Hermione Granger smiled as she tore the string off of a small, tightly rolled bit of parchment. Hedwig, the owl of her long-time best friend, and now boyfriend, Harry Potter, and just swooped through her kitchen window bearing the note.
Meet me at Master's at 8:00 for dinner tonight. I would say "don't be late", but I know you too well. Anyways, it's important. I'll see you then.
With all my love,
Hermione's smile broadened. She checked her clock- it was six. She gave Hedwig an affectionate pat and found her an owl treat before she sent her on her way.
She was surprised that Harry had gotten a reservation at Master's- it was the most expensive- and exclusive- new wizarding restaurant in London. She had heard a lot about it, including the fact that it was impossible to get a reservation, so had never been there herself. But then again, when you had a boyfriend who just happened to be the famous Harry Potter, strings could be pulled pretty easily.
Hermione went to get ready, choosing a knee length dress of silky black material. She pinned a few strands of her long, curly brown hair back from her face, but left the rest down, tumbling gently over her shoulders and down her back. Her hair had used to be bushy, with her curls wound tightly, but with the help of time and a few spells, the curls now were loose and free, and her hair was naturally long and a lot less bushy.
Hermione apparated to the waiting/apparating room of Master's five minutes early. It was a pretty room, with leather chairs to sit in and a big desk up near the front.
"Hermione!" Harry's voice called to her from somewhere off to her right. She turned and smiled when she saw the tall, handsome man approaching her. Harry put his arms around her and whispered in her ear, "You look gorgeous tonight."
They broke apart and she smiled up at him, "You look pretty good yourself." Harry's disheveled black hair gave him a ruggedly handsome look, and he was wearing a deep red dress shirt and black pants. She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek, and was amazed again at how tall he had become over the past few years.
Harry smiled and held out his arm to her. "They've just got our table now," he said, escorting her into the fancy dining room. Some of the people in the room looked up at the couple, and Hermione heard whispers of "that's Harry Potter!" and "isn't that the Granger girl on his arm?" and even a faint "she's a muggle born, you know".
Hermione knew she would never get used to all the attention that Harry got, or the attention that she got when she was with him. Some pretty rude comments had been made about her in the wizarding tabloids already, but she just shoved them out of her mind, knowing she was better than that. The waiter seated them at a table for two, set their menus in front of them, and Harry took the liberty of ordering a bottle of wine. She grinned, he always ordered her favorite.
"How's work, Harry?" Hermione asked as the waiter poured white wine into tall wine glasses and left with their orders.
"It's going pretty well," Harry said, he was already done with his Auror training and out on the job. "Dumbledore is worried, and so am I, about all the muggles and muggle-borns that have been disappearing- or dying- lately. I understand why Voldemort would go after muggle-borns, but not muggles. He's never gone after them before. And with what happened with the explosion in that bank last week, we think that maybe Voldemort is trying to expose the wizarding world some how. Our cover-up stories are hard to make up too- an ant-matter bomb was all we could come up with for the lack of remains from the explosion- anti-matter annihilates things, but only within a certain range. Most muggles don't know much about them- so the story is working for now. But now we think Voldemort took the muggles in the bank hostage. I can only imagine what he'll do to them," Harry finished, his face grim.
"I'm so sorry, Harry, it must be horrible for you to be a new Auror right in the middle of all this. You wouldn't believe how many Illegal spells are used every day. Especially at the Malfoy household. It's outrageous- they must have prisoners there. It's too bad though, I think all the spells have come from Lucius's wand. But jeez, as much as I hate Lucius Malfoy, I wouldn't mind to see Draco behind bars either..." Hermione was cut off by a pointed look from Harry. He jerked his head over his left shoulder, and her eyes followed his movement.
Draco Malfoy sat just behind Harry, at a table with a young blonde woman. Hermione could tell that the woman was speaking from the way her head was moving around, but it was obvious that Draco wasn't taking a word of it in. Suddenly his eyes shifted her way, cold things of steel gray that bore straight into her. She was transfixed by him for a moment, but she jolted herself out of it, and concentrated on Harry again.
Draco wasn't listening to a word his date, Arielle Wheeler, was saying. She was telling him all about her holiday in Paris, but he really didn't care what stores she had shopped at there. She had told him about an expensive necklace her father had bought for her, about her summer house in Spain, and about all of her highly rich, and who Draco assumed were also brainless, friends.
He wanted an intelligent conversation- one that contained no talk about Voldemort's latest plans or about some silly girl's life. But that was all the conversation he got these days. His father was training him to be a death eater, but Draco wanted none of it. Killing for one's own satisfaction and social rank was wrong. He also hated the girls Draco's father made him date. They were all purebloods, rich and in high standing, but they all had another common trait- they were blonde and brainless.
Draco felt an odd pricking feeling, like someone was watching him. He glanced up from the napkin he had been studying on the table and was confronted by a pair of toffee-brown eyes. Hermione Granger, he realized. But the name didn't bring the rush of hatred that it once had.
Hermione grinned as Harry escorted her to the horse-drawn carriage he had arranged for them after their meal. She settled back into the soft cushion and wrapped Harry's coat tighter around her. The horse started off at a brisk trot and she closed her eyes, enjoying the feeling of the crisp air against her face. Harry wrapped his arm around her and held her close to his side.
Hermione watched the scenery go by as they drove through the streets of London, and her mind couldn't help dwelling on a certain Draco Malfoy. She was surprised he would be somewhere as public as Master's, with his father under so much suspicion. And to top it off, the look in his eyes, for a brief moment, when he had been staring at her...
"Earth to Hermione," Harry's voice broke through her thoughts. He gave her a knowing smile. But in an instant, his expression turned serious and he turned to face her.
"Hermione, I really don't know how to say this, and please forgive me if I botch it up, but I've been thinking hard about this lately. And to me, it just seems so right, so logical," he paused, his dark eyes peering cautiously into hers. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small, velvet covered box. He seemed to draw strength from it, and he opened it to reveal a huge diamond ring. "Hermione, will you marry me?"
She should have been ecstatic, but all she could do was stare at the ring. She had thought about this moment for some time now, about the rush of feelings and emotions it would bring her. Those emotions never came. If she had been in her right mind, doing the logical thing like always, she would have been writing out wedding invitations tomorrow and getting ready to change her name to Hermione Potter. But for once, her conscience wouldn't let her do the logical thing.
"Harry... I must say, this doesn't come as a shock to me. You're right, you know, it's the logical thing for me to do. I'm a twenty-year-old witch who has a low-end job at the Ministry of Magic. Most people expected it, Hermione Granger, the know-it-all from Hogwarts, would go have her fun for a few years before running back to her perfect Harry Potter, settling down and living happily ever after. But Harry..." her voice broke, and she felt tears sliding down her cheeks. "Harry, something inside won't let me say yes. Something inside is telling me that there's someone else out there for me, someone who I'll really, truly fall in love with. Oh, Harry, don't look at me like that, please... I don't think I can hold myself together much longer. I love you, Harry, so much, but I've never fallen in love with you. You have to realize, we both can do better than each other, and we deserve to find our soul mates. There's a woman out there who will fall in love with you, and have your children, and stay by your side for the rest of your life, but Harry... I... I have to go."
Hermione stood up and pushed out of the carriage. She hadn't realized that it was stopped, and the bewildered driver was staring after her. The tears were coming fast now, streaming down her face and onto Harry's coat. Harry's coat... she had forgotten to give it back to him, but there was no going back, not now.
Draco watched the exchange from the shadows. He had been walking along the sidewalk when he had seen a flash of diamond as Potter's carriage had trotted by. Walking a little further, he saw the carriage again, stopped this time. Hermione was speaking in a shaky voice, tears streaming down her face. She had gotten out of the carriage and ran away, but not before he could hear most of what she had said.
He watched as her silhouette faded into the darkness. He looked back at Potter, who had gotten out of the carriage. He looked lost, like a little boy who had been separated from his parents in a big store. His eyes were empty, and his walk was slow, the ring box still clutched in his right hand. Harry walked by Draco without ever noticing that he was standing there, under the shadow of a tall building.
"I've let her down; she needs me, who'll protect her now?" Draco caught a bit of what Potter was mumbling, but it was just enough.
Draco was in his room, lying on his back on his large, four-poster bed. He jumped up at the knock on his door. "Come in," he called.
The door knob turned slowly and his father entered the room, his face adorned with the trademark Malfoy smirk. "Come with me, Draco, I want you to see our newest... guest," his father said in a deep drawl.
Draco followed his father from the room, curious as to whom it might be. They descended to the main floor, then through the secret door behind a large tapestry. The door led to a dark room, in both lighting and feeling. That was his father's office. It held many relics from death eaters and dark wizards before his time.
His father went to the large portrait of the wizard Grindlewald and swung it away from the wall. It revealed another door, and his father took the large brass key from his pocket and slipped it in the lock. The door creaked open, revealing a small, dim passageway. Draco followed his father into it. After a few feet, the passage turned into a staircase, descending into the dungeons of the Malfoy house. The staircase ended some 30 feet down, and Draco walked by empty cells until he came to the far end. Lucius slipped the same brass key into the lock, and opened the heavy wrought iron door. Inside was a man, of medium weight and probably good stature, but Draco couldn't tell, because the man was collapsed on the floor, leaning heavily against the cell wall. Blood trickled from a wound on the man's head, and his clothing was torn.
"Who is this?" Draco turned to his father.
His father smirked again, "Do you remember your pitiful little Mudblood classmate?"
"Yes, she's the one," Lucius's voice was amused. "Meet Mr. Granger, muggle dental worker."