Author Note: This is just a little something that wouldn't leave me alone. I would love to get feedback, so please feel free to review and criticise away, so long as the criticism remains constructive.

Disclaimer: I own nothing but the plot and a plethora of student loans...

The Heart Loves What It Loves

"Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas." -Blaise Pascal (The heart has its reasons that reason knows not of.)

It was unusually hot for spring. The sky was a clear cloudless blue, a hue reminiscent of the robin's egg. The sun was high in the sky, seemingly shining more brightly than ever. The air was still and windless, and seemed to weigh heavily on the shoulders of the Hogwarts students. Even the mildest Hufflepuff had been seen snapping in irritation at the slightest provocation. It was as though even the earth was impatient for summer to arrive, and the students were sharing in its restlessness.

The Hogwarts faculty was immensely relieved when they finally reached the weekend and they could release their spirited charges to Hogsmeade. The younger students had to content themselves with the freedom of wandering Hogwarts' vast grounds to ease their cabin fever, but the older students had poured eagerly into the little village. All but one, it seemed.

Hermione Granger, Hogwarts' resident bookwork and overachiever, had dismissed the protests of her usual companions with a wave of her hand, urging them to go on without her so she could get a little extra studying time in. After all, one could never be too prepared for one's NEWTs. But even the practical Hermione Granger was not immune to the pull of the sun, and had finally moved her studies from the library to the shore of the vast lake she had crossed all those years ago as a frightened first year. Then the sun had reached its zenith and the fathomless dark waters proved too great a temptation.

She had stepped out of her black mary janes, then removed her white knee socks and tucked them inside. She had loosened the tie, slipped it over her head to fall on her books. She hadn't bothered with the black wool robes and the jumper she normally wore as part of her uniform that day, deeming it too hot to don them, especially since full uniform was not required on the weekends. Clad in her pleated skirt and white collared blouse, she had waded to her knees, taken a deep breath, had plunged into the chilly depths with hardly a splash.

She lay in the water now, hair an inky cloud around her face like a halo as she gazed up at the sky. Every once and a while she gave a half-hearted kick, a flutter of the feet to propel her closer to the shore, though she longed to swim out further.

As it was spring, and young men and young women alike are bound to turn their thoughts in the same direction, she was contemplating that timeless subject: love.

Hermione Granger was by no means an ordinary seventeen-year-old girl, nor would she have been, even was she not born a witch. She did not contemplate love in that dreamy way so often observed in youth. She was clever, to be sure, but she was also more observant and introspective than were many adults. Her musings were neither wistful fancies nor were they idle wishes. Instead, she was taking the time to sort out how she felt about that slippery sentiment, as she had never experienced it.

This is not to suggest that Hermione Granger did not love. She loved many people and even loved certain things that were certainly not people. She loved her parents, those members of her extended family, Harry, Ron and Ginny, and even Crookshanks could be numbered among those whom she loved. She loved her books, water and even the tattered sweater that had belonged to her father in college, in spite of its rust brown colouring and the fact that it no longer zipped up.

She knew that others held her in the same high esteem. She was even blessed with parents who loved each other, even after nearly twenty-five years of marriage. She was not without passions, either, as her house elf campaign would attest. Despite all this, she could not say she'd experienced love, for though she'd loved, she'd never been in love. She'd had crushes, to be sure, had even strongly fancied a boy or two, but that one passion had eluded her.

She'd never been struck, never felt so much that it left a lasting impact. Looking back, she understood that those crushes had been more about being a normal teenager, a girl who could love and lose a thousand times over a thousand times. She wanted to tell someone "forever" and mean it more than once. She knew this wasn't possible; for her, it would be only once, and that it would truly mean forever.

It wasn't a curse, at least not in the magical sense. It was a blood thing, inherited along with her unruly curls and her cool intellect. When the women in her father's line fell, they fell hard and stuck fast, no matter how painful things got in the end. "The heart loves what it loves", penned by Marion Granger more than a century before, had been both the scourge and the battle cry of the women that followed her, though their spirit had been felt for generations already. As she had grown and matured, Hermione had begun to understand what the words of her ancestor had truly meant.

Granger women loved recklessly, dangerously, and always completely. They never loved by halves, though more often than not they were left with nothing more than a broken heart. Nevertheless, each generation, despite the warnings of her sisters before her, loved in the same way, regardless of the cost. And there was always a price to pay, for Granger women were strangely drawn to those men who, for all intents and purposes, were predominantly thought of as 'wrong choices' by the world at large, as though love were a choice. Choosing, a Granger woman would tell you, had nothing to do with love.

And so they paid highly for their love. They loved rogues and thieves, the gamblers and the men who already loved someone else. They loved regardless of whether or not they would ever be loved in return, longing for but seldom seeing their happy ending. For Marion Granger, love had held her heart at sea with the husband who had heeded the water's call before hers, drowning before he had even had the chance to lay eyes on his infant son. For Tanis Granger, her heart had been lost to someone her own parents reviled and refused to accept. And so, in the form of her favourite aunt, Hermione had seen for the first time the ravages that love can inflict.

It had been late at night, during the Christmas holidays, though not Christmas itself. Tanis had not been present at the Granger Family turkey dinner, and inquiries to her grandparents had been met with cold disdain that explained nothing. Tanis herself had explained to each of her family members in turn, at it was only in the home of her youngest brother that she was not met with disapproval. Then, after Paul and Laura Granger had gone to bed, Hermione had sat up nursing a cup of hot chocolate with her aunt.

"I knew they were old fashioned, and I knew in my heart that they wouldn't accept this. But I couldn't stop lying and hiding anymore. And maybe I thought they could show a little understanding," Tanis had said of her parents. "I thought that maybe I could say it in a way that they'd see clearly. But I lost them to this, and I don't think they will ever forgive me."

"Maybe they just need more time," Hermione had interjected rationally.
"Maybe. But I don't think so. They told me I would only be welcome back when I gave up this 'nonsense'. They act as though I could wipe away who I am, as though I've made a choice."

"The heart loves what it loves," Hermione had whispered.

"Yes," Tanis had confirmed. "I tried to fight it, to deny it, to live they way they wanted. For a long time, I even thought it was what I wanted. But it isn't."

"Are you happy?"

"No one ever asks that, you know. As if it weren't important. But it is the only thing that should be important. I've lost family and friends over this. I've seen the looks cast my way, the disapproval and even disgust. For the longest time, I felt guilty as though I'd done something wrong, as though I needed to hide it, to lie about it. And when it came down to proving I wasn't ashamed or watching love walk out of my life, I realized that I really am a Granger, willing to love despite the cost. And in spite of the loss, the pain, the doubt, the fear...I am happy. And I know I wouldn't be, not for a single second if I'd let fear keep me from being with the woman I love."

"If you're happy, then that's all that matters, to me anyway," Hermione had stated. "You don't need to change who you are; not that you could in any case."

"The heart loves what it loves," Tanis has smiled ruefully at this. Hermione had suddenly been struck by their resemblance. With her electrified curls, warm brown eyes and the frankness at the mouth, Hermione felt she could have been looking at a picture of herself, fifteen years into the future. Would this be what she would look like, explaining to a daughter the reasons why her own grandparents couldn't understand her magical upbringing?

"You'll feel it one day," Tanis had continued. "I only hope that you'll be one of those lucky few, like I am, for whom the Granger curse is an unexpected blessing. That even if the world frowns on you, he will make you forget to care about the world, because he loves you and nothing else matters."

"I really don't think that I'll live the curse through a person," Hermione had ventured, voicing thoughts she'd pondered often but never spoken out loud. She already knew some of the cost. "I think for me, it takes the form of magic. I'm a witch, the only one in the family. Every day, I belong more and more to the magical world that I have to keep hidden from family members like Grandfather and Grandmother who just don't understand this sort of thing. Even between myself and those who know, there is this widening gap because knowing and sharing the world are not the same thing. And yet I couldn't surrender my wand, give up that world for anything."

"Perhaps you're right," Tanis had speculated. "But I don't think so. I'm no psychic, no fortune teller nor diviner, but I know that one day, you'll suddenly realise that your heart is no longer your own. It might happen gradually, creeping up on you until you suddenly realise you've been denying you loved for a long time. Or maybe it will happen suddenly, so fast you don't know what hit you. But it will happen.

"You'll fall hard and it will stick fast. You'll love him without reservation and beyond fathomable reason. And even if he does ask you to surrender your wand, your magic, your friends, your family, though maybe not in words, you'll love him anyway. You'll love him with every heartbeat, die if he asked you, because you simply cannot do anything other than what your heart tells you that you must."

Hermione's eyes had grown wide at this. Tanis saw fear in her eyes, and recognised it for what it was: a niece who felt she was too young for such depth of feeling. She reached across the table to squeeze the younger girl's hand, adopting a teasing tone to lighten the mood.

"He'll be a handsome bloke, for sure, all stormy eyes and the kind of smile that's all sex and charisma. He'll drive a motorcycle or whatever the magical equivalent is. He'll call you "doll" and "baby" and drive your poor dad absolutely nuts because there is no way his little girl should be 'running around with that hooligan'". Tanis had mimicked Paul Granger's stern look and her niece had laughed out loud.

"And I'll be crazy for this archetypal bad boy, then?"

"Absolutely." Tanis had grinned. "He'll send you R-rated looks that are so hot your shoes will start to smoke, and you'll be lost.
"I'm sure."

"Oh, yes," Tanis had teased. "But that won't be all. He'll take one look at you and be just as crazy about you, because your one hell of a niece and one hell of a girl, kiddo. He'll see that beneath your polished bookworm demeanour is a spitfire who will challenge him like no other and he'll see in your eyes the like of love that is unfading. He'd be stupid not to scoop you up and throw you over the back of his bike or – his?"

"Broom," Hermione had helpfully supplied.

"You're kidding me. He'd be stupid not to toss you over the back of his broom, then, and whisk you off into the sunset. And since I can't see you falling for a stupid man, he'll kiss you just right, until you forget how to breathe and promise to follow him to the ends of the earth."

"I doubt that will ever happen," Hermione had said, shaking her head. "I just don't think I am cut out for love."

Hermione sighed, letting her doubts slip to the back of her mind, determined not to dwell on them. For the moment, she was content, and if she never paid the price for love, she would at least never know what she was missing. Tired of brooding like an angst-filled teen, she simply closed her eyes and thrust all train of thought beyond floating from her mind. She felt the tension ease from her muscles as she let herself drift, easily rocked by the soft waves.

Without warning whatsoever, she was abruptly ripped from her repose, sputtering as she rose out of the lake. She grasped at her wand, tucked in the waistband of her skirt for safekeeping, but before she could raise it, she found herself dumped unceremoniously on the shore. She looked up from her prone position to stare into the turbulent pools that were Draco Malfoy's eyes.

She felt a twinge of dismay that was almost lost in the surge of rage that overtook her. She had managed to avoid this confrontation all year. As Head Students, they had made an unspoken truce. She had made an effort to stay out of his way, and he had avoided her presence as well. Their work with the other prefects had been civil and efficient, without any sense of discord. On those rare occasions they had had to patrol together or had been paired together for projects, they had simply focused on the work at hand, completing it before parting to return to the status quo. This year, he'd been almost pleasant and she had taken notice of the difference. He hadn't gone out of his way to insult her all year, and she had begun to expect that much, at least, from him. She felt curiously let down that he would stoop to bothering her so near to the year's close.

The temptation must have been too irresistible, she thought angrily, to rip her from her reveries to call her Mudblood at least once before the year was out, now that her friends weren't there to retaliate. She stood up, bristling from top to toe. Her hands at her hips, she drew herself up to her full height, unimpressive as it was, and prepared for a fight. Before she could begin to ream him out, however, he spoke, taking the wind from her sails, so to speak.

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" he seethed.

Bewildered at his approach, she nonetheless spat back a reply. "It was quite obvious that I was enjoying a nice, peaceful swim, Malfoy, so say your piece, call me Mudblood and let me get on with my day."

He ignored her comment and surprisingly did no such similar thing.

"Swimming?" he asked incredulously, as though she'd told him she was contemplating dressing up the Giant Squid in Professor Flitwick's clothing.

"Yes," she snapped in irritation.


"No, with a hoard of angry deatheathers," she said sarcastically.

"You are swimming, alone, on a Hogsmeade weekend?"

"I don't see you in Hogsmeade," she retorted.

"I was flying," he said crisply, gesturing at the broom in one hand. She blinked, noticing all of a sudden that he was, in fact, dressed informally in the sort of garb Harry and Ron donned for scrimmages. He was dressed in black Quidditch trainers that resembled Muggle track pants, and a grey Slytherin T-shirt, which was now plastered to his lean form by water no doubt incurred from having scooped her out of the lake. His hair was windblown and damp with sweat, yet he looked far more put together than she ever felt, even when dressed to the nines for the Yule Ball.

He was looking at her intently, an unreadable expression on his face. She felt her anger drain away, leaving her with a peculiar feeling of confusion. She bit her lip and turned away from him, unsure of why she felt as though her breath had gotten caught in her throat.

"I just love to swim," she said lamely, trying to cover her growing discomfort. She pretended to study her discarded clothes and books.

"The water is cold, Granger," he said with exaggerated patience.

"I don't mind," she'd answered. "And how would you know anyway?" she added in irritation, turning to glare at him. He simply smiled at her lazily, an eyebrow raised regally as he scrolled his eyes up her body to rest on her chest. She immediately flushed, realising not only exactly how he knew the water was cold but that her blouse, soaked through, was nearly transparent and clinging to her body in a seductive way she was unused to. She muttered a quiet drying spell, unable to meet his amused gaze, not sure she liked the way that he was looking at her. "Not so sure you don't like it either," whispered a traitorous voice.

She sat down and proceeded to put on her socks and shoes. She gathered her books, staking them neatly and draped the tie over top. She was acutely aware of his eyes on her, and was too hurried to be out from under his gaze to put it back on. Books held fast to her front and cheeks aflame, she prepared to leave.

"You shouldn't swim alone, Granger."

The soft drawl froze her to the spot. She looked up at him then.

"The Hogwarts grounds are safe, and I had my wand in any case." Her feet seemed to unfreeze then, and she began to make her way back to the castle. She was startled when he fell in step with her.

"You like to swim that much, then?" he asked, in a tone that was almost conversational. But it couldn't be, of course, thought Hermione. "Why?"

"Why do you like to fly, Malfoy?"

"I asked you first, Granger," he said almost petulantly.

"I'm getting there," she said, smiling slightly. "Just answer mine."

"Because I'm good at it. Now answer my question."

"Harry, Ron and Ginny all love to fly-"

"If you're going to blather on about Boy-Wonder and Weasels One and Two," he cut in, "I'm going inside to torture myself the old-fashioned way.

"Do you want me to answer you or not?" she said, surprising herself with the playful tone she'd adopted. If he noticed, he made no comment, but instead gestured imperiously at her to continue.

"Harry, Ron and Ginny all love to fly – don't roll your eyes at me – but I've never liked it. I asked them why they did once. Harry says he loves to fly because he gets a sense of freedom, and I suppose that's rare for someone who has been a prisoner in once sense or another all of his life, either to his tyrannical family or to fame. Ron loves the speed of it, the rush of adrenaline. Ginny loves it because she's the only girl in a family of seven children, and loved it to avoid being marked as apart from her brothers as she would have been had she not loved to fly. But as different as their answers were, all three of them also mentioned one more thing. They can't not fly. The sky is in their blood, much as I suspect it is in yours. Without any plausible explanation, without any sort of rhyme or reason, you are all drawn to the air. The water is my sky, I suppose, in a sense.

"Time stands still for me when I swim. I'm not the type to let myself indulge in luxuries often, but when I do, it often comes back to the water. You swim in the sky as I fly in the sea. To each what they love, and I can't not love the water."

"You certainly throw the word love around, Granger."

"To say I throw it around suggests I'm making light of love, which I never do Malfoy. I never use that word when I don't mean it. Never," she added emphatically.

"Of course you mean it. They always mean it at the time. But in the end, love is just another four letter word," he replied bitterly.

She peered up at him, studying his profile for any traces of mockery. She found none, but instead a far away look tinged with cynicism and emptiness.

"I think," she said very carefully, "that it is very sad that for you, love is only a word." She began to move a little more quickly toward the castle. She felt like she'd swallowed a stone, heavy in her stomach.

"Don't give me that Gryffindor pity," he spat. "I neither want it nor need it."

Then his tone changed, became almost indulgent though it remained hard. "You are so naïve and blind, Granger. I know far more about ways of the world than you do and can tell you that no matter what you call it, 'making love' is just fucking, and your little dreamed all turn to spectres in the harsh light of day. You don't know anything about love."

"Maybe I've entertained a dream or two of happily ever after," she answered back, spinning to face him. "And maybe I can't tell you all about sex. But don't ever tell me I know nothing about love. I know enough about it to tell you that love doesn't necessarily mean sex or even happily ever after, but it is not, nor will you ever convince me it is, just a meaningless word."

She turned her back on him then, striding rapidly toward the castle. He caught up easily, not allowing her to maintain any of the distance she was trying to create between them.

"Tell me all about love, then, little girl. Tell me the things you've read in your precious books. Quote your poems, or your novels or your sappy plays. Or maybe you think you can convert me by reciting a few ill-penned lines from Viktor Krum, written oh-so-many years ago".

The cruel mockery in his voice was very clear now. The ire that had abandoned her by the lake came back to her with a vengeance. She spun around to face him again, her cheeks burning and her eyes nearly sparking in her fury.

"I'll tell you about love, Malfoy. It won't be the pretty poems you'd love to laugh at me for reciting. It won't be sonnets or odes composed to eyes, the curve of a neck, breasts. I'm not going to prove you right by spewing forth the naïve platitudes you think that I associate with love.

"Love can be a very beautiful thing, but I will not for one second deny its treacherous side. Love can just as easily bring out the most ugly of the human responses. It can be the drug that sends you soaring with giddy ecstasy or the one that hurls you to crash to the ground and leave you nothing but a raw, gaping wound. Love is copper and salt, blood and tears."

She took no time to catch her breath, but instead plunged on, her voice shaking with emotion. "Love can make you leave the only home you've ever known, your family, your cultural identity in order to settle in a foreign land where you can't even communicate your loneliness because you don't speak the language. Love is marrying the sailor with the cocky grin even though the very nature of his calling is a hatchet over his head. Love is facing the hatred of the people who raised you, people who you loved because you love someone else so much more the loss of that one person would cut deeper than all the others combined. Love is watching your husband waste away from cancer and never shedding a tear because you want the last thing he sees to be the smile he told you he fell in love with the day you met.

"Don't try to tell me that I am naïve, or foolish, or gullible. I know that love is not some fantasy. I've seen the wreckage it can exact, and I know better than you do that loving isn't always a choice. Sometimes we're dealt a hand that spells pain, and we play anyway, against our own volition. We love even though we try to deny it, though we try to walk away, knowing that love will only cost us. Love comes at a high price, but I know that I'll pay it because the heart loves what it loves. Whether – that person – owns my heart to cherish or crush it, I'll love wholly and unflinchingly. And if you are too cold to EVER feel something that powerful for anyone or anything, then I am truly sorry for you."

She felt as though her lungs were going to explode, as though her heart would burst from her chest, it was beating so fast and hard. He was angry now, too; she could see it radiating off of him in waves. She suddenly felt exhausted, drained of all energy, but she stood her ground anyway. The staring match between them seemed to go on for hours, but in reality only a moment had passed when his arm sped out with the speed characteristic to all seekers and he caught her arm in a vice grip. He propelled her forward, books and tie flying from her arms to scatter to the ground as he dragged her up and around the castle, deaf to her protests. He proceeded to pin her against the stone wall of the castle, holding her upper arms in a firm grip that left no room for escape. Trapped between a rock and a hard place, she thought in absent dismay as her eyes met his, two pieces of unyielding granite.

"What the HELL," he enunciated with an angry slow precision, "did you mean by that?"

"Let me go, Malfoy," she sputtered.

"Don't play games with me, Granger," he warned. "Tell me what the hell you meant by your last comments."

She ignored his comments, and began to try to wriggle from his grasp. "Let me go, you great git!" she cried shrilly. She began to struggle in earnest, but her efforts were futile. He merely gripped her arms tighter, until she finally yelped in pain; when she was still, however, he loosened his hold on her.

"We both know who will win this battle, Granger," he spoke in a low voice as she tried to catch her breath. "You will tell me what you mean. Now."

His tone left no room for argument. He was used to getting what he wanted. Her heart squeezed painfully in her chest, and her stomach seemed to increase in weight once again. She turned her head to look back at the lake, anywhere but at him.

"It doesn't mean a thing to you. It means I can't escape my blood. It means I'm a true Granger after all. It means that I get hurt, Malfoy. It means that I understand more than ever the words that Marion Granger penned over a century ago, that they still apply to me though I've tried to fight them for so long. It means that the heart loves what it loves, and just that, no more."

She spoke the words softly and evenly, as though trying to distance herself from them. He shook his head, needing more.

"Tell me what Marion Granger wrote. I want to know the words."

"Just let me go, Malfoy. Please, just let me go," she whispered.

"Tell me the words and I'll let you go." He thought she might look at him then, but her eyes remained fixed on the water. After a long moment, she spoke.

"Do you promise? Do you promise to let me go after I tell you?" A single tear was making its way down her cheek, another following it, slipping silently like rain down her face. Her eyes stayed fixed on the horizon.

"You have my word."

She took a shaky breath, but nodded before reading the words inscribed on her heart, words that had been written on the hearts of many Granger women before the one standing looking forlornly out on the water.

"The heart loves what it loves

And its will is but its own.

It has no rhyme, no reason

Knows not time nor fixed season

It breaks free from the mind

It seeks for to find

That soft summer's glow

Midst the rain, sleet or snow

The air crackles, it hums

And the pain sometimes numbs

In the glow of the moon

Or that whisper of 'soon'.

It sometimes is battered,

Torn apart, broken shattered,

But it loves, for it must love.

And the poets cannot explain it

Ropes and chains shan't contain it

As it soars to the sky;

On its painted wings, fly!

For the heart, though it is but a heart

Loves what it will love.

The heart loves what it loves.

The heart loves."

She finished speaking in a whisper so low, he had leaned forward to hear it, straining all the while. The air became very still, the silence heavy between them. She finally broke it.

"That's the poem. You promised to let me go now."

He ran his hands up and down her arms, as though to sooth her. "I lied, Granger," he spoke gently. "I'm a Slytherin. We do what suits us."

"And keeping me here suits you how?" The words sounded hollow.

"I just want answers."

"Then we will be here all day, because there is nothing to tell that you can't have already guessed. Please, just let me go." More tears slipped silently down her cheeks. He reached up, grasping her chin to gently turn her to face him. She stubbornly, deliberately kept her all too expressive eyes from his.

"I've never known you to back down from a challenge, Granger," he chided. "Don't run from this now."

Her eyes began to travel upward, sliding from the line of his jaw, past the curve of his cheek to finally meet his gaze. He was looking at her solemnly, intensely and she was suddenly aware that much was at stake here. She would have to weigh her answers carefully. She was no gambler by nature, and she knew the odds were stacked against her, but she would have to play or die trying. "Okay," she murmured.

"What if love defied reason, logic, everything you've ever known?"

"Then I would try to fight it, an uphill battle all the way. And in the end, I would lose it, no matter how long and hard I did fight."

"Would you love someone even though it was wrong, even though loving is also risking everything?"

She licked her dry lips. Her throat felt as though she'd swallowed sand paper. She nodded, her eyes locked on his. "Would you?" he repeated, and she knew he needed to hear the words.

"I – I would."

"What if it cost you your friends, even your closest, most cherished ones? What if you lost the respect of everyone you had ever known, even the regard of your family? Would you pay the price and call it cheap?"

"I'd be lying if I called it cheap," she said honestly, slowly choosing her words. "It would hurt and I would feel the pain dearly, but I would still pay that price without reservation, even if I knew it would only ever come to a loss in the end."

"And if he was known to play with women, casting them aside when he got bored with them as though they were broken toys?" His voice took on a harsher quality, a deliberately cruel tone. "You might never know whether or not you were merely the latest heart he planned to shatter, body he intended to use for the sake of amusement. If you were merely another challenge in his age old game, and would never know until it was too late. How would you love then, if you had no way of knowing?"

"I would love with hope, I suppose. And if I did end up cast aside, it would not change that I loved him."

"Would you love him, knowing you might never hear the words?"

"I would," she stated emphatically.

"Would you love him, even if he might never be capable of loving you back?"

"Yes. I would love unconditionally and eternally, whether he loved me or hated me. I might never be able to be anything to him, anything at all, but I would love."

He shook her then, not angrily but desperately. "Why? Why would you want that pain?"

"It isn't about wanting or choosing. The heart simply loves what it loves."

He shook his head. "No," he said. "You cannot tell me that you would love someone who for all your knowledge could only mean to betray you. That you could love someone who may never be able to feel anything more for you than need or desire. You cannot love a man like that."

She was crying openly now, tears streaming liberally down her face. "I could," she insisted. "I do."

A pained expression cast his face in shadow. She tried to hold back a sob, but it escaped despite her best efforts. "Don't cry," he said, woodenly. "Don't cry and don't-"

"Too late," she cut him off, choking on her words. "You wanted to know what price I'd pay,' she sobbed almost brokenly, "and you have to know by now who is going to set it. So tell me, what will I pay? What price will you extract from me, Draco Malfoy?"

He let go of her arms, but she didn't move, though her head told her to run. Her head had no say in the matter for once, however. Her sobs began to subside, and she stood there, eyes downcast, hugging her stomach. But she stayed.

"There are things about me I can't change." His face was an expressionless mask again. "I'm a selfish man, Granger. I'll take from you endlessly, leave you bare and raw and wounded and never once apologize, even if I never give you anything back."

"I know," she said softly.

"I could make you a thousand promises and never keep a single one."

"I know," she said again.

"I could break your heart, shatter you and not once look back."

"You could do it now or later," she smiled sadly. "It would be the same in the end."

"You should walk away," he warned her. "Your friends and family are bound to tell you to do it, and they won't be far wrong to do so. You should walk away and never look back."

She smiled at him, shakily, ruefully, through her slowing tears. "I can't walk way from this, not now. The best I can do is let you leave, if that is what you want. If you want to walk away, I promise not to stop you."

"If I were in any part a good man," he said unremorsefully, "The kind of man you deserve, I would walk away in a heart beat. I'm not a good man, Hermione."

"You said you could make me a thousand promises and break them all. I can't make a thousand promises, but I can make one and I will never break it. I promise you that, come what may, my forever belongs only to you."

"I don't want you to cry. I don't want to be the one to make you cry."

"You are the only one who will ever be able to make me cry," she laughed hollowly. "It sort of goes with the territory."

"I don't want to hurt you. But I don't know how not to hurt you."

"I know," she whispered, her voice thick with emotion. "It's alright, because no matter what, if you ever needed or desired me, even if only for a moment, that will always be enough for me. This, now, is enough for me."

He kissed her then, intentionally rough and commanding her response. It was both a demand for her submission and a warning to underscore his earlier words. She kissed him back, yielding to his unspoken bidding, her arms twining themselves around his neck to toy with his hair. She allowed him to push her against the wall and communicate his need for her, surrendering to him wholly. He pulled away from her lips abruptly, placing a kiss on her temple before folding her in his arms, tucking her under his chin as her palms came to rest on his chest.

"What will you tell your friends," he asked after a moment, but not breaking the embrace. His hands stoked patterns on her back in a caress that was unexpected but never unwelcome.

"I'll tell them the heart loves what it loves," she said simply. He chuckled and she felt the rumble only a moment before he kissed her again, kissed her until her knees began to buckle and she had to try to remember to breathe. He kissed her with a sort of tenderness only she knew he possessed.

She closed her eyes and let herself fall.