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Wrapped in Red by wolfgirl17

Format: Novella
Chapters: 11
Word Count: 33,434

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Sensitive topic/issue/theme, Spoilers

Genres: Fluff, General, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Bellatrix, Lucius, Narcissa, Draco, Ginny
Pairings: Draco/Hermione, Harry/OC

First Published: 11/04/2015
Last Chapter: 10/16/2017
Last Updated: 10/16/2017


During a school wide Secret Santa designed to inpsire inter-house unity, Hermione has the bad luck of acidentally picking Draco Malfoy. When she tries to sneakily learn his secrets in order to get his gift and Malfoy winds trapped under some mistletoe, things get quickly out of hand. Hermione's life will never be the same. 

A Christmas inspired Dramione tale. EWE. Banner by Wolfgirl@TDA.


Chapter 1: Chapter 1: Christmas Cheer
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                                                                                                      Chapter 1: Christmas Cheer

Hermione Granger adored the holiday season. She loved the snow that fell softly over the castle. She loved the twelve Christmas trees that Hagrid dragged into the Great Hall every year, all decked with sparkling baubles and tinsel. She adored the way mistletoe so often sprouted above unsuspecting victims.

There was just something about the time of year that made her heart light. There was nothing nicer, at least in Hermione’s opinion, than to be able to snuggle into a nice hat with a matching scarf and gloves. Nothing toastier than wrapping her hands around a lovely cup of hot chocolate to the sound of softly sung Christmas carols. Even the music made her happy. She adored the many different renditions of timeless carols begin sung throughout the castle.

“I want to do something really special this year,” Ginny announced, flouncing over to where Hermione was sitting at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall. She’d been sipping her hot chocolate and looking on fondly as Professor Flitwick levitated boughs of holly and more tinsel than she’d ever seen in her life about the hall, decorating every spare surface for the occasion. Hermione adored the way the Professor got so into it, humming jaunty carols to himself as though he hadn’t a care in the world.

“For Christmas?” Hermione asked, smiling at the younger girl in greeting.

“Yes, I want to make it special,” Ginny said, “I love the traditions we’ve begun building, but I want to really go all out. We might not have another chance to do Christmas with as much happiness and innocence. We might not even all be able to be together for Christmas again. Let’s make it special.”

“What did you have in mind?” Hermione asked, smiling at the very idea.

“I’m thinking of implementing a Secret Santa idea amongst us all, to really spread the cheer,” Ginny said honestly, “There are people in our lives we might not usually go to the trouble of buying for and I think it’s a shame. I want to make sure everyone has a wonderful holiday season this year.”

“Ginny that’s a lovely idea,” Hermione said, perking up even more at the very idea. Her mind had begun to race with the thought.

“Do you think we should ask around? See who’s interested?”

“I’ve got an even better idea,” Hermione said, “Let’s speak to Professor Dumbledore and instigate a school-wide Secret Santa. If some of the students don’t celebrate the season they don’t have to participate, and if there are people not interested in the idea they won’t have to join in, but I think it’s a marvellous way of initiating inter-house communication. If we’re all given a person from a different house, we’ll have to get to know them a little to find out what they might need or want for a gift. We could cap the price bracket on it in case some people can’t afford a certain amount and so that others don’t buy incredibly lavish gifts. It will be a fantastic way to create student interaction as we all try to find out who our Secret Santa is.”

“You’re a genius, Hermione,” Ginny announced, “Can we ask him now?”

“Let’s,” Hermione nodded, getting to her feet and walking with Ginny towards where Professor Dumbledore was sitting at the teacher’s table, overlooking the Great Hall with merriment in his blue eyes.

“Good Afternoon Miss Granger; Miss Weasley,” he greeted them when they reached him.

“Hello Professor Dumbledore,” Hermione greeted the headmaster with a smile, “We have a request we’d like to put to you.”

“Indeed?” he asked, smiling at them curiously over his half-moon spectacles.

“Yes, you see Ginny just mentioned she’d like to do something special to celebrate the Yuletide season and I thought it might be good for inter-house unity and student relations if we instigated a school-wide Secret Santa for the students and staff.”

Professor Dumbledore looked intrigued.

“It’s just that with things the way they are, this may very well be the last Christmas we can all spend simply enjoying the season in all it’s glory, sir,” Ginny piped up, “The hype of the event will bring students together.”

“What of those who don’t celebrate Christmas or who can’t afford to participate?” Professor Dumbledore asked seriously.

“Well I was thinking about that sir,” Hermione began, “I’ve found that most people, even if they don’t celebrate Christmas for religious or moral reasons, generally still like to be given gifts. We could call it the Seasonal Hogwarts Gift Exchange, or something to that effect if everyone is terribly opposed to calling it a Secret Santa. We could also cap the pricing for the gifts between five and twenty sickles. It’s not much. No more than one might pay for a simple sweet from Honeydukes.”

“What of those who can’t afford that much?” Dumbledore asked, “It wouldn’t do to exclude students from the fun if they couldn’t afford it.”

“With all honesty sir,” Ginny said, her ears turning red, “I’m pretty sure Ron and I are the poorest students in the school. And I can afford that much.”

Professor Dumbledore looked thoughtful.

“We could note that if people really can’t afford to buy a gift, they are encouraged to create one. It would be good to help people think outside the box to turn something ordinary into a gift for someone else,” Hermione suggested.

“How do you propose to have everyone choose a gift recipient?” Dumbledore asked.

“To encourage inter-house unity we were thinking we could collect together the names of everyone who wants to participate based on house. Then have each house choose from the other three houses. It will mean lots of sorting, but if say all the names of students from Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were put into a sack for all Gryffindor students to choose from, that would ensure we Gryffindors picked from other houses. Then the names can be sorted and mixed with those from the other house when the next group chooses.”

“I will speak to the other teachers to discuss the matter,” Professor Dumbledore assured them when he seemed to have run out of questions, “You’ll have an answer by tomorrow.”

Hermione smiled widely.

The banner went up in the house common rooms overnight. Hermione smiled when she saw that the Secret Santa idea had been initiated. Students who wished to participate were to submit their names to their head of house by the end of the week. Anyone wishing to participate could spend between five and twenty sickles on their gift, or could make one from scratch if they chose. Anyone who didn’t ordinarily celebrate Christmas was also welcome to join in the fun simply for the joy of exchanging a gift with someone.

Students were also reminded that if they wished to, they were more than welcome to stay at Hogwarts over the Christmas holidays. The poster warned that signing up to participate in the Secret Santa would bind students to keeping their assigned gift recipient a secret until after the gifts had been exchanged, which would be on Christmas day, in the proper spirit. Each participant would only be able to discuss the name of the person they’d been given with their head of house.

“This is going to be wonderful,” Ginny said, clapping her hands excitedly as she rushed over to Hermione, beaming about the news, “I can’t wait to find out who I get. I hope it’s someone good.”

“Good?” Hermione laughed, “That’s not the point of the endeavour Ginny. It’s supposed to be about subtly getting to know someone you don’t usually associate with for the purpose of buying them a gift. I just hope that whoever gets me actually puts some thought into the gift and doesn’t just do something generic like buying sweets.”

“You won’t even mind if you get someone you don’t like and would never ordinarily buy a gift for? Imagine if you picked Parkinson or someone,” Ginny said, wrinkling her nose distastefully.

“I suppose that who we’re given will dictate what we buy and how much we spend. I know if I got Parkinson I’d be more likely to buy her something of less value than I would if I got someone I like, like Luna,” Hermione admitted, though she felt bad for thinking it.

“It will still be fun though,” Ginny grinned, “Let’s go and see McGonagall and tell her we want to participate. Waiting until the end of the week to be able to choose is going to be torture.”

“It’s going to be worse not being able to tell each other who we get,” Hermione disagreed, “And it will make subterfuge harder too.”

A/N: Hello! A new Christmassy Damione for all of you to enjoy. More chapters soon, I promise. Don't forget to review with your thoughts and ideas! 


Chapter 2: Chapter 2: Secret Santa
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                                                                                                              Chapter 2: Secret Santa

Hermione held her breath as she reached inside the Christmas stocking Professor McGonagall was holding out to her and withdrew a slip of parchment with a single name on it. The week had passed torturously slow until this moment and Hermione had been on tenterhooks. She’d been going out of her way to eavesdrop on others she didn’t know in an effort to glean information about them just in case she chose them.

The suspense of the moment as she stepped back with the parchment clutched in her hand made her heart race and Professor McGonagall smiled at Hermione’s nervous expression.

Once she was far enough away that no one else would be able to read the name over her shoulder, Hermione opened her hand. Unfurling the crumpled parchment slowly, Hermione blinked in surprise and then mild annoyance when she saw the name of the person she’d chosen.

Draco Malfoy

The name was scrawled in loopy handwriting across the parchment and Hermione frowned at the sight of his name. Of all the people in the entire castle, how had she gotten stuck with him?

Hermione couldn’t think of a singular person in all of Hogwarts that she’d like to buy a gift for less. Even Pansy Parkinson would be preferable to Malfoy. The boy was a complete git. He was always insulting her. How was she supposed to find out what he liked, enough to buy him a gift, when she disliked him and didn’t at all want to spend any time in the same vicinity as him?

She was regretting the idea of this inter-house unity nonsense as she glared at the parchment.

“Not someone you were hoping for, I take it?” Ginny asked, a strip of parchment clutched in her own hand.

“Not exactly,” Hermione admitted, “I don’t know who I was hoping to get, but it wasn’t this person. What about you? Did you get stuck with someone you’d rather not buy for?”

She found it difficult to be unable to outright ask who Ginny had got.

“Well I was hoping to get someone I like; Luna, maybe Susan or Terry. I wasn’t expecting this. But I can work with it. I mean, it will be fun trying to figure out what to get him without being caught at it.”

“At least there’s that,” Hermione sighed, feeling mildly forlorn over her own choice.

What, if anything, did one give the boy who had everything and had the money to buy whatever he wanted?

“Are we allowed to swap?” Harry asked when he’d chosen a name from the stocking, looking frustrated with his own choice.

“No, Mr Potter. You may not. If you have chosen someone you dislike or do not know, you will simply have to look past those obstacles to choose them a gift. All students should keep in mind that the purpose of this gift exchange is to build inter-house unity and friendships. Having to buy a gift for someone you don’t like means you must look past that dislike to choose something for them. There will be no buying what you yourself would like, and generic gifts will be frowned upon, is that clear. I have charmed the stocking to take note of the name you have all chosen, so don’t think you can weasel your way out of getting that students something they might actually like,” Professor McGonagall told them, scolding Harry for his question.

“But I got…” Harry’s voice stopped suddenly and he made a gagging sound, clearly suffering the effects of the magic that bound him to keep his recipient a secret.

“Don’t try to tell anyone, Mr Potter. You may only discuss your choice with me. If you keep trying, you will suffer that experience again,” Professor McGonagall chided, looking mildly amused with her own spell-work when Harry made another strangled kind of choking sound.

Hermione sighed heavily, wracking her brain for any information she had stored away on Draco Malfoy other than that he was an obnoxious, bigoted, pompous git.

She’d taken to stalking him. That’s how bad things had become. Hermione was stalking Draco Malfoy. It was made all the harder to achieve, since she would never usually pay him any attention. She’d actually managed during the past six years to learn to block him out whenever he spoke and whenever she caught sight of his white-blonde hair.

It was terribly difficult to break the habit of turning the other way when she saw him and of tuning out his voice whenever he spoke. It was also practically impossible to follow him around without drawing attention to her actions.

Everyone in the castle had been on edge for days as they grew paranoid of having others following them. Just yesterday Susan Bones had broken into a fit of hysterical tears during Charms when she’d become convinced that Pansy Parkinson was stalking her, accusing the pug-nosed witch of following her and purposely getting herself assigned to sit with Susan for the class. The stress was getting to people and Hermione herself had noticed that it was hard not to be suspicious.

To throw suspicion off herself she’d been making use of everyone’s paranoia to more effectively conceal who she was stalking. She’d spoken to so many students she’d never really encountered before that she couldn’t help but reel from the information overload. Luna had accused Hermione of being a flip-flopper earlier that morning when Hermione had gone out of her way to make a conversation with the boy of Entwhistle in her year. The usually prejudice Ravenclaw boy had glared at her suspiciously when she’d asked him if he’d been enjoying his classes this year and what his plans were when he graduated.

One interesting result of the Secret Santa was that students were being more open. Where in the past the boy of Entwhistle might’ve told Hermione to mind her own business or even sneered at her for her blood, he’d reluctantly told her. Everywhere she went Hermione heard students giving away information about themselves to others in the hopes of receiving a better gift. She’d taken to passing on to others all she learned of everyone she spoke to as well, all in the hopes that the Secret Santa of the new acquaintances and friends she’d made would overhear what she’d learned.

Ron was taking terrible advantage of the situation. He clearly hoped to be given something he would like, so he’d taken to carrying on loud conversations with Harry about his favourite Quidditch team – the Chudley Cannons – and to complaining loudly about supposedly having run out of sugar mice – his favourite Honeydukes sweet. Hermione would admit it was rather funny to watch him do so. Others had begun adopting the same strategy.

It was even more fun to watch the lengths of subterfuge that some students would go to in order to learn things about their victim. Hermione had begun thinking of Malfoy as her victim. She never spoke to him, in fact she rarely even looked at him whenever anyone might catch her at it. But she paid attention nonetheless.

Yesterday’s Charms lesson – when Susan had grown hysterical with paranoia – Hermione had somehow managed to get herself partnered with Malfoy. She hadn’t even really begun to think about what she could do to glean information from him in that particular class and yet she’d suddenly found herself sitting next to him. Or rather, he’d sat next to her.

Stalking him was not at all an easy feat. In the spirit of the event Dumbledore had granted students permission to attend Hogsmeade on the weekends leading up to Christmas and that was where Hermione found herself. She’d left the boys behind at the Three Broomsticks when they’d all agreed to do some spy-work on their intended victims and she’d wandered out in the streets in hope of finding Malfoy.

The entire idea unsettled her. Ordinarily finding Draco Malfoy was not a good thing and never a task she undertook. Trying to locate him amid the rabble of students wasn’t easy either. At least, it wasn’t until she’d walked into Honeydukes and spotted him. At least his platinum blonde hair was a notable feature. She’d been only vaguely hoping he might be inside the shop when she’d gone in, and in fact she’d come in more intent on buying herself a packet of sugar quills than on finding Malfoy.

Hermione had a nasty habit of chewing her quill when she was nervous or stressed and she desperately needed to buy the sweets to replace her own tattered quill. That way she could chew the lolly version whilst properly using the writing version. She also needed to replace her quill. She was very annoyed with herself in fact. She’d chewed the feathery instrument clean through and now ink often leaked out the top.

It made a terrible mess in her bag and was quite annoying to clean up after. Not to mention it made writing practically impossible. Jostling her way through the many students inside the shop, Hermine watched Malfoy out the corner of her eye. He was loitering in front of the Dolly Mixture jars, seeming to consider the idea of buying some Sour Apple Bites and some Pepper Imps.

How interesting.

Having gleaned that little bit of information, Hermione turned her attention to the packet of sugar quills she was buying, making sure to grab two packets. She knew she’d need them. When she’d paid for them Hermione left Honeydukes.


Chapter 3: Chapter 3: Mistletoe Mishap
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                                                                                                       Chapter 3: Mistletoe Mishap

She sang softly to herself, crooning the lyrics of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” She’d always loved the holidays and the sight of Hogsmeade decked to the halls was one that made her smile so wide her cheeks ached. Everywhere she looked Christmas trees glittered in windows and store-fronts. Strands of festive lights had been wrapped around every lamp post and strung between every building.

When she went into Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop, Christmas carols were playing loudly. She browsed the shelves cheerfully, stopping to pick up and admire some of the many fancy quills for purchase. She stopped when she came across a simple owl-feather quill. It had been dyed a soft shade of pinky-purple, the shaft decorated with several small snowflake jewels. It was simply lovely and despite the price, Hermione decided to treat herself. She couldn’t resist picking up a Christmas themed quill that was on special when she went up to pay.

She was preoccupied with placing the pair of new quills inside her bag alongside her packets of sugar quills and Hermione didn’t realise she was about to walk right into someone until it was too late.

“Oi! Watch where you’re going!” an all too familiar voice drawled, strong hands coming up to grip her shoulders and push her back to arm’s length.

“Malfoy?” Hermione asked, blinking in shock at literally running into the boy.

“Watch it, Granger,” he warned her, levelling one of his smirks her way.

Movement in the corner of her eye sent Hermione skittering backwards in horror, a gasp leaving her lips. Her eyes went wide at the sight he made in the doorway and Hermione could only feel thankful she’d reacted quickly enough to keep from being ensnared.

“Scared of me Granger?” he asked smugly at her reaction.

“Not at all,” Hermione disagreed, “Though I must admit, I’m amused.”

“Amused?” he asked, narrowing his eyes a little bit.

Hermione pointed in silence, watching with a sense of glee when he tipped his head back to stare in horror at the sight of a large frond of mistletoe growing above his head. Hermione had skittered away fast enough that she hadn’t become trapped along with him, but Draco Malfoy was entirely stuck. And would remain that way until someone took pity on him and kissed him to set him free.

“Oh Salazar’s bloody hat!” he exclaimed, anger marring his features.

Hermione began to giggle when he pulled out his wand and shot a burning hex at the mistletoe. All he succeeded in doing was making the plant scatter the snow-white berries all over his head. Hermione laughed harder when one hit him in the eye.

“Knock it off, Granger,” he warned her furiously when Hermione doubled over with laughter.

“Why don’t you try vanishing it next?” she choked out, knowing that Vanishing it would make it start to sing.

When Malfoy took her word for it, clearly not knowing much about magical mistletoe, Hermione cried with glee, tears of mirth trickling down her face. She had to grip the nearest display shelf just to keep her balance she was laughing so hard while the obnoxious little plant began shrilly singing Frosty the Snowman.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake!” Malfoy snarled, looking horrified and utterly wrathful.

Hermione could barely see for laughing.

“I don’t know what you’re bloody laughing at Granger,” he told her, levelling a glare in her direction when he realised there was only going to be one way for him to get out of the doorway and out from under the ensnarement of the wicked little plant.

“You’re stuck,” Hermione chortled, “And no one ever comes in here.”

“And guess what Granger?” he said and Hermione glanced at him, noticing that though he looked annoyed about being laughed at he also looked mildly amused by the fact that she was literally hooting with laughter.

“What?” she managed eventually.

“This is the only way in or out of Scrivenshaft’s,” he pointed out helpfully, “Which means that unless you want to stay in here forever, you’re going to get just as stuck as I am…. Unless you snog me.”

“Ew,” Hermione wrinkled her nose at him, a feeling of horror sweeping through her as she glanced around the store. The elderly store cloak smiled at her helpfully, “Excuse me sir, is there another exit I could use?”

“Sorry, dear,” the old man apologised, “The lad’s right. That door’s the only way in or out. You want to get out of here, you’ll have to kiss him or stay here until someone else comes by.”

“Maybe I could go out the window?” Hermione asked, gesturing to the front display window.

“They don’t open, love. Magically sealed since Merlin only knows how long.”

“Oh no,” Hermione said, covering her face with her hands in horror.

Surely this couldn’t be happening?

“Serves you right for laughing at me, and telling me to Vanish it so it would make this bloody racket!” Malfoy sneered at her, leaning in the doorway and looking entirely too smug for his own good.

“Oh, it serves me right?” Hermione asked, her temper flaring immediately, “You realise that unless someone else happens to wander down here you’re going to have to snog me, right Malfoy? What would you Father say about that?”

She clicked her tongue disapprovingly and Malfoy lost his smirk.

“This is all your bloody fault!” he accused, “If you’d been paying attention we wouldn’t have crashed into one another and this stupid plant wouldn’t have done this!”

“As if you’re not able to pay attention to your surroundings to avoid walking into a distracted person on the way into a store?” Hermione retorted, rolling her eyes at his rudeness.

“Leave off, Granger,” he told her, turning around in the hopes of spotting someone he could flag down to get them both out of this. Hermione suspected he was wasting his time. No one ever came to Scrivenshaft’s unless they needed a new quill and the shop was on one of the streets off High Street. Given how much freedom they’d all been given to come to Hogsmeade this year, Hermione doubted very strongly that anyone else would be in need of new quills this close to Christmas.

“Well, this is going to be a long wait,” Hermione sighed, an idea prickling her psyche,

“Might as well do something with the time…. So, what brings you here Malfoy?”

“I need a new quill, what do you think?” Malfoy retorted aggressively, spinning back to her face her and looking annoyed with her for asking.

“Well obviously. What happened to yours?” Hermione asked him curiously, wondering what he’d done to his.

“You first,” he told her, “Since you clearly needed some new ones too.”

“I chew mine,” Hermione shrugged, “Chewed clean through the last one when I ran out of Sugar Quills and it was making an awful mess.”

“Goyle sat on mine,” Malfoy told her, looking kind of grossed out by the notion of quill-chewing.

“That poor quill,” Hermione sighed before she could think of it, the horror of imagining anything being sat on by Goyle making her blurt it out before she could consider that she was being rude. Malfoy snorted at her comment when her cheeks turned pink.

They eyed each other in silence for a few minutes after that.

“So…” Hermione said, “Who’d you get for Secret Santa?”

“You know I can’t tell you,” Malfoy replied, looking amused and quizzical simultaneously. He was eyeing her as though he was simply waiting for her to crack and take pity on them both enough to snog him so they could get out of this mess.

“Bu you can divulge some things, I’ve found. For example, Ginny and I discovered you can share the gender of the recipient and say whatever you like about them as long as it doesn’t give anything about their identity away,” Hermione pointed out, grinning, “My recipient is positively awful.”

“That seems to have been the general consensus with this ridiculous idea,” Malfoy nodded, “Everyone I know was grumbling about having to find something for who they were given. I reckon Dumbledore put some charm on that stocking to pair people who don’t get on so that they have to cooperate and look at each other differently to buy the ruddy gift.”

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised,” Hermione sighed, realising that was probably in fact that case. She wouldn’t put it past Dumbledore to do just that, “I take it you got someone awful too then?”

“You have no idea,” he answered darkly, looking away again to see if there was anyone on the street he could lure into setting him free.

“Are you going home for Christmas?” Hermione asked nonchalantly, returning to browsing the shelves. The mistletoe was growing even shriller, now singing Jingle Bell Rock in a terrible high-pitched squeak. It was setting her teeth on edge and she could feel the tension in the room spike the longer she refused to let Malfoy loose.

“Not this year,” Malfoy answered and Hermione pretended she couldn’t feel the weight of his heavy gaze on her as she browsed the many fancy quills, “What about you?”

“I usually always go home for Christmas,” Hermione told him, looking up from the eagle feather quill she was admiring and meeting his gaze, “My parents like to spend the holidays with me after not seeing me for the rest of the year. I usually spend Christmas morning with them before joining Harry and Ron wherever they are…. But this year they’re away on business. I expect I’ll stay if Harry and Ron do.”

“You spend all your time with those two,” Malfoy nodded, “Don’t you ever get tired of them?”

“Not really,” Hermione admitted, unsure why she was sharing anything with him other than that she was already getting bored standing around in the store and in a rare fit of enthusiasm for the trip, had neglected to pack a book.

“You fight with them,” he pointed out.

“Of course I fight with them. They’re a pair of teenage boys who sometimes forget their manners and their sense. But that doesn’t mean I’d ever walk away from my friendship with either of them. It just means we’re close enough friends that I can forgive them when they upset me and vice versa.”

“Are you going to hold out long?” he asked as the mistletoe above his head switched to singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer at such a pitch that it made a headache prickle behind Hermione’s eyes.

“Is that you’re way of asking me to snog you, Malfoy?” Hermione asked him, shooting him a sly glance.

“Would you just get it over with? We’re never going to get out of here if you don’t,” he complained, before making the mistake of trying to silence the singing plant.

“No, don’t!” Hermione said, taking a step towards him but it was too late. The mistletoe hurled more snowy berries down on Malfoy’s head before it sang even louder, switching to a deep baritone that resonated so loud the windows rattled.

“Oh bloody hell!” Malfoy groaned, putting his hands over his ears and staring at Hermione in horror. Hermione aimed her wand at the sprig and tried Vanishing it again, causing it to switch back to the high pitch singing.

“Don’t do that again,” Hermione scolded the boy under the mistletoe.

“How the bloody hell was I supposed to know it would do that?” he asked, scowling at her.

“Don’t you know anything about mistletoe in the magical world?” Hermione asked him.

“Since I’ve never been unfortunate enough to get stuck under it for more than a few minutes before, no. Not really.”

Hermione rolled her eyes and went back to browsing the quills.

“If you’re going to be difficult about this, could you at least get my quills for me?” he asked a little while and a lot of unkind muttering later. Hermione glanced over at him to see he was holding a small bag of coins out towards her hopefully.

“You want me to buy things for you?”

“Well I can’t buy them myself since you’re being bloody difficult,” he protested, “So take the coins and do it, would you?”

“Do you know which quill you want?” Hermione asked him curiously.

“That blue one over there,” he pointed, “And a black one of the same.”

Hermione walked over and picked them up.

“I take it you like blue then?” she asked curiously.

“What’s it to you?” he asked suspiciously.

“Nothing to me, but I’m sure whichever unfortunate soul got you for Secret Santa will be interested to know and I’m not above sharing.”

“I thought I caught you distributing personal information about everyone the other day,” he nodded, narrowing his gaze a little.

“Well it’s not like it’s easy to pull this Secret Santa business off,” Hermione shrugged, “And I know that I’d like to be given something I actually like, rather than something generic and silly. Anything you’d like me to pass along to whoever got stuck with you?”

“How do I know you’re not just asking because you’re my Secret Santa?” Malfoy asked.

Hermione smiled slyly.

“How do you know I’m not?” she challenged, “Though I’m sure that if I were I wouldn’t be so direct as to actually walk up and ask you what you like.”

“No, I imagine you’d skulk around and spy, badly,” Malfoy replied, smirking too, “But fine, go ahead and share with whoever you like that for my gift I’d prefer something of a surprise. Something useful that hints to who my Secret Santa is.”

“We all want that,” Hermione rolled her eyes at him, “You’ll have to be more specific. Like about who your favourite author is or your favourite Quidditch team or food or something.”

“But if I do that I’ll just be given something random that I’ve most likely already been given in the past or bought for myself,” Malfoy pointed out sounding entirely too pompous for his own good.

“So suggest something you don’t have, something you actually want,” Hermione told him, “And throw me that so I can pay for these. I’m not fool enough to come close enough to touch you. If I do I’ll be trapped too.”

“You’re too smart for your own good, Witch,” he accused her and Hermione realised he’d asked her to pick the quills he wanted to try and trap her under the mistletoe right along with him.

“Did you doubt that prior to now?” Hermione rolled her eyes again, catching the coin-purse when he tossed it to her.

“Smugness doesn’t suit you Granger,” Malfoy informed her, leaning in the doorway while Hermione moved over to pay for the quills he wanted with his money. The old man running the store looked entirely amused by the proceedings and Hermione was practically choking on the tension in the room. It was thick and stifling, pressing in on her as she came to the realisation that she really wasn’t going to be able to avoid kissing him unless she stayed in the shop for hours on end. Already an hour had passed. Her friends would be looking for her soon.

“I’ll leave it to you then,” Hermione told him without looking at him.

“A wise choice. What about you then?” Malfoy asked, “What are you hoping to be given?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it, to be honest,” Hermione said, startled by the question,

“I suppose something personalised would be nice. Something that would show that my Secret Santa had actually participated and tried to find out what I wanted.”

“That doesn’t narrow it down,” he answered.

“Hence why your answer was so unhelpful.”

“Well what do you like? I mean, you don’t wear jewellery as far as I can see, and you aren’t interested in Quidditch or other wizarding games like chess. So beyond books, what makes Hermione Granger tick?” he asked nosily and Hermione smiled. Thus far no one had asked her what she wanted. At least, no one other than her friends who would be buying for her anyway.

“Just because I don’t often wear jewellery doesn’t mean I don’t like it. But other than books I like what you would probably call old crone interests. I like to knit things. And I like trying exotic flavours of tea. When I’m at home, I bake…. But beyond that I just really do love books,” Hermione told him, not caring that he would most likely laugh at her.

“You’re boring, in other words,” he needled though he grinned a little and Hermione suspected he was trying to soften the blow rather than simply trying to hurt her.

“By some people’s standards,” Hermione answered, “So go on, tell me what you’re interested in then, if you think I’m boring.”

“Quidditch,” he shrugged, “But fan memorabilia is dull. I have too much of the Wasps stuff anyway. Potion making. Wand making. I actually don’t mind books either. I like knowing how things tick. I pull them apart and put them back to find out how they work.”

Hermione realised then that if he’d been born a muggle, Malfoy would most likely have been a mechanic, or maybe an engineer

“How fascinating,” Hermione murmured and she felt a prickle of unease to know that despite her utter distaste for him and all he represented within the wizarding world, some of her dislike faded to learn that about him.

“Isn’t it?” he asked dryly and Hermione could tell from the evil glare he shot the mistletoe above his head that he was getting a headache. Hermione knew she was, anyway.

She was going to have to bite the bullet and get this over with, Hermione realised. She was sick of standing around in the store and the afternoon was beginning to wane. She had things she needed to do, confound it all and that infernal singing coming from the wretched plant was not at all making it any easier to just wait around for someone else who’d be willing to kiss Malfoy.

Before she could think better of it or give him any warning, Hermione squared her shoulders and marched forwards until she was well inside Draco Malfoy’s personal space. She went up on her toes, the hand holding his coin-purse and items pressing them into his hold even as she brushed her lips against his surprised pair. It was brief, barely a touch of flesh upon flesh, and yet Hermione felt a strange tingle run all the way through her down to her toes and back up again.

She meant to pull away after that. To brush his lips with hers, pull away and be off about the rest of her day as though none of this had happened, but it seemed both the mistletoe and Malfoy weren’t having any of that. Before she could take a step back, she felt his free hand curl up to cup her cheek and Malfoy pushed away from the wall where he’d been leaning. Hermione made a surprised squeak of protest when he nipped her lower lip gently before taking advantage of her shock to sweep his tongue into her mouth. He tangled it with her own tongue skilfully, the hand clutching his belongings curling around her waist and pulling her closer.

Standing there with her eyes closed and his lips pressed so intimately to hers, Hermione forgot for just a moment that he was a pureblood and she a muggle-born. She forgot that he was probably a Death Eater and she an Order member. She forgot he was a Slytherin and she a Gryffindor. He snogged her soundly, well exceeding the requirement for the mistletoe overhead to desist its Merlin-cursed singing.

Vaguely she was aware of the wretched plant spitting more berries, flowers and leaves all over the pair of them as it fell apart now that its magic had been spent. Dimly she was aware of the way Malfoy’s arm on her waist tightened until she was pressed intimately against the full length of his body. On a subconscious level she was aware they were in the doorway to a Hogsmeade store where anyone might happen across them.

But with his tongue tangled around hers so sinfully, Hermione forgot that those things mattered.

When they finally broke apart Hermione wasn’t the only one breathless and wide-eyed. She blinked at Malfoy in bewilderment, trying to regain her wits. As she stumbled backwards he released his hold on her and Hermione almost fell on the stairs of the shop before catching herself.

“Thanks,” Malfoy said in a husky voice, looking as dazed as Hermione felt.

“Yeah,” Hermione uttered before her cheeks darkened as she realised she’d just thanked Draco Malfoy for snogging her. Before he could recover enough to tease her for it, Hermione hurried down the steps and away down the street.

She didn’t look back.

Chapter 4: Chapter Four: Wrapped in Red
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                                                                                                    Chapter 4: Wrapped in Red

Christmas was upon them before Hermione realised it. She was loathe to admit to it, but she’d been in something of a daze since snogging Malfoy under that awful mistletoe. Ginny had teased her about her having snogged someone when Hermione had stumbled up to the girl in Hogsmeade afterwards, her hair all in a mess with sprigs, leaves and berries tangled in it. Hermione hadn’t been able to admit to anyone what she’d done and as far as she knew Malfoy had been just as Mum on the subject.

She was sitting on her bed in the process of trying to put together the gift she’d made him. It felt entirely too odd to be giving him a gift after the snog they’d shared. However, despite the way it made her feel squirrelly, Hermione had gotten together something to give him. She was embarrassed to say she’d exceeded the cap that had been put on the purchases, but there was little to be done about it.

Waving her wand to enlarge the gift box she’d purchased, Hermione compiled the gift she’d assembled for him. She’d been unable to forget the words he’d said about wanting clues to who his Secret Santa could be. Hermione didn’t know why she was bothering but she’d decided she might as well make the most of the game, even if it was Malfoy. And so in the spirit of giving him a clue, Hermione placed the first part of his present in the box.

She’d designed and knitted him a scarf with his family crest on it, using bottle green and black wool of the softest ply she’d been able to find. In one corner, right at the end in tiny letters she’d stitched the words “Secret Santa” followed by the year.

To be on the safe side she’d also bought him a packet of each type of sweet she’d seen him eyeing in Hogsmeade – Pepper Imps and Sour Apple Bites. Hermione would admit she’d also gone a little silly and had tracked down a textbook on the complex lore of Wandmaking in addition to finding the most complicated set of metal puzzles she could find and had added those to the box as well.

When she’d finished placing all four items inside, Hermione penned a simple note.

Dear Draco,
Happy Christmas. You’ll never guess who I am.
Your Secret Santa.

Dropping the note in on top of everything else Hermione used magic to wrap it in plain gold wrapping paper, tying it off with a silver bow on the top. Then, using the scrap of parchment with his name scrawled on it that she’d pulled out of the stocking to pick her recipient, Hermione marked who it was for.

The rest of the gifts she was giving this year – for her friends and family – had already been packaged and wrapped, ready to be taken by an elf to their recipients.

“Dobby?” she asked quietly, smiling when the elf popped into the room next to her.

“Miss Hermione?” Dobby asked, bowing to her despite how often Hermione had asked him not to.

“Hello Dobby, how are you?” Hermione asked him politely.

“Very well, Miss,” Dobby beamed, “We elves is extra busy making the feast for tomorrow what with so many staying over Christmas this year and so many presents to deliver.”

“Oh… well I don’t want to trouble you if your busy with other things Dobby,” Hermione began, feeling bad for even thinking to ask him for assistance.

“Dobby is honoured to serve any friend of Harry Potter’s, Miss Hermione,” Dobby assured her, “How can Dobby be of service?”

“I was hoping you could deliver these presents for me Dobby,” Hermione admitted, waving her hand to the large stack of presents she’d purchased. Having gone overboard for Malfoy’s gift Hermione had felt guilty and bought several things for her friends.

“Dobby would be delighted, Miss,” Dobby assured her, “Dobby will come back when everyone is sleeping and sneak them into their piles.”

“Oh thank you Dobby,” Hermione said, “And don’t forget to stop by and see us all tomorrow, alright? We’ve all got you something too.”

Dobby burst into tears to hear that. Hugging her leg, he promised he would return before he disappeared again.

When Hermione woke on Christmas morning there was a heavy weight pressing down on her feet and she blinked blearily at the sight of so many presents piled on the end of her bed. Her eyes bugged out at the sight of so many of them, the most notable of which was a large rectangular box wrapped in red wrapping paper.

It was tied with a pair of green and white bows and Hermione knew none of her friends would ever have gone to that much trouble with a box. Harry and Ron were usually hard pressed to even get the wrapping paper on properly, and she recognised the wrapping styles of her other friends too. Luna’s gift for her was typically whimsical – the paper appearing to have been painted by the girl herself. Ginny’s rush-job wrapping was also a dead giveaway. Ginny always left her wrapping until the last minute.

Unable to resist the urge to know even a hint about who her Secret Santa was, Hermione reached for the large box eagerly. The rest of her presents she would hold off on opening – as was their tradition – until she could open them with Harry, Ron and Ginny. This however, was something she wanted to open in private. Carefully, Hermione searched the package for any tell-tale notes and was dismayed when she found only the strip of parchment in her own handwriting with her name on it.

She unwrapped the box carefully, untying the fancy bows and peeling back the bright red wrapping. Inside it was a simple white box, but it too bore no giveaway indicators of who her Secret Santa was. Hermione felt a smile pull at the corners of her mouth as she lifted the lid of the box. She had butterflies fluttering in her stomach, wondering who the gift might be from and just what it might be.

Her breath caught at the sight of the things inside the box.

A velvet box filled with sterling silver knitting needles drew her attention first. There were seven pairs of needles in different sizes and the silver gleamed brilliantly.

Hermione’s heart raced inside her chest. There was no way whoever had bought her this gift had stuck to the suggested monetary cap.

In addition to the needles, the eagle-feather quill she’d admired in Scrivenshaft’s store could be found among the collection of gifts. A packet of sugar quills could be found inside, along with twelve enormous balls of the softest and most wonderful wool she’d ever laid eyes upon. It was in an eye catching shade of pale purple and Hermione wondered how her secret Santa had learned that mauve was her favourite colour. She couldn’t remember ever telling anyone so.

Hermione was so overwhelmed with the gift that she almost missed the small velvet box of pristine black.

Tucked in beneath the sweets and the wool, it was easy to overlook. She brushed her fingers over it, her stomach swooping strangely at the sight. The feel of the velvet beneath her fingertips prickled goosepimples across her skin and she picked the small box up with trembling hands.

She was afraid to open it.

Swallowing harshly, Hermione bit her lip as she pried the lid up the reveal the treasure nestled within and she dropped the box in shock at what lay inside.

Glinting at her from within the ring-box was a large emerald ring. If she had to guess she’d say it was set in white gold. The emerald itself was rectangular, flanked either side by what appeared to be small diamonds. The green gemstone was the size of the nail on her pinky finger and Hermione couldn’t breathe.


Who could possibly have gone to such lengths to learn what she liked?

Who could have afforded to give her such a fantastically expensive gift?

Hermione could think of no one she knew who would ever go to such lengths to purchase her a gift. Her friends certainly wouldn’t, and there was no one else in the school she could think of that had the type of money to afford such expensive things for an anonymous stranger. At least, none who would willingly buy such expensive things for her. The only people with that kind of money that Hermione knew of were some of the old pureblood families and none of them would ever buy a lowly muggle-born like her such a gift.

Yet someone certainly had. She couldn’t deny that. Hermione bit her lip almost fearfully as she touched the cool metal of the ring, prying it loose of the box where it had been kept. She almost couldn’t bear the thought of trying it on. She would have to return it. It simply wouldn’t do to hang onto such an extravagant gift. Surely she’d been given such lovely things by accident?

Yet, the urge to try it on for size and admire the large rock glinting on her finger was undeniable.

Hermione squeaked with concern when she tried it against both her middle fingers unsuccessfully. She bit her lip, glancing about her bed with its drawn curtains carefully before indulging the hopelessly romantic side of herself and slipping the ring onto her wedding-ring finger. The cool metal heated quickly to match her skin temperature, and it slipped snugly over her flesh to rest snuggled against her knuckle like any proper ring would.

The sight of it on her finger made her insides flip-flop wildly and Hermione scolded herself for being so silly as to try it on for size. The fact that it was a perfect fit was surely coincidence alone. She admired the ring on her finger for merely a moment, before closing her hand around it and trying to remove the jewellery.

Hermione felt her heart leap into her throat in panic when the rock and metal wouldn’t budge a bit. Not even a little. She could turn it to some extent to view it at different angles, but the rock wouldn’t move away from her knuckle. It remained stubbornly snug against her skin, glittering in the early morning light.

Sweet Merlin what was she going to do?

Hermione cursed, tugging on the ring and trying to move it. It simply refused to slip back off her finger. She noted that it wasn’t due to poor sizing either. The ring didn’t slide up to her first knuckle before becoming stuck. It wouldn’t move at all from the ordinary place were any regular woman might wear her promise ring.

Giving up on tyring to remove it when she couldn’t budge it an inch, Hermione seized the box it had come in, tearing out the pillow where the ring rested in the hopes of locating some explanation. It had to be a charmed ring. That was the only explanation.
Her blood ran cold when she came across the package information.

Qunitonians Promise Rings
By the donning of this ring on the ring finger, the witch in question becomes bound by the promise of the ring. The item cannot be ever removed, just as the promises made can never be broken. May you find your happiness.

There was nothing else, except the logo of the company that manufactured the rings.
Godric, she was doomed!

What kind of barmy git would have purchased her a promise ring?

Burrowing through the box once more, Hermione frantically searched for something that might indicate who had given her the gift, hoping they might know how in Merlins boots she was going to get the ring back off her finger. Right at the very bottom, buried under everything else, Hermione uncovered a strip of parchment that made up a hand written note.

I imagine by now you’re panicking. Good luck getting that ring off your finger, Hermione. You’ll be stuck with it forever unless you can work out who I am. Happy Christmas.

It hadn’t been signed.

There was nothing to indicate who had even written the note. The handwriting was loopy and elegant, but she didn’t recognize it. Who did she even know who would think something like this was funny?

Panicking, Hermione leapt out of bed, reaching for her clothes quickly. She made sure to pull on some gloves to conceal the ring on her finger, not at all fancying having to explain this mess to her friends should they spot it. As desperately as she wanted to, Hermione realised she was going to have to be careful with how she went about fixing this matter.

She didn’t want to go drawing any unnecessary attention to her predicament. She was embarrassed just thinking about having anyone find out. Surely the information would be easy enough to find. She just needed to use the clues she’d been given to work out who could possibly have bought her such a gift. She would start by working out who knew she like knitting; who knew her favourite colour; and who would have enough money to have pulled this gift off.

What she wouldn’t do was involve her friends in this mess. Which meant she was going to have to spend the day pretending she was just like everyone else. Gathering together the remainder of her presents from friends and family, Hermione marched out of her room, wishing everyone she saw a Happy Christmas and feigning indifference to the ring that somehow felt heavy on her finger.

Chapter 5: Chapter 5: Snow Fort
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                                                                                                                Chapter 5: Snow Fort

“Are you alright Hermione?” Harry asked her a few hours later when they’d all finally gotten through the present opening part of the morning and were lounging around in Harry and Ron’s dormitory just waiting to head to the Great Hall for lunch.

“Huh?” Hermione asked, drawn from her thoughts of who could possibly be her Secret Santa.

“I asked if you’re alright?” Harry said, looking slightly amused by her bewildered expression, “You’ve seemed rather distracted all morning. Is everything alright?”

Hermione bit her lip, glancing at Ginny and Ron, who’d fallen to eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and laughing over the effects. Neville was looking on as well, having looked up from the game of wizard’s chess he and Harry were having with the new chess set Harry had bought Neville for Christmas.

“Oh… yes, I’m fine Harry…” Hermione answered, her face heating with a blush, “I’ve been trying to work out who my secret Santa could be. They didn’t tell me in their note.”

“Oh, I completely forgot to ask you what you got,” Ginny exclaimed, looking curious, “I got a broom servicing kit from my secret Santa. They didn’t write who they were, but I’m beginning to think it might’ve been Theodore Nott. I caught him skulking around me a bunch of times this week.”

“I… erm… I got some sugar quills and an eagle-feather quill I was admiring the other day,” Hermione admitted, biting her lip and deciding against mentioning the wool, the knitting needles and the ring on her finger.

“Pretty generic as far as hints go,” Harry nodded, “My Secret Santa was Flora Carrow. She bought me this.”

Harry held up a fancy looking cloak that would look undoubtedly fantastic on him.

“How do you know it was her?” Ginny asked and Hermione caught the mildly possessive gleam in Ginny’s eyes as she looked at Harry.

“She signed the note with her name on it, telling me that if the robes didn’t fit to see her and she’d have them altered appropriately. I was a little surprised, to be honest,” Harry answered, blushing a bit.

“Do they fit?” Ron wanted to know.

“Perfectly,” Harry admitted and Hermione wondered at the way Harry looked away as though embarrassed by that fact. She resolved to ask him about it later, sensing there was some story there.

“What’d you get Ron?” Ginny asked nosily.

“A Cannons flag,” Ron answered, holding up the enormous flag cheerfully, “And a bag of sugar mice.”

“Any idea who they’re from?” Harry asked, clearly pleased that he was no longer the centre of attention.

“Not a clue. Anyone could’ve heard me saying that I liked both these things,” Ron admitted with a shrug, “All the note said was to have a Happy Christmas and was signed by my Secret Santa.”

“Well that’s what you get for blabbing to everyone what you wanted.”

Ron shrugged again, “I don’t really care who they’re from. They’re decent gifts and that’s good enough for me.”

“You don’t want to know who gave them to you?” Hermione asked, wondering how he could not care.

“If it’s important to whoever they are, they’ll let me know, I suppose. Otherwise it was just part of the fun and now it’s done,” Ron said, totally blasé about the whole ordeal.
Hermione wanted to throttle him, though mostly that was a misdirection of her fury with whoever her Secret Santa was.

“Come on, let’s go to lunch,” Neville said a while later, “I’m starving and I bet there will be people everywhere wanting to find out which of us are their secret Santa.”

Until that moment, Hermione had completely forgotten that she’d bought a gift for Draco Malfoy and sent it off to him. She wondered idly if he liked it and she found herself mortified when, unbidden, the memory of the snog they’d shared under the mistletoe surfaced within her mind. She’d been trying very hard since the incident not to think about what had happened and she’d gone out of her way to avoid him.

It hadn’t been easy either, considering she still had to think about him enough to gather together the present she’d given him. Funny how now it seemed almost inconsequential in the light of the Promise ring stuck on her finger that Hermione couldn’t remove.

“Are you ever going to take those gloves off?” Ron wanted to know, wandering along beside her into the Great Hall, “It’s not really cold enough to need them.”

“I’m still chilly,” Hermione lied, her cheeks turning pink.

“Whatever you say,” Ron shrugged. He seemed in an entirely cheerful mood and Hermione wished she could be as well. She just couldn’t. Not with the enormous rock weighing on her finger heavily and the problem it posed weighing on her mind. What was she going to do?

She’d been wracking her brain, trying to think of anyone who might’ve been able to pull off the gift she’d been given and she was drawing a blank. The only person who knew that she specifically liked mauve, rather than simply the colour purple was her mother and perhaps Ginny. However neither of them could be her secret Santa. Her mother was obviously not a student and Ginny was a Gryffindor. The only person who knew she’d like the eagle feather quill could be Malfoy, but he would never spend so much on the person he referred to as a Mudblood on a regular basis. Even if they had snogged that one time.

The other parts of the gift were also a mystery. It was clear that the buyer had a lot of money. The sterling silver knitting set couldn’t have been cheap and she supposed the wool was something fancy and expensive based on its softness. There were also limited people who knew about her knitting habit. Her friends knew, of course, and it was conceivable to her that they could’ve told others looking for information on her.

“Ginny, did you tell anyone my favourite colour?” Hermione asked the girl as they made their way into the Great Hall.

“Erm….” Ginny said, turning to her and looking thoughtful, “I think I mentioned it to Luna the other day that you prefer mauve, but it wasn’t exactly a private conversation. I suppose we could’ve been overheard.”

Brilliant. There went that lead.

“Why are you so worked up about this business Hermione?” Ginny wanted to know, “It’s just a bit of fun, and besides the gift you got was relatively generic and harmless. Anyone could’ve seen you admiring that quill and anyone who observed you when you’re studying would know about your penchant for sugar quills. Merlin, anyone who’s heard of how much you study probably just assumed those tools would come in handy to you.”

“I need to know,” Hermione answered shortly, her fingers twisting the ring on her wedding finger nervously, turning the metal in circles around and around the digit.

“You worry too much,” Ginny rolled her eyes.

Hermione’s eyes scanned the hall nervously, wondering if her Secret Santa was even still at Hogwarts or if they had gone home to spend the holidays with their families. She couldn’t even begin to guess. As she gazed across the hall, her eyes noting the suspicious glances several other students were shooting their peers she realised she wasn’t alone in wondering who her gift this morning had been from and she hoped fervently that whoever her Secret Santa was, they would be foolish enough or smug enough to slip up.

Her gaze clashed with a pair of stormy grey eyes across the Great Hall. The house tables had today been replaced with one long table to accommodate the smaller number of students who had stayed for the holidays and Malfoy was seated across the table and down the row from where Hermione’s friends dropped into seats. He watched her nonchalantly, and Hermione wondered idly if he knew she’d been his Secret Santa. She supposed her gifts had been a little obvious and a bit of a giveaway, but she no longer cared if he knew it had been her.

She was more interested in finding out who been her Secret Santa. She had to find out how to get this infernal ring off her finger, curse it all. This was no longer a fun game to be indulged in. It was a serious mess that meant she was having to hide things from her friends, including her own hands. Hermione glared at Malfoy for a long moment, noticing idly that he was wearing the scarf she’d knitted for him. If she weren’t so stressed she’d feel smug over that fact.

His all too familiar smirk marred his facial features and Hermione narrowed her eyes on him when he lifted his hand to scratch his nose. Glinting on his middle finger of his left hand was a ring of some kind. She didn’t know why, but that, combined with the way he continued to smirk at her, made her suspicious that even if he wasn’t behind her Secret Santa’s prank, Malfoy was aware of it somehow.

All through her lunch, Hermione glanced at him, trying to work out if he’d picked up on the fact that she’d been his Secret Santa. He gave no indication that he thought she was, though he seemed to be sneaking smirks in her direction whenever she glanced at him inconspicuously.

As the crowd began to disperse towards the grounds after lunch, Hermione was grateful for an excuse to be wearing gloves.

“Snowball fight, anyone?” Harry offered as they strolled the grounds.

Hermione couldn’t help but laugh when Harry suddenly lobbed a snowball at Ginny, catching the girl across the chest and spraying her chin with snow. Running for cover behind a nearby tree, Hermione began rolling snowballs of her own before she peeked out from behind the tree. She ducked back in when Ron hurled a snowball at her. Lobbying the boy with snowballs, Hermione giggled when she heard a thwack followed by Ron cursing.

Gathering up her missiles and risking a break for it so as to not be pinned down, Hermione raced for a nearby rock. She lobbed a snowball at Harry, hissing when Ginny caught her hip with a snowball. Harry returned fire and managed to hit both Hermione and Ginny before pelting a snowball at Neville.

Neville seemed to have a knack for snowball making, but a lousy throwing arm and Ginny was taking advantage. The pair had scraped together a snow fort and Ginny was showering everyone with snowballs. From behind her rock, Hermione was making a collection of her own, routinely poking her head out to hurl the missiles at her friends. She laughed when she caught Luna with one and was lining up to pelt Harry again when something drew her eyes.

A ways beyond their battlefield, Hermione spotted Draco Malfoy and a couple of his cronies also out enjoying the snow and the opportunity was too good to pass up. Gathering up some of her snowballs, Hermione ducked out from behind her rock long enough to pelt the Slytherins with snowballs.

“Ha! Take that you slick gits!” Hermione heard Ron shout and she watched on gleefully when one of her snowballs whacked into Malfoy’s cheek with a wet smack while another hit Goyle square in the nose.

Ron and Harry, and indeed all those in the snowball fight seemed to take their cue from her, all of them turning on the Slytherins, who looked furious at first before falling to making their own snowballs and snow forts. Hermione hurled her missiles indiscriminately, not caring if she hit friend or foe.

When she ran out of snow behind her rock she made a break for a nearby embankment where some drifts had gathered. Her lack of discrimination was making comrades out of enemies and Hermione shrieked when she spotted Harry in a snow fort alongside Theodore Nott, pelting Ron and Pansy Parkinson with snowballs.

Someone – Goyle from the weight of the throw – lobbed a snowball at her hard, and Hermione giggled gleefully when she dove behind the embankment.

She was gathering snowballs and lobbing them blindly until she heard the slushy sound of footsteps coming her way. Malfoy came racing over the edge of the embankment in time for Hermione to pelt him with snowballs, and Hermione took great delight in doing so.

Until he tackled her into the snow to cease her fire.

“Quit it, Granger!” he growled when they rolled down the embankment. He’d collided with her hard enough to topple her to the ground and Hermione was winded when she found herself lying in the snow beneath the blonde haired Slytherin.

“Get off me,” she protested immediately, gathering up and handful of snow and smushing it into his face when he didn’t move fast enough.

“Oi!” he hissed, “Get your own snow fort Granger!”

“I was here first,” Hermione protested, not about to let him have her fort. She’d been digging into the thick snow on the embankment steadily, using the excess snow to build a shield and more missiles.

Before Malfoy could reply a lobby of snowballs came their way and Hermione cursed when she and Malfoy knocked heads diving behind the shield she’d built.

“Bloody Crabbe and Goyle,” Malfoy cursed when he noticed the size of the snowballs, “Granger, pass me that snowballs.”

Hermione didn’t even think before handing it over, realising suddenly that he could use her own missiles against her. He didn’t. He poked his head out and lobbed the snowball with all the fury of a raging Bludger at someone. Hermione giggled when she heard Goyle swear.

Another volley fell upon them, this time from where she’d last seen Ron and Pansy paired together behind their own fort, followed by Ginny and Neville.

“Damn it, they saw me run down here and they’re all targeting me,” Malfoy surmised, “Alright Granger, we team up. You make these nastily hard little snowballs and I’ll hurl them!”

“You expect me to pair up with you?” Hermione demanded, ready to argue.

She got caught across the face with a snowball for her trouble too and heard Harry’s triumphant laugh at her resulting shriek.

“Build you own snowballs,” Hermione commanded of Malfoy, making several more before poking her head out to volley her friends with missiles. He followed suit, lobbing them from right next to her.

She squeaked when he grabbed hold of her jumper, pulling her down as the others returned fire.

“Help me build this up,” he said letting her go and shoving at the snow to fortify their quickly developing bunker of snow.

Hermione did as she was told.

“We need to draw a feint attack from them before pelting them,” Hermione told him, pulling out her wand, “I’ve got an idea.”

“You’re bringing magic to a snowball fight,” he looked impressed when Hermione waved her wand, conjuring the snow into the shape of a large snow man before duplicating it and sending the snowy soldiers off to be pelted by their friend’s snowballs.

“Hurry and make more,” she told him, “Use your wand to make them, it’s faster.”

While he did that, Hermione set about using magic to better reinforce their fort. She transfigured it from a simple snow pile into an igloo with several closable manholes they could pop out of and lobby people from.

“You’re competitive,” he observed her, watching her when Hermione fell to siphoning snow inside the igloo-fort to make more missiles.

“As if you’re not?” Hermione scoffed, glancing sideways at him.

He didn’t answer. He was too busy sticking his head out one of the holes and pelting their neighbours with snowballs. Hermione joined him a moment later. Malfoy was primarily targeting Harry and Theodore’s fort, which looked rather impressive since she doubted they’d used magic to build it. While he focused on them, Hermione turned her attention to Ginny and Neville. She caught sight of Ginny’s shocked expression when the red-head saw Hermione and Malfoy working together and she paid for the distraction when Crabbe and Goyle pelted her with snowballs.

Hermione lobbed her own snowballs at the pair of oafs, chortling with glee when they looked enraged and mistakenly pelted Pansy and Ron’s fort in retaliation. Harry and Theo were firing back at Malfoy with a vengeance and Ginny joined in, Neville poking his head out. Hermione was almost blindsided when Luna appeared suddenly, accompanied by Terry Boot and Anthony Goldstein, the three of the having abandoned cover.

Hermione grabbed Malfoy’s robes at the back, hauling him back inside the fort and closing the hatch just before their lobby could hit the pair of them. Malfoy laughed when the sound of many missiles raining down on their fort could be heard followed by cursing when nothing happened.

“They’re going to pin us down,” Hermione said when the volleys stopped, “Poke your head out that one over there and hit Crabbe and Goyle’s flank. They all think there’s only the one manhole and are waiting for us to stick our heads out again.”

“It creeps me out to think about Crabbe or Goyle having flanks,” Malfoy informed her, smirking.

“Like Clydesdales,” Hermione giggled.

Malfoy laughed as he did what she’d instructed, “Make some more snowballs would you? I’m nearly out.”

“We need more snow,” Hermione commented, crawling towards the little door she’d made at the back of their fort to siphon in more snow. More volleys could be heard raining down on their fort.

“Yes! Take that Potter!” Malfoy shouted, “I got him in the face!”

In any other circumstance Hermione might’ve hexed him for his behaviour, but all was fair in a snowball fight. They’d made that rule years ago and Harry knew it.

“Hit him again while he tries to clean his glasses,” Hermione suggested, handing the blonde boy more snowballs, “Look out for Ron, he’ll retaliate on Harry’s behalf.”

She warned him too late and Hermione laughed when Malfoy dropped back down inside their fort with a nasty red mark marring his now-wet cheek.

“Bastard’s got a decent arm,” Malfoy grumbled, wiping at his face with the scarf she’d knitted for his present, “So….”

“So?” Hermione asked, surprised by the sudden change in his demeanour and his tone.

“You were my Secret Santa after all?” he accused, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall of their fort nonchalantly, his stormy-grey eyes watching her.

“What?” Hermione asked, hoping the blush on her cheeks would be mistaken for exertion from the snowball fight.

“Do you deny it?” Malfoy asked her, eyeing her strangely.

“What makes you think I’m you’re secret Santa?” Hermione wanted to know.

He eyed her drolly for a moment.

“You told me you knit. And then I was given a hand knitted scarf. Coincidence?”

“It could be a coincidence,” Hermione agreed, “Were you my secret Santa?”

“What makes you ask?” Malfoy replied, his face transforming to a smooth mask of indifference.

“Just tell me if you were Malfoy,” Hermione said, eyeing him.

Before he could answer Hermione heard the sound of running footsteps and she scooted back from the top manhole of their igloo in time to see Theodore Nott’s smug face. He aimed his wand inside the fort for a moment, muttering an incantation, before he shoved a snow drift in on top of Malfoy, who shouted in protest.

“Damn it Theo!” Malfoy shouted, dripping with snowy slush, “I’ll get that bastard for this.”

Hermione wasn’t listening.

“I’m going to kill you,” Hermione told Malfoy in a soft voice, drawing his attention suddenly from his cursing to her face.

“What did I do?” he protested, looking wary suddenly of her flat tone.

Hermione simply pointed, realising with horror that the snow was just a distraction. Theodore Nott was an insidious git. That much was clear.

“Oh for Merlin’s sake! Not again!” Malfoy cursed, following her finger with his eyes to see that Nott had used a charm to cause mistletoe to grow inside their fort directly above their heads.

“Harry must have shared the golden rule of our snowball fights,” Hermione sighed, flopping defeatedly against the wall of the fort.

“What golden rule?” Malfoy asked.

“All’s fair in snowball fights,” Hermione quoted the rule, “I can’t believe he sold me out like this! You realise what this means right?”

“That if we don’t stay stuck in here until they all converge on us, they’ll know we snogged,” Malfoy sighed, “So I guess the question becomes which you think is worse. This fort is killer, so they’ll all be teaming up to weed us out. I bet they’re out there now, banding together, making snowballs to bombard us with. And when they do they’ll never let us live it down.”

“As opposed to having them find out we snogged?” Hermione scoffed, “I think I’d rather live with a snowball fight defeat and some wet clothes.”

“It’s not like you haven’t snogged me before,” he pointed out, looking miffed with her disgusted tone.

“But they don’t know that,” Hermione pointed out.

She eyed Malfoy, noticing that he was eyeing her back.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Hermione told him when he got the same look on his face he’d worn in the quill shop when he’d begun trying to talk her into kissing him.

“I don’t want to be beaten because of something as stupid as mistletoe,” he argued, “Do you?

“I hate being beaten,” Hermione shook her head, “But it will take a lot longer to live down having everyone know I’ve snogged you.”

“It’s just mistletoe Granger,” Malfoy rolled his eyes, “Everyone knows that a snog under the mistletoe doesn’t count for anything. It’s simply an inconvenience with an easy fix.”

“Would your father buy that reasoning when he heard you’d snogged a muggle-born?” Hermione challenged.

“He probably already knows after what happened in Hogsmeade,” Malfoy replied, glancing away darkly, “That old shop keeper probably blabbed about it.”

“Do you really want to risk it?” Hermione asked him, “I know my friends will lose it if they find out.”

“It’s just mistletoe,” he repeated, glancing at her again.

Hermione bit her lip, holding his gaze for a moment. On the one hand, having snogged him once before made her less concerned over doing so again. On the other, her friends would be ridiculous about the matter.

Before she could make up her mind about what she meant to do, Malfoy’s hands curled around her jaw, tilted her face to his and he planted his lips on her. Hermione squeaked in surprise, regretting the sound when his tongue dove into her mouth. His hands pulled at her, dragging her closer, pressing her to him and Hermione gasped when he toppled her right into his lap.

The feel of his lips on hers was electrifying and the same tingles she’d felt the last time she’d kissed him swept through her, engulfing her senses. That could be the only explanation for her not pulling away from him. Hermione closed her eyes at the feel of him nibbling her bottom lip before tangling his tongue with hers once more. She had no explanation for the fact that instead of pushing him away, she found herself threading her fingers into his soft blonde hair.

Hermione didn’t know when it was that she straddled his hips. Or when he’d tangled one hand into her hair. She also didn’t know what he thought he was doing pulling the wet gloves from her hands before removing his own. In all honesty, Hermione could only say he’d bamboozled her with his intensity as he snogged her senseless. She hated herself a little for the needy little whimper he drew from her as he skilfully massaged her tongue with his.

She forgot in that moment that they were in a snow fort surround by their combined group of friends. She forgot those friends would be closing in on them, thinking them sitting ducks trapped beneath some mistletoe. She forgot it all and instead found herself sighing against his lips when she felt his cool hand snake up the back of her shirt, pressing intimately against the bare flesh of her lower back.

She also forgot that there was a back door to their fort. One that was being tugged open.

Chapter 6: Chapter 6: Tis the Season
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                 Chapter 6: Tis the Season

Hermione jerked her face back from Malfoy’s at the feel of the cool draft coming through the slowly opening door to their fort. She blinked at him, wide-eyed in horror for a moment. She was sitting in his lap, her legs straddling his hips intimately and both his hands were inside the back of her shirt.

He looked dazed, his eyes feasting upon her lips the way his mouth had just done. His legs were curled up like a pretzel beneath her and he showed no indication of wanting to let her go. Hermione had to do something. She could see from the way his eyes flashed hungrily and feel from the way his hand gripped her needily that he meant to pull her to him again, to snog her until the feeling inside her shattered.

Before she could think better of it, Hermione reached for a snowball, stuffing it down the back of his shirt.

Malfoy hissed in shock, his eyes snapping wide and his focus returning.

“Fuck!” he cursed, shoving her out of his lap as he squirmed, trying to fish out the hard little snowball under his collar. Hermione ignored his plight in favour of collecting more snowballs. As soon as to door to the fort opened, Hermione began hurling the missiles at their assailants, catching Nott in the face and Harry under the chin. Ron shouted in surprised and returned fire before ducking out of the way of her fury when Hermione lost her temper. Malfoy was still cursing behind her and as she pelted snowballs at everyone outside the door, he did the same.

Kneeling behind her, he lobbed them over her shoulder, catching Pansy in the eye hard enough that the girl cried out and dropped her missiles in favour of falling back. She clutched her eye and whimpered; no doubt it would leave a bruise. Hermione knew the snowballs she made were hard as stone and from such close range, thrown by a furious Draco Malfoy, they were bound to leave marks.

“Bloody hell, Hermione!” Harry shouted when she caught him with one hard enough to crack the lens on his glasses.

Malfoy’s aim was deadly when he took out Harry’s other glasses lens, driving the boy back. Crabbe and Goyle lobbed snowballs back at them, but Hermione hit one of them below the belt with a precisely thrown missile, causing both to fall back in fear. Her hands were going numb from holding the snow without gloves, dimly recalling Malfoy had relieved her of them because they were wet and cold.

The return fire coming from their combined group of friends was hammering against her but Hermione was too furious with the lot of them to care about the pain of being hit by their missiles. She suspected Malfoy was feeling the same way because though he grunted when Ginny caught him on the chin with a snowball, he didn’t stop throwing the snowballs. He had his wand in one hand, waving it to transform the nearby snow into balls, and levitating them close enough to throw.

If Hermione weren’t so busy throwing her own snowballs and being angry with her friends for their mistletoe trick, she’d have been extremely impressed by Malfoy’s magical display.

“Bloody hell, they’re barmy!” Ron shouted when Hermione hurled a snowball in his direction, causing it to explode on his chest and spray his chin with snow.

“Hermione? Truce?” Harry called out, still groping around with cracked glasses. Hermione knew he just wanted her help to mend them because he could never remember the spell to fix them himself.

“You can shove your truce, you bastards!” Malfoy growled in return, jostling her a little with the violence of his throws. Hermione was only grateful Malfoy was left handed, otherwise she was sure their combined throwing out of the small doorway would’ve resulted in them accidentally clobbering each other.

“Blimey, who pissed them off?” Ron wanted to know and Hermione heard Theodore Nott begin to chuckle.

Focusing her efforts, Hermione aimed all of her remaining snowballs at Nott, pelting him with them furiously. She’d never been so furious with anyone in all her life. Not even Malfoy himself, and that really was saying something. The boy gave a shout as they mercilessly hounded him, noticing that Malfoy had copied her and was also aiming exclusively at Nott.

“You lot, come on!” Harry complained, “He’s down.”

Nott was indeed down. Hermione didn’t know if she or Draco had effectively caused him to double over in pain thanks to a well-aimed throw, but he was certainly no longer fighting back and no longer laughing.

“Damn it, Hermione, you win!” Ron grumbled when they finally ran out of snowballs, Malfoy was still making more in case they were needed but everyone else seemed to think the game was over.

Everyone except Luna. Hermione shrieked in shock and heard Malfoy shout in surprise when a bucketful of snow was dumped on the pair of them from above, plummeting through the open door of their fort and slithering under their collars.

Luna giggled.

“Does this mean I win?” the dreamy girl asked and Malfoy growled like an animal before going after her with his snowballs. Hermione cursed when Malfoy got to his feet to pelt Luna, toppling her forwards a little and out the door of their fort.

“I think it’s safe to say Hermione and Malfoy win,” Ginny said dryly when Luna surrendered a few minutes later under Malfoy’s feral attack.

“Damn bloody right we win!” Malfoy growled and Hermione squawked when his arms slithered around her ribs where she was still trying to extricate her legs from where they’d become tangled with his. He lifted her with ease until she was on her feet before he nudged her out the door of their fort.

“Something the matter Draco?” Nott wheezed from his foetal position in the snow, smirking cruelly at Hermione and Malfoy. Hermione realised that he must not have told them what enchantment he’d used to distract them before the rest of the group could mount their ambush.

“I’ll kill you, you bastard,” Draco growled warningly and Hermione hissed in annoyance when he almost knocked her off her feet with his menacing steps towards Nott.

“Bloody hell Malfoy, it was just a friendly match,” Ron rolled his eyes.

Nott laughed at Ron’s words and Hermione felt her cheeks stain pink. She was panting with exertion from their battle and her shoulder was beginning to ache from all the throwing. Her hands were numb.

Turning back towards the fort Hermione glanced at Malfoy, who returned her glance with a glare of annoyance.

“You’re making it worse,” she hissed at him as she stepped around him, intent on retrieving her gloves, “Cool it, Malfoy. Before they all realise.”

He narrowed his eyes on her but Hermione ignored him, tucking a lock of hair behind her ear before crawling back into the fort and snatching up her gloves. She grabbed Malfoy’s discarded pair as well before exiting the fort and stuffing them into his hands.

“Who wants hot chocolate?” Luna asked, clearly still cheerful despite Malfoy’s relentless attack.

“I do,” Ginny piped up, “My hands are freezing.”

“Let’s all have some,” Harry suggested and Hermione was surprised when he included the Slytherins in his grin. He stomped towards Hermione and Malfoy purposefully, both glasses lenses destroyed but still allowing him to see better with them than he could without them.  He handed them to Hermione wordlessly and Hermione sighed before she tapped them with her wand to mend them for him.

“Thanks,” he said, ruffling her hair playfully when she handed the spectacles back to him, “You two make a formidable team. Next battle you can’t be paired.”

Hermione was surprised to hear the compliment and evidently so was Malfoy because he dropped one of his gloves in shock. Harry must’ve been in a particularly cheerful mood to not only have been decent to Malfoy but to have acknowledged their superior snowball fighting abilities.

“Let’s get warm,” Ginny nagged, shivering a little.

Hermione waved her wand to begin drying her clothes, starting with her gloves. When her robes were dry she turned to Harry, waving her wand to dry him too.

“Thanks Hermione,” Harry told her, grinning. Hermione nodded before turning her wand on Malfoy and drying him too. She didn’t know what was going on with the lot of them getting on for the afternoon, perhaps it was simply the Christmas Spirit at work, but she didn’t want to ruin the moment.

Malfoy tensed when she pointed her wand at him, but when his robes began to steam as they heated up and began to dry he looked surprised and then perhaps just a little bit grateful.

“Thanks Granger,” he grunted when his clothes were dry.

Luna, Terry and Ginny were also using their wands to dry themselves and others.

“This is weird,” Pansy announced after a few moments of tense silence as they all began to make their way towards the Great Hall.

“Could you not ruin the moment, Parkinson?” Ron suggested, “Let’s all just be on our best behaviour, have some hot chocolate and enjoy Christmas like normal people.”

Hermione was surprised to hear the suggestion coming from Ron, of all people, but pleased nonetheless when as a group everyone muttered their acquiescence to that notion. She also noted that Malfoy stayed close to her as they all trooped back towards the Great Hall, laughing and talking as group about the battle.

“That was some fort, Granger,” he commented quietly when they fell a little behind the rest of the group all trying to get through the double doors of the castle.

“You’ve got pretty good aim with those snowballs,” Hermione replied, shrugging modestly and offering her truthful opinion.

“You never answered my question, you know?” he pointed out as they crossed the Entrance Hall.

“Which question?” Hermione asked. She didn’t know if he was trying as hard as she was to not even think about the fact that they’d snogged. Again. But she suspected he might be.

“About you being my Secret Santa,” he told her.

“You never answered my question either. Are you my Secret Santa?” Hermione wanted to know, realising suddenly that she still hadn’t donned her gloves.

She pulled them out of her pocket hurriedly and began trying to put them on but before she could Malfoy seized her left hand quickly. He stopped walking, pulling her to a stop too as he tilted her hand in his grip until he could see the emerald and diamonds glittering on her ring finger.  He eyed the rocks for a moment before releasing her hand, his eyes lifting to meet hers.

“Guess you’ll never know,” he smirked down at her and Hermione noticed idly that his lips were swollen from snogging her.

“Malfoy,” Hermione warned in a low voice, “Don’t be a git. Did you pull my name out of that stocking or not. This isn’t funny!”

“If that’s what I think it is, then it’s bloody hilarious,” he told her, his fingers toying with the ring on her hand.

“If you don’t know what it is then you weren’t my secret Santa,” Hermione said through gritted teeth.

He smirked wider at that, clearly enjoying her annoyance.

“I know a promise ring when I see one, Granger. And it’s laughable that you’re wearing one when you don’t even know who it means you’re promised to.”

“Was it you Malfoy? This isn’t some joke. I can’t get the stupid thing off!” Hermione hissed, grabbing his arm tightly when he made like he was going to walk off, chuckling.

“Why would you think it was me?” he wanted to know, his eyes glittering with something Hermione couldn’t name.

“No one else in this place has enough money or enough gall,” Hermione said, her fury growing once more, “Just tell me how to take the damn thing off!”

“They don’t come off Granger, unless the person who gave it to you personally removes it,” he laughed coldly, “And I’m not the only person in Hogwarts with money. You don’t have any other evidence for your accusations?”

“I didn’t tell anyone else I like knitting,” Hermione growled at him, “And you’re the only other person who saw me admiring that eagle feather quill. It had to have been you. I just don’t understand why you would do something this barmy? You realise that if you gave this to me, and I’m wearing it on my wedding finger it makes us practically…”

“Anyone could’ve seen you knitting in the past Granger, you don’t hide it,” Malfoy cut her off, “And maybe whoever was buying your gift just liked the look of some quill.”

“Are you being purposely dense about this?” Hermione demanded in a low voice. Their friends were all gathered together at the table in the Great Hall drinking hot chocolate. She caught of few of them looking in their direction as they argued quietly. Nott looked particularly amused.

“Do you really think I’d buy you a promise ring? You and I despise each other Granger,” he told her coldly.

“We do,” she agreed, “But that doesn’t seem to matter to you whenever you snog me!”

Malfoy narrowed his eyes at her for that.

“You’re more than capable of letting your feelings be known on any matter,” he replied nastily, “And I didn’t hear you protesting.”

“Just tell me!” Hermione snapped, burying her fingers inside her gloves to hide the evidence from everyone else. If it wasn’t Malfoy who’d given her the gift, he would undoubtedly laugh with his friends over the idea of her wearing a promise ring from someone she didn’t even know. If it was him, she had no idea what to make of it all.

His smirk was one of pure wickedness and his eyes glittered with smug amusement as he tapped the back of his gloved-fingers to her under-chin and replied;

“Where would be the fun in that?”

Chapter 7: Chapter 7: Cold Snap
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                                                                                                                 Chapter 7: Cold Snap

Hermione had never been so grateful for cold weather than in the days that followed Christmas day. The day before the rest of the school was due to return after the holidays, she escaped to the library for a reprieve. She was in desperate need of answers. She’d been hiding her hands in her pockets and inside gloves for days and it was getting out of control. Ginny had begun eyeing her strangely and Ron was getting suspicious.

Before she’d told them she was going to the library – knowing none of her friends were likely to want to follow her with school resuming the following day – she’d been ready to throttle Ron for his nosiness. He’d begun plucking at her hands whenever he could, trying to peel her gloves off without her noticing. Hermione was annoyed about the entire matter, not because he was doing anything wrong per se, but because she was getting sick of wearing the infernal things.

She had the ring still glittering cheerfully on her wedding finger and she didn’t know what to do about it. She’d tried owling the company responsible for making the promise ring, requesting more information on the make and the charms used to make them work. She’d been horrified to learn that whatever person had given her the ring was the only one who could remove the ring from her finger – confirming Malfoy’s assertion from Christmas Day.

She wanted to be able to take her gloves off but she didn’t want anyone to see the ring on her finger. If it really came down to it she would simply have to tell them the truth. That she’d tried the infernal thing on and now couldn’t get it off. She just didn’t want her friends to laugh at her. She also didn’t want to see the looks Ginny and Ron would wear at the sight of the expensive gems glittering on her finger.

“Bloody ridiculous,” she muttered to herself grumpily whilst researching the charms the Quintonian Promise Ring company had used to make the ring effective. She’d been most disgruntled to know their charms were irreversible and that the buyer of the ring could also add extra charms to the jewellery at will if they so chose.

“What kind of irresponsible company manufactures something like this?” she continued, grumbling under her breath in her frustration, “Could be given to anyone to trick them into things! Might as well be a bloody binding contract! Utterly preposterous.”

She’d had no further luck locating which dolt had been her secret Santa, though she still suspected Malfoy. She just couldn’t rationalise what would possibly possess him to give her something so… binding. So claiming. So…. Barbaric! For all that they’d had an interesting and cordial Christmas, Hermione knew she and Malfoy were the farthest thing from friends.

So they’d snogged under some mistletoe a couple of times. It was just mistletoe. He’d said so himself. Hermione hated herself for the fact that she’d caught herself staring at him at breakfast that morning. She had been having trouble pushing him from her thoughts after the searing snogs they’d shared. Her suspicions over him being her secret Santa weren’t helping her focus on anything but him and it was doing her head in.

He was a Death Eater for crying out loud!

He was on the side that wanted people like her weeded out of society and killed. And yet he’d snogged her like he couldn’t get enough of her. Hermione admittedly hadn’t snogged many people in her life – the only other boy besides Malfoy being Viktor Krum – but she knew chemistry when she felt it. And loathe as she was to admit it, she and Malfoy had chemistry when they snogged.

She could still feel the tingles that had washed through her whole body the two times Malfoy had snogged her, as though some electrical current inspired by his touch still hummed under her skin. She also couldn’t forget the way he’d snogged her in such a way that she forgot herself. That he’d managed to distract her in the middle of a snowball fight and whilst in public at Hogsmeade enough that she’d simply snogged him back was a feat to be proud of.

That he’d managed to make her forget their hatred for one another for the duration of each snog was also rather disconcerting. She had no idea if he was simply that skilled at snogging or if there was something else at play but she couldn’t deny they had a certain spark. Hermione imagined that if he weren’t such a bigoted git, and if they weren’t from rivalling sides of the brewing war, that in some other life they might’ve had a shot at romance.

Not that she wanted anything romantic with Draco Malfoy. He was a vile git who needed a good box around the ears to sort himself out, but that was none of her business.

“You’re going to chew a hole through your lip if you keep worrying it like that,” a drawling voice informed her and Hermione jerked in surprise at the intrusion. She drew her wand before she could cease the reflex reaction, aiming it at her intruding visitor and startled to find Malfoy leaning against the back of the desk across from the study cubicle she had claimed for herself.

He had his arms folded across his chest and his ankles crossed as he leant there nonchalantly. As always he was dressed in dark robes, his blonde hair hanging into his face stylishly. He had dark circles under his eyes as though he wasn’t sleeping right, Hermione noticed idly. He’d looked awful all year, in fact. She’d noticed it the minute they’d gotten off the train at the beginning of term and he seemed to be getting worse.

“What do you want?” Hermione sneered, annoyed by the very sight of him. She eyed him warily, unnerved that he’d managed to sneak up on her and annoyed at herself for the fact that she’d been thinking about him before he arrived.

“You’re wasting your time trying to find way to wiggle that thing off your finger,” he told her without preamble eyeing her with dark amusement in his eyes. She’d pried her gloves off in the confines of the library, not expecting to be interrupted by anyone and so hoping she could spend a few hours without her stupid gloves.

“Just because there are enchantments on the stupid thing preventing me from removing doesn’t mean I can’t work out how they operate and possibly disable the spells used to keep them in place,” Hermione retorted, “What do you care anyway?”

“Just stop trying to find a way to get it off, would you?” he grumbled, “It’s a wasted effort. That thing won’t come off until the person who gave it to you wants it off.”

“Well I want the bloody thing off now,” Hermione growled.

Malfoy rolled his eyes. “Why?”

“What do you mean why?” Hermione demanded.

“I mean why do you want it off your finger so badly?”

“It’s a promise ring! Given to me by Merlin only knows who. I’m only seventeen! I don’t want to be tied to someone with a promise I didn’t even willingly enter into making because of some stupid prank,” Hermione spat at him, disgusted with his question.

“It’s got nothing to do with you, you do realise that, don’t you Granger?” Malfoy asked, eyeing her like she was barmy.

“Nothing to do with me?” she repeated, “It’s an engagement ring, Malfoy! I’m wearing an engagement ring. On my wedding finger! Do you know what Harry and Ron will say if they see it?”

“It’s a promise ring,” he corrected her with a shake of his head, his posture unchanged, his expression blank and unreadable in the face of her fury. It was lucky Madame Pince had allowed Hermione into the library without supervision or the librarian would be rousing on her for her noise.

“Same thing,” Hermione snapped, furious with him.

“No they’re not,” he told her, quirking an eyebrow at her, “And either way it has little to do with you. Were it a proper engagement ring, then yes, it would relate to you and someone making a promise to be faithful to you and intending to marry you. However, it’s not. It’s just a promise ring. It’s just a symbol of a promise someone has made, to themselves or to you without your knowledge. It’s merely a representation of that promise, whatever it is.”

“You certainly know a lot about it for someone who claims he had nothing to do with this mess,” Hermione accused, glaring at him malevolently, “What are you doing here anyway? Stalking me?”

“I knew you’d be here,” he shrugged, ignoring her accusation.

Hermione glared at him in silence after that and he stared back at her unflinchingly.

“You never told me why you want it off your finger,” he said finally after several heavy, tense minutes of mutual hatred.

“Because it’s offensive. Merlin only knows what it’s supposed to represent.”

“That’s true,” Malfoy conceded, “It could mean anything. For all you know it could be the representation of a promise to kill you. Maybe whoever gave it to you only means to remove it when they decide to murder you. What were you doing putting in on your wedding finger?”

“What do you bloody think I was doing?” Hermione retorted, blushing, “It wouldn’t fit on either of my middle fingers.

“You tried it on your wedding finger like some love-struck fool, didn’t you?” Malfoy sneered looking wickedly amused.

“Shut up,” Hermione scowled, looking away from him, “And leave me alone. I don’t like that you’re stalking me Malfoy.”

“Why would anyone want to stalk you?” he asked nastily.

“You’re the one doing it. You tell me,” she challenged, glaring at him.

A rustling sound drew her attention and Hermione glanced upwards with mounting horror to know that this might be rapidly becoming one of the worst Christmases she'd ever been forced to endure.

"I'm not stalking you, you barmy swot," Malfoy protested, oblivious to the direction her attention had been taken and to the fact that he was once again trapped under the mistletoe with Hermione.

"Well if you're not, could you at least stop appearing wherever I happen to be until the holiday season is over?" Hermione demanded quietly.

"The holidays end tomorrow," Malfoy pointed out and Hermione rolled her eyes at him for pointing out the obvious. It was New Year's Eve after all, and she didn't much fancy the idea of going into the New Year arguing vehemently with anyone, let alone sodding Malfoy.

"Well it won't be bloody soon enough," Hermione grumbled, returning her attention to her book in the hopes that he would get the hint and bugger off. Not that he could really, given the mistletoe overhead once again trapping them together.

"Are you trying to ignore me?" he wanted to know after several long minutes of silence.

"Yes. I'm trying to pretend you don't exist," Hermione answered honestly without looking up. She wondered idly how long it would take for someone to come looking for her, trying to gauge how long she might have to put up with Malfoy in order to avoid snogging him again.

"I find it funny that you got that thing stuck on your wedding finger," Malfoy announced, clearly looking for things to needle her about. Hermione wondered what he thought he was doing just loitering about annoying her. Surely he had better things he could be doing with his time.

"I find it funny that you're seeking me out in your free time," Hermione told him, still refusing to look away from her book, "Better be careful, Malfoy. It wouldn't do to have word getting back to the other Death Eaters that you're fraternizing with a Mudblood."
Malfoy narrowed his eyes on her.

"You saying you think I'm a Death Eater?" he wanted to know, his tone changing from one of smugness to a deadly, dangerous tone that made the hair's on the back of her neck stand on end.

Hermione rolled her eyes and pointed to the fact that he'd clearly forgotten himself. He'd just rolled up the sleeves on his jumper, despite it still being so nippy in the library and Hermione could plainly see the Dark Mark branded on his arm. She didn't know why she was unsurprised by the sight of the blemish. She'd been arguing with Harry all year that surely Malfoy wasn't a Death Eater. That he was too young. That no one in their right mind would be making teenagers into Death Eaters. She'd forgotten of course, that the megalomaniac responsible for the blemish on Malfoy's forearm was also the psychopath obsessed with immortality and a teenage boy.

"If you're going to try and lie, Malfoy, at least make sure to hide the truth," she told him, reaching over the desk before he could jerk his sleeve down and seizing his arm tightly. He tried to jerk out of her grip, surprised by the touch and horrified to realise he'd left the mark uncovered, but Hermione refused to let him go.

"Let go of me," he demanded, looming over her as though he hoped to threaten her into doing so. Hermione ignored him in favour of studying the mark on his forearm. It was black and ugly. The very sight of it made her feel sick. She wondered if he had similar feelings about it, given how hard he tried to hide it.

When he jerked his arm violently out of her grip, he levelled an evil glare at her. He was clearly furious. That much was made clear when he tried to storm away from her, only to be rooted on the spot thanks to the enchantment of the mistletoe above their heads.

"What the...?" he began, seeming confused.

He glanced at her and Hermione stared at him drolly, waiting for him to understand. When he closed his eyes and sighed heavily before tilting his head back and spotting the mistletoe, Hermione knew he was already resigned to the fact that this was utterly absurd.

"Why does this keep happening with you?" he wanted to know, glaring nastily at the mistletoe as though he'd like to try burning it or hexing it in some other way but having learned that lesson in Scrivenshaft's.

"Because we keep fighting," Hermione answered honestly, "Every building that's been enchanted to grow mistletoe has the same effect during the Christmas season. If anyone inside the enchanted building who aren't blood relatives argues or in some way deviates from the peace and love bollocks of the holiday season it triggers the growth of the mistletoe. That's why it keeps happening to us. In other cases it's just a result of the enchantment randomly kicking in to spread good cheer."

"You really are a know-it-all, you know?" he accused, glancing over at her from where he'd returned to leaning against the opposite desk.

"So I've been told," Hermione replied, sighing heavily.

"This is why you were trying to ignore me?" he asked, clearly realising she'd spotted the mistletoe and not said anything.

"Are you going to keep talking or are you going to let me study in peace?" Hermione asked him, not bothering to confirm his suspicions.

"You want to study right now?" he asked, looking incredulous.

"This might come as something of a shock Malfoy, but I don't much fancy the idea of snogging you again. Twice in one lifetime was more than enough, thank you very much."

He eyed her for a long moment after that.

"You're going to make me sit here for hours aren't you?" he sighed, looking resigned to being stuck with her.

"How else will you learn your lesson and stop stalking me?" Hermione countered, "Besides, I'm sure my friends will come looking for me eventually."

"You couldn't have picked somewhere more noticeable inside this bloody place to study, could you?" he grumbled, clearly growing bored in a hurry.

"Excuse me for wanting to keep the information of what I was looking up to myself," Hermione retorted.

"You're that embarrassed?" he wanted to know, an unreadable expression flashing across his face.

"Yes. I am," Hermione admitted, "I did something foolish and air-headed. And now look at me."

She flung her jewelled hand in his direction, indicating to the large rocks adorning her finger.

"You just don't like it because their Slytherin colours," Malfoy rolled his eyes at her.

"Do I seem that shallow to you?" Hermione asked mildly, "I actually happen to like the gemstones. I just don't like the obviousness of such a large ring. Or the fact that I acted like an idiot by putting the damn thing on in the first place. Not to mention I don't want to deal with the foul mood Ron will fly into when he sees this."

"Isn't he still dating Lavender Brown?" Malfoy frowned, "Why would he care that you're wearing a promise ring?"

Hermione narrowed her eyes in annoyance at the reminder.

"He wouldn't for the fact that it's a promise ring on my engagement finger. But that won't stop him from getting snippy when he sees it. He's already suspicious about why I've been wearing gloves. When he sees something this expensive on my finger, he'll have a cow."

Malfoy smirked then.

"I'd forgotten that he's still got his nose out of joint about being poor," the blonde wizard commented.

"Yes. And given that I know how much one of these wretched things costs, you can imagine why I might not want to go flashing it about in his face."

"You know, if you'd been smarter, you could've just said it was a gift from a recently deceased relative. You already lied about what you were given by your Secret Santa. What's one more lie?" Malfoy told her and Hermione wanted to slap herself when she realized he was right.

"You would only know I was lying about what I was given if you were the one who gave me the gift in the first place," she told him.

"Why are you so convinced it was me?" he wanted to know, seeming genuinely curious.

"I've already told you that," Hermione replied, "You're the only person I know who could afford it. And the only one wretched enough to pull this kind of trick. Why don't you just tell me what you bloody promised and take it off?"

She waved her hand towards him again in clear invitation to have him remove the jewel from her finger.

"Why would I ever do that?" he countered slyly, smirking at her now.

"So you admit it was you then?" Hermione demanded, lifting her nose out of her book to glare at him.

"You'll never know," he answered before picking up her quill and beginning to toy with it.

"Damn it Malfoy!" she snarled at him

"Oh shut it Granger. Just deal with it. It's stuck on your bloody finger and even if it had been me to give it to you, I wouldn't remove it. You might as well just accept your fate and move on with life. Are you going to let me out of this any time soon?"

"Not unless you take it off me," Hermione said, meaning the ring on her finger but realizing when he shot her a suggestive glance that she'd put her foot in it.

"That can be arranged, you know," he warned, eyeing her strangely.

"For someone who's supposed to hate muggleborns; particularly someone who’s been a complete git about my heritage for as long as I've known you; you seem awfully calm about the fact that you keep having to snog me," she pointed it out.

"Don't over-analyse the situation Granger. It's just bloody mistletoe."

"Maybe so, but I've always been of the belief that if I consider something to be the scum of the earth, I'm not about to go snogging it."

"Why? You snogged me and you've made no secret of your disdain for me either," he pointed out and Hermione paused to consider that.

She supposed he was right. She had accepted having snogged him twice without much ado. Of course, she was a rational and logical person capable of compartmentalising a snog as being born of a necessity to escape an enchantment.

"Why did you take the Dark Mark?" Hermione asked him quietly, choosing to change the subject before she had to think too hard about the fact that her body still hummed with tingles of electricity from the snog he'd stolen from her days ago. She needed to distract herself from the fact that there was a sense of anticipation over needing to snog him again soon building inside her and Hermione didn't want to think about that either.

"Why not?" Malfoy shrugged but Hermione suspected from the way he narrowed his eyes and looked away that there was far more to his feelings on the subject.

"Because Voldemort is evil?" Hermione suggested, "Because the eradication of people who can't help how they were born is barbaric and wrong? Do really mean to sit there and tell me you despise me and people like me so much that you want to kill me?"
He clenched his fists at her statements.

"What are you hoping to hear me say Granger?" he asked after a long time when Hermione eventually gave up on waiting to hear his answer. Hermione glanced up to look at him, her eyes meeting his grey pair for a long moment.

"The truth," Hermione told him, "Do you actually believe that people like me are inferior to people like you just because my parents happen to be muggles? Do you want to murder me?"

He simply stared at her, his jaw clenched as though he either didn't know the answer to her questions or couldn't bear to declare one way or the other what he thought.

"You don't know, do you?" Hermione asked finally, "You've been told your whole life that people like me are inhuman abominations, but you can't rationalise that information against the fact that you're sitting here having a conversation with me. Or against the fact that you snogged me the other day, far exceeding the requirement needed to free us from under the mistletoe."

He looked at her like she'd just slapped him when she mentioned that and Hermione decided that she'd had enough of the conversation. Returning her attention to the book she was reading, Hermione tried her hardest to pretend he wasn't sitting there.

Eventually he seemed to grow bored, fidgeting in his seat and looking like he wanted to get as far away from her as possible. Hermione could tell she'd unsettled him with her questions and that he probably wanted to slink back to the dungeons where his friends and associates all simply demanded he disdain people like her rather than allowing even the thought that maybe she wasn't an abomination to enter his mind.
More than an hour ticked past as she continued her research and he sat there, brooding.

The afternoon began to wane into evening and Hermione wondered where her friends were. Probably off planning some kind of celebration to bring in the looming New Year. They probably assumed she was lost in her research and would be until the late hours of the evening.

Hermione felt the chill in the library increase and she glanced towards one of the main windows lining the wall, noticing that it had begun to snow once more. Closing her book slowly, Hermione reached for the latch on the window, unhooking it and feeling thankful she'd chosen this desk where she could even open the window whilst still trapped under the mistletoe.

"What are you doing?" Malfoy wanted to know, seeming surprised when Hermione climbed up on the desk, tucking her feet up under herself and enjoying the cold breeze that blew into the library.

"Enjoying the snow," she admitted honestly without looking at him.

She flinched minutely when he got up from his chair, moving even closer to her until his hip was propped against her desk and he was staring out the window over her shoulder. The snow outside fell heavily, creating a winter wonderland. The glow from Hagrid's hut looked warm and inviting through the snowy curtain falling fast.

"Got any goals for the new year Malfoy?" Hermione asked him a little while later when he shuffled himself onto the desk beside her.

Hermione didn't look at him. She didn't want to ruin the relatively comfortable feel of being in his company. When he'd taken a seat on the desk he'd shuffled far enough that his shoulder and his knee were brushing against hers. Despite their mutual distaste for one another, Hermione had to resist the urge to move even closer to him. The warmth of his body was drawing her closer as the breeze coming through the window picked up.

"Don't get killed," Malfoy shrugged, his shoulder jostling hers a bit.

"That's a sensible goal," Hermione grinned, unable to keep from laughing, "I think everyone should keep that kind of goal."

"You're more of a wise crack than I expected," he told her, smirking sideways at her on the desk.

"You're more capable of sitting quietly without bugging me than I anticipated," she answered, grinning back. She noticed suddenly as she eyed him that he was again wearing the scarf she'd knitted for him as his secret Santa gift. She kind of hated that it suited him so well and she didn't know what to make of his willingness to wear it, even if she'd hadn't entirely confirmed she'd been his Secret Santa.

"Smart aleck," he accused though he appeared in good spirits about it all, "What are your goals for the new year if you're so flip about mine."

"I'm also planning not to get killed," she smirked.

She laughed when he rolled his eyes at her. Hermione was surprised to find herself doing so. It had been a strange holiday, all in all. She could hardly believe that on Christmas day they'd all put aside their rivalries and differences to have a pleasant day snowball fighting and then simply lounging around. She supposed in some respects that Ginny had been right about this perhaps being the last Christmas everyone would spend with things as they were. The Slytherins must've felt it too. They had all been here at Hogwarts, away from their families, either for the safety being in the castle offered or for other, less scrupulous reasons, but either way Hermione knew it wasn't a Christmas she was likely to forget.

"I'd also like to make a more concerted effort at forgetting old grievances," Hermione admitted a little while later as the breeze carried a few snowflakes in through the open window to land in her hair. She didn't know why she was telling him anything, or really why she didn't just get the required snog over with and be on her way, but Hermione found herself blurting it out anyway.

"You're not about to get all sentimental are you Granger?" he asked, a teasing lilt in his voice.

"Probably," Hermione shrugged, her shoulder brushing his again, "Things aren't ever going to be the same as they are now and it makes me sad to think this time next year people I've shared a classroom with might be dead."

"There's nothing you can do about it," he informed her quietly, his right hand going to his left forearm and toying with his sleeve as though the brand on his arm itched.

"There is actually," Hermione replied softly.

She didn't bother elaborating. To her the answer was entirely obvious regarding the things she could do. Instead, Hermione hesitantly reached over and took hold of his arm again. He flinched minutely at the cold touch of her hand but he didn't jerk away from her. When she pulled his sleeve up slowly to reveal the ugly Dark Mark marring his arm, Hermione leaned a bit closer to inspect it. The design was one she'd read about before and seen in books. She'd researched the first war extensively and she knew that it was the same design Voldemort had used last time. Most of his followers now were the same as the ones he'd had back then, so that was hardly surprising.

"Did your father make you?" she asked, unable to keep from tracing the outline of the mark. She didn't actually touch the blackened skin, not daring to touch the beacon that Voldemort used to summon his followers. But she did trail the tip of her finger over the pale skin that surrounded the Mark.

“My father was in Azkaban at the time,” Malfoy replied quietly.

“And someone had to fill his shoes,” Hermione murmured knowingly, her finger still tracing against his skin lightly. A little hum of electricity tingled in her hand as she did so, clutching his arm while she traced, studying the mark intently.

“My mother cried,” he whispered, as though admitting such a terrible truth to her was abominable and shameful. The amount of guilt laced into those three little words told Hermione far more about Draco Malfoy than she’d ever realised before. In fact, the very realisation made her eyes prickle uncomfortably as though she too might shed a tear over the implications and strings that came along with the terrible blemish on his smooth pale flesh.

Hermione didn’t say anything else. She didn’t think she could. Not without telling him what a foolish decision he’d made. Not without sparking an argument between them. She simply sat there on the desk beside him, her fingers drawing on his skin. Absently she wondered why he let her. Surely someone radical enough to bear the Dark Mark ought to pull away from her touch with a flinch of disgust. In the past he’d always done so.

Yet he simply sat in silence alongside her, his arm still beneath her tracery, his breathing even and steady. To Hermione it felt a little like the calm before the storm.

Chapter 8: Chapter 8: One Last Breath
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                                                                                                       Chapter 8: One Last Breath

She ought to pull away. She ought to get the required kiss over with and be on her way without looking back. Hermione knew that. Sitting there with him, peering out the window at the gathering dark, she knew she ought to turn her back on him and never look at him or speak to him again.

He bore the brand of a traitor. He wore the badge of monster. He was destined to become a killer. Draco Malfoy was a Death Eater and he ought to be trying to kill her, as per the beliefs being circulated by Voldemort and his followers.

Yet she stayed. In part it was because she was holding out the hope that one of her friends would come looking for her and so free her from beneath the mistletoe and her obligation to snog Malfoy. There was another part of her that was simply enthralled. This Christmas season had been an unusual one and she knew that this night would be the deep, dying breath of the world as she knew it. Not because of Malfoy.

Because the world was about to pitched in chaos. Already things were bad, but she knew there was worse to come. There was something about simply sitting there in the stillness of the library next to a person who would soon be her enemy upon the battlefield that felt right. She wondered if Malfoy sensed it to. He didn’t say anything else as he sat there next to her, simply allowing her to trace her fingertips over the smooth skin surrounding the Dark mark on his arm.

Hermione didn’t say anything either. She’d been tracing his skin for hours, drawing nonsensical patterns over it and simply sitting there with him. She didn’t know what to make of the entire experience, all she could think about was that this was the last time she would ever be the person she was now. That this final day of the year would be the final day she was likely to ever spend in the company of an enemy without fear.

“Can I ask you something?” he asked after the late afternoon sunlight was gone and it grew too dark to effectively see much of the snow that was falling.

“I suppose,” Hermione murmured. She was still touching his skin and she marvelled at how smooth and warm his flesh felt beneath her own cold fingers. Somewhere in the distance of the castle, a clock chimed out the hour, indicating that it was already eleven at night. Hermione wondered when it had gotten so late and why none of her friends had come looking for her.

“Why are you sitting here with me?” he questioned softly, “It’s not as though you don’t have better places to be and more agreeable people to spend your time with. So why are you still sitting here in the dark with someone like me?”

“Maybe I’m just putting off having to snog you?” Hermione told him without looking at him, “Or maybe I like the silence.”

“Maybe you don’t know,” he muttered.

“No, I know why,” she told him, “I’m sitting here next to you because it’s oddly easy to be in your company when you’re not spouting some kind of bigotry or picking fights with my friends.”

“I don’t start every fight with them,” he argued and Hermione felt a smile pull at the corners of her mouth, knowing she couldn’t really deny that, “But it doesn’t explain why you would want to be in my company at all.”

Hermione’s smile widened at that.

“I’m burning this day into my memory,” she told him, “I’m spending the evening in your company, rather than that of my friends because in the not so distant future you and I will be on opposing sides of the battlefield. You’re a Death Eater and I’m an Order member. You’re a pureblood and I’m a muggleborn. You’re on Voldemort’s side and I’m on Harry’s. Sometime in the next year or two, you and I will meet across the battlefield, probably hardened by a life of war. We’ll be even more tainted by the loss of friends and loved ones; burning with anger and a need for revenge over the turns the war will take and how that will effect both of us on a personal level.”

“So you want to sit in the dark with me in what? Some hope to avoid it?” he asked, sounding baffled.

“I’m sitting here with you because when that day comes; when it happens that you and I meet in the field, I’d like to be able to remember today. I hope you’ll remember it too. Maybe it will make a difference. Maybe it won’t. Who knows? Maybe what we do here, right now, today, will be the difference between one or both of us living or dying,” Hermione told him softly.

“You’re too sentimental for your own good Granger,” he said, though he didn’t sound particularly judgemental, “Why would one night of sitting in the dark in silence matter one way or the other?”

“Maybe it won’t,” Hermione shrugged, her shoulder brushing against his and sending a little jolt of electricity through her system. She fell silent again after that, her fingers gliding against the skin of his forearm, dancing over the silky skin of his inner wrist, skirting around the black tattoo and tracing the length of his inner arm. It felt strangely mesmerizing to be touching his skin without having him pull away from her or hissing insults about her supposed dirtiness as a result of the blood running through her veins.

She jumped in surprise when his free hand caught hers where it traced his skin, lifting it away from his arm. Hermione glanced down at her own hand when he intertwined her fingers with his in the dark, simply holding her hand. He shook the arm she’d been drawing on slightly, causing his sleeve to fall back down to cover the mark. Hermione lifted her gaze slowly to meet his. The candle she’d been studying by was burning low and the fireplace across the room designed to keep the study alcoves warm was crackling softly.

He held her gaze with that unreadable expression she’d come to recognise arranged perfectly on his face. Hermione found herself studying him intently, her gaze drinking in the sight he made. His cheekbones were high and sharp, the firelight casting shadows from their peaks. His eyes were a bright, silvery shade of grey. His face was pointed and harsh. He had a face made for sneering and for looking down his nose at others. His chin was sharp like his cheekbones. His blonde hair hung forwards over his forehead from where he’d run his hands through it distractedly.

Around his neck he wore the scarf she’d knitted him as a part of her Secret Santa gift to him. As she scrutinized his face carefully, noting the little cleft in his chin and the way he maintained that completely blank expression that showed not even a hint at any emotion in particular, Hermione knew he was scrutinizing her too. She wondered how she seemed to him. She knew she wasn’t the most beautiful girl in the school.

Compared to others like Ginny or Luna, Hermione believed herself rather plain. Her hair was messy and always curling out of its hair-tie. She wore minimal make-up beyond lip-gloss. She had a smattering of freckles upon her nose.

She wondered if he thought her plain. If he thought her to be ugly and undesirable. Hermione didn’t much care about his actual opinion of her, but she wondered about it just the same.

“Tell me something you’ve never told anyone else,” he said quietly, his eyes returning to fix upon her own. Hermione raised her eyebrows. She wondered what he thought he was doing sitting there holding her hand, balanced on a library desk and asking her something personal about herself. Had her idea reached him? Did he want to burn this holiday season into his mind the way she did, something to look back on in the darkness that would follow?

She bit her lip, looking away from him as she tried to think of something that she could share, something she’d never told anyone else, something that wasn’t foolish or stupid.

“When I was a little girl, I used to pretend I was a damsel in distress,” she told him quietly, “I’d dress up in these wonderful princess dresses my mother bought me and I’d play in my room by myself. My teddy bear was the leading villain. He had many roles. Sometimes he was a terrible dragon, holding me hostage and breathing fire over all those who tried to rescue me. Other times he was a wicked witch intent on hurting me if I didn’t give him whatever I dreamed up that he might want…. But I always played alone, and my teddy bear couldn’t be the villain and the hero. I used to dream about what it would be like to have some hero trying to rescue a silly little damsel like me…. I never found out.”

She snuck a peek at Malfoy when she finished the tale on a sad note. Being an only child had taught Hermione many things about life, the most important one being that without her parents, there was no one else she could rely on to be her knight in shining armour. Now, of course, she knew she had Harry and Ron looking out for her, brave and willing to do anything should she ever need protection. But back then Hermione had learned the hard way that the best method to avoid ever needing a knight in shining armour was to make sure she was clever enough to never be the damsel in distress.

“What about you?” she asked him softly when his expression remained blank as he watched her.

“I never imagined being a damsel myself,” he told her, and he grinned when Hermione snorted in surprise.

“And you’d look so pretty in a princess dress too,” Hermione rolled her eyes, chuckling at the very idea, a mental image flashing into her mind of Draco Malfoy wearing the pink gown she’d worn as a girl, flitting about some castle screaming about a terrible dragon and swooning foolishly.

“You don’t think pink’s my colour?” he asked, smirking.

“Stick with black,” Hermione advised, “It might make you look like you’re pretending to be Dracula, but at least you don’t swoon.”

“Dracula?” he scoffed, “Do I look like a Romanian vampire wearing too much eye make-up to you?”

“You don’t really have the hair for it, but the skin tone is on point,” Hermione poked fun at him.

“Real nice, Granger,” he laughed, and Hermione was surprised by the rich sound. She’d never heard it before when he wasn’t laughing at someone’s expense.

“It’s your turn,” she told him as the laughter died away, “What’s something you’ve never told anyone else, Malfoy?”

He glanced out the window into the snow and Hermione thought he wasn’t going to answer. His hand was warm in hers and Hermione caught the way her thumb had begun to trace patterns on the back of his hand where they were intertwined.

“When I was a boy, just old enough for my first broom, I used to ride it around the back garden for hours on end,” he told her quietly, “Being an only child, all of my childhood games were played alone too. I used to pretend I was a knight from one of those old fantasy tales Mother used to read to me. I’d take on dragons, ogres and herds of Thestrals in my games, shouting and waving a stick around because I was too young to have a wand yet…. One afternoon my Father caught me at it. He scolded me for being so foolish as to believe that playing the hero would ever lead to anything other than death. He lectured me for an hour about a proper use of a Malfoy’s time and how Malfoy men weren’t born to be heroes. He even sent me to be without dinner for being so foolish…. Even if it weren’t for the Dark Lord, I was destined to be a villain.”

Hermione felt her heart constrict inside her chest, noting the way he tried to pull his hand away from hers and the way he looked away from her despairing expression as though he were ashamed. She held tighter to his hand, keeping hold of it even when he wriggled it in her grip. She wanted to tell him he didn’t have to be the villain. That he didn’t have to fight for Voldemort. That there was always an opportunity for one to be a good person, so long as they made the choice to do so. She wanted to, but she didn’t.

She knew without needing to be told that he did have to be the villain. He had a mark on his arm and a path of destiny that was already carved for him to walk. He couldn’t turn against Voldemort without risking his own life and the lives of his family. He couldn’t just walk away from it all. Not with his family up to their necks in Darkness. So instead, Hermione did the next best thing she could think of. Somewhere in the castle the clock chimed once more, indicating that it was quarter to midnight.

“You don’t have to be a villain tonight,” she whispered when he managed to pull his hand away and climbed off the desk to turn his back on her.

“Doesn’t this mean anything to you?” he demanded, spinning to face her and thrust his arm towards her, revealing his Dark Mark once more, “I’m always a villain Granger.”

“Not always,” Hermione corrected, slipping off the table to stand in front of him, her head tilted back to hold his gaze as he loomed over her, “If you were always a villain you wouldn’t have spent the afternoon just sitting with me.”

“Don’t delude yourself into thinking that either of us would still be here if not for the bloody mistletoe, Granger,” he warned.

“Then don’t you delude yourself into thinking that you’re a villain all the time,” Hermione retorted, “Because if you were, you’d have stolen the kiss you need to escape and probably hexed me for good measure. But you didn’t.”

“Don’t tempt me,” he warned in a low voice and Hermione sighed.

“Stop being a tosser,” Hermione commanded him quietly, “You don’t get to spoil this, Malfoy. I won’t spend the last ten minutes of this year arguing.”

He narrowed his eyes on her when she stomped her foot indignantly. Hermione narrowed hers in return. She watched him open his mouth, clearly intent on saying something to disprove her notion that he didn’t always have to be a villain, and before he could spoil things any more than he already had, Hermione slid her feet closer, went up on her toes and pressed her lips to his. She brought her hands up, tangling them into his silky blonde hair as she kissed him deeply.

She closed her eyes when she felt his arms circle her waist, dragging her to him firmly, moulding her to his chest as he returned the snog hotly. His tongue slipped out to tangle with hers and Hermione felt the butterflies begin to riot in her tummy. She didn’t know what it was about snogging him that turned her brain to mush, but it was clearly something associated with the feel of his tongue sweeping against hers and his hands clutching at her desperately. His lips were warm and firm against hers and Hermione found herself breathing deeply of his citrus and spice scent and noting idly that both were things she’d begun unknowingly associating with him.

His fingers were cool against her skin when he slipped them under the hem of her jumper to clutch at her hips, holding her firmly to him. Dimly Hermione realised he’d turned them both and had pressed her back against the wall of the library, moulding himself against her as he snogged her deeply. The kiss was slow, passionate and burning with all the things both of them could never voice. Hermione found herself thinking that she enjoyed the taste of his lips on hers and that she liked the way her body trembled when he touched her.

She found herself thinking that if things had been different, she’d have very much been interested in the idea of pursuing something with him. After all, there hadn’t been anyone else who could make her forget all about the facts in favour of the fantasy when she kissed them. Hermione gasped when Malfoy broke away from her lips, trailing a line of burning kisses along her jaw and then down her neck tantalizingly. The butterflies already rioting inside her went nuts, cartwheeling and somersaulting wildly and making her feel things she’d never felt before.

He nipped his way along her clavicle carefully and Hermione heard the little mewl that escaped her lips at the sensations he awoke within her. She jumped a little when the castle clock began chiming the hour. Students could be heard distantly shouting about a Happy New Year. Hermione lost her breath when Draco Malfoy dragged his lips from her neck to capture her own again. He snogged her slowly then. Deliberately. His tongue swept into her mouth, stroking against hers, making her quake with the strange rush of sensation. He took his time about it, kissing her long after the distant chiming and cheering had fallen silent.

Idly, Hermione was aware that she was keeping to the muggle custom of kissing in the New Year for luck, and she marvelled at the fact that Draco Malfoy was the boy she was doing it with. Her heart was hammering against her ribs inside her chest, her breathing ragged with the feelings he inspired in her. One of his hands had tangled into her hair, the other grasping desperately at her lower back as though he thought to devour her. As though he wanted to possess every part of her. As though he couldn’t get enough of her.

She was vaguely aware that the mistletoe overhead had cascaded down upon them, scattering them with berries, twigs and leaves as the magic that had held them in each other’s company all afternoon was exhausted and spent. She wondered if there was some magical occurrence where the magic of the plant transferred into the magic of the snog those snagged beneath its branches shared. She wondered if it was wrong that she enjoyed Malfoy’s kiss so much.

She didn’t want to stop. In that moment, Hermione felt that she wouldn’t at all mind if she stood there all night long and snogged him until she forgot her own name.

Especially when he caught her hands inside his own, interlocking their fingers and lifting her arms over her head, pressing them to the wall as well as he massaged her tongue with his. He leaned in even closer then, his hard form pressed intimately against the length of hers and Hermione was dimly aware of the little mewling sounds he drew from her as he snogged her senseless.

When finally they broke apart, she wasn’t the only one panting for breath. He laid his forehead against hers gently, his breath ragged and his fingers still interwoven with her own. He lowered their arms slowly, sliding them down the walls until they rested at her sides, all without releasing her.

“Tell me something,” he whispered without opening his eyes. Hermione was paying such close attention to what he was asking that she almost missed the way his fingers slipped the emerald and diamond ring from her wedding finger.

“Do you think something between you and I would ever work?”

Hermione felt her heart skip a beat in surprise as his huskily toned question. A little rush of something she couldn’t describe washed through her at the very thought and she realised with a jolt that much like she did, he must feel the strange sense of connection and rightness that overwhelmed her when they kissed. Malfoy released her left hand slowly, catching her right one in both of his and Hermione opened her eyes when she felt the promise ring slide down her right-hand ring finger, gliding over the digit until it met the knuckle.

“Maybe, in another life,” Hermione whispered, feeling a sense of sadness at the truth of her words.

Malfoy sighed along with her when she did so involuntarily at the sudden melancholy that surrounded her. He nodded lightly, his forehead still resting against hers before he pulled away. He stepped back slowly.

“Happy New Year,” he whispered, holding her gaze for a long moment.

“Happy New Year Malfoy,” Hermione murmured in return, feeling an overwhelming sense of loss as he released her hands and stepped back even further from her. He stared into her eyes for a minute longer, all of the words rolling through both their minds remaining unsaid.

When he nodded once, spun on his heels and walked away, Hermione made no move to stop him.

A/N: Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays everyone! This will be the last chapter through before the queue closure, but I promise I'll be back with more in the New Year. May you all have a safe and cheerful holidays season and may all your wishes come true! 


Chapter 9: Chapter 9: Dark Sky Days
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                                                                                                      Chapter 9: Dark Sky Days

In the months that followed the holidays, Hermione Granger could often be found toying with the ring adorning her right hand ring finger. She’d not bothered trying to ask Malfoy any further questions about the ring or the promise it signified. Initially she had been relieved simply to know that he had indeed been the one to give it to her and then over the fact that he’d moved it from her wedding finger to her other hand. At least now she could wear it without being given the third degree by her friends over wearing an engagement ring.

Of course, they’d still been suspicious over the ring she wore, but Hermione had taken Malfoy’s advice and lied, saying she’d been given it by a relative. After that they hadn’t bothered her with any further questions and Hermione was grateful. She often found herself thinking back on New Year’s Eve and the holiday season with some melancholy, though she couldn’t entirely explain why.

She wouldn’t say she fancied Draco Malfoy. Most days she barely even tolerated him. In the aftermath of the holidays, things between the Slytherins and Gryffindors had returned to their usual animosity. Malfoy often picked fights with Harry and Ron, just as had always happened and Harry was more convinced than ever that Malfoy was a Death Eater. Hermione hadn’t bothered trying to change his mind, though she hadn’t confirmed it either. She supposed that if her loyalty was entirely directed towards Harry and the Light that she ought to mention that Malfoy was indeed a marked Death Eater, but she didn’t.

It would be far too complicated to try and explain to her friends how it was that she’d discovered the truth. She hadn’t breathed a word of the evening she’d spent in his company on New Year’s Eve. She hadn’t spoken of the hours they had spent in pleasant silence, or of the strangely saddening conversation they’d shared. She’d not told a single soul of the way he’d snogged her so passionately, or of the way he’d asked that little question about whether or not she thought the two of them could ever work as a couple.

She’d not spoken of it, but Hermione couldn’t deny she’d been thinking about it. Often of late when she was supposed to be focusing on her studies and on keeping Harry out of trouble, Hermione thought of that night. She wondered privately if Malfoy thought of it too. He gave no indication of doing so. She never caught him looking at her in class, though he’d worn the scarf she’d given him all throughout the winter until it grew too warm to continue doing so.

She’d also noticed he had a habit of playing with the metal puzzles she’d given him as part of her Secret Santa gift. She’d caught him many times in classes and in the Great Hall toying with them, carrying them around in his pockets and playing with them. She suspected he’d completed each one a few times, but he continued puzzling over them nonetheless. Just last week shed come across him in class when she’d slipped in late. He was sitting towards the back, as he so often did, and he wasn’t paying any attention whatsoever to the lecture Professor Sinistra had been giving.

He’d simply been sitting there fiddling with the puzzle, trying to undo the metal links until they would all come apart. He did so almost distractedly, not really focusing on the task, and yet entirely distracted by it. She’d watched him for several minutes from a few desks over as he did so. Every time she thought about him she caught herself toying with the ring on her finger, turning it around and around her knuckle, fiddling with the stones and admiring the piece of jewellery.

She didn’t fancy him, but Hermione would be lying if she were to say she wasn’t mildly intrigued by him. The holidays had changed her. There could be no doubt about it. She’d spent time with the enemy and she’d found he wasn’t all bad. Since then, of course, there had been some incidents where she doubted he could ever be anything but a villain, but Hermione maintained that he wasn’t evil.

“Are you paying attention, Hermione?” Ron asked her, nudging her in Transfiguration and drawing her thoughts away from Draco Malfoy.

“I beg your pardon?” she asked, blinking, before interlocking her fingers together when she realised she’d been fiddling with her promise ring again.

“You’re not even listening, are you?” Ron asked and Hermione caught the entirely smug expression on his face at that idea.

Hermione stared at him.

“No, Ron, I wasn’t paying attention. What did you need?” she asked patiently rather than allowing him to rile her up. He’d been enjoying doing so of late, Hermione knew. He’d broken up with Lavender some time ago and though neither of them had shown any hint of fancying the other, Hermione suspected he might be enjoying the idea of her being distracted. She wondered if he did fancy her. She wondered if Malfoy did. Surely he must – a little – to have asked if she thought they’d be able to make it work as a couple.

What other reason could he have for asking? She wondered often about the promise he’d made when he’d given her the ring adorning her finger, but she’d never asked him. She’d not even spoken to him since New Year’s Eve and he had been similarly silent when it came to her. He picked fights with her friends, but he never spoke to her or teased her.

“I just thought you might be interested in writing down today’s homework assignment,” Ronald grinned at her, enjoying her distraction and Hermione squeezed her eyes closed, trying to focus on the blackboard where Professor McGonagall had recorded their required homework for the week. She sighed as she took up her quill and noted it all down in her homework planner.

“Are you coming to lunch?” Harry asked her when the lesson ended and Hermione found herself loitering at her desk.

“You two go on,” Hermione told them, “I need to go to the library.”

“Are you alright Hermione?” Harry asked her, his brow furrowing in concern. Hermione knew he’d been worried about her recently. If she was honest, Hermione suspected she was a little confused and a little saddened about the war and the state of things.

She knew it was because of Malfoy. She couldn’t say she fancied him or wanted to be with him, but it irked her more than it ought to know that were she to have fancied him, she couldn’t have acted upon it. All because of one sociopath’s yearning for world domination and immortality.

“I’m fine, Harry,” Hermione smiled at him tightly, “I just don’t feel very well today.”

“Do you need to go to the Hospital Wing?” he asked, frowning deeper and looking concerned. He took her hand inside his and gave it a little squeeze of comfort and Hermione smiled at him. He might be a snappy sod sometimes when his moods went haywire, but Hermione loved Harry like the brother she’d never had. It made her feel mildly better to know he was concerned for her and worried about her wellbeing.

“I’m alright,” she shook her head, “I just haven’t been sleeping well lately. I’ll be down for lunch in a little while, I promise. There’s something I need to research in the library rather pressingly.”

Harry nodded his head before releasing her and Hermione watched him and Ron turn towards the stairs to go to the Great Hall. She didn’t really need to go to the library for anything, though she supposed it would make sense to gather what she needed for the Transfiguration essay she had to write. In all honesty, Hermione wouldn’t mind going and having a lie down. She had a free period after lunch, so she could get away with it. She didn’t have to be back at classes until two for Arithmancy.

Sighing to herself, Hermione made her way towards the library quickly, finding the books she thought would be useful for the essay before she climbed to stairs towards Gryffindor Tower. She wasn’t very hungry, if she was being honest. She might just drop off the books from her morning’s classes and return to the Great Hall.

Hermione was almost there, just reaching the top of the stairs on the seventh floor, when she felt someone grab her from behind. A hand covered her mouth to muffle the sounds of her surprise and outrage; another came around her torso, pressing her back against a decidedly male chest before she was lifted right off her feet.

“Stop struggling, would you?” a voice murmured into her ear as she was bodily carried across the corridor and behind a statue of Ulma the Unhinged. Hermione froze, hating herself a little for recognising that voice but doing so nonetheless. He put her down carefully when they were out of sight, keeping his hands wrapped around her lest she scream and alert people that he had just accosted her.

“What are you doing Malfoy?” Hermione demanded, clawing his hand away from her face so she could speak. She noted idly the way it slipped down to collar her throat.

Not in a threatening way, but in a way that made her think he liked the feel of the warm soft skin there. His fingers trailed lightly over the flesh. His other arm stayed curled tight around her middle, pressing her back against his chest.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” he asked with a snort.

“Assaulting me?” Hermione suggested scathingly, somehow feeling irked by his smug voice though she’d not spoken a word to him in months.

“It’s not assault if you like it, Granger,” he pointed out, his breath caressing the shell of her ear.

“Is there a reason you’ve dragged me behind a statue in a deserted corridor Draco Malfoy?” she hissed, stomping on his foot for his insinuation and his ignorance.

“There is actually. If you’d shut it, I’d get to the point,” he retorted.

Hermione bit her tongue on the reply she wanted to spit at him.

“I need you stay out of the corridors tonight,” he murmured softly and Hermione shivered in his hold when his lips brushed against her ear.

“Why?” she asked, hating herself for the way her voice went husky at the caress.

“Just do it, witch,” he snapped, “Promise me you’ll stay out of the corridors. I don’t care what you hear. I don’t care what happens. You stay out of the corridors. You got that?”

“I don’t take orders from you, Malfoy,” Hermione replied evenly, “And without explanation for such a ludicrous request, I shan’t be complying.”

“Damn it, why do you have to be so bloody stubborn?” he growled in her ear and Hermione shivered in his hold again.

“Why do you have to make vague and unexplained suggestions?” she retorted, meaning more than just what he’d just asked her to do.

“It’s in my nature,” he replied smoothly.

“Likewise,” Hermione told him, “Are you going to let go of me, or do you take pleasure in cuddling muggleborns behind statues?”

“You think you’re going to rile me into releasing you so you can interrogate me?” he asked, and Hermione could practically hear him rolling his eyes.

“Get off me, would you?” she complained, “You’re creeping me out.”

“Good,” he whispered, his fingers still stroking up and down the side of her neck. Hermione reached up, digging her nails into the back of his hand where his arm bracketed her middle like a steel band, causing him to twitch and eventually release her.

“Now what is this about?” Hermione asked, spinning in his grip before he could pin her to him again. She hated the whisper of a thrill that crept through her as his fingers tangled into the hair at the nape of her neck. She suddenly found herself well within his personal space, merely an inch or two separating their faces as she tilted her head back to peer into his stormy grey eyes.

“I need you out of the corridors tonight. You and Potty and Weaselbee.”

“Meaning you’re planning something illegal and you don’t want us to interfere and foil your plans,” Hermione summarised, glaring at him.

“Meaning my plans won’t be foiled and I don’t want you and the dopey duo getting killed in the crossfire. Bad things will be happening at Hogwarts tonight Granger. Bad things that none of you has a chance of stopping. Your interference would only make it that much more a victory for the Death Eaters. Is that what you want? Do you want to see Weasley killed by a stray curse? Do you want Potter captured and dragged before the Dark Lord?”

“You’ve found a way to get Death Eaters into the school,” Hermione breathed, her eyes going wide as she stared into his face. He might’ve become a master of masking his emotions, but Hermione had spent a good deal of time contemplating his face in recent months. She read the confirmation glowing in his eyes and in the tightness around his mouth.

“Don’t even think about saying it Granger,” he warned, “Nothing can stop it. I can’t warn Dumbledore. I can’t tell him. I can’t stop them. I can only facilitate their actions and pray they don’t notice my reluctance.”

“Then I’ll tell Dumbledore,” Hermione shrugged, “Tell me how they’re getting in. I’ll make sure he has the Order on standby to capture them all.”

“And you’ll only succeed at getting me and a bunch of the Order killed in the process,” Malfoy replied coldly, “Use that bloody brain inside your bushy head Granger. The only one who knows that I’ve found a way to get them in is me. The only way the Order could be anticipating their arrival is if I failed.”

“Snape’s a Death Eater too. It’s his job to feed information to the Order to keep them thinking he’s loyal,” Hermione pointed out.

“Snape doesn’t know what I’ve done.”

“He knows you’re trying to kill Dumbledore,” Hermione retorted, watching Malfoy pale considerably, “Harry overheard him insisting that he be allowed to assist you.”

“And you just assume I’m trying to murder the Headmaster? Me?” he asked carefully.

“I’m not an idiot, Malfoy,” Hermione rolled her eyes, “There’ve been two failed attempts on conveying instruments of death Dumbledore this year, and you’re the only other Death Eater in the school, since we both know Snape would just point his wand and use the killing curse. I’ve known what you’ve been trying to do for a while. I expect Dumbledore does too, he just doesn’t want to see you murdered should he out your secrets. If he expelled you for what you’ve done, you’d be killed for failing at your task.”

Malfoy looked like she’d hit him upside the head with something solid.

“Stop talking,” he commanded suddenly, narrowing his eyes on her, “I’m only here to warn you to stay the hell out of the halls tonight. You’re needed alive if Potter’s going to have even a hint of a chance at winning this bloody war.”

“You expect me to just hide in my bed while Death Eaters swarm the school?”

Hermione asked, wondering if he’d finally cracked under the pressure of completing his task without failing again and without getting his family murdered.

“I expect you to realise when to fight and when to hide, yes,” he retorted, his voice like ice, “Your battle is still coming, Granger. You can’t stop a few Death Eaters breaking in here and if you try, you’ll get me killed. Is that what you want? Do you want my blood on your hands?”

“If they hurt anyone else, the blood of those hurt will be on my hands,” Hermione argued with him, “If anyone gets hurt because you let them in and I didn’t stop it, that blood is on my hands as much as it is on yours.”

“Granger,” he warned.

“Don’t you dare take that tone with me Malfoy!” Hermione snapped, “I kept it to myself that I knew you had joined the ranks of the Death Eaters because I knew that if I told Harry, he’d go to Dumbledore – who would then have to explain how expelling you would be sentencing you to death. And Harry would have a fit over the idea of Dumbledore allowing dangerous criminals to remain under his protection, undoubtedly outing you to the entire school to drive you from this place.”

“More proof that the git needs you to win the war,” Malfoy muttered.

“Maybe so, but I can’t do nothing. If you wanted me out of the corridors so as not to interfere you should never have told me about what’s going to happen tonight. I’d have gone to the Common Room and studied most of the evening before going to bed. Now, I’ll be in the halls with the rest of the Order ready to apprehend whatever scum you help into this school.”

“No you won’t,” he growled, his eyes flashing dangerously at her now.

“Yes I will,” Hermione snarled right back at him, trying to jerk out of his hold and finding both his fists suddenly knotted in her hair tight enough to sting.

“You’re not fucking listening, Granger,” he snarled, jerking her face even closer instead until they were nose to nose, his grey eyes boring into hers furiously; desperately,“This is it.”

“It?” Hermione raised her eyebrows, feeling a little tendrils of fear begin to wrap itself around her heart.

“It,” he confirmed, “This is the last deep breath before the plunge. This minute, right here. Tonight it’s all over. There won’t be any more bothering with bloody charms class or fretting over whether or not Weasley’s got a thing for you. There won’t be any more concerning ourselves with homework. Don’t you get that?”

“What are you saying Draco?” Hermione whispered, her eyes widening at his intensity.

“Tonight Albus Dumbledore dies,” he replied, his voice ringing with cold fury, “Tonight I become a murderer and take my place among the ranks of the Death Eaters or I die at Dumbledore’s hand. Tonight the world as we know it is finished. And you won’t be in the fucking hallways getting yourself wounded or bloody killed in some valiant attempt at bravery, do you fucking hear me?”

The tendrils of fear began to multiply in her stomach, spreading through her limbs with a terrible cold that made her shiver and tremble.

“Tonight’s the plunge, Granger. This is it. No more hiding behind castle walls and pretending we’re not at war. No more studying to make sure we pass useless exams. Tonight a horde of Death Eaters will enter the sanctity of Hogwarts and they will cut down any in their path. You can’t stop it. I can’t stop it. All we can do is try to survive. And you’re going to do that by staying the fuck out of the corridors and as far away from psychotic bastards like Fenrir Greyback and Aunt Bellatrix as possible. Do you hear me?” he gave her a little shake for emphasis, his voice so cold that it made her body feel like ice.

“I have to fight,” Hermione argued with him, “I have no more choice than you do. I might not be bound by fear, as you are, but I am just as bound to fight against Darkness as you are to fight for it.”

“Then you condemn us both to death,” he hissed and Hermione hated the way that made a sob catch in her throat.

“Why are you telling me this?” Hermione asked, feeling like she was beginning to crack and crumple.

“Because I need you to survive the bloody night! I need you to go with Potter and do whatever you have to do to defeat the Dark Lord. I need you alive, so you can make sure that hot-tempered wanker doesn’t get himself killed before he can end the fucking war,” Malfoy whispered and for just a moment, the slightest hint of his desperation leaked through into his cold voice.

Hermione felt a tear trickle down her cheek, unbidden as she realised the hopelessness of the situation they were in.

“Please just go to you common room and stay there tonight Granger,” he whispered, laying his forehead against hers for a moment. Hermione felt more than heard the way he took a shuddering breath in.

Before she could respond, he leaned into her and kissed her. She hadn’t kissed him in months. Not since New Year’s Eve. She had thought then that his kiss had seemed like a goodbye. Like a farewell to the strange notion of the two of them maybe finding a way to care for each other. Now, she knew better. This kiss was what it really felt like to kiss someone for the last time. He poured every emotion she could think of into it. Rage. Fear. Anger. Happiness. Hate. Lust. Maybe even love. All of it washed over her as he snogged her so powerfully, stealing her breath and absconding with her sense. I felt so final. Like the severing of whatever strange threads had snared them together.

His tongue tangled with hers, stroking, caressing, massaging. Hermione felt her toes curl in her shoes even as her hands clutched at his hips, holding him as desperately as he held her. She let herself be completely swept away by the feel of his mouth on hers. For several long, blissful minutes all he’d been telling her; all they’d been arguing about; all of it fell away. In that kiss was all the promise of the things they could never have and weren’t supposed to want. Good and Evil. Light and Dark. Right and Wrong. All of those things meant nothing when his lips were on hers, his hands tangled into her messy hair.

And then the moment ended and he pulled back from her, both of them breathing hard.

“I can’t do nothing,” Hermione whispered desperately, everything coming back to her in a rush as she recalled that he’d been asking her - warning her - to steer clear of the corridors. To sit idly by while havoc and chaos reigned. To do nothing while others were hurt and possibly killed. She couldn’t do that. Not for Draco Malfoy. Not for anyone.

“I knew you’d say that,” Malfoy whispered in response, “I won’t see you again, Granger. This is it.”

Hermione knew it was true. That this was goodbye. She felt a pang of regret and loss inside her chest to know that this was the last time she would ever think of him as anything but a Death Eater. That this was the final moment before he would either become a murderer or would be murdered.

He didn’t bid her goodbye with words. Didn’t say all the things that hung between then, unspoken. He didn’t do anything but look into her eyes for one last long minute, holding her gaze as the world crashed around them. He withdrew his hands slowly from her hair until he was no longer touching her, simply peering into her eyes.

“Forgive me?” he whispered, his eyes wide and pleading.

It was as she was opening her mouth to respond – though she had no clue of what she’d meant to say – that she felt it. His wand pressed gently to her temple before she could even think to defend herself and she watched, more than heard, his mouth form the incantation for the spell.

“Imperio,” he murmured. And everything went blank.

Chapter 10: Draco
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 Chapter 10: Draco


He held her captive for the rest of the day – controlling her mind and ensuring she would do as he asked. He had to keep her out of the corridors. He had to make sure his Aunt and the other vile Death Eaters he would be letting into the school wouldn't lay their eyes on her.

It wasn't easy to control her. If he hadn't been drilled all of last summer by Aunt Bellatrix to make sure he mastered the Imperius curse – and if he hadn't practiced even harder by controlling the minds of Madame Rosemerta and Katie Bell earlier in the year, Draco was sure she'd have been able to throw him off her.

Only two things allowed him to keep his hold over her mind. The first was that he made sure she was doing things she'd ordinarily have done anyway – exerting his will over her subtly rather than attempting to have her do things she might never usually do. Keeping with her intentions, he made sure she stopped at the library and borrowed some books on the Transfiguration homework they'd been given before having her attend lunch with her friends.

Her own explanation and distraction earlier in the day allowed for her slightly vacant expression and for how she wasn't paying any attention in her lessons. Throughout dinner he made sure she ate, not wanting her to go hungry as a result of his interference in her life. His own stomach twisted with nervousness and fear over what he knew was coming, but having Granger to focus on helped somehow.

He had a job to do. Let the Death Eaters in and keep Granger the hell out of the corridors. He relinquished enough control over her to convince her to do her homework in the common room, amused by the subtle attempts she made as she tried to overcome the subtle prods he gave her about being sure they all stayed in the common room.

When Potter and Weasley returned from Quidditch practice after dinner, Draco pushed Granger to assist them with their homework too, as a means of keeping the three of them in the common room. He knew Potter and Weasley would be only too willing to take advantage of her apparent generosity if it meant they'd get help with their homework. He even pushed her to instigate a game of chess with Weasley and he took great delight in prodding her to outwit the ginger bastard at his favourite game.

He squashed every notion she had about warning Potter and Weasley of what he'd told her. Every urge she had to run to Dumbledore and warn him of what was coming. The only spanner in the works was when Potter announced he had a meeting with Dumbledore and disappeared to attend it. Draco had scowled his way through that. He couldn't alter their plans. The Death Eaters would be invading tonight, no matter how he tried to put them off.

He had known already that Potter was meeting with Dumbledore and had been most of the year. Draco didn't know what it was about but unless they were carrying on some torrid affair that Draco didn't want to contemplate, he assumed it had to do with bringing down the Dark Lord.

When the time came, Draco prepared to make his way up through the halls to the Room of Requirement unaccompanied. He'd not needed to warn his friends of where he was going and why it would be in their best interests, lest they be expelled, to remain in the Common Room of the Great Hall rather than anywhere in there corridors anywhere near where they might be accused of being involved in the plot to bring down Dumbledore. Crabbe and Goyle had both shaken his hand before letting him leave the corridor. Zabini had rolled her eyes and handed Draco a flask full of whiskey without saying a word.

Theo had surprised him the most. Following him out of the corridor, the other boy walked in silence along with him.

"So," Theo said, having long since forgiven him for the pummelling with snowballs that Draco and Granger had given him at Christmas.

"So?" Draco asked, raising one eyebrow.

"Are you ever going to tell me about you and Granger," Theo asked in a low voice, pulling Draco into an empty alcove along one of the first floor corridors. Draco's heart clenched inside his chest and he nearly lost control of the curse he was using to control the witch they spoke of.

"I don't know what you mean," Draco replied evenly.

Theo snorted.

"Don't play dumb with me, mate. You've had a thing for that swotty little witch since third year," Theo told him, "And we both know what happened at Christmas."

"Nothing happened at Christmas," Draco denied.

"Yeah, and I didn't climb into a snow fort with Harry bloody Potter and pelt you with snowballs or charm mistletoe to trap you in your fort with her," Theo rolled his eyes, "I know you snogged her. And you were missing at New Year's."

Draco kept his face carefully blank.

"You always do that," Theo sighed, eyeing him, "Clam up. Hide everything from me as though I haven't learned every quirk and expression you've got since birth. I know how you feel about her. I know you went well over the recommended limit on the Secret Santa exchange after you drew her name – yeah, I know you drew her. And I've seen the bloody promise ring."

Draco wondered if it was possible to keep his face blank whilst suffering a heart attack. He was sure as hell going to try.

"What did you promise, Draco?" Theo asked him, "And don't bullshit me. Tell me so I can bloody help you keep your promise."

Draco opened his mouth before closing it again slowly and glancing out into the corridor.

"It's not important what I promised I'd do," he replied, "I need to go. She won't ever forgive me for what I'm about to do, so the point is nulled."

"I'll keep her safe," Theo swore softly, holding his gaze, "I don't know how you think you'll ever have a shot with her, what with the way your folks are about blood and the way the war's about to tip, but I'll do what I can to protect her."

"She's under the Imperius curse right now," Draco admitted quietly, "I didn't want to risk her getting into the corridors tonight and being caught in the crossfire."

Theo nodded his head.

"Promise me something?" Theo asked quietly.

Draco raised his eyebrows in question.

"I… well, I… Don't do it, alright?" Theo begged quietly, "Don't murder Dumbledore yourself. Let Snape do it."

Draco simply stared at him, longing to make that promise.

"I have to do it," Draco said stonily.

"Fine, promise me something else then," Theo said, his voice dropping to a whisper before poking his head out to check the corridors, "If you ever… I don't know what good it will even do, but if there ever comes a day when you've got to choose between giving up Granger or Potter to the Dark Lord…. Just…. Don't do it. Please?"

Draco stared at him for a long moment, realising everything Theo was asking of him and suddenly jolting with knowledge he ought to have known about his best friend by now.

"You fancy him," Draco said quietly, eyeing Theo in surprise to learn he fancied blokes.

"I… don't look at me like that," Theo warned, "I didn't tell you because I didn't bloody know, did I? Never fancied any other bloke, even with you parading around looking like that."

He waved his hand at Draco's face and them his body.

"Six days out of seven I'm a fuckin' skirt-chaser and proud of it," Theo went on, "But the seventh I want…"

"Potter," Draco finished for him when Theo trailed off, "Why? How do you even know? You realise he's straight, don't you?"

"I bloody know that," Theo hissed, "But when I got stuck in that bloody snowball fight with him and we all spent the bloody day at Christmas just being teenagers instead of victims of this fucking war, I bloody realised, didn't I? I like his eyes and he's sassy as hell and… shit, I don't know. I want to stick my hands in his messy hair and just…"

Theo shook his head, his cheeks turning red at his own words.

"Oh, I know that one," Draco muttered, "Granger's fucking curls drive me round the twist with that particular yearning."

Theo glanced back at him, looking shocked that he'd admitted it.

"Fuck, we're messed up," Theo sighed, "Sons of Death Eaters who'd murder us if they knew the types of people we want to drag home with us. Look, I'll make you a deal, mate. I'll watch out for her however I can and you do the same for him and we'll call it even. And if, at the end of all this, it doesn't bloody work out, we don't survive or they fucking reject us, well… first drink will be on me, yeah?"

Draco snorted at his friend's suggestion. He didn't say it, but right then he was beyond grateful to Theo for his friendship, his admission and his bloody honesty that he didn't share with anyone but Draco. He was meant to be on the way up to make the worst mistake of his life, letting his deranged Aunt and the other Death Eaters into the school to terrorise the place and to have them witness him committing a murder he was bloody positive he couldn't commit. And Theo was distracting him in the best possible way.

"Deal," Draco held out his hand, waiting for Theo to shake it.

When the sod did so, Draco yanked on his hand, pulling the other git into a one-armed hug. More than words could ever express passed between them and Draco let the support and friendship between him and the boy who was the closest thing to a brother that Draco was every going to get buoy him along on silent footsteps until he reached the seventh floor. He was there and waiting outside the Vanishing Cabinet when Bellatrix and the others all came through, his stomach roiling and his heart in his shoes when he spied Greyback among them.

He didn't realise until much too late that Theo had distracted him just enough that his Imperius upon his favourite little muggleborn witch had slipped and set her free, putting her right back in harm's way.


Chapter 11: Epilogue
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Nineteen months after the end of the war, Draco Malfoy walked into the Leaky Cauldron pub beside Theodore Nott and scanned the room with his eyes. Christmas Eve was one of the biggest nights of the year in this place, he’d been told. Everyone flocked home from all corners of the Earth to spend the holidays with their families and the whole place was packed. He could see the flash of unmistakable red hair that undoubtedly belonged to the Weasley clan, dispersed throughout the pub, and he found himself scanning their group with his eyes, trying to catch a glimpse of the witch he’d been thinking about for longer than he cared to admit.

Draco himself thought it was a bit ridiculous, if he was being honest, but then he’d only recently been let off a year-long house arrest, which had followed a six month stay in Azkaban. Who was he to complain about the idea of catching up with people when he’d been essentially a recluse for the past year; Theo one of his only visitors?

“You see her anywhere?” Theo asked quietly, glancing at him.

Draco shook his head.

“You see Potter anywhere?” he asked in a low voice.

“Not even looking,” Theo replied gruffly, “He’ll be with Granger, though. He always is.”

“When you say things like that, I know you still fancy him,” Draco drawled at his best friend.

I don’t,” Theo denied, but his cheeks turned the faintest shade of pink and Draco knew the truth.

Try as he might – and Merlin knew, Theo had tried – he didn’t seem able to shake his crush on Potter. Draco knew the feeling. He’d been trying since third year to stop fancying Granger, to no avail. If he was being honest, he’d accepted that he was likely always going to have a thing for her at this point. Hell, most of the nights he’d spent in Azkaban had been filled with thoughts of the little curly haired witch. Be they wretched memories of seeing her tortured before the promise ring he’d put on her finger had dulled the effects enough to still have her scream, but not so much as to shatter her mind under Aunt Bella’s wand; or memories of the way they’d spent New Year’s Eve together, simply sitting, talking softly and lightly touching, Draco had relived them all.

He’d come tonight with one idea in mind. He wanted to see her. He hadn’t in almost two years. Sure, there were pictures of her in the paper quiet often. The rebuilding of Hogwarts, where she’d almost single-handedly restored the library and re-catalogued all the books while everyone else handled the rest of the castle. Her return to the school to complete her final year and to study her NEWTs while Potter and Weasley joined the Auror program. Theo had kept him informed about her during that time – one of the few others who’d repeated the year and thus one of the people she’d been forced to associate with semi-regularly.

The papers reported on her other activities too. Her brief romance with Weasley that had died in the arse before it could even really begin – something he’d smirked over when he’d seen their break-up story in the Prophet. Her entry into the Ministry workforce, taking a position in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures office. Draco had followed it all avidly, but there was no satisfaction in watching her ten seconds of forced smiles or scowling glares in Daily Prophet photographs. Not when he could still see that promise ring he’d given her, glittering upon her finger. Skeeter had tried to do an article about the ring, in fact, mid-way through this year when Granger had been interviewed about her new position in the Ministry.

Rita had, of course, made something much bigger of the whole thing that it actually was, but from then on there had been a weekly bet running in the Prophet gossip section about just who had made Hermione Granger a promised and given her that ring. More still speculated on whether it was an engagement ring. Any number of lads had been stepping up to claim that they’d given it to her in the hopes of securing her hand in marriage. Draco had laughed at all of them. Particularly when there’d been an explosive row recorded between Granger and Weasley a week after the first article, where Weasley had been heard accusing her of having the ring since Christmas of their sixth year, of lying about its origin into her life, and of playing him by dating him when she was clearly promised to someone else.

He’d laughed long and loud when he’d read that, especially when Granger had been recorded telling Weasley he was thicker than a concussed troll not to have noticed that she wore the bloody thing on her right hand, not her left, thereby disproving it’s origin as a betrothal ring. If she knew the promises Draco had made when imbuing the ring with the protective magic that had allowed her to keep her brilliant mind under Bella’s torture, she might not be quite so firm about just what it represented.

When pressed about it, the witch would only say that it had been given to her by someone who would not appreciate having it known that he was responsible for it.
Draco had nearly written to her with the intent of begging to differ, when he’d read that particular notion. But he hadn’t. He’d kept his distance and kept to the terms of his parole after being released from Azkaban. Now, however, he was free and he wanted to see her. Fuck, what he would give to press her up against the nearest flat surface and ravish her, but he wouldn’t. Not unless he was sure of his welcome. Which he doubted very much would be forthcoming.

“I need a drink,” Theo muttered to him while Draco continued scanning the bar for some sign of his curly haired limerence.

Nodding along with his friend, Draco followed Theo as he weaved his way over to the bar and ordered them both a whiskey. He was sipping it and still searching for her when he finally spotted her. Leaning against a wall across the room, she sipped her drink and looked like she wanted to be just about anywhere else. In her hand, she clutched a glass of what looked like eggnog, and her hands were bare of gloves. The emerald and diamonds set into the ring he’d given her glittered and winked in the light of the pub, catching his eye and making him smirk.

Fucking hell, she looked good.

The thought hit him like a kick in the chest. She looked beyond good, if he was being honest. Her curls were all in a mess, beginning to frizz thanks to the relative warmth of the bar from the tightly packed bodies all emitting heat within the confined space. Tumbling down her back longer than he’d ever seen them, she’d swept a good portion of them over one shoulder. She was dressed modestly for a girl who probably knew she would be in the spotlight.

Wearing a plum coloured cocktail dress paired with black tights and heeled black boots, she had either chosen to don, or been forced into a Santa hat that was sitting slightly askew atop her head. The ensemble made his mouth water and Draco’s hands twitched with the sudden urge he had to run them over her fine feminine form. The last time he’d seen her in person, she’d been gaunt and haunted, her eyes bruised with lack of sleep, her face and body skeletal in the middle of a war.

Now, well… now she’d regained all the beauty and deliciousness of youth and just enough weight to show off all those tantalizing curves.

“Found her,” Theo smirked, following his gaze, obviously having realised that Draco had not been listening to whatever he’d been blathering on about.

“Mmmm,” Draco hummed appreciatively.

“Ah, shit. Look who she’s with,” Theo muttered.

Draco honestly hadn’t noticed anyone with her. Hell, he might as well have been alone in the whole pub with her, if not for Theo’s voice intruding on his suddenly lecherous thoughts pertaining to the curly haired witch he was so enamoured with.

Dragging his eyes from the woman, Draco spotted Potter standing right beside her. Similarly wearing a Santa hat, the spectacled saviour of the wizarding world looked like he’d rather be just about anywhere than right there at that moment too. Indeed, he looked like he was muttering to Granger about the idea of leaving the pub.

“Cheerful pair of sods, aren’t they?” Draco smirked.

“They’ll probably leave before the hour is up,” Theo grumbled, his eyes raking over Potter with decided heat.

“What makes you think so?”

“They’re being hassled by those reporters and photographers because Weasley is making an arse of himself with Bones,” Theo nodded toward the red-haired wizard who made up the final part of their little trio.

Indeed, he was making an arse of himself. He’d pulled the small former-Hufflepuff witch into his lap where he was seated upon a barstool and appeared to be attempting to give her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. That, or he was attempting to strangle her with his tongue alone. It wasn’t pretty, but the reporters were lapping it up like cats with cream.

“In other words, the likelihood of cornering the two of them to talk to them just went from slim to none?” Draco sighed, raising one eyebrow at his best friend.

“Oh, I had no plans for talking,” Theo muttered, his cheeks turning pink. “Nope, I was just going to admire from a respectable distance whilst wrestling with my self-loathing.”

“I don’t know why you get so bloody funny about it, Theo,” Draco rolled his eyes, “It’s not like your old man is around to give a shit which way you swing. And the only other people you associate with are me and Pansy.”

“Imagine her face if she knew,” Theo retorted darkly.

“Yeah, because the woman routinely doing both of the Greengrass sisters is going to care that you crave one particular bloke?” Draco snorted.

“Shut up,” Theo hissed, stomping on his foot over the idea of having anyone overhear them.

“You worry too much, Theo,” Draco informed him, still smirking, “Now, stuff your ideas about perving and not talking to the git and help me plot how best to ‘accidentally’ bump into them when they’re on their way out of the pub.”

Theo looked annoyed for a moment.

“Got it,” he muttered, smirking suddenly before leaning over and beginning to whisper his plan to Draco.


Hermione sighed and laid her head on Harry’s shoulder, leaning against the wall of the Leaky Cauldron and watching Ron attempt to swallow Susan Bones whole.

“They’re making me nauseas,” Harry complained quietly.

“Me too,” Hermione sighed.

“You want to get out of here?” Harry asked.

“Don’t you usually use that line when seducing women into bed with you?” Hermione snorted.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Harry rolled his eyes, “We both know I’m not that smooth. It’s more like, ‘So, um, do you like toast?’ while the poor witch stares at me trying to figure out how someone can actually manage to function while being so far from adept at instigating a hook-up.”

Hermione giggled, recalling the time when she’d actually overheard Harry trying to sweet-talk Jessica Finnegan into going home with him by asking her how she liked her eggs.

“Maybe you’ve been practicing in front of the mirror?” Hermione giggled.

“I’ll spank you if you keep giggling at me, witch,” Harry warned.

“You wouldn’t dare!” Hermione gasped, shocked at his words.

“Wouldn’t I, Hermione?” Harry challenged, raising one eyebrow before grinning at her wickedly.

Hermione began to laugh all the more at the very idea of Harry clutching a paddle or some such device of divine torture.

“Let’s just go home,” Hermione laughed, linking her arm through Harry’s.

“Have I mentioned lately how pleased I am that you decided to move in with me?” Harry asked. “I kind of like when you call it ‘home’.”

“You just got tired of rattling around that monstrous house all by yourself after Ron moved out,” Hermione rolled her eyes, letting Harry steer her through the crowd towards the exit.

Harry grinned at her, “You sure you don’t want to stay? There’s more than one bloke in this place who’d love to talk you out of your knickers tonight, you know?”

Hermione rolled her eyes at the very idea.

“I am not doing the walk of shame on Christmas morning,” Hermione informed him.

“Well, where’s the fun in that?” a voice drawled out of the darkness when she and Harry stepped out the doors of the pub and into the Alley.

Harry’s hand dove for his wand instinctively, but Hermione found her eyes dropping closed in shock at the sound of a voice she was sure she knew too well for not having heard in it almost two years.

“Malfoy?” Harry asked, his eyebrows lifting when he pointed his wand in the direction of the voice before realising who it was.

“Potter,” Malfoy nodded and Hermione opened her eyes slowly, butterflies beginning to riot in her stomach.

Gods, she hadn’t seen him in nineteen months. Not since the end of the war and his subsequent trial.

“What are you doing here?” Harry asked, surprise evident in his voice, “And is that… Theo Nott?”

Hermione lifted her gaze to look in the direction of the two wizards who both seemed to be leaning against the wall of the pub, standing in the snowy alley and puffing on pipes. The sight seemed so utterly alien that a small giggle escaped her.

“Remembered by Harry Potter,” Theo drawled wickedly. “What an honour.”

“Oh, bite me, Nott,” Harry rolled his eyes. “What are you two doing here? I thought you were still on house arrest, Draco?”

Malfoy smirked.

“Out on good behaviour, Potter. I do hope we’re not interrupting anything? Seemed like you two were negotiating the terms of Granger’s surrender?”

Harry and Hermione looked at each other, mirrored expressions of abject horror crossing their faces over the very idea.

“Urgh!” Harry said inarticulately.

“That would be disgusting,” Hermione declared, unable to take her eyes off Draco when she looked back at him.

A year confined to his house had obviously done him some good after his stay in prison. She’d seen photographs in the paper when he’d been re-tried and released on parole. Back then he’d looked as bad as he’d done during the height of the war. Now he looked much like the Draco Malfoy she recalled snogging in sixth year. All sleek blonde hair that hung in his eyes, pointed features, silver eyes glittering with something she could never quite name and that Malfoy-patented smirk.

Theo Nott laughed at their reactions to the idea of shagging one another.

“Take that as a no, then?” he laughed. “What’s the matter, Potter? Don’t you swing that way?”

Hermione smirked to herself when Harry nearly dropped his wand in surprise. She was the only person who knew Harry’s little secret about swinging whichever way took his fancy. Of course, he’d never swung any way but the witches way, no matter how he’d admitted to Hermione whilst drunk over Easter, that he’d been having hot dreams about a bloke.

“Cat got your tongue, Granger?” Draco asked her quietly and Hermione suddenly felt heavy.

Gods, he was actually there. There and talking to her and smirking that wicked smirk in her direction and suddenly Hermione’s lips were tingling as they hadn’t since he’d snogged her goodbye before throwing his life away and letting Death Eaters into the school.

“Just a little surprised to see you walking around free, Draco,” Hermione replied quietly, watching out the corner of her eye as Harry recovered and began verbally sparring with Nott, who seemed to enjoy antagonizing her best friend entirely too much.

When Theo offered Harry a puff on his pipe, Hermione was surprised as Harry took it and puffed.

“You don’t seem pleased about it,” Malfoy noted quietly, somehow managing to manoeuvre himself between her and Harry as Harry was drawn into conversation that looked and sounded and awful lot like flirtatious banter with Theo.

“I… Honestly, I’m a little bit shocked to see you,” Hermione admitted, looking bravely up at Draco.

A thousand thoughts ran through her head as she stared at him. Anger with him for what he’d done that day so long ago, using an Unforgiveable on her to try and protect her and keep her from interfering with his plan to let the Death Eaters in. Relief that, after all this time, he seemed much the same as he’d been that New Year’s Eve she’d spent with him. Confusion over the fact that there were butterflies in her stomach and tingles in her lips and a strange weakness in her knees simply at the sight of his face and the sound of his voice. She wanted to slap him. To scold him. To scream at him. To snog him senseless like she’d done only a few times before.

“It’s been a while,” Malfoy nodded his head, tipping it slightly ever so slightly as he regarded her curiously.

Hermione nodded.

“I… erm… uh?” Hermione frowned when words seemed to fail her, her fingers suddenly twisting the ring upon her finger that he’d given her – a nervous habit she’d yet to kick.

“Articulation is such an admirable quality,” he teased lightly and Hermione found a genuine smile of amusement pulling at the corners of her mouth.

“I have many of them,” Hermione replied, finding her tongue, “I like to include swottiness, bossiness and a perpetual scent of books lingering on my skin among them.”

“Admirable indeed,” Draco smirked at her. “You forgot being a know-it-all and this mess.”

He reached out slightly and tugged very gently on one of the loose curls dangling over her right shoulder.

“I didn’t want to overwhelm or seem conceited,” Hermione replied, grinning in return.

“Ah, yes that certainly wouldn’t do,” he chuckled quietly.

Hermione stared at him for a moment before glancing past him to meet Harry’s gaze, finding him smiling in her direction just the tiniest bit. Looking back at Malfoy, Hermione raised her eyebrows at him.

“So…?” she said, fingers still twisting the emerald on her finger.

“So,” Malfoy replied. “You never answered my question.”

“Your… what question?” Hermione frowned, recalling in vivid detail that he’d once asked her if she though they could ever work. She recalled telling him that maybe they could’ve, in another life.

“I asked you to forgive me,” he reminded her very softly, his smile slipping away and leaving worried grey eyes and a slight frown in it’s wake, almost as though he were bracing for her rejection.

“For cursing me?” Hermione clarified. “Or for letting the Death Eaters into Hogwarts before running off with them?”

He sighed at her words, obviously thinking she was about to list his many other misdeeds, faults and wrong-doings.

“Both?” he asked, “And for everything else that followed?”

Hermione opened her mouth, her own brow furrowing before she glanced down at her hands where her left-hand fingers continued twisting the promise ring he’d given her around and around and around.

“I understand if you can’t, Granger,” he said in a low voice.

“I… no, that’s not what…. Um…” Hermione sighed, her head jerking back up to find him still watching her intently. “I figured it out, you know?”

Malfoy raised his eyebrows in silent question as he continued to stare at her. Hermione held up her hand indicatively, showing him the promise ring.

“What you promised. I figured it out,” Hermione told him.

“Oh?” his lips twitched.

“For a while I thought it was that you were going to be the one to kill me,” Hermione whispered. “But then I didn’t lose my mind when Bellatrix… and I just…. Realised.”

He was still watching her, those silver eyes that so often haunted her dreams fixed upon her own brown pair, boring into her and making her feel like he was looking into her soul.

“You promised to protect me,” Hermione whispered. “And imbued this thing with Merlin only knows what kind of protective magic that meant she couldn’t hurt me as much as she intended and couldn’t take my mind from me.”

One side of his mouth quirked up in a half-smile at her words.

“And?” he asked.

“And? What do you mean, ‘and’?” Hermione asked. “Is this your arrogant way of expecting gratitude? I can’t tell.”

“No, I was waiting for you to continue detailing just what it is that you think I promised with that thing,” Draco smirked.

“There’s more?” Hermione frowned at him.

He actually laughed at her, causing Theo and Harry to look over from where they both leaned against the wall of the pub now, passing the pipe between them and trading banter. Hermione idly realised that Harry was flirting with the Slytherin boy and had to hide her grin.

“Did you think I went to all the trouble of giving you a Promise Ring just to protect you?” Draco asked. “I could’ve done that with any kind of jewellery, Granger.”

“I… you…. But…” Hermione eyes went wide as she glanced at the ring upon her finger, noting that at some stage while she’d been showing him and explaining her theory, he’d taken her hand and begun toying with the ring.

“Again with that articulation, Granger?” he smirked at the way she sputtered, “You’re making quite the impression, love. Have you put it together yet? Or should I spell it out for you?”

“You…?” Hermione felt like her heart might be pounding hard enough against her ribcage to break right through and burst out of her chest.

“I really need you to forgive me, Granger,” Malfoy told her quietly, sliding the emerald ring off her ring hand ring finger before catching her left hand.

“Why?” Hermione whispered, her eyes darting between his hands upon hers and his eyes as he watched her.

His smirk was wicked when he paused, the tip of her wedding finger sticking through the circlet of the promise ring, just waiting to glide down the length of the digit to meet her knuckle.

“Because otherwise it’s going to be really awkward having promised my heart to a woman who loathes me.”