Chapter Two

A Conscious Effort

"What are you?"

Hermione frowned, sitting up and punching her fist against her pillow that night. She had no idea what he could've meant by that. She knew that, despite their agreement, she'd avoided him the entire next day. There was the terrible side effect that it highlighted how lonely this final year was already turning out.

Though she'd considered it important to formally complete her education, many of her friends who'd fought alongside her in the War had felt there was nothing left to learn. Others had gone off to different schools to complete their education. The Weasleys were gone, Harry was already in an Auror training program directly within the Ministry, Neville was working on-hand with St. Mungo's Healers to find an herbal concoction that might reverse his parents' condition.

Everyone left behind knew her name, but so few of them knew her. Yet, another thing which compounded the absence of her friends.

Well . . . she'd tried to avoid Draco. When her sleepless night caught up with her mid-day, and she found a quiet corner in the castle courtyard during what should've been her lunch—at that point, sleepiness outweighed hunger—she nearly tripped over Malfoy, already dozing in the same quiet corner.

Not nearly, actually. She had stumbled over his foot as she attempted to backpedal and tipped forward, waking him up unpleasantly by landing on him. It was all a jumble, now, but she was nearly positive she'd apologized as she scrambled off him. She was almost certain that after his shock abated, he looked upset as he tried to find something to say.

She never heard whatever words he might've used, because she spun on her heel and hurried off, the start the incident had given her jarring any trace of exhaustion from her system.

She tried to get time with Professor McGonagall, but her duties as Headmistress were keeping her quite busy this early in the year. However, Hermione did manage to arrange to a meeting with the elder witch tomorrow after lunch.

Now, as she lay in bed, when she should be drifting into slumber without issue given how long she'd gone without sleep, she found herself going over the incident. Frowning, she lay down and pressed her cheek tight against her pillow.

What are you?

If she thought on it too long, she could still feel the way he was pressed so close to her as he held her gaze. She could recall the whisper of his breath on her lips as he asked that strange question.

"I don't understand," she said, shaking her head as she stared back at him. "What could you possibly mean by that?"

What the bloody hell was wrong with her that the way Draco Malfoy's grey eyes looked in that moment caused her pulse to quicken?

Then he did it, again. She had to remind herself to breathe as he ducked his head close, once more, inhaling deep of the skin at her throat.

Her eyelids drifted down, and she shuddered, leaning heavily against the workstation table behind her. There was the strangest inclination to move closer, to press forward—into him—as he took yet another whiff, the tip of his nose touching the sensitive spot just behind her earlobe.

Draco pulled back, and she had to snap herself out of it, meeting his gaze.

"Your scent. It's . . . you don't smell quite like other humans."

Swallowing hard, she shook her head. "I don't quite . . . ?" Her brow furrowing, she felt like she'd lost the ability to comprehend basic English as she stared into his eyes. "What do I smell like, then?"

"I don't know how to explain it, exactly." Draco hadn't moved away from her, and his voice was low, as though they were deep in some intimate conversation in the midst of a crowd, rather than already alone in a quiet room together. "But something about your scent reminds me of the woods. You smell human, but . . . you also smell like something wild."

She didn't understand what he was saying, and she didn't understand why she was responding to his closeness this way. Like she wanted to grab him and pull him closer, still. Like she wanted to feel his hands on her, fingertips trailing and nails scraping. Wanted him to press his face against her throat, again. To rake the edge of his teeth against her skin, and—

His eyes snapped shut, tight, as he murmured in a rumbling tone, "Whatever you're thinking right now, Granger, I'm begging you to stop."

Hermione realized, then, that of course if he had even a fraction of a wolf's senses in the wake of the full moon—a fact clearly evidenced by his sniffing of her skin—than he would be able to tell by her scent exactly how his closeness was making her feel.

"Oh, dear God," she said, mortified.

Pushing him away, she grabbed up her bag and dashed toward the door. She knew from the sound of his voice that he'd pivoted to watch her go as she stepped into the corridor.

"Granger, don't . . . . Dammit!"

The next morning, Hermione was embarrassed that falling asleep while thinking back on the previous morning had fueled some wildly inappropriate dreams of her former academic rival and wartime enemy. She'd mostly managed to put it in the back of her mind. Her slumber had been less than restful, however, and she went through the first half of her day with her gaze downcast as she made her way through corridors, and jotted down her class notes purely by reflex without really registering the lessons.

Then, barreling through the corridors, yet again, on her way from class to the Great Hall for lunch, she collided with someone just outside the wide double doors.

There was a coil of dread in the pit of her stomach as she thought she knew who it was. The lean build, the height . . . . The green and silver trim of his school robes . . . .

She righted herself and muttered an apology. Her attempt to backpedal and step around him was cut short by his fingers wrapping around her upper arms.

"Granger!" he snapped, giving her a gentle shake.

Swallowing hard, she darted her eyes up to lock with his. Hermione felt an instant tingle of heat zip through her as a wash of color flooded her cheeks. Just as she'd feared, seeing his face made her dream impossible to ignore.

A warm mouth at her throat, biting and lapping. Fingers stroking her skin. The sound of his voice saying her name in a rushed breath. His body, warm and solid as he pressed tight against her . . . .

In her dream, though, his eyes were not grey as they were now. They had been brilliant, reflective amber. Like a wolf.

His nostrils flared. Draco would not typically be able to pluck out an individual scent from the myriad smells crowding the castle corridor around them. Perhaps it was their proximity, perhaps it was something more base—that he was subconsciously seeking out her scent—but again, he found that other hint winding through it. Just as had happened yesterday morning in the potions lab, he didn't know precisely what was going through her mind, but that heady tinge she emitted was certainly making some interesting images run through his.

Probably helped along by that strange hint of wildness . . . thoughts of being in the forest. Of leaning close, of feeling the heat of her body against his. Of the moonlight bathing her skin as he sank his fingers into her hair and pulled her head back.

Of what her lower lip would taste like beneath the sweep of his tongue.

Her chestnut eyes widened as she noticed the wash of pink tinting his fair cheeks. Oh, no. Not again. Now they were both blushing, and she didn't see that as any sort of improvement on the situation.

"Sorry," she said, trying to brush off his hands.

Shaking his head, he kept his grip on her arms firm, but gentle. "Granger, stop!"

"Look, Malfoy, this is all very strange for me—"

"You're not the only one!" He spat out the words with a bewildered look on his face.

"I don't know what this is, and I've no idea why I should . . . ." She let her voice trail off as she glanced about, seeing the population within the corridor had thinned dramatically, and now it was really just the two of them lingering before the Great Hall doors. The witch dropped her voice to a whisper, anyway. "I've no idea why I should smell any different from any other person. But I just . . . I know whatever happened yesterday morning, it's changing things between you and I, and I don't think I know how to process that."

"I understand, believe me, I do." He nodded, his hands slipping down her arms, seemingly of their own volition, until his fingers were clasped around hers. "But we agreed to help each other, didn't we?"

Her shoulders slumped as she nodded.

"How are we supposed to make that work if we can't even look at one another?"

"I don't know. I have no answers for this."

Draco snickered. "That must be driving you mad."

A half-smile curved Hermione's lips in spite of herself and she appeared to sag in relief where she stood. "So mad, you've no idea!"

"Pretty sure I just might, actually." His expression sobered a bit. "The first thing to do is acknowledge that this is odd for both of us, and then we handle this the way we handle things."

Her brows drew upward as she held his gaze. "And just how do we handle things, Draco?"

He had force a quick, quiet gulp down his throat as he kept his mind from tripping back to those interesting imaginings. "We're both smart, Granger—in fact, smart is a dramatic understatement—and smart people handle things by talking them through."

Again, she felt relieved. Of course it was a simple answer such as that. The only reason it hadn't occurred to her was because of how inexplicably flustered she got now being this close to him.

"So can we?" Draco tacked on before either of their imaginations could run off with them. "Talk this through, I mean?"

Hermione nodded. "Sure. Maybe . . . maybe we can begin with some research? Finding things that could cause a witch to smell not-quite-human to a werewolf's senses?"

"I suppose it's as good a starting point as any." He nodded back, aware finding an answer to that question would give her peace of mind, even if it wasn't quite one she was hoping for.

She ignored that as he turned and started leading her away from the Great Hall, he kept hold of one of her hands. He ignored that he was so very conscious of the weight of her gaze on his back as he tugged her along behind him toward the library. So very cognizant of the sound of her breath against the quiet afternoon air.

So very aware of the warmth of her skin against his as they walked in silence.

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year. See you next chapter 😊