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! 


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