus, some small part of him, probably the part
of him that should be put in a padded cell at St. Mungo’s, actually
didn’t want to forget what had just occurred between him and
Hermione.

Draco decided that he was going to have to live with the fact that for
one night, for just a few crazy minutes, he had actually been nice to
Hermione Granger.
Back to index
Chapter 2: All Alone by atalanta84
I thought, beloved, to have brought to you
A gift of quietness and ease and peace,
Cooling your brow as with the mystic dew
Dropping from twilight trees.
Homeward I go not yet; the darkness grows;
Not mine the voice to still with peace divine:
From the first fount the stream of quiet flows
Through other hearts than mine.
Yet of my night I give to you the stars,
And of my sorrow here the sweetest gains,
And out of hell, beyond its iron bars,
My scorn of all its pains.

~ "The Gift" by George William Russell

Hermione stormed out of the Gryffindor common room.

“Well, really!” huffed the Fat Lady as her portrait slammed shut, but
Hermione was already halfway down the corridor and did not hear
her.

She wandered aimlessly down the halls, trying to calm herself after
the intense argument that had just occurred between her and her
friends. She couldn’t believe Ron and Ginny had both taken Harry’s
side! But what she really couldn’t believe was that Harry felt justified
in doing what he had done earlier that day.

She had been warning him all school year that there was something
fishy about that Half Blood Prince. She knew it was a bad idea for
Harry to keep trying out the non-Ministry approved spells that he
found scrawled along the margins of that Potions book. But did he
ever listen? No, of course not! It was always, ‘You assume the
worse, Hermione’, ‘You’re just jealous of the Half Blood Prince,
Hermione.’ And now he had used one of the spells and almost killed
Draco Malfoy.
Perhaps what bothered her most about this whole situation was
how bothered she was by it to begin with. Why should she care if
Malfoy had almost been ripped in two with
that Sectumsempra spell? Wasn’t it really the least he deserved
after nearly six years of tormenting Harry and his friends? Wasn’t it
Harry’s right to defend himself?

Yet, she couldn’t help feeling bad for Draco. Earlier that year, she
thought she had seen the tiniest smidgeon of humanity in the boy
when he cornered her in that classroom after the whole episode
with Ron. For the briefest moment, he had actually consoled her
about it and given her advice. Ironically, his words had been more
comforting to her than anything Harry had ever said about it. And
Draco had actually been right, in the end. Ron had broken up with
Lavender….

Hermione still could not forget how Malfoy had stared at her in fear
when she mentioned Voldemort’s name. Of course, everyone
flinched when the name was spoken out loud, but his reaction was
different – his fear was intense and real, as if at this point in time,
Voldemort was even more of a clear and present danger to Malfoy
than he was to Harry. Of course, she had discussed none of this
with Harry, not only because it would violate the deal she made with
Malfoy, but also because it would only serve to fuel Harry’s rampant
obsession with what Malfoy was up to these days.

What was Malfoy up to?

Hermione noticed that his physical appearance had continued to


decline; he seemed thinner and even paler than normal. He no
longer had his characteristic swagger, or his cocky attitude. He was
a mere shadow of the boy he had once been.

Hermione paused to catch her breath. She had been so deep in


thought she had practically power-walked across the school, not
even paying attention to where her feet carried her. When she
stopped to look around her, she realized that she was not far from
the hospital wing. She hesitated, wondering if she should even
dare….
Of course she would dare. She was a Gryffindor after all.

Gathering every ounce of that Gryffindor courage, she headed


towards the hospital wing as if that had been her destination the
entire time. And now that she thought about it, maybe it had been.

When she first entered the quiet infirmary and saw Malfoy lying on
the bed closest to the window, she thought he was asleep. He was
laying completely still, his face turned towards the window, where
the daylight was quickly fading. As Hermione stepped closer, she
almost gasped when she saw how pale he was. It was as if any
small amount of color he possessed had bled right out of him with
the Sectumsempra spell. His skin was so white, he looked as if he
would melt away into the bed sheets and disappear altogether. The
only color on him was the tiniest trace of pink across his face,
where his wounds were still healing.

“Why don’t you take a picture, Granger? It’ll last longer.”

Hermione blinked, startled when Draco spoke. His voice sounded


tired and dull, devoid of its usual bravado. He turned his head so
that he was facing her, piercing her with his silver-eyed gaze.

“Let me guess,” he said. “You’re here to gloat because the mighty


Harry Potter finally bested me, is that it?”

“No.”

“Yeah right. I’m sure you’re just so proud of him, of what he did. He
must be the hero of Gryffindor Tower tonight – or at least, even
more the hero than he usually is.”

“I’m not proud of what Harry did,” Hermione said quietly, avoiding
his gaze. “I think it was stupid of him to use that spell on you when
he didn’t even know what its effects were.”

Draco stared at her mutely, his eyes wide with disbelief. Then the
smallest trace of his usual sneer sprang to his face.

“I don’t believe it. Never thought I’d see the day that Hermione
Granger would actually sell out on the Boy Wonder.”

“I’m not ‘selling out’ on Harry. He’s my friend. I just realize that he
can be a bit… overenthusiastic at times.”

“‘Overenthusiastic?’ That four-eyed freak bloody near killed me!”

“He said you were going to use Crucio on him.”

“I told you I wasn’t above using Unforgiveables.” Draco pointed out.

There was an awkward silence as his words reminded both of them


of the night, several months ago, when they had had their
conversation in the empty classroom. As if looking for some sort of
distraction, Draco stared down at his blankets and picked at a loose
thread there. Finally, he spoke up once more, redirecting the topic
to the present.

“So, if you didn’t come here to gloat, then why are you here,
Granger?”

“I – I wanted to see if you were okay.”

Draco’s gaze instantly shifted from the blankets to her face.

“You wanted to see if I was okay.”

“Yes.”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Why the hell would you
care? Shouldn’t you be wishing that Potter killed me or something?”

Hermione stared at him, aghast.

“I would never wish anyone dead. Well maybe Vol-,” she paused,
recalling his severe discomfort the last time she had spoken the
name aloud, “I mean maybe He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. But
other than him, I would never wish anyone dead. Not even you,
Malfoy.”
There was another long pause as he seemed to process this.

“And you, Malfoy?” Hermione asked tentatively, not really sure she
wanted to know the answer. “Would you be that happy if I died?”

He snorted at that, but Hermione noticed that he couldn’t quite bring


himself to meet her eyes. He turned his head towards the window
so that he was facing away from her once more.

“You ask the weirdest questions, Granger.”

“Just answer me.”

“I don’t know, okay? I never thought about it much before.”

Hermione wasn’t sure if this was entirely true. She remembered


quite clearly what Harry and Ron had told her back in Second Year
when they had snuck into the Slytherin common room disguised as
Crabbe and Goyle. She remembered them saying that Draco had
hoped the Basilisk would kill the next Muggle-born it attacked – and
he had hoped it would be Hermione. Then again, he had been
twelve years old at the time and he had thought he was talking to
two of his lackeys. He might have been bluffing a bit, trying to
impress his friends with his vindictiveness. Hermione wanted to
believe that this was the case, but she couldn’t be sure.

“You never fully answered my question before,” Draco said quietly,


still facing the window.

“What do you mean?”

“You said you were here to see if I was okay. And I asked you why
the hell you would care.”

“Oh. I-I don’t know exactly. Maybe it’s a sense of… responsibility.”

He turned to her with raised eyebrows.

“Responsibility?”
“Yes, well, to take responsibility for Harry’s actions. Obviously he
isn’t going to come down here and apologize himself, so…”

“Merlin, you’re pathetic, Granger.”

“What?”

“You. Are. Pathetic,” he said, putting emphasis on each word. “How


long are you going to keep playing the mother hen to those two
idiots? Don’t you get tired of chasing after them, keeping them out
of trouble, cleaning up the messes they make?”

For a moment, Hermione debated whether or not to storm out of the


hospital wing. She wanted to rail at him, hex him, and slap him like
she had their third year. But she found herself unable to do so.
Because wasn’t there a tiny grain of truth in what he had just said?
Wasn’t she always, as Draco had put it, ‘cleaning up’ after Harry
and Ron? Wasn’t she constantly helping them with their homework,
pushing them to finish it on time and letting them copy hers if they
didn’t?

And they took her for granted. Wasn’t this Sectumsempra incident a
prime example of that fact? She had been warning Harry about the
Half Blood Prince since the school year started, and even though
she had now been proven right, he was still arguing against her.
And Ron had taken his side!

“Just get out of here, Granger,” Malfoy said coldly. “You know that
Potty and Weasel would be livid if they knew you were in here
checking up on me. Your boy heroes would be out of their minds if
they knew that you were standing here talking to the evil Draco
Malfoy and – what the hell are you doing?”

He glared indignantly at Hermione as she Summoned one of the


small hospital chairs from a corner of the room, pulled it up to the
side of his bed, and plopped down in it. She sat primly with her legs
crossed, looking back at him with a sly expression on her face.

“Well that’s the rub, isn’t it? They’d be so livid if they knew I was
here, and right now I could care less. I actually kind of like the idea
of doing something they disapprove of, since they obviously enjoy
doing all the things I disapprove of. And let’s face it, you like nothing
better than to torment Ron and Harry, and itwould torment them to
know that I was here talking to you. So I think I’m going to stay here
for a bit, thanks. After all, it serves both of our interests at the
moment.”

Draco stared at her with an odd expression on his face – she


thought it was a mixture of annoyance, amusement, and perhaps a
small measure of respect.

“Well, well, well. Not the pure and innocent Gryffindor after all, are
you? Another deal with the devil, is it?” he said. Hermione shook
her head.

“Call it a… mutually beneficial agreement.”

“I haven’t agreed to anything, Granger. I never agreed to let you


stay here with me.”

“A mere technicality,” said Hermione with a dismissive wave.


“Besides, you have to be bored out of your mind lying in here all
day by yourself. Didn’t your precious Pansy ever come visit you?”

“Yes,” Draco replied, rolling his eyes. “She was fawning over me all
afternoon. I finally had to fake a seizure to get Madam Pomfrey to
drive her out of here.”

Hermione couldn’t help giggling at this, and she could have sworn
that the corners of Draco’s lips twitched as well. He looked slightly
less pale than he had when she had first entered the room, and
there was a hint of pink in his cheeks again. They sat in silence for
a few minutes. Hermione certainly wouldn’t call it companionable
silence, but it also was not as awkward as she expected it to be -
which was strange considering that she was sitting at the bedside of
Draco Malfoy, her long time nemesis, after he had nearly been
killed by her best friend earlier that afternoon. It should have been
the very definition of awkward. But it wasn’t.

“So Granger,” said Draco, finally breaking the silence. “Since you’ve
so kindly volunteered to keep me company this evening, maybe you
can entertain me with a few naughty school girl stories.”

Ok, so now it was awkward.

“You disgust me, Malfoy. Besides, I don’t have any ‘naughty school
girl’ stories.”

“Oh please, you can’t be that pure and innocent. Haven’t you
shagged Weasley yet?”

“How – how dare you!” Hermione spluttered, feeling the heat rise in
her face. “It is absolutely none of your business what Ron and I –”

“Isn’t he single again?”

Hermione paused. Ron was, of course, available once more. He


and Lavender had broken up a few weeks before. Yet neither he
nor Hermione had many any overtures to each other except to
renew their friendship. To be honest, Hermione just didn’t know how
to go about making their relationship into anything more, and she
wasn’t entirely sure she was ready to anyway. Part of her was still
hurt because of how Ron had taken up with Lavender and flaunted
it in her face.

“Yes, Ron isn’t dating Lavender anymore. Not that it matters to you
–”

“So he’s single. And you haven’t shagged him yet?”

“Malfoy! That is none of your bus-”

“Ok, so you haven’t shagged him. Has there been any groping?”

“Wh-what? No, for your information there hasn’t been!”

“Snogging? Surely after pining for him all this time you’ve at
least snogged the git?”

Hermione was on the edge of her seat, her fists clenched in self-
righteous fury. Draco’s cheeks had definitely regained their color
now, and one of his usual smirks graced his lips. Hermione’s hand
was positively twitching with the urge to smack it right off of his
pointy little face.

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’”, he said maliciously. “So no shagging,


groping, or snogging. Weasel King is finally available and you
haven’t taken advantage of it at all. And you Gryffindors are
supposed to be so brave.”

“That’s enough, Malfoy! Isn’t ‘taking advantage’ of a situation


supposed to be a Slytherin trait? Besides, I don’t like how every
time I talk to you, we somehow get stuck on the topic of my love life.
Why don’t we delve into yours for once?”

“Bad idea. As much as I’d love to give you all the dirty details of my
sex life, I don’t think Little Miss Perfect Hermione Granger wants to
get in trouble for staying out past curfew.”

Hermione blinked at him in confusion.

“But curfew isn’t for another four hours.”

“Yes,” Draco acknowledged, as his smirk widened. “And that’s not


nearly enough time for me to list all the sordid details of my sex life.”

“Ugh!”

Hermione crossed her arms over her chest in disdain, but she knew
that her cheeks were reddening with the implications of his
statement. Obviously, he had more than a little experience… unless
he was lying, of course. That was very probable.

“You’re bluffing,” she said, but Draco merely shrugged, unfazed by


her challenge.

“You think so, Granger? Alright then, you asked for it. Let’s see, if
you want to know about my entire sex life, I think it’s actually easier
for me to start with the most recent events and work my way back,
so… last weekend, I cornered Pansy in the third floor broom closet,
pushed her up against the wall, hiked up her skirt and –”

“Aggghh! Stop!”

“What? Already too hot for you to handle?”

“Don’t be an idiot, Malfoy. I just don’t want to ruin my appetite for


supper.”

The disturbing truth was that his story actually was a bit too hot for
Hermione to handle. Because the moment he had started
describing exactly what he had done to Pansy Parkinson, Hermione
had gripped the seat of her chair, picturing herself in Pansy’s place.
With a morbid sense of curiosity, she wondered what it would feel
like to be kissed by him, to run her fingers through those platinum
locks, to – Oh God! What was she even thinking? This was Draco
Malfoy, the world’s biggest git, and she was imagining what it would
be like to share a cozy moment in a broom closet with him!

She had heard of girls being drawn to the ‘bad boy’ types, but she
had always thought herself immune to that sort of fancy. Apparently
she wasn’t. She needed to change the direction of this
conversation, and quickly. So she worked on transforming her
discomfort into disgust.

“Malfoy I can’t believe you would actually tell me personal


information about Pansy like that.”

“Why would you care? You hate Pansy.”

“Yes, but that’s beside the point. The fact that you would kiss and
tell is an affront to all women. It’s disgusting. Don’t you have any
respect for her at all?”

“No, I don’t,” Draco said shamelessly. “And I don’t see why I should.
She’s not exactly the kind of person that inspires respect.” He
winced at his own words, probably realizing that he had violated
some sort of taboo by speaking badly of a fellow Slytherin in front of
a Gryffindor.
Hermione thought that there really weren’t many people in Draco’s
acquaintance that inspired respect. Crabbe and Goyle certainly
didn’t – they were the two stupidest people in their year, if not the
entire school. Zabini seemed reasonably intelligent, but Hermione
never had the impression that he and Draco were particularly close.
She realized that Draco didn’t really have any friends that he really
cared about, or who seemed to genuinely care about him.

“You really are all alone, aren’t you?” she whispered.

As soon as she said it, she wished she could retract her words.
Draco’s smirk faded, only to be replaced by a tight-lipped grimace,
and he was suddenly that pale, ghost-like boy she had seen upon
first entering the room.

“Malfoy I –”

“Just leave it, Granger. You are probably the last person on the
planet who could possibly understand… Just forget it. Besides, at
least I still have my parents, unlike your precious Potter. My father
may be in Azkaban, but he’ll be out soon, you wait and see. And my
mother….”

Draco trailed off into silence, and Hermione saw the same flicker of
fear cross his face she had seen several months ago in that
abandoned classroom, the last - and first - time they had spoken to
each other alone. Without thinking, she reached out one hand to
cover his. Then she froze, waiting for the fallout. She remembered
how he had last reacted to the prospect of touching her. He had
said he didn’t want to get any of her “Mudblood germs”. What would
he do now?

To her surprise, he did not yell, threaten Unforgiveables, or even


pull his hand away. He stiffened momentarily, and then relaxed, just
staring down at their joined hands with an expression of wonder.
Hermione thought that he was so alone, so desperate for comfort,
that he would accept it from just about anyone at this point, even a
Muggle-born.

“Malfoy, what is it you’re afraid of? Just tell me what’s going on.”
But Draco just snorted.

“Going to try and save me, Granger? Isn’t that what you little
Gryffindors are always trying to do – save people? Well maybe I
don’t need saving.”

“I think you do, Malfoy.”

“Well then maybe I don’t want it!” he said, his voice rising.

Hermione noticed that in spite of his growing anger, he still did not
pull his hand from her grasp. She fumbled mentally, trying to figure
out what to say next. Over the years, she had learned how to
navigate the ever-changing waters of Ron’s temper - with mixed
success - but Draco’s was entirely new to her. Certainly she, Harry,
and Ron had learned several ways to push his buttons through the
years, but she had never needed - or wanted - to learn how to
assuage him.

Luckily, she was spared the task of calming him down because his
anger seemed to melt away of its own accord. All the fight seeped
out of him, and he let out a tired sigh.

“Don’t trouble yourself with trying to save me, Granger,” he said


with a half-hearted sneer. “Or maybe you didn’t realize by now – I’m
a lost cause.”

To her surprise, Hermione found herself grinning at him.

“Malfoy, in our fourth year I tried to start a society to protect the


welfare of house-elves. So, in case you didn’t realize, I sort of have
a thing for lost causes.”

The faintest ghost of a smile played across his lips, and for a
moment, grey eyes met brown without a trace of malice, suspicion,
or anger. Hermione felt her pulse speeding up slightly in her veins,
and she hoped Draco didn’t notice that the palm of her hand had
become sweaty as it continued to rest against his own. She decided
that she was definitely not immune to the whole ‘bad boy’ allure. But
surely she could find someone somewhere in the Wizarding world
who had invented a vaccine for it….

“Look, Malfoy, whatever’s bothering you, if there’s anything I can do


to help - ”

“For Merlin’s sake, spare me your bloody Gryffindor heroics,” he


muttered. Then his voice lowered into something distant and
despondent. “No one can help me.”

His eyes were so full of pain and fear that it pierced Hermione’s
heart. He looked so lost, and it was a look that seemed entirely out
of place on the face of Draco Malfoy, making her frightened about
what could possibly cause it. At the same time, she felt a surge of
pity for him. That was a mistake.

The moment Draco recognized the pity in her eyes, he yanked his
hand out of her grasp as if she had stung him, and his grey eyes
took on the appearance of roiling storm clouds.

“I don’t need pity from a Mudblood,” he said scathingly.

He turned his head away from her so that he was staring out the
window once more, even though Hermione knew that it was now
dark outside and there was nothing for him to see there. It was a
silent dismissal, and she stood up from her seat, preparing to leave.
But despite her anger at him for using that hateful word, she found
herself lingering at his bedside, reluctant to leave him alone once
more.

After several moments of her standing there, he lashed out and


picked up his wand from the nightstand, turning to point it at her.

“Get the fuck out, Granger!”

He flung a nonverbal spell in the direction of her retreating form, but


lying in the bed put him at an awkward angle, and his aim was
imperfect. She easily dodged the curse and ducked out the door,
tearing out of the hospital wing at a full-out run. She ignored the
stares she received from other students as she pushed past them,
her heart thudding wildly in her chest.

What had she been thinking, going to visit Draco Malfoy in the
hospital wing? Had she suddenly become as reckless and stupid as
she so often accused Harry and Ron of being? For a moment, she
had thought that there was more to Malfoy, but then he had
reverted back to his usual evil self. Well, she really shouldn’t have
been surprised.

Over the sound of her pounding heart, she heard her stomach
growl, and realized that it was time for dinner. Slowing her frantic
pace to something more normal, she made her way towards the
Great Hall. She knew that Harry and Ron may still be a bit miffed at
her because of their argument earlier, but at least she knew what to
expect from them. Draco Malfoy was like a Blast-Ended Skrewt –
you just never knew what was going to set him off. At least with
Harry and Ron, things were safe and familiar.

Before she knew it, she was pushing open the doors of the Great
Hall and walking towards the Gryffindor table. Her mood brightened
somewhat when Ron noticed her coming and gave her a cheerful
little wave. As she headed towards the empty seat next to him, she
recalled that unlike the last time she and Malfoy spoke, this time
they had not made a pact to keep their meeting a secret from their
friends. But Hermione realized that they needn’t have bothered.
She had a feeling neither of them was ever going to tell anyone
about what had happened between the two of them in the hospital
wing that day.
Back to index
Chapter 3: Trapped by atalanta84
Author's Notes:
The first half of this chapter takes place during the Malfoy Manor
scene from Deathly Hallows. Therefore, a few lines of dialogue are
borrowed driectly from J.K. Rowling, and as such, do not belong to
me. Also, this is where the one scene of torture in the story occurs.
What would I give for a heart of flesh to warm me through,
Instead of this heart of stone ice-cold whatever I do!
Hard and cold and small, of all hearts the worst of all.
What would I give for words, if only words would come!
But now in its misery my spirit has fallen dumb.
O merry friends, go your own way, I have never a word to say.
What would I give for tears! Not smiles but scalding tears,
To wash the black mark clean, and to thaw the frost of years,
To wash the stain ingrain, and to make me clean again.

~ "What Would I Give" by Christina Rosetti

Draco sat huddled in an armchair, staring out one of the hundreds


of windows in Malfoy Manor. His parents were pacing aimlessly
around the drawing room, and he knew his Aunt Bellatrix was not
far away. None of them seemed mindful of his presence, and so he
was left alone with his thoughts.

It was at times like this - one of those rare occasions when


everything around him was quiet - that he thought of her.

He couldn't explain why, but whenever his mind was given the
chance to wander, it always came wandering back to Hermione
Granger. He had not seen her in almost a year, and yet her face
was emblazoned in his memory. It had been so long since that night
in the hospital wing, and yet for some unfathomable reason, he
could still remember the soft heat of her hand wrapped around his.

The last time he had seen her had been the night of that fateful
encounter on the Astronomy Tower - the night that Draco had failed
in his mission to kill Professor Dumbledore. He shuddered slightly
at the memory. What had Potter told her, he wondered? He had
found out later that Potter had witnessed the entire scene leading
up to Dumbledore's death. That thought made him scowl. Of
course, Potter had probably spun the story to make Draco sound
like either a murderer or a coward. Draco wasn't sure which title
was worse. Realizing he actually cared what Hermione thought of
him, only served to deepen his scowl.

This past September, he had returned to Hogwarts - or at least a


parody of what Hogwarts had once been. At first, he had been
somewhat excited at the prospect of having the school run by Death
Eaters, of having Potter's heroic little friends beaten down to a
lower level, where they always should have been.

But the truth was, ever since that night on the Astronomy Tower,
Draco had felt empty inside. It was like some part of his ego had
been carved out of him and cast aside - leaving him just a hollow
shadow of the boy he had been before. Since then he had gone on
with his life as if in a daze, moving from one stage to the next,
taking his classes at Hogwarts, maintaining acquaintance with his
fellow Slytherins, trying to please his parents.

But nothing felt the same anymore.

He had found himself scanning the Daily Prophet every morning,


secretly looking for her name on the list of wanted witches and
wizards. Week after week, that list had grown shorter, as more of
them were found by the Snatchers and thrown into Azkaban - or
worse. But week after week, Hermione's name was still there,
indicating that she had somehow continued to avoid capture. It
disturbed Draco, the degree of comfort he found in knowing that
she was still out there somewhere, alive and well.

There was little to find comfort in these days. His parents were so
distracted by the task of getting themselves back in the Dark Lord's
good graces, they hardly seemed to pay any attention to Draco
anymore. And Malfoy Manor certainly was not as cozy as it used to
be now that Death Eaters were traipsing in and out of it at all hours,
and Voldemort himself considered it home.
No, the last person to extend any sort of comfort to Draco had been
Hermione Granger...

‘Going to try and save me, Granger? Well, maybe I don't need
saving.'

‘I think you do, Malfoy.'

Draco shuddered, covering his eyes with his hands. His mother
finally seemed to notice him sitting there and approached him with
concern.

"Draco? Is something wrong?"

He was spared the task of answering her when the sound of a


scuffle outside the front door drew her attention away from him
once more. She drifted out of the drawing room to find out who it
was. Draco could hear the front door being opened. A few lines of
conversation were exchanged and then, out of the corner of his
eye, he could see a group of people, all tied together, being forced
into the drawing room. He looked away, sinking lower into his seat.

It was a group of Snatchers, and they had that nasty Greyback with
them.

It wasn't the first time since he had returned to the Manor for Easter
Break that some of the more high-profile prisoners had been
dragged here by the Snatchers. Draco usually tried to be out of the
room when these incidences occurred. For some reason, he didn't
think he could stomach seeing the familiar face of an old classmate
among the prisoners. As his mother drifted over and began
conversing with the Snatchers, Draco debated trying to sneak out of
the room before anyone noticed. Before he could escape, however,
his mother was calling out to him.

"They say they've got Potter. Draco, come here."

Draco's insides froze. Reluctantly, he rose from his chair and turned
to face the group of prisoners. There, showered by the light of the
chandelier, was his longtime enemy. His face was distorted and
puffy, but Draco could not mistake him for being anyone but Harry
Potter.

"Well, Draco?" his father pressed him. "Is it? Is it Harry Potter?"

"I can't - I can't be sure," Draco lied. For some reason he couldn't
bring himself to identify the boy. He couldn't even bring himself to
look in his direction.

"Draco, come here, look properly!" Lucius said. "What do you


think?"

Draco dragged himself over to stand next to his father so that he


was mere steps away from Potter. Grey eyes met emerald green
and Draco wished more than anything that Malfoy Manor had the
convenience of a trap door he could disappear through. What could
he do? Could he get away with lying to his parents? Even if he did,
wouldn't they find out it was Potter eventually anyway?

"I don't know," he said finally, and then he hurried away to stand
next to his mother by the fireplace, wanting to distance himself from
the proceedings. His mother was speaking again, but her words
were nothing but a buzz in the background as Draco stared down
into the flames of the fireplace, his heart racing.

They had caught Potter.

Ever since his first year at Hogwarts he had wanted nothing more
than to see his rival get what was coming him - to finally see him
defeated. Now it had happened. Why couldn't Draco bring himself
to be elated? His thoughts were interrupted by the growling voice of
Fenrir Greyback.

"What about the Mudblood, then?"

Draco's stomach plunged so quickly, that for a moment, he felt as if


a trap door had suddenly appeared beneath his feet, dropping the
floor out from under him. With growing trepidation, he watched as
the group of prisoners was turned around and the chandelier cast
its glow on a girl who was bound next to Potter. Her curly hair was
tangled and longer than the last time he had seen her, and her
cheeks were scratched and dirty, but he would have known her face
anywhere. Hermione's brown eyes widened when she saw him
staring back at her.

Draco realized that the situation had suddenly gone from bad to
worse.

"Look, Draco," his mother was asking him. "Isn't it the Granger girl?"

Draco forced himself to tear his eyes away from Hermione, turning
his back on her so that he was staring into the flames once more.

"I...maybe...yeah."

His father was jubilant now, having recognized another face in the
small cluster of prisoners.

"Draco, look at him, isn't it Arthur Weasley's son, what's his name -
?"

Draco kept his back to the prisoners, knowing that Lucius was now
talking about Ron Weasley.

"Yeah, it could be."

His heart was beating so fast that he thought it would soon explode
out of his chest. They had managed to get caught - all three of
them. For years nothing would have pleased Draco more than to
have the Golden Trio at his mercy, and now that it had occurred, he
found his emotions in turmoil. The idea of something happening to
Potter or Weasley was mildly troublesome, but the idea of Granger
being hurt - or worse - made him sick to his stomach.

As if things couldn't get any worse, his Aunt Bellatrix entered the
room, and soon she, his parents, and Greyback were arguing about
what to do with the prisoners, and about who should have the
privilege of summoning the Dark Lord.

Then suddenly, his aunt was going berserk and fighting with
Greyback over a sword. He watched as she stunned four of the
Snatchers and their bodies fell with muted thumps to the floor. She
was asking Draco to drag them to the courtyard outside, but he
barely heard her. He was frozen in place, watching the scene play
out in front of him as if he was at one of those stupid Muggle
cinemas.

Then his mother was saying, "Take these prisoners down to the
cellar, Greyback." The werewolf made to do so, until suddenly
Bellatrix stopped him.

"Wait. All except...except for the Mudblood."

"No!" Weasley shouted. "You can have me, keep me!"

But despite his protests, Hermione was cut free from the rest of the
group and released into Bellatrix's clutches. Weasley and the other
prisoners disappeared into the cellar, and before Draco had time to
think, before he could prepare himself, his aunt was pointing her
wand at Hermione and bellowing, "Crucio!"

Hermione's scream ripped through Draco's body, seeming to slice


him from his head to his toes in a manner similar to
Potter's Sectumsempra curse. He tasted bile in the back of his
throat and was certain he was going to vomit all over the drawing
room floor. He wanted to do something - anything - but he found
himself helplessly frozen in place, unable to move. He had never
felt so trapped in his entire life. He was trapped in his own house -
trapped in his own body - trapped within the narrow walls of what
his family expected of him.

He heard his Aunt Bellatrix asking questions about her Gringotts


vault and about the sword, and he heard Hermione whimper her
replies, but for Draco it was all an indistinguishable blur. He was
deaf to everything except Hermione's screams. He was blind to
everything but the look of pain and terror in her eyes.

Draco's head was spinning, but he finally forced himself to focus on


the interrogation, just in time to hear Hermione proclaim that the
sword was just a copy.
"A copy?" said his aunt. "Oh, a likely story!"

"But we can find out easily!" said Lucius. "Draco, fetch the goblin,
he can tell us whether the sword is real or not!"

Draco hesitated for a moment, reluctant to leave Hermione alone in


her suffering, but then he gave in and headed off to the cellar to
follow his father's orders. At least it would give him time to clear his
head. Or so he thought. He found, as he retrieved the half-
conscious goblin and dragged him back up the cellar stairs, that it
was difficult to think clearly.

What else could he do? How could he help Hermione and her
friends? Did he even want to help them? Even if he did, there was
no possible way of doing it. If he stormed Bellatrix and tried to
rescue Hermione, she would have no qualms against killing him,
even if he was her nephew. His father was wand-less, but his
mother may try to defend him. And what then? His family was
already in enough trouble with the Dark Lord, and such base
treachery would surely mean death for all of them. They were lucky
to still be alive as it was.

Before he knew it, he was at the door of the drawing room and had
run out of time to think of a plan. With a deep breath, he pushed
open the door and brought the goblin over to his aunt. This action
brought him mere paces away from Hermione, who was now
sprawled out on the floor at Bellatrix's feet, every muscle twitching
from the repeated assault of the Cruciatus curse on her body.
Hearing his foot steps, she slowly raised her head to gaze up at
him.

The look of pain and pleading in her brown eyes cut Draco deeper
than any Sectumsempra spell ever could have. He wanted to look
away, but her eyes had caught him in a new trap of their own. He
swayed backwards a few steps, feeling as if the ground were
rocking beneath his feet. It was as if, with that one look, his entire
world was crashing down around his head.

And suddenly he knew that she was going to die tonight, here in
this room, and he would be forced to stand by and watch...

‘And you, Malfoy? Would you be that happy if I died?'

Draco cringed, wanting to run away from the room, run away from
the house, run away from everything. But then Bellatrix screeched,
"Crucio!" one last time, and with a long, drawn out scream,
Hermione fell flat against the floor, unconscious. Draco found
himself unable to take his eyes off of her still, lifeless form as
Bellatrix turned her attentions to the goblin instead.

Luckily, no one noticed Draco staring down at Hermione as the


goblin was interrogated. And when his aunt pressed her Dark Mark
to summon Lord Voldemort at last, Draco hardly noticed. But her
next words quickly brought him back to his surroundings.

"And I think we can dispose of the Mudblood. Greyback, take her if


you want her."

In the split second that it took Draco to process his aunt's words, he
decided that he could stand by no longer. Even though he knew it
would mean death for him, it seemed as if nothing else mattered but
to keep Greyback from sinking his teeth into Hermione's flesh.
Draco reached down to his pocket and wrapped his fingers around
his wand, preparing to draw it in attack...

"NOOOOOOOOOOOO!"

With a blur of red hair, Ron Weasley came flying into the drawing
room with Potter at his heels. The pair of them managed to disarm
Draco's aunt and stun his father, and Draco found himself tossing a
few half-hearted hexes in the boys' direction, just for show. And
then, suddenly, Hermione's unconscious form was in Bellatrix's
arms with a knife at her throat.

"STOP OR SHE DIES!"

Draco froze, once again struck with a dilemma. He was as


powerless as Potter or Weasley to help Hermione now. He watched
as both Gryffindor boys dropped their wands to the floor. His aunt
ordered him to retrieve them and he did so, trying not to let his
shaking limbs betray his emotions.

"I think we ought to tie these little heroes up again, while Greyback
takes care of Miss Mudblood. I am sure the Dark Lord will not
begrudge you the girl, Greyback, after what you have done tonight."

Suddenly, everyone looked up as the chandelier came crashing


down from the ceiling, and Draco threw his hands over his face to
protect himself from the explosion of crystal shards it created.
Before he could react, Potter was yanking the wands from his grasp
- including his own - and hexes were flying left and right across the
room. He dimly recognized his mother's arms around his shoulders,
pulling him out of the line of fire.

Then his mother was yelling at a newcomer in the room - Dobby,


their former house elf, who had arrived to save Potter and his
friends - but Draco's attentions were fixed on Hermione, who
Weasley was now extracting from beneath the fallen chandelier.

And then, with a series of twin cracks Hermione, Ron, Harry, and
Dobby all vanished from the room.

Draco, Narcissa, and Bellatrix stood there quietly for several


moments, until the silence was interrupted by a groan from Lucius
Malfoy, who still lay unconscious across the hearth. He blinked
himself awake, slowly raised his head, and turned to take in the
sight of his son, wife, and sister-in-law, all standing around covered
with blood and the sparkly remains of the crystal chandelier.

"Wh-what happened?" Lucius asked, gazing at them with a stunned


expression on his face. Bellatrix shot him a murderous glare, but
Narcissa simply sighed and began brushing crystal shards off her
shoulders.

"Well," she said. "I suppose we could have handled that a bit
better."

Draco had always thought his mother had a way of understating


things.
Several weeks later...

Draco sat numbly at a table in the Great Hall at Hogwarts, his


parents on either side of him, watching as Harry Potter, savior of
the Wizarding world, made his way through the crowd. The mood of
the room was a strange combination of celebration and mourning -
celebration at the fact that Lord Voldemort had just been defeated,
and mourning for the fifty lives it had cost to do so. Potter moved
from one person to another, shaking hands, giving out hugs,
speaking reassuringly. Draco thought he really seemed to have the
whole hero thing nailed down. It annoyed him, but not as much as it
would have in the past. Today, Draco felt oddly removed from it all,
and he was certain, from the stunned expressions on their faces,
that his parents felt the same way.

Draco could not believe the sudden turn things had taken last night.
It had seemed as if Voldemort's grip on the Wizarding world had
been final and complete, but in a mere matter of hours, it had all
fallen apart. Draco had been caught up in the battle, not really
belonging to either side in the end. He had taken Crabbe and Goyle
to the Room of Requirement to wait for Potter, to attack him and
hand him over to the Dark Lord. With the school crumbling down
around them, it had seemed obvious to him that the teachers and
remaining students were on the losing side, and that Voldemort and
his Death Eaters would emerge victorious. Draco decided that
Potter was his family's only ticket to redemption when it was all
over.

But like everything else Draco had tried to do lately, the attempt to
capture Potter had ended in catastrophe. Potter had gotten away -
he had actually ended up saving Draco's life in the end, a fact that
Draco knew would haunt him until his dying day. And Crabbe had
been killed by his own curse of Fiendfyre. While Draco mourned the
death of his friend, he had been so angry at Crabbe when, in the
Room of Requirement, he had tried to Avada Kedavra Granger.
Of course, Granger always complicated things. Draco had hoped to
come upon Potter alone, but he should have known that he would
have his two Gryffindor sidekicks with him. Why did Granger always
feel the need to risk her life tailing after that suicidal maniac
anyway? It had never done anything but get her in trouble. Because
of hanging out with Potter, she had almost been killed in the Room
of Requirement, just as she had almost been killed a few weeks
before at Malfoy Manor.

Draco's stomach gave a familiar lurch when he recalled the events


of a few weeks before. He had stood by and done nothing while
Hermione had been tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange, and in the end,
it had been Potter and Weasley who had come to her rescue. As
usual, Potter and Weasley had acted the heroes, and Draco was
once again nothing but the bad guy…

He was jolted out of his thoughts by the sound of that loony


Ravenclaw, Lovegood pointing out the window and calling out:

"Oooh, look, a Blibbering Humdinger!"

Draco was no idiot. He knew there was no such thing as a


Blibbering Humdinger, and didn't bother looking out the window.
Instead he turned to glare at Luna Lovegood, only to see Potter
sitting beside her, vanishing beneath his Invisibility Cloak.

He stared at the spot where Potter had just disappeared, then


turned to look around the room for Granger and Weasley. He finally
found them sitting together at a table not far away. Sure enough,
the two of them jumped in unison and turned to a point in space,
talking to thin air. Then they both stood up and made their way out
of the Great Hall, no doubt with an invisible Potter beside them.
Intrigued, Draco rose to follow them.

"Draco, where are you going?" his mother asked, resting a


restraining hand on his arm. "I want you to stay close by. We don't
know what these people are going to do to us now..."

"Let him go, Narcissa," Lucius said in a tired voice. His grey eyes
seemed to have a dead look in them, even worse than when he had
been fresh out of Azkaban. "Right now the idiots are too busy
celebrating to pay any mind to Draco."

"I'll be right back, Mother. I promise," Draco said, and she finally
relinquished her grip. He walked quickly out of the Great Hall,
turning left and right to see which direction Potter and his two
friends had gone. He could just see them disappearing around a
corner, and without hesitation, he followed.

Draco kept his distance from the trio, ducking behind wreckage and
stepping carefully around the bits of rubble that lay strewn across
the corridors. But they were too deep in conversation to notice him,
anyway. After several minutes, they arrived at the entrance to the
headmaster's study and disappeared inside. Draco waited outside,
not even sure why he had followed the three friends in the first
place.

Of course, he knew that he was not really following all three of them
- only one. Granger. He felt a strong, inexplicable urge to speak
with her once more. And so he waited, leaning against the wall
outside the headmaster's office for what felt like hours, but was
really only a matter of minutes.

What were they doing in there anyway?

Just when he was about to give up and go back to his parents, he


heard the spiral staircase descending once more. Draco heard the
three Gryffindors talking quietly to each other, and he pushed
himself away from the wall, prepared to face them at last. They
emerged from the staircase and upon seeing him, immediately
froze and fell silent.

For several moments the Golden Trio faced their long time nemesis
as he stood there alone and wand-less, staring defiantly back at
them. Potter was looking at him with a glint of anger in his eyes.
Weasley, who had turned a violent shade of puce, was trying to
speak, but in his rage he was unable to articulate more than a
series of odd, angry little grunts. Looking at him, Draco began to
think that maybe he had found Lovegood's Blibbering Humdinger
after all. But it was Granger's face he most sought, and when his
eyes finally met hers, she was gazing back at him with an
unreadable expression on her face.

Draco suddenly felt stupid standing there. He shoved his hands into
his pants pockets and stared down at the ground, scuffing the toe of
his shoe in an idle pattern on the floor. He felt as if someone really
ought to say something, but he could think of no words for this
moment. If he were a good person, he would probably take this time
to thank them for what they had done to rescue him and Goyle
earlier that day, but Draco was not a good person. He was not sure
about much these days, but that was one thing he was sure of. And
if Potter thought that that Draco was going to kiss his feet and call
him his knight in shining armor for saving his life - well, he had
another thing coming.

Finally, after an interminable amount of time, Potter gave a tired


sigh, and any traces of anger on his face were replaced by fatigue.
Draco thought he almost looked like he was a hundred years old
instead of seventeen. And then, without a word, Potter walked past
him and did not look back. It was like an unspoken dismissal.
Hermione made to follow him, but Weasley remained for a moment,
fists clenched, looking very much as if he would like to hex Draco
into millions of teeny tiny pieces.

"Come on, Ron!" Hermione hissed to him, grabbing his large hand
in her smaller one and dragging him away from Draco. Weasley
reluctantly allowed her to pull him along, and as they made their
way down the hallway, Draco noticed that their hands remained
intertwined at their sides. For some reason, this irked him slightly.

He watched as the trio made their way along the corridor, but just
as they were about to round the corner, Hermione slowed her
steps. Ron turned to look at her in confusion, tugging at her hand,
but she pulled it out of his grasp. She said something to both boys,
and they clearly did not like what she had to say, because they
raised their voices to argue with her, though they were too far away
for Draco to hear what they said. Hermione crossed her arms over
her chest and gave an insistent little stamp of her foot that made the
corners of Draco's lips twitch with amusement. Finally, Potter gave
a frustrated wave of his hand and departed, practically shoving
Weasley to get him to come along with him.

Hermione and Draco were left alone in the otherwise empty,


demolished corridor.

She made her way back to him, her pace measured but
determined. Draco waited for her, hands still thrust in his pockets,
his chin raised unflinchingly at her approach. Her face still revealed
no indication of her emotions, and that made him a little nervous.
She could, in all possibility, be returning to deliver one of those
‘Unforgettable' hexes she had threatened him with last school year.

Well, Draco would stand there and accept it, whatever it was she
was planning to deal out to him. For the very first time in his life, he
thought that a hex from Hermione Granger was more than he
deserved. For all he knew, he was about to embark on a one-way
trip to Azkaban anyway. She may very well be one of the last things
he would see before the inside of a jail cell.

Well, he thought, looking at her as she approached, as far as last


sights go, I could probably do worse.

Before he was quite ready for it, she stood facing him, only a few
paces away. Her hand reached down into her pocket, pulled out a
wand and pointed it at him. Draco tensed, waiting for her to unleash
a hex, but nothing came. He lowered his eyes to look at the wand
and was startled to see that it was his own.

"I thought you might want this back," Granger said quietly. "Harry's
old wand is fixed now, so he doesn’t need yours anymore."

Slowly, Draco reached out to take it from her. The moment he


wrapped his fingers around the familiar stick of hawthorn, he
breathed a deep sigh of relief. For the weeks he had been without
his wand, he had felt as if he were missing an extension of himself,
as if he had been walking around with a missing arm or leg.

"Thanks," he muttered.

If his gratitude surprised Granger, she made no indication of it.


"Your wand defeated Voldemort, you know."

Draco stared back at her, stunned. He hadn't really thought about it,
but it was true. Harry had used his wand to cast
the Expelliarmus spell that had forced Voldemort's own wand to
turn against him.

"What a strange coincidence," Draco said dully.

"Maybe," said Hermione, "And then again, maybe not."

"Whatever you say, Granger."

Draco suddenly grabbed a wad of his shirt and used it to scrub his
wand, the motion causing a tiny shower of sparks to emit from the
tip.

"What are you doing?" she asked, watching him in confusion.

"Potter's had his grubby hands all over my wand and I don't want
his germs getting on me. Might make me catch something - like a
nasty case of senseless heroics."

"It really kills you, doesn't it? Knowing you owe Harry your life?"

Draco ceased his actions, raising his head to pierce her with a
glare.

"I don't owe Potter anything!" he snarled, even though he knew that
wasn't true. Potter had saved his life, and that was a wizard's debt.

To his surprise, he realized that Hermione had not been mocking


him. Her eyes were neither angry nor taunting. If he had seen either
of those, he would have known how to react. But instead, there was
nothing in her eyes but sadness and disappointment - and for some
reason that bothered him more.

With a small shake of her head, she wheeled around and began
walking away from him, heading in the direction that Ron and Harry
had taken.

"Granger, wait," Draco called after her.

She paused, and then turned around to face him again. Draco
shoved his wand in his pocket, and walked over until they were a
few steps away from each other once more. She stared back at
him, her expression unfathomable.

"Look, about what happened back at the Manor…" Draco began.

At his words, she flinched and looked away, no doubt pained by the
memory of her capture and torture. Draco ran one hand through his
white-blond hair, wondering if he could find the strength to voice the
things he wanted to say.

He wanted to tell her that before Weasley had come storming into
the room, he had been about to save her himself. He wanted to say
that watching her be tortured was the worst experience of his life.
He wanted to let her know that every night since then, he had been
plagued by nightmares of her being Crucioed by Bellatrix or
devoured by Greyback while he stood helplessly looking on.

But somehow, he could not bring himself to say any of these things,
and so, without meeting her eyes, he instead uttered the only words
he could force out of his mouth:

"I - I'm sorry."

Whatever she had been expecting Draco to say, it hadn't been this.
She blinked several times in surprise, but quickly managed to
regain her composure.

"You're sorry."

"Yes."

"What are you sorry for, Malfoy? For seven years of tormenting me
and my friends? For being the first person to ever call me a
Mudblood? For trying to hex me that night in the hospital wing when
I offered you my help? For standing there and doing nothing while
your aunt tortured me on your drawing room floor?"

Draco found himself sucking in a quick breath of air as that last


accusation drove home, making him feel as if a bludger had
rammed him in the stomach.

"For all of it," he whispered, hanging his head so that her face was
obscured by a curtain of his hair. "Couldn't we - I mean can't you
just try to forgive and forget?"

There was a moment of silence, during which Draco couldn't bring


himself to meet her eyes. For the first time since he was a very
young child, he felt himself experiencing an unpleasant emotion -
shame. Damn Granger. How was it she could get him to feel guilty
in a way no one else could?

Finally, he made himself look up at her, prepared to face the anger


and disgust that he expected to see in her eyes. Instead, her brown
eyes were looking back at him with nothing but pity. And this time,
unlike that night in the hospital wing, he didn't bristle. Last time he
had mistaken her pity as condescending, but now he recognized it
for what it truly was - a sign of compassion. And if that surprised
him, her next action was more shocking yet.

With the hesitance of one approaching a potentially dangerous


animal, Hermione reached out and cupped his cheek with one of
her slender hands. Her touch was soft and surprisingly cool. Draco
found himself instinctually leaning into it, seeking some sort of
comfort from the contact.

"I forgive you, Malfoy," she said softly. Then she pulled her hand
away, leaving him feeling bereft. "But I don't know if I'll ever be able
to forget."

And with that, she turned around and left him standing there - alone
once more.
End Notes:
This is the last of the "missing scenes" chapters we'll have for a
while. Next, we move into my interpretation of what happened
between the last battle and that infamous "nineteen years later"...
Back to index
Chapter 4: The Seventh Year That Should Have Been by
atalanta84
The anguish of the earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see.
War is our scourge; yet war has made us wise,
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.
Horror of wounds and anger at the foe,
And loss of things desired; all these must pass.
We are the happy legion, for we know
Time's but a golden wind that shakes the grass.

~ From "Absolution" by Siegfried Sassoon

"I still don't get it, Hermione. I just don't understand why you feel like
you have to go back."

Hermione sighed in exasperation, blowing a few curls out of her


face as she handed Ron the last stack of U-No-Poo. He added the
boxes to those already lining the shelf.

"We've been over this time and time again, Ron. I just hate not
finishing what I started. Not doing my seventh year at Hogwarts
makes me feel...incomplete, somehow. That's the only way I can
explain it."

He shook his head, giving her that look he had so often given her
throughout the years - that ‘you're crazy but I love you anyway' look.
Then he turned back to the shelves and adjusted the boxes in an
attempt to make them more aesthetically pleasing, though how one
made U-No-Poo look aesthetically pleasing was beyond Hermione.

With a sigh, she turned her attention back to the colorful


kaleidoscope of merchandise occupying the shelves of Weasleys'
Wizard Wheezes. It was after hours, so instead of the usual throngs
of customers, the shop currently contained only Hermione, Ron,
and George. As she looked around her, she thought the store
somehow seemed darker to her than it had been the year before.
She knew that in reality, it was every bit as colorful as the day she
had first walked into the store, but for some reason, it seemed less
bold and brilliant than it had once been. It was if someone had
repainted the entire scene with a duller palette.

It was so much quieter without Fred here.

It had been four months since his death in the Battle of Hogwarts,
and his absence was a deep void in the lives of the Weasleys and
their friends. And Hermione knew that if she still felt his absence so
strongly, Ron, being his brother, was feeling it ten times stronger.

She gazed up affectionately at the redhead as he shifted his ladder


down the row to begin shelving a supply of Canary Creams. Ron
had moved into Fred's old room in the flat over Weasleys' Wizard
Wheezes, and was helping George run the store. It was only a
temporary stint, meant to smooth the transition for George, who
suddenly found himself the sole proprietor.

The main reason, of course, was the fact that Mrs. Weasley and
Ron both felt George needed the extra company. Fred had quite
literally been George's other half, and the loss of his twin had
affected him more deeply than anyone else in the family. Hermione
had a feeling George would never be the same person again - not
quite the same jaunty, joking wizard she had known for so many
years. Then again, she knew none of them would ever really be the
same again.

The war had changed many things, some for the better and some
for the worse. Hermione liked to focus on the good changes - like
the fact that Kingsley Shacklebolt had been made Minister of Magic,
and was now making strides to take down the layers of close-
minded, old-fashioned bureaucracy that had plagued the Ministry
for so many years. Or how, after the burden of defeating Voldemort
was lifted from his shoulders, Harry was at last free to be with
Ginny. And of course, Hermione and Ron had also managed to find
their way to one another.

She and Ron had finally become an official couple over the
summer. It had been a strange way to begin a new relationship,
after the war was over. At first they had barely had any time alone,
being caught up in the terrible tidal wave of grief that hit everyone
once the shock and elation of Voldemort's defeat had worn off.
They had had little time to do anything more than hold hands and
cry on each other's shoulders as they attended one funeral after
another.

Over time, however, some of the grief ebbed - or was at least


tucked away into a corner of their minds, so that they could move
on with their everyday lives and try to find happiness once more.
After several weeks of tender kisses and fun-filled dates, Ron had
finally worked up the nerve to ask Hermione to be his girlfriend. It
had been seven years in coming, but it had happened at last, and it
made Hermione happier than she could remember being - at least
since before the war.

She knew a large part of why Ron didn't want her to go back to
Hogwarts was because of the year-long separation it would create
between them, a separation that would be hard to endure after they
had managed to come together at last.

"Hermione, you're a war hero now," Ron said, arguing once more.
"Kingsley let Harry begin Auror training even though he isn't going
back to get his NEWTs. I'm sure he would do the same for you. He
could probably get you any Ministry job you want."

"Ron, you've tried bringing up that argument at least fifty times


today, and for the fiftieth time, I don't want someone to just hand me
a job. I want to earn it."

"You don't think hunting down Horcruxes and helping to bring down
Voldemort was enough to earn it?" Ron asked incredulously.

"I don't mean it that way," Hermione persisted. "I'm sure you're
right, that the Ministry probably would offer me a job if I asked for it,
but I want that certificate that says I've completed my NEWTs. I
want to do things the proper way, the way we all should have done,
if the war hadn't happened."

Ron sighed, stepping down from the ladder so that he was standing
in front of her. He reached up with one of his large hands to tuck a
stray curl behind her ear.

"You can't pretend the war never took place, Hermione. You can't
go back in time - none of us can. You can't undo everything that's
happened."

"I'm not trying to undo anything, I just - ," she paused, trying to find
the words to make him understand. "I need to go back and finish
things at Hogwarts, so I can put it behind me and start a new phase
of my life. Please understand, Ron. I - I need this."

His blue eyes gazed back into hers with a mixture of affection and
concern. Hermione could tell he was trying very hard to understand
her, and his efforts warmed her heart. Finally, he gave her a
tentative smile.

"Alright, if you say you need this, then I won't bother you about it
anymore. Just as long as I don't have to go too long without seeing
you."

Hermione grinned, wrapped her hands around his neck, and rose
up on her toes to give him a peck on the lips.

"Thanks for understanding," she whispered, pulling her face away,


but keeping her arms around his neck. "I only wish you could come
to Hogwarts with me."

Ron shook his head in dismay at the idea.

"Not me! I'm done with that place for good, thanks. Besides," he
added, lowering his voice and jerking his chin in the direction of the
storefront, "You know I can't leave him."

Hermione turned in the direction he indicated and saw George


sitting on a stool behind the checkout counter, listlessly leafing
through a stack of the store's financial documents.

"I know," she said, giving him a small squeeze. "And don't worry
about being able to see me while I'm at school. Professor
McGonagall already said that those of us who are returning for our
seventh year are allowed to come and go as we please - no curfew,
and we don't have to wait until sanctioned Hogsmeade weekends to
leave the school."

"Brilliant!" Ron said, giving her a genuine smile for the first time
since she had brought up the topic several minutes ago.

"Don't get too excited, though," said Hermione, her brown eyes
sparkling. "It's not as if I'll get to see you every weekend - only the
weekends that I don't have that much studying to do."

Immediately, Ron's face fell.

"Right. So I'll see you at Christmas then."

Hermione stood before the gates of Hogwarts, gazing up at the


massive stone castle that had been her home away from home for
six years. She could see some magically levitated scaffolding where
construction crews were still hard at work, completing repairs on the
damage the building had incurred during the final battle. However,
she could see that the repairs were almost finished, and Hogwarts
looked much the way it had the very first day she had seen it, seven
years ago.

And yet, she could never look at it the same way again.

Seven years ago, she had gazed in awe at the massive edifice
through the eyes of an eleven-year-old child, anxious and excited
as she prepared to enter a new world. Now, looking through older
and wiser eyes, she saw only a battlefield, where much was gained,
yet so much more lost. And thus, it was with no small amount of
trepidation that she now gripped the cool iron gates in her hands
and prepared to enter Hogwarts once more.

The gates were unlocked, lying open in preparation for the students'
arrival, but Hermione, being of age, had been able to Apparate
there ahead of the group. She had toyed with the idea of riding the
Hogwarts Express up to school in order to spend more time with her
old classmates, but had finally decided against it. Partly, she hadn't
wanted to waste her time doing any unnecessary traveling;
however, the biggest reason was because she knew it would be
strange riding the train without Harry and Ron beside her.

Everything was going to seem strange without Harry and Ron here.
They were like a part of the school to her, as much as the stone
towers of the castle itself. For six years they had made up a sort of
trinity in her mind - Harry, Ron, and Hogwarts. And now, for the first
time, she would begin a school year with two pieces of that trinity
missing...

As she took a deep breath and prepared to enter the gates, a


loud crack! behind her made her whip her head around. She smiled
when she recognized Dean Thomas standing there, his trunk and
broom in tow.

"Hi Dean! I'm glad to see you - now I know I won't be the only older
student."

The tall, dark-skinned boy smiled, greeting her with a quick hug. He
had spent most of last year on the run just like she, Harry, and Ron,
and thus had also missed his seventh year at Hogwarts. Hermione
thought it would be nice to have another familiar face remaining in
Gryffindor Tower.

"Good to see you, too," said Dean. "Hogwarts just wouldn't be the
same without you showing everyone up in class. Let me just stake
my claim right now for being your study partner, now that Harry and
Ron aren't here to keep you all for themselves."

He gave her a teasing wink and Hermione blushed, promising to


study with him for all of their classes. Together, the two of them
made their way through the gates and up to the school entrance,
chatting cheerfully about how they had spent their time since they
had last seen each other.

"Ms. Granger, Mr. Thomas, I'm so glad to see both of you back at
Hogwarts again," came a familiar voice as they stepped into the
entrance hall.

Hermione and Dean both turned to see Professor McGonagall, the


new Headmistress of Hogwarts, standing at the bottom of the stairs.
They went over to greet her, and to their surprise, she abandoned
her usual sense of decorum and gave each of them a stiff hug,
which they returned awkwardly.

"Now then," she said, quickly reverting back to her usual, business-
like manner. "Why don't you go put your things away in your
dormitories before the rest of the students arrive? Once you've
done so, please return to the Great Hall. There are several other
students who have arrived early - more boys and girls, like you, who
have returned because they were unable to take their NEWTs last
year."

Hermione and Dean levitated their trunks upstairs to their


dormitories. Then they hurried down to the Great Hall, eager to see
the other familiar faces they would find there.

Pushing open the heavy wooden doors to the Hall, Hermione saw a
cluster of students standing off to the side, talking. There were
perhaps a dozen of them, and she saw Justin Finch-Fletchley and
several other Muggle-borns among the group. To no surprise, all of
them were Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws...with one
exception.

She saw the lone Slytherin, standing apart from the main group and
leaning against the wall with his hands shoved in his pockets.
Draco's eyes met hers, and he blinked in surprise before
acknowledging her with a tiny nod.

Hermione nodded in return. She was debating whether or not to go


speak to him, when someone from the main group drew her into
their conversation. While she spoke with her other classmates, a
tingling sensation on the back of her neck made her believe that
Malfoy's gaze was still fixed upon her.

After several minutes, Professor McGonagall strode into the hall,


followed by the rest of the teachers. She smiled at them and
gestured at the long, familiar tables.

"The other students have just arrived," she announced. "You may
all take your seats and wait for them to join you."

Hermione plopped down next to Dean at the Gryffindor table and


watched as the rest of the group sat with their own respective
houses. Draco sat alone at the Slytherin table, but if this bothered
him at all, he made no indication of it. He simply folded his arms on
the tabletop and stared dully off into space. Hermione had not seen
him since June, and she could tell that he had grown less pale and
sickly than he had been during the war. If it weren't for his apparent
lassitude, he would have seemed like the same Malfoy she used to
know and despise. But she knew that he wasn't. The war had
changed him as much as the rest of them - if not more so.

Hermione's study of Draco was interrupted by the sound of the hall


doors swinging open, and the rest of the student body streaming
inside. Soon she was caught up in the hugs and greetings of her old
classmates, but that prickly feeling on the back of her neck told her
that Malfoy was staring at her the entire time.

"Luna!" she called out, recognizing a head of blond curls among the
crowd. Her friend skipped over, gracing Hermione with one of her
airy smiles.

"Hello, Hermione. How are you?" the Ravenclaw asked in her


dreamy voice, though Hermione noticed it was a little less dreamy
than it had once been. "We're going to be Seventh Years together,
isn't that interesting?"

Hermione raised her eyebrows in surprise. She had expected that


Luna would have to repeat her sixth year since she had spent six
months of it imprisoned in the Malfoy's cellar.

"So you'll still be able to start your seventh year, even though you
missed half of it?"

"Oh yes," Luna replied. "I spent the summer studying very hard and
Professor McGonagall decided I was ready."

"That's great, Luna!" said Hermione, beaming at her friend.

Then she looked up as, with a flurry of bright red hair and freckles,
the last Weasley at Hogwarts came to sit next to her. Hermione
smiled at Ginny, but before they could talk, their attention was
drawn to the line of little First Years being led into the Hall.

It was strange to Hermione to think that these students would be


the first class in several years to begin their time at Hogwarts
without the threat of Lord Voldemort hanging over their young
heads. Oddly, it gave her a small twinge of jealousy. How different
would things have been if she, Ron, and Harry could have been like
any other students at Hogwarts, without ever having to worry about
saving the Wizarding World?

After the Sorting, food appeared on their plates and they tucked in
to their dinner, finally able to converse.

"It'll be so strange being in the same year as you now," Ginny was
saying to her as she ladled some gravy over her potatoes. "But I
have to say I'm glad. Now we can be study partners."

"Hey!" Dean interjected. "She already promised to be my study


partner."

Hermione rolled her eyes, not knowing whether to be flattered or


annoyed by their fighting over her.

"Honestly, you two. I can study with both of you, you know. Of
course this doesn't mean that I'll be letting either of you copy my
homework."

"Don't worry," said Ginny with a grin. "I'm not my brother,


Hermione."

Hermione couldn't help but smile at that. Of course Ginny wouldn't


be like Ron, who had always been asking to copy off of Hermione's
work. She supposed that was one thing she would not miss about
Ron and Harry - having to constantly nag them to stay on task.

"I think Professor McGonagall's about to make the opening


announcements," Ginny whispered. "I can't wait to hear what she
has to say. Bill said something about there being a few new
surprises this year. ‘Course he was a prat and refused to tell me
what they were."

"Sounds like the Triwizard Tournament all over again," Hermione


whispered back, but she fell silent as Professor McGonagall stood
to speak.

"Boys and girls, now that we've all had a chance to eat, if I could
please have your attention for a few announcements," Professor
McGonagall began.

Hermione turned to look at her, realizing that it was the first


Welcome Feast she had ever attended where Professor
Dumbledore was not there to make the opening speech. It was
strange and sad, but at the same time, she knew Professor
McGonagall was going to fit the role of headmistress perfectly.

"First of all, I would like to welcome all of you back to a new year at
Hogwarts. You may recognize amongst you the faces of several
students who were not able to attend last year, and have thus
returned to complete their NEWTs. The fact that these young ladies
and gentlemen are all of age and would already have been living
independent lives in the Wizarding World - had circumstances been
different - means that we have made some adjustments to the
rules. These students - and only these students - do not have a
curfew and are allowed to leave the school grounds in the evenings
and on weekends - as long as they notify their head of house so
that we are aware of their comings and goings.

"I expect these students to behave like the mature young adults
they are and not take advantage of this special situation to get into
any shenanigans," Professor McGonagall added, sweeping the
room with her stern, beady-eyed gaze.

"Secondly, I would like to announce the repairs to Hogwarts are


almost complete. The dormitories were the first part of the school to
be repaired, and there are only a few classrooms that remain out of
use. We have moved those classes to other locations as needed.

"My third announcement is regarding two new additions to our staff.


Teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts is Professor Daiyu Hong.
Professor Hong received his training at the Academy of Forbidden
Secrets in China and we are delighted to have him join us here at
Hogwarts, to provide us with an international outlook on defensive
magic."

A formidable-looking Asian wizard in silk robes stood and bowed as


the students greeted him with applause. As he sat back down,
Professor McGonagall continued her announcements.

"As I have taken over the duties of Headmistress, we have also


hired a new Professor of Transfiguration. She was unable to attend
the feast due to -”

Professor McGonagall paused as suddenly the door to the Great


Hall swung open and a slender, beautiful woman with long blonde
hair walked in, gave an apologetic wave, and hurried over to the
head table. Hermione blinked in surprise when she recognized who
it was.

"Ah and here she is now," Professor McGonagall was saying.


"Everyone I would like to introduce our new Professor of
Transfiguration, Fleur Weasley. Some of you may recognize
Professor Weasley from several years ago when she participated in
the Triwizard Tournament here at Hogwarts. She received her
training at Beauxbattons Academy and is highly skilled at
Transfiguration. She will also bring an international perspective to
your lessons. Welcome, Professor Weasley."

The applause for Fleur was louder and more enthusiastic than it
had been for Professor Hong, especially since it included several
catcalls and whistles from the male students. Hermione rolled her
eyes, but clapped along with everyone else. She leaned over to
whisper in Ginny's ear.
"Did you know?"

Ginny shook her head.

"Nope, I'm as surprised as you are. Should make class interesting,


don't you think? Wonder if she'll go easy on me for being her sister-
in-law?"

"Doubt it," Hermione replied, watching as Fleur gracefully sat in one


of the empty seats at the head table. "If anything, she might expect
more of you."

Ginny's face fell in despair at the prospect, and at that moment, she
looked so much like Ron that Hermione almost laughed out loud.
Her attention was drawn back to Professor McGonagall as the
applause died down and the headmistress began to speak once
more.

"My last announcement involves a new and special occurrence at


Hogwarts."

Immediately a ripple of excitement ran through the room, and


everyone sat quietly on the edge of their seats, waiting to hear what
else was in store.

"As you may know, there have been several sizable donations
made to the school following the end of the war - many of which
were willing donations and others which were, ah...less than
willing."

Professor McGonagall's lips twisted slightly at these last words, and


Hermione knew she was speaking of the families of Death Eaters
who had been fined for their war crimes. She glanced over to Draco
Malfoy, whose family had been forced to give one of the largest of
these ‘unwilling donations'.

"Much of these funds have gone towards the repair of the school,"
McGonagall continued. "However, we find that we have a significant
amount of money remaining. Therefore, we have created a
scholarship which will be awarded to two students - one male and
one female - at the end of this school year. The winning students
will each be given five thousand galleons."

The room erupted into loud whispers, everyone excited at the


prospect of winning the five thousand galleons. Professor
McGonagall raised her hands in a call for silence.

"Now, for the rules," she stated. "First of all, this scholarship will
only be available to our seventh year students, including those who
have returned to complete the seventh year they missed."

The vast majority of the student population groaned in


disappointment, but Professor McGonagall waved them all to
silence once more.

"Second of all, any students wishing to enter the scholarship


contest will have to complete an application, which includes an
essay on how the war has changed their life and their perspective
of our world. The application will also include a research proposal.
The five thousand galleons are to be spent entirely on research to
benefit the Wizarding community. What this research entails is at
the sole discretion the applicant; however it must involve one year
of international travel. If the war has taught us anything, it is that we
need to be more open-minded to the world around us, and more
accepting of people and races that are different from ourselves.

"Finally, let it be known that this scholarship is indeed a most


prestigious award - the boy and girl who are selected as winners
will not only be chosen based on the strength of their application,
but also on their efforts in the classroom, and their efforts in
fostering school unity. We are looking for two shining examples to
represent a new generation of Hogwarts graduates."

Professor McGonagall paused, her face becoming more solemn.

"It would be a lie to say that this school year will be like any other
year at Hogwarts. We have all been changed by what occurred
here, on these very grounds, only four months ago. Many of us
have lost someone we loved in the war - a parent, a sibling, a
friend."
The room became somber and silent. Out of the corner of her eye,
Hermione saw a single tear slide down Ginny's cheek, no doubt in
memory of Fred. It had been here in this room that they had laid out
his body - as well as the bodies of Tonks, Lupin, and so many
others who had died in the battle. Hermione took a deep breath to
hold her own tears at bay.

"But it is now time to leave the past behind us and move beyond
our grief," Professor McGonagall continued. "We must start over
again, but this time with a new wisdom we did not possess before.
Although we will continue to compete on the Quidditch pitch, we
must leave our prejudices and pointless rivalries behind us.
Although we will continue to be separated into four houses, we
must always remember that we are one group of individuals who
are united by the same goal - to learn and grow to become better
witches and wizards than we were before. So, although we leave
the past behind us, we must never forget that this unity is what our
loved ones fought for, and died to protect."

She paused to let her words sink in. The Great Hall was now so
quiet that Hermione could have heard a pin drop. Finally, Professor
McGonagall took a deep breath and smiled at the multitude of
students before her.

"That concludes the announcements for this evening," she said, her
voice brighter than it had been a few moments before. "Everyone
be sure to get a good night's sleep for our first day of classes
tomorrow."

The room became noisy again as everyone broke into conversation,


and some of the students began to make their way back up to their
dormitories. Hermione remained seated, stirring the leftover food on
her plate and processing Professor McGonagall's words.

‘...it is now time to leave the past behind us...'

Was Ron right? By returning to Hogwarts for her NEWTs, was


Hermione really just trying to go back and erase the past, reliving
the glory days when she, Ron, and Harry had been young and
carefree? Well, that wasn't entirely accurate - they had never been
carefree. They had always had some worry hanging over their
heads, even as early as their first year when they fought to keep
Voldemort from stealing the Sorcerer's Stone. They had never had
a year to completely relax, study, and be normal teenagers.
Perhaps by coming back, Hermione was hoping instead to
experience the Seventh Year she could have had if Voldemort had
never returned.

Except she should have been experiencing it with Harry and Ron,
not by herself.

Hermione knew Ron and Harry each had their own reasons for not
returning. Ron, of course, had his responsibilities at the store, but
he would soon join Harry in Auror training. Harry had wanted to put
the past behind him, to close the door on that chapter of his life and
move on. Did Harry have the right idea after all? Would it have been
better if Hermione had just moved on?

"Are you in there, Hermione? Hello, earth to Hermione!"

"Wh-what?" Hermione muttered, pulling herself out of her reverie as


she finally noticed Ginny's hand waving in front of her face.

"I was just asking if you were going to enter the competition," said
Ginny.

"Competition?" Hermione asked, confused.

"For the scholarship," said Dean. "Are you going to enter?"

"Oh...um, yeah I guess."

"You guess?"

"Yes, well I don't know if I would want to go abroad for a whole


year. I think I'd miss my family too much." Not to mention, Ron
would be none too pleased, she added mentally.

"Five thousand galleons," Dean said, rubbing his hands together.


"What wouldn't I do with that kind of money?"

"Dean, it's not as if you could just take the money and use it for a
pleasure cruise around the world," said Ginny, rolling her eyes. "It
has to be used for research, remember?"

"Oh, right." Dean flushed somewhat, then shrugged. "Doesn't


matter - I'm not likely to win anyway."

"You have a better chance of winning than I do," Ginny argued.


"Hermione's a shoe-in for the girl's spot, so I don't know why I
should even bother applying..."

"That's not true!" Hermione cut in, but Ginny just waved her off.

"It's okay, Hermione. I think you deserve it more than anyone else.
No doubt you'll put the money to great use and make some
amazing discovery that will change the Wizarding World forever."

Ginny gave her friend a genuine smile before addressing Dean


once more.

"I don't know which boy will win, but I think you have a good shot,
Dean. Your grades are usually better than Justin Finch-Fletchley's,
and we all know Malfoy sure as hell isn't going to win. Somehow I
don't think being the son of a Death Eater will give him bonus points
on his application."

Thoughts of Malfoy had been floating around in the back of


Hermione's mind all evening, and Ginny's mention of his name
brought them to the forefront once more. She found her gaze
drifting towards the Slytherin table where Malfoy was just rising to
leave. As if he could sense her stare, he turned his head in her
direction, and for a moment, their eyes met. Hermione could feel
her heart rate speed up, but his expression towards her was
indifferent. Finally, he tore his eyes away from hers and breezed out
of the hall, his school robes flowing behind him in an intimidating
manner that was similar to the late Professor Snape.

Hermione turned back to her two friends.


"I was surprised to see Malfoy here," she said to them. "He
attended classes for most of last school year - so why is he back at
Hogwarts now?"

"Dunno," said Ginny with a shrug. "But I know this year would have
been better without him here. It's a shame he had to come back,
isn't it?"

Hermione's gaze returned to the doors that Draco had just


disappeared through.

"Yes," she said quietly, "A shame."


Back to index
Chapter 5: Lessons in Transfiguration by atalanta84
The beautiful changes as a forest is changed
By a chameleon's tuning his skin to it;
As a mantis, arranged
On a green leaf, grows
Into it, makes the leaf leafier, and proves
Any greenness is deeper than anyone knows.
Your hands hold roses always in a way that says
They are not only yours; the beautiful changes
In such kind ways,
Wishing ever to sunder
Things and things' selves for a second finding, to lose
For a moment all that it touches back to wonder.

~ From "The Beautiful Changes", by Richard Wilbur

Hermione groaned in frustration and slammed her Arithmancy


textbook shut, unable to stare at its pages for another moment. She
folded her arms on the table and buried her head in them, ready to
go back to Gryffindor Tower, crawl into her cozy four-poster, and
call it a night.

It was getting late, and the library was slowly becoming quieter as
students left to return to their dormitories. Thankfully, Hermione no
longer had to worry about getting detention for staying out past
curfew; which was a good thing considering that lately, she was
spending more late nights at the library.

She tried to drag her bleary eyes back to the Arithmancy problem in
front of her, but the numbers seemed to blur into nonsense the
longer she stared at it. These first two weeks of school, she had
found herself more frustrated by her studies than she could ever
remember being. It had been more difficult than she expected to
readjust to life at Hogwarts.

It didn't help that Ron and Harry weren't there. At first, she had
thought that she would get more studying done without them
around to distract her, but it ended up being just the opposite. Their
presence - whinging and wheedling included - had set the rhythm
for her life here at Hogwarts, much like a metronome did for a
pianist. Without them, she found herself scattered and unfocused.

At least in all of her other classes, she had Ginny and Dean to study
with, but neither of them was taking NEWT-level Arithmancy. So
she was left alone to try and puzzle out this latest homework
assignment. She glared down at the page of numbers, reading the
problem through once more. She felt as if she was so close to
having the right answer....but no, she had done it all wrong, and
would have to start over again. With another groan, she crumpled
the piece of parchment into a ball and flung it over her shoulder.

"Ow!" a voice hissed behind her.

Realizing that she had accidentally hit someone, Hermione turned


around in her seat to apologize. Her apology froze on her lips when
she saw who she had just struck with her parchment.

"Well Granger, I see you're as violent as always," Malfoy drawled as


he sidled over to her table. He brandished the wad of parchment in
front of him. "What's this you're throwing out? A love letter to
Weasley?"

He unrolled the paper and tilted it towards the candlelight to read it.
His smirk faded into a frown as he scanned the page.

"Oh," he said. "Artithmancy. I'm stuck on that problem as well -


though I see you've managed to get further with it than I have."

Hermione stared up at him. In the span of a few seconds, Draco


Malfoy had managed to admit he didn't have the right answer to
something, and simultaneously acknowledge that she was closer to
the answer than he was. Had she fallen asleep over her Arithmancy
book and woken up in some sort of parallel universe?

"Um, yes, I'm having trouble with it, too," she said, once she
regained the ability to speak. "I think we're supposed to apply the
Muggle Pythagorean theorem somehow, but I'm having a hard time
incorporating it with Hippleding's Law."

Draco nodded.

"That's what I was thinking too, but I encountered the same issues
you have."

Hermione chewed at her lower lip for a few seconds. She had
almost forgotten Malfoy was in Arithmancy; they usually sat on
opposite sides of the room and avoided looking in each other's
direction during class. Arithmancy was a complex subject, and
homework problems were easier to solve in groups than on one's
own. She hesitated, debating whether or not she had the nerve to
ask him...

"Do you want to work on it together with me?" she asked, spitting
the question out so quickly, she was afraid he might not have
understood it. When he cocked his head to one side and looked at
her through narrowed eyes, she was certain she had garbled the
words into something unintelligible. But just as she was opening her
mouth to repeat the question, Draco shrugged and plopped down in
the seat across from her.

"Ok," he said.

"Ok?"

"Ok."

He reached down into his bag and pulled out his own Arithmancy
book, parchment, and quill, arranging them on the table in front of
him. Hermione watched his actions with wide-eyed wonder, hardly
daring to believe Draco Malfoy had just agreed to work alongside
Hermione Granger, Mudblood and friend of his number-one
enemy.

Now she knew she was in a parallel universe.

"Why did you come back to Hogwarts?" she asked him, never one
for beating around the bush.
Malfoy scowled at her, making Hermione think that he wasn't going
to answer her question. To her surprise, he did.

"I missed my NEWTs last year. As you may recall, I had other
business to attend to at the time."

"Oh yes," Hermione said, "the trials."

He flinched slightly, but nodded.

How could Hermione have forgotten? She had actually testified as a


witness at Lucius and Narcissa's trial, when they were charged for
aiding and abetting in the administration of the Cruciatus Curse
against her. Her torture at the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange was by
far the worst experience of her life, but having to relive it on the
witness stand was no picnic either. In the end, the fact that the
Malfoys had defected during the Battle of Hogwarts was what saved
them from being locked away in Azkaban. Instead, they had been
fined one million galleons, and Lucius Malfoy had been sentenced
to one year of house arrest for his crimes as a Death Eater.

Hermione had been in the audience at Draco's trial as well. She


was there to act as a moral support for Harry when he gave
testimony regarding Draco's involvement in the murder of Albus
Dumbledore. Harry had told the Wizengamot all that had occurred
the night Dumbledore was killed in the Astronomy Tower, including
the fact that Malfoy had been both unwilling and unable to kill the
wizard himself. Harry also recounted the relevant parts of Snape's
memories, which indicated that Dumbledore had planned his own
death at the Potion Master's hands.

Harry's testimony had released Draco from all charges of murder,


but not from attempted murder. After all, the Slytherin's failed
attempts to kill Dumbledore had resulted in the harm and near-
death of Katie Bell and Ron Weasley. For this, the Wizengamot had
sentenced him to an entire summer of volunteer work at St.
Mungo's Hospital.

Hermione tried to picture Malfoy Scourgifying bedpans. It was a


difficult thing to imagine.

"But why did you have to come back for a whole year?" she asked.
"Couldn't you have just taken the make-up exam they offered during
the summer?"

"Because the Wizengamot wouldn't let me," said Draco. "They


thought it would be a nice addition to my punishment, having to
redo my seventh year. And if you must know..." He paused for a
moment, his pale cheeks coloring as he said, "I probably would've
failed the NEWTs if I'd taken them last year anyway."

"Why?"

Draco's jaw clenched. Hermione knew she was pressing her luck
asking him so many personal questions, but her curiosity was
getting the better of her.

"Well, I fell behind during my sixth year, what with plotting to kill the
Headmaster and all," he answered testily. Hermione nodded,
recalling that Professor McGonagall had given him at least one
detention that year for not turning in his Transfiguration homework.
"And last year, I was a bit too distracted by matters at home to pay
much attention at school," he finished.

Again, Hermione nodded. She figured it was probably a bit


distracting, knowing that Voldemort and his minions had taken up
occupancy in your house.

"So are we going to work on Arithmancy now, or do you have more


nosy questions?" he asked coldly.

"No."

"Good."

They set to work then, with Hermione agreeing to work the problem
from one angle, and Malfoy from another, in the hopes that by
meeting halfway, they could solve it. Hermione worked diligently for
several minutes, and then glanced up to watch Malfoy work.
It was her first opportunity to study him up close since returning to
Hogwarts. He had definitely regained the weight he lost during the
war, and probably put on even more in the way of muscle. Even
with his body hidden beneath his school robes, Hermione could tell
that his shoulders were broader than she remembered. His face no
longer had the pointy, ferrety appearance it once had; it was still
somewhat angular, but had filled in considerably, making it look as
if were carved from smooth porcelain. His platinum hair was longer,
so that the tips of it just grazed his shoulders, and the look suited
him well. The skin around his jaw and mouth was firmer than
before, and it matured his appearance so that he looked less like
the boy she once knew, and more like the mystifying young man he
had become.

Hermione would rather have dissected a bin of Flobberworms with


her bare hands than admit it out loud, but Draco Malfoy had actually
become quite handsome.

"I don't think the answer to our Arithmancy problem is going to


magically appear on my forehead, Granger, no matter how long and
hard you stare at it."

Hermione blushed, realizing he had caught her staring at him. He


raised his head from his text book, his grey eyes piercing hers.
They were definitely his most attractive feature, pale and
shimmering as quicksilver...Merlin, what was she thinking!?

"I'd hex you for staring so intently at me," said Malfoy, his lips
curling into a smirk. "But I'm sure you rarely get the opportunity to
gaze upon such a handsome face, so I'll let you get away with it this
time. Lord knows it has to be more satisfying to stare at me than at
the Weasel King."

Hermione's embarrassment quickly morphed into anger.

"Stop calling him that!" she snapped. "Honestly, Malfoy, when are
you going to grow up? Oh, and I hate to break this to you, but I think
Ron is ten times better looking than you are!"
Even as she said it, she realized she was lying. She imagined if she
stood the two side by side, she would probably find them about
equally handsome. Ron had that wholesome, boy-next-door appeal,
while Malfoy's allure was the exact opposite: suave, mysterious,
and potentially dangerous…And by dangerous, Hermione meant it
in the best sense of the word. She seriously needed to find a way to
inoculate herself against his bad boy charm.

"So, I gather that you and Weasley are finally an item?" Malfoy
asked, his silver gaze piercing her once more.

"Yes," Hermione said somewhat haughtily, and she noticed that his
smirk faded a little.

"Well, can't say I'm surprised," he muttered. "They always have


some article about you in the newspaper. Can't open the Daily
Prophet without seeing some juicy little tidbit about The Golden Trio
splashed across page six. You three must love the added publicity."

"Not that you care to know, but Harry, Ron, and I have never liked
being in the public eye, and we certainly don't like our ‘juicy tidbits'
being published for the whole world to see."

Malfoy leaned back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest.
Hermione engrossed herself in her Arithmancy text in an attempt to
avoid noticing how much more attractive he looked when he struck
that pose.

"Whatever you say, Granger. But look, if we're going to work on this
assignment together, there's one thing we need to set straight, and
that is that there will be no further discussion of Potter or Weasley."

"You're the one who mentioned Ron first!" Hermione sputtered,


looking up at him once more.

"My mistake," Malfoy said sneeringly. "One I won't make again, I


assure you. So are we agreed, then - no mention of your boyfriend
or Hero Boy?"

"Fine!" Hermione said with a huff. "I agree not to talk about Ron or
Harry."

She was about to reach out her hand to seal their agreement, but
she hesitated, remembering that the last time they had made a deal
with each other, he had refused to accept her handshake.
Suddenly, and to her immense surprise, Malfoy extended his hand
across the table to her. And with eyes full of wonder, Hermione
accepted it.

For the next few weeks, Hermione and Draco continued to ‘run into
each other' in the library. At first they pretended these meetings
were just a coincidence, but over time, they finally dropped the act
and began setting up times to meet and study.

Hermione was pleasantly surprised to find that Malfoy made an


excellent study partner. While studying with Ron and Harry had
been one-sided, with her giving out most of the answers, Malfoy
always contributed equally to the workload. He was intelligent, and
a fast learner. In addition, he took an entirely different approach to
Arithmancy problems than Hermione did, which allowed them to
come to an answer much more quickly than they would have if they
each worked alone.

Outside of their study dates, however, their interaction remained


minimal. If they passed each other in the halls, she would give him
a curt nod and say, ‘Malfoy', and he would nod back and say,
‘Granger'. They continued to sit on opposite sides of the classroom
in Arithmancy. Hermione noticed that Draco usually threw his bag
on the seat next to him, as if erecting a barricade against anyone
intending to sit there. Sometimes, while she was eating dinner in
the Great Hall, or laughing over something Dean or Ginny had
whispered to her in class, she would look up and find him staring at
her, his eyes carrying an emotion she couldn't place. But he would
never approach her, other than to set up another meeting to study
Arithmancy.

One day, in early October, Hermione gathered up her Gryffindor


courage and did something very bold. She walked into Arithmancy
class, and instead of taking one of the empty seats as she usually
did, she headed straight over to where Malfoy was sitting.

"Is this seat taken?" she asked, indicating the chair next to him. As
usual, it was occupied by his school bag.

Malfoy gazed up at her for a moment. Then with a shrug, he


removed his bag and put in on the floor. It was an unspoken
invitation, and Hermione accepted it as such, sitting down in the
now-empty seat.

A minute later, Professor Vector strode into the room. When she
saw Hermione and Draco sitting next to each other she froze,
staring at them as if they had suddenly taken on the appearance of
two Cornish pixies sporting tutus and tiaras. She blinked several
times in rapid succession, shook her head, and looked at them
again. Finally, accepting the fact that she had not imagined what
she saw, she shrugged and went to the head of the classroom to
begin lecturing.

The next time Hermione had Arithmancy, she noticed that the seat
next to Draco no longer contained his school bag. So that day, and
on every day thereafter, she went to sit beside him.

By the middle of October, most of the students and teachers at


Hogwarts ceased to be shocked by the sight of Draco and
Hermione studying together. Hermione's friends thought she was
crazy for spending so much time with him, and when she suggested
inviting him into their own study group, they refused to allow it -
Ginny most vehemently of all.

Until one day, all of that changed.

Hermione, Ginny, Dean, and Luna were all sitting around a table in
the library, practicing the glamour spells that Fleur had taught them
in Transfiguration. Fleur made a surprisingly good teacher, and had
instructed them in various practical and complex enchantments. But
Ginny, Dean and Luna were struggling with the new spells, and
Fleur had hinted that in tomorrow's class, she would be testing their
ability to use them.

Hermione, who had successfully transfigured Ron's appearance


when they broke into Gringott's earlier that year, was trying to
demonstrate the glamour spells to her friends. She had used Luna
as an example, making her hair short, straight, and black. She had
also transformed her protuberant blue eyes into a dark brown color.

"I still can't get the hang of it!" said Ginny, her cheeks pink with
frustration. "Maybe Fleur will give us another day to learn the
spells?"

"I doubt it," grumbled Dean. His nose was a bit crooked and his lips
mildly distorted from having been practiced on. "Haven't you noticed
how cranky she's been lately?"

Hermione had noticed. Fleur had become progressively grumpy


over the preceding weeks, and Hermione thought she also looked a
bit ill.

Ginny shifted uncomfortably in her seat.

"Look you three, if I tell you something, will you promise to keep it a
secret?" she asked.

When they all nodded, she said, "Fleur's pregnant. That's why she
was late to the Welcome Ceremony last month. She was at the
Healer's. She's due at the beginning of May, but she wanted to wait
a little longer before announcing it to her students."

"What?"

"Oh wow!"

"That's lovely, but she should be careful - Wrackspurts are


especially drawn to pregnant witches."

This last statement came from Luna, and the other three turned to
stare at her for a moment before Hermione spoke up once more.
"Ginny, that's great! You're going to be an aunt!" she exclaimed.

"I know," said Ginny, grinning excitedly. "I can't wait."

"Well that explains how irritable she's been," said Luna. "Didn't you
say that she's part Veela?"

Hermione frowned at the reminder. Fleur was, indeed, one-quarter


Veela, and those creatures were known for their violent tempers.

"How do Veela behave when they're pregnant?" she wondered


aloud.

Ginny's eyes widened in horror at the thought.

"Oh no!" she gasped. "Poor Bill!"

"'Poor Bill?'" Dean yelped. "Poor us, you mean. We're the ones who
have to live with having her as our teacher for the next six months.
If you think she's grumpy now, just wait till her ankles are the size of
Bludgers! She'll still be pregnant at the time of our mid-term exams
in December, you know."

"Who's pregnant?" said a voice from behind Hermione. She craned


her head around to see Draco standing at the back of her chair, his
eyes scanning the group as if he thought one of the three girls
sitting there was with child.

"Who's pregnant?" he repeated, his shrewd gaze fixing on


Hermione.

"That's none of your business, Malfoy!" Ginny snapped.

"Not one of us," Hermione assured him. "Just...um, just a relative of


Ginny's."

"Oh," he said. Then he sneered and opened his mouth again, no


doubt to make some snide comment on the fecundity of Weasleys,
but he fell silent beneath Hermione's warning glare. Instead, he
turned to take in the sight of Dean's distorted face.
"So are you lot practicing the glamours for Transfiguration, then?"

"Would you like to join us?" asked Luna, to the surprise of everyone
present.

Draco's eyes widened in shock at her request, and he studied her


closely, obviously not recognizing her beneath the glamours
Hermione had placed over her features. Ginny and Dean were both
glowering at Luna, but Hermione smiled at Draco and pulled out the
chair next to her. He plopped down, and then stared across the
table at Luna.

"I don't recognize you," he said to her. "Has someone been


practicing the glamour spells on you?"

"Oh, right, that was me," said Hermione. "I was using her to
demonstrate."

With a flick of her wand, Hermione removed the glamours, and


Luna's features resumed their normal appearance. Draco looked
extremely uncomfortable when he recognized her.

"I don't think we've ever been properly introduced," said Luna,
extending her right hand to him. "I'm Luna Lovegood."

"Oh, um, Draco Malfoy," he responded, briefly taking her hand in


his. "It's uh...a pleasure to meet you."

There was a moment of awkward silence. After all, what exactly do


you say to someone who spent a winter locked up in your parents'
cellar? Hermione tried to lighten the mood.

"So, Malfoy, are you having trouble with the Transfiguration


assignment as well?" she asked conversationally.

"What? Oh, yeah," he said. "I have a hard time paying attention in
that class. It's hard to focus on Professor Weasley's lectures when
I'm so distracted by the size of her cauldrons. I swear they're getting
bigger every day...."
"Malfoy, that's my sister-in-law you're talking about!" Ginny shouted,
her voice a mixture of anger and disgust. Her brown eyes flashed
dangerously, reminding Hermione of how Molly Weasley's had
looked the moment before she killed Bellatrix Lestrange.

"Oh right, I forgot," said Malfoy. "Though how a Weasley managed


to land a looker like her I'd like to kn - Ow! That hurt, Granger!"

He glared at Hermione, rubbing his stomach in the place that she


had just elbowed him. She leaned over to speak in a low voice that
only he could hear.

"Malfoy, if you can't think of anything nice to say, then talk about the
weather, or Quidditch or something."

"Fine," he muttered, turning his attention to Dean.

"So, who practiced on you, Thomas? You look like you were hit in
the face with a Bludg..." He paused when Hermione threatened to
elbow him again. "I mean, you look, uh...different."

"I did it," Ginny admitted sheepishly. "I'm sorry, Dean, I told you I
couldn't get the hang of it."

"Gimme a mirror!" Dean demanded, and Ginny rooted one out of


her bag and handed it him.

"Merlin, Ginny!" he shouted, when he saw his reflection. "What the


hell did you do to me?"

"I said I was sorry!" Ginny groaned, waving her wand in front of
Dean's face. "Finite Incantatem!"

Dean ran his fingers over his face and sighed with relief when he
saw that it had resumed its normal appearance. He shot Ginny a
glare.

"That's the last time I let you practice on me."


"That's ok, Dean, I think I'll practice on Malfoy next," Ginny said.
She smiled wickedly at Draco, giving her wand an ominous little
twirl in his direction.

"Let you alter this beautiful face?" Draco sneered. "No way,
Weaselette. I don't want you turning me into a troll the way you did
Thomas."

"Did you know there's a tribe of wizards in Tanzania that consider


the troll a beauty god?" said Luna. "Apparently its dung can be used
as a natural exfoliate."

Draco stared at her, slack-jawed, for several moments, completely


at a loss for words. He glanced over at Hermione, who eyed him
sternly. Then he cleared his throat and said, "So what did everyone
think of that Chudley Cannons game last weekend?"

Over the next couple weeks, Draco joined Hermione and her friends
whenever they studied, and over time, the others reluctantly
accepted him as a part of their group. By the end of October, they
were able to go through an entire study session without either
Draco or Ginny threatening to hex the other into oblivion. Hermione
considered that a sign of progress.

The days grew colder and shorter, and the Forbidden Forest
became a patchwork quilt of red, orange and gold leaves. Quidditch
season was in full swing, and on the last weekend of October, Harry
and Ron returned to help Hermione cheer on the Gryffindors as
they faced off against Ravenclaw. Hermione sat in the stands, the
boys on either side of her, as they waited for Ginny and the rest of
the team to walk out onto the pitch.

Ginny had been named captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team


that year, and the team was doing well, despite the loss of Harry as
its Seeker. Ginny was a good captain - perhaps even better than
Harry himself had been. She had an eye for strategy and was
skilled at bringing out her players' strengths.
"Should be a good game," Ron commented, wrapping his arm
around Hermione's shoulders.

"Yes, but Gryffindor is favored to win today," said Harry. "I'm eager
to see how the new Seeker plays. What's his name again?"

"Pete Harrison," Hermione answered. "He's not nearly as brilliant as


you were, Harry, but Ginny's quite pleased with how he's done so
far this season."

Ginny had always preferred being a Chaser, and so she had


resumed that position on the team. Harrison was a Third Year
whose talent had surprised everyone at tryouts earlier that school
year. Gryffindor had a good chance of being Quidditch champions
that year, but the biggest obstacle standing in their way was
Slytherin. With Harry gone, and Draco still playing as Seeker, it
would be a tough game for Gryffindor to win.

At that moment, cheers erupted in the crowd as the two Quidditch


teams emerged from the changing rooms and took to the air to do a
few warm-up laps around the pitch. The Gryffindor and Ravenclaw
players became blurs of red and blue as they circled past the
stands. Hermione saw Harry's face light up when Ginny soared by,
her long hair whipping behind her like flames.

"Ginny's getting to be a fab flyer," said Ron, clearly impressed with


his sister as he watched her swoop past them.

"She is," Harry said, an affectionate smile gracing his lips. "She's
thinking about trying to go professional, did you know?"

"Yeah," Ron said, nodding. "But it's bloody hard to get onto a team.
You have to have the right connections just to get a tryout."

Hermione's attention was suddenly drawn to a flash of white a few


rows away in the stands. She turned to see Draco making his way
through the tightly-packed crowd of students, trying to find a good
seat. As captain of the Slytherin team, he was no doubt there to
scope out the Gryffindor talent, since they were scheduled to face
them the following weekend. When he looked up, catching her eye,
Hermione smiled and gave him a tentative little wave. For the
briefest moment, he smiled back at her. Then, as he caught sight of
Ron and Harry sitting beside her, the smile faded from his face as if
a strong breeze had blown it away.

Ron scowled, and Hermione felt his arm tighten around her
shoulder, pulling her closer to his side. She didn't know whether the
gesture was meant to be protective, possessive, or a little of both.
Draco simply sneered in their direction and turned away, sitting
down next to a couple of his Slytherin teammates. Ron slumped
back in his seat, clearly vexed.

Harry looked less agitated than his friend, but he too, seemed to
have noticed the silent exchange that occurred between Hermione
and Draco. He turned to her with an inquisitorial look in his eyes.

"Ginny tells me you've been studying with Malfoy," he said. There


was a trace of accusation in his voice, which made Hermione
bristle.

"And if I have?"

Harry frowned and glanced at Ron.

"I told you, mate; she's gone off her bloody rocker," the redhead
said.

Hermione felt a surge of anger, and reached up to brush Ron's arm


off of her shoulders.

"I don't need you two to dictate who I am and am not allowed to
associate with. Ron, you and I have had this conversation already.
I'm not going to have it again."

Hermione had told Ron several weeks before about her study dates
with Malfoy. She had always felt that a relationship should be built
on trust and respect, and so she had not felt comfortable with the
idea of keeping her new acquaintance with Malfoy a secret from
him. Needless to say, he had not taken it well, and took every
opportunity to point out the many reasons why her interactions with
Draco were a bad idea.

"I don't trust him," Ron persisted. "Hermione, we're talking about
Draco Malfoy, the boy who stood by and watched his aunt torture
you in his drawing room."

Hermione flinched, lowering her eyes to where her hands rested in


her lap.

"He apologized for that," she said quietly. "I already told you both -
he apologized that morning after the battle."

"Well he may have apologized, but he's still the same nasty git he
always was," Ron argued.

Hermione shook her head.

"No, he's...changed somehow. I can't explain how, but he has."

"Maybe," Harry cut in. "But maybe not. He was lucky the
Wizengamot gave him such a light sentence. He's not going to push
his luck walking around scorning Muggle-borns like he used to. He
might act different, but he’s still the same old Malfoy on the inside.
It's one thing for someone to transform their outward appearance,
Hermione, but it's a lot harder to change what's underneath."

"I know," she said, "but can't you two just trust my judgment on
this?"

Ron merely crossed his arms over his chest, saying nothing in
response. He stared out at the Quidditch pitch, where Ginny was
now walking over to shake hands with the Ravenclaw captain. The
game was about to begin.

Harry gave Hermione a small smile, but his green eyes remained
full of concern.

"Of course I trust you. I just hope you know what you're doing."
Hermione glanced over at the blond-haired Slytherin and sighed.

"So do I," she whispered. "So do I.”


End Notes:
FYI: Hippleding's Law is a complete figment of my imagination. The
Pythagorean Theorem, however, does exist (unfortunately. I've
always hated Muggle math...)
Back to index
Chapter 6: Good Friends by atalanta84
How can I keep my soul in me, so that
it doesn't touch your soul? How can I raise
it high enough, past you, to other things?
I would like to shelter it, among remote
lost objects, in some dark and silent place
that doesn't resonate when your depths resound.
Yet everything that touches us, me and you,
takes us together like a violin's bow,
which draws one voice out of two separate strings.
Upon what instrument are we two spanned?
And what musician holds us in his hand?
Oh sweetest song.

~ "Love Song" by Rainer Maria Rilke

"That's it, Granger; I can't take anymore of this."

Draco slammed his Arithmancy textbook shut and ran his fingers
through his hair so that the blond strands stood on end. Hermione
thought that for a moment, it made his hair look like a lighter version
of Harry's tousled locks. She was glad Draco wasn't a skilled
Legilimens, because if he realized she was mentally comparing him
to his arch nemesis, she didn't think she could get to her wand fast
enough to defend herself.

"I need a break," he said. "We've been at this all afternoon."

It was the day following the Gryffindor vs. Ravenclaw match (which
Gryffindor had won easily), and Hermione and Malfoy were in the
library, trying to complete a particularly difficult Arithmancy
assignment that was due later in the week. Now, she watched as
Malfoy began putting his things back into his school bag.

"But we're getting so close," Hermione protested. "If we just work on


it for a few hours more..."
"Merlin, Granger, I don't know how Potter and Weasley could stand
studying with you all those years. You're a bloody slave driver."

With that he rose to his feet, slammed her Arithmancy text book
shut, and shoved it into her bag.

"Enough studying," he said. "Let's get out of here."

"Wh-where are we going?"

"The Three Broomsticks," he suggested, closing up her bag and


handing it back to her. "Two Butterbeers, my treat."

Hermione stared at him, blinking in surprise. Malfoy had never


before suggested they do anything together but study.

"You're inviting me to go get a Butterbeer with you?" she asked, her


voice carrying a hint of suspicion.

Malfoy rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, well, anything to get you to stop blathering on about


homework for more than two minutes at a time. Come on."

He turned to stride out of the library, and, still flabbergasted,


Hermione trailed after him. Just as they burst out into the corridor,
they nearly collided with Professor Slughorn. Malfoy stopped just
short of running into the Potions Master, but Hermione wasn't
paying attention and slammed into Malfoy's back. She nearly fell
backwards, but a pair of strong arms circled her waist and
prevented her from colliding with the floor.

"Walk much, Granger?" Malfoy muttered, as he lifted her back to a


standing position and immediately released her from his grip.

"Ah, Mr. Malfoy, Miss Granger. How lovely to see you both! Not
studying too hard, I hope?" asked Professor Slughorn, as he eyed
their heavy school bags.

"Yes, we were," Draco replied. "Actually, I'm glad we ran into you,
Professor.”

Literally, Hermione thought to herself.

"We were just going to head over to The Three Broomsticks, and I
know Professor McGonagall likes for us to check in with someone
before we leave the school...."

"Ah, yes. Not a problem, Mr. Malfoy," Slughorn said. "You two run
along and enjoy yourselves. Got to make sure you're well-rested
this week, Malfoy, with the big match coming up this weekend. I
dare say the Gryffindors will have their work cut out for them trying
to beat Slytherin this year, Miss Granger."

He nudged Malfoy with his elbow and winked in Hermione's


direction. Malfoy simply nodded and grabbed Hermione's arm to
drag her away.

"Right," he said, "well, we'll see you later, Professor."

"Yes, yes," Slughorn said, waving them off. "Say hello to Madam
Rosmerta for me."

Draco dragged Hermione around the corner, and then stopped to


release her.

"Go drop off your things and meet me in the Entrance Hall in ten
minutes," he said, and before Hermione could say anything, he had
turned around and disappeared in the direction of the dungeons.

With a sigh, Hermione made her way up to Gryffindor Tower to drop


off her heavy bag of books. When she entered the Seventh Year
dormitory, she came across Ginny and Mandy Brockow, a fellow
Seventh Year, sitting cross-legged on Ginny's bed, gossiping.
She smiled at both of them, tossed her bag onto her own four-
poster, and then reached for her coat.

"Where are you going?" Ginny asked, watching as Hermione pulled


her coat on.
"The Three Broomsticks."

"With who?"

Hermione avoided Ginny's eyes.

"With Malfoy."

"Draco Malfoy?" asked Mandy, gaping at her.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

"Yes, do you know of any other Malfoys at Hogwarts?"

Ginny frowned at her friend, her eyes full of concern.

"Why are you going to The Three Broomsticks with Malfoy? Are you
sure that's a good idea?"

"Please, Ginny, we're just going to Hogsmeade. I don't think he's


going to hex me, or poison my Butterbeer or anything,” Hermione
joked. “Too many witnesses." However, her attempt to lighten the
mood seemed to backfire.

"Maybe I should go with you, just to be on the safe side," said


Ginny, rising to fetch her own coat. But Hermione shook her head
and waved her off.

"It's okay, Ginny. I'll be fine. I'm a war hero, remember? I think I can
handle a little twit like Malfoy."

"Ok," Ginny said reluctantly. "If you're sure..."

"I'm sure," Hermione said firmly, heading for the door. "I'll see you
later."

And with that, she fled the dormitory before Ginny could issue any
more protests. She hurried downstairs to the Entrance Hall and
found Draco there waiting for her. He was leaning against the wall,
arms folded across his chest, his light blond hair spilling over into
his eyes. Hermione experienced an involuntary shiver at the sight of
him. If he only knew how irresistible he looked when he stood there
like that... Then she realized that he probably did know, and had
struck that pose intentionally, realizing the effect it would have on
any girls passing by. He was a Slytherin, after all.

When he caught sight of Hermione approaching, he uncrossed his


arms and stood upright.

"What took you so long?" he asked her, clearly annoyed.

"Nice to see you, too, Malfoy. And if you must know, I was held up
by Ginny."

"Ah," he said, and his lips curled into a sneer. "Is she going to send
the hounds out after us?"

Hermione shook her head. "No, I think Ron and Harry have other
plans this afternoon."

Malfoy chuckled at this, and the two headed outside. They walked
in awkward silence for a few minutes as they made their way to
Hogsmeade. Hermione couldn't think of anything to say. She had
never had to worry about conversing with Malfoy; during all of their
interactions during the school year, they had always avoided
discussing anything beyond their homework, and occasionally the
weather. She wracked her brain for any topic that would be safe to
discuss with him, and finally settled on Quidditch.

"So, you must be getting excited for the match this weekend," she
said. She seemed to have interrupted his thoughts, because he
shook his head to clear it before turning to look at her.

"What? Oh yeah, it'll be a close match I think. Of course, without


Potter around anymore, my Slytherins are sure to win."

Hermione huffed. "So sure, are you?"

"Yes," he said confidently. "That little Harrison bloke is good, but I'm
a far better Seeker than he is."
"Not very modest, are you?"

"Hey, I just call them as I see them, Granger," Draco said with a
shrug. "Actually my biggest concern is going to be Weasley. She's a
good Chaser, and she might rack up the points faster than I can get
to the Snitch, if how she played yesterday is any indication."

Hermione stared at him in utter shock. It was very unlike Malfoy to


admit that a Weasley was talented at anything, especially
Quidditch.

"She has gotten quite good. She says she'd like to play
professionally if she can find a team that would take her."

"Really?" Malfoy asked, his attention piqued. "Any particular team


she's interested in?"

"Well, she'd love to go out for the Holyhead Harpies. They're her
favorite. She's having a hard time getting in for a tryout though."

"I see," he said thoughtfully.

"Yes, well, I hope you're not planning to have your Slytherin


henchmen do anything to hurt Ginny before the game next
weekend," Hermione added scornfully. She recalled that in the past,
Gryffindor players were always in danger from Slytherin attacks the
week leading up to a match between the two rivals.

"They better not do anything to hurt her," Draco muttered. "That is,
not if they want to play this weekend. At the beginning of the
season, I told my team that if anyone was caught physically
threatening an opposing player, they'd be suspended from the next
match."

Hermione glanced at him in surprise. Now that she thought of it, the
Slytherin Quidditch team had been rather subdued this year. They
still taunted their opposition, of course, but they no longer resorted
to violence.
"That was awfully big of you," she admitted.

"It's been known to happen," said Malfoy, his lips twitching at her
backhanded compliment. "I just decided that if we're going to beat
Gryffindor this year, we're going to do it the right way."

His words occupied Hermione's thoughts for the remainder of their


walk, and before she knew it, they had reached the Three
Broomsticks. They headed inside, and Draco surprised Hermione
by holding the door open for her, but she wisely made no comment
on his sudden display of chivalry.

"Why don't you find us a seat?" he said. "I'll go get the Butterbeers."

She nodded and made her way over to an empty table, while he
went over to the bar for their drinks. In a few minutes, he returned
with two Butterbeers in hand, one of which he placed in front of her.
She thanked him and he nodded, sliding into the seat across from
her. Awkwardness seemed to settle over them once more, and they
sat quietly sipping their drinks for a few moments. This time, it was
Draco who broke the silence.

"So, are you entering the scholarship competition?" he asked,


plopping his Butterbeer down on the table so that a few drops
sloshed over the edge.

"Yes, I have most of my application finished already," she replied.

Malfoy rolled his eyes.

"Of course you have. What is your research proposal about?"

Hermione hesitated, staring down into her beverage to avoid his


eyes.

"Well," she said, "you'll probably think it's stupid..."

"Try me."

"Okay, I'll tell you. I was thinking of doing genetic research."


He stared at her blankly, so she went on to explain.

"Genetics is a Muggle concept," she said, easily reverting into what


Ron sometimes referred to as her ‘lecture mode'. "Muggles
discovered that there's this microscopic material that lies in every
cell of our bodies, called DNA. It acts like a code that dictates
everything about how we look – things like our hair color, eye color,
and height. Some people also believe it has some influence on our
personalities. We inherit it from our parents, and this is why we
often possess a mixture of their traits."

Draco nodded in comprehension. For Hermione, it was so


refreshing to have someone understand her explanations on the
first try. With Ron and Harry, she would have had to repeat herself
at least twice more.

"Okay," said Malfoy, “so what does this ‘DNA' have to do with your
project?"

"Well..." She hesitated again, wondering how he would react to


what she said next. "No one has ever discovered what makes us
wizards different from Muggles. I mean, why are we capable of
doing magic, and they aren't? And then I thought, maybe it has to
do with differences in our DNA. But no one's ever bothered to study
it before."

She glanced up at him, but his expression remained unreadable, so


she continued.

"So, what I'm proposing in my project is to go around the world and


sample blood from various Wizarding populations, as well as some
of the Muggle populations. Then I would have the DNA analyzed to
see if we can find a gene that's different between the two groups.
I'm sure that some of the researchers at the Ministry could be
taught genetic testing techniques - or I could find some Muggle
scientists to do it, and just pretend we're researching some rare
genetic disease or something."

"And if you find the gene that makes us different from Muggles, how
would this benefit the Wizarding world?" Malfoy asked, with genuine
curiosity.

"For one thing, it would prove that we're not that different from
Muggles after all - that it's just one teeny tiny gene that separates
us from them. Secondly, I think it will prove we're actually
descended from them, and that wizards evolved from Muggles."

"You’ve got to be joking," Malfoy croaked, aghast. "That's


impossible."

"I'm afraid it's not only possible, but probable, considering that they
outnumber us by at least fifty to one. I know the idea must disgust
you, just the way some people are still disgusted by the fact that
we're all closely related to apes."

"WHAT!?" Malfoy yelped. "Now I know you're joking."

Hermione shook her head, his horrified expression making her grin
from ear to ear.

"Nope," she said, “no joke. Muggles came up with the theory
decades ago."

"Well, then Muggles are even crazier than I thought," he said sourly.
"I can trace my family tree back for at least ten generations, and I
can guarantee they're all wizards - a few crazy ones, perhaps, but
not a single ape among them. So I most certainly am not related to
apes... though of course, you might be."

Hermione raised her eyebrows, but realized that there was no


malice in his words. Instead, his grey eyes sparkled with
suppressed laughter, and she realized that he was teasing her. Her
mind drifted back to more serious matters, however.

"Would you be that upset, finding out we aren't that different from
Muggles after all?" she asked.

He frowned, and she was afraid her question had made him angry,
but when he spoke, his voice was merely thoughtful.
"I don't think it would upset me as much as it would've before," he
said.

"'Before'?"

"Before volunteering at St. Mungo's this past summer," he


explained, squirming uncomfortably in his seat.

Hermione forced herself not to push him to say more, realizing that
he was more likely to open up about his experiences if she just let
him do so at his own pace. She was right, because slowly,
hesitantly, he began to tell her more.

"Some days, the Healers made me do a lot of nasty things, like


cleaning bedpans without using magic, but other days, they just had
me sit and talk to the patients, to keep them company. Some of the
patients were actually nice to talk to - this one bloke in particular.
He was an old man named Jonas, and I would talk with him for
hours sometimes, when the Healers weren't keeping me too busy."

Draco paused, giving his Butterbeer a little swirl. His eyes seemed
distant, lost in memory.

"One day, Jonas told me that he was healed and they were going to
be sending him home the following day. I - I asked him if I might see
him again sometime, after he was released from the hospital. He
just stared at me in shock, and said, ‘Of course I can't, boy.
Tomorrow I won't remember anything about you!' Wellthat really
threw me for a loop and I asked him why not. He told me, ‘Don't you
realize? They're going to Obliviate my memory tomorrow, so I won't
remember anything about my stay here at St. Mungo's.'"

"He was a Muggle, wasn't he?" Hermione said softly. Draco


nodded.

"Yes. Apparently he had been the victim of a nasty bit of Muggle-


baiting from a group of Death Eaters during the war. I never
realized it before, but when Muggles get hit with a curse, they get
taken to St. Mungo's. Obviously you couldn't have them walking into
a Muggle hospital with an extra pair of arms and legs and not get all
the other Muggles suspicious. So, some of them have to stay in St.
Mungo's for awhile, and the Healers don't bother to Obliviate them
while they're there. So for a time, they get to know about our world,
and once they're healed, their memories are erased and replaced
with something else - like that they were quarantined for some
nasty Muggle virus or something. Then they're sent on their merry
way, completely unaware of what really happened to them."

"So that whole time, you were enjoying talking to a Muggle, and you
didn't even realize it." Hermione summarized.

"Yeah, pretty much. It had quite a way of changing my perspective


on things."

"Quite," Hermione said, looking at him as if she had never really


seen him before. And in a way she hadn't seen this Malfoy before -
not this new, relatively open-minded version of him.

"So then you don't mind Muggles that much anymore?" she asked.

"No, although I'm not proclaiming myself in love with them, like that
mad hatter, Arthur Weasley. But I guess I don't despise them as
much as I used to. Working at St. Mungo's changed my perspective
in a lot of ways. I spent most of my time in the Spell Damage Ward,
and I got to see the nasty things that wizards could do to each other
- the dark side of what our magic is capable of. It's actually what
inspired my research proposal."

"You're entering the scholarship competition?" Hermione asked,


surprised.

"Yeah, so?" he said, a bit defensively. "Think I won't win?"

"No, it's not that. It's just... why do you have to enter a scholarship
competition to get five thousand galleons? Couldn't you just ask
your father for the money?"

"I could," he answered coolly, "but I want to earn it."


"Oh. I understand."

"Do you?" he asked sharply.

"Yes," Hermione said, “I understand about wanting to earn things.


That's why I came back to get my NEWTs instead of just flaunting
my war hero status to get a job at the Ministry."

Draco nodded, seeming to think that her explanation made sense.

"So what would your research project be?" Hermione asked him.

"I would go around the world and study other Wizarding hospitals,
and maybe even a few Muggle ones, looking for new techniques on
how to cure the side-effects of various curses."

"That's... wow, Malfoy, that's a fabulous idea," Hermione said.

"You really think so?"

"I do, Malfoy. I really do."

To her immense surprise, he smiled at her - not a smirk, but an


actual, genuine smile. It was amazing the affect it had on his
features. Looking at him, Hermione thought he looked even more
irresistible this way than he had when she had seen him earlier that
day, leaning up against the wall in his ‘bad boy' pose. Suddenly his
smile faded.

"Well it's not like I have a chance of winning, anyway," he muttered,


staring darkly down into his Butterbeer. "You're guaranteed to win
the girl's spot, of course."

"I don't know," she said. "I guess we'll have to wait and see." He
lifted his head, giving her a questioning look.

"Don't you want to win the scholarship?" he asked.

"Yes... It's just, I'm not sure about the whole traveling abroad thing.
I... I don't think Ron would be very happy about us being separated
for a whole year."

She expected him to make a scathing remark about this, but


instead he fixed his piercing silver eyes upon her face. Hermione
squirmed uncomfortably beneath the intensity of his stare.

"Getting a bit serious between you two, isn't it?" he asked in a low
voice.

"I - I guess so," she said, avoiding his gaze.

"Have you shagged yet?"

"Malfoy!" She squeaked in protest, but she knew that her flaming
cheeks gave away the truth. She and Ron had indeed
consummated their feelings for each other a few weeks before.
Hermione had been uncertain at first, but Ron had been such a
sweet and tender lover that in the end, she had no regrets.

"I see," Malfoy said, tearing his eyes away from her. "Well good for
you."

She sat watching him for several long seconds as he took a swig of
his butter beer.

"Ok, where's the Polyjuice Potion?" she said finally. He looked up at


her in confusion.

"Polyjuice Potion?"

"Yes, that’s right," she said. "There's no way you're the real Draco
Malfoy. Here you invite me out for a drink, tell me you don't hate
Muggles anymore, and now that I've practically gift wrapped you an
opportunity to taunt me about Ron, you don't take it. So you are
obviously not the real Draco Malfoy, but someone pretending to be
him.”

"Is that one of your secret fantasies, Granger?" Malfoy asked with a
trace of his familiar smirk. "Do you wish you could get Weasley to
Polyjuice himself into looking like me the next time you two hit the
sheets? Well, for the right price, I might let you borrow a few
strands of my hair for the potion. I'm sure it'll get you off faster than
doing the deed with Weasel King in his natural state."

"Never mind," Hermione mumbled, “you are the real Draco Malfoy."

"Disappointed?" he asked, leering at her.

"Not really. But I am disappointed that you keep referring to Ron in


that way. Can't you just let go of that stupid old school rivalry?"

"Of course not," he said. "No matter what happens, Granger, I'm
always going to be a Slytherin."

"Yes, but that doesn't mean you have to be so nasty to everyone


who isn't. Except for our study group, you never associate with
anyone outside of your own house. You don't have any friends who
aren't Slytherins."

Draco lowered his head so that his fringe hid his face from view.

"I have at least one friend outside of Slytherin," he said quietly.


When he peeked up at Hermione, his expression was almost shy.
Hermione had been in the process of taking a sip of her Butterbeer,
and nearly choked on it when she realized the implications of his
statement.

"Do you mean to say we're…Malfoy, are you saying you want to be
friends? With me?"

He paused for a moment, appraising her. Then he shrugged.

"Why the hell not?"

Hermione couldn't help but admire the way Draco flew. He wasn't
as good of a Seeker as Harry had been, of course, but his flying
was so smooth and precise. It reminded her of the elegant scrawl of
his handwriting, which she had become so familiar with during their
homework sessions. She watched with bated breath as he
effortlessly spiraled out of the way of an oncoming Bludger.

The Gryffindor versus Slytherin match was well underway, and


Gryffindor was building an enormous lead. Ginny was nothing but a
red streak in the air as she scored goal after goal after goal. The
Slytherin Keeper might as well have been off taking a holiday, that's
how ineffective he was at blocking her throws. Hermione knew
Malfoy had to catch the Snitch soon if he wanted to win.

Suddenly, the crowd grasped and pointed to one corner of the


Quidditch pitch, and Hermione knew the Snitch had been spotted.
Instantly, the two Seekers converged on the tiny flash of gold,
chasing it down. For a moment, it looked as if the Gryffindor Seeker
was going to reach it first. Harrison managed to move ahead of
Malfoy, angling himself so that he was in between the Snitch and
the opposing Seeker. Then he swerved from side to side, blocking
Malfoy as he flew. It was an impressive maneuver, and Hermione
could see why Ginny had selected Harrison for her team.

Malfoy was not to be thwarted, however. Giving up on getting past


Harrison, he pulled up on his broom so that he was above him.
Then he surged forward so that he was flying in the air directly over
the Snitch. Suddenly, in a motion that made the crowd gasp, he
flipped himself so that he was hanging upside down from his broom.
Then, he reached out and snagged the Snitch out of the air, mere
centimeters from Harrison's fingertips.

"Draco Malfoy has caught the Snitch!" the announcer cried.


"Slytherin wins the match!"

The Slytherin section went wild, erupting into cheers. Hermione


found herself clapping in spite of herself, drawing quite a few
shocked glares from her fellow Gryffindors. She was glad Harry had
been too busy with Auror training, and Ron too busy at the store, to
attend the game. They would have been utterly appalled to see
Hermione applauding for a Slytherin win. She rose to make her way
down to the pitch, and there encountered a deflated Ginny, and her
fellow Chaser, Dean.
"You played well, Ginny," Hermione said, giving her friend a
consoling hug. "You really did."

"Yeah, well a fat lot of good it did," Ginny muttered sarcastically.


Before Hermione could argue with her, their attention was drawn to
a flash of green heading in their direction.

Malfoy had just finished taking a victory lap around the pitch, and
now he was swooping over to land on the ground a few paces from
where the three Gryffindors stood. He strode purposefully over
while Ginny set her chin, staring him down with her fiercest glare.
Her glare morphed into shock when Malfoy extended his right hand
and said, "Good game, Weasley."

"Oh, um... you too, Malfoy," Ginny replied, taking his hand.

Malfoy glanced at Hermione out of the corner of his eye, and then
shifted his gaze back to the petite redhead.

"I hear you're interested in playing professionally," he said. "With


the Holyhead Harpies, right?"

Ginny glared at Hermione, who suddenly found herself engrossed


with a spot on her left shoe.

"Yes, I'm interested in playing for them," Ginny said, turning back to
give Malfoy a challenging look. "What of it?"

"Well, my father owns a share in the Harpies," Malfoy said. "The


team manager is an old family friend, and if you'd like, I could speak
to him about getting you a tryout."

Dean's jaw dropped open, Hermione suddenly stopped staring at


her shoe, and Ginny stared at Malfoy in utter bemusement, her face
turning the same color as her hair.

"Merlin, Malfoy that would be fantastic!" she gasped. Then, she


arched one eyebrow in suspicion. "What's the catch?"
"No catch," he said. When she didn't seem to believe him, he gave
a pained sigh. "Look Weasley, much as I hate to admit it, you're a
bloody good flyer. You'd be a great addition to the Harpies. My
father owns a share in the team, remember? I'm just protecting his
investment."

This explanation finally seemed to put Ginny at ease, and she


nodded, any trace of suspicion erased from her face.

"Alright then," she said, turning to head back to the school. She
paused and looked back at Draco, giving him a small smile. "Oh
and Malfoy? Thanks."

He simply nodded in response. Ginny and Dean left, leaving Draco


alone with Hermione, who was staring at him with a silly grin
plastered on her face.

"Stop looking at me that way," Malfoy muttered.

"What way?"

"Like I've become some do-gooder or something, like your holy


Saint Potter. It's like I said, I'm just helping my father's investment."

"Draco Malfoy, a do-gooder? Wouldn't dream of it," Hermione said,


falling into step with him as they returned to the school. "By the
way, congratulations on the win."

"Oh, thanks."

"You don't sound that excited about it.” She glanced up at him.
"Why not?"

"Well, I guess... I guess it just wasn't the same, not playing against
Potter. Much as I hate the kid, he challenged me as a Seeker. I
think in some sick, twisted way I actually missed having him here
today." When he saw the little smirk on Hermione's face, he shot
her a threatening glare. "And so help me, Granger, if you tell him I
said that, I'll hex you into next Tuesday."
"Not a word," she promised, and they walked in silence for a few
moments.

"It's kind of sad, isn't it?" Draco said, after awhile. "Me missing
Potter?"

And in a way, it kind of was.

"This is a terrible idea."

"I think it's a brilliant idea."

"No, it isn't. It's the worst idea you've ever had, and that's saying
something."

"Will you stop your whinging?" Hermione said in exasperation as


she held the glass door open for him. She arched one eyebrow
when he hesitated to walk through it. "Scared, Malfoy?"

"You wish!" he said, shoving past her and into the lobby of the
Muggle cinema.

He followed her like a lost little puppy dog as she purchased the
tickets, bought a bucket of popcorn, and led the way into the
theater. She found two good seats and they sat down, Malfoy
eyeing the blank movie screen with trepidation.

"Here, try some popcorn," Hermione said, holding the tub out to
him. He picked up a few pieces of the snack and placed them
delicately in his mouth.

"Tastes like buttery Styrofoam," he muttered, scrunching up his


face. But when Hermione rolled her eyes and pulled the popcorn
away from him, he tugged it back in protest. "That doesn't mean I
don't want to eat it!"

Suddenly, the lights dimmed, the audience fell silent, and the movie
began. Watching him out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw
Malfoy's eyes widen as the screen came to life. His face was full of
childlike wonder, and for some reason, it tugged at her heart. As the
movie went on, he chuckled at some of the funny parts, and
smirked at the romantic parts, but he remained entranced, never
once tearing his eyes away.

"That was a stupid film," Malfoy said as they walked out of the
theater.

"I love that movie!" Hermione argued. "'Pride and Prejudice' is one
of my favorites."

"I didn't like it. It was too sappy. I don't even get what it was
supposed to be about."

"It's supposed to be about two people putting aside their differences


and realizing that they were meant to be together," Hermione
explained, but Malfoy rolled his eyes.

"Like I said - sappy. Look, the next time you want to go see this
‘Proudly Prejudiced', or whatever it's called, take someone else," he
muttered.

"It's Pride and Prejudice," Hermione corrected with a scowl.


"'Proudly Prejudiced' is what we would title a film about your life,
Malfoy."

If she had meant to insult him, she failed miserably, because he


merely grinned.

"Now that's a movie I'd pay to see," he said.

Hermione groaned.

"God, sometimes I think there must be a bottle of love potion with


your own hair in it, sitting on your nightstand. Anyway, ‘Pride and
Prejudice' is based on one of the best books ever written. You
should read it sometime."
"Right, I'll add that to my to-do list, right under ‘Marry Neville
Longbottom' and ‘snog the giant squid'".

Hermione paused and stared at him for a few moments.

"What?" Malfoy asked, his eyes narrowing.

"Just trying to picture you marrying Neville," she answered, smiling


wickedly.

"Yeah right!" Malfoy said with a snort. "You'd sooner see me kissing
the giant squid. Come on, let's head back to Hogwarts."

"Not yet," Hermione said, pointing to a nearby eating establishment.


Malfoy's eyes widened in horror when he realized that her intention
was for them to enter the Muggle bar.

"Oh no," he said, shaking his head.

"Oh yes."

"Look, I know I said I didn't mind Muggles that much anymore, but
that doesn't mean I want to go wading knee-deep in them."

Yet, despite his protests, Malfoy followed Hermione into the little
pub, and when she sat down at a booth, he slid into the seat across
from her, glowering. After a few moments, a middle-aged waitress
with bright pink lipstick and heavy eye make-up approached their
table. Draco gazed up at her as if he'd never seen anything quite
like her before.

"So what'll it be, dears?" the Muggle waitress asked, pulling a pencil
out from behind her ear and propping a small notepad in her hand.

"I'll just have a pumpkin juice," Malfoy said. The waitress stared at
him as if he was crazy, and Hermione had to put her hand over her
mouth to suppress a snicker.

Finally, she got a hold of herself and said, "We'll just have two
Cokes, thanks."
"Sure thing, love," the waitress said, jotting the order down on her
pad. She jerked her head in Malfoy's direction, saying, "Strange
taste your boyfriend has."

"Oh, he's, um, not my boyfriend," Hermione stammered, coloring


with embarrassment. "We're just friends."

"Good friends," Malfoy added.

He gave her the tiniest of grins, and Hermione couldn't help but
smile back at him.

The following week, Malfoy surprised everyone by bringing a few of


his Slytherin classmates with him to study with Hermione, Ginny,
Dean, and Luna. The situation was incredibly awkward at first, but
after some time, they all relaxed and grew accustomed to the idea
of working together. A few days after that, Justin Finch-Fletchley
and a few of his Hufflepuffs joined in as well, and as the month of
November progressed, it was considered quite normal to see a
hodgepodge of students from all four houses studying together in
the library.

If someone would have told Hermione that she would become


friends with a bunch of Slytherins, she would have laughed in their
faces and said ‘When hell freezes over', but by the end of
November, this was indeed the case. While not exactly best mates
with any Slytherins, she could call at least three or four of them her
acquaintances - although one remained a ‘good friend' of hers.

In post-war Hogwarts, the students of Slytherin house were like a


flock of lost sheep, not exactly knowing how to act in a world that no
longer tolerated notions of blood purity. By some odd twist of fate,
Malfoy became their rallying point, and they followed his lead in
interacting hospitably with the other three houses.

One night, Hermione sat in the library, surveying the scene before
her with no small amount of amazement: Ginny was huddled over
her Transfiguration text book with a Slytherin girl she had
befriended over the past few weeks; Dean and Justin Finch-
Fletchley were practicing spells from Charms class; and wonder of
wonders, Malfoy and Luna were sitting across the table from one
another, working together on their latest Potions assignment.

Hermione had to wonder, had hell really frozen over at Hogwarts?

The following morning answered the question for her.

She sat tiredly at breakfast, pouring some eggs and kippers onto
her plate, when suddenly she noticed Malfoy entering the Great
Hall. The moment he noticed her, he strode purposefully in her
direction. This was no surprise, as he would often drop by and say
hello to her, Dean, and Ginny on his way to the Slytherin table.
What shocked the hell out of Hermione, however, was what he said
this morning when he reached her side.

"Is this seat taken?"

In unison, every student in the Great Hall fell silent and turned to
stare at him - even the teachers. Dean sat there stupidly with a
piece of toast hanging out of his mouth, and Ginny managed to spill
half her orange juice in her lap. Hermione mutely shook her head,
and Malfoy slid into the empty seat beside her.

The room remained completely silent for several moments. No one


ever sat with anyone but their own house; it was as if there was an
unwritten taboo against doing so. Hermione glanced up at the head
table and thought she caught a Dumbledore-like twinkle in
Professor McGonagall's eye (perhaps twinkling eyes was some sort
of job requirement for Headmaster of Hogwarts?).

Malfoy was the one who finally broke the heavy silence, saying,
"Granger, could you please pass the orange juice?"

Yes, hell had indeed frozen over at Hogwarts, and the devil was
giving out free sleigh rides.
End Notes:
I actually work in genetics, so I couldn't resist putting a smidgen of it
in my story. I hope you all can forgive the momentary nerdiness. :D
Back to index
Chapter 7: Roses and Patronuses by atalanta84
And now we stumble in the dark and walk
a sorely riven path that's strewn with rubble
of our tumbled past, strive to find our perfect light,
aghast the gloom compounds our plight and treats
us to affray; could we ever find our flawless day
within this darkened room, or ever find the kindly light
we seek whilst stepping in each other's way?...

I know it's not a game and I despair


at my lost sight but see a worldly light that glows
within the warmth of you, a light to guide you true,
a light to surely show you where to go;
and where you go is where I have to be
because I'm blind, did not construe,
the source of light was always you.

~ From "The Light Was Always You" by Ivan Donn Carswell

Draco leaned back in the green velvet chair, his feet propped up on
a table and the tip of his quill between his teeth. The parchment lay
in front of him, blank except for one line of words across the top:

"How The War Changed My Life and My Perspective Of Our World:


by Draco Malfoy"

Further words were not forthcoming.

Draco had been puzzling over this portion of the scholarship


application for weeks. His research proposal had been less difficult
for him to complete; he was an analytical thinker, and his father had
taught him economics, so he had easily outlined a plan for how to
spend the five thousand galleons on his project, traveling the world
and researching the effectiveness of foreign Wizarding hospitals.
He was also a good writer - in class, his essays were longer than
anybody else's (except for Granger's, of course), but this essay had
him completely stumped.
Instead, his mind drifted, as it so often did these days, to thoughts
of Hermione.

If someone would have told him that he would be friends with the
Muggle-born, Hermione Granger (he couldn't bring himself to think
of her as a Mudblood anymore), he would have laughed in their
face and said, "When hell freezes over." As it were, he was a
poorer judge of the climate in hell than he had first thought...
because Hermione Granger was his friend - and a good friend, at
that.

For him, it had started out as a mere curiosity about the girl - a sort
of fascination. In retrospect, he realized that she had fascinated him
almost as long as he had known her, even during the years when
they were sworn enemies. But ever since that morning of the battle,
after she forgave him for the incident at Malfoy Manor, he found his
thoughts lingering on her more often than they should have.

He had been surprised to see Hermione back at Hogwarts in


September. He had been even more surprised to find himself
readily accepting her invitation to study together. Associating with a
Muggle-born, even for the purposes of furthering his education, was
something he never would have considered doing a year ago. Yet,
he and Hermione had studied well together; strangely, they made a
good team. And even more strangely, Draco found himself enjoying
her company. Unlike all of his former Slytherin friends, she had an
intelligence and wit that matched his own, if not surpassed it, and
she was tough enough to keep him in line when necessary. She
wasn't afraid to call him a stupid little prat - even if sometimes,
Draco thought she said it a bit too affectionately for it to be a truly
effective insult. And so, as the autumn progressed, he had found
himself becoming friends with Hermione Granger.

At night, however, his thoughts of her had become more than just
friendly. He still had the old nightmares of her being tortured and
him standing helplessly by, watching. But these nightmares had
recently occurred in conjunction with dreams of an entirely different
variety. Although the events leading up to it differed each night,
most of these dreams concluded with him and Hermione naked in a
broom closet, going at it like a pair of wild Nifflers.

Apparently, his subconscious believed that he was not


good enough friends with Hermione Granger. He didn't know what
haunted him more, dreams of her being tortured, or dreams of her
torturing him with her naked body.

Well, he thought with a smirk, I know which of the two dreams


I prefer anyway.

At first these dreams had not disturbed him. After all, he was a
healthy eighteen-year-old male, and had, at one time or another,
fantasized about every girl in his acquaintance (except for that
Millicent Bulstrode cow, he acknowledged with a shudder). But
slowly, inexplicably, the fantasies about Hermione had carried over
into his waking moments, as well. When he was studying with her,
and that crazy hair of hers would come undone around her
shoulders, like a halo of chestnut curls, part of him longed for
nothing more than to bury his hands in them, to find out if they felt
as soft and silky as they looked. Other times, when she lost her
temper with him and started calling him a slew of names (‘arrogant
git' and ‘nasty little Slytherin' being her favorites), he found himself
focusing on the movement of her lips, wondering what it would feel
like to kiss them, wondering what other names he could get her to
cry out in ecstasy....

Draco shook his head and buried his face in his hands. Why did he
torture himself with these thoughts? It was one thing to have
Hermione haunting his dreams, which he had no control over, but
he should at least be able to control his mind's wanderings when he
was awake...shouldn't he?

It was only lust that made him feel this way, he knew. But even that
realization disturbed him. In the past, whenever he had acted on
feelings of lust, it had been casual and fleeting - like the little flings
he’d had with Pansy during their last few years at school. Draco
had, in short, used those girls to gain his own pleasure, and then
dropped them once he was finished with them. He liked to think that
his friendship with Hermione was something more...pure than those
so-called relationships had been. He wanted to elevate any
thoughts of her above that level of base, carnal desire. She
deserved more than that...deserved more than him.

For Draco, who had always thought himself entitled to the best of
everything, feeling that he did not deserve something was a
completely new experience for him. Not that it mattered, anyway.
Nothing but friendship could ever develop between the two of them.
First of all, although in his mind it didn't carry the same negative
connotation it once had, Hermione was still a Muggle-born witch. If
he were ever to be more than friends with a Muggle-born, his
mother would have a heart attack, and his father...well he preferred
not to think about what his father would do if he found out about it.
He had a feeling that even telling his parents about their friendship
would be an unpleasant experience - and one he would like to
avoid, if at all possible.

Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Hermione was already


spoken for - by that stupid Weasley git, of all people. Draco's blood
pressure rose at the thought of the freckly redhead sharing an
intimate moment with Hermione. It was almost enough to make him
wish that the poisoned mead had finished the job on Weasley back
in their sixth year. Then again, if it had finished the job, Draco most
certainly would be staring at the inside of an Azkaban cell right now,
instead of at the silver and green décor of the Slytherin common
room...

He shook his head once more, and picked his quill back up, twirling
it between his pale fingertips. Then he stared down at the
parchment in front of him.

How has the war changed my life and my perspective of our world?
Let's see, he thought sarcastically. My life is changed because my
family is one million galleons poorer, and my father has a charmed
ankle bracelet that won't let him out of our house for the next six
months. Oh - and my perspective of our world? Well, I find it a much
better sight than the inside of a jail cell, which is where I should be
right now, if it weren't for that bloody Potter coming to my rescue
(again)...

Somehow he didn't think this response was going to make for a


winning essay.

For the purpose of venting his frustration, he crumpled the mostly-


blank parchment into a ball and ignited it with a nonverbal Incendio,
not caring if the flames marred the wooden table top. Even one
million galleons poorer, his family was still wealthy enough to
replace every table in the school ten times over if necessary.

The fact was that he didn't know how to respond to the essay
question because he was still trying to figure out the answer to that
all-important question: how had he changed? Or more
importantly, had he changed? As he watched the ball of parchment
blacken and burn, he asked himself: Was he the same Draco
Malfoy he had always been? He knew most people probably
thought so - but it was only one person's opinion that truly mattered
to him now. Did she think he had changed? He liked to think she
did. After all, she probably wouldn't be friends with him otherwise.

He sighed, tossing his quill on the tabletop beside the charred


remains of parchment. What was the point, anyway? There was no
way that he, the son of a Death Eater, and practically a former
Death Eater himself, was going to win the scholarship. He had a
snowball's chance in hell of winning.

Although, he thought to himself wryly, the weather in hell has been


very unpredictable of late...

"When faced with the Dark Arts, our greatest ally is the positive
energy that we all carry within us," Professor Hong intoned, pacing
back and forth in front of his class. His black silk robes fluttered
around him, looking more like a kimono than the traditional wizard
robes Draco was accustomed to.

"As wizards, we can channel this positive energy into a spell, called
the Patronus Charm," the Chinese wizard continued. "To cast the
spell, a wizard or witch much reach deep within themselves to
capture this energy. It can be a treasured memory, a favorite
dream, or - most powerfully - a feeling of love. For love is, after all,
the most powerful force on this earth, and our strongest weapon
against evil."

Draco's heart sank when he heard the Defense Against The Dark
Arts professor mention the Patronus Charm, and what it entailed.
Draco had been doing very well in DADA class this year. Professor
Hong was an impressive wizard who approached teaching from a
different angle than any of their previous professors had. Draco
found himself enjoying the philosophical lectures he often included
in his classes. They had spent most of the semester fine-tuning
nonverbal spells, and he had excelled at these, surpassing all of his
classmates - even Granger. But Draco had a bad feeling about this
Patronus spell.

"Now that you know the incantation," Professor Hong said, "please
pair up and practice casting the spell. Understand that this is very
complex, high-level magic, and you may not get it on the first day. I
do expect everyone to be capable of producing a full-bodied
Patronus by the end of the month, however. Professor McGonagall
has informed me that a few of you have already mastered the
Patronus spell. I expect you to pair up with a fellow classmate who
has not yet mastered the spell and assist them in learning it. You
may begin."

Ginny, Dean, and Luna, who had already learned how to cast the
Patronus during the days of Dumbledore's Army, both paired up
with other students, and Draco set to work with Hermione. He stood
beside her, his wand in hand, looking extremely uncertain.

"Alright," Hermione said, pulling out her own wand, “the trick is to
think happy thoughts."

Draco just stared at her.

"Right," he muttered. "Why do I get the feeling I'm going to have


some trouble with this one?"

"That's not the right attitude! Now concentrate - try to think of a


really happy memory."
So Draco thought. He certainly didn't have that many good
memories in recent years - not during the war, and not during the
years leading up to it. He dug back further in time to his childhood.
Really, anyone would think that he had a very happy childhood; his
family was one of the wealthiest families in the Wizarding world, his
parents had doted on him, and he had never wanted for anything.

"Have a good memory?" Hermione asked.

"I think so."

"Well, give it a try then."

"Expecto patronum!" he said clearly, flourishing his wand. Nothing


but a tiny puff of white smoke emerged from the tip of it.

"Not bad for a first try," Hermione chirped encouragingly. He glared


at her and she sighed.

"Alright fine, it was awful. What memory did you use?"

"The Christmas my parents bought me my first broom," he replied.


"It was a Comet360 - the best model on sale at the time."

"Not good enough," Hermione said, shaking her head. "You have to
think about something that makes you really happy - something that
makes you glow from the inside out."

He arched one eyebrow at her.

"Granger, I'm a Malfoy. And Malfoys do not glow."

"You know what I mean! Ugh, you're being so difficult! Here, watch
me. Expecto patronum!"

She held her wand out in front of her and suddenly, a large bluish-
white otter sprang from the tip and began swimming through the
classroom. Draco watched it, mesmerized, until it finally faded away
into nothingness once more. He glanced at Hermione.
"What memory did you use for that one?"

Hermione closed her eyes and smiled.

"The first time Ron and I kissed."

Draco was glad she had her eyes closed. He had a feeling she
wouldn't appreciate the fact that he was mimicking vomiting. Finally,
she opened her eyes and had him try the Patronus spell again.

They practiced for several minutes, Draco trying one happy


childhood memory after another in his attempts to conjure his own
Patronus, but the best he was able to create was a tiny white cloud
that disappeared almost as quickly as it materialized. Finally,
frustrated and eager to distract himself from his repeated failures,
he decided to change the focus of their discussion.

"So, Granger, I have two tickets to the Weird Sisters concert this
Friday. Do you want to go with me?"

"Can't," Hermione replied, shaking her head. "Ron and I have


dinner reservations that night. You might try asking Dean - he's a
big Weird Sisters fan."

"Oh, okay," Draco said, trying to hide his disappointment. He had


grown to like Dean, maybe even consider him a friend, but it
wouldn't be as much fun going to the concert with him as it would
have been with Hermione.

"Besides, are you sure you even have time to be going to a concert
this weekend?" she asked. "Shouldn't you be working on your
essay for the scholarship instead?"

"I'm almost finished with it," Draco lied. In truth, he still hadn't
written one word. Then he turned the tables on her, saying in an
accusatory tone, "And what about you, Granger? Shouldn't you be
working on your essay instead of having a night on the town with
Weasley?"
"For your information, I'm already done with my essay," Hermione
said haughtily. "Handed it in to Professor McGonagall yesterday."

"But - but it isn't due for three more weeks!"

"Yes, well, I don't like to procrastinate with those sorts of things."

Draco gave her a sideways glance.

"Speaking of procrastination... Have you told Weasley yet? About


having applied for the scholarship?"

Immediately, Hermione's expression darkened, and she bit her


lower lip pensively. Draco found his eyes inexorably drawn to the
action, wishing that he could be the one nibbling on her lip instead.

"No, I haven't told him yet," she admitted. "I was planning to do it at
dinner this Friday. But I have a feeling that he isn't going to be very
pleased..."

Draco closed his eyes and pictured Weasley getting his knickers in
a twist over Hermione's announcement, causing her to be so angry
with him that she dumped him on the spot, stormed back to
Hogwarts, and wantonly cornered Draco in a broom closet to wipe
all memory of Weasley from her mind...

"Expecto patronum!" he shouted.

"Wow, Malfoy, I think that was your best try yet!" Hermione
exclaimed, watching the blast of power that surged from his wand.
"What were you thinking about with that one?"

Draco just grinned at her and said, "Happy thoughts."

Saturday evening, after dinner, Draco wandered the halls of


Hogwarts, looking for Hermione. He hadn't seen her at any of the
three meals in the Great Hall, and Ginny had said that she was not
in the Gryffindor dormitory the last time she checked. As he strode
past a suit of armor, it started singing a very off-key version of
‘Good King Wenceslas'. With Christmas only two weeks away,
Professor Flitwick had once again charmed the suits of armor into
singing carols to passers-by. He had also erected magical sprigs of
mistletoe that were capable of appearing and reappearing at
various locations in the school without warning.

It had been very distracting for Draco, trying to avoid that damn
mistletoe. He was starting to think the plant had it in for him, the
way it seemed to appear everywhere he went in the school. And to
his dismay, it never appeared when he was standing next to
Hermione. It only appeared whenever he was with every female
occupant of Hogwarts who he was not interested in snogging.

A few days earlier, the mistletoe had sprouted out of the ceiling
while he was chatting with Luna Lovegood. That hadn't been too
bad. She had laughed, kissed him on the cheek, and then started
going on about how the mistletoe was probably infested with
Nargles. It had appeared again while he was studying with Ginny
Weasley in the library earlier that afternoon. She had turned bright
red while he simply ran away as fast as possible, not wanting to
receive another one of her infamous Bat-Bogey Hexes. And
Professor Sprout had taken to lingering by his side, staring
hopefully at the ceiling, to the point where he was really starting to
think he should get her written up for harassment.

As Draco rounded another corner of the school without finding


Hermione, his thoughts returned to her and the fact that she
seemed to have disappeared overnight.

Oddly, her absence today had worried him. He knew that she had
had a date with Weasley the night before, and that she was
planning to tell him about the scholarship competition over dinner.
She had predicted that he would not react well. Maybe they had
fought? Suddenly, he had a flashback to their sixth year: she had
been upset about Weasley getting together with Lavender Brown
and had taken refuge in a classroom...

Sure enough, he found her in one of the empty classrooms on the


seventh floor; it may actually have been the same classroom he
had found her in that one time, two years ago, but he couldn't be
sure. She was sitting on a desk, much like before, practicing the
spell they had learned in Transfiguration that week.

"R-Rosacaeus!" she said, but only a few red rose petals floated out
of her wand, falling to the floor like confetti. She looked up to see
Draco standing in the doorway.

"You weren't at dinner," he said quietly, coming to sit on the desk


next to hers. "Or lunch."

She said nothing in response to his comment. Instead, she lifted her
wand once more and cried, "Rosacaeus!"

This time, she managed to conjure a single red rose. She sat there,
staring down at it as she twirled the stem between her fingertips.
Draco was silent, watching her, waiting for her to speak. He had a
feeling that if he didn't press the issue, she would open up on her
own. Finally, she answered his unspoken question.

"I told Ron about the scholarship, and the fact that I entered it," she
said softly, her eyes still focused on the red blossom in her hand.
"We had a fight."

Draco wanted to leap to his feet and do the Happy Dance right
there on the spot, before reminding himself that Malfoys absolutely
do not do the Happy Dance. Besides, the forlorn look on
Hermione's face rapidly quelled his urge to do so.

"I'm sorry," he said.

"No, you're not," she said sharply, still avoiding his gaze.

Draco sighed, trying to find a way to speak truthfully without making


her more upset. Not for the first time in his life, he found himself
wishing that girls came with an instruction manual.

"I... I'm sorry that it makes you unhappy," he amended,


which was the truth.
This seemed to mollify her somewhat, because she finally raised
her eyes to look at him, the corner of her mouth quirking up into a
half-smile. Encouraged, he decided to press his luck a little further.

"I don't understand why you're still dating Weasley," he said.

Instantly, her smile was replaced by a frown.

"Of course you wouldn't understand, Malfoy."

"Well then explain it to me. Because this is the second time I've
come across you in this classroom getting all weepy over
something Weasley did - ."

"Every couple has their little spats," Hermione argued, her cheeks
flushing somewhat. "It's completely normal!"

"That may be so, but you two were always arguing, even when we
were kids. I may not have been friends with you at the time, but
even I knew that there was a period of weeks back in our third year
when the two of you weren't speaking to each other. And I already
mentioned the time in sixth year, when he took up with that
Lavender bint..."

Hermione folded her arms across her chest, her brown eyes
flashing at him.

"You couldn't possibly understand," she said angrily. "Ron and I


have been through so much - all those years of school together,
then hunting down Horcruxes, helping Harry defeat Voldemort...
There are so many experiences we've shared, and that's made a
bond between us that can't be broken by some silly argument like
this..."

Draco was so frustrated, he had to practically sit on his hands to


keep himself from grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her
so hard her teeth rattled. Of course he couldn't understand what
she and Weasley had been through together - he hadn't been there.
He had always been on the sidelines, or on the opposing team,
throughout their days at Hogwarts. But what he could understand
was that sharing a bunch of experiences with someone did not
necessarily mean you were destined for each other.

"I just don't think you and Weasley are that compatible," he said.

C'mon, Draco, he coached himself mentally, buck up the courage to


tell her that she would be better off with you instead.

"I mean, you should be with someone who's more mature - ."

Like me.

"Someone who actually understands you, and wouldn't make you


choose between being with him and doing the things you want to do
in life..."

Like me.

"You should be with some like - ."

Say ‘me'.

"Someone like...."

Me! Me! Me!

"Someone like Thomas."

You IDIOT!

"Dean?" Hermione asked with raised eyebrows. "You think I should


date Dean?"

Well, now that he'd tied the noose around his neck, he might as well
hang....

"Thomas is a nice guy," he said. "He's smart, funny, and reasonably


attractive - ."
"You think Dean is attractive?" Hermione said, laughing now.
"Malfoy do you fancy him?"

"Merlin's balls, Granger!" Draco yelped in horror. "I do not fancy


Dean Thomas! I was merely stating in an objective, entirely
heterosexual way, that he's not bad looking. A sight better than
Weasley, anyway."

The mention of her boyfriend sobered Hermione somewhat. She


stopped snickering, but a smile still played across her face.

"Well, thanks for the suggestion, but I've only ever thought of Dean
as a friend, nothing more," she said.

Draco heaved a huge mental sigh of relief.

"Besides," Hermione continued. "I'm sure things with Ron will clear
up soon. They always do."

Draco watched as she lifted her conjured rose to her face and
inhaled its scent deeply, her eyes falling closed. Every muscle in
her body seemed to relax.

"There's something so comforting about roses," she said.

"Comforting?"

"Yes," she said. "They're just... I don't know how to explain it. Their
scent is comforting and familiar to me. My parents always had them
growing outside our house when I was younger, and on summer
nights, I could smell them on the breeze blowing in my bedroom
window. So now, whenever I smell a rose, it reminds me of simpler
times."

She sighed, looking sadly down at the flower in her hand.

"Nothing about life seems simple anymore," she whispered.

Draco glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, then


concentrated, giving his wand a complicated little flourish before
uttering, "Rosacaeus!". A large bouquet of at least two dozen roses
appeared, their petals dipped in various shades of pink, white, and
scarlet red. A few roses even bore a mixture of all three colors
swirled together. Hermione's eyes widened as she admired his
creation.

"Malfoy, that was fantastic!" she exclaimed.

"Yeah, well, McGonagall taught us that spell last year while you
were gone, so I already had the hang of it before Professor
Weasley taught us this week. It's better than that stupid bird spell
we learned in sixth year, anyway. At least with this one, I can score
a few points with the ladies."

She rolled her eyes at that. Draco hesitated, and then thrust the
bouquet of roses out to her.

"Here, take these," he muttered. "I can't exactly go and decorate my


dorm room with them. I mean, it's bad enough, you thinking I fancy
Dean Thomas."

She laughed and accepted the bouquet from him, burying her face
in the silky petals. A sudden movement over their heads distracted
her, however. Both of them looked up in time to see a small sprout
of mistletoe emerging from the ceiling, tumbling down to dangle
over their heads. For a moment, the pair froze and simply sat there,
staring up at the magical plant. Finally, Draco looked down at
Hermione, trying to read her facial expression.

"We - we don't have to," he stammered awkwardly. "I mean, if you


don't want -”

"What's a little peck on the lips, between friends?" she said


flippantly.

For some reason, Draco was irked by her casual reaction to kissing
him. It was as if she were kissing her grandfather or something. At
that moment, he wanted nothing more than to demonstrate the
many ways in which kissing him would be absolutely nothing like
kissing her grandfather. Before he could do anything of the sort, she
was suddenly leaning over, bringing her face closer to his, and any
and all thoughts flew from his mind entirely.

He tightly gripped the edge of the desk he was sitting on, restraining
his hands from snaking around Hermione, as she slowly, hesitantly
brought her lips to rest against his. Her kiss was soft and light as a
feather, but Draco imagined that she lingered infinitesimally longer
than was necessary to consider the touch a mere ‘peck'. And even
for the briefest moment that their lips touched, the contact made
every inch of his body tingle. That sensation, combined with the
heady scent of the roses in her hands, made him feel slightly dizzy.

Then, too soon, she was pulling away, and her brown eyes gazed
up at him, wide and full of confusion. Draco considered himself
adept at guarding his emotions; but he had a feeling that in that
moment, his eyes betrayed him in some way, because she gasped
and withdrew further from him. Her face became uncertain and
almost fearful. Before he could say anything, she sprang to her feet
and backed away towards the door.

"I - I have to... I have to go," she stammered, nearly bumping into
the door frame in her haste to exit the room. Then she turned on
her heel and disappeared into the corridor, leaving Draco alone and
frozen in the exact same position he had been in when she kissed
him.

He tried to process what had just occurred between him and


Hermione, but his spinning head made it difficult to do so. She had
willingly kissed him, but something about the experience had upset
her, and he couldn't figure out what. Then she had fled the room,
almost as if she was afraid of him. Was she afraid of him? Not that
he could blame her if she was... He groaned and buried his face in
his hands, hoping that he hadn't just ruined a perfectly good
friendship. Then he glared up at the offensive mistletoe, which still
hung tauntingly over his head.

"Stupid Nargles," he muttered.


"Expecto patronum!" Draco said, watching as the familiar, formless
puff of white emerged from the tip of his hawthorn wand. He
groaned and in his frustration, kicked the leg of a nearby table.

He had been in the library practicing the Patronus Charm for hours
now. The DADA midterm exam was tomorrow, and if Draco could
not produce a full-bodied Patronus by then, his grade would be
adversely affected. On top of things, he still hadn't finished his
scholarship essay. It was supposed to be turned it to Professor
McGonagall at the end of the week, before the start of Christmas
Break, and he had yet to write a single word of it. That thought
made him kick the table once more.

"Well Malfoy, I see you're as violent as always."

Draco turned to see Hermione walking over to him with an amused


expression on her face. She hopped up to sit on top of the table that
Draco had just been attacking with his foot.

"Still struggling with the Patronus Charm?" she asked.

"What do you think?" he snapped, scowling at her. Immediately she


bristled, her eyes flashing at him.

"Don't get all touchy with me, Malfoy. It's not my fault you haven't
got it yet. And that nasty attitude certainly isn't going to help you
conjure a Patronus any faster."

"Sorry," he muttered, all of the fight rushing out of him. He was tired
and grumpy, and wanted nothing more than to go back to the
Slytherin dormitory and sleep through to the end of the week,
missing all of his exams in the process. He sighed and pulled
himself up onto the table to sit beside Hermione.

To his immense relief, Hermione had acted completely normal in


the week following the incident beneath the mistletoe. As if by some
unspoken agreement, neither she nor Draco had made any mention
of the brief kiss that they had shared. And really, Draco thought,
why should they even bother discussing it? As Hermione herself
had said, what's a little peck on the lips, between friends? He had
done much, much more than that with other girls in the past. There
was no use getting over dramatic about a meaningless little kiss.

"What are your plans for Christmas break?" she asked him.

"I'll be going home, of course. Mother is absolutely ecstatic.


Apparently having Father trapped at home with her day in and day
out has been a bit trying, and she's looking forward to having me
around for a few weeks. And you?"

"Oh, I'll be staying with the Weasleys," she said lightly, suddenly
becoming preoccupied with her fingernails.

Much to Draco's dismay, Hermione and Ron had reconciled a few


days before. He tried to tell himself that this was a good thing,
because it made Hermione happy. Besides, he had no claim over
her other than a harmless little infatuation - an infatuation that he
now knew would never be satisfied, as indicated by the fear in her
eyes that night beneath the mistletoe. It had made Draco realize
that she would never want to be anything more than just friends,
even if Weasley were out of the picture.

"Spending the holidays with a house full of Weasleys - sounds like


a nightmare to me," he muttered.

"Well, I'm looking forward to it, anyway," Hermione said tightly. She
had given up throwing fits whenever he spoke harshly about
Weasley, usually opting to brush it aside or ignore it instead. Draco
was grateful that she seemed to think his spite for the redhead was
still nothing but a schoolboy rivalry, and not something deeper, like
jealousy.

Jealousy? Draco thought to himself, with dawning horror. Is that


what he felt? Was he actually jealous of Weasley? Draco couldn't
bring himself to fathom the idea. He shook his head and brought his
thoughts back to his conversation with Hermione.

"Well, I'd be looking forward to the holidays a lot more if I didn't


think I was going to fail my Defense Against The Dark Arts exam
tomorrow morning," he said dejectedly.

"You won't fail. Half of the exam will be on nonverbal spells, which
you're very good at. Even if you don't have a full-bodied Patronus,
you'll at least receive a passing grade overall."

"Just ‘passing' isn't good enough," Draco argued. "Not good enough
to win the scholarship."

Hermione gave him a measured look.

"You really want to win it badly, don't you?" she murmured.

"Of course I do. I want to travel around the world and learn about all
the international Wizarding hospitals - maybe even learn a few
techniques that I can bring back here and teach the Healers at St.
Mungo's, so they can improve the way they treat their patients."

Hermione smiled at this, and Draco realized that he


must really sound like a do-gooder after making a statement like
that. For some reason, this made him feel uncomfortable, almost as
if he didn't belong in his own skin.

"Besides, I'm a Malfoy, remember?" he added, a bit gruffly. "I want


to win at everything. The prestige of the award would definitely help
in raising the Malfoy name back to a level of respectability."

Hermione's smile disappeared. She looked down at her skirt and


tugged at a loose thread on the hem.

"I hate when you do that," she said quietly.

"Do what?"

"Try and cover up your noble intentions with something else - by


pretending that they're something selfish and conniving instead."

"Noble?" Draco repeated, staring at her in disbelief. "You think I'm


noble?"
"Yes, when you want to be," she answered, avoiding his eyes.

Draco didn't know how to react to this. A year ago he could have
thought of some very nice hexes to use in response to being called
‘noble'. He would have been insulted. ‘Noble' was a word used to
describe Harry Potter, not Draco Malfoy. ‘Noble' meant being stupid
and reckless, like crawling down a dark hole to chase down a
Basilisk, like handing your life over to the enemy out of love for your
friends, like going back into a burning room to save someone who
was never anything more to you than an enemy...

He blinked in confusion. Yes, he had always thought being ‘noble'


was a sign of weakness, but the way Hermione said it, she made it
sound like a strength. To her, it was a desirable quality. So Draco
decided that maybe he shouldn't define ‘noble' as always being a
bad thing. Hermione certainly had a way of rewriting his personal
dictionary, in any case. He glanced up and realized that she was
staring at him, watching him puzzle through his thoughts.

"You just can't see yourself as being anything but that mean, selfish
little boy, can you Malfoy?" she said finally.

"And you?" he asked hesitantly. "What do you see when you look at
me?"

He felt his heart stop for several moments as he waited for her
answer, not sure if he was really ready to hear it. She gave him a
smirk that would not have been out of place on his own face.

"Well, most of the time I see a complete pain in the arse," she
began.

"Merlin, Granger, forget I even asked."

"Will you shut up and let me finish?" she huffed, and he fell silent.
"What I was trying to say was that while you can still be a real prat
sometimes, you're not the old Malfoy I knew before. You've...
changed. Now, you're a good friend, and occasionally, yes, a bit
noble. Much as you might hate to hear it."
Her lips quirked into a small grin, which Draco couldn't help
mirroring. Then, her voice became more serious, and her gaze
locked with his.

"But most importantly," she said, "I see someone who is trying to
become a better person. And so far, you've succeeded in becoming
a better person than I ever thought you could be."

Her brown eyes carried something that Draco had never seen in
them before. He had always had the feeling, despite their growing
friendship, that she was somewhat guarded around him. For the
past several months, it had acted as an invisible barrier between
them. Now, for the first time, her eyes were open, unguarded, and
full of genuine affection. It elicited an unfamiliar response in Draco,
a feeling that was indescribable yet pleasant, and seemed to swell
up from deep within him.

Instinctively, he grabbed onto the sensation like the string of a kite,


raised his wand, and whispered, "Expecto patronum!"

Instantly, a large, sinuous form emerged from the tip of his wand
and unfurled its wings. It was a dragon - fierce and at the same time
elegant in appearance - blowing puffs of white flame as it flew
around the room. Awestruck, he watched it circle the library, and
then turned to see Hermione's reaction to his success.

"Oh Draco, it's beautiful," she breathed, eyes wide with wonder as
she watched his Patronus soar past them.

Draco was startled to hear her use his first name, startled at how
perfect it sounded on her lips, and startled at how ethereal her eyes
looked with the white glow of his Patronus reflected in their depths.

"Yes," he whispered, staring at her. "Beautiful."

Later that evening, Draco sat in the green velvet chair, the last
person awake in the Slytherin common room. He stared down at
the parchment in front of him, twirling his quill between his fingers
once more. He smiled and glanced up as his dragon Patronus
glided around the otherwise empty room, its jaws opening to emit a
silent roar.

A month ago, he had sat here, wondering if he was still the same
Draco Malfoy he had always been. He had been so sure he was
incapable of change, but now he knew that he had been wrong.
He had changed. Hermione had seen the changes in him, and
tonight, she had made him see those changes, too.

He closed his eyes, and the moment he did so, a familiar pair of
brown eyes immediately sprang into view. He saw them in many
different ways, flashing through his mind in an endless montage: He
saw her eyes glaring up at him during their childhood, after he had
made a scathing remark about her or her friends; looking down at
him in pity as he lay alone and friendless in a hospital bed; full of
pain and pleading as she lay at the feet of Bellatrix Lestrange, being
tortured. That last vision made him wince and shudder.

Then he smiled as he saw her eyes, sparkling with mirth as she


laughed at one of his sarcastic remarks while they studied in the
library; when he tried to order pumpkin juice in a Muggle pub; when
she saw the expression on his face as Luna Lovegood told him
about Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. And last of all, he saw the look
in her eyes as she told him that he had become a better person
than she had ever imagined he could be... He lingered for a
moment on this newest image, as if it was an Arithmancy problem
that he could not quite find the solution to.

Finally, he opened his eyes and looked back down at the


parchment in front of him, on which he had once again written the
heading for his scholarship essay:

"How The War Changed My Life and My Perspective Of Our World:


by Draco Malfoy".

He took a deep breath, lowered his quill to the page, and began to
write.
End Notes:
The incantation for the spell, Rosacaeus, is essentially just the
scientific name for the rose family. :)
Back to index
Chapter 8: Secrets and Surprises by atalanta84
Forbidden Fruit a flavor has
That lawful Orchards mocks --
How luscious lies within the Pod
The Pea that Duty locks --

~ Emily Dickinson

"It'll be strange, not seeing you for two weeks," Hermione said to
Draco as the two walked together through the gates of Hogwarts.
They were just exiting the school grounds in order to Apparate
home for Christmas Break.

"It's only two weeks," Draco replied with a shrug.

"Yes, but a lot can change in that amount of time."

Hermione chewed nervously on her lower lip.

"What are you so worried about?" he asked.

"Maybe... maybe I'm just afraid that after spending two weeks back
at home with your parents, that you'll decide you don't want to be
friends with a Muggle-born anymore."

Draco shook his head.

"That would never happen," he said vehemently. "Nothing could


ever make me want to stop being friends with you, Hermione."

She stopped, staring at him incredulously. It was the first time she
had ever heard Draco call her by her given name. It was strange
hearing it come from his lips, but it sounded so right at the same
time. She smiled at him, and he shifted awkwardly from one foot to
another.

"Well, I'll see you in two weeks," he said, pulling his wand out from
beneath the folds of his heavy winter cloak.

"Yes, see you then." Hermione grabbed her own wand, but then
paused, saying, "Draco?"

"Yeah?"

"I know how much of a risk it is for you to be my friend, and... well, I
just wanted to… to thank you for taking that risk."

"No problem," he said. "Unlike you reckless Gryffindors, we


Slytherins are more calculated risk-takers. We only take one when
we think it's worth taking."

Then he gave her a devious grin that made her heart do a funny
little flip-flop in her chest.

"Besides," he added in his silkiest voice. "What's life without a little


risk?"

And with a wave of his wand and a small crack! he was gone,
leaving a decidedly flustered Hermione behind him.

Draco climbed out of bed, pulled on his robe, and looked out his
bedroom window. The grounds of Malfoy Manor were covered with
a layer of pristine white snow, which twinkled in the morning light.
He grinned and then padded out of his room to make his way
downstairs.

Not surprisingly, both of his parents were already awake, sipping


their morning tea in the sitting room. They had always been early
risers. His father lounged by the window, reading the Daily Prophet,
while his mother stood off to the side, speaking to one of the house
elves. She was issuing orders regarding the holiday gala that the
Malfoys were hosting that evening. She turned to smile at Draco as
he entered the sitting room, and he felt a small rush of relief at
realizing that Christmas morning had arrived in quite the same way
it always had at Malfoy Manor. It was nice to have something
familiar in a world that had changed so much otherwise.

"Happy Christmas, Draco," Narcissa said, giving her son a warm


hug after she had dismissed the House-elf. "I suppose you'll want to
open your presents now."

She gestured towards the massive Christmas tree and the gigantic
pile of presents beneath it, and Draco happily sat down to open his
gifts. His parents had been as generous as any other year - they
had given him designer dress robes and a new wizard's chess set
with pieces made of heavy pewter and encrusted with emeralds.

Most years, Draco only received gifts from his parents (though there
had been a year or two when he had been dating Pansy and she
had sent him a few silly trifles). This year, however, there was a
small pile of gifts that he was not expecting. Curious, he opened
one and was surprised to find a nice broom servicing kit from Ginny
Weasley. Another package revealed an assortment of candies and
Weasley Wizard Wheezes products from Dean Thomas, and a third
package revealed a new edition of the book Fantastic Beasts and
Where to Find Them, given by Luna Lovegood. He chuckled to
himself when he read the inscription Luna had written inside the
front cover:

I hope you enjoy the book, even if does seem to leave out the
existence of several important creatures – including Nargles,
Wrackspurts, and the Crumple-Horned Snorkack. At least the
illustrations are quite lovely.

Happy Christmas,
Luna

Draco withdrew his last present from beneath the tree. It was
wrapped in simple brown paper, and felt squishy when he squeezed
it. He ripped open the paper and out spilled a beautiful knit scarf. It
was warm and soft, yet had a masculine appearance to it, being
dark green with a few stripes of silver. As he pulled it out of the
wrapping, a small piece of parchment drifted to the floor. He picked
it up and read:

Draco,

I hope you like the scarf I made you - I know you'll approve of the
colors, anyway. And if you don't like it, I can always send you one of
those cute little hats I knit for the House-elves instead, since you're
always making fun of them. Ha! Have a Happy Christmas and I
can't wait to see you again after break!

HG

Draco smiled and wrapped the scarf around his neck. As he did so,
he thought he could detect Hermione's familiar scent - a delicate
mixture of rose and sandalwood - wafting out of the knit fabric. He
gazed back at the parchment in his hand, his eyes lingering on one
phrase in particular: ‘I can't wait to see you again....'

"Why Draco, what a lovely scarf," his mother said, making him
aware that his parents were still there in the room, watching him
open his gifts. "Did some lovely girl from school make it for you?"

Hastily, Draco shoved Hermione's note into the pocket of his robe.

"Yes, Mother," he said, turning to face her.

"And she's a Slytherin, I see," Narcissa added approvingly, noting


the green and silver colors of the scarf. "Is she anyone I know?"

Draco sat there sputtering for a moment, trying to think of the best
way to answer her question. To his surprise and relief, his father
came to his rescue.

"For heaven's sake, Narcissa," Lucius intoned, peering at them from


over the top of his newspaper. "The boy is eighteen years old. He
does not need his mother prying into his romantic affairs. I am sure
we can trust Draco's judgment in such matters."
Narcissa pouted somewhat, looking put out, but then she gave
Draco a sly smile.

"Very well, Draco. I'll let you have your little secrets for now. But I'm
sure I'll find out who the girl is eventually."

Merlin forbid! Draco thought to himself, thrusting Hermione's note


still deeper into his pocket. He was glad that she had signed it with
her initials instead of her full name. He realized that she had
probably done so intentionally, just in case one of his parents came
across the note. It was just like Hermione to be smart and think of
things like that.

"Yes, well, as long as the girl is a Pureblood, I have very little


opinion on the matter," Lucius said lightly, as he returned to reading
the Daily Prophet.

Draco looked up at his father from the corner of his eye.

"I thought you said that we had to act differently now, Father. Didn't
you say that we had to put those old notions of blood purity behind
us?"

"But of course, Draco," his father replied, lowering his newspaper


into his lap. "In the public eye we must appear to have left those
notions behind us - they are no longer considered acceptable in the
Wizarding world, now that the Dark Lord has been defeated. But
behind closed doors...well, let us just say that we would not want to
sully our bloodline by having our only son, the sole heir to the
Malfoy fortune, marrying anything less than a Pureblood witch.
Traditions are traditions, after all."

"Yes Father," Draco said quietly, running his fingers over the soft
fabric of his scarf.

Lucius, satisfied with this response, retreated behind his newspaper


once more, but Narcissa was observing her son very closely.
Feeling uncomfortable beneath his mother's scrutinizing gaze,
Draco rose to his feet, preparing to retreat from the room.
"Well, I'm going to the kitchen for some breakfast," he mumbled,
heading for the door.

"But Draco, dear," his mother protested. "There's no need to go all


the way down to the kitchen. Just have one of the House-elves
bring your food to you in here."

Draco just shook his head at her suggestion.

"That's alright, Mother," he said. "I don't want to put them to all that
trouble."

Then he left the room, leaving his parents sitting there staring after
him with perplexed expressions on their faces. Narcissa turned to
her husband, one golden eyebrow arched in confusion.

"Since when does he care so much about the House-elves?"

The Burrow was bustling and brimming with Weasleys on


Christmas Day. Hermione had spent most of Christmas Eve with
her parents, but had then Apparated over to the Burrow to spend
the night so that she could wake up with the Weasleys on
Christmas morning. She and Ginny stayed up late gossiping that
night, so when the two girls finally dragged themselves down to
open presents, the sun was already high in the sky.

"About time, sleepy-heads!" Ron teased them as they stumbled


drowsily into the living room. "If you would have waited any longer
to come down, we'd have kept all your presents for ourselves,
wouldn't we, Harry?"

His dark-haired friend grinned and shook his head. Hermione


thought that Harry looked happy, though a bit tired. She knew that
the war still weighed heavily on his mind, and that training to
become an Auror was a very exhausting business. He had also
spent Christmas Eve at the Burrow. Although things were definitely
cozier at Grimmauld Place now that Kreacher was more hospitable,
Harry preferred not to spend the holidays alone. Besides, the
Weasleys had long been a second family to him, just as they were
for Hermione.

"Don't think you'll want to steal all of my presents, Ron," Ginny said
cheerfully, perching on the couch beside Harry. "I think Mum and
Dad bought me those pretty pink ballet shoes I've been eyeing for
awhile. ‘Course if you really want, you're welcome to borrow them
from time to time..."

Everyone chuckled as Ron threw a couch pillow in his sister's face.


Then Fleur and Mrs. Weasley bustled into the room with trays full of
hot tea and biscuits, and they all settled down to opening their
presents.

Hermione received a new book from Harry, a few pairs of warm


woolen socks from Mrs. Weasley, and a cute hat with matching
mittens from Ginny. She also found a package of assorted candy
from Dean and a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find
Them from Luna. Ron's present was a gorgeous red cashmere
jumper. She had a feeling that Ginny might have helped him pick it
out, but she loved it anyway. Her last present was a small box,
wrapped in elegant silver paper. A bit of parchment was folded up
with it, and she opened it to read:

Hermione,

I saw this when I was out shopping for my mother's Christmas gift
and it made me think of you. And before you get your knickers in a
twist, don't worry, it wasn't very expensive. Hope you're enjoying
your holiday, even if it's inundated with Weasleys.

Happy Christmas,
Draco

Hermione glanced with some trepidation at the small velvet box in


her hand. It was obviously a jewelry box. She scanned Draco's note
once more, rereading the words ‘wasn't very expensive'. If he
meant that by Malfoy standards, it could still be a very expensive
gift indeed. Part of her was afraid of opening the box and finding
some gaudy, sparkly piece of jewelry inside - and another part of
her was afraid that it wouldn't be gaudy, but tasteful and perfect.
Either way, she didn't exactly want her friends - and especially her
boyfriend - to see it until she was sure. So before anyone could take
notice, she shoved the note and the unopened jewelry box into the
pocket of her fleece robe.

She waited impatiently while everyone else finished opening their


presents, ‘oohed' and ‘aahed' over the cute baby clothes and
blankets that Fleur had received from Mrs. Weasley, gushed over
Ginny's ballet shoes, and dutifully admired Ron's new Quidditch
gear. The whole time, she felt as if the little jewelry box from Draco
was burning a hole in the pocket of her robe, just dying to be
opened.

Finally, as everyone finished opening presents and made their way


into the kitchen for breakfast, Hermione excused herself to use the
loo. Alone in the tiny bathroom, she pulled the box and parchment
out of her pocket. Draco had said that this gift made him think of
her. What did he mean by that? Unable to resist any longer, she
opened the box and gasped at what she saw inside.

It was a gold necklace, with a charm in the shape of a rose. It was


simple, delicate, and by no means gaudy. In short, it suited
Hermione perfectly. Smiling, she carefully took the necklace out of
the box and secured it around her neck, looking in the bathroom
mirror to admire the way the gold rose twinkled at the base of her
throat. She glanced back down at Draco's note, her smile widening
when she noticed, for the first time, how he had addressed it:

‘Hermione'.

He had addressed her by her first name, just as he had when they
had parted before Christmas break. She stared at the parchment,
liking the way her name looked when written in his precise, elegant
script. Then suddenly she thrust the note back into her pocket and
turned to look in the mirror once more, frowning at her reflection.
How was he able to affect her emotions this easily?

She had gushed over Ron's present - had promised him that she
would put on the new jumper first thing after breakfast. And yet...
and yet she had not had nearly the same rush of happiness at
receiving Ron's gift as she had just now, opening Draco's.
Hermione was no relationships expert, but she had a feeling it was
wrong to be more excited about a male friend's gifts than your own
boyfriend's.

Her frown deepened as she watched the rose necklace sparkle in


the mirror's reflection. Draco had said this necklace reminded him
of her, and now she could see why. She recalled that night in the
classroom, when he had conjured a bouquet of roses for her, and
they had shared that brief kiss beneath the mistletoe. Her eyes fell
closed at the memory, an involuntary shiver wending its way up her
spine.

That kiss had been a mistake, Hermione realized now. Even if it


was the briefest little contact, it had elicited a physical response in
her body that had startled her with its intensity. And the look in his
eyes when she had pulled away from him... His eyes had been dark
with some emotion that she had never seen in them before,
something that both thrilled her and frightened her at the same
time...

Instantly, Hermione's eyes snapped open, and she was faced with
her own reflection once more. She should have realized that kissing
Draco Malfoy - even a small peck on the lips - would be neither
simple nor meaningless. After all, everything that occurred between
them was emotionally charged in some way or another. She
thought that even their heated interactions as children were proof of
that, recalling the time in their third year when he had angered her
so much that she slapped him across the cheek.

It didn't help matters that he was so attractive. On top of which,


despite his nicer demeanor, he still exuded that bad boy charm, still
had a slight edge to him that Hermione knew would always be a
part of Draco Malfoy. She reasoned with herself that it was perfectly
natural to be physically drawn to a man with that sort of personality.
It wasn't as if she had any intentions of acting on that physical
attraction.

A soft knock on the bathroom door made Hermione jump, shaking


her from her thoughts.

"Hermione?" Ginny's voice called out from the other side of the
door. "Everything all right?"

"Everything's fine, Gin," Hermione replied, flushing the toilet and


running the tap so that her friend wouldn't be suspicious. "I'll be
right out."

Hermione washed her hands in the sink and dried them on the little
towel hanging from the rack. Before exiting the bathroom, she
paused to glare sternly at her reflection in the mirror. She would
have to be more careful at guarding her actions around Draco in the
future. Adding physical attraction to an already intense relationship
such as theirs was like one of those concoctions they were always
being warned about in Potions class - volatile and potentially
dangerous.

It greatly disturbed her that she found this danger more appealing
than frightening.

The rest of Christmas Day was a mixed bag of experiences at the


Burrow. There were certainly some high moments, such as listening
to Bill and Fleur discuss the names they were considering for the
new baby. Fleur was well into her second trimester and had
developed that glow that everyone always talked about in relation to
pregnant women. It was clear to everyone that Mrs. Weasley was
practically beside herself with joy at the impending arrival of her first
grandchild. But there had been low moments as well, such as when
Mrs. Weasley realized that she had accidentally put out one place
setting too many at the dinner table, and was later found curled up
in the pantry, sobbing into one of Fred's old jumpers.
Despite the sad moments that occurred that day, Hermione was
glad to be at the Burrow for Christmas. While Fred's absence still
lingered like a dark cloud over the family, the Weasleys were a
loving, irrepressible group of people who she had come to feel a
part of. She wouldn't trade them for anything.

Thankfully, she did not receive many questions about the necklace
Draco had given her. Mrs. Weasley had admired it while she and
Ginny were helping her clean up after dinner, and Hermione had
merely told her that it was from a friend at school. Ginny had given
Hermione an oddly knowing look, but refrained from saying
anything. To Hermione's relief, Ron didn't even seem to notice the
necklace at all. For the first time, Hermione found herself feeling
grateful that boys were usually oblivious to such things. She rather
believed that if she started wearing a pink pygmy puff around her
neck, Ron would ask her if she'd done something different with her
hair.

That night though, as she and Ginny lay in bed, the secret was
finally revealed.

"It's from Malfoy, isn't it?" Ginny whispered.

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, though she knew exactly


what Ginny was referring to. She rolled over in her small trundle
bed so that she was facing Ginny; however, the room was so dark
that she couldn't make out her friend's face.

"That rose necklace you're wearing. Malfoy sent it to you, didn't


he?"

"Yes, he did."

Hermione hated lying, especially to such a close friend as Ginny.


Besides, what did she really have to lie about - it was just a
harmless gift from a friend, right? Apparently Ginny had the same
question.

"Why didn't you tell anyone?" she asked.


"I don't know," Hermione said with a sigh. "I just... I didn't want Ron
throwing a fit about it. You know how he reacts anytime someone
so much as mentions Draco. I don't want Ron worrying that there's
something more going on between Draco and I."

"Is there?" Ginny asked softly. "Is there something else going on?"

Before Hermione could respond, they were both distracted by the


thump of Ginny's bedroom door being opened, followed by a
scuffling sound at the foot of their beds. Her reflexes still fine-tuned
from the days she spent on the run hunting Horcruxes with Ron and
Harry, Hermione instantly grabbed her wand from the nightstand
and leapt to her feet. Not able to make out anything in the dark, she
advanced and found herself colliding with someone's backside.

"Ouch!"

It was Ron. And then -

"Ow, Gin, that was my foot!"

And Harry was with him.

Ginny apparently tripped over something (most likely Harry's foot,


from the sound of things), because she then slammed into Ron,
who then slammed into Hermione, causing her to drop her wand
and topple sideways. Before she knew it, all four of them were in a
tangled pile of arms and legs on the bedroom floor.

"Umph! Quit squirming!"

"Shh! You'll wake Mum."

"I can't see anything!"

"Ow, Hermione, you're sitting on my head."

"Gin, can you help me find my wand, love? We need some light."
"Just a second, Harry. I felt it around here somewhere..."

"Ginny, that's NOT my wand!"

"Oops! Sorry! Oh wait, here it is - Lumos!"

Instantly, a bright blue glow filled the bedroom, bathing the four
friends with its light. Ginny handed the lit wand back to Harry, who
was looking slightly embarrassed. Ron looked equally sheepish as
he extracted himself from beneath Hermione.

"What's going on?" Hermione asked, rubbing her elbow, which had
been bruised in the tussle.

"It was his idea!" Harry said, pointing accusingly to Ron.

"Yeah, well, you weren't exactly arguing with me, were you, mate?"

When he received two impatient glares from his sister and his
girlfriend, Ron finally explained.

"Harry and I were just thinking that maybe... that maybe we could
have some time alone with our girlfriends this evening. You know,
as in Hermione could come up to my room for a bit, and Harry could
come in here with Ginny - just to talk of course."

Hermione's lips twitched at that. She knew how protective Ron was
of his younger sister, even if she was dating someone he trusted,
like his best friend. But as Ginny's closest confidante, Hermione
happened to know that the littlest Weasley was doing much more
than ‘just talking' with Harry these days.

"Ron, if Mum knew about this she'd wring our necks like wet dish
towels," Ginny said.

"Yeah, well, it's pretty late so she and Dad are probably fast asleep
by now. Besides, we'll switch back in a bit and she'll be none the
wiser in the morning."

Surprisingly, Hermione actually found the idea appealing. Making


love with Ron was usually a relatively tame affair - wonderful and
enjoyable, but still tame. And since she seemed to be developing a
bit of a taste for danger these days, she thought it might be nice to
satisfy that urge where it was allowed - with her own boyfriend.

"I'm game," she said. Everyone stared at her, shocked at her


sudden and uncharacteristic enthusiasm for breaking the rules.

"All right then," said Ginny, grinning and going to stand beside
Harry, “me too."

"Ok," Ron said, tugging Hermione's hand and leading her to the
door. "So Harry, you hang out in here and I'm going to force myself
to believe that you are discussing politics with my sister."

"All right," Ginny said. "So when Harry and I are done -”

"Discussing politics," Ron cut in, a tight expression on his face.

"Right, when Harry and I are done ‘discussing politics', do you want
him to just come back up to your room and knock?"

"Well wait," Harry spoke up. "What if Ron and Hermione are done
‘discussing politics' sooner than we are?"

Ron drew himself up to his full height and crossed his arms over his
chest, glaring menacingly at his best friend.

"What exactly are you implying with that statement, Harry Potter?"

Hermione finally rolled her eyes and held out her hands to either
boy to stop them from breaking out into a heated, and potentially
awkward, argument about which of the two had the better libido.

"Look, we'll just switch back in exactly one hour, okay?" she said.

This seemed to placate everyone involved, and Hermione and Ron


headed up the stairs to his bedroom. They didn't speak on the
staircase to ensure that they didn't wake up any of the house's
many occupants. Hermione was surprised that no one had woken
up after the accidental collision in Ginny's bedroom. Then again,
she supposed that if you got any sleep growing up in such a large
family, you had to be a heavy sleeper.

Ron led her into his bedroom, and the instant he shut the door
behind them, Hermione threw herself into his arms, burying her
hands into his red hair as she planted her lips on his. Ron
enthusiastically returned her kiss for a few moments, and then he
pulled her away, looking pleased, but slightly dazed.

"Why are you stopping?" she asked him disappointedly. "Don't tell
me you actually brought me up here to discuss politics?"

"No," he said, shaking his head, “of course not. I'm just surprised, is
all. I didn't think you'd be this keen on shagging in my old bedroom,
in a house full of people. Aren't you afraid of getting caught?"

"Isn't that part of the fun of it?"

Now Ron's eyes widened in disbelief.

"Come on, Ron," Hermione continued, sighing impatiently. "I'm not


a stick-in-the-mud. I've had my fair share of daring moments
throughout the years. I was the one who suggested starting the DA
right under Umbridge's nose in our Fifth Year, remember? Besides,
I am a Gryffindor, after all."

With that, she surprised him by pushing him onto his bed so that he
was sprawled on top of his bright orange Chudley Cannons
bedspread, staring up at her in complete shock. Except for their
first, fevered kiss on the eve of battle, it was rare for her to be the
initiator in their physical relationship. Grinning slyly, Hermione bent
over and crawled up the length of his body, like a panther stalking
its prey. She watched with satisfaction as the look in his blue eyes
quickly shifted from bewilderment to desire.

"Do you really think I'm that much of a prude?" she asked, now
wantonly straddling Ron's midsection.

Ron shook his head, momentarily too tongue-tied for words. Finally,
he managed to speak, but when he did, his voice was strained
because of the movements Hermione was making with her hips on
top of his.

"N-no. Don't think you're a p-prude," he stammered. "It's just, ah...


Merlin, Hermione! It's not like you to be s-so eager to take r-r-risks."

She smiled wickedly, bent over so that her lips were right next to his
ear, and whispered, "What's life without a little risk?"

Breakfast at the Burrow found a disoriented Ron sitting at the table


looking as if he had been hit with a very powerful Confundus charm.
Hermione sat with a smug expression on her face as she buttered
her toast, and Ginny and Harry were trying not to laugh every time
they glanced at each other over the top of the juice pitcher.
Everyone else at the table appeared relatively normal, except for
Bill, who Hermione thought was looking a bit ill. He was very pale,
and Fleur kept rubbing his arm in a comforting motion.

Hermione nudged Ginny, who was sitting next to her at the table.

"What's wrong with Bill this morning?" she whispered. "He looks like
he's going to be sick."

"Oh, well you know how lately Fleur has been having those late-
night food cravings?" Ginny whispered back. "Well, apparently Bill
got up last night to get her a snack, but he accidentally came across
Mum and Dad ‘discussing politics' in the pantry."

"Ew!" Hermione gasped, covering her mouth with her hand. "That's
disgusting, Ginny! Poor Bill!"

"No kidding. Just glad it was him and not me. There are some
things even a brandy and a Memory Charm can't cure."

Hermione watched as Mrs. Weasley came bustling by with a


breakfast tray, rosy-cheeked and humming cheerfully. She placed
the tray down on the table in front of her husband, who craned his
head up to give her a kiss on the cheek. Upon seeing this, Bill
turned a vivid shade of green, looking as if he might vomit.

Well, Hermione could say one thing about Christmas with the
Weasleys: it was never boring.
Back to index
Chapter 9: Elemental Magic by atalanta84
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favour fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

~ "Fire and Ice" by Robert Frost

The first day of classes after Christmas Break, Hermione cheerfully


entered the Great Hall for breakfast, happy to be back. It was
amazing how much her feelings about Hogwarts had changed since
the beginning of the term. Back in September, she had dreaded re-
entering the school, afraid she would be haunted by memories of
grief and loss. Since then, Hogwarts had resumed its status as a
second home in her mind. Besides, she had spent the first half of
her "seventh year" building new, happy memories, and she looked
forward to building even more in the second half.

The moment she walked into the Great Hall, Draco looked up and
waved at her from the Slytherin table. She went over to sit in the
empty seat next to him. He grinned when he noticed that she was
wearing the rose necklace he had given her for Christmas.

"You like the necklace, then?" he asked, nodding towards it.

She smiled, reaching down to grasp the rose charm in her hand.

"Yes, it's perfect. Thank you."

Draco looked pleased, and his cheeks carried an uncharacteristic


flush as he passed over the tray of kippers, which he knew was one
of her favorite breakfast foods. Without pretense, Hermione piled
them on her plate and dove in hungrily, hoping she didn't resemble
Ron too much in her voraciousness. Suddenly, her eating was
interrupted by the sound of Ginny calling out to her as she ran into
the Great Hall.

"Hermione! Malfoy!" she cried ecstatically, brandishing a letter in


her hand. "This just arrived with the morning post and I had to tell
you as soon as I found out!"

She collapsed breathlessly in the seat across from Draco and


Hermione.

"Oh, hello Astoria!" Ginny said, noticing her Sixth Year Slytherin
friend, Astoria Greengrass, was sitting beside her.

"Hi Ginny!" the blonde replied cheerfully, smiling at her. "Why don't
you tell us your good news?"

Ginny grinned from ear to ear, her cheeks pink with excitement, and
held out the letter for everyone to see.

"This just arrived from the Holyhead Harpies' team manager,


Marcus Figwig," she said. "Apparently, he's interested in seeing if I
might be a good fit for their team. He's going to come watch the
Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff match in two weeks, and if he likes
what he sees, he'll invite me to the spring tryouts!"

Everyone offered their heartfelt congratulations, and Ginny


graciously accepted them. Then she fixed her gaze on Draco.

"I suppose I have you to thank for this, Malfoy," she said. "You must
have spoken to him like you said you would."

Draco gave a casual shrug.

"I might have mentioned you to Marcus when he attended our


Christmas gala at the Manor last week," he said. "But look,
Weasley, it'll be all up to you to get the tryout. Marcus Figwig is no
pushover. He only offers tryouts to people he feels are talented
enough to deserve them. You'll have to play pretty well at the
Hufflepuff match he's watching."

"I know," Ginny said, grinning, “but thanks anyway, Malfoy."

Then she rose to her feet, still brimming with excitement.

"I'm going to tell Dean and Luna the news," she said, before
hurrying over to the other side of the Great Hall.

"And I must be going to Transfiguration class," Astoria said, rising to


her feet and gathering her books in her hands. "Professor Weasley
will give me detention if I'm late again."

She paused, eyeing Draco and Hermione.

"Don't you two have to get to Defense Against the Dark Arts?"

"Oh, Professor Hong is actually holding class here in the Great Hall
today," Hermione replied, digging back into her breakfast. "Said he
needed the extra space for today's lesson."

"That sounds interesting," Astoria said sweetly. "Well, I'll see you
both later, then."

She grinned at Hermione, and then turned to Draco, her eyes


lingering a bit longer on him. The smile she gave him was almost
seductive. She really was an attractive witch, Hermione thought to
herself as she watched Astoria saunter away. She had delicate,
aristocratic features, with long, wavy blond hair, and dark brown
eyes. And she was more down-to-earth than most Slytherin girls,
which was probably why Ginny had befriended her. The instant
Astoria had given Draco that bewitching smile, however, Hermione
felt a strange sensation in her stomach, as if some nasty little
creature was in there, trying to claw its way out.

"Ooh," she groaned, clutching her abdomen.

"What's wrong with you?" Draco asked, raising one eyebrow at her.

"Dunno. Indigestion, I think."


Draco just rolled his eyes, not seeming the least bit concerned
about her condition.

"Well, maybe if you stopped stuffing your face full of kipper, you
wouldn't make your stomach hurt so much," he said mercilessly.

"You are such a snarky little git, you know that?"

"Yeah, but you know you like me that way," he said, giving her a
mischievous wink.

Oh, but she did. She certainly did. The damn prat - why did he have
to make snarkiness seem so charming?

"Astoria Greengrass seems to have taken a liking to you,"


Hermione said casually, taking a sip of her orange juice.

"Jealous are we?"

Draco's tone was teasing, but Hermione noticed that his grey eyes
were focused intently upon her face.

"Don't be ridiculous!" she said lightly, though she avoided his gaze.
"She's a sweet girl, Draco. You should go after her - work those
irresistible Malfoy charms you're always bragging about."

For some reason, her encouragement seemed to irritate him, and


Hermione thought she saw a flicker of emotion dance across his
eyes - disappointment, perhaps? He turned his gaze away from her,
giving a dismissive wave of his hand.

"Astoria's too young for me, anyway," he said.

"She's sixteen, Draco. She's not exactly in nappies."

"Well, either way, she's not my type," he muttered.

"So, what exactly is your ‘type' then?"


Draco turned to look at her again, his silver eyes darkening in a way
that reminded her of how they had looked after their kiss beneath
the mistletoe. Hermione felt her pulse quicken of its own accord.
When Draco spoke, his voice was serious and uncharacteristically
soft.

"Let me tell you about my type, Hermione," he murmured.

Before he could speak another word, Professor Hong came


bursting through the doors of the Great Hall, levitating several pots
and buckets behind him. From her angle, Hermione could not see
their contents. The room had been emptied of all students except
for those in the seventh year DADA class, who were now
converging at the front of the room, by the head table. Draco and
Hermione stood up and went to join their classmates.

"For the remainder of this term, we will be working on a new set of


enchantments," Professor Hong began. When his students began
pulling their wands out of their pockets, he shook his head and
continued, saying, "You may all put your wands away. For the rest
of this school year, we are moving on to an entirely different level of
magic - wand-less magic."

At this proclamation, everyone gasped and whispered amongst


themselves, full of nervous excitement.

"Now, most of the time, magic of this complexity is not taught to


young witches and wizards - not even at NEWT level," Professor
Hong continued. "But I am impressed with the skills you have
demonstrated so far this school year, and Professor McGonagall
agrees that you are a group of students that is capable of handling
these lessons. However, I must caution you, the magic you are
about to learn is difficult to control, and therefore extremely
dangerous."

"Brilliant!" Draco whispered, shooting Hermione a grin of


anticipation. She smiled back at him, albeit a bit apprehensively.
Ginny and Dean looked nervous, but Luna appeared unconcerned,
gazing off into space with a dreamy look on her face.
"The next three months we will devote to a branch of magic referred
to as ‘elemental magic'," said Professor Hong. "For millennia,
wizard philosophers have developed theories in an attempt to
explain the exact nature of our magic, and where it comes from.
Some believe that it is an element of its own, like earth, wind, fire,
and water - making magic a sort of ‘fifth element', if you will. Others
believe that magic is, instead, a combination of these other four
elements. Regardless, we know that a wizard or witch is capable of
summoning and controlling earth, wind, fire, and water with the use
of a wand. However, it is also possible for some more powerful and
highly-trained individuals to channel these elements without a
wand's assistance. That is what we will be practicing today."

The instructor gave a wave of his wand, and the four dining tables
fled to the outer walls of the Great Hall, leaving a large open area in
the center of the room. With another flourish, Professor Hong
arranged buckets of water and pots of soil into a row on the floor,
leaving ample space in between them. Two smaller buckets, one
containing candles and the other feathers, were sent sailing over to
rest on top of the Head Table.

"Each witch or wizard is said to be born under a certain element,


and that is the element that they are best able to manipulate,"
Professor Hong continued, once these preparations were complete.
"In ancient times, this involved linking the individual's birth date with
one of the four elements, somewhat like the Muggle zodiac. Similar
to the zodiac, ancient sorcerers believed that the element an
individual is born under - earth, wind, fire, or water - influences their
personalities and destinies. This is most likely complete and utter
nonsense."

Hermione breathed a sigh of relief. The last thing she wanted was
to hear more of the codswallup Professor Trelawney used to talk
about in Divination, her least favorite subject.

"However," the DADA instructor continued, “there does tend to be a


correlation between an individual's birth date and which element
they are able to control. It is not a strict rule, of course, but for
today's practice session, I would advise you to look up the chart in
your new textbooks and see which element your birthday
corresponds to. Then you will practice trying to control that element,
using the objects I have provided here today. The art of elemental
magic is to allow your mind to become one with what you are trying
to control - if you are trying to influence a flame, try to think as a
flame would think."

Professor Hong extended his right hand and instantly, a ball of fire
appeared and danced over his palm. Everyone gasped and
applauded appreciatively. The Chinese wizard allowed his stern
face to crease into a brief smile, before he closed his hand and
snuffed out the flame.

"Do not be surprised if you do not succeed in manipulating your


element today, as it is a very difficult skill to master," he said. "All I
expect from you is to give it your best effort. You may begin."

Hermione pulled out her text book and opened it to the page with a
chart listing the ranges of birthdays and their corresponding
elements. She had always known that her zodiac sign was Virgo
(not that she ever cared much for what that meant), but she had
never known what element it corresponded to. Discovering that she
was born under the element of earth, she went to sit in front of one
of the pots of soil that Professor Hong had brought into the Great
Hall with him. Draco's element was wind, so he grabbed a white
feather from one of the small buckets sitting on top of the head
table. He sat next to Hermione with the feather resting in his palm,
trying to conjure a wind to make it blow away. Each sat quietly for
several minutes - she staring at her pot of dirt, and he staring at the
feather.

"This is stupid," Draco said finally, rubbing his eyes in frustration.

"That's what you always say when you can't figure something out
on the first try," Hermione admonished, not tearing her gaze away
from the soil she was supposed to be manipulating.

Draco grumbled under his breath, but couldn't argue with her. He
watched her for a few moments, and then started to chuckle.

"What's so funny?" she asked, irritated.


"You are. You look pretty dumb sitting there staring at that pot of
dirt."

"Oh, and you look so smart staring cross-eyed at that feather?"

"Well at least I look good doing it," he said, lounging back so that he
was propping himself up with one hand, his long legs stretched out
in front of him.

Hermione snuck a glance at him and realized that he did look good,
sprawled out on the floor like a tantalizing Adonis. Damn him.

"You really are in love with yourself, aren't you, Draco?"

"Yes, well, ‘love at first sight' and all that."

"Ugh!" she muttered. "You are intolerable."

"Always," he said, shooting her a cheeky grin that made her


stomach flutter pleasantly.

Hermione sighed in exasperation, partly because she was tired of


staring at a pot of dirt, partly because Draco was baiting her, but
mostly because of how his presence still managed to elicit such a
powerful physical response from her. She had hoped that after
spending two fun-filled weeks with Ron over Christmas Break, she
would be able to purge her body of its strange attraction to Draco
Malfoy. Apparently, that was not to be the case.

"Look! Look! I made the water move!" Dean cried out, delightedly
pointing to the bucket of water he had been concentrating on.

"That's because you just kicked the bucket with your foot when you
shifted positions," Ginny said tiredly as she stared at a lit candle,
trying to manipulate the flame.

"Oh."

Crestfallen, Dean resumed staring at his bucket of water.


"Maybe you should try another element, Hermione," Draco
suggested, tearing his eyes away from his feather once more.

"But the book says that my element is supposed to be earth...."

"Who cares about the book?" he said, rolling his eyes. "Professor
Hong said it doesn't always work that way, remember? Just try
something else. Try fire."

"Why fire?" she asked, raising her eyebrows at him.

"Just a hunch."

With a weary sigh, Hermione went up to the head table and


returned with a candle, which she lit with her wand. Then she sat
staring at the flame in silence. The rest of the class period passed
quietly and uneventfully until -

"Eeeeeek!" Hermione screeched, throwing her candle to the floor as


its tiny flame suddenly erupted into an enormous fireball. She and
Draco leapt backwards, away from the blaze; however, the moment
the candle hit the stone tiles, the flame was extinguished. Hermione
and Draco both stood there, breathing heavily and staring down at
the scorched floor with wide eyes.

"Very impressive, Miss Granger!" Professor Hong proclaimed, after


rushing over to ensure that his pupils were unharmed. "Although, I
hope that everyone can now appreciate the potential dangers of
practicing elemental magic. Still, you are a powerful witch indeed,
Miss Granger, if you were able to manipulate fire without a wand on
your first day of trying. You have the potential to become quite a
skilled Pyromancer. Twenty points to Gryffindor."

As Professor Hong walked away, Hermione turned to give Draco a


triumphant smirk, but he simply smirked right back at her.

"Darling, that cocky look doesn't suit your face one bit," he said,
"Especially with your eyebrows singed off."
The day of the Gryffindor versus Hufflepuff match dawned cold and
clear two weeks later, and everyone was in an exuberant mood -
everyone except for Ginny, that is. She hardly ate anything for
breakfast, and as she and her friends walked out to the Quidditch
pitch, her face was so pale that Hermione could count every freckle
on her pasty white skin. When Ginny and Dean parted ways with
their friends outside the Gryffindor changing rooms, Hermione
thought the redhead looked as if she might actually vomit.

Nervous for her friend, Hermione made her way up into the stands
with Luna and Draco. She glanced over and saw that Draco was
wearing the green and silver scarf she had knitted him for
Christmas. With a mischievous grin, she tapped his scarf with her
wand and changed the colors to red and gold.

"Hey!" Draco protested. "You ruined it!"

"Draco, if you're going to be supporting Ginny today, then you need


to wear the Gryffindor colors," Hermione said firmly. "You can
change it back after the match."

"But I hate red!"

"Nonsense, it's a good color on you," Hermione said, giving him her
most winsome smile.

Draco grumbled under his breath, but made no further argument


about the scarf, nor did he attempt to change it back to its original
colors.

Shortly after they took their seats in the stands, they were joined by
Harry and Ron, who had just come from wishing Ginny good luck.
The moment they noticed Draco sitting amongst their group of
friends, they both stiffened. Harry's expression was uncertain, but
Ron looked peeved. Draco, who was sitting to the left of Hermione,
surveyed both boys with dislike, but did not appear overly distraught
by their presence. Only a dangerous little flash in his eyes betrayed
that some deeper emotion lingered beneath the surface.

Harry was the first to break the tense silence, stepping forward to
extend his right hand to Draco.

"Look Malfoy," he said. "I know there's been bad blood between us,
but I just wanted to thank you for what you did for Ginny - for getting
the Harpies' team manager to come watch her play today."

"I didn't do it as a favor to you, Potter," Draco said coolly, making no


move to shake Harry's hand. Harry quickly withdrew it as if he had
been stung. He scowled at the blond-haired boy, but managed to
swallow his anger.

"Fine, Malfoy, have it your way. I'm just expressing my gratitude to


you for doing something decent for someone I care about, that's all.
Take it or leave it."

Hermione gave Draco a subtle nudge with her elbow, and he glared
at her, letting out a pained sigh.

"You're welcome, Potter," he finally mumbled.

Harry raised his eyebrows, nodded, and then took a seat next to
Luna. Ron simply gave Draco a curt nod before sitting on
Hermione's right side. He leaned over to greet her with a kiss, and
Hermione saw Draco's eyes narrow to silver slits before he turned
away. If she was to rank the awkwardness on a scale of one to ten,
sitting between Draco and Ron ranked at eleven. Perhaps twelve,
after Ron muttered, "Nice scarf, Malfoy."

Thankfully, they were soon distracted by the start of the match, and
they were all too busy cheering for Ginny to pay attention to
anything else. It was a tense game, and to the dismay of Hermione
and her friends, the Hufflepuff Keeper was extremely talented,
forming a bright yellow blur as she zipped back and forth in front of
the goal posts. But Ginny's performance was nothing short of
phenomenal. She led her fellow Chasers in one charge after
another across the pitch, flying faster than Hermione had ever seen
her fly, and throwing the Quaffle with pinpoint accuracy. After an
hour of play, Harrison caught the Snitch, sealing the Gryffindor
victory.

Hermione and her friends were all on their feet, cheering and
screaming. Even Draco was clapping and shouting "Yeah Ginny!"
with his red and gold scarf flapping in the wind. Hermione caught
Harry staring at him with an expression of utter bemusement.

Then they were all rushing down to the pitch to find Ginny and
congratulate her. As they approached, a stocky but kind-faced
wizard had just left her side.

"That was Marcus Figwig, the team manager for the Harpies,"
Draco said to Ginny as they all approached her. "What did he have
to say?"

Everyone waited with bated breath, but Hermione could tell from the
light dancing in Ginny's brown eyes what the answer would be.

"He said that he was very impressed with my flying and he wants
me to come to their tryouts in May!" she squealed.

In an instant, Harry gathered her in his arms and kissed her so


enthusiastically that Ron covered his eyes with his hand and
groaned. Even Dean, being an ex-boyfriend of Ginny's, looked a bit
uncomfortable. When Harry finally emerged from kissing Ginny, he
looked happier and more energetic than Hermione had seen him in
a long time.

"Alright everyone, let's go to the Three Broomsticks to celebrate,"


he announced. "Drinks are on me!"

Everyone chimed in their agreement, but Hermione felt a light touch


on her shoulder and turned to see Draco standing behind her.

"I'm heading back up to the school," he whispered to her. "I'll see


you later." He then turned to leave, clearly not comfortable with the
idea of joining in the celebrations.
"Oh no you don't!" Ginny said with a determined look on her face.
She laid a restraining hand on Draco's arm, preventing his escape.
"You're coming with us. If it weren't for you, Figwig would never
have come to watch me play, and I'd never have gotten the tryout
with the Holyhead Harpies."

Hermione couldn't decide who looked unhappier with the idea of


Draco accompanying them to the Three Broomsticks - Ron, or
Draco himself. But before either boy could open his mouth to
protest, everyone's attention was drawn to Professor McGonagall,
who had suddenly walked up to the group of friends.

"A game well played, Miss Weasley," the Headmistress said,


smiling at Ginny. "Though I am no longer supposed to favor one
house team over another, I will tell you that I am very pleased with
Gryffindor's win today."

Her gaze scanned through the small cluster of friends until she
spotted Hermione and Draco, and her lips twitched somewhat when
she noticed Draco's red and gold scarf.

"I apologize for interrupting the celebrations," she continued, “but I


require Mr. Malfoy and Miss Granger's presence in my office at
once."

Draco and Hermione glanced at each other apprehensively,


wondering what the Headmistress wanted to say to them. Were
they about to be disciplined for some indiscretion that they didn't
recall committing? Apparently, Ron seemed to think this was the
case, because he stepped defensively in front of Hermione.

"Professor, if these two are in trouble for something," he said, "I'm


sure it was all Malfoy's fault, not Hermione's."

Draco glared at the redhead, preparing to issue an angry retort, but


Professor McGonagall raised a hand to quiet both boys.

"Mr. Weasley, as pleased as I am to see you again, I must ask you


not to interfere. What I have to discuss with my students is no
concern of yours," she said imperiously to Ron, before addressing
Draco and Hermione once again. "Mr. Malfoy, Ms. Granger, if you
would please come with me?"

"We'll wait for you to get done with the meeting before going to
Hogsmeade," Ginny whispered to Hermione, giving her a
reassuring squeeze.

Hermione nodded her thanks and then joined Draco in following


Professor McGonagall back into the castle. They walked in anxious
silence through the halls, and up the curving staircase into the
Headmistress's office. Hermione glanced at the portraits of former
Headmasters and Headmistresses lining the walls and saw that
Professor Dumbledore appeared to be dosing against his own
picture frame. Professor McGonagall went to sit behind her desk,
and she gestured towards two chairs that were arranged across
from it. Sneaking each other a nervous glance, Draco and
Hermione sank into the chairs and sat silently, waiting for the
Headmistress to speak.

"Mr. Malfoy, Miss Granger, I cannot pretend to be ignorant of the


friendship that has arisen between the two of you during this school
year," she said seriously. "To have such a bond develop between
two individuals, such as yourselves, who were once sworn enemies
was an event that was both unforeseeable and...unfathomable to
me."

To their surprise, she suddenly beamed at them both, her beady


eyes full of warmth.

"And in all of my years at this school, I have never been more proud
of my students than I am of you two," she continued, pulling two
manila envelopes from a drawer of her desk, "which is why it is with
great pleasure that I inform both of you that you are this year's
winners for the scholarship competition."

Draco and Hermione turned to each other and grinned, before


turning back to Professor McGonagall and thanking her for the
honor. She smiled and nodded at them both.

"You're welcome, you're welcome," she said. "But you have both
truly earned this award. No one in this school has done more to
improve inter-house relations than the two of you have this year,
and both of you are at the top of your class in grades. Not to
mention the wonderful essays you submitted with your
applications."

She rested her hands on the two manila envelopes lying on her
desk.

"In these packets I have enclosed instructions on what we expect


from each of you in regards to completing your research project, as
well as some information on how the five thousand galleons will be
disbursed. I have also enclosed a copy of your research proposal
and essay, for each of you to keep. Miss Granger, your essay was
spectacular, as usual."

She smiled at Hermione before turning her gaze to Draco.

"But Mr. Malfoy, your essay...." Professor McGonagall paused, and


Hermione thought she saw her eyes mist over slightly. "Mr. Malfoy,
your essay was utterly profound. I confess that when I read it, I was
both surprised and...touched, by what you had written. I hope that
you will consider sharing it with others."

She slid a significant glance in Hermione's direction, and Draco


sank lower in his chair, his cheeks a bright red shade that was
worthy of a Weasley. Hermione thought that if the school did not
have enchantments that prevented him from doing so, Draco might
have tried Disapparating on the spot.

"Well then," Professor McGonagall said cheerfully, breaking the


awkward silence. "I suppose I have kept you here long enough. I
believe there is a celebration that you both have to return to? And it
appears that you will now have one more thing to celebrate."

She slid the envelopes containing their essays and research


instructions across her desk to them, and they each picked them up
and headed towards the door, thanking her once more. Just as she
was about to exit, Hermione paused, turning back to speak to the
Headmistress once again.
"Professor, how long do we have to decide whether or not we want
to accept the award? I mean, if we were to change our minds, how
soon would we have to notify you?"

Professor McGonagall blinked in surprise at Hermione's request.

"Well, I suppose the latest you could tell me would be one month
before the Parting Ceremony - so by the second week of May. We
would need ample time to inform the runner-up...."

"If you don't mind my asking, who is the runner-up for the girl's
spot?" Hermione asked.

"Luna Lovegood. Her essay on her imprisonment during the war


was very well-written, and her grades are second only to yours and
Mr. Malfoy's. But Miss Granger, I must confess that I would be very
disappointed if you were to decline this award. The genetic
research project you are proposing is an excellent idea - why, if you
were to succeed in identifying this gene that makes us different
from Muggles, it would be a groundbreaking discovery indeed."

"I understand, Professor," Hermione said with a nod. "I will keep
that in mind. Thanks again."

Then she turned to leave the Headmistress's office with Draco


following close behind her. As soon as they exited the staircase and
entered the empty corridor outside, he let out a joyous whoop that
startled Hermione out of her thoughts.

"We won, we won!" he said. "Can you believe it, Hermione? I mean,
I knew you would win, but me? I can't believe I got it!"

Hermione could not help but smile at the undisguised elation that
danced in his eyes. She had never seen Draco this genuinely
happy before. It was quite adorable, actually. She gasped as
suddenly he wrapped his arms around her and lifted her a few
centimeters off the ground, spinning her around in a circle. Finally,
he set her back down on her feet, but continued to grip her
shoulders with his hands, smiling down at her.
"Just think about it," he continued. "You and I could even plan
things so that we conduct our research in the same locations. Can
you imagine how fun it would be? All the places we could see, and
all the things we could do in a year of traveling around the world?"

Hermione's smile faltered at his words, and she hung her head so
that she was staring down at her feet. Instantly, Draco's hands
dropped from her shoulders. He stood silently in front of her for a
few moments before speaking once more. When he did, his voice
was no longer joyful, but disappointed.

"You're going to decline the award, aren't you?" he murmured.

"I-I don't know yet," she said quietly, her head still bent so that he
could not meet her eyes.

"Hermione, you have to accept this award, you just have to. You
heard McGonagall - your research is too important to give up.
Besides, you deserve this."

"Luna deserves it just as much, if not more so, than I," she argued.
"Besides, I think Ron would want me to decline it. I can't be away
from him for a whole year like that...."

Suddenly, Draco slipped one large hand beneath her chin and tilted
it up so that he could see her face. Still, she kept her eyes lowered
beneath her lashes, not wanting to meet his gaze.

"Hermione," he whispered. "For once, why don't you ask yourself


what you really want?"

Her eyes flicked up at his words, searching his face as she realized
the double meaning behind his question. Draco was not just talking
about the scholarship competition. His hand was still cupping her
face, and she was surprised at how warm and soft his fingers felt
against her skin. Their faces were mere centimeters away from
each other, and Hermione's heart began to thud wildly as she
realized that she could feel the warmth of his breath mingling with
hers, and smell the faint minty scent of his aftershave. She saw his
eyes darken once more with an emotion that thrilled and terrified
her, because she now recognized what it was, and knew that it
mirrored the emotion that was fighting so desperately to emerge
from her own soul....

"Draco..." she began.

But before she could speak another word, the sound of someone
clearing their throat made them both realize that they were no
longer alone in the corridor. Hermione sprang away from Draco,
and her stomach sank with dread as she turned to face the three
individuals who stood several paces away, staring at them.

Ginny was gazing at Hermione with pained compassion. Harry's


expression was a mixture of bewilderment and suspicion. But Ron's
glare was fixed on Draco, and the look in his eyes was nothing
short of murderous.

"I still can't believe this!" Ron shouted, as he paced back and forth
in the empty classroom Hermione had dragged him into. "I tried to
be understanding, really I did. You said you wanted to study with
Malfoy. I thought it was a bad idea, but I went along with it anyway."

"Ron...." Hermione tried to speak from where she sat on top of one
of the desks, watching him pace in front of her. But Ron just ignored
her and continued ranting.

"Then, you started to be his friend. I thought that was an absurd


idea, but still, I went along with it because you said it was
completely innocent, and like the idiot I am, I believed you...."

"Ron, please."

"But now?" Ron continued, talking over her attempts to cut in. "Now
I find you standing in a corridor, snogging him! Him! Draco Malfoy,
my worst enemy. I can't believe it! How could you -”
"RONALD WEASLEY, SHUT UP AND LET ME SPEAK!" Hermione
bellowed, and Ron finally fell silent, stunned by her sudden
outburst. She took a deep breath, trying to gather her thoughts. She
knew Ron was angry - worse than angry, he was completely
outraged. She was glad she had managed to drag him away from
Draco before wands were drawn. Powerful wizard though Draco
was, she wasn't sure if he would have survived one of the infamous
Weasley outbursts. When she spoke again, her voice resembled
something like calmness.

"Ron, I know you're upset, but I can assure you that we absolutely
were not snogging," Hermione said. It was true, after all, even if she
wasn't sure it would have remained true if Ron, Harry, and Ginny
had arrived a few moments later...

"Yeah right," Ron muttered, resuming his pacing.

"It's true!" she argued, her voice rising somewhat. "We were just
congratulating each other."

"Oh, is that what they call it now?" Ron said scathingly. "Instead of
‘discussing politics', the new code phrase is ‘congratulating each
other'?"

Suddenly, he stopped his pacing, pausing to give her a questioning


look.

"What exactly were you congratulating each other for, then?"

Hermione's heart sank, and she wished that she could rewind time,
undoing what she had just said. This was the worst possible
moment to have to tell Ron that she had won the scholarship
competition, and was strongly considering accepting it. But now,
there was no use delaying the inevitable.

"Ron I - I won the scholarship. Draco and I both won it."

"Draco? So it's ‘Draco' now?"

"Yes, well, that is his name, isn't it?" Hermione said testily.
Suddenly all of the fight seemed to rush out of Ron, and he
slumped down on top of a desk across from hers, appearing utterly
deflated.

"So," he said quietly, “you're going to take the scholarship and


travel around the world with Malfoy for a year?"

"I - I really want to accept the award, yes. But as for traveling with
Draco...I don't know about that yet."

"So you're considering it then?" Ron asked sharply, his blue eyes
flashing.

"Ron...."

"It's bad enough that I've hardly been able to see you since
September, you've been so busy with school. But I understood why
you wanted to come back to Hogwarts, or at least I tried to. Now
you're saying you want to leave me behind for another year while
you go traipsing around the planet with that little ferret?"

"You really want me to give up this chance?" Hermione said, her


eyes filling with tears. "You actually want me to sacrifice the
opportunity to conduct my research - research that could benefit the
entire Wizarding community?"

"Don't talk to me about sacrifice, Hermione," Ron snapped. "I know


all about sacrifice. I lost my brother in the war. I could have started
Auror training with Harry last year, but I gave that up too so I could
stay and work in the shop with George..."

"That's different and you know it!" Hermione argued. "You're still
going to be an Auror; you're just delaying it for a while. What you're
asking me to do is give something up entirely."

She paused, recalling what Draco had said to her that one night
before Christmas, when he had told her that he thought she and
Ron weren't compatible. What had he said again? ‘You should be
with someone who actually understands you, and wouldn't make
you choose between being with him and doing the things you want
to do in life....'

"Draco was right," she whispered.

At this, Ron leapt back to his feet, his fists balled in rage, and his
face redder than Hermione had ever seen it before.

"Malfoy doesn't know shit!" he yelled. "I don't care what you say, all
this claptrap about how he's ‘changed'. Well, you're wrong,
Hermione. Once a Malfoy, always a Malfoy."

"Well that's rich coming from you, Ron!" Hermione shouted back at
him, rising to her feet so that they were closer to eye-level, even
though he still towered over her. "How many times have you told
me how sick you are of always being taunted for being a Weasley?
Now you're doing the same thing to Draco."

"That's different," Ron sputtered. Then he glared at her


malevolently. "Will you listen to yourself? You're actually defending
Malfoy - actually defending him against me! You know what, fine. If
you care so much more about him, then why don't you go ahead
and be with him instead of me?"

Hermione froze, her tears finally spilling out of her eyes and onto
her cheeks.

"You…you don't mean that," she whispered.

"Maybe I do," Ron continued. His voice was calmer, but less
certain. "Hermione, maybe we rushed into things too quickly after
the war. Maybe we weren't ready for a serious relationship. We-
we're only eighteen years old, and a lot has happened in the last
year....Maybe we need to take a break, see other people, grow up a
bit."

"You're breaking up with me?" Hermione squeaked, her eyes wide


with pain and disbelief. "You're going to give up on us - just like
that?"
Ron flinched somewhat at the look she gave him, but held his
ground in spite of it.

"I'm not the one who's giving up on us Hermione," he said in a low


voice, looking away from her. "You've done that yourself. I - I hope
you're happy with Malfoy."

"Ron, there is nothing going on between Draco and me! You're the
one who's making us out to be something we're not...."

"Hermione, please," Ron pleaded, holding a hand up to stop her,


and the look on his face was so full of pain and sadness that
Hermione immediately ceased speaking. "Maybe you weren't
snogging him in the corridor just now, but I saw the way he was
looking at you. I may not be as smart as you are, but I'm no idiot. I
know what that look meant. And the worst part is, I saw that look on
your face too -”

Ron's voice broke, and he turned away from her once more,
hanging his head. For the first time, Hermione could find no words
to argue with him. As much as she had tried for the past month to
deny that something was developing between her and Draco -
something that was more than just friendship - she knew that Ron
was right. There was something else there, and she could deny it
no longer.

Ron strode over to the door and opened it, preparing to leave. Then
he paused on the threshold, turning to look at her with eyes full of
pity and sadness.

"He'll break your heart," he murmured. "No matter what happens,


no matter how much you think he's changed, he will always be
Draco Malfoy. Dragons can't change their scales, Hermione. You
may be happy with him for awhile, you might find it exciting and
thrilling to be around him, but eventually, he will break your heart.
And I don't know if I'll still be around to pick up the pieces."

With that, he left the room, letting the door fall shut behind him.
Hermione collapsed into one of the classroom chairs, her mind
reeling at what had just happened. After all these years, after how
long it had taken her and Ron to finally be together, he was
throwing it all away and walking out the door. Yet, as mad as she
was with him, she was even more furious with herself, knowing that
she was largely to blame for what had just occurred.

Her thoughts awhirl with anger, loss, and confusion, Hermione


buried her face in her hands and sobbed.
Back to index
Chapter 10: Wind and Fire by atalanta84
The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In another's being mingle--
Why not I with thine?

See, the mountains kiss high heaven,


And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower could be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;--
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

~ "Love's Philosophy" by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Draco sat glumly at the Slytherin table later that afternoon, picking
at his lunch. To no surprise, he found that he had very little in the
way of an appetite at the moment. The events of the morning were
still weighing heavily on his mind.

When Weasley and his friends had caught him with Hermione in the
hallway outside the Headmistress's office, he had longed for the
chance to face off with the redhead once and for all; but before
either boy had been able to draw their wands, Hermione had
dragged Weasley out of Draco's firing range. It still irked him that he
had lost the opportunity to bring the freckly git down a few notches.

Ah, well, there was always tomorrow. Draco had a feeling Hermione
was going to have a difficult time curbing her boyfriend's temper, so
he might get a second go at him after all. He would just have to wait
for Weasley to track him down and challenge him to a wizard's duel.
It was only a matter of time.

What was really concerning Draco was what had happened - or


more accurately, almost happened - between him and Hermione
that morning. He had been so elated that they were the winners of
the scholarship competition, and downright shocked that he had
won the award he so coveted. As they had celebrated in that
corridor, Draco was nearly overcome with the desire to kiss
Hermione, and was almost certain that he could see a glimmer of
that same desire in her own eyes before they had been interrupted
by a troop of nosy Gryffindors.

With a loud clank, Draco dropped his fork on his lunch plate and let
out a groan of frustration. It hadn't been the first time that he had
been a hair's breadth away from expressing his feelings for
Hermione and was interrupted from doing so. What would have
happened if he had been allowed to finish what he started with her
in that corridor? He would have kissed Hermione... and then what?
She might have decided that in order to preserve her relationship
with Ron, she could no longer be friends with Draco.

Draco thought that in retrospect, maybe it was a good thing they


had been interrupted...

A flash of bright red hair sweeping into the Great Hall attracted his
attention, and he quickly rose to his feet when he recognized Ginny
Weasley heading towards the Gryffindor table. He intercepted her
before she could reach it.

"Weasley, have you seen Hermione?" he asked, cutting to the


chase. She eyed him speculatively.

"No, have you?"

Draco sighed in exasperation.

"Didn't she and your brother join you at the Three Broomsticks like
they said they were going to?"

"No, neither of them ever came," the petite redhead replied, her
face creasing into a frown. "We just figured that they were still
talking and sorting things out."

Draco squirmed uncomfortably, knowing that he was at least


partially to blame for Hermione's argument with her boyfriend.
Oddly, he felt compelled to explain himself to Ginny.

"Look," he said. "What happened between me and Hermione in that


corridor-"

"Is none of my business," Ginny cut in, somewhat coolly.

"We weren't snogging, if that's what you think!" Draco snapped.

"I believe you, Malfoy, I do. But I also believe that there's more
going on between you and Hermione than either of you is willing to
admit right now."

"You must hate me," Draco said dully, glaring at nothing and no one
in particular. "Well, see if I care."

To his surprise, Ginny shook her head.

"Malfoy, I don't hate you. It might have taken me longer to realize


than Hermione, but I know that underneath that pompous and
sarcastic attitude you're actually a semi-decent person. I know you
said you were only helping me get the Holyhead Harpies' tryout
because of your father's investment in the team, but you still didn't
have to do it. I think you did it because you felt it was the right thing
to do, and... well... I'm guessing you did it for Hermione, too, and
anyone who cares that much about Hermione can't be that bad of a
person, in my opinion."

Draco stared at Ginny in shock, hardly daring to believe that a


member of the Weasley family was actually standing before him,
spouting his virtues (however few they were). Then, his thoughts
instantly returned to Hermione.

"Look Weasley," he said, “if Hermione and your brother never


joined you at the Three Broomsticks, there's a good chance their
little fight didn't end well. You should go find her and make sure
she's alright. There's this classroom on the seventh floor that you'll
probably find her in..."

"I think you should go," Ginny cut in.

"What?! Are you crazy?" Draco stared at her, utterly nonplussed.


He had a feeling that he was the last person Hermione wanted to
see right now, not to mention the fact that he was not exactly the
comforting type. Far from it, actually. He usually operated under
that ‘kick them while they're down' mentality - or at least that was
the way he used to operate.

"Malfoy, you understand Hermione," said Ginny. "I don't really know
how, but you seem to understand her more than any of us does. I
think you should go talk to her."

Draco hesitated, then simply shrugged and turned to leave.

"Fine, Weasley, whatever you say."

"Wait," Ginny said, touching his elbow so that he stopped and faced
her once more. "I might not think you're the evil git you used to be,
but if you do anything to hurt Hermione, I'll do things to you that'll
make my Bat-Bogey Hex seem like a pleasurable experience in
comparison."

Draco took in the hard set of her jaw and her blazing brown eyes
and thought, not for the first time, that Ginny Weasley was a force
to be reckoned with. He smirked back at her, but his eyes carried a
measure of respect.

"Fair enough," he told her, and then spun on his heel to exit the
Great Hall and look for Hermione.

It was no surprise to Draco that she was in the usual place - that
same abandoned seventh floor classroom. She was sitting on a
desk by the window, the winter sunlight streaming in over her
bowed head. She didn't look up when Draco entered the room and
took a seat beside her, squinting in the bright light. They sat in
silence for several minutes, Hermione sniffing occasionally. From
her puffy eyes and red nose, Draco deduced that she had been
crying for some time, though her tears seemed momentarily spent.
He had a feeling he knew what had happened between her and
Weasley, but he waited for her to tell him herself.

"Ron and I broke up," Hermione said finally, wiping at her moist
eyes. Then she suddenly flashed Draco a warning look. "And Draco
Malfoy, if you so much as tell me ‘I told you so', or give me one of
your damn, knowing smirks...."

"What do you want me to say, Hermione?"

"Nothing," she sobbed, shaking her head. "I don't want you to say
anything at all."

Draco regarded her quietly for a few moments.

"All right then," he said, and in one swift movement, he reached out
and pulled her gently into his arms.

They sat there for some time, with Hermione crying into his chest
and Draco resting his chin on the top of her head, her curls tickling
his jaw and neck. Draco was surprised at how patient he could be
when he was with Hermione. Certainly, he had never been an
impulsive person, having learned long ago that sometimes when
there was something you wanted to gain, patience could indeed be
a virtue. That was just part of being a cunning Slytherin. However,
being patient when it was of no benefit to him, but to someone else,
was something he had never mastered until more recently. He had
never comforted anyone in this way before. He wondered how he
even knew how to do it, and figured that maybe comforting
someone you genuinely cared about was a thing that came
naturally over time - like learning to walk.

Finally, Hermione pulled away from him, and he conjured a


handkerchief for her to wipe her nose with. She gazed ruefully at
the large wet spot she had created on his shirt.

"Sorry about crying all over your shirt," she mumbled, blowing her
nose into the handkerchief he had given her.

"That's alright. The Malfoy house elves are good at what they do.
I'm sure they'll manage to clean your snot off of it... but if not, I'll be
sending you a bill for the twenty galleons it'll cost to replace it."

He had meant to lighten the mood with his usual sarcasm, and he
succeeded, because Hermione chuckled and rolled her eyes.

"I think you can replace your own damn shirt, Malfoy," she said. "As
I hear it, you're not exactly strapped for cash."

"That's true," he said, grinning. He liked how sometimes, when she


was berating or teasing him, she still referred to him by his last
name. It was her way of trying to put him in his place, and he found
it oddly endearing. Sometimes he, too, would catch himself calling
her ‘Granger', especially when he was baiting her. Old habits did
die hard.

Now though, at moments like this, he couldn't think of her as


‘Granger'. Here, with the light streaming in the window, illuminating
the golden highlights in her chestnut hair, and making the tears on
her eyelashes sparkle like diamonds, she was ‘Hermione' to him. It
was strange how even now - puffy eyes, red nose, and all - he
found her beautiful. Hers was an unconventional beauty, and not
the classic, patrician features of a girl like Astoria Greengrass, for
example. With her mahogany eyes and wild curls, he saw
Hermione's beauty as more earthy, like that of a forest nymph.

As if Draco's hand had somehow become a separate, sentient


being that he could no longer control, it drifted up to touch the dew
of tears still lingering on one of Hermione's cheeks. Cupping her
cheek with his hand, he lightly drew one thumb along her skin,
mopping up the moisture that rested there.

Instantly, Hermione stiffened at his touch, her eyes searching his


face. Then she relaxed, letting out a long sigh that stirred the
tendrils of hair that had fallen across Draco's forehead. She was so
close to him, he could smell that alluring, floral scent that was so
uniquely her own. The way the two of them were now positioned
was remarkably similar to how they had stood together earlier that
morning before they were interrupted by Weasley and Company.

This time, there were no interruptions.

Suddenly, and against all of Draco's expectations, Hermione was


leaning forward and pressing her lips against his. It was his turn to
stiffen momentarily in surprise, as every nerve synapse in his body
fired off at the contact. However, he quickly recovered, relaxing into
the kiss so that his mouth molded itself to fit hers. He could sense
her hesitation; he could sense that she was thinking of pulling away,
and that was something he was not willing to allow just yet. His
hands shot up to bury themselves in her curls and hold her head in
place as he deepened their kiss, and he noted that her hair felt
every bit as soft and silky as it appeared to be.

Their lips moved slowly against each others at first, exploring and
adjusting to the new sensations, but their movements quickly
escalated into something more intense. Still, it wasn't enough for
Draco. He nipped gently at Hermione's lips and she parted them
somewhat, granting him further access. He took the opportunity to
flick his tongue into her mouth, tasting the saltiness of her dried
tears. She gasped at the invasion, drawing in his exhaled breath as
she did so.

Hermione suddenly laced her own slender fingers into Draco's hair,
and his body practically purred at the sensation of her fingernails
dragging lightly against the sensitive skin of his scalp. It was almost
too much - in combination with the warm light, the scent, and the
taste of her - and he was unable to suppress a low moan of
pleasure and longing.

The sound horrified him - not only because Draco Malfoy never
allowed any girl to make him moan, but also because it seemed to
jolt Hermione out of whatever spell she had been under. She came
crashing back to reality, tearing herself away from him and leaving
him feeling utterly bereft of her touch.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, backing away and scrambling


awkwardly to her feet. "I shouldn't have done that."
Draco swallowed, trying to regain full function of his mental
faculties. His blood was still whooshing through his brain too loudly
for him to think clearly.

"I-I can't do this," Hermione said, stepping backwards towards the


door.

"You're actions would suggest otherwise," Draco replied sourly,


finally regaining his powers of speech.

"I'm so sorry," Hermione repeated, before whipping around and


fleeing out the door.

Draco sat staring after her, feeling stunned and relatively


disoriented, as if he had been rammed in the back of the head by a
rogue bludger. This was the second time Hermione had kissed him
in this empty classroom and then run away afterwards. At this
thought, his shock began to dissipate, only to be replaced by anger.

What the hell was her problem, anyway? If she thought it was such
a mistake to kiss him, then why did she insist on doing it, and then
running away from him as if the whole scenario was somehow his
fault?

Frustrated, Draco stormed out of the classroom and out into the
corridor. He could see no trace of Hermione anywhere. She had
probably escaped to the Gryffindor dormitories, where she knew he
couldn't follow her.

Draco consoled himself with the fact that she couldn't hide from him
forever.

Draco quickly realized that he may have underestimated


Hermione's avoidance tactics.

Much as she had done after the mistletoe incident a few months
before, she acted as if nothing at all had occurred between her and
Draco. The previous time, he had been happy to feign ignorance as
well, but this time he found himself discontent with the idea of
pretending that nothing had happened. Hermione was as friendly as
usual towards him, although he sensed that she had once more
erected an invisible barrier between them. She never allowed
herself to be left alone with him for any period of time; she would
only study with him in groups, and would only walk the halls with
him if someone else was present. Draco had a feeling Hermione
was purposely trying to avoid any situation where he would have
the opportunity to discuss their forbidden kiss.

Over time, he found himself becoming more and more angered by


her perpetual dodging. He was haunted by that kiss; not only in his
dreams, but during the daylight hours as well. It was as if Hermione
was some intoxicating and highly-addictive potion that he had been
allowed one sip of, and then been denied the right of ever tasting it
again. He couldn't get her out of his mind, and this irked him to no
end. With one kiss, Hermione had transformed him into a lovesick
(or more aptly, "lust-sick") fool, and yet she seemed completely
unfazed by the entire situation, going about her daily life as if
nothing at all had changed between them.

Two weeks after that stolen kiss, Draco finally reached his breaking
point.

It was late February, and the Seventh Year Defense Against the
Dark Arts class was still practicing elemental magic. Hermione had
now progressed to a stage where she could conjure fire out of thin
air without the use of a wand, and Professor Hong had proclaimed
her a true Pyromancer. She was not alone in her success, however.
Not long after she had discovered her talents with fire, Draco's skills
of manipulating air and wind had also surfaced. Now, after several
weeks of practice, he had emerged as a true Aeromancer.
Hermione and Draco's fellow classmates had had varying degrees
of success with manipulating their own elements, but the only
person who was even close to approaching their skill level was
Luna Lovegood, who was showing real potential with her
manipulation of water.
As Draco and Hermione's abilities had increased, Professor Hong
had requested that they no longer sit near each other while they
were practicing, out of concern that their elements would collide in a
dangerous way. The irony of this situation was not lost on Draco.
Apparently, even his and Hermione's powers couldn't get too close
to each other without things getting out of hand.

It was near the end of class one Monday morning when the incident
occurred. Draco was practicing his Aeromancy, lazily causing a
dozen white feathers to float in the air in front of him. One of the
Hufflepuff students had accidentally burned himself while
attempting to manipulate fire and Professor Hong had escorted the
boy to the hospital wing, leaving the class momentarily
unsupervised.

With a yawn of boredom, Draco glanced over to where Hermione


was trying to help Ginny with her Pyromancy. He watched in
admiration as Hermione conjured a ball of fire and expanded it to
create convoluted shapes in the air - a ring, followed by a spiral,
and finally an intricate starburst pattern. From where he stood, he
could see the edges of her irises glowing in the golden color that
was the sign of a true Pyromancer, according to Professor Hong.

Wishing to grab Hermione's attention, Draco conjured a gentle


breeze that caused one of his feathers to drift over in her direction.
It swirled elegantly through the air, tickled her cheek, and then
drifted in a slow circle around her. Hermione glanced over at Draco
and he gave her a smarmy wink. She raised her eyebrows at him
and with a flick of her wrist, sent a blast of fire at his feather,
reducing it to a little pile of ash on the floor. Then, she looked up
and smirked at him before returning her attentions to Ginny.

Draco’s body practically hummed with desire after watching


Hermione's artful display of Pyromancy. Power was a potent
aphrodisiac for a Malfoy, but the resurgence of his physical need for
Hermione stirred his anger towards her as well. There she was, still
focusing all of her attention on Ginny, after she had effectively
dismissed him once more. Well, Draco was having none of it.

He focused very carefully on the air surrounding Hermione, and


with a twirl of his hand, managed to create a sudden gust of wind
that blew her hair up and over her head, covering her face beneath
a mop of curls. She reached up to part her hair, glaring out at him
as if from between two curtain panels, before flipping her curls back
into their normal position.

"What is your problem, Malfoy?" she seethed.

"Don't worry, Granger," Draco said, leering at her, “I'm sure that if
you just ignore me long enough, I'll go away. That's how you like to
deal with all of your problems, isn't it? Just ignore them and pretend
they're not there."

Hermione's scowl deepened and she raised her hand to make a


slashing motion through the air, sending a small fireball soaring
over to land on the hem of Draco's school robes.

Draco yelped as his robes caught fire, threatening to ignite his


trouser leg as well. He hastily whipped out his wand and used an
Aguamenti charm to douse the blaze with a stream of water. His
robes were irreparably burnt and still smoking somewhat as he
looked up and saw the triumphant expression on Hermione's face.

"You'll pay for that, Granger," he said in a low, furious voice. He


reached out once more to exercise his powers, this time creating a
powerful wind that rushed upwards beneath Hermione's feet, lifting
her school robes. To his delight, Hermione had chosen to wear a
skirt beneath her robes that day, and that too was lifted up, briefly
revealing a peek of her sensible pink cotton knickers for the entire
class to see.

Hermione shrieked, trying desperately to pull her clothing back


down, and everyone else gasped, some of the more crass male
students chuckling at her predicament. Ginny looked aghast, Dean
looked uneasy, and Luna was frowning. Draco, however, was
laughing so hard that he lost his focus on the enchantment, and the
wind encircling Hermione ceased, causing her robe and skirt to
drop back into place.

Immediately, she stalked over to Draco, her chest heaving and her
brown eyes flashing with gold sparks of rage. She looked
uncharacteristically livid.

Good, Draco thought to himself. Now Hermione was finally


experiencing some of the anger he had carried inside of himself for
the past two weeks. She was no longer passive, or feigning
ignorance, or dismissing him as if he was nothing but a pesky little
fly. He had finally managed to capture her attention.

Draco also noted that Hermione looked very sexy when she was
angry. He couldn't decide whether he wanted to throttle her or snog
her senseless, and even in his distracted state of mind, he found it
rather odd that she could simultaneously ignite both of those
desires in him.

Everyone in the class formed a circle around the pair, intently


watching the confrontation.

"Back down," Hermione said through clenched teeth.

"You first, Granger," Draco said in a cool voice, surveying her with
feigned indifference. "After all, running away from a situation is what
you do best these days."

"You don't know what you're talking about," she hissed. "I've faced
bigger and more powerful opponents than you, Draco Malfoy. If you
insist on acting like a complete arse, you may get more than you
bargained for."

Draco merely folded his arms across her chest and gave her his
best Malfoy sneer.

"You won't do anything to me," he said in a challenging tone. "You


don't have the nerve."

The next instant, Draco's eyes widened involuntarily as Hermione


conjured the largest ball of fire he had yet seen her create.
Everyone else in the class backed away in terror, but Draco stood
his ground, his eyes narrowed and his irises glowing with silver
light. Reaching deep within him, Draco summoned every ounce of
power he possessed and conjured a large whirlwind in between him
and Hermione. At the same moment, the two of them let loose their
creations on each other.

Hermione's fireball and Draco's whirlwind collided in the space


between them, forming a towering inferno. They pushed against
each other with their magic, but they were equally matched in skill,
neither able to overpower the other. Therefore, their powers only
served to feed into the conflagration to make it grow slowly larger
as the stone floor blistered and blackened beneath it.

Draco noticed that most of the class had evacuated the vicinity,
although Ginny, Dean, and Luna remained nearby, pleading with
them to stop, their words lost in the roar of the firestorm. But
suddenly, a deep, powerful voice managed to cut through the din.

"ENOUGH!"

Out of the corner of his eye, Draco saw Professor Hong


approaching, having returned to the Great Hall after delivering the
Hufflepuff student to the infirmary.

Instantly, Draco and Hermione both released their hold on their


powers, but this proved to be a mistake. Without either of its
creators keeping it in check, the whirling flames began to spin out of
control. For a moment, Draco saw it flying in his direction faster
than he could dodge it, and he closed his eyes, certain that in the
next few seconds he was going to be completely incinerated.

Instead of being scalded to death, Draco experienced a sudden


deluge of lukewarm water splashing down on top of his head.
Shocked, he opened his eyes, swiped his sopping wet hair out of
his face, and blinked several times to clear his vision.

Hermione was still standing roughly where she had been before,
looking just as stunned and soaked as he was, with her curls
dripping around her face in a bedraggled manner. The blaze he and
Hermione had created was gone, presumably smothered by the
sudden gush of water that had struck them both. Nothing but
blackened tiles and a cloud of smoke remained where the fiery
maelstrom had once been.

Draco finally noticed Luna Lovegood standing not far away, her
eyes wide, and the irises slightly bluer than usual - a vivid shade of
cerulean - before fading back to their usual cornflower color. As
Draco glanced around him, he saw that several of the buckets of
water the students had been practicing with were lying upturned
and empty on the floor. That was when he realized that Luna had
used her own skills to withdraw all the water from the buckets and
direct it towards dousing the out-of-control flames before they struck
Draco and Hermione.

The next thing Draco noticed was Professor Hong, coming to stand
imperiously before them. Although the instructor's face remained as
unyielding as usual, his eyes were flashing with fury. He was calm
and contained, yet intimidating in a way that reminded Draco of the
late Professor Dumbledore. His voice, when he spoke, was
surprisingly soft.

"What the two of you just did could have resulted in you or your
classmates being severely injured - or worse," he said. "I would
have expected more common sense and self-control for students of
your age and experience. I confess myself deeply disappointed in
your thoughtless, childish display here today."

Indeed, Professor Hong's dark eyes were full of disappointment,


and even Draco flinched somewhat beneath his gaze. Again, Draco
was reminded strongly of Albus Dumbledore, whose
disappointment in a student could elicit a pang of conscience more
painful than any angry tirade ever could. Draco was glad, in this
case, that he did not have much of a conscience to begin with.
However, Hermione, who Draco had always thought possessed a
bit too much of a conscience, was hanging her head and appeared
close to tears.

"Twenty points shall be taken from each of your houses for your
reckless behavior," Professor Hong continued. "And you will each
write an essay - no less than three feet of parchment - on how to
safely and intelligently use elemental magic, to be handed in to me
by the end of the week. If you ever conduct yourselves in this
manner in my classroom again, you will be asked to leave and not
return. Do I make myself quite clear?"

Hermione and Draco both nodded and mumbled apologies, after


which, Professor Hong turned to Luna.

"Ms. Lovegood," he said, "twenty points will be awarded to


Ravenclaw for your quick thinking in diffusing a dangerous
situation."

Luna nodded, but did not smile in response to the awarded house
points. Her facial expression was much less distant and dreamy
than usual, and her gaze was shifting rapidly back and forth
between Draco and Hermione.

Professor Hong's almond-shaped eyes swept over his silent, shell-


shocked students.

"Class is dismissed," he said, and everyone scrambled towards the


door, whispering to each other and sneaking furtive glances in
Draco and Hermione's direction.

Draco watched as Ginny put a comforting hand on Hermione's arm


and started leading her out of the Great Hall. A few tears started to
slip down Hermione's cheeks, and he suddenly began to feel guilty
about having provoked her. During their brief friendship, they had
certainly had their fair share of arguments, but none had ever
escalated to the point where they actually used magic against each
other.

Draco felt a strange and sudden need to apologize to Hermione,


and to explain his actions. He made a few steps in her direction,
calling out her name. Hearing him, she turned around, and her
cinnamon colored eyes still carried a flicker of anger, despite the
tears now welling up inside them.

"Just stay away from me, Malfoy," she said in a surprisingly level
voice.

When she turned to leave, Draco made to follow, despite the


warning look that Ginny was now flashing in his direction. He was
only restrained by a gentle grip on his arm. Glancing over, he saw
Luna Lovegood standing beside him, giving him an uncharacteristic,
penetrating look.

"Let her go, Draco," she gently implored. "I think she's too upset to
talk to you right now."

Unwillingly, Draco allowed himself to be held in place by the


Ravenclaw, watching as Hermione and Ginny exited the Great Hall.
Once they were gone, Luna released her grip on his arm, but she
did not leave his side just yet.

"Why did you do that to Hermione?" she asked him. As her voice
was void of any accusation, it appeared that her question was
motivated purely by curiosity.

"I... she... well, she was ignoring me," Draco said sullenly. Then he
scuffed his toe along the stone floor in discomfort, suddenly feeling
like a petulant child.

Thankfully, Luna did not voice a like-minded opinion about his


behavior. Instead, as she was sometimes known to do, she said
something that demonstrated her startling honesty and
insightfulness in these types of situations.

"I think Hermione cares about you very much, Draco, but I also
think that her feelings for you are confusing and a bit scary for her,
especially since she only broke up with Ron a few weeks ago. I
think you need to give her a little more time."

Draco turned quickly to look at Luna, stunned by the girl's


revelation, and the forthright way she had discussed his relationship
with Hermione. He had had no clue that his feelings for the curly-
haired Gryffindor were that obvious, and was frightened by the idea
that they might become widely-known. To his relief, Luna quickly
returned to her usual abstractedness.

"You know, you and Hermione remind me of a pair of Umgubular


Slashkilters," she said.
When Draco raised his eyebrows at her, Luna went on to explain.

"Apparently Umgubular Slashkilters have a very interesting mating


ritual. When a male approaches a female, the female viciously
attacks him to determine whether or not he is worthy of being her
mate. If he survives the encounter, then she accepts him.
Otherwise... well, otherwise the male Slashkilter is killed and eaten
by the female. But other than that, it's sort of romantic, isn't it?"

"Uh... riiiight," Draco drawled, thinking that there were a few other
words for what Luna had just told him - odd, disturbing, and likely to
be a complete figment of her father's dangerously overactive
imagination. "Look, Lovegood, I've got to go change out of these
wet clothes before my next class. I'll see you later, okay?"

With that he left the Great Hall and whisked through the corridors
on his way down to the dungeons, still feeling cantankerous. He
barked at any students who had the misfortune of straying into his
path, and those who opened their mouths to question him on the
state of his clothing were quickly silenced by his steely-eyed glare.

When he arrived in his dormitory and saw his scorched and sopping
wet reflection in the full length mirror hanging on the wall, it did
nothing to improve his mood. Glowering at the sight, he began
stripping off all of his damp clothes, and as he did so, his thoughts
returned to his altercation with Hermione. He was fuming with anger
- but this time he was just as angry with himself as he was with her.

As Draco ripped off his wet tie and ruined school robes, he thought
about Luna Lovegood's observations. Draco grudgingly understood
the Ravenclaw's point; Hermione had only been dumped by
Weasley a few weeks before, and he knew that there was
supposed to be some sort of "mourning period" after a relationship
ended before getting involved with someone else. He supposed that
snogging a new guy on the same day you broke up with your
boyfriend was generally frowned upon, at least by people with any
sense of decency (Draco wouldn't really know, having rarely been
afflicted with that particular malady in his lifetime). He also realized
that he should follow Luna's advice and be patient with Hermione,
but he was finding it impossible to do so, and that concerned him.

Draco sighed, tugging off his trousers and then removing his damp,
white shirt. For all his faults, he could be incredibly patient when he
needed to be. If he were acting rationally, he would simply lie in wait
until the right circumstances came along before trying to claim
Hermione's affections. Or he would orchestrate a subtle and
intricate plan to lure her into his arms. This is how he had won
many girls in the past.

But somehow, things were different with Hermione. If the truth be


told, he had never allowed his thoughts to dwell this much on a girl
before - not with Pansy, or any of the other conquests he had had
over the years. He had never felt the same aching need for them,
as he did for Hermione. It was a weakness, and as a Malfoy, he
despised weakness.

The problem, he knew, was that it had been far too long since he
had been properly shagged. That would explain his apparent
inability to control himself around Hermione Granger. It had been
difficult, after his trial by the Wizengamot last spring, to find a girl
who was willing to shag a former Death Eater like him. Well, he had
never really been a full-fledged Death Eater, but he was so
ostracized by the Wizarding community that he might as well have
been.

Lately, however, he seemed to be regaining some of his old appeal


among the girls at Hogwarts, especially those residing in his own
house. Over time, he had noticed more of those flirtatious smiles
and longing female glances that he once been accustomed to
receiving in the school halls. Though he had not taken advantage of
them so far this term, he thought it would be foolish for him not to
do so in the future. What he really needed was to get a good lay,
and soon, before he did anything else stupid. As it was, Draco was
afraid that after the blow-up in DADA class, his fragile friendship
with Hermione had been replaced by their former enmity, and this
bothered him more than he cared to admit.

Draco threw open the lid of his trunk and pulled out a fresh, dry
uniform and set of school robes. He pulled on his pants, but had not
yet begun to button up his shirt when he heard a soft knock on the
dorm room door.

"Who is it?" he snapped, not exactly interested in company at the


moment.

"Draco? It's Astoria."

Draco stomped over to the door and flung it open just wide enough
to stick out his head and glare at the diminutive blonde standing
outside.

"What do you want?"

"I - I came to see if you were alright," Astoria stammered, obviously


startled by his anger. "Can I come in?"

With a resigned sigh, Draco held the door open for her and allowed
her inside, before letting it slam shut behind her. She jumped at the
loud sound, whipping around to face him. Her eyes widened when
she saw the expanse of bare chest peeking out between the folds
of his unbuttoned shirt, his skin scarcely darker than the white
material.

"What happened between you and Hermione?" Astoria asked,


finally tearing her eyes away from his chest and raising them back
to his face. "The whole school's talking about the confrontation you
two had in Defense Against the Dark Arts."

"We had a little disagreement," Draco said wryly, starting on


buttoning his shirt from the bottom up.

"A ‘little disagreement'? Draco, they said you both nearly blew up
the Great Hall."

"Yeah well, why would you care, anyway?" he growled, abandoning


the act of closing his shirt.

"I care, Draco," she whispered. "I... I care because I care about
you."
Astoria tentatively reached out with her small hand to touch the
bare skin of his chest, running her fingers lightly across his
pectorals. Draco could not help himself from sucking in his breath at
the gentle contact. His eyes flashed up at the girl, looking at her as
if he were seeing her for the first time.

"It's a mistake to care about me, Astoria," he said, his voice dark
with warning. "I'm not exactly a nice person."

"I'm a Slytherin like you, Draco. ‘Nice' boys aren't exactly my cup of
tea."

She smiled up at him, her dark brown eyes brimming with desire.
Her intensity surprised Draco, considering that she was only sixteen
years old. Then again, when he was sixteen, he hadn't exactly been
a little cherub himself.

"Draco," Astoria continued. "Whatever's bothering you, whatever's


making you upset...I can help you forget it, if you let me."

She leaned suggestively closer, one hand reaching up to brush his


wet hair off of his forehead, while the other remained splayed on his
chest. Draco stared at her in contemplation. Astoria really was a
beautiful witch, and she had all of the qualities that he had been
raised to look for in a woman - she was intelligent, well-mannered,
and a Pureblood. Her family was wealthy and in good standing, and
had remained so even after the war because they had never been
involved with Voldemort. Draco's family was reasonably well-
acquainted with her own; her older sister, Daphne, had been in
Draco's year at school and was now dating Blaise Zabini, if he
recalled correctly. He had lost contact with most of his old Slytherin
friends after the war, so he couldn't be certain.

Yes, Astoria Greengrass was everything a wealthy, well-educated,


Pureblood wizard like Draco could ever want. He had thought that
he needed a good shag to get over Hermione, and here this girl
stood, offering herself up like a lamb to the slaughter...

Without thinking any further on the matter, he pushed her up


against the closed door and crushed her lips with his own. She
gasped in surprise at the sudden and almost brutal manner in which
he was kissing her, but her gasp quickly evolved into a soft moan of
need. Draco kissed her harder and harder - to the point where he
was sure that both their mouths would be bruised and swollen
afterwards. In the back of his mind, he thought that the harder he
kissed her, the quicker he could purge the memory of Hermione's
kiss from his mind. His hands wrapped around Astoria's back,
encountering a long braid of blond hair that was a few shades
darker than his own. That was when he froze and pulled away.

There was something innocent and childlike about Astoria's braid,


which made him feel lecherous for using her in this way, especially
since the mingled anxiety, confusion and earnestness he saw in her
eyes made him strongly suspect that she was a virgin. While the old
Draco Malfoy had no compunction against deflowering virgins for
dishonest purposes, the new Draco Malfoy was put off by the idea.
Apparently, and to his immense irritation, he had developed a bit of
a conscience after all.

Besides, he had a feeling that shagging Astoria Greengrass was


not going to be enough to get his addiction to Hermione out of his
system.

"You're just a naïve little girl," he muttered, pushing the pretty


Slytherin away from him, albeit gently.

Looking angry and hurt, Astoria turned and stormed out of the
room, slamming the door shut behind her. Once she was gone,
Draco gave the door a frustrated kick.

He couldn't believe that he had been unable to allow himself to


press his advantage with a willing and worthwhile bed partner. He
knew it was all Hermione's fault. She might as well have put a
Castration Charm on him! For all he knew, she probably had. She
could be a sneaky little wench when she wanted to be. Maybe she
had secretly hit him with some sort of curse that only allowed him to
seek physical pleasure from her and no one else.

At this rate, Draco was never going to be able to have sex again.
He thought it was really a crime against humanity - or the female
portion of it at least.

Quickly, he finished dressing himself and tore out of the Slytherin


dormitory, up the staircase, out of the dungeons, and through the
front doors of Hogwarts. If he wasn't going to shag Astoria
Greengrass, then he needed a different way to vent his frustration.
He still had forty-five minutes until Potions class, and he would
spend them doing the only other thing that could bring him some
semblance of peace.

Minutes later, Draco was on his broomstick, blazing circles around


the Quidditch pitch, the wind drying the remaining moisture from his
hair. The faster he flew, the more he felt every muscle in his body
relax. Soon he was flying so fast that the empty spectator stands
were nothing but a colorful blur in his peripheral vision.

If anything, he thought sardonically, all this sexual tension will make


me a menace in the next Quidditch match.

Slytherin had continued to do well this season, and were poised to


clinch the championship in a few months if all went according to
plan. It would be Slytherin's first time being Quidditch champions
since before Draco had started at Hogwarts. Sadly, the thought was
not giving him much joy at the moment.

Since he had neglected to bring any gloves with him before leaving
the castle, his hands were freezing as they gripped his
Nimbus2001. Nevertheless, he briefly closed his eyes and enjoyed
the sensation of the cold air blowing against his face, ruffling his
hair. He realized now why his element was Wind. Somehow, his
mind was always so much clearer when he was fifty meters off of
the ground, leaving all of his concerns far below him. Yet, he had a
feeling that even if he flew high into the stratosphere, he wouldn't
be able to leave behind the predicament that was Hermione
Granger.

Suddenly, he was reminded of how Luna had compared them to a


pair of Umgubular Slashkilters. That his and Hermione's
relationship resembled the mating ritual of a violent and
cannibalistic creature was not very reassuring (even if said
creature was mythological). Draco wondered if, like a female
Slashkilter, Hermione was testing him in some way to make sure
that he was worthy of her. Would he pass the test in the end? Could
she ever find him worthy enough of being with her? It irritated Draco
that he was even asking himself these questions now, when in the
past, he had always been more concerned about a girl being worthy
of him. Still, he figured that he was better off than a male Slashkilter
in at least one regard: Hermione wouldn't eat him alive if he failed to
live up to her expectations.

Draco shook his head. He knew that he had to find a way to tell
Hermione how he felt about her. But then again, what exactly did he
feel for her? Friendship? Certainly. Lust? He smirked to himself.
Well, obviously he felt that as well. But he had a feeling that lust
and friendship would not be enough for a girl like Hermione.
Eventually she would want something more, and Draco wasn't sure
if he could give it to her. He wasn't even sure he knew how. Luna
had said that she thought Hermione cared about him very much -
how much, exactly? And in what way?

Suddenly, the chimes of the massive school clock drifted over to


Draco on the crisp winter air, announcing that he had only fifteen
minutes to get to his next class. With a sigh, he began lowering his
broom back towards the ground, all the while trying to brainstorm a
way to apologize to Hermione for his actions, make her realize that
he wished to pursue a physical relationship with her, and avoid
giving her high expectations for anything more permanent than
friendship to ever develop between them.

On second thought, maybe those male Umgubular Slashkilters had


it easy.
Back to index
Chapter 11: The Eye of the Storm by atalanta84
I am not yours, not lost in you,
Not lost, although I long to be
Lost as a candle lit at noon,
Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you still


A spirit beautiful and bright,
Yet I am I, who long to be
Lost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love -- put out


My senses, leave me deaf and blind,
Swept by the tempest of your love,
A taper in a rushing wind.

~ "I Am Not Yours" by Sara Teasdale

Over the two weeks following their confrontation, Hermione


continued to avoid Draco, and to her surprise, he ceased to
aggressively seek her out. It bothered her that he had succeeded in
provoking her that day in Defense Against the Dark Arts. It was
unlike her to lose her temper; she was always the calm, rational one
who kept those around her (namely Harry and Ron) from losing
their heads in tense situations. Yet, to her dismay, Draco's
provocation had managed to transform her into a raving, fire-
throwing banshee. Thus, she felt that keeping her distance from him
was the best option.

Hermione had often heard the saying "absence makes the heart
grow fonder", but she had never really believed it until now. The
more she tried to avoid Draco, the more he seemed to plague her
thoughts. She found herself sneaking furtive glances at him during
mealtimes, in class, and when they passed in the halls. Whenever
she saw his platinum blond hair falling into his eyes, she had an
irrepressible urge to brush it off his face herself, remembering how
silky soft the locks had felt as they slipped between her fingers. And
that annoying habit he had of nibbling on his quill during classes
made her remember how it had felt to have him nibbling on her lips
instead.

Draco made a few more attempts to speak with Hermione, his tone
slightly apologetic, but she always denied him the opportunity to
complete a sentence. She wasn't exactly afraid of him doing
anything else out of line. She was more afraid of what she would do
- like drag him into a broom closet and snog him senseless.

Which, she berated herself, would be a very, very bad


thing...wouldn't it?

One Friday morning, as Hermione was sitting at breakfast, Draco


caught her gaze as he strode casually into the Great Hall and made
his way over to the Slytherin table. She couldn't help watching him
out of the corner of her eye as she tried to busy herself with ladling
syrup over her hot cakes. She watched as he walked by Astoria
Greengrass and the Slytherin girl shot him a withering glare before
leaving the room in a huff.

Hmm, Hermione thought, that was interesting.

Why was Astoria angry with Draco? She looked on as Draco sat
down to his breakfast. If he had noticed Astoria's miffed reaction to
his presence, then he made no sign of it. He did, however, give a
charming smile to the female occupants of his table, who were now
flashing him shy grins and batting their eyelashes in his direction. It
was nearly enough to make Hermione gag on the scrambled egg
she was trying to swallow. She knew it was that aura of danger he
possessed, which drew women to him like moths to a flame, and to
her dismay, she realized she was no better at resisting it than any
of those other girls were.

"I am a sad, stupid little moth," she muttered to herself, stabbing her
hotcakes with her fork as if she had to make sure they were dead
before eating them.

"What did you call yourself?" Ginny asked. Hermione realized she
had spoken her thoughts aloud, and her friend, who was sitting
across from her, was now looking at her as if she was crazy.

"Never mind," Hermione replied, shaking her head. Before Ginny


could question her any further, a large, feathery object came
hurtling towards their table, landing directly in Ginny's cereal bowl.
The girl shrieked as the bowl tipped over, spilling cold milk and
soggy granola into her lap.

Hermione, however, recognized that the creature now perched on


the tabletop was an incredibly large and fierce looking eagle owl. It
gave her an imperious, yellow-eyed glare before holding out one
leg, upon which a small scroll was attached.

"Doesn't Malfoy have an eagle owl?" Ginny asked, shooting a


malevolent look in the direction of the Slytherin table as she
mopped up her lap with a wad of napkins.

Hermione shrugged and very carefully removed the bit of


parchment from the bird's leg. The owl's beak was large and sharp,
and she was afraid that if it nipped her, she might end up losing a
few fingers. Once she had the parchment in hand, she offered the
bird a bit of her eggs, but it merely blinked in disgust before
haughtily turning its head away.

"You're right, Ginny," she said with a chuckle. "It has to be Malfoy's
owl."

Then Hermione unrolled the parchment the bird had delivered,


reading the familiar scrawl:

We need to talk. Meet me outside the front doors after dinner


tonight.
~ DM

Hermione scowled at the brief message. It was not a polite request,


but a command. How very Malfoy-like. Part of her wanted very
much to decline his invitation - if you could even call it that - and
show him that there was no way that she was going to cave in to his
arrogant demands. Yet, part of her acknowledged that they did
need to talk, even if it was going to be an awkward conversation to
get through. The memory of their last confrontation was like a
nagging thorn in her side, and she was tired of letting it fester. It
was time for her and Draco to put the whole situation behind them.

Not wanting to grace his terse message with a response, she


merely turned to look at him, trying to catch his eye. There was no
need. He was already gazing back at her with one golden eyebrow
raised, waiting to see what her response to his note would be. All
Hermione gave him was a curt nod, but she knew he understood
her meaning because he nodded in return and resumed eating his
breakfast. She turned her attention back to the owl that was now
pacing back and forth in front of her on the table, with Ginny
nervously eyeing its movements.

"Shoo!" Hermione said to the owl, flapping her hand at him, though
keeping her fingers safely out of biting range. "I don't need you to
send a response. I'm done with you!"

With a disdainful hoot, the enormous bird took flight, making Ginny
yelp and duck as its claws nearly nailed her in the head during its
ascent.

"Stupid owl!" the redhead hissed, reaching up to smooth down her


ruffled hair.

"It's not an owl, it's a bloody pterodactyl!" Dean muttered, watching


as the bird sailed overhead. It flew over and landed neatly on the
Slytherin table next to its owner - without upsetting any of his food,
Hermione noted wryly.

"Well, you know Malfoy. He has to have the biggest and best of
everything," Hermione said, watching as the blond-haired boy gave
the owl a piece of his bacon, the bird swallowing it in one gulp.

"Yeah, wonder if he's compensating for something?" Dean


speculated with a smirk.

Hermione had heard of men needing to purchase large and


impressive items -cars, houses, etc.- to make up for being deficient
in the size of a certain part of their anatomy. She glanced over at
Draco, who now had a Slytherin girl sitting on either side of him,
fiercely battling for his affections. When he caught Hermione
looking, he shot her a wink so full of self-assurance that it ought to
have been considered illegal.

Somehow, Hermione doubted that he had anything to compensate


for.

Hermione picked at her dinner that evening, anxious about her


impending tête-à-tête with Draco. She took a deep, steadying
breath, telling herself that everything was going to be fine. She was
going to behave like a calm, rational adult. No matter what he did to
try and provoke her, she would not give in. She would be civil.

She glanced over at the Slytherin table and was irritated to find
Draco calmly eating his supper as if he hadn't a care in the world. It
annoyed her that nothing ever seemed to bother him. Suddenly, he
finished eating and glanced up at her, giving her a significant look
before he stood and exited the Great Hall.

Hermione frowned. Clearly, Draco meant for her to follow him. Well,
she would just let him stew for a little while. She knew where to find
him, and the last thing she wanted to do was start things off with her
coming to him like an obedient lap dog. Pleased with her own
tenacity, she spent a few minutes leisurely cleaning off her dinner
plate before she headed outside to meet Draco.

As she left the Great Hall, she tugged her cloak over her shoulders.
She had changed into a comfortable pair of jeans and a pink jumper
after classes ended earlier that day, and when she opened the front
doors, she was glad she had chosen to dress warmly. The mid-
March air was damp and cool as she stepped outside, looking
around for Draco.

He was at the bottom of the steps, pacing back and forth. Hermione
allowed herself a small, pleased smile at his rare display of anxiety.
When he saw her, he paused and greeted her with a scowl.

"You took long enough."

"I hate to disappoint you, Malfoy, but I'll never be at your beck and
call like your little Slytherin girls," she said coolly, folding her arms
across her chest.

"No, of course you wouldn't be," he said. To her surprise, his scowl
faded, and his lips twitched as if he were resisting the urge to smile.
Then, suddenly, he grabbed her wrist and started tugging her along
behind him.

"Malfoy, let me go! Wha - where are we going?"

"Away from here," he said, striding purposefully across the school


grounds. "Somewhere we can talk in private."

Hermione's eyes widened with dread.

"Not to the Forbidden Forest!" she protested, hoping that was not
his intended destination. That certainly wouldn't be the place for a
private conversation - not when you could easily be overheard - and
killed - by werewolves, giant spiders, and tetchy centaurs.
Hermione had had too many personal experiences with that forest
to think entering it alone with Draco was a good idea.

"No, we're not going into the Forbidden Forest," Draco muttered.
"I'm not a complete idiot, you know."

Hermione opened her mouth to suggest otherwise, but wisely


decided against it. After all, she had been determined to be civil -
which was more than she could say for Draco, who was now
forcefully dragging her through the Hogwarts gates and off of the
school grounds.

"Hogsmeade won't exactly be any more private than Hogwarts," she


said, thinking maybe that was where he was heading.
"Not going there, either."

Suddenly he paused outside of the gates, whipped out his wand,


and pulled her tightly to his side. Hermione realized that he was
intending to Disapparate with her to God-knows-where and instantly
panicked, struggling to get out of his grasp. But it was too late.
Draco turned on the spot and Hermione felt a familiar crushing
sensation as the gates of Hogwarts vanished from view.

Hermione's body unfolded, and her feet slammed against a solid


stone surface as they arrived at Draco's destination. Having not
been prepared for the Disapparation, she wobbled somewhat, but
Draco steadied her with an arm around her waist.

"Let me go!" she hissed, pushing him away.

He let go of her waist, but seized her wrist once more, pulling her
up the stone walkway towards a beautiful white cottage. On second
glance, Hermione thought that perhaps it was too big to be
considered a mere cottage. The building was well-kept, yet
weather-worn, with a slate roof and several flower beds that
Hermione assumed would be in full bloom within a few weeks' time.
It was somewhat warmer here, and she thought she could smell a
hint of salt in the air and hear waves crashing in the distance. She
knew they were likely still in Britain - recalling the limitations on
Apparition, Hermione did not think Draco could have Apparated out
of the country. The sky above was dark, however, and covered with
thick black clouds. Wherever they were, a storm was fast
approaching.

"Let me go!" Hermione demanded once more, trying unsuccessfully


to throw off Draco's grip. "What you've just done could be
considered kidnapping, you know!"

Draco rolled his eyes, calmly continuing towards the front door of
the house.

"It's not considered kidnapping when you came willingly to meet


me."
"I was willing to meet you, yes, but I didn't willingly Apparate here.
Where the hell have you taken me, anyway?"

"Stop being melodramatic," Draco said, obviously amused at her


distress. "If you must know, this is my family's summer home."

Hermione's eyes widened, but Draco merely shook his head as if


he had guessed her unspoken fear.

"My father is still under house arrest, and my mother never comes
here alone. The House-Elves only come every other weekend to
clean and they're not scheduled to come for this one, so we won't
be interrupted."

Hermione didn't find this prospect entirely reassuring; she would


almost prefer they be interrupted, even it was by the nefarious
Mister Malfoy himself. She stood there tugging ineffectively at
Draco's vice-like grip as he waved his wand and muttered a few
incantations to remove the wards protecting the house. Then he
unlocked the door, opened it, and pushed her inside, finally
releasing her from his grasp.

With a flick of Draco's wand, the interior lights of the Malfoys'


summer home sprang to life, and Hermione gasped in surprise as
she took in her surroundings. She wasn't sure what she had been
expecting, but it definitely wasn't this. Actually she knew what she
had been expecting - fire, brimstone, and possibly a bloodstained
alter for sacrificial victims. Maybe the Malfoys weren't devil
worshippers, but they had been followers of Voldemort, and in her
mind that was the equivalent of devil worship in the Wizarding
World. Instead, Hermione found a light and airy house, painted in
muted hues that seemed to be drawn from a seascape - blue,
green, and brown. There were white lace curtains at the windows
and glossy maple wood floors. In contrast to the rather ornate décor
that she had glimpsed at Malfoy Manor, this home had a simple
elegance to it - one would almost call it casual, in Malfoy terms.

She turned and saw Draco standing several paces off to her side,
watching her reaction to what she saw. Immediately she closed her
mouth, which had been hanging open in wonder and delight.
"It's nice," she said simply, giving a nonchalant shrug.

"We used to come here every summer when I was growing up," he
said, leading her further into the house. "I've always liked it here. In
some ways it feels more like home to me than the Manor does.
Sometimes I still come here if I want to be alone for a bit, to clear
my thoughts."

Hermione was somewhat surprised at what he was telling her, since


he rarely ever mentioned his childhood or family life. She followed
him to a cozy sitting room at the back of the house, which had a set
of French doors leading to the outside. Draco unbolted the doors
and flung them open, turning to give her a small smile.

"But this is my favorite part about the house," he said, stepping


outside and gesturing for her to follow. Tentatively, Hermione
walked out behind him and her eyes widened at what she saw
before her.

There was a sprawling stone veranda with a black iron railing


surrounding it. Several carefully pruned plants grew along the back
of the house, some of which Hermione recognized as rose bushes
that were still dormant for the winter. But what was most
breathtaking was the view. Not far beyond the edge of the veranda,
the ground dropped off into a sheer cliff face - one of several chalk
cliffs that Hermione could see from this vantage point. And below,
the sea splashed against the rocks, the waves churned white with
the impending storm.

"It's beautiful..." she said, turning expectantly to Draco, "...but I


believe there was something you wanted to talk to me about."

"Yes," he said, leaning both hands against the iron railing. He


sighed, obviously uncomfortable with what he was about to say. "I
wanted to apologize for how I acted in Defense Against the Dark
Arts that day."

"An apology from a Malfoy? Do my ears deceive me?"


"Don't push your luck," he muttered, turning to stare at the cloud-
scudded horizon. His next words were spoken in a subdued tone.
"Besides, as I recall, it's not the first time I've issued you an
apology."

"That's true," Hermione acknowledged. "Look, I'm sorry, too, for


how I behaved that day. I - I shouldn't have gotten carried away like
that. It's just that you can be so infuriating sometimes, you know?
What am I saying? Of course you know."

Suddenly, a huge bolt of lightning arced across the sky, followed by


a resounding crash of thunder. Hermione jumped at the loud sound,
gripping the veranda railing to steady herself.

"Scared of a little thunderstorm?" Draco asked with a smirk. "Funny,


I've always found them to be soothing."

Hermione raised her eyebrows at him.

"You find comfort in roses, and I find comfort in thunderstorms," he


said with a shrug. "To each his own."

"I'll never understand you, Draco Malfoy."

"You understand me better than most people," he said quietly.

"Maybe because unlike most people, I actually try to."

He cocked his head to the side, seeming to consider this for a


moment. Then he nodded, reaching out to finger one of her long
brown curls, which were blowing in the strong wind. Hermione
stared up at him in alarm.

"You didn't just bring me here to apologize, did you?"

"No, I didn't," he said, shaking his head. "I also brought you here to
talk about us."

"Us?" Hermione said nervously. "I don't know what you're talking
about - "
"Stop it!" he hissed. "Damn it, Granger, will you stop pretending that
kiss didn't happen?"

Draco was suddenly angry - even angrier than he had been during
their disastrous face-off in the Great Hall several weeks before. His
eyes were dark, mirror images of the roiling storm clouds above.
And then, almost as if his temper had willed it so, the heavens
opened up and a heavy rain pounded down onto them both,
soaking them within seconds.

Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, Hermione whipped


her wand out of her jeans pocket and turned on the spot, attempting
to Disapparate from the rapidly escalating situation. To her horror,
nothing happened. She stood there, panicked and confused, while
another crack of thunder shook the ground beneath her feet.
Draco's anger ebbed somewhat as he seemed to find amusement
in her predicament.

"My parents had anti-Apparition spells placed on this property," he


said. "That's why I had to Apparate at the edge of the front lawn."

Hermione's eyes widened with dawning realization.

"Y-you planned this on purpose!" she spluttered, now pointing her


wand at Draco. "You brought me here because you knew I couldn't
escape from you - you sneaky, Slytherin snake!"

"Lovely alliteration," Draco said with a sneer. "But now we're going
to talk about the topic that you've been trying to avoid for the past
month..."

He trained his own wand on Hermione's shaking form and moved to


stand between her and the doors leading back into his house. He
had suddenly become the old Draco Malfoy she remembered from
their early school years, and that made her extremely uneasy - and
angry.

"Forget it!" she shouted. "I'm going back to Hogwarts and I'm not
letting you stand in my way! Stupif - "
Before Hermione could finish issuing the curse, however, her wand
went sailing out of her hand and into Draco's waiting grasp.

"I was always a bit better at nonverbal spells than you were," he
murmured triumphantly, twirling her stolen wand between his
fingers.

Thinking quickly, Hermione flicked her wrist, trying to conjure fire in


order to defend herself. However, the instant the flames sprang to
life in her hand, they were snuffed out by the deluge of rain. In her
frustration, she began issuing a list of swear words, including every
curse that she had ever heard Ron and his brothers utter
throughout the years. Draco merely smirked and gave a patronizing
shake of his head in response to her tirade.

"Tut-tut-tut," he said. "Language, Granger. What would Professor


McGonagall say if she heard her star student speaking that way?"

Well, so much for my plan to stay calm and collected, Hermione


thought wryly. She forced herself to take a few deep breaths,
bringing herself back to a rational state of mind before she
addressed Draco once more.

"Just say what you have to say to me, Malfoy, so I can get out of
here and go home."

Apparently she had said the wrong thing, because Draco's anger
immediately flared up again. It seemed as if the calmer she was,
and the more she tried to distance herself from the situation at
hand, the more enraged he became. Hermione swallowed hard,
watching him as he slowly advanced on her. For the first time, she
found herself frightened of Draco, and she reflexively backed away
from him.

While she was familiar with Ron's temper, Draco's was a completely
different beast. Ron's outbursts generally ran a similar course each
time they were unleashed: he would turn red in the face and flail his
arms around, yelling until he was hoarse, but it was usually over
quickly. Draco, however, was cold, collected and completely
unpredictable - and in Hermione's opinion, that made him much
more dangerous.

"Look, you may be content to keep ignoring the giant pink hippogriff
in the room, but I'm sick of it," he spat, pacing back and forth like a
caged lion. "If you want to call that kiss a mistake then fine, go
ahead and call it that. Just quit denying that it ever happened."

"Okay then," Hermione said, willing her voice to be steady. "It was a
mistake."

Another round of lightning and thunder rolled across the heavens,


and Draco froze, his stormy gray eyes scanning Hermione's face.

"You're lying."

"No I'm not," she argued, but Draco shook his head.

"You're a terrible liar, Granger. Always were."

Damn him for being right. He was able to read her like an open
book, but she still couldn't read him. Yes, she knew he was angry,
but she couldn't understand why...

"Look, even if I wanted that kiss to happen, it shouldn't have


happened. You and I would never work out. We just don't belong
together, not in that way."

"You don't believe that," he said, taking a step closer to her.

"For Merlin's sake, Malfoy, what do you want?"

Draco paused, cocking his head to one side.

"You mean you haven't figured it out yet?"

"Are - are you saying you want me?" she guessed, her voice
squeaking in surprise as she realized the answer to her own
question. Draco rolled his eyes, and the familiar gesture eased
away some of her unease.
"You know, Granger, for someone who's supposed to be the
smartest witch of our age, you can be incredibly daft sometimes.
Yes - I want you, you silly, stubborn, impossible woman."

Hermione’s heart rate sped up, beating a loud tattoo in symphony


with the rain pounding against her skin. Despite the copious amount
of water sluicing down her face, her mouth went dry as Draco
approached her. His movements were slow and predatory, and his
eyes carried an expression startlingly similar to hunger. She found
herself torn between the desire to run away from him and the
warring need to throw herself into his arms and snog him
senseless. Instead, she stood still, her limbs shaking from more
than just the cold wind and rain.

"Stay away from me!" she gasped.

To her surprise, Draco stopped and let out a laugh that instantly
had her raising her hackles.

"What are you laughing at?" she asked, scowling at him.

"At you, telling me to stay away while you have that ‘come hither'
look in your eyes," he said teasingly, before he lowered his voice
into a silkier tone. "You know what, Granger? I think you want me
just as much as I want you, and you're too scared to admit it."

"I-I'm not scared," she replied, inwardly damning herself for


persisting to stutter like an idiot. "And I don't want you."

Draco shook his head, coming to stand directly in front of her. If she
wanted to - and a part of her did - Hermione could have reached out
and touched him.

"For Merlin's sake," he muttered. "You've turned denial into


something of an art form."

The silence stretched on between them for a long moment, and


there was nothing but the storm and the two of them gazing back at
each other. Draco's eyes were dark with that look that Hermione
had come to recognize as pure, unabashed desire, and it made her
shiver beneath its intensity. She idly wondered what emotion her
own eyes were conveying to him at that very moment. Despite the
chill and the wet, she felt her body tingling with an indefinable heat
and she could almost imagine that that fiery inferno they had
created two weeks before was now spinning between them once
more, about to consume everything in its path. And this time, she
wanted nothing more than to throw caution to the wind and step into
the blaze.

Suddenly, Draco tore his eyes away from hers and the spell
between them was broken.

"Alright, I've had my say," he said quietly, so that Hermione had to


strain to hear him over the rising gale. "I'm leaving the choice up to
you. I'm going to give you one chance to leave - to go back into that
house, out of the front door, and Disapparate to Hogwarts. But only
one chance. If you choose not to take it, if you decide to stay here
with me, then I can tell you right now that there will be no going
back. I'm not going to let you keep toying with me like I'm someone
you can go to when the urge strikes. You can't just change your
mind when your conscience gets the better of you."

Slowly, to show her that he did not intend to attack, Draco held out
her wand for her to take back. Hermione did so, relieved to have the
familiar stick of wood in her grasp once more. Then, she watched
as Draco took a few steps aside, leaving the way clear for her to
escape him at last.

Hermione stared at him. What did she want? Her gaze raked over
the measuring look in his steel grey eyes, the blond hair plastered
against his forehead, dripping down into his face. She took in the
black turtleneck and tailored black pants he wore beneath his cloak,
all the material now slicked against his body from the rain, hinting at
the subtle musculature beneath. She felt it was unfair that he was
doing this, giving her just one moment in time to make a decision
that could have long-lasting emotional consequences - at least for
her. She knew how easy it was for him to move from one girl to the
next, tossing the last one away like a pair of old shoes. But is that
how it would be with her? Did she have any reason to believe that
Draco would act differently if she was the one sharing his bed?

Hermione had never felt so undecided in her entire life. For a


moment, she took a few steps towards the house, the rational part
of her brain telling her she should retreat to safety. Then she
stepped towards Draco, her body burning with need for him, with
the need to kiss him again and find out what other delightful
sensations he could unlock when she was in his arms. Frightened
by the strength of her desire, she stepped away from him once
more, realizing with some frustration that she must look like a fool
doing an odd little back-and-forth dance.

Draco watched her internal struggle, his facial expression a cross


between annoyance and amusement. He shook his head and
crossed his arms over his chest, which, to Hermione's dismay,
showed off the toned muscle in his biceps.

"Brave little Gryffindor," he murmured. "Too frightened to take what


she wants."

"Damn it, Malfoy, you could never give me what I want."

Instead of getting mad as she was expecting him to do, Draco


merely gave a sage nod and said, "You're right. I couldn't."

"Okay then. Now that we've established that..."

And with all the recklessness of a diver leaping off of a cliff into the
sea, Hermione stepped forward, grabbed Draco roughly by the front
of his shirt, and pulled his face down so that her lips were crushed
against his. She kissed him fiercely for a few moments, hardly
giving him a chance to react. Finally, his arms uncoiled and
wrapped around her, pulling her closer so that her body aligned
perfectly with his, like two pieces of a puzzle locking into place.
Heat radiated outwards from his body and seeped into her skin,
despite all the layers of wet clothing between them. Soon, he was
kissing her back with an intensity that matched her own.

In a distant part of her mind, Hermione seemed to notice a sudden


lack of wind and rain beating against them. It was odd, but the
absence did not immediately register, and she was too preoccupied
with the delightful taste of Draco's mouth to give it much thought.
Finally, needing to breathe, she pulled a few centimeters away from
him, and gasped when she saw what was happening around them.

It was as if there was an invisible bubble encasing them both,


forcing the driving wind and rain to blow up and around them, but
not touch them. Hermione glanced up at Draco, whose eyes were
heavy-lidded with desire, his irises glowing with the silver light of an
Aeromancer. His expression carried a trace of smugness, and she
realized that he was using his powers to protect them from the
storm.

"Do you remember that day in Defense Against the Dark Arts when
we first learned about elemental magic?" he whispered, trailing his
index finger along her rain-slicked cheek. "I guessed that you would
be a Pyromancer, and you wondered how I knew."

"Yes, you said it was just a hunch you had."

He nodded, his finger now dragging up to her lips, tracing their


edges as if he was mapping them for future reference.

"Even if you're a war hero and a good little Gryffindor, I've always
had a feeling that there was more to you than that. Somehow I
knew that if given half a chance, you wouldn't mind playing with
fire."

Draco gave her a sly grin, and Hermione thought she might achieve
spontaneous combustion right then and there.

"Well," she murmured, “you know what happens when you play with
fire, right?"

"Granger, I don't really give a shit."

And then Draco's mouth was crashing down once more, capturing
hers in a devouring kiss that shot through her body like fire itself.
The storm continued to rage all around them, a blur of rain and
wind, thunder and lightning, clouds and crashing waves – none of
which could touch them, protected as they were inside the invisible
globe of Draco's powers. It was like being in the eye of a hurricane;
Hermione felt temporarily safe, but uncertain of what lay ahead. At
that moment she realized that what happened between them was,
in a way, impossible to control. And so, for the first time in her life,
she finally let go, content just to exist.

Hermione clawed at Draco's shoulders, pulling his body as close to


hers as humanly possible, knowing that if she somehow managed
to crawl inside of him, it still wouldn't be close enough. Draco was
also seeking a way to get closer, running his hands over her arms
and her back, frustrated by the layers of soggy wet clothes that
came between them. Finally he cupped his hands beneath her
denim-covered backside, lifting her upwards. Acknowledging his
intention, Hermione wrapped her legs around his hips and held onto
his neck, all the while not breaking their kiss.

Dimly, she noticed that the rain and the wind were fading away, and
that he had carried her back inside the house. Draco pressed her
up against a wall for a moment, pulling his lips away to catch his
breath. Hermione still clung to him, frantically working at the clasp
on his travel cloak until she had released it and thrown the dripping
black garment to the floor. Then she did the same with her own
cloak. She made to pull up Draco's jumper next, but before she
could lift the material, he was kissing her again. His lips trailed to
her neck, running all the way down to the base of her throat, and
then back up again to suckle the sensitive skin beneath her ear.

Hermione's eyes fell closed and she let out a low moan, her hips
jerking involuntarily against Draco's. He cursed under his breath,
and suddenly they were moving again, and he was carrying her
down a corridor and up a staircase. During their ascent, Hermione
pulled away from him just enough to tug her pink jumper off over
her head, letting it drop to the ground in some random second-story
hallway.

Finally, Draco kicked open a door to enter a dark chamber, and with
a wave of his wand, several candles came to life, filling the room
with their faint, flickering glow. Hermione had a quick glimpse of
cream and gold wallpaper, gauzy curtains, and a large, wrought-
iron bed before she was plopped down into the center of it. Falling
onto the fluffy white duvet was like sinking into a cloud.

Draco crouched above Hermione, bracing himself up on his hands


so that he wasn't crushing her with his weight. Her upper half was
now covered only by her simple, blue cotton bra, and Draco's eyes
raked hungrily over her body, taking in the sight of her goose-bump
covered flesh and the wet material clinging to her breasts, revealing
the hardened peaks beneath. Hermione plucked at the expensive
knit material of his jumper, her hands desperately seeking skin, and
Draco sat upright and pulled the turtleneck up over his head,
flinging it to the floor. Hermione drew in a sharp breath as she
finally laid eyes on his half-naked form.

Draco was leaner than Ron was, and she could see the faint outline
of his ribs, but his chest and shoulders still rippled with lanky
muscle as he moved. His rain-drenched flesh shimmered in the
candlelight, and his skin was pale and flawless, making him look as
if he were chiseled from white marble - a living, breathing version of
one of Michelangelo's statues.

Hermione pushed herself upright to kneel in front of Draco, running


her hands over the planes of his chest, studying the lines of his
collar bones, his pectorals, and his taut abdomen. For someone
who looked as if he was carved from cold alabaster, his flesh felt
surprisingly hot beneath her fingertips. He hissed with pleasure at
her exploratory touch, and then reached behind her back to unclasp
her bra, sliding the straps down her arms. Hermione's cheeks
flamed as she felt the heat of Draco's scrutinizing gaze.

"Beautiful," Draco whispered reverently, as if sensing her insecurity.


He kissed her once more, pushing her onto her back with gentle
insistence. His mouth was suddenly everywhere at once - on her
neck, her breasts, her stomach - sucking the rain water off of her
skin as if he was a man who had been wandering in a desert for
days and stumbled upon an oasis at last. Hermione gasped and
buried her hands in his wet hair as he flicked the tip of his tongue
into her navel, lapping up the rain drops he found there.

Draco bent down to remove her trainers and soggy socks, plopping
them down on the floor. Then he unzipped her blue jeans and
attempted to peel them off of her legs, but the damp material clung
to her limbs like glue, and despite his impatient tugs, he was unable
to remove them.

"Damn Muggle clothes," he muttered. "How the hell do you get


these things off?"

If she wasn't so breathless with lust, Hermione would have laughed


at his frustration, but instead she assisted him in pulling off her
jeans. He flung them to the other side of the room as if they had
morally offended him, and then bent down to continue sipping the
water from her skin, this time from her thighs and the sensitive
regions behind her knees. Hermione moaned as his tongue laved
over her legs, and she arched her hips off of the bed, filled with an
aching, insatiable need. Draco chuckled at the wanton gesture, his
hot breath grazing her inner thigh.

"Hmm, aren't we impatient?"

"Damn you, Draco Malfoy," Hermione groaned. "If you keep teasing
me like this, I swear I'll use Avada Kedavra on you. Take your pants
off. Now."

He smirked at her request, but to her surprise he stood up and


complied, kicking off his shoes and sliding his trousers down his
narrow hips. His legs were as pale and muscular as the rest of him
was, sprinkled with fine golden hairs, but Hermione found herself
fixated on the telltale bulge in the center of his black silk boxers.
Before he could toss his pants aside, however, she stopped him.

"Wait," she whispered, “I need your wand, since mine is on the


other side of the room in my jeans pocket. I stopped taking my
contraceptive potion when I broke up with - I mean I need to use a
spell...."

Needing no further explanation, Draco took his wand out of his


pocket and waved it expertly over her abdomen, muttering an
incantation. Hermione felt a tingling sensation in her womb which let
her know that he had successfully cast a contraceptive spell on her.
She frowned at how easily he recalled the incantation; it reminded
her of just how many notches he had in his bedpost, and the fact
that she was about to add herself to that tally. On top of things, she
was suddenly plagued by thoughts of Ron, remembering how
tender and uncertain their first love-making sessions had been.
They had learned so much from each other in those moments.
Briefly, alarm bells went off in her head, and she panicked at the
idea of what she was about to do with Draco when her heart still
belonged, at least in part, to Ron...

But when Draco tossed his wand on the nightstand and crawled
back onto the bed to straddle her hips, she forced herself to push
the thought out of her mind. It was amazing really, how Draco could
anchor her to the present, prevent her thoughts from drifting to the
past or the future, and keep her focused on living in the moment.
Ron had left her - that was his choice. And as much as it still broke
her heart, she felt helpless to control the new emotions that Draco
was unleashing in her. Afraid of being torn apart by her conflicting
thoughts, she shut down thought all together and focused on
simply feeling.

Hermione arched her hips, which were still encased in her blue
cotton panties, and dragged her heat along Draco's length,
concealed behind his silk boxers. She smirked triumphantly as his
whole body responded with a spasm of pleasure.

"Hypocrite," he said huskily. "Now who's doing the teasing?" And


before Hermione quite realized how he had accomplished it, he had
divested both of them of their knickers, and there were no longer
any cloth barriers between them. Draco kissed her deeply, his
tongue probing her mouth while his long fingers stroked between
her thighs until she was practically begging for him to end her
agony. Obligingly, Draco lowered himself between her legs, but
then hesitated, hovering there on the precipice. When he gazed
down at her, she was surprised to find a trace of uncertainty in his
slate-colored eyes.

"Hermione," he murmured, “what I said earlier is true. I don't think I


can give you...I mean I can't - "
But Hermione shushed him, pressing her fingers to his lips to still
them.

"It's okay," she whispered, her words heavy and slurred with desire.
"For tonight, this is enough for me."

For a few seconds, Draco's eyes searched her face as if he was


looking for the answer to a question that he couldn't find the words
to ask. Then he nodded, pushing his hips forward to join them at
last.

Both of them shuddered and gasped at the contact, and for a


moment, Draco was still, as if he was pausing to gather his senses.
Then he started to move, and Hermione was lost in a wave of
sensations unlike any she had ever experienced before. Making
love to Ron had been wonderful, but it had never been this
unrestrained; this intense. As she lifted her hips to meet Draco's
again and again, her whole body responded to their combined
movements, tingling and burning from her scalp down to her toes.
She felt as if she was on fire, that the heat between them would
consume her alive, and she thought that if this is what happened
when you played with fire, then she'd quite happily burn. It surprised
her that the wallpaper hadn't started to peel off of the walls.

As Draco rocked against her, Hermione took the opportunity to latch


her mouth onto his neck, suckling off the moisture in the same way
he had done to her. The cool, spearmint scent of his skin, mingling
with his masculine musk, almost drove her to distraction. She let
her fingers play over his flesh, feeling the muscles in his shoulders
ripple with his movements, counting every bump of his spine,
cupping the firm curve of his buttocks. Then she raked her
fingernails lightly up and down his back.

"Oh...God," Draco choked out, his breathing ragged from


Hermione's ministrations.

"Thanks for the new nickname, but I think that's blasphemy," she
teased, gasping as he turned his head to trace the shell of her ear
with his tongue, his breath hot and moist against the side of her
face.
"Cocky little wench," Draco murmured, capturing her earlobe
between his teeth, giving it a gentle tug that was echoed in her
nether regions. Hermione dug her fingers into his shoulders,
clinging to him as if she was adrift in a turbulent sea and he was her
life raft. She felt like they were still in the center of a raging storm,
and she and Draco were the only solid things in the world,
everything else having melted away into a swirling abyss of wind,
water, and darkness.

With a hoarse cry, Hermione suddenly came undone in Draco's


arms, her pleasure more intense and blinding than the flashes of
lightning outside the window. As she came back down from her
peak, she could feel Draco's movements become more erratic, his
body tensing with the force of his own impending climax. For the
briefest moment his eyes met hers, and she thought that if she
knew what to look for, she could have glimpsed his soul. But then
his eyes were tightly closed and he came with a soft groan before
collapsing on top of her.

Hermione found Draco's weight more reassuring than


uncomfortable as his body lay sprawled across hers. Her fingers
trailed through the perspiration on his back, tracing soothing circles
against his hot skin while they both trembled with the aftershocks of
their coupling. Finally, he gathered the strength to roll off of her, still
somewhat shaky from his exertions.

As he lay there on his back beside her, breathing heavily, Hermione


felt uncertain of what to do next. How did Draco normally conclude
his lovemaking sessions? Somehow she didn't picture him as the
type to indulge in a post-coital cuddle. Would he just say "thanks for
the shag, we should do this again sometime", and send her on her
merry way?

Deciding to take the dragon by the horns, so to speak, Hermione


slid over and laid her head on Draco's chest, waiting to see how he
would react. She could hear a wild thudding sound beneath her
cheek, which dispelled any lingering doubts she may have had
regarding whether or not Draco Malfoy had a heart. For a few
terrifying moments he lay still beneath her, quite possibly just as
uncertain as she was with how to proceed. Then, to Hermione's
relief, he wrapped his arms around her torso, pulling her closer to
him as he buried his face in her hair.

And for tonight, that was enough.


Back to index
Chapter 12: Open But Ever Unbroken by atalanta84
O love is the crooked thing,
There is nobody wise enough
To find out all that is in it,
For he would be thinking of love
Till the stars had run away
And the shadows eaten the moon.

~ From "Brown Penny" by William Butler Yeats

The following morning, Draco awoke to the pleasant aroma of rain,


sea salt, and roses. He realized that the scent was coming from
something soft and silky resting against his face and therefore
burrowed deeper into it, breathing deeply. He felt more content and
well-rested than he could remember feeling in a long time, because
for the first night in a year, he had actually slept without having any
nightmares. He prepared to roll over and stretch his arms over his
head as he did every morning, but found his movement impaired by
a warm, female body pushed up against him, pinning his right arm
to his side.

Draco opened his eyes, only to find his vision obscured by several
locks of curly brown hair. With his free arm, he reached up to brush
the hair away and saw the naked, sleeping form of Hermione
Granger lying on her side with her body pressed against his, one of
her legs flung over his hips. As Draco stared at her, all of the events
of the night before came crashing down on him. The memories of
what he and Hermione had done caused other parts of his body to
awaken as well, and he took a deep breath and forced his body to
remain still so as not to awaken her.

Hermione was in a deep sleep, her cheek nestled on his chest and
her lips slightly parted. She was breathing softly, and Draco took
this opportunity to study her more closely. She looked almost
angelic in her sleep. Her curls had started to frizz from the humidity,
and they formed a soft halo around her head, catching the morning
light that was now streaming through the window.
His gaze wandered appreciatively down to her slender, yet curvy
body. If he had thought her beautiful while clothed, then she was
positively glorious when she was unclothed. He lightly traced the
dip of her waist and the soft skin of her flank, noting the light olive
tone of her skin, in contrast with his pale hand. Beneath his gentle
touch, he could feel her begin to stir, and that was when he started
to panic.

How would Hermione react when she woke up and found herself
lying naked in a bed with Draco Malfoy? He recalled the previous
two times when she had kissed him in that abandoned classroom
back at Hogwarts and remembered that both occasions had
concluded with her running away from him as fast as her legs could
carry her. Would she act the same way when she awoke this
morning? Would she immediately regret their passionate tryst, flee
from his arms, and never speak to him again?

Well, Draco would be damned if he would let Hermione's rejection


get to him. As she blinked herself awake, he wiped the lazy,
contented smile off his face and replaced it with an impassive
expression. He watched as her brown eyes emerged from beneath
heavy eyelids, and he braced himself for the inevitable fall-out.

"So, you're finally awake," he said coolly. He forced his gaze to


remain steely, even as she rubbed her tired eyes with the back of
one hand and yawned - an action which, oddly, made him want to
kiss her.

"Are you always this grumpy in the morning?" she asked archly. "Or
am I just getting special treatment?"

Draco stiffened in surprise at her casual response to his coldness.


Then, she surprised him even more by nuzzling her face into the
crook of his neck and letting out a blissful sigh. It was almost as if
she understood his anxiety about the situation, and this was her
way of reassuring him. It took all of his willpower not to let out a
massive sigh of relief, but he could feel every muscle in his body
relax when he realized that she was not going to throw a fit about
what had happened the night before. However, this revelation did
not dispel the awkwardness of the moment as he found himself
wondering what to say next.

Although Draco had experienced his fair share of "morning afters",


he really had no idea how to handle this one. As it was, he felt as if
he had acted like an overeager, bumbling idiot the night before. It
was very uncharacteristic of him to just grab a woman and haul her
up to his bedroom caveman style, before ripping off her clothes and
shagging her three times in a row. Well, it was not as if it had never
happened before, but Draco still felt that he usually had a bit more
style when it came to seduction. However, he had wanted
Hermione for so long, that it had been difficult for him not to lose
control once he could finally have her. He decided to remedy that
situation by regaining some self-control now.

To Draco's dismay, Hermione shifted positions, which brought her


inner thigh in close contact with a certain part of his anatomy,
causing it to spring to attention. He barely managed to suppress a
groan as all his thoughts of self-control started to fly out the window.
His mind suddenly narrowed its focus down to the age-old question:
Would it be morning sex, or a cold shower?

"Did you...erm, sleep well?" he asked in a very strained voice.

Hermione raised her eyebrows at this, amused by his attempt at


politeness when their bodies were so intimately entwined.

"Yes, you?"

"Yes."

There were a few more awkward moments of silence while


Hermione traced little patterns on his chest with her finger. Draco
forced himself to ignore this pleasant sensation, trying desperately
to think of pink hippogriffs instead.

"Do you know what I just realized?" Hermione finally asked.

"Hmm?"
"I don't know your middle name."

Draco rolled his eyes. Leave it to Hermione to bring up such an odd


topic at a time like this. Still, he was pleased to have a distraction
from his rapidly awakening libido.

"Why do you need to know my middle name?" he asked.

"Well..." Hermione paused, shyly avoiding his gaze, "I don't know if
this is just a Muggle thing or not, but I've always heard that you
shouldn't sleep with someone unless you know their middle name
first. It's a sign that you know them well enough to be intimate."

"That's one of the most ridiculous things I've ever heard. Besides, I
think it's a bit too late for that, isn't it?"

Draco gave her a suggestive smirk and she flushed.

"Quit dodging the question," she said, poking him in the ribs. "Look,
I'll even tell you mine first. It's Jean. Now what's your middle
name?"

"It's Orion," Draco mumbled. "Satisfied?"

"Draco Orion Malfoy," Hermione said, testing out the name with a
thoughtful expression on her face. "It's interesting how your family
likes to use the names of stars and constellations: Sirius, Regulus,
Bellatrix....Do you think when you have kids someday, you'll
continue the tradition?"

Draco shrugged. Though he knew he was expected to eventually


produce a Malfoy heir, his future children were not something he
ever gave thought to.

"Yeah I guess so," he said.

Hermione's eyes sparkled mischievously as she said, "Maybe you'll


have twins - then you can name them Big Dipper and Little Dipper."

Draco reached up to whack her with a pillow. She squealed and


rolled to the other side of the bed, out of his reach. Sitting upright,
she held the other pillow to her chest as if it was a shield.

"Are you done insulting my family's time-honored traditions, or do I


need to smother you with this pillow first?" he growled, though his
lips twitched with suppressed laughter.

It was Hermione's turn to roll her eyes at him.

"How debonair. Nothing says ‘romance' like the threat of


asphyxiation."

"Romance isn't part of the package, witch."

Draco suddenly lunged forward and grasped Hermione's ankles,


and she shrieked in surprise as he dragged her back to his side of
the bed with enough force to leave her flat on her back. Wrenching
the pillow she was clutching out of her hands and tossing it aside,
he crawled up the length of her body so that his smirking face was
hovering over hers.

"But there are other perks to make up for it," he murmured, bending
down to trace the line of her jaw with his lips.

"I-I see," Hermione stammered, her eyes falling closed as Draco


dipped lower to nibble on her neck. "Ah...oh, I just thought of
another question! What's your favorite color?"

Draco groaned into the crook of Hermione's neck. The ache in his
groin was begging to be sated, and he was having an extremely
hard time picturing pink hippogriffs with Hermione's naked body
lying beneath his.

"It’s grey.” He raised his head so that he could grace her with one of
his trademark sneers. "And I suppose your favorite color is
Gryffindor red, right?'

"No, actually it's blue," Hermione said primly.

"That's right. You wore blue dress robes at the Yule Ball in fourth
year."

Hermione raised her eyebrows, clearly stunned by his statement.

"You actually remember what I wore to the Yule Ball four years
ago?" she asked.

Draco ducked his head back down so that she wouldn't see the
slight flush spreading over his cheeks. Why was it that Hermione
seemed to be the only person on the planet who was capable of
turning him into a bumbling idiot? Of course he had noticed what
she'd worn to the Yule Ball...nearly every boy in Hogwarts had
noticed her that night. Even though he supposed to have hated her
back then, he was still a hot-blooded male, and he had thought she
looked beautiful. It was the first time he had thought of her as more
than just one of Harry Potter's lackeys.

"Draco, your essay for the scholarship competition..." Hermione


said tentatively, "...what was it about?"

"I - what?"

"Your essay," she persisted. "Was it about...I mean, did it refer


to me, by chance?"

In an attempt to disguise his discomfort with the topic, Draco


chuckled and shook his head at her implication.

"Think mighty highly of ourselves, don't we?" he teased, but


Hermione frowned, not so easily dissuaded.

"It's just the way Professor McGonagall looked at me when she said
you should share it with others...I thought that maybe - "

She never had a chance to finish her line of thought, however,


because Draco cut off her speech in the best way he knew how - he
kissed her. For a moment, she squirmed, probably in protest of his
attempt to silence her, but finally she relented, allowing her lips to
melt against his. Draco flicked the tip of his tongue along the inside
of her upper lip, relishing the small sound of pleasure it elicited from
Hermione's throat. Then he pulled away in order to cover her throat
with a series of kisses before running his mouth along her
collarbone, over her breasts, and down the soft curve of her
stomach.

Draco tried to hide his triumphant smirk when his tongue finally
found the ultra-sensitive place he was seeking, and Hermione
nearly lurched off the bed at his touch. Anything she had to say
after that point was basically non-coherent and punctuated by little
gasps and moans as Draco added his fingers to the artful motions
of his mouth. He watched her grasp the wrought-iron headboard in
a white-knuckled grip, as if trying to anchor herself as she writhed
beneath his ministrations.

The night before, Draco had been so distracted by his own pleasure
that he had been unable to fully appreciate the flicker of emotions
that played across Hermione's face as she climaxed. However, now
he was able to drink in the sight of her flushed cheeks and slightly
parted lips as she reached her peak and came crashing over the
other side of it with a low, keening cry....And pink hippogriffs be
damned, he did not think a cold shower was going to be enough to
dispel the surge of heat that he experienced upon seeing the way
she looked at him at that moment. Her eyes were dark with desire,
deepening to a warm umber color. They also glowed in a way that
was reminiscent of how they looked when she was conjuring fire,
though he knew she was not about to do that now - or at least he
hoped not. He had a feeling that those feather-down pillows were
highly flammable.

"Was that one of those ‘perks' you were talking about?" Hermione
asked when her breathing had stilled enough to enable her to
speak.

"I like to think so."

"That was a very sneaky way of getting me to shut up," she


mumbled, her eyes narrowing.

"I'm a Slytherin," Draco said with a shrug, as if that explained


everything. "You were running off at the mouth and I needed to do
something about it. I figured you'd prefer this method over being
smothered with a pillow."

Hermione scowled at him, but he gave her a cheeky grin, planting a


few kisses on the inside of her thigh in order to placate her. He sat
upright and ran his hands gently up and down her calves,
wondering if he could coax her into alleviating the now painful
throbbing between his own legs.

Hermione's scowl faded into a slightly smug smile as she eyed the
very obvious source of his discomfort. Then to his dismay, she sat
up and hopped out of the bed.

"I think I'm going to take a shower," she said airily, torturing Draco
with a slight sway of her hips as she walked across the room and
disappeared into the adjacent bath suite.

As Draco heard the sound of Hermione running the water, he fell


back on the bed with a groan of disappointment. He took several
deep breaths in an attempt to steamroll his unsatisfied desire. He
thought that perhaps this was a good thing. It was an exercise in
self-control - something that he felt he had been lacking far too
often in Hermione's presence, especially during the past twenty-four
hours. He was so lost in thought that he nearly jumped in surprise
at the sound of Hermione's voice when she peeked around the
doorway of the steam-filled bathroom.

"Are you going to join me or what?" she asked, one delicate


eyebrow arched in his direction. "You may think I talk too much, but
I could show you some of the ‘perks' of having a well-exercised
mouth."

Draco nearly knocked her over in his eagerness to accompany her


into the hot shower, deciding that he could start practicing self-
control after breakfast.

Draco and Hermione's shower took at least twenty minutes longer


than was necessary, and both emerged feeling warm, flushed, and
a bit wobbly on their feet. They retrieved their clothes from where
they had been strewn throughout the bedroom, and used Drying
Charms on them before dressing.

After they were dressed, Hermione used one of the reserve owls
that Draco's family kept on the property, and sent a letter to Ginny
explaining that she had gone to visit her parents, knowing that her
friend was probably worried sick about her sudden disappearance
the night before. Draco doubted that any of his Slytherin friends
would be overly concerned about his absence, as he had a habit of
coming and going unannounced on the weekends, so he did not
bother with sending any missives to Hogwarts.

The two found themselves in the kitchen next, trying to find


something to quiet their grumbling stomachs. Luckily, the house
remained well-stocked with various food staples, all kept fresh
beneath a powerful Stasis Charm, and soon Hermione and Draco
sat peacefully at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and eating toast
with marmalade. It was a very domestic situation, and therefore one
that Draco had never experienced with another girl before. Usually,
he was out the door as quickly as possible the morning after a shag
session, wanting to avoid the awkward business of trying to find
something to talk about (and he rarely slept with a girl because of
her conversation skills). As usual, however, things were different
with Hermione. It was surprisingly comfortable to sit across the
kitchen table from her as they drank their coffee, and talked about
the things they had recently learned at school.

After they were finished eating, Draco helped Hermione carry the
dirty plates and mugs over to the sink where she enchanted a scrub
brush to clean them. Then she leaned against the counter, gazing
out the window at the beautiful white chalk cliffs that were now
gleaming in the morning sun. The storm from the night before had
blown over, and the sky was clear and blue, but Hermione's facial
expression seemed troubled as she stared unseeingly at the scene,
lost in her thoughts.

Draco, however, scarcely noticed her concern, and was instead


distracted by how beautiful she looked with the morning light
streaming onto her face, lighting up her hair, which was rapidly
drying into a tangled mass of curls after their shower. He felt a
warm sensation surge through his entire being, starting at the base
of his stomach and radiating outwards. It was no longer a foreign
sensation - he had felt it before in Hermione's presence, when he
first managed to conjure his Patronus, and on several occasions
since then, including last night - but it remained unidentifiable to
him. It was not lust, because he felt temporarily sated in that
department. He supposed it was affection, though he thought the
feeling ran a bit deeper than that...

Afterward, Draco could not say what compelled him to do it, but he
found himself standing behind Hermione and looping his arms
around her waist, bending down to plant a kiss on the top of her
head. There was nothing sensual about his actions, and indeed, he
had no plans for them to escalate any further. He simply wanted to
hold her, and be close to her, and it puzzled him because he had
never had that particular desire with any other girl in the past.

At first, Hermione let out a small sigh of contentment in response to


Draco's embrace, but then she suddenly stiffened and stepped out
of the circle of his arms, turning to cast a searching glance over his
face. Her brown eyes were full of confusion, and there were other
emotions flickering beneath the surface that made him feel nervous.

"Draco…" she began.

"Perhaps I could give you a tour of the rest of the house?" Draco
asked casually, cutting her off. He was eager to distract them both
from the awkward moment that had just occurred.

"Sure," she said, following his lead and adopting a light tone.

They spent the next half hour with Draco showing Hermione the
numerous delights of the Malfoy summer home, and he was
pleased with her reaction to each room that he showed her. She
loved the brightness of the parlor, painted in a light yellow hue, and
she admired the rich mahogany furniture in the formal dining room.
He saved the library for last, knowing that she would be more
enthralled with that room than with any other. Her reaction did not
disappoint.

"Wow, this is amazing!" Hermione breathed, drinking in the sight of


the bookshelves lining the walls. It was not nearly as impressive as
the collection at Malfoy Manor, but there were still a wide variety of
texts housed in this room, including some rare and ancient tomes
that Draco knew could only be found in a few other locations in the
world.

He hesitated uncertainly for a moment before deciding to show


Hermione the last part of the house that he had, as yet, kept secret
from her.

"If I show you one more thing, do you promise you won't tell anyone
about it?" Draco asked in a serious tone. "Do you promise you won't
tell your Auror-in-training Potter or any of your other friends at the
Ministry?"

Hermione frowned at his request, but then nodded.

"Alright, I promise."

Draco scanned her face for a few seconds, just to make sure she
was speaking the truth, and then he turned to one of the
bookshelves lining the walls of the library. He tapped a particular
book three times with his wand, muttering the proper incantation
under his breath. As he finished the incantation, the bookshelf
suddenly swung open, revealing a large stone archway in the wall
behind it.

Hermione gasped.

"A secret tunnel?" she whispered, as she gazed into the darkness
beyond.

"Yes," Draco said, lighting his wand as he prepared to step through


the archway. "You may have heard of the ancient tunnels behind
the cliffs of Dover?"

"Ah, so that's where we are! Yes I've heard of them. They were dug
out beneath the cliffs during the Middle Ages, right? As a place to
hide troops and supplies for the armies that guarded the coast from
invasion?"

Draco nodded, stepping into the tunnel and gesturing for her to
follow. She did so with only the slightest hint of reluctance, lighting
her own wand as they began to descend a narrow, circular stone
staircase into the blackness below.

"This is only a part of the tunnels, of course," Draco continued as


they descended. "It's separate from the other tunnels that the
Muggles know about. This house has been in the Malfoy family for
generations, and my great-grandfather had the tunnels enlarged to
create a labyrinth of sorts. My father has used it in the past to hide
some of his...um, less politically acceptable belongings."

Hermione raised her eyebrows at this, but made no comment. After


a few minutes, the staircase finally ended in a small chamber with
three other tunnels leading off of it. The air was cool and damp
down here and made Draco shiver somewhat. He tried, with little
success, to hide his nervousness as he decided which tunnel to
lead Hermione into first. Of course, Hermione noticed his unease.

"You don't like it down here in the dark, do you?" she asked.

"It's...not the dark that bothers me," he muttered, and Hermione's


eyes widened as she finally understood.

"You're claustrophobic?"

Draco's brow creased into a frown, and he recalled his father's


constant warnings over the years, telling him never to reveal his
fears to another person, because fear was a weakness that could,
in the wrong hands, be used as a weapon against him. Still, he
found himself compelled to be honest with Hermione.

"I wouldn't call it claustrophobia," Draco muttered, leading her


through the first of the three tunnel entrances. "Once, when I was
five years old, I got lost for hours in the labyrinth until my father
finally found me. He was livid because I wasn't supposed to be
down here by myself. Ever since then, I have an extreme dislike of
enclosed spaces. I don't like feeling confined, but I wouldn't call it
my greatest fear."

Hermione nodded in understanding.

"Well, if your fear of small spaces isn't your greatest fear, then what
is?" she asked.

Draco rolled his eyes when he realized she had decided to resume
her earlier game of "twenty questions".

"I don't know," he replied, quite honestly. If he would have been


asked during his fourth year at Hogwarts, he would have said it was
Mad-Eye Moody. After all, being turned into a ferret was an
experience that one did not get over easily. If someone would have
asked him during his sixth or seventh year, he would have said that
his greatest fear was that Voldemort would kill him and his family.
Now, with Voldemort dead and gone, Draco really could not say
what his greatest fear was.

"What's your greatest fear?" Draco asked, deciding to turn the


tables on Hermione for once.

"Heights," she responded automatically. "I'm deathly afraid of


heights. I've had enough experiences over the past several years to
cement that fear in me - having to ride Buckbeak when Harry and I
rescued Sirius, riding a thestral to the Ministry of Magic in our fifth
year..." She shuddered at that particular memory. "...and the
thestral was invisible to me at the time, too. It was very
disconcerting to be floating high above the earth without being able
to see what was keeping me aloft. And then there was that dragon
we had to hitch a ride with to escape from Gringott's last year..."

Draco shook his head in amazement at just how many harrowing


events Hermione had been involved in during the past seven years.
She had told him some of the stories, but there were still a few that
he would like to hear more about in the future - particularly that
daring escape from Gringott's Bank. He had to admit that, despite
his persistent dislike of Potter and Weasley, the trio had had some
awe-inspiring adventures.

Draco spent the next hour giving Hermione a tour of the labyrinth,
showing her the other, less savory books that were secreted there,
which yielded an amusing reaction from Hermione, causing her lip
to curl with disgust while her eyes flashed with begrudged interest.
He also showed her the stone chamber in which Lucius Malfoy had
hidden the remains of his Dark Arts collection. Although he greatly
respected his father, the rebellious streak in Draco found it
entertaining to imagine what Lucius would think of his own son
leading a Muggle-born witch through these tunnels, showing her his
secret stash of magical contraband items. Hermione shook her
head and clucked her tongue at the impressive display of
dangerous and potentially lethal artifacts.

"Don't worry," Draco said, sensing Hermione's trepidation, "I don't


think my father has any intention of ever using this stuff again. He
just likes to collect these items, and admire the power behind them,
that's all."

"Yes, but these things are still dangerous and he should really turn
them over to the Ministry...What's this?" she asked suddenly,
reaching out to touch a solid glass box containing a tiny vial of
glowing green liquid. Draco instantly seized her hand and dragged it
away from the object.

"I wouldn't touch that if I were you. It's a sample of Dragon's


Breath."

Hermione's eyes widened when he told her this.

"Your father has a vial of Dragon's Breath here, stashed beneath


your family's summer home? Has he completely lost his mind? That
substance is really volatile - they say that one drop is the equivalent
of three Reducto Curses. If it was activated, it could bring half of
these tunnels crashing down on our heads. Where on earth did he
get it from? It's supposed to be incredibly rare."

"Yes, ancient Chinese wizards invented it ages ago, but the recipe
has been lost over time, and no one knows how to make it
anymore," Draco said. "So that's a very old sample. My mother's
father, Cygnus Black, managed to procure this vial from one of his
shady connections in Shanghai, and he gave it to my parents as
part of their wedding present. There's a protective charm placed
over the glass box, so only a special password can remove it. You
could drop an anvil on that box and it wouldn't shatter - that's what
keeps it safe."

Hermione shook her head, an expression of disbelief on her face.

"Only in your family would an explosive device be considered an


appropriate wedding gift," she mused. "What's the password to
unlock it?"

"I don't know," Draco said with a shrug. "My Grandfather had the
protective box made for it, and I assume he told my parents the
password. For some reason, they never trusted me enough to
share it with me."

"I wonder why?" Hermione said with a sarcastic snort, and Draco
couldn't help but grin in response.

"Come on, there's one last thing I want to show you," he said,
leading her back out into the dark, winding tunnels. "I think you'll
like this."

The way became narrower and darker as they walked into the
oldest and deepest portion of the tunnels, which had been carved
out in ancient times. The ceiling was so low here, that Draco had to
duck his head at times to keep from hitting it on the stone surface,
and he found his breath quicken as the walls closed in on either
side of him.

To Draco's surprise, Hermione suddenly reached over and slipped


her hand into his, giving him a reassuring squeeze as they made
their journey through the darkness. Draco was even more surprised
that he allowed her to continue holding his hand. He had never
been the hand-holding type, and remembered all the arguments this
had generated between him and Pansy during their sixth year. Now,
however, he liked the feeling of Hermione's small hand enveloped
in his larger one, and it somehow made him feel less nervous about
the tight space surrounding them.

Suddenly, the tunnel reached a dead end, and the two of them
stepped into a pitch-black cave that was too massive for their
meager wand-light to fully illuminate. Draco waved his wand over a
cistern to the right of the cave entrance and with a muttered
"Incendio," a dozen cisterns throughout the chamber were suddenly
alight with flames. Hermione gasped and stared in awe at what the
firelight revealed.

The cave walls were smooth and black, covered with hundreds of
ancient drawings that seemed to sparkle as if they were painted on
with a paste made of crushed diamonds. More interesting than that,
the images actually moved, much like the paintings at Hogwarts did.
As it always happened when he entered this space, Draco felt a
shiver run down his spine, letting him know that he was in the
presence of powerful magic.

"It's like the Cave of Lascaux," Hermione murmured. When Draco


looked at her blankly, she added, "It's a cave in France that has
drawings like these...but those were made by Muggles, so they
don't move. These drawings must have been made by ancient
wizards."

She walked around the cave, and then paused beside a large stone
altar that was placed in the center of the cave.

"Ah, so there is an altar in the Malfoy summer home," she said, her
mouth quirking into an odd little smirk. "Although there are no
bloodstains on it, I see."

"What are you on about?" Draco asked, staring at her in


bewilderment.

"Never mind," Hermione said with a shake of her head. She


wandered around the room, tracing her hand over the pictures on
the walls.

"I think this was a handfasting temple," she whispered.


"Handfasting?" Draco repeated. The term sounded vaguely familiar
to him, but he couldn't quite recall where he had heard it before. It
surprised him that a Muggle-born witch knew something about
ancient Wizarding history that he did not. Well, maybe it
wasn't that surprising, considering the Muggle-born witch in
question.

"Handfasting is an ancient marriage ritual," Hermione explained. "It


went out of vogue a few generations ago in the Wizarding World,
but some Muggle couples still practice it."

"Ah." Well that explained why Draco didn't know about handfasting.
Despite his relatively in-depth knowledge of wizard history, he had
never taken interest in any topics related to love and marriage.

"See, here's a drawing showing a couple standing in front of an


altar," Hermione continued, pointing to one of the sketches on the
wall. "The priest or priestess would draw a circle in the ground and
call upon the four elements prior to performing the ceremony."

She moved on to point to a drawing that showed a bearded, robed


man standing in front of a couple, holding his hands over them as if
in blessing.

"Then the couple would have their hands tied to each other's with a
piece of cloth or a cord to demonstrate the bond they were creating
between them," she continued, pausing before one picture that
showed a man and a woman standing with their wrists bound
together. "Sometimes the bonds were removed at the end of the
ceremony, and other times not until after the marriage was...erm,
consummated. It's my guess that the couple was left alone in this
cave after the ceremony was over, in order to seal the new bond
between them."

Hermione's cheeks flushed somewhat as she noticed a series of


drawings that showed couples moving together in various erotic
positions. She quickly moved on to a large symbol that was drawn
on the wall with glowing white paint. It looked like a figure-eight, and
there were at least a dozen others like it, drawn in various locations
in the cave.

"When the married couple's hands were bound together during the
handfasting, they formed two interlocking circles, like this,"
Hermione said. "It's the mathematical symbol for infinity, and also
symbolizes the sun and the moon, and male and female."

In addition to the infinity symbols, there were numerous outlines of


hands on the walls, usually two hands overlapping in various ways,
with one hand being larger than the other. Draco assumed they
were probably the handprints of the couples who had been married
in this cave. He watched as Hermione pressed her own hand into
one of these imprints, and then ran her fingers along a row of words
that were written just above eye level along the back wall of the
cave.

"My Latin is terrible," she said, "but I think this says - "

"‘The circle is open but ever unbroken'", Draco read automatically,


shrugging at the look of surprise that Hermione gave him. "My
parents made sure I was tutored in Latin before beginning at
Hogwarts, since the spells we learn are usually Latin-based. It's a
common practice in the Pureblood families. What does that phrase
really mean, anyway: ‘open but ever unbroken'?"

"Well, it's a common line used to close a pagan ceremony. The bit
about the circle being open generally means that the magic that we
draw upon is available wherever we go, and the part about the
circle being unbroken means that the power is always carried within
us. However, I think that in this case, the ancient wizards were also
referring to love - it is open because it is always available to us, if
we're willing to let it in, and it is unbroken because of its infinite
power."

"You sound like Professor Hong, going on and on about how ‘love
is the most powerful force in the world", Draco said, rolling his eyes
to make sure Hermione understood how ridiculous he thought this
theory was.

"I think it's true," Hermione said slowly, her brow lowering into a
frown. "Love is the most powerful force in the world. Love is what
saved Harry from Voldemort's attack all those years ago, when his
mother died to save him. Love is what allowed Harry to walk into
the Forbidden Forest and hand his life over to Voldemort seventeen
years after that. And love for Harry's mother is what enabled
Severus Snape to turn to the light and help Dumbledore protect
Harry..."

Draco snorted at this last statement, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Even if that were true, Lily Potter didn't love Snape in return. She
chose another man - married that other man and had a child with
him. Then she died, and Snape still went on carrying a torch for her,
and sacrificed his life, but for what? A ghost? The memory of a
woman who never wanted him? That doesn't sound like love to me.
Sounds more like lunacy."

"You've never been in love before, have you?" Hermione asked


suddenly, and Draco felt extremely uncomfortable beneath the
weight of her question and the knowing look she was now giving
him.

"What, you mean cupids and valentines and all that tripe?" he
asked in a disgusted tone.

"Well, that answers my question," Hermione said, shaking her head


and turning away from him.

"What do you mean by that?" Draco said testily, grabbing her by the
arm and forcing her to face him again. She squirmed out of his grip,
scowling up at him.

"I mean that if you had ever really been in love you'd realize it was
more than ‘cupids and valentines and all that tripe'", she said
fiercely, and Draco was surprised to see tears springing to her
eyes. "You would know...you would know what it really is."

"And what is it really, Hermione?" Draco asked harshly,


experiencing a sudden, irrational surge of anger. "What makes you
think you know so much more about love than I do?"
He was shocked when Hermione burst into tears. He stood there for
a moment, his anger waning in the face of his friend's obvious
distress. With a sigh, he went to hug her, but to his surprise, she
pushed him away.

"Please, don't," she wrenched out. "I'm so sorry. I'm so very sorry."

Draco just stared at her, utterly puzzled and wondering what


Hermione was trying to apologize for. Finally it dawned on him, and
he felt a sickening feeling in his stomach, almost as if his intestines
had turned to ice.

"You still love him, don't you?" he murmured. He did not need to
specify which "him" he was referring to. Hermione's sobs grew in
intensity.

"I'm so sorry," she repeated. "It's just that Ron didn't want
me...but you did."

Draco froze, feeling a fresh wave of anger wash over him at these
words.

"So you just used me, is that it?" he spat out. It was a cruel sort of
irony, he thought, considering all of those women he had used
throughout the years. Hermione shook her head vehemently in
response to his question.

"N-no!" she stammered. "That's not it at all! I...I wanted you in


return, I really did. I think maybe I still do. I like being with you,
Draco, but this is all happening so fast..."

Now Draco had no idea what to feel. Part of him still felt angry
about how Hermione had slept with him, even though she still had
feelings for Weasley. Then part of him felt guilty, because after all,
hadn't he forced her to make a decision, even though it was only
one month since she had broken up with someone she had clearly
loved for a long time? He also felt confused because he couldn't
understand why her persistent love for Weasley bothered him so
much. Did this mean that he wanted her to love him instead? He
shook his head, deciding that that line of thought was one he should
not pursue at the present moment.

The final emotion Draco experienced was, for him, the strangest
one of all: compassion. His whole life he had been trained to shut
down compassion. His father had always told him that compassion,
like fear, was a weakness that could be exploited by an enemy, and
so Draco had learned to lock that emotion away behind some
hidden door in his heart. He thought he had thrown away the key to
that door many years ago, but somehow, this curly-haired witch had
found a way to unlock it and open it just enough for some
compassion to slip through the cracks at last.

"Merlin, Granger, I think you're going to be the death of me," Draco


muttered, and ignoring Hermione's protests, he wrapped his arms
around her heaving shoulders and held her to him tightly. He
rubbed his hands soothingly over her back and murmured "It's
okay", over and over again, thinking that maybe if he said it enough,
it would actually come true. Finally, her sobs slowed and she
backed away from him, wiping her eyes with the sleeve of her
jumper and sniffling.

"I think we should go back to Hogwarts now," he said to Hermione.


"We can talk more about this later."

Hermione nodded and they turned to exit the cave. At the stone
archway leading out into the tunnels, Draco raised his wand,
preparing to snuff out the flames in the cisterns lining the
handfasting temple. He paused, taking in the sight of all the
conjoined couples drawn on the walls, the overlapping hands, the
figure-eight symbols that represented infinite love. A small, slowly-
awakening part of him wondered if he could ever experience that
sort of love.

Feeling more miserable than he had felt in a long time, Draco


flicked his wand, plunging the cave into darkness once more. He
turned to lead Hermione out of the labyrinth, thinking that perhaps
he knew what his greatest fear was after all.
End Notes:
Just a little history lesson, for those interested: There actually were
secret tunnels dug out behind the cliffs of Dover, during the Middle
Ages. Oddly enough, I discovered this after I had already come up
with the concept of having Draco's summer home be in Dover, and
have a labyrinth beneath it, so the real-life history of the area
melded perfectly with my ideas for this chapter!

The Cave of Lascaux that Hermione mentions also exists in real


life, in France, with cave paintings drawn by Paleolithic humans.
Here are some pictures of the paintings on Google Images. These
are how I imagine the paintings in the Malfoys' handfasting temple
would look, except in motion because they were made by ancient
wizards, rather than Muggles. :)

As for the handfasting rituals and symbols, all of those are also real.
I researched handfasting and related pagan rituals at this site
here: Handfasting info. Interesting stuff, that. The ancient rituals
usually took place outdoors, but I've modified it to allow for indoor
ceremonies that used to occur in the cave beneath the Malfoy
summer home. Besides, who's to say that ancient wizards didn't do
things a little differently? ;)
Back to index
Chapter 13: Fear of Heights by atalanta84
Darest thou now, O Soul,
Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region,
Where neither ground is for the feet, nor any path to follow?

~ From "Darest Thou Now, O Soul" by Walt Whitman

Hermione slogged into the Seventh Year Gryffindor girl's dorm


room feeling exhausted, confused, and more than a bit regretful.
She and Draco had parted ways outside the Fat Lady's portrait a
few moments before, and he had given her a brief hug before
asking her to meet him at the top of the Astronomy Tower at eleven
o'clock that night. Reluctantly, Hermione had acquiesced, feeling
that the worst thing to do would be to try avoiding him again. That
had not worked the last time she'd tried it, and besides that, she
actually had no desire to avoid him. She genuinely enjoyed being
with Draco. That was the problem.

For just one night, Hermione had accomplished something that she
had never been able to do before - she had shut off all of her
thoughts and acted purely on instinct. In doing so, she had spent an
amazing night with Draco - even now, the memory of it made her
blood run faster and hotter through her veins. The following
morning, however, she had been plagued with doubts. A part of her
hoped that maybe she and Draco could put that night behind them,
writing it off as a momentary lapse of sanity; but then he had come
up to her after breakfast and wrapped his arms around her in an
affectionate, completely non-sexual way....It was strikingly similar to
how Ron used to hold her, and by accepting that embrace from
Draco, Hermione had felt like she was committing some sort of
betrayal....

"Hermione, are you all right?" Ginny asked her the moment she
entered their dorm room. Hermione was glad that none of the other
Seventh Year girls were present at the moment.

"Yes, just tired," she mumbled, collapsing face down on her bed
with a sigh.

"Where were you last night?"

Hermione raised her head in surprise at Ginny's question.

"Didn't you get my owl?"

"What, do you think I was born yesterday?" Ginny said, crossing her
arms over her chest and giving Hermione one of her hard looks.
"You and Malfoy both disappeared after dinner last night, and I very
much doubt that you invited him to your parents' for tea. So where
were you really?"

Hermione sat cross-legged on her bed, pretending to pluck at a


loose thread on her comforter in order to avoid Ginny's gaze.

"We were at Draco's summer home."

"WHAT!?"

"Yeah."

Hermione sneaked a glance up at her friend, and saw that Ginny


looked completely and utterly gobsmacked. Suddenly, the
redhead's eyes widened.

"Hermione, did you and Malfoy...I mean did you two...?"

Hermione groaned and buried her face in her hands, knowing her
reaction would answer the question for her. She couldn't believe
she was sharing this with Ginny, the sister of her ex-boyfriend, but
she really had no one else to confide in. If she kept her feelings for
Draco a secret much longer, she thought they would eat her alive
from the inside out.

"Bloody hell, Hermione! Are you okay? Did he hurt you?"

Hermione shook her head, her face still hidden behind her hands.
"No, he was a gentleman...well, at least as much of a gentleman as
Draco can be. He was actually...sweet."

Ginny made a strange noise that sounded like a cross between


surprise and disgust. Hermione finally dropped her hands and saw
that her friend was sitting with her mouth agape, clearly at a loss for
words. Finally, she seemed to regain her powers of speech.

"I just don't know what to say, other than ‘what were you thinking?'"

"I don't know!" Hermione moaned. "I don't know what's gotten into
me lately! I've just been feeling so lonely and confused since Ron
and I broke up, and when I'm with Draco ...It's like I'm a different
person. I behave irrationally, and I don't stop to think about the
consequences."

"That's...not always a bad thing," Ginny admitted grudgingly. "I


mean, sometimes I get the feeling that you think too much, and
Malfoy helps loosen you up a bit. Though, as for sleeping with him, I
don't know if that was such a good idea, Hermione. Are you
really that over Ron already?"

Hermione cringed as she saw the expression of pain on her friend's


face. She knew Ginny felt torn between her compassion for
Hermione and her duty to defend her brother.

"No, I'm not completely over Ron. I don't know if I'll ever really stop
loving him."

"Then, what do you feel for Malfoy? Do you love him, too?"

Hermione threw her hands over her head in frustration.

"I just don't know how I feel about anything anymore! With Ron, I
knew how I felt, and I knew that I loved him, but things are so much
more complicated with Draco! I don't think I love him.... It would be
crazy to love him because he could never love me, seeing that I'm a
Muggleborn and he's absolutely forbidden to love me."

Ginny shook her head, her brown eyes softening somewhat.


"Hermione, Malfoy's parents may forbid him from marrying a
Muggleborn, but they can't control who he falls in love with."

Hermione fell back on her bed and covered her face with her hands,
wishing she could close the curtains on her four-poster, shut out the
world, and hibernate for a few months until everything had blown
over. Of course, reality would not permit such an easy solution to
her problem. She would have to face Draco again, and live with the
consequences of her rash decision to sleep with him the night
before.

"Look," Ginny continued, "maybe you should talk to Draco about


how you feel. I actually think he might understand. And if, for some
crazy reason, you actually decide to pursue something with him,
just tell him that you need to...slow things down a bit."

Hermione stared up at the ceiling, contemplating Ginny's advice.


She certainly believed that she and Draco needed to go slower with
the physical aspect of their relationship in the future...that is, if she
even decided to go down that path. That was the biggest question
of all: did she dare try and pursue a relationship with the Slytherin?
She was, technically, free to do so. Ron himself had stated that they
should both date other people, hadn't he? But he had also predicted
that Draco would break her heart....

Hermione shook her head. She knew Draco certainly had


the potential to break her heart, but somehow she didn't think he
actually would, at least not intentionally. However,
was unintentional heartbreak any less difficult to bear? Sometimes
she thought it was even worse. She knew that eventually, Draco's
obligations to his family would catch up to him, and where would
that leave the two of them?

"You're right, Ginny," Hermione said at last. "I really need to have a
talk with Draco. In the meantime, you cannot breathe a word of this
to Ron or Harry. This is already too much for me to handle, and the
last thing I need is to have to explain myself to those two as well."

Ginny frowned and said, "I don't like keeping secrets from my
boyfriend, Hermione...or my brother, for that matter."

"Hey, I think it's only fair that I ask you to keep my sex life a private
matter. Besides, I never discuss that sort of thing with Harry, and
Ron lost the right to be involved when he broke up with me."

"Alright," Ginny agreed, finding no argument with Hermione's logic,


"but what about everyone else? You know how perceptive Luna is.
She's bound to suspect something, and she'll probably figure it out
on her own before long."

"Well, then I'll just have to swear her to secrecy when she does,"
Hermione said resolutely. "Somehow I don't think the world is ready
to accept the idea that Hermione Granger and Draco Malfoy
shagged last night. To be honest, I don't know if I'm ready to accept
the idea myself."

When Hermione reached the top of the Astronomy Tower at eleven


o'clock that evening, her heart was beating so loudly in her chest
that she was sure the sound would wake the entire castle. Finding
Draco waiting for her, looking dashing in a grey jumper and black
slacks, and standing with his hands behind his back, did nothing to
slow her heart rate.

"Hey!" he said in greeting, as Hermione emerged from the stairwell


and walked over to join him.

"Hey yourself. What are you hiding behind your back?"

Draco grinned, his silver eyes sparkling with mischief.

"I have a surprise for you."

Hermione eyed him with suspicion and no small amount of fear.


Somehow, accepting a "surprise" from Draco Malfoy seemed a lot
like sticking your hand inside of a dragon's mouth - incredibly stupid
and likely to result in the loss of a limb.
"What sort of surprise?" she asked. "I thought we were just going to
talk."

"We are. I just thought maybe, when we're done talking, we could
do something else."

"Such as?"

His grin widening, Draco pulled his hands out from behind his back
to reveal his Nimbus2001. As soon as Hermione saw the broom
and realized his intentions, she took several steps backward,
shaking her head so hard she thought she might get whip-lash.

"Oh no," she said.

"Oh yes."

"I don't think so, Malfoy. There is absolutely no way I'm getting on a
broomstick with you!"

Draco's mouth took on a shape that looked ridiculously close to a


pout.

"Don't you trust me?" he asked, blinking innocently. Hermione's


snort was an adequate response to this query, and he dropped the
pout. "Look, I thought this might be a way to help you get over your
fear of heights."

Hermione shook her head in disbelief, recalling how Ron had tested
out that theory with her once before. After weeks of pleading, he
had finally coaxed Hermione into flying with him, and the
experiment had not ended well. She and Ron had ended up back
on the ground in the midst of a blazing row, and her last words on
the subject had included her telling him exactly where he could put
that broomstick of his.

"Somehow I don't think flying with you is the best way for me to get
over my fear," Hermione said.
"Nonsense, the best way to conquer your fear is to face it head
on..." Draco hesitated for a moment, and his next words were
spoken in a more serious tone. "...And that brings us to another
important topic."

"Yes it does," Hermione said, nodding. "Look, Draco, I wanted to


apologize for - ."

"No, Hermione, I'm the one who should apologize," Draco said,
waving his hand to silence her speech. "I don't think I was fair to
you last night. I shouldn't have forced you to make such an
important decision on the spot like that. I...I understand that you still
lo- that you still have feelings for Weasley."

Draco stumbled over these last words, a brief frown crinkling his
brow before he continued.

"I can't say exactly what I feel for you, but I know that it's more than
lust, or even just friendship. Yes, I want you physically..." he
smirked somewhat, and Hermione felt her cheeks flush, "...but I
also know that I like being around you, spending time with you -
even when we're both fully clothed. And I can't say that about most
other women, believe me."

Hermione couldn't help but give him a small smile as he said this,
and he smiled briefly in return. Then, the smile disappeared from
his face, and he became more reticent.

"I don't know if I can ever love you - and it's not because you're a
Muggleborn," he added quickly, seeing the flash in her eyes. "It's
because of who I am. I don't really know if I'm capable of
loving any woman in that way. However, I also know that I could
never marry you, and that is because you're a Muggleborn."

Hermione stiffened at this. While she appreciated Draco's honesty,


she couldn't help being upset by the fact that he was still unwilling
to put his old prejudices aside. As if sensing her thoughts, Draco
went on to clarify his last statement.

"Hermione, it's not as if I feel that strongly about needing to marry a


Pureblood witch. But my parents do, and no matter how much I've
changed in some ways, I will never lose the sense of duty I feel
towards my family. Do you think you can try to understand that?"

Hermione nodded slowly, deciding that she could at least try to


understand Draco's need to please his parents. She looked at him
in utter bemusement.

"Draco Malfoy, since when did you start being such an honest
man?" she asked.

Draco snorted and shook his head.

"I suppose I've been spending too much time with you damn
Gryffindors," he said. "Apparently honesty is highly contagious."

"Don't sound so disappointed. You act as if the truth is some sort of


terrible disease."

"Isn't it?" Draco asked, cocking his head to the side.

Hermione shrugged, deciding not to allow their conversation to


stray into the realm of the rhetorical.

"Look," she said, "I'm not really sure what I feel for you, either, but I
also know that it's more than just lust. I'd like to see what could
develop between us, but I don't know if that's possible, considering
that we both know it would have to end eventually. You may find it
easy to live in the moment, but that's something I'm still struggling
to learn."

"Maybe you just need a few more lessons," Draco said, stepping
tentatively closer to her. "This may surprise you, but I can be a
pretty good teacher when I want to be."

Hermione held up one hand, keeping him at a distance.

"I'm willing to give this a try, but there is one thing we need to set
straight first. And that is that I don't want to go rushing the physical
aspect of our...lessons. From now on, I need for us to move more
slowly before we, erm...."

"Before we, erm, what? Have sex? Shag? Fuck?"

"Malfoy, will you stop being such a nasty little - "

"All right, all right, I'm sorry!" Draco said. "I don't understand why all
of a sudden, you're so squeamish talking about sex. You didn't
seem like such a prude last night."

"Malfoy, I swear - "

"Okay, calm down. I promise we'll take things slow, all right? Don't
get your knickers in a twist...or I may just have to remove them.
Okay, I'm done! I swear!"

Draco held up his hands in self-defense as Hermione took a few


exasperated swats at him. When she finally relented, Draco picked
up his broom once more. She eyed it warily, knowing what he was
about to suggest.

"Now, for the next order of business," Draco said, raising his
eyebrows at her.

"I told you, I don't think flying with you is a good idea. Can't we find
some other way to conquer my fear of heights? Like going on a
Ferris wheel?"

"A what?"

"A Ferris wheel - it's a Muggle thing where you sit in this little box
and it makes you ride around on a big metal circle that's suspended
off of the ground."

Draco shuddered at her description.

"I think my father owns a medieval torture device that works


something like that," he said. "No, we'll try this first."

Draco let his broom hover in the air in front of him as he swung one
leg over it and straddled the handle. He turned to Hermione
expectantly, holding out his hand to her. With a resigned sigh, she
accepted his hand, allowing him to help her onto the broom so that
she was sitting in front of him. His feet were still on the ground, but
since she was so much shorter than him, hers were dangling above
it. Draco wrapped his left arm around her waist, bracing his right
hand on the broomstick in front of her.

"Alright, I'm going to keep one arm around you at all times, and
we're going to go very slowly, okay?"

Hermione nodded, her stomach feeling as if a thousand snitches


were buzzing around inside it. She tried to take deep breaths,
forcing the cool night air into her lungs.

"Ready?" Draco whispered.

"Not really," she muttered, "but as much as I'll ever be. Let's do
this."

Draco chuckled and said something that sounded like "typical


Gryffindor" under his breath, but Hermione's heart was pounding so
hard in her chest that she couldn't hear anything over the sound of
it. Before she could so much as think about changing her mind,
Draco pushed his feet against the floor of the Astronomy Tower and
sent them soaring out into the darkness beyond. Hermione held her
breath, gripping Draco's arm so tightly that she was sure she must
be cutting off his circulation. To her relief, he kept the broom moving
at a moderately slow speed, and eased them down so that they
were flying only twenty meters above the school grounds.

This isn't so bad, she thought to herself, starting to relax. I've gone
higher than this when I played two-a-side Quidditch at the Burrow
with Ron, Harry, and Ginny.

"How are you doing?" Draco asked her after awhile. "Ready to go a
little higher?"

Hermione nodded, and Draco slowly angled the broom upwards so


that they climbed another ten meters into the air, and then twenty
more. As they flew higher, they flew faster as well, and several of
Hermione's long brown curls came loose from her braid, while her
eyes watered from the cold wind that blew against her face. Yet
somehow, with Draco's arm still secured around her waist, she felt
relatively safe.

"You're doing great!" he whispered encouragingly, and Hermione


shivered when she felt the heat of his breath against the shell of her
ear. As her fear ebbed, she began to notice the solid, comforting
warmth of his body pressed up against her back. She felt the
rumbling in his chest whenever he spoke, the deep timber of his
voice vibrating into her own skin. Knowing it was probably a bad
idea, but unable to stop herself, she leaned backwards so that her
head was resting fully on Draco's chest.

Encouraged by her action, Draco bent down to nuzzle her ear with
his lips. He began stroking her hip with his left hand, and when he
started to suck on her earlobe, Hermione closed her eyes and
gasped with pleasure. She gripped the broom handle to steady
herself, and with her eyes closed, she did not realize that she had
accidentally assumed control of the broom's direction.

"Hermione, you need to let go!" Draco suddenly yelled.

Hermione opened her eyes and screamed when she saw that they
were currently plunging towards the earth with jaw-dropping speed.
Thankfully, Draco managed to wrench her hands off of the broom
handle and resume control of their flight, straightening them out
mere meters before they crashed. With impressive finesse, he
brought them down to a gentle landing on the school grounds, but
Hermione was near the point of hysteria.

"I told you this was a terrible idea!" she shrieked, leaping off of the
broom and jabbing one finger in his chest. "I told you, but you
wouldn't listen to me! We could have been killed! We were mere
seconds from crashing - and Draco Malfoy, wipe that stupid smirk
off your face this instant or I swear you'll regret it....We are never
doing that again! Never, EVER again!"

Draco watched, unblinking, as Hermione paced back and forth in


front of him, shaking from head to toe as she unleashed her anger
on him. Finally, she ran out of steam and stood before him, chest
heaving while she tried to remember how to breathe properly.

"Okay," Draco said calmly. "So same time, same place, tomorrow
night?"

For some reason, and she thought it was most likely due to the fact
that her near-death experience had dislodged a crucial portion of
her brain, Hermione did agree to go flying with Draco the following
evening. However, she strictly forbade him to try touching her in any
way that was not completely necessary to keep her on the broom -
in other words, no kissing, groping, stroking, or nibbling. To her
relief, Draco obeyed her rules to the letter, and there were no more
mishaps during their flight.

Once Draco had landed them back down on top of the Astronomy
Tower, he gave her a brief, feather-light kiss before saying
goodnight and disappearing down the stairwell. Hermione knew she
had been the one to establish the "let's take things slow" clause, but
his kiss definitely left her wanting more. Of course, she knew that
was probably the whole point. While she was an intelligent and
strategic planner, she understood that if she was playing this sort of
game with a Slytherin, especially a Slytherin as cunning as Draco
Malfoy, she was bound to be out of her league.

For the rest of the week, they continued to fly together every
evening. Sometimes they would fly in companionable silence, and
on other occasions they would have stimulating debates about
everything from Arithmantic Theories to the Ministry's latest laws for
improving the social integration of Muggleborns.

At times, Hermione would try asking Draco questions about his


childhood, and various other aspects of his personal life.
Sometimes he would answer with very little persuasion, and other
times he would tell her to mind her own business. Still, other times,
usually when she asked about anything related to his Death Eater
days, he would remain silent and refuse to respond to her question
at all. Hermione ceased to be offended when he did this. She began
to understand that this was just how Draco was, and sometimes
there were things he just wasn't willing to share, not even with her.

By the end of one week's worth of flying lessons, Hermione was


desperate for more physical contact from Draco, but he had still
done nothing more than grace her with a brief, gentle kiss. Finally,
on Sunday evening, after Draco had landed them on the Astronomy
Tower and leaned in to give her the usual peck on the lips,
Hermione took things into her own hands.

Once Draco's lips brushed against hers, Hermione laced her fingers
through his blonde locks and pulled his face closer to hers,
deepening the kiss. Draco made a small sound of surprise in the
back of his throat, but wasn't caught off guard for long. He
immediately slid his hands down her back, pulling her body more
tightly against his, while he swept his tongue into her mouth.
Hermione groaned at his touch, noticing that Draco's hands were
slowly starting to wander underneath her jumper. Her mind was
flooded with memories of how good it had felt that one night when
there were no clothes between them, when she had felt the heat of
his skin against hers...

Before things could escalate any further, she reluctantly pulled


away.

"Sorry, that was too fast, I know," Draco said. He didn't seem overly
surprised with Hermione's withdrawal from their kiss, and she
supposed he had been expecting it.

"It's all right," Hermione murmured, a bit woozily. "It takes two to
tango."

"I know that," Draco said, frowning as if she had somehow insulted
his intelligence. "But what the hell does the tango have to do with
this?"

Realizing that Draco must not have heard this particular


catchphrase before, Hermione smiled and explained it to him.
"That's just a Muggle saying. What I meant is that it takes two
willing participants to share a kiss like the one we just had."

Draco's frown morphed into a triumphant smirk.

"I knew that, too," he said, before sauntering back into the castle.

Hermione thought that whatever game she and Draco were playing,
he was definitely winning.

"Remember to focus all of your powers on the object that you are
trying to levitate. Instead of using your wand to concentrate the
force of your magic, you must create a mental pathway between
yourself and the object. See how Miss Granger and Mr. Malfoy are
doing it? Excellent attempt, Miss Weasley! I think your feather lifted
a good two centimeters just then."

Professor Hong continued to pace around the Defense Against the


Dark Arts classroom, offering encouragement and advice to his
students. For a few weeks now, they had been learning a new
lesson - attempting to do wand-less Levitation Charms. Soon they
would also attempt Summoning and Banishing Charms without the
use of a wand. As usual, Hermione and Draco had been the first
students to master this new skill, and had already progressed from
levitating feathers, to levitating heavier objects instead.

"As I was saying, the Slytherins will have an early practice


tomorrow morning," Draco said after he mentally lifted a stack of
books off of their desk, "so we won't be able to have a flying lesson
tonight. I'll be turning in early."

"Oh," Hermione said, trying to hide her disappointment. She had


grown to look forward to the time they spent together every
evening. She watched as Draco smoothly lowered the stack of
books back down onto their desktop and gave her a cocky little
smirk. It was times like these that Hermione wished their
"relationship" wasn't such a secret so that she could grab him and
kiss the smirk right off his face. She reminded herself that in any
case, snogging was not considered an acceptable classroom
activity at Hogwarts.

"You're so full of yourself," she said instead, poking Draco in the


ribs. "At this rate, you'll have a tough time at Quidditch practice
tonight. Your head is so big that I can't imagine the sort of wind
resistance it'll generate when you fly."

Before Draco could issue one of his usual sarcastic retorts, he was
interrupted by Ginny.

"Hey, Malfoy, there's something I've been meaning to ask you," the
redhead announced.

Instantly, both Draco and Hermione stiffened. Hermione was afraid


that Ginny was about to ask Draco what his "intentions" were with
Hermione, or something equally awkward. From the nervous
expression on Draco's face, she could tell that he was thinking the
same thing.

"Yeah, what is it?" he asked Ginny cautiously.

"You know that upside-down barrel roll you used in the Quidditch
match against us in November? Do you think you could show me
how to do it? I thought it might be a useful skill for a Chaser as well,
and since the Holyhead Harpies tryout is only a few months
away..."

"Sure, I suppose I can show it to you," Draco said, visibly relaxing.


"I don't have time this week, but how about the next?"

"All right," Ginny agreed, going back to her attempts to levitate her
feather.

"You seem to be in high demand for flying lessons these days,"


Hermione murmured to Draco, so only he could hear her.

"Don't worry," he said with a wink, "I won't conclude my lessons with
Little Weasley in quite the same way that I conclude yours."

In his conversations with Hermione, Draco had taken to referring to


Ginny as "Little Weasley" in order to differentiate her from Ron.

"You'd better not," Hermione said, only half joking, "because if you
do, Harry and I would make you regret it. You may have held me off
once or twice in the past, but I don't think you could handle both
me and an Auror."

"Potter's not an official Auror yet," Draco drawled. "Besides, I think


you underestimate my abilities."

He narrowed his eyes in concentration, and slowly, their large


wooden desk began to rise into the air. In a matter of seconds, it
was floating a meter off of the ground.

"Ah, excellent work, Mr. Malfoy!" Professor Hong exclaimed as he


passed by. "You really seem to be excelling at the wand-less
Levitation Charm!"

Draco shot Hermione a smug grin as he gently lowered the desk


back to the floor. Hermione just rolled her eyes, took a deep breath,
and concentrated on her own magic.

"Hey!" Draco yelped, and soon the whole class was laughing at
Hermione's successful attempt at wand-less levitation.

"Sometimes I think you underestimate my abilities," she said in a


mocking voice.

"Show off," Draco grumbled, scowling and folding his arms across
his chest.

Hermione decided that only someone like Draco could maintain


some semblance of dignity while he has hovering, upside down, two
meters off of the ground.
Hermione reached the breakfast table early that Friday morning.
She had risen from bed so early that the Great Hall was practically
empty, and since she had no one to talk to, she chose to bury
herself in a book. Being quite caught up with her studies, she had
decided to indulge in a bit of pleasure reading, and was currently
engrossed in Pride and Prejudice. She had just reached one of her
favorite scenes, in which Elizabeth Bennett accidentally agrees to
dance with the arrogant Mr. Darcy, and her friend, Charlotte,
reassures her that she will probably find him to be an amiable man.
Hermione was always amused by Elizabeth's response to this:

‘Heaven forbid! That would be the greatest misfortune of all! To find


a man agreeable whom one is determined to hate! Do not wish me
such an evil.'"

Hermione chuckled to herself and closed her book, suddenly lost in


thought. She had read Pride and Prejudice many times before,
starting when she was a young girl. Back then, she had always
imagined Mr. Darcy as some handsome, faceless stranger. In more
recent years, she had tried to picture Ron as the novel's male lead,
but somehow this fantasy never quite worked out. Ron was too
sweet, open, and easy-going to ever resemble the proud and
enigmatic Mr. Darcy. However, upon this latest rereading of the
novel, Hermione found herself picturing Mr. Darcy as a tall, blond-
haired, grey-eyed man...

Draco had continued to give Hermione flying lessons on an almost-


nightly basis, and while she could not say that her fear of heights
had disappeared, she at least had better control over it. More
importantly, she was becoming more comfortable with Draco as
well. Every night after flying, he would kiss her goodnight, and what
started out as a simple kiss usually escalated into an intense
snogging session. Hermione thought that she was almost ready to
take things to the next level with him.

She was distracted from her thoughts when an owl swooped down
to deliver the early edition of the Daily Prophet. Hermione unrolled
her newspaper and skimmed through the pages to see if there was
anything of interest. Thankfully, with the war over, the news had
become much less depressing, but it had also become a bit boring.
Nowadays, the pages of the Daily Prophet were full of nothing more
than idle gossip and the latest scandals, and this edition was no
different. Hermione sipped her morning coffee as she flipped
through the pages, rolling her eyes at some of the articles, and only
pausing to read a few.

She turned to page six, and nearly spit out her coffee when she saw
the black-and-white photograph that took up half of the page.

The picture was obviously taken from the street outside of a fancy
restaurant, and through the window of the restaurant, there was a
young couple sitting across the dinner table from each other. As
Hermione watched, the man in the photo leaned over to tuck a lock
of hair behind the woman's ear, and plant a lingering kiss on her
lips. The associated article, written by none other than Rita Skeeter,
carried the following title: "Corianna Warbeck, Daughter of Famed
Crooner Celestina Warbeck, Finds New Boy-Toy."

Hermione studied the picture once more, her heart pounding in her
chest. She had never seen Corianna Warbeck before, though she
supposed she was a rather pretty girl, with long, wavy hair and big
doe eyes. However, the man in the photo, whom Rita Skeeter had
referred to as Corianna's new "boy-toy", was someone Hermione
would have recognized anywhere.

It was Ron.
End Notes:
Of course, the "Pride and Prejudice" quote belongs to the
unsurpassable Jane Austen, not me.
Back to index
Chapter 14: Defying Gravity by atalanta84
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair…
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

~ From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Elliot

"Hermione? Are you okay?"

One of the curtains of Hermione’s four-poster bed slid aside to


reveal Ginny's concerned face, peeping in at her.

"Hermione, what's wrong?"

Sniffling somewhat, Hermione handed Ginny her copy of the Daily


Prophet, which was folded open to the picture of Ron kissing
Corianna Warbeck. Ginny looked down at the page and let out a
resigned sigh before tossing the article in the trash.

"Oh Hermione, I'm so sorry," she murmured. Hermione sat upright,


her eyes widening.

"You knew?" she asked sharply, her voice tinged with accusation.

"Yes, I knew. Ron made Harry and I go on a double-date with them


two weeks ago..."

"You knew about this two weeks ago, and you never told me about
it!?"

Ginny sighed again, her face bearing an expression of pain and


guilt.
"I'm sorry, Hermione, but Ron made me promise not to tell you. Just
like you told me not to tell him about what happened between you
and Malfoy."

Hermione's anger immediately faded when she noticed the


expression on Ginny's face. She looked absolutely wretched, and
Hermione felt terrible about the awkward position she had put her
friend in.

"I understand, Ginny. I'm sorry for getting angry. I'm just so stunned
by all of this."

Ginny nodded and sat down on the edge of Hermione's bed, putting
a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"I'm sorry I had to keep it a secret from you. If it's any consolation,
Corianna is a complete airhead. She's so stupid that she makes
Lavender Brown seem borderline genius. Ron's really lowered his
standards if he can date an idiot like her after he dated someone as
brilliant as you."

"Thanks, Ginny," Hermione said, giving her friend a weak smile. "I
just don't think I was prepared to see Ron kissing someone else
again. I guess I shouldn't have been so surprised that he's moved
on."

Ginny gave her an oddly penetrating look

"Yes, but you've moved on too, haven't you?"

"Yes," Hermione said with a resolute nod, "I have."

Hermione went through the rest of the day with steely resolve,
determined not to care what she had read in the Daily Prophet. She
was happy for Ron, she really was. He had said that they should
both date other people, and that's what was happening. Well, at
least Ron was dating someone else. She figured that whatever she
and Draco were doing, she couldn't exactly call it dating. After all,
Ron was taking Corianna Warbeck out to romantic dinners and
kissing her in public - all things that Hermione and Draco could
never do.

All day, Hermione could feel Draco's eyes upon her, but he never
broached the subject and neither did she. She thought maybe he
hadn't read the article, or maybe he sensed she didn't want to talk
about it. It was more likely that he didn't want to talk about it until
they were alone that evening. It turned out her last guess was the
correct one.

"What's wrong?" Draco asked Hermione the moment she arrived at


the Astronomy Tower for their nightly "flying lesson".

"Nothing," she said, forcing her tone to be brighter than she felt.
"Nothing at all."

She walked over to greet him with a kiss, and with some hesitation
he complied, gently caressing her lips with his. Suddenly, Hermione
threw her arms around Draco's neck and deepened the kiss,
desperate to taste more of his mouth, to feel more of his skin. She
wanted to drive thoughts of Ron out of her head for good, and she
was so determined to do so that she didn't even notice the tears
streaking down her cheeks.

Abruptly, Draco pulled away, leaving Hermione feeling cold and


lost.

"Stop!" he hissed, gripping her shoulders to hold her at bay when


she tried to lunge back into his arms.

"Don't you want to kiss me?" Hermione asked, frowning up at him.


She was surprised to see that Draco's eyes were dark with anger.

"Yes, but not like this. You're not the only one who reads the Daily
Prophet, Hermione. I'm not going to let you use me to get some sort
of sick, twisted revenge on Weasley."

Feeling a rush of anger in response to his accusation, despite the


fact that it was at least partially correct, Hermione wiped her tears
away and gave Draco a fierce glare.

"Give me a break," she said bitingly. "We both know you don't
care why I'm doing this, just as long as you have the opportunity to
get in my pants again. It's not like you're afraid of getting your heart
broken or anything."

Draco sucked in his breath sharply, looking as if he had been


slapped. His eyes darkened to the point that they were practically
black.

"Of course," he said, his voice laced with venom, “because I'm
Draco Malfoy and therefore I don't have a heart to get broken,
right?"

Despite his obvious anger, Hermione could sense that Draco was
also hurt by what she had said. She swallowed hard, instantly
wishing she could take it back.

"Draco, I'm sorry I -”

"Just forget it," he snapped. "Flying lessons are cancelled for the
evening."

With that, Draco mounted his broom and flew away so quickly that
his hair became a whitish blur in the night. Hermione waited for
several minutes in the Astronomy Tower, hoping he would return,
but he did not. Finally, she went back down into the castle, feeling
even more miserable than when she had seen Ron snogging
Corianna Warbeck again and again across half of page six.

Hermione did not see Draco all day the next day, but she knew that
he had Quidditch practice on Saturdays, so this wasn't out of the
ordinary. They usually met in the Astronomy Tower every night at
eleven o'clock, unless one of them specified otherwise, and when
she did not receive any notice from Draco, she made her way up to
their meeting place at the usual time. She desperately hoped he
would be there.

When Hermione saw Draco waiting for her with his Nimbus2001 in
hand, she felt an irrational surge of joy. Wordlessly, he mounted his
broom and held out his hand so that he could help her climb up in
front of him. Once she was seated, he flew them out over the
school grounds, but to her surprise, he brought them down just shy
of the front gates. He opened the gates and gestured for her to
follow him outside.

"What's going on?" she asked, finally breaking the silence between
them.

"I thought you might like some new scenery for our flying lesson
tonight," Draco said, clasping her hand once they were outside of
the school grounds. "Don't worry, we won't be gone long, and I let
McGonagall know we were leaving."

With a wave of his wand, they Disapparated from Hogwarts. Once


Hermione heard the crashing waves, and smelled the salty sea air,
she knew exactly what location they had arrived at. Turning, she
saw the familiar white edifice that was the Malfoy summer home.

Draco remounted his broom and motioned for Hermione to do the


same. Once she was seated in front of him again, he pushed his
feet against the ground, sending them rocketing away from the
earth. Within seconds, they were soaring out over the cliffs of
Dover, which were an incandescent white in the light of the full
moon. Draco expertly steered them out over the sea, following the
rippling path of moonlight across the water. Hermione gripped his
arm nervously with both of her hands.

"I think it's time to progress a little further with your lessons," Draco
said. "It's time for you to take control of the broom."

"I-I don't think that's a good idea," Hermione protested. "I've never
been a very good flier."

"You're good at almost everything else because you take the time
to figure out how things work. Maybe you'll feel better if we talk
about how a broom works."

"I know how a broom works, but I also know how gravity works. I
know that what goes up must come down, and when it comes down
it falls towards the earth at an acceleration of 9.8 meters per second
squared, to be precise. In other words, if we fall, we're dead."

Though she couldn't see him where he sat behind her on the
broom, Hermione could sense Draco shaking his head.

"You're thinking about this all wrong," he said. "First of all, we're
over the water, so the worst thing that can happen is that we'll get
very wet if we crash. Also, what you've just described is how things
work in the Muggle world. In the Wizarding world, we have ways to
defy gravity, like Wingardium Leviosa and magic brooms."

"Muggles have ways to defy gravity, too - like helicopters and


airplanes - all of which are quite capable of crashing, I might add. I
doubt you've heard of the Hindenburg?"

"Hermione, I don't care about your damn Hindi-burger, or whatever


it's called," Draco said impatiently. "Let's focus on the broom, and
how it works."

"I already told you, I know how a broom works. It has a modified
Levitation Charm combined with a complex sensory enchantment
that enables the rider to -”

"No, don't think about how a broom works," Draco said, cutting her
off. "Feel how it works."

To Hermione's anxiety, he took her hand and placed it on the


broom where his had been, wrapping her fingers around the wood
handle. He kept his hand on top of hers, and Hermione was grateful
for its reassuring warmth.

"Now, do you feel the broom connected to your mind?" Draco


asked.
Too nervous to speak, Hermione merely nodded.

"Okay, now tell the broom that you want it to go left."

Hermione mentally commanded the broom and it swerved gently to


the left.

"Good," Draco said. "Now tell it to go right."

Hermione did so, and once again, the broom obeyed her command.

"Good," Draco said again softly, his lips close to Hermione's ear.
"See, even though we're high in the air, what happens up here is all
up to you. You are the one in control - not me, not the broom, not
even gravity. Now which direction do you want to go next?"

"Up," Hermione whispered, and the moment she wished it, they
were rising higher and higher until they were hovering several
kilometers above the earth. They were up so high that Hermione
could see the coast of France on the southern horizon, and all of
the car lights and streetlights were tiny twinkling dots far below. At
this height, the noise of the crashing waves had disappeared,
leaving the world around her silent, other than the sound of her and
Draco's breathing. It was the highest Hermione had ever willingly
gone before, and despite her fear, she was awestruck by the view.

"Are you afraid?" Draco asked her.

"Yes," she said honestly, “a little."

"We can go back down."

"Draco, just because I'm afraid, doesn't mean I want to turn back".

"Okay," Draco said, resting his chin on the top of her head.

They hovered up there for several minutes more, until the cold air
finally forced them to return to earth. Still a little uneasy about her
lack of flying experience, Hermione had Draco control the broom as
they came in for a landing on the veranda behind his summer
home.

Once their feet were on solid ground once more, the two of them
stood in silence for a few minutes, watching the moonlit sea. Finally,
Draco spoke.

"I know that you're hurt by what Weasley did, Hermione. I also know
that our situation isn't exactly ideal. I just want you to know that
whatever is going on between us, it's not a game to me."

"It's not?" Hermione asked, blinking in surprise.

Draco shook his head, lightly running the back of his hand along her
cheek.

"Well, it's not a game to me, either," Hermione said softly, stepping
closer and resting her hands on his shoulders. She gazed up at him
with a ponderous expression on her face. "You are such a puzzle,
Draco Malfoy. As hard as I try, I don't think I'll ever figure you out."

Draco chuckled and looped his arms around her waist.

"You still have a thing for lost causes, don't you?" he teased, and
then bent down to press his lips against hers. His kiss possessed all
of its usual heat, yet it was uncharacteristically tender, and
therefore left Hermione feeling more breathless than usual.

As Hermione kissed Draco back, she felt a familiar swooping


sensation in her stomach. She had felt it before, though she had
never thought she would feel it in the presence of Draco Malfoy.
The sensation felt remarkably similar to the one she had
experienced two weeks before, while plunging towards the ground
during their first flying lesson. There was a reason they called it
"falling in love."

"Good!" Draco called out. "Now try again, but this time, keep your
head up so you can keep an eye on where you're going."
He leaned back and watched Ginny attempt the upside-down barrel
roll for the tenth time in a row. They were out at the Quidditch pitch,
Draco sitting with his Nimbus2001 propped up against the bench on
his left side, and Hermione sitting to his right. He had been up in the
air with Ginny for awhile, but had returned to the stands in order to
get a better view as his pupil put his lessons into action.

Both Hermione and Draco groaned in disappointment as Ginny tried


to throw the Quaffle while hanging upside down, but once again, it
bounced off of the goal hoop and did not go in. Flushed with
frustration, the redhead flew over to her friends and landed on the
stands beside them.

"I just can't get it!" Ginny huffed. "I can't aim so well when I'm
upside down!"

"You'll get it after more practice," Draco said.

"You've been saying that for the past hour!"

"Yes, and I'll say it for the next hour if I have to - but you will get it
eventually. It'll be a good skill for you to have as a Chaser.
Throwing the Quaffle from that position will catch a Keeper off-
guard, not to mention it's a good way to dodge Bludgers or
opposing players as you enter the goal area."

To Hermione's surprise, Ginny let out a sigh and stopped arguing


with Draco. Hermione was surprised at how good of a teacher
Draco could be when he had the patience to demonstrate it. He had
already taught Ginny a few useful maneuvers, and had not given up
on her when she didn't get them on the first try. The upside-down
barrel roll was giving her a lot of trouble, however.

"Why don't you two take a little break?" Hermione suggested,


passing a canteen of pumpkin juice to Ginny, who accepted it
gratefully.

"Sounds like a plan," Ginny said, taking a swig of the juice.


"But she'll never master this trick if she doesn't keep trying!" Draco
argued.

"And you think I'm a slave driver when we study," Hermione said
with a laugh. "You're ten times worse when it comes to Quidditch."

"Yes, well Quidditch is different," Draco grumbled, though he


quieted down as Hermione playfully tousled his hair.

Ginny made a gagging noise and turned away, but suddenly


brightened as she noticed a dark-haired young man climbing up the
stands to join them, carrying a broom in his hand.

"Harry!" Ginny called out, and Hermione instantly removed her hand
from Draco's hair.

From the odd expression on Harry's face when he approached,


Hermione thought she might have been too late to keep her friend
from seeing the display of affection between her and Draco. Harry
looked as if he was about to make some sort of comment, but was
distracted by Ginny rushing over to greet him with a kiss. Then it
was Draco's turn to make gagging noises.

"Hi Gin," Harry said, once they had parted lips. "I came to give you
some help with your Quidditch training, but I see you already have a
teacher."

He glanced at Draco, but there was no malice in his tone or facial


expression, merely bemusement. Sensing Harry's calm reaction to
the situation, Draco simply shrugged.

"I was just showing her a few maneuvers," he said, rising to his feet.
"Now that you're here, you can take over."

"Wait, Malfoy, let me try the barrel roll one more time before you
go," Ginny said, grabbing her broom and Quaffle and flying back
out over the pitch. Zooming in towards the goal posts, she suddenly
flipped upside down and hefted the Quaffle into a throwing position.

"Keep your head up!" Draco and Harry called out to Ginny in
unison. They both turned to look at each other in surprise, then
directed their attention back out to the pitch, where Ginny
successfully launched the Quaffle through one of the hoops.

Harry whooped enthusiastically, but Draco remained silent, giving a


nod of approval.

"All right I'm off," Draco said, turning towards Hermione. "Do you
want to go study?"

"Malfoy wait," Harry said, and Hermione's heart sank as she


prepared herself for the inevitable confrontation to follow.

Draco swiveled to face his arch rival, his grey eyes narrowed in
challenge.

"What is it, Potter?"

"I was just thinking...why don't you stay for a bit longer? If you go
and play Keeper, it will help Ginny learn the maneuver more
effectively. She won't have unguarded goal posts at the tryouts, you
know. I'll come up and show her a few more tricks that she can test
out on you."

Draco raised his eyebrows in surprise. He glanced at Hermione,


who smiled encouragingly at him.

"Fine," he said with a shrug. "Meet you up there, then."

Draco grabbed his broom and soared up to join Ginny, leaving


Hermione alone with Harry.

"So what's going on with you and Malfoy?" Harry asked quietly, the
moment Draco was out of earshot.

"Nothing, Harry. We're just good friends."

"I see the way you look at each other. How ‘good' of friends are
you, exactly?"
"Harry..."

"Ron misses you, you know."

Hermione immediately felt a rush of anger. How dare Harry try and
make her feel guilty when it had been Ron's decision for them to
break up in the first place?

"Yes, I'm sure anyone who reads the Daily Prophet can see just
how much Ron misses me these days," she said scathingly. To her
satisfaction, Harry flinched at her words.

"Look, about Corianna Warbeck...."

"Harry, please," Hermione cut in. "Ron's a big boy, and he doesn't
need for you to defend his actions. We're all adults now, and since
he and I are no longer a couple, he's free to date whomever he
chooses."

"Will you just listen to me for a minute?" Harry said, his green eyes
flashing with impatience. "Ron does not love Corianna Warbeck. He
loves you. I'm his best mate. I know these things."

"Aren't I your best friend, too?" Hermione asked, and Harry's


expression immediately softened.

"Of course you are, Hermione. That's why I want you to be happy,
and I just know that you'll be happy with Ron once he...grows up a
bit. He was a complete arse to break up with you the way he did,
and I think he realizes it - no, I know he realizes it. I think if you just
spoke with him -”

"No, Harry," Hermione cut in, shaking her head. "Ron broke up
with me, remember? I've been waiting almost eight years for him to
‘grow up'. If he wants to talk to me, then he needs to be the one to
swallow his pride and apologize. Not me."

Harry sighed, suddenly appearing very tired. Looking at him,


Hermione was surprised at how much he had matured in the past
year. He had grown a bit taller and broader across the shoulders,
and he was definitely more muscular, most likely because of his
intense Auror training. However, the biggest changes were in his
face. It was harder somehow, all of the childhood softness having
melted away to leave a firm mouth and strong jaw. There was very
little trace of the young boy she had first met on the Hogwarts
Express all those years ago, except for the occasional sparkle in his
green eyes whenever he laughed.

"Hermione," Harry continued, changing his tactics, "let's just say -


theoretically speaking - that you are pursuing something with
Malfoy. I'm not as blind as Ron is about him. I know Malfoy's
changed - I mean look at him."

They both glanced up at the Quidditch pitch where Ginny was


currently mimicking Draco and his clumsy skills as Keeper, a
position he was clearly not very familiar with playing. Ginny
mockingly flailed her arms back and forth, nearly falling off of her
broom as she copied Draco's attempts to block her goals. Draco
flung the Quaffle towards Ginny's head in retaliation, but Harry and
Hermione could both tell he was struggling not to laugh at the
redheaded girl's antics.

Harry shook his head, a look of incredulity on his face.

"Seeing Malfoy act like a human being is something I never thought


I'd see," he muttered. "Kind of like seeing Hagrid dance ballet in a
fluffy pink tutu."

Simultaneously, both Harry and Hermione shuddered and laughed


at the mental image this generated.

"As I was saying, I know Malfoy's changed, but there are some
things that will never change," Harry continued, his face sobering
once more. "His family, for example. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy
may be walking around saying that blood purity no longer matters to
them, but you can bet behind closed doors, they're singing a
different tune."

Hermione squirmed uncomfortably, not wanting to tell Harry about


the conversation she’d had with Draco a few weeks before, when
he had pretty much confirmed what Harry just said.

"They would never accept you, Hermione. Even if Malfoy could get
over his prejudices to the point where the two of you decided to get
married someday, his parents would probably disown him for
marrying a Muggle-born, and you would have to live with the guilt of
being the cause of it. Is that what you really want?"

"Harry, I'm not exactly planning to marry Draco Malfoy," Hermione


said.

"I know," Harry acknowledged, though he still seemed relieved to


hear Hermione say it. "But just think about how different things
would be with Ron. His family loves you, and already treats you like
a daughter. With Ron, no one would criticize you for your choice to
be together. You wouldn't have to keep it a secret. And you would
know that Ron loves you no matter what, and doesn't give two shits
about your heritage."

Harry suddenly frowned, his eyes clouded with troubling memories.

"You weren't there, in the cellar, the night we were captured and
brought to Malfoy Manor. You didn't hear him, Hermione. You didn't
see how Ron acted when he heard you being tortured. He was
sobbing and screaming your name..."

"Harry, please," Hermione pleaded, shuddering at the memory of


that night. Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought of Ron calling
out her name while Bellatrix Lestrange hit her with one Cruciatus
Curse after another. And she pictured a different face - pale, with
wide grey eyes watching her suffer, yet doing nothing...

Harry nodded at her, as if reading her thoughts.

"That night, Malfoy chose his family over you, Hermione. If he had
to make the same choice today, do you really think he would
choose any differently?"

Hermione closed her eyes, an indescribable feeling of pain rising


from deep within her. She wanted to say "yes". She wanted to say
that Draco would choose differently, and that if Bellatrix Lestrange
were suddenly back from the dead, torturing Hermione once more,
this time Draco would step in and save her. But somehow, she had
a feeling that was not true.

"Oi, Potter!" Draco called out suddenly, and Hermione opened her
eyes to see him hovering in front of the goal posts, waving his hand
to get their attention. "Get your scrawny, bespectacled arse up
here! I haven't got all day you know!"

Harry rolled his eyes and shook his head while he mounted his
broom.

"Some things never change," he muttered, then turned to Hermione


once more. "Just think about what I've said, okay?"

Hermione nodded, and Harry took off to join Draco and Ginny. She
lingered there in the stands, prepared to act as a referee in case
things got out of hand between the two boys, but to her surprise
they were remarkably civil towards each other, united by the
common purpose of helping Ginny prepare for her tryout. Hermione
suddenly noticed how uncannily similar their teaching styles were -
both were direct, yet patient, and usually taught via demonstration.

It now made sense to Hermione how Draco's wand had worked so


well for Harry the year before. She had been right in suspecting that
it was more than a mere coincidence. Really, the more she got to
know Draco, the more she had come to realize that in many ways,
he and Harry were more alike than different. After all, Harry had
been a heartbeat away from being sorted into Slytherin House
himself. Perhaps, if circumstances were different, and Draco had
not been raised by close-minded, bigoted parents, he and Harry
would even have been friends.

However, circumstances weren't different.

Harry was right. Draco had chosen his family over her once before,
and she had no doubt that he would make the same choice again in
the future, if it ever came down to it. He had said as much himself
when he insisted that he would only marry a Pureblood. Why then,
was she wasting her time (and his) pursuing something that they
both knew could never be?

"So what were you and Potter talking about so intently this
afternoon?" Draco asked as he and Hermione sat on the floor of the
Astronomy Tower later that evening, Draco sitting with his back
pressed up against the balcony rail, and Hermione leaning against
his chest. They had just finished one of their flying lessons, and one
of the serious snogging sessions that usually accompanied it.

"Oh, we were just talking about our plans for Easter Break,"
Hermione lied smoothly.

"I see," Draco said, gently sucking at the sensitive spot beneath her
ear that he knew drove her wild. "You are such a talented witch,
Hermione…except when it comes to lying. In that department, I'm
afraid you still have a lot to learn."

"As someone who prefers honesty, I'd rather not learn to be a better
liar, thanks."

Draco pulled away from her neck, a triumphant smirk on his face.

"Aha, so you do admit that you were just lying?"

"Prat," Hermione muttered, giving him a half-hearted smack on the


arm.

"Such an abusive little wench," Draco said, feigning an expression


of pain. Then his face grew serious again as he pressed, "So what
were you and Potter really talking about?"

"Us, of course. What else?"

"Ah yes, and I'm sure Potter had a nice long list of all the reasons
why you shouldn't be involved with a cad like me."
"Something like that."

"And you agree with them?"

Hermione glanced up at him, trying to determine whether Draco


was being serious or sarcastic. With him, it was sometimes difficult
to tell.

"I agree with some of Harry's reasons, yes," she answered


truthfully.

"Such as?" Draco pressed. His golden eyebrows had lowered


somewhat, but he otherwise did not appear distressed by
Hermione's statement.

"Well, I wish we could spend more time together in the open without
worrying about being caught. I wish I could be with you in broad
daylight, instead of having to wait until we have our secret meetings
at night."

Draco frowned thoughtfully for a moment before saying, "What if I


told you there's a way we could do all that - at least for a little
while?"

"Really?" Hermione asked, intrigued. "What do you mean?"

"Well, have you actually made any plans for Easter Break next
week?"

Hermione shook her head. Her parents were taking a trip to


Australia; apparently they had made some good friends during the
time they had spent hidden there under Hermione's Memory
Charm. Mrs. Weasley had been kind enough to extend Hermione
an invitation to the Burrow, mentioning in her note that no matter
what happened, Hermione would always be welcome at the
Weasleys'. While Hermione had found this touching and reassuring,
she had politely declined the offer. She didn’t think she could deal
with the awkwardness of spending one whole week around Ron.

"Then, since neither of us has any plans, why don't we spend the
week at my summer home?" Draco asked, breaking into her
thoughts.

Hermione's eyes widened.

"You would really do that? Spend the whole week with me? Are you
sure it's safe?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Like I said before, my parents never go there, so we


won't get caught. I'll just tell them I'm staying with some of my
Slytherin friends for the week, and they won't think to question it.
This way we could be together as much as you want."

"All right," Hermione said, after only a moment's hesitation. "Let's do


it."

"Fantastic," Draco murmured, grinning in a way that made


Hermione eye him nervously.

"Draco, just because I'll be spending the nights at your house


doesn't mean...."

"Don't worry," Draco said, rolling his eyes, "I promise there'll be no
funny business - unless you want there to be, of course."

He waggled his eyebrows suggestively, and Hermione couldn't help


but laugh.

"Why do I get the feeling that I'm going to regret this?"

"Hermione, are you sure you're not going to regret this?" Ginny said
for the millionth time the following Friday.

"Do we really have to keep talking about it?" Hermione said with a
sigh. "I'm starting to get a headache."

Ginny frowned and perched on the edge of Hermione's bed,


watching as she finished packing her suitcase for her week-long
stay at Draco's summer home.

"I'm sorry, Hermione, I don't mean to sound like a nag," she


continued. "I'm just worried about you. Three weeks ago you were
talking about the need to take things slow with Malfoy, and now
you're going to spend an entire week alone with him. You can't
blame me for finding some flaws in your logic here."

Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose in order to assuage the


throb that was building behind it.

"Ginny, I already told you. Draco and I have been taking things slow
and we'll continue to take things slow this week. I just need to figure
out some things about us, and I think I'll have a better opportunity to
do that when we can spend some time alone together."

"You know, Mum would really love it if you came to stay at the
Burrow with us..." Ginny began in a plaintive tone.

"No, Ginny."

Ginny's face fell, and Hermione could picture all the "let's-get-Ron-
and-Hermione-back-together" plots that Ginny and Harry must have
concocted, and how her refusal to come to the Burrow for Easter
Break was foiling those plots.

"All right, Hermione," Ginny said with a resigned sigh. "I can see
there's no convincing you to change your mind. Just promise me
you'll be careful. You know where to find me if you need anything."

Hermione smiled and gave the redhead a grateful hug. She felt
lucky to have a friend as thoughtful and understanding as Ginny.
Without her, the past several months would have been more trying
than they already were.

Several minutes later, Hermione was strolling through the Entrance


Hall of Hogwarts, lugging her heavy suitcase with her. Along the
way she happened to bump into Luna, who also had a suitcase in
tow.
"Hello Luna," Hermione said, greeting the blonde with a smile. "I
thought you were staying at Hogwarts for break?"

"Nope," Luna said, falling into step with Hermione as they walked
outside. "Daddy's heard rumors of a new creature: a Mexican goat-
sucker called El Chupacabra. We're going to go see if we can find
one. What about you?"

"Oh, I'll be spending the week with my parents," Hermione


answered, trying not to blush or otherwise give away her true plans.

"I see," Luna said brightly, giving no indication that she found this
response suspicious.

"Well, have fun looking for El Chupacabra," said Hermione, once


they reached the Apparition point outside the front gates of the
school.

"Thanks! Say hello to Draco for me!" Luna called out.

Sometimes Hermione wondered if the Ravenclaw's vacant


expressions and dreamy voice were really just an act she used to
make people underestimate her.

Taking a deep breath, Hermione prepared to Apparate herself and


her luggage to Draco's summer home in Dover. For a moment, she
hesitated, her wand in hand as she weighed the sanity of her
decision to do this. She knew Ginny was afraid of her going too far
with Draco physically, but that was not Hermione's greatest
concern. She was more afraid of going too far emotionally.

The realization that she was falling in love with Draco had been
startling, and more than a little frightening. It was also confusing,
because in spite of evidence that Ron had already moved on from
their relationship, she still had lingering feelings for him. Was it
possible to be in love with two people at the same time?

Hermione wanted to put the brakes on her feelings for Draco, and
stop herself from falling any further in love with him. But she knew
she couldn't stop falling for him, even if she tried. After all, there
were many things in the world that defied the laws of gravity, but
she had a feeling that love wasn't one of them.
End Notes:
Believe it or not, there really is a mythological, "goat sucking"
creature called El Chupacabra which is rumored to exist in Central
America. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about
it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Chupacabra
Back to index
Chapter 15: A Bittersweet Escape by atalanta84
Let us put tears and memories away,
While the fates sleep time stops for revelry;
Let us look, speak, and kiss as if no day
Has been or yet will be.

~ From "While the Fates Sleep" by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Friday

"You never said anything about a House-Elf!" Hermione huffed,


crossing her arms over her chest and giving Draco a withering
glare.

"I didn't think you'd get this worked up over it!" Draco argued back.
"How the hell did you expect us to survive for a whole week without
someone to cook for us?"

Hermione and Draco had just arrived at the Malfoy summer home
that evening and, so far, their holiday was not off to a very relaxing
start. The moment the two had entered the house, Hermione had
nearly jumped out of her skin when a House-Elf had appeared with
a poof and offered to relieve her of her luggage. The House-Elf in
question, bearing the name of Dinky and wearing a little pink tea
towel, was currently watching with wide eyes while Draco and
Hermione argued with each other.

"Draco, you and I are perfectly capable of looking after ourselves,"


Hermione said. "We do not need a House-Elf."

"This is supposed to be a holiday, Hermione. I don't want to have to


worry about cleaning and cooking and all that shite."

"You are such a spoiled prat."

"Oh yeah? Well you are a stubborn pain in the -”


"Master Draco!" Dinky squeaked, surprising both of them when she
interrupted. "What would Mistress Narcissa be saying if she heard
you talking to a lady like that? Dinky is having to wash your mouth
out with soap if you be talking that way to the pretty lady. Dinky is
washing Master Draco's mouth with soap all the time when he was
a little boy and Dinky is doing it again now if she has to."

Draco spluttered wordlessly in embarrassment, turning pink all the


way to the tips of his ears. Hermione, however, felt as if Christmas
had come early.

"Okay," she said, grinning widely. "The House-Elf stays."

Saturday

Hermione awoke bright and early the following morning, and for a
moment, she blinked at her unfamiliar surroundings. Then she
smiled when she recognized the beautiful guest room Draco had
selected for her to sleep in. She had been surprised, and a bit
disappointed, when Draco had not suggested that they share his
room - the bedroom where they had spent the night together a few
weeks before. However, she felt the sleeping arrangement was
probably for the best. Draco was a difficult temptation to resist as it
was, and it would be even worse if she had to share a bed with him.

Hermione hopped out of bed and stretched, causing her nightshirt


to ride up to her hips. Ginny had always teased her for her
minimalist approach to nightwear, but Hermione found that she was
most comfortable wearing nothing but one of her father's old tee-
shirts and a pair of knickers, even in the dead of winter. Humming
cheerfully, she made her way downstairs to the kitchen, where
Draco was already awake, wearing a grey silk robe and sitting at
the table reading the weekend edition of the Daily Prophet.

When Hermione strolled into the kitchen, Draco gaped at her, his
jaw hanging open at the sight of her bare legs. Dinky came bustling
by and placed a piece of toast in Draco's open mouth, pushing his
chin up to close it.

"Master Draco is not polite to be staring at Mistress Hermione that


way," Dinky chided, going back to tending a pan of bacon on the
stove.

Draco rolled his eyes and swallowed his mouthful of toast before
speaking.

"Yeah, well it's not polite to walk around half-naked, either."

"I am not half-naked," Hermione said haughtily, taking a seat across


the table from him. "These happen to be my pajamas."

Draco looked as if he was about to make some other snide


comment, but caught Dinky's eye and fell silent.

"She really knows how to put you in your place, doesn't she?"
Hermione said, spreading some butter onto a slice of toast. She
was pleased to note a slight flush of embarrassment on Draco's
cheeks again. She liked it when he blushed - it made him appear so
much more human.

"Dinky has been in the family since before I was born," he


explained. "She was always in charge of taking care of me, so she's
become quite fond of me over the years. That's how I knew I could
trust her to be here with us and not mention anything to my parents
regarding who I chose to be my houseguest this week."

"I see," Hermione said. She leaned back and propped her legs up
on an adjacent chair, causing her oversized tee-shirt to ride further
up her thighs. Draco groaned and buried himself in his newspaper
to shield himself from the tantalizing glimpse of knickers that
Hermione's new position provided.

"So, what were you planning on us doing today?" Hermione asked


before biting into her toast.

"I was thinking of going sailing," Draco said from behind his paper.
"You know that labyrinth I showed you the last time we were here?
Well, there's a grotto at one end of it, where my family keeps a few
sailboats."

"You know how to sail?" Hermione asked, surprised.

Draco emerged from behind his paper, his face bearing an


expression of impatience.

"Well, I wouldn't exactly suggest doing it if I didn't know how, would


I?"

"You really aren't a morning person," Hermione said with a sigh.


She shifted positions, drawing her knees up to her chin so that her
tee-shirt was bunched around her waist, baring everything else
below that point.

Draco ran his eyes up and down her legs and made an odd little
choking sound before disappearing behind his Daily Prophet once
more.

Monday

"It looks like it's going to storm today."

"No kidding? Is that what it means when the sky gets all dark and it
starts to thunder? I'm so glad you're here to explain these things to
me."

"Shut up," Hermione said, "or I'll get Dinky to wash your mouth out
again."

Draco scowled darkly at her, but Hermione simply responded with a


grin that was worthy of the Cheshire Cat. She’d had the unique and
unexpected pleasure of watching Dinky tackle Draco and clean his
mouth out with soap the day before, and she didn't think she would
ever live to see a more beautiful sight. She was glad that she had
agreed to let the House-Elf stay with them for the week, even
though she was disappointed that she had not thought to bring
along a camera.

"Good thing I brought a source of indoor entertainment for days like


these," Draco said, clearly trying to change the subject from his
recent punishment at Dinky's hands. They were currently in the
sitting room overlooking the ocean as he retrieved a large, ornate
box from a shelf in the corner, and placed it on the table between
him and Hermione. He opened it and withdrew a very expensive-
looking wizard's chess set, and upon seeing it, Hermione's face fell.

"I'm terrible at wizard's chess," she said ruefully as Draco set up the
pieces, which were white and emerald green. She recognized it as
the set his parents had given him for Christmas, having seen him
and Dean playing with it on more than one occasion.

"That's all right, I can teach you," Draco said, sitting in the chair
across from hers. "But I have to warn you, I'm a ruthless chess
player."

"Considering you're a Malfoy and a Slytherin, I wouldn't expect


anything less."

For the next couple of hours, Draco tutored Hermione on the subtle
strategies of wizard's chess; however, the chess pieces seemed to
sense her inexperience and were reluctant to obey her orders. More
than once, she had to coax them to move where she wanted them
to go on the chessboard, as Harry often had to do when he played
against Ron.

"Any day now," Draco muttered at one point, when Hermione was
taking even longer than usual to decide her next move.

"Patience is a virtue!" she trilled, chewing on her lower lip as she


studied the board. She was not oblivious to the fact that Draco's
eyes had zeroed in on her lips as she nibbled them. She outlined
her lips with the tip of her tongue, and inwardly emitted a smug
chuckle when she saw Draco squirm in his seat.

A sudden crash of thunder shook the house, and Hermione couldn't


help jumping and letting out a little gasp. For some reason, the
sound of the thunder and the rain pounding against the windows
made Hermione's heart speed up and blood pool in her groin as it
brought back memories of the last time she and Draco had spent
together during a storm. She glanced up at Draco and saw that his
eyes had become two dark, burning coals, and she knew that he
was thinking the same thing.

Forcing herself to tear her gaze away from Draco, Hermione tried to
focus on the chessboard in between them, but with the hot lust that
was now pulsing through her veins, it had become nothing but a
green and white blur to her. A tense silence hung between them,
causing every tick of the clock on the mantelpiece to sound like the
crash of a gong. The room suddenly felt stiflingly warm, causing a
bead of sweat to trickle down Hermione's spine. She shivered and
clutched her arms around her chest, noticing too late that this
elevated her breasts so that the lacy top of her bra peeked out of
the open collar of her blouse.

This was the last straw for Draco.

"That's it!" he hissed, rising to his feet and lunging around the table.

Hermione gasped as Draco yanked her roughly to her feet and


captured her mouth with his. His kiss was at first brutal in its
intensity, but it softened almost immediately as he ran the tip of his
tongue along the inside of her lips, tracing them in replication of
what she had done with her own tongue mere moments before. His
hands slid down her shoulder blades to rest on the small of her
back, where he pushed her body forward so that her hips melded
with his. Hermione could feel his burgeoning desire pressed
between them, and urgently deepened their kiss, sucking his
tongue into her mouth. She tasted traces of the coffee he had drunk
with his breakfast, as well as the syrupy hotcakes he had eaten. He
tasted bitter and sweet at the same time.

Groaning from Hermione's fresh assault on his mouth, Draco


suddenly shoved his chess set aside to make room on the table
before lifting Hermione up onto it. The chess pieces ran helter-
skelter out of the way with shrill screams of "Retreat!" and "Every
pawn for himself!" as Draco lowered Hermione down, laying her on
her back. Draco paused for a moment to take in the sight of
Hermione sprawled across the table, and he licked his lips as if she
were some sort of exotic dessert that he was about to indulge in.
Then, he bent down, and she was entirely at the mercy of his
mouth.

Draco kissed Hermione frantically once more, undoing the buttons


of her blouse, and revealing the pink lacy bra that she wore
underneath. His lips sank into the soft flesh at the base of her
throat, and Hermione arched at his touch, thrusting her chest up
towards him. Obliging her unspoken request, Draco drifted further
down and delicately lapped up a bead of sweat between her
breasts in much the same way that one licks the drips off the side of
a melting ice cream cone. Apparently wanting to taste more of her,
his eyes lit up when he noticed the front clasp on her bra.

Hermione tried to form coherent thoughts, but as often happened in


Draco's presence, she was having a difficult time doing so. While
she had allowed some heavy petting during their nighttime
rendezvous over the past couple weeks, Draco had not attempted
to remove her shirt since that one night they had slept together.
However, before Hermione could even attempt to assess their
current situation, Draco had undone the clasp on her bra, baring her
breasts to his eager lips. She moaned as he took first one, and then
the other into his mouth, and thought that if they kept this up much
longer, she was literally going to die right there on his sitting room
table. She couldn't think of a better way to go, really.

Hermione could just picture Rita Skeeter's headline on tomorrow's


edition of the Daily Prophet: "Famous War Hero Hermione Granger
Suffers Death-By-Fondling at the Hands (and Mouth) of Notorious
Ex-Death Eater, Draco Malfoy". That would sell a hell of a lot of
papers.

Suddenly, Hermione was snapped out of her strange and pleasure-


blurred thoughts by Draco unzipping the front of her jeans. Knowing
that if he managed to get them off, she would be helpless to keep
the situation from escalating any further, Hermione firmly, yet with
great reluctance, pushed his hands away.
"We need to stop," she whispered, and Draco slowly pried his lips
off of her, looking like a child who’d had his favorite toy taken away.
It was very difficult for Hermione not to smile at his crestfallen
expression.

"Sorry," she said, "It's just, I'm not quite ready to...you know."

Draco nodded, quickly bending down to pick up his chess set as a


means of hiding his disappointment, and to avoid looking at
Hermione's bare midsection. Thinking it would be cruel to torture
him any further, Hermione rushed to refasten her bra and button up
her blouse. By the time she finished readjusting her clothes, Draco
had put away all the chess pieces, who were still grumbling
mutinously about their mistreatment. Hermione decided to try and
lighten up the mood.

"Honestly, Draco, what is it about thunderstorms that makes you act


like a wild man?"

"Oh please," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "We both know you like it
when I indulge my inner caveman. You were practically begging for
me to club you over the head and drag you up to bed by your hair."

"As romantic as all of that sounds, I think I'll pass," Hermione said,
trying to maintain a sense of decorum in spite of the shameless and
flagrantly sensual scenario she had just participated in. She left the
room under the pretense of procuring a book from the library, not
willing to give Draco the satisfaction of knowing he was right - she
definitely had no qualms with him "indulging his inner caveman".

Later that night, Hermione lay in bed listening to the storm as it


continued to rage against the walls of the house. She tossed and
turned, trying to bury her head under her pillow in an attempt to
block out the sound of the howling wind and thunder, but it was no
use. Finally, she gave up and crawled out of bed, pacing back and
forth as she debated whether or not to seek refuge in Draco's room.
She knew it was probably a bad idea, but she felt rattled sleeping
alone in unfamiliar surroundings during a storm.
At last, Hermione decided to throw caution to the wind and join
Draco. With a murmured "Lumos", she lit her wand and crept as
quietly as possible down the second-story hallway. Several
portraits, no doubt of long-dead Malfoy ancestors, grumbled and
complained as they shielded their eyes from the light of her wand.
Finally, she reached the door of Draco's room and knocked gently.
Hearing no response, Hermione cracked it open and peeked inside.

Draco was fast asleep, his platinum hair mussed up around his
head, and his mouth slightly open as he breathed deeply. Hermione
grinned as she recalled that he found thunderstorms soothing. She
thought only someone like Draco could find comfort in such a
violent, unpredictable force of nature. Treading softly, she
approached the side of his bed, gazing down at him while he
continued to slumber peacefully. While conscious, he was one of
the most frustrating men Hermione had ever met, but unconscious,
he looked innocent - angelic, even. She couldn't resist the urge to
reach out and smooth his hair.

"Agggh!" Draco shouted, his eyes snapping open at Hermione's


touch. His hand flew up to clamp around her wrist.

"It's okay!" Hermione whispered, wincing at Draco's iron-like grip.


"It's just me."

"Gods, woman," Draco muttered, loosening, but not releasing, his


hand around her wrist. "Were you trying to scare me to death, or
what?"

"I was just, um, wondering if you would let me join you. I'm having a
hard time falling asleep in the storm."

Hermione felt her cheeks flame with embarrassment at her


confession. Then, she noticed that Draco's blankets had fallen
away from the top half of his body, revealing the smooth, hard
planes of his bare chest.

"Erm, Draco, please tell me you're wearing something other than


your own skin."
"Why don't you come under here and find out?" he said with a
smirk, as he yanked on her wrist and pulled her down into the bed.
Before she knew it, he had lifted the blankets to cover them both
and maneuvered her onto her side before he rolled over to lie
against her back. She was relieved to note that he was wearing his
boxers. Like her, Draco appeared to have a minimalist view on
nightwear, but at least he wasn't completely starkers. Hermione
didn't think she had that much self-control.

"Sorry for startling you a moment ago," she whispered, wriggling


into a comfortable position against Draco's firm and distinctly
masculine body.

"S'okay," he mumbled sleepily. "I just wasn't prepared for any


assaults on my person this evening."

"I was not ‘assaulting your person'."

"I know - that's the problem. Why don't you get to it already?"

Hermione chuckled softly as Draco buried his face in the nape of


her neck.

"Draco?" she murmured.

"Hmm?"

"I'm sorry I made you stop, um, doing what you were doing with me
earlier today. I think I still need a bit more time to adjust to the idea
of sleeping with you again."

Draco was silent for a few minutes, and Hermione thought that
maybe he had fallen asleep. Then he startled her by speaking once
more.

"Hermione, what bothers you so much about being with me? Does
it feel...wrong?"

Hermione rolled over so that she could face him, trying to make out
his expression in the dark. His brow was furrowed, but his eyes
were unreadable.

"No, that's not what bothers me," she whispered. "What bothers me
is that it's supposed to feel wrong to be with you, but...but instead it
feels so right."

Draco stared at her blankly for a couple of seconds before shaking


his head in bewilderment.

"And you call me a puzzle."

Tuesday

As she and Draco sailed around the coast of his summer home,
Hermione was impressed at how adeptly he handled the water
craft. She glanced up and watched as he adjusted the rigging of the
sleek white boat, his cheeks pink from the cool wind, and his blond
hair glowing in the sun. In his trim khaki slacks and black wool pea
coat, Hermione thought he looked like a model from a Ralph Lauren
ad. Of course she didn't voice her assessment out loud, knowing
that the last thing Draco needed was another boost to his already-
oversized ego.

Having adjusted their course, Draco took a moment to sit beside


her, wrapping one arm around her shoulders and grazing her lips
with his own.

"I like this," Hermione said with a peaceful sigh, once their lips
parted.

"Which part? The kissing or the sailing?"

"Both. Well, just spending time with you I guess. I don't want it to
end."

Draco was silent for a few minutes, apparently processing her


words. He idly twirled a few of Hermione's curls around his finger
with a thoughtful expression on his face.

"You know, we could have more time like this," he said finally, "if we
traveled around the world together for our scholarship projects. Just
imagine all the things we could do as we visited Europe, Asia, and
America....One whole year of being together without having to worry
about what other people think of us."

"And what would happen when we came back home?" Hermione


asked, gazing up at him. Draco did not give a response to her
query, but that was okay with Hermione.

She hadn't expected him to.

Wednesday

The wind was fierce and the waves turbulent that afternoon, as
Draco and Hermione walked along the beach, hand in hand. Grey
clouds scudded across the horizon, and the spring sun was hidden
behind them, turning the sky to pewter, and the water to a deep
shale color.

Hermione thought that the gloomy landscape suited her mood


perfectly. She had woken up that morning with the realization that
her week with Draco was already more than halfway over. Soon
they would have to return to Hogwarts, and the harsh reality of the
outside world.

Hermione was beginning to wonder if Ginny had been right about


this week-long retreat being a very bad idea. It had done little to
answer the questions she had about her and Draco's relationship; if
anything, it raised more of them, and it had provided her with a
tantalizing glimpse of what life with Draco could be like if his
parents' prejudices didn't get in the way. It was a cruel sort of
torture, like a whiff of cigarette smoke to someone who was trying to
knock the habit, or a sip of liquor to a recovering alcoholic.
There was still so much more Hermione wanted to understand
about Draco, and while she had learned a lot about him in the time
she had spent with him, he still remained a mystery to her. He was
a puzzle that Hermione was beginning to think she would never be
able to solve. She couldn't figure out how all the different pieces of
him fit into place.

Since Hermione was holding Draco's left hand, she took the
opportunity to glance down at his forearm, where he had rolled up
the sleeve of his polo shirt after becoming overheated from their
walk. The skin of his arm was white and unmarred, just as he had
said it would be. The last time she had seen his bare arm, several
weeks before, she had been too absorbed in the sexual urgency of
the moment to bother looking for what she was afraid she might find
there.

"Did you think I lied to you, back in Sixth Year?" Draco asked
suddenly, noticing the direction of her gaze. "I told you I hadn't
taken the Dark Mark."

"I think a small part of me thought you were lying, back then,"
Hermione said, running her fingers up his arm. "But I guess seeing
is believing. Why don't you have the Mark?"

"I...wasn't really a full-fledged Death Eater - more like an unofficial


one. The Dark Lord - I mean V-Voldemort was just using me to try
and get rid of Dumbledore. At the time, I don't think he actually
expected me to survive the task, and I don't think he considered me
worthy enough of receiving the Dark Mark, especially after my
father had already failed him."

Hermione hesitated, wondering if she dared ask Draco anything


more on the subject. Encouraged by the fact that he had answered
her first question, she asked another.

"What was it like? Being a Death Eater?"

Draco froze, and he stood silent for so long that Hermione was
convinced that as usual, he was not going to respond. Then, to her
surprise, he did.
"It was like...being in a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from.
When Voldemort was at the Manor, he would make me do things.
He would make me torture people, use the Cruciatus on them. I felt
trapped. He told me that if I didn't do what I was told, he would kill
my parents. I wanted to run away but I - I couldn't."

Draco's grey eyes bore a pained, haunted expression that made


Hermione feel as if her heart was being ripped from her chest. She
longed to wrap her arms around him and pull him close, kissing all
of his bad memories away, but she knew instinctually that right now,
he would prefer that she not attempt that form of comfort. So she
merely squeezed his hand, trying to reassure him with that simple
contact. It seemed to work, because soon the haunted expression
was gone from his eyes, and he pulled himself free of his reverie,
focusing on her face once more.

"I still don't understand," Hermione said. "Why didn't you run
away?"

"I already told you, I couldn't leave my parents."

"Then why didn't they run away with you?"

"My parents threw in their lot with Voldemort a long time ago,"
Draco said, "and when Malfoys make a decision, they stick to it until
the bitter end. Well, almost until the bitter end."

Hermione knew that when he added that last line, he was thinking
of how his parents had defected during the last battle, in order to be
reunited with their son.

"So just because your parents followed Voldemort, you had to


follow him, too?" she pressed. "And if your family had ever gotten
back into Voldemort's good graces you would have been given the
Mark?"

"Yes."

"And you would have taken it willingly?"


"Yes."

Hermione stared at Draco, trying but failing to understand him.


Draco sighed and glanced out at the water for a moment, as if
searching for the right words to explain. Then he turned back to her,
clasping both of her hands in his.

"Hermione, over the years, when you were running around doing
crazy things to try and save the world, wasn't there ever a time
when you thought about turning back? When you thought about
saying, ‘To hell with all this, I don't want to do it anymore,' and just
walk away?"

Hermione bit her lower lip in consternation.

"There was one time that I seriously considered turning back," she
said slowly. "It was when we were searching for Horcruxes. Ron left
us - it just got to be too much for him, and he left me and Harry on
our own for awhile. Harry was acting so distant, and part of
me...part of me blamed him for causing Ron to leave. I felt so alone.
I don't remember ever feeling so alone. And there were days when I
thought that we'd never find the Horcruxes, or that in the end, we
wouldn't even survive. And on those days, yes, I did think about
giving up and walking away from it all, like Ron did."

"Then why didn't you?" Draco asked. "Why didn't you give up?"

Hermione paused, thinking hard about the answer to his question.

"I...I couldn't abandon Harry like that, and leave him to do it all
alone. He had already been through enough with Ron leaving....I
didn't think he could handle it if I left him, too. I made a promise to
help Harry find the Horcruxes, and I intended to keep that promise."

Draco's grey eyes were earnest as he gazed down at her.

"You see," he said, "because you're a loyal person, and up to that


point you had always stayed by Potter's side, you wouldn't have
chosen to do anything differently. Even if you wanted to turn back,
you never actually would have. You thought you were making a
choice to stay with him, but you didn't have a choice...not really. All
the forces that shaped your life - your family, your friendships, your
experiences - all of those things were leading you down one path:
to help Potter. Just like all the forces that shaped my life could only
lead me down one path: to become a Death Eater."

"That's not true!" Hermione said, bothered by Draco's fatalistic point


of view. "We both had a choice, Draco. The difference is that when I
was faced with that choice, I chose the more difficult path, instead
of taking the easy way out like you did."

Draco let out a sigh, and seeing the weariness and sadness in his
face, Hermione suddenly noticed how much he had matured in the
past couple years - just as Harry had; just as they all had.

"Hermione," he said, "what makes you think that the path I chose
was easy?"

And just like that, another piece of the puzzle clicked into place.

Thursday

"Merlin, Hermione, if you're going to keep sleeping in my bed with


me, could you please wear something other than that skimpy little
night shirt? Some pajama bottoms, perhaps? The Ministry has laws
against torture, you know."

"Look whose talking!" Hermione countered, poking Draco in his


bare chest. "At least I'm not topless like you are!"

"I'm a bloke, so it's acceptable for me to sleep shirtless. Not that I


would protest if you wanted to dress to match...or more
appropriately, undress to match."

Hermione rolled her eyes in frustration and shifted over to the edge
of her side of Draco's bed. Her solitude didn't last long, however,
because Draco slid over and wrapped his body around hers,
running his hand up one of her bare legs. She shivered as his touch
raised goose bumps on her skin.

"I don't suppose that's your wand I feel poking me in the back?" she
teased.

"Damn it, Hermione, don't you see what you do to me?" Draco
groaned, grinding his hips into her backside. "You're driving me
insane. What do I have to do? I'll do anything you ask - within
reason. Do you want flowers or chocolates? Do you want me to
recite poetry? Do you want me to stand on my head and sing ‘I'm a
Little Teapot'? For Merlin's sake, just tell me what to do and I'll do
it!"

"Do you even know how to stand on your head? And I thought ‘I'm a
Little Teapot' was a song only Muggle children knew."

"Hermione, please," Draco moaned, "this really isn't the right time to
discuss the difference between Muggle nursery rhymes and wizard
ones. Do you see what you've reduced me to? You actually
have me, Draco Malfoy, pleading for sex. You've completely ruined
me, Granger."

Hermione couldn't help laughing as she rolled over and pressed a


kiss to Draco's lips.

"I'm glad you find my agony so amusing," he muttered, pouting


somewhat.

Hermione shook her head and gave him another soft kiss, before
coming to a decision. Suddenly she bent down to suckle Draco's
neck, feeling pleased when this action drew a startled gasp from
him. Then she moved lower, trailing wet kisses down his muscled
chest and stomach, finally reaching the narrow trail of golden hairs
that disappeared beneath his knickers.

"Wh-what are you doing?" Draco stammered.

"Well," she said, looping her thumbs under the waistband of his
boxers. "Just because I'm not ready to sleep with you again, doesn't
mean we can't do other things."

Hermione pulled his knickers down and slid them all the way off of
his legs.

"Hermione," Draco breathed, his eyes darkening with need when he


understood her intentions, "you don't have to...I mean if you don't
think you're ready...fuck that feels good."

Draco groaned and buried his fingers into Hermione's hair as she
took his length into her mouth. She pulled away for a moment to
smirk up at him, and say in a chiding voice, "Such language! You
don't want to have Dinky overhear you and wash your mouth out
with soap again, do you?"

"I think you're the one who’s going to need her mouth washed
out...ah! Bloody hell, Hermione!"

For the next several minutes, Draco lost the ability to speak
coherently, his eyes squeezing shut and his hands balling into fists
in Hermione's hair as she teased him with her tongue and lips.
Glancing up, she thought that the pleasure dancing across his pale
face was one of the most erotic things she had ever seen, and
when he reached his peak while calling out her name, she thought
that the sound might send her tumbling over the edge after him.

Afterwards, Hermione curled up next to Draco, laying her head on


his heaving chest. He lay there limply on the bed, his limbs shaking
as if she had hit him with a Jelly-Legs Curse.

"So that's all it takes for you, huh?" Draco said finally, once he
regained the ability to talk. "I don't even have to do anything -
just promise to do anything? Well, I suppose every woman has her
weakness."

"Humph, well every man has his weakness, too," Hermione said
primly. "However, unlike women, men all have the same one."

She arched one eyebrow suggestively at Draco while running her


hand along his still-sensitive length. Draco made a strangled sound
in the back of his throat before giving her a look that was a mixture
of admiration and annoyance.

"You know, I think I may have underestimated you, Hermione


Granger. You have the potential to be as sly and manipulative as
some of the greatest Slytherins in the history of Hogwarts. I don't
know whether to be peeved or incredibly turned on by that fact."

Considering that Draco then proceeded to flip her onto her back, rip
off her knickers, and return the favor that she had just bestowed
upon him, Hermione decided that he must have settled on the latter.

Friday

Hermione and Draco burst into the back door of the summer home,
both flushed from their broom ride. Despite the amount of physical
contact Hermione enjoyed while sharing a broom with Draco, he
had insisted that she improve her skills by riding solo. She
discovered that she was getting much better at handling a broom,
and though she doubted she would ever value flying as much as
Ron and Harry, she liked, at the very least, to be adequate at
everything she did.

"Lunch is ready," Dinky announced the moment they entered the


house. "What is Master Draco and Mistress Hermione wanting for
dinner tonight?"

Draco spoke up before Hermione could even think of a response.

"That won't be necessary, Dinky," he said. "Why don't you take the
night off?"

Dinky and Hermione both stared at him, their mouths agape.

"Master Draco is wanting Dinky to - to take a night off?" the little


House-Elf stammered, wringing her small hands in confusion. "B-
but, who will cook dinner if Dinky is not here to do it?"

"Um, well...." Draco avoided Hermione's gaze, obviously


embarrassed about what he was about to suggest. "I was actually
thinking Iwould do it."

Dinky's eyes widened to the point that Hermione was afraid they
would pop out of the poor creature's tiny head.

"Uh, Draco, did you accidentally hit your head on a tree branch
while we were flying?" Hermione asked, utterly gobsmacked.
"Because I think I just heard you say you were planning to cook
dinner. If you've got a concussion, we should take you to St.
Mungo's..."

"For Merlin's sake," Draco muttered. "Here I try to do something


romantic and you think I'm suffering from brain damage. What does
that say about me? Wait - don't answer that."

All during lunch, and for the rest of the afternoon after that, Dinky
pleaded desperately with Draco to change his mind about trying to
cook dinner. However, in the end, Draco won out, and Dinky
disappeared to Malfoy Manor for the rest of the evening, looking as
if she thought it was the last time she would see Draco and
Hermione alive and in one piece. Once the House-Elf was gone,
Draco stalked into the kitchen with an air of determination, as if he
was marching into battle.

"Honestly, Muggles cook their own food every day," he said to


Hermione as he went to start dinner. "And they don't even have
magic. How hard can it be?"

Hermione had never heard a statement that could more aptly be


described as "famous last words", but did not comment aloud on
the matter. Instead, she sat at the dining room table, reading a
book. This way, she was close enough to the kitchen to hear what
was going on inside it - and rush to Draco's rescue, if need be - but
she was far enough out of the way that he couldn't accuse her of
"hovering".
Before starting to prepare the meal, Draco poured Hermione a
glass of wine to sip on while she waited. After about half an hour,
he emerged from the kitchen with a bowl of salad, which he proudly
placed on the table in front of her. Hermione accepted it gratefully,
her stomach already growling with hunger. She tried not to chuckle
as she noticed that the carrots in her salad had been cut very
precisely into identically sized pieces, much like Draco cut his
potion ingredients.

Draco disappeared into the kitchen again for another half hour, and
just when Hermione was beginning to worry, he emerged to pour
her a second glass of wine. He poured one for himself as well, and
swallowed it in just a few gulps, instead of sipping it politely as he
usually did.

"Um, Draco, do you need any help with the rest of the dinner?"
Hermione asked tentatively.

"No, I'm doing just fine on my own, thanks," he snapped, before


rushing back into the kitchen.

Hermione sat there, starting to feel a bit tipsy after drinking a


second glass of wine on a mostly-empty stomach. The screeching
sound of the kitchen's Fire Alarm Charm and the smell of smoke
snapped her out of her doze.

"Draco?" Hermione called out nervously.

"It's okay!" he called back. "Just stay there!"

Reluctantly, Hermione stayed seated in the dining room, trying to


shut out horrifying images of Draco's body lying prone on the
kitchen floor, engulfed in flames. After several minutes of hearing
the clanking of pots and pans, as well as an indistinct stream of
profanities, she was relieved when Draco finally emerged from the
kitchen bearing two plates of something black and smoking.

"I hope you like your steak well-done," he grumbled, plopping a


plate in front of her, and sitting across the table with his own meal.
He went to pour himself another glass of wine, but then surprised
Hermione by taking a few swigs straight out of the bottle instead.
He glowered at her, as if daring her to comment on his odd
behavior, or the disastrous results of his cooking.

Hermione dutifully picked up her knife and fork, and after several
minutes of sawing at the charred lump of meat, managed to cut off
a bite-sized piece and place it into her mouth. Her eyes watered as
she forced herself to chew the steak, which tasted something like
burnt shoe leather. She swallowed the morsel as quickly as
possible, and then washed it down with several gulps of her wine.
She glanced up and saw Draco staring at her expectantly.

"It's, uh, very good," Hermione managed, taking another swig of


wine. She thought that maybe if she was more intoxicated, she
could force herself to finish the rest of her meal without appearing
too disgusted by it. She tried to cut off another piece of her steak,
but the meat was so tough that the blade of her knife actually
snapped off its wooden handle. Hermione froze, biting her tongue to
keep herself from laughing. She looked up and saw that Draco's
shoulders were shaking, and his cheeks were turning a bright pink.
She was afraid that he was about to explode into a temper tantrum,
but to her shock, he burst into laughter instead.

Once Draco started laughing, Hermione was helpless to keep


herself from joining in, and soon they were both laughing so hard
they were practically in tears. They stumbled into the kitchen to find
something else to eat, both a little wobbly from all the wine they had
consumed. When they found the tray of sandwiches that Dinky had
left for them in the pantry, bearing a small note that read, "Just in
case," they broke into a fresh wave of giggles until their legs could
no longer support them, and they both sank to the floor. They
ended up eating the sandwiches right there on the kitchen floor,
both of them unable to find the strength to pick themselves back up
again.

"Here, try one of the ham sandwiches, they're delicious," Draco


said, after they had calmed down a bit.

Hermione thanked him and took the sandwich he offered, biting into
it and causing some mayonnaise to dribble down her chin. She
looked around for a napkin, but Draco found one first and surprised
her by leaning over to dab the sauce off of her face. He looked at
her for a second, and then shook his head, his lips twitching with
amusement once more.

"I still can't believe you lied to me and said that the steak tasted
good," he said.

"You're right," Hermione said, grinning. "What I should have said is


that it was so bad, it makes Hagrid's rock cakes taste like gourmet."

They both laughed again, and Hermione realized that she had
never seen Draco this way before - so light-hearted and full of
genuine happiness. It was at that moment, sitting there on the
kitchen floor, that Hermione knew she had stopped falling in love
with Draco, and started being in love with him. She couldn't exactly
say how it happened; with Ron, her love had developed gradually
over time, but it came about more suddenly with Draco. She
acknowledged that falling in love over burnt steak and ham
sandwiches was unorthodox and more than a bit strange, but there
it was.

After all, what could be more bizarre than Hermione Granger being
in love with Draco Malfoy?
Back to index
Chapter 16: Give and Take by atalanta84
so I can tell you how
much I adore you
sweat kisses of caring
my heart pounding
your womanly scent
my mind searching for yours
lie here with me, let me
hold you in my arms
until morning comes

bring with it a new day

touch each other softly

before we have to go
our different ways

let's just stay here

take this moment,


to feel the love we
have for one another

~ From "Valentine" by Joseph Mayo Wristen

"Tomorrow morning we have to go back to the real world."

"Yes, I know."

"It feels like this week just flew by, doesn't it?" Hermione asked,
rolling onto her side and propping her head up with her elbow.

Draco nodded, struggling to suppress a yawn. He and Hermione


had not wasted a moment of their Saturday afternoon, spending it
sailing, flying, and walking on the beach. All the fresh air and
activity had left him feeling knackered, but Hermione's scantily-clad
presence in his bed made certain parts of his body feel
simultaneously alert.

"So, what do you feel like doing on our last night in paradise?" he
asked, eyeing her suggestively.

"Paradise?" Hermione repeated skeptically. "Is that what you call it?
Do they serve overcooked steak in paradise?"

"Hey! You promised you would never mention that again!"

Draco found it hard to be angry with her, though; the cooking


disaster had been too ridiculous not to laugh at.

"Besides," he added, "that incident just proves that cooking is an


activity better left to women and House-Elves."

Hermione opened her mouth to issue a protest to his chauvinistic


remark, but Draco didn't give her the chance to speak. Grinning
mischievously, he grabbed Hermione around her shoulders and
pushed her flat on her back, pinning her to the bed beneath him.
Then, he tickled her until she was shrieking with laughter.

"Stop! Draco, I c-can't breathe!" she gasped.

Finally, Draco relented. He didn't give Hermione much time to catch


her breath, however, because he quickly became aware of the fact
that her night shirt had ridden up to her waist during the tussle. This
meant that he was straddling her hips, with only the silk of his
boxers and the cotton of her panties in between the pertinent parts
of their bodies. His veins pulsing with desire, he bent down to cover
her panting mouth with his.

For a few moments, Hermione returned the kiss, eagerly wrapping


her arms around his torso and hugging his body more tightly
against hers. Draco ran his hands up and down her bare legs,
luxuriating in the softness of her skin, and the satisfied purrs that his
touch drew from her throat. However, when his hands slid higher,
preparing to delve beneath her night shirt, Hermione suddenly
broke their kiss.
"No," she whispered. "If we start that I don't think I'll be able to
stop."

"And how is that a problem, exactly?"

Hermione didn’t answer. Instead she sighed, gently pushing against


Draco's chest in a silent bid for him to allow her to sit up.
Reluctantly, he complied, and rolled aside so she was free to slide
over to her side of the bed. This time, he did not follow her. Instead,
he lay there in frustration, wishing he had never allowed her to
spend the night with him in the first place. It just complicated their
situation even further.

"Why are we doing this to ourselves?" he whispered.

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked, startling him. He hadn't


realized he had spoken his thought aloud.

"I mean, why are we torturing ourselves like this? Why are we
spending all of this time together - doing all of these things together
- when we know it can't last?"

Hermione raised her eyebrows at this, scooting closer to him so she


could make out the details of his face in the semi-darkness.

"It bothers you, then?" she asked. "As much as it bothers me?"

Draco nodded, and Hermione's shoulders seemed to sag with relief.

"I thought I was the only one who felt that way," she said. It was
Draco's turn to raise his eyebrows at her.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean...I just thought I was the only one who had a problem with
the idea that this has to end someday. I thought it would be easy for
you, just to pick up and move on to the next girl once you were
finished with me...that it would be easy for you to forget about me
and all the things we've done together."
Draco shook his head and stroked his fingers down the side of her
cheek, an uncharacteristically tender gesture he had only
performed on a few occasions in his life — all of them with her.

"Do you really think I could forget you that easily?" he murmured.
"Merlin, Hermione, I can't even get you out of my head half the time.
Not to mention the fact that other parts of my body are usually
preoccupied with you as well. You get under my skin—and not just
because you annoy the hell out of me sometimes, which I'll admit,
you still do. But you get under my skin in nice ways, too. I've never
wanted—never needed—someone as badly as I need you."

Hermione's eyes widened in shock at Draco's confession that he


actually needed someone—needed her, of all people. He couldn't
blame her for being surprised. To be honest, it surprised him, too.

"Why?" she breathed, her eyes scanning Draco's face as if she was
assessing a particularly challenging Arithmancy problem. "Why do
you need me?"

Draco's tried to think of an accurate response to her question. The


answer was, like their relationship, multi-layered and complex. So,
he focused on the part that was easiest for him to understand—the
physical aspect of his need for her.

"I need you because...because ever since that night, one month
ago, I keep remembering the way it felt to be with you, inside you.
And sometimes I feel like I'm going to go crazy if I can't feel that
way again."

"So it's merely a physical need?" Hermione asked, frowning slightly.

"No. It's more than that. It's...gods, how do I say this? I - I don't
really have any experience talking about this stuff."

Draco sighed, running a hand through his hair in frustration. He felt


stupid and awkward and embarrassed sharing his feelings with
Hermione. He had never been this open with a girl before...hell, he
had never been this open with anyone before. But he needed to
make her understand that she was more than just a good shag to
him. So he took a deep breath and forced himself to plow onward.

"Hermione, you challenge me, more than anyone else ever has," he
said. "You...balance me out, somehow. I don't know how to
describe it. And you accept me, in spite of things I've done in the
past. When I'm with you, I know I can be myself and you won't
judge me...well, any more than I deserve to be judged, at least."

Draco paused, turning so that he was facing Hermione fully,


meeting her eyes.

"I don't know if anything I just said makes any sense to you.
Frankly, it doesn't make much sense to me. All I know is that I like
my life better with you in it."

As Draco stumbled through the last words of his speech, he was


surprised to note that Hermione's eyes were shining with tears.

Great, he thought to himself, I've managed to say something to


upset her.

"Hermione, I'm sorry I - "

Draco was unable to finish his apology, however, because


Hermione was suddenly pressing her lips against his, stilling them.
He kissed her back, sampling the salty flavor of her tears, before he
pulled away, gazing at her in confusion.

"Don't stop," Hermione whispered. "Please don't stop."

Draco stared at her. Her smile reassured him that her tears had
been happy ones, but he was no less baffled by her sudden
willingness to be physical with him again.

"Don't stop what?" he asked.

As if to answer his question, Hermione suddenly sat upright and


pulled her night shirt up over head, tossing it on the floor. Then, she
bent down to kiss him once more, tracing his upper lip with the tip of
her tongue. She shifted her body over so she was pressed up
against him, wrapping her leg over his hips, and Draco felt his
arousal stirring as he realized her intentions. Trying to be gentle in
spite of his eagerness, he slipped his hands up her side and began
stroking her hips. Hermione hummed her approval, her mouth still
melded to his. Encouraged by her response, Draco's hands
explored further, finding her breasts. He circled one nipple with his
thumb and felt it harden beneath his touch. Hermione gasped and
arched into him, digging her fingernails into his back in a way that
caused him to elicit a gasp in return.

Before his brain could become any more clouded with desire, Draco
withdrew from their kiss, his grey eyes boring intently into
Hermione's brown ones.

"Are you sure you're ready for this?" he asked. "Are you sure this is
what you want?"

"Yes," she said, still a bit breathless from their kiss. "This is what I
want, Draco."

"Why?" Draco pressed, echoing the question she had asked him
just minutes before.

"Because you also challenge me in a way no one has ever been


able to challenge me before. Because, in spite of the roller coaster
ride my emotions have been on these past few months, and all the
times I pulled away from you, you never gave up on me. Because I
can't forget the night we spent together, and how amazing it felt to
be with you. And because...because I like my life better with you in
it, too."

In spite of having no clue what a roller coaster was, Draco felt he


grasped the overall concept of Hermione's words. With a brief
smile, he captured her mouth with his again. She responded
immediately, kissing him back with an urgency that mirrored his
own. Quickly, he retrieved his hawthorn wand from the nightstand
and used it to cast a Contraceptive Charm on Hermione before
tossing it aside and returning to her arms. However, to his immense
disappointment, she pulled away from him.
"Wait," she gasped, breathing heavily. Draco's heart sank, thinking
that she had once more decided that she wasn't ready to proceed. .

"What is it?" he asked, trying not to sound frustrated.

"Not here," she whispered. "I don't want to do this here."

"Where exactly did you have in mind?" Draco asked, confused by


her sudden wish to change the location of their tryst. Frankly, he
could care less where they went, as long as it involved the two of
them getting naked and shagging like rabbits. On the beach, on top
of the roof, floating in his sailboat...hell, he would happily shag her
on the front steps of Hogwarts and not give a damn about the
consequences.

"Draco, will you take me down into the labyrinth?" Hermione asked.
"To the handfasting temple?"

"You want to go down into the cave?" Draco asked in surprise.


"Why?"

"I...don't know," she said. "I just want you to take me there.
Please?"

She gazed up at Draco, her eyes dark with longing, as she dragged
her hips along his hardened length. That settled the question for
him. Quickly, Draco sat up, leapt out of the bed, and strode across
the room, pulling Hermione along behind him.

"Wait!" Hermione whispered. "It'll be cold down there. We need


robes and slippers."

Draco thought he was going to scream in exasperation if he had to


wait any longer, but not wanting to waste any time arguing with her,
he pulled on his grey silk robe and house slippers. Hermione dug
out her own robe and slippers, though she didn't bother to put her
night shirt back on, and soon the two of them were tiptoeing down
the stairs, Draco directing them to areas he knew wouldn't creak
beneath their feet. They snuck past the kitchen, not wanting to
wake Dinky, who slept in the adjacent servant's quarters. Finally,
they reached the library and Draco spoke the necessary
incantations to open the bookshelf and reveal the archway leading
into the darkness below.

Draco lit his wand and grasped Hermione's hand in his, leading the
way down the narrow winding staircase. He moved as fast as he
could in the dark, without causing them to stumble and fall on the
crumbling stone steps. When they reached the bottom, he
navigated the tunnels, still holding Hermione's hand as they walked
together in silence. When they finally emerged in the handfasting
cave, Draco raised his wand to light the room, but Hermione got to
it first, using her elemental magic to ignite the cisterns lining the
chamber. The walls of the cave sprang into light, revealing the
diagrams, symbols, and overlapping handprints in bold, sparkling
colors against the black stone.

As with every time Draco entered this space, he felt the tingle of
magic in the air surrounding him, but this time, it felt different than
before. This time, the magic felt like thousands of tiny, invisible
threads tugging him in one direction - towards Hermione. He found
the sensation both frightening and exhilarating, but gave into it
immediately, swinging her around and shoving her gently against
the wall of the cave. He stepped forward so that his body was
pressed against hers, and took her mouth possessively with his
own.

Hermione gasped as he placed his hands beneath her backside


and lifted her upwards, balancing her against the wall while she
wrapped her legs around his hips in order to hold herself in place.
Draco's knees almost buckled when she started to rock her hips
against his, stimulating him in spite of the underclothes trapped in
between them. He adjusted Hermione so that he was bearing her
weight on one arm, leaving his other hand free to slip down and
stroke her through the moist cloth of her panties. He didn't know if it
was the soft, guttural sound she made as he did this, or the erotic
images moving on the walls of the cave, but he felt a primal urge
rush through him at that moment. Pulling away from their kiss, he
bent down and fastened his mouth on her right breast, which was
peeking out from the folds of her blue satin robe. Hermione's hips
jerked spasmodically against his, and he let out a primitive growl
that would have embarrassed him under any other circumstances,
but which was currently lost in his intense rush of need for the
woman in his arms.

Draco suddenly grasped both of Hermione's hands in his own,


lacing his fingers through hers and pinning her arms above her
head as he leaned forward, using his weight to continue holding her
up against the wall. She let out a moan of pleasure, and he knew
that he had been right: she liked it when he unleashed his "inner
caveman". When Hermione's eyes met his, they were still burning
with desire, but they also carried another emotion Draco had never
noticed in them before. Whatever it was, it made his heart beat
faster in his chest, transforming some of his lust into something else
- something infinitely more powerful...

And that was when it happened.

Draco gasped as he suddenly felt an electric jolt pass through his


body, beginning with where his hands were joined with Hermione's,
shooting through his arms, all the way down to his toes, before
returning to his hands. Hermione let out a small cry of surprise, and
he knew the jolt had passed into her. He quickly dropped his grip on
her hands and set her down on the ground. She clutched at his arm
to steady herself, looking as shaken as Draco felt.

"What the hell just happened?" he asked.

"I don't know," Hermione whispered, shaking her head.

"You felt it too?"

Hermione nodded, and then suddenly gasped, her eyes widening


as she stared at the cave wall behind them. Following her line of
vision, Draco saw two new sets of handprints on the wall, joining
the many others that glowed incandescently in the firelight. One of
the handprints was smaller and painted in gold, while the larger pair
was painted in silver. Hermione reached up and pressed her hands
against them, and he saw that the smaller set of handprints
matched hers perfectly. He had a feeling that the larger set would
match his.

"I think it happened when we pressed our hands up against the


wall," Hermione murmured. "I bet it was the cave's magic that did
it."

Recalling that the purpose of the cave was for the conduction of
marriage rituals, Draco had a sudden, terrifying thought.

"We aren't married now, are we?" he asked, unable to disguise the
note of panic in his voice.

"No. We would have had to exchange vows in front of a priest or


priestess for that to be the case. Although, I suppose it's possible
the cave formed a different sort of bond between us."

Draco frowned, not finding this thought any more reassuring than
an unintentional marriage. He did not like the idea of being
magically bound to anyone, not even to Hermione. However,
Hermione was clearly beginning to relax about the whole situation.

"I don't feel any different," she said. "Whatever the spell was, it
obviously hasn't caused us any harm. I think I'll do some research
when we return to Hogwarts, and try to find out more about the
cave's magic, and what it does."

"Of course," Draco muttered, still feeling a bit edgy, “the answer to
every problem in the universe can be found in the Hogwarts library."

"Relax," Hermione whispered, wrapping her arms around his waist


and giving him a soft kiss. "Everything is going to be fine."

She nuzzled his neck with her lips, and in spite of his concern over
what had just occurred, Draco found himself recalling the reason
that they had come down to the cave in the first place. Sensing his
renewed desire, Hermione smiled up at him, and then stepped
back, untying her robe and letting it slide off her shoulders to pool at
her feet. Then she gracefully slid her knickers down over hips,
discarding them as well.
Draco drew in a sharp breath as he took in the sight of Hermione's
naked form, the firelight flickering over her skin and in her hair,
which hung loose around her shoulders. He shivered, despite the
fact that the air in the cave was surprisingly ambient. Hermione
motioned for Draco to come closer, and standing in the center of
the ancient cave, with the shadows dancing mysteriously across her
face, Draco thought she looked like a pagan goddess trying to lure
a hapless mortal into her arms. He felt himself being drawn
inexplicably towards her, like a magnet to metal.

"Are you sure this is a good idea?" he murmured uncertainly. His


actions belied his words, however, because he was currently
running his hands down Hermione's sides, tracing her feminine
curves.

"Yes," Hermione breathed, untying and removing his own robe and
adding it to the pile of clothes on the floor, “I think this is
a very good idea. Don't worry, I don't think we'll unlock anymore of
the cave's spells. Although, I think we'll need to make a few
adjustments to this place, in order to accommodate what I have in
mind."

Before Draco could ask her what exactly she had in mind, she
removed her wand from the pocket of her discarded robe and
waved it in the air over the stone altar that stood in the center of the
room. It instantly transformed into a large, luxurious bed with white
sheets and fluffy pillows. Draco raised his eyebrows at her,
impressed by the magic she had just accomplished.

"One of the more useful transfiguration spells I've learned over the
years - more useful than turning a mouse into a tea kettle anyway,"
Hermione said with a shrug.

"Indeed," Draco acknowledged, watching as she stowed her wand


away and returned to the task of removing his clothes. He allowed
her to remove his boxers, leaving him as naked as she was. He
shook his head as she stood there, licking her lips and raking her
eyes up and down his body, clearly satisfied by what she saw.

"You really know how to make a bloke feel like a piece of meat,"
Draco teased, even as he felt himself hardening beneath the
intensity of her gaze.

Hermione smiled, her eyes dilating somewhat as she saw the


evidence of Draco's desire, but she made no response to his
comment. Instead, she led him over to the newly-transfigured bed,
laying on the white blankets and pulling him down with her. Draco
rested his head on the pillow beside her, running his fingers through
her hair, but he was hesitant to do anything more.

For some reason he could not explain, Draco was suddenly afraid
to sleep with Hermione again. It was extremely strange and
uncharacteristic of him to be reluctant about sex, but somehow he
knew that this time would be different than the last - that this time,
he would be giving her a part of himself that he could never get
back. Hermione gave him a reassuring smile before pressing her
lips against his in a gentle kiss.

"Make love to me," she whispered, cupping his face in her hands.

Draco swallowed nervously.

"I - I've never actually made love to anyone before," he stammered.


"I mean, obviously I'm no virgin...I mean I've shagged plenty of
times before, but ...."

Draco paused, feeling oddly embarrassed. Of course he had


shagged a fair amount of women, though in reality, probably not as
many as Hermione believed he had. But he had never made love to
any of them. It had never been more than a physical experience for
him. Even that frenzied night he had spent with Hermione a month
ago, while more emotionally-charged than most of his sexual
encounters, had still not been what he would consider "making
love".

"It's okay," Hermione murmured. "I can show you how."

As usual, Draco tried to hide his embarrassment and uncertainty


behind a scowl.
"There's no need for you to patronize me," he snapped, causing
Hermione to give an impatient sigh.

"I'm not patronizing you, Draco. Look, you taught me how to be a


better broom flier, remember? And you taught me how to get over
my fear of heights. Let me teach you this."

Hermione's eyes were so full of earnest longing that Draco found


himself nodding his agreement.

Without another word, Hermione crawled up to straddle Draco's


hips. At first he did not appreciate the fact that this put her in a
position of dominance over him, but when he saw the generous
view of her figure that this arrangement afforded, he had no desire
to complain. He caught a flash of gold at her neck and noticed for
the first time that she was wearing the rose necklace he had given
her for Christmas. For some reason, this made him smile, and
alleviated some of his nerves. As Hermione leaned forward, the
rose charm swung hypnotically in between them, like the pendulum
of a clock.

When Hermione began to kiss him once again, Draco had a difficult
time thinking clearly. It was unlike any kiss he had ever given or
received. Their lips moved together in a slow and sensual dance,
their hands gliding over each other's bodies with aching tenderness,
until Hermione finally pulled away. She replaced her roving hands
with her mouth, showering every inch of him with kisses that
seemed to burn his flesh from the top of his head to the tips of his
toes, before she returned to his lips once more.

"This seems a bit one-sided," Draco murmured, his words


somewhat muffled against Hermione's mouth. "It's not fair to you, to
be the one giving all of the pleasure while I just lie here taking it like
this."

If Hermione was surprised or amused by his sudden,


uncharacteristic desire to be fair, she made no indication of it.
Instead, she shook her head and gave him a sad little smile.

"You still don't get it, do you?" she said. "You still think that the only
way to find happiness or pleasure is to take it from someone else.
Making love isn't a game, Draco. There isn't a winner or a loser,
and it's not only about receiving pleasure. You don't realize what a
beautiful thing it is, to be the one creating it, to be the
one giving happiness to someone else."

With these words, Hermione slowly lowered her hips down onto
Draco's, sheathing him inside of her warm body and causing both of
them to let out a soft groan. When she moved, raising and lowering
herself against him, her motions were torturously slow - almost
languid. Draco bucked his hips impatiently, wanting to go faster, but
Hermione held him back.

"Relax," she whispered.

"I can't relax," Draco hissed. "You're driving me crazy. How am I


supposed to find release if you move that slow?"

"It's not a race, Draco. Stop worrying about getting to the finish line.
Just for tonight, pretend that we have all the time in the world."

Hermione picked up one of Draco's hands and drew his index finger
into her mouth, sucking it gently before repeating the same act with
each of his other fingers. Draco felt his body turning into mush as
she wrapped her silky tongue around his pinkie finger, gently
nipping the tip of it between her teeth. Hermione arched one
eyebrow at him, and the next time she lowered herself onto him,
she added a little swirl of her hips that made Draco momentarily
forgot how to breathe.

"You're going to kill me if you keep this up," he managed to wrench


out.

She raised her hips and then lowered them once again, squeezing
her thighs together to take him in deeper, and Draco practically
sobbed with pleasure, thinking that at that moment, he would
happily compose his own epitaph and accept a sweet death at
Hermione's hands.

Draco couldn't say how long he and Hermione laid there, making
love to each other. It could have been hours; it could have been
several years. He couldn't keep track of time, lost as he was in a
cloud of sensations. Time and space ceased to exist, until he felt
his whole life had always consisted of nothing but this: the scent of
roses and feminine musk, the flicker of firelight on chestnut curls,
the sound of rasping breaths echoing in a cave, and eyes that
shimmered like liquid brown pools.

Yet most of all, Draco would never forget the feel of Hermione, as
she moved rhythmically on top of him, as if to the beat of an ancient
drum, bringing both of them closer to an earth-shattering
crescendo. They moved together in an age-old dance, giving and
taking from each other as generations of lovers had done in this
cave and in the world outside of it.

Finally, Draco's breath hitched, and every muscle in his body


tensed as he felt his impending climax. Hermione's cheeks were
flushed, and he could tell from the erratic movement of her hips that
she, too, was close to completion. He held himself back, wanting to
wait for her before he allowed himself to go over the edge.

"Draco," Hermione gasped, her breathing labored from her efforts,


“just...let go."

And Draco did, thrusting up into her with all of his remaining
strength, holding her tightly to him as if by doing so, he could
somehow stop time, and keep them in this moment forever. He
didn't know if it was the cave's ancient powers, or some other force
at work, but for a brief moment, he thought he could sense the
magic coursing through his veins and Hermione's, running back and
forth between them like a subtler version of the jolt they had
experienced earlier. Then he was swallowed up by the most intense
orgasm of his life, falling into the abyss and dragging Hermione with
him, so that both of their cries echoed in unison off the walls of the
stone chamber.

Hermione collapsed on top of Draco and lay there, shaky and limp
from the exertion of their love-making. Draco, despite feeling a bit
boneless himself, managed to pull the bed sheets over both of
them, shifting Hermione so that she was nestled comfortably
against his chest. He brushed the sweat-dampened curls off of her
face and kissed her forehead, and after a few minutes, her eyes
drifted closed. Draco had nearly succumbed to sleep himself, when
Hermione suddenly mumbled something, bringing him back to
wakeful awareness. Her voice was slurred with fatigue, but the
words were still discernable.

"I love you, Draco."


Back to index
Chapter 17: Breaking All the Rules by atalanta84
My lover asks me:

"What is the difference between me and the sky?"


The difference, my love,
Is that when you laugh,
I forget about the sky.

~ "My Lover Asks Me" by Nizar Qabbani

"Draco, it's your move."

Draco glanced up at Hermione, startled out of his reverie. She


swept her hand over the chessboard sitting on the table between
them, indicating that it was his turn to play. He studied the pieces
for a few moments.

"Knight to C-6," he commanded. Hermione's eyes narrowed as his


emerald green knight rode his horse across the board to cleave
down one of her pawns. Draco smirked triumphantly, and placed
her severed pawn on his side of the table.

"So that means it's my turn to ask a question," he said, as he


smirked in anticipation.

It was Tuesday evening, the week after the Easter holiday, and they
had decided to take a break from studying to play a game of
wizard's chess. Hermione still had little fondness for the game, and
Draco only convinced her to play by adding the proviso that
whenever one of them captured an opponent's piece, they were
allowed to ask any question they wanted, and their opponent had to
answer truthfully.

The added rule appealed to Hermione's curiosity, or as Draco


thought of it, her nosy and obnoxious tendency to ask personal
questions of him; however, Draco was no fool. He knew that with
Hermione's mediocre chess skills, he would be the one asking most
of the questions. So far, that had proven to be the case. Only two of
Hermione's white chess pieces remained, gazing forlornly at the
green army Draco was amassing against them.

"Well, get on with it then," Hermione muttered, leaning back in her


chair and folding her arms over her chest. "Ask me your stupid
question."

It was difficult for Draco to hide his grin at Hermione's waspish


demeanor. She really was a sore loser sometimes, especially when
she was losing against him. He had a feeling his next question was
not going to improve her mood.

"Did you ever have any sexual fantasies about me before this
school year?"

"That's—that's not a fair question," she sputtered, her cheeks


turning pink.

"We agreed that all questions were fair game, Hermione," Draco
said firmly. "You can't change the rules as you go along, as much
as I admire your Slytherin-like attempt to do so. Just answer the
question...and remember you have to answer truthfully."

Hermione grew increasingly flustered, which pretty much answered


the question for him, but Draco wanted to hear her say it out loud.
Sometimes it amazed him how he still got so much pleasure out of
annoying her. Of course, not as much pleasure as he got out of
partaking in other activities with her.

"Fine!" Hermione huffed. "I had a few fantasies about you towards
the end of sixth year - but just a few! And the thought of it disgusted
me at the time. Happy?"

"Supremely," Draco said with a wicked grin. "What sort of


fantasies?"

"Uh-uh, not telling. You only get one question per piece captured,
remember? Since you're being such a stickler for the rules."
She looked at him smugly before returning her attention to the
game. Draco rolled his eyes and watched as she studied the
chessboard, contemplating her next move. Soon, she was doing
that annoying habit again - nibbling on her lower lip in a way that
always managed to drive him crazy with desire. He sighed and
looked away, distracting himself by taking in his unfamiliar
surroundings.

The OWLs and NEWTs were less than two months away, and the
library was overrun with students who were rabidly studying for the
upcoming exams. Therefore, Hermione had suggested they take
their chess game to the Gryffindor common room. At first, Draco
had adamantly protested, but finally gave in, deciding it would be a
more comfortable setting than the Great Hall. Very few Gryffindors
had paid attention to him when he entered the room. It had become
quite commonplace for students from different houses to be invited
into each other's common rooms these days, and everyone in the
school had been made aware of Draco and Hermione's friendship
months ago. Therefore, contrary to the reaction he had been
expecting, no one threw hexes at him or threatened his life for
gracing the Gryffindor common room with his Slytherin presence.

Draco sighed once more, glancing at Hermione out of the corner of


his eye. She looked so pretty sitting there with her brow furrowed in
concentration, the light from the fireplace shining in her hair. It
reminded him of how the firelight had flickered across her face
when they spent the night together in the cave.

As always, the memory of the night he and Hermione had spent in


the handfasting temple unleashed a slew of conflicting emotions in
Draco. Of course longing and desire were foremost in his thoughts,
as he recalled the mind-blowing lesson in love-making that
Hermione had given him. However, he also experienced feelings of
guilt and confusion, as he recalled the declaration she had made
that night—a declaration that he had found himself unable to
respond to.

When Hermione had told him she loved him, Draco had thought
that perhaps he had imagined it. Part of him hoped he had; but
another traitorous part of him rejoiced when she said it. However,
the joy and warmth that had spread through his entire being at that
moment had quickly been replaced with dread. What if Hermione
expected him to say it back? To his relief, she had fallen asleep
almost immediately afterward, and Draco had been spared the
necessity of issuing a reply.

He had lain awake for a long time afterward, thinking about what
Hermione had said, and how he should respond to it the following
morning, if she brought up the topic again. For hours he stared at
the artwork on the walls of the cave, and all of the symbols of love
and devotion those images carried. He had stared for so long at the
Latin words etched on the back wall of the cave he thought they
would be forever emblazoned in his memory: "the circle is open but
ever unbroken". Hermione had said the ancient wizards that wrote
those words were referring to love, and the fact that you could find it
anywhere, if you were willing to let it into your life.

Draco had stared down at Hermione's slumbering face then,


wondering if he had indeed found love in the most unlikely of
places. He felt so many things when he was with her - happiness
and sadness, lust and tenderness, comfort and anxiety, frustration
and exhilaration. Alone, none of these emotions were love per se,
but when you added them all together, was that love? He certainly
cared for her more than he had ever cared for anyone outside of his
own family.

And that was when reality - harsh, painful, and inescapable reality -
had come crashing down on him once more.

The truth was that Draco could never betray his family. For most of
his life, they had been the only people who truly loved and cared for
him. They would never understand the affection he felt for the
Muggleborn witch sleeping in his arms (yes, Draco could at least
admit that he felt a deep affection for Hermione). He didn't know if
he was in love with Hermione, but he knew he loved his parents. He
knew that after all of the things that they had done for him, after all
that they had lost, he could never abandon them - and from their
point of view, falling in love with a Muggleborn would be akin to
abandonment. He had not abandoned them when he was faced
with the terrors of Lord Voldemort, and he would not abandon them
now. With this logical but discomforting thought in his head, Draco
had finally fallen asleep.

When Hermione had awoken the next morning in the cave, she had
been her usual cheerful self, acting as if nothing out of the ordinary
had occurred the evening before, other than having the most
amazing sex that either one of them had experienced in their entire
lives. Draco thought that maybe she had forgotten about admitting
her love for him. However, in the days that followed, he would
sometimes catch her glancing at him with a pensive look on her
face, as if she was waiting for him to do something, or to give her
some sort of sign.

This thought made Draco frown. He felt guilty about being unable to
reciprocate Hermione's declaration of love (Merlin, the death-grip
that woman had on his conscience could rival a Devil's Snare), but
he tried to assuage his own guilt by telling himself that
he had warned her in advance, telling her that he didn't think he
could ever love her - or any other woman for that matter. Was it his
fault that she hadn't taken his words seriously? Was it his fault that
she had chosen to ignore the harsh yet obvious truth that Draco
Malfoy was not the sort of man who gave his heart away?

"Draco? DRACO!"

Draco blinked several times, finally noticing that Hermione was


shouting his name and waving her hand in front of his face, trying to
get his attention.

"Do you have to screech like a banshee?" he muttered. "You're


giving me a headache."

"It's not my fault you decided to send your brain out for a holiday,"
Hermione said with a scowl. "My queen just captured your castle,
so it's my turn to ask a question.'

"About time you made your move," Draco grumbled.

"It didn't take me that long."


"Oh please," Draco said with a smirk. "In the amount of time it took
for you to take your turn, I could have discovered the meaning of life
ten times over - and quite possibly found a cure for cancer, while I
was at it."

"Yeah right," she muttered. "Okay, genius, what is the meaning of


life then?"

"The meaning of life is to get as much out of it as possible while it


lasts...even if you have to cheat, steal, swindle, and lie through your
teeth to get it."

"Admirable sentiments," Hermione said, rolling her eyes.

"Family motto," Draco replied with a shrug. "Well, it's actually


worded in more formal terms than that, but it's a loose translation of
the Malfoy family motto, anyway."

"Why I am not surprised?" she said. "All right, so here's my


question. What did you write about in your scholarship essay?"

"Nope, you can only ask me one question per turn."

"But that is my question!"

"No, you asked me what I thought the meaning of life was,


remember?" Draco countered, his face spreading into a sly grin.

"That was just rhetorical! You can't count that, it's not fair!"

"Life's not fair, Hermione. My move."

Draco glanced down at the chessboard, trying not to notice how


insanely kissable Hermione looked with her cheeks flushed and her
lips pursed with anger at his tricky little maneuver. He heard her
grumbling under her breath, and caught the words "conniving" and
"Slytherin" before he decided to ignore her and focus on his next
move.

"Bishop to A-5," he said. "Check."


Hermione groaned as Draco's bishop raised his staff and knocked
her queen's head off with it.

"I hate wizard's chess!" she complained as Draco retrieved her


decapitated queen from the board. "I'll never get the hang of it."

"You're getting much better," he reassured her. "You just need to


improve on your strategy. I always think at least three moves
ahead."

Hermione cocked her head to one side and studied him for a few
moments.

"And what about us?" she said softly. "Have you figured that out
three moves ahead of time?"

"You know I haven't," Draco said in a low voice. "I told you what I
have with you isn't a game to me. I know all the legal moves in
chess, but there's no rulebook for what happens between you and
me. Besides, even if there was, I'm sure we've broken every rule in
it by now."

"True," Hermione said, her lips curving into a small smile. "Anyway,
I believe you get to ask me another question now."

"Okay, so what fantasies did you have about me in sixth year?"

Draco chuckled as the smile instantly slid off of Hermione's face.

"I hate you," she muttered.

"No you don't. Just answer the question."

She heaved a resigned sigh.

"I used to have fantasies about you cornering me in a broom closet


and shagging me against the wall."

"No kidding?" Draco mused, making sure to file that away for future
reference. "You know, I fantasized about the same thing myself
sometimes."

"Really?" Hermione asked, her embarrassment replaced by her


usual curiosity. "But not during sixth year?"

"No, I didn't think of you that way back then," Draco said with a
shake of his head.

"So when did you start thinking about me in that way?"

"Sorry, but I believe you have to capture another one of my chess


pieces if you want me to answer that question."

Hermione gave an annoyed huff and leaned back in her chair. She
didn't have many moves left. Her king was under check, and he
was the only remaining piece she had on the board. In a few
moves, Draco would have her under checkmate. Hermione did what
she could to move her king out of check, but it was useless.

"Knight to B-5," Draco said finally. "Checkmate."

Hermione sighed as her white king dropped his sword at his feet,
admitting defeat. Draco stared at her intently instead of giving her
the usual triumphant smirk he would flash her upon winning a
game.

"My last question," he said. "What do you want to do with your life?
After graduation, I mean?"

"Why do you want to know?" she asked, arching one eyebrow in


surprise.

Draco shrugged and said, "Just curious."

"I...well, I don't know for sure. I know that I really want to make a
difference in the wizarding world. What I want more than anything is
to do more to help the house-elves, and perhaps introduce
S.P.E.W. to a wider audience."
Draco mentally gave himself a pat on the back for managing not to
roll his eyes at this.

"I want to be happy in my career," she continued, staring into the


flickering flames of the fireplace. "But it'd also be nice to get married
someday and start a family."

He snorted disdainfully in response, and she scowled at him.

"Don't mock me for wanting to be happy, Draco. What's your life's


ambition, if you think mine's so insufficient?"

Draco didn't want to tell her the truth, which was he didn't really
have one. Malfoy men were expected manage the family fortune,
marry a pureblood witch, and make pureblood babies to start the
whole cycle over again. His "life's ambition" was already chosen for
him, whether he wanted it or not. So instead he smirked at her,
putting his hands behind his head and leaning back in his squishy
red velvet chair.

"My life's ambition is to top Witch Weekly's list of ‘Most Eligible


Bachelors' by the time I turn twenty-five."

Hermione shook her head and groaned, but he noticed the little
flicker of lust in her eyes as she took in the sight of his lean,
lounging form. He felt his own desire reawaken, and the gears in his
cunning, Slytherin mind started to turn, thinking three moves ahead
as he had during the chess game.

"I think it's time that we headed down to the Great Hall for dinner,
wouldn't you agree?" he asked casually.

"Hmm?" Hermione murmured, sounding a bit distracted. "Oh, yes I


suppose."

She helped Draco put his chess set away, which he promptly
shrunk with his wand and stowed away in his pocket. Then he led
the way out of the Gryffindor common room and out into the
corridors, heading in the direction of the Great Hall. Hermione was
at his side, hurrying to keep up with his long-legged stride. At one
point, he snuck a furtive glance in both directions, noting that the
hallway was empty since most of the students were already eating
in the Great Hall.

Perfect.

Hermione was rambling on about the NEWT exam...again. That


seemed to be all she talked about these days. The exam was two
months away and already she was driving Draco crazy with how
much time she spent fretting about it. Tonight, however, having her
attention focused elsewhere worked to his advantage because
when he set his plan into motion, she was caught completely off
guard.

"Draco what on earth- !"

Before the words had even left her lips, Draco managed to fling
open the door to a broom closet, shove Hermione inside, and shut
the door behind them. They were plunged into complete darkness,
standing toe to toe in the cramped space. The closet smelled of
dust and various cleaning products, but when he stepped closer to
Hermione, her delicious floral scent took its place. He reached out
in the darkness, wrapping his hands around her hips and tugging
her closer to him, diminishing what little space had been between
them.

"Draco?" Hermione whispered uncertainly. "What...oh!"

She gasped as his lips found the crook of her neck, and then drifted
up to her favorite spot below her right ear, navigating by touch since
it was too dark to see. In the darkness, all of Draco's other senses
were heightened, so that the taste and scent of her skin were even
more alluring than usual. The sound of her breathing was magnified
as his hands explored her body, skimming every curve of her figure
as if he was reading Braille. Thank Merlin she was wearing a skirt
today, he thought to himself, as he began to lift it.

"Wait!" Hermione protested. "Draco what are you doing? We could


get caught."
Although they were in the dark, Draco smirked at her. He figured
that even if she couldn't see it, she could probably sense his smirk.

"The risk is half the fun. Besides, I do recall you saying this was a
particular fantasy of yours?"

"Yes, but a fantasy is a fantasy. You don't necessarily have to act


on them."

Draco paused, bending to bring his mouth close to her ear.

"Granger, you've been playing the role of good little Gryffindor for
far too long," he said, lowering his voice into that silky, dangerous
tone that Hermione never failed to respond to. He grinned when, as
expected, she gave a little shiver of anticipation. "When was the last
time you actually did break the rules?"

"I broke rules all the time with Harry and Ron - "

"No, that doesn't count," Draco argued, without changing his


seductive tone. "Back then you were breaking the rules because
you had to, to defeat Voldemort, or save the world, or at the very
least, get those two idiots out of trouble."

Hermione stiffened slightly at his last words, but he ignored this and
continued speaking, slowly sliding one hand up her thigh and
raising her plaid skirt centimeter by centimeter in the process.

"You've never broken the rules because you wanted to, just for the
fun of it. When was the last time you did something you felt like
doing and didn't give a damn about the consequences?"

He was surprised when Hermione chuckled softly in response.

"Draco, I've been doing that every day for the past month just by
being with you."

"Well, then consider that a warm-up for this."

With these words, Draco artfully slid her knickers down her legs and
hoisted her up against the wall, using his Quidditch-earned muscles
to balance her in one of his arms. He used his free hand to shove
the clothes off of the lower half of his own body. He pushed
Hermione's skirt up to her waist and stepped forward into the space
between her thighs, reveling in the moan of longing this action
withdrew from her.

"Brace your feet on the wall behind me," he ordered, his voice
husky with desire. "You'll be more comfortable that way, and this
closet is just the right width for it."

"How do you know that?" she asked, and he could practically hear
the frown in her voice.

"Hermione, do you really want to know the answer to that


question?"

"Oh...um, no, actually I don't."

Without further ado, she stretched her legs out to rest her feet on
the opposite wall, thereby opening herself up to him further. Draco
took the opportunity to reach in between them and stroke her,
causing her to let out a loud groan.

"Hmm," he mused, pausing to take his wand out of his pocket.


"Think I might have to cast a Silencing Charm on the door. The
danger of getting caught does add to the fun, but it would be a bit of
a nuisance to have to explain the situation to Professor McGonagall
if we actually were caught, and with the Quidditch final next week, I
don't have time to serve detention."

Draco cast the charm, and was surprised to hear Hermione start
laughing. He scowled, failing not to feel somewhat insulted. As a
man with a fair amount of experience in all things carnal, he knew it
was generally not a good sign when the woman you were trying to
seduce suddenly burst into giggles.

"Granger, this is no laughing matter. What's so funny?"

"I'm sorry," she said, her voice shaking with mirth. "I was just
thinking about Professor McGonagall."

Draco was dumbfounded.

"Um...do I want to know why you're thinking about our elderly


headmistress while I've got you pinned against the wall with my
hands up your skirt?"

"I was just thinking, when Professor McGonagall said that you and I
had done so much to ‘improve inter-house relations' at Hogwarts,
somehow I don't think this is exactly what she had in mind."

Hermione continued to laugh, and Draco couldn't help but join in,
picturing the shock and horror on the headmistress's face if she
found out what they were doing in the school at that very moment.
Suddenly Hermione, in her breathlessness, leaned forward to brace
her hands on Draco's shoulders, accidentally bringing her naked
flesh in contact with his. They immediately fell silent, and with a low
growl of need, Draco thrust his hips forward to join his body with
Hermione's. What happened next was, indeed, no laughing matter.

Screaming, however, was a perfectly acceptable alternative.

The rest of April flew by, and the days grew warmer and longer as
spring finally arrived at Hogwarts. Draco and Hermione continued
their secret "relationship", finding stolen moments alone in broom
closets and quiet corners of the library after all the other students
had gone to bed. Sometimes they would steal away to Draco's
summer home, where Hermione continued to give Draco lessons in
making love. For once, he more than appreciated her "practice
makes perfect" mentality. However, they never returned to the
handfasting cave, since he was still nervous about what had
happened the last time they entered it.

Despite the joy that came with spending so much time with
Hermione, other emotions simmered beneath the surface -
uncertainty, anxiety, and guilt being the most prominent. Draco
could sense that Hermione felt them, too, and that they grew day by
day, threatening to eventually boil over. While the secrecy of their
trysts had at first been fun and exciting, it was now eating away at
them from the inside. Like the proverbial straw that broke the
camel's back, he knew that soon, something would have to give.

But secrecy remained a necessity for Draco.

He wished that he had the sort of relationship with his parents


where he could be open and honest with them about his feelings for
Hermione. However, he had never been able to discuss such things
with them before. When Draco turned sixteen, he didn't receive
"The Talk" from his parents; instead, his father had decided to go
with the "experience-is-the-best-teacher" approach and had taken
him to a brothel in Knockturn Alley that catered to wealthy wizards.
Draco had never had one of those father-son moments that he
heard of other young wizards having, where he could regale Lucius
with tales of his romantic conquests and receive a knowing thump
on the back and a proud "that-a-boy".

How could he possibly tell his father about Hermione? "Yes, Father,
I've been shagging Hermione Granger. You remember her? She's
that Muggleborn Gryffindor girl you've wanted to kill on one or two
occasions. But don't worry, she's taking a very reliable
Contraceptive Potion, so I won't, as you put it, ‘sully the Malfoy
bloodline.'"

He had a feeling that having that particular conversation with Lucius


would result in less proud, fatherly back-thumping and more Avada
Kedavra-ing.

One Sunday in late April, Draco found himself once more plagued
with thoughts about how to resolve the issue of his and Hermione's
forbidden relationship. The two of them had spent most of their
afternoon digging through the library at the Malfoy summer home in
Dover, trying to find a book that would describe the nature of the
magical jolt they had encountered in the cave a few weekends
before. They had spent much of their free time in the previous
weeks performing the same search in the Hogwarts library, but with
no success. So far, their search at the summer home had been
equally fruitless.

At one point, Hermione sighed and closed the massive book she
was holding, lugging it over to the nearby row of shelves. She
glanced up at Draco and noticed the pensive expression on his
face.

"Are you nervous about the match this weekend?" she asked.

Draco shrugged, idly pulling another book off the shelf. He flipped
through the table of contents, but found nothing that aided them in
their search.

"Not really," he said, replacing the book. "I don't get that nervous
about Quidditch to be honest. Especially now that- "

He paused, and Hermione glanced up at him from where she had


just sat cross-legged on the floor, opening another ancient tome in
her lap.

"Now that what?" she pressed.

"Now that my father isn't able to attend the matches."

"I see."

Draco didn't like the sympathetic look that sprang to Hermione's


face.

"It's not what you think," he said. "It's not as if my father gets angry
at me if I lose a match. He just gets...disappointed, that's all."

"You hate disappointing him." She said this more as a statement


than a question.

"Yes."

"I just don't understand," Hermione said, flipping through the


leather-bound book on the history of Dover. "Why are you always
so worried about disappointing your parents? If they truly love you,
then they should accept you no matter what."

Draco frowned, not liking what she was implying.

"You think that just because my parents supported Voldemort, that


they're the sort of people who would be incapable of loving their
own son? You know that they betrayed the Dark Lord, putting their
own lives at risk for my sake."

Hermione arched an eyebrow at him.

"Yes, but do they tell you they love you?"

"My mother says it often enough. My father..."

Draco sighed. He didn't even know why he was having this


conversation with her. Talking about his parents, like having a
discussion that involved Muggles, was always going to be a touchy
subject between the two of them.

"My father doesn't like to express his emotions in that way," he


continued. "He doesn't say how he feels about me, unless it's anger
or disappointment. But he's always shown he cares by giving me
gifts and attention, and coming to all my Quidditch matches and
things like that."

"Yes, but don't you sometimes wish he would tell you he loved you,
just so you would know for certain?"

Draco did not respond to Hermione's question. He had a feeling


that this conversation was not just about him needing reassurance
of his father's love, but also about Hermione wanting reassurance
of his. He felt an overwhelming need to change topics.

"Have you found anything yet?" he asked, reaching for another


book.

"No," she said, wearily brushing back a few curls that had fallen out
of her ponytail. "I think handfasting temples are extremely rare.
Only very wealthy wizard families had them, while most families
conducted their marriage rituals outdoors. It's also possible that the
magic in your family's temple is unique to that cave alone, and,
therefore, not described in the literature."

"So we may never find out what that spell was," Draco mused,
feeling uneasy about not knowing the answer.

"Maybe not," Hermione said, slamming her book shut. She climbed
to her feet, starting to search some of the higher rows for books that
she hadn't looked through yet. Draco's mouth went dry as this
position caused her jumper to rise upwards, flashing a glimpse of
her creamy skin and slender stomach. In a heartbeat, he was at her
side, pinning her against the bookshelves. Hermione gasped in
surprise.

"Just what do you think you're doing, Draco?" she asked, smiling as
he ran his fingers along the smooth expanse of her midriff.

"We're taking a little break," he said, pulling her closer. "We've been
sifting through these dusty old books all afternoon."

Draco bent to kiss her, but then hesitated, his lips hovering a few
centimeters above hers.

"What's wrong?" she asked him, her smile faltering somewhat.

"It's just...the magic in the cave. It bothers me that we don't know


what it is, or what effect it may have had on us."

"Like I said before, I don't feel any different," Hermione reassured


him, "and you said you don't feel any different, either. I don't think it
caused any long-term effects, if that's what you're worried about."

Draco paused as he tried to think of a way to voice his concerns.

"It's just that, after it happened...after that magical jolt, or whatever it


was, that's when you said...I mean that's when you told me...."

"Stop," Hermione said, pressing her hand over his mouth. "Draco,
there is no spell in existence that can make someone fall in love, so
whatever happened in that cave did not make me fall in love with
you. I already loved you before that night...I think I may have loved
you for some time before then."

Draco's eyes widened in surprise. Hermione shook her head,


gazing up at him with a knowing expression on her face.

"Do you honestly think the only way I could fall in love with you is
because some spell forced me to?" she whispered, shifting her
hand away from his mouth and using it to brush his hair out of his
eyes. "Do you think it's impossible for me to love you of my own
free will?"

Draco said nothing, but of course he knew the answer was yes, he
wouldn't have thought it possible for Hermione to love him without
some form of magical coercion. How could she love him after all of
the things he had done in the past? How could she love a former
Death Eater whose family had, on numerous occasions, threatened
the lives of both her and her friends? Part of him was relieved to
learn that she loved him of her own free will, but another part of him
was terrified by this fact. If she loved him because of a spell the
handfasting temple had inflicted upon her, then they could find a
way to reverse the magic, and release its hold on her; but if the love
she felt for him was real....

You need to stop this, he told himself. She's already fallen in love
with you, and you're starting to get too attached to her. You're going
to end up hurting her if you continue down this path. You might
even end up hurting yourself. You need to stop and walk away
before it's too late....

Hermione interrupted Draco's thoughts by gently pulling his head


down so that she could capture his lips with hers. His resigned sigh
was lost in the warm depths of her mouth.

Too late, he thought as he kissed her back.


The crowd went wild as Draco angled his broom next to the
Ravenclaw Seeker, both of them closing in on the elusive golden
snitch. The Slytherins were far enough in the lead that if Draco
caught the snitch now, they would not only win this match, but the
Quidditch championship as well. He had never tasted that sort of
victory before, and he was hungry for it. He let his hunger drive him
forward, pushing his Nimbus2001 to its absolute limit. Just three
more centimeters... just two more... one more...

"Draco Malfoy has caught the snitch! Slytherin wins the Quidditch
championship!"

The announcer's words reverberated in Draco's ears as the tiny


snitch fluttered helplessly in his hand. He held it aloft in triumph,
proudly leading his teammates in a victory lap around the pitch. The
green and silver clad students were in a joyous uproar, beginning to
rush out onto the pitch. He flew down to join in the celebrations.

Once Draco's feet hit the ground, he was swarmed by his fellow
Slytherins, all eager to offer their congratulations, but his eyes
sought the only Gryffindor in the crowd.

Hermione was beaming at him, her eyes full of love and pride.
Draco didn't know if it was the determined look on his face that
parted the crowd, or whether he had accomplished it by wand-less
magic, but a path was cleared between him and Hermione, and
suddenly he was standing before her. She opened her mouth,
preparing to say something, but whether it was, her congratulations
or some witty remark about the Slytherin win, Draco never knew.
Because the moment he reached her, he dropped snitch and
broomstick to the ground, caught her up in his arms, and kissed her
passionately.

The crowd immediately fell silent. Draco was pretty sure he could
hear the faint twitter of birds in the distance, that's how quiet the
Quidditch pitch became at that moment, despite the hundreds of
students clustered around them. Somewhere in a part of his brain
that was still functioning properly, he thought he had officially lost
his mind, snogging Hermione Granger in front of the entire school,
but for the moment, he didn't really give a damn. He was so high on
his victory, and the taste and feel of Hermione's lips, that he didn't
think anything could ruin this perfect moment.

"My, my, my, I don't think I've ever witnessed a more stirring
conclusion to a Quidditch match."

Draco froze, his heart dropping into the region of his toes at the
sound of that familiar voice. He pulled away from Hermione,
whirling around to face the elegantly dressed woman standing
behind him, her blue eyes flashing in a way that made him feel like
he was six years old again, caught with his hand stuck in a cookie
jar. Only this was much, much worse. He swallowed hard, forcing
himself to speak.

"Hello, Mother."
End Notes:
Yes, I am evil. ;) Don't worry, though. Chapter 18 should be up
within the next couple days! Thanks again to Amethyst18 for the
lovely beta job on this chapter!
Back to index
Chapter 18: Checkmate by atalanta84
Sweet, there is nothing left to say
But this, that love is never lost,
Keen winter stabs the breasts of May
Whose crimson roses burst his frost,
Ships tempest-tossed
Will find a harbour in some bay,
And so we may.

And there is nothing left to do


But to kiss once again, and part,
Nay, there is nothing we should rue,
I have my beauty, - you your Art,
Nay, do not start,
One world was not enough for two
Like me and you.

~ From “Her Voice” by Oscar Wilde

For a few moments, it seemed as if time had stopped.

Narcissa Malfoy remained as cool and collected as any aristocratic,


pureblood witch was expected to be, but Draco could feel the rage
emanating from her slender frame. She glared at Hermione as if
she were an annoying insect that she wanted to squash with her
stylish, fifty-galleon shoes. Meanwhile, Hermione stared brazenly
back at the older woman, a flicker of anxiety in her eyes.

Draco cleared his throat, an action that drew his mother's attention
away from Hermione and fixed it back upon him.

"Draco dear," Narcissa said in a sweet, yet deadly tone, "would you
allow me to take you out for a lunch to celebrate your victory?
Unless you are too...preoccupied."

She glowered at Hermione once more.


"Of course not, Mother," he said quickly, eager to put some
distance between her and Hermione. "Why don't we go to
Hogsmeade? I'll go change and meet you outside the front gate."

Narcissa nodded, and with one last malevolent look in Hermione's


direction, she began walking briskly towards the front gates of
Hogwarts. Once his mother had gone, Draco turned to Hermione.

"I'll be back as soon as I can," he said, but as he prepared to leave,


she grasped his hand tightly in hers.

"Draco..."

"Don't worry," he said, giving her hand a brief squeeze. "Everything


will be fine."

He was lying and they both knew it, but she merely nodded and
watched him take off in the direction of the Slytherin changing
rooms. Once inside, he quickly stripped off his Quidditch gear,
changed into fresh robes, and splashed water on his face. Then,
unable to delay the inevitable any longer, he went to meet his
mother outside the front gates.

While the two Malfoys strode down the road to Hogsmeade, a tense
silence permeated the air between them. Narcissa held her head
high, her elegant black robes fluttering around her in the spring
breeze. Her face was as cold and expressionless as stone, but
Draco knew that internally she was seething.

"Where would you like to eat?" she asked once they had reached
Hogsmeade.

Draco wordlessly led her into the Three Broomsticks. He knew


there were more high-class dining establishments in the village, but
he thought he would be more comfortable eating at the familiar
haunt...or at least as comfortable as he could be given the
circumstances. He led the way to a table in a quiet corner at the
back of the pub, and was not surprised when his mother curled her
lip in disgust at her surroundings. She quickly scanned her chair for
cleanliness before sitting upon it with the grace a queen ascending
her throne.

Conversation was delayed for a little longer while Draco snagged a


passing waiter and ordered two warm butter beers. The beverages
were brought out, and for a few minutes, the two of them sat quietly
sipping, the tension mounting.

It didn't take long for the silence to start eating away at Draco. At
that moment, he realized he had definitely been spending too much
time with Hermione and her ceaseless chatter, because the need to
say something - anything - was overwhelming him.

"I wasn't expecting you to be at my Quidditch match today," he


blurted out finally.

"That much was obvious," Narcissa responded with a smirk.

Everyone always assumed Draco had inherited his trademark smirk


from his father, but that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, as
much as Draco resembled Lucius in appearance, his personality
was more similar to his mother's. While Lucius had a wrathful
temper, Narcissa's icy, calculated brand of anger could intimidate
more people than her husband's could. Draco knew this because
he often used the exact same intimidation tactics, and he had
learned them from the best.

"Why did you come?" he asked. "You've never taken much of an


interest in Quidditch before."

"Does a mother need an excuse to support her son in his


extracurricular pursuits?" she asked, arching one delicate golden
eyebrow at him. "I thought you would be happy to have at least one
of your parents attend the most important match of your school
Quidditch career. Your father so wished that he could
come...though now I'm glad he wasn't there to see the spectacle
you made of yourself this morning."

Narcissa let out a weary sigh.

"Draco, I know that your father and I have made your life difficult at
times, especially in the past couple of years. But the reason we
turned against the Dark Lord was because we wanted you to have
a better life, an easier life."

"Life isn't easy," Draco muttered, "and nothing you and Father do
can change that for me."

To his surprise, his mother smiled sadly.

"You've grown up so much. You're not a boy anymore; you're a


man. You have had to make so many difficult decisions - more
difficult than anyone your age should ever have to make."

Draco fell silent, processing her words. It was true that there had
been many choices for him to make in the past few years. In that
respect, perhaps he and Harry Potter were not that different after
all. The difference was that Draco had made all
the wrong choices...to accept the assignment to kill Dumbledore, to
attempt capturing Potter in the Room of Requirement, to allow his
aunt to torture Hermione near the point of death....This last choice
in particular still weighed upon his conscience, and he had a feeling
that it would be a long time before the memory of it ceased to haunt
his dreams.

He glanced up and saw his mother piercing him with her steady
blue gaze.

"Draco, what is the nature of your relationship with the Granger


girl?"

"I don't know what you're trying to imply, Mother. Hermione and I
are just friends."

Narcissa's eyes narrowed.

"Do not toy with me, Draco. I was a witness to your vulgar display in
front of the entire school a few minutes ago." She paused for a
moment. "Are you...intimate with her?"

Draco nearly groaned out loud at the awkward turn this


conversation had taken. He stared down into his mug of butter beer,
wishing it contained enough liquid for him to drown himself in.

"I really don't think that's any of your business," he said finally. In
spite of his respectful tone, Narcissa reacted indignantly to his
statement.

"Draco, you are my son. No matter how old you are, you
will always be ‘my business'. Now, if you are sleeping around with
that insolent little Mudblood...."

He flinched upon hearing that slur - a reaction that his mother did
not fail to notice. The corners of her mouth turned downward in
despair.

"It is worse than I thought," she murmured. "You actually care for
the girl. Oh Draco, how could you be so foolish? Surely you haven't
been laboring under the illusion that you and Hermione Granger
could have a future together?"

Draco scowled at her.

"Of course not," he muttered. "I'm not that naive."

"I'm not so sure about that. You are an intelligent young man, but
you are not as knowledgeable in the ways of the world as you think
you are. If you were, you would immediately realize that the two of
you could never be. Think about it, my dear; think about the world
you come from. Where would that Mud- Muggleborn fit in?"

"Times are changing," said Draco. "The concept of blood purity is


no longer acceptable in most of the wizarding world. Eventually,
Pureblood families will have to give in to this new way of thinking,
and Hermione will no longer be considered an outcast in our
society."

"Some things will never change," his mother persisted. "Your


father's position on this matter is one of them. He would never
accept that girl into our family; you know this. He may even
disinherit you if you decided to marry her someday. You may think
your feelings for the girl would compensate for the loss of your
family and your way of life, but eventually you would grow to resent
her for it. And she, being the high and mighty person that she is,
would be eaten up with guilt. The two of you would be all alone with
no one to accept or support you."

"That's not true," he said stubbornly. "Her friends accept me."

"Do they? Do they really, Draco?"

He blinked, desperately trying to hide the look of uncertainty that


sprang to his face. As usual, his mother didn't miss it for a moment.

"Ah yes, I see," she said, her tone becoming sarcastic. "So Harry
Potter is singing your praises and the Weasley family is holding tea
parties in your honor?"

"With time...."

"With time nothing. People like Hermione Granger and Harry Potter
see the world in black and white. A part of them will always see you
as a Death Eater, and they will never forget that you and your family
once supported the Dark Lord. Granger's friends may humor her by
acting civil towards you and inviting you to their little social
gatherings, but you would never truly belong to their world. You
would always be considered an outsider to them. And with time, you
would learn to resent her for that, too."

Draco wanted to continue arguing with his mother's point of view,


but he felt as if he was grasping at straws. No matter how hard he
tried to avoid it, he could see a grain of truth in her words, and it
made his stomach lurch unpleasantly. Upon seeing his pained
expression, his mother reached across the table to cover his hand
with hers.

"My dear, I don't mean to upset you with all of this," she said gently.
"I love you, and I only want what is best for you. I don't want to see
you get hurt."

Draco stared at her for a few moments, trying to form an


appropriate response to her statement. He could find none.

"I have to go," he said, tossing a few sickles on the table and
standing to leave.

"But Draco, I promised to buy you lunch." Narcissa glanced down at


the menu lying on the table before her. "Though I doubt this
establishment has anything remotely edible...."

Draco shook his head.

"I'm not hungry."

"Very well," she said, rising to her feet. "Then I suppose it would be
pointless for me to stay."

Narcissa followed her son out of the Three Broomsticks and onto
the sunny main street of Hogsmeade.

"I will see you at the ceremony tomorrow," she said as she
prepared to depart.

"What ceremony?" Draco asked, puzzled.

"Draco, tomorrow is the Second of May. Surely you haven't


forgotten the significance of that date."

"The anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts. How could I forget?" he


muttered. Then he gazed quizzically at his mother. "You're planning
to be there?"

"Of course. As the only members of the Malfoy family who are free
to do so, we will be expected to make an appearance."

"Well, that should be sufficiently awkward," Draco said bitterly. He


was pretty certain that everyone present would consider him and
his mother hypocrites for attending the ceremony. While he didn't
envy his father for being under house arrest, he I>did envy him for
having a legitimate excuse to miss the event.
"Nevertheless, it is crucial that we send a message to the wizarding
community letting them know that our family has reformed our
ways," Narcissa stated.

"What a pretty little lie," Draco said with a scoff, causing his mother
to give him a sharp look.

"Draco, I can see your view of the world is changing, and I don't
think that's necessarily a bad thing. However...some aspects of the
world do not change as quickly as we would like."

Her expression softened into one of concern as she continued.

"I can't help but feel that things would end badly if you decided to
pursue a serious relationship with Hermione Granger. If you truly
care for the girl, you will let her go...if not for your own happiness,
then for hers."

Draco merely gazed back at her, trying to keep his expression blank
in order to hide the inner turmoil he was experiencing. As his
mother withdrew her wand and prepared to Disapparate, Draco
steeled himself to ask her the one question that had been weighing
on his mind ever since she had first appeared on the Quidditch
pitch that morning.

"Will you tell Father?"

Narcissa hesitated, considering her response. Finally, she said,


"No, I won't tell him."

Draco couldn't help letting out a sigh of relief, but a frown furrowed
his mother's aristocratic brow.

"Draco, I should tell you that your father is not well. His confinement
has started to have an effect on his health. It would not be good for
him to suffer any further...disappointment."

"Father's disappointment in me isn't exactly a new occurrence," he


grumbled.
Narcissa sighed, her eyes full of sadness and affection as she
reached out and brushed her son's cheek with the back of her
hand.

"Your father is so proud of you, Draco. I know he never says so, but
you must realize that he is. And he loves you more than you can
possibly know. We both do."

Then she Disapparated, leaving Draco alone with his very troubled
thoughts.

When Hermione entered the Great Hall for dinner that evening, a
buzz of whispering voices rippled through the room like wildfire. She
just ignored it. Being the best friend of Harry Potter meant t she was
used to occasionally getting caught in the spotlight (such as the
time during her Fourth Year when Rita Skeeter had written that
scathing article about her). What she could not avoid, however,
were the questioning looks and sideways glances of her friends as
she sat down with Ginny, Dean, and Luna at the Gryffindor table.

"So you and Malfoy, huh?" Dean asked after a few moments of
awkward silence.

Hermione raised her eyebrows at the dark-skinned boy as she


ladled some mashed potatoes onto her dinner plate.

"I suppose you could say that."

"Since when?"

Hermione and Ginny shared a look, and Dean nodded in


comprehension.

"You women and your secrets," he said, rolling his eyes. "Well, I
probably wouldn't have wanted to know half the things that went on
between you and Malfoy anyway."
"I think it's lovely," said Luna, helping herself to a large quantity of
pudding. "And the way he kissed you after the match this morning
was so romantic."

"I have to admit, that kiss was pretty amazing," Ginny added. Then
her pretty face creased into a frown. "But I wonder what his mother
will have to say about it."

Hermione's expression darkened.

"I don't know. I just hope she wasn't too hard on Draco."

Draco had been mysteriously absent since he left the school


grounds with his mother that morning. Hermione still winced when
she thought about how the Malfoy matriarch had caught her and
Draco snogging each other senseless on the Quidditch pitch, and
she wondered what Narcissa had said to him afterwards. She was
sure the conversation had been anything but pleasant, but before
she could think about the matter any further, Professor McGonagall
rose from her seat and cleared her throat for attention.

"I have a few announcements to make," the Headmistress said


once the Great Hall had fallen silent. "First of all, I would like to
once again congratulate Slytherin House for winning the Quidditch
Championship."

The Slytherins in the room broke out into riotous cheers while the
other three houses added some polite applause of their own. Gone
were the days when the inter-house rivalries were so fierce that
everyone booed the Slytherins' successes. Professor McGonagall
waited until the students settled down before speaking once more.

"Secondly, I would like to remind all of you about the important


event that is happening tomorrow, May Second."

The room became quieter still as everyone recalled the significance


of the date.

"As some of you may already know, Hogwarts will play host to a
memorial service for those who were lost in the final battle with
Voldemort one year ago. During the service, the Ministry will be
erecting a monument on the school grounds to commemorate the
battle, and I expect all of you to be in attendance and on your best
behavior for the ceremony."

Professor McGonagall went on to make a few additional


announcements regarding the schedule for the upcoming O.W.L.
and N.E.W.T. examinations, to a chorus of despairing groans and
long-suffering sighs from the students. When she had finished
speaking, the room burst into conversation once more.

"I can't believe it's already been one year since the battle,"
Hermione mused. She turned to Ginny. "Your family will be coming
to Hogwarts for the ceremony, right?"

"Yes," said Ginny. "Everyone except for Fleur, that is."

Fleur had begun her maternity leave two weeks before, and in the
meantime, Professor McGonagall had resumed the post of
Transfiguration professor. The difficult lesson plans and massive
quantities of homework she assigned made everyone wish that they
could have Professor Weasley back instead, with or without her
raging pregnant-Veela hormones.

"Does that mean Ron will be there, too?" Luna asked suddenly.

"Oh...um, yeah."

Ginny shot an anxious glance in Hermione's direction.

"I suppose he'll be coming with Corianna Warbeck," Hermione said,


trying to maintain a casual tone of voice.

"No, he won't be," said Ginny. "Ron isn't dating Corianna anymore.
They broke up."

"I see. I suppose she got sick of him and moved on to another ‘boy-
toy'? I can't say I didn't see that one coming."

Ginny shook her head again.


"According to what Harry told me, it was the other way around. All I
know is that Ron broke up with Corianna, and he said something
about it being a big mistake for him to have dated her in the first
place."

Hermione had a feeling Ginny wasn't telling the whole story, but at
the moment, she didn't feel like pressing the issue. She was too
busy thinking about how much had changed since the final battle.
At the same time last year, defeating Voldemort had been nearly
the entire focus of her existence, she and Ron had been reaching
the tentative beginning of their relationship, and she had still
considered Draco Malfoy an enemy. Now Voldemort was nothing
but a bad memory, she and Ron had parted ways, and she and
Draco were....Were what, exactly?

They were obviously more than just "good friends" now. Yet while
they sometimes behaved like a couple, she couldn't technically call
Draco her boyfriend. They had never even agreed to remain
exclusive, though she currently had no desire to be with anyone
else, and she had a feeling that Draco felt the same way.

But for how long? she asked herself.

Hermione shook her head to clear it. She had known what she was
getting into with Draco; they had both known that anything that
happened between them could only be temporary. He had warned
her that he could never love her, could never have a future with her,
and foolish as it was to do so, she had accepted him anyway....

But she hadn't counted on falling in love with him.

She needed to talk to him. But Draco was still missing and instead
of worrying her, his absence was beginning to irk her instead.

"Where is he?" she muttered. She glanced towards the large


wooden doors of the Great Hall for what felt like the hundredth time
that evening, hoping to see the familiar flash of his platinum hair as
he entered the room.
"Who? Malfoy?" Dean asked, overhearing her. "If his mum's as
scary as mine is when she's in a strop, then he's still recovering
from this morning. Probably went off somewhere to clear his head."

At Dean's words, Hermione had a sudden flashback to something


Draco had said the day he first took her to his family's summer
home in Dover:

"Sometimes I still come here if I want to be alone for a bit, to clear


my thoughts...."

"Of course!" she said, clapping her hand to her forehead. "Why
didn't I think of it sooner?"

Her friends stared at her in bewilderment as she leapt to her feet.

"I'll see all of you later," she called over her shoulder as she made
her way out of the Great Hall.

Within minutes, she had left the grounds of Hogwarts and


Apparated to the Malfoy's summer home. When she approached
the front door of the large cottage, she found it unlocked and
unwarded, and knew that Draco must still be inside. Her suspicions
were confirmed when she slowly opened the door and found the
interior lights aglow.

"Draco?" she called out tentatively. There was no response. She


wandered through the first floor of the house, but all of the rooms
were unoccupied. When she reached the sitting room, she saw that
one of the French doors leading to the terrace was ajar and pushed
it open.

Draco was sitting at a table on the terrace, staring out over the
water. The sun was just sinking below the horizon, tingeing the sky
with pink and gold hues. The rose bushes that adorned the Malfoy
gardens had begun to bloom, and the air was laced with their
delicate musk. With the gentle breeze and the rhythmic sound of
waves crashing on the shore, it made for a deceptively peaceful
setting. If Hermione didn't know any better, she would have thought
Draco was simply enjoying the sunset.
Draco remained motionless as she approached, and if it weren't for
his white-blond hair stirring in the breeze, she would have thought
he was a statue. She sat across from him, noticing for the first time
that his expensive white and green chess set was sprawled out on
the table. He had obviously been playing against the game itself,
much like a Muggle would play against his computer. His green king
piece stood alone on the board with his sword lying at his feet.

"Checkmate," Draco said quietly, breaking the heavy silence. He


finally turned to look at Hermione, the sunset casting a mysterious
glow in his silver eyes. "I've always thought chess is a strange
game, the way the king is never actually captured or killed. He just
runs out of moves, runs out of places to escape to...and when he
finally has nowhere left to go, the game is over. It's the only game I
know of that ends in surrender."

He picked his king piece up off the board and twirled it idly between
his fingers. Hermione watched him, uncertain of how to proceed.
Draco seemed so distant, so closed off, that it was hard to reconcile
him with the man that she had come to know over the past six
months. The coldness in his eyes was reminiscent of the old Draco,
and that disconcerted her.

"Draco, we need to talk," she said softly.

"‘We need to talk'?" he repeated. One corner of his mouth quirked


momentarily, but he failed to pull it into a full smirk. "When will you
women learn that those four words make a guy want to run and
hide faster than Severus Snape being threatened with a bottle of
shampoo?"

Hermione frowned. She knew Draco was trying to cover up the


situation with his usual sarcasm, but she wasn't going to let him get
away with it this time.

"Draco, what happened with your mother this morning? How did
she react?"

His half-hearted smirk instantly turned into a scowl.


"How do you think she reacted?"

Hermione swallowed, her throat feeling as dry as sandpaper.

"Why are you acting this way? What's wrong with you?"

"I don't want to talk about it."

"But if I can help in any way - "

"I don't need your help, Granger," he spat, tossing his king piece
back down on the table.

Hermione flinched. It was unusual for Draco to call her by her


surname these days; the only time he ever did was when he was
either angry or teasing, and she had a feeling that he was not in a
teasing mood. At the hurt expression on her face, Draco's eyes
softened somewhat. He sighed and rose to his feet.

"I'm going to sleep here tonight," he said. "You should go back to


Hogwarts."

With that he walked back into the house, effectively dismissing her.
Hermione's emotions rapidly shifted from hurt to anger as she
shoved her chair back from the table and stood to follow him.

"So that's it, then?" she asked.

"Yes, that's it," he said, making his way through the house and
towards the stairs leading to the second floor.

"Draco, I'm not going to let you walk away from me without
discussing this first..."

He froze with one foot on the bottom stair and his hand on the
banister, turning to glare at her.

"Last time I checked, I don't take orders from you," he said coldly.
"I'm not a mindless buffoon like Potter or Weasley. Just do me a
favor and leave me alone."

He then continued his ascent up the staircase, with Hermione


determinedly trailing after him. She followed him into the cream-
and-gold colored bedroom that they had shared during the Easter
holiday, watching as he flung open the window to air out the stuffy
space. The scent of roses drifted in with the evening air.

Draco ignored Hermione's presence in the doorway and began


flinging off his robes and loosening the buttons of his shirt. He then
pulled a pair of black pajama bottoms out of a drawer in his dresser
and continued to strip down to his boxers. Hermione bit her lower
lip, trying to avoid looking at Draco's pale, chiseled body as he
removed his clothing. Despite her anger at him and the uncertainty
of their present situation, she couldn't help feeling a thrum of desire
at the sight of his half-naked form. Once he had donned his pajama
pants, he whirled to face her once more.

"Why are you still here? Didn't I tell you to leave me alone?"

"Stop acting like this!" she hissed. "It's not like you."

"Not like me? Clearly, you haven't known me for the past eight
years," he said sarcastically, whipping his silk robe out of the
wardrobe and shoving his arms through the sleeves.

"That's not the type of person you are anymore. I thought we'd been
through this already..."

"You don't get it. I'll never be able to live up to your high
expectations. You call me a puzzle as if there's some sort of
solution for what I am, but there's not. There's no way to undo all
the stupid things I've done, all the bad choices I've made. Dragons
can't change their scales, Hermione."

Hermione blinked up at him, his last statement triggering a memory


in the recesses of her mind. Where had she heard that phrase
before? She seemed to recall Ron having once said the exact same
thing, and she found it ironic that the two men unknowingly agreed
on something.
"You're wrong," she said, stepping closer to Draco.
"People can change, as long as they're willing to put the past
behind them."

She gasped in surprise when he suddenly gripped her shoulders,


his silver eyes flashing with anger.

"What do you know about it?" he growled. "Perfect little Hermione


Granger who can do no wrong...You've probably never made a bad
decision in your life."

"You can't possibly believe that."

"Well I do," he continued, his grip on her shoulders tightening to the


point where it was almost painful. "You think you can change me,
make me a better person? What gave you the right to mess around
with my life? I had everything figured out before you came along.
Now my mother knows about us. And thank Merlin she's not going
to tell my father, because if he found out...."

Draco paused, his breath coming out in hot, ragged puffs against
Hermione's face.

"Perhaps, if you explained it to him..." she began.

He let out a mirthless laugh.

"What? Tell my father that I have feelings for a Muggleborn?"

"Of course not," Hermione whispered, suddenly feeling foolish. "You


can't even tell me that you love me."

She felt a few tears trail down her cheeks, and at the sight of them,
Draco's anger seemed to waver slightly, his voice losing the hard
edge it had contained before.

"I told you that I don't know how to love - at least, not in the way that
you're looking for." His eyes fell closed. "Why couldn't you just go
on hating me like you did before?"
"I couldn't hate the person you've become, Draco. I already told
you...I love you."

Draco's eyes snapped open, and he gave her shoulders a


frustrated shake.

"Why do you keep saying that?"

"Because it's true," she said, sobbing miserably. "Believe me, it's
the last thing I wanted, and I know it's the last thing you wanted, but
it's true."

For a few seconds Draco just stared at her, his face contorted in a
mixture of anger and some other emotion that Hermione could not
discern...pain, perhaps? Then, all of the tension seemed to drain
out of him, and he bent to rest his forehead against hers.

"Shit," he muttered. Hermione didn't admonish him for swearing,


thinking that the word pretty much summed up their entire situation.
With a sigh, he dropped his hands from her shoulders and wrapped
them around her torso, pulling her body flush against his and
tucking her head beneath his chin.

"I'm sorry," he whispered into her hair as she continued crying


against him. "Shit, Hermione, I'm so sorry. This is all my fault."

She shook her head, her face buried in the crook of his neck.

"No," she said, "I shouldn't have let things go this far."

She wanted so badly to hate him as she once had, but she couldn't.
Although it was only going to make her life - and his - more
complicated, she loved Draco, and the only person she could think
to hate for that fact was herself. After awhile her tears slowed, and
she regained the ability to speak.

"We can't go on like this," she murmured.

"I know."
"Maybe it would be better for both of us if we just...."

Hermione swallowed hard, unable to complete her sentence. She


felt Draco tighten his grip around her waist.

"I know," he said, "I know."

"Do you regret it?" she asked, her voice muffled against the warm
skin of his neck. "Do you regret ever having been with me?"

Draco stiffened and pulled away so that he could study her face.

"Do you?"

His characteristic method of twisting her question around would


have made her laugh under normal circumstances. Instead she
gazed up at him steadily, her eyes still blurred with tears.

"No. I don't believe in having regrets."

"The only people who say that are the people who haven't done
anything really worth regretting," Draco said with a touch of envy in
his voice.

"And you have?"

"Yes, more times than I can count."

Hermione repeated the one question that she wasn't sure she
wanted to hear the answer to.

"But do you regret being with me?"

Draco held her gaze for a moment and then shook his head.

"Why not?" she asked.

He reached up to brush the remaining tears off her cheeks.


"Because of all the choices I've ever made, you were the only right
one."

Hermione could find no words to express the emotions that she felt
when he said this, but she was spared the need to speak when
Draco bent to brush his lips against hers. His kiss was as light as a
whisper, and if it was true that every kiss had a meaning behind it,
she thought that this one felt like a fond farewell.

She refused to let that be the case.

Hermione pressed her mouth insistently against Draco's, burying


her fingers in his silky hair to keep him from pulling away. She
needn't have bothered. The moment she tried deepening the kiss,
he immediately responded in kind. In a heartbeat his hands were
tangled in her curls, his lips moving against hers with an intensity
that nearly left her breathless.

A soft moan escaped her lips as she felt his hands leave her hair,
her robes being tugged away and dropped on the floor, her blouse
being frantically unbuttoned. In Draco's haste to remove the
garment, a few of the buttons popped off and fell to the floor, but
she couldn't bring herself to care. She was so consumed with
desire that she almost forgot the need to breathe.

Draco finally pulled his lips away from hers long enough to murmur,
"Just for tonight, pretend that we have all the time in the world."

Hermione recognised her own words from the night they had spent
in the handfasting cave. Yet, before she could fully process this
fact, he ripped her blouse off her shoulders and bent down to fasten
his mouth on her collarbone, sucking hard enough to leave a red
mark. He moved further south to the tops of her breasts, covering
them with fierce, open-mouthed kisses that made her wonder if he
was trying to memorise the taste of her skin or brand her with the
memory of his touch. Perhaps it was a combination of both.

There was a chaotic blur of pants, socks, and knickers being thrown
to the floor as they were both divested of their clothing so fast that
Hermione thought it might have been Vanished off of their bodies.
Then she gasped when Draco suddenly scooped her into his arms
and carried her across the room with a strength that belied his lean
frame. As he lowered her onto the bed, she wrapped her arms
around his neck, pulling his body down to cover hers. The need to
feel every inch of his skin pressed against hers was almost
overwhelming.

Quickly, but somehow not quickly enough for either of them, he was
inside of her. Neither of them said anything, but it seemed that for
the moment, no words needed to be spoken. They spoke another
language entirely - one that consisted of gasps and moans, of lips
and fingers burning trails over each other's skin - as they rocked
together with a single-minded urgency that bordered on
desperation.

Hermione clung to Draco, moving with him as he set a steady


rhythm that brought both of them closer to the brink of oblivion. It
was an experience unlike any of the other times that she had been
with him; it lacked the uncertainty of their first time together, or the
thrill of their encounters in the school broom closets. It was
mournful and slow, tender and fierce, and as Draco pressed his lips
to the throbbing pulse point in her neck, she realized that he was
not simply shagging her.

He was making love to her.

She closed her eyes, feeling as if her heart was going to burst.

"Hermione," said Draco, breathing heavily with the labor of his


movements. She suddenly felt the warmth of his large hand cupping
her chin. "Hermione look at me."

She opened her eyes to meet his, and the moment she did so, she
felt a tingle spread throughout her body, making her feel as every
nerve was a live wire. And she wondered if Draco was right. Maybe
something had happened that night in the handfasting cave. Maybe
there had been a magical bond forged between them, and they
would spend the rest of their lives trying to understand what it
meant....
Again Draco gasped her name, this time in a voice that was both
possessive and pleading, and at the sound of it, she shattered,
curling her hips into his as she came with a keening cry. Draco
followed soon after, gathering her body closer to his as together,
they rode out the intense wave of physical pleasure and emotional
pain.

As their breathing finally slowed, Hermione gazed into Draco's


mercurial eyes and realized that she may never fully understand
what had occurred between them over the past six months. And for
the first time, she thought that maybe she didn't have to figure it
out...that maybe this one puzzle she didn't need to solve. All her life
she had focused on the intangibles, but the heat of Draco's body
pressed against hers was something tangible, and she held onto it
like a lifeline as they made love late into the night, until their limbs
were shaking and their throats hoarse from their ravished
cries...And neither one of them pretended that they had all the time
in the world.
End Notes:
*cringes* Sorry, but you all knew it was coming! I will reiterate once
again that this story will have a happy ending for our favorite
couple, even if it doesn't look like that now. I promise! This is the
last chapter I had completely written before I went on hiatus last
year. As many of you know, that hiatus has been a lot longer than I
expected. However, I AM actively working on Chapter 19, and will
get it up as soon as I can. Please understand that real life is
extremely hectic for me, so I don't know exactly when, but we're
getting there. Thanks for your patience and your lovely reviews! I
find them very encouraging and I love hearing from all of you! :D
Back to index
Chapter 19: At a Crossroads (Part 1) by atalanta84
And the dead leaves lie huddled and still,
No longer blown hither and thither;
The last long aster is gone;
The flowers of the witch-hazel wither;
The heart is still aching to seek,
But the feet question 'Whither?'

Ah, when to the heart of man


Was it ever less than a treason
To go with the drift of things,
To yield with a grace to reason,
And bow and accept the end
Of a love or a season?

~ From “Acceptance”, by Robert Frost

When Draco awoke, the sun was just cresting the horizon, filling the
bedroom with pale morning light. The window had been left open
the entire night, making the room uncomfortably cool, and he
shifted instinctively closer to Hermione to draw from her body heat.
He could still smell the rosebuds outside on the terrace, and he
closed his eyes to breathe in their scent, which mingled with
Hermione’s fragrant hair.

At this thought, Draco’s eyes snapped open, and he drew himself


away from the temptation of Hermione’s warm, inviting body. He
pulled back the covers and forced himself to crawl out of the
comfort of his bed, cringing when his bare feet struck the cold,
hardwood floor.

His sudden movement caused Hermione to roll over and stretch out
her arms to where he had been lying before, and her face crinkled
into a frown. It was as if she could sense his abandonment, even in
her sleep.

Draco sighed. The previous night had been a mistake. He had


wanted it to be a clean break – if such a thing was even possible at
this point. When Hermione had found him on the terrace, he had
tried to pull away. He had even tried resorting to his old tactics of
being cold, sarcastic, and distant, thinking that it would be easier for
her to end things with him that way.

But of course, his efforts had been in vain. No matter how many
walls he tried to erect between them, Hermione would always find a
way through. For the first time in his life, all of his barriers were
down, and he had her to thank – or blame – for that.

With another sigh, Draco retrieved his clothes from the floor and
dressed himself. Then he closed the window to shut out the crisp
morning air before he turned to exit the room. He hesitated on his
way out the door, looking back at Hermione’s slumbering form. He
didn’t want to wake her – didn’t want her to see him leave. But he
couldn’t resist returning to her side one last time to tuck the
blankets more tightly around her and press a feather-light kiss to
her forehead. She stirred again, her eyelids fluttering as she
mumbled something incoherent under her breath, but she did not
awaken.

In that moment, Draco wondered if he was making a huge mistake


leaving her and ending this…well, whatever this was that had
developed between them. But when he saw the peaceful look on
her face as she slept, he knew he was making the right choice.
Hermione had had to fight so long and so hard – fighting to belong
to a world that at times, tried to reject her; trying to save that world
from the clutches of a power-hungry madman. For once, didn’t she
deserve to have something she didn’t have to fight for?

Hermione deserved to be happy – that much, Draco knew for sure.


He couldn’t comprehend the depth of his feelings for her, but he
knew that she deserved so much more than a clandestine
relationship, hidden in the shadows as if it were something
shameful and wrong. She deserved to be more than a mistress he
came to under cover of darkness when the cold, formal embrace of
his pureblood wife didn’t satisfy him. Hermione would never agree
to such an arrangement, and he could never bring himself to ask it
of her. Even considering it as an option was, in his mind, selfish and
cruel.

For a moment, he entertained the idea of preserving their friendship


at the very least, but it didn’t take long for him to realize that that,
too, was impossible. He wanted all of her, body and soul, and to
have to settle for anything less would be more torture than he could
possibly endure.

No, this was the best way. He couldn’t give Hermione anything else,
but he could give her this: a clean break, a fresh start, and a chance
to be with any man she wanted – any man but him.

With great effort, Draco turned to leave the room once more. This
time, he forced himself not to look back.

The day was sunny and clear, even though a bit of chill still lingered
in the spring air. A large crowd of wizards and witches was
streaming through the front gate and onto the school grounds, filing
into the rows of seats that surrounded the podium where Minister of
Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt would soon give his speech. Not far
behind the podium stood a tall, lumpy object covered with black
cloth, which Hermione knew was the new monument the Ministry
had erected in honor of the fallen.

The ceremony was about to begin, and she scanned the crowd of
attendees, looking for any sign of her friends. Soon, she caught
sight of Ginny, Dean, and Luna sitting in a row of chairs near the
front, waving to get her attention, and she made her way briskly
over to them.

“Where have you been?” Ginny whispered, as Hermione took the


seat next to her and adjacent to the aisle. Ginny immediately zoned
in on her friend’s red-rimmed, puffy eyes. “Are you okay? What
happened?”

Hermione shook her head.


“I…I don’t want to talk about it,” she whispered back. “Not now, at
least.”

To Hermione’s relief, Ginny didn’t press her any further. Regardless


of how concerned Ginny had been about Hermione’s interactions
with Draco over the past school year, she rarely pushed her to talk
about topics she wasn’t ready or willing to talk about. Unlike other
girls, like Lavender Brown or Parvati Patil, who never would have let
the subject drop, Ginny was the sort of friend who knew when she
shouldn’t cross the line. However, she didn’t stop shooting furtive,
worried glances in Hermione’s direction.

She would tell Ginny the whole story another time. For now, she
needed time to think and come to grips with what had occurred the
night before.

The crowd continued to grow around them, but Hermione was so


lost in her own thoughts, she barely noticed. That morning, she had
awoken to find nothing but cold sheets and a rumpled pillow where
Draco had once been. Since the very first night they had ever spent
together, she had never awoken to an empty bed. Even when he
awoke before her – which was often the case – Draco would usually
lie there, idly playing with her hair, or teasing her awake with
languorous caresses. His absence, more than anything they had
said to each other the night before, had confirmed that whatever
had developed between them over the past several months was
officially over.

Hermione had had no desire to linger in that room once she


discovered Draco was gone, and so she had risen from bed and
returned to Hogwarts, steeling herself for the reality she was about
to face – the reality of a world that no longer included him.

Now, she sat silently beside her friends, watching, but not seeing,
as more witches and wizards arrived to swell their numbers. It
wasn’t until she felt someone’s hand on her shoulder that she finally
shook herself free of her reverie.

“Mrs. Weasley!” she exclaimed, as she turned to see the kind-eyed


witch standing next to her. She rose to her feet, staring awkwardly
at the older woman for a few moments. But her anxiety was
unnecessary, because Mrs. Weasley promptly opened her arms
and pulled her into a warm embrace.

“Hermione, it’s so wonderful to see you, dear,” Mrs. Weasley


proclaimed, stepping back to grace her with a genuine smile. “We
missed seeing you over the hols.”

“Oh, um, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to come. You see, I…”

“No explanation necessary, my dear,” Mrs. Weasley cut in with a


shake of her head. “I completely understand.”

Hermione gave the woman a shaky smile - and then noticed the
gathering troop of redheads behind her.

“Hello, Hermione,” Arthur Weasley said with a grin, reaching out to


shake her hand. “Long time no see.”

“Hello, Mr. Weasley…Hello Percy, Charlie.”

As Hermione shook hands with the male members of the Weasley


family, Mrs. Weasley moved on to greet her daughter and the
remainder of their friends, and soon the entire Weasley clan was
sliding into the seats behind them, filling almost the entire row.

George arrived next, with the surprising addition of Angelina


Johnson on his arm. They waved and rushed over to join the rest of
his family, squeezing into two of the last seats in the row.

“Hello, Hermione,” Angelina said, smiling brightly. “Aren’t your


parents here?”

“Um, no…Mum and Dad would’ve come if I asked them to, but I
thought they might feel a bit out of place. You know, being Muggles
and all.”

“Oh, I see.”

“So…” Hermione began, lowering her voice and arching one


eyebrow. “You and George, huh?”

Angelina grinned.

“Yeah, guess you could say that.”

“I’m so glad,” Hermione said, with a genuine smile. She was


pleased to have a distraction from the miserable turn her own love
life had recently taken, but the distraction was to be short lived. For,
at that very moment, Ron and Harry arrived, hurrying over to find
seats with the rest of the stragglers.

“Hey!” Harry said in greeting, slightly out of breath. “Sorry we’re


late, everyone. Auror training went a bit over.”

“It’s okay, they haven’t started yet,” Ginny reassured him, giving him
a quick kiss and pulling him down into the empty seat next to her.
Ron paused at the end of the aisle near Hermione, awkwardly
shifting from one foot to the other. Hermione swallowed nervously
and tried to avoid his eyes, but it was no use. She supposed this
moment had to come eventually, and there was no use delaying it
any longer.

“Hello, Ronald,” she said crisply.

“Hey,” he answered. There was an uncomfortable pause, and, out


of the corner of her eye, Hermione could see Harry and Ginny
exchanging glances. She sighed with impatience. It was her and
Ron’s first meeting since breaking up, and she really wished it didn’t
have to take place under a microscope like this. She hoped their
brief exchange of greetings would be the full extent of their
conversation. At this point, after everything she had been through
with Draco the night before, she didn’t think her nerves could
handle any additional strain.

However, to her dismay, Ron spoke up once more.

“Look, Hermione, I was wondering…”

At that moment, there was a rustling in the crowd of spectators as a


procession of Hogwarts professors and high-ranking Ministry
officials, led by Kingsley Shacklebolt, began to make their way
down the central aisle, heading towards the podium. Ron let out a
resigned sigh.

“Never mind,” he muttered. “I’ll talk to you later, okay?” Then he


brushed past her to take the last empty seat, which was further up
the row, next to Dean.

Hermione felt an enormous surge of relief at being spared from


what would likely have been a very awkward conversation in front of
their friends. She folded her trembling hands in her lap, smoothing
the skirt of her black dress, as she waited for the ceremony to
commence. Then, suddenly, a wave of whispers rippled through the
crowd like wildfire, and she turned to see what the source of the
commotion was.

There, making their way to two seats at the back of the assembly,
were Draco and his mother. Narcissa held her head high, feigning
ignorance at the crowd’s reaction to her entrance. Draco looked
slightly less at ease than his mother, but Hermione thought this may
have been because she could read his emotions better than others
would be able to do.

For just a moment, their eyes met, and Hermione felt as if her heart
were lodged in her throat. His face was an unreadable mask, a
calm façade, but she could have sworn she saw it waver for just a
second, hinting at emotions that roiled just beneath the surface.
Then Professor McGonagall stepped up to the podium to address
the crowd, and Hermione forced herself to tear her gaze away from
Draco and focus on the ceremony.

It was a difficult thing to sit through. It began with Professor


McGonagall giving a speech rather similar to the one she had given
at the start of the school year, in which she emphasized the
importance of unity in the Wizarding community. Then, in a voice
that quavered at times, she read off the names of those who had
fought for the side of the Light and fallen in the war against
Voldemort. Hermione thought she’d had a grasp on the number of
people who had died in the war, but it wasn’t until that long list was
read off that she realized the staggering volume of lives lost. It was
hard for her to maintain her composure when Professor
McGonagall listed a name that she knew. When Fred Weasley’s
name was read off, she could hear Mrs. Weasley’s small sob from
the row behind her, and when Dobby’s name was listed, she saw
Harry lower his head and blink rapidly.

After all of the names had been read off, Kingsley took Professor
McGonagall’s place at the podium, and after one stern glance at the
witches and wizards gathered before him, the crowd fell silent once
more, waiting for him to speak.

“Good morning,” he said in his rich baritone, which had been


magically magnified with a Sonorus Charm. “We have all gathered
here today to mourn the lives that were lost in the war against
Voldemort.”

There was a slight ripple in the crowd, from those who still cringed
at hearing the name spoken out loud.

“At this place, one year ago, fifty souls were lost. That does not
include the hundreds of others, both wizard and Muggle, who were
killed in the Death Eater attacks, raids, and interrogations that
preceded that battle. And you may ask yourselves, what is the best
way for us to honor them?”

Kingsley paused and gestured at the covered monument yet to be


revealed behind him.

“This monument, as large and beautiful as it may be, is not enough.


The best way for us to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice is
by how we live our daily lives. It is not in how we shape the stone
carvings of this monument, but in how we shape the future of the
Wizarding World.”

With a wave of Kingsley’s wand, the material covering the


monument disappeared, and the sculpture was revealed. Hermione
had not known what to expect – and a part of her had been afraid
that the monument would be something gaudy that wouldn’t
represent the lost loved ones appropriately. She was pleasantly
surprised to find that was not the case. The monument was tall and
breathtaking to behold, illustrating an intricately carved phoenix
rising from flames. At the base of the statue, there was a smooth
block of granite, in which were etched the names of those who had
given their lives in the war. Staring at the phoenix’s outstretched
wings, Hermione felt her spirit lift for the first time that day.

“My friends,” Kingsley continued, once the murmurs of approval had


died down. “Today we stand at a crossroads. We can choose to do
as we had done before – to forget what these people have died for,
to forget the lessons we learned on this battlefield. We can choose
to regress, once more, into a society that labels witches and
wizards according to their birth status and ostracizes those who are
different from us. We can let Voldemort’s message live on, allowing
it to consume our world in the flames of bigotry and hatred.”

At this point everyone seemed to be leaning forward, hanging on


Kingsley’s words, and Hermione thought she could detect at least a
few guilty-looking faces in the crowd.

“Or,” said Kingsley, “we can create a new world for our children
where they will not be defined by their blood status, and where the
word ‘Mudblood’ will not exist except for on the pages of their
History of Magic textbooks. That is not to say we should forget what
our society used to be, because if we do, how can we measure how
far we have come? We must never forget the sacrifices that were
made on this day, one year ago. We must never forget where we’ve
been. But, like the artist who shaped the stone of this sculpture, we
must allow our experiences to shape us into better people, and a
better society. Like a phoenix, we can rise from the ashes and
begin anew.”

Draco wondered which level of Hell he had been banished to, as he


stood beside his mother in the Great Hall, surrounded by mourners,
Ministry officials, and other “champions of the light.” Since the time
they had arrived at the memorial service, whispers and stares
followed the Malfoys everywhere they went. The other attendees
made no attempt to hide their disgust at Draco and Narcissa’s
presence at the ceremony, and the words “hypocrite” and “Death
Eater scum” fell from their lips with so little discretion, it was clear
they wanted to be overheard. They wanted to make sure the
Malfoys felt as unwelcome as humanly possible.

Well, they had certainly succeeded…although one would never


know it by looking at Narcissa Malfoy. Draco couldn’t help admiring
the way his mother held her head high, facing the crowd’s scorn
with steely resolve. It wasn’t until they had made their way to a quiet
corner of the Great Hall that she finally spoke.

“The fools,” she muttered, in a whisper only Draco could hear.


“Why, not long ago, those same Ministry officials were clamoring for
your father’s attention, and trying to charm their way into his
pocketbook.”

Draco shrugged. He was still rather angry with her after the
conversation they’d had at the Three Broomsticks the day before,
and he didn’t feel like giving her the enthusiastic support she was
looking for.

“Times have changed, Mother.”

“So you keep saying,” she replied, darting a glance in her son’s
direction. “I notice something else has changed as well. Is it true –
or perhaps I have simply imagined - that you and Hermione
Granger don’t seem to be on such friendly terms this morning?”

Draco gritted his teeth, but before he could issue a retort, his
mother’s attention suddenly strayed elsewhere. Her eyes widened
as she stared at someone standing on the other side of the room.
Draco turned to follow her gaze, and his eyes came to rest on a tall,
dark-haired woman who was talking to Luna Lovegood while
jiggling a toddler on her hip. At first, his attention was captured by
the baby’s vivid, turquoise hair, but then he looked more closely at
the woman who was holding him.

For the briefest moment, he thought his Aunt Bellatrix had returned
from the grave, and his heart nearly leapt out of his chest at the
thought. Upon further inspection, however, he realized that the
woman was not Bellatrix at all, though she did bear a striking
resemblance to her. Her curly hair was a shade lighter, and pulled
up in an elegant chignon. She possessed the same austere beauty,
but where Bellatrix’s face was emaciated and sallow from years
spent in Azkaban, this woman’s face was soft, kind, and rosy-
cheeked. Her resemblance to Bellatrix, in combination with his
mother’s startled response to seeing her, all but confirmed her
identity for Draco: She could be none other than his mother’s sister,
Andromeda Tonks.

“Mother?” Draco murmured. “Is that who I think it is?”

Before Narcissa could reply, Andromeda seemed to sense their


stares, and she turned to face them, her own eyes widening with
surprise and recognition. For a moment, the two women stared at
each other from across the room, and the air between them was
wrought with tension. Then, suddenly, Narcissa turned her back on
her sister, tugging her son’s arm in order to lead him away from the
scene.

“I think it is time for me to leave,” she said in a level voice that


betrayed none of the conflicting emotions Draco saw in her eyes.

“But Mother, don’t you think –”

“Now, Draco,” she snapped. Then, at the sight of his concerned


expression, her face softened somewhat. “I’m quite all right, dear.
Just caught off-guard. Would you mind escorting me to the front
gate?”

Draco hesitated, still startled by his mother’s behavior. He couldn’t


remember the last time he had seen her act this unsettled. Even in
the presence of Lord Voldemort himself, she had always managed
to project a pretense of calmness, but now she appeared anxious
and upset. He knew that she had been estranged from Andromeda
for many years, but he hadn’t expected her to have this strong of a
reaction to seeing her sister in person once more. It aroused some
of that newfound compassion within him, causing his previous
anger towards her to fade into the background.

“Yeah, okay,” he agreed. “Let’s go.”

The relief on his mother’s face was evident as the two of them
exited the Great Hall and made their way to the front doors.
However, when they were mere steps away from exiting the school,
Draco heard a familiar voice calling his name.

“Malfoy, wait! I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

Draco turned, and to his surprise, found Harry Potter chasing after
him. Immediately, he stiffened, and he felt his mother do the same
at his side. Hadn’t they had enough awkward encounters for one
afternoon? Draco worried about Potter’s motivation for seeking him
out. Had he heard about what had occurred between him and
Hermione the night before? Was he there to exact revenge for what
he considered mistreatment of his best friend? However, the
expression on the other boy’s face was not anger.

"Mr. Potter," Narcissa acknowledged in a strained voice. Potter


gave a stiff nod in her direction.

"Mrs. Malfoy."

Draco glanced from one to the other, sensing enough tension in the
air to cut with a knife.

"Er...Potter, why exactly are you looking for me?" he asked finally.

"Oh, there's someone who needs to talk to you."

"Now?" Draco asked with a scowl.

"Yeah, it's...kind of someone important."

Draco looked over at his mother, who gave him a tight smile in
return.

"I can see myself to the gate, Draco," she said. "I will see you at the
Parting Ceremony in a few weeks. Until then, good luck on your
studies."

She dropped a quick kiss on Draco's cheek that nearly made him
die of mortification (In front of Potter? Has she gone mad?!). Then,
with one last regal swirl of her robes, she strolled out the heavy
front doors of Hogwarts and left him alone with his old adversary.

The two boys stood awkwardly for a few moments, and Draco gave
Potter a glare that clearly bespoke dire consequences if he made
any remark about the kiss he had just received from his mother.
Luckily for Potter, he made none.

"Uh, follow me," he said instead.

With a bored shrug, Draco followed Potter down the corridor. He


tried to appear ambivalent about their destination, but he was
genuinely curious about what had motivated Potter to come looking
for him. Who could possibly want to talk to Draco so badly? And
what did Potter mean when he said "someone important"? Draco's
heart thudded with anxiety as he wondered if it was a Ministry
official who had questions about his or his father's former Death
Eater activities. Surely his family had put those days behind them
by now? He looked at Potter out of the corner of his eye, but other
than seeming slightly uncomfortable at the idea of being alone with
Draco, the boy's expression gave no other clues to his feelings. As
the two of them made their way through the school halls, Draco
thought back on the brief, tense encounter that had just occurred
between Potter and his mother.

The last time Harry Potter and Narcissa Malfoy had come face-to-
face had been at his parents' trial. To the surprise of the entire
Malfoy family, Potter had given testimony about how Draco's
mother had saved his life during the final battle with Voldemort by
pretending that he was dead in the Forbidden Forest. This
testimony had likely spared all of them from serving time in
Azkaban prison. Draco knew his mother felt a sense of gratitude
towards the boy; she was reluctantly, grudgingly grateful -- but
grateful, nonetheless. It was the same feeling Draco felt towards
him, after he had saved his life in the Room of Requirement.
That was a wizard's debt.

He wondered if Potter knew the gravity of such a debt, given that


he'd been raised by Muggles. Draco certainly understood. His
father had warned him countless times, for as long as he could
remember, never to underestimate the power of a wizard's debt.

’A Malfoy never allows himself to be in debt to anyone ,'his father


had always said. Then again, when you're trapped in a room full of
Fiendfyre, you tend to run out of options pretty quickly. Draco
shoved his hands in his pockets and scowled. Of all the wizards in
the world, he had to owe his life to Harry Potter. Karma really was a
bitch sometimes.

"Here we are," Potter said, pulling Draco out of his thoughts. He


looked up with surprise to realize they were standing in front of the
large griffin statue that guarded the entrance to the Headmistress's
office.

"Tartan knickers," said Potter, and having said the password, the
statue sprang aside to grant them entrance. When Draco glanced at
Potter with raised eyebrows, the boy shrugged, a smirk worthy of a
Slytherin lighting up his face. "What? You don't think Professor
McGonagall has a sense of humor?"

Draco merely rolled his eyes and followed him up the spiral stone
staircase to the Headmistress's suite. When he entered the room
on Potter's heels, he was surprised to find that Professor
McGonagall was the only person there. If she wanted to speak to
him so badly, why hadn't she done so at the brunch downstairs?
And what did she want to talk to him about? Had she heard about
what had happened between him and Hermione?

"Ah, Mr. Malfoy, we've been looking everywhere for you," she said
in greeting.

"You wanted to speak with me, Professor?" Draco asked


uncertainly.
"It was not I who made the request." She turned behind her to
address one of the portraits hanging on the wall. "I trust you'd like to
speak to him alone, Severus?"

"Please, Minerva."

Severus? Draco thought, in shock. She couldn't possibly mean...

Sure enough, Professor McGonagall stepped aside, revealing


Severus Snape's portrait on the wall behind her, where Draco knew
it had not been before.

"Mr. Potter thought it would be appropriate for Professor Snape's


portrait to hang in this room, in light of...certain circumstances that
we were made aware of after his death," McGonagall explained,
and Draco turned to Potter in surprise. The other boy shrugged,
looking mildly embarrassed.

"He was Headmaster, for a time," he explained. "It took a lot of


convincing to get the school's Board of Governors to agree to it, but
they finally gave in."

Draco shook his head in amazement. He couldn't imagine what had


compelled Potter to fight to have Snape's portrait installed in the
Headmaster's office, but from the look of discomfort on Potter's
face, he decided against asking him about it.

"We'll just leave you two alone, then," McGonagall said, sweeping
past him and out of the room with Potter close behind her. "Come
back downstairs whenever you're ready," she added, and then
closed the door behind her with a soft click.

Draco was left alone to face the curious stares of a room full of
portraits of former Headmasters and Headmistresses, but there was
only one that captivated his attention. Severus Snape stared down
his long nose at Draco, his hair just as greasy, and his dark eyes
just as unreadable, as they had been in life. Yet, in spite of the fact
that he had once been one of his favorite teachers, and a longtime
friend of his family's, Draco felt as if he hardly knew the man. All
along he had been a spy for the Order. All along he had been doing
Dumbledore's bidding, not Voldemort's. He had been fighting for the
other side, and even though Draco was glad Voldemort had fallen,
he couldn't help feeling a bit betrayed by his old professor, for
having kept him in the dark for so long.

"Well, boy, I didn't summon you here just to have you stand across
the room and gawk at me,