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.

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