Storms never scared her—and tonight was no exception. She looked about her, unmindful of the flash of lightning from a distance and the fact that she was surrounded by trees in the heart of a wood.
She located an oak tree with two curious-looking lower branches. One of them curved upwards and curled itself twice on the higher, sturdier branch. It was she who had chosen this tree not too long ago. The tree looked innocuous enough from afar, but she had been meticulous in looking for the right tree. This one looked as though it came out of a dream. There was an eerie quality to it, something that suggested an impossibility of being real. It looked almost...illicit.
She felt the first drop of rain just as she pulled her wand out of her robes. Tapping the tree trunk once, she muttered her name; her voice was drowned by the loud clap of thunder. Suddenly the oak tree disappeared, as well as the trees surrounding it—it was replaced by a small log cabin, swallowed in the darkness.
Unlocking the door, Hermione Granger took another look around her. No one was around, she was sure of it. She took a deep breath as she closed the door behind her. She was now lost to the world.
It was cold inside—even colder than outside, if it was possible. It was obvious that no one had been staying there for quite some time. She approached the fireplace and whispered, "Incendio."
The red-orange flames threw a dim light to the room. There was the leather couch, as black and clean as she had last seen it. The wooden antique lamps, tables, chairs and cabinets looked untouched. The Persian rug under her feet was spotless. Clean, she thought grimly. Like my life is supposed to be.
The grandfather clock beside the fireplace chimed eleven times. Where is he? she asked herself furiously. It had been a great risk, coming here. She didn't even know if he'd arrive....
She had lied to a lot of people, just to come here tonight. She had lied to Ron and Harry. The very thought of them brought tears to her eyes—no, don't cry, she chided herself, looking up at the ceiling. Yet the fact remained—she had lied to her best friends.
Not that they didn't suspect anything. She felt that they knew more than she should allow. Harry had been angry, telling her to wake up; Ron, who was bedridden, had given her doubting, almost jealous looks. It was Ron's reaction that made a deeper impression on her, that hurt her deeper...
...But she couldn't help herself. They don't know, she thought. They don't understand what he's like.
The fire didn't do anything to warm her body. The coldness of the room seemed to seep into her bones. It wasn't just the temperature, she knew; it was the silence, the remoteness...the circumstances that brought her here. The first time she came here, there was no coldness—there were warm, steady hands that slid down her arms, a soothing voice in her ear, and a fire inside her that had remained unquenched for a long time....
Hermione kicked off her boots and paced the rug restlessly. He has to come, she thought. She felt tears prickle her eyes again; she blinked them away. I'm not going to cry, she told herself resolutely.
She had hated him. She had hated him because he had made fun of her lineage, but more because he had said things about her friends that cut too deeply—at least to her. But he didn't matter much at first. "He's all talk," as Ron had put it. "Can't even keep a broomstick between his legs."
She was in her seventh year then, and she, Harry and Ron had been in the library. Harry had to stuff his fist in his mouth to keep himself from laughing out loud, and Hermione had thrown Ron a dirty look. It wasn't as if Malfoy had annoyed them lately—in fact, he was comparatively quiet for some time now.
She turned to find a Potions book on the shelves when her gaze fell on him. His head was bent down a book; his pale hair fell about his forehead. She could see his lips pursed in concentration. I wonder what he's doing? Studying? Hermione had a private grin at the thought. She had never seen Draco Malfoy look like that. Usually he could be seen smirking at her fellow Gryffindors—she had assumed that it was all he could do.
Malfoy turned his head as he reached for his quill—and at that moment caught Hermione's eyes. Her heart leaping up to her throat, she quickly turned her eyes to the shelves. She thought she heard a sneer from his direction.
When she hazarded a look again, Malfoy was reading his book again, but he had a malevolent smile on his lips.
I hate you, Hermione thought.
The library was empty that night except for Hermione, who was doing further research for her assignment in Charms. She was returning several books into their shelves when a piece of parchment under a table caught her eye. Several diagrams seemed to be drawn on it.
Curiosity getting the better of her, Hermione bent down to pick it up. Upon closer inspection she saw that it wasn't all diagrams; one of the drawings was a crudely drawn map. It didn't make sense at all, except for the label: Nottinghamshire.
She scanned the other diagrams and the notes beside them and realized that one of them was an Unplottable Charm. Another was a more complicated version of the Building Charm. The others were basically charms of concealment.
Bringing the parchment closer to her eyes, she read the careless writing at the bottom of the parchment: Mark points, preferably trees—properties impt. for charm. The rest of the notes were precise, as though the writer wanted to make sure of everything.
Who could be researching on concealment charms? Hermione wondered. It seemed that whoever wrote this wanted to build something—in Nottinghamshire, Hermione realized. Trees—he probably wants to hide the structure in the forests there. He'll hide it carefully, away from Muggle and wizard eyes alike. But why? And who wrote this?
Hermione stared at the table from where she got the parchment—and suddenly, her stomach gave a huge lurch.
She had seen Malfoy reading here earlier in the day.
Hermione swallowed. Now that she thought about it, this careless, jagged handwriting was Malfoy's. He was up to something—it may even be connected to his father and the rest of the Death Eaters. She had to tell Ron and Harry. Should she take this parchment with her? Yes. She stuck it between her books, gathered her things, said a quick goodbye to Madam Pince, and hurried out of the library.
She had barely taken a few steps when she heard someone following her. She quickened her pace—I have to get to Gryffindor Tower!—but the person behind her was already running. She turned to a corridor that she knew was a shortcut—she was quite sure no one else knew where to find it.
But she was mistaken. A hand suddenly seized her shoulder and roughly whirled her around.
She was face-to-face with Draco Malfoy. He was shaking in fury, panting for breath. His eyes were darker than usual, dark and narrow with unrepressed anger. Hermione clutched her books to her chest, as if the gesture would prevent him from hearing her heart banging wildly against her chest.
Malfoy thought of everything—he put a Silencing Charm in the corridor. Then he turned to Hermione again.
"Hiding something from me, Granger?"
"No," Hermione tried to say defiantly, but her voice shook.
Malfoy laughed once. He advanced; with a gasp, Hermione backed on the wall. She was trapped.
She knew she shouldn't be afraid; she could take him on easily, she always had. But those gray eyes scared her. And all too suddenly, his wand was on his hand.
Gathering her wits, Hermione said, "You do realize I could give you detention for this, don't you?"
Malfoy's laughter was louder, more sinister. "And you realize that I don't give a damn, don't you? Just give me what I want, Head Girl Granger."
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Malfoy's lips curled menacingly. "Of course you do." Taking one step closer so that he was almost pinning Hermione to the wall, he tugged at his parchment from her books. He looked at it and smiled. "Of course you do."
Hermione couldn't stop the anger rising within her. "What are you up to, Malfoy?"
"I'm just doing my homework."
"I don't believe you."
"Then don't," Malfoy said, stuffing the parchment into his pocket. "And," he added, seizing her hand that she had tried to use to get her wand, "I'll keep my hand where it belongs, if I were you."
Malfoy was squeezing her wrists. Hermione vainly tried to pull it out of his grasp. "Stop—let go, you're hurting me!"
"I will," said Malfoy, raising his wand, "right after I erase your memories of tonight."
Fear started to sink Hermione's heart again. "You won't," she gasped. "You don't even know how to—"
"Don't I." It wasn't a question.
"No—stop!" Hermione cried.
"Then shut up," said Malfoy roughly, lowering his wand, but not letting go of her wrist.
Hermione threw her books to the ground and tried to hit Malfoy with her free hand, but he was too fast for her—he took hold of her other hand. "Don't even try," he said.
"Let me go," Hermione almost pleaded. She could feel tears sting her eyes. No, I won't cry, I won't let him see me cry, she told herself firmly.
Malfoy was looking at her thoughtfully. "I might," he said after a long time, that malevolent smile still plastered on his face. "On one condition."
I'm bargaining with the devil himself, Hermione thought grimly. Hesitantly she said, "What?"
Malfoy narrowed his eyes at her. "You'll help me with this." He motioned to his pocket.
Hermione stared at it, then at Malfoy. It was her turn to laugh. "Are you mad? Help you with your evil schemes? Not on your life."
"Funny," said Malfoy, finally letting go of her wrists but still keeping a firm eye on her. "I thought you'd be interested."
"Hah." Hermione rubbed her wrist. "Interested in helping you?"
"On the charms," Malfoy said. "They'd be a challenge to the brain you've always boasted of having."
Hermione glared at him. She considered. She wanted to know what he was up to...but was he tricking her? Would he erase her memory afterwards? She should know better than get herself trapped in this Death Eater bait. But then...why did he want her help, if he could have asked his father? Did that mean it had nothing to do with the Death Eaters?
"Will you let me tell Ron and Harry about it?"
Malfoy looked at her in disbelief. "Those half-wits? I thought you were smarter than that. No one must know about this, but the two of us."
The two of us. The words sent a chill down Hermione's spine. She was now part of a secret—with Draco Malfoy, whose whole being disgusted her—if she accepted.
"What are you up to?" she asked once again.
Malfoy's lips curled again. "You'll know when we're through with it."
Hermione looked at his face for a long time. He stared back, returning her defiant gaze. Her decision, she knew, was going to affect all that she had believed in for the past seven years.
"Fine," she said. "It's a deal."
They left Hogwarts four months later. Hermione stayed with her parents while she worked for the Department of Magical Creatures in the Ministry of Magic.
Malfoy had insisted on absolute secrecy; therefore she met him very rarely that summer as they planned for the building of—Hermione was surprised when he told her—a log cabin. She wondered what he needed a log cabin for—and why he wanted it hidden.
Nottinghamshire was a long way from where they both lived, and building the house itself was difficult. That summer, they met about three times, plotting the land where Malfoy wanted his house built and putting concealment charms around the perimeter. She took care of the tricky Unplottable Charm, of course, and Malfoy sat back, lounging under a tree as she worked.
"Clever, Granger," said Malfoy, smiling smugly. "If you weren't a Gryffindor I'd have been glad to have worked with you."
He was teasing. Hermione simply rolled her eyes. "If your threat wasn't hanging in my head I'd've been glad to leave."
"I thought you were enjoying yourself."
"That's what you think."
But Hermione had to admit that she was enjoying herself. It was the challenge of a difficult task that kept her going...or so she thought, at first.
When she couldn't be there to help Malfoy, he took care of the Building Charm himself. They corresponded frequently through owls. He told her of his progress on building the cabin, cursed in his letters when things didn't go so well, asked her to clarify things about the concealment charms. She hadn't seen the cabin itself, of course, as it was hidden, and at the moment only Malfoy had the password to reveal his house.
He annoyed her, yes. But...she found that she had no reason to hate him anymore. It was strange—during her Hogwarts days she had always believed in the importance of friendship, especially between Houses, and there she was, making friends with Draco Malfoy. It was a deal that brought them together in the first place, but things...changed.
November came, and because of the weather they had to shut the place up. But she met Malfoy that month in a hidden Muggle coffee shop—in secret, of course.
"Now are you going to tell me what you're up to with that cabin?" she asked him.
Malfoy looked at her with an eyebrow raised. "I thought you've figured that out by now."
She squinted at him. "Well, since you want it so hidden it's obviously for...some secret reason."
"Right...." Malfoy's hair fell over his eyes as he bent down on his black coffee.
"And...since it's a log cabin I take it you want to leave your home."
Malfoy looked up sharply at her. He looked around him, then leaned towards her. Hermione thought he was going to rebuke her for talking about his home, but instead he whispered, "Don't talk so loud."
Hermione frowned at him. "You want to leave...your father?"
Malfoy sighed heavily. "And to think I relied on what I had assumed was quick in the pick-up."
Hermione ignored the comment. She reached over for his arm. "Tell me," she insisted. "Why? Why do you want to leave him?"
"Look, do you want someone insane for a father?"
Hermione gaped at him. "But—but you love him! In Hogwarts you strutted around, telling us about how great your father is—"
"That was, what, fifth year?" Malfoy laughed cynically. "I've tried to please him all my life, Granger, but for all I did for him after sixth year he..."
What happened then, Hermione didn't get to hear—Malfoy swallowed, looked away, and pursed his lips. Hermione stared at him, wide-eyed. She couldn't believe Draco Malfoy was telling her—almost told her—his deepest secret.
"So I resolved to get away," he went on gruffly. "I'd had enough."
"But...if they knew you were building the cabin—"
"They'd have me killed." Malfoy laughed, a hollow, grim laugh. "They'd know I'm rebelling against my father—that I'm rebelling against the Death Eaters. Against the Dark Lord."
Hermione felt goose bumps rise on her arms. She had never thought about the Death Eaters...or Voldemort. Working with Malfoy had made it impossible to consider that he was still affiliated with the Dark Lord...and it turned out that he really wasn't. She didn't know whether to be glad or afraid.
"What are you going to do, then," Hermione asked, "if they force you to join them?"
For once, Hermione saw Draco Malfoy look helpless. He raised his eyes at her and shrugged. She noticed that he had gone pale.
Hermione's heart went out to him. She squeezed his arm. "You need our help."
"No," Malfoy said quietly. "Not yet."
"No buts, Granger," said Malfoy. "It's not yet time."
Malfoy's eyes fell on her hand that was still in his arm. She quickly released her hold and looked away.
December. Malfoy sent her a Christmas card, still addressing it "Granger". It was a good thing that she was living with her parents, she thought. At least Harry and the Weasleys wouldn't have a fit if they learned whom she was corresponding with.
She badly wanted to tell Harry and Ron, but Malfoy had said that it wasn't time yet...whatever he meant by that. She supposed he had some plan of his own that he couldn't tell anyone about, not even her. The log cabin was just on the surface of his rebellion.
But she knew that Malfoy would join them soon. In the meantime, though, she'd have to help him, alone....
When spring came, she and Malfoy were hard at work again. Building a log cabin wasn't an easy task, even if you had magic, if there were only two of you working.
That June, Hermione saw noticed something curious about an oak tree on the perimeter of the cabin. Two of its lower branches were entwined. It was not natural; it looked as if magic had made it look that way. She was strongly reminded of the Whomping Willow in Hogwarts.
"This is perfect," she told Malfoy. "We can use this for making the cabin appear to whomever taps a certain spot here. We'd also have to use a password."
Malfoy didn't protest; he rather liked the idea, actually. When it was agreed on, Hermione put the spell on the tree.
Malfoy worked on his cabin all summer. By the middle of September, all the furniture had been moved in, and on her birthday Malfoy invited her for the "grand opening," as he put it.
She thought it sweet of him to remember her birthday, and of course she couldn't pass up the chance of seeing the cabin with her very own eyes. She made an excuse of doing fieldwork, so her parents and friends let her go by eleven in the evening.
Malfoy was waiting for her by the oak tree. He was smiling—excitedly, even happily, she noticed. "Ready?"
"Yeah," said Hermione breathlessly.
Malfoy grinned and tapped the trunk of the oak tree. "Hermione Granger," he said.
Hermione gaped at him. "What—" she began, but Malfoy was grinning at something unseen in front of him.
"Try it," said Malfoy, stepping aside.
The excitement in his voice was contagious. Hermione tapped the trunk, muttered her name—and suddenly, in front of her eyes, the oak tree and the surrounding trees dissolved, and a small log cabin appeared where the trees should have been.
"Wow," she said in awe. She watched, amazed, at the cozy-looking house of logs, with glass windows and wooden shutters, a huge door, and two little chimneys. A fire seemed to be blazing inside.
"Come on," Malfoy said, taking her hand. He unlocked the door, let her in, and shut it.
The interior was even more magnificent. A massive leather couch stood in the middle of the room. Square pillows were scattered here and there. Antiques decorated the rest of the room—lamps, cabinets, and large jars. To the right was a counter for a small kitchen. To her left were a small table and two chairs, and here Malfoy made his way.
"Cheers," said Malfoy, sauntering back to her, holding two wine-filled champagne glasses. "And happy birthday."
Hermione smiled and clicked her glass on Malfoy's. She took a sip of wine, looking at him above the rim.
"This is a nice place," said Hermione. "I didn't know you have taste."
Malfoy smirked. "This is a private sanctuary—of course I have to make it as inhabitable as possible." He set his glass down and reached for something in his pocket. "And as a thank-you and birthday gift in one..." He fished out a key and handed it to her.
"What?" Hermione asked, putting her own glass down.
"The key's yours," said Malfoy, his voice low. "You're welcome here anytime. I know you're careful, anyway."
"But—what will I do here?"
Malfoy shrugged. "Whatever you want."
Hermione didn't know what to make of it. She looked back and forth at the key, then at Malfoy. Malfoy's eyes never left her face—and when her eyes decided to rest on his, she suddenly knew what she—what they both—wanted.
Malfoy took a step closer—carefully, hesitantly. The hand with the key was still raised. She reached for it—but instead of taking the key, she took his hand in hers.
Still hesitantly, as though he didn't want to hurt her, he bent his down...she waited, until she felt the soft lips on hers.
Hermione had to clutch his robes to prevent herself from falling. Her knees had gone weak. The tiniest pressure of his mouth sent the last coherent thought in her head to oblivion. He was gentle, careful at first, and she kissed him back just as tenderly. Then she felt one of his arms circle her waist, pressing her to him, as his mouth sought more of her. She parted her own lips, letting him in; their kiss grew deeper, more burning. He tasted of the wine they had drank—sweet, Hermione thought. He's sweet.
The key dropped to the floor as her hands found his nape, stroking his hair at the back of his head. He used his free hand to push back her hair as his mouth left hers to kiss her jaw, then the side of her neck...Hermione gasped at the new sensations he made her feel.
"Draco..." she gasped.
Draco raised his head and looked into her eyes. His were wide and wild; they were so close that she could feel his heartbeat on her own chest.
"Do you want this?" he whispered.
Hermione closed her eyes. He didn't have to ask. She nodded.
"Are you sure?" Draco asked, his voice laced with uncertainty and urgency.
"I'm just...I haven't done this before...."
"Open your eyes."
"Tell me if you don't want this," Draco whispered.
Hermione took a deep breath. "I want you," she said.
Draco stared at her...then laughed. She grinned. And she kissed him again.
That night, Hermione was brought to new heights of ecstasy when Draco made her a woman. They lay in front of the fire all night, holding on to each other, invisible to the rest of the world.
The next day, she went to work as usual, and she heard Harry wonder aloud why she was looking so blooming and happy.
Hermione should have known that good things don't last, however. Hiding from the world was in itself difficult, but certain matters that were more important and tended to be forgotten loomed behind them...and surprised everyone all too suddenly.
She was in the Burrow one Saturday when the clock of the Weasleys—the one with nine hands that pointed to where each family member was—suddenly moved. She and Ginny looked up to find that the hand with Ron's name pointed to "Mortal Peril."
"Ron!" Hermione exclaimed. "Ginny—he's in Auror training?"
"Fieldwork," Ginny said, her eyes wide in shock. "With Harry—in Sheffield—!"
Sheffield. Hermione knew by now that it was...not far from Nottinghamshire—not far, in fact, from Draco's cabin.
Hermione felt her heart drop to her stomach. No, she thought. It could be a coincidence....
Afternoon found Hermione pacing back and forth in St. Mungo's. She and Ginny had gone to Sheffield, where they were directed to the hospital. Her eyes were already swollen—she had cried all day, especially when she saw Ron's body covered in blood. It was only lucky that Harry was there—although why the attack happened, she didn't know yet.
The door behind her opened. It was Harry, looking tired but restless. There was a huge spot of blood on his white shirt, where he had supported Ron as they Apparated to the hospital.
"How's Ron?" Hermione asked.
"He'll be okay," said Harry, sitting down on the bench just outside the room. "Mrs. Weasley and Ginny are looking after him."
She dreaded asking this, but she had to. "What happened? Was it an accident?"
Harry laughed grimly as he laid his head on the wall behind him. "Are you mad? An accident?" He shook his head. "An accident would make him bleed like that?—would kill those two other Auror trainees?"
Hermione shook her head. She felt that she knew what was coming. "What, then?"
"Death Eaters!" Harry said harshly. "They came out of nowhere—started shooting curses at us. I was right behind Ron—I could've been the one there, if Ron wasn't being a prat and didn't insist on walking ahead of me."
Hermione reflexively squeezed Harry's hand. "W-which ones? Which Death Eaters?"
"Bellatrix Lestrange," Harry spat. The very name still seemed to disgust him. "Her husband. The younger Crabbe. Two others, can't remember them, I bet they're new recruits. And of course, the two Malfoys. It's just lucky the rest of us who were unhurt unmasked them, but we always knew the lot were Death—"
"What do you mean," Hermione interrupted, her heart beating painfully, "the two Malfoys?"
"Father and son, who else?" Harry said, as if it was expected. "You should've seen the two blonde heads." Harry stood up and suddenly kicked the bench. "Damn them!"
"H-Harry," Hermione took his hand again. "Harry...you can't be sure about...about Malfoy..."
Harry turned to her, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What do you mean?"
"Malfoy. Draco," said Hermione. "H-he...Harry, I shouldn't be telling you this, but...."
"I'm listening," Harry said, cocking his head.
Hermione squeezed his hand again. "Draco...he...he's renounced his father."
Harry stared at her. Please believe me, she begged mentally. Please.
Harry pulled his hand away and let out a bark of laughter. "Draco Malfoy...innocent?" He turned his flashing green eyes on her. Hermione recoiled. "Innocent? I saw him with my very own eyes, Hermione—he bloody ran for it when he saw me."
"How did you know about Malfoy renouncing his father, anyway?"
"I—Harry, it doesn't matter—please, just shut up, no one should know!"
Harry narrowed his eyes at her again. "Have you been talking to Malfoy all this time?"
Hermione opened her mouth to speak, then shut it again. She didn't have to tell him—he already knew.
Harry looked at her in disbelief. With his dirty clothes and wild eyes, he looked mad enough to burn the whole building down.
"Are you—" Harry seemed to be on the verge of saying something unforgivable. "Hermione—Malfoy! God!" Harry ran his fingers through his hair.
"He's not as bad as you think!" Hermione cried. "Why can't you look past your differences? It's been more than a year since Hogwarts, Harry!"
"Let him explain to you," Harry said furiously. "Let him tell you why I saw his wand pointed at Ron, who is now lying there"—he jabbed a finger at the door to where Ron was—"and try to think of which is more important to you."
Hermione held her tears in check. "I'll go to Draco right now," she told him. "I'll ask him what exactly happened."
"Do that," said Harry, eyeing her angrily.
Hermione nodded and walked away. She took her hands out of the pockets of her robes—they were shaking in anger.
"I didn't do it."
Hermione didn't say anything. She watched as Draco stood in the middle of his cabin, pacing back and forth restlessly.
"I was there," Draco went on. "It was part of...of Death Eater training." He spat each word out as if they were poison. "Naturally I was expected to be there."
"And the Auror trainees?" Hermione pressed on.
Draco took a long drink of brandy. "It was Crabbe who killed one," he said. "Flint killed the other. Zabini's target was Weasley. Mine was Potter."
Hermione took a deep breath as she recalled Harry's words: "They came out of nowhere.... I was right behind Ron—I could've been the one there, if Ron wasn't being a prat and didn't insist on walking ahead of me...."
Draco stopped pacing and looked at her angrily. "And? And I didn't do anything to Potter, and he got away, and I got this long angry lecture from my father, and nearly got the Cruciatus Curse for being weak!" Draco swore aloud; Hermione flinched.
A long moment passed before any of them spoke again. "I thought you were going to leave them."
"At this state?" Draco laughed grimly as he sank on his couch. "I could get killed the moment I step out of this cabin if I leave them right now."
"So you'd just wait? And kill all the Auror trainees while you do?"
"What do you want me to do?" Draco asked loudly.
"Join us," Hermione said. "You'll be safe under Dumbledore."
"Hell." Draco shook his head sarcastically. "I should probably expect recruitment papers soon."
Hermione was silent. Draco's interpretation of her silence was right on the spot.
Hermione didn't meet his eyes. "I told Harry."
"You what?" Draco stood up. "You told Potter?"
"I tried to tell him you were innocent," she said quietly.
"Oh, right! I'm flattered!" he said sardonically. "I thought I trusted you, Granger. I should've known you'd go shooting your mouth off at Potter and Weasley sooner or later."
"Harry and Ron are my friends," Hermione said defensively, meeting Draco's eyes this time. "I should have told them about the diagrams that night in Hogwarts, but I made a bargain and—and this!" She slammed a hand on the wall behind her. "Now I'm torn between you and them, even though I know we're on the same side. This isn't supposed to happen to me!"
"It was your fault, wasn't it?" Draco shouted. "If you weren't so meddlesome—"
"Just shut up!"
Draco, indeed, shut his mouth.
Hermione tried to get a hold on her breathing. "I told Harry because I trust you, and I don't want to hear you being accused unfairly. Not you. And I trust them too—I know Harry won't tell anyone."
Draco fixed a steely gaze on her. "Tell me, then," he said. "How would Weasley and Potter feel if they knew you were here?"
Hermione bit her lip. Draco already knew the answer to that.
"I knew it," he said.
"It's not only them who have to adjust to you, you know," she told him.
"The fact that we're on different sides of the world remains."
Draco simply looked at her. In his eyes there was not a trace of the warmth she had seen a few nights ago. She cursed Voldemort with all her heart mentally—this is his fault, she thought furiously. Voldemort created a divided world, broke ties, spread hate. Why, why did he have to build this rift between them?
"I'm just tired of all this," Hermione managed to say. The image of Draco in front of her was suddenly getting blurry—tears were threatening to spill out of her eyes. "I just want it all to end."
Draco's face was a blank. Even though the fire was warm, the room—the unfeeling gray eyes—chilled Hermione.
Hermione turned to the door—and faced the world outside. The moment she shut the cabin door, Draco's desolate house dissolved—and she wouldn't see it again, until a month later.
The clock chimed two. Hermione was now standing motionless in front of the fire, clutching her robes to her body. Outside, the wind continued howling, rattling the window shutters with its relentless fury.
Suddenly, she heard the turn of the doorknob behind her. She heard herself gasp...but she didn't turn around. She didn't know what to say just yet.
The hinges creaked—there was a step...and a gasp that wasn't from her. Hermione felt the back of her neck prickle. It was him, all right. She waited.
"What are you doing here?" he rasped.
Hermione slowly turned around. She raised her eyes—and drank the sight of him. He was soaked throughout. His hair lay plastered on his face; his eyes were glittering with the firelight.
"I had to see you," she whispered.
Draco took a step towards her. Hermione stayed rooted on the spot.
"It's not safe," Draco said in a low voice.
There was no stopping her tears now. She let them slide down her cheeks—she let him see her cry. "I know," she managed to choke out. "I don't care."
She saw him heave a huge breath. "H-Hermione..."
And he took long strides to reach her—to envelop her in his arms—to press his mouth on hers. Without any inhibition, without abandon, she kissed him, burying her fingers in his wet hair, bringing his head down to her, exploring every part of him that she could reach. Draco groaned in her mouth as he kissed her just as fervently, holding her tighter to him, soaking her own robes with his rain-drenched ones.
"Don't leave," Draco groaned in an agonized voice against her lips.
Hermione left his lips to look at his face. The gray eyes bore into hers—eyes filled with pain, longing...with need. His fingers reached out to wipe her cheeks, then to trace the outline of her jaw.
Hermione shook her head. "I won't," she told him, her fingers reaching downward to unbutton his robes. "I won't leave you."
Draco searched her eyes, and then kissed her again. He gently pushed her towards the couch as she slid his robes off his shoulders. Then he laid her down...and she let him into her arms.
Rain splattered the windows. Thunder rumbled. But Hermione didn't notice. Inside the cabin, the fire blazed peacefully. Storms never scared her—especially now.
It had been a long night.
Holding the night so close
Hanging on, still unbroken
While outside the thunder rolls.
Listen now, you can hear our heartbeat
Warm against life's bitter cold
These are the days
The sweetest days we'll know.
Jenna's Notes: This piece of fluff is blamable on the Brontë sisters and especially on Cai of Hogwarts Philippines. This is a first attempt at a Draco/Hermione fic, and I know it's AU and characters became severely OOC here... I don't even know if there are log cabins in England. Oh well. I tried. The song "The Sweetest Days" is by Vanessa Williams.